Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Iron Eagle" (1986)

"Iron Eagle" (1986)
Starring Louis Gossett Jr., Jason Gedrick and David Suchet
Written by Kevin Elders and Sidney J. Furie
Directed by Sidney J. Furie

Y'know, there's something about 80s movies...  A sort of vaguely undefinable sense of fantasy that doesn't really exist in any other decade, and certainly not today.  No, today we like our heroes to be flawed and our villains multi-faceted.  But in the 80s, there was not only a simplicity, but a sort of brightly colored, candy coated fantasy to the adventures on screen.  This is readily apparent in "Iron Eagle," a film with such a ludicrous premise that only the 80s could have conjured it:

Air Force Colonel Ted Masters is shot down over some fictional Middle Eastern country, his teenage son Doug (Jason Gedrick) hatches a plan to steal a pair of US military fighter planes and stage a daring rescue.  Let's just let that sink in for a moment - his teenage son hatches a plan to steal US military fighter planes and stage a daring rescue.  Can you imagine any movie getting a green light with that premise in this day?  He manages to talk his friends into stealing vital military secrets from the local air base, and a reserve colonel (Louis Gossett Jr) into flying as his wingman!

Not only is this completely unbelievable as the premise of a movie, the fact that they all manage to pull it off without spending the rest of their lives in prison or causing some kind of major international incident is even worse.  And yet... it's kind of awesome.  Sure, "Iron Eagle" comes off mostly as a teenage fantasy version of "Top Gun," and a borderline cheap one at that.  But still, there's a gung-ho quality to it that's hard to ignore.  That candy 80s fantasy is grabbing, the product of an era that's far gone to filmgoers today. 

But looking at it objectively, "Iron Eagle" isn't a particularly good film.  Aside from Gossett, not a single one of the actors in this movie is worth a damn.  The villains all talk with stilted, vaguely Russian accents, and the teenagers are all pretty lame in general.  I can't recall a single one of their names, I can really only remember the stereotypical roles they play - the nerdy one with the glasses can hack into military computers, the black kid can set off firecrackers, the smarmy one can smooth-talk his way into restricted areas, the girls can charm people, etc. 

Even Gossett doesn't escape unfazed.  The planning montage wherein he dances while going over important intelligence documents is a laughably bad attempt at making the character "quirky."  Gedrick in the lead gives a downright terrible performance.  His line readings are all off, as though he's either barely remembering the script or hell, maybe he was even reading off cue cards.  Who knows.  It still sucks.

The action sequences aren't quite as cool as "Top Gun."  A lot of shots are done with model effects, and they look little better than the UFOs dangling on strings from old black and white sci-fi B-movies.  It's the footage of real planes that looks better, here, and they should have tried to work in some more of that, perhaps, than to waste time and money on the same model shots of wobbly fighter models over and over again.

But somehow these faults just add to the charm of the movie, heightening the fantasy.  Sure, you can jab it for all the bad technical errors, too (no way an F-16 can fire a missile while on the ground) but why would you want to when the rest of the movie is so ludicrous?  This is definitely one of those movies you pop in and think, "Man, remember the 80s?"  Then you smile.

"Battlestar Galactica" (2003) Season Three [blu-ray]

"Battlestar Galactica" (2003) Season Three [blu-ray]
Starring Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff
Developed by Ronald D. Moore and David Eick

Season Three begins with humanity at its lowest point yet, with thousands trapped on the surface of New Caprica under the oppressive heel of the Cylon occupation.  It's been months since anyone's heard from the Battlestars Galactica and Pegasus, along with half their civilian fleet.  A resistance has sprung up on New Caprica, led by Colonel Tigh and Chief Tyrol, but their methods grow more desperate every day.  Kara Thrace is held captive in a Cylon compound, and believed dead by her friends.  President Gaius Baltar is a puppet, signing executive orders for the Cylons with a gun to his head. 

The opening story arc of Season Three is intense, and ballsy.  With the human resistance employing suicide bombings, and referred to as "the insurgency," it's easy to see the parallels being drawn here.  But this has been a staple of the show from the beginning - to do challenging, dramatic stories that reflect current events and important themes.  And showing the people who are supposed to be the heroes of the story resorting to suicide bombings, well, that's certainly challenging.  It's easy for us to look at the news, to be revolted by these things.  But what happens when we're supposed to be rooting for the people who are doing it?

Season Three goes to some terrible places in terms of what it does to its characters.  The writers drag these people through the muck harder and dirtier than they ever have before, but it makes the show bigger, and bolder and more daring each time.  The ideas of prophecy and destiny are ratcheted up even more, and justice becomes more of a central theme as well. 

Like Season Two before it, Season Three stumbles a bit when it presents a series of standalone episodes late in the game.  These episodes just don't seem to fit, and you watch them wondering when the storylines you care about are going to come back and move forward.  Thankfully, there are only a handful of these episodes.

The final few episodes of the season are just as ballsy as the opening episodes, but in a different way.  Few shows have the guts to stage a big season finale as a courtroom drama episode, fewer are able to pull it off.  And once again the producers throw something into the final moments that will have you salivating for Season Four. 

Image quality on the blu-ray disc is stellar, as before.  Even with all the intentional grain, "Battlestar Galactica" looks great.  There are tons of scenes with excellent clarity and depth and color.  Sound quality, as before, is also excellent.  Lots of deep bass.  The battle sequence that takes up the majority of the season's fourth episode, "Exodus," is a fantastic workout for your surround system.  Crank it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Spartacus: Blood and Sand" Season One [Starz]

"Spartacus: Blood and Sand"
Starring Andy Whitfield, Lucy Lawless and John Hannah
Created by Steven S. DeKnight

For a show that begins each episode with a warning about historical accuracy, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" is actually quite a stylized show.  Shot with lots of green screens to blow out artsy backgrounds and slow motion and tons and tons of computer-generated blood-sprays and transitions, "Spartacus" feels much like watching weekly installments of the movie "300."  Even the music is stylistically similar.

But where "300" focuses mostly on simplistic plot progression in the form of escalating battle sequences, "Spartacus" throws a curve ball into all the style by actually introducing some intelligent plotting and characterization behind all the mayhem.

"Spartacus" (Andy Whitfield) is a Thracian soldier, who leads his own soldiers, allied with the Romans to defend his home.  But when the Roman army commander abandons the fight in order to gain political favor, Spartacus mutinies.  His men and his people are slaughtered, he is arrested and his wife is sold into slavery.  Sentenced to death, Spartacus finds himself in the gladiatorial arena.  But when he's able to defeat his executioners in combat, he catches the eye of Batiatus (John Hannah), a competitive slave owner in Capua.

Spartacus finds himself training at Batiatus' homestead, under the tutelage of Doctore (Peter Mensah, also of "300") and serving the needs and whims of Batiatus' vengeful wife, Lucretia (Lucy Lawless).  He finds allies and enemies among the other gladiators, including Crixus (Manu Bennett) the Champion of Capua.  After Crixus is bested in combat, Spartacus becomes champion, and discovers his wife is now dead.  Batiatus offers him a new reason to live: revenge.  But Spartacus' idea of revenge is quite different from Batiatus', especially when he learns who is ultimately responsible for her death.

It's hard to describe "Spartacus" because the plotting becomes rather twisty and complex.  There's a lot of political machinations in this show ostensibly about slaves beating the crap out of each other.  Batiatus and Lucretia prove themselves to be shifty, wily opponents for Spartacus, and taking them on and gaining freedom is not a task for the weak or the weak-minded.  The twists and turns and shifting alliances of the plot are often surprising, and well-played by an able cast.  The characters are well-defined, and no one is safe.  Characters you never expect to die will do so before the end of this season, and the finale is a game-changer in every way.

The season is not without fault.  It starts off slowly, to be sure.  The first few episodes feature a ton of violence and sex and not much in the way of the intricate plotting or character work that will follow. Whether this is meant to attempt to grab our attention as an audience with shock value and titillation, I'm not sure.  Luckily, I stuck with it, because the show improves considerably by the fifth episode or so.  By the time the season ended, I would gladly have moved directly into season two.  

The dialogue is a bit rough, too.  Swears and curses are sprinkled QUITE liberally throughout, with not a character in the mix not uttering words like "cock" or "fuck" multiple times.  It can be distracting at times, as though the writers were determined to be as dirty as possible in every way when making the show.  It's a good thing they decided plot was just as important, or "Spartacus" would have been an empty, dull experience like its pilot.  Once the show gains its focus, though, the violence becomes more a scalpal than a blunt sword, and the show uses it to great effect.  Sex, too.  There's plenty of it, but after the first couple episodes, rarely feels quite as gratuitous. 

"Spartacus" is a fun show.  Is it the greatest piece of TV art ever created?  No.  But it's characters are compelling and its storylines twisty and enjoyable.  And at the end of the day, that counts for a lot.  You should watch this one.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Battlestar Galactica" (2003) Season Two [blu-ray]

"Battlestar Galactica" (2003) Season Two [blu-ray]
Starring Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell and Katee Sackhoff
Developed by Ronald D. Moore and David Eick

As we pick up with the ragtag human survivor fleet, things are looking dire.  A Raptor mission is trapped on the surface of the ancient world of Kobol, with Cylon forces combing over it.  Commander Adama has been brutally shot in the chest by the traitorous Cylon sleeper agent Sharon "Boomer" Valerii.  Starbuck has gone AWOL back to Caprica to find the Arrow of Apollo, and stolen an important piece of technology to do it.

The season starts out right at the moment Season One ended and doesn't stop to catch its breath until nearly midway through.  The storylines get more complex, relationships more complicated, action sequences bigger and more beautiful.  The drama is ratcheted up on all counts, with political intrigue and the battle between rights and security begin to take a more prominent role in the story.  Episodes in Season Two explore crime and punishment, mutiny, freedom of the press and abortion, all in the guise of a space-bound military drama with excellent performances and epic action sequences.

The cast is expanded with a number of important new characters, such as Sam Anders, former professional ball player now leader of the human resistance on Caprica; Tori, political adviser to President Roslin; and D'Anna Biers (Lucy Lawless) and Brother Cavill (Dean Stockwell), two new Cylon models who play big roles in the progression of the story.  These characters are fascinating, and in the case of Lawless and Stockwell, exceptionally well-played.  Lawless gets to use her native accent, and we find that she's much more attractive now than she was back in her "Xena" days.  Stockwell, as always, is a joy to watch and can deliver sarcastic dialogue with few equals.

Season Two extends its length to twenty episodes (twenty-one if you include the extended, alternate version of "Pegasus" included on this blu-ray set) and as a result, isn't quite as tight in the storytelling department as Season One.  After running headlong through the lengthy Kobol storyline, the show stumbles a little with a handful of standalone episodes that just don't gel as well as they should.  "Black Market" for example, while interesting in its premise, is somewhat messy and dull.  "Sacrifice," as well, featuring Dana Delaney as a woman who takes a number of hostages, including Ellen Tigh and Apollo, to get revenge for her husband's death.  There's also the problem of the ridiculous succession of commanders for the Battlestar Pegasus, but that's dealt with quickly enough, even if it is a little absurd.

Still, though the show stumbles a little in these episodes, the rest of it is pure gold.  The show is still dramatic, well-acted and highly entertaining.  The shocking events of "Pegasus" and "Resurrection Ship" to the jaw-dropping final moments of the season finale "Lay Down Your Burdens" are absolutely worth watching a few lesser episodes that set them up.  The Season Two finale is a game-changer in every way, with the status quo of the show radically upended in a move that's just pure, ballsy storytelling.  The ramifications of these last few moments will play out through the rest of the show's entire run, changing character dynamics and storylines forever.  It's simply not to be missed.

The presentation on the blu-ray is a step up from Season One.  Though still artistically loaded with artificial grain, everything looks much sharper overall.  Colors are bold, and the CG special effects (kicked up a whole shit-ton of notches - the battle in "Resurrection Ship" is one of the finest examples I've ever seen, on TV or anywhere else) look fantastic.  Textures pop, from skin to clothing to the dirty sets and props, "Battlestar Galactica" looks excellent in high-definition.

Sound is just as good.  Bear McCreary's excellent musical scores are well-represented.  Though dialogue can sometimes get lost in all the noise, (characters often whisper a lot, or speak with accents) for the most part it's all very clear.  Bass levels are also excellent.  Crank up the surround sound during the battle in "Resurrection Ship" or the corridor-by-corridor boarding party sequences in "Fragged" and you won't be disappointed.

"Battlestar Galactica" has a few lesser episodes in this second season, but for those minor faults, it's still an utterly fantastic show.  The finale is one of the finest episodes of television ever created, with a cliffhanger ending that's just frakkin' amazing.  Watch this show.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"In the Line of Fire" (1993)

"In the Line of Fire" (1993)
Starring Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich and Rene Russo
Written by Jeff Maguire
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen

One of these days, I'm going to have to apologize to my father.  Growing up, he tried numerous times to convince me that Clint Eastwood was worthy of his Hollywood legend status, and as my father's own favorite actor.  But my dislike of the Western genre and dismissal of the "Dirty Harry" films as dated and slow meant that my realization that Eastwood truly is one of the all-time greats would have to wait until I was ready to appreciate it.

What Eastwood lacks in range, he makes up for with pure intensity.  Though he may continually play similar characters over and over again throughout his career, from the Man With No Name to Dirty Harry or even Walt Kowalski in "Gran Torino," the man simply knows how to layer on a performance, and pour charisma directly onto the screen.  "In the Line of Fire" sees him take on the role of Frank Horrigan, an old-school Secret Service Agent who failed to protect John F. Kennedy in Dallas on that fateful day.  In the present, Horrigan is a lonely man who gets by listening to jazz and playing piano while breaking in his young, hotshot partner (Dylan McDermott).

One day, while investigating one of the hundreds or thousands of death threats against the President, Horrigan stumbles into "Booth" (John Malkovich), a genius psychopath who latches on to Horrigan and makes his attempt to assassinate the President into a game of the deadliest order.   Horrigan fights bureaucracy and his own aging body to track down Booth (who taunts him relentlessly over telephone).  Horrigan also finds himself drawn closer to a fellow agent, Libby Raines (Rene Russo), who also finds herself inexplicably attracted to Horrigan despite being much younger.  Each of them is damaged, but they find solace in each other and in their commitment to "the job."

There are a number of ancillary characters, but the truth is that the only two who matter here are Horrigan and Booth, and Eastwood and Malkovich deliver in spades.  Their numerous telephone confrontations might seem dull on paper, but on screen are delivered with crackling intensity.  These two actors throw themselves into their parts, and the result is electrifying.  By the time their final conversation plays out, the two have learned so much about each other and become so close as to almost actually be friends (despite each man hating the other).  Throw in a few tense chase sequences, and "In the Line of Fire" becomes an almost utterly fascinating thriller. 

The problem is that aside from that relationship which is beautifully rendered, the rest of the film is somewhat cliche-ridden, and a bit hollow.  Other agents don't believe that Horrigan's claims about Booth are to be taken seriously, Libby's character is barely fleshed out as anything other than as a romantic foil for Horrigan, and I'm not even sure the President even gets a name other than his codename "Traveler". 

Wolfang Petersen directs steadily, but without a lot of the energy he brought to his more absurdly enjoyable (but intellectually thinner) "Air Force One."  The action sequences don't have quite the same pop as in that film, whether that's the fault of a lesser score (Jerry Goldsmith's work on "Air Force One" is a brassy, obvious score but still ranks as a favorite of mine) or editing (pacing in the climactic action sequence of "Air Force One" is damn-near perfect), I can't say.  Still, there's nothing wrong with "In the Line of Fire," on a technical production level - aside from the score. Frankly, I didn't like it; it was atonal and grating, and seemed entirely out of place.  It's strange to say, since it was the work of cinema master Ennio Morricone, who delivered many amazing and now iconic scores (especially "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, arguably Eastwood's most famous film role).

In the end, it's really the interplay between Eastwood and Malkovich that make "In the Line of Fire" work as well as it does.  These are two actors who give fabulous, intense performances, and Malkovich was deservingly nominated for a number of awards, including the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, for his role. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Maximum Risk" (1996)

"Maximum Risk" (1996)
Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Natasha Henstridge
Written by Larry Ferguson
Directed by Ringo Lam

It's not often that I fall asleep during a movie.  It's not often that I fall asleep during a movie twice.  It's not often that I fall asleep during a movie so many times after only a few minutes that I decide to give up on watching it.

Such is the case with "Maximum Risk," however.  I won't lie, I've got no fucking clue what happens in this movie.  At the onset, I'm capable of piecing together that Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Mikhail, a notorious gangster who dies when he's hit by a car while fleeing from the authorities.  Van Damme also plays Alain, Mikhail's twin brother - a police officer.  Alain decides to go to America for some reason to assume his brother's identity.

I imagine what follows is a series of adventures and fight sequences.  I was awake for a scene where Alain meets Mikhail's girlfriend, Alex (Natasha Henstridge) and he doesn't even bother to tell her he's not who she thinks he is when she starts throwing herself at him.  What this all has to do with any kind of plot, I'm not sure because, as I've said, I can't stay awake for this movie.

So there's that.  I give up.  On a Van Damme movie.  It sounds blasphemous, but, there it is.  

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Sherlock Holmes" (2009)

"Sherlock Holmes" (2009)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams
Written by Michael Robert Johnson and Anthony Peckham
Directed by Guy Ritchie

I'll have to admit, I'm not much of a fan of Guy Ritchie.  I enjoyed "Snatch" for its sense of fun and flashy style, less so "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and that island movie he made with his wife Madonna was just terrible.  So I was worried when everything about "Sherlock Holmes" sounded awesome except for the fact that it was to be directed by Guy Ritchie.

My fears did not come to pass.  "Sherlock Holmes" is a fun reinvention of a classic character, one that recasts the general conception of Holmes as a younger action hero.  His keen intellect is still very much apparent, however - Holmes has not been dumbed down at all, and in fact, the visual cues of his thinking process are some of the more fun and inventive parts of the movie. 

As the film opens, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) and Watson (Jude Law) are on the case to solve ritualistic murders of young women they discover is the work of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong).  They catch him before he's able to complete his next murder, and Blackwood is sentenced to death by hanging.  Three months later, it appears that Blackwood has risen from the grave, and is killing again.  As Holmes investigates a plot that seems to be more and more supernatural (a belief Holmes doesn't subscribe to), he will have to use every bit of his intellect to stop a plot that could ultimately change the world as we know it.

Robert Downey Jr is on a roll.  After cleaning himself up and making some really excellent project choices in the last few years, he's become a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.  Though a highly recognizable, A-list star, he has an uncanny ability to transform himself into a role, whether it's alcoholic billionaire superhero Tony Stark in "Iron Man" or extreme method actor Kirk Lazarus in "Tropic Thunder."  Here, his Sherlock Holmes is a very flawed genius.  While his social skills are eccentric at best, his martial arts skills match his intellect.  He is able to deliver a quick quip or a stunning analysis with equal energy and fervor.  And yet, there's a vulnerability to him, especially whenever old flame Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) shows up.

Jude Law performs nearly as well as Dr. Watson, Holmes' partner.  We're told that Watson will soon be leaving Holmes to form his own practice and marry his fiancee, but the situations continue to require Watson to take Holmes' back as the case becomes more and more dangerous.  Law and Downey have excellent chemistry together, and they really do bring a brotherly bond to the relationship between Holmes and Watson.  In fact, this relationship is easily the high point of the movie; the dialogue between the two utterly crackles, and the actors are committed to the roles and clearly having a good time playing them.

McAdams, on the other hand, is the weak link here (much like Katie Holmes in "Batman Begins").  Her character isn't particularly well-developed, and though her scenes with Downey have a certain spark, it's hard not to notice just how slight her role is.  She does well enough with it, I suppose, but there's just not much here.  The ending leaves it open to a sequel, so if Irene Adler returns to muck up Holmes' feelings again, perhaps they'll inject a bit more into her character.

"Sherlock Holmes" doesn't feel much like an origin story so much as the beginning of a story.  Holmes and Watson are already established as a famous crime-fighting team, but Holmes has yet to meet his famous nemesis, Professor Moriarty (who appears only in shadow, as a mysterious mastermind).  Hopefully when the sequel rolls around, Holmes and Moriarty can have showcase scenes together; these two intellects butting heads are a classic matchup that I'd love to see done in this new style of Holmes.

This film is a bit overlong, I was checking my watch a couple of times, but for most of its runtime, it moves at a snappy pace and is quite enjoyable.  The action sequences are fun, performances are utterly first-rate, and the dialogue is a joy. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Battlestar Galactica" (2003) Season One [blu-ray]

"Battlestar Galactica" (2003) Season One [blu-ray]
Starring Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell and Katee Sackhoff
Developed by Ronald D. Moore and David Eick

The Cylons were created by man, to make life easier on the Twelve Colonies.  They rebelled.  They evolved.  Then they returned, and slaughtered the human race.  "Battlestar Galactica" is the story of the roughly 50,000 survivors of the human race as they abandon their savaged homes in search of a mythical refuge, the legendary 13th Colony called Earth.  On the run from the Cylons, low on supplies and morale, the last remnants of humanity struggle to maintain their civilization.

They are protected by the last military vessel to survive the onslaught, the Battlestar Galactica, commanded by William Adama, who claims to know the secret location of Earth.  Among his crew are some of the best of the Colonial Fleet, including wild hotshot pilot Lt. Kara "Starbuck" Thrace, Cylon sleeper agent Sharon "Boomer" Valerii, "Hot Dog" Costanza and Lee "Apollo" Adama.  On the civilian side, the fleet is led by former secretary of education Laura Roslin, elevated to President after the rest of the government is killed in the Cylon apocalypse.  Her close advisor, Dr. Gaius Baltar, a scientific genius, hides a dangerous secret: that he was an unwitting agent of the Cylons and allowed them to get through Colonial defenses.

This disparate group of individuals must find a way to get over their incredible differences, find new resources and fend off Cylon attacks at every turn - from without and from within.  With the revelation that the Cylons now have human forms, the game opens up to all kinds of stories mirroring post-9/11 terrorist paranoia.  This is where "Galactica" excels - It is not simply a show about killer robots and space battles.  Though its action sequences can be epic and enthralling, they are not all that common.  Instead, "Galactica" manages to straddle many genres, exploring all kinds of stories from political intrigue, conspiracies, prophecy and religion, and relationships.

Storylines build from episode to episode, creating a dense tapestry of story and relationships that, I won't lie, are simply too complex to relate here.  I could talk all day about what the characters go through in just this shortened first season.  Just know that the drama is intense, the production first-rate, and the writing top-notch.  There are some hiccups, but otherwise, you'd be hard-pressed to find a finer television series anywhere.  The cliffhanger that ends the first season is a shocking, incredible moment that will have you reaching immediately for the first disc of Season Two.

Starring mostly no one you've ever seen before (save for Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell), the cast is pretty much superb.  Olmos gives a smoldering intensity to Adama, while McDonnell brings a graceful intelligence to her Laura Roslin.  The two of them have incredible chemistry together, and their scenes often crackle with great energy.  The big surprise of the cast, however, is former model Tricia Helfer as "Number Six", a gorgeous human model cylon who appears both as a number of in-the-flesh copies, and as an apparition only in Baltar's mind who guides and tests him.  Helfer displays incredible range, and displays intelligence far beyond what her leggy blonde looks might imply.   Tom Zarek, a sleazy politician/terrorist, is played by Richard Hatch, who played Apollo in the original 1978 series.  Although publicly opposed to the reimagined series at first, Hatch not only came aboard and changed his mind, but integrated himself deeply in the show's mythology and created a character fans loved to hate.

I also have to take a moment and say something about one aspect of the show that people may not expect: the music.  Scored by Bear McCreary, the musical scores for each episode of "Battlestar Galactica" are practically works of art in themselves.   Given incredible artistic freedom to explore new sounds and themes, McCreary manages to create a musical identity for "Galactica" that's just incredibly fun to listen to, and quite unique for a television production.  If you're at all interested in film scores, or just plain good music, seek out the five soundtrack albums (seasons 1-4 and "The Plan/Razor").

The included episodes are:
"Battlestar Galactica" (miniseries, parts 1 and 2)
"33" - With the Cylons attacking every 33 minutes, the human survivors fight sleep deprivation and for their lives to escape.

"Water" - Suspicions about a Cylon agent in the fleet begin to rise when Galactica's water tanks are sabotaged, and most of the fleet's drinking water is vented into space.

"Bastille Day" - While trying to secure prisoner labor to mine an ice planet for water, Apollo and several others are taken hostage by the dangerous terrorist Tom Zarek.

"Act of Contrition" - After revealing a secret about the death of Adama's son, Starbuck crashlands on a barren world after an encounter with the Cylons.

"You Can't Go Home Again" - Adama and Apollo risk the fleet to find Starbuck, stranded on a barren world and running out of air.

"Litmus" - A Cylon suicide bomber detonates himself aboard the Galactica, forcing Roslin to reveal the truth about the Cylons to the public.

"Six Degrees of Separation" - Baltar is accused of helping the Cylons destroy the Colonies.

"Flesh and Bone" - Starbuck is ordered to torture Leoben, a Cylon who claims to have planted a nuclear bomb somewhere in the fleet... and to know Starbuck's destiny regarding Earth.

"Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down" - Colonel Tigh's wife, Ellen, resurfaces, creating chaos and paranoia aboard the ship.

"The Hand of God" - Low on fuel, Adama and Starbuck plan a daring, desperate attack on a well-guarded Cylon base.

"Colonial Day" - Apollo and Starbuck attempt to thwart a plot by Tom Zarek to assassinate President Roslin.

"Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 1" - The fleet finds Kobol, the legendary birthplace of humanity, and Roslin begins to believe that she may have a destiny prophesied in the holy scriptures.

"Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 2" - Roslin convinces Starbuck to go against Adama's orders, forcing a political confrontation between the government and the military while a crashed raptor crew remains stranded on Kobol, on the run from Cylon forces.

The presentation on the blu-ray disc is quite excellent, an upgrade on the standard DVD editions in every way possible.  The new edition of the "Complete Series" set features the standard retail boxes inside of an outer slip-case instead of the more elaborate set that came out last year.  Unlike the original DVD sets, none of the seasons are split up into halves.  Seasons Two and Four, previously split into 2.0, 2.5 and 4.0 and 4.5 sets are now in Season Two and Season Four boxes.

Visually, the series looks fantastic.  While grain can be an issue, it's entirely on purpose.  The show is shot on high definition digital video, and tweaked afterward to often look gritty and dirty, which includes grain and flicker, which can vary greatly between light and heavy depending on artistic intent.  Otherwise, detail is fantastic.  Textures come alive, especially skin and costumes.  Onscreen text is much clearer and easier to read, and stray hairs become all the more obvious.  Where the visual presentation really excels, like many other blu-rays, is in the colors.  Whether its the blown-out oranges of nuked Caprica, the intense green grass of Kobol, or the inky black of space, the color on the blu-ray is incredible.  This show will never look better, and it looks pretty frakkin' amazing.

The pilot miniseries that takes up the entirety of disc one, however, doesn't fare as well.  Shot on film instead of HD video, for whatever reason it just doesn't come across as clearly.  Colors are more subdued, and detail doesn't pop quite as much.  This could lead one to think that, perhaps, the blu-ray set won't be all that great.  But things pick up considerably in the first proper episode of the series, '33' on disc two.  The opening shot, a closeup of Baltar's dirty face, shows incredible detail and clarity.  The difference between the two are clear as day during the "previously on..." segments that mix clips from the miniseries and later episodes.

On the sound side, the HD sound mixes blow the DVD sets out of the water, as well.  The percussion-heavy (and, again, utterly amazing) musical score comes through loud and clear, but never drowns out the dialogue.  Booming explosions, gunfire, shouting, ambient sound effects are all amazingly reproduced, and come at you from all angles if you've got a surround system. 

"Battlestar Galactica" is one of the best television series ever.  You can't go wrong with this blu-ray set, which presents the show in excellent high-definition video and sound, and is loaded with all the special features from the original DVD sets.  This is an upgrade in every possible way, and I can't recommend it enough.

"Battlestar Galactica" (2003) The Complete Series [blu-ray]

"Battlestar Galactica" (2003) The Complete Series [blu-ray]
Starring Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell and Katee Sackhoff
Developed by Ron Moore and David Eick
Based on "Battlestar Galactica" created by Glen A. Larson

Go ahead.  Snicker.  It's a show about killer robots in space.  Or, you could watch one of the best TV dramas ever.  Time Magazine, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Newsday, The New York Times, Television Without Pity, the list of glowing critical response for Ron Moore and David Eick's 2003 reimagining of Glen Larson's terrible 1978 sci-fi show goes on and on.

Powerful, political, dark, gritty, moving and downright incredible, "Battlestar Galactica" is more, much more, than simply killer robots in space.  Sure, you could watch the show and enjoy its lengthy, CG-laden action sequences.  But what about the crackling dialogue, cast performances, complex storylines and complicated character work?

In "Battlestar Galactica," we find the Twelve Colonies of Man, an advanced and decadent culture on an alien world.  Earlier in the century, to make their lives easier, scientists had created the Cylons, sentient worker and soldier robots.  The Cylons rebelled, and after a long and bloody war for independence, finally went off into space to discover their own destiny.  Fifty years later, they return, wreaking vengeance on their creators.

With their planets nuked into oblivion, a small, rag-tag fleet of ships manages to escape and survive.  Led by the lone surviving military vessel, the massive battlestar, Galactica, the survivors attempt to find the mythical planet Earth, hoping it will be their salvation from the vicious Cylons.  But the Cylons aren't content to let any of them go.  Now evolved to include human-looking models, the Cylons vow to track down, infiltrate and destroy the human survivors at any cost.

Over the course of four seasons and two direct-to-video movies, the story of these survivors and the Cylons in their cosmic game of cat and mouse, their search for home, family and ultimate meaning, to break the cycles of violence of society, unfolds.  Its messages are powerful, its characters memorable, its storylines inventive and complex, and its action sequences are downright epic.  It transcends the sci-fi genre, full of allegories and expertly written explorations of humanity at its best and worst.

So go ahead.  Snicker.  Laugh.  Dismiss.  And miss out.  It's your call.

"So say we all."


Season One - After the destruction of the Colonies, Commander Adama leads the survivors of humanity on the run from the Cylons.  As they're hunted across the galaxy on their search for Earth, they must contend not only with their own human problems, but with Cylon agents among them.

Season Two - Tensions among the fleet are on the rise, and the Cylons are closing in.  But the arrival of another Colonial Battlestar might herald the beginning of a new era for the survivors... or their doom.

Season Three - Has humanity found refuge from the Cylons?  As the fleet deals with fallout from the exodus from New Caprica, the road to Earth gets clearer, and the identities of the remaining Cylons will be revealed.

Season Four - As revelations about the Cylons and about Earth begin to tear the fleet apart, the conflict between humanity and the Cylons will come to its ultimate, epic climax over the shape of things to come.

"Razor" - Set late in Season Two, "Razor" tells the story of Major Kendra Shaw, executive officer of the Battlestar Pegasus.  Shaw must overcome her personal demons when Pegasus is given a vital mission to investigate the return of the old Cylon models.

"The Plan" - All will be revealed - "The Plan" details the planning and execution of the apocalypse by the Cylons, and how each of the Final Five fits into it all.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Oh, frak me...

That's right, the complete "Battlestar Galactica" on blu-ray arrived on my doorstep today.  Ron Moore and David Eick's sci-fi masterpiece in glorious (albeit dirty) high-definition.

Mammoth review(s) to follow!  Very exciting. :)

"Law Abiding Citizen" (2009)

"Law Abiding Citizen" (2009)
Starring Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx and Colm Meaney
Written by Kurt Wimmer
Directed by F. Gary Gray

One night, two men, Ames and Darby, burst into the home of Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler).  They beat and stab him and leave him for dead.  Worse, they do the same to his wife and daughter.  Shelton survives, and expects justice for his murdered family.  Instead what he gets is hot-shot attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) who accepts a plea deal from one Darby in order to save his 96% conviction rate after important evidence is ruled inadmissible. 

Ten years later, Rice attends Ames' execution, but instead of being executed, the man is murdered.  It seems someone switched the lethal injection drugs to cause a painful, agonizing death.  Soon after, Darby is kidnapped, tortured, and cut to pieces.  The search for the killer is quick: Clyde Shelton surrenders easily to the police, but this is where "Law Abiding Citizen" is just beginning.  Even incarcerated, Shelton is somehow still managing to get the justice he demands for his wife and daughter's death.  He begins with Darby's defense attorney, and quickly begins to move up the ranks against those in the justice department that see the law as more important than justice.

"Law Abiding Citizen" is a fun, entertaining couple of hours.  For a few moments it aspires to be a bit more than popcorn as Shelton attempts to impart a lesson about the value of justice over the letter of the law, but this message quickly becomes tiresome since it's delivered over and over again.  There could have been a keen dissection of this concept, or an exploration of the ideas of justice versus vengeance, but the film is far more focused on letting us marvel at Shelton's well-laid plans and technical wizardry.  How is he able to continue killing people even though he's trapped in a jail cell?  Who on the outside is helping him?

Foxx and Butler give solid performances, but neither is the best they're capable of.  Whether that's their own fault, or that of the script or the direction, who knows?  Still, there's nothing really bad here, they both comport themselves well enough, they're just not going to win any awards for this one.  As vicious and cold as Shelton may be, it's hard not to have some sympathy for him. But that's really as complex as the characters in "Law Abiding Citizen" get.  There's some basic drama with Rice's family not liking the fact that he works so much, but this isn't a deep movie and is completely plot-driven.

For the most part, "Law Abiding Citizen" is fairly predictable.  You know what's going to happen and when, since the setup is obvious.  Oh, Shelton is eating lunch with his cellmate and is hiding a knife under the table?  I wonder if he's going to stab him... Oh, Rice is watching a bunch of his friends get into their cars in the parking lot in a wide shot?  I wonder how many of those cars are about to explode.  And so on, and so forth.  This isn't a knock however, because when it happens, you're gonna like it.  There are some vicious kills, and a couple of really ingenious ones.

My roommate likened it to Liam Neeson's "Taken", but that's not quite the best comparison.  "Law Abiding Citizen" is definitely a thriller, while "Taken" is definitely a balls-out action flick.  Still, there's some similarities with all the single-minded, unstoppable-ness of the characters.  I enjoyed "Taken" a lot more than I did "Law Abiding Citizen," as that film was quick and badass while "Law Abiding Citizen" moves a bit slower, and is a bit more calculated.   But it's still a good time.  Figuring out what Shelton's going to do and who he's going to kill next is a lot of fun.

PS - I should mention that the DVD menu actually gives away the ending of the movie.  Try to hit 'play' as fast as possible on this one.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"Dirty Harry" (1971)

"Dirty Harry" (1971)
Starring Clint Eastwood, Andrew Robinson and Reni Santoni
Written by Harry and Rita Fink
Directed by Don Siegel

"I know what you're thinking: 'Did he fire six shots or only five?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I sort of lost track myself.  But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?'  Well, do ya, punk?"

A classic, iconic line delivered by an iconic character played by one of the greatest screen legends of all time.  Clint Eastwood plays Inspector "Dirty" Harry Callahan, a cop who has a tendency to disregard the rules in the pursuit of justice.  Callahan is on the trail of Scorpio, a serial killer who is demanding money to stop his random killing spree.  As the politicians and the higher-ups become frustrated with the police force's inability to crack the identity and pattern of Scorpio, Callahan is frustrated with the rules and regulations that keep him from simply taking out the crazed killer.

As the back and forth chase between the two escalates, the stakes get higher and higher both for Scorpio and for Callahan.  The setup is simple, but the twists and turns for the characters and the story are great fun to watch unfold.  The dialogue is crackling, and Harry is an engrossing presence.  When it comes down to their thrilling final confrontation, a confrontation between not chaos and order, but evil and justice, you realize you've just watched a great cop film. 

"Dirty Harry" is a signpost on the road of cinematic history, the one that would lead directly or indirectly to later greats like "Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard."  Callahan is a man with a fierce sense of justice, but not one of following the letter of the law.  To him, what's right trumps the law.  This frustrates him in his quest to bring down Scorpio as the district attorney tells him all his evidence is inadmissible.  "Dirty Harry" becomes, really, a battle of wills between two incredible foes.

Andrew Robinson is one of my favorite actors from the cast of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."  His chilling, crazy turn here as Scorpio was his first film role, and even then he shows a great talent.  He's a creepy, sick character "with the face of a choir boy."  His character evolution from merely sick to outright crazed and insane is great. 

"Dirty Harry" is a tense, entertaining cop thriller that spawned not only a franchise, but also a legacy.  The movie left its impact on action films and cop characters for decades to come.  Harry Callahan is a classic character, and here he's given a story and a villain worthy of that description.  

The presentation on the blu-ray disc is pretty solid.  It's a film from 1971, so lets face facts - it's not going to look like a modern film, no matter what kind of restoration it gets.  There's a good amount of grain on the picture, but this only helps it with the "gritty" and dark subject matter on display.  Still, detail is pretty remarkable, and there's no doubt that this disc outshines its DVD counterpart in every way.  Where the disc really shines is in the boldness of its colors.  This movie probably hasn't ever looked this good.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Milk" (2008)

"Milk" (2008)
Starring Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin
Written by Dustin Lance Black
Directed by Gus Van Sant

It's really hard to separate my own politics from "Milk."  I feel strongly about bigotry against homosexuals.  I feel there are few things more cowardly or hypocritical than hatred of the gay community.  So as I watched "Milk," I wanted to approach it from the point of view of its merits as a film - is it well written, well shot and edited?  Are its characters true?  Are its performers committed and passionate?

The answer to all of those things is yes, but on the other side of the coin, it's impossible to separate "Milk" from the politics.  The message of Harvey Milk is bold and strong, one of pushing toward an ideal of equality, toward putting your life and your lives on the line for love, for honor, for hope, and for everything that humanity should be to each other... and tragically, rarely is. 

Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) is a homosexual man working at some corporate monkey job when he meets Scott (James Franco) on the eve of his 40th birthday.  The two of them hit it off, and Milk decides to open a small camera store in an area of San Francisco known as Castro.  Encountering resistance to joining the local merchants association, he decides to create his own - one that will further the interests of and protect local gay and gay friendly businesses.  As his successes mount, and his support grows, his ambitions for a better tomorrow for the gay community lead him to attempt higher offices.  Milk assembles a team of young, passionate activists, and after some political maneuvering and redistricting, Milk is elected to a city supervisor position in San Francisco.

When a state senator, John Briggs (Denis O'Hare) proposes sweeping legislation that would cause gays all over the state and any who support them to lose their jobs, Milk's fight for gay rights becomes a nationwide flashpoint - success could lead to a brighter, hopeful tomorrow... but failure could mean the destruction of countless livelihoods, not just in California, but all across the United States.

Of course, there's a lot of grand political talk in "Milk" about what all this means, but through it all, the dramatic focus remains on Harvey Milk, the person.  For all his fame as an activist, "Milk" portrays Harvey as a sincere, emotional and passionate do-gooder.  Sean Penn completely disappears into the role, and he's not the only one.  A mixture of familiar faces and no one you've ever seen before, the cast of "Milk" is absolutely first rate.  Each and everyone of them comes across as a real person, not someone spouting lines written in a Hollywood office.  Josh Brolin as Milk's troubled rival (and ultimate assassin) Dan White also delivers, his frustration and jealousy of Milk's successes, and even a little bit of paranoia, come across as natural and frightening. "Milk" simply rings true as a movie, both from its performances and in a technical sense.

Shot to look intentionally gritty, with film flicker and all, director Gus Van Sant gives the entire film the feel of watching a documentary.  You may forget at times that you're merely watching a dramatization.  Actual news footage from the 1970s is blended almost seamlessly into the newly shot material, and digital trickery in crowd sequences is unnoticeable. Is "Milk", as a film, unassailable?  No, but what film is?  There are moments here or there the film could lose, and Milk's attachment to a young gay man who eventually commits suicide isn't much fleshed out to my liking.  But these are, ultimately, minor quibbles in an otherwise powerful and entertaining two hours.

But yes, "Milk" has a message.  I can't ignore it, I can't separate myself from what this movie is trying to tell me - that Harvey Milk was a hero, that the things he had to say about people, about equality and about freedom are things we should still be listening to 30 years later.

Friday, April 2, 2010

"Get Smart" (2008)

"Get Smart" (2008) Starring Steve Carrell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson and Alan Arkin
Written by Tom Astle and Matt Ember
Directed by Peter Segal

If there's one man out there today who could possibly fill the phone-shoes of Don Adams, it's Steve Carrell.  And he does so quite well in this 2008 update to the classic 1960s spy comedy.

Carrell stars as Maxwell Smart, an analyst for a top-secret government agency called CONTROL, which protects the world from the evil syndicate known as KAOS.  Smart spends his days as an intelligence analyst, but dreams of becoming a field agent like his hero, Agent 23 (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson).  Even though he passes his test, the Chief (Alan Arkin) tells him he's too good of an analyst to promote.  But when a double agent attacks CONTROL from within, and KAOS gains control of a number of nuclear weapons, Chief has no choice but to put Max in the field after all the other agents are compromised.

The only other agent safe enough to partner with Max, now labeled Agent 86, is the lovely Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) who recently underwent plastic surgery to give herself a new identity.  The two of them must go to Russia to track down their only lead - a KAOS bomb maker who will be throwing a swanky party at his mansion.  Max and 99 must work their way through assassins and double agents to stop a plot to kill the President of the United States by setting off a nuke in Los Angeles.

"Get Smart" won't win any awards.  It's solidly funny, but not riotously so.  Carrell and Hathaway work well together, and Arkin gets some great moments as well.  Johnson once again proves that he's got excellent comedic skills.  Why this man keeps getting wasted in things like "The Tooth Fairy" is totally beyond me.  But everything here is pretty entertaining, so I'd totally watch a sequel if it came around.

The action sequences are competent, if nothing special.  If you're watching "Get Smart" for the action,  you'd be better off looking elsewhere, though I don't think you'll hate it.  Hathaway and Carrell handle fight sequences and chases pretty well, in addition to the goofy comedy.   Plenty of updates of old TV shows don't fare as well as "Get Smart" does, thanks to a solid script and direction.  It could easily have gone another way, but this is one of those remakes that works.

"Earthquake" (1974)

"Earthquake" (1974)
Starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy and Lorne Greene
Written by George Fox and Mario Puzo
Directed by Mark Robson

Have you seen "2012"?  How about "Independence Day"?  Or "The Day After Tomorrow"?  Then you've seen the fruits of the labors of "Earthquake."  All these disaster films follow the same basic formula.  You've got your setup of a bunch of disparate characters and storylines that will all eventually come together after the city-and-or-entire-world has been thrown into chaos via natural disaster or other violent incursion.  You've got your every-man heroes who will risk life and limb to save friends and family while others run for safety.  You've got the young, inexperienced scientist making wild claims no one believes who eventually turns out to be correct.  And you've got a lot of visually impressive spectacle as lots of things explode or are otherwise torn apart.

"Earthquake" boasts a massive cast of recognizable faces, from Heston as Stewart Graff to Lorne Greene of "Battlestar Galactica" (the crappy original, not the awesome remake) and  George Murdock (you might not recognize his name, but trust me, you've seen him in something) and even Richard Roundtree (the original Shaft).  They're all pretty much normal people, or at least, the 1974 Hollywood version of them - Roundtree, for example, plays a motorcycle stuntman who's jealous of Evel Knievel.  Heston plays Stewart, an ace structural engineer who tells people that they should spend more money to earthquake proof their buildings and cheats on his wife.  You might balk at that idea, but trust me, his wife is a total bitch; she deserves it.  That just makes both of their ultimate fates kind of ridiculous, though.

What's the major problem with "Earthquake"?  Well, it's a 2 hour movie and the earthquake doesn't come until exactly one hour in.  That means literally half the movie is setup and soap opera, and frankly it's boring.  By the time the quake hits, you want practically the entire cast to die and when they don't, you're just disappointed.  The movie featured incredible special effects for its time, and they're still admirable today.  Sure, they're obviously fake, but it's easy to appreciate the amount of effort that went into destroying fake Los Angeles.  Objects supposedly made of concrete are obviously wood facades, but they all fall apart fairly convincingly.  Major problems creep in whenever things catch on fire or are deluged with water - two things that will utterly ruin any sense of scale, no matter how detailed your models may be.  That's the incredible advantage CGI gives us these days, but I digress.

After the quake hits, it becomes a story of survival.  People are trapped, people are injured... Some characters stand up and do the right thing, others are revealed as douchebags, and the women mostly stand around screaming and begging for rescue.  There's little resolution to anything by the time the movie ends, but that's okay since none of the storylines were really all that interesting to begin with.  It's really only the set pieces in the second hour that make "Earthquake" watchable at all.  With fun special effects and a few nifty death scenes, it's a fine way to waste an hour. 

Ultimately, I'm gonna say, though, that your time is better spent with "2012" - it's pretty much the same movie, only way more ridiculous.  It's also more consistently action-packed all the way through, and the horrendous dialogue should have you rolling with laughter. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Time After Time" (1979)

"Time After Time" (1979)
Starring Malcolm McDowell, David Warner and Mary Steenburgen
Written by Nicholas Meyer (Based on the novel by Karl Alexander)
Directed by Nicholas Meyer

Why isn't Nicholas Meyer a bigger name?  His biggest success is "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," easily one of my favorite movies of all time.  But other than his work in that film series, the man's hardly done anything worth noting.  Every few years his name shows up on a screenplay, but the last time he sat in the director's chair was apparently for a TV movie in 1999.  Here's a man with a talent for creating crackling, exciting films... and it's not happening.

"Time After Time" is Meyer's first directorial effort, three years before he would take the world of "Star Trek" by storm.  It's an absurdly fun premise - HG Wells (Malcolm McDowell) invents a time machine, only to have it stolen by his friend John Leslie Stevenson - aka Jack the Ripper.  The machine has an automatic recall (why the fuck didn't Doc Brown think of THAT?) which strands the Ripper in 1979 San Francisco, California, where he quickly adapts to this new, violent time period and starts killing anew.  Wells follows him there, and attempts to track down the man that used to be his friend.

Wells goes to the Bank of London, figuring that Jack will go there to exchange his foreign currency (they started out in London, but in an intriguing twist, the time machine doesn't travel through space, only time - therefore, the occupant ends up wherever the machine does; in this case, a museum exhibit about Wells in San Francisco).  There, he meets Amy (Mary Steenburgen) and the two quickly take a fancy to each other.  Amy helps Wells track down Jack, and, thinking the villain dead in a car accident, spend time together and begin to fall in love.  Unfortunately, Jack isn't dead, and a brief trip to the future brings the terrible revelation that Amy will be murdered in a few days' time.  How will Wells and Amy prevent this awful occurrence without resorting to violence, which Wells abhors?

If this plot synopsis sounds awful familiar to you, it should - It's pretty much "Back to the Future, Part III"... right on down to Mary Fucking Steenburgen.  Instead of a schoolteacher who falls for Emmett Brown, eccentric scientist time traveler, she's a bank employee who falls for Herbert George Wells, eccentric scientist time traveler.  Of course, it's impossible to fault "Time After Time" for this, since the "Back to the Future" sequel wouldn't be filmed for nearly a decade afterward.  But watching it now, and being so familiar with BTTF, it's astonishing to see the number of similarities between "Time After Time" and various aspects of the amazing adventures of Marty McFly.

"Time After Time" I found to be incredibly fun.  Meyer knows how to craft a movie, it's that simple.  His dialogue is cracking, and his direction is spot on.  The balance between comedy, drama and action sequences is quite fine.  Some of the earlier sequences, with Wells marveling at the technological progress of the 20th century are fun without being stupid; his trip to McDonalds (which he later refers to as "that Scottish restaurant") is a riot.  It's a great juxtaposition to his reaction when he learns that the future is not the social utopia he had predicted it would become. 

That's one of the central ideas of the film - Jack tells Wells that in the past, he was "a freak, but here, I'm an amateur" as Wells is shocked and saddened by violent news footage.  Wells realizes that the world may have changed, but humanity hasn't.  "We're killing much more efficiently, but we're still killing," he says.  It's a fascinating concept, to think of how a serial killer from the past would view today's modern implements of murder; Jack marvels at the thought of being able to purchase a gun anywhere in the city.  He feels more at home in the late 1970s than he did in his own time.  So what redeeming value will Wells find to combat this?  Love, of course.

And here's the only real problem with "Time After Time" - Mary Fucking Steenburgen.  She sucks in this movie; really really sucks.  At first, I thought she was just playing her character like a bit of an airhead, but later on I realized that she's just giving a really terrible performance.  Even when Jack has a knife to her throat and she's pleading for Wells to save her, her facial expression and the tone of her voice are like she's just stoned out of her gourd. 

Still, there's a lot to recommend here.  "Time After Time" is just plain fun; goofy, sure, but fun.