News and Commentary: December 2005

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The Year in Review: We're dimming the lights at DVD Journal headquarters for our annual holiday break, but we will be back on Monday, Jan. 2, with a stack of new DVD reviews. Before we go, we offer our top ten DVDs of the past 12 months (that is, the top ten that a lot of folks probably haven't spun yet, and should):

1. King Kong: Collector's Edition (1933) (Released Nov. 22, 2005)
Calling the original 1933 King Kong the Star Wars of its day sounds too pat, though it's accurate enough. Star Wars arrived fortuitously when we needed it most, the malaise of the 1970s. When Kong debuted during the rock-bottom of the Depression, it gave people what they really wanted to see: a giant ape giving Wall Street a thrashing. Entire books have explored why King Kong's potency endures long after so much of it has become dated by evolving styles, techniques, and expectations. Somehow Kong taps our brain's collective dream-level to strike a mythopoetic, universal note. However, its flamboyant producer, Merian C. Cooper, would snort at such ex post facto blather. He just aimed to make a rip-roaring good picture — and the better part of a century later, it's still a hell of a lot of fun. Warner's superb DVD edition delivers a well-restored print and outstanding extras, including one of the best "making-of" features anywhere.
2. Bringing Up Baby: Special Edition (Released March 1, 2005)
Many gems arrived for the first time on DVD in 2005, but Howard Hawks' Bringing Up Baby is among the most iconic. A box-office failure upon its 1938 debut (star Katherine Hepburn was famously dubbed "box-office poison"), it was rediscovered by film scholars in the 1960s and today stands as one of the foremost examples of the screwball genre. Hepburn's heiress playgirl is alternately scatterbrained and obsessed, while Cary Grant plays against-type for laughs, this time in an homage to Harold Lloyd. And when he isn't being startled by Hepburn's pet leopard "Baby," he's flouting the Production Code (explaining why he's wearing a woman's nightgown: "Because I just went gay all of a sudden!") Was Hollywood ever any better than this? Warner Home Video's DVD release features an excellent presentation, a commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, and two documentaries.
3. Jules and Jim: The Criterion Collection (Released May 31, 2005)
Making only his third feature film, on the heels of his New Wave succeses The 400 Blows and Shoot the Piano Player, François Truffaut had seemingly all at once mastered, more through synthesis than his comparatively limited practice, every single aspect of the cinematic vocabulary. Telling 1962's drama of star-crossed lovers, Jules and Jim, in a mad collision of fast-moving images and detached third-person narration, three decades worth of incident are crammed into 105 minutes, effortlessly. The first act is memorably boyant, but fleeting — war, marriage, infidelity, and the simple, enervating passage of time eventually grind the exuberance of the picture away. Even then, the director's youthful take on the world, where death is shrugged off as something too far away to be of much concern, is less compromise than miracle — a joyful vandalism. Criterion's long-awaited DVD release features two in-depth commentaries and several interviews.
4. DiG! (Released April 12, 2005)
Several documentaries caught our attention in 2005, including Gunner Palace and Murderball, two examples of the new digital-verité, where light, portable cameras allow constant access to fast-moving, fascinating people. But neither one could beat out Palm Pictures' DiG! for our best docu of the year — Ondi Timoner's seven-year odyssey with west-coast rockers The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre catalogs the vagaries of the record industry as two indie bands struggle to grasp credibility in one hand and success in the other. Courtney Taylor and Anton Newcombe hold center stage — one thoughtful and cautious, the other convinced of his own genius — and both are so compelling it's impossible to look away. And how good is the DVD? The deleted scenes don't play like filler, and the follow-up documentaries with the band members allow them the opportunity to fill in some gaps while critiquing Timoner's film.
5. The War of the Worlds: Special Edition (1953) (Released Nov. 1, 2005)
More than 50 years before Steven Spielberg gave H.G. Wells' Victorian novel The War of the Worlds a frequently impressive 2005 interpretation, George Pal lent the material his own update, scoring big with Paramount's must-see thriller of 1953. Pal shifted the action to Atomic Age California, bringing the monstrous "intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic" up against the post-war era's "terrible weapons of super-science." For a movie that already succeeded in scaring the Grape Nehi out of every ten-year-old in the audience, how disquieting it must have been for the Cold War-agitated grownups to witness U.S. might, tanks, and A-bombs brushed away helpless as the Martians' "skeleton rays" destroy world capitals and give all America the Dresden treatment. Pal's version endures as one of the most muscular 1950s sci-fi spectacles. Paramount's Special Edition DVD delivers a sterling image with vivid Technicolor that puts a shine on the Martian juggernauts' coppery hulls. Extras include two commentary tracks, a survey of H.G. Wells' work, and Orson Welles' famous Halloween 1938 Mercury Theatre radio adaptation.
6. The Band Wagon (Released March 15, 2005)
The Hollywood musical died a pretentious, portentous death in the 1960s, when productions abandoned glitzy dance numbers for stars pathetically warbling their way through tepid ballads. A decade earlier, Vincent Minnelli's 1953 The Band Wagon predicted the demise of its own genre as famous producer Jack Buchanan turns the original pitch of a musical revue starring Fred Astaire into a fire-and-brimstone musical staging of Faust. The three-shot still montage of the show's deadly premiere is one of the film's most memorable bits, but it also underscores what The Band Wagon itself gets right: the simple pleasure of watching song-and-dance hoofers do their thing. Minnelli's camera lets Astaire display his boundless talent with a minimum of edits, never hiding the grace and agility that made him a star. And Cyd Charisse's dark hair and Amazonian appeal has a more tempting sexuality than Ginger Rogers ever did. Warner's splendid DVD release offers a commentary with Liza Minnelli and behind-the-scenes features.
7. The Fly: Collector's Edition (Released Oct. 4, 2005)
In Hollywood's current atmosphere of prefab gore, it's easy to forget just how good an uncynical horror remake can be. John Carpenter's The Thing is one of the better entries from the 1980s, but superior to even that is David Cronenberg's 1986 The Fly. Updating the 1958 Vincent Price creature feature — a campy drive-in B-movie at best — Cronenberg and co-writer Charles Edward Pogue dug deep into the source material to mine an emotionally powerful story that melds special effects with disturbing human drama and technological terror. Jeff Goldblum gives the performance of his career as brilliant but socially awkward and isolated physicist who's smitten with pretty science journalist Geena Davis. However, his slow transformation into a monstrously paranoid, self-obsessed man-fly finds him aching to reclaim his humanity in a bravura performance of empathy, pathos, self-loathing, and fascinated anguish, all from underneath several pounds of decaying latex goo. Fox's two-disc special edition offers a Cronenberg commentary and a feature-length documentary.
8. Le Samouraï: The Criterion Collection (Released Oct. 25, 2005)
Like most directors, Jean-Pierre Melville didn't make films in isolation. Rather, he recognized his influences, celebrating and cataloging them well before the French New Wave made homage hip. A maverick who built his own studio to remain outside of the system, he created his most accessible film with 1967's Le Samouraï, the story of contract killer Alain Delon and the criminals who put the hit on him. A blend of noir, police procedurals, Japanese minimalism, and French romantic fatalism, the film remains one of small gestures and looks, with a lead character who barely talks. Viewers are asked pay close attention, which Melville uses to his advantage — a master at manipulation, he finds tension within the simplest of edits, influencing later directors such as Walter Hill, John Woo, and many others. Criterion's disc offers several interviews, as well as the typical essay-filled booklet on the feature title.
9. Team America: World Police: Uncensored and Unrated (Released May 17, 2005)
Funny films are rare — honest-to-goodness classic comedies are even harder to find. But with Team America: World Police, Trey Parker and Matt Stone managed to deliver a movie that ranks with This Is Spinal Tap, Office Space, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail — which means fans love to watch it over and over again. Parker & Stone's rarefied anarchy is brought to life with marionettes who battle terrorists, and while most of the jokes are sophomoric, it doesn't make the whole thing any less funny. Paramount's "Unrated and Uncensored" DVD reveals just how far the duo were prepared to push the MPAA, with the unexpurgated "puppet sex" scene (you have been warned). Nonetheless, Kim Jong Il singing "I'm So Lonely" must rank as one of the sweetest moments on DVD all year long.
10. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: The Criterion Collection (Released May 10, 2005)
It's hard to know if Wes Anderson would have earned his creative freedom without DVD — his complex, occasionally bewildering movies feature eccentric characters and bold tone-shifts that always play better after two or three viewings, when his subtle humor and melancholia have had time to ferment. Virtually ignored in theaters, 1998's Rushmore soon became a DVD classic, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou marks Anderson's third Criterion release. This time, Bill Murray leads an ad hoc family to sea on an oceanography expedition, and if the story's parallels with Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums are clear, they are no less amusing, or moving. Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach deliver an informal commentary track, while additional documentaries are found on the second disc.

As usual, the picks weren't easy, and the runner-up list was deep, with several titles in contention for some of the lower spots on the final list, including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Gunner Palace, The Philadelphia Story, The Upside of Anger, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Big Red One, Jaws: 30th Anniversary Edition, Naked, The Browning Version, Shoot the Piano Player, A Very Long Engagement, Laura, No Direction Home, Swing Time, Top Hat, East of Eden, Lifeboat, and The Complete Thin Man Collection. It was a strong year for catalog classics, including some valuable double-dips, and so far 2006 looks to deliver even more from the studios' vaults. We're looking forward to it.

Thanks for dropping by this year. Happy holidays and we'll see ya soon.

— Ed.

In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of and additional staff reports:

  • Hot off the press from Warner Home Video is "The Tennessee Williams Film Collection," an eight-disc set with remasters and new arrivals. Elia Kazan's 1951 A Streetcar Named Desire returns in a two-disc set with the 1993 "final release version," while supplements include a commentary by co-star Karl Malden and film historian Rudy Behlmer, the documentary "Elia Kazan: A Director's Journey," five new featurettes, Marlon Brando's screen test, outtakes, and trailers. Also getting a double-dip is 1958's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor, which will have a commentary by biographer Donald Spoto and a new featurette. Four DVD debuts fill out the set: 1962's Sweet Bird of Youth starring Paul Newman will offer a featurette and a screen test; 1964's The Night of the Iguana with Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr will have a John Huston commentary on board, as well as a vintage featurette and a premiere newsreel; Elia Kazan's controversial 1956 Baby Doll will include a featurette; and 1961's The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone will have a featurette as well. It's here on April 11, with the documentary Tennessee Williams' South available only in the slipcase on a special disc.
  • boxcoverOur friends at Warner have another box-set as well this week: "Agatha Christie's Miss Marple Movies Collection" arrives across five discs with the Margaret Rutherford titles Murder She Said, Murder at the Gallop, Murder Ahoy, and Murder Most Foul, while 1965's Ten Little Indians rounds out the case (March 14). Also due to arrive is this year's North Country starring Charlize Theron in separate anamorphic (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan editions with the documentary "Stories From the North Country" and deleted scenes (Feb. 21).
  • The Fox mix in March leads off with three new "Fox Film Noir" titles: Robert Wise's 1951 The House on Telegraph Hill will include a commentary by film historian Eddie Muller as well as four stills galleries, while also due are Otto Preminger's 1945 Fallen Angel and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1950 No Way Out (all March 7). Due from the catalog are The Story of Ruth, Five Weeks in a Balloon, and Rusty: The Great Rescue (all March 14), while three more Shirley Temple titles arrive on March 21, Dimples, The Little Colonel, and The Littlest Rebel. Also watch for TV sets The White Shadow: Season Two (March 7), The Simple Life 3: The Interns (March 14), and Over There: Season One (March 21).
  • boxcoverFans of David Lynch who haven't picked up exclusive DVDs from his website will soon be able to find them at retailers everywhere — Subversive will release both Eraserhead and The Short Films of David Lynch on Jan. 10, albeit without the special packaging currently available only from Mr. Lynch himself. The second title contains early rarities, including "Six Men Getting Sick," "The Alphabet," "The Grandmother," "The Amputee," The Cowboy and the Frenchman," and "Lumiere," each with a director's introduction.
  • Due from Disney/Buena Vista is Bill Paxton's golf-tournament saga The Greatest Game Ever Played starring Shia LaBeouf, which arrives on April 4. And coming out of the vault for live-action fans are both 1959's The Shaggy Dog starring Fred MacMurray and the 1976 follow-up The Shaggy D.A. (both March 7).
  • Finally, we have three street-dates recently sent to retailers: DreamWorks will release Just Like Heaven starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo on Feb. 7, while Lions Gate has Rob McKittrick's Waiting… streeting the same day. And on Feb. 28, New Line has David Cronenberg's A History of Violence starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.

On the Street: Last-minute Christmas gifts can be found on this morning's street list, and Paramount leads the way with several new titles, including Airplane!: Don't Call Me Shirley Edition, this year's Bad News Bears starring Billy Bob Thornton, and Peter Weir's Gallipoli in a new Special Edition. New from Universal is The 40-Year-Old Virgin in an unrated cut, while King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries hits the street right before that big ape storms into cineplexes. Also new is DreamWorks' misfire The Island from director Michael Bay, The Producers: Deluxe Edition and a Harryhausen Gift Set from Sony/Columbia TriStar, Fox's '70s throwback Roll Bounce, and Buena Vista/Miramax's Sin City: Extended Edition. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at

  • The 40-Year-Old Virgin (unrated)
  • The 40-Year-Old Virgin (R-rated)
  • Airplane!: Don't Call Me Shirley Edition
  • Bad News Bears (widescreen) (2005)
  • Bad News Bears (pan-and-scan) (2005)
  • The Baxter
  • The Beautiful Country
  • Crooked Hearts
  • Cuba
  • The Dark
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: Season Five (8-disc set)
  • Everybody Wins
  • Family Bonds (2-disc set)
  • A Fine Mess
  • F.I.S.T.
  • The Five Pennies
  • Gallipoli: Special Edition
  • Gilmore Girls: Season Five (6-disc set)
  • Godzilla: Final Wars
  • Harryhausen Gift Set (3-disc set)
  • The Intruder
  • The Island
  • Kid Millions
  • King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries
  • Kronk's New Groove
  • Let Him Have It
  • Long Way Round
  • Miami Vice: Season Two (3-disc set)
  • Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica: The Final Season
  • Next Stop, Greenwich Village
  • Partners
  • Pretty Persuasion
  • The Producers: Deluxe Edition (2-disc set) (1968)
  • Puddle Cruiser
  • Reba: Season Two (3-disc set)
  • Roll Bounce (widescreen)
  • Roll Bounce (pan-and-scan)
  • Saint Ralph
  • Scooby-Doo in Where's My Mummy?
  • The Simpsons: Season Seven (4-disc set)
  • Sin City: Extended Edition (2-disc set)
  • Suze Orman: For the Young, Fabulous, and Broke
  • Thunder and Lightning
  • Tour of Duty: The Complete Series (14-disc set)
  • Valiant
  • The Yards: Director's Cut

We'll be back tomorrow with our wrap-up of the very best DVDs released in 2005.

— Ed.

boxcoverDisc of the Week: A man is on the run from unseen assailants. Breathless and confused, he takes a tumble and is helped up by a gentleman, who then tells the man the story of how he got married. Suddenly, the threat of violence and mystery takes a backseat to a conversation about relationships. It seems flippant, audacious, the exact sort of sneaky gear-shift one expects of the French New Wave, as epitomized by director François Truffaut. And yet, this introduction is the perfect encapsulation of the film's overriding themes: noir and amour. Shoot the Piano Player ("Tirez sur le Pianiste," 1960) is, in one of the great traditions of films by young directors, alive and trembling with the possibilities of cinema. And there are many sequences of such bravado: A flashback of a conversation is broken into a triptych in order to speed along the information contained therein; a singer's lyrics are subtitled in an early form of karaoke; and, most famously, a man suggests that if he's lying, may his mother die — in response, the film cuts to his mother falling down dead. And on top of this brilliant and brash style, Shoot the Piano Player is a film about love — one that feels as modern as it must have the minute the prints dried.

Based on the American novel by David Goodis, Truffaut's film concerns titular pianist Charlie Kohler (Charles Aznavour). Charlie works at a bar playing the piano with a group, and he enjoys an easygoing relationship with prostitute Clarisse (Michele Mercier). But things are complicated by his brother Chico (Albert Remy), who's led two hit men to Charlie. At the bar, Chico likes to call Charlie "Edouard," and there Charlie distracts the hoods as Chico escapes. Later, while walking waitress Lena (Marie Dubois) home, it appears that the two men have latched on to following Charlie. Charlie has a thing for Lena but has problems acting on it because he's too inside his own head, but the threat of the gangsters forces the two together when they're ratted out by their boss. It turns out that Lena knows who Charlie really is: Edouard Saroyan. As Edouard, he had great success as a pianist, but he left his career behind when he found out his wife Theresa (Nicole Berger) slept with a man to get him his career. This led to the dissolution of their marriage, Edouard removing himself from the spotlight, and eventually taking a false name. Lena quickly assumes the role of matronly wife, hoping to get Charlie to return to his life as Edouard, but this leads to an incident with the club owner that sends them on the run. Charlie has a younger brother he looks after, and when the hit men capture the boy, all parties head to the winter retreat where Charlie's other brothers have holed up in fear of the criminals.

François Truffaut spoke often of his love of Jean Renoir and Alfred Hitchcock, and his movies often paid homage to his two idols. And if his first film The 400 Blows (1959) was more in line with the humanism that Renoir suggests, then Shoot the Piano Player (his second film) represented a shift towards the genre traditions of Hitch. Nonetheless, no film of Truffaut's was ever a matter of one singular sensibility, and it's the humanism that makes Shoot the Piano Player such a compelling genre piece. Charlie is the cerebral male who, like his modern antecedent Joel Barrish in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, finds it hard to escape his thoughts long enough to do the right thing in a relationship. And that's where the opening ties into the whole: The film is as much about the struggle to understand and be with women as it is any genre constructs. Even the hit men talk about their methods of love (both men are pigs), but as amusing as their conversation is, and as much as it may seem an offhand gesture — the type of which Quentin Tarantino made famous in Pulp Fiction — here these conversations have weight. Charlie is a man who always has complicated relationships with women he loves, which is why his relationship with Clarisse is the only one that doesn't involve danger. For this, Shoot the Piano Player is a dense but brisk 81 minutes that cackles with the delight of both honoring and perverting a genre picture.

The Criterion Collection's two-disc DVD release of Shoot the Piano Player offers a splendid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and the original monaural French audio (with optional English subtitles). This is the second release of the film on DVD, and it's vastly superior to Fox Lorber's single-disc, non-anamorphic release. Disc One offers a commentary by Truffaut scholars Annette Insdorf and Peter Brunette, and the film's amusing theatrical trailer. Disc Two kicks off with two archive interviews featuring comments from François Truffaut on the film: "Cineastes de Notres Temps" (10 min.) from 1965 and "Pour Changer Etoiles et Toiles" (12 min.) from 1982, both in French with optional English subtitles. "Charles Aznavour" (24 min.) and "Marie Dubois" (10 min.) feature 2005 interviews with the film's stars in French with optional English subtitles, while "Raoul Coutard" (14 min.) offers comments from the film's cinematographer (who also supervised the transfer), again in French with English subtitles. Truffaut collaborator "Suzanne Schiffman" (15 min.) was interviewed for the documentary Working with Truffaut in 1986, and the interview footage has been reshaped into a longer piece here, while music historian Jeff Smith contributes an audio essay about "The music of Georges Delerue"(17 min.). The second disc is rounded out by the "Marie Dubois Screen Test"(3 min.), while the booklet offers an essay by Kent Jones, an interview with Truffaut, and the director's comments on Aznavour and Dubois. Shoot the Piano Player: The Criterion Collection is on the street now.

One SheetBox Office: In what's anticipated to be the first in a series of seven films, Buena Vista's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe debuted over the weekend with a blockbuster $67 million — giving it the second-best break of any movie in December, just behind 2003's The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (which had $72.6 million opening weekend). The win easily beat all other films on the box-office chart combined, but Stephen Gaghan's Syriana starring George Clooney and Matt Damon expanded from limited release to land in second place with $12 million for the session. Also finding its way into the top 12 was The Polar Express: An IMAX 3D Experience, which tallied $946,000 in select locations. Critics praised both Narnia and Syriana.

In continuing release, Warner's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire slipped from first place to third after three weeks at the top, adding $10.3 million to a $244.1 million gross. Fox/Sony's Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line took fourth place with $77 million after one month. And MGM/Paramount's Yours, Mine & Ours with Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo rounded out the top five with $40.9 million so far. Appearing to have a limited shelf-life, Paramount's critically panned Aeon Flux starring Charlize Theron tumbled to sixth place, taking in just $4.6 million in its second frame. UIP/Focus Features' Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley has held up well in semi-limited release, garnering $26.3 million after five weekends. And off to DVD prep is Universal's Jarhead, which cleared $60 million.

New in 'plexes this Wednesday is Peter Jackson's King Kong while Friday debuts include The Family Stone with Sarah Jessica Parker and Diane Keaton, and a limited release of The Producers starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Buena Vista)
    $67,064,000 ($67,064,000 through 1 week)
  2. Syriana (Warner Bros.)
    $12,030,000 ($13,529,000 through 3 weeks)
  3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner Bros.)
    $10,315,000 ($244,119,000 through 4 weeks)
  4. Walk the Line (Fox/Sony)
    $5,750,000 ($77,003,000 through 4 weeks)
  5. Yours, Mine & Ours (MGM/Paramount)
    $5,150,000 ($40,917,000 through 3 weeks)
  6. Aeon Flux (Paramount)
    $4,625,000 ($20,282,000 through 2 weeks)
  7. Just Friends (New Line)
    $3,900,000 ($26,464,000 through 3 weeks)
  8. Pride and Prejudice (UIP/Focus)
    $2,491,000 ($26,385,000 through 5 weeks)
  9. Chicken Little (Buena Vista)
    $2,256,000 ($127,230,000 through 6 weeks)
  10. Rent (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $2,000,000 ($26,912,000 through 3 weeks)
  11. Derailed (The Weinstein Co.)
    $1,268,000 ($34,720,000 through 5 weeks)
  12. The Polar Express: An IMAX 3D Experience (Warner Bros.)
    $946,000 ($3,832,000 through 3 weeks)

On the Board: New spins this week from the team include Roll Bounce, Forbidden Games: The Criterion Collection, The Muppet Movie: Anniversary Edition, Star Wars: Clone Wars: Vol. 2, The Great Muppet Caper: Anniversary Edition, Muppet Treasure Island: Anniversary Edition, A River Runs Through It: Deluxe Edition, Punishment Park, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shoot the Piano Player: The Criterion Collection, and Gilmore Girls: Season Five. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.

Back tomorrow with the street discs.

— Ed.

In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of and additional staff reports:

  • boxcoverUp from Warner Home Video are two more worthy catalog reissues. Sidney Lumet's powerhouse 1975 Dog Day Afternoon starring Al Pacino and John Cazale arrives in a two-disc Special Edition with a new transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, commentary from Lumet, a feature-length "making-of" documentary, a featurette on Lumet's career, and more. Also getting the double-dip is Lumet's 1976 Network with Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Duvall, offering a new transfer and DD 5.1 audio, a Lumet commentary, a feature-length behind-the-scenes doc, an interview with screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, and more. Expect both on Feb. 28. Also streeting from Warner is a new Busby Berkeley Collection, which will include Footlight Parade, Dames, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Gold Diggers of 1935, as well as the previously released 42nd Street in new Amaray packaging. All will sport featurettes, vintage materials, and cartoon shorts, while the set will also contain a "Busby Berkeley Disc" sourced from a 1992 Laserdisc with 20 musical numbers from nine feature films. It's here on March 21.
  • The March slate has been finalized at The Criterion Collection, featuring the collection 3 Films by Louis Malle — the four-disc set will include Au Revoir Les Enfants, Lacombe Lucien, and Murmur of the Heart, while a fourth disc exclusive to the box will include a variety of supplemental material (March 14). Also due is writer/director Marco Bellocchio's 1965 Fists in the Pocket and Orson Welles' 1955 Mr. Arkadin, which will include three different versions (both March 28). Steven Soderbergh's Traffic gets a reissue on March 7. And John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln starring Henry Fonda has been pushed back to Feb. 14.
  • Coming out of the vault at Paramount is Billy Wilder's 1953 black comedy Stalag 17 starring William Holden — special features are not finalized, but it's expected on March 21, where it's joined by an "Anniversary Edition" of Cecil B. De Mille's 1956 The Ten Commandments. Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst arrives at retailers on Feb. 7. And also on the way are TV titles MacGyver: Season Five (March 14) and South Park: Season Seven (March 21).
  • boxcoverUp from Universal is Two For the Money starring People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" Matthew McConaughey and The DVD Journal's "Coolest Bastard Evah" Al Pacino — a director's commentary, featurettes, and deleted scenes round out the features list (Jan. 17). Video-to-action-flick Doom starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson is listing at retailers on the Feb. 7 street, while two Orson Welles chestnuts are on the sched, 1946's The Stranger and 1962's The Trial (both Feb. 7).
  • This year's The Fog is expected from Sony/MGM in separate unrated anamorphic and theatrical pan-and-scan editions on Jan. 24 — director's commentary, featurettes, and deleted scenes fill out the supplements. Meanwhile, 1994's Four Weddings and a Funeral gets a new "Deluxe Edition" treatment as well with a filmmakers' commentary and more, while catalog treats include 1944's The Adventures of Mark Twain, the Pink Panther titles A Shot in the Dark and Inspector Closeau, and Rat Patrol: Season One (all Jan. 31).
  • Just a few more street dates to mention — Sony has announced that The Legend of Zorro will arrive on Jan. 31, while 13 Going on 30 gets dipped in a "Fun and Flirty Edition" on Feb. 7. And it may have taken a tumble in the theaters, but Tony Scott's Domino starring Keira Knightley arrives from New Line in a full-blown Platinum Series package on Feb. 14.

On the Street: Hiding somewhere among all of the TV collections and box-set re-issues are some honest-to-goodness brand-new movies on DVD this week — plenty of them, in fact. Up from Universal is Ron Howard's Cinderella Man starring Russell Crowe, Fox is on the board with this year's superhero saga Fantastic Four, and Warner's going low-brow (and then some) with their thrillbilly remake The Dukes of Hazzard in an "unrated" edition. Criterion collectors can look for François Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player and René Clemént's Forbidden Games. Fox has a trio of noir catalogs out with The Dark Corner, Kiss of Death, and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Disney has two new "Walt Disney Treasures" collections with Disney Rarities: Celebrated Shorts: 1920s-1960s and The Adventures of Spin & Marty: The Mickey Mouse Club. And Sony/Columbia TriStar's just ahead of the remake with 1977's Fun with Dick and Jane starring George Segal and Jane Fonda. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at

  • 24: Season Four
  • All the King's Men (1949)
  • American Kickboxer 1
  • American Ninja 4: The Annihilation
  • American Ninja 5
  • American Samurai
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Vol. 4 (2-disc set)
  • Arizona
  • Batman: The Animated Series: Vol. 4 (2-disc set)
  • Belle of the Yukon
  • Berlinguer I Love You (Berlinguer Ti Voglio Bene)
  • Chain of Command
  • Cinderella Man: Collector's Edition (2-disc set)
  • Cinderella Man
  • Cirque du Soleil: The Anniversary Collection (12-disc set)
  • Combat: The Complete Series (32-disc set)
  • The Count of Monte Cristo (Le Comte de Monte Cristo) (2-disc set) (1998)
  • The Dark Corner
  • Delta Force 3: The Killing Game
  • The Dukes of Hazzard (unrated)
  • The Dukes of Hazzard (PG-13)
  • Dukes of Hazzard: The Pilot TV Episode
  • Everybody Loves Raymond: Season Five
  • Fantastic Four (widescreen)
  • Fantastic Four (pan-and-scan)
  • Felicity: An American Girl Adventure
  • Felicity & Samantha: American Girl Gift Set
  • Fifty/Fifty
  • The First Circle
  • Footballers Wives: Season Two
  • Forbidden Games: The Criterion Collection
  • Full House: Season Two (4-disc set)
  • Fun With Dick and Jane (1977)
  • Garfield and Friends: Vol. 5
  • Gargoyles: Season Two Vol. 1 (3-disc set)
  • Green Acres: Season Three (4-disc set)
  • Hellbound
  • The Hitman
  • Imagine: John Lennon Deluxe Edition
  • Jackass. Vol. 1
  • Jackass: The Box Set
  • The John Singleton Collection (3-disc set)
  • Kid Galahad
  • Kiss of Death
  • Konga
  • Ladies in Lavender
  • Land of the Lost: The Complete Series
  • Land Raiders
  • Law & Order: The Fourth Year (3-disc set)
  • MacGyver: Season Four
  • The Magnificent Seven: Season One (2-disc set)
  • M*A*S*H: Season Nine (3-disc set)
  • Matt Helm Lounge (4-disc set)
  • The Mummy Lives
  • Murder She Wrote: Season Two (3-disc set)
  • The New York Dolls: All Dolled Up
  • The Pam Grier Collection: Fox in a Box (4-disc set)
  • Passion in the Desert
  • Pet Alien: The Lighter Side of Doom
  • The Proud Family Movie
  • Ride Beyond Vengeance
  • Rock Star: INXS: The DVD
  • The Rockford Files: Season One (3-disc set)
  • Roseanne: Season Two (4-disc set)
  • Saved By the Bell: The New Class: Seasons 6-7
  • Scarred
  • Scorpion Spring
  • The Shadow Riders
  • Shirley Temple: The Biggest Little Star
  • Shoot the Piano Player: The Criterion Collection (2-disc set)
  • Spanking the Monkey
  • Star Wars: Clone Wars: Vol. 2
  • The Star Wars Trilogy: Limited Edition (3-disc set)
  • Superman: The Animated Series: Vol. 2 (2-disc set)
  • Two Hands
  • Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities: Celebrated Shorts: 1920s-1960s (2-disc set)
  • Walt Disney Treasures: The Adventures of Spin & Marty: The Mickey Mouse Club (2-disc set)
  • The West Wing: Season Five (6-disc set)
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

— Ed.

boxcoverDisc of the Week: Woe be unto the big-budget serious Hollywood film that's released at the wrong time of year. On just about any fight card, Ron Howard's Cinderella Man (2005) would be a top contender, with an Oscar-winning director and two stars above the title. But the vagaries of production and release schedules caused Universal to virtually dump the film into theaters in June, when ticket-buyers queue up for summer tentpole spectacles and family movies, not sepia-toned, two-hour-plus Depression-era boxing dramas. And thus, while Cinderella Man grossed a respectable $50 million after a month in release, it fell well short of its reported $88 million budget, becoming an unfortunate focal point of the year's overall box-office slump. Which leaves DVD as the title's last, best chance at glory — arriving in December with plenty of publicity, it may be the only thing that reminds Academy voters of the movie's existence, while finally allowing it to connect with audiences at home.

Russell Crowe stars in Cinderella Man as Jim J. Braddock, a respected New Jersey boxer who found success in the 1920s with a string of wins. Having never been KO'd, he's also considered a strong contender for the heavyweight championship. But a string of setbacks put Braddock on his heels. The Crash of '29 wipes out much of his savings, and injuries force him to fight hurt — and lose. By 1933, he's out of the game entirely, barely able to support his wife Mae (Renée Zellweger) and three young children. Occasionally getting work on the docks and refusing to accept public assistance, the Braddocks come very close to sending their children away to live with relatives, but one last opportunity presents itself: Braddock's manager Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) is able to get him on a card with a heavyweight contender, due to a last-second withdrawal by a scheduled opponent. The out-of-shape Braddock gladly accepts the chance to get his face beat in for $250, but to everyone's surprise he prevails — leading to further victories, and finally the fight that eluded him in his prime, a championship bout with title-holder Max Baer (Craig Bierko), a towering figure with a lethal right hook who's killed two men in the ring.

Ron Howard's reputation behind the camera seems to center on two things: a remarkable instinct for making movies that make money, and a notorious instinct for schmaltz. Cinderella Man is no exception, although the craftsmanship throughout also reveals that Howard is a mature, experienced director, one who's entirely committed to quality control on complicated projects, and a man who doesn't overlook small details, but instead embraces them. In fact, Cinderella Man as a box-office disappointment (although it certainly will turn a profit on DVD) actually presents Howard with that one, great thing that all auteurs seem to require on their filmographies: the overlooked gem, shunned by the general public, but embraced by critics, and later a growing number of defenders with the passing of years. As with his previous film The Missing (2003), Howard appears more willing to delve into genre pieces, following up a western in the style of John Ford with a boxing film set in one of America's most archetypal decades. That Cinderella Man doesn't quite compare with the two titans of boxing cinema — Raging Bull (1980) and Rocky — is no matter. As to be expected, the director has followed his own instincts, while combining elements of Martin Scorsese's hyperkinetic editing in the ring with Sylvester Stallone's against-all-odds melodrama. There are moments when Howard (shooting a script by Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman) telegraphs emotions with the subtlety of a haymaker — as when Braddock takes a near-knockout blow and recalls images of his children. But he also offers details of 1930s New York and New Jersey that no longer linger in our cultural memory, such as the homeless camp "Hooverville" in Central Park, neighborhood birthday parties for children who share a single cake, lines for public assistance and day labor, and the way the poor are buried in simple boxes, lining mass graves. It makes for somber viewing, put into effective contrast with the energetic, often brutal fight sequences. And the final Braddock vs. Baer match is a small movie in itself, edited from innumerable camera angles in a dizzying array of flashbulbs and jabs, illustrating the pain and punishment of boxing as only cinema can.

Universal's two-disc "Collector's Edition" DVD release of Cinderella Man offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that richly renders the film's limited color palette, while the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is solid. Supplements on Disc One include five deleted scenes with commentary by Ron Howard, the featurettes "The Man, The Movie, The Legend: A Filmmaking Journey" (14 min.), "The Fight Card: Casting Cinderella Man" (23 min.), "For the Record: A History in Boxing" (6 min.) with fight consultant Angelo Dundee, "Ringside Seats" with Norman Mailer, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Akiva Goldsman (9 min.), and "Jim Braddock: The Friends & Family Behind the Legend" (11 min.). Disc Two offers even more behind-the-scenes and archival footage, with ten additional deleted scenes, "Russell Crowe's Personal Journey: Becoming Jim Braddock" (27 min.), "Lights, Camera, Action: The Fight from Every Angle" (21 min.), "The Sound of the Bell" (6 min.), "The Human Face of the Depression" (6 min.), four featurettes on pre-fight preparations, and footage of the 1935 Braddock vs. Baer bout (31 min.). Cinderella Man: Collector's Edition is on the street tomorrow.

One SheetBox Office: A relatively quiet weekend at the post-Thanksgiving box-office saw few changes, especially at the top — Warner's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire held down the number-one spot for the third week in a row, adding $20 million to a $229.8 million tally. Harry's only competition was the frame's one new arrival, Paramount's Aeon Flux starring Charlize Theron, which managed to land $13.1 million despite the fact that it was not screened for critics (never a good sign). To no one's surprise, reviews posted over the weekend have been overwhelmingly negative.

In continuing release, Fox/Sony's Walk the Line starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon has held solid in third place, adding $10 million to a $68.7 million gross. Hanging in fourth is Paramount's family comedy Yours, Mine & Ours, which has bundled up $34.5 million over two weekends. And New Line's Best Friends rounds off the top five with $21.1 million so far. Expanding into more than 1,300 locations, UIP/Focus's Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley has taken in $22.6 million after one month of Oscar whispers. But taking a tumble is Sony's Rent, which holds down seventh place in its second weekend, managing just $4.6 million for the session. Buena Vista's Chicken Little isn't quite a blockbuster, but $124.2 million will do nicely. And off to DVD prep is Get Rich or Die Tryin' starring Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson, which finishes in the $30 million 'hood.

New on screens this Friday is The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while arriving in limited release are Mrs. Henderson Presents starring Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins, as well as Memoirs of a Geisha. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner Bros.)
    $20,450,000 ($229,839,000 through 3 weeks)
  2. Aeon Flux (Paramount)
    $13,100,000 ($13,100,000 through 1 week)
  3. Walk the Line (Fox/Sony)
    $10,000,000 ($68,766,000 through 3 weeks)
  4. Yours, Mine & Ours (MGM/Paramount)
    $8,400,000 ($34,565,000 through 2 weeks)
  5. Just Friends (New Line)
    $5,600,000 ($21,108,000 through 2 weeks)
  6. Pride and Prejudice (UIP/Focus)
    $4,624,000 ($22,633,000 through 4 weeks)
  7. Rent (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $4,600,000 ($23,902,000 through 2 weeks)
  8. Chicken Little (Buena Vista)
    $4,512,000 ($124,224,000 through 5 weeks)
  9. Derailed (The Weinstein Co.)
    $2,417,000 ($32,829,000 through 4 weeks)
  10. In the Mix (Lions Gate)
    $1,900,000 ($8,657,000 through 2 weeks)
  11. The Ice Harvest (Focus)
    $1,713,000 ($7,736,000 through 2 weeks)
  12. Jarhead (Universal)
    $1,200,000 ($61,207,000 through 5 weeks)

On the Board: New spins this week from the team include War of the Worlds, Fantastic Four, The Dukes of Hazzard, Sky High, Murderball, Legends of the Fall: Deluxe Edition, Havoc, The Muppet Christmas Carol: Anniversary Edition, Cinderella Man: Collector's Edition, and Fun With Dick and Jane. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.

We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.

— Ed.

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