The New Old: Sleeping Dogs, Men, & Kids

Peter Pan (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, 1953) – While arguably the least of all Disney animated films to come out back in the time when large scale animated epics were still a cottage industry run by only one studio, Peter Pan has aged better than a lot of its contemporaries, and with very good reason. Coming hot on the heels of the somewhat underperforming and almost experimental Alice in Wonderland, Pan ended up becoming one of the best adaptations of J.M. Barrie’s beloved stage play and a shining example of how to aim such a film at a young audience without ever talking down to them.

The story of the Darling children being whisked away to the far off fantasy world of Neverland by the kid who refused to grow up and his right-hand fairy Tinkerbell has become the stuff of legends, and while Walt Disney and his crew have admittedly cut back on the story in sometimes strange ways (the set up to get them to Neverland in the first place feels lengthy without adding much, a lot of the thematic subtext from Barrie’s novel is jettisoned, the whole unfortunate Native stereotyping thing that feels somewhat obvious now), but overall it’s possibly one of the best introductions to the character itself and probably the best gateway for youngsters into early Disney animation.

In production since the late 1930s, a clear amount of effort and thought went into the making of Peter Pan that can’t be denied or dismissed. While most of the great special features on the new Diamond Edition Blu-Ray have been ported over from the original 2-disc DVD, the wide array of featurettes (some of which have actually been remastered to look better here) and a commentary track of critics, historians, craftspeople, and voice actors hosted by Roy Disney help to solidify the film’s place in the Disney canon. Aside from two more unearthed and unused songs from the film exclusive to this edition, the only new feature is a documentary about growing up in a family where a parent was a Disney animator. It’s kind of dry, but it’s great for Disney completists.

The Blu-Ray looks okay, but there have been much better transfers in this series than the sometimes noisy one shown here. The 7.1 sound mix is also a bit much for a film that was made in mono (which is also a great sounding option here), and some strange choices have been made in action scenes where effects will be coming through odd channels. Overall, though, it’s nice to have this underrated classic back in a next generation format. (Andrew Parker)

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Sleeper (Woody Allen, 1973) – In 1973, Woody Allen decided to go back to the future with Sleeper, his ode to slapstick/silent comedy that’s easily one of the best films of his then young directorial career.  Drawing from the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, it’s a hilarious throwback that shows how funny this upcoming talent could really be.

In Sleeper, the cryogenically frozen Miles Monroe (Woody Allen) is woken up 200 years after a hospital mishap, and he ends up discovering that the future isn’t that bright.  The men are impotent, the women are sexually frigid, and the world is ruled by an evil dictator that’s actually a disembodied nose!  As he’s pursued by the secret police – all the while being recruited by anti-establishment rebels with a plan to kidnap the supreme rulers snout before it can be cloned and he can live forever – he falls for Luna (Diane Keaton), a beautiful yet laughably untalented poet.  When Miles is captured it’s now up to Luna to get him back, lead the rebels, snatch a nose and save humanity.

While only his fifth film, Sleeper is easily one of his funniest.  It’s a film that shows a real flair and style not only for the physical comedy that so obviously inspired him at a young age but in the dry, acerbic wit which made him so famous.  The story moves at a fun, brisk pace embracing a Keystone Cops sort of vibe as this is in many ways his very own comedic chase movie.  Imagine it as a gonzo madcap comedy of the 20’s and 30’s that is filled with sexual innuendo, self-deprecating Jewish jokes and drug references.  Allen was hitting his full creative stride on this one, as it’s easily his best paced and most universally accepted films to that point in time with some incredibly solid comedic turns that keep us engaged at every turn.

Usually playing variations on himself, here as Miles Monroe is where Woody Allen starts to get the formula right.  Diving head first into the physical comedy, he shows that he was a natural at it and when married with his sardonic wit that was not only razor sharp but laugh out loud funny.  Coming off of her memorable turns in The Godfather and Play It Again, Sam; the latter in which she was opposite Allen, there is no question that he finds his comedic muse.  Playing the airy, self-involved ditz to near perfection, Keaton knocks it out of the park and gets just as many guffaw moments as Allen does in the story.  It’s no surprise they formed such a potent comic duo for years to come after this.

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Picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are solid but unremarkable and the only special feature on the release is the theatrical trailer.

Sleeper will never be the first or even the second movie that people talk about when discussing their favorites of Allen’s films, but it’s always on everyone’s list and is just pure, unadulterated fun. (Dave Voigt)

 

Cujo (Lewis Teague, 1983) – In the 80s, moviegoers were never more than a few seconds away from fresh Stephen King adaptation. The likes of Brian De Palma, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, Tobe Hooper, Rob Reiner, and even Stanley Kubrick all took their own crack at spinning King’s yarns into films with some pretty fantastic results. Then of course there were a number of hacks (and King himself…Maximum Overdrive…wow) who took strong source material and turned it into drive-in drivel, which meant buying a ticket to a Stephen King movie was like a game of cinematic Russian roulette. Somewhere in between the two extremes was the work of director Lewis Teague, a cheapie exploitation maestro who came out of the Roger Corman film school and impressed King enough with his deeply underrated title-says-it-all flick Alligator that he personally selected the filmmaker to helm two of his properties. My personal favorite of their collaborations was the campy portmanteau Cat’s Eye, but their most famous flick is Cujo. The title has become a catch phrase for evil dogs and over the course of the last 30 years the movie’s reputation has justifiably transformed from B-movie filler to genuine genre classic.

Like many Stephen King stories, Cujo is a tale of a broken family that transforms into a horror film. For the first hour, most of the screen time is dedicated the crumbling home of a father (Daniel Hugh Kelly) failing at work, a mother (Dee Wallace only a year removed from ET) secretly living out a disappointing affair, and a little boy (Danny Pintauro) convinced there are monsters in their closest. There’s also an unhappy redneck family who are even worse off, furthering the “unhappy family” themes and setting up the final act that finally turns Cujo into a horror film. You see, that redneck family has a giant St. Bernard that initially seems to be as friendly as Beethoven before proving Charles Grodin’s fears were correct by getting bitten by rabid bats and turning into a slobbering, bloody n’ muddy furry monster. For final unrelentingly claustrophobic half hour, Dee Wallace and her child are trapped in a car while Cujo desperately tries to get in for a bite of human flesh. It’s incredibly tense and frightening, and also a big drooling metaphor for the family’s fears tearing them apart. No points for guessing how things work out.

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Cujo isn’t quite on the level of the finest King adaptations like The Shining or Carrie, but it is a remarkably effective and nasty little piece of work. Teague remains one of the most underrated genre directors of his generation who works well with actors (Wallace in particular is fantastic), expertly manipulates his audience, and has a strong sense of visual style. Given how static the film could potentially feel with limited locations and third act set almost entirely in a car, Teague employs a constantly roving camera that ratchets up tension and delivers a slick, pleasing look (Jan De Bant was responsible for the cinematography and his restless steadycam and craning ways are all over the project). Even with all the fractured family subtexts, Teague never reaches too far with the project. This is never an art film hidden through genre trappings, it’s B-movie fun with a brain and a strong piece of craftsmanship. Plus, as with most great horror movies, Teague and co. deliver one hell of a movie monster in Cujo, transforming a lovable lug into a rabid killer that’s still name dropped anytime a dog gets fresh with a stranger. I have no idea how they ever got a dog, a costume, and a puppet to perform everything in the film so seamlessly and effectively, but thank god Cujo was made before CGI. You just can’t beat physical effects.

Cujo already had a pretty nice 25th anniversary Blu-ray from Lionsgate, but I guess rights have changed and the now upstart Olive Films have slipped out a new disc. The transfer is absolutely fantastic with Jan De Bont’s tight and jittery cinematography never looking any better than this. Unfortunately Laurent Bouzereau’s excellent 42-minute documentary from the previous edition wasn’t carried over, but that’s made up for by an absolutely fantastic new audio commentary with Lewis Teague and moderator Jeff McKay that’s almost as entertaining as the film. Teague is clearly quite fond of the movie and lets a number of fascinating info nuggets slip out like when he called legendary Jaws editor Verna Fields for advice on timing a scare and how he inherited the film from Peter Medek (The Changeling) after he’d been fired a few days into production. Other than that you won’t even get a trailer, but the commentary offers plenty of infotainment and the film only seems to get better with age. So, what more do you want? If you don’t have Cujo already, now is the time to right that egregious wrong. It’s a solid genre flick and that dog should have won an Oscar. What was with that oversight Hollywood? (Phil Brown)

 

The Quiet Man (John Ford, 1952) – John Ford and John Wayne are names that easily go down in history as some of the most important filmmakers and actors of all time.  With a long list of classics shared by both men over their careers, there is one, very personal film that occasionally gets over looked but never forgotten.  The double Academy Award winning love story The Quiet Man shows the real depth of talent that both men had, and it’s freshly remastered directly from the original negatives and available on Blu-Ray for the very first time.

We meet Sean Thornton (Wayne), an American boxer who has sworn off fighting after he accidently kills his opponent in the ring during a fight.  Deciding to return home to his native Ireland and the town of his youth, he sets off to reclaim his family’s homestead and subsequently falls in love with the fiery red head Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara).  When she insists that Sean proceed with the courtship in the traditional Irish manner, he has to take on a matchmaker in the town drunk (Barry Fitzgerald) and faces opposition from her brother Squire ‘Red’ Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) who refuses to consent to any part of the courtship.  He eventually relents and consents to the marriage but never pays the traditional dowry, of which Sean couldn’t possible care less.  When his own wife brands him a coward for not standing up to her brother, Sean is finally ready to take matters into his own hands.

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This film’s a pretty interesting departure for both Wayne & Ford, and they even had to cut a deal with Republic Pictures at the time guaranteeing that both men would make a western (Rio Grande) for the studio before agreeing to fund the picture, but the end results were more than worth it.  The Quiet Man is a surprisingly sharp and thoughtful fish out of water love story.  Based on the short story by Maurice Walsh, Ford successfully turns the Irish countryside into a magical land full of beauty and character.  It moves at a very deliberate and measured pace, perfectly mirroring the nature of the narrative and these characters who were steeped in tradition above all else.  Everything in the entire film has a very subtle and nuanced feel to it, and that has to be attributed to Ford’s style of working with the same people on multiple occasions, including John Wayne who he made 12 different movies with.

Wayne’s performance as Sean Thornton is brilliantly understated as a man looking to get away and get back to his roots until he’s pushed too far.  It shows Wayne’s depth while still playing the tough everyman as he successfully makes the character one of his most vulnerable.  Maureen O’Hara is one of the few leading ladies capable of commanding attention on screen while sharing the frame with The Duke.  Her fiery redhead Mary Kate was a wonderful Yang to his Ying and brings a real tough, no nonsense energy to the screen.  She’s undoubtedly one of the best female leads to ever share the screen with Wayne as they both bring a real aggressive passion to whatever she’s working on.  The ensemble is rounded out with other notable Ford collaborators like McLagen, Fitzgerald and Ward Bond, and everyone’s familiarity with one another is one of the main reasons why this film works so well and is universally loved in spite of some very traditional ideals that were a little extreme even in 1950’s North America.

The picture quality on this freshly re-mastered 4K scan of the original film negative is absolutely breathtaking and the special features included a lovely historical booklet and a making of The Quiet Man featurette hosted by Leonard Maltin from 1992.

You don’t always know the films that inspire other filmmakers but in watching it you can easily see why The Quiet Man is one of those movies that just works so well.  With its sumptuous cinematography, a classic love story, and two powerful leads who effortlessly command the screen, it has all the ingredients for some brilliant storytelling and filmmaking. (Dave Voigt)

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