Friday, January 07, 2005


My goodness, but the digital goodies piled up in a big way in my stocking this Christmas, and by way of a big thank-you to those who were so generous, here’s what will be highlighting my DVD Dirty Dishes Cinema sessions (and hopefully some good, old-fashioned relaxing-on-the-couch-with-a-terrific-movie sessions too) in early 2005:

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi/Sonatine A wonderful double feature of my two favorite oddball genre thrillers from Japan's Takeshi Kitano, put together in a nicely packaged two-disc set. Zatoichi makes the connection between martial arts and dance choreography implicit, and then disarmingly explicit, while Sonatine moves to a sensuously deadpan rhythm of Yakuza mayhem (and unexpected comedy) all its own. (Thanks, Patty!)

Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter and Dracula Has Risen From The Grave Two from the Hammer stable, one a genre-bender from the writer-director Brian Clemens, a major creative force on TV’s The Avengers, the other a second luridly beautiful Dracula sequel starring Christopher Lee. (No spitting, Steve-- I mean, thank you, Steve!)

Collateral Director Michael Mann's kinetic paean to the geography of Los Angeles is a sterling return to the kind of muscular and potently visual action film that the director abandoned in favor of the real-life dramas The Insider and Ali, and the DVD showcases its brilliant look remarkably well. Alongside Robert Altman's The Company, this film stands as a landmark in the realization of the cinematographic possibilities of digital video. (Thanks, Patty, Emma and Nonie!)

Dawn of the Dead (Unrated Director's Cut) It borders on heresy in some circles to express a preference for this potent, thoughtful and flat-out terrifying remake of the sludgy George Romero original. But when Stephen King, a big fan of Romero's movie, comes out cheering about the theatrical version, and then claims that the unrated version succeeds in expanding and deepening the impact of the movie's horrors, well, let's just say I'm... intrigued. (Thanks, Patty, Emma and Nonie!)

In A Lonely Place The DVD that was placed highest on my wish list. Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame (swoon) star in Nicholas Ray’s pungent noir of desperation and murder set against a palpably realistic Hollywood backdrop. The DVD transfer is immaculate. (Thank you again, and then some, Andy!)

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Version) A spectacular four-disc marathon of amazing fantasy, insightful commentary and intelligent appendices. Patty and I have dreams of seeing all three extended versions back-to-back someday soon (yes, perhaps on that day when Hormel hams take flight), and it’s a nice dream. But I’m grateful enough just for the anticipation that this might, as has been reported, be an even fuller, more exciting experience than the theatrical version. (Thank you, Patty!)

Mr. Show Season 4 The closest thing America has yet produced to rival the surrealistic interconnected tapestry of Monty Python's Flying Circus. And season 4, their last, featuring Bob and David's treatise on the taint, the hilariously inexplicable account of an Everest climb as told by the world's clumsiest raconteur, and the secret joys of that high-toned eatery the Burgundy Loafe, provides the most comic highs per program minute of the show's entire run. (Thanks, Mark and Bev!)

Rancho Deluxe (Sorry, I forgot this one on the original post last night...) I had a broadcasting professor in college who used to start each semester by telling her classes (presumably for the benefit of the newbies) that in order to communicate with her successfully one had to understand that Rancho Deluxe was the best movie ever made. Somehow I graduated while never quite coming to the same conclusion, but this postmodern "Western" with Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston as slacker cattle poachers shambling along the great plains of Montana in their pickup truck is still a 'tude-filled good time. (Thank you, me-- who else would give me Rancho Deluxe for Christmas?-- well, Montana Todd, maybe...)

Run, Ronnie, Run David Cross and Bob Odenkirk’s feature-length expansion of a popular character from their Mr. Show series hasn’t the furious and surreal conviction of the best moments of that brilliant comedy series—it’s slack and too condescending by half. That said, it has a handful of giddy moments, including a brief turn by unappreciated comedienne Nikki Cox as a buxom beer model who sets her sights on our trailer-trash hero Ronnie Dobbs, and three musical parodies—the targets are hip-hop videos, Mandy Patinkin (deftly skewered by, of all folks, Mandy Patinkin) and the chipper chimney sweeps of Mary Poppins—that are the stuff of Mr. Show's unalloyed brilliance. (Thank you, Paul!)

Shanghai Knights The Shanghai movies are probably Jackie Chan's most delightful American films, and this boldly silly sequel, which puts Chan and anachronistic partner Owen Wilson smack-dab in the heart of London fulfills its promises with verve and cheerful energy. (Thanks, Patty, Emma and Nonie!)

Shaun of the Dead I'd never heard of this wildly funny and scary British romzomcom (romantic zombie comedy) when I created, with my pal Steve, the closed captions and subtitles for the film's home video and DVD incarnation back in April, and from then until the film's American theatrical release in late September I shilled for it to everyone I could think of. It excels as passionate parody, social commentary, giddy genre mutant and effectively moody fright fest. And to top it off, there's Bill Nighy discounting worries over being bitten by one of the undead: "It's nothing! I ran it under a cold tap!" Brilliant. (Thanks, Paul and Brian!)

The Thing With Two Heads/The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant See “Before The Ball Drops: “The Thing With Two Heads” on this blog at (Thank you, Bruce!)

2004 World Series My beloved niece Melissa and her family live in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and she patiently awaits the day I abandon the Dodgers in favor of the Red Sox. This video presentation chronicling the 2004 denizens of Fenway Park and their improbable triumph over the Yankees and the Cardinals is her attempt to sway me and, though I'm not selling my Dodger gear just yet, I do expect the usual dose of great fun from this latest MLB DVD. (Thanks, Melissa, Cam, Debbie, Sabina and Izzy!)

Undisputed Another strong film from Walter Hill, who proves with this vital and visually breathtaking prison boxing movie, which stars Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames, that he's still got the stuff that's made him one of America's finest directors of character-based action for almost 30 years. (Thank you, Patty, Emma and Nonie!)

The Wicker Man Christopher Lee again! That’s three for Lee, counting his restored appearance in The Return of the King. And this is the strangest performance of the three, in perhaps the strangest movie on this list, a thriller of a decidedly pagan bent from the pen of Anthony Shaffer (Sleuth) that is also very nearly at times an anthropological folk musical. The Wicker Man is a genuinely odd shocker and should be experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible. (Thank you, Andy!)

Press "play" now!


Anonymous said...

Sorry, Dennis. I dropped the ball on Rancho Deluxe. Here's how I thought I'd make it up to you: I get you the long-forgotten oater "Winterhawk," which I think was filmed here in the Treasure State. Then we get a bottle of tequila and play "find the anachronism." Every time one of us sees a telephone pole or a road or tire tracks or whatever, the other has to do a shot. Couple that with some of Patty's delicious homemade turkey tetrazzini, and we got us a hoedown, pardner! -- MT Todd

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