<p>Woody Allen and friend in 'Love and Death'</p>

Woody Allen and friend in 'Love and Death'

Credit: MGM Home Video

Motion/Captured Must-See: 'Love and Death'

One of Woody Allen's least-mentioned comedies is one of his best

I love that Woody Allen font.  Plain white letters on a black background.  It's been so consistent for so long now that when I see those credits appear, I settle in, sure that no matter what follows, it'll be interesting.  There are Woody Allen films I dislike intensely, but none that I regret seeing.  When someone makes a film a year for as long as he has, you're going to see good and bad from them.  It's inevitable.  But what makes Woody Allen's full body of work worth watching is the way he constantly evolves, his voice growing from film to film, and the sheer volume of it is what's kept him so vital.  And in this film, having Sergei Prokofiev play under those familiar titles only further sets me up for a good time.

In 1975, Woody was a mainstream figure of some repute.  He was an acclaimed stand-up, and he had already made such hits as "Bananas" and "Take The Money And Run."  As a writer, he worked on "What's Up, Tiger Lily" and "What's Up, Pussycat?", and he had made a hilarious appearance as one of many James Bonds in "Casino Royale."  But he wasn't an Oscar-winner yet, and I'm sure most people wouldn't have even imagined that sort of career was possible for him.  With "Love And Death," though, I think the indicators are clear that Woody was trying to find a way to move from pure silly comedy to films that aimed for something more, and this film serves as a fascinating transition for this great comic artist.

This is one of the only Allen films of the '70s or '80s shot anywhere outside of New York, and it's pretty much the opposite of "dumb" comedy.  If the Marx Brothers adapted a Dostoevsky novel, it would look a lot like "Love and Death," where characters argue about philosophy while crazy-funny one-liners score consistent laughs.  Woody's verbal wit was already his trademark, but this film marked the first time he started to really use the camera to help sell a joke and not just to record it.  He was starting to really think about cinema and approach his movies as a filmmaker, not just as a comedian.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Denzel Washington in "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3."</p>

Denzel Washington in "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3."

Credit: Columbia Pictures

The Morning Read (4.01.09) New 'Pelham' trailer

Plus absolutely no silly April Fool's Day stories

Okay, so it's April Fool's Day.

That automatically makes 2/3 of what's printed online today worthless.  And after almost 14 years of doing this, I've seen a lot of terrible April Fool's Day "jokes" over the years.  I say "jokes" because it seems to me that a lot of people don't get the idea that what you do today is supposed to be funny, not just a ridiculous lie.

If you're the sort of person who loves online April Fool's Day jokes, I don't begrudge you the experience.  You might even check out this archive of past jokes.  But I'm going to try to avoid them as I put this Morning Read together.

Obviously there's been a fair amount of conversation about piracy in general since we posted the story last night about the "Wolverine" workprint leaking, and it's an important issue right now.  But I think there are also some things we have to consider about consumer privacy, and certain enforcement measures seem not just inappropriate, but positively criminal.  I don't for a second accept that the possibility of software or media piracy gives anyone the right to do a digital search of my harddrive when I travel.  And I think things are going to get really ugly and litigious before they get better for anyone.

Elvis Mitchell's been thinking about the state of modern film criticism a bit.

And Rod Lurie, a former film critic and journalist himself, bemoans the condition of film journalism in general.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Wanna guess what Wolverine's going to do to the guys who leaked his new film online?</p>

Wanna guess what Wolverine's going to do to the guys who leaked his new film online?

Credit: 20th Century Fox

UPDATE: Fox responds officially after 'Wolverine' workprint leaks online

What does the biggest pirate break in recent memory mean to the industry?

UPDATE:

The following statement was sent to us by 20th Century Fox in response to yesterday's story:

"Last night, a stolen, incomplete and early version of X-Men Origins: Wolverine was posted illegally on a website. It was without many effects, had missing and unedited scenes and temporary sound and music. We immediately contacted the appropriate legal authorities and had it removed. We forensically mark our content so we can identify sources that make it available or download it. The source of the initial leak and any subsequent postings will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – the courts have handed down significant criminal sentences for such acts in the past. The FBI and the MPAA also are actively investigating this crime. We are encouraged by the support of fansites condemning this illegal posting and pointing out that such theft undermines the enormous efforts of the filmmakers and actors, and above all, hurts the fans of the film."

We appreciate their comment on the situation, and you can read the original story below.

* * *

Right now, everything you read about the financial situation in Hollywood is doom and gloom.  Studios are laying staff off.  Production companies are losing long-standing development deals.  Hedge funds are running for the hills.  DVDs are dying.  No one wants BluRay.  If you were to believe every negative thing written, the industry is seemingly days away from shutting down altogether.

Of course, that's not really the case.  But it's certainly what you'd think if you only listened to the worst of what's being reported.  One of the questions being asked over and over is "What is the real financial impact of piracy?"  And since piracy means different things on different films, that's a hard question to answer.

20th Century Fox is about to have an interesting practical test on one of their biggest summer films.  "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" leaked online today in what appears to be a near-finished DVD quality rip, marred only by a few unfinished FX shots.  As soon as files go up, they're coming right back down as Fox legal chases pirates around the web, but that toothpaste is out of the tube, gentlemen.  And that sucks.

[more after the jump]

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<p>An image from Godfrey Reggio's influential and hypnotic 'Koyaanisqatsi'</p>

An image from Godfrey Reggio's influential and hypnotic 'Koyaanisqatsi'

Credit: MGM Home Video

Motion/Captured Must-See: 'Koyaanisqatsi'

Godfrey Reggio's prayer for the world is still powerful 25 years later

What would you say the most visually imitated film of the last 30 years is?

"Blade Runner"?  One could certainly argue that.  If I see one more moody smoky rainy future city, I'm going to beat someone to death with a neon tube.  "The Road Warrior"?  How many crappy post-apocalyptic films can you count that borrowed or stole Miller's aesthetic completely?  "Toy Story"?  Without that film's advances, the entire animation industry would be completely different right now.

Even so, I'd argue that "Koyaanisqatsi" dwarfs any of them in terms of sheer impact on what we've seen since its release in 1983.  The advertising industry alone has stripped the bones of the film completely clean a dozen times over, poaching and parsing every frame of Godfrey Reggio's film to sell any product you can name.  It's particularly creepy when you realize just how opposed to the commercial consumer culture Reggio's film really is.

And yet, considering the enormous reach that the film has had, it's still a cult item at best, largely unknown to the mainstream.  For many people, the soundtrack to the Mars sequence in "Watchmen" last month may have sounded vaguely familiar, but chances are they couldn't tell you where it was originally used or how.  And many audiences, if shown the film now, would think it was simply a rehash of imagery they've seen a thousand times over without realizing that this is the source of that imagery, the place from which it was ripped off that thousand times.  It's sort of like someone watching Phil Kaufman's "The Right Stuff" and grumbling about how it stole from "Armageddon."

[more after the jump]

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<p>Woody and Buzz are heading to theaters Oct. 2nd in 3D for a limited run of 'Toy Story' and 'Toy Story 2' along with the first trailer for 2010's 'Toy Story 3D'</p>

Woody and Buzz are heading to theaters Oct. 2nd in 3D for a limited run of 'Toy Story' and 'Toy Story 2' along with the first trailer for 2010's 'Toy Story 3D'

Credit: Pixar/Walt Disney

ShoWest News Breaks: 3D 'Tron' and 'Sherlock' footage screens

Plus more 3D news including 'Alice' and 'Beauty & The Beast'

ShoWest is in high gear right now, one presentation after another being shown to the theater owners and press who have gathered in Vegas for the annual trade show.  And although it's scaled down significantly from the ShoWests of old, it still serves as a chance for the studios to premiere new trailers and footage and posters, hoping for a burst of sudden buzz.

And today, Disney seems to be the winner when it comes to generating interest with a presentation.

True, Warner Bros. unveiled the "Sherlock Holmes" trailer, and the response seems to be solid, but if you're watching Twitter feeds and website updates, Disney is winning the "HOLY CRAP!" contest so far today, due in no small part to the 3D presentations they screened.

I'm fascinated by the news that the upcoming "Tron" sequel is evidently just called "Tron" according to the title treatment that was shown today.  And I'm thrilled to hear that they're planning to give "Tron" the full 3D treatment on release.  This is exactly what 3D should be used for... these immersive SF or fantasy environments that an audience wants to explore on their own.  And the original "Tron" was already visually overwhelming, so it makes perfect sense that Disney would want to find a way to punch new audiences in the face in a way that's going to send them back to the theater again and again, and this might be it.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Paramount is ready for warp speed on a new 'Star Trek' adventure.</p>

Paramount is ready for warp speed on a new 'Star Trek' adventure.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

The Morning Read (3.31.09) Green chicks and sequels for 'Star Trek'

Plus Rob Zombie on 'H2', Raimi's 'Hell' poster, Cronenberg part two, and a man who rode Twitter around the world

You know why it sucks that we're giving away an "Observe and Report" skateboard?  Because I obviously can't win, and that sounds like a great prize.  I want a freakin' "Observe and Report" skateboard, damn it.

You know, I've been fairly optimistic about "Star Trek" so far.  I liked the 25 minutes or so that they showed us last year.  I think that new trailer is all sorts of awesome.  I'm not some rigid intractable Trekkie.  But there's a controversy brewing today that threatens to derail my affection for the film before I've even seen it.  I am talking, of course, about the way they managed to take Diora Baird, cast her as The Green Chick, and yet somehow turned this easy geek slam dunk into a disappointment by making her look... lousy? The fine folks over at Film Drunk ranted about it with pictures this morning, and I think they make a strong case.  Diora Baird is indeed one of the most startlingly beautiful women in film right now, a throwback to the sort of sex kittens that made the '60s and '70s great, and The Green Chick is one of the most immediate images of SF sexuality.  The combination of the two should have people in the streets throwing spontaneous parades, not wishing for a Brillo pad and some soap and water.  Party foul on JJ.

Even with this hiccup, though, the "Star Trek" team seems awfully confident.  Signing Kurtzman, Orci, and Lindelof to write the sequel before the first one's even in theaters is a bold step.  My question about sequels hinges on a slight spoiler for the film coming out next month.  It's not a reboot so much as it is a way for JJ to honor previous continuity while also releasing this franchise from any obligation to what has come before.  Because the world has changed, anything can happen after the first film.  They could reintroduce any characters they want from the whole history of "Star Trek," and the stories can play out in totally different ways now.  I have to think that's part of the plan, and we'll see Tribbles and Klingons and Harry Mudd in the future.  Most importantly, I hope we're going to see Khan again, and if we do, I'm afraid I have to insist... Javier Bardem will be playing him.  I will accept no arguments on this point.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Tom Hanks has a moment of clarity in the wonderful 'Joe Vs. The Volcano'</p>

Tom Hanks has a moment of clarity in the wonderful 'Joe Vs. The Volcano'

Credit: Warner Home Video

HitFix and Ain't It Cool present our first joint screening at The New Beverly

'Ishtar' and 'Joe Vs The Volcano' at a criminally underrated double-bill

THIS IS A REPOST TO REMIND YOU!

This Wednesday and Thursday night, Ain't It Cool News and HitFix are teaming up with the awesome New Beverly Cinema to present a double-feature of films that do not deserve the bad reputation they got when they were first released.  Mr. Beaks, aka Jeremy Smith, is going to be presenting the hilarious "Ishtar," and I plan on singing along with every single one of the insane Paul Williams songs in the film.  Afterwards, I'll be presenting "Joe Vs. The Volcano," John Patrick Shanley's romantic and silly story of a man, a brain cloud, and three suspiciously similar women.

That's April 1st and 2nd, but it's not a joke.  We really are screening these films at 7:30 and 9:40, and they really do deserve your respect.  I find it infuriating when a movie comes out, makes no money, and yet everyone decides that they hate it, even though no one saw it.  It's okay to call a film that fails financially a "bomb" in financial terms, but how can there be a public concensus if no one sees the film?  How does that group think set in?

I know that with "Ishtar," a lot of it was because of the various reports of out-of-control budget before the film was released.  For some reason, the press decided that they were going to freak out on behalf of every single dollar spent, sight unseen.  And with "Joe," it baffles me how the combination of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, box-office magic every other time it happened, did absolutely nothing to help push this romantic fairy tale into the public eye.

I hope to see you at one of the double-features, and if there's a good turn-out, maybe we can present even more screenings at this great venue in the months to come.

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<p>Gene Kelly takes flight in one of many amazing moments in the remastered BluRay release of 'An American In Paris'</p>

Gene Kelly takes flight in one of many amazing moments in the remastered BluRay release of 'An American In Paris'

Credit: Warner Home Video

On The Shelf (3.30.09) 'Slumdog,' 'Marley,' and classic musical BluRays

Plus exploitation trash, live comedy, and Riddick in high-def

Have you seen the new image gallery we're putting together each week to showcase some of the week's biggest DVD and BluRay titles?

The first one's right here.

And it's a good week, definitely.  There are some big mainstream titles like Best Picture Academy Award winner "Slumdog Millionaire," which I'm guessing looks great on BluRay in particular, as well as the tearjerker "Marley & Me," which I'm glad someone warned me about because my wife would have been very, very unhappy seeing this one without prior warning.  And I'm willing to bet a lot of people missed "Seven Pounds" in the theater, and I know it got some truly venomous reviews, but I'd still say give it a chance.  Yes, it's a melodrama.  Yes, it makes some big stretches at a few points.  But I still found it affecting, maybe because it's Rosario Awesome playing the Sick Girl, and I'm sorry... my protective male chromosome kicks into overdrive when it's Rosario Awesome in distress.  Will Smith plays the most nearly-unhinged saint in recent memory, and if you're willing to go with the film in its crazier moments, you might find yourself as taken with it as I was.

I'm a Leonard Cohen fan from my teenage years on, and I think he puts on ridiculously cool live shows.  I'll probably read a few reviews to see what people's general impressions are of the set list and the performance, but it's a safe bet I'll be adding "Leonard Cohen: Live In London" to the collection very soon.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan ponder taking the ultimate leap of faith in John Patrick Shanley's classic 'Joe Versus The Volcano'</p>

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan ponder taking the ultimate leap of faith in John Patrick Shanley's classic 'Joe Versus The Volcano'

Credit: Warner Home Video

Motion/Captured Must-See: 'Joe Versus The Volcano'

A surreal romance whose cult grows more every year

I fell in love with this movie the first time I saw it.  The Plitt 4 in Brandon, Florida.  And there were two other people in the theater.  One of the last films I saw there before leaving Tampa and moving to Los Angeles.  I wasn't really connected to "the business" at all, but I knew that the film was considered a bomb.  I wanted to see the movie because I liked Tom Hanks, I liked "Moonstruck," I liked Meg Ryan, and I liked the clip I saw on David Letterman.  It had been out for four days, and my buddy who still worked at the Plitt called me.  "We're getting rid of it on Thursday," he said.   "If you wanna see it, come see it before then."  So the next afternoon, I did, and I thought it was great.  It hit me the same way "Raising Arizona" did.  It felt like great entertainment with a huge exposed heart and a sense of style.  It felt like the sort of thing I wished everyone was trying to do.  It felt like someone having fun, aiming high.  It was dizzy, silly, drunk romantic, and it was also unexpectedly profound.  The things it had to say... the real things, underneath all the talk of brain clouds and orange soda... were important.  Heartfelt.  Direct.

"Joe Vs The Volcano" is a great film.  It's not a guilty pleasure.  It's not a film I think is okay.  It is one of the titles I am most enthusiastic about on the list so far.  It is a fable, an extended metaphor.  It is about life, in toto, and about death.  It's got a lot on its mind, but it is very concise about expressing it.  "Joe" covers a lot of ground.  That's one of the things that I find most interesting about the film... the stages that Joe passes through.  He goes from spirit guide to spirit guide, learning what he needs to know, preparing himself so that when he meets the right person... when he finally finds his Karma Girl... he's ready.  He can make the leap.  He can be open to her, to love, to life, to fate.  From crumpled office zombie to man in love.  A crooked road.  Eventual nirvana.  Shanley's vision of adventure is beautiful, and there's a touch of magic from the very start.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Catherine Deneuve in the just-released BluRay of the 1980 French film 'The Last Metro'</p>

Catherine Deneuve in the just-released BluRay of the 1980 French film 'The Last Metro'

Credit: The Criterion Collection/Blu-Ray.com

My BluRay Shelf: 'The Last Metro' (Criterion)

Francois Truffaut's last major hit gets the deluxe treatment

1980 was near the end of the distinguished career of Francois Truffaut.  Every film of his I've seen was after the fact, even though he was still releasing movies while I've been an active filmgoer.  I just wasn't ready for his movies at that point.  My only exposure to him was from his role in "Close Encounters."  From reading about the making of that film, I knew he was a director.  It wasn't until I was 15 and I saw a theatrical screening of "The 400 Blows" that I finally woke up to his work.  I've spent the home video era catching up with his movies as much as possible, and now, with the release of "The Last Metro" on Criterion BluRay, I've finally had my chance to see his last major hit, both critically and commercially.

Set in Nazi-Occupied France, it's the story of the Theatre Montmartre and its struggles to mount a production in 1942.  The theater's star director, Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent), is Jewish at a time when that can get you killed, so he goes into hiding in the cellar of the theater.  Everyone's told that he fled the country, so the theater company moves forward with a new production, a place called "The Vanished Woman."  Although his assistant director Jean-Loup Cottins (Jean Poiret) is ostensibly directing, he's working from notes that were "left behind" by Lucas.

[more after the jump]

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