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BOOK REVIEW: A Mickey Mouse Reader
Blog
Posted on Oct 31 2014 by Greg


In his introduction to A Mickey Mouse Reader, Editor Garry Apgar advises readers to enjoy the book's segments at random, but I didn't follow his suggestions. I found this much more fascinating to read all the way through.

As someone who rarely lets a quality Disney book or research work go by without devouring it, I found it more fun and interesting to see how the Mickey Mouse phenomenon grew from hot new fad to artistic triumph to passé to dismissable to artistic and important over the decades.



Having read many works that have excerpted selections from many of these essays, it was nice to read them in context, because it really drives home the cultural dynamism of Mickey Mouse and the Disney empire, as well as its effect on those who lived through the various eras. Apgar created a fine assemblage of writings that are a good reference for enthusiasts and perhaps an eye-opener for those who can't understand all the fuss about Mickey.







STAGE REVIEW: Ken Levine's "A or B", Falcon Theatre, Los Angeles
Blog, News and Events, Reviews
Posted on Oct 26 2014 by Greg


Imagine watching one play that tells two stories at the same time, following one couple going down two parallel journeys that address workplace romances, human resources and gender equity, all the time keeping the two parallels clear to the audience, the characters consistently believable and identifiable, and the repetitions within the parallels always fresh and inventive.

It all came together in the premiere of a new play by Emmy-winning writer Ken Levine (M*A*S*H, Frasier, Cheers and numerous other "A" series), directed by Andrew Barnicle and starring Jules Willcox and Jason Dechert, who possess just the right timing and chemistry.

It is great experience in more ways than one. Sitting in the Falcon Theatre, founded by TV legend Garry Marshall, seeing a play written by an accomplished TV writer who was inspired by his work is mind-blowing to say the least. "A or B" is in performances now through Nov. 16.









DVD REVIEW: Rodgers & Hammerstein's CINDERELLA starring Lesley Ann Warren
Blog, TV, People, Music
Posted on Oct 24 2014 by Greg

There is no shortage of great performances of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s only musical created for television. Of course, there is the original 1957 CBS live telecast starring Julie Andrews, the recent Broadway show, a British panto starring Tommy Steele, a touring production with Eartha Kitt and the 1997 version starring Brandy and Whitney Houston.

Each version has its own special magic, but the 1965 version (now in its 30th anniversary year) starring Lesley Ann Warren has the distinction of being smack in the middle of an era spangled with full-color, escapist entertainment still dear to baby boomers. Premiering on February 22, 1965, the CBS special came along just as musicals—like Mary Poppins—seemed to be having a resurgence in Hollywood, and before such programming became passé in the minds of many.

Pat Carroll, who became legendary as the voice of The Little Mermaid’s Ursula (and the original Mother Magoo), was an oft-welcomed presence on series TV, game and talk shows. In this production, Carroll played one of the stepsisters. The other sister was played by Barbara Ruick, who appeared as Carrie (“Mr. Snow”) Pepperidge in the movie version of Carousel. Ruick was the wife of composer John Williams, who among other projects at the time, was scoring episodes of Gilligan’s Island and Lost in Space (and that's not a diss -- his work elevated both shows). Sadly, Ruick passed away in 1972, before she could experience Williams’ colossal success with Star Wars and his other sweeping movie scores. Oscar and Tony winner Jo Van Fleet (East of Eden), properly snooty as the Stepmother, gives the suitable impression that she constantly smells  some very strong cheese.

R&H favorite Celeste Holm played the traditional fairy Godmother in 1965, in contrast to Edie Adams’ sassy fairy in the 1957 show. And the Prince was Stuart Damon, later to play Alan Quartermain on General Hospital (which included a “prince” nod in at least one script, maybe more). Damon reveals in the bonus documentary (from the previous DVD release) that Jack Jones dropped out of the show as the Prince, so he filled in at the last moment and it was a "Cinderella story" for him.

The production values, as far as the imaginative sets and costumes, is magnificent, but because TV was still relatively young, this videotaped production has some special effects that would make Electra Woman and Dynagirl sneer, especially the flying horses (from a Marx "Best of the West" playset?) and the final materialization of Holm, whose chroma-key glitch gives her have a "Max Headroom" spell.

No matter, the show is still first class and one of TV's all-time best, made back in a time when musical variety was still a major force. And the Columbia/Sony cast album is excellent, too, with a few bonus tracks on the CD/download and a great overture created just for the record by conductor Johnny Green.








BLU-RAY REVIEW: Million Dollar Arm with Jon Hamm
Blog, Movies, TV, People
Posted on Oct 24 2014 by Greg


"Million Dollar Arm," aka "The Jon Hamm Movie" is the "Mad Men" star's debut as a big-screen lead, so the whys and wherefores of the film are as interesting to ponder as the movie itself.

Of course, this being a Disney sports film, the ending is as clear as Cinderella's glass slipper. The attraction is journey to the goal. In this case, Hamm plays a narcissistic, deal-driven but down on his luck sports promoter who gets the idea that Cricket players from India might have the potential to be star baseball players.

This raises a lot of issues, some covered in the film and some not. There is a stark contrast between the jaded, wealthy American star players who are just as manipulative as Hamm's character, and the naive, trusting Indian newbies who are overawed by elevators and such.

But isn't Hamm (sorry, but it IS a vehicle for him) also exploiting this difference? Yes, and the film points that out, as well as his dismissive attitude towards the young men he has relocated and then left on their own. They see him as a father figure, he sees them as commodities. But what is not really addressed is that he is also outsourcing; he still yearns for the American star player but the Indians will do until his dream player comes along.



SPOILER • SPOILER • SPOILER • SPOILER • SPOILER

Of course, Hamm learns a lesson because this is a Disney movie. The pure, genuine warmth and integrity of these young men change him. Had this been a Judd Apatow movie, it would have been the other way around. Good gravy Marie -- they actually think he should marry his attractive neighbor! Don't they know this is America and we're free to be you and us? Sakes alive!

Anyway, Hamm does a fine job but is really not allowed to stretch as an actor -- and as his Saturday Night Live appearances have proven, he has a lot more to give. But this is an ingenious way to reach the big screen because it's a low-budget, low-risk endeavor, unlikely to dent his aspirations in a way that a tentpole movie debut would. It proves that he can carry a movie, but it will be interesting to see if he gets another shot at a big screen role that is more than "Don Draper-light."







BLU-RAY REVIEW: Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty (Diamond Edition)
Blog
Posted on Oct 22 2014 by Greg


Sleeping Beauty is a landmark film in Disney history. Beyond its bold, distinctive look, which has already received due praise and discussion, it came along when Walt Disney Productions had fully transformed from primarily a movie-making studio to a multi-faceted company with its own theme park, publishing, record labels and other interests that interwove each other in a process Roy Disney called "cross-pollination" but today we call synergy.

During its six-year production period leading to its much-heralded release in 1959, fourteen different recording releases (one featuring Broadway star Mary Martin and another with Mouseketeer Darlene Gillespie), countless comics, coloring books, toys and other merchandise, and perhaps most significantly, promoted on television from Walt's very first Disneyland show in 1954 to the Mickey Mouse Club.

While these elements existed for Disney in one form or another before Sleeping Beauty, never before had they been so homegrown.

Sleeping Beauty was not the success Walt had hoped for in its initial release, but it was reissued to theaters and became ubiquitous on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray (this edition is the second Blu-ray). It's status as a Disney Princess film makes it part of the pantheon of pix for kids.



But it's also a treat for adults, especially those who appreciate just how difficult this film was to make. The rich detail is well suited to home watching, as one can pause or go back to see some of the breathtaking artwork if desired. And with high-def, large screen screens, the film has really found a good home at your home.

The only thing to note about this release is that, while it has a few new bonus features, there are fewer included than on the 2008 Blu-ray -- and there are also several that did not make it from the 2003 DVD. If you still have those and you love such things (like me), save them (like me). If these kind of things are not a big deal, you've still got one of the most satisfactory Blu-ray transfer of any film.

For more details about the transfer and previous bonus features, take a look at this article.










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