December 4, 2006
Hey, DVD Buyer: Stop bitchin'. It's your market, baby. Hollywood needs you to make up for the beating it's taking at the box office. So it's getting movies to you faster, with the DVD typically appearing less than three months after a flick debuts at the multiplex. It's packing those discs with bonuses and souping up the sound and picture — on classics and newbies — so your home systems will purr. Here's the top of the 2006 crop.
#1: JAMES BOND: ULTIMATE EDITIONS VOL. 1, 2, 3, 4
With Daniel Craig reinventing 007 for a new generation in Casino Royale, the time is now to plunge into Bond history with MGM's just-out, all-inclusive, bonus-packed gift from tech-head heaven. Don't grumble. I know the Bond films have been available before, and you're as sick as I am of being told to buy them again because there's more extras and they look and sound better. But there really are more extras, dude, and with DTS 5.1 sound and frame-by-frame restoration from Lowry Digital, this is the best Bond you're going to go orgasmic for until they put implants in our brains and turn film-watching into virtual reality.
The twenty Bond movies — there's no Never Say Never Again because Sean Connery did that 1983 remake of Thunderball as a rogue operation — have been packed into four volumes. That's five movies in each volume, each film with a second disc brimming with extras. One pissy point: The films are out of chronological order. That means you can't just buy one volume with all the Connery films on it, or the Roger Moores, or the Pierce Brosnans. Timothy Dalton did only two films, and George Lazenby just one. But my total immersion in Bond taught me this: Connery is still king, Moore peaked with The Spy Who Loved Me, and Brosnan got better and grittier as he went along. It also taught me that Ian Fleming invented a character for the ages with this British agent.
HOT BONUS Impossible to choose, since there are so many stretched across forty discs. But hearing new audio commentary from Sir Roger Moore is a welcome touch of class.
KILLER SCENE That laser heading for Connery's crotch in Goldfinger, as 007 asks the villain (the great Gert Fršbe) if he expects him to talk. "No, Mr. Bond," he says with the most evil grin in the Bond canon, "I expect you to die."
#2: V FOR VENDETTA
This two-disc special edition does justice to this rarest of species: a futuristic film fantasy powered by ideas. Written by the Wachowski brothers, of Matrix fame, the film stars Hugo Weaving as V, an avenger in a Guy Fawkes mask who uses bombs, daggers and telegenic charm to take down a fear-mongering regime with parallels to Bush's. Natalie Portman excels as Evey, the work slave swept up by V's fervor.
HOT BONUS Portman's political commentary has surprising relevance and bite. And there's a savvy feature on Fawkes, the Catholic vigilante who futilely tried to blow up Parliament on November 5th, 1605.
KILLER SCENE On a rooftop, V raises his hands like a conductor and directs Evey to watch as the Old Bailey blows up and lights the night sky. It's V who set the bombs and vows to destroy Parliament in 2020.
#3: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST
The year's biggest box-office smash may be silly and overlong, but it's also a kick and easier to watch on this double disc — where you can hit pause — than squirming in a theater seat. Johnny Depp remains a high-camp pleasure as Captain Jack Sparrow, but it's Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and his watery crew who will pop your eyes and tickle your funny bone.
HOT BONUS A feature on the "Bloopers of the Caribbean" actually earns some big yuks.
KILLER SCENE A cannibal cookout (Jack is garlanded with a necklace of severed toes) and a duel on a giant wheel are both trumped by the mere sight of Davy, the squid-faced captain of the Flying Dutchman, who bargains for souls and who looks like something scraped off the bottom of an aquarium.
Warren Beatty has been dragging his ass for years getting the film that won him an Oscar as 1981's Best Director ready for DVD. This two-disc package is worth the wait. It took balls for Beatty to win financing for a film in which he stars as John Reed, the American journalist whose involvement with communism drove him to Russia in 1917 to cover the Revolution. The love story between Reed and writer Louise Bryant (a superb Diane Keaton) drags down the film. But Beatty's passion is indisputable.
HOT BONUS Beatty, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and Jack Nicholson, who plays Eugene O'Neill, give a vivid inside view.
KILLER SCENE Beatty used interviews with Henry Miller, Rebecca West and other witnesses to the period to add resonance to his story. They're inspiring to watch.
#5: UNITED 93
It's not the technical pow of this DVD that makes it great, it's the emotion. Director Paul Greengrass takes a documentarylike approach to the events on 9/11 that made United 93 the fourth hijacked plane and the one that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania when its passengers tried to fight against terrorists.
HOT BONUS The two-disc special edition includes a shattering feature in which the actors playing the doomed passengers visit with the families of the dead.
KILLER SCENE At the end, Greengrass imagines a sea of arms reaching into that cockpit in a way that redefines heroism. Far from being exploitative, the effect is inspiring. You can't watch it without thinking, "This is the best of us."
Criterion, the acknowledged class act in DVD production, surpasses itself with this three-disc box set. It's the restored, anamorphic transfer of director Terry Gilliam's ardent and audacious 1985 masterpiece. Jonathan Pryce stars as a bureaucrat who fantasizes about himself as a winged savior in a techn0centric world that won't allow for dreams.
HOT BONUS Gilliam's commentary about his battle to make the film his way is time-capsule-worthy, as is the ninety-four-minute version of the film with all the ridiculous cuts and changes that the studio made on its own.
KILLER SCENE Terrorists swing across art-deco towers like high-tech Tarzans while bombs reduce one part of an elegant restaurant to rubble and the unscathed diners merrily continue to munch.
#7: MIAMI VICE
Added sex and ass-kicking may be the lure to buy this unrated director's cut of Michael Mann's maligned and misunderstood cinematic spin on the TV show he made famous in the 1980s, with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx taking over for Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas. But the real attraction is getting to watch a director of Mann's stature show us exactly what he wanted to do with no restrictions. As always, Mann is concerned with the seductively dangerous environments in which complex men do corrupting jobs.
HOT BONUS Digging deeper into Mann's intentions, and how his use of the high-definition Viper camera gives us more to see.
KILLER SCENE The trailer-park shootout is nearly as explosive as the robbery in Mann's Heat.
Director John Lasseter is subtle about his visual miracles. But look close at the disc of Pixar's animated Cars, and his gift shines. He creates a world of cars (catch those bugs with headlights) and draws rich voice work from Owen Wilson as rookie Lightning McQueen and a terrific Paul Newman as a 1951 Hudson Hornet.
HOT BONUS The single disc is short on extras, but there's a nifty feature on what influenced Lasseter. He's the son of a car-parts manager and an avid buff of the myths surrounding Route 66.
KILLER SCENE It's a classic moment when Mater, a tow truck, hilariously voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, takes Lightning out for a night of cow-tipping, except that the cows are now tractors, and the next morning they ride into town like outlaws out for revenge.
#9: JACKASS NUMBER TWO
Call it twice as disgusting as the original, and any Jackass fan knows that's high praise. The DVD looks and sounds like crap, which is another compliment. No one wants to watch Johnny Knoxville, Chris Pontius, Steve-O and the gang abuse their bodies in widescreen clarity, especially when they're busy chugging down horse jizz.
HOT BONUS The behind-the-scenes stuff is a revelation, as the guys get serious setting up their stunts. Pontius doesn't just wrap his dick in gauze and let a snake bite it. It takes preparation, man.
KILLER SCENE Knoxville strapping his ass to a firing rocket has to be the Citizen Kane of self-abuse.
#10: THE PROPOSITION
If you don't know this movie, this expertly produced DVD is your chance to stop being a loser. Directed by John Hillcoat, with a take-no-prisoners script by Nick Cave, who also co-wrote the score, this Aussie revenge western burns up the screen. Guy Pearce and Danny Huston lead the cast of outback outlaws, while Ray Winstone and Emily Watson try to hold the fort of civilization.
HOT BONUS The extras fill in the historical gaps relating to time and place. And the actors actually discuss the themes of the piece instead of inflating their own egos.
KILLER SCENE The Christmas-dinner massacre. Bloody, yes, and staggeringly, poetically beautiful.
#11: PRESTON STURGES COLLECTION
Sturges, the rich, charming, recklessly comic Hollywood outsider of the 1940s, made movies that are now curiously unknown to audiences born after Star Wars. This invaluable seven-disc package will help catch you up on the pleasures of Sullivan's Travels, The Lady Eve, The Palm Beach Story, Hail the Conquering Hero, The Great McGinty, Christmas in July and The Great Moment. Get cracking.
HOT BONUS None needed. These classic movies are gift enough.
KILLER SCENE Watching Henry Fonda try to fix the strap on Barbara Stanwyck's sexy sling-backs in The Lady Eve is a major turn-on.
#12: SUPERMAN RETURNS
Director Bryan Singer's conception of Superman, played by Brandon Routh, as a Christ figure trying to save the world from its own worst instincts intrigued audiences without blowing them away. But the film's thoughtfulness justifies another look on this two-disc edition.
HOT BONUS "Requiem for Krypton," a three-hour (you heard me) doc on the making of the film.
KILLER SCENE Superman's rescue of a crashing space shuttle.
#13: SAW II
The Saw franchise continues to buzz, because it’s the real bloody deal, not the punk-ass PG-13 slop now passing for horror. Tobin Bell makes Jigsaw, the clue-dropping killer, a classic. And this two-disc uncut edition caresses every moment of hardcore sadism as Jigsaw traps eight new victims.
HOT BONUS Behind the scenes of Jigsaw’s cruelest setups: the head trap, the needle pit, the hand trap and the furnace. Yum.
KILLER SCENE The opener, with the guy who has to gouge out his own eye to find the key Jigsaw has implanted behind his peeper. A head trap will crush his skull unless he finds the key in time. Double yum.
#14: THANK YOU FOR SMOKING
A scathing satire from Christopher Buckley's book. Aaron Eckhart scores as the tobacco lobbyist who puts a pro-smoking spin on Washington, Hollywood and his own son. The spiffy widescreen transfer lights up the DVD to enhance your viewing pleasure.
HOT BONUS "America: Living in Spin" is a superior extra in which the actors and filmmakers discuss what it takes to make Americans so willing to kid themselves.
KILLER SCENE Eckhart comparing notes with two other merchants of death: Maria Bello, who hustles alcohol, and David Koechner, who lobbies for guns.
#15: A SCANNER DARKLY
Shooting with live actors and then computer-painting over them, director Richard Linklater turns Philip K. Dick's futuristic novel about undercover drug cop Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) into a striking visual dreamscape that transfers beautifully to DVD.
HOT BONUS A look into the animation process, called interpolated rotoscoping. It takes 500 hours to create a mere minute of footage.
KILLER SCENE The first glimpse of Bob in the scramble suit that turns him into a walking hologram, making it impossible for anyone to get a fix on his identity.
#16: THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA
The movie comedy that turned even macho men into fashionistas is well worth a second look on DVD. As the Manhattan fashion editor whose tongue is a lethal weapon, certain Oscar nominee Meryl Streep has never been funnier. And Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt excel as the assistants she lives to torture.
HOT BONUS Fifteen deleted scenes, adding up to twenty-two minutes, that kick comic butt.
KILLER SCENE The montage showing Streep's dragon lady entering her office, throwing coats of every description in Hathaway's direction and delivering a series of looks that could freeze blood if they weren't so hilarious.
#17: THE CONFORMIST
If, like me, you've been salivating for the DVD arrival of Bernardo Bertolucci's gritty and gorgeous 1971 masterpiece, The Conformist is a cause for celebration. The political parable, set in the 1930s, uses conformity as a symbol of fascism in the conflicted person of a Secret Service bureaucrat, brilliantly played by Jean-Louis Trintignant.
HOT BONUS Bertolucci and artful cinematographer Vittorio Storaro provide a master class in film as they discuss what they wanted from each stunning image.
KILLER SCENE The haunting "dance of the blind" sequence, cut for the film's theatrical release, is gloriously restored.
#18: KISS KISS BANG BANG
This may be the funniest movie you never saw in 2006. No more excuses, get this DVD and watch writer-director Shane Black turn the action-thriller genre on its empty head. There's little logic in the plot that takes thief turned actor Robert Downey Jr. to Hollywood, where he tangles with hottie actress-waitress Michelle Monaghan and gay detective Val Kilmer (at his eccentric best). Black has a ball teasing the pulp fiction he loves. You will too.
HOT BONUS Black, Kilmer and Downey provide a running commentary that's more Marx Brothers than film-school-appropriate.
KILLER SCENE Kilmer, whose cell phone plays "I Will Survive," seducing a straight hood who wants to de-ball him ("You know you want me, you know you're feeling it").
#19: DOUBLE INDEMNITY
Film noir doesn't get more classic than Billy Wilder's 1944 tale of greed and lust. The black-and-white picture glistens like never before on this two-disc edition. Barbara Stanwyck is the femme fatale who seduces Fred MacMurray's insurance man with the flash of her anklet and a proposition that involves sex and murder. MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson as his boss chew on the juicy dialogue like hungry dogs.
HOT BONUS You can hit delete on the 1973 TV remake included on Disc Two. An informative doc on film noir is the only keeper.
KILLER SCENE MacMurray sassing Stanwyck: "I sell accident insurance on husbands. You got one that's been around too long?"
#20: WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE
The year's greatest documentary — Spike Lee's four-hour-plus requiem for the human devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina — isn't eligible for Academy Awards because it aired first on HBO. Typical Oscar stupidity. But don't miss this powerhouse DVD. The film is fueled by rage over inadequate federal response, but what you'll remember is the valor and humor of the people of New Orleans, determined to rebuild despite obstacles from FEMA, Bush, the Army Corps of Engineers and insurance companies.
HOT BONUS The searing images speak for themselves, and you'll find yourself hitting PAUSE and REWIND when you can't believe your eyes.
KILLER SCENE After the storm, a young doctor from Gulfport, Mississippi, finds himself prevented from going home because Dick Cheney is blocking the road in a futile attempt to spin the media. "Go fuck yourself, Mr. Cheney," says the doc. My sentiments exactly.
#21: MONSTER HOUSE
An animated horrorfest — too good for just the kiddies — that marks a striking debut for director Gil Kenan, delivering enough visual goods to justify the faith of producers Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, who hired him right out of UCLA. The plot? Can twelve-year-old DJ (Mitchel Musso) and his pals save their squeaky-clean suburb from the monster house and its cadaverous owner (Steve Buscemi)? The voice work is exceptional, with a special nod to Maggie Gyllenhaal as an acid-tongued baby sitter and Jason Lee as her raunchy boyfriend.
HOT BONUS A photo gallery with the hubris to bill itself as "The Art of Monster House" really is that good.
KILLER SCENE The house itself, which speaks in the voice of Kathleen Turner (very scary), is a wonder as it sucks up toys, kids and anything else that gets in its way.
#22: A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION
How do you make a movie about what it takes for Garrison Keillor and his Minnesota crew to put on his three-decades-running radio show? I don't know, but director Robert Altman has done it, using a pitch-perfect cast, led by Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin and Kevin Kline, to make magic.
HOT BONUS The musical numbers are presented uncut and uninterrupted.
KILLER SCENE Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly warbling the cowboy ditty "Bad Jokes" is a comic cure for whatever ails you.
#23: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III
The best of the three Missions so far is still living under the cloud of Tom Cruise's ugly press. Unfair. Director J.J. Abrams is one creative dude, and this two-disc DVD special pulls out all the bells and whistles.What a workout for your home-theater system.
HOT BONUS Now that Cruise is a studio mogul, heading up United Artists, we may never see him as loose and informal as he is here in a dishy yakfest with Abrams.
KILLER SCENE Besides the action, that hypertense opening face-off with Cruise and villain Philip Seymour Hoffman kicks ass.
This horror comedy from director James Gunn never got the appreciation it deserved at the box office. Come on, you slugs, grab this DVD and roll with it. Gunn takes a nothing plot about parasites from outer space invading a small town and has his wicked, gory way with it. You'll love getting slimed.
HOT BONUS "Gorehound Grill: Brewin' the Blood" actually shows you how to create your own gore at home. Thanks much.
KILLER SCENE The bathtub. Say no more.
#25: AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
Al Gore standing in front of a screen delivering a lecture on global warming — OK, so you didn't blow your wad on a high-end DVD setup to get down with that. Know what? Watch it anyway. The former veep delivers his message with the ardor of a true activist.
HOT BONUS A thirty-minute update from Gore, plus pertinent commentary from director Davis Guggenheim.
KILLER SCENE They're all killers: the shrinking glaciers, the melting snows, the receding shorelines. You won't find anything scarier in an orgy of Saw flicks.