Tag Archives: Blu-Ray

Warm Up for No Time to Die

As I may have mentioned here a few times, my wife and I are fans of the James Bond movie series and, with the final Daniel Craig film in the series, No Time to Die, coming out this weekend we felt it might be time for a warm up back into the series.  It has, after all, been five freaking years since we’ve had a proper Bond film in the theaters.  Not the longest gap in the series, which was between Dalton and Brosnan, but still a long time.

Having seen the cast interviewed on Graham Norton where it was mentioned that the new film carries on straight from Spectre, we thought we had best watch that again.  Then my wife suggested before I could even utter the words myself, that we should watch all the Daniel Craig Bond films.  So that was what we did, and here is the summary from our viewing.

Of course, this was easier said than done.  Much to my disappointment, none of the streaming channels to which we currently subscribe… which total more than half a dozen at the moment due to following various series, including HBO, Showtime, and Starz… had the films available.

So it was time to get out the disks and crank up the PlayStation 3, which is still out source for watching DVDs and Blu-Ray.  Fortunately we have all the Bond film on disk.  I had to put new batteries in the remote and go through yet another patch update for the PS3 and then figure out again how exactly it was hooked up to our sound bar, but once settled things went well enough.  We have the first film, Casino Royale, on DVD only.  That was fine and it looked good on our TV.  For Quantum of Solace we bough the DVD+Blu-Ray combo, because we didn’t have the PS3 yet.  The other two are on Blu-Ray only.

It had been long enough since we watched a store bought Blu-Ray film that I had forgotten how the studios liked to cram trailers for other films to run before you get to the main menu.  You can skip through them, but I tend to watch them for as long as it takes me to guess the film and get it confirmed.  It was a reminder of past times.

  • Casino Royale – 2006

Not my favorite Bond film, but I have softened on it since I put it on my “least favorite” list back in 2012.  I’ll trade it out for Die Another Day.  I think I’ve seen Casino Royale three times since then, including the past week’s viewing, and it has grown on me a bit.  I still have my gripes.  I am not saying they should have dumped Judi Dench, but when they made a big deal about cleaning house for a fresh Bond look and then kept the same “M” as the Brosnan series still strikes me as odd.

It also has to bear the weight of being an actual Bond story, one that has been done twice, once on TV and once in parody form.  It breaks the Bond mold in that it starts off with him not yet being a double-0 agent, so we have to establish that first, then we break into the intro credits before getting onto the traditional set piece action sequence which, true to the series, isn’t all that relevant but is a lot of fun.  Best parkour ever.  But we keep having to establish the Bond tropes because it is a reboot of the franchise.

But the real failing point of this outing for me is that the stakes really aren’t that high; win a card game.  What happened to plots to destroy the world?  Yes, there is a lot around that card game, but it still comes down to cards… and not even baccarat which, while unfathomable to me, still has all the classic dealer lines.  Instead it was Texas Holdem, which was a fad at the moment.  But Bond films are always of their time.

The opening credits are an excellent animation and the theme song is perhaps the most on-point since Goldfinger; a line like “But you yourself are nothing so divine, just next in line” calls to the reboot very nicely.  It might be one of the more underrated songs from the series… and it made an excellent WoW parody.

Overall decent, though it gets out of hand for the last 30 minutes or so, most of which could/should have just been appended to the opening of the next film.  Also, Daniel Craig looks so lean and crisp in the face.  I guess we were all a lot younger in 2006.

  • Quantum of Solace – 2008

My trajectory with QoS has been rather a flip when compared to CR.  I liked QoS a lot when it came out, but less so with each viewing.  It feels a bit like an appendage to the first film, carrying on immediately from the final scene, lurching forward with promise, then losing its way.

It doesn’t start out bad.  It opens with a car chase, a quick interlude, then a foot chase, then a quick trip, followed by even more action including a boat chase.  Very Bond.  And it carries on hitting all the usual Bond points with more action and a woman with whom he slept being murdered.

But the opening is about a shadowy organization that has infiltrated everywhere and is potentially a world menace, and ends up with Bond solving a water utility problem in Bolivia.  You might not notice the sudden reduction in scope on the first pass, but after a few viewings I’m left with sort of a “Hey, what the hell?” kind of reaction, and it is something that doesn’t even get revisited until Spectre.  We start with one goal, straight off the end of CR and end up in the Bolivian desert with no real answers.  Cool plane chase though.

Certainly not the worst Bond film, but doesn’t really stand out either.  Even the theme song, which was again on point, fails to stick.

  • Skyfall – 2012

After all of that secret society stuff that ended up nowhere, the franchise headed off in a more traditional “crazy bad guy with a Rube Goldberg level scheme that is timed down the second” event that would fall apart the second you applied any thought to it.  But it looks so good and runs along at such a brisk pace, giving you little time for reflection, that it works in almost a “a whole that is greater that the sum of its parts” sort of way.

Skyfall does not have the best stunts, the best chases, the best action, the best shootouts, the best locations, the best gadgets, the best villains, or even the best theme song of the series.  The story isn’t even that compelling.  But everything is good, or at least good enough, the villains especially after the tedious Le Chiffre and dull Mister Greene of the previous two outings.

This is my favorite in the Daniel Craig batch so far.  It also nicely brings in some of Bond’s past and does the leadership transition at MI6.  Sam Mendes did a good job.  A solid outing.

We even got Adelle for the opening theme, which is a bit nonsensical in the vein of the Thunderball theme, but at least sounds nice.  I don’t remember any of the lyrics, just that it is easy on the ears and goes with well with the credits.

  • Spectre – 2015

After writing past Bond stuff I meant to write a review of Spectre when it came out, but I wasn’t moved to do it because it felt kind of empty.

Part of it was, of course, the fact that Skyfall came together as such a solid outing.  Having Sam Mendes come back to direct after that seemed like a promise of more quality work.

And the film seemed to have so much going for it out of the box.  The title is literally the secret organization we have wanted to know about as recently as half way through Quantum of Solace, Andrew Scott shows up as a menacing “C,” Christoph freaking Waltz as the main bad guy, there are locations to die for, and it kicks off with arguably the best opening action scene of any Bond film ever.  This was going to be great.

Okay, the opening theme was completely forgettable… I’ve seen Spectre three times now, including just minutes before I started writing the section and I can’t remember anything about it… but you can’t have everything.  It just has to live in the shadow of the Mexico City opening.

And it is ambitious.  It tries to tie together the previous three films… ret-conning Skyfall and its main villain into the mix… as all part of the grand plot of an international cabal that drives everything behind the scenes.  Bond goes from Mexico to London to Rome to the Alps to Algeria, and is fairly exciting the whole way.  And then we end up at their HQ in the desert and things start to come unglued as we find out what is going on.

There is the big reveal, the raison d’etre for Spectre…  and I won’t spoil it, but it was akin to  when I found out that Lex Luthor is evil because young Superman caused a lab accident that made all his hair fall out and, rather than using his considerable intellect to work on a baldness cure, Lex spends all his time trying to kill Superman with kryptonite.  It was a serious “Are you shitting me?” moment.  I mean, sure, they’re still a sinister and powerful international crime syndicate, but their leader is hung up on something that happened ages ago and all his wealth and power somehow hasn’t assuaged it.

It was hard for me to take the movie seriously after that.  It felt like a lot of build-up expended pointlessly.  There is still the whole final climax yet to play out at that point, but you know Bond is going to win, it is just a matter of filling in the details.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.

  • No Time to Die – 2021

So we’ve had the build up, seen Daniel Craig age as we all have over the last fifteen years, now it is time to see the final act in his Bond arc.  The movie apparently picks up right where Spectre left off, which is a bit of a theme for these five movies.  I’ll probably write something up for next weekend about how it played for us.

A Return to Physical Netflix

For a while I had a post bubbling up in the back of my brain, a post about how, despite all the money I pay every month for cable and HBO and Netflix and Amazon Prime, if I want to watch a movie of any recent vintage the odds are my only option when it comes to streaming is to pay another $6-15 to watch it via pay per view.

If I was serious about just watching movies I could chuck all of those services, take the money down to Target every Tuesday, and just buy every new release on disk and probably end up spending less than I do now.

Of course, we don’t just watch movies at our house.  We watch shows produced on all of those services plus sports plus the news plus… hrmm… mostly re-runs of Big Bang Theory, which appears to be available on some channel on cable 24/7 so simply turning on the TV and hopping to a channel at random is likely to come up with an episode.

But I still want to watch reasonably recent movies when I want to and not for whatever long/short time period one of those services might deign to show it to me.  (There is also the issue with actually finding the movies.  When I use the Comcast search with “free to me,” “HD,” and “English” as search parameters I still end up with over 1,500 choices on a list I can see 9 at a time that won’t sort by “new shit I haven’t watched yet.”)

So my mind has been turning to old school Netflix, the disks in the mail version that we used to use regularly last decade.

I guess, technically, it is DVD.com now.

A Netflix Company

However it is still linked to the Netflix site and my account for the streaming service is also the account for that, so I’m still calling it Netflix.

Anyway, this was how we used to regularly watch recently released movies, not to mention whole TV series.  We could burn through a whole season of 24 muy pronto thanks to chapter setup.  An episode was barely past 40 minutes sans commercials to start with, and when you could chapter skip past “previously on 24…” and the end credits, the whole thing dropped under 30 minutes.  You could get stuck into the hilarity of that show pretty quickly.

My brother-in-law, whose motivations in life beyond living and dying with the Green Bay Packers every NFL season remain a mystery to me, decided to give my wife a $30 gift card to Netflix for Christmas.

It seemed odd.  I mean, we subscribe to the streaming service, so it wouldn’t go to waste or anything, but I just wonder how that sprang to mind.

So in the post-Holiday clean-up I ended up with the gift card sitting on my desk, so I went to Netflix and decided to use it to reactivate the physical disk service.  Going for the two-disks-at-a-time option (I guess three is no longer an option) and Blu-Ray it looked like $30 would cover two months of service.

But I got a third month free.  It has been so long since we had disk delivery that I was eligible for 30 days free.  My old, overloaded queue was gone.  That was probably a good thing however.  So I went to the New Releases section and loaded up on new releases and Netflix started sending disks our way.

One of the good things about Netflix is that we’re very close to one of their distribution centers… and the HQ, which I pass every day… so if I drop a disk return in the mail on Monday we have the replacement on Wednesday.

So we will be on a recent movie binge for a while.  The first on the list was Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which was visually stunning… I wish we had seen it on the big screen… but the characters were dull, the acting flat, and the plot uninspired, so it really only had graphics and Luc Besson weirdness going for it.  Worth a watch for the latter alone if you’re into it, but it was no Fifth Element.

We will see how long our dalliance with physical Netflix lasts.  I have fond memories of new disks in the mail and quick turn around and all that.  But I also know that from time to time our house would become a remote disk storage facility when we other things kept us from sitting down to watch the items we had waiting.  If it goes well I will be tempted to turn off HBO in favor of disks, if only because the final installment of Game of Thrones is now out in 2019.

Next up is War for the Planet of the Apes and the first season of the Starz series Outlander… so I guess it isn’t all movies.

Also, since we’re on about Netflix, we also watched Bright.  I liked it. But I was also a big fan of Alien Nation back in the day, and it had enough of that vibe to hook me.  I was certainly fine with the “screw any back story, just take it as is and run with it!” plan.  I like to figure things out as we go along and don’t need to be spoon fed everything, so appreciated that aspect of it.  However, I seem to be in a minority on that front.  The reviews are bad, often citing missing details, but Netflix has re-upped for a sequel.  I’m not sure it was that good, but Netflix needs content.

The Great Star Wars Saga Viewing Order Question

The Star Wars saga, remastered (again) and pressed onto Blu-Ray, is coming out this Friday, September 16th.

Must have!

Naturally, I have it on pre-order and Amazon.com promises that I will have it on Friday.  So you can guess what is part of the plan for this coming weekend.

Yes, I know George Lucas couldn’t resist pissing on our memories yet again.  The man who said, “People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians” cannot help but play the barbarian repeatedly himself.  Maybe I missed a footnote with an auteur exception somewhere.

But I am a sucker.  This is the Blu-Ray version.  And who knows how much he’ll change the next time around.  Howard the Duck will probably end up as one of the bounty hunters in the next version. (As somebody wryly asked, why doesn’t he mess with that movie?  It sure as hell needs more tinkering than Star Wars does.)

Plus look at all the extras it has!  The first six discs are the movies, then there are three more discs of additional material.

Disc Seven – NEW! Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III

  • Including: deleted, extended and alternate scenes; prop, maquette and costume turnarounds; concept art; supplementary interviews with cast and crew; a flythrough of the Lucasfilm Archives and more

Disc Eight – NEW! Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI

  • Including: deleted, extended and alternate scenes; prop, maquette and costume turnarounds; matte paintings and concept art; supplementary interviews with cast and crew; and more

Disc Nine – The Star Wars Documentaries

  • NEW! Star Warriors (2007, Color, Apx. 84 Minutes) – Some Star Wars fans want to collect action figures…these fans want to be action figures! A tribute to the 501st Legion, a global organization of Star Wars costume enthusiasts, this insightful documentary shows how the super-fan club promotes interest in the films through charity and volunteer work at fundraisers and high-profile special events around the world.
  • NEW! A Conversation with the Masters: The Empire Strikes Back 30 Years Later (2010, Color, Apx. 25 Minutes) – George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Lawrence Kasdan and John Williams look back on the making of The Empire Strikes Back in this in-depth retrospective from Lucasfilm created to help commemorate the 30th anniversary of the movie. The masters discuss and reminisce about one of the most beloved films of all time.
  • NEW! Star Wars Spoofs (2011, Color, Apx. 91 Minutes) – The farce is strong with this one! Enjoy a hilarious collection of Star Wars spoofs and parodies that have been created over the years, including outrageous clips from Family Guy, The Simpsons, How I Met Your Mother and more — and don’t miss “Weird Al” Yankovic’s one-of-a-kind music video tribute to The Phantom Menace!
  • The Making of Star Wars (1977, Color, Apx. 49 Minutes) – Learn the incredible behind-the-scenes story of how the original Star Wars movie was brought to the big screen in this fascinating documentary hosted by C-3PO and R2-D2. Includes interviews with George Lucas and appearances by Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.
  • The Empire Strikes Back: SPFX (1980, Color, Apx. 48 Minutes) – Learn the secrets of making movies in a galaxy far, far away. Hosted by Mark Hamill, this revealing documentary offers behind-the-scenes glimpses into the amazing special effects that transformed George Lucas’ vision for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back into reality!
  • Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi (1983, Color, Apx. 48 Minutes) – Go behind the scenes — and into the costumes — as production footage from Return of the Jedi is interspersed with vintage monster movie clips in this in-depth exploration of the painstaking techniques utilized by George Lucas to create the classic creatures and characters seen in the film. Hosted and narrated by Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams.
  • Anatomy of a Dewback (1997, Color, Apx. 26 Minutes) – See how some of the special effects in Star Wars became even more special two decades later! George Lucas explains and demonstrates how his team transformed the original dewback creatures from immovable rubber puppets (in the original 1977 release) to seemingly living, breathing creatures for the Star Wars 1997 Special Edition update.
  • Star Wars Tech (2007, Color, Apx. 46 Minutes) – Exploring the technical aspects of Star Wars vehicles, weapons and gadgetry, Star Wars Tech consults leading scientists in the fields of physics, prosthetics, lasers, engineering and astronomy to examine the plausibility of Star Wars technology based on science as we know it today.

Extras! Extras! Extras!

Though I have to wonder, with George Lucas at the helm, what constitutes a deleted scene these days?  Han shooting first?

Whatever.   It is a coming to our house this weekend.

Which leads me to the first real question (since there was no question about me buying it).

In which order should this new set be viewed?  I have a few thoughts on the subject, each with a different driving emotion.

Logic – Pure logic says that episode order is correct.  But then you hit that episode IV drop in production values and acting skill.  I’m sorry, but there is a reason that Harrison Ford had a huge post-Star Wars movie career while Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher did not.  Plus that order pretty much ruins any surprises in the second half of the series, not to mention the distinct possibility of Jar-Jar binks provoking violent reactions.

Nostalgia – Nostalgia says that the release order is really the way see the series.  That is the way you would show it to somebody who had never seen the films before.  Episodes III pretty much spoils episodes IV and V after all.  But I am always somebody who likes to get the hard part out of the way first, so maybe it is better to bite the midichlorian bullet first.  Besides which, I hate Ewoks so much, I might throw something at the TV, ending the showing half way through.

Practicality – Practicality says that watching episodes IV and V is enough and then we should start in on the extras, thus avoiding both Jar-Jar and Ewoks.  Except that is something of a waste.  I bought all six movies.  Plus I like episode II and have to salute anybody having the balls to take on making episode III.  How do you make a movie even watchable when everybody knows both where it starts and how the whole thing has to end. We all went into episode III with a huge mental checklist of exactly what had to happen.  It was an impossible task.  Plus I must admit I cheered when Darth Vader took his first rasping breath in his new suit.

Fluff!!! – Given three discs of extras, I could probably spend my time just immersed in that without watching any of the movies.

So I figure it is time for a poll.

Feel free to suggest your own ordering or selection or to take issue with any or all of my above assertions in the comments.  Grousing about George Lucas, Darth Maul, Jar-Jar Binks, Ewoks, midichlorians, or any other aspect of the series is also welcome.

You’re among friends and we all have to get through this together.