News and Commentary: October 2004




Back to News Index

Back to Main Page



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

  • Up from Warner is TCM Archives: The Buster Keaton Collection, a two-disc collection featuring work from the silent great's MGM period, including "The Cameraman" and "Spite Marriage," as well as Keaton's first talkie, "Free and Easy." Also included will be film historian Kevin Brownlow's documentary "So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton and MGM" (Dec. 7). This year's box-office bust Catwoman starring Halle Berry is ready to go digital in separate anamorphic (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan editions, with deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and a pair of featurettes (Jan. 18). Arriving from the small screen will be Gilmore Girls: Season Two (Dec. 7) and Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete First Three Seasons (Jan. 18). And a catalog wave on Jan. 11 will include Ice Station Zebra, 1952's Ivanhoe, 1950's King Solomon's Mines, William Wyler's The Letter starring Bette Davis, and Random Harvest with Ronald Colman and Greer Garson.

  • We have plenty of new street dates from the folks at Universal — watch for a two-disc edition of Collateral on Dec. 14, Shaun of the Dead on Dec. 21, Wimbledon and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy on Dec. 28, and — that's right — a "Collector's Edition" of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on Jan 4. More details when they arrive.


On the Street: It's a light street-week out there, but there are a few new spins to look for — Universal has four separate editions of this year's Dawn of the Dead on the shelves, along with the recent miniseries Spartacus. Up from Columbia TriStar is the Wayans Brothers' White Chicks, a special edition of The China Syndrome, and catalog items Happy Birthday to Me and The Harvest. Fresh from Buena Vista is Mulan in a two-disc special edition. And TV fans can look for Season One boxes of The O.C. and That '70s Show. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:

  • 21 Jump Street: Season One
  • Adrenaline Rush
  • Bill Hicks: Satirist, Social Critic, Stand-Up Comedian
  • Billie Holliday: Jazz Memories
  • The Bloody Judge (Il trono di fuoco)
  • Brain Donors
  • Cedric the Entertainer Presents: The Complete Series (3-disc set)
  • The China Syndrome: Special Edition
  • Control Room
  • Cyberchase: Starlight Night
  • Dawn of the Dead (unrated) (widescreen)
  • Dawn of the Dead (unrated) (pan-and-scan)
  • Dawn of the Dead (R-rated) (widescreen)
  • Dawn of the Dead (R-rated) (pan-and-scan)
  • Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: Season Four (8-disc set)
  • Father Murphy: Season One
  • Frankenfish
  • Garfield Holiday Celebrations
  • H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer
  • Happy Birthday to Me
  • The Harvest
  • In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great: PBS
  • Jimmy Hollywood
  • Killer Nun (Suor Omicidi)
  • Lena Horne: Jazz Memories
  • Love Is a Splendid Illusion
  • Mark of the Devil (Hexen bis aufs Blut gequalt)
  • Max & Ruby: Max & Ruby's Christmas
  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes DVD Collection
  • Mulan: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Nat King Cole: Jazz Memories
  • Night Train Murders (L'ultimo treno della notte)
  • The O.C.: Season One (7-disc set)
  • Origin of Christianity (4-disc set)
  • Passion of the Priest
  • Peanuts: I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown
  • The Players: Live in Nashville
  • Profiler: Season Four (5-disc set)
  • Quantum Leap: Season Two
  • Secret Central: Have You Heard?
  • Spartacus: The Miniseries (2004)
  • The Tesseract
  • That '70s Show: Season One (4-disc set)
  • White Chicks: Uncut & Unrated
  • White Chicks (R-rated)
  • Willie Nelson & Friends: Outlaws and Angels


— Ed.



boxcoverDisc of the Week: Robert Altman was considered one of the giants of the "Second Golden Age of Cinema," pleasing both audiences and critics with distinctive epics like M*A*S*H (1970), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), and Nashville (1975). But Altman's style and interests remained quirkier than those of his younger, hipper peers, like Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola, and when the director's output became increasingly offbeat as the decade wound to an end, his continued prestige was largely running on the fumes of his reputation. He began the '80s with the baffling, big-budget bomb Popeye (1980), asphyxiating his mystique. After that, Altman slipped underground and focused on off-Broadway theater. Although he would eventually film a handful of these productions — Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982), Streamers (1983), The Laundromat (1985), Fool for Love (1985), Beyond Therapy (1987) — all to various degrees of praise, none did as much to restore Altman's maverick street cred as 1984's Secret Honor.

Philip Baker Hall, then essentially unknown, stars in this 90-minute one-man show as former President Richard M. Nixon, depicted by playwright Donald Freed as unleashing a liquor-armed battery of pique and persecutions into his tape recorder a few years following his resignation from office. The disgraced head-of-state indulges in a scattered late-night bitch session, running zig-zag through the narrative of his life, from his humble beginnings and sibling rivalries through the Watergate scandal that drove him prematurely from office. In Freed and Altman's Nixon-world, the maligned politician sees himself as the victim of a massive conspiracy of power controlled by the "Committee of 100," who initially bankrolled Nixon's political ascent, and the sinister, string-pulling, quasi-masonic cabal of "The Bohemian Grove." During his rant, Nixon curses nearly the entire roster of his enemies list, spitting the most venom toward his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, whose placid portrait hangs in Nixon's private office alongside those of former presidents. The "secret honor" Nixon claims for himself was cunningly masked, he feverishly explains, by the "public shame" of the Watergate scandal he personally engineered to escape from the clutch of his powerful overlords — who, he explains, were leading him into acts of treason.

Secret Honor's most impressive asset is Philip Baker Hall's masterful performance, which is convincing from start to finish, veering violently but seamlessly from stubborn bravado to fragile self-pity. However, Hall is not aided by Freed's script, with its dense and purposely disjointed first half. It's not until the final 45 minutes that the shattered fragments of Nixon's story begin tumbling down with any momentum, and even then, only the last 20 minutes or so are truly engaging as a piece of drama. Altman's skill with the camera is apparent through most of Secret Honor, but was never as effective in his stagy works of the 1980s as it was with his more naturalistic classics a decade earlier. Whereas the camera appeared to linger amongst and eavesdrop on the characters, revealing them documentary-style in McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Nashville, Altman's technique in the 1980s sometimes unflatteringly accentuates the already-exaggerated performances of what were originally theatrical pieces. Of course, most of the attention (and praise) for Secret Honor is not so much due to Hall's obvious prowess or Altman's resurgence, but with its boldly unflattering take on a not-very-popular figure from recent American politics. Although a scroll as the film begins explains that Secret Honor is a work of fiction, it also presumes to present basic truths about a man many love to hate. Nixon's paranoia and profane rambling have been well documented by Nixon's own tapes — some of which have just been released in recent years — and it is doubtless that some of the film's most enthusiastic fans simply revel in seeing their most extreme perception of Nixon as a raving, unhinged, pitiable nutbag (he even barks like a dog, at one point) brought to vibrant life for all to see. Whether one concludes that the fantastic conspiracy theory the movie's Nixon pleads in his defense is authentic or simply suggests the depth of his desperate victimization — Hall beautifully leaves this issue unresolved with his sincere yet dubious performance — it's still a Sophie's Choice of motivation, neither of which leaves the character with any surviving credibility. That's a plus for Nixon-hating cinephiles, and it makes for an interesting document of social history, although it also hinders Secret Honor's success as dramatic work of art.

Criterion presents Secret Honor in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with monaural audio. This disc repackages the special features of the 1992 Criterion Laserdisc, with one addition. There are separate audio commentaries by Altman and Freed, both of whom sort of disingenuously claim an objective approach to their subject despite the mostly condescending and occasionally outright disdainful tenor of their characterizations of Nixon. There also is 81 minutes of terrific news footage from key Nixon moments, including his "Checkers" speech, a 1968 campaign film, a Watergate-focused 1973 Q&A session with the AP Editors Association, his response to a subpoena for Watergate-related tapes, his 1974 resignation speech, and his emotional farewell speech to his staff. Of course, none of these poised public appearances hint at anything like the Nixon presented in Altman's film, so they add great value to the disc as counterweight to the movie's sensationalism. New to this DVD is an engaging 22-minute interview with Hall, during which he reveals both his initial reservations about the project and Secret Honor's role in his recent work with director P.T. Anderson. Secret Honor: The Criterion Collection is on the street now.

Box Office: DreamWorks' Shark Tale ruled the box-office chart for three weeks straight, but Sony's The Grudge has finally dismissed the animated fish — the thriller, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and produced by Sam Raimi, had a solid $40 million pre-Halloween break, with no other titles in close competition. The win pushed Shark Tale into the second spot, where it added $14.3 million to its $136.9 million tally. The weekend's other new arrival, DreamWorks' Surviving Christmas starring Ben Affleck, floundered into a seasonally misplaced seventh, taking in just $4.5 million.

In continuing release, Miramax's rom-com Shall We Dance starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez held down the third spot with $8.6 million and $24.4 million after ten days. Universal's Friday Night Lights is shaping up to be a winner, taking fourth place after three frames with $47.2 million overall. And while Paramount's Team America is likely to make more money on home video than in theaters, it's still racked up $22.3 million after two sessions. Buena Vista's Ladder 49 has finished out its first month with $61.4 million, while Fox's Taxi is bearing down on $30 million. Fox Searchlight's I Heart Huckabees is still in limited release on less than 800 screens, where it's managed $5.9 million after four weeks. And off to DVD prep is Paramount's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which will finish short of $40 million.

New films on screens this Friday include Ray starring Jamie Foxx, and the thriller Saw. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. The Grudge (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $40,000,000 ($40,000,000 through 1 week)
  2. Shark Tale (DreamWorks SKG)
    $14,300,000 ($136,900,000 through 4 weeks)
  3. Shall We Dance? (Miramax)
    $8,614,322 ($24,442,447 through 2 weeks)
  4. Friday Night Lights (Universal)
    $7,000,000 ($47,284,000 through 3 weeks)
  5. Team America: World Police (Paramount)
    $6,600,000 ($22,327,000 through 2 weeks)
  6. Ladder 49 (Buena Vista)
    $5,416,000 ($61,457,000 through 4 weeks)
  7. Surviving Christmas (DreamWorks SKG)
    $4,500,000 ($4,500,000 through 1 week)
  8. Taxi (Fox)
    $4,250,000 ($29,856,057 through 3 weeks)
  9. The Forgotten (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $3,400,000 ($62,110,000 through 5 weeks)
  10. I Heart Huckabees (Fox Searchlight)
    $3,000,000 ($5,905,000 through 4 weeks)
  11. The Motorcycle Diaries (Focus)
    $1,448,772 ($7,828,230 through 5 weeks)
  12. Raise Your Voice (New Line)
    $1,200,000 ($9,571,000 through 3 weeks)


On the Board: New reviews this week include White Chicks: Uncut & Unrated, Hellboy: Director's Cut, The Shawshank Redemption: Special Edition, Species: Special Edition, Explorers, The Harvest, Secret Honor: The Criterion Collection, and Happy Birthday to Me. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.

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

— Ed.



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

  • Up from New Line is a Platinum Series release of this year's Cellular starring William H. Macy and Kim Basinger — look for a commentary from director David Ellis and scenarists Larry Cohen and Chris Morgan, three featurettes, deleted and alternate scenes, and the theatrical trailer (Jan. 18). Also on the way is the Mongolian family film The Story of the Weeping Camel with a "Legends of the Gobi" featurette, a photo gallery, and a teacher's guide (Jan. 25).

  • There's a bit of Oscar buzz surrounding Irwin Winkler's De-Lovely starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, and MGM will roll out a special-edition DVD on Dec. 21 with a commentary featuring Winkler and Kline, a second track with Winkler and screenwriter Jay Cocks, two "making-of" featurettes, two "anatomy of a scene" featurettes, eight deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and a trailer and TV spot. Also on the way is Wicker Park starring Josh Hartnett with a commentary from the star and his director Paul McGuigan, deleted scenes, outtakes, and stills (Dec. 28). Michael Winterbottom's thriller Code 46 starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton also arrives on the 28th with a featurette and deleted scenes, while The Lion ushers in Black History Month with a two-disc release of the 1978 miniseries King starring Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson, and Ossie Davis, which will offer four featurettes with interviews and historical footage (Jan. 11). Sammy Davis Jr. gets a triple-play on Jan. 25 with Anna Lucasta and a double-feature release of Salt & Pepper and One More Time. Off-the-radar releases include the Norwegian comedy Kitchen Stories from director Bent Hamer, as well as the theatrical documentary This So-Called Disaster with Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, and Woody Harrelson as they rehearse a production of Sam Shepard's The Late Henry Moss. And new catalog titles on the way for MGM's Valentine's Day slate include The Boyfriend School, Fall, Jeremy, Nobody's Fool, Paperback Romance, Something Short of Paradise, and Until September.


On the Street: It's a busy board this week, but topping our shopping is Buena Vista's release of Ed Wood, which had an original street date of Aug. 13, 2002, which was reset to Feb. 3 of this year, and finally arrives in October (we think it was worth the wait). Criterion leads off with a trio of new titles, including Eyes Without a Face, Secret Honor, and Fat Girl, while Universal's Van Helsing is sure to shift a few copies, Fox has both Garfield: The Movie and Arrested Development: Season One on the shelves, and Warner's A Cinderella Story is under wraps. But it's a mix of new and old beyond that, with re-issues of Born on the Fourth of July, Species, Hellboy, and even a 14-disc Oliver Stone Collection from Warner and associated studios. Fans of classic horror will want to look for a trio of new "Legacy Collection" releases from Universal (not to mention the 1979 version of Dracula), while Columbia TriStar counters with a trio of classic Godzilla flicks. MGM's catalog drop includes Alexander the Great, Charly, Intermezzo, Straw Dogs, and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, while Paramount's leaning sci-fi with Conquest of Space, D.A.R.Y.L., and Explorers. And fresh from Home Vision is a six-disc set of the Japanese series The Yakuza Papers. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:

  • After the Deluge
  • Alexander the Great (1956)
  • Angelito Mio
  • Arrested Development: Season One (3-disc set)
  • Bait (2002)
  • Batman: Holy Batmania
  • Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui
  • Born on the Fourth of July: Collector's Edition
  • Charly
  • A Cinderella Story
  • Conquest of Space
  • The Creature from the Black Lagoon: The Legacy Collection (2-disc set)
  • D.A.R.Y.L.
  • Dracula (1979)
  • Ed Wood: Special Edition
  • Explorers
  • Eyes without a Face: The Criterion Collection
  • Fat Girl: The Criterion Collection
  • The Fight: PBS
  • Fire in the Sky
  • The Garden of Allah
  • Garfield: The Movie
  • The Ghosts of Edendale
  • Godzilla vs. Gigan
  • Godzilla vs. Hedorah
  • Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
  • Greg the Bunny: The Complete Series
  • Hellboy: Director's Cut (3-disc set)
  • Hellboy: Director's Cut Giftset (3-disc set)
  • I'll Be Seeing You
  • Intermezzo (1939)
  • Intermission
  • The Invisible Man: The Legacy Collection (2-disc set)
  • Letting Go
  • Love Me If You Dare
  • Made for Each Other
  • The Man Show Presents: Girls on Trampolines
  • The Mummy: The Legacy Collection (2-disc set)
  • Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special
  • Portrait of Jennie
  • Pursuit
  • Ruby Gentry
  • Secret Honor: The Criterion Collection
  • Since You Went Away
  • Species: Special Edition
  • Spongebob Squarepants: Season Two (3-disc set)
  • Stargate SG-1: Season Seven (7-disc set)
  • Straw Dogs (unrated) (MGM edition)
  • They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
  • The Ultimate Oliver Stone Collection (14-disc set)
  • Universal Soldier: Special Edition
  • Van Helsing: Ultimate Collector's Edition (3-disc set)
  • Van Helsing (widescreen)
  • Van Helsing (full-frame)
  • When I Fall in Love: The One and Only Nat King Cole
  • The Yakuza Papers: Vol. 1: Battles without Honor and Humanity
  • The Yakuza Papers: Vol. 2: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima
  • The Yakuza Papers: Vol. 3: Proxy War
  • The Yakuza Papers: Vol. 4: Police Tactics
  • The Yakuza Papers: Vol. 5: Final Episode
  • The Yakuza Papers (6-disc set)
  • The Young in Heart


— Ed.



boxcoverDisc of the Week: "It's an anguish film," said director Georges Franju, who resisted labeling his Eyes Without a Face, in which we watch a young woman's face peeled off her head like skin from a pudding, as a horror film. "It's a quieter mood than horror, something more subjacent, more internal, more penetrating. It's horror in homeopathic doses." Quieter. More internal. True enough. Still, in Cahiers du Cinéma he told François Truffaut that when audiences at the Edinburgh Film Festival viewed Eyes Without a Face, seven people fainted. Franju's 1959 exercise in style balances Hitchcockian Psychodrama with distinctly European poetic flourishes reminiscent of Jean Cocteau, whom Franju admired. In Eyes Without a Face Franju infused a pulpy thriller plot with the baroque visual dreaminess of Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. This effective crossbreeding also runs through the screenplay by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, crime novelists who had already given us Hitchcock's Vertigo and Clouzot's Diabolique. Their script, derived from a novel by Jean Redon, blends the police procedural with the grimmest of fairy tales. The result is a horror movie for the art-house circuit. In its sedate, measured virtuosity, eloquently haunting imagery abuts the queasily naturalistic. It's both beautiful and grisly, lyric and sinister.

Renowned Dr. Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) is desperate to rebuild his once-beautiful daughter's face, which was destroyed in an automobile accident he blames himself for. So his loyal assistant, Louise (Alida Valli, The Third Man), secures young Parisian women for his experimental surgeries. Génessier is trying to give his daughter, Christiane (ethereal Edith Scob), a new face by carving off the faces of his victims and grafting them onto Christiane's. But the technique works only temporarily, so new victims are always needed. Like a phantom, Christiane wanders the mansion wearing a smooth white mask. Except for her eyes peering out, the mask is as blank and immobile as a porcelain doll's face. She pines to be released from her imprisonment within the desolate family mansion deep in a forest. (Her father has made sure that the world, including Christiane's fiancé, believes that she is dead.) Meanwhile, the fiancé and the local police try to connect the dots as the bodies of mutilated women — all sharing a particular physical beauty — keep turning up. They plant a would-be victim (Béatrice Altariba) whose third-act ticking clock turns the doctor's scalpel into Poe's swinging pendulum. The film's take-away shot arrives after we follow Edna (Juliette Mayniel) from her first meeting with Louise to her moments under Génessier's knife. Franju frames the surgery with documentary dispassion as Génessier meticulously pencil-outlines her flesh, then slices into it. When Edna's still-living face is pulled off her skull whole, the image is branded into the audience's consciousness. As for Christiane, she achieves a type of freedom, but only after her mind finally breaks. Like an avenging angel in white, she metes out appropriate punishments, one involving her father's always-baying hounds kept kenneled in the basement as test subjects. Then, shucking her mask, she all but floats into the nocturnal woods, a ghostly Ophelia.

The basic B-movie elements are secondary to Franju's chilly atmospherics, which lift a story that can be only a melancholy one. (If Christiane gets her beauty back, an innocent girl must remain mutilated.) That bleak hopelessness scrapes against the unnerving composure with which Génessier and Louise collect and skin their donors. The doctor is no cackling mad scientist. Cool and methodical, his one regard is for his daughter, the other women being only so much source material. He is every authority figure so convinced of his rightness that moral considerations are less than irrelevant. Louise, a prior success for Génessier, dumps bodies into the river with the devotion of a servant cleaning up after dinner. However, in her glossy rain slicker and scar-covering pearl necklace she's no generic Ygor, and we're given reason to wonder if she is Christiane's "dead" mother. Maurice Jarre's musical score ups our unease by accompanying Louise's nighttime duties with a jaunty waltz evoking some dark carnival, while Christiane's gentle motif conveys a delicate grace and perhaps tells us about the former girl who has lost more than just her face. (Christiane is so like an extreme twist on Laura in The Glass Menagerie that the American trailer for the film's exploitative recut sported the loopy voice-over, "suggests Tennessee Williams in one of his more abnormal moods.") In her mask's neutral non-expression we read anything we imagine going on behind it and her mangled features. The black-and-white cinematography by Eugen Schüfftan is a collage of noirish shadows and leafless trees and expressive angles. John Woo's 1997 Face/Off owes an obvious debt to Eyes Without a Face, right down to that Woo signature image, doves. Birds were Franju's recurring symbols of impossible freedom, and Christiane's ultimate release also frees her father's caged doves, which accompany her languid escape from her torment.

Criterion's new Eyes Without a Face DVD offers a clean, uncut print and flawless anamorphic transfer (1.66:1) that preserve Schüfftan's shades and tones with excellent contrast and clarity. The original French soundtrack is a clean and robust (even for Criterion) DD 1.0, with optional English subtitles so well produced it's easy to forget you're reading them. The chief extra is Franju's 1949 documentary on slaughterhouses, Blood of the Beasts (22 min.), which shows his disarming visual beauty already in force. (Blood comes with the option of an English-language soundtrack.) Then in a French TV interview (2 min.) the director discusses Blood and his film techniques. In a second TV interview (5 min.) Franju gives a serious discussion of his work to a fright-wigged horror-show host on a silly, yet colorful, "mad scientist" lab set. Less egregiously, the writing team of Boileau and Narcejac are interviewed as part of a French mystery documentary (7 min.). We also get a fine gallery of production photos and international promo art. Two trailers are here: the original French trailer in all its abstract obliqueness, and the trashy 1962 American trailer promoting a version of Eyes that was recut, redubbed, and retitled The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus. A fold-out insert provides good essays by novelist Patrick McGrath and film historian David Kalat (our favorite commentator from Criterion's Mabuse discs). Eyes without a Face: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.

Box Office: Two new films hit North American cineplexes over the weekend, but neither could crack the top spots on the list. DreamWorks' animated Shark Tale retained the pole position for the third week in a row, contributing $22.1 million to a $118.8 million gross, while Universal's football drama Friday Night Lights starring Billy Bob Thornton held on to second place with $13.1 million and $38.7 million after 10 days. Paramount's Team America: World Police from mirthmakers Trey Parker and Matt Stone dropped into third with a $12.3 million break, while Miramax's Shall We Dance starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez managed to reach the fourth spot with $11.6 million. Reviews were generally positive for TA:WP, while Dance earned mixed notices.

In continuing release, Buena Vista's Ladder 49 rounded out the top five, adding $8.6 million to a $53.8 million cume, while Fox's Taxi starring Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah was solid in sixth place with $7.7 million and $23.7 million to date. Sony's thriller The Forgotten with Julianne Moore had a good month, finishing its fourth session with $57.1 million in the bank. Focus Features' The Motorcycle Diaries managed $1.6 million in just 250 locations, while their Shaun of the Dead has now tallied $11.2 million on less than 700 screens. And making its debut at the bottom of the chart is Fox Searchlight's I Heart Huckabees, which earned $920,000 in just 65 venues.

It is Christmas already? New in theaters this Friday is Surviving Christmas starring Ben Affleck and James Gandolfini, as well as The Grudge with Sarah Michelle Gellar. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Shark Tale (DreamWorks SKG)
    $22,100,000($118,800,000 through 3 weeks)
  2. Friday Night Lights (Universal)
    $13,100,000($38,700,000 through 2 weeks)
  3. Team America: World Police (Paramount)
    $12,300,000($12,300,000 through 1 week)
  4. Shall We Dance? (Miramax)
    $11,622,541($11,622,541 through 1 week)
  5. Ladder 49 (Buena Vista)
    $8,607,000($53,851,000 through 3 weeks)
  6. Taxi (Fox)
    $7,700,000($23,700,550 through 2 weeks)
  7. The Forgotten (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $6,000,000($57,153,000 through 4 weeks)
  8. Raise Your Voice (New Line)
    $2,975,000($8,119,000 through 2 weeks)
  9. The Motorcycle Diaries (Focus)
    $1,684,928($5,676,933 through 4 weeks)
  10. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Paramount)
    $1,310,000($35,991,000 through 5 weeks)
  11. Shaun of the Dead (Focus)
    $1,106,086($11,265,791 through 4 weeks)
  12. I Heart Huckabees (Fox)
    $920,000($2,606,113 through 3 weeks)


On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted a sneak-preview of Buena Vista's long-delayed Ed Wood: Special Edition, while Dawn Taylor recently dug through Paramount's The Ren & Stimpy Show: The Complete First & Second Seasons: Uncut. New spins from the rest of the team this week include Van Helsing, Intermission, The Errand Boy, Fat Girl: The Criterion Collection, Eyes without a Face: The Criterion Collection, and Arrested Development: Season One. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.

Back tomorrow with the street discs.

— Ed.



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

  • Fans of Adam Sandler, take note — Universal is re-releasing both Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. The drawback? Well, you'll have to buy 'em both, because they'll only arrive in a box-set. But fortunately, Gilmore will be released in matted widescreen (1.85:1) for the first time (as opposed to the open-matte transfer on the original edition), while the Madison transfer likely will be unchanged from the 1.85:1 matte currently on the street. Both discs also will include six deleted scenes and a gag reel — they're here on Nov. 30. Also on the way is the recent Battlestar Galactica Miniseries (Dec. 28), while Meet the Parents is getting re-tooled in an all-new Collector's Edition with featurettes, deleted scenes, and outtakes (Dec. 14).

  • Just announced from New Line is Nick Cassavetes' The Notebook starring James Garner and Gena Rowlands, and the Platinum Series issue will include separate commentaries from Cassavetes and novelist Nicholas Sparks, four featurettes, 12 deleted scenes, script-to-screen as DVD-ROM content, and more (Feb. 8). Also getting on the road to digital is Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle — and yes, stoners can rejoice over the announced "Extreme Unrated Edition" (the R-rated theatrical cut will be on a separate release). Look for two commentary tracks from the director, stars, and crew, script-to-screen, featurettes, deleted/alternate scenes, and — we're not making it up — "The Art of the Fart" sound documentary. Roll a few doobs on Jan. 4.


On the Street: This week marks another monumental release from Criterion, this time with an in-depth three-disc edition of The Battle of Algiers, while Paramount has unleashed virtually their entire Jerry Lewis catalog, which includes The Bellboy, Cinderfella, The Errand Boy, The Ladies' Man, The Patsy, and a new special edition of The Nutty Professor. Fresh from theaters are Fox's The Day After Tomorrow, Columbia TriStar's Breakin' all the Rules, and Buena Vista's Raising Helen, while Warner has re-issued Gothika and the classic musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers as two-disc special editions, along with Damn Yankees! There's no lack of small-screen titles as well this week, and TV fans can pick through new boxes of Dream On, Stephen King Presents: Kingdom Hospital, The Wire, and The Ren & Stimpy Show. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:

  • 5ive Days to Midnight
  • The 5th Wheel: Naked Dating: Vols. 1 and 2
  • The Battle of Algiers: The Criterion Collection (3-disc set)
  • The Bellboy
  • Betty Blue: Director's Cut (372 le matin)
  • Beyond Christmas
  • Breakin' all the Rules
  • Broadway: The American Musical: PBS (3-disc set)
  • Bush's Brain
  • A Christmas Carol (animated) (1997)
  • Cinderfella
  • CSI: Season Four (6-disc set)
  • Damn Yankees!
  • The Day After Tomorrow (widescreen)
  • The Day After Tomorrow (pan-and-scan)
  • The Delicate Delinquent
  • Dream On: Seasons One & Two (5-disc set)
  • The Disorderly Orderly
  • Eerie, Indiana: The Complete Series (5-disc set)
  • Erotic Dreams of Jeannie
  • The Errand Boy
  • Everlast: Live
  • The Family Jewels
  • Gothika: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • I'm Not Scared (Io non ho paura)
  • The Jamie Kennedy Experiment: Season Two
  • Japón
  • Jingle All the Way
  • The Ladies' Man
  • Laffapalooza! #3
  • Noi
  • The Nutty Professor: Special Edition (1963)
  • The Patsy
  • Punk'd: The Complete Second Season (2-disc set)
  • Radio Flyer
  • Raising Helen (widescreen)
  • Raising Helen (full-frame)
  • The Ren & Stimpy Show: The Complete First & Second Seasons: Uncut (3-disc set)
  • Salem's Lot: The Miniseries (2004)
  • Santa vs. The Snowman
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Stealing Christmas
  • Stephen King Presents: Kingdom Hospital: The Complete Series (4-disc set)
  • The Stooge
  • Taxi: Season One (3-disc set)
  • That's Entertainment!: The Complete Collection (4-disc set)
  • Twin Towers
  • Valentin
  • The Wackiest Ship in the Army
  • The Wire: Season One (5-disc set)
  • Youngest Guns


— Ed.



boxcoverDisc of the Week: Whither political cinema? This lament is obviously not intended to address its paucity in the marketplace — with the election but less than a month out, the theaters and especially video store shelves are choked with a glut of the stuff — but its declining quality. The problem with the current iteration is its intellectual laziness; the films' confrontational methodology is to regurgitate and counterspin images which have already been digested by a large portion of the public, which can be highly ineffective when these images have already been conveyed in a glossy, persuasive manner by the increasingly glitzy cable news channels. As propagandist Robert Greenwald has demonstrated with his rapidly produced exposés of everything from the 2000 presidential election to Fox News, it takes very little skill to slap these DV jeremiads together, which is probably why their appeal is limited to the converted. The real challenge is to channel one's roiling convictions into the crafting of a work that seeks to harness to bracing potential of the cinematic medium. This is the desire that provoked and mobilized the Italian neorealists, whose "take it to the streets" call to arms continues to inspire generations of filmmakers. But even their verisimilitude had a ceiling (though committed to capturing the gritty struggle of the common man, they could not reject the aesthetic beauty of a carefully composed shot), and this placed a cap on the public's interest. A careful approximation of truth would no longer do; in the tense, Cold War atmosphere of the early 1960s, only a "Dictatorship of Truth," as invented by lefty filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo, could jar audiences out of their malaise. He did more than jar them; he made The Battle of Algiers (1965) and set an incendiary standard for "political cinema" that has yet to be matched.

A fusing of the neorealist preference for non-actors and the handheld cinema verité approach popularized by the French New Wave, Pontecorvo's film is a tightly packed powder keg of Marxist sentiment that nonetheless maintains a basic universality through its espousing of a blunt, though undeniably affecting, humanism that mourns the loss of life on both sides in the Algerian struggle for independence from France. Though the film builds a certain level of sympathy for Ali La Pointe (Brahim Haggiag), the petty thief who, propelled by the steady indignation inflicted on all occupied people, rose to leader of the resistance (The FLN), and who is seen being ordered out of hiding by the surrounding French authorities at the outset of the film, the most indelible figure in the picture is Colonel Mathieu (professional actor Jean Martin). Outfitted with mirrored sunglasses that cannily reflect the reality to which he and the French military are fatefully blind, Mathieu presses a meticulously reasoned course of action which holds that this insurgency can be put down by swift apprehension and/or killing of the key figures of the resistance. However, discovering their identities and ascertaining their locations will require the use of torture, which is defended as a brutal means justified by its life-sparing ends. After all, the FLN already has resorted to random bombing raids on public places, targeting innocent French civilians in classic terrorist fashion. Though not structured in the classical sense, the narrative does barrel forward with a primal logic to Mathieu's eventual cornering of Ali La Pointe, at which point the French military believes they have completely crushed the resistance. Three years later, their true failure is revealed, as the Algerians take to the streets and begin a new series of demonstrations that will eventually win their nation's independence.

Do not be fooled by Pontecorvo's dual application of Ennio Morricone's heartbreaking music cue in The Battle of Algiers to express his abhorrence at the loss of life on both sides of the conflict, or by his empathetic portrayal of Colonel Mathieu — this is a film firmly in support of the Algerians' fight for independence. Though Mathieu is, in many ways, the picture's most central figure, he also is the only French character to receive any substantial development. The rest of the cast's major dramatis personae are the insurgents — or, as they would justifiably be called today, terrorists. Also telling in terms of this skewed perspective is the participation of Saadi Yucef, who is a co-producer on the film and, essentially, plays himself as a resistance leader. While this bias is important to identify, it's doubly crucial to not use it as a weapon to delegitimize the picture's message, which is as lucid a warning on the perils of occupation as has ever been filmed. The French authorities err by viewing their opponents as part of a finite band of insurgents; thus, failing to recognize that, by resorting to methods of torture and indiscriminate bombing as inhumane as those inflicted on their own countrymen by the Third Reich, they are committing the classic folly of occupiers, and inadvertently ensuring their ultimate undoing. With the full weight of history behind him, Pontecorvo is able to elevate his film from shallow didactic to a universal tragedy.

The Criterion Collection presents The Battle of Algiers in an outstanding anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with solid monaural Dolby Digital audio. In the classic Criterion fashion, the special features in this phenomenal three-disc set expand on the groundbreaking techniques employed by Pontecorvo, and enhance one's understanding of the conflict that inspired it. Disc Two focuses mostly on Pontecorvo, beginning with "Gillo Pontecorvo: The Dictatorship of Truth" (37 min.), an Edward Said-hosted documentary from 1992 that yields a number of revealing comments from the director (in particular, that he considers himself a political naïf interested only in "searching for a way to change the terrible things in our world"). Slightly more substantive is the brand new "Marxist Poetry" (51 min.), which includes more interviews with the director and his cast and crew (of note, the title of the documentary is borrowed from Pauline Kael's rave of the film). Also good is "Five Directors" (17 min.), a collection of conversations with Spike Lee, Mira Nair, Julian Schnabel, Steven Soderbergh, and Oliver Stone, all of whom adore the picture. Disc Three trowels a little deeper into the doomed Algerian colonization with four interesting featurettes, the best of which is "Remembering History" (69 min.), an overview of the long-brewing conflict that recounts the atrocities through recollections from both sides. "Etats d'armes" (28 min.) deals more with the French military's disastrous dabbling in torture, while "The Battle of Algiers: A Case Study" (25 min.) features a discussion between counterterrorism expert (and Bush administration whistleblower) Richard A. Clarke and former State Department member Michael A. Sheehan. Finally, "Gillo Pontecorvo's Return to Algiers" (58 min.) depicts just that. There's also a 56-page booklet boasting essays from film historian Peter Matthews, Saadi Yacef, an interview with Franco Solinas, biographical sketches, and suggestions for further reading. Finally, two trailers and a stills gallery can be found on Disc One. The Battle of Algiers: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.

Box Office: Three new films arrived in North American theaters over the weekend, but it was DreamWorks' frame to win all over again — despite poor reviews from critics, the animated Shark Tales retained the top spot on the box-office chart, adding $31.7 million to a solid $87.7 million 10-day gross. The win beat out the weekend's top competitor, Universal's Friday Night Lights starring Billy Bob Thornton, which nonetheless had a healthy debut with $20.5 million. Fox's comedy Taxi starring Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah placed within expectations, generating $12 million for fourth place, while New Line's Raise Your Voice starring Hilary Duff was lackluster with just $4.6 million for sixth place. Meanwhile, Focus Features' Che Guevara biopic The Motorcycle Diaries climbed into ninth place in its third week of limited release, earning $1.4 million in just 167 locations. Critics gave Lights generally positive reviews, while Taxi and Voice were widely dismissed. Reviewers have praised The Motorcycle Diaries since its debut three weekends ago.

In continuing release, Buena Vista's Ladder 49 starring Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta slipped to third spot, where it added $13.2 million to a $41.1 million 10-day cume. and Sony's The Forgotten starring Julianne Moore remains a top-fiver after three sessions, now with $48 million in the bag. Paramount's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow continues to miss expectations, taking in just $33.8 million so far. But Focus Features' Shaun of the Dead is a slow burn in limited release, now with $9.3 million overall. Sony's Resident Evil: Apocalypse will clear $50 million before it's through. But on its way to DVD prep is Fox's First Daughter starring Katie Holmes, which didn't clear $10 million before a hasty exit.

New films in theaters this Friday include Shall We Dance? starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez, as well as Team America: World Police, starring several marionettes animated by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Shark Tale (DreamWorks SKG)
    $31,700,000 ($87,700,000 through 2 weeks)
  2. Friday Night Lights (Universal)
    $20,566,000 ($20,566,000 through 1 week)
  3. Ladder 49 (Buena Vista)
    $13,270,000 ($41,190,000 through 2 weeks)
  4. Taxi (Fox)
    $12,050,000 ($12,671,079 through 1 week)
  5. The Forgotten (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $7,500,000 ($48,616,000 through 3 weeks)
  6. Raise Your Voice (New Line)
    $4,600,000 ($4,600,000 through 1 week)
  7. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Paramount)
    $2,275,000 ($33,866,000 through 4 weeks)
  8. Shaun of the Dead (Focus)
    $1,593,001 ($9,336,137 through 3 weeks)
  9. The Motorcycle Diaries (Focus)
    $1,411,652 ($3,194,763 through 3 weeks)
  10. Resident Evil: Apocalypse (Sony/Screen Gems)
    $1,250,000 ($49,008,000 through 5 weeks)
  11. Woman Thou Art Loosed (Magnolia)
    $1,200,000 ($4,100,000 through 2 weeks)
  12. Napoleon Dynamite (Fox Searchlight)
    $1,125,000 ($39,160,502 through 18 weeks)


On the Board: New reviews this week from the team include The Day After Tomorrow, Raising Helen, Breakin' All the Rules, Gothika: Special Edition, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: Special Edition, Betty Blue: Director's Cut, The Battle of Algiers: The Criterion Collection, Deep Impact: Special Edition, and several new titles from Paramount's Jerry Lewis collection, including The Nutty Professor: Special Edition, The Bellboy, Cinderfella, The Ladies' Man, The Stooge, and The Patsy. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.

We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.

— Ed.



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

  • On deck from our friends at Warner Home Video is an exciting catalog announcement — making its DVD debut this December will be George Stevens' 1939 Gunga Din starring Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Victor McLaglen, which will include the documentary "On Location with Gunga Din," a commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer, a vintage Looney Tunes short, and both original and re-issue trailers. Also arriving is Stevens' 1948 I Remember Mama with Irene Dunne, which will offer a new introduction by George Stevens Jr. Two documentaries making it to DVD for the first time will be George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin featuring the only color footage of the European ground war during WWII, as well as George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey with restored clips and recollections from colleague and actors who worked with the legendary director. All four will arrive separately on Dec. 7, while the seven-disc box-set George Stevens Centennial Classics will include all four as well as the previously released Alice Adams, Woman of the Year, and the two-disc edition of Giant.

  • New from the good folks at Criterion are a pair of December announcements, starting with Cecil B. DeMille's 1927 epic The King of Kings, which will include the original 155-minute silent version (never before on home video) and the 1931 re-release, which was recut by DeMille to 112 minutes, and we also can expect new Dolby Digital 5.1 scores by composers Donald Sosin and Timothy J. Tikker, the original 1931 score, behind-the-scenes footage, stills, the original press book, and plenty more. And returning to DVD under the Criterion folio after a brief moratorium will be Fritz Lang's 1933 M starring Peter Lorre, now in a two-disc set with a commentary by German film scholars, the interview film "A Conversation with Fritz Lang" directed by William Friedkin, a short film by Claude Chabrol, and more. Both are expected on Dec. 7.

  • MGM has added Martin Scorsese's 1977 New York, New York to its Dec. 14 lineup, where it will join the new special edition of Raging Bull, and we are awaiting final details on an expected "Martin Scorsese Collection" from The Lion, which will include both titles as well as Boxcar Bertha and The Last Waltz. Arriving on Nov. 23 will be this year's blink-and-you-missed it teen comedy Sleepover, which will sport a cast-and-crew commentary, a pair of featurettes, and more. And arriving on Dec. 7 will be the straight-to-video sequel Species III.

  • TV titles on the way from Fox include 24: Season Three and MASH: Season Seven (both Dec. 7), as well as King of the Hill: Season Three (Dec. 28), while the end-of-the-year catalog dump on Dec. 14 will feature The Beverly Hillbillies, The Curse of the Komodo, Dragon Storm, Jack the Bear, Love Me Tender, Man Trouble, Pact with the Devil, Paris Texas, Partners in Action, and Silver Streak.

  • Finally, Paramount has announced a Dec. 21 release date of this year's The Manchurian Candidate in both anamorphic (1.85:1) and full-frame editions, while the sixth and seventh seasons of Star Trek: Voyager can be had on the 7th and 21st, respectively. And while you don't have to admit to your friends just how badly you want to own the upcoming special edition of Top Gun, Maverick wannabes out there should know it's been kicked back to Dec. 14.


On the Street: Yes, gang — don't be fooled by that street-list, because there are actual new movies on DVD this week, despite the fact that there are just about as many notable re-issues. Fresh from Disney is the arrival of 1992's Aladdin in a two-disc "Platinum Edition," while Michael Moore's much-discussed Fahrenheit 9/11 finds its way to home video thanks to Columbia TriStar. Warner's horror wave this week includes Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers, as well as The Hunger, Return of the Living Dead 2, and three It's Alive! titles across two discs. Meanwhile, Criterion has released Robert Altman's 1988 miniseries Tanner '88, while Saved! is new from MGM, and The Three Faces of Eve has emerged from the Fox vault. But the fact remains that double-dips have marked our new age as much as airport security and botox, and on the chart this time includes re-issues of The Untouchables, The Godfather Part II, The Shawshank Redemption, Deep Impact, The War Room, The Thing, and Friday the 13th. If you missed them the first time around, now's the time to grab 'em. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:

  • The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers
  • Agony of Love/ The Girl with the Hungry Eyes: Special Edition
  • Aladdin: Platinum Edition (2-disc set)
  • All I Want for Christmas
  • Bebe's Kids
  • Black Beauty
  • Bloody New Year
  • Cameron's Closet
  • Cartoon Network Christmas: Yuletide Follies
  • Christmas in Connecticut
  • Cool It Baby/Mini-Skirt Love/Venus in Furs: Special Edition
  • Dawson's Creek: Season Four (4-disc set)
  • Decisions
  • The Decline of the American Empire
  • Deep Impact: Special Edition
  • Detonator II: Night Watch
  • Devo: Live in the Land of the Rising Sun: Japan 2003
  • Ed Wood, Jr. Collection (6-disc set)
  • Fahrenheit 9/11
  • The Fairly Oddparents: Channel Chasers
  • The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)
  • Fishbone: Critical Times
  • The Five Obstructions
  • Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror
  • Friday the 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan: The Ultimate Edition DVD Collection (5-disc set)
  • Funny Ladies Vols. 1-4
  • The Godfather Part II
  • The Godfather Part III
  • Gods of Destruction
  • He Knows You're Alone
  • The Hunger
  • Iron Eagle III: Aces
  • It's Alive
  • It's Alive II: It Lives Again/It's Alive III: Island of the Alive
  • Live Wire: Human Timebomb
  • Michael Moore: DVD Collector's Set (3-disc set)
  • National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure
  • Nine Dog Christmas
  • Prey
  • Return of the Living Dead 2
  • RFK: PBS
  • Roswell: Season Two (6-disc set)
  • Sam Fox: All Around the World
  • Saved!
  • The Shawshank Redemption: Deluxe Limited Edition (2-disc set + CD soundtrack)
  • The Shawshank Redemption: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • She Killed in Ecstasy (Image edition)
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Season Two (3-disc set)
  • The Super Bowl Shuffle 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition
  • Tanner '88: The Criterion Collection
  • The Thing: Collector's Edition (1982)
  • The Three Faces of Eve: Fox Studio Classics
  • Unspeakable
  • The Untouchables: Special Edition
  • Vampyros Lesbos (Image edition)
  • The War Room
  • What's Happening: Season Two (3-disc set)
  • What's New Scooby-Doo? Volume 4: Merry Scary Holiday


— Ed.



boxcoverDisc of the Week: In early 1992, the Democratic Primary was a tatters of unelectable stiffs, loons, and lotharios; in many ways, it was practically its own "Saturday Night Live" sketch (made possible almost single-handedly by the impassioned, grass-roots participation of California's quirky "Governor Moonbeam," Jerry Brown). The leading candidate, Paul Tsongas, was that rarity in politics — an honest man — but his unimpeachable character stood in marked and often painful contrast to his utter lack of personality, a quality that his most dangerous rival, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, possessed in spades as if to offset his chief flaw, that being an unquenchably libidinous and, in the right hands, highly impeachable character. So when Gennifer Flowers was trotted out for that infamous press conference now most fondly recalled for Howard Stern prankster Stuttering John's appropriately indecorous question "Did the governor wear a condom?", it seemed to signal the end of Clinton's presidential aspirations. However, what no one could account for at that moment was the souped-up campaign engine powering the governor's run for the White House, which was being recorded by documentary filmmakers Chris Hegedus and the legendary D.A. Pennebaker — and only because the pair were having difficulty getting access to the candidate. The resulting movie was titled The War Room after Hillary Clinton's infamous dubbing of the fiercely brilliant collective charged with winning her husband the nomination and, ultimately, the White House, and it is a thrilling, invigorating ride through one of the most startling political resurrections in history. That it was all masterminded by two then-relative, and starkly different, unknowns — the wild-eyed Louisianan campaign manager James Carville and the youthful, polished George Stephanopoulos — makes the story that much more improbable and fascinating.

The War Room opens with the contentious New Hampshire primary where Clinton's political life flashed before his eyes with Flowers' carefully timed revelation of her alleged 12-year affair with the governor. Her open admission that she was approached by Republican operatives highlights the justifiable concern already felt by Bush's team over Clinton's formidability, and it helps to focus the narrative as a tale of the modest, issue-driven Carville and Stephanopoulos versus the Right's powerful, well-funded attack machine that, as both men continually assert, is resorting to character-smears as a means to divert the public's attention from the incumbent's less-than-stellar domestic record. It's an early, do-or-die gut check for "The War Room," and one that Carville answers with a stirring address to his troops, reminding them of "the real enemy," listing players like the ruthless Republican strategist Roger Ailes and wealthy socialite Georgette Mosbacher. Though Hegedus and Pennebaker keep the cameras rolling throughout, Clinton's sturdy-legged rise from the canvas remains inexplicable — his resiliency owing, it would seem, to the indefatigable activity of Carville's charges. Amazingly, Carville's promise that, should they defeat this charge now, it will be rendered useless for the rest of the campaign holds true, and this realization unquestionably, if tacitly, re-energizes the whole team, which breezes through the rest of the primary, charging into the final, mano a mano heat with the swagger of winners. There are frustrations, like Carville's inability to manufacture a mini-scandal over the outsourced (and potentially illegal) Brazilian production of Bush/Quayle campaign signs, as well as Texas billionaire Ross Perot's on-again/off-again third-party insurrection that threatens to siphon off a significant number of Bush voters, and it's something of a triumph that Hegedus and Pennebaker maintain a measure of suspense even though the outcome is, obviously, well known.

The War Room (nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar in 1994) is a highly entertaining and tightly edited piece of political history that should be required viewing for every American as a laying bare of the ceaseless manipulation required to win the American presidency. Though effectively demonized by right-leaning pundits, Carville's never-ending stream of epigrammatic utterances are winning enough to make him an ingratiating protagonist regardless of one's political affiliation. His post-mortem on Perot's campaign (a bit randy to be reprinted here) should forever serve as that strange, schizophrenic endeavor's epitaph. Far more measured, but still quite likable, is Stephanopoulos, whose Rhodes Scholar pedigree is the perfect intellectual counterpoint to Carville's down-and-dirty campaign manner. Taken together, these differing personalities are an interesting reflection of their candidate's complicated, bifurcated disposition that frustrated his supporters as much as it enraged his detractors. Hegedus and Pennebaker are careful to avoid any examination of Clinton's character, sticking stubbornly to the confines of "The War Room," which is, to a degree, a flaw in that the viewer is never given a sense of why this campaign's methodology was so revolutionary. Lacking a larger context, one is left asking fewer questions that perhaps the filmmakers intended, though such griping hardly detracts from the picture's achievement. By eschewing both narration and score, The War Room is a refreshing model of objectivity to which all documentarians should aspire.

Universal/Focus Features presents The War Room in a full-frame transfer (1.33:1) that is modified from the film's original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, but not jarringly so, while the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is fine, though one should be prepared to prick up their ears for some of the subjects' sotto voce deliberations (don't be shy about using the subtitles for clarification, as some of these whisperings are very revealing). The biggest disappointment is the paucity of special features, which are limited to a new, not terribly insightful videotaped introduction from Hegedus and Pennebaker. It would've been nice to have a new epilogue detailing Stephanopoulos's somewhat disharmonious resignation from the Clinton administration as a repulsed reaction to strategist Dick Morris's rise in favor, but that would also dim the victorious glow with which the film ends. The War Room is on the street tomorrow.

Box Office: Hollywood's post-summer slump officially came to an end over the weekend, and DreamWorks led the way — the studio's animated Shark Tales cleaned up at the North American box-office with a $49.1 million debut, giving it the largest raw-dollar October opening on record. Buena Vista's Ladder 49 starring Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta also did well with a $22.7 million break. And finding its way on to the chart with 400 locations was Magnolia Pictures' drama Woman Thou Art Loosed, which took in $2.5 million for sixth place. Loosed earned mixed reviews, while both Shark and Ladder skewed mixed-to-negative with critics.

In continuing release, last week's winner The Forgotten starring Julianne Moore had a solid second frame for Sony, adding $12 million to a $38.2 million cume, while Paramount's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow held on to fourth place, adding a modest $3.3 million to a disappointing $30.6 million gross after three weeks. And rounding off the top five was Buena Vista's baseball movie Mr. 3000, which now stands at $19.1 million overall. Doing well in limited release for a second week was Focus Features' Shaun of the Dead, which has generated $6.8 million on 650 screens. And Sony's Resident Evil: Apocalypse is nearing the $50 million mark after one month. Not faring as well is Fox's First Daughter starring Katie Holmes, which might struggle to clear $10 million. And off to DVD prep is DreamWorks' Collateral, which likely will clear $100 million and change.

New films in theaters this Friday include Friday Night Lights starring Billy Bob Thornton, Raise Your Voice with Hillary Duff, and Taxi starring Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Shark Tale (DreamWorks SKG)
    $49,100,000 ($49,100,000 through 1 week)
  2. Ladder 49 (Buena Vista)
    $22,785,000 ($22,785,000 through 1 week)
  3. The Forgotten (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $12,000,000 ($38,265,000 through 2 weeks)
  4. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Paramount)
    $3,375,000 ($30,687,000 through 3 weeks)
  5. Mr. 3000 (Buena Vista)
    $2,601,000 ($19,176,000 through 3 weeks)
  6. Woman Thou Art Loosed (Magnolia)
    $2,500,000 ($2,500,000 through 1 week)
  7. Shaun of the Dead (Focus)
    $2,428,359 ($6,874,465 through 2 weeks)
  8. Resident Evil: Apocalypse (Sony/Screen Gems)
    $2,300,000 ($47,017,000 through 4 weeks)
  9. First Daughter (Fox)
    $2,150,000 ($7,116,734 through 2 weeks)
  10. Cellular (New Line)
    $2,025,000 ($28,168,000 through 4 weeks)
  11. Wimbledon (Universal)
    $1,766,000 ($14,860,000 through 3 weeks)
  12. Napoleon Dynamite (Fox)
    $1,400,000 ($37,622,995 through 17 weeks)


On the Board: New spins this week from the team include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Saved!, Aladdin: Platinum Edition, Tanner '88: The Criterion Collection, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, The War Room, The Untouchables: Special Edition, and Dawson's Creek: Season Four. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.

Back tomorrow with the street discs.

— Ed.


Return to top of page