Tag: city of ember

DVDs With Dean: January 2009

January is traditionally a dumping ground for both late summer hits and bombs. This month is no different, with each week being jam packed with releases, many of which are not worth your time. Choose wisely.

January 6th

PICK OF THE WEEK: Battlestar Galactica – Season 4.0

Battlestar will always be my pick of the week, whether the release release is a season box set, movie or a set of Pez dispensers. By the time I rewatch this season, I will be foaming at the mouth waiting for the last episodes to drop starting on the 16th. The only strike against this release is that includes the movie Razor, which I bought on DVD when it was first released as any wild fan would have. Now I feel dumb and will have two copies.



Pineapple Express (Two-Disc Unrated Edition + Digital Copy): I regret not getting to this in the theater, so I will make amends by grabbing the two-disc edition this week. Even if I don’t like the movie, I am interested in the features that the Apatow clan have been dreaming up. Features on this release highlight their many improvised scenes of dialogue and table reads. The behind-the-scenes views are getting better and better, and I love seeing a comedic troupe hammer out the funny.

Righteous Kill: Watch Heat instead. If you get tired of Heat 40 years from now, then you can sample this to refresh your love of the Michael Mann classic.

Bangkok Dangerous (Two-Disc Special Edition + Digital Copy): I don’t know if I can get past Nicolas Cage’s hair in this. However, no matter how bad it looks I find myself enjoying most of Cage’s movies. I even own Next.

Babylon A.D. (Two-Disc Special Edition): I keep rooting for Vin Diesel’s return to glory and now I have to start thinking about whether or not I still want him back. I thought he might be the heir apparent to Action Deity Sylvester Stallone, but the last few Diesel’s films have beaten me about the face.

The Alphabet Killer: Straight to DVD and straight to my Netflix queue for this cheapish looking thriller starring Eliza Dushku, Cary Elwes and Timothy Hutton. I don’t expect to be amazed, but I look forward to zipping through this on a late night. I can’t tell if I am a sucker for thrillers, Eliza Dushku or Cary Elwes. No… it’s Cary Elwes hands down.

Disaster Movie: I am filled with sadness each time one of these things is made.

The Wackness: An Olsen twin makes out with Sir Ben Kingsley? Ok, I’m intrigued, but not enough to buy it. Although, the film did make enough money to allow the inclusion of a few featurettes for all you indie fans. I just wish Sir Kingsley showed up on the commentary.


January 13th

width=PICK OF THE WEEK: Appaloosa

Ed Harris is a good director (Pollock) who may someday draw comparisons to Clint Eastwood. As he walks down a similar path, I must see his foray into the dramatic western. It also helps to have him joined on screen by Viggo Mortensen and Renee Zellweger. This also gets the pick of the week because Ed Harris provides us with a commentary that will surely be enlightening and entertaining, not to mention four featurettes of typical ‘behind the scenes’ material.



Mirrors: My first guess at viewing the trailer for this film was that it was cashing in on the latest craze of Asian-style horror flicks. Lo and behold, it is indeed a remake of a South Korean horror film. While Hollywood’s mining of genre of horror has been hit or miss, I think I’ll give Kiefer Sutherland a chance. I just hope they don’t screw up the ending, a trait that has been really aggravating in recent American adaptations of Asian horror films.

My Best Friend’s Girl: I enjoy Dane Cook’s comedy but he seems to struggle onscreen. My advice is that he sticks to well-crafted side characters instead of lead roles. If I got around to seeing this film, it would probably only be to see Alec Baldwin’s performance.

Swing Vote: This smells like a silly political commentary to feed on our rabid hunger for punditry around election time. I hope its lack of sales keep this from happening again. Kevin Costner should know better.

Family That Preys: Tyler Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman) releases another touching family drama, although this time he treads into bi-racial waters. The cast is pretty stacked with character actors (Kathy Bates, Alfre Woodward, Cole Hauser, Sanaa Lathan) and he definitely has proven that he knows how to create entertaining and impacting drama. I would recommend this film as at least a rental based on its pedigree.


Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business Of America: This PBS miniseries will air on TV around the same time, but you can grab the DVD series with additional footage today. It traces American comedy back to its roots and features all the names you would expect, from Dick Van Dyke to George Carlin. It is also hosted by Billy Crystal and narrated by Amy Sedaris. I will probably watch it on TV but if I like the series it will likely wind up on my shelf.

Little Britain USA (HBO series): I haven’t seen any of it, but it has a cult following and those of you in the cult can buy it on the 13th.

Breakfast At Tiffany’s and Funny Face Centennial Collection: Audrey Hepburn gets some love as Paramount releases two of her classics yet again on DVD. The features are rather extensive and I would file this away in your mind under good gift ideas for Mother’s Day.

Four Weddings and a Funeral (Deluxe Edition): Valentines Day alert. Hugh Grant strikes again with a re-issue of his 1994 classic. It looks like they skimped on special features but you get a new cover and a bargain price.

Metallica Collectors Box Set: Metallica again delves into the documentary realm with this mixed bag of Metallica goodness. This ‘Collectors Box Set’ features live performances including the band’s set at Woodstock, an interview with the terribly unappreciated Jason Newstead (I’ll buy their stuff again if he comes back) on why he left the band, and some booklets featuring more interviews and pictures. This is a limited edition set, so grab one for any Metallica fan in case it goes out of print quickly.

Supercop: Supercop is an underrated Jackie Chan classic which will eventually find its way into my house so I can throw away my faded VHS copy.


January 20th

width=PICK OF THE WEEK: Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger (Three-Disc Collector’s Edition): I’m not a huge Chris Rock fan but the choices this week make this release of his HBO special look amazing. The three-disc edition features complete shows from London and New York as well as the HBO version which spliced them together with a third act from Africa. We also get more behind the scenes access and interviews with Rock himself.




City of Ember: I was interested in seeing this film, but this DVD is the definition of bare bones. This thing comes with fewer features than most first generation DVD’s. You know, the ones that touted their special features as including interactive menus.

Max Payne: This has potential as a low-expectations action flick. It’s also nice to see Mila Kunis’ comeback continue after Forgetting Sarah Marshall. There is a two-disc edition available, but it is really just for a digital copy of the film, so only buy that if you intend on adding some Payne to your iPod.

Repo! The Genetic Opera: This freaky rock opera has cult classic written all over it. Even if it is terrible it will probably be ridiculously funny enough to be worth your money. I almost made this the pick of the week, but I thought that would be odd since I know virtually nothing about it. If you are already a fan, think about picking up the Blu-Ray release which has more features like a sing-along and some previously released webisodes.

Saw IV: No thanks. They lost me at Saw II.

The Express: Dennis Quaid as a football coach? Good enough for me. The bonus of getting Jim Brown to come back as a football coach and to take part in the documentary highlighting the historical significance of Ernie Davis makes it worth the purchase. I have also heard that the football scenes in this film are unequaled in realism and intensity, and this DVD includes an intricate feature on how they were shot.


The Notebook (Limited Edition Gift Set): Another Valentine’s Day idea, this release of The Notebook has no new DVD features but comes in a fancy new case and includes a scrapbooking set where you can import your own pictures into a book inspired by the main characters from the Nicolas Sparks novel.


January 27th

width=PICK OF THE WEEK: RocknRolla (Two-Disc Special Edition + Digital Copy): Guy Ritchie apparently returns to his action roots and I will celebrate this return and subsequent escape from the Bastille of Madonna’s Kabbalah prison. The single-disc version of this release is bare-bones, so grab the deluxe set to get your commentary, digital copy and other special features.





Lakeview Terrace: I’m scared of Samuel L. Jackson when he’s the good guy, so I can’t imagine how much he’ll freak me out when he’s plays bad cop sans good cop. This also features Cole Hauser, who I am hoping will gain some fame over the coming year.

The Rocker – Born To Rock Special Edition [Digital Copy]: I like many of the actors present in this movie but I have nothing but doubt about this film’s possibilities. However, if you are a fan than you’ll enjoy this jam-packed DVD, which includes gag reels, two separate commentaries and at least six featurettes.

College: This is a bare bones release of a movie that nobody saw. You do get a gag reel, so the movie was at least a little funny to the people who made it.


Cheers – The Final Season: Even if you haven’t been keeping up with the release of previous seasons, be sure to catch this one which cap’s off the series and includes the amazing finale.

Mary Poppins (45th Anniversary Special Edition): I smell a 50th Anniversary coming only three years after the 47th Anniversary edition! Yes, they are releasing it again. If you still haven’t procured any of the previous releases you might as well grab this one. It’s got all the same features as the last release with a new slipcase.

Pink Panther Film Collection: This classic series gets a makeover with a decked-out collection. Or you can also grab the ones you want individually. I would lean toward the collection myself, which includes A Shot in the Dark, where much of the magic of Peter Sellers’ Clouseau character is unleashed.

The Secret Policeman’s Balls: This is a collection of British comedy gods raising money for charity during the late 1970’s and through the 80’s. The talent includes everyone from Monty Python and also features Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie and Jennifer Saunders. You also get a slew of musical guests including Sting, Phil Collins, Pete Townsend, Peter Gabriel, Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler and Jeff Beck. If you enjoy British humor I would consider this a must.

A Conversation with ‘City of Ember’ Director Gil Kenan

First thing Thursday morning at Comic Con we got the chance to sit down on an outside terrace at the Convention Center to chat with film director Gil Kenan. His first film Monster House, produced by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg, was very well received and went on to gross nearly double its budget. Gil’s first live action film, City of Ember, will be released on October 10th.

PCZ: Joe Dilworth, along with Dan Clark, for Pop Culture Zoo, talking to Gil Kenan today, director of City of Ember.

GK: I thought that was like a true or false. That was the easiest question I was going to get all day.

PCZ: Yeah, well, sorry.

GK: And we’re done!

PCZ: Thank you very much!


GK: How am I doing? I’m doing great. It’s a beautiful day, I’m excited. I haven’t really been out on the show floor yet. I’m really excited to go out and nerd out. I’ve got a four-month-old daughter and I’ve decked her in a kind of exclusive Skywalker Ranch onesie, and I’m going to dangle her around in front of crowds.

PCZ: That will be great. People will part the way for you.

GK: Or rip the little onesie off her pink body.

PCZ: Or they’ll offer you a lot of money for it. “Dude, where did you get the onesie!”


PCZ: So, City of Ember. That’s your first live action film, is that correct?

GK: That’s right. Yeah, although in some ways, obviously, Monster House is animated through and through, it is sort of that my mode of making film was a good transition. I worked with actors on the stage in the sort of motion capture stage, and making the shots I worked with actually the same people who shot City of Ember who I brought on. So, it was an animated film but it was a good stepping stone towards my first live action effort.

PCZ: Now, I wanted to ask you about the motion capture. Was that project –was that how it was going to be done or was it part of the process you came up with?

GK: Um, no, it was going to be a motion capture film although that still wasn’t – no one knew exactly what that meant yet. [Polar Express] was actually in the first or second week of shooting. Maybe they hadn’t even started shooting yet. It was something right in that zone. I came from a life of making experimental films that were sometimes live action, sometimes stop motion, sometimes pixelation, and so I was ready to wrap. I knew that as long as I had a story to tell I could tell it with whatever tools were right in front of me. So I was given a set of tools and it was kind of cool because it was like the Wild West, no one really knew how to make a movie this way or what the movie should look like. I got to sort of corral it and lead it to the theater.

PCZ: Excellent. Okay, moving over to doing live action with City of Ember – did making it seem a little easier since you didn’t have to do the motion capture?

GK: No, every movie is really, really hard. It’s like, it should be hard. If making movies was easy then I don’t think that they would be as good or it wouldn’t be as much fun to see them. Every movie presents its own problems and disasters. We shot in Belfast, Northern Ireland, really far from home in a summer where it rained every single day for the entire duration of our stay. But I got to build an enormous city. I literally got to build a set the scale of which you don’t see any more. I went from a film that was completely virtual to one where I knew I didn’t want it to be like a green screen set extension kind of a film. I wanted my actors to be able to live in a world and interact and for there to be a sort of organic sense of life to the place. We got that when we built Ember.

PCZ: Now, how was location shooting? Was that something that was new to you?

GK: Yeah. I want to do more. I mean, the film is such a controlled story that it almost all takes place within the confines of the city under ground and so location shooting was limited to a handful of days. The majority of the shooting was all in this enormous set. And so the hardest thing was getting my light because I had to wait for the rain to stop and the clouds to move. That stuff’s a bummer. The next time I shoot it’s going to be in the desert. I want to know I’m going to get my light and I’m gonna shoot it.

PCZ: We’re down from Portland so we empathize.

GK: That’s funny. I was just talking to Tim Robbins because he might be doing a movie up in Portland, and by the way Portland is one of my favorite cities in the world, it’s an amazing place. I was telling [Tim] he should go talk to Gus Van Sant about the nature of shooting there because in a way you sort of have to make peace with the gods and know that part of the quality of the film shot in Portland is that no two shots will look alike. It’s almost like a patchwork quilt of light and in a way that sort of defines the look of it and its cool. It’s really good. But that’s not the movie I was making, and so I had to have some control.

PCZ: Were you a fan of the books prior to this?

GK: What books?


GK: I was. When I started there was actually only a manuscript for the original novel. It hadn’t been published yet and there was no sequel, or prequel, or whatever. I read it, it blew my mind. I called the next morning and said I had to make the movie, and then I came in two days later and pitched to Tom Hanks’ company. I pitched them a three hour version of the film without breathing and willed them into submission.

PCZ: They’re like “Okay, fine. You have to do it. Go.”

GK: I used my Jedi mind trick. “I will be doing this movie.” “You will be making this movie.”

PCZ: Was there anything that you had to lose from the books that you really felt…

GK: It wasn’t about losing, it was sort of about adding. The books are a word-based puzzle, and I knew that my job as a director was to create something visual, something cinematic. So it was actually kind of 
one of the challenges I enjoyed the most in this process, was taking something that works well on a page and turning it into something kind of involving, cinematic, visual puzzle.

PCZ: Following up on that, Walden Media is fairly new with Prince Caspian and the “Narnia” series, how was it working with Walden Media and especially translating their printed works to the screen?

GK: It was great. They have a real respect for stories, for writers. They’re very novel-friendly, and also to their credit they really embraced all the things that make this story great. Not a lot of companies would have gone out on a limb on a movie like “Ember”. So it’s been a really great relationship.

PCZ: Fantastic.

GK: Well, I’ve enjoyed our chat.

PCZ: Likewise.

Thank you very much to Gil for his time at Comic Con and to Walden Media for the opportunity to talk to him.