Tuesday, 30 Aug. 2005
On the Street: Another bona fide American classic is on the street this morning, thanks to Universal, who have re-released The Blues Brothers in a two-disc Anniversary Edition. Paramount's got a great mix of titles as well, including Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn, re-issues of Clueless and Tommy Boy, and the German import Schultze Gets the Blues. Jane Fonda can be found in New Line's Monster-in-Law as well as Warner's catalog issues The Morning After and Rollover, while Warner's other curiosities from the vault include Corvette Summer, Hero at Large, and Wise Guys. It don't get much cooler than Dean-o in Sony's four-disc Matt Helm Lounge. And some of the best chop-sockey in recent memory can be found in Fox's Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 29 Aug. 2005
Disc of the Week: In his book My and Life and My Films, Jean Renoir spends little time talking about his 1932 film Boudu Saved From Drowning. Mostly he praises star Michel Simon Renoir said of the film "When I see Boudu, I forget that I made the film, I forget what happened, I see only one thing: A great actor on the screen." And in the introduction included on the DVD, Renoir also defers to Simon. There are a couple of good reasons for this the most important being that Simon helped launch Renoir's film career. Having worked in movies since 1924, it was Renoir's collaboration with Simon in 1931 with On purge bébé that netted him an important box office success. The two followed it with La Chienne, which was also a hit. But another reason why Renoir may have looked on Boudu as lesser title is that it was received coolly upon release and it wasn't seen in America until 1967. Boudu, while still being masterful, gives off the appearance of being a slight work, a light bedroom farce about the class system, and it plays on the notion of false piety taken to an absurd degree. But it's Simon's performance as the unrestrained Boudu that elevates the picture's status, transforming it into a minor classic.
Simon stars as the titular character, the Parisian tramp Priapus Boudu, who decides to jump into the River Seine after his dog leaves him. He's saved by Edouard Lestingois (Charles Granval), who sees himself as a charitable and good man, even though he's carrying on an affair with his maid Anne Marie (Severine Lerczinska). After getting Boudu breathing (for which Boudu is supremely ungrateful), Edouard takes the man in, gives him a suit, and tries to take care of him, much like a pet. But Boudu invites chaos in whatever he does, and he quickly makes a mess of the Lestingois house, while also getting in the way of Edouard's affair by sleeping in the path to Anne Marie's bedroom. Edouard is revealed to be a man of surfaces, a bookseller more interested in appearances than meaning, and he arrives at the conclusion that "one should really only come to the aid of one's equals." But as Edouard and his wife (Marcelle Hainia) are ready to kick Boudu out, the cuckolder becomes the cuckolded when Boudu bluntly seduces Edouard's wife, allowing Boudu further stay. Eventually the Lestingois house's affairs are revealed, but Boudu finds that he has a winning lottery ticket, and he seems ready to set things right by marrying Anne Marie. But middle class complacency has no appeal for Priapus Boudu, and he quickly abandons his wedding to continue his untamed life.
Though based on the play by Rene Fouchois (who disowned the film adaptation upon release but later came to appreciate it) and made by one of the greatest directors of all time, Boudu Saved from Drowning belongs to Michel Simon. That said, it's impossible to overlook Jean Renoir's deft touch throughout. A tale of suicide, poverty, and infidelity, Boudu takes a talented filmmaker to give the story the right balance of whimsy while remaining, in essence, an acute class commentary. As someone with a fine appreciation of the work of Charlie Chaplin, Renoir recognizes here how to make this thoroughly absurd character likable with his Id-like behavior, and he moves the plot along swiftly. Nonetheless, the picture be little more than a footnote if not for Simon who earned the role of a lifetime. As Boudu, he walks as if always drunk, and yet he is always active, often doing handstands or other playful activities. It is such a thorough and inspired character that he becomes the very definition of a free spirit (Renoir later suggested that Boudu was the precursor to the hippie), which places his voracious appetites in context his character is named Priapus (the Greek god of procreation) for a reason. Without such a dynamic leading performance, we might get something like Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Paul Mazursky's 1986 reworking of Renoir's film. It's good for what it is, that being a dated '80s comedy. But even someone as talented as Nick Nolte cannot hope to match Simon's inspired lunacy, nor could Gerard Depardieu in the 2005 remake Boudu. It's why Renoir always deferred to Simon when talking about the film: He knew the picture's success could be attributed to his star, and not himself.
The Criterion Collection presents Boudu Saved from Drowning in a good full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) with the original monaural French audio (DD 1.0) and English subtitles for a 1932 film, the source-print is in reasonably good shape thanks to a digital restoration, although it's not pristine. The main menu offers the Jean Renoir introduction (3 min.), wherein he praises Michel Simon. In the supplements section, the first piece is "Jean Renoir & Michel Simon," (6 min.), an excerpt from the 1967 episode of the French show "Cineastes de notre temps" from the episode "Portrait de Simon ou la direction," which was directed by Jacques Rivette. Next up is an interview with Jean Pierre Gorin (12 min.), who co-directed Tout Va Bien with Jean-Luc Godard he provides a studied appreciation of Boudu with an emphasis on Renoir's technique and the film's class consciousness. "Eric Rohmer & Jean Douchet" (31 min.) offers an episode of "Aller au Cinema" spent with the two writer-directors discussing Boudu's political elements. Finally there is an interactive map of Paris in the 1930s, with notes on the film's locations. Boudu Saved from Drowning: The Criterion Collection is on the street now.
Box Office: The summer of 2005 continues to be a season of comedy as Universal's The 40-Year Old Virgin starring Steve Carell held on to the top spot for a second week in a row, fending off three new challengers. Dimension's The Brothers Grimm, starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger and directed by Terry Gilliam, arrived in second place with $15 million, while Sony/Screen Gems' thriller The Cave scared up a meager $6.2 million, spelunking into sixth place. Meanwhile, the pop movie Undiscovered starring Ashlee Simpson was lip-sinked by a $690,000 debut weekend, failing to chart. Critics were mixed-to-negative on Grimm, while The Cave and Undiscovered were roundly dismissed (the latter earning especial vitriol).
In continuing release, DreamWorks' thriller Red Eye slipped to third place, adding $10.4 million to a $32.6 million gross. Paramount's Four Brothers is still in business in fourth place with a harmonious $55.3 million in three frames. And New Line's unstoppable Wedding Crashers rounds out the top five with $187.7 million on the registry. They're still going Warner's March of the Penguins crossed the $50 million mark in a slow-burn over the past ten weeks. A bird of a different feather, Disney's animated Valiant, won't fly nearly as high, slipping to ninth place with $11.5 million overall. Meanwhile, off to DVD prep is Warner's Must Love Dogs, which heads for the exits with a nifty $40 million.
Labor Day weekend is a traditional dumping ground for studios' underperformers, but four more titles arrive in cineplexes this week, with The Constant Gardener starring Ralph Fiennes going wide on Wednesday, followed on Friday by The Transporter 2 starring Jason Statham, the time-traveling dinosaur film A Sound of Thunder, and the undercover-cop flick Underclassman. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews this week from the team include Sahara , The Ring Two, Monster-in-Law, Clueless: The Whatever Edition, Tommy Boy: Holy Schnike Edition, The OC: Season Two, Schultze Gets the Blues, The Office: Season One, Boudu Saved from Drowning: The Criterion Collection, and Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 23 Aug. 2005
On the Street: Topping our shopping this week is a trio of Criterion releases Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri, Roberto Rosselini's The Flowers of St. Francis, and Jean Renior's Boudu Saved from Drowning. Getting deserved double-dips from Paramount are a pair of Peter Weir titles, Witness and The Truman Show, while fresh from theaters are MGM's Beauty Shop, Buena Vista's A Lot Like Love, and a handful of Ring 2 releases from DreamWorks. However, under the radar but not to be missed is the Asian import Oldboy. Both Gladiator and New Jack City arrive with extra discs this morning, while Universal's reached into its catalog for single-disc editions of Cape Fear, E.T., and Adam Sandler's Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. TV junkies can look for The OC: Season Two. And on the street in time for the sequel is Fox's The Transporter: Special Delivery Edition. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 22 Aug. 2005
Disc of the Week: Judging from its title, its key art, or even a sketch of its narrative, 1962's Harakiri would seem to be of a piece with the other samurai films from the 1960s that audiences have revered for decades: stylish, kinetic, and entertaining. But just as a book should not be judged by its cover, so a film like this should not be lumped in with others which it may superficially resemble. Screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto and director Masaki Kobayashi crafted a somber epic that eschews crowd-pleasing action for a scathing critique of the samurai ethos, as well as a potent anti-authoritarian tale that uses the historical setting of the 17th century to make political statements which aim for contemporary resonance. If all this makes Harakiri sound like a tedious, depressing slog, be aware that it also features some sterling performances and some effective touches of dark humor. As with most worthwhile samurai films, Harakiri requires some familiarity with its historical setting to fully appreciate its story. During the Tokugawa period, Japan's government became centralized, drawing power away from the individual warlords who had held sway over their individual fiefdoms. This resulted in the unemployment of many warriors, men who had served as these warlords' retainers and thus became wandering, masterless samurai known as ronin. Desperate for work (and apparently unable to acquire new job skills), the ronin sought honorable work from various clans or, failing that, committed the ritual suicide known as hara-kiri or seppuku (this film's Japanese title). Aiming to atone for earthly dishonor with an extremely painful death, the suicidal samurai would slice open his abdomen with a short sword, after which an assisting second would perform a fatal decapitation blow. These details matter not just because of the film's title, but also because they play a key role in its story.
Harakiri begins with the arrival of Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai) at the gates of the Iyi clan's compound. He explains that his own clan has dissolved and asks for permission to use their courtyard for his hara-kiri ritual. Apparently this was not an uncommon occurrence in 1630; ever since one such petitioner was hired on by another clan out of pity, many ronin have used this ploy in hopes of gaining a job or at least a charitable donation. Tsugumo is granted an audience with an Iyi leader, who proceeds to tell him about the last man who made such a request. In flashback, Motome Chijiwa (Akira Ishihama) makes the same appeal to clan Iyi, but the clan leaders, sensing that he merely seeks alms, grant his request and set about forcing him to go through with it. When they discover that Chijiwa's sword is merely a bamboo replica, they insist on the rule requiring anyone committing hara-kiri to use his own weapon. Chijiwa's drawn-out, painful suicide with this blunt instrument is a harrowing scene that, even to today's jaded audiences, may be difficult to watch. Once the tale is told, Tsugumo reiterates his desire to kill himself, but through a series of orchestrated delays he has an opportunity to tell his own story. It turns out he knew Chijiwa, and as more flashbacks depict the course of events which brought the younger samurai to the Iyi gates, it becomes clear that Tsugumo is intent on exacting revenge for the behavior of the clan. It also becomes clear that Kobayashi's critique is not limited to the behavior of one group in one particular episode, but extends to the entire unbending code of honor which leads to such barbarity.
Masaki Kobayashi occupies a tier in Japanese cinema just below the Mount Rushmore level of Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Yasujiro Ozu. He's best known for Harakiri and the 1964 ghost story anthology Kwaidan, but both demonstrate his mastery of the widescreen canvas. In Harakiri he alternates between static moments of tense silence and judiciously chosen camera moves gliding tracking shots, slow zooms, and the occasional quick pan which serve to heighten emotion at key moments in the film. Anyone expecting a bloodletting, jaw-dropping display of martial prowess will be disappointed, although once Tsugumo gets down to brass tacks, the film culminates in a battle royale of sorts (there's also a nicely staged one-on-one duel in a windswept field during one of Tsugumo's final flashbacks). The flashback-heavy narrative framework calls to mind Rashomon, especially since screenwriter Hashimoto also penned Kurosawa's classic. A more recent analogue would be Hero, which also centers on tales told under duress in a similar setting. But perhaps the most interesting comparison would be with a film like Unforgiven or The Wild Bunch. Just as those pictures repudiated the heroic iconography of the Western and revealed the brutal reality of a historical period usually tinted by nostalgia, so does this one.
The Criterion Collection's double-disc edition of Harakiri features a stellar anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) of the black-and-white film, which does justice to Yoshio Miyajima's sharp widescreen cinematography. Disc One also includes what's termed an "introduction" to the film by Japanese cinema scholar Donald Ritchie. As is frustratingly common, this "introduction" reveals crucial plot details and should not be viewed before the feature; it would have been better to include it with the other interviews on the set's second disc. In his ten-minute talk, Ritchie points out the consistent anti-authoritarianism of Kobayashi, and his desire for Harakiri to be seen also as an indictment of Japanese corporate culture in the postwar era. The second disc includes three more interview featurettes. Kobayashi, who died in 1996, talks with fellow filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda (Double Suicide) in a 1993 clip and compares his film to Kurosawa's more lighthearted Sanjuro, which was made around the same time (9 min.). In another segment, star Nakadai discusses the challenges of playing a 50-year-old character (he was 30 at the time), and the most important skill for period actors: being able to maintain a seizu (kneeling) posture on hard wooden floors for hours on end (13 min.). Screenwriter Hashimoto reveals that he wrote the script for Harakiri in 11 days, and defends his time-shifting stories: "It isn't a flashback if it moves in the direction of the drama." (12 min.) Finally, a gallery of international poster art for the film demonstrates the global variety of graphic design. Harakiri: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Is The 40-Year-Old Virgin the new Wedding Crashers? In a summer season that's seen comedies outpace action flicks, Universal's R-rated Virgin starring Steve Carell landed on top of the weekend box-office chart, taking in $20.5 million. Arriving in second place was DreamWorks' thriller Red Eye from Wes Craven, which garnered $16.5 million. The frame's other two debuts fared poorly Disney's animated Valiant landed in seventh place with just $6 million, while Fox's Supercross: The Movie kicked up just $1.3 million and failed to chart. Critics heaped praise on Red Eye and Virgin, while Valiant skewed negative and Supercross, which was not previewed for critics, was widely dismissed.
In continuing release, last week's winner Four Brothers starring Mark Wahlberg slipped to third place, adding $13 million to a $43.6 million gross. New Line's Wedding Crashers just won't quit, hanging on to fourth place with a spectacular $177.9 million after six sessions. Universal's Skeleton Key rounded out the top five with $30.1 million so far. Warner's March of the Penguins definitely is not the new Wedding Crashers, but with $48.6 million and counting, it's good enough on its own. However, Warner's The Dukes of Hazzard continues to drop like a rock, landing in eighth place just two weeks after its number-one debut, albeit with $68.8 million in the tank. Meanwhile, off to DVD prep are two of the summer's bigger successes, War of the Worlds and Fantastic Four.
New on screens this Friday are The Brothers Grimm starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, the thriller The Cave, and Undiscovered with you betcha Ashlee Simpson. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews this week from the gang include The Wedding Date, The Simpsons: Season Six, The Truman Show: Special Edition, Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, Witness: Special Edition, The Flowers of St. Francis: The Criterion Collection, Harakiri: The Criterion Collection, and The Transporter: Special Delivery Edition. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 16 Aug. 2005
On the Street: It's a week for steppin' out, thanks to Warner's The Astaire & Rogers Collection: Vol. 1, which collects five light-footed classics, including The Barkleys of Broadway, Follow the Fleet, Shall We Dance, Swing Time, and Top Hat all that remains is to argue over which one actually is the best Astaire & Rogers picture. New from Miramax/Buena Vista is Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's lavish Sin City, as well as catalog reissues of My Left Foot and The Glass Shield. Sony/Columbia TriStar has art-house items The Ballad of Jack and Rose and The Brown Bunny on the shelves, while Universal has the rom-com The Wedding Date and Warner offers more dancing with The Mambo Kings. Two TV titles are worth looking for as well, the U.S. rendition of The Office starring Steve Carrell and the sixth season of The Simpsons. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 15 Aug. 2005
Disc of the Week: As he tells the story, comic artist/writer Frank Miller always wanted to tell pulp stories of desperate men, boozy dames, and fast cars through his chosen medium. Growing up in rural Vermont, he was fascinated by the big city as described by writers like Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane, and he had a deep love for film noir and crime stories. But when he arrived in New York with a portfolio full of such themes, he was told that the work was all in tights-and-capes superheroes so he learned to draw men in tights. Miller became famous in the world of comics for his mature, edgy work on stories about Daredevil , "X-Men"'s Wolverine, and, most notably, in his groundbreaking "Dark Knight Returns" about an older, meaner, even more driven Batman who takes a stand against Superman, who's become the tool of an increasingly Fascist world government. The success of that work allowed him the freedom to begin his pet project, "Sin City," a stripped-down fantasy with tough guys, beautiful women, big guns, and gut-clenching violence, all drawn in a shadow-and-light style so iconic and yet so breathtakingly unique that it became an immediate classic. It would also be a natural for adaptation to the movies, one would think, given the obvious influence that movies had on the comic but Miller had done a stint in Hollywood working on scripts for films like Robocop, and he came away deeply discouraged by the way writers' work is treated by producers and directors. It took Robert Rodriguez to convince him otherwise. Rodriguez used the high-tech facilities at his Troublemaker Studios in Austin, Texas, to create a visual presentation showing Miller exactly how the director intended to recreate the look of "Sin City" using digital effects. Miller was hooked, coming on board as Rodriguez's co-director.
The film version of Sin City presents the first three of Miller's stories set in that world, "The Hard Goodbye," "The Big Fat Kill," and "That Yellow Bastard." All are connected by the location, Basin City, and by several characters. In the tradition of classic pulp crime, the heroes are men who live on the wrong side of the law, by their own set of ethics, and who find themselves playing the hero out of sheer circumstance. Marv (Mickey Rourke) is a huge, ugly bruiser who wakes up after a night with a stunningly beautiful woman (Jaime King) to find her dead in his bed. Dwight (Clive Owen) takes issue with the treatment of a waitress he's been dating (Brittany Murphy) by a psycho thug named Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro) and finds himself caught in the middle of a turf war between the city's cops and the very capable hookers who run Old Town. And Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is an aging cop, ready for retirement, whose attempt to foil a kidnapping of a little girl leads to his own arrest and imprisonment so, on his release eight years later, he sets out to make sure the girl is safe and punish the fiend who was behind the whole thing. Each of the interlocking tales is exquisitely violent, darkly funny, and heavily atmospheric, like the source material. Each tale also is about love and honor and, again in classic noir fashion, with tragic consequences.
Detractors of Sin City have called it both an exercise in style over substance and have labeled it sexist for its depiction of women as strippers and hookers. Both arguments are fair, but both are overly simplistic as well "Sin City," the comic, was a celebration of a very specific visual style, presented in a visual medium. That Rodriguez and Miller worked so hard to recreate the unique look of the graphic novel on film (another visual medium) makes it a de facto exercise in style. But there's a lot of substance in Sin City, with its moving themes of love, vengeance, perversion, and, most notably, a code of ethics that exists above and beyond the written law. As for the charges of sexism well, the women are, indeed, mostly sex workers. And voluptuous and beautiful and provocatively dressed, when they're dressed at all. Again, this is fully in keeping with the source material of Hammett and Chandler and pulp crime and early film noir why Miller doesn't deserve the charge of sexism is due to the fact that his women don't exist simply for male titillation. Each female character is strong and dynamic in her own way Lucille (Carla Gugino) is Marv and Hartigan's attorney, and as gorgeous as she is, she's also a lesbian, so she's just their lawyer. Miho (Devon Aoki) is a deadly assassin working as a lieutenant for Gail (Rosario Dawson), who keeps order in Old Town. Even Nancy (Jessica Alba), the designated damsel-in-distress, does her part to help her would-be savior, Hartigan, and behaves with both bravery and intelligence under extreme duress. "Sexism" implies that women are being used purely as objects, and that couldn't be further from the truth in Sin City Miller may draw his dames with ample breasts, lush thighs and huge, swollen lips, but he writes them as smart, capable characters who can hold their own with macho brutes like Hartigan, Dwight, and Marv.
Buena Vista/Miramax's DVD release of Sin City features a flawless anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options. Expect a lavish special edition down the road supplements this time around include a behind-the-scenes featurette (8 min.) and promos for other Buena Vista/Miramax titles. Sin City is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: August typically is one of the weaker months at the box-office, and the past weekend's new films did little change this year's sluggish ticket sales. Arriving in first place was Paramount's Four Brothers starring Mark Wahlberg, which delivered $20.7 million, while Universal's thriller The Skeleton Key with Kate Hudson scared up $15.7 million. Midlist comedy Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo arrived in fifth place with $9.4 million. And debuting in tenth place on limited screens was Miramax's WWII epic The Great Raid, drawing in $3.3 million. Brothers, Key, and Raid earned mixed reviews from critics, while Bigalow was widely panned.
In continuing release, them Dukes' ride at the top of the chart was a short one Warner's The Dukes of Hazzard lost 58% of its opening numbers, dropping to third place with $57.4 million in the tank. Meanwhile, New Line's Wedding Crashers continues to be a popular summer draw, refusing to leave the top five after five weeks and $164 million in receipts. Warner's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory isn't on the wane yet either, with $183.7 million tally, while the surprise hit March of the Penguins has racked up an astonishing $37.6 million. Of course, that money had to come from somewhere, and we have a guess on the way to DVD prep in a big hurry are big-budget flops The Island and Stealth, both finishing in the $30 million neighborhood.
New on screens this Wednesday is Supercross, while Friday's debuts include The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Red Eye, and the animated Valiant. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New spins this week from the team include My Left Foot: Collector's Series, The Mambo Kings, Swing Time, Shall We Dance , The Glass Shield: Collector's Series, The Barkleys of Broadway, Sin City, and Alias Nick & Nora. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 9 Aug. 2005
On the Street: Is everyone on summer vacation? It looks like it TV releases large and small fill out the street-list this week, while new from Sony/Columbia TriStar is Kung Fu Hustle and the French import Look at Me. Meanwhile, new from Fox is the family film Because of Winn-Dixie and a trio of "Studio Classics," Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte, In Old Chicago, and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 8 Aug. 2005
Disc of the Week: Nobody could accuse John Wayne of not understanding the value of a dollar. After establishing himself as one of Hollywood's foremost leading men in the early 1940s, Wayne took on the role of producer for three films he starred in at Republic. A savvy veteran of the studio system, "The Duke" donned the producer's hat not only because of his top-to-bottom knowledge of the industry, but also because he stood to share in the profits of his own movies. After he completed his trio of Republic titles, Wayne turned to one of his colleagues, producer Robert Fellows, with a proposition creating their own production company, Wayne-Fellows, which they launched in 1952. The new venture arrived at a time when the studios' seemingly impenetrable contract-system was on the wane: In the '40s, Cary Grant made the bold move of going "freelance" by refusing to sign exclusive multi-picture contracts; now, John Wayne was taking the helm of his own film projects. The history of American movie-making has perhaps a handful of disruptive tectonic shifts such as these, and while some critics may too-readily dismiss Wayne as an actor, hanging out a shingle in Hollywood with his own name on not only placed him in the same company as Cary Grant, it also blazed a trail for the self-produced blockbusters of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, as well as the explosion of independent film led by Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino. Before long, Wayne bought out Fellows and chose to change the name of his production company, selecting "Batjack" from a trading firm in his 1948 picture "Wake of the Red Witch." When the first lot of stationery arrived with the misspelled "Batjac" on its folio, Duke proved his was just as qualified to be a producer as a star he changed the name of the company rather than pay to have the printing done again.
One of Wayne-Fellows' most popular releases, The High and the Mighty (1954) bears the inimitable mark of director William A. Wellman, who directed no less than 11 aviation films during his long career. Based on the novel by Ernest K. Gann (who also penned the screenplay), John Wayne stars as Dan Roman, a co-pilot on Trans-Orient Pacific Airlines' routine Honolulu-San Francisco run. Dan's one of the oldest pilots in the ranks, but it's unlikely that he'll ever sit in the captain's seat again, not after a horrific crash in South America that claimed the lives of his wife and son. Fellow co-pilot Hobie Wheeler (William Campbell) wonders why the airline hired the old "fire-horse," but Capt. John Sullivan (Robert Stack) seems altogether indifferent a no-nonsense aviator who prides himself on his attention to detail, he treats the senior flyer with due respect. As the flight's passengers check in, we learn that each has their own personal story to tell: One couple is on the verge of divorce, another is returning from a disastrous vacation, a former beauty queen is preparing to meet her pen-pal boyfriend for the first time, a Chinese woman is making her first trip to America, and a lonely young boy is a mere pawn of his separated parents. But as the flight gets underway, the pilots notice small problems. At times, the plane inexplicably shakes. Capt. Sullivan is convinced the props are out of sync, even though they aren't. It's only after the "point of no return" over the Pacific that one of the engines explodes forcing the crew to plan for an emergency ditch into the sea.
Nominated for six Oscars and running for two years in Times Square, The High and the Mighty was not only an enormous financial windfall for Wayne-Fellows, but it also can be credited with kicking off an honest-to-goodness film genre: the disaster flick. The Airport movies, The Towering Inferno, and innumerable other pictures have arrived in its wake, and the fact that this early effort is unencumbered by audience expectations makes it a little downbeat by comparison, particularly with a generous exposition that only hints at the trouble that lies ahead. It's also surprising that John Wayne takes on a co-starring role in a true ensemble film he only has a few words of dialogue in the first 30 minutes but in fact he wasn't even slated to appear in the movie, taking the part of Dan Roman after Spencer Tracy turned it down. Robert Stack only earned the captain's seat after convincing Wellman to pass over Robert Cummings, who flew in World War II. The film would have been altogether difference with Cummings and Tracy at the controls. For starters, Stack's deadpan turn in Airplane! (1980) never would have happened, since it's a self-parody of his work here. Meanwhile, the Duke does a good job of underplaying his own persona. The mere presence of John Wayne on screen is a sort of cinematic foreshadowing, but Wayne tones down his rough-and-tumble charisma, offering hints of the psychological scars Dan Roman bears. He's also splendid in the script's best scene, as he boosts the passengers' morale while calmly explaining that the plane is about to ditch into the Pacific. It's a scene that Spencer Tracy doubtless would have carried just as well, but Wayne's creditable turn illustrates that he had more natural ability than his action pictures let on.
Paramount's two-disc DVD release of The High and the Mighty brings the film to home video for the first time despite its popularity, it was never authorized by Batjac for release on VHS. Meticulously restored, the CinemaScope film looks perfect in a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Supplements on both discs include introductions by film critic Leonard Maltin, while Maltin, William Wellman Jr., co-stars Karen Sharpe and Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales, and aviation buff Vincent Longo can be heard on a chatty commentary. Disc Two holds the bulk of the extras, including the multi-part documentary "The Making of the High and the Mighty" (83 min.), the featurette "Flying in the Fifties" (23 min.), premiere newsreel footage (48 sec.), a stills gallery, a theatrical trailer and TV spot, and a look at Paramount's John Wayne titles. The High and the Mighty is on the street now, along with another title never before seen on home video, Island in the Sky.
Box Office: With a trunk full of publicity (thanks to an orange car and some famous short shorts) and absolutely no competition, there was hardly any question that Warner's The Dukes of Hazzard would arrive at the top of the box-office list all that remained was to see how much the Lost Sheep could rake in. Far from blockbuster status, the $30.5 million debut ensures the film will get a return on its $53 million production budget, although the win did little to raise Hollywood's 2005 spirits. Critics dismissed the Dukes, many claiming it did not compare favorably with its wholesome television forebear.
In continuing release, New Line's Wedding Crashers returned to the number-two slot after a week at the top, adding $16.5 million to a one-month $144 million gross, while the late-summer's other endurance player, Warner's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, dropped to third place with $10.5 million for the frame and $169 million after four weeks. Slipping to fourth was Disney's family superhero comedy Sky High with $32 million in the bag, while the rom-com of the moment, Must Love Dogs with Diane Lane and John Cusack, rounds out the top five with $26.2 million after two sessions. Mega-flops Stealth and The Island dropped to seventh and tenth places respectively, barely marking $30 million, and if anything proves that this is not the summer of action movies, both $100 million productions got beat out by a documentary about penguins Warner's March of the Penguins added screens and hopped to sixth place with $26.4 million, which also gave Warner and subsidiary New Line five of this week's top six titles.
Four more films seek box-office glory this Friday, including Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, Four Brothers, The Great Raid, and The Skeleton Key. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews this week from the team include Another Thin Man, Song of the Thin Man, The Thin Man Goes Home, Island in the Sky: Special Edition, Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Starstruck, Nadine, Look at Me, The High and the Mighty, and Hukkle. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 2 Aug. 2005
On the Street: It's not often that a catalog release tops the best-selling lists, but Warner's managed just that with their seven-disc Thin Man Collection, which collects all of the Nick & Nora films together for the first time, including a new documentary disc. Also new from Warner is Oliver Stone's Alexander in an unusually shorter Director's Cut, while Paramount's on the board with a pair of John Wayne classics, The High and the Mighty and Island in the Sky. Columbia TriStar's going for laughs with this year's Guess Who starring Bernie Mac and Aston Kutcher, Buena Vista's on the board with the stylish thriller Cypher, and season four of them Dukes(!) fills out a nine-disc set. Arriving under the radar, but well worth it, is the documentary Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days, available previously only in Fox's "Diamond Collection" box-set, which includes a reconstruction of Norma Jean's final, unfinished film Something's Got to Give. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment: