Thursday, December 27, 2007

The greatest story ever blogged

Star Trek character he most resembles

I had planned to watch more of my new Blade Runner set this morning, but settled on welcoming our first born. PeaceFrog Borialis Ross Aiden Michael Ross was born at 5:20 a.m. today, about three weeks before we were expecting him -- but he's completely healthy. The doctor's name who delivered him was Dr. Love, and I only managed one Kiss reference.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Quick rundown of the evening

Snow on the ground
The new Shining DVD playing
Maker's Mark egg nog in hand
Presents under the tree
World's greatest enchiladas in the oven
It's dark out
My wife could go into labor at any moment
Not wearing sunglasses yet

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Format 'War': Observations and Predictions

At Costco this week, I saw the high definition DVD Format War epitomized. A Blu-Ray kiosk with a monitor playing dazzling images from popular films, with a jaw-dropping price of $279. Beside it was some HD-DVD promotional materials, without a monitor or even an HD-DVD player in sight, instead relying on that tired phrase "up to six times the resolution!" and the low price of $200. Before this night I was a full HD-DVD believer, convinced by its low price and simplified disc design that would result in lower-priced movies eventually. But when Blu-Ray gets to $279, that means their next player model will probably be below $200 not too soon, and by then the price advantage of HD-DVD goes out the window. I had never really considered Blu-Ray before, since I would never pay $500 or $400 for one, but at an affordable price you have to look at both formats equally. And in this increasingly common environment, with a gaping contrast in marketing presented to the consumer, I can't imagine HD-DVD winning over too many customers.

It's become a common sight at most electronic stores. Target sells movies on both formats, but only offers Blu-Ray players -- complete with a snazzy kiosk displaying Blade Runner and other knockouts. BestBuy sometimes sets up an HD-DVD monitor, but it's nowhere near the showmanship of the Sony-sponsored Blu-Ray kiosk. Although HD-DVD reportedly wrote DreamWorks a nice check for their exclusive backing, it looks like Sony's capital will keep them from ever "losing" in this format war.

But is it really a format war? I don't see it as one, mostly because of the third adversary in the fight: standard definition DVDs. Despite over a year of high-definition offerings, production and sales of DVDs are as strong as ever, with no slowdown in sight. Since high def players are compatible with S-DVDs, it ensures the standard discs will continue to be produced indefinitely. And since S-DVDs are very cheap compared to their better-looking counterparts, and will always feature a much larger selection, consumers will continue to buy them. Not a war, it will be more like a prolonged conflict -- like we've seen between video game systems over the past two decades. And like video game consoles, each side will have a few hot exclusive titles and there will be plenty available for both formats. The real die hards will have both kinds of players, but most people will be happy with one or the other -- still continuing to buy standard discs.

All of this is very good news for consumers, as both formats continue to hack away at their prices and offer attractive free-movie packages with purchase. HD-DVD comes with 300 and The Bourne Identity in the box, with five more available free through mail. Blu-Ray offers five by mail, with slightly better offerings. Wal-Mart even had a doorbuster PS3 sale on Black Friday where you could get 15 total free Blu-Ray movies. But there's also a lot of consumer confusion: when I told my wife about the attractive high def prices her reaction was "then would you get rid of your old DVDs?" I think this is a common thought, because when people hear "format war" they imagine CDs vs. cassette or BetaMax vs. VHS. That's why the term "format war" doesn't really apply to this situation, since there's already a viable alternative that's not going away any time soon. Even when analog broadcast signals are turned off in 2009, millions will continue to have analog televisions because they will be supported by all cable and satellite services, as well as the converter boxes. And to answer my wife's question, yes I would be keeping my "old" DVDs and continue to buy them: will I ever need a high def version of The Third Man? The Simpsons? Will Danger: Diabolik ever be released in high def? Doubtful.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The next FRIDAY SCREEN TEST you read may be your own!

Starting on Jan. 18, 2008 Friday Screen Test will return to these pages. You may have read it last year, you may have heard some hobos talking about it while huddled around a barrel fire ... and you may have even been featured in it last year! Whatever the case may be, the new season approaches and with that means the opportunity for more bloggers and film writers to be featured. I've already sewn up a few participants, but the ink is still drying so I can't name any names. Of course, there's still many Fridays open for anyone who regularly puts their film thoughts into text and is willing to submit to a questionnaire. The Screen Testers are new, and so is the format -- this year there will be all new questions, and more of them!

If you had cold feet about participating last year, take a snort of liquid confidence and send me an email saying "Yes, sir -- why the hell not?!"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What 'Blade Runner' DVD is right for you?

2008 will mark (just about) the 10th anniversary of the first rumors of a Tyrell-Sized Blade Runner DVD Set, and to mark the occasion Warner Bros. will finally release this set -- along with many other Blade Runner DVDs. In fact, the Redundancy Department Administration has just released the following data: starting Tuesday you can theoretically go into BestBuy and pick out eight BR DVDs -- with all of them featuring a different bar code. With so many BR options to choose from, what's a Christmas shopper to do? Follow this handy guide to ensure you won't make the wrong choice:

Blade Runner: The Director's Cut
Low Price: $5 maybe
Target Demographic: Misanthropic Grinches
I'm pretty sure Wal-Mart has been selling this DVD in their bargain bin since 1995. Extras? Remastered picture and sound? Look elsewhere. The lasting value of this DVD is you can buy it for the BR fan who's at the top of your Naughty List. Wrap this up and hand it to them saying "Well I know you like Blade Runner..." and watch as their expectations of seeing the new 4-disc set drip away like warm egg nog.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut
Low Price: $14.49
Target Demographic: Blade Runner Virgins, Penny-Pinching Christmas Shoppers
There's nothing wrong with this DVD, in fact it's a great deal -- the target demographic has more to do with the other BR DVDs. On its own merits, The Final Cut has the titular new version of the film, three commentaries, a feature-length documentary, remastered transfer and the best cover art of the lot. If you've never seen BR before, start here. Everyone else should proceed to the next item.

Blade Runner (Four Disc Collector's Edition)
Low Price: $22
Target Demographic: Shrewd Consumers, Wide-Eyed Movie Bloggers
The price might as well read "a song." This is maybe the best DVD deal of the year. In addition to the specs of The Final Cut, you get THREE MORE versions of the film and a fourth disc full of deleted footage, featurettes and TV spots. This set contains just about everything a BR fan could have hoped for during the past decade of hoping, and its content alone would put it in the year's top 10 of best DVD releases, but then you get to the sticker shock of its low price! It may feel a little like stealing, but then you see that briefcase on the shelf and realize why the price is so low.

Blade Runner (Five Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition)
Low Price: $54.99
Target Demographic: Absolute Completists, Edward James Olmos Groupies
Warner's Ultimate Collector's Editions routinely offer little bang for the price, and while there's certainly no lack of interesting goodies here, the price is not justified. The best of this set is already included in the four-disc collection, plus another version of the film and a plastic briefcase full of trinkets. Inside the briefcase is a letter from Ridley Scott, a spinner car model, an origami unicorn figurine, photographs and a lenticular motion film clip. The extra disc, plus the items weigh in at $32. On that extra disc is the infamous "work print" of BR, which DVD Savant describes as "fairly ugly compared to the restored versions." The work print version apparently has the most differences among the five versions, but the price of that is a substantial downgrade in appearance. When these releases were originally announced, I instantly settled on this set before really weighing the other options. Now I can't really justify the price -- that is, outside of the thrill of placing the origami unicorn in my entryway and shouting "It's a shame she won't live, but then again who does?" to any visitor.

Blade Runner (Five Disc Complete Collector's Edition) HD/BluRay
Price: $27.95
Target Demographic: Smugly Amazed HD/BluRay Converts
The Moviezzz Blog originally brought this up, but it bears repeating: who are the ad wizards who thought this one up? So in addition to being able to watch BR in glorious high definition, HD/BluRay folks are also able to buy this five disc set without all the briefcase hoopla for $28?? Even more baffling, those same folks still have the option of paying $38 more for a plastic briefcase full of trinkets, since the big set is also available in HD/BluRay!?! By all accounts, Warner Bros. seems to be undercutting itself from multiple fronts with these BR releases.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Know your Coen dialects

You may not be able to spot a Coen movie on the screen in the way you can a John Carpenter or Martin Scorsese work, but that may be due to the fact that the brothers have never really settled on a firm set of trademark tells. The Coens bounce through genres and themes perhaps more than any other filmmakers, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if their next project was about a wind surfing magician. But one of the few constants in their work is the creative ability to enhance a film's fictional world with a distinct language and speech pattern. Since "boy, you got a panty on yer head" was first uttered, the Coens have celebrated a different dialect in almost all their succeeding movies. For your convenience, here is a rough field guide to Coen Linguistics:

Stupid by Southwest
Characteristics: Folksy enthusiasm (occasionally genuine) and desperation combined with minimal education.
Common habitat: Trailer parks, prisons and convenience stores.
Slang: Cereal flakes (breakfast cereal), l'amour (sex, possibly with someone else's spouse), Edwina (desert flower), Gubmint (government).
Examples: "Do they blow up in funny shapes? Nope, unless round's funny;" "Edwina's insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase;" "H.I., you're young and you got your health, what you want with a job?"

Whiskey in the Swear Jar
Characteristics: Close to the vest, overly confident, rapid fire with Irish Whiskey close at hand (or in hand).
Common habitat: Illegal drinking establishments, warehouses, alleys.
Slang: Injuns (Indians), bed antics (sex), fix (business venture), ethics (criminal behavior).
Examples: "Leo, I ain't embarrassed to use the word - I'm talkin' about ethics;" "Nobody knows anybody. Not that well;" "If I'd known we were gonna cast our feelings into words, I'd've memorized the Song of Solomon."

Minnesota Nice

Characteristics: Easily excitable, unoffensive with exaggerated Nordic speech patterns.
Common habitat: Frozen highways, fields of snow, frosted cars.
Slang: Smooth smooth (bad ass), oh daddy (oh shit), Buick Ciera (well-made automobile), super lady (moderately attractive woman).
Examples: "That's, a fountain of conversation there, buddy. That's a geyser;" "So, uh, you married old Norm son-of-a-Gunderson?" "You're darned tootin'!"

Drunk Lazy Dick

Characteristics: Passionately relaxed, unimpressed, overly opinionated, profane, thirsty.
Common habitat: Los Angeles, specifically bowling alleys and often the houses of the rich and famous.
Slang: J (marijuana cigarette), Swiss Fucking Watch (flawless plan), little kid walking into a movie theater (out of your element), johnson (penis), ringer (distraction), coitus (sex).
Examples: Innumerable.

High Art Bumpkin

Characteristics: God-fearing, musical, philosophical, sweetly dim.
Common habitat: Dusty roads, back woods, rivers, railroads.
Slang: Paterfamilias (husband, or something), unaffiliated (non-religious), can (microphone), hogwallop (unknown).
Examples: "One third of a gopher would only arouse my appetite without bedding it down;" "I suppose it'd be the acme of foolishness to inquire if you had a hair net;" "Me an' the old lady are gonna pick up the pieces and retie the knot, mixaphorically speaking."

Bloody Nowhere

Characteristics: Few words, nonsensical metaphors and stories, lack of sense of humor.
Common habitat: Empty streets, open fields, empty hotels.
Slang: Coin toss (maker), gettin' place (where you get things), friendo (friend).
Examples: "Well, age will flatten a man;" "What is he, like the ultimate bad ass?" "You can't stop what's coming"

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

DVDs WE LOVE: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Release: 2006

Availability: In print

Legacy: Before its release under Fox's Cinema Classics Collection label, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was only available as a bare bones Region 2 disc -- which made the lavish treatment it got for its Region 1 debut all the more surprising. One of the strongest all-around releases of the year, Beyond stretches the cult classic's psychedelic theme inside and out, and is bursting at the seams with extras (another common theme of the movie). Inside the blue snapcase is a DVD with perhaps my favorite animated menu of all time -- a few select scenes from the movie pop up in succession, eventually forming a sort-of photo mosaic of the title, and a Carrie Nations riff takes us through any menu selection. The movie itself bounces off the screen with a beautiful transfer, and when The Strawberry Alarm Clock busts out the tunes at Z-Man's party, it makes you want to grab your honey and start shaking. Nearly outshining the stars on screen are two discs loaded with extras, highlighted by a commentary track from the screenwriter -- one Roger Ebert! Always one of the better commentary participants, Ebert's turn on Beyond is unique in that he's critiquing the movie and also giving stories of what it was like to work with Russ Meyer and all the assorted starring beauties. The story of how Ebert came to work with Meyer seems like something out of a movie, and Ebert seems delighted to tell the tale, as well as many others stemming from his young film career. A second commentary track features many of the cast members -- but not the recently departed Michael Blodgett (who played Lance "Jungle Lad" Rock). The second disc features lots of interviews, with the best being a short conversation between Erica Gavin (Roxanne) and Cynthia Meyers (Casey) about their love scene late in the movie. It's obvious neither is sober, and their recollections of the steamy scene has the awkward erotic tone of an old married couple laughing about their first date.

Personal: DVDs like this give hope to those of us who dream of some day seeing a special edition of Leonard 6 or a Shannon Tweed box set. The Cinema Classics version of Beyond is that much of a dream come true for fans of the film, since it gives you more than you ever could have imagined. After watching Beyond many times on DVD, I can't imagine having to see it in pan-and-scan on VHS, since Meyer's wide screen lens is always filled to the edges with eye candy -- especially during Z-Man's parties. "This is my happening DVD, and it freaks me out!"

Availability: $19.99 at Amazon.