Saturday, June 30, 2007

It's my MEME and it freaks me out!

I can take a hint. Lucas at 100 Films and Alan at Burbanked have conspired to get me to do another meme. The rules of this one:

  1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts
  2. I have to start with eight random facts/habits about myself
  3. People who are tagged write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules
  4. At the end of this post, I need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
Sure, I'll do it -- but one catch: only five of mine are true, can you guess which ones?

1. I own the publishing rights to nine Black Oak Arkansas songs. It started out with me buying one on a lark, but now I can barely go a month without acquiring another.

2. My family lived briefly in Santa Barbara, Calif., and I went to preschool with Kenny Loggins' son, Crosby. The school was filled with spoiled brats, but he was the only one who wore a custom-molded Tron costume for Halloween. At the time I had no idea who his dad was, but when Crosby spoke of his father's fame, I assured him that my dad was much more famous than his (he accepted this at face value).

3. I'm a terrible music fan. I like music and all, but I never seek out new artists the way I do movies, and I'm ashamed to admit how few CDs and MP3s I own. Also, the few CDs I do buy are only for one or two songs and I never have the courage to listen to the rest of the album. It's always been this way: when I was growing up, I would just listen to whatever my younger brother was into at the time.

4. I don't read books. Never have, despite the fact that my parents, many of my relatives and my wife devour books like Eskimo Pies. On the few occasions that I do set out to read a book, it's a huge ordeal and takes much longer than it should. I read multiple newspapers each day and tons of news online, but not books -- I've accepted this as part of my personality.

5. In 1998, a casual argument resulted in my friend Carl falling into a volcano -- possibly as a result of my selfish actions -- and a glob of hot magma spewed out from his splashdown and hit me in the neck. I have made peace with this event, but every year since on the anniversary of the incident the scar on my neck turns black.

6. I try to get up every morning at 4 a.m. to watch a movie. This usually sounds crazy to people (including my wife), but with my current schedule it's really the most convenient time to do this. I started this ritual as a New Year's resolution to watch more movies and so far it's been a great success.

7. After a lifetime of denial, I finally started drinking coffee this year. Somewhere in my life I wasn't going to be a coffee drinker, and subsequently grew so dependent on a daily Red Bull that it had little effect on me by the time I went cold turkey. Needless to say, I'm living a richer life with coffee in my diet.

8. Because I was born on Old Witch Hat Mountain, I am one of the handful of people that are able to see the mythical structure when it appears biennially on June 25, floating above Ontario, Calif.

Now I'm required to "tag" eight other losers, but I'm just going to give a blanket call out to any Friday Screen Test alumni who haven't had the honor yet.

Die, Hard Drive!

While watching Live Free or Die Hard, two questions kept going through my head: Does the world still need John McClain? and Does the world still need Die Hard movies? After exiting, I'm pretty sure that the answers are "no" and "yes."

I'll explain the former answer first: Live Free or Die Hard does pretty well without McClain, it has a great story and might have been a better movie without the Die Hard label and the constraints that come with it. If it had been made in the style of The 39 Steps or North by Northwest where a pair of truly ordinary people solved the crisis, there would be more opportunities for greatness. As an action movie, Live Free is very good. As a Die Hard movie, it's pretty average.

Live Free's greatest asset is its source material, a 1997 Wired article entitled A Farewell to Arms, which describes how the U.S. could be vulnerable to a digital attack. Consider these cryptic quotes from the article's opening:

From former National Security Agency director John McConnell: "We're more vulnerable than any other nation on earth." Or former CIA deputy director William Studeman: "Massive networking makes the US the world's most vulnerable target" ("and the most inviting," he might have added). Or former US Deputy Attorney General Jaime Gorelick: "We will have a cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor at some point, and we do not want to wait for that wake-up call."

And the Pentagon brass? They commissioned their old RAND think-tank friends, who combed through the Day After results and concluded, "The more time one spent on this subject, the more one saw tough problems lacking concrete solutions and, in some cases, lacking even good ideas about where to start."

Live Free is different from your average action movie because it can establish genuine fear. When hackers start manipulating traffic signals to cripple Washington, D.C.'s transportation system, you wonder why it hasn't happened yet -- same goes for their activity surrounding the Eastern Power Hub in West Virginia (this aspect may actually be fictional, as there is no city of 'Middleton' in West Virginia, and I haven't been able to find anything on Google relating to a central power hub for the East Coast). Like the Wired article said, there appears to be no real answers to what the hackers are able to do in Live Free, and you start to wonder just how McClain figures into the solution. Many of the scenes find McClain twiddling his thumbs while Matt Farrell (Justin Long) hammers away on his roll-up keyboard. McClain conceivably supplies the muscle in their relationship, but most of his action scenes seem forced, as without the Die Hard label they probably wouldn't have been in the movie.

But the world needs Die Hard? I say yes. It had been too long since we have experienced the kind of characters only Die Hard can bring us: the Female Villain Who is Not as Defenseless as She Looks (but cannot hear a 50-year old man sprinting toward her from behind in a closed room), the Villain Whose Skill Becomes His Undoing (Jungle Boy in the ventilation room) or the shot of Bruce Willis Grinning While Dripping Blood and Reloading His Gun. In this resurgence of comic book, horror and CGI movies these kind of standbys often get left in the cold, but you can always count on a Die Hard to remind us of them.

This was usually a good thing, but it seems like the comic book movies may have affected the Die Hard franchise like John McTiernan slipping on Green Lantern's Power Ring. This manifests itself in the form of the aforementioned FVWNDSL slipping in and out of She-Hulk mode, especially the time she gets hit head-on by a truck going at least 40 mph without even coughing. The hacker villains' abilities sometimes rival that of Galactus, able to shut down power to vast expanses of cities but still retaining the ability to power up an individual elevator in the blacked out area at their whim. The hackers' god-like powers hurt much of the credibility established by Live Free's great story: at one point they gain control of a webcam in a character's house and make it point in their desired direction (I didn't realize webcams had the kind of motor mechanisms that would enable such a move -- and should I be worried about a hacker gaining control of my refrigerator and directing it to run me over?).

Die Hard movies have never really gone for realism, but the aforementioned trips into fantasyland seem to amend the movie's rule book as it goes along. The biggest damage the digital terrorism does to McClain is that he's not fighting something tangible -- the viewers have to imagine like he does that trillions of pieces of code are infiltrating the U.S. and crippling it. There's no central horde of villains carrying out the evil deed, it's a bunch of programs designed by hackers hundreds of miles away. In this sense, I wish the Wired article had been adapted for a non-Die Hard storyline. We still need Die Hard movies, but we also need McClain to be working in his native habitat.

Friday, June 29, 2007


Peet Gelderblom directs, edits and develops commercials, TV programs and broadcast design ... in Amsterdam! This means that when he first saw Pulp Fiction and listened to John Travolta wax on about Dutch French fries and mayonnaise, Peet probably nodded his head appreciatively since he most likely had just indulged in that culinary tradition! But there's much more to Peet than commercials and mayonnaise, he keeps up the wonderful pop culture comic/blog Lost in Negative Space. Peet's illustrative sense is put to wonderful use here -- could he have nailed Inland Empire any better? To prove that he is adept with words as well as pictures, Peet is a contributor to the what-else-can-you-really-say-about-it? blog/zine The House Next Door, and his most recent post is a pique-your-interest early review about the forthcoming Danny Boyle epic Sunshine. If you still want more Peet, go to 24 Lies a Second where he and other talented writers have a tidy but thought-provoking cache of film essays.

'I’m a sucker for lyrical tragedy. As far as that’s concerned, nothing beats the ending of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out. It’s a movie so ripe with drama and metaphor that it becomes part of your metabolism. When Jack kneels down to hold Sally’s lifeless body in his arms and the fireworks go off in the background, he’s really holding America’s lost innocence. A profound moment; tragic, beautiful and blackly humorous at the same time.'

SOMEWHERE IN TIME: 'I’d love to see two movies a day, but I can’t. When you have a family you love to spend time with and a pile of different interests as I do, time becomes a precious commodity. Fortunately, I can do with little sleep, and as I grow older I get better at cherry picking. Not that I claim to have impeccable taste, but at least I’ve got a pretty good handle on what I’m interested in. On average, I’ll see something like four or five movies a week. Not counting replays of favorite DVD-chapters, TV series, stuff I find on the Web and the tons of footage I see at work.'

The female mystique isn’t such an enigma to me as it once was, but it remains an endless source of inspiration. For my personal revival theater, I would program a themed week centered on Fantastique and the Feminine: Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, Paul Verhoeven’s De Vierde Man, Michael Tolkin’s The Rapture, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Weight of Water, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. and Julio Medem’s Lucia y el Sexo. The next week would be a Ward Kimball animation festival.'

It’s quite impossible to point out a single movie that depicts today’s Dutch culture. I’m afraid Holland is going through something of an identity crisis right now. We’ve got plenty of talent around, but there’s no such thing as a single movement or unique characteristic. What we miss is a front figure like Lars von Trier, who almost single-handedly put Danish cinema back on the map. Paul Verhoeven, whose Zwartboek I loved, spent too much time in Hollywood to be a positive influence here. Willem van de Sande Bakhuysen died of cancer. Alex van Warmerdam continues to make quirky black comedies with a stylish sense of the absurd, but he’s always been something of an anomaly. And our very own enfant terrible Theo van Gogh - who was never that successful to begin with – has been brutally murdered by a Moslim extremist.

'I was very impressed by Guernsey, a gorgeously composed minimalist drama in the vein of Bresson, directed by Nanouk Leopold. I can also recommend Off Screen, a psychological thriller by Pieter Kuijpers based on the real-life hostage inside the Rembrandt tower in Amsterdam--very close to where I used to work. I very much admired the episodic structure of Simon, an euthanasia drama composed of refreshingly short scenes that never become sentimental. To be honest, though, some of the best Dutch cinema appears on television. Series like Oud Geld (written by the massively talented Maria Goos) and Vuurzee come to mind, as well as some really classy commercials.'

It’s only natural to be attracted to people with similar interests, but I’ve always felt I loved films just a little bit more than those around me. Even when I started directing, there was this urge to dig deeper. I’m an autodidact on the subject of film - I studied Graphic Arts - so my background has always been practical. Then the World Wide Web came along and everything changed. The Internet sparked a major creative epiphany in me. Suddenly, there was this incredible wealth of information I had access to, with film-dedicated forums, databases and websites pointing me in all the right directions. I’ve been catching up ever since.

'The impetus to write came from not fully recognizing myself in what was already being written. At the time, I frequently became enfuriated by reviews and articles that I believed to be highly unfair, narrow-sighted or misjudged. That’s when I realized that I, in my own screwed-up kinda way, had developed ideas of my own that were worth expressing.

'24LiesASecond is far from prolific, but at least the quality of our essays is consistent. Jim Moran, my editor-in-chief, is one of the most brilliant film scholars on the planet and someone I hold in very high esteem. We started 24Lies in order to provide a platform for provocative film criticism on an academical level, but without the condescending tone. Little did I know what a flight the blogosphere would take in that direction. I’ve often been jealous of Matt Zoller Seitz’s achievements with his expert team of bloggers at The House Next Door. Recently I figured: if you can’t beat ‘em… join ‘m!

'There have been times that I wondered if it was a healthy thing for a creator to be so fascinated by theory and criticism, until I realized that it’s just another form of expression. Filmmaking and film interpretation are two sides of the same coin: Cinema only exists when it is seen.'

DIGITAL BITS: 'The movies that I buy don’t have to be perfect movies as a whole. What really excites me about the medium is the way it encapsulates unique experiences. I like to dip into strange worlds, relive a dramatic moment or relish in a splendidly articulated speech.'

PARADISE GLIMPSED: 'I once saw Famke Janssen’s sister in her underwear. She was changing clothes for a shoot and I accidentally caught a glimpse of what looked like Xenia Onatopp’s deadly thighs.'

“It’s not a lie. It’s a gift for fiction.” David Mamet’s State and Main. A priceless quote from a moderately entertaining film.'

BREAK IT DOWN: 'There’s a dinner table scene in Keith Gordon’s Waking the Dead that always gets to me, no matter how much times I see it. It’s a monologue shot in a long zoom on the character played by Billy Crudup, with only a couple of cutaways. Basically, a senator sits down to celebrate with his family and has a mental breakdown right then and there. I only need to read the dialogue to get goosebumps all over:

    There's something that I think I should tell you all. I'm not feeling very well. And I haven't been for a while. Something inside me has jumped the track. I'm confused. I'm not thinking right. I'm not sleeping right. And I - just don't think I am complaining about this or asking for your help. Because there's nothing anyone can do about it. It's just happened and that's all there is to it. But I don't know what I'm going to say from one minute to the next. I really don't. I don't know what I'm going to say and I don't know what I'm going to do. Do you understand that? And I know this is coming at a bad time for everyone but there's nothing I can do about that. I'm tired and I'm - I don't see things the way that I used to. Everything, everything, everything is fucking strange and it's all completely out of control and I'm frightened. And maybe if you all could give me some real help, you know? That would be - And not your pity or generosity but some help. Take a look at me. I know that I am ruining everything but I can't - If I don't say this now I may never say it. Everything is going very fast. It's going very, very fast. It's completely out of control. And if I don't say it today, tomorrow may be too late. I may be too crazy to even know how crazy I am. I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. Something has happened to me and I'm very lost. And it doesn't stop. It's not getting better. I don't get better. I'm not getting better. It's just going on and it's going on. And there's nothing that I can do about it. It's not stopping. It's not stopping.

'I think we all have thoughts like that at certain points in our life, but most of us prefer to keep them to ourselves. For my money, Billy Crudup is one of the most underrated actors working in America today.'

'I’m not one to cherish memorable film years. Emphasizing that 1999 was a great year for movies won’t excuse Universal Soldier 2 from being a piece of shit. And what about movies that were produced in 1999 and released in 2000? They don’t count? In Europe we’re used to seeing Hollywood films half a year later anyway. I’m skeptical about year-best lists for the same reason. What’s the point when it might as well be a film from 1944 that turns out to be a life-changing experience? I’d rather focus on what films I like, regardless of what time they came out.

Having said that: 1984 was when I realized as a teenager how much I was hooked on the movies. I still have a soft spot for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Body Double, Schatjes!, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Man of the Apes, Gremlins, The Neverending Story, Starman and Top Secret!'

Contact DVD Panache if you are interested in contributing to Friday Screen Test.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Thinking Man's Post

I had meant to get to this much earlier, but it seems at this point I'm accepting the award live via satellite a few days after the ceremony ended, but here goes: thanks to Piper, I am a proud recipient of the Thinking Blogger Award. It's part of one of those Internet memes that all the kids are talking about these days (at least, that's what my sources tell me). I was thrilled Piper chose DVD Panache, and he had some particularly kind words about the blog that made my eyes do that thing they do every time I watch Mask:

Early on in my blogging career (about six months ago) Adam contacted me out of the blue with a series of questions for his new on-going series titled Friday Screen Tests. I had the distinct honor of being his second entry, following Andy Horbal of No More Marriages! It was the first real sign that someone was reading and Adam nailed me in his description (which leads me to think I should try to be a bit more complex). From there, I have kept in close contact with Adam and followed his blog even closer. Every Friday, I am in complete awe of his Friday Screen Tests because much more than the linking that many bloggers do, Adam gives good insight to the blogs he features giving you more reason to visit the blog than just a recent post. And Adam keeps us wanting more with only a couple posts a week, but that's because each post is complete from start to finish. He blew me away with his incredible post John Carpenter's Decade and explored the depths of the movie The Burbs that I never knew existed. And his post 700 Possible Blog Names is funny, weird and something to behold. Adam, you helped me get started and to say thanks I bestow the Thinking Blogger's Award unto you. Sharpen this award like a pencil and use it to write one more post per week, because twice a week just ain't enough.
Wow, it is dusty in here! Unfortunately this isn't one of those awards I can place on my roomy trophy shelf, rather I have a bit of work to do:

1) If, and only if your blog is one that is tagged on my list below, you must write a post with links to five other blogs you like that consistently make you think (hence, the Thinking Blogger’s Award).

2) Link to this post so people will know whose good idea all this was.

3) Proudly display the “Thinking Blogger Award” logo with a link to the post you wrote.

Here's the five I award this distinction to:

The Exploding Kinetoscope: Chris Stangl's blog was the first one I thought of for this award, because I think it's made me think more often than almost any other blog. Chris never goes with the consensus viewpoint, because he's often swimming upstream in a current of thought most feared to step in: witness his Beetlejuice tome, his plot analysis of Candy Stripers and his review of Star Wars: Episode III that will plain make you slap your knee (and that's just from the last few months!). In a perfect world, Chris would merge his first and last name and form an electro-jazz quartet under that title, but for now his writing will suffice. Here's to you, Christangl! (Friday Screen Test: 5-2-07).

The Watercooler:
DVD Guy has quite an assemblage of writing, both on pop culture and his personal life, but it's his work on YouTube that gets him this award. DVD Guy's series of videos entitled Worst Movie Scenes of All Time is nothing short of brilliant, and they're expertly made. Just watch the Episode 1 and see if you stop until you hit the latest installment. (Friday Screen Test: 2-9-07)

Tuwa's sites: At both Tuwa's Shanty and the Roots Canal and the shockingly consistent Stairs in Movies, Tuwa is like the aforementioned Christangl in that you can always count on him to do something different. Stairs in Movies is always different because of Tuwa's pleasingly puzzling thesis, but Tuwa's Shanty takes a fun and often scholarly look at film and most often music (I'm still in awe of his mammoth Invasion of the Body Snatchers series). (Friday Screen Test: 4-13-07).

The Ongoing Cinematic Education of Steve Carlton: Really a must-read blog for any writer of film, Steve is genuinely skilled in his ability to say a great amount in a fairly short space. Because of this, Steve has been able to amass quite a cache of movie reviews of the years, and thumbing through his grand index is worthwhile for any film fan.

Bad Movie Knights: Having just discovered this site last week, it made me think because no less than last month I had an idea for a blog just like this: a focus on celebrating the worst movies. Thankfully the team at Bad Knights had the idea first, because they do a helluva job, and leave no crappy stone unturned, whether it be My Science Project or Runaway.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Note: This post is part of the Filmmusic Blog-a-thon at Damian Arlyn's Windmills of My Mind.

The overture is a lost art with movies. It used to be a staple from epics to musicals, in everything from King Kong to Oklahoma!, but Jerry Goldsmith's smashing intro to Star Trek: The Motion Picture was one of the last to open a major Hollywood film. But for a time in the 1980s, millions of cable television watchers were treated to one of history's most memorably brief overtures before the credits ran. Remember this?:

It was the perfect launching point for the movies HBO decided we should watch, back before digital television listings, and even the 'preview' channel that had all the listings. After 'HBO Feature Presentation' faded away, so began the lost art of 'let's guess what movie we're watching!' And if it was a summer Saturday afternoon it was usually Krull, The Wraith or The Legend of Billie Jean. In the 80s, HBO had slim competition from Showtime and The Movie Channel, and it class touches like this that separated the channel from its imitators. They certainly didn't have to feature a score as bombastic as this one (or use high-quality, non-CGI, labor-intensive animation the way they did), but we thank them for it. To me this is the perfect 'anticipation' music, and sets the tone wonderfully for the upcoming cinematic experience -- whether good or bad.

This particular intro premiered in the early 80s and sometimes the channel used a longer, less-effective piece that began in a family's living room and slowly panned through a city's streets and up through the sunset to the stars where we meet The Good Starship HBO. Toward the end of the decade another, more rock 'n' roll-intensive intro started appearing, and it replaced the 'HBO in Space' intro completely in the early '90s:

Like they used to say, 'It's not TV, it's HBO,' and to anyone who grew up with this intro, it just isn't HBO any more without it.

Friday, June 22, 2007


July 24 is a long time coming for me. Not only has The Monster Squad never been available on DVD, but it's never shown on cable and the only VHS versions available were probably pressed in the early '90s. On July 24 it's finally going to happen with The Monster Squad: 20th Anniversary Edition on DVD, and to celebrate I'm hosting my inaugural blog-a-thon with THE MONSTER SQUAD-A-THON on that same date. I've been planning this for a long time, but what set it in stone was the confirmation of a VERY SPECIAL GUEST who will help make this event something even the 'Squad would be proud of.

Don't let the title fool you, it's not reserved just for posts about The Monster Squad as there are probably plenty of you out there who are not familiar with or have just plum forgot about Fred Dekker's classic. No, THE MONSTER SQUAD-A-THON will be a day to celebrate all movie monsters -- whether in the literal of figurative sense (human-looking monsters like Max Cady and Frank Booth are definitely welcome). I'm definitely going to be producing a few Monster Squad-related posts, including a review of the DVD and a visit from the aforementioned VERY SPECIAL GUEST. It will run all week starting July 24, so clean out your closets and check under your beds for any interested monsters.

'Who are you guys?'

'We're the Monster Squad!'


Evan Waters does it because others won't! Evan reviews random Godzilla movies because he does not fear them! Evan dares to admit his affection for The Avengers movie because others haven't actually seen it! Evan dares to admit his affection for Lady in the Water because others are afraid of being beaten with a sack full of door knobs! Club Parnassus is where Evan hangs his hat, and there's much more to it than movies most of the world has panned. As a full-time comic book aficionado, Evan takes honest looks at the material which probably won't be remade by Brett Ratner or Bryan Singer any time soon -- such as The Eternals, World War II dinosaurs and the Blue Beetle. Oh yeah, he also likes Hudson Hawk.

DO YOU HAVE 'NIGHT OF 1000 CATS' IN WIDESCREEN?: 'I almost never buy sight unseen. (At least full price. A local video store was having a clearance on VHS and I ended up with The Wicked Lady, Playing For Keeps and The Night of 1,000 Cats. I'm still not sure how that happened.) (Oh yeah, and subtitled kauu eiga get bought immediately because I remember how scarce they used to be.) That marker having been passed, I have to have enjoyed it, and be in the feeling that I'd like to watch it sooner rather than later. I'm also mindful o filling in holes in my collection, be they specific titles or just general genres/moods -- I often think to myself "I don't really have a good X kind of movie," and browse and buy accordingly.'

HISTORICALLY SPEAKING: 'Historical epics often lose me -- they get a weird buttoned-down solemnity at their worst, which has a distancing effect. Even though major historical details may be changed, you still feel like the filmmakers felt they had a responsibility to Take Things SEriously. The best films of this genre are either so brilliantly executed that the solemnity is appropriate (Das Boot, Schindler's List, etc.) or cast off that feeling completely and work as entertainment (The Aviator, 300). Ialso tend to be disengaged by that kind of horror movie where you know there's no point getting involved with any character except the designated survivor because everyone else is just there to pad the body count.'

'"Oh well, who wants to live forever?" -- Brian Blessed, Flash Gordon (sometimes followed by "DIIIIVE!" depending on the context).

'"We whupped 'em and we got it ALL!' -- Scott H. Reininger, Dawn of the Dead (or alternately, 'We got this, man, we got this by the ass!')'

'Most of Clue.'

HE DOTH NOT PROTEST TOO MUCH: While I will nitpick individual trends in filmmaking to death (remember when horror films used to be in color?), I reject the kind of Peter Travers-ian default assumption of Hollywood and big budgets and CGI as "bad" and independent film and small character pieces, etc. as "good," as well as any kind of despair over films constantly getting worse or sequels and remakes overtaking everything or any other point of no return for the art of cinema. The film industry has problems. Those problems can be solved by filmmakers with ingenuity and maybe by studio executives with backbone and/or a willingness to look at how the status quo can change. My job on my end for now is to point to the problems and not get everything snarled together in one big unfixable lump of "Hollywood sucks."'

WATCH THIS: 'The face hugger scene in Alien is so perfectly timed that it pretty much always works. There's a passage in David Lynch's Dune where Paul (Kyle MacLachlan), having escaped into the desert following the massacre of his family, has a vision staring at the moon, and turns and speaks to his mother (Francesca Annis) with a mad fervor talking about how he's being changed by his surroundings. There is something so magical about that moment that it catapults the whole film onto another plane.'

CAVE MAN: 'I've seen Leslie Nielsen, John Malkovich and Patrick Stewart all at college appearances (the latter two at the Cambridge Union Society), but I don't suppose I had any more memorable an experience than anyone else who was there. Going to the Bronson Film Cave in L.A. was a treat, though. All sorts of places have been film locations, but this was a place that felt like something out of the movies; the craggy rocks are perfect for ambushes, the cave is small but classical, there were birds wheeling around in the hills overhead and some very small crew (likely in film school) shooting something or other very briefly. That really felt like making contact with the "world" of film, somehow.'

WHAT'S ON: 'I'd say about 4-5 a week, counting ones that happen to pop up on TV. I try to set aside at least a couple nights a week for DVDs, and usually catch something late Friday, and for the past month or so I've been to the theater about weekly.'

AND IT BEGAN: 'I read a lot of books about sci-fi and monster movies as a kid, and some of these had criticism, and I got used to reading that, and started haltingly to form my own opinions and sometimes write reviews on an old word processor. When my family got AOL, I started to get on the movie message boards and post my thoughts there, and I did that for many many years; I got into blogging last year because some folks from an old AOL board (which has mostly been abandoned now - many members got tired of AOL's crap and racist trolls flooded in and there was no moderation to stop them) moved into the blogosphere and it struck me as a good way both to keep in touch and to just have a place to put all this.'

NOW SHOWING AT CLUB PARNASSUS CINEMA: 'I'd have to show all four of George Romero's Living Dead films, either in a marathon or theme week. I'd also pretty much need to have an Underrated Film Festival, featuring all the movies that I like that nobody else does -- Dune, The Avengers, Sorcerer, Exorcist II, etc. etc. Probably throw a Godzilla festival in there as well.'

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR: '1998 changed a lot of the way I looked at film and subjectivity/objectivity in art. In that year around five films came out that I had been looking forward to -- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Godzilla, Small Soldiers, The Avengers and John Carpenter's Vampires -- which I enjoyed while the general popular consensus rejected them. I spent a lot of time online trying to articulate how these films worked while, in the face of everyone else, they hadn't. I realized how my tastes were really apart from everyone else's, that this wasn't going to change, that I should stick to my guns, and that in the end, this was not a debate that could be won or lost. There are objective qualities to art, but not so many that an opinion that something is good or bad can't be defended. Basically after defending that lot, I had earned my battle scars. There was NOTHING I couldn't argue for or against afterwards.'

Contact DVD Panache if you are interested in participating in Friday Screen Test

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

AFI's 100 movies ... 10 years later

Almost ten years ago to the date, the American Film Institute revealed their 100 Years, 100 Movies list, which at the time seemed like a pretty big deal, but has faded over the years -- partially due to AFI putting out many more, infinitely less relevant lists (100 cheers, 100 movie quotes, 100 laughs, etc.). Tomorrow night, AFI will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the initial list with a re-polling of 1,500 artists and leaders in the film industry to include films made after 1996. AFI plans to do this every 10 years to keep up with the nation's changing movie tastes -- or to ensure more publicity.

What made the first list so accessible was that the ballots were limited to American films in a feature, narrative format. This ensured that a large number of recognizable films comprised the list, and avoided any international incidents. But this format was also a source of great frustration, as the AFI's notion of what films are American was widely inconsistent: largely British films were allowed to scoot in because of their American cast members, but Italian films were shut out despite how many Americans were in their cast. The most egregious example of this was not corrected for the latest ballot, with Sergio Leone's films being left out. Despite it being ingrained in popular American culture, the three title characters being played by Americans, and the movie itself set in Civil War-America, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was excluded from ballots. Same for Once Upon a Time in the West, which features two of the three main characters played by American actors (Henry Fonda and Jason Robards) and the fact that much of the movie was shot in the Southwest United States.

Beyond that disappointment, it will be interesting to see what the new order of the 100 movies shakes out and what more recent movies are included. Have movie tastes changed much in 10 years? I have to think this is true for some of the movies on the list, and a few which were omitted. At the time of the original voting, Forrest Gump and Fargo were still enjoying a wealth of critical acclaim, but it wouldn't surprise me if both were left off the new list since people are finally coming to their senses about Forrest Gump and the Coen Bros.' Miller's Crossing is getting its delayed due. Of the newly-eligible films, I would see these as the most likely to be considered: Titanic, American Beauty, Sideways, The Sixth Sense, Saving Private Ryan and possibly The Big Lebowski (a long shot for sure, but I can dream). The Sixth Sense and Sideways also have long odds, but I think their reputations are still fresh in voters' minds.

Much has been made about the order and the movies included in the original list, notably The Graduate being in the top 10 and the inclusions of Dances With Wolves and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, among others. Snow White illustrates one of the hardest arguments with these kind of lists: does a movie's historic significance and initial reception outweigh how it stands today as a movie? In my mind, Snow White will always take a back seat to Pinocchio as far as Disney movies, and does anyone still consider Dances With Wolves to be any kind of masterpiece? Same goes for The Birth of a Nation, which had an enormous impact on the way films were made when it was released in 1915, but does it really deserve to be ranked No. 44 on a list like this? Before I move to what omitted movies deserve a long look, let's look at the contenders for being bumped off the list: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dances With Wolves, Forrest Gump, Fargo, High Noon, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, American Graffiti and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

For High Noon, there's no way it belongs at No. 33 and I wouldn't even put it in my top 10 of favorite Westerns. It definitely had a great cast and superior editing, but I never got the impression while watching High Noon that it was one of the best movies ever made. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, American Graffiti and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington fall into the same category: beloved by a generation and certainly good movies, but among the very best?

Off the top of my head, here are some worthy films who could fill those aforementioned spots: Dracula (1931), The Big Sleep, The Night of the Hunter and Red River. Dracula can live on its reputation and impact alone, but it is still a fantastic movie full of technical expertise and eerie performances. The Big Sleep has happily confounded movie watchers for generations, and it will remain a much-watched and loved Bogie-Bacall masterpiece for many more decades. The Night of the Hunter has gained a newfound notoriety with film fans since a much-needed restoration care of UCLA and a better availability on DVD -- you may never see a more beautiful or terrifying movie. Red River is another long shot, but it's simply one of the best Westerns ever made, with one of John Wayne's best characters and an enduring story.

Whatever is included on the new list, you can bet people will be talking about it on Thursday morning.

Monday, June 18, 2007

DVDs WE LOVE: Ghostbusters (Collector's Series)

[About this series]

Release: 1999

Status: Out of print

Legacy: In the days when DVD was still finding its legs, this Ghostbusters disc was one of the first few must-haves even for people who were still on the fence about whether to give up their VCR. Even though magazines and techies had been trumpeting the infinite amount of features DVDs could offer, many releases simply had a movie and maybe some "interactive menus" or "subtitles" under the Special Features section. The Ghostbusters DVD featured a slew of valuable extras that were far from any "behind the scenes" feature you could find on HBO. There was finally a use for that "angle" button on the DVD remote (SFX Before and After), exclusive DVD-ROM content ("it goes in my 'puter too?") and loads of conceptual drawings, production photos and storyboards. But the centerpiece of the extras was its "live" video commentary, featuring Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis and producer Joe Menchick as Mystery Science Theater-style silhouettes at the bottom of the screen. This seemed revolutionary at the time, but in reality it's just like a regular commentary except with three dark shapes on your screen that occasionally move. Unsurprisingly, this kind of commentary was never again seen on DVD to my knowledge and it was left out of the 2006 re-release DVD of Ghostbusters. Of course, the extra that got the most "wow" factor were the ambitious animated menus that now look like something out of a bad PlayStation game -- the menu is a "model" of Manhattan and different buildings are associated with different aspects of the DVD (for instance, clicking on the "commentary" building will zoom you to that location, where the options are represented as neon signs). The more recent Ghostbusters release (often sold as a double feature with Ghostbusters 2) also features a less-desirable transfer, with a needless overall "lightening" of the colors.

Personal: Beyond what the special features were with Ghostbusters, one of the greatest aspects of it was the 5.1 digital sound that introduced a generation of fans to what the movie was really like. On the VHS that many fans my age grew up with, Elmer Bernstein's eerie opening score sounds good, but on a good digital receiver those initial horns hit you smack in the head as the camera reveals the lion statues in front of the New York Public Library. And the wonderful title card reveal is even more invigorating when a subwoofer helps the opening drum beats of Ray Parker, Jr.'s familiar theme song.

Availability: After selling for $10 for most of the end of its retail lifespan, Ghostbusters: Collector's Series is easy to find on eBay for around $5.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Peter Nellhaus, who also contributes to Screenhead and Twitch, keeps an entertaining cache of film reviews at Coffee, Coffee, and More Coffee (where he has captured the essence of life in only four words). Peter is able to provide generous coverage of various film festivals (Miami Beach's Italian Film Festival [posts 1, 2 and 3], and the Aurora Asian Film Festival [posts 1, 2, 3 and 4] to name a couple) and also hosted the rich William Shakespeare Blog-a-thon in April. A simple jaunt through Peter's reviews will show you that he's a true student of film and has interests in many genres. His like for Thai cinema was put on display this year when he took an extended visit to Thailand, and wrote a series of posts about the Asian nation's film industry (see here, here and here for most of them).

'I saw "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" when I was in the hospital (I was in Thailand and it was the only English language programming). How is it that this movie was popular? It wasn't even dumb funny. Am I missing something in contemporary comedy?'

THE DEFENSE RESTS: 'Hollywood can fend for itself. Obviously they don't miss my support, otherwise they'd be making better films. More often I ask people why they are still watching Hollywood movies if there are better film choices available.'

CELEBRITY TRAFFIC: 'I have had several. The best were at Telluride. Of those, my favorite moments were a brief meeting with Julie Christie in 1974, and interviewing Henry King by a creek, an appropriately pastoral setting ... I had a nice chat with Jonathan Demme about mutual acquintances that I knew from NYU. Part of my neighborhood in Miami Beach was used for second unit filming of "Transporter 2". My wife looked longingly at Jason Statham's stunt double ... There was also the time I worked at the Greenwich Theater in NYC, and saw how James Coco kept his weight up.'

OF LOVE AND FILM IN THE SUMMER OF '69: 'I had an interest in films that started to get serious in junior high. I had read film reviews, but was unaware of the serious critics until high school. We did get the Sunday New York Times, which meant reading about a bunch of interesting films that never showed up in Denver. I did enjoy Renata Adler at the time. My mother directed me to Pauline Kael. The big revalation for me was Andrew Sarris' "American Cinema" and "Interviews with Film Directors" which I read almost back to back in the summer of 1969.'

TRUER WORDS...: 'William K. Everson told my class that there was no reason not to see a new movie everyday. I usually have a steady stream of DVDs.'

NOW SHOWING AT COFFEE, COFFEE, COFFEE AND CINEMA: 'I'd show movies unavailable on any home format. That's reason enough to show movies in a theater. Assuming I could get my hands on them, I'd show "Omicron" by Ugo Gregoretti, "Cover Me Babe" by Noel Black, John Ford's "Seven Women", the 70mm versions of "Playtime" by Tati and "The Big Trail" by Walsh, and selected films from Frank Borzage.'

WISHFUL THINKING: 'In some cases [purchasing DVDs] is the only way I'll see certain films, which is why I have a region free player. In most cases I buy films I tell myself I'll be watching multiple times. I still have a bunch that haven't even been unwrapped.'

THERE IS A MAN!/A CERTAIN MAN!: 'I get a chill down my back when the chorus girls come out and sing the "Citizen Kane" song and Orson Welles gets up to dance with them. It doesn't matter whether I'm seeing "Kane" in a theater or on TV.'

CAN THE WORLD LEARN HOW TO SPEAK LIKE PETER NELLHAUS?: '"I don't think so", to quote Fred Willard from 'Best in Show.'"

Contact DVD Panache if you are interested in contributing to Friday Screen Test (Don't be shy! Immediate openings available!)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

DVDs WE LOVE: Terminator 2 (The Ultimate Edition)

[Preface: If you're like me, then you love DVDs -- and also talk to your dog more than you need to But this new series concerns DVDs, namely the ones you can't help but love. This series will look at DVDs that set trends in the industry and became cornerstones for almost anyone's DVD collection. It will also look at DVDs that for one reason or another seem to be owned by anyone who has a DVD player, and why that is. We read lists all the time about great movies, but how often do we stop and appreciate history's greatest DVDs -- can you believe it's been 11 years since the format's introduction?]

Release: 2000

Status: Out of print

Legacy: One of the first true "super DVDs" that delivered a movie in its most definitive form along with a few truckloads of extras, Terminator 2: The Ultimate Edition also ushered in a few technological advances: it featured the debut of the DVD-18 format (dual sided/dual layered=18 hour capacity) and the debut of 7.1 channel sound mixes in Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES. The DVD-18 aspect of T2 appeared to mark the beginning of a new age where almost anything was possible on a DVD, since the release was able to hold three versions of the movie (including one hidden version) in addition to all the extras. However, DVD-18 experienced no shortage of flaws, and it was never widely used -- forcing Artisan to re-release The Ultimate Edition in a two-disc edition. Though it was "The Ultimate Edition," T2 received another lavish release with the Extreme Edition, which was noteworthy in its own way as the first "high definition" DVD (through playback on a Windows Media Series 9-equipped PC).

Personal: I remember this being the first DVD to really stretch what the format could do, and I picked it up on the first day it was released. From the second you popped it in, you knew you were in for something special: the animated menus are still among the most lavish ever created, with high-quality computer animation that takes you into Skynet. The extras were truly staggering: the entire screenplay, over 700 storyboards, a commentary track from 26 cast and crew members, featurettes on every aspect of the production and two extra versions of the film (the "hidden" version, featuring about 5 extra minutes of footage, can be accessed by typing in "82997" on your DVD remote at the main screen). This was also one of the first DVDs to come with limited edition packaging, with a handsome metal casing surrounding the DVD.

Availability: Surprisingly cheap on eBay, often selling for less than $5.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Weekend Reading Club

I've read a few posts the last couple days that deserve more than a mere comment of praise:

-- This is My Art and It is Dangerous: Sculpting Space in Beetlejuice. Mr. Never a Dull Post Chris Stangl provides us with perhaps the richest analysis ever of Tim Burton's Beetlejuice. As someone who has enjoyed watching Beetlejuice numerous times (including opening weekend in 1988), I was still impressed at the depths Stangl was able to probe, and the original observations produced by these thoughts.

-- Jaws: Another (Deserving) Look at Overlooked Cinema. Unlike Beetlejuice, you've probably read more than a few authoritative essays on Jaws, and that's Ted Pigeon's point -- but by God is he going to write another one! Not encompassing of the whole film, Pigeon thankfully focuses on a few key areas and themes to great effect. If Stangl's post made you want to pick up Beetlejuice, then this post will put Jaws next in your queue.

-- Newsflash: Bill O'Reilly Caught Telling Lies! No matter what your political leanings are, or what your opinion of O'Reilly is, this is a must read from Jim Emerson. O'Reilly's attempt to create a controversy by taking sound bytes out of context and then sending a mousy field reporter to harass people is thoroughly set straight by Emerson and his heaping bowl of facts.


Although Neil Sarver's blog is titled The Bleeding Tree, it is also a giving tree: serving up plenty of doses of movies, music, politics, boobs and wieners. So Neil pretty much has it all covered, but it's still near impossible to predict what his next post will be: he could follow up a loving tribute to Sam Peckinpah (preach on, brother) with a nutritious write-up of Pinky Violence or filling us in on why Roger Corman is his idol. Like the best of us, Neil appreciates the fine arts but loves the trash, which is why he hosted the wonderful Trashy Movie Blog-a-thon in April. And unlike most of us, Neil means it when he says "I could do better" after walking out of The House of the Dead -- he's currently juggling a few horror screen plays, and all of us at DVD Panache wish him the best.

'I'd like most to do a Spaghetti Western themed week. Part of me would most like to do a whole week with no Sergio Leone movies at all. Not because Leone isn't the top of the peak, as he clearly is, but c'mon, you can see those movies on the TBS "Movies for Men Who Love Movies" night. Pragmatically, in order to draw some kind of audience, I think a week of double-features, one by Leone and one by another director seems a good compromise. A Fistful of Dollars with Django. For a Few Dollars More with Death Rides a Horse. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with Four of the Apocalypse. Once Upon a Time in the West with The Great Silence. Duck,You Sucker with Run, Man, Run.'

DEAD AND LOVING IT: 'The dead genres like musicals and westerns, so dismissed by modern audiences, are among my favorites. I love art movies and crappy '80s T&A comedies alike, as long as they succeed at what they're attempting.'

FEAR THIS: 'Just about any scene in the original Night of the Living Dead, which is a movie that never fails to terrify me. The scene I'm going to choose isn't as striking as many others, but it's the scene in which Ben and Barbara first meet in the house and she is perfectly paralyzed by fear. There's something so painfully correct about her reaction and so terrifyingly real about Judith O'Dea's performance that it just grounds the entire movie from that point forth in a very real world that I relate to emotionally on every level. I think this is where many horror movies fail. Not, mind you, movies that simply are within the realm of the fantastique, a distinction that we rarely make in the U.S. Unless it's a comedy, nearly all dark fantasy movies, regardless of whether their heart may be more deeply in drama or action, are considered "horror" and given a marketing campaign promising to terrify the audience, and too often disappointing it. But even many movies that intend to frighten their audience neglect to show their characters frightened in any substantive manner, leaving the viewer with no empathetic "in" to experience the fear.'

CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS: 'I see Hollywood like as an abusive spouse. I'm hopelessly in love with it. I know what it's capable of, and on it's best days, it makes me so deliriously happy that I want to forgive it on the days that it neglects and abuses me. The most basic crime it commits, and has since its very beginnings, is thinking that audiences as a whole fail to respond to anything beyond the surface. If Jaws is successful, perhaps it's not because they are hungering for movies about killer sharks, but for the well-realized characters and greatly crafted thrills in a general way. If the "Lord of the Rings" movies are successful, maybe there's something more to their success than wizards and dragons.

'As such, I think Hollywood's biggest success and biggest crime is convincing people that this is true. Audiences have been battered into thinking they want to see certain types of movies because they replicate previous experiences on some surface level. They rush en masse to see movies they're led to believe will do so. Because this experience is so often one of empty pleasure of the surface, they've slowly come to see movies as a wholly intellectual surface pleasure, they stop allowing themselves to suspend belief and become absorbed in the experience of the movie itself. The emotion, the artistic expression and the wonder disappear. And yet, I do continue to seek out their product. I continue to watch it in hopes that somewhere, in some moment, the movie will suck me in and allow me to experience the excitement and joy that a really rousing Hollywood movie can bring like nothing else in the world.'

NO TIME FOR QUOTES, DR. SARVER: 'I often quote Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: "I keep telling you, you listen to me more, you live longer!", "You no fun to play with, you cheat!", "That's why they call it the jungle, sweetheart." And I do sometimes quote Backbeat, "Tell me, Stuart, are you glad you came?" But, like, I don't think I quote Pulp Fiction or Star Wars much, although I've been known to try "I don't know, I can imagine quite a bit." on occasion. The only Monty Python quote I know hides in there somewhere to pop out occasionally is "It's wafer thin!" (You can supply your own accent.)

ALL BLOWED UP: 'Alright. I'll admit it: Michaelangelo Antonioni, I seriously don't get it. Any of it. I think L'Avventura is tedious. I find Blow-Up impenetrable. This would mean little to me, except I'm a great lover of the types of movies these represent. I know so many people with such similar taste to mine overall that absolutely love them. So many of my favorite directors site the influence of his movies on movies that I love. I absolutely love arthouse movies. I love meandering movies with little interest in plot ... I'm also a big fan of Italian cinema, from Fellini to Bava to, well, just about anyone, I think it's the country which has developed the greatest sense of what cinema can be. The art movies are terrifically wild and wonderful, thoughtful and entertaining, while the genre movies are amazingly filled with artful touches and avant-garde approaches. None of this allows me to understand the great appeal that Antonioni holds for so many people, as much as I'd like to find an in on this one.'

HUSH, HUSH ... SWEET JACKASS: 'I think it averages out to a movie a day, but I'm not certain offhand. I don't get out to the theater nearly as much as I'd like to, partially due to the simple money issues, but also scheduling and general annoyance with movie crowds these days.'

'I like buying movies that I've not seen heard good things about and supporting small DVD producer/distributors. Lately it's been limited to the best of the best of the best... not even that, the most temptingly rewatchable of the best of the stuff that wouldn't be easy enough to rent at Hollywood.'

BUT WHY A BLOG?: '...Discovering "Sneak Previews" with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert on PBS. I remember specifically flipping through the channels and finding it there. Two weird dudes who just sat and talked about movies. But they weren't like most people talking about movies on TV. They argued and pondered and cried out with glee and disgust. They talked about movies like they mattered. They talked about movies like they mattered to them the way they mattered to me. Obviously that's a long time before I started blogging. Internet discussion partly begins with a lack of people around me who understand or care about movies in the same way I do and finding many more online, on Usenet, back in the day, or web discussion groups to find others with the same kind of passion and interest in movies that I have. Blogging itself is good, because it gives me a forum to write about other non-movie issues that interest me. It also isn't dependent on finding others who are not only as passionate as I about movies generally, but passionate enough that day about that movie. It's just me and what I'm interested in saying that day.

'It allows me a forum to document at least some fraction of the conversations I have with myself all the time.'

IT ALL STARTED IN...: '1980. I was already into movies by that point. In fact, I can't recall not being into movies. Unlike most of my peers, I can't think of a movie like Star Wars that hooked me on movies or moviemaking. I remember quite clearly wanting to see Star Wars because I loved movies so much. 1980 is the year of Popeye and The Elephant Man.

'Like all the other kids, I went to see Popeye to see Mork play the hero of the Fleischer cartoons. Unlike many others who were confused, bored or generally disappointed with the movie, I was fascinated by the verisimilitude of the world and the richly developed tapestry of characters from Elzie Segar's "Thimble Theater". I would soon come to understand this as partly the result of its director's style. It took some effort at that time before home video, but I'd manage to merge the LP version of the movie MASH, which contained dialogue and music from the movie, along with the original novel, the hugely successful series based on it and eventually a deeply censored television cut of the movie in my head into some understanding of his breakthrough movie as well.

'The Elephant Man was as close to a religious experience as I've ever had. At once real and impressionistic, it became the whole of my understanding of art, or at least the cinema art. I suspect I still subconsciously judge many types of movies based on how they evoke the emotional and intellectual responses I had to that movie. This led to my first experience making the effort to watch the Academy Awards, and, of course, my first in a lifetime of disappointment in the Academy's judgments when it was completely shut out.'

Contact DVD Panache if you are interested in contributing to Friday Screen Test.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

We Don't Need Another Hero (for a few years, anyway)

Thanks to Moviezzz for motivating me to get going on a long-overdue HD-DVD/Blu-Ray post. Moviezzz speculated on a big development in the ongoing format war: Toshiba's new HD-A2 player, which can be found for as low as $249 at Amazon. My first DVD player cost more than that, yet I'm still confident that I will wait another two years before upgrading to next-generation HD. But before you send me to Deborah Harry's Cathode Ray Mission from Videodrome consider that I fit into the ideal next-gen DVD demographic -- that is, I own an HDTV. I prefer to see my world with more than 700 lines of resolution, but I'm perfectly content in where I stand in today's digital film medium.

Before we debate the merits of each format, let us first appreciate the current state of DVD. Of all DVDs sold, next generation discs make up a little over 1 percent of the sales -- so if there's going to be a format dying out soon, it won't be DVD. Home movie watchers, and the home movie industry has never had it this good: DVDs fly off shelves at such an alarming rate that they have contributed to the decline of movie rental chains (consumers never bought VHS at an anywhere near the pace of DVDs), we can have movies delivered to our mailbox overnight or right on to our computer. Consumers now expect DVDs to be loaded with extras, and when there is a problem, it usually gets addressed sooner or later (after years of patience, we're finally getting a proper RoboCop DVD). Best of all, the fervent demand and competition between retailers has made DVDs a better value (in cost vs. quality) than VHS ever was.

Life is indeed good for the DVD public, which makes it hard for me to understand how to be a next-gen format consumer. Even though the product is impressive, it's nothing like moving from cassettes to compact discs or VHS to DVD. In both of those instances, the new technology was so radically superior that it made it hard to justify ever buying the old-n-busted medium again. Not only were you going to buy the new releases as CDs and DVDs, but you were going to replace your previous collection with the new digital format. With HD/Blu-Ray it's not that simple -- is there any reason I need to get rid of my Citizen Kane DVD or Simpsons season sets in favor of the next generation? How much better could they look, and wouldn't I rather spend that money on something else? It seems that in five years, just about everyone will have regular DVDs sitting on their shelf along with the new format, and doesn't that make it a little less urgent to upgrade?

The manufacturers themselves are making it easier for me to wait, since the available software seems far away from tapping the technology's true potential. With Blu-Ray in particular, early discs barely offered any performance upgrade over normal DVDs -- and certainly not enough quality to justify a player price twice that of HD-DVD. In some instances, the HD/Blu-Ray version lacks the extras found in the standard release (King Kong, despite an MSRP of $40, comes nearly extra-free). In both high-def formats, video quality fluctuates wildly (with Blu-Ray versions of The Fifth Element and House of Flying Daggers being the most glaring examples), this happened in the early days of DVD as well, but it's particularly disheartening when the movies in question would conceivably be benchmarks for quality.

This is not to say that I will never upgrade to a next-gen format -- I will, just not for awhile. Much of that has to do with manufacturers mastering the technology, but also with the format war. The affordable HD-A2 shows there will be a day when high definition players will be sold at affordable prices, but what format will be sold? Though Blu-Ray has the lead in player and disc sales (inflated because of the PlayStation 3's sales numbers), I've always seen HD-DVD as the eventual winner. Part of this comes with my confidence in Toshiba -- every television and DVD player I have bought has been Toshiba, and I have never had a problem with any of them. Toshiba also has a history of pricing its electronics lower than Sony's, without a dip in quality. Sony's format history is obviously more checkered, beginning with of course with BetaMax, but also spreading to the MiniDisc, the troubled PlayStation Portable (still outsold by GameBoy Advance), and the soon-to-be disastrous PS3 (also outsold by GameBoy Advance, and by Nintendo's Wii at a 5:1 ratio in May). It was said before the PS3's launch that Sony may have been betting its future on the game system, so the product's lack of success has to be disconcerting in regards to Blu-Ray's future.

I think consumers are lenient to choose any side in the format war, and that will extend DVD's lifespan even further. Whatever format I'm watching in 1080p a few years from now, I'm confident that most of my standard DVDs will still be on my shelf and in regular rotation through my player.

Friday, June 01, 2007


At once a personal journal and a deep look into film, Johanna Custer has made the lone revue into one of those rare blogs where it seems like she's conducting a conversation with the person reading it. Johanna recently concluded a hugely successful project of looking at seven different films (and seven distinct themes) through the aid of the book Film Art. Johanna managed to keep the seven films widely varied (Badlands, My Favorite Wife and Modern Times, to name a few) and the posts themselves hugely informative and interesting. Johanna also keeps us abreast on her professional film life, which has taken her to Greece and Montana recently. She also finds time to give us her own take on some of the classics, notably Gone With the Wind, Double Indemnity and 8 1/2.

LET IT OUT: 'Sometimes I think it's more embarrassing to pretend that a movie isn't making me cry when it is, so I've stopped trying to hide that. I've felt a lot better about that sort of thing since I just decided to let it go. I guess there was something about being manipulated that hurt my pride, but sometimes crying during a flick has nothing to do with the filmmakers' intent, but rather the life you've led and I try to keep that in mind when I'm not watching a movie alone.'

BETTER THAN FOOD: 'I only buy two kinds of movies: the kind that I won't mind selling back to my local used exchange and those that I wouldn't like to sell even if I hadn't eaten for three days. With the former, it has to be something I really enjoyed as a kid or something that I know from reviews that I should at least see once but can then part with relatively easily. With the latter, it has to be an absolute timeless piece of spiritual craft. Andrei Rublev or Mouchette. It also helps if it can be watched over and over again, either because it can be studied ad nauseum without getting old or because it's absolutely, charmingly addictive like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are. Also, if I have a bit of spare change, an old Tom Baker Dr. Who never hurt anybody.'

UNCLEAN. UNSHAVEN.: 'I have this thing for About Schmidt and pretty much every movie that has a male everyman character who is just this total slob of a man, lost and unable to connect with anything around him. when I'm bummed and I feel like looking for something that's on my emotional level at the moment I pop in a movie like that. Bill Murray movies tend to be good for that too, as do Wes Anderson flicks. When I was younger and channeled my emotions more physically, I think I would have responded with something sillier, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Life of Brian or Army of Darkness.'

... AND SLAVE DUDES, TOO: 'The fight scene between Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas in Spartacus both raises goose flesh and makes me cry, too, incidentally. I have yet to really sit down with it and figure out why, but I probably should one of these days. Also, several romances leave me exhilarated.'

WISEMEN LIKE BOB DYLAN AND CHRISTIAN SLATER ONCE SAID: 'If I do pick up a quote these days, it doesn't stay with me for more than a couple of weeks. I tend to value wisdom over comedy, but there are a few quotes that have little to do with movies that use both that will always stay with me, and that require more careful usage. If you pull them out too frequently, they lose impact. Bob Dylan's "... you can fool some of them people some of the time ... but you can't fool all of the people all of the time ..." speech is one such instance. When I was in my late teens, though, I seem to remember over-using many a Heathers quote. It was just part of the survival gear at my high school, as I'm sure it was for many others.'

FIENDISH FILM LOVER: 'Every once in a while I'll get so busy that the idea of watching a film or even reading a book is ludicrous. I couldn't concentrate on it if I tried, you know? And I really treasure times like those, which can last for a couple of months or longer. If I spend all of my time watching the steady, never-ending stream of films that is my Netflix queue there's be no intervals of any kind -- no rests, no changes, no time for reflection. When I do watch films, I'm a fiend. If I really love a film I'll watch it two or three times back-to-back just to test its watchability ... I did that with City Lights the first time I saw it. Conversely, I do that with films I don't like so much at first. Many a Fellini film has had to undergo a few brisk repeats before I finally started to see something I could really glom onto. Amacord and 8 1/2 were definitely not easy first watches for me.'

NO SHOWING AT LONE REVUE CINEMA: 'I would dig up the forgotten women filmmakers of the Nouvelle Vague, and those that the movement influenced elsewhere, like Vera Chytilova, and try and recreate what happened there. I like the French filmmakers in general and especially love and esteem Truffaut, but I don't understand why it is that Agnes Varda and other later women filmmakers who were essentially Nouvelle Vague apprentices paid their dues only to be all but completely forgotten and not dealt their share of the limelight. So I would plan the week to sort of proportionally represent the creative evolution that was the Nouvelle Vague, and allow people to get a better sense of the history of that particular era.'

'CELEBRITIES' ARE PEOPLE TOO: 'I was once in the Squirrel Hill Blockbuster that isn't there anymore and Sinbad came in to take a break with his kid while shooting House Guest. I had my kid brother with me, all of perhaps 11, and he's always been quite the gregarious little urchin, so he goes up to Sinbad and introduces himself, shakes his hand and all of that and asks him to sign something. The poor thing had spent the entire day camped out in Oakland just trying to get to be an extra on his set, but to no avail. So Sinbad signs it, but the whole time he's cursing under his breath that all he wanted to do was get away with his kid for a little while, you know, and not even looking my brother in the face. I just remember thinking that a guy who made such stupid films could use a lesson in manners.'

DO THE RIGHT THING: 'The first film I walked out on was The Bodyguard. You might ask what the hell I was doing going to see that in the theatre in the first place, but the truth is I don't remember. I just remember the feeling of triumph that I not only had chosen to exercise my right to NOT watch a film I had paid for but to find something better to do so that I didn't waste the rest of my time with the date complaining about what an awful piece of crap the movie we had picked had turned out to be. Later on, I remember feeling more relief than triumph when I walked out on Reindeer Games in the middle of Gary Sinise's somewhat psychotic rant. It was a good call. And it's probably no mistake that all of the films I've ever walked out on weren't my choice of film to see in the first place; likewise, I've also been to a few with larger groups of people that I would've loved to have walked out on, but it would've meant making too much commotion. Troy was one of those.'

THANKS, DAD: 'My family didn't get a VCR until 1988, so that opened up a whole new world living in the small backwater that we did. My Dad started loading us up on all the films that he had loved (or ones based on books he had loved) that he thought we would love or at least thought we should watch. I was about 12 and we just blitzed through all kinds of films the existence of which I had never thought possible, like A Clockwork Orange, Dune and old martial arts films like Enter the Dragon. I learned quickly what I did and didn't like but I kept an open mind that has kept me in good stead for the most part. That was the year that I discovered Aliens and I developed a deep and abiding love of the first two films in that set that's fairly unshakable. That was also the year that PBS, which was one of about 4 channels we got using our old rotator for the rooftop antenna, started showing classic cinema like Casablanca, Citizen Kane and every Hitchcock film that it could on Saturday afternoons. I pretty much haven't been the same since I saw The Birds. Caw .... caw.'

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