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Moriarty's DVD SHELF

Hi, everyone, Moriarty here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

Lots and lots of changes at the Labs.

For one thing, Henchman Mongo moved out. He didn’t even stop to explain. He just mumbled something about a pressing engagement in Haiti and hit the road a few weeks back. As a result, Mrs. Moriarty and I have rearranged the entire place, and one of the top priorities for me, as I mentioned in this year’s first column, was storage.

By the way... whoever said a picture was worth a thousand words severely underestimated you guys. When I published those pictures of the various stacks of DVDs, my intention was not to make myself look cool. Far from it. I’m well aware that it looked like a crack den. If I really wanted to impress people, I would have hidden POPEYE and PLUTO NASH a little more carefully.

I have a serious question for those of you who seemed shocked at the number of films I own, or even offended: what website do you think you’re reading? Have either Harry or I ever professed to having merely a casual interest in movies? Of course not. We’re both rabid about them, as are many of you based on all the great mail and conversations over the years. Yes… I could join Netflix and I could order up a stream of movies to last as long as I was a member. But I love having a huge assortment of movies here in the house, available just to suit my mood at any given time or when I have company over. It’s part of who I am.

And, yes, like many collectors, I do buy more than I can easily consume. I’ll happily cop to the notion that I’m addicted to tracking down all sorts of titles and buying them even though I’ve got at least 100 discs I own that I haven’t seen yet at any given time. Does that count as a sickness? If so, it’s a lot less destructive than the habits of most people I know. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t smoke cigarettes. I don’t gamble, not even on lottery tickets. I’m fairly freakin’ squeaky clean, so if I spend a set percentage of my income on movies, I don’t see why that makes some of you write me crazy angry mental patient hate mail.

Also... let me clarify something. I write this column from the perspective of a collector. I’m not on screener lists all over town. New Line sends me test discs of all their titles, unmarked discs in clear plastic cases. Occasionally, Dreamworks sends screeners. Other than that, I’ve purchased my collection, and I’m proud of it. And, yeah, that includes the crap you saw on the shelves. When I can pick up a used title for the same price that I can buy a movie ticket, I’ll take a chance on almost anything. Sure, I end up seeing a lot of junk, but sometimes, I’m given a pleasant surprise.

There are two new DVD players in the house, both of them hooked up to the bigscreen in the living room. First up, I got a five-disc changer, a Samsung C631P. See, I had to move the Panasonic that used to be in the front room into the bedroom, where I used to have a crappy Apex player that started getting pissy. It would play some discs perfectly. Others, it wouldn’t play at all. And it wouldn’t do the same thing with the same disc twice. In other words, it developed a fondness for the random. Needless to say, this would send me into berserker rages every time, and since the structural integrity of the building can only sustain so many HULK-style rampages, I decided to switch players. I found this one at Best Buy, one of my rare visits to the store. The only reason I went was to return a defective disc someone gave me. While I was there, though, I found this one for $70, and despite their long and storied tradition of treating customers like shit, I managed to get out of the store with the new player after only three arguments with thin-skulled “service” staff. It’s progressive scan, with component output, and I was hoping it would have great picture quality for the 53” screen. The five-disc platter is very appealing. I love loading up one tray after another. Sometimes, I like putting five similarly themed films in together, and other times, I like tossing in five random titles just to see how they bounce off each other.

The technical verdict so far? Not so great. The picture quality is weak, with a distinct digital edge to everything. Pixillation can be a real problem, and the big screen is unforgiving. Every single flaw shows up, and it didn’t when I had the Panasonic in the front room. The picture off that player was much richer, and the blacks were truly dark, never noisy.

The other new player is a Daewoo P480 that I picked up after a call from a friend tipped me off. He told me Costco was selling an all-region player for $49, so I rushed out to get one. When I got it home, I tested out OLD MEN IN NEW CARS, a Region 2 title a reader sent me last year. No luck. I called my friend to find out what I was doing wrong. Turns out there are two different players from the same company with the same exact model number.

I’ll hip you to the trick. If you find a Daewoo P480, look at the box. In particular, look at the remote. If it’s just got “Daewoo” written on it, that’s a Region-1 only player. If it’s got “Daewoo P480” written on it, that player can handle any region code, does PAL to NTSC conversion, and will play any format like MP3 or VCD that you want. For $49. Hell of a deal, and since the bigscreen TV has two component outputs, I’ve got both players running in the front room now.

That means that at any given point, I’ve got six unseen films loaded up and ready to go. It’s bliss. I can load up a full day and just settle in to work with this great ongoing film festival unspooling in the background. I can’t speak for anyone else, but in my case, this is exactly how I’ve always wanted things.

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THE OFFICE: The Complete Second Series (R2 PAL)


I had incredibly low expectations for LOONEY TUNES BACK IN ACTION. I’d seen a chunk of early footage (much of it eventually reshot) featuring Steve Martin that just made me cringe. The script seemed to be a bizarre, unfunny hybrid of SPACE JAM and CONGO. Even once it opened and the good Dr. Hfhurrhurr, a noted Looney Tunes expert, told me he enjoyed it, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. I just couldn’t sit through another horrible, plastic, corporate repackaging of those great original characters.

I’m not exaggerating when I say SPACE JAM left scars. I wrote this about it in my ‘90’s list:

This is the film equivalent of someone dragging their beloved grandmother out to a street corner in Hollywood and flashing her pussy at passing cars. "Come on! I know it's my grandmother, the source of my family, a woman that is loved and revered by everyone, but I really need a little cash!"

I was startled by the almost naked contempt of Joe Pytka’s “movie,” and I hoped it would be the last awful feature film to use those characters.

And, to my enormous surprise, I don’t hate this film. Sure, Steve Martin gives a performance so bad that it makes BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE look like ROXANNE by comparison. And, yes, the main story about the race for the Blue Monkey diamond is moronic to the point of surrealism. But you have to credit director Joe Dante with somehow ignoring all the bad and getting so much of it right. Dante’s always been open about his love of the original Termite Terrace animators and their work, and that love comes shining through loud and clear.

I’m willing to forgive almost anything as long as they get the main characters right, and in large part, they do. Daffy Duck, in particular, has been recreated perfectly here. Joe Alaskey, who voices both Bugs and Daffy, is clearly a kindred soul with the maladjusted mallard, and the result is true to the spirit of the best of the classic Daffy cartoons. His boundless ego and his worst instincts drive him to get thrown off the Warner Bros. lot, fired from his job, mixed up with DJ (Brendon Fraser), a security guard who really wants to be a stuntman. And, yeah, it’s all as ridiculous as it sounds. Already, that’s enough exposition to fuel an entire cartoon romp, and one of the things that doesn’t work about the film is the pointless and unfunny villain subplot. It’s hard to describe just how unfunny it is. The best moments are the digressions where classic Warner Bros. bad guys like Yosemite Sam and Wile E. Coyote and Marvin the Martian all take over.

The special effects and the cinematography by Dean Cundey combine to create a fairly persuasive combination of the live-action and the animation. It’s not easy to convince the audience that these characters inhabit the same physical space, but this film does it pretty well without beating you over the head with just how difficult some of the FX really are. It may be inconsequential, but more jokes work than don’t, and it hit me square in the nostalgia center.

Technically, the disc is about what you’d expect from a current Warner Bros. release. It’s in one of those crappy cardboard keep cases. The transfer on the film is in full anamorphic widescreen, bright, sharp, and clean, with English, French, and Spanish languages available. None of the extras are anamorphic, though, and they’re of varying quality overall. “Behind the TUNES” is cheap and unfunny, but there’s a smattering of good footage, including a brief interview with Eric Goldberg, the film’s animation director. I would have preferred a real discussion about how Goldberg worked to get these characters right instead of wacky banter by the characters. “Bang Crash Boom!” is all about the special effects, and it’s a decent look at the process, but nothing deep. Again, having everything be hosted in wacky cartoon fashion is annoying. It’s at its worst during “Out Of Action,” the deleted scenes section that’s done as a theater screen from the perspective of sitting behind an incredibly badly-animated Bugs and Daffy.

There are a few funny clips, but I wouldn’t want to sit through that presentation twice. Rounding out the package is “Whizzard Of Ow,” a new Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote short produced by Larry Doyle, the credited screenwriter on the film. Chris Kelly wrote the short and Bren Haaland directed it, and it’s only mildly successful at aping the classic Chuck Jones shorts. Some of the gags are good but undercooked, and a few just don’t work at all. It’s a sincere attempt, but this just confirms that Warner Bros. is incapable of consistently producing new material involving these classic characters.

So promise me this. If you buy LOONEY TUNES BACK IN ACTION, you have to also have the 4-disc set LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION on your shelf. If you’ve already got it, good. You know how cool it is. If you’ve been putting it off, pick it up. Don’t get the truncated 2-disc set, though, and for God’s sake, don’t get fooled into picking up the godawful REALITY CHECK or STRANGER THAN FICTION, both full of Flash-animated shorts that are so bad they have the power to kill. You have been warned.

No... you owe it to yourself to go for the full 4-disc set, which is one of the best overall DVD releases that Warner Bros. has put out so far. Of anything. Disc One, Best Of Bugs Bunny, has some bona-fide classics like “Rabbit Of Seville” or “High Diving Hare,” a short that features a blizzard of visual gags that always leaves me giddy. This disc is also packed with extras in addition to the fourteen cartoons. There are a couple of cartoons you can play with a music-only track, a joy for any Carl Stalling fan. There are several commentaries. I enjoyed the one by voice actor Stan Freberg the most, I think. There’s the first part of a really great documentary called “Camera Three: The Boys From Termite Terrace,” originally produced for a cable access channel, it looks like. It’s a reverential look at the spectacular personalities that made the Warner Bros. animated shorts department the reigning kings of comedy for so long. Disney may have conquered the feature-length side of things, but if you ask me which I’d rather see – a Daffy Duck or a Donald Duck cartoon – there’s no contest. A lot of my early sense of humor was influenced by the sensibilities of these cartoons. I love that they hold up. They are just as funny to me as an adult, or more so, and different things make me laugh now. The sophistication of the gag structure, the evolving grace of the character work as each of the studio’s directors took their turns with the ever-growing stable of stars… these are the things that impress me endlessly.

Disc Two, Best Of Daffy and Porky, splits its focus, and personally, I could have enjoyed a full disc dedicated to the way Daffy changed from a whooping lunatic to the blustering egomaniac who declares himself “a happy miser.” Two of Daffy’s greatest moments are here. “Duck Amuck” is pure comedy, a surreal string of gags with a Charlie Kaufman-level mindfuck for a punchline. For many fans, it represents the peak of Chuck Jones’s work. I’ve always had a real deep adoration for “Duck Dodgers In The 24 ½ Century,” and this is a beautiful print of it. Part two of the “Camera Three” documentary is on this disc, along with several different featurettes about different characters. Discs three and four of the set are both called Looney Tunes All-Stars, and they both serve as all purpose cartoon grab bags. You like Pepe Le Pew, madcap French rapist? “For Scent-imental Reasons” is just for you. You like Papa Bear and Baby Bear? They show up a couple of times, and Stan Freberg does commentary for one of them. Tweety? Sylvester? Plenty of both. The Tasmanian Devil? Of course. I’m particularly pleased by the Foghorn Leghorn stuff, which amuses me more the older I get. He’s such a screaming jackass that he’s irresistible. I’m also delighted by the inclusion of Pete Puma, one of the funniest characters the studio ever underused. My wife, a Latina, insisted on seeing “Speedy Gonzalez” as soon as I put the discs in, political correctness be damned. She just loves the character dearly.

There’s a great Cartoon Network documentary, an episode of their TOON HEADS series, called “The Lost Cartoons.” You’ll get a peek at all sorts of stuff that isn’t otherwise available. There’s also a nice tribute to the genius of Carl Stalling’s work, and more featurettes about the characters. There’s a new, longer documentary on the final disc that’s worth seeing, and all told, I’ve still only described some of the extras that are part of the overall set. It’s dense, rewarding, a definite step in the right direction. The completist in me would love a series of box sets that collect everything the studio ever released, in chronological order. Technically, these transfers are as good as it gets for these cartoons, and there’s none of the glitchiness we saw in the recent cartoons included on TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, and CASABLANCA. They look and sound great here. The extras are all as good as their source material can be, but the depth of them overcomes any technical shortcomings. There’s no denying the integrity of this release, and I’d call it essential for any fan of the material.


I’ve always been a big fan of Westerns. As I was growing up, my father weaned me on a steady diet of his favorite films, immersing me in cowboy culture as far back as I can remember. One of the first movies I can clearly remember him going out of his way to take me to see in the theater was a revival of RED RIVER. Hell, my birthday is the same day as John Wayne’s, something my dad always seemed particularly pleased by. Early on, I found myself drawn to untraditional Westerns as my favorite examples of the genre. I had a healthy respect for John Ford and other formalists who had worke in the studio system, but it was the guys like Leone and Peckinpah’s later stuff that really turned me on.

I’m surprised, then, that I never saw THE HIRED HAND before now. Not only am I a Western fan, I’m a freak for ‘70s films in general. I’m well aware of Dennis Hopper’s follow-up to the tremendous success of EASY RIDER, the abysmal and almost unwatchably indulgent THE LAST MOVIE, but I’d never seen the film Fonda followed it up with. Shame on me, it turns out, since THE HIRED HAND is a wonderful film, rich and textured and mature, a film that manages to be both radical and formalist in equal measure. Vilmos Zsigmond’s beautiful camerawork, Bruce Langhorne’s haunting score, and the expert, dreamlike rhythms of the editing by Frank Mazzola all give Fonda an exceptional toolbox with which to craft his story of second chances at love and honor.

There’s a wonderful rapport right from the opening scene between Fonda and co-star Warren Oates, who plays grizzled with a quiet authority that grounds the film emotionally. These men are at the end of their time on the range, tired, ready to stop riding. They’ve got great violence and sorrow in their past, both of them bloodstained and haunted. Before Harry (Fonda) started riding with Arch (Oates), he was married for less than two years. While he was gone, his wife Hannah (Verna Bloom) started sleeping with the various hired hands she brought on each year. Harry shows up on Hannah’s doorstep, and the arrogance of his expectations practically bowl her over. Harry still thinks of himself as her husband, but she refuses to welcome him home. She also forbids him from telling Jeannie, their daughter, who he really is.

Instead, she agrees to hire him on to help run the farm, and Harry finds himself in the position of having to win her over anew. The film’s narrative takes numerous twists and turns, but it’s all honestly motivated, driven by these tremendous characters in Alan Sharp’s screenplay. It’s a beautiful piece of film writing, and Fonda rose to the challenge it posed. The film is technically accomplished, adventurous but never giving in to the pretension that made Hopper’s THE LAST MOVIE so unpleasant and smarmy. Simplicity. Quiet. Authenticity. These are the things that make Fonda’s film so fresh and affecting.

It’s a rare movie that handles adult themes with a refreshing frankness while telling a story so morally solid that you could show it to children. All Harry wants, figuratively speaking, is to go back to the Garden, back to the innocence of his younger self. Instead, he learns about the way our choices accumulate, and just how hard some things are to leave behind. Fonda gives a soulful, unadorned performance here, and it’s a nice compliment to the exquisite work by Verna Bloom. She’s great in Haskell Wexler’s MEDIUM COOL, her debut film, playing an Appalachian woman so well that some directors didn’t realize she was from New York until they met her face-to-face. Hannah’s another great role for her, strong and unwilling to let Harry hurt her twice. Bloom finds the perfect balance between stoic and impassioned, only occasionally letting her real heart shine through her guarded exterior.

The 2-disc set by Sundance Channel Home Entertainment is a lovely tribute to this long-overlooked gem. Disc One features an exceptional anamorphic transfer of the film as well as an audio commentary by Fonda. I haven’t listened to that, but I have watched all of the extras on Disc Two. There’s a documentary called “The Return Of THE HIRED HAND” that not only looks back at the production of the movie but which also discusses the various indignities Universal visited on the film over the years, including a cut for NBC that cut out the scenes that were most important to Harry and Hannah’s whole relationship. Even worse, that print stayed in circulation for years. Fonda’s really likeable as he talks about the film, in large part because of how generous he seems when talking about everyone’s contributions to the film. There’s a cool, concise little introduction to the film by Martin Scorsese, although it would have made more sense to put that on Disc One, perhaps. The deleted scenes here are quite good, including an entire supporting performance by Larry Hagman that represents some of his best film work. Fonda’s reasons for cutting the scenes, as explained in the documentary, are sound and perceptive, and I’m impressed that he was able to make the hard choices for the good of his story. Overall, this disc is a must for any fan of the genre.

I’m also quite surprised by how much I enjoyed Kevin Costner’s OPEN RANGE. So far, I’ve only watched Disc One, the film itself, and I was impressed by it. I think it stumbles a bit at the finish line with an awkward resolution that feels grafted onto what is otherwise a simple, classically-styled Western. What’s good is very good. Charlie (Costner), Boss (Robert Duvall), Mose (Abe Benrubi), and Button (Diego Luna) are running a herd of cattle and cross into a territory controlled by a morally stinted rancher named Baxter (Michael Gambon at his most rancid) who harbors a powerful dislike of “freegrazers.” He tries to run them off, and things escalate with deadly results.

And that’s pretty much all there is to it. It’s not the most complicated story, and that’s part of the charm of the screenplay by Craig Storper, working from a novel by Lauran Paine. Costner stages his action scenes with a cold, precise eye and a flair for the dramatic, and as a director, he gets out of the way of his cast. This is one of those discs that is so well-produced that it makes me regret missing it in the theater. The climactic battle is impressive and scary, and it manages not to feel tired or familiar, a real trick considering it’s a gunfight on the street of a Western town. Annette Bening gets the short end of the stick here, playing a thankless role with a weak resolution. She makes the most of what she’s got, but it’s not much. Duvall, on the other hand, has been handed a feast, and he digs in. He is wonderful here, charming and tough as nails in equal measure.

Costner seems to be at his best when expectations are low. All the acclaim he got for DANCES WITH WOLVES changed him from a director to a “filmmaker,” with hype surrounding his every move. Now that no one seems terribly worked up about what he’s doing, he’s able to get back to just telling a good story. Here’s hoping he keeps turning out good yarns like this as he chooses his next directorial effort.

I’m not sure I’d call Robert Rodriguez’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO a Western. Maybe it’s a Mexican, Robert’s very own genre. If so, I hope it refines it, because it’s hard to tell exactly what this muddled pastiche of clichés and underwritten characters is supposed to be. There are plenty of moments where the film comes to life for a sequence or two, but it never manages to sustain any sort of momentum. Characters drift in and out to no real effect, storylines stop and start, and action scenes take place in a vacuum. Johnny Depp’s Agent Sands is the most interesting thing about the movie, but my problem with his work is the same problem that I have with Jack Sparrow in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: he’s more interesting than the movie he’s in. In both cases, Depp is a distraction from an otherwise less-inspired story.

Having said that, I still think this is a very cool DVD. Inspirational, even. There’s a tour of Robert’s Troublemaker Studios, and I don’t care if you’re a film student or someone working at a studio or even just someone who likes to occasionally videotape family vacations. That setup should impress you. It represents a real revolution in production, a model that Coppola first dreamed of in the ‘80s, a genuine all-purpose production facility on a personal scale. Watching ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO as an experiment with the 24 fps Hidef video format, it’s fascinating. Rodriguez pushed the camera’s versatility as hard as he could, and in some places, he exposes some dramatic limitations. Still, overall, the film has a slick and stylish look, and it’s already several generations of camera outdated. The newer cameras have much richer picture resolution, which bodes well for someone like James Cameron, who’s been waiting for this technology to catch up with his ambition. Looking at this studio and thinking about the script I just read for A PRINCESS OF MARS, I’m convinced Austin is about to become the new New Zealand, and Rodriguez is sitting on one of the coolest things going at the moment.

As always, his “10-MINUTE FILM SCHOOL” is informative but brief, and it’s frustrating. I’d love a more in-depth featurette, but the ADD is part of the Rodriguez mystique. Obi-Swan, my co-writer, actually followed the directions in the “10-MINUTE COOKING SCHOOL” feature to what he described as “delicious” effect. The videotaped lecture “Film Is Dead” definitely gives Robert a chance to make his case for shooting HD over film, and his enthusiasm for the process is hard to shake. He makes a persuasive argument, especially if you ever shot any movies on video while growing up. When you shoot like that, you shoot fast and loose and you have to think on your feet. Robert’s whole approach to filmmaking seems to be an effort to get back to that kind of personal, improvisational shooting style, even on films with action sequences and special effects. “The Anti-Hero’s Journey” is a pretty good overall look at the ramshackle making of the movie. I find it hard to dislike a movie, even one this messy, when I have such undeniable fun with the disc itself.

I also just caught up with Ron Howard’s THE MISSING. Contrary to what some people want to think, Revolution hasn’t gone out of their way to screen me their movies, and they haven’t encouraged me to review them. Quite the opposite. I picked up a used copy of this disc the day it came out, and I watched the first disc of the set a few nights ago. It’s a striking transfer, and the cinematography by Salvatore Totino is impressively reproduced. The film takes obvious thematic cues from THE SEARCHERS, one of the best Westerns ever made, but adds a dash of modern gore a la SE7EN or SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Cate Blanchett stars as Maggie Gilkeson, a healer who struggles to run a farm and raise two daughters by herself. Lily (Evan Rachel Wood) dreams of a civilized life, away from the hardships of the frontier. Dot (Jenna Boyd), the younger sister, is in many ways the tougher of the two. Maggie gets some help from Brake (Aaron Eckhart), who works the farm for her. A mysterious old man, Samuel Jones, shows up to ask for help with some torn muscles under his ribs, and as soon as Maggie sees him, she gets angry. Turns out he’s her long-lost father who went native and vanished years ago. Tommy Lee Jones does some of the his best recent work in the role.

Maggie wants nothing to do with him, but a grisly, horrifying attack leaves several people dead and Lily in the hands of some Indian Scouts gone rogue, including a bizarre brujo, a powerful shaman with a clip on his shoulder about white people. Maggie has to depend on her father’s particular skills to guide her as they go after Lily and the other girls the Indians have kidnapped, hoping to rescue them before they are sold to whorehouses in Mexico.

It’s grim stuff, and Ron Howard shows a surprising aptitude for this kind of material. I’m encouraged to see him show the same flinty unsentimental edge that we glimpsed in the best moments in RANSOM, and I hope he brings the same sensibility to the entertainingly crisp THE DA VINCI CODE. He gets rock-solid work out of both Blanchett and Jones, excellent actors who need strong directors to bring the best out of them. He also shows a stronger hand for action here than he has in the past. It’s not a great film. The script wanders in many places, and there’s a strange but ultimately pointless digression in which the brujo’s power appears to be real, an idea they never explore again. It’s also too easy a resolution, a muted conclusion after what feels like an apocalyptic build-up. Although it hardly redefines the genre, it manages to uphold it with class, like OPEN RANGE, suggesting there’s still plenty of life in these archetypes.


I decided to load up a platter full of recent indie films that I missed when they were released. Every one of these films has got fans, and in each case, I’m glad I finally caught up with them.

Last time I ran into Bob Odenkirk, I was at Sea World in San Diego. I was there with my wife, and he was there with his whole family. He told me that he’d just shown MELVIN GOES TO DINNER the night before at a local film festival. At that point, they were just gearing up on the making of the DVD, but Bob promised he’d pack it with as many extras as possible. When you consider how microbudget this Sundance Channel Films release is, they’ve done as nice a job as possible to give you added value.

The film would be enough. It’s an amiable, sneaky little movie that gives four actors a chance to shine. Based on “Phyro-Giants!”, a play by Michael Blieden, this is a slice of twisted life about four people who end up having dinner together, seemingly at random. Blieden plays the lead in the film, but you can’t really single out one actor over another. Stephanie Courtney, Matt Price, and Annabelle Gurwitch are all sharp, funny, affecting performers, and they manage to make this intricately-scripted dialogue piece sound spontaneous at every turn, with the ebb and flow of real conversation. At times, the film is funny, and at times it’s strangely sweet-natured. It’s got an eccentric sense of humor that distinguishes it clearly from MR. SHOW or any of what you’d typically think of as Odenkirk’s work. It’s obviously very personal for him. His wife Naomi was a co-producer on the film. Anytime you see something this size, you know it’s a labor of love for the people involved, and it’s nice to see that Odenkirk is capable of real sincerity. There are two separate audio commentaries, one with Odenkirk and Blieden and the cast, and the other with Odenkirk, Blieden, and Michael Penn, the producers, and the cinematographer. There are videotaped scenes from an early production of the play. Best of all, there’s an original short film called “The Frank International Film Festival” that was inspired by Odenkirk’s experiences with this movie at festivals. Mike White and Fred Armisen co-star, and it’s definitely worth checking out for fans of the various comic minds involved.

WONDERLAND is difficult for me to get a handle on. It’s impossible to watch this without flashing back on BOOGIE NIGHTS. PT Anderson borrowed liberally from the true story of John Holmes in creating his saga of Dirk Diggler. As a result, there’s a hint of “been there, done that” to this movie, but it’s not their fault. Director James Cox does his best to tell this story his way, and the screenplay by Cox & Captain Mauzner and Todd Samovitz & D. Loriston Scott is structured in a way that pulls you in and keeps you engaged, even if you’re already familiar with the details of the story.

It’s an interesting choice for Lions Gate to release this as a 2-DVD set with the second disc used for the documentary WADD, which gives you a sanitized look at John Holmes and the way the porno industry worked while he was alive. I think Holmes comes across as a high-functioning sociopath in the documentary, an oily, totally phony jerk. Thankfully, WONDERLAND doesn’t softpedal it’s portrayal of Holmes. He’s shown as a destructive force who blows through the lives of all those around him. The murders on Wonderland Ave. are the heart of the film, and Cox and his co-writers use the different perspectives of all the participants to paint a RASHOMON-style portrait of a liar dedicated solely to self-preservation. They hint at a genuine humanity underneath all the squirmy pathological nonsense, but they never really let Holmes off the hook.

Kilmer’s very good in the film, but there’s one immediate problem with him physically: he’s too fat to play the part. One of the things that made Holmes so creepy was that sunken, skeletal death’s head look of his. Kilmer doesn’t look like he’s skipped a lot of meals lately, but aside from that, he nails the character as written. He can be tender with his young girlfriend Dawn (played with a bruised innocence by Kate Bosworth) just as easily as he can be helpless and pitiable with his wife Sharon (Lisa Kudrow). Holmes comes across as the sort of guy who will try to be everything to everyone because of his desperation to be liked. Cox and Kilmer give us a peek at the roaring loneliness and insecurity that drive Holmes, and understanding the murders is secondary to understanding him.

The large supporting cast all does strong work, including Christina Applegate and Eric Bogosian. Dylan McDermott’s nearly unrecognizable as the one person who seems sure John Holmes was part of the grisly quadruple murder, and Cox makes good use of McDermott’s particular brand of smoldering intensity. The film is surprisingly frank about the violence, so it’s a little startling to realize that the film is almost devoid of material about sex. Say what you will about the closing shot of BOOGIE NIGHTS, but that last shot of Dirk with his giant cock out, on display, our only glimpse of it in a film that’s all about how that big cock changes Dirk’s life, was absolutely necessary. Holmes was the same way, a guy who wanted to be treated with respect who couldn’t help but identify himself primarily based on his dick. There’s a scene in WONDERLAND where Holmes is at a party and he’s coaxed into showing his dick to some people. It’s an odd choice to include the scene but not go the distance and actually show it.

Especially from a director named Cox.

And I should know, being a McWeeny.

I wish the DVD for Fine Line’s remarkable AMERICAN SPLENDOR featured more extras, but the movie’s enough. If I’d seen this last year, it would have placed high on my end-of-the-year list, I’m sure. Paul Giamatti does career-best work as Harvey Pekar, especially when you see footage of him edited next to footage of the real Pekar. It would have been a stunt in the hands of the wrong filmmakers. Somehow, writer/directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini have taken the entire body of Pekar’s work as an acclaimed underground comic book writer and somehow condensed it into a beautiful, funny, caustic film about the unexpected paths that even the most ordinary lives can take. The idea of using the real Harvey and his wife Joyce and their friend Toby Radloff right alongside Giamatti and the wonderful Hope Davis and Judah Friedlander makes perfect sense when you see how many interpretations there have been of Pekar over the years. He’s always worked with different artists to bring his slice of life comic to the page, and no two of them draw him the same exact way.

One of the hardest things for Hollywood to do right is offer up a portrait of working class people without a sense of condescension creeping into things. So often, they’d rather paint people with low incomes as “quirky” or play them up as jokes than show them in all their flawed and human glory. Pekar’s work, on the other hand, has always been a celebration of the everyday, an ongoing exploration of the minutiae of the ordinary. Hats off, then, to Berman and Pulcini for striking just the right tone with this adaptation. They didn’t feel the need to make Pekar a clown, and even with someone as naturally eccentric as Toby, they make sure to treat him with dignity and affection. This is a singular film experience, neither a conventional biopic nor a typical comic book adaptation. It would make a great double-feature with Terry Zwigoff’s CRUMB, thanks in large part to the almost frighteningly accurate portrayal of the cartoonist by James Urbaniak. He was the first person to illustrate Pekar’s work, and their friendship is just one of the film’s gentle wonders. In many ways, SPLENDOR is the kind of film that defies description. It’s all about the performances and the laid-back energy of the movie. You can tell someone that much of the film was adapted from OUR CANCER YEAR, a book Pekar wrote with Joyce Brabner, but that doesn’t tell you anything about the unforced, observational quality of the dialogue or the strange way the film adapts the book and also deals with the writing of the book at the same time. And instead of being some post-modern stunt, the film ends up being direct and honest and real.

So, surprisingly, is Alan Rudolph’s latest, THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS. Maybe it’s because he started with a novel by Jane Smiley, a keen domestic observationalist. Maybe it’s because the screenplay was adapted by playwright Craig Lucas, who has always been a smart, economical writer. Or maybe it’s the particular alchemy between Campbell Scott and Hope Davis as a married couple wrestling with the basic issues of fidelity and family. Whatever the case, Rudolph has come up with one of his most satisfying films here, and whatever small flaws there are in the film are more than made up for by the things that work well.

Let’s start with the flaw and get it out of the way. Denis Leary shows up as Slater, an obnoxious patient of David Hurst, Scott’s character. Gradually, though, Slater becomes a fantasy figure, a voice in David’s ear, his own private Tyler Durden pushing him to examine all the rough edges of his life, always trying to talk him into walking away from everything he’s got. As a plot device, it takes away from the expert naturalism of the rest of the film, and it never pays off enough to justify itself. It doesn’t help that what we’re watching is the thousandth variation on Leary’s caustic asshole routine. If actor’s shticks had expiration dates, Leary would be poison by this point.

On the other hand, Scott and Davis are great, and much of this film is just a duet between these two great character actors. Marriage is hard enough, but this couple is also sharing a dental practice and struggling to raise kids together, and it seems at the start of the film like they’re about to implode from the pressure of it all. Rudolph does a great job of filling in all the details of this shared life, making it feel real. Their daughters are all played by exceptional young actresses, and the greatest compliment you can pay to a film like this is saying the script becomes invisible after a while. Yeah, you’ve seen Scott and Davis in dozens of other movies by now, but they vanish into these characters to such a great extent that you can believe they have a shared history. More importantly, you can still see the attraction that first brought them together, even through all the petty annoyances and disagreements and disappointments.

This disc features a nice anamorphic transfer, and Florio Ballhaus’s cinematography looks great. The extras are about what you’d expect (meaning none), but if you’ve ever been through rough times with the one you love, there’s no way this film will fail to resonate with you. Its best moments are universal, and it’s well worth seeking out.


So, like I said, I finally embraced the full potential of DVD and went region-free. It just made sense. If you spend time reading about film on the Internet, you end up reading about all sorts of international titles that you start to think you’re never going to get a chance to see.

Take HERO, for example. On the heels of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, there was a tremendous amount of heat on this particular title. Reviews were ecstatic. When Miramax paid $20 million to pick up the picture for North American distribution, it seemed like it was on its way to a huge roll-out in theaters. Instead, Miramax has transformed this beautiful martial arts fable into a golden albatross that they shuffle from release date to release date. At the same time, they threaten legal action against anyone importing the film to the US for sale. It’s outrageous, and in a world where distribution has taken all sorts of unusual and distressing digital digressions in the last decade, only a suicidal moron would treat these films and these audiences so poorly.

When Virgin Megastore adds an import section to their DVD department, obviously I’m not the only person growing dissatisfied with what I’m being offered. When I see sections like the one at Amoeba, with row after row of R2 and R3 discs, it makes it too tempting to resist. I’ll cop to it... I have an impulse control problem, and when a company like Buena Vista dicks me around on titles like ED WOOD (mysteriously delayed) or CITY OF GOD (bumped to June, its second shift in date), I’m going to go ahead and buy the R2 versions of the discs now.

I’ll also confess that my motives in expanding this type of coverage are entirely selfish. I want your feedback. What sites do you buy your import discs from? What titles should I know about? Are there more stores in LA I should check out? Right now, I’ve got about 30 discs that only work in this one player, enough to get me started.

KEN PARK (R3 NTSC) Mega Star Video

Larry Clark makes me nervous. Both KIDS and BULLY would qualify as serious films, but they walk the line of being pure sexploitation trash, too. His most recent film is notorious thanks to several police raids on Australian screenings of it. There are evidently several different versions available on the world market, but the one I found is from Hong Kong. It appears to be uncut, but digital blurring has been used to obscure certain close-ups. In a way, I’m almost grateful.

You’ve gotta love the description on the back cover of the disc:

KEN PARK is the latest feature film from controversial director Larry Clark ‘Kids.’ An intense scrutiny of the lives of four teenagers, all childhood friends and their parents. Their unmasked lives are full of violence, sex, hatred, and drug. The no holes barred screenplay is both shocked and moved, just like the TV’s Jerry Springer Show...

“No holes barred”?! Sold!

This film owes as much of its identity to cinematographer Ed Lachman and screenwriter Harmony Korine as it does to Clark, and the result is oddly engrossing. It’s not quite the carnival ride freakshow that Korine’s GUMMO was, and Lachman’s unusual visual collaboration with Clark, an acclaimed photographer before he was a filmmaker, yields seductive results. At moments, there’s nothing real about what you’re watching. There are several surreal, highly-stylized moments, like the dreamy, languid threesome that closes the film. At other moments, it feels like you’re watching a documentary. Much of the material is scatological, and some of it fails to connect dramatically. Even so, there’s a poetic power to the film that builds as it goes, and there’s one insane image involving a pair of false teeth that stinks of genuine madness.

This anamorphic transfer has an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix and subtitles in traditional and simplified Chinese. The 97 minute feature is on a single-side single-layer disc, and aside from the digital censorship I mentioned, it’s a pretty striking transfer.


This is an “Archive Television” release, part of “a series of releases from bfi Video Publishing aiming to provide access to key television programmes preserved in the National Film and Television Archive.” I’m enormously pleased to have picked it up finally after hearing so much about it from our English chatters.

Broadcast just one time in 1992, GHOSTWATCH is a canny horror film disguised as a news programme. Like Welles’s THE WAR OF THE WORLDS or the later THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, this plays with our notions of media and reality, and caused an enormous public reaction when it aired on Halloween night.

The set-up is simple. The BBC decides to conduct a live broadcast from an allegedly haunted house in North London. The broadcast is padded out with in-studio experts, pre-produced segments on the alleged history of the house, live phone calls from viewers, and even a celebrity guest host in the form of RED DWARF’s Craig Charles. It’s all played completely straight, and it works as well today as it must have when it was first shown. Gradually, the supernatural begins to make itself felt, and the show builds to a suitably apocalyptic ending that feels authentic.

The disc features commentary by writer Stephen Volk, producer Ruth Baumgarten, and director Lesley Manning, who all have plenty of reason to be proud of what they pulled off. I haven’t listened to the commentary or watched the “Shooting Reality” feature with Manning yet, but I will. I can’t wait to show this one to friends on Halloween this year. The less you tell someone before they see it, the more they’ll enjoy the surprising and effective scares in store for them. Sound and picture is as good as it can be, and looks like an early ‘90s live TV broadcast. This is definitely worth seeking out, especially for American genre fans who might not have seen it yet.

VAMPIRE CIRCUS (R2 PAL) Carlton Visual Entertainment

This is part of a box set, HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR – THE VAMPIRE COLLECTION, but the reason I bought this box was to get one specific title. Ever since I first saw the poster for the film and first read that amazing title, I’ve been desperate to see it.

And, unlike so many other times, it turns out to have been well worth all the time and effort.

Robert Young’s VAMPIRE CIRCUS kicks off with a great sequence involving the death of Count Mitterhouse, a powerful vampire. In this one sequence, we get great fights, bare breasts, heated curses, and more than a little bit of blood. It sets the stage for an always-inventive film about a cursed town and a wandering band of vampires. The circus acts in the film are all well-shot, cool, making great use of the setting.

And the disc’s a winner, too, even if all it features for extras is a trailer. The 84-minute film looks and sounds as good as it’s ever going to, and the lush, vivid Hammer photography is remarkable to behold, beautifully reproduced.

If the other two titles in the box (TWINS OF EVIL and COUNTESS DRACULA) turn out to be anywhere near as good, then I’ll count myself lucky. As it is, it was already well worth what I paid.

THE OFFICE: The Complete Second Series (R2 PAL) BBC Video

Yes, I know it’s about to come out domestically, but I couldn’t wait. Wernham-Hogg is undeniable. David Brent is disgustingly addictive. I am drawn to watching THE OFFICE the same way people are drawn to websites like and Something Awful. This is horror as comedy, finely tuned, one of the most agonizing close-up dissections of a git ever produced.

Don’t get me wrong. Martin Freeman’s Tim is enormously likeable, and watching the way he and Dawn (Lucy Davis) continue their hesitant mating dance this series is one of its many delights. And watching them tormeny Gareth (Mackenzie Crook) is endlessly entertaining.

But this show is ultimately all about David Brent, played so brilliantly by Ricky Gervais, and his Sherman’s March to self-destruction. The only thing I’ve ever seen to compare it to is the work of Jeffrey Tambor on THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW. If great comedy comes from pain, then David Brent seems to promise a bottomless well of comedy.

Gervais and co-writer/director Stephen Merchant say they’re done with these characters, which raises the inevitable question: what’s next? If they’re not going to give us more time with these particular characters, one can only pray that their next project is this inspired.

The outtakes and deleted scenes are great, with Gervais at his shit-eating best when introducing them. The “video diary” turns out to be a fairly long and interesting behind-the-scenes look at how this series was produced. There was obviously a good deal of success with this first series, and with that kind of success comes increased expectations. Everyone seems to have risen to the occasion, though. Now if I could just get that Christmas special on DVD...


As best as I can tell, this is pretty much the same edition that Disney almost released in February. For some reason, they cancelled the release at the last moment, even after some of the discs made their way onto the shelves.

Cover’s certainly the same, and there are plenty of extras included. The audio commentary by Tim Burton is his most entertaining, and it’s easy to see how much he likes the film. It holds up well, and it’s still one of the best things he’s made. Johnny Depp’s performance here is inspired, impossible to resist. He plays Ed as the ultimate optimist, always up no matter what. Screenwriters Alexander and Karaszewski made exactly the right choice to end the film where they do, before Wood’s descent into porn and alcoholism. Their film focuses instead on the way Ed collected his film family, and in particular, his friendship with Bela Lugosi. There aren’t enough superlatives to praise the performance by Martin Landau as the movie star clinging tenuously to whatever fame he’s got left, even as he’s ravaged by a morphine addiction.

The single-layer disc features Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English and Spanish, and subtitles in English, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Finnish. It’s got a groovy animated menu that looks like you’re sitting in a movie theater with Howard Shore’s brilliant bongo-heavy score on a loop. The music video that’s included is basically just the uber-hot Lisa Marie in various revealing costumes writhing to Shore’s score for several minutes, with a few quick clips of Lugosi thrown in. I could watch it all day long. Rewatching the trailer for the film, two things struck me. First, I can’t believe that film got an R. Second, Touchstone did the best they could to sell this. The trailer actually does a nice job of conveying the tone of the film, including many of my favorite moments and lines.

The behind-the-scenes documentary, “Let’s Shoot This Fucker,” is just as strange as the movie, and Burton fans will eat it up. Another featurette is devoted entirely to the score, and “The Theremin” gives Howard Shore a chance to talk about the various influences he drew upon, including Cuban music and Mancini’s TOUCH OF EVIL score, as well as the unearthly sound of the Theremin, obviously. “Making Bela” look at the Academy Award-winning make-up by Rick Baker, and the process Landau went through to get his version of Lugosi just right. Baker’s generous, describing just how important Ve Neill was in actually applying the make-up to Landau on a daily basis, having to adjust to the black-and-white photography. Landau gives the a great peek into the research he did and the way he reconstructed Lugosi’s particular Hungarian accent.

“When Carol Met Larry” is certainly the oddest of the featurettes on the disc, starting with an interview with Marie Keller, executive director of the Los Angeles Gender Center. It’s basically a short documentary on cross-dressing. I guess it makes sense, but they keep cutting to clips from Burton’s film, which has a pretty wry sense of humor about it all, and at first it seems inappropriate. The truth is, of course, that GLEN OR GLENDA? was groundbreaking and compassionate in its own retarded way. People who are just now discovering Johnny Depp must have missed his work here. He manages to wring every bit of humor out of this performance without belittling Ed as a person. It’s daring work, and this featurette shows how right Depp got it. The final short on the disc, “Pie Plates Over Hollywood,” offers a look at the lengths Burton went to get Ed Wood’s shabby world just right. Tim Duffield, the production designer, talks about being a last-minute hire, replacing someone else days before filming began, and he details the difficulties of working in black-and-white. He shows off a great bound book of all his design work on the film, and it’s engrossing stuff.

So that’s it for this time. Hope you like the new look and feel of the column, and as always, I’ll leave you with a question for the Talk Backs and e-mail:

What DVD release that you’d never seen before most lived up to the hype when you finally saw it? And which one least lived up to the hype?

See you later this week with reviews of HELLBOY, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, and the wonderful MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • March 15, 2004, 7:50 a.m. CST

    Region free

    by zacdilone

    DVD Region Coding is the antichrist. Thanks for the heads up, Moriarity!

  • March 15, 2004, 8:22 a.m. CST

    What happened to the Amazon links?

    by Monkey Butler

    Since when has AICN bowed to tb pressure? And will there be more acquiesing in the future? Does that mean we've finally seen the end of this shitty site design, impossible-to-work-through arhives and out of order tbs?

  • March 15, 2004, 9:14 a.m. CST


    by Primus

    That scared the living crap out of me when I first saw it. I had no idea TV could put that much fear inside you. Classic, though I'm betting it will mean more to us in the UK because of all the British celebrities involved: Mike Smith, Sarah Greene, Michael Parkinson, Craig Charles... wicked.

  • March 15, 2004, 9:25 a.m. CST

    OK, so on a semi-related topic, when does "Kill Bill vol. 1" com

    by rev_skarekroe

    'Cause I accidentally rented it at a hotel this weekend, but I couldn't stay to watch the whole thing. sk

  • March 15, 2004, 9:35 a.m. CST

    I find it hilarious that Moriarty felt compelled to respond to t

    by Boris the Blade

    I wonder if he curled up in the fetal position and cried himself to sleep when he read our comments about having six copies "The Cutting Edge: Special Edition". And sk, Kill Bill DVD comes out the same week Volume 2 is released, mid-April I believe.

  • March 15, 2004, 9:37 a.m. CST

    Which DVD release most justified its hype?

    by raw_bean

    LOTR:FOTR Extended Edition, without a doubt. TTT not far behind, but by then our expectations were higher, having been blown away by how good the FOTR set was. As for disappointing DVD releases, can't really think of any. With my limited budget, I tend to only buy excellent films with good special feature packages.

  • March 15, 2004, 9:53 a.m. CST

    pull this article!

    by Frank Black

    If the word gets out, the studios will look to stop the region free phenomenon, (even though they still profit when we buy them overseas!) I have had two region free players, and now have two and a Phillips DVD recorder. I have been backing up all of my home videos to DVD, (which saves space considering we have 25 boxes of VHS.) The truth is, a region free player is the only way to go. Most of the titles come out in the US eventually, but often with bad transfers or dubbed, (ex: Naked Weapon.)Truthfully, the biggest advantage is not running into trouble when buying a Korean film that claims to be ALL Region, but is actually region 3. The best places to order region free movies is www.pokerindustries and However, there are a lot of Canadian sites that are good too. The studios keep re-releasing the same film over and over again, (Terminator anyone?) and it gets tiring. You can often find a European version of a movie done right the first time, or released years before you'll see it in the U.S. My Eyes Wide Shut was the first DVD I purchased when I got a region free player and it is a better version. The best reason to get a region free player is that you don't have to deal with restrictions and you can find a lot of great European horror films like the Vampire Circus set mentioned in the article. (My Countess Vampire disc skipped, but it is now available as a double feature with the awesome Vampire Lovers. Daewoo players are fantastic, but others are also supposed to be good.

  • March 15, 2004, 10:16 a.m. CST

    Import DVDs

    by RenoNevada2000

    poker Industries seems to me to be the best. I've ordered from them numerous times and have always had great service. They also appear in the dealers room at the bi-annual Chiller Theatre conventions in New Jersey and have let me call in an order earlier in the week to pick up at the show. Great staff. If you ever get back to NYC Mori, I'll take you down to Chinatown to my favorite new place which has the best prices I've ever seen anywhere. Celestial's Shaw Brothers restorations going for $5 to $10 bucks cheaper than anywhere online. Can't wait for my tax refund check to get here!

  • March 15, 2004, 10:35 a.m. CST


    by alfiemoon

    For budding US multi-region DVD fans who want some cool British stuff I recommend: The aforementioned Ghostwatch; Spaced series 1&2 (can't recommend this highly enough: if you're reading aintitcool, you'll love it), Red Dwarf (if that's your thing - although I know you can get it in the US); Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends - takes the piss out of the US a bit but is hilarious; The League of Gentlemen - very cinematic, very weird, very funny; Alan Partridge - all his series are great, British character comedy at its best; The Day Today - spoof news show from about 10 years ago which is so accurate it almost isn't funny; and Brass Eye - a nastier, more cutting incarnation of The Day Today. All of these things are great. If you can't get them in the US, invest in a multi-region player. It's worth it.--------------------------------------Oh, and Terminator 2: Ultimate edition is the DVD that most lives up to the hype. So much stuff on that thing, I still haven't watched it all after more than 2 years. Mostly good stuff, too.

  • March 15, 2004, 10:45 a.m. CST


    by RenoNevada2000

    As a Brit do you think you can get on Auntie Beeb's case to release full season sets of DROP THE DEAD DONKEY on DVD? That one "Writers' Choice/Best Of" release isn't enough!

  • March 15, 2004, 11:17 a.m. CST

    Region-Free hunting is a bitch if you don't buy your player onli

    by Blacklist

    I had a similar experience to Mori's. I was referred to a $40 player sale at Wal-Mart buy a guy who works at a local video store and by looking for the Apex AD-1200, which apparently plays all region DVDs. Turns out, when I got the thing back, the box said AD-1200, but the player said AD-1201. The difference? Only one: the 'new' model didn't play all region DVDs. More players, I'm told, can let you play all region DVDs if you download firmware and burn it to a disc and properly install it (if you don't do it right it'll screw up your player. You're basically over-writing non-backable files on it) and theoretically the store isn't liable to take it back if you destroy it. Truthfully, what average Best Buy or Circuit City employee will bother to check how your player died? But unless you're a tech junkie, just go online. I got mine at Most sites that deal all region DVDs carry decent players too.

  • March 15, 2004, 11:20 a.m. CST

    Best use for Region Free DVDs...

    by Blacklist has had 50% off sales for it's X-Files box sets (prices seem to be gradually climbing back up for 1 2 and 3, but apparently June 1 will see the release of cheaply-priced box sets), so I've essentially been getting each at $70. I'd gloat, but I'm a humble man.

  • March 15, 2004, 11:34 a.m. CST

    ack, hold on...

    by Blacklist

    800 Bullets (awesome if you love spaghetti westerns) was difficult to find, but had it. is where I do most of my shopping: Infernal Affairs 1 2 and 3, Taxi 1 2 and 3 (I can vouch for the greatness of Taxi 1, but 2 and 3 might make your eyes roll right out of your head). Best recent worthwhile import of mine is Azumi, at a wallet-screaming $50 from, worth every bit if you ask me. I loved Versus and Azumi is bliss. Though if you can't afford the official DVD, there's always the bootlegs on eBay. Best domestic DVD I found last week was the recent $15 release of Blowup. I'd never seen it before, and man, it's fantastic.

  • March 15, 2004, 11:37 a.m. CST

    Ken Park... UNCUT

    by grotesk15

    The region 5 DVD from Russia has no "digital censorship."

  • March 15, 2004, 11:43 a.m. CST

    DVD release to live up to hype...

    by grotesk15

    A movie to be released by Lions Gate this year, already on DVD in France (with no English subtitles, but there is a Korean edition that has subtitles, but no DTS track)... HAUTE TENSION! I am sure the KILL BILL limited edition box set from Japan will, too!

  • March 15, 2004, 12:08 p.m. CST

    Moriarty, where's your review of BLOW-UP?

    by Dolemite_fan

    Huh? Huh? That's a masterpiece; we can do without poorly made shit like THE MISSING. Get with it next time! Otherwise, pretty good read.

  • March 15, 2004, 12:15 p.m. CST

    They made a mistake casting Steven Carell for the US Office when

    by Declan_Swartz

  • March 15, 2004, 12:33 p.m. CST

    "Pepe LePew, madcap French rapist"

    by Osmosis Jones

    This is the funniest thing I've read here in weeks.

  • March 15, 2004, 12:45 p.m. CST

    Owning Popeye on DVD is nothing to be ashamed of

    by wash

    But Bewitched, yes, I'm afraid.

  • March 15, 2004, 1:28 p.m. CST

    "moronic to the point of surrealism"

    by Mr Brownstone

    an apt description of a lot of films these days.

  • March 15, 2004, 1:28 p.m. CST

    I've been through 2 DVD players that were suddenly unable to pl

    by braine

  • March 15, 2004, 1:34 p.m. CST


    by Lizzybeth

    It was inventive, interesting, touching, funny, yada yada, and the portrayals of Pekar and Crumb were almost scary. Hope Davis was also fantastic, and I loved the way that real life constantly interacted with its fictional portrayal much the way it does in the actual comics. This is a must-buy in my book. I might have to jump at that region-free offer with all the musical and animation-related releases that are taking for-freaking-ever to get here (Where are you, Pulp:Hits? Hurry up, Porco Rosso!)

  • March 15, 2004, 1:51 p.m. CST

    Daewoo P480 Region Code

    by dna299

    After you turn on the player, use your remote and hit 9 7 3 5 and a region screen will open up. Set it to Region 0 and now have a region free player.

  • March 15, 2004, 1:56 p.m. CST

    Region Free Question

    by jnnybaseball

    As a new Region free participant I was wondering if someone could help me out. Most of the Region 2 or 3 discs I have been interested in and have considered purchasing from sites like hkflix are listed on Ebay as ALL REGION discs with the same coverart and at much cheaper prices. Are these ALL REGION discs always bootlegs? What are things to look for or is it best justto purchase only REGION SPECIFIC titles? Thanks to anyone who can help.

  • March 15, 2004, 2:11 p.m. CST

    NTSC vs. PAL

    by akirakid

    I don't understand how the Region Free thing works. I have a region free player from Coby but understood that UK discs are recorded in PAL which appears in black and white when played back on an NTSC television. I have been holding off on getting PAL discs for this reason. Can someone elaborate? Am I incorrect in my assumption?

  • March 15, 2004, 2:19 p.m. CST

    John Carter?!?

    by Prankster

    Wait a minute--Moriarty, you read the John Carter of Mars script? And can I infer that it's good? You gotta give us something! Thumbs up? Thumbs down?

  • March 15, 2004, 2:33 p.m. CST

    Some region free info-

    by RenoNevada2000

    All region 0 discs are not bootlegs. Some legitmate titles have been released with no region encoding on them in both the US and elsewhere. Beware of PAL discs, you will need a player to convert PAL to NTSC. Your best bet is to find a player that handles both region encoding and can convert PAL on the fly. I have a Malata that I got two years ago from and its working wonderful for me.

  • March 15, 2004, 3:03 p.m. CST

    Mori's collection?

    by ChickenGeorgeVII

    Before everyone finds themselves criticizing Mori's DVD all may want to admit to some of the crap you have in your own.....I myself have ALL of the Ernest movies on DVD...AND I AM DAMN PROUD OF IT!!!!....kinda for the same reasons that the french dig Jerry Lewis, I suppose.....And thus, shut up! - - - George, The 7th Chicken!!!!

  • March 15, 2004, 3:13 p.m. CST

    A piece of bizarre region-free info.

    by Cash Bailey

    I recently bought a region-free player off eBay. I asked the guy I bought it off whether it was illegal to sell or make them, as I had heard. He told me that it wasn't illegal to make or sell region-free players, but it WAS illegal to advertise them as such. So the box, instruction manual and the machine itself cannot contain anything that tells you the player is region-free. Weird, huh?

  • March 15, 2004, 3:23 p.m. CST

    VERY good read, Moriarty. Thank you and please keep these articl

    by BruceWayne111

    I feel the same way about film, and sometimes my friends think I am crazy. Of course, I don't have the collection that you do, but hey, neither does Spielberg for that matter. Best DVD I got which measured up to the hype? School of Rock . .I know, I was the only person in America to not have seen it in the theaters but damn was it enjoyable to plop that movie in my DVD player and watch Jack Black scream, "Let's melt some faces!"

  • March 15, 2004, 3:27 p.m. CST

    Try being a music geek, Moriarty

    by mortsleam

    You can drink, CD's are smaller and take up less room than DVD's, and the chick are HOT.

  • March 15, 2004, 3:49 p.m. CST

    bootlegs and region 0

    by Blacklist

    be wary of region 0 DVDs, especially when shopping on eBay. No, they aren't always bootlegs, but virtually all bootlegs are region 0, from my experience. If someone's going to sell bootlegs, why wouldn't he sell them to as many different countries as he can? Check at legitimate sites before eBay or's ZShops (anime is often bootlegged).

  • March 15, 2004, 3:56 p.m. CST

    i reckon they should have got the mayor off buffy to play david

    by slade justice

    you know....the bad guy from the third season. he is fucking funny.

  • March 15, 2004, 4:22 p.m. CST


    by RenoNevada2000

    The way I understand it, Region encoding is an artifical business construct from the studios to avoid having someone in England or Japan import from the States a movie on DVD that hasn't had a theatrical release in that country. The only copyright questions that arrise are when a third party (ie. online retailer) wants to resale(distribute) a film that some company like Miramax has bought up the US distribution rights for, though even this is contested. I have not heard of any kind of legislation that would prohibit the advertising of DVD players as illegal, especially in light of the manyt e-tailers who specifically do advertise players that are region free. I would suspect it would be more of a case of major studios leaning on the Best Buys and Circuit Cities saying, "Don't you dare advertise these players as region free (and thus potentially cutting into our profits) or else we just may not ship you those hot new DVD releases of ours."

  • March 15, 2004, 4:32 p.m. CST


    by BillEmic

    Last weekend, I just watched AZUMI, from the director of Versus. Has anyone else seen it? No hyperbole: it is one of the five best films I've EVER seen. A sheer, absolute thrill. It's like being granted a heavenly vision.

  • March 15, 2004, 4:58 p.m. CST

    Ohh, your $70 DVD player didn't look good?

    by zekmoe

    What a shock! Seventy whole dollars. It's amazing that it even plays at all for that money. Get a Denon 2900 as an ENTRY LEVEL movie enthusiest player, and give up being a feeder. Bob

  • March 15, 2004, 5:19 p.m. CST


    by Cash Bailey

    I live in Australia so the laws may be different. All I know is that I bought my player off an eBay merchant and that's what he told me. In the end it don't mean shit to me, and it shouldn't to anyone else. NOBODY has the right or the power to prevent me from seeing what I want to see. Without my Region-Free player I would never have gotten the following titles: DOGMA: SPECIAL EDITION, THE FOG, CLERKS: THE ANIMATED SERIES, SOUTHERN COMFORT or ICHI THE KILLER. Maybe I'll even buy HERO, just to stick it to those cocksuckers at Miramax.

  • March 15, 2004, 5:23 p.m. CST

    PAL & Region Free DVD players

    by toyman365

    A great site to find a wide range of region free dvd players is I have been dealing with them for about 3 years and they have the best selection of dvd players I've ever seen online. Many have built in PAL converters. I have a SAMPO DVE-611 and it not only is region free and converts PAL to NTSC or NTSC to PAL, it also has an universal power suply. beware of daewoo type firmware machines as they aren't as region free as dvd players that have had hardware modes or were built to be region free. And there are places in the world it is against the law to sell region coded dvd players.

  • March 15, 2004, 5:30 p.m. CST

    In Space ...

    by toyman365

    by the way, all the dvd players on the International Space Station are region free.

  • March 15, 2004, 5:32 p.m. CST

    Any dvd player can be Region Free

    by Drworm2002

    there are websites on how to make disk. there are built in codes. Do you think that sony and other co want to spend money make 6 different types of the same player? it's real easy to change.

  • March 15, 2004, 5:37 p.m. CST

    I didn't hate you for the massive,messy collection

    by Kungfumanchu

    but it did make me feel the overwhelming need to rearrange mine as it WAS of similar size & shape. I got my region free player at Best Buy when I bought my tv.It was free with the tv,but it was a Cyberhome(retailed for $35),which I was unfamiliar with & figured I could sell for a few $'s or pawn off on some poor soul as a gift.Just a coincidence that I was looking into buying a rf player shorly afterwards & kept seeing Cyberhomes mentioned. Turns out they're the among the cheapest priced,highest quality & easiest to program out there(took about 10 seconds).2 years later & no problems.Some great recommendations already on here,but I don't think these were mentioned:Phoenix Nights,Lars von Triers Riget 1-2(The Kingdom Danish 4 dvd set w/commentary,docs & more),Blood for Dracula/Flesh for Frankenstein double feature w/the same extras as the Criterions at a third of the price,City of God 2 dvd set with more(doc,commentary) features than the r1 will have.To the person who mentioned Azumi,which is great,make sure to check out Aragami by the same director & Battlefield Baseball by his AD.As an ebay freak,I've gotta say I've personally never had a bad "all region" dvd experience & have picked up most of my tv season sets & r2/r4 dvds on there at embarassingly low prices.The most recent example & one of my favorite dvd sets is the brand new,limited to a 1,000 copies(supposedly only made for cast & crew),3 dvd set of Denis Leary's The Job with all 19 episodes for only $33 including s&h. Almost all the dvds places like poker industries sell(which are mostly bootleg by the way,just high quality) are on ebay at a way cheaper price.You can tell by their fb how high the quality is.The "import" dvd crowd is a finicky one & leave fb accordingly.My favorite dvd moment would probably be watching my then girlfriend,now wife,watch Brain Dead(Dead Alive) for the first time and enjoying it as much as I did.I think somewhere in between classic lines such as "your mother ate my dog" & "I kick ass for the lord" true love was born that night.Guess I'm just a zombie romantic that way.

  • March 15, 2004, 6:07 p.m. CST

    F I R E F L Y

    by gurglesnap

    FIREFLY was by far the best DVD set that I have picked up sight unseen. I had heard strong nerd-of-mouth on it for ages, so I finally bought it on a whim. Surprise! It was great, and I've since shown it to non-nerds who have loved it as well. Hope the movie turns out well. . . . . .

  • March 15, 2004, 6:14 p.m. CST

    Oh, and RE: the AMAZON links. . .

    by gurglesnap

    The fact that any of you can even pretend to care about links to embedded in the articles defies belief. It's just not possible that you can be that pathetic and small. You're just trolling for the hell of it, right?? I mean, you CAN'T REALLY CARE about that FOR REAL, right?? RIGHT????? You people are just tragic.

  • March 15, 2004, 6:19 p.m. CST

    Damn,can't believe I forgot to mention Bill Hicks

    by Kungfumanchu

    you can find plenty of cheap bootlegs of his stuff,but most of the standup specials are available on fairly cheap legit R2 dvds.

  • March 15, 2004, 6:50 p.m. CST

    I don't have a problem with Moriarty being passionate about film

    by trench404

    ... however I found unecessary for him to post picture after picture of his collection with a lame, "hey guys, look how much space they take up" excuse. It struck me as ego-wanking, as I'm sure it did to most readers. Don't take it personally though, most of his reviews are right on the money. Oh, and Hero is well worth getting on whatever region you can find it.

  • March 15, 2004, 7:20 p.m. CST


    by DocPazuzu

    If you're living in the States, which I assume given your trouble, the best machine to get is the Malata DVP-520. It will play ANY disc on ANY television. It uses the same chip as the JVC machine and is much more reliable than the Apex and Daewoo machines. Also, if you want the best possible result, acquire a multi-system (PAL/NTSC) television. That way, instead of converting your PAL discs to the inferior NTSC system, you can watch the full PAL resolution in all its splendor. The Malata also has x/y scaling, which means you can watch anamorphic PAL discs in the correct ratio without the "stretching" problem other machines have. This isn't a problem in most of Europe where almost all DVD players are region free and all TVs are multi-system. I have a multi-system TV and noticed a little extra perk with the Malata -- if you manually choose the PAL setting for an NTSC disc, you get a much better picture than if it's run in its native NTSC. You can get a Malata at or eBay (where I purchased mine a year ago for $180). Any movie geek worth his salt is region-free. Hope this helps.

  • March 15, 2004, 7:46 p.m. CST

    Okay...I have a DVD related question, and hopefully someone can

    by Sod Off Baldric

    What the hell happened to the Iron Giant special edition? I had that baby pre-ordered for over a month when I suddenly get an email telling me that my order has been cancelled ONE WEEK before it was scheduled to be released. I go to re-order it and discover that it is no longer available. It seems to have suffered the same fate as the Ed Wood special edition. Can anyone help me out? Later.

  • March 15, 2004, 7:49 p.m. CST

    My Current Region-Free DVD Player is...

    by Ktak

    ... an obscure Taiwanese made model called the Momitsu V-880. This player allows you to change regions via a hidden menu, a useful feature as some region-free players can't play RCE coded discs (Like some of the newer Columbia pictures releases). I first heard about this player about a year ago on AVS Forum which is a site for rabid home theater enthusiasts who scrutinize every aspect of playback quality. Besides being region-free, the Momitsu also converts PAL to NTSC and uses the excellent Genesis scaling chip to upsample DVD's native 480p resolution to 720p or 1080i HDTV resolution and outputs the signal via component or DVI connectors. DVI lets you feed a direct digital signal to a flat-panel display or, in my case, a front projector with DVI input. The end result (especially with high-quality transfers like Superbit DVDs) comes amazingly close to an HDTV signal. I'm running a 90-inch screen right now and the picture is mindblowing. I've owned region-free DVD Players since DVDs were introduced in 1997, and this puts out the best image of any player I've ever owned. Unfortunately, the Momitsu is very hard to find in the States right now, so most people at AVS have ordered theirs from overseas. Here in Japan, you can get one for less than $250. There are newer DVI-equipped players coming out from more well-known manufacturers, but they are much more expensive and most aren't region-free.

  • March 15, 2004, 8:42 p.m. CST

    Doc Pazuzu-

    by RenoNevada2000

    Preach the word on the Malata 520! That's the model I've got and it's working great. I think it's been discontinued and replaced with a new new model though.

  • March 15, 2004, 8:47 p.m. CST


    by RenoNevada2000

    Sorry I didn't realize in all this time I've been seeing your posts here that you're from Australia. But the laws shouldn't bother you, I mean you're all still a bunch of criminals there right? ;) Anyway, I strongly recommend checking out HERO. Great film.

  • March 15, 2004, 10:32 p.m. CST

    I own R2 SPIRITED AWAY (despite red tint) and R4 CITY OF GOD dvd

    by FD Resurrected

    Fuck Miramax for delaying CITY OF GOD region 1 DVD. Stupid bastards. I also own Region 0 Chinese DTS edition of HERO. I heard about the director's cut. I'm curious about that. I recently had to sell the laserdisc collection except the few due to financial strain but at least there's always classic DVDs for me to rent for free or for a buck at local libraries. Hollywood Video stock import DVDs, always Hong Kong/Chinese movies that nobody wants to watch except possibly John Woo's classic action movies before he turns out assembled-factory-shit U.S. movies. For Playstation 2 50001 owners, I'd say mod it at or buy Action Replay. GameShark 2 is pure shit. Keep unique DVDs coming from other regions! I love imports, it gives that thrilling feeling when you receive it in the mail or purchase it at the store. R.I.P. LaserDisc...

  • March 15, 2004, 11:07 p.m. CST

    Iron Giant SE delay

    by Osmosis Jones

    I'm certain it was delayed to sometime this fall just so that Warners can slap a "From the director of The Incredibles!" sticker on the shrink-wrap. Fuckers... Oh, and I got the cancelled Ed Wood SE (had to trade an entire season of The X-Files AND a season of Friends to get it), and can't for the life of me figure out why it was shelved. Just because Martin Landau's Bela Lugosi ranted against "Those bastards at Universal" in an easter egg deleted scene? Seems ridiculously thin-skinned...

  • March 15, 2004, 11:47 p.m. CST

    DVD satisfaction

    by kartaron

    Best worst releases on DVD Best: LOTR FOTR EE (just the mass of extras) LOTR TTT EE (how did they find that much more?) Thirteen Days (historical data and movie info) Alien Quadrilogy (alternate cuts and lotsa extras) Patton 2 disc(documentaries but no commentary) Godafather trilogy(Pt 3 has a bad transfer but lotsa extras set in a timeline) Shackelton(Great DVD extras despite being a minor release) Legend of Drunken Master(good commentary despite mistaking the movie for "snake in eagles shadow" once) Band of Brothers(great show great extras) Black Hawk Down (best extras on a modern war movie) Memento(the best extras and menu ever) Worst: Lawrence of Arabia(great case... crap extras) Schindlers List(should have had a more broad documentary attached) Scarface (SE with no commentary?) Indiana Jones Trilogy(VERY DISSAPOINTED with extras on this set) Shield (great show, self indulgent commentary) Any Michael Mann SE Disc (there are none) Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet(there aint one)

  • March 16, 2004, 12:23 a.m. CST


    by Crackula

    If you think Wadd makes John Holmes look like an "oily, totally phony jerk", check out Exhausted, a fucking love letter to himself he made with Julia St. Vincent. It's like Wadd but with no objectivity whatsoever, just Holmes and his co-stars gushing about how great he is as he relates his (mostly fabricated) life story.

  • March 16, 2004, 3:14 a.m. CST


    by DocPazuzu

    Amen, brother!

  • March 16, 2004, 4:54 a.m. CST

    Mongo's final words: "I have to go and help Bush steal another c

    by TheGinger Twit

    Doesn't matter that a few million have to be slaughtered to pave the way for a terrorist free planet.

  • March 16, 2004, 5:15 a.m. CST

    Region Free

    by Bruce Campbell

    Frank Black, the studios are alreday taking action to prevent this kind of DVD importing. I'm a British fan and when i import DVDs I use, which carries warnings on some DVDs. Some film companies have started adding RCE (Regional Coding Enhancement) to region 1 dics which is designed to stop em playing on multi region players. Bastards! Theyre doing it particularly on a lot of new films whose cinematic release dates are so far behind the US that we could import the DVD, in some cases, before the film gets a cinema release. I have just one message. Release films simultaneously. There was no excuse for last years Finding Nemo fiasco with Disney, wtf was there a six month gap between US and international release for?? Perhaps to encourage Internet Piracy?!?!?!?!?

  • March 16, 2004, 5:15 a.m. CST

    RenoNevada2000 - Drop the Dead Donkey

    by alfiemoon

    Sorry man, Drop the dead donkey is Channel four, not the beeb. They do pretty good DVDs sometimes (Spaced, Black Books etc.) but some of their old series (Like DTDD) haven't really got a look in at the moment... Maybe you should start an online petition...

  • March 16, 2004, 6:55 a.m. CST


    by RenoNevada2000

    Channel 4, my mistake. Since I don't really believe in the power of online petitions, maybe I'll just drop them a line. BLACK BOOKS is probably going to be on my next Amazon.UK order.

  • March 16, 2004, 8:13 a.m. CST

    Let me get this bought TWO dvd players, you're no

    by minderbinder

    Do you honestly expect us to take you seriously after that?

  • March 16, 2004, 9:43 a.m. CST

    why is

    by ZO

    mori so damn sensitive? jesus christ get over it

  • March 16, 2004, 12:06 p.m. CST

    I agree wash, Popeye is the best! Why are you ashamed Moriarty?

    by Sith Witch

  • March 16, 2004, 2:36 p.m. CST

    Ghostwatch and similar

    by DukeDeMondo

    Mori, Ghostwatch is indeed one of the greatest spook-stories ever made. I love it, but i hate the ending. it completely blows the sense of reality out the window (possibly by way of the gale-force winds tossing around the studio. ugh.) What you need to do, however, is first of all avoid the incredibly dull and very dissapointing commentary, and then order The War Game, also part of BFI's lost-telly collection. It's another mockumentary, although this time made in the early sixties, dealing with nuclear fallout. Very, very disturbing, and utterly brilliant. The BBC more or less banned it also, until it got all uppity and won oscars and stuff. great article, as ever.

  • March 16, 2004, 4:56 p.m. CST


    by hbfair

    I remember seeing Ghostwatch when it was first aired on BBC. I must have been about thirteen and it scared the bejeesus out of me! Faces in curtains, brrr... Think of it as the British equivalent of the Blair Witch, but without the utter overrated crapness of that film. The Beeb were forced to admit it was all a hoax shortly before it was screened but it still caused a furore in certain sections of the UK press, who claimed the show was responsible for several suicides...

  • March 16, 2004, 5:30 p.m. CST

    Ed Wood Special Edition

    by DukeDeMondo

    Just noticing here - I got a copy of Ed Wood on region 1 DVD before it came out over on here on r2. It had all the extras mentioned in Mori's articles, but it didnt have the cool black and white cover, which pissed me off. It was a sort of black and purple affair, as i recall, with a roger ebert quote - "Two thumbs up" or similar, in yellow writing i believe. I think the cover also has squares with pictures of the actors dotted around it. (im not at home right now, hence i cant describe it perfectly). Are you saying this was never released? Have i got something of a collectors edition. I got it in Forbidden Planet in Belfast about two summers ago, i believe. Info would be appreciated.

  • March 16, 2004, 7:03 p.m. CST

    a 70 dollar DVD player?

    by MisterGrimloch

  • March 16, 2004, 7:09 p.m. CST

    "And, to my enormous surprise, I don

    by Crackula

    Great blurb. Too bad it's too late to get that on the cover of the DVD.

  • March 16, 2004, 11:17 p.m. CST


    by Dan_Average

    A number of people have been reporting problems with the Looney Tunes Golden Collection on the P480. Presumably there's more than one version of this player out there since Moriarty didn't seem to have any problems. Some people also report audio sync problems with the P480 (see this thread: It may be cheap but you get what you pay for....

  • March 16, 2004, 11:26 p.m. CST

    An alternative region-free player

    by Dan_Average It's region-free out of the box, does perfect PAL-to-NTSC conversion (no stretching), and it's from a company with a stellar reputation for region-free players (unlike Daewoo, who just makes crap). It's also cheap. Of course hardcore DVD enthusiasts (i.e. not Moriarty) should go the whole hog and get the $300+ Malata DVP-520, which has "X-Y scaling" that allows you to zoom out on the image, thus showing you the stuff on the tops and sides that usually gets cut off by overscan. It's amazing how much information you can actually lose to overscan....

  • March 21, 2004, 11:09 a.m. CST

    The best list of online retailers for non R1...

    by Nocturnaloner

    is right here:

  • April 28, 2004, 5:43 p.m. CST

    Could you maybe edit your goddamn articles?

    by JackMerridew

    Are we the only people who feel this way, or does everybody really kiss Moriarty's ass so much that they even worship his cluttered messes? Who the hell cares what Moriarty's DVD collection looks like? He's an o.k. writer, but Jesus fucking Christ--put this lame shit on your personal homepage!