Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special Out of This World! Edition)

on September 11, 2009 by Steve Simels
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TCM scifi II.JPGVideo Event of the Week: Is it the Martini/Sony DVD of the 1969 counterculture saga Model Shop, Jacques Demy's only shot-in-America feature? Would New Line's Blu-ray upgrade for the 135 minute director's cut of Terrence Malick's The New World, the 2005 founding of Jamestown saga starring Colin Ferrell, possibly make the cut? Or against all the odds and everything that's good and decent in life, might Lionsgate's multi-format Crank 2: High Voltage, the artificial-heart-that-needs-recharging action sequel from 2008 starring Jason Staham, even theoretically be The One?

All worthy to be sure, except for that Crank crapola, and if I can shnorr the Demy from Sony I'll have more to say about that down the road. But for my money it's got to be the third installment of the TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection, which is to say a bargain-priced (approximately 25 bucks a pop) four-film-a-package set of indisputably cool-to-great movies in absolutely first-rate versions with lots of nifty extras.

There are three two-disc boxes in the new bunch, including one for murder mysteries --mostly noirs, including the original The Postman Always Rings Twice, Bogart's Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, and Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder (not, alas, the 3D version) -- and one for horror -- Spencer Tracy's Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Tod Browning's still shocking Freaks, the brilliant Robert Wise original version of The Haunting, and Vincent Price in House of Wax (also not, alas, the 3D). All eight of those films (heretofore available separately) derive from the most recent high end disc transfers, and as mentioned previously, there are worthwhile extras (making-of docs and audio commentary tracks) for almost all of them; The Big Sleep, for example, has UCLA film archivist Robert Gitt discussing the differences between the two extant edits of the film (the better known theatrical version is the one actually in the set).

 

thin man II.JPGAll three packages are inarguable, I think, but if I had to pick one it would have to be the sci-fi volume, with state of the art takes on one obvious masterpiece (Stanley Kubrick's 2001), a pioneering F/X classic (Forbidden Planet), a charming kid's fantasy (the original Time Machine) and one hugely enjoyable piece of cheese (Soylent Green). The films themselves are obviously the selling point here, but there are two knockout bonuses along with the de rigeur trailers and still galleries. With The Time Machine, you get The Journey Back, half making-of doc and half semi-sequel, with original cast members Rod Taylor, Alan Young and Whit Bissell; Taylor, one of my all time heroes, is charming as ever and it's a real pleasure to see him reunited with Young and the story updated. And with Forbidden Planet you get a pristine print of an episode of The Thin Man TV series with that film's mechanical co-star Robbie the Robot (not to mention Peter Lawford and the adorable Phyllis Kirk ); I loved that show back in the day (between 1957-59) and it's never been on home video, so this is a particular treat.

 

Bottom line: All three packages are terrific bargains and eminently worth owning. You can -- and should -- order the sci-fi set over here; while you're there, make sure to navigate around and check out the other two volumes as well.

 

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And that said, and because things will probably be fairly quiet around here for a couple of days, here's a fun and possibly relevant little project for us all:

Most Memorable Pre-STAR WARS Outer Space-Themed Film!!!

And my top of my head Top Five is:

5. Flying Disc Man From Mars (Fred C. Brannon, 1950)

Hilariously cheesy late Republic serial, with the Earth menaced by an evil Martian played by the oily Russian guy Bogart wouldn't let into the casino in Casablanca.

4. Wild Wild Planet (Antonio Margheriti, 1965)

Quintessential mid-60s Italian sci-fi cheese; Woody Allen appropriated a lot of the look of it in Sleeper. BTW, you might notice that the creepy sunglass wearing androids in the clip...

 

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...look strangely like a recent presidential candidate and his wife.

 

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3. The Bamboo Saucer (Frank Telford, 1968)

A team of U.S. and Russian scientists are on a secret mission to beat the Red Chinese to a U.F.O. that crashed in their territory. Surprisingly good low budget Cold War sci-fi suspense, with better F/X than you'd expect.

2. It! The Terror From Beyond Space (Edward L. Cahn, 1958)

A monstrous whatsit stows away on a spaceship heading back to Earth and slowly picks off the helpless astronauts. Ridley Scott cribbed large portions of it for Alien, obviously.

And the numero uno screen extravaganza for space cadets of all ages (regardless of drug intake) obviously is...

1. Woman in the Moon (Fritz Lang, 1929)

The screen's first depiction of a countdown, among many other splendid things. Of course, Lang got the whole breathable atmosphere thing wrong, but otherwise this is a still entertaining melodrama made with its director's characteristic visual flair.

Alrighty then -- and your choices would be?

 

Tags: Model Shop, Jacques Demy, Terrence Malick, The New World, Crank 2: High Voltage, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Forbidden Planet, Flying Disc Man From Mars, Wild Wild Planet, Sleeper, The Bamboo Saucer, It! The Terror From Beyond Space
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