Tuesday, November 28, 2006
year of the supermen
2006 will go down as the year of Superman. Supermen, really, for almost every incarnation of Superman to hit the big and small screen has seen some action this year. It has been an explosion of Superman DVDs, a new film, Television series DVDs and more. So let's begin the roundup... besides, we've got to get back to Christmas.
Top Shelf Pick of the Week:
Superman: The Ultimate Collector's Edition.
What do you get when you cram in all of the big screen Superman films and a whole bunch of extras into one box? Well, you get this huge set. This mega set contains all for of the original Superman film series (including the four disc special edition of Superman), Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Superman Returns, and the documentary Look Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman; all to comprise a 14 disc set. The set is also jam-packed with tons (and I mean tons) of extras including the 1950s Television movie: Superman and The Mole Men, all of the Fleischer cartoons in their restored glory, bunches of documentaries on all of the films (including one on the Fleischer cartoons), deleted scenes, trailers, several booklets and a Superman comic and more. (See Amazon for a complete list). For a Superman fan this is an automatic notch on the old Santa wish list. This year has seen an awful lot of Superman material being released. In addition to the complete Superman film series, you can also have the complete series of the 1950s Superman television series, The 1990s Lois and Clark series and Superboy series, you can be steadily obtaining Smallville, the original Kirk Alyn serial from the 1940s (see below) and now especially great for animation fans are all of the incredible Max Fleischer Superman cartoons. In particular interest also is the Richard Donner cut of Superman II. Donner was filming Superman I and II at the same time. When Marlon Brando complained that he didn't know that he was filming two films, production stopped for a time on II, and then Donner left the project. Now Donner has recut the film to his original vision. Our friend Laura over at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings has an excellent look at this DVD. This is one set you do not want to miss, and when we do our Shelf roundup awards after Christmas this may be in contention for set of the year.
Note: Unfortunately, Digital Bits is reporting that disc 1 and disc 8 of this set shipped with incorrect audio for the film and missing several bonus features. Warners is aware of the problem and will be providing replacement discs, and if you go to Digital Bits you can find contact information on how to obtain those.
If you own most of the films and do not wish to upgrade, you still may want to check out this year's Superman Returns. Bryan Singer left X-Men III when offered the chance to direct a new Superman, and the results were somewhat mixed. I think X-Men lost some of its vision when Singer left, but I also think that while Superman gained quite a bit of security in terms of continuing the character and staying close to the story and characters, I also think the film was not all that it could be. I definitely appreciated the homage to the Christopher Reeve films and to essentially picking up where that series left off (really after Superman II). Too much time was spent on reviving Reeve and not letting Brandon Routh run with the character. It had too much of one foot in the past films and not enough in the present series. But the film had many things going for it that make it promising and hopefully in looking forward to the next installment. Visually stunning, the special effects were somehow natural and unbelievable at the same time. Even though Kevin Spacey was not effective as Lex Luthor, and Kate Bosworth is OK, but rather bland as Lois- Brandon Routh was promising as Superman. The next installment is coming and Superman Returns may end up being the transition piece from the old series into the new. It's still an otherwise excellent film and Singer appreciably is self-referential without resorting to parody, and reverent without becoming pedantic. I am anxious to see where this cast and director take the characters next.
Superman: The Theatrical Serials Collection.
Kirk Alyn was really the first live action Superman up on the big screen in a set of chapter serials in 1948 and 1950. Now I was a bit too young to remember anything other than trailers before a film, but my father has oft told me about the days when he would go down to the movie theater on a Saturday and see a newsreel, several cartoons, two different chapter serials, a couple of trailers, a muscial short and a double feature. And to hear him tell it, he got all of that, plus popcorn, candy, a hamburger and shake at the Chock'lit Shoppe, a toy, a shoeshine, a magazine, a tip on the horses and busfare all for a dime. And he further claims that was after prices went up. These two theatrical serials are as much science fiction as my father's account of the economic value of a dime in his bygone days, but they reflect the ideas of science, fantasy and adventure that one could find in other serials and comic strips. Let us not forget that the original incarnation of Superman was more in the vein of science fiction, than say the pumped up superheros of the the last several decades. These enjoyable chapter serials may be a little different to the younger crowd to whom the Christopher Reeve movie special effects seem dated, but the stories are very enjoyable and it's great to see Superman in a post WW II pre Cold War context.
Criterion continues to release DVDs of great and important films in high quality sets brimming with great features. This DVD is no exception. Pandora's Box (Die Busch de Pandora) was the controversial film by German filmmaker G.W. Pabst that made actress Louise Brooks an icon of the jazz age. Her character Lulu (which became a nickname for her among fans) is a showgirl who spirals down into a lurid world that affects all of those around her. Definitely shocking for its time, and scathingly criticized for its sexuality and story, the film is now considered a masterpiece of the late silent era. Louise Brooks is a facinating person who became the actress, the it girl, of the jazz age. She still has legions of fans, here and abroad. A Kansas native, she found her beginnings in show business in Hollywood. but became a legend through her work in films in Germany. John over at Greenbriar Pictures Shows had recently made Louise the subject of one of his regular Monday Glamour Starters. Some of the images John posted just smolder through the moniter screen. For more info on Lulu check that post out or the site of the Louise Brooks Society.
Becoming Charlemange: Europe, Baghdad, and the Empires of A.D. 800
To truly understand where we are today, we must better understand where we have been. This is a lesson that is lost on many people in today's modern world, who seemingly cannot wait to get to tomorrow. Why would I recommend a book about a long ago ruler and his Empire from centuries ago? Because our past is relevant and it's relevance extends far beyond your immediate geographical era. The story of Charlemagne is not as well known, or perhaps even taught to the young jet set in school these days. Author Jeff Sypeck focuses on the four years of conflict, diplomacy, and empire building that led to the German king Karl being crowned leader of Imperial Rome and, for the most part, all of Europe. The influence and legacy and impact of Charlemagne extended well beyond Christian Europe, and it changed Europe (and affected the world in some ways) in the long run. Get to know the past and you can affect the future. And that's... one to grown on!
I hope everyone enjoyed A Charlie Brown Christmas the other night. More Christmas specials will be on the way. The Amazing Race, The Unit and NCIS were excellent as always. The Unit just keeps getting better and better. One thing is for sure, with your regular shows either on hiatus or in reruns until the first of the year, this is a perfect time to enjoy some classic films on Turner Classic Movies. To help you out, we will be posting a TCM for the Holidays Guide so you can really enjoy a classic film Christmas. For now let's see what's on for the next week:
Shelf picks for Turner Classic Movies:
Nov. 29th: Lucille Ball is the star of the month and tonight you can enjoy some of her films: Meet The People (1944), Stage Door (1937), (also June Allyson's debut) Best Foot Forward (1943), and The Affairs Of Annabel (1938).
Nov. 30th: Lucille Ball was also in the Marx Brothers' Room Service (1938). Then follow that up with more Hotel based offerings: The Bellboy (1960), Plaza Suite (1971), and Hotel Berlin (1945).
The Christmas season has kicked fully into gear so stay tuned to The Shelf for more essential Holiday viewing on TCM. In the meantime- you can't watch Christmas flicks 24/7- can you say burnout. That's alright TCM has you covered with more essential viewing.
Dec. 1st: Don't miss a day of comedy with Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1963), Annie Hall (1977), and Danny Kaye in Wonder Man (1945) and Up in Arms (1944).
Dec. 2nd: Frank Capra reigns supreme on TCM today with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), You Can't Take it With You (1938), Lady for a Day (1933) and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Dec. 3rd: Suave and urbane William Powell brings his detective skills and wit has Philo Vance in The Kennel Murder Case (1933). Later William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow star in Libeled Lady (1936). Then stick around for another Powell -Loy feature: I Love You Again (1944).
Dec. 4th: Mark your calenders, it's Forbidden Hollywood night on TCM. These films were made before the Hayes code and censorship took effect. Then on Dec. 5th you can snatch up the Forbidden Hollywood Vol.1 DVD (review of this set will be forthcoming!) set from TCM and Warner Brothers featuring several of these films: Waterloo Bridge (1931), Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face (1933), Red Headed Woman (1932), Union Depot (1932), Under Eighteen (1932) and Night Nurse (1931).
Stick around. We've got more Christmas stuff headed your way plus some exciting previews and reviews and more on classic films. Stay tuned. Up, up and away!
We all have our little faults. Mine's in California.