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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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How We Watch Movies

Crowd watching film.

As somebody whose livelihood is wrapped up in film exhibition, I’m always interested in movie-watching trends. Three years ago I was party-hopping on a Halloween weekend and noticed that most of the houses I visited had digital projection systems and people were using their walls to emulate the big-screen experience in their own homes. I’d been doing this myself for over ten years, using both 16mm projectors and then early digital devices that were, by today’s standards, quite crude. Now everybody is doing it, and the projectors are delivering quality that is jaw-droppingly good. For example, I recently purchased a Panasonic PT-AE3000U for special shows at my film series to accommodate filmmakers who shoot on HD. I took it home to play around with it and familiarize myself with this device and… wow. I wanted to both laugh and cry. Laugh, because with 1,600 lumens, a contrast ratio of 60,000:1 (an insanely high ratio when you compare it to my first digital projector which had a contrast ratio of 400:1), and full-HD, the films I watched on Blu-Ray projected against an eight-foot-wide screen had finally attained the crisp beauty of celluloid. I wanted to cry because here was a glimpse at the future, and it looks dim for those of us who are already struggling with lagging attendance on the arthouse circuit. [...MORE]

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