Moriarty’s DVD Shelf! New Release Tuesday for September 26th!!
Published at: Sept. 26, 2006, 11:05 a.m. CST by Moriarty
Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Another week, another batch of new releases on DVD. One thing’s obvious from this week’s selection of titles... Halloween is coming. I love this time of year when everyone seems to pile on the horror titles. I turn every October into a month-long festival of horror films both new and old, and every year, it seems like the studios make sure there’s plenty of new stuff to choose from.
We’re also starting to see this summer’s movies released each week, so I’m catching up on the things I’ve missed. I’m making more of an effort to get out and see things at press screenings now so I can stay current, and between the DVD releases and what’s in theaters, I may well see most of this year’s titles before we get to the end of the year. It’s weird how I’ve seen 135 new films this year, but I still feel like I’m hopelessly behind.
So let’s jump right into it with...
This Week’s Featured Title (9/26)
DUST DEVIL: THE FINAL CUT
Thirty dollars. That’s what Subversive Cinema is charging for this release, although you can probably find it listed for a lot less if you search. Thirty dollars for five discs. Not bad.
Especially when you consider what these five discs contain. Richard Stanley seems to me to be one of those deeply underrated genre guys who never caught a break. Damn shame, because I think he’s got more style and more on his mind than your typical “horror” guy. I had the chance to meet him at FanTasia in Montreal a few years back, and I was charmed by the intellectual acrobatics that a conversation with him requires.
DUST DEVIL was Stanley’s follow-up to HARDWARE, the ultra-low-budget SF film that put him on the map. It was sort of a disaster as a theatrical release, but that’s because the distributor cut the guts out of the film and totally ruined it. It’s easy to claim that about any film that fails, but the proof is right here on this DVD, since Stanley’s finally been given the chance to go back and finish his film the way he wanted to. Watching it now, DUST DEVIL still isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s ambitious and challenging and, at times, quite beautiful. Drawn from personal experience, Stanley’s script is part ghost story, part exploration of the way we all carry evil inside of us.
It was shot in South Africa, where Stanley grew up, and he filmed the movie on a series of locations where actual murders took place. Those murders, which occurred while Stanley was on a hitchhiking trip across the country, are one of the primary inspirations for this film, which tells the story of a drifting spirit, a sort of hurricane of bad karma that blows across the country, right on the heels of a woman (Chelsea Field) who is trying to escape a rotten relationship. What seems like bad luck at first turns into something else, a dark collision with fate. With people turning up dead each place she shows up, the woman becomes a suspect for the police. There’s a subplot about the investigation, featuring Zakes Mokae as the detective in charge of the case, struggling against the racism of his own men as much as he struggles to crack the case. It pushes him to a dark place, just the way it does to Field. Anyone who encounters this thing, even peripherally, is destroyed by it. It’s not horror in the sense that a slasher film is, but I can’t think of any other genre where it remotely fits.
So why five discs? Well, this is the part that really makes this one the stand-out this week for me. There’s the “Final Cut” version on one disc. There’s the “Workprint” version on another disc. There’s the soundtrack as a third disc. Then there are two full discs packed with other films by Richard Stanley, films I never thought anyone would release in any commercial format. They just seemed to me to be one of those things I’d keep on videotape for as long as it lasted, hoping they didn’t fall apart. Now, here they are, perfectly reproduced. I think Stanley might be more interesting as a documentarian than he is working in fiction, which is saying a lot. It’s the wild eclectic globetrotting life he’s led so far that has given rise to his particular way of recording the world.
Disc four features two films. VOICE OF THE MOON and THE WHITE DARKNESS are both scathing, angry films, and knowing that Stanley grew up in South Africa, I’m intrigued by how he views cultures like Haiti and Afghanistan precisely because it’s not a mainstream American point of view. Haiti is a crazy powder keg of race and religion, and Stanley focuses on voodoo as a form of social rebellion, a way for a powerless people to take control of their world. Haiti may be under American control, but voodoo is not, and never will be. Voodoo belongs to the people we see in Stanley’s film, and it’s harrowing, primal, orgiastic stuff. It is religious bliss, release, therapy, and sensual abandon all in one. VOICE OF THE MOON is more of a poem, a sort of experiential impression of life as an Afghani rebel. Both films are beautiful, strange, unconventional in the way they layer in sound and image. In the theater, they were both overwhelming, and they look exceptional here on DVD.
Finally, there’s THE SECRET GLORY, which is the story of SS officer Otto Rahn, working for Hitler to locate the Holy Grail. At least, that’s part of it. Really, Rahn’s story is much more complicated and bizarre than that, and Stanley’s film isn’t just Rahn’s story. It’s also about what happens to a filmmaker (or anyone, really) who gets caught up in researching a story. Personally, I always think of research as one of the most enjoyable parts of any process, but for Stanley, it appears to be almost a sort of madness in this case. It’s great stuff, if a bit rough around the edges. As I understand it, THE SECRET GLORY is still a work in progress, and this is just the version of the film that exists right now. Whatever the case, hats off to Subversive Cinema for putting together one of the most interesting DVD collections of the year, and at a price that can’t be beat.
THE BIG ANIMAL
You had me at “based on a screenplay by Krzysztof Kieslowski.” I’m not sure how I was completely unaware of this one when it was made in 2000, but now at least I’ll get the chance to catch up with it.
Directed by Jerzy Stuhr, who was one of Kieslowski’s most frequently used actors, this is the story of a Polish couple who end up with a camel for a pet, causing an escalating series of events in the small town where they live. The reviews I’ve read make it sounds like a pretty potent little fable, and Stuhr directing himself in a script by his mentor really intrigues me. I’ll definitely be picking this one up at Amoeba this week.
BOLLYWOOD HORROR COLLECTION VOL. 1
CHAOS: DIRECTOR’S CUT
HENRY 2: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER
THE LAST BROADCAST
MASTERS OF HORROR: IMPRINT
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: INFINIFILM
THE STEPHEN KING COLLECTION
STREET TRASH: SPECIAL TWO-DISC MELTDOWN EDITION
TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE: THE ULTIMATE EDITION
Like I was saying, horror films a-plenty this week, some great, some cheesy, some just plain weird. Let’s see what we’ve got here...
Mondo Macabro is loads of fun as a company. The stuff they release could kindly be described as “freakin’ crazy,” and they seem to buy up libraries of films from foreign studios in India or Singapore or Thailand. Here, we’ve got two Bollywood horror films, which are pretty much nothing like our horror films. I’m not sure I’d call either of these scary, but they’re certainly worth seeing.
Both PURANA MANDIR and BANDH DARWAZA were directed by Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay. One’s an Indian riff on Dracula, and the other is the story of a family curse and one woman’s efforts to break that curse after generations. These are very much products of where they were produced, and they borrow visual language from Hollywood films in many cases, while also contributing some fresh ideas.
NoShame put together a really fun box for this one, complete with a replica of this demonic amulet thingy that’s featured on the cover of the film. It’s a pretty heavy replica, and it seems to be made of plaster, so it’s not just some cheap plastic knock-off. There’s also a thick booklet of production art, storyboards, and even screenplay pages, as well as liner notes and bio info on the major players in the film. Just on the level of packaging, DARK WATERS is a home run. The film itself is a stylish beautifully-designed ghost story that definitely wears its Argento/Bava influences proudly. There’s a second disc that features three short films by director Mariano Baino, a true film geek if I’ve ever heard one. His movie involves a young woman who stumbles into a surreal, dangerous convent. This is one of those sets that I never would have asked for, but now that I’ve seen it, I’m really glad it’s part of my collection. Great stuff.
Dark Sky’s busy this week with a double feature of Tobe Hooper movies. First up, there’s EATEN ALIVE, which I’d never seen until this release. It was the film Tobe made after the original ‘SAW, and it’s certainly not as good. It’s not bad, though. It’s just uneven. There are places where you can see how hard Tobe’s trying to make the movie work, but it’s just not that good a script. The big difference between this and ‘SAW is how artificial this is versus ‘SAW’s near-documentary style, and I think it’s less effective overall. Still, this is a must for anyone interested in Hooper’s career, and it’s got a fun cast including a young Robert Englund (who has one line of dialogue that any KILL BILL fan will find particularly interesting) and the great William Finley.
Sure. Why not?
The question of who borrowed from who and who came out first is less interesting than the question of which film was better: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or THE LAST BROADCAST, movies that are very similar in concept but entirely different in execution. I think BLAIR WITCH beats it as a film, but BROADCAST has its moments, and taken on its own terms, it’s a pretty effective film as a whole.
Yes, it’s another episode of MASTERS OF HORROR (a series that I have written two episodes of so far), this being the infamous one that Showtime refused to broadcast at the end of the show’s first season. It’s pretty strong stuff, even by the standards of director Takashi Miike. I think Billy Drago’s awful in the lead, strange in a way that just doesn’t work. But there’s no denying the unsettling power of some of what Miike does here. He made the most of his budget, creating a lush ghost story filled with vivid, brutal images. As with all the other MOH releases, this one comes with a hefty sampling of extra features.
There’s not a lot to say about this one that hasn’t been said before. If you’ve already got that great New Line NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET box set, you don’t really need to buy the film again, but this is actually the first version of the film I’ve owned on DVD. It’s nice, too, a worthy celebration of one of the company’s most significant films.
NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was significant for me as a film that I saw in the theater. I wasn’t old enough yet for an R-rated film on my own, but I decided (based on a few terrible-quality-but-still-compelling TV commercials) that I was going to see this film in the theater opening day, no matter what. My friend and I went to the theater, and we pulled off a MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE style infiltration of the theater. That first show, there was no one in the auditorium except for us. We sat in the very back row. The place we saw it was a fairly big auditorium, and super-dark. My friend and I were scared so completely by Fred Kruger and Wes Craven’s super-inventive low-budget direction. I still think this is a perfect example for guys working with limited resource. This is such a smart and impressive movie visually, and all for a cost. The extra features New Line’s put together for this edition are nice, but I’m not sure how they stack up to what’s come before. Overall, since the only one I really want from the series is that first one, this is the perfect edition for me.
THE DEAD ZONE is a legitimately great Stephen King film adaptation. Scripted by Jeff Boam and directed by David Cronenberg, this is a supernatural PARALLAX VIEW that delivers from start to finish thanks in no small part to Christopher Walken’s riveting lead performance. Casting him in a film now is easy, since everyone’s “in” on the joke, but there was a time where Walken was a risk, a daring decision, and I think he and Cronenberg both bring the best out of each other in this film. He’s great, and Cronenberg takes this pulpy story and gives it an honest broken heart and a crushing sense of the inevitable. Four new featurettes fill out this “Special Collector’s Edition.”
PET SEMETARY is the other film that gets the “Special Collector’s Edition” treatment in this box, and I’ve got to say... this film has gotten better as it’s aged. There’s a sincere cruelty to the movie, totally appropriate in adapting one of King’s bleakest novels, that remains terribly effective every time I see it. It’s uneven, and when it goes crazy, it’s just plain crazy. But still... there’s no denying that it works.
SILVER BULLET and GRAVEYARD SHIFT are... well... let’s just call them “significantly less good” and leave it at that. Still, if you want a fistful of horror films before the holiday, this is a decent value.
I reviewed the single-disc version of STREET TRASH that Synapse Films released earlier, and I wrote how impressed I was with the transfer and with the film itself. Now Synapse has put together a truly exceptional double-dip with their special Meltdown edition, complete with a new feature-length documentary called THE MELTDOWN MEMOIRS. It’s great, and even if you don’t like the film, it’s still a pretty inspirational story about low-budget filmmaking. Bryan Singer shows up in some new interview footage, and I give him huge kudos for what comes across as self-deprecating honesty about the making of the movie. I love the story he tells about crossing paths with a young Tony Timpone, now the editor of FANGORIA and a great guy. There’s a lot going on in what is basically a gory Troma-style comedy about some liquor bottles filled with a substance that causes you to melt and explode. There are some over-the-top moments, and the documentary traces every step (and misstep) along the way in developing the film’s visual design. Jim Muro, the film’s director, is now one of the top cameramen in the world, a guy whose list of credits is truly breathtaking. Pretty much everyone has worked with him at some point. Michael Mann, Bryan Singer (and how weird must that have been?), Oliver Stone, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Kevin Costner, Phil Alden Robinson. He was the cinematographer for the gorgeous OPEN RANGE and for last year’s Oscar-winner CRASH, and was even nominated for a BAFTA for his work on that movie. And way back in the day, he made this totally batshit crazy horror film, STREET TRASH, that still holds up now when you look at it. He’s a great visually inventive filmmaker, and he really knew what he was doing when he shot his kinetic camera moves. I’d say it’s at least as confident a film as Raimi’s first EVIL DEAD or Peter Jackson’s BAD TASTE. If you’ve never seen it, this is the disc to buy. It’s got everything you’ll ever need, produced with real care by Synapse.
When I saw the first commercials for this, my thought was, “Oh, I guess Showtime wants its SOPRANOS.” And now that I’ve seen the first disc of the three-disc set... I still sorta think Showtime wants its SOPRANOS. Which isn’t a bad thing, per se. BROTHERHOOD is the story of the Caffee brothers, Tommy (Jason Clarke) and Michael (Jason Isaacs), both consumed with the pursuit of power but in very different ways. Tommy is a local representative, a populist politician who believes he’s really doing good for his community. Michael is a dangerous sonofabitch, a longtime criminal who vanished for seven years, presumed dead, before showing back up to try and leverage a complete take-over of The Hill, the area where they live.
So far, the two standouts from the cast are Isaacs (hardly a surprise based on how good he is in pretty much everything) and Annabeth Gish playing Eileen, Tommy’s wife. She’s bored, trapped, constantly looking for something to make her feel again. She’s also hotter than she’s ever been, and between her and Mary Louise Parker in WEEDS, Showtime’s turning into the MILF Channel.
I like the Rhode Island setting of the show. I like the writing and directing for the most part. It’s not the greatest show on TV, and it’s not so compelling that I feel like I have to see every episode, but if you’re in the mood for a meaty family crime drama, this at least proves that Showtime can step up and produce a series as complex as any of their competitors these days.
CITY OF MEN
I haven’t seen a review copy of this one yet, so I can’t confirm that this contains all 19 episodes of this series that was inspired by the sensational Brazilian film CITY OF GOD, but I think it does. Fernando Mierelles and Katia Lund, who co-directed that film, both are part of this series as well, and this explores more of the characters who people this notorious slum. I’ve seen the first series of four episodes, and I thought it was compelling and powerful. There’s also a great deal of humor, which shows that not every day is wall-to-wall struggle. Those moments of unexpected sunshine are what really make this special, and I’m looking forward to digging into this Palm Pictures release.
Here’s one I’ll pick up to watch with my boy, since I’ve already made sure we’ve got a wide assortment of the original CURIOUS GEORGE books here in the house. I love the books, and I’m interested to see if the film is able to capture any of the playful spirit of the source material. It’s got a pretty hefty voice cast (Will Ferrell, Drew Barrymore, David Cross) and a song score by Jack Johnson, and considering how long Universal tried to figure out how to make this film, I hope the results are at least fun.
DEPECHE MODE: TOURING THE ANGEL – LIVE IN MILAN
Depeche Mode should, by all rights, be completely finished as a band by this point. It seemed for a while that they were, actually.
And then they released the great “Playing The Angel,” and they put that idea to rest. For anyone who liked DM, it was a refreshing sign that the band is actually in prime condition and ready to rock. This three-disc-set is a record of the blockbuster tour that followed the release of the album. The first DVD features the full-length concert, with over 20 songs like “John The Revelator,” “I Feel You,” “Enjoy The Silence,” and more. The second DVD features all the extra features, incluind a special documentary short film by Anton Corbijn. The last disc is an audio CD featuring just over a half-hour’s worth of music. For fans of the Mode, myself included, this is a must-buy this week.
DOWN IN THE VALLEY
Ed Norton doesn’t work enough.
I don’t think anyone would argue that he’s anything less than one of our most talented actors working right now, but he seems to be incredibly picky about what he will or won’t do, and writer/director David Jacobsen really lucked out in landing Norton to star in this, his third film as a director.
It sounds like an intriguing character piece about a young man named Harlan (played by Norton) who believes himself to be a cowboy, a South Dakota native who has blown into the San Fernando Valley like a tumbleweed, smack into the lives of Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood) and her family. Is he really from South Dakota? Is anything about his biography true? Should anyone in the family trust him at all? It sounds like things get really edgy and dangerous, and I’m curious to see how Jacobsen handles the material. The disc’s got commentary, a filmmaker Q&A, and a making-of featurette as well.
FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT
Wow. Color me surprised by this one. I haven’t had much use for either of the first two FAST & THE FURIOUS films, but this one, directed by Justin Lin, turns out to be the most entertaining of the bunch.
Part of that is because Lucas Black has grown into a fairly engaging lead. He can handle drama, like in FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, and he can also turn on the charm and just enjoy himself like he does here. He plays a bad boy with a love for speed, and thanks to a particularly awful crash, he’s sent to Japan as a sort of last chance for redemption. I’m still not exactly sure who the hell it was they sent him to stay with, and I frankly don’t care. The race scenes in this one are visually striking and genuinely exciting. This is the KARATE KID II of the series, and I mean that as a compliment. The Japanese setting seems fresh, and the young cast is all suitably pretty and manages to take all of this just seriously enough. I would never try to sell anyone on this as any sort of high art, but if you’re in the mood for a movie about teenagers drag racing, you can do a lot worse.
THE GROUND TRUTH
This documentary won acclaim at Sundance this year for the way it gives voice to the ordinary men and women who have been to Iraq and, more importantly, returned home changed by the experience. I’m not much of a fan of the political documentaries that have been released during Bush’s Presidency. I think more than anything, they’ve led to the collapse of decent discourse in this country. However, if done correctly, a film like this shouldn’t be political. Being a soldier is something else, something that’s about honor and duty and answering a higher calling. I have utmost respect for anyone who is willing to serve their country in this way, and giving them a way to express their feelings is a valuable service. I can’t wait to see what director Patricia Foulkrod has come up with.
Chan-wook Park has gained quite a reputation in the last few years, and his revenge trilogy, a group of loosely-related films that tie together thematically, is what put him on the map. I think OLDBOY is the best of the three, but SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE is the sort of film that any director would be proud to have made. Accomplished, complex, and demanding, this is the story of Lee Geum-Ja, a young woman sent to prison for her part in the kidnapping and murder of a child. The truth about that kidnapping and her role in it is the secret that drives this film forward, but it takes a while for Park to reveal what it is he’s up to. This one’s got a more slippery structure than OLDBOY or SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, and for the first half, I thought this was my least favorite of the three. But then Park starts to set off the time bombs that he’s slipped into the film, and it all comes into focus. There’s a stretch of film towards the end, involving a group of parents who have all lost children, that is one of the most harrowing and emotionally upsetting things I’ve seen in any film in recent memory. Park’s a world-class filmmaker, and even when his films reach some sensational and dark places, there’s never the sense that he’s doing it for empty shock. There’s always something more on his mind, and that’s what makes these films matter. The disc features three different commentary tracks, a making of featurette, and an interview with Park, and it marks another great release from Tartan Films.
THE LAKE HOUSE
Alejandro Agresti’s Argentinian film VALENTIN was charming, smart, and sweet without ever being saccharine. The original Korean drama IL MARE that this is based on was smart and subtle and delivered on the tearjerking without being insulting. So understand... I refuse to believe that this film is worthless.
Just the chance to see Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves work together again for the first time since SPEED is reason enough to pick this one up. And since 99% of this particular genre, the romantic fable, comes down to casting, it seems like it might make this one worthwhile. I know it got hammered when it came out, but I’m going to pick it up and watch it with my wife. That’ll give me an excuse, and if I cross my fingers and hope it’s good, who’s gonna know?
THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE
I was quite taken with this film when I reviewed it earlier this year, and revisiting it on DVD, I’m convinced that any sane consideration of the year’s best performances has to include Gretchen Mol. She’s set free as an actress here to such a degree that I don’t recognize her from anything else she’s done. She plays every bit of Bettie’s journey close to the surface, which is part of what makes photos of the real Page so compelling. She always seemed to be emotionally wide open, and Mol embraces that. It’s beautiful work, and I think she makes the tricky downshift in the last third of the movie just as appealing. There’s no sense of Bettie ever being victimized, and that’s because Mol finds Bettie’s strength in every moment. It’s an impressive film by Mary Harron, and it deserves far more attention that it’s been given so far.
PRIDE & PREDJUDICE
Here’s the title of the week, as far as my wife is concerned, and she doesn’t even know it yet. She loves the Bridget Jones movies dearly, and she has no idea that Colin Firth played Mr. Darcy previously. This is the production that made him an international star, and that pretty much typecast him for the rest of his career. Hard to believe it’s already ten years old.
The story of Elizabeth Bennet and her family has been told many times on film so far, and I’m sure people will continue to reinterpret it in the future. Jane Austen was, simply put, a genius of her genre, a giant whose work continues to play to every generation because of how universal her characters are. This three-disc set comes in some handsome packaging, to say the least. I love A&E because of the way they put their large collections together, and this set has a 120-page companion book, a new transfer, a new behind-the-scenes documentary, a Jane Austen BIOGRAPHY episode and more.
See, something like this doesn’t really count as a “sequel” the way Hollywood abuses the term. When L’AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE came out in 2002, I thought it was a sweet and charming look at student life during time spent abroad, a memory piece that seemed to be drawn from real-life experience. I didn’t even know that writer/director Cedric Klapisch was working on a sequel, much less that it was already out. His star, Romain Duris, has been fairly busy as of late, with his acclaimed performance in THE BEAT MY HEART SKIPPED being the most notable of his recent efforts. Although he’s the star here, he’s not the only returning cast member. Klapisch brought pretty much all the major characters from L’AUBERGE EPSAGNOLE back. I’m dying to see how he’s brought them forward five years. Xavier (the Duris character) is evidently now a working writer, which is what brings him back into contact with the friends he made during his time in Barcelona. I’ve heard this is a more melancholy film than the first one, which makes sense. Xavier’s not a kid anymore, and life is starting to leave a mark on him. I hope there’s more weight to it than the first film, and I look forward to checking it out.
THE TOMORROW SHOW: TOM SNYDER’S ELECTRIC KOOL-AID TALK SHOW
There have been some really interesting talk show releases on DVD in recent weeks, like that incredible Dick Cavett set. This week, there’s a compilation disc of some of the highlights of the work Tom Snyder did on TOMORROW, the late late late night show he was the host of in the ‘70s. I loved TOMORROW. I loved staying up late enough to watch the show. I loved how Snyder didn’t seem like any other broadcaster on TV. This disc includes interviews with The Grateful Dead, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, and Tom Wolfe, as well as four songs by the Dead. I haven’t seen this Shout Factory release yet, but as soon as I get it, I’m going to dig in.
Double-Dip Tip Of The Week
DRACULA: 75th Anniversary Edition
FRANKENSTEIN: 75th Anniversary Edition
Damn it. I resent these on general principle.
I understand that these are both significantly restored versions, better than what was used when Universal put together the Legacy Collections a few years ago.
And that pisses me off. This is the third time Universal has repackaged these titles, and they’re just now getting around to some clean-up work on these films? I guess shame on me for actually buying the earlier collector’s editions. I wish I could say I was going to sit these out, but I doubt I will. I’m pretty sure I’m going to add these to my collection, one way or another, and if they’re really worth the triple-dip, I’ll report back.
That’s it for this week’s DVD stuff. I’ve got a ton of great material for you this week (like I don’t say that every week), and I’m going to go so I can try to get some of it ready for tomorrow. Until then...