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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Adventure > Drama > Thriller > Alien, Aliens, Alien 3: Official Movie Novelizations (2014 softback reissues (1979 - 97)/Titan Books)/Grand Piano (2012/Magnolia/MagNet Blu-ray)/McCanick (2013/Well Go USA Blu-ray)/Rollerball (1975/Un

Alien, Aliens, Alien 3: Official Movie Novelizations (2014 softback reissues (1979 - 97)/Titan Books)/Grand Piano (2012/Magnolia/MagNet Blu-ray)/McCanick (2013/Well Go USA Blu-ray)/Rollerball (1975/United Artists/MGM/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/3 Days To Kill (2013/Fox Blu-ray w/DVD)

Books: B Picture: B-/B-/B+/B- & C Sound: B-/B/B-/B- & C+ Extras: C/C-/B+/C- Films: C/C+/B+/C+

PLEASE NOTE: The Rollerball Blu-ray is a limited edition release from our friends at Twilight Time, only 3,000 copies are being made and they can be exclusively ordered from the link below.

Classic action meets some new ambitious entries that miss the mark...

We actually start with 3 landmark paperbacks, all produced stand-alone as they were when first published. Alien, Aliens, Alien 3: Official Movie Novelizations are new 2014 paperback reissues from the terrific Titan Books from one of the greatest trilogies in all of cinema history. What made these landmarks in their own right is the work of Alan Dean Foster, whose adaptation of the 1979 Ridley Scott film set a new high watermark for what a tie-in novelization could be of a movie. This is not to say all previous tie-ins were awful, but some were too short and other oversimplified their feature film counterparts. Foster changed all that and add yet another classic moment to the arrival of the 1979 film. Nice to see them back in print.

Eugenio Mira's Grand Piano (2012) is another stuck-in-a thriller that tries to be something more. Essentially Phone Booth on a piano bench, Elijah Wood is a famous musician back to perform after having a notable failure over a particular composition made by his now deceased mentor. His society-obsessed wife is trying to help him, but he needs to take much of this on himself. The twist happens during the performance when a note handwritten in red tells him he will die if he plays one wrong note!

From there he is tormented by a faceless voice (John Cusack) who he eventually meets later, but this really lacks intensity and suspense despite an interest set-up. Wood is top notch as usual, but the script and its wacky and not necessarily effective ending undermines everything, though all involved seem to be interested in making this something special. Too bad it misses the mark because it was on the right track and taking place in Chicago only helped it out.

Extras include an AXS-TV clips to promote the film, five featurette clips and a Making Of featurette.

Josh C. Waller's McCanick (2013) has the underrated David Morse as a tough, rough, even dirty narcotics cop who is set off by the prison release of one Simon Weeks (the late Corey Monteith in his last role) that involves a close death to McCanick that is unrelated, but affects him, child exploitation, pedophilia, boy prostitutes, drugs, thugs and murder. McCanick's boss (the always formidable Claran Hinds) is his boss warning him not to go too far, but in his own world of personal madness, this is advice a light year too late.

Set in Philadelphia, there are some really good performances and some truly shocking, bold scenes through the film and it wants to leave some questions unanswered like the 1970s urban cop dramas it tries so hard to emulate without going the visual retro style Tarantino single-handedly reintroduced. It may not work all the time, but it is worth a look, including with its sad goodbye to Monteith.

Extras include a trailer, Behind The Scenes featurette and Deleted & Extended Scenes.

Norman Jewison's Rollerball (1975) is not just a generic future sport film of some kind, but a great film that has statements to make, has only become better with age, is as relevant as it ever was, was more prolific about technology & people than many might think and is part of two great film cycles of its time. It is not only part of the death sport cycle in science fiction cinema of the time, it is the peak of that movement, as well as a key sci-fi work from the genre's last golden age that began in 1965 with Godard's Alphaville and wound up in 1982 with Scott's Blade Runner and in 1984 with Gilliam's Brazil.

In he near future, countries have become a thing of the past as monopolistic corporations have taken over the planet, but a violent game called Rollerball as supplanted soccer as the game of the world reaching to the land that was the United States, where I has replaced the likes of football and hockey, et al. National anthems have been replaced with corporate anthems and everyone has multi-vision TVs to watch things on. In all this, a champ has unexpectedly arisen in Johnathan E (James Caan in one of his most underrated performances) as the greatest player in the game. However, that's too much subversive individualism for the corporate class and they want that changed.

Bartholomew (the great John Houseman) is a powerful corporate figure and tells Jonathan he needs to retire, but Jonathan has heart, soul and is still wondering why instead of doing as he's told as if he were a child, the way all of Bartholomew's friends would like the world populous to be. Jonathan has questions he is not sharing with Bartholomew or anyone else and that is where the split the controllers though they had eliminated is about to come back from massive media repression.

The amazing script and set up is backed by Jewison in the most underrated film he ever made and a strong supporting cast including John Beck, Moses Gunn, Shane Rimmer, Pamela Hensley, Maud Adams, Burt Kwouk, Barbara Trentham, Robert Ito, uncredited turns by Craig R. Baxley, Dick Enberg, Sarah Douglas and a totally credited turn by the great Ralph Richardson.

This was a big hit for United Artists worldwide and not everyone got what the film was really about, but this is a film with a great reputation, larger following than you might think and was one of the first films MGM ever put on DVD from their back catalog when they started supporting open DVD (versus the bizarre pay-per-view DIVX DVD that bombed). Still, MGM is letting Twilight Time issue this as a Limited Edition Blu-ray as part of MGM's 90th Anniversary. This is likely going to sell out quickly so all serious film fans and fans of this film should get their copy ASAP.

Extras include two strong feature length audio commentary tracks (one by Jewison, the other by author/creator William Harrison), TV Spots, Trailers, vintage From Rome To Rollerball: The Full Circle featurette, Return To The Arena: The Making Of Rollerball featurette (all featured on the DVD version) and two new extras: a new illustrated booklet with another Julie Kirgo essay that hits the nail on the head and an Isolated Music Score track featuring the underrated music of Andre Previn.

Oh, and skip the hideous 2002 remake if you have not already lost 2 hours of your life to it.

3 Days To Kill (2013) starts out with a promising premise as Kevin Costner (in his best role in a while) plays an old spy who is ill, but has a big new assignment to take on. Unfortunately, this is produced by Luc Besson and directed by McG, who is to good filmmaking what McDonald's is to gourmet cooking. Costner gives a really good performance, but even he cannot override the deadly combination of Besson's plastic sense of action, McG's hideously slap-dash sense of action, a ton of cliches that both are so well known for and constant side ideas and bad humor that take a potentially dark thriller that works and makes it into a full throttle catastrophe.

Amber Heard does a Sharon Stone/Basic Instinct impersonation as a female spy who knows how sick Costner is and gives him an experimental drug to help him while he dos a dirty assignment for her. He also is trying to be with his daughter and maybe his estranged wife again, which makes up too much of this storyline, killing any credibility, intensity and leaves us little suspense when the idea and set-up should have been all that non-stop. They should have gone for the Casino Royale/Skyfall model, but chose The Pink Panther more often.

Too bad, because the money, actors, locales and potential are here, but in either the PG-13 or Unrated versions of the film, it is wildly disappointing and one of the big creative tragedies of the last few years. What a waste! What a shame!!!

Extras include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and iTunes capable devices, while the discs add three featurette clips.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Grand was shot on 35mm film, but has some ill-advised digital work that holds the look of the film back and detail becomes an issue, so the even more flawed 1080p 2.35 X 1 digitally-shot High Definition image transfer on McCanick can show the limits of the format used, yet can compete with the filmed production by default. The 1080p 1.85 X 1 AVC @ 28 MBPS digital High Definition image transfer on Kill has less visual flaws, but the Arri Alexa HD-shot production also has detail issues, so these three tie for second place for their visual quality and the anamorphically enhanced DVD of the film is especially soft and hard to watch.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Rollerball can show the age of the materials used, but there are some terrific shots here throughout that show how great-looking this film really is and always was. We may get some slight flaws and grain at times, but when the transfer look good, the shots are often stunning. The futuristic look is that of clean Modernism (ala 2001: A Space Odyssey, Logan's Run), but the scenes, sets and production design rarely looks phony, campy, unintentionally funny or like a shopping mall.

Director of Photography Douglas Slocombe, B.S.C. (The Blue Max, Never Say Never Again, The Indiana Jones Trilogy, Freud) makes this a very involving big screen event film whether it is during the action packed games, in business buildings or the private places of the rich and wealthy with a superior use of color at the same time monochromatic approaches are used. UK 35mm prints were apparently three-strip Technicolor and the film had a 70mm blow-up print made as well. On this Blu-ray, you can see the depth intended and the intended visual impact like never before, only rivaled by the better film prints of the film.

All four Blu-rays have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes, though Rollerball was originally a theatrical optical mono film and 4-track magnetic stereo on 35mm prints and a 6-track magnetic stereo mix for its 70mm blow-up. The 5.1 mix here is the same master as the old DVD and can be more in the front speakers than I would have liked. The other Blu-rays are all dialogue based with some action moments, but it is McCanick that is the sonic champ with a better sound mix and warmer, richer soundfield throughout than expected. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on the Kill DVD is the sonic dud just by being so weak and no match for the DTS on the Blu-ray version of the film.

You can order the Rollerball limited edition Blu-ray while supplies last at this link:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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