SLIFR 2013: Miss Jean Brodie Regrets

The 2013 incarnation of Dennis Cozzalio’s perfectly subjective and maddeningly demanding SLIFR quiz is out. After answering on-site, I decided to put them here as well.

You can participate at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.

1) The classic movie moment everyone loves except me is:

Hey, what’s not to like?

2) Favorite line of dialogue from a film noir

“Va-va-va-voom! Boom! Pow”

Just kidding. I’ll cheat a little and use a brief dialogue exchange:

“Next time you wake up, Bart, look over at me lying there beside you. I’m yours and I’m real.”
“Yes, but you’re the only thing that is, Laurie. The rest is a nightmare.”

3) Second favorite Hal Ashby film

“The Last Detail”

4) Describe the moment when you first realized movies were directed as opposed to simply pieced together anonymously. *

I really cannot recall the a-ha moment. I must have snuck up on me somewhere between a late-night TV showing of “Bride of Frankenstein” and seeing “Excalibur” in the theater.

5) Favorite film book

“The Parade’s Gone By,” Kevin Brownlow. I was going to go with “The Phantom Empire” by Geoffrey O’Brien (which I’ve handed out as a present many times), but Brownlow’s book had a bigger effect on my than any film book before or since, and I still return to it for its information, its passion for its subject, and way all those voices combine to offer an evocation of an era.

6) Diana Sands or Vonetta McGee

Vonetta McGee

7) Most egregious gap in your viewing of films made in the past 10 years

Sadly, more gaps than I care to remember. The most glaring I guess is Bela Tarr: I’ve seen only two of his films, and only one from the last decade. And both of them, mind you, were amazing.

8 ) Favorite line of dialogue from a comedy

“Puht-in onna Ri-i-i-i-i-itz!” (It’s all in the delivery)

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Business Report: DVD Sales continue their slide

DVD was once considered the savior of Hollywood. When it exploded with record sales and runaway growth in the early 2000s, it became the cash cow for Hollywood, often bringing in more money that ticket sales from the initial theatrical release.

The top selling DVD/Blu-ray of 2010

The growth in DVD sales ended a couple of years ago, not coincidentally around the time the economy took a dive. And now, a report from SNL Kagan (which monitors and reports on media and communications) shows the decline has picked up momentum in the last year, dropping 44% in wholesale earnings. The top-selling DVD of 2010 — Avatar, now the highest-grossing film of all time in unadjusted dollars — sold fewer copies than the 2009 champion Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a film I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch again

That’s not necessarily the death knell for the format — $4.47 billion in wholesale income is no small thing — but it will result in more cautious release slates from the studios, especially when it comes to classics and catalogue releases.

On the upside, Blu-ray is growing at a rapid clip — up 53% from last year, according to SNL Kagan — but not enough to make up the losses from DVD. And digital downloads, which many believe will ultimately supplant DVD as the primary home video format, has not grown enough to make up the difference.

What does that mean for consumers who embraced the format? New Releases will probably continue to roll out unabated and we will continue to see deluxe editions of the evergreen classics (the Casablancas and Gone With the Winds and Ben-Hurs and such), especially as they get upgraded to Blu-ray.

Continue reading on MSN Videodrone

Videodrone: The new DVD/Blu-ray blog on MSN

Welcome to my new project on MSN: Videodrone: Commentary on DVD, Blu-ray and more.

This new blog will encompass news, reviews, interviews, announcements and more. I’ll be spending the next few weeks playing with the format and the possibilities, but feel free to drop by and see what’s going on before the “official” launch. In the meantime, the unofficial launch begins with my interview with Jacki Weaver, the matronly Ma Barker of Animal Kingdom.

The blog homepage is here. Watch this space.

Follow the yellow brick google search…

Thanks to Google and an oddly-timed anniversary remembrance of The Wizard of Oz (August 12 was the 71st anniversary of its theatrical debut, so of course it had to be celebrated on the Google homepage), received a record number of visits: over 4,000 hits on August 12, and more than 3,000 of those via Googles searches for “the wizard of oz.” I couldn’t figure it out at first, since very few of them ended up at at my article “Over the Rainbow with The Wizard of Oz,” until I did a little Google searching myself and discovered that the image I used to illustrate article appeared in the top ten results, with a link back to my blog.

So, by popular demand, here it is again.

Following the yellow brick road into movie history

And if like the picture, you’ll love the article!

Seattle Film Community calls for the release of Jafar Panahi

Reposted from Parallax View:

In March 2010, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, The Circle, Crimson Gold and Offside) was arrested and locked up in Tehran’s Evin prison, initially for “unspecified crimes,” then on charges directly related to his work. Though Mr. Panahi’s award-winning films have brought credit to his native land, his countrymen have been banned from seeing his work during the last ten years. Worse yet, this outstanding director has essentially been prevented from making movies in recent years. Panahi suffers from a heart condition and there are serious concerns about his health.

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The Top Ten Films of the Next Decade – An April Fools Day Special

Happy April Fools Day. For years I have been pitching pieces to MSN for the April Fools Day edition of the Entertainment site. This year they accepted my modest tribute to this magnificent holiday: The Top Ten Films of the Next Decade. Think of it as a speculative list, based on careful reading of the careers, themes, artistic aspirations and economic models of the present, which I then tossed out for all this made up shit. Enjoy. Also note, this top ten list has twelve entries.

You can’t make this stuff up. Well OK, you can make this stuff up, and that’s the fun of looking ahead. I mean, why wait until the last minute to make a 10-best list? To get a jump on the rush, we’ve put on our prognostication caps, hit the flash-forward button and come back from the future with this snapshot of the 10 best films of the 2010s. We were just as surprised as you at the results.

“The Matrix: Devolution” (The Wachowski Brothers Siblings)
After the bizarre journey of Larry Wachowski’s transformation into Lana and a hermitlike retreat following the debacle of “Speed Racer” (only recently resurrected as a subversive blast of cinematic surrealism), the Wachowski Siblings relaunched their brand with a return trip to the virtual world that made their fame and fortune. Drawing liberally from the New Testament, the New Wave and various volumes of “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” “Devolution” pairs the messianic Neo with a sassy Southern society lady (Sandra Bullock, back with Keanu Reeves for the first time since “Speed“) who gets caught in the program while playing what she thinks is a cutting-edge version of fantasy football. Impressed with his ability to surf the Web and dodge bullets at the same time, she tries to adopt the jacked-up orphan and ends up marrying him rather than face deportation. The virtual romantic comedy of cyber-geddon took the country by storm: “Titanic” meets “Tron” with a dose of Southern comfort and a flashback soundtrack that turned “Freedom of Choice” and “Mongoloid” into anthems for the new generation of techno-rebels.

Read the entire piece at MSN here.

DVDs for 4/14/09 – The Reader, The Spirit and the Silent Seas

Kate Winslet finally won her Oscar and her performance in The Reader is the best thing about the film. Adapted from Bernhard Schlink’s novel by playwright David Hare and directed by Stephen Daldry, the film has all the hallmarks for Oscar-bait: literary source, “serious” theme, a credentialed cast (Ralph Fiennes co-stars) and a director who values words over cinematic expression.

Reading in the bathtub
A little light reading in the bathtub

Winslet plays Hanna Schmitz, a German woman, Hanna, who takes teenage boy Michael (David Kross) as a lover in late-fifties West Berlin. After a brief affair, she’s gone, only to reappear in a war crimes trial that law student Michael is attending, where she’s held accountable for her actions as a concentration camp guard directly responsible for the deaths of dozens of Jewish prisoners. Winslet plays the part as a hard, closed-in woman careful to shield her emotions even during the affair, but is so guileless as to recount her inhuman actions as a concentration camp guard with a blank, almost childlike matter-of-factness, as if unable to fathom any moral responsibility to “just following orders.” But while the performance is brave in its nakedness (both literally and emotionally), the film is less ambiguous in its attempt to explore cultural and personal guilt and complicity in the Holocaust. Director Stephen Daldry’s compassion for Hannah isn’t so much misplaced as unbalanced, so concerned with her personal shame that it too easily overlooks her human responsibility.

I reviewed the film for Parallax View here and review the DVD for MSN here.

Frank Miller’s big screen incarnation of Will Eisner’s landmark comic superhero series The Spirit was not a hit in theaters and the visually dynamic but narratively sketchy comic book movie isn’t any better on DVD. The character is an icon among comic book aficionados but not well known to the general public, which may have hurt the film, but the problem lays more squarely with comic book artist/writer-turned-director Miller, whom makes his solo directing debut with this film.
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The end of the print P-I, the end of an era…

Hearst made the announcement, much anticipated for weeks, this morning: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the oldest continuous publishing newspaper in the Pacific Northwest, will put out its final print edition on Tuesday, March 17. For the immediate future, the P-I will be transformed into an Internet-only newspaper with some original material and links to other news sources.

For more information, read the following articles in the The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired Magazine and by the AP Wire Service.


Matt Groening reads!

I recently conducted a phone interview with Matt Groening for an upcoming MSN  feature. He was a pretty cool guy and I lived for a time in his home town of Springfield, Oregon (though long after he had left), so we reminisced about the town and talked movies and DVDs and TV and such. And then, as we talked blogs and newspapers and such, he asked about my blog, and then realized that he’d found it. Here’s the excerpt of the original interview where, in the midst of drifting off into all sorts of detours, Matt Groening gave me my first celebrity endorsement!

Thursday, February 19, 2009, phone interview.

I lived in Eugene, OR, for years and worked in Eugene even when I lived in Springfield, and I read “Life in Hell” in the local art weekly. I moved to Seattle 14 years ago and none of the papers – neither the two dailies nor either of the two alternative weekly papers – carry “Life in Hell.”

Matt Groening (image from his Wikipedia page)
Matt Groening (image from his Wikipedia page)

Yeah, I got kicked out of whatever paper I was in up there. I think Seattle Weekly was a little too yuppy for my stuff. I’ll tell you something, the alternative newsweekly community is a real heartbreaker if you’re a cartoonist because times are tough for newspapers and alternative newsweeklies in particular. They’re running out of money and it’s really sad. In fact, next week is my final week in my local paper, the LA Weekly. They’re dropping all the cartoonists, they can’t afford them. And who knows, maybe they’ll bounce back, but I don’t know.

I’m a freelance critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and it will likely be shut down in a month.

Oh, my God. Is the Seattle Times still around?

Yes. They are, however, deeply in debt.

God, it’s so crazy.

Continue reading “Matt Groening reads!”

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Up For Sale, Up in the Air

You could say it came as a complete surprise when, on Thursday evening, local TV station KING-TV announced that, according to unnamed sources, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer would be put up for sale. The P-I staff had no news of it and the Hearst Corporation, which owns the P-I, would not comment. It could have been a rumor, a hoax or just an incorrect story. At least that’s what many of us hoped. It wasn’t until Friday afternoon that news was confirmed and the news made public.

But if the announcement was a surprise, the closing of a Seattle newspaper was hardly unanticipated. Traditional print newspapers have been on life support for years and Seattle was the last city of its size to still have two competing daily newspapers. Both the Seattle Time and the P-I have both been losing money. The two papers appeared to be attempting to outlast the other and be the last paper standing. While the locally-owned Times has a significantly larger circulation (198,741 to the P-I’s 117,572 as of September, 2008, according to a P-I report), it is also deeply in debt and its sale of a number of newspapers in Maine (which are being sold at a significant loss) is running into problems. Many thought that the more financially robust Hearst would be able to hold out longer in the face of losses.

The Hearst Corporation says that if the paper is not sold within 60 days, it will either be shut down or turned into a web-only publication with a greatly reduced staff. A sale in this climate seems unlikely, as the economic downturn has reduced advertising dollars even farther.

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A new year, a new film site: The Daily

If you haven’t heard yet, David Hudson has moved on from GreenCine Daily, the essential blog for finding out what’s new and interesting in terms of film writing on the web, and starts fresh with The Daily @ I expect we’ll be seeing the same combination of obsesssive thoroughness, thoughtful discrimination and short, sharp editorial commentary.

Meanwhile, Aaron Hillis takes over at GreenCine Daily. You can find his answer to a “Declaration of Principles” in his first post here.

I know I’ll be a regular visitor to both sites. Have at it, boys.

DVD of the Week – The Films Of Budd Boetticher – Nov 4, 2008

Budd Boetticher, one of the most neglected of American auteurs, gets some much overdue respect with the marvelous box set The Films of Budd Boetticher, a collection of five features starring Randolph Scott and produced by Scott’s production company. The films are not exactly B-movies but they are lean productions, shot on 18-days schedules and small budgets, and not a one of them breaks 80 minutes. In a few of the most urban theaters they might have played bottom of a double bill, but most everywhere else these films were sold on the strength of star Randolph Scott and his track record as a reliable western star. Boetticher took the “limitations” of his stiff, craggy star and turned them into essential elements of his characters, a hard, inexpressive man at home on a horse and in the wilderness, a survivor with few words and no wasted actions. When he moved, it meant something.

The earliest film in the set, The Tall T (1957) is also one of the best and a genuine western classic, with a tiny central cast and vivid characters carved out of the rogues gallery, especially Richard Boone as the charming but ruthless gangleader. Burt Kennedy, who first worked with Budd Boetticher on Seven Men From Now, writes the perfectly tuned, beautifully austere script and Boetticher matches it with a style stripped of all flourish and focused in on the tensions and dynamics that play out in the hostage situation.

The set includes the offbeat black comedy Buchanan Rides Alone and the grim Decision at Sundown (all mastered to fit the 16×9 frame) along with his widescreen classics Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station, both scripted by Kennedy and set in the almost abstract nowhereland of the desert. The latter films, like The Tall T, are lean stories about men on the dangerous, inhospitable frontier, and they stand next to the greatest works of Anthony Mann and John Ford.

Read my DVD review on MSN here.

Also new this week is the cult sci-fi show The Starlost, famously created by Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova, who took their name of the project when they saw what the budget-starved Canadian project turned into. Or at least Ellison did, turning to the pseudonym “Cordwainer Bird” for creator and script credits. Bova’s name stuck as science adviser, much to his chagrin in a show that pointedly ignored all his science advice. Keir Dullea (of 2001 fame) stars as a kind of flower child peacenik who rebels against his repressive agrarian culture (a cross between an Amish village and a religious cult) and the dictatorial leader (guest star sterling Hayden) and discovers his enclosed society is really a sealed pod on a giant crewless space ark that has drifted off course. It’s sort of like Star Trek, except all the new life and new civilizations are discovered in the many sealed pods on this ship, which Dullea and his companions (Gay Rowan and Robin Ward) explore on a scavenger hunt to find the lost secrets of the science and engineering needed to put the ship back on course. The Canadian series was shot on videotape and filled with primitive video blue-screen effects, which are more endearing than convincing, and was shown in the U.S. on NBC in 1973 until it was cancelled. The four disc set features all 16 episodes, most of which have not been seen in syndication for decades. the DVD review is featured in the DVD column’s TV section.
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