Thursday, April 30, 2009

Maybe we both changed...

"Movies, like any other works of art - or presumptive art - don't change. DVD "director's cuts" aside (and there are, I think, legitimate debates to be had about them), most movies are destined to live their lives in the form in which they were first released. But the people who watch movies do change. They grow up - or at least older - and their perceptions of a particular movie change. Movies we loved as young people sometimes seem less lovable when we revisit them years later. The opposite is also true; sometimes we need more experience to appreciate fully the subtlety of movies we saw for the first time in the distant past."

- Martin Scorsese, from the foreword to Scorsese by Roger Ebert

I brought this quote to the blogorium for two reasons:

1) It addresses directly the question of "are movies malleable?", at least from Martin Scorsese's perspective. For Scorsese, the answer is no; George Lucas (among others) believe that films are "never finished, they merely escape".

2) The second point, which I circle around periodically when writing: that just as important as the idea of a film "changing" is the way our relationship to a film changes with time.

There are movies that I will admit I did not "get" the first time I saw them. I liked Touch of Evil when I saw it in high school, but I did not "get" it, even in its truncated VHS version, I did not appreciate Evil or many of Welles' other films until I was older. I enjoyed Blade Runner when I saw it for the first time, but I didn't understand it. It took me years to fully appreciate what Francis Ford Coppola and Walter Murch did in the opening of Apocalypse Now. Taxi Driver - to bring in Scorsese - was something I thought was cool when I was 17, but it meant so much more when I was 28.

What interesting is that the two movies I mentioned first were films that did "change", one to a restoration that approximated a director's vision and another that went through a few passes before seeing a "Final" version. Admittedly, the first time I "got" Blade Runner was during the era of the so-called "Director's Cut"*, and the "Final Version" released two years ago was further proof of what I saw the second (or third) time through.

I think this can represent a hybrid opinion of the possibility that films can "change" and the certainty with which our opinion about movies can (and will) change with time. Not knowing Scorsese's exact position on "Director's Cuts", I will not engage that part of the quote directly. On the other hand, we can turn this notion of a changing position on the viewer's part back towards our earlier discussions.

Perhaps the attachment to the ratty, ragged prints of films has something to do with the way I (or many of us) first encountered them. I can't speak for the rest of you, but I never saw Eraserhead on the big screen. Or Night of the Living Dead, or the long rumoured "extended" cut of 2001 that Kubrick gutted after a preview screening. Most of these and other films I love were introduced on home video, particularly VHS. In those I came to understand film in a "square" format; movies were "panned-and-scanned" to fit the 4X3 screen, and for a long time I had no idea that movies should look any different. Even going to see them in theatres, I never made the connection about aspect ratios.

Laserdiscs changed the way I understood movies. It was with the laserdisc (and the player we rented from Video Bar) that I learned what "letterboxed" meant, and that films were shot in a rectangular manner. For the first time, I could see the whole picture in movies like Aliens and Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was a small shift that came to mean much more as I engrossed myself in cinema.

(I realize this is primarily related to the idea of film in a technical sense. For personal anecdotes about specific films, I will include older entries and update section with links soon)

Another key shift happened with Laserdiscs: I discovered that I could not like a film presented in a "director's cut". After spending four or five years with the theatrical cut of Aliens, the experience of watching Cameron's "preferred" cut was at first intriguing but ultimately underwhelming. I felt that the longer version over-explained plot points, rendering parts of the movie redundant or robbing them of their impact. For example, not knowing what the colony looks like before the Marines arrive increases the suspense for audiences. If, on the other hand, we get a full "ride through" of the colony and meet Newt's family, we know where the Marines are geographically and any sense of discovery is nullified.

That wasn't the last time my opinion on a movie would change, but it's the first one I remember clearly. The "Special Editions" of the Star Wars trilogy had similar effects, positively and negatively. To this day I wrestle with how I feel about some of the changes to the film and whether they reflect the films themselves or how I've changed over time.

Someday I will do more than just "appreciate" Wild Strawberries. I imagine as I get older, the film is going to resonate in different ways, just as something as seemingly trivial as Dazed and Confused grew more endearing. Dazed moved from what I wanted high school to be like to a film that reminds me of the ways that time of my life echoed parts of the movie, just not in the nostalgic way you'd expect. The boredom, the sense of "something more" that permeates the film resonates with me more than the hijinks or the potheads throwing a party. As I got older, a film like Dazed and Confused captures a period in my life where I was very much like those characters, in a way that Ghost World continues to echo my early twenties.

Maybe films don't change. Perhaps we do. I think there's room to say that a movie is slightly more flexible than Scorsese claims, but I understand his point. If movies are focal points around which fans of cinema can orient themselves, then it might be more important to look at how we change in relation to films than how they "change" to entice us or surprise us.

At any rate, this topic is far from put to rest. Feel free to chime in with your own anecdotes.




* I say that because the 1992 Director's Cut represents Warner Brothers staff working with Ridley Scott's notes to recut Blade Runner. Scott was off filming Thelma and Louise during much of the process, which took place between 1990 and 1991.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"It's Not Your Father's Star Trek"

I found that to be very interesting when the ad for JJ Abrams relaunch popped up on TV earlier today. It goes a long way in supporting this idea of adaptations/remakes making concerted efforts to replace the source material in cinema discourse. I'd been playing with that theory for a while, but rarely do you hear such a brazen disavowal of an original source (in this case, Star Trek) in order attract new viewers.

Typically the filmmakers and studio make efforts to pay lip service to the "classic" nature of the original (e.g. "Rob Zombie's re-imagining of the classic horror film" or "No one's saying that King Kong isn't a classic, this is just our homage" and so forth) so I was impressed that in order to draw in new fans (and potentially alienate the trekkie / trekker base), this film is being advertised as the "sexy", "action packed" Star Trek that your stuffy old man wouldn't like. Because The Wrath of Khan is soooooo 1982, guys!

Of course, from a marketing standpoint (and, from what I understand, a plot standpoint. more on that in a bit), it makes sense. With documentaries like Trekkies and frequent jokes made at the Star Trek universe's expense (which are, to be fair, at times warranted), it can't hurt to "sex it up", so to speak. Star Trek needs to be "cool" again is what Paramount is saying, I guess. I'm fuzzy when exactly it was ever "cool", and this is coming from a nearly life-long fan of the show(s) and movie(s). For their sake, it is just easier to forget that Nemesis and Enterprise ever happened and start fresh, so they are correct to market the film accordingly.

If I understand the plot correctly, this also makes sense. I'm going to wade a little bit into "spoiler" territory but most regular readers of a blog with Dr. Re-Animator on the splash logo don't strike me as Trek fans, but tread cautiously.

The comic which leads up to the film (an olive branch extended to fans who actually want to know how Nemesis could lead to Star Trek) seems to involve some catastrophe that destroys Romulus and drives a simple Romulan miner crazy. That miner is the Eric Bana character (or, since even I didn't reconize him, the bald dude with the tatoos that screams "Fire Everything!"), who somehow goes back in time in order to undo that massive disaster. Or just kill Spock, who tried to save Romulus and failed. I didn't actually read the comic so I don't know.

Anyway, that's why Leonard Nimoy appears as "Old Spock" in the movie, because the evil bald miner dude changes history and basically creates a "tangent" universe, ala Donnie Darko or Back to the Future Part 2, minus the falling engines and hoverbikes. That way, JJ Abrams is free to change histories of characters or where ships came from or how Kirk took over the Enterprise etc etc. This way, old school Trek fans can still have their Star Trek and the "new", "hip" crowd can enjoy the "Not Your Father's" Star Trek. Everyone wins, and Paramount gets to release all of the movies on Blu Ray in the next few weeks.

Except that yes, this open disavowal of the "old", "boring" Star Trek does mean that new fans to this movie are not necessarily encouraged to buy the original shows or films. Because, unless you want to be a lame-o Trekkie, why the hell would you care that the Enterprise wasn't built on Earth in the original series? That's totally dumb to even be bothered about, right? Duh! This isn't the OLD Star Trek, it's the hip cool NEW Star Trek so get over it boring old nerd dude*.

I find it very interesting that it's necessary to replace source material, or in this case, openly disavow it in order to guarantee success of a more recent incarnation. Along the same lines, why bother watching Friday the 13th parts 1-4 when they roll all the best parts into one remake? Pirate Channels are soooooo 20 years ago, people! The New Flesh would obviously work its way through a YouTube channel. Come on now, isn't that obvious**?

Hell, sometimes it works. Cronenberg's remake of The Fly does, in fact, contemporize the story in a way that makes it legible for 1980s audiences. Instead of a fear of science, we understand the story as a way to deal with the AIDS epidemic or watching a loved one fall apart (in The Fly's case, literally). John Carpenter's The Thing is, in many ways, a more effective and creepy movie than The Thing from Another World because it taps into fears about not knowing who we are. Both of them have generally taken the place of their predecessors in film discourse. They are, without a doubt, two of the most frequently cited "successful" remakes.

I will undoubtedly return to this subject in the future, but I thought it might be interesting for readers to watch this trend in full effect as we move towards the "new" Star Trek. Film discourse happens in ways we might not even be aware of on a conscious level, so maybe this will help you watch carefully.



* In this theoretical exchange I imagine douchebag hipsters taunting Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.
** I'm not actually saying that's how the Videodrome remake will operate but it is the logic behind remaking these types of movies.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Long Live the, uh, NEW New Flesh!

Coming into a re-watching of Superbad (for my American Manhood class), I was fully prepared not to enjoy it as much as I did the first time. In the ensuing two years since it came out, I've pretty much given up on Michael Cera. Arrested Development was cool and what not but it seems like the guy has approximately one trick in his bag: the "I'm going to say something no one hears and then mutter to myself as people walk away" move.

Other than that the guy pretty much occupies the "awkward in every way" character type who appeals to ladies because he's harmless (Juno, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) or who plays straight man to funnier people (Arrested Development, the Knocked Up dvd). His whole "I'm too big now to be in the AD movie" move didn't earn the guy any points either, so coming back to a movie where he's co-lead with Jonah Hill wasn't something I was itching to do.

The good news is that Superbad is a) still funny, and b) doesn't actually have that much Michael Cera in it. Sure, he's in practically every scene with Jonah Hill but the movie does have those tangents with McLovin and the cops (Bill Hader and Seth Rogen) so it's not like I have to put up with Cera in large doses.

In case you were wondering why we're watching Superbad in a women and gender studies class, our Professor is interested in studying the development and popularization of "geek chic" as an alternative to the hegemonic understanding of "manhood" in America. That neither Hill, Cera, or Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin) actually end up with "the girl" of their respective dreams (okay, McLovin doesn't technically have one but I'll get to that in a second) is telling about the way that Superbad rewrites the "teenage sex comedy" typified by American Pie. McLovin spends most of the night with the cops and Hill and Cera end up together in sleeping bags by the end of the film, rather than bedding their "dream girl"s.

How reflective it is of a growing norm (one that would theoretically include "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog", and the Seth Rogen as "leading man" genre of films) remains to be seen, but one could argue that Superbad's success reflects a willingness to move into another discursive practice about what "masculinity" is legible as.

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Wow, so at least two of you were very upset by the prospect of Videodrome being redone by the writer of Reindeer Games and Blood and Chocolate.

I guess you'll be even angrier to hear that someone (anyone!) is remaking Drop Dead Fred with Russell Brand in the title role and "Not Phoebe Cates" in the Phoebe Cates role.

No? Maybe a little apathetic? Not even that much, huh? Well, the Cap'n can't really blame you. I still have a copy of Drop Dead Fred that came free with a Papa John's pizza. It remains unopened.

If it's any consolation to the dvd, I can't remember what kind of pizza it was.
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This is like pulling teeth for me to even say this, but I'm kinda amused to see Rob Zombie making at least a passing nod to Halloween II in his H2. The trailer gives away the fact that this version of "Michael stalks Laurie in the hospital" is probably a dream; that being said, kudos for finally acknowledging the "if you make a sequel to the remake you should remake the sequel" theory of filmmaking.

I only wish I had more enthusiasm for H2, but I'm sure many of you will explain to me why Halloween was actually good and I must be crazy etc. Fair enough, that is what the comment section is for.

Monday, April 27, 2009

"When this baby hits 88 miles per hour..."

The Cap'n spent most of the weekend getting writing of the other sort done, so there's not a lot of movie talk to do. I did watch Back to the Future, which has become the equivalent of "comfort food" along with movies like Murder By Death, Dazed and Confused, Tron, and The Goonies; movies I can put on any time and watch all the way through. I realize that's a motley crew of a line up, and I'm forgetting other movies that make "regular" rotation (like A New Hope or Escape from New York), but there are things I go back to all of the time for whatever reason.

Anyway, to focus on Back to the Future: watching this movie after ragging on Mac and Me's shameless product placement made me feel a little bad for going so hard on that shitty movie. True, it wears its sponsorship on its sleeve, but Back to the Future is just as guilty.

We are talking about a film that responds to the question "Are you telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean???" with "The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style? "

This along with shilling for Pepsi, JVC, California Raisins, Burger King, Chevy, Lexus, and yes, Huey Lewis and the News (check out that Sports poster on Marty's wall!). Oh, and Van Halen and several other I'm forgetting. The hover board in part 2 is a plug for Hasbro, for crying out loud!

Anway, I rescind some of the disdain for Mac and Me, but still I can't give a film with Ronald McDonald in the trailer a free pass. The 80s may be loaded with shameless product placement; I contend Mac and Me takes it to a whole new level.

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What remake of Videodrome? That's like the prequel to The Thing that nobody is making, right? Or that remake of They Live Cranpire is excited isn't happening, right?

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Speaking of Cranpire, we've been having quite a back and forth about whether Jason Vorhees died as a young'un in Friday the 13th (hence being a zombie in every movie since part 2) or if Jason actually didn't drown and was a living dude until part 4 when he died big time. Then was revived as Zombie Jason in part 6. I'm standing by my argument (the latter) while Cranpire has some interesting points for his side.

What do you folks think? Cranpire I already know what you think and will be happy to excerpt it in a followup blog but if others would throw in their two cents we can get a full fledged conversation going on here.

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Gotta go. Still some school junk to deal with. Eegah!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What time is it, kids? Trailer Sunday time!!!


Like Father, Like Son


Shredder


Play Misty for Me


eXistenZ


Marnie


Tideland


Brand Upon the Brain


David Lynch's A Goofy Movie

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Inconceivable!

Blogorium readers, I'm reaching out to all of you. The Cap'n needs to find a movie in the worst way, and only you can help.


Please, seek out Ganjasaurus Rex!

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"Wait... did the Cap'n just say he wanted to watch a movie called Ganjasaurus Rex?! Is this some kind of a joke? Such a movie can't possibly exist..."

Ah, dear readers, I understand you confusion, but I assure you that such a movie exists! I first heard of this incredibly hard to find movie in Mick Martin and Marsha Porter's Video Movie Guide: 1990, and in their "Turkey" rating, they explain

"A prodrug propaganda film about a prehistoric monster that awakens when the authorities begin burning marijuana crops. The heroes, of course, are the drug growers. The film's production values are so low that even its intended audience will have difficulty enjoying it. Not Rated. 1988; 88m."

If that isn't enough to woo you in (and it was for me!), then check out the following review from IMDB's page:

"Several years ago while visiting in Atlanta, GA, I was browsing the BookNook at Clairemont and Buford and in their used VHS movie section I spotted the title Ganjasaurus Rex. It looked really bottom-barrel terrible so I bought it, figuring my friends would have a ball watching this as one of the worst films ever produced. It is so terrific as a bad film that you can get stoned just watching it. The basic concept is that a pot farmer in the remote West Coast stumbles across an ancient marijuana seed the size of a Volkswagon and decides to plant it. The plant is the size of a sequoia tree, and it's aroma awakens the sleeping Ganjasaurus Rex that feeds on it. The monster is an actual toy Godzilla with an always visible hand causing movement, and that should be a key reference to the special effects, the acting, and the plot line."

Okay, now look at the VHS Cover:


How could you not want to see this? Combine stupid premise with cheap toy and shot-on-camcorder production values, this is a no brainer! It may be the only pro-marijuana horror movie that employs a "giant" monster, and the Video Movie Guide actually bothered to rate it "Turkey". That's an impressive feat for something I bet none of us have ever seen.

So what's holding the Cap'n back? Well, for one thing the movie is not available on dvd (shock!), but worse still, the VHS isn't even easy to locate. Oh sure, if I had a time machine and lots of gasoline I'd travel video stores across the 1980s for a copy, but I have neither and the cheapest copy on Amazon is $39.75.

I'm not saying that it probably isn't worth every penny but, sight unseen, that's a lot to ask. I beg of you, Blogorium faithful, to scour your local video stores, Roses, gas stations, and anywhere else that still bothers stocking cheap-o vhs tapes. Help the Cap'n find Ganjasaurus Rex, and I will hold the most glorious party to celebrate this classic-to-be*!

Together we can find out just how much of a Turkey Ganjasaurus Rex really is, and I'll even make copies for all of you! How's that for incentive to help me?

Gang?


Where did you go???

Okay, how about just a copy for me and anyone who wants one? Is that better?



* there will probably not be marijuana though. sorry.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Double The Reviews, Double the Fun

There is only one movie that could have kept me from watching The Wrestler today, and it just so happened that Netflix was streaming that exact film while I was browsing. Of course, once you watch JCVD, you might as well watch The Wrestler, since they deal with actors who slipped out of the "big time" and both came back last year in very different ways.

Let's deal with the one less people have seen, and appropriately the first one I watched: JCVD

For anyone who doesn't know what the title stands for (or who stars in the movie), that would be Jean-Claude Van Damme, the "Muscles from Brussels" and frequenter of direct to video fare for the last ten years or so. The film had limited release here in the U.S. and while many of us planned on seeing it, JCVD slipped by and became a "catch it on video".

If you don't have Netflix, you can watch JCVD starting next week, when it hits dvd and Blu Ray, and I highly recommend it. It's rare that an action star would be so willing to look at himself critically and then put it out there for the world to see, so I give serious points to Van Damme for being such a good sport. From the opening - one continuous action shot - where Jean-Claude gets winded and complains to a bored director "Look, I'm 47. I can't do stuff like this anymore" to the moment where he's literally lifted above the set and addresses the audience to the tongue in cheek ending, Van Damme never takes himself too seriously.

In JCVD, the title's namesake is broke, fighting a losing custody battle, and considering giving up acting for no-talent directors and money grubbing agents in order to go back to Belgium and start over. How much of that reflects Van Damme's actual life is irrelevant considering the strange twists and turns of this self reflexive parody. That being said, it's not exactly the comedy you'd expect.

The movie itself is like a mix of Adaptation, My Name is Bruce, and Dog Day Afternoon with a narrative structure borrowed liberally from Christopher Nolan's early work. And somehow it works, even though the film openly defies what audiences would expect from Jean-Claude Van Damme. It's easily the best thing I've seen him do and maybe it marks a career shift for the aging action star.

One note: the Netflix streaming version is partially dubbed. JCVD is presented partially in english and partially in French, and will be easy to notice because Van Damme does not dub his own voice (for some reason) in this version. Despite this distraction, the movie still works and I look forward to seeing it un-dubbed.

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I couldn't in good conscience watch Jean-Claude Van Damme address his (at times literal) fall from grace without the figurative version Mickey Rourke deals with in The Wrestler, so I went ahead and played them back to back. The two films make for an interesting double feature, particularly since one so openly addresses our conceptions of an actor and the other merely reinforces assumptions about one.

This is not to say The Wrestler is making things up about Mickey Rourke, but I certainly don't think he's playing himself (or a version of himself). Randy "The Ram" is a character, perhaps one with personal touchstones for Rourke, but he may have been given a raw deal by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I don't think that Rourke was "not acting" in The Wrestler, however much we may like to draw parallels between Mickey and "The Ram". Nothing personal to Sean Penn, whose win for Milk I have not seen yet.

I've been a fan or Darren Aronofsky since Pi, so watching The Wrestler came without much trepidation. Still, I was surprised by how much of a shift it was for Aronofsky as a director. Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain are heavily conceptually heavy films that rely on all sorts of editing tricks and in-camera effects. The Wrestler, on the other hand, has a documentary feel to it, right down to the way the camera frequently just "follows" Randy around*. The film could easily be read as a companion piece to Barry Blaustein's Beyond the Mat, which has to be on some level an inspiration for this film.

The Wrestler is harder to watch than JCVD but it's already having an impact after finishing the film. While I look forward to watching both again and highly recommend each film, I sense The Wrestler will be the one I return to most often.

Nevertheless, enjoy both movies and if you have time, double them up. It's an interesting experience to say the least.




*That in itself is an interesting juxtaposition to JCVD, which is quite the opposite: the lighting is high-key to the point that many characters and sets seem to "glow" and the editing is part of the trickery within what we think we're seeing vs what's actually happening (which is part of why I'm steering clear of the plot of JCVD).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Remastering continued.

Sometimes a subject bears more discussion. In the instance of last night's ruminating over "digital scrubbing", regular reader Tom D. had some interesting comments about the issue of remastering (visible here). His particular interest comes from two Criterion releases: By Brakhage, an anthology of Stan Brakhage's experimental films, and La Jetee / Sans Soleil, two films by Chris Marker.

The Cap'n highly recommends you read the comments in full before continuing, and I'd prefer to not paste edited versions here, even for space considerations. What it did do was get me thinking about further examples, but particularly the issue of "director's choice".

Given that both of these remasters were done with and approved by their respective filmmakers (Brakhage and Marker) if the intention of the director supersedes our own personal preference. It is true that unintended consequences, be they print damage, fading, poor projection, or video mastering, can create a separate version of the film that audiences come to rather than the director's desired product.

David Lynch has famously indicated that unless he can control the image output of every tv set in the world that he has no interest in pursuing another series. Both Twin Peaks boxed sets reflect his desire to control the precise image, down to "home tests" which allow you to adjust the image to his "ideal". So if we are to respect, in some ways, auteurial influence, where is the line?

George Lucas is the frequent punching bag in this conversation (not merely for Star Wars but for THX 1138's "new cut") but I am deeply conflicted about what William Friedkin did to The French Connection. His newly remastered version for Blu Ray started by splitting the negative: creating a new black and white negative which was meticulously cleaned up for the sharpest possible image. What Friedkin did next is where I find myself troubled by this "intent" discussion.

Friedkin took this black and white master and added the color back, but not in a matching system. Instead, he allowed colors to appear smudgy and bleed (particularly strong reds, like on Popeye Doyle's Santa suit), giving the effect of a "colorized" film. Frank Capra and Orson Welles notoriously threw fits when Ted Turner tried to do similar colorizations to their films in the 1980s, but this is a separate issue. The French Connection was made in color, and the image available on this High Definition release is not reflective of what the film looked like when released in theatres. Hell, it doesn't even reflect the dvd version released four years ago!

William Friedkin is well within his rights to do this but I have great reservations about buying The French Connection on Blu Ray because of his "tinkering" with the film. Unlike Lucas, who makes fairly noticeable digital additions to his older films, Friedkin erased the original picture's color palette and replaced it with something that looks like poorly synched colorization.

Similar changes have happened at Criterion, even on "director-approved" editions, most noticeably The Last Emperor and Chungking Express. Both films were re-adjusted in different ways by their cinematographers, rather than directly by the filmmakers. The framing of Emperor was opened up from 2.35:1 to 2.00:1 by Vittorio Storaro, under the claim it was the "intended" framing of the film.

What is not mentioned on Criterion's site is that Storaro developed "Univision" - a film stock designed to be shot at 2.00:1, and that accordingly demands all films he shot be transferred to 2.00:1. Which, in case you were wondering, is why no version of Apocalypse Now released on dvd has ever been framed at its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

Chungking Express is more directly related to color timing. Criterion had been working on Express, but Kar-Wai was too busy filming Ashes of Time to personally oversee it. Criterion producers discovered the film's cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, was in New York working on a Jim Jarmusch film and showed the BD-R to him. From their blog, On Five:

"Now, by this point, we were already at our initial DVD-R and BD-R stages for Chungking. That means that . . . we were done. Basically, we just had to go through the discs and check them to make sure there weren’t any errors or problems.

But the prospect of getting Doyle’s stamp of approval on our transfer was too tantalizing, and important, to let slip by. So our tech director, Lee Kline, contacted Doyle and persevered until he got the cinematographer to find time in his hectic schedule to swing by and check out the results of our work. Not surprisingly, Doyle did request some changes, ones that only someone closely involved with Chungking’s overall visual presentation would’ve known. They weren’t anything too major: dialing out some green in a few shots, warming up Kai Tak airport interiors, fixing a couple of skin tones. Still, it meant we’d have to “start over” to a certain extent, inserting those fixes and reauthoring both the standard-def and Blu-ray discs. "

Now, admittedly, Chungking Express does not have a "director's stamp of approval" as some of their releases do. Wong Kar-Wai was personally involved in the sound mix, but it appears that only Doyle saw the temporary work on the picture and addressed some changes. I don't have much of an opinion one way or the other on this; it is, however, interesting because we have an example of remastering that is not specifically the director.

There are a handful of other examples of this, the one that comes to mind immediately is the dvd release of Terry Gilliam's Tideland. In this case, the company who released the disc (ThinkFilm) decided not to wait for Gilliam to reframe his 2.35:1 picture into a 2.00:1 image, so they cropped the film to a 1.77:1 picture and released it on dvd as a "16x9 Full Frame" presentation. More insulting than this erroneous decision is that all of the deleted scenes and making of material on the second disc is still presented 2.35:1, so it's not like we'd never know.

When ThinkFilm received complaints from fans (and Gilliam), they acquiesed and claimed they would release the film, but they still gaffed it up. Rather than do the right thing and honor Gilliam's request to reframe the image, they said that Tideland would be released "in its original 2.35:1 format".

To add insult to injury, I've never been able to find a copy of this "fixed" version of Tideland. Amazon still lists the 1.77:1 version and no store I've ever been to carries a different version. ThinkFilm may never have released it, assuming that we were too stupid to bother checking up on that. In the meantime, Tideland is only availble with half of the image missing, a result of impatient dvd mastering.

Admittedly, this is a complicated issue. I'm sure there are people who prefer the scratchy, fuzzy versions of Eraserhead and Night of the Living Dead, among many others. I happen to prefer the newer editions, ones that reflect some degree of revisionism on the filmmakers part. Or maybe it doesn't. It's truly hard to be certain.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Remastering: A Grand Conundrum

How times change. As recently as six years ago, I used to think it was cool for movies to be on video in grainy, shitty, beat-up condition. It added to the "ambiance" of the film, particularly if it was something many of us considered to be a grungy underground movie. Who cared if Eraserhead or Night of the Living Dead was swimming in grain with deep scratches or missing frames? That's the way they ought to look, right?

While I still periodically pop in washed out videotapes of movies that are all chopped to hell and riddled with defects, a big shift came when dvd finally took off. Movies were getting remastered, and maybe you still say "why", as I do every now and then (Faces of Death, anyone?). On the other hand, I suddenly had access to films the way they were shot. While the grimy, "hidden" quality was gone, it became clear the films were just as good (and often better) when you could actually make out what was going on.

Night of the Living Dead and Eraserhead were prime examples; each film was a revelation of details heretofore obscured by persistent print damage. The stark photography of Romero's first "zombie" film accentuated the bleak finale. Watching the film in a clean print made me aware that there was no other way Night of the Living Dead could end. There was no hope, and Romero's documentary-like coverage inside and outside the house watched passively as the world went to hell.

Sometimes I wish I could have seen Eraserhead with an audience during the heyday of its "midnight movie" run. That film is a trip even with a small group of people, and I can only imagine what being in a hazy, pot smoke filled auditorium surrounded by a midnight crowd forced to deal with David Lynch's debut projected against the screen. Lynch, perhaps sensing that this could never be, worked dilligently to clean Eraserhead up frame by frame for four years and remixed the audio for home speaker systems. The result is probably different from Eraserhead as it appeared in theatres, but I'll be damned if I've put my grainy as hell UK bootleg back in the dvd player since.

Why I find this Eraserhead (re-named Eraserhead 2000 on the dvd cover) so amazing is that every detail emerges, often confounding the nightmarish quality of the film. It would be a safe assumption that if you could see more of the picture, much of the mystery would go away, but Lynch is fastidious in cramming tiny details into his films, ones that when visible are frequently as confounding. I've watched this new, cleaner version of Eraserhead more times than the beat up dvd and vhs bootlegs I've had, basking in the details and trying to work out the visual non sequiturs. It may be a revisionist version of the film, but it turns out that Eraserhead can handle the polish.

There are a number of other films I've come to appreciate from cleaned up images: Apocalypse Now's dense opening unveiled a whole new layer when I saw a widescreen remaster (Martin Sheen's Willard was a bail bondsman before Vietnam. Who better to send after Kurtz?) and Taxi Driver continues to surprise me when properly framed. I've caught things in films I never noticed, reveling in their "beaten up" status for too long.

All things considered, I still have a soft spot for the trod upon dvd picture. To be perfectly honest with you, I can't imagine Chopping Mall would look better with a widescreen remaster. Right now the disc is a straight-up port of a Vestron Cassette Tape, right down to the logo after the credits. It looks okay, but frequently leans dark and is clearly panned-and-scanned. Would I trade it for a minty fresh remaster? It's hard to say. Chopping Mall is such an obviously cheap movie that I have to wonder just how much of an improvement is possible.

The Driller Killer is widescreen, claims to be "remastered from 16mm negative" and still looks like shit. It's way to dark in most scenes to even figure out what's happening, and the sound mix buries dialogue so far down that at times I couldn't tell you what anyone's saying. A comparably cheap film, Maniac Cop, looks much better than the old "full frame" dvd I rented from Netflix. I can finally make out kills in the night scenes. I'll take the remastered Metropolis and Nosferatu over any third rate public domain cheapie any day. The remastered Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer improves on its vhs antecedents, so these things are a toss up.

I guess in the end it comes down to the movie. Does every film bear a top-to-bottom scrubbing? I honestly don't know. Clearly there are good arguments for why one should; when done correctly, the difference can be eye opening. On the other hand, I do suppose that some films continue to have "cult" followings because of their dingy, time-worn picture and muddy soundtrack. Even as home video moves in the "high definition" direction, this question is going to persist, because you can face (at times) a startlingly good shift in picture quality. Evil Dead 2, for example, looks pretty good for such a low budget film on Blu Ray, even if the string holding objects is now readily visible.

I suppose if the movie is good enough, it can transcend even the worst transfer.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's Like Any Other Blog Today (which is to say lots of "reaction")

Can it be? Finally?

Bubba Nosferatu is going to shoot this year?

I'm going to pretend that the two people I know who don't like Bubba Ho-Tep aren't reading this, because the news that its long-in-the-making sequel is music to my ears. I thought Bubba Ho-Tep was a breath of fresh air in a realm of remakes, not to mention one of the weirdest damn horror films in years. But what would you expect from the director of Phantasm?

For those of you who hadn't heard yet, the Bruce is out as Elvis (he passed on the film a year or so ago) but Paul Giamatti - who's onboard as Colonel Tom Parker - let it slip his replacement was none other than Ron "Ma-fuckin" Perlman (The City of Lost Children, Hellboy). Since Perlman is playing a younger Elvis than Bruce Campbell did, this is fine with me.

The Bruce is cool with his replacement and to be honest, this casting choice is just weird enough to fit in the world of Bubba Ho-Tep. Other than the story used to be about "she-vampires", no one seems to know what Bubba Nosferatu is bringing to the table. Nevertheless, I'll be happy to see it when it comes out.

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To temporarily belabor the "successful remakes erase the original" argument I've been formulating, I heard the following sentence today:

"Oh look, they put 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' from Spamalot on here!"

I'm really starting to wonder if (or should I say "when") the Spamalot movie comes out what the impact will be on older Python films. Admittedly, Holy Grail is something of a sacred cow, but I do wonder about the legacy of Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life and the way they've been cherry picked for Spamalot. Thoughts?

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Some time soon all this school work will be out of the way and I can finally watch a number of movies gathering (or soon gathering) dust: The Wrestler, Synecdoche NY, Milk, Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, W., Cat in the Brain, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, and Hellraiser on Blu Ray.

Yeah, I'd love to tell you I'll be on these very soon, but alas the University owns my soul and my time until mid-May. Gack!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Here we go again...

I knew it. When we went to see Crank: High Voltage, the Carousel was swarming with teenage girls, and as we were leaving, a contingent of Girl Scouts were setting up sleeping bags to spend the night there. I jokingly suggested they were all there to see Crank, but the reality is that there's only one reason that many teenage girls were in one place: Zac f'n Efron.

The Cap'n doesn't know much about Zac Efron. Hell, I don't really know anything about him other than he's in those High School Musical movies and that he was in the Hairspray that isn't Hairspray*. Oh, and that his new movie, 17 Again, came out on Friday.

For those of us who grew up during the 80s, seeing trailers for that film were groan-inducing because they reminded us of a series of "Body Swapping" movies that were all the rage between 1980 and 1990. 18 Again, Like Father Like Son, Vice Versa, Big, Dream a Little Dream. All of them essentially borrowed the Freaky Friday premise (with the exception of Big) and came out within a few years of each other. They also all sucked (again, with the exception of Big), so it wasn't a huge loss when they went the way of the dodo.

But now it's back, and not in the Freaky Friday remake** or The Hot Chick one-off way. Now it has Zac f'n Efron to guarantee interest, and sure enough 17 Again was tops at the Box Office. As much as I'd like to think that Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip and Reno 911 fans had something to do with it***, I think we all know who forked over their babysitting dollars to see shirtless Zac Efron (yes, that was actually in a review).

Crank: High Voltage, on the other hand, was number six, behind 17 Again, State of Play, Hannah Montana: the Movie, Monsters vs Aliens, and Fast and Furious.

I'm not truly broken up over this, although it is sad. Crank: High Voltage is not the kind of movie that's going to appeal to... well, just about everybody. There's a very specific audience to this film, and you can usually tell by their reaction to the title. If they say "What's that?", change the subject. If they say "Holy Crap! There's a Crank TWO???" and then proceed to jump around like a maniac, get that person a ticket. After all, that's going to be one out of a hundred or so people you talk to.

Still, I'm bummed it didn't do better. That movie is so gleefully subversive that I'd love to see more of them (especially in light of how Crank: High Voltage ends) but the Box Office is boss as far as Hollywood is concerned. We can instead look forward to the return of the Body Swap genre with tween stars in the lead. Oh boy.

Again, nothing personal to Zac Efron. Don't know the guy, haven't seen his work, not planning on doing so either. Your movie just landed opposite a film that at last figured out how to bring exploitation cinema back into the multiplexes and did it very well. That, and I really hated Vice Versa and 18 Again. And Like Father, Like Son. Hell, I hate all of them, except Big. So forgive my lack of enthusiam for your triumph.



* Speaking of successful adaptations that supplanted the original film. You can't even mention Hairspray anymore and expect a conversation about John Waters to follow. Such a shame...
** Again, now people think of that stupid Lindsay Lohan movie. Poor Jodie Foster.
*** Matthew Perry and Thomas Ian Lennon are in the movie too. And Leslie Mann, of Apatow movie fame.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Trailer Sunday: Bad Movie Weekend Edition


Crank: High Voltage


The Giant Claw


Batman & Robin



Teenage Mother


"Move Your Dead Bones" by Dr. Re-Animator (from Beyond Re-Animator, in case you were really that curious)


Mac and Me (with Ronald McDonald! Doubt that product placement now?)


Troll 2


"Happy Life Day" (from the Star Wars Holiday Special)


The Story of Ricky

Bad Movie Weekend Recap: Photographic Evidence

To demonstrate the madness that is Bad Movie Weekend, I thought I'd share some pictures from Saturday night.

Adam made this face every time he had to drink Wild Irish Rose.
Mind you, he bought it and chose to drink during every instance of product placement in Mac and Me. That's a lot of Wild Irish Rose.


Speaking of product placement...


And the rest of the room (minus The Cap'n)

It's kind of hard to tell what this is but Adam is getting himself a piece of Robin's gratuitous butt shot in Batman & Robin. The neon really made taking this picture difficult.

Everybody had to share what they "won" from the Grab Bag of Badness. Everybody was a winner!

The next batch is from The Story of Ricky, so you have some idea of a) how bizarre this movie is and b) the hot mess we call "subtitles" could be in the film.

Ricky


The Warden, who looks like a cross between Hunter S. Thompson and Ronald Lacey in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The Ass't Warden (according to the subtitles, which periodically drop the ' ) This is a more understandable subtitle gaffe.


I wish I could explain this in context, but I can't. Context really means nothing in this movie.



I can tell you it's being said to Ricky. Otherwise I'm at a loss.

You should never trade juice with human blood. This has virtually nothing to do with the poppy field he's burning in the background.

Bad Movie Weekend Recap: Night Two

Oh goodness how do I even begin to explain what happened here?

For starters, the Quadruple Feature was a success; we watched (in this order) Batman & Robin, Mac and Me, Troll 2, and Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky. Plus I snuck my "surprise" in, the Star Wars Holiday Special (on VHS). Let it be known that The Cap'n does not mess around in planning a Bad Movie Night.

In the kitchen I had Robot Monster playing on a loop and in my room (which was the way out to the roof for smokers) Sorority Babes at the Slime Ball Bowl-O-Rama was on a loop. No matter where you went, something incredibad was waiting for you.

As you can tell, it's nearly five in the morning and everyone headed out but we had a number of attendees and a few first timers to boot. I'm really itching to sleep since we didn't exactly take breaks, so I'll try to keep the movie portions short.

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First note: between movies we attended to more trailers, including Cop and A Half, Suburban Commando, Moonwalker, Bloodrayne, The Vampires Night Orgy, Shocker, Hell Comes to Frogtown, Teen Wolf Too, Knock Off, Stunt Rock, Scream Blacula Scream, Cyborg, Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood, Ticks, and Young Guns 2.

We also watched Teenage Mother another FOUR times and "Move Your Dead Bones" by Doctor Re-Animator. Nicely played.

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Batman & Robin was (conveniently) suffering from some Blu-Ray related issues (or PS3 related issues... I'm not sure) which caused the film to skip during the middle. No loss there.

Uma Thurman aside, there's nothing to recommend about the craptastic fourth Batman film unless you're in the mood for woefully unfunny jokes and the most unoriginal Arnold puns in his filmography.

Things we learned: Adam does not like Alicia Silverstone, Alfred is a lousy butler, you can direct pure sunlight onto Gotham City without vaporizing everyone.

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Mac and Me... oh lordy. While McDonalds and Coca-Cola paid for big chunks of this movie, that's not to say a number of other corporate sponsors didn't get in on the action. Skittles, Valvoline, Sears, He-Man, Voltron, Power Wheels, and yes, Dos Equis all shill their products flagrantly in Mac and Me.

The movie is still entertaining in a "they really did that in a children's movie?" way, and we laughed our way past the shameless product placement and illogical plot machinations.

Adam made the poor decision of taking a swig of Old Irish Rose every time product placement appeared. Tomorrow I'll share a picture of the face he made every time he tried to drink it. I only wish I'd snapped a photo when he tried using a straw...

Things we learned: Mac and Me uses footage from a non-existent The Hills Have Eyes 3, including the mine scene*, Even children in wheelchairs are fair game, Wild Irish Rose is vile, Paul Rudd is a genius.

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Now that I've seen Troll 2 as an adult, I bow down to its reputation. That movie makes the cast of The Giant Claw look like polished professionals and the story makes even less sense than it did 20 years ago. Holy cow is this movie funny for all the wrong reasons.

My favorite subplot has to do with the guys who follow the Waits family to Nilbog and stay in an RV outside of town. They seem to think there's plenty of girls to score with if they just hang out in the RV. Somehow they just end up naked in bed together or in similarly compromising positions. Finally one of them gets lucky with the Goblin Queen (?) and has the greatest scene involving popcorn ever**.

It is totally fair to call Troll 2 the "Best Worst Movie" and show it at midnight. I only wish a nearby theatre offered such an experience.

Things we learned: Italians hate vegetarians, Part of Stonehenge is in Nilbog, Kicking a guy in the nuts will in fact turn him "into a homo", the Biscuitville in Nilbog is open past 2:30 pm.

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There's no reason to watch the Star Wars Holiday Special. People who tell you the Boba Fett cartoon is awesome are lying. The only reason to ever watch it is for the commercials, which are hilarious.

No less than four ads deal specifically with Unions (my favorite being the International Ladies Garment Workers Union) and children's toy commercials are inexplicably juxtaposed with ads for Colonial wine or some of the strangest pantyhose commercials I've ever seen. Also of note is the CBS News bulletins indicating that people didn't have sex during the Blizzard of '78 because "men were outside shoveling", and the Neutron bomb which "wipes out humans but leaves cities intact".

CBS Evening News is also responsible for the following phrase: "Tonight at 11: Fighting Frizzies", which at one point sounds like "Fucking Frizzies" and then simply "Frizzies". There's also a CBS program called Flying High that looks and sounds as dirty as anything on tv today.

Things we learned: Carrie Fisher and Bea Arthur shouldn't sing, Mark Hamill can look a LOT like Julie Andrews, Jefferson Starship went down on Dr. Manhattan, More than one wookie talking at a time sounds stupid, and Life Day is a stupid holiday.

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I already wrote about The Story of Ricky. The only new thing I have to add is just how much better it is to watch it with others. I let a lot of the subtitle non sequiturs slide the first time through, but when others try to make sense of the story based on a very bad translation of Mandarin the movie grows exponentially funnier.

Things we learned: Ricky's jacket is magical, The main warden had a good time in Hawii, There's really no reason why every prisoner didn't leave the prison whenever they wanted to, It's really easy to repair torn sinews.

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In addition to trailers from the incredible nights of Bad Movies, I'll include some photos from tonight, including the "grab bag" recipients and their prizes. Everyone went home happy!



* Adam may have made this up.
** Even better than Real Genius.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bad Movie Weekend Recap: Night One

Bad Movie Night, rechristened Bad Movie Weekend, kicked off in style with a field trip to see Crank: High Voltage, a film that manages to surpass the madness that was Crank 1.

Shortly after seeing Crank, Adam declared it "The Greatest Movie in the History of Movies", which it held onto until he saw Shoot 'Em Up. It didn't look like anything would surpass the madness which was killing people with carrots. Then Crank: High Voltage came out. Now there's really no question that Jason Statham is willing to do just about anything to hold that number one spot, and you will laugh in disbelief for the entire film.

It's almost impossible to explain the many ways that this film exceeded our expectations and manages to blow away pretty much everything you thought was possible in a Jason Statham movie. This is truly as wild as it gets in 70-something minutes. I don't even want to spoil any of the multiple surprises you're in store for, but the film does include something I never thought I'd see in a major American release:

A Giant Monster Fight.

I don't dare say any more but you won't see it coming so it's not a huge spoiler. You MUST see Crank: High Voltage as soon as possible. It truly is "The Greatest Movie in the History of Movies". The film will leave you pumped and with a number of questionable phrases ready for repeating.

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After that we came home and played some Buzz! Quiz TV rounds in a group of eight, then I played a handful of trailers as set up for The Giant Claw. Seeing it a second time, this time with a Nuclear Physicist in the room, made the bad science even more hysterically funny. The monster... well, let's just say it's special. It made Adam feel bad because someone must have put a lot of work into it, and in his words "they just weren't very talented." It's so true.

Following up The Giant Claw is no small feat but The Cap'n always rises to the occasion with Trailer Madness. Catwoman, Teenage Mother, Captain EO, Deathstalker, and Subspecies IV: Bloodstorm were among the many gems we sampled, along with a brisk visit to the wonder that is Punisher: War Zone and... a movie I can't talk about.

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Tomorrow (technically later tonight) we'll be kicking things into high gear with the "Pain Event", a quadruple dose of dreck: Mac and Me, The Story of Ricky, Batman and Robin, and Troll 2. I also have a few more "surprises" in store, and Death Race needs to be represented in some capacity...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Quick Reviews: American Scary and The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made

It's Bad Movie Night in six hours or so, and while The Cap'n waits for the first wave of guests to arrive, now seems like a good time to give quick hits on two documentaries. Well, one documentary and a "list" movie, American Scary and The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made, both thanks to Netflix streaming video.

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American Scary is easily the better of the two: it deals specifically with the cultural trend of "Horror Movie Hosts" which caught on regionally in the 50s and 60s. For those not familiar with the movement or have just heard of Elvira by reputation, in the early days of television the networks were starved for content to fill out their schedules. The film studios began leasing out their back catalogs (particularly horror) to the stations, and local stations would punctuate the films with a gag-spouting "host" who alleviated the tension for kids watching at home. As the "Horror Movie Host" spread, it ended up at all hours of the day and grew popular with local audiences.

The documentary covers the birth of the "Host", takes a regional journey through hosts in Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Trenton. Many of the surviving Hosts are on hand to tell their stories, including Roland / Zacherley, Vampira, Ghoularid, Count Gore D. Vol, Crematoria Mortem, Son of the Ghoul, and Penny Dreadful. Elvira doesn't appear in the interviews but he impact is mentioned on a national level.

Along for the ride to share memories of the Hosts are Neil Gaiman, Curtis "Booger" Armstrong, Joe Bob Briggs, Bob Burns, author James Morrow, Chris Gore of Film Threat, Joel Hodgson of MST3k, Tim Conway, Leonard Maltin, Patricia Tallman (the evil witch in Army of Darkness), John Kassir (the Crypt-Keeper), Len Wein and Phil Tippett.

I found the discussion of MST3k's role in carrying on the "host" tradition (albeit in different ways) an interesting take on the show's impact. If you look at Mystery Science Theater 3000 in that light, it does bridge the gap between the corporatization of network television (which effectively ended "Horror Hosts") and the rise of Public Access "Horror Hosts". It's strange that while Joe Bob Briggs appears, no mention is made of Monster Vision. USA Up All Night also fails to register even though it did similar work.

Still, this is quality stuff, and you'll get a lot of footage from people you may have only read about. Check it out.

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The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made is less a documentary and more of a quick hit kind of list. The "movie" itself is 60 minutes long, so you can do the math. Generally you spend barely more than a minute with each film (the runtime includes credits and "graphics" devoted to a booing audience) so it's more of an overview than anything.

All things considered, I did pick up a few ideas for future Bad Movie Nights, and I buffered out the "trailer gallery" for this weekend (available here). I can't really argue with the list too much (other than possibly Spider Baby, which I like), but here are the 50 Worst Movies Ever Made:

50. Glen or Glenda?
49. Mesa of Lost Women
48. Troll
47. Teenage Zombies
46. The Fat Spy
45. Voodoo Woman
44. Ishtar
43. Frankenstein Conquers the World
42. The Creeping Terror
41. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
40. Howard the Duck
39. They Saved Hitler's Brain
38. Black Belt Jones
37. Greetings!
36. The Great Alligator
35. Hillbillys in a Haunted House
34. TNT Jackson
33. Robot Monster
32. The Incredible Melting Man
31. Firebird 2015 A.D.
30. Dracula Vs. Frankenstein
29. Bride of the Monster
28. Smokey and the Bandit Part 3
27. Xanadu
26. Leonard Part 6
25. The Wild Women of Wongo
24. Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla
23. The Ape
22. Galaxy of Terror
21. The Robot vs the Aztec Mummy
20. Snow White (German Version)
19. Creature from the Haunted Sea
18. The Swinging Cheerleaders
17. Trial of Billy Jack
16. Killers from Space
15. Spider Baby
14. Trog
13. The Three Stooges in Orbit
12. The Crippled Masters
11. Sorceress
10. The Crawling Hand
9. Bloodsucking Freaks
8. J.D.'s Revenge
7. Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster
6. Killer Shrews
5. Great White
4. Plan 9 from Outer Space
3. The Thing with Two Heads
2. Eegah!
1. The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies


Honestly this "movie" has next to no value unless you want a quick overview of some bad movies with next to no insight and clips of bad acting and cheap monsters. All Monsters Attack is better for that, as are the 42nd Street Forever discs. This is a "Watch Once" at best, but I'd advise skipping it altogether.
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Soon we'll be watching another Jason Statham epic: Crank High Voltage. Yes!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Blogorium Review: I Love You, Man

The Cap'n will always be there to deliver, and I've got a "hot off the presses" review of I Love You, Man (as promised).

I also watched American Scary, a documentary about the TV "Horror Host", which I'll discuss at a later date. In the meantime, I suggest you rent it so we can discuss. It's good stuff.

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While attendance was not mandatory, I'm still disappointed in the turnout - or lack thereof - to see I Love You, Man at the Carousel this afternoon. Including the professor, six of us from a class of twenty five or more bothered showing up to see the movie. Personally, I've been wanting to see this since it came out. I waited patiently, assuming other class members would do the same but they couldn't be bothered to go see a comedy on a Thursday afternoon.

Their loss. As it would happen, I Love You, Man is not only an interesting inversion of the "romantic comedy" genre that does some interesting work regarding masculinity in its various guises, but it also happens to be pretty funny. In fact, I'd argue that it's funnier than Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up, and possibly even Superbad. While not as crude as Role Models*, Paul Rudd fans have nothing to fear in seeing this movie. If you happen to have a girlfriend, you could even make it a date**.

I Love You, Man splits the difference between "safe for both sexes" and "holy shit dude can you believe what happened in Step Brothers?" Like I said before, the movie is essentially a romantic comedy with the exact same arc: Boy is Lonely / Meets girl / Everything is going great / Boy does something to screw things up / Boy and Girl realize they miss each other / Reunion. It even has the "date" montage reminiscent of the "Speed Dating" scene from The 40 Year Old Virgin or well, any romantic comedy***.

The catch is that the Boy (Paul Rudd) already met the Girl (Rashida Jones) and they're about to get married. The problem is that Rudd doesn't have any male friends, so he goes / is set up on a series of "Man Dates" to find a Best Man for the wedding. While you can totally see where this is going (including the "meet cute" scene between Rudd and Jason Segel), the testosterone switcheroo inverts the predictability and makes things more fun.

I Love You, Man is also helped by a great supporting cast. Don't let the trailers fool you, however: Andy Samberg isn't in the film nearly as much as you would expect from the ads. On the other hand, there are a lot of great smaller roles for J.K. Simmons, Jane Curtin, Jon Favreau, Thomas Ian Lennon, Rob Heubel, Jo Lo Truglio, Jaime Presley, and yes, Lou Ferrigno. Ferrigno actually figures into the film in a much larger way than you'd expect and is in many ways responsible for Rudd and Segel's characters meeting.

Also, keep your eyes peeled for a Matt Walsh (Upright Citizen's Brigade, Role Models) cameo on the golf course.

What I find interesting about the film, critically at least, is the way it moves between understandings of "manhood" within the film. I'd be hard pressed to say the movie is either homoerotic or homophobic although both figure into the narrative in different ways. The increased assumption by some characters that Rudd's "Man Dates" are tied to latent homosexual tendencies (coupled with a very suggestive "bonding" scene in front of a fountain) make it hard to tell what position the film is taking. On the other hand, no particular brand of "masculinity" is examined without some criticism: unlike Role Models, which is explicit in the ways it expresses "maturity", every character - including Ferrigno- has pros and cons in their behavior. It's interesting that Samberg's character - one of the two openly gay characters in the film - is actually the least stereotypical in his performance. Because I Love You, Man flips the script (so to speak) on genre conventions, the relationship between men and women is also less crystallized in the film than it is in say, Forgetting Sarah Marshall (a film that is overtly expressive of male wish fulfillment about relationships).

I'm running long here but the good news is that I Love You, Man is crowd pleasing enough for the "date" crowd but clever enough (and periodically dirty) enough to entertain the Rudd / Segel contingent, of which a number of you count yourselves among. Plus if for some reason you say, dislike Seth Rogen, it's a viable alternative to Observe and Report. I say definitely check it out.


* This is not to say the movie isn't lewd, it's just in strange ways. Frequently the topic of oral sex comes up, but rarely on men.
** Which you can't with Role Models. I promise you that "Beyonce pouring sugar on my dick" scene is a date killer.
** This, like Role Models, isn't actually an Apatow production, but it lives in the same universe. Of course, this branch of the universe is increasingly being populated by cast members of The State, and Upright Citizen's Brigade. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I can't always be a bottom-feeder...

The Cap'n realizes he's been talking about "bad movies" a great deal lately. I do apologize for that as festivals or "theme" weekends do tend to dominate the conversation in the week(s) leading up to events.

If you are visiting this site for the first time (and I've noticed some of you coming in through interesting google searches, particularly ones involving Lost Highway and Tommy Wiseau), I did want to let you know that those sorts of thematic crutches are more the exception and less the norm. I do frequently draw upon "trash" cinema, but there are a number of other topics within film I'm keen on digging into.

Alas, I don't quite have the time to delve into them right now, as there's a lot of reading left to do before Friday, but after coverage of Bad Movie Weekend, I'd like to return to the subject of adaptations / remakes and their periodic erasure of source material in the discourse of film. Eventually I'll get back into my theory of how the Drive-In culture sustained the "independent film" movement between major cities, and I have some other ideas cooking up. To prove to you this isn't some sort of ruse, I present a brief critical dissection of Joss Whedon's web sensation, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

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There were some terribly interesting discussions in American Manhood today about Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which I did finally see on Sunday. While overall I think that it's far more entertaining than Dollhouse has been so far, valid issues were raised about Penny's lack of agency in the story (other than being the "angelic white savior" stereotype, there's very little she does or says character-wise). For the most part Penny is a device (as opposed to a character), either for redemptive purposes (Dr. Horrible) or sexual ends (Captain Hammer). The absence of race in Dr. Horrible was also interesting, and there were a number of discussions that dealt with the substitution of "white" for other ethnicities and the pros and cons not explored by Whedon.

For the most part, this came up because in principle Dr. Horrible is a subversive work: it comes out of the writer's strike, bypasses television altogether by being released (initially) free on the internet. However, the project does conform to a number of normative storylines and character "types", regardless of how it works to displace masculinity. It does reinforce a heteronormative narrative despite a strong undercurrent of homoeroticism between Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer, including but not limited to the line "the hammer is my penis" or the phallic explosion of Dr. Horrible's Death Ray.

I don't mean to give the impression that I didn't enjoy Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. I did, but there is a lot of interesting critical work you can do with the short.

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Tomorrow I'm going to see I Love You Man as a part of the same class mentioned above. In addition to a brief review, I'll try to include some of the discussion around the film's role in adjusting conceptions of "American Manhood" away from classic understandings towards this new "Geek Chic". Until then, I remain The Cap'n.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Riddle Me This...

Dear readers, what exactly is the purpose of a dvd player that converts NTSC to PAL but is not an "All Region" player? What the hell purpose does that serve?

The Cap'n has been moving players around for this soming weekend, and an oft-forgotten freebie from the parents is temporarily "Player Numero Uno" in my room. While I'm watching an episode of Californication, I notice the "NTSC/PAL" button on the remote.

"Sweet," I think, "this means that this sucker is All Region and I can finally play the MST3K: The Movie and Angel-A discs that are collecting dust."

Wrong-o-rama. No sooner than I've put in the MST3K disc do I get the "WRONG REGION" display on the player. This makes no sense to me.

Here's a little primer for those of you who don't read the archived Blogoriums from elsewhere or aren't up to speed on dvd players: in the age of Digital Versatility Discs, manufacturers fealt the need to a) protect discs from being copied and b) wanted to make the most money possible, so they created "Region Coding".

For the purpose of this discussion, all you really need to know about the various regions (there are 4) is that North America is Region 1 and Europe is Region 2. If a disc is encoded for Region 2, it won't play in almost every player in the United States*, and vice versa for Region 1 discs in Europe.

Additionally, Europe has a different format of televisions which are encoded in a PAL format. For example, British television and films are shot and displayed at 26 frames per second, as opposed to the US, where it's 24 frames. In order to make the differential, improperly encoded discs will a) sound and look just a smidge sped up, or b) the running times will be different. A good example of this is Criterion's Berlin Alexanderplatz, which has a running time slightly longer than its German equivalent, reflective of the PAL to NTSC transfer.

Why my mind is boggled here is that there's no reason for a Region 1 encoded disc to be PAL. It doesn't make sense. Even Region 0 discs would likely not be formatted in PAL, so there's no reason for a US made player to have a NTSC to PAL converter button if it's not an "All Region" player. It's a totally worthless feature if the player isn't capable of reading discs from other regions.

So if there are any tech-heads out there: am I missing something here? Is there a switch on the player I need to flip in order to adjust this, or does the NTSC / PAL button serve no purpose in this instance?

I'd love to know, as the German MST3K: The Movie disc actually has extra features, unlike its American counterpart, including a retrospective documentary on the film and potentially the deleted scenes we're not going to see on this side of the pond. If this can't be adjusted, can someone point me in the direction of a reliable "Region Free" player with similar NTSC / PAL conversion capabilities for a reasonable price? I already have three dvd players (five, if you count the PS3 and my PC), so I'm not interested in paying an arm and a leg for yet another player.



* Region 0, or Region "Free" discs sidestep this entirely and will play in everything, for those curious. Blu Ray players totally sidestep the NTSC / PAL issue because it's no longer necessary to encode one or the other, which is why European BD's will play in American players.