Nov 6, 2011


Entering into the end of the year/holiday season, the selections for viewing increase greatly thanks to holiday blockbusters and of course the Hollywood Awards season kicks into high gear. But there are still plenty of other things to watch thanks to my own Blu-Ray and DVD shelf as well as Netflix and other sources which keep feeding my habit. Somehow I find time to eat and sleep....barely.

This past week I finally got around to re-visiting the JURASSIC PARK trilogy which was released on Blu-Ray from Universal Home Entertainment on October 25th. The prints were decent, and I hadn't seen any of these movies for quite some time.

I still enjoy the first JURASSIC PARK (1993) immensely and still had a bit of the awe of seeing the elaborate CGI dinosaurs for the first time. Steven Spielberg knows how to get that "wow" factor on screen, and the first JURASSIC PARK, for all its flaws and the fact that the effects that were once groundbreaking now seem a little dated (I have no problem with that) still does it for me.

With THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997), my nostalgic factor diminished somewhat with this viewing, although I still love the John Williams score which I think has some interesting themes and seems to be channeling the Max Steiner score for KING KONG (1933).

I had only seen JURASSIC PARK III twice (on opening night in 2001, then on an Academy screener a few months later) and remember not exactly hating it, but being lukewarm on it. Time seems to have favored that movie because while I still didn't love it, I felt like I appreciated it more this time through.

While the prints on the Blu-Ray weren't as stellar as other sets that have been released this year (BEN-HUR, TAXI DRIVER and CITIZEN KANE especially) which may be due to the original elements, the movies themselves are perfect for the Blu-Ray high definition format, and the sound mixes are fantastic.

The biggest release in theaters this week is TOWER HEIST from Universal which is directed by future Oscar producer Bret Ratner (RUSH HOUR, X-MEN: LAST STAND) and stars Ben Stiller, future Oscar host Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick. I'm not the biggest fan of Ratner's work, but he's obviously doing something right because he has had a lot of success at the box office. A co-worker of mine in Toronto had (and probably still has) an extreme dislike of Ratner's directing style, so I know he won't be seeing this anytime soon. So Bill, if you're reading this....let me know.

The Trailer:

I just recently completed reading a biography on one of the coolest leading men in Hollywood history, Steve McQueen, and have been slowly re-watching his filmography.

Recently I re-visited THE TOWERING INFERNO, viewed ON ANY SUNDAY which is a documentary on Motorbike racing that he produced (and appears in briefly) and checked out the first season of his show that ran the late 1950s and early 60s for 3 seasons WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE GREAT ESCAPE and BULLITT are all sitting in a pile waiting to be viewed.

Before I get to viewing those however, I decided to re-watch Norman Jewison's 1968 THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR in which McQueen played a bank executive who orchestrated elaborate heists. This is a prime example of that McQueen cool that made him such a great leading man and the chemistry with co-star Faye Dunaway is electrifying. I forgot how great the chess game scene is. Oozing with sexual tension, it highlights the overall theme of McQueen as the cool criminal who has insurance investigator Dunaway breathing down his neck, ready to bust him when the opportunity arises - but still has no problem hopping into the sack with him.

This was a very exciting time in American cinema, and Jewison's experimentation with split screen and very cool jazz score by composer Michel Legrand sets this film apart. I should own this film but don't...yet. Thankfully it is available via Netflix instant streaming.

I count this as one of the few movies to be remade successfully, as the 1999 version with Pierce Brosnan in the McQueen role and Rene Russo in the Dunaway role is a solidly entertaining film in its own right.

The trailer:

The next movie on my agenda is a movie that I am embarrassed to say that I have somehow never seen. That is Joe Dante's 1981 Werewolf movie, THE HOWLING.

Don't ask me how I've managed not to see this film, it has been on my to-be-watched list forever, and last week during Halloween I realized when I was ordering the score for another Joe Dante film (EXPLORERS....which I will discuss in an upcoming soundtrack column I am planning on adding to the blog) that I still had somehow not seen this movie. Well, I plan to fix that - tonight.

I've always been a big fan of Dante's work - especially THE 'BURBS (1989), GREMLINS (1984), MATINEE (1993) and INNERSPACE (1987). INNERSPACE is a movie I try to revisit every year, and also has one of my favorite scores by Jerry Goldsmith (he and Dante were regular collaborators).

Any one who loves Dante's work should also check out the website TRAILERS FROM HELL, which he contributes too, and follow his twitter feed which is @Joe_Dante.

The Trailer:

From 1980s horror, to 1940s noir. BORDER INCIDENT (1949) has special interest to me in that it was directed by Anthony Mann, a director whose work I have been very interested in ever since I saw THE NAKED SPUR (1953).

There is an edge to Mann's work which make his films instantly stand out. Especially his work with actor James Stewart (the aforementioned THE NAKED SPUR as well as WINCHESTER '73 (1950), THE GLENN MILLER STORY (1954) and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955) - which I plan to also view again soon) which bring out a dark side to an actor who is more known for his "aww shucks" all-American roles like HARVEY (1950) or MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939).

Other Mann titles worth checking out are EL CID (1961), THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964 - and is amazing), STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND (1955) and a movie I think that anyone who loves good films should see, MEN IN WAR (1957). MEN IN WAR isn't easy to find. I have a rough VHS print, and also saw it at the Egyptian theater in Los Angeles thanks to the AMERICAN CINEMATHEQUE in 2002, and is worth seeking out.

BORDER INCIDENT is available on DVD as part of the Warner Bros. Film Noir Collection Volume 5.

I couldn't find the trailer by itself, but did find this TRAILERS FROM HELL version which will highlight why that website is so great.

Another movie I am embarrassed to have never seen is GATES OF HEAVEN (1978), a documentary about a California pet cemetery (not like the Stephen King kind of course) and the people who bury their pets there.

Errol Morris is known for making off-the-wall documentaries like FAST, CHEAP AND OUT OF CONTROL (1997) - which I first saw at the Nuart theater in Los Angeles - and politically charged titles like FOG OF WAR (2003) and STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE (2008).

Again, I couldn't find a trailer to add, but here is a clip:

I haven't seen TIME BANDITS (1981) in forever. So when I was hanging around the library today and saw the Criterion DVD staring at me from the racks, I couldn't resist (sadly the Blu-Ray is a general Universal release, not a Criterion, and is rated very poorly by most Blu-Ray experts).

Directed by Terry Gilliam, I have a fond memory of watching TIME BANDITS on network TV in 1984, and staying up past my bedtime to finish it (I know it was 1984 because I remember seeing ads for GHOSTBUSTERS about to come to theaters, so it must have been spring 1984, like April or May).

With this coming Friday being a holiday (at least where I live - not everywhere though), this will make perfect day-off viewing.

The Trailer:

Recently I purchased a book entitled M-G-M: HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST BACKLOT by Seven Bingen. It chronicles the great history of the MGM studio backlot (which for the most part no longer exists or has been taken over by Sony Pictures) in Culver City, CA and goes through the history of each section and building and is a must read for any lover of Hollywood history.

Many times the author references the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT series of movies which includes: THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT (1974), THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT PART II (1976) and THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT PART III (1994).

Each of these movies is a glorious walk down memory lane chronicling the rich history of the MGM Musical (and a few other genres sneak in as well). Featuring stars from the classic MGM roster, the history of the studio and in particular the Freed unit (named after MGM Musical producer Arthur Freed) the legendary Hollywood studio comes alive in this fantastic retrospective. I can almost guarantee that in the next few weeks, MGM musicals will be appearing frequently in my CONFESSIONS postings inspired by these viewings.

The Trailers:

This should keep me busy this week, but in addition I will be posting a TV-on-DVD edition of Confessions of a Watch-a-holic very soon.