Beware Paramount’s upcoming release of Star Trek Into Darkness

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Khhhaaaan you believe it?

After reading Bill Hunt’s rant over at The Digital Bits about Paramount’s decision to split the special features for its upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness blu-ray amongst retailers, Star Trek fans may want to reconsider buying the title now. In short, if you want all the content created for this release, you need to purchase the blu-ray at Target and Best Buy (if you live in Canada, or download the title from CinemaNow in the US), as well as download a copy from iTunes for the director commentary. Don’t ask about the various physical retailer exclusives (Wal-mart has an amazing Vengeance 1:50 scale model). As Hunt notes, Paramount seems to forget that its duty should be first to the consumer, and not the retailer. Though I suppose the latter pays better.

While the practice of retailer exclusives remains a familiar standby for Paramount (I recall that Mission: Impossible 4 bonus disc which could only be found at Futureshop), the tactic of splitting bonus content between retailers seems entirely counter-intuitive. Cases and physical bonuses (like Starfleet badges and Enterprise models for the last Star Trek movie) are one thing, but when it comes to disc-based content consumers already purchasing a premium format at a premium price should be treated to a premium selection of content at a reasonable premium (astute readers will notice a pattern developing here in my rant). It would be one thing if Paramount offered all of the additional bonus content as an extra disc (as Touchstone did with the War Horse 4-disc blu-ray) and then gave consumers the choice to pay the premium (roughly $10 more in the case of War Horse), it is quite another to require customers to pay upwards of $100 to receive all of the supplemental content created for a particular title. Moreover, all of the content created for this release pales in comparison to the material created for Paramount’s 2009 blu-ray release of Star Trek. I hasten to add that there the voluminous special features were all provided on a single bonus disc as the sole blu-ray edition–which Paramount seems to have discontinued in favour of a single disc sans extras! For Star Trek Into Darkness the customer can purchase the title on DVD, on blu-ray, on blu-ray 3D, as a digital download, and still not receive all the content. When studios treat their films like prostitutes customers tend to perceive those films as such–and the studios, by extension, as shameless pimps. Behold then the syphilitic corpse of Star Trek and lament for the ennobling enterprise envisioned by its glorious future is without doubt a dream consigned to the past.

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Haters gonna hate: Les Misérables as auspices for the auspicious Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway as Fantine in Tom Hooper‘s Les Misérables (therapy not included)

After gracing the cinema screens for over a decade, it’s surprising that Anne Hathaway continues to divide critics on her skills as an actress. Despite two Academy Award nominations (and one win) to her name, critics and casual movie goers still aren’t sure what to make of her talents. For every stunning performance in a film like Rachel Getting Married, there are awkward and erratic attempts like 2011’s One Day.

I recall New Republic’s own Tom Carson asking this very same question not long ago. His conclusion circled a nascent appreciation for Hathaway’s work despite her inconsistent performances. In light of the recent announcement of Hathaway’s involvement with Nolan’s forthcoming sci-fi pic Interstellar, it seems a slice of treacly amusement to reconsider Hathaway’s capacity as an actress. From the obnoxious sobriquets on Twitter to the empyrean heights of AMPAS, the topic is undeniably loaded with opinion, so by constraining my argument to a single moment of her career—a single scene no less—my aim is twofold: to consider the merit of her Academy Award winning performance in Les Misérables to address the merit behind accusations of Hathaway’s exaggerated abilities as an actress. Unfair? Certainly! Yet that objection could be voiced by both supporters and detractors; the approach works to level the playing field, as it were. Regardless of my rhetorical gambit, however, how can a performer be adequately judged by a single moment of their career? I argue that in this particular case the singular moment merits such a narrow reflection.

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Criterion’s rationale for going dual-format

While Criterion’s decision to release its upcoming November title Zatoichi as a dual-format product may have been construed as a baffling waste at first glance, the company recently explained their motivations for the change. Their reasons are essentially what one would suspect. With the customer base split 60/40 between Blu-ray and DVD, Criterion need only focus on the volume required of a single title, not multiple versions of the same. Beyond allowing for greater efficiency, narrowing their focus to one product (instead of preparing two releases, a DVD and Blu-ray) also reduces the economic risk associated with high volume pressings–that same move which signaled a welcome and substantial drop in the average SRP for their titles.

Criterion was quick to assure its customers that the price point on the Blu-ray would remain unchanged, while the DVD product would be eventually phased out. The company also noted their plans to retroactively repackage older titles in the dual-format.

Though the decision means only an extra disc for someone like me, I nevertheless enthusiastically support whatever plan that keeps Criterion in the black without diminishing the quality of their product (and without needing to raise their prices!). The move may actually increase their customer base, as customers who prefer Blu-ray may lend out their DVD copy to friends and family. But then, does anyone really lend out their Criterions? Perhaps they might now.

What does Criterion’s new business model mean for you?

From the vault: Sarris vs. Kael

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In lieu of doing a proper post of my own criticism (it is the weekend after all), I thought I would direct your attention to this stimulating piece of criticism on criticism provided by the frequently acerbic and always insightful New York film critic, the late Andrew Sarris. In no small way does his work reflect my own creative impulse to hold modern film criticism accountable to a more formalized standard, it also suggests that my efforts to establish a productive dialectic on the role of film criticism is not altogether unique, nor impossible.

Though something of an historical curiosity at this point, the review is yet another piece in what became a long-standing feud between Sarris and fellow New York film critic Pauline Kael. With just a few paragraphs, Sarris offers a cogent and often humorous dismissal of Kael’s 50,000 word “half-hearted analysis” of Welles’ Citizen Kane, “Raising Kane”, predominantly with her dichotomous portrayal of Kane as “a great American film in a morass of mediocre Hollywood movies”. Also contended is Kael’s now famously debunked assertion that script-writer (and fellow New Yorker alumnus, no less) Herman J. Mankiewicz was largely responsible for the final script. Fun stuff.

http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2010/12/andrew_sarris_v.php

Criterion to release Zatoichi boxset

As if we didn’t  have enough reason to love Criterion already, they go and provide us with a gift like this just in time for Christmas: a 27 disc set of all 25 Zatoichi films. The collection even includes the 14th film in the series, Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage, the rights to which belonged to Miramax for nearly two decades after Tarantino expressed interest in making a similar samurai-themed film. The project was abandoned when they learned Takeshi Kitano was releasing his own Zatoichi film in 2003, The Blind Swordsman, which went on to win people’s choice awards at numerous festivals (Including TIFF and Venice), and which Miramax would eventually help distribute (without much financial success). Curiously, Tarantino’s own samurai epic, Kill Bill would release its first installment stateside just a month after Kitano’s film was released in Japan. At any rate, the rights to Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage languished with the Weinsteins, though now it seems Criterion has managed to get hold of them (for the time being, at any rate). Continue reading

Forging the River of Myths in Skyfall

(This piece refers to the film’s end on occasion. Those yet to watch Skyfall: proceed with caution.)

byronic bond

Brave New World.

After a turbulent four-year stretch in production limbo, Sam Mendes’ Skyfall returns Bond to the screen in the character’s own metaphoric limbo. Bond may have returned, but from the post-credit sequence on, make no mistake, he’s not amongst the living. Not that he ever was before in any of the twenty-two other films either (unstoppable, ineffable spirit that he was). Mendes is not the first director to consider the real-world application of Bond, but no filmmaker before has managed to consider Bond as a figure of flesh and blood with such paradoxical deference to symbolism. The film struggles with the ramifications of what a real world would mean for a symbol like Bond. Mendes maneuvers his film through the modern dictate of humanizing our myths while trying to avoid stripping these myths of their everlasting power. The central issue Mendes comes to grapple with in this new film becomes how to make Bond human without reducing his lasting appeal. Just as quickly as the film raises the question with every progression in the plot, however, it sweeps the implications aside with the very manner in which it asks the question. For every deference to a real-world analogue the film falls back on the wry staples of the franchise: supervillainy codes for terrorism, dastardly internet hacking schemes for globalization. This is a Bond film through and through, with all the necessary trimmings. In order to consider Bond’s place in the 21st century then, Mendes is keen to remind us that in these films Bond has never been just a man, nor has his world ever been anything less than surreal.

Mendes nevertheless announces his intent to treat these features as anything but axioms. This Bond, the opening notes, can die, as any true hero must to progress in his journey. Nevermind that he’s also quite adept at being reborn in a world that allows for such potential–as Bond himself states, echoing the words of the film’s producers, his specialty is “resurrection”–for such a cycle of death and rebirth is necessary for any true hero to transform into myth. But what is Bond for Mendes? Man or myth? National emblem or transcendental superhero? Or does he perhaps fulfill and exceed all these functions? Mendes makes this liberating, homologous capacity of Bond all the more apparent through his multi-faceted interpretation of the character as a totemic fétiche of both the real and surreal worlds he inhabits; from our world to the cinematic one, to the World of Bond and even beyond.

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How Modern Film Critics Are Killing Creativity

“No filmmaker likes critics, no matter how nice they are to him.”

Francois Truffaut

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In an exclusive interview Monday, August 5, 2013 with Yahoo! Movies UK, stars of the box-office fiasco The Lone Ranger shared their thoughts on why the film failed to interest audiences. In no subtle way, Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer laid the blame at the feet of the critics:

“I think the reviews were written seven-to-eight months before we released the film,” said Johnny Depp. “I think the reviews were written when they heard Gore [Verbinksi] and Jerry [Bruckheimer] and me were going to do ‘The Lone Ranger’. They had expectations that it must be a blockbuster. I didn’t have any expectations of that. I never do.”[1]

Not only do I want to consider whether their accusations bear any merit, I also want to examine the impact of this particular brand of film criticism on the art of cinema, one that seems more about raising the state of the publication’s view count than it does raising the state of viewership.

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An interesting exploration of the visual grammar (or lack thereof) in The Dark Knight

Somehow I missed this fascinating video by Jim Emerson over on Rogerebert.com where he examines the editing of the chase scene in Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight. While he seems to make far too much of the 180-degree rule (it is more of a suggestion than an absolute law) many of his points about the chaotic continuity of the scene are valid (unless of course Nolan meant for us to assume that the Joker had taken over the very making of the film itself). The style of the video itself is a little too low-fi for my liking (that slow-mo opening nearly zoned me right out), it nonetheless remains a worthwhile investigation into film grammar (not that Nolan ever demonstrated much of a propensity for that).

Picking Apart Prometheus: Part 2—Fleshing Out the Characters

The previous entry in this series addressed problems with the plot of Prometheus, but there are numerous other problems that remain unaddressed by the time the credits roll. This section addresses the problem with the film’s characterisation. There have been other videos that examined the problem of poor characterisation, like Dr. Shaw and Meredith Vickers only being able to run in straight lines from falling objects, or a wildly inconsistent geologist sticking his face into a cobra penis. This video exists beyond simply pointing out that these characters behave like idiots despite being billed as scientists (because maybe scientists in Ridley Scott’s fictional future are all idiots). Even provided we write all the characters off as idiots, the script and plot of Prometheus fails to adequately develop the characters. The film introduces its major characters sufficiently enough, skillfully shifting gears to devote enough time to render Shaw, Vickers and David especially before the rising action, the problem is that after the second act, when all hell is breaking loose on the planet, the film abandons these characters in favour of driving the plot forward, when a stronger script could have managed both, as this part demonstrates. Continue reading