Dear Santa Claus,
I realize that I’m sending my letter rather late this year, but to paraphrase a certain roller-skating Olympian muse, I have to believe you are magic, that somehow this missive will get spirited straight from the blogosphere into your mailbox at the North Pole, and that you will be able to make a quick stop off at Best Buy before arriving at my house. I know, Santa, that you may not have heard of some of these titles, but really, don’t be afraid to ask that friendly associate, the one with the blue shirt and the yellow tag logo who’s loitering on the corner of the “anime” aisle with a bunch of his buddies, to help you out. He won’t know most of them either, but he is officially authorized to amble over to the house computer, take three whacks at typing the title(s) you specify, and then calling over a floor supervisor who may also be ignorant of the title(s) but who may at least be able to show his employee how to press “enter” to send the computer on its search. I’d send you to more of a specialty store like DVD Planet in Huntington Beach, or even the new Virgin Megastore next to Grauman’s Chinese theater, but Huntington Beach is too far out of your way to fly there and then swing all the way back up to Glendale, and believe me, even you don’t wanna spend any more time than is necessary in Hollywood on Christmas Eve. So Best Buy is fine—their selection will undoubtedly cover most of the stuff I’m shamelessly begging for here, and rooftop sleigh parking is absolutely no problem.
So what would like to see spinning in my DVD player in 2006, you ask? Okay, you asked!
Wong Kar Wai’s cluttered, delirious fever dream of love and longing will test any home theater’s capacity for reproducing, in high-definition, the director’s sensitivity toward a disorienting mise-en-scene and impossibly gorgeous brooding. Those who may have been put off by Ziyi Zhang’s struggle with English in Memoirs of a Geisha should look here instead to discover one of the year’s best performances.
The hypnotically static compositions of Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet’s formalist masterpiece often give way to unexpected life, not unlike a Magic Eye painting in motion, bursting the boundaries of the frame and drawing the viewer in to experience its tableaus from the inside out.
The first of Warner Bros.’ modern Batman series that I’ve enjoyed as a film, and not just as an “event” or as a garish regurgitation of the director’s perverse obsessions (be they grotesqueries involving penguins, or imposing nipples on the Batsuit). It has real dramatic weight, good humor, enviable action chops, Michael Caine as Alfred, and Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow.
Three attempts to catch up on Randolph Scott westerns I’ve not yet seen, including the new Warner DVD release of his first collaboration with western maestro Budd Boetticher, the subject of a new Turner Classic Movies biography entitled Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That.
Not to be forgotten, my favorite Anthony Mann-Jimmy Stewart western has a wagonload of great character moments, surprising dramatic turns and some of the most gorgeous scenery in any western not shot in Monument Valley.
Fritz Lang's literally scalding thriller, in which Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame suffer at the hands of mobsters (his wife is killed in a bomb blast meant for him, she takes a pot of hot coffee in the face from Lee Marvin) and become consumed with the pursuit of revenge. It's here, and in Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place, that Grahame stakes out her place as an indelible presence in the iconography of film noir.
Howard Hawks’ de facto sequel to Rio Bravo rehashes many of the same situations and characters (but, excepting the Duke, with different actors)—it’s not nearly as good, but it’s still a rousing effort by a director who only had one more left in him, yet another Rio Bravo riff, called Rio Lobo, in which the seams are definitely showing.
What a summer movie should be but is often not, due to bloated budgets and/or directorial hubris—an unpretentious, punchy delight. This is the most purely disarming and unapologetically fun movie I've seen so far in 2005, not at all the train wreck its detractors would have you believe.
The director’s cut of Peter Jackson’s 1996 box-office flop is in the happy tradition of his expansions of the Lord of the Rings movies—for the most part, the added material feels like it should have been there all along. Benefiting most from the new cut is cult actor Jeffrey Combs, never so creepy and hilarious as a special agent sent to investigate the mysterious “frightenings” who turns out to have more than a few skeletons in his own closet (and under his trench coat too).
The Fury, as a device to deliver plot, may be imperfect, but as hellish visual poetry there are sequences here as good as anything De Palma ever directed.
A great, overlooked western by Walter Hill, magisterial and muted. It’s also full of pain regarding the tide of American manifest destiny that is never hampered by Costnerian platitudes or oversimplifications, but instead enriched by the contradictions and contrary impulses found within both the culture of the aggressor and that of the native people. Robert Duvall, as a tracker sympathetic to Geronimo’s cause, has never, with the possible exception of Lonesome Dove, been better.
Three seminal sci-fi entries-- Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Five Million Miles to Earth and It Came From Beneath the Sea-- that cemented Harryhausen’s reputation as an effects master and laid the groundwork for genre classics like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts, which were just around the corner. Within this box lie the seeds of a thousand Famous Monsters of Filmland-stoked nightmares, and just as many delights.
Again, catch-up time— Two new Kino Video releases of Fritz Lang classics that I have not yet seen. Depending on the kindness of Santa, that may not be a condition that lasts much longer…
This year’s hopefuls from the Criterion Collection run the gamut pretty much as the label itself does—Akira Kurosawa’s aching drama of a dying man’s attempt at one final, lasting act to leave behind; Mike Leigh’s searing, millennial nightmare; Robert Bresson’s near-documentary staging of a young pickpocket working the streets of Paris; Samuel Fuller’s nowhere-near documentary tale of a pickpocket who unknowingly lifts some hot microfilm and ends up a target of deadly spies; Kurosawa’s spectacular meditation on King Lear; and Kenji Mizoguchi’s ethereal ghost story.
Speaking of ghost stories, they don’t come much more unnerving than Jack Clayton’s unhurried, dread-soaked adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. And if it’s “Boo!” moments you crave, this one has got the Mother of All “Boo!” Moments tucked inside it, and I’ll be damned if I’ll tell you where.
In honor of Peter Jackson’s big monkey movie, Universal trots out a Toho double feature, including the greatest monster match-up ever filmed-- King Kong vs. Godzilla was the first Toho production I ever saw on the big screen, and no amount of common sense is potent enough to dilute the thrill of that moment. Whether a spiffy DVD version will perpetuate the delusion or pop my daydream balloon of hokum is a question yet to be answered.
The only way I’ll ever get to see this (or Histoire(s) du Cinema) is on DVD, and rather than have it clog up my Netflix queue, I’d rather own it and approach it in my own sweet time.
The L.A. Weekly, in a positive review when this movie briefly appeared in theaters in 1987, described it as Animal House meets Nashville. If you’re like me, nothing could have kept me away from the theater after a capsule review like that. And nothing did—I saw it that opening week, and then even endured Whoopi Goldberg in Fatal Beauty in a torrential downpour at a drive-in just to catch O.C. and Stiggs again as the second feature. Now it has very quietly snuck onto DVD, and they thought I’d never notice…
So sue me…
I have a vague memory of seeing either the first or the third Sabata film on TV years ago, and though I remember virtually nothing about it, those titles have always loomed fairly large in the back of my brain, naturally, due to Lee Van Cleef’s presence (Sabata was played by Yul Brynner in the first sequel), but also because they are very rarely talked about in the realm of the spaghetti western cycle. I hold out hope that there might be some unexpected surprises and pleasures—or at the very lest some spectacular Panavision cinematography—within this boxed set.
Don Siegel’s elegiac western, which would end up the capper to John Wayne’s career, has the iconic figure facing down a diagnosis of cancer, as well as villains from his past who rise up one last time to try to cut him down, all while he tries to pass on a little something to the son of a widow whom he has befriended before he dies. Sentimental, powerful work from the Duke is matched by his director’s straight-arrow, unflinching direction to stand as a fitting and final testament to a legend of cinema westerns.
Seasons six and seven are The Simpsons on an unprecedented roll—essential stuff.
And then there’s another icon-- Jet Li, in certainly his best English-language film, taps unexpected streams of emotion while director Louis Letterier and martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo Ping guide him through some of the most explosive and poetically realized fight sequences of his career.
I hope I’ve not been too greedy, Santa, and I certainly will understand if you’re unable to come through with all of these titles on Christmas morning, or any of them for that matter. Cinema is nothing if not a place where we can let our fantasies run free to get all the exercise they need, and if I must continue merely fantasizing about owning these titles, then so be it. Besides, there’s always Netflix and my Ever-Changing Queue. Even so, it’s fun to imagine a DVD library big enough to hold all these delights and 1,001 more. And, truth be told, Santa, I just wanted to see how quick you are on your feet with impossibly last-minute requests! The perpetuation of my childlike innocence and fragile belief system depends on your response.
Oh, and there’s a meat loaf in the fridge with your name on it, if you get hungry and you’re sick of all those treacly cookies the other houses set out for you. Just don’t touch my beer.