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Recalling the ‘best’ DVDs of last year

Recalling the ‘best’ DVDs of last year
Jan. 2, 2012
By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor
With the New Year here, it’s time to look at 2011 and the best of the DVDs I sat through.
Now the word “best,” is a loaded one. The list I’ve compiled are the DVDs I’ve enjoyed the most. My friend and fellow film critic Frank Lapointe frequently chides me for my less than mainstream tastes, but to each their own.
Frankly, I get tired of the re-hashing of plots, themes and characters in the current Hollywood product. The endless number of remakes and reboots is also a trend with diminishing returns.
There are multi-million dollar movies that I’ve endured with one thought in my head: “Why?”
I want to see something genuine — a film that reflects the visions of a director, a writer and a cast that hasn’t been run through focus groups or approved by marketing departments. I like to watch films that may not have an action figure attached to them.
The current trend to dress up vapid eye candy with 3-D is one that I’m praying will run its course. Most 3-D films use the technology in the most gimmicky ways instead of advancing the plot. I watched “TRON: Legacy,” which was in 3-D, but shot mostly with a black and white color design that totally negated the 3-D effects.
It’s all about getting another $3 out of us for those glasses.
Actually, if I had unlimited resources, I’d be mining the obscure films from the 1930s that are up for sale — and sadly not for rent — on the Warner Brothers and Columbia Pictures websites. The period of 1930 to 1934 was a remarkably rich one for American moviemaking and there are many entertaining movies that don’t have a chance of being seen today outside of these DVD sales sites and Turner Classic Movies.
Keep in mind that my choices on this list may lead outside of the conventional — a trip that some people might like, while others will not.
The very best film to be released on DVD this year was the complete version of director Fritz Lang’s amazing 1927 science fiction parable “Metropolis.” Getting people to sit through a nearly two-hour black and white silent movie that preaches a story of love and understanding against a future world of extreme wealth and poverty can be a tough sell, but it’s one movie that I will endlessly promote.
Lang was an incredible director, although sadly forgotten today, despite making seminal films. Try “Fury,” “While the City Sleeps” and “M.”
So, here are the best DVDs I saw in 2011:
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” actually presented a logical chain of events to explain why intelligent apes take over the world. It is very well thought out vision and a noble addition to the “Apes” canon.
“Captain America” is one of those very rare films: an adaptation of a beloved comic book that keeps to the spirit of the original tale while making necessary narrative adjustments for modern — and non-fanboy — audiences.
“The Honeymooner Lost Episodes 1951 to 1957” provided modern viewers with a look at what television used to be: live, rough around the edges and funny.
“The Troll Hunter” and “REC2” both showed the invention that comes from foreign filmmakers dealing in genres that have been over-exposed. “REC2” starts out like another zombie movie and then goes someplace quite different. “The Troll Hunter” deftly weaves horror and comedy together in a not-to-be forgotten package.
“The Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen” is an example of the new generation of action films from China. Donnie Yen may not have the name recognition of Jackie Chan or Jet Li, but he is just as entertaining.
“Exporting Raymond” is a great documentary about an interesting subject about how humor translates — or doesn’t translate — across borders and nationalities.
“Stake Land” is one of those films in which an astute viewer can see the various influences — substitute zombies for vampires — but yet it takes on a life of its own.
“The Green Hornet Movie Edition” is perhaps the least defendable pick on this list. The recent reboot of the venerable radio character starring Seth Rogan was a complete failure. This film is edited from the 1940 movie serial based on the radio show. It’s low tech and low budget but it has a charm that was certainly lacking in the mega-millions, color 3-D reboot.
“The Kids in the Hall: The Complete Series Megaset” showcases the talents and the humor of the funniest guys to come out of Canada in years. Not everyone will like the offbeat and sometimes cringe-inducing material, but at least the “kids” have a point of view, something that is sorely lacking in much of what passes for television comedy these days.
“No One Knows About Persian Cats” is part documentary and part fiction as the viewers follow several musicians in Tehran, Iran, in their quest to find both practice space and venues to perform their music — something that is forbidden by the state without the necessary permit, which is almost impossible to obtain for rock ‘n’ roll.
“The Elephant in the Living Room” is another compelling documentary about a subject few of us think about: the rise in the practice of owning exotic pets, such as tigers, bears, lions and cougars. The film is told from the point of a view of a pet owner struggling to acknowledge that he can’t provide the best of care for his lions and a compassionate police officer with years of experience dealing with such situations.
“Red” is action film gold. Adapted from a graphic novel, it gives a great cast — Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich — great material and great characters. Someone wants ex-CIA agent Willis dead and he doesn’t know why. With the help of other seasoned professionals, he discovers why he is classified “retired and extremely dangerous (RED).”
“Machete” is probably the only feature film that was born out of a fake trailer produced as a joke and yet this homage to drive-in exploitation movies of the past packed the goods as both an outrageous action film and as a parody all at the same time. Character actor Danny Trejo may never get another opportunity to carry a movie, but he does this one in style.

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