8/17/13- First off, can I just say that when I die, I would be perfectly happy to be wrapped up like a mummy and hidden in the walls of the Alamo Drafthouse to be discovered someday by a future generation like King Tut. When I went to Kick Ass 2 on Friday night, I visited the refurbished Mainstreet Theater in downtown Kansas City which is under their management now and, wow, what a great movie house. It had the best sound I’ve ever heard and while it’s one of those “dine-in” theaters I never felt like it interrupted the film. (Oddly enough I saw the original Kick Ass in one of those types of theaters in Wichita and there were all kinds of interruptions and noise from the servers.) There were only a few trailers and the original “in theater” entertainment actually was something I was interested in, rather than a terrible batch of ads. I definitely will be going back, despite the fact that it’s an hour’s drive. At the moment I’m deciding if I’m going to try to make the trip to see the Cornetto Trilogy there this Thursday given I’ve just watched Hot Fuzz in the last two weeks and I’ll be watching Shaun of the Dead tomorrow. With the quality, I might go ahead. And since they put out a magazine that says what they’ll be playing in the next month, I’ve got all kinds of other movies I’m eager to see like Back to School, Battle Royale and one of my all-time favorites, Rushmore. (It’s a theme.) I am a capitalist at heart to be sure, but I can’t help but be mystified by the way most theaters are run. This is a theater run by movie lovers.
By the way, they showed a new Machete Kills trailer beforehand and, with proper respect to Dr. Banner, it appears crazy as a bag of cats. Looks like Mel Gibson is finally getting to play a remorseless bad guy after getting nixed from Hangover II.
In the meantime, I’ve been watching lots of stuff at home. I’m making my way through a number of series at the moment. First off, I decided that over the next month I was going to rewatch all the Harry Potter movies. I’ve watched the two Deathly Hallows films a handful of times since they were released, but I haven’t watched the first six since I first got my set. They vary in quality, but it’s surprising how well they’re able to match the novels in terms of the way they mature over the course of the eight films. Starting with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Chris Columbus’ films are definitely the most kid-friendly of the octet. They’re also the most generic. Perhaps that’s partly because he’s an American trying to do something that’s so darned British. The question is, is that a bad thing? I actually found a decent amount of things to enjoy in the second, especially with the end. And I’ll be getting to that one next. But Sorcerer’s Stone, for all one should be impressed by how it managed to set up these films and what turned out to be fantastic casting of the kids, is definitely the hardest for me to get through. There are times I found my interest wandering off in danger of getting completely lost. As good of actors as they all ended up being in the end, the kids make Macaulay Culkin look like Lawrence Olivier in the first one. I was thinking back to how long it had been since these films started and even though I didn’t know anything about the books (keep in mind, I was heavily outside their original demographic), I saw the first one in the theater based on some positive reviews. And I found it to be a fun kids’ movie, but little else. I didn’t even realize the second one was coming out until we got it to show at the campus when I was with the Union Program Council Films Committee at Kansas State. (I actually made a banner for that one with original art of Harry that I wish I could have grabbed after it was used as I was really pleased with it.) It isn’t until just now that I realized I saw all of the films in their original theatrical run, even though I didn’t really get invested until late in the game. Not sure how that happened. I didn’t read the novels until around the time Half-Blood Prince came out because my then fiance was spoiling them for me and I figured I’d better get it over with before it was all ruined. And like the movies, I found they really took off starting with the third entry.
I have to admit, there are things that were carried through the books that I was sad to see disappear from the movies. Aside from the Deathly Hallows Part II, I don’t really remember seeing any of the house ghosts after the second one. And I loved Nearly Headless Nick. What a waste of John Cleese to not have him in more of the movies.
Another series I started on was the Next Generation Star Trek films. The blu ray set was on sale on Amazon for $20 so I decided, why not? I was never a fan of the Next Generation series (Kirk 4 Life) but I’d never even seen the last couple and figured it was time for me to finally have an informed opinion. Starting with Generations, I’m doing just that. I saw Generations (aka Star Trek 7) in the theater since it was a continuation of the original cast films and I remember thinking it was alright, considering I didn’t know anything about the Next Gen cast at the time. Watching it now for the first time since it was on VHS, I can say that I was probably giving it too much credit. As awesome as Shatner is, he’s not given the best send off. And the fact that Picard’s ultimate fantasy is a houseful of Dickensian moppets… Just ugh. Oh yeah, and when he has all of time and space to return to if he leaves the Nexus, he decides to come back at a time when it’s incredibly dangerous and last minute instead of going back to nip things in the bud ahead of time so he can save everyone and make sure to end things without bloodshed. Yeah, I know, it’s a movie. The sad thing is, there’s the makings of some good stuff in here. Malcom McDowell has shown he’s capable of being a fantastic villain. The idea of a guy trying to get back into heaven by destroying the lives of millions has some great dramatic irony to it. The destruction of the Enterprise D is actually a pretty decent action sequence and I really like the way they were still using miniatures at the time. But it feels squandered. That’s Berman and Braga for you. There’s a reason Enterprise was a mediocre series until they went hands off in the third season.
On the other side of the fence, the most surprising thing about the Lone Wolf and Cub series is how consistent they are. Here I just finished the next to last film (Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons) and it’s still entertaining and still has invention taking place. The action scenes don’t seem played out. While the first two and the fourth are my favorites so far, I would feel comfortable recommending any of them. (It may help that I’ve spaced them out so I haven’t watched them all back-to-back.) I understand the last has a different director than the first five, so we’ll have to see if it manages to close out well. This particular chapter has some moments that are pretty tough to swallow as a Westerner. It’s hard to believe that they have the gonads to let the hero decapitate a little girl. Of course the fact that the extremely young girl gives a kill order on Ogami Itto makes it a little easier to take. He could be stopping a future female equivalent to King Joffery, after all. But it’s one of those samurai movies where pretty much everyone dies. It’s a real shame that the picture quality on this set just seems to get worse and worse. The films are smeared, blurry, digitized and all sorts of horrible things. If I hadn’t gotten it cheap I’d feel ripped off. I can only recommend the set from Animeigo if you find it on sale. I love the movies, but the transfers are pretty hard to swallow. They’re even worse than the Ghostbusters blu ray.
Speaking of samurai movies, what’s up with that Criterion Zatoichi set? Super excited about it, but with one caveat. It looks like they’re moving away from separate DVD and blu rays to doing combo packs, which I kind of hate. You’ve seen my short rant about that pet peeve if you follow my postings. I honestly can’t understand why they would do this just in time for this behemoth that won’t fit on people’s shelves. Given Criterion’s customer base of extreme cinephiles and/or young people picking up newer indie films, who are they going to continue putting out the DVDs for? As long as they continue to put things out in blu ray sized cases, I guess it’s just “added value” that I’ll never use so I can’t complain too much as the prices seem to be staying the same. From what I’ve read, the 25 of 26 film set (what happened to the last one?) is going to be a freakin’ 27 disc set when both are combined. This indicates that there will be multiple films on each disc. Usually this would worry me, but Criterion has earned the benefit of the doubt. I’ll have to see if I can put aside the money to pick this up the next time Barnes and Noble is having their 50% off sale. But even at full retail price, $180 is actually really good for that many films in one package at the kind of quality Criterion is known for. If only THEY put out Lone Wolf and Cub. It’s a series I would definitely double-dip for if it was done right.
8/18/13- The new Muppet Movie blu ray is pretty good. While The Muppets has the best live-action transfer in my entire movie collection (seriously), The Muppet Movie is far from an ideal source considering its age and the pedigree of being a comedy with optical effects. Given that, the new transfer is exactly what you would expect; grainy in some spots, fantastic in others and altogether far better than the subpar pan n’ scan transfer from the old DVD. The movie itself holds up well. While children will look at 90% of the celebrity cameos and say, “huh?”, most of them are just playing parts so while they won’t get a kick out of Madeline Kahn just due to who she was, they’ll think she’s got a funny voice. And Mel Brooks’ appearance as the evil doctor is so wacko that it still kills. “It’ll be a hot time in de ol’ skull tonight!” I’m thinking about taking it with me to my parents’ place and seeing if my nephews (and niece) what to watch it.
It’s really odd to think of the Muppet films as a series for me because they almost seem more like actors that are starring in films. Up until The Muppets there really wasn’t an attempt at establishing any kind of continuity and they’re so completely different in subject matter that the only thing that they have in common is the simple fact that they have Muppets in them. Plus, they were made by different companies through the years as the brand changed hands and they went through some God awful times. Thank God most of their awful stuff was on TV with only Muppets From Space being completely worthless as a theatrical release. Seriously? Who’s idea was it to actually explain what Gonzo was! He’s a weirdo, that’s the whole point! Oh well.