THX 1138: THE GEORGE LUCAS DIRECTOR'S CUT (1971/2004) on DVD
for the first time. Holy crap, what an awesome movie that today is better known for its letters in home theater intros on DVD's and Blu-rays than as Lucas' first crack at directing. Despite George's well-known revisionist streak filling this '04 director's cut with too-obvious CG tweaks (some of them quite distracting, especially toward the end) it's different than paperwalling over a well-known landscape like the old "Star Wars" universe that fans have seen and revisted a gazillion times before. By the nature of its concept (an Orwellian Big Brother-type future in which emotions like love are outlawed) "THX 1138" isn't a movie that will be watched too often, so anything Lucas adds that sells this as a dystopian future only adds to the color of the canvas (i.e. whiter than Conan O'Brien) in which it unfolds. Ironically, despite the new shiny CG, this movie already shows young Lucas' mastery over the 'lived in' feeling that would really shine in the first "Star Wars." Robert Duvall, Maggie McOmie and Donald Pleasence (whose awkward flirting with Duvall's THX character is probably the reason the flick got bumped from a 'GP' 1971 rating to an 'R') are great, but the real star of "THX 1138" is co-writer Walter Murch and all the amazing sounds (effects as well as the musical cues for Lalo Schifrin's uncharacterstically 'artsy' score) he concocted to sell the illusion of a consumer-driven society better than the visuals ever could in the early 70's. It really feels like we lost a great human-loving director when Lucas' "Star Wars" franchise hit it big and he stopped doing stuff like this and "American Graffitti." Ron Shelton's TIN CUP (1996) on TV Guide Network.
It's springtime, and you know what that means: playing golf with gardening tools time.
I love golf on TV, and I owe it to this movie that I didn't get the first time I saw because of my lack of knowledge about the game. Not that me not being able to tell a 'bogey'
from an 'eagle'
prevented me from enjoying the way Costner's lovable rascal routine bounces off from Don Johnson's sellout pro, Cheech Marin's best friend/sidekick schtick and the lovely Rene Russo's out-of-her-element falling in love routine. Roy McAvoy is my favorite Kevin Costner character because it feels the closest to the persona I can picture Costner being off-screen: arrogant, stubborn, with a magnetic personality, full of pride and so good at what he does he doesn't need to apologize. The more times I watch it the funnier it gets, which is rare because the romance and sports portions of the movie seem to overwhelm its running time.Al Reinert's FOR ALL MANKIND (1989) on TCM-HD
for the first time. A NASA-sponsored (they own the footage) love letter to itself, though in this case the subject matter and quality of the footage is such that you can forgive director/producer Al Reinert for taking the sentimental, overtly-romantic view of space exploration (and for faking a couple of things for the sake of a "narrative"). The Brian Eno-composed score highlight the otherworldness the astronauts experienced in their voyages, which also underscores their humanity when contrasted with the country tunes they listen to (or the news get got from Earth). The recollections by the astronauts (whose voices aren't identified, so you have to either guess or remember your space history to know who's talking) are too on-the-nose cliche, but these men speak with the authority of those that have walked the moonwalk. The outstanding footage speaks for itself though (well, not really but you know what I mean) and, considering the state of our space program and society at present time, it's a reminder that back in the day NASA was as concerned about looking good as much as doing the space exploration. I'm a cynical bastard but, in its best moments (like the astronauts playing around in their downtime or the moon driving sequences), "For All Mankind" overwhelms your senses with the then-limitless possibilites of space exploration... and makes you want to watch Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" over and over again. Stuart Gordon's FORTRESS (1992) on Blu-ray
for the first time. See a trend in these reviews? Nah, me neither.
Lambert stars as John Brennick, an ex-military man sent to a privately-owned underground prison for the crime of he and his wife trying to have a 2nd child in a society/world that has outlawed having more than one child (did I mention we're in the dystopian future?). Under the guise of research and because he can, the prison director (Kurtwood Smith) takes on to liking Brennick's wife (Loryn Locklin) which keeps the Brennick's baby alive instead of on the fast-track to God-knows-what, but for how long? A balls-to-the-wall futuristic prison movie directed by Stuart 'more blood'
Gordon, "Fortress" is classic early 90's action stuff (think "Total Recall" meets "The Matrix" at 1/10th the budget of either movie): an ass-kicking hero, bloody guts and explosions, decent special effects (the minuatures for the prison set are quite good), a villain worth rooting for that isn't a one-dimensional baddie, good supporting pros as Brennick's sidekicks (including a long-haired Jeffrey Combs), male-on-male rape (insinuated more than shown but hey, that's an 'R' rating for you)... the works. There's some Gordon-sanctioned goofiness to deal with (a killer truck?) but "Fortress" plays it straight for the most part. The high-def transfer is predictable underwhelming and filled with source flaws (has Echo Bridge ever encoded a Blu-ray that doesn't look like an upconvert?) but it's watchable.Shinji Aramaki's APPLESEED (2004) on DVD
for the first time. An all-CG anime adaptation of Masamune Shirow's manga that, surprisingly, looks and feels more visually polished and true to the source material than a more technologically-advanced and bigger-budgeted CG sequel that came out three years later (see below). The seemingly typical setting for a futuristic anime movie (a utopian model city, Olympus, in which humanity seeks to rebuild itself after a Third World War wiped out most of humanity) is the tipping point for a story a lot more philosophical and thought out than the stylish action sequences would lead one to believe. Think "Ghost in the Shell" ethics (also adapted from a Shirow manga) but with double/triple crosses and a healthy dose of the 'WTF?!?!' The calling card of the "Appleseed" franchise though (in all forms of media) is present throughout and woven deeply into the plot: the strong-as-love bond between human supersoldier Deunan Knute and former-partner-turned-cyborg-warrior Briareos. That the latter looks like a Hulked out mechanical rabbit with camera lenses as eyes is a testament to (a) Shirow-san's ability to draw the humanity of his characters' extraordinary circumstances alongside the thrills of action beats, and (b) Aramaki-san's ability to translate that into anime form (and in CG to boot). And hey, it's nice to see supporting characters like Hitomi and Yoshitsume (the 'Q' of "Appleseed's" world) fleshed out better in their brief scenes than either the '88 anime movie (awful) or the '07 sequel (underwhelming).APPLESEED: EX MACHINA (2007) on HD-DVD
. You know the "Appleseed" franchise has gone mainstream (or as much as an acquired-for-American-distribution anime can) when (a) Prada gets an opening credit for designing virtual dresses for the lead female character, and (b) John Woo gets main credit as producer (and source of the CG doves the movie makes a point of showing over and over). The chemistry between Deunan and Briareos still carries the bulk of what works in "Ex Machina," which is undermined by a rather unbelievable story (all the nations of the world agreeing to let Olympus manage all their satellites) and weak-sauce villains (one of which doesn't even make it to the final act for the sake of an unnecessary 'shock' at the halfway mark). Supporting characters like Hitomi, still an exposition-dumping character, Nike (awful new hairdo!) or Yoshitsume still show up but are there more for fan service checklisting than anything else. The introduction of a bioroid warrior made to look like Briareos (and carrying his DNA), Tereus, adds a welcome degree of third-wheel dynamics to the Deunan-Briareos relationship, though the '04 movie did it better by never showing Briareos' face. Though it veers too close to the recent action-oriented "Resident Evil" videogames and emphasizes action/visuals more than its predecessor (a little less bloody but a lot more "show-offy") I'd take the original CG "Appleseed" over this shiny new model anyday. Still, "Ex Machina" makes a terrific 1-2 punch of "Appleseed" goodness so long as it's understood this one is definitely the '2' of the '1-2 punch.'