Wednesday, August 23, 2006

do I laugh now, or wait 'til it gets funny?



Sure, insurance is a tough racket. You just try and collect on the premium after you've killed, er... I mean after a loved one has passed. Trust me, it's murder. Of course, starting a new relationship at the same time just makes things worse. But, I digress... or do I? Either way, this can only mean one thing- Double Indemnity comes out this week! If you haven't yet guessed what our Top Shelf Pick of the Week is this week, well- just keep reading. You'll get it kid.

DVD
Top Shelf Pick of the Week!
Double Indemnity
This is a DVD release for which classic film fans have been waiting. Previously available on VHS and an earlier shoddy DVD, Universal has give the film it's two disc "Legacy" treatment. The film is definitely a classic, but does the release live up to the hype. Universal's home entertainment wing is very difficult to understand. On the one hand they really did their classic monster films right with great "Legacy" releases (I recently watched the Creature Legacy release. Fantastic.), as well as a couple of other great films, like the recent release of To Kill A Mockingbird. On the other hand, you get the "flipper" treatment for Abbott and Costello and other film properties with no extras. I can't really complain about the A&C releases, because now I own a large collection of A & C films for very cheap. However, I have to be very careful that the discs don't get scratched. Universal shows it can play with the big boys of DVD like Criterion and Warner Brothers, if they wanted to. However, they just don't seem to really want to all that often.
Fortunately, this isn't necessarily the case with Double Indemnity. The film is great. If your only experience with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck is The Absent Minded Professor or The Big Valley, you are in for a treat. MacMurray is smooth talking insurance salesman Walter Neff. When he goes to renew a policy for a Mr. Dietrichson, he meets Mr. Dietrichson's wife Phyllis instead. The two begin an illicit affair. Eventually they cook up a scheme to knock off Phyllis' husband and collect on the insurance money. However there are some problems. One is in the form of insurance investigator, Barton Keyes (played by Edward G. Robinson) who smells a rat. The other is the nagging feeling that Phyllis isn't exactly new to all this. Oh, she's a bad girl. A very bad girl. Walter has been played and how. The dialogue is deliciously cheesy at times and brilliant in the way only director Billy Wilder can be. The film itself is a great print.
Let's take a look at the extras for a moment. Robert Osbourne hosts an introduction to the film. The first disc also includes two audio commentaries, one with film historian Richard Schickel, and the other with film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman. There is also a documentary included about the film entitled Shadows of Suspense. The second disc only really contains the 1973 remade for television film starring Richard Crenna. Universal you could've stopped with the first disc and everything would've been fine. Or you could have taken a page from Warners and perhaps added some other featurettes and shorts and even a cartoon or two. Realistically, the film could've had a much better "Legacy" treatment, but the first disc is very much worth it. The second disc seems to be a stretch to make it a two disc treatment. Nonetheless, the price is right, and so is the film, therefore it is definitely a Shelf must and a Top Shelf Pick. Do yourself a favor and go out and pick up a copy today.

Other classic releases:
State of the Union:
Here is the other example of what I'm talking about in terms of Universal DVDs. State of the Union is the only film Frank Capra made for MGM, yet the rights ended up in the hands of Capra's Liberty Films, who licensed the TV distribution rights to MCA. Now the DVD is being distributed by Universal. Now, maybe it's because this wasn't originally a Universal release, I don't know; but this is a bare bones release. That's OK, because it's an excellent film and it's great that it's finally on DVD. Spencer Tracy stars as Grant Matthews, an idealist businessman who is "estranged" from his wife, Mary, played by Katherine Hepburn. Grant's new love interest is a newspaper owner Kay Thorndyke (Angela Lansbury, who talks him into running for President. It isn't long before the party machine get to Grant and manipulates his every appearance and move, in order to package him for the race. Eventually the manipulators convince Matthews to reunite with Mary for appearance's sake. Mary agrees, because despite their situation she still believes in her husband and loves him. Mary begins to see what the party men are doing to her husband and sees how manipulative Thorndyke is (she knows the nature of their relationship). Then she sees Grant begin to compromise his own values to win. Mary confronts Grant and encourages him to face what he's done and throw off the influence of the party machine. The film was originally a Broadway play, and the film was originally to star Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert. Cooper backed out and Tracy was signed. Then Colbert and Capra had a bit of a falling out and she was dropped. Tracy recommended Hepburn to replace her, as he was rehearsing with her already. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. And viola- you have a Capra-Tracy-Hepburn picture! Whew. Still, this little gem of a film was worth at least a featurette on the making of, as it has a very interesting route to the big screen.

This Island Earth
Yet another Universal DVD release today, and to complete the odd spectrum of titles that Universal puts out: it is This Island Earth. Yes, that sci-fi film you saw on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yes, they ridiculed it mercilessly. And yes, it is a classic. More than that, it is pop culture iconography. This Island Earth is pretty cheesy when you compare it to sci-fi films today with CGI, special effects, and big budgets. Back when TIE was released, this was drive-in fare. Sci-Fi films then often operated with smaller budgets and special effects that are par for the time. Yet the script was well written for the genre and it's images and sequences have become a part of the overall movie culture. Don't dismiss it. TIE has a legion of fans, but it's true that it's not for everyone. But it is worth checking out.

Radioland Murders and The Wizard
I love old time radio, and I really enjoy good films and television about the production of radio back in the day. An example of one of the best was the AMC (back when AMC was the mac daddy) original series, Remember WENN. Radioland Murders isn't as good as that show, but it is funny and entertaining. I think the atmosphere and characters are so well done, that it makes up for a fairly transparent plot. George Lucas is the executive producer and writer of the film. Does that hook you yet? Again this is fun entertainment, not Citizen Kane, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good film. It is. Starring one-time sitcom star Brian Benben and the lovely Mary Stuart Masterson, Radioland Murders is throwback to the screwball comedy whodunit, and it's done very well with a little tongue in cheek. The supporting cast is fantastic: Jeffrey Tambor, Ned Beatty, Michael McKean, Christopher Lloyd, and Larry Miller just to name a few. Look for cameos of real life radio stars like George Burns and Rosemary Clooney. Great fun!
The Wizard is one of those movies, that if you saw it as a kid, and was a member of it's intended audience, you have probably stopped reading this by now. You have probably linked over to BN or Amazon to order it. This film is very sentimental to the Nintendo generation, as it is really a film that connected with kids that game. And yet, it really isn't a film about gaming, as much as it is about friendship, siblings, family, and journeys. Gaming is just the vehicle. The film stars Fred Savage as Corey Woods, a kid whose family is being torn apart by divorce. His brother, Jimmy, who has some severe emotional problems is about to be institutionalized. Before the pair are ripped apart, Corey decides to take his brother and run away from home, or what is left of it. Eventually Corey realizes that Jimmy has a gift for playing video games, a "wizard" at it so to speak. He and Jimmy and their friend Jenny head out to enter Jimmy into a Video Game tournament. This is a warm family film, and is known for it's marketing success for Nintendo (like they needed it). The film showcased Nintendo's Power Glove controller and unleashed Super Mario Brothers 3 on the gaming world.

TV on DVD:
A Bit of Fry and Laurie Season One, Season Two
Blue Thunder: The Complete Series
If you are a fan of House, you owe it to yourself to check out A Bit of Fry and Laurie. Long before he portrayed the cranky doctor, Hugh Laurie and his partner Stephan Fry were a dynamic comic duo with their own BBC comedy sketch show. They also appeared together in the hallowed and Shelf favorite BlackAdder series. Check it out...seasons one and two are available.
Blue Thunder was a pretty good show spinoff of the original Roy Schider movie of the same name. It features a very pre-SNL Dana Carvey as the pilot's sidekick and football stars Bubba Smith and Dick Butkus as ground support. I watch the series and remember enoying it very much. Good action and lots of ariel combat. Good stuff.

Books:
Who's Who in Animated Cartoons by Jeff Lenburg
This is an excellent book featuring a fairly comprehensive look at around 300 first class animators around the world. Featuring many full color photos and animation stills, this wonderful book was published to coincide with the 100th anniversary celebration of the very first American animated cartoon, Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, which was released on April 16, 1906. That's right, 100 years of animated features. The sad thing is that we aren't celebrating it more. Do your part- buy the book, pass on the knowledge to the next generation. Show them the animated shorts and features. And do me a favor, ignore the Tom and Jerry bruhaha. It's pretty damn sad that we can't grow up as a culture and keep from chopping up classic animation, because a parent can't do her own job. If you don't know what I'm talking about you can read about it here, and then go and read Amid's great take at Cartoon Brew.

Games:
Madden NFL 07: Various platforms
It's a sure sign that Football is nigh- the releases of NCAA Football and Madden. It won't be long before colleges will tramp out the bands and the cheerleaders and the players, and the tailgating will ensue. Pre-season NFL games are already showing up on television. So, for most football fanatics they have already played through a season or two on NCAA Football 07 and they are getting their hands on Madden 07 this week. If you are a gamer, you know the drill. Madden has been around a very long time, and each year it gets tweaked a little more. The big complaint is that very little tweaking happens as the years go by. Still Madden is the NFL grandpappy for video games and many gamers still get their Madden on. Early word has it that the Xbox version (it's last Madden) is superior to the Xbox 360 version. Go figure. EA's other football franchise, NCAA Football has really surpassed Madden as the must have football title in recent years. Weekend correspondent Baravelli usually does game reviews for The Shelf, so perhaps we'll have a Football roundup one weekend here in the next couple of weeks.

Television:
TCM
Shelf Picks for Turner Classic Movies
Football may be fast approaching, but it is still "A Summer Under the Stars" at TCM. Each day is festival of movies featuring a different movie star. We’d pick ‘em all of course (with a few exceptions), but we just want to hit the highlights… and maybe point out a few you haven’t seen in a while.

August 23rd, Van Johnson: The White Cliffs Of Dover (1944), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), Two Girls And A Sailor (1944), and Brigadoon (1954).

August 24th, Ann Sothern: Cry Havoc (1943), The Blue Gardenia (1953), Brother Orchid (1940), and Panama Hattie (1942).

August 25th, James Stewart: (An all day marathon in our opinion – but here’s some you shouldn’t miss… or at least TiVo) After The Thin Man (1936), The Shop Around The Corner (1940), The Far Country (1955), Night Passage (1957), The Naked Spur (1953), and Shenandoah (1965).

August 26th, Cary Grant: (Same as above- but if you can only see a few, here are some can’t miss picks) Monkey Business (1952), The Bachelor And The Bobby-Soxer (1947), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), Gunga Din (1939), North By Northwest (1959), and Suspicion (1941).

August 27th, John Wayne: (I’d say it again, but then I’d be repeating myself) Stagecoach (1939), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), The Longest Day (1962), Hondo (1954), and Rio Grande (1950).

August 28th, Hedy Lamarr: Come Live With Me (1941), Tortilla Flat (1942), The Conspirators (1944), and My Favorite Spy (1951).

Well, that's all for today folks- just remember, check your insurance policies and watch your back. You never know when a nasty fall might happen.


Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

How could I have known that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle?



5 comments:

Wolf Flywheel said...

Don't forget my favorite "insurance scam" movie, 'One Night in the Tropics'.Mainly a vehicle for Alan Jones, it's an Abbott & Costello favorite of mine. Great music from AJ and classic skits from A&C. AJ is a sceptic who writes a million dollar love insurance policy to prove a point and ends up doing all he can not to file a claim. My favorite quote from Costello in the movie, "A husband is what's left of the sweetheart after the nerve has been killed." And on the Madden/football topic.....Go Panthers

Christian Johnson said...

I don't know what I think about the "Legacy" treatment meaning that a package includes a made for tv remake, but I have to say that the only redeeming quality of The Truth Abouth Charlie DVD was that it included Charade. Not that I bought it, I already owned the Criterion edition, but newcomers might get to watch a real movie rather than that um...crap.

KaneCitizen said...

Dude! How did you not like TTAC? I thought it was a fantastic remake/tribute. Did you listen to Demme's commentary track?

J.C. Loophole said...

I'll have to check out TTAC. I have never seen it. I have the Criterion edition of Charade and thought it was an excellent DVD.
As far as the Legacy Editions go, I think most have been excellent. I just think that if they are going to the effort that there are more interesting featurettes out there that could be added to warrent the second disc. That being said, I really wasn't disappointed with DI, I just wanted more. Some of my favorite features on the Warner's and Criterion Discs have been the documentaries on the directors. The doc on George Cukor on The Philadelphia Story (from the excellent The Men Who Made the Movies series) and the Preston Sturgess doc on Criterion disc of The Lady Eve being two recent favorites. (Also recommend the Criterion edition of Pickup on South Street for a great interview with director (and quite a character) Samuel Fuller.

Christian Johnson said...

I watched TTAC in the theater and not on the small screen so, sadly, I haven't heard Demme's commentary. I am sure that alone would be worth it. But one of the things I despised about the new one was the lack of "sexual tension and chemistry" in the new couple. In Charade the relationship is playful...and dangerous. In the new one, it is dangerous and primal, the type of sexuality changed and I think it ruined the film.

Besides...Walter Matthau is perfect as the villain, as he is playing so much against type.

We'll just have to agree to disagree, but I will watch for the commentary. Though some pretty horrible movies have some great commentary.

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