Friday, January 28, 2011

Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special Stop Me If You've Heard This Story Before Edition)

Video Event of the Week: Might Criterion's DVD upgrade of maverick filmmaker Sam Fuller's wildly stylish 60s melodramas The Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor be what we're talking about? Is it conceivable that Summit's Blu-ray of Red, with Bruce Willis and a bunch of older folks including Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman playing spy games, could make the cut? Or is there the slightest chance that the respective Music Box discs of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third installment of the Swedish film adaptations of those Stieg Larsson thrillers, are actually The One(s)?

All worthy, perhaps, although without seeing it I'm still reasonably certain that TGWKTHN sucks as much as the first one (which I have seen, in case you're wondering). But in any case, for my money it simply has to be Disney's DVD/Blu-ray combo pack of the 60th anniversary edition of the animated Alice in Wonderland.

This was one of the first Disney titles to make it to home video, beginning on VHS and Betamax(!) back in 1981 and it's been more or less continuously available in the various evolving formats ever since; there was a restored DVD in 2004, but apparently it's been bumped up to high-def for the current edition. In any case, it's especially nice to have the 1951 Alice available in such a gorgeous transfer after the serious misfire that was last year's Tim Burton version (or as we like to call it around Casa Simels -- Alice, Warrior Princess). Which is to say that I think this is still -- in its only slightly Disney-fied way -- the most faithful of the many film versions to both the spirit of the Carroll story and to the original Tenniel illustrations. Without question, it's the most charming.

I should add that it's also the most psychedelic and scary, even after all these years; here's the Cheshire Cat scene, which gave me the creeps big time as a kid and still induces some very trippy frissons. The Cat's voice, in case you can't quite place the actor, is by the incomparably funny Sterling Holloway.

As you can see from the above excerpt, the restored film is in splendid shape and the new transfers are visually stunning, with color you could eat with the proverbial spoon (the Blu-ray is to my eyes merely incrementally better, but as is customary it's also stuffed to the gills with more extras than the DVD, including a clip of Uncle Walt introducing an airing on the Disney TV show from 1969). Both discs have a previously available making-of featurette (Reflections on Alice) and -- best of all -- give you the option of choosing between a clean-as-a-whistle version of the original mono soundtrack or a quite convincing digital 5.1 surround version juryrigged from the same elements.

In any case, this is a generally flawless presentation of one of Disney's finest efforts from the Golden Age; you can -- and very definitely should -- order it here.

And with that out of the way, and because things will be pretty quiet around here for the next couple of days, here's a fun and hopefully relevant little project to help us wile away the hours:

Best or Worst Version of an Often-Filmed Story, Classic or Otherwise!!!

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. A Tale of Two Cities (Jack Conway, 1935)

Of all the adaptations of classic novels from Hollywood's heyday, this one has to be the most stirring. Starting with Colman, born to play the role, obviously, but let's say a word for Edna Mae Oliver's Miss Pross and Blanche Yurka's Madame DeFarge; their catfight is only one of several scenes in which both actresses manage to steal the picture out from under the rest of the huge and wonderful ensemble cast.

4. Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961)

Eastwood's frame-for-frame spaghetti western is the most famous, but I've lost track of how many other versions (credited or uncredited) of Kurosawa's masterpiece are out there, including the sci-fi remake with David Carradine. Most of them suck, of course, although I will admit a certain fondness for Walter Hill's Prohibition era gangster adaptation (Last Man Standing) with Bruce Willis.

3. Hook (Steven Spielberg, 1991)

Just what the world needed -- Peter Pan II: Electric Boogaloo. With Robin Williams inexplicably cast as an English person.

2. The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004)

Mel's Jesus torture-porn epic, and despite the fact that it's idiotic and kinda anti-Semitic, it compensates by being unwatchable.

And the Numero Uno thrice-or-more told tale pretty much has to be....

1. Dracula (John Badham, 1979)

Langella had already made a splash on Broadway in a revival of the Dracula stage play, done semi-tongue in cheek with black-and-white set designs by cartoonist Edward Gorey. So of course somebody at Universal thought it would be a smart idea to star him in an irony-free blood-and-guts color version directed, without a hint of style or Gothic poetry, by the same nose to the ground hack who would later make Short Circuit. Pretty awful, including Laurence Oliver's middle-European accent.

Alrighty, then -- what would YOUR choices be?