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Wednesday, Jan 2, 2008

This is a neat story to start the day: Rejected author has last laugh. I’m a fan of rejected anythings getting a leg up, so it was doubly nice to read about a 20-times rejected author (by all the majors) getting her day in the sun.


Birmingham writer Catherine O’Flynn has won Costa’s First Novel award (formerly the Whitbread) with her book, What Was Lost. The above article, from the Times Online, lists a surprising number of big-name authors who faced years of rejection before finding success. They include HG Wells, Beatrix Potter, and JK Rowling.


The article also mentions a guy called David Lassman, a much-rejected writer who, in frustration, submitted the opening chapters of Jane Austen books to publishers, changing only the character names, to see what would happen. One in 18 publishers and agents recognised Austen’s work. How awesomely weird.


So, What Was Lostshould be huge. I’m going to check out Lassman’s work, though. I’ll get back to you.


 


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Tuesday, Jan 1, 2008


The transition has been interesting - and aggravating - to watch. Companies that, at first, failed to embrace the digital format and all it could offer, are now taking the content-laden high road to battling the ongoing HD/Blu-ray confusion. We finally saw Holy Grail releases, titles no one thought would ever make it onto DVD, arriving in well planned marketing droves, while some filmmakers (David Fincher, Todd Field), purposefully released bare bones versions of their efforts (Zodiac, Little Children) in anticipation of far more fleshed out Special Editions. As independent producers and distributors continued to use the flexible technology as a means of getting their movies out and into the mainstream, archivists plundered vaults and resolved rights issues hoping to uncover some previous lost cinematic gems.


It was also a sad year for certain companies. Troma took a massive home theater hit, the inflated budget for its feature film Poultrygeist limiting its ability to continue providing promised direct to video titles, and Something Weird Video broke ties with Image Entertainment, ending the exploitation enterprise’s run with the commercial content provider. In fact, with the unclear clash over high definition ready to either explode or implode the industry, lots of little companies trying to champion the outsider or unusual entertainment have seen their strategies come up short. Still, 2007 was a stellar year for DVD, the big names brandishing even bigger guns to illustrate the medium’s potential - and profitability.


While the list could be much, much longer, here are SE&L“s selections for 2007’s best. Eclectic, diverse, and missing many celebrated releases (Blade Runner, anyone?), it still represents what the format does best - bringing well known and fringe films to the avid cinephile. We begin with a definite Criterion classic:


#10 - The 3 Penny Opera: The Criterion Collection
G. W. Pabst’s adaptation of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s 3 Penny Opera is an astounding cinematic experience - like watching M the musical as filtered through a neo-realistic view of silent-film German Expressionism. At first, you feel overwhelmed by the arch, stylized approach to the story. When it’s all over, wrapping up its cutting condemnations and finishes with a flourish, we wonder why we ever doubted it. Because of the knotty narrative turns, the backdoor wheeling and dealing, and clearly defined criticism of Germany’s lax citizenry, what started out stark and dated turns timeless and all too telling. Criterion’s presentation is just perfect, including enough context to further update the seemingly arcane approaches.



#9 - The Beatles in ‘Help!’
It’s a shame that Help! is constantly saddled with the “second best Beatles film” moniker. When compared to the rest of their output, it’s faint praise indeed. Certainly A Hard Day’s Night set a cinematic bar so high that not even the most important band in the history of modern music could compete with it, and compared to other rock and roll film showcases of the time, it’s an unbridled masterwork. But for some reason, when placed along an equally fictional version of a ‘day in their life’, The Beatles’ East Indian romp gets some substantial short shrift. Thanks to this new deluxe two DVD version (the film has been MIA from the home theater format for years), that assessment should now change.



#8 - This Film is Not Yet Rated
If it accomplishes nothing else, Kirby Dick’s brilliant This Film is Not Yet Rated should put to rest all the arguments about the MPAA and its influence over movies. The next time you hear a spokesperson for the group argue that they “don’t determine substance or require edits,” and that “the rating is merely voluntary…etc”, you will have a factual rebuttal for all that bullshit. In fact, the MPAA is like the Warren Commission, totally unflappable in its party-line approach to any issue brought before them. But just like Oliver Stone, Dick opened a door that few have ever walked through, especially in the 40 years since the entryway was first built. His dissertation, and the wonderfully dense DVD that accompanies the documentary, is JFK.



#7 - The Three Stooges Collection: Volume 1 - 1934 - 1936
Fulfilling the wishes of longtime fans, Columbia has finally wised up, dropped the three short per package DVD format, and delivered The Three Stooges in a logistically sound chronological breakdown. Covering the first three years the performers pitched their vaudeville shtick to motion pictures, the 19 mini-masterworks presented all contain the classic line-up that most devotees prefer: mean leader Moe, absent minded minion Larry, and unbelievably brilliant bundle of butter, Curly. There is no Shemp, no Joe Besser, and definitely no Curly Joe DeRita to muck things up. While there is nothing wrong with any of these later stage substitutes, nothing beats the magic of the original Stooges. Looking over the titles offered, there is not a bad apple in the bunch.



#6 - Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters for DVD
Who says they don’t make good dada anymore? This big screen version of the Cartoon Network/Adult Swim anomaly offers three amiable (if slightly psychotic) fast food products - a shallow shake, some science-minded fries, and a babyish blob of mystery meat - taking on unhinged elements from around the universe. Part origins exploration, part satiric stream of incontinence, it may not make a lick of sense. But when you’re laughing this hard, does logic really matter? Even better, the DVD version (complete with a whole other version of the movie) reimagines the medium in a way that both embraces and mocks the special feature heavy format. It stands as a symbol of the film, and the series in general.



#5 - The Sergio Leone Anthology
He was born into the belly of Italian show business. By the time he was a teenager, he was very familiar with the Italian film biz. While helping out on the peplum epic The Last Days of Pompeii, he suddenly found himself behind the lens, and it would be a place he’d remain for the rest of his career. He only made nine credited films, but for fans of the spaghetti Western, four would remain major motion picture milestones. But there was much more to Sergio Leone than squinting antiheroes and one-horse towns draped in quick-draw bloodshed, as illustrated all throughout this sensational box set. It’s the perfect place to begin your journey into the bleak bombastic world of the director, and all the cinematic splendor that comes with it.



#4 - David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE
INLAND EMPIRE is a masterpiece. It is also an aggravating avant-garde amalgamation of incomplete ideas. It’s a brilliant distillation of David Lynch’s career defining dream logic. It’s also a three hour exercise in excess and a brilliant argument for the switchover to digital filmmaking. As with most works by the artist/auteur, this fragmented take on “a woman in trouble” (to quote the film’s tagline) raises many more questions than it ever dares to answer, and squeezes more imagination and invention into three hours than most movie studios manage in a lifetime. The DVD delves even deeper into the narrative, providing deleted material and additional context to show how the ‘film’ was formulated. 



#3 - The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume 1 & 2
How lucky are we film fans? In the span of less than eight months (Volume 1 hit in January), we’ve been able to finally get our hands on the entire output from one of avant-garde filmmaking’s most revered names. Every single cinematic statement Anger attempted are here - from the homoerotic horror of Fireworks to the seminal Scorpio and Lucifer Rising - and they have never looked richer or more inviting. With a restoration overseen by the filmmaker himself, and a collection of added bonus features that helps to explain his importance, we finally see that there was more to this man than his craven collections of Tinsel Town tawdriness, Hollywood Babylon.  He stands as a true outsider artist.



#2 - Grindhouse Presents Planet Terror/ Death Proof
As a greatest hits package of every exploitation conceit ever considered for heating up a local passion pit, Quentin Tarantino’s dazzling Death Proof stands as a sensational slice of electrified genre porn. With his creative cameos, attention to genre detail, and meta-manipulation of the medium itself, Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror stands as a pert post-modern masterpiece, one of the best self-referential scarefests ever conceived. Together, they created one of 2007’s most sublimely satisfying cinematic experiences. While we wait for the eventual DVD release of the entire Grindhouse experience, we have this pair of sensational separate releases. Each movie is modified to fit the expanded running time, and the additions are amazing - as are the enlightening extras that help flesh out the filmmakers’ intent.



#1 - The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky
Many have never heard of him. Others only know selected works - the ‘80s effort Santa Sangre, the consistently mentioned “midnight movie” El Topo - but even for those who claim an intimate knowledge of cinema, director, poet, agitator, self-described “deity” Alejandro Jodorowsky remains an enigma. This could be due to the fact that the filmmaker has only helmed seven projects in the 50 years he’s been in the business. Part of the problem is also that Jodorowsky remains a vehemently idiosyncratic artist. Like many Latino moviemakers, he lives his works and is only driven to create when the passion (and the fiscal possibility) strikes him. The final issue with his covert career is the lack of access to his major films - Fando y Lis, El Topo, and The Holy Mountain. Only the first title has ever appeared on DVD, the other two considered “lost” due to ongoing animosity between the director and infamous ‘70s business bully Allen Klein.


Now, with all wounds apparently healed, Anchor Bay is beginning the post-millennial re-evaluation of the incredibly talented maverick’s career. With The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky box set, not only do we get a chance to see the works that loom largest in the auteur’s considerable legend, but we have a chance to see the best that the digital medium has to offer as well. To go into detail on each and every extra would take pages, but, in brief, here’s what one can expect. There’s the definitive 90-minute documentary, La Constellation Jodorowsky, which provides a wonderful overview of the director’s life and career, and each movie houses a full-length audio commentaries by the auteur that really explains and illustrates his artistic ambitions and personal themes. And in doing so, it gives a forgotten film giant his more than necessary due.


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Tuesday, Jan 1, 2008

Welcome back to Re:Print.


It’s been a big week, yeah? I’ve spent much of it stifling at work, in an un-air-conditioned DVD shop, hating every single face that says to me: “Wow, it’s hot in here!” Really? We hadn’t noticed. And neither had the last 35 customers to sweat their way through the latest releases. Global warming is well and truly under way, and has landed smack on Australia. Here I am, 11.09pm on New Year’s Day and the air blowing through my office window is filthy and hot. It stinks of dirty grass. No relief, not even at home, not even at midnight. Actually, the split-system in the living room is brilliant, but my partner refuses to let me move the computer next to the TV. So, here I am, and it’s hot. 


New Year’s was a slow one. I spent it watching Wild Palms, of all things. Scouring the ‘net today, though, I see a good time was had by most elsewhere in the universe. We heard fireworks going off, which excited me, until a little boy came into the shop this morning with a “Missing Dog” poster—the terrier named Bonnie ran away in fear of those fireworks, apparently. So, there’s that tradition ruined. Here’s hoping Bonnie finds her way home safely. My pup, Fulci, feels her pain. He spent the noisy clock-turning under a blanket by the couch.


As always, my New Year’s resolution is to “read more”. I say it every year, and usually wind up reading roughly the same amount of books as the year before. With a new house, and a new library all set up and looking awesome in the other room, I’ve decided that even if I read the same amount of books as last year, I want some of them to be those steadily yellowing over there, that I already own. I’m toning down the book-buying, and digging through the existing stockpiles for new and exciting reads. I’ll let you know how I go as the months progress. At the moment, I’m still knee-deep in movie tie-ins, with The Assassination of Jesse James… on the go now, and Death Sentence coming up next. I just finished Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz—a quick read, horribly morbid and sad. Jesse James is proving a harder task—Ron Hansen’s language is true to the time period, and I’m wrapping my tongue around old west words more sluggishly than expected. After the movie books, it’s classics all the way. Well, long-standing shelf-dwellers, at any rate.


Here’s to a great 2008 in books. Myself and my co-blogger, Lara Killian, will be here to capture the highs and lows as we see them. For now, here are some articles to read to get you ready for Books ‘08:


Read all about the best books of 2007 set in New Jersey.


Who will be who in 2008 according to the Guardian.


Compare Ty Burr’s reading resolutions to your own, like this one:


Read at least one book that is not being adapted into a major motion picture. In 2007 I really enjoyed reading The Golden Compass and Atonement and No Country for Old Men and Persepolis and The Kite Runner (OK, the last one not so much). Was there anything else that came out last year? Can someone tell my wife I’ll get around to The Omnivore’s Dilemma when Cate Blanchett is signed to star in it?


Hmm, yes.


 


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Monday, Dec 31, 2007


Okay - so it’s actually 11. Instead of playing by the rules and sticking to the mandatory 10, another title managed to sneak its way onto SE&L‘s annual celebration of the artform’s best. Even more depressing, there are dozens of releases from 2007 that deserve almost equal appreciation. You know it’s been a banner 12 months when films like Grindhouse, SiCKO, The Simpsons Movie, Knocked Up, Eastern Promises, Juno, and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead are stuck circling around numbers 11 through 20. Unlike past years, where compiling this list required a fair amount of aesthetic archeology, practically every week saw another astounding effort announce its classic intentions. Some may quibble with a few of the selections, but the bottom line remains firm - 2007 was a great year in cinema, and these 11 masterworks are proof of same.


Still, with nearly 300 titles taken in during the last 52 weeks, what is and is not included here may seem specious. After all, there were dozens of foreign works (Persepolis, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) that never got screened for SE&L. In addition, there were monumental movies that had to use a direct to DVD ideal just to get distribution. Leaving them out was painful as well. It’s important to remember, however, that said lists may look like consensus, yet remain securely in the paradigm of personal opinion. Your choices may vary, and indeed, probably should. If we all agreed, it would make such annual wrap-ups rather pointless. With that in mind, here are SE&L‘s selections for the 11 best films of the year, starting with the tie at 10:


#10 (tie) - Sunshine
Sunshine is a film about sacrifice. It’s a movie that asks the big questions and waits for the inevitable answer. It’s the kind of intellectually driven science fiction that Hollywood can’t be bothered to make nowadays. Instead of staying betrothed to the George Lucas School of Speculative Design, where everything is techno-wow and movie serial sodden, director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland have gone back to the original source of serious future shock – Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 – and fashioned their own post-modern, post-punk space odyssey. The results resonate inside the brain in a way few films in recent memory can claim, awakening long dormant desire for truth and explanation. This is the kind of movie that stimulates debate as it mires us in the mysteries of the cosmos. It sings – and it also saddens.



#10 (tie) - Ratatouille
Like the gourmet food it so exquisitely renders, one fears that the sensational Ratatouille will end up being a decidedly acquired commercial taste. Far too languid for sugar fried kid brains, but marketed in such a manner as to keep the more mature demographic it’s actually perfect for from lining up, it represents a brilliant step forward in Pixar’s continued domination of the 3D animation realm. It also proves that Brad Bird is the reigning king of outsider cartooning. From his pen and ink triumph The Iron Giant to the pumped up perfection of The Incredibles, he’s managed to become a genre genius by refusing to believe the artform’s inherent limits. Constantly pushing beyond its narrative and visual capacities, Ratatouille ends up one frighteningly effortless entertainment.



#9 - The Darjeeling Limited
Like a once in a lifetime trip that only grows grander with the passage of time, The Darjeeling Limited is idiosyncratic filmmaking at its finest. Sure, there will be those who see director Wes Anderson’s trademark quirks, his moments of forced magic realism and out of the blue character shifts and claim the same old self indulgent designs. And within his previous settings—a private school, a New York apartment, an oceanic research vessel—such strategies did indeed appear downright excessive. But within the context of India, a mysterious nation with its own inherent eccentricities and extremes, Anderson finds a totally complementary venue. In a country where seemingly anything can happen, where faith folds itself neatly into the fabric of everyday life in a manner so seamless that it’s almost indecipherable, the idea of three wayward men seeking interpersonal salvation doesn’t seem quite so quixotic. The way Anderson portrays it, it’s standard operating procedure in such a pulsing, overpopulated locale.



#8 - The Brave One
Try as you might, you cannot shake The Brave One. It sticks with you, digging down into your own scarred psyche and touching on every pain, problem, and possibility your current life holds. Calling it an estrogen-laced Taxi Driver or a female fashioned Death Wish misses the point. Certainly, there is vigilantism and the immediate, ill-considered impact of such street style justice. But there is something much deeper here, something that goes to the very nature of being human. When confronted with the possibility of letting those obviously guilty instantaneously pay for their actions, or to simply go free, which way does your moral compass point? This movie not only asks the question of what would you do, it then goes a step further to question whether you can live with yourself, and what you’ve become, afterward.



#7 - Into the Wild
Based on a book by Jon Krakauer and Christopher McCandless’ own diaries and writings, Into the Wild stands as the best movie in Sean Penn’s limited career behind the camera. After The Indian Runner, The Crossing Guard, and The Pledge, the Oscar winning actor pools all his talents to take on one of those too good to be true storylines. In the McCandless saga, you’ve got familial dysfunction, interpersonal pipe dreams, psychosocial subjectivity, the call of nature, and the undeniable allure of the open road to transform a simple act of individual wish fulfillment into something far more meaningful. Laced with amazing visual stunts, standout performances, and a perspective of our nation that’s nearly incomprehensible, we wind up tramping right along with our wide-eyed hero. We experience his dizzying highs…and everything that countermands such living in exile delights.



#6 - Gone Baby Gone
In the hands of first time director Ben Affleck, Gone Baby Gone arrives as an incredible cinematic experience. Taken from a novel by Mystic River author Dennis Lehane, this simple story of an abducted little girl, the surrounding investigation, and the suspicious mother at the center, has the kind of narrative power and acting prowess that elevates it above other like minded dramas. By capturing a sense of society lost, by using both the media focus and the behind closed doors denouements that seem to follow such situations, Affleck produces tragedy on an epic Greek scale and moviemaking of classic neo-noir artistry. In combination with some of the most riveting performances in recent memory, as well as a true sense of setting, what we wind up with is an incredibly dense and layered exploration of human ethics.



#5 - Zodiac
It’s a film about a famous serial killer with very little murder in it. It’s a story about an iconic crime figure from the late ‘60s/early ‘70s that only eventually gets around to discussing the possible suspects. It’s a police procedural, but it’s the old school kind of cop work: Lots of late nights; Way too many cups of coffee; Offices without fax machines trying to coordinate the jurisdictional division of evidence and information. And it’s a character study, told in triplicate. In each case, an individual who we are introduced to toward the beginning of the story is intrigued, obsessed, and then destroyed by the ongoing investigation of a man calling himself Zodiac, and a string of slayings that threaten to go unexplained…and unavenged. It’s also David Fincher’s best work to date - and when considering his creative canon, that’s amazing.



#4 - Hot Fuzz
Stop with all the spoof talk, already. The latest masterpiece from Brit wits Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the spectacularly anarchic action buddy cop caper Hot Fuzz is more than just a simple-minded lampoon. Such a categorization limits what the amazing movie manages to achieve, bringing it down to a level of creative crassness that the duo manage to transcend time and time again. The truth is, Wright and Pegg have much larger funny business fish to fry than merely taking on the Bruckheimer/Bay gonzo gunplay dynamic. There is more to their satire than flying bullets, fisticuffs and testosterone-laced fireworks. No, this exceptionally talented duo is out to undermine their very own Englishness, to poke fun at a country that still views itself as a bastion of good manners and inbred etiquette. And they do so magnificently.



#3 - There Will Be Blood
This is the Paul Thomas Anderson that all his past films promised. This is the unbelievably talented young gun whose been accused of channeling Robert Altman for a lack of his own style. Well, all reverence and referencing are now officially gone, replaced by a solid conceit which announces the 37 year old as one of his generation’s greatest. How Upton Sinclair’s mannered Oil became this brilliant dissection of greed and God, stoked by a sensational performance by Daniel Day Lewis as wildcatter Daniel Plainview, will remain part of cinema’s creative karma. Still, all credit to a director for playing outside his contemporary comfort zone, exploring period piece precision in a way that few filmmakers have ever managed to accomplish. In concert with the amazing cinematography and storytelling, we end up with an epic so electric it threatens to destroy everything we know about the medium.



#2 - No Country for Old Men
Shockingly effective and incomprehensibly great, No Country for Old Men proves that the Coen Brothers are America’s reigning motion picture Gods. Looking over their creative canon, a body of work that includes Oscar nods, a single win, several career defining films and more than a couple cult classics (“We want the money, Lebowski!”), they argue for their place among the artform’s true greats. Sure, some find them unusually quirky and lost in their own insular world of homages, references, and crudely hidden in-jokes, and in the past, all of those caveats would be concerning. Fact is, they are painted over every frame of their consistently fascinating flights of fancy. But No Country for Old Men is different. Instead of going outside their sphere of influence to the cinematic stalwarts that defined the medium, the Coen’s are riffing on themselves – and by doing so, they forge a near flawless filmic experience.



#1 - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Fans of Stephen Sondheim had every reason to be worried. His Tony Award winning masterwork Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is perhaps the most difficult and obtuse of his shows to make the cinematic leap - and with a track record that includes the unbalanced A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and the miserably miscast A Little Night Music, he’s far from foolproof. Luckily, the right auteur came along, a director so perfectly in tune with the composer’s layered conceits that one imagines it was written specifically for him. Many have dismissed Tim Burton as a goofy Goth visionary who has never met a narrative he couldn’t defang. Even worse, some have suggested that, as his mainstream acceptance has grown, his artistic acumen has faded.


Not true - and his brand new version of Sweeney Todd is more than enough proof. As the perfect marriage of maker and material, this dark, disturbing splatter-etta stands as the best film of 2007. It is an outright masterpiece, a work of bravura craftsmanship by a man whose been preparing for this creative moment all his directorial life. Like soulmates bound at the most primal, bloodlusting level, Sondheim and Burton merge to form a cohesive, craven whole, the show’s thematic undercurrents of malice, corruption, and revenge splashing across the screen in monochrome mise-en-scene and torrents of arterial inevitability. Stripped of its need for constant self-referencing (fans may balk at the cutting of some key expositional numbers) and reduced down to its nastiest nature, it’s the reason that film continues its status as art.


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Monday, Dec 31, 2007

Don’t act too shocked but it turns out your non-friends at the RIAA want you to know that copying any CD’s that you buy to your computer ain’t legal.  While it’s not the focus of their lawsuits, they’re starting to get the word out that you’re engaging in criminal activity whenever you do this, as they spew in this Washington Post article.  Why these scumbags haven’t filed suits against the software companies that make this possible is something to ponder- shouldn’t Microsoft, Winamp, Apple and others be liable or at least be threatened to be dragged into court for making ripping possible?  Don’t bet on it- the RIAA typically act like cowards, going after individuals in their lawsuits rather than large, deep-pocketed companies.  As the article notes “... for those old media to survive, they must adapt, finding new business models and new, compelling content to offer.  The RIAA’s legal crusade against its customers is a classic example of an old media company clinging to a business model that has collapsed.”


Speaking of new models, Billboard has an interesting article where a group of lawyers evaluate the new 360 contracts that labels have been cooking up to get a piece of the touring and merchandising pie as part of artists’ contacts.  Needless to say, they don’t think that these contacts are all peaches and cream and that artists need to be savvy before they sign away anything.


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