Friday, February 20, 2009

Oscar Study Guide

In case you forgot, the Oscars are this weekend. If you love movies you can't help but watch the Oscars, even if all it does is reinforce the fact that the industry lives in a bubble. The Oscars tend to fill me with equal parts awe and disgust, and I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Here's some pre-game information so you can catch up on your Oscar trivia, or make you most likely to win the big prize in the Oscar pool:

  • GreenCine Daily Oscar Podcast. GreenCine is also hosting a live blog, which should be interesting if you have a lap top on hand at the party.
  • Oscar Predictions Galore. Moviefone. Box Office Prophets. EW. Loads and loads of predictions out there. If you are gambling for prizes, do a google search and check your odds.
  • Buzz Sugars Oscar Infotainment Extravaganza. This page is full of trivia, poles and tidbits that is more for entertaining than informative.
  • The Official Oscars website. More crud on here ever than before. The Oscars hit an all time viewership low last year, so the Academy is looking to gain some popularity even if it is in cyberspace.
I'm on a little bit of a break here. Enjoy the Awards. I'll be back in a while.

Thanks to Your Movie Buddy for the hilarious image. Check the site for more predictions!

Monday, February 16, 2009

A very very nice trailer for Yu Lik Wai's PLASTIC CITY

This is either old news or no news, but let's call it record keeping for myself. A trailer for Yu Lik Wai's Plastic City has arrived almost 6 months after it premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year. Confused? Me too. Apparently (as reported by Todd over at Twitch) Yu's new film had been invited to both the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals last year, but when the time came around, the film was not entirely finished. Instead of backing out (I'm not sure how this is worse than presenting an unfinished film), Plastic City played with the request that buyers not come to the screenings.

There is a lot of anticipation for Plastic City, not only because of Yu's incredible talent but also because of a cast that included Anthony Wong and Joe Odagiri. Yu Lik Wai is better known as Jia Zhang Ke's cinematographer. Plastic City is only his third feature film as director.

Because all news on Plastic City had seemed dormant for the past few months, it seems obvious that Yu has gone back and quietly finished the film to his liking. The trailer, far from quiet, looks better than I could have anticipated. The film takes place in São Paulo, Brazil. Part Triad film, part international action drama, Plastic City looks fantastic.

Thanks to Twitch and Nippon Cinema who reported on this way before me.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Barry Kryshka of Take-Up Productions talks Universal Noir

If you have been an active movie-goer in the Twin Cities the past two years, chances are you have attended a film programed by Barry Kryshka of Take-Up Productions. Those screenings include such diverse offerings as Fantastic Voyage at the Bell Museum, Dolemite at the Riverview and the classic Sunset Boulevard at the Parkway. Take-Up has filled a void for those craving repertory screenings in the Twin Cities. The void-filling continues next week as Take-Up begins a 7-film, 5 week series at the Heights Theater, "From the Vaults of Universal: Seven Classic Film Noirs." The series kicks off this Monday, February 16 with This Gun for Hire (1942) and continues for the next five Mondays, which includes two double features.

In an attempt to liven up the natter I provide, I decided to ask Barry a few questions about the upcoming Universal Noir series, the state of rep cinema n the Twin Cities, and why drinking at home is never as much fun as drinking at a bar:

How long have you been programing as Take-Up Productions?

Take-Up started in 2006 when MN Film Arts ended the full time repertory programming they'd done so well. At first we worked on festivals (like Sound Unseen and the Bicycle Film Festival) to raise the money we'd need to start producing series programming. The first series we did was at the Parkway in October 2007. The Killing, Kiss Me Deadly, Gilda, Pickup on South Street and The Big Sleep.

I was a pretty big fan of the Richard Widmark series at the Parkway this summer, mostly because it was a handful of films I knew very little about. How hard is it to dig up some of these films?

Widmark was actually one of the easier series to arrange, because he was under contract to Fox for much of the 40s and 50s, so we could get all 5 films from a single studio. The hard part comes when you're renting the theater, like we do, and you need to make sure that compatible equipment is in place to show older films in various formats. We're putting a Hitchcock series together now, and Hitchcock shot in pretty much every format and worked with just about every studio, so that's more difficult to piece together.

You mean like different 35mm formats?

Modern films come in two sizes. 1.85:1 is roughly the same as a widescreen television, and 2.35:1, which is Cinemascope, the super wide format. Think Star Wars or Lawrence of Arabia, which play back with black bars even on a widescreen TV.

Originally, movies were 1.33:1, the same shape as the 35mm film itself. As a reaction to television, Hollywood went wider and wider, first to 1:66:1, and then to the formats we have today. So all together, there are four common formats, and most of today's theaters are set up to handle only the two modern ones. We needed to install lenses when we first ran film noir at the Parkway, to handle 1.66 and 1.33. Lenses are pretty expensive, and it can be tough convincing a theater to invest in running old formats.

What was the impetus for the Film Noir series coming up at the Heights?

I've been wanted to do this series from the start, Universal holds some of the all time classic noir titles, but they're very careful about the equipment they allow to project their prints. That's good, because it means their collection is in great shape, but we couldn't get approval to show the films we wanted at the Parkway or most other Twin Cities theaters. When Tom Letness took over at The Heights in 1998, he installed the dual projector system needed for archive film prints, so when the chance came to do a series there, I knew right away what we were going to run.

They all look great. Can you give us some of your personal highlights of the series?

My favorites are the double features. I've been dying to show some Veronica Lake films, and we have three in this series, including a double of The Blue Dahlia and The Glass Key; neither is available on DVD. Our other double feature is a pair of Burt Lancaster films directed by Robert Siodmak: Criss Cross and The Killers.

Both pairs make great double features, they're quick, sharp films, about 90 minutes each. And like a real double feature, one ticket gets you two.

Also, I'm just a huge fan of The Big Clock. Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, and Harry Morgan as a heavy.

It was starting to look very bad for repertory cinema there for a while with Minnesota Film Arts falling apart and seemingly no one there to pick up the pieces. But there has been a pretty nice balance of rep screenings in the past year between the series you have been doing and the occasional rep screenings at the Heights and the Walker. What do you think is a realistic future for rep cinema in the Twin Cities?

I got a peek at Tom's plans for rep programming at the Heights this year, which includes some great stuff, and the 3D series at the Parkway looks very interesting. What I want back is a dedicated repertory cinema venue. For ten years, Oak St screened five or six different films each week and because of the McKnight Foundation and the State Arts Board and a committed community of audience members, the theater thrived. I think the Twin Cities can support that kind of theater, and I want to see that happen.

The death of cinema has been talked about since the invention of the television. There is certainly evidence here and everywhere else that getting people out to the movies is becoming harder and harder. But is it all that dire?

I don't think it's dire at all. We've seen the progression of TV, VHS, DVD, NetFlix, iTunes and so on...but people will always enjoy being in a room with an audience that shares their interests. You can buy liquor and drink at home alone, but that doesn't mean bars are going away.

Excellent point. What's coming up for you after the Universal Noir series?

We've got the Hitchcock series nearly pinned down. If it all comes together, we'll open with a Thursday night screening at the Heights, then move to the Riverview for five Mondays. The Riverview is our largest venue yet, with 700 seats, so it's a bit of a gamble, but people love that theater so much that I'm expecting we'll see our largest audiences ever.

The Riverview is celebrating their 60th anniversary this year, and I think it's appropriate to celebrate by bringing back a series of films that probably screened during the theater's first decade.

I'm excited already! What Hitchcock titles have you confirmed?

Not quite confirmed, but the titles that are nearly certain include North by Northwest, Rear Window, Rope, To Catch A Thief and Vertigo.

We're still working on Strangers on a Train (I think we'll get it), and trying to find a way to include The Trouble With Harry and The Lady Vanishes.

If someone gave you a theater decked out with everything you might need and a boatload of money, what would you program?

Last year we passed on a huge series commemorating the 90 year history of United Artists. There were brand new prints of films from Martin Scorsese, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Blake Edwards, John Huston, Richard Lester, John Sturges, Robert Altman. And some James Bond films, too.

It was a fantastic series, and would have run for 3 weeks solid! That's the kind of programming I want back in the Twin Cities.

Full schedule for the Heights Film Noir series:

February 16 7:30 This Gun For Hire (1942)
dir Frank Tuttle, starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake
Hit man Philip Raven, who's kind to children and cats, kills a blackmailer and is paid off by traitor Willard Gates in "hot" money. Meanwhile, pert entertainer Ellen Graham, girlfriend of police Lieut. Crane (who's after Raven) is enlisted by a Senate committee to help investigate Gates. Raven, seeking Gates for revenge, meets Ellen on the train; their relationship gradually evolves from that of killer and potential victim to an uneasy alliance against a common enemy.

*February 23 BURT LANCASTER DOUBLE FEATURE (2 films for 1 $8 ticket)*
7:30 Criss Cross (1949)
dir Robert Siodmak, starring Burt Lancaster and Yvone De Carlo
Romantic, obsessive Steve Thompson is drawn back to L.A. to make another try for Anna, his former wife. However, Anna belongs now to the L.A. underworld. Steve believes he can rescue her, ignoring the advice and warnings of people who would try to save him.
9:15 The Killers (1946)
dir Robert Siodmak, starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner
Two professional killers invade a small town and kill a gas station attendant, "the Swede," who's expecting them. Insurance investigator Reardon pursues the case against the orders of his boss, who considers it trivial. Weaving together threads of the Swede's life, Reardon uncovers a complex tale of treachery and crime, all linked with gorgeous, mysterious Kitty Collins.

March 2 7:30 The Big Clock (1948)
dir John Farrow, starring Ray Milland and Charles Laughton
Crime magazine editor Richard Stroud (Ray Milland) is framed for murder when the owner of his magazine's syndicate (Charles Laughton) kills his mistress in this classic "New York Noir" suspense film.

*March 9 ALAN LADD / VERONICA LAKE DOUBLE FEATURE (2 films for 1 $8 ticket)*
7:30 The Blue Dahlia (1946)
dir George Marshall, starring Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and William Bendix
Ex-bomber pilot Johnny Morrison and his buddies George and Buzz return from the war to their home town of Hollywood, for what turns out to be a fairly rude homecoming.
9:15 The Glass Key (1942)
dir Stuart Heisler, starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake
Paul Madvig, a crooked politician has decided to give up his corrupted past to team up with the respectable candidate Ralph Henry for the ongoing election. This is the film remade by the Coen Brothers in 1990 as Miller's Crossing.

March 16 7:30 The Phantom Lady (1944)
dir Robert Siodmak, starring Franchot Tone, Ella Raines and Elisha Cook
Unhappily married Scott Henderson spends the evening on a no-name basis with a hat-wearing woman he picked up in a bar. Returning home, he finds his wife strangled and becomes the prime suspect in her murder.

Take-Up's website.
The Heights Theater website.
Secrets of the City on Take-Up.
MnDialog on "Ready for Our Close-Up: 50 Years of L.A. Noir."
Star Tribune on "Playing the Villian: The Films of Richard Widmark."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

DVD releases for February 10

Chocolate (2008) directed by Prachya Pinkaew
I am so behind in watching DVDs that I have bought, it is pathetic. This is one of them (a bootleg bought from the kiosk in Rosedale Mall, no less.) Skip the bootleg at the kiosk (although the kid has some awesome DVDs for sale) and check out the legit domestic release. The buzz around the film was huge: it looked to be Prachya Pinkaew's next Ong-Bak with a female in the lead. Jeeja Yanin's athelticism was apparent from the first clip released from the film. Although the probably excels in physical action, all signs says the story is maybe not so good. Honestly, I don't care. Just check out this montage!

The Exterminating Angel (1962) and Simon of the Desert (1965) Criterion directed by Luis Buñuel
I'll admit that my Luis Buñuel jag happened years ago, and I am way overdue in watch or re-watching some of these films. I remember loving Exterminating Angel, but what is this Simon of the Desert?! This looks awesome and I have been blissfully (wrongly so) ignorant of its existence. I wish someone would hire me to review DVDs, because I can't afford to buy all of these!

Frozen River (2008) directed by Courtney Hunt
You better check out this movie now before the Oscar party. Then when Melissa Leo for Frozen River is announce (as a nominee, but probably not a winner) you can be one of the only people in the room to say, "I saw that!" Frozen River is a good movie that is genuinely moving because of Leo's performance as a single mom trying to dig her way out of a hole.

Miracle at St Anna (2008) directed by Spike Lee
Not nearly as bad as people made this film out to be, Miracle at St Anna is part parable, part war movie. In some ways it doesn't really work, but in other ways it does. I wanted this film to be better than it was (for my sake and for Spike Lee's sake.) It feels very contrived and some of the plot mechanisms are just off, but I'm open to this film being an interesting film in a genre that is new for Lee.

Blindness (2008) directed by Fernando Meirelles
Unfortunately, this film is probably as bad as people said it was. Despite the terrible reviews, across the board, for this film, I still have the compulsion to see it. It seemed so promising a year ago...

Death Note II aka The Last Name (2006) directed by Shusuke Kaneko
For those who were patiently waiting for the sequel to this mediocre manga adaptation: get a region free DVD player. Actually, I'm probably the stupid on for spending money on the imports that have very little re-watch value. For fans only.

W (2008) directed by Oliver Stone
It just seems like a bad dream. Let's not go back there. Can we just burn all copies of this? Not a bad movie, but at this point, why?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Top films of 2008: Lists from across the Pacific

Top ten lists are a dime-a-dozen. More than anything, these lists are defined by what the list-maker sees, and what a list-maker sees is defined by where they live. Being an Asian film fan in the Twin Cities isn't terrible, but it is far from spectacular. Needless to say, the lists made by people who have far more access to these films are an invaluable resource. Here are some of the lists that have emerged in the past month that make me envious but also very excited:

Darcy Paquet's top ten Korean films of 2008
(The list is on the site updates page. Scroll down to 2009.01.18) Darcy runs and has his hands in just about anything English language oriented on Korean Film. His knowledge about Korean film is indispensable.
  • Top of the list: The Chaser directed by Na Hong-jin
  • Number of films I have seen on the list: zed.

Wise Kwai's top ten Thai films of 2008
Wise Kwai is a very busy blogger in Bangkok. Everything and anything on Thai film is here. Wise Kwai's list redeems my choice of Syndromes and a Century, which by IMDB standards is not a 2008 film.
  • Top of the list: Syndromes and a Century: Thailand Edition directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Number of films I have seen on the list: two.

Midnight Eye's huge 2008 roundup
Not just one list, but eight lists from eight individuals. It's a fantastic (and overwhelming) roundup that I will revisit again and again.
  • Tops of the lists: Tokyo Sonata directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, United Red Army directed by Koji Wakamatsu, Departures directed by Yojiro Takita, All Around Us directed by Ryosuke Hashiguchi, and more!
  • Number of new Japanese films I have seen noted in the lists: five.

Webs of Significance's top ten 2008 Hong Kong movies
Long time film fan, YTSL doesn't just cover film on her Webs of Significance blog, but all things Hong Kong. With photos of food and fauna, Webs is a great blog to visit for anyone who loves Hong Kong (like me!)
  • Top of the list: The Way We Are directed by Ann Hui
  • Number of films I have seen on the list: zero.

A Nutshell Review's top 10 of 2008
I love how A Nutshell Review's tag is "Probably Singapore's #1 Movie Review Blog." It's not probably and you get much more than a nutshell. Although Nutshell presents a top ten of all films, not just Singapore films, that includes many US favorites such as The Dark Knight and Wall-E, it also includes an eclectic mix of what is available in Singapore. (Nutshell's blog also reveals that eclecticism.)
  • Top (non-Western film) of the list: 18 Grams of Love directed by Han Yew Kwang
  • Number of films I have seen on the list: three (but none of the ones that count...)

The Golden Rock's best Panasian movies viewed in 2008
This is a list within "The 1st Annual Golden Rock Awards" that includes the best of Hong Kong music, best trends in Asian pop culture, best discovery and so on. A very worthwhile read. The list is in no particular order, and I'm not about to guess which is the tops.
  • Number of films I have seen on the list: one.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

DVD releases for February 3

The Singing Revolution (2006) directed by James Tusty and Maureen Castle Tusty
For many years Estonia was simply the country that Arvo Pärt was from, and then at the last MSPIFF I saw a very interesting Estonian film (Autumn Ball), and then just last night I met a guy who had been to Estonia. The Singing Revolution is a documentary that will no doubt provide an even greater context for the small country of Estonia. Between 1986 and 1991, hundreds of thousands gathered in public to sing forbidden patriotic songs and to rally for independence from decades of Soviet occupation. Revolution through singing! Now that is my kind of country!

Days and Clouds (2007) directed by Silvio Soldini
From the director of Bread and Tulips comes a story of Western bourgeois egotism, and I say that without judgement. Similar to Laurent Cantet's Time Out, Michele loses his job but refuses to tell his family out of pride. Just another reminder of the economic shit-bucket we have created and of vanishing 'middle-class'... This very understated film nonetheless finds a space for the characters to make a transition from have to not-have-so-much.

Diary (2006) directed by Oxide Pang
I may be alone on this one, but I am always glad to see Hong Kong films come out domestically. It means that I have probably dodged another bullet on purchasing a DVD that barely even deserves one viewing. That being said, I generally enjoy the work of the Pang Brothers (in this case Oxide) and the film stars young and able actors Charlene Choi, Shawn Yu and Isabella Leong.

Friday the 13th (Deluxe Editions) directed by Sean Cunningham
Just in time for the remake coming out February 13. (Yep! It's a Friday!) I wasn't raised by wolves, but my film sensibilities were certainly raised by horror films, and the Friday the 13th series epitomized the viewings of my youth. By the time we got the family VCR in 1982, both Part 1 and Part 2 were out on VHS, and I'm sure both my parents shake there head when they think about how they allowed me to watch such things. Friday the 13th ushered in a new era in horror film that where suspense took a back seat to the gore. I honestly haven't seen Friday the 13th since I was a kid, and don't really see the point in being disappointed by a movie that I enjoyed so much at the time, although watching the original trailer makes a pretty good case. (Parts 1, 2 and 3 all receive the Deluxe treatment, which probably means at least some remastering and some special features.)

...and then there is the handful of films that I missed in the theater and feel fairly apathetic about unless someone wants to change my mind about that:
Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008) directed by Kevin Smith
The Secret Life of Bees (2008) directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
Bottle Shock (2008) directed by Randall Miller
Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist (2008) directed by Peter Sollett

Monday, February 2, 2009

"Variety Asia indefinitely suspended"

Really, really sad news. Variety Asia was a fountain of information from inside the industry across the Pacific. I relied on it quite a bit. The double wammy is that Grady Hendrick's invaluable and relentlessly hilarious blog Kaiju Shakedown will be suspended as well. I will wait patiently for Grady to open up the lines somewhere else.

Here's the news direct from the horse's mouth:

"Dear Friends,

Over the last two and a half years, Variety Asia has brought the latest in entertainment news from Asia to your email inboxes and on the web.

In that time, we have seen amazing developments in the region. China has awakened to its role as a major theatrical market, while India has focused its sights on international expansion.

We have reported on the ups and downs of the Korean film industry, and we have charted Hong Kong media's steady navigation through its new role within Greater China.

Unfortunately, due to tight times in global news media, Variety has had to make redundant its permanent editorial staff in this region. These include Asia editor Patrick Frater and Hong Kong correspondent/web editor Marcus Lim who leave the paper with effect from today. Sadly, that effectively halts publication of Variety Asia.

With effect from Feb 2, 2009, Variety Asia will no longer be updated and there will be no more newsletters until further notice. Similarly, the Kaiju Shakedown blog will no longer be updated under the aegis of Variety Asia.

However, Variety's publishing interests in America are still continuing and we encourage you to visit for entertainment news coverage.

Our heartfelt thanks go to you, our 15,000 subscribers and tens of thousands of readers for your continued support over the years.

Yours truly,

Patrick Frater

Asia Editor

Marcus Lim

Variety Asia web editor

Hong Kong correspondent."

You can read original article here and the long list of grieving comments. Also check out Kaiju Shakedown while you are there.