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Doogan's Views at The Digital Bits!
page added: 5/19/04




5/19/04 Weekly Release Roundup

Lots and lots of great stuff this week. It's a veritable DVD overload actually. Be sure to have your credit cards ready, 'cause your weekly paycheck won't handle the volume.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Special Edition The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Special Edition

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is one of my all-time favorite films and a must buy DVD as far as I'm concerned. See Barrie's review for details.


Miracle Miracle

If you love hockey or America, then you'll probably want this film on DVD. Check out Bill's review here.



The Testament of Dr. Mabuse The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

A man with a dark past phones upstanding cop Inspector Lohmann, to let him know of a criminal mastermind who is taking over the city of Berlin. But before he can get the name out, he is mysteriously driven insane, leaving just one word behind, etched in glass: "Mabuse." Who or what is "Mabuse?" To find out, is to take a cinematic journey well worth your time. Dr. Mabuse is a criminal mastermind on par with Keyser Soze and the literary creation of Norbert Jacques, but wholly owned on film by director Fritz Lang. Lang made three films centering on Mabuse: 1922's two-part Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (available on DVD from Image), this one in 1933 and 1960's The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (on DVD from All Day Entertainment). Testament of Dr. Mabuse is creepy, fun and an all-around incredible piece of filmmaking. Film noir, heist and caper film fans will love it. If you love The Usual Suspects, then be sure to add this disc to your library.

Criterion pulls out all the stops with Testament. The video transfer is superb, presented in pillar-boxed 1.19:1, which will seem slightly off, but it's due to Lang's soundtrack being on the left hand side of the strip. Audio is German mono with optional English subs. The two-disc special edition contains a very informative commentary by historian and All Day Entertainment head David Kalat. He's a great listen - just one of us who knows a whole hell of a lot about Lang and Mabuse. There's also the complete French version of Testament (often foreign language versions of films were shot back to back a la the Spanish version of Dracula), excerpts from a German TV documentary about Fritz Lang, an interview with actor Rudolf Schündler, a historical overview of writer Norbert Jacques, Kalat breaking down all the versions of this film including the American dubbed version entitled The Crimes of Dr. Mabuse, production design galleries, stills and ephemera. It's a nice chunk of material dedicated to a film crime films fans will love.



The Tin Drum
The Tin Drum

Director Volker Schlöndorff's The Tin Drum was always a tough nut to crack as a film. On the one hand, it's this surreal allegory about a freakishly aware young boy who refuses to grow up past the age of three. The hows and whys of the story are what make the film so interesting. On the other side, you have the fact that most people take things out of context and refuse to see the film as a surreal allegory, and when you have a "three-year old" (here played by eleven-year old David Bennent who would go on and play the Pan-like Honeythorn Gump in Ridley Scott's Legend) engaged in very adult behavior, you have a situation like the one that happened in 1999 in Oklahoma. It's the world we live in, and somehow ends up being appropriate in the history of this film.

The Tin Drum gets grand treatment from Criterion. From the beautiful anamorphic transfer and remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (the original mono and an isolated soundtrack of Maurice Jarre's music are included), to the extras. Those extras include a very listenable commentary by director Schlöndorff explaining the making of the film and discussing the controversies since it's release, a selection of deleted scenes with commentary by Schlöndorff, another discussion with Schlöndorff on the making of the film illustrated by clips, stills and storyboards, a collection of French TV broadcasts about the film and its success at Cannes, a scene from the film with optional narration from The Tin Drum author Günter Grass, and the script for the unfilmed ending with introduction from the director. There's also a documentary about the pornographic criminal case involving the film in Oklahoma mentioned above, trailers and a stills gallery. The Tin Drum won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1980 and it deserved the honor. It's also been attacked and misunderstood since then. This disc set truly puts this film in context and shines it up nice for us. It's a great DVD set, and deserving of the inclusion in The Criterion Collection.


Torque
Torque

So... Torque. Uhm... yeah. It's about a guy and... uh... Screw this. It's The Warriors on motorcycles. Shot by Joseph Kahn, the director who makes all those glowing Janet Jackson videos, it's gorgeous eye-candy, and that's the best that can be said about it. So there. The DVD looks wonderful, and sounds damn good too. Extras include two commentary tracks: one with the technical team gushing about the film and the other with all the members of SAG (past, present and future). You'll also find storyboards, a music video and trailers. It's not a whole lot, but it's a whole lot more than we need for Torque on DVD. I mean, I'm not a snob, but seriously. And if you're a fan, save your flames; I won't respond.


Disney once again makes us love them for their treatment of library product with the wave release three (four exciting new volumes) of Walt Disney Treasures. First up is...


The Chronological Donald, Volume 1
The Chronological Donald, Volume 1

Collecting the animated shorts starring Donald Duck released between 1934 and 1941, this volume is pretty important considering it gives insight into the birth and shaping of a beloved animated character. Each one of the shorts looks and sounds great. Select commentaries by Leonard Maltin, art galleries, storyboards with Maltin commentary, a featurette on the voice of Donald: Clarence "Ducky" Nash and introductions by Maltin on select shorts comprise the extras for this set, and it's all very fine. We'll work on Adam Jahnke doing a complete overview of these volumes to give you a better idea of what these are about, but for now, know that they're worth picking up.


Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume 2
Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume 2

Following the great work done for Volume 1, Disney gives us another set of Mickey cartoons (in color of course) spanning the years 1939 to 1995. All are present in gorgeous transfers with good sound. Extras include a gaggle of featurettes, introductions from Leonard Maltin, deleted animation from the Fantasia section starring Mickey Mouse: The Sorcerer's Apprentice, galleries of art and publicity material and the titles to Mickey Mouse Club that were done in color (most saw the show in black and white). All in all, this is a neat set and a worthy addition to Volume 1.


Tomorrowland: Disney in Space and Beyond
Tomorrowland: Disney in Space and Beyond

It's not odd to learn that a visionary like Walt Disney was immensely interested in space travel. This DVD shows that passion in full. Collecting the various TV shows and film shorts that explored the idea of men in space, this volume is the one our very own Bill Hunt will be standing in line for today. Although dated in many approaches, these films still pack a punch, with fun and insightful animation and views from a time that didn't yet see a real man on the moon. These two discs hold six films, complete with disc introductions by Leonard Maltin, and they look great on DVD. Culled from the best possible elements in color and black and white, you have to give a hand to the folks at Disney for putting this set together. Extras include an interview with Ray Bradbury, an interview with Marty Sklar (head of Disney's Imagineering/EPCOT), galleries of publicity material and comprehensive art from the animation segments with commentary by Maltin. This is another great Walt Disney Treasure volume.


On the Front Lines Walt Disney: On the Front Lines

This is the big one. The one you never imagined would be released by Disney. I mean, a disc set - from Disney - that contains all of their wartime (read: very un-P.C.) shorts. Wow. If there was a must-buy disc this week, this is it. First, you get all of the animated shorts with WWII themes (the propaganda, or as Leonard Maltin calls them: Morale Boosters). Private Pluto, Donald Gets Drafted and Commando Duck are included to name a few. Next, we get the educational shorts. These are the theatricals that were meant for the folks at home, so they could know better what we can do to support the troops. Then we move into the glorious "never thought we'd see these" films. Der Feuhrer's Face anyone? How about Education for Death? Never did I expect to see these released by Disney. I'm ecstatic and overjoyed that we have them, but I'm shocked as well. There's also the little seen, but dear to Walt's heart, Victory Through Air Power, as well as a handful of GI training shorts produced by the Disney Studio. As an animation historian and collector, this wows me. This is a wonderful set. All these shorts are presented in pristine quality with nice sound. Of course, you also get some wonderful extras, like commentary from Maltin putting the sensitive material in the proper perspective, interviews, art galleries, rare illustrations and art from an unproduced short entitled Gremlins, which was created by Roald Dahl. I'll say it again, you NEED this set.


Zatoichi and the Chess Expert Zatoichi and the Chess Expert

On a boat bound for the island of Enoshima, Ichi befriends a chess-playing samurai named Tadasu Jumon. Impressing him with his blind playing, Jumon joins Ichi in his travels. While on the boat, Ichi takes in a friendly game of dice, pulling his trademark slight of hand dice trick ("Why would you bet on the dice outside the cup? Where's the game in that?") on a group of thugs. When they get pissed off, they look for revenge and, considering they work for the influential Banyu crime family, there's trouble to be had once they get to Enoshima. During a scuffle, Ichi sends a bad guy out a window to land on a young girl named Miki and her guardian Tane, hurting Miki. Needing medicine, Ichi raises the necessary funds and goes about saving the girl's life. But who is Tane and why are a group of men hunting for her? Is Jumon a friend or an enemy waiting to pounce on Ichi? And how do the mysterious Sagawa, Roppei and Kume fit into the story? Find out in Zatoichi and the Chess Expert.

Chess Expert is pure Zatoichi fun - a great film to spin if you haven't joined the Ichi party yet. It's got everything that makes the series great, including some really cool fights. This Home Vision release is superb. The anamorphic transfer is incredibly clean and colorful. Blacks are hard and the print is flawless. Audio is in the original mono and sounds fine. Extras include trailers for this film as well as Zatoichi's Vengeance and Zatoichi and the Doomed Man, a promo trailer for the series, liner notes by Michael Jeck and a reproduction of the theatrical poster.


Zatoichi's Vengeance Zatoichi's Vengeance

Ichi stumbles upon a dying man, who was attacked because he was caught cheating at dice. He is asked to give the money he stole to someone named Taichi. Not knowing where to find this person, Ichi continues on his journey and bumps into a blind priest, who sends him to the sleepy haven of Ichinomiya. But Ichi finds that Ichinomiya is no sleepy town. It's being taken over by a gang of ruthless yakuza who are demanding all the business owners pay them to continue operating. He also finds the Taichi he was asked to find, who turns out to be the dying man's son. Oh... and Ichi also bumps into a disgraced samurai who is looking to buy back his wife's retainer from the local whorehouse using the money he will earn for Ichi's head. But Ichi isn't going to hand it over. Will Ichi's sword corrupt the malleable mind of young Taichi into a world he shouldn't enter?

Zatoichi's Vengeance is another good entry in the series. It's sort of understated, but still a rip-roaring fun way to spend 80 or so minutes. This disc is beautiful, with a great transfer from Home Vision - just flawless. Sound is Dolby Digital mono and serves the film nicely. Extras include trailers for Zatoichi and the Chess Expert, Zatoichi's Vengeance and Zatoichi and the Doomed Man, a promo trailer for this series, liner notes by Michael Jeck and a reproduction of the theatrical poster.


Zatoichi's Cane Sword Zatoichi's Cane Sword

This is the seminal Zatoichi film. Ichi hitches a ride with a traveling theatrical troupe on their way to Tonda, where he enters into a dice game and cleans house. As you might guess, the losers are all yakuza and they want their money back. Not taking any guff from these sore losers, Ichi makes mincemeat out of them. But when a retired sword maker examines Ichi's sword, he discovers it was made by his old sensei and will break in two during his next battle. Swearing off sword fighting from here on in, Ichi spends the rest of the film avoiding confrontation, making for some funny and equally tense moments. Of course, we all know he'll have to pull out the sword. But how will he manage, knowing full well that after one slash, he'll be weaponless?

This is a great, great Ichi film - probably my favorite in the series. Cane Sword sums up everything I like about these films. It has some of the best characters in the series, some of the best acting and some really scary moments. This Home Vision release has a wonderful anamorphic widescreen transfer, clean Dolby Digital mono sound and a select group of extras including trailers for Zatoichi's Vengeance, Zatoichi and the Doomed Man and Zatoichi Challenged, a promo trailer for this series, liner notes by Michael Jeck and a reproduction of the theatrical poster.


There's some new TV on DVD this week too:

Smallville: The Complete Second SeasonSpeed Racer, Volume 2The West Wing: The Complete Second Season

It's part one of the end of the show about foul-talking women on the prowl: Sex and the City: Season 6, Part 1. Forget the back and forth on the film version of Superman, stick with Smallville: The Complete Second Season for all of your Man of Steel needs. Go Speed Racer, Volume 2 go! Also boldly going to DVD this week: Star Trek: Voyager - Season Two. And it's the other show about nothing: The West Wing: The Complete Second Season.

Also available this week:

Around the World in 80 DaysThe Great EscapePaycheck

A new release of Angel Heart with a bunch of special edition material. In time for the new film with Jackie Chan, Around the World in 80 Days gets a huge special edition. Nuclear paranoia, got you down? It's The Day After (timed with The Day After Tomorrow perhaps?). Godzilla and friends are back in a DVD re-release of Destroy All Monsters. Another DVD re-release - Bruce Lee is all buff and shit in this buff special edition Enter the Dragon. Can you say special edition and re-release one more time? Sure you can: The Great Escape. Alain Delon and Jeanne Moreau star in Joseph Losey's Nazi-era mistaken identity suspenser Mr. Klein. Ben Affleck tries to become a viable action star once again - and fails. Look for Paycheck on DVD. All three films in The Samurai Trilogy get a box. No new features though. Wyatt Earp premiers on DVD as a special edition. And, you know it's on! At least that's what the kids are saying. Find out what all that means with the new DVD You Got Served.

Enjoy that block of DVD goodness. There was so much that even I, with so much frickin' spare time (yeah, right) couldn't get to it all. That's why there were so many two-disc special editions in the "Also Availables". Well, that and the studios don't love me as much as they used to. But that's a horse of a different color.

While I write love letters to the studio heads, you go and watch all that good stuff and be back here next week. Until then, I remain your heart and soul of DVD.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com


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