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Doogan's Views at The Digital Bits!
page added: 11/15/04

11/15/04 Weekly Release Roundup

Last week was a stupid slow DVD week. I didn't too get much, so this should go by PDQ.

Before we get to the reviews, check out Sarah's latest featured Artist of the Month. Look! It's my wife, Erin! She makes these badass purses out of board games, record albums and laserdiscs. They're really cool. You should check 'em out.


The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi/Sonatine The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi/Sonatine

"Beat" Takeshi rules, and aside from the blonde hair choice, he is virtually perfect in the role as the new Ichi. I'm pretty excited that he's at work on a sequel. Here, Ichi stumbles upon two "sisters" (you'll understand why there are quotes around that as you watch the film) who work as geishas but harbor a revenge scheme on the Ginzo gang - a band of toughs who threaten and kill local merchants into doing what they want, and who killed their parents. Ichi gets drawn in, as he's prone to do, and much blood flies from the blade of his razor sharp cane sword. Much like the films in the original series, starring Katsu Shintaro, this film isn't specifically about Ichi. It spends a lot of time with the girls and their blooming friendship with Aunt O-ume, as well as the Ginzo gang and their boss' attempt at hiring a bodyguard who appears in the form of Hattori, a ronin samurai with a sick wife who just might give Ichi the fight he's been looking for all these years. This is definitely a Takeshi film. Its pace, its subtle humor and the outsider take on violence are all his signature. But it's also very much an Ichi film, and you'd be hard pressed after watching four or five random Ichi films (including this one) to recall if it was Takeshi or Katsu in the role when remembering certain scenes. In my book, that alone makes this a success.

This new DVD features the film in beautiful anamorphic widescreen video, with Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese and English dubbed audio. Both sound good, but I prefer the Japanese for obvious reasons. The extras are pretty great if you think like I do. First, there's a very nice (and long) making-of documentary that showcases the film's production from beginning to end, highlighting the weeks of production. It's very fun to watch. There's also a pile of interviews (translated into spoken English on screen) with various cast and crew members. The best extra is Takeshi's brilliant (and sorely-missing-from-DVD-until-now) feature film, Sonatine. It's isolated on its own disc and features the film in a really wonderful anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese audio.

Sonatine is a great film. I hope anyone who thinks they like the types of films I do will hunt it down and enjoy it. Sonatine absolutely stands by itself and defies explanation, outside of the fact that it's a Yakuza film and Takeshi stamped it with his indelible style. Extras for Sonatine include a truly silly intro/outro featurette with Quentin Tarantino, preserved from the original video and laserdisc release, and a new Takeshi interview broken up by theme and translated into spoken English on screen.

These two films, as weird as it is to have them on the same DVD release, fit together in a nice way. If you like Beat Takeshi, samurai, Yakuza or just great films, you need to get this set.

Harvie Krumpet Harvie Krumpet

Winner of last year's Academy Award for Best Animated Short, Harvie Krumpet is a cute claymation film with plenty of heart and soul. Harvie is a European immigrant living in Australia, who doesn't have it easy. He's slightly retarded, can't spell, has a metal plate in his head and only one testicle. But he seems to love living and trusts the "fakts" he learns throughout his life. As funny as it is sad, Krumpet is a brilliantly animated film and a must own for animation fans everywhere. This DVD presents the film in a good non-anamorphic widescreen (letterboxed) transfer with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The extras are also great. First, we get the Family Trilogy from Krumpet director Adam Elliot. These are just as much fun as Krumpet. All three of these are also on the Animation Show DVD, but having them here on this collection is great. There's also a fun, 1-minute short called Human Behavioural Case Studies that Elliot did in school (and shows exactly what direction he was headed as a storyteller). Also on board are commentaries for each and every one of these shorts. I almost missed the fact that all the shorts have commentary, thinking that just the feature did. Don't be fooled - every short on this disc has commentary. The last bit of extra is a fun character model sheet section, where you can look at the character model top to bottom, side to side. All in all, Harvie Krumpet is a great little film and a wonderful DVD.

The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection

Collecting the first five Marx Brothers films starring the original Four Marx Brothers: Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo, this is a set that (especially if you don't have the hard-to-find Image releases) you need to own. Included here are The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and Duck Soup. Or if you'd rather, the one in the hotel, the one with Captain Spaulding, the one on the cruise ship, the one at the college and the one to end all ones: the political one. Sadly, all of these films have seen better days, so the print quality is a bit lacking. Sound drops out here and there, and there are a few bad cuts as well. None of this is a reflection on Universal, but it still sucks for us as fans. Never fear though, these films are as sharp comically as they've ever been. Extras include trailers for each of the films, a lame booklet with a short history and synopsis for each film and a trio of Today Show interviews with Groucho, Harpo and Harpo's son William. I guess now that Universal and NBC are in bed, we can expect more extras like this on future releases. Commentaries would have been nice, but what are we going to do? Either way, Universal gives us these five brilliant films, in a beautiful book-like case that screams buy me... and I think you should.

W.C. Fields: The Comedy Collection W.C. Fields: The Comedy Collection

Also from Universal this week is a collection of W.C. Fields films. Included in this set are International House, It's a Gift, You Can't Cheat an Honest Man, My Little Chickadee and The Bank Dick (which was previously release by Criterion as a stand-alone special edition). International House is less a Fields film and more an all-star extravaganza, although Fields does shine (also appearing are Gracie Allen, George Burns, Bela Lugosi and Cab Calloway). It's a Gift is classic, signature Fields at his best. Everything you think of when you think of Fields is in this film, which isn't surprising since he wrote the film under an alias and pulled it from his vaudeville act. You Can't Cheat an Honest Man is a fun little film starring Fields and ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy (as well as ventriloquist Edgar Bergen). It's not the best film of the set, but a good, fun classic film nonetheless. My Little Chickadee is probably the most famous of the films here. The film is merely an excuse to watch Fields trade barbs with the delightful Mae West. Ask me again later what the storyline is, 'cause I have no idea. But oh, how wonderful is it to see these two on screen. Classic. Last, but not least, is The Bank Dick. One of his last films, it's regarded by many as his best. Fields plays a drunk who accidentally stops a crime, becomes a bank guard and then becomes a film director. Yes, W.C. Fields films are messy story-wise and the sight gags boarder on cartoonish, but he was a funny man and deserves his place in comedy history.

All of these films are presented on their own discs in the original full frame video with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Like the Marx Brothers set, these films have seen better days, but just having them on DVD is nice. Extras are light. There are trailers for International House, You Can't Cheat and Chickadee on their respective discs, along with an A&E Biography on the International House disc. Nothing too thrilling. Commentaries would have been nice, but these films are so much fun, I won't complain to loudly.

New TV on DVD from last week:

Friends: The Complete Eighth Season, The L Word: The Complete First Season and Star Trek: Voyager - Season Five.

Friends: The Complete Eighth SeasonThe L Word: The Complete First SeasonStar Trek: Voyager - Season Five

Also newly available:

Eli Wallach does the spaghetti western again in Ace High. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy reunite in Richard Linklater's Before Sunset. In time for the theatrical sequel, it's a new special edition: Bridget Jones's Diary: Collector's Edition. Robert Redford gets kidnapped in The Clearing. Warner really needs your money to pay for The Polar Express, so be sure to pick up the new Gone with the Wind: Collector's Edition. If you liked the American remake, check out the Region 1 release of Ju-On: The Grudge. I guess Anchor Bay lost the license: Martin from Lion's Gate. Fritz Lang's Spies and Woman in the Moon come to DVD from Kino. And here's Frank Oz's comic remake of The Stepford Wives. Who wouldn't want one of their own?

Before SunsetGone with the Wind: Collector's EditionThe Stepford Wives

Until next time...

Todd Doogan

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