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Reed Waller's Omaha the Cat Dancer

This unpublished page by Reed Waller from Omaha the Cat Dancer is one of the images Apple doesn't want on your iPhone.
I think my iPhone is a great piece of hardware, but here's the kind of thing that makes me think twice about giving Apple my money. In this interview from Print magazine's Imprint blog, Kim Munson talks about an iOS and Android app she developed called Comix Classics: Underground Comics based on Underground Classics: The Transformation of Comics into Comix, a book and exhibition on the history of underground comic-book art. The Android version is complete; there is no review process for apps published in the Android marketplace. The iPad version, happily, is also complete. But the iPhone version is missing 16 specific images that Apple demanded be removed before the app could be approved. … [read more]
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Red Dead Redemption panel The videogame community made an important outreach effort to movie nerds on Wednesday night, as representatives from Rockstar Games made the trek into Westchester County, New York, to demo their current release, the open-world Western adventure Red Dead Redemption, for the arthouse crowd. Presided over by erstwhile New York Times movie critic Janet Maslin, the game night was an unusual booking for the Burns Film Center, which is more inclined to host filmmaker chats with the likes of Werner Herzog and Jonathan Demme. Props to the powers that be at the Burns for recognizing that Red Dead Redemption is freaking awesome and giving Rockstar a venue for showing a bunch of hardcore film people (not to mention all the hip youngsters who brought hard copies of the game to be autographed by the Rockstar crew) what's up in the increasingly expansive world of interactive entertainment. … [read more]
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790_precious.jpg For tonight's screening of Precious at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY — the neighborhood arthouse serving Deep Focus World Headquarters in Sleepy Hollow — a woman had driven down from somewhere upstate. She spoke up during the post-screening Q&A to congratulate director Lee Daniels on generating alternative multiplex fare (specifically, she mentioned Couples Retreat as the poison for which a helping of Precious might be an antidote), but also to ask him whether his portrayal of the film's African-American single-mom household as a kind of hell on earth generated any hand-wringing among the black community. Daniels deflected the question by playing provocateur, teasing the audience with a mention of his next likely project, Selma, which looks at Martin Luther King and Lyndon B. Johnson. "We see King as we've never seen him before," Daniels promised, then added wickedly, "So wait til you see that." … [read more]
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728_watchmen.jpgI'm not usually a devoted follower of the ratings at Rotten Tomatoes, but looking at advance reviews of Watchmen this week, I started to wonder: has there ever been a greater disparity between the tracked "T-Meter Critics" (a quite inclusive pool of online and print reviewers) and the so-called "Top Critics" (a more elite, print-centric pool of big-name writers)? As I type this, the fim's "T-Meter Critics" rating is a very respectable 73%, which indicates that of all those reviews, 73 percent are at least marginally positive. But the corresponding "Top Critics" rating is only 14 percent.

Granted, the "Top Critics" sampling is much smaller. Essentially, 14% means that, out of seven writers, only Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly liked the film (he gave it an unenthusiastic B-). But it seems like there's something happening here, with the larger group — mainly onliners — admiring the film and the body of more traditional critics dismissing it outright. (Before a screening of a different film yesterday morning, I overheard a conversation that started like this: CRITIC A: I saw Watchmen last night. CRITIC B: Piece of shit, right?)

I'm seeing it on Thursday night with the rest of fandom (I must be on the Z-list at Warner Bros. because I get cut from screenings of hotly anticipated films like this and The Dark Knight) so I don't have an opinion yet. Despite my distaste at the prospect of sitting through another hypertrophied 300-style adaptation, I do love Watchmen and so I'd love for this film to be awesome — even partly awesome, or awesome in compromised ways. My fingers will be crossed. … [read more]
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It's not exactly the hip neighborhood, but working out of Deep Focus World Headquarters in Sleepy Hollow, NY, has its advantages. One of them is the proximity of the Jacob Burns Film Center, an arthouse triplex in nearby Pleasantville that's several times more comfy than any similar venue in Manhattan. (Well, with the possible exception of the fairly posh Sunshine Cinemas downtown. And the similarly appointed IFC Center, also downtown. But you get my meaning.) Tonight, the Burns center hosted Werner Herzog for a screening of his documentary about Antarctic research stations and the scientists who inhabit them, Encounters at the End of the World. In the course of a highly entertaining Q&A, he held forth on his Bad Lieutenant remake, described his rescue of Joaquin Phoenix in early 2006, and told the audience what he really thinks about film theory. … [read more]
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Over at my day job, I've done new interviews with Wong Kar Wai ...

The visual style of your films [shot with DP Christopher Doyle] — the saturated colors, the way the camera moves, looking through glass or at reflections — is very much present in My Blueberry Nights. What specifically is in the frame, how should the colors look — is that a conversation that you had with [DP] Darius Khondji?

WONG KAR WAI: Not so much about that. Darius is a very sensitive DP and very talented. And also, given the schedule and the locations that we shot in, it seems to me the final look of the film was a natural choice. When we shot in New York, the restaurant was so small it was hard to squeeze in all these cameras and a big crew, so we shot mainly [from] outside. It also makes sense to the story, because at that point we are still behind something, to observe what’s going on. And then the frame of the pictures — New York is pretty much like Hong Kong. It’s a vertical city, with vertical lines. And then when the character Elizabeth moves on to other parts of the country, we see the vertical lines become horizontal. And that’s why we shot in Cinemascope [2.35:1 aspect ratio].

We don’t talk much about the framing of things, because I think framing is something the director should be responsible for. It’s a matter of choice, a point of view. And the rest I just leave to Darius.
... and Manda Bala director Jason Kohn, whose film I caught up with -- and liked a lot -- after watching it win big at the Cinema Eye Awards last month.

A lot of documentaries these days seem to be made to argue a specific political point of view. It's like an instrument for mounting an argument rather than —

Somebody from the PBS POV blog [POV series producer Yance Ford, in this post] mentioned that the lowest-rated POV show is seen by more people than 99 percent of the theatrically released documentaries out there. It's a really important point. I don't believe activism is a necessary or even a very useful part of the nonfiction film genre. I don't think nonfiction films were born out of an activist tradition and, quite frankly, I don't think it's an effective forum for activism.

So you don't see your motivation in making your film as activist at all? Or trying to catalyze change?

Absolutely not. No way whatsoever. Let's say the activist's dream scenario came true, and Jader Barbalho was ousted from power, which is the only specific goal that one could possibly, in an alternate reality, expect this movie to have. Nothing would change. The problems in Brazil are institutional. This wasn't about trying to effect change, because I genuinely don't believe documentary film is a great form for that. But I do think it's an important historical marker. It exposes very real connections between large-scale political corruption and violence. But first and foremost I made a film. My personal politics are in there because they are my politics, but I was way more driven by the oddness of the frog farm, the ingenuity of the plastic surgeon, and the opportunity to film in a city that I didn't think many people really understood was as rich or powerful as it is.
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I hadn't realized that music-video director extraordinaire Mark Romanek was attached to helm Universal's big-deal remake of The Wolf Man. But, well, not any more .... Hey, remember that Utah-based cottage industry built around editing violent and salacious bits from DVDs in order to protect the sensibilities of family-minded locals? One of its mini-moguls has been arrested for allegedly paying to get blow jobs from 14-year-olds (original reports said this guy was one of the founders of the core Clean Flicks operation, but apparently he's just a second-stringer and the famous original Clean Flicks is now apparently suing him over the misunderstanding) .... In other decency news, the FCC (citing a 2003 episode of NYPD Blue) has just declared your butt a sex organ .... Also, You Suck at Photoshop .... And, finally, enjoy words from Ghostface Killah and Harlan Ellison (not at the same time or in the same room, mind) on getting paid.

Ghostface


Harlan

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With the arrival of this new R-rated promo-clip montage, it becomes obvious that Warner Independent is still trying to figure out what the fuck to do with Michael Haneke's sure-to-be-unpleasant Funny Games remake. … [read more]
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One of my favorite things about the Manhattan screening rooms where press screenings typically take place is the pitch darkness you fall into before every show. The room dips to an even black — and the best ones are designed thoughtfully enough that you won't even be distracted by a red "Exit" sign during the show. Also the sound is excellent. Reference-level dynamics might not be everybody's cup of tea, but there's a tightness and immediacy to the mix that you just don't get in a larger room, even when that room is properly tuned up for audio.

Sadly, your average multiplex does not boast particularly good sound — nor even a particularly dark room. I grew up in Colorado, and when I moved to New York in 1994 I noticed a definite uptick in presentation quality in Manhattan theaters, where theater management is likely to be hassled by filmmakers themselves if the specs are out of whack. Of course, New York theaters have their peculiarities, too — unidentifiable odors, radically uncomfortable seats and/or angles of sight, sudden explosions of indecipherable verbalese from the octogenarian gentleman in the back row, and the intermittent but unmistakable rumble of subway cars running underneath the floor.

The very best venues in Manhattan tend to get everything right most of the time, and it's a pleasure to see movies in those theaters. In the suburbs where I actually live, that's not the case. The dominant chains (National Amusements and AMC/Loews) have built impressive theaters and come frustratingly close to maintaining standards of exhibition. But almost invariably there's something wrong at every suburban screening, be it soft focus, poor sound, a dirty projector gate, or bad framing. It all gets me thinking about how great it would be if movie-theater patrons actually demanded some level of respect from their multiplex tyrants — but as a practical matter it seems the queen simply expects us to eat cake. I saw Lars and the Real Girl in White Plains, NY, with the picture framed very poorly — the bottom of the image was cut off, and there was too much headroom at the top of the frame, which allowed the regular intrusion of boom mics onto the screen. (This is actually an indicator of Bad Projectionist Syndrome. Read on.) My complaints during the screening and afterward were both ignored.

On the other hand, I did successfully badger the manager on duty in Greenburgh, NY, to get a screening of Casino Royale precisely into frame after some of the opening credits were projected on the black masking below the screen, instead of the screen itself.

Here's my list of things that paying theatergoers deserve — and that careless theater management routinely screws up. If you suspect your local theater is guilty on one or more counts, you can take it up with the theater manager. If you don't like confrontation, or if you just don't get satisfaction, a letter to corporate headquarters may be in order. Often, you'll get an offer of free passes to a future screening in return. It's a nice gesture, but I'd rather pay for the screenings at a theater that gets it right. (It's not impossible — the worst transgression I've ever seen committed at my local arthouse, the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY, was a screening of Rififi that was projected at 1.66:1 instead of the intended 1.37:1, which resulted in the slicing off of eyeballs in the film's centerpiece musical number. I complained afterward by mail and received a quick and apologetic response from management.)

Anyway, be patient with me. This might turn into a little bit of a rant.


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So I just saw the Saturday-night sneak of The Golden Compass and I have to say that while the film's signature polar-bear smackdown is much cooler than just about anything on current release, the last reel represents one of the dumbest things a Hollywood studio has done all year. Yes, Philip Pullman's novel had a cliffhanger ending — but it was an actual ending, and a pretty great one at that. The movie has no ending; it only has a swelling of strings, an extended VFX shot, and a slow fade to black. Kid-flick audiences are likely accustomed to their status as second-class citizens, and non-readers of Pullman's trilogy don't know just how egregious the elision really is (basically, the story's emotional payload has been excised, or at least deferred to the opening reels of a potential second film), but there's something deeply unsatisfying about an ending that explicitly promises a confrontation that it declines to deliver. It represents, I think, a failure of nerve. If Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy was the product of a studio with big, swinging cojones, this is a release from a studio that's scared of its own shadow — a studio that had no business adapting the notoriously problematic His Dark Materials trilogy in the first place.

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Julian Schnabel hit the suburbs tonight, taking the stage at the Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY, along with erstwhile New York Times film critic Janet Maslin after a screening of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for a pleasantly rambling Q&A. Among the topics covered was the real genesis of the project, which apparently has its roots in Schnabel's thwarted attempt to film Perfume. Schnabel described the connection in some detail, but it boils down in part to the similarities he saw between Jean-Baptiste Grenouille's ability to smell his way across continents and the paralyzed Jean-Dominique Bauby's gift for traveling in his own imagination. (As an aside, both Schnabel and Maslin took the opportunity to trash the eventual adaptation of Perfume last year, by Tom Tykwer -- which I didn' t think was so bad, especially for a notoriously unfilmable novel, but whatever.)
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For a long time I was resistant to the idea of making a point of reading novels that were being made into films. If a noted filmmaker's reading list intersects your own, then fine -- but I'm generally more interested in the film qua film than I am in its relationship with the source material, unless said source material is uncommonly fine. I found complaints about changes made by Peter Jackson to the Tolkien mythology to be tediously petty, especially since the films turned out so well (and also because the books bored my pants off as a youngster), and although I suppose I'm grateful when a talented critic nutshells the vagaries of a particular book-to-film adaptation, I seldom feel the need to do the kind of homework required to elucidate that process myself. At the end of the screening, after all, the film needs to stand on its own.

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Casting Nicole Kidman in an Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake is borderline brilliant. Once she turns on the ice water, who can tell whether she's human or alien? Hope the story has been reworked to take advantage of this! *

Please turn down the scary music. You're ruining the first act by telegraphing the next two.

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Noted videogame-oriented Web-toon Penny Arcade reviews Live Free or Die Hard.

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Cinemarati’s Top 20 list is online, complete with a few selected comments from yours truly (I explain the strong showing of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and whine that The Science of Sleep and The Fountain are overrated). I think we did pretty well (although Children of Men? Really?) and I guess I’ll never quite understand what everyone sees in Pan’s Labyrinth.

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Yes, it would have been nice to see the U.S. advance in the World Cup series. But not necessarily at the expense of this scrappy team, which is becoming a mini-phenomenon -- and outplayed the American team like nobody's business.

Nice work Ghana dudes. We salute you etc.

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I don't know why it's set to New Order's "Age of Consent", but I found a quick-and-dirty early promo trailer for a movie I had no idea was about to exist -- Marie-Antoinette, directed by Sofia Coppola and starring (no, really!) Kirsten Dunst as Marie and Jason Schwartzman as Louis XVI. Best bit? Dunst gets naked.

Nobody's naked in the trailer for Spike Lee's Inside Man, either, but it looks like it could be good anyway.

Isn't it nice that they're making horror movies again? Having thoroughly enjoyed Cabin Fever, I'm looking forward to Hostel, even though Lion's Gate seems to be promoting it as some kind of Saw wannabe.


Animated GIFs as 3D photos. I love this shit.


Something to make every multiplex screening better: Coca-Cola Blāk is an invigorating and stimulating blend that has a perfect balance of the effervescent taste sensation of Coca-Cola and natural flavors, with real coffee. Take that, Pepsi bitches.

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Via Mobius comes news that the downtown Manhattan Film Forum is spending money on new, presumably more comfy, seats. This is great news -- even if your ass is smaller than mine -- considering that Film Forum commonly shows hard-to-see stuff on the scale of the forthcoming six-hour-long The Best of Youth. It also reminds me that I need to get off my ass and see Notre Musique this week.

Memo to movie theater employees: If you're starting clean-up work while movie-nerd types are still in their seats watching the credits roll, kindly SHUT THE FUCK UP until they're done. Thanks.

Notice a lot of recent press lately about how the FCC is cracking down on "indecency" over broadcast television and radio? Read about how enforcement has been spurred by record highs in complaints about said "indecent" material from the heartland? Well, according to the FCC's own estimate, more than 99 percent of those complaints -- which totalled nearly a quarter of a million last year -- have come from a single source: the Parents Television Council. Mouthpieces for the group say it shouldn't matter that all the complaints come from the same place as long as they highlight actual indecency on the airwaves, an argument that conveniently neglects to take into account the fact that decisions on the "indecency" of a given broadcast hinge in part on "contemporary community standards". If it's only a tiny, tiny proportion of the "community" as a whole that's complaining about any given broadcast, what does that say about the relative "decency" of that broadcast? What should rankle wannabe moral guardians the most is the fact that ordinary Americans want to watch Married by America and listen to Howard Stern; most of them probably didn't mind a split second of quality time with Janet Jackson's boobie, and I have yet to hear compelling evidence that a naked tit is somehow more damaging to America's precious youngsters than is a three-hour gridiron match-up permeated by grunting aggression and punctuated by bone-cracking violence.

Gift-giving note: those terrific "Director's Series" DVDs from Palm Pictures are now available in convenient boxed-set form, with an extra disc featuring more recent material not included in the original releases. (This latter development had me cursing under my breath in the aisle at Best Buy until I checked out the contents of that fourth disc and convinced myself that the only must-have is the Spike Jonze video for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Y Control," which is already available as a bonus on that group's swell concert DVD, Tell Me Which Rockers to Swallow.) Also, Palm has announced release dates for the next four (!) discs in the Directors Series, which I'm hoping will include a Mark Romanek volume before such a thing becomes obsolete -- the great video for "Hurt" was released as a DVD double-pack in specially labeled copies of Johnny Cash's last Rick Rubin-produced album, "Little Trouble Girl" was released on Sonic Youth's Corporate Ghost DVD, and "Closer" is available on the new Dual Disc (one CD, one DVD) reissue of The Downward Spiral, which also includes surround-sound versions of the album in its entirety in both Dolby Digital and DVD-Audio formats.

Speaking of Romanek, you can check out a superior two-minute version of his iPod-themed commercial for U2's "Vertigo" (wait, I mean his U2-themed commercial for Apple's iPod) by opening up iTunes and going to the main U2 page.

Yes, new reviews are coming. I'm working on them. More later. … [read more]
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The extended silence you may have noticed at this site was me spending time in Hollywood and in Colorado. I answered some email and at least toyed with the idea of posting some Weblog entries, but wound up not having enough free time to think straight. I considered going to see Simone (or is that more properly spelled S1m0ne?) at some point, but didn’t get to that, either. I don’t much like this writer/director Andrew Niccol’s work, see, but I am interested in keeping track of what he’s up to. But, geez, did anybody like his new one?

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I was amused to learn that Spider-Man was the feature on my westward flight from New York to California. I didn’t plug into the audio, but instead took in the visuals while I listened to assorted MP3s. I was pleased to note that, yep, the A- I gave it seems to hold up under scrutiny. This is a goofy, giddy superhero movie, and the purest embodiment of exactly what I hope to see in a summer blockbuster. The trick in this case is, I think, that the film was storyboarded extensively, with the result that the images play out in distinctly comic-book fashion. My main cavil is still the too-frequent replacement of Tobey Maguire by obnoxious CGI, but even some of the whiz-bang graphics have an exuberant appeal this time around, in a bet-you-didn’t-think-we’d-ever-be-able-to-show-you-that way. I did notice that, while the film’s frequent bursts of violence — including a final-reel impalement! — seem to have been left more or less alone by the airline censors, Kirsten Dunst’s naked-beneath-her-clothes nipples had been digitally removed from the scene where Spidey rescues her from a group of thugs. Good lord, the lengths to which people go to strip even the hint of sexuality from anything that they might have to watch with their children. (Ever wonder if the folks who run sites like Screenit.com get any particular jollies from their exhaustive cataloguing of explicit content? Here’s how they describe the scene in question: "Mary Jane shows some cleavage in various outfits in various scenes. In one scene, she's caught in the rain and her wet top reveals that she's not wearing a bra (the shape of her nipples can be seen)." Sounds pretty hot to me.) Makes me long for the good old days of PG-rated Swamp Thing and topless Adrienne Barbeau.

Since getting home, I have taken the time to check out the new Kino DVD of Code Unknown. I didn’t exactly avoid this one when it was playing in New York, but I didn’t make any effort to put myself in proximity to a theater showing it, either. This was due, I think, to my deep-seated irritation with Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, a film I felt was trying to hector me, start to finish. All that makes me a chump because, boy howdy, is this a terrific movie. I hope to write something about it. For now, I’ll just say it’s a shame Kino couldn’t do better than this version of the film. I suspect that the DVD is transcoded from a PAL master, partly because the details are kind of fuzzy and also because the frames flicker in weird ways when I try to step through them. In one scene that Juliette Binoche plays in long shot, her face is just a big pink spot at the center of the screen. I wondered if she was wearing a stocking mask, for all the detail I could(n’t) make out. At the very least, this should have been anamorphic widescreen instead of plain letterbox. But if you turn up the volume (a six-channel sound system will definitely help) and turn out all the lights, I suspect that even this version of Code Unknown works the way it’s supposed to.

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Here’s an interesting thread at Mobius about a movie guide that was published by HBO and gave its very lowest rating to stuff like 8 ½, The Exterminating Angel and Rules of the Game while showering Crocodile Dundee and Rocky with five-star hosannas. Turns out that, if you read the fine print, HBO claims to have come up with these star ratings by surveying viewers of HBO and Cinemax! So you’re really getting a look into the mindset of your typical cable-TV viewer, circa the mid-1980s. No wonder the movie channels all run to the lowbrow these days. At any rate, I got the first hints of a serious film education from sitting up late at night watching HBO and Cinemax in my bedroom. From the Life of the Marionettes may have been the first foreign film I ever saw. Either that or The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Anyway, enough about me. Here’s the real nugget—according to Mark Ferguson, it looks like HBO Latino is running La Comunidad, the most recent horror movie by Alex de la Iglesia, whose El día de la bestia and Muertos de risa are both great fun. The thing is, this one is still undistributed in the U.S. I guess it doesn’t have subtitles, but if you speak Spanish you may want to tune in.


Some unexpected news — the BBFC, which was noted once upon a time for decreeing that certain extremely violent horror movies were "video nasties" that could not be legally released in the U.K., has gone soft on the subject of slasher flicks. Jason X, which required edits in order to get an R rating in the U.S., passed uncut with a 15. Sure seems like a new direction for the Brits. In not entirely unrelated news, some poor schlep in Dallas was just sentenced to six months in jail for selling a comic book. First they come for the comic books, next they’ll came for Fat Girl and Sex and Lucia (the latter of which you already can’t advertise in Seattle’s daily newspapers).

I’m listening to a fairly amazing piece of work right now — Freelance Hellraiser’s "Star Wars vs. Hatiris," which seamlessly meshes "Throne Room and Finale" from the John Williams movie score with something (apparently) called "Space Invader" by someone called Hatiris. No, it’s not as good as the one where he mixes Christina Aguilera and The Strokes and comes up with something far more significant than either. But it’s still quite something. It’s on The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever, available at your nearest dodgy record shop. I suppose it’s fair game to download it, too.


Back to the subject of DVD, it's probably worth pointing out for anyone who doesn't know that Miramax's new version of Heavenly Creatures, due September 24, will be the longer version that was shown in Australia and New Zealand, rather than the shorter version that was edited (with Peter Jackson's blessing, so the story goes) by Miramax for the rest of the world. This is good news for sure, though you've got to figure that enough material exists somewhere for a super-special edition of this title, one of my favorite films of the last decade—Peter Jackson was the guy, after all, who released a four-hour laserdisc documentary about The Frighteners . I want to see Kate Winslet's screen tests!


And, hey, who says Miramax is out of ideas? The geniuses there have cut a deal that will have Coors sponsoring premieres of Miramax films. In return, Characters will be draining cans of Coors in 15 films over the next three years, including A View From the Top and Duplex, according to the AP. (Hey — somebody has to drink that shit.) Miramax joins Nascar, the NFL, Dr. Dre and Kid Rock in the Coors camp. Nice!

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