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Moriarty's DVD Shelf! PING PONG! NATURAL CITY! WONDERFUL DAYS!

Hi, everyone, Moriarty here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

No matter how good my intentions have been, I still haven’t gotten a DVD Shelf column together in about a month now, and I apologize. The one good thing about it is that I’ve got an overabundance of cool stuff to share with you today, so much so that I may be forced to break this into a couple of columns for this week. We’ll know once we get further in, I s’pose. The worst part about being under deadline to anyone except Harry is that I actually have to buckle down and do the work at some point. When that happens, it really cuts into my “sitting around watching DVDs” time, and that just plain sucks.

Seriously, though, this landslide of titles coming out right now is a direct response to the fact that there’s a new format coming. No one’s exactly sure what format is going to win in the upcoming battle for market supremacy or how soon it’s going to happen, but I’d personally bet on Blu-Ray to hit in the fall of 2005. If companies want to sell you a title, now’s the time to get it out. I’m sure that’s a big motivating factor in the decision to finally put out the upcoming STAR WARS DVDs. Now’s the time for Lucasfilm to make their money on this particular format. By the time Blu-Ray or whatever else is next is really set up and perfected, it’ll be time for Lucasfilm to put out the big giant six-film box set with all new extras again.

That’s sort of par for the course for anyone who has been buying movies since the early days of VHS and Beta. Hercules The Strong regularly goes apeshit at me, calling me a moron for buying DVDs. Once he bought his HDTV, that was that. He’s like a cult member now. He doesn’t seem to get that when you buy DVDs, you’re sending a message to the companies releasing them about how what else you want them to release and make.

Joss Whedon talked to me at the Saturns about how Universal greenlit SERENITY as a direct response to the great sales figures of the FIREFLY box set. FAMILY GUY is on its way back to TV with new episodes because of how well it sold. Yes, they’ll be pressing some of this stuff in new formats, but I guarantee they’re paying close attention to what sells now to help them when they make those decisions. When I buy LOST IN AMERICA or REAL LIFE, I’m hopefully also sending the message that someone needs to get off their ass and finally give us MODERN ROMANCE. Soon.

What he also doesn’t get is that I know I’ll end up replacing some of my DVDs with new versions later. Movies I adore, I’m happy to upgrade. My Kubricks, my Coens, my Gilliam or my Kurosawa or my Miyazaki or my Marx Brothers... no problem. Anything essential, I’ll bite the bullet and do it to it. When I read about that insanely cool and up-till-now secret 4X scan project that MGM is doing with the Connery Bond films, it gives me real hope for how amazing home video is going to be by the time I’m ready to build a real home theater in a house of my own. For now, in an apartment, my DVD setup is plenty of entertainment, and I don’t begrudge one dollar of what I’ve spent on it. Enjoy this landslide of titles, I say, many of them dirt cheap. Yes, I’m sure I’ll be buying new versions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS or TOY STORY or PATHER PANCHALI or McGoohan’s THE PRISONER for the rest of my life, but a cheap used DVD of SQUIRM or THE FINAL COUNTDOWN or NIGHT HAWKS satisfies the film freak in me. I don’t need to buy all those titles again. I’m sure DVD will be just fine for my archival copy of LET’S DO IT AGAIN or RETURNER.

Before we get to reviews, let’s take care of some contest business. I appreciate your patience as you’ve waited for me to pick the winners of the FREAKS & GEEKS contest, and now... finally... I have. I saw some truly painful examples of humanity as I sorted through the entries, but lest you think I just want to make fun of others, my wife helped me judge the contest, and in the process, she talked me into digging out my high school yearbook and my prom photos. She still can’t look me in the eye without laughing now, a week and a half later. Oh, the shame...

Our first winner is a gent by the name of Frank Darby. Do not mock him. Do not make Michael Berryman jokes. Don’t mention THE HILLS HAVE EYES or STIR CRAZY. Because if you do... he will eat you.







Our next winner, Bill Mudron, must have had a hellacious time pulling any tail after this particular image hit the school. Sandy Duncan looked more macho as Peter Pan than this poor bastard.







And even though there’s no grand prize in this particular contest, I’m declaring Chase Block the grand prize winner because this progression of photos makes me hurt deeeeeeep inside. I can’t imagine having to face down this rogue’s gallery of headshots.







And that guy today? Brad Pitt. True story. Seriously.

Congratulations to all of you who were brave enough to enter, and if you didn’t win, thanks anyway, and don’t worry... we always want to give you more chances to win cool stuff. For example, this week I’m opening entries for another contest where you can win another great Shout! Factory box set. Were you an SCTV fan during its run on NBC? If so, you no doubt remember how hard it was to keep up with the show. It aired in the wee hours of the morning, and was often delayed in individual markets, but it was always worth the effort. Seeing the shows again now, I’m amazed by how well it holds up, and three lucky readers are going to win SCTV gift packs including the complete five-disc volume one collection (due in stores on June 8th) as well as other assorted stuff they’re sending me like hats and stickers. All you have to do to win is send me your very own original SCTV-style sketch in script form. Please use Microsoft Word to create the document, and make sure it’s no longer than four pages. Pretend it’s 1982 and you’re writing the sketch for the classic cast of Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Joe Flaherty, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, and Andrea Martin. Make sure you include "SCTV CONTEST" in the e-mail header, and have all your entries in by Friday, May 28th. Can’t wait to see what you lunatics come up with.

Now... let’s get on with our big exclusive of the week, a peek at what you can expect when the STAR WARS trilogy hits DVD this fall. I don’t think the image requires much explanation, especially since message boards all over the Internet have been jammed with rumors about this particular change. You'd be wise to save this one to your desktops and redistribute it to friends in case it... ahem... mysteriously vanishes from here. Consider this your first official verification of that rumor:







Okay... is it just me, or do you get the feeling Yoda and Obi-Wan are looking at Young Anakin and wondering why he gets to be pretty for all eternity when he was the one who fucked things up in the first place? “Wait... I’d like to look like Ewan McGregor again. Hello? Is this thing on?!”

This strikes me as one of those changes that Lucas is making just for the sake of making it. I know my co-writer can’t wait to get his hands on the new DVDs, but between the further changes and the stuff I’ve been hearing about the rather drastic cuts that have already been made to the Kevin Burns documentary, the whole thing seems a little underwhelming.

Harry here... FUCKING RETARDED MONKEY BOY! What the Fuck Is That? I see, Sebastian Shaw isn't famous enough to be treated with the respect of a FUCKING PUPPET or ALEC GUINNESS!!!!! Oh - and that George isn't even the fucking director of this thing - This is OUTRAGEOUS! When Kevin Smith sees this he'll be shitting blood for weeks. Sigh... breathe... I see it totally makes sense... cuz it wasn't like that fucking shot was LAME AS HELL to begin with... Oh no, Lucas has managed to figure out how to out suck the dimmest of lights from RETURN OF THE JEDI. He's the fucking BLACK HOLE! If you try applying logic to that image, you'll short circuit in a Logic Circle like Robby The Robot trying to melt Leslie Nielsen's Brain! One friend of mine - after screaming about wishing Lucas' early autopsy, decided he would rather wish that George get a mop job at Wal-Mart. I don't think he could screw that up! --- Just dawned on me. You realize that Mark Hamill's Luke is now looking at the teenager version of his Father - whose ghostly image is younger than him or his sister? That's RETARDED!!!! I mean - with the reverse - it's gonna look even lamer!

REGION-FREE ROUND-UP

Y’know, there’s nothing I hate more than when Harry is right. It’s much more gratifying when I get to call him up and mock him because he endorsed some unmitigated piece of trash at the top of his lungs. And trust me... he never lets me slide, either. When he put PING PONG on his 10 Best list a couple of years ago, I was sure he’d lost his mind again, and I started sharpening my knives sight unseen.

Damn you, Knowles. Turns out Sori Fumihiko’s film is one of the best sports films I’ve seen in recent memory. Normally, this genre bores the hell out of me because of the predictability of it all. Here, the relationship between Peko (Kubozuka Yosuke) and Smile (Arata) is the centerpiece of the movie, and the sports angle is simply a way to further define character. As a result, the ping pong matches are genuinely exciting, and you end up invested in them on an almost personal level.

And, no... I can’t believe I just wrote that paragraph, either. But it’s true. When we meet the two guys, Peko is the one who practically swaggers through every single match he plays, sure he can’t be beaten. Smile, nicknamed that because he never does, is his geeky buddy who seems to want to be like Peko, but who hates to be pushed by their coach or challenged. He just wants to play for fun. Basically, the film follows them over two full seasons as they become the men they are meant to be, with both of them facing severe personal challenges. Their friendship is sorely tested, and so are their personal abilities, and somehow, it manages to be hilarious and touching and oddly affecting. The special effects in the film are very subtle, and you forget that what you’re looking at isn’t real, the mark of truly great CGI. Like Edgar Wright’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD, what makes this film really wonderful is what it has to say about friendship. Every performance, from the leads right down to the players we just see in one or two matches, is absolutely dead-on, and no matter how much you think you won’t be able to relate to this particular sport or this particular culture, you’ll be surprised. Fumihiko’s got a great directorial eye, and he manages to negotiate all the tricky tone changes with ease. It’s startling how kinetic he manages to make it all, but when he gets to the serious emotional beats, he calms down and takes his time and lets the performances carry the weight. This all-regions disc is readily available, and since you can play it in pretty much any player, I’d advise all of you to seek it out immediately.

I picked up SAVE THE GREEN PLANET because I’d read so many mentions of it here on the site, but I didn’t put it in until the other night, when my buddy and I went to a screening that got cancelled. We decided to come back to the Labs and watch something, and out of the options I offered him, he picked this one because of the cover. “Looks funny,” he said.

Guess that depends on how funny you think torture and insanity is. At times, I admit I actually found it pretty amusing, so I think I may need electroshock. This is one of the strangest collisions of genre I’ve ever encountered, and even though it’s sort of a mess at times, I don’t care. I really, really enjoyed it, and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’d have to say that I recommend it.

Frankly, I just like Korean films these days. There’s an energy to the scene that makes even the strangest misfire worth taking a look at. Writer/director Jeong Jun-hwan has put together a film that I’ve heard compared to Terry Gilliam and John Waters, but I think he’s got a fairly original voice that, sadly, may not be heard again since this was a commercial disaster when it was released in Korea. I can understand why... it would have been a commercial disaster anywhere, like most cult films that eventually find a rabid following. If you can’t describe a film to someone, then how the hell are you supposed to advertise it?

Byeong-gu Lee (played with admirable insanity by Shin Ha-kyun) believes in aliens. He’s wholeheartedly convinced that they have invaded Earth from Andromeda, and that they are planning a violent takeover. He has identified key aliens who have taken up positions of power in business, and he’s determined to do something about it. Man-shik Kang (the stoic Baek Yun-shik) is the target of Byeong-gu’s wrath, for reasons that are unclear when the film begins. Su-ni (Hwang Jeong-min), the chubby, long-suffering girlfriend of Byeong-gu, helps him kidnap the businessman so that they can torture the truth out of him, and what starts as a very dark comedy eventually becomes something that is simply impossible to predict as it twists and turns and slips in and out of reality.

What made me ultimately love this movie is the fearlessness of it all. It gets really nasty and unpleasant in places, but it doesn’t seem to hesitate at all. So often, dark stories pull back from the inherent darkness in order to try to maintain audience sympathy, but in this film, it seems to me that Jun-hwan embraces it and tries to see just how far he can take you before you break just like the characters onscreen. It’s daring, it’s original, and even if it doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat little package at the end, it is memorable and well worth your time. The R3 package comes with a whole disc of extras that I haven’t even dipped into yet, but at least they gave the director a lovely memento as his career went up in ashes.

NATURAL CITY, on the other hand, isn’t terribly original, but as shameless BLADE RUNNER ripoffs go, it’s one of the best so far.

And that’s not a bad thing, per se. Min Byung-chun has made a fairly serious, somber SF action film that has some gorgeous visuals, a couple of pretty great fight scenes, and a lead character who is grappling with moral and romantic dilemmas that Rick Deckard just barely touched upon. R (Yu Ji-tae) has made the cardinal mistake for a cop who hunts down killer cyborgs. He has fallen in love with a sex model named Ria (Seo Rin) during the last days of her life, and he’s determined to figure out a way to give her more days. He’s a prick to everyone around him, distancing himself emotionally even as he channels all his energy into doing the right thing by Ria. There’s a melancholy that settles over the entire film that is pretty well-done, and the DVD set I picked up comes with two discs in a crazy wrap-around metal package. Considering how derivative this is, there’s a lot to enjoy, and any SF fan should consider checking it out.

On the other hand, don’t get suckered into wasting your time on WONDERFUL DAYS, which is anything but wonderful. I know this is the biggest-budget anime ever released in Korea, and I’m sure directors Kim Moon-saeng and Sunmin Park meant well. It’s just that they spent all their energy trying to design a SF world, and no energy whatsoever on actually creating a story or characters to occupy that world. The result is inertia, pure and simple, and I’m not quite sure what to do with this giant 3-disc collector’s edition of the movie that I bought. I’ve flipped through the supplemental discs, and they’re pretty much exactly as boring as the movie itself. There are some remarkable images within the film, and I don’t fault the technical efforts on display, but if you want an environmentally minded anime SF epic that remembers to entertain first and foremost, NAUSICAA is the way to go. This film isn’t 1/10th the movie that Miyazaki’s masterpiece is, and in this case, imitation doesn’t even begin to lead to inspiration.

Okay... I’m going to have to break the column in half. I’ve got just over 30 new reviews I’ll be publishing at the end of the week as the second part of the column, and there’s all sorts of crazy stuff that I’ll be covering. For now, this first part’ll have to do, since I’m sure the traffic from the STAR WARS photo alone is going to send our server into a suicidal spiral it may never recover from. Until later this week...

"Moriarty" out.





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