Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Commentary, Contributors

And the Oscar goes to … who, us?!

Yes, we’re past the point when anything more needs to be said about the 84th Oscars, and yet I’ve seen no mention of the most wackily wonderful moment of the evening. It afforded a look inside Academy ritual, and an instance of late-blooming justice being done against considerable odds. So please indulge one last Oscar commentary.

It was around mid-show and the category about to be announced was Best Editing. Four of the five films in contention were Best Picture nominees, which is typical, and understandable: surely a picture’s putative Best-ness has a lot to do with the excellence of its various elements? So Editing would just be part of the politics, the gamesmanship, the emotional rollercoaster of the night. Hugo had taken the lead with two wins right out of the gate, Cinematography and Art Direction—would Editing further hint at an upset of frontrunner The Artist, with Martin Scorsese’s editorial right arm Thelma Schoonmaker adding a fourth Academy statuette to her mantel (she’s won for Raging Bull, 1980; The Aviator, 2004; and The Departed, 2006)? The other Best Pic contenders whose editors had been nominated were Moneyball (those wonderful boardroom schmoozes! Brad Pitt working the phones!) and The Descendants (uh, OK). The fifth slot had gone to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a much-ballyhooed Christmastime release that hadn’t exactly flopped, but neither had it inspired brushfire enthusiasm among critics or ticket-buyers. An “It’s an honor just to be nominated” entry if ever we saw one. Your seats are way in the back, guys.

Then The Girl won. And as co-editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall were making their way down the aisle, you could read the mutual WTF body language and expressions plain as day. When they got to the podium they made it explicit: we weren’t expecting this, we have prepared nothing to say, but thank you David and, er, yeah. Exit, pursued by a chuckle.

“David” was director David Fincher. At last year’s Oscar ceremony Baxter and Wall had collected the selfsame award for editing his The Social Network. Back-to-back wins are rare. That, even more than The Girl‘s overall also-ran status among 2011 films, was why they weren’t expecting to be called to the stage again on this particular night.

But they belonged there, because their editing has a lot to do with why Fincher’s movie is going to find more and more favor over the years. People will stop worrying that there was a 2009 Swedish film rendering of the Stieg Larsson bestseller because, with the exceptions of leading actors Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace, it doesn’t hold a candle to the American version. Fincher’s movie runs only a quarter-hour longer than its predecessor but encompasses much more of the material, atmosphere, and teeming gallery of characters (including the Vanger dead) in Larsson’s 600-page tome. Steven Zaillian did the adaptation, a heroic task, but it’s Fincher’s visual and aural detailing and the at-times-subliminal editing by Baxter and Wall that set it before us and make it play, laminate past and present with breathtaking translucency.

So guys, what are you cutting in 2012? —RTJ

Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Commentary, Contributors, Essays, Industry, Movie Controversies

War of the Rings: Is the new “Lord of the Rings” Blu-ray the One True Edition?

Has Sauron struck again? From the furious debates playing across DVD/Blu-ray forums, where some the most passionate fans and exacting collectors can be found registering their praise and displeasures with upcoming and new releases (often in hyperbolic dimensions and a hostile tone), you might assume that there’s a new war brewing over the fate of the One Ring on Blu-ray.

Warner released the theatrical editions of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy on Blu-ray last year but held the Extended Editions for 2011. Not just some longer version with deleted scenes cut back in, the Extended Editions were painstakingly reedited for home video by Peter Jackson with new special effects, a reworked score by Howard Shore to match the new rhythms of the narrative and some lovely scenes that were cut for time in the theatrical version of the film but add depth to the characters and the scope of the epic. They were released on DVD years ago. For Blu-ray release, Warner returned to the film’s original 2K digital intermediate files (the final digital edition before striking film prints for theaters) for the source of the Blu-ray master.

Here’s where it gets complicated. While the masters of The Two Towers and Return of the King were completed digitally, The Fellowship of the Ring was partly digital master but mostly completed on film, where it was color-timed photochemically rather than digitally. For the theatrical release on Blu-ray, Warner used a digital master taken from a release print, but for the extended edition, Jackson wanted to rescan the original elements to get the most visual detail and clarity, and them retime the color for home viewing, adjusting the brightness, intensity and hues to best effect on TV monitors. So while The Two Towers and Return of the King were mastered from the same source as previous release, The Fellowship of the Ring was not.

That’s the simplified version of a very complex, but the upshot is that the Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Edition Blu-ray looks different from all previous incarnations (film, DVD and Blu-ray) of the film.

Continue  reading on Videodrone

Posted in: by John Hartl, Commentary, Contributors, Essays, Science Fiction

‘Shrinking Man’ reputation grows

It’s always gratifying when a favorite film is discovered—or rediscovered in a way that creates a fresh perspective .

Such is the case with 1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man, which was enthusiastically received in its time but continues to grow in stature. Last year, it joined the National Film Registry of significant American films. In late August, it will be released by Universal as a single-disc DVD.

The latest reappraisal may have begun in 2005, when Time magazine’s Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel listed it as a top guilty pleasure and proposed that “it is long past time for a cult to form around its director, the late Jack Arnold, an efficient maker of B-pictures.” While similar 1950s films dealt with insects turning into monsters because of nuclear misadventures, Time pointed out that “this radical variation on that theme was (especially if you are a kid, eager to grow up, not down) scarier and more profound than the competitors.” Around the same time, Steven Spielberg, in a Turner Classic Movies special called Watch the Skies, singled out the film’s “message about not outer space but inner space, and about the soul and where does the soul go, and what is infinity? Is infinity out there or is infinity in here?”

Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide had always given three out of four stars to The Incredible Shrinking Man. But recently Maltin added half a star and included a mostly new write-up: “Intelligent, serious approach, exceptional special effects for the period, and a vigorous leading performance (by Grant Williams) result in a genuine sci-fi classic, unsurpassed by later attempts.”

For years, the movie had been carried on DVD by only one chain (Best Buy), which included it in a couple of DVD collections of 1950s sci-fi movies, some of them directed by Arnold. Even the new disc will apparently be a bare bones release. Surely a Criterion release is in order.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Commentary, Contributors

2010 Academy Awards: finished business

Last week I told a friend I wasn’t anticipating Oscar night all that much this year. Then I immediately emended that: No, I was anticipating Oscar night all too well. There was little room for doubt who or what was going to win, and the outlook wasn’t prepossessing.

As I wrote here several weeks ago, the triple crown victory of The King’s Speech in the Producers Guild, Directors Guild, and Screen Actors Guild awards gave clear indication where Hollywood’s heart lay and confirmed that film as the favorite to win the Academy Award for best picture. By showtime Sunday night, most partisans of the heretofore presumptive frontrunner, The Social Network, had conceded the field and pinned their hopes on a best-director victory for David (“99 takes!”) Fincher over The King’s man Tom Hooper.

On Sunday night, Fincher lost; Hooper won. And that moment, well into the third hour of the awards ceremony, was when a reasonably pleasant evening turned glum.

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Posted in: Books, by Richard T. Jameson, Commentary, Contributors, Industry

Tear sheets

In the age of Netflix, when just about any film made anywhere can be summoned painlessly to your mailbox [or streamed to your flatscreen], we do well to remember that once upon a time there were only a handful of independently operated movie theaters in the United States dedicated to showing foreign-language cinema. Prints were few, sane distributors fewer, and even as the beleaguered exhibitors struggled to build an audience for “movies you had to read,” often as not they had to fight off local censor boards, right-wing xenophobes, and self-appointed arbiters of morality and decency. Jim Selvidge was one of these cultural heroes (if you can feature a hero in horn-rimmed glasses heavy enough to tilt the Titanic). Singlehandedly at times, he championed Bergman, Godard, Buñuel, Kurosawa, et al., put the Seattle Censor Board out of business, founded the Seattle Film Society, and enticed his community to take the first decisive steps toward acquiring a reputation as one of the savviest movie towns in the country. It’s an important story.

I wrote that blurb for Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa: The Foreign Film in America, James N. Selvidge’s memoir of a couple decades as a Seattle film exhibitor. Chances are the name doesn’t ring a bell – unless, perhaps, you’re into horseracing. That’s the field Selvidge went into bigtime in the 1970s, after U.S. interest in the foreign-film scene shrank drastically, and he rode those horses a long way. In fact, his website is named horsestalk (though I’m not sure whether that’s “horses talk” or “horse stalk” … never mind).

Non-horse people knew the name when I arrived in Seattle in autumn 1965. Selvidge had made major contributions to the local scene, not just culturally but also politically. His activist stance in the previous decade had been key to delivering a potentially world-class city from the provincial constraints of a film censor board, and his profile was high enough that right-wingers circulated the rumor (and probably believed it) that you could get into Selvidge’s Ridgemont Theatre for free if you whispered the letters “ACLU” through the box-office window. Good times.

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Posted in: Commentary, Essays, Film Reviews

This is Not a Watchman Review

[published in conjunction with the blog seanax.com]

The world doesn’t need another Watchmen review. Everyone with access to a preview screening and a web page has already done one. The world is not short of opinions and the web doesn’t seem to differentiate between considered responses and emotional reflex put to words, though you can find some of the better ones here (thanks to David Hudson at The Daily @ IFC.com for wading through the onslaught to pick out the more interesting responses).

So this is not a Watchmen review. It’s a consideration of what the film is and how it got that way: perhaps the most faithful cinematic replica of a comic book experience every accomplished.

Here is my question: why would anyone want that? I have the graphic novel. I’ve read it a few times and can pick it up anytime I want to.

Nite Owl and Archie
Nite Owl and Archie

I go to the movies to be immersed, impressed, awed, engaged. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen feels like a film made to deliver a sense of comfort that everything is exactly as you remember from the graphic novel. The character stories and arcs are all there, along with the complex backstories and the alternate history of America. The signature images from the comic books are all on display: the marvelous costume designs (which in some cases evoke comic-book silliness and garish impracticality of yesteryear costumed heroes), Doctor Manhattan’s Mars Fortress of Solitude, Archie the Nite Owl’s ship. In an interview Alan Moore gave to Wired Magazine, he complained that no film could get the texture of Dave Gibbons’ artwork. Maybe, but I can’t image anyone getting closer.

Yes, Snyder streamlined the story and judiciously edited out certain subplots and side-stories (notably the “Tales from the Black Freighter,” which will be released on a separate DVD later this month and is promised to be returned to the DVD release – though fans of the comic will notice that the news agent and the comic-book fan are present in a few shots). And he even dared to change the details of Moore’s original ending, twisting it with an insight so perceptive that one wonders if Moore would have done the same had it occurred to him, so beautifully does it wrap itself within the self-contained mythology and the character dynamics.

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Posted in: Commentary, lists

The last list of Lists for 2008 – The Year in Cinema

The reading of the Oscar nominations marks the unofficial (and long overdue) end to the season of Top Ten lists and year-in-review pieces and various awards bestowed by every group who wants to add their stamp to the passports of Oscar hopefuls. So as a postscript, I gather a few lists and remarks from Parallax View contributors and friends, along with those published by Seattle top critics, as a snapshot of the way see 2008.

Sean Axmaker

A Christmas Tale
A Christmas Tale

1. A Christmas Tale (France) (dir: Arnaud Desplechin)
2. The Edge Of Heaven (Germany) (dir: Fatih Akin)
3. WALL•E (dir: Andrew Stanton)
4. Let The Right One In (Sweden) (dir: Tomas Alfredson)
5. Wendy And Lucy (dir: Kelly Reichardt)
6. The Fall (dir: Tarsem Singh)
7. The Dark Knight (dir: Christopher Nolan)
8. The Class (France) (dir: Laurent Cantet)
9. The Secret Of The Grain (France) dir: Abdellatif Kechiche
10. My Blueberry Nights (dir: Wong Kar Wai)

I also saw six films at various film festivals that could easily have made the list, were they eligible under most Top Ten guidelines (i.e.: a theatrical release). Some of them have been set for a 2009 release, a couple still await distribution.

Four Nights With Anna (Poland/France) dir: Jerzy Skowlimowski
The Hurt Locker dir: Kathryn Bigelow
L’heure d’ete (Summer Hours) (France) dir/scr: Olivier Assayas
Of Time And The City dir/scr: Terence Davies
Still Walking (Japan) dir/scr: Hirozaku Kore-Eda
Ain’t Scared (France) dir/scr: Audrey Estrougo

Robert Cumbow

(in lieu of a list, Mr. Cumbow put together his Observations, Reflections, and Ruminations from 2008 for Parallax View here)

Jim Emerson

(Ten Best Favorite Movies, from his Scanners blog) Click on the link for the video experience.

1. In Bruges (comedy, gangster; on DVD)
2. The Edge of Heaven (multi-narrative drama; on DVD)
3. A Christmas Tale (comedy, family)
4. Pineapple Express (comedy, stoner/bromantic, crime, action, Ninja; on DVD/Blu-ray)
5. Wendy and Lucy (heartbreaker)
6. Let the Right One In (comedy, tweener love story, horror)
7. Still Life (comedy, romantic/industrial; on DVD)
8. Chop Shop (docudrama; on DVD)
9. Shotgun Stories (Southern Gothic; on DVD)
10. The Fall (comedy, Western/Eastern fantasy adventure; on DVD/Blu-ray)
11. Che (instructional documentary, with re-enactments)

John Hartl

The Edge of Heaven
The Edge of Heaven

(more or less in order)

The Edge of Heaven
Man on Wire
WALL•E
Waltz With Bashir
The Pool
Milk
Taxi to the Dark Side
Boy A
Frozen River
and the most interesting SIFF film I saw that hasn’t been released: Tony Barbieri’s Em

Robert Horton

(from his blog)

1. The Edge of Heaven
2. The Duchess of Langeais
3. The Romance of Astrea and Celadon
4. The Dark Knight
5. Wendy and Lucy
6. Married Life
7. Priceless
8. In Bruges
9. Forever
10. Let the Right One In

Richard T. Jameson

2008 was one weird film year for a variety of reasons, and trying to throw a Ten Best list around it has seemed a fool’s-errand. This fool’s latest version of one, for the editor of Germany’s brave Steadycam magazine to post online, should be the last I hazard … though it, like its predecessors, ignores some half-dozen first-rate films seen at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and unreleased as yet Stateside.

In Bruges
In Bruges

1) The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin)
2) A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin)
3) The Secret of the Grain (Abdellatif Kechiche)
4) I’ve Loved You So Long (Philippe Claudel)
5) Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)
6) Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)
7) In Bruges (Martin McDonagh) … hands-down favorite!
8 ) WALL•E (Andrew Stanton)
9) A Girl Cut in Two (Claude Chabrol)
10) Tell No One (Guillaume Canet)

Kathleen Murphy

1.  The Edge of Heaven
2.  In Bruges
3.  A Christmas Tale
4.  I’ve Loved You So Long
5.  Wendy and Lucy
6.  Let the Right One In
7.  WALL•E
8.  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
9.  Vicky Christina Barcelona
10. Man on Wire

Andrew Wright

Let the Right One In
Let the Right One In

1. The Dark Knight
2. The Edge of Heaven
3. Let the Right One In
4. Burn After Reading
5. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
6. WALL•E
7. Redbelt
8. Encounters at the End of the World
9. Fear(s) of the Dark
10. JCVD

Select Seattle-area Critics

William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

(in no particular order)

U2 3D
Milk, W., Frost/Nixon
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
The Reader
The Visitor
Cassandra’s Dream/Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Iron Man, The Dark Knight
Valkyrie
Slumdog Millionaire
WALL•E

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times

(in alphabetical order)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Frozen River
Man on Wire
Milk
Priceless
Revolutionary Road
Shine a Light
Tell No One
WALL•E

Tom Tangney, KIRO

1. The Edge of Heaven
2. Synecdoche, N.Y.
3. Boy A
4. I’ve Loved You So Long
5. Man on Wire
6. Funny Games
7. Towelhead
8. Wall•E
9. Rachel Getting Married
10. (tie) Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight.

Wendy and Lucy
Wendy and Lucy
Posted in: Commentary, Industry

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Up For Sale, Up in the Air

[Published in conjunction with the blog seanax.com]

You could say it came as a complete surprise when, on Thursday evening, local TV station KING-TV announced that, according to unnamed sources, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer would be put up for sale. The P-I staff had no news of it and the Hearst Corporation, which owns the P-I, would not comment. It could have been a rumor, a hoax or just an incorrect story. At least that’s what many of us hoped. It wasn’t until Friday afternoon that news was confirmed and the news made public.

But if the announcement was a surprise, the closing of a Seattle newspaper was hardly unanticipated. Traditional print newspapers have been on life support for years and Seattle was the last city of its size to still have two competing daily newspapers. Both the Seattle Time and the P-I have both been losing money. The two papers appeared to be attempting to outlast the other and be the last paper standing. While the locally-owned Times has a significantly larger circulation (198,741 to the P-I’s 117,572 as of September, 2008, according to a P-I report), it is also deeply in debt and its sale of a number of newspapers in Maine (which are being sold at a significant loss) is running into problems. Many thought that the more financially robust Hearst would be able to hold out longer in the face of losses.

The Hearst Corporation says that if the paper is not sold within 60 days, it will either be shut down or turned into a web-only publication with a greatly reduced staff. A sale in this climate seems unlikely, as the economic downturn has reduced advertising dollars even farther.

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Posted in: Commentary, DVD, Essays, Film Reviews

Skolimowski: “Barrier” ( “Bariera”)

[Originally written for the University of Washington Office of Cinema Studies Film Series “Voices and Visions,” April 20, 1982]

Tight shot: a man’s back, naked, bent, straining; his bands tied behind him; his head, whether yearning forward or bowed in fear and trembling, unseen. The posture faintly evokes your basic bullet-in-the-back-of-the-neck, Darkness at Noon–style execution. The Latin recitation somewhere just offscreen imparts a suggestion of religiosity to the agony. The man strains harder, balances precariously, and tips out of frame — out of existence, we might as well say, for he seems to have been lost in the white, infinite void of the empty screen.

Jan Nowicki and Joanna Szczerbic in "Barrier"

Well, forget all that, because it’s wrong. Nobody’s getting executed or awaiting the zealot’s lash, and the infinite whiteness is just the bare wall of a room in a university dormitory shared by four premed students. They’ve also shared a ritual, over the years, of collecting their spare change in a piggybank, and now the time has come to see which of them gets to keep it. They could cut cards or play one-potata two-potata, but where’s the perversity in that? No, they turn it into a ritual ordeal, wherein each aspirant assumes the aforementioned position kneeling on the edge of a table, leeeeeeeans forward, tries to pluck up a matchbox, poised about two feet out, with his mouth, and (that’s not all, no, that’s not all, that would be too easy), having plucked it, seeks to resume his former kneeling-upright position as opposed to falling very painfully on his chin, nose, brow, or all three once they’ve been compacted into a single pulpy mass. First guy to succeed wins the piggy.

It’s that simple. In fact, quite often in Barrier things prove to be that simple, although we need a little time and a little looking-around before we can appreciate the fact. What seems weird, freaky, outré frequently turns out to be just the way things are in this neighborhood. That screaming of a soul in torment as the hero roves about a strange, shrouded white corridor? Well, you see, next door there’s a dentist’s office; and the shrouds, that’s no big deal — some students are supposed to come over later and clean the place up, and I mean, we wouldn’t want the antlers (huh?!) getting dusty….

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Posted in: Commentary

Art, Life and Politics

Art, Life and Politics

With the arrival of Sarah Palin, American politics has strayed deep into Wag the Dog territory, but it wasn’t until last night, as even ad hoc members of Alaska’s First Family were lined up for her speech, that I realized that if I were Levi Johnston, I’d be very, very worried. Squinting your eyes, you can just about see the future of Sex on Skates:

His Face Book profile (in which he says he has no plans to get married) has already been taken down. Next, I think he’ll be out drinkin’, prolly with Track or some other buddies, get bleary, blotto drunk, and wake up the next morning to find that somehow, although he can’t remember it, he has enlisted in the U.S. Army.

His protests will get him nowhere; in record time, he’ll find himself in a still-dangerous corner of Afghanistan where, suddenly, somehow a stray bullet will end his young life.

This casket will be photographed. His pregnant grieving widow will meet the plane, most likely still hauling around Trig, since that seems to be her job; his (would-be) mother-in-law will meet the plane; the honor guard will be there. God knows John McCain will be there. There’ll be talk of burial at Arlington Cemetery, although in the end, Alaska will win with its claims of unlimited fuel reserves for the Eternal Flame.

All of us who know and love Wag the Dog will recognize this as the Old Shoe moment brought to life. For the rest, there’s Netflix.