BC Magazine presents a collection of writers offering their opinion on the best DVD releases of the year. The choices range from Hollywood blockbusters to foreign language imports, original stories to remakes, a directorial debut to one of a a master director's final films, a classic finally appearing on DVD to a triple-dip Extended Edition and even a Saturday morning show — the only common thread being the enjoyment of the experience.
Park Chan-wook's conclusion to his vengeance trilogy is filled with ultra-violence, buckets of blood, and stunning beauty. Like the rest of the trilogy, Lady Vengeance focuses not only on extreme, violent revenge but the ultimate cause and repercussions of that violence.
Lee Young-ae is breathtaking as Lee Geum-ja, the story’s protagonist – a gorgeous young woman who has spent 13 years in prison for a crime she didn't commit and has set out to take her revenge on the person who did.
The cinematography is stunning, the violence a ballet, and the story is heartbreaking. It is the perfect conclusion to a marvelous trilogy that takes epic film violence to philosophical levels by delving deep into the consequence of being wronged and how finding vengeance reaps more than it sows.
It may not be as gut-wrenchingly satisfying an ending as we get in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Oldboy, but it is one that rings the finality to the trilogy, one that serves as an answer to the questions brought up by all three films.
The DVD package is as marvelous as the film, coming with multiple commentaries, a documentary on the making of the film, and an interview with the director.
Made from restored 70mm materials, Lean's much-maligned masterpiece looks more beautiful than just about any other disc I have seen. It is the full roadshow-length print, 196 minutes, not including the four — count-'em — four musical interludes: overture, intermission, entr'acte, and exit music. The post-roadshow general release cut was 165 minutes. (This is what I must have seen in Clarksville, Tennessee in 1971, the only previous time I've seen the film.)
The vicious reviews in 1970 focused on the slight, simple plot and the antiquated quality of the melodrama, and complained they were a mismatch with the gigantic scale of the production. These criticisms are not completely undeserved, but they downplay the visual majesty of this movie, which goes far beyond merely pretty photography. No one else put images and sound together in quite the way David Lean did; he was maligned by auteurists long before this film, but I think in his case they were just blind. Ryan's Daughter is so exciting to experience visually that the shortcomings in the script are more like background noise, like a stupid libretto in a great opera.
The making-of documentary is feature-length and fascinating. I didn't listen to the commentary track, but other reviewers indicate that it is expertly done, with many contributors. This is a fine disc with which to show off your new HDTV – or just to acquaint yourself with a terrific, under-appreciated movie. They absolutely do not make 'em like this anymore.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Imagine a murder mystery narrated by Jerry Seinfeld. That gives you some skewed idea of the delightfully wacky Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, which rounds up some controversial actors, a former blockbuster movie writer, and all the detective-movie clichés you can shake a magnifying glass at. Pepper with hilarious one-liners, and you’re done. The 2005 movie finally hit DVD in 2006, and it's a favorite that holds up to repeat viewing.
Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is a thief who, through a series of ridiculous coincidences, ends up becoming an actor in Hollywood. In Tinseltown, he’s asked to job-shadow a stylish detective, Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), to prepare for a movie part. Perry’s got the nickname because, well, he’s gay, but he’s also one heck of a detective. They end up jumbled together in a murder mystery involving dead actresses, angry millionaires and lots of wince-inducing injuries (let’s just say someone loses a finger – a couple of times).
Kiss Kiss all comes from the mind of Shane Black, the writer of movies like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout. Black, in his directorial debut, has made a movie that winks at all the clichés of detective movies, yet isn’t a flat-out Airplane-style parody. It’s full of excess, but in the way of a kid prodigy trying to impress you with how much he knows. A lot of the film’s style comes from the fact that he paid his dues in the Hollywood cesspool – he wrote The Last Action Hero, for cryin’ out loud — and this movie’s his chance to comment on it all.
The plot isn’t really the point and the less time spent trying to work it all out, the better. It’s Black’s jazzy rhythm, and the snappy mile-a-minute dialogue and style that elevates Kiss Kiss to a near-classic romp.
Does it all add up to anything profound? Well, no, not really, but it’s a hell of a ride for people who love movies.
Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest
Attempting to single out one DVD as the "best" of all the hundreds released is a daunting task at best, and one with which I'm not entirely comfortable. There are feature film releases, music releases, indies, documentaries, and on and on and on. Brothers of the Head made my list, as did John Fogerty's The Long Way Home. There were plenty of disappointments, too — need I mention Fantastic Four?
I finally came to the conclusion that "best DVD" does not necessarily equate with "best movie." A DVD resurrects the original work, often becoming an entity that stands on its own. You have to consider packaging, bonus features, A/V options and aspect ratios, in addition to entertainment value.
All that being said, I have to go with Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest. I'm talking the 2-Disc Special Edition, mind you. The holographic slipcover alone has provided me with hours of enjoyment. And with over five hours of bonus features, most of which focus on the technical aspects of making the movie, it's a package that film fans can't resist.
The movie itself is presented in 16:9 aspect ratio and Dolby 5.1 Surround sound, which is the only way a current release should be seen. Not that this movie aspires to "art" — it's a romp, full of Chaplin-esque sight gags and double entendres. Jack Sparrow is a glam rock star version of an 18th century pirate and the villainous Davy Jones, half-man, half-octopus, may be the creepiest rogue (visually speaking) ever put to film. The Caribbean scenery is luscious, contrasting nicely with the murky undersea world of the eternally doomed crew of Davy Jones.
It's all played for laughs, and despite its cliffhanger ending, Dead Man's Chest ranks with the swashbuckler films of the forties for pure entertainment value. It's not the best film of the year by any means, but it is the best movie. It's popcorn thrills all the way.
Given that we buy DVDs mainly to kick back after a long day, or to enjoy during the weekend, I have to say you'd be hard-pressed to find a better choice than Dead Man's Chest.
King Kong: Deluxe Extended Edition
It’s easy to dismiss this extended edition of King Kong. Technically, there’s an incredible amount of material missing. The Production Diaries were released separately, the first Kong DVD release had additional diaries, and this extended cut doesn’t have any.
However, what this new cut of Kong brings is a vivid commentary from Peter Jackson and his lead writer. The whopping three-hour documentary on the third disc is just a few minutes shy of the running time when compared to the theatrical cut of the film. Amazingly, not a single piece of it is pulled from previously available material.
The video quality has received a wonderful make over, and can even compete side-by-side against the HD-DVD release of the film. An additional DTS audio track couldn’t have hurt, but this is still an unmatched audio effort.
The added scenes follow the Lord of Rings Extended releases, seamlessly added into the film. While all action and failing to add to the story, the additional body count serves to make Kong’s island dwelling deadlier than it was. Regardless of the story purpose of each scene, this is still one of the best films to receive a DVD release in 2006. Die-hard King Kong fans will obviously get the most from this new cut, as nearly all of the additions are homages to the original 1933 romp (let us all forget Kong ‘76).
As an overall package, with a beautiful fold out case, this three-disc Kong is the definitive version of the film. Additional extras, including nearly 30-minutes of hilarious outtakes, are worth the asking price alone. Also available is a gift set that comes with a Kong statue capturing the beast’s final moments on top of the Empire State Building. There are few DVDs on the market that can compare to this, let alone the ones released this year.
C.S.A. – The Confederate States of America
Trying briefly to describe C.S.A. is difficult. Staged in an alternate present-day, one where the South won the Civil War and slavery remains a staple of everyday American life, C.S.A. is a film within a film, set up as a controversial British documentary playing for the first time on American television. The documentary's outside-looking-in perspective is challenged by the brilliant addition of "commercials" that periodically interrupt the broadcast and showcase just how ingrained racism and slavery are in this alternate America.
Among the film’s greatest achievements is that it succeeds in making its viewers gasp at the shocking and brazen display of culturally accepted racism, then reveals how our world is not so diametrically different from the one portrayed by showing how racism has been more subtly ingrained in our own products and culture.
In addition to its inspired, ingenious framework, the most remarkable strength of C.S.A. as a film is the fact that, while making its message crystal clear, it never ceases to be greatly entertaining. Some moments are hilarious, others are terrifying; most are both.
Add in the remarkable authenticity given to the crafting of new footage to look old, the fascinatingly believable way in which history is given a nudge in a different direction, or any of a dozen more praiseworthy accomplishments evident in the film, and there can be no doubt that writer/director Kevin Willmott’s C.S.A. ably earns Sombrero Grande’s Best DVD of 2006 pick. This one is eagerly recommended for all.
With The Lake House, Sandra Bullock seems to be in yet another movie resembling many of her previous works like Miss Congeniality or While You Were Sleeping. Resembles is not the same as is. There are two simple reasons why The Lake House is far superior to those previous romantic comedies:
1. The Lake House isn’t a romantic comedy.
2. Keanu Reeves co-stars.
The Lake House is more of a dramedy (drama + comedy) than a romantic comedy, although to be more accurate, it is simply a romance spiced with some science fiction flare. Bullock plays a lonely doctor who, on leaving her lakeside house, begins corresponding with an equally lonely architect (Reeves) via letters through the mailbox. The usual skepticism ensues, but like the audience, the two soon suspend “true” reality for the shot of being a part of something magical.
Out of all of the thespians who have ever gotten flack for their acting abilities, Reeves, I have always thought, received too much of the brunt. Reeves is more than fine in the role, and it’s his chemistry with Bullock (see Jan de Bont's Speed for additional Bullock-Reeves chemistry) that makes the movie work. Granted, the two actors play characters whose respective timelines are two years apart; it sure does say something when even their voice-over narrations evoke the sense that they’re actually talking to one another.
The Lake House, a remake of the South Korean film Il Mare, is deep and heart-felt. Even with the abundance of time-travel and romance clichés like weird circumstances, too-perfect-to-be coincidences, and time/reality logic flaws, this Alejandro Agresti-directed film is both very satisfying and extremely enjoyable. The result of the frequent although never tiring coincidences is the sense you get that these two characters really do belong together.
The Best DVD release of 2006, you ask? Without an ounce of hesitation, my answer is the Cinema Paradiso three-disc “Limited Collector’s Edition.” Considering Cinema Paradiso is one of the most adored films ever made, let us only hope that the use of the word “limited” means “limited to however many copies can be sold.”
If you are unfamiliar with this 1988 cinematic gem, read my review for the details. However, if you have witnessed the magic and celebration that is Cinema Paradiso, you can testify to its eclectic poignancy and its transporting sense of nostalgia. The film showcases the love of movies, and for any movie buff, critic, or goer, it is a beautiful elegy.
This must-own three-disc set comes with “The Theatrical Version,” “The Director’s Cut,” and the score. In addition, the boxed set possesses a myriad of extras and unexpected treats. From the 15-minute retrospective entitled “Exploring a Timeless Classic,” to the collection of 3×5 Italian recipe cards, the Cinema Paradiso “Limited Collector’s Edition” will glow on your DVD shelf with brilliance. This is by far the best version of this timeless foreign classic ever to be released.
Cinema Paradiso is a flawless feature, and with this 2006 release, the package is in its finest form. Certainly, this love letter to film itself is the best thing to hit the shelves since sliced bread. Amo questa pellicola.
Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp (tie)
Ultraman, Series One, Volume One (tie)
While King Kong:DEE is certainly worthy of being named the best DVD due to the high quality of the film and the extras, I have a tie for my favorites of the year. They are both multi-disc collections of shows I used to watch as a child during the ‘70s. I was surprised they held up after more than thirty years, they were still able to bring me plenty of laughs, and that I wasn’t the only person who had a memory of them.
Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp was a Saturday morning kids’ show that spoofed spy movies in much the same way as Get Smart; however, as the title implies, all the characters were played by chimps, which added to the humor. Link worked for the Agency to Prevent Evil, or APE, and would be called to fight evildoers. Each half-hour episode contained two stories. What I didn’t remember, and was happy to rediscover, was that after each story, there was a very funny performance by the all-chimp rock band Evolution Revolution. The image looks fair and was certainly not cleaned up, but I am so grateful to see the show again, I am willing to overlook it.
Ultraman was a Japanese show that featured men in rubber suits fighting and destroying models and that is about as much as there is to the plot. Seeing it as an adult, there is an awareness of how silly the dubbing is, which adds to the unintentional humor. The same man who created the monster Godzilla created the show. You can see the show’s influence on things like The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and it has been revisited many times in Japan. The Complete Series One is now available in two volumes.
My choices won’t be for everyone, but they were without a doubt the best DVDs that I saw in 2006.