This has to be a record! Five of my choices for the Best Films of 2008 are being released today on DVD. To top it off, a real Disney classic has been given the pristine treatment. What a stellar date this is for film lovers.
Pinocchio (2-Disc 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition) (1940)
Pinocchio is arguably the best animated feature film that Walt Disney Studios initially released. This beautifully rendered animation directed by Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton S. Luske makes my heart go out to the immortal two-dimensional format. It’s true that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) directed by David Hand was a revolutionary pioneer of animated features, but Pinocchio easily trumps Snow White as a compelling narrative.
About the video quality on Blu-Ray,
With Pinocchio, every brush-stroke, the rich texture conveyed by the surface of the canvas or paper, the consistency of the watercolor wash, or the density of the pastel chalk, is all displayed with dazzling purity. The effect is like being absorbed into a moving picture full of life and infused with the spirit of the artisans that crafted it together. Such nuance, which was obscured by the added artifacts of multi-generation film-print production for its original audience now breathes a new life of clarity for high definition viewers today. I can’t complain. I don’t think that Walt or his artists would either.
The DVD has a number of extras including documentaries, deleted scenes, and an indispensable audio commentary by Leonard Maltin, Eric Goldberg and J.B. Kaufman.
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When I say “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” what is the first name that comes to mind? Tim Burton. Burton invokes visions of dark whimsy, and promises tours into a world that is distinctly his own. From the visual style and original story based on Burton’s illustrated book to his entire filmography coined a word that solely attributes to the artist and his world — Burtonesque. Hell, his name is in the title: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. It takes a few more synapses in the brain to remember that Henry Selick was the film’s director. Selick made Jack Skellington come to life. Even the association of Burton as a producer blurs Selick’s accomplishment for his 1996 film James and the Giant Peach, based on the Roald Dahl novel. Finally, Burton is absent working on his adaptation of Alice in Wonderland due 2010. Selick is all alone here with the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Hugo Award winning novel.
Coraline is Selick’s baby.
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Before becoming the next best thing to the likes of film composer Danny Elfman, Shirley Walker made her mark as a conductor for a few renowned films such as Randa Haine’s Children of a Lesser God (1986) and Jonathan Kaplan’s The Accused (1988). Her greatness was matched by the production of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) as her first gig in Hollywood. On the Internet Movie Database, Walker is listed as a synthesizer musician in the film’s music department. The original music credit goes to its director (listed as Francis Coppola) and his father Carmine Coppola. Coppola’s wife, Eleanor, was too busy documenting its production with stunning material that would later become Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991), written and directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper who also made the wonderful film, The Man From Elysian Fields (2001). Like Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982) and its accompanying documentary Burden of Dreams (1982), Hearts of Darkness presents the production as harrowing an experience as Apocalypse Now.
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A Punishing Character Study
One of the most painful moments in The Wrestler is when the doctor explains to Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) after his heart attack that he must not exert himself. The aging, muscular man is devastated and cries out, “Doc! I’m a professional wrestler!” The key word there is professional. He takes it seriously. It defines him. Being stripped of his identity, Randy feels worthless. He has never thought about the long term. His lost years of celebrity, drug use and promiscuity left him devoid of anyone who really care about him. Now, Randy is finally going to feel the emotional punishment he has spent his life numbing by punishing himself in the ring.
Why do I love Randy “The Ram” Robinson? Because after sleeping in the back of his van, he has the good spirit to humour the kids knocking outside his window with some horseplay. Because he is a good sport when he choreographs a wrestling match involving a staple gun being used on him. Because he really does love Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), that sweet woman who works at the strip joint he often frequents. Because he is a good sport when he choreographs having a staple gun used on him during a match. Because when Randy picks out a jacket with the letter “S” for his justifiably resentful daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), he really thinks she’ll like it. Because Randy hates himself for screwing up the good things that come his way. I can’t hate a man who already hates himself so much.
Mickey Rourke plays this character as if he atoning for sins for which he cannot forgive himself. Watch how Rourke has Randy force himself to smile and not cry when Cassidy swills the rest of her beer down. Sizing up Rourke, Marisa Tomei as Cassidy stomachs so much pain here, whether she exposes her body and is passed over by customers or how she just can’t bear to watch Randy punish himself. Back in 2005, Rourke played a brutish lug named Marv in the comic-adaptation of Sin City. That character’s dialogue and scarred face were the stuff of pulp. Marv is an extension to Randy, a very sad avenger who nurses romantic fantasies. The closest Marv gets to a confession is when he confides his trouble with love. “I couldn’t even buy a woman… the way I look.” Mickey cut a big slab of himself off that meaty character and named him “The Ram”.
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If I chose the nominees, none of that would have happened. Permit me to unlock this web page with the key of film obsession. Beyond it is another dimension- a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of liberties. You’re moving into a space of both shadow and substance, of crimes and misdemeanors. You’ve just crossed over into . . . the Beaubien Zone. In here, I am the sole voter of the 81st Annual Academy Awards. To make it more interesting, I will not recognize any of the existing nominees from that thing we’ll call reality, as much as it pains me to see the Best Supporting Actor category without the Michael Shannon nomination. Not only is the challenge more enticing, but it also works as a collection of those deserving – some even more – who were snubbed. Now this would have been a far more entertaining Oscar Night!
Synecdoche, New York (2008): Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Sidney Kimmel
In Bruges (2008): Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin
The Dark Knight (2008): Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas
Revolutionary Road (2008): Bobby Cohen, Sam Mendes, Scott Rudin
Let the Right One In (2008): Carl Molinder, John Nordling
Special Mention: Wendy and Lucy (2008): Larry Fessenden, Neil Kopp, Anish Savjani
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Philip Seymour Hoffman for Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Brendon Gleeson for In Bruges (2008)
François Cluzet for Ne Le Dis à Personne (Tell No One) (2008)
Lee Pace for The Fall (2008)
Michael Shannon for Shotgun Stories (2008)
I was very tempted to also nominate Philippe Petit from Man on Wire for Best Actor. True, he is just playing himself, then again, he is always performing. Plus he does his own stunts!
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