Jasper Sharp's commentaries on "Wild Life" and "An Obsession" are just packed with information on a whole era of Japanese filmmaking and everyone in it. It made me wish and hope an edition of "Eureka" might come out one day with a Jasper Sharp commentary. A blu-ray. One day. At least, it's my dream (actually, "Wild Life" and "An Obsession" also desperately need some kind of upgrade).
Is Kalat done with commentaries? I just listened to his commentary on "Scarlet Street" a while back. I thought that was a recent one, but maybe not....
I have listened to Frayling's solo commentary on "Duck, You Sucker," and while I liked the information he provided, I am not overly fond of just how overly fond he is of Leone. I like the Leone movies, but I wish he had just a slightly more critical frame of mind when dealing with Leone's films. Once in a while he seems just overwhelmed with how great he feels Leone is. His commentary really neglects lots of other spaghetti westerns of the period that dealt with the Mexican revolution, and he seems to endorse Leone's narrow, jaded attitude towards idealism; rather than simply commenting upon it, he goes whole-hog after Leone's own provincialism--of course, that tips my hand considerably, but I would rather he have couched his points in what Leone was doing in his films and why he might be doing it. It seems to me as if Leone's narrow range is most on display in "Duck, You Sucker," and Frayling doesn't seem to notice or care. He is an articulate commentator, but I wouldn't put him in the class of Stephen Prince, whose obvious love for Kurosawa never oversells the resulting movies. Incidentally, Prince delivered an excellent commentary on "The Naked Prey," in addition to his Kurosawa commentaries.
It was a bit repetitive, but I liked the Ed Mueller/James Ellroy commentary on "Crime Wave" quite a lot. Ellroy was pretty hilarious, and it meant that Mueller had to play the straight guy. I much prefer that to Mueller's solo commentaries, where he always seems to drop some profound indelicacy in your lap when you aren't expecting it. His Evelyn Keyes story during his otherwise very good commentary on "The Prowler" and his bit in the beginning of "I Wake Up Screaming" about the kid who grows up to be Gloria Grahame's husband struck me as sort of out-of-control, as he has the need to blurt stuff like that out all the time. Ellroy, much less inhibited, is never jarring in that role, and Mueller falls back and seems more in-charge of himself as a result.
Apparently no one thought anyone wanted a commentary on "Goyokin," or "Sword of the Beast," even though Alain Silver wrote a book with two chapters in it dissecting those very films--and Silver seems ready to do any commentary on offer, and to do a good job of it. How I would love to hear him talk about "Bandit Vs. Samurai Squadron" or "The Hunter in the Dark," if Criterion ever decides to release those titles.
One of the great disasters in audio commentary has to be HKL's commentary for Once Upon a Time in China. Bey Logan tries pretty hard to keep things positive, but he's saddled with one of the caucasian bit players from the picture, who not only hates the film, but actually hates narrative film in general (he has become a documentarian in the intervening years). The jackass has no memories of making the film that he can be cajoled into sharing, and he despises Hong Kong narrative film with a special flat negativity that seems vaguely racist in its bent. He seems to equate what he views as the "cheapness" of Hong Kong film productions with something he feels he has gleaned from Hong Kong culture in general. The guy comes across at the least ethnocentric, a ridiculous downer, and he even seems to have been a somewhat unwilling participant in the film--at least in his memories. The free-wheeling, high-spirited movie on display (actually one of the least "cheap-looking" Hong Kong productions ever) seems to have nothing but a negative impact on this guy. Bey tries to be cool, but the jerk hogs the mike and never lets Bey properly defend the movie. The saddest bit is at the end, when Bey announces that he'll be doing commentary on Once Upon a Time in China II with his pal Donnie Yen. I put in the sequel right away, only to discover that Bey was talking all by his lonesome the entire time. Oh, what could have been! Bey and Edison Chen were hilarious together; Bey with Cheng Pei-Pei--twice--was fascinating; imagine Bey with Donnie. But it was not to be.