Hello there. I'm Glenn Abel, hitting the play button on this DVD blog. (February 2007)
The subtitle here is "Adventures in viewing and reviewing." Critics usually seek to deliver the goods from the mountain top, but this is an asphalt-level project. Consider these entries works-in-progress, deleted scenes, outtakes -- a raw feed from someone who gets a first look at a lot of good DVDs and knows what's what's on the product side of the industry.
I've been writing about DVDs since the late 1990s. You may have encountered my stuff in the Hollywood Reporter, on Reuters or in any of the dozens of papers worldwide that have been kind enough to print/post the work.
I don't review films because I don't know how to make films. I review DVDs -- how they look, how they sound, and how the bonus material plays. That I can handle, mostly.
Read on and you'll get a good idea of where this blog's interests lie. Hint: the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "You, Me and Dupree" didn't make the cut.
No snobbery intended. I love a popcorn movie, but tend to review discs whose films deliver the goods artistically, backed by a generous set of bonus features. No one does this better than the Criterion Collection.
I write almost exclusively about DVDs I can recommend without hesitation. (OK, there was "Pearl Harbor" -- but the extras were as good as the movie was bad.) Since I witness every element of the DVDs I review for publication, projects are picked with care. Life is too short. You can find the crap without my help.
Crowd-friendly video content can be found on my seasonal review site DVD Gift Guide.
My top DVDs of 2006:
"Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier" -- Francis Ford Coppola delivers one of the year's best commentaries in this double-disc release. "I wanted it to have the biggest picture -- the greatest sound," the director said of his vision for the Vietnam war film. This DVD set carries out Coppola's orders: The film looked outstanding on previous DVDs, but the video takes another step up here, to near reference quality. The powerful 5.1 audio carpet-bombs the soundstage. Among the many extras is a short film built around 17 minutes of Marlon Brando reading T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men." (Paramount)
"3 Films by Louis Malle" -- Contains "Murmur of the Heart," "Lacombe, Lucien" and the director's comeback triumph "Au Revoir Les Enfants." These French films, taken as a trilogy, argue for Malle's inclusion as one of the great directors of the century's second half. The four-disc set includes a compelling talk on Malle by his biographer and a bittersweet 2005 interview with his wife Candice Bergen. First-rate transfers, of course. (Criterion)
"Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show" -- The con is on. The fix is in. Master Sgt. Ernest G. Bilko is back in the game. Often called the first TV ensemble comedy, "Bilko" consistently was a hoot, among the best-written and wonderfully acted shows ever. Phil Silvers played his most-famous role bald and beautiful with a giant grin and a wink that always signaled "Scam Ahead." This three-disc set packs in 18 remastered episodes and a generous but scattered collection of extras. The set begins with the pilot and ends with the final episode, leaving Bilko behind bars, still grinning: "That's all, folks!" (Paramount)
"Epitafios" -- This Argentine miniseries from HBO Ole! is more violent than "The Sopranos," stranger than "Carnivale" and features characters at least as damaged as the "Six Feet Under" undertakers. But for El Norte viewers with savory tastes and strong stomachs to match, "Epitafios" is a seriously cool find. Driving the 13-episode narrative is the brilliant young psychopath Bruno, an evildoer pulled from the same Jungian well as Hannibal Lecter -- only meaner and better looking. Guaranteed addictive, creepy as hell and intellectually challenging. (HBO)
"John Wayne-John Ford Film Collection" -- Warner's restored version of "The Searchers" finally brings home the 1956 masterpiece in an approximation of its original theatrical glory. The revenge saga is the star of this sensational eight-film boxed set. The upgraded "Stagecoach" and the DVD debut of "Fort Apache" join "Searchers" as the best reasons to pony up. First-rate commentaries and extras. (Warner)
"Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock N' Roll" -- Director Taylor Hackford takes full advantage of the DVD medium to chronicle the tense days leading up to Chuck Berry's all-star 60th birthday concert, as well as the surreal conditions under which "Hail!" was produced. Hackford promises "a better-quality film than the original" and delivers. The surround tracks are solid gold: The guitars sound just like ringing a bell. Don't miss the extra in which Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Johnnie Johnson sear the blues in "Mean Old World." (Image)
"The Passenger" -- Jack Nicholson said the making of this Michelangelo Antonioni movie was "the biggest adventure in filming I ever had in my life." That's saying plenty, and probably explains why the actor did his first solo commentary for the DVD. Nicholson is a great host and has vivid memories of making the film across Northern Africa and Europe. The arthouse action film reveals more of its secrets with every spin. (Sony)
"A Nightmare on Elm Street" -- The real-deal original and by far the best movie in the Freddy Krueger franchise. New Line's double-disc set proves a significant upgrade, bringing back to life most of the extras from the definitive Elite laserdisc. The overhauled video and audio alone justify New Line's double dip -- check out the creepy-blue color bias and the surgical EX and ES 6.1 audio. Most horror classics would kill for this kind of treatment. (New Line)
"Network" -- Writer Paddy Chayefsky, mad as hell, used this black comedy about a raggedy fourth TV network to denounce the hypocrisies of 1976 and warn of media evils to come. He was right. This double-pump DVD of "Network" smokes Warner's bare-bones versions of 1998 and 2000. Tune in for all of the extras. (Warner)
"Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" -- Creators Nick Park and Steve Box devote much of their fun, detailed commentary talking up the art of "plasticine" animation. The DVD is an advertisement for the technique's possibilities, with nuanced colors, highlights and shadows -- this is a gorgeous piece of work. Includes 19 deleted scenes. (DreamWorks)
More great DVDs: Didn't review them. Wish I had.
"SNL: The Complete First Season" -- Chevy Chase. Gilda Radner. John Belushi. Garrett Morris. Laraine Newman. Jane Curtain. Live from 1975-76. And don't forget the other guys -- "SCTV: Best of the Early Years," is the latest from Shout!'s Great White North series. (Universal)
"James Bond Ultimate Editions" -- So good, Q must have personally supervised the restorations. The movies look and sound royale. The extras dossier will look familiar but some are new. (MGM)
"South Pacific" -- Rodgers & Hammerstein's love-it-or-hate-it musical, in standard and extended roadshow versions. Check out the other equally fine R&H titles in the Collector's Edition series. (Fox)
"Seven Samurai" -- Among the best-received sets of the year. Kurosawa's warrior classic returns with a swarm of extras and improved video. (Criterion)
"Homicide Life on the Street: Complete Series" -- 35 discs, 122 episodes of this well-crafted cop series. For periods of extended convalescence. If you don't make it, bring along HBO's "Six Feet Under: The Complete Series." (A&E)
"1900/The Conformist" -- Long-awaited DVD editions of Bernardo Bertolucci tales of power, corruption and oppression set in Italy. (Paramount)
(Gear: An HD 52-inch Sharp monitor. Discs are viewed on a Samsung BD-P1200 Blu-ray player or a "Pure Progressive" Denon 2900 player. The audio components are nothing special ... except for those lovely old Infinity reference series speakers.)