- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

What with 2003 upon us, it's time to take a brief look back at the video year that was and a few of our fave flicks.

Tarantino trio
While Quentin Tarantino's work hasn't graced the big screen since 1997's "Jackie Brown" (his latest, "Kill Bill," is due later this year), 2002 shaped up as a huge home video year for the influential maverick auteur.
Artisan Entertainment's Reservoir Dogs: Ten Years ($26.98) presented Q.T.'s creatively fractured 1992 post-modern crime noir in a deluxe double-disc edition crammed with everything from cast and crew interviews to a documentary on the film's controversial action-figures spinoff. Miramax Home Entertainment's two-DVD Pulp Fiction: Collector's Edition ($29.99) and Warner Home Video's True Romance: Unrated Director's Cut ($26.98) likewise delivered the bonus goods, including primo Tarantino audio commentaries.
'A.I.' A-OK
With A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Dreamworks, $29.98), director Steven Spielberg gets in touch with his inner robot and assembles the most brilliant film of 2002, nothing less than a vividly nightmarish, profoundly sad autopsy of the human organism. Credit should also go to source novelist Brian Aldiss and the late Stanley Kubrick, who had collaborated with Mr. Spielberg on the project until his untimely death. Dreamworks' DVD includes Laurent Bouzereau's enlightening documentary "Creating A.I.," exploring the film's complex genesis from page to screen.
'Seconds' thoughts
On the subject of late, great directors, shortly before his premature demise in 2002, John Frankenheimer contributed the year's most illuminating audio commentary, on Paramount's Widescreen Collection disc ($24.95), of his still terrifying 1966 sci-fi parable "Seconds," starring Rock Hudson in a film that rings even truer today than it did back in the day.
Indie clover
Independent films of all stripes brightened rental prospects for viewers looking for alternatives to assembly-line Tinseltown product in 2002, and few supplied greater rewards than Richard Dutcher's Brigham City (Spartan Home Entertainment, $29.98), the first Mormon-themed serial-killer thriller and arguably the strongest suspense film of the video year.
Other arresting indies included Bully (Trimark Home Video, $24.98), Dirt Boy, God's Lonely Man and Soundman (all via Vanguard Cinema, $24.98 each); and L.I.E. (New Yorker Video, $29.95).
The Iranian connection
No fewer than four excellent Iranian films, centering primarily on the plight of women in the Muslim Middle East, landed on these home video shores: two from director Tahmineh Milani The Hidden Half and Two Women (both Facets Video, $29.95 each) along with Jafar Panahi's The Circle (Wellspring Media, $24.98) and Majid Majidi's Baran (Miramax, $29.99). Beyond their sociopolitical messages, all four rate as superb examples of pure cinematic storytelling.
Looking to the Far East, fans of old-school martial-arts mayhem are not likely to locate a better bet than Jimmy Wang Yu's wild 1975 Master of the Flying Guillotine (Pathfinder Pictures, $24.95), featuring what may be the best set of one-on-one kung-fu duels ever captured on celluloid.
Killer chillers
A brace of '80s cult horror classics received their DVD due in 2002 in deluxe double-disc editions: Kathryn Bigelow's 1987 Near Dark (Anchor Bay Entertainment, $29.98) offered a fresh take on screen vampire lore. Stuart Gordon's darkly witty 1985 H.P. Lovecraft update Re-Animator (Elite Entertainment, $29.95) introduced a new brand of anarchy to the genre. Both editions present the full backstories behind the films' creations.
Kudos also to Columbia/TriStar (William Castle's Homicidal and Strait-Jacket, $24.98 each) and MGM's Midnight Movie line (e.g., Return of the Living Dead, $19.95) for restoring vintage scarefests in pristine DVD form.
Among more contemporary fright titles, all these amply deliver the genre goods: Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone (Columbia/TriStar, $24.98), Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers (Artisan Entertainment, $19.98) and actor/director Bill Paxton's Frailty (Lions Gate Entertainment, $24.98).
Video verite
On the documentary front, 2002 welcomed such exotic fare as Cool & Crazy (First Run Features, $29.98), a look at Norway's Berlevag Male Choir; and the offbeat jungle journey Keep the River on Your Right (Docurama, $24.98). Even so, the brilliant 1931 silent docudrama Tabu (Milestone Films & Video, $29.95) takes top category honors here.
Meantime, with the DVD industry expanding exponentially, adventurous viewers can look forward to even more quality titles in 2003.
Phan mail
Dear Phantom: I am trying to find the 1964 film Rio Conchos, starring Richard Boone, Jim Brown and others on DVD.
James Bailey, via e-mail
While "Rio Conchos" has yet to join the DVD ranks, it is available on VHS ($17.99) from Movies Unlimited (moviesunlimited.com), among other outlets.
Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or e-mail us at: [email protected] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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