2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 880 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 15 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Published in: on March 6, 2014 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Published in: on January 4, 2013 at 11:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Great White Blu-Ray Hunt

Today is the day. The day JAWS came out on Blu-Ray. On my late and dearly missed Mom’s birthday, no less. And I had a solid plan to get it in my grubby hands.

It’s here…

Could I have ordered it online on Amazon? Sure. But when I saw this past Sunday there was a Best Buy exclusive coming out with 40 pages of stuff that I probably didn’t need but wanted, I decided that was the one to get. So I dropped Mrs. Von Luger off at Port Authority in NYC for a trip to sunny Mt. Pocono, PA and headed over to Best Buy on 44th and 5th. But first I killed some time at a Barnes and Noble two blocks down. Big mistake? Maybe…cause there were no more Collector’s Series copies of JAWS left when I got to Best Buy!

The back…

After mulling over my options and maybe buying the regular Blu-Ray, I made the choice to head down to 23rd and 6th to another Manhattan Best Buy. But this time I would be smart and call first to see if they had any left! Oh no – on hold for five minutes! Screw that! As I neared 34th Street I changed course and headed to Penn Station. Made a train by literally one minute, then headed East to Little Neck and the Von Luger Mobile. Then I set out to my “local” Best Buy in Carle Place, NY, deftly avoiding any sight of the office where I work a half a mile or so west of Best Buy (since today was a day off for yours truly).

Aaaaaannnndddd…..They didn’t have any copies of the Collector’s Series Digibook either. Ugh…. What to do? I stalled, looking blindly and punch-drunkedly for other stuff I couldn’t find anyway, while holding in my paws a copy of one of the few regular Blu-Ray copies left. I checked the Customer Kiosk for stock, to no avail. I asked Mike, the guy patrolling the movie/games sections, to no avail. I got on line to pay. I got off the line, hemming and hawing. I decided to look up on my phone just what the heck is in the Digibook and is it worth it, and found a video review which I watched in the store. That’s when I decided to have them order me a copy. Screw it. So I don’t have it today, no biggie.

Meantime, Mike the movies/games guy was looking behind the register to see if there were any regular copies left for a customer that asked him. Aaaaaannnndddd….. Someone left behind a copy of the Collector’s Series Digibook Thingie and my hero Mike saw me and handed it over, then I handed the other customer my regular copy (hopefully not too sweaty by now) and all was good in the ocean! Hurray for me! No waiting! Hemming and hawing paid off for the first time ever!

Now, the smattering of faithful VLB readers know how feel about JAWS. Truth be told, it’s my second favorite film behind The Great Escape, but it’s rapidly becoming 1 and 1A. Now, how is the Blu-Ray you ask? (OK, maybe you don’t give a crap, but I’m telling you anyway!)

First, the packaging is pretty sweet. 42 pages of stuff in the BB exclusive Digibook (boy, that word sounds silly when you keep saying it). Notes on the production, the cast and crew, the film’s influence and legacy, storyboards, a couple of script pages, great photos, etc.

Inside Front Cover

The Intro by Richard Zanuck

Benchley novel

Roy Scheider

Storyboards

Ah, but let’s pop that sucker in the old Blu-Ray player. Man, it looks amazing. Fantastic digital restoration. Crystal clear, but not to the point of looking fake. Depth and detail is fabulous. And it sounds terrific. John Williams’ masterful score is better than ever.

Blu-Ray Main Menu

“It’s a Digibook.” “A wha??”

“Hey, thanks for breakfast!”

For some reason, this made me think of Mummenschanz

Fast fish! One of my Dad’s favorite scenes.

But the real pull for me, in addition to the great extras from previous versions, which include an awesome 2-hour Making of JAWS documentary that first showed up on the super Laserdisc edition, is the inclusion of The Shark Is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of Jaws, which I heard about 5 years ago and finally got to see. Great clips and interviews! Narrated by Roy Scheider! Richard Dreyfuss mimicking the shark! Three uses of the word “recalcitrant” in one minute! Schweet…..The only bad thing is it’s not in full HD. What’s up with that? Eh, no matter. Just wish my Dad was around to share this with. It was his second favorite movie also.

The doc is worth the price of admission

My favorite part of the new doc is Spielberg watching the Oscar nominations…with Joe Spinell (!) who exclaims about the non-nod for Steve: “Who made the picture,  somebody’s muthah?” Or maybe my favorite part is how they talk about the Signature Collection Laserdisc and how people bought Laserdisc players just to get this set, which included one of the best docs ever made, the famous Laurent Bouzerau one which is more of a must-see than this new guy. (They’re both on the new disc!) Well, what are you waiting for? Get thee to a Blu-Ray store!

Here’s another GREAT article about the restoration, and the film, courtesy of The New Yorker. (Thanks to Drax for sharing!)

Images from the Blu-Ray © Universal Studios.

Published in: on August 14, 2012 at 9:17 pm  Comments (9)  
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The Fabulous Richard Z

Movie producer-filmmaker-mogul Richard Zanuck (1934-2012) passed away on July 13 (yes, as usual I’m behind the times), leaving behind a damn good resume. Of course, it starts with Jaws. No, that’s not where he started, but for me, it’s his most important film. But that’s not the whole story by any stretch.

Surfer dude RZ? Looks like it to the Jaws crew!

Zanuck’s father was legendary figure Daryl F. Zanuck, who actually put Richard in the prestigious position of head of production at Fox Studios at the ripe old age of 28 (!). The story goes Daryl was rehired by struggling Fox in 1962, but since he was not willing to give up his Parisian mistresses, he asked Richard to give him a list of candidates to run the studio, and the answer was a piece of paper with the word “Me.” Kinda ballsy, and it payed off. Fox earned over 150 Oscar® nominations during the younger Zanuck’s reign, including three Best Picture wins (The Sound of Music, Patton, The French Connection).

However, when the studios started to struggle, son took the fall and was dismissed by father, which set off a long period of animosity (which was thankfully forgiven  before Daryl’s passing). And the rest is kinda history because Richard teamed with David Brown to form The Zanuck/Brown Company based at Universal, and the hit parade began to march, including The Sugarland Express (directed by some kid named Spielberg), 1973 Best Picture winner The Sting (although they’re not mentioned in the credits from what I understand), The Eiger Sanction, a small movie named Jaws, Jaws 2 (watch out for that cable!), The IslandNeighborsThe Verdict, Cocoon, and Oscar winner Driving Miss Daisy. Heck, they even won the 1991 Irving Thalberg Award, one of the most prestigious honors in Hollywood.

Zanuck went on solo, or co-producer with third wife Lili Fini Zanuck (second wife was Linda Harrison aka smokin hot Nova from the first two Planet of the Apes movies), to produce a slew of good films, which include RushWild BillMulholland FallsDeep Impact,  the underrated Clint Eastwood thriller True Crime, the fun Reign of Fire, and the awesome and supremely overlooked masterpiece Road to Perdition.

In recent years, Zanuck was Tim Burton’s producer of choice, paving the way for such hits and misfires (you decide) as the Planet of the Apes remake (OK, I’ll decide on that one–it stinks!), Big FishCharlie and the Chocolate Factory (much better than it should have been but still no Willy Wonka), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (bloody good!), the over-ambitious Alice in Wonderland, and Dark Shadows.

But ultimately, for me, any Zanuck mention can’t leave out Jaws. Merely the second greatest movie of all time. The best story I read in some of Zanuck’s obits was this one, where hands-on producer Zanuck was on set on day, on a boat off of Mah-tha’s Vineyard with Spielberg, and as the two were lucky enough to see the famous mechanical shark sink, Mr. Z said to Mr. S: “Gee, I hope that’s not a sign.”

RIP, Richard Zanuck. Thank you for your contributions to the world of cinema. And mostly for contributing to a movie that means so much to me, and instantly fills me with memories of my late father, Thaddeus J. Tura (1933-1996).

Thanks also to The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly for some of the facts/stories which I will admit I had not heard before Zanuck’s unfortunate passing.

Published in: on August 9, 2012 at 10:56 pm  Comments (3)  
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When I Get Off’a This Mountain

RIP, Levon Helm 1940-2012

Today Levon Helm, the fantastic drummer/vocalist from the legendary The Band, sadly lost his battle with cancer. Levon will always be an important part of my life because his music played a part in helping me break out of my shell.

Back in the day, the mighty Herb Griffin and I, after many appearances in the audience, became guest stars of the fabulous Frank Jaklitsch when he performed at J.K. McZak’s in Middle Village. And our biggest songs were either Beatles classics, Blues Brothers tunes (complete with dark glasses and sometimes porkpie hats) or songs by The Band. Our favorite one to perform as a trio was The Weight, but Up On Cripple Creek was also a big fave, and always included the famous “Levon face”, mimicking Mr. Helm’s passionate mug as he flawlessly drummed and sang simultaneously. Now before McZak’s I was a poetry-writing, insecure, borderline nerd boy, but alcohol mixed with great music and the new-found ability to perform in front of an audience led me on the road to the career writer, slightly insecure, extremely outgoing, borderline nerd boy that I am today.

Thanks, Levon. May you rest in eternal peace. And may you forever give ‘em the ol’ Levon face up there in Heaven.

By the way, my favorite The Band song? When I Paint My Masterpiece, led by Levon’s stunning vocals. Enjoy.

Published in: on April 19, 2012 at 10:56 pm  Comments (11)  
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Cool as Vice

Revisited an old friend last night via Netfilx Streaming — the movie Busting, one of the most underrated films of the 1970s (aka the greatest decade in the history of cinema) in my humble opinion.

Gotta love those 70s movie posters

First encountered this gem on the fantastic WHT. Yes, amazingly did not see this in the theaters, but even my Dad would have thought there’s a bit too many nekkid boobies in this one for an 7 1/2 year old. (It was 1974 after all). But I did see the more comedic Freebie and the Bean in the theaters. Almost as memorable, but I’ll take Busting, thank you.

Our Reader’s Digest version of the story: vice cops Keneely (70s go-to-guy Elliott Gould ) and Farrel (little tough guy Robert Blake — typecast?) are hot after sleazy crime boss Rizzo (Allen Garfield, who isn’t very threatening except for that creepy smile), and don’t care which hot prostitutes, icky massage parlor managers, bell-bottomed wearing hit men, or second bananas (the imposing Sid Haig) they have to take down to get at him. Hell, they’ll even work after hours, and after they get broken up, to put this sleaze ball away.

Nasty facial hair on balding man = 70s bad guy

After watching Busting again, I was surprised at how much I forgot about it (including the very un-PC gay bar scene with Antonio Fargas of Starsky and Hutch fame, who is billed way too high for such a short time on screen) and also how much I remembered. Of course, there’s the part I remember most, where the two cops get their asses kicked (complete with some extremely fake blood) is the one that always comes to mind. But then there’s the hands-down-best scene in the movie.

The two detectives end up breaking into an apartment looking for evidence (warrant? nah….) and come across a trio of hit men/guns with no lines and the chase ensues. First, there’s some terrific running, even by the lanky Gould (seriously, how many great 70s films was he in? Damn!). Then there’s the freakin FANTASTIC music by Brooklyn-born Billy Goldenberg (who composed music for just about every TV Detective series in the early 70s, and his last two credits on IMDB.com are for Duel documentaries — let’s see if Bradley on Film is paying attention) that I actually remembered humming to myself endlessly after seeing this awesome flick in the early 80s (and the past 24 hours!). And the score merges beautifully with what might be the best-directed scene in any Peter Hyams movie.

Sure, it’s only his second film, and New York native Hyams went on to direct such VLB faves as Outland and…well, OK, Outland is the only other movie I really like of Hyams’ (Dad liked it too)… but damn, what a great great great scene, as the camera pans back quickly with the bad guys in the forefront and our hero vice dicks following at full speed in full 70s hanging-out garb (Gould’s varsity jacket with ripped-knee jeans is a fashion must). When they hit a local supermarket, there are patrons flying and ducking everywhere, shots fired in all directions, Gould loading his gun and a new piece of ever-present gum seemingly at the same time, then everything stops and the tension starts. Seriously, one of the best scenes of the 70s. Trust me on this one.

More impressions from this magnificent little gem: Gould is simply terrific as he proves his worth as a 70s legend; the chase scene at the end seems like a ripoff of the earlier supermarket scene but the car crash is freakin awesome and more than makes up for it, plus you get to hear the music cue again; LOVE the what-the-hell-really-happened ending, always a favorite movie cliche of mine; the gritty cinematography adds a hell of a lot of character; and finally, god bless WHT. (And my Dad for ordering it, and for instilling in me an unrelenting love of movies.)

Policing from the crapper

P.S. Don’t believe me? Check out the recent DVD reviews of Busting, including this fabulous one from DVDTalk.com……Yowza!

Published in: on March 15, 2012 at 11:26 pm  Comments (6)  
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Absent Minded

Last week, I received the yearly summary of this blog from wordpress.com. And I was kinda excited about it to be honest…until I read it. Sure, it looked great, with flash fireworks, fancy type, cool design…but when it told me I only made 5 posts in 2011….geez….how lame.

5 freakin posts? What the heck was I doing the other 360 days? Well, thinking about making posts probably. Somehow I only have a handful of drafts saved, but another 100 or so in my silly little head. But what is keeping me from writing more posts? Is it time? Is it laziness? Is it apprehension about not creating a good enough post? Hell, I don’t know….

I mean, really, what the heck. Why am I writing about my absence from Von Luger’s Butter instead of making an actual post the half dozen people who read this regularly would care about? Well, because it’s writing something. “A writer writes” or so they say. (Who is they? Beats me, my Mom always answered when I asked her “They. They.”)

But I write for a living, maybe that’s why I don’t create all the genius (um….what?) blog posts I plan to create sometime this century. Writing isn’t as easy as it seems. Heck, this post is certainly easy, I’m just rambling….but to create something interesting and fun and coherent, well that ain’t easy. I’m glad to have a bunch of friends who do so regularly on their own blogs (you know who you are, my friends) and I enjoy reading them, and are thankful for their entertaining posts.

Oh hell, enough of my self-deprecation. Hopefully there will be some new posts in this space soon. By popular demand no doubt. Or not. But not tonight. Tonight you all get this nonsense. But is it really nonsense, or merely a stepping stone to a flourishing year of blogging like a sunuvabitch? Time will tell. I’m cautiously optimistic. Which to the faithful readers of this blog, who know me quite well, will sound like endless sunshine and rainbows…..

Published in: on January 4, 2012 at 11:39 pm  Comments (8)  

That’s What I Need

My upper back hurts like the dickens, I’ve had too much wine, I’m wasting time on the innna-net. And I give you my wedding song. A positively beautiful song from the only post-Phil Collins Genesis album, which really gets a bad rap from most Genesis fans. Not me, I think it’s great. One day, I’ll complete my mega-post about Genesis. But for today you get this gorgeous gorgeous song.

Published in: on September 22, 2011 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

March Master

As the faithful readers of this blog (all half dozen of them) are well aware, I’m not very timely with my posts. Heck, if that was the case, I’d be posting every other day. And I had every intention of this post being on time, but well, it didn’t work out…But anyway…

Maestro Ifukube at work

May 31st is the birth date of the legendary Japanese composer Akira Ifukube (1914-2006). Maestro Ifukube is best known — with good reason — for his Godzilla film scores. Beginning with 1954′s Gojira, Ifukube composed a slew of memorable kaiju scores among his more than 250 film credits. He also created the legendary Godzilla roar, it’s said by rubbing a leather glove along a double bass with loose strings, and the Big G’s footsteps by slamming an amplifier box. So it’s easy to see why, even though he was an award-winning composer in his 20s, created numerous orchestral, vocal and other classical works, and taught for many years at the Tokyo College of Music, Ifukube is most synonymous with Godzilla.

The Maestro and his muse (a shorter version)

And why not? Honestly, I would put his military marches for the G movies up there with anything in film, including the tandem of Kenneth Alford’s “Colonel Bogey March” & Malcolm Arnold’s “The River Kwai March” (from The Bridge on the River Kwai, natch) and even Elmer Bernstein’s iconic theme song from my beloved The Great Escape. And a big part of the reason for this is my daughter.

Best of Godzilla 1954-1975

Best of Godzilla 1984-1995

Well, OK, I’ve been listening to this music since I’m a little kid, but it wasn’t until I was older that I purchased a couple of terrific CDs, “The Best of Godzilla”, which I keep in the car for easy listening when the mood strikes, or when the child wants to listen to them on the way to school. Heck, sometimes I listen to them myself! But my daughter takes it to the next level, since she knows all the words (and arm movements) to the Mothra theme. She also sings the Japanese lyrics to some non-Ifukube songs, but that’s for another discussion.

My favorite is the score for Destroy All Monsters, and the main title theme my daughter and I call “Monster’s March”.

And you can’t beat the entrance music for the Big G, or the unforgettable fight music with bold, brassy horns, lyrical strings and booming percussion. The Maestro’s last G score was for director Ishiro Honda’s last G movie, Terror of Mechagodzilla…until…he came back for 1991′s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. And thankfully he did, because some of his scores for the 90s G movies are among his best in my opinion. Especially the bombastic main title theme to 1993′s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

Or even better, next to the incomparable Ennio Morricone’s theme for Once Upon A Time In The West, one of the most beautiful pieces of film music I’ve ever heard is “Requiem” for Godzilla vs. Destroyah, Ifukube’s final film score.

But he ended his Godzilla career on a solid note, with one of the best end credits themes ever, and my second favorite next to the end credits for West Side Story. It’s a freakin shame that the DVD cuts off the credits before not only the entire music could be heard, a mix of some of Ifukube’s best moments from early G scores, but also clips of the King of the Monsters from throughout his resume. A fitting end to a stellar career for both. (Until they brought Godzilla back again…)

Published in: on June 5, 2011 at 8:27 pm  Comments (7)  
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Movies, Movies

On this occasion of Good Friday, I’m reminded of all the great Fridays I enjoyed as a kid. Because that’s the day the new movies come out. Which, when I was younger, meant Arthur Treachers, or gyros, or some other fast food joint for dinner. Then a movie. Back when it was easy to get in the first day.

I’m also reminded I’ve actually been catching up on a bunch of movies lately. Thanks to Netflix and cable, that is. Alas, going out to the movies is a rare occasion now. Not really sure why. My daughter doesn’t like to go for some reason, and the widescreen TV and nice (but modest) sound system make it cheaper and more relaxing to watch movies at home. But here are my short takes on a bunch of flicks I’ve seen recently. Why? Why the hell not!

Snow angel...how ironic (duh)

LET ME IN
Revenge of the Hat Room was right on the vampire tooth on this one. It was terrific. The Swedish original, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, is great also but I preferred the kid performances here, maybe because I loved Chloe Moretz in KICK-ASS (a must-see) and Kodi Smit-McPhee in THE ROAD (a real feel-good film…um, no). And it had an awesome 70s feel to it (always a plus in my book), even though it’s set in the early 80s. Maybe Matt Reeves (CLOVERFIELD, which had its moments) is a director to watch? Well, he’s doing the new Godzilla movie so it seems. That’ll be the real litmus test.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK
I will say David Fincher is one of my favorite modern directors. I loved loved loved ZODIAC, which to me fell way under the radar. And this one the critics loved, for good reason. It was super well directed. Liked the screenplay also, and most of the performances. Very well done all around. My only quibble would be the obvious CGI-d “winter breath” in a lot of outdoor scenes. I mean, I could be wrong (without looking it up), but boy did it look fake. Distractingly so.

THE FIGHTER
This one was good. I wasn’t knocked out like ROTHR, but that could be because Mrs. Von Luger made me shut the movie off halfway through. She simply hated the Melissa Leo and Christian Bale characters so much (not the acting, the characters), she couldn’t watch it any more. I of course finished it after she went to sleep and liked it. Bale was terrific no doubt, but honestly Amy Adams was a hundred times better than Leo.

Sorry, no nekkid pics of Violante Placido, you'll have to find those yourself

THE AMERICAN
Ah, a throwback to my beloved 70s….How could it miss? Clooney is great, the supporting cast of foreign no-names is quite good, the prostitute (played by Violante Placido, the daughter of the actress who played Apollonia in THE GODFATHER) is incredibly gorgeous and nekkid throughout, there’s not a lot of dialogue, there’s not a lot of “hey look at the scenery” shots, it’s not very uplifting, it’s directed by Anton Corbjin who directed the very good CONTROL….All in all, highly recommended. Right up my alley.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS Season 5
I seriously doubt most of the people reading this actually watch this show, but season 5 is the final season. For whatever reason, they released the DVDs before it started to air on NBC, but after it aired on DirectTV. Great, great show that really concentrated more on the characters than the football. It’ll be missed. And thanks to Netflix, Mrs. Von Luger and I already watched the entire season, commercial free, in three days.

JONAH HEX
“Watched” this last night. I put that in quotes because, while it wasn’t a complete and utter disaster, it was close. Just so boring and unorganized and poorly edited and poorly directed, I found myself surfing the web and reading the newspaper while the movie was on. You can easily skip this one. Or give it a shot just for the heck of it since it seemed like it was only about an hour long.

THE KARATE KID
Watched the remake with the family tonight. I was never a big fan of the original, but it had its moments. Which have become cliché by now of course. But the remake, while loaded with clichés, was not bad. Jackie Chan gives a damn good performance actually. Check out the alternate ending on YouTube if you can, where he gets to kinda sorta kick some ass in a Chan-esque fight with the bad guy master.

You bet your ass I'm bolting my doors!

P.S. As I post this, I’m watching John Carpenter’s classic THE FOG. Sure I’m one day late, since yesterday was the 21st of April, when the Elizabeth Dane was lost near Spivey Point some 130-odd years ago, but better late than never. One of the coolest horror flicks around, it still holds up nicely. Could have sworn I had this on laserdisc, but thanks to the Netflix Watch Instantly option, I’m watching it, um, instantly….

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