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DVD REVIEW: Witch's Night Out
Blog, Reviews, TV, People
Posted on Oct 14 2014 by Greg
Gilda Radner voices a bizarre, eccentric old witch in this Canadian production that aired in on NBC in 1978 and later in syndication.

If you're familiar with the artist-driven, independent-style animated films of SESAME STREET, this is a nostalgic throwback to the kind of free-form cartoon style prevalent in the '70s. The characters are usually painted in one color (kind of like Colorforms kits), in a wide range of imaginative countenances.

I seem to remember at least one other special from Leach/Rankin Productions, with some of the same designs and character names (how could I forget Bazooey?). The "Rankin" in this case is not Arthur Rankin of iconic holiday special company Rankin/Bass, but animator Isobel Jean Rankin, who co-wrote the film with partner John Leach.



Mill Creek also included a video comic book version of the story plus a handful of Halloween-themed cartoons to round out the package:

Casper the Friendly Ghost:
• There's Good Boos To-Night 12/23/48
• The Friendly Ghost (Casper's Debut) 11/16/45
• Boo Moon (Originally in 3-D) 12/1/54

Felix the Cat (Original Theatrical Version)
• Skulls & Sculls (1930)

Hoppity Hooper / Uncle Waldo Show (Jay Ward)
• Ring a Ding Spring (9/12/64)

Space Angel (Synchro-Vox TV Series)
• The Ghost & Crystal Mace (All Five Parts / 1964)

Popeye
• Spooky Swabs 8/9/57

The New Three Stooges (Cartoon with Live Action Segments)
• Mummies Boys (1965)

Walter Lantz's Meany, Miny & Moe
• House of Magic 3/8/37







Your chance to WIN a FREE Star Wars Rebels DVD!
Blog
Posted on Oct 13 2014 by Greg
WE HAVE FIVE WINNERS for the FREE copy of the new Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion DVD (in stores Oct. 14)!

:

Name one of the performers who SANG in the star-studded
STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL (1978).

Carrie Fisher's singing seemed to enchant most of our memories. Here are the winners:
Craig Barton - Bea Arthur
Shawn Degenhart - Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia

Judy Logan - Carrie Fisher
Melissa Ann - Carrie Fisher
Arlen Miller - Jefferson Starship







DVD Review: Lucille Ball: First Lady of Comedy
Blog, Reviews, Movies, TV, People
Posted on Oct 09 2014 by Greg


Who doesn't love Lucy, or just needs use a laugh? How about just an "I can't believe what I'm watching" reaction as you watch?

The four Lucille Ball feature films in this 2-disc Mill Creek set run the gamut of pretty good, kind of weird, so-bad-it's-delightful and best of the bunch. All four are nicely restored, so if you've been trying to find decent copies of them on various budget DVDs, you'll have them here.

THE MAGIC CARPET (1951)
Co-starring John Agar and Patricia Medina


This infamous so-bad-it's-delightful "sort of color, sort of spectacular" adventure/fantasy/comedy is notable for several reasons. Check out this history from everythinglucy.com:

"Hoping to force Lucille Ball into breaking her contract, Columbia Pictures chieftain Harry Cohn assigned her to the low-budget Arabian Nights escapade The Magic Carpet. Much to Cohn's amazement, the plucky Ball agreed to appear in the film, forcing Columbia to pay her salary until her option ran out. While Lucille Ball is quite attractive in her harem duds, the viewer cannot help but notice that her bare midriff is often obscured by props and furniture; that's because she was pregnant with her daughter Lucie Arnaz during the filming of The Magic Carpet."



The Magic Carpet
also co-stars (and what old movie did NOT co-star?) George Tobias and the comic relief sidekick--and Raymond Burr as the scheming villain. Imagine Abner Kravitz and Perry Mason in the The Arabian Nights and there's even more to chortle about.

HER HUSBAND'S AFFAIRS (1947)
Co-starring Franchot Tone


A lower-echelon Adam's Rib crossed with a kind of weird Son of Flubber, Her Husband's Affairs is not about infidelity, but about a wife who is (GASP!) more talented and savvy than her pompous, egomaniacal husband. Those who cringe at the pre-feminist aspects of films of a long ago mindset might want to skip Franchot Tone's insufferable whining and fuming about how Lucille Ball bails him out time after time. To be positive, it might be interpreted as a statement about how women should have been treated and were not.



Anyway, it goes from a husband-and-wife conflict story to a very odd fantasy sitcom about wacky inventions and their consequences. Ball is fine as ever, but Tone is probably miscast because his overall disaffected, cool style makes his character unlikable, while a more genial actor might have pulled off the role of this dolt at least a little better.

MISS GRANT TAKES RICHMOND (1949)
Co-Starring William Holden


Ball and Holden play masterfully against each other in this pretty good, Damon Runyonesque tale of "a lovable bunch of bookies and their dashing leader who would reform if only the right woman could change him."



Lovers of I Love Lucy can revel in the comparisons between Holden and Ball in this film and Holden and Lucy Ricardo in the famous "nose-lighting" episode of the classic series. What makes this extra special for classic TV fans is the appearance of Gloria Henry--Dennis the Menace's mom--as one of the young postwar newlyweds. She looks a little different, but there is no mistaking that lovely voice.

THE FULLER BRUSH GIRL (1950)
Co-Starring Eddie Albert


Like Miss Grant Takes Richmond, this is one of the most widely played of Ball's film comedies. Of all four in this set, it's the best of the bunch for its snappy pace, beautifully timed slapstick, engaging story and the chemistry between Ball and Arnold, who play the postwar couple this time around.

If you watch this with young people, you might have to start by explaining that Fuller Brush people were like Avon or Mary Kay sales people who went door-to-door with household gadgets or, in this case, beauty products. Ball and Anold's characters are as hapless as can be and you can see each successive catastrophe mounting a mile away, but that's part of the fun and part of the filmmaker's craft.

It was also scripted by Looney Tunes director turned Hollywood movie director Frank Tashlin, so like his Jerry Lewis hits, the action is very cartoony and was very likely storyboarded in the same way as animation.



Only one year away from becoming Lucy Ricardo, The Fuller Brush Girl is a prelude to I Love Lucy for Lucille Ball as well for her fans. You can imagine see how Ethel, Fred and Ricky might have reacted to all the zany hijinks.










BOOK REVIEWS: Over There & Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man
Blog, Reviews, Movies, People, Books
Posted on Sep 23 2014 by Greg


A new Disney Press series and a much-anticipated celebration of a Disney giant are on the way to bookshelves.

 

The new series allows the artists of Pixar and Disney to stretch beyond animation and express their creative visions through picture book art and text. The first was No Slurping, No Burping by Lorelay Bove (who worked on Wreck It Ralph, Winnie the Pooh the upcoming Big Hero 6, and is the first designer to create new artwork for Walt Disney Records’ Legacy Collection CD albums.

  

For the second book in the series, Pixar Production Designer created Over There, a gentle children’s fable about a wistful little shrew named Shredder. This simple story, carefully laid out on each page spread, takes Shredder on a small quest to find one thing and somehow finding another.



 

With the quiet power of its peaceful forest settings and snuggly places for the characters to nestle, this is just the sort of story for bedtime, rainy days or those times when things just need to settle down. My kids are in their teens, but they still occasionally yearn for the comfort of story time. Pilcher himself takes part in readings of his book to groups of youngsters in public storytime events.

 

The story is very cute (not in a treacly way), but the artwork is over the top great, reminiscent of the classic Big Golden Books illustrated by such Disney artists as Al Dempster and Gustav Tenggren. It’s a grand tradition that will hopefully continue with further releases.



 Marc Davis with the voice of Sleeping Beauty, Mary Costa.


The other new Disney Press release shines a well-deserved light on Disney Legend Marc Davis’ career, which goes all the way back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He animated Alice, Tinker Bell, Cinderella, Maleficent and Cruella DeVil. He designed characters for Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise and the fondly remembered America Sings attractions. He was an accomplished painter and a caring, unforgettable teacher.

 

Marc dreamed up enough major works to fill several lifetimes. Yet he was definitely not one of those “look at me, I’m so great, blah, blah, blah” kind of people. He was devoted to his wife, Alice (also a Disney Legend as a major contributor to Disney history as costume designer for many attractions), dedicated to Disney art and imagination, and, across the board, remembered as a genial, unassuming fellow.

 

His admirers include some of the most accomplished individuals in the art and entertainment industry, who along with many of us, were waiting a long time for such a magnificent book as Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man to come along. This book is their opportunity to reminisce about Marc for us, and our opportunity to look for hours at each and every vivid image in this new book—many of which seem to jump off the page.

 

Imagineering and Disney Legend Marty Sklar expresses his awe at Marc’s work for Disney Parks. Peter Docter, Oscar-winning director of Disney•Pixar’s Up and Monsters, Inc. presents an extensive portfolio of Marc’s concept art and pencil drawings. Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King producer Don Hahn elaborates on Marc’s fine art. Veteran Disney animator and historian Andreas Deja takes us on a tour of Marc’s animal studies. Glen Keane, acclaimed animator of Ariel, the Beast, Tarzan, Rapunzel, Aladdin and others, guides us through Marc’s vast collection of sketchbooks.

 

And there’s so much more. Walt Disney Family Museum Creative Consultant and historian Paula Sigman-Lowery explains Marc’s fascination with the art and people of New Guinea. Author/filmmaker Mindy Johnson helps us get acquainted with the wondrous Alice Davis. Renowned animation historian and critic Charles Solomon presents a look at the unproduced animated feature, Chanticleer. Award-winning animation director Bob Kurtz recalls Marc’s skill as a teacher. There are even selections from Marc’s unpublished book on how humans and animals move (Parents’ alert: some tasteful nudes in this section.)


 

Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man is already on sale at select Disney Parks shops and through Merchandise Guest Services at 1-877-560-6477). It goes on sale nationwide October 7. Steve Pilcher’s Over There is available now.








Blu-ray/DVD Review: Justin and the Knights of Valor
Blog, Reviews, Movies
Posted on Sep 13 2014 by Greg


Something strange happens when watching this film. For the first sixteen minutes, there are uncomfortable limitations in the animation that only its spectacular art direction and the detailed textures make it possible to overlook. Too much story information is setting itself up. Far too many characters are introduced. It’s tricky to keep track of who is who. The character’s names, most of them long and complex, are not repeated enough to learn.

Giving the artists the benefit of the doubt, the plasticity of the character renderings is balanced by the expressive nature of the poses, likely a result of very strong storyboards. But relative “weights” of characters and objects don’t always ring true. The story teeters between “been there, done that” and “should I care, since I’m lost anyway.”

But then, 16 minutes and 45 seconds into the film, Justin and the Knights of Valor (available on DVD and blu ray on July 22nd via Arc Entertainment) really begins where it should have. Young Justin (voice of Freddie Highmore) starts on his way to the training grounds, first stopping at a pub housing the film’s most interesting characters—Talia, a likable barmaid (Saoirse Ronan), and Melquaides or “Mel” (Little Britain’s David Walliams), a “mystic” with two personalities.

Mel is the most amusing character in the movie. He talks to his “other self “ like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films, but he can move so fast from one place to another, he often is seen literally as two people. It’s a pure animation conceit, and very clever.

When Justin leaves the pub and resumes his journey, this is where film’s title should come onto the screen. Next, we meet Justin’s trainers, another set of better-realized characters (voiced by James Cosmo, Charles Dance and Barry “Dame Edna” Humphries). Though we’ve been here before in Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon and The Karate Kid, the sequence still works, with amusing side gags including a room sized miniature chess-like tableaux that is constantly in danger of being destroyed.

There is no denying that this film feels derivative of How to Train Your Dragon, but it has no genuine magicians, fairies or dragons (except for a ridiculous makeshift fire-breather). Justin must accomplish his quest on his own. The story puts one more in the mind of The Sword in the Stone (T.H. White’s, not Disney’s).

The film’s “presenter,” Antonio Banderas, gives a fine comic performance in the role of charlatan Sir Clorex, the type of macho buffoon that Patrick Warburton practically patented. But with a few exceptions, the film tends to lean toward characters who are act silly but aren’t largely funny. Considering that this was made in today’s more sensitive age, it’s disconcerting there is such a stereotypical character in Sota (Rupert Everett). Did Everett know that his character would be animated in such a mincing, Monty Python way? Sota continues to be a broad caricature in the second half of the film, but his flouncing isn’t as pronounced.

No kidding, you could cut out the first 16 minutes and 45 seconds and have a very entertaining motion picture in which most of its shortcomings are less pronounced. All the plot points are repeated and clarified, including a very nice two-dimensional retelling of the story of Justin’s grandfather. Characters come along when they should, in due time—and their names are given more frequently as the film progresses.

The climactic battle is inevitable and predictable, but nevertheless exciting and suspenseful. Because Justin has to train and learn rather than get assistance from magic or sidekicks, the movie sends a strong message to kids about seeking goals with hard work and no shortcuts.

Ilan Eskeri’s score is suitably sweeping to buoy the action and breathtaking visuals; a handful of contemporary tunes recall the tunes in Treasure Planet. While incongruous to the storybook setting, the songs are not intrusive. Had this film begun at 16:45, one ballad that provides a “heart moment” would not slow the film at all, but would only make the viewer more invested in Justin’s situation.

Watch Justin and the Knights of Valor from the beginning and it’s a passable diversion with technical issues that are hard to ignore. But watch it from 16:45 and it becomes a more solid film in which its shortcomings are overshadowed by the brisk pace, nicely balanced character interaction, and—while still not an A-lister by any stretch—a handsome and engaging entertainment.










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