Colin Polonowski's Top DVDs of 2004
I have surprised myself with my favourite DVDs of the year - for the first time they are releases of very recent films and television shows. That's not to say that I haven't been impressed with releases of vintage films, but those that have really stuck in my mind are films from the last couple of years. There have been a huge number of stunning releases in the last twelve months and it's been very hard to pick just a few to present here, but these are my most watched DVDs of the year so ALL deserve a place here...
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I'm not a Jim Carrey fan, sure there have been some very funny films with him in the starring role - Dumb and Dumber and Me, Myself and Irene spring to mind - and it's rare for me to like his 'serious' roles, but Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind took me by surprise and has become my favourite film of the year. At it's most basic it's a love story, but it borrows elements from many different films and genres and pushes it far beyond merely being another romance and instead develops into a quirky heartwarming tale of love, loss and two people's struggle to move on. Carrey plays the part of Joel Barish and is joined by Kate Winslett in the role of his ex-lover, Clementine Kruczynski. When their relationship breaks down they undergo a procedure to completely erase any memory of each other in order to make a clean break, but when they meet again the love that brought them together in the first place resurfaces.
The Region 1 DVD is the best so far and features the film presented as you would expect with a good anamorphic transfer and both Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks. The extras are by no means exhaustive with the best of the bunch being a commentary by director, Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufmann which is definitely worth a listen.
Mike Sutton's Region 2 DVD review
Lost In Translation
Sofia Coppola's second visit to the director's chair resulted in one of the most haunting films of 2004. It is a tale of two very different people feeling alone in Tokyo and finding each other - it's not a love story and the relationship between the two leads played by the wonderful Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray is very much one of friendship rather than anything more. One of the criticisms levelled at the film is that nothing really happens, and while this is true, Lost In Translation is not a film that requires a plot, instead it's a film for people to relate to and it works perfectly without the need to fall back on a convoluted storyline. Others also find that other than the leads the rest of the characters are nothing more than stereotypes and caricatures - some even make the accusation that the film is racist - but those that believe this fail to see Coppola's intentions. Murray plays actor Bob Harris, in Tokyo to film a whisky commercial, Johansson plays Charlotte - the new wife of a photographer who is left to her own devises in a hotel while her husband (Giovanni Ribisi) goes out to work. Both Bob and Charlotte are feeling lost in a strange culture and it's only their new found friendship that keeps them sane. Coppola's direction is perfectly subdued and this helps to keep the film completely grounded - the visuals are as haunting as her previous film, The Virgin Suicides and the wonderful music chosen by Coppola is perfectly suited to the style of filmmaking on show.
By all rights the DVD is a disappointment - the picture is anamorphic, but very dull and the audio isn't particulary impressive given the fantastic soundtrack the DVD producers had to work with. However despite this the film more than makes up for the DVD presentation and easily makes this release one of my favourite of the year.
Rik Booth's Theatrical review
Matt Day's Region 1 DVD review
Noel Megahey's Region 2 DVD review
Curb Your Enthusiasm (Seasons 1 and 2)
Larry David, one of the brains behind one of the best American sitcoms of all time, Seinfeld, takes centre stage in this fantastic comedy based on his own life. Fans of Seinfeld will almost certainly be aware that the character of George in that series was based largely on real events, no matter how far fetched, that happened in Larry David's life and after watching Curb Your Enthusiasm and seeing David in the flesh it makes George an even more believable character. It's sometimes cringeworthy and the improvised nature of the show means that sometimes things don't quite work, but this kind of failure is rare and every single episode makes you clench your fists as you see David walk from one self-created problem to another. What really makes it work is the fact that David says pretty much what you may be thinking but wouldn't say in a given situation but there's so much more to it than that. Cheryl Hines play's Cheryl David - Larry's long suffering wife and she helps to balance out the sometimes shocking things Larry does - she is the only person who can make him see reason. There is also an impressive guest cast including ex-Seinfeld regulars Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ted Danson, Michael York and others - most of whom play themselves.
The DVD releases of Season One and Two are largely extras free - the first season includes the pilot episode, but other than that there are no commentaries or bloopers or anything else we've come to expect. Instead there are just the 10 episodes in each series presented in the original 4:3 aspect ratio. Curb Your Enthusiasm is hugely entertaining - it may take time to get into it, but once you're past the initial impression of occasionally flaky acting your perseverance will pay huge dividends.
Kill Bill (vol 1 and 2)
It is probably cheating to include both DVDs here, but until Quentin Tarantino gets around to releasing the full, final cut, the only way we can appreciate the full Kill Bill story is with both discs. Kill Bill is almost certainly overrated - they are not perfect films by any stretch of the imagination and the change in styles between the two doesn't sit well with some fans, but even so, in terms of entertainment I certainly don't feel let down. Kill Bill is very much a film you just have to sit down and enjoy - there's no hidden meaning and it is just the sum of it's parts. Combining many genres and styles and harking back to the classic Shaw Brothers films, Tarantino's latest movie is everything you'd expect from a self-confessed movie geek. It's often brutal, but the level of violence is always darkly humourous and while you may grimmace at some of the on-screen events the gore and action is so over the top that it feels almost like a live-action Tom and Jerry cartoon on speed. The performances are flawless throughout - Uma Thurman is perfectly cast as The Bride, and David Carradine has just the right amount of 'cool' as the Bill of the film's title. The change of pace between the two volumes is notable - the first is very much an intense action flick, while the second slows the pace and becomes more about the story.
The DVD releases are a mixed bag - I personally went for the basic Region 1 discs as these are the films I saw in the cinema. Completests may want to investigate the Limited Edition Japanese releases which don't jump into black and white and come packed to the brim with additional features. I for one can't wait to see what Tarantino does to bring both stories into one full-length cut.
Kevin O'Reilly's Kill Bill Vol. 1 Theatrical review
Colin Polonowski's Kill Bill Vol. 1 Region 1 DVD review
Michael Mackenzie's Kill Bill Vol. 1 Region 2 (Japanese) DVD review
Kevin O'Reilly's Kill Bill Vol. 2 Theatrical review
Michael Mackenzie's Kill Bill Vol. 2 Region 2 (UK) DVD review
To round off my favourite DVDs of the year we have Park Chan-wook's Korean revenge film, OldBoy. Mysteriously kidnapped and forced to spend 15 years in isolation, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-shik) spends his time in captivity planning his revenge on the unknown person who took him off the streets and locked him away. When finally released he sets about disovering the identity of this man with the help of a young Sushi chef, Mido (Kang Hye-jeong), whom he meets shortly after his release. OldBoy is a very intense and stylish film, but thankfully this style compliments the plot rather than swamps it, and Park Chan-wook's previous film, the hit Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance cements Chan-wook's reputation as a very strong Korean director. There are some wonderful sequences in the film and a few moments where you'll struggle not to cover your eyes as the events take place on screen and the film's final shocking revelation blows everything else out of the water and suddenly makes everything slot into place. OldBoy is one of my favourite Korean films - it is more stylish than almost any Western film I can think of and yet doesn't fall into the common melodramatic trap that usually plagues Korean movies.
The Region 3 Korean DVD is a lovely package and presents the film very well with a nice anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS soundtracks. Western audiences will miss out on the special features which aren't subtitled, but a Region 2 release is on the cards for February next year courtesy of Tartan if you can wait.
Kevin Gilvear's Region 3 Review