January 01, 2007

Notes from a DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

Happy New Year, movie buffs.  I hope you all spent a happy holiday season watching the creepy horror film known as IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  Okay, maybe I’m the only one who thinks this “holiday classic” is really creepy.  In any event, I hope you got to spend a lot of time with your family watching your favorite films.  I’ve got some interesting recommendations for you this month.

First up is hands-down the best horror movie of the last year or so – THE DESCENT.  Those of you who saw the Variety/Borderlands screening of this contemporary British masterpiece last April know what I’m talking about.  For those of you who missed it in the theaters, it's now out on DVD.  Even if you’re not normally a fan of horror movies, THIS is one you need to see.

Speaking of the Variety/Borderlands film screenings . . . last summer, we had an anime double feature that presented Hayao Miyazaki’s PORCO ROSSO, and Mamoru Oshii’s JIN-ROH:  THE WOLF BRIGADE.  Both films were a hit, but JIN-ROH was particularly intense.  The director has also made several live-action films, and these have been collected together for a single DVD release:  Mamoru Oshii: Cinema Trilogy Collection, which features TALKING HEADS, STRAY DOGS, and RED SPECTACLES.  While the director (who also directed GHOST IN THE SHELL) may not be for everybody, his films are certainly a unique and grueling/compelling vision that I recommend for anybody who’s willing to be put through an emotional meat grinder.

Another oddball release that may not be for everyone, but for a completely different reason, is Richard Linklater's A SCANNER DARKLY, which is a rotoscoped (live action film, with animation on top) version of the classic P. K. Dick novel.  I found a lot to like about this one, but fans of Dick’s work might have some nits to pick, and non-fans might be alienated by the literal and sometimes uncinematic adaptation of this novel.  If you don’t mind a movie where people sit around and talk to each other for long periods of time . . . and you don’t mind a movie where most of the characters are whacked-out unlikeable drug addicts, give this one a try.

I’m beginning to realize that a lot of my recommendations might seem to be back-handed, or not particularly enthusiastic.  It may seem that way, but that is really not the case.  I’m just well aware that my taste in movies can be kind of idiosyncratic and not everybody shares my rarified tastes.  Having said all that, the one movie that EVERYBODY will like is The Wicker Man.  No . . . NOT the Nick Cage remake.  The original masterpiece starring Christopher Lee.  It’s got pagans . . . it’s got hippies . . . it’s got folk music . . . it’s got Christopher Lee.  Did I mention Christopher Lee?  It’s also got one of the best endings ever.  EVER!  Don’t be fooled by the recent remake.  Go for the original, which has just been re-released as a two-disk special edition.  This two-disker contains both the original British version of the film and the US theatrical version.  The British edition is a bit longer and contains some extra musical bits not found in the US edition.  If you don’t like this movie, it's because you simply have bad taste in movies, and you shouldn’t watch them any more.  Just kidding.  The usual “Your Milage May Vary” provisos apply.   But this is a good one with broad appeal.

The first of last summer’s “Oh-my-god-someone-else-is-doing-a-movie-about-stage-magicians-so-we-have-to-do-one-too” movies has hit DVD.  THE ILLUSIONIST starring Edward Norton is out.  Note, this is not THE PRESTIGE (AKA Batman versus Wolverine), based on the Christopher Priest novel.  That one is coming later.  THIS one is worth it, if only to see Edward Norton chew the scenery like the mad acting-monster that he is.  I LOVE Edward Norton.  You should, too.

In keeping with my tradition of including period epics (HEAVENLY KINGDOM, etc) as part of the “fantasy” genre of cinema, I want to point out that Criterion has just released a double feature of two of Akira Kurosawa's samurai masterpieces: YOJIMBO and its sequal SANJURO.  These releases are newly remastered and  anamorphically enhanced.  If you’ve never seen a Kurosawa samurai film before, this is an excellent place to start.  And given that they are Criterion editions, they feature a metric ton of film history, theory and criticism.  With a minimal investment in this DVD double feature, you can trick your friends into thinking you are a scholar of Japanese cinema.

Another great movie to pick up if you want to check out a contemporary Samurai film is ZATOICHI, directed by Takeshi Kitano, a contemporary Japanese director better known for his Yakuza epics.  This movie is based on a long-running film and TV franchise in Japan, but is by all accounts one of the best period Samurai films to be made since Kurosawa’s heyday.  We’ve got a special “Double feature” disk in stock that collects ZATOICHI with the director's Yakuza film, SONATINE.

Another set of DVD’s that is worth looking at is from Lurker Films.  We’ve got 4 separate DVD packages that collect some of the best H. P. Lovecraft adaptations ever put to film or video.  Some of them include rare gems like ROUGH MAGIC, and CHILEAN GOTHIC.  In addition, we will have copies of the Call of Cthulhu "silent movie" adaptation we screened last August at the Vareity/Borderlands film nights.  This movie was an indy production from a year or so ago, and not only features a brilliant score that makes the movie work incredibly well, but also is one of the most careful and accurate adaptations of ANY Lovecraft story.

Finally, Guillermo Del Toro and Mike Mignola bring you the animated adventures of Hellboy in HELLBOY ANIMATED - SWORD OF SWORDS.  If you’re a Hellboy fan, you gotta take a look at this one.

That’s about it for now.  I’ll keep trying to get the good stuff on the shelves, and point it out to you here every month.

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