Friday, December 10, 2010

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2010: Shane M. Dallmann


The author of today's list is Shane M. Dallmann, a staunch member of the WATCHDOG Kennel since our 46th issue in 1998. Shane also writes for SCREEM and, as his alter ego Remo D., he has carried the torch of Horror Hostdom into the 21st Century with his show REMO D's MANOR OF MAYHEM (now in its 14th season!). Shane lists ten favorites but offers notes on only five, so we invite you to take his list and check it twice. - TL

By Shane M. Dallmann

THE CRAZIES (2010, Starz/Anchor Bay)
One of those remakes that proves that they really are worth doing once in a while. Director Breck Eisner's take on the 1973 George A. Romero thriller (aka CODE NAME: TRIXIE) is a ferocious, intelligent and equally bitter look at mass insanity, its effects on the residents of a small town, and the efforts from "above" to cover -- or cleanse -- their mistake.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE (and feel free to pre-emptively include THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST) (2009, Music Box)
Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy was unavoidably condensed for the movies -- just how effectively remains a topic of debate for some. But it's the bold, absorbing and utterly fearless performance of Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander which more than earns the film series the right of independent existence.

HOUSE (Criterion, 1977)
For some reason, Toho Studios never included Nobuhiko Obayashi's wild and crazy haunting in their American television packages--if they had, it would have shaken up the Saturday night landscape considerably. Is it a shocker that makes you smile, or is it a comedy that plays for keeps? Whatever it is, it never lets up--and the barrage of innovative, pre-CGI optical effects is truly wondrous to behold today. The less you know about this film going in, the better.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010, Universal)
Though it sank in the box office quicksand between THE EXPENDABLES (for the guys) and EAT, PRAY, LOVE (for the gals), Edgar Wright's adaptation of Brian Lee O'Malley's graphic novel was lauded at Comic-Con for a very good reason: it's one of the most visually inventive and consistently "alive" romantic comedies yet conceived. Pop culture from around the world, video games, music and an array of larger-than-life nemeses make the most of what is actually a simple and charming story.

SPLICE (2010, Warner)
One of the best films David Cronenberg never made. Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody run the gamut from moral debate to parental concern and, inevitably, desperate action when they become responsible for an new (and highly unauthorized) life form (sensitively portrayed by Delphine Chaneac). Even if the narrative eventually gives in to the chaos of plot resolution, the sober script, the carefully allotted shocks and the excellent performances throughout make this a standout thriller courtesy of director Vincenzo Natali.

BONUS: Everybody's going to name the THRILLER box set, no? Count me in as well. Other honorable mentions include KICK-ASS, Guy Ritchie's SHERLOCK HOLMES, Werner Herzog's THE BAD LIEUTENTANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS and HARRY BROWN.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2010: Richard Harland Smith


Today's list is courtesy of the illustrious Richard Harland Smith, a VW contributor since days of old, and a VW correspondent since days even older than that. RHS currently blogs for Movie Morlocks at the Turner Classic Movies website, screenwrites and curates the curious artwork of daughter Vayda Jane, but still manages to contribute to VW now and then, for which I'm grateful -- as I am for this list of ten. -- TL

By Richard Harland Smith

1. CRACK IN THE WORLD (Olive Films)
One of those seminal childhood films that made becoming an adult seem very attractive: you get to drive Jeeps, shoot guns, fire rockets, look through microscopes and telescopes, and sneak a peak up Janette Scott's skirt as she climbs a ladder from the bowels of the earth to its sulfurous surface. Big love to Olive Films for putting this back on the table.

2. THE MAGICIAN (Criterion Collection)
For all its painterly aesthetics, this under-loved Ingmar Bergman joint is no less a key childhood title for me, reminding me as it does now of those wonderful post-adolescent years of discovering foreign films on public television... back when you could do such a thing. Some of the imagery here is just burned into my brain, like an eyeball in an inkwell.

3. BOB HOPE: THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES COLLECTION (Universal)
This set has a number of films on it, including blah-blah-blah, don't-care-don't-care, yadda-yadda-yadds and THE CAT AND THE CANARY! Yeah, the 1939 one, which you haven't been able to see since forever! Universal could have slapped the SRP of this set onto a keepcase of THE CAT AND THE CANARY and I would have considered it a bargain. Plus, you get the equally funny THE GHOST BREAKERS in the bargain. Thanks indeed!

4. THE ELECTRIC CHAIR (Wild Eye Releasing)
I have a bit of a personal stake here, as this obscure/forgotten/never released independent film stars my late friend Victor Argo. When I interviewed Vic, fairly exhaustively, back in 2000, he didn't even mention what had been, at that point in his thirty-odd year career, his only starring role. This will be an acquired taste, certainly, but double-kudos to Wild Eye Releasing for making space on the shelf for something so rare and niche market. It means the world to me.

5. S0S PACIFIC (Odeon Entertainment, Region 2)
Not only is it a crackerjack corker of a pisscutter, but SOS PACIFIC allows Eddie Constantine fans a fairly rare opportunity to hear him in a movie with his own voice, as the late, great American in Paris was normally dubbed by others in his films from over there. This strangers-in-bad-company survival tale puts Constantine onboard (and then off) a charter plane with Eva Bartok from BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, Clifford Evans from CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF and Richard Attenborough from, well, let's just say 10 RILLINGTON PLACE.

6. THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Region 2)
No, it's not THE SECRET OF BLOOD ISLAND, but it does have Barbara Shelley in it (if not in a starring role) and it is must-see non-horror Hammer. Sony also has made available YESTERDAY'S ENEMY, with Stanley Baker, and I would recommend all of these to Hammer fans who think they've seen it all.

7. LAKE MUNGO (Lionsgate)
No one would think ill of you if you gave this title from the AFTER DARK HORRORFEST 4 COLLECTION a pass... but you'd be missing something unexpected. A documentary ghost story, the film doesn't go for the visceral shocks of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY but rather charts the terrain of remorse and regret from which ghosts sprout and flourish.

8. THE WOLFMAN (Universal)
Yeah, I know I'm not supposed to like Joe Johnson's THE WOLFMAN, and there are a ton of things wrong with it, but I just can't help but feel all giddy at the DVD package of the theatrical and director's cut and all the menu art and all the extra touches that, whatever its failings, mark this latest reboot of the Talbot Mythos a labor of love.

9. JOHNNY STACATTO (Timeless Media Group)
I offer this in the place of the THRILLER box set that I'm sure all of my fellow Watchdogs will have on their list. When I was a kid, I thought MANNIX was pretty cool but that's only because I hadn't heard of John Cassavetes or seen his early TV show, about the adventures of a jazz-loving shamus. (Early on, the plan was to make the protagonist an actual hepcat but, well, you know The Man.) This 3 disc set (27 episodes - a single season!) will have to hold me until they can find all those episodes of DAN RAVEN.

10. THE GREEN SLIME (Warner Archive Collection)
There are a bunch of titles from this collection that I could nominate for greatness (coughSTRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOORcough) but there's just something about THE GREEN SLIME. Like a lot of grumpy 50-somethings, I learned about this Kinji Fukasaku joint from the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and I actually saw it fairly early in the development of my love of these kinds of things. The movie has lived in my heart for decades and it's great to have it back on my TV.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

ASTOUNDING Footnote

As a follow-up to my romantic memoir about a lifetime of encounters with THE ASTOUNDING SHE MONSTER (VW 158:16), reader Mitch O'Connell has filed an interesting footnote. Apparently the girlie mag photo of Madeleine Castle, which was the, um, foundation of Albert Kallis' staggering artwork for this American International release also inspired another artist, who contributed this cover to a forgotten work of lesbian erotica!

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2010: Bill Cooke

VW contributor Bill Cooke now offers a short list of some of his favorites of the past year. He's a film critic and teacher, corporate media screenwriter, video producer and the co-director of the horror film FREAKSHOW (1994). -- TL

By Bill Cooke

THE GREEN SLIME (1969, Warner Archives Collection)
This lunatic clash between astronauts and alien blobs -- a co-production between American and Japanese filmmakers -- is undeniably silly but a whole lot of fun. At last, the longer, English-language version is given a beautiful widescreen transfer by the folks at Warner Home Video, even if it’s only part of their manufacture-on-demand service.

STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940, Warner Archives Collection)
The Warner Archive Collection strikes again with this great little prelude to the film noir movement. John McGuire stars as a witness to a murder case. Is poor little Elisha Cook Jr. really the killer, as McGuire originally thought, or is it the mysterious Peter Lorre—the Stranger on the Third Floor? Includes a bravura, expressionistic nightmare sequence.

COLUMBIA PICTURES FILM NOIR CLASSICS II (1954-1958, Sony)
This second batch of Columbia noirs might not be as essential as the first, but still contains a few gems for aficionados. In spite of the title, Jacques Tourneur’s NIGHTFALL (1957) is mostly set in bright, snowy countryside, and features Brian Keith and Rudy Bond as two of the most sadistic bank robbers a suffering noir hero ever met; PUSHOVER (1954) stars Fred (DOUBLE INDEMNITY) MacMurray in a fascinating echo of his old noir self as he destroys himself once again for money and a dame ( Kim Novak); Fritz Lang’s HUMAN DESIRE (1954) is an American update of La BĂȘte Humaine, and features Glenn Ford as a railroad worker pulled into a mariticide; and CITY OF FEAR (1958) adds Cold War fears and a tense Jerry Goldsmith score to the mix, as hood Vince Edwards unwittingly carries around a stolen and volatile container of radioactive material.

THRILLER (aka BORIS KARLOFF’S THRILLER, 1960-1961)
Finally -- the most important gothic horror television series comes to DVD, complete and with a number of great audio commentaries by an all-star line-up of genre experts.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2010: Michael Barrett

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe, not keeping an eye on their little boy, in Lars von Trier's ANTICHRIST.

Next up with his list of favorite discs from this past year is Michael Barrett. Mike is a fairly new contributor to VIDEO WATCHDOG but has already distinguished himself with numerous reviews and, particularly, his well-received and widely-cited article "While We Were Dreaming: Millennial Unreality at the Movies," which appeared in VW 152. He also reviews for PopMatters.
By Michael Barrett

ANTICHRIST (Criterion)
Advice on grief therapy: don't go in the woods. Controversial among art-house types unfamiliar with the last 10 years of torture porn. I haven't seen those either (including PASSION OF THE CHRIST), but assume this fits in. Astoundingly stylish and mesmerizing, like a music video or commercial (that's a compliment).

THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX (MPI)
Like AVATAR and FANTASTIC MR. FOX, another course in modern terrorism. A giddy, riveting whirl dissecting public and private, state and individual violence.

DOLLHOUSE (20th Century Fox)
When your amnesiac heroine can become anyone, your show can do anything. With the second and final season now on DVD, Joss Whedon's head-spinning marvel is the acme of Millennial Unreality TV.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX (20th Century Fox)
Slightly preferred to PONYO or TOY STORY 3.
FANTOMAS (Kino on Video)
Louis Feuillade's series, with excellent commentary by David Kalat, is my favorite silent release in a year that includes Flicker Alley's similarly wonderful releases of MISS MEND, the original CHICAGO and CHAPLIN AT KEYSTONE.

ICONS OF SUSPENSE: HAMMER FILMS (Sony)
Most overall satisfying box of the year compared with 3 SILENT CLASSICS BY JOSEF VON STERNBERG, COLUMBIA PICTURES FILM NOIR CLASSICS II, OSHIMA'S OUTLAW SIXTIES, AMERICA LOST AND FOUND: THE BBS STORY, and ROBERTO ROSSELLINI'S WAR TRILOGY. Find out if I'm wrong.

MOTHER (Magnolia)
Korean Miss Marple gone very dark. Confident, stylish, disorienting, gripping, laced with deadpan humor, and of course about amnesia.

THRILLER: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Image)
My favorite classic TV box of the year, closely beating out SGT. BILKO, THE GOLDBERGS and ELLERY QUEEN.

THE WHITE RIBBON (Sony)
Black-and-white, literary, totally absorbing mystery of life in a pre-war village where sinister goings-on are going on. A strange what's-happening movie that may be compared with DILLINGER IS DEAD or SALTO, so please do.

YOU THE LIVING (Palisades Tartan)
Bleak skits, with jolly music and moments of wonder, about how we make ourselves miserable. Funny, sinister, surreal, compassionate follow-up to SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR.

A note on the rules: This alphabetical list is confined to things I saw for the first time in any form in 2010, or else it would look very different in a year of Kino's THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS and PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, Criterion's THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, RED DESERT, BIGGER THAN LIFE, MODERN TIMES and BLACK NARCISSUS, or Disney's DVD/Blu-Ray combos of FANTASIA and FANTASIA 2000. Along similar lines, I excluded any films about Leonardo Di Caprio dreaming of another Oz remake, although I liked 'em all. There was no way to shoehorn in MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW or Ozu's THE ONLY SON/THERE WAS A FATHER, so their incandescence goes unmentioned. And there you have it--only ten titles!

Monday, December 06, 2010

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2010: David Kalat

We missed last year because our heads (okay, my head) was elsewhere at the time, but I thought it would be an opportunity to reassert Video WatchBlog by asking our most frequent contributors to deck our halls with lists of their Favorite DVDs (or Blu-rays) of 2010. This first list comes from David Kalat, whom you may also know as the impresario behind All Day Entertainment, as the author of books on Godzilla, Dr. Mabuse and J-Horror, and whose exhaustive and entertaining audio commentaries appear on such discs as Kino's FANTOMAS, Masters of Cinema's METROPOLIS and THE COMPLETE FRITZ LANG MABUSE. More lists from other VW contributors will be posted throughout the week ahead, so stay tuned. - TL

By DAVID KALAT
This is ostensibly a Best Discs of 2010 list, but my options for selection are (self) limited.

If, for example, I were to encourage you to get INCEPTION (Warner) on Blu-Ray, I wouldn't really be commenting on it as a disc. I’d just be identifying that as one of the best movies of 2010. Similarly, anything I might say about MAD MEN SEASON THREE (Lionsgate) is not so much a comment on the discs themselves as an exhortation to watch MAD MEN on TV. Since this is intended as a best discs of 2010, I want to avoid the most current of items, so as not to indulge in mission creep.

Another problem: I was involved in the FANTOMAS set and the Masters of Cinema version of the restored METROPOLIS, so there's a conflict of interest. Obviously I would never write something like "Hey, I did the audio commentary on METROPOLIS with Jonathan Rosenbaum--you should go buy that!"

For that matter, these things represent low-hanging fruit. If you need this blog to tell you to get FANTOMAS or METROPOLIS, you probably aren't the kind of person who would read this blog.

I'll break my own self-imposed rules, though, to plug LOST KEATON - SIXTEEN COMEDY SHORTS 1934-1937 (Kino on Video). There's a whiff of conflict of interest to my recommending this, since my name's on the box. In my defense, I have no idea what I am supposed to have contributed. All I remember doing is making some suggestions about bonus features that then weren't followed. Kino has an ongoing Buster Keaton line-up, and I'm definitely in conflict-of-interest territory on some of these releases, but I feel OK saying LOST KEATON rocks. Keaton's talkie-era comedies are routinely slagged off by film historians and some books on Keaton contemptuously ignore these films altogether. Well, I say "phooey!" Don't compare these wonderful shorts to THE GENERAL, compare them to other talkie comedy shorts of the 1930s -- and you'll have to agree they have a integrity and personality unmatched by the competition.

I'll also break my own rules (that's the magic of self-imposed rules--it's easier to ignore them) to give my hearty recommendation to DOCTOR WHO THE COMPLETE FIFTH SERIES (BBC Warner) and SHERLOCK SEASON ONE (BBC Warner), even though I'm really just gobsmacked with love for having seen these on TV and have yet to break the shrink-wrap on the discs themselves. No matter -- these two shows were inarguably the most exciting, thrilling things to appear on any medium this past year.

Call it Steven Moffat worship if you must. The guy has a rare gift for reinventing familiar pop cultural figures in ways that pay deep tribute to their roots, yet feel fresh and new at the same time.

After more than 30 seasons and almost 50 years, DOCTOR WHO (under Moffat) somehow arrived with a deeper resonance and a brain-meltingly demanding plot intricacy never-before-seen. The new title sequence is duff, but the show inside is sparkly and wonderful. SHERLOCK manages to include nods to minutiae of the original novels without alienating newbies or feeling like fanboy service. The opening episode "A Study in Pink" samples the pieces of Doyle's A STUDY IN SCARLET and produces a 21st century dance remix, that echoes the original but is surprising and original at the same time. Take that, Guy Ritchie! Seriously, I saw the Ritchie monstrosity a few months before Moffat's version, and the comparison is ridiculous.

I know there are haters out there who see the Warner Archive as the video equivalent of the End of Days, but if you're upset that Warner felt there was too small an audience to justify a mass market release of, say, BREWSTER MCCLOUD, your gripe isn't with the Warner Archive but with the DVD buying public.

Me, I'm a full-blown convert to the Archive and its nascent cousins at Sony, MGM, Paramount, etc. VIDEO WATCHDOGgers have probably already found their way to obvious treasures like the remastered THE GREEN SLIME, but there's a gem lurking in the Archive back catalog in danger of being overlooked: Anthony Mann's THE TALL TARGET. This is an episode of 24, set in the 1850s, with the lone rogue agent battling a vast government conspiracy to protect the President (Honest Abe). Most Civil War-era movies sidestep racial issues or address them in cursory, insincere ways. This one goes head-on -- and does so in a subplot, handled in the margins of the tautest, tensest action thriller made before the 1970s you ever seen.

Speaking of non-traditional media outlets, if you like slapstick comedy and silent movies, then you should seek out Chris Snowden's Unknown Video. That's the name of a video label that "publishes" on DVD-Rs sold online through a blog. The latest entry, NICKELODIA 3, is a compilation of Really Old silent comedies from years whose first three digits are 191. Among the highlights is the brilliant "Versus Sledgehammers," which has a winning title, and then manages to live up to that title. But the world needs more sets like this... plus it comes with a spiffy Charlie Chaplin magnet!

It used to be that you’d need to rely on a non-traditional outlet to access something like HAUSU (HOUSE) on a DVD-R bootleg or file-shared download. But since we live in a world of infinite possibility, this cult gem has been given a deluxe rollout by the Criterion Collection in the US and Masters of Cinema in the UK. It’s a TEN LITTLE INDIANS-style old dark house thriller with Japanese teenagers killed by ghosts, but you don’t watch this for the plot. It’s a truly unique vision of horror that comes as close as any movie ever has to capturing a nightmare on celluloid. It’s more strange than scary, but no self-respecting fan of psychotronic cinema should go walking around without a knowledge of this loopy masterpiece.

If you have a choice between getting MOON (Sony) on Blu-Ray or DVD, opt for the Blu-Ray. This is meant to be savored on a big screen, so plug that BR disc into a home theater setup and settle in for a treat. It’s a head-trippy Millennial puzzle-box of identity confusion rendered in a 1970s-style DIY ethic of model miniatures and practical effects (and the least amount of CGI needed to hold it all together).

Speaking of tributes to 1970s cinema, BLACK DYNAMITE (Sony) sort of belongs to that same world as Larry Blamire’s Lost Skeleton movies in that it is a genre parody that perfectly captures the aesthetic of the original sources. What makes this extra special is how filmmaker Scott Sanders and star Michael Jai White manage to have their cake and eat it too. They don’t just parody blaxploitation movies, they also deliver the perfect example of a blaxploitation movie on its own crazy terms. Everything you might want from a Dolemite or Fred “Hammer” Williamson movie appears here, along with the jokes. Easily the single most entertaining thing I saw all year.

I know I’m likely to drop this recommendation on deaf ears with this crowd, but if you grow tired of SF and horror and hunger for a classic screwball comedy, the Warner Archive has resurrected Wesley Ruggles’ SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS. Lana Turner is an unhappy girl trying to make her way in the big city who hits on the bad idea of pretending to be an amnesiac—and this leads into her pretending to be the long-lost heir to a wealthy recluse whose daughter was stolen from him when she was just a baby. What makes this work is Turner’s superb performance as a reluctant crook caught up in a deception she doesn’t believe in and wants to end, but can’t—and character actor Walter Brennan giving a career-best performance as the anguished papa. I’m not going to bother complaining that Warner should’ve put this out on mass market instead of DVD-R, because I realize there is so little audience for something like this anymore. I suspect most of you reading this will say, “Eh, I don’t watch romantic comedies,” but you’re only cheating yourself.

Kim Newman already reviewed the Hammer Collection ICONS OF SUSPENSE (Sony) in a recent VW. I have little to add except to say that maybe many of you like me were so hungry for the restored (THESE ARE) THE DAMNED, you jumped on the Region 2 import from the UK long before the ICONS set came along, and maybe you are on the fence about whether the additional movies are worth the additional money to rebuy THE DAMNED. Hell, yes, they are! Maybe not MANIAC (you can comfortably skip that one) but the rest of the collection is absolutely worth duplicating THE DAMNED to get your grubby little fingers on. Excuse me, I’m off to rewatch CASH ON DEMAND. Happy holidays!