iTunes Movies Now in 4K

under $8

Back in the day I used to have a shelf full of VHS tapes. This shelf contained two copies of the original Star Wars Trilogy because… Star Wars. When widescreen VHS became a thing, I switched to it. When DVD came around, I had to buy Star Wars again. I ended up with a small room lined with VHS tapes on one side and DVDs on the other. Digital video came about at about the same time as Blu-ray. I skipped Blu-ray. I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally bought a Blu-ray disc even though I had a Blu-ray player. At the time it was a pretty easy decision because I did not have a TV that could tell the difference.
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Life

On the 99¢ rack in iTunes this week we have the March 2017 movie called Life. When I saw the trailers this spring I just knew it would be bad. Rotten Tomatoes™ amazingly gave it a 67% fresh rating. That gave me a little hope that they might be some redeeming quality to this Alien rip off. When I saw it in the rental bargain bin, I decided to give it a try. Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds lead a cast of 6 astronauts on board the International Space Station. The plot revolves around the first return sample from the surface of Mars. With a little bit of gloucose and a jolt of electricity, they wake the facehugger up. They then name it Calvin. Calvin then spends the rest of the movie killing off the cast, I mean crew.
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King Arthur

My understanding of King Arthur lore comes from watching Excalibur on cable in the 80’s, First Knight on video in the 90’s, and reading Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. No, I haven’t seen Disney’s canonic work. When I saw the trailer for this new movie I could not get a feel for what kind of movie it would be. When I saw the director was Guy Ritchie, my interest waned even further. I still have not forgiven him for what he’s done to Sherlock Holmes. But when Warner Brothers sends you free tickets, it’s probably worth standing in line for an hour. Continue reading “King Arthur”

The Great Wall

Sometime last fall I saw the first trailer for a new movie from Legendary and Universal Studios coming out called “The Great Wall”. The premise was simple: the Chinese build the Great Wall to defend against some kind of attacking Kaijū (怪獣) attacking from the north. What we know from history is wrong and has been kept secret all these years. Somehow Matt Damon is there. I’m interested. I love it when story tellers mix history with fantastical and plausible explanations. That’s Hollywood plausible, mind you.This is the same studio pair that is bringing us Godzilla, Kong, and Pacific Rim. I was imagining they could mix this into a prequel to one of those universes. But then the trailer tipped its hand and showed the monster. I was not a single strange beast, but a horde of swarming creatures. My interest waned.
Despite that lukewarm anticipation I went to go see it having done no additional research no read any reviews. What I got was a beautiful view of northwestern China with a good story and good characters. Matt Damon’s character makes some references to events in Europe so we know we are in the end of the 11th century. With him is a Spaniard played by Pedro Pascal. Both are seeking mysterious black powder. The two are captured. Instead of being killed, they agree to save the princess — I mean general — and defeat the monsters. Continue reading “The Great Wall”

Dawn of Justice

Having just returned form seeing the new movie “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice“, I’m trying to gather my thoughts. I think it’s safe to say that the movie is good but a little boring. Ben Afflect’s Dark Night is probably the high point of the movie. We’ve see his genesis story before. It has been updated. Now his parents die in 1981 after a Patrick Stewart movie, Excalibur. We are treated to a couple of flashbacks that don’t otherwise add to his story anything that we have not seen before. There is a shot of what is apparently a Robin suit so there is more history in this character that we do not get to see. There is also a scene that seems very out of place that may end up being an omen of future stories. Jeremy Irons plays a believable but many too young Alfred.

Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, and Laurence Fishburne reprise their roles from the Man of Steel. This new movie starts at the climax of that movie giving you a street level view of those events. Once you get all of those characters on the screen along with the lifeless Michael Shannon and Kevin Costner, things are starting to get a bit crowded. We do see Superman go really dark at at least one point of the story. Holly Hunter plays the role of a senator who actually seems to be doing the right thing. Contrast this with Iron Man’s use of the late Gary Shandling as Senator Stern.

Dark is a good way to describe much of the movie. The tone is dark. Most of the action takes place at night unlike the previous movie. The cinematography is also dark and 3-D did not help. Skip the 3-D. In addition to being dark the movie is tedious. It has an story to tell, it spends nearly two hours of the movie before the two heroes finally face off. A more typical story telling would have them face off twice with the first time early in the movie.

When Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman shows up on the screen she’s not given much to say. Hopefully she’ll do better in her own movie next year. We are teased with a picture of her from 1918. We are also teased with the Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. Hopefully Aquaman doesn’t suck.

Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is introduced like a sequel to the Social Network but quickly turns to menace. His motivations are unclear for much of the movie so you just have to go with the explanation that he’s the bad guy. I would like to have seen more. For example, Doomsday. Why? Even if Lex’s motivations are unclear what is good is how he manipulates both our heroes to go toe to toe. Fortunately for both of them, the ladies are there to set them straight. I expect we will see more of Lex.

This movie suffers to a lesser extent from the “titan vs titan” problem from the previous movie. If you have a character who can survive a direct missile impact, why are you punching him?

In summary you have a long, dense movie that plods along, hits all the requisite beats. It takes the character that we met in the first film and sets you up for a scheduled of at least four more films in this universe. I grew up with the TV Superman and Batman. I’ve seen all their movies that have come out since 1966. This film is certainly better from a character point of view than half of those films. I only wish there had been a bit more levity and joy on the 151 minute run time so that by the end I didn’t feel like I was walking out of a lecture. If you are a fan of the genre then its worth seeing because they were faithful to the characters. I’m sure there is lots of detail that I missed that will be revealed when I watch it again on iTunes. Fortunately for me someone pulled the fire alarm causing the movie to be delayed so the theater comp’d us all with tickets to come back. As a free movie it was really good.

Mad Max: Fury Road

It’s been over a week since I went to see Mad Mad: Fury Road. The movie has stayed with me all week. The movie is a visual masterpiece although it is not going to win any awards for its non-existent dialog or plot. There is barely any plot to speak of. The whole movie is basically one long chase. I’d be surprised if Tom Hardy had a dozen lines of dialog in the whole movie. What you have is a frenetic and artistic spectacle. The cinematography of ever frame shows a complex understanding of color and tone. We are returning to a world that has had three movies already but this movie makes it feel new and ready for another three movies.

This is Charlize Theron’s movie. She stars as the one-armed Imperator Furiosa who just wants to go home. She finds out that you can never go home and returns to where we started. Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky bare has any effect on the story but we follow is perspective for most of the movie. Nicholas Hoult also co-stars as Nux who has the biggest story arc and redemption. Nux’s backstory is featured in a comic released this week.

Director George Miller has been working on this movie since 1998. Usually that is a bad sign in Hollywood. Stories on the Internet abound about all the production problems they had. Filming finally took place in South Africa which had the right desert look. The production also relied heavily on practical effects instead of green screens. When I saw the trailers showing the long poles, I thought it looked goofy. By the time you see them in the movie, they are completely believable.

It is not necessary that you have seen the previous three movies. Each of those movies can stand on their own. Max is the only character that passes between them. They are all available on the usually video sources. If you have seen them then there are some Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the move. Actor Hugh Keays-Byrne returns from Mad Max (1979) film but as a different character. Fans will recognize him as Toecutter then and Immortan Joe now.

I saw this movie in 3-D. I later found out that it was a post-process conversion 3-D film. Had I know this going into the movie I might have opted to see in in 2-D, especially after my recent bad Ultron experience. The 3-D in this film is incredible. There were a couple of cheesy obvious 3-D pandering shots but for the most part it was effectively used to immerse you in the experience. This is a movie that should be seen on the big screen, preferably in 3-D.

Mad Max opening scene

Side by Side

I was very slow to move from film photography to digital photography. I wasn’t willing to buy into DSLR photography until I felt the quality caught up. Arguably digital photography still lacks something when compared to film but the cost, immediacy and flexibility made it easy for me to switch and not look back. When it comes to video, I’ve never used a film camera. My first video camera was a Sony Hi-8 camcorder. Later I upgraded to Digi-8 format. For me video was about capturing the action and not the art.

The documentary Side by Side (2012) features Keanu Reeves interviewing Hollywood directors and cinematographers about their transition from film to digital. Some of the interviewed were bemoaning the death of film while others were leading the way to digital. The move to digital is nearly complete. Save for a few anomalous releases like Interstellar, movies are only being distributed in digital formats and being projected digitally.

The movie explores the history of film and digital cinema. It describes the technology of film making. The descriptions of color timing were very interesting. I found it very interesting that the filmmakers who lament the death of film are at odd with the realities of distributing a roll of cellulose to a theater and having it run through a projector several times a day. James Cameron talked about how the reels of Titanic were falling apart from so many showings.

On the digital side you have George Lucas and Robert Rodriguez who have pushed to medium to accomplish things that could never be done on film. Star Wars Episode I was distributed digitally. I remember driving to Plano to see it on the first DLP theater. When Episode II came out it was entirely shot digitally. James Cameron pushed the envelope even further a few years later with Avatar. I found it interesting to know that O Brother Where Art Thou had a digital effect on every frame to give it that aged yellowed look without washing out the blues.

So Hollywood has gone digital. Your local theater now has digital projectors. The projection quality no longer degrades the longer the movie is out. The best part of the digital film experience is the trickle down to the home theater. You can now get 4K systems and there is starting to be content available.

On the down side, archiving digital media is not as easy as it should be. In the history of film there has basically been just one standard. Color and sound were added over time. When it comes to digital there have been 80 formats. Anyone who has tried to open a WordPerfect file or an early digital photo has experienced that frustration. I have hundreds of old home movies that I need to convert to a modern format. Hollywood needs to work on archival for both historical films and modern movies. Perhaps they could work something out with the likes of Netflix and YouTube.

As a documentary I found it very interesting. It is available both on Netflix and Amazon. I recommend it for any lover of cinema.

Side by Side Movie Poster

Rosewater

John Stewart makes his first movie and it’s really good. It’s the true story of a Newsweek journalist that was arrested in Iran after the 2009 election. Stewart takes a very compelling story written by Maziar Bahari after spending over 100 days in solitary confinement and presents it in a beautiful and compelling film. The movie is full of humor and even manages to humanize Bahari’s torturer. Stewart also includes a few jabs at New Jersey because “everybody knows about New Jersey.” The movie stars Mexican actor Gael García Bernal in a very strong performance.

John Stewart seems like an odd choice for this film. Known for his Daily Show, Stewart is respectful of the people, culture, and story and shows that he can make a film worth watching.

I got to see the film at a special advance screening followed by a live telecast of John Stewart and Maziar Bahari being interviewed by Stephen Colbert (not in character). You can tell they are all passionate about the subject. Their wish is that this film might be seen by the right people in Iran and other countries where free speech is forbidden.

I highly recommend this film. I hope it is considered at Oscar time including Stewart for direction.

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John Wick

Keneau Reeves is back with a movie that could be a worthy sequel to The Matrix. It is the perfect antedote to Interstellar. The plot is simple: They kicked his dog, now he must kill them. That’s it. Nothing too deep about it. John (Keneau) walks through the rest of the movie with singular focus. The movie takes this focus and turns it into a continuous string of action sequences as the bad guys come in waves trying to kill John. The movie it’s full of characters that would be at home in a Tarantino film. These characters live by a code and speak in euphemisms that play to the absurdity of the situation. John is able to call for a clean up crew as easily as calling Mr. Wolf from Pulp Fiction. The movie is predictable with all the usual revenge flick cliches but that does not diminish the experience. There are a lot of subtitles for the Russian. The filmmakers used some creativity in presenting the text on the screen. What sets John apart from his peers in the movie is his perfect aim and impossible reaction time. By the time the other guy has had a chance to take aim John has already taken the head shot. The movie it’s full of cool cars. They are the only ones spared. All modern cars end up being destroyed. It’s a pure action thrill ride. Don’t look for deeper meaning than that.

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Interstellar

The new movie Interstellar starring Matthew McConaughey and directed by Christopher Nolan is destined to become a science fiction classic like 2001 but I don’t think it will be appreciated in our time. At three hours long I think some audiences will have a hard time staying engaged. The cast and story may make it a contender for the Oscars even without commercial success. Continue reading “Interstellar”

Full Metal Groundhog Day

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt star in a new summer popcorn movie called Edge of Tomorrow which is alike a mashup of Matrix, Groundhog Day, and Starship Troopers and is based on the novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (桜坂 洋) called All You Need is Kill (オール・ユー・ニード・イズ・キル). The movie title is better than the Japanese English but it still reminds me of an episode of Star Trek. The basic premise is that Tom Cruise gets to relive the same day over and over until he gets it right. The alien “Mimics” look like the robots that attack the hovercraft in The Matrix. We don’t know what the aliens want and the characters even say, it doesn’t matter. Tom Cruise delivers a good performance and you can believe that his character is going through a development arc. The rest of the character do not grow but then again they are only passing through a single day. We do get to see different aspects of the J squad. Bill Paxton is believable as a British drill sergeant. Emily Blunt appears as the strong and mysterious Full Metal “B”.

Compared to the novel the screen play is much more compact. The story has been moved to London. The threat is the same but the ending is different. We get the same reluctant soldier who must rise to have a good day. I wanted to see more of the battle axe. There are many cringeworthy moments in the film similar to Bill Murray’s resets. Visually the power suits that are featured for much of the film somehow look clumsy. They looked really awkward in the Normandy invasion scene. Otherwise that beach scene was very powerful and reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan.

This film has been released in most countries on May 29-30 and is scheduled to come out in the US on June 6th. The studio must have decided not to go up directly against X-Men, Maleficent, and A Million Ways to Die in the West. I expect it to do well as it delivers on its promise of action.

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Godzilla 2014

I went to see the new American ゴジラ film with some trepidation. This is a character that I have watched all my life on the little and big screen. It reminded me of going to the theater in 1985 when I dragged my cousin Paul to see the Ramond Burr cut of Return of Godzilla. I’ve seen other Godzilla films on the big screen at various film festivals. In those cases I’d seen the movie on TV several times already. I grew up watching Dr. Paul Bearer introduce a weekly Saturday double feature. Every Sunday I would raid the paper for the next Saturday’s channel 44 TV listings to see what movie was going to be on. Sometimes it was just another vampire or werewolf move. But sometimes it would be good.

I don’t count the Mathew Broderick film as Godzilla canon. There’s a line in the Godzilla 2000 movie where the actors in an obvious reference to the TriStar film say that the Americans thought they had seen Godzilla in New York but they were mistaken. I like that film but it’s no Godzilla film. It’s in the same category as other kaiju films like Cloverfield, Pacific Rim, Jurassic Park, and Gamera.

So going into this film I just had to be better than the 1998 film. Better in this case means that it would be truer to the 60-year-old character. There have been 30-some films and countless TV appearances by Godzilla over the years. The movies have followed short stints of continuity. They have often rebooted the series dismissing all the movies except for the original. This new movie follows that pattern. The 1954 movie could be considered one telling of the same events at the beginning of this new film.

Right off the bat you are treated to a glimpse of the big guy. We don’t get a good look until much later in the film. I think the filmmaker wanted to reassure the audience that this would be recognizable monster. Unlike last year’s Pacific Rim, this kaiju is not afraid to come out in the sunlight and be seen. The special effects artist must have been proud of their creations and did not hide them in the rain. Gareth Edwards got the look of Godzilla and the whole movie right. I saw it in IMAX 3-D. There was good sense of depth. At a couple of points I actually thought there was debris floating around inside the theater. The sound was good throughout the film. There were several points in the movie where you were about to see something and then a door closed and blocked your view. Edwards used the same trick in his movie Monsters to hide is small budget. Here it is intended to build the suspense. It left me wanting to see more. I wanted to see Godzilla and his foes duke it out on screen. If I were to actually count up all the screen time that the kaiju have and compare it to the Japanese predecessors, I would expect that those films easily feature double the kaiju screen time.

The story was mostly good. They told a multigenerational story. I was surprised how easily Edwards dispensed with major characters. Ultimate that decision steered the story and showed that this is a disaster movie in the Hollywood sense just as much as a kaiju genre film. I felt that the main character’s story arch was a little contrived to put him in the right place in the end.

The movie score is mostly forgettable. I was expecting at least hear the recurring melody of Akira Ifukube’s theme. I did not find anything redeemable in Alexandre Desplat’s score.

I was disappointed that Akira Takarada’s small scene was cut. This would have be an nice nod to the actor who co-starred in the 1954 film. Takarada was one of Toho’s new faces actors and has had cameos in several films since.

Akira Takarada

There are nods in this film to other genre films. Watch for references to Aliens and King Kong (1933). In classic kaiju film style we get to see other monsters. There are two others on the screen to fight with our green guy. Godzilla is neither a good guy or a bad guy. He is a force of nature. This movie does a good job of portraying that. We even get to see Ken Watanabe come right out and say it at one point.

If you have any inner 12-year-old left inside you then you will enjoy this film. The big screen does do it justice. And the 3-D is does sufficiently well to even recommend the up-sell.

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