Tuesday, 30 Nov. 2004
On the Street: It's another short street-list this week, mostly because everyone's making way for Sony's Spider-Man 2, which arrives today in four separate packages. But our Spidey-sense tells us there's more DVDs to pick up, including Buena Vista's Hero, Universal's two-disc Happy Gilmore/Billy Madison Collection, and even the long-lost Orson Welles film It's All True, which arrives from Paramount. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 29 Nov. 2004
Disc of the Week: It is the opening shot panning over a gurgling brook, flowing then quite effortlessly into the layers of artifice projected by a child's miniature tableaux, scored liltingly to Schumann's "Piano Quintet in E flat Major," that immediately signals how Ingmar Bergman's original five-hour television version of Fanny and Alexander (1982) will differ from the more widely seen three-hour truncation which, despite violating his original vision, nevertheless won him the warmest accolades of his already plaudit-laden career. Indeed, just as one steels themselves for a more rigorously austere rendering of perhaps the liveliest work in the filmmaker's canon, a heretofore unseen lyricism enchants the viewer. Astonishingly, the only difference between the openings of the televised and theatrical versions is that gurgling brook, but the aesthetic transformation is unmistakable; Bergman's farewell to the medium is finally flowing sans interruption by the commercial requirements of exhibitors or awards-craving distributors. What emerges is obviously a fuller work, but, aside from two static, attention-span-testing pieces of staged Shakespeare, the most surprising additions are a number of hauntingly magical passages more indelible than any single moment in the theatrical version and this is shocking. Though it has always been known that Fanny and Alexander was a pared-down film, it never felt compromised. What a difference two restored hours makes.
Unlike its theatrical runt of a brother, the complete epic is less a bildungsroman (as author Rick Moody categorizes it in one of three essays included in this set) than a family portrait. Alexander (Bertil Guve) is still the petulantly indignant center of the tale, alternately winning and repelling one's affections throughout, but other family members are now more vibrantly drawn than before. The narrative still proceeds roughly along the same arc, except that it is now explicitly a five-act melodrama rather than an ersatz three-act collision of soaring Shakespearean sentiment and dour Ibsenian trimmings. The first three acts establish the rowdy warmth of the Ekdahl clan as they celebrate Christmas with a gluttonous feast enlivened by innumerable shots of cognac. Fanny (Pernilla Allwin) and Alexander's parents, Oscar (Allan Edwall) and Emilie (Ewa Fröling), are theatrical animals presiding over a mediocre company that appears to subsist only by the members' fierce loyalty to each other. Their grandmother, Helena (Gun Wållgren), is a no-nonsense, but hardly domineering matriarch spared a somber widow's existence through her enduring friendship with longtime family friend (and her former paramour) Isak (Erland Josephson). The most colorful characters in the extended family are the uncles, Gustav Adolf (Jarl Kulle) and Carl (Börje Ahlstedt), the former a good-hearted but helpless emotional bully of a husband to his long-suffering wife, and the latter a philandering boob who winds up impregnating Alexander's nubile young nanny, Maj (Pernilla August). The story begins to darken with the Oscar's death, leading Emilie to inexplicably renounce the stewardship of the theater company, against her husband's deathbed wishes, in favor of a doomed marriage to the stern Lutheran bishop Edward Vergerus (Jan Malmsjö), whose Calvin-bred sternness mutates into a parental cruelty inflicted on Fanny and, in particular, the defiant Alexander. The final two acts, then, concern Alexander's grotesque physical punishments, Emilie's descent into near-madness, and the Ekdahl family's touchingly incompetent scheme to extricate their loved ones from Vergerus's suffocating grasp.
It's that latter element that is largely absent in the theatrical version of Fanny and Alexander, and its inclusion in the television version whisks the film to a joyous conclusion more emotionally satisfying than any evinced in Bergman's previous efforts. What once seemed shockingly sentimental is now a wholly earned curtain call for Bergman's beautifully drawn characters, many of whom have been brought to life by members of his recurring company. It may seem strange that the director's cinematic summation would fail include his most famous players Max Von Sydow, Liv Ullmann or Bibi Andersson but their being cast might have overwhelmed and even confused the drama. Better then to stick with the less identifiable, or, in perhaps his most poignant touch, appeal to Swedish theatrical history with the legendary Wållgren, who would die shortly after production ceased. Bergman's adroit casting goes a long way toward making Fanny and Alexander the monumental ode to family it becomes in its uncut presentation, but he closes the remaining distance simply by lightening up a little (this may be his least oppressive work since Smiles of a Summer Night). In the past, Bergman's bringing together of, as he refers to them, his "wife" (the theater) and his "mistress" (film) has been anything but harmonious (reaching a soporific nadir with The Magic Flute), but this time the ladies get on famously. No longer telescoped, Fanny and Alexander lights off in fantastical directions both terrifying (Alexander, stunned by his own imagination, watching Death drag his scythe across Helena's wood floor) and wondrous (Isak's spoken parable spinning off into a flame-lit pageant of religious symbolism, heightened once again by Schumann), all of which is tied lovingly together with Helena reading from Strindberg's A Dream Play, thus marking the end of Bergman's final and finest triumph.
The Criterion Collection presents the televised and theatrical versions of Fanny and Alexander in excellent anamorphic transfers (1.66:1) with fine Dolby Digital 1.0 audio. At five discs, the set offers a pretty exhaustive document of the director's last full-fledged film production, which is captured in revealing, fly-on-the-wall detail by the 110-minute documentary, The Making of Fanny and Alexander. Also included are two substantive featurettes: the 1994 interview "Ingmar Bergman Bids Farewell to Film" (59 min.), and the brand-new "A Bergman Tapestry" (39 min.), which boasts illuminating recollections from surviving cast and crew. Also on board is an informative Peter Cowie commentary for the theatrical version, a collection of the video introductions by the director taped for 11 of Criterion's other Bergman releases (for whatever reason, there isn't one for Fanny and Alexander), footage of the models for the sets, costume sketches, theatrical trailers and a 35-page booklet with essays by Rick Moody, Stig Björkman, and Paul Arthur. Criterion's Fanny and Alexander DVD Collection is on the street now.
Box Office: Two movies returned to dominate the North American box-office during the five-day holiday weekend frame, while a high-profile debut failed to beat the competition. Buena Vista's National Treasure, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and starring Nicolas Cage, claimed the top-spot for the second week in a row, adding $46.2 million to a blistering 10-day gross of $87.9 million. Also holding steady in second place was Pixar's The Incredibles, which crossed the double-century, adding $33.2 million to its one-month cume of $214.7 million. But it wasn't all smiles for Warner and Oliver Stone while the big-budget Alexander (reported cost: $150m) starring Colin Ferrell took in $21.6 million, it only collected $13.5 million from Friday to Sunday and stumbled into sixth place. Alexander even got beat by the week's other debut title, Sony's Christmas with the Kranks starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, which garnered a surprising $32 million over five days for third place. Despite the numbers, critics heaped scorn on both Alexander and Kranks.
In continuing release, Warner's mega-expensive The Polar Express continues to chug along, adding $27.1 million to an $82.1 million gross, although the project likely won't get into the black until overseas and home-video sales are figured in. Doing nearly as well is Paramount's The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which took a $23.4 million Thanksgiving boost to round out the top five with nearly $60 million. Universal's Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason will thrive on DVD, and it's still doing good business after three weeks and $32.5 million in the bank. And Universal's Ray starring Jamie Foxx is bound to hang around the bottom of the list until well after the Oscar nominations, now with $65 million. But say goodbye to Seed of Chucky Rogue Pictures' horror-comedy is off to the cheap theaters and DVD prep. We're betting it fares well in both.
New in 'plexes this Friday is Closer starring Jude Law and Julia Roberts. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak-preview of Miramax's Hero starring Jet Li, while new spins this week from the rest of the crew include The Chronicles of Riddick: Unrated Director's Cut, Short Cuts: The Criterion Collection, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The W.C. Fields Comedy Collection, Smallville: Season Three, Tanner on Tanner, The Loveless, Daredevil: Director's Cut, Fanny and Alexander DVD Collection: The Criterion Collection, and Smithereens. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 23 Nov. 2004
Monday, 22 Nov. 2004
Giving Thanks: The holiday season is in full swing, which means the hard-working review team at The DVD Journal has dispersed to the four corners of the continent in order to gather with loved ones, and maybe even watch movies they don't have to review later. But have no fear the team returns on Monday, Nov. 29, with plenty of new reviews. We'll see you then.
Box Office: It looked like nothing short of an earthquake would unseat Pixar's The Incredibles from its top spot at the North American box-office, but two titles managed the job this weekend, thanks to Nicolas Cage and an animated sponge. Buena Vista's National Treasure, starring Cage and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, pulled in $35.2 million, giving the actor one of his best hits in recent years. And Paramount's The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie did surprisingly well with $33.5 million. Both movies pushed The Incredibles to third place, where it added $26.7 million to a $177.8 million gross after just three weeks. Critics were favorable towards SpongeBob, while Treasure earned mixed-to-negative notices.
In continuing release, Warner's ambitious The Polar Express is not living up to its reported $270 million budget, falling to fourth place in its second frame with $15.2 million for the session and $51 million overall. Universal's Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason cost much less dosh, and it now has $21.6 million in the bag. New Line's heist thriller After the Sunset had a modest weekend with $5.2 million and nearly $20 million after 10 days. And Universal's Ray starring Jamie Foxx is a certified slow-burn, taking in nearly $60 million after one month. Fright-fans have been flocking to see Sony's The Grudge, which is now into triple-digits. But off to DVD prep in a hurry is Paramount's Alfie starring Jude Law, which took in just $11 million in less than two weeks.
New in theaters this Wednesday is Oliver Stone's Alexander starring Colin Ferrell, as well as Christmas with the Kranks starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
Tuesday, 16 Nov. 2004
On the Street: If you're looking for a few holiday gifts to satisfy the most persnickety DVDphile in your clan, this week's as good a time as any to start shopping. New from Criterion are pair of definitive releases, with two separate versions of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander and a two-disc edition of Robert Altman's Short Cuts. In step with the season is New Line's Elf in an "infinifilm" release, Universal's on the board with a Director's Cut of The Chronicles of Riddick, and Warner has a new Special Edition of the animated classic The Iron Giant under wraps. New from MGM is The Saddest Music in the World, while discs from Paramount include Foul Play and I'll Sleep When I'm Dead. TV titles for lost-weekenders this time around include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Commish, Smallville, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. And Warner's four-disc release of Live Aid is now the ultimate '80s rewind on DVD. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 15 Nov. 2004
Disc of the Week: "Live Aid will be more powerful in memory than in reality." Such was Bob Geldof's opinion for many years, which explains why one of the largest televised events in history was seen just once for nearly two decades. And even then, those who sat transfixed in front of TV sets around the world on July 13, 1985, still have vivid recollections of one of the decade's most prominent cultural moments. In fact, if most pop-culture archeologists are inclined to write off the '80s as the era when video mattered more than music, introducing a vapid techno-pop bridge between the glory days of FM radio in the '70s and a far more diverse musical landscape of pop, rap, and grunge in the '90s, then Live Aid may be the only thing during those ten years that actually mattered, the one thing that young people who grew up during the Reagan Era could point to and claim as theirs. But unlike Woodstock, no film was made. Unlike Lollapalooza, it would not return the following summer. Because of various legal implications, Geldof insisted that Live Aid not even be recorded for posterity, and producers of the U.S. concert in Philadelphia actually disabled all of their recording equipment during the broadcast. But while music and fashion and MTV are now irrevocably changed, the need for famine relief in Africa continues, prompting the first release of Live Aid for home viewing and Bob Geldof can thank the folks at MTV, who recently discovered that they had saved a good portion of the American concert in their archives. Some footage still remains lost, but the majority survives. Here then, swathed in feral, foot-long mullets and bright, billowy shirts, are ten reasons to watch Live Aid, again:
Warner Home Video's four-disc release of Live Aid features a good full-frame transfer (1.33:1) from source-materials of varying quality, although everything in the collection is pleasant and watchable. Audio is available in the original stereo, as well as both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 upgrades. Supplements on Disc One include a BBC report on the famine in Ethiopia, as well as the music videos for Band Aid and USA for Africa. Extras on Disc Four include additional performances by INXS, B.B. King, Ashford & Simpson and Teddy Pendergrass, Run DMC, Cliff Richard, and others; the Bowie/Jagger video for "Dancin' in the Streets," and the documentary "Food and Trucks and Rock 'n' Roll." Live Aid is on the street tomorrow, and all proceeds will be used to contribute to the Band Aid Trust in Africa.
Box Office: Four new movies arrived in North American cineplexes over the weekend, but none could displace Pixar's The Incredibles, which handily beat the competition in its second frame with $51 million, pushing its ten-day cume to a blockbuster $144 million. Arriving in the second spot was Warner's The Polar Express, which managed a respectable $30.8 million over a five-day debut, but still has a ways to go before it makes up its reported $270 million production and marketing budget. New Line's caper flick After the Sunset starring Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek took third place with $11.5 million, which met expectations, while Universal's Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason starring Renée Zellweger landed in fourth with $8.9 million, and Rogue Pictures' Seed of Chucky satisfied slasher fans with $8.7 million. Critics were mixed on Polar Express, while Sunset, Bridget, and Chucky all skewed mixed-to-negative.
In continuing release, Universal's Ray starring Jamie Foxx couldn't compete with the onslaught of new movies, but it held its own in sixth place with $8.4 for the session and $52.5 million overall. Sony's The Grudge also is doing solid business with $7.1 million over the weekend and nearly triple-figures after one month. Both Lions Gate's Saw and Miramax's Shall We Dance? are creeping up on the half-million mark. But doing far less well is Paramount's Alfie starring Jude Law, which has slipped to tenth place in its second week with just $11.1 million to show for it. And off to the cheap theaters is Paramount's Team America: World Police, which very likely will exceed its $30 million theatrical gross in DVD sales.
New films on screens this Friday include National Treasure starring Nicolas Cage, as well as The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted his review of Universal's The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection, while new spins this week from the rest of the gang include Elf: infinifilm, The Iron Giant: Special Edition, The Saddest Music in the World, The Clearing, Foul Play, Kingdom Hospital: The Complete Series, The China Syndrome: Special Edition, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, Ragtime, Live Aid, and The Hebrew Hammer. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 9 Nov. 2004
On the Street: It's a short street-list this week, but you still can get plenty of early holiday shopping done from it. New from Universal are two sets of catalog titles featuring The Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields, while Warner has a four-disc edition of Gone With the Wind and the DVD debut of Before Sunset on the shelves. Paramount leads off with this year's remake of The Stepford Wives, and catalog items this time around include Ace High, Arrowhead, and The Naked Jungle. Fresh from Buena Vista is a double-dip of the popular Bridget Jones's Diary. And TV collections for lost-weekend spins include The L Word, Star Trek Voyager, and Friends. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 8 Nov. 2004
Disc of the Week: "If we cannot get artistry and clarity," declared David O. Selznick midway through production on Gone With the Wind (1939), "let's forget about artistry." So they did, and so a classic, perhaps the most beloved Hollywood film ever made, was born. Indeed, clarity is everything in Selznick's nearly four-hour adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's equally beloved novel because it is close to the only thing that keeps it from collapse. Artlessly scurrying from one scene to the next, this production, so fervently anticipated by the American public that they essentially forced en masse the casting of Clark Gable as the charismatic Charleston rogue, Rhett Butler, had many captains George Cukor, Victor Fleming (the credited director), and, by virtue of his evocative production design, William Cameron Menzies and one dictator, Selznick, who was more perfectionist than auteur. The sensitive Cukor would be fired for his slow, exacting pace that knocked the picture well behind schedule, while the macho taskmaster Fleming would be forced to take a temporary leave of absence due to exhaustion. But the cameras rarely stopped rolling, which is the triumph of Selznick, who would never more indelibly leave his mark on any of his productions. Gone With the Wind is an epic with its chest puffed out, cocky with a gambler's moxie, and unafraid of failure. The novel, the production, and the film it spawned typify so much about America's can-do mentality that its status as the quintessential American movie was practically manifest despite its frenetic aesthetic and infuriating racial politics (toned down heavily from the novel). Or maybe that's just another troubling part of the bargain.
As with so many undisputed American classics e.g. The Godfather, Citizen Kane and Casablanca the protagonist of Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O'Hara (a justifiably iconic performance by Vivien Leigh), is an anti-hero in this case, a cunningly selfish creature preoccupied with her own advancement and affluence at the expense of her family and friends. But while she is driven by her transforming determination to "never go hungry again," even if she has to commit all manner of sin to ensure this, Scarlett is primarily fixed on winning the hand of her lifelong flame, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). Ashley, however, chooses instead to marry his cousin Melanie (Olivia de Havilland), who is the antithesis of Scarlett generous and kind-hearted to a fault. Indignant, the desirable Scarlett impulsively runs through a succession of cuckolds who have the unfortunate habit of getting killed soon after the vows are exchanged (marrying Scarlett, it seems, is as perilous as drumming for Spinal Tap), but none of these men truly enthrall her. Only the profligate lothario Rhett Butler stands a chance at challenging the obstinate southern belle, for he is the scoundrel she richly deserves. Adroitly courting favor with both the Yankee conquerors and his fellow Confederates, Rhett is a supreme schemer with an admirable sentimental streak. Whether it's saving Scarlett's life as Atlanta burns spectacularly to the ground, or rescuing Ashley after a shantytown roust gets broken up by Union soldiers, Rhett has the heart that Scarlett lacks, although he also is quite capable of sinking to her base level of emotional cruelty. This capacity burrows to a particularly nasty low point in the infamous "rape" scene, where, against her wishes, Rhett gives Scarlett the rowdy roll in the hay she so badly needs. Rhett's unforgivable transgression is sparked by his frustration at Scarlett's stubborn pining away for Ashley, which is the overriding goal that drives the narrative forward. It is also her hamartia; a defect that will lead to her eventual spiritual ruin belied by her final, shallow self-assuagement that "tomorrow is another day".
If Scarlett is devastated at the end of Gone With the Wind, the fact that she apparently has been shaken of her obsession with Ashley Wilkes in favor of winning back the true love of her life is meant to give audiences a measure of hope as they stream out of the theater sobbing into their handkerchiefs. For Americans scraping out of the Great Depression, yet facing an uncertain future with war breaking out in Europe, this message, along with Scarlett's "gumption," as Mitchell called it, was tremendously reassuring, particularly for women who would soon be heading off to work while their husbands enlisted to save the world from Fascism. This explains how an entire country could fall so madly in love with the film even as its heroine behaved so dishonorably. Perseverance isn't pretty, but it is essential, and Reconstruction offered a heightened picture of survival under desperate circumstances. The extent to which this describes the behind-the-scenes turmoil also explains how the film achieves greatness in spite of its many rough edges. Visually, it's inconsistent and sometimes shoddy, occasionally succumbing to the aforementioned "artistry" in awkward half-measures, as in the dreamlike, silhouetted birthing of Melanie's child that's ridiculously ostentatious when placed against the rest of the picture's blunt visual style. And the narrative, slavish to the novel so as not to upset the legion of demanding fans for whom it could be argued the film was made in the first place, barrels forward with such furious momentum that one is often entertained without being terribly captivated. Still, the damn thing works. It's an ode to audaciousness forged in the very spirit it celebrates easy to nitpick, but impossible to resist.
Warner presents Gone With the Wind in a remarkably gorgeous full-frame transfer (1.33:1) that, like the studio's recent Technicolor releases on DVD, is utterly eye-popping. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is crisp; Atlanta has never blazed with such aural texture. This four disc "Collector's Edition" is packed with supplements, beginning with a literally exhaustive feature-length commentary by the always engaging Rudy Behlmer. Moving over to Disc Three, "The Making of a Legend" (123 min.), is, even at its generous length, only a primer into the intrigue of the picture's contentious production. "Restoring a Legend" (17 min.) explores the film's digital clean-up, while "The Old South" (11 min.), is a vintage (and racially insensitive) short directed by Fred Zinnemann to better explain the movie's milieu. Disc Four boasts "Melanie Remembers" (37 min.), featuring the still-lucid Olivia de Havilland doing just that, while "Gable: The King Remembered" (65 min.) and "Vivien Leigh: Scarlett and Beyond" (46 min.) dig further into the background of the actors immortalized by their respective characters. Also included are two newsreels reporting the 1939 and 1961 Atlanta premieres, the prologue scroll from the international release, bios for the supporting cast, snippets from the foreign language versions, and five theatrical trailers. Gone with the Wind: Collector's Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: To no one's surprise, Pixar's The Incredibles dominated the North American box-office over the weekend, but how incredible was it? The animated film's $70.6 million three-day break exceeded all other grosses in the top ten combined. The win just edged out Finding Nemo's $70.3 million debut to become the best Pixar opening yet, and it also marked the best three-day opening of any film released by Disney. Coming in a disappointing fifth was Paramount's Alfie starring Jude Law, which generated just $6.5 million for the frame. Critics unanimously praised The Incredibles, while Alfie earned mixed notices.
In continuing release, Universal's Oscar-buzzing Ray starring Jamie Foxx held on to second place, adding $13.8 million to a 10-day tally of $39.8 million, while Sony's The Grudge has more than made up its modest budget with $89.5 million after three sessions. Lions Gate's Saw also is coming back with good numbers in fourth place, with $35.7 million after its second weekend. DreamWorks' Shark Tale will outrun The Incredibles for a short time, holding down $154.1 million in chum, but it's bound to be overtaken soon. And doing solid business in late trading are Universal's Friday Night Lights with $57.3 million and Buena Vista's Ladder 49 with $69.9 million so far. But off to DVD prep is New Line's Birth starring Nicole Kidman, which didn't manage $2 million last week and has now dropped out of sight.
New in cineplexes this Wednesday is the animated The Polar Express with Tom Hanks, while Friday sees the arrival of After the Sunset starring Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek, as well as Seed of Chucky. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a review of Warner's The Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Vol. Two, while new spins this week from the rest of the team include The Stepford Wives, Before Sunset, Bridget Jones's Diary: Collector's Edition, Dazed and Confused: Flashback Edition, Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Special Edition, The More the Merrier, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Special Edition, Ace High, Renegade, The Naked Jungle, Falling from Grace, Gone with the Wind: Collector's Edition, and Killer Nun. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 2 Nov. 2004
On the Street: There are some monstrously big titles on the shelves this week, but you can't get the biggest of the bunch today DreamWorks' Shrek 2 gets a special Friday street-date, and it's still bound to be the week's biggest seller. New from Paramount is the second season of Star Trek: The Original Series, while Warner's gone back to the archives for Vol. Two of The Looney Tunes Golden Collection. Columbia TriStar has now released Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove three times on DVD, although the extra features on the two-disc "40th Anniversary Special Edition" make it worth the upgrade for ardent fans, while also new is an "Anniversary Edition" of Philadelphia and, from the vault, Robert Altman's California Split and George Stevens' The More the Merrier. Buena Vista's hoping Around the World in 80 Days with Jackie Chan gets a second shot in home viewing, while New Line's offerings this time around include Proof starring Hugo Weaving and Russell Crowe, Gus Van Sant's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and The Rapture. Universal's double-dipped a couple of bong-rips with new editions of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Dazed and Confused, and Buena Vista's done one better with a three-disc edition of Pirates of the Caribbean. Titles lurking under the radar this week include A Home at the End of the World and Three Coins in the Fountain. And ready for TV spins are new boxes of Northern Exposure and The West Wing. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 1 Nov. 2004
Disc of the Week: If formative events count for anything, two altered Warren Miller's life at a young age. As a boy growing up in his native Hollywood, Calif., he delivered newspapers for pocket money one of his customers was Walt Disney, a filmmaker who embodied both a visionary spirit and financial success while flaunting industry conventions. And when he was 12, Miller traded a pair of roller skates and $2 for a pair of pine skis, initiating his lifelong passion for alpine sport. By 1947 he had relocated to Sun Valley, Idaho, where he lived in a trailer while pursuing skiing full-time. He began giving instruction, and before long he was teaching two Bell & Howell executives, whom he convinced to lend him a camera. That loan and a $500 budget produced 1947's Deep and Light, the first Warren Miller ski film. Since that time, Miller (now semi-retired) founded Warren Miller Entertainment, a multi-million-dollar business that has, among other things, produced a new ski movie every year (with no less than 54 in the filmography as of 2004). The annual arrival of Miller's films, which roadshow across the country, herald the beginning of the ski season for deep-powder junkies, who queue up to catch the latest in extreme-sports filmmaking. But are Warren Miller movies essentially the same, year in and year out? In some ways, yes the montage of travelogue, humor, and pulse-pounding vertical action is narrated by Miller in his characteristic, low-key manner, marked by his sarcastic wit, tongue-in-cheek chauvinism, and pet phrases after wipeouts, such as "You want your skis? Go get 'em," and "Shut up and get up." But Warren Miller movies have evolved over the decades, as have filmmaking styles, snowsports, and ski-resort fashions. What hasn't changed is Miller's carpe diem ethos. "If you wait until next year to do it," he likes to say, "you'll be one year older."
The 53rd Warren Miller film, Journey (2003), holds to the filmmaker's established template, following not just certain events within the skiing world, but also its gradual development. As usual, Miller's filmmaking team travels the globe in search of skiing locations, known and unknown. At the Heavenly resort alongside Lake Tahoe's south shore, ski icon and mogul-master Glen Plake insists that Californians aren't just a bunch of beach bums, although his colorful 18-inch mohawk gives new meaning to the term west-coast style. A two-week drive leads the team to Portillo, Chile, where an isolated mountain hotel at 10,000 feet marks the gateway to Andean peaks covered with snow in the middle of July. The quartet of extreme skiers who travel to Chamonix, France, to rip up some terrifying Alpine terrain are all over 40 a typical nod by Miller to illustrate that you're never too old to push the limits, even when that means skiing a 4,000-foot chute with a 50-deg. pitch. Even more extreme is Cordova, Alaska, where a trio of snowriders are heli'ed on to some of the largest peaks in North America there's no easy way down, and it becomes that much worse for one skier when he's forced to outrun an avalanche caused by his own traverse. For skiers, Warren Miller films such as Journey offer a variety of delights, from sheer rushes of adrenaline to observing the subtle form of world-class athletes at the peak of their sport. But even non-skiers can enjoy a Warren Miller movie, and for many of the same reasons. Miller's humor is always sharp, while the overseas locales are intriguing. And no matter what the genre, the cinematography is unrivaled, both for its composition and our simple "how did they get that shot?" bewilderment. In a Warren Miller picture, green-screens simply don't exist.
Shout! Factory's Warren Miller's Journey Through the Decades box-set includes 2003's Journey as well as three other titles, selected to reflect the Warren Miller filmmaking style over the years. Ski a la Carte (1978) is the clearest time-capsule of the bunch Miller returns to his old stomping ground of Sun Valley, Idaho, where a young Mariel Hemingway joins a quartet of skiers on the steep powder of Baldy. A trip to Greece reveals that the country's resorts aren't as sophisticated as those in North America (such as California's massive Squaw Valley), but there's still plenty of terrain to cut up. The fashions everywhere are decidedly colorful, and folks even ski with hats that have pom-poms. Meanwhile, Miller can't resist referencing Star Wars, he visits a resort's discotheque, and in the pre-snowboard era he finds a bunch of kids skiing on their skateboards, to which they've lashed plastic skids. Steep & Deep (1985) introduces a more contemporary ski-era the terrain is more frightening than the ski-clothes, and along with a return to Sun Valley and visits to Colorado, British Columbia, and New Zealand, we meet the legendary Scott Schmidt. If Miller's films before the '80s were primarily travelogues, Schmidt became the movie star he was looking for. The founder of "extreme skiing," it was Schmidt who was willing to enter triple-black terrain while Miller's cameras were rolling, giving his movies an entirely new dimension while turning the cliff-diving skier into a living legend. Schmidt would appear in eight Warren Miller titles, causing fans around the world to drop their jaws and mumble "ho... ly... sh#t" with each new jump. Endless Winter (1995) fully introduces snowboards into the mix of Miller's snowriders, memorably opening as four daring souls are awakened by a helicopter before sunrise to be ferried to a remote Canadian peak, skis and boards in the cargo hold. Famous resorts on the itinerary include Whistler and Jackson Hole, while overseas destinations include Austria, Bolivia, and Japan. The final location, Valdez, Alaska, includes some of Miller's finest footage ever as four riders descend from a mountain that appears to rest on the remotest corner of the earth.
Shout! Factory's Warren Miller's Journey Through the Ages box-set includes all four titles on separate discs. The full-frame transfers (1.33:1 OAR) are uniformly good, taken from source-prints that exhibit varying degrees of age. Audio is in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround on Journey, which also has two featurettes, while the remaining titles have Dolby 2.0 stereo tracks. The audio is pleasant, with the exception of Steep & Deep, where it would seem the mix either amplified the music too much or didn't raise Miller's narration to the proper level at times, Miller's voice collapses under the weight of the music. In addition to the films, the three catalog titles include four featurettes apiece, available on a supplemental menu or as "on-the-fly" content during the feature presentations. Warren Miller's Journey Through the Decades is on the street now.
Box Office: Everybody's talking about Jamie Foxx's performance in Universal's Ray, but the Halloween weekend went to Sony's The Grudge starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, which held on to the top spot for the second week in a row at the North American box-office, adding $22.4 million to a healthy $71.6 million 10-day cume. Ray had a strong debut in second place with $20.1 million, while Lions Gate's Saw hoped to capitalize on All Hallows Eve, taking in $17.4 million for third place. Also new was New Line's Birth starring Nicole Kidman, which debuted outside of the top-ten in limited locations with just $1.7 million. Critics praised Ray and were mixed on Saw, while Birth skewed mixed-to-negative.
In continuing release, DreamWorks' Shark Tale is turning into a monster hit, holding down a top-five spot in its fifth week with $147.4 million overall, while Miramax's Shall We Dance starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez is looking to be a midlist success, banking $33.9 million after three frames. Universal's Friday Night Lights starring Billy Bob Thornton is over the $50 million mark after one month, and Buena Vista's Ladder 49 has done $66 million worth of business in five sessions. Don't expect Paramount's Team America: World Police to be a breakout hit, although it's racked up $27.2 million to date. And off to DVD prep is New Line's Raise Your Voice starring Hilary Duff, which barely cracked $10 million before heading for the cheap seats.
New films in cineplexes this Friday include Pixar's The Incredibles and Alfie starring Jude Law. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted a look at Columbia TriStar's new "40th Anniversary" edition of Dr. Strangelove, while new spins this week from the rest of the team include Dawn of the Dead: Unrated Director's Cut, Around the World in 80 Days, Mulan: Special Edition, Star Trek: The Original Series: Season Two, The OC: Season One, California Split, A Home at the End of the World, Proof , Mulholland Falls, The Rapture, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Warren Miller's Journey Through the Decades, and Mark of the Devil. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.