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by tjmHolden

21 Jul 2009

Source: IMDBSource: IMDB


Okay, I admit. Bad title. Possibly even one of my all-time worsts. If I’d had more than three seconds to work it through, I might have come up with something better.

On the other hand, given that I haven’t had a lot of sleep . . . maybe not. The reason that I haven’t had much sleep is that I was up late last night. And I was up late last night because I was doing what always gets me in trouble: following my impulses.

The impulse that deprived me of my mental faculties is probably inferable from the entry title, and if not the title, then the pictures above.

Basically, what I did with my late night was watch the two incarnations of “Pelham 1-2-3”—the stellar 1974 version, and the widely-panned 2009 redo. Actually, I wouldn’t sharpen up the ole butcher knife over the latter, but, if comparison is going to be involved, there can be little doubt that the earlier version is a far superior product. I actually would encourage those of you who haven’t yet seen the Denzel Washington-John Travolta remake to do so—as long as you promise on the spirit of your evaporated last paycheck that at some point you’ll find a way to see the Walter Matthau-Robert Shaw (Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Jerry Stiller) original.

They really don’t make movies like that any more. And maybe if they studied more of them, they would realize they should.

 

by Bill Gibron

21 Jul 2009

We film critics hear it all the time - the endless creative mantra from the men behind the camera. “The studio made me trim it.” “The MPAA did most of the damage.” “Test groups didn’t like the (insert movie specific reference here) subplot, so it had to go.” “The ending didn’t ‘test’ well.” The need to edit, the contractually mandated rating (or running time), have long scuttled many an aesthetic aim. It’s almost as if - conspiracy theorists, listen up - a mediocre version of the movie is purposefully created for the mainstream so that the lowest common commercial denominator is fed and then forced aside.

Initially, the invention known as home video offered little solace. The VHS version of a film was supposed to be a full screen mimic of the theatrical experience - artistic compromises and all. Laserdisc promised more access to the “original” content, though it rarely had the opportunity to deliver. By the time that DVD was arriving, some studios saw a value in introducing the “extended” or “director’s” cut to their sell-through catalog. But it really took the new digital domain - and its even more complex cousin, Blu-ray - to pay true homage to the hard work of these marginalized moviemakers. In fact, today is seems like every new release is offered in both a theatrical and some manner of “unrated”, “uncensored”, or unabridged version.

Of course, some of these after-thought entries into the comprehensive collection ideal were fully anticipated. The ratings uproar over the first few Saw sequels caused director Darren Lynn Bousman to promise (and eventually provide) the true “blood and guts” vision of his horror titles. Indeed, almost every scary movie made is trimmed of some violent (or carnal) excess, only to see it restored later on. And then there is Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s brilliant adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “unfilmable” graphic novel masterwork. Almost from the very beginning, the man behind the Dawn of the Dead remake and 300 alerted fans that he would have to eliminate some beloved material to make the movie version more ‘linear’. Some feared he would completely ruin the revered book.

They were dead wrong. As we learned back in March, Watchmen was and remains an epic masterpiece, a visually stunning tour de force that provided as much spectacle as subtext. In telling the story of a group of former masked avengers, it soared to unimaginable inventive heights. While you can read reviews and reactions to the theatrical version here (a good place to start, FYI), it’s clear that, after a disappointed performance at the box office, many wondered in the mandated cuts and missing material would make a difference. Now Warner Brothers is releasing the first of what will be two completely different edits of the film. While the “Ultimate Edition” won’t make it to stores until December, the first offering out of the box, featuring Snyder’s latest compilation, is nothing short of monumental.

Indeed, the new Director’s Cut, running 24 minutes longer than the theatrical release, is a revelation for both original fans of the film and those who thought the initial outing was, let’s say, less than impressive. Snyder adds dozens of new scenes, shots of original Nite Owl Hollis Mason getting his unjust final desserts, moments of sheer blood-shedding as Dr. Manhattan overruns Vietnam. The big blue God gets his relationship with Laurie Jupiter (aka Silk Specter II) expanded, while formerly forgotten characters like the News Vendor and the Comic Reader have been reintroduced - if barely - into the narrative. In all, many of the complaints leveled against the film have been addressed. It flows better, has more of a psychological and emotional bite, and really highlights the superhero deconstruction which made Moore’s literary interpretation of the genre a considered classic.

Some may feel cheated when they learn that separate projects previously released on digital - the animated Tales of the Black Freighter and Watchmen: The Motion Comic as well as the mock doc Under the Hood - aren’t present here. They are being reserved for the bigger, more impressive five disc set a few months from now. But for anyone who has a question as to whether or not to purchase this particular version of the film, the answer is a solid “yes”. Not only do you get one of the best films of 2009, a rarity in both content and creativity, but you walk into one of the most immersive, in-depth home video experiences ever…especially on Blu-ray.

There, the 2.40:1 image is stunningly recreated in pristine 1080p. The movie looks almost three dimensional in its crystal clarity. The sound is also amped up thanks to the lossless DTS HD Master 5.1 English audio mix. The overall technical experience is immersive, matching the Cineplex presentation facet-for-facet. But where fans will really rejoice is in the added content department. Warners has asked Snyder to take all the EPK material and making-of documentaries created for the film and incorporate them into a point-by-point feature known as “{Maximum Movie Mode”. With the noted director as our host and guide, we get three hours of video commentary and asides, picture in picture clips and tag-along Q&As with the cast, as well as a trivia timeline comparing the real world to the Watchmen universe.

It’s here where we learn the intricacies of the rough cut run through. Snyder explains why certain scenes were trimmed, offering insights into “creativity by committee” decisions and the implied needs of the audience. He also highlights little details often overlooked by first-time viewers and direct shout-outs to Moore and Gibbons. Elsewhere, the actors discuss their desire to stay true to their characters while bringing these complex beings to life, and the crew addressed concerns regarding the use of CGI, how Dr. Manhattan was created, and the decision to be less “realistic” with the recreation of famous faces within this parallel universe. Along with three excellent supplements on the second disc, we have reason enough to own this particular package.

But it’s Watchmen itself that needs one more additional push. While it failed to wholly deliver on its pre-determined blockbuster status, this is still a fantastic film. It has gravity and weight, the underlying horror of global thermal nuclear war reminding us that, at least back in the early ‘80s, we had more to fear than criminals and the masked men and women who chased after them. The looming threat, the notion of human extinction placed alongside the dying breed of vigilante’s gives the movie an edge and a somber subtext that hard to shake. With pitch perfect performances from everyone in the cast (especially the Oscar-worthy work of Jackie Earle Haley as the psychotic soul of the Watchmen, Rorschach), it’s up to Snyder to guide us through this well-woven web of intrigue, doubt, and deception -and he does so effortlessly.

In a clear case of “improving on perfection”, the new director’s cut of Watchmen takes an already stellar work and makes it even more powerful. Time will grant this astonishing effort the critical consensus it so richly requires. This is a film that submerges us into this world of disgruntled heroes, tired villains, weak-willed politicians, and the one unknown force that is driving them all toward Armageddon. It’s a dense ride, often needing, nay mandating more than one visit to figure out all the nuances. But those with the patience to work their way through the intricacies will be rewarded with something grand indeed. As well as Watchmen worked the first time around, this extended version is even better. It just goes to prove that, sometimes, a required revisit it well worth the wait.

by Colin McGuire

20 Jul 2009

And now, finally some good news from the newspaper world. Six weeks to the day The Boston Newspaper Guild narrowly rejected a concession proposal from The New York Times Company, thrusting the possibility of having to close The Boston Globe’s doors for good, the union unanimously approved a new contract Monday night, allowing newspaper lovers all up and down the east coast to breathe a sigh of relief.

The vote: 366-179.

From The Associated Press:

“We are very pleased that the members of the Boston Newspaper Guild ratified their agreement. With this vote, all of the Globe’s major union contracts are now settled,” Boston Globe spokesman Bob Powers said in a statement. “We deeply appreciate the sacrifices that Guild members are making to help sustain The Boston Globe’s mission of delivering high-quality journalism to the greater Boston community,” he added.

According to Poynter, the guild will take a 5.94 percent pay cut under the new deal. In addition, other reports cite the unfortunate notion that The Boston Globe is projected to lose $85 million dollars this year, and, along with the nearly six percent pay cut, the contract includes unpaid furloughs, a pension freeze, a reduction in health care benefits and the elimination of lifetime job guarantees.

“I’m relieved, but it’s sad because we gave up a lot and it was a very difficult negotiation,” Beth Daley, a reporter who cast a ballot against the new contract in the first vote, but changed her mind Monday, told The AP. “I don’t pretend the plight of the Boston Globe to be over by any means - but whatever it’s going to be, we’d get there quicker with this vote. We voted no with a narrow margin and we went back and we eked out a marginally better deal, marginally is the operative word. It was clear to me that if we were not going back to the table, it was going to prolong the agony.”

The deal obviously isn’t perfect, and we all understand that though this dispute is now finally over, that doesn’t mean The Globe’s workers aren’t going to feel any type of hit. But the silver lining in these dark clouds is the mere notion that the deal did get done, period.

Had this problem dragged itself out through more months, there was a very real possibility that one of this country’s premier newspapers would have had to shut its doors. That doesn’t have to happen now, and though it seems as though neither side truly won this war, the newspaper industry as a whole gained a vitally important victory Monday by displaying a sense of companionship and rationale when it needed to the most.

Yes, it isn’t ideal, but for the first time in a long, long time, positive news has finally come from the world of newspapers and modern-day journalism. And who knows? Maybe the industry as a whole can look at this development and keep the momentum moving forward somehow. Positive thinking, journalists. Positive thinking.

by Rob Horning

20 Jul 2009

Recently, as I mentioned before, I re-read the novel Dune, something that felt vaguely shameful to me, so shameful that I feel compelled to mention it again here as a kind of penance. While I was quickly and compulsively working my way through Muad Dib’s rise to the godhead, I was too ashamed to take the book on the subway; instead I waited until I got home from work to furtively dive in. Not that the book itself is shameful; it’s rightly regarded as a classic. I think my shame came from how much it remind me of myself when I was 12, when I first read it, how much I was indulging a useless nostalgia, as all the innocence was gone from my reading. Whenever I felt myself getting caught up in the story, I found myself adamantly retreating to an analytical distance, seeking in some way to ironize my own engagement.

While I was reading, I found myself frequently and needlessly recurring to the near-incomprehensible map of the planet on which most of the action takes place. It’s not like the geography is confusing. But the map is more confusing than anything else, with lots of locations labeled that I don’t remember ever being mentioned in the text, with hopelessly geeky names like “the Minor Erg”. The glossary, on the other hand, is extremely useful and great for laughs, too. My favorite part is the Pale Fire style references to nonexistent reference works; e.g. the parenthetical in the entry for Krimskell fiber that reads “For a more detailed study, see Holjance Vohnbrook’s ‘The Strangler Vines of Ecaz.’ ” I think half the reason you write a science fiction book is to throw in stuff like that. And to produce appendixes that go into utterly gratuitous detail about the fictional universe you’ve invented. Reading Dune‘s appendixes made me wonder whether the novel was just an excuse to allow Herbert to publish the appendixes, which seemed to contain the quintessence of his inspiration, still crystalline and impenetrable and inaccessible. Novels like Dune tap into the primordial passion of naming things, or renaming familiar things in some made-up language, and drawing up maps for the sheer pleasure of naive cartography.

What started me thinking about this was a passage in Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy—a survey of differences between oral cultures and cultures that have writing.

For oral cultures, the cosmos is an ongoing event with man at its center. Man is the umbilicus mundi, the navel of the world. Only after print and the extensive experience with maps that print implemented would human beings, when they thought about the cosmos or universe or ‘world,’ think primarily of something laid out before their eyes, as in a modern printed atlas, a vast surface or assemblage of surfaces (vision presents surfaces) ready to be ‘explored.’ The ancient oral world knew few ‘explorers’, though it did know many itinerants, travelers, voyagers, adventurers, and pilgrims.

Michael Chabon’s essay about childhood in the most recent New York Review of Books touches on a similar idea. Citing the mental maps he made of his neighborhood, replete with personal landmarks unique to him, Chabon claims that “Childhood is a branch of cartography.” He connects this with maps in adventure stories:

People read stories of adventure—and write them—because they have themselves been adventurers. Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure, a tale of privation, courage, constant vigilance, danger, and sometimes calamity. For the most part the young adventurer sets forth equipped only with the fragmentary map—marked here there be tygers and mean kid with air rifle—that he or she has been able to construct out of a patchwork of personal misfortune, bedtime reading, and the accumulated local lore of the neighborhood children.

Combine with this Ong’s argument about adventurers, and you get something like this: A certain species of books, mainly attractive to young adults, seem designed to re-stage that transition from an oral-dominated world of adventure to text-dominated (i.e. mapped) world on a small scale, in the reader’s mind. An epic story unfolds on the oral-tradition model, but it’s fused to a battery of maps and glossaries and appendices that engulf the narrative and sap its power away, or at least redirects that narrative’s momentum and energy. That is to say, perhaps part of the drama of novels like Dune lies in having the adventuresome oral tradition evoked again for readers while allowing them reader to ultimately and triumphantly reject it in favor of textuality, literacy, maps, dictionaries, and so forth. We master the technologies of text as we’re reading these otherwise unnecessarily confusing books—consulting the maps and the glossary—and experience ourselves transcending the universe of the story as it unfolds. We end up feeling as though we are alongside the creator of the story, in an “adult” world of total comprehension. Then we confirm it by reading the appendix. Eventually we associate with adulthood the idea that we can do away with the fiction and just stick to the facts, presented in as bare-bones a fashion as possible so we can take in more of them. We skip right to the maps in the back; the stories just get in the way.

by PopMatters Staff

20 Jul 2009

This past June Grizzly Bear played a Milwaukee show at the Pabst Theater and here’s a glimpse of that appearance.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

In Defense of the Infinite Universe in 'No Man's Sky'

// Moving Pixels

"The common cries of disappointment that surround No Man’s Sky stem from the exciting idea of an infinite universe clashing with the harsh reality of an infinite universe.

READ the article