Monday, August 18, 2014

Movie Review: THE FINAL COUNTDOWN



THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

1980, Blue Underground, DD-5.1 & 2.0/DTS 6.1 ES/MA/16:9/LB/ST/CC/+, $29.95, 102m 27s, DVD-0

By John Charles

Originally published in Video Watchdog #111

While on manoeuvres in the Pacific, the nuclear carrier U.S.S. Nimitz encounters an inexplicable phenomenon that somehow transports the ship back to December 6th, 1941. With the Japanese fleet on its way to attack Pearl Harbor, the Nimitz's captain (Kirk Douglas) has a crucial decision to make. With his superior firepower, he could easily destroy the enemy forces and prevent the catastrophe. However, could this have an adverse effect on both the outcome of the war and the future? It is a terrific premise filled with all sorts of intriguing possibilities but, alas, David Ambrose & Gerry Davis' screenplay fails to follow through on most of them. Worst of all, the ending is an annoying cop out. Up until that point, however, this is a very watchable endeavour, thanks primarily to a rousing score by John Scott, excellent aerial photography, and well-integrated footage of the ship's operations (particularly the F-14s landing and taking off from the deck). Martin Sheen, James Farentino, Katharine Ross, Charles Durning, and Ron O'Neal also appear.

Blue Underground's 2 disc special edition of THE FINAL COUNTDOWN (which comes with a terrific lenticular cover) is limited to 100,000 units. Although this is not the kind of title they are known for, the company has given the project their usual level of care. The THX approved 2.35:1 High Definition transfer looks very good, with nice hues and detail. Stock shots are still easy to pick out but the presentation represents a substantial improvement over previous editions. Like many B.U. releases, there are multiple audio options; we monitored the 5.1 re-mix and, considering the dated audio elements, it offered a very satisfying track with great use of the rear channels during the aircraft sequences (optional subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish). Blue Underground's David Gregory and cinematographer Victor J. Kemper discuss the project on a fairly dry commentary that predictably leans toward the technical but does cover most of the relevant topics (including much info about the day-to-day workings of the Nimitz). The film was released theatrically by United Artists and that company's mediocre theatrical trailers and TV spots are also included.

More than a few viewers were probably surprised to see Lloyd Kaufman's name listed in the film's credits as associate producer and unit production manager, and how this came to be is covered in a 14m featurette that opens disc 2. "Lloyd Kaufman Goes Hollywood" finds the Troma commandant in familiar form, using the opportunity to once again complain about mainstream Hollywood, while crediting Kirk Douglas and his son, Peter (who produced) with saving the movie from being a disaster. As per his reputation, Kaufman (who also appears briefly in the movie as a crewman) pulls no punches when expressing his opinion of some personnel (particularly director Don Taylor) and throws around a few four letter words in the process (this is the first featurette we have seen to open with a language warning!). "Starring the Jolly Rogers" spends 31m with some of the pilots (now retired) who worked on the film. The men discuss the history of their squadron, as well as what their daily routine was like. Anecdotes about the production include the difficulties involved in presenting the F-14 fighters and the much slower Japanese Zeros onscreen at the same time. The interviewees are very enthusiastic and articulate, making the fast-moving piece the most pleasing extra of the set. Also included are large galleries devoted to posters stills, and video covers (including Vestron's CED disc!), behind-the-scenes shots and the Nimitz herself, the domestic pressbook, a Kirk Douglas bio, and (as a DVD-ROM feature) a brief journal by one the Zero pilots who worked on the picture.

For those who just want the movie, single disc widescreen and pan & scan versions are also available for $19.95 each.


[Blue Underground also now offers this on Blu-ray]
 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Movie Reviews: THE DARK POWER/ALIEN OUTLAW





THE DARK POWER
1985, VCI Entertainment, DD-2.0/MA/16:9/LB/+, $14.99, 81m 20s, DVD-0

ALIEN OUTLAW
1986, VCI Entertainment, DD-2.0/MA/16:9/LB/+, $14.99, 90m 45s, DVD-0

By John Charles

Originally published in Video Watchdog #120

Lensed in North Carolina, these low-budget productions are wanting in every department but also possess a disarming regional charm that makes the hokey material and variable execution more enjoyable than you would expect. They also benefit from the presence of B-Western legend Lash LaRue, stepping in front of the camera for the first time in almost 30 years. In THE DARK POWER, a group of coeds discover that their lovely new accommodations just happen to reside on the ground where some Toltec sorcerers had themselves buried alive several centuries earlier. The four rise from the earth on the occasion of “The Evil Days” and it is up to Ranger Girard (LaRue) and his magic whip to put an end to them (“Alright you demonic bastard, let’s take this outside”). After a reasonably serious build-up, writer/producer/editor Phil Smoot switches gears and goes for laughs once his zombie-like heavies have risen. He does not really succeed, but there are some enthusiastic gore FX (courtesy of Dean Jones, who also appears in the film and gets to rip his own head apart) and the showstopping sight of LaRue literally whipping one of the creatures to pieces.

The Don Dahler listed in the credits of THE DARK POWER is not Baltimore-based filmmaker Don Dohler, but ALIEN OUTLAW plays like a cross between one of his alien invasion pictures and an Earl Owensby backwoods actioner. Known to fair-going folk as “The Annie Oakley of the ‘80s,” Jesse Jamison (Kari Anderson, who resembles a young Mary Woronov and struts through much of the movie in a fringed miniskirt) is about to move up in the world thanks to new, high-class representation. Meanwhile, a trio of alien hunters with an affinity for Earth firearms and senseless violence are gunning down the local population (who suspect Bigfoot to be the culprit!). One of Jesse’s assistants is among the victims, prompting her to send these ornery varmints from beyond packing.

The previous picture was only one step above being a backyard production, but ALIEN OUTLAW boasts a reasonable variety of locations and some early computer animation to depict the beings’ saucer. As with its companion feature, the acting is quite bad (with the sole exception of Paul Holman as the requisite Junior Samples-style comic relief in overalls), LaRue is wasted in little more than a character part, and an implied rape scene is completely out of step with the light tone Smoot aims for in the rest of the picture. That said, the concept is enjoyable (and predates PREDATOR in some respects) and Marcus Kearns’ incredibly cheesy but enervating score provides perfect accompaniment for the small-scale mayhem. Fellow veterans Sunset Carson and Wild Bill Cody also appear briefly.

THE DARK POWER was given a low-profile tape release by Magnum Entertainment in the ‘80s, while ALIEN OUTLAW makes its video debut here. Both films were shot on 16mm (an interpositive was used for the transfer of the former film and a regular print for the latter) and are quite soft in spots, but grain is always under control and the anamorphic 1.66:1 presentations look and sound good for regional productions in this price range (a fullscreen transfer is also included for OUTLAW). Writer/co-producer/director Phil Smoot and editor Sherwood Jones provide commentaries for both pictures, sharing anecdotes and often overpraising the accomplishments of various actors and technicians. Smoot also relates memories of Lash LaRue in an 18m supplement included with POWER, while OUTLAW features interview segments with Carson, LaRue, and Anderson, along with news conference and behind-the-scenes video footage, and a trailer for POWER.