On The Shelf (2.03.09/2.10.09) MST3K, Jason in 3D, W., and more
Okay, so that's the last time we skip a week on this column. Seriously. There are so many titles to discuss this week as a result that it's forced me to realize that there have to be fundamental changes to the way I do this particular feature here. I think instead of trying to write one glib paragraph about each and every title, I need to focus on what's worth your time and mine on DVD each week.
After all, there are entire websites dedicated to release dates for both regular DVD and BluRay, so you don't really need me to put up a list of every single title here. What I'd like to do is pick a handful of titles each week to emphasize... the things you absolutely need to know are coming, and then include at the end a simple list of what I'll be adding to my own shelf for review and for pleasure. I'll be working on the new format for next time, since it was the preparation of this article that made me realize how I think I can do this better. That's not to say today's piece is bad... it's just endless. You'll see.
I love how quick people are to declare DVD dead and to say that the industry is folding. I've read at least a half-dozen trend articles in the last month all but declaring video-on-demand to be the only game in town.
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Different consumers will always want to approach media in different ways, and the avalanche of home video titles both mainstream and obscure doesn't seem to be drying up at all. I'm sure eventually I'll use a video-on-demand service once there's a better selection and a service I really find fits the way I consume films, but for now, a well-stocked personal library absolutely wins out over a pipe that plugs into my TV.
Right now, I can't help but consider the question of what a library is, since I'm beginning the process of a full cataloguing and databasing of every film in the house. I have to. I have no way of keeping track of what is or isn't here, or where it might be, and it's absurd now. My kids are going to grow up thinking that DVDs are simply part of the regular furniture of a home. Every room of our house has DVDs stored somewhere, and some roomes, like my office, appear to be largely made of DVDs. I have about 50% of my collection in 300-disc binders that are piled into one corner of the office right now. 20-something of those books. None of them catalogued or in any particular order, grouped loosely by strange association. A few books I consider my "essentials." Three or four books of nothing but horror. Book after book after book of TV on DVD. Whole runs of most of my favorite shows. And then well over a dozen books of just plain movies. Stuff I neither adore or despise, but that I enjoyed on some level, enough to keep it.
My buddy Craig came over with his daughter yesterday and while she and Toshi played and rampaged through all the psychodrama attendant with any three-year-old playdate, he spent most of the afternoon helping me set up a database (keep in mind, I'm an idiot) and inputting the first book of 300 titles. This is one of the ones I considered a book of "essentials," and I realized halfway through that we were spending as much time talking about why I would consider a run of 12 Jerry Lewis movies essential or why he hasn't seen "Big Trouble In Little China" yet (I KNOW! CAN YOU IMAGINE?!) or whether I intentionally put "United 93" on the same page as "Airplane!" (I didn't) as we were actually putting the titles in the computer.
And that's what makes a movie collection worthwhile. An afternoon spent watching "Friday The 13th" on BluRay and talking about 300 different movies with a friend. That's why Tuesdays are so special to me. I consider each new batch of titles a chance to fine-tune that collection even more.
Last week and this week, taken as a whole, was pretty much a logjam. I count almost 80 titles that I am interested in. 80. Eight-zero. That's obscene. There's no way I'm picking all of these up right now, but each and every one of them has me at least curious, good or bad.
First on the list any time there's a new release in the series: "Mystery Science Theater 3000." No doubt about it... one of my favorite shows of all time. Thanks to Facebook, I recently got back in touch with an old roommate, and this is the friend who Scott and I roomed with while MST3K was in first run, airing every Saturday at two different times. And we were working like madmen, playing just as hard, and this show became part of our week, every single week, absolutely beloved. I am so pleased with the work that Shout! Factory has done since taking over on the MST3K license, with that first tin box set they did (Toshi is obsessed with the Crow T. Robot bust that came in the box) and now with volume 14 of the four-title box sets that started life over at Rhino.
I like the redesign of the packaging, so that each movie has its own individual case, and you can put them all together in a slip cover. Of the four movies released this time, my favorite is the so-sweaty-it-smells-bad "Final Justice," with Joe Don Baker as a Texas sheriff inexplicably fighting the Italian mob in Malta. It's a thing of caveman beauty, and although it's late-era Mike Nelson vs Pearl stuff for the host segments (funny, but never quite as inspired as the early days), the riffing is positively top-notch in this one. The others ("Manhunt In Space," "Mad Monster," and the especially wretched "Soultaker") are all well-chosen. It's amazing to me just how far into this series of DVD releases we are, and how they're still putting out really, really strong episodes every single time. That's how consistent and wonderful this show was, and as long as Shout! Factory wants to put these discs out, I will happily continue to add each and every one to my shelf.
As I mentioned, my buddy and I watched the first "Friday the 13th" on BluRay today as we worked, and I swear... that disc is better looking than the film ever looked in theaters in 1980. It's almost charming how low-key and straightforward the film is, and the ending works because it turns up the tone at just the right time. And Betsy Palmer? Badass.
This week, Paramount also releases "Friday the 13th Part 2," "Friday the 13th The Series: Season Two," and for the first time ever on home video in its original format, "Friday the 13th Part 3-D". The 3-D on the film is sort of awful, but it's exactly the way it looked in the theater. It looked sort of awful there, too. But it's so much fun to see it again like that that I just want to thank Paramount for listening to fans and finally releasing it the right way. I've got the "Friday" box from a few years, ago, but I appreciate the new extras on the "Part 2" disc. That's probably my favorite of the early films, because I really like retard baghead hillbilly Jason. And it's got an ending just as loony as the first film, but it's not a direct imitation. The TV series isn't something I remember well... I think my main impression of it was that the redhead was hot. But I'm wondering why Paramount would release all these titles right now, and why there's also a new documentary called "His Name Was Jason" coming out as well. It's almost like they're trying to promote some new "Friday the 13th" product or something...
If you want to see the performance that got Melissa Leo her Oscar nomiation, "Frozen River" comes out today in both DVD and BluRay format. I finally caught up with it, and while it wouldn't have made my top ten list for last year even if I'd seen it on time, I can understand the enthusiasm other actors feel for Leo's work here. I'm just not surprised by it. She's been sort of awesome for a long time. Same thing with Richard Jenkins. I think that's what their nominations are really about. It's like the straw that broke the camel's back. "Frozen River" is almost a stereotype of what a Sundance movie is, but the performances are all quite good, and Leo holds the film together as a woman struggling to hold her family together in the face of creeping poverty and no options. Lots of people out there will identify with her in this film, and the choices she makes are often quite bad, but for all the right reasons. It's a quiet little movie, and Leo's sad mama lion routine really pushes it over the top.
Universal continues to chip away at putting out all of the "Columbo" material in the vault, and since they've finally wrapped up "The Rockford Files" (five box sets of pure bliss), this represents the biggest ongoing catalog DVD title from Universal for me. I love Falk's work as Columbo, and even in the late-era revivals, there's always something that makes me willing to watch. It's one of the great TV characters of all time, and I can't even imagine it without Falk in the role. It's so particular, so eccentric, so great.
Universal's also putting out a four-title Clint Eastwood collection today, I guess because Eastwood's hot shit again at the moment. "Gran Torino" has quietly become one of the single biggest hits of Eastwood's career. I love that. The films included here represent a pretty wide range of Eastwood films. I love "The Beguiled," a weird Gothic sexual thriller that you really should see if you haven't. It's unlike anything else Eastwood's ever made. "Play Misty For Me" is the "Fatal Attraction" of its day, and a much better movie overall. "Coogan's Bluff" is a Western-cop-in-the-big-city movie that pretty much plays like a big-screen "McCloud" episode. And "The Eiger Sanction" is a '70s spy thriller that is bigger than any of the other films included here. Two of the films were directed by Eastwood, and two were directed by his artistic mentor Don Siegel, the man whose work Eastwood's most resembles. Taken as a whole, this collection does a good job of summing up a certain stretch of Eastwood's non-Leone/non-"Dirty Harry" career.
If you're like me and you like those actor-themed collections, "The Natalie Wood Collection" from Warner is irresistable. Six films starring one of the most spectacularly beautiful women of the '60s, including "Inside Daisy Clover" and "Splendor In The Grass" and "Gypsy." And if you don't get your full fix of Wood from that box set, the underrated "Brainstorm" finally hit DVD last week. That movie has a beautiful SF concept. Chris Walken plays a guy working on a process that will record someone's experiences and then play them back for someone else in absolute visceral reality. It's not a perfect film, and Douglas Trumball's tortured post-production on the film means that it's never been completely what he had in mind, but it's got some beautiful ideas and effects, and one of the most devastating single line deliveries of Walken's career as he hands his estranged wife (Wood) a tape of his memories: "It's me."
Lots of Criterion in this batch of stuff. Two Bunuel titles arrive today, and Dave Kehr did a hell of a job writing them up. I'll confess to never having seen either, so I'm excited to finally lay eyes on both "The Exterminating Angel" and "Simon Of The Desert."
They're also putting out another batch of stripped-down discs under their Essential Arthouse line, and it's a fantastic batch of films. Kursosawa's wrenching "Ikiru," Fellini's "La Strada," "Pygmalion," the classic coming-of-age Truffaut picture "The 400 Blows," the Carnival-flavored retelling of Greek myth "Black Orpheus" and the Powell/Pressburger classic "The Life And Times Of Colonel Blimp." I recommend that if you're contemplating picking up the "Pretty Woman" BluRay that's coming out this week, you should instead spend the money on the "Pygmalion" that's part of this collection and enjoy that version of the story instead.
You see what I mean about how many titles are out this week?
You can watch Steven Seagal fight vampires in "Against The Dark," there's a new release in the "Afro Samurai" franchise, and you can see recent theatrical releases like "The Secret Life Of Bees," "Zack And Miri Make A Porno," "W.," "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," "Soul Men," "Nights At Rodanthe," "Blindness," "Bottle Shock," and "Miracle At St. Anna," films you may not have seen thanks to mixed reviews. At home, you might be more willing to give them a chance.
If you didn't pick up "Back To The Future" when the box-set of the full trilogy was first released on DVD (oddly, I didn't), and you aren't willing to wait for the inevitable and hopefully forthcoming BluRay release, then today's your lucky day as they're putting out new editions of all three films. There's some great adventurous television included in this batch of titles, like "Dennis Potter: 3 To Remember," a great group of three feature-length films produced from Potter scripts for English television (my favorite is "Blade On The Feather" with Tom Conti, Denholm Elliott, and Donald Pleasance). Or if you're into '50s live television (personally, I love it), there's a provocative long-lost performance of "What Makes Sammy Run?" that's been recovered and finally released. This is one of those books that has been almost-made about 40 times over the years as a movie (Ben Stiller seemed particularly determined for the longest time), and this adaptation isn't really that faithful, but it gets the anger of the material right, and that's something '50s live drama seemed to do really well. Righteous fury. Also... just how long was John Forsythe in the around-40 age range? It seems like he was the same basic age for decades.
There are a ton of catalog titles coming out on BluRay, like "A History Of Violence," "Sideways," "Doom," "The Pelican Brief," "Amadeus," "A Time To Kill," "The Rundown," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Napoleon Dynamite," "Office Space," and "Being There," which evidently features an alternate ending that's not included on the regular DVD release. Crafty, Warner Bros. I'm not on Warner's mailing list for BluRay screeners, and they put out so much that I'm going to be slow catching up, but I love the quality of the things they put out. They take the format seriously.
Cult titles "Boondock Saints" and "Donnie Darko" both arrive on BluRay, and I'm sure they'll sell. I think "Darko" is interesting but imperfect, and I understand why people get crazy about it. It's a very particular mood, and Richard Kelly's film casts a sort of spell. It's confident even when it has no idea what the hell it's doing. On the other hand, I think "Boondock Saints" fans are crazy. That movie's terrible. Phony from start to finish, post-Tarantino tough-guy bullshit written with a tin ear and staged without a single fresh idea.
And yet... there's more.
See what I mean? It's like a waterfall of titles all at once.
You want to see a movie that just opened in the theater on Friday, but without illegally downloading it? The Thai action film "Chocolate" hits stores this week, part of that triple-pronged release model that Magnolia Pictures continues to work to perfect, and I'll have an article up later today about that movie, which I'm quite fond of. Magnolia also put out "A Good Day To Be Black And Sexy" and "Diary Of A Tired Black Man" last week, and both films sound like they could be subtitled "The Drew McWeeny Story," so I look forward to checking them out soon.
There are really wonderful titles like "Cross Creek" (what a great Rip Torn performance) and "Drugstore Cowboy" (still among my very favorite Van Sant films) and "The Hunter" (the last Steve McQueen film, but a damn solid one) and Richard Donner's "Inside Moves" (it's been so long since I've seen this long-unavailable title that I almost feel unqualified to say if it deserves its reputation) and "Street Fighter"...
... oh, wait, "Street Fighter" is T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E. That's right. My mistake. I forgot just how incompetent the film is on a purely technical level until I saw it again last week. It's barely a movie. Raul Julia is sad in his last performance. He looks like he was already fairly sick, and when they use his stunt double, it's Bela-Lugosi's-dentist obvious.
There are a number of obscure or culty titles that I want to pick up for different reasons, like "Getting Straight," "Gumshoe," "Our Man In Havana," "The Magnificent Trio," or the Bruce Campbell comedy/horror film "My Name Is Bruce." Film Movement, a company I really like, has "Days and Clouds" as this month's release, and I trust their taste. Same thing with Dragon Dynasty, who are the most consistent martial arts label right now. I just pick up whatever the put out, and this week, it's "The Enforcer" with Jet Li.
Toshi's been mainlining episodes of "The Curious George Monkey Collection" any time we let him, and he seems equally interested in checking out Aardman's "Shaun The Sheep: Back In The Ba-a-ath" soon. I haven't picked up "Oliver and Company" for him, but I will. It's minor key Disney animation, but it's got some charms, and I'm a bit of a Disney completist.
I reviewed "Ping Pong Playa" on BluRay last week, and it's in stores today. Worth your time. I have a weakness for Saffron Burrows, so I may check out "The Guitar." The cover's not subtle, but she sure does look good on it. I haven't cracked open my "Tales From The Darkside: The First Season" yet, but I will. I have fond memories of the show, and I'd like to see some of them again. I haven't really gotten into "Tim And Eric: Awesome Show! Great Job!" yet, but pretty much every funny person I know digs them, so I'm sure I'll watch the DVDs of their show at some point soon.
Round out the week with a batch of Hitchcock titles from the early days ("The Lodger," "The Paradine Case," "Young And Innocent," and "Sabotage"), a solid documentary called "Singing Revolution" and a concert disc by a Grateful Dead splinter project called "Rhythm Devils: Concert Experience" (their "Apocalypse Now" alternate soundtrack is absolutely amazing), and there's really no other way to describe this week but "exhausting."
As I've been writing the column tonight, I watched the BluRay of "Rent: Filmed Live On Broadway," which is a complete recording of the show as it was staged on Broadway. Seeing this, I can see just how wrong the film really was. This is a live experience. That's the only way "Rent" makes sense. So much of what makes it work is the staging, the excitements of watching a cast tackle the huge score all at one go. It's not an easy piece to perform, and this particular cast does a really nice job of it. The disc is a must for anyone who loves the show or the score, and there are a number of fan-oriented bonus features that they'll no doubt flip for.
The last title I'll mention is the BluRay I most want right now, and one I regret I wasn't sent for review. "Raging Bull" is one of my very favorite films, and I am particularly interested in how companies handle their BluRay black and white releases. This particular Scorsese film features some of the greatest b&w compositions I've ever seen. I mean, the opening title sequence alone is a ravishing mini-movie. Fingers crossed this is a cutting-edge transfer of this amazing movie.
Like I said... nearly 80 titles we covered today. That's bigger than some people's entire collections. That's a hell of a lot of wrap your head around. So like I said... no more skipping a week.
Next week's titles include "Flash Of Genius," "The Changeling," that "Dead Like Me" direct-to-video movie, "Religulous," "Hobson's Choice" from Criterion, with both Jesus and Gandhi making their way to BluRay. See you back here next Monday to discuss those and more.