December 01, 2007

Notes from a DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

It's the Yule season, and frenzied purchasing sprees are in the air.   DVD's make great stocking stuffers, or gifts, or whatever.   For those of you find the holiday to be a torturous mess filled with awkward family gatherings and not much fun, I've got some suggestions for you.

First up is the original torture-porn extravaganza . . .  "The Girl Next Door".  Anybody who has read Jack Ketchum's landmark horror novel knows what a grueling, psychological roller coaster it is.  I have to be honest -- I haven't seen the movie yet.  It's directed by no one you've ever heard of, starring nobody you've ever heard of.  But it's going to the top of my To Watch pile, simply because the source material is so magnificent.  I have modest hopes for the movie, but . . .  they are still hopes.

"Hostel Part 2" is out on DVD.   The most original and creative of the torture-porn releases has a mediocre follow-up that delivers what you would expect from a franchise of this type.  If you have the holiday season blues, this will be sure to make you realize that someone, somewhere, is having a worse day.

If the recent influx of squirm-inducing horror has you wondering "What happened to the Italians?" They used to make such great/silly/crazy horror movies.   Well . . . They haven't stopped making them . . . they just got out-weirded by Takashi Mike and the rest of Japan.  Hoping to even up the score is a fresh young Italian auteur Alex Infascelli ("Almost Blue," "The Vanity Serum,") whose latest filmic epic is "Hate 20".  I'm not saying he's the next Dario Argento, or even the next Fulci . . . but he's certainly worth checking out.   "Hate 20" is in Italian, with English subtitles.  And that horror fiend on your holiday list most likely has not seen or heard of this one yet.

If that special someone has Asian Horror on their list . . . you might want to give them the Korean Ghost School Trilogy, box set, which has "Whispering Corridors," "Memento Mori," and "Wishing Stairs," along with a bonus disk of special features not previously released in the US.  This series is lush and filled with atmosphere, and a general sense of unease and creepiness.  Think "Degrassi High" meets "The Grudge".   (Speaking of "The Grudge," the novel that inspired the movie was written by Ken Oishi. He's written the new movie, "Apartment 1303," directed by Ataru Oikawa who made a name for himself directing the Tomie films.  Depending on how much Asian horror cinema you watch . . . this pairing may sound like the J-horror equivalent of the rock-n-roll world's Velvet Revolver*, or AudioSlave* . . . a calculated pairing of two established but slightly shopworn brand names.  And like the above two examples . . . sometimes it is a disaster and sometimes it works.   "Apartment 1303" is somewhere between these two extremes.  It is paint-by-numbers . . . but all the numbers are filled in very competently.  Perky young Japanese people getting killed by the apartment complex, and they keep moving in.  You'd think that as the body counts kept rising, people would stop moving in . . .  but if you live in San Francisco, you know a few ghosts won't keep you away from a place with below-market rent.  I guess for me, this is what truly resonated about this movie.  Sadly, I doubt there will be a US remake, set in San Francisco . . . staring the perky young cast of whatever CW teen angst TV drama is popular but there should be.

Moving away from horror, I wanted to point out the number one most important gift item on every SF aficionado's list: "Blade Runner - The Final Cut".  This is what a re-released, re-edited movie should be.  It contains the original theatrical version, and the new final cut, and every cut in between! Plus a boatload of special features.  There is a four disk version of this "Blade Runner":The Collectors' Edition.   It features: 1982 THEATRICAL VERSION - Featuring the infamous Harrison Ford voice over.  Some people love it. 1982 INTERNATIONAL VERSION - The basis of the U.S. home video, laserdisc and cable releases up to 1992. This version is not rated, and contains some extended action scenes in contrast to the Theatrical Version.  1992 DIRECTOR'S CUT - This was the one that removed the voice over, and added the unicorn, and the "Happy" ending. And . . . This year's FINAL CUT.   Which isn't anything hugely different from the 1992 director's cut, but is rather a refined version supervised by Scott, with some of the more obvious plot and F/X gaffs cleaned up. I saw this version in Times Square last month, on the big screen, and I can't wait to see it again. There is also a documentary, and a host of cut/unused footage available on the four disk edition - most of which has never been released before.   And, for the really hardcore of those amongst you who want to see the rarest of rares . . . there is a super special 5 disk "Ultimate Edition" that comes in its own special "void comp test" carrying case. This five-disk "Blade Runner" features the original work print version of the film .  . . very little narration . . .   different dialog in several scenes, and different music . . .  no happy ending and no unicorn. So, for the completist, I recommend the five disker, which will probably be out of print soon after Christmas, so grab it now.   I'd also recommend pre-ordering it with us if you want to get it, because we are only stocking this on a one-at-a-time basis.  For someone who is a casual fan, or just wants an archival quality version of the most influential SF film of all time ("Star Wars" is sci-fi , not SF - but that discussion is for another time) film, go for the four disk version.

Finally, I wanted to touch on something that will totally muddy the waters: HD, or High Definition.  If you own an HD TV, and a PS3, there's no reason to not be buying Blue Ray versions of your favorite movies.  I've made the Blue Ray plunge, and I'm not going back to regular DVD.  HD-DVD is a competing high definition standard that is also available, and next year expect to see combo players that play both formats, at affordable prices.  "Blade Runner" (both the 4 and 5-disk versions) are available in both High Definition formats.  Borderlands won't be stocking any High Definition versions of "Blade Runner," or any other movies (for now at least), but we can special order them for you, if you want the best available version for your home theater experience.

Some other titles that are available on both Blue Ray or HD are the Kubrick films I mentioned last month.  Blue Ray-only titles that I d recommend are the classic Korean torture/revenge epic "Oldboy," and Ridley Scott's director's cut of "Kingdom of Heaven".  All of these titles look simply awesome at 1080P resolution.  Let us know if you're interested, and we can get these or any others for you.

Next time you read my column, it will be next year.  Until then have a happy new year.

*Guns n' Roses band members with Stone Temple Pilots' lead signer - disaster.
**Rage Against the Machine band members with Soundgarden's lead singer - it works.

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