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by Bill Gibron

5 Nov 2008


Michael Crichton was a big man, and not just in stature. At 6’ 9”, he definitely did tower above his peers - at Harvard where he graduated summa cum laude, at the prestigious university’s medical school where he earned his doctorate; among his fellow science fiction writers; and on the set of his hit TV series ER. But he was also a man of big ideas, big successes, and toward the end of his life, big controversies. His accomplishments play like a greatest hits compilation in the main mediums - literature, film, television - he worked within. But upon his passing from cancer at age 66 on 4 November, 2008 one fears he will be remembered for his more contentious nature than his artistic accomplishments.

Crichton was born in Chicago on 23 October, 1942. A prodigy of sorts, he was interested in history and the humanities from a very early age. His mother would take the family to museums and other cultural experiences in and around New York City (the Crichton’s had relocated to Roslyn, Long Island, when Michael was still small) and the strapping student would often offer extra papers to his teachers. Growing faster than the other children, he survived the occasional razzing by losing himself in writing and books. He even wrote a play at age nine. By the time he reached Harvard, he was a bit of a wunderkind. He started writing novels, and publishing them under the pseudonym John Lange. Eventually, he penned The Andromeda Strain, and in 1969, it became a bestseller. Using his given name, it established Crichton as a genre author of formidable note.

And the hits just kept on coming. Among the over 100 million books he was responsible for selling, he crafted The Terminal Man (1972), The Great Train Robbery (1975), Congo (1980), Sphere (1987), Rising Son (1992), Disclosure (1994), and Prey (2003). But his biggest success came when a chance conversation with Stephen Spielberg revealed the plot for Crichton’s upcoming dinosaur-oriented thriller. Mr. Blockbuster snapped up the rights before it was even published, and with that, Jurassic Park became a literal monster. Not only did it bring CGI to the otherwise ordinary giant b-movie creature feature, but it turning Crichton and his catalog into the go-to oeuvre for future book to film adaptations.

Of course, many forget that, in addition to writing, the gentile giant was also a decent director of big screen fare. With the amazing success of Andromeda (which was made into a wonderful film by Robert Wise in 1971), Crichton was given a chance behind the lens. When the TV movie Pursuit (based on his political assassination tome Binary) was well received, he made the leap to the theater, delivering one of 1973’s most provocative and profitable films. Westworld told the tale of a theme park where robots fulfilled the fantasies of its patrons. When a gunslinger android goes rogue, it’s up to a group of visitors to avoid his preprogrammed wrath. Successful enough to mandate a sequel (1976’s Futureworld), it provided the creative carte blanche that Crichton needed.

His next film would be an adaptation of Robin Cook’s organ bank fright fest, 1978’s Coma. It representing a weird kind of aesthetic synchronicity, as both men were medical doctors turned successful novelists. With Michael Douglas in the lead, it turned into a sizeable smash, and this allowed Crichton to pursue more personal projects. In 1979, he adapted his own Great Train Robbery as a vehicle for Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland. Unfortunately, the follow-up, 1981’s Looker, was a plastic surgery disaster. While staying well within Crichton’s signature themes of science gone astray and technology trumping common sense, it was not the cautionary tale triumph of previous efforts.

Prior to hitting paydirt again with Park (which he merely scripted with help from David Koepp), he offered up the unexceptional sci-fi slop Runaway, perhaps best known for its casting of Kiss’s recently unmasked Gene Simmons as the main villain. After taking on the turgid Physical Evidence (1989) as a director for hire, Crichton seemed uninterested in continuing in film. While he contributed to the script of the Jan de Bont disaster smash Twister, Crichton seemed content to sell his stories to the studios, and then watch as adaptation after adaption failed to live up to his words. But when Park became a worldwide phenomenon, Critchon recalled the first project he and Spielberg discussed. A proposed novel about a doctor’s life in a bustling hospital emergency room, the TV take known as ER bowed in 1994. This year, 2008, marks its 14th and final season on NBC.

Over the course of his three and a half decades in the spotlight, Crichton never shied from his scientific background or his own interests. He wrote four non-fiction books - Five Patients (about his experiences in Massachusetts General), Jasper Johns (about his personal friend and renowned artist), Electronic Life (an introduction to the home computer) and Travels. He also did extensive programming for both the Applesoft and Basica PC languages. But as the new millennium approached, Crichton stopped sitting on his simmering beliefs and began spewing what many thought to be misguided and mean spirited attacks on environmentalism, the media, and what he considered to be the ‘contestable’ theory of global warming. He even went so far as to offer up a band of mass murdering eco-terrorists as the main plot point for his 2004 work State of Fear.

As each new novel was met with a decreasing level of excitement, Crichton appeared to turn inward. In his last published work, the 2006 “missing link” genetic research shocker Next, the author introduced a minor character named Michael Crowley. Described as a pedophilic Yale Graduate with a small penis, it was seen by some as a petty retort to the real life Crowley, himself a Yale grad and writer for the New Republic. Apparently, he penned a column highly critical of Crichton, and the resulting literary reference was a rather obvious if crude attempt at payback. When he learned he had cancer, Crichton asked that his soon to be published book be held until after his death. The still untitled effort should be released sometime later this year or early next.

Whatever the subject - and speculation among the messageboard faithful is fierce - it is clear that the standard Crichton commercial craftsmanship will be there. Issues that don’t ring true to him will be challenged and chopped up, fed like fodder to a mainstream audience who may not even understand the expressed nuances. Much more than just the man responsible for bring dinosaurs back into the pop culture conversation, Crichton was like Arthur C. Clarke without the knack of precognitive tech accuracy. He took on the growing influence of Asia with Rising Sun, and argued about sexual discrimination - in reverse - with his controversial Disclosure. He often bristled at criticism, complaining that many made their condemnations without actually thinking through their arguments. Up until the end, he remained a contentious contemporary thinker.

But one shouldn’t forget his pre-politics persona. As one of the few science fiction writers with an actual commercial following, Crichton proved that the speculative genre could be as compelling and profitable as Stephen King’s horror or the seedy soap operatics of someone like Jacqueline Susan. Indeed, long before he gave us the return of the T-Rex, Crichton was commenting on the frequent future shock society experienced with the endless march of progress. It’s no surprise then that many of his books take on and deconstruct the big picture painted of the world around us. After all, with someone like Michael Crichton, everything was and still is big - even his legacy.

 

by Bill Gibron

4 Nov 2008


It’s safe to say that Hollywood has finally figured out the family film. Not in a good way, mind you, but in an instantly profitable paradigm which guarantees coffers of cash either before or after the mandatory DVD release. While some might question the callousness of such a statement, the truth is that more of the major studios are sinking their dwindling production pot into films that fill up the G to PG-13 arena. While live action fare can’t really compete (only High School Musical and Hannah Montana have proven that humans can put butts into stadium seats), animation remains king. And not just any cartoon concept, but the sparkling techno geekiness of computer generated imagery.

Over the last year, the town of Tinsel has released several 3D titles. There was Kung Fu Panda, Wall-E, Fly Me to the Moon, Space Chimps, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Igor, and Horton Hears a Who. While few passed the patented quality assurance, there were those - Panda, Wall-E, Horton - that rose above the creative din to avoid the genre’s curse. Indeed, ever since Pixar proved the viability of motherboard made entertainment, a motion picture blight has risen up inside the world of animation. Another example of it arrives this Friday, 7 November with the release of the unnecessary, uninspired sequel Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.

Many know it as the Fox/Dreamworks design, and it goes a little something like this: hire yourself a group of recognizable voice actors, preferably from mediums (TV, music) that provide some conceptual crossover appeal; take your spec screenplay and strip it of anything remotely resembling complicated characterization or narrative; insert multiple examples of lame pop culture quipping, everything from tempered Top 40 hits to fame whore in-joking; offer up a few mindless musical montages; and don’t forget the borderline offensive toilet humor and bodily fluid/noises jokes. Wrap it all up in a ribbon of riot act ridiculousness, a level of ADD inspired attention spanning that will leave the underaged spent and the adult feeling they got their Cineplex-inflated money’s worth, and you’ve got a F/D derivative. And a big fat hit, probably.

It’s a talent pool temperament that’s tainted everything from the shrill Shrek (and his two and counting sequels), the rusty Robots, the icky Ice Age efforts and the mindless Madagascar. Of course, such criticism hardly matters when said group accounts for several hundred MILLION dollars in box office returns. Yet to argue that money equals quality is a lot like stating that volume equals pitch. Just because a film rakes in an unconscionable cavalcade of currency doesn’t mean it’s a categorical classic. In the case of these CG slurries, the exact opposite seems to be true. The more money they bring in, the more mediocre and strident they seem to be. Malcolm McLaren had it right - cash from chaos.

Take Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. As franchise fodder goes, it’s a brainless combination of everything that made the first film so stiff with an amplified idea of how to repeat said achievement. This isn’t art, it’s pure commerce draped in an undeniable coating of focus group faith-based marketing. The pre-planned pleasures in the story are so obvious they shimmer. As the four main animals from the first outing discover the pros and cons of returning to their native land, the audience it treated to dim satire, punch lines that bang into each others like tweeners at a Jonas Brothers concert, and a gorgeous amount of visual splendor spoiled by obvious overacting from a cast who seem to base their performance level on the number of zeroes in their residual checks.

Clearly, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa was made with the intent of keeping children’s tiny synapses engaged so as not to allow for any questioning or concern. Yet the film goes so far as to offer up two additional ideals that seem to have no place in such family-oriented entertainment. The first is fairly obvious - violence. This is a very vicious film. Alex is seen as a helpless lion cub, then when kidnapped, his heroic father chases the poachers until a huge gun barrel dislodges a round right into daddy’s…earlobe. While no blood is shown, the character carries the missing piece/scar around the rest of the film. Equally concerning are the sequences with Mort the Mouse Lemur. He is seen trying to enter an airplane, mid-air, and then after he survives the eventual crash, he is chased by a shark that can apparently live outside the water for inordinately long periods of time.

And it goes on. There is a battle between Alex and a muscle-bound lion, another time for the critters to take on a band of desperate (and hungry) tourists. All of which brings us to Nana, the “feisty” old lady from the first film. A short slapstick sequence originally, she is fleshed out here, given to fits of Jason Voorhees like punishment and a Lord of the Flies mentality that just doesn’t mesh with the movie’s lighter tone. It’s hard to support such outright hostility, especially when it’s really not delivered for comic effect. Imagine, if you will, that Yosemite Sam finally managed to get his stubbed up paws on that “rascally varmint” Bugs Bunny…and then spent 45 seconds beating the ever lovin’ stuffin’ out of him. No wit. No physical comedy shtick. Just an endless beat down. Nana gets two chances at this throughout the course of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. How nice.

But perhaps the most disconcerting element here is the weird sexualization of the animals. Gloria, the feisty female hippo, spends the majority of her journey through the veldt pining away for a partner. Not a soul mate, or a friend, but a big time booty call. She eventually gets the big eye from a new character called Moto Moto. During a late night rendezvous which sounds suspiciously like a hook up in a Chubby Chasers chat room, the two give new meaning to the concept of disturbing double entendres. From the glamour shots of our hefty heroine poising provocatively to Moto making like Fabio and flexing his flab, it’s the grade schooler equivalent of watching the foreplay in a particularly disturbing animated porno. Even a strange shot of our lothario’s butt managed to draw audible gasps from the standard screening audience.

All of which begs the question - how, exactly, is this family fare? Are we to assume that Walt Disney, the man who started the entire feature length animation craze, would approve of putting such content into his films? Sure, Bambi’s mother died, and Pinocchio was threatened by the biggest whale his pen and ink posse could create. But would the man behind the House of Mouse condone random acts of senseless brutality? Or maybe Dumbo’s mom should have received a last minute conjugal visit before she was carted off to her mad elephant cage. Certainly it’s an exaggeration to see these sequences as anything more than minor reflections of their more mature counterparts, but they also suggest something desperate about the continual cannibalization of the CG genre. Hollywood usually gets the family film right - at least when it comes to the preprogrammed manner in which they make these movies and money. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is either a fluke, or something to be wary of in the future. Perhaps, it’s a little of both. 

by Bill Gibron

2 Nov 2008


In Troma’s world, it takes all types. Where once the mighty Manhattan madhouse of independent art used to simply shuttle out its own perplexing pictures for a VCR hungry fanbase, the last two decades has seen more outside the offices distribution than direct creative contributions. Of course, there’s no real reason to complain about such a business model. As a result, we were treated to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s classic Cannibal: The Musical, Giuseppe Andrews’ Trailer Town, and Jenna Fischer’s Lollilove. After a while in the commercial morass, concentrating on the luminous epic Poultrygeist, Troma is back bringing the unsung and uncelebrated to the masses. In the case of the two DVDs discussed, both fall firmly into the company’s corporate ideology while reestablishing Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Hertz as the most important names in indie filmmaking today. 

In the case of our first film, it’s sometimes safe to say that most moviemakers are just plain nuts. They look around at the rest of the breed, making cinema about important subjects or personal obsessions, and they just go ape crap. It’s not enough to make a plain old comedy or a standard horror flick. No, for them, it’s a process of tapping into the darkest, most disturbed resources of the cerebral cortex and pulling out a plumb peculiar motion picture pie. This is clearly what happened when writers/directors Adam Deyoe and Eric Gosselin decided to express themselves, cinematically. Responsible for such odd sounding fare as The Mental Dead and Street Team Massacre, the art-oriented schlock meisters at Troma are treating us to their gay Bigfoot epic Yeti: A Love Story.

That’s right - Sasquatch is a homosexual and worshiped by a cult run by ex-monk Raymond. Sending out his pretty young members to lure fresh man meat to his compound, he offers up sexual sacrifices to the beast in exchange for…well, that’s never really clear. Anyway, when a group of local college kids head out into the woods for a combination camping trip/sarcasm-fest, they run smack dab into Raymond’s ridiculous sect. Adam becomes the Yeti’s longtime companion, while Dick is seduced by a horny faction member. Soon, a local priest lets Emily know that she is the chosen one, able to bring down Raymond and his gang with a crossbow. Oh yeah, and a bumpkin named Sex Piss is hounding these ‘city slickers’ from one side of the boondocks to the other.

With dialogue that sounds like it was made up by morons making fun of other idiots, and an alternative lifestyles theme that is simultaneously both provocative and retarded, Yeti: A Love Story is an undeniably unsane treat. It lilts along on ambitions so outsized it can never succeed, and yet finds a fresh and often funny way of trying to make it happen. The script by co-directors Adam Deyoe and Eric Gooselin (with some help from Jim Martin and Moses Roth) offers up such tasty bon mots as “Yetis are a myth, like leprechauns…or tomatoes” and “A fraternity is not a ‘frat’. After all, you don’t call a country a…”, but befuddled quips aren’t the movie’s only madness. Along the way toward the eventual interspecies erotica, we visit Tentacle Boy, a side show attraction, watch as one lost camper runs head on into every escape cliché in the book, and scratch our skulls over the massive paperwork required by local law enforcement. 

Certainly we are in the presence of regressive genius, or intellectualized inbreeding. Deyoe and Gosselin may not have a solid cinematic sense (this is point-and-shoot camcorder creativity at its best), but what they lack in lame mise-en-scene, they make up for in bad-ass weirdness. Yeti: A Love Story is the kind of unassuming entertainment experience that catches you off guard time and time again. Just when you think you’ve figured everything out, a couple of characters will battle to the pseudo-death in a police station bathroom, organs and blood flowing as the notion of false finales plays over and over. Similarly, the gay undercurrent is given a riotous RomCom sheen, our man/monster dynamic sounding suspiciously like Hollywood’s typical treacle processed between a guy and some goon in a gorilla costume. Funny, freakish, and often foaming at the frame, Yeti: A Love Story is like a case of motion picture rabies. Only several shots to the solar plexus will cure you.

Speaking of Tinsel Town tripe, the insider satire has always been one of the artform’s greatest gravy train derailers. Nothing sets studio suits ablaze quicker than talent that tries to bite the hand that mishandles it. Making fun of the movie business itself is like shooting fish on a firing range, or mocking Britney Spears’ lack of panties. It seems simple enough, until you look the concept squarely in the short hairs. Cyxork 7, a bizarre-o gob in the face of all that film production stands for, looks initially like a sharp stick in the lens by longtime industry insider John Huff. But after looking over our co-writer/directors IMDb credits, he appears awfully worked up over a few episodes of The Night Stalker, and an extended stay on CHiPs.  Still, whatever crawled up his keister and cranked him over, the results are a hilarious and often insightful directorial dressing down.

The latest installment of the sci-fi franchise Cyxork 7 has decided on some cinematic gimmickry to make the series profitable again. First time feature filmmaker Angela LaSalle is in way over her head, and with a looming earthquake predicted, she hopes to wrap her efforts to take advantage of the natural ‘production value’. Of course, she is having an impossible time with her cast and crew including an angry German cinematographer, a boyfriend/assistant who keeps rewriting the script, a pair of fanatical web-heads who are responsible for the original screenplay, various ancillary a-holes, and the ever-loaming presence of b-movie maverick Clever Bill Emory. But it’s Kommander 88 himself, Rex Anderson, who is causing the most concern. Thanks to his harpy of a wife, he refuses to follow LaSalle’s artistic vision. It’s enough to destroy the project before Mother Nature has a chance to do it herself. 

With a wonderful cast perfectly in tune with his tirade, and a subtext that suggests the chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out aspects of celebrity, Cyxork 7 is something quite unexpected. While Troma can treat us to movies that are entertaining and unusual, ‘thoughtful’ isn’t a word often used in connection with Lloyd Kaufman and company. This is not to say that all of their output is single digit IQ oriented, by Huff’s Hollywood hatful of hate is smart, daring, and as acerbic as a retired film critic. Jaded isn’t a strong enough term for this film’s view of the business, and the media as depicted has become so cynical, it aims lower than the lowest common denominator. From the moment we see the raised middle finger of a CNN style corporate logo, we know exactly where Huff is coming from.

This is a dense, determined indictment of an artform that’s lost its way. Nothing is sacred: the Internet geek goon squads are portrayed as whiny slackers that think they know better but actually end up more misguided than the moviemakers; Infotainment TV is portrayed as a series of shock value soundbites mixed in with “why aren’t I famous” snatches of self loathing; movie stars are made out to be self-centered and insecure while everyone around their periphery - from the DP and F/X crew to a pregnant spouse - thinks they can direct. Perhaps the best moment arrives when young gun executive Clever Bill Emory arrives to blow up the production. His dialogue, a combination of schlock horror successes and nonsequitor admonitions, is so inspired you wish he was onscreen more than a single scene.

A lot of Cyxork 7 plays this way. When overwhelmed documentarian Angela LaSalle sits down to dinner with her leading man Anderson and his shrewish wife, the emotions registered on her defeated face are simply stunning. Similarly, when star Ray Wise goes into full smarm mode, he makes Bruce Campbell’s clueless chutzpah look like chinbone child’s play. As with any look at a corrupt business from the inside out, Huff (with script help from Andreas Kossak) tends to forget that we, the audience, aren’t as familiar with his farcical targets as he is. And when the last act disaster actually happens, the film can’t help but turn over into something standard and formulaic. But that’s only five minutes out of an otherwise blistering 90 minute beat down. While you may not always laugh out loud at what Cyxork is saying, the skewered sentiments are always crystal clear. 

As with all Troma DVDs, these two films are fleshed out with some wonderful added content. Both offer up insightful full length audio commentaries (Cyxork, naturally enough, being far more serious than Yeti‘s), and massive Making-of featurettes. With the Bigfoot gang, we are treated to nearly a dozen short films and trailers, while on the sci-fi side of things, there’s a wonder selection of interviews and festival appearances. Naturally, our corporate sponsor has to get into the act and offer up a collection of their own merchandising come-ons. Yet by supplementing each entry the way they do, Troma teaches us about the fine (and seemingly dwindling) art of true independent filmmaking. It takes all kinds, and all temperaments, to turn out even the oddest piece of celluloid.

In the next few months, we will be treated to a literal treasure trove of new digital distractions. Old favorites like Combat Shock will get a much needed technological make-over, while advertised treats like Coons: Night of the Bandits of the Night threaten yet another trip into the tried and true toilet and trash motifs that made Troma a three decade old icon. And the best bit? Who knows what new classic the company will unleash on an unsuspecting fanbase. Where once it seemed dark and desolate, the future looks bright for Uncle Lloyd and his lunatic fringe. It’s safe to say that Troma is back - not that it really went anywhere in the first place.

by Bill Gibron

1 Nov 2008


It holds a sacred place in the science fiction fan’s heart. It’s also the source of much engorged geek consternation. Science aside, the narrative joys and plotpoint illogic of time travel has fueled a great deal of future shock cinema. From assassin androids traveling to the “past” to erase the human responsible for their eventual destruction to present practitioners running through history rewriting the record book, the notion of messing with space and chronology has delivered a fair amount of speculative sturm and drang. For many, one of the best examples of the genre is The Final Countdown. It’s ‘world at war’ storyline seems to avoid many of the pitfalls while supplying a good amount of realistic revisionism.

While on maneuvers in the Pacific, Captain Matthew Yelland receives civilian observer Warren Lasky on his ship, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. Under strict orders from his boss, Mr. Tideman, Lasky is supposed to observe, then report back to the mysterious man responsible for the vessel’s design. This bothers Air Wing Commander Richard Owens a great deal. After passing through a freak storm, the Nimitz suddenly finds itself lost in time. The year is 1941, and the world is in chaos. In fact, the date is December 6th, one day before the Japanese attacks and destroys Pearl Harbor. Thus, a quandary is created. Does the Nimitz and its crew prevent the surprise ambush, thereby rewriting history? Or do they let events play out, recognizing that any interference could condemn their own existence? Over much onboard handwringing, a surviving Senator and his daughter may also play an important part of the overall equation.

A prime example of enthusiast devotion circumventing some dated cinematic approaches, The Final Countdown is one of the best examples of the “what if” genre ever attempted. And because of its subject matter, it’s also one of the most frustrating. For those with a knowledge of America’s battle-weary past, the concept of a modern aircraft carrier arriving in the Pacific in time to stop the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, is just too good to be true. A whole set of futuristic free associations come from the juxtaposition of contemporary technology with 1940s fighting power. Once the Japanese had been defeated, would Germany have been far behind? Would we have needed the A-bomb and millions of deaths to finally stop the Axis rampage, or could a group of misplaced modern warriors wipe out war once and for all? Or maybe, interference would have aided in a Nazi triumph?

It’s this sort of speculation that makes movies like The Final Countdown work, and for a while at least, actor turned director Don Taylor indulges them. A true Tinsel Town journeymen, the filmmaker responsible for everything from a musical version of Tom Sawyer to the first Omen sequel has a wonderful way with actors. He brings out the best in such top flight talent as Kirk Douglas (Yelland), Martin Sheen (Lasky), James Farentino (Owens), Charles Durning (the Senator), and Soon-Teck Oh (an enemy prisoner). Their seriousness and sense of purpose really drives the authenticity of what could have been contrived and rather unrealistic. For those who like action and effects however, The Final Countdown is sort of a let-down. Indeed, in those pre-CG days of 1980, the aerial dogfights and ship to shore spectacle can feel a tad…antiquated?

But thanks to the cooperation of the US Navy, which went out of its way to help the production, and Taylor’s no nonsense cinematic approach, The Final Countdown succeeds. It may be more provocative than thrilling, and does raise questions that the otherwise solid script (a group effort by four separate writers) fails to fully address, but it’s the internal mechanisms, the ability to wonder about the effect on history - and consequentially, our current global situation - that really sell the situations. Tempers may flare and scenery might occasionally get chewed (with Douglas, Sheen, and Farentino around, that’s a given), but Taylor’s matter of fact filmmaking keeps everything comparatively in check. That’s why fans keep coming back to it even after nearly three decades. 

All of which makes this, the first blu-ray release from exploitation experts Blue Underground, both completely understandable and a tad curious. With a huge stockpile of material to draw on, The Final Countdown seems like a surreal choice for the fledgling format. Indeed, when one thinks of high definition releases, a movie from 28 years ago doesn’t typically draw one’s immediate attention. Sure, fans will celebrate, but getting the uninitiated interested will take something more than definitive technical specs. Luckily, the updated transfer is truly excellent. As part of the HD process, the 1080dp image is very strong. The colors are smooth and there is a decent amount of grain. There are nice black levels, a strong sense of detail, and an impressive “modern” feel to the filmmaking.

As for the aural aspects of the release, the lossless 7.1 DTS HD Master is excellent. The speakers get a real workout during the infrequent but effective battle scenes. There is also a 7.1 TrueHD and a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround mix. The DTS is the best. When it comes to added features, however, the Big Blue U grabs a few extras from previous standard DVD releases and makes them available here. The full length audio commentary is interesting, but since we are only getting the limited purview of cinematographer Victor J. Kemper (no other member of the cast or crew participates), it can be very dry at time. On the other hand, Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman (who acted as Associate Producer and played a small cameo role) gets a chance to vent about his ‘horrific’ experience on the film. The pilots involved in the production also get a 30 minute featurette that is quite fun.

Sure, some will argue that the movie is nothing more than a dolled-up propaganda film for the US Navy, the magic hour shots of planes circling the Nimitz inspiring enough jingoistic joy to get even the most sensible citizen oiled up and aiming for their nearest recruitment center. And then there’s the whole space/time continuum argument, a bubbling brain buster than can have even the most learned MIT graduate crying cinematic “Uncle”. Still, for all its specious sci-fi friction and old school stuntwork, The Final Countdown is actually quite entertaining. It may not satisfy those still smarting from their own time travel trauma, but it does meet with the genre’s provisional motion picture aims. And on the new digital format, it’s never looked better.

by Bill Gibron

31 Oct 2008


Beware of tricks and treats kiddies, for tonight is Halloween. The last Friday in the month also promises from interesting cinematic candy, though some may be a bit sour. For 31 October, here are the films in focus for the weekend of the 10th:

Zack and Miri Make a Porno [rating: 10]

With its combination of heart and hilarity, bawdy blackouts and cleverly drawn characters, Smith starts out strong and ends up delivering something that’s timeless as well as tasteless.

Thanks to its mainstreaming by the media (and the ever-present lure of easy access via the Internet), pornography has gone from stern community scandal to goofy necessary evil. It satisfies an obvious craving while providing suspect psycho-social suspicions. It also fosters a multibillion dollar industry, and as they say, money changes everything. Some adult stars have even made the semi-successful move into straight entertainment. Jenna Jameson touts her books and b-grade horror films, while Mary Carey turned her addiction into a run on VH-1’s Celebrity Rehab. Now Kevin Smith is getting into the act, turning the plight of two Pennsylvania pals who are low on cash into a clever comment on Bush’s America, human ingenuity, hardcore histrionics, and the map of the human heart.  read full review…


Rocknrolla [rating: 8]

Decidedly darker than previous Ritchie offerings, Rocknrolla struts and preens like a chuffed chart-topper with a debilitating drug habit should.

It’s been easy to dismiss Guy Ritchie as of late. The soon to be former Mr. Madonna has done little outside the limelight to distinguish himself, and the career choices he’s made since marrying the Material Girl, are suspect to say they least. He bombed with both his remake of Swept Away and the lame Las Vegas heist pic Revolver. Now Madge is pulling the plug, and Ritchie appears reinvigorated. While no one will mistake it for anything remotely original - especially in light of his two international hits Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels - Rocknrolla represents a true return to form. Inventive while staying exactly the same, Ritchie reminds us that his kind of cock-up comic crime thriller can be incredibly satisfying…and why he was once its UK king.  read full review…


Changeling [rating: 7]

Changeling is a very good movie that misses being great by the smallest of margins.

The Clint Eastwood renaissance has been a joy to behold. While many thought his 1992 Oscar for Unforgiven would mark the culmination of an amazing, four decade long career, the new millennium has seen an amazing string of cinematic gems. In the last three years alone, we’ve witnessed Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flag of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. Now comes Changeling, a 1920s period piece about the notorious Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, and the one woman who stood up to the incredibly corrupt LA county police system. Naturally one expects a stumble after such a string of special efforts, but this is not the fall. Unfortunately, it also has a hard time fitting in with the rest of his considered classics.  read full review…

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