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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

DVD Geek: Pan

You have to give the 111-minute Pan a good half hour to get started—and it’s a genuine challenge to get that far—but after disorienting beginnings, it picks up as a fantasy adventure, although it’s an ‘origin’ story that does its darnedest to turn Peter Pan into Harry Potter. In so blatantly aligning itself with the first Potter story, the film forgets what it is supposed to be about. Set during World War II, a young boy is lifted out of his orphanage one night by pirates in a flying sailing ship, who take him and a number of other orphans to an island, where he is used as slave labor in mines. He escapes with the help of an older prisoner known as ‘Hook,’ played by Garrett Hedlund, who tries hard to be Harrison Ford, and they team up to find a way back to the regular world and also help the island’s indigenous tribe, which is at war with the pirates. Hugh Jackman is the villainous pirate running the mine, Rooney Mara is one of the indigenous natives, and Levi Miller earnestly plays the young hero. After the dreary beginning, the fantasy images become more stimulating—there are flying sail boats all over the place—and the film is undoubtedly more rewarding in 3D than it is in its flat presentation. The action scenes are energetic and not too drawn out, and the special effects provide a stimulating spectacle. At the end, there is not even a hint at how Hedlund’s character would eventually become a villain, since he is arm in arm with Mara’s character, providing a surrogate family for Miller’s character, and so the movie isn’t really about explaining how the dynamics of the later Peter Pan story came to be, but is instead about the young hero learning to master his powers and uncover the secrets of his parentage.

The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1. The color transfer looks nice, even when the image is overloaded with special effects. The Dolby Atmos audio track has lots of power and an effective dimensionality, with plenty of busy directional effects during the showiest action sequences. There is an audio track that describes the action (“Peter grabs the sword that Smiegel holds, then climbs to the top of the cable car. The pirates continue to crank the car’s pulley. Peter swings the sword at the car’s cable. It has no effect. He keeps whacking at the cable to no avail. The car pauses and Peter glances at the deep chasm below. He looks back at the cable, sees a hook and removes it. The cable car plummets into the mining canyon as one side of the cable snaps back towards the elevator tower. Hook holds onto his hat and Smiegel clings to the rails. Peter wraps himself around a pole on the top of the car. The car hurtles towards a floating ship and tears through its sails. The trio is tossed from the car, slides down the sails and lands on a pile of cargo on the deck. Peter, Hook and Smiegel scurry out of the car’s path, just before it crashes onto the deck.”), French, Spanish and Portuguese audio tracks, optional English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles, and 28 minutes of mostly good promotional featurettes, including one that delves effectively into the origins of James M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

The film’s director, Joe Wright, supplies a decent commentary track, talking about constructing the film, working with the cast and other interesting technical details, such as managing the precision of the colors. “The grading of these things is quite delicate, because Rooney has this amazing translucent skin and if you bring in even the tiniest too much green or blue she can look rather like the undead.” He also explains how Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” found its way into the movie. “I had the whole pirate crew together for a week in rehearsals, so we could work out some kind of common language and behavior for the pirates. And, um, I felt I needed to get some music in to create an atmosphere, and I listened to kind of sea shanties and so on, and felt that they were all a bit, um, soft for my pirates. I wanted my pirates to be a bit harder, and a bit more punk, so we started playing some punk music in the rehearsal room, and soon as we put ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on, the whole gang went nuts and started pogoing and singing along, and that was the moment where I kind of thought, ‘Well, how about if we have them all sing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ um, which is a kind of crazy idea, and for some people, it really works, and for others it doesn’t. I really like it. The whole idea for the show is to be as eclectic as possible, and to create, you know, surrealist ideas by juxtaposing disparate references by putting them together and seeing what we could come up with.”

The DVD included in the set does not have quite as sharp a picture and the sound is less detailed. There is no commentary and no Portuguese, but otherwise all of the language options are carried over. There is only one six-minute featurette.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin