Gabe Powers' 2007 DVD Awards
Gabe Powers rambles on and on and on about his favourite DVDs of 2007...
I can’t deny the beauty of the image in either format, and my eyes have already started adjusting, but the difference isn’t as astronomical as I’d been expecting (in fact, the upscaling abilities of my Blu-ray player are rather amazing in their own right). Those split down the middle, faux-DVD/HD comparison screens they stick up at Sears and Best Buy lie like the dickens. If I didn’t need the players to keep up with my reviews I wouldn’t have bought either yet, and anyone still on the fence should probably just wait there for now. I’d perhaps recommend a more hasty approach to purchasing new standard definition DVDs for the next year.
However, with Warner Bros. shifting gears to Blu-Ray exclusivity we may not have to worry about the format war anymore this time next year...
For the third consecutive year television animation collections are the most entertaining subset of home video entertainment around my house. I've found myself entirely incapable of not watching an entire season at once. Cartoon Network’s late night line up, Adult Swim, continues to be a solid source of joy ( Venture Bros.), cheer ( Metalocalypse), and seething frustration ( Tim and Eric Awesome Show! Good Job). There was no Boondocks DVD release this year (the show took forever getting its second season started), and several of the promising pilot episodes haven’t panned out yet, but between multiple viewings of the second season of Venture Bros. and the first of Metalocalypse (plus the most
brutalmetal album of all time) I got by.
On the more kid friendly side of cartoon entertainment is the second season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the most addictive and well written series on television for kids or adults, and the final episodes of Justice League Unlimited, possibly the finest superhero series in television history. Avatar’s third, and supposedly final season is about half way finished on television, and things are coming to a head in style. I look forward to getting my hands on the final collection this time next year. Justice League’s creative staff has been lying rather low of late ( Superman: Doomsday was just above average), but hopes are high with their New Frontier STV feature release, which is just around the corner (a great book, by the way).
My Avatar Season 2, Justice League Unlimited Season 2 and Venture Bros. Season 2 reviews.
Runners Up: Classic Genre Collections
2007 was also a good year to play cheap catch-up. Despite the HD revolution most likely wrapping up in the next few years, I find myself gathering collections of ‘classic’ releases I never bothered or managed to get my hands on before. The three biggest this year were the two Anchor Bay/Starz Mario Bava Collections and MGM’s Vincent Price Collection. Even if DVD is slowly slinking into its waning years, these older and less expensive features don’t require HD video to be fully enjoyed (though I do admit that something as beautiful as Black Sunday might look spectacular if the material is there for the upgrade). Again, like potato chips, I can't watch just one, and these sets have stolen many a weekend hour.
My Mario Bava Collection Volume 1 and Mario Bava Collection Volume 2 reviews.
From Beyond: Unrated Special Edition (R1 DVD)
Before they were sold to Sony, the folks at MGM teased horror fans with the promise of an uncut version of Stuart Gordon’s colourful and lurid sophomore release From Beyond, then sat quietly on the information for about three years. In the interim I was forced to buy an edited, far from decent quality Japanese release to hold myself off, and it was very taxing (seriously, there were tears). Though the eventual release wasn’t quite as huge on extras as Anchor Bay’s re-release of Gordon's classic Re-Animator, it did feature a spirited cast and crew commentary, and a brief but informative behind the scenes documentary, not to mention the previously deleted footage, which melds nicely into the well maintained feature film.
First Runner Up: El Topo (R1 DVD)
Finally all us region one folks can have our very own copy of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s psychedelic western masterpiece. The few frills disc was released to very little fanfare by Anchor Bay studios, alone and as part of an Jodorowsky three disc set, which includes two even more bizarre features, Fando y Liz and The Holy Mountain. Even European based fans have had a hell of a time finding the flick on DVD over the years, as Raro’s Italian release wasn’t exactly cheap, and went out of print. Other options included a super pricy Japanese release that only the richest of collectors could ever pick up. El Topo isn’t for everyone, but it’s a must see for those fond of abstract and experimental filmmaking. The disc isn’t filled with the multitude of extras I’d hoped for, but the remastered A/V is worth a re-purchase for fans, especially considering the very affordable SRP.
Second Runner Up: Duck You Sucker (R1 DVD)
It took for freaking ever for anyone to release Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West on DVD, but we got it, and it was great. Then Europe got super special editions of Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, plus the director’s ‘lost’ ‘final’ Western, Duck You Sucker (aka: Fistful of Dynamite). After a year of waiting fans in the states were finally able to upgrade those non-anamorphic, zero extra editions, and it was great once again. This 'About Damn Time Award' goes to me, because I was finally able to actually see the dark Spaghetti Western with this release.
Duck You Sucker is even more underrated than I had been led to believe. Most reviews count it as a simple satire of the genre, but the reality is more complex. The film is a deeply nihilistic meditation on the futility of revolution, and unlike any other in the director’s career. The DVD is packed with extras, meaty ones, and the audio/video quality is nearly immaculate. This belongs in every Western fan’s collection.
300 (RA Blu-Ray, HD DVD
Zack Snyder’s 300 isn’t a very good movie, in fact, most signs point directly to a down right bad movie, but it’s not entirely his fault. His guilt lies in his steadfast devotion to Frank Miller’s beautifully drawn, but overwrought and overly simplified graphic novel. The film is gorgeous, undoubtedly, and surely worth seeing at least once, but its repetitive nature and dreary dialogue make it hard trudging the second time around. Questions of blatant homoeroticism in the face of blatant homophobia, misplaced comparisons to current political events (honestly folks, it really is just a movie), and objections to historical accuracy or political correctness are more or less moot, but David Wenham’s vomitus narration, and the sad fact that this stuff gets real old real fast is hard to ignore. It all worked well for Sin City, it just didn’t quite work here. Hopefully Snyder’s learned a few lessons, and his Watchmen adaptation will be thicker then a sheet of paper. Working from the oceanic depths of Alan Moore’s mind will probably help.
The DVD extras reveal the deeper and more intriguing story behind the legend, and actually make the final film look worse in comparison. The Spartans were much more fascinating people than this version of the legend makes them out to be, their society was multifaceted, cruel, and even downright communistic. Though I’d prefer a little more behind the scenes information, the HD DVD’s inclusion of the entire bluescreen version is an excellent use of the new format’s abilities. The HD DVD game kind of sucks, but the webisodes are an informative touch. I have a feeling a thicker special edition may be on the horizon, and will probably be aimed at consumers around the same time as the release of Watchmen.
Oh, and it looks pretty good too in HD too. Chris’ R2 DVD review.
Hot Fuzz (R2 DVD, HD DVD)
Did you get to see Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead follow up Hot Fuzz in theatres this year? I did, and it was the most fun I had with an audience all year. Though the rest of 2007 was peppered with mostly dismal theatrical experiences (talking teenagers, idiots asking questions too loudly, cell phones, obnoxious eating and drinking sounds, morons talking back to the screen), the audience for Hot Fuzz was savvy enough to catch every call back and in-joke before the punch line was even finished, and the laughter was infectious.
There was one unfortunate moment when I laughed out loud at the Chinatown joke (“Forget it Nick... it's Sandford.”) and broke the dramatic silence of the theatre, but that’s everyone else’s fault for not memorizing the classics (nya).
Not only could I not wait for the R1 release, but I also knew the R2 release would be better, so I was sure to special order from the UK at first chance. Little did I realize that a three-disc R1 release was on the horizon (that was a very quick little double dip, Universal), nor did I think I’d be offered a free HD DVD copy from Amazon.com when ordering my HD DVD player. The rushed import purchase seems a little silly in hindsight. Regardless, the only thing funnier than Hot Fuzz this year was the extra features. Missing, however, is a Wilson Brothers commentary track.
Chris’ R2 DVD review.
Ratatouille (RA Blu-ray)
Ratatouille was a welcome return to form for Pixar studios after the slight quality speed bump that was Cars, and of all the good releases that were made for the high definition format Brad Bird’s culinary masterpiece is the five star main course. Usually Pixar films are aimed at children, but still realistically enjoyed by adults. Ratatouille appears to have been made for adults specifically, featuring romantic relationships, bastard sons, paternity tests, dozens of dead rats, and a realistic outcome to a fantastic situation, but the kids will probably still enjoy the breathless chases and cute creatures.
The Blu-Ray release is stunning in its molecule slicing detail. I'm not sure if it's possible to have a more details per square millimetre on a television set. The disc's special features are in keeping with Pixar’s usual high bar standards, including some stuff not available on the standard DVD release. Also included is the gut-busting pre-feature short Lifted in full 1080p. If Blu-Ray owners can find the patience to sit through the three-minute-plus load times for the main menu and main feature (!), this is one disc that should adorn their shelf.
Horrors of Malformed Men (R1 DVD)
2007 was the year I was finally able to get a hold of the fine folks at Synapse Films, and the effort was not in vain. I expected nothing from Teruo Ishii’s Horrors of the Malformed Men beyond its undeniably catchy title, and was enthralled by its innovative manipulation of the bizarre. Bathed in monochrome, steeped in perversion, and swimming with divinely weird camera work, Malformed Men is way out there, but worth every second of its ninety-eight minute run time. If you can find a copy, and have an appreciation for nightmarish pulp, you should probably buy it immediately.
My R1 DVD review.
Runner Up: Who Can Kill a Child? (R1 DVD)
Along with developing new ties to Synapse, I managed to re-forge some bonds at Dark Sky Films. I found this relationship immediately rewarding because Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s Who Can Kill a Child? was the first disc I checked out. The relatively obscure feature (obscure even to a cult buff like myself) was not the thoughtless exploitation machine I was expecting, but rather a smart and slow burning thriller that treats its somewhat silly premise with absolute sincerity. An obvious influence on Eli Roth’s Hostel films, Who Can Kill a Child? cannot be recommended enough to Euro-horror fans sick of the same old stalk and slash Gialli.
My R1 DVD review
Second Runner Up: The Perfect Crime (R1 DVD)
My initial review may not have been as glowing as it should’ve been. Upon a second viewing I’ve realized that Álex de la Iglesia’s The Perfect Crime (aka: El Crimen Ferpecto) has stuck with me for the long haul. Any time someone asks if I’ve seen any good foreign films lately, this comedic bee's knees is the first thing to come out of my mouth. This is the movie you Netflix cue was made for, but make sure you're renting the Tartan version.
My R1 DVD review.
The Fountain (HD DVD)
I waited six years for wunderkind Darren Aronofsky’s promising Requiem for a Dream follow-up, and though the final film couldn’t have possibly lived up to my astronomical expectations, it was still one of the most moving experiences of 2006. Minimal returns and a general lack of faith on the part of Warner Bros. insured that the initial DVD release was a huge disappointment. The HD DVD (and I’m assuming Blu-Ray) release added a few extra features, and corrected some of the obvious compression issues, but still skipped Aronofsky’s commentary track, which was later released over the internet. I’ve bought the disc twice now, and I’m willing to buy it again if Warner Bros. is willing to go all out the next time around.
Runner Up: Children of Men (HD DVD)
2006’s best theatrical release looks pretty good on HD DVD, and the hi-def disc features some PIP extras not available on the standard edition release, but this impressive and delicate production is too highly detailed to have not squeezed more behind the scenes information from its filmmakers and cast. Most of the special features waft with the aroma of ‘tease’, hinting at a more encompassing release some day down the line. Just like The Fountain, I’ve bought it twice already, there isn’t much stopping me from trying it a third time if the extras are worth the dime.
Scott’s R2 SE review.
The Jungle Book: 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition (R1 DVD)
It took the House of the Mouse two tries and eight-years to get a decent release of this personal favourite on shelves, but it was almost worth the wait. The availability alone was reason enough to purchase, but the finely detailed remastering doesn't hurt. Like every other Platinum Edition release, the extras on this disc are split into two sections, one for the kids and one for the grown-ups. The kid's games and songs are pretty lame, but the wealth of behind the scenes historical information for the grown-ups is most attractive.
Runner Up: Stanley Kubrick Collection (RA Blu-Ray)
No, I didn’t have the money to buy all these re-releases just yet (that image is of the DVD collection, you have to buy them one by one on Blu-Ray), but I had to get 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange (my personal favourites of Kubrick’s Warner Bros. releases), and Full Metal Jacket came with a proof of purchase when I got the Blu-ray player. The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut will just have to wait, though an immediate rental of Eye’s may be necessary considering the uncut nature of the release. Full Metal Jacket and Clockwork Orange don’t actually benefit from high definition video all that much, but the extras are meaty. In fact, any extras at all would’ve made this worth the re-purchase.
Second Runner Up: Taxi Driver: Collector’s Edition (R1 DVD)
One of the most quintessential motion pictures of the ‘70s, perhaps even all time, Martin Scorsese’s New York Gothic masterpiece was given a half decent treatment upon its second DVD release, including the ‘God’s Lonely Man’ featurette. I had my doubts concerning the need for a third release, but was proven wrong by an even greater selection of additional extras (including commentaries) and a somewhat cleaned image. Taxi Driver is one of those films I don’t think I want to see in HD with 5.1 surround, so hopefully this release will hold me off for a while.
Everyone with even a passing interest in modern motion pictures should probably read ‘Down and Dirty Pictures’, author Peter Biskind’s ‘Easy Riders and Raging Bulls’ follow-up about the dog eat dog world of independent film in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The acid tongued tome does not paint the feared and revered Weinstein Brothers in a particularly pleasant light. It was written and released before Bob and Harvey left their company, Miramax, to Disney to start the Weinstein Company and Genius Products, but describes a ruthless and often self-destructive modus operandi that appears to still be set firmly in place.
When Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s little weekend project went over time and budget, and then proceeded to flop like a beached whale at the box office, the Brothers stayed true to form and proceeded to milk the relative failure for every penny it was worth. First each film that made up the Grindhouse double feature, Death Proof and Planet Terror was released separately. This wouldn’t be a problem if the theatrical release had also been made available, because the point of the production was to emulate the grindhouse experience—a double feature, complete with trailers. The experience is thus ruined.
Apparently the Weinstein Company supports HD DVD, yet there was no hi-def release of either Grindhouse or the two films that made it up in the US. Extra features on the DVD releases of Death Proof and Planet Terror mostly consisted of promotional material (especially in the case of Death Proof), and Rodriguez even mentions a better release on his extras disc. A double-dip is unavoidable at this point, but when we’ll see it is anyone’s guess. Personally, I’ll be importing the Japanese special edition release, which has been announced. Only God knows when Harvey and Bob will put out their promised special edition. The not so ironic truth is, of course, that this is exactly how 1970s Grindhouse promoters would handle the material.
Scott’s Death Proof and Planet Terror R1 reviews.
Beatrice Cenci: Limited Edition (R0 DVD)
Why do I not so secretly hope that by some miracle Blu-ray loses this format war? Is it image quality, branding, features or compatibility issues? Nope, it’s regional coding. I love my region free DVD player, have enjoyed importing hard to find discs from other countries for several years now, and don’t look to stop any time soon. I waited a very long time to finally see gore-maestro Lucio Fulci’s most revered drama, and it turns out the wait was worth it.
Beatrice Cenci is easily one of the director’s most restrained features, and fans of the dripping guts and running claret will probably be disappointed by the film’s relative lack of graphic bloodshed. Fulci fanatics should instead be impressed by the tactile and disturbing nature of the violence they get, and should recognize the film as a developmental step in the director’s career. Besides the maturity and class of the visuals, and the melodramatically appeasing of its performances, the feature’s most impressive aspect is its successful non-linear storytelling.
My German R0 DVD review. Buy it from my friends at Xpliotedcinema.com here.
Blade Runner: Final Cut (5 disc Blu-ray DVD)
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I never owned a copy of Blade Runner on DVD, despite it being one of my all time favourite films. I remember renting the original Director’s Cut DVD and wondering how the image quality could possibly be worse then my VHS copy. I’ve managed to hold off buying the film for nearly a decade now, but with the final release of this ‘Final’ cut, I can own the film in good conscious. From VHS straight to Blu-ray.
I still haven’t finished my review of the set, which is huge, but figured it earned its spot as number one on my list based on special features and cut availability. This is one of those definitive releases you often hear about, but rarely see. The hi-def video is quite an upgrade as well, of course, revealing details I didn’t even know were there the first dozen times around.
Runner Up: Pan’s Labyrinth (HD DVD)
Of the three most incendiary theatrical releases of 2006 ( Children of Men, The Fountain and Pan’s Labyrinth, imho) only Guillermo Del Toro’s tale of the beautiful and the macabre produced a collection of extra features worthy of the event. I’ve leaned towards the HD DVD over the Blu-Ray disc because compatibility issues have robbed me of the picture in picture option on BR, but both versions, and the original two-disc DVD release are valuable commodities.
The behind the scenes footage, in depth explorations and art galleries are all fantastic, but once again it is Del Toro’s provocative commentary track that makes the disc the year’s second most special. Few filmmakers of note put this much effort into communicating with their audiences, and whether it’s DVD, HD DVD, Blu-Ray or even Laser Disc, this is what extra features and post VHS filmmaking is all about.
Chris’ RB Blu-ray review
Bug (R1 DVD): William Friedkin’s return to ‘horror’ was a surprise, with potent performances, sharp dialogue, and tight direction. Lionsgate really skimped on the extras, however. My R1 review.
Casino Royale (R1 DVD, Blu-ray): James Bond’s triumphant revamp was just what the franchise needed, and another one of 2006’s best films. The Blu-ray release looks and sounds fantastic, but extras are weak, unlike just about every other 007 DVD release ever. My R1 DVD review and Scott’s R3, uncut DVD review.
Deadwood: Season 3: How can there possibly be no more Deadwood? Season three was the best season yet, but it ended without closure, causing fountains of tears and dozens of sleepless nights for this super fan. Oh well, there’s always new episodes of David Milch’s latest creation, John from Cincinnati. Wait a minute…
Fido: One of the few zombie movies since Shaun of the Dead to bring something original to the formula, this ‘50s nostalgia throwback is warmly amusing, and apparently overlooked by both indie fans and gorehounds for not fulfilling enough of either fan base’s expectations. My R1 review.
Hard Boiled: Ultimate Edition: The extra features didn’t pan out as golden as I may’ve wished, but owning Hard Boiled in anamorphic widescreen is a privilege most state-siders haven’t had yet.
The Host (R1 DVD, HD DVD, Blu-ray): Bong Joon-ho’s multi-layered monster movie was another one of last year’s best films, but the special edition DVD’s extras, though plentiful, were a dry sit through. A definitive motion picture, and a must own disc anyway.
Masters of Horror: The Black Cat (R1 DVD): The Masters of Horror series was by and large a huge disappointment, but it did produce on genuinely great mini-film, Stuart Gordon’s The Black Cat. With a little help from his favourite actor, Jeffery Combs, Gordon was able to make up for his poor performance during season one of the series ( Dreams in the Witch House). My R1 review.
Re-Animator: Limited Edition (R1 DVD): Anchor Bay’s first release of one of my all time favourite films (horror, comedy or otherwise) is actually one of the years better discs overall. I can’t find the gumption to include it as anything other than an honourable mention because the previous Elite release is almost as good. The new documentary is the real draw here, and I think it’s worth the double dip, but just barely. My R1 review.
Spider Baby (R1 DVD): Spider Baby really is a quintessential cult feature, and up until this year it was only available on an out of print and drably produced non-anamorphic disc. Dark Sky has remedied fan’s thirst with their modestly well-packed special edition, complete with a nicely remastered audio and video. My R1 review.
The Spider-Man Trilogy (RA Blu-ray)
I love the Spider-Man series (yes, even number three, in its own special way), and I love watching them in hi-def. My only question to Sony is: where are all the extras? Bare-bonesing episodes one and two was a little nasty of them.
My Spider-Man 3 Blu-ray review.
The Stendhal Syndrome (R1 DVD): Tough not one of director Dario Argento’s best films, this psycho-thriller is the closest he’s come to greatness in a decade. The previous R1 release, under trash merchant’s Troma, was a waste of disc space, but Blue Underground has gone out of their way to make this the definitive DVD release of the film. My R1 review.
TMNT (R1 DVD): Almost good enough to qualify as a ‘Biggest Surprise’ runner up, the Ninja Turtles return to the silver screen was more fun then every single summer blockbuster I saw this year. I only wish I could’ve reviewed it in HD. My R1 review.
I missed a lot of supposedly good stuff this year while I spent the bulk of my time reviewing a whole lot of junk. I regret missing these releases, and will hopefully catch them soon:
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Ultimate Edition (Blu-ray), The Departed: Special Edition (HD DVD, DVD), Last King of Scotland, Eastern Promises, Knocked Up, Superbad, La Vie En Rose, The Third Man Criterion 2 disc set, The Bourne Ultimatum, Troy: Director’s Cut, Robocop: Special Edition, and so on and so forth.
Editorial by Gabriel Powers
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