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Tuesday, Nov 28, 2006

Olivier’s Shakespeare: The Criterion Collection [Criterion - $79.99]


Though his versions of the Bard’s classics may no longer be definitive (a certain Mr. Branagh could challenge his claim to such a statement) Laurence Olivier was definitely instrumental in bringing Shakespeare’s plays to a wider mainstream audience. Included here are his Oscar winning turns as Hamlet (1948), along with his nominated work in Henry V (1944) and Richard III (1955). Each film represents a different dynamic in aesthetic approach, as well as illustrating the motion picture’s malleability toward material. As with all titles bearing the Criterion tag, the prints are perfect (especially Richard’s sumptuous Technicolor gloss) and the supplemental material divine. [Amazon]


 


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Tuesday, Nov 28, 2006

A Military Miscellany by Thomas Ayres [Bantam - $15.00]


Did you know Stonewall Jackson only ever bathed in cold water, even in the dead of winter? Or that he refused to read by artificial light, that he believed he only sweated on one side of his body, and that he stared at walls for hours nightly? The American military is full of weird facts like these and Thomas Ayres has collected them all. His “Miscellany” is a great gift for military buffs and anyone who loves crazy trivia. Brilliant about Ayres’ book, too, is just how these fascinating and often completely bizarre facts begin to form a history of the U.S. military that, in perhaps the oddest twist of all, aren’t particularly surprising. Did you know that upon hearing of the Pearl Harbor attack, President Roosevelt collected his thoughts for a full 22 minutes before calling the White House? [Amazon]


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Tuesday, Nov 28, 2006

The Other [Fox - $14.98]
(1972, Robert Mulligan) Starring: Uta Hagen, Diana Muldaur, Chris Udvarnoky, Martin Udvarnoky, Norma Connolly.


It is safe to say that, among the movies made in that defining cinematic decade of the ‘70s, The Other is one of the best—a near-flawless example of tone and storytelling melded with wonderfully effective material and meaning. In the hands of Academy Award nominee Robert Mulligan (responsible for To Kill a Mockingbird and Summer of ‘42, among many others) and adapted by actor-turned-writer Thomas Tyron from his own best-selling novel, this paranormal period piece about psychologically unsound twins takes elements of The Bad Seed and twists them into an amazing American Gothic. Now out on DVD in a beautifully restored print, this story of an old-fashioned family in the middle of a picturesque, pastoral setting scans the surfaces of normalcy—and locates the ugly underneath.  [Amazon]


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Monday, Nov 27, 2006


It’s coming down to the wire, people. Christmas - or for those of a multi-cultural or diversity-oriented persuasion, winter holiday gift giving time – is just around the corner. Time to shore up your purchases, recalibrate your shopping list, and make that final push toward providing your loved ones with the materialistic means of showing how much you love them. The summer of 2006 continues to come home to roost, with four of the presented picks representing the best, the worst, and the least of the sunny season’s selections. For SE&L‘s scratch, nothing beats a double dose of Silent Bob’s brand of intellectualized idiocy (including a second serving of the man’s manic lecture series) and Criterion comes calling again with another mandatory motion picture for fans of pre-sound cinema. Still, there is a lot to look into this week, including numerous box sets and collections – none perhaps as intriguing as the Ultimate Collector’s Edition compendium of Krypton’s favorite son. All five feature films, an earlier George Reeves effort, 14 discs, a documentary and a chance to see Richard Donner’s original version of Superman II. For purists and completists, it’s a treasure trove of material. For everyone else, the optional offerings clamoring for your credit card on 28 November are:


The Ant Bully


In CGI’s continuing effort to eat itself whole, yet another summer flop arrives on DVD, just in time to give your bitmap weary children another reason to whine aimlessly when you visit the nearest video store. Though its premise sounds perfectly potty – a group of insects miniaturize a young boy to teach him a lesson in responsibility and consideration – many critics complimented the film on its imagination and narrative invention. Still, the same stagnant issues that are destroying the animation category are abundant here – silly stunt casting (Julia Roberts, Nicholas Cage), far too many pop culture references, a hyperstylized approach to keeping the frame full of activity - and with the recently released Pixar prize Cars poised for rediscovery, this may be a title best left for a rental, not a purchase.



PopMatters Review


Clerks II

*
One of 2006’s best finally bows on DVD, and it still shocks SE&L that more film fans aren’t salivating over Kevin Smith’s superb sequel. For anyone who thinks this is just more of the original’s intellectually realized dialogue laced with lewd and crude gross out humor – well, you may have a point. But the truth is, Smith has something significant to say about aging and expectations here, and he does so in a way that resonates long after the donkey show jokes and the profanity peppered tirades. Besides, Clerks II contains one of the most uplifting moments of the entire year – a sensational sequence where series newcomer Rosario Dawson leads the gang in a glorious celebration of life set to the Jackson 5’s “ABC”.



PopMatters Review


Monster in a Box

*
Before his untimely death by suicide in 2004, Spalding Gray was seen as an iconic, idiosyncratic performance artist who worked wonderfully within the lost art of communication. A monologist by trade, and an actor on the side, he first came to the fore with his brilliant deconstruction of life, Swimming to Cambodia. This follow-up, focusing on his attempts to write a novel and deal with the memories of his mentally unsound mother, is a little less focused, but just as powerful. Perhaps the most shocking thing, in retrospect, about this presentation is how sound and secure Gray appeared to be. Who knew that the same demons driving him to masterful expressions and considerations of existence were also leading down a path of eventual self-destruction. His is a voice that is truly missed.



Pandora’s Box: The Criterion Collection

*
Criterion uncovers yet another gem with the release of this legendary Louis Brooks vehicle. The tragic story of a prostitute and performer named Lulu, this is the film that made Miss Brooks a star, and the toast of the jumping jive jazz age. Director Georg Wilhelm Pabst combined his acclaimed insight into actors with the inherent artistry of German Expressionism to forge an epic dissection of the human spirit. With many of Hollywood’s silent stars forgotten or forced into post-modern pigeonholes, it’s important for preservationists like Criterion to keep their true memory alive. And nothing guarantees immortality better than a perfect DVD package providing the proper balance between entertainment and context. As they do with all their products, Criterion proves the possibilities – and the pleasures – that can be achieved within the digital medium.


 


See No Evil
Be warned – though it may seem like every other horror film from the ‘70s is being remade today, this is not a new version of the 1971 shocker starring Mia Farrow as a hapless blind woman being stalked by a deranged psychopath. No, this is further proof that WW(F)E founder Vince McMahon has too much disposable cash on hand. Having proven that people will watch just about anything with his seemingly never-ending homoerotic grapple-a-thon, otherwise known as professional wrestling, he’s now trying to apply his demographically deft touch to making movies, in this case, subpar slasher efforts. Featuring singlet superstar Kane as the resident evil of a rotting hotel and a group of interchangeable Hollywood hopefuls as the delinquents sentenced to clean the place (and play victims), neither hi-jinx, nor horror, ensues.



PopMatters Review


Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut*
Decades from now, when DVD is remembered fondly as the medium which introduced the notion of “alternate versions” as viable motion picture marketability, a disc like this one will be the historical precedent. Many fans of the series were unaware that Donner, the original director of the Christopher Reeve Superman, was hired to helm TWO films. Created concurrently, the filmmaker was later dropped by producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind who, apparently, objected to his fiscal freewheeling. Salkind friend Richard Lester was brought in to complete the project, even though Donner had shot over 75% of the sequel. For ages, the “Donner Version” was more or less an urban legend. Now, with Warners Brothers’ full permission, the fired filmmaker gets a chance to have his original vision seen by the viewing public. Talk about your digital redemptions.


Superman Returns*
This post-millennial update by the shockingly overrated Bryan Singer has two strikes against it going in – it decides to follow-up on events derived directly from Richard Donner’s original film, and it features an abysmally out of place Kate Bosworth as the lamest Lois Lane in history. Surprisingly, Brandon Routh makes an excellent Man of Steel. While a little young (the entire cast suffers from some surreal age issues throughout), he is commanding and compassionate, the perfect superhero for an era undecided on the whole “truth, justice and the American way” of doing things. While the action sequences are sensational – especially a mid-air rescue of a crashing space shuttle - the quieter moments between our champion, his ex-flame, and their ‘married with children’ complications just don’t work. Singer’s signed up for a sequel. Here’s hoping he keeps the pizzazz and ditches the personal.



And Now for Something Completely Different:

In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 28 November:


A Polish Vampire in Burbank*
For a long time, Marc Piro’s 1985 home movie got by on its terrifically tacky title alone. Consumers craving something unusual during their weekly trip to the Mom and Pop consistently rented this retardation based on its nifty name along. Little did they know they were headed toward an evening in the company of a crappy Super 8mm spoof. Granted, this is a Hell of a lot better than Mel Brooks’ completely awful vampire vileness, 1985’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It, but neither is a match for 1974’s Vampira, which was later re-labeled Old Dracula to trade on the Borsht Belt comedian’s classic Young Frankenstein. In any case, Piro plays a reluctant neckbiter who falls for his first victim. Featuring a ‘queerwolf” and gratuitous Eddie Deezan this is either a classic, or crap, depending on your bad movie acumen.


 


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Monday, Nov 27, 2006

As with any other top 100-10-1000 or one million list of best albums in the universe, there is plenty to argue about on
The All-Time 100 Albums.  No knock against Josh Tyrangiel or Alan Light here- both are fine writers (though I notice that there seems to be a surplus of Christgau one-liners popping up in their reviews).  A few observations though…


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