BBC World News: Be a Newscaster (but be better than cabbage)

The BBC’s World News service is offering anyone with a camera to paint a portrait of their world, and submit their one minute effort as part of the My World, My Minute contest.

Quoted from the Beeb:

Pas le cabbage!

"My World" is a unique public interactive film event assisted by some of the world's leading film-makers. With trails online, via our language sections, rebroadcasters and on BBC World News, we invite audiences to submit a one-minute film, shot on their mobile phone or friend's camcorder, with the theme "My World".

At the close of submissions we present a shortlist of films to a panel of celebrated world film-makers - the curators. They will choose the best of these from each of the world’s continents and compile sequences of ten films – so as to create a portrait of life on each continent in ten minutes.

Finally we will unveil a picture of the world today in 50 minutes – composed of five ten-minute sequences. Each sequence of ten films will be a fascinating portrait created from fascinating stories, painful truths, inspiring footage and will create meaning and beauty from unexpected juxtapositions and brilliant images.

BBC World News will play each of the ten minutes plus a variety of one minute entries.

Feb. 1/10 Update: Nico Wasserman from the BBC World News has sent the following clarification:

Hi Mark

Nico from BBC MyWorld here. Thanks for posting about the competition, apologies for the lack of info on the site you found. The site with all competition details of how to enter can be found at:

www.bbc.com/superpower then click on 'MyWorld'.

We will start posting some of the films already sent in over the next few days. The closing date is 5 March 2010

Best wishes


The Beeb has a decades-long tradition of news gathering, and there are rudimentary presentation and format rules you can follow to make it easier for the masses, particularly stupid people, to comprehend your message about your world (which is important if you suspect a significant segment of your audience has the mental power of uncooked cabbage. Witness, at the very least, American network news and its current function as a shell for constipation and high-frequency peeing adverts).

To that end, Charlie Brooker, the genius behind the Big Brother zombie mash Dead Set (2008), has created a simple 2-minute instructional video (linked, with further details, at Boing Boing) on how to report/create news. As a colleague remarked, if you watch the piece without sound, it all looks utterly straight, which perhaps shows how dumb we’ve become when it comes to The News: if it's not in that predictable format with bullet-factoids, we have to think harder and reflect, which might make it too challenging for those quite sober, pickle-drunk, or high on smoked cabbage leaves).



Try Harder

Surrogates made its home video debut earlier this week, and although Touchstone’s DVD includes a commentary track with director Jonathan Mostow, the disc still falls short of the materials needed to support an expensive production with a striking futuristic vision.

Part of the problem is DVD gradually being downgraded by the major studios as a secondary format not worthy of extras, and the fact Surrogates wasn’t a stellar box office nor critical performer. Why make a flop seem better than it is? Or why make the effort to create a proper release when the real goal is just to get the title out there for the rental market?

Compare Surrogates (2009) with I, Robot (2003), and there’s a marked difference in how each studio and director chose to support their respective film. There are, in fact, some similarities between the two productions, although it might be a case of one recent detective tale set in a dystopian future produced under the shadow of another.

The plot points within I, Robot are anchored around a prophetic myth that unfolds in stages during the course of a murder investigation where a cop allies himself with a female corporate egghead in order to uncover a conspiracy that threatens to doom humanity.

Surrogates is grounded in an urban realism and has a cop and his female partner investigating a murder, and uncovering an ex-corporate element seeking to return the now-shuttered human population to its now-mythic past of an active culture with meaningful, physical interaction after years of living through robotic avatars.

Those are two very distinct storylines with the potential for wholly different commentaries on how technology has made us bad. Surrogates makes robotic gear the key de-evolutionary element that enables humanity to slowly regress from its inherent social nature to an anxiety-prone sad sack, but Touchstone’s marketing seems to have been designed with an eye on tapping into our familiarity with I, Robot, as well as the publicity iconography that’s still visible on store and rental shelves.

Case in point below: Why create a new campaign when we can build on an existing one?

Note the similarities with the poster art? They're BOTH looking in the same direction.

This is usually what the producers of B-movies or direct-to-video fodder do: try to create a false sense of familiarity, and tap into our retention of images. When you think of McDonalds, you also see the logo in your mind. When you think of futuristic movies about sleek robots with a rebellious cop running around an urban setting, most likely I, Robot comes to mind. Ergo, let’s just riff on something people already know.

The unwanted tie-in to I, Robot was the first flaw in shaping Surrogates for the masses. The second was pruning the story and ultimately the film’s running time to a surprisingly abbreviated 85 mins. (without end credits). This is a Bruce Willis film with expensive special effects, from the director of Terminator 3, and the writers of Terminators 3 and 4.

Ah, right. T4. That other film with a mucked up structure and horrid dialogue. Ah, of course. T3, with terrible plotting and workmanlike dialogue. Only the composers managed to walk away from these productions unscathed.

Alongside a film review of Surrogates, I’ve uploaded a CD review, and you can also check out a fall of 2009 interview with composer Richard Marvin about crafting his solid score for the film.

Surrogates isn’t bad, but it is a tragic case of missed opportunities, as well as watching Bruce Willis clearly acting in a film that now exists on the cutting room floor. Maybe the 10th anniversary Blu-ray will contain a longer Director’s Cut?

I’ll have a few more soundtrack reviews up this weekend, and next week, and with Region 1 land finally getting Season 3 of Doc Martin on DVD, I’ll have reviews of all three seasons, to be followed by some recent BBC productions hosted by star Martin Clunes, where he’s nowhere as rude as the socially dented Doc.



Damn Fine Music

I couldn’t perfectly time the review of the Legion soundtrack album (La-La Land Records) with the last batch of reviews – Legion, like Pandorum, also stars Dennis Quaid – so here it is, with some angles on John Frizzell’s use of a BIG orchestral sound.

The reason I find Frizzell – as well as Frederik Wiedmann – so damn fascinating is the way he keeps pushing the envelope on the way sounds can be digitally re-shaped within the realm of an orchestra. It’s still less is more, but one suspects a lot more is going on; it’s just the way sounds are used with precision and refinement so as not to take away from a score’s scope or style (which in the case of Legion, is a theological thriller).

Haven’t seen the film, just the trailer (which debuted months ago in theatres), but I would like to see if director/co-writer Scott Stewart explains why the film’s angry people have stretchee-bendee maws.

Paul Bettany looks like a pinhead from Hell in this shot, doesn’t he? Don’t you dare complain about his Fudgesicles.

Also, due to the Pandorum-centric blog, there wasn’t room to properly address the latest interview at KQEK.com, which is with composer Winifred Phillips, a fine composer best-known for scoring high-profile videogames like The Da Vinci Code, Speed Racer, Shrek the Third, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Her latest score releases include SporeHero and SimAnimals, and in our Q&A she discusses her work in the videogame genre, which clearly embraces innovation and complex writing.

Coming shortly: a review of the flawed/frustrating thing that is Surrogates, as well as Richard Marvin’s excellent score.



2009 BAFTA Award Nominations

Yes, I’m late on this tally, but it’s been a busy week. On January 21st, nominees for Britain’s equivalent of the Oscar Awards – the BAFTAs – were announced, and as per the custom, I’ve hyperlinked titles I’ve reviewed, as well as those available on DVD or soon to be available on DVD, including those in Region 2 land, where noted.

Soundtracks have also been linked to that invaluable resource for fans and the curious, Soundtrackcollector.com, as well as Amazon.com when necessary.

Among the nominated composers is Chaz Jankel, who had a seemingly fleeting career with film with Making Mr. Right, D.O.A. (with its exquisite death lament), and the North American release of K2 in 1991. (Hans Zimmer’s original score was retained for the European edit.) K2 was Jankel’s last credit, making Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll his first film score in 18 years. Welcome back!

The full list of nominees is also available at the BAFTA’s website, along with other multimedia materials. The awards ceremony at The Royal Opera House will be broadcast by the BBC on Sunday February 21st, 2010.

In case James Cameron wins an award and starts to blather in Avatarese, may I suggest the use of ripe tomatoes. I understand the pinched form of the Costoluto Genovese variety ensures both accuracy and a spectacular bounce when the curved edge bumps into a big egotistical head.



Hey... What happened to Bafty's right eye...


AVATAR James Cameron, Jon Landau

AN EDUCATION Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey --- to be released as a Region 2 DVD March 8, 2010


PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness, Gary Magness --- to be released on DVD March 9, 2010

UP IN THE AIR Ivan Reitman, Jason Reitman, Daniel Dubiecki


AN EDUCATION Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey, Lone Scherfig, Nick Hornby --- to be released as a Region 2 DVD March 8, 2010

FISH TANK Kees Kasander, Nick Laws, Andrea Arnold --- to be released as a Region 2 DVD January 25, 2010

IN THE LOOP Kevin Loader, Adam Tandy, Armando Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche

MOON Stuart Fenegan, Trudie Styler, Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker

NOWHERE BOY Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae, Kevin Loader, Sam Taylor-Wood, Matt Greenhalgh



Mugabe and the White African

ERAN CREEVY Writer/Director – Shifty --- Region 2 release only

STUART HAZELDINE Writer/Director – Exam

DUNCAN JONES Director – Moon

SAM TAYLOR-WOOD Director – Nowhere Boy


AVATAR James Cameron

DISTRICT 9 Neill Blomkamp

AN EDUCATION Lone Scherfig --- to be released as a Region 2 DVD March 8, 2010

THE HURT LOCKER Kathryn Bigelow



THE HANGOVER Jon Lucas, Scott Moore



A SERIOUS MAN Joel Coen, Ethan Coen --- to be released February 9, 2010

UP Bob Peterson, Pete Docter


DISTRICT 9 Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell

AN EDUCATION Nick Hornby --- to be released as a Region 2 DVD March 8, 2010

IN THE LOOP Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE Geoffrey Fletcher --- to be released on DVD March 9, 2010

UP IN THE AIR Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner


BROKEN EMBRACES Agustín Almodóvar, Pedro Almodóvar --- to be released as a Region 2 DVD February 1, 2010

COCO BEFORE CHANEL Carole Scotta, Caroline Benjo, Philippe Carcassonne, Anne Fontaine --- to be released February 16, 2010

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN Carl Molinder, John Nordling, Tomas Alfredson

A PROPHET Pascal Caucheteux, Marco Cherqui, Alix Raynaud, Jacques Audiard

THE WHITE RIBBON Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Margaret Menegoz, Michael Haneke --- to be released as a Region 2 DVD March 8, 2010


CORALINE Henry Selick

FANTASTIC MR FOX Wes Anderson --- to be released March 23, 2010

UP Pete Docter






ANDY SERKIS Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll


CAREY MULLIGAN An Education --- to be released as a Region 2 DVD March 8, 2010

SAOIRSE RONAN The Lovely Bones

GABOUREY SIDIBE Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire --- to be released on DVD March 9, 2010

MERYL STREEP Julie & Julia

AUDREY TAUTOU Coco Before Chanel --- to be released February 16, 2010


ALEC BALDWIN It’s Complicated

CHRISTIAN McKAY Me and Orson Welles

ALFRED MOLINA An Education --- to be released as a Region 2 DVD March 8, 2010

STANLEY TUCCI The Lovely Bones

CHRISTOPH WALTZ Inglourious Basterds



VERA FARMIGA Up in the Air


MO’NIQUE Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire --- to be released on DVD March 9, 2010



AVATAR James Horner

CRAZY HEART T-Bone Burnett, Stephen Bruton

FANTASTIC MR FOX Alexandre Desplat

SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL Chaz Jankel

UP Michael Giacchino


AVATAR Mauro Fiore

DISTRICT 9 Trent Opaloch



THE ROAD Javier Aguirresarobe


AVATAR Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua, James Cameron

DISTRICT 9 Julian Clarke

THE HURT LOCKER Bob Murawski, Chris Innis


UP IN THE AIR Dana E. Glauberman


AVATAR Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg, Kim Sinclair

DISTRICT 9 Philip Ivey, Guy Potgieter



INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds Wasco


BRIGHT STAR Janet Patterson

COCO BEFORE CHANEL Catherine Leterrier --- to be released February 16, 2010

AN EDUCATION Odile Dicks-Mireaux --- to be released as a Region 2 DVD March 8, 2010

A SINGLE MAN Arianne Phillips



AVATAR Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson, Tony Johnson, Addison Teague

DISTRICT 9 Brent Burge, Chris Ward, Dave Whitehead, Michael Hedges, Ken Saville

THE HURT LOCKER Ray Beckett, Paul N. J. Ottosson

STAR TREK Peter J. Devlin, Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer, Mark Stoeckinger, Ben Burtt

UP Tom Myers, Michael Silvers, Michael Semanick


AVATAR Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham, Andrew R. Jones

DISTRICT 9 Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros, Matt Aitken

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE John Richardson, Tim Burke, Tim Alexander, Nicolas Aithadi

THE HURT LOCKER Richard Stutsman

STAR TREK Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh, Burt Dalton


COCO BEFORE CHANEL Thi Thanh Tu Nguyen, Jane Milon --- to be released February 16, 2010

AN EDUCATION Lizzie Yianni Georgiou --- to be released as a Region 2 DVD March 8, 2010

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS Sarah Monzani --- to be released as a Region 2 DVD March 29, 2010

NINE Peter ‘Swords’ King

THE YOUNG VICTORIA Jenny Shircore --- available as a Region 2 DVD only


THE GRUFFALO Michael Rose, Martin Pope, Jakob Schuh, Max Lang --- to be released as a Region 2 DVD March 22, 2010


MOTHER OF MANY Sally Arthur, Emma Lazenby


14 Asitha Ameresekere

I DO AIR James Bolton, Martina Amati

JADE Samm Haillay, Daniel Elliott

MIXTAPE Luti Fagbenle, Luke Snellin

OFF SEASON Jacob Jaffke, Jonathan van Tulleken

THE ORANGE RISING STAR AWARD (voted for by the public)








K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Today marks the release of Legion, which one hopes bodes well for star Dennis Quaid, since he hasn't has the greatest luck in snagging a plum role in recent sci-fi and horror films.

2009 had Quaid starring in Horsemen, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, and Pandorum, and while I haven't seen Horsemen, I can vouch for G.I. Joe being 100 % rabbit rubbish, and proof-positive Stephen Sommers has creatively devolved since his Mummy films. Van Helsing is a brilliant pulp culture fusion compared to the shrill, garish idiocy that is G.I. Joe.

Pandorum was marketed using a slick graphics campaign built around the concept of great big tubes of fluids coming outside of an arm, a head’s orifices, and a woman with a mutating head. There was also a design that resembled H.R. Giger’s Alien creature, although those familiar with the film will recognize it’s a carefully lit image of a man emerging from the tube where he’s spent a long period in suspended animation.

One aspect director and co-writer Christian Alvart (Antibodies / Antikörper) wanted to demystify was in fact the graceful reawakening of crewmen, as seen in Alien (1979). Alvart’s concept was more invasive, and may be more close to the kind of needs a body requires if it’s to be preserved like a pickle in a jar with juices to keep it alive.

When the first crewman, Bower, emerges from his tube, his skin is covered in an exo-skin that shriveled and white, and the first order of business it to rip out several large tubes that have been buried in his arm. Much like the ripping out of electrodes at the end of Resident Evil (2002), it’s a nasty moment that makes it clear Pandorum isn’t going to be an elegant foray into phallic mayhem the way Ridley Scott directed Alien.

Of the aforementioned posters, the arm is the closest inference of the film’s tone, whereas the multitude of tubes seemingly slithering though the head makes no sense.

It’s striking, but what does it mean?

The madwoman is a fusion of two things: the madness of pandorum – uber-stress from long space travel – that includes delusions, paranoia, and thoughts of murder; and the form of biologist Nadia (played German hottie Antje Traue).

The Giger Alien riff is more clever, but again, the art doesn’t address the film’s more visceral villains – reptillian cannibals – and it’s symptomatic of the film’s producers (which, coincidentally, include the makers of the Resident Evil franchise) perhaps not being sure as to how Pandorum’s fairly dense story could be distilled into one significant image.

The cracked egg that appeared in the original Alien campaign inferred the physical and metaphorical birth of blank-faced, primal hunger, an image that was used in Scott’s own trailer, capped with the immortal line “In space no one can hear you scream.” There was mystery, tension, and intrigue; with Pandorum, the graphic artists perhaps didn’t quite understand Alvart’s film – and that’s apparently what audiences shared during the film’s theatrical release.

As my DVD review attempts to examine, there is much to admire and be frustrated with, because some unfortunate decisions – mostly assuming style should supersede coherence – will probably ensure Pandorum will never live up to its promise, since the picture is permanently locked.

Michl Britsch’s score, however, certainly does hit Alvart's aspirations. It’s a weird melange of orchestral, industrial and rock that shape-shifts every few seconds into something beautifully nasty, and is worth snapping up from MovieScore Media. (My review will appear in a forthcoming issue of Rue Morgue magazine.)

Dennis Quaid, interestingly, was Alvart’s top choice as star, and that stems from the director’s huge affection for Quaid’s 1987 film Innerspace, which has grown into a favourite cult film that fused elements of slapstick comedy, science-fiction, and a nostalgia for classic sci-fi films.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that Jerry Goldsmith’s music score is equally beloved by fans, and tangentially part of Quaid’s recent film wave, La-La Land Records has released the complete score on a beautifully mastered CD. The original Geffen LP contained just a few cues (plus dated pop songs), whereas the new limited release album features 78 mins. of goodness.

Goldsmith scored both Outland and Alien, two films that exploited the fear of being isolated in spaceship, or in a restrictive environment, and like Outland, Dark Castle’s Whiteout takes the Outland template and repositions it to the chilly locale of Antarctica.

Whiteout is an atypical Dark Castle production, and much like Pandorum, it was sold using a rather deceptive ad campaign. Pandorum’s trailer infers the cannibalistic creatures are what the surviving humans will quickly become (not true), whereas the Whiteout trailer makes it seem as though there's a Presence, or a Force, or a Being that the sheriff discovers in a submerged Soviet plane lost during the Cold War.

Not so.

Based on the graphic novel by Steve Lieber and Greg Rucka, Whiteout is a fairly straightforward whodunnit that happens to be set at the bottom of the world. Why Dark Castle, makers of gory horror shockers (The Hills Run Red) chose a whodunnit is, uhm, a mystery, since the film is essentially ‘an xtreme whodunnit’ with lots of cold air.

Is it a dud?

Nope, but the lack of distinctive extras – paltry on the DVD, and some exclusive interactive material on the Blu-ray – leaves one to believe the film was hurried to home video.

The biggest shock: Kate Beckinsale is quite good, and she grounds the movie with an earnest performance.

Not surprising: Dominic Sena’s wonky use of flashbacks that assume you may have less short-term memory capabilities than a goldfish.

To goldfish, that’s just rude.



Where the Day Takes You

Tuesday January 12th marked the 100th birthday of Luise Rainer, an actress under contract to MGM during the thirties who won back-to-back Best Actress Oscars for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937), and then more or less told MGM to shove it when the quality of the material and their apathy towards her desire for more socially relevant work

Although she effectively walked away from acting after the early forties with minor roles in TV thereafter, Rainer continued to perform on the stage, and was seen eons ago in an Entertainment Tonight report (back when the show actually carried some genuine news material), where she vibrantly described her decision to leave Hollywood, and its own brand of theatrical bullshit, and with no regrets.

Yesterday and early this morning, TCM aired a handful of her best-known work, although it’s a pity her trio of pre-Hollywood pictures from Austria are unavailable (unless they’re simply lost). Her final role was in The Gambler - no, not the Kenny Rogers TV movie; the 1997 film version of Dostoyevky’s novel – which did get a DVD release in 2002, via Wellspring. Most of her classics are unavailable on DVD, but TCM seems to keep them in rotation, and they’re worth checking out.

Eric Rohmer

To the other end of things, one of the core participants of the French New Wave, Eric Rohmer, died at the sprightly age of 89 on Monday Jan. 11th, and sprightly certainly is the word for the former film critic who joined contemporaries like Godard, Truffaut, Rivette, and Chabrol and also became a director. As each of his colleagues moved on to create their own directorial styles and focus on specific types of films, Rohmer’s forte was the character film with heavy, nuanced dialogue that felt improvised but apparently wasn’t – something that made his characters feel very natural, and gave his scenes and films a tempo that not every critic appreciated.

Rohmer was not part of the directors showcased in my old film theory classes, and indeed my first exposure to his work was L’ami de mon amie / Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987), which seemed an appropriate intro at the time, since the film dealt with same-age characters in cumbersome relationships while in school. I caught the film on VHS, and while I only saw one other Rohmer film thereafter – the lovely romance Conte d’automne / Autumn Tale (1998) - L’ami did clear up a fear that Rohmer was dull.

(I still haven’t tackled Rivette, though. Rumours of meandering, rambling character pieces have kept me away from his work.)

Rohmer was prolific, and from 1950 to 2007 he made over fifty works for film and TV, and groups of his films centered around certain historical figures, seasons, and subjects – so there’s plenty to choose from, even though some of the titles may not currently be available on DVD in Region 1 land. As with any artist, do a bit of research regarding the major films, and give Rohmer a try, because there’s much to admire in his nuanced canon.

One filmmaker perhaps overlooked due to his absurdly short output is American Marc Rocco, a talented director whose career began with Scenes from the Goldmine (1987) and Dream a Little Dream (1989) before he went on a brief humanist streak with the powerful diptych of Where the Day Takes You (1992) and Murder in the First (1995), and then kind of disappeared behind the scenes as a producer before suddenly dying in May of 2009.

Murder in the First is his best-known work – manipulative and plastic on the facts surrounding prisoner abuse at Alcatraz State Penitentiary, but nevertheless moving – whereas Where the Day Takes You slipped under the radar in spite of being available on home video on several formats. Anchor Bay’s reissue on DVD brings this lost gem back into circulation, and it’s a potent drama about teenage runaways living and loving and dying on the streets of Los Angeles.

I’ve uploaded reviews of both films, but before you even read the review for Where the Day Takes You, first check out the cast details, because the film is grounded by many up-and-coming stars that enjoyed successful careers. Moreover, there are fine turns by character actors who’ve since been typecast in lighter roles, such as Stephen Tobolowsky, a familiar actor known for playing comedic/beaky nerd characters in TV’s Glee and Heroes (as well as nasal Dr. Werner ‘my-voice-is-my-passport’ Brandes in Sneakers, back in 1992).



John Woo's Redemption

After languishing in Hollywood for several years, John Woo’s finally redeemed himself by tackling an expansive historical epic in Chinese. In Asia, Red Cliff was released in two parts – the first in 2009, the second a year later – and then on DVD and Blu-ray, while the rest of the world was apparently offered a shorter cut fashioned by the producers (including Woo) to keep the length and ‘all that unfamiliar cultural material’ to a minimum, and leaving the big battle scenes as highlights.

This isn’t a new concept, but winnowing down a nearly 5-hour epic to around 2.5 hours is, quite frankly, madness, because you will notice the seams. One can admire the battle scenes, but then there’s the characters who probably zip and in a out of the uneven narrative, leaving little impact on the viewer in spite of the obvious scope inherent to the tale of two former rival powers allying themselves against an aggressive northern power, with everything coming to a head in one location, Red Cliff.

Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the shorter U.S. cut, and don’t want to, because after seeing the longer version on Blu-ray (already out there in Asia), one can’t imagine the story impacting the viewer without the character backgrounds. They’re not dull, the ancient Chinese culture isn’t some complicated, impenetrable thing, and the length of each part isn’t a handicap, because the beautiful editing gives the illusion of a shorter running time, which only two movies have ever managed to pull off for my eyes: The Right Stuff (1983) and Heat (1995) are ‘virtual’ tow hour movies told in a three hour ‘real-time’ length.

Moreover, I think the producers forgot something vital: this is an epic historical movie about war and its impact on the regal and common people of one land. That’s a familiar narrative that’s cross-cultural in print, film, and TV formats, so the audience to which the film is being (ideally) aimed knows what to expect: length, diverse characters, and as a view, a partial responsibility to think independently; if you can figure things out based on known character patterns and familiar conflicts, then the filmmakers have done their job.

Red Cliff is so good, that when it’s over, there’s a sense of loss because the characters with whom you’ve cinematically lived with have left the building, and you’re back in chilly 2010, where the concerns of the day include a Balloon Boy, some schmuck who tried to blow up a plane by packing explosives near his genetically worthless crown jewels, and (in Canada) an ego-maniacal Prime Minister who decided to shut down the entire parliamentary system for 2 months because he felt the government needed ‘a reset.’

(More on that grotesque abuse of democratic power this weekend, though suffice it to say, the Governor General should be thrown out, since she gave the official okay to this idiocy for the second time in a year.)

Magnolia Home Entertainment will release both the shorter and longer cuts March 30th on DVD and BR, although I can’t imagine fans of the director, the historical event, nor the film genre will want the shorter cut. There are no specific details whether any extras will be on the release, but given BR can hold a lot of information, the BR edition should really include both cuts for posterity. The only oddity among the details on Amazon.com is the 1.66:1 ratio, which I hope is a misprint, since the Asian BR preserves the film’s 2.35:1 ‘scope ratio.

It is unfortunate, though, that the original two-parter didn’t get even a limited theatrical engagement in select markets in Region 1 land, because this film is meant for the big screen. The movie was arguably mishandled by aiming it at a broad market instead of niche, even though that niche is quite big.

Toronto, for example, has a huge Asian population. That means a pre-existing and ongoing penetration of Asian culture in the city’s multicultural make-up (food, film, art, etc.) made Toronto (if not the GTA as a whole) an ideal target city for the long version.

We have indie theatres that would’ve welcomed the opportunity to present the film.

When the Japanese shocker Battle Royal (2000) was screened by the Cinematheque several years ago, it sold out fast because there was an audience who knew what the film was, and why it was special. With Red Cliff, there has been at least 12 months of gradual publicity that’s migrated from overseas to foreign film fans about ‘a big epic’ that’s worth seeing.

In any event, I’ve uploaded a review of the long version, since it’s finally making its way to North America before spring. Besides, maybe the Cinematheque might offer up the film for a limited run, as was done for epics such as Visconti’s The Leopard (three hours), or Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (uh,. 13.5 hours, though it was originally made for German TV).



The Horror, the Horror

Coming out tomorrow is the latest Final Destination sequel from Warner Bros., who’ve oddly retained the New Line shingle in spite of shuttering the company’s ability to produce and release product.

Released theatrically in 3D, FD4 is presented both flat and in 3D on DVD and Blu-ray, but the DVD edition leaves a lot to be desired, and is another victim of WB's decision to isolate special features to the BR edition. What’s grating about WB’s tactics is that while the company was all fine in making content identical to BR and the dead HD-DVD format a few years ago, DVD owners are regularly treated to a guessing game as to what features (if any) will be available when an effects film debuts on home video.

Trick ‘R Treat is perhaps the worst DVD release of 2009 – great film, rotten DVD edition – and it’s no surprise the extras made for Terminator: Salvation and the imminent FD4 were heavily curtailed for the DVD release. Either WB thinks DVD is dead or dying, or there will be a meteoric rush to upgrade to BR. (Which, in this economy, is unlikely. A gradual upgrade, perhaps; but outright replacement of DVD within one year, highly doubtful, and dumb.)

I’ll have more comments regarding the quiet shift classic and back catalogue titles are undergoing on home video – on-demand versus the once-prolific monthly wave of DVDs – later this week, as I’ve uploaded more horror/thriller reviews to the site.

In addition to The Final Destination (Warner Bros.), there’s also a pair of thrillers from indie filmmaker Ti West. His debut, The Roost, was a bit divisive for horror fans: they either loved the slow pacing and concentrated attention towards one location, or found it a great big clumsy bore (which unfortunately, I did). The film is notable for inspiring Jeff Grace to write one of the most terrifying scores in years, and happily the composer’s association with West also continued with Trigger Man (2007) and The House of the Devil (2009).

The former has yet to appear on video here, so the film review comes from the German Region 2 release, which has some notable extras. House of the Dead will make its DVD and BR debut in March overseas, but it’s worth catching the film in a theatre for West’s near-perfect making of a vintage eighties slasher. Every pacing fetish that disaffected The Roost (as well as the early half of Trigger Man) works in House, and the cast is uniformly strong. It’s a good shocker that emphasizes mood over gore, and while blood and brain matter do splatter now and then, West is too smart to fall into the torture porn trap.

His approach in House is very simple: introduce the premise, map out the physical location for the character and the audience (a big old creepy house in Nowhereland), and then introduce the lethal stressors that punish the poor babysitter.

In addition to the West films, Grace also scored Glenn McQuaid’s I Sell the Dead (Anchor Bay), a fine little mordant black comedy about grave robbers and the increasingly weird cadavers the pair must retrieve to maintain room and board.

I’ll have a new interview with Grace this month, alongside reviews of the scores (each available on CD and digitally from MovieScore Media), but for now, do check out the film reviews.

Also imminent are reviews of John Woo’s original, two-part, 5 hour historical epic Red Cliff (out on DVD and BR overseas), as well as Taro Iwashiro’s excellent score (via Silva Screen).

I’ll also a have a review of Jerry Goldsmith’s Freud, newly released on DVD (in stereo! from Varese), as well as a film review; and Bill Conti’s That Championship Season (La-La Land) and The Right Stuff (Varese).

Lastly, all those Berlin-centric reviews will be up in stages, starting with the first German production shot after the war, Wolfgang Staudte’s The Murderers are Among Us / Die Mörder sind unter uns (1946), starring Ernst Wilhelm Borchert and a baby-faced Hildegard Knef; and the first Hollywood film shot in postwar Germany, Jacques Tourneur’s Berlin Express (1948), starring Merle Oberon, Robert Ryan, and the IG Farben Building.



And so begins another year

Rather than dole out a best-of list of this and that, I thought I’d use the holiday time to finish up a number of reviews that should’ve been done with ages ago, and start work on some peripheral projects that have been in the planning stages for some time.

In terms of new reviews, I’ve uploaded a pair addressing the horror anthology - a sub-genre that may be one of the toughest to pull off because there’s always a weak segment that brings down the rest of the film.

In the case of Trapped Ashes (Lionsgate), the work of several marginalized directors was very disappointing. No doubt Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th), Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop), and Ken Russell (Altered States) have been away far too long from feature-length filmmaking.

Cunningham can probably relax from the profits of the Friday the 13th franchise, and never have to worry about maintaining his directorial reputation (which was workmanlike at best, anyways), and Hellman seemed to have disappeared for almost 20 years before he popped up to direct a segment of this U.S.-Japanese co-production, but Ken Russell kind of disappeared into the whatever-happened-to ether because his brand of filmmaking went though various painful permutations and became, for whatever reason, redundant.

From a dynamic director who revitalized the documentary format in the early sixties to an enfant terrible during the sixties and seventies, Russell loved to shock audiences, but his brand of big budget style proved to be too costly, and he eventually had to settle for low budget productions before his output pretty much fizzled out. “The Girl with Golden Breasts” is another silly shocker, but Russell’s segment is a throwaway story that shows little evidence of the talent who appalled audiences with The Devils, or baffled them with The Boyfriend.

The other film, Visits: Hungry Ghost Anthology (Bone House Asia/Facets Multimedia), comes from Malaysia, and is centered around the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival. Shot on DV and using local talent, the theme is intriguing, but the end results are rather flat.

Also uploaded is a review of The Hills Run Red (Warner Bros.), the latest (and arguably most coherent) production from Dark Castle. Alongside the film review is an interview with composer Frederik Wiedmann, who discusses his years mentoring with John Frizzell, and using electronics and digital elements with finesse. (A review of the score will follow shortly.)

Lastly, there’s a review of Terminator: Salvation (Warner Bros.), which shows what happens when an unnecessary project is greenlit and directed by a director with little regard for nuances. I’m sure part of Avatar’s budget was covered by licensing the Terminator rights, but Salvation has no reason to exist. At all.

Coming next: reviews of Ti West’s House of the Devil, and the little-seen Trigger Man.

Oh yeah, and Happy New Year!


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