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Blog, TV
Posted on Dec 21 2012 by Greg
Actually, the DVD is called Mickey & Donald Have a Farm (as in ee -yi-ee-yi-yo). It's a collection from the Disney Junior CG-animated preschooler series, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

The signature episode, Mickey & Donald Have a Farm is presented along with other garden and home-related episodes, including:
Goofy's Petting Zoo
Clarabelle's Clubhouse Moo-sical
Goofy the Homemaker
(Right on, Goofy! Shatter those stereotypes!!)
Donald Hatches the Egg

I love that Goofy refers to eggs as "eggies" in this episode, since that is what I do with my kids. We even bought one of those as-seen-on-TV gadgets called "Eggies" just because of the name (even though it really didn't work very well.

One of the nicest things about Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, is that it brings Mickey and company to TV for young viewers as as warm, Dora-like friends, rather than only as park icons, corporate symbols, geometric shapes or an "old" characters. For many years, some kids grew up not knowing who Mickey was, or at least having a context into which they could have memories of him, so that's nice.

The other thing that's great about the series is that we also see characters like Professor Ludwig Von Drake (voiced by the great Corey Burton), Clarabelle Cow (the multi-talented April Winchell) and others. It's important to keep these dear friends from becoming obscure friends.

The package also includes a little garden kit with a package of seeds (I got lettuce), some fun facts and a set of character garden markers. Nice touch for a little more fun beyond the show watching itself.

There's also a paperback companion book of Mickey & Donald Have a Farm, sold separately.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 19 2012 by Greg
"Dick Tracy" and "Heavyweights" seem to have little in common except that they were both just reissued on Blu-ray disc. But their very differences are fascinating, especially in view of how the movies and mainstream entertainment in general have changed.

Like a child born of great privilege and pedigree, 1990's "Dick Tracy" was given every advantage and afforded some of the finest talents. It shows especially in the crisp definition of Blu-ray that this is an Art Director's dream come true. Every square inch of the film is meticulously crafted, each color chosen and tested for how it would appear on film and contrast with other tints.

Academy Awards were given to "Dick Tracy" for Art Direction, Make Up and Song (though with nothing but respect to Stephen Sondheim, would "Sooner or Later" have won if it was written by Fleetwood Schrum and sung by Shirley Woffenthaler?

There's little dated at all about "Dick Tracy;" pains were taken to keep it looking classic and authentic to its period. However, this may be lost on today's viewers as much as it was when the film premiered to box office that did not make it Disney/Touchstone's answer to "Batman."

Ironically, "Dick Tracy" may have been an attempt to capture the success of the dark "Batman" of the '90s, yet its look (including canted camera angles) harkens more to the 1966 camp "Batman." Yet "Dick Tracy" tries to be so many things at once, it doesn't quite find itself -- while the '66 "Batman" reveled in its own inanity.

Warren Beatty's best scenes seem to be the simple ones, like those with young Charlie Korsmo, the actor with whom he has the most chemistry. One wonders what the rest of the film might have been like if the mood of these brief scenes had the same blend of color and heart.

One theory might be that, with the stakes for a mega-hit being so high, too many people saw too much footage too many times and kept honing and tightening the film to the point to where the viewer cannot land on any one thing. "Dick Tracy" has all the ingredients of a great film, but either the ingredients needed to be restrained or there were too many chefs.

The "Dick Tracy" Blu-ray contains no bonus features whatsoever, which is odd because so much promotional coverage at the time of its release. However, permission to use this material may have proven too costly. Would have been nice to have at least a trailer or two.

"Heavyweights," a small, low-budget adolescent comedy about ugly ducklings, may have emerged over time as a little swan. Not a classic by any stretch, but a solid, entertaining romp with little fat (sorry!)

The creative team behind "Heavyweights" has gone from a small fraternity of struggling actors and filmmakers to some of today's movers and shakers, including Judd Apatow ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin") and Paul Feig ("Bridemaids").

Listening to the brand-new Audio Commentary is akin to visiting their school reunion, in which the once young, tireless and hungry rebels are now middle-aged, successful, but a little disillusioned. It's also interesting to hear how the pecking order of the past snaps back when they get back together, just from the way they all talk -- or don't talk as much -- on the commentary track.

Like Gene Wilder's "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and Walt Disney's "Alice in Wonderland," 'Heavyweights" was considered too dark and sardonic on its first release, but gained a loyal following over the years.

This was only Ben Stiller's second feature film. At the time, he had come off "The Ben Stiller Show" and accepted the role of psychotic Tony Perkis (a twist on "Perkins?"). He literally threw himself completely into the role, but according to the director, was disappointed when an audience of kids didn't find him funny, just mean. His image was not on tthe VHS or DVD release covers. Apparently he has reconciled his feeling about it -- he is prominently featured on this new Blu-ray package.

17 years later, with the tone of kid's cartoons like "Spongebob" and "Phineas and Ferb" presenting adversaries even nuttier than Perkis, the film seems to better fit the mood of today's times.

Often teetering beyond its PG rating, "Heavyweights" may still strike some as very strange indeed, being sort of a comical "Lord of the Flies" where all the boys are like "Piggy." It has deliberate nods to things like "Gone with the Wind," "Apocalypse Now" "Platoon" But so do "Spongebob" cartoons, just as Bugs Bunny classics contained references lost on kids but still funny to them. My son, who never saw it until now, finds it imminently quotable ("I am Lars!" "I come from far away!" "Repulse the monkey!")

Some parents may not be so enchanted, though. Foreshadowing their later, more raunchy movies, Apatow and company tread very close to the edge of bad taste and inappropriate material for young children, and Disney films in general (depending on your point of view, they fall off the edge at times, even in "Heavyweights" -- particularly in the alternate scenes).

But the filmmakers are not historically accurate in their comments that they were bringing an "edge" to Disney films. Lots of Walt's films had more "edge" than they sometimes get credit for. And even some basic humor. Pop in a "Fantasia" disc and you'll even spot one or two tushies.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 19 2012 by Greg
One of the most prestigious films from Disney's Touchstone Pictures division, "The Joy Luck Club" is a generation-spanning, no-holds-barred drama about the interlocking lives and fates of Asian women who meet each week to play Mah-Jongg.

My mom used to do the Mah-Jongg nights in my youthful days, when we lived in Miami. We are neither Asian nor Jewish, but it would appear that the archetypical mother figure is very similar among cultures, including my mom's which is Italian. The gathering scene at the beginning of "Joy Luck Club," especially with its cacaphony of loud, multiple conversations, reminded me very much of when my mother's relatives used to get together.

My point is that there is much in "The Joy Luck Club" with which many of us can identify, regardless of gender or culture. People are people and life can be cruel as well as wonderful.

Be warned -- the goings get very tough in some of the flashback sequence. One scene in particular will never quite leave my mind, or my wife's. I won't spoil it but it involves France Nuyen's character as a young wife and mother, pushed to the edge. (Parent's note: this is a film about a family, but definitely NOT a family film and is rated "R.") My ignorance of the other actors' work is my shortcoming, because these artists are clearly outstanding in their blend of intensity, strength and dimension.

Ms. Nuyen is among the more familiar actors in the film, at least to my little world. She's been in countless films and TV shows, but I remember her best at the side of her husband, actor Robert Culp, on numerous talk shows. Ming Na Wen, the speaking voice of Mulan, plays the central young character. Christopher Rich ("Murphy Brown," "The Charmings," "Reba") appears as a well-meaning but occasionally -- and painfully -- oafish suitor. Among Rosalind Chao's many impressive credits is playing Klinger's wife on "M*A*S*H".

The photography is brilliant and looks marvelous in Blu-ray. The disc could have used some bonus features, though, especially an Audio Commentary. I'm sure budgetary issues are forcing bonus features to the sidelines, but lots of us out here love them, sometimes as much -- and sometimes better than -- the movies.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 14 2012 by Greg
"Finding Nemo" is not only one of Pixar's biggest movie hits, it's also one of their best films. To quote Leonard Maltin describing "Peter Pan," "it's a film in which everything clicks." Visually, it is almost overwhelming -- on the big screen, recently in 3D, on DVD and now on Blu-ray, where every details sparkles.

Much is said about the pros and cons of using "name" celebrities for voices. "Finding Nemo" stands as a great arguement for using them, if they are well cast. Few animated films of any kind boast such an on-target cast, from the stars to the always great character actors and voice actors who fill out the company.

It's also one of those films that, once you get started watching it, you simply have to keep watching, no matter how many times you've seen it. The story is 99% fat free, every sequence moving logically from one to another. This is Pixar at its best, and also the master influence of Walt Disney and Hayao Miyazaki at work.

So if you want to behold its majesty in Blu-ray, this new release is highly recommended. Even though there is a DVD in some sets, which you can use in the car or the computer, if you love bonus features and want to keep them equally accessible, than hang on to your 2-Disc Collectors Edition. The Blu-ray seems to have a few new features, but most of it was imported from the last edition and does not reappear on the new DVD.

There was also a 168-minute "visual commentary" on the earlier edition that has been reconfigured on the Blu-ray into a "Cine-Explore" that now runs the 100-minute length of the film. I cannot itemize every element to assure that the edited material was placed elsewhere on the Blu-ray, so again I'm keeping my earlier edition.

New option on Blu-ray and DVD:
English Descriptive Audio Service

2012 Blu-ray Bonus Features

Cine-explore (shortened visual commentary)
Reinventing the Submarine Voyage
Deleted Scene: Alt Opening
A Lesson in Flashbacks
Knick Knack Theatrical Short
Finding Nemo - A Filmmakers' Roundtable
Selection of Virtual Aquariums
Art Review
Documentary: Making Nemo
Exploring the Reef
Studio Tour
Old School
Deleted Scenes
Publicity Pieces
Mr Ray's Encyclopedia

2012 DVD Bonus Features
Knick Knack Theatrical Short
Finding Nemo - A Filmmakers' Roundtable

2003 2-Disc DVD Collectors Edition
Widescreen movie
Documentary: Making Nemo
Visual Commentary (with Deleted Scenes, 168 minutes)
Design Galleries (Art Review; Characters; Environments, Color Script)
Selection of Virtual Aquariums
Introduction with filmmakers
Full Frame movie
Exploring the Reef
Knick Knack Theatrical Short
Mr Ray's Encyclopedia
Fishharades Game
Behind the Scenes (Character Interviews, Studio Tour, Publicity)

Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 14 2012 by Greg
Director Peter Hedges wanted to make a movie like "It's a Wonderful Life," the kind of film that people take into their hearts. In the case of "The Odd Life of Timothy Green," he may have succeeded as time proves its value and it touches more lives through Blu-ray and DVD.

For the time being, I'm sure audiences were as perplexed as I was when I saw the trailers. Even as the movie, my wife and I were intrigued but still disconcerted ("Really? A pencil factory?")

But as we watched we were very drawn into this very simple, elegantly presented story -- gorgeously filmed in Georgia (though in the audio commentary --THANK YOU -- the director admits there were some leaves added to trees for some shots.

We have had our own issues in child bearing, as have our friends, and had we lost a child through tragedy or illness, "Timothy Green" might be hard to enjoy. It is no spoiler that Timothy's visit is temporary -- it's telegraphed constantly throughout the film, but the departure is not as maudlin as it might have been under less skillful hands. It's bittersweet but enriched with hope and growth.

It's also filled with gentle humor and superb performances by Jennifer Garner, Australian actor Joel Edgerton, the always-great Dianne Wiest and Ron Livingston (who seems to be aging into Joe "Joey Zaza" Mantegna. This is definitely worth seeing.

Everyone may come away with a different impression, depending on their relationship with their parents, siblings and chlldbirth experiences. I found it similar to Walt Disney's "Pollyanna" in the sense that one person can, in their small way, have a profound effect on people.

"It's a Wonderful Life" was not a box office bonanza when it was first released. It's premise, though we've now seen dozens of knock-offs since, was probably strange to theatergoers back in the '40s. Maybe the time will come for the Greens just as it did for the Baiieys.

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