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Moriarty's DVD Shelf Returns For 2005!

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

Wow, did I let this column slide during the end of the year. The scary part is that I’m actually going to have to catch up now. I wish I could say it would be easy because there are no titles coming out during this first quarter of the year, but that’s just not true. Between now and March, I plan on picking up Criterion’s KAGEMUSHA, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES VOLUME 2, THE MYSTERIANS, PREDATOR 2, SKY CAPTAIN & THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, THE STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL, THE WARNER BROS. GANGSTER COLLECTION, CHARIOTS OF FIRE: SE, THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, THE PALM BEACH STORY, SEALAB 2021: VOL. 2, SCHOOL DAZE: SE, TAXI: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON, BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS, DEADWOOD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO: SEASON ONE, MALCOLM X: SE, THE MARTIN SCORSESE COLLECTION, MIAMI VICE: SEASON ONE, MURDER ONE: SEASON ONE, ANGEL: SEASON 5, DONNIE DARKO: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT, HOWARD’S END, ICE PIRATES, HEAT: SE, I HEART HUCKABEE’S, PORCO ROSSO, NAUSICAA IN THE VALLEY OF WIND, BAMBI: PLATINUM EDITION, BRINGING UP BABY: SE, D.C. CAB, PHILADELPHIA STORY: SE, SOUTH PARK: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, TO BE OR NOT TO BE, THE CLONE WARS: VOLUME ONE, ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, and ORGAZMO: SE, just to name a few. Knowing that, I’m going to try to do much smaller DVD columns more frequently to keep up with this avalanche of product in the months ahead. Let’s see how that works out. It should keep my DVD player plenty busy in the months ahead.

Suits me just fine.

There’s been a lot of DVD news recently, but none of it is more important to the format overall than the announcements made about HD-DVD. Hercules The Strong has been yelling at me for a few years now to stop buying movies altogether since the format’s going to change, but the format war that’s still brewing has me convinced that we’re not going to see a complete paradigm shift for a while. More and more is being written about what’s coming, including this great article.

The simple truth is, it’s too early for anyone to confidently say what “will” happen with Blu-Ray or HD-DVD or any other new format. Our buddies over at The Digital Bits have been tirelessly covering this so far, and you can read about the format war itself or about the influence of porn on the outcome. Or if you go to the Bits, you’ll see a list of announced titles for the fourth quarter of this year, which is pretty promising considering this is a format launch. I’m going to do my best to keep an ongoing conversation about both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray here at the site, and actually look at both formats before we start seriously endorsing either of them.

For right now, though, I’ve got three giant stacks of good ol’ fashioned DVD stuff set aside that I’ve already seen, ready for review. I’m going to be altering the column a bit, jamming today’s full of reviews, but then trying to make them more frequent but shorter. I also wanted to let all of you know who entered the RAMBO/RIDDICK/WILD AT HEART contest that it was one of the most entered contests I’ve ever been in charge of here on the site, and there were some great entries in there. The winners were all notified, and the discs and the poster were sent out.

If you didn’t win, don’t worry about it. I’m going to start running a lot more contests here in this column this year, starting this week with a chance for you to win OPEN WATER, the Lions Gate feature about the couple lost at sea and surrounded by sharks. It’s a great disc, and I’ve got three copies to give away. All you have to do is drop me an e-mail with the header “OPEN WATER CONTEST” sent to this address before Tuesday at noon PST. Or if you’d rather win the one extra copy of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS I’ve got here, along with a few other special FNL goodies, then make that your e-mail header and send it by the same time. Otherwise, there will be plenty of other opportunities to win all year long.

For now, let’s get busy and let’s dig into this stack of discs by the computer, shall we? And, as always, I’ve got my entire DVD collection set up at DVD Aficionado, a great site that I’ve enjoyed working with. They’ve changed their site a bit, so everything’s broken into sub-categories in order to make things easier on the browser. With very few exceptions, I’ve been able to find all my titles in their archives. You can check it out right here if you’re curious, and I’ve made sure to point out what was purchased, what was sent as a screener, and what was a gift, since so many of your e-mails seemed to think that was so urgently important.


THIS WEEK ON THE SHELF
(Click header to go directly to the section)

BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE and CALIFORNIA SPLIT


THE ALAMO, THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE, THE PUNISHER, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, MAN ON FIRE, WALKING TALL, and BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES Volume One


ACE HIGH and RENEGADE


THE ESSENTIALS: THE IRON GIANT and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION


LIVE AID and PETER GABRIEL: PLAY


POPEYE’S VOYAGE: THE QUEST FOR PAPPY and MICKEY’S TWICE UPON A CHRISTMAS


ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: SEASON ONE, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, GREG THE BUNNY, TAXI: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, DREAM ON: THE FIRST TWO SEASONS, THE OFFICE: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION, SEINFELD: SEASON ONE and SEINFELD: SEASONS TWO AND THREE


THE CONTROL ROOM, THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS, and HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY


BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE

CALIFORNIA SPLIT

My biggest complaint about Columbia Tri-Star Home Video is the way they only release a handful of catalog titles at a time. They’ve got tons of great films in their vault that rarely see the light of day. You can pick on Paramount all day long, but they’ve managed to dig deep into their catalog, and they release dozens of titles per month. If CTHV releases something more than a decade old, it’s practically a reason to celebrate.

Especially when the films are as good as Paul Mazursky’s BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE and Robert Altman’s CALIFORNIA SPLIT.

Released in 1969 and 1974 respectively, the films serve as fascinating bookends on the heyday of Elliott Gould. Looking at him now, it’s hard to believe that he was the biggest movie star on the planet at one point. Highest paid, starred in the biggest hits, got all the best scripts. He was very much the right man for the moment, as both of these comedies prove. He plays very different sides of his eccentric personality in the two films, but he’s used to excellent effect in both.

Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker wrote an amazing script that encapsulated the lifestyle of a certain type of successful Californians at the end of the ‘60s for B&C&T&A. After visiting a retreat called The Institute, Bob (Robert Culp) and Carol (Natalie Wood) return to Los Angeles completely transformed. They try to impart the profundity of the experience to their two best friends, Ted (Gould) and Alice (Dyan Cannon), who live a considerably more straight-laced existence. Oh, sure, they’ll come over and smoke pot at a dinner party on occasion, but when Carol casually mentions that Bob slept with another woman, it sends Alice into a frigid panic. My favorite scene in the film takes place between Ted and Alice at home as he tries to talk her into sex while she basically has a complete meltdown. It’s obvious that Ted wants the same kind of freedom that Bob has, but he’s afraid it would be the end of everything. Alice, on the other hand, can’t make any sense of the way Carol seems almost energized by her husband’s indiscretions. This is a time capsule of a film, but that doesn’t mean that it’s become irrelevant. Mazursky’s strength as a filmmaker is the way he observes the details of these relationships. Culp’s great in the film, and his reaction when Carol turns the tables on him by sleeping with another man is both honest and hilarious. Natalie Wood is incredibly sexy in the film. She was always one of the most beautiful women in movies, but it’s more than that. She plays Carol as this great wide-open soul, willing to try any experience, determined to share love with all of her friends. Gould’s wound too tight, just looking for an excuse to snap, and Cannon gives him plenty of reason to do so. By the time the film gets around to the moment that inspired the film’s iconic poster (reproduced as the cover of the DVD), Mazursky’s made you feel that anything is possible, and it’s hard to say what you’re rooting for. This one deserves its reputation as a classic.

On the other hand, CALIFORNIA SPLIT deserves a better reputation than it has. This is one of Robert Altman’s most consistently underrated movies, and I think part of the problem has always been availability. Up ‘till now, there’s never been a letterboxed edition of the movie. Like all of Altman’s work from the ‘70s, the film was shot in beautiful scope, and he makes full use of every inch of the frame. If you read the back of the DVD, it sounds like it’s going to be a wacky comedy caper, but that’s not the case. It’s a very quiet character study spiked with the occasional big laugh. More than anything, it’s a portrait of failure set against the world of gambling, and in particular, poker. Now, I’m not talking about poker the way it’s played now. I hate that whole trendy-wannabe-Rat-Rack-isn’t-this-cool-hey-Ben-Affleck-does-it-too poker scene that you see all over basic cable these days. Fuck that. I mean the real deal, the sad and pathetic world of degenerate lifelong gamblers.

Bill (George Segal) and Charlie (Gould) meet over a card game and drift in and out of a series of situations together, always hoping for a bit of good luck. That’s pretty much all the story there is, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is the Altman I like best, aimless and meandering, with scenes so naturalistic they don’t even feel like scenes. In this film, it’s Segal who plays uptight while Gould is the hipster, the one who knows all the angles. The film defies formula right up to its final frames, and the result is a film that has aged beautifully and still retains the power to surprise. For anyone who fell in love with SIDEWAYS this year, check this one out. This is how it’s done.

The transfers on both films are okay, but unexceptional. They’re both letterboxed to the proper ratios, but there’s a lot of grain in the image. It’s hard to tell if that’s just the way they were filmed, but in general the colors are soft and the image seems muted. Both films have commentaries, a welcome surprise, and B&C&T&A has a featurette where the cast is reunited at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they have such a random approach to subtitling, offering only Japanese and English on both discs. Still, it’s a minor gripe. I’m just pleased to finally have these films as part of my collection.


THE ALAMO

THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE

THE PUNISHER

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

MAN ON FIRE

WALKING TALL

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES Volume One

Revenge is a powerful dramatic tool. It can motivate characters to the most amazing extremes. These seven discs are all radically different, but they’re united by the fact that they deal with revenge on different scales.

THE ALAMO may be disguised as a historical war epic, but don’t be fooled. Thanks to the way Leslie Boehm and Stephen Gaghan and John Lee Hancock structured the script, this is a revenge film, pure and simple. I understand the choice, too. They wanted to get to the point in the film where people could yell, “Remember the Alamo!” just before a charge. You can’t just end a film about the Alamo with the slaughter at the fort. Well, you could, but you’d have to have the balls to make it a full-tilt WILD BUNCH style tragedy, and that’s certainly not this film. Hancock struggles as a director to make things dramatically interesting during the build-up to the siege, but it just never comes to life. Dennis Quaid, Jason Patric, Patrick Wilson, and Billy Bob Thornton all do the best they can with their roles, but again... they’re limited by the material. I’m not convinced this was a movie that needed to be made, a story that demanded to be told. Sure, it’s a famous incident, but it takes more than that to create truly compelling drama. At 137 minutes, the film overstays its welcome, and the PG-13 means that even when it finally gets to the big moment, it all seems fairly muted and tame. Disney packed the DVD with featurettes about the historical facts and the making of the film, and the transfer is quite nice for both sound and picture, but I just wish the movie was worth all the effort.

Don May is awesome, one of the great do-it-yourself stories in home video right now. Synapse Films may not put out the same number of discs as other specialty labels like Blue Underground or Anchor Bay, but he packs every single release with a whole lot of TLC, and he genuinely cares about all the oddball little titles he tracks down. His biggest coup last year was finally tracking down the rights to the infamous THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE, also known as either THEY CALL ME ONE-EYE or HOOKER’S REVENGE, which may be the greatest title ever. If you’re a KILL BILL fan, then you’ve probably heard how Daryl Hannah’s Elle Driver was based on the main character from this film. Tarantino’s got a one-sheet for the movie hanging in his private theater, and called it the “roughest revenge film ever made.” Notorious for mixing hardcore porn and graphic violence, the reason to track it down is to see if it lives up to its reputation. There’s always that moment for me right before I put one of these films in the player where I wonder if this is finally going to be the one that is too much to take, too transgressive to watch. That’s part of the kick.

THRILLER isn’t actually all that violent, which is a let-down in some ways. There’s only one great gore shot (the title THEY CALL ME ONE-EYE should clue you in), so if you’re squeamish about violence, don’t worry. The porn in the film is more nauseating, perhaps the least erotic sex I can imagine watching on film. As far as the story itself, there’s a surreal lack of logic and narrative convention to the way it unfolds. Basically, a young girl is sexually traumatized, rendering her mute. She grows up to be a lovely woman (played by the intensely sexy Christina Lindberg) who still never speaks. She’s abducted one day, then drugged, blinded in one eye, forcibly hooked on smack, then turned into a prostitute. As she deals with the daily numbing horror of her life, she trains to be able to take her revenge, which plays out as a strange slow-motion riot. Despite the crudity of the storytelling, there is a certain hypnotic power to the thing, and it builds to a fascinatingly brutal conclusion. May’s packed the disc with tons of extras, and anyone who wants to understand how complicated and irritating it can be to try and restore these films should definitely watch the featurette THRILLER: A CRUEL LAB MISTAKE. Overall, this is one of the best releases so far from Synapse, a true act of twisted love.

I took a lot of heat for my early review of THE PUNISHER last year, but I stand behind what I said now that I’ve finally seen the finished film. I think it’s a solid little crime thriller with a great tough guy performance by Thomas Jane. Lions Gate has done a nice job with the DVD. There’s a little mini-comic book included as an insert by Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, and Jimmy Palmiotti with a cover by Tim Bradstreet. There are a number of special features, including a nice look at the stunts in the film and an excellent feature that traces the history of The Punisher as a character in the Marvel universe. Even Harry admitted that he enjoyed the film more when he saw it again on DVD, so maybe this one was more suited to the intimacy of the small screen. Whatever the case, it was fun to revisit.

When it was originally released, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS was sold on the basis of its all-star cast, using the tag line, “The who’s who of the whodunit!” Unlike such bloated ‘70’s spectacles as AIRPORT or THE TOWERING INFERNO, this one’s all about the script. This is easily the best Agatha Christie feature film ever made, and Paramount’s done a nice job of not only presenting the film but also creating an extras package that pays due tribute to the effort involved. It’s a very simple story on the surface: a group of seemingly unrelated people, trapped on a train by snow, all become suspects when one of the passengers is murdered. Unfortunately for the guilty party, Hercule Poirot is onboard, one of the finest detectives alive. As played by Albert Finney, he’s also one of the strangest. It’s a juicy role, and he tears into it with abandon. The entire cast seems to relish the material, and oh, what a cast it is. Acid-tongued Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, young and lovely Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins with the freak turned up to ten, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, Michael York, and the amazing Ingrid Bergman, who totally deserved the Oscar she won for the film. Paul Dehn’s script has got a quick and clever sense of humor, with tons of great dialogue, and Sidney Lumet directs with elegance and visual panache. The opening montage is dense with information, an inventive way of packing in a ton of backstory, and no matter how closely you pay attention, you’ll still never figure out just what sort of revenge motivates this particular mystery.

The behind-the-scenes material on the disc is well-produced and offers a great look at how Lumet managed to put that cast together. Even more impressive is the material about Agatha Christie, including one of the only interviews I’ve ever seen with her. The transfer is striking, and the 5.1 surround mix is a nice compliment to the restored mono mix. This was definitely one of Paramount’s best catalog releases of the year.

If MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is the very model of elegance, then MAN ON FIRE just might be its polar opposite. Grimy, sweaty, startlingly violent, Tony Scott’s vision of Mexico-as-Hell is a cold-blooded animal, cruel and bloodthirsty. I’m not typically a fan of Tony Scott’s films, but I was impressed by this one. Denzel Washington’s performance as John Creasy is one of the best things he’s done in a long while, in large part because of his chemistry with Dakota Fanning, whose work as Pita Ramos is one of the best kid performances I can remember. He plays one of the walking wounded, a shell of a man who takes a job protecting this little girl, only to end up opening his heart to her more than he intended. When something happens to her, his meltdown is horrific, and Tony Scott charts every second of it in loving detail. This is a great revenge picture, and it never flinches from what it sets in motion. It avoids all the usual Hollywood soft-pedaling, and it gets really ugly dark, all the way up to the moment when you learn who was behind the kidnapping in the first place. You could argue that the film lets us off the hook right at the very end, but I don’t think so. I think it’s just disguised as a ray of light so it hurts even more when Creasy makes his final choice.

There are some commentaries on the disc, but there’s already been a special-edition DVD announced. If Fox wants my money a second time, they’ll have to get the rights to release the ‘80’s version of the film as part of the package, since I don’t remember the Scott Glenn take on the story at all, and the comparison would be interesting. Fox did a solid job on both sound and picture on this one, no surprise since Charles De Lauzirika produced the disc and is the guy that both Scott brothers trust to get their transfers right. The disc’s got English, Spanish, and French language tracks with English and Spanish subtitles. For me, this disc’ll do, and the film stands as one of my favorite surprises of the year.

There was nothing surprising at all about Kevin Bray’s anemic WALKING TALL remake, unless you count that running time of only 71 minutes. Does that even count as feature-length? Not that I’d particularly want to see any more of this film. Remaking WALKING TALL without all of the rednecky goodness intact seems like a bad idea all the way around. The Rock is charismatic, no doubt about it. He definitely deserves better material than this. Having said that, Buford Pusser is not a Samoan. Despite the best attempts by Neal McDonough and Johnny Knoxville as supporting players, there’s nothing for anyone to do and no way to salvage the film. I’m amazed by the four (!!) credited screenwriters it took to cobble this mess together, this non-story, a half-hearted collection of cliché. It’s hard to beat up on a movie that seems this disinterested in itself. There are deleted scenes, bloopers, an alternate ending, and two separate commentaries on the disc, but I’ll be honest... I haven’t watched any of it. I’m not a glutton for punishment. MGM DVD made sure to share the pain by including English, French, and Spanish language tracks as well as subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Mandarin, and Cantonese. It looks and sounds as good as can be expected, but if you really feel the call to sample WALKING TALL, just track down the original instead.

Finally, there’s one of the great revenge-driven characters of all time finally available in box-set form, and it’s pretty glorious. I’ve wanted them to release a season-by-season collection of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES for a while now, so understand... any complaints I have are more than tempered by my overall excitement at owning this. The first thing that’s obvious as you watch the discs is that this isn’t presented in any sort of chronological order. I actually had to ask Paul Dini why the show was presented on these discs in this way, and he explained that they’re sequenced in the original production order and not by air date. Things got moved around once they were shown so they could start with some of their strongest episodes and get people hooked up front. In the end, I don’t watch Batman for continuity. I watch so I can see Bruce Wayne work out his personal demons against an endless parade of freaks with even more baggage than him, and there’s plenty of that here for any fan.

The appeal of this particular take on the character is the way Bruce Timm, Eric Rodowski, and Paul Dini managed to take the best aspects of the Tim Burton version and the classic comics and marry it all together with some genuinely great storytelling. There’s nothing juvenile about their approach to the material, and this first batch of episodes features some classics, including “Heart of Ice,” “Dreams In Darkness,” “Beware Of The Grey Ghost,” and an excellent “Two-Face” two-parter. There’s commentary on two of the episodes, and the best extra is the inclusion of “The Dark Knight’s First Night,” the demo that Bruce Timm produced to get the show on the air in the first place. As long as Warner Bros. keeps putting these box sets out, I’ll keep buying them with glee.

ACE HIGH

RENEGADE

As with any genre, the definition of what is a Western can be remarkably elastic. This is exemplified by two recent releases that approach the conventions of the genre in totally different ways.

You’ve got to hand it to Paramount. They don’t just put out the catalog titles that you’d expect. They seem to release similarly themed titles in waves, giving them an excuse to put out some great films that might otherwise never see the light of day. In this case, ACE HIGH is the gem out of their most recent batch of Western titles. It’s a spaghetti Western written and directed by Giuseppe Colizzi, starring the team from the successful TRINITY films. Terence Hill is sort of the poor man’s Clint Eastwood, but what makes it work is the addition of big bruiser Bud Spencer and their sense of humor as a team. Their films are far more overtly funny than the work of, say, Sergio Leone. The comparison is unavoidable in this case because of the presence of Eli Wallach as a co-star in this film, who is at his most charming here. Basically, Hill and Spencer walk into a small town and strong-arm $300,000 out of someone. Almost as soon as they get out of town, Wallach steals the money from them.

When they go after him, their attempts to track him down are stymied by the fact that he’s been incredibly generous to everyone he’s encountered on the way. I don’t want to reveal any of what happens once they do catch up to him, but the film’s got plenty of narrative twists up its sleeve. By the time it reaches the big climactic shootout, it’s become a really fun and unconventional ride, and any fan of Western films will enjoy the hell out of this one. It’s a bare-bones edition, but it’s well worth checking out.

”Unconventional” just barely begins to describe Jan Kounen’s RENEGADE. Actually, the film is called BLUEBERRY, but for some reason, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment decided to sneak the film onto home video in the US with a dull cover that doesn’t even show the face of Vincent Cassel, the film’s star, and using this sad, generic title. RENEGADE. It says absolutely nothing about the film, and I’m not sure what they thought they were going to accomplish. If they’re hoping to fool action fans into renting the film, all they’re going to do is piss off and confuse people, and anyone who was actually interested in seeing an adaptation of Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s BLUEBERRY comic strips by the same lunatic who made DOBERMANN is going to have no idea it’s been released. No matter how you look at it, this seems like a total botch job.

On the other hand, the film is fascinating. It’s not a great film by any means, but it’s a beautiful mess, a truly psychedelic spin on the genre. Mike Blueberry is sent to stay with his uncle, a sickly boy who sees the old west as a chance to make himself stronger. He finds trouble right away, though, when he crosses paths with a hardened killer played by Michael Madsen. Blueberry’s left for dead, haunted by the face of the whore he was with when Madsen broke in, and he ends up being raised by Indians. When he reaches adulthood, he becomes the Marshal in town. A search for treasure brings Madsen back into his life, along with eccentric characters played by Eddie Izzard and Djimon Hounsou. Whatever you think you’re going to see, though, trust me... Kounen’s got something totally different in mind. When the film concludes with two guys having a battle of drug-induced hallucinogenic visions instead of having a gunfight, you know you’re watching something truly unique.

Kounen’s created a visually dazzling world here, and there comes a point during the last half-hour or so where the film casts such a persuasive spell that it felt like I was tripping as I watched. The cast does a strong job overall. I haven’t seen Cassel in many English-language films, and he makes a strong impression, a credibly heartbroken hero. Madsen’s had a good couple of years between his work in KILL BILL and this. Eddie Izzard’s nearly unrecognizable as one of the treasure hunters, and he’s got one great scene with Hounsou involving a scalping. My favorite character in the film is Blueberry’s lifelong friend, an Indian shaman played by Temeura Morrison. He spends most of the film dosing people with ayehuasca root, then guiding them through their visions. It’s a really nice print of the film, with English and French 5.1 surround tracks and English, French, and Spanish subtitles. Even if CTHE has no interest in selling you this film, I’d urge more adventurous viewers to give it a try.

The Essentials:

THE IRON GIANT: SPECIAL EDITION

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION: 10th Anniversary Edition

In general, I’m annoyed by the double-dipping that has become such standard practice in the industry. Most of the time, it’s an excuse to slightly upgrade a transfer and make more money off the consumer. When it’s a genuine step up, though, and there’s an effort made to guarantee that a special edition really is special, it makes it hard to be upset. Especially when you’re talking about films as great as THE IRON GIANT and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.

I’ve rehashed my personal adventures with THE IRON GIANT several times here on the site, starting with my first viewing of the workprint and my interview with Brad Bird. I bring those things up because I’m proud that we were able to lend support to a film in trouble that turned out as well as that one did.

While I was interviewing Bird, he showed me around the offices where they were working on the film, and he also showed me some unfinished scenes that they had cut from the film before they were fully animated. My favorite one was about the Giant having a dream about his origin that showed up as a broadcast on Dean’s TV set. It seemed to me to be a vital piece of backstory, and I was sorry it didn’t make it into the film. Well, now, finally, you can see that scene for yourself, along with several other deleted scenes, an excellent commentary by Bird and head of animation Tony Fucile, story department head Jeff Lynch, and Steven Markowski, the animation supervisor for the Giant, as well as a ton of behind-the-scenes featurettes, a piece about the voice of the Giant, and a hilarious segment about Teddy Newton, one of the creative consultants for the film. This disc is jam-packed with content, and it’s genuinely educational for anyone interested in how an animated film gets made. The fact that the new transfer is so stunning is just the icing on the cake.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, like THE IRON GIANT, was not a hit when it was first released. Time has been kind to the film, however, and audiences eventually found it. These days, it’s considered a beloved favorite by many. For the longest time, Frank Darabont resisted the idea of recording a director’s commentary for the film. When he finally decided to go ahead with it, he asked all of his friends to recommend good commentaries for him to listen to, determined to do it right if he was going to do it at all. The result is a director’s commentary that is packed with real insight, a good example of what these tracks can be. The disc has two featured documentaries, one on the making of the film and the other on it’s lasting influence. They’re both very well-made, and they cover a lot of ground. What’s nice is that the commentary isn’t just going over the same ground as those features. There’s also an episode of THE CHARLIE ROSE SHOW and a short parody film set at a Hollywood agency instead of a prison called “The Sharktank Redemption.” I’m not crazy about the short, but you have to see it just to see Morgan Freeman’s son playing the role his father did to rather spooky effect.

Both discs feature French and English language tracks, with Spanish, English, and French subtitles, and they both represent Warner Home Video at its best. If everyone tried this hard, “double-dipping” wouldn’t be a dirty word.

LIVE AID

PETER GABRIEL: PLAY

I was fifteen years old when Live Aid happened, and it seemed like a huge deal at the time. MTV was still a fairly young network, and I didn’t have it in the house yet. Even so, one of the local UHF channels carried part of the broadcast, a network did a prime-time simulcast, and the entire thing was also carried on one of the local radio stations. It was pretty hard to miss at least some part of Live Aid that day. I’m sure that even for the people who were there in Wembley Stadium in London or JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, no one would argue that this was the same kind of event as Woodstock. There was a spontaneous quality to the way Woodstock became the flashpoint for one generation of rock fans. Live Aid was more carefully packaged and constructed, a giant instant media event broadcast live around the world. That’s not to accuse Live Aid of being fake, because I still think this is one of the great moments of sincerity in rock’n’roll, Bob Geldof’s big crazy dream come true. There will never be a complete home video reconstruction of the event, unfortunately. The tapes just don’t exist. Geldof didn’t even want the concert to be recorded, since he felt it was a moment that you needed to be there for, not something to be sold and resold later. What Warner Home Video has done here is to reconstruct the event as much as possible with BBC tapes, MTV b-roll, or from some of the bands’ own personal archives. There are performances here that weren’t originally broadcast in the US or the UK, and there are performances that were never shot at all that we won’t ever have a chance to see. The quality of the material is okay at best, stuff dumped from spotty satellite feeds or PAL footage converted to NTSC or just plain damaged tape. The sound quality is better in much of the BBC footage, but none of it is great. So... all technical gripes and historical context provided... how was the show?

Honestly? Pretty darn good.

Over the space of 4 DVDs and around 10 hours of music, there are any number of high points. U2 is in fine form on “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” but their performance of “Bad” is damn near definitive, a great version of one of my favorite songs. Elvis Costello does a wonderful “All You Need Is Love,” making me wish even more that the remaining Beatles could have played together for the event. Disc Two’s packed with great sets by Dire Straits, Queen, Simple Minds, David Bowie, and The Who, even if we do only get two of the four songs they performed. Disc Three closes out the London show and features more Americans, with Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Black Sabbath, Neil Young, and Eric Clapton doing great work. On the final disc, the extras are where you’ll find the best performances, including B.B. King, Ashford & Simpson and Teddy Pendergrass together on a joyous “Reach Out And Touch,” a kick-ass Run D.M.C. jam on “King Of Rock,” and a documentary called “Food and Trucks and Rock’n’Roll” that does a nice job of summing up the entire event and its impact. Overall, this is a tremendous gift for any music fan who lived through the era, and it was amazing to dig through it all. Took me right back to July 13, 1985.

I’m also very fond of PETER GABRIEL: PLAY, a collection of his videos that have been remastered for exemplary sound and picture. Song after song, video after video, Peter Gabriel has always been a fascinating performer, and he seemed determined to redefine the cutting edge of popular music at every turn. His videos were always groundbreaking, so when you look back at them now, it’s like doing an archeological dig through the evolution of the music video. There are songs on this disc that I never get tired of, songs like “Don’t Give Up” and “In Your Eyes” and “Blood Of Eden,” and even the songs that got overplayed like “Sledgehammer” or “Shock the Monkey” or “Big Time” still manage to feel timeless. This is as important an addition to a collection as the Director’s Label that Palm released in early 2004, and it’s got tremendous replay value. It’s an impressive disc, technically speaking. If you’re at all interested, pick it up. You’ll thank yourself later.

POPEYE’S VOYAGE: THE QUEST FOR PAPPY

MICKEY’S TWICE UPON A CHRISTMAS

I’m well aware of the current thinking that conventional 2-D animation is “dead,” that kids today only want computer animation. That’s lazy thinking, and I don’t believe it’s true, but there’s no denying that for now, the animation industry has gone this way wholeheartedly. As a result, we see the owners of these classic characters struggling to update them with modern technology in an effort to keep them relevant, with varying degrees of success.

I think Disney makes a noble effort to bring Mickey and Donald and Goofy and all the rest of their signature characters to new life in the fully CG MICKEY’S TWICE UPON A CHRISTMAS, a collection of shorts, and there are moments that are quite strikingly rendered. There’s an ice ballet featuring Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck that makes good use of the crocodiles and hippos from FANTASIA. Overall, though, there’s something plastic and cold about the endeavor. It doesn’t help that I watched this the same day as the new WALT DISNEY TREASURES collection of old Mickey black-and-white shorts, which I’ll review next time. The 3D models feel like something you’d buy in a gift shop at the Magic Kingdom, not something with a pulse.

On the other hand, I get the feeling that the makers of POPEYE’S VOYAGE: THE QUEST FOR PAPPY have a real sense of what was special about the original Segar comic strips or the Fleischer cartoons, and Mainframe Entertainment and Nuance Productions did a pretty good job of preserving all the eccentric charm that has made Popeye such an enduring creation. Billy West is the voice of Popeye here, always a good sign, and he does it well. This isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind or spark some renaissance for the character, but it works. It’s lower-budget than the Disney film, and it looks lower-budget, but it’s pretty in its own way, and all the characters look good. It’s a low-key charmer, and if you have any affinity for the world of Popeye, it should make you smile.

Both discs feature behind the scenes features, as well as English and Spanish language tracks. The Disney disc also has a French language track, while the Popeye disc has four extra cartoons. They’re not the classic Fleischers, though, so don’t get too excited.

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: SEASON ONE

THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

GREG THE BUNNY

TAXI: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

DREAM ON: THE FIRST TWO SEASONS

THE OFFICE: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION

SEINFELD: SEASONS ONE AND TWO

SEINFELD: SEASON THREE

Is there an art to crafting a great sitcom?

At its worst, the sitcom form can be numbing, an endless rehash of stock types and pat situations, and they are more familiar than funny. But on occasion, shows stand out by innovating or by having an excellent cast or because they simply do it better. Sampling whole seasons of a show is a great way to enjoy some of the very best examples of this oft-maligned genre.

There’s no easier way to see how much things have changed in the sitcom world than to spend a day alternating episodes from Paramount’s THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON and Fox’s ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: SEASON ONE. I grew up watching ANDY GRIFFITH, and there will always be a soft spot in my heart for the citizens of Mayberry. This collection of 32 episodes is particularly great, the black-and-white days before the eccentric supporting cast took the show away from Andy Taylor (Griffith), who works as both sheriff and Justice of the Peace. In these early days, the show was primarily about Andy’s efforts to raise his son, Opie, played by l’il Ronnie Howard, the cutest damn TV kid in the history of cute TV kids. Andy, a widower, invites his Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) to live with them, their family rounded out by Andy’s cousin, Barney Fife, who also works as Andy’s deputy. If I had to use only two words to describe my love of this show, those two words would be “Don Motherfucking Knotts.” There’s a reason he won 52 consecutive Emmy awards (or so).

On a short list of the top ten characters in the history of TV, Barney Fife would take two or three spots at least. I love his checklist of insecurities, his one bullet tucked safely into his shirt pocket, his determination to become not just good but great at his chosen vocation. Barney Fife is a great character as written, but as played by Knotts, it’s more than just a character. Like Hank Kingsley... like David Brent... like Burt Campbell... like Tony Soprano... this is a person, a completely persuasive dramatic creation.

Put simply, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW is comfort food, and Paramount did a lovely job of putting these 32 episodes on four discs, each packaged in a thin slipcase inside a larger cardboard sleeve. There are no extras to speak of. I watched the first three discs and loved every second. I’m going to save that last disc, though, and savor it, make it last until we get season two. I love finally seeing the chronology of the show after decades of watching them in jumbled syndication free-fall. Did you know there was another Floyd the Barber before Howard McNear stepped in to play him? Do you remember Andy’s original girlfriend on the show, played by Elinor Donahue fresh off of her run on FATHER KNOWS BEST? Do you remember when Aunt Bee actually came to live with them? All those moments and more are packed onto these discs.

L’il Ronnie Howard, of course, grew up to be Ron Howard, Oscar-winner, actor and director and producer. His company Imagine is the producer, and he serves as the voice of the narrator on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, one of the most exciting things to happen to the sitcom in quite a while. Mitchell Hurwitz basically created the new SOAP, a smart and silly show about a family of breathtakingly broken people, moral nitwits, retarded emotionally (or maybe literally, if you include Buster) and totally unredeemable. It started strong, and it just keeps getting better. I watched the show while it was on the air, then rewatched the entire season with my co-writer, who had never seen an episode. Now he’s hooked, and I’m convinced there is a mad sort of genius (and more than a little luck) at work on this one. The entire cast is dazzling, but every show needs a center, and this one’s got a complete winner. Whoever had the idea to hire Jason Bateman in the first place deserves a raise and a promotion and a bonus and another raise. It’s that good a decision.

As a kid, he was always a professional, but as an adult, he’s found this great comic rhythm that’s all his own. He may be the only member of the Bluth family to even understand that there are such things as morals. Portia Di Rossi never demonstrated any of this kind of pitch-perfect self parody on ALLY MCBEAL or in SIRENS. Will Arnett is one of those guys who looks familiar the first time you see him, but is he? Has he been on anything else? David Cross is a very funny man, and sure, his work on MR. SHOW is great, but there’s always been a sort of ironic hipster detachment to David’s acting work in stuff like SMALL SOLDIERS or MEN IN BLACK 2, like he knew he was too cool for the room. Tobias Funke gives him his first truly great character to play, and he tears it up. His constant struggles with his marriage and his career and his sexuality are hilarious and painful at the same time. Jeffrey Tambor is lucky enough to have already starred on one great sitcom, and now he can put this show on his resume right there next to THE ROPERS. Er... I’m sorry. I meant THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW. TO be a major player on two shows this good... that’s like winning the actor’s lottery.

In a way, both of these shows confound the definition of the “situation comedy,” since the situation isn’t really what’s important; it’s character, first and foremost. What happens on a show like this, when it works, is that we become fascinated by the characters. Whether we like or dislike them is unimportant. What matters is that we are compelled to watch them do anything they do. Maybe that’s the misnomer of the entire genre. I can’t think of a single sitcom where it’s the situation that keeps me watching. When it’s all about the setting, the show typically doesn’t work. Or at least, it doesn’t endure. The behind-the-scenes material on the ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT set suggests that the producers know full well what they’ve got, and it seems like a show that’s built to last. I’m already excited about getting the inevitable Season Two box set next summer.

An example of a show that almost works would be Fox’s GREG THE BUNNY. Greg Levitan, hot from the success of JUST SHOOT ME at the time, had a deal at Fox that gave him pretty much free reign to create and air anything for 13 episodes. I find it hard to believe that JUST SHOOT ME earned anyone that kind of freedom, but... well... there you are.

Levitan co-created this series with Spencer Chinoy & Dan Milano, based on their earlier short Greg The Bunny spots on IFC. It’s basically ROGER RABBIT for puppets, a more audience-friendly version of MEET THE FEEBLES. The cast is full of genuinely funny people like Seth Green, Eugene Levy, Sarah Silverman, Dina Waters, and Bob Gunton, and there is a lot of funny material involving the puppets. The problem is that the show tries too hard. It’s almost aggressively wacky, practically humping your leg with a desperate smile. Towards the end of their initial order, the show started to evolve a bit and find its voice and calm down. If it had lasted, it may well have turned into something worthwhile.

The same thing was true on HBO’s DREAM ON, which Universal has released to disc. The show went on the air at the start of the ‘90’s, and much of the early press on the show focused on the fact that the show featured frequent nudity from female guest stars and unfettered swearing. No other show used a bellowed “FUCK!” as a punchline with greater accuracy or frequency. There was also a gimmick, the access the show’s producers had to the entire Universal TV library. They used clips to punctuate jokes, as a sort of Greek chorus for Martin Tupper, played by series star Brian “Can You Believe I’m Married To Superhottie Madeline Stowe?” Benben. Seriously... the guy’s three feet tall. He’s a charming sumbitch, though, and even though these first two seasons of the series are uneven, overly clever, and occasionally too silly, you can see it getting better as it goes. Kevin Bright and Marta Kaufman were playwrights when the show began, and by the time the end of its run, they were confident enough about TV to turn around and create FRIENDS. DREAM ON isn’t a classic. It’s not one of HBO’s high watermarks. But it’s fascinating to look back at HBO’s earlier attempts to bend the sitcom to the particular demands of cable.

You want to see a great example of a learning curve? Check out Paramount’s excellent release of TAXI: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON. It was a strong ensemble in the first season, and the show featured strong writing from the very start. I mean, Stan Daniels, David Davis, and James L. Brooks were all white-hot after their time on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, so it made sense for the network to give them free reign for the first season, and it allowed them the room to fine-tune while they were on the air. Some of the characters showed up fully-formed in the first episode. Watch the way they introduce Louie De Palma, Danny De Vito’s character. For the first half of that first episode, he’s in the cage, snarling at everyone and generally acting like a holy terror. It’s not until they’ve established his personality that they finally have him storm out for the visual punchline. Latka Gravas also seems to be 100% Latka from the first moment we see him. If there’s anything that saddens me about TAXI, it’s realizing that this show is pretty much the sum total of Andy Kaufman’s work on film, aside from the unwatchable-but-fascinating HEARTBEEPS and some documentaries. I know that Kaufman just took TAXI to pay the bills and he wasn’t especially proud of his work on the show. Doesn’t matter. The guy was a genius, and the notion of taking his Foreign Man character and dropping him into the middle of a ‘70’s sitcom was a masterstroke. Latka is gold. Every single time he shows up or there’s an episode focused on him, it’s a genuine pleasure.

TAXI isn’t a show about driving a cab. It’s a show about the type of people who do end up driving cabs while they’re waiting to do what they “really” do. It’s a show about dreamers that frequently features endings where the main characters get their dreams crushed one little bit at a time. There’s a real question about whether or not these people are good enough to actually succeed. Tony (Tony Danza) loses most of his fights. Bobby (Jeff Conaway) goes on a hell of a lot of auditions without getting any work. Elaine (Marilu Henner) seems good at her job, but she is stretched too thin between both jobs and raising her kids alone. The main character of the show is also the character that brings this theme into sharp focus. Alex Reiger (Judd Hirsch) is the one cabbie who doesn’t have a dream. He doesn’t have another goal. He is a cab driver, pure and simple. That’s his career, and he’s damn good at it, pretty much the best driver Louie’s got. He and Louie serve as the angel and the devil on the shoulders of the other cabbies as they struggle with their failures. Alex is always willing to help everyone get closer to their dreams, while Louie’s equally delighted to kick them when they’re down. Alex is Eternal Hope, and Louie is Harsh Truth.

Pretty well built, don’t you think? The producers had it all laid out from day one, and then they added one character too many in the form of John (Randall Carver), who just wasn’t interesting. They seemed to realize their mistake fairly early, and they tried to give him something to do, but they tried too hard, writing him zany. He meets and marries a girl in one night, then actually stays married to her for the rest of the season, a storyline that never fails to stop the show cold. Both Carver and the actress playing his wife are pleasant but bland, and they were a real drag whenever they were the focus of an episode. Still, all they had to do was trim the fat and the show became the classic that we’ll see when I review the second season. For now, enjoy these 22 episodes, which include such gems as “Blind Date,” “Paper Marriage,” “Mama Gravas,” and “Louie Sees The Light.” For Kaufman fans, the one worth paying close attention to doesn’t actually feature Kaufman at all, oddly enough. “A Full House For Christmas” is the episode that was supposed to guest-star Tony Clifton, his alter-ego, which turned into a surreal series of backstage events that have been detailed in Bob Zmuda’s book and in MAN ON THE MOON. Watch it and imagine Clifton playing Louie’s brother. It would have been glorious.

Three seasons would be a lot to digest of any show at one time, but the first two SEINFELD seasons were shorter than average. No one was sure about the show, so they kept ordering these short seasons to test the water. Watching the first season, I can see why NBC was puzzled. The five episodes are okay, but they hadn’t figured it out yet. I don’t think there’s a recognizable SEINFELD until season two, show two, “The Pony Remark.” Eventually, this became a show about casual monsters, a quartet of genuinely rotten people spreading misery and horror to everyone they came into contact with, which is exactly why it was funny. It was an anti-sitcom. They started to figure that out in earnest in season two with episodes like “The Jacket,” “The Statue,” “The Revenge,” and the landmark “The Chinese Restaurant.” Disc four of season two features the “How It Began” documentary, which is pretty great. This is a comprehensive set, to say the least. The most exhaustive feature is the “Notes About Nothing,” a text commentary for every episode that really does seem to lay out every trivia fact anyone would ever want to know. The audio commentaries, only featured on select episodes, are entertaining, but the “Inside Looks” that come with most of the episodes manage to steal the show. It’s great stuff, well done. There are also some “Tonight Show” appearances on the disc along with deleted scenes and bloopers.

Season Three was their first full 22 episode season, and they finally hit their stride. From the moment George (Jason Alexander) announced that “it moved” in “The Note,” this season got it right. “The Library,” “The Pen,” “The Parking Garage,” “The Red Dot,” “The Pez Dispenser,” “The Parking Space”... these are all hilarious, beautifully written, and there was a sense that they finally trusted that the audience would follow them anywhere. I remember the exact moment where I went from being an occasional SEINFELD viewer to being a fan. It was during “The Good Samaritan.” As the DVD sleeve copy puts it, “Mary Hart’s voice causes Kramer to have convulsions.” I had a few convulsions of my own the first time I saw this onscreen. The entire third season is as jam-packed with extras as the first two seasons. For any fan of the show, this is pretty much as nice a package as you could have ever hoped for. I’m just curious how aggressive the release schedule is going to be for the rest of the series.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show as confident as THE OFFICE, and now that I’ve finally seen the two-part special that closed it all out, I can honestly say that THE OFICE finally supplanted FAWLTY TOWERS as my all-time favorite half-hour comedy. I’ve written about the first two seasons of the show here on the site, and the thing that really seals the deal for me is the way the two-part special gives us real conclusions to the characters. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have won awards and accolades all around the world, but I still think they’re underrated as writers. This is elegant stuff, beautifully constructed. There is a real sense of closure here, and I particularly loved the way they wrapped things up for Tim (Martin Freeman) and Dawn (Lucy Davis). When the emotional climax of the story finally arrives, it’s totally earned, and it’s a sledgehammer. Freeman and Davis are so great, so real, and you just hurt for these two people. What’s sort of amazing is the way they make you equally care about David Brent this time out, despite him being King Of The Gits. He’s sort of ruined by the time the special starts, somehow even more pathetic than before, but he’s struggling towards dignity. He doesn’t have a giant epiphany by the end of the show, but his little moments of clarity are promising. Maybe there’s hope for him after all. One thing’s for sure... you can revisit these and study them the same way you would with the very best films. If you pick up the four-disc set with Seasons One and Two and the Special all together, you can’t help but be impressed by this classic all over again. Jam-packed with extra features (the best is a scathingly honest video feature about the Golden Globes), give this to any comedy fan and relax: it’s guaranteed to please.

THE CONTROL ROOM

THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS

HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY

Three very different documentary approaches to examining how media can be used to both communicate and obfuscate to equal degree, these films are all worth your time.

I avoided many of the overtly politically themed documentaries released in 2004 because, frankly, I don’t trust them. It’s too easy, especially when the stakes are as high as they are during an election year, to manipulate or massage your message, and the same piece of footage, shown in two different contexts, can sometimes prove two totally different points. THE CONTROL ROOM wanted to be a film that comments on the way new can be spun without being a spin job itself, and I think it’s partially successful. There’s still that whole “context” issue to consider, and the filmmakers dodge it for the most part by simply showing you footage without telling you what to think about it. For the most part, the film is a canny look at war in the modern satellite news age, and it puts you at ground zero for the ongoing conflict between the Western and the Arab worlds. Simply put, this is a film about Al Jazeera, the Fox News of the Arab world. If that description bothers you, ask yourself why. Do you consider Al Jazeera some sort of unimpeachable source with saintly motives, so you’re offended that I would besmirch it with the Fox comparison? Or do you consider Al Jazeera a thinly-veiled terrorist network so that it irritates you to see Fox’s good name slandered? I think the truth about both networks... and most news gathering organizations around the world at this point, for that matter... is that every bit of information we are given is filtered through someone’s agenda. All you can ever do is try to understand the agenda of a reporting source. Director Jehane Noujaim trains an unblinking eye on Al Jazeera and, in particular, their relationship with the U.S. armed forces that are stationed in the Middle East. It’s enlightening, and I don’t think it’s a particularly flattering portrait of anyone. I do think it’s a fairly honest one, though, and these days, that counts more. The film should be required viewing for anyone in any broadcast journalism school in the world.

Likewise, I think THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS should be shown to every first year film student in the world. Maybe it would scare some of the weaker-willed away right up front. Every filmmaker has that moment while working on a project where you encounter some insurmountable barrier that means your film absolutely, positively won’t get made. Great filmmakers have their nervous breakdowns, then get on with the business of making their movies anyway. Lars Von Trier decided to try an experiment using his friend and idol, Jorgan Leth, who made a short film in 1967 called “The Perfect Human.” Von Trier set up a diabolical game in which Leth has to remake his film five times, five different ways, each time with his hands tied by certain restrictions put in place by Vo Trier. It’s fiendish, and Von Trier seems to relish the opportunity to torture this filmmaker. He wants to see what it will take to back Leth into a corner enough that he ends up making a bad film.

Does he? Well, ultimately, that’s up to the viewer to decide. What’s quite clear is that he causes Leth a great many sleepless nights, but in the end, Leth always finds something within the restrictions that reinvigorates him and makes him excited about the possibilities all over again. Even when Von Trier orders him to make a cartoon, something both men profess to hate, Leth finds a way to be excited. More than anything I can think of recently, this film clearly communicates the joy and the agony inherent to filmmaking, and Koch Lorber’s done a great job with the disc overall.

HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY is a harder film to love, if only because the subject of the film, an artist named Ray Johnson, was evidently a hard man to love. Or even to know, for that matter. Johnson was well known in the art world but virtually unheard of by the general public, so when he died in 1995, it made no impression on most people. To the artists and the museum curators and the others who knew him, though, his passing was the end of an era. This documentary by John Walter and Andrew Moore makes the case for Johnson’s place in modern art history, but it’s also an absorbing film about how impossible it is to know an artist as a person just because you know their work. Johnson remained a mystery to everyone in his life, sharing very little of himself, and he didn’t leave behind some grand Rosetta Stone that allows us to piece him together now. If this film is the sum total of what he leaves behind, it’s intriguing but incomplete. Credit the filmmakers with doing an awesome job of tracking all of this down and trying to make sense of it. They get as close as it seems like anyone ever will, and it’s absorbing and intelligent work.

And that’s it for this time. Like I said at the start of the column, expect a lot more of these a lot more frequently, at least until I start to catch up. I’m already getting swamped with screeners, and there’s some great stuff to cover in the weeks ahead.

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 22, 2005, 12:35 a.m. CST

    first

    by BilboFett

    hi

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 12:46 a.m. CST

    1, 2, 3, 4, Security, So, Us, Up (+ Birdy, Passion, OVO, Long Wa

    by Mostholy

    "I caught sight of my reflection...I saw the darkness in my heart. I saw the signs of my undoing, They had been there from the start." Peter Gabriel is almost always at the top of his game...and a gift to the rest of us.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 1:04 a.m. CST

    Ugh, thought that said Andy RICHTER show

    by Gheorghe Zamfir

    Until I read the review, ah well. I love Arrested Developement, with the extended dysfunctional family, the omniscient outside narrator, the editing, especially with the funny flashbacks, it makes me think quite a bit as a goofy take on The Royal Tenebaums, which isn't a bad thing, as I love both, just wanted to make the comparison.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 1:16 a.m. CST

    now all you have to do mori...

    by DesertSquirrel86

    is to introduce harry to "arrested development" so you can put him in his place after that fuckin ignorent comment he made regarding Jason Bateman's GG win. Sorry, that is still bothering me, don't mean to come off as a troll. great to have the column back though, impressed by how much ground you covered. i look forward to the next one.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 1:30 a.m. CST

    But are you a true DVD expert? What happened September, 8, 1977?

    by I Hate Movies

    First one to get it right will definitely impress a girl.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 2:25 a.m. CST

    Sept. 8, 1977...

    by Hung-Wei Lo

    ...the day my balls dropped. And yes, my deep booming voice did impress the girls. Sept. 8, 1997...my gut dropped (below my waistline). For some reason, the ladies just ain't knockin' down my door anymore. Women...shallow I tell ya, all shallow.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 2:36 a.m. CST

    Ice Pirates on DVD???

    by grendel824

    Awesome!!!

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 6:08 a.m. CST

    Where are the pics?

    by zacdilone

    I miss the copious pictures of Moriarity's DVD collection scattered around his place.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 6:09 a.m. CST

    Ricky and Merchant's The Extras have 2 new stars!

    by ChorleyFM

    Thats right people in similar roles to Jude Law and Kate Winslet they have got Sam Jackson and Ben Stiller.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 6:11 a.m. CST

    September 8, 1977

    by zacdilone

    "The International Criminal Police Organization

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 7:13 a.m. CST

    "Audiences EVENTUALLY FOUND" Shawshank, Mori????

    by Roguewriter

    Was that because, oh perhaps, TNT has pretty much run the movie non-stop for the past six years???? =) Seriously, though -- the new DVD is a killer edition, and you're dead on the money regarding THE IRON GIANT as well. Now if TV would just stop airing (and compressing, and editing, and bleeping) movies 24-7, more of us would probably still want to pick up new editions of great flicks, instead of stupidly wasting our time watching them get butchered by networks and cable. DOWN WITH COMMERCIAL TELEVISION!

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 8:01 a.m. CST

    The Winner for Possibly Least-Deserving "Best Picture" Winner of

    by Pardon_My_Zinger

    The movie was borning as hell. Additionally, we were never really give any reason to think that the two guys might now win the race. Hello? Wasn't it supposed to be a sports movie?? The only reason it won the Oscar for best picture was because all the other nominees that year cancelled had reasons why they simply couldn't win. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK - CLEARLY should've won. But God forbit they give Best Picture to a movie which is about entertainment and is financially successful. RED - Would've won - it's a long-ass historical epic, which of course the Acadamy can't get enough of. But alot of people interpreted it as pro-Communist, and Hollywood at the time was still feeling the ripple effects of McCarthyism. ON GOLDON POND - a "nice" movie, to be sure, but really a vehicle for the performances (which of course won in both of the lead catagories that year). ATLANTIC CITY - Nobody saw the damn thing. So there you have it. I'll give it to music for "Chariots of Fire"... so then I should've just gone out and bought the soundtrack instead of having to sit through it.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 8:58 a.m. CST

    Chariots of Fire

    by zacdilone

    Simply put...one of the best movies of all time. Sorry it didn't have enough natives shooting darts for you. We all know the universal "Oscar Formula" that NATIVES + DARTS=BEST PICTURE. C'mon..."Raiders" is one of the classics of modern entertainment, but by no means a "Best Picture" film. "Chariots of Fire" is far better.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 9:24 a.m. CST

    chariots of fire...

    by speed

    i was excited to see it until i realised it wasn't about demon chariot racers fighting off in a huge arena in a winner takes all clash of the titans style sand and sandal fantasy epic.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 9:43 a.m. CST

    Blu-Ray is the superior format. Why would you not endorse it?

    by ScreamingPenis

    A movie fan wants to see movies in the highest quality possible. There is a chance that, for consumers, HD-DVD will be cheaper...but for a movie fan, it will probably be a very easy decision as to which format is better.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 12:38 p.m. CST

    What happened to that Thanksgiving competition...

    by Edward_nygma

    .... with the Rambo DVDs and shit?

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 12:39 p.m. CST

    Punisher - did we get stiffed ?

    by RobinP

    I have here on my desk the R2 disc of Punisher.From what you wrote, it looks like our version isn't quite as stacked as the R1. No comic book insert..(opens box, removes disc & Columbia advertising insert...shakes box) nope. From the list of extras there doesn't seem to be a docu about the Punisher character either (shit !). I'll console myself with the fact that hey, at least thank to the efficieny of my online suppliers, I got it before Monday's release and I'll be spending an otherwise uneventful Saturday night watching it. On an unconnected note, I watched the Catwoman disc last night (yeah - stifle your mockery, guys. Halle Berry in torn spandex. Need I say more ?)There was a pretty good feature on that about the evolution of the character in comics and on screen with contributions from Julie Newmar and the rest of the actresses who've played the part. I thought Julie Newmar still looked oddly hot until I figured she must be in her late seventies...and that made me shudder. Lee Meriwether looked, well....matronly..and Eartha Kitt just looked strange. (Also, waaaaaay too many tendons in her heck. Damn things looked like cables.)Sky Captain will come my way in the 2 disc edition, as will AvP.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 12:43 p.m. CST

    Blu-Ray and HD-DVD will be the end of the "box set", since an en

    by FrankDrebin

    Psychologically, are people still gonna pay up to $130 (I'm looking at you, ST:TOS!) when it's just one disc. And once the recorders are available, you'll be able to tivo the ENTIRE RUN of a series onto one disc.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 1:20 p.m. CST

    I'll be glad to see the box sets go.

    by Shaner Jedi

    They take up way too much space at my house now as is. It'll be great to have all that info on one-two discs.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 4 p.m. CST

    Mori, "the filmmakers dodge it for the most part by simply showi

    by Immortal_Fish

    And yet the same problem remains. They only show you 'raw, unadulterated' footage of... EXACTLY what they want you to see, raw and unadulterated. This is made worse by the rest of the film's bits, all of which is presented with an obvious slant. As in, what furthers the goals of the film's creators and/or supporters. I've seen this film. It has given me only more reason to believe that the documentary format is no longer capable of being an impartial portrayal of events.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 4:17 p.m. CST

    I think Moriarty has a man-crush on Thomas Jane

    by Mr Brownstone

    and there's nothing wrong with that. I have a man-crush on 70's era Elliot Gould. Say it with me -- "Coury Brand Cat Food".

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 5:04 p.m. CST

    Shaner Jedi

    by ChorleyFM

    Most companies won't release standard programming on HD Discs when they can release it on standard DVD (cheaper and more readily available). So a 6 disc regular TV set would still be a 6 disc HD set when re-mastered and transfered.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 6:05 p.m. CST

    The Office

    by odysseus

    Pure brilliance. The Special is the most satisfying finale of any show EVER.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 6:26 p.m. CST

    DVD is good enough for a long time

    by BonScott

    I was watching Apocalypse Now Redux last night and asides from the opening shot of the static background(P-scan caused an annoying tic), the thing looks fucking beautiful in progressive scan. And with an all region, PAL/NTSC progressive scan DVD w/ component out player going for $70(Philips dvp642), why would anybody want to upgrade?? With the exception of the last 3-5 years, all transfers were done to 720p, which is good enough to see the grains in the filmstock. So unless they're gonna redo everything in the catalog into 1080i, most catalog product released in either format will be no better than your reg DVDs.

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 6:41 p.m. CST

    You are CORRECT, sir, about Man on Fire...

    by D. Allusion

    Underrated, hypnotic, delirious, powerful. In a year when this is scorned and Million Dollar Baby is venerated, I must have been absent when they were passing out the wacky eyeballs.

  • Damn, you have a lot of time on your hands!

  • Jan. 22, 2005, 9:29 p.m. CST

    MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is a sublime film. But...

    by Cash Bailey

    ...Finney's Poirot isn't a patch on Ustinov's. I, for one, would love to see a new set of those Hercules Poirot all-star films produced with someone like Anthony Hopkins as Poirot.

  • Jan. 23, 2005, 12:16 a.m. CST

    HD-DVDs

    by Mad_Radhu

    A lot of the current shows like 24, Alias and Lost are still going to wind up in box sets as HD-DVDs or Blu-Ray disks since there are HD versions of the shows that were broadcast that they can use for the transfer. Older shows that never had a HD version boradcast are more problematic. Ones that were shot on tape are pretty much going to be relegated to standard def forever, but the ones shot on film could possibly be remastered into HD with a new transfer (a lot were shot with Panavision cameras and then cropped down to 4:3 for broadcast). Effects-laden shows like B5 and Star Trek could be transferred into HD format, but something would have to be done about the effects. B5 fared especially bad in the DVD release - you could actually see the video quality go downhill in shots where effects were combined with live action. If that show ever makes it to HD they need to find the cash somewhere to have the guys who do the effects for BSG go back and redo all of the CGI since the original footage is unusable in HD.

  • Jan. 23, 2005, 2:30 a.m. CST

    Westerns.

    by crimsonrage

    Sorry Mo, but I think 'Ace High' and 'Blueberry' both sucked ass. I saw 'Ace High' years ago, and I recall it being pretty damn dull. Then again I hate that 'Trinity' shit so maybe it wasn't for me. 'Blueberry' was not only retarded, it took a giant shit on the comics. Sure it started pretty good, but a climax of 10 uninterupted minutes of crappy-ass CG topped off with full frontal Juliette Lewis is just evil.

  • Jan. 23, 2005, 2:21 p.m. CST

    Uhhh one question

    by Shigeru

    How the fuck do you afford to buy HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS worth of DVDs all the time when I don't see your name on any projects buddy?

  • I loved The Office, maybe it's because I work in one and can identify each and every character with people I either have worked with in the past or are there right now. However, Mori - if you EVER get the chance to check out the discs of a series called "Little Britain" I urge you to do so. This is pure comedy genius. I'm not sure how well it'd carry over to the U.S. but it's the funniest thing I've seen since "Fawlty Towers". The first season is available on a Region 2 two disc set. Season 2 will probably follow shortly, seeing it just finished its tv run. Basically, it's a series of sketches with weekly recurring characters who have to be seen to be believed, all held together by a Tom (Dr Who) Baker commentary. This is easily the most politically incorrect tv show in recent years. Highly recommended.

  • Jan. 24, 2005, 8 p.m. CST

    Sky Captain and Donnie Dorko...

    by SalvatoreGravano

    ...are essentially the only titles above that belong on a pile of hospital waste rather than a purchase list.

  • Jan. 25, 2005, 11 a.m. CST

    On Control Room

    by Halloween68

    Al Jazeera is Hannoi Jane or, if you will, Bagdad Betty. It's the only English speaking frequency you can pick up in that area. I've listened to it firsthand. It's all lies, sprinkled sometimes with veiled halftruths. It's propaganda pure and simple. And "that's" the relationship Al Jazeera has with our military. It's either you listen to Al Jazeera or you listen to nothing at all. My platoon/unit listened and just took it in stride. We laughed nervously most times it was on. The network serves to try and demoralize our military effort. We listened so as to hear people talking. Nothing more, nothing less. We listened for the company, as unwelcome as it was. It's a little disturbing to hear that someone has made a documentary on the merits of Al Jazeera and you people are buying it. This guy filmed what Al Jazeera allowed him to film. They knew it was being filmed by Americans for a predominately American audience. Do you really think there is any truth to what's being said here? If so, God help us. If our military starts buying into it, we're in for many, many more deaths. A de-moralized and under-appreciated soldier does not inspire the confidence and necessary determination in this sort of war. Make no mistake, Al Jazeera does have an agenda, and it's that same agenda as the terrorists. Sometimes it comes down to picking sides. Do you want to support our troops or not? If so, quit second guessing that support. Quit giving these people the ammunition to stir things up and make things more volitile.