Friday, August 8, 2008

M is for Masterpiece

I first saw M in high school and it opened me up to a whole new world of films. I developed an appreciation for black and white, discovered Fritz Lang, foreign films, German expressionism and became hypnotized by the pure haunting power of cinema. M is a film that defies genre definition, noir before the term was coined, horror without bloodshed, a crime film where no crimes are actually witnessed. It was the precursor to Se7en, to Hitchcock, to everything that came after it.

Once again, more than the sum of its parts, M stars Peter Lorre as a killer of children, terrorizing a city. When the police are unable to capture him, they enlist the aid of the criminal underground who wants the killer caught, in order to get the cops off the street and things back to the status quo. Director Fritz Lang weaves the story as a social parable in 1931 Germany against the rise of Hitler and the third Reich. Lang makes an incredible film that turns the viewer completely around. How many movies can make you sympathetic to someone who commits the most heinous of atrocities? This is such a film that over an hour makes you fear Lorre’s character and hope that the police, the gangsters, that anyone can stop him before he murders again. But, once the killer is finally brought to a trial of the common citizens, Lang makes Lorre the victim and the self-appointed judge, jury and community of executioners become the monsters of the movie. To this day, I cannot help feel a chill when I watch a slow pan across the faces of the entire crowd in the cellar, waiting in silent judgment of Lorre, sealing his fate with fear and a nod. Did Lang know how many of these very people would be responsible for the same horrors in ten years time? Was he ahead of the curve in seeing what the political power of National Socialism would do to his homeland? After the film’s release, Lorre, a Jew, fled Germany for America. Two years later, Lang, a Catholic, followed him. One year after that, German officials banned the film, originally titled The Murderers Are Among Us. That name says it all.

Technically speaking, the film can be dissected forever. It was Lang’s first sound film, the movie that made Lorre a star in his own country and had a huge impact on Hollywood that continues to this day. Although people will often cite Metropolis, I contend that M is Lang’s finest film. When I started to turn a friend onto my Janus Box, the first disc I lent out was M. After this, I told her, everything can follow.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I Hate Pineapples, but Love Pineapple Express

The first film I’ve seen after about three weeks of Dark Knight was Pineapple Express. And the film from Seth Rogen and Co. delivers like the stickiest of the icky.

Starring Rogen and James Franco, the stoner action movie is actually lighter on the action and better with the story and characters. They successfully put regular guys who have seen too many action movies into action sequences, but never hit it over the head with the homages and references. But, the strength like always is the writing and acting. Once again they tap directly into what makes their movies different and appealing to audiences. It’s not just a movie about two stoners on the run from drug lords; it’s a movie about friendship. And not just between Rogen and Franco but their connection Danny McBride is thrown into the mix, as well as focus on the relationship between the two hitmen played by Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson. The scenes between the action with Rogen and Franco smoking and sharing with each other or Rogen trying to win back his girlfriend over the phone are the scenes that really draw the audiences in and tap into real life.

That’s where I have a problem with people who cannot see the forest for the trees when it comes to the films of people like Rogen or Kevin Smith. Knocked Up, SuperBad and the upcoming Zack and Miri Make A Porno are not defined by their crude language or ‘shocking’ behavior. Inside those films are real characters, real stories and in the case of the first two, real heart. Sure, people like nudity and dirty jokes, but without some substance to it, those movies would not be the huge grosser they are, they would become The Love Guru. To me, the real disgust should be directed at the people, who I cannot call filmmakers, who manufacture the same garbage time and time again and expect us to spend money on it. It’s failures that hurt the chances of a film that’s different from the norm even get made, let alone make enough to money to get a wide audience.

Not much else to say about the movie. I really enjoyed it and it could be the funniest movie I’ve seen so far this year. Of course, Tropic Thunder does come out next week.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

California Son

I was lent a copy of the first season of Californication from my friend Alex and have been devouring it in between work this weekend. David Duchovny is hilariously dry witted as writer Hank Moody, boozing and whoring his way through Los Angeles. Transplanted from New York, his loathing for the city is contrasted by the beautiful shots of the beach, Downtown and Hollywood. With dialouge like "Not only are you a cadverous lay but you got shitty taste in movies," Judy Greer letting Hank do blow off her half naked body and Hank getting punched in the face by a woman when she reaches orgasm, the series had me at the pilot.

With this scene here.

Californication is available on DVD.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Looking Into Our Crystal Clear Ball

Friends, readers and film lovers alike. We stand at a turning point in our history. And perhaps never before have we so clearly into what our futures holds, while have the advantage our knowingly repeating our past and being able to learn from it. I am speaking, of course, about Blu-Ray DVD.

By now, everyone knows and has accepted that Blu-Ray technology has cornered the market as the new high-definition format for home entertainment. In a few years, standard DVD’s will have been slowly phased out and BLR will have its chance at a long run in our lives and living rooms. Even the Criterion Collection has taken the plunge into the deep Blu. While the high quality of the format is appealing to movie fans both hardcore and casual, what does the disappearance of DVD mean to those same fans?

Playstation 3 with Blu-Ray player.

Does anybody remember the large VHS collection they used to own? Tapes could be dubbed and rented and it seemed like everyone you owned had a story along with it. I had tapes that my uncle made for me, tapes my father bought in Japan and tapes I sto- acquired from Video Time or the public library. Do you know where all those tapes are now? Neither do I. Sadly, after I graduated high school in 1999, I got a PlayStation 2 and never bought another VHS cassette again. I began to build my DVD collection that currently hovers at around 500 titles.

Ah, but cinephiles will noticed that I have missed something in this telling of format history. Laserdisc. The precursor to DVD, the laserdisc had a short, but spectacular run. Not only would we not have DVDs, but commentary tracks, the Criterion Collection and digital surround sound all came into being with the laserdisc. Far more expensive than even BLR is now, the laserdisc died when DVDs could deliver the same experience, smaller and cheaper.

The Casablanca Criterion CAV Laserdisc

But, it is worth noting the distinction between the death of VHS and laserdisc. Like moving from records and cassettes to CDs, the new format of DVD provided a superior experience to VHS, but an equivalent to the laserdisc. But, it’s a little different this time. Yes, Blu-Ray is significantly superior to standard DVD, but for the first time, our technology is backwards compatible, allowing Blu-Ray owners continued enjoyment of their collection. The combination of a Blu-Ray player and an HDTV actually increases the quality of your standard DVDs as well, something people might not be so knowledgeable of. This brings me to the point of my blog. Where are all those DVDs going to go?

Sure, you, me and everyone we know will keep our DVDs. But, what about the larger DVD buying population? Sure, Transformers and Good Luck, Chuck are coming to Blu-Ray but how many of our older favorites movies will also make the jump? Studios are making huge Blu-Ray releases for Casablanca, Taxi Driver and Dr. Strangelove but those are all seminal classic movies. What about other smaller movies that are just as deserving? If you don’t think it is worth worrying about, consider this list from Turner Classic Movies of films that have not been released on standard DVD yet!

Take a movie like The Island of Dr. Moreau. Sure, it’s trash but consider it for a moment. Directed by John Frankenheimer, starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, it features creature effects by Stan Winston, Val Kilmer doing his Brando impression and the inspiration for Mini-Me. Why would anyone NOT want to see that movie? But, I have it in a bare bones snap case with a serious lack of special features. I’m not holding my breath for the Special Edition since the ten year anniversary already passed, but what are the chances that this movie will get the Blu-Ray treatment? Or for that matter, any number of movies that I loved when I was younger, like Heart & Souls or House Party?

I guess what I’m saying dear readers is try to treasure your DVDs for you never know what might happen. You can lose one, break one, damage it beyond repair and then it’s pulled from circulation, out of print, hundreds of dollars or merely gone. But, at the same time, share your DVDs. I just let my friend borrow a whole bag from my restaurant filled with movies for a bag from his work stuffed with more. Have viewing parties, introduce someone new to your favorites and above all else, remember that movies are a communal experience. There isn’t a film I can think of that isn’t more enjoyable when watched with someone else in the room or a packed theatre of hundreds.

Share your collection.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Big Mike's Lil' Update 8/1/08

- Just wanted to do a little Dark Knight wrap up. It's been a week and I haven't seen another film in the theatre beside it. Seven times, and I still have to take my parents to it.

- As of this writing, Thursday night, Dark Knight as grossed $342 and a half million dollars, making it the thirteenth highest grossing film of all time and it will probably cross the $400 million dollar mark this weekend. Suddenly, Titanic doesn't seem so far away, now does it?

- I think I may have finally gotten Batman out of my system, so next week, there will be some new things coming up, including getting into that whole Criterion/Janus thing I was talking about the other day.

- Please check out the LAMB Action Hero and vote for me and John McClane! You must vote, it's your sacred franchise!

- And for those of you who think I maybe too far in my devotion to Batman...

You may be right!