Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Rick Roll to End All Rick Rolls?

In what must've been the largest Rick Roll ever, The Cartoon Network went and Rick Rolled the entire Macy's Parade audience. Now may be the time to retire the Rick Roll for good.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

From Gus V. And William S.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

'The General' vs. 'The General'

Update: A few special features were left out of the "only on MK2" section. They're all there now.

I sit in on DVDTalk's Silent DVD column this week with a review of Kino's new edition of Buster Keaton's "The General." This edition aims to become the quintessential release, with a new HD transfer from the original camera negative and three different accompaniment tracks including a new 5.1 version of the beloved Carl Davis score from Keven Brownlow's Thames Silents TV broadcast.

Being the parade-rainer I am, I was compelled to point out that the French company MK2 also did an HD transfer of the film back in 2004, and spent more time on frame-by-frame cleanup, whereas the Kino edition shows the (relatively light) wear and decay of the source material. Now, some silent film aficionados believe that transfers shouldn't be overly repaired, but simply capture the surviving documents. I'm of the opinion that, for a home presentation like this, if you can make the film look as close to how it looked when Keaton premiered it, then that's the way to go. Anyway, read the review, which has a lot more on the film beyond PQ nitpicking. And if you're thinking about going PAL region 2 for the MK2 (I recommend the UK Cinema Club release), here's a comparison of the two editions.

KINO: Color-tinted HD transfer — Some of Keaton's compositions are particularly gorgeous in sepia tone, but I'm still partial to black-and-white, mainly when it comes to the blue nighttime scenes. Great detail and crisp image.
MK2: Black-and-white HD transfer — Brilliant image, free of the scratches and decay on most silent prints. Would be extremely difficult to top.

BOTH EDITIONS feature high-definition transfers, but neither companies will give us the film on a damn HD format. At least put it on iTunes, for crying out loud!

KINO: Carl Davis score performed by Thames Silent Orchestra (5.1 and stereo), Organ score by Lee Irwin — Davis's score is involving, exciting, and sounds great. Irwin's score is a nice bonus.

MK2: Joe Hisaishi score performed by Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra (5.1) — Hisaishi's beautiful score features some inspired moments, although at certain times is a bit detached from the film.

BOTH EDITIONS: The Robert Israel score that's on, like, every edition of "The General" ever (not really, but this one's been around for a while, and is featured on Kino's previous edition).

Special Features

Filmed introduction by Orson Welles — The great Welles offers an introduction that's at times insightful and astute, and always comedically Wellesian. Clips from "Coney Island" and "Cops" illustrate Keaton's development. (The Kino version maintains the old TV titles and credits for "The Silent Years: From the Collection of Paul Killiam," while the MK2 version doesn't.) (12:00)

Behind-the-scenes home movie footage (called "Filming the General" on MK2) — an interesting minute's worth of behind-the-scenes footage. Neither company makes an effort to add context via editing or voiceover.

MK2 Only:
"The Railroader" (actually "The Railrodder") — This 25-minute Canadian promotional short from 1965 is known as one of Keaton's most Keatonesque works from his later life. It and the documentary of its making (see below) give the MK2 release the upper hand, unless you already own them.

"Buster Keaton Rides Again" An excellent chronicle of the making of "The Railrodder." The film offers rare insight into Keaton's creative process, as well as a somewhat inaccurate history of his career. A great look at the man behind the stone face. (55:00)

Introduction by David Robinson — Robinson provides a nice overview of the film and its history, illustrated by clips and stills.

Featurette on movie restoration — The usual shots of original physical prints, the side-by-side comparisons, etc. (2:00)

Featurette on recording the 2004 score — This one is not subtitled in English, and features mainly footage of the recording process before some chanteuse shows up to sing a song about Johnny Gray to one of Hisaishi's themes.

Footage from the tinted version — In case you haven't seen it elsewhere, footage from the old transfer. (7:00)

Keaton filmography — Stills and clips from Keaton's Silent features. (11:00)

"The Return of The General" — 1962 publicity film documentary by the Louisville & Tennessee Railroad showcases the restored engine, which is featured in the present day on the Kino edition.

The trailer for "The Great Locomotive Chase" — Disney brought the same story that inspired "The General to the screen in 1956

"The Iron Mule" — This 1925 Al St. John silent two-reeler features the replica of the small, absurd train The Rocket that Keaton used in "Our Hospitality." The film (and its title) reference John Ford's "The Iron Horse" from the previous year. Keaton also appears, uncredited, as an Indian. (13:00)

"Alice's Tin Pony" — From Walt Disney's "Alice in Cartoonland" series, which combined animation with live-action photography, this 1925 short was also inspired by "The Iron Horse." (6:00)

Cinema Club distributed MK2's edition in the UK and includes a nice 24-page booklet with details on the film and the features, including the text of David Robinson's introduction. I understand that the French edition includes nice literature too—si tu parles français, naturellement!

If you already own "The Railrodder" and "Buster Keaton Rides Again," Kino might have the edge.

Filmed introduction by Gloria Swanson — This clip from TV's "Silents Please" is amusing in a campy sort of way. (2:13)

A video tour of the authentic General, presented in association with the Southern Museum — See the General, learn its history and how it operates. (18:00)

A tour of the filming locations, presented by John Bengston, author of Silent Echoes — Bengston's detective work is always impressive. (4:30)

"The Buster Express" — Kino describes this as "A brisk montage of train gags from throughout Keaton's career," and that about sums it up. It's a fun, free-association montage, but certainly not essential. (5:45)

Finally, the disc features a gallery of promotional photos, lobby cards from various countries and production stills, including some from a sequence deleted from the film.
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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Insert Sad Joke About 'Pushing Daisies' Possibly Pushing Up Daisies

Remember "Pushing Daisies," the best new show on TV last year? It seems that the writer's strike, coupled with ABC's dumbass decision not to bring it back for some spring episodes after the strike ended, halted the show's momentum. It hasn't been doing so hot in the ratings department, despite some very good episodes and intriguing plot developments.

The show stars Lee Pace as a pie maker who can bring the dead back to life—with a few catches—and has one of the most unique, eye-popping visual schemes on television.

Production just wrapped on the first 13 episodes of season 2 (season 1 only had nine), and ABC doesn't seem likely to order more.

An ABC spokesperson said no decision has been made, and series creator Bryan Fuller said he has not heard a verdict.

"Our ABC exec was on the set last night saying they are still swinging in the fight to keep 'Daisies' on the air," Fuller said. "Spirits are high and hopeful and everyone here is very proud of our work and this show."

Fuller previously expressed interest in returning to the writing staff of NBC's "Heroes" if "Daisies" departs. He also has indicated that he would finish this season's story lines in comic book form.

Sadly, it sounds like the show either needs a ratings boost, fast, or it'll need it's own pie maker to bring it back to life. (Sorry! But how could I resist?)
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Friday, November 14, 2008

A Tale of Two Marriages

Since the passing of California's Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage, the discussion in Utah (and the rest of the country) has grown louder than ever. It's a dialogue that we should have engaged in so ferociously prior to the election.

Utah has been particularly hopping. The state is home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose leadership encouraged its members across the country to donate more than $20 million to the Yes on Prop 8 cause. During the many conversations I've had over the past couple weeks, two marriages keep popping up in my head, and I wonder which one most people would prefer to exist in their neighborhood.

Next door, two people love each other dearly and decide to get married and spend their lives together in a caring relationship. There will be good times and bad times, and the couple hopes that they will make it through the tough parts and live a happy life together. Because this couple happens to consist of two men or two women, many consider this marriage an abomination and lobby to legally erase it from existence.

A few houses down the street, another relationship, this time heterosexual, plays out, but it veils a deep secret. The man is so ashamed of his homosexuality and so pressured by the bigotry facing homosexuals that he stays in the closet. To prove something to himself and others, he marries a woman whom he doubtlessly cares about, but the sexual desire isn't there, no matter how much he wants it to be. The woman does her best to ignore the signs that everything isn't right, and hides her unhappiness. They have some children and love them, but a nagging feeling haunts both husband and wife, because something is missing.

Unwilling to abandon his wife and unable to form a meaningful homosexual relationship, the man instead finds himself seeking meaningless, anonymous sex in public restrooms and highway rest stops. This goes on for some time, until one day an undercover police officer apprehends him in the act. Now his family is shattered, his children confused and ridiculed, his wife heartbroken, his career possibly ruined.

If he happens to be a public figure, like a church leader or a politician, then the embarrassment plays out in public. His traumatized and humiliated wife must stand beside him as he delivers a speech for a media circus press conferences.

And here's where I get a bit confused: Which of these scenarios is supposed to damage the sanctity of marriage?

The crux of anti-gay-marriage rhetoric is based on falsehoods. Some people who belong to faiths that oppose marriage equality tell us that if the government acknowledges gay marriage, that their religion must perform marriages that they don't believe in. The people who make these claims are at best misinformed and at worst spreading fear-mongering that they know to be lies.

I have a hard time believing that the people who engineer this messaging actually believe it. But it's stunning how successfully they distort the issue of religious rights to the opposite of the truth. No church would be forced to conduct weddings that it doesn't believe in. Hell, your religion could consider marriage to be the union of the two sides of an Oreo cookie, bonded by cream. No one forced the LDS church to allow blacks into the priesthood before the leadership decided to do so in 1978. That's what freedom of religion means. However, anti-gay legislation invalidates the practices of the many religions that do believe in marriage equality. I doubt Mormons would like it if California said, "You can get married in the temple, but don't expect us to acknowledge it!"

Prop 8 and other anti-gay legislation bring religion into secular law—exactly where it shouldn't be. No one can stop a religion from disliking a minority population's way of life—or the majority's way of life—even if that way of life in no way affects the religion or its members. But Prop 8 does strip homosexuals of their rights. And no matter how you feel about the homosexual lifestyle, it's something to consider before taking a stance on any law that deprives others of their rights.

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