Panning for Gold with Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka

Eureka 1 I have a real soft spot for that strange period after the ‘70s when all the British filmmaking enfants terribles tried to wedge their styles into a movie landscape that had radically changed in front of them. Ken Russell tore into the American cinematic arena with Altered States (1980) and Crimes of Passion (1984); Lindsay Anderson veered from satirical outrage with Britannia Hospital (1982) to genteel drama with The Whales of August (1987); John Boorman went phantasmagorical with Excalibur (1981) and primitive with The Emerald Forest (1985); Derek Jarman dispensed with narrative entirely for The Angelic Conversation (1985) and The Last of England (1988). Then there’s the strange case of Nicolas Roeg, who was riding high after the triple punch of Walkabout (1970), Don’t Look Now (1973), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Needless to say, the early ‘80s took him in some very surprising directions, first with the very ill-received Bad Timing (1980), which is now regarded as a transgressive classic, and what remains one of his most neglected and misunderstood films, Eureka (1983), airing on TCM in the appropriately wee hours of Friday. [...MORE]

Give Us Absolution

absolution 4

The passing of screenwriter and playwright Peter Shaffer this summer (June 6, to be precise) is another reminder of how most successful writers tend to be remembered for one or two signature works. In this case, all of his obituaries focused on two titles, both of which he translated from stage to screen himself: Equus, filmed in 1977 by Sidney Lumet with Richard Burton and Peter Firth, and Amadeus, turned into an Oscar-winning 1984 film directed by Milos Forman with F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce.

Less remarked upon but not entirely ignored was the fact that Peter was preceded into this world by five minutes in 1926 by a twin brother, Anthony Shaffer,  who also turned a successful, Edgar Award-winning 1970 play into a hit film: Sleuth (1972), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.  (Harold Pinter later overhauled it considerably for a 2007 version directed by Kenneth Branagh, with Caine switching roles opposite Jude Law.) [...MORE]

Braking News: Motorway (2012)

Car chase movies are necessarily clamorous things, as they orchestrate squealing rubber, huffing pistons and the screams of crumpling steel. Which is why Motorway (2012), the new film from Hong Kong director Soi Cheang now out on HK Blu-Ray, is so unusual. It’s a particularly quiet automobile action movie, focused on the finesse of driving. The defining technique of the film is a 90 degree hairpin turn executed at 8,000 RPMs but only 2 Kilometers/hr. It requires great power exerted with careful, slow consideration, which holds true for the film as a whole. Pared down to a sleek 89 minutes during a prolonged two-year post-production process, back-stories and subplots were removed in favor of a film with narrative lines as clean as the ’89 Nissan 240 SX S13 that the traffic cops are unable to stop.

[...MORE]

The Battle Hymn of Republic Pictures

On July 18th, Olive Films will begin their roll-out of the Republic Pictures library with DVD/Blu-Ray releases of High Noon (1952) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Republic has long been one of the most underutilized holdings in the home video market, passing from corporation to corporation with little concern for the treasures it contained. But upstart Olive has closed a massive licensing deal with Republic parent Paramount Pictures, and is set to release a flood of material (from B-Westerns to prestige pics) in 2012 that had mostly been overlooked in the digital age. While these first two releases have been well-represented on DVD, it is their premiere on Blu-Ray, and there are plenty of rare gems coming down the pike (all transferred in HD), including Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar,  Fritz Lang’s Secret Beyond the Door and Orson Welles’ Macbeth.

[...MORE]

CRIB NOTES, PART 2 OF 2

In my last post I explained the reasoning behind my programming choices for the first half of my Spring arthouse film calendar, today I finish the job. I accept the fact that anyone looking at my program will inevitably point to one (or more, perhaps even many) titles here and, in essence, ask the following question: “What the heck is THAT doing there?!” What follows below will hopefully dispel all head-scratching.

[...MORE]

Sleep Dealer

Sleep Dealer. Did you see it? Probably not. But you should. Do you like Bladerunner? The Matrix? If so, you should check out Sleep Dealer. All three are inspired in their own way. Bladerunner and The Matrix are equal parts smart fun and existential queries. Sleep Dealer is both smart and political. It can’t help but be a bit existential too as, to some extent, that is unavoidable when covering a protagonist’s struggle in the near-future where the question is: how much of your life are you willing to sacrifice to make a better living? [...MORE]

2010: A First Quarter Viewing Calendar

It’s time to stagger into the new year with eyes thrust forward. No more list-making and list-arguing and dwelling on the decade that was. Let us break free from our immediate history and nostalgia’s uncomfortably warm grip to embrace the rambunctious year to come. We’re going to squeeze out its tender juices one month at a time, with a touch too much enthusiasm that will emit a pungent, ripe scent of dreams yet to be dashed. Yes, these are the images I will rush to imbibe in the first quarter (and a bit more) of 2010:

[...MORE]

Blu-Ray Bonanza: Accident and Vengeance

After a lengthy hold-out, I’ve galloped into the loving arms of Blu-Ray. It’s the right time to jump in, as the studios are (rather desperately) pushing the format hard, cutting prices across the board. You can pick up a player for around $150, with many library titles on sale for $10 (most new releases are set at $25). Starting in 2010, Warner Brothers will release every new theatrical release exclusively in “Blu-Ray combo packs”, which will contain the high-def disc along with the standard-def DVD (forcing consumers to buy the Blu-Ray and push them to upgrade). With HDTV prices finally starting to come down as well, Blu-Ray is finally a financially feasible option for cash-strapped cinephiles like myself.

[...MORE]

I Can See You

I CAN SEE YOU poster.“So much about this movie and its characters should be annoying, but the sensory disorientation climaxes in a freakout that wipes all troubles away, as well as anything else in your head.” (The Village Voice)

“…without a doubt one of the most intriguing and well-crafted low-budget horror films in recent memory.” (Fangoria)

“It’s akin to an acid trip, actually. Take a hit right as the movie starts up, and chances are as soon as the acid kicks in, the movie starts twisting at the same time.” (DreadCentral.com)

I Can See You heralds a splendid new filmmaker with one eye on genre mechanics, one eye on avant-garde conceits and a third eye for transcendental weirdness.” (The New York Times) [...MORE]

Fringe Benefits from the Decline of DVD

Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen_SPL

According to a recent report from the research group Screen Digest, DVD sales declined by 4.7% in 2008, and that Blu-Ray “barely made a dent in the missing revenue”. They conclude that the new format won’t spur “minimal sector growth” until 2010. It’s rapidly becoming clear that VOD (video on demand) will eventually become the dominant form of home entertainment. In a Wall Street Journal article about Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, it claims he is “is quickly trying to shift Netflix’s business — seeking to make more videos available online and cutting deals with electronics makers so consumers can play those movies on television sets.” Hastings sees the DVD by mail business to start declining in four years, and hence his deals to stream movies on the XBox and other set-top devices, like the Roku. Packaged discs will not disappear entirely, but will likely lose a large percentage of their market share.

The benefit to consumers in the short term…sales! I recently talked about my cherry-picking of Battleground from the demise of the Virgin Megastores in NYC, but this new downer of a report spurred me to check out what was left of DVD retailers in Manhattan. I waltzed into a small reseller on 14th Street, which was having a massive sale where you could purchase 2 discs for 10 dollars. I ended up with Wilson Yip’s Kill Zone (aka SPL), John Woo’s Hard Boiled, The Buster Keaton Collection from Columbia, and Gremlins 2 (a personal favorite)…all for a total of $20.

[...MORE]

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.