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a few of you, I watched the Oscars recently. Tivo'ed it actually.
And ya know what? I think Im really beginning to hate the
Oscars. And no, I'm not putting a TM next to Oscar. Everyone knows
AMPAS owns it; Im 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
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, Im
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Me Die a Woman
1978 (2005) - Hygenic Films/Rearguard Productions (Synapse
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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 doesnt 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.
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.
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
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
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. Im 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.
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.
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.
Keep Spinnin Those Discs!
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