Tuesday, 31 May 2005
Disc of the Week: "It's a good thing James Dean died when he did," Humphrey Bogart once said. "If he'd lived, he'd never have been able to live up to the publicity." It's a comment that history is inclined to drop in a dustbin somewhere near Frank Sinatra's opinion that rock and roll was just a "fad," although Bogie's trite dismissal of Dean, before he became a legend, raises an interesting point. He photographed well; he even encapsulated the stifled rage of postwar youth. But just how good of an actor was he? Unlike Dean, Marlon Brando had the opportunity to mature on screen, eventually transforming the light and heat of Stanley Kowalski into the deeply human, spiritually wounded Don Corleone. Those who followed in Dean's wake, including Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, also were afforded roles later in life that fleshed out their angry-young-men personas with richer, more nuanced details. These actors, finally, were allowed to play complex men. Yet James Dean remains trapped in history confined by his three major film roles, which spanned a Hollywood career that lasted a mere 16 months. Perhaps his early death contributed to an unwarranted legacy. Elia Kazan no duffer at assessing talent contrasted him with Brando, noting "Marlon had excellent technique. Dean had no technique to speak of. On (East of Eden), Jimmy would either get the scene right immediately that was ninety-five percent of the time or he couldn't get it at all." In fact, Kazan was not drawn to the unknown Dean upon first meeting him, considering him an irritable bore. But after sending the young actor to see novelist John Steinbeck, who took a similar assessment, they agreed to cast the Indiana native in Eden, simply because they were convinced, above all else, that he was Cal.
Based on Steinbeck's novel, Dean stars in East of Eden (1954) as Caleb 'Cal' Trask, a young man in Salinas, Calif., who harbors an ill-concealed resentment toward his father Adam (Raymond Massey) and older brother Aron (Richard Davalos). At the story's outset, the brooding Cal appears oddly fixated on Aron's relationship with his fiancée Abra (Julie Harris). Meanwhile, he seems more hostile than indifferent to his father's latest business venture, which involves buying an icehouse to ship frozen lettuce by railcar. After unleashing his unspoken rage by demolishing numerous blocks of ice, Cal once again finds himself at odds with his stern father Cal's only assessment of his own character is that he's simply "bad," while Aron is "good." He even holds a secret that lends his theory credibility: He's discovered that his long-absent mother (Jo Van Fleet) is actually a madam at a bawdy house in the coastal town of Monterey, something neither Adam nor Aron know. Eventually comforted by the realization that she, too, is "bad," Cal forms a tenuous peace with his father and lends a hand in the family's new business venture. But after the railcars are struck by disaster, Cal borrows $5,000 from his mother to invest in bean futures. The outbreak of World War I causes the crop's value to skyrocket, and yet despite Cal's best intentions, his naive attempt to finally buy his father's love and approval brings about tragic results.
John Steinbeck's multileveled novel East of Eden surveys a western United States that finds itself at a crossroads in history, with technology transforming the landscape via automobiles and large-scale farming, while headlines hover upon distant battles in Europe that the nation seems assured to join. The story itself is deeply archetypal as well, concerned with a father and two feuding brothers (as indicated by the title's reference to Genesis 4:16). However, in the hands of director Elia Kazan and scenarist Paul Osborn (with unaccredited contributions by Steinbeck himself), Eden becomes one of the seminal Hollywood films of the 1950s. Cal's feuding with his brother Aron is still a fundamental plot arc, in addition to his deep, unarticulated attachment to his future sister-in-law Abra. But now, abridged from the printed page and painted on a colorful widescreen canvas, Steinbeck's story comes across as a slow-burning lament for shattered relationships between parents and their children a theme that found resonance in the growing "generation gap" that crept into postwar urban families. Dean would reprise his inimitable brooding twice more in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, but it's not hard to argue that his first leading role was his most transcendent. From the very moment he utters his first words ("You want me?"), we are introduced not only to a naturalistic acting style that audiences were only beginning to absorb from the new crop of Method stars, but also an awkward, lanky youth who just as often cants his body at crooked angles and looks away as he will engage those around him. From first scene to last, Dean's performance is captivating and the passive-aggressive conflict between Cal and his father Adam is enhanced by Kazan, who occasionally tilts his CinemaScope compositions to heighten dramatic tension (and later, puts the angle in dizzying motion while an angry Cal argues with his father while astride a tree-swing). As the story draws to a close and Cal believes he has lost his father's love forever, Dean punctuates the loss with a howling, childlike embrace of the older man a raw moment that remains among the film's most memorable. Perhaps Kazan was right about James Dean. Like Elvis Presley, his finest years may have been destined to exist in a brief and dazzling youth. But even if he was fated to struggle through an inconsistent acting career, no one can say that James Dean is simply a pop-culture icon. Despite his short life on screen, he also remains one of Hollywood's most indelible movie stars.
Warner's two-disc DVD release of East of Eden features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a flawless color source-print that features barely a hint of collateral wear after a decade-long moratorium on VHS, the title returns to home video in its finest presentation since theatrical release. Disc One includes a commentary from film critic Richard Schickel, who offers several behind-the-scenes comments, but also long moments of silence. Disc Two includes the vintage documentary "Forever James Dean" with chapter-selection (60 min.), the new featurette "East of Eden: Art in Search of Life" (19 min.), screen tests (6 min.), eight brief wardrobe tests, a deleted scenes reel (19 min.), and newsreel footage from the New York premiere (14 min.). East of Eden: Special Edition is on the street this morning.
Box Office: Two new films had monster debuts over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, but neither was strong enough to knock off George Lucas's Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, which held down the top of the box-office chart for a second frame, contributing $70.7 million to a staggering $271.1 million total in just 12 days. DreamWorks' animated Madagascar took second place with a $61 million break, while Paramount's The Longest Yard with Adam Sandler took third with an even $60 million. Critics were mixed on Madagascar, while reviews skewed mixed-to-negative for Yard.
In continuing release, New Line's Monster-in-Law starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda notched down to fourth place, adding $11 million to a $60.7 million cume, while Universal's Kicking & Screaming with Will Ferrell rounds off the top five with $44.1 million in the bag. Counterprogramming the summer films, Lions Gate's Crash has had a strong opening month with $36.1 million so far, while Universal's The Interpreter is ready to clear $70 million after six sessions. Meanwhile, stumbling out the door is Fox's big-budget Kingdom of Heaven, which generated just $2.6 million in its fourth weekend. And off to DVD prep is Sony's XXX: State of the Union with less than $30 million under wraps.
New on screens this Friday are Cinderella Man starring Russell Crowe and The Lords of Dogtown. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New spins this week from the team include Bullitt: Special Edition, Rebel Without a Cause: Special Edition, The Getaway, Boogeyman, The Cincinnati Kid, Man on Fire: Collector's Edition, Warlock, The Razor's Edge, East of Eden: Special Edition, and NewsRadio: Seasons 1-2. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 24 May 2005
On the Street: Certain to shift some double-wide copies this week is Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, out today in a packed two-disc edition from Warner. Also new is the oft-derided, very profitable Are We There Yet? starring Ice Cube from Columbia TriStar. However, our friends at Fox have dumped a wheelbarrow of discs on the street, including catalog classics The Bravados, Broken Lance, Drums Along the Mohawk, A Farewell to Arms, Forty Guns, The Razor's Edge, and Warlock, Sinatra potboilers The Detective, Lady in Cement, and Tony Rome, and two-disc re-releases of The Day After Tomorrow, I Robot, and Man on Fire. Criterion's on the slate with just one this week, Luis Buñuel's surrealist The Phantom of Liberty. And TV fans have two sets to look for, Paramount's Chappelle's Show: Season Two Uncensored and Columbia's long-anticipated NewsRadio: Seasons 1-2. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 23 May 2005
Disc of the Week: For Comedy Central's Chappelle's Show, the first season was well regarded and liked. Not an out-of-the-box success, it developed a following that steadily increased. And word kept growing, to the point that when Paramount released the first season on DVD, they quickly sold out their first pressing; it went on to become the best-selling television DVD of all time. But if the first season was appreciated, it was the second season that turned the show into a phenomenon. Pop culture so quickly embraced the 13 episodes of Season Two that creator and star Dave Chappelle began to publicly kvetch about people approaching him to shout the season's most overexposed (though not funniest) catch-phrase "I'm Rick James, bitch" even if he was with his children. Nonetheless, in television comedy, there is no greater metric of success than catch-phrases, and anyone who caught the initial run could repeat several: "Is Wayne Brady gonna have to choke a bitch?"; "Darkness"; "Cocaine's a hell of a drug"; "The milk's gone bad!"; "Skeet Skeet Skeet!" all reverberated through the popculturesphere. Chappelle thought he was done after his second season, but because of his show's huge following, he and writing partner Neal Brennan inked a $50 million deal for two more seasons. Originally, this third season was to start in February 2005 (with a similarly timed release of the Season Two DVD), but word leaked of creative struggles, and both the discs and the third season were postponed until May of 2005. But when that date approached, Chappelle and company blinked again; as of this writing, rumors circle the show's fate.
Chappelle's Show: Season Two begins with a sketch featuring one of Chappelle's most famous impressions, Samuel L. Jackson, and his new beer line. Coming out swinging, the first episode features such classic bits as how much cooler the world becomes in slow motion, and a racial draft in which Tiger Woods is decided to be all black, Colin Powell is made white, and the Wu Tang Clan becomes Asian. But what really launched the show was episode four, which is almost entirely "Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Story," in which Eddie Murphy's brother recounts his strained relationship with Rick James (played in flashbacks by Chappelle, and with then-current interviews of the late James). This was followed by the only other "True Hollywood Story," wherein Charlie plays Prince at basketball and loses, only to be served pancakes by the Purple One. As is the staple with sketch-comedy shows, there are recurring characters from the first season, and the best of the bunch is crack addict Tyrrone Biggums, who wins an episode of "Fear Factor" through the benefits of his addiction, while the Playa Hatas take a trip in a time machine. And the second season creates recurring bits of its own with the most famous being Chappelle's take on rapper Lil' Jon, who mostly speaks in screeched words like "What!" "Yeah!" and "Okay!" Other episodes consist mostly of one major sketch, with the best of those being when Wayne Brady takes Chappelle's show over and then gives Dave a memorable night on the town, casting Brady as Denzel Washington's character in Training Day.
At its best, Chappelle's Show mixes social observation (usually withering) with pop-culture parodies, and with an eye towards the scatological the humor is a constant mix of high- and lowbrow. Though some of the jokes may be a bit diluted by their overexposure, each installment is raucously funny, even if a bit was repeated by friends or coworkers before it's viewed. There are some weaker bits and jokes, but the highs here are so high that the season launched Dave Chappelle into the pantheon of great television performers. Chappelle got his start in stand-up at age 14 and made various attempts at the spotlight, with an aborted sitcom (Buddies), starring roles (Half Baked), and supporting parts (Con Air, You've Got Mail), but his breakthrough has the same quality of a young, impossibly inventive Eddie Murphy on "Saturday Night Live" circa 1982. The series also benefits from utilizing only one voice, that being Chappelle's, offering a consistency missing from most sketch-comedy formats. As an adoring public waits to see if Chappelle can meet his contract (he's commented that his newfound fame has made it to difficult to get honest feedback), he at least can rest assured that his legacy in sketch comedy is guaranteed.
Paramount presents all 13 episodes of Chappelle's Show: Season Two in full-frame transfers with Dolby 2.0 stereo audio in a three-disc set. The first disc includes the first seven episodes, with commentaries on the first four by Chappelle and writer Neal Brennan, sneak previews of other Comedy Central DVDs, and full sketches from "South Park" and "Reno 911." The second disc contains the remainder of the season and one commentary for episode 12. Disc Three offers the bulk of the supplemental material, with the first up being "Dave's Extra Stand Up" (17 min.), which consists of Chappelle doing bits for the live audience. Also included are 19 deleted scenes (71 min.) with optional commentary that runs an additional minute to allow Chappelle and Brennan to thank their crew. "Charlie Murphy's Rick James Memories" is an uncut interview with Charlie Murphy about Rick James (15 min.), while "The Rick James Extended Interview" is James's rebuttal (21 min.). "Charlie Murphy's Additional Hollywood Stories: I Want More" talks of a bleeped comic who was a friend of the Murphy clan (19 min.), while "Charlie Murphy's Additional Hollywood Stories: That's My Brother" has Charlie talking about his more famous brother Eddie and the trouble he got into in the early '80s (10 min.). Chappelle's Show: Season Two Uncensored is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: There was no doubt that George Lucas's Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith would top the weekend box-office chart the only question was which records, if any, would fall. Taking in $108.5 million from Friday through Sunday, Sith failed to crack Spider-Man's $115 million three-day record. However, thanks to a $50 million debut on Thursday, the final chapter in the Star Wars saga beat out both the one-day record held by Shrek ($44.8 million) and the four-day record held by The Matrix Reloaded ($134.3 million). It also was the most successful debut of the three "prequel" titles, and while die-hard fans were expected to gush over another Lucas installment, critics gave the movie strong reviews as well.
Unfortunately, even with a mammoth debut like Revenge of the Sith, films in continuing release couldn't help the box-office chart overcome a 2005 slump compared to year-ago figures. Holding down second place was New Line's Monster-in-Law starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda, which added $14.3 million to a $44.1 million gross, while Universal's Kicking & Screaming with Will Ferrell managed to add $10.5 million to a $34 million tally. Doing well as a smaller film is Lions Gate's Crash, which held down fourth place with $27.6 million. And Jet Li's Unleashed has scraped up $17.5 million over 10 days. However, it's all dismal from there south Fox's Kingdom of Heaven, with a production budget reported well into three figures, managed just $3 million and change in receipts over its third weekend, a figure matched by Warner's House of Wax remake. Dimension's Mindhunters is heading for the cheap screens with less than $4 million. And Sony's XXX: State of the Union starring Ice Cube has generated a weak $25.5 million over one month. Count Hitchhiker's Guide and Sahara among the few that will leave with better figures.
Doing battle with Star Wars this Friday are The Longest Yard with Adam Sandler and the animated film Madagascar. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted a sneak-preview of Warner's two-disc The Aviator, while new spins from the rest of the gang this week include White Noise, Are We There Yet?, The Phantom of Liberty: The Criterion Collection, Drums Along the Mohawk, The Bravados, Forty Guns, Broken Lance, I, Robot: Collector's Edition, Chappelle's Show: Season Two Uncensored, and Joan of Arcadia: Season One. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 17 May 2005
On the Street: If the street-list isn't terribly deep this week, it's all the more reason for fans to pick up Paramount's unrated edition of Team America: World Police, which is on its way to becoming a cult classic on home video. New Line's Platinum Series re-release of The Mask starring Jim Carrey joins their new release of Son of The Mask, while Fox has a two-disc edition of Kinsey with Liam Neeson and Laura Linney on the shelves, and Michael Keaton can be seen in Universal's thriller White Noise. And fresh from the small screen are Seinfeld: Season Four and Scrubs: Season One. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 16 May 2005
Disc of the Week: Enveloped by the cold, decaying, concrete embrace of the inner-city, dodging drug dealers and gang members on their way to woefully under-funded schools staffed with teachers either too apathetic, too scared, or too overwhelmed by corruptive influences beyond their control to provide proper instruction, where else, pray tell, is a young African American male expected to find solace other than the playground basketball court? (Perhaps a makeshift recording studio, but that's another lament for another time.) And after decades of games played, refined, and heightened in this contentious, competitive milieu, expanding beyond the set-shot and bounce-pass to the innovation of, for example, the crossover dribble and the slam dunk, can it be considered anything but inevitable that the National Basketball Association quickly came to be dominated by individuals of color hailing specifically from the economically depressed neighborhoods of this country's major metropolises? Until 1994, insight into this man-made sociological phenomenon had been provided by several noteworthy books (most notably Rick Telender's Heaven is a Playground), but the breadth of the process, from recruitment to coaching to probable disappointment, was so shadowy and involved as to be rendered completely incomprehensible to outsiders. Hoop Dreams (1994), a four-year-plus labor of love by the documentary filmmaking team of Steve James, Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx, changed that. Following two young prospects, Arthur Agee and William Gates, from their playground discovery to their senior years in high school, the film lays bare a system that teasingly builds up as swiftly as it ruthlessly breaks down. This might've been achievement enough, but the filmmakers' compassion and humanity ultimately gets the better of them, and their narrative, directed by the mercurial whims of the universe, becomes a living, breathing Dickensian document of urban American life that may never be surpassed.
The journey begins with a freelance scout (aka a "bush beater") plucking Agee out of a pick-up game, impressed with his quick first step, and hauling him out of his rough Garfield Park environs to the comparatively verdant Chicago suburbs where St. Joseph's, one of the city's prep basketball powerhouses, is holding a mini-camp for a bleacherful of 14-year-old might-bes. Agee and his family get a private consultation with the legendary coach Gene Pingatore, who dangles the promise of a scholarship to a top college as reward for four years of hard work before trotting out his most successful graduate and primary recruitment draw, Detroit Pistons All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, to close the deal. Despite his seductive spiel, Pingatore expresses immediate doubts about Agee's potential (he acknowledges the skill but doesn't see the confidence), while talking up the current year's freshman blue chip, Gates, who he thinks has the raw talent to make the pros in another six to eight years. Both Agee and Gates enroll at St. Joe's, but only the latter makes the varsity team. One year later, Agee is essentially discarded by Pingatore and the school due to financial hardship (both parents lose their jobs), though they scramble to assist Gates as he encounters similar obstacles. While Agee is consigned to the turmoil of an inner city public high school, where his grades and game regress, Gates flourishes, earning "next Isaiah Thomas" accolades from the top Chicago sportswriters, and (not that it matters) making the honor roll. However, as good as Gates is, he fails to take his team to the state championship in his first two years, and, tragically, misses most of his third year when he tears ligaments in one of his knees. As Gates's fortunes plummet, reaching a gut-wrenching low when he pulls up lame in front of a star-studded audience of college coaches at an annual Nike development camp for elite high school seniors, Agee's outlook suddenly improves, driving the film to a rousing and unlikely finish twice as improbable as anything John G. Avildsen ever attempted.
Subjecting Hoop Dreams to the tidiness of a plot summary is to do the film a profound disservice. Though Arthur and William are undeniably the tale's protagonists, it's the travails of their friends and family that give the story its uniquely poignant and, at times, heartbreaking texture. For instance, there's Arthur's father, Bo, who tumbles into a drug addiction so consuming that at one point he saunters off a playground basketball court to cop a fix in full view of his son and the filmmakers. Bo eventually bounces back through the salvation of the church, but even his resilience produces a number of difficult scenes, like his humbling supplication in the bursar's office at St. Joe's to free up Arthur's transcript. But it's the arc of Arthur's mother, Sheila, that lingers most indelibly; a proud woman who never cracks under the unfair misfortune heaped upon her by a callous system, her redemption, delivered via a hard earned nursing certificate, is cheering even as her achievement is celebrated in a room filled with empty folding chairs. As has been noted by several critics, the only event liable to draw crowds in the inner city is a high school basketball game, where dreams are dashed far more readily than they're realized. The film's final miracle is its end-credit epilogue informing us that Arthur and William have survived their respective disappointments and, thus far, an early grave.
The Criterion Collection presents Hoop Dreams in a fine full-screen transfer (1.33:1) with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Interestingly, for a film so generous in its running time, Criterion has opted for brevity with this release, seeking only to enhance one's viewing experience rather than broaden the context (which would be difficult given today's vastly different recruiting process that now includes scouts from the pros and the major shoe companies). Both audio commentaries, one featuring the filmmakers and the other reuniting Gates and Agee (who've stayed in touch over the years), are exemplary. The former offers some very candid self-criticism as to whether they overstepped their role as documentarians (or if they did enough as reasonably compassionate human beings), while the latter allows Arthur and William their chance to sound off on the process and reminisce (sadly, ten years later, there's additional pain to pick over). Also worthwhile is a collection of segments from "Siskel & Ebert" following their tireless advocacy from Sundance to a Best of the Decade special. A 37-page booklet offers essays by John Edgar Wideman and Alexander Wolff, a reprint of Michael Wise's 2004 Washington Post article checking in on the Agee and Gates families, and a dedication from the filmmakers. Also on board are a music video and theatrical trailers. Hoop Dreams: The Criterion Collection is on the street now.
Box Office: After 15 years away from feature motion pictures, Jane Fonda captured the top of the weekend box-office with Monster-in-Law the romantic comedy co-starring Jennifer Lopez racked up $24 million, just beating out Will Ferrell and Robert Duvall in Universal's Kicking & Screaming, which took second place with $20.8 million. Completing the trifecta for debut films was Rogue Picture's Unleashed starring Jet Li, which landed in third with $10.5 million. However, barely notching in tenth place was Dimension's Mindhunters with Val Kilmer and LL Cool J, which managed just $2 million. Critics were mixed-to-positive on Unleashed, while Screaming and Mindhunters earned mixed-to-negative notices. Monster-in-Law was mostly dismissed.
In continuing release, Fox's Kingdom of Heaven took a precipitous fall from first to fourth place, adding $9.6 million to a relatively modest $35 million cume after two weekends. Lions Gate's Crash rounds off the top five with nearly $20 million in the bank. And Warner's House of Wax has been good for $21.6 million in two frames. Fans of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy have racked up $43.2 million in tickets, while Sydney Pollack's The Interpreter is over the $60 million mark. Things don't look nearly as sweet for Sony's XXX sequel starring Ice Cube, which stands at $24.4 million. And off to DVD prep is Guess Who?, which will finish around $70 million.
Just one new title goes wide this week Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith arrives in a galaxy near you this Thursday. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews from the gang this week include Team America: World Police: Uncensored and Unrated, In Good Company, Kinsey: Special Edition, A Face in the Crowd, Gilmore Girls: Season Three, The Mask: Platinum Series, Son of The Mask: Platinum Series, Hoop Dreams: The Criterion Collection, and Dawson's Creek: Season Five. 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, 10 May 2005
On the Street: It's one of those street-weeks that's going to run up a lot of credit cards, thanks to three studios. Up from Warner is their new "Controversial Classics Collection,", a seven-disc set that includes Advise and Consent, The Americanization of Emily, Bad Day at Black Rock, Blackboard Jungle, A Face in the Crowd, Fury, and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. New from The Criterion Collection is Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, as well as the superb documentaries Burden of Dreams and Hoop Dreams. And Universal's fresh with the recent theatrical films In Good Company and Assault on Precinct 13, as well as a special edition of 12 Monkeys. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 9 May 2005
Disc of the Week: The arrival of a new Wes Anderson film offers more than a brief respite from any given year's formula Hollywood titles and overhyped indie movies by now, it's more akin to watching a Fellini or Godard picture for the first time. And not simply because the young American director compares (favorably) with his European forebears, but rather because seeing Anderson's work for the first time requires patience, attention, and a willingness to be a bit dumbfounded. He doesn't bother with the screenwriting mannerisms that make common films easily digestible, and often, the small, unnoticeable miracles his camera and his actors create aren't apparent until a second, third, or even later viewing an odd turn of phrase, a glance, a pause all combine to create a particular universe that is unique to Anderson's films. The University of Texas-Austin grad didn't burst onto the scene in 1996 as much as he slipped in with the loopy Bottle Rocket, which also managed to launch the acting careers of Owen and Luke Wilson. Rushmore entered and exited theaters in early 1998 with little fanfare, but later became a cult hit on home video, where fans were free to pore over its many small details. The ambitious The Royal Tenenbaums (2002) collected several of Anderson's favorite actors in a sprawling, bittersweet tale of familial dysfunction. And while The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) often finds the writer/director's characters miles from dry land, he recreates his universe once again, filling it with an ad hoc family and their half-forgotten dreams.
Bill Murray stars in The Life Aquatic as the title character, Steve Zissou, a oceanographer/adventurer/filmmaker whose career has seen better days his longtime collaborator Esteban recently died in an attack by a "jaguar shark," and Team Zissou's latest film has come across as a disappointment. Even worse, the entirely dejected Zissou announces that he plans to return to sea on his research ship the Belafonte, in part to undertake another movie, but also to find the jaguar shark and kill it. However, Zissou's funding is threatened after his wealthy ex-wife Eleanor (Anjelica Huston) withdraws her support. He's continually irked by Eleanor's first husband, the more-successful oceanographer Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum). And Team Zissou is joined on their voyage by two new members American pilot Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), who may or may not be Zissou's son, and British reporter Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett), who is preparing a cover story for her magazine that the publicity-strapped Zissou needs, badly. Forced by his new financiers to take along a "bond stooge" (But Cort), Zissou sets sail for open water. Ned even backs the enterprise with $275,000 he recently inherited. But before long, a love-triangle develops between the antisocial Zissou, earnest Ned, and temperamental Jane who happens to be five months pregnant from an illicit affair. And when Zissou rashly decides to enter unprotected waters in search of his jaguar shark, the boat is seized by pirates, who steal Ned's money, not leaving until they take one hostage.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is tale told on the ocean, but one would be hard-pressed to describe it as a seafaring adventure. Rather, Wes Anderson prefers to sublimate any milieu to his thematics like The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson's foremost concern is with his characters and their interpersonal dynamics, and for that, Aquatic is as much about oceanography as Tenenbaums is about New York. In fact, most of the "science" in the film is bogus, simply a series of small, creative inventions. Anderson delights in continually reminding his audience that he's telling a story, from the throwaway on-screen titles ("Day 9: Towed into Port-au-Patois Harbor") to the formal, Kubrickian line-readings, to the cutaway set of the Belafonte that oddly reduces the massive vessel to an equally massive doll-house. It's a surreality that only belongs on screen, bolstered by the director's penchant for intricate, often lavish production design. As with any auteur, Anderson revisits ground he's gone over before, albeit in a new light as with Rushmore, a young man (whose mother has died) seeks out a father figure, only to find himself locked in oedipal conflict. As with Tenenbaums, a father figure worries he's lost credibility with those who depend on him the most. The pervasive sense of melancholia is oddly offset by Anderson's love of uniforms every one of his films to date features uniforms of some sort (here, powder-blue nautical track-suits), which always suggest a psychology of insecurity, as if clinging to a uniform implies a family that may or may not exist, or order to a universe that has, in the past, appeared fundamentally chaotic. If the uniform suggests a spiritual defeat, Murray's starring role only hints at the passion of Ahab. As with his previous appearances in Anderson's films, his dejection isn't as comic as it is utterly human and one has to believe audiences wouldn't have accepted his Oscar-nominated ennui in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation (2003) if Wes Anderson hadn't spotted it first.
The Criterion Collection's two-disc DVD release of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou offers a perfect anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Disc One includes an informal commentary with Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach, nine deleted scenes, and a "Starz on the Set" featurette (14 min.). Disc Two is packed to Criterion's standards, starting with "This Is an Adventure," an on-set documentary directed by Albert Maysles, Antonio Ferrera, and Matthew Prinzing (51 min.), while an additional "Intern Video Journal" was created by actor Matthew Gray Gubler (15 min.). Anderson and Baumbach are seen in an awkward interview on the Italian television program "Mondo Monda" (16 min.). Composer Mark Mothersbaugh discusses the musical direction in a new interview (19 min.). Also on board are the additional featurettes "Creating a Scene" (4 min.), "The Look Aquatic" (5 min.), "Costumes" (4 min.), "Aquatic Life" (7 min.), "Ned" (3 min.), and "Jane" (3 min.), Photos and Designs galleries, and the ten David Bowie songs performed in the film by co-star Seu Jorge in their entirety, in Portuguese. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The summer movie season got off to an inauspicious start as Fox's Kingdom of Heaven debuted at first place with $20 million far short of the reported $150 million budget for Ridley Scott's Crusades epic starring Orlando Bloom. Also falling short of expectations was Warner's House of Wax starring Elisha Cuthbert and Paris Hilton, which generated $12.2 million to land in second place, while Lions Gate's drama Crash with Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, and Sandra Bullock found its way into fourth place with $9.1 million. Crash earned strong reviews, while critics were mixed-to-negative on Heaven and dismissed Wax.
In continuing release, Touchstone's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy slipped to third place, adding $9.1 million to a $35.1 million 10-day gross, while Universal's The Interpreter starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn rounds off the top five with $54.2 million after three frames. Sony's XXX: State of the Union starring Ice Cube is already on the slip, taking in just $5.4 million over its second weekend and holding down a mere $20.7 million, while Paramount's Sahara is finishing up a strong run into $60 million territory. Also waning is Fox's Fever Pitch with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, which will clear $40 million. And off to the cheap screens is Dimension's Sin City, which has bagged more than $70 million to date.
Plenty of new films go wide this Friday, including Kicking & Screaming starring Will Ferrell, Monster in Law with Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda, Mindhunters starring Val Kilmer, and Unleashed with Jet Li. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews from the team this week include Burden of Dreams: The Criterion Collection, The Americanization of Emily, Blackboard Jungle, Fury, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Bad Day at Black Rock, Advise and Consent, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: The Criterion Collection, and The Merchant of Venice. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 3 May 2005
On the Street: Warner leads off this week with two new box-sets "The World War II Collection: Battlefront Europe" includes new releases of The Big Red One: The Reconstruction and Battle of the Bulge, while "The John Wayne Legendary Heroes Collection" surveys the Duke's career from Blood Alley to McQ. New from Buena Vista is the latest bit of screen-candy from Jerry Bruckheimer, National Treasure starring Nicolas Cage, while Warner has last year's The Phantom of the Opera out in a two-disc collector's edition and Disney's Pocahontas has been re-issued for its 10th anniversary. Paramount's gone into the catalog for family titles Table for Five and With Six You Get Eggroll. But the week belongs to the small screen, with TV titles that include Dawson's Creek, Everybody Loves Raymond, Gilmore Girls, I Love Lucy, King of the Hill, The Man Show, Three's Company, and Touched by an Angel. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 2 May 2005
Disc of the Week: In cinematic history, the legend of The Big Red One is almost as well known as the film itself. Until his death in 1997, director Samuel Fuller a renowned raconteur told of his legendary director's cut of the 1980 film, claiming it ran over four hours and was butchered by the studio, who had the temerity to add a voice-over track (written not by Fuller but by filmmaker Jim McBride) to smooth out the rough spots. As with any director's vision that's been hindered by studio bean-counters, interest in this version gained a cult following over the years; however, when financier Lorimar dissolved, it was thought lost. Then a funny thing happened: Materials from missing sequences surfaced in the form of promo reels, and then even more footage was unearthed. Critic and film documentarian Richard Schickel headed up the restoration effort, and, with guidance from the original script, he added almost 50 minutes of footage to the original theatrical film. From Schickel's perspective, this 2004 version of The Big Red One is as close to Fuller's cut as can be hoped for, and it's more than likely closer in length to what Fuller originally intended (the four-and-half-hour cut may just be how long it became in Fuller's mind). This new footage doesn't necessarily improve the original so much as expand it. allowing the stories to breathe. Already an insightful portrait of the world of war, at its extended length The Big Red One now has the scope and depth of a masterpiece.
Told episodically, the film follows The Big Red One (a famous U.S. Army battalion) as they trek from North Africa in 1942 to Germany in 1945. Led by the unnamed sergeant (played by Lee Marvin in a career zenith), it seems he has "four horsemen of the apocalypse" in four privates who manage to survive the entire war without getting so much as scratched. They are the cigar-smoking writer Zab (Robert Carradine), who's also the narrator and the obvious Fuller surrogate; the sensitive cartoonist Griff (Mark Hamill); the Italian wise-ass Vinci (Bobby Di Cicco); and the farm-boy with hemorrhoids Johnson (Kelly Ward). Along the way they travail against all sorts of skirmishes: facing Vichy soldiers who may or may not intend to engage them, going against Rommel's tanks in Africa, hunting snipers in Sicily, laying Bangalore torpedoes on the beach of Normandy during D-Day, facing a German bushwacking and a pregnant woman needing to give birth in France, storming an insane asylum in Belgium, and finally raiding a concentration camp in Germany. The boys are cocksure, except for Griff, who can't seem to stomach killing a man in his sights. For the sergeant and the others, it's a simple dichotomy: "In war we don't murder, we kill."
Sam Fuller was a reporter before he joined the army, and though 30, he didn't hesitate enlisting because he knew World War II was the story of his lifetime. His experiences led to some of his finest films (The Steel Helmet, Fixed Bayonets!, Merrill's Marauders), but The Big Red One was his dream project the one he was itching to tell. It went through a number of false starts and nearly materialized in 1959 (with John Wayne as the sergeant), but he finally shot it in Ireland and Israel on shoestring budget almost 40 years later. And yet the film feels as if it were made only months after the event itself Fuller's razor-sharp memory thoroughly captures and recreates the details of war. The director also had a great ally in Lee Marvin, who served in the Pacific Theater and knew that Fuller's vision was utterly genuine. It's these first-hand experiences that make The Big Red One the finest American film about World War II everything on screen has Fuller's piercing journalist's eye: the irony of a man storming Normandy trying to keep his most prized possession (toilet paper) dry above his head, only for it to be shot out of his hand; the gallows humor that keeps the men in spirits; the sense of family and isolation the five create for themselves; and the knowledge that (as is said in the narration, retained in this reconstruction) "the only glory in war is surviving." Though the picture may offer visceral kicks, such are never the point. The Big Red One refrains from romanticizing any aspect of combat. In a one of the brief additions (one of many great addendums), during D-Day Zeb stumbles upon a dead solider, and without blinking an eye at the man's guts (which are hanging visibly from his body), he sees the dead man had a fresh cigar. He stuffs it in his mouth and moves along. It's just one brilliant observation in a film that "is fictional life based on factual death."
Warner Home Video presents The Big Red One: The Reconstruction in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras on the first disc consist of a commentary by restoration producer Richard Schickel. Disc Two features "The Real Glory: Reconstructing The Big Red One" featuring Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco, Kelly Ward, Mark Hamill, Perry Lang, Doug Werner, Ken Campbell, Joe Clark, Fuller's daughter Samantha Fuller, Richard Schickel, Reconstruction editor Bryan Mckenzie, several crew members, and period interviews with Fuller (47 min.). Also included is "The Men Who Make the Movies: Samuel Fuller," a Turner Classic Movies episode on Fuller that's directed by Schickel and narrated by Sydney Pollack (55 min.). "Anatomy of a Scene" offers two sequences and deconstructs the work done to restore them, along with some rough footage featuring Fuller's voice (18 min.). There are 17 alternate scenes with commentary by editor Bryan Mckenzie and post supervisor Brian Hamblin (32 min.), while "The Fighting First" is a war documentary about the Big Red One (12 min.). Then there's the original promo reel (30 min.) which was the inspiration for the restoration, since it includes a number of the cut sequences a stills gallery, two trailers along with the Restoration release trailer, and two radio spots. The Big Red One: The Reconstruction is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: A substantial fan-base with high expectations nearly assured that Touchstone's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would come out on top at the North American box-office over the weekend the sci-fi spoof based on the book by Douglas Adams generated $21.7 million, easily beating out last week's winner The Interpreter, which slipped to second place with $14.2 million for the frame and $43.5 million overall. Meanwhile, the weekend's only other debut, Sony's XXX: State of the Union starring Ice Cube, found its way into third place with a $13.7 million break. Critics were mixed-to-positive on Hitchhiker's, while XXX was largely dismissed.
In continuing release, MGM's remake of The Amityville Horror continues to show momentum, holding down fourth place after three weeks with $55 million. Audiences also gave Paramount's Sahara a boost, which rounds off the top five with $57.1 million in the bag after one month. Touchstone's rom-com A Lot Like Love starring Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet is doing midlist business, adding just $5.2 million to a $14.6 million 10-day gross, while Sony's Kung Fu Hustle has wowed the critics but took in just $3.8 million in its second week of wide release. Fox's Fever Pitch with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore has tracked $36.5 million in four sessions. And off to DVD prep is MGM's Beauty Shop starring Queen Latifah, which will finish in the $35 million neighborhood.
New films in theaters this Friday include Kingdom of Heaven starring Orlando Bloom, Crash starring Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, and Matt Dillon, and House of Wax featuring Elisha Cuthbert and Paris Hilton. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New spins this week from the gang include Meet the Fockers, National Treasure, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Blood Alley, Battle of the Bulge, The Train Robbers, McQ, The Big Red One: The Reconstruction, and An Awfully Big Adventure. 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.