The Mask of Zorro on MovieRob’s Genre Grandeur

Click on this picture on my recently acquired LaZer Disc version of the movie to read my review for Rob’s project.




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.

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.


Mission Impossible: Fallout

When I mentioned at one point that this was the film I was most looking forward too this summer, I received some verbal shrugs of the shoulder from a few fellow bloggers. An attitude that I simply cannot fathom. This series has been consistently excellent in my point of view, and the fact that Tom Cruise is the driving force behind the production seems to irritate some people. The internet is full or terrible things but most of the film sites I visit have rational people offering reasons for their love or hate of a particular film. So it was a surprise to me to see this comment on one of the blog posts I visited this week,

”  I have no interest in watching some aging dinosaur doing stupid stunts just to prove that he’s still got it. If he wants to impress me, why doesn’t he just jump off of a f#@king cliff and f#@king die?”

Does that seem a little harsh to you? It did to me. There is apparently a lot of Tom Cruise hate out there, not too far under the surface.

So before I begin my discussion of the film, let me make a brief defense of Mr. Cruise. Regardless of his personal life, he has always been a professional. He works hard at putting on screen, those things that he thinks will make a film better for the audience. To use the vernacular of the author of this note, I’d rather see an aging star who gives a damn about the quality of his film, perform a practical stunt, than watch a pretty boy flavor of the month, dangle in front of a green screen, trying to sell something that they look down on in the first place.

As a producer on these films, Cruise has been responsible for employing thousands of behind the scenes technical crafts people. The creative types from cinematographers, writers, stunt coordinators and directors, have all been given an amazing canvas to work on. Maybe the results are not always pretty to everyone. That is your prerogative and taste. I do think however dismissing it as “stupid” and assuming that the star is trying to impress you may be off target a bit. What is completely off target however is wishing death to someone because of your petulant views. OK, end of rant.

“Fallout” is the sixth film in this franchise, and I think you will find that most objective viewers will say that since the second film, they have gotten steadily better. A couple of things that help make that true are the continuing inclusions of new characters that allow conflict, humor or more emotional spark in the film. Since Simon Pegg came on board in “MI:III “, he has become more than just the comic relief and his character is more integral to the teams mission. Jeremy Renner, who made two appearances in the series, but is sadly missing here, also added some gravitas to the proceedings while providing a completely different form of humor.

The two most recent additions from the previous film to this one are Rebecca Ferguson as MI:6 operative Ilsa Faust, who provides a counterpart to Cruise for  skill, action and wits. In addition, there is a nice hint of romance that is not oversold like it is a Bond film. In this movie she represents the B plotline that is at odds with Ethan Hunt’s objective for the story. Because her character is capable, it makes the action and events seem more interesting and complicated. Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne and Tom Wilkinson all made one off appearances in the series, so it was nice to get some payoff from having Alec Baldwin return for a second episode. As a reluctant and judgmental ally and Superior to Hunt’s IMF group, Baldwin gets a chance to play both sides a bit and ultimately be played as well. I sort of enjoy the coincidence in Angela Bassett as the new C.I.A. chief, it’s as if Tina Turner is stepping into Ike’s shoes with Fishburne out of the picture. It is likely that if there are future installments in this franchise, she will return.

The plot is as complicated as these things usually get. A dangerous macguffin is out in the open and must be recovered by the team. Of course no path is straight and this plot develops an interesting twist by requiring that a previous villain be exchanged for the missing “dangerous item in a suitcase”. This puts Ethan and the team in an awkward position that ultimately creates a very ironic twist to the story.

To get though all of this, we get several incredible action sequences. There is a terrific, over the top hand to hand combat fight in a glittering white bathroom. Ethan and his team have to improvise a heist in the middle of the picture, so that he can sleep at night. The screenwriter/director Christopher McQuarrie injects some morality issues into this spy shoot em up, through a couple of nightmare sequences that visualize for us the qualms Ethan has about the choices he makes. The Tom Cruise haters will point to several chase scenes as proof that it is all about Tom as he rides a motorcycle like a bat out of hell or jumps from one building to another while doing the traditional Tom Cruise running. Those actions are not just to make Cruise look good, every spy film has chases and acts of derring do which put us in with the hero.

Henry Cavill and his mustache, take a break from the D.C. Universe to play a mysterious C.I.A. enforcer, foisted on the mission by the new DCIA. He looks good in a fight and not much effort was made to hide the fact that he is substantially taller than the star. His addition to the team suggests that not all the competent field agents have the temper for some of the delicate work that has to be done. The helicopter chase and battle that are the climax of the picture go a long way in showing that no one here is really a Superman, they all are vulnerable to a lot more than kryptonite. Ethan Hunt may have tried to bury his weakness, but it does get exploited well at the climax of the film.

“Mission Impossible: Fallout” owes most of it’s success to producer and star Tom Cruise. The film is not perfect, after all there are some plot-holes and lucky coincidences, but you never really care about that. This is a film that wants to keep you on the edge of your seat and it manages that nicely for all the two and a half hours of it’s running time. OK, maybe Cruise should be sure to send part of his profit participation to Lalo Schifrin, who created the iconic theme that sells this movie in the trailer, the titles and the end credits. I’d be willing to defend a proposition that it is the single greatest piece of theme music ever.