|DONNY: BEAR JEW BASTERD|
The Best Blu-Ray and DVD Releases
of 2012 as decreed by Greg Klymkiw
This was a stellar year for Blu-Ray and DVD collectors that it's been difficult to whittle my personal favourites down to a mere 10 releases. So hang on to your hats as I'll be presenting a personal favourite release from 2012 EACH and EVERY single day that will comprise my Top 10. At the end of all the daily postings, I'll combine the whole kit and kaboodle into one mega-post.
My criteria for inclusion is/was thus:
1. The movie (or movies). How much do I love it/them?
2. How much do I love owning this product?
3. How many times will I re-watch it?
4. Is the overall physical packaging to my liking?
5. Do I like the picture and sound?
There was one more item I used to assess the material. For me it was the last and LEAST area of consideration - one that probably surprise most, but frankly, has seldom been something I care that much about. For me, unless supplements really knock me on my butt, their inclusion is not that big of a deal. That said, I always go though supplements with a fine tooth comb and beyond any personal pleasure they deliver (or lack thereof), I do consider the educational value of such supplements for those studying film and/or those who might benefit from them in some fashion (film students or not).
So, without further ado, here goes.
Greg Klymkiw's 10 Best Blu-Ray & DVD Releases of 2012 (in alphabetical order) Today's Title (more to follow on subsequent days) is none other than:
TARANTINO XX - 8-Film Collection (Reservoir Dogs / True Romance /
Pulp Fiction / Jackie Brown /
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 / Kill Bill: Vol. 2 /
Death Proof / Inglourious Basterds)
Just in time for the theatrical release of Django Unchained comes this genuinely spectacular box set of All-Tarantino-All-The-Time. Tarantino, I will admit, was an acquired taste, but once I acquired it, I was sold that he's without a doubt one of the great, original directorial talents in the history of American Cinema. This Blu-Ray looks great and includes many original extras from previous editions plus two additional discs chock-full of great stuff. Pretty much anyone who cares about movies will want to own this. Tarantino's best work can be seen again and again. His worst (and most overrated) is another story. For fun, feel free to plough through my capsule reviews of everything in this box and you'll see what I mean.
Reservoir Dogs (1992) *
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Eddie Bunker, Quentin Tarantino
I hated this movie. I still do. There's nothing especially wrong with the idea of an ultra-violent heist-gone-wrong picture with a well-and-identically-dressed group of miscreants who each use different colours as fake surnames to keep their identities secret from their victims and each other. Tarantino's first feature takes its cue from such classics as The Killing and The Asphalt Jungle with directorial nods to Sam Peckinpah and Sam Fuller. Again, I have no problem with that either. The movie has a great cast of tough-talking fellas who are always worth looking at and here they all are in one picture. So far, you're probably wondering, "So what's the fucking problem?" (especially anyone who knows how much I adore noir, crime and the two Sams).
Well, keep in mind that my first viewing was in my usual mode of watching movies - I knew NOTHING about it. Even better was that I was seeing it at the Toronto International Film Festival as it was launching to a wide international audience. You'd think this'd give me some heads up, but at film festivals, I've always been able (for the most part) to know nothing. I pick my movies from the schedule. What day, what time, how long, title, country, name of director and section of the festival. This approach usually works wonders for me.
So I'm watching the picture and the first chunk of it is full of yap-yap-yap-yap-yappety-yap-yap. Granted it's the aforementioned and they're talking a blend of tough-guy-speak and pretentious-geek-speak in an ever-so clever non-stop patter. This was my first problem. It was all so self-consciously clever and as it progressed, I barely registered a snicker or two until finally, it started to really annoy me. I thought, "Christ, this sounds like something written by a loser with no life experience who decided to pull a wonky post-modern jerk-off daisy chain with a bunch of good actors."
And then there was the violence. Anyone who knows me or reads this review site regularly knows I'm no fucking Merry Widow when it comes to violence onscreen. For me, though, it has to either mean something or it has to be within the context of an obvious boys adventure cartoon. When it's used, as it is in this film, so viciously within the smart-ass-lookit-me-Ma-at-how-clever-I-is context, I get bored or my blood boils. Reservoir Dogs did both. As the hours after the screening progressed and I realized that much of the world was proclaiming this Tarantino clown some kind of a genius, I did, as I always do. I shook my head and moved on.
I wish I had kept it that way. Over the years I'd attempt to wipe the slate clean (especially since I eventually came to not only like, but love Tarantino) and I'd go back to the film (as I did with this box set) and keep hoping I was wrong.
Nope. The movie stinks. I think it appeals to pseuds and/or those who don't know better. Not once do I feel like I'm watching something entertaining AND real (say like Goodfellas), nor do I think any of it is as clever as it thinks it is. Also, I think it's worth saying that everything Tarantino was ham-fistedly attempting in this film not only falls flat on its face, but as he continued to make films, he eventually got his "thang", his "mojo", his mise-en-fucking-scene (as it were) working like clockwork. He also got better. Way better.
Perhaps, with Pulp Fiction? Yes, perhaps, but in the meantime, Tarantino is the screenwriter on a Tony Scott picture. It appears to be in this box because it's from the same distributor.
True Romance (1993) **** dir. Tony Scott
Starring: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Saul Rubinek, Dennis Hopper, James Gandolfini, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, Samuel L. Jackson
This is a cool movie. No two ways about it. Tarantino's screenplay, featuring two lovers, a geeky comic store clerk and a hooker (Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette) on the run from some super-bad dudes and it's a first-rate picture. It actually feels like it's about real people in a stylized crime drama that crosses Jim Thompson-like hard-boiled sleaze with some delicious melodrama a la True Love-styled comic books.
The narrative is clear, straight-forward and always compelling. Much of Tarantino's dialogue is free of the self-conscious pseudo-cleverness that typified Reservoir Dogs and the tremendous all-star cast spits all out with aplomb. The late Tony Scott's direction barrel-asses us on a road fraught with peril and romance and his visual panache reveals a director at the top of his game.
I'll always grant Ridley Scott the fact that Alien is a bonafide masterpiece of horror, but the fact remains that he was, is and always will be a hack. Brother Tony, however, was a genuine filmmaker with a voice. I was ready to cut Tarantino some slack here until I found out that Tony Scott was the one wisely responsible for re-structuring the narrative in chronological order and delivering a happy ending. Tarantino, if he'd directed it, would have been mixing up the timelines and would have shoehorned in a completely un-earned tragic ending.
God knows I love tragic endings, but that approach would have definitely been wrong. Here then, was a perfect example where a great director is able to ascertain what's right about a screenplay and what's wrong and then makes the right decisions to deliver a terrific picture. Again, I don't mean to take away from Tarantino's writing here. Most of it is excellent.
True Romance also has one of the great scenes in contemporary movie history. I'll never, ever forget Dennis Hopper's lines before his character bites it. The dialogue is ppropriately nasty and funny and perversely moving. Thank Christ, it was directed by a straight-up, no-nonsense filmmaker like Scott.
Pulp Fiction (1994) **
Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Eric Stoltz, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Rosanna Arquette, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken, Dick Miller, Quentin Tarantino
No need to go over too many details. If you haven't seen the movie yet, crawl back into whatever cinema illiterate hole you scuttled out of until you do finally watch it.
Overall, this was a marginal improvement over Reservoir Dogs. Why it blew so many people away is beyond me, but there's no accounting for taste (save for mine, which is unimpeachable). The writing here is often so much better. The structure, a series of vaguely connected crime tales, is a slightly better post-modern take on tried and true pulp crime fiction. There appear to be characters (notably Travolta as the hit man having to babysit Uma Thurman, the wired moll of the big bad wolf), one genuinely great plot thread (the one involving Bruce Willis), a great song score, a generally pleasing cast and Ving Rhames being ridden Hershey style.
On the downside, it still had way too much self-consciously smart-ass dialogue (no, I do not find the "Royale with cheese" conversation particularly funny), an overwhelming preponderance of oh-so "clever" touches and it's way too long and gets more boring as it progresses.
No cigar here, though. I was pretty much ready to throw in the towel if I didn't see something more than smart-ass jerk-offery.
Jackie Brown (1997) ****
Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker
Sweet Jesus, this is one sweet movie. Tarantino's direction is solid and tight, for once his sense of pace is languid in all the right ways, the cast is completely out of this world, the writing is first-rate (a terrific adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel "Rum Punch" with more emphasis on shit Tarantino clearly finds cooler than cool by nods to blaxsploitation), a song score that is not only great, but perfectly suited to the material and provides a superb backdrop to both narrative beats and character and the whole noir-like affair feels like a genuine crime picture rather than a self-consciously clever movie about movies. The adventures of flight attendant Jackie Brown as she attempts to barter her way out of a sticky wicket with both the cops and a psycho criminal (with help from a kindly bail bondsman) is great entertainment from beginning to end.
Having I mentioned Pam Grier yet? What's to say? She be the HOT MAMA o' God hissef' and she rules. Tarantino knows it and he knows how to use her natural gifts better than anyone ever before. He changed Leonard's character from white to black in order to use Grier. Why not? Grier should have been in far more movies throughout her career than she was a given a shot at. Hey, and as the bail bondsman, it's great seeing Robert Forster in a great role on the big screen again.
Maybe, there's only one way to go now. Yes, he can write and direct. Let's hope it's up, up and away.
|KILL BILL 1 and 2|
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) ****
Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) ***
Watching both "Volumes" Back-to-Back: ****
Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Sonny Chiba, Chiaki Kuriyama, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox, Julie Dreyfus, Michael Parks, James Parks, Bo Svenson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sod Haig
Pressured by then-production-mogul of Miramax Harvey Weinstein to keep the running time short, Tarantino split his four-hour epic of hot Mama hit lady Uma Thurman getting revenge on those who done her dirt into two "volumes". Not a great idea aesthetically. Volume 1 is spectacular. Volume 2 is good, but seeing it theatrically months after the first was a letdown since it feels like way to much yackety-yak-yak-yak and not enough carnage. Seeing both together back-to-back on DVD or Blu-Ray is totally the way to go. The rhythm of the whole makes complete sense, but watched separately, the latter pales in comparison to the former. If you haven't seen either or have only seen them separately, you owe yourself a special treat of seeing them in one sitting as one film (with only one toilet break at the halftime point, please). The picture as a whole is one of the most suspenseful action pictures I've ever seen and Tarantino melds all his homages to genres and movies he loves directly into the overall (and delightfully simple) narrative. I first let my daughter watch Kill Bill Volume 1 when she was four-years-old and she was utterly mesmerized. She loved Uma and the character is the first movie character she related to as a genuine silver screen hero. When she watched Volume 2, she was less enthralled, but once I managed to get her to watch both a few years later back-to-back, she herself told me how much better the second half was. She's watched both films now as repeatedly as most little girls watch those loathsome 90s Disney princess cartoon features. Uma's definitely a cooler role model for all little girls. Recently my daughter watched them again. She's almost 12, now. She came up to me and said,
Boy, I love those movies, Dad." High praise, indeed!
Death Proof (2007) ***1/2
Starring: Kurt Russell, Zoë Bell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
For my daughter's 6th birthday I allowed her to skip school - Catholic School, no less - and spend a day with Daddy at the movies. Now, being a responsible parent, I told her the first movie she had to see was Firehouse Dog. After that, she could see three more movies and she could pick them out herself just by wandering around the multiplex with Daddy and looking at the posters and making her decision based on that alone.
ANY movies. HER CHOICE.
So, we watched Firehouse Dog. Actually, for what it was, it was pretty good. Then she got to pick. As we left cinema showing the movie about a brave dog who saves people from fires, the first poster she lays eyes on is Blades of Glory. Will Ferrell and Jon Heder in tights and skates? Yup. I'm there. And then…
Her little finger pointed to:
I'd already seen this amazing double bill of expensive "B" movies replete with trailers, all in the style of grindhouse pictures of the 70s, and after the previous two pictures, I was in the mood for a major palate-cleansing so I was happy to see them again. Before the movie started, I explained the whole idea behind grindhouses and the kind of movies that played there. I did, however, spare the child knowledge of the fact that at the age of 7, I used to go to grindhouses myself and often saw toothless hookers giving blowjobs to old men. First up was the Robert Rodriguez-directed Planet Terror. My daughter had recently seen the director's cut of Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead and was quite zombie-obsessed so I knew she'd enjoy the Rodriguez.
As for Death Proof, I wasn't so sure. Starring Kurt Russell as a psycho stuntman who terrorizes two sets of women with his souped-up killer car, there was plenty of spectacular action, but there was also a lot of yackety-yak-yak that was not without merit, but might prove dull to her. Even I was mixed on the picture, but watching it with a six-year-old girl was such an eye-opening experience that I fell in love with it and have found it's held up very nicely over subsequent viewings.
Allow me to share with you, my daughter's summation of the film. When she told me herself I almost fell out of my chair and immediately recorded her repeating it on my phone. Here's my then-six-year-old daughter's review of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof:
"I really liked that movie because it showed us those girls who were dirty and not very nice and how because of that, the bad guy was able to kill them. When he went after the other girls, they were really nice and funny and smart and because of this, he couldn't kill them and instead they killed him. That's how it goes, Dad."
I rest my case.
Inglourious Basterds (2009) *****
Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Rod Taylor, Mike Myers, Diane Kruger, Harvey Keitel
Tarantino's first bonafide masterpiece. A deliriously satisfying WWII revenge fantasy wherein a Dirty Dozen-styled squad of American soldiers led by Brad Pitt, venture deep behind enemy lines with the sole purpose of killing Nazis. Well, not just killing them, but executing (so to speak) their dirty business of Nazi destruction in such a spectacular fashion that they instil fear in the hearts of all Nazis - even Hitler himself. Working with the underground, the Basterds eventually carry out a dangerous mission to eradicate the entire Nazi ruling class.
And what a mission!
Tarantino creates a comic strip come to life with sabre-whacks of gallows satire, black humour and a portrait of empowerment for all those who suffered the most under Nazi domination. You watch the machinations of the Basterds and their allies and though you know that everything you're watching never happened, you're riveted because it should have happened exactly in the manner Tarantino details. Everything Tarantino has developed and sharpened throughout his career comes to full fruition in this fantasia of blood, guts and glory.
A great cast plays the extremities (mostly) straight so we can revel in the pure joy of seeing one Nazi after another being dispatched in the most excruciatingly, painfully and viciously violent manner imaginable. Christoph Waltz as the primary villain who specializes in Jew hunting, is so brilliantly vile (and strangely, disturbingly charming) that his inevitable actions are all the more reprehensible. When filmmaker Eli Roth appears as Donny, the "Bear Jew", wielding a mighty baseball bat (was there ever a better symbol of American might as right?), Tarantino has us demanding the most horrific use of said bat upon the skulls of dirty, Nazi pigs.
When we get to experience the nail-biting suspense as Hitler and his entire inner circle are on the verge of being taken down, there isn't one member of the audience - Gentile, Jew or otherwise - who isn't prepared to applaud with hearty bloodlust as each gorgeously wrought dramatic beat moves towards the very thing everyone wished could have happened in reality. Tarantino does all this and manages to celebrate the power of cinema at the same time. And within the context of this celebration, Tarantino uses cinema to provide an explosive and fitting imaginary denouement to evil - true evil - the world over.
It's a great picture!
And TARANTINO XX is a stunning Blu-Ray box set.
Feel free to order it directly from the Amazon links below: