Why go to all this trouble to go "international" with your DVD system? Here are six good reasons:
Blackout(1997) How is it, you might wonder, that native New Yorker Abel Ferrara can make a film that gets released on French DVD but doesnt even get a token VHS video release here in the U.S.? Well, youve got me. Blackout stars Matthew Modine as an unrepentant substance abuser meandering his way through a typically seedy series of surreal goings-on until, well, something pretty damn eventful maybe happens. Powerful supporting performances from Dennis Hopper, Beatrice Dalle and Claudia Schiffer help ground the films woozy incidents. The PAL Region 2 release is a crisp, solidly colorful transfer with a little bit more artifacting than it should have. It includes a trailer and 15 minutes of behind-the-scenes material depicting Abel chugging a bottle of Red Stripe beer while directing, yelling arcane orders to oblivious crew people, etc. Unfortunately, you cant deactivate the French subtitles while listening to the English-language track. But if youre trying to learn conversational gutter-French, this could be the Rosetta Stone-bonus feature that will make you have to buy it.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) Stanley Kubricks final litmus test deserved a whole lot better than being compared (unfavorably, no less!) to some kind of late-night Cinemax Zalman King fodder and this from the supposedly professional "critics"! The MPAA vegetables didnt do much to help matters, and Warner Bros. caved like a house of cards to the Boards puritanical wishes, imposing digital shadow-puppets over the films naughty bits. But with a couple of viva la revolucion mouse clicks, one can obtain an uncut, uncensored and digitally unmasked DVD of Kubricks last masterpiece. And while Warner Bros. gave us a fine NTSC transfer, the 100 extra lines of the PAL Region 2 version allow much sharper and richer colors to push their way out through the cathode tube.
eXistenZ (1998) Ahh, Miramax. The Region 1 Canadian import DVD of David Cronenbergs virtual-reality mind fuck offers not just a beautiful 16x9 enhanced transfer of the film but also generously includes three audio commentary tracks (by director David Cronenberg, director of photography Peter Suschitzky and special effects supervisor Jim Isaac) and a wonderful one-hour documentary about Cronenbergs longtime production designer Carol Spier. By contrast, the American edition includes . . . well, actually, it includes absolutely nothing and will probably cost you more than the easily obtained Canadian version! Similar Miramax penny-pinching can be found on the American Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting and Holy Smoke discs, all of which lack the extra features and audio commentaries found on the non-American versions.
Dobermann (1997) Based on Joël Houssins series of cult French pulp novels, this sick little puppy delivers the action-adventure goods and then some. Vincent Cassel stars as firepower-crazy super-thief Dobermann, and Tchéky Karyo is the ruthlessly immoral cop who will stop at nothing to bring him down hard. The first 10 minutes contain some of the most nitrously overcharged cinematic storytelling to burn across the screen in a long time; a huge gun accidentally tossed into the lap of baby doberman becomes part of an across-the-screen transitional wipe that morphs the child and adult gun-toting doberman over a 25-year span!
For the past three years Dobermann has been collecting dust in the vast acquisition vaults of the fine folks at Miramax, waiting to be dubbed into English or re-made with Americans or softened into pap. Whatever. The U.K. Region 2 release is a good-looking DVD, but, unfortunately not a great-looking one, transferred from a dark and contrasty print. The French-only soundtrack is a powerful Dolby Pro-Logic Surround monster with booming gunplay and pulsating, full-bodied music to burst your speakers. The film is soon to be released in France (sans subtitles, sadly) as a two-DVD special edition with audio commentary, 12 deleted scenes, and making-of segments.
Muertos de Risa (1999) The title translates as "Dying of Laughter," and this very dark comedy (PAL, Region 2) documents the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of Nino and Bruno, a comedy team whose one unique talent consists of Nino taking slaps across the face from Bruno. Director Álex de la Iglesia (The Day of the Beast and Perdita Durango) plants the film firmly in the 1970s, allowing him to take full advantage of the grotesque fashion lunacy and garish color designs of that era. Furthermore, he weaves his imaginary duo into some of the key South American political events of the day, sometimes via computer manipulation of historic images. Round it all off with a cameo appearance by Uri Geller, and youve got a comedic tale of life-destroying paranoia that covers all the bases of retro-references. The 1.85 (non-enhanced) widescreen transfer is sharp and colorful, and though it doesnt bill itself as a special-edition disc, its got enough supplementary material to make the claim. Only one complaint: an absolutely terrible layer change in the middle of a quick panning shot. What were they thinking?
Le Dernier Combat (1983) Luc Bessons first feature, The Final Combat is a science fiction adventure that posits a future France reduced to an ash-covered wasteland in which everyone has lost the power of speech. Explanation? None. Highlights include the dark comic hijinks of a young Jean Reno and the barren skies suddenly opening into a rainstorm of dead fish. This French DVD is a beautiful 2.35 widescreen enhanced transfer that captures every dull shade of gray between the harsh blacks and whites of the stark cinematography. The only U.S. video release of this film was back in the mid 1980s, a long out-of-print Key Video presentation that hacked the sides off the vast Cinemascope frame and imprisoned it within TVs square box. An even rarer Japanese widescreen laserdisc appeared and just as quickly vanished in the early 1990s, but this recent transfer from France is obviously the most luminous and detailed of the bunch.
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