Tuesday, 28 Feb. 2006
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: You might as well air out those credit cards, because everybody will find something to pick up this week our favorites include new special editions of Dog Day Afternoon and Network from Warner, Universal's The Ice Harvest and Pride & Prejudice, Disney's Lady and the Tramp: 50th Anniversary Edition, Criterion's Kind Hearts and Coronets, and Sony's The Squid and the Whale and NewsRadio: Season Three. And it got to retailers in a hurry, so fans shouldn't miss picking up Walk the Line, which is fresh from Fox. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 27 Feb. 2006
Disc of the Week: It was Voltaire, probably, who said that if Alec Guinness did not exist it would be necessary for Ealing Studios to invent him. Guinness' career-making streak in such cracking good London-based Ealing comedies as The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suit, and The Ladykillers began in grand fashion with 1949's elegant and cold-hearted Kind Hearts and Coronets. While playing eight members of an aristocratic family targeted for murder, Guinness apportioned his performance with more than just trying on funny wigs and makeup. No matter which member of the rarefied D'Ascoyne gene pool he played the bank president, the doddery old parson, firebrand suffragist Lady Agatha, a general fatally fond of his caviar, foppish Young Henry, and so on Guinness gave even the walk-ons a memorable turn. Furthermore, a lesser performer (meaning just about all of them) would have larded up the roles into blowhard grotesqueries. As proper for a dry, wry comedy that's "droll" and "brittle" rather than merely "funny," there's nothing ostentatious or look-at-me! about Guinness' multiple D'Ascoynes. (Thus any comparison with Eddie Murphy and the Klumps ends before it begins.) Although today Kind Hearts and Coronets is remembered as his virtuoso showcase, Guinness himself appears to understand that he is not, after all, the film's lead. That's Dennis Price, who more than holds his own as the most genteel and cordial of murderers. ("It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms.") The original poster art for Kind Hearts and Coronets placed Guinness' name last after Price, Valerie Hobson, and Joan Greenwood, and offered no clue about his now-famous eightfold tour de force.
The film opens on His Grace the tenth Duke of Chalfont (Price) penning his memoirs in prison, whiling away his final hours before his hanging. The narrative then unfolds in flashback. Until recently the current duke was, in fact, just a commoner, Louis Mazzini. Before his birth, the haughty family disowned his mother, a D'Ascoyne, for marrying an Italian opera singer, thus denying both mother and son of their heritage and birthright. After his mother dies in near poverty and is refused burial in the ancestral vault, young Louis vows to avenge her and claim the dukedom for himself via a thorough pruning of the privileged and elitist family tree. By nature every inch the English gentleman, Louis is adept at "impersonating a man of sterling character" and ingratiating himself to the heirs ahead of him (each played by Guinness). He understands that, among other "discreet requirements of twentieth century homicide," revenge is a dish best served with a quality port. Price's insouciant callousness gives Kind Hearts its coolly amoral humor. Lady Agatha floats high above London in a hot-air balloon to rain down Women's Rights pamphlets; Louis punctures her balloon and quips, "I shot an arrow in the air; she fell to earth in Berkeley Square." As he kills his way up the peerage, we become co-conspirators amused by such nonchalant doings-in, not to mention the sarcasm aimed at the haute-bourgeoisie in all its inbred snobberies and caste privilege. Meanwhile, two women attract his affections. The more marriageable is Edith D'Ascoyne (Hobson), the prim yet appealingly regal widow of one of his victims. The other is the beauty who rejected him in their younger days, Joan Greenwood's sensual, butterscotch-voiced Sibella. Even while he's betrothed to Edith, and Sibella is married to a rival, they maintain a clandestine friends-with-benefits acquaintanceship. During Louis' trial for a murder he did not commit, and while his deferential executioner (Miles Malleson, marvelous) readies the silken noose, Sibella reveals that she alone is Louis' equal in self-interested conniving. The resulting fillip in the final scene was too much for America's skittish Production Code, which demanded that the U.S. version end with a wholesome yawn rather than a cheerfully nasty smirk.
On the British Film Institute's current list of best British films of all time, Kind Hearts and Coronets ranks number 6. In 2000, readers of the U.K.'s Total Film magazine voted Kind Hearts and Coronets the 25th greatest comedy film to date. In 2004 the magazine named it the 7th greatest British film. Total Film also calls it "a reminder that, once upon a time, British cinema could match anything that came out of Hollywood." Like a voodoo curse, saying those words aloud could result in some Hollywood exec green-lighting a modern-day remake. No surprise, then, that in 2000 word leaked out about a remake in development, with Will Smith in the Price role and Robin Williams reminding us how great Guinness was. Director Robert Hamer didn't exhibit the fully cinematic visual talents of his Ealing colleague Alexander Mackendrick. But as a talented craftsman neither did he get in the way of the film's sophisticated charms. In our tiresome era of older films "re-imagined" with abrasive overkill, where would his finely tuned work keeping Kind Hearts exactly low-key and straight-faced go? It's hard to imagine any new version with a cast half this good, or a cast that doesn't lean into each performance until it falls over, or doesn't add blinking exclamation points to the script's flinty one-liners (a script that assumes a certain level of literacy in the audience to boot). With memories of 2004's dental-drill remake of The Ladykillers in mind, it's a relief to search online and see little evidence that Kind Hearts and Coronets' Mrs. Doubtfire treatment ever left the "let's do lunch" stage. For once, let's leave perfection alone.
Of course Criterion's two-disc edition of Kind Hearts and Coronets is excellent. However, it is pricey for the mild print-quality improvement over Anchor Bay's very good edition from 2002, so owners of that single-disc release needn't worry that this one's a mandatory upgrade. Nonetheless, if you don't already own the film, or you do but desire some quality extras, you can't go wrong with Criterion. This new, restored transfer from a 35mm composite fine-grain master yields a flawless 1.33:1 (windowboxed slightly) print. The clean black-and-white image is somewhat sharper and brighter than Anchor Bay's, with newly boosted black tones and grayscale. The DD 1.0 audio track is clean, but it's a bit harsh or muddy in spots (presumably from the original audio source track). In the first scene, turning on the English subtitles revealed that the executioner's boast that even his mentor "never had the privilege of hanging a Jew" is actually "never had the privilege of hanging a duke." Criterion's extras always make a release worth the attention. Here that means the BBC's 1986 documentary, "Made In Ealing: The Story of Ealing Studios" (75 mins.), with film clips and interviews with Joan Greenwood, Alexander Mackendrick, and others for a thorough and engaging history of the venerable film factory. In 1977, the interview-shy Guinness appeared on Michael Parkinson's BBC chat show, and we get that entire 68-minute episode with Sir Alec at his charming best. Also here are the Code-appeasing American ending, the original theatrical trailer, a vast click-through gallery of production and publicity photos, and a liner notes booklet with an essay by film critic and scholar Philip Kemp. Kind Hearts and Coronets: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Three new films arrived in multiplexes over the weekend, but the final results weren't even close writer-director Tyler Perry's fan-base helped propel the awkwardly titled Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion to first place for LionsGate with a $30.2 million splash. Meanwhile, arriving well behind a lot of already established titles, the Weinstein Co.'s animated Doogal hobbled into eight place with $3.6 million, while New Line's Running Scared starring Paul Walker could do no better than ninth with $3 million. Critics were mixed on Madea and Scared, while Doogal earned poor notices.
Nevertheless, Paul Walker isn't stuck in the box-office basement Disney's Eight Below dropped to second place after its top debut last week, adding $15.7 million to $45 million overall, while MGM's remake of The Pink Panther starring Steve Martin is solid in third place with $61 million after three frames. Despite several bad reviews, Fox's Date Movie starring Allyson Hannigan also has been a reliable late-winter comedy, taking in $33 million after a second weekend. And Universal's animated Curious George has dug up $43.1 million. However, things don't look as good for Sony's Freedomland starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore, which has barely cleared $10 million. And off to DVD prep is Universal's Nanny McPhee starring Emma Thompson, which heads for the exits with nearly $40 million.
New films in theaters this Friday include 16 Blocks starring Bruce Willis and Mos Def, Ultraviolet with Milla Jovovich, the teen fantasy Aquamarine, and Dave Chappelle's Block Party. 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 Ice Harvest, Lady and the Tramp: 50th Anniversary Edition, Dog Day Afternoon: Special Edition, NewsRadio: Season Three, Network: Special Edition, Raise the Red Lantern, Daddy Long Legs, Kind Hearts and Coronets: The Criterion Collection, and Zombie Honeymoon. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 21 Feb. 2006
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: It's a short street-list this week, but full of great stuff, including Warner's All the President's Men: Special Edition and another Dustin Hoffman classic, MGM's Midnight Cowboy: Collector's Edition, while recent films from theaters include North Country from Warner, Rent from Sony, and the sublime The Weather Man from Paramount. Catalog collectors also can look for Fox's Daddy Long Legs starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron, as well as the exploitation classic Class of 1984 from Anchor Bay. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 20 Feb. 2006
Disc of the Week: What did audiences expect from The Weather Man? Apparently not what they got. Despite the fact that it's one of the most remarkable, unusual, genre-free films in recent memory, it generated a mere $12 million during a middling one-month theatrical run in November 2005, and even the star wattage of Nicolas Cage couldn't rescue it from the box-office cellar. Then again, while Cage arguably is the finest actor of his generation, as well as a bankable marquee draw, he's built a reputation as a player who only takes on work that interests him, and if such titles as Con Air and Face/Off mark his commercial instincts, he's also fed his Method muse with turns in Vampire's Kiss and Leaving Las Vegas. Gore Verbinski's The Weather Man came on the heels of three notable Cage projects Adaptation, Matchstick Men, and National Treasure a trio that reinforced his A-list viability. One can only conclude then that The Weather Man represented an actorly need to change gears, not only in seeking out interesting work, but also to avoid typecasting much how Cage shunned his Oscar accolades in the wake Leaving Las Vegas by looking up Jerry Bruckheimer, or followed his darker work in Wild at Heart and Red Rock West with his own self-described "Sunshine Trilogy," which included the breezy It Could Happen to You. And the sun hasn't even begun to set on the most prominent member of the Coppola clan barely past 40 in 2005, Nicolas Cage has decades of film work in front of him. But even more crucially, he will continue to work simply because he embodies a quality that's rarely found in Hollywood's stratosphere: His personal choices have little to do with box-office figures.
Cage stars in The Weather Man as David Spritz, a Chicago television weatherman who finds himself at a crossroads in life. Recently separated from his wife Noreen (Hope Davis), he's at loose ends, both over his damaged marriage and his dead-end job. Then again, it's a better dead-end than most, earning him a comfortable $240,000 a year for a few hours of work a day. But it doesn't satisfy his need for something. Perhaps it has something to do with his father, legendary novelist Robert King Spritzel (Michael Caine), a "national treasure" and a pretty good dad, but recently diagnosed with cancer. Despite David's attempt to write his own novel (aptly titled Breaking Point), it seems he's trying too hard to earn his father's respect, not content to merely accept his love. David's relationship with his own children is equally flawed he finds it difficult to bond with his overweight, unmotivated 12-year-old daughter Shelly (Gemmenne de la Peña), and while he tries to support his teenage son Mike's (Nicholas Hoult) photography hobby, he's not near enough to the boy's daily routines to realize that his drug counselor (Gil Bellows) is a sexual predator. Meanwhile, Noreen has taken up with a new, more stable man (Michael Rispoli). In the midst of it all, David can't help but go after a potential job on a national TV show hosted by Bryant Gumbel it would mean relocating his family to New York, but then again, $1 million a year "buys a lot of face-time."
Count The Weather Man as yet another casualty of Hollywood's penchant for misleading advertising. Rather than positioning the film as a contender in at least a few year-end awards categories with appropriate studio support, the trailer (found on the DVD) pretty much sums it up the picture's solemn, comic pathos is completely set aside, replaced with a lot of slapstick moments (here, apropos of nothing) and the suggestion of feel-good dramedy. The problem is that The Weather Man doesn't have a happy, poignant ending, but instead a realistic, usable one. Which also happens to be the point. Unfortunately, the movie suffered the double-curse of mixed reviews and word-of-mouth that amounted to "not as funny as we thought it would be." It's a perfect storm, but with a predictable resolution, because time (and home video) doubtless will mark this low-profile effort as one of the better overlooked films of the past several years. Dark and somber, The Weather Man also is, in fact, "funny," but not in ways that are readily apparent. There are some outright amusing moments (Cage's adolescent interior monologue while going out for fast-food being one example); the rest simply requires getting on scenarist Steve Conrad's particular wavelength. Like Wes Anderson's scripts, a darkness informs fragile familial relationships, and when the humor comes from a moment that's particularly raw, we understand that some things that are "funny" aren't always free, but instead have some sort of emotional cost. Conrad almost wants to keep his audience at arm's length, both by testing our sympathy with David's self-centeredness, and also with a lot of casual, coarse R-rated dialogue (which also becomes funny, and quotable, upon subsequent viewings). The Weather Man marks a good turn for director Gore Verbinksi, who emerged from directing commercials to helming Pirates of the Caribbean, but here proves that he can handle both Conrad's script and a nuanced leading performance by Nicolas Cage, and the trio manage to commit perhaps the worst offense in all of Hollywood they aren't trying to be cute. At all. There is something very human going on in The Weather Man. The story may offer loose threads and untidy moments, but such only contributes to a moving account of the American Dream gone quietly adrift at the start of mid-life, when the hard part is supposed to be over, but rarely is.
Paramount's DVD release of The Weather Man offers a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Extras include the featurettes "Extending the Outlook: The Script" (10 min.), "Forecast: Becoming a Weatherman" (5 min.), "Atmospheric Pressure: The Style and Palette" (9 min.), "Relative Humidity: The Characters" (19 min.), and "Trade Winds: The Collaboration" (15 min.), and that theatrical trailer, hopefully for instructional purposes. The Weather Man is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Three new films arrived in theaters over the weekend, and with a recent rush of successful debuts, there's barely anything on the box-office chart that's more than three weeks old. Taking the top honors over the President's Day weekend was Disney's Eight Below starring Paul Walker, which gathered up $19.8 million worth of kibble. Not far behind was Fox's Date Movie starring Alyson Hannigan, which took in $18.9 million. However, Sony's Freedomland starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore took in just $5.9 million, skidding into seventh place. Critics praised Eight Below, while Date Movie and Freedomland earned mostly poor notices.
In continuing release, MGM's The Pink Panther starring Steve Martin had the best returning figures, dropping to third place with $42 million in just 10 days. Universal's animated Curious George also is shaping up well with a $29.4 million cume, while New Line's Final Destination 3 held on to a top-five spot with $35.8 million so far. Also hanging around are Warner's Firewall starring Harrison Ford ($27.3 m) and Sony's When a Stranger Calls ($41.2 million), while Fox's Big Momma's House 2 starring Martin Lawrence has wrapped up $61.3 million after one month. And off to DVD prep is the Weinstein Co.'s Hoodwinked, which should close out in the $50 million range.
He's everywhere! Paul Walker arrives in yet another debut film this weekend, the crime drama Running Scared, while other new titles include the animated Doogal and Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a sneak-preview of Warner's two-disc Special Edition of All the President's Men, while new spins this week from the rest of the team include Young Mr. Lincoln: The Criterion Collection, North Country, MirrorMask, Nine Lives, The Weather Man, and Ju Dou. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 14 Feb. 2006
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: If you're the sort who's really into DVD, you may want to think about giving a different sort of gift to your significant other for Valentine's Day then again, we'd be more than happy to receive any number of this week's street-discs, including three classics from Criterion: Jean Renoir's La Bête Humaine, John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln, and Whit Stillman's Metropolitan. Also new this week are Proof from Buena Vista/Miramax, Domino from New Line, Saw II from LionsGate, and MirrorMask from Sony, while TV fans can look for Grey's Anatomy: Season One. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 13 Feb. 2006
Disc of the Week: As the first of three essays accompanying Criterion's DVD edition observes, the bracing steam train sequence that kicks off Jean Renoir's La bête humaine (1938) can be interpreted as Cahiers du Cinema for a "plunge into the materiality of the world." Other fans of this broody murder thriller adapted from Emile Zola's tragic novel for instance, Peter Bogdanovich on this same disc see the train's massive steel tonnage hurtling forward on the unbendable rails of determinism, with grimly resigned pre-war French poetic realism capturing the world in predestined landscapes speeding toward us before we finally approach the iron geometries of an all-encompassing rail yard. But as valid as that view is, Renoir puts his own distinctive backspin onto it. Instead of freighting this metaphorical opening with a contemporary bleak and weighty fatalism, Renoir makes it all so exhilarating. With his Second Unit Director his nephew and frequent cinematographer Claude Renoir he mounted cameras to the exterior front and side of a real speeding locomotive. (During filming, a slight miscalculation before a tunnel approach caused the train-cam to be pummeled from its mount; fortunately, Claude saw the collision coming and hurried inside before impact.) The train scene doesn't begin until a fulsome portrait of Zola is overlaid onto drifting clouds, is held silently, then bam! we're snap-cut to the wail of a train whistle over a shot of a fiery boiler. Right from the get-go Renoir's own vivid personality reshapes Zola's novel of society rocketing on a hellbound train toward oblivion. Furthermore, and a possible surprise for Renoir fans who know him chiefly through his more renowned masterpieces such as Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game, La bête humaine shows the great French director with a foot far enough into Hitchcock territory that it's often counted as a precursor to the film style that the French eight years later dubbed film noir.
Renoir being Renoir, this somber and gripping melodrama of "the human beast" stoked to murder by lust for the most kittenish of femmes fatales (Simone Simon) is told through likeable working-class characters who win our respect and sympathy. Jean Gabin plays the good-hearted but compulsively murderous engineer Jacques Lantier. Although Lantier does not drink booze, he blames his spells of blackouts and violence (he throttles a woman with all the forethought of scratching an itch) on his family's history of alcoholism. Whether or not his mental illness is the result of alcoholic family ghosts in his blood, Lantier is convinced that his affliction is fated and therefore incurable. Consequently he is comfortable only when aboard his beloved train, which he has named Lison. On an occasion when he's a passenger on the train, Lantier witnesses a fatal stabbing. The victim was the influential godfather of Séverin (Simon), the young wife of the lumpen stationmaster Roubaud (Fernand Ledoux). Séverin's slyly revealed sexual history with her godfather has driven Roubaud to homicidal rage. Because Lantier falls in love with Séverin, he keeps quiet even when the police haul in innocent Cabuche (Renoir himself), an ex-con with a murder record and a motive, for the killing. With Roubaud's encouragement, Séverin and Lantier speed into a tunnel of sweaty trysts and, in true noirish female fashion, deadly sexual manipulations. Simon's carnal predator controls the men in her bed with all the skilled aplomb Lantier possesses at the levers of his powerful steam engine. "If my husband were out of the way..." she purrs with a suggestiveness that fed a generation of Hollywood dark ladies to come. She and Gabin's doom-worn engine driver could hardly be worse candidates for a lovers' triangle, and it's no spoiler to note that by the time of the masterfully played climax more bodies are littering the tracks. But in La bête humaine, even with lust, murder, and madness shoveling the coal, Renoir takes care to elaborate an article of faith that, the following year, he made the axis of The Rules of the Game: everyone has their reasons.
It's no wonder that this was Renoir's greatest commercial success in his lifetime. To play Lantier, actor Jean Gabin learned to drive the train engine, so the shots of France's hottest screen star piloting the locomotive along its route are authentic to a documentary degree, with no backdrops or other in-studio trickery. As much as Renoir directs our attentions to the train's sensational plunge forward to God-(fashionably absent or otherwise)-knows-what, Renoir the proud humanist grounds his film in the realistically smudged faces and workaday interactions of Gabin's engine driver and his only friend, his plucky and sensible fireman Pecqueux (Julien Carette). Renoir's choices of imagery and intense atmospherics complement both the realism of the train settings and the dark moodiness of the plot. His location shooting takes us into places where iron and steam and fire strip sex of any unnatural romantic delicacies. A dance hall scene probably the film's other best-remembered sequence affords Renoir an opportunity to intersect the personal horror of a murder with comic theatrical touches and a vaudeville bounce. La bête humaine may show Renoir at his darkest, but as always Renoir in his observantly caustic mode can't bring himself to not splash highlighting colors onto his preeminently human canvas.
Criterion's DVD edition of La bête humaine is a beauty. The black-and-white image (1.33:1) is perfectly balanced, smooth, and spotless. The new high-definition transfer comes from a 35mm fine-grain master positive. The DD 1.0 monaural audio is clean and vivid with a dynamic strength that may cause even longtime Criterion collectors to arch an impressed eyebrow. Extras start with a six-minute introduction to the film by Renoir. Taken from the same 1967 series of film-specific intros Criterion has placed on other Renoir discs, the avuncular director discusses the film's production history, giving energetic attention to the technical adventures involved with shooting on a train moving at 60 mph. A 2004 interview with Peter Bogdanovich (11 mins.) focuses the ascot-bedecked director's well-spoken intellect onto the context of the pre-war era's gloomy mood that manifested as poetic realism, and particularly this film's distinctive Renoirisms, those elements where even in such a melodramatic plot Renoir's compassion and feeling for his people show through the frames. "Adapter Zola" is a 24-minute clip from a 1968 French TV program that brings together Renoir, Zola scholar Henri Mitterand, film critic Jean Collet, and screenwriter Pierre Bost. In another clip from French TV, this time from 1957, Renoir demonstrates for the home audience how a director and actor work by recreating a scene with Simone Simon. Also here is the film's original theatrical trailer (and it's terrific) and a stills gallery of behind-the-scenes shots and some exceptionally good poster art. Joining the disc is a 38-page liner notes booklet with fine essays by critic Geoffrey O'Brien, historian Ginette Vincendeau, and production designer Eugène Lourié. La Bête Humaine: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Four new films arrived in North American 'plexes over the weekend to claim the top four spots on the box-office chart, but Sony/MGM came out the big winner with The Pink Panther starring Steve Martin, which took in $21.7 million for first place. Not far behind was New Line's Final Destination 3 with $20.1 million, while Universal's animated Curious George was good for $15.3 million and Warner's Firewall starring all-time box-office champ Harrison Ford landed in fourth with $13.8 million. George fared best with critics, who were mixed on Destination and generally unenthusiastic about either Panther or Firewall.
In continuing release, last week's winner When a Stranger Calls tumbled to fifth place amidst all the new arrivals, adding $10 million to a $34.8 million gross, while family-friendly titles Big Momma's House 2 ($54.8m) and Nanny McPhee ($33.2m) are still in business after their third frames. Don't expect Focus Features' Brokeback Mountain to go anywhere for a while yet, currently holding down $66.6 million and counting. However, not faring as well is the romantic comedy Something New, which lost its top-ten standing after one weekend. And off to the cheap screens is Annapolis, which couldn't break $15 million.
New films in theaters this Friday include Freedomland starring Julianne Moore and Samuel L. Jackson, Date Movie with Alyson Hannigan, and Eight Below with Paul Walker. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews this week from the gang include Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Proof , Just Like Heaven, Doom: Unrated Extended Edition, The Unbearable Lightness of Being: Special Edition, Four Weddings and a Funeral: Deluxe Edition, Zathura, Metropolitan: The Criterion Collection, Kitty Foyle, The Good Earth, La Bête Humaine: The Criterion Collection, and Grey's Anatomy: Season One. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews collection features more than 3,400 additional write-ups.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 7 Feb. 2006
On the Street: In the mix this week are several high-profile titles and a few catalog releases, including Just Like Heaven and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit from DreamWorks, Elizabethtown and Breakfast at Tiffany's: Anniversary Edition from Paramount, Zathura from Sony, Waiting from LionsGate, Doom from Universal, and two-disc sets of Ryan's Daughter and The Unbearable Lightness of Being from Warner. Also on the shelves are two new editions of Orson Welles' The Stranger and The Trial from Focus Features, and repackaged editions of The French Connection,
Monday, 6 Feb. 2006
Disc of the Week: To be clear, Paramount's "Anniversary Edition" of Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) marks an anniversary of some sort although by arriving in early 2006, it's simply the 45th anniversary of the film's theatrical debut, falling 15 years short of the "Diamond Jubilee" any marketing department would certainly prefer. One has to suspect that the re-issue is meant to capitalize on interest in author Truman Capote, who wrote the film's source novella, and whose celebrity is again prominent thanks to Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-tapped turn in Capote (2005). Just the same, it's hard to fault any excuse to revisit an American classic such as this one. Few movie stars have both a storied Hollywood career and a true "signature role" the mere mention of James Stewart, Bette Davis, or Cary Grant brings to mind any number of films, all seemingly meaningless without their presence. But Audrey Hepburn's image in a slinky black gown with piled hair behind a tiara and a long cigarette holder is a bit of pop-culture iconography as resonant as King Kong atop the Empire State Building or Marilyn Monroe holding down her billowing white skirt. It's odd then that Hepburn seems to have stolen one of Monroe's best parts in Capote's original story, Holly Golightly isn't nearly the picture of urbane sophistication we see in Hepburn, and in fact the studio wasn't even sure if her fresh-scrubbed image would match Holly's gold-digging, party 'til dawn sensibilities. But thanks to several changes in the script and Hepburn's inimitable screen presence, one can hardly imagine Breakfast at Tiffany's without her.
Holly Golightly seems as free as a feather in the wind at least to Paul Varjak (George Peppard), her new neighbor in her Manhattan brownstone. A beautiful young night owl who loves parties and wealthy men, she's a fascinating creature to Paul, a writer who naturally takes an interest in observing others. On the surface, the pair couldn't be more opposite an industrious novelist "of great promise" according to one book review, Paul's a bit of a rational introvert, and a loner. He's also allowed himself to be "kept" by a wealthy older married woman (Patricia Neal), who decorates his new apartment and fills his walk-in closet with tailored suits. As for Holly, she won't be kept by anyone, although like Paul she's impoverished, and not above equivocal exchanges, be it as a paid companion for gentlemen or the wife of a very wealthy man, no love necessary. However, Holly and Paul's neighborliness soon evolves into a friendship, and before much longer love which she can't accept, preferring to run away to South America with a wealthy Brazilian socialite (José Luis de Villalonga), where she expects he will ask her to marry him.
While Breakfast at Tiffany's remains one of Hollywood's most enduring romances, fans of the film have been drawn to Capote's 1958 book as well, and many are surprised to discover just how much material was altered for the screen. Rather than elegant, Kennedy-era Manhattan with its mix of classic and modernist architecture, Capote's version takes place during the 1940s. Holly Golightly is a blend of multi-colored hair and foul language, and her neighbor is a close approximation of Capote himself. Little wonder then that both Marilyn Monroe and Kim Novak were associated with the Paramount project during development, and that few considered Audrey Hepburn right for the role. Thankfully, some of Holly's less-exquisite traits remain, in particular her work as a call-girl of nebulous limits. It's also pretty clear that she and Paul shack up after their first date (both of the shoplifted masks are in his apartment the next morning). But cinematic adaptations can be as fruitful as they are perilous and Breakfast at Tiffany's belongs as much to Hepburn and director Blake Edwards as it does to Capote. Holly's neuroses and "mean reds" are carefully concealed within Hepburn's Givenchy wardrobe and hard-to-place accent, and Peppard does a creditable job as Paul, a not-too-subtle approximation of J.D. Salinger. The supporting cast is just as superb, with Buddy Ebsen as Doc Golightly, a note-perfect Martin Balsam as a film producer, and Patricia Neal as Paul's patron, decorator, and otherwise. (Only Mickey Rooney's slapstick, buck-toothed Mr. Yunioshi is a clear misstep, and one that everyone associated with the film claims they would change today.) From the famous opening as Hepburn has a croissant and coffee at 5 a.m. in front of Tiffany & Co. on Fifth Avenue, to the outrageous party sequence, to the beautiful exteriors of Manhattan during fall and winter, Edwards manages to deliver more than a great romance, but also a time-capsule making contemporary viewers wish they could have lived in a liberated New York in the early '60s, somewhere between the social confines of earlier generations and the cultural disruptions that would soon follow. How could Holly Golightly be anywhere else?
Paramount's "Anniversary Edition" of Breakfast at Tiffany's is not a bad upgrade for fans of the film the new anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is more stable than the one on the original DVD release, while the source-print is somewhat brighter with reduced collateral wear. It looks as we should expect it, and it's hard to ask for more than that. As with the original disc, audio sounds good in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or a restored monaural DD 2.0 track, and chapter-selection remains unchanged. However, all of the special features are new, including an intermittent commentary by producer Richard Shepherd and the featurettes "The Making of a Classic" (16 min.), "It's So Audrey! A Style Icon" (8 min.), "Brilliance in a Blue Box" (6 min.), and "Audrey's Letter to Tiffany's" (2 min.). Breakfast at Tiffany's: Anniversary Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Sony's Screen Gems studio has owned Super Bowl weekend for the last two years, taking first place with low-budget genre titles Boogeyman and You Got Served, and for the third year running Screen Gems has counterprogrammed a winner, this time with the remake of When a Stranger Calls, which took in $22 million, clearing its reported $15 million budget despite the fact that it was not previewed for critics. Also new was Focus Features' rom-com Something New starring Sanna Lathan and Simon Baker, which managed just $5 million for seventh place. Nonetheless, it earned several positive reviews, while Stranger was generally dismissed.
In continuing release, last week's top titles had solid follow-on frames Fox's Big Momma's House 2 starring Martin Lawrence held down second place with $13.5 million over the weekend and $45.4 million overall, and UIP/Universal's Nanny McPhee with Emma Thompson notched down to third place with $26.6 million in ten days. The awards season helped Focus Features' Brokeback Mountain, which has generated steady business over nine weeks with $60 million. And The Weinstein Co.'s animated Hoodwinked remains popular with $44 million after two months. Fox/Sony's Walk the Line returned to the top ten three months after its debut, where it's over $110 million, while Sony's Capote also made its way back on the chart. And off to DVD prep is Fun With Dick and Jane, which cleared triple-digits before finding the exit.
New films in theaters this Friday include The Pink Panther starring Steve Martin, Firewall with Harrison Ford, the animated Curious George, and Final Destination 3 . Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: It appears that some of our DVDs are lost in the postal system, but new reviews that did come through this week include Elizabethtown, Domino: Platinum Series , The Aristocrats, Dune: Extended Edition, Ryan's Daughter: Special Edition, Breakfast at Tiffany's: Anniversary Edition, and Class of 1984. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews collection features more than 3,400 additional write-ups.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.