April 01, 2007

Notes from a DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

I've got something for everyone this month.  Science fiction, horror, zombies . . . A-list Oscar-winning films . . .Direct-to-video . . .Austrian cult films . . . Giant monsters . . . You name it, I'm covering it.

The big title of the month is the Academy-Award winning science fiction dystopia, "Children of Men".  This one was simply awesome.  I was impressed by the remarkable performances, gritty near-future world view, and the wry and insightfully "science fictional" look at government oppression and revolutionary movements -- all carefully shepherded by the sure hand of its director, Alfonso Cuaron.  Cuaron previously brought us "Y Tu Mama Tambien," and the third Harry Potter movie, but this film catapults him into the realm of the most exciting young directors around.  If you haven't seen this one yet, you are in for a treat.

Speaking of exciting young filmmakers on the fringe of science fiction, Darron Arronofski's time traveling science fiction mess/masterpiece "The Fountain" won't be out on DVD until May, but as a warm-up, his first two films, "Pi" and "Requiem for a Dream" are getting a double feature DVD release this month, so if you haven't added them to your collection yet, now is your chance.

Also on the fringes of science fiction is  Japan's giant monster genre, and this month brings us two lovingly restored Godzilla sequels. . ."Godzilla Raids Again"(1955) and "Godzilla Vs. Mothra" (1964).  The first of these features both the US and Japanese versions of this film, just like last year's original Godzilla release, and both of these films are being presented with classy packaging that matches the original's release, and are a must-have for any self respecting "Kaiju" fan.

On the horror side of the fence, March brings a veritable cornucopia of Bava.  The Italian master of horror gets a five disk box set from Anchor Bay, collecting together their earlier releases in one place.  This is a cost-effective way to get two of his best films "Black Sunday" and "Black Sabbath," along with three of his lesser-known films -- "The Girl Who Knew Too Much," "Knives of the Avenger," and "Kill Baby Kill".

Sticking with horror for a moment, I wanted to point out that someone has bought the rights to the "Return of the Living Dead" franchise, and last year they (theoretically, I never saw them) released 2 sequels theatrically.  These franchise entries are now available on DVD.  "Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis," and "Return of the Living Dead:  Rave to the Grave" [Now *that* is a wretched title! -Ed.].  I can't vouch for the quality of these films . . . but if you want to see some pretty fun-looking zombie trailers, be sure to check out <http://www.returnofthelivingdead4and5.com>.

And for those of you who need some K-horror, be sure to check out Tartan Asia Extreme's latest Korean release, "Cinderella".  It's packaged up to be a gory shock-fest, but at its heart, it is a family drama focusing on the inevitable conflict between a mother and a daughter, and has a nice take on obsession with "beauty" and self-image.

This month also sees two important DVD releases in the horror genre.  First, there is the one remaining 1970's horror franchise that hasn't yet suffered from a Hollywood remake.  I hate to jinx it by mentioning that it hasn't had a remake. . . .But, after being out of print for a long time, THE BALL IS BACK!  That's right.  Dwarves in robes. . .the tall man. . . and the flying killer silver ball. . ."Phantasm" is back on DVD this month, in an anamorphic widescreen disk with 5.1 DTS surround, and audio commentary by the writer and director.

Also back in print is "Re-Animator," directed by Stuart Gordon, starring Jeffrey Combs.  This one is also a must-own for anybody who values their Lovecraft-talking-head-zombie-exploitation flicks.  But what really makes the movie is the very funny score that is perpetually riffing off of the "Psycho" score.

Finally, I wanted to focus on the films of an Austrian director who has been compared to Hitchcock and De Palma, but whose work isn't terribly well known in the US.  Believe me, you'll be shocked and amazed by the unflinching films of Michael Haneke.  His films "Funny Games" (1998) and "Benny's Video" (1998), grapples with the nature of violence and graphic imagery, and participatory culpability.  These are tense thrillers that push the viewer far beyond a viewer's comfort zone, and seem to be as much a dare as a movie-going experience.  And these films preceded the current glut of "torture-chic" films, such as "Saw," "High Tension," "Wolf Creek," et al., which often seem to be going for the same effect.

That's it for now.  Be sure to drop me a note and tell me what your favorite "Kaiju" (Giant Monster) movie is.  I'm planning a Double feature for the Variety film screening series.  :)

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