Where did you go Joe DiMaggio?

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times Ethicist tackled a question about the ethics associated with downloading an “illegal” digital copy of a book that was already owned. It can be read here:


It's an interesting question that spurred a flurry of comments on various websites and blogs, most of which were outside the scope of the original inquiry. The question posed was very specific – Is it ethical to download a bootleg of a book that you already own the hard copy of? The answer advanced by the ethicist was equally straightforward - Ethically, it was acceptable.

As downloading continues to erode the traditional avenues of media distribution, it's completely understandable that the industries and content creators that rely on revenues generated from it are wary of what the future holds. The analog containers (books, newspapers, record albums, video tapes, etc) that once defined the legitimate distribution of most media constituted an “original” of sorts, while bootleg copies of that original were most often inferior in quality and therefore less desirable. The analog to digital revolution of the last 2 decades has inadvertently changed all that. A perfect copy of any digital original is now not only possible, but relatively simple and cheap to do. In what must be one of the most colossal industrial missteps ever, the cost and time saving techniques associated with digital production and storage were quickly co-opted by the public and the rest is history. The media industry lost control of its product and they're never going to get it back.

The rise of digital copying coincided with (and/or perhaps contributed to) a significant societal change that occurred over roughly the same 20 year period. I could drone on about the scope and nature of these changes (and did in an earlier draft), suffice it to say that there seems to exist a sense of entitlement amongst the population that wasn't as pronounced a generation ago. One of the ways this new-found entitlement mantra manifests itself is the presumption that free access to intellectual property has become not only a right, but is very nearly not even a consideration any more. Paying for access to read, listen or view media via the traditional and decidedly old-fashioned à-la-carte purchase model has rapidly disappeared and in its place is a new and very different distribution network. Downloading is a product of this recent media metamorphosis and at its core, the issue is a complex combination of technological, legal and ethical considerations.

It must first be said that the same basic arguments are advanced nearly every time the issue of downloading and file-sharing comes up. As a result, the rhetoric has become harder to cut through. On the one side, people suggest that they are finally able to stick it to the man and just take what they want without lining the pockets of greedy corporate middle men. On the other, poor starving artists are being stolen from and relegated to the economic dustbin as a result. Both positions are overly simplistic, self-serving and offer nothing in the way of any real analysis or a path forward. Truth be told, no one is downloading to make a bold politic statement, they just want something for nothing. Whether this act is “stealing” is a purely a legal technicality. Whether it's ethical, however, is not. The act of downloading without compensation to the creators of what you're taking is unequivocally unethical. It undermines a basic tenant of our collective social contract and just because everyone does it, doesn't make it any less so. While it may be true that the media industry often shafted the public with endless format changes and overpriced product in the past, this is a classic example of two wrongs not making a right.

Ethical considerations aside, downloading is here to stay. As Generation Free increasingly comes to represent the demographic that consumes the most media, they're just not buying into the buying concept. On any number of levels, it also makes perfect sense. Digital media is portable, accessible and multi-format. It has served to expand the availability of formerly hard-to-get and marginal creative works. It uses less resources that traditional media product and packaging, although I don't know if the collective ecological costs of 5 billion computers, cell phones and iPads don't eclipse any environmental savings that might come from not pressing CD's or printing newspapers anymore. The upsides are a broader mix of alternative music, film, and reading and I can attest to seeing it's effect on what the young people in my circle listen to and watch. Previous generations plowed through record bins for countless hours over years to find a mere handful of great unknown tunes and bands. You can do the same thing in an evening at your computer now.

It seems that a strange thing happens when you move a creative work into the digital realm. Apparently, the concept and perceptions of intellectual property and “ownership” changes. The same considerations that keep us from wandering into our neighbour's house and taking their toaster-oven simply don't seem to apply when a creatively owned and licensed work finds its way online. Perhaps the idea of something that can be infinitely copied in identical form nullifies the esoteric concept of creative ownership anyways. It stands to reason that where an original doesn't really exist (at least in any traditional, tactile sense), the idea that a series of computer files floating around in cyberspace being owned by someone becomes very difficult to rationalize and just as easily discounted. The problem arises once all the revenue associated with the creation and distribution of that work dry up - who then pays the artists, technicians and distribution networks that rely on the old model? It might be entirely possible for music to go from a non-commodity (prior to the advent of analog recording technologies) to a commodity (once recordings became available to purchase) and back to a non-commodity (because Generation Free has no interest in paying for it) in the space of about 80 years.

Which brings us to our connection to all this industry upheaval. As most of you that read (and all that post on) this blog are indirectly employed as a result of the limitations placed on the use of copyrighted material, this issue relates to all of us in a real and direct way. Plainly put, the rise of downloading and illegal copying has directly limited the amount of money you make at the Film Buff. As your compensation is dependent upon the profitability of the DVD rental business model, your income has been compromised in part by the losses incurred from downloading. It's as simple as that. It's not just authors, songwriters, actors and the corporate middle men that have suffered financially, you & I have. Our pricing has not kept pace with inflation because the market increasingly sees the DVD product we carry as freely obtainable, both financially and ethically. As a result, our income is static and the basic wages we pay float around the $10 to $12 level in 2010, barely above minimum wage. 10 years ago, those wages were $9 to $11 (at that time +/-25% higher than minimum wage), rising a mere 10% in a decade. As most of the Film Buff staff tend to stick around for a few years or less, this only matters in a general sense – retailing wages haven't moved much in other service industries either. The point I'm trying to make is those wages would have risen faster had the industry not plateaued and that has occurred, at least in part, because of the rise of downloading. We tend to think of our technological advances as being positive things, but there are times when those same advances undermine our abilities to earn a living.


I'm changing the last couple of paragraphs here because, as usual, I got off on a bit of a tangent bitching about things and missed coming to any particular point. I think it's safe to say the digital downloading, illegal or otherwise, is here to stay. Like all new technologies, there are both upsides and downsides associated with this new way of distributing information, specifically media in this case. The overriding downside from my perspective is the loss of value, at least in the eyes of the consumer, for nearly all creative works that exist in the digital domain and an increasing disinterest in paying for access to those works. It's a bit of a double-edged sword, “free” access begets all sorts of good and democratic distribution of media, but if we have adopted a economy where “information” in the thing we are expected to ply our trade at, and it isn't deemed worthy of being paid for, where does that leave our opportunities going forward? Apple Computer generates most of its revenues selling hardware not software and the implications of that business model is spreading into other industries, including our own. 70 years ago, anti-trust legislation was levied against movie studios because they owned both the product (ie: the films) and the venues where that product was sold (the theatres). The government made them pick one or the other. One wonders how long it might be before we begin to catch on that Apple and companies like it, are doing very much the same thing today and the result is undermining the economic conditions needed for the creation of new works. Somehow we've been coerced into believing that the hardware, not the creative work itself is the more worthy investment and that's kinda sad, if you ask me.


FBE Smackdown.

From the proposed FBE June order .....

UNDISPUTED 3 (WS/ENG/ENG+FRN+SPN SBT/5.1 (DVD) DTV D WB ACT 26.10 19.05 2010 Violent cage fighting action featuring a whack of UFC stars Quantity 1 Reg DVD 1 BluRay


Thought I wasn't looking eh Reed?


In honour of our courageous colleague...


Ed Gein

If you're a fan of this or this (Nick, I know you love it), or even this, you should have a look at these.  Grim stuff, and darkly humourous.  Thanks to And Now the Screaming Starts for the tip.


I'd also be remiss if I let this day run its course without wishing all the best to the inimitable John Waters, who today turns 64 years young.  I don't think I'd be quite the well-rounded, socially-adjusted individual I am today without Serial Mom having warped and cracked my impressionable 14-year old brain.  Thanks for the mammaries.

Happy Birthday, Bride

Born April 22, 1935, 75 years ago today:

For more on The Bride's 75th anniversary, and all things Frankenstein, please visit Montrealer Pierre Fournier's superlative and informative Frankensteinia.  His recent post on The Brides of Frankenstein is fascinating.

Dock Ellis & the LSD No-No

This short animated film is going to be screening at Hot Docs, appropriately, before the Bill Hicks film.  However, for those that can't make it to the screening, I found it online.  It's a hilarious little film, and if you don't know the backstory, now you do.


I'm changing my name to Fan Bing Bing Rochester. Kadas asked last night why he wasn't on the schedule - I explained he was on holidays and going to Miami. He seemed satisfied with that answer. I've revoked Nikki's 10 day vacation in June and moved it to the 2nd week of November... because I can. Luke "The Pie Man" Davies returns in mid-May. Withnail and I are going to see my gay uncle in the country this weekend. I gave Canfield two rattan chairs that I also offered to Amanda and now have to give her the two we were going to keep, or else Nick isn't getting any. It's Complicated arrived today -strike three in the bland-is-best sweepstakes along with Up in the Air and The Blindside. Kadas's bike is finally gone from the FBE storeroom, no thanks to Reed. Mice ate our baby cones in the FBE, or so Joe claims. Tombstone is here on Blu-Ray! Joey returns Sunday. Tom leaves Monday. Jola seems healthy-ish and a customer gave her a half a bag of dog food. Canfield's 33' ChrisCraft boat has gone missing. Kendall snapped the mouse bluetooth dongle off Sunday and blamed Amanda. Ice cream prices go up next week. A giant old Black man took garbage away from the house today. Tom's marrying his sister next week in Manchester.

Update - Kendall now blames Jola for the Bluetooth dongle snappage.


44 Inches of... well... a big fat piss me off disappointment.

Michael Caine has a tidy chapter in his book, Acting in Film, about the importance of writing. Now I am at the very least paraphrasing here, but in the chapter he writes that all of his Oscar nods and favourite performances he attributes solely to good writing, and that when a writer has done his or her job with rigorous imagination and cohesive playable dialogue, an actor is left with nothing but living the writer's vision, instead of having to create something around some bad writing.

So, when 44 Inch Chest came across the counter while entering it into the system for rental, having heard nothing about it previously, my first instinct was to wonder where the hell I had been. "From the writers of SEXY BEAST," reads the case. What!!? Sexy (mother-effing-bad-ass) Beast, easily one of my favourite films for both writing and performance. One of those films I must watch once a year to remind me of how cool film can be. Also on the case of 44 Inch Chest lists an ensemble cast containing four of my most admired film actors of all time. John Hurt, who's performance in 1984 still chills me with his nuanced oppression in the infamous Big Brother bound world of the Orwellian film adaptation; Ian McShane, who's Deadwood balls-to-the-wall performance as Swearengen might be one of the most entertainingly rich characters ever; Ian Wilkinson, who I still think should have won Best Supporting Actor back in 2008 for his perfectly constructed performance of a manic lawyer descending into insanity in Michael Clayton; and the topper, Sexy Beast vet, Ray Winstone, who first blew me away with his portrayal of the ultimate low-life of low-lives, in Gary Oldman's directorial debut Nil by Mouth, in which if you just want to watch Ray Winstone get drunk and pissed off, this is a much better film than 44 Inch Chest.
So these four down right awesome actors, in a film by the same writers of an utterly captivating gangster film, that will forever pick up steam in it's cult status. It can't be bad. It just can't. The equation is just too damn steady.

You know that feeling you get when you pick up a cup and start downing it thinking it's a glass of water and it turns out to be day old coffee that's just below room temperature?

I can give it to the writers only for the premise, one of which I can relate to, only imaginatively of course... Dude gets cheated on by his wife, he gets drunk, gets his buddies together and beats the shit out of the guy who his wife has been banging, with the ultimate intention of killing him. The possibilities are endless for the exploration of what 'honour' may or may not be in these modern times.
No bite on that one.

There is simply no structure to this film whatsoever: beginning, middle, and end - pretty sure that one's covered in any elementary writing class, let alone the five act play structure. There is no rhyme or reason given to the history of these guys knowing each other and to top it why they are so dedicated to Winstone's character's nihilistic revenge plan. The dialogue is trite and excessive, riddled with monologues that have a disgusting feeling of therapeutic vomit, and granted they are performed quite well, particularly McShane's character's diatribe on his callous relationship to love, they are still excessive and unsupported by any real story.

We all know that feeling of really looking forward to seeing something. We set aside a night, we make tacos, we lock the kids in their bedrooms, we hit 'ignore' on the cellphone when our family and friends call, get into the PJs and under the blanky, turn the lights down just right and hit play on the player... and then the movie just down right sucks. Well yeah. 44 inches of... well... just a big fat ass disappointment. I just felt sorry for the film.

Toronto Underground Cinema

This is going to be so dope.  I haven't been this excited for a film-related event in a long time.  Best of luck to these guys (who also happen to be Kris' buddies, and one is Tom's BFF/occasional blog commenter Mr. Scratch).  I, for one, pledge to be a regular patron, providing they can deliver on the promise of the programmers and the space.  Can I put in an advance request for midnight cult/horror screenings on the weekends?  I believe in The Toronto Underground Cinema...

You know, a waste of time, but a good idea.

Whenever I start to get bored watching American films, I spend an hour or two researching the latest Asian movie breakouts, wander down to Chinatown with my little list and grab what I can. It never fails to re-up my love for cinema. I was reading the Globe this morning and they had a piece on the Hong Kong Film Awards where Shi yue wei cheng (Bodyguards and Assassins) basically swept the major categories. Sure enough, a quick reconnoiter to Spadina and I had a Blu-Ray copy ($39.99) from my favourite legit DVD shop (yes, one does indeed exist) and a burn of another award winner called Accident ($2.00).

The plot of B&A revolves around a group of volunteer bodyguards given the task of defending Sun Yat-sen, the person who founded Modern China from assassins from the evil ruling Qing Dynasty. Funny, I thought that was Mao Zedong, but what the hell do I know? They all look the same to me. The first half of the film is less an action flick than a period ensemble drama where each of the characters is introduced and the final hour, an action free-for-all. Set in Hong Kong in 1906 with the sets incredibly rendered right down to the tiniest detail and a large cast of impressive actors, B&A is a breath of fresh air - old fashioned and kind of quaint in a way only Chinese filmmakers seem to aim for these days.

I find it frustrating that North Americans can't seem to get into Chinese filmmaking because the learning curve is an easy one. There's a simplicity and purity of storytelling in their films that harkens back to earlier days of American filmmaking. I wonder if a “recommended wall” of the best of them wouldn't be a good idea. You know, a waste of time, but a good idea. Notwithstanding a truly bizarre language, the stories are typically deeply sentimental and generally about honour, friendship, love and kicking the bad guy's ass. I mean... what more do you want in a movie? An actress named Fan Bing Bing is in B&A too, as if you needed another reason to watch this. I'll grab a DVD copy next time I'm down there so you guys can/but won't watch it (Red Cliff anyone?) I'll bet almost none of you watched Mad Detective either? I will get a B&A DVD anyways... you know, a waste of time, but a good idea.

Tomorrow night – Accident – a terrific-sounding modern thriller where an assassin stages incredibly complex “accidents” for his victims. I'll be taking notes for Kadas's upcoming accidental beheading if his fucking bike isn't out of the FBE storage room next time I'm over there. As for Jules, I think I'll just have to wait and hope the odds are in my favour (they seem to be). Planning some elaborate streetcar derailment incident where the right twin gets tagged as the rave lets out might be just too damn complicated. ... you know, a waste of time, but a good idea.

But isn't it interesting that Justin Davey just disappeared one day.
Sleep tight.


Subtitled Japanese film about Death.


.....would be my guess.



I Liked Bridges Over This Troubled Movie.

After about 20 minutes of Crazy Heart, you begin to understand why it was originally destined for cable and not theatrical release. It's a film we've all seen before and it's based on the lyrics of every 3-chord Blues tune you've ever heard. I've been down so long I'm lookin' up to see the bottom. Notwithstanding an all-that-it's-cracked-up-to-be performance from Jeff Bridges, quite frankly, I preferred this film when it was called The Wrestler and starred Mickey Rourke last year. The plots are nearly identical.

Bridges, however, is just too damn good here and it's for this reason alone that Fox Searchlight dug Crazy Heart out of the direct-to-video bin, dusted it off and got it into the theatres late last year. That the film doesn't quite measure up to Bridges' all-in performance as down and out country singer Bad Blake isn't a big deal. I certainly sat through worse. I read a scathing comment on IMDb.com from a someone who thought the Maggie Gyllenhaal love interest character was insulting to women. Why, they asked, would a young professional woman fall for this boozy old drunk? The writer chalked it up to male fantasy film making and they may have a point.

Or do they? If there's ever been a living doppelganger for Bridges' Bad Blake, it's my old pal Brad. They look almost identical, both drink like fishes, talk with the same charming southern cowboy drawl and say “darlin'” a lot in bars. Brad has spent his life chasing a myriad of woman who should have, and likely did, know better off his front porch. Over 60+ years he's had a string of relationships a mile long with everyone from world famous art restorers (he married that one, and to be fair, for a long time), star chefs (he also married one of the two he dated, albeit briefly), one of the girls from CBC's As It Happens, a bunch of attractive (and much younger) professional women, and even my sister for a short time. They were all seemingly enamored with his bad boy self, which makes me wonder just how far off-base this bit of Crazy Heart really is. It may be a male fantasy but plenty of women seem just as taken with the kind of character Bridges portrays here. I have a feeling the title might give some indication that this might even be the point of the film.

Crazy Heart is worth a watch for Bridges' excellent performance. It's got some good moments and the songs are pretty decent, even if you don't love either kind of music. T-Bone Burnett creates an authentic score and I think Bridges is actually singing those songs and doing a pretty good job too. Everyone else in the film is window dressing. They all play their parts well, but this is Bridge's movie. It'll remind of Jessica Lange's Oscar winning performance in Blue Sky (1994) if you've seen it. Searing performances in deadly average films.

And a quick hats-off to Robert Duvall. If ever an actor made everyone around him just a little bit better, it's him. He's rarely the lead, but always memorable and he hasn't stopped working since To Kill a Mockingbird nearly 50 years ago. Man I like that guy.



Franchises Available!

I drove past this little number today and after a brief struggle to regain control of my gag reflex, got to wondering what people with ugly babies do. Where do they shop? Do retail outlets aimed at merely average or, heaven forbid, below average babies exist? It's a valid question, isn't it?

I was reminded of the latest monthly DVD buyer's guide sent with last week's E1 order which identified each of about 50 or 60 upcoming releases with a “Reviewer's Grade”, I presume a sort of MetaCritic-styled summary of what various reviewers said about each film. The odd thing was the scale – Excellent, Very Good, Good and Average. Statistically, this just can't be. “Average” can't – but definition – be the lowest rating. It would seem we grade babies similarly. Impossibly, they all seem above average.

To expand upon this statistical anomaly, what if a baby is real good looking, but intellectually hopeless? What if they're not creative and just sit there, like little pink paper weights or something you use to prop the back door open? I think we're putting a lot of pressure on babies if we demand they all be above average. Are all the below average babies somewhere else? Is somewhere like Bulgaria or Orillia festooned with them and if so, what are their baby stores called? Hello Useless! Hey Dullard!

I think there's a huge opportunity here to focus an alternate Toronto baby store on merely adequate, homely, uncreative and/or marginal babies. The parents of these challenged little tykes would feel less intimidated in such a place and not have to hide their babies under blankets and in cat carriers anymore.

I'm certain this idea has legs with the right marketing strategy. A big weekly baby swap where you could trade up or something like that perhaps? The possibilities are endless.

Food for thought if the DVD industry completely tanks. We rent tons of shitty movies, so I think we're well-positioned to take that experience and build on it in a new ugly baby venture.  


An [alleged] actual exchange [never happened] at The Film Buff East between me and The Killer [Kris] I work with.

The Killer: Hey manz, have you heard about that banskie film?
Me: Uh?
The Killer: Yeah, check this out. There making a banskie films manz!
Me: What?
The Killer: Yeah! They've announceded it and things.
Me: What...
The Killer: Uh-huh! *pelvic thrusts*
Me:... Butter my arse, what on earth are you talking about?
The Killer: ..................
Me: What the shit is a banskie film!?
The Killer: You know, that street artist, Banskie?

So, apparently there's a Banksy documentary on the way. And the trailer looks truly great, see:

Believe me, this whole conversation does pale somewhat when heard next to Kris's rant about some guy named "Bob Hopskins". Yes, Hopskins. But wait! Then The Killer outdoes everyone by lecturing me on how after the Joy Division singer died they morphed into Depeche Mode, who were apparently even better. Amazing. Niki for manager.

Big River Man

 "Complex Times Call for Complex Heros"

A couple of gems notwithstanding, the last 20 or so documentaries I've sat through have left me feeling like the genre had been played out a little. Then along came Big River Man, a film that everyone should watch immediately, if not sooner because they don't get much better than this. This is a jangling, rough-around-the-edges near-masterpiece, rewardingly bizarre and completely riveting. The cinematography alone is worth the effort but what makes this one great is its subject: Slovenian endurance swimming Martin Strel. The best writers couldn't conjure up a more unusual and colourful character.

The story starts off lightly, introducing us to this flamboyant nutjob who seems a nearly perfect amalgam of the Homer Simpson, Leonid Brezhnev and Aquaman. He drinks two bottle of wine a day, is 52 years old and has the physique of Pavarotti. The film follows his crazy attempt to swim the length of the Amazon river. The final half of the film turns darker as Strel's physical and mental deterioration gives the film a Joseph Conrad quality and it remains uncertain where this long, winding journey might end.

While a little over-narrated and a lot over-scored, Big River Man is never less than completely engaging. At the heart of the story is an environmental message that finds its voice in the quirky and slightly mad undertakings of an offbeat, real-life, pissed superhero.  
Great stuff and an easy recommendation to almost anyone.



Taxidermia to the Dark Side (aka Not Well Hungarians)

Based on a series of glowing reviews for Hungarian director György Pálfi's film Taxidermia, I ordered 3 copies for the FBW a month or so ago. I'd seen, and very much liked, his 2002 debut Hukkle, an engagingly bizarre tale of life and death in a small village. Packed with interesting, off-kilter visuals and bold style, this decidedly-experimental art house film worked as a strange amalgam of a Coen Brothers murder mystery by way of Stan Laurel and Microcosmos.

After such a unique and promising first film, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Pálfi's followup Taxidermia - but it certainly wasn't this. I'd read that it contained some disturbing imagery and told the story of three generations of Hungarian men: Vendel, a soldier during World War II; his son Kálmán, a competitive eater during the Cold War period; and Kálmán's son Lajos, a taxidermist living in the current day. To say that Taxidermia contains “some disturbing images” is a little like suggesting you shouldn't swim in (or gargle with) raw sewage. It is far and away the most disturbing and gruesome movie I've ever seen. It's ranks in the upper half of Reed's top 100 grossest film list – so that tells you all you need to know. Weak stomachs = stay clear.

The trouble is, Taxidermia is also extremely well done, which brings me to a bit of a conundrum as to how to review it. The line that separates art from exploitation is an entirely subjective one and everyone's definition of what constitutes a work of art varies. An extreme work like Taxidermia is meant to challenge that definition, but does that justify it? The problem with this film is it pushes the boundaries so far that any frame of reference or benchmark you can conjure up doesn't help put the film in any context. It takes David Cronenberg's body-horror-motif and then multiplies it by 1,000, grafting it onto some Pythonesque Mr. Creosote-era black comedy, so you don't just get up and turn it off after about about 5 minutes of flaming penis candle sex. It's graphic anatomical horror imagery is simply beyond the pale and what's left is a concentrated 90 minute assault on the senses. Pálfi obsesses with body parts, organs, vomit, meat, eviscerations, disembowelments, and the wraps it up with an spectacle of self-mutilation/ taxidermy that I wish I'd never seen.

And now the upsides. There aren't any.....but that isn't to say that this film doesn't have its fair share of bona fide cinematic qualities. The direction, acting and cinematography, for example, are all stellar. What I think it lacks is a reason to exist, for lack of a better way to say it. The experience of watching Taxidermia is simply a revolting endurance test, and while the darkly-comic Eastern European undertones of the plot help mitigate the endlessly sickening visuals, I was left wondering what I could possibly take away from it. At the risk of understating the filmmaker's obvious (and perhaps even successful, although I didn't give a shit) attempts to tell a deeply-allegorical story about life in miserable post-war Hungary, the only reason I can think of to endure this film is to redefine a new absolute outer limit of where a filmmaker can take the form and to say that you've seen it.

And that simply wasn't enough. Beyond delineating a new wincing, yuck-factor extreme and upping the ante from films like Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989), in spite of its singular and unforgettable style, Taxidermia is simply too grotesque to watch. It's been hyper-inflated by a goodly number of film critics who seem to want to be on the other side of the “art film” divide from the typical film fan. If you've ever seen a Sandra Bullock film and/or think George Clooney is the best actor working today, don't even touch the Taxidermia DVD case. It will likely ruin everything you've meticulously built your modern hipster existence upon and turn you into a drooling vegetable, rocking on a chair and muttering utter nonsense to no one in particular.

And then who'll walk the dogs and get coffees from Cherry Bomb?



Miss Information - It's as if the Film Buff took place in a library...

I know it may be a little annoying with Miss Information speaking about herself in the third person but I do enjoy the customer stories! Scott's (and our) customer complaints are funnier, but this is really worth reading too!


Vote Niki for Film Buff East Manager!

Who will be my campaign manager?!

(Shaun has given the first vote for Candidate Niki Ross)

Breaking: a staff member has gone rogue in Mejico

Holiday Blackouts

Summer Vacation.

The following dates have been booked off already and are unavailable. If you plan to take vacation time this spring/summer, please forward your proposed dates and we'll get them on the schedule. First come, first serve.

These are taken......

Kris's 57th through 61st day off in the past 12 months (I shit you not... I counted).
Thursday April 22nd to Monday April 26th

Tom Rochester's sister's wedding to a different Tom Rochester
Wednesday April 28th to May 5th

Jola's yearly vacation - short but sweet this year
Sunday May 16th to Sunday May 23rd

Nikki's joking first 2.5 weeks of July off was replaced with an apparently legitimate request for the first 2.5 weeks of June off this afternoon. I have veto'd that but have agreed to June 7th thru 17th.

Nick's Greek Adventure
Saturday June 26th to Sunday July 11th

Of the 9 weekends from May 1st to July 15th, Kendall apparently needs fully 1/3 of them off.
Friday May 14 to Sunday May 16
Friday June 4th to Sunday June 6
Friday July 9 to Sunday July 11th (Start looking for somebody to cover this one K)

Is getting yet another raise for being committed and countable uponable every single time.


Jesse Donald "Don" Knotts (July 21, 1924 – February 24, 2006) R.I.P. Barney


Lost Kubrick Film Dr. Zero Revealed as Elaborate Hoax!

You Keep the Faith...Marjoe Keeps the Money

In 1948 Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner of Long Beach, California became an ordained preacher for the pentecostal church. He was four years old.
A gifted preacher, Marjoe reached some fame and notoriety in the American South and earned his parents an estimated $3,000,000 before the novelty had worn off in his teen years. It was around this time that Marjoe became part of the Hippie movement and took stock of what had happened to him, his childhood and the money he never saw.
At twenty and struggling to get by, Marjoe fell back on his greatest talent and again began to preach. He wasn't a true believer, but they believed in him. They flocked to see his Jagger swaggering sermons and paid well for the privilege.

This documentary joins Marjoe in 1971 when he is 23 years old. A crisis of conscience has led him to not only give up preaching for good, but also to show us the preaching racket as it really is. We follow Marjoe for one final tour with a documentary crew under the guise of promoting the church. The film introduces the real Marjoe through a series of interviews interspersed with footage of the sermons he holds. The contrast between the two sides of his character is quite startling and to have this captured on film is quite special, some might say it's a small ironically occurring miracle. The content here was so powerful that at the time it wasn't distributed in many of the southern states. That didn't stop it taking the 1972 Best Documentary Oscar and although it did fade into obscurity for a while, in 2002 the original negative print was found and recaptured for digital release.

Marjoe is a charismatic lead, talking us through his life story and giving us a window into this world. He has an implicit understanding of preaching techniques and the lucrative business behind the scenes. What is shown here feels like full disclosure, we see Marjoe briefing the crew on how to act when in church or that they should cut their hair to fit in. We see his home life and relationships, his real life outside the church and his on stage persona. I read that he was looking to become an actor (and did, sort of) and to leave this life behind him and game some publicity this film was made. Utterly unique and as relevant as ever. Even today it embarrasses the born again crowd better than Jesus Camp and that's saying something. Of course when it comes to the religious right nothing has changed, it's only gotten bigger.

Looks like those looming pay-cuts can be deferred for a couple more weeks.

Thanks to everyone for their extra efforts this weirdly busy Easter weekend. They were much appreciated by Donna and I. Solid work kids.

Praise Jesus.


In my Flashforward, there's a different series playing in this timeslot.

One of the only new network shows to make a bit of a splash last fall was ABC's Flashforward, a mixed bag of sci-fi, mystery and drama meant to fill the void left by Lost when it come to a conclusion at the end of the current season. The series went on a little sabbatical after airing 10 episodes (apparently to avoid the Olympics) and the final 10 episodes are now airing. The first half of the season 1 was released on DVD without much fanfare in early March in what looks like a shameless attempt by the network to cash in on the shows budding popularity.

First off, a word about the DVD production values. I'm pretty sure this is the worst-produced DVD I've ever seen with a handful of crappy promos and a series of graphics and menus seemingly designed for the Atari Game System, circa 1986. Where the hell did they find the people that think this is a worthy presentation of what is surely an important show to ABC's ongoing bottom line? It must be seen to be believed. The worst. Fortunately, the actual episodes are nicely presented, which I suppose is the important part anyways. The rest of it need to be redone by professionals. Sadly, you can see why ABC and the other networks are becoming less and less relevant. They just don't seem to understand how to package and market their product.

But enough bitching. Flashforward is a loose adaptation of an obscure sci-fi novel written by Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer, incidentally a Canadian. The original novel was set in the U.K. (I think), but the series producers have moved it to the Land of the Free because, quite frankly, they paid for it. The premise is relatively straight forward – the entire population of the world blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds during which they see (or don't, but we'll come to that) 2 minutes and 17 seconds of their lives from 6 months into the future. The main plot thread has Joseph Fiennes playing an FBI agent who sees himself in front of a huge bulletin board full of clues and on the verge of discovering why the big blackout occurred. Bad guys with guns are looming in darkened hallways obviously intent on doing him future harm ….and then he wakes back up in the present, in a car accident.

From this brief premonition, Agent Fiennes starts to piece together little bits of the his future clue board with fragments discovered in the present and it offers up a strange little mindfuck of circular causality. Clues he wouldn't have recognized as important are included because of his flash forward recollection, giving one pause to consider how accurate this 2+ minute future glimpse might be. His partner, Sulu from the new Star Trek, doesn't have any memory of his own flash forward and starts to believe he must be dead before the 6 months is up. Fiennes' doctor wife recalls being with a different man in her version and so on. It's a story with great potential as the viewer is unaware in the early proceedings whether the flashforwards are accurate and whether or not alternate actions can change or prevent them from occurring.

All this sounds rather engaging but after about 4 episodes, the central premise started to wear a bit thin. The plot oscillates between genuinely interesting moments of weird paradox....es and pretentious soap-opera filler used to glue it all together. There's far too many children (2) in it for my liking, both uttering cryptic stock “bad people are coming” lines, from their own little glimpses into the future. As geek-TV goes, Flashforward is just too mainstream to satisfy either the BSG or Lost fanboys. As mainstream fare, it's too far-fetched for the average Spokane-Oprah-watcher. As the first season wraps up, I wonder if it can find its legs because the concept is a pretty cool one. Grafting a family drama, complete with whining little children onto it's sci-fi undercarriage has badly cobbled the early episodes in my estimation, but maybe they'll recover in the final half of the first season. So far, it's about a 6 outta 10, give or take.



Easter Weekend Viewing

Stingray Sam (2009)

Thanks to Joe for putting me on to (and acquiring the DVD of) Cory McAbee's newish Stingray Sam. For those who don't know McAbee by name, he was responsible for writing and directing the exquisite Sci-fi/Western/Musical The American Astronaut a few years back. Stingray Sam is a bit of a departure from the feature-length Astronaut, but in its own way it's a charming, albeit a little less rounded, sophomore effort from McAbee. The six 10 minute episodes that make up Stingray Sam's adventures left me satisfied but wanting for more. Perhaps we'll get some further adventures down the road. Like The American Astronaut, Stingray Sam is an amalgam of Western and Sci-Fi themes with some great, catchy tunes and a loose weirdly-funny story that involves rescuing a little kidnapped girl. If you can imagine David Lynch producing and Guy Maddin directing an episode of Josh Whedon's Firefly and then intersperse it with Terry Gilliam's Python-era cutout animation and you might start to get a sense of Stingray Sam. I'm not sure it's fantastic or anything but it certainly captured my attention. Fresh and inventive and a complete 180 degree turn from the CGI and 3D buffoonery of Hollywood's latest slate of event movies.

Mesrine, Parts 1 & 2
Killer Instinct/Public Enemy No. 1 (2008) PAL Import 

As many of you know, I'm particularly fond of solid French crime films. There's something about the French variation on classic American gangster flicks that just gets me going. Back in the '50s and '60s, Jean-Pierre Melville (and a host of other directors) reworked standard American crime motifs and made them their own. The results were stunning – cold-as-ice French criminals in hardass films drained of their colour and morality. Count me in! Mesrine writer/director Jean-François Richet, whose previous credits include that lackluster remake of John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, has gone a slightly different route than his predecessors, drawing instead from the Marty Scorsese-style of '90s American crime film making. Mesrine reminds of the epic-scaled Goodfella's/Casino era in its episodic structure and long rise-and-fall story arc.

A little back story on the character helps setup the plot. Jacques Mesrine was France's most notorious and famous contemporary gangster. The film follows his life from his time as a young soldier in Algeria to his rise as a petty Parisian thief and through his fame as an international criminal in the '70s. Strangely, a good number of those years were spent in Quebec - which I had no idea about - and much of the first part of the film is set there. He was a significant figure in Quebec in the late '60s having been involved in everything from kidnapping to bank robberies to prison escapes and was even loosely connected with the FLQ. I'll admit to a little embarrassment that I knew none of this going in. The Canadian and Quebec funding credits made a bit more sense once this became clear.

Mesrine is played by a perfectly-cast Vincent Cassel who infuses the character with both a mesmerizing, airy charm and a brutal, violent nastiness. The film pull no punches and succeeds admirably in balancing on the fine line between presenting Mesrine as an endlessly captivating figure while avoiding falling into the trap of glorifying his mostly-heinous actions. The first film is by necessity a tad procedural but the second is a gem. Not surprisingly, the first film feels a little too American in its structure and pacing at times while the second slows down the story and the whole project seems to return to its French roots. In addition to Cassel, the supporting cast is strong. Gérard Depardieu plays a crime boss and he's as big as a house here. Closer to home, Canadian actor Roy Dupuis (who played Romeo Dallaire in Shake Hands With The Devil and Maurice Richard in The Rocket) is excellent as Mesrine's co-criminal pal during his Quebec days.

It's certainly not without its flaws, but Richet, Cassel and Co. deliver a top-notch bit of violent escapism framed in an interesting story about a charismatic lunatic. Given our funding of this well-executed film, it's a little disappointing that the only way to see it is to order a copy from fucking Britain of all places. Typical.


The Magical World of Disney (and 5 others)

Depending on who you believe, the business side of making movies is either heading into, or already waist-deep in the shitter. But didn't Avatar just gross $5 trillion smackaroos, you ask? Well yes, but in the zero-sum game of theatrical seat sales, Avatar's gain was 500 other film's loss, because the 2009 Hollywood Cream pie is still roughly the same size. Jimbo Cameron and 20th Century Fox just got a gigantic piece of it last year. Things are not rosy in the land of make-believe and Lamborghinis because individually and collectively, the big studios that rule Hollywood these days have painted themselves into a corner and they don't have many options - except to carry on down the Avatar path. To figure out how this came to be , you need to dig into the way in which studios operate these days.

Sometime during the last 20 years, the weekend box office grosses that we read and hear about on Monday morning turned into a news item. Even the most stunned of the humans, drones with $700 unpaid Rogers bills and new smart phones they can't afford, can tell you, to the dollar, what How to Train Your Dragon grossed yesterday ($4,803,028, btw). In the not-so-old days (say, circa-1990), box office grosses might have been mentioned at the end of the year in conjunction with some breakout blockbuster, but what a particular film grossed on a particular weekend went unreported because at the end of the day, it doesn't mean anything.

The seemingly huge takes reported on opening weekends are wildly misleading, as the cost of making, distributing and showing new movies almost always far exceeds what they earn during their theatrical runs. Strange as it might seem to the old studio honchos, theatres stopped being the place where movies made money years, if not decades ago. In 1947, 4.7 billion (yes, billion) movie tickets were sold in America. 100% of the money a studio earned from it's film properties came from the tickets sold at the theatre. The average film cost just $550,000 to make and distribute and $300,000 to market (expressed in today's dollars, before you ask).

If we slide forward to 2010, the U.S. population has doubled and yet the tickets sold last year totaled fewer than 1.6 billion. The average movie now costs $4.2 million to make and an astonishing $35 million to market. So in real terms (and expressed in today's adjusted dollars), the average movie now costs 8 times as much to make and 116(!) times as much to market as it did 60 years ago. Ticket sales are a quarter of what they were, even though the population is twice as large. Not surprisingly, ticket sales now account for a mere 18% of the studios' average world wide revenues. So where does the other 82% come from?

This is where it starts to get interesting. The lion's share of a film's revenue has come in recent years from licensing their films for various forms of home viewing. The term the studios' use is “intellectual properties” and it includes DVD's, broadcast, cable fees, and selling spin-offs like dolls, video games, magazines and other assets mined from the film. In recent decades, this cash-cow has generated most of the revenue realized by the companies who make films. The former Hollywood dream factory (the original Hollywood studios known as The Big 7 - MGM, RKO, Paramount, Columbia, Fox, Universal and Warner Bros) are long gone having been replaced by a new Big Six (Time Warner, Viacom, Fox, Sony, NBC Universal and Disney). At the risk of sounding a tad paranoid, the reach of this new quasi-conglomerate-circle-jerk of global entertainment companies is downright creepy. Collectively, they own all 6 American broadcast networks and around 80 cable networks, control 96% of the product that reaches the prime time TV audience, own every major and most “independent” U.S. film studios, own 90% of the video game market, many of the continent's cell phone and internet networks and control nearly every consumer publication and most of the major internet entertainment websites. In short, they are big brother and they control everything you can think of in the entertainment world. Movies earn a very, very small percentage of their total revenues but remain their principle source of prestige, which is why they still make them.

The main task of today's studio is to collect fees for the use of the “intellectual properties” they control in one form or another and then to allocate those fees among the parties (including themselves) who create, develop, market, and finance the properties. It is now essentially a service organization, a dream clearinghouse for lack of a better term. As clearinghouses, they are very different creatures from their predecessors, and this difference is as apparent from looking at their financial reporting as it is from looking at their products. They produce two kinds of product these days – blockbuster/event/franchise pictures, where they make their money and prestige pictures (primarily though their subsidiaries), where they earn their bragging rights and awards. They own the marketing companies that get paid to promote the films they produce, which in part explains why the cost to market a movie has risen by 116,000% over the past 60 year. They get that money too, but they don't have to share it with anyone else.

The first product category - blockbuster/event/franchises – more often than not, make money. Breakout hits can earn huge returns because they're aimed at the children, teenagers and increasingly-childlike “adults” who buy most of the spin-off products generated from them. The first Harry Potter made a respectable $300 plus million at the theatres, but netted $1.2 billion after all the “intellectual properties” were properly exploited. DVD sales alone accounted for over $430 million in bottom line revenue. If you ever wonder why this year's average film is slightly worse than last year's, look no further than here. The studios make their bread and butter producing increasingly-stupid, lowest-common-denominator product for the masses to consume. The stories are very nearly identical, increasingly relying on an orgy of CGI, dull whimp-rises-up-and-defeats-evil plot retreads, the same music, look and style and the same fantasy happy endings. The spin-off potential rules supreme and the money has rolled in using this formula for years now.

The second product category (which could essentially by referred to as “art” films) typically lose big sums of money for the studios that produce them. It's actually rather astonishing that so many of these pictures get made because as profit centres, they lower every studios' bottom line. The Big Six eat these losses and underwrite “art” films because their executives seek, along with strictly commercial projects and Bentleys, films that are likely to attract the sort of actors, directors, awards and media response that will help them maintain their standing in the community. As obvious and persuasive as the event/blockbuster formula is from a cash standpoint, it doesn't satisfy the exec's appetite for prestige and recognition. Vanity Fair indeed.

But all that is changing. The economics and trick accounting that have played such a huge part in generating lucrative returns in recent decades is threatened by several fundamental market changes playing out in today's market. The audience for their product has fragmented across an increasingly-crowded entertainment field and even though Avatar drew record numbers to the theatres in 2009/2010, many projects anticipated to gross big numbers, didn't. The biggest single contributor to the slide in studio revenue however, has been the collapse of DVD sales in the past two years. In the middle of the recent economic debacle, consumers are simply unable (or unwilling) to afford the cost of purchasing endless home video editions and a growing number of their biggest target audience - teenagers and young adults - have turned to downloading. Problem? Well, yes and no. With downloading comes massive revenue from internet connection fees and cable companies reap huge returns from downloads too. The wider the bandwidth required, the more it costs and guess who owns the cable companies? That's right....the Big 6. Coming and going, the returns, either from legitimate or “illegal” means continue to flow back to the same studios that produced the product in the first place. They're like the mob.

The downside, the painting themselves into a corner part, boils down to this: As the studios' haven't needed to produce much in the way of decent films (because the economic leverage they've had allowed the extraction huge returns from mediocre blockbuster product anyways), they've forgotten how to make good movies. The old studio system made their share of dogs too, but more often than not, much of what they produced was remarkably good. They had to be because the film's theatrical showing was the only source of potential revenue they had at their disposal. These days, it becomes more and more difficult (and crazy-expensive) to produce bigger and bigger pictures (productions designed to give the “intellectual properties” real legs as future revenue streams) for a declining market. This decline is directly related to the slow downward quality trend, which leads to reduced audiences and reduced profits. As their bottom lines continue to drop, it's likely that we'll start to see the number of "prestige pictures" studios are willing to bankroll drop as well. It looks entirely possible that studios will be forced to move most, if not all of their attention to producing increasingly fewer (but far larger) event productions because it's the only real source of revenue they have at their disposal. That's the Avatar effect. As depressing as that may sound, I think that's what the tea leaves are saying and it doesn't bode well for American film making over the next few years. The business of making Hollywood films is in a death spiral because the commodity at the heart of the industry matters less and less as time marches on. The “product” is turning into an advertising vehicle for a process that exploits and draws it's profits from what surrounds the actual work and not the work itself.

Fans of cinema are facing some lean years ahead and will increasingly have to rely on foreign fare underwritten by governments seeking cultural currency and intellectual protection from the dozy Hollywood films set to invade their theatres next year and the year after that. Get used to reading subtitles kids, because this summer's Prince of Persia just isn't going to stoke your film passion much. I'm girding myself for exactly one comment from Joe on this tome, so not to worry. I was going to Twitter the rest of you until I learned I could only use 144 characters, or something like that. It would have read.....

“Depending on who you believe, the business side of making movies is either heading into, or already waist-deep in the shitter. But didn't Avatar”