For All Mankind, Sony Pictures Television, Apple TV, 2019
A few months ago, I picked up the new iPhone 12, and with it came a free year of Apple TV+. I didn’t pay much attention at the time but after I canceled my cable service, I activated the subscription and started exploring it.
There is a tremendous amount of original content available. Apple is certainly putting a lot of effort and money into establishing itself as a top streaming provider. They are sparing no expense with A-list actors, high-quality shows and movies, and top-shelf video and audio quality.
The show that caught my sci-fi eye right away was For All Mankind. Perhaps science fiction isn’t the right category for it though. It is more firmly rooted in the alternate history genre, a little like The Man in The High Castle. But it is far more believable than that. The premise is, “What would have happened if the Soviets had reached the Moon first?” The show literally begins with Apollo astronauts sitting in a bar watching the Russians land on the Moon one month before Apollo 11 in 1969. I’ll tell you right now, it’s way better than that Amazon show.
What happens after that is an amazing take on the space race. In the real world, the race pretty much ended after Apollo 11. The US continued to expand its program with Skylab and the Space Shuttle while the USSR never really went much beyond Soyuz. I realize that’s an oversimplification. In For All Mankind, the Russian Moon landing touches off a whole new emphasis on not just exploration but territorial expansion. Eventually, both powers establish bases on the Moon and things become even more complicated and tense.
There are now two seasons of the show on Apple TV+ with a third promised for early next year. I’ve just finished the finale of season two and frankly, I can’t wait for the next chapter. It is easily one of the best TV shows I’ve ever watched. Every episode manages to make my jaw drop as the plot takes an unexpected turn. The characters are very human with a believable balance of positive and negative attributes. All the science is completely plausible as the show winds its way through the 70s and 80s. The final two episodes of season two will literally have you on the edge of your seat.
Visually, the show is stunning. Shot in 4K with Dolby Vision, it looks as good or better than the best Blu-ray disc. Color is completely natural with no attempts at stylization. The detail is strong and clear, almost to the point of tactility. Contrast is on another level, especially during the sequences on the Moon which set the lunar landscape against an inky black background. Earthside, the environments are lush and vibrant. Interiors have a warm tone appropriate to the era while outdoor scenes almost all take place during a sunny day.
The audio is a well-crafted Dolby Atmos encode with lots of spatial information, even when heard in standard 5.1. Dialog is front and center, clearly the driving force behind the presentation. Rocket launches use the subwoofer to its fullest ability with deep bass and room-shaking vibration. Music is purely in the background so it neither enhances nor detracts.
For All Mankind is truly one of the best things I’ve ever watched and is well worth a subscription to Apple TV+. If you need a reason to either fire up the free bonus that comes with buying a new Apple product or to spend $4.99 a month, it’s worth it for sure.
Mick Fleetwood & Friends Celebrate the Music of Peter Green, BMG, Blu-ray, Dolby ATMOS, 147 min, 2020.
“Every band starts out playing the blues before they eventually sell out!” I forget where I originally heard that line but it was particularily applicable to a lot of the music I grew up with from the 60s, 70s, and, to some extent, the 80s. But almost none more so than that of the band Fleetwood Mac. Before they became the mega-group that everyone knows after the addition of Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham, followed with the release of Rumors, the band started life as a tight and solid pure blues outfit led by the incredibly talented Peter Green.
The live concert on the Blu-ray disc of this set was organized by Mick Fleetwood and performed live in February of 2020 before the COVID pandemic really took hold. Fleetwood says that he always wanted to do a tribute to Peter Green and the origins of the band, and while Green himself was not involved in the final performance (he sadly passed away in July of 2020) the concert can be said to be a fitting epitaph to one of the greatest blues and rock guitar players ever. The core band of the concert consists of Mick Fleetwood and Zack Starkey on drums, Rick Vito, Andy Fairweather Low, and Johnny Lang on guitars and vocals, Rickey Peterson on keyboards, and David Bronze on bass. Special guests include Billy Gibbons, David Gilmour, Steven Tyler, Kirk Hammett, Pete Townshend, Noel Gallagher, John Mayall, Christine McVie, Jeremy Spencer, Neil Finn, and Bill Wyman.
From start to finish, I think this Blu-ray is a reference-quality disc. The 1080P image has the appearance of film although it certainly was shot digitally. The colors are vibrant and the cinematography is excellent, bringing you up close and personal with each of the performers and their playing. The Dolby ATMOS soundtrack is top-notch with an excellent and detailed rendering of not only each of the performers but of the ambiance of the venue. Bass impact is outstanding, especially during close-ups of Mick Fleetwood when he hits his drum kicks, you really feel them coming through the subwoofer(s). Special props should go to Rick Vito for sounding a fair bit like Peter Green in both his guitar playing and vocals, just check out his performance on “Love That Burns”.
Some of the other standout performances to me on this disc included seeing John Mayall, still alive and kicking, perform “All Your Loving”, along with Billy Gibbons, and still sounding really good doing it. Steven Tyler singing and playing harmonica on “Rattlesnake Shake” just sounded killer with Vito and Gibbons trading slide guitar solos. Neil Finn turns in an emotional performance singing “Man of the World” with a beautiful guitar accompaniment from Rick Vito. Gibbons and Tyler return for a smoking and gritty rendition of “Oh Well Pt.1” with Fleetwood completely relishing his part on drums, but the real surprise comes when David Gilmour walks out to perform the guitar solo segment from “Oh Well Pt.2”. Pt.2 has never been performed live in Fleetwood Mac’s history until now and Gilmour just gives this instrumental portion such an ethereal presence and sound with his trademark playing style. Both your speakers and subwoofers will be tasked during this performance. “The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)” is an absolute barn burner of a performance, not only because Billy Gibbons gives the vocals a gravelly, witch-doctor stylization but Kirk Hammett just burns the place down with an incendiary guitar solo using Peter Green’s original 1959 Gibson Les Paul that he owns. The sound is completely immersive for a legitimately you-are-there experience. And then David Gilmour returns for an inspired pedal steel guitar performance on Peter Green’s signature song “Albatross” with Rick Vito accompanying.
If you are at all a fan of early Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green, or Blues/Rock in general, you will not be disappointed with this set!
Starring: Ken Watanabe, Takumi Saitoh, Kôichi Satô, Tomorô Taguchi, Mark Chinnery
Directed by Setsurô Wakamatsu
2020 / Color / 2:39 widescreen / 121 min
Fukashima 50 is a 2020 Japanese docudrama about the 2011 Tsunami and near-meltdown of the reactors at Fukushima, badly located in a Tsunami zone.
The story starts on March 11, 2011, at 2:46 PM – Japan’s Tohoku Region: at a magnitude of 9.0, the strongest earthquake in the country’s history strikes, triggering a huge tsunami and carnage that would end up injuring thousands of people and displacing many more. It engulfs the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, causing a crippling station blackout. Unable to be cooled without the pumps running, the nuclear reactors quickly turn into hydrogen bombs at the brink of explosion. If the power plant is abandoned, Japan’s destruction is assured.
Facing a life-or-death situation, the power plant workers, known as the “Fukushima 50”, including shift supervisor Izaki and plant manager Yoshida, remain on the site until the bitter end. As the world holds its breath, the Fukushima 50 fight for their hometown, their families, and the future of Japan. This gripping film is full of chaos, some from nature, some provided by the complete lack of preparedness or any semblance of a plan by the Japanese government, or the plant owners, populated by bureaucrats who can’t make a decision.
Watching the film, it all seemed very familiar, and I then remembered another Japanese film, Shin Godzilla from 2016, which was actually made as a metaphor for the Fukushima disaster. Only in that film, the hapless government officials are fighting a giant monster. Shin Godzilla was well received by Japanese audiences who knew right away the film was a thinly disguised critique of the government’s shameful response to the nuclear disaster.
I’ve read a couple of non-fiction books about the happenings at the Daiichi plant, and the movie pretty much follows the real story. It’s gripping and frustrating at the same time, as government officials waste precious time debating what to do and when to do it.
The film looks good, although colors are deliberately muted. The special effects in general look very good, and are mostly convincing, although a few times their CGI origins were visible. The audio is of demo quality, especially when the tidal waves hit and there is the rumble of failing pumps and onrushing water. Surrounds are muted, but effective.
I’d suggest most viewers take a pass on the English dub and watch the movie in its native Japanese and read the subtitles. You’ll get a better feel for the acting and the sense of panic if you hear the real voices.
Fukashima 50 is a fine film, with lessons on how mankind is so frequently thwarted by a combination of nature and bad planning. New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina comes to mind, so do 9/11 and Chernobyl, and many other events most of us would rather forget.
The Blu-ray has no extras, but don’t let that put you off.
While entertaining, Fukashima 50 is an object lesson begging us to take heed.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Original release: 1967
This current version released by Kino Lorber
Starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef
Directed by Sergio Leone
4K UHD Blu-ray
Finally! A decent-looking version of GB&U and in 4K, too. It’s been a long time coming. I think this iconic western has been released on all forms of media including Beta and VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray multiple times. Each time the color shifted a bit, but it never looked really good. Finally, in this 4K version, the colors look right. There’s no HDR, maybe for technical reasons, maybe for financial, but looking at this latest release it’s like seeing GB&U for the first time. Does it look like a modern film? Nope, but still much better than this classic has ever looked.
I think everyone knows the plot and how the film mixes action, comedy, satire, and tragedy into an almost 3-hour long story that never seems to drag as the trio looks for a buried $200,000 dollars in gold.
On the 4K disc (there’s a Blu-ray version of the same color corrected film in the box) we get the theatrical cut of the movie. Some will have wished for the trimmed scenes that did show up on a Blu-ray a couple of years back, but I’m happy with this cut. The scenes that were edited out are also on this disc, in 4K. It’s not only the color that is drastically improved but also the resolution of the image. I can see the individual threads in the period-accurate costuming, as well as details in the faces of the actors. Most of those faces are not pretty, but that’s the way Sergio Leone wanted you to see them.
Sound-wise, we are getting the same 5.1 mix and a mono mix that were on the previous Blu-ray. I do not hear any improvement, but it’s good enough given the age of the film. Surround effects are minimal, getting a bit more noticeable during the many explosions. Ennio Morricone’s wonderful score benefits from the surround mix as well.
Extras are mostly ported over from the earlier 2017 Kino Lorber release, but there is a fresh commentary by author Tim Lukas. It’s full of fun facts, and it’s like a complete course in the movie. I would have loved a commentary by Sir Christopher Frayling, the premier Leone expert, but Lukas is very good here.
Is the 4K version of GB&U a must-buy? I’d say so, even if you have the movie in previous releases. It looks much better than the 2017 Blu-ray which has the colors pretty messed up. Some will complain that the missing scenes should have been added to this release making it a longer film, and it’s a valid but debatable point. As Tuco might say, “There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who will want this lovely 4K release and those who won’t.” Among our readers, I’ll bet you’ll want it. The Blu-ray Disc has also been color corrected, vastly improving on the older Kino Lorber release.
John Wayne Essential 14-Movie Collection – DVD Paramount Pictures, 2021
An American hero and film icon, John Wayne had an epic 50-year film career. He played the leading role in over 140 movies and was nominated for 3 Academy Awards. He won a Best Actor for his portrayal of cantankerous, “Rooster” Cogburn in the film True Grit.
This boxed set represents the biggest John Wayne collection from Paramount Pictures and the films span over 25 years of the Duke’s filmography with the studio. These films have Wayne playing romance, comedy, sailor, cowboy, airman, and soldier with his typical swagger and an occasional glint of humor in his eyes. These are stories of integrity and dramatic battles of will which capture the virtue, courage, and humor of an American original.
My only quibble with this set is that they have not been re-mastered and presented in Blu-Ray or UHD. These films should have gotten the red-carpet treatment as the colors are muted and dust fibers occasionally show up in the frame. Otherwise, this is the only time Hondo has been presented on DVD. Ironically, Wayne’s last film he ever made (The Shootist) is the story of a gunman who is dying of cancer and is looking for that one, last gunfight. Wayne himself would die a few years later in 1979 of lung cancer at the age of 72. If you are looking to add some Westerns into your video library, these films will make you stand tall in the saddle.
The films in this collection are:
Island in the Sky (1953)
The High and the Mighty (1954)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
Donovan’s Reef (1963)
In Harm’s Way (1965)
The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
El Dorado (1966)
True Grit (1969)
Rio Lobo (1970)
Big Jake (1971)
The Shootist (1976)