Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part II.

Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part II. – Top 30 DVDs #1-10.

Black Test Car (1962)

Black Test Car (Fantoma)
Yasuzo Masumura is one of my favorite Japanese directors, but unfortunately many of his films are unavailable on DVD and have never been seen outside of Japan. Thankfully Fantoma has been making an effort to release many of Masumura’s films and in 2007 they released his brilliant and extremely dark satire Black Test Car (Kuro no tesuto kaa, 1962). The film takes a rather unflattering look at the corruption and greed behind the burgeoning car industry in Japan and anyone who’s familiar with the director’s earlier film Giants and Toys (Kyojin to gangu, 1958) will immediately spot similarities between the two movies. Masumura was a director who was clearly interested in critiquing Japan’s economic boom and exploring the ways in which American capitalism was affecting Japanese society after WW2. As much as I enjoyed the director’s colorful satire Giants and Toys (1958), I personally think Black Test Car is a more effective film dealing with similar themes and I’m grateful that Fantoma has made it available on DVD. Black Test Car features some stunning black and white photography, and Masumura’s direction is top-notch here. All the actors involved with the production deliver some great performances, but I found Jiro Tamiya and Junko Kano especially effective as a young couple whose relationship becomes deeply strained throughout the course of the film. The Fantoma DVD contains an excellent widescreen transfer of the film along with the original theatrical trailer, a biography on the director and still galleries.

Peter O’Toole in Becket (1964)

Becket (MPI Home Video)
I enjoy well-done British historical dramas and many great ones were released on DVD for the first time last year including the wonderful Anne of the Thousand Days (1968), which I also considered including on my list. But my favorite film of the bunch was Becket (1964), which is based on the Tony Award-winning play written by Jean Anouilh. The film plays somewhat free and loose with historical facts, but still manages to be an engaging and thoughtful take on the important events surrounding the relationship between King Henry II and Thomas Becket (the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170). Becket was directed by the gay filmmaker Peter Glenville and he injects the film with a wonderfully subversive edge that hints at a deeper relationship between Becket and King Henry II, who are played brilliantly by Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. The film can be viewed simply as a great historical drama and I first saw it presented as an education tool when I was in high-school, but I also think Becket is one of the most sentimental and moving films ever shot about unrequited love shared between two men. Watching Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton struggle with their feelings for one another is what really keeps the film interesting and adds weight to the political power plays in the film and its dramatic conclusion. The DVD features an audio commentary from Peter O’Toole, the original trailer, an impressive still gallery and archival interviews with Richard Burton as well as composer Laurence Rosenthal and editor Anne V. Coates.

Doris Day in Caprice (1967)

Caprice (20th Century Fox)
Like movies such as Last of the Secret Agents? (1966) and Skidoo (1968), Caprice (1967) is a film often talked about disparagingly by people who’ve never actually seen it and it’s nowhere near as awful as you’ve been led to believe. Yes, the film has its problems and its stars (Doris Day and Richard Harris, who’s rarely looked so good) don’t seem to have much chemistry on screen, but this entertaining spy satire also contains some really funny bits, well-done action scenes, fantastic Ray Aghayan costumes and a wonderfully polished pop-art look thanks to director Frank Tashlin and Oscar winning cinematographer Leon Shamroy. I never expected Caprice to get a DVD release, much less one as wonderful as this, but 20th Century Fox really went all out last year. Besides a spectacular restored widescreen transfer of the film, the DVD also includes commentary tracks by film historian John Cork and Pierre Patrick, a fascinating interview with costume designer Ray Aghayan, radio interviews with Doris Day and Richard Harrison, a nice photo gallery and two interesting shorts called Double-O Doris and Doris and Marty that explores the strained relationship between the Doris Day and her husband & manager, Martin Melcher. Hopefully I’ll get around to writing a longer review of Caprice in the future, but in the meantime, I highly recommend the film if you happen to enjoy Dean Martin’s Matt Helm movies as much as I do.

Chosen Survivors (1974)
Chosen Survivors (1974)

Chosen Survivors / The Earth Dies Screaming (Midnite Movies / 20th Century Fox)
Last year 20th Century Fox released some terrific films as part as their wonderful Midnite Movies series, including The House on Skull Mountain / The Mephisto Waltz double feature, which I also wanted to include on my list. I haven’t seen all of last year’s Midnite Movie double features, but Chosen Survivors / The Earth Dies Screaming was one of my favorites. Before the DVD was released I hadn’t seen either of these unusual science fiction films before, but I really enjoyed them. Chosen Survivors (1974) tells an apocalyptic tale about a group of strangers thrown together in a sort of underground holding tank by the U.S. military after a thermonuclear war has destroyed earth’s surface. Things get worse when bloodthirsty bats show up and start killing people. There’s something strangely compelling about the film, and it’s definitely helped by the wonderful space age set designs and cast, which includes Jackie Cooper in what has to be his creepiest role ever. The film was directed by Sutton Roley who made lots of films for television and Chosen Survivors often has a “small set” feel, but it’s also really entertaining. The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) has a somewhat similar theme involving space aliens who use poison gas to wipe out the earth’s population leaving only a handful of survivors to deal with the aftermath. It was directed by the talented British director and Hammer legend Terence Fisher, who brings a lot of stylish touches to this low-budget movie. Overall I enjoyed Chosen Survivors a bit more, but The Earth Dies Screaming contains some rather creepy moments reminiscent of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). This nice looking two-disc DVD set from 20th Century Fox makes for a worthwhile night of viewing.

The Holy Mountain (1973)

The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky: Fando y Lis / El Topo / The Holy Mountain (Starz / Anchor Bay)
This impressive DVD collection features three of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s earliest films and besides one major complaint I have (when will we get a good NTSC Region 1 DVD release of the director’s best film, Santa Sangre?), this really is a spectacular collection of avant-garde cinema that should be savored. Jodorowsky’s surreal efforts play with genre expectations and are loaded with iconographic imagery and strange landscapes that I never get tired of exploring. El Topo (1970) is probably my favorite film in the collection, but The Holy Mountain (1974) gets more interesting with each viewing. Alejandro Jodorowsky is a fascinating artist and this important collection sheds some much needed light on his body of work. This new DVD set features beautiful restored and re-mastered transfers of his films, plus many impressive extras including soundtracks for El Topo and The Holy Mountain, exclusive in-depth interviews and a feature-length documentary about the director, photo galleries and Jodorowsky’s directorial debut short called La Cravate, which was long thought lost.

Anais Nin in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954)

The Films of Kenneth Anger” Vol. 1 and Vol. 2(Fantoma)
Fantoma should be applauded for bringing this terrific two-volume collection of Kenneth Anger’s esoteric short films (1947-1981) to DVD. Previously I had only seen a few of Anger’s films (Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954 and Invocation of My Demon Brother, 1969) on poor-quality videos, but Fantoma really did a spectacular job of restoring these experimental movies and they look better than ever. I’ve only managed to watch the first volume of this new DVD collection myself, but I wanted to include both volumes on my list because I think Anger’s work is smart, challenging, thought provoking and well worth seeking out. Many interesting counterculture figures and artists such as Anais Nin, Anton LaVey, Mick Jagger and filmmaker Curtis Harrington appear in Anger’s films and collaborated with him, which makes these films important historical documents as well as fascinating viewing. Extras include a deluxe 48-page book with an introduction by Martin Scorsese, audio commentary from Kenneth Anger, rare outtakes and more.

The Singing Street (1952)

Free Cinema (Facets)
This amazing three-disc DVD collection from Facets collects many influential short films from Britain’s Free Cinema movement, which helped reinvent documentary in the early 1950s and gave birth to the British New Wave. Working on shoestring budgets with hand-held 16mm cameras, directors like Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson were able to create startling films that brilliantly brought Britain and its working-class citizens to life, while exploring the underlying social tensions that seemed to be lingering right under the countries surface after WW2. This is the first time these important films (shot between 1952-1963) have been made available on Region 1 DVD and they really highlight the imagination and intelligence of these young British filmmakers, who would go on to create some of the greatest films made in the sixties and seventies. This three-disc DVD collection includes an extensive booklet from the BFI (British Film Institute) and an interesting documentary about the Free Cinema Movement. I hope to write much more about the films in this wonderful collection soon.

Peter Cushing in From Beyond the Grave (1973)

From Beyond the Grave (Warner Home Video)
Please see my previous review of this terrific Amicus anthology film HERE.

Horrors of Malformed Men (1969)

Horrors of Malformed Men (Synapse Films)
For years I’ve been hoping someone would unearth this rare experimental Japanese horror film that was often assumed lost after it was banned in Japan shortly after its initial release, so you can imagine how happy and surprised I was to discover that Synapse was releasing it on DVD last year. Thankfully the film did not disappoint and Horrors of Malformed Men (1969) turned out to be one of the most fascinating Japanese horror films I’ve ever seen. Horrors of Malformed Men is based on an original novel by the popular Japanese author Edogawa Rampo that borrows a lot from H. G. Wells’ classic The Island of Dr. Moreau. Director Teruo Ishii takes what could have been a somewhat familiar premise and turns it into a fascinating fever dream that combines Butoh dance, stunning color photography and a haunting soundtrack by famed composer Masao Yagi. You might laugh, you might cry and you might even have your mind blown by this unapologetically strange and surreal film. Be sure to watch the great interviews included on the DVD with directors Shinya Tsukamoto and Minoru Kawasaki, which only add to the film’s enjoyment and offer an interesting look at the influence this unusual movie had on a new generation of Japanese filmmakers. Other great extras include audio commentary by author Mark Schilling, the original Japanese trailer, a poster gallery and detailed biographies of director Teruo Ishii and author Edogawa Rampo.

Malcolm McDowell in If…. (1968)

If…. (Criterion Collection)
When I first saw Lindsay Anderson’s If…. (1968) it deeply affected me and helped spark my lifelong interest in British cinema. Over the years my admiration for Anderson’s smart film about British youth “revolting against the status quo and daring to imagine what it might be like to put something else in its place” (David Ehrenstein – from his Criterion Essay written for DVD release of If….) has only grown. In the film Malcolm McDowell gives an iconic performance as a troubled student named Mick Travis who rebels against the system with his imagination and wits. I love the way Anderson creatively mixes color with black and white photography within If…. in order to give Mick Travis an inner life that’s so incredibly rich that he seems to literally live and breath right on the screen. If…. has often been compared to Jean Vigo’s 1932 classic Zero for Conduct and Anderson was undoubtedly inspired to some degree by that film, but If…. is clearly a product of the turbulant times that it was made in and frankly it’s a superior and more complex effort that ranks as one of the greatest and most important British films of the sixties. Criterion really did a remarkable job on their two-disc DVD presentation of If…., which includes a newly restored high-definition digital transfer of the film approved by cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, an insightful audio commentary with actor Malcolm McDowell and film historian David Robinson, interviews with McDowell, Ondricek, Anderson’s assistant Stephen Frears, producer Michael Medwin and screenwriter David Sherwin, Anderson’s Academy Award–winning documentary about a school for deaf children called Thursday’s Children (1954) narrated by Richard Burton and a very nice booklet featuring articles about the film by David Ehrenstein, as well as screenwriter David Sherwin and director Lindsay Anderson.

Links to the first, third and fourth part of my Favorite DVD Releases of 2007 list can be found here:
Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part I. – The DVD Year in Review – An Introduction
Favorite DVDs of 2007 Part III. (#11-20)
Favorite DVDs of 2007 Part IV. (#21-30)

Part III. of my Favorite DVD Releases of 2007 – #11-20 will be posted soon so stay tuned!

16 thoughts on “Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part II.

  1. Excellent, excellent! Some new ideas for viewing, and ‘Becket’ and the Anger films are well worth adding to anyone’s collection. As for ‘If’, the wishful young man resonated with me at an impressionable time – McDowell could do no wrong for a while after that. I’m getting the ‘Free Cinema’ as soon as I can – thanks for the heads-up.

  2. odd. top 10 first, 10-30 coming soon? backwards… odd.

    anyway, ‘black test car’ is one of my favourite releases of 2007 also. masumura’s diversity feels apparent from the few films released on disc that i’ve been able to see… and this, although not what i would personally call a satire, is more of a dry, detailed, dark drama with typically japanese comedic touches at the briefest moments. it just tips towards too dark for there to be any room left to leave a tinge of satire. anyway, that’s by the by. the film’s just superbly tight, quite the opposite of the drifting ‘red angel’… disc is perhaps the nicest of the masumura’s i’ve seen also.

    as for ‘horrors of malformed men’, glad to see it, love the visuals and abstractness of it all, but didn’t think it worked that well for me, not initially at least. need to watch it again.

    other favourites of the year, if you need pointers : citizen dog, green minds metal bats, perversion story, linda linda linda, i’m a cyborg… , nightmare detective, retribution, eye in the sky, flower and snake, secret sunshine, tekkon kinkreet, girl who leapt through time, female, the psychic, tattooed flower vase, quick-draw okatsu, triangle.

    spent some time catching up or backtracking, so there’s more i enjoyed not new to 2007 too.

  3. Some very interesting choices there, with beautifully written accpunts of the films and discs. As Vanwall says, some good ideas for new viewing.
    I’d also rate SANTA SANGRE as Jodorowski’s best film, and Anchor Bay UK released a wonderful special edition of this film. There will probably still be copies to be found on Amazon Uk if you’re interested.

  4. Vanwell – Thanks. I got the Free Cinema collection as an xmas gift and it’s easily one of the greatest gifts I received. Just amazing! It’s pricey, but worth every cent. And three cheers for McDowell! I can only imagine the legions of troubled youths he’s inspired.

    logboy – No offense, but your comments are kind of odd. Please re-read my first post located here and you’ll understand that these films aren’t listed in any kind of numerical order. They’re listed alphabetically. Just like last years list, I’m posting 10 films at a time because I enjoy writing about my selections and frankly it takes time to compile and write 30 DVD reviews and they can be rather lengthy to read (I tend to be a wordy blogger). And thanks for the viewing tips, but I don’t need any pointers. I’m perfectly capable of selecting my own Top 30 favorite DVD releases from 2007. I’m just busy writing them up and as I mentioned in my previous post, my selections are DVDs that feature films originally released in the ’60s or ’70s (which are the film eras my blog focuses on) and many of the films you mentioned are current releases. Last but not least, thanks for sharing your thoughts on Black Test Car. It’s a terrific film and I personally think the term “satire” could easily be applied to it. If you haven’t seen Masumura’s Giants and Toys yet, it’s a must, but I think his best films are Blind Beast and Afraid to Die. I hope Fantoma releases more of his films in the future.

    Steve – Thanks a lot. I know about the Region 2 DVD of Santa Sangre even though I only have an old VHs of the film myself, but I really wish a Region 1 DVD was available. I was disappointed that it wasn’t included in the Jodorowsky collection. Thanks for mentioning it though. It’s a fantastic film!

  5. Great top ten list. I look forward to your other choices as well. I’ve seen several of these, including “Caprice” and “If…” While I understand some of the complaints people have had about “Caprice,” I really enjoyed it. You know how much a fan I am of spy movies, whether they are more serious fare or spy spoofs. I think if people are fans of Dino’s Matt Helm movies then they will get a kick out of this. This is a really cool and enjoyable film. I also loved “If…” Malcolm McDowell is one of my favorite actors of all time. He especially could do no wrong at this time period. He made so many interesting films then. I love this one. It definitely grips you, giving you a lot to think about.

  6. Completely understand why you break it up like that Kimberly, but it pains me to have to wait for the next 20…

    Your lists invariably always make me update my own to-buy list or, at the very least, my zip.ca queue. I added “Caprice” and “Chosen Survivors/Earth Dies Screaming” to my zip queue and have bumped up viewing priorities on others that were already on my radar (in particular “Horrors Of Malformed Men” – just from that screencap!).

    I must say, I wasn’t a huge fan of “Blind Beast” after my first viewing, but the damned thing has left an imprint in my brain…And I keep feeling the urge to re-watch it in order to figure out why it sticks with me so much and to perhaps catch deeper references (I think I would need to better understand Japanese society at the time of the film’s release).

  7. cinebeats – yes, very wordy. me too. but then, i tend to scan over things as i’m hopping around sites like this. as for the idea of no particular order, it’s odd to also then mention “top 30” and to give the picks numbers. the pointers, although split outside your criteria of 60s / 70s films, aren’t simply for you, or really intended to give people things i think they should have an interest in, it’s to provide my picks to place alongside yours as we discuss the merits of various things from 2007 – if you pick from them, look into them, or ignore them, at least there’s another relatively rare selection to show how, despite what criteria may be, things vary much more than is often obvious from what blogs contain, given the time, effort and individual vision involved.

  8. Oh, Kimberly. Have I told you lately how much I love Cinebeats? I dunno, this blog is just fun to LOOK AT. Which is the first reason (despite later intellectualization) that we all fell in love with film in the first place.

    As for the first ten, as usual I vigorously agreed with some choices and was exposed to many things I didn’t know about yet.

    Thanks for continuing to be great!

  9. I’ve not seen Black Test Car or Horrors of Malformed Men but good to know about them now. As for Becket, if, & El Topo I love those movies and I think everyone involved does such superb work. I just watched if and El Topo again in the last year and they impress me more each time I see them.

  10. I can’t afford to get all the DVDS but I always just enjoy your compelling observaations, Kimberly. You actually make me want to see CAPRICE now since I’m a HUGE fan of Dino’s MATT HELM films. Tashlin was a genius of constructing a kind of bright plastic aesthetic which I find compelling and his live action films look like cartoons he animated. Buying a Doris Day movie might be difficult, though. I have had a Japanese language video of TEST CARS, but I can see that you have to watch it with subs since there’s so much dialogue, to get the satire. I have watched EARTH DIES SCREAMING over and over and it’s a very interesting low budget sci fi film which does and implies a lot in 60 m with no budget. EL TOPO, which I saw at the original 70s midnight showing in NYC, is my favorite Jodorowsky, but the commentary is just one of the best I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t afford the entire KUBRICK box but I did get the essential 2001 upgrade. Look forward to your continuation of this…

  11. The Kenneth Anger dvd is actually on my Netflix queue, but I was unaware it was such a recent release. I honestly just don’t bother tracking this stuff, which is why I’m glad you do.

    I knew about the Jodorowsky set because he’s one of my favorite directors, thus collecting his work is a long term goal. I believe we’ve discussed the absence of Santa Sangre from the set before, and I have a vague feeling it may have something to do with the rights to the film.
    I do think that El Topo and Holy Mountain go very well together. They more directly address many of the same ideas and are stylistically consistent. Santa Sangre is certainly a more subtle, developed film that works just as easily as horror. I do hope it gets proper dvd release eventually.

    A few of these look very interesting. I will have to refer to these 2 lists again.
    I’m currently binging on film noir. The only break so far has been watching Hairspray w/my mother, which was OK. But I still wonder what the point of the musical and then movie really was. I’ve only seen some of the original, but I’m familiar w/John Waters and get his sensibility. It’s really weird to see that sensibility stripped down to a cute veneer.

  12. Thanks much for all the feedback everyone! I really appreciate it and I’m glad I can recommend some interesting films that may have been slightly overlooked last year. I’m afraid my computer suffered a minor meltdown last week, which slowed down my writing and delayed the last two parts of my list, but I hope to finish it up this weekend.

    I also want to mention that most of these films are available for rent online at places like Netfix and Greecine so even if you don’t have the extra funds to purchase the DVDs, you can still rent them.

    Bob – I wanted to mention that if you want to read a little more about Chosen Survivors/Earth Dies Screaming I recommend checking out Arbogast’s blog since he’s written some more detailed reviews there that are worth a look. I also really recommend checking out some of Yasuzo Masumura’s other films such as Black Test Car and Afraid to Die. Even if you didn’t enjoy Blind Beast (it’s probably his most experimental film) all that much, I think you might find stuff to really like in his other films.

    Robert – I haven’t picked up the new Kubrick set either (I own the old one though) but it looks amazing! I’m afraid I have no re-releases on my list such as the new Mario Bava sets because I haven’t seen any of them. Replacing all my old DVDs is a bit costly for me right now, especially when there are so many films being released on DVD for the first time lately that I can’t pass up.

    Arbogast – Richard Harris would have ate Jackie Cooper for breakfast and let the bats feed on his bones!

    AR – I think you’ll really enjoy Anger’s work and I hope you’ll write about it in the future. I’m afraid I’ve stayed away from the Hairspray remake due to lack of interest and because I like Water’s original film so much. It does look like a watered down version of the original and I don’t really understand the appeal, but it seems to be popular. You’re a braver person than I for making the time to watch it! 😉

  13. Well, it was either Hairspray, another Die Hard sequel, or Shoot ‘Em Up (which admittedly has some actors I like, but bleh). I doubt I would’ve watched it of my own fruition.
    I’ll also add that I disliked the music. A couple songs were OK, but mostly it was vintage rock’n’roll and rhythm & blues watered down into showtunes of the cliched, mediocre variety.

    I also watched Ghost Rider over Xmas for a similar reason. What a terrible awful movie that was.

  14. No need to explain yourself to me AR! But thanks for the heads-up about Ghost Rider. I’ve been curious about it since I like the original old comics but I know you like comics yourself, so I expect I should stay clear of that movie.

    I watched some truly awful Jason Statham/Jet Li film last night called War. My only excuse? I just like looking at Jason Statham and Jet Li. Sadly, even the simple eye-candy of two shirtless & sweaty guys I like a lot couldn’t keep me interested in the movie. I had to turn it off before it was over.

  15. I’d bought “Caprice” some time ago but hadn’t yet sat down to watch it until spurred on by this post. Well, having now seen it, I can honestly say it struck me as a bit of an incomprehensible mess. Richard Harris was fun but Doris seemed like a big miscasting here, as I think she was too old for the part at that time in her life. (Sorry if that sounded sexist, but a younger, more svelte actress would have been more convincing as a fast moving spy.)

    The big flaring fashions were fun but also seemed wrong for what the character had to do, action-wise. I’ve liked other Frank Tashlin films, but here he seemed to be out of his element. I can’t help but compare it to the less wacky, more sophisticated touch of Stanley Donen in “Charade” and “Arabesque”, which I think might have made this film more palatable for me. I also like Dino’s “Matt Helm” flicks much better than this film, I’m afraid.

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