A lot of hype still surrounds Mickey Rourke's 'comeback' film, but The Wrestler (Alliance Canada / Fox Searchlight U.S.) is really just a fine little indie character study, shot wide and grainy, and with an eye trained on nuances rather than grand gestures. Rourke does get beat up a lot, but there's many small moments that keep building his character into a compelling underdog whom we know will never return to the top.

Pity Rourke, co-star Marisa Tomei, director Darren Aronofsky, nor writer Robert Siegel (writer of The Onion Movie!) didn't film any interviews or contribute to a commentary track, but it's still worth viewing for the way Aronofsky captures the quiet and the outright bizarre moments in wrestling.

I don't and never will understand the fascination for what resembles a cartoon show with athletic feats and sometimes balletic movements on steroids. What a chair wrapped in razor wire and wrestling - you know, the Olympic sport - have in common is beyond me, but they co-exist with other props in a carnival sport supposedly adored by the working class.

That's certainly a view Ian Hodgkinson expresses. His character Vampiro is a phenomenon among blue collar workers, and for Hodgkinson, he mined a persona who reportedly was as big in Mexico as Hulk Hogan was in the U.S.

The Thunder Bay born Hodgkinson was profiled in a very brisk documentary by Lee Demarbre called Vampiro: Angel, Devil, Hero (Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada/Sound Venture/Zed Filmworks), and the doc is also being released with Hodgkinson's starring performance in The Dead Sleep Easy (2007), filmed with the same Vampiro crew.

In The Wrestler, the character of The Ram is a beat up soul with few options left except to die on the mat - a similar finale doodled by the filmmakers for the finale of The Dead Sleep Easy; in Vampiro, the contrast is marked: Hodgkinson is determined to reinvent himself and use his skills beyond the wrestling mat - and that's a far more optimistic storyline for wrestler characters that are usually portrayed in crime films as a dumb lugs.

Hodgkinson is cunning, but he's shown as a giving colleague among fellow wrestlers, and that's something you rarely see in films and documentaries set in and about such a surreal sport.


And it came and went without much regard

I admit that while I was away in Germany during the weekend of April 12th (Easter time, chocolate bunny time, German bonfires illuminating the sky to bring in the new and the better for 2009) I was to some extent incommunicado with the rest of the world, but it strikes me as intriguing that about two weeks later, while rummaging around the web, that I discovered George Lucas' Star Wars: A Musical Journey [STTMJ] premiered in London at the O2 Arena.

The actually staged the damned thing.

Now, "musical" generally denotes singing and dancing, and the concept of dancers bouncing around in Star Wars costumes to the regal, Korngoldian themes by John Williams set to lyrics seems silly. Robots doing a jig, a neon light saber show, and maybe some audience participation with rebels running into the aisles and grabbing poor souls for a celebratory dance set to Lapti Nek.

However, STTMJ, by available reports, isn't an all singing-all dancing horror show, but a distillation of six film scores crunched and compacted into a live concert performed by the Royal Philharmonic under the baton of Dirk Brosse, with narration by Anthony Daniels (C3PO), and film highlights playing on a giant screen.

That's a concert, not a musical, although the use of journey perhaps infers orchestral travelogue or poem, like Peter and the Wolf. In any event, reviews and reports seem to be mixed; critics (1 --- 2 --- 3 --- 4) appreciate the music but can't help thinking the whole project is another means to keep the Star Wars franchise alive and well after multiple DVD releases over the past few years, whereas fans (1 --- 2 --- 3) appreciate the musical journey through one of the most beloved orchestral space operas ever created.

The concert ran around 2 hours (including intermission), and the concert hall lobby was outfitted with a variety of 'rare' memorabilia tuned to an uber-fan's knowledge of the three original and 3 dreadful prequels, and for all the inevitable dissing of all things Lucas, one can't say the event was far removed from the travelling orchestral love fest of The Lord of the Rings, which did tour, was also tied to a travelling prop show, and more uniquely spawned a very expensive and very floppy all-singing, all dancing musical.

The same can also be said of a Star Trek show (1 --- 2) that landed in Toronto last year, with themes and narrative bits tailored to fans, so perhaps this one time it's actually okay to salute the endeavor, since Lucas is no longer a visionary filmmaker or producer, but a franchise owner whose recent projects have been belated (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) or disastrous (Star Wars: The Clone Wars).


A Double-Headey

One awesome posterLena Headey (The Sarah Connor Chronicles) has two new films out on DVD, although Laid to Rest (Anchor Bay/Starz) is more of a cameo, since the actress, who appears as a southern white trash lass, is quickly dispatched by the film's killer to the Heavens. Robert Hall's thriller is deeply flawed, but fans of flesh-tearing gore should be pleased with the carnage the effects wizard concocted for his second directorial effort.

Headey has the starring role in The Broken (TVA/Sony in Canada, Lionsgate in the U.S.), Sean Ellis' minimalist riff on Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers, a gorgeous but deeply flawed effort, too. Shot in London, it features a solid supporting cast, fine cinematography, and Guy Farley's snarling score, but like Hall, Ellis kind of forgot a film needs some weight in the story department or it all loses meaning.

A much better offering by another feature film newcomer is Toby Wilkins' Splinter (Magnolia), which borrows a bit from John Carpenter's The Thing (okay, maybe a fair bit) and delivers some piercing gore. Most of the drama takes place in a gas station, and it's a clever and kinetic low budget shocker boosted by another fine score from Elia Cmiral.


Touch the Carnage

I want one NOW!"Carousel," directed by Adam Berg, is a promo piece specifically created by Philips for their new Cinema 21:9 widescreen (2.35:1) TV set, and while it's mesmerizing eye candy, the video clearly opens the door to further explore 3-D environments of, well, anything. (Click HERE for the making-of version, and HERE for further info.)

The subject matter is grim - police being swarmed by clown-clad bank robbers - but there's something ghoulishly fascinating about walking through a moment in crime, and being able to stop, look, and gaze at the expressions, duck under the suspended glass from a shattered window, reach out at a fireball explosion without getting singed, peer into the lifeless eyes of a snarling clown mask, and look at the visage of a dead robber.

I don't know if I'd call it interactive, but you just know someone's going to create a true 3-D variation where you slap on LCD goggles, and through a HD interface, do the same in your living room. Or maybe when James Cameron is done with Avatar, he'll create an interactive experience where you can literally walk through the ruined or virgin-pure Titanic.

Even if he has to wait for the technology to catch up with his brain, Jimmy'll do it, because he needs to do it.


Heroes on the Small and Big Screen

I've been watching Heroes since it debuted, and am admittedly part of the fan base that's been disappointed by the sometimes desperate plot turns the show's writers have taken, either to out-guess fans (always a big mistake) or satisfy networks wanting a repeat of a successful formula (hence the return of characters in Season 2 who should've died at the end of Season 1).

That said, the music has always been first-rate, and it's probably via Heroes that people have discovered the talents of composing team Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin. The pair have been collaborators for a long time, going back to their years as members of Prince and the Revolution.

You can spot the musicians/composers in Prince concert films Sign 'O the Times as well Purple Rain and numerous music videos, and it must be kind of neat to be able to see one's own evolution through the nascent years of the music video, with big hair, pastel colours, and triangular clothes. Er, maybe not.

In any event, one of the reasons I was hooked on Heroes was the music - not because it stood out from the actors, but because it was a key element that had me at the edge of my seat, and shouting at the TV when an episode ended on another brutal cliffhanger.

I've uploaded an interview with series co-composer Lisa Coleman, plus a CD review of the new Season 1 soundtrack album from La-La Land Records. Also reviewed is Silva Screen's new compilation album, The Music of Batman, featuring themes from all of the Batman films in a fresh new recording featuring the Prague Philharmonic under the expert batons of James Fitzpatrick and Nic Raine.


Reflections on Germany I: Taking the Asus 1000 HE on the road

Go on - HUG ME!As I mentioned prior to my trip to Germany, I had planned on using the new Asus EEE PC 1000 HE (damn, what a long name) to write material, update the website, do some blogging, and basically see what the Atom-powered netbook could do before some ‘danger-danger’ warning popped up prior to a total shutdown due to processor overload.

Translation: using a netbook like a standard desktop when it clearly ain’t.

Rather than go through a mess of dull anecdotes, here are some straight point-by-point facts (although as is necessary in these dumb times, here’s a caveat: these are things that worked for my machine, and I’m responsible for whatever happens in mine, not yours. So always consult various reviews and posts beforehand).

HERE are the specs for the Asus. I chose to stick with a Windows operating system (OS) and eat the licensing fee because as one writer expressed with simple reason, if you’re going to use heavier Windows programs or want to minimize compatibility issues, it’s probably best to stick with the OS spawned by Satan. I’d like to try Linux – really – but I have doubts that a MS emulator would function better than MS (crappy and wonky and annoying as it is).

RAM and Speed Issues:

The 1000 HE ships with a 1GB RAM chip that can be replaced with a 2GB chip, which I did to ensure whatever memory hogging work I was doing would have some leeway.

As outlined in message boards and YouTube videos, all one has to do is remove the battery, pop open the back, remove the old chip, slip in the new 2GB chip, power up, hit F2, and in the BIOS make sure it reads 2GB (or 1.9 or something). Hit F10, and continue to reboot where Windows will show the RAM increase.

I actually missed hitting F2, so the boot up went straight to the desktop (which loads quite fast) and found Windows saw the upgrade, so it’s clear the netbook does accept the memory boost.

Some writers have stated Windows XP Home Edition (branded a dumbed down version of XP Pro) wouldn’t function or recognize anything bigger than 1GB RAM because it’s Windows’ efforts to ensure netbooks, with their obvious power under such a small hood, don’t cut into the laptop market. Others have opined that netbooks have given Windows some extra cash by taking an obsolete operating system – the aging XP – and giving it further use until Windows 7 (successor to monster Vista) debuts around August.

A few posters on tech message boards have gone drastic and erased the hard drive (HD) and installed the beta version of Windows 7 (which only functions until August) and report better speed and quality of use, but the downside are some F keys might not work and driver compatibilities, because wiping the HD means the Asus drivers are gone (although some are apparently available online).

There’s workarounds, but XP Home works fine on the Asus, and unless you know what you’re doing, it’s probably not a good idea to erase the HD on your machine before you see if the software and your unique usage work within XP’s parameters.

Other speed concerns reported in message boards include upgrading to the newer 607 Bios, but some report the Dolby Digital decoding disappears, and once you do the upgrade, you can’t flash back to 605, or an older one, vers. 601. The technophiles report the 601 allows the machine to run a bit faster, and you can flash back to vers. 0605 if desired. I haven’t tried it, and probably won’t because the alleged speed increase seems marginal, and there’s that fear of maybe doing something very bad to the machine that’s traumatic.

However, I still feel the 2GB RAM chip helps when running the software I use for the website.


The Asus comes preloaded with a decent array of software, including Sun’s Star Office package, which reads MS Office files but saves them in its own proprietary format. You can save them in MS formats for Word and Excel, but some of the character features aren’t carried over, so while Sun’s software isn’t a hog, you may wish to install some version of MS Office to avoid corruptions.

I use Dreamweaver 8 for the website, and when cutting and pasting text from Star Office, double-spaces between paragraphs are fudged into four, which mandates annoying edits, so Star Office isn’t the best choice when pasting text into Dreamweaver.

Dreamweaver runs fine on the Asus.


I had Star Office open with a word file, Dreamweaver running with a few templates, and opened Adobe Photoshop 7 to edit small graphics less than a few MB’s and nothing crashed or hung.

The only drawback to using Dreamweaver on the Asus is that if you need to see the extra menus and toolbars where you can click on icons or paste links or graphics into fields above and below your work area, your work area is very, very small, and it’s frustrating. Closing them down helps, but it’s clear Dreamweaver needs more space than a 10" screen if you’re working on pages with long graphics.

Photoshop works fine, but the Asus monitor resolution isn’t as snazzy as a standard desktop, so I wouldn’t rely on the Asus for showing the most vivid colour details; the display is fine, but it’s acceptable for straightforward image editing instead of high-end pre-press work. It’s probably not a problem to create simple animated icons or transition icons with fades or dissolves using GIF files, since they’re no as memory hogging as video files.

FTP programs like Filezilla work smoothly, as does Sony’s Digital Voice Editor for the digital voice recorder I use for some interview. No problems in transferring audio via USB from the recorder to the Asus.

I haven’t tested how long the Asus can record stereo audio through its mini input jack, but I had no problem using Sound Forge 7 to play an MP3 version of an interview and transcribe the audio using Star Office. The two programs are more memory intensive, but Sound Forge didn’t stress the system, flutter, skip, or crash while I played chunks of a 23 min. interview. Theoretically, you might be able to run Sound Forge 9 with its multi-tracking features, but maybe just for projects or file chunks less than 5-10 mins. in length.


The Asus comes with Microsoft’s Media Player 11 which requires registration; given the Asus comes with a licensed copy of XP home, registration isn’t a problem, but those who a few years ago upgraded from Media Player 9 to 11 noticed the codecs that played AVIs and DIVX files were eradicated, and reinstalling them didn’t work. The solution at the time was wiping out vers. 11 and reinstalling 9, followed by the codecs.

I’ve no idea if vers. 11 is more codec friendly, but it’s a beastly hog that needs to check with Windows and load all kinds of image rubbish. The better tools for media are VLC Media Player which plays a huge array of video files, as well as the pre-installed InterVideo Win DVD, which does play DVDs and video folders, whether on the hard drive or thumb/DVD drive connected via USB.

I haven’t attempted a CD or DVD burn using an external drive, but it should work, seeing how you'll need a burner for data storage or backup if you’re not using an external HD.

Lastly, in terms of performance, the Asus does play video files, but larger high res images might stress the processor, or create headaches if the file is wonky. I wasn’t sure if it was digital corruption, codec issues, or processor limitations, but with two AVIs, a white box kept popping up, as though the machine didn’t have enough room to render an image quadrant during memory cycles.

Connections and Ports:

The USB 2.0 ports (3) recognize everything I had, and it was supremely handy to slide an SD flash card from a camera into the built-in slot and transfer images from an aunt’s digital camera to my HD, and copy some pictures I took to her card, so she could port them over to a photo shop and get prints. The bad news (for me) is I use an Olympus camera that only takes proprietary XD cards, so my image dumping necessitates a USB came instead of having the freedom to slide a card into the Asus and move images to and fro.

Those wanting the use of a mouse (*highly* recommended when using Dreamweaver or any image program) won’t have a problem, and the Asus accepts USB and wireless Bluetooth devices .

Popping flash drives in and out never annoyed the Asus, which is nice given the headaches I’ve had using olde USB 1.0 ports that have seizures or take years to move data. (I live in a world that has bits of olde, bits of new, and rubber bands and Elmer’s Glue, so a step forward from 1972 into 2009 is truly grand.)

Battery Power:

To get maximum battery power (or as close to the reported 9 hour life touted by Asus) you have to shut off the wireless internet feature, the wireless Bluetooth, and knock down your anti-virus coverage from everything to just the services you’re using (i.e.: if you’re not messaging or using a peer to peer server, there’s no need to run those anti-viral components).

It’s also a good habit to sketch more complex ideas on paper prior to writing on the Asus, because those moments of puzzlement, contemplation, or futzing around will eat at your battery life.

There’s also a power-saving feature that dims the display a bit, but that might be too dark for those in bright surroundings; the monitor really doesn’t show detail if you’re in a bright outside location, but then that’s probably a given for laptops and netbooks alike.

If doing straightforward text or even text and Dreamweaver editing, you’re likely to get 6.5 to 7 hours of juice – which is pretty damn good. There’s a battery icon that appears in the lower right tray, and dragging the mouse pointer over it will tell you what’s left. A ‘low battery’ alert happens (I think) around the 30 min. mark, and a red cross appears when you’re down to the last 20 or less minutes, but I think I was able to still browse the internet via Ethernet cable when there was about 15 mins. of juice left, so I didn’t encounter any sudden shutdown.

Using Sound Forge and Star Office eats up more juice than just writing a text file, so you’re probably eating up maybe double the power if not 2.5 when zipping through audio when transcribing.

Playing a 90 min. AVI video file eats up about 2.5-3 hours of battery juice, so I’d play video only when you know you’re going to have access to an AC plug soon; getting all giddy and watching films a few hours into a long trip means you’ll drain the battery and have little left.

The same probably goes for using wireless internet, although I never used it because in airports it’s a pay option (in Amsterdam the rate is something like 6 Euros for 15 mins.), although if you have an AC jack – some buses and trains have them – that makes it easier.

Travel Tip: not all planes have AC power plugs for your computer; KLM has them in Business Class, although I heard some Air Canada flights have them in Economy. One writer said it’s a nice feature, but the plugs don’t offer much juice because the wiring adds weight, and I’m sure there’s a power drain at play, unless the plane engines regenerate any AC juice.

When travelling, carry an adapter set that’ll ensure your machine can be plugged into whatever socket is around, although it’s smart to double-check your AC power transformer handles North American 60 Hz and European 50 Hz voltage.

Recharging the battery from near-dead takes about 4.5-5 hours. It’ll charge while you’re using the Asus via AC, but I’d avoid doing a full recharge and working using AC power until you go to bed because the AC transformer box gets *very* hot.

I also found plugging the AC into the German socket made an unwanted electrical pop noise… which wasn’t comforting. I don’t know if it was the room, but while the cable and computer were never damaged, that’s a sound you don’t want to hear. Once the cable and transformer’s in the socket, though, there was no weird sound when you plugged the DC jack into the computer, but still...


The use of standard phone jacks for internet connections via modem is probably dead tech, given the Asus only accepts wireless and wired (Ethernet) connections that are digital, so the reported ‘pulse tax’ on German and some other European phone lines isn’t an issue. I was able to plug into a router (called a ‘Fritz’ box in Germany, after the manufacturer) and after a few beats, I had a live internet connection.

I assume plugging an Ethernet cable into a modem might also work, but you’d probably have to have some kind of account with a local carrier, which is probably why the easiest connections methods for travellers are via wireless (and a paid connection, as offered by some hotels and airports), or being able to plug into a pre-existing router that’s already spitting out a live web feed.

I did ask if it was okay to use a laptop on the plane to Hamnurg and bus ride to Berlin, mostly because of messages regarding turning off electronic gear at key times. On the plane you have to turn off the gear during takeoff and landing, and on a bus, cell phones are totally taboo (even though one twit was yapping away on the second floor. I think part of the ban on buses is to get yappers to shut up so other riders have some peace – which I’m totally for).

Size and Weight:

The Asus is small but has some weight, but the heaviness from the battery really comes into play when you’ve been carrying it around for a while in a shoulder bag. Some writers have called it a bit chunky, but the obvious advantage is that amazing battery life without having to buy an external power supply.

The other advantage is the weight stops it from bouncing around if it’s on your lap on folding seat tray. Width-wise, you can plop it on a tray and have a small drink nearby (although the fear of spillage on what’s essentially your office is too great for my nerves).

I wouldn’t use the tray, though, if the plane or bus is kinda bouncy. I was able to type on the bus, but there was so much jiggling from city streets and turns that I felt all that jostling can’t be good for the HD. Why subject it to repeated movement when, like I said, it’s your office for the next 2 weeks?

You can type and write and use the finger pad when it’s on your lap, but one thing typing requires is elbow room. On a seat tray, you’re sitting forward and your arms are stretched out, but on your lap, even at an angle, your elbows need some room, and can get tight if you’re seated next to someone that’s also fiddling with their netbook or laptop. It’s the limitations of the seating, but typing or using the finger pad without a tray is cumbersome under tight seating conditions.

The Asus’ weight did become more noticeable when it was being used on the lap, but I liked the battery’s raised rear because it functions to raise the netbook on flat surfaces and lets you type at an easy angle, and grip the netbook when sliding it into the pouch it came with (although the pouch should *really* come with a tough handle, plus side or some internal pockets for earphones/earbuds, USB sticks and SD cards. That way everything is in one easy to carry bag).

The battery grip is also handy when you have to get up to allow a passenger to slide out. Depending how you set up your power/power down modes, you can have it so closing the netbook turns it off. It remains in a standby mode until you open it up. and you just have to hit the flashing power button (itself a bit too small and slim to press easily). The computer starts up, and goes to a login. If there’s no password, hit enter, and you’re exactly where you left off, with the same programs running.

The Asus also saw whatever peripherals were connected at the power down time, although you may want to unplug a USB mouse when the computer’s in standby mode or turned off, and you’re only using battery power. My USB mouse has a red ‘power on’ light that stayed on when connected to the computer, and I didn’t want it dragging any unnecessary battery juice if I could help it.


The 2008 and prior models had the right shift key in a dumb spot, and that’s been fixed on the 1000 HE model, along with the ‘chicklet’ keyboard design. It took a little less time to get used to the keys, and since I don’t touch type, it wasn’t hard to type and worry about the smaller keys limiting my accuracy.

Some message boards have people concerned about the keyboard’s pliability (or “keyboard flex”), which has more give in the center. A few have opted for sticking a metal sheet or folded aluminium paper under the keyboard, but while that might harden the center area, you’re also doing surgery that probably voids the manufacturer’s warrantee.

Coming from a daily use of an old chunky IBM PS/2 keyboard (the kind that clicks, sounds solid, and will brain the family cat if dropped a foot above its head), I prefer the Asus keyboard to those awful smooshie keyboards most people use. I did have to return the first Asus I bought because of a faulty “G” key that didn’t have the gentle nudge point that tells you what you typed was registered by the computer, so you might want to do some minor typing exercises to make sure you have no dud keys.

Mine went bad after minor use during the first 2 hours when I was installing software rather than typing, so check the keyboard beforehand to ensure you don’t get an annoying surprise halfway across the Atlantic. Can’t imagine staying composed if I kept getting multiple G’s on the plane, far away from home and the purchase point back in Toronto.

Crashing the Computer:

Yes, that happened less than 70 mins. before arriving in Toronto. I had forgotten I was running Star Office and Dreamweaver, and 15 mins. into watching a film using VLC, uh, everything froze. Then came a ‘different’ kind of blue screen of death which mentioned a massive memory dump. It wouldn’t turn off, and the computer stayed inert, although I could go into the Bios during boot-up by pressing F2.

The machine then failed to see the HD, and no Bios adjustments helped. When I got home I inserted a bent paperclip into the reset button on the computer’s rear, turned it on, and it started fresh, although I still have to ‘find’ a ‘missing’ audio driver.

At least the data wasn’t toasted, but while it *is* possible to crash the Asus, it sure can handle some solid programs while on the road. Probably smart to have some backup plans at hand (particularly on an external HD, since you can boot from a USB drive), but the machine comes with another reset feature that will reinstall every factory software it came with from a partitioned drive area. The machine also comes with a CD that has drivers and such in case of a disaster.

This is a great travel machine with awesome portability and cuteness. You want to hug it for being able to do so much. My giddiness stems from years of using desktop machines and older machines, so I’ve been through Windows 386, installing from floppies, driver issues, and multiple reboots just to get a computer to see a component clearly sticking out from its ass.

Moreover, disaster recovery is something every traveller should carry when on the road. Whether it’s backing up files on multiple sources – thumbs and/or external drives – and carrying installation software in case of some unwanted horror, it’s worth compiling a ‘first aid kit,’ so when you’re on the road and something very bad happens, you have some tools to recover and continue.

Cost: $439 in several stores around College and Spadina (mine was purchased at Filtech), although bear in mind that price is already discounted for cash sales. Add the price of 2GB RAM, and you have a snazzy little machine.

My eventual follow-up review will deal with CD burning, wireless internet and using Skype, since the 1000 HE has a camera and mics that supposedly minimize echo & crosstalk.


Pop culture medications on voyeurism

In light of the release of Home Movie (2008) and Cruel but Necessary (2005) , I've also uploaded reviews of My Little Eye (2002) and Alone with her (2004), two very different attempts to use video technology to create drama and a bit of pop culture commentary on our interest in what lies beneath the doors and covers of peoples' private lives.

Alone with Her is among the most interesting attempts to seriously show the ugliness of stalkers, and the clinical nature of digital stalking - its ease and utter naked exposure of a person - within a pretty solid dramatic framework. The finale in most thrillers about obsessive loons tends to tip towards some physical confrontation - Fatal Attraction being the most dynamic in a pre-digital era - but that's not always a negative, and director Eric Nicholas' film debut will probably age very well for being more social commentary than a thrill ride.

My Little Eye was made in the wake of Big Brother, that incredibly dumb and dull series wherein a bunch of attention-needy boneheads were locked in a house, and audiences could watch them be bored, sleazy, slimy, twitchy, and do socially relevant group projects like set up dominos or make blueberry pies. My Little Eye takes the show's basic template and gives it a vintage mystery thriller spin, which kind of works until the holes in the script weaken the last act, and a twist finale that's completely unsurprising.

When you make a thriller that can only be told by editing footage from fixed camera placements - spycams, webcams, or handycams - you've imposed a tough set of restrictions. Angles and visuals are limited, yet they can't be impractical nor filmic; and one has to show characters in a stylized natural way without being stylish, pretentious, or bore audiences with lame nattering.

Cruel but Necessary isn't a thriller, but it's also a story told with existing video gear that's literally turned on or off, and one could argue it's tougher to make that work within a thriller context because the goal isn't to make an Actor's Film or Character Piece, but a shocker with needed money shots. My Little Eye and Alone with Her kind of do it, and are worth checking out in spite of their respective flaws.


Recuperating in Germany

The idea was to intercut some images from Germany, but as is the case with Blogger's buggy template, there's a lot of time-wasting involved when it comes to editing the html code to allow a set of images to be followed by text, and not have the images all globbed together under the header.

Maybe I'll solve the problm on the plane, and/or make a new template, but here's a few things recently uploaded to the site as the last full day in Germany winds down, and the drinking and some smoking has been tempered by rest and Bullrich. (Seriously: what is this stuff? It's the perfect hangover cure. Someone please import this to Canada.)

First up is an interview with Austin Wintory, whose latest work is the music for the disturbing film Grace (2009), distributed by Anchor Bay/Starz, and the score to the family film Captain Abu Raed, plus a concert work titled Space, Time, and Plexiglass, written in tribute to Joss Whedon's long-gone Angel TV series.

Also uploaded is a film review of Peter Watkins' The Seventies People/70'ernes folk (1974), as well as Christopher Denham's thriller Home Movie (2008), released in Canada by Anchor Bay/Starz, and starring Adrian Pasdar and Cady McClain.


Frosted Nixon

Although the original David frost and Richard Nixon Watergate interview came out on disc a while ago, Universal waited for the Oscars to pass, hoping Ron Howard's film version of Peter Morgan's play would win some Oscar gold.

Even without a bald statue, Frost/Nixon carries Oscar prestige, and people can judge for themselves whether Frank Langella's portrayal of Nixon is more caricature, or a low-key evocation of an enigma. To get a quick report on the film's pros and cons, click HERE for the film review.


Travel Factoids:

- German food is heavy, and big bowl of fresh leafy greens is more of a Mediterranean dish yet to make a major dent in the high protein offerings. Helpful tips: eat a big grain/fruit breakfast, or go for Chinese once in a while.

- Besides the best cakes, coffee so good you don't need milk or sugar, lamb sausages, and the best chocolate, the Germans also have a hangover remedy that comes in pill form.

Bullrich's is a mix of calcium, magnesium and other iums that collectively form a preemptive strike before signs of a hangover can form. Three pills actually worked against the effects of Campari, beer, and dual double doses of white and yellow dill schnapps (spread out over the night with fish and bread).

Note: Bullrich *does not* solve double-vision issues, nor stop the little homunculus in your head from drunkenly running back and forth, tripping over veins and knocking into your eyeballs now and then.

- If you can find it or have to travel to Austria to get it, look for Marillenschapps, a clear, 38% 'light' schnapps made from apricots. Clean, sweet, fruity, soothing, and tragically not available for export.


Live from Germany

Well, 'live' is a bit generous, but until April 21st, all site blogs and updates will happen in clusters, since web access isn't a wholly daily thing.

Just uploaded is a belated interview wih Oliver Groom, producer and owner of Project X, the indie label with the most comprehensive catalogue of Peter Watkins films on DVD.

Interviewed in conjuction with the release of Watkins' Privilege (1967), our conversation also delves into film restoration, home video distribution, and the challenge in assembling the best possible DVD edition of a Watkins film, as well as making 35mm print available for commercial and pedagogical screenings.

Coming shortly is a review of Watkins' The Seventies People/70'ernes folk (1974), one of his few remaining films still unavailable on DVD, plus a review of Ron Howard's engaging but hardly Oscar-worthy dramatization of the famous talks between British talk show host David Frost and disgraced President Richard Nixon, Frost/Nixon (2008), set for an April 21st DVD release.


Travelling Factoids:

- it isn't necessary to arrive 3 hours prior to departure at the airport, but the tactic does force one to relax, since it's too late to retrieve what you forgot during that mad dash to the cab (or gracious free lift). Being early also forces one to decompress before boarding the plane and worrying about being seated beside some obnoxious boob.

- infants on planes will scream a lot, but if you're three rows away, it's tolerable. Sleep deprivation also reduces the natural trigger factor to go nuts.

Coming soon: Asus factoids, and why the eee PC 1000-HE truly rocks.


Soundtrack Reviews

Die boobies sind okay!Just uploaded are three soundtrack reviews worth checking out:

- Debbie Wiseman's grandly written score for the horror comedy Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009) avoids broad humour in favour of a more refined and sometimes cheeky approach, plus a huge orchestra and gorgeous symphonic sound. Released by Silva Screen, with the label's patented crisp digital sound.

- Christian Henson's The Secret of Moonacre (2008) is one of the most refreshing fantasy scores in years, and one of the best I've heard so far in 2009. Whether you prefer MP3 of CD, buy the MovieScore Media album if you like sophisticated whimsy with a brooding, edgy undercurrent.

- The return of seventies jazz fusion with a load of punchy brass returns with class in Gast Waltzing's music for JCVD (2008). The movie comes out later this month on DVD in Region 1 land, and I hope it's as fun as the soundtrack CD by this much-respected composer/jazz man from Luxembourg. Also available from MovieScore Media.


The Berlin School

The DVD of Yella (2007) from now defunct New Yorker Video marks the Region 1 debut of Christian Petzold, a member of the Berlin School of filmmakers who, as author Marco Abel describes, are less interested in the past events of German history rather than how people are living and coping today - whether from the crumbling of the wall, influences of global economics, etc.

Perhaps the best known German films of the group include Run Lola Run, Downfall, and Good Bye, Lenin - the most popular films cited by Abel in New Yorker's handy booklet - and Yella, while flawed (and perhaps misrepresented by some of the quoted critics on the box as a hard and engaging mystery film) offers an intriguing stylistic jump from, well, stylish filmmaking.

Petzold's subdued, emotionally minimalist approach is intriguing, and I'm certainly curious to see how he tackles James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice in his most recent work, Jerichow (2008).

Ideally I'd like to get my hands on some of Petzold's films - even if I have to rely on my clumsy German when there's no English subtitles - and that might be possible, given I'll be in Germany for 10 days this month. The aim is to upload batches of reviews every few days, and bring back some very unique releases for review.

While in Germany, whatever's written will come from an Asus eee PC 1000 HE, and the reason I'm mentioning this cute gizmo is because I'm going to do the reviews, htm web pages, uploads, and site tweaking on this netbook. 160 GB hard drive, 2 GB RAM, a 10" screen, and an eeny-weeny keybaord ("92% the size of a standard laptop").

This is a challenge that I hope other reviewers and bloggers might find handy: exactly what the hell can you run on a netbook, and when is it clear your attempt to mimic a desktop setup with a 19" monitor is moronic.

Frankly, I want to prove the naysayers wrong (and you know who you are).


April Foolishness

We’re into Day 3, and many more reports (1 - 2 - 3) have trickled in regarding Fox' bungling of their Slumdog Millionaire DVD, wherein the special features laden retail edition contains a bare bones rental edition meant for the rental market.

(Affected buyers can call 1-888-223-4FOX for support, or go to the help page http://www.slumdogdvd/ and answer a handful of 'Are you sure you have the right DVD?' Q&A, in spite of there being no other standard DVD release on this continent. Ahem.)

The mere existence of a split-runs between Blu-ray, retail sales, and a new rental version begs the question: What the hell for?

Here's the corporate logic: rental stores will have the option to carry both bare bones and loaded retail editions for the same wholesale price. The rental edition offers just the movie (plus coming attractions/also available on DVD trailers). If customers like the film, the thinking is they'll buy the retail edition.

Now… why would someone spend more money (say $25) on a film they just saw (say $4.50 for the rental fee)? Are they going to watch it again? Or is that extra fee just to check out the extras they would've liked to have seen had that film been available for rent?

The bungling of an Oscar-winning (THE Oscar-winning film) of the year is pretty stupendous, and has caught Fox way off guard. From a retailer’s stand, this is a bit of a mess, because opened, used, and store-branded stock generally can’t be returned for credit.

Does the retailer offer refunds to customers who rented the title, believing they were renting a special edition as stated on the box ad copy? Will rental shops have to keep a tally of voided rentals, and will that loss be compensated by Fox?

And in terms of replacing the bungled copies, how does a retailer or rental house get the proper retail version when no one knows what’s inside the retail box until it’s been opened? Given no replacement copies in full packaging are currently available (or guaranteed to be in the proper special edition case), it seems Fox may well be stuck repressing and (re)packaging the entire North American run, which is substantive.

Can it succeed?

The mere offering of a split-run standard DVD release is an artificial trend that can only succeed if A) more retailers feel their customers don’t care about special editions and ‘just want to see the movie’; B) a dwindling retail market demand for special editions can be offset by the strange faith in a sudden surge of consumers wanting movie-only editions; and C) a growing segment of renters will actually drop $25-$30 on the special edition after having just seen the film.

From a rental/retailer stand, should a rental house offer some kind of credit system to motivate customers to double-dip and buy the special edition after renting the bare bones edition? And will merchants get a discount or rebate from their distributor or Fox for offering a credit?

There’s no reason for a rental edition to exist. NONE. And what ought to come from this debacle is the end of this concept before it goes wider, and adds more shelf clutter.

Unfortunately, split run editions are not new.

Not an old idea

During the era of laserdiscs, Universal, like several studios, pressed widescreen and full screen editions of high profile films like Jurassic Park; Criterion themselves offered bare bones CLV and loaded CAV editions.

Universal's decision was an attempt to meet the demand of cineastes as well as average consumers then unaccustomed to black bars from letterboxed films. Fast-forward to 2009, and one can only buy widescreen TV sets - a signal that people eventually (and some begrudgingly) accepted the demise of 4x3 TV sets and non-anamorphic transfers.

Criterion's ploy wasn't all that different from their 2008 decision to release a budget line of classic films otherwise available as expensive special editions. In Criterion's case (read here), the difference between a special edition can sometimes be $15-$20 or more, so the savings for people with budgets and who 'just want to see the movie' is substantial and justifies the film-only release.

One can even credit Warner Bros. for having done the same with their multi-disc Wizard of Oz set and basic single disc edition, as well as the reasonable price difference between the standard DVD special editions and Blu-ray editions of classic films. (But the beefy pricing for the upcoming Blu-ray Oz and Gone With The Wind is excessive. I mean, we're in a recession, you know.)

Why then has the related trend of adding a Digital Copy on a separate DVD become so pronounced with major films, and given labels another excuse to create split runs where the price point gap is negligible?

Variation on an old theme

Labels have taken a negative - loss of revenue from illegal copies of blockbuster films - and turned it into a value added feature. The problem? How important is having a digital copy of a major film one can only play on the one allowable computer or device after online registration?

If one can't bounce it from one's computer to one's laptop, then the amount of times that film will get watched - compared to the regular DVD - is, what, once? Twice? Maybe three times, just because it's there on the hard drive and it's a rainy day?

Single DVDs holding a Digital Copy are blatant landfill material. The recent announcement that Warners' standard DVD of He's Just Not That Into You will make a Digital Copy available via download is a smarter step, but the Digital Copy is also what the labels are using to keep the concept of split-run lines alive and well.

Why would someone not buy the special edition instead of a bare bones release if the difference can be as little as $2-$4?

Both the bare bones rental version some labels are toying with (Slumdog Millionaire) and the bare bones retail version (Marley and Me) that are cluttering up retail shelves are leftovers of an old marketing tactic that's probably not going to create significant revenue, because viewing habits have changed.

It's like how TV networks were tightly holding onto the old ad revenue streams when people began to download shows without commercials, and the computer screen, laptop, netbook, iPod and whatever multimedia player were becoming the preferred viewing medium instead of sitting in a chair, waiting for the show to begin on TV at the appointed hour.

I know I'm ignoring videotape and one's ability to shuttle past ads, but that method mandated setting a timer and having to skip past ads while watching TV in the living room. The shift to watching programming on every kind of portable or alternative digital device without ads is here to stay and will probably become even more diverse and eccentric.

A Digital Copy, if it must exist on a physical medium, should be included with a DVD's extra features. Make it as standard as a commentary track, so consumers can choose to watch or hear the features they're most interested in, and get rid of the bare bones edition that saves one a minor sum. If the labels are heartfelt about split run editions, then make the special edition $25, and the bare bones $9.95 - so the latter is cheap, and it's guaranteed to appeal to consumers wanting the movie because that's all they have time for, or interest to watch.

And for retailers and rental shops, labels should make the bare bones discs $4.95 - so damn cheap, it's worth it for the major chains - or just get rid of a really, really dumb idea that has no resale value, leaves rental shops with wasteful product, and leaves distributors in the middle: to the left are confused and upset merchants, and to the right a label unable to provide any clear solution to a tactic as dumb as DIVX (Digital Video Express), which sure improved Circuit City's status and longevity in the industry.

One standard DVD release, and whatever fits in a single or double disc set.

And leave it the hell alone.

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