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2012-08-24

Photos - The Running Man (LaserDisc)


I only saw The Running Man once on VHS back in the '80s, and while I can barely remember any of it, I do remember that it was well liked by friends, and it was one of Arnold Schwartzenegger's more popular pictures.  It's a goofy comic-book action movie with enough brains and wit to keep me smiling.

Marcee and I are currently working through our stack of laserdiscs, and I really only threw this movie into the player because I wanted to save Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for later.  I didn't expect much, probably a cheaper, lower-budget version of Total Recall, with the usual array of guns and explosions and cheesy one-liners.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  I enjoyed The Running Man's '80s cyberpunk vibe, which clearly rips off Blade Runner and The Road Warrior, and anticipates Akira, but thankfully loses the despair or nihilism.  Richard Dawson easily stole the show as the corrupt game show host; he was a joy to watch from beginning to end, and this was probably his best role (he was essentially playing a satire of himself).  I know I'm in the minority here, but I'll rank this movie above Predator in the pantheon of Arnold films (I'm a sci-fi kid at heart).

The laserdisc, a 1995 letterbox release, looks terrific, very vivid and colorful and good use of light and shadow.  Have I finally calibrated my stupid Sony CRT, I hope?  The picture is sharp and detailed, close enough to DVD, and retaining that magical "film-like" quality that makes LD shine.  And there isn't a pixel or digital compression artifact anywhere in sight.  Yay!  Oh, and please don't remind me that Running Man is available on Blu-Ray...I can't hear you, la la la!

When I was writing my Top 50 Movies list, I realized how much I was missing the simple joy of a fun movie.  Not everything has to be revolutionary, or inspiring, or challenging.  Right now, I'd much rather watch a popcorn thriller like Last Crusade than, say, nearly anything by Bergman.  I'm not about to embrace modern Hollywood schlock like, oh...The Hunger Games...ugh, that was the worst movie I've seen all year.  It's absolutely useless, like staring at a Pepsi bottle or a pair of shoes for two hours.  Do I really have to point out that The Hunger Games is a soulless, global conglomerate assembly-line franchise pitched to desperately insecure children who look to American Idol for inspiration?  Heck, the plot is nearly identical to The Running Man, a point that Marcee pointed out a couple times.  She's much rather watch Arnold in his Bruce Lee jumpsuit, too.

More screenshots are after the jump.  I'm using a Panasonic LX-600 with composite cables directly fed into the Sony CRT, for those keeping score.  Next up: I really have to hunt down that Criterion Collection version of Akira.


2012-08-22

Photos - Total Recall (LaserDisc)


My adventures in LaserDisc continue, as well as my struggles to properly calibrate the light and color settings on my Sony CRT.  Why those jokers deliberately wrecked the factory settings on their televisions baffles me.  Have I finally succeeded in getting the right settings?  I hope so, because I'm getting tired of constantly hacking around.  I just want to watch some movies!

Here's the latest batch of screenshots - the THX "widescreen" edition of Total Recall.  I think it's looking pretty good, and the color appears more balanced.  Previously, everything on LD had an over-saturated, almost Technicolor look, and way too heavy on the reds (this is common with Sony TVs).  The picture is much more balanced now, with fine contrasts, not too bright or hazy, and colors appear more natural.  Now we're beginning to see LD look its best, instead of watered-down and low-rez.
I'm definitely planning to hunt down some Studio Ghibli discs, including the old Fox version of My Neighbor Totoro (for its older dub).  Thank goodness Japanese LDs are so cheap these days; unfortunately, there are no subtitles, which is a drag, but it's not the end of the world.  I definitely need more Looney Tunes.

More Total Recall screenshots after the jump.  What do ya think?

2012-08-19

What's Opera Doc? (LaserDisc)


Last week, I purchased a Panasonic LX-600 LaserDisc player for Marcee's birthday, and one of the first titles I bought at the Cheapo Uptown was Looney Tunes: Curtain Calls, a single-disc collection of 15 classic cartoons.  It's a terrific set that includes "Rabbit of Seville" and "One Froggy Evening," and closes out with Chuck Jones' greatest triumph, "What's Opera, Doc?"

Obviously, if you want to watch Looney Tunes, you can buy the DVD or even Blu-Ray sets.  The Curtain Calls LD won't be seen by many people today, which is unfortunate.  With a quality SDTV and a quality player, LaserDiscs can shine.  And animation remains the format's greatest strength.

There are precious few examples of LD in action on the internet.  The most common approach is to connect a player directly to a PC.  This, however, results in a watered-down, washed look to the picture.  Optimising for the NTSC standard (7.5 IRE) is absolutely necessary for laserdiscs to look their best.  I snapped my photos with an iPhone directly in front of the Sony television, and even here, my photos darken the picture just a little.  This is an elusive, finicky format to capture in the digital age, but that's part of its charm.

Anyway, back to Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd performing their opera.  I snapped a large number of photos, which appear just after the jump.


2012-08-14

Photos - Batman Returns (LaserDisc)


I wanted to share a couple photos from Marcee's birthday present - a Panasonic LX-600 LaserDisc player and stack of movies.  Included in the mix were the two Tim Burton Batman movies (yay), and the two Joel Schumacher Batman movies (boo).

I'm still trying to find the optimal video settings on our 24" Sony KV-24FS100, a solid standard-def CRT from 2002.  Sony completely fubar'd the color and bright/contrast settings on their sets, which makes calibration a real pain.  We had the set dialed nicely for broadcast and DVD/Blu-Ray, and now we'll have to calibrate again for LaserDisc.  Right now, my main concerns are the lighting (too harsh at times) and the color (too washed out and brownish).  Without a Video Essentials disc, I pretty much have to use the Schwartz to get the video settings right.

When Marcee and I watched Batman '89, the picture looked terrific by the end of side two.  The fiery destruction of the Axis Chemical factory was especially glorious and colorful, with not a pixel or digital artifact in sight.  And the climactic battle in the belltower felt magical; it somehow felt analog, like film.  I can't quite explain why or how, but I did perceive a difference in the way Jack Nicholson's Joker danced around.  Skipping around Elizabeth ('98) also yielded excellent results, and Looney Tunes: Curtain Calls was a revelation for animation.  Ace Ventura 2 and Robin Hood: Men in Tights looked very washed out and flat, however.  So the LD experiments continue.

Update (8-27): Changed photos to reflect more balanced TV calibration.  I also snapped the photos in motion, instead of using the CAV freeze-frame option.  This enables a cleaner picture and better represents the LD as it looks on my Sony CRT television.

2012-08-09

The Next Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays - Kiki's Delivery Service, Omohide Poro Poro


The next Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray movies have been announced - Kiki's Delivery Service and Omohide Poro Poro.  Both films will be released on December 5, 2012 in Japan.

Omohide Poro Poro, as you know, is my favorite animation film, ranked #11 on my 50 Greatest Movies list.  The HD format is going to do wonders for Isao Takahata's masterpiece; its rich colors and visual splendor will be a sight to behold.  This is a visually spectacular movie, endlessly varied and nuanced, perfectly weaving Tarantino-pop with Ozu melodrama.

Kiki's Delivery Service is a sweet and charming movie, a perfect follow-up to My Neighbor Totoro, and Ghibli's first box-office hit.  Miyazaki doesn't get nearly enough credit for this film, but it's a wonderful story about the end of childhood and the transition into adulthood, and it's very funny.  I do hope we finally get true subtitles at last, instead of the now-ancient "dub-titles."  That would be a very welcome change.

Poro Poro, of course, will never be released here in North America, unless someone like Sentai Filmworks or Criterion steps up, but it should be released in all other territories.  Disney will happily pick up Kiki, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they released it alongside Totoro sometime next year.  Those were the movies Disney wanted when they first courted Miyazaki, which is good news for us.

2012-08-07

Ghibli Blog Rankings - The 50 Greatest Movies


Yes, Citizen Kane is still number one in this house!

The Sight & Sound 2012 poll of greatest films has been unveiled, which means it's time for everybody to pull out their long lists of favorite movies.  And now, after many days of hard work and endless revisions, I present my rankings of the best movies ever made.  Short comments follow after the rankings.


Ghibli Blog Rankings - The 50 Greatest Movies

1. Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)
2. Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
4. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean)
5. Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa)
6. Star Wars (1977, George Lucas)
7. Duck Soup (1933, Leo McCarey)
8. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Th. Dryer)
9. The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed)
10. Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchkock)

11. Omohide Poro Poro (1991, Isao Takahata)
12. Mimi wo Sumaseba (1995, Yoshifumi Kondo)
13. City Lights (1931, Charlie Chaplin)
14. Ran (1986, Akira Kurosawa)
15. Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Ford Coppola)
16. The Fog of War (2003, Errol Morris)
17. Paths of Glory (1957, Stanley Kubrick)
18. Annie Hall (1977, Woody Allen)
19. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)
20. (tie) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)
20. (tie) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989, Steven Spielberg)

21. The Godfather Parts I & II (1972, 74, Francis Ford Coppola)
22. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, Ang Lee)
23. Rules of the Game (1939, Jean Renoir)
24. Floating Weeds (1959, Yasujiro Ozu)
25. The Big Sleep (1946, Howard Hawks)
26. Nights of Cabiria (1957, Frederico Fellini)
27. Princess Mononoke (1997, Hayao Miyazaki)
28. Porco Rosso (1992, Hayao Miyazaki)
29. The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming)
30. Elizabeth (1998, Shekhar Kapur)

31. Metropolis (1926, Fritz Lang)
32. The Searchers (1956, John Ford)
33. Throne of Blood (1957, Akira Kurosawa)
34. Modern Times (1936, Charlie Chaplin)
35. Young Frankenstein (1974, Mel Brooks)
36. Blazing Saddles (1974, Mel Brooks)
37. Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)
38. Yojimbo(1961, Akira Kurosawa)
39. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1968, Sergio Leone)
40. Fantasia (1940, Walt Disney)

41. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996, Jim Mallon)
42. Ben-Hur (1959, William Wyler)
43. The Seventh Seal (1957, Ingmar Bergman)
44. Network (1976, Sydney Lumet)
45. Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Leaned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963, Stanley Kubrick)
46. Gauche the Cellist (1982, Isao Takahata)
47. Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985, Gisaburo Suugi)
48. The Red Shoes (1948, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
49. Beetlejuice (1988, Tim Burton)
50. (tie) Clue (1985, Johnathon Lynn)
50. (tie) Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986, John Hughes) 

And now for a few quick thoughts.  You fine readers have no idea how many times I've shuffled movies around this list, adding this, dropping that, desperately finding a place to squeeze in The Royal Tenenbaums and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, trying to remember whether I loved or merely liked The Seventh Seal.  My mind constantly pulls out wonderful memories, reflective laughs and meditations.

I believe the key was writing a Top 50 list of movies, instead of the standard "Top 10."  With a shorter list, one stays careful and overly cautious, wary of giving up a cherished classic.  I won't cede Citizen Kane or Casablanca to anyone.  However, if I expand my palette to fifty films, a far richer landscape emerges.  Now I can embrace the vast history of cinema, honor the earliest classics, and raise the banner for modern pictures that deserve to be honored.  I could easily add another fifty movies without blinking an eye.  The Shining!  La Dolce Vita!  F For Fake!  Ivan the Terrible! Waking Life!  This could go on forever, which is an exhausting thought.

I'm thinking that I should write essays on each individual film on this list, make it a running series.  That would give me more time to explore each film in better detail than I can here.  Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions.  Enjoy.

Update 8/8/12, 1:11pm - Raiders or Last Crusade?  Last Crusade or Raiders??  Which movie Indiana Jones movie takes the #20 spot?  This dilemma has consumed me all week, and I cannot pick one film over another.  Raiders is grittier, pulpier, has scarier villians, and Karen Allen.  Last Crusade has more and better action scenes, is way funnier, and has Sean Connery.  Both are, essentially, the same movie, and equally great.

So I'm going to cheat and declare a second mulligan (the first one being the two Godfathers joined together at #21).  Raiders and Last Crusade will share the 20th slot, and you can just pick your favorite.  Now I'm going to walk away before I really get carried away.  This project is finished!

Update #2: 8/9/12 8:40am - More cheating.  Marcee and I watched Chaplin's City Lights last night, and I immediately realized my mistake in ranking it so low.  It deserves a Top 10 spot, but I can't fit it in, and I want to promote the two Studio Ghibli films, so we'll take 13th Place.  This is the final edit, I swear(chuckling)!  Thanks for your patience, feel free to hurl wisecracks.

Update #3: 8/9/12 10:20am - Great, I can't read and I can't count.  I really should pay Reed Nelson to be my editor.  There were two movies at #34, so I've shuffled things around...and we end with yet another mulligan.  But it's fitting that a "Top 50 Movies" list would really have 53, in a Calvinball sort of way.

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