Tuesday, 31 Jan. 2006
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: Warner leads off this week's street-list with a series of Oscar-winning classics, including Lust For Life, Captains Courageous, Kitty Foyle, The Good Earth, Cimarron, and Johnny Belinda, and they've thrown in a two-disc re-issue of Gone with the Wind as well. Recent films on the shelves this week include Warner's Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, Fox's In Her Shoes, and Sony's The Legend of Zorro, while Universal's on the board with David Lynch's Dune: Extended Edition and MGM has a double-dip of Four Weddings and a Funeral. And for Pink Panther fans, both a Pink Panther Gift Set and a Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection are under wraps. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 30 Jan. 2006
Disc of the Week: No matter how good computer trickery gets and it's gotten pretty sophisticated there are just some things that can't be faked. And as cinema has become enveloped in an age that falsely suggests digital reality can be as good as the real thing, it's heartening to return to an era of filmmaking where a director wanted as much realism as he could get his hands on. Take for instance Vincent Minnelli's 1956 Lust for Life: It isn't necessary to know that the majority of the Vincent Van Gogh paintings included are the genuine article and often many of the paintings are in the background to this biography of the troubled painter. But that they are real, that Van Gogh was the one who painted them, adds to the film's quality in ways that are felt more than understood. A viewer occasionally may be fooled by computer generated imagery, but a trick no matter how well produced is simply such. When it comes to things that can be experienced, mere lines of software cannot equal the tangible. Great directors are as aware of the minutia as they are of the big picture; Vincent Minnelli is of their class. With his telling of Van Gogh's life, he assembled the greatest touring show of Van Gogh's artwork ever collected to marry nearly 200 of the master's works to the film. Lust for Life would be worthwhile for that alone. Just the same, it's pleasing to note that it's also one of cinema's best portraits of impassioned artistry.
Kirk Douglas stars as Vincent Van Gogh, who we first meet as he's moving to a poor Belgian mining town to become a priest like his father before him. Fighting with the elder priests, who think a man of the cloth should not sully his clothes by being with the people, he leaves the profession to return to his family in Holland. A botched marriage proposal later, Vincent discovers that the profession he loves most is painting, and with the support of his brother Theo (James Donald), he assumes an artist's life in Paris. At first Vincent finds company with Christine (Pamela Brown), a woman who already has a child, but painting is his overwhelming concern he spends more of his money on painting supplies than creature comforts, all of which are provided by his brother. When their relationship ends, Vincent moves away and forms a retreat with artist Paul Gaugin (Anthony Quinn). But being with a fellow painter is both a help and hindrance, as the two approach their vocation from different angles: Vincent has an intense, near-masochistic sensibility to creating his art, which Gaugin only shares in life. After a growing conflict, Gaugin decides to leave the retreat, after which Vincent cuts off his ear. This leads Van Gogh to a mental institution, where seizures occur with greater frequency, leading to his death, by suicide, at the age of thirty-seven.
Anthony Quinn won an Academy Award for his role in Lust for Life as Paul Gaugin, which is impressive considering his screen-time has been clocked at 12 minutes. And yet, for this small facet of the picture, in it lies one of the great themes of the work. As played by Kirk Douglas (an actor who never mastered restraint), Van Gogh is an emotional wreck who can't stop passive-aggressively destroying his relationships with women and friends. Seeing these two artists try to work together paints a very real portrait of the struggles of creative people Douglas and Quinn reveal how artists simultaneously need and reject others by the very force of their creativity. Though he would find comfort in the studio system, director Vincente Minnelli was also a passionate director in the classic Hollywood mold; his touch was an invisible but elegant control that never made the director's presence obvious. Lust for Life ranks among his great films, and he even manages to capture Kirk Douglas's finest performance on the screen. Minnelli was best known for his musicals and melodramas, but where some of his other pictures border on camp, this is a deeply felt work. Some see the script as a smuggled statement on homosexuality in the movie, Van Gogh cuts off his ear because of Gaugin (in reality, he gave the severed ear to a prostitute). Minnelli was a closeted homosexual (he would marry four times), and one senses some of his burden in Van Gogh's struggle, although never in an overt way.
Warner Home Video presents Lust for Life in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The film was shot in a process known as Metrocolor, which has caused many color titles to fade over the years. The transfer is fine here, with the color palette looking good for its age. It's also interesting to note that the film required special lighting to preserve the paintings included, since the normal wattage used for film shoots would ruin the priceless artwork. The surround mix is very front channel centric, but fine. Extras include a commentary by Drew Casper, who covers not only the film and its significance, but places the film and America's interest in Van Gogh in its context. Also included is a theatrical trailer. Lust for Life is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Martin Lawrence returned to the top of the box-office over the weekend in Fox's Big Momma's House 2, which booked the most screens of any title on the chart and walked off with a $28 million debut, far surpassing recent disappointments for Lawrence such as last year's Rebound. Also arriving under a bit of makeup was Emma Thomson in UIP/Universal's Nanny McPhee, which garnered $14.2 million in second place, while the boxing drama Annapolis with James Franco and Tyrese Gibson landed in fourth with $7.7 million. Critics were kind to McPhee, while Momma and Annapolis earned overwhelmingly bad reviews.
In continuing release, last week's winner Underworld: Evolution starring Kate Beckinsale slipped to third place, tacking $11.1 million on to $44.3 million overall, while The Weinstein Company's animated Hoodwinked rounds out the top five with $37.6 million in the bag. Focus Films' Brokeback Mountain continues to add screens and earn accolades during awards season, clearing $50.8 million after two months. And Buena Vista's basketball drama Glory Road with Josh Lucas has $34.7 million in three frames. Emerging from semi-limited release, The Weinstein Company's The Matador starring Pierce Brosnan appears to be more of a critics' favorite than a crowd-pleaser with just $3.8 million over the weekend. And off to DVD prep is New Line's The New World from director Terrence Malick, which grossed just $5 million.
New films in theaters this Friday include the romantic comedy Something New and the thriller When a Stranger Calls. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New spins from the team this week include Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, Repo Man: Collector's Edition, Captains Courageous, Super Size Me, Lust For Life, and National Lampoon's Barely Legal. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 24 Jan. 2006
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: Short street-lists this time of year don't have to mean empty shopping carts recommended spins this week include Criterion's The Virgin Spring, ThinkFilm's The Aristocrats, Universal's special edition of Repo Man, Buena Vista's Flightplan, and Sony's Oliver Twist, Educating Rita, and Thumbsucker. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 23 Jan. 2006
Disc of the Week: In October 2005, Ang Lee took time out from Brokeback Mountain's festival circuit to record a video introduction for this Criterion edition of Ingmar Bergman's austerely beautiful The Virgin Spring. In it, Lee says that when he first saw this black-and-white Scandinavian film as an 18-year-old in Taiwan, it "dumbfounded" and "electrified" him. He stayed in the screening room to view it a second time, and "life changed afterward," he declares. Its quietude coupled with brutal violence, and its whispering fundamental questions particularly "God, where are you?" expressed for Lee a "microscope into humanity." He adds, "Watching that movie made me a different filmmaker." Lee probably didn't set out to speak thematically of The Virgin Spring in terms of a filmmaker in transition, though it's fitting given the film's place in Bergman's canon. Released in 1960, it marks the final title associated with the auteur's classical period, those major films of the 1950s such as Wild Strawberries, The Magician, and The Seventh Seal. Although its visual and existential aesthetics strike us here and now as unmistakably "Bergmanesque," the director himself became critical of film's reliance on imitating the visual styles of other filmmakers, chiefly Kurosawa. Beginning with his next major work, Through a Glass Darkly ('61), we see Bergman's own distinctive style assertively developing. And in terms of practical professional transitions, after The Virgin Spring ended up winning Bergman his first Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1961, the newfound acclaim brought a financial and prestige boost that helped him ascend to the next phase of his career.
Transitions of a broader sort are woven into the film. Based on a 13th-century ballad, its folk-song-simple narrative a naïve virgin girl, Karin (lovely Birgitta Peterson), on her way to church is raped and murdered by two herdsmen, who soon afterward receive bloody retribution at the hands of her father, Töre (statuesque Max von Sydow) takes place in a medieval land where the pagan Norse gods are giving way to Christianity. Both Odin and Christ are prayed to in the film, though by the time a miraculous spring emerges from the ground beneath Karin's body, it's clear which faith now holds the cards. Bergman paints the primeval world in elemental images of fire, earth, and water; a portending raven; a deranged sorcerer with his pagan charms; and the Brothers Grimm woods where the encounter occurs. Shot with startling naturalism by cinematographer Sven Nykvist, the attackers' bestial rape was censored in the U.S., yet Bosley Crowther in the New York Times still called it "sickening on our screen." Contrasting Karin's silk-clad, golden-child status is lascivious Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom), a raven-haired wild-child, the illegitimately pregnant servant girl so jealous of the spoiled blonde maiden that she "wills" the terrible act to occur. At the end, in a moment ripe with cleansing transfiguration, Ingeri bathes her filthy face in the magical waters; however, it's a cleansing bought with the savage, almost ceremonial revenge (à la Kurosawa's samurai) the father metes out on the murderers. When the Christian patriarch kills one herdsman too many, an innocent boy, his eye-for-an-eye vengeance turns into his own equivalent sin. That realization spurs him to question a God of grace who would allow a virtuous child to be destroyed while He watched. "I do not understand you," he prays. Yet he asks for forgiveness all the same, and vows an act of penitence. In response, he receives a miracle from a New Testament God of paradoxical means and mysterious ways.
As the thorough commentary track on this disc points out, Bergman's symbolic textures are not explicit archetypes; rather, they're suggestions of emotional layers quivering beneath his images. When Töre wrestles with a birch tree during a thunderstorm, the film's signature takeaway shot merges visual power with a symbolic and emotional potency of King Lear. Bergman's aim is for us to feel, not think overmuch about what he's showing us. So despite the apparent miracle at the end (and the fact that the film received a warmer audience in the staunchly religious U.S. than in its more secular homeland), nutshelling the film as Christian allegory is too reductive. While the source legend's virgin-blessed healing spring (a real pilgrimage site in Sweden) might prompt a themed double-feature with 1943's The Song of Bernadette, it would be at the expense of Bergman's suggestiveness, not to mention the painfully less artful earlier film. Nonetheless, years later Bergman decried The Virgin Spring's "spiritual jiggery-pokery." He expressed particular misgivings about its "totally unanalyzed idea of God" and said that Töre's atonement vow was "therapeutic" for the characters "but artistically it was utterly uninteresting" (Bergman on Bergman, 1968). In 1990 he wrote in Images: My Life in Film, "The God concept had long ago begun to crack, and it remained more as a decoration than as anything else. What really interested me was the actual, horrible story of the girl and her rapists, and the subsequent revenge." Bergman may have been too self-critical. How can Man progress spiritually with Nature in our veins? What is piety's value in a cruel world? At what point is revenge an evil act? Although the "jiggery-pokery" does mute the "actual, horrible story," Bergman still poses worthy questions, offering no answers, a key difference between art and baloney, or spirituality and dogmatism. And his ambivalence doesn't hamper our appreciation of the film's craftsmanship and artistry. Nykvist's camerawork, the sculpted performances from Bergman's players, and the detailed, dimensional sets work together in a plainsong harmony that's immersive and rewarding.
It goes without saying that, now at catalog title #321, the Criterion Collection gives us a DVD release of The Virgin Spring that's a superbly presented and authoritative edition. The black-and-white image (1.33:1 with black borders on all four sides) delivers precision tones and sterling detail. The default audio is the original Swedish language track in clean DD 1.0 with "new and improved" English subtitles. (An English language dub is here too.) The commentary track is by Birgitta Steene, professor emerita in cinema studies and Scandinavian literature at the University of Washington and author of Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide. She comprehensively annotates the film's production history, onscreen elements, and its place within Bergman's aesthetic and professional history. Another new extra here couples two 2005 video interviews with actors Gunnel Lindblom and Birgitta Peterson, reflecting on their experiences making The Virgin Spring and working with Bergman. The man himself delivers a fine classroom seminar in the 40-minute audio-only "Ingmar Bergman at the AFI," presented in Los Angeles in 1975. Speaking with obvious pleasure in English, Bergman gives his thoughts on six chaptered topics Working with Actors; Dreams and Music; Budgets, Beginnings, and Rushes; The Camera; Theater and Film; and Something to Say (about the need to express one's passions through art). Finally, a 28-page booklet prints an essay, "Bergman in Transition," by Peter Cowie; an essay from by the script's writer, novelist Ulla Isaksson, from the 1960 U.S. theatrical release program; a letter from Bergman justifying artistically and ethically the rape scene's "naked atrocity" in the face of the film's censorious U.S. distribution; and the source ballad. The Virgin Spring: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The weekend's only major new arrival, Sony's Underworld: Evolution, had little trouble securing the top spot on the box-office chart the supernatural thriller starring Kate Beckinsale took in $27.6 million over its first three days, more than doubling its nearest competitors' figures. Also new this week was the indie title The End of the Spear, which landed in eighth place with a modest $4.7 million. Spear earned mixed notices, while most critics dismissed Evolution.
In continuing release, The Weinstein Co.'s animated Hoodwinked grabbed second place with an $11 million weekend and $29.3 overall, getting past last week's winner, Buena Vista's basketball drama Glory Road starring Josh Lucas, which fell to third place with $28 million after ten days. Paramount/Universal's Last Holiday with Queen Latifah notched down to fourth place with $26.3 million in the bag. And Focus Films' Brokeback Mountain added screens after the Golden Globes and managed to reach the top five with $42.1 million after seven weeks. Sony's Fun with Dick and Jane cleared triple figures with $101.7 million after five sessions, while LionsGate's Hostel has taken a spill from its number-one debut two weeks ago, now in ninth place with $42.7 million. And off to DVD prep is I Walk the Line, which managed to break $100 million.
New films on screens this weekend include Nanny McPhee starring Emma Thompson, the naval drama Annapolis, and Big Momma's House 2 with Martin Lawrence. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New spins from the gang this week include Flightplan, Two for the Money, Red Eye, The Fog , The Man, Junebug, Broken Flowers, Thumbsucker, Oliver Twist, Educating Rita, The Virgin Spring: The Criterion Collection, and Cisco Pike. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 17 Jan. 2006
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: Some folks will be taking a break from serious DVD shopping this week, but there are a few titles that are worth a glance, including ThinkFilm's Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Sony's Junebug, LionsGate's Lord of War, Universal's Two for the Money, and a pair of Robin Williams reissues from Buena Vista, Dead Poets Society and Good Morning, Vietnam. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 16 Jan. 2006
Disc of the Week: In the DVD business, the "director's cut" has become an abused privilege something that's less likely to restore crucial film elements as it is to include extra minutes (or sometimes seconds) of indifferent material, allowing the entire package to be labeled "unrated." However, with the exception of Orson Welles, few directors had their films tampered with more often than Sam Peckinpah, who never had the opportunity to get the second chance DVD now offers. His 1965 Major Dundee was bastardized by the studio, only to be restored in 2005 for home viewing, while 1969's classic The Wild Bunch was streamlined and shorn in theaters, while now it exists (almost exclusively) in a longer cut that improves the film. Peckinpah's most difficult masterpiece to codify is 1973's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, if only because it is likely to never feel complete. Like Welles's Touch of Evil, it exists in three versions: the theatrical cut (which has since been abandoned and rarely shown), a compromised extended cut, and a posthumous "special edition cut," which tries to faithfully restore the director's vision as best can be expected, given that editors are approximating what he might have wanted. However, as the commentators note, even the most recent cut has some scenes that are imperfect, and Peckinpah was already starting to lose his own personal battles. Nonetheless, in any version (the latter two are included in this DVD set), what Peckinpah was trying to say about the end of the old west is both striking and brilliant.
Taking some of the facts from the story of Billy the Kid (né Henry McCarty), and using many icons of western cinema (including but not limited to Slim Pickens, Chill Willis, L.Q. Jones, R.G. Armstrong, Katy Jurado, Matt Clark, and Paul Fix), the film begins with Pat Garrett's (James Coburn) death, tying it to the last time he got to be friendly with Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson). A former outlaw Garrett has since turned respectable, while Billy is still out there having fun with his friends. Garrett has to tell Billy he's going to arrest him if he doesn't leave town, but Billy doesn't listen and is eventually apprehended. But after Garrett leaves his prisoner with his underlings, Billy finds a gun in the bathroom and escapes. From there, the film becomes a lackadaisical chase as Garrett makes deputies of John Poe (John Beck) and Alamosa Bill Kermit (Jack Elam), while Billy makes the acquaintance of the no-named Alias (Bob Dylan, who provides the score and soundtrack, but whose character amounts to little in the end). Billy skirts Garrett's pursuit, and the two seem engaged in some kind of dance Garrett doesn't seem to want to complete his mission as the two try to avoid the gravitational pull that must lead to their unavoidable showdown.
Sam Peckinpah's life was always fraught with troubles (some of which the director brought upon himself), and Pat Garrett came near the end of his career everything after 1974's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is compromised by studio interference or Peckinpah's substance-abuse problems. But here, he's still got the command of his talents, never more evident than in the scenes of violence (which rightfully earned him his reputation) that are often absurd or amusing, somewhat haunted by the American experience in Vietnam, but always tinged with the tragic. There's a melancholy to the proceedings Billy is very much the antihero of his era, partly a Christ figure (arrested at the film's beginning, he outstretches his hands in a familiar pose), partly a hippie, and also a representation of a sort of freedom of youth that must be extinguished. But though Peckinpah idealizes Kristofferson's Billy, his heart is more in line with Coburn's Garrett, who is a servant to his masters, recognizing his own sense of compromise and whoredom which isn't far from how Peckinpah felt about working in Hollywood. As is almost too obvious by the end, after Pat Garrett shoots Billy, he shoots a mirror, symbolically killing himself and bringing the narrative full-circle. In this, Peckinpah sees the characters as a Janus figure, making the film a sort of war between youth and responsibility. Still, because of the confusion that exists among the film's numerous cuts, it's hard to suggest any is the absolute perfect version of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which despite this remains the most painfully elegiac of Peckinpah's work a feeling that's oddly re-enforced by the film's own incompleteness.
Warner Home Video presents the two-disc Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid: Special Editions with two versions of the title on board, the 1988 "Preview Version" (122 min.) and the 2005 "Special Edition" cut, which trims the preview version by seven minutes. The newer version removes some of the weaker elements of the Preview version (which was first aired on the Z Channel) that the restoration team felt would have been cut by Peckinpah after a test screening (the Preview version is more of a first assembly than a director's cut). Both versions are presented in very sharp anamorphic transfers (2:35.1) with Dolby Digital 1.0 audio. Also included on both with only a little bit of repetition are commentaries by Peckinpah scholars Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle. Disc One includes the 2005 cut and also features a Peckinpah trailer gallery and a bonus trailer, while Disc Two features the 1988 cut along with the rest of the supplements. These include the featurettes "Deconstructing Pat and Billy," which interviews Katy Haber and Seydor and gets to the changes made for the 2005 version, and offers a general overview of the film's production (15 min.). "One Foot in the Groove: Remembering Sam Peckinpah and Other Things" offers commentary by Kris Kristofferson and Donnie Fritts, who also appears in the film (28 min.), and finally Kristofferson performs two songs he wrote about Peckinpah, "One for the Money" and "Sam's Song" (6 min.). Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid: Special Edition is on the street now.
On the Board: New reviews this week from the gang include Good Morning, Vietnam: Special Edition, Death Race 2000: Special Edition, Underclassman, Seven Men From Now, Return of the Pink Panther, Big Bad Mama: Special Edition, Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid: Special Edition, and Ride the High Country. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page or use our index pages to rewind into some DVD reviews from months past.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 10 Jan. 2006
On the Street: What, you thought your credit card would get a break just because the holidays are behind us? There's plenty of great DVDs to pick up this week, starting with Warner's "Sam Peckinpah's Legendary Westerns Collection," which collects two-disc sets of The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, along with The Ballad of Cable Hogue and Ride the High Country. MGM's not far behind either, offering a two-disc reissue of The Magnificent Seven. Also new from Warner are three catalog titles in time for Black History Month, Cabin in the Sky, The Green Pastures, and Hallelujah, and Criterion collectors can get one of Akira Kurosawa's overlooked masterpieces, the Hamlet adaptation The Bad Sleep Well. New titles on the shelves this morning include The Constant Gardener, Hustle & Flow, The Transporter 2, and Red Eye. And Paramount's sending thirtysomethings back to school with their Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Bueller Bueller Edition. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 9 Jan. 2006
Disc of the Week: The basic premise of Hustle & Flow (2005) isn't new: It's about a talented underdog desperately shooting for his Big Break. In Hustle's case, that underdog is a "dirt-rascal" thirtysomething pimp (Terence Howard) who drags everyone he knows into his last-ditch effort to make a rap album, then tries to hand the demo tape to a visiting hip-hop superstar (Ludacris). The movie's set in the desperate Memphis "crunk" scene, where rappers homebrew simple, gritty beats with a reckless, lo-fi Southern flavor. But taken on its plot points, Hustle's story is the scaffold of a thousand tales about Big Dreamers, in movies ranging from Rocky to Breaking Away to, dear Lord, Glitter. And if we might make the story of Hustle & Flow sound even less original before praising it to the high heavens, hip-hop has already served as the playground for several recent underdog movies from the very good (8 Mile) to the considerably less-so (Get Rich or Die Tryin').
But when you factor in God's details the writing, acting and filmmaking Hustle & Flow adds up to something amazing and universal. Writer-director Craig Brewer's movie is electric. It's sweaty, unpretty, and powerfully alive. It transcends genre. It looks behind hip-hop posturing to find human beings "making music by any means necessary." It has a lazy, character-driven '70s vibe. It's the best movie about songwriting since DiG! And it contains an absolute sledgehammer of a performance by Terence Howard. Howard's a working actor with a few dozen roles behind him (including one in Glitter, actually). And if there's any cinematic justice, Hustle & Flow will catapult him into the prestige ranks. His honey-tongued Memphis pimp, DJay, isn't a particularly nice man; in one rough scene, he throws one of his whores and her howling illegitimate son out of his house in the middle of the night. And he seethes with the resentment of a thirtysomething who's starting to see his future ossify in failure. But he still nourishes a kernel of righteous creativity and three chance meetings transform his vague anger into a full-on midlife crisis. He's hired to bring some premium weed to a private Fourth of July party for Skinny Black a big-name rapper who dropped rhymes at DJay's rival school a decade and change earlier. Then a street hustler gives DJay a vintage Casio keyboard. And DJay runs into a school buddy, Key (Anthony Anderson), who now works as a church sound engineer. After a transcendent moment in Key's church where DJay and his white-trash hooker (Taryn Manning) are moved to tears by a gospel singer, D wakes up and conscripts everyone and everything in his life Anderson, his house, even his prostitutes to a single cause: helping him make a demo tape he can tuck into Skinny's pocket.
Hustle & Flow is one of the first movies about music to actually show, in its entirety, the long process of making a song. "There hasn't been a movie which is really showing people creating music," Brewer said in a 2005 interview with BlackFilm.com. "Rap music is usually geared towards performance, and there's always a rap-off, or that one label owner is going to be in the audience. Where I think the sparks fly is when producers sit down and create something." And so Brewer lingers on every step of the recording process, never once showing DJay performing in public. Working with Key and a gawky white kid with impeccable production skills (D.J. Qualls), D writes and re-writes lyrics, finds the right beat, and layers in backup vocals, with creative arguments threatening to destroy or elevate the enterprise at every turn. It's quietly thrilling, even if you're not a hip-hop fan, to watch DJay and his ad hoc family unearth long-buried ambitions as they become partners in the pimp's crazy, tragic plan. It's especially joyful to watch Shug (Taraji P. Henson), an "employee" sidelined by pregnancy, find her voice as a backup singer. As DJay channels his anger into his surprisingly excellent rhymes (urgently performed by Howard), he achieves a sort of gorgeous, complicated nobility that makes his fateful meeting with Skinny an absolute nail-biter. Brewer shoots it all with an eye to the '70s taking his time, letting scenes breathe, putting character before flash. Cinematographer Amy Vincent captures the sweltering heat in a way that recalls Do the Right Thing, underscoring the film's broiling emotions. During its theatrical release, Hustle & Flow was niche-marketed as a film about the Memphis rap scene, but it's also about something far more universal: waking up and finding salvation by telling your story. And buoyed by Howard's rude charm, it was one of the best films of 2005.
Paramount's DVD release of Hustle & Flow offers a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Writer-director Craig Brewer offers a solo commentary track, during which he freely discusses his influences and creative processes. Also on board are the featurettes "Behind the Hustle" (27 min.), "By Any Means Necessary" (14 min.), "Creatin' Crunk" (13 min.), footage from the film's Memphis premiere (4 min.), and six promo spots with a "play all" feature. Hustle & Flow is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Just one film debuted at the North American box-office over the weekend, but the small-budget affair proved enough to knock off the big boys of the holiday season. LionsGate's horror film Hostel from writer-director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever) took in $20.1 million, taking in four times its reported $5 million budget and displacing last week's winner, Buena Vista's The Chronicles of Narnia, to second place, where it now holds $247.5 million, while Universal's King Kong slipped to third with $192.5 million overall. Hostel's early numbers were boosted thanks to Quentin Tarantino on board as an executive producer, while critics offered the movie mixed-to-positive reviews.
In continuing release, Sony's Fun with Dick and Jane starring Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni held down fourth place after three weeks with $81 million so far, while Fox's Cheaper by the Dozen 2 starring Steve Martin rounded off the top five with $66.4 million in the bag. Doing well for director Steven Spielberg is Munich, which has taken in $25.2 million in three frames. Also winning viewers after a limited release is DreamWorks' Memoirs of a Geisha, which has a $39.7 million cume. And delivering strong per-screen numbers while still in limited locations is Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain with Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, which continues to generate the most Oscar whispers.
New films in the 'plexes this Friday include the basketball drama Glory Road starring Josh Lucas, Last Holiday with Queen Latifah, Tristan & Isolde, and the animated Hoodwinked. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak-preview of Warner Home Video's new two-disc The Wild Bunch: Special Edition, while fresh spins from the rest of the team this week include The Transporter 2, The Constant Gardener, The Bad Sleep Well: The Criterion Collection, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, The Magnificent Seven: Collector's Edition, Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Bueller Bueller Edition, Long Way Round, Hustle & Flow, and The Valachi Papers. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database features more than 2,400 additional write-ups.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 3 Jan. 2006
On the Street: Too tired after the Christmas break to do anything but sit on the sofa and laugh at the TV? It's a short street-list to kick off '06, but under wraps this week are New Line's Wedding Crashers: Uncorked Edition and Dumb & Dumber: Unrated Edition, which make a swell post-holidays double-feature. Also new from Sony is a "Deluxe Edition" of Guy Ritchie's Snatch, a "Mob Box" featuring reissues of Snatch, Donnie Brasco, and Bugsy, and last summer's thriller The Cave. Meanwhile, Universal has the latest from Jim Jarmusch, Broken Flowers starring Bill Murray. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 2 Jan. 2006
Disc of the Week: Few things linger in the collective memory of war as crushing, senseless defeats. World War II is remembered as much for Pearl Harbor and Dunkirk as it is for D-Day or VE Day. The most emblematic moment of Gettysburg is not the defense of Little Round Top, but instead Pickett's Charge, which led to the deaths of 6,000 Confederate soldiers. For Australians and New Zealanders, the word "Gallipoli" speaks volumes the pitched, complex battle between Allied and Turkish forces on Turkey's Gallipoli peninsula in 1915 was designed to break the Turkish lines, leading to the fall of Constantinople and one less German ally in the war effort. That it failed is almost beside the point; any long-term military campaign must include successes and setbacks. But the charge of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) 3rd Light Horse Brigade on Hill 60, which pitted young men with bayonets against heavy Turkish machine-gun fire, saw hundreds of soldiers cut down in a matter of minutes. The Gallipoli campaign directly led to the founding of ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, but Peter Weir's 1981 film Gallipoli has since seared the event into the consciousness of two nations, and the awareness of filmgoers worldwide.
Mark Lee and Mel Gibson star in Gallipoli as Archy Hamilton and Frank Dunne, two young men from western Australia who have little in common, save for a talent at winning foot-races. Raised in the outback and trained by his grandfather (Bill Kerr), 18-year-old Archy's skills at running and horsemanship are prodigious. He's also easily goaded into bets with others, leading to a barefoot cross-country run that bloodies his feet only a few days before an important race. Archy wins the meet anyway, and just after tells his grandfather that he's not returning home, but instead joining the Light Horse Brigade, bound for Gallipoli. Archy's denied entry due to his young age, but in short order he joins up with fellow runner Frank, who suggests they hop a train to Perth, where the entrance standards are more lax. During the journey, Archy even convinces Frank to join up himself, even though Frank holds little regard for a war being fought half a world away. Unable to ride well enough to join the Light Horse, Frank finds himself in the infantry, but a few months later the old friends meet again at a training camp in Cairo, just prior to their deployment to the Allied trenches. It's a lighthearted reunion, but one that also belies the hellish warfare that awaits the entire ANZAC force upon their arrival on the shores of the fabled Gallipoli.
Few would accuse Peter Weir of plagiarizing the works of George Lucas, but some parallels between Gallipoli and Star Wars are virtually impossible to ignore, particularly in regards to male archetypes and myth. That Archy Hamilton is a rural farmboy who desperately wants to leave home in order to join an army and a battle that seems worlds away from his own arid surroundings, and that he meets up with a rascal like Frank Dunne, who's a brisk runner but also an entrepreneur, forger, and street-savvy con artist, parallels Luke Skywalker and Han Solo closely enough that one is tempted to ask Mr. Weir if he even considered such when he wrote the script's original treatment. Then again, like Lucas, Weir tapped into a broader archetype the trenchant, almost mystic bond between a good and bad son that has been rendered multiform in countless movies, including The Shawshank Redemption, Chariots of Fire, Kiss of the Spider Woman, L.A. Confidential, Brokeback Mountain, Sideways, and My Own Private Idaho. In fact, the archetype is so compelling that plot almost becomes secondary, or at least can be allowed to wander. Archy and Frank's daring crossing of a dry lake bed fifty miles wide is brilliant not for what happens on the way, but instead for what happens between them (Archy reveals himself to be a risk-taker, but also more savvy in the outback), and while Gallipoli runs less than two hours, its epic scope suggests a three-hour picture that would remain compelling throughout. The bond between Archy and Frank exists not only despite their differences (particularly in such concepts and honor and valor), but also because each sees qualities in the other that they are driven to protect: Archy admires Frank's free-spirited ways, while Frank is struck by Archy's intelligence and genuine courage. It's this unspoken bond that leads the pair to the bullet-ridden beaches of Turkey, where Weir daringly ends his film with a young man suspended and shattered, but caught in flight it remains one of the most emblematic images in the history of cinema.
Paramount's "Special Collector's Edition" release of Gallipoli features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a clean source print that ably captures cinematographer Russell Boyd's natural-light compositions. Audio is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround mixes, both of good quality, although Brian May's synthesizer scoring does not hold up as well over time as Peter Weir's classical selections. The sole extra is a good one, "Entrenched: The Making of Gallipoli," six-part documentary running 57 min. (with a "play all" option), and featuring new interviews with Weir and stars Mark Lee and Mel Gibson, as well as co-stars and various crew members. Gallipoli is on the street now.
On the Board: The DVD team returns this week with 25 new DVD reviews: Wedding Crashers: Uncorked Edition, The Brothers Grimm, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Battlestar Galactica: Season 2.0, The Island, The Great Raid: Director's Cut, Four Brothers, Must Love Dogs, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Cry_Wolf, Bad News Bears, The Cave, Rebound, The Producers: Deluxe Edition, Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Vol. 4, Snatch: Deluxe Edition, Toy Story 2: Special Edition, Pretty Persuasion, American Pie: Band Camp, Dumb & Dumber: Unrated Edition, Kiss of Death, Next Stop Greenwich Village, The Dark Corner, Gallipoli: Special Edition, and Airplane!: Don't Call Me Shirley Edition. 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.