I used to watch the great James Cagney gangster films on Sunday mornings when my parents didn't drag me to church. My all-time favorite was Angels With Dirty Faces, which had Cagney as a bad-ass gangster with a bunch of juvenile delinquents (The Dead End Kids) looking up to him. It also boasted the presence of Humphrey Bogart, and seeing those two together is as big as any casting in movie history. Some see it as corny in retrospect, but I think it has aged well. The scene where Cagney's Rocky Sullivan goes yellow is one of Cagney's most memorable. The film can be purchased on its own, or in this fine boxed set that features five other classics, including the amazing White Heat. This is where Cagney returned to Warner Brothers and made what is perhaps the quintessential gangster film, playing Cody Jarrett, the psychotic thief with a major mother fixation ("Top of the world, Ma!). The package also features Cagney shining in The Public Enemy (featuring that infamous grapefruit scene), The Roaring Twenties, and discs dedicated to The Petrified Forest (starring Bette Davis and Leslie Howard) and Little Caesar (starring Edward G. Robinson). All of the films can be purchased individually, but do yourself a favor and lay out the dough for the set. It's not expensive, and it well worth your while. Movie grades: Angels With Dirty Faces (A), The Petrified Forest (B+), The Public Enemy (A-), White Heat (A), Little Caesar (B+), The Roaring Twenties (B).
Special Features: The scary Leonard Maltin shows up for Warner Night at the Movies, introducing news reels and movie trailers. Film historians offer commentaries, and there are some really swell documentaries looking back at the films. The vintage presentation is a lot of fun, and it's great to see these classics getting good treatment.
I must admit, this one scared the hell out of me. One of the most frightening movies ever made is Ju-on: The Grudge, Japanese director Takashi Shimizu's terrifying tale of a murdered woman's ghost making things very nasty for those who visit her former abode. Apparently, American director and producer Sam Raimi saw the film and shit his pants, a good enough reason to remake the movie in the states. For the first time in American film history, a Japanese film was remade with its original Japanese director, and the result is the Americanized The Grudge. Retaining Shimizu was a masterstroke, because much of what made the original creepy translates nicely into the remake. Sarah Michelle Gellar stars as an American in Japan whose job takes her to the unfortunate house of Kayako and Toshio, mother and son ghosts who are just a little ticked about having been killed. Kayako and Toshio are played by Takako Fuji and Yuya Ozeki respectively, reprising their roles from the Japanese original films and becoming two of cinema's all-time creepiest characters. Fuji, an amazing contortionist, does most of the freaky stuff that winds up on camera, with very little help from special effects. This is the rare example of an American remake doing justice to the original, although the fact that the original's director was at the helm probably had something to do with it.
Special Features:Producer Sam Raimi and cast members (including Gellar) provide a rather unfocused commentary that doesn't offer the sort of insights Shimizu gave on his Japanese original film's DVD. A series of documentaries on the film's creation do a decent job of getting behind the scenes, including great set footage of Takako Fuji in action.
If you are a fan of Aqua Teen, Sealab and especially Space Ghost, Brak's foray into cartoon-sitcom land should appeal to you. Many of you might know Brak from his contribution to Space Ghost's The Twelve Days of Christmas (his part of the song was simply repeating "My name is Brak!" multiple times). He's a dim bulb with a heart of gold, and Cartoon Network put him into a show that positioned him as a sort of Beaver Cleaver with an alien mom and Latin-lover dad. Zorak the mantis, Space Ghost's band leader, shows up as an Eddie Haskell-type who enjoys wrecking the neighbor's lawn and getting Brak in trouble with his parents. This one isn't for everybody, but it made my sides hurt from laughter. Brak often breaks into song, including a very moving ode to the potato and his favorite seafood restaurant.
Special Features: Brak does commentary that cannot be described as intellectual on select episodes. The two-disc set also features Cartoon Planet segments featuring Space Ghost and Zorak, and The Brak Show Starring Brak. The highlight of these segments would have to be Brak's moving ballad about his magic toenail, which is beyond description and just a little disturbing.