Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Wow. Some nice feedback yesterday on both the TalkBack and in e-mail. Sounds like I hit a nerve. One thing is immediately apparent to me… you guys want more DVD coverage. When you write in, be specific. What do you want? What can we do to satisfy you as fans of the format?
NEW RELEASE TUESDAY
Me? I’m just excited that tomorrow is new release Tuesday. I love new release Tuesdays. I love browsing any of three or four stores in my immediate area. Amoeba Records is, hands down, the best store in LA for either music or DVDs. Still, the shameless corporate drone in me sure does get a sugar rush off the always bright and shiny Virgin Megastore on Sunset. Fry’s and even Costco are also regular haunts when looking for deals. Part of the fun of DVD is, in my opinion, the constant hunt. There is no way I’m ever going to have every title I want. There’s not enough time to watch them all, and I certainly don’t have the money. Still, there’s that constant itch, that desire to fill in gaps in my collection, and it all adds to the enjoyment.
There are any number of sites I visit to figure out what’s being released each week, and no one that I trust without double-checking. Dates change suddenly when you’re talking about DVDs. For example, Don May of Synapse films just sent me some news about his upcoming WILD ZERO special edition, which was set to be in stores September 30th. Here’s what he had to say:
Because of a last minute authoring problem we discovered on our check discs for WILD ZERO, we have to fix it before the disc gets released to the public. To make sure the problem is fixed properly, we will have to make new check discs which, unfortunately, will cause a delay in the release date.
The new release date for WILD ZERO is now Tuesday, October 28, 2003.
We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but we wanted to make sure the problem was fixed properly. With the complexity of the DVD authoring for this title we just want to make sure it’s OK before putting it out.
Don May, Jr.
President, Synapse Films
Fair enough. It’s because of last minute changes like this that I try to keep a running list in the same Word file that I use to put these columns together. When I publish my list each week of new titles (which I’ll do each Tuesday morning), keep in mind that this is not meant to be a complete or comprehensive list. This is just the stuff that I think may find or deserve an eventual home on the shelves here at the Labs.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve missed a few recent things that I’m interested in, and they’re all still on my radar if I find them at the right prices: NEVERWHERE, which I’d like if only for the Neil Gaiman commentary; a couple of double features from Anchor Bay, featuring FADE TO BLACK/HELL NIGHT and SOCIETY/SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION; TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN; TIGHTROPE and WHERE EAGLES DARE, about all that interests me out of the latest batch of Clint Eastwood releases; CAT SOUP, which is the American retitling of my favorite film of 2001, NEKUJIRO-SO; and two whacked out early Almodovar films, DARK HABITS and WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS?
This week isn’t real heavy, which is good. The months ahead are going to be brutal. When I hit the road today, I’ll be looking for several early John Sayles titles, like BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET and LIANNA and RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN. When I met Sayles on the set of SUNSHINE STATE last year, he was just starting to record his commentaries for these films and put together the rights. I’m glad to see that he’s finally got them out. I’m also planning to pick up PRIZZI’S HONOR, which I haven’t seen in a lot of years, a great Paddy Cheyefsky-scripted film called THE HOSPITAL, and SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY, John Schlesinger’s challenging follow-up to his Oscar winning MIDNIGHT COWBOY. Oh... and of course, the real crown jewel of today... the entire first season of SOAP. Holy shit. I’m going to drive everyone in my house insane with that box. I love that show dearly.
Next week, it’s a strange line-up. The new BABE sounds like a nice special edition package, so why couldn’t Universal go ahead and take the same care with the even-better BABE: PIG IN THE CITY? If it’s an anamorphic transfer, they may get me to trade up, but I gladly would have plunked down some extra dollars if they’d done more with the film. Anyone who is a serious fan of ILM and their evolution can trace a lot of what we now see in films like ATTACK OF THE CLONES to the great-work-in-a-bad-film CASPER, which is getting the deluxe treatment. Who’s deciding what does or doesn’t merit that kind of care at Universal? It seems so arbitrary. I think that’s what makes me crazy. Another Sayles title drops that same day, the tense MEN WITH GUNS. Shia Le Bouf was interesting enough in PROJECT GREENLIGHT this season to get me to check out HOLES when it’s released. I didn’t see A MIGHTY WIND, but I’m curious. Same with THE SHAPE OF THINGS. THE BEDFORD INCIDENT is a classic, and there are two documentaries that will test many viewers. SHOAH and SICK: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF BOB FLANAGAN, SUPERMASOCHIST couldn’t be more different, but they’ll both reward the brave and destroy the weak.
Okay, started the day off with the film that is my featured review of the day. CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND. I think I like the movie even more now than I did when I saw it in the theater. Clooney and his director of photography Thomas Newton Seigel may have borrowed liberally from other filmmakers, as Clooney seems determined to convey in his commentary, but they understand what they were borrowing and why. It’s never just about something looking cool. Clooney speaks film. He gets it. Don’t listen to morons who try to pull a POLTERGEIST and peddle the notion that Soderbergh “really” made this movie. If you pay attention, you can tell it’s not true. Clooney’s obviously watched the filmmakers he’s worked with and soaked up technique from them. As a result, there is as much Coen Bros. influence here as there is from Soderbergh. There’s also a lot of Mike Nichols. And some Francis Ford Coppola. And on and on and like I said... despite all that, it works.
The disc is pretty good with a few notable exceptions. The first third of the film almost plays like a technical dare. I love the results of the digital grading that’s used, but it’s an invitation to artifacting. For the most part, the picture delivers strong blacks and sharp colors. The sound is great. Music’s a big part of the film, and you can crank this. You will feel it if you do. The best thing about the disc is the way the extras feel complete but never bloated. When I was watching some of the “making of” stuff on THE CORE last week, it struck me that everyone was overselling the thing. They were all trying to explain what the film meant, or why it was important. Jon Amiel in particular seemed a bit delusional when talking about “reclaiming the action movie for smart people” with his film. Ahem. Right.
By contrast, there’s a real modesty to Clooney and his collaborators in the excellent “Behind the Scenes” section on the disc. For further evidence of just how clever Clooney’s construction of CONFESSIONS is, just check out the “Dating Game Turntable Scene” chapter and check out the set and the camera moves. Clooney talks about live TV as an influence, and I remember his enthusiasm on the set of FAIL-SAFE a few years back. He came to his style as a filmmaker fair and square, and even when he tries to point out what he calls an obvious theft of a scene from another film, all he really points out is how he ended up making it his own, creating some variable, twisting things into an original voice all his own. It would be a tragedy if he didn’t direct more and soon.
There’s a great package of clips from Sam Rockwell’s screen test, and one in particular is just hypnotic. It’s Rockwell dancing. If someone ever gets around to a PLASTIC MAN movie, forget about Jim Carrey. Rockwell’s your man. Even doing something as simple as dancing, he’s got an inner life that’s hard to deny. I wish we could have seen the other screen test that was ordered by Warner Bros. before they put the film in turnaround, but I don’t think Warner or Ben Stiller really wanted to participate. There are a ton of deleted scenes, and I don’t think there’s a single scene that feels like it should have been cut. It appears just to have been a time issue. It’s all good, interesting footage that would have enriched the film if included, and I almost wish Clooney had created a branching edition of the film to include this stuff.
Admittedly, the film’s not for everyone’s tastes. It may be the saddest and angriest of the Charlie Kaufman films so far. Personally, I think it’s a minor miracle, and I gotta give it up to Miramax. Overall, this is a fitting presentation.
Also, if you love that original KILL BILL teaser trailer and want a really sweet copy on DVD, you’ll get one on this disc. Sounds fantastic when you crank it, and it just gets me all silly and excited about the eventual home video release of that film.
FROM THE SHELF
We followed up CONFESSIONS with the next episode in the ALIAS box, “Mea Culpa.” The best of the season so far, I thought. For those of you familiar with the series, it was the one where Sloane sets the trap to find out if Sydney is the mole. Great stuff. Best scene was between Will and Francie, drunk, playing with the government bug that Will found. Like I said, I’m really enjoying taking these one day at a time.
CARLITO’S WAY took up a big chunk of the early afternoon. Here’s one of those bare-bones Universal releases that I’m so conflicted about. I dig the movie. I think it’s one of De Palma’s most entertaining. Monstrously good work by both Pacino and Penn. Yeah, it suffers a bit from Penelope Ann Miller Syndrome (remember in the early ‘90s when SAG passed that rule that she had to be in every film ever made?), but that’s just one small distraction in what is otherwise a masterful pulp fiction rollercoaster ride.
The anamorphic transfer is fine, if not particularly distinguished, and the sound quality is strong overall. I just wanted more. The film has a lot of fans. A great two-disc set would have been a hot companion title to the SCARFACE that they’re rolling out on September 30th. Oh, well... count that one as a missed opportunity.
New Line sent over a test disc for their upcoming release of LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART III. The disc has a number of special features, like an alternate version of the ending and deleted scenes and a commentary with David J. Schow, Jeff Burr, Mark Ordesky, and others. You can also choose between the rated or the unrated version of the film. Duh. The unrated version we watched was just under an hour and twenty minutes. It was great to see this just after CARLITO’S WAY. We had a mini Viggo Mortensen festival. He’s good in both films, too. The best scenes in LEATHERFACE happen inside the house, when the whole crazy family is together. Mortensen’s Tex is a deranged charmer, horrifying because of how likeable he is. Jeff Burr’s at his best inside, on those sets, when it’s just actors trapped in these crazy scenes. Burr falls apart as a director, though, with all the running around in the woods. None of it is very scary, and a lot of the big beats are badly bungled.
For fans of the series, this is pretty much a must-have disc, and it’s well-handled. I doubt the film has ever looked or sounded quite this good on home video before. Still, the release of this film and the October 14th release of the original SAW in a 30th anniversary collector’s edition begs the question: where the hell is my uncut letterboxed TCM2 with commentary? Anchor Bay? Blue Underground? Synapse? Someone want to get on this one? Please?
HERO was our last film of the day. I wish I could tell you who put this particular edition of the film out. It’s obviously an import. There are subtitles for the body of the film, but no translation for either the opening crawl or the text over that gorgeous last shot of the Great Wall. The picture appeared to be an anamorphic transfer of a 2.35:1 original aspect ratio, and the colors were outstanding. If you’ve seen the film, you know how important the colors are to the effectiveness of the picture. It’s a strong transfer with some kickass sound during the fight scenes or the enormous battles or that scene with the arrows or the quiet conversations or... well... actually, the whole disc sounded pretty great.
I hadn’t seen the film until today. I was going to hold out for a theatrical run here in the US, courtesy of Miramax, but I decided I’d like to see the film before my children do. Those would be my still-to-be-conceived children, Miramax, you slow-ass muthas. I finally just broke down and borrowed it from a friend, and I’m glad I did. I’d heard some people dismiss HERO as a sort of CROUCHING HOMAGE, HIDDEN RIPOFF, and there’s no question there are aesthetic similarities between the two films. HERO isn’t a romantic melodrama dressed up in martial arts the way CTHD was, though. Instead, it’s a koan, a Zen riddle about heroism and honor and revenge. At moments, some of the wire work borders on the ridiculous, but director Yimou Zhang (THE ROAD HOME and RAISE THE RED LANTERN) and cinematographer Christopher Doyle always manage to veer from the ridiculous to the rhapsodic within a few quick shots. This is a visual feast, the sort of film that just washes over you, a nearly tactile experience that depends on so much more than just story for its impact.
Jet Li is good as Nameless, a hero whose exploits earn him a private audience with the King of Qin (Daoming Chen), where he tells the King how he defeated three assassins who have long sought to spill the King’s blood. Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chin Wai) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) have all tried to fulfill their pact for a decade, but now Nameless has defeated them all as a gift for his King...
... or has he?
Like RASHOMON, Kurosawa’s classic story about truth and perspective, HERO is an exercise in point of view. Every set piece is stylistically different, and I don’t think literal reality is a real big priority here. This is as fantastic a landscape as STAR WARS or LORD OF THE RINGS. I flip-flopped in my overall reaction to the film about a half-dozen times while watching it, and in the end, I was won over. I loved every moment we spend with Moon (my future wife Zhang Ziyi), and I’d gladly watch another film that was just about her character. Seeing Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung together in a film so different from their triumphant IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is a real pleasure. They’re wonderful together once again, and provide the movie with ample amounts of heart and soul. The score by Dun Tan is very good, but at times, he almost seems to be cannibalizing his own CTHD score.
God, I hope somebody figures out what to do with this film soon. A nice big fat region 1 2-disc set. Yeah... that’d be sweeeeet...
And as I type this column in, I’m going to put on disc four of BABYLON 5: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON. I mentioned a while back that Warner Bros. sent me the first season. They’re like crack dealers. Crafty. They knew they’d get me hooked. I never saw one single episode when the show aired. I’m just watching them in order, out of the box, and catching up. I thought Season One was a strong set-up for a series. Season Two was wonderful, much richer, a step up in every way. Three discs into this six-disc set, I already think Season Three is the best so far, and I can’t wait until the whole damn series is out. Keep ‘em coming, Warner Bros. I want to be able to review the entire collection at once, and that means you’ve got to make them all available. Pronto!
Not a lot going on out there today. One great article got forwarded to me by a friend this morning. It appears over at Jo Blo, and it’s about the phenomenon of replacement DVD covers. You have to go check it out to see all the artwork. It’s fun stuff, and I’d love to hear from any of you who do this, and maybe even see what it is you’ve done to your discs.
The Digital Bits has some specs for what sounds like an outstanding live show by U2, originally recorded at Ireland’s Slane Castle on September 1st, 2001. Over in their Rumor Mill, there are some vague rumblings about Warner Bros. possibly releasing full season sets of TINY TOONS or BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES next year. Good lord, that’d be nice. I haven’t bought any of those half-assed collections that are out there now for B:TAS, but if they start doing them as whole seasons at a time, I’m in. Pack ‘em with extras, too, please. Make them a celebration of one of the best superhero translations into another medium ever.
Over on DVD File, there’s word of an exclusive REN & STIMPY collection that features 42 cartoons. I don’t do a lot of direct ordering, but it sounds like this might be worth at least clicking over and taking a look at TimeLife.com. They also have details about Universal’s offer to exchange the first disc of the MEANING OF LIFE set for anyone having trouble with it. A lot of you have written to me about this, so pay close attention and handle it through the studio if you’re having problems. I still have to test my disc and see if I’m affected by Universal’s “cutting-edge technology.” Sigh.
Before I go, Vroom Socko seemed to think I was trying to be sneaky yesterday, like I thought up the concept of a Question for Discussion. Perish the thought. I happily ripped that off from the TalkBack League of @$$Holes column. Yesterday, I asked you what your first DVD purchase was. Some great answers popped up in TalkBack. Me, I was dead set against the format at first. I wasn’t about to buy into the hype. I had a bit of idle curiosity, sure, but I never did more than casually browse the DVD section, just to see how they were being sold and what was available. This was early ’99, I believe. One day, I’m looking through a bin and I find VIDEODROME. My favorite Cronenberg film. And it’s letterboxed. They never letterboxed the laserdisc. Hmmmmm. I ended up walking out of the store that day with that film, FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, and a Pioneer DVD player. And I’ve never looked back.
Today’s Question for Discussion is what is the absolute worst DVD you own, and why?
See you tomorrow. Until then...