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Friday, Aug 20, 2010
Duncan Jones probes the depths of inner space in this claustrophobic and haunting take on a familiar sci-fi trope.

Duncan Jones’s Moon got rave reviews on its appearance last year, and, being a sci-fi nut, I knew I was going to have to see it at some point. Unfortunately, having heard on the grapevine that the plot hinged on clones, I reacted with panic, adopted a defensive position, and gave it a miss. Thanks to a certain big-name franchise, I am unable to hear the word ‘clones’ without mentally inserting ‘attack of the’. No-one needs that.


Still, time passes, and even the most unpleasant memories gradually fade. I got hold of the DVD of Moon last weekend and gave it a shot. Any film that dares to leave Earth’s atmosphere for plot purposes is already on thin ice. This is territory that, at least in fiction, is scarcely uncharted. Could Jones’s claustrophobic drama really dredge up anything truly original? As the film opens, the excellent model work in the long shots of the lunar landscape and the buildings of a human mining operation looming out of its wastes is reminiscent of nothing so much as the British sitcom, Red Dwarf (no bad thing) and Gerry Anderson’s Space 1999 (possibly a bad thing, depending on your point of view). This impression was exacerbated by the fact that my dud copy of the UK DVD release became locked on the audio commentary. Hearing one of the crew describe ‘dragging Tonka toys around’ to construct the set was probably not the best way to preserve atmosphere – and yes, I know it wasn’t really filmed in space, but even so…


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Sunday, Aug 15, 2010
In this installment, we look at Clash of the Titans (2010), Spartacus, The Breakfast Club, Nanny McPhee, and Greenberg.

Sometimes, you have to feel sorry for Blu-ray. It just gets a formidable footing into the home theater market and along comes a new visual gimmick - 3D - to threat its format opportunities. Granted, the new dimensional take on titles will require the help of high definition to make its bid, but it seems unfair for another upstart to ride piggyback on something that’s yet to establish its own commercial credentials. Of course, the studios are really no help. They hinder expansion by focusing on frivolous concepts like sell-through date, theatrical to digital turnaround times, and that everyman clash between rental and retail. As a result, films that should get the best preservationist treatment are taken for granted, while the most recent box office bomb is fleshed out with more added content than a box of Criterion classics. When trying to sell your elitist approach to your standard cinephile, such a strategy is, more or less, a non-starter.


Even worse, the geek freak patrol are clamoring for their own lost treasures to be transferred over in the best possible remastered manner. They will not settle for shoddy visuals or a less than completist approach to bonus features. Even when a company can’t condescend to all of their demands, their sense of entertainment entitlements tends to stunt any significant growth. As we wander into the next decade of this new millennium, as 2011 promises a staggering 28 films in the trumped up 3D style, it looks like the battle will continue to wage. In one corner will be the cash kowtowing of a business model desperate to stay relevant in a realm of easy instant media access. In the other are those who want the artform given the historical respect it so richly deserves. Looking over the five titles featured in this third installment of our semi-regular Blu-ray overview, you can see that some distributors are trying to conform to the latter. On the other hand, they have to deal with the often uneventful needs as part of the former.  Let’s begin with:


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Sunday, Aug 15, 2010
At any given moment, it can be enjoyed as a traditional oater, as a variation on a hoary old Hollywood theme, as a visionary reinterpretation of a genre type, a stellar stunt spectacle, a comedy, a slick social commentary, and just about any other reading you want to toss into the mix.

As part of our collective history, it was a cinematic staple. When TV arrived, it became part of that medium’s mindset as well. From radio series to matinee serials, the Western walked through the early part of 20th century pop culture with a side-armed swagger that nothing - or no one - could seemingly stop. But by the ‘60s, as America was reassessing its part in the destruction/disenfranchisement of its “native” population, the genre lost most of its patina. By the later part of the decades, the thrill kill ultra-violence of the Italian spaghetti take on the material was needed to resurrect the once mighty movie type. Now, nearly four decades later, Korean filmmaker Ji-woon Kim gives up a reinvention of an update, a brilliant “Asian Noodle” look at the archetypes that’s as indebted to Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone as it is post post-modern auteurs like Quentin Tarantino.


Even the title - The Good, The Bad, The Weird (now available on DVD and Blu-ray from IFC) - gives the intentions away. Set in Manchuria during the 1930s, it features a trio of anarchic anti-heroes in desperate competition for a map. The main narrative thread sees hired assassin Park Chang-y (Lee Byung-hun) aka “The Bad”, on the hunt for the elusive document. During a robbery, confirmed thief Yoon Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho) aka “The Weird”, grabs the parchment and discovers its treasure trove truth. While “The Good”, bounty hunter Park Do-won (Jung Woo-sung) tries to claim the price on The Bad’s beleaguered head, our stealthy little criminal takes the map to the cutthroat rogues of the Ghost Market. There, he hopes to decipher its secrets. Unfortunately, the Good, The Bad, the invading Japanese army, and every other villain in the region are after its proposed riches.


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Friday, Aug 13, 2010
Based within a Good Housekeeping nightmare of surreal set designs and recognizable product placement, Travis takes us on a journey of character driven self-discovery that often yields oddball, unsettling results.

The decor is all late ‘60s camp - a combination of placid pop art and the Madison Avenue interpretation of cool chic. The characters are straight out of a disconnected ‘90s RomCom - unable to express their true feelings while sipping cup after cup of carefully brewed tea. The narrative approach is piecemeal and wonderfully wonky - girl anticipates phone call, girls gets call, girl reacts badly, dreams are discussed, boy’s obsession with girl grows in unsettling ways. By the end, when all the confused emotions are being delineated in a delicious, dirge like musical number, Jamie Travis’ Patterns Trilogy (part of an overview of the filmmaker’s short films available on DVD from Zeitgeist Films) finally comes into focus - and it’s a satisfying view for sure.


Often compared to David Lynch and Todd Solondz (though the aesthetic and eventual message are uniquely his own), the 31 year old Canadian artist has been carving out a unique niche in the often unsympathetic realm of short form cinema since the debut of his dark, deranged Why the Anderson Children Didn’t Come to Dinner in 2003. Since then, we’ve had the equally morose - and very funny - The Saddest Boy in the World, and the aforementioned romantic misadventures of Pauline and Michael. Based within a Good Housekeeping nightmare of surreal set designs and recognizable product placement, Travis takes us on a journey of character driven self-discovery that often yields oddball, unsettling results. Even better, he does so with a Charles Addams/Edward Gorey blackness that skews everyday life into something imposingly evil.


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Monday, Aug 9, 2010
Naturally, both films find more than enough common ground with the Initiative's mission statement. They are also excellent movies to boot, linked by a commonality in purpose and personal perspective.

One of the great things about DVD - aside from its ‘better than VHS’ preservationist principles - is the ability to experience cinema outside of one’s comfort zone. Sure, Hollywood has inundated us with its latest and lamest, sometimes even giving said stinkers the full blown “unrated extended director’s cut special collector’s edition” treatment. But for the most part, it’s the same old dreck in a new digital skin. That’s why the format’s flair for the foreign and unusual is so valuable. Without the little aluminum disc, we might not have the efforts of offshoot labels like Something Weird, Film Movement, Fantoma, Zeitgeist, and Oscilloscope. Even better, many of our planetary neighbors have decided to give the West what for by delivering their grooviest, greatest hits in easily accessible cinematic bites.


Enter the latest contender for the concept of “cross-cultural understanding through film.” The Global Film Initiative, with the help of such famous names as Pedro Almodovar, Mira Nair, and Lars Von Trier (among many other celebrated charter board members), hopes to instill a better understanding in American through “a comprehensive effort to give value to stories from every corner of the world”, which they believe, “plays a vital role in promoting tolerance in all areas of human behavior”. On 27 July, they released two DVDs as part of their Global Lens Collection - Yang Zhang’s Getting Home (Luo Ye Gui Gen) and Marat Sarulu’s Song from the Southern Seas (Pesn’ Juzhnykh Morej). Naturally, both films find more than enough common ground with the Initiative’s mission statement. They are also excellent movies to boot, linked by a commonality in purpose and personal perspective.


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