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Unlucky For Some; The Best of 2007 December 30, 2007

Posted by John Hodson in : DVD News & Info , 2 comments

Blimey. 

Was that 2007 that just caromed by, slamming into two walls and cracking the ceiling before disappearing with a whooshing and a popping noise up the chimney?

Whoosh!

POP!

Blimey. And strangely, how very like 2006…

As much as I hold in contempt those that are slaves to convention and feel the desperate, pitiful need to come up with an end of year list of what they consider to be the best DVD releases of the year, I feel an overwhelming compulsion (and a pitiful need). To come up with a list of what I feel constitutes the best DVD releases of the year. With certain constraints and caveats, of course. 

2007 was the year that I finally reined in my spending on those little shiny discs, thus I still have several releases that could have made it to this ’best of 2007′ in my wish list rather than on my shelves; no Performance, no O Lucky Man!, no Deliverance, no Laurence Olivier Collection, no Jazz Singer. Quite alot of ‘no’, in fact. Similarly, I caught up with several titles - chief among them Universal’s delightful Cecil B. DeMille Collection and Film First’s superb Humphrey Jennings Collection - that would easily have made it had they been released ‘07. I waited for the sales; common sense prevails. Well, mostly.

I’ve also mulled over this list for a little while now, cut and pasted titles several times as I recalled that, yes, they were released this last year, and yes, so and so should be listed rather than such and such. That’s the fluid nature of these highly subjective ’best of’ lists. Subject to mood shifts; hence it differs slightly to an earlier version I compiled for a DVD forum. No doubt, should I think about it again in an hour (and I will), I’ll be tempted to come back and revise it. I promise to resist the urge. Honest.

It’s also not a top ten; as usual, I’ve cheated and included 13 releases. So shoot me for tempting fate. In order to actually make the top 13, I’ve considered a ‘best mix’ of the standard of the transfer, the quality of the extras, overall presentation (menus, packaging, etc.) and the quality of the entertainment on offer. Thus, in no particular order:

Ford at Fox (U.S.); bravo Fox for having the vision, Drums Along The Mohawkand the cojones, to even think of marketing such a risky proposition and then to come up with the goods - a truly lovely collection, even though, despite the premise, it does not actually represent the whole of Ford’s output while at the studio. Sumptuous presentation, some excellent extra features, the coffee table book and the full sized theatrical programmes are the icing on a very rich cake; I’m still stunned by the latest restoration of Drums Along The Mohawk.

Blade Runner; The Ultimate Collectors Edition (U.K.); and bravo to Warners - and Ridley Scott - for coming up with a collection that is one of the few to deserve the epithet ‘Ultimate’. A set that contains possibly everything one could imagine, and at a bargain bucket price to boot. ‘The Final Cut’ is a triumph, an absolute triumph.

Nosferatu (U.K.); Eureka’s MoC release is without doubt the best yet of Murnau’s seminal horror classic. Much moaning about the cropping of head and feet during the coffin rising scene, but it’s nit-picking compared to the quality of the transfer and the extras contained within. Superb.

The Tyrone Power Collection (U.S.); despite the flaws, another very worthy effort from the increasingly impressive Fox, and a terrific showcase for Hollywood’s ‘Last Idol’, with, for me, Prince of Foxes the standout film. The isolated scores were a very nice touch in a year when Fox decided to take Warner on at their own game, and, at the very least, proved their equal. The box set can be currently had for the price of a budget Chablis and a fish supper. Or, put another way, the price of one Criterion. Bargain.

Ace in The Hole (U.S.); what more can one say about one of the best films ever made, authored by one of the true giants of 20th century cinema? A mostly dazzling transfer (Criterion’s irritating window-boxing policy notwithstanding), excellent extras and a thrilling testosterone charged performance from Kirk Douglas. Now bring on Lonely Are The Brave.

The Tony Hancock Collection (U.K.); from 2 | Entertain, all that survives of the tragic comic genius that was ‘The Lad Himself’ on BBC television, including the revealing and slightly heartbreaking ‘Face to Face’, in one box. For sheer nostalgia, and ignoring the irritating flaws, one of my TV sets of the year.

The Prisoner 40th Anniversary SE (U.K.); the third U.K. incarnation of Patrick McGoohan’s cult series on DVD and by far the best yet. Naturally, holes have been picked, some minor mistakes highlighted on various internet fora, and the 5.1 soundtracks, besides being utterly superfluous, are God-awful. But otherwise this comes close to Prisoner nirvana with transfers that are quite stunning, added to intelligent and thoughtful extra features, including Andrew Pixley’s ‘last word’ on the production in book form. A flash of sheer brilliance - thank you Network.

Warners Film Noir Collection Vol. 4 (U.S.); Warners are now well into the swing of this line right now; Vol. 4 represented excellent value for money, with the usual standard of transfers and nice extras. Included in one of the commentaries, the following exchange with Audrey Trotter: “We know that these movies were not called film noir at the time; what did you call them?” “We called them B movies”… Made me smile.

A Canterbury Tale (U.S.); Criterion’s transfer, though again window-boxed, is gorgeous, and does true justice to this most gorgeous of films. Criterion have again shown that their extras are usually a step above the common-place big studio fare; it’s no accident that Humphrey Jennings Listen to Britain is included, both films’ eye-watering venerations the bedrock of these paeans to a wartime nation.

Bigger Than Life (U.K.); this BFI release was a very pleasant surprise, with the British Film Institute living up to the claim that they are the ‘British Criterion’. A beautiful transfer, excellent extras, nice packaging, plus James Mason and Nicholas Ray on top of their respective games. What more do you want?

Days of Heaven (U.S.); if ever a film deserved an almost flawless transfer then Malick’s visual tone-poem must surely have headed most cinephiles’ want lists for such. And Criterion has delivered. “It’s great fun to intellectualise Terry’s films…but it’s like a poem…” says Sam Shepherd in a interview filmed for the disc. “You can analyse it to death, but still it’s not going to get to what this poem is doing to your psyche, your body. You’re never going to solve that.” I may make that my credo.

The Early Hitchcock Collection (U.K.); a nine film collection from The Master, with Optimum / Studio Canal providing the mostly excellent transfers mixed with a smattering of interesting extras; space saving presentation, nice price too.

If…. (U.K.); one of British cinema’s most challenging, acerbic - and still hugely relevant - films from Lindsay Anderson. Paramount’s U.K. release more or less mirrored Criterion’s (except in price) with a near flawless transfer and probably the commentary track of the year.

Honourable mentions: Fox Horror Classics Collection (U.S.), Two-Lane Blacktop (U.S.), Under The Volcano (U.S.), The Robert Mitchum Signature Collection (U.S.), The Cowboys SCE (U.S.), The Ernest Hemingway Collection (U.S.), The Lady Vanishes (U.S.), The Third Man (U.S.), Hell Drivers (U.K.), Things To Come (U.K.), Zulu; 2-disc SE (U.K.).

So, goodbye and frankly good riddance to 2007. Strange year.

For months during ‘07, I unaccountably fretted and worried over the indisputable fact that what I write about film, what constitutes my opinion - my whole internet existence in fact - does not amount to a hill o’beans. I forgot (may the mighty Internet Gods forgive me), during a minor cybernetic hiatus, that this is my blog. It actually doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of this drivel (though that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a little feedback - far from it). It matters least of all to anyone else (that’s you, gentle reader).

I’m supposed to be doing this for fun; if I can occasionally impart some kernel of information that proves useful to others, and if I can do it in a manner that entertains, all the better. But essentially I aim to please no-one save myself. Wash, rinse and repeat…

Resolutions? Not to take any of the above nonsense quite so seriously (note to self; re-read this post), to spend less (again), to spend less time on the interweb and to watch more films, to try not to fall for the honey trap that is HD DVD / BD. Easy peasy.

My 2008 DVD wishlist requires more thought than I will probably give it here. However, I’d welcome at last the Boetticher/Scott westerns (which were indeed mooted in the U.K.), Columbia’s remaining Hammer films (ditto), Warners to give us themed / signature box sets of; Westerns, Robert Taylor, John Garfield, and a Cinerama collection with a How The West Was Won UCE at it’s heart.

Paramount films I’d love to see via their deal with Criterion; The Parallax View, Looking For Mr Goodbar, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Three Days of The Condor. I’d also welcome a London Films / Korda Eclipse set (at the very least), and more Criterion Ealing, especially a properly restored The Titfield Thunderbolt. Plus, for Criterion to have a change of heart and release Huston’s astonishing The Dead.

I’d be delighted to see The Strawberry Blonde, The Big Sleep Ultimate Collectors Edition (I suspect it’s a possibility), a nice big fat SE of A Matter of Life and Death, Special Editions for The Night of the Hunter (in fact, more Laughton), Red River and Heaven’s Gate, and Wayne’s The Alamo restored to it’s roadshow length.

While we are shooting for the moon, let’s also have a Frank Borzage at Fox Collection, similar to the Ford set, plus, whoever holds the rights, get your fingers out and release The Rising of The Moon, Gideon’s Day (which still may come in the U.K. from Simply HE, via Sony), 7 Women, The Fugitive (I have no confidence at all in Universal U.K.’s recent release, however I’d be grateful for any information on the transfer). And please, please, please, someone - anyone - give The Quiet Man the respect it deserves. I’d also like to see a proper SE of Spielberg’s undervalued 1941, Northwest Passage, SEs of The King of Marvin Gardens and Five Easy Pieces. Last (for now), but hardly least, more pre-code from every studio.

Have a better 2008, everyone.

Let’s Watch a Film; a Little Showing Soon, Christmas Ghosts… December 15, 2007

Posted by John Hodson in : Film General, DVD News & Info, Showing Soon , 5 comments

Let’s watch a film…

Long time ago, in a country far, far away, that opening proposition would probably have lead to Mrs H leafing through the local newspaper and the two of us choosing a film, and a cinema, within a couple of minutes.

The advent of video didn’t change the routine that much, except that I haunted the disappointingly tiny sections in both HMV and Virgin devoted to widescreen transfers (though I never, ever, called them ‘transfers’) on VHS tape. I begrudgingly paid the premium such a luxury demanded, but our pre-recorded tape collection never amounted to much. Laser disc was both far beyond my pocket and my ken.

Around the same time that VHS was pulverising Betamax, along came our family, money was scarce, time was even more so, and our cinema going was much curtailed, revived, principally, for the odd family film. Thanks to a combination of cinema visits, tape, and the movie oriented OCD that I seem to have passed to my children in my genes, I am word perfect in both dialogue and lyrics to The Lion King. God help me.

But behold the mighty riches held chez Hodson on Digital Versatile Disc; 1000s of films in a library any minor satellite film channel (who, maybe, would like an ‘Eve Arden Evening’ or a ’Michael Ripper Festival’) would be proud of. Films from all eras, covering most genres, suitable for every mood; so, let’s watch a film.

Tricky.

First there is the issue of trying to satisfy other tastes. I’m not a solitary viewer, if there are riches I prefer to share the wealth and, bless her, Mrs H has been most accommodating over the years even if the entertainment on view hasn’t been her preference. We came out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I could barely contain myself. Mrs H said it was ‘okay’. I was apoplectic.

Heaven forfend if I present a less than flattering portrait - it was Mrs H who brought Bergman to the table, who loved The Seven Samurai and Depardieu’s Cyrano de Bergerac. It’s just that when I’m in the mood for something that’s a little grim, a little demanding these days, my partner, at the end of a long tiring day, wants something to lighten the mood. Something to make her laugh.

Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garica? No, it’s Arsenic and Old Lace. Again. Not that I have anything against Capra’s wonderful farce, but, I’m not in a Cary Grant mood. Bring me the head of Warren Oates dammit. However, I’m old enough, wise (well, maybe not wise exactly…) enough to know what’s good for me. Chaaaaaaaaaaarge!

That leaves some titles that will only ever be watched in my own company, usually last thing at night (Mrs H only has to hear a few bars of a James Bernard score to begin yawning, and making a nice milky drink…). Down goes the sound, off go the lights, and within 20 minutes I’m aware of an extraneous noise akin to a butcher’s saw hacking its way through gristle and bone. And I’m not even watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s me, I’m making the bloody noise, snoring loudly, head on chest. Drooling.

Bugger.

Finding a time slot during any evening where I’m bright-eyed and bushy tailed, where I can have some ‘me’ time is a problem. Someone absent-mindedly trots in front of the screen, asks me sweetly if I want a coffee, the ‘phone rings, or I can hear the ‘thumpety, thumpety’ of my 15-year-old’s sound system, all the above make the veins on the side of my head throb, and that other noise is my teeth grinding. Or maybe it’s me bellowing like a marooned James Tiberius Kirk. Oh, fer gawd’s sake - what happened then!? Stop, rewind, try again. And repeat.

There are occasions when I stand before the ranks of DVD cases, staring at the titles on the spines, trying to focus, to square the circle of film / mood / time. After 20 minutes or so, at least one of the aforementioned prerequisites has changed and I wonder away, defeated, literally spoilt for choice. Probably to watch a film on the telly, the haphazardness of a TV schedule somehow more preferable. It does occur to me that sometimes the very act of choosing, taking the disc out of the box, switching over the amplification, the monitor, waiting for the DVD to boot up, dodge past the ads, the FBI screen, is simply too much trouble. I can’t be bothered.

Certain, special, films I want to watch in an environment where everything has to be perfect, no thoughts of the day job buzzing through my head, no family interruptions, the real world put on hold and I’m encapsulated in a beautiful bubble with The Film and company who will appreciate same. Rare occasions. Hence, on my shelves, still in an unpackaged, unwatched petulant strop, sit Days of Heaven, Nosferatu, well, far too many to mention, save to say they are all ’special’. So special I rarely watch them. They glare at me reprovingly.

Let’s watch a film?

I know; how about Arsenic and Old Lace. Or maybe - and here’s an off the wall suggestion - let’s go to The Pictures…

Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid - The Protest That Never Was

The Cornerhouse in Manchester recently screened a Sunday matinee of Sam Peckinpah’s flawed masterpiece Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid. Reports from the U.S. suggest that the 2005 cut of the film perpetrated by Paul Seydor - which I now hate with an almost unnatural passion - is being shown in cinemas in preference to Peckinpah’s work print and I swear to God that I was willing and ready to stage a one-man protest should the same misguided fan edit appear on these shores.

I would probably have booed in an understated British way, muttering something like ‘down with this kind of thing’. And got myself thrown out of a cinema for the second time in my life. I also knew I would have been invigorated by the experience, as if I had done Sam Peckinpah a really rather grand favour. He would have owed me one. Such sacrifice.

But no, bless ‘em, a crisis the Cornerhouse were blissfully unaware of was averted when Sam’s cut hit the screen. Good job too, I would have showed them.

Probably.

Well, perhaps not.

The strange thing is that for the first time in many a year I was fully aware of the condition of the print. This is what DVD and the endless discussion of the minutiae of home cinema transfers has done to us. The huge, messy, reel change markers became the signal to watch for whole sections of the film that were in a variety of states; for instance the opening reel, unmarked and with beautiful eye-popping colours, gave way to a second that was faded and marked. And so on. Damn you DVD.

I have to say that, despite my remarks, it didn’t spoil the film in the slightest, which we both thoroughly enjoyed; even in it’s unfinished state (and in my view, it’s only a minor few edits away from being complete), it’s a beautiful piece of work that just gets better with each viewing. I accept fully that what Seydor did, he did for all the right reasons; he wanted to pay homage to Peckinpah, to complete a movie that remains majestically incomplete. But he, more than anyone perhaps, should have understood, that what you want and what you get are two different things…

I just wish Billy had offered a little help to Paco’s widow, having watched her husband murdered, her means of getting home destroyed. Not to mention being stripped and raped. What does he do? He rides away without a backward glance, or even a ‘I’m goin’ fer help’ line of explanation. What was Billy thinking? More pertinently, just what was Peckinpah on? Sadly, we know the answer to that. Bah! It’s a minor aberration in the grand scheme of things.

I was determined to return from the cinema and tap away with some more considered thoughts here. But then I re-read Mike Sutton’s DVD Times review - here - and decided, sadly, I could not trump, or even come close to equalling, that truly wonderful piece of film criticism which reflects my own views, both on the film and the current DVD, perfectly. Down to the last syllable. Brilliant stuff from Mike, one of the ‘net’s finest film reviewers.

A Mini Showing Soon

Just a few, brief notes on U.K. R2 titles coming up in the New Year, which I feel I must tell you about in advance of the next ‘Showing Soon’ proper.

ITV DVD is to celebrate the centenary of John Mills birth with at least one box set. Some etailers have a John Mills Centenary Collection: Icon Box Set as ‘Vol. 1′ which presupposes that another is on the way. The first set, released February, is six discs containing a mixture of titles both extant and new to DVD: Great Expectations, The October Man, Morning Departure, Waterloo Road, In Which We Serve plus Sir John Mills’ Moving Memories, a documentary featuring some of the 1000s of feet of home movies Mills, one of British cinema’s finest and most versatile actors, shot during his long life.

Eureka is releasing a three disc set of Luchino Visconti’s Rocco And His Brothers in February in their Masters of Cinema series. The set includes:

A new anamorphic restoration of the film in its fully uncut original 3 hour long Italian release version
New and improved English subtitles
 Newsreel featurette
Interviews with with cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, Annie Girardot and Claudia Cardinale
Original Italian trailer
Les Coulisses Du Tournage: Documentary featurette
Luchino Visconti: Documentary featurette
Soundtrack CD of Nino Rota’s glorious score for the film
40-page booklet featuring archival imagery, articles by Luchino Visconti, and respected Italian film critic Guido Aristarco, and a rare interview with Luchino Visconti translated into English for the first time.

Rocco and His BrothersSounds good. 

There are a couple of etailer listings for two new Screen Icon sets from Optimum in February, for both Brigitte Bardot and Gerard Depardieu; no titles I’m afraid and nothing concrete on the Optimum website, so we’ll have to wait and see if / when they come to fruition. 

Following up the excellent Early Hitchcock Collection from Optimum, Network is apparently planning a 10-disc set for release February, titled Alfred Hitchcock: The British Years. There are no details, not even on the Network website, but fingers crossed that not only will the set include the titles in the acclaimed German Concorde box (it must surely), but that they will be of the same very high quality. I’d be hoping for some decent extras, but this being Network, who knows? They might even replicate the titles in the Optimum set, a la the crossover between their Laurence Olivier set and ITV DVDs.

A guess, but I would hope the titles Network will license from rights holders Granada International may be: Jamaica Inn (1939), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Young and Innocent (1937), Sabotage (1936), Secret Agent (1936), The 39 Steps (1935), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Downhill (1927), The Lodger (1927), and well, a long shot, The Pleasure Garden (1925) - anyone know better? Post away here, please!

10 discs; could be more (or less) than 10 films, of course.

It’s Beginning To Feel a Lot Like (a Ghost Story For) Christmas…

The BBC begins showing some of their marvellous Ghost Stories for Christmas tonight on BBC4. The full schedule can be found here. The season kicks off with The Haunted Airman and continues with A View From A Hill, The Stalls Of Barchester, Number 13, The Treasure Of Abbot Thomas, Whistle And I’ll Come To You (reviewed by this blog here), Lost Hearts, and ends with The Signalman on December 20. Oh, for a complete DVD box set!

And Finally…

I’ll end with a couple of bargains; Fantom Films are getting into the spirit (sorry…) offering a free MP3 download of MR James The Ash Tree, read by Ian Fairbairn (part of three-volume collection entitled Tales of the Supernatural, with readings by Murray Melvin, Gareth David-Lloyd, Phil Reynolds and Geoffrey Bayldon) here. And Amazon UK is offering the excellent 3-disc BBC Quatermass Collection for just £12.97 - here.

Have yourself a scary little Christmas with Mr. Kneale and Mr. James…

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