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March 31, 2009

"And what does an assistant phone basher do exactly?"

Happy snowy week everyone. Seems like a good time to veg with a flick.

I was outside cleaning stuff up in the yard when I saw this in the neighbor's trash:


A 1980s vintage Sony TV, a victim perhaps of the digital TV transition. It'd obviously failed to sell at a yard sale for $3. Truly a sign of the times. (old codger alert!) Back then, this was a really nice TV that I would have loved to have. This thing, a 19-20", had a full feature remote, all electronic controls, and the very classy two headphone jacks! Older Sony TVs with their distinctive Trinitron tubes really were in a class by themselves and commanded a premium price. Now, Sony makes flat panels like everyone else. Of course modern sets beat the pants off of the old ones, but there was something a wee bit sad about seeing this symbol of technological change.

Anyway, on with the usual stuff...

Here's what they got for us this week:

An American in Paris (1951) The restored version hits BD this week. A good review of the disc by DVD Savant can be found here.

Autopsy (2008)

Danton (1983)

The Fugitive: Season 2 Vol. 2

Gigi (1958) A new BD version of the classic MGM musical.

Il Generale Della Rovere (1959)

Marley & Me (2008) Also on BD: HD Labs!

Ricky Gervais: Out of England: The Stand-Up Special (2008)

Seven Pounds (2008) Also on BD.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) Also on BD.

March 23, 2009

"It's small, but particularly dirty."

Greetings Fellow Video Droogs!

Warners has announced a pretty cool way to both make more cash and satisfy demand for older movies that wouldn't sell well enough to warrant a normal DVD release. The studio, who has the largest catalog of old films by far, will start making movies available directly via their website. One can either order a DVD, which is made when you order it, or a digital download. Supposedly the site will contain a lot of films never released on DVD going all the way back to the silent era. The studio rep claims the films will get good transfers without any crap such as pan and scan. Sounds like a good idea, if you ask me. A story about the program can be found here.

Now, let's see what the video gods are showering us with this week.

The 400 Blows Criterion issues this one on BD.

Big Stan (2007) Also on BD.

Bolt (2008) Also on BD. More CG animated critters...

Charles in Charge: Season 4 Once again, Scott Baio did it...for 4 seasons (sorry, inside joke)!

Craig Ferguson: Wee Bit O' Revolution

Goldfinger (1964) The classic Bond film gets a BD release.

The Last Metro (1980) Also on BD.

Never Say Never Again (1983) Time to reissue this also-ran Bond film.

Quantum of Solace (2008) Also on BD.

Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume Three Another fun set of pre-code Hollywood films. DVD Savant has a good review of the set here.

March 19, 2009

TOS Rewind #25: "The Alternative Factor"

Today's episode: The Alternative Factor (03/30/1967) I enjoyed a nice Dewars Scotch with our podcast (and no, I'm not trying to rip off Ron Moore's podcasts!).

Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast for this one. Download it here.

This is one of those episodes that, while having some very interesting ideas, ultimately doesn't work as well as it could for me due to the way it's executed. Back when I saw this one growing up, I doubt I was as critical as I am today. After all, it had some space-like effects and a few fights with funky lighting and effects. Cool!

Here's what I did like about it.

There are some compelling and unusual, for 1960s TV, ideas presented here. The parallel universe concept and the "corridor" allowing someone to travel between them is great sci fi (not SyFy!) stuff, even if it'd probably been written about before in books.

The teaser and first act of the episode work very well. The buildup with the mysterious effect and the somber invasion message from Starfleet (the first time we see Kirk and co. interact with anyone at HQ) cast a somber tone on the show right away. Then, this batshit crazy man named Lazarus appears and we really don't know what the hell is going on. As I said, the intro is very effective which makes the rest of the episode more disappointing.

The interactions between Kirk, Spock, and Lazarus are interesting at times. Kirk comes off as genuinely conflicted as he has to decide what to believe. Spock gets some good skeptical science officer time here and even gets in this jab at Lazarus: "I fail to comprehend your indignation, sir. I have simply made the logical deduction that you are a liar." The scene where Kirk and Spock figure out the nature of the two universes and the potential consequences is actually well done. Here is a scene where nothing exciting happens; the two of them are just hanging out in the briefing room having a chat. The camerawork and music builds up a good tension as it dawns on them what they are dealing with. Sure, it may seem over the top, but it does convey the situation without anything other than the acting and some economical production.

Unfortunately, for me, the episode is undone by a few things.

The guy playing Lazarus manages to seriously out-scenery-chew Shatner. The ranting and raving get old after a while and is giggle-inducing at times. I understand they were trying to portray an insane character, but it doesn't always come off right. Also, other than trying to spot the on/off cut on his forehead, it's almost impossible to tell the two Lazarus' (Lazari?) apart as they both tend to babble on crazy-like. Then there's his endless running around on the planet falling off cliffs. Rob and I laughed out loud one of the times. I understand that some of this was padding to fill in a missing romantic subplot involving Lazarus and the engineering officer. At least that might have made the episode more interesting and fleshed out the middle section, but it was cut from the script and, AFAIK, never filmed. By the way, where's Scotty? And where did his engine room set go? Then there's the strange facial hair Lazarus has. Sometimes it looks glued on and on the verge of coming off. OK, that's nitpicking...

Things sure seem lax on board the Enterprise in this episode considering how easily Lazarus manages to steal two sets of crystals. The red guy in the transporter room is a joke. Kirk has this frank discussion with Lazarus where he threatens to steal the crystals. Next thing we know, Lazarus is waltzing around the ship. hanging out in the lounge/lunchroom, and into the engineering section to steal the stuff without much trouble. Don't you think Kirk would have had him watched? Another odd thing: the planet-side scenes are obviously California locations, as usual. But, when Kirk crosses over into the other universe to meet the sane Lazarus, who now acts calm and rational, the scene is obviously on a soundstage with fake rocks. Hmm...

The effects just weren't able to convey they nature of the corridor and the other universe. The bits where Lazarus and his twin are fighting look silly and I have to assume that the dialogue was written to compensate for this. This is quite obvious where at the end of the episode and Kirk is ruminating about the fate of Lazarus. He gives his dramatic, "How would it be?" bit, as if he is needing to remind the viewers just how significant the resolution of the episode is. "What of Lazarus?!"

I watched the remastered version of this one, but of course the new fx didn't impact the fighting scenes. As usual, the images are extremely clean and the exterior ship shots look modern, but little impact on the episode itself.

And now Eric's:

I have always found “The Alternative Factor” to be compelling, but it is flawed. There are continuity problems, such as the dilithium crystals being kept somewhere other than the engine room in the matter-antimatter reactor. And the basic mistakes in the science are glaring—an antimatter Lazarus wouldn’t have been able to exist in our matter universe. The instant he came into contact with a particle of matter, there would have been a BIG explosion. Also, the entire universe couldn’t have been annihilated. But we talk about this in geater detail in the podcast, so I’ll move on to why I have a die-hard affection for the episode.

The setup in the teaser is very well done. It draws you in immediately and doesn’t let go, and this is representative of the good storytelling throughout. (Even a ridiculous story can be engaging, even enthralling, if it is told well. Consider Aesop’s fables and “The Wizard of OZ.”) The parallel universe theme is also a staple of SF that never ceases to be fascinating. And we could no doubt get into a deep “duality of man” discussion based on the “Sane Lazarus” vs. “Nutso Lazarus” situation. But aside from all of this, I enjoyed seeing an epsiode that doesn’t have an overt socio/political message. “The Alternative Factor” exists for no other purpose than to explore the idea that is the basis of its theme. There is also some nice pathos for Lazarus’ plight, but in the end—I know I’ve said this before—I always love the episodes that convincingly convey a feeling of being alone and isolated in the distant reaches of the galaxy.

So, despite its flaws, I have to give “The Alternative Factor” a decent grade for effectively evoking a sense of being in deep space.

Next time: “City on the Edge of Forever”

March 16, 2009

"I think that's about the worst thing I've ever heard. How marvelous."

What a gorgeous day we're having here in MN today. Warm and sunny days may not make one think of new video releases, but here we are anyway. As usual, click here for the whole list.

Barney Miller: Season 3

Dodes'ka-Den (1970)

Elegy (2007) Also on BD.

JAG: Season 8

Married... with Children: Season 10

Mr. Belvedere: Seasons 1 & 2 Wow, I've been waiting for this show to appear on DVD for...soooo long!

The Nanny: Season 3 See above...

The Princess Bride (1987) First (and probably not the last) time on BD for this one; same bonuses as the current DVD.

Punisher: War Zone (2008) Also on BD.

The Robe (1953) The first Cinemascope feature gets a new DVD release and a BD issue.

The Three Stooges Collection: Vol. 5: 1946-1948

Twilight (2008) For some odd reason, this is being released this Saturday 3/21. Also on BD.

March 10, 2009

"It's not nice to fool with the dark overlords!"

The Star Trek entries haven't died off, we're just in the midst of a bout of busy. Hopefully soon.

A few "what I've been watching" bits:

Elizabeth (1998) It's been quite a while since I'd seen this award winner and it does hold up quite well. The cast and performances still shine and it was fun to see both Christopher Eccleston (Dr Who) and Daniel Craig (the current Bond) show up. I wasn't familiar with either of them last time I saw this film. The DVD, which I've had since 2001 or so, still looks pretty decent. No doubt that a HD version would look very nice.

Compulsion (1959) As an Orson Welles fan, I'd been meaning to watch this one for a long while, but didn't until this last week. This was one of three films made about the famous Leopold/Loeb murder case from the 1920s. The performances are really quite good, with Dean Stockwell and Welles standing out. Welles' ending monologue is worth watching the film for, if you like Welles. Not only is the material very good for the speech (supposedly taken from Clarence Darrow's original speech) really good, but Welles delivers it in such a great non-scenery-chewing manner. The ebb and flow of his voice make the speech that much more compelling. Undoubtedly this is thanks to his years of radio work. Welles does typically overdo it with the obnoxious makeup (complete with a false nose) and his (literally) larger than life presence, but the acting itself fits and comes off as genuine Welles, not one of his phoned-in-for-cash deals. The film itself is decent enough though it has to skate around the details of the crime and has this goofy out-of-place 50s crime drama title sequence. The nature of the two murderers' gay relationship is obviously kept vague, but is heavily implied. The tension around this comes off quite effectively, more than you'd expect for a film made at this time. The DVD is a clean black and white 'Scope image with very good sound ('Scope films often had multichannel sound). The clear dynamic sound even benefits Welles' speech; it's one of the better recordings of his voice I've heard.

OK, on to this week's new stuff:

Batman Anthology A box set with all the pre-"Batman Begins" films. Also on BD.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

Cadillac Records (2008) Also on BD.

Escape to Witch Mountain Special Edition I remember thinking this was pretty good...in 1975!

Family Ties: Season 5

Get Smart: Season 2

Howard the Duck (1986) Yes, the "classic" finally makes it to DVD. OK George, now where's the Star Wars Holiday Special?! I mean, really, if you're ok with this one being out, why not go all out?

Let the Right One In (2008) Also on BD.

Milk (2008) Also on BD.

Pinocchio (1940) This one's been out of print since the old 1999 DVD left the shelves. Funny how Disney calls this a "70th Anniversary" version when it came out in 1940...the picture quality on this release is supposedly excellent. DVD Savant writes up the BD version here.

Rachel Getting Married (2008) Also on BD.

Return from Witch Mountain (1978) I found the blurb from IMDB amusing: "Sinister masterminds Christopher Lee and Bette Davis unleash a diabolical plan. The entire city of Los Angeles teeters on the brink of nuclear disaster when the greedy criminals manipulate a young boy's supernatural powers for their own devious gain. But the youth's sister and a streetwise band of truants join forces in a desperate attempt to save the city from destruction." Tee hee.

South Park: Season 12 Crap, that just makes me feel old.

The Starter Wife: Season 1

Transporter 3 (2008) Also on BD.

March 4, 2009

"Sunday is not the new Saturday night."

I got some good feedback on last week's rant, both in person and over email. It was interesting to hear how people approach this oh-so-important topic!

So, let's take a look at what was released this week:

7th Heaven: Season 8

Ashes of Time Redux (2008)

Australia (2008) Also on BD.

Back to Normandy (2008)

Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008) And yes, you can even get this mediocre CG talking dog film on BD.

Doctor Who: A bunch of Who (old series) this week: Key to Time, Armageddon Factor, Power of Kroll, Ribos Operation, Pirate Planet, Stones of Blood, and Androids of Tara (I'd love to hear a Dalek voice doing the "Tomorrow is another day..." speech!).

East of Eden (1981 TV miniseries)

ER: Season 10

The Hills: Season 4

In the Electric Mist (2008) Also on BD.

My Two Dads: Season 1 Yikes! But hey, it does star the betrayer of humanity!

Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986 DVD Savant has a review of this set here.

Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic Also on BD.

Wonder Woman (2009) Also on BD.