Active Non-Essentials: Must Try Harder
Scott McKenzie picks ten movies off his shelf that deserve more love on DVD...
We all know the ultimate edition of Blade Runner is on the cards and Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair will eventually see the light of day, but what about the films further down the pecking order? I’ve picked out ten titles from my collection that, while many of them may never get a place in the Criterion Collection, deserve to be treated better on DVD.
Sexy Beast is best remembered for the powerhouse performance by Ben Kingsley as criminal psychopath Don Logan. He steals every scene he’s in and his presence haunts the film when he’s not on screen. In addition to that, he expanded the vocabulary of profanity of everyone who has seen it. With or without Sir Ben, it should not be forgotten that Sexy Beast is a cleverly structured, tightly scripted caper that never resorts to Lock Stock-style easy laughs at a time when the British film industry was churning out plenty of films from every ‘next Guy Ritchie’. Ex-music video director Jonathan Glazer directs with flair and delivers an after-the-pub movie with just the right mix of style, comedy, suspense and intelligence.
The region two release of Sexy Beast comes courtesy of FilmFour, which is one of the few studios that put audio description for the visually impaired on their discs as standard. On top of that, there’s a few featurettes but this that would be well-complemented with a longer documentary tracking the film from its conception to its eventual release. A commentary track from screenwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto could also offer valuable information about how to write an efficient, hard-hitting drama in a time when studios seem to be competing to see who can make the longest movie.
Vincent Price’s career is filled with great performances, and Witchfinder General is no exception. Here he plays Matthew Hopkins who, accompanied by his not-so-faithful servant, travels the length and breadth of England identifying, torturing and ridding the country of witches in any way he sees fit, be it drowning, hanging or burning. Against the backdrop of the battle of Naseby in 1645, Hopkins falls foul of a soldier and it is the beginning of the end for our anti-hero.
The region two special edition contains footage that was originally cut before the feature could be approved for release by the British censors. Unfortunately time has not been good to the excised shots and the footage is easily identifiable due to the distinct change in video and audio quality. As a result, the viewing experience of the complete cut is very stop-start. More investment in the restoration of this classic British movie could restore this British classic to the quality that its legion of fans deserves.
Drawing inspiration from Hitchcock (not for the first time), Brian De Palma constructed a clever thriller with Nicolas Cage pulling out all the stops in a familiar wide-eyed over-the-top performance as loveable rogue Ricky Santoro. The story focuses on a political assassination during a boxing match, an event that is re-visited many times during the course of the twists and turns of the film. De Palma dips into his directorial bag of tricks and displays the visual invention we expect from him, taking the camera through walls and doors to get the most out of the screenplay that could have been translated into a pedestrian mystery tale in the hands of another director.
With an opening shot that appears to go on for over ten minutes (there are actually a number of secret cuts), Snake Eyes is crying out for an ‘Anatomy of a Scene’ featurette, showing exactly where and how all the cuts were made. I’d also like to know how many takes it took for Nicolas Cage and the rest of the cast to get the scene right. Interviews with the actors would shed some light on their approach to working on films with very long takes, something I am hoping for in the upcoming release of Children of Men, another film where the camera rolls for minutes rather than seconds. De Palma seems to come from the Spielberg school of DVD commentary so the chances of getting him to provide a talk track are unfortunately very slim.
Back in the eighties, who knew that Robert De Niro could do comedy? I mean proper, just-for-the-laughs comedy. Even Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy is predominantly a dramatic performance of a comedian, but Midnight Run is nothing but a fun buddy movie. There was no need for him to pile on the pounds or spends months immersing himself in a different lifestyle. The whole film succeeds or fails on the relationship between bounty hunter Jack Walsh and accountant to the mob Jonathan Mardukis, and it is the banter between the two that raises this above the standard action comedy fayre. Even though the F-word is used more than 100 times, it is surprising that Midnight Run continues to receive an 18 certificate in the UK with each release because there is nothing else for the censors to take exception with. No nudity, no gore and only comedic violence: if you removed the bad language, Midnight Run would have PG written all over it.
De Niro provided a commentary track for Meet The Parents, so why not re-unite him with Charles Grodin for a 20th anniversary special edition to see if they share the same camaraderie as their characters? The Beverly Hills Cop DVD contains a commentary track by director-for-hire Martin Brest so I’d like to hear more from this man who has an odd CV to say the least (he also inflicted Gigli upon the world) and an interview may shed some light on the reasons why he’s only made three films in almost twenty years since Midnight Run.
Should Universal be considering a second outing on DVD for Midnight Run and on the unlikely chance that they’re reading this article, please can you bear the following in mind:
- 1. Don’t release the old non-anamorphic disc in a box set with the shoddy TV prequels like Midnight Run for Your Life.
- 2. Sort out the badly-Photoshopped DVD cover. It’s one of the worst covers out there and looks like a child has been let loose with the movie posters and a pair of blunt scissors.
There are generally two types of movie viewers: passive and active. Passive viewers watch a film and take it all in without questioning what they are watching. Active viewers automatically take a more critical approach and want to talk about the movie with other people while they’re watching it. The reason I have such affection for Brewster’s Millions is that it forces everyone to become an active viewer. Everyone watching a film about someone who has to spend $30 million in thirty days always starts to think about what they would do if they were in Monty Brewster’s position. Combine that with Richard Pryor and John Candy at the top of their game and you’ve got a genuinely warm, funny and thought-provoking movie that you’ll want to watch again and again.
So how could the studio put together a DVD release for Brewster’s Millions that doesn’t involve lumping it in with lesser films from Richard Pryor’s back catalogue? How about packaging it with all the other versions of Brewster’s Millions that were filmed between 1914 and 1945? Most or all of these movies must now be in the public domain and of most interest to me is the 1921 version starring Fatty Arbuckle as Monte Brewster who, in order to receive an inheritance of $10 million, must spend $2 million in less than a year and remain unmarried!
Deceiver (aka Liar)
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people I know that have seen this movie. Deceiver undoubtedly suffered from being a member of the growing number of crime dramas made at the height of Tarantino-mania, in spite of an impressive cast including Renee Zellweger, Michael Rooker, Rosanna Arquette and Reservoir Dogs co-stars Tim Roth and Chris Penn. Roth steals the show as the absinthe-drinking epileptic who has to undergo a lie detector test after he is accused of murdering a young stripper. It’s just a shame that he didn’t get to share any scenes with Michael Parks’ psychologist because the two of them on screen at the same time would have provided the viewer with a powerful battle of wits. The only problem I have with the film is the re-naming it received for release in the UK. Try telling someone what a great film Liar is and they assume you’re a Jim Carrey devotee…
As is the case with many of the titles in this list, the first DVD release is still the only version available. The region one release comes on a double-sided disc with widescreen and fullscreen versions and was released in 2002, while the UK had to wait until 2004 to get an official release. Since the acting is the main reason to check out Deceiver, I’d like to see some interviews from the actors talking about their work on the movie and with Chris Penn’s unfortunate passing it may be an opportunity to provide a retrospective on his career in the same way the producers of the Glengarry Glen Ross special edition did for Jack Lemmon.
Once Were Warriors
Before he got James Bond involved in the CGI madness of Die Another Day and lost the plot in his private life, Lee Tamahori directed this gripping and poignant story of a family falling apart. Set in New Zealand, the family’s Maori warrior heritage is a stark contrast to the needless violence of the father, played with wide-eyed intensity by Jango Fett himself, Temuera Morrison. The horrendous packaging from serial quoters New Line betrays the film’s roots as a family drama with a dash of violence and instead makes it look like a beat ‘em up flick.
Under no circumstances should Once Were Warriors be packaged with the criminally bad sequel What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? The story completely changes and focuses on the relationship between Morrison’s character Jake and a son that never even gets a mention in the original film. Going against the lessons he should have learned in Once Were Warriors, Jake uses his violent nature to save his son where it couldn’t help him keep his family together before. To be honest, just getting a clean widescreen print of the movie (check out the grain on the screenshot above) would be a plus and any extras at all would be a bonus.
Touch of Evil
Touch of Evil sees Orson Welles back to his best, both directing and starring in this classic crime drama. However, his version didn’t see the light of day until nearly ten years ago. Welles was denied final cut by the studio and upon viewing their version, he wrote a fifty-eight page memo to the producers that documented every change he felt was necessary. The memo was ignored until 1997, when it was used to produce a ‘director’s cut’ which has served as the definitive version ever since, with the highlight being the long tracking shot where we follow a car with a bomb in the boot knowing exactly how long it will be until the timer runs out.
The current DVD release contains a rather cumbersome version of the memo which has to be navigated by ‘Next’ and ‘Back’ buttons. Touch of Evil is a title that could easily qualify for a place within the Criterion Collection and their previous release of Brazil could serve as a template for a special edition package. In the same way that the studio cut and director’s cut were both included in that set, I’d like to be able to see both versions of the film with Welles’ memo superimposed as text commentary to bring the viewer’s attention to where the changes were made.
The Color of Money
Twenty-five years after The Hustler, Paul Newman revisits his first classic character, pool shark ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson. Now an ageing salesman of knocked-off liquor, Felson is drawn to the arrogant and incredibly talented hustler Vincent, played by Tom Cruise in an early big screen role. Felson teaches him how to hustle and in doing so, sparks off his own rebirth in the profession he thought he had left behind him. It’s interesting to watch The Color of Money in an era when Tom Cruise is the biggest star in the world because it’s easy to overlook the fact that this is Newman’s movie and the Cruiser is only the supporting actor.
The two films were produced by different studios but in an ideal would be good to be able to pick up a double pack of The Hustler and The Color of Money, charting the fall and rise of Fast Eddie. Just like its predecessor, The Color of Money would benefit from a commentary by real life pool sharks to explain how to make the trick shots. Given that Scorsese hasn’t done many talk tracks, this title probably isn’t on the top of his back-catalogue list. With a washed-out picture and below par audio track, probably the only good thing about the vanilla release is that the DVD cover is pretty much the same as the original movie poster, something that for some unknown reason, studios seem to make a point of avoiding.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955)
As both a Cold War allegory and a paranoid sci-fi thriller, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an essential watch for anyone with even a passing interest in film history. Filmed when the Hays Code governed the themes and actions of the characters, it can also be viewed as a document of censors’ expectations—those familiar with the Code won’t be surprised when they learn the fate of the main characters, who live with the ‘shame’ of divorce.
The only releases available contain both the full-screen and original widescreen versions on a double-sided disc along with an interview with actor Kevin McCarthy. With the story getting another ‘re-imagining’ next year starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, surely the time has come to give the original negative a good clean up and give us the movie presented in a way deserving of a DVD release? The video and audio quality of the previous releases were no better than you would expect on VHS. After all, we’re going to be getting everything re-released on high-def formats before long so the studios will need to start cleaning their archive prints like they've never cleaned them before, otherwise no one will be interested in buying classic movies in HD.
The titles above were the picks from my collection. Now over to you, the reader… which movies do you think deserve special edition treatment?
Editorial by Scott McKenzie
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