Wednesday, 31 May 2006
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: Warner's The Bette Davis Collection: Vol. 2 leads off this week's street-list, featuring such classics as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Jezebel, and Marked Woman, while new from theaters are Freedomland and Date Movie, and "Adult Swim" fans can get their hands on The Venture Bros.: Season One. Here's this week's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Disc of the Week: Joan Crawford and Bette Davis had a lot in common both started out as dancing starlets in the 1930s, they found powerful mentors who helped them claw their way up through the studio system, they created iconic public images for themselves. And, after using their star-power to demand the juiciest roles, they became the reigning queens at their respective studios. For reasons that are lost to history, they also engaged in a legendary public feud, no doubt fueled by their jealousy of each other's greatest strengths. Crawford, the top female actress at MGM, was the epitome of glamour, and her public image was one of grace, sophistication, and beauty, an image which Davis who often acknowledged that she wished she were prettier hungrily wanted for herself. And Crawford, who yearned to be considered more than just a movie star, was jealous of Davis's position at Warner Brothers as a serious thespian, coming as she did from the New York stage and garnering an impressive ten Oscar nominations for Best Actress over the course of her career. The actual event that began their feud may have been a rivalry for the affections of Franchot Tone, who was seeing Crawford while starring in the film Dangerous (1935) with Davis, who had designs on him. But the true extent of their loathing for each other is impossible to determine both said things to fuel the fire over the years, yet both also went on record several times attributing the feud to the press. Many of their most infamous put-downs are most likely apocryphal (Davis reportedly said of Crawford that "slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie"), but their professional rivalry appeared to be genuine. Thus, it's not much of surprise that they never appeared in a film together until What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Robert Aldrich's strange, funny, frightening Grand Guignol thriller about aging sisters and their poisonous rivalry.
On the vaudeville circuit, "Baby Jane" Hudson (Davis) was enormously popular but her success was eclipsed by that of her sister, Blanche (Crawford), who became a movie star. One night in the 1930s there was a car accident, blamed on Jane, which crippled Blanche for life. Thirty years later, the pair live together in a musty old Hollywood mansion, with the bitter, alcoholic, bugnuts-crazy Jane caring for her passive-aggressive invalid sister as she dreams of making a comeback. With Jane becoming more and more unhinged, Blanche puts their house up for sale and tries to get psychiatric help for her sister, but when Jane serves up first Blanche's beloved parakeet and, later, a dead rat on her lunch tray, she begins to realize how dangerous it is to remain trapped upstairs at her sister's mercy. Meanwhile, a British composer who lives with his mother (Victor Buono, in his first film role) answers an ad that Jane places for a musical director, leading to some very creepy flirting on Jane's part. Blanche makes a perilous trip down the stairs to call the shrink for help, leading to a terrifying beating at Jane's hands and further confinement. Sinking ever further into madness, Jane commits a murder, and Blanche confesses a terrible secret to Jane about the accident that changed both of their lives.
How What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? came to be made is another issue that's confused by conflicting stories. One version has Joan Crawford reading the novel by Henry Farrell and approaching Bette Davis after a stage performance to suggest they do it together. Others credit director Robert Aldrich with coaxing the two stars into making the movie Davis had been unable to get work for some time, even going so far as to put a not-quite tongue-in-cheek "job wanted" ad in Variety in 1961. However it happened, it was a press agent's dream come true The New York Times trumpeted the project with the headline "TNT Potential Explosion Seen in Pairing of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford," and the picture, released on Halloween, was an enormous hit, becoming the first Hollywood film to ever earn back its budget in one weekend. Baby Jane received five Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Costume Design. Viewers judging the movie by today's standards may find it campy and kind of silly, but its impact was enormous at the time of its release. To see two stars of Crawford and Davis's caliber turn so monstrous on screen was electrifying, and the film was so successful that it created an entire genre of macabre horror-thrillers starring aging movie stars, including Lady in a Cage, Who Slew Auntie Roo?, Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (also directed by Aldrich and starring Davis), Die, Die My Darling, Strait-Jacket, The Nanny, and What's the Matter with Helen?. Davis was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, which must have irked Crawford, and several of the film's set pieces the dead rat, Davis' psychotic delivery of the song "I've Written a Letter to Daddy" hold places as some of Hollywood's most memorable screen moments. The picture's pacing is odd, sometimes feeling overly stagy, but the scenes where Crawford and Davis pull out all the stops and try to bulldoze each other with their acting are still hypnotic.
Warner Home Video's two-disc special edition DVD release of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, part of "The Bette Davis Collection: Vol. 2," offers an uneven but mostly very good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with strong low-contrast details. Most of the black-and-white image is very clean, but some scenes are notably worse than others, with the film's ending a day-for-night scene on a beach much fuzzier than the rest of the movie with notable collateral wear. The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio (in English or French, with optional English, French or Spanish subtitles) is quite good, offering a clear mix of dialogue and Frank DeVol's melodramatic score. Extras include a commentary by Charles Busch (writer/star of Psycho Beach Party and Die, Mommy, Die) and John Epperson, whose alter-ego is the drag star Lypsinka. However, those hoping for a catty yack-track, along the lines of John Waters' commentary on Paramount's Mommie Dearest DVD, will find that the two take their roles as commentators seriously, and while they do provide historical background on the actresses, they also spend too much time explaining what's on screen. Disc Two offers "Bette and Joan: Blind Ambition," a featurette comparing the careers of the two stars (30 min.); "Behind the Scenes with Baby Jane," a promotional trailer from 1962 (7 min.); a bizarre two-min. clip from "The Andy Williams Show" featuring Davis singing a terrible novelty pop-rock song from the movie; a British television profile of Joan Crawford that features an interview with the actress (28 min.); and a Turner Classic Pictures documentary on Bette Davis, narrated by Jodie Foster (48 min.). Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?: Special Edition is on the street this morning.
Box Office: There was little doubt that Fox's X-Men: The Last Stand would land atop the Memorial Day Weekend box-office chart but the final entry in the X-Men trilogy did even better than that, racking up $120.1 million over the frame, as well as $103.1 million from Friday-through-Sunday, giving it the fourth-highest three-day opening gross ever, along with the best Memorial Day Weekend debut. However, while fans flocked to the summer tentpole release, critics were decidedly mixed.
In continuing release, Sony's The Da Vinci Code avoided a sophomore slump by ringing up $43 million over the holiday, notching down to second place with $145.4 million in just 11 days. The third big-dollar player on the chart, Paramount's animated Over the Hedge, also brought in a solid $35.3 million in its second frame and now has $84.3 million in the bag. Paramount's Mission: Impossible III may not do X-Men numbers, but it's tagged $115.8 million after one month. Far more disappointing is Warner's Poseidon, which has mustered just $46.6 million against a substantial production budget. Meanwhile, Fox's Ice Age: The Meltdown is still hanging around, now with $190.5 million overall. And off to DVD prep is Buena Vista's Stick It, which will clear around $25 million.
New on screens this Friday is The Break-Up starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend (all figures Friday through Monday):
On the Board: New spins this week from the team include Date Movie, Freedomland, Kingdom of Heaven: Director's Cut, The Venture Bros.: Season One, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Jezebel, Marked Woman, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?: Special Edition, and Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 23 May 2006
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: Father's Day is not far off, and Fox has filled the street-list with re-issues of Patton, The Longest Day, and Tora! Tora! Tora!, as well as four-disc Crime and Western collections. Also new from Fox is a two-disc re-release of The Boondock Saints and a four-disc Director's Cut of Kingdom of Heaven. But Warner has one of the great war films on the street today with The Dirty Dozen: Special Edition. Fresh from theaters are Transamerica and Cheaper by the Dozen 2. And Criterion collectors have two more to pick up, Harlan County, U.S.A. and Viridiana. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
We'll be spinning more discs over the holiday weekend we're back next Tuesday.
Monday, 22 May 2006
Disc of the Week: "Anarchy and rebellion against systems that have proved phony, hypocritical, and tyrannical are the banners of the future." If you're playing short-money on "Jeopardy," you might guess that French leftist Guy Debord, Black Panther Huey Newton, or even punk icon Johnny Rotten made the above statement. In fact, it was written by director Robert Aldrich in a letter to producer Kenneth Hyman after he looked over the original screenplay of The Dirty Dozen (1967). As a story, Aldrich considered it workable, although he felt that its sentiments were dated and specifically, that it lacked a contemporary swagger that could mark it as a film of the 1960s rather than a decade or two earlier. A talented filmmaker who adopted an auterist's posture in Hollywood, despite the fact that he never achieved a first-tier reputation, Aldrich had pushed the envelope before, in particular with the apocalyptic post-noir Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and the cult classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). With The Dirty Dozen, Aldrich would step into a new era of filmmaking, the "New Hollywood" that made anti-heroes, criminals, and misfits the next generation of screen idols. Unfortunately, Dozen is too-often overlooked when its closest peers are mentioned, titles such as Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider, and William Friedkin's The French Connection, which took up criminals as heroes or showed how those in authority are often compelled to break the law to enforce it. Instead, we sometimes hear that Dozen was a reaction to Vietnam, even though, during its 1966 production, public fatigue with the war had yet to sink in. The Dirty Dozen isn't an anti-war film rather, it's an exercise in gleeful anti-authority. And Aldrich knew it would work, as long as the script was leavened with some much-needed humor, and if the star of the show wasn't the "dozen," but instead their leader, Maj. John Reisman, whom Aldrich insisted should be "the most cynical, suspicious, sophisticated, anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment, mean, miserable sonofabitch that anybody has ever seen in a movie."
Lee Marvin stars as Maj. Reisman a U.S. Army officer who, in early 1944 London, finds himself assigned to a unusual mission. Or rather, he's informed that he's "volunteering." With papers handed down from war-planners to Gen. Worden (Ernest Borgnine) and his attaché Maj. Armbruster (George Kennedy), Reisman is told that he will be assigned a new special-forces unit for behind-the-lines operations. The catch is that they're all condemned men, soldiers who have been sentenced to decades in military prison or a swift execution. Convinced that the plan borders on insanity, Reisman does manage to negotiate commuted sentences for those who survive the secret raid, but it seems a hollow victory the "twelve deadheads" he's assigned are, almost by definition, unable to respect authority or work as a unit. Among the most defiant is Victor Franko (John Cassavetes), a cut-up who looks down on his fellow inmates. However, Joseph Wladislaw (Charles Bronson) and Robert Jefferson (Jim Brown) appear to be victims of circumstance, Pedro Jiminez (Trini Lopez) and Samson Posey (Clint Walker) are mostly harmless, and Vernon Pinkley (Donald Sutherland) is a simpleton. Then again, A.J. Maggot (Telly Savalas) is a textbook-case religious narcissist. Hoping to get the men to think and work as a team, Reisman makes himself the bad guy at first, while he later uses his dozen to buffalo his chief rival, Col. Everett Dasher Breed (Robert Ryan) and gambles that they will win a pre-invasion war-games exercise. However, on the night before D-Day, the men are forced to confront their suicide mission: an assault on a Nazi chateau in France, where they will "all come out like it's Halloween" and kill every officer in sight.
John Wayne was originally offered the part of Maj. John Reisman in The Dirty Dozen the fact that he turned it down offers a tantalizing "what if" scenario, along the lines of if Cary Grant had starred as Linus Larrabee in Sabrina or Steve McQueen had taken the role of Capt. Willard in Apocalypse Now. Had Wayne bought into Aldrich's thematic point-of-view, it doubtless would have been one of The Duke's most memorable screen roles, particularly in regard to Reisman's authoritarian stance among his men and his not-so-secret disgust with officers in the higher ranks. Nonetheless, Wayne's well-known traditionalism meant he never would have done the movie. Instead, Lee Marvin made Reisman his defining role, and it's difficult to consider The Dirty Dozen without his presence. Despite playing heavies early in his career, Marvin's foremost gift was his skill at understatement which not only flew in the face of Method, but also was something few of his peers could pull off. The pre-credits opening scene isn't just a minor masterpiece in exposition; it also reveals Lee Marvin's remarkable dramatic range while doing nothing more than sitting at a table and lacing his dialogue with stonefaced sarcasm. Reisman isn't anti-war he's only against those who are running the war, and if he's told the enemy is the Germans, then at least he will get to kill their officers. Reisman pities the dozen, but he also sympathizes with them, and even if they don't realize it, he's the only officer who's willing to bend enough rules to actually complete their training. Aldrich's epic features not just one, but two showcase payoffs, the war-games and the final assault on the chateau, and he even throws in a Last Supper homage with his own anti-authoritarian wink. And he was right it did work, with the right men for the mission, including memorable support from Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Telly Savalas, and Donald Sutherland. However, only John Cassavetes could compete with Lee Marvin for screen-time, and his charismatic, caustic Franko made him the movie's second bona fide star, and only Oscar nominee.
Warner's two-disc DVD release of The Dirty Dozen updates the previous single-disc release from MGM with a new transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio the image is improved all around, with reduced collateral wear, more accurate color, and less edge-enhancement. Without a full restoration, the film probably will never look pristine, but it's likely this is the best presentation that DVD collectors can expect for some time, and there's little cause to complain. Extras on Disc One include an introduction from Ernest Borgnine (3 min.); an edited commentary featuring film historian David J. Schow, author E.M. Nathason, and Capt. Dale Dye, with additional comments from producer Kenneth Hyman and stars Jim Brown, Trini Lopez, Stuart Cooper, and Colin Maitland; and the wonderfully dated vintage featurette "Operation Dirty Dozen," which heralds the cast's "action guys" and is in remarkably good shape (9 min.). Disc Two features the 1985 telefilm The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission starring Marvin and Borgnine, which should be considered a guilty pleasure at best. Also on board are the featurettes "Armed and Deadly: The Making of The Dirty Dozen" (30 min.), "The Filthy Thirteen: Real Stories from Behind the Lines" (41 min.), and "Marine Corps Combat Leadership Skills" (29 min.). The Dirty Dozen: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Despite a grim preview at Cannes and an expected amount of cultural backlash, Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code confirmed its blockbuster status over its first weekend, taking in $77 million to launch the summer film season, while the title's worldwide revenues reached $224 million. Paramount/DreamWorks's animated Over the Hedge also had a strong opening with $37.2 million for second place, while LionsGate's See No Evil mustered $4.3 million, taking the sixth spot on the box-office chart. Nonetheless, critics were not enthralled with Howard's European thriller, giving it mostly poor reviews, while Evil was universally panned. Hedge took in positive notices, and likely will carry momentum into its second weekend.
In continuing release, Paramount's Mission: Impossible III may be considered an underperformer in some circles, but it has vaulted the $100 million mark after three sessions, while Sony's RV starring Robin Williams has done strong business, clearing $50 and holding a top-five spot after one month in theaters. Fox's Just My Luck starring Lindsay Lohan is on the midlist, carrying just $10.4 million so far. And Freestyle's An American Haunting has managed $13.6 million in three frames. Meanwhile, off to DVD prep is New Line's Hoot, which garnered a disappointing $6.2 million before dropping from sight.
Al Gore's environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth arrives in theaters this Wednesday, while the Memorial Day weekend sees just one wide release, X-Men: The Last Stand. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews this week from the gang include Transamerica, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, London, Harlan County, U.S.A.: The Criterion Collection, Viridiana: The Criterion Collection, The Dirty Dozen: Special Edition, and Hollow Man 2. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 16 May 2006
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: The folks at Buena Vista stick it to film snobs everywhere this week by releasing an "Unrated Extended Version" of Con Air which said film snobs probably will go out and buy, simply because it kicks nine kinds of ass. And while they're at it, Unrated Extended Versions of Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State are also on the shelves today. Fox also sends DVD fans digging for their credit cards with Napoleon Dynamite: Like The Best Special Edition Ever!, a two-disc set that's almost worth the price of admission just for Napoleon and Pedro's Utah State Fair TV commercials. Meanwhile, fresh from theaters are Universal's The Producers and Something New, Sony's When a Stranger Calls, Fox's The Ringer, and The Weinstein Company's Doogal. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 15 May 2006
Disc of the Week: Film critics are generally regarded as snobs who heap praise on pretentious art movies and tedious foreign releases while dismissing popular entertainment as "popcorn movies" or worse. And it's true that there are reviewers who take just such a stance, showing off their Film Studies educations by habitually referencing John Ford or Sergei Eisenstein and turning up their noses at movies drafted purely for mass-market consumption. Ultimately, it all comes down to taste and it can be argued that films should be judged not on a level playing field but individually, on their own merit. Zoolander shouldn't be assessed with the same yardstick as, say, Cries and Whispers. Both are good movies, but their purposes are radically different. Instead we might ask if a film reaches what it sets out to accomplish, and in the field of testosterone-drenched, guy-centric action flicks, producer Jerry Bruckheimer is the genre's master. Having masterminded a catalog of movies that reward ticket-buyers' expectations of car chases, shoot-outs, helicopter crashes, propane-tank explosions, and some de rigeur deeply felt male bonding, they are virtually a category unto themselves. Top Gun, Bad Boys, Crimson Tide, The Rock, Armageddon, Enemy of the State, Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down, and National Treasure are just a handful of over 60 films in the Bruckheimer oeuvre. And while each has a memorable quality, it's 1997's Con Air that's the most deliciously self-conscious Bruckheimer picture. With a cast of actors usually not seen in action flicks, a script that hits every expected plot point then piles on eight more, and a bombastic conclusion that's so huge, loud, and silly that it leaves the viewer giggling at the audacity of it all, Con Air is a perverse take on the traditional action film, offering over-the-the-top Bruckheimer goodness with an ironic wink at the audience.
In one of cinema's most efficient ten minutes of exposition, we meet Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage), a U.S. Army Ranger who gets into a fight with some drunk stereotypes in a bar on his first night home. Using his mad Ranger skills, he kills them barehanded and, as he has the worst defense attorney in history, goes to prison for eight years. In a Ken Burns-style voiceover we hear Poe's letters home to his wife and infant daughter, read in his abominable southern accent, as he does push-ups and pull-ups and other impressive feats of strength in his cell while his hair grows long. On the day of his parole, he's loaded onto a plane for transport to another prison and comments aloud that "somehow they managed to get every creep and freak in the universe on this one plane.'' Those freaks include ostensibly insane multiple murderer Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich), black militant Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones (Ving Rhames), mass murderer William "Billy Bedlam" Bedford (Nick Chinlund), rapist "Johnny-23" Baca (Danny Trejo), and a mysterious serial killer that's trundled onboard in restraints Hannibal Lecter-style known as "The Marietta Mangler." Coordinating the flight on the ground is U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack), who butts heads of course! with asshat DEA agent Duncan Malloy (Colm Meaney). Malloy's got a man on the flight undercover in hopes of getting information out of a talkative inmate, and he doesn't like ceding authority to college-boy Larkin. But as soon as the plane is wheels-up, the group of cons swing into ridiculously well-planned action they take over the aircraft with the intent of off-loading the first group of prisoners as scheduled and then continuing on to a desert airstrip where they'll escape in a waiting jet. Poe just wants to get home for his daughter's eighth birthday party, but he's torn his cellmate (Mykelti Williamson), the one who saved him during a fiery prison riot, is also on board and in need of an insulin injection. So Poe rejects a chance to leave the plane at the first stop, choosing instead to stay with the hijackers, try to help his friend, and hopefully foil the airborne escape.
The first hint that Con Air is a different take on the standard action picture is the film's cast Cusack and Malkovich aren't the sort of actors that one associates with this sort of thing, after all. Cage followed his 1996 Oscar win for Leaving Las Vegas with the one-two punch of The Rock and Con Air, and he still seems like an odd choice for this role. And after the introduction of "The Marietta Mangler," chained, masked and gagged, transported via armored vehicle under heavy guard, he turns out to be Steve Buscemi. The script, credited to Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity), naturally includes all of the standard Bruckheimer conventions. There's the sappy pop song that accompanies Poe's moments with his wife ("How Can I Live Without You" sung by Trisha Yearwood), the not-quite-homoerotic love between men contrasted with the whose-is-bigger conflicts of Poe/Cyrus and Larkin/Malloy, all presented alongside gunplay, explosions, and gleefully creative deaths. But Rosenberg adds a dose of wit to the exercise, making this outing a tad funnier and more knowing than the condescending foolishness of most action films. Malkovich, playing light comedy with occasional outbursts of menace, gets many of the best lines, as when he wryly tells Johnny-23, "I despise rapists. For me, they're somewhere between a cockroach and that white stuff that accumulates at the corners of your mouth when you're really thirsty." Cage gets some good stuff too, and his command to Billy Bedlam when he manhandles the stuffed toy intended for Poe's daughter ("Put the bunny back in the box ") is the movie's most memorable moment. The final 10 minutes is outlandish, with no fewer than three false endings after the plane skids for what seems like several miles down the Las Vegas strip, taking out neon casino signs, cars, and passersby in its wake and finally offering the spectacle of Cusack battling Malkovich hand-to-hand atop a speeding firetruck. This is movie entertainment in its most basic form, a film that not only delivers what it promises but dishes up far more than any audience could reasonably expect.
Buena Vista Home Video's new "Unrated Extended Edition" of Con Air clocks in at 122 minutes, adding seven minutes of footage to the already R-rated film. Was the additional mayhem absolutely necessary? Sure, why not considering that the film in its original release was already an exercise in unrestrained excess, more is always better. The anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is very, very good, extremely clean and sharp with excellent color saturation. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio is equally fine, delivering every turbine spin-up, gunshot, and explosion while presenting nice, clean dialogue. Sadly, there are no extras save for Buena Vista's usual cavalcade of trailers a commentary track by Cage, Cusack, Malkovich, Rhames, and Buscemi would be a dream come true, but no such luck. Con Air: Unrated Extended Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Despite a lower-than-expected debut and a nearly 50% drop in receipts over its second weekend, Paramount's Mission Impossible 3 held on to the top spot on the box-office chart, adding $24.5 million to an $84.6 million 10-day gross. The win fended off Warner's Poseidon, which had a reported $150 million budget and debuted with $20.3 million to take second place. Also new was Fox's rom-com Just My Luck starring Lindsay Lohan, which counter-programmed the big boys for $5.5 million, while Touchstone's Goal! The Dream Begins failed to crack the top ten with just $2 million. Goal! earned mixed reviews, while critics were mixed-to-negative on Poseidon and sent Luck packing.
In continuing release, Sony's RV starring Robin Williams continues to be a popular draw, holding down third place with $42.8 million in three sessions. Freestyle's An American Haunting kept its top-five position, despite just $3.6 million over the weekend. Universal's acclaimed Flight 93 has managed $25.6 million in three weeks. And Buena Vista's Stick It now has $22.2 million in the bag. However, New Line's Hoot is struggling at the bottom of the list with only $6.2 million so far. And off to DVD prep is Fox's The Sentinel, which will finish above $30 million.
The summer season gets underway this Friday with the arrival of The Da Vinci Code, while other new titles include Over the Hedge and See No Evil. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews this week include Munich, Rumor Has It , When a Stranger Calls, The Ringer, Crimson Tide: Unrated Extended Edition, Enemy of the State: Unrated Extended Edition, Ronin: Collector's Edition, Late Spring: The Criterion Collection, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, Con Air: Unrated Extended Edition, and Napoleon Dynamite: Like The Best Special Edition Ever!. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 9 May 2006
On the Street: Something tells us a disaster is about to strike the nation's cineplexes there's no other way we can fathom this week's wave of classic hell-in-a-handbasket flicks, including Fox's two-disc The Towering Inferno: Special Edition and The Poseidon Adventure, along with Universal's Earthquake. Meanwhile, fresh from theaters are Warner's Rumor Has It , Universal's Munich and Nanny McPhee, New Line's The New World, and Fox's Big Momma's House 2 and Grandma's Boy. In the meantime, Criterion collectors can pick up François Truffaut's The 400 Blows and Yasujiro Ozu's Late Spring, while Sony's on the board with a new special edition of John Frankenheimer's Ronin. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 8 May 2006
Disc of the Week: The title for 1959's Les Quatre cents coups ("The 400 Blows") may seem cryptic at first glance, but its meaning is revelatory. It comes from a French euphemism for what is known in America as "sowing one's wild oats," or having a hell-raising adolescence. For director François Truffaut, this story of a disaffected 12-year-old was party autobiographical: Like his main character Antoine Doinel, he was a rambunctious and fatherless youth who was saved from a stint in prison by famous French critic Andre Bazin, who mentored Truffaut (along with most of the critics-turned-filmmakers from the French New Wave) and got him writing for Cahiers du Cinema. It was there that Truffaut helped define the auteur theory which cineastes still debate to this day but what he really wanted to do was direct. At first he assisted Roberto Rossellini on some abandoned works, which led to a short film, Les Mistons. Truffaut's first feature-length project was The 400 Blows, which immediately established him as a talent to be reckoned with. With fellow critic Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless released the next year (Truffaut helped come up with the story), a movement was born the French New Wave, or Nouvelle Vague. But though Truffaut moved on to literary adaptations and became one of France's most prominent directors, throughout his career he would return to Antoine Doinel (always played by Jean Pierre Léaud, whom Truffaut discovered for the part) and update his life.
The semi-fictional Antoine Doinel appeared in five of François Truffaut's films over the course of 20 years, with The 400 Blows his introduction. The film starts in the classroom, with Antoine as an unruly child who upsets his priggish teacher when he's caught looking at a pin-up girl. (In these scenes there's an echo of the classroom chaos of Jean Vigo's Zero for Conduct, though Truffaut notes in this DVD's supplements the influence of Rossellini's Germany Year Zero for its documentary presentation.) Constantly getting in trouble at school, Antoine's home life is no better. His mother Gilbrete (Claire Maurier) never wanted him, and his father Julien (Albert Remy) isn't his real father he's nice enough but dopey. With his school situation growing worse and worse, Antoine ditches class whenever he can with best friend Rene (Patrick Auffay), often to go to the movies. During one such absence he takes a carnival ride in a spinning room that resembles a zoetrope, and afterwards sees his mother carrying on with another man. This brings about a détente at home, since both have no intention of revealing their personal secrets. But after an episode where Antoine is punished for allegedly plagiarizing Balzac, he decides to run away for good. However, the only way for him to make money is to steal, and even with Rene's help he's not a natural criminal. Thus, Antoine is caught. And when his family says they can't control him any more, he's placed into social services.
François Truffaut alleged that cinema saved his life, and he often said he only wanted to see films about the joy or agony of making movies. With The 400 Blows, he lived up to his goal and paid in full whatever debt he owes to filmgoing it's simply one of the cinema's most penetrating works about adolescent alienation. Truffaut was part of the first generation of filmmakers raised on movies, and because he knew what he loved in film, his voice seems fully realized straight out of the gate. He had a playful formalist streak, which was more apparent in his follow-up efforts, such as Shoot the Piano Player (1960) and Jules and Jim (1962), but Blows is, as essayist Annette Insdorf calls it, "an exorcism of personal experience," which led to a very stripped down and raw production. Truffaut used practical locations and shot the film in a simple but elegant style that relied upon longer takes. Such shows off the picture's many grace notes, such as an overhead shot of a teacher leading a class down the streets of Paris, only to have the students stray off at each intersection, eventually leaving him with only two pupils, and the sequence in the zoetrope, where the camera switches to Antoine's point of view as he shifts his body. Antoine's fate is ambiguous at the end of the story, but it's no surprise that Truffaut had to return, to continually check up on his fictional recreation, to follow his careers in work and love. Though Antoine Doinel is a work of Truffaut's imagination, he also was a surrogate for both Truffaut and star Jean Pierre Léaud as well. In fact, it was such a powerful role that when Léaud has been cast by directors like Olivier Assayas, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Tsai Ming-liang, it's usually as a nod to his most famous screen persona, and to Truffaut's influence over a new generation of cineastes-turned-directors.
The Criterion Collection presents The 400 Blows on DVD in its fourth digital edition. The movie was first released under the Criterion folio on Laserdisc, and then as one of their initial non-anamorphic DVDs (spine #5), but it went out of print when Fox Lorber released a whole run of Truffaut discs. The film was then restored to The Criterion Collection for their "Adventures of Antoine Doinel" box-set this disc is a reissue of the single-disc version, but with the improved transfer from the box-set release. It's presented in a stunning anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a very good black-and-white source-print with the original French mono soundtrack (DD 1.0) and optional English subtitles. Extras include two commentaries, the first by cinema professor Brian Stonehill, and the second by Truffaut's friend Robert Lachenay, which is presented in French with optional English subtitles. In the "Psychological profile" section there's audition footage of Léaud and some of the other children (6 min.) and footage from Cannes in 1959, where Truffaut won the best director award (6 min.). Interviews with the director can be found in "Cineastes de notre temps" (23 min.) and in "Cinepanorama" (7 min.), while the feature-set is rounded out by the film's theatrical trailer. The 400 Blows: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Paramount's Mission: Impossible III starring Tom Cruise took the top spot on the weekend box-office chart, as expected but the film's $48 million gross reportedly was around $10 million shy of studio expectations, and not only was it less than last year's War of the Worlds starring Cruise, which had a $65 million break, but also Mission: Impossible 2's $58 million debut six years ago. Other new arrivals included Freestyle's An American Haunting, which only needed $6.3 million to land in third place, while New Line's family film Hoot skidded into ninth place with $3.4 million. Critics liked MI3, while Haunting and Hoot earned mixed-to-negative notices.
In continuing release, last week's winner RV starring Robin Williams notched down to second place, adding $11.1 million to $31 million overall. Buena Vista's Stick It slipped to fourth with $17.9 million after two sessions, while Universal's powerful United 93 has cleared $20 million and holds fifth place. Fox's pre-summer blockbuster Ice Age: The Meltdown has racked up $183.2 million in just six weeks, while Sony's thriller Silent Hill has cleared $40 million. However, LionsGate's Akeelah and the Bee is on a fast fade, dropping to ninth place with $10.6 million in the bag. And off to DVD prep is Universal's Inside Man, which will break $85 million.
New films in the 'plexes this Friday include Poseidon starring Josh Lucas, Just My Luck with Lindsay Lohan, and Goal! The Dream Begins. 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 New World, The Towering Inferno: Special Edition, Grandma's Boy, Sweet Bird of Youth, The 400 Blows: The Criterion Collection, and Tennessee Williams' South. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 2 May 2006
In the Works: Here's a few new disc announcements, courtesy of Amazon.com and additional staff reports:
On the Street: The gang at Warner Home Video keeps the hits coming, this week with The Tennessee Williams Film Collection, which includes new special editions of A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, as well as Baby Doll, The Night of the Iguana, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, and Sweet Bird of Youth. Also new from Warner is The Lucy and Desi Collection, which includes Vincente Minnelli's The Long, Long Trailer. Meanwhile, also making the list are Fox's The Family Stone, The Weinstein Company's Hoodwinked, Buena Vista's Delicatessen, and the A&E telefilm Flight 93. Here's this morning's notable street discs, available at Amazon.com:
Monday, 1 May 2006
Disc of the Week: Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) is a rare Hollywood specimen one of the few feature films to be adapted from an original Broadway production without a mark on it. Not that it was always going to be that way. At this point in his career, Kazan was dividing his time between the New York stage and Hollywood, but he initially was drawn to the Warner film project because of its possibilities now, after originating the play on stage, he could explore the back-story of Blanche DuBois, and perhaps some of the New Orleans settings as well. But Kazan's original treatment was quickly abandoned, and little of it remains on film, save for Blanche's arrival at the train station and her first look at Stanley Kowalski in a bowling alley. After all, the play is the thing and instead of trying to make a film of Tennessee Williams's masterpiece, Kazan instead decided to focus his cameras on the story's intimate power. He actually wanted the walls to sweat in the summer humidity, and while this special effect didn't make it on screen, he did manage to achieve a notable trompe l'oeil by making the set smaller as the film progressed, until it became a claustrophobic house of mirrors. But even as a cinematic rendition, the 1948 stage production of Desire emerges from a time-capsule every time the film is seen, save for Jessica Tandy, who was replaced by Vivien Leigh. Leigh had played Blanche on the London stage but like Tandy, she was upstaged by a twentysomething unknown who caught Kazan's eye in a small Broadway role. The director looked up Marlon Brando and gave him $20 to go see Tennessee Williams on Cape Cod, hoping for the writer's approval. Three days later, Brando still had not arrived, but he would soon after he had spent the twenty bucks on food and hitchhiked.
A potent brew of fear, rage, jealousy, and sexual tension, A Streetcar Named Desire was Tennessee Williams' second Broadway success, following on the heels of The Glass Menagerie. Leigh stars as Blanche DuBois, a no-longer-young woman who takes a leave of absence from her job as a high school English teacher for an extended visit with her younger sister Stella (Kim Hunter) in New Orleans. At first, Blanche is surprised at her sister's run-down two-room flat in the French Quarter the two had grown up together in the south's deep-rooted aristocracy at a manor called Belle Reeve. But if Blanche is willing to accept some adjustments, she hardly knows what to think of Stella's husband Stanley (Brando), a controlling, temperamental blue-collar lout who doesn't cotton to Blanche's sophisticated airs. What's more, he's convinced that she's cheated her sister, and thus him, out of the family fortune when it's revealed that Belle Reeve has been "lost." While in New Orleans, Blanche manages to strike up a romance with Stanley's best friend Mitch (Karl Malden), who has an appealing sensitive side. But Stanley continues digging into Blanche's past which, it turns out, is full of secrets.
Late in rehearsals for the stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire, a worried Elia Kazan told Tennessee Williams that the entire play was about to become "The Marlon Brando Show." New York actors who dropped by for the early previews couldn't say enough about the young discovery, although Williams reassured Kazan that everything was fine. Nonetheless, Brando's white-hot performance tends to undermine the script's collective nature Stanley's unpredictable menace commands our attention, and he toys with our sympathies. Yes, he's brutal, but his distrust of Blanche has some merit. Moreover, Williams' subversive sense of humor, combined with Brando's delivery, offers Stanley the script's best moments of comic relief, uncomfortable as they may be. "That there is a solid gold dress!" he insists as he rifles through Blanche's steamer trunk, and if we're bemused by his plate-smashing antics at the dinner table, it's something of a comfort to know that Williams himself found it funny. Stanley doesn't just challenge Blanche he challenges the audience itself, from the moment that he first appears on screen and howls like a cat, to his very real and childlike vulnerability, to the final moments, when he appears beyond redemption. It's a credit to any cast than can keep up. Leigh's turn as Blanche brought the film its necessary star-power, here an entire universe of neuroses and insecurities somehow buried inside one solitary woman, complete with public and private personas, where she alternates between singsong conversation and raw desperation. It's somewhat easier to sympathize with Kim Hunter as Stella, who seems far more self-aware than her sister, even if her marriage reveals her to be a thrill-seeker. And Karl Malden earned a well-deserved Oscar as Mitch, a man so smitten with Blanche that he becomes a little boy around her, quoting his exact height and weight. Mitch's romance of Blanche appears to be the polar opposite of Stanley and Stella's, at least until it unravels. Stella is far more confident of her husband's devotion, and while Brando's shouted "Hey, Stella!!" is the easiest of Old Hollywood impersonations, it offers a glimpse inside their private bond illustrating just how much Blanche's presence has upset the natural order of things.
Warner Home Video's DVD release of A Streetcar Named Desire: Special Edition replaces the previously released bare-bones edition with a two-disc set. As with the original disc, the "Original Director's Version" is included, featuring material that did not make it past the Hays Office for the film's theatrical release. The full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) is solid, featuring a pristine black-and-white source-print and Dolby Digital 1.0 audio. Film historians Rudy Behlmer Jeff Young, along with star Karl Malden, can be heard on the Disc One commentary, while Disc Two offers a wealth of additional features, including the documentary Elia Kazan: A Director's Journey (75 min.), the featurettes "A Streetcar on Broadway" (21 min.), "A Streetcar in Hollywood" (28 min.), "Censorship and Desire" (16 min.), "North and the Music of the South" (9 min.), "An Actor Named Brando" (8 min.), and "Marlon Brando Screen Test" (5 min.), as well as outtakes (15 min.) and audio outtakes (17 min.). A Streetcar Named Desire: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: New films enjoyed a strong weekend at the box-office, led by Robin Williams in Sony's RV, which took in $16.4 million for the top spot. However, Universal's United 93 was the most-talked-about title of the week, and despite its distressing subject it brought in $11.6 million to take second place. And Buena Vista's gymnastics movie Stick It was good for third with $11.2 million. Only LionsGate's Akeelah and the Bee struggled, debuting in eighth place with $6.2 million. Critics praised United 93 and Akeelah, while Stick It and RV skewed mixed-to-negative.
In continuing release, Sony's thriller Silent Hill notched down to fourth place after one week at the top, adding $9.3 million to $34.2 million after ten days, while The Weinstein Company's Scary Movie 4 has racked up $78.1 million in three frames. Fox's The Sentinel is on the midlist after one week with $25.5 million in the bag, followed by Ice Age: The Meltdown, which leads all contenders with $177.7 million overall. With $52 million to its credit, The Benchwarmers has gotten the better of its critics. However, Sony's Friends With Money is going nowhere fast, holding down just $8.1 million after expanding to wide release. And off to DVD prep much faster that we expected is American Dreamz starring Hugh Grant and Dennis Quaid, which will have to earn new fans on home video.
The summer film season gets underway this weekend with the arrival of Mission: Impossible III starring Tom Cruise and Philip Seymour Hoffman, while those brave enough to counterprogram include An American Haunting and the family film Hoot. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews this week include Match Point, The Family Stone, Hoodwinked, Tristan + Isolde, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: Deluxe Edition, Baby Doll, A Streetcar Named Desire: Special Edition, and The Night of the Iguana. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.