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by Bill Gibron

2 Mar 2010

He is consistently hailed as the last great master of 2D animation, the Walt Disney of his own amazing and imaginative Japanese empire. Several of his films sit at or near the top of the list of the nation’s all time box office champions and he is considered the first director of anime ever to win an Oscar (for Spirited Away). From an early career working on adaptations of Puss and Boots and Treasure Island, to his breakout Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), he pledged to maintain a standard of quality and artistry that many in the modern movie biz can’t match. It’s a philosophy that’s followed him through other masterworks (My Neighbor Totorro) and true works of cinematic art (Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle).

Now comes his latest, the fanciful fairy tale Gake no Ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea) and he’s actually brought the House of Mouse along with him this time. New head of cartooning, Pixar’s John Lasseter, has made it his goal to make Hayao Miyazaki a household name - and with this charming, visionary film, he just might do it. Sure, you might have to suffer through some trite English voice acting (courtesy of Miley’s Cyrus’ sister Noah and the Jonas Brothers’ sibling Frankie), but the images employed by Miyazaki and his crew defy description. This is easily one of the greatest achievements in animation - ever, and in Disney’s new DVD/Blu-ray combination pack, you can experience the film the way it was meant to be seen - in reference quality theatrical imagery with the original mesmerizing Japanese language track.

by Bill Gibron

28 Feb 2010

Remakes are often relegated to the role of rejects. It’s rare when an update of an already established film outshines or upstages the source. For the most part, these revamps are viewed as pointless cash grabs, studios or rights holders obsessed with turning past profiteering into a more modern moneymaking scheme. Sure, there are examples of success—David Cronenberg’s Fly comes to mind. But for every John Carpenter’s The Thing, there are dozens of Gus Van Sant’s Psychos.

Yes, it does seem like the horror genre captures the majority of the remake flack. It’s a cheap out, a way for a fledgling filmmaker or seasoned video vet to grab some hype and raise awareness. So when it was announced that 2009’s Sorority Row would re-imagine the “classic” slasher film from 1983, The House on Sorority Row, no one could have envisioned the outcome. Not only did the Briana Evigan/Leah Pipes vehicle surpass the original in blood and body count, but in revisiting the recent rerelease of the Reagan Era effort from Liberation Entertainment, one thing is crystal clear. This is one sour source.

by Bill Gibron

27 Feb 2010

Believe it or not, it was all on purpose. The Pull-ups subplot. The visual gag revolving around the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy “destroying” the White House. Woody Harrelson’s pickle obsession. If you ever needed proof that director Roland Emmerich was an overripe auteur just waiting to be embraced by a Jerry Lewis-less French film hierarchy, look (or better yet, listen) no further than the hilarious commentary track contained on the DVD/Blu-ray release of last year’s epic guilty pleasure, 2012.

This Armageddon on amphetamines extravaganza, this Irwin Allen with a goiter gonzo entertainment was so deranged, so deliriously over the top, that you initially had to believe that some of said staged narrative surrealism was accidental. But no, Emmerich and his co-writer/co-conspirator Harald Kloser make it perfectly clear during their feature length discussion that every borderline buttheaded move - from Danny Glover’s glum President covered in soot to a bloated Russian ex-boxer and his mudbloop offpsring - was preplanned and intentional from the moment they first set fingers to laptop.

by Bill Gibron

23 Feb 2010

You can’t blame a movie for trying. Heck, Hollywood has been striving to find another franchise as successful as a certain lightning foreheaded Harry Potter since the sprite little boy wizard wowed the publishing world with his multi-billion dollar bonanza. Again, it’s not for a lack of effort. In the last few years, we’ve seen the attempted start of such noble kid lit entities as Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events, The Golden Compass, City of Ember, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and several others. As of now, no one is championing their return - no matter how financially or artistically successful they appeared to be. 

It looks like Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak series will follow suit. While another fine attempt at merging juvenile level Goosebumps horror with full blown family film wish fulfillment, The Vampire’s Assistant (new to Blu-ray from Universal) has a double barreled barrier to overcome - and frankly, it can’t manage either one. First, in a head to head with Hogwart’s favorite, it comes up short. No matter what you think of J.K. Rowling and her tales of magic and myth, she’s a grand storyteller - and she’s been lucky enough to find filmmakers capable of taking her material and whittling it down into its important narrative beats. Since all six films made so far have been huge hits (and two more of the seventh book are on their way), Harry is a huge albatross around any potential franchise’s neck.

by Bill Gibron

21 Feb 2010

It seems almost antithetical to what Troma stands for. This maverick Manhattan production/distribution company, the brainchild of Yale classmates Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, just doesn’t seem like the kind of film force to embrace the latest in home video technology. Sure, films like The Toxic Avenger and Tromeo and Juliet found their notorious niche during the advent of VHS. Indeed, many of today’s indie art devotees found their calling along the bottom shelf of many a Mom and Pop rental palace. But to now see classics like Poultrygeist “prettied up” thanks to the demands of the high def format is almost surreal. Luckily, Troma’s outsider masterworks are so good, so beyond basic reproach that no amount of 21st century tweaking can rob them of their inimitable irreverence and style - even if the company isn’t really remastering their catalog (more on this in a moment). 

When Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world, few knew what to expect. Created by Gabe Friedman, Daniel Bova, and Kaufman himself, this fright flick farce built on fast food and freak side showboating rejuvenated the lame duck label that, at one time, boasted the biggest roster of cult icons this side of a John Waters’ Dreamland reunion. With rave reviews coming from all manner of outlets - including oddball love letters from Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, and The Guardian - it should have been a massive Saw-sized hit. Instead, Kaufman claims conspiracy, stating flat out that theaters would not book his film because of his outsider stance and its “Unrated” status. Luckily, as with most criminally overlooked efforts, the digital format (and its blu-rated cousin) is here to save the day.

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