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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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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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….

Take Me To The River

This year, for our 10th anniversary, my awesome wife bought me a Blu-Ray player. Now I will admit I was a little hesitant at first only because I knew a Blu-Ray player would cost me money due to my DVD addiction. But I vowed not to upgrade existing DVDs unless the extras were out of this world. Of course, I broke that soon with some great deals that could not be passed up (Blade Runner, Braveheart, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan) and much better editions (Red Cliff, The Exorcist). But the smartest upgrade so far? Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure Edition. By far.

This is the good stuff

Of course, I already had The Complete Dossier DVD, which remains unopened, but after doing due diligence by searching some reviews (Dad would have been proud), I thought it would be worth it to upgrade to the Apocalypse Now Blu-Ray. Is it? Well, while recovering from gallbladder surgery recently, I decided to line up a bunch of movies to watch in order to kill time in between pain meds (if needed) and found myself stuck mostly on one in particular — my new Apocalypse Now Blu-Ray. Lemme tell ya, it’s worth running out and buying a Blu-Ray player right now.

This high-def version of Apocalypse looks amazing, and sounds incredibly amazing, even on my two little Bose speakers that sound like full surround given the proper medium. One of my top ten favorite movies, I first saw Apocalypse Now as a 12-year-old back in 1979 because my Dad, bless his heart, took us to see everything. It made an instant and lasting impression. You all know the story of this Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece, based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is ordered to go up river and terminate the command of seemingly gone-loco Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). He travels with a band of misfits and they encounter adventure, danger, and surrealism from start to finish. And it’s freakin’ awesome.

The original Hot Tub Time Machine?

Everyone knows the issues Coppola had making the movie. Typhoon, madness, budgets, replacement casting, the star having a heart attack. If not, the Blu-Ray also includes the bravura documentary Hearts of Darkness, a must-see for all film fans which can help fill in the blanks.

The cast is uniformly amazing, from Sheen to Brando to Dennis Hopper to Frederic Forrest to Sam Bottoms to a teenaged Laurence Fishburne. My fave is the underrated Albert Hall as The Chief. And of course the cliché favorite is Robert Duvall as Col. Kilgore and everyone endlessly quotes his “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” But to me it’s more the little things that make Duvall’s performance so memorable, whether it’s his drinking coffee in the helicopter during the famous Ride of the Valkyries attack which remains one of the most incredible scenes ever filmed (and I now realize James Cameron may have swiped this for Stephen Lang’s character in Avatar) or when Kilgore lets the guy holding in his guts drink from his canteen, but once someone mentions surfer Lance Johnson is with Willard, he forgets about the guy in a heartbeat. For my money the best Kilgore line is “What do you know about surfing, you’re from goddamn New Jersey!”

Now that's how you make a movie poster

Speaking of the helicopter attack scene, famously set to some classic Wagner, it was all pre-CGI (duh). Imagine what Michael Bay would do with that today, with 258 computer generated helicopters and 10,000 explosions in 5 minutes. Well, it would be unwatchable for one.

I watched the Apocalypse Now Redux edition since the BR features both the theatrical and Redux, which I hadn’t seen yet, and has around 45 minutes of added scenes. Some work, some don’t. The extra Playboys Bunnies scene is effective, a bit heartbreaking and strange. With boobies.

The Plantation scene has been described in a couple of reviews as slowing the movie down, and it’s slightly true. It’s also borderline preachy, angry (oh, those silly French), and it seems like the crew is there for a week’s vacation. And there’s an opium smoking scene that features even more boobies, which doesn’t really seem necessary (not that there’s anything wrong with the idea though). But it does contain a nice sendoff for Mr. Clean, and if I could pick out the best thing about the Plantation scene, it makes the following scene even more jarring and more powerful than before.

The extras on the Blu-Ray are worth the price of admission. Among the new features not included on The Complete Dossier are excellent and enjoyable interviews between Coppola and screenwriter John Milius and star Martin Sheen. Milius gets a lot of credit from Coppola for creating Apocalypse Now, especially for the characters and the Wagner/helicopter scene. They kept bringing up George Lucas, which I thought was odd, but it turns out (which I did not know) Lucas was supposed to direct Apocalypse but instead went to do Star Wars (thankfully), and second choice Milius directed The Wind and the Lion instead. Coppola needed to make money for Zoetrope, so decided to direct a Guns of Navarone-type action epic. Um…not quite. But it’s ok, ’cause his movie is better.

Sheen’s interview, the first thing you notice is his big fake choppers. Well, they look fake although I don’t think they are. He and Coppola have a hoot reminiscing in the same studio where they recorded Willard’s voiceover narration, sharing lots of laughs, and some good inside info too.

The horror, the horror...of not owning this Blu-Ray

And there’s SO much more to watch: featurettes on the sound, sound design (they basically invented 5.1 for the movie), music (a bunch of percussionists scored the entire film at one point), casting (Nick Nolte? Really?), and so on, including deleted scenes, a lost scene, alternate credits with commentary. Man. I quite simply can’t recommend this Blu-Ray highly enough. I still have to watch Hearts of Darkness, which I only saw once with a band of great friends back at Film Forum long ago, and which here includes even more extras, plus listen to Coppola’s audio commentary. No reason not to take another trip or two up river.

Published in: on December 1, 2010 at 12:28 am  Comments (5)  
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Eh-vatar

So I guess I was the last self-proclaimed film geek to see Avatar. Back at the end of July (yes, I’ve been meaning to post about it for that long but haven’t made the time) I watched it on Blu-ray, courtesy of the fine folks at Netflix. Is Avatar the biggest box-office hit of all time because it’s the greatest movie ever? Nah. Honestly, I thought it was just OK. Would I have liked James Cameron’s film more if I had seen it in 3D in the theaters? Maybe, but probably not.

I’m not going to bore anyone with a mundane recap of the plot here. You’ve probably all seen Avatar already anyway. And read plenty of recaps of the story too. Suffice it to say there’s a lot to like about Avatar, but it suffers from similar issues as Titanic. Mainly a little too long, and a below-average screenplay. That’s not to say James Cameron is a bad filmmaker. I love the first two Terminators, and Aliens is awesome. I like The Abyss and True Lies is OK. I even like Titanic, besides the aforementioned negatives. But I feel Avatar didn’t live up to the hype. Now, none of my friends have said it’s the greatest movie ever, but there has to be a handful of people out there who think so, probably more. I just don’t know any of them.

 

Meaner and more musical than the Na'vi

 

The effects are fantastic. Yeah, you can tell it’s CGI/motion capture in a lot of parts with the Na’vi, but in other parts it looks damn good. The battle scene at the end is borderline spectacular. The sets are ambitiously great (but maybe, as one fellow blogger friend with a hat room has brought up, Pandora and the album art of Roger Dean have a little too much in common). The cinematography is great too. And the Blu-ray disc looks and sounds absolutely incredible.

But…the acting is a bit hammy at times. Yeah, I’m talking to you Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Lang. (OK, maybe not Stephen Lang because you expect him to be a little hammy. And I did like the stupid thing he did drinking coffee in the cockpit of the battle ship. And he’s a nasty SOB throughout.) The leads are just OK. The Pandorian beasts looked a bit fake at times, but then again they are alien. The story is mildly interesting, and maybe a little silly, but certainly good for techno-geeks. And eco-geeks. And Blue Man Group geeks. OK, maybe not the last group.

 

Bigger, fatter, and less honest than the Na'vi

 

So, do I recommend Avatar? Well, it’s certainly worth seeing. Would I see it again? Maybe. Yeah, I guess once more wouldn’t kill me. Would I want to own it though? Eh….

Published in: on October 11, 2010 at 10:48 pm  Comments (4)  
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When The Music’s (Thankfully Never) Over

When it comes to music, Genesis is my favorite band. Others that are up there near the top include The Beatles, Rush, Led Zeppelin, and Foo Fighters. But there’s one band that I’ve loved since my silly teen years that I keep coming back to over and over. An immortal band that produced incredible music in a (way too) short period of time. A band whose frontman may just be known more for burning out quickly than his musical talent. That band would be The Doors.

The Doors themselves

Every studio album is a classic from start to finish. The Doors, Strange Days, Waiting for the Sun, The Soft Parade, Morrison Hotel, L.A. Woman. Even Absolutely Live is great.

Recently, I finally watched my DVD of When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, written and directed by Tom DiCillo (Living in Oblivion) and narrated by Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd, etc etc etc). Bought the DVD the week it came out and, like all DVDs I buy, it sat on the shelf neglected until the mood struck me at the same time I had time to watch it. Actually, I made time, opening up a fresh bottle of wine at 11 pm and firing up the DVD player. And as my interest grew with each passing moment, history was made. (OK, maybe just in my mind.) Damn, what a fantastic movie.

Cool poster, too

I’ve read so much about The Doors through the years, from No One Here Gets Out Alive by Danny Sugerman to Riders on The Storm by John Densmore, to a Doors book that’s hiding somewhere among my 30 or so waiting to be read, and have always been entertained. The saga of Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore fascinates me. And this film was no exception.

Placing The Doors (who were only a band for 52 months) in their historical context by combining a band bio with short commentary on the turbulent 1960s, DiCillo uses only actual footage of the band to tell their story. Still photos, home movies, interview clips, live performances, concert footage. Sure, it’s been done before, but so what? It’s mesmerizing. Maybe the footage from the lost Jim Morrison movie “HWY” is a little bit of a miss, but hey, where else are you going to see that? The DVD also includes an interesting short interview with Morrison’s father and sister. I could go on (great soundtrack of course, good narration by Depp), but you should just see it for yourself if you haven’t already. Especially if you’re a Doors fan.

P.S. It’s been a great year for music documentaries. In addition to When You’re Strange, the terrific Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage was released, giving Rush a seemingly new relevancy. (Even though they’ve never gone away and are still making awesome music.) And there’s the long-awaited Lemmy, which premiered at the South by Southwest festival this year, and will hopefully be coming to DVD soon. Those three alone are a great year for any genre of film.

Published in: on August 29, 2010 at 10:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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Fast Fish

Last Saturday, June 20th, was not only Father’s Day, and the birthday of one of my oldest and closest friends, but also the 35th anniversary of the release of JAWS, otherwise known as the second greatest movie ever made.

Everyone knows this poster

Of course when JAWS was released in the summer of 1975, my family saw it in the theaters, Dad being an avid fisherman as well as a movie buff. It seemed like the perfect movie for him. We even had the Peter Benchley novel the movie was based on, which my Mom liked but I never read until later in life after getting the laserdisc set as a gift (more on that later). Seeing the movie with another family that lived around the corner from us in scenic Maspeth, NY, I vividly remember ducking under the seat when Alex Kintner was killed on the raft, something I would never do today. I guess seeing The Omen at the ripe old age of 9 the following year cured me of that kind of reaction.

Later in the summer I saw JAWS again with my Dad, this time double billed with the Robert Redford drama The Great Waldo Pepper, a good little time-killer. But obviously we weren’t there to see Mr. Redford fly a biplane.

Mmmmm....Chum.....

So many memories and impressions of JAWS….To me, it’s still Steven Spielberg’s best film. I love the tracking shot where Quint is “introduced” during the town meeting, panning up to him at the chalkboard. Subtle, yet classic.

So many terrific lines, from the overly-quoted “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” to the TV sign off “That’s some bad hat, Harry” to the ominous “I’ll never put on a life jacket again”. But my fave (which my daughter and I like to do every once in a while) is “It’s a Tiger shark.” “A whuuuut?” “Tiger shark.”

So many great performances, most notably the incredibly underrated performance from Roy Scheider as Brody. Underrated in that it’s not as showy as Robert Shaw’s Quint or as loud as Richard Drefyuss’ Hooper, but at times, is twice as effective. (“It’s in the yahd, not too fah from the cah.”) The scene at the dinner table, right before Hooper arrives, with the younger Brody son (cue soft John Williams music…), is a particular fave, and is one of the first “cute kid” scenes in Spielberg’s directorial career.

Whatdya mean you don't like JAWS?

Speaking of John Williams, is there any doubt this is one of his best scores? I mean, the JAWS theme is easily one of the most iconic pieces of film music ever. And you could argue that Williams’ Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones, and possibly even Harry Potter themes deserve a spot in the Top Ten.

Williams deservedly earned an Oscar for his Score (JAWS also won well-deserved Oscars for Best Sound and Best Editing for Verna Fields). My favorite part of the score is “One Barrel Chase”, which turns a suspense movie into a rollicking sea adventure for a minute or two. I remember it was my Dad’s favorite also, and he even went so far as to record some of the music cues on cassette when JAWS was shown on TV.

All the cool kids still have Laserdiscs

I always had a fondness for JAWS, but didn’t truly appreciate its greatness until receiving the Limited Edition Universal Signature Collection Laserdisc as a gift from a dear friend who to this day knows me better than just about anyone. It’s still one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. It contains a fabulously remastered edition of the movie in THX and CAV (you laserdisc geeks know what that is), as well as a nifty, must-see two hour documentary by famed documentarian Laurent Bouzereau, plus a copy of the Benchley novel and a soundtrack CD. Yowza!

Watching this masterpiece again on laserdisc, probably in early 1996, in widescreen/letterboxed format instead of pan-and-scan (yuck) for the first time since 1975, on a 26-inch TV (hey, back then that was a decent size) vaulted it immediately to the second spot in my list of favorite movies. And it ain’t movin’ from that spot. I only wish I could have dragged my Dad over to the apartment to check it out before he passed away in November of that year.

In addition to JAWS being back in the news lately among film nuts because of the 35th anniversary, I’m also eagerly awaiting the eventual DVD/Blu-Ray release of a JAWS documentary that I’ve been hearing about for nearly two years called The Shark Is Still Working. It supposedly runs three hours….three hours on JAWS! Sign me up!

OK, I have to go, and grab my JAWS DVD from the shelf. You see, I’m in the mood for a little boat trip….

For more on this pivotal anniversary in the history of film, go here, or here, or even here, or any of the hundreds of other sites smart enough to mark the occasion.

Published in: on June 25, 2010 at 10:00 pm  Comments (9)  
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Doc, Doc, Goose

I’m a big fan of film documentaries. Whether they’re specific to one movie (Hearts of Darkness; the Jaws documentary that originally appeared on the super laserdisc set), one personality (Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures), or a decade’s worth of cinema (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls; A Decade Under The Influence).

This week, I had the good fortune to catch two documentaries on cable. TMC premiered The Eastwood Factor, an in-depth look at the directing career of Clint Eastwood, in celebration of the legend’s 80th birthday. Written and directed by noted critic Richard Schickel, it takes a quick yet detailed look at Clint’s directing career at Warner Bros. (It also makes a nice tie-in with Schickel’s new book, Clint, naturally).

That's Josey, not Josie

Narrated from a first-person perspective by the great Morgan Freeman, whom Clint has directed in Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby (Freeman’s Oscar®-winning role), and Invictus, The Eastwood Factor features candid interviews with a sometimes gray-bearded Clint himself, a nifty look at a Warner lot that holds all the costumes from Clint’s films, and movie clips galore. A must for Clint fans, of course, and for film doc lovers.

The second, watched just last night, was the HBO documentary I Know It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale, directed by Richard Shepard (The MatadorThe Hunting Party). It’s a too-short, 45-minute portrait of the terrific actor John Cazale, who only appeared in five films before succumbing to lung cancer at the age of 42: The Godfather, The Godfather Part IIThe ConversationDog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter.

The two Godfathers stand on their own, and Cazale is simply fantastic as Fredo, the stumble-bum Corleone brother with dreams of becoming a bigger part of the family. The Conversation is an absolute gem starring Gene Hackman as a surveillance expert and Cazale as his assistant (a role written by Francis Ford Coppola just for Cazale). Dog Day Afternoon is not a big favorite of mine, but it’s still well-directed by Sidney Lumet and well-acted all around. Holding a special place in my heart is The Deer Hunter, not only for the experience of seeing it on the big screen as a just-turned 12-year-old, but it’s also the last movie I watched as a single man, the night before my wedding. (Yeah, it’s a guy movie, definitely.) And, yes Cazale is excellent as Stanley, the whiny eccentric who seems to try way too hard whenever possible to fit in with his buddies but is still a pivotal part of their inner circle.

Cazale (left) and the Hunters of Deer

A worthwhile use of any film lover’s time, I Know It Was You is highlighted by a slew of interviews and remembrances by family, friends, and film luminaries such as actors Steve Buscemi, Sam Rockwell, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (all of whom are obviously influenced by Cazale), directors Sidney Lumet, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brett Ratner (ok, maybe Ratner’s not so luminous, but he did co-produce the documentary so he has that going for him if nothing else), and icons/co-stars Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert De Niro (De Niro’s generosity allowed the filmmakers to cast the ailing Cazale in The Deer Hunter), and Meryl Streep, who had an intimate relationship with Cazale and is positively glowing when sharing her memories of him. Heck, the doc even features a clip of The Simpsons over the end credits, where Buscemi notes he voiced a bank robber character with a sidekick that resembled Cazale’s Sal in Dog Day.

Definitely check out both documentaries. You’ll be happy you did.

Published in: on June 3, 2010 at 10:54 pm  Comments (5)  
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