Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Blu Review: Indiana Jones the Complete Adventures

Who didn't grow up with Indiana Jones? If you didn't, please leave this site, go to your nearest store, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and pick up this set, go home, watch, and then go tell your doctor how you've found a brand new method for fighting erectile dysfunction. Anyhow, one of the most requested blu-ray releases is upon us, so, let's dig in...

You must choose...but choose wisely

Personal Bias/QuasiFilm Review: I think the first Indiana Jones film I saw was Last Crusade, and like the other two original films, I saw them first on VHS. I can't even begin to fathom to the times I saw these films on VHS. I remember getting Raiders of the Lost Ark on VHS and being shocked to find it was the first made film, as the whole prequel inside of a sequel opening of Last Crusade felt like the beginning of a film franchise, not a trilogy capper. Top it off, when finding out that date wise, Temple of Doom actually takes place before either of them, then your childhood head really starts to spin. Nonetheless picking a favorite out of these films is like picking which kid you like the best. Even Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls has it's positives. I absolutely hated that film up on first viewing, but on subsequent watches I found myself liking all but two major components: the last ac: the whole pyramid sucked into the Earth bit right out of The Mummy Returns, the ET aliens and the wedding, that whole last bit just doesn't do it for me. The other? The Cinematography. Janusz Kaminski tried, in camera movement and aesthetic, to copy the look and feel of the original trilogy shot by Douglas Slocombe. Unfortunately, in lighting and film timing/color processing he did not. It is far too clean and shiny, too much film glow, too many times a shot that was shot on location or on set looks as if it's a glossy green screen shot. All in all though, these four films as a whole represent about the most fun you can have going to the movies. Childhood wise, from watching Temple of Doom countless times with my Grandfather after my Mom told me that movie was too violent for me, to watching Last Crusade countless times with my father, I just can't think of better memories. I've gotten to spread the love of these films too, to teenage friends who hadn't seen them, to my now-wife, her younger brothers - Indiana Jones is the gift that keeps on giving.

This guys opinion:
Raiders of the Lost Ark - 5/5; Temple of Doom - 4/5; Last Crusade - 5/5; Crystal Skulls - 3.5/5

Hey look Shorty, I'm a Pirate now!

Aesthetically Speaking: Much like Star Wars Saga before it, Indiana Jones comes in a book style packaging, though the discs are housed more like the Stanley Kubrick blu-book set. This is a plus in that it houses the discs better and more securely, and allows room for more artwork. Speaking of, I like the artwork on and in this set much better, again, than the Star Wars set. The cover that the book slips into has a nice gloss to it's front and back, and the titles have a nice slight emboss to them. The motion menus recall the old DVD ones, though crisper and with updated graphics. Finally, I wish there was a little insert booklet with this set, but that is my one, very minor, quibble.

Aesthetics & Package: 5/5

Harrison Ford threatens to drop the bridge scenes dailies if Spielberg doesn't start casting him in movies besides Indiana Jones

Visually Speaking: When you have four films that take place over nearly three decades of time, and budgets that grew with each subsequent release, you might be worried that you'll have quite a dip in one direction or another when it comes to the visual transfers of the films. Thankfully, that's not really the case. All three original films share a very similar color grade, that pushes into the dusty reds more than most films. Raiders IS in fact the worst looking overall of the bunch, it's actually right on par with Temple but the opening scene has a bit of unevenness, in the blacks, in the gamma and whites, but with a scene that complicated lighting (and age) wise, I forgive it. The rest of the film looks amazingly good, and the 4K restoration looks to be top notch. All three original films have a slight touch of DNR to give a more natural grain look, but there is still plenty of grain and detail, so don't think this is a Patton type of DNR mess. This is on par with how Criterion uses the proper amount of filtering. Last Crusade looks the best of the original three films, it looks amazingly good in fact and should shock everyone. The fourth film of course being only four years old, looks solid despite the problems I have with it's color grade. All four have high nitrate AVC codecs that should please any numb crunchers and though there are a few spots of softness in the image across the original three films, I have to say, I didn't expect them to come out this well. For those like me, who grew up in chopped off full-screen VHS copies of these films, it's a revelation.

Visually Overall:
Raiders of the Lost Ark - 4/5; Temple of Doom - 4.5/5; Last Crusade - 5/5; Crystal Skulls - 4.5/5

Harrison - "But the set for Indy 5 is that way?"
Sean - "Yes, but the Bond 50 reunion is that way..."

Speaking of Sound: As I've gotten more home theater equipment over the years, and mixing 5.1 on my own time for my own projects, I've come to realize just how much sound can add to a film presentation. Blu-Ray in fact, for all it's leaps and bounds ahead of DVD in the visual department, sometimes what gets lost in the shuffle is just how much an improvement in audio it also is. These surround sound mixes of these older films rock, my lone complain is they're a bit loud or boisterous at times. They are massively awesome uncompressed tracks, and if you don't have a surround sound set up and you're just watching on the TV itself, go buy one. Music is clear, the sound effects have such great dynamic range and depth, the dialogue is crisp. It makes these films all the more enjoyable.

Audio Overall:
Raiders of the Lost Ark - 4.5/5; Temple of Doom - 4.5/5; Last Crusade - 4.5/5; Crystal Skulls - 5/5

This actor came to the set thinking he was auditioning for the part of Doc Brown in Back to the Future

A/V Bitrates: For you number crunchers out there, worried that excellent transfers in audio or video might be hindered by poor encodes, don't fret. The AVC MPEG-4 video encodes are consistently in the 30's, the uncompressed audio tracks waver in the 4.5MBps range, you just can't complain. The films are presented in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios, so you'll get the black bars on top and bottom, while also getting those sweet anamorphic lens flares. 

Bonus Goodies: The best part of Lucasfilm releases bonus feature wise, is also the worst. They always release new material for each set, so while that means you know it's gonna be new bonus stuff and not just same old re-hash time and time again, it also means if you're anal about this stuff or a super fan, you gotta hold on to those old releases. 

Trailers on all four Films
On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark
From Adventure to Legend
Making of on all Four Films
Behind the Scenes with Stunts, Sound, Music, VFX, Creepy Crawlies, Friends & Enemies & More

In almost every section I listed there, there is multiple choices of featurettes and such. This 5th disc is pretty packed with stuff, and from archival on-set footage from Raiders on to new interviews and more, you should come away satisfied. 

Goodies Overall: 4.5/5

More Blu-Ray Screen Grabs:
Taken from Sony BD Player into Avid Media Composer at 1080P
Blogger Re-Sizes images to well below 1920x1080
All images under fair use for Discussion, Critique and Review

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Yes I did. You know why? Because Terminator 2 is still the greatest film ever made:" American Reunion

Film Foray Cavalcade no. Cinquenta y Neuve: American Reunion

American Reunion

I will admit that I am not the biggest fan of this franchise. I do not hate (even though I cannot sit through the first two films anymore and I avoided the third) them, I just am not interested enough to watch them anymore. Frankly, how many times can you see a person get caught in an awkward situation involving his penis. Serious, that was the entire pitch for the first film and they felt obliged to continue this throughout the series. For me, after the first film, I always felt like the subsequent sequels were unnecessary. Much like a thirteen year reunion, American Reunion is simply unnecessary.

That is not to say that this film is bad or horrible (Trust me, I have sat through films like that in recent memory), the issue is that American Reunion never provides a reason for its existence. It simply keeps calling back to events that have long ceased to be funny. It makes feeble attempts at nostalgia but the fact remains that these films never carried enough weight to impact the viewers life. Much like a Kevin Smith film, you simply grow up and move on.

American Renunion by its essence tries to do that but it is so firmly entrenched in recycling its own gags that fails on even moving on. Frankly, none of these characters were that great in the first film, why would I care about them thirteen years in the future. I think this was lost on the screenwriter and it was more the studio that wanted to keep air in the lungs of the franchise. Seriously, who really wants to see Seann William Scott crap into a cooler. I'm sorry but that is not the type of stuff I want to see in films nor was it thirteen years ago. It simply highlights the fact that all of these characters would (if given a time machine) return to high school.

Do not get me wrong, I did not hate this film, it was merely a harmless film that can best be described in one word, "meh." Mostly, it illustrated why I avoided my own high school reunion. I suppose it would be a better film if it had been funnier or at least tried to be. In many ways, it simply rehashed cliches that we have seen time and time again from other films but our own lives as well. In the end, I think this is just me expecting more and forgetting that I was watching a sequel to film where the main character did it with a pie.

Parting thoughts:
Definitely glad that I did not see this in the theaters.

Rooney Rating:
Average rating for an average film: 3/5

Friday, September 7, 2012

"It's a Trap!:" Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

Film Foray RETROspective no. Dix-Sept: Star Wars-Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi

It has been a while since we embarked on this retrospective of George Lucas' series detailing Anakin Skywalker's fall from grace and his redemption after saving his son from the clutches of the emperor. For me, I have always felt that Return of the Jedi is the weakest of the "original" trilogy. Do not get me wrong, it is not half as bad as Attack of the Clones but is nowhere near as good as its predecessor, The Empire Strikes Back. Certainly, a lot of this is the result of the tone of the film. Empire was dark and depressing, while Jedi tends to be much more light hearted.

While much of the film borders on the absurd (Luke thinking he is a full-fledged Jedi Knight, the relative ineptitude of the Galactic Empire and anything that involves the Ewoks), two-thirds of the film is quite solid. In fact, it is one best looking blu rays that I have watched in a long while (Which is something Lady Funkowitz noticed and she could care less about such things). However, once the old gang of Han, Luke, Leia and Chewie arrive on Endor, the film goes to hell and I felt like flipping the film off.

It should be mentioned that even as a child, I have despised this part of the movie and I hold a firm hatred of the Ewoks. I refuse to believe that a superior military force succumbs to 20 Ewoks who have little more than a spear, a rock and a deficient amount of brains to think that C3PO is a deity. Seriously! If it is that easy to defeat the empire in ridiculous (Hark! There is an Ewok on a glider with some rocks!) guerrilla warfare then how did the Emperor assume control of the galaxy, let alone hold on to it for twenty years?

I am sorry but I do not buy the whole, we want Wookiees but could not afford it mishegas, especially if it was still going to have the same action sequences. Even though a Wookiee on a glider would be as retarded as Yoda knowing Chewbacca's name or rebel pilots partying with the Ewoks. For me, anything that happens on Endor is pretty much a waste of time, which is depressing since there is some interesting things that could have been done there. Overall, Jedi remains a satisfying conclusion to the Star Wars saga in spite of its flaws.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

New Tune Tuesday: Bob Dylan's Tempest

I've reviewed every Dylan album he's come out with in recent years on one website or another, but there's always excitement to hear what he has to come up with in song form. The years of worrying if it will be good or not have passed, it seems like decent is the worst we'll be getting from him until he decides to either stop recording or die. However, a great album? The next placeholder of "the best thing he's done since Blood on the Tracks..." moniker that's been used so many times to so many albums over the years? Well, that's also something I, for sometime now, thought wouldn't be happening again. Can Dylan pull out one last (or at least once again come up with a) masterpiece? Well, let's dig in...

"I ain't dead yet, my bell still rings." 
~Early Roman Kings~

Tempest - Bob Dylan

As I listened to Bob Dylan's newest studio album (number 35 for those with a love for calculations like Mr. Lau) I finally had to get up and leave the room. I left to go get my wife, who, for those who don't know, first came into contact with me because of our mutual admiration for rock n roll's troubadour. I had to get her to sit and listen with me, as I had to be sure as to what I was hearing. If I didn't know better, there were goosebumps on my arms and the unshakeable feeling that, around halfway through track 9, I was listening to the best album Dylan had done since 2001's Love & Theft and, from a singer-songwriter standpoint, the best, most focused work of his since 1997's Grammy Award winning album of the year Time out of Mind. She listened to the songs in her own chosen order and came to the same conclusion. It seemed that, 50 years into an almost superhuman recording career, the man born Robert Zimmerman still had something to say.

"I wear dark sunglasses around my eyes,
There's secrets in them I can't disguise"
~Long and Wasted Years~

Also, Dylan doesn't just have something to say, but something to hear: Maybe it's Charlie Sexton, back in the band since late 2009 and this the first time in a studio with Dylan since Love & Theft, maybe had some help in rejuvenating Dylan's arrangements. Maybe it's the sound Scott Litt (producer of the Replacements criminally underrated All Shook Down and savior in the mixing room on Nirvana's In Utero) being being the board as engineer and mixer came up with for this Jack Frost (Dylan, you're still not fooling anyone with that name!) production. But no matter what, there is some nice depth to this albums sound and musical work. But, on a Dylan record, the music is sort of secondary to lyrics, isn't it? So much so that in recent years a solid line or couplet turns some super Dylan fans opinion of a song upside down. A decent or even bad song can garner a stellar reputation based on a good verse or line. We'll get onto those precious lyrics now, but I did want to mention that, while not too far off in a couple places (mainly "Duquesne Whistle" and "Early Roman Kings") from his recent albums, there is a good, deep sounding record here, and he's trying some things he hasn't done recently. However there's no harmonica for those mouth harp fans.

"Ever since the British burned the White House down,
There's a bleeding wound in the heart of town.
I saw you drinking from an empty cup,
I saw you buried, I saw you dug up. 
~Narrow Way~

First thing you notice on a record if you, like me, actually buy a physical album of some sorts be it CD, vinyl or 8-track, is the cover. This cover isn't Dylan's best, it looks better in person than online, but it's no sharkskin suit that Dylan's versions of the Early Roman Kings wear. The back cover is awesome, and there are photos inside that show Dylan can still take a snazzy photo. So why the cover? Well, there are certain references in the album that link them, but still, I'm not a huge fan. That's where my disappointment ends. The album opens with a ragtime jazz piano intro that makes you think you're listening to Dylan's follow up to his 1969 country crooner, Nashville Skyline. This Robert Hunter co-penned track (the only track with a co-writer this time around) quickly pumps into a train-song shuffle that you could hear latter day Johnny Cash giving a go at on his Rick Rubin albums. It's an upbeat song that, after hearing the whole album through, is about as bright as it's going to get. Some say it's always darkest before dawn ("been dark all night/ but now it's dawn" as Dylan puts it on "Narrow Way") but on this album, it seems the dawn leaves and the dark comes, and then midnight. "Soon After Midnight" sounds like it might be a "Moonlight" type crooner or "Where Teardrops Fall" love ballad with the opening steel guitar, Dylan's smoothest and cleanest vocal the album offers and the opening lyrics: "I'm searching for phrases/ to sing your praises, I need to tell someone/ It's soon after midnight, but my day has just begun", but by it's end is soaked in violence as "they lie and dine in their blood/ two timing slim, who's ever heard of him? I'll drag his corpse through the mud." Don't worry folks, it gets darker...and stranger.

"Our nation must be saved and freed,
You've been accused of murder, how do you plead?
I came to bury, not to praise. 
I'll drink my fill and sleep alone,
I pay in blood, but not my own..."
~Pay in Blood~

Through the next 5 songs Dylan dusts off his "Brownsville Girl" vocal delivery for "Long and Wasted Years," goes into Together Through Life territory for the accordion filled, Muddy Waters blues-beat-built "Early Roman Kings," and gives us "Scarlet Town," the type of song that lovers of "Ain't Talkin'" and "Forgetful Heart" will absolutely go nuts for. In fact I'd describe it as "High Water" mated with "Forgetful Heart," with a nice, thematic story pocketed inside it. Then there's "Narrow Way," the type of rocker that should cook live. On "Pay in Blood" he seems to decide to go up against Tom Waits' "Hell Broke Luce" as the most bad ass song in recent memory. Sounding like a beefed up version of the Rolling Stones "Hand of Fate," Dylan puts together a dark and violent testament of faith in a world that's always looking to get you down - be it women, politics, gambling, the economy, or something else altogether. "The more I take, the more I give/ The more I die, the more I live." Dylan's willing to stone you for the wrongs you've done, he's sworn to uphold the laws of God, and at the end of the day, Dylan's grinding his life out steady and sure. If the radio made any sense, and people's ears had any taste, this song, even with it's nasty, dirty vocal, would be a hit.

"The gun went boom and the shot rang clear,
The first bullet grazed his ear.
Second ball went right in,
And he bent in the middle like a twisted pin. 

He crawled to the corner and he lowered his head,
He gripped the chair and he grabbed the bed.
It would take more than needle and thread,
Bleeding from the mouth he's as good as dead. "
~Tin Angel~

The final three songs on this album have been getting the most attention, and for good reason. It's the finest set of three songs Dylan's put together in sometime. I never thought we'd see Dylan doing ballad storytelling songwriting ever again. Sure, he can still put story into song, look no further than "Nettie Moore" from 2006's Modern Times. But ballad storytelling in the sense, of say, "Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" or "Hurricane" (or "Isis" or any other track off of 1976's Desire)? No, he won't do that again...right? Wrong. Dylan goes dark...really dark...for a twisted, depressing big brother of "Lily Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" in the tale of a love triangle gone wrong, "Tin Angel." If Shakespeare (also, anyone wanting to tie in Shakespeare's last work being The Tempest to Dylan's choice of title of this album, look no further than his recent Rolling Stone interview where he debunked that in typical Dylan fashion) decided to write a folk song, this is it. Dark, long at 9 minutes, with a hypnotic one-note arrangement that has more going on in it than you think. Did he go so dark on a song that shares the same title to a Joni Mitchell song just a year after she trashed him in press by coincidence? Hmm...He then goes into a titanic, 14 minute long ocean of a song (puns intended) titled "Tempest," hence the album title! Dylan's version of the Titanic sinking, built on an old Carter family melody, is the type of sea shanty song that Dylan might of pulled out of the headlines if he was recording Freewheelin' in 1912 instead of 1962. It's 45 verses, and while there are those who have mentioned there's no chorus, there are a few of those verses that are basically built as the chorus of sorts, the verses concerned about the Watchmen sleeping. Leo Dicaprio makes an appearance as a painter, though he's overshadowed by the lord of death. How does he end this LP? Exactly how you would of expected, if this was 1981...a tribute to his old pal John Lennon, "Roll on John." It's not sappy, but it is heartfelt. What critics have begged Dylan to say in quote to their questions on Lennon for years, it's here. Utilizing the title of an old folk song Dylan himself sang in the early 60's, and mixing in a few Beatles lines here and there ("I heard the news today, oh boy, They hauled your ship up on the shore"), Dylan puts together a strange, though as I said heartfelt, tribute to a man many (though not myself) consider Dylan's songwriting contemporary in the 60's and 70's.

"Jim Dandy smiled, he never learned to swim. 
Saw the crippled child, and gave his seat to him.
He saw the starlight shining,
Streaming from the East,
Death was on the rampage,
But his heart was now at peace...

The watchmen he lay dreaming,
As the ballroom dancers twirled,
He dreamed the Titanic was sinking,
Into the underworld..."

Then it's over. 68 minutes, a LOT of dead bodies and 10 songs in, Bob Dylan's 35th album is over. Maybe his last, who knows? This is a guy who came out of nowhere in 2009 to release two albums just months after releasing a contemporary collection of outtakes/rarities in what was looked on as a capper to this era. Each release, the odds are higher it's his last, being 71 years forever young now. For that reason alone, as I listened to those last three songs, I'll admit, tears felt like they were welling up. Because Dylan can still be so good, even though we just don't know for how much longer. One thing is for sure, this is on the very short list thus far for my favorite albums of the year.

"I think that when my back was turned,
The whole world behind me burned. 
It's been so long since we walked down that long, long aisle.
We cried out on that cold and frosty mourn,
We cried because our souls were torn.
So much for tears, so much for these long and wasted years..."
~Long and Wasted Years~

Overall: 5/5
Dylan's best album in 11 years, his best work as a songwriter in 15 years. 
Key Songs: "Soon After Midnight," "Pay in Blood," "Scarlet Town," "Tin Angel," "Tempest"
Available on: Deluxe 2LP 180 Gram Vinyl (Including Album CD), CD, Deluxe CD Set, MP3 and iTunes Download