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Friday, Nov 19, 2010
3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg [$79.95]

Josef von Sternberg is perhaps most popularly remembered for his films with Marlene Dietrich and his “painterly” approach to directing, but even his earliest works had a lot more going for them than a star performance or impressive visual style. Silent films Underworld (1927), The Last Command (1928), and The Docks of New York (1928) are masterpieces of visual storytelling—human dramas expressed with cinematographic innovation, impeccably realized set design, and an unparalleled grasp of the “bigger picture” of the motion picture. 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg, Criterion Collection’s deluxe release, rescues these three films from being lost to history and reverently, generously revives them for DVD.


Perhaps the most welcome additions to this release are Robert Israel’s brilliant symphonic scores for all of the films. Although the discs also include inventive scores by Alloy Orchestra (Underworld and The Last Command) and Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton (The Docks of New York), none of them matches the subtlety and emotion of Israel’s work. His own brand of musical storytelling is a perfect fit for von Sternberg’s silent masterpieces.


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Thursday, Nov 18, 2010
Fantômas: Five Film Collection [$34.95]

Fantômas! Fiend! Killer! Seducer! Terrorist! King of the underworld! Master of disguise! Collector of exclamation points! The sensational adventures of this amoral villain burst upon France and the rest of the doomed pre-WWI civilization from the pulpy pens of Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain. It was necessary instantly to turn his exploits into this series of five films from the equally prolific and inexhaustible Louis Feuillade. From book series to film series, here was the giddy James Bond phenom of its day.


Fantômas really has no character and almost no concrete existence. In these films, we rarely see actor René Navarre looking like himself, except in the introductions that show us the disguises he will wear in this particular episode so that we’ll never be confused or surprised on that point, no matter how disoriented we are by anything else. As David Kalat says in his commentary, “if he has a face, it’s the face that wears the mask”. Intriguing…


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Friday, Dec 18, 2009
The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season - Twentieth Century Fox [$49.98]

While it would be nice if the studio stepped up the DVD release schedule and gave us more Simpsons more often (at this rate, any Blu-ray release schedule will more than likely outlast the format), it’s safe to say that no other digital presentation is this concerned about giving each aesthetic cog in their multifaceted machine a chance to be heard. The Season 12 set continues in the tradition. Each of the brilliant 21 episodes offered is peppered with commentary tracks, outtakes, deleted scenes, animatics, and other added content that really explains the entire Simpsons process. From who pitches what idea to how some sequences get completely rewritten, the men and women as part of the process are more than happy to share their experience. Clearly, they love what they are working on.


And so do we. Sure, the naysayers love to argue about which portions of the Simpsons’ protracted popularity are better than others, but said grousing is never really a question of quality. It’s more like nostalgia wrapped in a need to play contrarian to the current cultural whims (call it “Armond White Syndrome”). If The Simpsons: Season 12 were representative of any other series, the messageboards would be lighting up with unqualified praise. It’s just impossible for any TV show to maintain such a high level of hilarity - and yet, surreal or not, stepping outside the typical suburban family dynamic the show started with, this ‘version’ is still a satiric gem. It even acknowledges the constant criticism by giving the show’s leading cynic, Comic Book Guy, his own love story themed installment…and calling it “Worst Episode Ever”.


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Thursday, Dec 17, 2009
Designing Women: The Complete First Season - Shout! Factory [$44.99]

Return to the best television show of the ‘80s and early ‘90s with the first season of Designing Women DVD. Brilliantly cast, the show centers around the ladies of Sugarbakers, an interior design firm in Atlanta, Georgia. Dixie Carter plays Julia Sugarbaker, a sophisticated widow from old money. Delta Burke is her younger sister, Suzanne, an ex- beauty queen and ex-wife of many pageants and several husbands. Annie Potts plays Mary Jo Shively, a divorced mother of two and suburban everywoman, while Jean Smart plays Charlene Frazier, a poor girl from Arkansas who’s moving up in the world.


“Delightful” is the word that best describes Designing Women. Somehow this show manages to be simultaneously a fresh breath of feminism and the last gasp of the New South. For who can fail to take delight in a show that is as tough, smart and warm hearted as the women that it portrays? The special feature is a cast reunion from 2006, which is quite good especially when the actors start ignoring the moderator and head off on their own conversation.


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Thursday, Dec 17, 2009
Haunted Histories Collection - The History Channel - A&E Home Video [$24.95]

Know a fan of the occult? Have a niece who is enthralled with Twilight and needs some background info? Does your neighbor think the ‘hood is haunted? Get this set for anyone who likes the haunted, or expects, in the afterlife, to come back and haunt a few folks on his list… This set covers everything macabre from Halloween to zombies to voodoo secrets. With ghost stories, haunting histories and profiles on our favorite mystical creatures, this will make a great gift for the ghoul-bitten.


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