Saturday, December 15, 2007

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2007: Richard Harland Smith

Today's list reflects the tastes of VW contributor Richard Harland Smith, who moonlights (or daylights, as it were) as a liner notes writer for various DVD labels and blogger at the Turner Classic Movies page, MovieMorlocks.com. His list begins with his favorite of the year, but the rest are in no particular order.

THREE FILMS BY HIROSHI TESHIGAHARA (Criterion)
Although I was familiar with WOMAN IN THE DUNES (thanks to Gordon Gow's eye-opening genre study SUSPENSE IN THE CINEMA), the larger career of Hiroshi Teshigahara was uncharted territory to me until this year. WOMAN didn't disappoint and PITFALL and FACE OF ANOTHER (pictured above) are equally compelling and gorgeously photographed meditations on post-war life in a rapidly modernizing (and westernizing) Japan. My top-slotted DVD release of the year.

CLASSIC FLY COLLECTION (20th Century Fox)
Even though I already have THE FLY and RETURN OF THE FLY on a double disc, I'm all abuzz about this new collection for the inclusion of CURSE OF THE FLY, starring the incomparable Carole Gray. If you thought RETURN was minor and depressing, brother you don't know the half of it! CURSE is one of the great soul-scarring experiences of my childhood.

THE PSYCHIC (Severin Films)
It's about bloody time somebody showed some love for this redheaded stepchild of the Lucio Fulci corpus. I'm not calling THE PSYCHIC a lost classic, just a whiter shade of Fulci and an indispensable slice of Euro-Cult.

MICHAEL SHAYNE MYSTERIES, VOL. 1 (20th Century Fox)
A great rediscovery that didn't get enough nearly enough press or praise upon its release back in the Spring. Tight, neat little comic thrillers starring the long-underrated Lloyd Nolan, backed by a slew of cherce supporting players from Hollywood's boiling B-unit.

FOX HORROR CLASSICS COLLECTION (20th Century Fox)
Fox comes through again with a dynamite collection of largely forgotten suspense thrillers and one downright supernatural shocker. I would have paid this much for THE UNDYING MONSTER alone but I'm pleased as punch to have director John Brahm's THE LODGER and HANGOVER SQUARE as well.

SAM KATZMAN COLLECTION (Sony Pictures)
Admittedly not in the same league as the films cited above, but the titles comprising this collection are nonetheless guilty pleasures non pareil... especially THE GIANT CLAW and THE WEREWOLF. And that packaging! In a word: gimme!

CHOSEN SURVIVORS/THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING (20th Century Fox "Midnite Movies")
I love CHOSEN SURVIVORS as much for what it does wrong (skimpy characterization) as what it does right (Fred Karlin's cool synth score, whose thumping bass line anticipates John Carpenter's minimalist noodlings for HALLOWEEN) and I went batty when I heard it was getting a proper DVD release. It's just one of those titles from the early 70s that had great re-telling properties on my grammar schoolyard. As for THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING, I'm a sucker for 60s British sci-fi... something about thatch roofs and ro-men really sends me.

THE OMEGA MAN (Warner Home Video)
Available in HD and Blu-ray, either of these remastered DVDs will do as a testament to this enduring schlock classic. Watch this back-to-back with CHOSEN SURVIVORS for a freefalling Lincoln Kilpatrick double-bill.

WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (Dark Sky Films)
I never ever thought this disturbing Spanish horror film would ever ever rate an American DVD release and I'm ever glad to be wrong. If you haven't seen this muy creepy island-set thriller, run-- don't walk-- to get your hands on a copy. But send your kids to the mall first.

THE NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (BCI/Eclipse)
This is just one of a slew of Paul Naschy movies put out by BCI/Eclipse and all are equally noteworthy but I think this title (alternatively known as THE CRAVING) is a stand-out due to its relative rarity and good production values. If you're a Naschy newbie, sink your teeth into this!

Tomorrow: A rule-bending list from VW contributor, filmmaker and horror host Shane M. Dallmann.

Friday, December 14, 2007

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2007: David Kalat

Today's list compiles the favorites of VW contributor David Kalat, also the author of J-HORROR (Vertical Press) and the man behind the DVD company devoted to films that fall through the cracks, All Day Entertainment.


1. DOCTOR WHO - THE COMPLETE THIRD SERIES (BBC Warner)
I was 10 years old when I first saw DOCTOR WHO: it was Episode 3 of "The Stones of Blood," broadcast on PBS. I have nursed my dedicated fandom long enough now to have my own 10 year old child (and a 7 year old) whose Who-mania matches my own—they read DOCTOR WHO MONTHLY, collect the action figures, groove to the soundtrack album. Ever since the show returned so triumphantly in 2005, it has been a focal point of my family’s TV quality time. As long as they keep making it, I’ll keep listing the box sets as among my favorite discs of the year.

2. HEROES - SEASON 1 (Universal)
Most of my friends and family were caught up with HEROES during its broadcast run, but I missed the first half of the first season and didn’t want to join a serial drama in medias res. So I waited, not so patiently, for this DVD box set, which I hungrily devoured in about two weeks. The current half season has been a disappointment, but after such an astounding first season what wouldn’t have been? Few TV shows come out on day one at full strength—most need some time to mature and find their voice. This is a rare creation, and further proof that the best cinema these days is on TV. Also available on HD DVD.

3. THE FIRST KINGS OF COMEDY COLLECTION (Genius Entertainment)
Robert Youngson is a curious figure in film preservation. In his day, he was the kind of person who represented the precise antithesis of the VIDEO WATCHDOG ethos: he took perfectly good movies and cut them up, re-edited them, retooled them into new forms. But, in the decades that have elapsed since he tinkered with these classics of silent comedy, many of the films he adapted have all but vanished, their nitrates dissolved into pools of silver flakes, their prints wasted away and lost. Youngson’s work paradoxically preserved the footage in question, and there’s scarcely a film preservationist today who doesn’t thank him for it. This DVD presents his first two comedy compilations, rich with the big names of Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon and Charley Chase, but also studded with rare clips of lesser comics and forgotten treasures. Most silent comedy aficionados of a certain age learned their passion from watching these films in their youth, and they still work wonders on neophytes and silent comedy virgins. There are unauthorized pirate DVDs available of these and other Youngson compilations -- VW’ers should steer clear of those with the Televista label -- but this legit release from Genius Entertainment is fully licensed and mastered from top quality elements.

4. FILM NOIR COLLECTION VOLUME 4 (Warner Home Video)
Warner's Film Noir collections have always been must-have items in my book, but with this latest installment they have substantially raised the bar. The earlier volumes were packed with the biggies, well-heeled exemplars of 1940s crime thriller cool; this box doubles the number of movies and reaches deeper into the bin for more obscure (and precious) gems. Add in commentaries and featurettes, and you’ve got one of the best entertainment bargains going.

5. THE AKI KAURISMAKI COLLECTION VOLUME 3 (Sandrew Metronome, Finnish R2 import)
I lived in Germany in 1990-1991, and in the center of the little Schwartzwald town was a movie theater that only ran midnight cult movies. The favored selections were MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL and LENINGRAD COWBOYS GO AMERICA. I fell in love with LENINGRAD COWBOY’s offbeat dry wit, as did nearly every other college student in Freiburg. When I saw that another film by director Aki Kaurismaki was coming to the local film society, I was first in line. The movie was one of Kaurismaki’s earliest works, HAMLET GOES BUSINESS. It took Shakespeare’s tragedy and turned it into a Cold War political allegory rich in slapstick. If you have a hard time imagining such a thing, then that’s all the more reason to see it. I give high marks to anyone whose Hamlet adaptation includes the line, “Ham? Let me at it!” I have spent the entire time since then looking for this film on video. I even started trading DVDs with a friend in Finland hoping he could locate what Google could not. Imagine my delight when this Region 2 UK disc came out in October! It has Kaurismaki’s first 3 films, remastered with English subtitles, all for a low, low price. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout! [Editor's Note: Amazon.com mistakenly lists HAMLET GOES BUSINESS as being included on THE AKI KAURISMAKI COLLECTION VOLUME 2, but it's actually on VOLUME 3 as David describes.]

6. RETRIBUTION (Hong Kong import)
I’d watch anything by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and as soon as I did I’d likely list it here as one of my faves, so I’m pleased to note that, despite my mindless fanboy obsession, this thriller is actually extremely good.

7. THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Sony Pictures)
I’ve always been a sucker for a good espionage paranoia thriller and, having lived in Germany just after the Wall fell and Reunification began, I find this Cold War drama has a special allure. I saw the film in New York -- one of the few times I actually made it to a real theater this year for anything other than a kids’ film -- and I think it might be the best movie I saw all year, in any format or any genre. Also available in Blu-ray.

8. THE HOST (Magnolia Home Entertainment)
I’ve been a monster movie fan for over 30 years, and I’ve very nearly seen it all. For a giant monster flick to come along that surprises me, thrills me, enraptures me—that is an amazing achievement. I was fortunate enough to see this in the theater with a packed house, and now I can recreate the experience at home. Available as a single and as a two-disc "collectors edition."

9. FRANKENSTEIN VS BARUGON (Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters)
The movie itself is a silly concoction best enjoyed while doing something else—like eating popcorn, or having a pillow fight. I’d already seen it about as many times as I cared to, and the Japanese laserdisc suited me just fine, until this fabulous Media Blasters disc came along to make it feel fresh and new again. A stellar job, a DVD done right.

10. GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (Classic Media)
I know, I shouldn’t be plugging a disc I was involved with, but come on—they didn’t use most of the bonus features I provided and my commentary track is utterly dispensible. What makes this worthwhile are the movies themselves—the Japanese edition and the American theatrical recut (which I believe improves slightly on the original version). Awhile back, the Mobius discussion group had a thread about which movies members had collected multiple copies of. I have some offenders—a handful of movies I’ve somehow managed to buy ten times over, in a futile search for the “perfect” version. But then there are movies like this, long unavailable and dearly wished-for. And then, magically, they appear—already perfect!

I previously announced that our Favorite lists would wrap up at the end of this week, but we still have lists from Shane M. Dallmann and Richard Harland Smith to post before getting to mine and VIDEO WATCHDOG's consensus choice for Best DVD of 2007, so our lists will continue on through the weekend.

Tomorrow: the top picks of VW contributor and Movie Morlocks blogger Richard Harland Smith.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2007: Sheldon Inkol

Today's Top Ten (well, Eleven) List reflects the year's end choices of VW contributor and filmmaker Sheldon Inkol:

I don't have PAN'S LABYRINTH, IF... or BLADE RUNNER yet, but those are titles that should probably be on this list. With that in mind...


1. TWIN PEAKS DEFINITIVE GOLD BOX EDITION (Paramount)
In last year's list, I asked for the second season... and I got something definitive. Well, almost definitive. If only those deleted scenes from TWIN PEAKS FIRE WALK WITH ME were included...

2. CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES (FRIEDHOF OHNE KREUZE, Anolis, PAL R0)
Robert Hossein's undeservedly obscure Euro-Western, in a definitive package that features surprising revelations about the credited non-participation of Dario Argento... and the uncredited participation of Sergio Leone! Available as an import from Xploited Cinema.

3. DR. WHO THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON and DR. WHO THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (BBC Video/2 Entertain)
Two seasons released at either end of 2007. A great time to be a fan of the Doctor.

4. WITCHFINDER GENERAL (MGM)
Properly and respectfully restored, and doing justice to the memory of Michael Reeves.

5. THE SERGIO LEONE ANTHOLOGY (MGM/20th Century Fox)
Including improved releases of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, and the first-ever R1 release of DUCK, YOU SUCKER, in its most complete form yet.

6. FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters)
An entertaining and comprehensive treatment given to a childhood pleasure. If you enjoy bizarre endings that come out of left field, you owe it to yourself to experience the unbelievably loopy Devilfish finale.

7. THE MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUME 1 (Anchor Bay)
Finally, KILL, BABY...KILL! in widescreen with the original Italian soundtrack and English subtitles. (Too bad it doesn't have a certain commentary track you've probably heard of.) Also, BLACK SUNDAY and welcome upgrades of BLACK SABBATH and THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.

8. THE HELLBENDERS (Anchor Bay)
Sergio Corbucci's underrated, existential Spaghetti Western. A big influence on Quentin Tarantino and worthy of rediscovery in its own right.

9. BEDAZZLED (20th Century Fox)
Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron and Raquel Welch, all in their prime. And still very, very funny 40 years later.

10. THE CHOCOLATE WAR (MGM)
Keith Gordon's unusual directorial debut, making its first appearance on DVD.

11. A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL (TOTE AMIGO, Koch Media, R2 PAL)
Not just another release of Damiano Damiani's classic Spaghetti Western, but notable for its inclusion of two different English audio tracks, one appearing on DVD for the first time and superior to the dub job found on earlier R1 releases. Also available from Xploited Cinema.

Last year's TWIN PEAKS wish came true, and then some, so here's my Wish List for 2008:

ANDY WARHOL'S BAD
Monte Hellman's CHINA 9, LIBERTY 37 (restored and widescreen)
Dario Argento's FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET
Larry Fessenden's THE LAST WINTER
MESSIAH OF EVIL (restored and widescreen)
Sergio Corbucci's NAVAJO JOE
Michael Tolkin's THE NEW AGE
TWO LIVING, ONE DEAD starring Patrick McGoohan
THE WITCHMAKER

Tomorrow: The year's top picks as chosen by VW contributor, author, and Mr. All Day Entertainment, David Kalat.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2007: Bill Cooke

Today's list comes to us from VW contributor, filmmaker and educator Bill Cooke:

WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968, MGM / 20th Century Fox)
Finally, MGM’s long-in-the-pipeline director’s cut of Michael Reeve’s swan song renders the flawed British import DVD, and any memories of those abominable domestic releases rescored with a synthesizer, gloriously obsolete. The transfer is gorgeously detailed, bringing fresh vitality to this landmark modern horror film.

WHO CAN KILL A CHILD (1976, Dark Sky)
Aka ISLAND OF THE DAMNED
Strange, suspenseful Spanish thriller from Narcisco Ibañez Serrador throws a vacationing couple on an island of murdering children. As in Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, we’re left to ponder the reasons why. Dark Sky presents the uncut version.

THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M (1959, Casa Negra)
Those who dismiss Mexican horror films probably haven’t seen this one from Fernando Méndez, the director of EL VAMPIRO (1957). Striking B&W atmosphere recalls the early work of Mario Bava. Casa Negra, the company that gave us this and other nicely restored Mexican horror films these past two years is now, sadly, out of business.

THE RETURN OF DRACULA (1958) / THE VAMPIRE (1957) (MGM / 20th Century Fox)
In this fun double-bill of late-Fifties American vampire films, each takes a radically different approach to the material. THE VAMPIRE is a typical 1950s variation on Jekyll & Hyde and is the better film for its superior screenplay by Pat Fielder (THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD), mixing sympathetic characters and dark humor. THE RETURN OF DRACULA returns to the character’s supernatural origins, but places him in modern times as a metaphor for communist invaders. RETURN includes the color insert shot usually missing from TV prints.

Süpermen: Dönüyor (1979, Omar Films - Greek import)
In this Bizarro World version of the Richard Donner film (translated title: SUPERMAN RETURNS!), a lanky Turkish Superman uses his X-Ray vision to peek at women’s undies, reverts into a crude action figure whenever he flies, and gets into lots of repetitious fistfights with gangsters on sets made for a buck ninety-five. This PAL-formatted disc from Greece was mastered from a tape source and looks pretty rough, though it’s an improvement over former bootlegs and contains an extra B&W Turkish superhero feature (Demir Yumruk: Deluer Geliyor) to sweeten the deal. Available from Xploited Cinema.

UNIVERSAL HORROR: CLASSIC MOVIE ARCHIVE (Universal)
A couple of important titles—MAN-MADE MONSTER and NIGHT MONSTER—are combined with some minor filler—HORROR ISLAND and THE BLACK CAT (1941)—for this Best Buy exclusive that gets us ever closer to completing the Universal horror library. CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN is also included, dashing any hopes for an “Ape Woman Legacy” set. No sign of Rondo Hatton or Uni-owned Paramount titles yet, which makes these likely candidates for next Halloween’s offerings.

MALIBU HIGH (1979) / TRIP WITH THE TEACHER (1975, BCI Eclipse)
In an attempt to tap into brand-name recognition of the Tarantino/Rodriguez GRINDHOUSE (which actually turned out to be one of the biggest box-office flops of the year), BCI has resumed their “Starlight Drive-in” series of double under the new banner, “Welcome to the Grindhouse.” Whatever the headline, exploitation fans have cause to rejoice as long as these trashy and shamefully entertaining Crown International double features continue to come out, including this inspired pairing of a teen-rebellion drama gone horribly, horribly wrong with a head-on collision between the biker genre and THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

I AM CUBA – THE ULTIMATE EDITION (Milestone)
Mikhail Kalatazov’s communist-propaganda masterpiece receives the Special Edition treatment, complete with a scintillating transfer and clever cigar-box packaging. This anthological look at Castro’s revolution is among the most beautifully photographed films, with Kalatazov’s moving camera achieving one breathtaking, sustained long take after another.

ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION: SAM KATZMAN (Columbia Tri-Star)
Who’d have thought a giant corporation would greenlight a box set devoted to prolific “B” film producer Sam Katzman and even title the set after him? It’s not as if anybody in the mainstream knows the name. Oh well, even if it doesn’t make a lot of commercial sense, genre aficionados are certainly pleased to finally have pristine copies of THE GIANT CLAW, THE WEREWOLF, ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU and CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN.

INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER (Sony)
Aka MONSTER ZERO
2007 was an incredible year for stateside kaiju eiga fans, with Sony’s and Media Blasters’ subtitled, features-filled special editions of the Toho science-fiction canon. Picking just one is a daunting task, but this one—the sixth Godzilla film and an historic mating of the giant-monster and space opera genres—has a slight edge for containing a dazzling transfer of the American version (so we can hear Nick Adams yell “You dirty, stinkin’ rats!” in his own tongue) and a slew of great supplements.
Tomorrow: The Top Eleven picks -- and the Wish List -- of another of VW's filmmaking contributors... Sheldon Inkol.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2007: John Charles

Today's list is from VIDEO WATCHDOG associate editor John Charles:

I simultaneously love and hate year end lists like this. Love 'em because it's great to hear the opinions of everyone else on staff at VW, hate 'em because I never have enough time see anywhere near as many of the year's releases as I would like. There is also the matter of street dates, which is why you won't see BLADE RUNNER: FIVE DISC ULTIMATE COLLECTOR'S EDITION below, though it would almost certainly be nestled on top. The following DVDs -- listed alphabetically -- may not represent the absolute pinnacle of the industry's output in 2007, but they either more than met or completely exceeded my expectations.

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (MGM)
FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (MGM)
DUCK YOU SUCKER (MGM)
It's not clear why we, here in Region 1, had to wait so long to get our hands on these incredible Sergio Leone restorations, but they were well worth the wait (and we got the much preferable original mono tracks to boot).

FROM BEYOND (MGM)
The restored footage wasn't nearly as dramatic as what I'd imagined it would be based on director Stuart Gordon's descriptions of it in the past, but a very good rendering nonetheless that easily relegates the wretched HK DVD to coaster status.

HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (BCI)
This is the first of BCI's Paul Naschy titles that I have acquired and it certainly encouraged me to continue exploring. The presentation greatly exceeds Crash Cinema's crummy, unauthorized disc and the extras, while limited, satisfy.

KING BOXER (Dragon Dynasty)
Better known as 5 FINGERS OF DEATH, this Shaw Brothers production started the kung fu craze on these shores and has long been the victim of substandard of "public domain" transfers. Thankfully, it has never looked better via Dragon Dynasty's appropriately reverential release.

THE MARIO BAVA COLLECTION Vol. 1 (Anchor Bay)
Five of this fine director's films return to the marketplace in largely improved presentations, nice packaging and a very reasonable price. They also found a guy who knows a lot about him to do some commentaries.

PAN'S LABYRINTH: 2 DISC PLATINUM SERIES (New Line)
Guillermo Del Toro's breathtakingly designed and incredibly moving fantasy arrived on Region 1 disc with all of the respect and diversity of supplementary materiaI I'd hoped for.

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (Criterion)
Criterion's finally follows up their widely praised LD edition of Byron Haskin's cult favorite with an equally exemplary DVD that carries over all of the supplements, while also adding a terrific Michael Lennick featurette detailing what we have learned about The Red Planet in the interim.

WITCHFINDER GENERAL (MGM)
Another long delayed title (it was classified by the various Canadian provincial classification boards in March of 2005) that, thankfully, didn't disappoint -- despite being light on supplements.

Tomorrow: The top picks of VW contributor and filmmaker Bill Cooke.

Monday, December 10, 2007

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2007: The Umlands

This week, Video WatchBlog begins its week-long accounting of our contributors' favorite DVD releases of the past year. We'll wrap up at the end of the week with my own Editor's Choice selections and the naming of VIDEO WATCHDOG's annual selection for DVD of the Year (the release that appeared most frequently and placed most highly in our collected lists). We begin with...

Rebecca and Sam Umland

Our list last year was heavily weighted toward classics of the Italian cinema, but this year our choices are slightly more heterogeneous, although our selection includes several classics of the British cinema. Our choices are not ranked.

1. PERFORMANCE (Warner Home Video)
Despite the unfortunate soundtrack gaffe (the omission of Turner’s line, “Here’s to old England!”) this legendary film looks splendid on home video. Unless Warner commissions a restoration of the roughly 3m cut shortly before the film’s U.S. premiere, this is as a complete a version as we’re ever likely to get of this masterpiece. At the very least, a second pressing -- with the soundtrack corrected -- would be welcome.

2. THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER (Warner Home Video)
With all the hoopla surrounding Warner’s DVD release of PERFORMANCE, this unaccountably neglected British classic from 1962 starring Tom Courtenay (knighted in 2001) and directed by Tony Richardson (with a small supporting role by James Fox), released the same week as the PERFORMANCE DVD, was overlooked.

3. and 4. IF…. (Criterion) and O LUCKY MAN! (Warner Home Video)
In a remarkable serendipity, the first two films of the unofficial trilogy starring Malcolm McDowell as Mick Travis were released on DVD in the same year, about four months apart. These British classics were long overdue on DVD, the latter another one of the year’s welcome releases from the Warner film archives. Criterion’s two-disc set is outstanding (with the supplements primarily devoted to the second disc), and while we were delighted finally to have O LUCKY MAN! on DVD, too bad Warner didn’t issue it on HD DVD or Blu-ray so as to avoid spreading the film over two SD DVDs.

5. STANLEY KUBRICK—WARNER HOME VIDEO'S DIRECTORS SERIES (Warner Home Video)
We list here the title of the box set featuring the SD DVD Two-Disc Special Editions, but each of the five feature films included in this box set—2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, EYES WIDE SHUT (Unrated Edition), THE SHINING, and FULL METAL JACKET, are all available in high definition (both HD DVD and Blu-ray); we have the HD DVD versions, which look and sound tremendous. Warner’s box set also includes the Jan Harlan documentary titled STANLEY KUBRICK-A LIFE IN PICTURES.

6. BLADE RUNNER ULTIMATE COLLECTOR'S EDITION (Warner Home Video)
We’re cheating on this one, as our Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition [HD DVD version] hasn’t yet arrived in the mail, but this is most certainly one of 2007’s major home video releases as far as we’re concerned. We’re including it among this year’s choices because it wouldn’t qualify for a 2008 release. There are actually seven different versions being issued: in addition to the HD DVD version, it is also available as a Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray Disc, and of course there’s a five-disc SD DVD edition. The Ultimate Collector’s Edition is packaged in a limited edition, numbered, Deckard briefcase (which in the film contained the Voight-Kampff Empathy Test apparatus) and is to feature collectable memorabilia such as a Spinner car replica, Unicorn figurine, illustration and photo cards, and a lenticular motion film clip in Lucite. Moreover, the “Blade Runner Trilogy—25th Anniversary” three-CD box set featuring Vangelis’ remastered score (from 1994) and additional, unreleased tracks is available as an Amazon.com exclusive. 2007 is clearly a big year for BLADE RUNNER enthusiasts.

7. THE JAZZ SINGER (Warner Home Video)
Warner Home Video has given one of the most famous and historic films in its extensive library the deluxe treatment with this three-disc DVD package. It goes without saying that the early sound film has been beautifully restored, but Warner has also included many rarities, including a reproduction of the original souvenir program, behind-the-scenes stills, photographs, and other reproductions. A 90-minute documentary provides an engaging and lucid account of the development of the sound film and how Warner’s Vitaphone system worked, but it’s the supplemental short films of the early sound era that are of immense historic value: Al Jolson shorts, radio show adaptations, theatrical trailers, and there’s even a Tex Avery cartoon, “I Love to Singa” (1936), that’s a wonderful spoof of THE JAZZ SINGER starring a bird named Owl Jolson. The package also includes an entire disc (running close to four hours) devoted to early Vitagraph shorts that in fact is an amazing historical document memorializing late vaudeville performers.

8. TWIN PEAKS—DEFINITIVE GOLD BOX EDITION (Paramount DVD)
This package has it all—the pilot, the European theatrical version, and every one of the 29 episodes including the Log Lady introductions, and collectable memorabilia. All in all a wonderful box set if you’re a TWIN PEAKS enthusiast. Please note that it doesn’t contain all of the supplements found on the previous First Season and Second Season box sets, but the series’ devoted fans will already have these sets anyway.

9. ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (Criterion)
Byron Haskin’s delightful fantasy remains undiminished after more than forty years. One of our favorite films that we watch once a year (the old Criterion LD got a workout), we weren’t disappointed by Criterion’s crisp, colorful anamorphic DVD transfer. While Criterion has given the film only a one-disc treatment, the supplements, including the audio commentaries, are excellent.

10. THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
Written and directed by Philip Kaufman, with a great cast of ruffians including Cliff Robertson, Robert Duvall, R. G. Armstrong, Luke Askew, Matt Clark, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Royal Dano, this highly singular film is a Western made with a New Wave sensibility, including digressions, non-sequiturs, and, yes—jump cuts. Although arguably influenced by the work of Robert Altman (M*A*S*H* but also McCABE AND MRS. MILLER), its more distant precursor would seem to be Anthony Mann’s MAN OF THE WEST (1958), a defamiliarized Western landscape populated not by character “types” but by eccentrics, lunatics, and religious zealots. This is another one of those titles that were long overdue on DVD.

OUR HONORABLE MENTIONS: THE FILMS OF KENNETH ANGER VOLUMES 1 & 2 (Fantoma); Jean-Pierre Melville’s ARMY OF SHADOWS and LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES (Criterion); Andrei Tarkovsky’s IVAN'S CHILDHOOD (Criterion); Ingmar Bergman’s SAWDUST AND TINSEL (Criterion); UNIVERSAL HORROR CLASSIC MOVIE ARCHIVE (five films; Universal Studios Home Entertainment/Best Buy exclusive); STAR TREK -- SEASON ONE (The Original Series; Paramount, HD DVD/SD combo set derived from original negatives); CHARLIE CHAN COLLECTION VOLUME 3 (Fox); THE FILMS OF ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY (FANDO Y LIS, EL TOPO, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, plus a documentary; Anchor Bay).
Our Choice for Distributor of the year: Warner Home Video.
Tomorrow: The top picks of VW Associate Editor John Charles.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

All the Sights and Sounds of the Dark

The January 2008 issue of SIGHT & SOUND is a major one -- not least of all as it concerns me personally. It contains my monthly "NoZone" column (this month devoted to Lindsay Anderson's O LUCKY MAN!, a personal favorite) of course, but also a welcome and instructive letter pertaining to my earlier review of Charles Crichton's excellent THE THIRD SECRET, two different advertisements for my MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, and also D.K. Holm's much-appreciated review of same. I'm pleased by the fact that this issue contains SIGHT & SOUND's coverage of my favorite film of the year, I'M NOT THERE, as well as their annual survey of the year's best films. The latter has been posted in advance at their website and you can find what I and many other critics have to say about our five picks in a special PDF file downloadable here.