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Doogan's Views at The Digital Bits
page added: 3/21/06



Oscar Blahs

Doogan's Views - Main Page


Like a few of you, I watched the Oscars recently. Tivo'ed it actually. And ya know what? I think I’m really beginning to hate the Oscars. And no, I'm not putting a TM next to Oscar. Everyone knows AMPAS owns it; I’m not trying to steal anyone's thunder or pricey trademark. The Oscars have become silly. They are a popularity contest drawn up by the Hollywood elite to validate their art form. I feel like I can say this because, well... I love movies more than the next guy. At least, so long as the next guy isn't AICN's Harry Knowles, our very own Adam Jahnke and well, the person reading this that's so incensed by that comment that they feel like writing me to challenge my claim. Don't email to argue. Yes, you love movies more than me. But for most everyone else, I love movies more than you so get over it.

I live with movies and such 24/7. I've had it at my day job for 16 years now. I've had it in my home since I was a kid. I have it in my private life, so much that it's piled up in every corner; from memorabilia to movies in various formats to poster tubes full of art. I've even got it in my car for the love of God. So, for someone like me to say "Bah! The Oscars!" it should mean something.

To illustrate, I have some questions for you.

My first question: Is Reese Witherspoon your "Oscar Winning Actress" ideal? Is Angelina Jolie or Julia Roberts for that matter? Some will say yes, some will say no. I personally like all three. I think they're all talented and have given us some great movies. But growing up with an idealistic view of the Academy Awards, I've always felt like ACTORS and ACTRESSES got these awards. Maybe I'm completely wrong, but the last few years of Awards, it seems like it's the most popular Actor and or Actress that get ‘em. I can't see any of these actresses at this point in their respective careers having the highest honor someone in this craft can have bestowed upon them. Should they never get an Oscar? I dunno, but at this point, of the three, Jolie shines as a true Actress. More for her earlier work, but when we're all old and sitting in our wheelchairs, I think we'll be looking at Jolie as a Grand Dame, whereas the other two, will be popular actresses of their time.

Next, tell me: how many Oscars does Robert Altman have? Since this isn't interactive, I'll tell you; the answer is One. He just got it and it was an honorary one for "inspiring filmmakers and audiences." Yeah. Not for making good movies, mind you. How many should he have? That's a very good question and it has a real answer. That answer is: Two. Every year he was nominated, he lost to someone who really deserved to win. BUT. He really should have won an official one in 2002 for Gosford Park. Ron Howard won that year, and I don't care what anyone tells me about A Beautiful Mind; I couldn't stand it. It was awful and I will fight you if you disagree. (Editor's Note: No, he won't and don't challenge him. Todd's opinions aren't worth fighting him for. But he's right, A Beautiful Mind sucks. However, as if in proof of the underlying symmetry of the universe, Altman's Dr. T & the Women also blows pretty hard. I'm just saying. - Bill)

Thanks, Bill. So, yeah, I watched the Oscars when I should probably have been working off my DVD review stack instead. I gots lots of stuff to look at, and yet, not so much time these days. With that, I’m going to review a bunch of anti-Hollywood crap this week. Some really good crap... some not so good. Let's start with the not so good of my stack, shall we?



The Warriors: Unrated Director's Cut

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The Warriors: Unrated Director's Cut
1979 (2005) - Paramount

Ugh. Walter Hill, what did you do? I went back and watched the original Warriors just to see what was changed BEFORE I watched this version. Miiiiisstaaaaaake. Not a whole lot is changed actually. It's mostly cosmetic - a few elaborations and shifting of scenes. But the biggest add, and the reason this version sucks, is Hill wanting to validate the story by making it somewhat of an epic comic book adaptation. Why? To do this, he starts off by tacking on a heavy-handed intro that shows that the story is lifted from the Greek story "Anabasis" by mercenary and historian Xenophon. This is unnecessary and silly. But the fact that he does it in a pseudo-Tom Goes to the Mayor meets A Scanner Darkly animated style is jarring, and almost makes you want to kick the disc out of the player (and your house). Maybe I'm out of touch, but the original film worked in all of its alternate realityness. It doesn't need validation. It's dated and unbelievable and hokey, sure. But it's good. Why filmmakers feel the need to go back and "fix" stuff they did in their past boggles my mind. Move on. To further his aim, Hill then inserts transitional sequences that "illustrate" the fact that this is now a comic book and not a gang flick from the 70s. The camera shifts from panel to panel and filters itself from animated (still done up in the craptastic opening style) to live-action again. I will say this: I hated it. It was crap. Rejuvenating this film for a new generation of video gamers isn't going to help this movie. To everyone who got rid of their old version of this film on DVD for this new one, I'm sorry. You shouldn't have. Trade back if you can.

For all its crap, the transfer is actually pretty good. Presented in widescreen anamorphic video at 1.85:1, it couldn't look better outside of hi-def. The sound is also nice in English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. The extras are the only reason to keep this disc on the shelf. There's a four-part documentary about the making of the film, that features interviews with the cast and crew, as well as a nice deleted scene. There's also the original trailer that was on the first disc. Instead of an audio commentary, Hill gives us an introduction that pooh-poohs DVD, but supports the release of this, his definitive vision of the film. Uh, okay. I'll stick with your first vision, thank you very much Mr. Hill.


Ultimate Avengers

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Ultimate Avengers
2006 (2006) - Marvel Studios Inc. (Lionsgate)

A lot of hub-bub went down for this title, which amounts to a straight-to-DVD extended episode of the old X-Men cartoon, featuring new cast and a more Ultimate brand in-your-face attitude.

I don't really have a lot to say about it. It's a cartoon. It adapts the very cool The Ultimates mini-series comic book quite loosely and it's a straight to DVD release. It's not good. It's not bad. It just is. Basically, it retells the origin of Marvel superhero Captain America, his thawing, his manipulation by Nick Fury into joining a super team to fight alien overlords and his battle with those aliens (as well as his team member's egos). Throw in a scientist with an inner demon big enough to destroy New York, and you have the show in a nutshell. It'll help to know the comics this is based on to appreciate the Cliff Notes version (the original Season One of The Ultimates ran 13 issues), but as a Marvel cartoon, I think they missed the mark. Overall, it feels too rushed and doesn't live up to the hype. Maybe this would have worked as a trilogy, three straight-to-video movies telling the same story. That way, we would have gotten more out of it and it would have mattered a bit more. As its stands, Ultimate Avengers was quickly done with some good animation (some not so good too) and voice work that is just okay. Can't say I'm a fan of this flick.

However, once again, I have to say it looks mighty fine on DVD. Showing off bright colors and thick blacks, the 1.78:1 anamorphic video shines. Audio is presented in both English and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds fun and open. The extras are a mixed-bag. The documentary Avengers Assemble! is less a history of the comic and more a promo for legendary artist George Perez. He's deserving of all the accolades he can get, yes, but don't disguise a documentary about the comic as a car wax commercial for a talented artist. There's also a look at rough animation for the Ultimate Avengers sequel due later this year (which will be an original story), a trailer for this and Elektra, a look at the fans who submitted demo work for a talent search and a DVD-ROM feature that lets you see which Avenger you're most like. I'm Wasp by the way. If you're a super fan boy, you have this already. If you're not, rent it.


Pulse (aka Kairo)

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Pulse (aka Kairo)
2001 (2006) - Toho Company Ltd. (Magnolia Home Entertainment)

From director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure, Charisma and Doppleganger) comes this creepy and atmospheric philosophical horror film about life, death and loneliness. We'll be getting an American remake in a few weeks and, based on the trailer alone, it looks pretty faithful (so I won't get too detailed in my review). Ultimately, Pulse is a riff on the idea that if we come into the world alone, and we die alone, what makes us think we aren't living alone as well? Using themes throughout the film illustrating that idea (listen to a news report on the TV at the beginning for an example, or ask yourself what's the best tool in the entire world for someone to get close to people without ever having meet them. Hint: you're using it now), a group of people who are exposed to an image on a computer disc begin to suffer through strange events. This leads to a somewhat ambivalent ending that I'm not entirely sure I understand. It's a heavy film, and legitimately scary - certainly not the scariest flick I've seen, but I wouldn't want to watch it alone with the lights out.

Not a great film, but definitely a good one, Pulse is well worth your time. I just hope the remake is as good, because if it is (and gives us Westerners a little bit more understanding of what's going on) it should be a fun little film.

Magnolia Home Entertainment brings us this one on DVD in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video with Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Both look and sound good. There are some faults here and there, but nothing to worry about and nothing to make me say you should stay away. Extras include a nice, long, detailed "making of" documentary (which starts off with a handful of trailers) as well as an isolated trailer. It's a good standard edition of a good Japanese horror flick.

Fans of The Ring, Dark Water, The Grudge or any of K. Kurosawa's other films will love this flick. Hopefully, this new remake will be better than all of those remakes. It's doubtful, but Veronica Mars herself (Kristen Bell) is in it, so I'll be there.


Let Me Die a Woman

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Let Me Die a Woman
1978 (2005) - Hygenic Films/Rearguard Productions (Synapse Films)

Whoa. I, uhm, yeah, I. Wow. I got nothing. Let Me Die a Woman is part documentary, part porno, part educational film and part unintentional comedy. It's all about transsexuals: their choices, their lives and their operations. A lost classic of 70s Grindhouse, Let Me Die a Woman is presented here for the first time uncut and including a very disturbing (mostly for my fellow men) sequence. The less said the better.

Once again, Synapse gives us a film we didn't know we wanted in a condition we wouldn't want in any other way. Remastered from the original negative in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, Woman looks and sounds pretty damn good. There's even some killer extras, including a commentary with Michael Bowen (who is an expert on the film's director, Doris Wishman) and the film's star “Leslie”. It's actually more compelling than the film and is definitely worth a listen. There's also promotional material, liner notes from Bowen and an alternate opening credit sequence.

I can't say whether I'll ever watch this flick again, but I can say that I found myself watching the whole thing with great interest. Interest may be the wrong word actually, but I didn't think about turning the thing off at any point. Let Me Die a Woman is wild, wacky and certainly worth a spin at least once. This one may be a rental, but be sure to check out all the supplements. They're really well done and they make the film that much more worthwhile. Good job, Synapse. You're still the best indy out there.


Spotlight on Subversive Cinema

And speaking of the indy world: there's a new kid on the playground. And boy is he a bully... but in a good way. Subversive Cinema is a new DVD production house that specializes in bottom of the barrel grindhouse cult flicks and obscure (but worthy) Australian fare. That may not be their overall aim as a DVD studio, but it certainly is their library at this point. Hey... they're growers, not showers, and I think they'll be around for a while. So we'll just have to see what they grow into.

Founded by former Anchor Bay producer Norman Hill and partners Michael Basden, Christopher Viers and Carl Tostevin (founders of both Poker Industries, one of, if not THE place to find rare and harder to find foreign films on DVD, and Scarecrow Video, one of the largest independent video stores in the world). They must be doing something right - David Lynch trusts them enough to give them the keys to distributing his DVDs to the mass market. If you didn't pick up the special editions of Eraserhead and Shorts from the David Lynch website, you can do so now through Subversive. We'll be looking forward to more Lynch fare from these guys soon, along with great bad films.

So far, I've only looked at a small selection of their DVDs, but all have been extremely good with thoughtfully restored sound and video and well produced extras. My recommendations are:


The Candy Snatchers

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The Candy Snatchers
1973 (2005) - Marmot Productions (Subversive Cinema)

Released in 1973, The Candy Snatchers is really a badass flick that I can totally see Quentin Tarantino remaking himself (or the very least producing). It's got some really sweet twists and turns and, even though the acting isn't all that great, the characters are well defined. It concerns a plot to abduct a young girl, whose father has access to a cache of diamonds that the villains want. But lots of problems arise between the villains, their quarry and a small boy who stumbles upon the situation. That's where the film gets really good.

Candy Snatchers is worth checking out. The high quality of this DVD definitely helps. Presented in remastered 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, the film looks and sounds pretty damn good for a 70s grindhouse flick. Extras on the disc include a where-are-they-now interview/featurette focusing on Susan Senet and Tiffany Bolling. There's also a stills gallery, talent bios and trailers for other Subversive titles.


The Freakmaker

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The Freakmaker
1974 (2005) - Getty Pictures Corp. (Subversive Cinema)

This pseudo-remake of Tod Browning Freaks pales next to the original, yet it still has something to it that appeals. A bit too arty, The Freakmaker aka The Mutations is about a university professor (played by Donald Pleasence) who believes that mutation is the only way man can quickly evolve and thus survive. He also believes he can hurry this process along by using plant genetics, and so conducts experiments on beautiful women that are abducted by a freakishly ugly man named Mr. Lynch. Lynch runs a carnie sideshow, where the experiments go when he's done with them. The legitimate freaks at the sideshow generally piss Lynch off, because he has a holier-than-thou attitude and believes that the professor will soon "cure" him by reversing the mutation. But it's those same "freaks" that eventually save the day. One of us, indeed.

Directed by famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff (who also directed the Marianne Faithful vehicle Girl on a Motorcycle among others), Freakmaker is only okay. It's not a great film and in the end just really makes you want to go back and re-watch the original Freaks.

Still, the DVD is actually very, very nice. This was Subversive's first release and they proved they did extremely good work with it. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is lush and well mastered. The source print shows its age, but there are no problems on the transfer side. Sound is available in Dolby Digital 2.0 and the original mono track. Again both show their age, but they're quite good for what they are.

Extras include two audio commentaries, a making-of featurette and a trailer for the film, along with a still gallery and more Subversive trailers.


Battlefield Baseball

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Battlefield Baseball
2003 (2005) - Klock Worx Co. (Subversive Cinema)

Probably the closest we could ever get to a Japanese Troma film, Battlefield Baseball is an awful, silly and cheap-ass flick. Yet it's also highly enjoyable. Sure, it rips off a bunch of things and is about as original as a fart. I think its charm is that it knows all of this and doesn’t need you to tell it that. It's dumb and doesn't care. Just like a Troma flick.

The story has a high school baseball team about to go up against a rival school's team full of mutants, who basically (and literally) kill their competition. So they ask transfer student Jubei to play on their team, using his special skills. He's hesitant because his baseball skills actually killed his father... but once he sees the power of his playing, and realizes it can be harnessed for good, he changes his mind. But is he too late? I think that description gives the film more insight that the film itself does. Really, there's not much story. Just 90 minutes of people using baseball to kill each other. The effects, humor and crass mentality are all straight Troma, so I have to say, if you like Troma, you may love this film. It's certainly not a terrible film, but it's no Citizen Kane. Uh, duh.

The video is anamorphic widescreen at 1.85:1 and it looks pretty good. There seems to be some source defects, but the transfer is still top-notch. Sound is here in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 in the original Japanese. Extras include a commentary with the cast and crew, in Japanese with English subs. There are two making-of featurettes - one with star Tak Sakaguchi (not really) answering questions about the making of the film, illustrated with behind-the-scenes footage, and another that's mostly culled together with behind-the-scenes footage of the cast and crew goofing around. There's also a collection of outtakes and deleted scenes, a karaoke video of the "love theme", a short film about Ramen for some reason and two shorts not really reenacting a sequence from the film using Kubrick figures. There're also trailers for this and other Subversive films. All in all, it's not a bad set of features considering the film it supports. But seriously; if you're a Troma fan, at least rent this one and see if I'm off my rocker. It's straight-up Troma without the Lloyd Kaufman. If Uncle Lloyd made this, there would be way more body fluids and boobs. Other than that, same sort of flick.


The Gardener

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The Gardener
1975 (2006) - KKI Films Inc. (Subversive Cinema)

A rich couple are spending some time in their Costa Rican home, when they learn that a close friend of theirs passed away. Ellen (the rich wife) visits her friend's garden where she meets the gardener, Carl (Joe Dallesandro). She admires the garden (and his buff shirtless stature) so much that she hires him to cultivate her own yard. But something strange is going on and then the killing starts. Slowly. Languidly. Growing like a blade of grass.

Maaaaaaan, this is a slow and boring movie with some bad set-ups and even worse acting. Especially for a 70s art flick. There's just not much going on in it at all really. And if you thought Dallesandro didn't fit in Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood of Dracula, then you'll continue that thought here as well. It's hard to hate this film, but it's even harder to like it. It's just a pile of nothing.

But, somehow and for some reason, Subversive does a very fine job with the DVD. Preserving the muted green cinematic palette, The Gardener looks as good as you've ever seen it (and on video, you might have seen it as Seeds of Evil). Audio is remastered to Dolby Digital 2.0 from the original mono (which is also included).

The extras are also nice. There are two commentaries: a traditional one with director James H. Kay and an interview track with Dallesandro (conducted by Norm Hill). You'll also find two nice featurettes. Planting the Seeds of Evil is a retrospective of interviews with director Kay and stars Katherine Houghton and Dellasandro. It's actually pretty good and worth checking out, even if the film isn't. Million Dollar Dream is the other and it's just as interesting, if not more so. Produced in 1980 as a master's thesis, it's an overview of low budget filmmaking and distribution focusing on this film and the film's producer Chalmer Kirkbride, Jr. (who offers some great asides as he shows us the folly of the low budget film world circa 1970s and 80s). I'd say, in the end, this featurette is worth the price of the disc all by itself. If you're a filmmaking hopeful, you owe it to yourself to check this out. Lastly, the disc sports a collection of poster and lobby card art in gallery form, talent bios and trailers for other Subversive titles.

Subversive Cinema is definitely a DVD producer worth keeping an eye on. I’m looking forward to popping in their upcoming release of Metal Skin (from Romper Stomper director Geoffrey Wright) as well as David Lynch's “animated” series Dumbland. I'll let you know what I think of them once I do. Both should be pretty good, judging from Subversive's other releases.


High Tension

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High Tension
2003 (2005) - Europacorp (Lionsgate)

For a while, High Tension is a very cool film. Then comes the ending and, well... it makes everything that came before not quite make a lick of sense. So, okay, with that said: in total this film sucks ass. I can't just say, three-fourths are good and the end is awful so the film is okay. It just doesn't work like that. If a film has an ending that nullifies everything that came before, then the film officially isn't good. But Alexandre Aja shows that he can direct horror and that he has a great eye. So in terms of his potential, High Tension is worth checking out. You can watch it and see that this guy, with the right script, will be going places. His recent The Hills Have Eyes remake shows that he's a very gruesome guy. I'm hoping that his take on the Chas Burns graphic novel Black Hole (with Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman scripting) will kick serious ass.

Oh... you probably want to know what High Tension is about. Not much really. A girl and her friend head up to her friend's parents house in the middle of nowhere. A stranger shows up, and kills everyone but the friend. He takes the friend hostage and the girl heads after them to save her. Twist ending ensues. Lots of grime. Lots of gore. Lots of chills. And there's pretty good atmosphere. But it's the ending that makes this a waste. Pity that.

Thankfully, the film is presented at 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and doesn't suffer from the 1.78-itis that some Lionsgate releases have been hampered with of late. The image quality is damn good and very pleasing. Colors are spot on, blacks are solid and, overall, the image glows nicely. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 for both the original French and the English dub. Stick with the French. The extras are nice, including a very insightful commentary in English by Aja and his co-writer and art director Gregory Levasseur (there's a brief intro to the film on board as well). You also get a 20-or-so-minute "making of" featurette, a smaller feature on how they gave the film its suspense, a look at legendary make-up artist Giannetto de Rossi's involvement, deleted scenes (with commentary by Aja and star Cecile De France) and a handful of Lionsgate trailers. All in all, this a nice special edition for a horror film that had potential... but lost it trying to be too clever. Still, I think Aja will be scaring us for a long time to come.


That's it for this round. I'll be raiding my DVD stack right away and will be back soon with a mixture of old and new reviews for you to take a look at.

Until then...

Keep Spinnin’ Those Discs!

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com


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