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Having a Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Coronavirus Comfort Food

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, June 14, 2020 03:40pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi.

When you work at Amoeba, the world is your media oyster. A copy of pretty much any new DVD, Blu-ray, or CD shows up used within the first couple of weeks of its release. Employees are allowed to use Amoeba as kind of a library for used stuff. On an average week at work I watch anywhere from five to ten new release movies. Some are movies made that year, others reissues of films from decades past. It makes it really easy to write a new release column like this. Well, that spigot shut off three months ago along with the rest of human civilization. Sure, I’ve got a huge movie collection and have had no problems keeping myself entertained during the shutdown, but new releases? Well, I’ve bought one new Blu-ray since the shutdown. The supply lines are jacked. Titles have been delayed. The prices for them are expensive even on discounted sites like Amazon. I only have a couple of new releases left to review. So this column is less of an overview of things that came out this month and more a review of the last things I bought from Amoeba before the world collapsed. They were good movies for this time because all of them are FUN. They’re coronavirus comfort food and they helped get me through these dark times.

The Return of Ultraman, Mill Creek Entertainment:
I bought this the week before the shutdown. I wasn’t going to review this because I’ve already devoted a Return of Ultramanlot of ink to these Ultraman releases in previous columns but as I said earlier, the slush pile is pretty much gone these days. Mill Creek Entertainment’s official Blu-ray releases of Ultraman are some of my favorite releases of all time. I’ve bought this stuff on horrible overpriced bootlegs for decades and am overjoyed that I can throw all those old copies away. Some of those bootlegs didn’t even have subtitles but I watched them anyway. These Mill Creek Blu-rays are the official prints direct from the Toho and Tsuburaya vaults. They are gorgeous and the sound is great. I’ve watched these shows over and over and have been utterly entranced watching them because they are so sharp it is like watching each episode for the first time. Plus, since they are subtitled, I’m frequently actually understanding what is going on for the first time. Usually in the past when I reviewed a big TV box set like this, I had watched anywhere from six to eight hours of the set by the time I wrote the review. Well, I’ve actually watched all twenty-one and a half hours of this set as I’m writing this. It’s one of the things that’s been instrumental in helping me psychologically survive the past three months.

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Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Mothra & Space 1999

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, August 31, 2019 05:50pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi.

Welcome to this month's Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi where I review recent Blu-ray releases. This month we travel from the island of Japan to the depths of the universe.

Mothra, Mill Creek:
When a new hundred million dollar Godzilla reboot to hit the theaters I just assumed we'd be treated to aMothra flood of classic kaiju reissues on Blu-ray, but instead it looks like we only got this. And I'm not knocking this release. Mothra is a great movie and Mill Creek did a fantastic job on this, I just figured there would be more classic Japanese monster movie releases to coattail on the marketing for the new film. All is not lost though. It looks like Mill Creek has signed a deal with Toho and they have more releases to come. On October 15th they will release two classic kaiju Blu-ray sets: Ultraman and Ultra Q. Both of these sets are motherloads of Japanese monster movie goodness and will be the first time North America has ever seen Toho's official remastered hi-def prints of these shows. If they look as good as this new Mothra release, we are in for quite a treat.

This reasonably priced steel book edition of the film comes with both the US and original Japanese versions of the movie as well as some nice extras. This is easily the best print of Mothra that has ever been released and, while it is not flawless, the majority of the film looks gorgeous. Certain scenes like the one in the cave when Mothra's egg hatches have been cleaned up to the point where they reveal all kinds of details you could never see before. The cave is filled with mutated plants and animals that were little more than blurry shapes in the old editions. Sometimes the remastering is so good it leads to unintended effects. Now you can see better than ever before that all the special effects in the film were made with models and puppets, but the models and puppets are totally cool and amazing. Toho created many of their special effects by stacking up multiple layers of film and the new remaster sometimes exposes every scratch and piece of dust on each of these layers of film. But these are pretty minor quibbles. The bottom line is that Mothra has never looked or sounded better.

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Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi: Jonny Quest & Aliens on Spring Break

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, July 30, 2019 01:02pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month's Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi where I review recent Blu-ray releases.

Jonny Quest, The Complete Original Series, Warner Archive:
In my opinion this is the best Saturday morning cartoon ever made and the greatest achievement of Johnny QuestHanna-Barbera Productions. I can already hear the angry cries of the naysayers: "But The Flintstones! The Jetsons!" I'm not belittling either of those shows, they are iconic entries in the history of cartoons and basically set the standard for funny cartoons. But Jonny Quest has levels of sophistication that neither of them has and was literally developed to be better than those two shows. Hanna-Barbera created Jonny Quest to deal with their own success. In the early to mid-1960s, The Flintstones and The Jetsons ruled the Saturday morning airwaves to the point where within a year or two every other competing cartoon show was drawn to look as near as possible to them. Hanna-Barbera basically flooded their own market and needed to come up with something stunningly new and different to stand out from the flooded marketplace that they themselves had created. So they turned away from the omnipresent humor shows and made an action/adventure series instead.

To spearhead this effort, they brought in the incredibly multi-talented Doug Wildey, an illustrator who had long worked in the comic book industry. Wildey truly understood the action/adventure genre and brought with him a bunch of his gifted comic artist friends to work on the Jonny Quest project. The end result is arguably the best action/adventure kid show ever made. Jonny Quest just fires on all levels: the artwork, the stories, the theme music, the voice actors, the designs...this show had it all and set the standard by which future cartoons would be measured by. The series told the story of a boy named Jonny Quest who had adventures with his government research scientist father, Doctor Benton Quest. Race Bannon was a secret agent assigned to be their bodyguard but ended up basically being a family member. In the course of their travels they adopt an orphaned Indian boy named Hadji. This was a real boys' club show; there was no mother or any women in the central cast, which has often caused me to comment that Jonny Quest was the first show about gay parenting.

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Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Kung Fu Vampires & Medieval Christians

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, June 18, 2019 01:25pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi where I review recent Blu-ray releases. This month I review a crazy cult vampire kung fu zombie movie and a cinematic masterpiece about a Christian painter in the Middle Ages.

The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires, Shout Factory/Scream Factory:
This was the only time that the mighty Hammer Studios teamed up with the Shaw Brothers, but they should have made a habit of it. This delirious kung fu vampire zombie film is one of the most entertaining movies either studio produced. It kind of combines what both studios did best. On the Hammer side, you have actors like Peter Cushing playing distinguished aristocrats and the studio's beautiful gothic neon technicolor cinematography. On the Shaw Brothers side of things, you have hideous monsters, surreal flourishes in the story and images, and some of the best kung fu fighting you'll ever see. When you mix them together it's like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of pure horror movie fun. The film starts with a Chinese villain traveling to Transylvania to enlist Count Dracula's help in reincarnating the legendary seven golden vampires in his homeland. Dracula instead steals his identity and travels himself to China to become the new ruler of these vampires of the far east. Meanwhile, Doctor Van Helsing (played by Peter Cushing) is giving a lecture tour in China, trying to warn the country's scientists of the vampire scourge. He tells them that he has heard legends of a town terrorized by a group of seven vampires. He's pretty much laughed off the stage by everyone except for one man who knows the doctor is telling the truth. The man's name is Hsi Ching and he's from the town the seven golden vampires have recently returned to. He and his seven brothers enlist the aid of Van Helsing, and, with the help of a traveling dilettante heiress who underwrites the expedition, they all take off to defeat the monsters. What follows is a series of adventures that plays like an Indiana Jones movie infested with vampires and zombies. The film is filled with action scenes that are like a form of kung fu ballet. The vampires have a literal army of zombies and the fight scenes are non-stop.

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Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Melies, Moles & Mantises

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, May 22, 2019 07:58pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi where I review recent Blu-ray releases.

Melies Fairy Tales In Color, Blackhawk Films/Flicker Alley:
I was less than halfway through my first viewing of this when I realized it was one of my favorite things I own. Many of these films have been released many times before. I already own a couple of restored Georges Melies collections and they look good, but they don't look anything like this. To begin with, my old collections are in black & white, but this new set is in COLOR! These weren't colorized by Ted Turner, no, each and every frame of these films was hand painted. Melies was a genius who just couldn't accept the shortcomings of technology. Sure, film had just been invented and was only silent and black & white, but Melies wasn't about to let those basic facts hold him back. So he had every frame of his movies painted with gorgeous color that reminds one of the French postcards that were contemporaneous to Melies' films. The director had fantastic images he wanted to show so he developed a variety of special effects to show them. Double exposures, substitution splices, time-lapse photography... Melies developed and did whatever it took to make his visions real and the results are just as jaw dropping now as they were a hundred and twenty years ago.

The films are surreal, complex, and fantastic, they create a unique world of magic and wonder. This set is worth it just for the restored version of A Trip To The Moon alone. Melies' loose and fanciful adaptation of Jules Verne's classic novel has long been considered one of the cornerstones of cinema. I've seen the film many times before but this new color version is like seeing it for the first time. The hand-painted frames make the fantastic lunar world even more stunning and psychedelic. But A Trip To The Moon is just one of thirteen films on this set, and others like The Kingdom Of The Fairies and The Impossible Voyage are equally surreal and amazing. There are scenes on this disc that you will find yourself watching over and over because the images are just so timeless and cool. The person who painted Melies' sets is one of the best painters I've ever seen. I kept freeze-framing the films just to stop and soak up the amazing details of his painted backdrops. Labyrinthine cities, dense tangled forests, haunted medieval towns -- his details were just spectacular. The hand-painted colors add another whole dimension to the films. Often they are more than just coloring and actually react to the action occurring on screen. Melies had an influence on every artist who came after him. At times, artists like Salvador Dali, Walt Disney, and Terry Gilliam just seem to be copying him. His influence on the surrealists especially is incalculable, but elements of his work exist throughout pop culture. Some of the most timeless images in film history are in this set. It belongs in every person's collection.

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