March 18, 2004

The DVD Vault

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Top 10 sets

1. 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini)

2. The Adventures of Indiana Jones (Steven Spielberg)

3. Herzog/Kinski Collection (Werner Herzog)

4. The Prisoner Series (Patrick McGoohan)

5. The Ingmar Bergman Special Edition DVD Collection

6. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson)

7. By Brakhage (Stan Brakhage)

8. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers — Platinum 8. Edition (Peter Jackson)

9. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone)

10. Fassbinder’s BRD Trilogy (Werner Fassbinder)

Top 10 DVDs

1. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton)

2. Farewell My Concubine (Kaige Chen)

3. Badlands (Terrence Malick)

4. Breathless, Alphaville, and Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard)

5. Coming to America (John Landis)

6. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz)

7. T-2: Judgment Day (James Cameron)

8. Chinatown (Roman Polanski)

9. Fargo (Coen Bros.)

10. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)

Reservoir Dogs:

As much as any self-respecting film geek salivates over special edition DVDs, there’s always the fear that the obligatory commentary tracks and extras will turn into the kind of mutually masturbatory, smug exercises that can put you off a director or actor for life. Fortunately, the 10-year-edition of Reservoir Dogs (still Tarantino’s best) handily escapes this fate. Every feature and interview was made by people who are still giddy about the movie a decade later; every one of them seems to have the feeling they got away with something they shouldn’t have. All the regular deleted scene features are here, including an alternate take on the ear scene which illustrates nicely the two types of gross: the unsettling, oddly funny, and effective gross of the shot that actually made the movie, and the “oh my god please put it away” gross of the shot that didn’t.

But best of all are the interview segments, one of which involves the Reservoir Dog synchronized swimmers. Producer Lawrence Bender explains exactly how to make a movie with a first time director, no money, and no experience: apparently, you depend on sheer dumb luck and hope one of your stars decides to shell out a lot of his own cash. Actor Tim Roth goes all classically-trained Brit on us and expounds his rationale for refusing to audition: he’s pretty sure he always does a crap job. In his segment, even Tarantino — who has occasionally raised bratty pretension to an art form — is vaguely adorable. He’s ecstatic as he talks about making his first movie as though it were an excuse to hang out with his friends, work with his idols, and inflict his personal ’70s mix tape on the world. Which, of course, it was. — Erica Stein

Pistol Opera:

In 1967, a struggling Japanese B-movie director made Branded to Kill, one of the most visceral, kinetic movies of all time. The studio was less than thrilled with the results: an assassin vies for the top ranking in some poorly conceived Assassination Guild. After dozens of exploding castles, moth women, and furious bouts of sex with projectors and teenyboppers, the protagonist handcuffs himself to his urine-stained opponent and goes out for breakfast before dying in a notoriously nonsensical Orwellian boxing ring. Needless to say, the director, Seijun Suzuki, was promptly fired. Pistol Opera is his revenge 35 years later, turning the main assassin into a woman and filming in a blood-drenched Mentos commercial of color. As someone who’s seen many crazy movies, let me be quite honest: this is the craziest movie I’ve ever seen. Dislocation and befuddlement occur almost every ten seconds. Near as I can tell, the last half-hour involves a triple-crossing quadruple-agent murdering a friend by constructing an elaborate zombie mirror house that disintegrates into an opera-cum-seizure on a bunch of skateboard ramps. And this is the miracle (as if the movie needed it): Amidst this hilariously absurd rock ‘n’ roll of kamikaze karate and crime parody, it’s somehow beautiful, hushed, and fragile. A contradiction? After this movie, I don’t even know what that word means. — Alex Linhardt

Four Samurai Classics:

While he first made his mark with 1950’s Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa’s status as film-god was cemented upon the release of Seven Samurai. The tale of seven ronin, or nomadic samurai, who are commissioned to defend peasant farmers from attacking thieves has had an incalculable influence on film and culture. Really, there is nothing more that can be said about Kurosawa’s masterpiece without being clich