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Friday, January 27, 2006

It's (Basically) Official: Donner Re-cuts Superman II
There are a few "holy grails" in the whole "DVD Director's Cut" culture. The original Orson Welles cut of "The Magnificent Ambersons" is one. David Lynch's epic three-hour version of "Dune" is another. The third (and most tantilizing for movie geeks due to its possibility) is Richard Donner re-cutting "Superman II".

There's a lot of back-story for the uninformed here, but I'll give you the Reader's Digest version: Richard Donner was hired by Alexander and Ilya Salkind to direct "Superman" in 1975. Like on their previous project, The Three Musketeers, the Salkinds planned to shoot two movies back-to-back and release them over a couple of years. Mario Puzo wrote a mammoth screenplay, which pretty much set the story up for this classic comic book adaptation. Christopher Reeve was cast in the leading role (along with Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder in supporting roles) and Donner started shooting in 1976. By the next year, Donner had run afoul of his producers, who accused him of working too slowly (shades of the Weinsteins, here...) and communications broke down. Veteran director Richard Lester was brought in as a go-between. By 1977, when the first "Superman" was released to great acclaim and huge box-office, Donner had been fired. Lester proceeded to re-shoot about 40% of the sequel (which Donner had shot at the same time as the original), with a much campier tone (and a different cinematographer). That film was released in 1980 as "Superman II" and proceeded to duplicate its predecessor's success.

But... Superman fans such as I always felt something was lacking in the Lester "Superman", and finally, after many long years, Ilya Salkind has agreed. For the upcoming DVD release of the Superman series in honour (to put it charitably) of Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns", Donner will be allowed to have his say and have his cut.

Needless to say, we're all salivating at the prospect of seeing the original "Superman II".

Yes. I am a geek. And here's the story with more details for my fellow nerds. (Harry Knowles, eat your heart out.)


PS Oh, and by the way, David Lynch's "Dune" is also coming out. Maybe Orson's up next...
:: posted by Ian Dawe, 1/27/2006 Comments (5)
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Thursday, January 26, 2006

New Movie & DVD Reviews from Combustible Celluloid
Is it just me, or is James Franco beginning to resemble Freddie Prinze Jr. and/or Paul Walker? He was supposed to be this richly talented guy of great promise, and he just keeps turning up with this serious look on his face in every movie; even in the enjoyable Spider-Man films he seems miscast as the sourpuss bad guy. His latest is Annapolis, a total dud of a movie. Do boring actors ever go away or do they just go straight to video?

Fortunately, we have a few other good movies opening today. Steven Soderbergh's Bubble is debuting on video this week at the same time as it opens in theaters, but if you're going to see it at all, I recommend the big screen experience. I think it's his best film since The Limey.

Michael Haneke's amazing Cache (a.k.a. Hidden) is a critically acclaimed puzzler of a movie that may upset those looking for closure and resolution. It won the San Francisco Film Critics Circle prize for Best Foreign Language Film just last month.

And Emma Thompson's Nanny McPhee is surprising many people. After a series of terrible trailers filled with CGI babies and animals, it actually turns out to be a charmer. It's not terribly original, but it's fun.

Finally, The Real Dirt on Farmer John is one of those acclaimed documentaries that's supposed to be good for you, and it's meant to look like a lot of fun, but it's really a serious downer.

I only had time for one DVD this week, but it's a good one: Hou Hsiao-hsien's Cafe Lumiere, a masterpiece that never received distribution here in the Bay Area. It's Hou's tribute to Yasujiro Ozu, shot in Japan with lots of clotheslines and trains. Like all Hou films, it's slow and somewhat plotless but endlessly, deliriously poetic.
:: posted by Jeffrey M. Anderson, 1/26/2006 Comments (0)
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Do Stuntpeople Deserve An Oscar?
The Wall Street Journal filed a potentially interesting report on the lack of Oscar recognition for stunt people, but the article is kind of puzzling (and sexist: there are stunt women, too). I'm still not sure whether the reporter intended his piece to be taken seriously or not, since you can make the same arguments for any of the hundreds of filmmaking professions that don't have their own Academy Award category. And don't stunt people already have their own awards?
:: posted by Matt, 1/26/2006 Comments (1)
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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Bubble Project
I saw Steven Soderbergh's Bubble last week, and I really liked it. This is the movie that Soderbergh has decided to release simultaneously in theaters, on DVD and on cable -- though it turns out that DVD retailers are not equipped to release DVDs on Fridays, so it will have to wait until the following Tuesday. I'm really not sure how this ploy is supposed to work. Are they going to count DVD sales as part of the film's box office score? Are they expecting that having the DVD in stores will actually drive people to the theater? What is the goal here?

The irony is that Soderbergh has made a gorgeous, super-widescreen movie with deeply-focused frames and vivid details depicting the ennui and disillusionment of a small town in the middle of nowhere. It's a big-screen movie that simply will not play the same way on home video. (I had a chance to sample the DVD just after the screening, and my theory proved correct.) Not to mention that its relentlessly depressing story (with no movie stars) isn't the kind of film that DVD mongers will want to see more than once. Only the Soderbergh commentary track holds any kind of allure for the home version.

Whatever Soderbergh and company are hoping to achieve witih Bubble may just have to wait until someone tries this trick again.
:: posted by Jeffrey M. Anderson, 1/24/2006 Comments (0)
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Combustible Celluloid's New Movie & DVD Reviews
I'm a little late in blogging this week's reviews. But, you know, better late than never.

Terrence Malick's The New World opens wider this week, after preliminary New York/L.A. openings. It's not the kind of movie that should be entrusted to burnt-out weekly movie reviewers on a deadline; they're apt to describe it as "pretentious," "too long," "too arty," etc. But if they'd taken the time to really watch it, to really let it sink in, they'd find it's a masterpiece for all time, and heads and shoulders above any of the award-contenders that are currently vying for Oscar slots. It kills me to think that The New World is going to be left out, when it should trounce them all.

Otherwise, we have a sure-fire Oscar contender, the documentary After Innocence and Albert Brooks's Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, which the New Yorker summed up in one word: "excruciating."

As for new DVDs, surely one of the top releases of 2006 will be Warner Home Video's Sam Peckinpah's Legendary Westerns Collection, with the long-awaited release of Ride the High Country (1962), two cuts of Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), one from 1988 and a brand new one, a refurbished The Wild Bunch (1969) to replace their botched 1997 DVD, and The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970). I also checked out Big Bad Mama, part of Buena Vista's new Roger Corman collection. Corpse Bride is still a keeper, despite the boring extras, and VCI Entertainment's The Fighting Sullivans should appease WWII buffs. Finally, Sony has released Ingmar Bergman's Saraband, my choice for the best film of 2005, with an extraordinary making-of documentary showing the 84 year-old legend at work.
:: posted by Jeffrey M. Anderson, 1/24/2006 Comments (1)
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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Golden Globes Celebrate Bad Movies
This year's Golden Globes have turned out just a little bit like the Razzie awards.

Of the seven movies that went away with awards, only one of them, Capote, earned more than a 2-1/2 star rating from me. I know it was a weak year, but there were at least some good movies, for Pete's sake!

Here are a list of winners, followed by my personal star ratings. For TV winners or other details, check out the official Golden Globes website.

Best Dramatic Picture: Brokeback Mountain **
Best Director: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Best Song: "A Love That Will Never Grow Old," Brokeback Mountain
Best Screenplay: Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain

Best Dramatic Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote ***1/2
Best Dramatic Actress: Felicity Huffman, Transamerica **1/2

Best Comedy/Musical: Walk the Line **1/2
Best Comedy/Musical Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, Walk the Line
Best Comedy/Musical Actress: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

Best Supporting Actor: George Clooney, Syriana **1/2
Best Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener **
Best Foreign Language Film: Paradise Now **
Best Score: John Williams, Memoirs of a Geisha **
:: posted by Jeffrey M. Anderson, 1/17/2006 Comments (1)
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Monday, January 16, 2006

MLK: Movie Star
For Martin Luther King Day, 2006, the essential DVD still has not been released: King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis, co-directed in 1970 by Sidney Lumet and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Still, according to the IMDB, King did make several brief movie appearances over the years, mostly in archive footage, so anyone in the mood for celebrating today can still watch the following: The Doors (1991), JFK (1991), Malcolm X (1992), Nixon (1995), Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), 4 Little Girls (1997), The Source (1999), A Huey P. Newton Story (1991), Undercover Brother (1992), Naqoyqatsi (2002), The Weather Underground (2002), A Decade Under the Influence (2003), and The Corporation (2003).
:: posted by Jeffrey M. Anderson, 1/16/2006 Comments (0)
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The 2005 Manny Farber Awards
Film critic Manny Farber wrote the following for The Nation in 1957:

"The saddest thing in current films is watching the long-neglected action directors fade away as the less talented De Sicas and Zinnemanns continue to fascinate the critics. Because they played an anti-art role in Hollywood, the true masters of the male action film -- such as soldier-cowboy-gangster directors as Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, William Wellman, William Keighley, the early, pre-Stagecoach John Ford, Anthony Mann -- have turned out a huge amount of unprized, second-gear celluloid."

In fifty years, and in the thick of awards season, little has changed. We can replace the first two names in his quote with Ang Lee, Steven Spielberg, Paul Haggis, Stephen Gaghan, Fernando Meirelles, or anyone else vying for prizes this year. Let them win, Farber said. Here I present the first batch of "Manny Farber Awards" to the ten best unheralded productions of 2005. These are the films that best live up to the legends of that second list of unpretentious action directors, those purely enjoyable films that few, if any, awards will ever tarnish:

1. Land of the Dead (George A. Romero)
2. Red Eye (Wes Craven)
3. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (Shane Black)
4. The Matador (Richard Shepard)
5. Unleashed (Louis Leterrier)
6. Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow)
7. Layer Cake (Matthew Vaughn)
8. 11:14 (Greg Marcks)
9. Serenity (Joss Whedon)
10. November (Greg Harrison)
:: posted by Jeffrey M. Anderson, 1/16/2006 Comments (2)
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Friday, January 13, 2006

Bad Movie Alert: More Movies Hidden from the Press
I just got word that Underworld: Evolution will be the fourth film in 2006 that will not be screened for the press. Of course, Underworld (2003) was a turkey as well, and I had to sit through it for work, so I don't know which is worse. I suppose the most tragic thing of all is that Kate Beckinsale had to go and marry Len Wiseman, the hack director behind these stupid films.
:: posted by Jeffrey M. Anderson, 1/13/2006 Comments (0)
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New Movie & DVD Reviews from Combustible
There's not much in the way of new movies this week. Following Sean is a good documentary, and is probably more interesting for those who live in San Francisco. Jerry Bruckheimer's based-on-a-true-story basketball drama Glory Road is better than expected, and so is Wayne Wang's Last Holiday, though neither of them promises to stick in the memory for very long.

I just hope people don't go out to see Hostel again...

Meanwhile, I've had tons of DVD screeners laying around the house for the past several months, and here's my new year's attempt to do a little house cleaning: Airplane! - "Don't Call Me Shirley" Edition, Disney Rarities - Celebrated Shorts: 1920s - 1960s, Gabbeh, Heaven Can Wait (1943), Lenny Bruce Performance Film, The Mark of Zorro (1940), New York Dolls: All Dolled Up, Pirates, Pocahontas, Pretty Woman: 15th Anniversary Edition, Ruth Rendell Mysteries and Sins of the Fleshapoids. That should tide over anyone hoping to stay home this weekend...
:: posted by Jeffrey M. Anderson, 1/13/2006 Comments (0)
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Monday, January 09, 2006

Possibly Overlooked
10 Great Small Performances, part of the L.A. Weekly's "List" issue. Also, The Last Days of Blockbuster is another swell piece from Edward Jay Epstein's fascinating series of Hollywood Economist columns for Slate.
:: posted by Matt, 1/09/2006 Comments (0)
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Friday, January 06, 2006

New Movie & DVD Reviews on Combustible Celluloid
I only have three new reviews this week. Well, technically only one, since I posted Casanova and Match Point on Dec. 24 for their New York openings. This week, The Matador opens, and it's a good way to beat the current cineplex drudgery.

Another way is with new DVDs: The Brothers Grimm, Dark Water, Four Brothers, New York Dolls: All Dolled Up, Rock 'n' Roll High School: Rock On Edition, Secuestro Express, Seven Men from Now, Toy Story 2: Special Edition, Underclassman and Venom.

And for a more comprehensive guide, there's always: 2005: The Year's Ten Best Films and The Year in Review: 2005's Top 25 DVDs.
:: posted by Jeffrey M. Anderson, 1/06/2006 Comments (0)
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Three More Films Not Screened for the Press
It appears some people somewhere have been allowed to see Hostel, but not critics in the San Francisco Bay Area. Same goes for Grandma's Boy and BloodRayne. You know what this means: we're dealing with some seriously suspect goods. January tends to be what we in the business call the "dumping ground," a time when studios release their most unwanted product. Of course, some of the December awards-season movies are still opening at this time of year, and making their rounds around the country, but beware of anything that opens "wide" in January. But three films opening in one weekend without press screenings has to be some kind of scary record.
:: posted by Jeffrey M. Anderson, 1/06/2006 Comments (0)
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DGA Nominations 2005
The Director's Guild of America went the safe route this year with their five nominees, announced today: Steven Spielberg for his overrated Munich, Ang Lee for his overrated Brokeback Mountain, Paul Haggis for his overrated Crash, Bennett Miller for his excellent Capote and George Clooney for his superb Good Night, and Good Luck. One question: Where's David Cronenberg? Film directing doesn't get much better than his work on A History of Violence.
:: posted by Jeffrey M. Anderson, 1/06/2006 Comments (0)
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