News of the Weird – 2D vs 3D and DVD vs. Streaming

Two bizarre news stories caught my eye this week

* In a move that smacks of the arrogance Reed Hastings displayed last year for Netflix, Joe Paletta, CEO of Spotlight Theaters had this to say (in an article for Screen Trade Magazine entitled “What’s New for 2012?”)

“Among the bigger changes will probably see the 3D-upcharge disappear. 3D charges will help increase the overall ticket-price but, as an industry, I think we’ll see a blend begin to emerge in 2012, where patrons will have a single price for both 2D and 3D films. 2D prices will increase and 3D prices will decrease.”

I really liked Roger Ebert’s paraphrasing of this:

“Oh, no! In a move to recoup their unwise investment in 3D, theaters discuss, and I quote, ‘patrons will have a single price for both 2D and 3D films. 2D prices will increase and 3D prices will decrease.’ In other words, punishing those who dislike 3D.”

I would just as soon see 3D scrapped – mind you I have to admit being biased as 3D movies give me an awful headache. I’m really liking the trend of re-releasing older movies in 3D as sometimes I get to catch them in 2D (Beauty & the Beast, The Lion King). I am hoping the 3D re-releases of Titanic (April 4th), Finding Nemo (September 14th), Jurassic Park (Fall?), and others allow us to catch 2D versions at the theater.

* The other weird news is that IHS Screen Digest states that 1.4 billion movies were streamed last year and the expectation is that this year it will be 3.4 billion. This will vastly surpass the number of films watched on disc. The future is here! Now if only companies could get their act together and sell online copies for less than their physical counterparts – you know what with their being NO physical component, costs are far cheaper.

ActionFest 2012 Big Movie Update

Only a few weeks out from my new favorite holiday, ActionFest! They just announced a slew of new titles that will be playing at ActionFest. In between Solomon Kane on opening night and Wu Xia on closing night, we have:

* Bad Ass (World Premiere) – Directed by Craig Moss and starring Danny Trejo, Charles Dutton, and Ron Perlman.

“A Vietnam veteran who becomes a local hero after saving a man from attackers on a city bus decides to take action when his best friend is murdered and the police show little interest in solving the crime.”

“They messed with the wrong senior citizen.” – For some reason I never tire of watching Danny Trejo beat up people. Here it looks like they let him play his age – did you know that Danny is 67? Still looking forward to him in this and Machete Kills!

* The Aggression Scale (Regional Premiere) – Directed by Steven C. Miller and starring Ray Wise, Dana Ashbrook, and Derek Mears.

“Four heavily armed hitmen and two unusual teenagers go to war over $500,000 of stolen cash. “

* The Lost Bladesman (North American Premiere) – Directed by Alan Mak and starring Donnie Yen

“The story of legendary Guan Yu crossing five passes & slaying six generals. He played a major role in the civil war that led to the collapse of Han Dynasty & the establishment of Shu Han of the 3 Kingdoms, making Liu Bei its first emperor.”

Infernal Affairs director Alan Mak and Ip Man Donnie Yen – I am so there. Donnie Yen also stars in ActionFest’s closing film Wu Xia.

* The Day (Regional Premiere) – Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski and starring Shawn Ashmore, Ashley Bell, Dominic Monaghan and Shannyn Sossamon.

“Open war against humanity rages. 5 survivors; lost and on the run. The pursuit is relentless, the bullets are dwindling and the battle is everywhere. This is a 24hr look into their lives. Fight or die. “

Well I do have a soft spot for apocalyptic scenarios.

* Headhunters (Regional Premiere) – Directed by Morten Tyldum and starring Aksel Hennie.

“An accomplished headhunter risks everything to obtain a valuable painting owned by a former mercenary. “

* Goon (Regional Premiere) – Directed by Michael Dowse and starring Seann William Scott, Liev Schreiber, and Jay Baruchel.

“Labeled an outcast by his brainy family, a bouncer overcomes long odds to lead a team of under performing misfits to semi-pro hockey glory, beating the crap out of everything that stands in his way. “

* God Bless America (Regional Premiere) – Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait and starring Joel Murray and Tara Lynn Barr.

“On a mission to rid society of its most repellent citizens, terminally ill Frank makes an unlikely accomplice in 16-year-old Roxy. “

I loved the trailer for this and am looking forward to Bobcat’s demented skewering of American society.

* The Raid: Redemption – Directed by Gareth Evans and starring Iko Uwais

“A SWAT team becomes trapped in a tenement run by a ruthless mobster and his army of killers and thugs. “

This was not listed in the latest announcement (possibly because it is not a premiere?) but had previously been mentioned as having a showing at ActionFest. I am very much looking forward to this, especially as it did not open here in Asheville.

* Haywire/Blood and Bone (Pure speculation) – Starring Gina Carano

While not announced at all, I would be surprised if at least one of these two was not playing simply because Gina Carano is a guest of honor. Last year Black Dynamite was played at midnight with Michael Jai White. Fight choreographer J.J. Perry (Haywire, Warrior) is receiving an award as well so my guess/hope would be Haywire.

Side note: On the ActionFest 2012 Facebook page, the event times are listed as Thursday the 12th at noon through 2 am Sunday. In previous years, events started with the Thursday evening premiere and concluded with the Sunday closing film so 8 pm Thursday through about 8 on Sunday. I’m not sure if the new posted time means an earlier start to ActionFest but the more ActionFest, the happier I am.

Decorating Our Movie Room

Our local Blockbuster is finally closing. I’m sorry to see them go but anyone that has a business plan that DEPENDS on charging you late fees is doomed to fail. Like the RIAA with ripping CDs and iTunes, Blockbuster struggled for years without grasping that their way of doing business was over.

I feel like a vulture picking over the bones of a corpse when I go in there. Ours isn’t closing until mid-April. My daughter made me buy a couple hundred of their movie backers at 25 for a $1 and my wife graciously line the top of the wall with them all around the movie room (before that sounds too decadent, it is really the living room – my family calls it the movie room to make me happy).

The larger posters on the wall are just 11x17s that I have picked up for FREE from various movie theaters (except the four arty ones below – Jen bought me those off Etsy as a present). The frames are cheap two for $7.99 frames from Michael’s and they usually have a 40% off coupon every week in the paper or via email.

Asheville Theaters & FREE Friday Showings

I tout Carolina Cinemas here a lot. I love their FREE Thursday Horror Picture Show, the FREE Asheville Film Society Tuesday showings, their extensive menu, but most of all their friendly service.

That is not to say that Carolina is the only game in town. Asheville has a fairly new Regal Cinema, the Regal Biltmore Grande Stadium 15, as well as the older Beaucatcher 7 across from the mall. Other than the new stadium seating and $6 sodas, there is nothing of note at Regal. The Carmike 10 is down the street from the mall but I’ve invariably received rude service every time I’ve gone there so, surprise, I don’t go there any more.

For the non-cookie cutter type movie houses, we have the Downtown Fine Arts Theater which is a nice twin theater if you were planning on exploring Asheville’s downtown anyway but plan on spending $5+ just to park. Up in North Asheville, Asheville Pizza & Brewing has a second run theater. Tickets are $3 and they occasionally have special events. As you might guess they have nice pizza and beer as well.

The last option is that Regal turned their theater in the rundown Biltmore Square mall into a Cinebarre. There are many wonderful reasons to recommend Cinebarre. They show second-run movies for $3. Tickets after 9 pm Monday through Thursday and all day on Sunday are only a $1. Their food is quite decent and, I hate to say it, a better selection than the Carolina. They also have the occasional special show and they have a giant screen on the back side of the mall.

The first drawback to Cinebarre is that the food is expensive (though no more so than most other theaters). Drink refills are not free so make sure you order a large (32oz) drink. Food is served at your movie seat so factor in a tip.

The other drawback to Cinebarre is their uneven and somewhat indifferent levels of service. I’ve had to hunt down a waiter to get my bill after one movie and have had a few other annoying problems.

This past weekend they had advertised an old-fashioned drive-in fundraiser for Meals on Wheels. They were going to play His Gal Friday and And Then There Were None. My wife and I enjoy these types of events so we thought we’d celebrate our anniversary this way. The advertisement was in the local paper but there was no mention of it at all on Cinebarre’s site. The Council on Aging website was down so we called Cinebarre. Good luck getting a human being on the phone. We then emailed Cinebarre and received a terse three-word response.

When we arrived for the event, nothing was set up. We went inside and inquired and the lady laughed and said “canceled, weather” and went back to her work. I will admit that the clouds looked a little threatening and there had been a spot of rain earlier in the afternoon but not much. Here’s a clue for all service personnel, it absolutely won’t hurt you to say that you’re sorry – even if you aren’t, it’s called social lubrication, try it sometime.

The few times I’ve had a problem at The Carolina Cinemas, the people there have fallen all over themselves to try and fix it. Every time I have a problem with Cinebarre, they just shrug their shoulders. This is better than the downright rude responses I’ve received from the Carmike in the past but it sure doesn’t inspire you to come back.

Having got that out of my system, Carolina Cinemas announced a bunch more FREE Cinema Lounge showings:

3/28 – Whitney Houston Greatest Hits, VH1 Divas Live, and The Preacher’s Wife in celebration of The Bodyguard on the big screen.

3/30 – Clash of the Titans to celebrate the release of Wrath of the Titans

4/8-4/11 – The Three Stooges TV Marathon celebrating the release of The Three Stooges movie on 4/13 (During ActionFest 4/12-4/15 the cinema lounge is usually reserved for VIP passholders)

4/27 – Edgar Allan Poe tribute celebrating the opening of The Raven

5/11 – A Tim Burton marathon celebrating the release of Dark Shadows

Mars Attacks! Earth and Hollywood Lose!

What is it about Mars that sucks so bad? Disney’s John Carter (formerly John Carter of Mars) has now been termed a megabomb. The advertising for this film was abysmal – the romantic angle was completely ignored. For that matter the romantic interest, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) was barely shown, the ‘dog’ sidekick wasn’t featured, etc. The funny thing is that not only is John Carter not a bad film but it has taken in quite a bit of money ($184 million worldwide). Unfortunately between the enormous budget and the misguided marketing, over $350 million was spent. Disney is preparing to eat almost $200 million.

That means that John Carter would have had to be a blockbuster just to break even and clearly Disney felt they didn’t have one on their hands as it was released in March. There go my hopes of seeing the other Edgar Rice Burroughs stories adapted. Maybe Disney will dump some direct-to-video sequels on us if the John Carter Blu-Rays sell well.

* Last year Disney lost $70 million on Mars Needs Moms, which only made $38.9 million at the box office. Shortly after this the “of Mars” was removed from John Carter’s title.

Ghosts of Mars (2001) – Rated R

“Two hundred years in the future, a squad of tough-as-nails cops led by Natasha Henstridge and Pam Grier are dispatched to a remote mining outpost on Mars to bring back a deadly criminal named Desolation Williams (Ice Cube). But they get more than they bargained for when they have to fight off an army of miners who’ve been possessed by an unspeakable, ancient evil in this sci-fi thriller directed by John Carpenter. Jason Statham co-stars.”

Ghosts of Mars is currently available on instant Netflix. It certainly follows the Mars curse. After directing the classics Halloween, Escape from New York, The Fog, The Thing, and many other wonderful if flawed films, Carpenter directed this – easily his worst picture.

* Brian de Palma made the classics Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables, and Carlito’s Way. In 2000, he made Mission to Mars which barely garnered $60 million and wasn’t very good.

* Also in 2000, we had Red Planet directed by Antony Hoffman. What’s that? You haven’t heard of Antony Hoffman? That’s because Red Planet is the only film he has made. Nuff Said.

* 2005, the video game Doom was adapted as a major motion picture. Yes you guessed it – it is terrible. In video game parlance, it was a ba-bomb!

* Mars Attacks!, Tim Burton’s lowest-grossing film of the last decade and a half, is a real mixed bag. The Martians are hysterical but most of the human roles are simply dreadful. This is still worth watching simply for the visuals.

* Speaking of Tim Burton, the trailer for Dark Shadows just came out and it looks absolutely awful. What a waste of Johnny Depp, Chloe Grace Moretz, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Christopher Lee. I had really been looking forward to this until I saw the trailer.


The Good, The Bad, The Weird – The Korean Connection

I have always loved Asian films, especially Japanese Samurai films and Chinese gangster films. Lately though I have been enjoying a wide range of Korean movies. The Good, The Bad, The Weird is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008) – Rated R

“On a train crossing the Manchurian desert, an unlikely trio — good bounty hunter Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung), bad gangster Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee) and weird train robber Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song) — unite to find a treasure map’s promised loot. Racing through the unforgiving landscape, they stay one step ahead of rivals and the Japanese army. Ji-woon Kim directs this Sergio Leone-inspired adventure.”

“Every Korean has a sad story”

As of 2009, this was the most expensive South Korean movie ever made. It is a wonderful “western” epic with Mongolia filling in for the American West/Mexico. It also has the best reason for an ‘R’ rating from the MPAA: nonstop violence.

The cinematography is gorgeous. It includes some nice transitions and tracking shots through a train and that is just in the first five minutes.

It is clear that Ji-Woon Kim has a love affair with Sergio Leone. Not only is the film titled after The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, but there are characters playing keep away with a hat a la For a Few Dollars More as well as clear references to A Fistful of Dollars, Duck, You Sucker, and Once Upon a Time in the West (specifics omitted to avoid spoilers).

The focus in this movie is on fun and adventure, making this a marked departure from the last two films I discussed (Mother and The Man from Nowhere). Ji-Woon Kim’s other main influence appears to be Steven Spielberg, specifically the Indiana Jones movies (lots of wild stunts, swinging on ropes, treasure map, motorized chases through the desert). A word of warning though – in spite of the light-hearted nature of much of the film, the violence, particular that of The Bad, can be brutal.

Instead of the focus being on The Good (as in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), The Good/ Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung) seems to have the least amount of screentime here (although he is still an enigmatic bounty hunter). The Weird is a little goofier than Eli Wallach’s The Ugly but there are certainly similarities. The Weird/Yoon Tae-goo is played by Kang-ho Song, who also played the main character in The Host. The Bad/ Park Chang-yi is played with swaggering evil delight by Byung-hun Lee (seen by American audiences as Storm Shadow in the G.I. Joe movies).

There are a lot of other characters but they mostly exist to be shot, stabbed, or blown up by one of our principals

This movie runs on a bit too long (it could have used tighter editing) but it is quite a bit of fun. The ending is especially good if you don’t watch the scenes playing out over the end credits. Strangely the additional scene detracts from the ending.

The Man from Nowhere – The Korean Connection

I have always loved Asian films, especially Japanese Samurai films and Chinese gangster films. Lately though I have been enjoying a wide range of Korean movies. The Man from Nowhere is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Man from Nowhere (2010) – Rated R

“This hard-hitting tale of revenge stars Bin Won as Tae-Sik, a former special agent living a bitter and lonely life following his wife’s tragic death. When a young girl (Sae-Ron Kim) he befriends is kidnapped by a vicious drug gang, Tae-Sik rushes to her aid. Bloodthirsty and hell-bent on justice — particularly after being framed by the gang — he takes the law into his own hands, infiltrating the ring and systematically wiping out its members.”

If you read the synopsis of this film above and thought, “wait isn’t that the plot of Taken?”, you would be correct. Although the characters are different, this follows essentially the same plotline and many of the same character beats as the Liam Neeson movie. That said this is still a very good albeit brutal thriller. Jeong Beom Lee directs here from his own script. Both are remarkably polished given that he only has one other movie to his credit (2006’s Cruel Winter Blues).

Won Bin, the actor who played the mentally challenged Yoon in Mother, is the star here. He does a great job of playing the enigmatic tough guy. The rest of the cast also does a good job and the little girl is cute. The action is quite good and the climactic fights are thrilling.

Aside: Did you know that Seoul has a Chinatown? I guess I never really thought about it but it is featured in this movie.

Product Placement: What the hey? There are now stacks of Hite crates. I guess it is that ubiquitous. Hite is the top-selling beer in Korea and the name of the brewery (I finally went and looked it up after seeing Hite in three separate films).

Mother – The Korean Connection

I have always loved Asian films, especially Japanese Samurai films and Chinese gangster films. Lately though I have been enjoying a wide range of Korean movies. Mother is currently available on instant Netflix.

Mother (2009) – Rated R

“A murder rocks a South Korean town and suspicion quickly falls on a reclusive, mentally challenged — and alibi-free — young man (Bin Won). When an inept public defender botches the boy’s case, his mother (Hye-ja Kim) sets out to prove her son’s innocence. Acclaimed director Joon-ho Bong (Memories of Murder) explores the lengths a mother will go to protect her child in this atmospheric crime thriller.”

“Excuse me! This person is too important to be here.”

After watching The Host, I was looking forward to director Joon-ho Bong’s next film. Strangely after a hugely successful monster movie, Joon-ho Bong went back to his murder mystery roots and made Mother. As with The Host, the central theme here is family, specifically, of course, the bond between mother and son.

I have to warn you that this is a very long (two hours and nine minutes) drama and not as much a murder mystery as you might think. The mystery is there but is secondary to the mother’s journey. The film is a slow buildup to a stunning and unexpected revelation about two-thirds of the way through. From there until the end, the film is absolutely marvelous with many great twists. The key is that you have to be patient.

The actress playing Mother, Hye-ja Kim is wonderful. Bin Won plays the mentally challenged son, Yoon Do-joon. Yoon is similar to the dimwitted character in The Host but the comedic aspects are very toned down and Bin Won does a very good job of not turning him into a caricature. The rest of the cast are fine as well but the focus is solidly on mother and son throughout the movie.

Product Placement: The beverage Hite makes a prominent appearance here, even more so than in The Host. It’s working as I’m now curious what it tastes like.

The Host – The Korean Connection

I have always loved Asian films, especially Japanese Samurai films and Chinese gangster films. Lately though I have been enjoying a wide range of Korean movies. the Host is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Host aka Gwoemul (2006) – Rated R

“In Seoul’s River Han, a giant mutant creature has developed as a result of toxic chemical dumping. When the squidlike monster scoops up the teenage granddaughter of humble snack-bar owner Hie-bong (Hie-bong Byeon), he races to track down the murderous beast. With no help from the authorities, who are convinced the girl is already dead, Hie-bong and his family will have to band together to save her — and possibly the entire city.”

“This is alcohol!” – “You’re in middle school now.”

The Host opens with an American ordering a South Korean to dump Formaldehyde down a drain. Eagle-eyes will notice that the masked American is character actor Scott Wilson (currently Hershel on The Walking Dead). This dumping was based on a real incident of the U.S. dumping chemicals into the Han River. To offset this negative portrayal of Americans, the next one we meet is actually quite heroic.

The special  effects really sell the story. The creature was designed by Chin Wei-Chen. WETA (The Lord of the Rings) handled the modeling and the abundant CGI was handled by The Orphanage (Iron Man, Sin City). I really like that not only was the creature different but they also made it a different size. It is significantly larger than man-size but much smaller than a building (the two most common sizes for creatures). Another thing that really works is that the creature is seen early and often and it is a visual treat.

The initial attack sequence is a stunner, equal parts hilarious and terrifying, it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. They even stop the music and mute most of the sound at a crucial point.

Our hero is a dimwitted snack shack worker whose daughter is snatched by the creature and the other main characters are the family members. The dimwittedness gives this film kind of a slapsticky feel that is not usually found in American films, certainly not horror films. The family bond is a strong theme throughout the film. They bond together even though they are clearly dysfunctional normally.

The actors all acquit their roles well. The character of the daughter is quite clever as children often are in these films. Thankfully she is not annoying. The glimpses of Korean life and attitudes are fascinating as well. The story takes a few turns and the climax is both  riveting and satisfying.

The virus subplot does go on for too long. The movie could use about fifteen minutes or so of trimming. Other than that this is a fun and different monster movie.

The Host is the highest grossing film in South Korea (as of March 2009). In an odd twist, the North Korean government officially approves of this film. It is not hard to see why as the Americans are portrayed as arrogant (the dumping is based on a real incident) and the South Korean government as bumbling idiots. The Host 2 is due to be released in Korea this summer and is supposed to be a prequel in 3D.

Mediocre 2 – We are the Night, Bitter Feast, Kill Katie Malone

Mediocre: of moderate or low quality, value, ability, or performance: ordinary, so-so

I watch a ton of movies and I spend a lot of time writing about the good ones, the unusual ones, and the bad ones. I usually skip writing about the mediocre ones because there isn’t much to say and they aren’t nearly as fun to riff on as the truly bad films. Unfortunately much of what I’ve watched lately has fallen into that category. In short DON’T WATCH:

We are the Night (2010) – Not rated

“The gritty nightlife of Berlin serves as the backdrop for this thriller about three women vampires intent on luring another into their immortal pact. All hell breaks loose when a cop discovers their secretive ways.”

I like female vampires as much as the next geek but this film was just so utterly generic. It is dull, trite, and predictable from beginning to end. There are scenes that don’t make sense but are simply used because the director thought it would look cool (e.g. the opening scene where the vampires kill a plane load of people and then jump out of the airplane).

Bitter Feast (2010) – Not rated

“Director Joe Maggio’s deliciously nasty comic morsel stars James LeGros as Peter Gray, a self-absorbed celebrity chef who goes off the deep end when pompous but influential food blogger JT Franks (Joshua Leonard) posts a scathing review. After kidnapping JT and shackling him in the basement, Peter administers a series of tortures but soon finds that his victim is far from helpless. What ensues is an epic battle between two towering egos.”

Where to start? Mario Batali, listed by Netflix as the star, is only in a single scene. I have no idea how this chef became a celebrity or why anyone would give him a show. I was cringing through the first act – it is pretty painful. The second and third acts are okay but the ‘cooking’ scenes between Peter and JT are hilarious. Those short bits are almost enough to recommend the movie but not quite. Basically a neat idea with poor execution.

Kill Katie Malone (2010) – Rated R

“Three friends buy a wooden box containing a ghost said to grant their every wish. But the seller didn’t warn them of the spirit’s true nature. For each wish fulfilled, the entity demands a human soul in return — and the debt is mounting fast.”

Poor Dean Cain became popular with Lois & Clark and now does tons of direct to video science fiction and horror. He is listed above the title on the box cover but only appears in about five minutes of the film. The script is terrible, characters are introduced and immediately disposed of, you don’t care at all about any of the characters, etc. The acting is sub-par as is the direction. This isn’t awful but it isn’t worth your time either.