Laser Dreams

Before we headed out to Alaska for almost two weeks, I made a trip to the West Side of Los Angeles for  a Pop Up event promoted on one of the Facebook Groups I am a member of.  If you have been here before, you may know that I am a fan of an extinct technology, The Laser Disc. Millennials will not recognize the Laser disc, to them it looks like a DVD that is blowing up and set to explode. Once upon a time it was the cutting edge of home video technology, and there are many keepers of the flame out there. While I don’t get into the gear head aspect of color filter combs, AC-3 Inputs, CRT displays and upscaling technology, I do appreciate the discs and technology for nostalgia purposes.

Some of the collectors in the group are completists , who want to own every Criterion Release or Signature Edition. If there is a version of Star Wars they can import from Japan to make sure they have every possible permutation, they will do so. More power to them I say. I am mostly content to enjoy the thousand or so discs I collected while the technology was active. That does not mean however that I don’t want to add to the collection.

     Ron Dassa of “LaserBlazer” was the primary host but he was joined by Maxine Davlin who brought a large collection of discs as well. It was a one day event, although there are rumors that it was successful enough to repeat.  You can see the set up on this Facebook Post about the event:

For an old timer like me who remembers thumbing though the Laser Discs at a dozen different stores around the L.A. area, this was a trip down memory lane.  The joy of flipping through disc after disc and finding something that delights you is just hard to find now. I really hope they do it again. Ron was especially helpful in guiding me as I picked out a player that had dual side capability. We still need to get the remotes exchanged, he gave me a loaner until the correct one came back to him.

So, the question I am going to answer now, whether you care or not, is “What Did I Get and Why?”

Let’s start with the musicals. I love this traditional film art form and there were dozens to choose from. My daughter Amanda went with me and picked out several of the discs that we bought. Right now she has an interest in Doris Day. She had a film professor who loved Miss Day and Amanda wants to see more of her work. There was a Double Feature and a nice copy of “The Pajama Game”. She also has a crush on Howard Keele so “Kiss Me Kate Joined the pile. We got four other musicals from the fifties and a couple of 60s efforts as well.

I could not resist picking up the Albert Finney version of “Scrooge”, I’ve only seen parts of it, so this Christmas we have a discovery to make. Finally in the musical pile, we have a major find. Ron had box sets on a wall in the entryway and Amanda found a set that has all four versions of “Showboat”. This is a treat that we will have to indulge in a little bit at a time, so we don’t get over stuffed on “Old Man River”.

This next set of finds is made up primarily of classic films. There is a Vincent Price Double feature of horror movies, Bing and Bob head to Hong Kong, and Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau crack us up as the odd couple. “How to Steal a Million” is on the DVR and has been for months, now I can move it off and watch Audrey Hepburn with Peter O’Toole in a nice widescreen presentation. Amanda is a Jane Austin fan, so the early version of “Pride and Prejudice” was a natural. “Gunga Din” is one of my favorite films, but the only copy I had before this was one I burned from a TV screening onto a DVD. We have a copy of the remake of “Sabrina” but now we have the original for comparison purposes as well.

Some 80s and 90s films also made the grade, but first there is a Sergio Leone Film from the 70s. “A Fist Full of Dynamite”  was a film I saw as a kid when it was titled, “Duck You Sucker”. This is a fully restored version of the movie at it’s full length.

I have a copy of “Matinee” already, but the widescreen edition was the version I really wanted and it comes with a feature addition of “Mant” the movie that is central to the story of the film. “Innerspace” is another Joe Dante film and I have never owned a copy until now. This makes me quite happy.  The early 90s were filled with comic book style movies that were more influenced by the pulp fiction of the 30s and forties rather than comics. Now as a companion piece to “The Phantom” and “The Rocketeer” I can say I have a copy of “The Shadow”. Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of a laser disc collector?

Two movies that just make me happy everytime I see them. First is the “Idolmaker”, a musical about the creation of teen idols at the start of the rock era. It comes from Taylor Hackford who has exquisite taste as illustrated by the fact that he is married to Helen Mirren. Finally, there is “Defending Your Life”, an Albert Brooks film featuring Meryl Streep and a highly quotable Rip Torn. At our house it is a black hole film, we can never escape it’s gravitational pull, and now we have it on a charming old fashioned format that is perfect for a 90s movie.

The last set of films on Laser that we purchased I picked up for one reason only…the covers. One of the things that made discs so alluring to me back in the day were the vivid art on the covers of Laser Discs. They were often miniature versions of the movie poster but in a 12 x 12 format. Most of these movies I already own on DVD or Blu-ray, but you would not appreciate those formats being prominently displayed on the wall. That’s what I intend to do with each of them.

“The Stunt Man” features the silhouette image of Peter O’Toole’s devilish movie director on a crane filming a shot. It’s a terrific design. “The Mask of Zorro” is a late release which is often treasured by collectors who want to find films that just managed to get a laser edition before the format folded.  I just love the “Z” graphic with the flames and another silhouette.

“Atlantic City” has beautiful artwork in the poster design, and it’s a poster I don’t own so here i get a chance to have it in some form. “The Muppet Movie” cover is bold with large images of Kermit and Piggy, and it is childlike and sweet.

“The Day of the Locust” is a film I wanted to see when it came out in 1975, the artwork was compelling then and it still intrigues me. I recently listened to a podcast from “Forgotten Filmz” and decided I wanted to see the movie but even more I wanted to look at the cover.

“The Outlaw Josey Wales” has other covers in other media, but this rendering of the original poster art just insisted that I own it.

The two final discs I bought ( for a very reasonable $4 each) are my favorites when it come to covers. Everybody knows “The Searchers”, it is a John Ford/John Wayne masterpiece. So is the cover art which looks like a painting you could hang in an art gallery.

And finally, there is this fantastic graphic design, that I think must have been created exclusively for Laser Disc. I’ve not seen it elsewhere, including DVD and Blu-ray versions. It is simple and composed in a very satisfying set of images and angles.

This image kicks as much ass as Lee Marvin does in this movie. I can hardly wait to get it on the wall and stare at it every time I am blogging or podcasting.

I hope you enjoyed this little shopping expedition. Physical Media rules, and Laser Discs are the Kings of the Physical world.

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The Meg

So i have been away from a movie theater for a couple of weeks and I have missed some films that I hope to catch up with soon. This weekend’s big release is something that I did look forward to, so as soon as I got the chance this weekend, I took a dive into South Pacific waters, along with Jason Statham, in search of “The Meg”. Director Jon Turteltaub is not so much of an auteur as he is an audience serving professional. The story of a giant, pre-historic shark suddenly being let loose on the world doesn’t call for a cinematic light touch. It demands that you push the right popcorn buttons, and as the guy who brought us the two National Treasure movies, Mr. Turteltaub seems to be a good fit.

In terms of entertainment value for your summer dollars, which Hollywood depends on, “The Meg” is on a par with the recent Dwayne Johnson vehicle “Skyscraper“. In fact, I was thinking of another comparison when this came to mind. Back in the 1970s, Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood were regular faces on the silver screen, especially in the summertime. Both of those guys had big charisma that carried films that were not always great but were worthy because of their presence in them. Burt had a whole host of summer films in the 70s ; “The Longest Yard“, “W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings“, “Smokey and the Bandit“.  Clint of course was the cowboy of the 70s but his summer output included films; “The Eiger Sanction“, “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” as well as “The Outlaw Josey Wales“.  Together, those two icons dominated several of the summers of my youth. In forty years. this generation will look back on the films off Statham and Johnson in a similar way. Although Dwayne Johnson is the natural heir to the Schwarzenegger/Stallone mantle, he has a comedic persona that those two never managed to quite get, despite “Kindergarten Cop”.  Statham is more closely connected to the Charles Bronson mold of tough guy. What I think is effective for both Statham and Johnson is that they appear in a variety of films but their persona and personality are what makes the movies work. That’s why I like the analogy to Reynolds and Eastwood. “The Meg” is Jason Statham’s summer film an the same way that “Skyscraper” is Johnson’s entry for the hot season.

Fortunately, Jason Statham’s tough guy facade is just right for this movie. He is a reluctant deep sea rescue expert who gets called upon to effect a rescue that he wants nothing to do with. Just like Bruce Willis in “Die Hard” and Johnson in “Skyscraper”, Statham’s character Jonas is the right guy in the wrong place at the right time. While he is not required to spin kick the shark in the face, he actually does end up going toe to fin with it at the climax of the movie. In a sort of Ahab with kung fu skills moment, Statham manages to make the completely ridiculous seem reasonable and fun. That is why they hired him. He does get some chances to act as well but since the rest of the story is paper thin, you are not going to pay much attention to any of that.

The film riffs on several elements from other shark based movies. “Jaws” has the greatest number and the most obvious tribute/ripoff moments. When the Megalodon does make it to a beach, there is a whinny kid who wants to go swimming, a frustrated mother, a selfish guy willing to roll over others in trying to escape from the shark and even a dog named Pippen, just a switched consonant away from the sacrificial dog of that great film.  We also have a pig headed billionaire, who has financed the project which brings the Megladon to the surface. Rainn Wilson may not have Samuel Jackson’s vocabulary. but he does have a similar story line to the one in “Deep Blue Sea”. There is also an L.L. Cool J stand in with moments of comic relief.

This movie does not aspire to be an adventure film like “Jaws” was. It is closer to the action film of “Deep Blue Sea”, with a science fiction component and a “Jurassic Park” mindset. There is a little bit of lip service paid to the notion of man screwing up Mother Nature, but frankly Winston Chao is no Jeff Goldblum and the screenwriters are not collaborating with Steven Spielberg for character ideas. This is a simple movie that is closer to the chase the victim plot of “Jaws 2” than the man aginst nature brutality of the original “Jaws”. Plus Jason Statham can swim and beat up a shark a thousand times bigger than him. Extra butter on the popcorn will help. I chose to see this in 3-D, because if you are going for the cheese, you might as well add the mayonnaise.