Thursday, November 03, 2005

2006 B-Fest Ticket info...

As I think I reported last year in my 2005 B-Fest Diary, Chris Holland met with the then B-Fest organizers to discuss the tickets situation. (Chris kindly invited me to sit in.) Basically, the show had sold out in 48 hours two weeks before the event, and would-be attendees had understandably grumbled upon learning there were no tickets left.

Obviously there was no perfect solution to this mess, given that no other, larger venue that would properly accomodate the Fest was available. Therefore, happily, the organizers have chosen to use the market solution and raise ticket prices, the least bad of several available options. Another issue was student tickets, since it's a college fest and legitimately not all the tickets should go to outsiders like myself.

Here's the information, as provided by Chris and posted at B-Fest.com:

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Tickets to B-Fest 2006 may be purchased as follows:

Advance tickets may be purchased two weeks prior to the festival (i.e. Friday January 13 2006) at the Norris University Center Box Office and by phone (except student tickets, see below) with a major credit card. The box office phone number is (847) 491-2305. The box office opens at 10:30 a.m. CST.

Tickets are available to the general public for $35. A limit of 15 tickets may be purchased by any one person.

Northwestern University student tickets may be purchased at the box office only at a cost of $20 each. Only one student ticket may be purchased at a time. Student tickets will be marked as such and a valid student ID (the NWU WildCARD) will be required both to purchase the ticket at the box office and to use the ticket on the day of the festival. Student tickets will be closely monitored to prevent scalping and other abuse.

Given the current popularity of B-Fest and the speed with which the event sold out last year, it is unlikely that any Saturday-only tickets will be sold. This has not been ruled out definitively, however, so stay tuned to this page for developments.

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That's all largely along the lines of what I had suggested last year, including on the student ticket issue, which is about the only one that makes sense in terms of avoiding scalping. (I'm not saying I had any brilliant suggestions, just obvious ones.) In a perfect world, everyone who wanted to go could do so at an affordable price. It's a shame that's not the case, but frankly I feel this will mostly squeeze out that segment of the audience that only plans to attend two or three movies. To be blunt, I do feel that those of us who want to do the whole show do have a superior claim. Of course, you can still elect to go for a short time, you'll just have to pay more to do so.

In any case, the extra money will allow the organizers a lot more flexibility to go after whatever titles they wish. And really, you can't complain about being charged $35 to see 15 or so movies.

All in all, a pretty good solution to a sad problem.

It Came from Netflix: Treasure Island (1999)

I’ve always liked sea stories, and the whim hit me to rent whatever live action versions of Treasure Island Netflix carried. Sadly, the signature version, the 1934 classic with Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper, is not yet available on disc. Hopefully the upcoming DVD of Boy’s Town will sell in sufficient numbers to convince the studio to release more of their family films from this era, such as Treasure Island, The Sea Wolf and Captain’s Courageous*.

[I wrote that last night, and then this morning learned that Captains Courageous, I film I otherwise hadn’t thought about for years, is due for release next January. Weird how those coincidences happen.]

With 1972 Orson Welles version also missing in action, I was basically stuck with this and the 1950 Robert Newton film. I started with the 1999 version, drawn by the casting of Jack Palance as Long John Silver. However, while I fully expected this to inferior to the 1950 version, it proved much worse than I had feared. Overall, the production looks like an inexpensive TV movie, the direction is entirely flat, and the script seems to have been rather tragically ‘updated’ for modern audiences.

For instance, when pirates raid the inn where young Jim Hawkins lives, he flummoxes them with bits of business right out of Home Alone. Indeed, to my complete lack of surprise, the film’s attempts at comedy proved utterly and woefully tiresome. Meanwhile, the fact that Jim regularly mixes it up with bloodthirsty, full grown pirates and always gets the better of them is just too moronic to justify our suspending disbelief. Once, maybe; but he does it like three or four times, and in extended scenes, too.

Probably the oddest bit was when, to my vast bewilderment, 12 year-old Jim has three brief run-ins with a jocular street whore (!!). I mean…huh?!

Aside from the script, the acting is often the film’s most problematic aspect. The kid playing Jim, Kevin Zegers, just isn’t very good here, although he’s had a busy acting career both before this and since. Zegers has an especially solid roster of appearances in genre films, including In the Mouth of Madness, Komodo, Wrong Turn, Fear of the Dark, The Hollow and the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. He was also the lead in three Air Bud movies. Given the level of Rowe’s direction, which is entirely in line with his long resume of episodic TV work, it’s possible that Zeger’s shortcomings here were not entirely of his own making.

Meanwhile, the part of Billy Bones has been pumped up a good deal, apparently because the role is played by the film’s other (sorta) name actor, Patrick Bergin. He pretty much is the lead character in the movie’s first twenty minutes. Indeed, except for a brief appearance early on, Palance doesn’t make his entrance until over a third of the movie has gone by. Bergin makes a stab at bringing some life to the proceedings, but frankly seems weighed down by the knowledge that his career is in the cinematic dumpster. Once you’ve played a supporting part in garbage like Beneath Loch Ness, it must hit you that basically you’re just going to be taking jobs to pay the bills.

Palance, meanwhile, is sadly just too old and painfully frail to play Long John Silver. (Let me put it this way: This was made nine years after City Slickers.) He’s still got screen presence, and pulls off the impish scalawag aspects of the role, but at seventy is all too patently fragile for his ‘action’ scenes. The editing tries to disguise this fact, but not very successfully. Perhaps the lamest part is that the camera angles are all shot north of Silver’s signature peg leg, so that Palance doesn’t have to hobble around on one. Instead, he inadequately suggests his infirmity by pretending to limp around on a crutch.

Still, you’ve got to give a film extra points for including an expository title card saying “Three (gruelling) months later…” First, and most obviously, the word is ‘grueling,’ and second, why is it in parenthesis? In any case, crap like that is just going the extra mile.

Meanwhile, Jim has a couple of run-ins with a pirate named Mad Dog. At one point there’s a ghastly ‘comic’ chase scene with Mad Dog falling face down in a pigsty whilst pursuing the lad. Ho, ho. Then five minutes later (in terms of screentime), Jim overhears another pirate announcing that Jim “is the one who killed Mad Dog!” Which, I must admit, surprised me, as we never saw Mad Dog die. I mean, what the hell?

Indeed, as things progress it becomes increasingly clear that screenwriter/director Peter Rowe hadn’t felt very obligated to follow Stevenson’s book. By the end of the film, the novel has basically been tossed right out the window. So many characters are dead that the movie resembles a really bad production of Hamlet, and the corpses strewn about are so numerous that they suggest a very lumpy carpet.

This latter bit follows a gunfight that is just retarded. First, in order to make the gunfight work, the crew of the ship has been ridiculously reduced (this might also be due to budget constraints) to the point where apparently the entire crew of the large ship had been perhaps a dozen people. This allows for the pirate and non-pirate forces to be roughly equal, which is mandated by the script if not common sense.

However, they didn’t really have ‘gunfights’ back in the days of flintlock pistols and rifles. Aside from being woefully inaccurate (no rifling in the barrels, among other issues), the rate of fire was such that after the first volley guns were inevitably abandoned for close order fighting with blades. This doesn’t happen here, and they pretty much ignore the fact that the fight we see lasting under five minutes would have taken a good twenty at least had the guns been reloaded in real time.

Most annoyingly, all the good guys in the book (the Doctor, the Squire, the Captain) here are trying to steal Jim’s portion of the treasure. Whatever. I can only imagine two reasons why a hack like Rowe would feel justified in rewriting Stevenson. One was to make an oft-told story ‘fresh.’ However, that ignores the fact that there’s a reason it’s an ‘oft-told story.’

The second possibility is that Rowe, like so many would-be artists these days, might have felt the material had to be ‘updated’ and made more ‘realistic’ for today’s wiser, smarter audiences. (See the hilariously awful Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter, for example.) Thus the representatives of bourgeois English society turn out to be far more corrupt than the pirates themselves. Yawn. This is even worse, as it explicitly suggests that an undeservedly smug Rowe thought he was ‘improving’ on Stevenson’s book. If so, sir, than frankly you are an ass.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

New on DVD this week (11/01/05)...

We are in a deadly lull marked by the end of the Halloween season (meaning it’ll be a while before we see many new horror titles) and the slew of King Kong related DVDs coming later in the month. In the meantime:

Today’s TV season sets include 21 Jump Street S4; American Chopper S3; Brady Bunch S4; Fame S1; Monster Garage S3; Outer Limits New Series S1; Star Trek Enterprise S4; That ‘70s Show S4; War of the Worlds S1.

Movie releases that I consider noteworthy are incredibly sparse this week. Still, the new The War of the Worlds Collector’s Edition (the 1953 edition) is a worthy DVD of the Week. Although the digital medium will make the wires suspending the (coolest ever) Martian spaceships all the more obvious—which is saying something—and despite the film being otherwise quite stiff and even occasionally campy, the extraordinary special effects, sound effects, and, again, the coolest spaceships ever keep this one a classic.

Moreover, unlike the barebones DVD released several years ago, this one is quite loaded. You get two commentary tracks, including one by the movie’s stars Ann Robinson and Gene Barry (amazing they were both still alive to do it), and another by fans Joe Dante, Bob Burns and Bill Warren. The latter is the author of the seminal Keep Watching the Skies, an epic two-part tome that sets the bar for books on genre films. I honestly can’t think of three guys more knowledgeable about sci-fi films.

As well, the disc features the film’s trailer; a documentary on the film’s production; a 10 minute biography of H. G. Wells; and the original Orson Welles Mercury Theater radio show that famously threw the country into a tizzy.

In other DVDs of (perhaps) interest, there’s the arthouse vampire flick Nadja, filmed with an early children’s video camera that affords the film an intentionally crude look.

Meanwhile, if the War of the Worlds DVD lives up to being a ‘collector’s edition,’ the new Office Space: Special Edition most certainly does not. Fans of this cult favorite have been clamoring for a better package for this one for years now. This isn’t it. There’s a ‘retrospective’ on the film, some deleted scenes, and…that’s it. Not even a friggin’ Mike Judge commentary. What the hell?