Tuesday, 26 July 2005
On the Street: Those of you who plan to sit by your air conditioners this week have plenty of DVDs to choose from, not least of which being MGM's Errol Morris DVD Collection, which includes the documentary director's landmark film The Thin Blue Line. Out today from Criterion are a pair of Seijun Suzuki classics, Gate of Flesh and Story of a Prostitute, while we're also partial to New Line's The Upside of Anger starring Joan Allen and Kevin Costner. Also new from New Line is King's Ransom starring Anthony Anderson, and Sony/Columbia TriStar is on the board with XXX: State of the Union, the animated Steamboy, and an unrated release of Not Another Teen Movie. Fans of the classics can't get more classic than Universal's The Jerk starring Steve Martin. And arriving from the small screen are new sets of 3rd Rock From the Sun, The Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island, Remington Steele, and Star Trek Enterprise. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 25 July 2005
Disc of the Week: While the American film industry may mark 2005 as a year of weak box-office returns, the fact remains that most movies are doomed to fail on the big screen. And not merely because, as some folks insist, they just aren't as good as they used to be. Instead, the studios' emphasis on immediate box-office returns, as well as their reliance upon blitzkrieg marketing strategies, means that the pulse-rate of any given cinematic product can be measured the morning after it debuts nationwide, and the hard numbers on Monday morning not only dictate the tone of the second week's marketing campaign ("America's #1 Comedy!"), but also if it will earn further support or simply flatline into second-run obscurity. For the pencil-pushers, it's not a bad strategy at least as far as mediocre movies go. If a title earns enough money on its opening weekend alone, DVD sales often will put it in the black within a year. But it's hardly the sort of environment in which to debut sophisticated, intelligent films that defy glib categorization. And for that, if for nothing else, we can be grateful for Sundance. Before the emergence of the Summer Blockbuster in the 1970s, a slow rollout of new films was common, arriving first in larger cities, then trickling down into smaller markets, where strong reviews and word-of-mouth bolstered theatrical runs that stretched for months instead of weeks. Since the early '90s, the Sundance Film Festival (and other events) has nurtured the slow rollout when Tinseltown would not, and the string of successes that have debuted in Park City include such memorable (and profitable) hits as Sex Lies and Videotape, Heathers, Roger & Me, Reservoir Dogs, Pi, The Blair Witch Project, Memento, 28 Days Later, and Napoleon Dynamite. A good Sundance title can sustain a slow-burn in theaters and enjoy a long life on home video and while it didn't win any festival awards, The Upside of Anger will be remembered as one of the breakout films of 2005.
Written and directed by Mike Binder, Joan Allen stars in The Upside of Anger as Terry Wolfmeyer, an upper-middle-class suburban Detroit homemaker who wakes up one day to face her worst nightmare her husband has left home, taking with him nothing more than his wallet and the clothes on his back. Aware that he had been carrying on with his Swedish secretary, Terry tries to face reality as best she can, despite the fact that she has four daughters to raise and no clear source of future income. Hope comes in the form of longtime family friend and neighbor Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) the retired baseball star is fronting a group of financiers who hope to acquire the Wolfmeyers' undeveloped property behind the family home, and Terry is not opposed to selling. But Denny's intentions are multifold. He's never tried to hide his affection for Terry, and while she initially resists his romantic overtures, their shared sense of midlife ennui and barely restrained alcoholism turn them into a pair of mismatched soulmates. In the meantime, Terry insists upon remaining a strong often headstrong parent, even if her relationships with her four daughters are tepid at best, and far from nurturing. College-bound Hadley (Alicia Witt) is the perfect child who disapproves of her mother's drinking, while Andy (Erika Christensen) does not plan to attend college but instead wants to enter the working world directly from high school. Emily (Keri Russell) hopes to become a professional dancer, a dream Terry discourages. And the youngest, 'Popeye' (Evan Rachel Wood), is still working out the tough details of her mid-teen years.
As the title suggests, The Upside of Anger concerns not merely the events of Terry Wolfmeyer's life in the wake of her collapsed marriage, but her emotional state as well at turns she's witty, caustic, selfish, and yes, angry. But it's hard to tell if her bitterness stems directly from her sense of abandonment, or in fact if she's always been a controlling, abrasive personality. The issue is never settled. It's difficult to believe that she's transformed into an entirely new woman, no matter how burdened she feels by her loss. And yet one of her daughters insists that, before her father left, Terry was "sweet to everyone." As with virtually everything in Mike Binder's script, there are no pat answers, no pop psychology. Instead, the film deftly illustrates how suburban dreams can crumble under the weight of fragmentary, unstructured lives, and it does so without either the cold detachment of The Ice Storm or the easy cynicism of American Beauty. Despite its somewhat bleak subject-matter, The Upside of Anger bristles with humor and genuine, flesh-and-blood characters. Joan Allen shoulders nearly every scene and deserves a lion's share of the credit. Only a virtuoso performer can take a character who's essentially unlikable and make every moment on screen compelling. Nonetheless, the script's unusual chemistry would be nonexistent without Kevin Costner, who reveals that he's a mature leading man (his weight gain here is both noticeable and entirely fitting). Despite playing once again a baseball player, Anger represents a notable evolution in Costner's career, and along with Open Range (2004) should do a great deal to put such misfires as Robin Hood and Waterworld to rest. His loopy, somewhat dim earnestness collides against Allen's porcelain resolve, making for a story that can't be encapsulated by a make-or-break marketing campaign: "Drunk ex-baseball star falls for caustic divorcée." The Upside of Anger is about life lived without a script, and how even our best choices may be the very things that confine us when fate turns over the next page.
New Line's DVD release features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby 2.0 Surround options. Supplements include a chatty commentary with writer-director-costar Mike Binder, star Joan Allen, and Rod Lurie (who directed both in The Contender) among the many behind-the-scenes details, they enjoy revealing how the entire production, set in Binder's hometown of Detroit, was shot in London. Also on board are eight deleted scenes with a "play-all" option, the featurette "Creating The Upside of Anger" (28 min.), and the theatrical trailer. The Upside of Anger is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Four new films arrived in cineplexes over the weekend, but none could crack the top three positions on the chart, which remained unchanged from one week ago. DreamWorks' The Island starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson arrived in fourth place with a modest $12.1 million opening, while Paramount's The Bad News Bears starring Billy Bob Thornton bagged $11.5 million to reach the top five. Landing in seventh was Paramount's rap drama Hustle & Flow with $8.1 million. And the Rob Zombie horror flick The Devil's Rejects took eighth place with $7 million. Critics praised Flow, while the remaining new releases earned mixed notices.
In continuing release, Warner's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory held the top spot for the second week running, adding $28.3 million to a $114.1 million 10-day cume. New Line's raunchy Wedding Crashers was solid in second, now with $80.9 million to its credit. And Fox's Fantastic Four didn't budge from third place, where it's racked up $122.5 million. Paramount's War of the Worlds is over the double-century in just one month with $208.3 million, while Warner's Batman Begins isn't far behind with $191.1 million. Counterprogramming the summer cacophony is Warner's documentary March of the Penguins, which broke into the top ten after five weeks and $9.2 million. And off to the mother of all DVD preps is Revenge of the Sith, which will close out above $375 million.
New on screens this Friday is the romantic comedy Must Love Dogs starring Diane Lane and John Cusack, the action flick Stealth with Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, and Jamie Foxx, and the superhero saga Sky High. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New spins this week from the review team include Story of a Prostitute: The Criterion Collection, Gate of Flesh: The Criterion Collection, King's Ransom: Platinum Series, Remington Steele: Season One, The Upside of Anger, and Sealab 2021: Season Three. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 19 July 2005
On the Street: Hey, the weather's really nice outside! You don't want to be watching DVDs! New on the street this week is Warner's Constantine starring Keanu Reeves and Disney's Ice Princess, which is certain to sell more discs than it did movie tickets. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 18 July 2005
Disc of the Week: In 1990, a pretty-boy young actor named Johnny Depp was the reluctant heart-throb star of the Fox Television network's only hit show, "21 Jump Street," playing a baby-faced undercover cop who looked young enough to pass for a high school kid. Depp had been with the show for three seasons and, at 27, was itching for something more substantial than a short-lived teen idol career. The script for Cry-Baby, John Waters' musical homage to 1950s "juvenile delinquent" B-movies, appealed to Depp on several levels working with notorious trash-cinema maestro Waters would throw a nice splash of acid on his sexy-cute public image, while the character of singin' and swingin' juvie bad boy Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker lampooned that image mercilessly. Meanwhile, Depp's high profile added an additional gloss to Waters' film, which was to be his first true studio picture having broken through with his sort-of-mainstream hit Hairspray two years earlier, Waters suddenly found himself being courted by Hollywood for his next big project ("Sherry Lansing kept sending me leather jackets!" Waters recalls with a laugh in one of this DVD's features). The pairing was a nice bit of symbiosis for actor and director with Depp on board, Waters got the sort of buzz he need to make his rockabilly musical the way he wanted, while Depp credits Waters' casting of him in Cry-Baby with his getting the lead in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990), the film that truly launched his career as a movie star.
In Waters' self-described "trash epic," Depp's "Cry-Baby" Walker is a leather-jacket hoodlum with a heart of gold, one of the high school "drapes" who are constantly at odds with the school's "squares." The year is 1954, the place (naturally) is Baltimore, and the story is straight out of the '50s angry-teen movies, with a big splash of Technicolor Elvis added to spice things up. The requisite good girl is Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane), a rich square who, a lá Sandra Dee in The Restless Years, has a hot current of repressed sexuality running under her pressed crinoline skirts. She finds herself uncontrollably drawn to the lusty rocker Cry-Baby and his rollicking, fun-loving family of hillbilly social rejects (played with typical Waters-style exaggeration by Traci Lords, Ricki Lake, Iggy Pop, and Susan Tyrell) But her ill-advised affair with Cry-Baby enrages her square boyfriend and his wholesome pals, leading to a stand-off between the town's upright parents, their pastel-clad preppie kids, and the drapes with their fast cars, loose girls, and crazy rock-and-roll music.
John Waters' love for 1950s juvenile delinquent films is deep in Cry-Baby he nails all the clichés while adding his own touch of the grotesque, most notably through his typically bizarre casting decisions. Traci Lords has her first major non-porn role here (in the DVD's features she says she was so nervous she "tossed her Cheerios" her first day on the set), a craggy, hilarious Iggy Pop plays Cry-Baby's Uncle Belvedere, and Traci Lord's rich parents are played by Patty Hearst and David Nelson (from "Ozzie and Harriet"). As Cry-Baby's sister, Ricki Lake is both leather-clad and hugely pregnant, and the gang includes a phenomenally ugly girl named "Hatchet-Face" (Kim McGuire, cast by Waters after seeing a head shot). But as wacky and over-the-top as it is, Waters makes full use of his comparatively enormous budget after delivering Hairspray for $2.5 million, he got $12 million for Cry-Baby by shooting deliciously campy yet professionally acquitted rockabilly dance numbers to songs (several written by The Blasters' Dave Alvin) with titles like "High School Hell Cats" and "Please Mr. Jailer." Depp, who started out as a musician, does a fine job of lip-synching ( his vocals were recorded by James Intveld, Locane's by Rachel Sweet) and even carries off the dance sequences nicely, particularly since he's gone on record as admitting that he can't dance at all. Cry-Baby may be Waters' sweetest movie and, after Hairspray, his most accessible by mainstream standards. And, like Hairspray before it, there's talk of turning Cry-Baby into a Broadway musical, bringing hellcats, drapes, and juvenile delinquents to the legitimate stage.
Universal/Focus Features' DVD release of Cry-Baby: Director's Cut includes seven minutes of restored footage as Waters explains on the commentary track and in the bonus featurette, he also got to remove the "bleeps" that had been required over two instances of profanity in order to satisfy MPAA requirements and get a PG-13 rating. The newly remastered, anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is excellent, very clean with brilliant, richly saturated color, and the DD 5.1 audio does a nice job with both dialogue and musical numbers. Extras include a typically amusing and insightful commentary by Waters, who enjoys his own films so much that listening to his reminisces, observations, and wandering trains of thought is an entertainment above and beyond the main feature. There's also a fun new "making-of" featurette, "It Came From Baltimore," with background on Waters' fascination with the world of the "drapes," clips from classic JV films like The Restless Years and Live Fast, Die Young, and lot of new interviews with the cast it's an extensive feature, and hearing the details of how they shot different scenes (particularly the French-kissing party sequence) from the actors involved is hilarious. There are also seven minutes of deleted scenes, which dovetail nicely with one segment on the "Baltimore" featurette where the filmmakers discuss what was trimmed from the film, and why the "chicken dance" fight/dance number between the drapes and the squares is especially fun. Cry-Baby: Director's Cut is on the street now.
Box Office: The box-office charts showed another strong weekend for the summer season of 2005, with Warner's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory topping the list with a $55.3 million break. Arriving in second was the weekend's other major debut, New Line's Wedding Crashers with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, which took in $32.2 million. Both titles pushed last week's winner, Fox's Fantastic Four, into third place, where it snapped up $22.7 million and pushed its 10-day cume to $100.1 million. Critics gave both new movies generally positive reviews.
In continuing release, Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds held down fourth place after three sessions with $192.1 million in the bag, while Warner's Batman Begins rounds off the top five with $182.7 million after five weekends. Fox's Mr. & Mrs. Smith is another summer title pushing the double-century mark with $168 million overall, while Disney's Herbie: Fully Loaded is about to run out of gas after one month and $55.7 million in the bank. Don't count on Sony's Bewitched to add much more to its $56.8 million tally. Meanwhile, out the door in a hurry is Fox's Rebound starring Martin Lawrence, which failed to clear $12 million before dropping from sight.
New on screens this Friday are The Island starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, Bad News Bears with Billy Bob Thornton, the Rob Zombie horror flick The Devil's Rejects, and the rap movie Hustle & Flow. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews this week from the team include Constantine: Deluxe Edition, Ice Princess, Unfaithfully Yours: The Criterion Collection, Land of Silence and Darkness, Cry-Baby: Director's Cut, and Mondovino. 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, 12 July 2005
On the Street: The titles are starting to pile up on the Release Calendar after August, which means we're still picking and choosing what we like best during the dog days of summer. New from Criterion are Preston Sturges's Unfaithfully Yours and Luchino Visconti's Le Notti Bianche, while Universal is on the board with a director's cut of John Waters' Cry-Baby. Up from Warner is Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement, along with Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby and catalog titles featuring Gene Hackman, including Night Moves and Scarecrow. And if it all sounds a little high-minded for July, folks can always pick up Fox's new "unrated" version of Dodgeball and watch it again. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 11 July 2005
Disc of the Week: Luchino Visconti's career began in the 1940s, and his down to earth work grouped him as one of the main members (alongside Victoria Di Sica and Roberto Rossellini) of the Neo-Realist movement. These filmmakers created portraits of everyday life, of people from the proletariat class who struggled daily just to get by. In fact, Visconti directed the most Realist of them all, La Terra Trema (1948), which was shot on location and used non-actors to restage their lives. Like many artistic movements, the Neo-Realist sensibility could not be sustained, or perhaps the limitations of the style had to be toyed with. In any event, its three foremost directors eventually moved on to different types of films. For Visconti, this separation was first sensed in 1951's Bellissima a comic portrait of a stage mother but it's 1957's Le Notti Bianche ("White Nights") that's usually cited as the true break; for one thing, it was the first time he shot a film set entirely on studio sets. Nonetheless, labels can limit the artist and the art: Even with his first title, Ossessione (1943), Visconti was unofficially adapting James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice. Such realist roots are evident throughout his career. Neo-Realism wasn't a dogmatic attempt to install a cinema movement, but a style born of the time and influences. What is more important is the sensibility of the filmmaker, and Visconti always focused on people, how they live, and how they die. With Le Notti Bianche, he also explored how they love.
A young man (Marcello Mastroianni) returns from a day in the country with some co-workers and finds himself wondering what to do with his evening. Taking a walk, he runs into a girl (Maria Schell) who's crying. Not knowing what to do, he feels called into action when two men on a motorcycle try to harass her. Knowing this is his moment, he defends her, and then he introduces himself. He's Mario, and he's recently moved to town and doesn't know that many people. She's Natalia, and she was returning to her stoop to wait for someone. Mario walks her home, and she says she'll see him the next night. Such begins a strange courtship. The next night Natalia tells him about the man she's waiting for: A year previously, a tenant (Jean Marias) moved in with her and her grandmother, and before long the two young people fell in love. However, he had to leave for a year for undisclosed reasons. The year is now passed, and Natalia is waiting breathlessly. Mario is unconvinced, and he asks her to write the man a letter, which he says he'll deliver (though Mario selfishly tears it up and throws it away). The next night their meeting is strained; Mario feels guilty, while Natalia has warmed to him. On their fourth and final night, they spend the evening dancing and falling in love but the possibility of the tenant's return is never far from their minds.
Adapted from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's short story of the same name, Visconti's Le Notti Bianche is a peculiar sort of love story, a cinematic meditation on the nature of failed love and voyeurism. From the start, Mario is simply an interloper, hoping to make his way into the heart of Natalia, and he does everything he can to break the spell of her true love, from telling her the tenant won't come back to telling her that he loves her. For him, their best night out is also their last, in which he takes her out dancing and tries to make her forget the time of her planned rendezvous. For most of the picture, Visconti keeps his distance: like Mario, the film is peering into something it doesn't belong in. There is a sequence during the dance number where Visconti shoots the couple dancing through a door frame as a woman waits outside, only to have someone yell what time it is to her, which breaks Mario's spell over Natalia his plan to keep her away is revealed. The sequence is masterful: The two begin dancing to Bill Haley's "Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town)"; the story then follows Mario as he tries to keep his eye on Natalia after they are split up by other dancers. He then finds he must assert himself (albeit in a self-effacing way) by doing a spotlight dance, in which he twitters and comically jumps around. The more Mario tries to romance Natalia away from the tenant, the more romantic and fevered his dreams become. In this way, Visconti seems to be echoing a romantic fatalism best typified by 1943's Port of Shadows, although this portrait of a doomed romance feels as modern and emotionally honest as it must have when Dostoyevsky wrote it, and later when Visconti adapted it.
The Criterion Collection presents Le Notti Bianche in a solid widescreen transfer (1.66:1) from luminously restored elements, along with the original Italian audio and optional English subtitles. Shot in the studio, the cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno (who also shot Visconti's The Leopard and Rocco and His Brothers) is a master class on black-and-white photography, and thankfully the film has never looked better. Included on the DVD is an unabridged reading of Dostoyevsky's short story "White Nights" (114 min.) by actor T. Ryder Smith (mostly a New York stage actor, his best known film role is as "The Trixter" in 1994's Brainscan), which also is available as an MP3 file. The featurette "Visconti's Collaborators" (17 min.) offers interviews with Rotunno, screenwriter Suso Cecchi d'Amico, costume designer Pierro Tosi, and film critics Laura Delli Colli and Lino Micciche. Also included are screen tests for Marcello Mastroianni (2 min.), Maria Schell (2 min.), and the two together (1 min.), and the theatrical trailer. Le Notti Bianche: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Stuck in pre-production for no less than eleven years, Fox's The Fantastic Four lit up the weekend box-office, if not the critics, landing in first place with a solid $56 million debut. The win displaced Paramount's War of the Worlds after its stellar Fourth of July opening the Steven Spielberg film slipped to second place, adding $31.3 million to a blistering $165.8 million 10-day cume. Also new this week was Touchstone's thriller Dark Water starring Jennifer Connelly, which took in $10.1 million for fourth place. Critics were mixed on Water, while Four earned mostly negative reviews.
In continuing release, Warner's Batman Begins continues to win fans, holding down third place after its first month with $172.1 million in the bag. Fox's Mr. and Mrs. Smith starring 'Brangelina' also has proven itself one of the summer's best titles, taking in $158.6 million in five frames. And moving up on the $50 million mark after three weekends are Disney's Herbie: Fully Loaded and Sony's Bewitched. Paramount's The Longest Yard starring Adam Sandler is now past $150 million. But Fox's Rebound with Martin Lawrence has been hobbled with only $2.8 million in its second frame. And off to the cheap screens is Dimension's The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, which exits with more than $35 million.
New on screens this Friday is Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Johnny Depp, as well as Wedding Crashers with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: J. Jordan Burke has posted a sneak-preview of Warner's Million Dollar Baby, while Dawn Taylor recently looked at A Very Long Engagement from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. More spins this week include Hide and Seek, Dodgeball: Unrated, Le Notti Bianche: The Criterion Collection, and Rory O'Shea Was Here. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 5 July 2005
Box Office: Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg came out winners with Paramount's War of the Worlds at the North American box-office over the holiday weekend, while Martin Lawrence's comedy Rebound was a disappointment for Fox. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend: