Tuesday, 26 April 2005
On the Street: Criterion kicks off our weekly street-list with a trio of new releases, including the box-set Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films, Pietro Germi's Divorce Italian Style, and Orson Welles' F for Fake. Meanwhile, Warner has yet another box on the street, this time The Doris Day Collection, an eight-disc survey that includes such titles as The Pajama Game, Calamity Jane, and Please Don't Eat the Daisies. Paramount's sure to sell a few copies of their two-disc Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, while New Line's on the board with Blade Trinity: Platinum Series and The Assassination of Richard Nixon and Buena Vista's going for thrills with Darkness starring Anna Paquin. And new from the small screen is the third season of ER. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 25 April 2005
Disc of the Week: One need not search too hard for low points in the life of Orson Welles; they are abundant and uniquely depressing (Terry Gilliam has had it easy in comparison). But even taking into account the travestying of his second picture for RKO, The Magnificent Ambersons, truncated and tonally modified in absentia, it's hard to imagine a more dispiriting period than the early 1970s. At least Welles was still a young man in 1942; the bottom had yet to drop out on his Hollywood adventure, and there would be opportunities for redemption. But as the '70s began, those opportunities had passed. Failures, compromises, and half-realized endeavors littered the intervening 30 years, leaving a heartbreaking legacy of genius stifled and abused. Welles was down and out; he hardly required more kicking. But that's exactly what he got with the publication of two books, the first a blinkered assessment of his work by Charles Higham titled The Films of Orson Welles (from which the "fear of finishing" sophistry emanated), and, particularly damaging, "Raising Kane", an essay by The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, which sought to deprive the filmmaker of his monumental, medium-changing masterpiece. Kael's thesis argued in rabid defense of the picture's co-writer, Herman J. Mankiewicz, and relied on the recollections of producer John Houseman, who, contrary to printed fact, alleged that not a single word of the screenplay belonged to Welles (Kael never saw fit to interview the filmmaker himself). According to one of the director's biographers, Barbara Leaming, this charge finally brought Welles to tears, and it not hard to see why. After years of rigorous independent production requiring the resourceful scraping together of often-meager resources, his enemies and their champions had come calling for his one fully realized masterpiece. And if they could not deny the movie, they would then blot out his authorship.
From out of this hubbub emerged F for Fake (1976), which began life in earnest as a found-footage project pieced together from a filmed Francois Reichenbach interview of art forger Elmyr de Hory, but blew out into real-life farce when the charlatan's biographer, Clifford Irving, suddenly gained notoriety himself as the fraudulent biographer of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. It was a fantastic, highly marketable real-life drama with one problem: There wasn't sufficient footage from which to construct a feature film. Undeterred and creatively engaged, Welles the maverick went to work and emerged with a stunningly witty and, at times, piercingly emotional treatise on the imprecise nature of authorship, with the director literally acting as the viewer's reliable but prankish narrator. Undoubtedly influenced by the non-linear filmed essays of Jean-Luc Godard (whose formal audacity he quite admired), Welles flits about with a recklessly jubilant verve throughout the first half of the film, vacillating between the scandales de Elmyr and Irving and cleverly creating a dialogue between the two from carefully spliced footage of differing film stock while displaying some magic of his own. After concluding this passage, Welles eschews his heretofore disorienting, kinetically edited approach in favor of a more meditative pace as he indulges in some eloquent ruminating over France's Cathedral of Chartres a vast, inspiring structure unsigned by an architect before finishing in vigorous fashion as he tells of a series of Picasso forgeries which implicate the filmmaker's mistress, Oja Kodar, and her grandfather.
It is impossible to adequately digest F for Fake in one sitting. The overwhelming, breakneck editing of the film's first movement is so bewildering that, unless viewers have spoiled their experience beforehand (a pity and not at all recommended), they have no choice but to give themselves over to Welles, whose ever-impish demeanor verily screams at the viewer that something is amiss. But part of the joy of watching movies comes from the thrill of being had so, even as Welles insists at the outset that the following will be utterly true, the outlandish lie of his process, a canny conflation of strangely related incidents, puts one on guard. However, what remains clear throughout is that, no matter the source of the footage, be it Reichenbach's or random stock, the work's guide and author is Orson Welles. While he may have had his day in court prior to the completion of this picture, via acolyte Peter Bogdanovich's byline, in an Esquire essay titled "The Kane Mutiny", it is very difficult to read this movie as anything but a stingingly brilliant, if playful, riposte to his detractors (summed up bluntly in the quote, "The best critical opinion is a load of horse manure."). Energized by these challenges, Welles is in stirring command of his craft, which, by necessity of temperament, has grown more sophisticated even as it's been scaled back. This a wonderful, vital, and rebellious work of an unbowed wunderkind who broke open the possibilities of a nascent art form before being punished by a system that could not bear his impetuousness.
The Criterion Collection presents F for Fake in a flawless anamorphic transfer (1.66:1) with crisp Dolby Digital monaural audio. As the company's inaugural (and, hopefully, not final) Welles offering, Criterion delivers the goods with a satisfying and exhaustive two-disc set. Extras begin on Disc One with a leisurely, engaging commentary from Kodar and director of photography Gary Graver. There also is a brief introduction to the film from Bogdanovich, who offers a helpful primer on the bewildering content about to hit the viewer. The bulk, however, is on Disc Two, which kicks off with the quite good Orson Welles: One-Man Band (88 min.), a feature-length documentary celebrating the director's "particular contrarity" that denied him a mass audience. There are tantalizing glimpses of The Other Side of the Wind, The Deep, and many other works that went unfinished due not to laziness, but, rather, dwindling resources and, oftentimes, rotten luck. This is as persuasive a refutation of the Higham thesis as one is likely to encounter. Also on board is "Almost True: The Noble Art of Forgery" (52 min.), a straightforward (i.e. dry) bio on de Hory, and a "60 Minutes II" update on Irving that reunites the faker with his one-time dupe, Mike Wallace. Rounding out this disc is the 1972 Howard Hughes press conference that undid Irving's charade. Finally, there's a lucid new essay from one of Welles's sharpest latter-day defenders, film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. F for Fake: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn topped the weekend box-office in Universal's thriller The Interpreter directed by veteran Sydney Pollack, the title secured $22.8 million, easily beating all competitors. Arriving in a disappointing fourth place with $7.7 million was Touchstone's rom-com A Lot Like Love with Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet, while Sony's Kung Fu Hustle expanded into wide release, boosting its cume to $8 million and change. However, New Line's comedy King's Ransom starring Anthony Anderson, which was not screened for critics, arrived in a dismal tenth with $2.2 million. Critics have loved Hustle, while Interpreter skewed mixed-to-positive and Love earned mixed-to-negative notices.
In continuing release, MGM's remake of The Amityville Horror slipped to second place, adding a strong $14.2 million to a $43.8 million gross, while Paramount's Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey continues to be a hot performer with $48.9 million in the sack after three frames. Also doing well mid-run is Dimension's Sin City, which has racked up $67.2 million after one month, while Sony's comedy Guess Who stands at $62.3 million. On the fade are both Robots and The Pacifier, but not after clearing triple-digits. And on the way to DVD prep is Sony's Hitch starring Will Smith, which is now wrapping up a monster $175 million run.
New films set to shake up the list this Friday include XXX: State of the Union starring Ice Cube and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: M.E. Russell has posted a sneak-preview of Paramount's two-disc Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, while Damon Houx recently dug through Criterion's Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films. New stuff this week from the rest of the gang includes Blade Trinity: Platinum Series, Darkness, Divorce Italian Style: The Criterion Collection, Undertow, Primer, F for Fake: The Criterion Collection, and The Adventures of Errol Flynn. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 19 April 2005
On the Street: Yet another great DVD box arrives from Warner this morning "The Errol Flynn Signature Collection" includes the long-awaited swashbucklers Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk, as well as Dodge City, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, and They Died with Their Boots On. MGM's gone back to the catalog as well, turning up 1939's The Four Feathers, 1958's The Quiet American, and wartime titles Attack on the Iron Coast, Beach Red, and Beachhead. Columbia TriStar's on the board this time around with Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers and an "Uncensored Unrated Director's Cut" of xXx, while New Line's more subtle fare includes Nicole Kidman in Birth and the indie favorite Primer. TV fans can look for new boxes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and That '70s Show. But put 'em all together, and it's unlikely they'll shift more units this week than Universal's runaway hit Meet the Fockers. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 18 April 2005
Disc of the Week: While watching the thorough making-of featurette on this DVD, we're bowled over to realize that in 1935 Captain Blood was a big gamble for Warner Brothers because its cast featured no household names. After all, this swaggering costume adventure yarn (from Rafael Sabatini's popular novel of 17th-century pirates on the high seas) prevails as the very model of classic Hollywood star power. It catapulted to overnight superstardom 26-year-old Errol Flynn, an unknown Australian bit player whose athletic good looks and inviting devil-may-care charm as the gentleman corsair put the buck in swashbuckling for years to come. Nowadays, after seventy years, Flynn still possesses the dash to win us over with a grin while ordering "me lads" thusly: "Up the riggings, you monkeys! Break out those sails and watch them fill with the wind that's carrying us all to freedom!" Somehow there's no tongue in anyone's cheek when he tallyhos, "Alright, my hearties, follow me!" and swings like Tarzan to board an enemy privateer through blazing cannons and sword battles. He does cut a ravishingly handsome figure in his long pirate coat and broad-brimmed feathered hat, or holding a spyglass to his eye from the deck of his stolen pirate ship. Another newcomer here is 19-year-old Olivia de Havilland as the spirited noblewoman who enchants the captain's heart. Her only previous noteworthy screen appearance was earlier that year in the lavish box-office disappointment, A Midsummer Night's Dream, so we tend to note Captain Blood as her career-making debut as well as the first of eight films she and Flynn made together.
England, 1685. Flynn is Dr. Peter Blood, a kindly Irish physician who's more concerned with his geraniums than with the rebel Monmouth uprising clashing through the countryside. But when he mouths off to the wrong representative of tyrannical King James II, a drumhead court finds him guilty of high treason, sentences him to slavery, and ships him off to His Majesty's colonies in the West Indies. Bad move. Years ago, Blood was an international adventurer, fighter, and seaman before he "hung up the sword and picked up the lancet." He's sold to beautiful and feisty Arabella Bishop (de Havilland), niece of a cruel plantation owner (Lionel Atwill). Taking a fancy to her handsome property, she elevates him from floggings and the brutal toil in the sulfur mines to be the doctor attending Jamaica's frivolous English governor. Armed only with his cunning, he engineers an escape, saving a band of fellow slaves who are just the loyal and true men he needs to commandeer a Spanish pirate ship and launch a new career in noble-hearted buccaneering across the Caribbean. And that's just the first hour. Who better to come between Blood and Arabella than the archetypal Hollywood bad guy, Basil Rathbone? He plays Capt. Levasseur, the French freebooter who joins Blood in a partnership that, of course, goes sour when Levasseur's villainous nature emerges after he captures Arabella. Flynn and Rathbone's first screen sword duel (on an island shore played by Laguna Beach) is a vigorous rehearsal for their rematch in The Adventures of Robin Hood. As fates and stations both individual and political from Blood and Arabella all the way up to the King himself get turned upside down, it's up to Blood and his crew to fight for England and honor. If that means a broadside battle in an exotic seaport, followed by the wicked deposed and virtue rewarded, so much the better.
This rousing actioner comes so grandly appointed with pieces of eight, chivalric romance, and cannons blasting from tall ships that life with a merry "brotherhood of buccaneers" never again seemed like such fun, or at least not until The Sea Hawk five years later. Captain Blood's combination of Flynn's ebullient heroics, that Flynn-de Havilland chemistry, Rathbone's charisma, and Warner's can-do director Michael Curtiz proved so irresistible that the studio repeated the formula, upping the ingredients, in 1938's Robin Hood. Further wind in Captain Blood's sails comes from the goose-pimply score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who later orchestrated more Flynnish gallantry and romance in Robin Hood, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, and The Sea Hawk. Flynn is so accomplished that so we're told on this disc Captain Blood remains "the most amazing debut of a new actor in the history of Hollywood." But we also learn that the inexperienced new kid was so visibly nervous during the initial shooting that director Curtiz, Flynn's ideal taskmaster, eventually reshot early scenes after the actor grew into the self-assured and easy screen presence that defined him for the rest of his career. de Havilland instantly stood out as a new A-list star, a position soon validated again in Robin Hood and Gone With the Wind. As you can expect from a Warner Brothers picture of the era, even the second-tier characters, whether dramatic or comic relief, are cast with top-notch contract players such as Ross Alexander, Guy Kibbee, and E.E. Clive. At the same time, Curtiz's brisk pacing and shadow-accented action scenes helped make Flynn the obvious successor to Douglas Fairbanks and Captain Blood the template for subsequent swashbucklers. Studio head Jack Warner's gamble of entrusting his million-dollar investment to two unknowns not only paid off, it still holds up today as one of those too-good-to-be-true Hollywood success stories.
This Warner Home Video DVD arrives as part of the "Errol Flynn Signature Collection." The source print has seen better days, so it's a little spotty and displays mild wear from time to time. But the black-and-white imagery looks quite good, with pleasing grayscale and detail. The DD 1.0 audio is strong and clear. Warner has earned a reputation for excellence in the presentation of its Golden Age classics, and this disc carries on the tradition with a good new featurette plus ample vintage period flavorings. In Captain Blood: A Swashbuckler is Born (23 mins.), Rudy Behlmer, Robert Osborne, and others trace the film's history and legacy, from the discovery of Flynn and de Havilland to behind-the-scenes looks at the casting, performances, and production. Leonard Maltin hosts Warner Night at the Movies, which kicks off with the trailer for 1935's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The "News Parade of 1935" brings us the death-house last mile of the Lindbergh Baby kidnapper, footage of an earthquake and Dust Bowl devastation, the airplane crash that killed Will Rogers and Wiley Post, and FDR rousing a crowd by stating that the U.S. must remain "unentangled and free" from the troubles boiling up overseas. The program of short subjects includes an Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy comedy, Johnny Green and his orchestra (with The Hillbilly Trio), and Friz Freleng's Merrie Melodies cartoon "Billboard Frolics." Other extras are the film's theatrical re-release trailer and Captain Blood's February '37 Lux Radio Theater production (58 min.) starring Flynn, de Havilland, and Rathbone. Captain Blood is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Only one new film opened wide in North American theaters over the weekend, and it had little trouble reaching the top of the box-office chart MGM's The Amityville Horror scared up $23.3 million worth of receipts, notching last week's winner Sahara down to second place, where it added $13.1 million to a $36.4 million 10-day gross. Critics were mixed-to-negative on Amityville, a remake of the 1979 horror classic.
In continuing release, Fox's rom-com Fever Pitch starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore held on to third place for its second frame, adding $8.8 million to $23.9 million overall, while Dimension's much-discussed Sin City slipped to fourth place after three weeks with $61.3 million in the bag. Rounding out the top five is Sony's Guess Who with Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher, which has $57.5 million to its credit. MGM's Beauty Shop and Warner's Miss Congeniality 2 continue to do midlist business, while Fox's Robots has cleared $115.7 million and Disney's The Pacifier is also tracking triple-digits with $103.7 million. Still in semi-limited release, New Line's The Upside of Anger with Joan Allen and Kevin Costner has taken in nearly $15 million. And off to a lucrative life on home video is Disney's Ice Princess, which skates off the big screen with $20 million.
New films in 'plexes this Friday include The Interpreter starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, A Lot Like Love with Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet, and King's Ransom starring Anthony Anderson. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak-preview of Columbia TriStar's House of Flying Daggers, while new spins this week from the rest of the team include The Sea Hawk, Birth, The Quiet American, The Four Feathers, Captain Blood, and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 12 April 2005
On the Street: This week's hot-selling disc is bound to be Warner's Ocean's Twelve, but there are a few more items to grab as well, including MGM's Hotel Rwanda and Palm Pictures' splendid rockumentary DiG!. Also worth a look are Columbia TriStar's The Woodsman starring Kevin Bacon and Bad Education from Pedro Almodovar, as well as Paramount's Suspect Zero starring Aaron Eckhart and Ben Kingsley. And TV fans have plenty to sort through, including Fox's The Bob Newhart Show: Season One, the Cartoon Network's Space Ghost Coast to Coast: Vol. 3 and Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law: Vol. 1, and Universal's all-'80s all-the-time lineup The A-Team: Season Two, Knight Rider: Season Two, and Magnum P.I.: Season Two. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 11 April 2005
Disc of the Week: Upon agreeing to deploy 5,500 troops to Rwanda on May 17, 1994, Resolution 918 of the United Nations Security Council expressed the "urgent need for coordinated international action to alleviate the suffering of the Rwandan people." Had such action been taken six weeks earlier, it's possible the tiny, landlocked African country wouldn't be etched into 20th century history as a synonym for genocide. Simply put, for all of their good intentions, the United Nations and its member states were too late the tinderbox of regional political rivalries was lit on April 6, the day that Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana's airplane was shot down while on approach to the Kigali airport. A member of the country's Hutu majority, Habyarimana was engaged in peace accords with political rival Paul Kagame and his Tutsi-dominated Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF). To this day, it remains unclear whether it was Hutu radicals or Tutsi rebels who shot down the plane, but the result was virtually a fait accompli. Bolstered by the Hutu-run RTLM radio, the local Hutu militia the Interhamwe, or "those who stand together" began systematically killing both members of the country's Tutsi minority and liberal-minded Hutus. Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of Rwanda (FAR) did little to interfere with the Interhamwe, far more concerned that Habyarimana's assassination was a prelude to an invasion by the RPF rebels. Even worse, while westerners were rapidly evacuated, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) found its already modest force reduced to a mere 260 soldiers with strict rules of engagement. Citizens of Kigali who could hide, did and many wound up as unexpected guests at the luxurious Hotel de Mille Collines.
Don Cheadle stars in Hotel Rwanda as Paul Rusesabagina, the house manager of the Hotel de Mille Collines. A Hutu, Paul has little interest in local politics, although he's shrewd enough to show an interest in local politicians, military leaders, and foreign dignitaries. Happy to ply them with single-malt scotch and Cuban cohibas, he presents the Mille Collines as an oasis in the desert, where westerners can enjoy the familiar comforts of home while locals can bask in its relative opulence. But Paul's deference also is designed to curry favor. Far from naive, he understands that the rule of law in Rwanda is often a question of power, and he's spent the better part of his career building up good relations with as many influential people as possible, hoping that someday, if he needs protection, his good reputation will secure himself, his wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), and his three children. But despite his knack at the subtle art of human relations, Paul fails to suspect the horror that awaits his country after the death of President Habyarimana. Even when a neighbor is taken away in the dead of night by the Armed Forces, Paul places his faith in the government, his corporate employer Sabena, the United Nations, and the west, only to discover that the help he believes will arrive is still far distant. Resorting to street-level politics, Paul negotiates with FAR Gen. Bizimungo (Fana Mokoena) and Interhamwe leader George Rutaganda (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) for protection and supplies. But with nearly 1,000 "guests" hiding in his hotel mostly Tutsi refugees he realizes that time is the one commodity he can't buy forever.
Hotel Rwanda is a film that will be watched and re-watched for many years to come, but seeing it on DVD in 2005 for the first time, one can't help but be struck by the fact that Don Cheadle clearly deserved the Academy Award for Best Actor and probably had no chance of winning it. Jamie Foxx's walk-away with the statuette was all but assured after his remarkable mimicry of blues legend Ray Charles in Ray, while Cheadle's performance contains none of the elements that pleases Oscar: Paul Rusesabagina isn't handicapped, he isn't morally flawed, and even though the character is based on a real person, he isn't famous. But while Foxx took home the hardware thanks to some skilled channeling of a familiar personality, in Rwanda Cheadle is tasked with creating a rich, fully formed individual out of whole cloth. We learn just a few things about Paul at first that he's a smart hotelier and a loyal family man, with only a few hints that his waters don't run very deep (there's a touch of cynicism to his soft-pedal bribery, and he prefers to ignore the deep-seeded Hutu/Tutsi conflict). But as the genocide increases day after day, his negotiations require an increasing amount of courage courage we soon realize he never suspected he could summon. Director/co-writer Terry George does a solid job of managing the action, making sure that a somber history lesson doesn't overshadow basic filmmaking the script barely hints at the initial killings, allowing the horror to unfold mostly from the limited perspective of the hotel's residents creating a cinematic claustrophobia similar to that found in The Killing Fields. And while name players such as Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jean Reno cross the stage, the bulk of the cast is anchored by African actors, including Sophie Okonedo as Tatiana Rusesabagina, Fana Mokoena as Gen. Bizimungo, and Hakeem Kae-Kazim as George Rutaganda. It's not always pleasant, but Hotel Rwanda ranks as one of the films everyone should see at least once not only for the intense, personal drama, but also for its unflinching look at the origins and costs of genocide.
MGM's DVD release of Hotel Rwanda offers a crisp anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include a commentary track from director Terry George and the film's subject, Paul Rusesabagina, with additional comments from Wyclef Jean (who contributed the song "Million Voices"), while Don Cheadle recorded a second track for selected scenes. Also on board is the behind-the-scenes featurette "A Message of Peace: Making Hotel Rwanda" (28 min.), the additional short documentary "Return to Rwanda" (14 min.), and the theatrical trailer. Hotel Rwanda is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Paramount capitalized on the lack of action-adventure films in cineplexes so far this year, giving Sahara plenty of promotion and the top spot on the weekend box-office chart. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz, and William H. Macy, the title raked in $18.5 million, notching last week's winner Sin City down to second place, where it added $14.1 million to a $50.7 million 10-day cume. Debuting in third place was the Farrelly Brothers' Fever Pitch starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, which was in line with expectations, posting $13 million. Critics were mixed on both new releases.
In continuing release, Sony's Guess Who starring Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher slipped to the fourth spot with $7.1 million for the session and $51.1 million overall, where it tied with MGM's Beauty Shop starring Queen Latifah, which has $26.4 million after two frames. Fox's Robots is fading with just $4.6 million over the weekend, although it's a certified success with $111 million in the can. Disney's The Pacifier also looks sequel-bound, crossing the century after six weeks. Still performing well on limited screens is New Line's The Upside of Anger with Joan Allen and Kevin Costner, which has $12.3 million to its credit. And off to DVD prep is Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, which will finish in the triple-digits before it's done.
Don't expect a lot of action in cineplexes this Friday the only new wide release is the remake of The Amityville Horror. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews this week from the team include Ocean's Twelve, Bad Education, Suspect Zero, The Twilight Zone: Season One, DiG!, The Woodsman, Hotel Rwanda, and Space Ghost Coast to Coast: Vol. 3. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 5 April 2005
On the Street: A short street-list still can be sweet, especially when it leads off with Alexander Payne's wine-country comedy Sideways, on shelves today from Fox. Other new titles include Fox's Elektra starring Jennifer Garner and Columbia TriStar's Spanglish from James L. Brooks, while Columbia's western wave this week includes a special edition of The Professionals as well as a two-disc release of Silverado. MGM's going for scares with a four-disc Amityville Horror Special Edition Gift Set, while Zeitgeist is on deck with the acclaimed documentary The Corporation. And new from the tube is Queer As Folk: Season Four and The West Wing: Season Four. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 4 April 2005
Disc of the Week: For those artists whose careers move from small screen to big, there's always an inherent risk the structure of television can become so deeply ingrained that often it's difficult to dislodge. Thus, films featuring TV stars can become too neat, too pat, with jokes waiting for the reassurance of a live audience. Which is why the best James L. Brooks movies are the most chaotic; his playful sense of disarray leads to characters and interactions that remain consistently fresh. Brooks worked throughout the '60s and '70s on some of the best TV programs of the era ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Taxi"), and his sense of character and skill at gag-writing is unparalleled. But his films struggled against this neatness. He made a big splash in 1983 with his directorial debut Terms of Endearment, netting three Academy Awards. Since then, he's dabbled in feature pictures as he sees fit (besides his decades of TV work, being an executive producer of the "The Simpsons" contributes to his autonomy). He's only directed four movies in the past two decades, with Spanglish arriving in 2004, after a seven-year break. Even though he hasn't written for TV in nearly two decades, Brooks occasionally likes to keep his scripts a little too tidy but here he delivers an appealing chaos of characters, all dealing with confused emotions and the fear of assimilation.
Spanglish follows two families. The Morenos are made up of mother Flor (Paz Vega) and daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce), who left Mexico for America after Cristina's father disappeared. Flor finds work with the bourgeois Claskys: Deborah's (Tea Leoni) career is at a standstill, while her husband John (Adam Sandler) runs a successful restaurant, which got a four-star review naming him the best chef in America. They have two kids with daughter Bernice (Sarah Steele) combating a weight problem and a live-in grandmother (Cloris Leachman) who's a former jazz singer and current alcoholic. But the longer Flor works for the Claskys the more their families overlap and intermingle. When the Morenos move in to the Claskys' summer home, Deborah takes an interest in Cristina that annoys both Flor and Bernice. But the main trouble lies with Flor and John; she's not used to dealing with any man who talks so freely, and the two grow attracted to each other based on their mutual good parenting and easy chemistry. Meanwhile, Deborah is not herself of late, prone to emotional spells and erratic, late night absences. But Flor wants to keep her customs and ethnicity intact, and she becomes concerned when her daughter appears to be conforming to the Clatskys' upper-class milieu.
Spanglish was a December release, and with James L. Brooks' track record, it was probably hoped to be an Academy favorite. Unfortunately the film never found its audience. One issue was Tea Leoni's character, Deborah, who is so neurotic that some thought she strained credulity (although those more familiar with the personality type might consider it a spot-on performance). It's a challenging role that Leoni manages to humanize, but it's perhaps too easy to see her as the script's antagonist, which she simply is not. Instead, Deborah is a woman in mid-life crisis, one who isn't entirely sure what to do with herself and thus makes bad decisions and alienates the people around her. Nonetheless, the story makes it clear that this is Deborah at the lowest ebb of her life, and if there's anything that makes the character palatable, it's Brooks' smart dialogue and his fascination with people. At the halfway point, there's a show-stopping sequence: John finally has a moment of peace and makes himself a BLT, only to have Flor confront him about an inappropriately nice thing he's done for her child. The scene keeps growing until it reaches a conclusion that amazes with its movie smartness it crackles. Spanglish also gives Adam Sandler the best role of his career, playing a sweetly decent guy with such grace that it suggests a screen-life beyond the diminishing returns of his recent comic fare. He's also the heart of the story, since the second half of the movie concerns his flirtations with Flor their awkward courtship is one of the more endearing love stories of the last couple years. Spanglish is an emotionally messy film, and it leaves a lot unresolved. But that's for the best it's what separates well-observed life from television.
Columbia TriStar presents Spanglish on DVD in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer John Seale, it looks sumptuous though the blue-screen work during driving sequences is noticeable. The disc comes with a very frank commentary by Brooks, and editors Richard Marks and Tia Nolan, who talk at length about how the project was shaped through both the filmmaking and test-screening process (they test-screened the title 13 times). Brooks is very aware of how he works, and he offers clear comments on how the film was shot and his own methodology. Also on board are 12 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Brooks, Marks and Nolan (30 min.), the featurette "HBO First Look: The Making of Spanglish" (13 min.), "Casting Sessions" featuring optional commentary by Brooks (4 min.), "How to Make the World's Greatest Sandwich featuring Thomas Keller," which offers the recipe for the BLT in the film (perhaps cinema's most enticing on-screen sandwich) (4 min.), and bonus trailers, though no trailer for the film itself. Spanglish is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Thanks to a solid marketing campaign and lots of street-level anticipation, Dimension's Sin City landed on top of the weekend's box-office chart Robert Rodriguez's adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel scored $28.1 million, easily beating the week's other debut, MGM's Beauty Shop starring Queen Latifah, which as good for less than half that with a $13.5 million break. Meanwhile, New Line's The Upside of Anger starring Joan Allen and Kevin Costner expanded into semi-limited release, adding $4.1 million to an $8.7 million gross. Critics praised Sin City and Anger, while Beauty Shop earned mixed notices.
In continuing release, Sony's Guess Who? starring Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher slipped to third place, adding $13 million to a solid $41.3 million 10-day gross. Fox's Robots cleared triple-digits after one month, holding down fourth place with $104.5 million in the tank. And Warner's Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous with Sandra Bullock is doing midlist business with $31.3 million after two weeks. Looking to fade fast is DreamWorks' The Ring Two starring Naomi Campbell, which generated just $5.8 million in its third frame, while Disney's Ice Princess is headed for the exits with less than $20 million, a figure it likely will better on home video. And off to DVD prep is Warner's Constantine, which will finish around $75 million.
New in cineplexes this Friday is Fever Pitch with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, as well as Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New spins this week from the gang include Sideways, Elektra, The Corporation, Spanglish, and The Professionals: Special Edition. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.