Greg Bell talks about working with Sirius/XM on Radio Classics

It was called “the theater of the mind.” Back before television families would huddle around their radio and listen to such popular shows as “Gunsmoke” or “Burns and Allen.” I still have fond memories as a young boy going to bed on Sunday nights and listening to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, drifting off to sleep while picturing the program’s action in my head.

I bought a Sirius/XM radio for my car because I love to listen to the music of the 1970s. But more often than not you’ll find me tooling down the road listening to a great old radio drama on Channel 148, hosted by Greg Bell. I recently had the opportunity to ask Greg some questions about his interest in Classic Radio and why it’s still so popular 50 years after the last program aired.

Mike Smith: Where did you develop your interest in the radio programs of the past?
Greg Bell: As I was born in the 1960s, I was too young to have listened to these shows when they originally played. What is often called “The Golden Age Of Radio” wrapped up in 1962, when CBS, the last network still playing weekly radio theater, ended that with the final episodes of “Suspense” and “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.” Personally I was always a fan of classic media, old films, TV shows and radio. I grew up listening to the revival radio shows including Himan Brown’s “CBS Radio Mystery Theater” in the 1970s and The Elliott Lewis led “Sears Radio Theater” in the late 70s and early 80s. And later I listened to “When Radio Was” during the Art Fleming and Stan Freberg era. The entire reason the XM (now Sirius XM) RadioClassics channel was created was to introduce all these wonderful shows to a whole new audience, who like myself, were not around when they originally aired. Great storytelling is truly timeless, and these shows prove that.

MS: How did the gig at Sirius come about?
GB: In December of 2001, I was hired at XM Satellite Radio in DC for the now-defunct USA Today channel (basically a radio version of the newspaper.) In the summer of 2002, they launched two new spoken word channels, Sonic Theater and RadioClassics. I was hired to run the classic radio channel, and was able to draw on my knowledge of classic films and television to also host the channel. XM merged with Sirius in 2008, and I was retained as the host of RadioClassics. And then following the retirement of Stan Freberg in 2006, I took over as the host of the syndicated series “When Radio Was” airing on approximately 200 radio stations across North America.

MS: You’ve hosted several radio themed cruises. What all do they entail?
GB: What a blast! We are currently preparing for the Fourth Annual Radio Spirits sponsored sea cruise: The first three were tremendous successes. While at sea we re-create both classic and original radio plays live on stage with the fans as the actors as well as handling the sound effects also created live. We also have old time radio trivia, show discussions, listening parties, gift bags, and perhaps most importantly it’s a place where I lot of folks, from all over the nation, who love the same stuff (classic radio theater) can meet.

MS: What are some of your favorite radio programs?
GB: Only way to answer that is to break it down by genre:

Comedies: Jack Benny is the king, but for great chemistry and timeless humor; my favorite is “The Phil Harris & Alice Faye Program.” Harris and Elliott Lewis as his pal, Frankie Remley were Cramden and Norton before the “Honeymooners” came along.

The top thriller and mystery series: For me they are “Suspense” and “The Whistler.” Both had tremendous storytelling and featured different themes each week, so it might be a murder mystery one week, science fiction the next and so on.

Police dramas: “Dragnet” was a radio show first and is very well done, but I also recommend “Broadway Is My Beat” (follows NYPD detective Danny Clover) and “The Lineup.”

The Westerns; sure everyone remembers “The Lone Ranger,” “Hopalong Cassidy” and “Red Ryder,” and they are entertaining but were targeted for younger listeners. So my favorites are “The Six-Shooter” (with Jimmy Stewart), “Fort Laramie” (featuring future “Perry Mason” star Raymond Burr) and “Gunsmoke.” Radio’s “Gunsmoke” which debuted three years before the TV version, is easily the best of the bunch. With a whole different cast (William Conrad was the voice of Marshall Dillon) “Gunsmoke” was much more than a western. The writers tackled issues of the 1950s like racism, xenophobia, domestic abuse, etc while setting the stories in the late 19th Century American West.

MS: Why do you think the medium is still popular?
GB: As I said earlier, great storytelling is truly timeless!

MS: With the popularity of satellite radio growing, do you think that radio dramas/comedies could return? Maybe “Screen Directors Playhouse presents ‘Jaws’?”
GB: It’s already here; there are tons of modern radio theater groups all over the country performing both classic and original scripts, so it’s truly alive and well.

MS: Do you have any new programs coming to the channel this year?
GB: There will always be series that our exclusive content provider, Radio Spirits, is able to get legal broadcasting rights to air and/or have digitally restored and prepped for satellite radio, plus they periodically supply us with more “new to the channel” episodes from series we currently feature.

For a list of the weekly shows, click here

Top 5 Australian Cult Movie Classics

It is easy to dismiss Australia in the grand scheme of things. I mean, they are so bloody far and when everywhere is summer, they have winter and vice versa. All joking aside however, Australia is a home for a long line of an outstanding cinematography pieces that are have easily crossed across the world borders and have been seen by millions of people. This is a short list that contains some of the most memorable, cult-classics that have been born on Australian soil. While you are at it, you can also play with these bonuses on your mobile phone, should you feel a bit aggravated by our picks. Now, let’s begin.

1. Mad Max (1979)

We wouldn’t have Mad Max: Fury Road without this classic piece of action and road rage starring Mel Gibson. In the dystopian future where the world is bereft of resources, a leather wearing-cop is out for revenge. Mel Gibson shines in the portrayal of the ex-police officer who is on a blood hunt of a murderous gang that had killed off his family. Not only is this movie impressive in terms of cinematography and stunts, it was made with such a low budget that might seem unreal today. It also helped propel the career of Gibson and cement Australia as the top countries to visit if you are a speed and adrenalin junkie.

2. The Interview (1998)
Before becoming internationally (meaning Hollywood) famous in the Matrix, Hugo Weaving had the lead role in this amazing drama-thriller called The Interview. While Western audiences might mistake this for an actual work-interview, Aussies will recognize it for what it is – a police interrogation. Intense and mind bending from the get go, The Interview sets you on a ride of mischief where a row of questions and answers lead to blurring the line between what can be, what is and what could be the truth. Weaving’s amazing performance is what makes this movie a must watch and is certain to remain a solid gem for fanatic movie goers.

3. Wake in Fright (Outback – 1971)
A movie’s portrayal of a man struggling to get by in the real world, especially since that world has chewed and spat him out. While the director of this movie was Canadian (Ted Kotcheff) the cinematography, the intense drama and cultural perception was very much Australian. We are talking a real cultural piece that exposed the dark and ugly side of Australia, with elements like racism, misogyny and violence. Audiences worldwide can view this masterpiece again since great efforts have been made to have it re-mastered and available as video on demand.

4. The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)
A film that can be considered as a spiritual predecessor of Mad Max, The Cars That Ate Paris is a fascinating story of greed and decadence. The plot revolves around the citizens of a small town in Australia called Paris (didn’t see that one coming, did you) where people have this nasty practice of setting up car crashes for salvage. It is gory, it is violent in its imagery and as the first piece by director Peter Weir, it is one you should not miss.

5. Crocodile Dundee (1986)
What, did you think we would forget about this one? The great popcorn movie that sparked the use of the line “that’s not a knife”, starred Paul Hogan as Mick Dundee and Linda Kozlowski and used the “Australian cowboy” goes to America jibe to poke fun at both the US and their perception of Australians. It was the humorous and quite excellent ride that helped garner fan acclaim throughout the world.

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Blu-ray Reviews – August 12th – Disney Classics

August 12th, we are seeing a slew of brand new to Blu-ray release for Walt Disney Home Entertainment. They are releasing five of its upcoming catalog titles including: “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad / Fun and Fancy Tree” (1949/47), “Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)” ,”Hercules” (1997), “Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers” (2004) and “Tarzan” (1999). I have to admit, these are an interesting bunch of catalog titles for Disney to release but definitely excited to get films like “Tarzan” and “Hercules” for the first time in high-def.

First up, since we are in alphabetical order is “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad / Fun and Fancy Free”. These are great shorts. I remember being terrible of Ichabod as a kid and it was also my introduction to the world of Sleepy Hollow. My sister and used to scoot down the stairs doing “Plippity-ploop” since that is how Mr. Toad’s car used to sound. As a bonus feature “The Reluctant Dragon” cartoon is also included for the first time on high-def. Other extras include a storybook for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Mickey and the Beanstalk” and a making-of look into “The Story Behind Fun and Fancy Free”.

Official Premise “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad: In the tradition of grand animated classics, Disney’s 11th animated masterpiece, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, presents two unforgettable children’s classics. Through award winning Disney animation wizardry, The Wind In The Willows and The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow come together in one fabulous adventure, and in its original theatrical format. Hang on for the wild motorcar ride of J. Thaddeus Toad as he drives his friends Mole, Rat and Angus McBadger into a worried frenzy. Then meet the spindly Ichabod Crane, who dreams of sweeping beautiful Katrina Van Tassel off her feet, despite opposition from town bully Brom Bones, who also has his eye on Katrina. The comic rivalry introduces Ichabod to the legend of the Headless Horseman, resulting in a heart-thumping climax. Wonderfully narrated by Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad brims with high-spirited adventure, animation and music.

Official Premise “Fun and Fancy Free”: Walt Disney’s 9th full-length animated masterpiece, is a delightful gem that not only sparkles with charm, but is unbelievably rich in history-making Disney moments. It was the last animated feature starring Walt Disney as the voice of Mickey Mouse, and the only film featuring all four of Walt Disney’s most famous characters — Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Jiminy Cricket. Following Disney’s classic tradition of great storytelling, unforgettable characters, music, and adventure, “Fun and Fancy Free” is the joyful telling of “Bongo” and “Mickey & The Beanstalk”, two timeless tales magically brought to life by the beloved Jiminy Cricket and the masterful combination of animation and live action.

“Bedknobs and Broomsticks” is an interesting film for Disney to bring out now. It is not celebrating any anniversary this year and doesn’t really feel to relevant but it is still a treat since this is a very funny film. Like “Mary Poppins”, it is also a very long film that will most likely not keep today’s kids entertained but at least the adults can enjoy it for sure. The extras included are “Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers”, Deleted & Extended Scenes, “David Tomlinson Recording Session”, “The Wizards of Special Effects”, Theatrical Trailers, Disney Song Selection and of course a Sing Along With the Movie.

Official Premise “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”: When young Charlie, Carrie and Paul (Ian Weighill, Cindy O’Callaghan and Roy Snart) move to a small village during World War II, they discover their host, Miss Price (Angela Lansbury), is an apprentice witch. Although her early attempts at magic create hilarious results, she successfully casts a traveling spell on an ordinary bedknob, and they fly to the fantastic, animated Isle of Naboombu to find a powerful spell that will save England. Disney’s Academy Award-winning classic soars onto Blu-ray for the first time with an all-new digital master. Experience a dazzling blend of live action and wondrous animation from the producer, director and writer of Mary Poppins, sure to delight the entire family.

I am a little embarrassed to say this but “Hercules” was a film that was never really big on my radar. I saw it once in theaters and probably once more on TV since it’s release. It is good film and definitely get the show stolen by everyone’s favorite Hades, voiced by James Woods. This film might be a little scary for the little ones as well. I recently caught this film on Disney Junior one afternoon and it came with a warning for little kids that they might be scared. So if you haven’t seen this one in a while might want to approach with caution with the very little ones. Personally, I was really hoping for more in terms of special features from “Hercules”. It comes with a behind-the-scenes look “The Making of Hercules”, a music video from Ricky Martin for “Go The Distance” Music Video and a “Zero to Hero” Sing-Along.

Official Premise “Hercules”: Taken from the gods as a newborn, adopted on earth, Hercules becomes an awkward teenage pillar of strength. Trying to fit in, he discovers Zeus is his dad and home is on Mount Olympus… if he can move from “zero” to true hero. Hercules teams with Pegasus, the flying stallion, and Phil – a feisty personal trainer – for the mission. But it’s no walk on Acropolis. He must match wits with Grecian beauty Meg and a comical hothead named Hades, who’s having a devil of a time with his hostile takeover of the Universe. He’s armed with morphing morons Pain and Panic for help, and only Hercules stands in his way.

“Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers” is not a perfect film by any standards. It is direct-to-video standards on a rather overused story of The Three Musketeers. But it is still Mickey, Donald and Goofy and how can you say no to that trio. The film is also celebrating it’s 10th anniversary. Crazy to think, I originally rented this film on VHS tape…wow! This film is also the first of the bunch to get a new special feature, which is called “Get Up And Dance!”. Other than that it also comes with some other great extras including Deleted Scenes with Commentary, “Get The Scoop”, Cast Commentary, Disney Song Selection and Sing Along With the Movie.

Official Premise: “Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers”: Celebrate the 10th anniversary of Disney’s swashbuckling adventure, Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers, presented for the first time ever in a dazzling new Blu-ray Special Edition! Join Mickey and all your favorite Disney characters in this outrageously funny take on the timeless tale. Best buddies Mickey, Donald and Goofy are small-time janitors with big dreams of becoming Musketeers. They may not look like heroes, but, powered by teamwork and friendship, they soon discover they can accomplish anything if they work together. Packed with six rousing songs and now fully-restored with new and classic bonus features, this heartwarming famiy film is better than ever on Disney Blu-ray. It’s “All For Fun And Fun For All!”

“Tarzan” is another film like “Hercules” that I was not over-the-moon. Besides the Phil Collins song and the old rollerskating show in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I never cared much for the film. Watching it again on Blu-ray really reminded me that it quite a special film. I know that this Edgar Rice Burroughs classic has been done time and time again but this film has such heart and is extremely funny as well. I think it is time to give this film a second look.

“Tarzan” also comes with the most special features out of any of these new release. There are music videos for “You’ll Be In My Heart” and “Strangers Like Me” performed By Phil Collins. There is also a Studio Session With Phil Collins & ‘N Sync for “Trashin’ The Camp”. More music based extras include “The Making of the Music”, “Tarzan Goes International” and “Original Phil Collins Song Demo”. There is an Audio Commentary included, as well as featurettes “DisneyPedia: Living In The Jungle”, “From Burroughs To Disney” and an Early Presentation Reel

Official Premise: “Tarzan”: Wild with exotic adventure and laughs, Disney’s Tarzan is an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic story of the ape man. Raised by a family of gorillas, including the loving Kala and the wisecracking Terk, Tarzan develops all the instincts and prowess of a jungle animal. But with the sudden appearance of Tarzan’s own kind, including the beautiful Jane, two very different worlds are about to become one. Driven by five songs from pop superstar Phil Collins and featuring the voice talents of Minnie Driver, Glenn Close and Rosie O’Donnell, Disney’s Tarzan delivers incredible adventure as well as important reminders about acceptance and family.

“The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad / Fun and Fancy Free” comes in a 2-Movie Collection Edition with a Blu-ray + DVD included. There is no digital copy included for this release, which is a big of a downer since all of the other Blu-ray’s released here do. Bedknobs and Broomsticks is being released as a Special Edition and including a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy. Hercules is being released with a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy”Mickey • Donald • Goofy: The Three Musketeers”, tbe 10th Anniversary Edition /is being released with a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy. “Tarzan” is being released with a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy.

Each of these films looks great with their respective 1080p transfers. They are also each accompanied with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track. “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad / Fun and Fancy Free” is easily the oldest films in this collection of catalog releases. For a film like “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”, the film does have some age behind it also but it still looks great. The music here definitely sounds wonderful as well. Still has fun and cheery as the first time I saw it. “Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers” was made during the direct-to-video wave for Disney, so it feels a little cheaper but still has a solid presentation. “Hercules” and “Tarzan” were produced in the late 90’s, which was a period of decline for Disney as well with their hand drawn animated films but they have never looked better. The colors are vibrant and really jump off the page. I would have loved to seen Disney give “Tarzan” a 3D Blu-ray transfer, it would have been perfect.

They haven’t released any catalog titles since this Spring and yet they have bundled them all together in this one week, which makes it hard for someone to want to purchase all of them due to budget. Now if they were split up over a few months, I am sure people would be more able to purchase these…just an observation here, not a critique. I am a little more excited for next year’s releases including “101 Dalmatians” on February 3, 2015 and “Aladdin” on October 6, 2015. These are real classics that deserve Blu-ray releases. Until next wave Disney!

DVD Review “Popeye The Sailor: The 1960s Classics – Volume 1”

Voices: Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, Jackson Beck
Studio: Warner Archive
DVD Release Date: May 7, 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 409 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Who doesn’t love Popeye The Sailor? If you are a parent, you should take advantage of his lessons to eat your spinach. When I was a kid, I remember my parents used to always say eat your spinach so you can be strong like Popeye. These shorts are really classics. They are also fun to watch when I was a kid and nothing has changed as an adult. I look forward to sharing these with my daughter as well. This release is volume 1 of the classics Popeye cartoons from Paramount, adding up to 72-episodes. If you are a Popeye fan, this is a great release from Warner Archive. The episodes look great and are well represented here. Sign me up for volume 2…and keep them coming Warner Archive!

With TV reruns of the Fleischer/Famous Studios theatrical shorts proving that Popeye still packed a spinach-powered punch that delivered smash ratings, King Features commissioned a new series of Sailor Man shorts under the aegis of executive producer Al Brodax. The TV incarnation of Popeye made up for its scaled back animation with a broadened narrative scope while still staying true to the source. Thanks to the continued use of voice actors Jack Mercer (Popeye), Mae Questel (Olive) and Jackson Beck (Bluto who was now called Brutus) as well as the use of veteran Popeye animation talents who were then working at Paramount Cartoon Studios, these shorts remained authentic. The addition of a number of Thimble Theater comic strip characters making their cartoon debuts – including King Blozo, Toar, and Sea Hag – only added to the shorts “yam what I yam” charm.

Disc 1 consists of the following episodes ranging from 1960-1961: 1. Hits And Missiles, 2. The Ghost Host, 3. Strikes,Spares An’ Spinach, 4. Jeep Is Jeep, 5. The Spinach Scholar, 6. Psychiatricks, 7. Rags To Riches To Rags, 8. Hair Cut-ups, 9. Poppa Popeye, 10. Quick Change Olie, 11.Valley of The Goons, 12. Me Quest For Poopdeck Pappy, 13. Moby Hick, 14. Mirror Magic, 15. It Only Hurts When They Laughs, 16. Wimpy The Moocher, 17. Voo-Doo To You Too, 18. Popeye Goes Sale-ing, 19. Popeye’s Travels, 20. Incident At Missile City, 21. Dog Catcher Popeye, 22. What’s News, 23. Spinach Greetings, 24. The Baby Contest, 25. Oil’s Well That Ends Well, 26. Motor Knocks, 27.Amusement Park, 28. Duel To The Finish, 29. Gem Jam, 30. The Bathing Beasts, 31. The Rain Breaker, 32. Messin’ Up The Mississippi, 33. Love Birds, 34. Sea Serpent, 35. Boardering On Trouble and 36. Aladdin’s Lamp

Disc 2 continue with shorts from 1961. 37. Butler Up, 38. The Leprechaun, 39. County Fair, 40. Hamburgers Aweigh, 41. Popeye’s Double Trouble, 42. Kiddie Kapers, 43. The Mark of Zero, 44. Myskery Melody, 45. Scairdy Cat, 46. Operation Ice-Tickle, 47. The Cure, 48. William Won’t Tell, 49. Pop Goes The Whistle, 50. Autographically Yours, 51. A Poil For Olive Oyl, 52. My Fair Olive, 53. Giddy Gold, 54. Strange Things Are Happening, 55. The Medicine Man, 56. A Mite of Trouble, 57. Who’s Kiddin’ Zoo, 58. Robot Popeye, 59. Sneaking Peeking and 60. Seer-Ring Is Believer-Ring.

Lastly Disc 3 completed the volume with more episodes but jumps from 1961 back to 1960 for some reason. 61.The Wiffle Bird’s Revenge, 62. Going…Boing…Gone, 63. Popeye Thumb, 64. Where There’s A Will, 65. Take It Easel, 66. I Bin Sculped, 67. Fleas A Crowd, 68. Popeye’s Junior Headache, 69. The Big Sneeze, 70. The Last Resort, 71. Jeopardy Sheriff and 72.Baby Phase.

Blu-ray Review “Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics (Little Caesar / The Public Enemy / The Petrified Forest / White Heat)”

Starring: James Cagney, Leslie Howard, Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Virginia Mayo, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Directors: Archie Mayo, William A. Wellman, Mervyn LeRoy, Raoul Walsh
Distributed by: Warner Bros
Release Date: May 21, 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 357 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of stars

Who can help but not love the classic B&W gangster films. The following films make up this “Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics” – “Little Caesar (1931)”, “The Public Enemy (1931)”, “The Petrified Forest (1936)”, “White Heat (1949)”.  These are all great films that I have seen many times and never grow tired watching.  Whenever I think “The Public Enemy”, I am transported to the Disney’s Hollywood Studios on The Great Movie Ride, one of my favorites.  These films are what made gangster films popular and paved the way for today’s films. If you are a looking for a great place to be transported to the origin of the gangster film then look no further than this Blu-ray release.

All of these films are appearing on Blu-ray for the first time ever, as part of Warner Bros. 90th Anniversary celebration.  Each of these films will also be available on May 21st individually on Blu-ray. But this box set collection is quite a think a beauty.  All the film comes in a nice slipcase and includes an additional 32-page book with images and facts about each of the film. The 1080p transfers are very impressive for these classic films the latest dating back to almost 80 years ago. They are all presented with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The audio tracks included are also DTS-HD Master Audio Mono for each film, which work very well. The dialogues are clear and just are held up so well.

“Little Caesar (1931)” Official Premise: The ambitious criminal Rico moves from the country to the big city in the east and joins Sam Vettori’s gang with his friend Joe Massara. Sooner he becomes the leader of the gangsters and known as Little Caesar, and gets closer to the great mobster Pete Montana. In a robbery of a night-club, he kills the Crime Commissioner Alvin McClure and his pal Joe witnesses the murder. When Rico orders Joe to leave his mistress Olga Strassoff, she takes a serious decision.

“The Public Enemy (1931)” Official Premise: Tom Powers and Matt Doyle are best friends and fellow gangsters, their lives frowned upon by Tom’s straight laced brother, Mike, and Matt’s straight laced sister, Molly. From their teen-aged years into young adulthood, Tom and Matt have an increasingly lucrative life, bootlegging during the Prohibition era. But Tom in particular becomes more and more brazen in what he is willing to do, and becomes more obstinate and violent against those who either disagree with him or cross him. When one of their colleagues dies in a freak accident, a rival bootlegging faction senses weakness among Tom and Matt’s gang, which is led by Paddy Ryan. A gang war ensues, resulting in Paddy suggesting that Tom and Matt lay low. But because of Tom’s basic nature, he decides instead to take matters into his own hands.

“The Petrified Forest (1936)” Official Premise: Gabby lives and works at her dads small diner out in the desert. She can’t stand it and wants to go and live with her mother in France. Along comes Alan, a broke man with no will to live, who is traveling to see the pacific, and maybe to drown in it. Meanwhile Duke Mantee a notorious killer and his gang is heading towards the diner where Mantee plan on meeting up with his girl.

“White Heat (1949)” Official Premise: Cody Jarrett is the sadistic leader of a ruthless gang of thieves. Afflicted by terrible headaches and fiercely devoted to his ‘Ma,’ Cody is a volatile, violent, and eccentric leader. Cody’s top henchman wants to lead the gang and attempts to have an ‘accident’ happen to Cody, while he is running the gang from in jail. But Cody is saved by an undercover cop, who thereby befriends him and infiltrates the gang. Finally, the stage is set for Cody’s ultimate betrayal and downfall, during a big heist at a chemical plant.

These “Classics” each come with their own set of extras.  “Little Caesar (1931)” comes with a commentary by film historian Robert Sklar. Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1931 with Newsreel, Spencer Tracy Short The Hard Guy, Cartoon Lady Play Your Mandolin and Theatrical Trailers. There is also a featurette “Little Caesar: End of Rico, Beginning of the Antihero” included. “The Public Enemy (1931)” includes a commentary by film historian Richard B. Jewell. Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1931 with Newsreel, Comedy Short The Eyes Have It, Cartoon Smile, Darn Ya, Smile! and Theatrical Trailers.  There is also a featurette “Beer and Blood: Enemies of the Public” included.

“The Petrified Forest (1936)” includes a commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax. Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1936 with Newsreel, Musical Short Rhythmitis, Cartoon The Coo Coo Nut Grove and Theatrical Trailers. There is also a featurette “The Petrified Forest: Menace in the Desert” included and an Audio-Only Bonus: 1/7/1940 Gulf Screen Theater Broadcast. Lastly “White Heat (1949)” includes a commentary by Film Historian Drew Casper. Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1949 with Newsreel, Comedy Short So You Think You’re Not Guilty, Cartoon Homeless Hare and Theatrical Trailers.  There is also a featurette “White Heat: Top of the World” included.

If all that is not enough there is still more.  There is a bonus DVD included with yet another feature-length documentary called “The Public Enemies: The Golden Age of The Gangster Film”.  Even though this is just on DVD, it is still a must-watch if you are a fan of this genre and only makes this release worth every penny.

The “Ultimate Gangster Collection: Classics” and “Ultimate Gangster Collection: Contemporary” are available on Blu-ray 5/21

DVD Review “Hanna-Barbera Christmas Classics Collection”

Created by: Hanna-Barbera
Studio: Warner Archive
DVD Release Date: September 14, 2012
Run Time: 72 minutes

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

When it comes to Hanna-Barbera, they are the masters of animation.  I have been a fan of their work for over 30 years. This Christmas collection includes the C-grade of specials.  If you are looking for “The Flintstones” or “The Jetsons”, then you should look somewhere else.  This collection includes: “A Christmas Story” (1971), “The Town Santa Forgot” (1993) and “Casper’s First Christmas” (1979).  The special episodes are cool to have just because they are not the typical ones that you see every year on TV.  They are the forgotten ones or the ones that are not that popular.

Official Synopsis: A dog and a mouse head for the North Pole to deliver a lost letter. Hanna-Barbera superstars lend a helping hand to the world’s friendliest ghost. The greediest boy in the world discovers the magic of giving. What could three such different tales have in common? Hanna-Barbera and Santa Claus, that’s what! Hanna-Barbera assembled its mightiest talents of pen and voice to produce one of its first forays into prime-time animated Christmas specials, A Christmas Story, the tale of Goober and Gumdrop’s quest to save Christmas for one little boy. Dick Van Dyke narrates The Town Santa Forgot, based on Charmaine Severson’s beloved poem “Jeremy Creek” about the confusion created by a gargantuan wish list. Casper’s First Christmas sees Casper facing a Christmas Eve eviction when he receives holiday help from the likes of Yogi Bear, Boo-Boo, Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, Quick Draw McGraw, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy.

The episodes look good but haven’t been remastered for this release. They were taken from the best known master available.  The colors are a little dull and could use a face lift but like I said these are specials that are not as loved as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” etc. They are presented in their original aspect ration of 1.37:1. My favorite of the three is easily “Casper’s First Christmas” since it comes packed with many well-known Hanna-Barbera characters including Yogi Bear and many others. It may not be the best collection of Christmas specials but if you are looking for something different, check it out!

Blu-ray Review “DreamWorks Holiday Classics”

Starring: Mike Myers, Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Dreamworks Animated
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Run Time: 85 minutes

Blu-ray: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 1 out of 5 stars

Christmas is right around the corner and “DreamWorks Holiday Classics” is the second compilation release after last months “DreamWorks Spooky Stories”. This release includes five Christmas-themed shorts, including “Shrek the Halls”, “The Madagascar Penguins in a Christmas Caper”, “Merry Madagascar”, “Donkey’s Christmas Shrektacular” and “Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury”. Though missing from this release is the previously released “Madagascar” short “Party With The Penguins”.  Also Dreamworks also released “Kung Fu Panda Holiday”, which could have been included in this release easily. Nonetheless, these Dreamworks shorts really bring the Christmas spirit and are just downright right.   If you own these shorts previously though, I wouldn’t say that they are worth the purchase but if you don’t the HD upgrade is worth it.

Official Premise: “Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury”: The Dragons are back in the exciting next chapter to the Academy Award-nominated film, “How to Train Your Dragon”. The epic story of Hiccup and Toothless continues as they take flight in a thrilling adventure to discover an island of ever-before-seen dragons. “Merry Madagascar”: When Santa and his reindeer crash onto the island of Madagascar, it’s up to Alex, Marty, Gloria, Melman and those wacky Penguins to save Christmas. Get ready for a sleigh full of laughs in this hilarious holiday classic. Also includes “The Penguins of Madagascar in a Christmas Caper”. “Shrek the Halls”: After promising Fiona and the kids a Christmas they’ll remember, Shrek is forced to take a crash course in the holiday. But just when he thinks he has everything for a quiet family Christmas just right, Donkey, Puss in Boots, Gingy and the rest of the gang decide to crash the party. “Shrek the Halls” is the greatest holiday tale that’s never been told until now. Also includes “Donkey’s Caroling Christmas-tacular”.

This release is delivered as a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack. The 1080p transfers looks amazing on each short. The colors are perfect and super crisp. The star of the release though is the Dolby True HD 7.1 track for “Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury” and “Donkey’s Caroling Christmas-tacular”. I was very impressed with these. The rest of the films include Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks, which are also stunning. The downfall though is that there is only one special feature included on this release, which is a sing-along version for “Donkey’s Caroling Christmas-tacular”. Lastly there is also some previews for additional DreamWorks titles.

Book Review “All-Action Classics No. 4: The Wizard of Oz”

Author: Ben Caldwell
Reading level: Ages 10 and up
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books; Elibron Classics series edition
Release Date: September 4, 2012

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

There is never a shortage of new content for “The Wizard of Oz“.  L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz back in 1900.  Sterling Children’s Books’ is behind the new release in their fourth All-Action Classics installment with “The Wizard of Oz”. It is presented in the form of a graphic novel! I was not a mega fan of the animation style but it is bright and colorful and will sure to excite kids.  I have to give some credit to this take on L. Frank Baum’s classic fantasy, it is a unique retelling of this great story. Fans of “The Wizard of Oz” will definitely eat this up, at least until next year’s “Oz, The Great and Powerful” by Sam Raimi.

The author that adapted this book is Ben Caldwell, who is a former Marvel comic artist.  He tries his best to captures the charm of Baum’s work.  I just wasn’t a majot fan of his depiction of Dorothy and the Munchkins. The book is a decent quick read though and most importantly it was very simple for kids to jump right into. Caldwell also worked with Sterling on their first three adaptations as well in the All-Action Classics series like “Dracula”, “Tom Sawyer” and “The Odyssey”.  I am curious to see what Sterling is going to be coming up with next.

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DVD Review “100 Greatest Horror Classics – Horror Classics + Legends of Horror”

Starring: Vincent PRice, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Christopher Lee and Alfred Hitchcock
Number of discs: 24
Distributed by: Mill Creek Entertainment
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Release Date: July 10, 2012
Running Time: 7600 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

When I saw this release titled “100 Greatest Horror Classics”, I had no choice but to request it to review. It just screams my name. Being a horror buff, I love all things horror and that including this. This release is split into two sets of 50 films including “Horror Classics” and “Legends of Horror”. Let me start by telling you they are not the best transfers of these films but nonetheless, they are 100 of horror greatest films together in one place and that is enough for me. The packaging could have used a little extra loving as the each set includes a jumbo DVD case, both which are held together by one long slipcover. Inside each DVD case are individual DVD sleeves with 12 dual discs. There are two films per side/per disc, obviously totally 50 films per set. I suggest you pick a rainy day put in disc 1 and have yourself a day-long marathon.

So before you get overwhelmed the fact that there are 100 films to watch. Let me throw out a quick number…7600. That is the amount of minutes of horror greatness included in this set. If that doesn’t make you run out and pick this up then nothing will. This release even includes a few films that I have never heard of or seen, so I was very excited about that as well.  Mill Creek Entertainment is known for releasing these amazing box sets. They also have a sci-fi themed release as well that I am looking forwarding to reviewing called “100 Greatest Sci-Fi Classics – Sci-Fi Classics + Sci-Fi Invasion”. Keep a look out for that review as well. From cinematic greats to genuine obscurities, this wonderful collection of films easily offer months of entertainment in a single release.

While I not going to give an individual review for each film, as I sure you’ve seen these films already.  I will point on some of the notable titles that I really enjoyed.  I grew up watching the following titles: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962), Carnival of Souls (1962), Dementia 13 (1963), Horror Express (1972), House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Last Man on Earth (1960), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Metropolis (1927), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Nosferatu (Silent) (1922) and of course The Phantom of the Opera (Silent) (1925).  I am very happy to be able to have them all in one place.  I also am looking forward to introducing all of these titles to my own daughter…but not for a few years since she is only three months currently.  I will be re-visiting these titles quite often and I look forward to future installments.

Here are the complete list of the 100 titles including in this fantastic release:

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Chaney Vase (1955)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1961)
The Amazing Mr. X (1948)
The Ape (1940)
The Ape Man (1943)
Atom Age Vampire (1960)
Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)
The Bat (1959)
The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)
The Black Dragons (1942)
Blackmail (1929)
Bloodlust (1959)
Bluebeard (1944)
The Bowery at Midnight (1942)
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)
Carnival of Souls (1962)
Champagne (Silent) (1928)
The Corpse Vanishes (1942)
Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride (1974)
Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961)
Crimes at the Dark House (1940)
The Crimes of Stephen Hawke (1936)
Dead Men Walk (1943)
Dementia 13 (1963)
The Demon (1979)
The Devil Bat (1940)
The Devil’s Messenger (1962)
Doomed to Die (1940)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Silent) (1920)
Easy Virtue (Silent) (1926)
The End of the World (1977)
The Face at the Window (1939)
The Farmer’s Wife (Silent) (1928)
The Fatal Hour (1940)
The Fury of the Wolf Man (1972)
The Ghost (1963)
The Giant Gila Monster (1959)
The Gorilla (1939)
Horror Express (1972)
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Silent) (1923)
The Incredible Petrified World (1957)
The Indestructible Man (1956)
The Invisible Ghost (1941)
The Island Monster (1954)
It’s Never Too Late to Mend (1937)
Jamaica Inn (1939)
Juno and the Paycock (1930)
The Killer Shrews (1959)
King of the Zombies (1941)
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
The Last Man on Earth (1960)
The Last Woman on Earth (1960)
Legacy of Blood (1971)
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
The Lodger (Silent) (1926)
The Long Hair of Death (1964)
The Mad Monster (1942)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
Manfish (1956)
Maniac (1934)
The Manxman (Silent)
Metropolis (1927)
Monster from a Prehistoric Planet (1967)
The Monster Maker (1944)
The Monster Walks (1932)
Murder in the Red Barn (1935)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Nightmare Castle (1965)
The Nightmare Never Ends (1980)
Nosferatu (Silent) (1922)
Number Seventeen (1932)
One Body Too Many (1944)
The Phantom Creeps (1939)
The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1956)
The Phantom of the Opera (Silent) (1925)
Revolt of the Zombies (1936)
Rich and Strange (1932)
The Ring (Silent) (1927)
Sabotage (1936)
A Scream in the Night (1935)
The Screaming Skull (1958)
Secret Agent (1936)
Shadow of Chinatown (1936)
The Shadow of Silk Lennox (1935)
The She-Beast (1966)
Shock (1946)
A Shriek in the Night (1933)
Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974)
The Skin Game (1931)
Swamp Women (1955)
The Terror (1963)
The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935)
The Ticket of Leave Man (1937)
Tormented (1960)
The Vampire Bat (1933)
The Werewolf vs. Vampire Women (1971)
White Zombie (1932)
The World Gone Mad (1933)
Young and Innocent (1937)