While you were sitting around celebrating the holidays, SE&L was busy compiling its lists of the year’s best (and worst) releases. Focusing on the unique and the illogical, the routine and the outrageous, each assemblage attempted to address both the standard and the strange, releases everyone had heard of and efforts nobody knows. Beginning with our look at The Top 10 Films of 2008 You Never Heard Of up and including this weekend’s take at the Best DVDs of the Year, it’s time to play a little collective catch up. Enjoy!
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Way back in June, back when “The Week in Games” was still relatively new (because, well, Moving Pixels was still relatively new), it seemed like kind of a big deal that a game was coming out for every single platform in a single week. It’s the sort of event that takes serious coordination on the parts of both developers and publishers, and it usually signals the arrival of a pretty major release.
Hotel for Dogs
Well, I’m never going to make a big deal about it again, because this week another game is coming out for every platform imaginable, and that game is…Hotel for Dogs. Look, I didn’t even know this thing was based on a Nickelodeon movie starring Emma Roberts and Diego’s voice until I started madly Googling for information on this game…information that is surprisingly hard to find, as it turns out. There’s barely a whisper of the game on the movie’s official website, the usually comprehensive gametrailers.com yields nothing on the search results, and searching on YouTube reveals but a single trailer for the Wii/DS side of the gaming equation, which looks really terrible. Chances are, even high-end graphics won’t save this thing. Of course, it’ll probably still sell more than LittleBigPlanet.
Fishing Master World Tour
If you’re going to go after anything, your best bet this week would probably be to give Saints Row 2 a runthrough if you haven’t yet. The game is the type that seems to divide critics and players, but if you’re into the whole sandbox thing and you don’t mind a hefty dose of highly immoral behavior, it’ll probably entertain you until next week. Otherwise, Fishing Master World Tour for the Wii is the sequel to the highly underrated Fishing Master, which actually makes fishing fun with a pleasing, cartoony presentation style and a surprisingly fast-paced take on reeling ‘em in. Honestly, if you’re looking for a family game, you’ll probably have about ten times as much fun with Fishing Master World Tour as you ever will with Hotel for Dogs.
That said, I’m putting the Hotel for Dogs trailer after the jump anyway, just because there’s a place for “hilariously bad” when nothing quite qualifies as “highly anticipated”. Enjoy!
At least one of the “D"s in DVD has to stand for “diversity”. As Blu-ray continues to tread water, earning as many converts as distancing disgruntled fans, the digital medium continues to prosper - artistically, at least. Thanks to advances in technology, Internet avenues of self-distribution, and the ability to put one’s own art out on display for everyone to see, the cornucopia of product one can indulge in is simply mind-boggling. A full time critic, on a simple schedule, could watch close to 325 discs a year (six to seven a week). Even those of us who make time for other medium find ourselves struggling at well over 200 (the official SE&L mark is somewhere around 145). Naturally, this makes a Best of list almost impossible. Even worse, some companies we could count on for classic commerce - Something Weird, Troma - were out of the mix all together (or, in the case of the latter, until the Summer of 2008).
Still, it was an interesting year. The au courant bonus feature du jour is, undoubtedly, the “digital copy” - a version of the film you can download to your laptop or IPod for entertainment portability. Of course, something like The Dark Knight clearly suffers from being shrunk down to less than IMAX size. Even worse, the dirty little secret of the high definition format was finally revealed - just because a disc claims to be HD, doesn’t mean the studio shelled out the cash to make over the image to provide more depth. For many, it’s just too cost prohibitive. Thus many a messageboard argument has started over if a revisit to a classic title is worth the hefty monetary reinvestment. For some, no amount of bells or whistles could bring them to repurchase catalog items merely ported over from the standard DVD edition. Thus the big Blu struggles, and probably will continue to do so.
Still, outside the controversy and web-based clamor, a few titles stood out. SE&L chose the ones closest to our heart, while reminding our readers that the best thing about a DVD is still the film (or films) it contains. We’ve said it before but it bears repeating - a Criterion Collection of Crap is still crap. But a barebones version of a masterpiece is still something special. So without further ado, here are the choices for 2008:
#10 - The Cinematic Titanic Collection
Over the last few years, Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy have been holding down the MST3K fort by creating audio only commentaries for their Rifftrax project. Now, series originator Joe Hodgson has collected the rest of the cast (Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis Weinstein) to create a whole new in theater satire. Each of the five self-distributed “episodes” created in 2008 reminds you of why, some 20 years after these Midwestern comedians first decided to dump on bad movies, the formula is as funny as ever. There’s nary a bad installment in the bunch.
#9 - Brand Upon the Brain! - The Criterion Collection
One imagines that if you gave Canadian auteur Guy Maddin a mainstream movie script and a cast of well known celebrities, he would still wind up making one unhinged example of avant-garde experimentalism. He’d have Brad Pitt as a half-blind double amputee with a kind of emotional Asperger Syndrome while co-star Cate Blanchett would be a mute muse he only sees while under the influence of a heady homemade elixir. This overview of his childhood, fashioned like a German Expressionistic horror mystery, is supposedly almost 97% psychologically “true”. Of course, what that means to Maddin, and his fans, is anyone’s guess.
#8 - The Three Stooges Collection - Volumes 2 & 3
Fulfilling the wishes of longtime fans, Columbia has finally wised up, dropped the three short per package DVD format, and delivered The Three Stooges in a logistically sound chronological breakdown. Covering 1937 to 42, the 47 mini-masterworks presented all contain the classic line-up that most devotees prefer: mean leader Moe, absent minded minion Larry, and unbelievably brilliant bundle of butter, Curly. There is no Shemp, no Joe Besser, and definitely no Curly Joe DeRita to muck things up. While there is nothing wrong with any of these later stage substitutes, nothing beats the magic of the original Stooges. Looking over the titles offered, there is not a bad apple in the bunch.
#7 - Wanted
As with many post-millennial movies, Wanted is based on a series of graphic novels. Like the best of those adaptations, screenwriters Mark Millar and J. G. Jones use the foundation of the series as a jumping off point. A brilliant and baffling action effort, the movie proposes the latest nerd as closet gladiator, an archetype that seems to never lose cinematic weight. It then pits him against the classic cabal, a secret society that’s been doing the world’s dirty work for so long that we can’t imagine life without it. The results are as outrageous as they are transcendent.
#6 - The Mist: 2 Disc Special Edition
It needs to be repeated, just in case you missed it the first time - Frank Darabont’s The Mist is a masterpiece. It’s the kind of determined fright flick that few in the industry know how to make - or even comprehend. Everything you expect from this kind of story is here, - the otherworldly setup, the recognizable heroes and villains, the coincidental clashes, the big moment attacks, the smaller sequences of suspense. But Darabont is not content to simply let this opportunity go by without messing a little with the mannerisms. The Mist is so purposeful in how it thwarts genre ethos that it’s almost arrogant.
#5 - I’m Not There: 2 Disc Special Edition
Todd Haynes has balls. He took on the most difficult of subjects (the life and shapeshifting times of songwriter extraordinaire Bob Dylan) and found a way to be both factual and fanciful. Reimagining the artistic chameleon as one of six distinct personas, and hiring an equal number of actors to play them, Haynes helped put into perspective an important, influential artist whose vocation seemed stuck in a constant state of flux. Now, thanks to DVD, everything confusing is clear as crystal. On a commentary track that should be mandatory listening for any would-be bonus feature participant, the director goes into excruciating detail, explaining almost every facet of his fascinating film.
#4 - Ken Russell at the BBC
Before he became the “bad boy” of British cinema, middle aged maverick Russell was making amazing musical biographies for UK television. This masterful boxset contains six of his best - Elgar, The Debussy Film, Always on Sunday, Isadora Duncan: The Biggest Dancer in the World, Dante’s Inferno, and Summer of Song. Sadly, his slam on Richard Strauss, The Dance of the Seven Veils, was pulled at the last minute. Still, with famous faces like Oliver Reed and Vivian Pickles along for the ride, this collection is a revelation, and a testament to one of the most criminally underrated directors of all time.
#3 - Hellboy II: The Golden Army - 3 Disc Special Edition
Sometimes, the most outrageous vision is the most personal. As part of the amazing three disc DVD presentation we hear director Guillermo Del Toro, in his own self-deprecating way, explain how the larger than life flights of fancy peppered throughout the underappreciated Summer blockbuster represents an literal illustration of his own fertile imagination. It’s everything he wanted the original film to be and much, much more. Purposefully plotting out certain scenes to thematically represent his view of mankind and its uneasy coexistence with forces outside of reality, Del Toro delivers the kind of wide-eyed entertainment that will only grow in approval in the coming years.
#2 - Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead Tromasterpiece Collection
If Poultrygeist is a certified ‘Tromasterpiece’ - and it most certainly is - then the stunning three disc DVD treatment of the title is its Hearts of Darkness. Like that memorable documentary of Frances Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, there is an accompanying Making-of featurette entitled Poultry in Motion: Truth is Stranger than Chicken. In it, we witness nearly ninety minutes of infighting, exasperation, and the well-plucked perfection that comes from such a meeting of fertile, often unhinged minds. All the problems Kaufman and crew face on the film, from reluctant DP divadom to abject naked actress angst, are captured. As with other Troma projects, the onset mayhem sometimes threatens to undermine the entire enterprise. Here, it makes the good great, and the special something spectacular.
#1 - Salo: Or the 120 Days of Sodom - Criterion Collection
In some ways, it’s better to begin by discussing what Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Saló is not. It is not the most horrific or grotesque movie ever made. Certainly, the revolting elements used by the filmmaker to fashion his “power = corruption” rants are truly disturbing, but they are often buffered by an aesthetic detachment that’s so remote it leaves their impact suppressed. Similarly, this is not a complicated cinematic screed. From the moment we witness the forced marriage of the libertines’ daughters to the madmen in charge, we realize that Pasolini is offering a very obvious allegory. By moving de Sade into the 20th century, and using Mussolini and his complicit populace as metaphors, the notion of authoritarianism as an ugly aphrodisiac for all manner of debauched behavior is crystal clear.
Finally, it is not child pornography. Granted, the sight of several underage actors posing in various stages of undress (including copious full frontal nudity) will be alarming to our post-millennial PC posturing, but again, this director doesn’t sensationalize sex. Instead, it is handled in such an impartial, almost inert manner that only the most psychologically disturbed pervert would find this film enticing. Upon reflection, Salo is really nothing more than political commentary carried to outrageous, unsettling extremes. The result is repulsive, artistic, and memorable indeed.
Mark Thoma linked to this post from Susan Woodward and Robert Hall, in which they point out that though spending on consumption is down in dollar terms, consumption actually rose when the figure is adjusted for deflation.
Consumption of durable goods, adjusted for price declines
This is something to remember when hearing about how the recession is changing consumer behavior. Chances are it hasn’t changed much at all; we’re just buying cheaper stuff—either taking advantage of falling prices (notice any sales this holiday season?) or substituting inferior goods.
I love a New Year. Time to clear out the baggage of the year before and start fresh. It’s time, too, when I challenge myself to read 100 books in the next 12 months. I’ve set the challenge for about 18 years now, and have yet to actually succeed. But, you know, perusing various publisher’s sites and coming soon-type articles, the pickings are so good over these first few months, that this could be my year…
But then, I say that every year.
Here’s a sample of my exciting reading for 2009 (if I get through these, that’s just 96 to go!):
High Voltage Tattoo
by Kat Von D
Nothing about Kat Von D is conventional, so it’s no surprise her first book features a unique padded red cover, ornate type, and parchment pages. It’s a work of art, just like its brattily beautiful author. The book promises the lady’s in depth perspectives on contemporary tattooing, and offers a look into her own artistic development. Much as I’m looking forward to reading about those things, I really want this for the photos. Kat’s work is transcendent.
Handling the Dead
by John Ajvide Lindqvist
If you’ve read John Ajvide Lindqvist’s previous novel, Let the Right One In, you’ll likely know why this one both excites and frightens me. If this one is anything like that one, there are going to be times I wished I’d picked up The Secret Life of Bees so I perhaps wouldn’t have to confront descriptions of acid-burned faces pressed into bathroom concrete. Of course, however, it’s the daring and ultra full-on nature of Lindqvist’s otherwise rather sweet storytelling that makes it all such an adventure. In Handling the Dead, folks are rising from their resting places in the city morgue and looking for home. I can’t wait to experience this writer’s take on the zombie genre.
by Ryan Adams
He’s like whiskey—you need him, he knows it, bites as he goes down, warms when he hits the spot. All I really know about Infinity Blues is what the pre-release hype tells me: Cameron Crowe calls it “soul poetry”, Eileen Myles says it’s “better than reading a friend’s journal”, and Stephen King reckons it’s brilliant, too. I think I’m ready to slot this one on the special bookshelf next to The Energy of Slaves.
It’s Not Necessarily the Truth
by Jaime Pressly
And it’s a great title. No room for argument there. Pressly has risen in a very short time from sexy model and movie eye-candy to Emmy-nominated actress—not the easiest of progressions, right? How many stars of late-night Skinemax fare like Poison Ivy 3 have seen half as much success? I must know how she managed that. And I hope she discusses her sweetly tragic stint on Punk’d.
by Niccolo Ammaniti
As with Let the Right One In, translated from its original Swedish, Ammaniti’s I’m Not Scared introduced me to the literature of another country and culture, introducing me to world perspectives I’d not previously experienced in my reading. I’m Not Scared is an amazing book, with the most breathtaking final act. The Crossroads interests me because it features similar themes, about young men watching their elders make bad, bad decisions. This time Cristiano waiting and watching as his father plots an ATM theft with a converted tractor. Something tells me the plan won’t go smoothly.
Stephen King Goes to the Movies
by Stephen King
Simon and Schuster, January
Whether it’s in depth analysis like Danse Macabre or film reviewing in Entertainment Weekly, right back to those “Dear Reader” letters he’d put in his old short story collections, Stephen King doing any sort of non-fiction writing just excites me. This book looks especially cool, as the author looks at five of his stories made into films. Of the five he revisits, only one, in my opinion (often the opposite of King’s in EW—Funny Games the best movie of the year? Steve, you are nuts, dude!), is of any real worth as a film, and that’s The Shawshank Redemption. I must know what he thinks of the awful Children of the Corn adaptation, and I’d like a real explanation for the stupid ending to 1408. King’s candor is always fun, so I expect big things, including major bickering in my head between King and I.
Handle with Care
by Jodi Picoult
Simon and Schuster, March
If Ryan Adams is like whiskey, then Jodi Picoult is a strong peppermint latte with cream. She’s sweet and soothing, but she bites, too. And she’s addictive. Picoult is the queen of the family drama, taking key issues of the day—medical, legal, social—and providing insight into what life is like for those “others” who actually experience child suicide, sex attacks, heart transplants, school massacres, and every other human headline event. This time she’s tackling brittle bone disease, abortion, child’s rights, wrongful birth, and the meaning of family. It’s a lot to fit into one story, but such layers and textures are what Jodi does best.
Be Is For Beer
by Tom Robbins
Which bring me to my most anticipated release of the New Year, and possibly the year in full. A new Tom Robbins book is cause to celebrate. This is his first novel since 2003—a children’s book about beer. Robbins is now with Ecco, making him a stable mate beside his heroes Leonard Cohen and Charles Bukowski. The press release for this one calls it an “hallucinogenic hymn to beer, children, and the cosmic mysteries that sustain us all.” I hope this one sets forth to solve some of those cosmic mysteries. I’m quite convinced Tom Robbins holds those answers, and serves them up piece by piece through crazy phrases, big thumbs, and spoons trapped in drawers with vibrators. This one might become my Bible.
Happy Reading New Year.