Best DVDs Of 2006

The boys at Blogcritics asked me to pitch in for their end-of-year DVD list. I was happy to oblige, though I must confess difficulties since I dind’t go to many movies in 2006, nor watched all that many DVDs that came out this year. You, my readers, should know by now that I tend to watch older flicks and rarely get the new stuff. Although this has been changing somewhat now that I don’t actually make it to the theatre anymore, I still tend to watch the old stuff. Anyways here’s the post, as it first originated at BC, the personal pronouns may be slightly off, and I’ve left their introduction intact.


BC Magazine presents a collection of writers offering their opinion on the best DVD releases of the year. The choices range from Hollywood blockbusters to foreign language imports, original stories to remakes, a directorial debut to one of a a master director’s final films, a classic finally appearing on DVD to a triple-dip Extended Edition and even a Saturday morning show — the only common thread being the enjoyment of the experience.

Mat Brewster

Lady VengeancePark Chan-wook’s conclusion to his vengeance trilogy is filled with ultra-violence, buckets of blood, and stunning beauty. Like the rest of the trilogy, Lady Vengeance focuses not only on extreme, violent revenge but the ultimate cause and repercussions of that violence.Lee Young-ae is breathtaking as Lee Geum-ja, the story’s protagonist – a gorgeous young woman who has spent 13 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit and has set out to take her revenge on the person who did.

The cinematography is stunning, the violence a ballet, and the story is heartbreaking. It is the perfect conclusion to a marvelous trilogy that takes epic film violence to philosophical levels by delving deep into the consequence of being wronged and how finding vengeance reaps more than it sows.

It may not be as gut-wrenchingly satisfying an ending as we get in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Oldboy, but it is one that rings the finality to the trilogy, one that serves as an answer to the questions brought up by all three films.The DVD package is as marvelous as the film, coming with multiple commentaries, a documentary on the making of the film, and an interview with the director.

Randall A Byrn
Ryan’s Daughter

Made from restored 70mm materials, Lean’s much-maligned masterpiece looks more beautiful than just about any other disc I have seen. It is the full roadshow-length print, 196 minutes, not including the four — count-’em — four musical interludes: overture, intermission, entr’acte, and exit music. The post-roadshow general release cut was 165 minutes. (This is what I must have seen in Clarksville, Tennessee in 1971, the only previous time I’ve seen the film.)

The vicious reviews in 1970 focused on the slight, simple plot and the antiquated quality of the melodrama, and complained they were a mismatch with the gigantic scale of the production. These criticisms are not completely undeserved, but they downplay the visual majesty of this movie, which goes far beyond merely pretty photography. No one else put images and sound together in quite the way David Lean did; he was maligned by auteurists long before this film, but I think in his case they were just blind. Ryan’s Daughter is so exciting to experience visually that the shortcomings in the script are more like background noise, like a stupid libretto in a great opera.

The making-of documentary is feature-length and fascinating. I didn’t listen to the commentary track, but other reviewers indicate that it is expertly done, with many contributors. This is a fine disc with which to show off your new HDTV – or just to acquaint yourself with a terrific, under-appreciated movie. They absolutely do not make ’em like this anymore.

Nik Dirga
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Imagine a murder mystery narrated by Jerry Seinfeld. That gives you some skewed idea of the delightfully wacky Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, which rounds up some controversial actors, a former blockbuster movie writer, and all the detective-movie clichés you can shake a magnifying glass at. Pepper with hilarious one-liners, and you’re done. The 2005 movie finally hit DVD in 2006, and it’s a favorite that holds up to repeat viewing.

Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is a thief who, through a series of ridiculous coincidences, ends up becoming an actor in Hollywood. In Tinseltown, he’s asked to job-shadow a stylish detective, Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), to prepare for a movie part. Perry’s got the nickname because, well, he’s gay, but he’s also one heck of a detective. They end up jumbled together in a murder mystery involving dead actresses, angry millionaires and lots of wince-inducing injuries (let’s just say someone loses a finger – a couple of times).

Kiss Kiss all comes from the mind of Shane Black, the writer of movies like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout. Black, in his directorial debut, has made a movie that winks at all the clichés of detective movies, yet isn’t a flat-out Airplane-style parody. It’s full of excess, but in the way of a kid prodigy trying to impress you with how much he knows. A lot of the film’s style comes from the fact that he paid his dues in the Hollywood cesspool – he wrote The Last Action Hero, for cryin’ out loud — and this movie’s his chance to comment on it all.

The plot isn’t really the point and the less time spent trying to work it all out, the better. It’s Black’s jazzy rhythm, and the snappy mile-a-minute dialogue and style that elevates Kiss Kiss to a near-classic romp.

Does it all add up to anything profound? Well, no, not really, but it’s a hell of a ride for people who love movies.

Ray Ellis
Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest

Attempting to single out one DVD as the “best” of all the hundreds released is a daunting task at best, and one with which I’m not entirely comfortable. There are feature film releases, music releases, indies, documentaries, and on and on and on. Brothers of the Head made my list, as did John Fogerty’s The Long Way Home. There were plenty of disappointments, too — need I mention Fantastic Four?

I finally came to the conclusion that “best DVD” does not necessarily equate with “best movie.” A DVD resurrects the original work, often becoming an entity that stands on its own. You have to consider packaging, bonus features, A/V options and aspect ratios, in addition to entertainment value.

All that being said, I have to go with Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest. I’m talking the 2-Disc Special Edition, mind you. The holographic slipcover alone has provided me with hours of enjoyment. And with over five hours of bonus features, most of which focus on the technical aspects of making the movie, it’s a package that film fans can’t resist.

The movie itself is presented in 16:9 aspect ratio and Dolby 5.1 Surround sound, which is the only way a current release should be seen. Not that this movie aspires to “art” — it’s a romp, full of Chaplin-esque sight gags and double entendres. Jack Sparrow is a glam rock star version of an 18th century pirate and the villainous Davy Jones, half-man, half-octopus, may be the creepiest rogue (visually speaking) ever put to film. The Caribbean scenery is luscious, contrasting nicely with the murky undersea world of the eternally doomed crew of Davy Jones.

It’s all played for laughs, and despite its cliffhanger ending, Dead Man’s Chest ranks with the swashbuckler films of the forties for pure entertainment value. It’s not the best film of the year by any means, but it is the best movie. It’s popcorn thrills all the way.

Given that we buy DVDs mainly to kick back after a long day, or to enjoy during the weekend, I have to say you’d be hard-pressed to find a better choice than Dead Man’s Chest.

Matt Paprocki
King Kong: Deluxe Extended Edition

It’s easy to dismiss this extended edition of King Kong. Technically, there’s an incredible amount of material missing. The Production Diaries were released separately, the first Kong DVD release had additional diaries, and this extended cut doesn’t have any.

However, what this new cut of Kong brings is a vivid commentary from Peter Jackson and his lead writer. The whopping three-hour documentary on the third disc is just a few minutes shy of the running time when compared to the theatrical cut of the film. Amazingly, not a single piece of it is pulled from previously available material.

The video quality has received a wonderful make over, and can even compete side-by-side against the HD-DVD release of the film. An additional DTS audio track couldn’t have hurt, but this is still an unmatched audio effort.

The added scenes follow the Lord of Rings Extended releases, seamlessly added into the film. While all action and failing to add to the story, the additional body count serves to make Kong’s island dwelling deadlier than it was. Regardless of the story purpose of each scene, this is still one of the best films to receive a DVD release in 2006. Die-hard King Kong fans will obviously get the most from this new cut, as nearly all of the additions are homages to the original 1933 romp (let us all forget Kong ‘76).

As an overall package, with a beautiful fold out case, this three-disc Kong is the definitive version of the film. Additional extras, including nearly 30-minutes of hilarious outtakes, are worth the asking price alone. Also available is a gift set that comes with a Kong statue capturing the beast’s final moments on top of the Empire State Building. There are few DVDs on the market that can compare to this, let alone the ones released this year.

Sombrero Grande
C.S.A. – The Confederate States of America

Trying briefly to describe C.S.A. is difficult. Staged in an alternate present-day, one where the South won the Civil War and slavery remains a staple of everyday American life, C.S.A. is a film within a film, set up as a controversial British documentary playing for the first time on American television. The documentary’s outside-looking-in perspective is challenged by the brilliant addition of “commercials” that periodically interrupt the broadcast and showcase just how ingrained racism and slavery are in this alternate America.

Among the film’s greatest achievements is that it succeeds in making its viewers gasp at the shocking and brazen display of culturally accepted racism, then reveals how our world is not so diametrically different from the one portrayed by showing how racism has been more subtly ingrained in our own products and culture.

In addition to its inspired, ingenious framework, the most remarkable strength of C.S.A. as a film is the fact that, while making its message crystal clear, it never ceases to be greatly entertaining. Some moments are hilarious, others are terrifying; most are both.

Add in the remarkable authenticity given to the crafting of new footage to look old, the fascinatingly believable way in which history is given a nudge in a different direction, or any of a dozen more praiseworthy accomplishments evident in the film, and there can be no doubt that writer/director Kevin Willmott’s C.S.A. ably earns Sombrero Grande’s Best DVD of 2006 pick. This one is eagerly recommended for all.

Tan the Man
The Lake House

With The Lake House, Sandra Bullock seems to be in yet another movie resembling many of her previous works like Miss Congeniality or While You Were Sleeping. Resembles is not the same as is. There are two simple reasons why The Lake House is far superior to those previous romantic comedies:

1. The Lake House isn’t a romantic comedy.
2. Keanu Reeves co-stars.

The Lake House is more of a dramedy (drama + comedy) than a romantic comedy, although to be more accurate, it is simply a romance spiced with some science fiction flare. Bullock plays a lonely doctor who, on leaving her lakeside house, begins corresponding with an equally lonely architect (Reeves) via letters through the mailbox. The usual skepticism ensues, but like the audience, the two soon suspend “true” reality for the shot of being a part of something magical.

Out of all of the thespians who have ever gotten flack for their acting abilities, Reeves, I have always thought, received too much of the brunt. Reeves is more than fine in the role, and it’s his chemistry with Bullock (see Jan de Bont’s Speed for additional Bullock-Reeves chemistry) that makes the movie work. Granted, the two actors play characters whose respective timelines are two years apart; it sure does say something when even their voice-over narrations evoke the sense that they’re actually talking to one another.

The Lake House, a remake of the South Korean film Il Mare, is deep and heart-felt. Even with the abundance of time-travel and romance clichés like weird circumstances, too-perfect-to-be coincidences, and time/reality logic flaws, this Alejandro Agresti-directed film is both very satisfying and extremely enjoyable. The result of the frequent although never tiring coincidences is the sense you get that these two characters really do belong together.

Brandon Valentine
Cinema Paradiso

The Best DVD release of 2006, you ask? Without an ounce of hesitation, my answer is the Cinema Paradiso three-disc “Limited Collector’s Edition.” Considering Cinema Paradiso is one of the most adored films ever made, let us only hope that the use of the word “limited” means “limited to however many copies can be sold.”

If you are unfamiliar with this 1988 cinematic gem, read my review for the details. However, if you have witnessed the magic and celebration that is Cinema Paradiso, you can testify to its eclectic poignancy and its transporting sense of nostalgia. The film showcases the love of movies, and for any movie buff, critic, or goer, it is a beautiful elegy.

This must-own three-disc set comes with “The Theatrical Version,” “The Director’s Cut,” and the score. In addition, the boxed set possesses a myriad of extras and unexpected treats. From the 15-minute retrospective entitled “Exploring a Timeless Classic,” to the collection of 3×5 Italian recipe cards, the Cinema Paradiso “Limited Collector’s Edition” will glow on your DVD shelf with brilliance. This is by far the best version of this timeless foreign classic ever to be released.

Cinema Paradiso is a flawless feature, and with this 2006 release, the package is in its finest form. Certainly, this love letter to film itself is the best thing to hit the shelves since sliced bread. Amo questa pellicola.

El Bicho

Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp (tie)
Ultraman, Series One, Volume One (tie)

While King Kong:DEE is certainly worthy of being named the best DVD due to the high quality of the film and the extras, I have a tie for my favorites of the year. They are both multi-disc collections of shows I used to watch as a child during the ‘70s. I was surprised they held up after more than thirty years, they were still able to bring me plenty of laughs, and that I wasn’t the only person who had a memory of them.

Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp was a Saturday morning kids’ show that spoofed spy movies in much the same way as Get Smart; however, as the title implies, all the characters were played by chimps, which added to the humor. Link worked for the Agency to Prevent Evil, or APE, and would be called to fight evildoers. Each half-hour episode contained two stories. What I didn’t remember, and was happy to rediscover, was that after each story, there was a very funny performance by the all-chimp rock band Evolution Revolution. The image looks fair and was certainly not cleaned up, but I am so grateful to see the show again, I am willing to overlook it.

Ultraman was a Japanese show that featured men in rubber suits fighting and destroying models and that is about as much as there is to the plot. Seeing it as an adult, there is an awareness of how silly the dubbing is, which adds to the unintentional humor. The same man who created the monster Godzilla created the show. You can see the show’s influence on things like The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and it has been revisited many times in Japan. The Complete Series One is now available in two volumes.

My choices won’t be for everyone, but they were without a doubt the best DVDs that I saw in 2006.

Christmas Booty 2006

Call me greedy, egotistical and material minded, but I love getting presents. Throughout the year I am generally very money conscious and stick to a strict budget so much that I rarely buy myself frivilous items. But Christmastime means all bets are off and my wife and I splurge a good deal. I love it. This year was a pretty good haul. I stayed away from larger electronic items (I had hoped for a DVR, but I haven’t researched them enough to make a purchase) and moved towards movie sets and books.

Here’s what I’ve got so far (mind you we are still gathering with my wife’s family over new years.)

972440the-star-wars-trilogy-dvd-release-posters.jpgStar Wars Trilogy

I am of an age that the original Star Wars trilogy is embedded into my psyche. To say that I am a fan is beyond the point. My connection to the films goes beyond fandom. We coexist together without love or hate. We just are.

So how come it took me two years to obtain the trilogy on DVD? The initial reason is that I was living in France when it first came out and did not have the Euros to spend on it. I simply couldn’t convince my wife or my pocket book that this was a purchase that I had to have. This was confounded by the fact that we didn’t own a DVD player capable of playing region 2 DVDs back in the states.

Once we returned home the reasons for not purchasing it began to pile up. The thing with Star Wars is that I have seen it more times than I can remember. So much so that I don’t really have the need to watch them ever again. I know them intimately and absolutely.

A few weeks back I mentioned to some friends that I own over 300 DVDs. Their response was simple. It took the form of a question: “Why?” It is a legitimate question and one that I fumbled to find a suitable answer.

The short answer is that I like to collect things. The long answer involves a desire to have a library of films that I can turn to at any time and watch without having to go to the local rental-plex or library and search for something.

The final chapter in this answer belongs to status. The movies in my collection say something about who I am. They give insight into my character. If, let’s pretend, I owned nothing but Adam Sandler comedies then others would make certain unflattering assumptions about my person.

It was never a question of whether I should own the Star Wars trilogy, for of course I should. In fact I’ve been quite embarrassed now owning it. But it is the second part of my answer that always voided out the inevitable purchasing. I have seen Star Wars so many time that, in all honesty, it is not a series of films that I will reach for very often. There are other movies I prefer to watch above Star Wars at this point in life. So, while I would often pick up the box and give it a heart felt gaze, my monies would be spent on something I’d knowingly watch a little more often.

But now, having a wife to whom meets my needs, I can sleep easy knowing there is an empty place on my DVD list now filled.

gonewiththewind.jpgGone With The Wind

Neither my wife nor I managed to let my parents know what we wanted for Christmas. As such they came empty handed for their holiday weekend visit. After much debate we decided to run to Sam’s and go on a shopping spree. I picked up several movies and a couple of books.

It is a little embarrassing and shameful to admit I have never watched Gone with the Wind all the way through. In high school my sister had to watch it for one of her classes and I caught a pretty good chunk of it, but other distractions got the best of me and I missed more than will allow me to say I have seen it.

I suspect I will expel an unvoluntary guffaw during the scene where Scarlett makes a dress out of her curtains, as I will be remembering the spoof Carol Burnett did so many years ago.  But I look forward to finally seeing this classic.

It is an undoubted classic and surely something a self-proclaimed movie lover should have watched by now which is entirely why I added it to my Christmas cart. Hopefully the viewing isn’t far behind.

lost-the-complete-first-season.jpgLost: The Complete First Season

Any reader of my writings will soon learn I am a Lost fan. It is one of the best shows to make it to a television screen and, for me, gave birth to a new standard for excellence in TV.

I didn’t start watching the show until Season Two, so I had to catch up with Season One on DVD. My wife bought me this mainly due to her having a pretty big coupon.

I adore how nearly every television show is now seeing complete season DVD releases and I am finding myself more and more addicted to this phenomenon as I try to catch up on all the great shows I missed during my TV hiatus.

Season One is not something I would have necessarily purchased myself, as I’m not sure Lost really holds up well to multiple viewings. This will at least help me through the remaining week’s until Season Three begins again.
simpsons9.jpgThe Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season

The top spot for my all-time most favorite TV shows is continually being duked out by the Simpsons and Cheers. Now into it’s 18th season, the number of bad Simpsons’ episodes is beginning to outweigh the good ones, which by and far puts Cheers ahead in terms of consistency. But the early seasons of the Simpsons were brilliant and when you add in the periodic good ones from later years they come out on top.

Season nine is where the Simpsons began to really take a dive. By this point they began making more experimental episodes that veered away from the family dynamic that we had loved for so many years. Principal Skinner became “Armin Tamzarian” in what is often hailed as their worst episode, but generally the episodes just weren’t as funny as they had previously been. A quick skim of this seasons episodes conjures up episodes that were mostly pretty good, but nothing that sits in the “classic” group.

hannibalrisign.jpgHannibal Rising

In some ways you could say Hannibal Lector taught me to read. Growing up I never much cared for books. Mother used to read to us some, but mostly we preferred to watch television and play games. I can remember always doing very poorly whenever our English teachers would have contests to see who could read the most books in a given time period. Stickers would be given per book, and I would have one or two by times end.

It’s not that I hated stories or reading or anything, I just preferred doing other activities. That is until one Christmas when mom bought me The Silence of the Lambs. This is well into high school mind you, when the movie had become a big hit. I had loved the movie and so mom bought me the book in hopes that I might start reading more.

Little did she know how powerful a thing that was. I read the book, read it again, and read it again. I must have read it four times through during the break. I scooped up every word and laid it out for analysis. It was a brilliant book and from there I picked up others, and haven’t stopped in the 15 years since.

In all honestly I can’t say that I’m all that thrilled to be reading this next chapter in Hannibal Lector’s life. Thomas Harris’ previous effort, Hannibal, was disappointing to say the least. Hannibal Lector unleashed upon the world creates an undesirable effect. He was a perfect character when he was locked away, giving only hints to his evil while simultaneously helping catch other killers. On his own he was no longer sympathetic or interesting.

This forth installment feels like another attempt to suck the teat of success dry. Do we really need to know of his childhood? Won’t trying to understand the causes of Lector’s own brand of brilliant evil lesson the demented beauty of the character? I don’t want to read, but I can’t help it.

calvin.jpgThe Complete Calvin and Hobbes

I have loved Calvin and Hobbes for as long as I can remember. My childhood is filled with the daily paper and the comics page. For my money the only reason the newspaper existed was for the comics page. Who cared about politics and sports anyway? (I’d like to say things have changed in the last 20 years, but sadly I still turn to the comics page first.) I read every comic (well except for the serious ones) religiously and there was no greater comic than Calvin and Hobbes.

It was sometimes serious, always hilarious and given a simple grace and artistic flair you couldn’t find anywhere else in the comics. Each year my mother would buy me the latest book covering every strip from the previous year. Though I had already read them in the paper I took great joy in discovering them again in book form. I would slowly, methodically read through each strip savoring every gag, every joke, and every masterful stroke.

It’s been more than ten years since Bill Watterson quit drawing Calvin and Hobbes and I’ve never stopped loving it. I still have all my old book and often take them out and read them again. So it was with absolute joy that I found this complete collection at Sam’s so that, once again, my mother could fill my cart.

It may seem strange to even want to own this since I own all the strips in separate books and have read them all hundreds of times. Yet there is something beautiful and wondrous about having them all bound in this glorious collection. The books are big (and heavy) and collecting in such a way that makes them seem austere and meant for some grand library somewhere. Like they are no longer simple comics but great works of art.

Sitting around Christmas day, my in-laws are looking through our gifts and pull out these books. Singularly they each begin aimlessly flipping through the pages only to stop and read…and laugh. For the next house we sat in silence reading a comic book, filling the quiet moments with bouts of boisterous laughter. Everyone would stop reading as another would read one particularly humorous strip out loud and we’d all commune in laughter.

I don’t think there is anything that symbolizes Christmas more. Bill Watterson would like it that way.

killer_bunnies_blue_starter.jpgKiller Bunnies

A good friend of mine is very much the board/card game junkie. He’s also very much into the more obscure, odd-ball type games that you don’t find in places like Wal-Mart and Target. Periodically he invites plenty of friends over and we have game day. One of our very favorites is Killer Bunnies, a game so odd and fun it defies explanation.

It is a game that involves bunnies and carrots and weapons that make you wonder what the creators were smoking when they invented the game. It’s random and full of chance and luck and very little skill but heaps and piles of great fun. It also has one of the all-time worse ending to a game ever. Essentially after gaining characters and food and carrots and defenses and duking it out for hours with the other players the winner is decidedly random and based on sheer luck.

As a rather very competitive game player, this game completely erases any competitiveness from my skin. The ending is so random and completely devoid of any real strategy or skill that I am able to simply enjoy the game play and not worry about the winner.

I got this one early, as a gift from said friend, and already have made both my parent’s and my in-laws fans.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

This was a quick one-off purchase by my wife who made a frantic run to the store believing she had not yet bought enough presents for myself. I must admit I helped this feeling along in a way to gain a little more booty.

Worst Dream Ever

I dreamed last night that I was watching TV.  That’s it, no talking, no moving, no action what-so-ever.  I wasn’t even changing channels.

What’s worse is that I was looking at the guide station.  So not only did I dream about watching TV, I dreamed that I was looking to see what was on.  In an almost, slightly interesting tidbit, I remember that House was the only show on.

DVD Pick Of The Week: The Black Dahlia


I guess with all the big releases stacked up for pre-Christmas sales, the week after pretty much gets the shaft. There are only a couple of big releases this wee

k and a whole lot of straight-to-video garbage. Strangely, for such a crummy week, it was difficult to decide on which flick would get my pick.

The Black Dahlia

After much debate (ok maybe a minutes worth – I mean it’s not like this decision makes any kind of difference in the world, or even my viewing habits) I de

cided on Brian DePalma’s take on the James Ellroy imagining of the still-unsolved Los Angeles murder.

The film pretty much tanked at the box office and was panned

for the most part, but I’m a big fan of Ellroy and the book so I still want to watch it. It seems like perfect DePalma material, but the man hasn’t made a decent flick in ten years. Why they even keep letting him make films is beyond me, but here we are.

Other notable films coming out this week include:

The Descent (Unrated Widescreen Edition)

The Decent did decent box office and garnered good reviews (well for

a horror movie) and all of my friends (well those who like horror movies) continually tell me this is a must see.

I debated about making this my official pick, but the pull of seeing Ellroy o

n the big screen (well my semi-big TV screen anyway) made me give Dahlia the one-up. But this is supposed to be super scary and interesting and fun. Which means I’ll

have to watch it while my wife is at work.

Hammer Film Noir Vol. 4 (Terror Street / Wings of Danger)

Hammer Film Noir, Vol. 5 (The Glass

Tomb / Paid to Kill)

I’ve never heard of any of these films

, but I’m interested in them solely based on the Hammer name. They made plenty of great low-budget horror films in the day and I’ve hardly made a dent in their titles. It’s great to see them get a generous DVD treatment here.

Bootleg Country: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – 10/28/06

tompetty.jpgIn his 30 year career Tom Petty has sold more than 50 million albums, received three Grammy awards, a Golden Note award, the Gershwin Award For Lifetime Musical Achievement, and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So why doesn’t he seem to get more respect?

To me, it stems from his ability to continually knock out solid albums in a steady fashion for all those years. Every couple of years, Petty puts out an album full of solidly good, if not great material. There are usually a couple of standout hits in each, but no album really rises above the rest. Think about it. Is there one Petty album that you would consider to be an absolute classic? What is his Revolver? Or Dark Side of the Moon? Or Blonde on Blonde? No, in my ever so humble opinion, none of his albums quite make it to that genius level.

Petty’s career has remained relatively stable over the last three decades as well. He continues to put out solid albums, record hit songs and take his band on the road. There haven’t been any giant breakdowns or burn outs. He hasn’t even faded away. No, there has always been a Tom Petty making good songs and churning out classic rock. Where almost all of your great rock bands have all died by one mean or another, Petty has remained one of the few rockers to keep truckin’.

I think by continually putting out good, not great albums so steadily it is easy for the casual fan to overlook Petty’s achievement. Without one brilliant album to cling to, his dozen really good ones get overlooked. By never leaving our presence, it’s easy to sort of forget about how remarkable his career really is.

Double Down Stage
Las Vegas, NV
Download this show via Bittorrent
One of the great things about Tom Petty’s long career is that he can play a different set list almost every night and still sprinkle it heavily with hit songs. For this performance he performs half a dozen of his hit singles, while mixing in songs from his newest album, Highway Companion, slightly obscure older songs, and a few BB King covers.

campbell.jpgThe Heartbreakers never veer far from the original versions of the songs, but perform with the vibrant energy only found at live concerts. Occasionally there is an extended guitar solo, but it never wanders far from the song’s melody and always ends way too quickly for these ears. Mike Campbell proves over and over that while he may never make it to any top lists of greatest guitarist lists, he is more than capable of producing sweet licks and charbroiled sounds.

This is a pretty decent audience recording, and as such there is a good blend of the band playing and the audience enjoying the show. The band mixes are a little muddled, so this is nothing to put on your A-list shelf, but the audience is so exuberant and excited in their response and sing-along that I find myself getting swept away in it all. When the light is just right, I close my eyes and almost feel like I’m right there.

Tom Petty may never find the diehard fanship of The Beatles, Dylan or The Dead, but by continually writing good songs and putting on shows like this, he’s proven to be one of the most steady and long-lasting performers in rock and roll. Not a bad epitaph to have in the end.

Enjoy a few sample .mp3s: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Free Fallin’,” “It’s Good to be King,” and “American Girl.”

Movie Review: Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman

frankenstein_meets_the_wolf_man_movie_poster.jpgI’d like to say that I grew up going to the Midnight Movies and staying up to watch the old MGM horror movies on television. I’d like to say that, but I can’t because, well, because it simply isn’t true. I grew up watching movies from my generation, the 80’s, and that means the Goonies, Gremlins, Ghoulies and others that don’t start with the letter “G.’ It has only been recently that I have dipped into the classics of horror and began watching them.

There have been a recent spat of high quality DVD releases of the mainstays of the franchise – Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman – and I’ve filled my till with the magic, the brilliance that are those films. So, it was with pleasure that I recently found a VHS copy of Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.

To say this is a great point would be missing the point and make me think you were delusional. It’s far from anything anyone ought to call great, but it’s still a pretty fun bit of horror history.

The title is a little misleading – well not technically so since Frankenstein does in fact meet the wolfman – but a picture like this makes one think they will either be locked in mortal combat for the entirety of the picture or team up to destroy some other force, like Dracula for instance.

More to the point it is something of a character study for the wolfman as he is awakened from his grave and has to come to terms with his moon light alter-ego. It is late in the film when he manages to come across Frankenstein’s castle, and a frozen monster inside. The monster is awakened and wreaks havoc before coming to a not all too engrossing close.

The film has some good atmosphere and the sets are marvelous, but it never gets fully off the ground. There just don’t seem to be enough plot to keep the story moving, as it often plunges into a dulldrom.

Definitely worth checking out for classic horror fans, but not the first place to stop.

DVD Pick Of The Week: A Scanner Darkly

a_scanner_darkly_poster.jpgI’m finding one of the more interesting pieces of this column is deciding whether to pick films that I have seen and loved, or that I have not seen and really want to. The thing is that I mostly don’t go to the movies anymore, so I wait until they are out on DVD. Since this list is chosen from the new DVD releases of the week, most of the films have not yet been seen by me.

Picking a movie I haven’t seen, at first seemed a little bit wrong, but I’m now looking at this list as not only a way to highlight my favorite films, but also what I want to check out at the local rental store. With that in mind my pick of the week is:

A Scanner Darkly

I did not see Richard Linklater’s last foray into animation-over-real-actors, Waking Life, but the process looks fascinating. Scanner seems to have a much more coherent plot, and being based on a Phillip K Dick story it ought to be a good one. It has received mostly good reviews and I generally enjoy Linklater’s films so this should prove to be at least interesting.

Other notable films coming out this week include:

Little Miss Sunshine

The little indie that could. Small budget film went on to generate a lot of buzz and big money at the box office. It’s actually not quite as good as they say and is spoiled by an ending that is so over-the-top is loses its credibility.

Lady in the Water

This got terrible reviews and tanked at the box office, but Shyamalan is usually good for a night’s entertainment, at least once anyway. I sit somewhere in the middle between the usual crowd of “he’s a genius” and “he’s a filthy Hitchcock knock-off.” He’s a good story teller with an excellent visual sense, but he relies too heavily on twists and surprise endings. I remember not long after the Sixth Sense he went on about how he didn’t want to be pigeon holed as a suspense man with surprise endings. At the time I thought that was a great move and looked forward to seeing him do more standard films. Of course he went right out and did more of the same, which is getting quite tiring.

Still, it’s got Paul Giamatti who can do no wrong anymore, and the plot looks interesting enough to make this worth a rental.

The Simpsons – The Complete Ninth Season

We’ve definitely entered the downfall at this point. While most episodes still contain a few good gags, great episodes are pretty scarce. Yet, as a fan, I’ll still be purchasing this.

All the King’s Men

This got pretty rotten reviews for the most part, but it’s got a great cast which makes it worth a watch.

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

Spike Lee’s four part Katrina documentary. Lee generally has an agenda with his films and I’m sure this film takes sides, but he’s also an excellent film maker and from the reviews it is supposed to be quite moving.

Random Shufle – 12/18/06

so many roads“Whiskey in the Jar” – Grateful Dead
From So Many Roads (1965-1995)

One of the many things I love about the Grateful Dead is their undying passion for the music. This is a band that played together for 30 odd years and never seemed to stop exploring new grounds or finding joy in the pleasure of making music.

Even after they had became an enormous corporate behemoth, they still enjoyed learning new songs as can be seen in this performance. This is not so much a cohesive song as it is a rehearsal session. It begins with Jerry singing one of the versus, but stops short before it is completed.

What follows is the entire band joyfully talking about the song and where it came from. It is in fact an old folk song which Jerry has recently remembered (and for a full brilliant performance of the song see the Garcia/David Grisman disk, Shady Grove.) The band laugh and talk excitedly about the song before Jerry launches into it again.

All told the song is partially performed three times with a continual adding of performers as the band begins to learn it. It is not a particularly beautiful performance either time, but it is priceless in its ability to show road warn musicians still getting a kick out of music itself.

“Hands In My Pocket” – Jim Guthrie
From a Capitol One Commercial

Periodically, as the mood hits me, I visit one of the many mp3 blogs floating out there in the internets and download some new, or interesting music. As is true anywhere in the music world there is lots of crap floating out there, but there are also a few gems and I’m always excited to find something new and interesting.

This is a wonderful jangly bit of pop and an immensely pleasing, catchy thing. With a little research I discovered it was written specifically for a Canadian Capitol One commercial. A little guilt there for buying into a piece of commercialism, but if a relatively unknown musician can gain some extra cash and gain a new audience by creating an incredibly catchy piece of music then more power to him.

And really it is a lovely little thing that I can’t get out of my head.

“Return of the Grievous Angel” – Gram Parsons
From Grievous Angel

There has been some recent fanboy ravings about the exemplary qualities of The Byrds. My own experience with that band has been uneven. I first purchased their pioneering country-rock album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo and absolutely adored it. From there I dove head first into their musicography and purchased a boxed set. Strangely I could never get into it.

I think much of the trouble stems from the majority of the Byrd’s output sounding nothing like Sweetheart. I went into the boxed set expecting more of the same country inflected rock and found something completely different.

Admittedly, I gave up on the boxed set pretty quickly, but with all the recent hubbub I have gone back into it to see if maybe a few years listening experience would sweeten my ears to their sounds. Partially, it did. There are now a number of the more jangly pop tunes that I am loving, tet it still isn’t latching onto me with any force.

With some research early on I came to realize a large portion of the magic of Sweetheart was due to one man – Gram Parsons. I have since seeked out his own solo work and found it to be the sort of sound I was looking for in the depths of the Byrds catalog.

Still, it has been a slow climb into his solo catalog and I would not claim to be any kind of Parson’s aficionado. But this is a darn fine song. It’s the kind of lazy country song I might find my uncles singing on the porch during one of our family reunions.

“Flowers in December” – Mazzy Star
From Among My Swan

It’s funny the way some people leave lasting impressions upon you, even when you don’t know them that well at all. Mazzy Star will forever remind me of a girl named Michelle. I knew Michelle in college as a strangely attractive, highly interesting if mostly spacey young lady.

She had seen more than her fair share of drugs, and she tended to walk around on sort of a perpetual high – never quite coherent or all together there, but still a very cool chick. During our all too few conversations I found her completely fascinating and kind and enchanting.

One conversation stands out to me and that’s when she told me that she had a religious vision where God came down and told her it would be alright by giving her a big giant bear hug. It was beautiful, she said, and I had to agree.

Michelle always had good taste in music and she was a big fan of Mazzy Star. So much so that my memories of her are always accentuated by a Mazzy Star backdrop.

This song sounds like much of their work as it is filled with breezy soundscapes and the sleepy angel voice of Hope Sandoval. It never fails to sweep away the clouds of memory and put a smile on my face wondering whatever happened to my friend Michelle.

“Old and in the Way” by Old and in the Way
From Old and In the Way

We’ll bookend today’s shuffle with some Jerry Garcia music. Old and in the Way was a superstar bluegrass group formed by Garcia, David Grisman, Peter Rowan, Vassar Clements and John Kahn. It was never really a serious group in the manner of planning to be something lasting, as all of the members were very active in other bands. It seems like more of an excuse for all the players to play together and to perhaps play something they wouldn’t get the chance to otherwise.

I’ve loved bluegrass music for as long as I’ve been serious about loving music. To me, it is one of the purest forms of American music out there. Even though much of it actually comes from across the seas, it is that special blending of so many cultures and styles that makes it particularly American. That, and the way that it is played in the backyards, front porches, and church basements across this country by professionals and amateurs of every stripe.

This is from the only album the original version of band ever produced (a live set was much later released, and the group reformed minus Garcia and Kahn a few years back.) There is nothing fancy about this song, it just sort of rolls along the hands of master players without showing off or announcing itself to the world. But there is something beautiful and wonderful about it just the same.