Movie City Indie Archive for April, 2006

Putting the fix in Netflix: a history

At Business 2.0, G. Pascal Zachary curates a gallery showing 13 steps across seven years in the evolution of the NetFlix envelope: “When the DVD first came out, Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings had a key insight: The plastic disc’s light weight and small size would make it cheap and easy to send through the mail, letting him create a cross between Blockbuster and Amazon.com. By taking advantage of the U.S. Postal Service, it could send rental DVDs to customers through the mail – and accept returns the same way. netflix13570.jpgBut before Netflix became a dotcom darling with millions of subscribers, it had to figure out the details of how to mail DVDs cheaply and economically. Learning the ins and outs of the post office’s operations was key: Every ounce of weight in the mailer added to postage costs – but if the mailer was too flimsy, DVDs broke in the mail.” [More at the link.]

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New Genius baby: Weinsteinco's vid arm embraces Tartan

Indie vid distribution is one bigger family as another mini-distrib aligns itself with the Genius label and Tartan Video USA moves its US home-ent distribution of 60 library titles and future releases to the Weinsteinco-affiliated concern that recently shuttered the distribution activities of Wellspring. tartanlogo283075.gifAs Tartan PRs, they’re “continuing the momentum established by its landmark agreement with The Weinstein Company in December 2005,” as described by Genius Products CEO Trevor Drinkwater and Tartan Video USA President Tony Borg. Tartan’s library, they say, “generated approximately $6 million of net revenue in 2005 and is expected to grow to $9 million in 2006.” The titles include upcoming releases of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Lady Vengeance. Dropping names and jargon, Drinkwater is quoted: “The Tartan Video library is a remarkable line-up of films that have been recognized around the world as not only entertaining and inspiring, but thought-provoking as well. The titles represent another example of the ever-increasing quality of content distributed by Genius through the expanded infrastructure we created to handle major titles from The Weinstein Company. With our newly implemented Vendor Managed Inventory system, we anticipate even greater success for Tartan’s library.” [The loser in this deal is Tartan's former distrib, TLA Releasing; the release's "Safe Harbor" statement is below.]

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Airport 9/11: only another Universal disaster pic? (Kaufman, Denby, Ebert)

At AlterNet, New Yorker Anthony Kaufman contemplates whether United 93 is the descendant of movies starring George Kennedy and singing nuns like Helen Reddy. “The Sept. 11 attacks, it has often been noted, looked eerily similar to a Hollywood blockbuster. With Universal Pictures’ United 93… we have arrived full circle… Just take a look at United 93… or what it is: a movie, but more specifically, a gut-wrenching disaster movie, complete with regular American folks who turn into heroes and a collection of authority figures [who] don’t know their ass from their elbow. How does this piece of media function—as a jingoistic call to arms, or a searing indictment of power? butdoesinworkintheory_2347.jpg Rhetorically, he ponders, “Is it just a coincidence that Poseidon, Hollywood’s new big-budget remake of the survival tale, opens just two weeks after United 93?. Writes Kaufman, “The ’70s disaster [movies] arrived during a period of profound crisis in our nation’s history, when the Vietnam War had reached the breaking point, and the government was losing its grip… [T]he film’s distrust of high muckety-mucks ultimately reinforces the renegade populism of the Bush presidency—and more widely, the American western mythology. Again, the valiant individuals on the hijacked plane have always provided the potency behind the real-life story of the doomed flight 93… About three weeks ago, an early version… screened for critics… ended with the title card: “America’s war on terror had begun.” The neocon-cowboyish clarion call has since been cut from the film. But the sentiment still reigns.” The increasingly neocon-sounding David Denby, who has been known to turn a fine phrase in his time, concludes his New Yorker review: “Flight 93’s departure, scheduled for 8 A.M., was delayed. By the time the plane got off the ground, the attacks on the World Trade Center were only a few minutes away… [O]nce the flight is aloft Greengrass sticks to real time, and the passing minutes have an almost demonic urgency. This is true existential filmmaking: there is only the next instant, and the one after that, and what are you going to do? Many films whip up tension with cunning and manipulation. As far as possible, this movie plays it straight. A few people made extraordinary use of those tormented minutes, and United 93 fully honors what was original and spontaneous and brave in their refusal to go quietly.” Roger Ebert ends his review this affecting way: Greengrass “does not exploit, he draws no conclusions, he points no fingers, he avoids “human interest” and “personal dramas” and just simply watches. The movie’s point of view reminds me of the angels in Wings of Desire. They see what people do and they are saddened, but they cannot intervene.” ALSO FROM ALTERNET: How is Universal modifying its advertising on blogs, which began on predominantly right-leaning sites? Link here. [More at the links.]

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God's happy man: dinner with Herzog

Tom Hall, director of Programming at the Sarasota Film Festival, shares memories of his dinner last month with Werner Herzog after he arrived for a retrospective of his nonfiction work: Herzog arrived at the festival right on time. I was off greeting another filmmaker at a private reception when I received a phone call; having just arrived, Werner was sitting down to dinner, would I care to join him? liebsterfiend3457.jpg There are very few questions one faces in life that require absolutely no reflection, and this was one of them… I almost instantaneously found myself short on things to say. There is a dilemma that we all face in that crucial moment… how does one talk about life and the world around us without deferring to the source of our admiration? … I had read many interviews with Werner that were difficult and somewhat surly as he answered banal questions with funny, honest, and often curt answers. Would he be the same in person? It didn’t take much time to find out. Werner was a warm, generous person, animated and full of life… [D]inner arrived, and with it more wine. Herzog took a copious slice from his steak, a generous drink from his wine glass, and began telling us more stories about his life that are best reserved for Werner himself to tell; the stories of the 3 times he had been shot at (once as a rambunctious teenager who, attempting to shoot a duck, was mistaken for a serial killer, once in the middle of a civil war, and recently by an air rifle during an interview for the BBC)… We even got Werner’s thoughts on Godard (I won’t spill the beans). As we approached the end of the evening, Werner told me how much he appreciated what I had done with his documentaries in the program and how pleased he was to be at our festival. Before I could respond with anything more than a simple ‘Thank you’, our group was departing and we both had many hands to shake in thanks.” [More at the link.]

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411 on the 666?

911 on the 666.jpgThe middle-aged goateed, balding late-night stencil-painting corpo-taggers for Fox’s Omen sequel (opening 6-6-06) weren’t too keen to find someone on a cell phone observing their endeavors; the duo broke into a spirited run across the street and around a corner. I counted a dozen manhole covers defaced like this on my way home.

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New and recent releases: United 93, Silent Hill, Battle in Heaven, more

united93_230957.jpgA catch-up of capsule reviews of the past month, including United 93, Silent Hill, Battle in Heaven, Le Mujer de mi hermano, Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School, On a Clear Day, The Sentinel, Brick, Lucky Number Slevin and The Syrian Bride.

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Never an A+: cricket L Schwarzbaum on E Weekly

At RockCritics.com, Aaron Aradillas is keeping warm with the occasional film cricket, like EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, with whom he parses a few thousand words. tinycricket.gifIn this lengthy, good read, she says that her years at Sarah Lawrence, which “didn’t have majors (or exams, or grades, or requirements,” she says, “I studied piano, viola, music theory, music history, composition, and conducting. I sang in a chorus that traveled to Europe for a month-long concert tour. I wore black garments. I took classes in fiction writing. I made my own yogurt. I took a course in oxyacetylene welding since I admired the sculpture of David Smith. I wrote in blank notebooks with a leaky Rapidograph pen. You know, the usual.” malick directs.jpg Schwarzbaum considers her music background in terms of her critical practice, and says she’s “still pondering the implications of Terrence Malick’s arresting use of Mozart’s Piano Concerto #23 in The New World—a pointed decision to juxtapose the serenity of ordered, peak-of-culture Old World music against scenes of much wilder beauty and newness.” She likes pop, but classical matters more: “The canon of classical music though–Brahms, Schubert, Beethoven, the biggies, and Mozart above all-—ills me with the joy of passionate emotion organized into tonal order. Like an exquisite math. I don’t know how else to say it. Maybe I can play you a Bach fugue?” Describing her weekly routine, she confesses, “I’m a down-to-the-deadline (or, er, a tad-past-the-deadline) type, so at the start of the week I’m writing (or about to write) all day, or working with my editors and making revisions. I happen to love my office at the magazine, which has a door I can close and a view of the Hudson River that can’t be beat, so I tend to do a fair amount of writing there, but sometimes I also file from home, and then come into the office for editing.” And grading on a scale? “You may notice that the movie section of EW has never handed out an A+, although other review sections in the magazine have done so… The tradition was established before I came on board—something about preserving a Platonic ideal, something no actual movie could attain…” What other crickets is her ear pitched toward? “The answer to this question always feels to me like a shout-out to friends, a suck-up to influential people, or a settling of scores with adversaries. The question I’d always love to hear critics answer instead is, what else do you love to do, read, or read about[?].

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Korean director bios: download Park Chan-Wook, Bong Joon-Ho, Ryoo Seung-Wan

The estimable Korean Film Council’s just published three new filmmaker bios, of Park Chan-Wook, Ryoo Seung-Wan and Bong Joon-Ho, all of which are downloadable as free PDFs. Writes the site: “To increase the international standing of Korean film directors and to promote the international circulation of Korean films, KOFIC chooses three to six directors and publishes the Korean Film Directors series every year.” kofic378.jpgDirect downloads: Park Chan-Wook; Ryoo Seung-Wan; Bong Joon-Ho. (The files are about 20-30mb each.)

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Getting all cinematical: more movie-ish Neil Young intrigue

Why are the circumstances of the recording and release of this new Neil Young album turning out more cinematic than anything I’ve seen in days (except the superbly measured United 93)? In the Globe and Mail, Robert Everett-Green has the memorable lede of the moment as he gets to hear the “profoundly patriotic” “Living in War”: “We met outside a bagel joint in north Toronto, then drove a few blocks to a quiet street where two strangers could sit in a big old Cadillac and listen to the car stereo in peace. Then Robert Young slipped a CD-ROM from a plain white sleeve and gave me a rare preview of the nine explosive new songs on his brother Neil Young’s much-anticipated album… young war.jpgThe disc was made in a hurry, recorded in three days on Neil Young’s California ranch and another 12-hour session in a Los Angeles studio. I can hear the urgency in Young’s singing, as if there’s not a moment to lose when a great lie has spread over the land and only strong, sustained truth-telling can turn it back. “Living With War” is a fierce, comprehensive indictment of the Bush administration and all its failures, at home and abroad, but it doesn’t feel like an outsider’s dissent. It’s the work of someone who clearly identifies with the core values of ordinary Middle Americans who voted for Bush, who sent their sons and daughters to war, and who are beginning to feel betrayed… The text [of the lyrics] alone can’t convey the sense of gasping outrage in Young’s singing, and his forceful arrangements for guitar, bass, drums and sometimes trumpet. His electric guitar’s gnarly, saturated tone has an almost drunken quality, as if it too were reeling from the great betrayal…. Mostly, it’s a big-tent collection of ordinary citizens, which at the end of the album sings an a cappella version of ‘America the Beautiful,’ recalling in a more robust key the final scene of Michael Cimino’s… Vietnam film, The Deer Hunter.” [More blow-by-blow at the link; the album starts streaming on Friday for one week at Young's own website or visit Young's .]

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Skin off Tartan's back: Araki reclaims

At Filmmaker, Anthony Kaufman digs into the tale of the abortive release of Mysterious Skin, Gregg Araki‘s haunting, abuse-driven feature: its producers took the movie back, filing “a lawsuit against distributors Tartan Films USA and TLA Entertainment Group in November 2005″, and placing the DVD rights with Strand Releasing. skin1788.jpg“This unusual scenario came as a result of a contentious dispute between the film’s producers and its original distributors, an ongoing litigious battle about money, power and delivery requirements,” writes Kaufman. “By the time of the release, they had paid us $50,000 of the $250,000,” says [producer Jeffrey] Levy-Hinte. “We were asking politely, and then forcibly, for the money. They coughed up two more payments, paying a total of $175,000 by July.” “Delivery requirements” led to further assertions by the distributor, described in the dispatch, including an October “complaint in U.S. District Court accusing Tartan/TLA of never acknowledging the contract’s termination and continuing to “engage in distribution activities, despite the fact that they no longer have a license to do so and in so doing, have engaged in copyright infringement.” Levy-Hinte tells Filmmaker, “The importance of this lawsuit is that we can’t allow distributors to get away with this… it happens all too often with these red herring delivery issues…. ‘I don’t want to pay you. What are you going to do, sue me?’ And fortunately we were in a position to do that, and we had a termination clause which was ironclad.” The Strand DVD include sdeleted scenes and audition tapes, and was supervised by Araki, despite TLA having already released a different version.

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Agee and Farber, sitting at UT

Fred Brown of the Appalachian Journal reports on the James Agee Trust’s gift to UT Knoxville, including a lost collaboration with fellow cricket Manny Farber [pictured]. Manny Farber149-2.jpgA bounty of Agee notebooks, drafts and manuscripts were delivered to the University of Tennessee Special Collections Library last year. “The fresh news is that cache of Ageeana is now online via UT’s Special Collections Web site. [This is at least a listing; there may be other links.] “Special Collections has four different sets of Agee collections, four manuscript groups and papers that span the period from 1930-1955 when he died at 45 in New York City from a heart attack… “The one piece I know to be nowhere else is an abortive screenplay collaboration with Manny Farber just after WW II entitled ‘Furlough,’ a project which was never completed but provided some of the experience for Agee’s later screenplays. The correspondence is largely new as well.” [O]ne of the more astounding finds in the Agee Trust Collection is a Civil War manuscript, written in Agee’s almost unreadable and microscopic handwriting. The manuscript opens: All through the night and even by early morning smoke lingered on the long, devastated field. The mists were burned off long before noon, but the smoke would not be entirely dissolved before nightfall. Along one edge of the field, among scarred, stumbling trees near a deep ravine two soldiers lay in the deepest part of the ravine. They had lain where they fell, without sound or motion, since late the afternoon before.” [More prose at the link.]

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Paul Allen's revamped Vulcan: Sharing the Hard Candy

In the Seattle P-I, Winda Beneditti takes stock of “philanthropist, arts enthusiast and all-around rich guy” Paul Allen‘s revamped Vulcan Productions, starting with production of Hard Candy, which they consider “a wicked little gem.” Of Allen’s Seattle-based independent film company, Beneditti writes, “it’s the first Vulcan [film] finished under the company’s new production model—one focused on making feature films on lean budgets and with [an] egalitarian revenue-sharing plan. Michael Caldwell, director of motion-pcture production, thinks the company’s new approach will allow it to make films that are “genuinely original and financially responsible.”redriding45l.jpg “We want to put great stories onscreen and we want to do it in a way that emphasizes tackling the basics of film—great scripts, great directing, great acting,” says Richard Hutton, Vulcan’s vice president of media development.” Vulcan, born Clear Blue Sky Productions, had produced six films for $5-$15 million each, she reports. Far From Heaven, while critically acclaimed and a recipient of four Oscar noms, was she reports Caldwell saying, “financially it was a break-even type film.” “Hutton says they were inspired by the low-budget/revenue-sharing model created by [InDigEnt]. Through this production company, filmmakers agree to work with downright anemic budgets and under specific technical limitations and, in exchange, they’re given total creative freedom. Meanwhile, the entire crew shares in the revenues generated from the first dollar grossed… Hutton says Vulcan Productions decided to do something similar — that is, make films with budgets under $1 million and then split the revenues generated with the people who helped make the films from the get-go.” [More at the link.]

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My mother was afraid I'd end up a projectionist: revisiting a Kevin Brownlow masterpiece

Kevin Brownlow‘s best known for his work as a historian and restorer of movies like Napoleon, but he made two features as a young man, including the brute period marvel, Winstanley, set in the era of the English Civil War, and the what-if-the-Nazis-had-won no-budget eight-years-to-make dystopic gem It Happened Here, presently reissued in the UK, and which he began work when he was but 18. In the Independent, Neil Norman talks with Brownlow about the course of time. brownlow-ithappenedhere24956.jpg “It is one of the most striking scenes in British cinema: Nazi stormtroopers marching through Parliament Square. Clearly designed to alarm and provoke, it is an image that could have been ripped from a WWII Nazi propaganda film. [But] it is a scene from [1964's] It Happened Here… [I]t tells of partisan resistance to the Vichy-like state, and how survival and compromise can easily slide into collaboration. Shot in black and white, in 16mm and 35mm, in the manner of a documentary, it has the jackbooted kick of authenticity… “I wanted to be the next Orson Welles… But I never even put on the weight. And I am hopeless at raising money… My mother was afraid I’d end up as a projectionist… She encouraged me to be creative and bought me a camera.” … It is hard to reconcile the massive chutzpah this must have taken with the endearingly diffident, quietly spoken 67 year-old man sitting opposite me. But the evidence is on film for all to see… Brownlow retired from the fray of feature directing to concentrate on film restoration, documentaries and his books. Even now, one senses that his directorial career was nipped in the bud…. “If we hadn’t made this film it is possible I might be making feature pictures today… [W]e made a film for what most filmmakers spend on their main titles. An iconoclast does not gain entry into the cathedral. Second, it made no money, apparently. Third, I got a reputation for being anti-Semitic, which didn’t help. Finally, one thing I’ve found as an historian is that, if you are going to ask for a great deal of money on a risk, you have to give reassurance to a producer. Directors need to look like Alan Parker, Orson Welles, Victor Fleming. A scrawny, bespectacled individual does not inspire confidence.”

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Coffee Bees: Starbucks' promo deal with Akeelah

A sweet sleeve job: Starbucks cuts itself into the movie biz with its promo reach. With the Lionsgate release of Akeelah and the Bee, reports Newsweek’s Johnnie L. Roberts, the caffeinator’s 8,300 North America stores prompt viewers to purchase elsewhere:sdfj867-.jpg “Starbucks is promoting Akeelah to its millions of [customers as it's] touted on the sleeves slipped onto the Starbucks cups (it sells 4 million beverages daily), emblazoned with obscure words like “shalloon,” a lightweight wool fabric used for coat linings. Coasters are used to promote the movie, too, and a display table at the Starbucks in South Orange, N.J., recently was stacked high with travel Scrabble sets…. .Last Friday the chain began a countdown to Akeelah‘s opening date, April 28, on the ubiquitous chalkboards that spell out the day’s coffee blends. Starbucks has no plans to pour bucks into making films, limiting its involvement to promoting the movie (and taking a cut of the profits in return) and selling DVDs.”

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LA People: Laura Kim, Larry Clark, Charles Burnett, Mickey Cottrell

LA Weekly’s “LA People 2006″ is a swell read, and it includes short profiles of Larry Clark, who makes a confession about his Wassup Rockers? pals: “Although Clark is probably as familiar with South-Central as he is with his froufrou neighborhood on the Westside, he has no plans to move to the hood… “I was actually thinking about it for a while, because I was spending so much time down there,” says Clark. “But the boys made me promise I wouldn’t. They were scared I’d get in trouble.” law34568907.gif Also: Scott Foundas‘ lengthy takeout on director Charles Burnett: “Burnett is in the final editing stages on what may be his most ambitious project to date—a biopic of Sam Nujoma, the first president of Namibia—and the folks at the invaluable Milestone Film & Video confirm that their long-standing project to issue both Killer of Sheep and My Brother’s Wedding on DVD should reach fruition by year’s end.” And: Ella Taylor on crack publicist Mickey Cottrell and the “brainy esoterica” the former monk champeens, plus a sweet pipe dream: “Today [Cottrell's] company, Inclusive PR, has expanded its functions to grassroots niche marketing and helping filmmakers to self-distribute their films in multiple cities. “It would be even more fun if I didn’t have to make a living at it… I’ve always dreamed of the day I could afford to take out a full-page ad in Variety, requesting submissions for an absolutely free full Sundance PR campaign for one film I adore, one masterpiece to put all my efforts into and not represent the usual four films I’m paid to do.” Plus: Warner Independent marketing and publicity maven Laura Kim who says of March of the Penguins: “Penguins can’t do interviews.”

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Movie City Indie

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“By the time the sounds of the Von Trapp children warbling ‘Silent Night’ drift through The Giver, you may find yourself wondering what fresh movie hell this is. In truth, the enervating hash of dystopian dread, vague religiosity and commercial advertising-style uplift is nothing if not stale. Adapted from Lois Lowry’s book for young readers, the story involves an isolated society that, with its cubistic dwellings, mindless smiles, monochromatic environs and nebulous communitarianism, seem modeled on a Scandinavian country or an old Mentos commercial.”
~ Manohla Dargis’ Deadly Lede For Review Of The Giver

“It’s possible that in the coming days or, God forbid, weeks, the president could have something more specific to say about the freighted decades-long history of political imbalance at work, in this case between a mostly black working-class town and its majority white government and police force. But this is a black man who must choose his words about race, governance, and law enforcement even more carefully than a white politician would. And this is the third summer in which, as president, he would have to do so…

“Until this point in the turmoil, the absence of the crucial second face in the incident seemed to heighten the distance between police and the people they serve. It grants them both an anonymity and autonomy that matches the bizarre transformation, in Ferguson and elsewhere, of police into troops. The riot gear turns 2014 into a dot on a Jim Crow–era timeline. Since the officer’s name wasn’t made public more immediately, it should have seemed urgent for the police to lose the riot attire and take steps to minimize distrust, to dispel the contagious assumption that silence equates racism…

“What is so affecting isn’t just that 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed when he was barely a man. It’s other things as well. One was how many reports of the incident that first day mentioned that he was about to start college. That’s a rite that’s universally emotional. But for a black male from a poor family, the first day of college is a freighted day that usually requires the sacrifice of more than one person. Black people know the odds of getting to and graduating from college, and that they’re low. That Brown seemed to be on the right path compounded the parental, local, and national outrage over his being wiped from it.”

~ Wesley Morris On Let’s Be Cops, The Shooting In Ferguson, Obama…