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Harry's DVD Picks & Peeks - 4th wk of May 2011: TRANSCENDENT MAN, Ron Howard writes, Chaplin is Brilliant, Platoon is still wow, Civil War, Fast Cars, Russian Sci Fi & Much More!

Hey folks, Harry here with a new DVD Column and things are a bit different this week with some of the titles, and I’m betting that will at least continue with next week’s amazing series of titles. I think you’ll enjoy some of the surprises this week… As usual the pictures and titles link back to AMAZON where you can learn more on a given title, or even pick it up, which would be cool of ya, because a small portion of that price gets kicked back to help support the efforts of this column. Hope you enjoy… Tuesday,

May 24th, 2011


Ray Kurzweil is an interesting as hell fella. Imagine a practical William Gibson or Phillip K Dick. Now, he’s technically not a science fiction author… except that he kind of is. He predicts technology. Anticipates it. He’s one of the foremost Futurists around, and has worked with countries around the globe, Presidents, Corporate minds… He pushes the people that create technology to create new technologies. And he’s been a leader in the field for about 40 or more years. And he believes that huge changes are coming in the next 15-20 years. Look at your Cel phone. Think about what it does, now just think back 3 years ago. We see technology advancing at such an accelerating pace that as a geek, I don’t know about you, but I have had many conversations about “where is it all headed?”
I mentioned TRANSCENDENT MAN in my review of TREE OF LIFE. Why? Well, as much as TREE OF LIFE made me feel connected to the past, my own family and history… It didn’t do anything to particularly illuminate the future. Enter TRANSCENDENT MAN.
I am intrinsically an optimist. I don’t believe in the Terminator eradication of humanity – which would occur moments after Computers and Technology become self-aware and self-improving. Why? Because I trust the minds that are moving technology forward. But we’re on the verge of some of the big science fiction eventualities. LIKE… think about these CLOUD NETWORKS that we have now. Sure, AMAZON had a massive clusterfuck that downed AICN recently, but they get more and more stable, more powerful, faster. APPLE is setting it up so that all your music is stored in a digital cloud that you can access through all your devices. Yes, yes, we know this. Ray is foreseeing and anticipating a point, within his life time (he’s currently 63) where “WE” will be able to upload our consciousness… every intelligent thing that we are. Our memories, our capacity to invent and think into a CLOUD NETWORK. Essentially – think SUPERMAN’s Fortress of Solitude and his interaction with his father, mother and other denizens of Krypton. To have on-going conversations with people that would continue to live, seemingly eternally in a digital after-life. AND… he just about convinces you in this doc. He’s also talking about nanotechnology being fused into us so that are bodies can self-repair WOLVERINE style. That’s a little further out, but we’re heading into all manners of crazy directions – and none of this is particularly new if you read magazines like WIRED, DISCOVER, SCIENCE and the awesome geek websites out there.
This is a very important film to watch and to share with your family. Ray is simply a brilliant man and he is talking about how we as man will self-evolve. Listening to him, watching the people he’s interacting with… It suddenly made me realize… STAR TREK is totally wrong, why? Because MAN is still the same. We wouldn’t have communicators and hand held screens. We will most definitely be something more than we are right now. You won’t use a phone to access IMDB, it’ll just be in your mind, a menu item. All of a sudden, TALKBACK will become a battlefield for the mind. OR – he could be crazy and I’m a gullible fool (yesterday’s posts as evidence).
That said – think about these DVD columns and how rarely I get this involved into speaking about a film. TRANCENDENT MAN is a tremendous documentary that shows an alternative future that doesn’t have doomsday preachers screaming about the sky is falling. The future can be so bright, we gotta wear shades! I’m so excited about this film, that I’m working with the filmmakers to help promote their screenings around the country with Ray – and hopefully to bring him here to Austin as well. Because there’s nothing more cool than SCIENCE!


I love Charlie Chaplin. He’s just. He helped give me some of my soul. He can be shown to be a thief, a troublemaker, but he’s always doing it for the benefit of others. He’s a romantic, a dreamer – and dammit, too many people in this world dare not to dream, lest those dreams be crushed… Chaplin worked for a long time to make THE GREAT DICTATOR – a film about his biggest fan, Adolf Hitler, and Chaplin was merciless. This was the film where the Tramp spoke – and my God, that monologue of his – it’s just astonishing. He’s speaking to a world unmoved, trying to get them up off their asses, out of theaters and fighting. 2 years before the U.S. got their ass in gear. It is a message movie, but a message that had to be given. Chaplin made a lot of enemies in Hollywood making this film – and the result is one of his masterpieces.
Criterion’s Blu of this is tremendous. The image is so clear that there’s points where it actually feels dimensional. And as usual, Criterion loads us up with goodies…
New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
New audio commentary by Charlie Chaplin historians Dan Kamin and Hooman Mehran
The Tramp and the Dictator (2001), a documentary narrated by filmmaker Kenneth Branagh and featuring interviews with author Ray Bradbury, director Sidney Lumet, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., screenwriter Budd Schulberg, and a host of others
Two new visual essays, by Chaplin archivist Cecilia Cenciarelli and Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance
On-set, color production footage shot by Chaplin’s half-brother, Sydney
Deleted scene from Chaplin’s 1919 film, Sunnyside
Theatrical trailer
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Michael Wood and a 1940 article by Chaplin on the film


When PLATOON came out I was a Sophmore in High School living and working on my family’s Ranch in North Texas – and there were many ranch hands that worked with us. In particular there were these two older men named the TINNEY Boys… At least that’s how we always referred to them, but R.C. and Tommy were basically good guys. I say this, because they very much wanted to see PLATOON – and my mom and I took them into Wichita Falls to see the movie, and it was my first experience – and most powerful experience of seeing a movie destroy grown men. For them, this was there experience. I saw this film re-open the scars of their psyche. These were strong men that had buried their experience in some corner of their minds and Stone mined it. They didn’t react this way to Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET. I remember watching the film and not fully understanding the emotion they were feeling. I still don’t. I’ve been blessed not to have these types of mental scars, but for some PLATOON isn’t a passive cinematic experience, it is a raw real experienced that they lived & saw people die during.
Today, the film has a wholly different tragedy at play. Charlie Sheen. He was one of the most talented and great actors working at this time. He wasn’t a joke. He wasn’t that idiot son of that great actor, he was that great actor’s great acting son. Then he lost it. As I stated earlier, I’m an optimist and I hope at some point that Charlie has the clarity of mind and self to get his shit together. Then, for the right director and project to give him his self-respect back. Because watching PLATOON – it kills you to see him today. Perhaps he can have that Robert Downey Jr or Mickey Rourke turn around, but that only ever happens when you hit rock bottom.
But as great as Sheen is…. Oh man, Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe just tear it up in this film. Dafoe especially is extraordinary. I love him so much. But then there’s Kevin Dillon playing the perfect knob. Then as the best weasel ever, John C McGinley. Keith David and Forest Whitaker… Francesco Quinn…. Shit, Johnny Depp is subtle and awesome. So nice to see him not dancing all over the screen. Everything just works perfectly in this film. Not an errant moment once.

The Ron Howard Action Pack ( EAT MY DUST! / GRAND THEFT AUTO )

These two movies are a type of RON HOWARD flick… well, that just doesn’t exist outside of these two flicks. This is YEE HAW, floor-boarding good times. Beer movies. Cars that crash! Now, I still haven’t watched EAT MY DUST, I jumped straight to GRAND THEFT AUTO because I’ve always been curious about Ron’s first film. And before I wrote this column, I reached out to Ron to see what he thought of or remembered about working with Roger Corman – and Ron was awesome enough to send back this remembrance…
I don't look back very often, but.....
I had to star in Eat My Dust in order to black mail my way into getting a chance to direct for Roger. The deal was, if Eat My Dust worked out, then I would be given a chance to at least develop a project with Roger. When the crazy and subversive Chuck Griffith comedy turned out to be a surprise hit on the drive-in circuit, I pitched all kinds of ideas to Roger.
I remember one story I cooked up was a noir thriller about snuff film victims in the bowels of the san fernando valley....another was a futuristic flick about gladiatorial games to the death to determine the outcomes of global territorial disputes, and a comedy set in the world of massage parlors along Western Ave in Hollywood (remember this was 1976....). He heard all the ideas and explained that when they were testing titles for Eat My Dust, another title had come in a very close second....."Grand Theft Auto". He told me that if I could fashion a car crash comedy for me to star in that would feature "young-people-on-the-run" and could be entitled Grand Theft Auto, then he'd green light it and let me direct (for the whopping sum of 250 bucks a week). I was 21 when we shot Eat My Dust....and production on Grand Theft Auto began Mar. 2, '77, the day after my 23rd birthday.
I was so amped up by the process that two weeks in, Joe Dante, the editor, called me and told me I had to "for crissakes eat more". I was wasting away on camera. (and I was skinny to begin with. you've seen Happy Days)
I doubt I ever worked harder in my life. But the wrap party for that a dive bar right next the Saugus Speedway where we had just demolished the shit out of the true star of the movie....the classic Rolls Silver Cloud.... in the last set-up of the production, was the one of the greatest nights of my life. Flamers, the bar band, dancing with my brand new wife, Cheryl (who had prevented a crew mutiny over the lousy food by personally taking over the catering and feeding 50 people meals that they still talk about when I bump into them) father and co-writer, brother Clint and everyone who helped me avoid falling flat on my face/ass during the first directing gig..... The chance I had been dreaming of since I was about 8.
I hope people get a kick out these two genre flicks. Believe it or not, they were pretty favorably reviewed when released. They are absolute products of their time. I haven't seen either in full since their release and I doubt if I ever will. I don't want to pop the nostalgic bubble they exist in for me.
I don't know if Grand Theft Auto suggested to people the filmography that would follow or not. But I learned a hell of a lot, and I gave it everything I had, as I continue to do with varying degrees of success film opportunity after film opportunity. And I haven't quit loving it....or dumping pounds and losing sleep during the course of production yet.
Harry back – and I have to say, I think Ron should really check out GRAND THEFT AUTO – it’s definitely a young film, made on a moderately sized shoestring. I mean, they did a massive ton of car damage in the film, they blow a lot of stuff up – and at its heart is a really sweet couple – and Ron is a lot of fun in this. In fact, I really do want to see Ron in front of the camera again some day. I just think he should occasionally pull his version of a Clint Eastwood. Am I alone?


Ok – Jonathan Demme’s FIGHTING MAD is a tremendous anti-corporation thriller that in many ways reminded me of an even more brutal condemnation of corporate evil than Gibson’s EDGE OF DARKNESS… What makes it particularly great, is the slow grind that the corporate powers apply to torment the locals into selling their land. It’s brutal and mean and absolutely uncompromising – and I love Peter Fonda and Scott Glenn in this. Eddie Albert is just great. And yes, you will see Peter Fonda wield that bow – and it is pretty damn badass. Haven’t caught the second half of this double feature yet. Well, I have, but not since I was a kid. I remember it as being a pretty damn fun redneck exploitation car pick, I’ll probably watch it with EAT MY DUST some night. SHOUT! is quickly becoming one of my favorite releasing companies. Keep em coming!


I like D.J. Caruso. He’s a nice guy and a talented director, but I have no idea what happened on this flick. It is bad. Bad in nearly every possible way. Well, except I like the premise. I like the idea of a last of a species hiding out from some evil genocidal alien bastards. And that could be badass. It really could, but man. Wow. Lead actor Alex Pettyfer just reeks. He’s mannequin hot here… meaning utterly soulless. The aliens coming after him – LAUGHABLY TERRIBLE DESIGN. The powers and abilities were just goofy, but there’s really no wow scale to it. Frankly coming off of EAGLE EYE, I was expecting something on a bigger scale. Totally left me flat.


I can’t do it. I remember liking GETTYSBURG (& the next title) but I really came away feeling like I never needed to see them again. They’re just not the sort of film I can just put on very often. They’re a bit extensive and dry for my taste. If you’re a Civil War enthusiast – well they’re pretty much good as gold. I also feel we’ve yet to see the great Civil War flick. And I’m not sure if that is something that should be historically accurate, rather than evocative of history. So – Civil War lovers – what do you get on this?
Includes 17 minutes of additional footage not seen in theatres, plus:
-Commentary by Director/Screenwriter Ronald F. Maxwell, Cinematographer Kees Van Oostrum, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author James M. McPherson and Military Historian Craig Symonds
-2 Featurettes: Making Gettysburg and Vintage Oscar Nominee The Battle of Gettysburg
-Commentary by Director/Screenwriter Ronald F. Maxwell, Cinematographer Kees Van Oostrum, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author James M. McPherson and Military Historian Craig Symonds
-Cast/Director Interview Gallery and Filmographies
-Battlefield Maps
-Theatrical Trailer & TV Spots

GODS AND GENERALS: Extended Director’s Cut (Blu-Ray Book)

I do not like GODS AND GENERALS much at all. In fact, it felt like an exquisitely produced bore. I really did not like Robert Duvall’s interpretation of Robert E Lee. Didn’t feel alive. Felt presented. I do feel there’s a pompousness to this film that was missing from GETTYSBURG, at least to this level. And this time it is longer. Yeah, not for me. This is essentially a theatrical mini-series. The new cut is 280 minutes long, with a 10 minute intro by Ted Turner and the director. All of that has a commentary that I have no desire to wade into. Then there’s a 89 minute Special Audio Commentary cut of the film that’s a feature length chat about the film, cut with pieces of the film. In addition to all of that is about another hour’s worth of stuff that just feels like overkill. But the film does have its champions. This was made for them.

SOLARIS Criterion Blu

Oh yes. Yes. The great Soviet Science Fiction film to come from Russia. The film is beautiful, fascinating, sometimes confounding, but intensely thought provoking. This is a film that makes you wonder about the infinite possibilities of what we could run into out there. Saw this in the 80’s on the U.T. campus. I’d never seen anything quite like it. I also love Soderbergh’s remake, but I still prefer my original Russian telling.  Criterion did a beautiful job on this release and here's the amazing extras they have for us:
High-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition

Audio essay by Andrei Tarkovsky scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie, coauthors of The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue

Nine deleted and alternate scenes

Video interviews with actress Natalya Bondarchuk, cinematographer Vadim Yusov, art director Mikhail Romadin, and composer Eduard Artemyev

Excerpt from a documentary about Stanislaw Lem, the author of the film’s source novel

PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Phillip Lopate and an appreciation by director Akira Kurosawa


Directed by the great John Frankenheimer, starring an international cast that was headlined by James Garner, but included Yves Montand, Toshiro Mifune, Antonio Sabato and the great Eva Marie Saint! The photography and the spectacle of the racing is just exhilarating. The photography really does demand the beauty of the Blu Ray format. Just beautiful and exciting. Tremendously exhilarating.


Now GRAND PRIX is probably technically the better film, but man… Steve McQueen makes me happy in ways that Garner doesn’t. In my house growing up McQueen was worshipped. My mother had a serious thing for him, so growing up as a kid, McQueen was my image of what a badass man was. Growing up, discovering all of McQueen’s films I can say that over the whole of his career he carried the weight of life upon his characters and I LOVE THAT! There’s such a fierce determination in his concentration that I believe everything he gives me on screen. I don’t think actor. I think Steve McQueen, in the same way I see Bruce Lee, John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Chaplin, Vincent Price, Clint Eastwood and very few others. Here you’ll see Steve drive like a bat out of hell and the film goes in surprising twists and turns. Love the film. Again on Blu, it is just fantastic.


Yeah here’s another just amazing film of Steve McQueen’s. Oh – and Dustin Hoffman is pretty goddamn terrific in it too! This is just the kind of film that I put on whenever I’m getting down about something that I think I can’t do. There’s nothing I can’t do. If Papillon does what he does, with all that against him, I can weather my rehab and cushy life. If I can’t, I’m a pussy, and I’m not a pussy. I love that Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jr wrote this amazing film. I love the look and texture of the film. The performances are iconic beyond belief. And McQueen is the dream. LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS MOVIE! SO much so, that I demand a better release of this title with more fulfilling special features. Dig deeper, interview more… This is a great film!


One of the very best films of Joel Schumacher and Colin Farrell’s career. And I don’t consider that faint praise, I’ve enjoyed a lot of their work, just as there are times where they both make me want to throttle them. I think it’s because I like them that they get me so bent out of shape when they do something less that what they’re capable of. In Farrell’s benefit, there is something kind of special about the movie you discover him in. And in TIGERLAND, he’s bursting to be a star. That said – don’t watch this anywhere close to PLATOON, there’s a difference of emotion and scale and majesty. PLATOON is an open wound. TIGERLAND is intense. Really really like the style of it.

Next week I’ll be taking a look at the 3rd season of TRUE BLOOD, the blu-rays of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and BARRY LYNDON and LEGEND and A MAN CALLED HORSE and LOLITA and AMERICAN GRAFFITI & BIG JAKE & RIO LOBO & A CLOCKWORK ORANGE! There’s crazy Nick Cage in DRIVE ANGRY, Bardem in BIUTIFUL, Argento’s THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS Blu, ADUA & HER FRIENDS, and a few others hopefully. Till then, have a great time exploring!

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