More OOP Criterions Announced

In the middle of June, Criterion announced another set of titles headed for deletion status. According to their website, the following titles - DVD plus one Blu-ray - will be out of print as of June 30th:

Billy Liar

Bob le flambeur

Diary of a Chambermaid

Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Man Who Fell to Earth, The --- DVD + Blu-ray

Milky Way, The

Phantom of Liberty, The

That Obscure Object of Desire

Touchez pas au grisbi

Woman is a Woman, A

Some Canadians will note many of these titles were always imports from the U.S., as they either had no domestic distributor, or the rights holder chose not to carry the import editions.

This is hardly a new thing in the home video realm, but perhaps what's surprising is how the window of rights seems to feel more narrow. The impression is that some corporate owners don't want a title tied up for more than 2-3 years with a third party licencee.

What may also be happening is Criterion, for better or worse, is being used as a testing ground by some to see whether there is a demand in Region 1 land for films by a specific drector or from a specific genre. Should a work prove to be commercially viable, the owners can put out their own transfers - taking advantage of the latest technological improvements - and create their own custom edition, with the option of licensing some of the special content materials created by Criterion.

(It wouldn't be surprising, either, for more savvy labels to inlcude in the the use of Criterion extras in their own editions, perhaps as a bargaining tool by allowing Criterion to include a title in their catalogue.)

In any event, those are the latest deletions, and already some have started flinging mud (see comments on the Criterion site) at the alleged rights holder / owner, Lionsgate, for what some feel is an act of betrayal towards the collector. It's not good that these films may remain unavailable for a while, but most of the titles from the last wave of OOP Criterions (Third Man excepted) are still easy to find, so collectors should still be able to pick up their missing editions before supplies run dry.

On the flip-side, Criterion's next wave of titles include Terence Malick's The Thin Blue Line (which I hope will bring back into print, and in widescreen, Andre Marton's 1964 version); Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg (Underworld, The Last Command, and The Docks of New York), Maurice Pialat's L'enfance nue, Terry Zwigoff's Louis Blue and a new special edition of Crumb, and Abdellatif Kechiche The Secret of the Grain.

The label's latest wave of titles include Jan Troell's Everlasting Moments, Carol Reed's Night Train to Munich, and Luchino Viscont's The Leopard making its debut on Blu-ray.

It balances out a bit, right?

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


A Mid-Week Pause in T.O.

Today is one of those odd ones where during a week of eclectic news items, you have to pause (and not necessarily reflect), but just kind of go “Huh?”

Before I get into the weirdness, I should point out that the alternate Editor’s Blog (with formal C.V. samples) at www.mondomark.com is back, and functioning much better than, well, last year. Still MIA are blogs from late April-early June, but that’ll be settled shortly. The site still needs a few tweaks, but the main thing is it works, which means the RSS feed for KQEK.com is back online, too.

More important, though, is a problem that I never managed to fix. The server swap was to enable upgrading to more recent versions of Word Press, and to see if this thing called timthumb.php would work. It’s a ‘simple’ script that places thumbnail images of posts on the main page and category indexes, and thanks to some tweaks done by the server’s tech team, it finally works. I still hate the thing for being so frustrating, but I just want to express an open thanks to the tech support at ehosting.ca, because they solved the problem – something DumBell would never do for their customers.

I was actually one of maybe a few people who didn’t feel the Earthquake yesterday (which some have dubbed the Toronto Earthquake, which is dumb, seeing that serious damage occurred north of T.O. and the Gatineau region).

During the ‘quake I was either still having lunch with a friend at Mother’s Dumplings (really yummy food), or we were walking along Spadina, pausing once at an intersection so I could see the LCBO where one can now buy Aalborg, the delicious Danish Akvavit in Ontario after something like a ten-year absence. (Demand for the amber drink was allegedly so low that either the LCBO stopped carrying it, or the booze maker gave up.)

In any event, I felt not a quiver, which makes me wonder if the combination of dumplings (a minimum of 13 per person were consumed), smashed cucumber salad, and spring onion pancake aids in absorbing quake shocks. Maybe it’s an inner ear thing, where excessive consumption of carb-rich dough matter fills the ear’s main balancing device, the tinnoitium, with a thicker fluid that presents an illusion of vertical stability, so one is never aware that the earth is vibrating or tilting.

Someone should study this in deeper detail.

The only time I felt a quake was some years ago. One night I was half-awoken by the ringing of glass (specifically the water glasses on the night table) and the bed being rocked back and forth by what I thought were either angry miniature children, mischievous mice, or Pazuzu (him).

Turns out it was a quake, but it felt like an Exorcist moment (which actually wasn’t my first. Years before that incident, my dad and I travelled to family friends living in Hammonton, New Jersey – ‘the blueberry capital of the world’ – and their house happened to be situated on an old aquifer. Turned out it had gone dry, but because the delivery trucks used the main road to reach major highways, the corner bedroom shook whenever an 18-wheeler roared over the empty chamber under the street).

Moving on.

June marks the first month where the Toronto Underground Cinema is open for regular business, and the old Carlton Cinema is set to open next week, on June 30th, after a refurbishment by new owners Magic Lantern. Though the Carlton is nothing like the grand palace that sat at the corner until the seventies, the 9-screen cinema (formerly run by Cineplex Odeon) has been refitted with better seats and sound, and should please local film fans tired of making the long trek down to the city’s ugliest intersection, Young & Dundas, to see films in the AMC megaplex (where it’s apparently amazingly easy to sneak into films because of the complex’ size and lack of vigilance).

The movie theatres may in fact enjoy steady business as the lakeshore is being transformed into an island of concrete, barbed wire, and a massive law enforcement presence. Most of the local media are having some obvious fun reporting on the absurdities that have manifested as the $1 billion thing – the G8, and more specifically, the G20 – are coming up fast.

The Toronto Star cites the woes of local businesses set to lose money due to closures. Some merchants have planned their own lock-up because locals and tourists aren’t shopping, and the security measures are so disruptive that some businesses near the outer concrete condom feel the loss of cash is better than dealing with security checks, and being potentially close to anarchistic loons wanting to smash a few store windows.

The National Post ran a great graphic of the condom’s expansiveness (dubbed “Fortress Toronto”), which in photos taken by outraged and amused citizens looks as grim as a snapshot of West Berlin during the Cold War years, and just as ridiculous. (The best of the latter involve GG, the ‘mousy’ G20 reporter, and Mr. T Bear, the city’s most intrepid reporter.)

Torontoist’s latest tally of ruinous feats includes the massive CycleCop presence that surrounded a particularly belligerent j-walker (who was asking for it, really, by goading patio diners to chant of “F--k you” to the police); harassed photographers wanting some digital postcards of the condom; and I.D. cards that say “Ontairo.”

If you’ve time, read this blogTO piece, and then scan down and read every comment, because it’s peppered with sometimes hysterically funny opinions, including more serious admissions of ‘fortress’ passersby with similarly bungled I.D.'s. Best comments: Ontario + Cairo = Ontairo, and a discussion with a commentator named “kaka.”

If the $1 billion expenditure ends up wrangling a lot of nasty, belligerent exhibitionists and middling threats, then Harper will be vindicated for wasting the city’s time and money for an event that can’t possibly bring in the favourable international media attention and accolades and tourism he and his henchmen have been touting for months. If it fails, there’s at least another major outrage (after proroguing parliament) that’ll stain his polyester persona.

At then end of it, though, it’ll be dryly amusing to see how the local and provincial leaders will create their own spin: Mayor Miller will struggle to find some proof of tourist presence in T.O. when reports seem to infer a number are avoiding the city next week (the VIA trains that ferry people through the busy Toronto-Montreal corridor aren’t even stopping at T.O.’s train hub, Union Station); and Premier McGinty will try and walk some impossibly fine line in criticizing the disruption without actually doing anything stern in the face of Teflon Harper.

In reading several posts and articles this past week, one does notice a number of nicknames that writers and interviewees have proscribed to the city of Toronto.

If you’re visiting people out of country, one sometimes actually says To-ron-to, but locally it’s Tronno, because that’s just the way it is. We also use the abbreviation T.O., not because we feel we’re a province unto ourselves, but because it’s easy. Some also write the code YYZ, because that’s the code on your luggage tag that reads “this dude or dudette is from Tronno.’

One name that I’ve only heard lately – and I’ve been living in this dopey city since birth – is The Big Smoke. (We called in the army to shovel snow; we have low water pressure and we live beside a lake; and for 25 years no one knows what to do about the Gardiner Expressway except dream up divisive schemes that never go beyond pretty pictures. We’re dopey. It's a factoid.)

The city has many nicknames, but perhaps this picture and prose explain The Big Smoke origin. The ever-accurate Wikipedia (ahem) has a few other names, including Hogtown, which I’ve always liked because ‘city of pigs’ has healthy mental grounding affect whenever the city thinks its ‘World Class’ (a term likely stemming from MegaCity Mel in his Melnoidal prime) and ‘the most ethnically diverse city on the planet’ (a phrase invented by publicists with no basis in hard head-counting, gene-sampling fact).

We do have Mother’s Dumplings, however, and the fact you can buy kalonji (black onion seed), Costoluto Genovese tomatoes, Malaysian and Berbere spice mixes, eat Japanese black sesame ice cream, and finally get Aalborg locally is frankly awesome.

Besides, our skyline is quite beautiful, with the CN Towner complimented by the SkyDome that the province sold for a dime in times of desperation to Rogers, the negative-billing pioneer who transformed the fire sale purchase of the massively over-budgeted stadium into the Rogers Centre, and purchased rival company Fido and, according to original subscribers, wrecked it.


Mark R. Hasan, Editor



Just uploaded are a trio of portraits, so to speak. The latest is The Eastwood Factor (Warner), Richard Schickel's amiable documentary on Clint Eastwood's career after moving his production offices to the Warner Bros. lot. The doc is available separately or as part of the massive Clint Eastwood: 35 Years 35 Films at Warner Bros. set.

Since 1973, Schickel's been writing, directing and producing filmmaker portraits, and I've added one of his earliesr works, The Men Who Made the Movies: Howard Hawks, about the independent-minded director who, like Eastwood, made his own share of films at Warner Bros. over a 30-year career. (The 1973 doc was apparently given a tweak in 2001 by TCM, where it’s in regular broadcast rotation.)

Lastly, French composer/jazz pianist Michel Legrand conducted and performed in a live concert in Brussels, Belgium, and the 2005 event, Michel Legrand: Live in Brussels, was released on DVD by EuroArts. Although not a documentary, the concert video is a self-portrait by another artist, and well worth snapping up if you're a fan of his filmscores and jazz music. (The jazz sets in the concert's second half recall his classic 1968 album, Michel Legrand at Shelly's Manne-Hole.)

And totally unrelated, E1’s DVD release of Stephen Sondheim’s Evening Primrose has been pushed back to October 26, 2010. Hopefully this is just a move to position the release to Halloween season, rather than a delay due to rights issues. Pretty much unseen since 1966, only the soundtrack has been given a commercial release.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Soundtrack Reviews and Upcoming Releases

This blog actually covers a number of soundtrack pieces uploaded over the past week, starting with a review of Tribute to Basil Poledouris, a concert DVD that offers both the composer’s final concert appearance in 2006, as well as a poignant documentary on his career as an underrated artist perhaps ripe for a rediscovery by newcomers and old fans alike.

Poledouris was one of the first composers I followed eons ago. I never cared for Red Dawn, one of his earliest score LPs (something about John Milius’ jingoistic claptrap always annoyed me), but I kept reading in magazines that Conan the Barbarian was an outstanding score. (If memory serves correct, it may well have been Leonard Maltin’s review on Entertainment Tonight, back when he was the show’s resident film reviewer.)

I think the first Poledouris score I bought may have been RoboCop (1987), which came out on vinyl on the U.K. label TER, and was far shorter than the new Intrada CD that features almost an hour of music, and considerably improves the album’s thematic variety.

The Conan album was hard to find because it was an import LP that seemingly no one in Toronto was carrying. In the late eighties, a number of MCA LPs just didn’t get distribution up here, be it new recordings, reissues, or budget-level reissues of classic scores (like the MGM albums, of which only a few were distributed north of the 49th parallel). MCA put out its own domestic versions of new and catalogue material, but for some annoying reason, classic titles like Spartacus (1960) or new releases like Conan the Barbarian (1982) were tough to find.

It took a trip to Detroit to get the album, and there’s something to be said about an era where you had to cross an international border in order to buy music no one else cared to special order.

Pretty sad, eh?

Halfway through the opening titles, I knew this was a remarkable work by a composer whose sense of melody and grasp of orchestral might were profound. When the CD came out from Varese, it featured additional music, but the sonics of the original tapes weren’t very dynamic. (A good comparison is the album for the sequel, Conan the Destroyer, which features crisp sound, although it’s wasted on a score whose music budget was considerably smaller.)

Quartet Records’ DVD features Poledouris conducting an excellent suite of themes, with good sound and decent picture materials culled from available broadcast and private sources of that evening. The DVD is also an excellent follow-up to the 1997 FSM doc, Basil Poledouris: His Life and Music, which covers the composer’s career up to his then-latest work, Starship Troopers.

In addition to the DVD review, I’ve added a review of Intrada’s RoboCop, and in keeping with the theme of superheroes and comic book worlds, there are reviews of James Newton Howard’s The Last Airbender (Lakeshore Records), and Nelson Riddle’s Batman: The Movie and Christopher Drake’s Wonder Woman (both from La-La Land Records).

Lastly, here are the latest soundtrack releases, current, imminent, and announced, up to this week:

Cometa Edizione Musicali (Italy)

Tre nel mille / Tre nel 1000 (Ennio Moricone) --- 500 copies

DigitMovies (Italy)

Misteria / Body Puzzle (Carlo Maria Cordio) --- July

African Story (Francesco De Masi) --- July

Fatevi vivi la polizia non intrverra (Piero Piccioni) --- July

Le 4 giornate di Napoli (Carlo Rustichelli) --- July

Dutton Vocalion (US)

Movies ‘N’ Me (John Dankworth)

GDM (Italy)

Ad ogni costo (Ennio Morricon) --- expanded / July

La mogile giappinese (Nino Oliviero) --- expanded / July

Kritzerland Records (USA)

A Time to Every Purpose / The Name of the Game is… Kill / The Meal (Stu Philips) --- July / 1000 copies

Kronos Records (EU)

Aragosta a colazione (Piero Umiliani) --- July / 500 copies

La-La Land Records (USA)

Edge, The (Jerry Goldsmith) --- expanded

Speed 2: Cruise Control (Mark Mancina)

Legend (Italy)

Ulysses (Alessandro Cicognini --- expanded / July

La spina dorsale del diavolo / The Deserter (Piero Piccioni) --- expanded / July

Madison Gate Records (USA)

Karate Kid, The (2010) (James Horner) --- on-demand CDR

Water Tower Music (USA)

Inception (Hans Zimmer) --- July


Mark R. Hasan, Editor



The Return of Charlie Chan on DVD

This week, TCM and Warner Home Video released a four-disc, four-film set containing some of the remaining film in the classic Charlie Chan series. The Chinese, American-based detective was created by American writer Earl Derr Biggers in 1923, and the stories eventually went from print to radio and the silver screen, where the first two film efforts, performed by Asian actors, didn’t fare too well with reviewers and audiences, prompting film producers to attempt a reboot.

Giving a potential franchise a rethink (and ignoring prior efforts) is hardly new; Sony pretended Ang Lee’s Hulk never existed (except on home video), and Martin Clunes shuttered the first two efforts to bring Doc Martin to life by making the first two TV movies from 2003 disappear into the ether of out-of-print-dom.

The early Chans – the serial The House Without a Key (1926) and The Chinese Parrot (1927) - are unavailable on home video (and believed to be lost), but as for the rest of the series, that’s a different story.

Charlie Chan really began as a series when Fox took over the property and cast Swedish actor Warner Oland as the brilliant criminologist. The idea of using a white boy as an Asian isn’t kosher (and ridiculous), but in 1929, a white actor donning makeup and chopping up English in an affected manner was standard practice for the times.

Blacks, for example were relegated to big-eyed, inarticulate servants afraid of their own reflections (case in point: Charlie Chan’s chauffeur/servant, Birmingham Brown), and stories involving characters from others ethnic backgrounds were usually headed by white actors.

It makes some classic films and beloved characters tough to assess. I can take the Chan character as being above the servile stereotypes in other period films, and see him as a detective with smarts and a sharp sense of humour, as well as a creaky stereotype. The stories are standard B-movie mysteries, and pretty enjoyable since they use the same framework of other B-whodunnits.

On the other hand, being half-South Asian, I find it awkward watching Gunga Din (1939), because the titular character is a horrible stereotype of the good little Indian who rises above his class because he helps reckless British soldiers out of a jam, and eventually sacrifices himself by emulating his colonial oppressors for the good of the British Empire rather than saving his native community from Thuggees.

Sam Jaffe’s a good character actor, but he ain’t no Indian. The film is an excellent example of the exotic buddy action film in genesis, but once you’ve seen Peter Sellers (a provocative white comedian bent on playing with all kinds of stereotypes) spoof the clichés of the colonial action genre (the finale of Gunga Din, specifically) in the opening of Blake Edwards’ The Party (1968), the absurdity of casting non-ethnic actors in parts like Gunga Din deserves a good satirical jab to remind viewers why there’s something not quite right with a particular portrayal.

(And then there’s Marlon Brando playing a Japanese character in 1956’s Teahouse of the August Moon. Mickey Rooney still gets raked over the coals for his hideous, screeching Asian thing in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but Brando putty-jammed eyes and ‘infectious grim’ is another kind of horror.)

Should the character of Charlie Chan be grouped with some of the most misanthropic, ill-conceived ethnic stereotypes out there? No, but the films do necessitate some contextual explanation: the western film market in the thirties and forties wasn’t so tolerant of so-called minority actors in major roles.

The B-realm – and this observation is pure speculation based on IMDB stats – seems to have offered ethnic actors more film employment than major studios productions. Two points: If one examines the C.V.s of the Asian actors in the Chan films, they did make other films, but with very few exceptions, most were within the B-realm before it evaporated by the end of the forties.

And Chan’s son(s) may have bumbled under the impressive professional shadow of their father, but as characters, they were ordinary sons (and played by real Asian actors), and their comfort in being American-Chinese indirectly showed the American melting pot in action. Their culture wasn’t diluted by a western upbringing, and their exposure to both worlds, so to speak, made them an asset to local detectives, lawyers, and highway cops struggling with banal and complicated crimes.

Derr Biggers’ character is said to have been an attempt at breaking the celluloid image of ‘villainous Asians’, which helps, but like colonial actioners, the Chan films are products of a different time; I can watch little Gunga Din, but he’s bloody annoying.

TCM’s Spotlight collection features four films that represent a larger group of Chan films produced by poverty row outfit Monogram, after Fox decided the series had run its course in 1942, going from original star Warner Oland to American actor Sidney Toler.

Starting in 1944, Toler and Monogram continued to crank out further adventures at a fraction of the original Fox budgets, and when Toler passed away in 1947, the series was given one last breath of life with American actor Roland Winters, after which the character disappeared in 1949, until resurgence on TV during the fifties.

The TCM set picks up where MGM’s 6-disc Chantology box from 2004 left off, but is missing two Chan adventures – The Red Dragon (1945), and Shadows Over Chinatown (1946).

Included in the new set are Dark Alibi (1946), Dangerous Money (1946), The Trap (1946), and the first Winters Chan, The Chinese Ring (1947).

The inclusion of Winters’ debut as Chan is probably a test to see how well Chan fans respond to the actor, and the success of this set will also auger the decision as to whether the rest of the Winters' films will make it to DVD, or become an on-demand exclusivity.

That said, TCM’s prints are in good shape, the digital compression isn’t as heavy as the older MGM transfers, and while the DVDs don’t sport any chapter menus, the films do have chapter stops. More could’ve been added to place the characters in context – within the franchise, as well as cinematically – but it seems the best way to handle specialty titles with controversial aspects is just to release them, so the fans get first crack at seeing these long unavailable films.

Unlike the prior Chantology reviews which were restricted to hard word limits (they were originally written for another review site), I’ve blathered more on the new four, addressing their highpoints, and moments of mediocrity.

One parting thought: like a TV series, the Chan films under Monogram’s grip built up a substantial stock music library, with compose Edward J. Kay credited as series music director. Sometimes the way the music was slapped over scenes or looped just didn’t work, and the impression is Kay (or some underlings) wrote a number of cues with passages and lengths that could be faded in/out, extended, or played whole.

Whereas the jokey cues for the bumbling son + chauffeur are too mickey-mouse, the eerie suspense tracks really shine, and contain some fine writing and solo sections. If someone has more info or links on the scores, commercial releases, notes on Kay, or thoughts on Monogram’s music department, do post a comment.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Soundtrack Releases - New & Imminent

Here’s a quick tally of the latest soundtracks released this past week & announced for July:

All Score Media (Germany)

Jerry Cotton: FBI's Top Man (Peter Thomas)

BSX Records (USA)

Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (James Bernard) - score + storybook album

Marmaduke (Christipher Lennertz)

Not of This Earth / Transylvania Twist (Chuck Cirino)

For the Record (Belgium)

Angelo Badalamenti - Ghent International Film Festival and Brussels Philharmonic + The Orchestra of Flanders

Craig Armstrong - Ghent International Film Festival and Brussels Philharmonic + The Orchestra of Flanders

Mychael Danna - Ghent International Film Festival and Brussels Philharmonic + The Orchestra of Flanders

Dutton Vocalion (US)

Mancini's Angels (1977) + The Theme Scene (1978) - Henry Mancini theme albums

E1 Music / formerly KOCH Records (USA)

Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The (Howard Shore)

FSM (Film Score Monthly) (USA)

Outland (Jerry Goldsmith) - 2-disc set

Tootsie (Dave Grusin)

Intrada (USA)

A-Team, The (Alan Silvestri)

JAG (Bruce Broughton & Steve Bramson)

Mr. Atlas (Terry Plumeri)

Kritzerland Records (USA)

Busting (Billy Goldenberg)

MovieScore Media (Sweden)

Lightkeepers, The (Pinar Toprak)

Naxos (USA)

Arthur Bliss: Meditations on a Theme by John Blow

John Corigliano: Violin Concerto (The Red Violin) + Phantasmagoria

Network (UK)

Zoo Gang, The (Ken Thorne) --- July

Silva Screen (USA / UK)

Baaria(Ennio Morricone)

Drumbeat: The John Barry Seven (The John Barry Seven) --- July

Independence Day(David Arnold) - 2-disc set

Universal (France)

Angelique, Marquise des anges (Michel Magne)

Concert: John Barry, The (John Barry)

Horsemen, The / Cousteau Odyssey: The Nile + Blind Prophets of Easter Island (Georges Delerue)

Valley Entertainment (USA)

Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World (Brian Keane)

Varese Sarabande (USA)

Knight and Day(John Powell) --- July

Mother and Child(Edward Shearmur)

Special Relationship, The(Alexandre Desplat) --- July

Star Trek (2009) (Michael Giacchino - 2-disc set


Recently discussed at FSM's Message Board is Miklos Rozsa's Ben-Hur, which was originally released several ears ago in a deluxe 'long box' set by Rhino. Rhino's eventual stoppage of soundtracks from TCM Music was sadly missed, but the label did put out a number of notable releases, and apparently some of the label's most popular titles are being reissued by Sony in standard CD cases with the same music content.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Nature Rules

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Jacques Yves Cousteau’s birthday, the red-capped French explorer and nature lover whose love of the ocean was pivotal in raising the nature documentary from short-form curio and Technicolor vignette to a compelling statement on the fragility of oceanic and terrestrial environments.

Cousteau’s name may not be known to younger generations, but the reason there exists so many nature TV channels and docs geared towards educating and entertaining the masses is partly his. In addition to co-developing the aqua-lung, he managed a large crew who traveled the globe in the great ship Calypso, visiting wrecks, filming sea creatures, and sometimes going after intangibles like the lost city of Atlantis (thought by some, for a while, to be the locale where the Oceanic survivors were marooned in TV’s Lost. Ahem).

Cousteau’s birthday is being celebrated today by TCM through a day-long airing of his numerous docs, spanning The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau (1966) to The Cousteau Odyssey (1977). The month will also feature several classic water-logged films, including the rarely seen Howard Hughes idiocy Underwater! (1955), starring Jane Russell and her water-proof assets in ‘meh’ SuperScope (airing Friday June 19th).

The official Cousteau website is also making available Cousteau’s 1960 Oscar-winning doc The Golden Fish for online stream HERE.

Cousteau’s series was largely centered around things oceanic, whereas another series – Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom (1963-1988) – dealt with land-based creatures, as hosted by Great White Hunter Marlin Perkins. The Disney nature docs were also part of the mix, but for myself, it’s Cousteau and Wild Kingdom that influenced a keen interest in seeing animals on film.

If you play a David Attenborough nature doc, I’ll just sit there like a hypnotized kid, listening to the sounds of the Glooblecch Waterfincher as he dollies about the Hoomphahnacter tree, searching for his favourite staple food, the mighty Boobee worm, which gives the Glooblecch valuable protein in his otherwise arid tree-top environment in the isolated mountains of Pinikindu.

I could go on, you know?

Attenborough is the reigning king of nature docs because he knows his stuff, he loves traipsing around penguin dung, and seems to feel a kinship with the Bower bird’s elaborate efforts to snatch a hot mate on the floor of the Amazon jungle.

He’s also hugely prolific, and perhaps his international breakthrough series was Planet Earth (2006), billed as the first major leap in HD quality filming with an eye towards being overtly cinematic and ravishingly dramatic. The images in that series are art; you could splash hours of it on a wall, and remain transfixed by the animals, the weird plant formations, and blazing colours of aerial desert peaks.

The success of that series spawned cousin Life (2009), which made its home video debut June 1st in two versions – the original BBC edit with Attenborough’s narration, and the U.S. Discovery Channel edit, featuring narration by Oprah Winfrey and new music scores. This split run of what’s ostensibly the same series is available on home video, and I’ve reviewed the Blu-ray edition with an eye on how the Oprah version was crafted, and why it isn’t the monster child Attenborough’s fans believe it to be.

BBC Warner released both versions in Canada and the U.S., and, coincidentally, they also released several multi-disc volumes of Cousteau docs. TCM’s Cousteau salute may rekindle an interest in the French explorer’s cinematic canon, and it’s safe to say his personality as well as the subjects should overshadow the age of the docs.

Those wanting more of Cousteau can also enjoy John Scott’s music from the Odyssey series on CD. George Fenton’s music for Life hasn’t yet been released on CD, but the new scores (all quite excellent, by the way) by Fred Karns and Richard Fiocca can be enjoyed in the BR’s isolated music & effects track.

Coming next: a review of the DVD Tribute to Basil Poledouris, and a review of the newly expanded Robocop CD from Intrada, as well as some superhero soundtracks from La-La Land Records, and a recap of this week’s soundtrack releases.

And Please Note: the alternate blog site, www.mondomark.com is still undergoing some renovations, but it and the RSS feed it generates for KQEK.com will be up, running, and up-to-date by next week.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Back to Normal (with a POP!)

Okay. Doing a server swap wasn’t as easy as expected, and when a power supply on a computer kind of blew up on its own, that created a mild worry that maybe said machine, drives, motherboard, and other peripherals were simultaneously fried.

Happily, that wasn’t the case, but… What the Hell?

After turning on the power switch, the machine made a Bad Sound, and a second effort to restart the machine yielded a nasty POP! which in turn was followed by an acrid, silky smoldering cloud of fumes oozing from the rear power supply’s ventilation slits. Luvlee. I presume that, had I not yanked out the power cable, maybe aforementioned things would’ve been fried into oblivion.

Right now both the mirror blogsite (www.mondomark.com) and KQEK.com’s main URL are still going through ‘DNS propagation,’ which is a fancy schmancy term for waiting 24-72 hours until the rest of the planet’s servers re-discover the URLs, and make the sites accessible again.

KQEK.com’s pages are functional. I noticed a few DVD review index pages still don’t load upon first attempt, but the site works – you just have to click your mouse to www.kqek.com/Index.htm or http://www.kqek.com/Main_Index_Page.htm. The server switch was done around Friday/Saturday, so things should be normal.

In terms of the Editor’s Blog, this location is unaffected by the switcheroo, so I’ll continue with more blather from this past weekend, and nods of what’s coming next to KQEK.com.

Shortly there will be a DVD review of A Tribute to Basil Poledouris, a concert video edited from footage of the late composer’s rare attendance at the Ubeda Film Music Festival, where he conducted a suite of themes from Conan the Barbarian, after which he soon passed away from cancer. I’ll have some thoughts on his passing in the related blog, but for now let’s say his absence from the film scoring scene is still felt when you consider he wrote one of the best scores of the eighties.

Right now I thought I’d comment on the BBC World News’ airing of Inside North Korea, the latest episode of Our World that aired Sunday afternoon, and will be repeated throughout the month.

When the BBC has a full hour to produce a news program, they have more than enough wiggle room to explore subjects, gather diverse interviews, and show plenty of footage that brings viewers a little closer to a forbidden world like North Korea.

Unfortunately, when such a hot-button subject – the unhappy lives of citizens hermetically sealed in the wacky, warped world of Kim Jong-il – is squished into a 22 min. running time, there are two ways to compact the news material: use fast montages, as was done in the BBC’s Berlin Wall series back in November of 2009, or present the doc as a series of news highlights, and that’s more or less what’s inside Inside North Korea.

It’s neither filler nor faint fodder, but journalist Sue Lloyd Roberts must have been forced to trim back on material in the editing room. The doc’s first half has her being shepherded around the wacky DPRK’s main locales: Pyongyang monuments, a token Birthday celebration for a pensioner, happy kiddies in an indoor playground, and a farm collective with one tractor. The doc’s second half (following the ad break) has Roberts speaking with a handful of North Korean escapees who’ve settled in the South, and who don’t miss the brutal regime one bit.

Where the doc hits the mark is by eliciting comments and personal statements from the exiles after Roberts plays for them footage of her recent DPRK trip.

According to the exiles, the interior children’s playground isn’t the norm for most kids; most of the populace outside of the idyllic urban centers don’t eat well (meat is reserved for the birthdays of Kim Jong-il and father Kim Il-sung, repeatedly regaled as ‘Great Leader’); the quasi-free market barn in Pyongyang is tolerated because it provides food the government is otherwise siphoning off to the million man military; and the modern tractor at a farm collective exists due to the generosity of the EU, whose circle star logo is glued to a side panel Roberts’ ‘guide’ repeatedly tries to block from the camera.

One missed opportunity of her trip to the DPRK is not getting footage of the massive architecture, which is very odd considering their massive scope is impressive, and would’ve been the one subject the guides would’ve been delighted to show off to the outside world. (In one wide shot one can also see the bat-like Ryugyong Hotel, which is being completed for a proposed 2012 celebration of said Great Leader’s birthday.)

The lost opportunities in the editing room likely included additional moments where Roberts never got straight answers from her guides. In the farm collective sequence, she asks her translator to forward a pointed question, but the man just stands there with a blank expression, waiting for her to reformulate her query into something banal and politically safe.

A few sequences give further hints of the weirdness and hypocrisy Roberts was exploiting, such as asking university students in an English class what other international leaders they admire (one student’s reply: Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung); and the handful of students permitted to use the internet, albeit through customized search engines, accessing only what’s deemed necessary by the regime’s Orwellian poobahs.

A more contrived effort to capture a totalitarian regime’s weirdness is Nick Danziger’s 1993 doc Traveller’s Tales: Adventures in the Land of SPLAJ, where Danziger attempts to secure an interview with Colonel Gaddafi. At one point he and his cameraman run away from his government handler, playing a ridiculous game of tag that ends with chuckles, even though the handler, as memory recalls, is very displeased.

The BBC’s doc is definitely worth a peek, but I’d also suggest Roberts’ efforts – rooted in straightforward journalism – is markedly contrasted by the uncontroversial approach of filmmaker Uli Gaulke in the 2006 doc Comrades in Dreams.

Ostensibly about the love of film exhibition and the lure of movie magic, the lack of any political commentary by Gaulke gave the director extensive access to government-sanctioned locations and citizens. Besides some brilliant footage of North Korea, one also comprehends the effects of the country’s’ dictatorship through subtext: through the conversations of the North Korean projectionists, and their emotions which infer personal hardship without uttering any words. (There’s also some fascinating outtakes on the DVD that provide further examples of the Great Leader’s bizarre stature as a hero forced into the psyches of citizens.)

Hopefully by Tuesday the propagation of the DNS will be complete (sounds like biological experiment in gene splicing, eh?), and I’ll provide my take on a more traditional example of propagation – the BBC/Discovery Channel mini-series Life, released by Warner Home Video.

I’m actually covering the Oprah-narrated edition, and will offer some comparisons between the merits of this alternate U.S. version, which has significant differences from the David Attenborough narrated version broadcast in the U.K. and Canada.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Film & DVD Reviews

Please Note: from Thursday June 3 to Friday June 4th the sites www.kqek.com and alternate blog site www.mondomark.com will be offline to allow an important server switch. In an ideal world the switchover should be done by Saturday, and the sites will be up & running by Sunday. Blogs are other sundries will still be up & running at www.mondomark.blogspot.com.

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There's a weird irony at work right now. MGM has no money and is unable to forge ahead with the next James Bond film, nor Peter Jackson's production of The Hobbit, with the latter losing director Guillermo del Toro after 2 years in detailed pre-production. (Further info: 1 --- 2). Jackson and del Toro are the types willing to fully develop a project from script to full production, ensuring the film has been giving the best level of attention and care in getting it right.

As a contrast, there's Universal, who has money (and is solvent), but fumbled its new version of The Wolfman earlier this year. Based on Robert Siodmak's 1941 script, the film went through a few screenwriters, a new director, and another set of editors before it emerged in theatres this past January. Danny Elfman’s music was in the picture, out of the picture, and back in again, with extra music written by three composers to fill in the gaps.

The original running time was reportedly 125 mins, but it emerged in a shorter 102 min, version that didn’t please filmgoers with its awkward pacing, and wooden central performance by co-producer / star Benicio Del Toro. Unsurprisingly, director Joe Johnston went back to the editing suite and restored material that should’ve stayed there in the first place, but he had the good sense to leave a lengthy London rampage extension out of the film.

Universal’s Blu-ray contains that and additional deleted footage, and I’ve updated the film review with details of the newly restored material.

Another flawed horror film is the Spierig Bros.’ vampire opus Daybreakers, which was released last month in an excellent BR edition (Canada: Maple / USA: Lionsgate) with lots of extras, including the pair’s first short film, The Big Picture. In addition to reviews of Daybreakers and the short, I’ve added the full text to an interview with composer Christopher Gordon, of which an edited version appeared in Issue 97 of Rue Morgue Magazine, where Daybreakers was the cover story.

Next is a review of Fernando Arrabal’s 1983 film version of his play Car Cemetery / Le cimetière des voitures, starring Juliet Berto and Alain Bashung (who also composed the film’s music). Cult Epics’ DVD boasts a new (and very crisp) transfer from an HD master, and Arrabal’s reworking of the Christ passion play has aged quite well, given its setting and décor is a post-apocalyptic punk world.

Lastly, among the Ontario Cinematheque’s showcased stars this month is actor James Mason, who co-starred with Ava Gardner in Albert Lewin’s dreamy, weird, and ridiculously sensuous Technicolor production Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951). The film was apparently out of circulation for decades, although it has been available on DVD here via KINO.

In 2009, Pandora enjoyed a theatrical revival in its new and improved version that restored the film to its blazing Technicolor glory. Photographed by Jack Cardiff (The Red Shoes), the film is among the top colour films of all time, and should be seen on the big screen. The restored version will make its DVD and BR debut August 3 in North America (KINO) and August 9 in the UK (Park Circus).

Lewin, best known for what’s still the best adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), only directed six films between 1942-1957, and in tandem with Pandora’s re-release June 22, I’ll have reviews of almost all of his directorial work, some on DVD, a lot of it not.

Please note that, as stated at the top, both KQEK.com and the Editor’s Blog at www.mondomark.com will be offline Thursday June 3 and Friday June 4 due to a server switch. In the interim, I’ll post new material at the main Editor’s Blog site, www.mondomark.blogspot.com, and ideally both sites and content will be up, running, and in their proper places by Sunday June 6.

Thanks in advance for your patience, and if the switchover does indeed make Word Press more robust, the first stages of KQEK.com’s mobile version should be active by July 1st.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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