Thursday, January 29, 2009
When you discuss the animated films of the eighties, you may find that films such as An America Tale, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go To Heaven are mentioned before anything from Disney makes it’s way into the conversation. This was not a good decade for Disney until The Little Mermaid floated onto the screen in 1989. Prior to our introduction to Ariel, the Disney landscape in the eighties was spotted with The Fox and the Hound (1981), The Black Cauldron (1985), The Great Mouse Detective (1986), and Oliver and Company (1988).
On February 3rd 2009, Disney will release Oliver and Company - 20th Anniversary Edition on DVD. With a story based on the classic Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, an all-star cast featuring Bette Midler, Dom DeLuise, Cheech Marin, Billy Joel, Robert Loggia, Richard Mulligan, Joey Lawrence, and a soundtrack with songs from Midler, Joel, Huey Lewis, and Ruth Pointer, it is certainly tough to see where this could have gone wrong. Not that this is a bad film, but it should have been better.
Oliver (Lawrence) is a kitten that is abandoned in New York City circa 1988. Oliver is reluctantly befriended by Dodger (Joel, who auditioned for the role over the phone) and eventually accepted into the gang of dogs who have run of the city as they attempt to help their human friend Fagan (DeLuise) raise money to pay off his debt to the evil Sykes (voiced masterfully by Loggia). Oliver fits in with the gang but is eventually adopted by sweet, little Jenny (Natalie Gregory) before being reluctantly rescued by Dodger and friends, and subsequently kidnapped by Sykes
The story has some holes, but is generally fun, though the opening sequence of Oliver being abandoned and chased by vicious dogs may be a bit much for young children and turn them off before the film really gets started.
The cast is excellent but Marin steals the show as the other performers are hindered by a lack of character development.
Where this film really struggles is with the animation and music. In the bonus feature “The Making of Oliver and Company” the fact that this is the first Disney film to truly embrace the use of computer animation is touted. Unfortunately the result resembles a Saturday morning cartoon from the late seventies or early eighties. The background seems flat, and there are inconsistencies in the artwork.
The music does not quite work either. It had been some time since Disney had made an animated musical, and apparently it was deemed necessary at this point, whether the story supported it or not. The songs are fine, and certainly performed by top talent, but they just don’t seem to fit in the film and are sporadically placed.
Add the flat animation to the forced musical aspect, and it is tough to make it through this 74-minute outing without becoming distracted.
There is not a lot of bonus material that wasn’t included in the 2002 release, and what is here is weak at best, except for two bonus shorts from Disney’s animated library. Appropriately the two cartoons feature Pluto dealing with cats. Both are great fun, and actually surpass the main feature in animation and storytelling.
The other bonus features include the previously mentioned “Making of,” which is informative and entertaining but insultingly brief. The kids may enjoy the bonus sing-along sections and the “Oliver’s Big City Challenge Game,” but Disney could have included all the songs and the game will only appeal to the youngest of viewers. The featurette “Disney’s Animated Animals” is too short and a bit self-serving, but the “Oliver and Company Scrapbook,” “Fun Film Facts,” and Publicity materials are enjoyable to view.
Recommendation: This will appeal to an audience within a select age range. Not so young as to be disturbed by the emotional opening segment, and not too old to notice how the film fails in comparison to some of Disneys more recent classics. Adults will certainly appreciate the performance of Marin who gleans a smile with every line, and may enjoy trying to spot the homage to other classic Disney canines and some inconsistencies in the artwork. There are much worse ways for a family to spend an evening, but other Disney fare might be more fulfilling.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Written by Hombre Divertido
In 1964 Walt Disney brought P.L. Travers’ character Mary Poppins to the big screen in what was considered his crowning achievement. Julie Andrews, in an Academy Award performance, embodied the magical nanny that glides into the lives of the Banks family and teaches them the importance of priorities and family along with some catchy tunes. On January 27th, 2009 Disney gives this 1964 classic the anniversary treatment.
Though the animation is slightly flat by today’s standards, the restored and remastered film looks great and is sure to entertain children of all ages and adults will certainly be impressed by what was accomplished over four decades ago. Adults may find the combining of stories from books by P.L Travers to result in a collection of scenes rather than a complete story, but what it lacks in continuity, it makes up for in outstanding performances by Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, and an incredibly talented and versatile supporting cast.
As the film itself is obviously a beloved classic, it is the bonus material that gets much focus, as that is what may draw someone to a purchase of something they already own. This two-disc release contains many of the same bonus features included in the 40th anniversary release, but there is some new material, and that which has been previously released is thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable. It is slightly annoying that the packing does not include a list of material and thus the discs need to be loaded to determine their contents.
The highlight of the bonus material is “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making of Mary Poppins” which does an outstanding job of chronicling how this gem made it’s way to the big screen.
Another wonderful bonus feature consists of available footage and radio recordings from the World Premiere Gala Red Carpet event, which have been masterfully combined into a magical look back at Hollywood in an era of true stardom and glamour. It is interesting to watch the interviewers and how awkward they are when compared to the talent of today.
The audio commentary with Andrews, Van Dyke, Karen Dotrice (Jane Banks), and songwriter Richard Sherman, combined with “Poppins Pop-Up Fun Facts” make for a unique viewing experience even for those who have visited with Mary and the Banks family many times before.
“Movie Magic” lends far too little insight into the effects used to bring the enchanted world of Mary Poppins to life, and is clearly geared towards children.
The Dick Van Dyke make-up test is interesting to look at briefly, as are some of the trailers and still art galleries.
The “Music and More” section of the menu is full of fun for the whole family. The sing-along section is great to help all join in with the classic tunes, and the “Magical Music Reunion” with Andrews, Van Dyke, and Sherman, is casual, comfortable, and engaging to the audience.
“A Musical Journey with Richard Sherman” is informative and enjoyable as Sherman obviously has a great love for this project and he conveys it with great enthusiasm when reminiscing over many aspect of the production.
The inclusion of deleted song “Chimpanzoo,” though interesting, is redundant as it is also included in the same format as part of the previously mentioned “A Musical Journey with Richard Sherman”.
The bonus short “The Cat That Looked at the King” from a chapter of P.L Travers’ sequel Mary Poppins Opens the Door features not only Andrews, but an all-star cast of vocal talent as well. Unfortunately the result is somewhat awkward. Though the intent is clear and the information certainly valuable, it is a bit too convoluted and thus the message may be missed by those most in need.
Unfortunately the new material on this 45th anniversary release does not compare well to previously featured bonuses. “Disney on Broadway”, which should be viewed after the features already mentioned in this review even though it appears first on the menu to form a logical historical storyline, consists of:
“Mary Poppins From Page to Stage” attempts to tell the story of how Mary Poppins made her way to a live performance, fails on many levels. Far too much effort was put in to making it appear artsy; it lacks continuity and takes too long to provide interesting information.
“Step in Time” consists of the Broadway cast performing the classic number from the show. Unfortunately it translates poorly simply due to the production quality related to how it was filmed. It fails to capture the true energy associated with the Broadway production. There is a downloadable MP3 version of the Broadway cast singing “Step in Time.”
Scenic and Costume Designer Bob Crowley provides a video intro as well as Design Galleries.
Recommendation: If you own the 40th anniversary release, the new material is simply not enough to warrant another purchase unless you are a huge fan of the Broadway production, and even then you may be disappointed.
If you don’t own Mary Poppins on DVD, than this is a valuable addition to your collection as there is enough bonus material to fill an entire rainy Saturday with enjoyable viewing. Of course, with the 50th Anniversary release right around the corner, you may want to wait.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Written by Puño Estupendo
Admittedly, I don't really know what it's like to come out of college and have the luxury of taking a two-month vacation in Spain. One might hope, as Woody Allen obviously does, that your ideas of love, commitment, and relationships would undergo a metamorphosis that comes from the kind of soul searching and lessons learned from huge villas and troubled artists. Vicky and Cristina are two beautiful young women who go through this incredible journey for me so that I guess I no longer have to wonder about such things should the concept ever enter my mind.
This film is so full of cliches but the cast is just charming enough that it pulls it through what should be a joke. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is engaged to be married but finds herself in Barcelona with flighty artist-wannabe, best friend Cristina (Scarlett Johansson). While attending a gallery party, Cristina spies troubled, chiseled artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) from across the room and is instantly enamored with him. The tale told to her about his bit of infamy involving his attempted murder by his ex-wife seemingly just adds to her infatuation with him. Vicky however, is level-headed and practical about life, including her views on love. You know this mainly because there's an annoying voiceover that gives you all the narrative about these people that you'll ever need. If that wasn't enough, Vicky's dialogue is stiff and more than covers any other questions about her views you might have.
After the gallery, where Juan Antonio is brushed out of their minds, luck would have it that they go to a restaurant where he happens to be having an after-gallery bite to eat with friends. Upon catching Cristina's non-stop glances, he saunters over to their table and asks them if they want to go to an island with him for the weekend where he will show them the sights and the three of them will make all sorts of love. Though Vicky protests quite a bit, insults him, and says "no way" a thousand times, you bet that they end up on that island with him the next day.
Cristina wants him while Vicky is all sorts of disgruntled about things, yet...well, I bet you can write the story from there. An affair begins, Cristina promptly moves in with Juan Antonio, Vicky gets increasingly loveless towards her fiancee, and all is bland and predictable until Juan's ex-wife Maria Elena turns up. Penelope Cruz brightens up this movie in quick fashion with a craziness of character that is actually refreshing by this point. Her Maria Elena comes off as the closest thing to an interesting character here but even she ends up in a ridiculously lame version of Woody Allen's take on a male fantasy.
Twist and turns? Not so much. Allen's character studies are dead on but I really hate the kind of characters he's using for this. All of these stereotypes exist out there and he works the bullet points of them extremely well. Probably too well for his own good, as these are the types of people that (if you meet in real life) you have no sympathy for, roll your eyes after just about everything they say, and try to excuse yourself from getting trapped talking to them at a party.
What does work for this movie though, is the cast. They're all charismatic enough that you don't think too deeply about how much they kind of bug you, and the longer the film plays, the more you just kick back and go with it. Also ignoring my common sense as I was watching, these thoughts all inescapable, it became light hearted and enjoyable. The true fun with Vicky Cristina Barcelona is far and above Penelope Cruz, but it's not a bad movie overall if you just kind of go with it. Aspects of it beg to be taken seriously but it only works if you don't.
Easily though, this is probably more of a film for the ladies out there, but fellas shouldn't be too alarmed if this ends up being a date movie. It's harmless, the cast is charming (even if the characters are kind of ridiculous) and everything is beautiful to look at. The locales are fantastic, the music is relaxing and fun, and you feel all right when the end credits roll. It's only 97 minutes, guys, and you can always act like you hated it even though you'll secretly think it wasn't too bad.
The disc is bonus free: no commentary, no making-of, no anything besides the movie. Widescreen is all you get but you'll be okay; I don't think you'll want to watch it multiple times anyways. Just put this disc in on a Saturday night with your date and have a good time with a few laughs thrown in. Not even close to Allen's best, but not altogether painful either. I just could have done without the cliches being so heavy handed.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Written by Hombre Divertido
CBS/Paramount has released the second installment of the first season of the classic television show My Three Sons which ran on CBS from 1960 to 1972. This release, which completes the first season, comes roughly four months after the release of volume one.
The series chronicles the life of consulting aviation engineer Steve Douglas (Fred MacMurray) who was raising his three sons with the help of his father-in-law “Bub” played by William Frawley, who had previously co-starred on I Love Lucy. Steve’s wife passed away before the series started, and now, Steve would handle the challenges generated by college-bound Mike (Tim Considine), young teen Robbie (Don Grady) and rambunctious seven-year-old Chip (Stanley Livingston), with a lit pipe and a calm that one could only hope for in a parent.
Running for twelve years, the show set records in its day. The family would shrink, as Mike would marry and move away never to be mentioned again, and the family would grow through adoption and marriage. In the first season it was simply our five men, six if you count the family dog Tramp (Canine), struggling to cohabitate and survive.
It’s interesting that the packaging of this three-disc release touts the episodes as smart, funny, and extremely well written. This will seem very generous as you delve into the eighteen episodes in this collection. The scripts seem to fall into three categories: “Misunderstandings,” that would later be a staple of “Threes Company”, where someone gets the wrong impression due to something they saw or heard and then jocularity insures as in “The Delinquent;” “Disney,” where the story is cute, has a lot of physical antics, and is not very realistic as in “Deadline” which features a young Beau Bridges and Mark Slade, who would go on to star in High Chaparral; or “Nothing,” where there simply does not seem to be enough story to fill the time as in “The Croaker” where far too much time is spent watching Bub play with a frog.
The “Disney” dynamic could be easily explained simply due to the actor’s roots. MacMurray and Considine both had individual Disney projects and had appeared together in the hit Disney Movie The Shaggy Dog, and Grady had been a Mouseketeer. The “Nothing” stories may simply have been due to the extensive editing process associated with what was termed the MacMurray method. The actor agreed to do the show only if the time associated with his participation was limited. Thus many scripts were written, and several scenes from different episodes, such as those taking place in the kitchen, would be shot all at once, and then pieced together in postproduction. There are scenes in many episodes, such as “The Croaker,” that seem to go on far too long, as if they are simply trying to fill time. This may be a result of the previously mentioned editing process. As for the “Misunderstanding” episodes, though ahead of their time, are simply too staged and far-fetched to be anything but trite.
What does make this series work are the performances and chemistry between the actors. Though Grady has yet to fit into his character and often seems just a bit off, generally these characters are believable as a family and enjoyable to watch. There is an overall energy generated by the young actors that is complimented by the subtle humor generated by the endearing MacMurray, and the classic comedic timing of Frawley.
Recommendation: There is simply not enough here to recommend this endeavor. Without any bonus material, and not even the first episode of the series included since this is volume two, this is a very tough sell. There does not appear to be a logical reason to have split the first season of this iconic series into two volumes other than to glean more profit. CBS/Paramount has released other series with as many first season episodes in a single volume, so there is little explanation for this dual release. Also unacceptable are the changes made to the music from this classic series denoted in ever so small print on the backside of the packaging.
My Three Sons - Season 1, Volume 2 is only for the true fan who already has the first volume and can’t wait for the full series to be packaged together.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Igor is a fun little tale of a hunchback who yearns to be more than an evil scientist’s assistant and with his knack for invention he may well be the first. Along with two of his creations, he sets out to prove that even an Igor can be equal and more than just a “switch puller.” In 87 minutes we get the whole story told in a nightmarish Tim Burtonesque fashion, have a few laughs, and smile as Igor makes his mark in the dark world that he lives in.
Our hero Igor (John Cusack) is an Igor because he was who born hunchbacked in the land of Malaria, dooming him to serve evil scientists pulling switches, doing the manual labor, and being all around lackeys. Igors aren’t born with these “skills,” so they must learn them through longs hours of schooling. The art of switch pulling; slurred, accented speech; and a “yes, master” degree are just a few things an Igor must excel at. Our Igor is different and determined to change it all. He himself is a brilliant inventor and is the one who makes most of his evil scientist’s, Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese), ideas work.
With the death of Glickenstein, Igor and his sidekicks Brain (Sean Hayes), a somewhat robotic brain in a glass jar, and Scamper (Steve Buscemi), a rabbit that is now immortal thanks to Igor, jump on the opportunity to enter the annual evil science fair under the guise of the deceased evil scientist’s last invention, which is really Igor’s. And Igor’s invention is…a giant female version of Frankenstein’s monster that he has brought to life to do evil and win the fair. The only problem is that his creation, who dubs herself Eva (Molly Shannon), has an evil bone that fails to activate, causing her to want to become an actress. She is also caring, loving, and not at all evil, to Igor’s horror.
From there we get the same old song and death dance of how the reigning science-fair champ, Dr. Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard), steals Eva, claims her as his own invention, and attempts to do away with Igor. All the while the good guys chase the bad and race against the clock to save the lady monster that Igor is now quit fond of. By the end, all is well as Igor saves Eva and reveals the true story behind how the once happy, sunny land of Malaria became a “storm cloud filled,” dark evil place. Igor also achieves his grand goal of breaking the hunchback barriers and has become, along with all other Igors, accepted as equals among the people of Malaria.
Not a bad movie, a bit formulaic at times in its story which is a good one with its message to stand out, be yourself, and do what’s right, set perfectly in a dark land with monsters of all types. Placed well in the movie are some goods lines about that very subject. One from Igor himself is “I tried to be someone different but the world wouldn’t let me.” I love that line as well as Eva’s delivery of “Better to be a good nobody than an evil somebody.” Brilliant.
While some of the animated characters seemed recycled from Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas,” the cast does a fine job in their voice work. Cusack as Igor is great and Steve Buscemi’s voice is perfect for Scamper, whose attempts to do himself in are filled with sarcasm and wit. Izzard as the villain is also good as is Shannon, and through the film we get to hear from Christian Slater and Arsenio Hall as well as Jay Leno. DVD extras include audio commentary by director Tony Leondis, writer Chris McKenna, and producer Max Howard as well as an alternate opening sequence that doesn’t work as well as the chosen opener.
Igor may be too creepy for some children while other little creepy kids may come away with a spine-tingling good time with a message. As for the adult chill-dren and creepy sorts who find laughs and entertainment in the things that go bump in the night, it provides some evil laughs and a dark smile much along the lines of television classics The Addams Family or The Munsters.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Written by Amanda Salazar
So I made it, I am now in Park City. It is cold, but not as cold as everyone keeps saying. Maybe because I have experienced a good New York winter, I am pretty prepared for this, but the week ahead looks to be sunny and in the thirties. Nice.
Finally arriving, I am left thinking about what I will see-whether that will be on the silver screen or on the streets. I am certain that the filmmakers are just as nervous and excited for their screening as I am. I am on the other side of the camera, the one that writes about their screening, creating talk and knowledge for their independent film. Buzz is everything at Sundance, what people talk about will make the film take off or just be forgotten to the pages of the program.
The general public only gets a taste of what plays at Sundance, if that. There are the 64 featured films competing in different categories (Dramatic Feature, Documentary Feature, World Cinema, etc.) and they get a lot of the publicity, but what happens to the others? It is such an honor to be accepted at Sundance, that that is publicity in itself and some films have the star power to carry the film, no matter what the distribution. But what films are you really going to see out of this?
To give you an idea of what played last year and what you got a chance to see in the theaters, the following films might ring a bell:
Choke was up for Best Dramatic Competition at Sundance and had a limited release. The film featured Sam Rockwell and was based off of the book by Chuck Palahniuk, but did not win at the festival.
Man On Wire took home two awards, including World Cinema Audience Award Documentary and the Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary. This film was also released, but limited and did not draw much attention at the box office although it has won a number of critical awards..
American Teen was in competition for Documentary Feature and did not win, but was also picked up and released. The marketing campaign worked very well for this film, but this is with the help of the controversy around the way the movie was filmed.
Frozen River won the ultimate award, The Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature, but still it was not widely seen in theaters after its release.
If you have not heard of any of these titles, you are not alone. For those that you do recognize, you most likely saw these films at art houses or independent movie theaters. But this is the life of an indie film, the life of indies outside of festivals. Festival goers come to see movies that you cant find anywhere else, to get something different than Hollywood. Unfortunately, we don’t see enough.
So whether or not you end up seeing some of the films that I will be talking about, this is what I am seeing, what interests me. I hope to expose you to things that are not specifically spotlighted, but at the same time, I will keep you up to date on what everyone is talking about. It’s time to create our own buzz.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Three days left until the kick off of Sundance Film Festival 2009. Three days to soak in this beautiful Southern California weather. Three days to pack every warm piece of clothing I have, three days to catch up on sleep, and three days left to prepare my schedule of films.
This will be my first trip to the festival. If it is as crazy as everyone keeps telling me, I am slightly frightened, but definitely excited. I keep getting advice from anyone that has attended on what to expect, but even with all of this preparation, I am anxious to finally get to Park City.
Since I can remember, it has been a dream of mine to go to Sundance. It is hard to explain why, but as a film-school graduate and genuine lover of movies, it has become this engrained desire to make it to the small city to watch the films and mingle with filmgoers like myself.
With everything that I have been told, apparently this year it will be a different Sundance — reflecting our economic state. But then again, I have nothing to compare it to. Perhaps there will not be as many vendors, or free gifts, or fancy parties. But the films are there; in fact with over 3600 features submitted to the festival, the program will go on.
Last night’s Golden Globe ceremony proved that this might be another year for the independent filmmaker. Slumdog Millionaire won big, taking home four awards, including Best Dramatic Picture and Best Director for Danny Boyle. Another underdog picture and actor, Mickey Rourke won the award for Best Actor in a Drama for The Wrestler. With indies taking top awards, this could be foreshadowing for what is to come and what is to be picked up by the distributors, making Sundance even that more exciting.
Luckily, being that I will already be in Park City, I will also be attending films and events at Slamdance. This film festival will be in its 15th year and it is a festival that works with first-time independent filmmakers. Again this will be another first and I can’t wait to tell you more about my experiences at both.
Basically, I am so excited that I might pee myself. For the next few weeks, I will be writing about what it is really like from someone that has just entered the film industry, as a first-timer that simply wants to share with others that truly love this industry. Paired with reviews of films that I have seen, I hope to document everything that is Sundance and Slamdance- from films to parties to music and everything in between.
In my final days before I leave I would like to congratulate the filmmakers that are showing their films. For those that are attending, I will see you there. In just three days, my dream will come true. Man, that feels great.
Written by Hombre Divertido
On January 13th Paramount will release Breakfast at Tiffany’s as part of its Centennial Collection, and it is certainly easy to see why this film is held in such high regard. One can only regret that they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. A simple character and dialog-driven endeavor full of wonderful performances that make you want to rush out to the nearest coffee house in hopes of meeting someone new with a unique personality. Unfortunately, most of us don’t fall into relationships as easy as they did back then, or at least as easy as was depicted in the films of the era.
One could only hope to meet someone as full of life and yet innocently insecure hiding in the elegant beauty that was escort Holly Golightly portrayed with subtle elegance by Audrey Hepburn. The occasionally stiff George Peppard as the underachieving writer and kept man Paul, who falls quickly into a friendship and eventually in love with his new neighbor Holly, but it is his attempts to fit into her awkwardly paced world, summed up beautifully by director Blake Edwards’ legendary cocktail party, that makes the bulk of this film so enjoyable.
Holly and Paul walk through life with what appears to be an ease that we all long for, but the depth of the performances denotes the true guardedness of both characters, and how they grow together.
Recent character studies such as Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt or Nicholas Cage in The Weatherman give us well-crafted insight into the life of the main characters, but it’s not a life that most would be interested in experiencing. Breakfast at Tiffany’s gives us something we are looking to experience, or at the least, reminds us of people we used to know and or admired.
The new release is full of bonus material including commentary by producer Richard Shepherd, and numerous individual productions such as “Henry Mancini: More than Music,” an exceptional look at the life of this extremely talented man; “A Golightly Gathering,” which reunites the participants of the classic cocktail party and features fun and fact-filled interviews; “Behind the Gates: A Tour” is a far-too-short visit to Paramount Studios, “Brilliance in a Blue Box” is a brief history of the iconic jewelry store, “Audrey’s Letter to Tiffany’s,” “The Making of a Classic,” “It’s So Audrey: A Style Icon,” the original theatrical trailer, and photo galleries.
One of the most interesting pieces of bonus material is “Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective” which yields the reaction to Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of the over-the-top stereotype of Asians of that era. The participants in the feature certainly convey the feelings that existed then and now, and should be respected. From a purely comedic perspective, the performance and antics were far better suited to Edwards later Pink Panther projects. Breakfast at Tiffany’s has a charm and brilliance that was only dulled by the slapstick inclusion of such a caricature.
All the bonus material is enjoyable especially the look at the life of Mancini as poignantly conveyed by his family. Some material is a bit repetitive when packaged together, but watching it immediately after the film does manage to lengthen one’s enjoyment and appreciation of the original project. More material focused on the rest of the talented cast (Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, and Martin Balsam) would have enhanced the attractiveness of this new release, and certainly an interview with Mickey Rooney on the subject of his portrayal in the film would have made for a more well-rounded offering.
Recommendation: Definitely one of the rare movies that doesn’t disappoint after decades of hearing “What? You’ve never seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s?” So, if you haven’t, here is the perfect opportunity.
As the original marketing material states: “It’s everything you’ve always wanted to do, and Audrey Hepburn’s the one you’ve always wanted to do it with.” Funny how true that will ring, even after almost fifty years, and most likely even for those who have never experienced the talent that was Audrey Hepburn.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Matlock was a legal drama that aired from 1986 to 1992 on NBC and then on ABC from 1992 to 1995. Andy Griffith was the star of the show as widowed defense attorney Benjamin Matlock based in Atlanta, Georgia. The character was based on real-life attorney Bobby Lee Cook from Summerville, Georgia. The premise of the show was very similar to Perry Mason with a part of the show being the investigation into proving the innocence of the client and the rest of the show set in the courtroom. The real killer was always the last person called to the stand with Matlock unveiling the truth. The primary difference between Matlock and Perry Mason is the attributes of the main characters. Mason was more of a highbrow serious intellectual with Matlock being a lovable good old southern boy well known for his love of playing the guitar and eating hot dogs.
In Season Two, Matlock joins forces with Michelle Thomas (Nancy Stafford) as a new junior associate. He meets Michelle while on a case in London in the season premiere and after the case is over he offers her a job that she quickly accepts. In Season One, Matlock’s daughter was a fellow partner, but Linda Purl was unhappy with the direction of the character so she was written off at the end of the season with the story being she was going off to start her own firm. Matlock is also aided by his private investigator Tyler Hudson (Kene Holliday) and his assistant Cassie Phillips (Kari Liz). Another regular recurring character is District Attorney Julie March (Julie Sommers) who is also Ben’s friend and love interest.
While the majority of the cases take place in his hometown, Matlock is also willing to travel to defend the innocent. In this season he travels to London, Washington D.C., Hollywood, and Las Vegas. There are many guest stars to be found such as David Carradine, Greg Evigan, Michele Green, and Bruce Greene. It is fun to see all of these stars looking so young. Interestingly enough the episode that is set in Vegas features Marg Helgenberger who is best known for her long run on CSI, which is set in the same city.
The DVD set includes all 23 episodes from the Second Season along with one special feature, alternate endings for the episode “The Hucksters.” When the original show aired, viewers were given the opportunity to call in and pick one of three potential murders. You can watch the show as it aired to see who America picked or you can select the murderer of your choice.
I recently watched several episodes of Perry Mason and was really surprised at how smart it was and really enjoyed it. Matlock is much more simplistic, but if you like courtroom drama, there is no reason why you wouldn’t enjoy it. Andy Griffith is also entertaining and makes the show fun. In addition, Matlock’s clients are not always innocent, which makes the show more interesting and realistic. I must note, however, that the picture looks pretty bad; it is unfortunate that they didn’t do anything to enhance it.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Written by Pollo Misterioso
The Duchess is a movie about women. In fact, it is a movie about 18th century English women. But in no way is this movie specifically for women, although one might think differently. Based on a true story, The Duchess is an intriguing insight into what women of the time had to do to attain high stature, yet which afforded them no power.
Based on the true story of the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Spencer, and her time with the Duke of Devonshire, the screenplay comes from the book Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire written by Amanda Foreman. Most of the information that makes up the book comes from the letters that Georgiana wrote to her best friend Bess, who later became the Duchess of Devonshire herself, and to her mother.
Keira Knightley plays the lovely Georgiana, who at sixteen marries the Duke, played by Ralph Fiennes. We are given a glimpse of the playful and charismatic side of her in the beginning of the film, but with her marriage engagement comes the responsibility and duty of a duchess—to provide a male heir.
Historically Georgiana was known for her political influence with the Whig Party and her colorful fashion sense, influencing the way women dressed and becoming a well-known celebrity. The beautiful costumes in the film make this film worth watching. With wig and dress changes in almost every scene, the Duchess’ wardrobe is overwhelmingly impressive. Again, by mere dress, it becomes easy to see her influence and stature in her society.
Not everything is as easy as it seems for Georgiana. In a struggle to give her husband a male heir, she gives birth to two daughters and takes in another daughter that is the Duke’s from another mistress. She learns quickly the ways of infidelity and when she brings Bess to live with them, Bess begins an affair with the Duke in order to get custody of her children. Fiennes is callous and cold as the Duke, but presents a man that personally lives a life of structure and rules; all of which Georgiana fail to accomplish.
In her personal battle between herself and her position, she falls in love with Charles Grey, played by Dominic Cooper, and begins seeing him secretly. When the Duke finds out, he orders her to stop, threatening to take away her children, but she is pregnant with Grey’s child. Even after supplying the Duke with a male heir and participating in acts that the Duke has also done, she struggles to gain power within her household, never able to impress the Duke.
But more than just a historical drama, this is a film about the struggle for power in a place where there was nothing for women to gain. Paralleled by the multiple layers that women wear, she is trapped in a position that seems commanding and influential, but personally she is shattered. Knightley commands the screen, not often with dialogue, but with facial expressions that expose the deep pain and struggle that she feels daily.
Georgiana was clearly a strong woman, one that dominated political and social circles, but lived a sad life. The different masks she wears for her public and private lives create a duality that is inspiring to watch, showing a true struggle that regains its own sense of power.
The DVD extras are interesting and very informative if you are interested in learning more on the subject. “Georgiana In Her Own Words” is a short featurette that shows her letters and examines her growth through her penmanship and content. “Costume Diary” is an interesting look at the costumes in the film. “How Far She Went…Making The Duchess” was my favorite extra, showing the real sets used, interviews with the cast and crew, and explains some of the hardships they went through in the making of the film.
Saturday, January 03, 2009
In 1971 CBS did some major house cleaning which included canceling its rural-oriented programming. In December of that same year, CBS would air Earl Hamner Jr.’s The Homecoming, which would lead them back to rural programming in the form of The Waltons in September of the following year.
On January 6th 2009 Warner Home Video will release all twenty-four episodes of season eight of The Waltons on a three-disc set. Unfortunately, by season eight, the series has jumped several sharks, and is far from the depression-era family drama that we came to know and love.
By the time we get to season eight, Richard Thomas who originated the role of John Boy is gone, and would be replaced by a one-dimensional Robert Wightman; the contract of Michael Learned, who portrayed mother Olivia Walton, had expired and she would not appear in all the season’s episodes; new family members are introduced which is never a good sign; and the thespians who had adequately portrayed the Walton children, had grown into mediocre actors tasked with carrying the series.
The writing too had grown tired by 1979, and though this season still contains some poignant moments, the attempts at lightheartedness are forced, and well beyond the talents of the current cast. For all intents and purposes the writing was on the walls of the iconic Walton home and the show would last only one more season.
The shining moments at this point in the series come from the relationship between John (Ralph Waite) and Olivia Walton. Though limited in this season due to her absence, the chemistry between these two talented actors remained strong throughout the series, and added a level of quality to this season, that only left the rest of the cast to appear to be severely lacking.
World War II served as the theme for many of this season’s episodes, but the writing generally manages to keep the family, and subsequently the audience, from being pulled into the drama associated with such an important time in our history. One exception is the storyline in the two-part season opener in which John, who is assigned to the local draft board, deals with the death of a neighbor’s son. It is the superior performance by Waite that makes this segment work.
Earl Hamner Jr. remained involved in the series from inception to conclusion, and his narrations remain throughout bringing a level of nostalgia to the series that is sure to illicit a smile from anyone who enjoyed the series in its heyday. Unfortunately Hamner also hosts the only piece of bonus material in this new release, the two-hour special: A Decade of the Waltons. Hamner’s slow delivery made for a wonderful folksy introduction to this classic show, but as a host, he was far too awkward, and lacked the personality necessary to lead us down memory lane. Hamner’s wardrobe, tinted glasses, and absence of a smile (There may have been dental issues as in the one scene in which he is laughing, he remains off camera) did not help the situation. The poor quality of this retrospective does not fall solely on Hamner as the standard clips lack continuity, and the interviews with the actors and their real-life counterparts seem overly staged and stiff. Since this special aired at the end of season eight, it is a bit generous to list it as a bonus feature.
Not a lot of notable guest appearances during the season, but it’s fun to see a young Jonathan Frakes in “The Lost Sheep,” and if you look quick you can spot Eric Stoltz sitting in the classroom in “The Valediction.”
The shows look and sound great. The packaging leaves a lot to be desired, and if both sides of the disc were going to be utilized, it would be helpful if the discs were better marked.
Recommendation: This is a classic series, but the quality began to wane after the first five seasons. Season eight is only for the true fan that wants to keep their collection up to date.