Box Set Bonanza 2012

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2nd October 2012.

Every October, dark forces return to unleash unspeakable horrors upon our supermarket and department store shelves. No, I’m not talking about Halloween. I mean the Christmas merchandise that’s already started to appear in our stores. So if it’s good enough for a multinational corporation, it’s good enough for me. In preparation for the silly season, here are my picks for the best box sets to buy for your favourite movie fanatic (or Tuesday columnist).

If too much Bond is never enough, grab Bond 50 – The James Bond Collection which celebrates half a century of Bond adventures with 22 films on 22 discs. If you buy the blu-ray set, there’s also an extra disc full of exclusive new content. Unfortunately, the non-canon Never Say Never Again from 1983 is not included, which is a shame because I’d gladly exchange it for the invisible car and wooden Madonna performance from Die Another Day. With the latest Band mission, Skyfall, hitting cinemas in November, a space has been generously left in the box for you to complete your collection next year. You can then rest easy knowing you own every single minute of Bond goodness, until the next movie is announced and you’ll have to buy a new box set. Start saving your money, Penny.

Speaking of great franchises, Indiana Jones has finally taken the leap to high definition. Indiana Jones – The Complete Adventures features all three original films on beautiful blu-ray, plus an extra disc chock full of bonus stuff. The films have been remastered under the supervision of Steven Spielberg, with Raiders of the Lost Ark receiving a complete restoration from the original print and sound mix. The set also includes a special Indiana Jones coaster. You can protect your tabletops knowing that The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has finally found a useful purpose.

The Universal Monsters Collection on blu-ray celebrates the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios by unleashing some of its iconic creature features in high definition. Featuring a 48 page book and 8 discs, I can’t wait to get my hands on this one and experience horror classics Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and Phantom of the Opera for the first time. Best of all, The Creature from the Black Lagoon will make his (or is it her, or its) debut in blu-ray 3D.

Finally, the master of suspense has been given a high definition makeover to bring you Alfred Hitchcock – The Masterpiece Collection. The box set features 14 Hitchcock  classics including Rear Window, Frenzy, Psycho and Vertigo, plus every ornithophobe’s favourite, The Birds.  There is also 15 hours of bonus content for your enjoyment. Strangely, my favourite Hitchcock flick, North by Northwest, is not featured. Neither is Gus Van Sant’s disastrous 1998 shot for shot remake of Psycho, which is good thing.

One last thing, all of these box sets are labelled as limited editions. This is a rather meaningless marketing term nowadays so don’t rush out and buy them all just in case. With all of the above around or above the $100 mark, the limiting factor may well be your wallet.

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“Jim from Neighbours” – The Busiest Actor in the World (perhaps)

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd January 2012.

A long time ago, in an Erinsborough far, far away, the beloved Neighbours character Jim Robinson suffered a major heart attack and passed away on screen, right before a commercial break. This was way back in 1993, when people actually watched Neighbours and on-screen deaths were rare. Most departing characters simply moved to Brisbane to live with Scott and Charlene.

After eight long years of service to Grundy Television, Kiwi actor Alan Dale was departing the soapie, and a regular income, with his dignity intact and no embarrassing attempts at singing to speak of. Well, there was the dreadful 1989 Christmas With Your Neighbours album but being a Christmas album, it was meant to be dreadful (I hope).

Typecast as “Jim from Neighbours”, Dale found it difficult to get work in Australia. With nothing to lose, he relocated his family to the USA where there was potentially a need for fresh faces in the mature actor niche.

The rest, as they say, is pretty interesting. “Jim from Neighbours” managed to overcome the spectre of Australian typecasting and went on to appear in almost every US television show going as the “serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide.”

He was Caleb Nichol, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide in the hit series that introduced the world to talent vacuum Mischa Barton, The O.C. After his character was killed off with a heart attack, he went on to star in Ugly Betty as Bradford Meade, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide. After his character was again killed off with a heart attack, Dale went on to feature in the brain bending Lost as Charles Widmore, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide but no known cardiac history.

There really was no stopping “Jim from Neighbours.”

Whenever you switched on a television, there he was in a guest role. His credits are pretty much the contents of my DVD shelf. E.R., The X-Files and its spinoff The Lone Gunmen, Torchwood, Entourage, NCIS, The West Wing, JAG, Californication and The Practice have all been graced by the authoritarian and secretive presence of Alan Dale.

He was even the Vice President of the USA in seven “hours” of the rather silly but fun 24. As Jim (not from Neighbours) Prescott, an authoritarian VP with something to hide, he mistakenly placed President Palmer under house arrest, based on false evidence. Playing the third most powerful man in the world (behind the American President and Batman) may seem  an honour until you realise that two years later on the same show, Vice President Mitchell Hayworth was portrayed by Aussie ex-pat and “actor” Cameron Daddo.

Not limited to the idiot box, Dale’s career has also expanded to the silver screen. Last week, I popped the sci-fi vampire action thingy Priest into my VCR to find “Jim from Neighbours” playing his usual character, but in a silly robe, in eye popping 3D.

Most impressive to geeks everywhere, Dale was also cast in two iconic film franchises. He pops up as General Ross in the mediocre Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and plays the Romulan Praetor Hiren in the so-so Star Trek Nemesis. OK, so they weren’t the best films in the series but how many Star Trek and Indiana Jones movies have you been in?

He even has his own trading cards. That’s right, on ebay there is brisk trade in Alan Dale signature cards from his Lost, Star Trek and Indiana Jones and the Blah Blah Blah appearances.

Later this month, Dale will appear on Aussie cinema screens as Detective Isaksson in David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

This year, all Australians (and New Zealanders) should celebrate the amazing career of “Jim from Neighbours” and his remarkable body of work, playing the authoritarian figure with something to hide, since shaking off the stigma of typecasting way back in 1993 when Jim Robinson of Ramsey St met his maker.

Delayed Movie Sequels

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 5th October 2010.

The recent cinematic release of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps comes twenty three years after the release of the original iconic eighties movie, which spawned the much misquoted line, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Directed again by Oliver Stone, with a returning Michael Douglas as greedy corporate raider Gordon Gekko, the film is set on the brink of the global financial crisis.

Whilst a plotline placing a recently released from jail Gekko in today’s financial climate is appealing, one has to wonder whether there is actually a demand for a follow-up movie so long after the original. Of course, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is only one of many much delayed sequels, all with mixed fortunes financially and critically.

The Blues Brothers 2000 dropped on audiences in 2000, eighteen years after the original. With director John Landis back at the helm, and Dan Aykroyd reprising Elwood Blues, the movie was hamstrung by the fact that the other Blues brother was dead. John Belushi passed away in 1982 from acute cocaine and heroin intoxication. John Goodman stepped in as new lead singer Mighty Mac McTeer, however, despite being on a new “mission from God”, lightning didn’t strike twice and the film grossed US$26 million from a budget of US$28 million.

Sylvester Stallone recently revived two of his franchises after lengthy hiatuses. Following a series of flops in the nineties, including Judge Dredd and the painful Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (it should’ve been titled Stop the Film or I Will Shoot Myself), Sly brought back Rocky Balboa for the imaginatively titled Rocky Balboa in 2006, sixteen years after Rocky V, and John Rambo for the even more imaginatively titled Rambo in 2008, twenty years after Rambo III. That was the one where Rambo single-handedly freed Afghanistan from the Russians.

The thoughtful and bittersweet Rocky Balboa was a critical and box office success grossing US$155 million, however, the return of Rambo was less successful, drawing much criticism for its grisly depiction of the titular character’s record breaking 236 kills.

Personally, I quite enjoyed Rambo. If you are going to depict violence on-screen, you should also show the consequences of that violence, although perhaps not over two hundred times. On a per exploding head basis, Rambo is great value.

2008 saw the return of whip cracking adventurer Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, nineteen years after the last instalment, the somewhat falsely titled Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Starring a geriatric Harrison Ford, the film was a huge success, becoming the 29th highest grossing movie worldwide. Unfortunately, most Indy fans were left cold by the George Lucus penned story and the film is regarded as a disappointing sequel.

Whilst I think any Indy is good Indy, I must admit that the alien storyline, the ending ripped off from the original X-Files movie and the surviving a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge scene are cringe worthy.

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released with much fanfare to huge anticipation in 1999, sixteen years following Return of the Jedi. Although technically a prequel, the origin story of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader went on to become the thirteenth highest grossing film ever, despite much fan derision for the annoying Jar Jar Binks and a silly storyline involving intergalactic trade disputes. That’s right, trade disputes. One of my most cherished films has its origins in a trade dispute. That’s like making a prequel to Romeo and Juliet that sees the Capulets and Montagues first go into conflict over bin night.

The record holder for the longest ever delayed sequel is the direct to DVD Bambi 2 which was released 64 years after the original. Strangely, this film is actually a “midquel” with its plotline taking place within the story of the original. Whilst I am not particularly excited to see the return of Gordon Gekko, the nerd in me is getting excited about the December 2010 release of Tron: Legacy which follows 28 years after the original Tron.