Friday, January 30, 2009

Variety Asia

I'm just posting this to further an idea that many of us have: Grady Hendrix must continue even if Variety Asia folds.

As Jason has already posted, as well as Todd at Twitch here, Variety Asia looks to be the latest victim of bad economic times.

But, this is the blogosphere. Sure, the hard copy may go but there is no reason that Grady's blog has to disappear. Even without the masthead of Variety over/above/on his blog, Grady has built a solid web presence that people like me, Jason, Todd, Yvonne, and others rely upon.

I have a list of websites that I check on a daily basis and many of them cover similar territory but they all have unique and distinct voices that I value.

The web voice of Grady Hendrix is one that I value as an Asian film fan and blog reader. I'm sure he will survive this!

For now, enjoy that voice here. There's more than enough older content to read if you've never seen the site before.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Washingtonian's 100 Best Restaurants

You know, it seems as if every month Washingtonian magazine -- sometimes called The Washingtonian by us locals -- has some restaurant list in its pages.

This month's issue has the 100 Very Best Restaurants of 2008 and I've only been to about 10 of them for those of you keeping score at home.

See, that's why I don't consider myself a "foodie" -- I'm an adventurous eater within certain cuisines but I'm just not inclined to spend $100 on a steak, or on French food at a place in the city, but I would spend $100 on sushi, or $50 on Korean barbeque, so to each his or her own, I guess.

When you read a list like this, there are certain restaurants you know will be in there because they are famous and get written about a lot -- it's a self-perpetuating thing, really. And there are rarely any big surprises with a list like this.

And it goes without saying that The Washingtonian magazine is even safer with its choices than The Washington Post when it comes to restaurant reviews.

I may sound like a Luddite for saying this but my theory has always been that the high-end, haute cuisine places are designed for once-a-year type dining experiences, meaning that they are not designed for repeat business.

I guess if I made a lot more money, I would go to high-end places more than once-a-year but that's another story.

So the trick is to find solid better-than-average places that depend on repeat business.

A few of my friends would consider Penang a tiny bit pricey but in my book it's reasonable and interesting with a big enough menu that I'm not bored yet.

And my loyalty to Mandalay is legendary among my friends. They have yet to disappoint and their prices and menu still meet my approval after some 5 years now.

But some high-end places, like Makoto, are worth seeking out and it's only my laziness that prevents me from going to a place like that more than once-a-year.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Why I Didn't Like Slumdog Millionaire (Spoilers!)


I didn't see Forrest Gump but I can recall with chilling vividness the numerous conversations -- more like harangues -- that I had to suffer through where some person with Middle American middlebrow tastes had to explain to me how great Forrest Gump was as a film, all the while mistaking their own emotional reaction to that film with a carefully considered opinion on it.

(Hell, I cried like a baby during Superman Returns and yet I'm not stupid enough to argue that that film was as good as a similar film like Iron Man, for instance.)

And while I admittedly watch a lot of junk from Hong Kong -- and yes, I do have a double standard at work here because any way you cut it, Beauty and the 7 Beasts is a piece of crap -- I expect more from films presented in the West in "arthouse" theaters during awards season, especially films that somehow garner an excessive 11 Oscar nominations.

Which brings us to Slumdog Millionaire, a film I like less now the more I think about it.

The problem with Slumdog Millionaire is that it is a film made for an audience of emotional retards.

How else is one to explain a film where somehow the story of a poor child from the slums of Bombay getting onto a TV game show and winning millions of rupees is just not dramatic enough on its own? No, the child has to be an orphan. And not only that, a Muslim orphan whose mother was murdered before his eyes! And not only that, but an orphan taken in by a sinister benefactor who is recruiting kids to be professional beggars! And not only that, but the benefactor physically maims and disfigures the children to get more money out of them as they beg on the streets of Bombay!

Folks, we're venturing into Lillian Gish territory here.

It is also the kind of film where girls become prostitutes but conveniently remain physically pure and virginal for the heroes -- I'm supposed to believe that the Fagin-like guy who kidnaps Latika intends to pimp her out because virgins get more money and, yet, he's just not done that yet by the time that Jamal and Salim conveniently find her? She exists only to further Jamal's fantasies of a chaste and pure magical love to strive for. Without her, Jamal has no impetus to survive apparently.

And it's the kind of film where an adolescent character somehow has a gun hidden in the waistband of his pants when going up against hardened criminals and yet, none of the hardened criminals -- adults all -- has a gun at that same moment?

It's the kind of film where every event's backdrop is in direct proportion to the importance of the the event at hand. For instance, when Jamal confronts Salim late in the film, the confrontation takes place on the top of a highrise being constructed conveniently in the place of the slum where they grew up as kids, never mind how these two young adults just wandered up there during the day past numerous workers. Much like in Hong Kong films, the most dramatic gunfights seem to take place on rooftops; it's the same kind of lazy storytelling at work here.

The situation should have enough drama on its own that it doesn't require the most dramatic locale in the entire city to add weight to the proceedings. We get it already!

It's the kind of film where a man who is supposedly the Regis Philbin of India is able to feed wrong answers to a contestant on a game show but also can do it while being oh-so-conveniently out of sight or hearing range of any of the dozens of other producers and production assistants who are visible in the TV studio in every other scene.

It is the kind of film where the same guy can not only get mad when the contestant doesn't take the wrong answer that was fed to him but gets mad out loud, in front of coworkers, thus revealing the cheating he just attempted to commit.

Would the craven Regis ever even risk his career in so obvious a manner for such a trivial reason?

If anything, the host of a show like this would want the kid from the Bombay slums to win so that more and more kids from the Bombay slums would watch the same show and try to get on, thinking they could win millions as well; it's not in the host's interests for this kid to lose to begin with so why the attempted sabotage? We don't know.

Besides, the host's condescension to Jamal while on the show is enough for us to understand that the host character is a phony.

It's the kind of film where the hero is for one night the most recognizable person in India, with his car mobbed by throngs of wellwishers before his final TV appearance, and yet the same guy is able to just wander a busy train station in Bombay (Mumbai) unrecognized until he spots his true love right after the TV show.

It's a film where the criminal underworld corrupts only the "bad guys" of the piece and not the heroes.

Okay, let's forget all that. I can forgive a film that kind of lazy storytelling if the sentiments are there and the characters are involving. Hell, a lot of Frank Capra movies are guilty of similar sins.

The leads are appealing yet they remain blank, some simply "types" and none with much motive that we can understand. We have a central character whose very emptiness is what drives the film (much like Forrest Gump). A main character in love with another character in the context of a story that just happens to them and whose appeal to us in the audience lies simply on the leads' luck in getting out of horrible situations.

Jamal is resourceful but to what end? A love for a girl he barely knows? Both remain characters that we barely know or understand.

In the end he triumphs and we are happy because he was lucky and smart enough to seize multiple opportunities without losing his humanity in the process.

And?

The cast are pleasing and the film's translation of tropes from Charles Dickens into modern India is interesting; I don't think that the filmmakers are very aware of what they are doing beyond simply using tried Dickensian plot devices but it kept me interested on some level as a former English Literature major.

I kept thinking that "this probably worked better in the novel" as I watched the film.

The laziness of the film is seen by the use of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" in a sequence. One, the sequence is set years before the song was recorded -- no kidding, right? -- and, two, the song is a Sri Lankan-by-way-of-London rapper's rap using a much better song by The Clash as the sample underneath. I venture to add that the lines about Coca Cola in Strummer and Jones' original "Straight to Hell" would have both fit the film's narrative timeline and the subject matter much more closely than "Paper Planes does.

And what's so wrong with Coca Cola anyway? So as a viewer we are supposed to fear the smiling benefactor offering the kids Cokes in the middle of a trashheap as if the Coke and outstretched hand is somehow worse than the hell the kids are living in?

The message being that they are at least pure before the tampering of the West comes along to spoil their lives any further? That is the worst kind of patronizing on the part of the filmmakers.

It is the whole bullshit "noble savage" concept that was out-of-dated during the Victorian era and, worse still, it is being perpetrated by white filmmakers who think that they are saying something about the plight of poor people in Mumbai when really they are just creating entertainment out of "other people's misery," to paraphrase The Sex Pistols.

I venture to add that the real Jamals begging on the streets on Bombay would take every chance they got to escape and wouldn't be so pigheaded as to focus on a girl they barely knew for the sake of deliverance for themselves and those around them.

I recommend this review from indiewire's Eric Hynes; I wrote my piece before I read his review but he says a few things much better than I can.

UPDATE: For an example of how you make an affecting film about people overcoming some levels of adversity, I recommend Ann Hui's The Way We Are. My psuedo-review is here. It's the first film that comes to mind at the moment and at the very least, Ann Hui's film doesn't beat the viewer into emotional submission like Slumdog attempts to do. Ms. Hui understands that less-is-more and that some situations in life don't need any further amplification to make them dramatic for viewers.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ip Man Up For Pre-Order!

The latest Donnie Yen masterpiece (fingers crossed) is up for pre-order at YesAsia in a few different versions.

Here is a link to the basic edition.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Anthony Bourdain's D.C. Episode - UPDATED

Tonight, at 10:OO PM EST, Anthony Bourdain's episode in Washington, D.C. premieres and here is my two cents.

I guess I should explain that I do not consider myself an expert on food; I just know what I like. I don't even use the word "foodie" to describe myself as it's annoying and it connotes something vaguely yuppie that gets under my skin.

I should also admit that I don't care much about European food; given the choices in this area, I'd rather find an Asian restaurant of any kind over a French restaurant or cafe.

But, I have spent most of my life in this area and I pay attention to stuff; If I try a new restaurant and have a dish I'm not familiar with, I usually run off and look it up online to learn more abut it and see if what I had was in any way authentic or accurate.

Because I'm enthusiastic about the places I like, and because I'm fat, people assume that I must know what I'm talking about when it comes to food. Maybe I do for certain cuisines.

Well, for some reason, Comcast already had this Bourdain episode available on its On-Demand service weeks ago. I watched it and was simultaneously happy and disappointed with Bourdain's journey to this area.

I am going to try to highlight the positive but I have to deal with the negative.

Tony spends far too much time at an adequate restaurant in D.C. -- Clyde's, I think? -- with an expert from the Spy Museum. I have no interest in the Spy Museum and am guessing that the parent company of the Travel Channel, the Discovery Channel, has a financial stake in the place and is using this Bourdain segment as a sort of advertisement for it.

UPDATE: As of July 2010, I think the Travel Channel is now owned by the Food Network.

Bourdain also ventures to the very famous Ben's Chili Bowl which *is* a D.C. landmark but which I've never been to (hangs head in shame).

I was delighted to see that Bourdain took local writer George Pelecanos with him. I met Pelecanos recently at a used book store in Silver Spring that I've been shopping at for almost 18 years now -- the great Silver Spring Books.

I was a very happy Bourdain fan to see that he did indeed find The Eden Center in nearby Falls Church, Virginia. Frankly, Bourdain could have devoted the whole episode to this place as there are more than 100 Vietnamese and Chinese-Vietnamese restaurants in the complex. Bourdain's segment takes in a Vietnamese bakery typical of many in this area where a customer can easily see the French influence on the Vietnamese cuisine.

The bakery, Song Que, is a new place in the Eden Center and it takes the spot of the much loved Four Sisters Restaurant -- same owners -- which has moved out of the complex and into a new location in Falls Church.

Side note: The old Four Sisters Restaurant in the Eden Center used to be the most upscale establishment in the complex and perhaps a trifle less "ethnic" to all outward appearances. By that I mean that you would see lots of white people eating at the Four Sisters Restaurant but almost no white people eating at any of the other 99 restaurants in the Center.

Admittedly, it can be intimidating to go to a place where you may not be familiar with all of the dishes on the menu. Some people would never go to a restaurant that has ducks and pigs roasting on display for patrons but to each his or her own.

The clip at the bottom of this post has the entirety of Bourdain's visit to the Eden Center.

Check out this recent post on the Four Sisters Restaurant in their new location!

Bourdain also partakes of Latin American and Ethiopian cuisines in the Virginia suburbs. There are thousands of different Latin American restaurants in both Maryland and Virginia and it is quite easy to find Peruvian food, for example, in this area. I need to explore that more myself.

As for Ethiopian, I am intrigued but by no means an expert. This area is rightly famous for having a lot of good Ethiopian restaurants in various suburbs and in D.C. itself. Bourdain seemed more intent on having a rare beef dish not even on the menu than highlighting good Ethiopian food.

I tend to get disappointed with Bourdain when he ventures into this "bizarre foods" territory; that's what the Andrew Zimmern show is for. To his credit, Bourdain usually does a good job at illustrating everyday dishes from all over the world and how those dishes fit into the lives of the people in the places he travels to. But, hey, you've got to get viewers and sometimes he has to go for the "ooh look at this!"-dishes.

Then Bourdain devotes quite a bit of time to the Minibar and its chef in D.C.. Most people in this area 1) can't afford to eat at places like this or 2) don't have the time to eat at places like this because their work schedules are too full. Again, it's a case of the exotic and has more to do with D.C. wanting to be like NYC and less about what already makes this area special and unique.

But Bourdain's biggest mistake is getting crabs in D.C.! I wanted to throw something at the screen.

Now, I'm not a big crab guy despite being a Marylander but I respect the culture and I know that one goes to Baltimore, or the Eastern Shore, or Chesapeake Bay, or Annapolis for crabs, not to a ramshackle fish market in D.C.!

That fish market is most likely trucking in the crabs from Maryland anyway!

With all of the good seafood in this area, I'm still amazed that the producers thought that this segment represented anything other than a tourist trap; the same crabs probably cost half the price in Annapolis.

So while there were moments of this episode where Bourdain seems to be making the point that the story of D.C. is the story of its suburbs, he doesn't do a good enough job of doing that.

Lots of big cities have places like Minibar in their hearts. But few cities have the wealth of Vietnamese or Korean restaurants that Northern Virginia has, or the amazing number of seafood restaurants along Chesapeake Bay.

And as the Travel Channel is affiliated with the Discovery Channel, and as that channel's headquarters is in Silver Spring, Tony could have walked over to the marvelous Mandalay Restaurant and Cafe -- perhaps my favorite restaurant in the D.C. area!

I'm still a fan of Bourdain; maybe one day he'll just do an episode on the Virginia or Maryland suburbs and hit all of those places?

Details on this episode are here.

Here's another blog link on the episode that is a bit more brutal than I am.

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Puffy (Puffy Amiyumi, that is) Single!

A new Puffy (Puffy Amiyumi for us in the U.S.) single is already up for pre-order at YeaAsia and the link is here!

PUFFY - Hiyori Hime

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Seven Samurai and Ikiru -- The Criterion Collection

It's hard to write anything more about Kurosawa and especially hard to think of something new to say about Seven Samurai and Ikiru but here goes.

Seven Samurai (1954)

One of the first DVDs I purchased near New Year's Day of 2001 when I got my first DVD player (for a movie fan, I was late to upgrade to the format!) was Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954).


The original barebones Criterion disc listed for close to $40 and had very few extras. And the picture quality of the disc was not impressive; I assumed that a DVD version of this classic would have had a better presentation.

That experience soured me on Criterion for some time. While my friends, and other fanboys, were getting into the Criterion experience, I was avoiding their releases unless they offered significant extra features. I was certainly not going to be like someone I know who knew almost nothing about film but was busily buying Criterions because they were numbered and limited and pricey. The presentation was trumping this guy's love for, or knowledge of, the films inside the cases.

When I got my first all region DVD player, I started looking for some of the titles that Criterion has in the US on cheaper R2 versions without the Criterion number on their spines.

I had to have some Kurosawas in my collection and to remedy that deficiency and save money, I purchased a mainland China, all region Kurosawa box set that had a bunch of his titles, some with great picture quality and some with abysmal quality and all with horrible subtitles. Good thing I had seen all of these titles already or they would have been hard to understand!

But for some reason this past Christmas when Border's had a few good DVD sales in a row, I got a few titles on Criterion that I really loved or wanted to see, including rebuying for the third time some Kurosawa titles.

The labels' exemplary job on Bottle Rocket convinced me that, yes, sometimes their discs were worth $40 a piece.

Which is a long way of getting to that point that the 3-DVD edition of Seven Samurai looks amazing! Infinitely better than the barebones original Criterion DVD of the same title that I purchased some eight years ago.

The film thrills and moves me every time that I see it. And where I once, as a teenager, wondered why the film didn't have more action, I now find the action getting in the way of the human drama that holds the film together.

The first time that you see the film, you remember Toshiro Mifune but on the 2nd, and each subsequent, viewing, you remember Takashi Shimura. His presence remains at the center of all of the action and drama as his character, Kambei, is the one that gives a meaning to the mission.

Once Kambei is on the side of the farmers, the rest of the samurai are hired and the drama commences. It is Kambei's decision to support the farmers' cause that gives nobility to the mission which enables the other samurai to take up the same cause as a worthy one.

The introduction of Kambei and the following "hiring the samurai" section is still one of my favorite sequences of film of all time -- the use of sound and editing, and slow motion imagery for a brief spell, all contribute to what amounts to almost a classic mini-film within the larger drama.

The Extras on Seven Samurai

Let's just say that watching the film and the entire set of extras -- with a pause for dinner -- took me all of a Sunday -- nearly 8 hours! But it was time well spent.

The episode from the Toho TV series on Kurosawa's work is quite good with some interesting bits on the writing of the script for the film.

And the nearly 2-hour conversation between Kurosawa and fellow director Nagisa Oshima is fascinating if a bit static; a few clips or edits would have made this a bit more vibrant.

The Criterion-produced documentary on the samurai film was informative and enjoyable even if it sometimes felt like a commercial for all of the other samurai films that Criterion has already released.

Even without a Border's sale involved, I'd say that this version of Seven Samurai was easily worth a $50 price tag.

Ikiru (1952)

Ikiru is one of those films, like In The Mood for Love, that I'm always afraid I'm going to ruin by writing about.

Having seen the film a handful of times now, I can say that, like Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire or On The Waterfront, Takashi Shimura's performance ranks up there as one of the world's best film performances. Alternating between using his expression, his body, and his voice, Shimura becomes the character of the everyday clerk struggling to find meaning in his life before it is too late.

Shimura in a weird way exaggerates Watanabe only so that the character will stand out in the crowd scenes. We are witnessing a man that has let life pass him by finally discover the joys of the everyday world. The film could have been shot in a documentary style but what Kurosawa is doing is adding drama -- like in a silent film -- to Watanabe's journey. And Shimura is using that wonderful character actor's face of his to move from comedy to tragedy in sometimes seconds.

When Watanabe is out for a night on the town with the writer, the viewer doesn't know whether to laugh or cry or both.

I really can't explain this section of the film very well but it always works for me in the way that Charlie Chaplin works for other people; my grandfather would always talk about when Charlie Chaplin played a guy so poor and hungry that he "ate his own shoe" and how funny/sad that was.

And then when I realize how poor my grandfather was as a child when he probably saw that Chaplin film, it adds a layer of poignancy to the Chaplin comedy that maybe wasn't there for me before.

I guess it's just a case of finding the humour in tragedy.

In your mind, as you watch Ikiru, you can envision any number of ways to shoot the same story. And the manner in which Kurosawa breaks up the sections of the film still baffles a bit.



But it is one of those films, like maybe Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson or Being There with Peter Sellers, that succeeds on the strength of the lead actor; no one else could play a part like this but Takashi Shimura. Even without sound, this film would work largely due to the expressions on Shimura's face.

Unfortunately, I can't rave about *this* Criterion release as the picture quality is a bit sub par -- not so much grainy but rather with lines running down entire scenes. Some early scenes have a very light thin line running right down the middle of the frame which tends to make you forget about the drama you are trying to focus on.

The Extras on Ikiru

There is another episode from the same Toho series on Kurosawa that has a bit of background on Shimura with some great clips of the actor singing in an earlier role.

And there is a 81-minute documentary on Kurosawa that is quite good.

I don't feel that my $40 was misspent just glad that I had seen the film a few times before so that I wasn't seeing it for the first time with such a poor picture.

You can read about, and order, Seven Samurai and Ikiru on the Criterion website.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Maybe It's Reno



I have a tendency to both glamorize the past and Britpop and frequently those impulses converge.

From 1987 to 1988, I worked at a college town used record store which was not what I would call a cool record store but more a good place to find stuff for my collection. I met a lot of cool customers during that time and that era of my life I associate heavily with first getting into Creation Records bands; I was already into 4AD a bit too much, going from buying any import cassette with the 4AD logo at the DC Tower Records to buying any CD from the label at the old Olsson's in Georgetown or, again, at Tower.

And from September 1988 to about May 1990 when the store closed, I worked at The Record Co-Op, a record store on the campus -- in the basement of the Stamp Student Union building -- of the University of Maryland. Not quite a "co-operative" as the name suggests, we were more a one location new music store, ordering directly from the major labels and from distributors and import music vendors.

I had gone from customer-buying-4AD-imports to guy-ordering-the-4AD-product for the store to stock.

Those two years I got a lot of free "promos" in the mail and a lot of free concert tickets and I met a lot of artists at concerts and other functions.

But I also came to know a handful of what I'd call the "cool" customers; I think any good record store employee tends to judge people based on their purchases which are usually reflective of that person's taste.

Some customers of this store later formed Velocity Girl, with Bridget Cross going from that band's first incarnation to the seminal D.C. non-Dischord band, Unrest, to Unrest's "spin-off" -- for lack of a better word -- Air Miami.

Now, while I was impressed at the time that people I knew could form a band named after a Primal Scream song and get signed to Sub Pop, I was especially impressed that someone I knew from that era could get signed to the almighty 4AD label which Unrest and Air Miami did.

So that's quite a long, personal introduction to a mini-review of Maybe It's Reno's first self-titled release. I somehow missed this entirely -- was I too busy looking for a mediocre Dirty Pretty Things single last year? Maybe. DPT broke up, anyway.

The band is essentially Bridget Cross from Unrest/Air Miami with members of those two bands backing her up.

The sound is a bit more stripped down but still nice, reminiscent of early work from Tracey Thorn with a more vibrant -- sometimes low key -- vibe underneath the vocals.

Parts of the album -- songs like "Gravestones and Christmas Trees" -- recall Rebecca Gates from The Spinanes. But the harder rocking "Drunk Pilot" recalls Tanya Donelly's work with Belly (also 4AD artists).

The other standout track for me is "Venice Gate" which is enough like Laura Nyro -- but with some nice slashing guitar riffs thrown into the mix -- to please this fan.

I think that if you liked Bridget's vocals on Unrest's "Light Command" or Air Miami's "Seabird", you'll be quite happy with this first album. I hope the band records more and eventually tours.

The band's website is here.

And you can order the CD or download the album here from Amazon.com. Or you can buy directly from Teenbeat Records.

For old times' sake, here's one of my favorite Unrest songs -- even though Bridget is not the lead vocalist, her bass work is quite prominent on this track.

I always put this song on mixes next to mid-1980's era Wedding Present for some reason.

UNREST "Make Out Club"

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Beauty and the Beast -- The Criterion Collection


Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast is a hard film to like. I've seen it before but that was two decades ago when I was enamoured of Wings of Desire, a film whose cinematographer worked on the Cocteau film.

While there are certainly films I never get sick of, I'm not sure that this is still one of them.

However, I should admit with a bit of sadness that, while I thought it was firmly in my permanent Top 10 in 1988, Cocteau's film now is more a thing to be admired than enjoyed. Sorry. I will turn in my film snob pass at the door.

That's not to say that some parts of the film don't still thrill me, sometimes on multiple levels simultaneously; it's the rare film that works on one's imagination, intellect, and emotions equally.

My interest in the material goes all the way back to my childhood and King Kong (1933). That film, obviously, both literally and thematically quotes the Beauty and the Beast fairytale.

Additionally, as a child of about 5 or 6, I had this weird little record player with a slideshow device -- like a TV -- built-in below the turntable. You would play a record with a storybook and a filmstrip and when a bell "dinged" between sections of the story being read on the record, you turned your page and advanced the filmstrip one more frame in the turntable-thing.

The only story I remember using on that contraption was a version of Beauty and the Beast.

Then, I had a film book about Kong and other ape movies and that had photos from the film in it, despite the fact that the beast is more cat-like than ape-like. The arm-candelabras image stuck with me at that age having seen that picture in the book.



And a local PBS TV station that used to show foreign films during the weekdays when I was a bit older -- where I first saw The 400 Blows when I was 13 -- used imagery of the Beast from Cocteau's film in their title sequence (the majority of the films shown on this channel in this series were also from the Janus collection which morphed into the Criterion Collection on laserdisc and then DVD).

And, obviously, for any man blessed with less than good looks, the story hits close to home. It seemed even as a fat child, I could see the beautiful people with me the "beast" observing them.

But, it wasn't until I was a 20-year-old, roughly, that I was again drawn to the story, this time Cocteau's 1946 version, due to the music of Bill Nelson. Nelson, former frontman of Be-Bop Deluxe, not only named his solo record label after Cocteau, but he composed his own score to the film that I used to play quite a bit.

(Nelson's associations with David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto got me into quite a few other things once my imagination was sparked to pursue the influences on these performers.)

The film seemed a wonderful thing when I first viewed it on an old VHS videotape 20 years ago.

Now, having watched it on a 44-inch television set on a Criterion Collection DVD, I find myself a tiny bit disappointed. Is it a case of me growing out of the film?

The film, to its credit, is played completely seriously and doesn't have the tone of a film meant for children, despite the subject matter. And some wordless sequences, like Belle's entrance into the hall, are still rapturous.

It's just that the film alternates between moments of a very forced kind of theatricality -- more like mannerism than stage acting -- and moments of a surreal, dream-like quality.

The 1946 film has probably never looked better, although the technique used to restore the missing frames in the film does produce a few sequences where things appear jumpy. And the film does have a few washed out sequences that -- at least on my TV -- were not as sharp as I would have imagined they should be.

I did enjoy most of the extras on this DVD, especially the 30-minute TV episode from France showing the real locations of the film with interviews with a bearded Zeus-like Jean Marais.

You can read more about the film here on Criterion's website.