One blogger's take on movies, television shows, books, and music -- the good, the bad, and the bottom line

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A commenter writes:

I think this is going to be a great year for Ishtar... the 20th anniversary will mark a big resurgence. There is a documentary film about Ishtar fandom in the works, The guy that runs the Ishtar fan website (http://www.ishtarthemovie.com/) is putting together a tribute CD featuring cover versions of songs from the movie, there's an Ishtar fan group, and possibly a US release on DVD (something the heathen in Europe have been enjoying for years). So shake off that square world, get with the countdown, and blast off to Ishtar!

So maybe I was wrong about Ishtar. Then again....

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

And the worst movie I ever saw? Even though it was 30 years ago, I still have to vote for Sorcerer,a Billy Friedkin job from 1977 with Roy Scheider. I never saw the original on which this piece of crap was based [The Wages of Fear],but this movie was awful from the first. Ironically, I actually had to sit through this 121 minutes of hell on earth twice!

The Good: Uh, Uh.... Well, Amazon gave it 4.5 stars. Somehow.

The Bad: As I rcall, the first 30 minutes were in French, without subtitles! Believe me, the visual narrative flow was nonexistent and incoherent. Once it started maing some sense, the story was excruciating, involving prisoners in the jungle transporting high explosives somewhere in rickety trucks. Roy Scheider is in the lead, and I hope he got paid well, because that would have been the only good thing to come out of this turgid excuse for entertainment.

The Bottom Line: No Flicks. It really is the worst movie I can remember ever seeing. And I saw Ishtar!

Well, I'm back from my tenth Grand Cayman trip since 1999. Can you tell I kind of like the place? For all you cruise ship types looking for an island to land on next time, give a hard look at Grand Cayman. The people are nice, the food is good, it's relaxing, and the diving is as good as it gets, if that's your thing. It sure is mine; I managed 11 dives in 4 days, and would have had more, had it not been for the dreadful Delta Airlines experience we had trying to get there in the first place.

The night before I left on the trip I [idiotically] stayed up till 3:00 a.m. watching Into the Blue,a treasure hunt caper that deals with scuba diving to a large extent. Here's my take:

The Good: Jessica Alba, engaging photography, moderately interesting treasure hunt story, Jessica Alba, a couple of twists that even jaded I didn't figure out, and Jessica Alba.

The Bad: It WAS a bit of a pot boiler, and for anyone who has given any thought to treasure hunting, the setup was somewhat less than credible. From a back story point of view, I learned about a year ago that the producers had looked at filming this picture in Grand Cayman instead of the Bahamas, and Alba even came to Cayman for a tutorial in free diving [diving without scuba] from my friend Sebastian and the good folks at DiveTech. Unfortunately, the government apparently couldn't get out of its own way to make the deal, so off the production went to the Bahamas.

The Bottom Line: Three Flicks. It ain't the greatest movie I ever saw, but the dive photography was well done, and there is Jessica Alba, after all....

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Shawshank Redemption would have been the best movie of the year any year. Except 1994, when it was released. That was also the year of Forrest Gump. Talk about an embarassment of riches! We'll deal with Gump later; now, let's take a quick look at Shawshank:

The Good: This movie is one where I can truly say, it's all good. Understand that I'd already seen, and felt allegience to, Forrest Gump. So, I went into seeing Shawshank with a bias against liking the picture. I also am not the biggest fan of prison stories. I walked out of the theatre and LOVED the movie.

Normally, a voice-over narration is seen as a weakness in a movie's structure; the visual narrative ought to tell the story, and not an omniscient voice-over. Here, Morgan Freeman's dulcet, understated tones set the stage for a helluva story, with a great twist of an ending. Freeman,who is perhaps the leading light in American cinema, gives a bravura performance as Red, the world-weary con who befriends Tim Robbins's Andy, a newbie convicted of killing his wife and her lover. Tim Robbinsgives the performance of his career, eclipsing even that classic, Bull Durham,with his subtlety and sure acting touch. Strong performances also were given by all the supporting cast, including William Sadler as a fellow inmate, Bob Gunton as the oily, conniving warden, and Clancy Brownas the sadistic but opportunistic head guard. This movie should have, and would have, won the Best Picture Oscar, had it not been for Gump. That circumstance of timing does not diminish the power and quality of the picture, though. The Shawshank Redemption is one of the best movies I have seen in the past 30 years or so.

The Bad: Nothing, really. I suppose one might have a mild problem with some of the subject matter, particularly the gay rape scenes, as well as some of the relatively mild violence. But the former is mostly implied, and the latter is pretty tame by today's standards.

The Bottom Line: Five Flicks. See this movie. Really.

The day before yesterday, I was out to lunch [some would say that's my normal state], and, needing something to read, stopped in at a local bookstore. What I ended up with was a James Taylorbio, called Fire and Rain: The James Taylor Story. I'm a big JT fan, so that looked interesting. I blew through it in a day, and here's what I think of the work:

The Good: Halperin uses research and interviews well to tell Taylor's story, especially in his early life and career. I found quite interesting the singer's travails through the early 1980s. I certainly got a much clearer picture of his instabilities and peccadillos in his younger life -- his serious drug use [chronic IV heroin use], and his notorious reputation with the ladies [he apparently was a renowned tail hound].

The Bad: Not the most engaging writing I've ever seen. Lots of typos and missed words in the text. They really should have proofread the book better. My biggest gripe is that the author, Ian Halperin, seemed to grow tired of the subject about halfway through, that is, in about 1982 chronologically. I would have been quite interested in knowing more about why Taylor got so writer's-blocked between 1982 and 1985, and why the gaps between releases got longer and longer. After 1982, the story gets much more sketchy. Also, the book is a litle too fan adulatory, as opposed to even-handed reporting. That got annoying to me.

The Bottom Line: Two flicks. It was an OK read in a pinch, but I wouldn't go out of my way to read it again.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ah, I feel like I'm now well and truly on my way, thanks to friends in high places. Wlcome to all visitors; come again often!

One commenter mentioned an internal HD-DVD player, and I've seen the like at local electronics stores. I just don't have the time to deal with installation, obtaining the HD-tuner that must be necessary, and space is a concern in my family room. Besides, I got a MCE computer last April with the TV tuner [non-HD], and have had loads of problems getting it to work properly. Currently, it's completely non-functional, and I don't have the extra brain space [already QUITE limited] to figure out the problem.

Another commenter referred me to the Oppo DV-981HD Universal DVD Player with HDMI, 1080p Up-Converting, DivX & SACD. Unfortunately, I blew my wad with the JVC DVD/VHS combo unit, which supposedly upconverts to 1080i, and records in the bargain. Maybe it's better than the progressive scan DVD that is on the TIVO/Humax box, but I can't really tell. If this blog takes off, maybe I'll have an excuse to get a Blueray or HD-DVD player. I also expect to win the Powerball tomorrow night....

Monday, March 05, 2007

Technorati Profile

A word on what equipment I use to view content. I've got the 46 inch version of the JVC LT40FN97 40" 1080p Flat Panel LCD TV. Here's a great review of the 46 inch set, which [something I didn't know when I bought it] is considered to have about the best picture available.

I have not hooked up any external speakers, because of the cost as well as how my room is laid out. The onboard sound, including quasi-surround, is OK, but not spectacular. Having the wireless headphones helps.

I have Comcast cable, with all the movie channels. I use two different converter boxes, both Motorola. One is the hi-def box with dual tuner DVR capability. I view this converter box through either video 3 in [component cables] or HDMI 2 in. HDMI gives a subtle but discernible improved picture over the component cables, but HDMI will not allow me to use my wireless headphones. Thus, I have redundancy with the component in, when I need to use headphones.

The other set top box supports "digital" cable, but not hi-def. It is dedicated to my Humax DRT800 DVD-R/RW Recorder/TiVo Series2 DVR Combo. The TIVO box is not hi-def, but short of spending $800 for a TIVO HD box, it's the best I can do. The box does have a DVD player/recorder which, when set for progressive scan, gives as good a picture for DVDs as my [supposedly] DVD and VHS Recorder/player Combo with Up-conversion.

DVD play quality is OK, but definitely not HD quality. I can view it either through video 2 [regular AV cables], or through HDMI 1. The HDMI picture is significantly better quality than the AV cables, but again, I can't listen with the headphones on the HDMI input. Maybe one day, finances willing, I'll get the Blueray or HD-DVD players. We'll see....

Finally, when perversity strikes, or when I'm recording three other programs [2 on the HD DVR, and 1 on the TIVO], I can watch over the air HD, enabled to a certain extent with this Radio Shack Antenna. For some reason, reception can be hit and miss, but this antenna, with something like 12 powered position settings [remote to change the settings included], maximizes reception. If I want basic cable, I also have the capability to watch the basic channels [2-98] with a co-ax line directly into the set.

For Hanukah, my wife got me Hill Street Blues - Season 2. This was like buying catnip for a cat. Over 20 years ago [ugh], Thursday night at 10:00 was a sacrosanct timefor me; "The Hill" was on. I've seen various episodes over the years, but this was the first time I got to go through the season in sequence, episode by episode. Just great!

Hill Street Blues

The Good: This show set the contemporary standard for cop shows on TV. Great stories about real people, great acting, and a gritty,realistic feel. Basically, every cop show since has built on Hill Street's foundation. Every show opens with "Roll Call, 7:04 a.m. [or whatever time]," and carries the viewer through a day with the Hill Street Blues, that is, the Hill Street cops, from the captain, to the uniformed patrolmen, to the prosecutors and defenders and other regulars in the precinct house. While it's not as racy as, say NYPD Blue, another Steven Bochco show, it's actually quite refreshing that the sexiest thing that happens is that two of the characters regularly get together for a nooner. In the middle of the day! What made this show, as well as any good program, so good is that the viewer cares about the characters, and will tune in to see what's going on with them from week to week.

The Bad: If you watch on HD TV, then you will be somewhat disappointed. This is analog TV, with little or no up-conversion for digital or HD. I watch on a DVD and VHS Recorder/player Combo with Up-conversion, and the picture is clear and all, but it ain't HD. Substantively, for about five minutes in the first episode, the show feels a bit dated. Then, you fall into the world of Captain Furillo and the Hill Street gang, and it don't make no difference at all. Shows like Hill Street have been accused of being prime time soap operas. I understand the criticism, except that with soap operas, I used to be able to stop watching for weeks, and then when I came back to the soap, I hadn't missed anything. Not so with Hill Street, which normally operated in three-episode arcs, another innovation introduced [or at least used successfully] by the show.

The Bottom Line:: Five Flicks. Of all the TV I've ever seen, this show really is "must see TV." For old fans of the show, it's a chance to visit old friends. For the uninitiated, it's a chance to see better TV than 99% of what's on the air now. Don't miss it.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

I watched Poseidon last night. I was the geeky 12 year old that saw the original The Poseidon Adventure back in the day, so I was interested to see what take the remake took. So, how about a head to head comparison?


The Good: Cruise ship Poseidon turns turtle on New Year's Eve as a result of the timely intercession of a "rogue" [how convenient] wave. A small group of intrepid survivors, who don't want to sit pat and await rescue, go through hell and high water [literally] to get out pf the ship. Reasonably cool effects, although I kept thinking that the swooping exteriors of the fictional cruise ship were (a) kinda fake-looking, and (b) kinda "Titanic goes 21st century." The cast, featuring Kurt Russell, is passable, with the exception of Richard Dreyfuss, who not only was wasted in a tangential supporting role, but also who was badly unbelieveable as an older gay man who gets jilted just seconds before you-know-what happens. And it does happen, with pretty cool effects. Interesting story elements, that evoke but update for contemporary times the original. More than once, I found myself on the edge of my seat a few times, even though I knew how it was going to turn out.

The Bad: Well, you know how it ends. For all the updating, it's still just the original on steroids. The gags are too eerily reminiscent of the original, especially the obligatory swimming marathon sequence, as well as the roster of those who don't make it. You can just imagine how they pitched this one: "Think of Titanic, put in the present time, and update the gags from the original. It'll make a ga-zillion!" In what might be an upside for some, there were many more dead folks floating by. For me, though, after 9/11, post-Katrina, and the Tsunami, I've seen enough corpses to last me for a while.

The Bottom Line: Two Flicks. It's OK, but wait for cable.

The Poseidon Adventure

The Good: As above, the ship gets hit by a rogue wave and turns upside down on New Year's Eve. Led by self-reliant preacher Gene Hackman, an all-star cast including Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson, Ernest Borgnine, Stella Stevens, and Roddy McDowell, encounter upside-down toilets, among other things, on their way to salvation at the bottom of the ship. Cool Effects for 1972, and Hackman is deliciously over the top as the fiery, self-sacrificing preacher. Shelley Winters, as the elderly matron with the high school swimming medal, is fun to watch during the original obligatory swim through the muck sequence. In hindsight, I loved Leslie Nielson in just about his last straight role before eventually becoming Frank Drebbin.

The Bad: The dialogue is a bit shrill, and the little kid is -- and was, in the day -- annoying as hell. The exteriors of the ship itself are pretty sophomoric, although in line with early 1970s technology. It just shows how far we've come since then [Yeah, real far: great effects, but we're still telling the same stories, in remake after remake].

The Bottom line: Three Flicks. If you have to choose, choose the original. Although dated, it still tells the better story.

Friday, March 02, 2007

One science fiction film that I like is Serenity, which is now available in an HD-DVD version. Wish I had an HD-DVD player!