Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Leisurely observations in late April...

NEVER SUBMIT has pushed back their starting date to late June... which gives me a whole month to do the things I was going to put off until July. Not necessarily a bad thing - the basement flooding finally spurred that long overdue purge we've been talking about doing every year...

With all this unexpected extra time, I've been catching up on watching the increasing pile of DVD's I've accumulated in the past year or so. I haven't written much film criticism as of late; the Internet needs another film critic almost as much as the t.v. networks need another reality show -- let's face it, GOOD criticism is very hard to find, and the people who manage to do it day after day -- they're treasures. There's LOTS of bad/half-assed stuff that passes itself off as film criticism, and I'd prefer not to do that -- that said, I don't mind informally sharing several sentences about something interesting that I have seen.

I think I have relatively good taste in film. It's a bit odd, I admit, but you can say that of anyone who considers themselves a film buff - and in 'film buff' I mean people who actually understand AND care about aspect ratio... people who track down and burn VHS obscurities to disc... people who will buy an all-region DVD player - or at least will find a hack code to convert their player to all region.

I've been wanting PRETTY POISON ever since seeing it on the big screen almost 15 years ago in San Francisco. This malign gem finally came out last year on disc - which is reason enough to celebrate. But that just wasn't good enough - I finally decided to take the plunge and order the R2 disc, and convert my player. The reason? The R2 disc included a commentary track with director Noel Black, as well as including the script from a deleted scene. If you've never before heard of PRETTY POISON, those extras probably won't matter squat - although they probably might after seeing the movie. Either version includes the film in widescreen in a pretty good transfer - the better to watch Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld in 2 of the best roles in their careers.

Converting the player did come in handy - I dipped twice more into the PAL pool, obtaining a copy of a film that I worked on back in 2000 - THE HIDDEN (AKA FIVE YEARS), an above average domestic drama written and directed by Brett Wagner. Obviously, any good thing that I say about it is going to be very biased - and also frustrating, since the audience that would enjoy the film are more than likely not going to hack their players or shell out for all region machines to watch this.
While it's great to have a copy other than my VHS screener from when it was on the film festival circuit, this release (in English and German - it was released theatrically in Germany, retitled and sold as a 'thriller'), I'm still wondering why this isn't out on R1, where it could've had a commentary and features (all of which were available, but not used for the R2 release)... still, that's just vanity. Maybe that R1 disc will happen at some point, and more people will discover this film.

The second disc was essential - THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION, Jonathan Weiss' adaptation of the J.G. Ballard work. I'd heard about the film while it was in production, and outside of a screening at Slamdance in 1999 and some overseas festival dates, hadn't been released anywhere. First of all, it's a film with a niche audience - it's mainly "experimental" - which means there's not a traditional plot and not particularly plot driven -- there is a narrative, but it's not presented in traditional form; and there's a lot of heavy lifting to be done by the spectator in terms of forming associations and meanings. But, if you're an admirer/fan of the work of J.G. Ballard, then the above won't scare you off. Put it this way: in comparison to David Cronenberg's adaptation of CRASH, CRASH is far more audience accessible...
Even so, the spectator isn't totally left on their own - EXHIBITION has two commentaries, one by director Weiss who chats at length about the film's making and meaning and a second track with Weiss and author Ballard. Both tracks are above average, and essential to the package/presentation. Fans of 'challenging' cinema are advised to give this a try - Ballard fans should have this on order, if they don't already have the disc.

Both of these were ordered from Xploited Cinema, one of the best places to go to for discs that aren't Region 1.

I was on the fence about buying THE MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOL. 1 (called hereafter "The Bava Box"). I've heard and read about Mario Bava for years in various books about horror/Italian films, but I'd never seen any of the films until relatively recently (in the last 5 years and two films: PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES - not great, but OK - and heavily stolen from -- er, I mean HOMAGED, in ALIEN; and DANGER:DIABOLIK, which is GREAT.) I never got the chance to see the English versions of his movies on late night/afternoon matinee television showings, so I've always been a bit nonplussed when mention of the films came up.
A sales clerk working on the up-sale, and cashing in of store credit, eventually tipped me toward grabbing the box -- and I'm very happy about that up-sale.
If you haven't seen any of the Bava films, then the Bava box is a pretty good introduction - it has 5 of his films in 3 genres: Gothic Horror (BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK SABBATH, KILL BABY... KILL!); Thriller (THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) and Adventure/Epic (KNIVES OF THE AVENGER).
The versions are the uncut, international versions - the U.S. versions are in legal entanglements - but this isn't a bad thing, especially if you've never seen the films before.

Halfway through the TWIN PEAKS Second Year set... the extras aren't as good as on the (now out of print) Artisan first year box, but it's just great to finally have the whole run of the show. Well, except for the pilot - which is rumored to pop up on a mega set later in the year... probably with a lot of extras.

Also purchased with the Bava Box was The Alejandro Jordoworsky Box - I did see El Topo at the Screenland Freakshow screening in KC, but missed THE HOLY MOUNTAIN - the set also has his first feature FANDO Y LIS and a short film. That will be tackled in a couple of weeks, after I finish up some work and can take a break.