Monday, December 06, 2010

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2010: David Kalat

We missed last year because our heads (okay, my head) was elsewhere at the time, but I thought it would be an opportunity to reassert Video WatchBlog by asking our most frequent contributors to deck our halls with lists of their Favorite DVDs (or Blu-rays) of 2010. This first list comes from David Kalat, whom you may also know as the impresario behind All Day Entertainment, as the author of books on Godzilla, Dr. Mabuse and J-Horror, and whose exhaustive and entertaining audio commentaries appear on such discs as Kino's FANTOMAS, Masters of Cinema's METROPOLIS and THE COMPLETE FRITZ LANG MABUSE. More lists from other VW contributors will be posted throughout the week ahead, so stay tuned. - TL

This is ostensibly a Best Discs of 2010 list, but my options for selection are (self) limited.

If, for example, I were to encourage you to get INCEPTION (Warner) on Blu-Ray, I wouldn't really be commenting on it as a disc. I’d just be identifying that as one of the best movies of 2010. Similarly, anything I might say about MAD MEN SEASON THREE (Lionsgate) is not so much a comment on the discs themselves as an exhortation to watch MAD MEN on TV. Since this is intended as a best discs of 2010, I want to avoid the most current of items, so as not to indulge in mission creep.

Another problem: I was involved in the FANTOMAS set and the Masters of Cinema version of the restored METROPOLIS, so there's a conflict of interest. Obviously I would never write something like "Hey, I did the audio commentary on METROPOLIS with Jonathan Rosenbaum--you should go buy that!"

For that matter, these things represent low-hanging fruit. If you need this blog to tell you to get FANTOMAS or METROPOLIS, you probably aren't the kind of person who would read this blog.

I'll break my own self-imposed rules, though, to plug LOST KEATON - SIXTEEN COMEDY SHORTS 1934-1937 (Kino on Video). There's a whiff of conflict of interest to my recommending this, since my name's on the box. In my defense, I have no idea what I am supposed to have contributed. All I remember doing is making some suggestions about bonus features that then weren't followed. Kino has an ongoing Buster Keaton line-up, and I'm definitely in conflict-of-interest territory on some of these releases, but I feel OK saying LOST KEATON rocks. Keaton's talkie-era comedies are routinely slagged off by film historians and some books on Keaton contemptuously ignore these films altogether. Well, I say "phooey!" Don't compare these wonderful shorts to THE GENERAL, compare them to other talkie comedy shorts of the 1930s -- and you'll have to agree they have a integrity and personality unmatched by the competition.

I'll also break my own rules (that's the magic of self-imposed rules--it's easier to ignore them) to give my hearty recommendation to DOCTOR WHO THE COMPLETE FIFTH SERIES (BBC Warner) and SHERLOCK SEASON ONE (BBC Warner), even though I'm really just gobsmacked with love for having seen these on TV and have yet to break the shrink-wrap on the discs themselves. No matter -- these two shows were inarguably the most exciting, thrilling things to appear on any medium this past year.

Call it Steven Moffat worship if you must. The guy has a rare gift for reinventing familiar pop cultural figures in ways that pay deep tribute to their roots, yet feel fresh and new at the same time.

After more than 30 seasons and almost 50 years, DOCTOR WHO (under Moffat) somehow arrived with a deeper resonance and a brain-meltingly demanding plot intricacy never-before-seen. The new title sequence is duff, but the show inside is sparkly and wonderful. SHERLOCK manages to include nods to minutiae of the original novels without alienating newbies or feeling like fanboy service. The opening episode "A Study in Pink" samples the pieces of Doyle's A STUDY IN SCARLET and produces a 21st century dance remix, that echoes the original but is surprising and original at the same time. Take that, Guy Ritchie! Seriously, I saw the Ritchie monstrosity a few months before Moffat's version, and the comparison is ridiculous.

I know there are haters out there who see the Warner Archive as the video equivalent of the End of Days, but if you're upset that Warner felt there was too small an audience to justify a mass market release of, say, BREWSTER MCCLOUD, your gripe isn't with the Warner Archive but with the DVD buying public.

Me, I'm a full-blown convert to the Archive and its nascent cousins at Sony, MGM, Paramount, etc. VIDEO WATCHDOGgers have probably already found their way to obvious treasures like the remastered THE GREEN SLIME, but there's a gem lurking in the Archive back catalog in danger of being overlooked: Anthony Mann's THE TALL TARGET. This is an episode of 24, set in the 1850s, with the lone rogue agent battling a vast government conspiracy to protect the President (Honest Abe). Most Civil War-era movies sidestep racial issues or address them in cursory, insincere ways. This one goes head-on -- and does so in a subplot, handled in the margins of the tautest, tensest action thriller made before the 1970s you ever seen.

Speaking of non-traditional media outlets, if you like slapstick comedy and silent movies, then you should seek out Chris Snowden's Unknown Video. That's the name of a video label that "publishes" on DVD-Rs sold online through a blog. The latest entry, NICKELODIA 3, is a compilation of Really Old silent comedies from years whose first three digits are 191. Among the highlights is the brilliant "Versus Sledgehammers," which has a winning title, and then manages to live up to that title. But the world needs more sets like this... plus it comes with a spiffy Charlie Chaplin magnet!

It used to be that you’d need to rely on a non-traditional outlet to access something like HAUSU (HOUSE) on a DVD-R bootleg or file-shared download. But since we live in a world of infinite possibility, this cult gem has been given a deluxe rollout by the Criterion Collection in the US and Masters of Cinema in the UK. It’s a TEN LITTLE INDIANS-style old dark house thriller with Japanese teenagers killed by ghosts, but you don’t watch this for the plot. It’s a truly unique vision of horror that comes as close as any movie ever has to capturing a nightmare on celluloid. It’s more strange than scary, but no self-respecting fan of psychotronic cinema should go walking around without a knowledge of this loopy masterpiece.

If you have a choice between getting MOON (Sony) on Blu-Ray or DVD, opt for the Blu-Ray. This is meant to be savored on a big screen, so plug that BR disc into a home theater setup and settle in for a treat. It’s a head-trippy Millennial puzzle-box of identity confusion rendered in a 1970s-style DIY ethic of model miniatures and practical effects (and the least amount of CGI needed to hold it all together).

Speaking of tributes to 1970s cinema, BLACK DYNAMITE (Sony) sort of belongs to that same world as Larry Blamire’s Lost Skeleton movies in that it is a genre parody that perfectly captures the aesthetic of the original sources. What makes this extra special is how filmmaker Scott Sanders and star Michael Jai White manage to have their cake and eat it too. They don’t just parody blaxploitation movies, they also deliver the perfect example of a blaxploitation movie on its own crazy terms. Everything you might want from a Dolemite or Fred “Hammer” Williamson movie appears here, along with the jokes. Easily the single most entertaining thing I saw all year.

I know I’m likely to drop this recommendation on deaf ears with this crowd, but if you grow tired of SF and horror and hunger for a classic screwball comedy, the Warner Archive has resurrected Wesley Ruggles’ SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS. Lana Turner is an unhappy girl trying to make her way in the big city who hits on the bad idea of pretending to be an amnesiac—and this leads into her pretending to be the long-lost heir to a wealthy recluse whose daughter was stolen from him when she was just a baby. What makes this work is Turner’s superb performance as a reluctant crook caught up in a deception she doesn’t believe in and wants to end, but can’t—and character actor Walter Brennan giving a career-best performance as the anguished papa. I’m not going to bother complaining that Warner should’ve put this out on mass market instead of DVD-R, because I realize there is so little audience for something like this anymore. I suspect most of you reading this will say, “Eh, I don’t watch romantic comedies,” but you’re only cheating yourself.

Kim Newman already reviewed the Hammer Collection ICONS OF SUSPENSE (Sony) in a recent VW. I have little to add except to say that maybe many of you like me were so hungry for the restored (THESE ARE) THE DAMNED, you jumped on the Region 2 import from the UK long before the ICONS set came along, and maybe you are on the fence about whether the additional movies are worth the additional money to rebuy THE DAMNED. Hell, yes, they are! Maybe not MANIAC (you can comfortably skip that one) but the rest of the collection is absolutely worth duplicating THE DAMNED to get your grubby little fingers on. Excuse me, I’m off to rewatch CASH ON DEMAND. Happy holidays!


  1. I watched the Criterion blu-ray of Hausu recently. I don't know if this is a good film, but it has certainly insinuated its warped interpretation of the haunted house genre in my head and continues to buzz around in there like an insane fly.

  2. Kudos for recognizing BLACK DYNAMITE as one of the most entertaining films of the year. I entirely agree with your assessment (and chuckle once or twice every time I'm reminded of seeing this film - like I'm doing right now!.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.