Tuesday, September 05, 2006

criterion mass

It’s an around the world edition of the media roundup today, folks. We typically stick to the classics and modern classics, but foreign films also loom large and are sometimes neglected among the new releases. Well, today Criterion is releasing several great films that have influenced filmmakers over the years, including some Shelf favorites. I always believe that if you enjoy film, you will enjoy more as you learn of its history and heritage. So, consider this class “in session”, Film and Pop Culture 101.

Top Shelf Pick of the Week!
Criterion releases:
Seven Samurai, Brazil, Amacord.
Even though I would consider these films “double-dip” DVD releases, our policy here at The Shelf is such that dd’s are recommended if the new release is a significant upgrade in quality or extras or that the last DVD has been out of regular retail rotation to warrant re-release. All of today’s picks qualify.
Seven Samurai is the legendary film made by the equally legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. The film has been cribbed from, copied, remade (most famously: The Magnificant Seven) and has influenced many filmmakers. The story about seven samurai who help to defend a village of farmers from bandits is more an examiniation into traditions, honor, trust, and society. The previous Criterion edition was a single disc with commentary and some minor features. The new three disc set features a new cleaned up high-def transfer that looks excellent, two new commentaries, two "making of" documentaries, a interview with Kurosawa, booklet of essays, and, of course, trailers, teasers, etc. Worth the double dip? I'd say so.
Brazil was Terry Gilliam's second foray outside of Monty Python and Python-esque films, Time Bandits being the first (and my favorite). Brazil is a dark satire and crib of an Orwellian future of endless bureaucratic monstrosity which can chew individuals up. The hero (played by Jonathan Pryce), a lowly government statistician discovers his dreams and the woman who inhabits them. This newly discovered spirit leads him to try right some wrongs (both in his dreams and at work) that occur... but his efforts lead him to face the one person who has our hero's life in his hands. There is a both a single disc (shown) and three disc with scads of extras. As with Seven Samurai, this is a much better print.

In Amarcord, one of my favorite foreign directors, Federico Fellini takes a look back at the time of his childhood in 1930's Italy under the fascist regime. (The film's title translates "I remember") The film is meant to be a sentimental portrayal of his town and the inhabitants (sometimes crazy, sometimes warm and sentimental) and the fact that Italy is being led by Mussolini is of a periphial experience. Frequent forays into sentimental fantasy and whimsy, combined with Fellini storytelling style make this one of his best loved films. This new Criteron 2 disc set again brings a better print and is packed with features. If you don't have any of these films, go out and purchase these new editions. You will be exploring new sides of cinema you've never experienced before. This new sets will give you the best audio and prints available and ample background material to truly understand them and appreciate them. If you already own the previous Criterion editions, I would say that the Seven Samurai set is a must, and the Brazil and Amarcord sets up to the individual, but recommended. This is where Criterion shines, and only Criterion has been able to do Kurosawa justice.

Gojira/Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Just seeing the cover of this DVD reminds me that it's time we start checking the Halloween inventory here at The Shelf. Sure, football and autumn are here and they will be full enjoyed, trust me. However, we like to make sure things are in order so there is no rushing around. Say, for example, classic films to watch during Halloween. I don't go for modern horror films (you'll have to ask Wolf about that), but I do appreciate the classics. The Legacy editions of the Universal Monsters, The Abbott and Costello meets... series, heck even the original King Kong are ready on the DVD rotation to spin when the time is right (yes, we prefer to wait, but we do like to tease). One Movie Monster was missing until today- Godzilla. Oh sure, you can find Godzilla on DVD, but this is the uncut original Japanese film. The one that brought Godzilla (or Gojira) to audiences in Japan and later (in edited form) to the US. This disc includes both the original film Gojira and the edited US version, Godzilla. Gojira is a much darker film than the US version, and Godzilla is not the hero he later becomes. This is much more about the consequences of a nuclear age (Hiroshima was just over ten years past when Gojira was made) than battling monsters. That came later. The US version was edited, and sequences a bit differently, with Raymond Burr thrown in for good measure. You know when we get around to doing our annual Shelf Old School Halloween list, this will probably be on it. For a really great time, watch some Godzilla and King Kong and then play some War of the Monsters on PS2.

Mel Brooks Singles:
High Anxiety, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Silent Movie
These films came out earlier this year as a part of The Mel Brooks Collection. Now they are making an appearance as stand alone releases. And that's good news for those of us who just need to fill in the gaps in our collections.

Star Wars Episodes IV -VI
Star Wars
... blah, blah, widescreen 2 disc... blah, blah...original 1977 version and enhanced 2004 version...blah, blah... nerds ticked off about non-anamorphic discs...blah, blah. Dude, if you already own the original trilogy on DVD, don't bother. We just listed this here to make a point. The point? Next year, in 2007, it will be the 30th anniversary of Star Wars. If you don't think Lucas won't squeeze more blood out of this turnip and release a special 30th anniversary edition you are an idiot...and a nerd. Gotta have Star Wars, classic films...but you also gotta be smart, not stupid.

Last week’s Top Shelf Pick of the Week:
South Park The Complete Eighth Season
Just because we didn't have a media roundup last week doesn't mean we didn't have a Top Shelf Pick. We would be remiss if we didn't bring you the smack down that is South Park Season 8. Most shows that are lucky enough to make it to 8 seasons have lost some steam. South Park just keeps upping the ante. This was one of our favorite seasons and filled with some of the most biting satire yet.

The Great American Songbook Series
Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire
All right, let's just say that you don't own any Sinatra CDs. I can understand. I was there once.., once. Now let's then suppose that you would like to own some great tunes, and maybe not even just Sinatra. Some great music from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Americana... you know, 20th century standards. And you want the some of the originals not the modern interpretations (sorry- Rod, nothing personal). Well that's OK- Columbia has the ticket for you: a new series of CDs called The Great American Songbook. Each CD features an artist like Sinatra, Louis Armstrong or Fred Astaire singing signature classics and older standards that they made their own. For a little cash, you can pick up three great CDs and examples of why sometimes the old stuff is the best stuff.

Big Brother 7: All Stars
We are down to the wire- the final three. Boogie punked out in the first round of the final HOH and the girls who took down the evil Dr. Will look strong. Who's going to be the final member of the jury? Tune in on Thursday to find out, then next Tuesday for the finale. Still wish Kaysar had put his heart into the game and duked it out to the end, but I'm still pulling for Janelle.

The Amazing Race 10
OK, it doesn't start until September 17th, but we can go ahead and program the TiVos and DVRs can't we? I mean just in case?

Turner Classic Movies
The Shelf Picks for TCM:
50th Anniversary of Janus Films this month on Tuesdays
In 1956, actor Bryant Haliday and Cyrus Harvey began a distribution company that brought classic and contemporary international films to American audiences. On Tuesdays in September, TCM brings us films from that collection. And of course, Criterion has been instrumental in making sure DVD editions, in partnership with Janus, of those films are available for adding to you own home library. It's my recommendation that you set a goal to introduce yourself to some of these films on Tuesdays (if you haven't already) and expand and expound your cinema IQ. You just might enjoy it.

August 5th: The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), and La Strada (1954)

August 6th: Celebrate the work of William Holden with Golden Boy (1939), Sunset Boulevard (1950), and Born Yesterday (1950)

August 7th: Yuk it up with Mel Brooks. The debut of a new series of interviews of filmmakers with Dick Cavett premeires tonight with The Dick Cavett Show: Mel Brooks (2006). Later catch the Brooks classic, The Producers (1968), and then catch an old Shelf Abbott and Costello favorite The Time Of Their Lives (1946).

August 8th: Underappreciated classics tonight! Henry Fonda is a Western legend trying to end his career peacefully, but isn't getting any help from fanboy Terence Hill in My Name Is Nobody (1974), later Cary Grant tries to maintain his sanity in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and then Alec Guiness shows why the originals are often better than the remakes in The Ladykillers (1955)

August 9th: Cary Grant in a serious turn in Only Angels Have Wings (1939). Later stay for the original Robert Mitchum- Gregory Peck thriller Cape Fear (1962), and then allied agents try to go behind enemy lines to destroy German munitions in Operation Crossbow (1965)

August 10th: It's a Glenn Ford Tribute: The Desperadoes (1943), Gilda (1946), Blackboard Jungle (1955), and The Courtship Of Eddie's Father (1963)

August 11th: Jailhouse classics! Over the Wall (1938), San Quentin (1937), The Defiant Ones (1958), I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932), and My Reputation (1946)

That's all for today's lesson class. I hope you have learn that it pays to step out of your cinema "comfort zone." Now let's all break and head over to (warning: gratutious product placement and/or endorsement to follow) Wendy's for Vanilla Frostys. (Dear Wendy's I know you have never responded to my series of requests for an endorsement deal. But I thought perhaps if you saw it in action, you might reconsider. No? Could I at least get a free Vanilla Frosty coupon?)

PS! Mad props to John over at Greenbrier Picture Shows on 300 posts. It will soon be a year over there (don't forget its The Shelf's one year anniversary on Friday, Sept. 8th!). If you don't think that's such a big deal... you just try and post a great and enjoyable and informative entry everyday for 300 days. Greenbrier is consistantly one of my favorite daily reads. Go on over Shelfers, for a visit and wish him well.
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.

What's the use of worrying about your beard when your head's about to be taken?


Anonymous said...

I actually resemble the "nerd" comment. I've bought two versions now and will probably be suckered into buying another next year depending on the extras.
My wife is none to happy.

J.C. Loophole said...

You are sad, sad little man


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