Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
It’s going to be a slightly strange day here at the DVD Shelf.
Sure, we’re going to run the list of new releases worth paying attention to, same as we do every week. But we’re also going to run an interview with the writer/director of one of this week’s titles as a way of sort of shining a spotlight on it, and it may surprise some of you who remember my review of SERENITY from earlier this year. As I said there, I liked the movie, but the fans were starting to freak me out, and they got even worse after that piece ran. I had to change my phone service for a while because of some of the truly crazy calls we were we getting here at the Labs, and it soured me a bit on fandom in general, and Whedon fans especially.
But the truth is... I’m fascinated by Whedon and the way he keeps building franchises. I like his work. And when Universal asked if I wanted to chat with him about the DVD release of the film, I took the opportunity for what it was. Frankly, I was surprised he wanted to talk to me. I’ll have the full text of that interview at the end of today’s column.
I’ve neglected my DVD blog for just over a week now, and it’s a shame. I have a ton of stuff to run on it, but I’ve been dealing with a righteous back injury since I got home from Austin, and sitting in a chair for more than an hour at a time leaves me crying right now. To make it through THE NEW WORLD or MUNICH in the theater, I had to munch muscle relaxants like M&M’s. Putting this column together today scares me, because I know how long it normally takes. Let’s get moving, then, so maybe I can salvage some feeling in my spine come sun-up. It’s not a huge list today, but there are some highlights in this, the last shopping week before Christmas. Anything with an asterisk (*) is already here in the house, and everything else will be picked up and brought home in the next few days.
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: SEASON 2.0
When I finally sat down and watched that SEASON ONE DVD box for this show, I fell head over heels in love with it. I think it’s not just a great SF show, but a great show. They’ve set up some genuine mysteries that keep you hooked, and they’ve created a cast of characters worth investing in. And the cliffhanger at the end of that first box set… my god, talk about leaving you all revved up with no place to go. Everything that was potentially interesting about the original GALACTICA has been fully realized with this show, and it’s a great example of taking something that was played broad and making it better by taking the material seriously. I wish they weren’t releasing the second season in two halves, but I get it. They want me to start watching it when it airs, and this gives me a chance to catch up. Count me in.
*THE BROTHERS GRIMM
I beat the hell out of this film in my review of it, so you may ask why I’d recommend the DVD. Well, I know that many of you don’t buy the titles I list here, but instead add them to your Netflix lists or rent them somewhere else, and if you’re at all curious, THE BROTHERS GRIMM is worth a look. You might find yourself just as irritated by the missed opportunities as I was, or you might just groove on the little hints and flashes of Gilliam hidden among the mess. But I don’t think I could ever in good conscience tell people to skip a Gilliam film completely. Even a train crash like this is worth at least a glance. And, for hardcore fans of the filmmaker, there’s a commentary track that seems fairly self-aware and not deluded about the quality of the film. It’s interesting stuff, and the disc looks and sounds very good. If you can see it cheap, give it a try.
*CHICAGO: THE RAZZLE DAZZLE EDITION
This is one of those rare double-dips where they went out of their way to jampack the disc with extra features. If you’re a fan of the film, you can’t go wrong with this release, because there’s an exhaustive amount of material about how this was translated from stage to screen. There’s a really lovely tribute to Jerry Orbach on the disc as well, and overall, it’s as complete a record of the development of the film as you’re ever likely to get on home video. It lives up to its title.
I’m glad that Universal sent me the unrated edition of this film, but I have to admit… every time I’ve picked it up to watch it, something else has caught my attention first, and I keep setting it back down. I’ve just got to be in a very specific mood to watch another teens-getting-killed movie at this point. I do like the fact that the DVD has some of the short films on it that got the producer and director team the attention of Universal in the first place. That should be valuable for aspiring filmmakers to see. Once I see the actual film, I’m sure I’ll review it over on the blog. I’m just not sure when that’ll be...
THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE
Here’s another one I missed in theaters this year that I’m curious about now that it’s coming home. Again, there’s an unrated edition, which seems to be the trend with horror films, and I’m curious to see if it plays like an unrated film or not. I liked the trailers for this one, and it’s got a pretty solid cast, so I’m sure I’ll give it a spin in the next few. It sounds like it manages to avoid many of the problems that make most teen-based horror films unwatchable for me at this point, and that there are some genuine ideas going on here.
I really, really don’t like John Singleton movies. I think this guy’s dropped the ball with almost every major opportunity he’s been given. Yet, somehow, he managed to deliver a pretty solid, if ridiculous, piece of exploitation fare with this loose remake of THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER. Most of that is due to the cast. Mark Walhberg plays his role with a lunkheaded sincerity that’s hard to dislike, and Andre Benjamin proves that he’s not just charismatic when he’s singing. Tyrese does a better job here than normal, and Garrett Hedlund also does good work. They play four adopted sons of the same mother, and when she’s killed in what is alleged to be a random liquor store robbery, they get together to track down whoever was responsible, uncovering a larger conspiracy in the process. There’s a great car chase scene and a really well-done shoot-out towards the end. It’s all sort of absurd, but Singleton makes it propulsive, compulsive fun, and I’d certainly say it’s worth a peek.
THE GREAT RAID
Another 2005 release that I missed, and one of the titles I need to catch up on before I write my Favorite Films Of 2005 list. I know many people that enjoyed how old-fashioned this movie was. I dig a good war film, and I’m willing to give this one a chance because I hear it’s sincere. That counts with me, and the true story is a fascinating one, so I hope the film delivers.
*MUST LOVE DOGS
I see a lot of the crappy romantic comedies released each year I see them because I am invited to the press screenings and, nine times out of ten, it’s Mrs. Moriarty who opens the mail. Most of them are worse than you think they are, and I find myself considering what it would take to fake my own death just to escape the theater. Here’s one we didn’t see in the theater, but we caught up with it on disc the other night, and thanks to writer/director Gary David Goldberg (FAMILY TIES), it’s not as bad as the genre normally can be. You’ve got to give most of the credit to John Cusack and Diane Lane, who are both about as appealing as they could possibly be, as well as sharper-than-average dialogue. Yes, it ends up adhering completely to the formula that all of these films follow, but along the way, it offers up a few gentle pleasures before finally getting totally soggy. If you’re charged with finding one of these and you want one that won’t give you a headache for the full running time, keep this title in mind.
I like the premise of this one. It sounds like an intriguing little psychological thriller. A woman (Courteney Cox) waits in the car one night while her boyfriend goes into a convenience store. He’s shot and killed. She never sees the shooter’s face. As time passes, someone begins to send her pictures of the store, and she finds herself reliving that night, over and over, looking for some kind of closure about what happened, some way to fix things. I’ve heard enough good about it, and they bothered to send me one, so the least I can do is give it a chance. Let’s hope for the best.
First question: what’s with that lame, lame, lame cover? Is it really that hard for home video departments to put together appealing artwork for the front of a DVD? I guess it’s what they put on the disc that actually matters, but I’ve heard even Joss Whedon is embarrassed by the art they chose for this. What I’m most interested in is his commentary track. The preview disc I was sent does not have the commentary on it, and that’s a shame. That’s the first thing I wanted to play. The transfer looks and sounds great, though, and there are some other extras that were worthwhile, like the deleted scenes (all interesting) and the documentaries, which actually do a fairly complete job of breaking down the production. Good stuff, and we’ll talk more about it below.
*SEVEN MEN FROM NOW
What a great title. This is a Budd Boetticher classic that I’ve never seen, but I’ve long admired how evocative that title is. I’m so glad Paramount put this out, and it’ll most likely be the next thing in the player here at the Labs. This was one of Boetticher’s first films with Randolph Scott, and it sounds like Paramount has done everything they could to restore the film visually and to put together some extras that properly honor the filmmaker. I’ll definitely have a full review of this one up soon.
ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER
21 HOURS IN MUNICH
Eager to see Spielberg’s MUNICH? I just got a look at it earlier tonight, and I’d highly recommend you pick up ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER, an Academy-Award-winning documentary about the Olympic massacre, to give yourself the proper background for the movie. 21 HOURS IN MUNICH is a TV movie dramatization of the events, released in 1976, when it was still fresh in many people’s minds. The documentary is the way to go if you want a great, well-researched look at the incident itself. Spielberg’s movie only briefly touches on the events, choosing to focus most of its running time on what happened after, so arming yourself with some of the backstory is probably a good idea if you want to really enjoy the nuances of the new film. Even if you don’t plan to see Spielberg’s movie, ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER is riveting and incredibly well-made, and well worth your time.
So... like I said... short week. The day Joss Whedon called me to do our interview, I was in the middle of something else and had lost track of the time. I was totally unprepared for him. The phone rang, I picked it up while trying to see my writing partner to the door, and realized it was the Universal publicist with Joss waiting on the line. I ran back to my office and tried to turn on the speaker phone while also fumbling a fresh tape into my recorder...
… and managed to hang up on Whedon completely. I waited a few moments, and thankfully, they called back. This time, I managed to get all the equipment set up properly, and we jumped right into our conversation:
MORIARTY: Hi. Sorry about that. Terribly sorry. Oops. (pause while they connect Joss). Hi, Joss. Nice to speak with you finally. I know you’ve had several interactions with Hercules The Strong over the years, but we’ve never really had a chance to talk before. I wanted to start by asking you your feelings about the telescoped release window of SERENITY on DVD. Three months after it was in theaters seems like a landspeed record. Do you feel like the studio supported you properly in the theater?
JOSS WHEDON: Well, when you say you want to talk about the quick release...
M: Do you feel like there’s still a unique theatrical experience you create for an audience, or do you feel like this quick release window encourages people to just wait for video at this point?
JW: Ultimately, yes, that is the devil of the quick release. Knowing that you’re going to be able to see it in three months in the privacy of your own home, which is where I watch most movies, definitely hurts attendance. Absolutely. But that seems to be a common thread. But the fact of the matter is that the movie left theaters a little more quickly than I had hoped anyway, so the DVD release isn’t bellied up against it as much as it could be. It’s a problem, but it seems to be the strategy, and now Soderbergh’s experimenting with day-and-date releases.
M: I saw that. I’ve also heard rumors that you’re talking about a line of Buffyverse titles that would be direct-to-DVD.
JW: I’m talking about it. Don’t know if it’s going to happen, but I am talking.
M: I think it’s a really valid form if you know there’s a certain-sized audience that’s out there looking for these stories. You’ve definitely reaped the benefits of what happens when there’s a groundswell of support for a DVD title. When FIREFLY came out, I know I bought several of the boxes and gave them away to people who hadn’t seen the show because I thought it was a great way to make the case for the series. You just hand it to someone and say, “Watch it.” I think with DVD, there’s an ability to build an audience over time instead of having to count on one weekend.
JW: Yeah, it’s, uh… I mean, I see the benefits, but you do hurt the other thing. Every now and then I’ll watch a DVD and go, “Okay, I blew it. That was a theatrical experience I should have had.” And I made this movie to be big. I made this movie to be enjoyed with a crowd on a big screen. Ultimately, everyone who makes a movie does that, but this specifically was designed to be a grand adventure. And it’s the kind of movie I want people to see on DVD and go, “Man, I wish I’d seen that in the theater.” Because you want to reach that level of spectacle and heightened emotion. You want to make it worth being a movie. That’s still a concept that exists beyond the DVD and the DVD market. The movie. The moviegoing experience. However, yeah, the DVD in itself is such a powerful force for storytelling, especially as a tool for bypassing a studio and a network and going directly to the audience. That’s a very intriguing concept for an artist.
M: When I was looking back recently at the work that Stan Lee did in the ‘60s, creating one giant franchise after another, working with Kirby and Ditko, turning out these great iconic characters one right after another, I don’t think he really had any sense of the scale of what he was creating or how it might endure. He just kept creating these things that still hold up to new interpretation 30 or even 40 years later. It seems like it’s rare for people to turn out that many franchises in a row. So far, with the Buffyverse and now with FIREFLY and SERENITY, you’ve set up these stories that you’re able to continue to explore in comics and in movies and in TV shows. Is this something you work at consciously, this sort of franchise-building, or do you find that you are just drawn to stories and characters that refuse to be neatly contained in one simple package?
JW: It’s a little bit of both. Obviously, I studied at the feet of Stan Lee. How can you not if you’re of my generation? The way he tells stories was so exciting and so inventive and so human, and it absolutely hooked me on serialized storytelling in a way that television never did. Comic books were my soap operas. And I think of franchises, and I think of universes the way Marvel has a universe, or the way DC has a universe, and I think of the Buffyverse or the Fireflyverse like that. I definitely think in broader terms like that, but at the end of the day, that’s me having fun. That’s just great, but you have to look at the heart of the one story that you’re trying to tell, each and every time. You can’t coast on the fact that you created these other things, and you can’t assume that people are going to care just because of some formula. You can’t go there. You have to shake it up. You have to challenge yourself. You have to find the next story every time, and I’m not just talking about the next franchise idea. I’m talking about the next episode of whatever it is you’re doing. You have to keep your eye on the ball and turn out the next issue or episode or film or whatever it is, and if you spend too much time thinking about “Maybe this will be great,” then it probably won’t. Ultimately, someone like Stan Lee latched into something, and his collaborators latched into something, that was like finding a vein of gold in a mountain. They just tapped into something really important. Everyone would like to do that. I don’t think I’ll ever work on quite as high a level as that, but that’s what we’re all trying to do, I think. Those of us working in the genre, certainly.
M: You’ve had great success with your run on X-MEN, and currently you’re gearing up for WONDER WOMAN. These are other people’s franchises you’re playing with now, and you get to go back to your roots. You say that comic books you’re your soap operas. Well, now instead of simply doing your variation on the form, you’re actually playing with these iconic characters. Is that really gratifying for you?