Tuesday, 28 June 2005
Summer Break: Things are getting a bit quiet around the studios' home-video divisions, and the same pretty much goes for us. The hard-working staff of the DVDJ will be taking a break for the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Your humble editor may even skip town for a day or two (provided there's enough Jet-A in the corporate Gulfstream). We'll try to get the box-office and street lists posted next week the review team returns on Monday, July 11.
On the Street: Even if you're getting ready to leave town, it can't hurt to pick up a few DVDs this week we're partial to the latest from Criterion, Anthony Asquith's 1951 The Browning Version and Ko Nakahira's 1956 Crazed Fruit, while new from Palm is the superb boots-in-the-sand documentary Gunner Palace. Mainstream titles this time around include Disney's The Pacifier starring Vin Diesel. And arriving from the small screen are The Daily Show: Indecision 2004, The Ren and Stimpy Show: Season Three and a Half-ish, and The Twilight Zone: Season Three. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 27 June 2005
Disc of the Week: Few historians question that the 20th century will be remembered as "The American Century," a transformative handful of decades when the United States emerged from its inward-looking isolation on far-flung continent to become a nation of global influence, participating in two world wars, a dozen regional conflicts, and an all-encompassing 50-year stare-down with an equally powerful communist bloc. Various policies were crafted and guided by such statesmen as Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, and Reagan, but only one entity was a witness to it all the American G.I. The common moniker (meaning "general issue") has been downplayed by the Pentagon in recent years in favor of "service members," but the term "G.I." retains international connotations, from the doughboys of World War I to the dogfaces of World War II, the grunts of Vietnam, and the jarheads of Desert Storm. Naturally, Hollywood has long been fascinated with the American fighting man, depicting him in such features as the epic The Longest Day, the hardscrabble The Dirty Dozen, and the somber Platoon. Nonetheless, portrayals of American soldiers on film can be little more than thin, if exciting, shadows of the real thing. Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein's Gunner Palace (2004) takes advantage of digital filmmaking on a small scale, placing the cameras in the midst of a U.S. Army company tasked with securing the streets of Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003 several months after President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat operations.
The "Gunner Palace" of the film's title actually is a palace, built by Saddam Hussein for one of his wives, but soon after designated party central for Hussein's notoriously unhinged son Uday. After sustaining some damage during the initial American invasion of Baghdad, the opulent building, with its sweeping staircases and high ceilings, was repurposed as headquarters for the U.S. Army's 2/3 Artillery. And that doesn't mean it's now a bunker. Soldiers regularly enjoy the swimming pool and stocked fishing pond, while putting greens have been installed and Uday's immense bedroom (nicknamed "The Love Shack") still sports its ornate furniture and circular bed. It's a relative sea of tranquillity for the gunners of 2/3 Artillery, who regularly patrol the city in daylight and darkness, with a particular concentration on the Adhamiya district, a hotbed of insurgent activity. Judiciously, filmmaker and narrator Michael Tucker says very little about the controversial invasion and occupation of Iraq rather than construct a polemic skewing somewhere between a Michael Moore film and a Sean Penn editorial, he spends nearly all of his time with the men (and few women) who find themselves caught between the Bush Doctrine of preemption and a diverse Arab public that struggles with its long-held distrust of western powers. With a touch of Fox-TV's "Cops" and plenty of freestyle gangsta rap from the G.I.s, the documentary unfolds a barely understood netherworld between Bush policy and the daily body-count, where terror is tempered with humor and fear becomes wry fatalism.
In a famous speech, Gen. Colin Powell once recalled meeting a Japanese businessman who was just a boy during the final days of World War II. With his nation on the losing end of the war effort, he was prepared to face brutal American soldiers in the streets and was shocked when the G.I.s handed out chocolate to children. Cynics might scoff at such an anecdote, but the same thing can be seen in Gunner Palace while the film surveys the G.I.s of 2/3 Artillery on patrol and enjoying some R&R, Michael Tucker's cameras often observe, without comment, the curious children of Baghdad who approach the soldiers, hoping for a treat or even a brief bit of attention. Vastly over-armed for street-level law enforcement, the gunners are asked to deal with truant boys, raid the homes of suspected insurgents, and even endure a surprise attack by a hostile mob who throw rocks at their Humvees. The film captures the diversity of the Iraqi population in the nation's capital, including those sympathetic to the American powers, the largely neutral Shia majority, and the Sunni neighborhoods that raise a ruckus when the Roughriders patrol at night. It's a diversity that's matched by the Americans themselves. In an era when race-baiting still taints national politics, one could argue that the U.S. military is the country's most racially inclusive institution, particularly when the boots hit the sand and whether you're black or white matters about as much as if you're from Brooklyn or Tuscaloosa. Young men from all corners of America form a unique bond in the 2/3 Artillery, and it's remarkable that the scrap-metal armor they tack on their Humvees which horrified Americans at home causes them to break out in hysterical, morbid laughter. The gunners live with palpable stress, occasionally leaning on the triggers of their automatic weapons when they think violence is about to erupt. They're also outspoken, at times wondering if patrolling Baghdad and protecting America are the same thing. But barely a one complains, and they take their duties seriously. As one company members notes, when it comes to being a soldier, "Nothing beats it." More than just witnesses to history, the men and women of Gunner Palace are front-line participants, and their spirit under fire is probably the best recruiting tool the U.S. Armed Forces could summon in the wake of enlistment shortfalls.
Palm Pictures' DVD release of Gunner Palace features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a digital video source that has an expected variance of quality never perfect, it nonetheless delivers a verité atmosphere in both audio and visual components, with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround options on board. Unfortunately, filmmakers Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein did not deliver what certainly would have been a valuable commentary track supplements on this DVD edition include 17 additional scenes (with a "play all" feature), three audio-only "Gunner Freesytles" rap outtakes, and the U.S. theatrical trailer. Gunner Palace is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Three high-profile releases arrived in North American theaters over the weekend, but none could dislodge the current champ or reverse this year's slump in ticket-sales. Warner's Batman Begins starring Christian Bale held down the top spot for a second weekend, adding $26.7 million to a hard-charging $121.6 million 10-day cume. Meanwhile, Sony's highly publicized Bewitched starring Nicole Kidman and Will Farrell opened in second place with $20 million, Disney's Herbie: Fully Loaded with Lindsay Lohan parked in fourth place with $12.7 million, and Universal's Land of the Dead crashed into fifth with $10.2 million. Critics liked Dead, while Herbie earned mixed notices and Bewitched earned more than a few scathing reviews.
In continuing release, Fox's Mr. and Mrs. Smith remains a heavenly match for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, adding $16.7 million to a $125.4 million gross, while DreamWorks' Madagascar is the family favorite, taking in $160 million after five sessions. Don't expect any movie to outpace George Lucas's Revenge of the Sith, which is on the decline with $358.6 million in the man's pocket, while Ron Howard's Cinderella Man with Russell Crowe is looking for a TKO with a disappointing $49.5 million in its first month. On the way to DVD prep is New Line's Monster-in-Law, which will take away more than $80 million.
New films arriving over the Fourth of July holiday weekend include Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds and the Thai import Tropical Malady, which go wide on Wednesday, while Martin Lawrence does his thing on Friday in the comedy Rebound. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New spins this week from the team include The Pacifier, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, The Browning Version: The Criterion Collection, My Brilliant Career, Crazed Fruit: The Criterion Collection, Stone Cold, Gunner Palace, and The Ren and Stimpy Show: Seasons Three and a Half-ish. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 21 June 2005
On the Street: With announcements like those above, slow street-weeks are welcome. The lists get shorter with the warm weather, but high-profile releases this time around include Paramount's Coach Carter, Warner's Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, and Buena Vista's Cursed. However, we're partial to a couple of lesser-seen titles this time around, Buena Vista's Hostage starring Bruce Willis and Warner's The Jacket with Adrien Brody. Meanwhile, those inclined to double-dip can look for Lions Gate's unrated edition of American Psycho, as well as a new special edition of the original Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory from Warner. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 20 June 2005
Disc of the Week: Florent Emilio Siri's Hostage got a nice critical and box-office spanking when it hit theaters in March 2005. In retrospect (particularly given the praise heaped a month later on the more overtly "arty" Bruce Willis violence-feast Sin City), the bad reviews feel a bit like one of those herd-animal pile-ons we see from time to time in the critical trade the sort where the pundits seem to collectively decide an actor or film might make a fun little piñata, lest anyone be caught looking uncool diving into something billed as a straightforward B-picture. (The Last Boy Scout took these sorts of beatings for years.) It's a real shame in this case, because Hostage is anything but straightforward it frequently transcends genre as an ambitious, intelligent, well-acted and brazenly (often goofily) symbolic thriller that finds Mr. Willis finally back doing what he does best: taking a beating. Yes, Bruno excels in stories that heap abuse on his magnificent bald pate. His best work tends to show up in films like Pulp Fiction, Unbreakable, and 12 Monkeys, when his characters are backed into corners, tormented into action. And in that regard, Willis has never been better than he is in Siri's thriller which wedges a cop between the mother of all rocks and hard places.
As hostage negotiator Jeff Talley, Willis has to save a white-collar criminal (Kevin Pollak) and his family after their high-tech mansion is hijacked by two idiot brothers and a psychopath (Jonathan Tucker, Marshall Allman, and a wonderfully loony Ben Foster). And that would be plenty of plot for a normal siege film but Talley also has to deal on the sly with a second, far more professional group of kidnappers. They've taken his wife and daughter hostage, and their ransom is a DVD-ROM disc that Talley has to steal from the mansion right under the noses of the cops surrounding the house. It's a dense plot that allows Willis to give a performance we haven't quite seen from him before: He drags the sort of anguished character he plays in films like The Sixth Sense into an action setting. The result is a tough but frightened guy someone who can kick down a door, then burst into wide wales of tears when he finds a dead body inside. Willis isn't playing a hero; he's playing a man. Meanwhile, director Siri (The Nest) is mostly successful at spinning all of the plates in the plot- and character-choked script. And he does what all great siege-film directors do: He clearly sets up the geography of the problem.
However, Siri also makes the film about something. (There are a lot of men negotiating in Hostage, but several of those negotiations are with wives and children.) He also shoots the movie with devastating flair. Siri loves to film human faces particularly when they're in their death rattles and between some confident and inventive set pieces, he lets actors indulge strange little moments, as when Willis obsessively combs his beard or Foster offers a tied-up kid a cigarette. The movie's best scene is a quietly creepy negotiation, as a kidnapper purrs in Talley's ear as he quietly clicks Talley into a car seat, handcuffs him to the steering wheel, and puts a hammer lock around his neck all so the kidnapper can safely show Talley something horrible. To be fair to Hostage's detractors, Siri does finally drop a couple of those spinning plates in the film's final third. Tucker and Allman are fairly bland as the criminal brothers Ben Foster eats them for breakfast and a network of air ducts and tunnels in Pollak's house becomes a little too convenient, almost a parody of the "Die Hard in a [blank]" film pitch. Also, as in Collateral, bystanders and police officers (and logic) tend to vanish so the film's final confrontation can take on iconic, almost supernatural proportions. A haunting image of Pollak's teenage daughter draped in a towel, looking more than a little like the Virgin Mary as a house burns down around her, is the sort of artful, over-the-top filmmaking Siri indulges here. But if it means his final act is less interested in creating the satisfying dramatic heft of, say, Die Hard, then at least the director is far more interested in pure cinema.
Buena Vista's DVD release of Hostage offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include a soft-spoken commentary from director Florent Emilio Siri and the featurette "Taking Hostage Behind the Scenes" (13 min.). Also included are six deleted scenes and two extended scenes, all with optional director's commentary. Hostage is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: It didn't set any records, but the Dark Knight is back Warner's Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale, took top honors at the Father's Day weekend box-office, scoring $46.9 million over the three-day frame and $71 million since its debut last Wednesday. It also was the strongest opening of any Batman title, giving new life to a franchise left on life-support after 1997's Batman & Robin. Attempting to counterprogram the summer tentpole, with limited success, was Universal's The Perfect Man starring Hilary Duff and Heather Locklear, which scraped up just $5.4 million in seventh place. Critics praised Batman almost as much as they dismissed Man.
In continuing release, Fox's Mr. & Mrs. Smith starring tabloid fodder Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie slipped to second place, adding $27.3 million to a $97.9 million total, while DreamWorks' animated Madagascar wraps up a stellar opening month in third place with nearly $150 in the bag. Still, it's no match for what's certain to be the year's highest grosser Lucasfilm's Revenge of the Sith is bearing down on $350 million after five sessions. Also coming up with big numbers is Paramount's The Longest Yard, which has scrambled for $131.9 million in four weeks. The season's chief disappointment remains Ron Howard's Cinderella Man, which has accounted for just $43.5 million. And off to DVD prep is Sony's The Lords of Dogtown, which looks for second life after closing above $10 million.
New in the 'plexes this Wednesday is Herbie: Fully Loaded starring Lindsay Lohan, while Friday sees the debuts of Bewitched with Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell, and George A. Romero's Land of the Dead. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm recently dug through Universal's two-disc Jaws: 30th Anniversary Edition, while new spins from the rest of the team this week include The Jacket, Cursed, Casino: Anniversary Edition, Au hasard Balthazar: The Criterion Collection, Hustle, Hostage, and The Karate Kid: Special Edition. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 14 June 2005
On the Street: Get out that plastic because we have another credit-wrecking street-list, starting with a pair from Universal Steven Spielberg's Jaws gets a 30th Anniversary retooling this week, along with a much-needed special edition of Martin Scorsese's Casino. Meanwhile, Warner pits Bette Davis and Joan Crawford box-sets against each other this morning, with catalog gems that include The Damned Don't Cry, Dark Victory, Humoresque, Mr. Skeffington, and Possessed. Up from Criterion are Ernst Lubitsch's Heaven Can Wait and Robert Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar, and the latest John Waters movie, A Dirty Shame, is joined by an eight-disc "John Waters Collection" from New Line. Will Smith and Kevin James serve up laughs in Columbia TriStar's Hitch. And fresh from the Paramount vault after a brief delay is Mario Bava's slick Danger: Diabolik. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 13 June 2005
Disc of the Week: The career of Mario Bava is long, strange, and fascinating. His father was a cinematographer, and Bava began his career following in his father's line, but everything changed for him in 1956. It was then while working on Ricardo Freda's I Vampiri that Bava took the directorial reigns after Freda walked off the picture. Even more impressive is that, with this hodgepodge effort, the beginnings of Bava's voice can be found. He finished two other abandoned efforts before finally getting to direct his first complete film in 1960, La Maschera del Demonio (best known stateside as Black Sunday). Demonio was a showcase for the director's talent at atmosphere and gothic horror, and it's since become a celebrated cult classic. It's also seminal in Italian film history: Much of the horror and giallo (Italian for yellow, the color of pulp magazine pages) that followed drew inspiration from it. Mario Bava is a prominent cult favorite, and easily his most accessible effort is the 1968 title Danger: Diabolik, an adaptation of the Italian comic book (or furnetti) "Diabolik" by Angela and Luciana Giussani. Made in the pop-art style of the time, it's one of the most gleefully fun graphic-novel films ever made.
John Phillip Law stars as Diabolik, the most dangerous criminal the world has ever seen. In the opening sequence, the cops set up a decoy to deliver money, hoping it will fool the ace criminal but Diabolik recognizes their double cross and hits the right vehicle. It seems the main reason Diabolik steals is to please his woman, Eva (Marissa Mell), and it helps him afford his secret groovy underground lair, which features a rotating bed. On Diabolik's case is Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli), who asks for tougher sentences on criminals and uses his power to forcibly reduce the work of other criminals. But the crimelords recognize that this tactic has been enacted to catch Diabolik, so they led by Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi) decide they too must track down the elusive Diabolik. This comes to pass as Eva and Diabolik plan to steal emeralds from a castle, which involves Diabolik using suction cups to climb the outside walls. Through her doctor Valmont and his gang are able to get their hands on Eva, but even their plans to set up Diabolik are no match for the master thief's cunning. And when the heat is turned up higher, Diabolik returns fire by destroying the tax records forcing the government to ask the public to pay what they think they owe.
Diabolik is the ultimate comic book anti-hero, a Robin Hood who steals only from the rich, but only gives to himself and his lady. He's the James Bond of bad guys, always in the company of a gorgeous woman while one step ahead of his adversaries. In that way, Danger: Diabolik is more like a serial with its constant stake-raising scenes that beg "How's Diabolik going to get out of this?" However, what's most striking about the film is Mario Bava's compositions: A master of color, his palette literally explodes on the screen with the beauty of a lavish Technicolor production (similar to his work on 1965's Planet of the Vampires). With this film, he's able to convey the right comic-book tone, and when applicable he uses the techniques he learned from his work in horror (there is a striking moment when Diabolik is literally resurrected and reaches out with one hand to stop a doctor from slicing into him). But perhaps the main element that has made this film a cult favorite is the score by the legendary Ennio Morricone. From the opening credit sequence number "Deep Down" (guaranteed to be caught in your head for days after) to the guitar riffs that make the chase scenes seem actually rollicking, Morricone's work has one ear on rock-and-roll, enhancing the movie the way his music did for Sergio Leone's westerns. The soundtrack was never officially released, but it's nonetheless become a cult favorite on its own accord.
Paramount presents Danger: Diabolik in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. For a film that lays on so much color, it's good to see Diabolik in a restored and luminous print. Originally slated for release on DVD in 2004, it was delayed until 2005 for unknown reasons although it appears the title was designated in the interim to be a special edition. The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas and star John Phillip Law, both of whom provide a wealth of anecdotes. Also included is the featurette "Danger: Diabolik: From Furnetti to Film" (20 min.) with comments from comic-book artist Stephen Bissette, producer Dino De Laurentis, composer Ennio Morricone, John Phillip Law, director Roman Coppola (whose 2001 film CQ aped much from Diabolik), and The Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch, who directed the music video "Body Movin'," designed as an homage to Diabolik. The music video is also on board and comes with optional commentary by Yauch, though he doesn't seem to work up much enthusiasm for the feature film. Danger: Diabolik is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Despite plenty of alleged canoodling between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Doug Liman's Mr. and Mrs. Smith is no Gigli the married-assassins flick opened with $51 million over the weekend, handily taking the top spot on the box-office chart. And Smith not only outpaced its nearest competition, it left the weekend's other debuts far behind, with Dimension's The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D taking fifth place with $12.5 million, Paramount's The Honeymooners starring Cedric the Entertainer arriving in sixth place with $5.8 million, and Lions Gate's French thriller High Tension landing in 12th with $1.7 million. Critics were mixed on Smith and Tension, while Lava Girl and The Honeymooners were widely dismissed.
In continuing release, DreamWorks' animated Madagascar notched back down to second place after a week at the top, adding $17.1 million to a $123.8 million total, while Lucasfilm's Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith held on to third place with $332.1 million in one month. Paramount's The Longest Yard starring Adam Sandler has soared into triple-digits with $118.1 million, although Universal's Cinderella Man starring Russell Crowe is not matching expectations with $34.4 million in two frames. New Line's Monster-in-Law is a bona fide hit with $76.4 million in the bag. And off to DVD prep is Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven, which will clear a domestic gross around $50 million.
Arriving on screens this Wednesday is Batman Begins, while new on Friday is The Perfect Man starring Hilary Duff invents and Heather Locklear. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mr. Beaks has posted a review of Criterion's new two-disc Jules and Jim, while new spins this week from the rest of the gang include Hitch, Coach Carter, A Dirty Shame, Heaven Can Wait: The Criterion Collection, Dark Victory, Humoresque, D.E.B.S., Danger: Diabolik, and Seed of Chucky. 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.
Tuesday, 7 June 2005
On the Street: There's a truckload of new DVDs on the street this morning, although if your partial to the classics, Fox's latest wave of Film Noir titles rank as top spins: House of Bamboo, The Street With No Name, and Nightmare Alley, which makes its very first appearance on home video. Recent theatrical titles reaching the shelves include MGM's Be Cool with John Travolta and Uma Thurman, Lions Gate's Beyond the Sea starring Kevin Spacey, Paramount's The Machinist with Christian Bale, and Universal's Seed of Chucky with Jennifer Tilly. Coming in under the radar is Walter Hill's stylish The Driver starring Ryan O'Neal, which is new from Fox. But there's plenty of second chances on the list as well, with double-dips that include Coyote Ugly, Gone in 60 Seconds, The Karate Kid, Star Trek: Insurrection, Stripes, Swimming with Sharks, and Tears of the Sun. And those looking for TV time-outs can pick up new boxes of Frasier, Lois & Clark, The Dead Zone, and MacGyver. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 6 June 2005
Disc of the Week: An odd pattern has emerged over the years in cinema: The films usually most revered by each year's end find themselves eventually lost to the ether, while many once reviled or written off find their audience in future generations. Look at 1947: the Academy Award winner for Best Picture was Gentleman's Agreement, which is now most notable for being a rather shallow look at anti-Semitism, whereas movies like Out of the Past and The Lady From Shanghai were ignored by the Academy for being genre efforts. Today, they are regarded as masterworks. Of course, those films had their fans at the time (and using the Oscars as an arbiter of quality amounts to little more than swinging at a straw man), but even darker and less renowned pictures like 1947's Nightmare Alley were met with confusion and distaste, only to be rediscovered and revered. It helps if there's a history of distribution problems: Films that are kept away from the mainstream earn a fetishistic, want-to-see aura that can only be created by absence something that happened to Alley, thus granting it a mystique. But it's easy to see why it attracted such a cult following; it's is a modest masterpiece of noir with a stunning, fatalistic mood and a strong performance from Fox's then-matinee-idol Tyrone Power.
Power stars as Stanton Carlisle, a young roustabout who finds himself enraptured with the carnival life. Working as a barker and showman, he learns the tricks of the trade from those around him and begins an affair with Zeena (Joan Blondell), a seer who has a lush for a husband. Zeena and her spouse Pete (Ian Keith) used to work a crowd over with a coded system that made her look like a psychic, but since he hit the bottle, they've fallen out of favor. But Stanton is persistent, and when Pete accidentally dies partly due to Stanton giving him wood alcohol he gets close enough to Zeena to learn her old scheme. Stanton is also carrying on an affair with Molly (Colleen Gray), whose father Bruno (Mike Mazurki) is the carny's strongman, and when their dalliance is made public, the troop force Stanton to make a decent woman out of Molly. Now gifted with a great talent for phony psychic powers, he takes his act to the big time, playing nightclubs as "The Great Stanton." And when he hooks a rich old lady by pretending to channel her dead daughter, he wins national fame. Stanton also meets Lilith (Helen Walker), a psychiatrist whom he fancies, and a woman who embodies her Biblical name. But as Stanton's act grows more and more renowned, he realizes he can't sustain his charlatan pretenses forever.
A dark and gripping slice of film noir, Nightmare Alley was greenlit against 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck's better judgment. The script was based on a book by William Lindsay Gresham, which was popular but considered too dark and unappealing for a mainstream audience. But Tyrone Power wanted to make the movie and fought for the role, so Zanuck re-teamed him with director Edmund Goulding, hoping to rekindle the magic they made with his otherwise less-than-good The Razor's Edge the previous year. They also had a script by the great Jules Furthman (To Have and Have Not) , who imbued the material with his panache, even though he was forced to modify the novel's ending for a happier denouement. With Stanton introduced on screen while staring at the carny's freak, there's a sense of darkness and oddity that is immediately gripping, and Power offers a carnality that's palpable (for contrast, in The Razor's Edge he comes off as a saintly eunuch). Charges are still made that he was wrong for the part, but it's good against-type casting, and the film has that wonderfully eerie sense that comes with great noir. However, when the movie was finally in the can, Zanuck buried it. It was rediscovered in the 1970s, when it first gained its cult following. Nonetheless, 20th Century Fox was so embarrassed by the title over the years that this 2005 DVD release marks its first home-video appearance.
Fox presents Nightmare Alley in a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) with audio available on both a remastered stereo track and the original mono recording. Part of the second wave of "Fox Film Noir" releases (with a spine-number of 6), it arrives alongside William Keightley's The Street with No Name and Sam Fuller's CinemaScope remake House of Bamboo. For a title that was considered a redheaded stepchild in the back of the vault, the source-print is remarkable, with ace cinematographer's Lee Garmes' work scintillating to look at. Extras are limited to the film's theatrical trailer and an engaging commentary by James Ursini and Alain Silver, who have written numerous books on films noir, including The Noir Style and the Film Noir Reader series. Nightmare Alley is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: After two overheated weeks at the top of the box-office chart, George Lucas's Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith has been knocked from first place although the weekend's debut films had nothing to do with it. Instead, DreamWorks' animated Madagascar climbed up a notch to win the weekend frame with $28.7 million, breaking the century mark in just ten days. Meanwhile, the weekend's new titles all turned up midlist, with Universal's Cinderella Man starring Russell Crowe taking fourth with $18.6 million, Warner's The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants in fifth with $13.9 million, and Sony's Lords of Dogtown skating into sixth with $5.7 million. Cinderella Man and Sisterhood earned positive reviews, while Dogtown came up with mixed notices.
In continuing release, Paramount's The Longest Yard starring Adam Sandler earned second place by mere inches with $26.1 million, while Revenge of the Sith slipped to the third spot with $26 million even and a triple-century $308.8 million in three sessions. New Line's Monster-in-Law with Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda has scared up a respectable $70.3 million after one month, and Lions Gate's Crash now stands with $40.9 million in the bank. Expect Universal's Kicking & Screaming to clear $50 million before it's through. And off to cheap theaters is Warner's House of Wax, which will clear $30 million.
No less than four new films go wide this Friday, including Mr. & Mrs. Smith with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, The Honeymooners starring Cedric the Entertainer, the French thriller High Tension, and The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New spins this week from the team include Be Cool, The Machinist, The Driver, The Day After Tomorrow: Collector's Edition, The Street With No Name, Never So Few, House of Bamboo, Tom Horn, Nightmare Alley, and the Korean thriller H. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Wednesday, 1 June 2005
On the Street: Warner Home Video leads off the week more movie legends, this time offering The Complete James Dean Collection, which includes the DVD debut of Elia Kazan's East of Eden, a two-disc reissue of Nicolas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause, and the current iteration of George Stevens' Giant. And if that weren't enough, The Essential Steve McQueen Collection includes a two-disc reissue of Bullitt, as well as The Cincinnati Kid, The Getaway, Tom Horn, Never So Few, and Papillon. Criterion's on the slate with the long-anticipated arrival of François Truffaut's Jules and Jim. And TV fans will doubtless snap up the first two seasons of Moonlighting, new from Lions Gate. Here's this week's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment: