Wednesday, September 27, 2006

monster mash

Today's roundup will be short and sweet. Quite frankly, beyond these few brief highlights there isn't too much to recommend out there this week. Next month is a different matter altogether. October will be one of those months where we won't know how to fit everything into one week. September is going out like a lamb. A really scary green lamb with pointy teeth. Killer lambs. You may call me... Tim. In case you didn't get the oblique Monty Python reference, we aren't really talking about sheep (or rabbits for that matter). While the last week of the month will be rather low key as far as releases go, these next few gems definitly deserve the Top Shelf pick.

Top Shelf Pick of the Week!
Universal Monsters!
Dracula and Frankenstein 75th Anniversary editions.

When I was a kid I used to go to a church Halloween Carnival (we did those back in the day) that had a lot of fun things to do as a kid. I was never much for the haunted house, or for anything very gory, but something about the fantasy and imagination about Halloween appealed to me. OK, actually it was the candy, but the imagination and ... you get the idea. Anyway, one year the carnival was offering a movie room where we could go and watch a "kiddie" Halloween movie, usually low on scary and high on the funny. Cartoons, etc. were the standard fare. However, this one year they were showing Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. I had seen A&C movies by that point; my father had made sure of that. I really wanted to see A & C, but the Frankenstein part of the equation made me weary. I didn't care for the horror or scary stuff. I pressed on and watched, for the first time, what is now an all time favorite movie. And a monster movie at that. I loved it. Sure, it was a little scary now and then, but there was something about it (the humor, A &C, the gothic nature of it) that made up for it.
During this same time (in the 70s/80s), monsters were making a bit of a second comeback of sorts on television. Children's television to be exact. Cartoons that featured the classic "monsters" were popular: Groovie Goolies, Drac Pack, Fang Face and more. "Monster" films were shown on late night television.
Years later I watched the original classics: Dracula and Frankenstein and was impressed with not only the storytelling and imagery, but the heart that was in Frankenstein in particular. They were creepy and scary, but charming and entralling at the same time. Not too long ago, Universal released the Monster Legacy Collection series. Each set included the original film, plus several sequels or spin off films and several featurettes. If you own those DVD sets, I see no real pressing need to get these DVDs. These 75th Anniversary DVDs contain only the featured film, some features from the previous release, and an added documentary on the Universal Monsters. You are better off getting the Legacy Collection. So why are these DVDs the Top Shelf pick? Cause it's getting close to Halloween, man! If you don't have them and can't find the Legacy Collection sets (I haven't seen them in stores but Amazon still has 'em), then rush out and get these. And please, watch some A & C Meets Frankenstein also. For me? Thanks.

Tony Bennett: Duets: An American Classic
It's been a trend for a while now. An aging performer gets together with some younger performers or performers outside their genre and plows through their back catalog of material. Most famously, Sinatra did two albums that way. Not to be missed, however, is Tony Bennett. Jazzy, classy, and smooth Tony Bennett will be 80 years young this year. This album is part of a birthday celebration (a television concert follows in November of this year). There are some no brainer guests like Bono, Diana Krall, and kd lang. And then there is George Michael and the Dixie Chicks. Yeah... right. The thing is the Dixie Chicks duet is actually quite good when the Chicks are harmonizing. Surprise, surprise. Nonetheless, treat yourself. This duets album is good, mainly because of Tony. Classy as ever he performs his standards, never trying to overpower his partner, but trying to blend their performances into a nice, neat package. Highlight: The Best is Yet to Come – duet with Diana Krall and The Boulevard of Broken Dreams– duet with Sting. Skip: the George Michael duet. Trust me. Didn't work.

Natalie Cole: Leavin'
I love Natalie Cole. Now that my bias is out on the table, let's get down to brass tacks. That's a good word: brassy. Natalie's new album is definitly brassy. It has soul, pop, and jazz too. If you were expecting an album of standards, you'll be disappointed. But then again, maybe not. I love standards and I wasn't. That's because I knew this was something different. Natalie has taken several songs from other artists and rearranged them with different styles. For example, she took Fiona Apple's Criminal and fueled with some funk and attitude and made it sassy smooth. Aretha Franklin's Day Dreaming gets some added funk and layered hip hop. This is a great album. Highlight: Natalie's original 5 Minutes Away and Criminal. Lowlight: Natalie's reworking of Sting's If I Ever Lose My Faith in You. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't as great as the other tracks. As always you can preview Tony and Natalie's latest albums plus more of this week's new releases over at aolmusic.

That's all for today's roundup folks. If today's Monster Mash didn't give you a little taste for Halloween, Wolf has a Halloween Candy review coming soon. Stick around.

Just wanted to throw in an interesting article (found via the folkes over at Digital Bits, thanks!) that was posted on CNN about the recent restoration work done on the new Criterion 3 disc special edition of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samuari (a previous Top Shelf Pick).
Also don't miss Greenbriar Picture Show's post on pop culture fads and their effect on film. It's an excellent example of what we have talked about before: pop culture can influence many areas of human endevor. By attempting to understand it contextually, we can learn more about the past, and in turn ourselves. Enjoy!

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.

I've had this brain for thirty years. It hasn't done me any good!


Anonymous said...

Glad to see the Shelf back to business. I've been eagerly awaiting the onslaught of Halloween films to hit the stores and now I've gone out and purchased these two to add to the rotation. I cannot find the Abbott and Costello movie though- is it on a single disc or in a set? Can you help? The one I've seen online was offered used and I'd rather get new. Am I looking in the wrong place?

stephanie said...

Natalie Cole is an awesome singer. I really enjoyed her Christmas album and the album in which she paid tribute to her father. I ordered my CD on amazon yesterday- thanks for the tip.

Wolf Flywheel said...

You can find A&C meet Frankenstein in the Best of A&C volume 3 which also includes A&C Meet the Invisible Man and A&C Meet Boris Karloff which are also pretty good ones for this season.There are 8 films in all in that set and I think it sells for around $15-$20.Volume 4 in that series has A&C Meet the Mummy,Jekyl and Hyde and a bonus featurette staring Jerry Seinfeld discussing the monster movies of A&C. Quite good actually. I've found them at Best Buy, WalMart, Target and the like.Amazon lists them as well.Happy hunting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks!- I see it on amazon now.
Anonymous #1

Ed said...

A & C are a yearly ritual around Halloween.
The Tony Bennett CD isn't the only "duets" CD this week. Jerry Lee Lewis has one as well. I'll guess we'll keep seeing this as long as aging singers keep wanting to release albums. Hey if the Rolling Stones can do, why not a classy crooner like Tony?


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