Tuesday, 25 April 2006
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: Warner leads off our street-list this week as well with "Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory," a five-disc set that includes such MGM gems as Summer Stock, It's Always Fair Weather, Ziegfeld Follies, Till The Clouds Roll By, and Three Little Words. And there's plenty of other releases to pick through this time around, including Buena Vista's Casanova and Shopgirl, Criterion's Elevator to the Gallows and Fists in the Pocket, DreamWorks' Match Point, Sony's The Passenger and Guys & Dolls: Deluxe Edition, New Line's The Wedding Singer: Totally Awesome Edition, and two from Fox, Tristan + Isolde and a four-disc Robert Altman Collection. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 24 April 2006
Disc of the Week: A star since childhood, Judy Garland experienced more in her early years than most people have to deal with in a lifetime. She'd appeared in 22 feature films for MGM between 1939 and 1950, at which point chronic illness, depression, and drug abuse had taken a toll on her work her last year at the studio, the 27-year-old Garland was suspended several times before she and Louis B. Mayer agreed that it was best for her to move on. When she left MGM, she had already begun production on Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun, filming two production numbers before handing the role over to Betty Hutton. Her last completed picture for MGM was Summer Stock (1950), co-starring Gene Kelly. The film was well received, less for its innovation as a musical (the reviewer for Time magazine called it "no great shakes") than for the public's immense affection for the troubled Garland. In a surprisingly honest letter to her fans published in Modern Screen three months after the film's release, Garland acknowledged her battle with depression, writing, "It's perfectly normal for people to have their ups and downs. I know that now, but a year or so ago, these depressions of mine used to worry me, and the more I worried about them, the lower I felt. Anyway, all of that is gone and done with. The slate of the past is wiped clean. Insofar as I'm concerned, the world is good, golden and glorious. My best years and my best work lie ahead of me, and I'm going to give them everything I've got."
Summer Stock is your standard let's-put-on-a-show musical constructed around a handful of pleasant songs. Garland is Jane Falbury, struggling to keep her family farm afloat. Engaged to a local milquetoast, Orville (Eddie Bracken), she's outraged when her actress sister, Abigail (Gloria De Haven), descends on the farm with an entire Broadway company stagehands, sets, chorus girls, and all with the intention of mounting a musical in the barn. Jane butts heads with Abigail's beau, the show's director Joe Ross (Kelly), and she insists they all leave but she quickly relents, on the proviso that the troupe help with the farm work. After an impromptu dance-off between Joe and Jane, she discovers a hidden love of performing so, wouldn't you know, she ends up starring in the show. And (surprise!) Jane falls for her sister's fella, leading to additional complications.
While not one of the very best MGM musicals, Summer Stock is still a charming entertainment with a top-notch cast. In addition to Garland, Kelly, De Haven, and Bracken, there's Marjorie Main as the farm's cook, Phil Silvers as a wise-cracking member of troupe, Hans Conreid as the pompous leading man, and the great character actor Ray Collins as Jane's future father-in-law. Much of the picture's humor is derived from watching the big-city actors wrassle pigs and chickens, while Garland and Kelly's chemistry is undeniable. The songs, by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, include "Howdy Neighbor," one of the few numbers shot on location, with Garland happily greeting the locals as she drives her new tractor; Garland's stock yearning-for-love number, "Friendly Star"; and the very funny song-and-dance production "Heavenly Music" with Kelly and Silvers as hillbillies with giant prosthetic feet. The film's most famous number, though, is Garland's iconic "Get Happy" shot a month after the film had completed production, the singer looks rested and weighs 20 pounds less than she did during principal photography, lending the entire segment an oddly disconnected quality, as if it came from another movie altogether. Nonetheless, it remains of Judy Garland's signature tunes.
Warner's DVD release of Summer Stock part of their "Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory" collection is bright, colorful, and very clean, with only a few scenes marred by slight specks and scratches, and with some segments appearing slightly soft. But overall, the full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) is very good. The Dolby 1.0 audio (with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles) is also clean, bright, and clear. Extras include an interesting, if rather blandly directed, new featurette on the making of the film, which was originally conceived as a reunion vehicle for Garland and Mickey Rooney (16 min.), the Tex Avery cartoon "The Cuckoo Clock" (7 min.), the humorous live-action short "Did'ja Know?" (8 min.), an audio outtake from the song "Fall in Love," and the original theatrical trailer. Summer Stock is on the street tomorrow, along with four other titles in the "Dream Factory" box-set, It's Always Fair Weather, Three Little Words, Till The Clouds Roll By, and Ziegfeld Follies.
Box Office: Sony's thriller Silent Hill walked away with the top spot on the box-office chart over the weekend despite not being screened for critics (or being screened very late in the week), the ghost story starring Rhada Mitchell took in $20.2 million. Arriving in third place, Fox's The Sentinel starring Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland found its way into third place with $14.6 million, while Universal's American Dreamz with Dennis Quaid and Hugh Grant wound up in eighth place with $3.6 million, and Sony's Friends with Money starring Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener, and Joan Cusack emerged from limited release to take the ten-spot with $3.5 million. Critics liked Friends and were mixed on Dreamz, while Hill and Sentinel earned mixed-to-negative reviews.
In continuing release, The Weinstein Co.'s Scary Movie 4 notched down to second place, adding $17 million to a solid $67.6 million ten-day gross. Fox's Ice Age: The Meltdown continues to be the big hit of the pre-summer with $167.8 million after one month. However, Disney's animated The Wild doesn't look like it will have the same legs, dropping to fifth place with $21.9 million after two sessions. Sony's gross-out comedy The Benchwarmers is still warming theater seats on its way to clearing the $50 million mark. Universal's Inside Man is over $80 million and still on the chart. And Fox's Thank You For Smoking has drawn $15.7 million, mostly in semi-limited release. Meanwhile, off to DVD prep is Warner's V for Vendetta, which wasn't a blockbuster but likely will cross $70 million on the second-run circuit.
New films on screens this Friday include RV starring Robin Williams, Akeelah and the Bee, Flight 93, and Stick It. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews this week include Shopgirl, Mission: Impossible: Special Edition, Casanova, Fists in the Pocket: The Criterion Collection, The Wedding Singer: Totally Awesome Edition, Elevator to the Gallows: The Criterion Collection, Ziegfeld Follies, Summer Stock, and It's Always Fair Weather. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 18 April 2006
In the Works: Here's a few new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: It's quiet too quiet. They're up to something, those DVD producers. But it looks like everyone's on vacation this week, which means our street-list is short. Top of the pops this time is Criterion's three-disc The Complete Mr. Arkadin, while The Weinstein Company's Mrs. Henderson Presents, Sony's Hostel, and TCM's The Laurel and Hardy Collection are worth a spin. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 17 April 2006
Disc of the Week: Assessing Orson Welles' body of work is as depressing as surveying the wreckage of a house fire. There are only a handful of films that can be claimed unmarked outside of Citizen Kane and even complete films like The Trial and F for Fake can't hide their thrown-together quality. The majority of Welles' films reveal traces of damage or wholesale destruction (The Magnificent Ambersons being the primary example). And then there's something like The Lady from Shanghai, which only appears unaltered Peter Bogdanovich reveals on the film's DVD commentary that at least an hour was trimmed. There's also the posthumous "Director's Cuts" done for titles like Touch of Evil, which are not without merit but decidedly not Welles' final word and at least two finished projects are sitting in cans, waiting on rights issues to be resolved. Orson Welles always felt the most mangled of his productions was 1955's Mr. Arkadin (also released as Confidential Report). The project has antecedents in two of Welles' most popular movies, the first being Kane (in flashback, a man tries to reconstruct another man's life), and the second Carol Reed's The Third Man. Welles had made radio serials about the early adventures of his nefarious Harry Lime, and a handful of those radio scripts begat the early treatments for Arkadin. Production finished on schedule, but after eight weeks in the editing room Welles was banished the producer thought he was taking too long. Now, Criterion's release of The Complete Mr. Arkadin assembles three versions of the film, as well as the novelization of the story as handled but not finished by the director himself.
The narrative of Mr. Arkadin remains consistent in all four versions. Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) is an anonymous smuggler whose life changes when he stumbles across a dying man who tells him he can be rich by knowing two names. Guy is distracted by the police when the man dies, but his sometime-girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina) hears both names, although she can only remember one: Gregory Arkadin (Welles). Arkadin is a self-made millionaire who refuses to be photographed and may have made his fortune through illicit channels. To get closer to Arkadin's money, Guy pursues the wealthy man's daughter Raina (Paolo Mori) their relationship eventually gets him invited to the Arkadin house, where he overhears his host tell the story of "The Scorpion and the Frog" (perhaps the most famous anecdote from the film and retold in The Crying Game). Arkadin gets Guy alone and offers him money partly to get him to leave Raina, but also to make a confidential report on himself. Arkadin suggests that amnesia made him forget who he was before he became successful, and he wants Guy to find out who still knows the old Arkadin. Mily then keeps tabs on Arkadin while Guy digs up clues. But trouble looms as every person Guy finds who knew the old Arkadin ends up dead shortly after being interviewed. And before long, Guy's a suspect.
Orson Welles' legacy raises questions about his own culpability in his fate for a man of his talent, wasting the majority of his career hustling for low-budget assignments like Mr. Arkadin seems tantamount to a felony crime. Similarly, the pedestal upon which film historians have perched Citizen Kane's subtle brilliance has only served to harm the director posthumously many come to the film expecting cinematic profundity and leave wondering what the fuss was all about. And yet, few filmmakers are as engaging, be it with with studio interference or artistic autonomy. Welles was a showman, and what makes watching Kane and Arkadin invigorating is the sense that the man behind the camera is having a great time making a movie. With Arkadin, like Guy's journey to uncover the man, the viewer is also left sifting through puzzle-pieces to construct an authentic image. Some pieces are missing, which makes the film seem interesting but flawed, even if delivered by a major talent. That said, Mr. Arkadin was always a pulpy murder mystery and, unlike The Magnificent Ambersons, at least nothing was reshot. With its busting-at-the-seams energy, stunning deep-focus shots, German expressionist angles, and Welles' creative solutions to his problems (the director dubbed many of the bit players himself), it's easy to see why the Cahiers du Cinema critics declared it a masterpiece in 1958. Even more so than Kane, Arkadin bears greater influence on the do-it-yourself aesthetic of the early Nouvelle Vauge productions. What makes the title a great DVD collection is how it reveals that no matter the cut or the damage done Orson Welles' inimitable brio is still intact.
The Criterion Collection presents The Complete Mr. Arkadin in solid full-frame transfers (1.33:1 OAR) with DD 1.0 audio on all three versions. Disc One offers the "Corinth Version," which was unearthed by Peter Bogdanovich in the early 1960s and is commonly regarded as the most Wellesian edit. It runs 100 minutes and comes with a commentary by Welles scholars Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore. Also included on the first disc are three radio episodes of "The Lives of Harry Lime" from 1952, all featuring Orson Welles, and available as an MP3 file (86 min.). The featurette "Reviving Harry Lime" covers Harry Alan Towers, the producer of the radio serial (20 min.) , and there's also a stills gallery. On Disc Two is the Confidential Report version of the film (98 min.), while extras here include an interview with Welles biographer Simon Callow, who shares his recording of a conversation with star Robert Arden (25 min.). Disc Three offers The Comprehensive Version, (106 min.), which is considered a best-guess attempt at restoration. The featurette "On The Comprehensive Version" includes interviews with Peter Bogdanovich and archivists/historians Stefan Drossler and Claude Bertemes (21 min.). Following that are "Outtakes and Rushes," of which a third is silent, and which offers a rare chance to hear Orson Welles direct (30 min.). The DVD supplements are rounded out by two scenes played by Spanish actresses for the Spanish release, with Amparo Rivelles playing the Baroness (4 min.) and Lopez Keredia playing Sophie (7 min.), both presented in Spanish with optional English subtitles. And in the slipcase is the novelization, which is credited to Welles (though ghostwritten) with an introduction by noir scholar Robert Polito. The Complete Mr. Arkadin: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The newly created Weinstein Company scored its first number-one film over the weekend with Scary Movie 4 the latest in the popular spoof franchise generated $41 million, giving it the highest raw-dollar opening of any Easter weekend title. Also new was Disney's animated The Wild, taking in $9.5 million, which was only good enough for fourth place. Critics were mixed on Scary Movie 4, while they weren't too wild about, well you know.
In continuing release, Fox's blockbuster Ice Age 2: The Meltdown slipped to second place after two weeks at the top of the chart, adding a cool $20 million to $147.1 million overall. Sony's The Benchwarmers didn't win critical plaudits, but it's still in the game with a third-place spot and $35.9 million after 10 days. And New Line's Take the Lead starring Antonio Banderas rounds off the top five with $22.5 million in the hat. After one month, Universal's Inside Man drops to the midlist with $75.2 million in receipts, while MGM/Weinstein's Lucky Number Slevin looks cursed in seventh place and just $14.1 million. Adding more theaters was Fox Searchlight's Thank You For Smoking, which now holds down $11.4 million. And off to DVD prep is the thriller Stay Alive, which exits in the $20 million range.
New films in the 'plexes this Friday include American Dreamz starring Dennis Quaid, Hugh Grant and Mandy Moore, The Sentinel with Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland, and the video-game adaptation Silent Hill. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Most of the team took Easter weekend off, but a few new reviews have posted, including Mrs. Henderson Presents, Planet of the Apes: The Legacy Collection, Mr. Arkadin: The Criterion Collection, and The Black Belly of the Tarantula. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 11 April 2006
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: It's a light list this week Paramount leads off with new editions of Mission: Impossible and Mission: Impossible 2, while new from theaters are Sony's Fun with Dick and Jane and The Dark, Buena Vista's An Unfinished Life, and The Weinstein Co.'s Wolf Creek in an ultra-creepy unrated edition. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 10 April 2006
Disc of the Week: For many Americans, the workplace has become a surrogate living room, with co-workers their ersatz family members. Blame it on longer working hours, the lack of single-income households, or simply some folks' need to achieve the trend remains undeniable, and can be pinpointed with some accuracy by television. The appliance that people rely on most to soothe their nerves at the end of a long day is also a looking-glass of sorts; for thought-provoking art, we often turn to cinema or novels, but TV most often presents us with the familiar. Home is where the sitcom was, from 1950s chestnuts like "Father Knows Best" and "Leave it to Beaver" to the perennially popular "Happy Days" and ratings powerhouse "The Cosby Show." Such isn't as true today, where the underrated "NewsRadio" is a DVD favorite and "The Office" a hit in both Britain and America. Meanwhile, legions of fluorescent-baked cubicle rats frequently turn to Mike Judge's Office Space for some much-needed Friday-night respite. Do Americans regard themselves as put-upon employees more than they see themselves as parents or siblings or children? If so, we can thank "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" for pioneering the first sophisticated office sitcom, using a single professional woman as its lead character. And long before Office Space became a cult classic, 9 to 5 (1980) took a poke at the "glass ceiling," the workplace whisper that preceded "outsourcing."
9 to 5 would be worth watching for the pot-smoking scene alone. Seeing Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda get giggly and demolish a platter of barbecued ribs is hard to beat except by the crazy revenge fantasies they come up with for getting back at their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" of a boss, Franklin Hart (a delightfully weasely Dabney Coleman). The three women work for Hart at Consolidated, a massive, faceless corporation that fills out entire floors of an office tower with rows of desks extending as far as the eye can see. Tomlin is Violet Newstead, a Consolidated veteran who's been passed up for one too many promotions; Parton is Doralee Rhodes, Hart's buxom blonde personal secretary with a heart of gold; and Fonda is Judy Bernly, a timid divorcée who's never worked a day in her life. Like plenty of office underlings, the three bond through their hatred of their boss; the difference between real life and the movies is that these three actually get a chance to do something about it. When a complicated series of events puts Hart at their mercy and the control of their department in their hands the "girls" finally get their chance for revenge and manage to change the office for the better at the same time, proving once and for all that the fairer sex is more than capable of thriving in the world of business.
Most people who were around back then remember that 9 to 5 was a hit but just how much of a hit often comes as a surprise. Grossing $103 million in 1980, in today's dollars (and ticket-prices) it would come in nearly twice that. It also was the second-highest earner of the year, and only The Empire Strikes Back got more people to line up around the block. Not too shabby for a movie that Jane Fonda cobbled together from a vague idea. At first, she hoped to do a serious picture about women and work, but producer Bruce Gilbert was convinced a comedy would be better. Screenwriter Patricia Resnick conducted interviews with working women, while Fonda recruited her co-stars. Lily Tomlin earned the central role of Violet, even though it was just her fourth feature film, while Dolly Parton had never acted before at all (Fonda contacted her after hearing "Two Doors Down" on the radio). Director Colin Higgins collaborated on the script, and the legendary cast was filled out by one final, crucial member: Dabney Coleman, who didn't so much get the role of his career as earn it. Few characters in American comedy are as instantly memorable as the devious Franklin Hart, and Coleman's stern manner ensured that he never once actually played a line for laughs. Despite being a small comedy, the filmmakers were willing to be ambitious the "fantasy" revenge sequences still raise a smile, in particular Tomlin's Disneyesque interaction with animated forest animals. And if the props are dated, it hardly matters IBM Selectrics sit on every desk and the Xerox machine fills an entire room, but it's surprising to note how little has changed at work, rather than how much. And if a comedy can be measured by its quotability, there's plenty of them to dish here, including "M&M's," "I'm a murderess," and "Holy merde," although Dolly Parton got the best line of all: "Well I say we hire a couple of wranglers to go upstairs and beat the shit out of him."
9 to 5 arrives on DVD from Fox for a second time, here in a "Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot Edition," and thankfully the extras make it worth another spin. The pointless stills gallery (of just five pictures) has been dropped, and new is the behind-the-scenes featurette "9 @ 25" with interviews of all principal cast and crew (24 min.), 10 deleted scenes, "Remembering Colin Higgins" (4 min.), a gag reel (5 min.), a karaoke feature, and the original theatrical trailer. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is solid, featuring a very good source-print, while the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio gets the job done, particularly with Dolly Parton's stuck-in-your-head-all-day title tune. 9 to 5: The Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot Edition is on the street now.
Box Office: The first $100 million film of 2006 was the box-office champ for a second week running Fox's Ice Age 2: The Meltdown comfortably held off four new contenders to hold on to the top spot, adding $34.5 million to a $116.4 million gross in just 10 days. Sony's The Benchwarmers starring David Spade, Rob Schneider, and John Heder landed in second place with a solid $20.5 million break, while New Line's Take the Lead with Antonio Banderas took third place with $12.7 million. MGM and The Weinstein Co.'s Lucky Number Slevin didn't hook up with audiences nearly as well, generating $7.1 million to crack the top five. And Fox Searchlight's Phat Girlz managed just $3.1 million. Lead and Slevin earned mixed notices, while critics dissed Benchwarmers and Girlz.
In continuing release, Universal's Inside Man starring Denzel Washington slipped to fourth place after three weeks with a $66 million cume, while Paramount's Failure to Launch is closing in on $80 million. Doing midlist business is Warner's urban drama ATL, which has $17.2 million after two sessions. And Warner's V for Vendetta is dropping, although with $62.2 million after one month. Fox Searchlight's satirical Thank You for Smoking has come up with $6.2 million in limited release. And stubbed out like a bad habit is Sony/MGM's Basic Instinct 2, which mustered just $3 million last week and is quickly on the way to DVD prep and Razzies voters.
New films in theaters this Friday include Scary Movie 4 and the animated feature The Wild. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews this week from the team include Fun with Dick and Jane, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Dark, Lacombe Lucien: The Criterion Collection, An Unfinished Life, Wolf Creek, The Busby Berkeley Disc, 9 to 5, and The World's Greatest Lover. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 4 April 2006
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: Oscar contenders square off this morning as Focus's Brokeback Mountain makes its DVD debut and LionsGate's Crash returns in a new two-disc set. However, we're betting that Buena Vista's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe finishes as the best-selling title by week's end. Meanwhile, it looks like Fox is selling DVDs by the pound with an eight-disc Mel Brooks Collection and a 14-disc Planet of the Apes: Ultimate DVD Collection, while other new arrivals include Bee Season, the Gene Wilder movies The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother and The World's Greatest Lover, as well as the office classic 9 to 5 in a "Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot Edition." It's wall-to-wall action with Sony's Blue Thunder: Special Edition starring Roy Scheider. And fans can look for the DVD debut of the classic TV special Liza With a 'Z' from Showtime. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 3 April 2006
Disc of the Week: The most talked about movie of 2005 shocked audiences by brazenly snaring an Oscar nomination for a former cast member of "Dawson's Creek." Also controversial was the movie's subject matter: a decades-long gay affair between two cowboys. Hollywood celebrated the film for its unusually frank portrayal of homosexual passion, and sympathetic audiences turned this small $14 million drama into a sleeper of blockbuster proportions. The unconventional concept behind Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain also struck the American funny-bone, provoking a million late-night jokes, watercooler jibes, and Internet parodies, while some cultural critics bemoaned the movie's fawning advocates as smug liberal elitism personified. Brokeback Mountain so saturated the media that Brokeback-fatigue was credited for its upset Best Picture loss to Crash at the Academy Awards. In the middle of all of the hype and posturing, an interesting, intimate, and complex movie has been publicly deconstructed, misconceived, and reassembled into a vague and rumored version of itself. Now on DVD, the real Brokeback Mountain gets a chance to clear the record and stand apart from all its attendant chatter.
Heath Ledger stars as Ennis Del Mar and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist, a couple of hard-luck young cowhands who are hired together to mind sheep on Wyoming's Brokeback Mountain during the summer of 1963. Their work is rough and isolating, months spent camping alone in harsh weather, in each other's company only for meals, and outside contact limited to once-weekly supply deliveries. Jack, the careless son of a bull-rider, enjoys the freedom he finds so close to nature, but he isn't as fond of the work or loneliness; taciturn Ennis is more adept and obedient to the tough discipline of his vocation. However, with some prompting from Jack, Ennis not only opens up a little, but following a night of drinking joins Jack in the pup tent for some rough sex. This new facet to their relationship distracts the confused Ennis from his responsibilities, and after their boss (Randy Quaid) discovers the mess made of his flock, he fires them both. Ennis stays in Wyoming and marries Alma (Michelle Williams), who bears him two daughters. Jack joins a rodeo circuit and marries a precocious cowgirl, Lureen (Anne Hathaway). Soon after they have a son, and Jack goes to work selling farm machinery in Texas for her successful father. But after four years of traditional domesticity, restless Jack calls on Ennis, who despite his sense of duty to his girls eagerly rekindles their affair, beginning two decades of semi-annual "fishing" trips to the mountains where they first consummated their secret bond. Ennis makes for an awkward rule-breaker, and, in a flash of indiscretion, Alma witnesses the uncommon affection between the old friends, which leads to the slow disintegration of their marriage. Jack remains married to Lureen, but he struggles to counter the masculine Texan swagger of her domineering dad. As their two separate lives grow increasingly dull, dead, and forlorn, Ennis' and Jack's periodic liaisons at Brokeback Mountain become all either of them look forward to in life.
On its very surface, it's easy to read Brokeback Mountain, as many have a simple statement in support of gay rights. Had Ennis and Jack not felt compelled by societal mores to marry heterosexually and raise families, they might not have endured such emotionally bleak lives. Alternatively, one might imagine, if Jack and Ennis had lived together (as Jack suggests) and "ranched up," they may well have had a fulfilling long-term relationship with none of the drudgery of work-for-hire or stress of unemployment during times of scarcity. But a more careful look at Brokeback Mountain draws those easy conclusions into muddy irresolution, if not doubt. As it deals, in part, with the corrosive nature of secrets, nearly every scene in Brokeback is about some form of deceit most of the movie plays out in subtext as the characters repeatedly lie to each other, and themselves. In an era of postmodern film critique, where critics and film-school professors illuminate alleged gay subtext in macho Old Hollywood cowboy movies, Brokeback turns the tables. Early on, when Jack tells Ennis that, although they're both supposed to eat beans for dinner every night, he'd much rather break the rules and kill one of the sheep they're paid to protect, it's no longer clever to read this as a straightforward metaphor for Jack's socially taboo homosexual urges. The subtext of old has become the new text, and something different is going on between the lines. The fact is that Jack and Ennis make a tough couple to pin up as icons for social policy arguments. While scenes of their relationships with their spouses are full of emotionally charged successes and, moreso, failures, the Ennis-Jack partnership remains pretty much a blank slate throughout. Their early encounters are violent, and as they re-engage on their lifelong tryst, their trips to Brokeback become more about escapism from their empty adult lives than mileposts of an enduring love story. One on one, Jack and Ennis are dysfunctional and destructive, with Jack's chronic manipulations inevitably resulting in Ennis' disastrous slips into irresponsibility. Would or could they have really shared an idyllic life together if only they had been allowed? Or was the physical, uncompromising, natural locale of Brokeback Mountain really just an idealized fantasy refuge recalling the freedom of youth for two struggling older men to tune out the complicating interferences of their daily grown-up lives and, in the process, further disenchant and detach themselves from any possibility of everyday happiness in the real world? These are the questions that Brokeback Mountain puts to its viewers, and they are less about the emergence of a gay-tolerant America and more about the very business of fiction and filmmaking, where characters' motivations remain obscure and open to continuous interpretation. If the film remains a topic of discussion over several years, if not decades, one hopes it will be because it says more about two interesting, complex men than it does about any one group they are alleged to represent.
Universal presents Brokeback Mountain on DVD in a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The disc includes four featurettes: the Logo Movie Special "Sharing the Story: The Making of Brokeback Mountain" (20 min.), "Directing From the Heart: Ang Lee" (7 min.), "On Being A Cowboy" about the cast learning tricks of the cowboy trade (5 min.), and " From Script to Screen: Interviews with Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana" (10 min.). Brokeback Mountain is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The first bona fide hit of 2006 arrived in theaters over the weekend as Fox's Ice Age 2: The Meltdown turned up $70.5 million over just three days, giving it one of the best raw-dollar openings for an animated film in history. Also new was Warner's urban drama ATL, which landed in third place with $12.5 million, while Universal's camp horror Slither found its way into eighth place with $3.6 million. However, despite plenty of pre-release publicity, audiences avoided MGM's Basic Instinct 2 like a chlamydia infection Sharon Stone's follow-up to her star-making turn in the 1992 original netted just $3.2 million, barely making it into the top ten. Critics loved Slither and gave both Meltdown and ATL positive notices, while Instinct 2 was widely panned.
In continuing release, Spike Lee's Inside Man starring Denzel Washington held up over its second weekend, dropping to the number-two spot with $15.6 million for the session and $52.7 million overall. Paramount's Failure to Launch also continues to sell tickets, now with a respectable $73.2 million after one month. And Warner's V for Vendetta finished out its third week with $56.8 million in the bag. Hollywood's Stay Alive and DreamWorks' She's the Man continue to earn midlist receipts, while Disney's The Shaggy Dog with Tim Allen has cleared $53.8 million. And off to DVD prep is Disney's Eight Below, which will exit in $80 million territory.
New films on screens this Friday include The Benchwarmers starring Rob Schneider, David Spade and Jon Heder, Take the Lead with Antonio Banderas, Lucky Number Slevin with Josh Hartnett, Lucy Liu and Bruce Willis, and Phat Girlz starring Mo'Nique. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New spins this week from the team include King Kong: Special Edition, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: Collector's Edition, Get Rich Or Die Tryin', Bee Season, Blue Thunder: Special Edition, Murmur of the Heart: The Criterion Collection, Dames, Brokeback Mountain, and The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother. 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.