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April 28, 2010

"Do you poke smot?"

I'm a bit late with the entry this week. Has anyone noticed?

The latest movie we watched was Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). We tend to like Wes Anderson's movies anyhow, but this one was perhaps above average. The stop motion animation was, well fantastic and the dialogue snappy/amusing. It reminded me somewhat of Chicken Run, in the story department but in any case, worth a rent. We also watched the new restored BD of The Godfather. I don't need to say anything about the movie, really, but the BD looked really great. I don't think I've ever seen this movie look so good. The color and detail seemed right and didn't look like it was "modernized" or run through the digital filtering too much. A serious upgrade over the DVD.

Here's the list for this week:

The Barbara Stanwyck Collection. This box set includes three titles that are new to DVD.

District 13: Ultimatum (2009) Also on BD.

Dune (1984) The troubled David Lynch movie comes to BD.

Five Minutes of Heaven (2009) Also on BD.

It's Complicated (2009) Also on BD.

I Love Lucy: The Movie and Other Great Rarities (1952) A theatrical movie, never released mostly made from early episodes of the TV series. It looks like it has some sections that may be new to Lucy fans.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) Also on BD.

April 20, 2010

"Maybe you'd like an arsenic on the rocks."

If you've ever clicked on the Netflix links I use here, you may have noticed that some of the titles aren't actually available yet; usually the movie is available about a month later. This is the lovely new business model the studios are practicing with home video, which is ironic considering how in the old VHS days, the studios kept titles away from sell-through, favoring rentals. Basically, they keep the new releases away from Netflix and Redbox for a month with the hope that consumers choose either to buy the movie on disc or rent it from an on-demand source like their cable/satellite company or via iTunes/Amazon/Vudu. I don't really think most people will just buy a movie they would have otherwise rented, so that seems like wishful thinking. The studios favor the on-demand services because they rent at a higher price ($4-6 per day) and return a higher percentage of the rental fees. They also hate the fact that Redbox has made a good business renting new DVDs for a buck a night (they're going to be rolling out BD soon as well), with whining about "devaluing the movies." All I can say to that is...TS (that means tough situation). I might be more sympathetic if I didn't think they were gouging people who want to rent using the streaming/download services. I do think that on-demand is a great way to rent movies, but the price is way too high (HD rentals are usually $6) and the restrictions stink. And for those who care, BD is still far higher quality than the equivalent HD rental. The only upside to this has been the fact that Netflix, in return for having new releases delayed, has gotten a lot more content for their streaming service that they include with subscriptions. As a Netflix subscriber, I find this to be a good trade off since I watch a lot of older content. Some may not find this so compelling. It'll be interesting to see if the whole thing sticks.

And away we go with another round of new stuff:

44 Inch Chest (2009) Also on BD.

Avatar (2009) Also on BD. Just in case anyone was wondering, this is the 2D version and has no bonus features to speak of. Fox will be issuing this again in the Fall with bonuses (still 2D) and probably doing the 3D version next year (that's a fun triple-dip for those Avatar fans!). For me, this is a movie that really worked as a 3D spectacle. Watching it at home in 2D just might remind me how mediocre the non-effects portions of the film are. Pass.

Crazy Heart (2009) Also on BD.

The Drawn Together Movie: The Movie!

The F Word: Series 4

Falcon Crest: Season 1 More 80s "gold" on DVD.

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: Season 1

The Lovely Bones (2009) Also on BD. Here's hoping Peter Jackson's next movie is better.

Merlin: Series 1 (BBC) Has anyone seen this show? It sounds fun.

Summer Hours (2008) Also on BD.

Vivre Sa Vie (1962) Also on BD.

The Young Victoria (2009) Also on BD.

April 12, 2010

"If you say the f-word, nothing actually happens."

I had another good, if brief visit to Rapid City over the weekend for the last Black Hills Symphony concert of the year. I'm always wiped out after the 1200 miles of driving, but it was a nice concert and fun to hang with the family as usual.

And so we move into this week's list of new releases:

Apollo 13 (15th Anniversary Edition) This one is new to BD this week. I may have to get this one some time since my old DVD died.

The Beatnicks (2000)

Emergency!: Season 6

Pirate Radio (2009) Also on BD.

The Slammin' Salmon (2009) Also on BD.

Wow, slooooow week.

April 5, 2010

"God made dirt, and dirt don't hurt."

I watched a few movies over the quiet holiday weekend.

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939--wow, there were a lot of great movies that year!). This wasn't one of the John Ford films I'd been all that interested in seeing. Most biographical movies, especially ones about figures like Lincoln, are often so whitewashed of anything interesting or wildly inaccurate, character-wise. This film really rises above the usual for this genre. Ford and his screenwriter Lamar Trotti were smart to restrict the scope of the story to a small, but potentially critical part of Abe's background. Although there are hints of Lincoln's essential character that would be shown in his later, presidential era, the movie doesn't clobber you over the head with "future greatness" symbolism. Abe is sincere, warm, smart, and all too aware of his own limitations. Henry Fonda plays up the self-effacing side without turning it into an actual "aw-shucks" Reaganesque gag. Sure, the deprecation is used to diffuse difficult situations, but it's still played with an element of genuine doubt in his abilities. And although much is made of Abe being "meant" for the Law, we never get this over-cute scene of a small child talking about how "that man should be President someday, Ma!" Henry Fonda acts the part well through the fake nose and brings a sense of real humanity to the character. Ford has another fun collection of character actors rounding out the cast and the Fox backlot standing in for the small town pretty well. If you're into this sort of movie, check this one out. The Criterion DVD I watched (thanks Dad, for lending it out!) looked great and had more bonuses than I had time to watch.

North by Northwest (1959) I'd gotten this as a gift a few months ago, but hadn't gotten around to watching it until now. This movie is one of my personal favorites and never gets old for me. I thought the old DVD looked pretty good, but this new restored BD version really makes it sparkle. The color is gorgeous and there are many details in the image I can make out much easier. Even the fake Mt. Rushmore stuff looks good (still fake, but really good looking matte paintings).

Zombieland (2009) I rented this on BD and I really got a kick out of watching it. The whole zombie genre is pretty hard to take seriously, so the filmmakers pretty much decided to not even try. This is really a comedy/road movie that happens to take place in a zombiefied America. The cast is very good and the movie is paced well (it isn't too long). If you can handle the cartoon gore, I suggest giving this one a rent.

All right, let's get into this week's new stuff:

Ally McBeal: Season 2

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009) Also on BD.

Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series DVD and BD, with smaller packaging (sans Cylon toy). It's still to expensive.

The Big Gay Musical (2009) Also on BD.

Dolan's Cadillac (2009) Also on BD.

Dirt! The Movie (2009) Also on BD.

The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Theatrical Editions) Yes, only the short versions and at this point, the extended versions are the only ones I'm wanting to watch. Another problem here: apparently Warner used the older HD film transfers they made when they did the DVDs. Add some digital scrubbing and the movies don't, according to some reports, look as good as they could (but almost certainly better than the DVDs). Maybe we'll get an improvement in a couple of years when they release the extended versions (coinciding with the release of the first Hobbit film), which is what I will buy.

Sharpe's Peril (2008, BBC) Also on BD.

April 2, 2010

TOS Rewind #40: "Wolf in the Fold"

Up this time: Wolf in the Fold (12/22/1967)

As usual, Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast. Get it here.

This episode has a number of notable things about it.

It was written by Robert Bloch, who is probably best known for the novel that Psycho was based on (he also wrote an earlier episode of Trek: Catspaw).

This is one of the few episodes where Scotty gets a significant role in the story.

The actor, John Fiedler, who played Hengist was also the voice of Piglet in the Disney Winnie the Pooh films and TV/video specials. I remember him appearing in the 1970s "Bob Newhart Show" as a regular character. He was quite the versatile character actor!

What we have here is a murder mystery combined with a science fiction plot. Our heroes are here on the planet Argelius so Scotty can chill out and supposedly get over his "total resentment towards women." This is apparently due to an incident where Scotty was injured due to the error of a female crew member. McCoy seems to think this will be cleared up by some shore leave and hot dancer (prostitute?) action. Uh, Okay! They don't dwell on this very long, which is just as well really. After some extended ogling, Scotty is walking out the door with the dancer and before long, the dancer turns up dead with Scotty holding the knife. Scotty remembers nothing of the incident and can't explain what happened. Before we know it, "the law" shows up and since this planet is usually all peaceful and quiet, they have an off-world law enforcement bureaucrat, Mr Hengist on the scene (he really doesn't come off as an actual cop). Naturally, the law of this idyllic planet dictates that the punishment for murder is "death by slow torture." Gulp! So what the hell's going on? Normally, as Kirk/McCoy point out, Scotty wouldn't be capable of this sort of act, but there's this psychological "resentment" thing in his head. Ruh Roh!

As the investigation continues, there's a seance-like scene where the Argelian Prefect's wife does this empathic ceremony to determine the truth. They first try the high tech solution, scanning Scotty's brain, but the female technician who's conveniently left alone in a basement room with Scotty, is killed before it can be performed. Scotty is now on the hook for another killing. The ceremony commences, quite effectively: there are some fun camera angles and the timing of the lights going out/screaming works very well. And yes, you guessed it: the lights go out and the Leader's wife is found dead--another notch in Scotty's, er post, but not before she is able to utter some names and clues to what's really going on here. Hengist is ready to get out the torture equipment and get all Gitmo on Scotty's ass, but Kirk manages to talk them all into moving the proceedings aboard the Enterprise.

Now that they're all on board, I really don't get why they wouldn't do the mind scan on Scotty before going any further. They say they're going to get around to it, but first we need another Trek Trial (I should trademark that!). After a lot of dialogue, they figure out that maybe someone like, I don't know, Spock(!) should check out those names the Argelian Prefect's wife shouted out before she was killed. This part of the episode reminds me of how differently we look at tools such as computers today. When Spock asks the computer to search for the term "Redjac," it comes up with nothing. Only after he tells it to search for a "name" does it spill the beans. Apparently the Enterprise didn't have its Google Appliance installed yet. This is the point where the episode runs off the rails a bit for me. Once unmasked, Hengist/Redjac or the energy fear-feeding entity, takes over the computer and threatens to kill off everyone. This would have been somewhat more sinister if they'd used someone other than John Fiedler's voice for the "Jack the Ripper" computer. It makes me giggle, frankly. And of course, the bit where Spock announces he's going to make the computer solve Pi, is hilarious: "Nooooooooo!"

McCoy shoots everyone up with "tranquilizers" which happen to work like weed and the entity, after being defeated by Pi, re-enters Hengist's body. I was never clear whether Hengist was just some poor sap who got possessed or whether he was never really a non-Redjac person. Oh well. Hengist makes one last attempt at sowing terror but is shot full of drugs reducing him to a silly psycho. One amusing thing: apparently, the script called for Scotty, McCoy, and Kirk to be drinking booze at the cafe at the start of the episode, but the network objected. Uh, Okay. So they were fine with the entire crew being high on cosmic mushrooms? Anyhow, they drag Hengist into the transporter where his atoms are scattered around the cosmos, presumable never to be heard from again. Cue the jokes and laughter.

Despite the ribbing I gave here, I do enjoy watching this one. James Doohan manages to not overact too much and Shatner even keeps things in check, sometimes more than is called for; he seems a bit underwhelmed by the whole thing. As I said before, the seance scene is very effective and the pacing of the first half is fine. I just find the ending unsatisfying, on the whole. It's like they didn't know how to finish things off. I like the idea that a figure such as Jack the Ripper could be a nearly-immortal fear-feeding energy being; that's good sci fi. John Fiedler actually does pretty well with this role. On the surface, he looks right (Piglet wouldn't do THAT!), but there's something a bit shifty and a bit off about him.

There wasn't much different about the new effects on this episode other than the usual replaced shots of the Enterprise orbiting the planet. As far as I could tell, all of the music was recycled from earlier episodes, including the "exotic" dance music heard at the beginning of the episode, heard earlier in "The Cage" and "The Menagerie." I'm sure I'll hear it again before we're done.


And now, on to Eric's review:

"Wolf in the Fold" is another solid original Star Trek episode penned by Robert Bloch, who also wrote the episodes "What Are Little Girls Made Of" and "Catspaw." (More notably, however, he wrote the book "Psycho," upon which Alfred Hitchcock based his famous movie of the same name.) It is essentially a horror story, and as such, it fills the role well. There are genuinely scary scenes. Seeing Scotty holding a bloody knife after a brutal murder is particularly disturbing. The "séance" scene is also very well done. What I still find most fascinating, though, is the concept of Redjac; it's not only interesting SF but also a compelling explanation of Jack the Ripper.

This being said, there some flaws that have become more glaring over the years. One is that the premise--that Scotty becomes a raging misogynist when an accident due to a woman befalls him--is not only ridiculous, it speaks very poorly of Scotty's mental stability and resilience. Further, I find it very hard to believe that Dr. McCoy would prescribe shore leave on a planet that's essentially a worldwide whorehouse as effective therapy. The "Get-him-laid-and-everything-will-be-fine" approach? I think not.

Another less obvious point is that the character Hengist (who turns out to be Redjac's host), is played by John Fiedler, who also provided the voice for Piglet in the original Winnie the Pooh cartoons. Knowing that, it's difficult to be intimidated by him when he's mouthing gruesome threats. I keep picturing Piglet shouting: "Die, die, die, everybody DIE!" and well, it just doesn't work.

Most notably, the last act of the episode, aboard the Enterprise, takes a comic turn that's rather jarring, and it completely destroys the menacing atmosphere of the episode. And while it makes sense, in a way--the crew would be pretty jolly after being loaded up with happy juice--I would've preferred to see the macabre mood maintained throughout.

Still, this is an episode I can, and do, enjoy despite its flaws. All in all, another solid entry in the canon of original Start Trek

Next time: "The Trouble With Tribbles"