Directed by: Giancarlo Santi
Starring: Lee Van Cleef, Peter O’Brien, Jess Hahn, Horst Frank
When I think Spaghetti Western I think The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood and music by Ennio Morricone. There’s more to the genre of course, according to Wikipedia there were six hundred westerns made in Europe between 1960 and 1980. Like anything else there are outstanding examples like the aforementioned The Good the Bad and the Ugly and not so outstanding examples the names of which I have mercifully forgotten. Near the top of the pile is Grand Duel.
The titles for Grand Duel open on a baked rocky landscape with Luis Bacalov’s swelling score rising in the background. Then out from behind a rocky outcrop comes a stage coach. A shot rings out holing the drivers floppy hat. The driver, no dummy stops the coach. The man with the rifle is a trigger happy deputy. It seems the two lawmen in this hard scrabble desert outpost are on edge. The town, if you can call it that, is infested with a bunch of bounty hunters on the hunt for a fugitive. As the town isn’t safe the deputies instruct the passengers to stay on the coach. One of the passengers is thirsty and a couple of frightened deputies are not going to stop him from taking a little stroll to the saloon. The passenger’s name is Clayton which isn’t really all that important. The important thing is Clayton is played by Lee Van Cleef. A man who could stare eagles out of the sky.
After staring down the deputies, they never had a chance, Clayton strolls to the town and subtly exposes the location of every bounty hunter in the little town. This allows the fugitive a chance to fight himself out of the room that he’s holed up in. Which is exactly what Clayton had expected. Seems Clayton has some plans of his own for the fugitive. The fugitive, one Phillip Wermeer who is played by Peter O’Brien, is wanted for the murder of The Patriarch. The Patriarch is, or was, the head of the Saxon family which runs Saxon city, which kind of makes sense if you think about it. Now that the old man is dead the three sons are running the city and want to see the man who killed their father dead. Of course it’s not all that simple the plot is actually rather convoluted. Thrown in the mix are silver mines, patricide, genocide, cross dressing saloon keepers, shoe clapping, white glove wearing killers, black and white flashbacks and of course gun play, lots and lots of gun play.
The director, Giancarlo Santi, worked as an assistant to Sergio Leone on The Good the Bad and the Ugly and he learned his lessons. The look and feel are familiar but distinct. Santi, like Leone has an eye for landscape and close ups and while he may not be the master that Leone is, Grand Duel is very easy to watch. Lee Van Cleef steals the show. It’s interesting how the good guy can be so down right menacing. The rest of the cast isn’t horrible but the sometimes not exactly synced dialog doesn’t help their performances.
The video is presented in the original 16:9 aspect ratio. This is a new transfer from the original negative and it looks fantastic. I’ve seen this movie included in some of those cheap bundles of Western movies and it’s never come close to looking this great. The colors are a little washed out but this just helps make everything feel hot and dusty. The video is crisp and sharp for the most part, there are a few scenes with some atrocious bokeh but I’m sure that has more to do with the lenses used and not with the transfer that Blue Underground has done here. I never noticed any aliasing, moire, blooming or other digital artifacts.
The audio is only presented in the original mono. It may be mono but it sounds great There are some syncing problems with the dialog but again I would imagine this is a reflection of the original material and not a problem with the transfer. It’s really not an issue it’s just a reminder that you’re watching a Spaghetti Western. The score by Luis Bacalov is obviously influenced heavily by Morricone and Bacalov actually manages to out Morricone. The main theme may be the most beautiful piece of music from a genre that is known for it’s great music. If you are a Tarantino fan the main theme will sound very familiar. The mix is great and I never noticed any distortion or any serious problems with the audio.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The DVD comes in a standard clear DVD case. The artwork and copy is simple but attractive and effective. The inside of the case has a chapter list and a great still from the movie. Included is an original trailer for the film and a Spaghetti Western trailer reel. Blue Underground even includes a commentary by journalists C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke. I’m not sure who they are but they are obviously fans of the film and share a lot of information about the movie. For what is essentially a forty year old B movie this is an outstanding effort.
Spaghetti Westerns can be a bit of an acquired taste. If it’s a taste you have acquired I really think your going to like Grand Duel. This is certainly the best quality you will ever see this movie in. Blue Underground really deserves some kudos for this edition.
The Movie 7/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/0
Overall (not an average) 8/10
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, John Lithgow, Megan Fox, Albert Brooks
In quantum mechanics there is something called the Heisenberg principle. According to this principle the very act of observing a sub atomic particle changes it. Pete and Debbie aren’t sub atomic particles but when they start to take a close look at their lives everything starts to change.
Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) are turning 40 within a week of each other. Well Pete is, Debbie is turning 38 (wink, wink).There’s something about those big round numbers that triggers a deep need for introspection and reflection. Personally I get all introspective on ages that are even primes, but each to his or her own. On the surface Pete and Debbie appear to be heading up a perfect upper middle class family, but lets take a closer look. Yes, Pete is running his own record label. As cool as this sounds though there are rough edges. His number one artist is an aging rocker that may be awesome but nobodies been interested in him for twenty years. Debbie owns an upscale clothing boutique but she suspects her best salesperson is stealing more than she sells. They own a beautiful house but they are missing mortgage payments. There’s more as well; Pete is addicted to cupcakes and is loaning money to his father behind Debbie’s back, Debbie sneaks cigarettes and hasn’t spoken to her father in seven years, Sadie their thirteen year old daughter is obsessed with Lost and is constantly fighting with Charlotte their youngest daughter. While the status quo is no sugar free lollipop things just get even more interesting when Debbie comes up with a list to improve their lives and Pete half-heartedly goes along.
In most movies, or at least ones like this, the protagonists are likable or at least sympathetic, but for long stretches of This is 40 Pete and Debbie are neither. Then they will do something that shows how devoted they actually are to each other or how much they love their daughters, but even that isn’t enough sometimes. In one hilarious but slightly disturbing scene they bond over lying there way out of a bad situation they got themselves in when Debbie bullied one of Sadie’s classmates and Pete later on bullies the kid’s Mom. Yes it’s funny but Pete and Debbie just end up looking ugly. Luckily the movie isn’t just about Pete and Debbie, well actually it is, but they are supported by a great cast playing interesting characters. Albert Brooks is fantastic as Larry, Pete’s financially needy father. John Lithgow is sublime as Debbie’s long absent father. But the real revelations are Maude and Iris Apatow, Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann’s daughters, playing Sadie and Charlotte. They not only are funny but can actually act and manage to steal most scenes they are in. Floating in and out of scenes are Melissa McCarthy, Megan Fox, Chris O’Dowd, Rob Smigel and others.
Apatow’s improvisational style gives all of these talented performers a chance to shine but sometimes the performances actually take you out of the story. It’s like the narrative stops and the movie goes into sketch mode for a scene and then after the patter drops off the story picks back up. This can be jarring but unfortunately the way the movie kind of meanders at times it’s actually welcome. The movie clocks in at two hours and fourteen minutes and it feels like it. When you add it all up the movie is entertaining. I get the feeling that it’s supposed to be a bit more profound that it actually is but there are some laughs and good performances.
The video is crisp, even sharp. The cinematographer Phendon Papamichael leverages this with a deep focus in nearly every scene. It’s only in close ups that the background goes all creamy, anything wider than a two shot and everything is sharp as a tack. This along with a balanced color palette imparts every scene with a naturalness that perfectly complements the action on the screen. The DVD looks fine but the Blu Ray looks fantastic. I never noticed any sort of aliasing or blooming or any other sort of digital artifacts.
The audio is everything you would expect it to be. The dialog, foley and soundtrack all blend well one never stepping on the other. The soundtrack is fantastic with tracks from Paul Simon, Fiona Apple, Lindsey Buckingham and a bunch of other great artists. Apatow has a great ear for matching music to mood. On top of the great soundtrack Jon Brion provides some nice bits of score. I never noticed any distortion or any other problems with the audio.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This two disc set, one Blu Ray and one DVD, comes in a standard blue tinted single width Blu Ray case. The case comes packaged with a cardboard slipcase. The artwork lets you know exactly what your getting yourself into. Along with the Blu Ray and DVD Universal is including a digital copy accessible through iTunes or UltraViolet (which always make me think of ultra-violent which I would nearly swear is a color in one of Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker books). Along with the ubiquitous deleted and extended scenes and the making of featurette there are a couple of pieces featuring Albert Brooks and Graham Parker and The Rumour, along with several musical performances by Graham Parker and Ryan Adams. There is an informative audio commentary provided by Apatow and on top of this there are a bunch of other little bits filling in the corners.
You can tell this is a personal movie even without listening to the commentary. It does star three quarters of the Apatow family with Dad behind the camera. In a sense it is a very elaborate family movie except Mom and Dad and their friends are actually funny. In this case at least that’s not a bad thing.
The Movie: 6/10
The Video: 9/10
The Audio: 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features: 9/10
Overall (Not an Average): 7/10
Written by: Rob Christopher
Published by: Huron Street Press
The other day driving back to work from lunch my friend pointed to an empty Hollywood Video and remarked how sad it was that his kids would never know the joy of wandering up and down the aisles of a video store with a couple of friends and picking out a movie or two. As susceptible to nostalgia as I am I couldn’t agree. I don’t have any fond memories of video stores. All I can remember is roaming around and thinking, no, no, seen it, no, no, no, seen it, seen it, no, no. But, come to think of it things haven’t changed much. I find myself doing the same thing today it’s just on Netflix, Vudu, or Amazon Prime. If anything the problem is worse now.
The problem of course is choice, as much as it galls to admit it. How do you choose. Rob Christopher wants to help, so he wrote a book. Queue Tips isn’t a book about movies, or cleaning your ears (you didn’t really think I’m strong enough to resist that setup did you), it’s about choosing movies. Which sounds rather silly at first, but the more I read the more I remembered those long walks in the video store; no, no, seen it, no, no, and decided maybe a book about picking out movies might not be such a silly idea after all.
So what does a book about picking a movie look like? It’s short, nonthreatening, and has a bowl of popcorn on the cover. Inside it’s divided up into twenty four chapters, each chapter a list of movies, or a queue of movies if you will. Christopher’s idea is to impose some organization on the seemingly endless selection of movies out there. He’s not talking about dividing things up as comedies, dramas, action movies, but as splitting movies up into some more interesting categories. Some of the lists or categories are predictable, Ten Movies About Movies, Nine Westerns That Aren’t Westerns, Fabulous Films For Young Adults or Ten Movies So Bad They’re Good. But, even those lists have some interesting choices. For every Ten Movies About Movies though there is a Seven Reasons To Love Nicolas Cage, Flops That Actually Aren’t That Bad, or Man Hearts Sheep, Teen Hearts 1958 Plymouth Fury and Seven Other Unusual Romances.
You don’t have to just take Christopher’s word for it, he’s gotten plenty of help. Half the chapters are written by guest authors, which ensures there is a good bit of diversity in the movies suggested. Bill Ott the editor and publisher of Booklist pens a list of movies that are better than the book, including Blade Runner, To Have and Have Not and Harvey (strangely he left out The Hunt For Red October). Ken Vandermark composer and jazz musician suggests a list of movies like Apocalypse Now and The Good The Bad And The Ugly that make a fantastic use of sound. Jeff Berry named by Imbibe magazine as one of the 25 Most Influential Cocktail Personalities of the Past Century mixes up a list of films that feature drinks with little umbrellas in them. Movies like Donovan’s Reef and Back to the Beach. You might quibble about some of the entries on the lists but they all provide a different, interesting way to categorize movies other than the standard worn out labels. Beyond that it’s fun getting confirmation when you see one of your favorites in a list and reading what someone else thought about it. I started out skeptical of the entire concept behind Queue Tips but wading a couple of chapters in convinced me that Christopher is on to something.
Written by: Tom DeMichael
Published by: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books
So, James Bond is fifty. At least the movies are fifty, the books are sixty or fifty nine if you use the US release date for Casino Royale, not sure why you would but I’m covering all the bases here. Any way you want to count it James Bond is big right now. Which makes the timing perfect for James Bond FAQ a new book from Applause by Tom DeMichael.
Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last thirty years, I’m not judging it can be quite cozy under there, let me explain that FAQ part. FAQ is an acronym for frequently asked questions. It developed on mailing lists and message boards in the pre-internet days of computing. A FAQ is basically a list of questions that every newbie eventually would ask and that all of the more experienced users on a board or mailing list were tired of answering over and over. The idea being that someone new should read through the FAQ before asking a question that had already been answered forty two times. And that’s what the James Bond FAQ is. It is the basic level of information you should have at hand before you embark on any serious discussion of the Bond film oeuvre.
The book is broken up into ten chapters. Each dealing with an aspect of the Bond universe. Chapter one gives a very short bio of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, and talks a little about the books that introduced James Bond to the world. From there DeMichael jumps into a description of the men to play Bond and explains the stories behind how each became James Bond. The third chapter introduces the villains and their lieutenants. Here DeMichael provides a through description of the characters and compares the movie depiction with the literary version of the character, if they originated from one of the books. Then he continues with a bit about the actor that played the character. They are all in there. Rosa Klebb, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, Nick Nack, Jaws and even Silva from Skyfall. Yes, the James Bond FAQ is up to date through Skyfall, so be careful if you haven’t seen the latest Bond film yet. The chapters continue with one for all the Bond girls, the Bond gadgets, the Bond buddies and allies, the music from the Bond movies. One with a summary of each of the “official” Bond movies and another for the “unofficial” Bond movies and why there is a distinction between “official” and “unofficial” Bond movies and why it’s necessary to put scare quotes around the words official and unofficial. DeMichael wraps it all up with a chapter about the movers and shakers, producers and directors who brought the Bond movies to the screen.
The four hundred pages of the FAQ are stuffed with information and very little opinion. With one notable exception DeMichael leaves conjecture out of the book. The one subject he can’t resist diving into head first is picking the best Bond. He doesn’t just state the best, he ranks them, which doesn’t really add anything to the book, except guaranteeing to get under the skin of a percentage of the readers, but it’s his book and to be fair I don’t know if I could resist it myself. Once you absorb the details in the James Bond FAQ you will never again confuse Moonraker with Diamonds are Forever and when a buddy tries to prove a point by referencing Joe Don Baker’s performance as Bond baddie Brad Whitaker in Goldeneye you can bust them and their argument back to the place where bad arguments live by pointing out that Joe Don Baker portrayed Bond buddy Jack Wade in both Goldeneyes and Tommorow Never Dies and only showed up in opposition to Bond in Living Daylights. Curiously the one entity the James Bond FAQ is light on is 007 himself. At the end of the book the secret agent is still enigmatic as ever. Which might be rather appropriate or depending on your expectations maybe a little aggravating.
The 6” x 9” paperback is rather striking with big bold printing and iconic images of the six actors to play Bond in the “official” movies on the cover. Inside the print is crisp and easy to read and the text is liberally sprinkled with photos. All of them are in black and white but they look great though attribution for them would have been nice. There is a solid bibliography at the back if you want to delve even further into the world of the James Bond and an index to leverage the knowledge stuffed into this tome. James Bond FAQ is an easy read from front to back but it also makes for a nice diversion if you just need something to burn around ten minutes if you get what I mean. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Written by: Timothy Zahn
Published by: Random House Digital, Inc.
So your in hock to one of the galaxy’s most notorious gangster and the fortune you just earned rescuing a princess and helping a farm boy blow up a planet busting space station has just been ripped off by pirates and the only job on the table is completely out of your wheelhouse and while it packs a hell of a payoff it sounds as impossible as it sounds dangerous. What do you do? If your Han Solo you call a few friends.
The Death Star has been destroyed and Han Solo has received his award but before he can pay off Jabba the smuggler is ripped off by pirates. So instead of trying to hook back up with the rebellion he’s hustling any kind of work he can find on the backwater world Wukkar when an furtive man half covered in synthetic flesh approaches Han and Chewie with an odd proposition, he’s not turned away out of hand like he would be in better times. Eanjer, that’s the man half covered in synthetic flesh’s name, has been robbed. Not only robbed but his family has been murdered and he’s been grievously injured, hence the yards of synthetic flesh. Eanjer wants his 160 million credits back and he’s willing to share it equally with whoever can help him get it back. I’m not sure what the $US to Star Wars credit exchange rate is but that should be plenty to pay off Jabba even if it gets split several different ways.
And it’s going to be split several different ways because master smugglers they may be Han and Chewie are not thieves. Not that they are above that sort of thing under the right circumstances, it’s just not their area of expertise. That’s not that big of an impediment because they have friends. Well maybe they’re not all friends, but they get along well enough to work together. Han is adamant though that there is one acquaintance that will not be involved. It seems there is a little bad blood over a card game and a certain ship between Han and the one man who would be the perfect front man for the job, I’m trying not to spoil anything but if you’ve looked at the cover of the book you know who I’m talking about. The team Han and Chewie bring together has to be top notch, because the target isn’t just some local gangster but the local representative of the galaxy wide criminal organization Black Sun. And it wouldn’t be much of a Star Wars story if there wasn’t some Imperials sniffing around the periphery.
Many of the typical Star Wars tropes are missing, there are no space battles, no Jedi, although a diminutive light saber does make an appearance, but somehow Zahn manages to infuse the story with the proper Star Warsyness. Han is Han, Chewie is Chewie, and Lando is Lando, yeah I know I didn’t mention him by name earlier but I give up, he’s on the cover. There is a nice mixture of new characters and characters from the expanded universe as well. If your a fan of the expanded universe there are some nice little nuggets thrown in for you, but you don’t have to have read any of the expanded universe books to appreciate the story, though it might be a little confusing if you haven’t at least watched Star Wars. Zahn crafts a layered caper walking the line between giving you too much information and withholding so much information every solution comes across as dues ex machina. Like any good caper tale there are some twists that are satisfying and entertaining without being incredulous. It’s not perfect, the novel seems to lose a little steam in the middle and some of the complications come across as filler. These are minor quibbles though. Scoundrels is the most fun I’ve has in the Star Wars universe in a long long time.
I love the cover, the sight of Han, Chewie and Lando standing in front of a line up style backdrop with noirish lighting perfectly captures the tone of the book. The Kindle formatted ebook comes with a handy time-line that places the expanded universe books in relation to each other and the movies. While its not really necessary for this story, which nestles neatly between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back if your interested in diving into the expanded universe it’s great tool to consult before you start buying books. If you are interested in reading more expanded universe stuff the Kindle ebook has another bonus for you. There are previews for ten expanded universe novels at the back of the book. If your still sitting on the fence at this point Zahn wrote a novella featuring Lando working another caper immediately prior to the events in Scoundrels called Winner Lose All which will introduce you to the idea of a caper story in the Star Wars universe for a smaller investment of time and money. Of course I recommend you just go ahead and pick them both up.
Written by: Dave Thompson
Published by: Backbeat Books
The concept is simple. If you dig Led Zeppelin then here’s a bunch of other stuff; music, movies and books you might enjoy. A simple list would be dry, boring and not long enough for anyone to take seriously, which is probably why Mr. Thompson wrote a book instead of just a list. The lists are there though, they’re just in the appendix. The book takes you through a brief history of the band paying particular attention to influences, contemporaries, and those that were in turn influenced.
The book starts out appropriately summing up the legacy of Led Zeppelin and expanding on the impact the band has had on music and pop culture. Led Zeppelin put there stamp on the world with only eighty five songs over thirteen years. For comparison the Beatles were only together for eight years but released two hundred seventeen songs. Not only were Led Zeppelin critical and commercial powerhouses they achieved their success by breaking all the rules. Yes, even Rock ‘n’ Roll has rules. You have to release and promote singles, you have to do television and you have to beg the music press for coverage. Led Zeppelin for the most part ignored this trinity. To hear them you had to buy their albums. To see them you had to go to their shows, and while the music press was free to write all they wanted to about the band, interviews were few and far between.
While the point of the book is not to tell the story of Led Zeppelin, as Dave Thompson mentioned that’s been done before, better and more in depth, the history of the band serves as a framework to explore the world that led to and was created by Led Zeppelin. Thompson starts the story by painting a picture of the year Led Zeppelin started, 1968 and the hippies, the protests, the riots and the Rock ‘n’ Roll. In the first three pages Dave has tied in the Beatles, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Cream, the Rolling Stones, Street Fighting Man, Begger’s Banquet, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower, Mikhail Bulgakov and The Master and Margarita.
After setting the scene in the first chapter the second chapter steps back and presents a lesson on the British Blues Explosion. When American Rock ‘n’ Roll hit Britain in the mid and late fifties a portion of fans decided just listening wasn’t enough. They started to dig into the roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll and found the Blues. Naturally young musicians were absorbing and imitating these unique American sounds and started to make something new. This lead to the British Blues Explosion in the mid sixties. Thompson gives plenty of examples of Blues artists that had a direct effect on Led Zeppelin.
Chapter three explores the history of the Yardbirds. The band that morphed into Led Zeppelin when Jimmy Page, guitarist for the Yardbirds, found himself personally obligated for several shows but no other band members. The Yardbirds had a revolving door of the top musical talent in Britain, most famously including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and of course Jimmy Page. An in depth look at the Yardbirds is definitely worthwhile since they literally became Led Zeppelin. Looking at the Yardbirds provides a perfect segue to the career of Jimmy Page in chapter four and his journey from teenage session sensation to, well, being Jimmy Page, guitarist for Led Zeppelin. Another chapter discusses the folk connection, another covers Swan, the music label Led Zeppelin started. There is a chapter about Led Zeppelin’s covers of classic Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll classics and one about the bands that came afterward that were influenced a little or a lot by Led Zeppelin. Thompson rounds the book out with a chapter going into the reunions of Page, Plant and Jones.
If you just want some lists then you can skip directly to the Appendices. There you will find a list of must hear Led Zeppelin covers, must see TV appearances by the band, a list of further reading and resources, if you wish to take your studies further, and a list of one hundred non Led Zeppelin albums any Led Zeppelin fan should give a spin.
Thompson keeps the narrative and brief and brisk and keeps the emphasis on the other bands, musicians, producers, movies, books that intersected with the Led Zeppelin story. The whole book is under two hundred pages and even if you don’t feel like reading every page the layout is sensible enough you can flip around from chapter to chapter. The bands, albums and such are boldfaced to make them stand out and there is a comprehensive index. Some of the references may get a little obscure but that just gives the hard core fans a bit to chew on. I imagine the real audience for the book are casual fans that have burned through the eighty five Led Zeppelin tracks and want a bit more.
Edited by: Leonard Martin
Published by: Plume a member of the Penguin Group
What exactly is Leonard Maltin’s 2013 Movie Guide The Modern Era? It’s meth to an attention span deficient movie junkie. Sixteen thousand movie reviews rarely over a hundred words long in alphabetical order by movie title. If you get distracted looking up words in the dictionary, and who doesn’t (wait a second, are you saying that’s just me), then there is no hope for you after you open this compendium. In you go to look up Hawk The Slayer and as you’re flipping through the G’s on your way to the H’s you see Glen or Glenda, so you have to stop and see what Maltin thinks of Ed Woods plea for tolerance towards crossdressers; “Even more inept and hilarous than Ed Wood’s Infamous Plan Nine From Outer Space.” That read you continue on to the H’s but you don’t get far before glancing at the page you see three stars beside Ghostbuster’s II. “What!” you think, that movie sucks. Eventually you figure out that the H’s come after the G’s and finally find the entry for Hawk The Slayer, one and a half stars, “Labored with gimmicky direction”.
Okay so maybe not everyone is as easily distracted as I am, and maybe not everyone has as much trouble with the order of letters in the alphabet. In that case everyone else may get a little more practical use out of this book than me. All practicality aside though I find it extremely enjoyable just bouncing around and reading entries at random. The entries are more synopsis than reviews but there are exceptions. Maltin doesn’t hesitate to praise the worthy and call out the garbage. I flipped open the Guide and found the first movie rated BOMB, all the movies are rated from BOMB to four stars. Here is what Maltin has to say about 1980′s Maniac “… coscriptwriter-producer-star Spinell bears most of the blame for this claustrophobic, sickening film”. Not exactly eviscerating but he’s not pulling his punches. The rather anodyne synopsis fit the guide. This isn’t a collection of essays about film or movies it’s a reference.
So, how good reference is it? Well when I first opened it up it had every movie that popped into my head, Two Lane Blacktop, White Lighting, Thunder Road, but the first movie another Cinegeek.com contributor tossed out Fight For Your Life wasn’t to be found. Even with sixteen thousand entries Maltin can’t include everything. Indeed the guide is actually split essentially into two volumes. This is the Modern Era volume and there is a companion Classic Movie Guide which concentrates on films released prior to 1965. The Modern Era volume still has most of the classics listed just don’t expect to find every Hop Along Cassidy feature. To test the usefulness of the guide I staged an extremely unscientific and horribly biased experiment, technically I don’t think you can even call it an experiment. I opened Netflix and started looking up movies. God Bless American is in the Guide. Goon is in the Guide. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is in there. Then we hit a bad patch, Mary and Max and The Darwin Awards were not to be found, but Arsenic and Old Lace and OSS17 were. Then I hit another bad patch. Romantics Anonymous, Castaway On The Moon, Sound of Noise are not in the Guide. These last three were all foreign films however so I’m not sure if they should count against the Guide or not, even though the Guide does contain quite a few foreign films. Continuing Wet Hot American Summer, A Fish Called Wanda, Extract, Everything Must Go, Four Rooms, and Tiny Furniture are all in the book. So that’s eleven out of sixteen including the foreign films. Which is not real good. I think the problem is that the Guide is concentrating on movies that were actually released to theaters. This may have been a decent way to winnow out the less desirable stuff but with so many non traditional paths for distribution now lack of a theatrical release doesn’t brand a movie as not worth watching any more that a theatrical release means a movie is worth watching. The problem of course is space. You can only fit so many pages into a book that’s meant to be somewhat portable. As it stands the book is over sixteen hundred thin pages full of tiny type. Obviously if you can’t fit it all in you have to throw some of it out and I think Maltin and his co-editors have done a fantastic job of managing the contents to satisfy ninety percent of movie buffs out there and that other ten percent are not likely to pick up a book with Maltin’s name on it anyway. For myself, anytime I see this book I can’t help but pick it up and flip through it. I actually have to move it out of reach to get anything done.
Author: Lee Bacon
Illustrator: Brandon Dorman
Publisher: Delacorte Press
“Our class got out of sixth period early the day my parents tried to flood the earth.” As far as first lines go maybe it’s not “The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist” or “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it” or “Far out in the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun” which is so awesome it manages to start two of my favorite novels. But as first lines go it’s good, good enough to keep me reading even after the plot summary on the back cover left me cold.
Joshua Dread is a sixth grader which is not a remarkable fact. His parents are super villains, which is a quite remarkable fact. At certain times of my childhood I was convinced my parents were super villains, but upon reflection I don’t recall any of Mom’s plotted plants looking at me like I was fertilizer, there were never any zombies chained in the basement and Dad’s workshop was for repairing lawn mowers and recovering speaker cabinets, not reverse engineering nanotechnology. Joshua’s parents, The Dread Duo to you and me, consider it their mission in life to topple the status quo, to crash the system, to give civilization the three finger salute (you know- CTRL+ALT+DEL) and start it all over, this time with them in charge. The super villain lifestyle can be hard on a kid. The Dreads are constantly on the move with Joshua having to adapt to each new environment which is hard enough without having to remember your new name at the same time. Over the last several years however things have settled down somewhat and the Dreads have managed to live undetected in Sheepsdale in upstate New York. Joshua’s Mom is a professor at the local University and his dad is a stay at home inventor, which I have decided is what I want to be when I grow up. Joshua is attending Sheepsdale Middle School and nobody, not even Joshua’s best friend Milton suspects the truth, even after the flood the earth plan goes south.
Of course is wouldn’t be much of a story if there were not a few complications. Complication number one is a bit obvious to anyone who remembers Mendel and his peas. Despite the fact that both of his parents have super powers when pencils start exploding in his hands, he starts leaving scorched handprints and footprints and school bullies start hurling themselves away from him Joshua is left perplexed. I guess Mendel and his peas aren’t discussed until seventh grade in Sheepsdale. The second complication is that super villains are disappearing, which might sound like good news unless both your parents are super villains. The third complication is a girl. The girl’s name is Sophie. She’s new in town and Joshua thinks she might have a secret, possibly a secret similar to his. Stir all of this together with an uber super villain, a vain and possibly corrupt super hero, three retired hover scooters and some smoke monsters and you’ve got a rousing tale.
I have to admit that the back cover synopsis did not grab me, but “Our class got out of sixth period early the day my parents tried to flood the earth” did. I could see how a kid with super villain parents could have some unique problems, but how do you tell a young adult story about this kid without either totally white washing the parents avocation or just making them complete caricatures neither of which I found appealing or interesting. But after that first line, I couldn’t resist giving the book a try and I’m glad I did. I can’t say I’m completely happy with how the parents villainy is treated but I quickly realized is that the book is about Joshua and not his parents, you would have thought I would have figured that out just by looking at the cover but sometimes it takes a minute or sixty for a concept to penetrate. And ultimately the story is more about the choice than what you choose. It’s about Joshua coming to terms with the fact that he does have a choice and exactly what that means. Appropriately for a story about super heroes and super villains there are exploding hidden lairs and a superpower verses super technology showdown to wrap things up. Well, not wrap things up too tightly, hopefully we will get to read many more of Joshua’s adventures over the next several years.
Written by: Rob Reid
Published by: Del Rey
Nick Carter is a copyright lawyer and while he works at a very prestigious New York City law firm specializing in copyright law he is in fact only a middling one, lawyer that is. He does have two things going for him; he shares a name with one of the Back Street Boys and one of the partners of the firm he works for. Those two facts are the reason Carly and Frampton, two very worried aliens choose to consult him out of all the copyright lawyers in New York City. Carly figured it was his name on the door and Frampton just wanted to meet one of the Back Street Boys. Of course they are both disappointed but while Nick Carter may not be what either one of them expected he may just be what they and Earth need.
One of the staples of Science Fiction has always been the alien invasion. Aliens invade Earth for some semi plausible or borderline ridiculous reason and generally give us the business. At least until the third act when some scientist in a lab coat figures out that the aliens are allergic to water, or vulnerable to the common cold, or haven’t updated their anti-virus software and humans proceed to march the aliens right off our planet. Then there is the rare variation to the alien invasion story where humans and aliens make contact and we are either way more aggressive, imaginative or just physically more badass than the aliens and we dominate galactic civilization from the moment we burst noisily onto the scene. This is one of those stories. Or it will be as long as Nick Carter can keep Earth in one piece for the next twenty four hours.
So why do a couple of oddly named aliens need a copyright lawyer? Because they and the rest of the enlightened population of the universe have been copying every human song they can get their hands, flippers, claws,or pseudopods on since 1977. Galactic civilization is based on the appreciation of art, what else are you going to base a civilization on when all of everyone’s physical needs are met effortlessly, and the aliens are damn good at it all, sculpting, basket weaving, stained glass, drama, literature, but the one thing they could never master was music. Which in a way made them appreciate it more than any of the other arts. Then in 1977 it happened. The universe got a taste of human music from a stray radio signal. As it turns out we as a species are very good at music, so good that the universe basically went on holiday for the last thirty years trying to absorb it all. They are just now starting to pick up the pieces. Which explains why it was just nine days ago that they learned about intellectual property rights and copyright law.
You wouldn’t think this would be a problem but remember this is a civilization based on the appreciation of art and respect for the civilizations that produce it. Galactic law decrees that they must obey Earth laws when it comes to Earth music which means that every enlightened soul in the universe owes Earth every quatloo they have ever earned and every quatloo they ever will. In a universe of trillions there are going to be at least a few who have a problem with that and the easiest way to deal with the problem is to make it go away, as in make the Earth go away. That’s why Carly and Frampton are in Nick Carter’s office. They are trying to convince him to help them save Earth. Which once he believes their story isn’t that hard a sell. Soon Nick is stepping through wrinkles in space to the far side of the galaxy with aliens he just met, arguing with parrots in trendy New York City night clubs and outwitting vacuum cleaners in his apartment. As you might have guessed one of the first things he learns is that everything is not as it seems. But all of this is just a warm up to his biggest challenge, talking record label executive into forgoing unimaginable wealth just to save the planet.
Year Zero is a one trick pony. Sure there are plenty of jokes and pop culture references thrown in but at its heart is the conceit that not only are the record label executives and their co dependent politicians creeps but that their greed has jeopardized Earth. Is that enough to hang a novel on? Maybe, but Year Zero doesn’t pull it off which is a shame because the book has a lot going for it. So let’s start with the good first. It’s fast paced. After a rolling start it blasts up to .99C (99% of light speed) and stays there excepting a few slowdowns in the middle. Even when my interest started to wane I still wanted to see how Nick was going to get himself out of this particular jam. The aliens are clever, inventive and fun. The ending doesn’t provide the pop that the story needed but I have to admit that it was clever enough that it blindsided me even though in retrospect it was laid out pretty plainly. Now for the bad, I never really cared for the protagonists; my favorite characters were nothing more than bit players. While the aliens were all cool the world they lived in seemed created just as a place to hang gags and jokes. It never came across as a place where conscious entities would actually live and raise little conscious entities. There is a lot of exposition, seems like there is always somebody conveniently in the room that a joke or pop culture reference needs to be explained to. I admit that sometimes that was the only way I got a joke but it still got a little stale. On top of that each chapter is followed by footnotes. Maybe one out of five of these put a new interesting spin on something that just happened but mostly they were just continuations of jokes or further explanations of pop culture references or worst explaining how a character knew something that maybe they shouldn’t have known but I never would have thought about it if the author hadn’t raised the point in the foot note. The biggest problem is that it just never seemed to hit light speed. When things started to pick up about two thirds of the way through the book I thought just maybe it would do it, but it never broke .99C. Then after the climax that could have stood to be a little more climaxier is a dénouement that is just flat, flat and predictable and lazy, shooting fish in a barrel lazy.
The Book: 5/10
Year Zero is not a bad book, It’s built around a great idea but it just isn’t stretched enough to hang a great story on.
Directed by: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Starring: Ariane Labed, Vangelis Mourikis, Evangelia Randou, Yorgos Lanthimos
Attenberg is a coming of age story. It’s just not a fun, heartwarming, coming of age story where the shedding of adolescent awkwardness and insecurity are portrayed though a rosy prism and topped off with an optimistic and uplifting ending. No, Attengberg is a coming of age story where the awkwardness and insecurity’s of adolescence are viewed through a pair of binoculars like a naturalist studying a troop of gorillas. While there may be moments of bittersweet familiarity in the otherwise alien behavior of the troop it’s all rather hopeless because between the poachers, warlords and loss of habitat the troop is doomed anyway.
The opening scene sets the tone for the entire movie. Attenberg opens to two attractive young woman standing in front of a simple white wall sticking there tongues in each other’s mouth. After a bit of tongue waggling we learn that the more sexually experienced Bella, played by Evangellia Randou, is not so much trying to teach the completely inexperienced Marina, portrayed by Ariane Labed, how to kiss as just get her used to the concept. It doesn’t work; Marina proclaims the act vile and disgusting and resists Bella’s attempts to continue the exercise. Just when it looks like things might get ugly the two drop to the ground and imitate a couple of cats stalking and pouncing at each other with the ease and familiarity of two people continuing a game began many years before.
That pretty much sums up Marina’s life in the small seaside mining town she calls home. We eventually learn that she is twenty three and lives at home with her father Spyros, played by Yorgos Lanthimos. Spyros is an architect and has provided Marina with a comfortable middle class upbringing. The two live in a comfortable home marred only by the absence of Marina’s mother who one way or another left the picture many years before. And even those wounds are old enough that if not completely healed they aren’t a constant ache. This if not idyllic, comfortable, familiar, existence is coming to an end. Spyros is dying.
Even with Spyros’s illness and ultimate death providing the framework for the plot of the film the movie is not about loss or grief, it’s about change. Marina’s life is all old games and inside jokes, whether it’s word games with her father or silly dances with Bella. She’s so far into a rut that she can’t see out of it. But that’s fine with her, at least she knows where to put her next footstep. The death of her father though will wash the ruts out denying her the easy path that she’s accustomed to. Attenberg explores how Marina tries to deal with this fore knowledge of change. It examines her experimenting with new social interactions with the cold impartiality of a scientist examining her mice.
The movie gets its name from the way Bella mispronounces Sir David Attenborough, a naturalist. Marina is a fan of Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries, often watching them with her father. Attenborough takes a much more passionate and intimate portrait of his subjects than Tsangari does of her subjects in Attenberg. The camera is always putting distance between you and Marina, either through movement or a wide angle shot or shaded and dreary lighting. The overcast days give every exterior scene a muted color palate and many interior scenes are devoid or spare of color. And it’s not just the imagery, while there is a bit of drop music here and there the soundtrack of the Attenberg is ambient noise. There is rarely a scene where the background noise of life is not present whether it’s the roar of a ventilation system or the highway drone of a car’s interior, it’s all there just like it is in real life. You can almost imagine Tsangari directing Attenberg in a lab coat. This approach definitely makes for a striking and memorable film, but at the same time it also makes Attenberg a touching, moving and thought provoking experience as well. There is no distortion or noise between you and the characters. Emotions aren’t compressed and limited to make the story fit a formula. Of course if the script or acting where off in any way this lack of artifice would just showcase the problems or limitations of the story or the acting. That is not a problem Attenberg has to worry about.
The Widescreen video looked great. The film has a lot of shadows and they flow perfectly from slightly darker to black naturally like they should with a good amount of detail. I never noticed any moiré or aliasing or any other compression artifacts.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo in Greek with English subtitles. The audio is fantastic. It needs to be, sound is a very big part of Attenberg. I can’t honestly say that the background noise never stepped on the dialog as I wouldn’t have noticed, but the dialog and the ambient sound never got in each other’s way. They were perfectly mixed. I never noticed any distortion or any other flaws with the audio.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
Cinegeek received the DVD minus the clam shell for review so I can’t comment on the DVD case but the disc itself is attractive enough. Other than the original trailer for Attenberg the only other extras are some interesting trailers of other upcoming Strand Releasing releases.
Overall (not an average): 9/10
Attenberg was one of the films I was looking forward to seeing this year at the Nashville Film Festival back in April. The main reason being that it was Greek and one of the actors and co-producers Yorgos Lanthimos directed one of my favorite films from last year’s festival Dogtooth. Anyway I did not get to see Attenberg at the festival so I was glad to get it for review. And even happier after I had watched it this is one of the best movies I have seen so far this year.
The Movie: 9/10
The Video: 9/10
The Audio: 8/10
The Packaging and Extras: 3/10
Overall (not an average): 9/10
Starring: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May
Produced by Andy Wilman
When we were young we dreamed of growing up and loosing the shackles that bound us. Nobody to tell us when to go to bed, nobody to tell us what we could or couldn’t eat, nobody to tell us who we had to spend time with, of course it was an empty dream. Rules, responsibility, reputation chain us down sure as any parent. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if we could grow up and everything was truly as free as we had ever dreamed. That’s the dream that is Top Gear. Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are the three kids whose Mother never called them home for dinner. They never had to leave the playground. Their toys just got faster, more powerful and more expensive.
Top Gear is a fantasy. The three presenters use and abuse beautiful luxury and performance automobiles that most of us could never afford. They pretend to actually review the cars and occasionally will argue spiritedly about the virtues and shortcomings of this car over that but at the end of the day it’s just a glorious excuse to take some of the most lusted after automobiles on the market and cane them mercilessly around their test track. Occasionally they will pick three examples of a market segment, for example three exotic supercars that aren’t a Ferrari 458 and embark on a road trip, in this example it was a trip across Italy in episode one. Now all of this zipping around the track and beautiful real estate may eventually pale so the boys are smart enough to break it up a little bit. Just to keep them in touch with the rest of the world they will invite a celebrity on the show to chat and to take a lap around the track in a feature they cleverly call Star in a Reasonable Priced Car. This season the stars include Matt LeBlanc, Ryan Reynolds, Michael Fassbender, Matt Smith, Slash and Kimi Raikkonen.
The producer Andy Wilman is a pretty savvy guy, he knows that if all the boys ever did was thrash expensive hardware and hobnob with celebrities nobody would be able to watch them after two or three episodes. So the show conspires to keep the boys humble. For every supercar jaunt across Italy there will be a challenge pitting the boys scrounging skills, automotive judgment and sometimes their fabrication skills to the test. This season the challenges include fabricating viable off road mobility scooters for fewer than twenty five hundred pounds which is probably around five thousand dollars give or take a few grand. They also see if they can go racing for less expense that golfing.
But to really keep the boys grounded every season or so there will be a Top Gear Special. Season eighteen is one of those seasons. In the very first episode the boys all go to India, in an effort to bolster trade between the India and the UK. Clarkson, Hammond and May set across the sub continent in a Jaguar XKS, Mini Cooper, and a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and trunks full of English products to show off. Now that may sound like the three are just up to their usual hijinks but these are all twenty year old cars well past their prime. They travel from Mumbai, to Jaipur, and on through Dehli on their way to the India/China border without causing a major diplomatic crisis, well there was a complaint from the Indian High Commission but I wouldn’t consider that a major diplomatic crises.
Through all of the pantomime and pathos the show has its own distinctive look. The heavy use of graduated filters and not so subtle vignetting make footage from the show instantly recognizable. Even if you don’t have petrol, that’s what they call gas across the pond, on the brain the variety of the camera work and the editing make the track sequences fresh and interesting even considering that this is the eighteenth season of a show where sixty percent of the footage is of cars going around a track or down a road. Of course any show that runs this long is going to have slumps and Top Gear is not immune. Season Eighteen is not the best season ever but it’s a good solid season. Three or four seasons ago the show seemed to lose its track a bit and was on the verge of becoming a caricature of itself, but the last two seasons have proved that they have moved past that and have found the restraint to keep the show from just going completely over the top.
The video is presented in widescreen and looks great for a DVD, though it’s a bit disappointing after seeing Season 17 on Blu-Ray. Besides some very subtle aliasing I never noticed any digital or compression artifacts.
The audio presented in stereo in English only, there are English subtitles. It gets the job done. The mix is professional and there are no issues or problems it just doesn’t pop like the video.
The Packaging and Bonus Features:
The three disc set comes in a single width DVD case. The artwork is appropriate and consistent with the other releases in the series. There is a good bit of extra material, but unless you just love the SIRPC segments then the extras are a little flat. There is behind the scenes footage for all of the guests as they are out on the track, there is the season previews and some outtakes from the season, but the heart of the extras is the extra footage of the Stars that they put in the Reasonably Priced Car. Would at least a commentary of the India Special be asking too much? Last and possibly least is the first episode of the second season of Top Gear America which to be honest does not suck, and actually shows some promise, but it just seems weak after watching a whole season of the original show.
Overall (not an average) 8/10
I’ve always been a gear head so Top Gear is like Nirvana for me, actually that’s not true they would have to get a couple of orders of magnitude more technical for it to be true automotive Nirvana, but what’s truly awesome about Top Gear is it’s wide appeal. Even non car people can get a glimmer of my obsession by checking out Clarkson, Hammond and May’s antics.
The Show: 9/10
The Video: 7/10
The Audio: 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features: 6/10
Overall (not and average): 8/10
Written by: John Scalzi
Published by: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
Love it, hate it, take it or leave it there is no doubt that Star Trek has had a huge impact on contemporary culture. So much so, that I would give fifty fifty odds that my Mom knows what a redshirt is. So what happens when the redshirts start to notice? What happens when the redshirts decide they don’t want to die?
And Mom if I’m wrong, a short explanation of redshirts; in nearly every episode of Star Trek there would be some reason for Kirk, Bones, and Spock or some combination of the three to beam down to an idyllic alien world that actually turns out to be a hostile death trap where something horrible will happen to ramp up the drama of the plotline. Of course nothing could happen to the stars of the show so there would usually be some ensign, part of whose uniform consists of a redshirt, who would beam down with them and inevitably he or she would be killed by a plant, turned into dust, have all of the salt sucked out of their body, or something else just as horrific and often vaguely ridiculous would happen to them.
Andrew Dahl is fresh out of the Academy and about to embark on his first cruise aboard the Universal Union Intrepid, the flagship of the fleet. While waiting to board he runs into a few other new crew members of the Intrepid. There is the spunky Maia Duvall, the rich Jimmy Hanson, the opportunistic Finn, that’s his name not his nationality, and Hester. They all have rather interesting backgrounds, well except for Hester he sort of comes into his own later on. As the four settle into their new duties aboard the Intrepid they all notice some rather peculiar behavior from the other crew members. For instance everyone tends to avoid the senior crew, and they do a really good job of it. It’s almost as if they could sense beforehand when the Captain or First Officer would turn up. The scarcity of more experienced crew members means that there is plenty of opportunity for the newest four to participate in the away teams. On the missions groundside and to the miscellaneous space station things get even weirder. The normally at least competent senior officers make fatally rash decisions and the more experienced crew members harbor some very strange superstitions about who will die or survive away missions. As fellow redshirts succumb to ice sharks, giant flesh eating ground worms, harpoon wielding maintenance robots and exploding heads the four figure out that away missions are near suicide and understand all too well why the rest of the crew works so hard to avoid the senior officers. Andrew is not content to just go along and hide from the Captain and First Officer for the entire cruise. He decides to actually do something, or try to do something about the peculiar circumstances on the Intrepid. Remember Laslo Hollyfeld from Real Genius, the hermit like character that lived in Mitch’s closet and won all of the sweepstakes? Well Intrepid has a kind of tragic Laslo haunting it who may have some answers if Andrew can only track him down.
John Scalzi is not the first to mess around with the concept of redshirts, remember Sam Rockwell’s character in Galaxy Quest for one example, but nobody’s ever fleshed out the concept as thoroughly as this. The writing is witty, the characters likable and the plot line unfolds much as you would expect, to a point. About halfway through the story starts to veer into uncharted territory, the story gets less comical and more thought provoking, by the end of the novel it’s downright touching. This is a smart book, which I guess it has to be. If you base a whole book on a cliché you have to cross your t’s and dot your i’s, people will be looking, examining even. What looks at first to be just a fun read shifts into some rather interesting philosophical territory, but Scalzi manages to get deep without bogging down the narrative. Even at its heaviest the text is still light and easy flowing if that makes sense. I went from laughing to crying without quite noticing it. Redshirts exceeds expectations, it’s even inspirational. Of course that may be partially because it was five o’clock in the morning when I finished it and I had to be up in another two hours. I didn’t intend to read the whole thing when I noticed it pop up in my Kindle around one thirty last night, couldn’t sleep, but once I got rolling I wasn’t going to stop. Which I guess is a recommendation in itself.
Written by:Michael E. Uslan
Chronicle Books LLC
On January 12, 1966 Batman premiered on ABC. The campy irreverent take on the iconic superhero so traumatized a thirteen year old comic book fan that he vowed someday to restore Batman’s reputation by making a dark, serious, Batman movie returning Batman to his pulpy pre code glory. This is that boy’s story.
In many ways Michael Uslan’s boyhood was idyllic yet typical. Like many other kids born in the fifties he grew up in the suburbs with loving parents, an annoying older brother, close friends and twenty thousand comic books in the garage. Okay maybe parts of his childhood weren’t exactly typical. Michael Uslan not only loved comic books, his whole life revolved around them. Luckily he had an understanding Mother who instead of throwing his books out allowed him to hang on to his collection as long as he kept them neatly stacked. On the tragic day that a ten year old Michael learned about inflation, the comics went up from ten cents to twelve, and he had to choose between Superman’s Friend Jimmy Olsen #57 and Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #30 after explaining inflation to him she drove him back out to Wanamassa Pharmacy to pick up that copy of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #30. His father also proved his toleration when the collection grew to fill the family garage. Comics introduced him to his friends. One day in third grade he struck up a conversation with another third grader who told him about a new comic book he had seen with four new superheroes. The kid was a little vague about the details so after school Michael rode his bike to Old Man Tepid’s, the scariest place in Wanamassa for a kid to buy comics. After braving the scowl of Old Man Tepid and checking out the new comic he decided to make his purchase. “You looked at ALL of these! And now they’re ruined boy!” Old Man Tepid howled when he came to the register, there was a reason a ten year old avoided Old Man Tepid’s if at all possible. Michael was intimated by the old grouch into buying all four copies of the new series titled Fantastic Four #1, each one now worth around $50,000. Despite the trauma of dealing with Old Man Tepid, Michael and the kid were best friends from that day on.
Archie Comics informed his expectations for high school, accurate or not. Comics expanded his vocabulary adding useful words like; foe, origin, indestructible and invulnerable. Useful words for an eight year old. Comics allowed him to get an A on his Red Badge of Courage book report never having cracked the book, he had read the Classics Illustrated comic book version. Paying close attention to detail could also be rewarding, beyond the pleasure of knowing Batman’s butler Alfred’s last name, both of them, spotting such “boo boo’s” could get your name in the letters to the editor just pages away from Batman or Superman. It wasn’t all diversion and escapism, reading the story The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent where Clark Kent’s foster parents die just before Superman is moving from Smallville to Metropolis Michael contemplated how parents did not fare well in the comics. All dead; Batman’s parents, Robin’s parents, Superman’s parents and now foster parents, Spiderman’s parents and his Uncle Ben, and the list goes on. It wasn’t pleasant facing the fact that one day his parents too would pass. Of all the comic book titles one stood out. At around eight Superman began to pale. His very invulnerability made him less interesting. On the other hand Batman’s stories were the more powerful because of his humanity. If he got stabbed he bled. When he went up against a super-villain all he had were his wits and will and of course some select gadgets from his tool belt. Here was a man who upon seeing his mother and father murdered before his own eyes vowed not only to catch the bad guys who killed his parents, he vowed to catch all the bad guys, heady stuff for an eight year old.
Michael did not grow out of comic books as he got older. His fascination just grew. When Michael and his friends found fanzines, they plugged into a network of people who loved comics just as much as they did. Michael not only read the books and discussed them with his friends, as a teenager he managed to meet and correspond with some of the legends of comics like Otto Binder and C.C. Beck. He attended the first ComicCon in New York City with two hundred rabid fans. By the time he graduated high school his collection was up to 30,000 comic books. While attending the University of Indiana he organized and taught the first accredited college course in comic books and worked for DC during the summer. He even accomplished one of his dreams by actually getting to write Batman stories. While attending law school instead of studying after class he was writing scripts for issues of The Shadow. When he couldn’t find a job in the entertainment industry after college he decided to go to law school not because he wanted to be a lawyer but he figured entertainment law was a way he could get into the movie business through the backdoor. Just writing for DC wasn’t enough he was still on a mission to make that dark, serious Batman movie. Which after many twists and turns he did.
The Boy Who Loved Batman is written in a light conversational style. Reading it feels like you are sitting across the table with Michael sharing a pizza and some beers. If you’re looking for a blow by blow timeline of how the Burton and Nolan movies came to be this is not the book for you. The Boy Who Loved Batman is Michael’s story, how he came to be in a position to get those movies made. It’s a fun and inspiring read. Just looking at a list of Michael’s accomplishments it may seem as if he’s lead a charmed life, but once you know the details you see how any luck Michael had is luck he made through will power and hard work. After reading The Boy Who Loved Batman I felt like I too could accomplish anything if I could just keep plugging away at it.
Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd
Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant, Olivia Colman
The Iron Lady gives us a peek into the private side of Margaret Thatcher’s life. Well it purports to; this is a movie after all. I have no idea how close the movie gets to the real story of Margaret and Denis Thatcher, but it feels right, which is what’s important for a movie. I’ve finally learned better than to expect history from a movie.
Margaret Thatcher is an icon of the Twentieth Century. She is the only woman who served as Prime Minister in the U.K.. She served as Prime Minister longer than anyone else in the Twentieth Century. Her policies of privatization, her leadership against communism and her steadfastness in the Falklands War have cemented her place in the history books. How do you squeeze all of that into one hundred and five minutes of film. Well it’s kind of like dining at a buffet, you take a piece of this a bit of that, hmm that’s a good morsel lets grab a bit more, eventually making it to the end of the line.
Our time machine is dementia. The Iron Lady begins with an elderly and slightly absent minded Margaret Thatcher, embodied completely by Meryl Streep, buying a carton of milk in a convenience store. The camera follows her walking home alone which doesn’t quite sit right. Margaret Thatcher walking around London without any kind of security escort? Well maybe they just do things differently on the other side of the pond. Well not quite that different. When Thatcher returns back home we find out that she has somehow sneaked out and caused quite a stir among her minders. Of course her minders are already worried about her because she is still having conversations with Denis her husband who died eight years ago. Denis is played by Jim Broadbent and his portrayal almost manages to upstage Streep, almost. Even after eight years Thatcher has still not gone through Denis’s things. Her caregivers think the time has finally come and Carol, played by Olivia Colman, is coming by to help her sort through the stuff.
Thatcher is not in the best shape, knickknacks, old photos, news on the television or headlines in the paper send her back in time. To a night during the bombing of London in WWII when she rushes out of the shelter to cover the butter in her father’s grocery store, to moments when she served in parliament, to her introduction to the party leaders the first time she ran for office, and then back to rallies watching her father speak. Each flashback builds a bit more or the story, like waves making it a little bit further up the beach as the tide comes in. Through these trips back in time we see Thatcher mature from a young girl working in her father’s grocery store, her courtship with Denis, her election to parliament, and eventually her becoming the Prime Minister and each time she returns to the present Denis’s shade is there to comfort her. Only it isn’t really comfort that Denis is providing anymore. His presence causes her to second guess her life’s choices which propels her back into the past to reexamine her decisions.
The Iron Lady is a heartbreaking vision of age, nostalgia, regret and loss. During the first half of the film Phyllida Lloyd doesn’t put a foot wrong. She weaves the strands of the story together perfectly blending reality and surreality and repeating certain motifs to build a compelling emotional portrait of Margaret Thatcher. As Thatcher’s career ascends the story becomes a more standard rise to power and inevitable fall yarn, but Lloyd pulls it all back together by the end of the movie.
The movie is a beautifully put together film. The cast is incredible, Streep and Broadbent are sublime but all of the performances are spot one. Alexandra Roach an Harry Lloyd who play the young Margaret and Denis are particularly good considering that in effect they are not only playing real people but have to provide performances that mesh flawlessly with Streep and Broadbent’s performances. The sets do a wonderful job of really making you feel like you are either in the fifties, seventies, eighties or contemporary London and the score and incidental movie complement the movie perfectly.
The video is presented in 1080p with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and it looks fantastic. The amount of detail is amazing and the colors are deep and rich. I never noticed any aliasing, moire or any other digital artifacts.
The audio is presented in English in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. There are English and Spanish subtitles. The dialog, foley and score are always well mixed the one never stepping on the other.
The Packaging and Bonus Features:
The Blu-ray disc comes in a standard blue tinted Blu-ray case. There is also a DVD and Digital copy supplied. The artwork is restrained and suitably tasteful. The menus are attractive and easy to navigate. There are a number of featurettes which are perhaps a mite short but they are definitely worth taking a look at. Some kind of audio commentary would have been a nice addition.
Overall (not an average) 9/10
I must admit I was leery of this film. Thatcher has always been a hero of mine and I was afraid of how a conservative icon would be treated, but I found The Iron Lady’s Margaret Thatcher to be a sympathetic character. Of course it’s entirely possible that the film is neutral enough that it simply reflects back the viewers own prejudices, which is usually a good sign.
The Movie: 9/10
The Video: 9/10
The Audio: 9/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features: 7/10
Overall (not an average) 9/10
Directed by: Pal W.S. Anderson
Starring: Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Waltz, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson, Matthew Macfadyen
It seems that half the movies released are reboots, remakes or re-something or other, but it’s nothing new. Movie makers have been recycling material from the beginning. The first Three Musketeers movie that Wikipedia lists is a French production from 1903. It goes on to list twenty one other live action adaptations, six animated adaptations and seven sequels. So Paul W. S. Anderson is really just continuing a grand tradition.
The Three Musketeers movies may be a grand tradition but is Anderson’s version worth a look? It is. The screenplay by Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak take plenty of liberties with the original tale, another movie making tradition, but they come up with a fun mash up of buddy, heist and swashbuckling elements. Combine this with a rousing score, spot on casting and absolutely gorgeous sets and locations and you end up with fantastic justification for purchasing your Blu-ray player.
The movie starts in Venice with an action set piece a la James Bond. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, the Three Musketeers played respectively by Matthew Mcfadyen, Ray Stevenson and Luke Evans are joined by Milady de Winter, embodied by Milla Jovovich and between them steal the three keys necessary to open Leonardo da Vinci’s vault. Which they proceed to raid for plans for an airship. After a dramatic escape the Duke of Buckingham, Orlando Bloom, shows up and with the help of a little betrayal relieves the Musketeers of the plans.
One year later D’Artagnan, Logan Lerman, is fencing in a beautiful green field with his father on their farm in Gascony. They are having one last practice session before D’Artagnan leaves for Paris to fulfill his dream of becoming a Musketeer. D’Artagnan’s father presents him with his sword,the sword that he wielded serving in the King’s Musketeers during his own youth. With his father’s sword, a small bag of gold and a long in the tooth horse called Buttercup D’Artagnan makes his way toward Paris. At an inn on the way he manages to insult and challenge to a duel Rochefort, Mads Mikkelsen, Cardinal Richelieu’s Captain of the guard. Rather than bother dueling the young and impudent upstart, Rochefort is just going to kill him, but Milady who is now in the employ of the Cardinal orders Rochefort to spare him simply because she likes the look of him.
Shortly after D’Artagnan arrives in Paris he spots Rochefort and chases after him. In the ensuing chase he manages to insult and challenge to a duel Athos, Porthos and Aramis separately in the span of a few minutes. He does seem to have a talent for getting into trouble and to his frustration he never catches up with Rochefort. Cockily he schedules all three duels in the same courtyard one after the other. When the Three Musketeers all show up to duel the same young man they are taken with D’Artagnans ability to create so much havoc in so little time. Still there is business at hand and just as D’Aragnan and Athos square off Richelieu’s guards show up chomping at the bit for the opportunity to arrest all three of the Musketeers at one time, the Musketeer’s loyalty to the King stands in the way of Richelieu’s ambitions. While the Musketeers wisely accept that they are about to be arrested D’Artagnan charges the guards. When he is not immediately struck down, the Musketeer’s decide to even the odds. Since the title of the movie isn’t Richelieu’s Guards it’s not that big a leap to guess that the four manage to best the guards. After the fight the Three Musketeer’s take D’Artagnan under their wing and the story really gets going.
From here the four get tangled up in a Richelieu’s plot to discredit the young Queen and tie the King even closer to his counsel. The Duke of Buckingham and Milady of course show back up again as well as the airship that was in the plans from the beginning of the movie. And of course D’Artagnan does finally get his duel with Rochefort.
The plot gets a mite thin in places and there is one big heist piece that makes my head hurt a little bit if I think about it too much, but it doesn’t really matter. The story is presented with such boldness and panache I didn’t care. The Three Musketeer’s is fun, it’s also truly gorgeous. I mentioned it before and it’s worth stating again; the sets and locations are incredible. The costumes are magnificently ridiculous in all of their 17th century poofiness and pomposity. Miraculously Bloom, Jovovich and Freddie Fox, who played the young King Louie, bear the brunt of the silliest of the costumes and manage to pull it off and make it work. The score alternates from light and playful to stirring always complementing the onscreen action. The Three Musketeer’s is not going to change anybodies life but it’s a superb way to spend an evening.
The video is presented in 1080p with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and it looks fantastic. The amount of detail is amazing and the colors are deep rich. I never noticed any aliasing, moire or any other digital artifacts.
The audio is presented in English and Spanish in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. There are English and Spanish subtitles. The dialog, foley and score are always well mixed the one never stepping on the other.
The Packaging and Bonus Features:
The Blu-ray disc comes in a standard blue tinted Blu-ray case with a cardboard slipcase. The artwork is a bit contrived but honest. The animated menu’s are great. There is an audio commentary with the film makers which is worth a listen, a bunch of extended and deleted scenes along with a handful of featurettes. There is also something called Access: Three Musketeer’s which is sort of a supercharged pop up video feature which manages to stream featurette style material along with trivia into the flow of the movie.
Overall (not an average) 9/10
Your always going to offend someone adapting something as beloved as Dumas’s The Three Musketeer’s. So I think Anderson’s taking the right approach. Take the heart of the story, the friendship between Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan, and then just go for broke. I loved it.
The Movie: 9/10
The Video: 9/10
The Audio: 9/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features: 8/10
Overall (not an average): 9/10