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June 30, 2009

"I'll just put it here with the rest of the fire."

Here's the list for this week.

My apologies, I'm a bit tied up at the moment to write more (I just know you're crushed!)...

June 22, 2009

"I am now leaving France. This is a bad idea."

And now it's hot/sticky out; seems like an odd Summer so far.

Watched the BD of Bolt (2008) the other night. It was actually pretty fun and entertaining. It isn't going to beat any Pixar films, but it's pretty good. I'm not sure I saw anything really new, but it was well done and had a lot of amusing things in it. The Rhino character was especially funny and frequently stole entire scenes. I also appreciate that this particular character wasn't a celebrity voice (at least it isn't one I'm familiar with). The Disney/Pixar combo seems to have been good for the Disney side of the house. We'll have to see if it effects Pixar long-term. The BD looked flawless, as expected.

Now on to this week's new stuff:

Bob Funk (2007)

The Code (2009) Also on BD.

Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009)

Dragon Hunters (2008) Also on BD.

Inkheart (2008) Also on BD.

Last Year at Marienbad (1961) Also on BD.

Mr. Troop Mom What, a sequel to Mr. Mom??? Also on BD.

My Dinner With Andre (1981) Criterion does the Louis Malle gabfest film.

The Pink Panther 2 (2009) Please...stop? Also on BD.

Waltz With Bashir (2008) Also on BD.

June 16, 2009

"Mandrake, have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?"

Wow, the blog edit interface is really different after the Movable Type upgrade. So far, it looks very slick. Cool.

We watched the BD of "Slumdog Millionaire over the weekend. Really good film, a lot better than some prior Best Picture winners. The BD looked and sounded great, as I expect modern releases to. There's noting like a large high resolution image of the slums of India in all its grime. Really makes me respect the filmmakers for not over-sanitizing the movie. Just a nit to pick: what exactly was American about this movie? The only sign of America-ness was the financing...doesn't really count, IMO for Oscar eligibility. They should either just open the whole thing up or stick to the rules (not that this film wasn't deserving).

So, on to the batch of new titles for this week:

Bergman Island (2006)

Burn Notice: Season 2 Also on BD.

The Cell 2 (2008) Also on BD.

The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) A new 50th anniversary version, also on BD.

Dr. Strangelove (1964) A new BD release from restored elements. It supposedly looks fantastic. I'm definitely going to pick this one up.

Family Guy Volume 7

Forbidden Games (1957)

Friday the 13th (2009) Also on BD.

Last Holiday (1950)

Richard III (1955)

The Seventh Seal (1957) Criterion reissues the classic on DVD and BD.

The Three Stooges Collection: Vol. 6: 1949-1951

Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail

What Goes Up (2009)

June 8, 2009

"Man, that's *real* coffee!"

Ack, another Monday and a rainy one at that.

Over the weekend, I sampled another one of the BD Star Trek movies: Star Trek III. Like the BD of "The Motion Picture," the image was an overall improvement from the DVDs with the same overly-clean look. It's frustrating to see an image so good, yet could be better if they eased up on the grain reduction. Oh well, maybe next time. I listened to the new commentary track with Ron Moore and Michael Taylor. Both wrote/produced for some of the Trek series shows, but not for the original cast films. They had some really interesting insight and a lot of amusing observations. I've decided to wait until this Fall when they release the rest of the films on BD and get them then, along with the Original Series BD sets (which oddly enough get better marks for picture quality than the movies). I also managed to unload one of my pinball machines, the non-functional Bounty Hunter. I really need to get rid of more crap... (hell yeah, sez the chorus).

In the meantime, what have we got this week?

The Cleaner: Season 1

Father Knows Best: Season 3

Fired Up (2009) Also on BD.

Get Smart: Season 3

Gran Torino (2008) Also on BD.

The International (2009) Also on BD.

The Jack Lemmon Film Colletion A set of new-to-DVD Lemmon films. DVD Savant has a review of the set here.

Perry Mason: Season 4: Vol. 1

The Shield: Season 7

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music (1970) The 40th anniversary brings another sales opportunity. I'm sure both the DVD and BD versions are better than what's been out before. If you want regular DVD, you have a choice of the 2 disc movie version or a big 'ol box set with a bunch of stuff you'll look at once and will take up a lot of space on the shelf. If you want HD, you have to buy the expensive box, just like the BD of Casablanca. I really get tired of this crap. Now, I don't care enough about this particular film to buy either version, but the idea that on top of expensive movie prices, BD buyers also get the shaft by having to pony up for the extras if they want HD. Nice move. I've said this before, but IMHO the movie companies should be doing everything they can to sell BD before the video download market really comes into its own and kills the disc. The hardcore fans will buy this, but plenty of more casual buyers will be turned off and opt out. Short-term greed, long-term stupidity. Nothing new, I realize...

June 2, 2009

TOS Rewind #28: "Amok Time"

Welcome to Season 2! Today we'll be tackling Amok Time (09-15-1967)

We did a podcast again, this time under 30 minutes! Listen to it here. I've added the podcasts into an iTunes-friendly RSS feed. And, if you listen to one of these 'casts and have a comment or question, we'll address it in our next round.

I'll let Eric start out the written review part:

“Amok Time” was definitely the right choice to open the second season of classic Star Trek. I hadn’t seen it in quite a while, so I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded just how good it is. As the quintessential Spock episode, it provides much important character development and fills in part of his back story, as well as adding greatly to our knowledge of Vulcan culture—we finally get to see the planet Vulcan and meet some of its full-blooded inhabitants. The story itself is interesting and imaginative, and thankfully free of any overt camp or cheesiness. The direction and acting (particularly Leonard Nimoy’s) are excellent. And the production is quite good, especially the design of the Vulcan set. To top it off, we get to hear the introduction of some of the most memorable music in the series.

With our modern sensibilities, we don’t think twice about the subject of this episode. Sexuality is common theme in today’s TV shows and is depicted both casually and explicitly, but in 1967, it was daring for Roddenberry to even attempt air an episode that dealt with such a taboo topic. I imagine the only way he got it past the network censors was that it dealt with alien (Vulcan) sexuality and was addressed in a circumspect (rather quaint) fashion. Still, this is another example of how original Trek was groundbreaking as a television show.

Another reason “Amok Time” stands out is Nimoy’s brilliant performance. His portrayal of Spock’s torment and embarrassment is completely convincing, as is his “blood fever.” And the final scene, when Spock shows open delight at discovering Kirk is alive, ranks among the best scenes in the entire series. Shatner and Kelley also turn in excellent performances. McCoy’s desperation to help Spock and Kirk’s willingness to sacrifice his captaincy to save his friend are touching. Spock’s request that they accompany him to the ceremony on Vulcan is similarly touching—he reveals that Kirk and McCoy are his closest friends. With Kirk, this is no surprise, but with McCoy, it is a little more surprising given their rivalry. What it comes down to is that the most important subplot of the episode is the affirmation of the deep friendship and affection between these characters.

Additionally, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the late Celia Lovsky’s outstanding performance. T’Pau is a great character. Kirk describes her as “…all of Vulcan rolled into one,” and Lovsky does a superb job portraying this. Arlene Martel also does an excellent job as T’Pring. The character is a stone cold bitch, but Martel plays her wonderfully.

So “Amok Time” scores high in many categories, but I appreciate it particularly because it does so much to develop Vulcan culture. This episode was written by the late Theodore Sturgeon (who also wrote the first season episode “Shore Leave”), and it is a testament to his fertile imagination and skill as a science fiction author. We get used to thinking of Spock as a human who’s a little different, but this story brings out just how alien he and the Vulcan race/culture are. The contrast of the brutal mating ceremony with the peaceful, stoic race we’ve come to know is startling and fascinating. And, when you think about it, logical. Spock established early on that Vulcans were once ruthless and warlike, in the extreme, and that they were saved by the adoption of logic as an overriding philosophy. But as a matter of biology, they still have to deal with the pon farr (the cyclical mating drive) that induces a kind of insanity. So it seems reasonable that as a traditional culture, Vulcans would maintain their ancient ritual for resolving pon farr, koon-ut-kal-if-fee (wedding or challenge). It is implied that the challenge option is very rarely used, but being the thorough, well-prepared people they are, Vulcans are ready for that possibility. And therein lies our story.

So there it is. “Amok Time” is an excellent episode and the perfect choice to begin the second, and arguably best, season of original Star Trek.

This time I had a plain old iced tea: maybe in retrospect, I should have picked something stronger!

At the risk of repeating Eric's comments, I want to start out by saying how good this episode is. Like him, I hadn't seen it in a good while and it didn't disappoint.

This is one of the big Spock showcase episodes and Nimoy really rises to the challenge. It would be easy for him to have dialed in a performance that said, "I'M A HORNY VULCAN!!!" Sure, there's a little bit of that going on there, but he really plays out the inner conflict of the character who's quite ashamed that he has to share this with Kirk and McCoy.

I have this impression of the episode from my childhood, that the Kirk/Spock duel lasts far longer than it actually does. The buildup to the confrontation is effective enough that the fight doesn't have to take the bulk of the screen time. And hey, Kirk's shirt gets cut open right off the bat. Those weapons are really nasty!

As Eric mentioned, the performance of the woman who played T'Pau just doesn't get stale. She comes off as pure Vulcan badass. Spock's bride is also a coldly logical operator. Her manipulation of Spock, Kirk, and the whole ritual makes her come off as a woman not to be messed with. Considering the whole arranged marriage business and the Vulcan ideas of women being "consorts" and "property" of the men, the actual female characters are very strong. I have to think that perhaps Vulcan needs to look into the concept of no-fault divorce. Very interesting.

This is another one of those classic episodes where they managed to work in a potentially thorny subject, sex, into 1960s network TV. By inserting it into the ritualistic Vulcan traditions, they mask the real ideas here to a degree. This was not too uncommon in old Hollywood, where some kinds of social taboos were presentable if portrayed as being part of a "primitive" culture. In this case, the Vulcans are ironically the "savages" while Kirk and the other humans come off as more civilized. This is reinforced by the sets, costumes, and the "ritualistic" drumming of the memorable score (reused many times later, of course). What they do, of course, is develop a relatively rich background for Spock's planet and give us a look at the Vulcan people. No other alien race in the Original Series gets nearly that much development.

Of course it's quite hard to top the ending scene where Spock shouts out, "JIM!" after seeing Kirk very much alive. Call it cheesy if you want: I happen to love it. We also are abruptly introduced to Pavel Chekov. After going through an entire season of Sulu+random navigator (with apologies to Lt. O'Reilley), it's good to have another character on board.

I watched the remastered version and actually liked the CG-redone Vulcan shots, They looked good and matched the existing set footage as well as what we've seen of Vulcan from the films. One of the few times that the enhancements did much for the show.

Next time: “Who Mourns for Adonais”

"I would say that I'm just drifting. Here in the pool."

Holy crap, it's June already!

The only thing I've watched lately was 2010 (1984) I found this one on BD quite cheap, so I couldn't resist.

I really liked this one when I was in high school and still think it's pretty decent, though aspects of it haven't aged very well. Most of the effects actually look pretty good today with the models and planet images being particularly good. The political subplot and the ending don't really work for me anymore, but it's still interesting and well produced. I consider it more of an add-on or footnote to 2001. 2010 is so different, that I enjoy the two films on different levels.

The BD of this film looks great. I couldn't see any digital grain reduction (or if it's there, I couldn't see it). The image was sharp, for a 1980s film, and colorful. Easily the best I've seen it since the theatrical showing in 1983.

OK, on to this week's new stuff:

Army Wives: Season 2

Baby on Board (2008) Also on BD.

Defiance (2008) Also on BD.

Direct Contact (2009) Who knew Dolph Lundgren was still making movies??? Also on BD.

The Graduate (1967) First time on BD for this one.

He's Just Not That Into You (2009) Also on BD.

The Jetsons: Season 2: Vol. 1

Neil Young Archives, Vol. 1: 1963-1972 This is the long-awaited uber-set of Young's work; DVD or BD. Obviously for serious fans, but I'll bet the sound (hi res) is great.

Prison Break: Season 4

Quincy, M.E.: Season 3

Revolutionary Road (2008) Also on BD.

Weeds: Season 4