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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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Thursday, Aug 5, 2010
Few films can walk the comic book walk and chew genre gum at the same time. Kick-Ass does that - and a lot, lot more.

Yes, it’s got an underage girl spouting the “C” word and destroying human life with wanton, carefree cruelty. Indeed, it’s narrative is derived from the wish fulfillment world of comic book geekdom. Throughout the course of its lightning quick running time, the F-bomb is dropped as often as gallons of blood are spilled (and there are copious amounts of arterial - and artillery - spray here) and while more assured than ever, director Matthew Vaughn still seems a few steps behind solid action artisans like Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan. No, the reason the Spring smash Kick-Ass works (new to DVD and Blu-ray), in spite of what some might see are several limitations, is its relentless desire to entertain. That it does so, unabashedly, remains its greatest, most gratifying asset.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a funny book fan so obsessed with the derring-do inherent in each four panel storyboard that he decides to become a superhero in real life. Donning a green wetsuit and calling himself “Kick-Ass”, his first foray into crime fighting does not go as planned. A quick trip to the hospital and he’s back in green, getting involved in all manner of street skirmishes. While this impresses his buddies - and a girl he has a crush on - it angers local mob boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong). That’s because his lackeys have been telling him of a masked crusader that is stealing his drugs and undermining his crime ring. Turns out, Dave is not the only one playing costumed vigilante. A father/daughter duo tagged “Hit-Girl” (Chloë Moretz) and “Big Daddy” (Nicolas Cage) are out to resolve their own personal vendetta with the villain, dragging Dave and D’Amico’s son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) directly into harm’s way.

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Monday, Aug 2, 2010
Using the stop motion animation techniques that have made him an artform ace and staying relatively true to Dahl's daft vision, Selick's take on James and the Giant Peach is terrific.

It’s always intriguing to play “what if”. It can be heartbreaking too. Nowhere is this more applicable than in the world of cinema. The history of the artform is littered with examples of “almost” movies: the lost musical version of James L. Brooks’ flop I’ll Do Anything; Jerry Lewis’ Holocaust ‘comedy’ The Day the Clown Cried; the unrated cut of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon. When Henry Selick was looking for a follow-up to his critically acclaimed collaboration with Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas, he had only one project in his sights - a take on Roald Dahl’s beloved book James and the Giant Peach. As it was under the House of Mouse tutelage yet again, music was mandated. The choice of composer, however, would wind up tarnishing an otherwise spectacular entertainment - and add fuel to another “what if” fire.

As the rightful heirs to The Beatles pop music mastery, England’s XTC were never a commercial success - not in their humble homeland and definitely not across the pond in the “colonies”. Cult would be stretching their regal reputation, yet frontman and center songwriter Andy Partridge was still a well respected gentleman of melody. When approach by Disney to craft some songs for James and the Giant Peach, he leapt at the opportunity. Putting together a demo of four fabulous tunes - “The Stinking Rich Song”, “Don’t Let Us Bug Ya”, “Everything Will Be All Right”, and the gorgeous ballad “All I Dream of Is a Friend”, it looked like his once downed boat of this genuine genius had been raised and his ship toward success had finally come in. But then Uncle Walt’s well-oiled suits did what they do best - they undercut Partridge on potential royalties.

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Friday, Jul 30, 2010
Gamera vs. Barugon is an example of something that truly succeeds in spite of itself. It should also exist outside of the by now well known jibes and jokes

For many of us growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was a post-Saturday morning cartoon and cereal ritual. Once the sugar had subsided and the prepackaged product placement had eased, we’d settle into a comfortable chair, dial up the local UHF station, and sit back as Dr. Paul Bearer or Count Shockula (or if you lived in Chicago, and it was Sunday, the oddly conservative Frazier Thomas and Family Classics) unspooled yet another unknown genre gem from the recent past. It was during these homebound matinees where we first learned of the names Toho, Sandy Frank, the oddball Eastern obsession with giant monsters, and the man in suit brilliance of such Japanese icons as Godzilla, Ultraman, and everyone’s favorite flying turtle, Gamera.

Fast forward a couple of decades and cable TV shows like Commander USA and the brilliant Mystery Science Theater 3000 presented the same, edited for America artifacts, films now completely devoid of the sense of panic and paranoia that swept through Japan post-WWII. Few found the real message behind these movies within the funny business. A new generation of gullibles were too busy snickering at the special effects and riffing along with Joel and the ‘Bots to appreciate the sense of doom and gloom being channeled. Granted, it was visualized via a surreal combination of social commentary and b-movie schlock, but the producers of these films took their post-nuclear fears to heart. Given an opportunity to view something like Gamera vs. Barugon (new to DVD from Shout! Factory) in a pristine, original language print, the differences are readily apparent, and quite startling.

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