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"WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, HORSEY?"
Blog, Movies
Posted on Apr 13 2012 by Greg
War Horse started as a children's novel in 1982 that more recently became an acclaimed stage show, a BBC radio drama and of course, it gets the full Steven Spielberg treatment in this Best Picture Oscar nominated epic. It's a DreamWorks film, and all of the studio's live action films are released by Walt Disney Pictures.

The film combines elements of the book and the stage production, but unlike the other versions, it is not told completely from the viewpoint of Joey, the horse, whose literal narration would not work as well in a film -- but the skill of the trainer, horse and director bring out remarkable "acting" in the lead equestrian

War Horse the movie is perhaps the most Disneyesque motion picture to come from director Spielberg. Especially in its opening segment, taking place in the rugged, breathtaking landscape of Devon, suggests the Disney sagas of yore such as The Three Lives of Thomasina, Darby O' Gill and especially the films Walt Disney produced entirely in the U.K.

It's very intense at times, since it is a war film, but the war scenes are heavy on spectacle and light on gore. The most difficult scene to watch, at least in our house, was the fate of the two very young German soldiers, which takes place on camera (and shot in a very evocative way at sunrise in the face of a windmill).

Every shot of War Horse is an experience in expert composition, art direction, authenticity and often understated acting. Spielberg, as seen in the very generous bonus materials, is an extremely collaborative filmmaker and knows how to best utilize the best talent in front and behind the lens, from the superb cast to the stirring music of longtime collaborator John Williams.



Rather than have an audio commentary or a simultaneous online compliment to the film itself, the second disc in this four-disc combo is loaded with background material, including a feature length documentary about the making of the film and several shorter items about specific collaborators. Spielberg himself hosts a short round table on camera with members of the cast and crew.

Storywise, War Horse suggests an earlier British children's classic, Black Beauty, in that is chronicles the various owners, friends and foes of one particular horse, with a grand coincidence to tie it together. I have to say -- without a trace of irony or sarcasm -- that it also reminds me, in part, of the song "Snoopy's Christmas," in which the WWI Flying Ace and the Red Baron suspend their deadly battle for a brief time because of a shared affinity (you'll know which scene I'm referring to if you saw the film already).

Since Spielberg and his creative team has meticulously crafted such a sweeping, magnificent film, it follow that it's particularly nice to see it on Blu-ray, which brings out every crag in the rugged countryside and the sheer size of the battle scenes, as well as some very lovely moments at a French country home.

This is the kind of movie that folks say isn't made anymore and can be a rich experience to share with family and friends.







PETER PAN RETURNS TO THE DVD SCREEN
Blog, TV
Posted on Apr 12 2012 by Greg
Jake and the Never Land Pirates combines a tot's-eye-view of make believe pirate games (where pirates have pop music dances and tea parties) with the Peter Pan setting -- plus a morsel of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, a dash of Dora and the coins of Mario Bros.

What is doesn't always have is Peter himself, except in this "feature" special now on DVD (actually a hour long episode) in which he does appear and the gang help him regain his gift of flight and happy thoughts. (Fans of Walt Disney's original 1953 Peter Pan might get a kick out of his reverse angle song, "I Can't Fly, I Can't Fly, I Can't Fly."

Adam Wylie, who costarred as a child on Picket Fences and has become a veteran of stage, TV and voice acting (as well as a magician at Disneyland), voices Peter with a good feel for Bobby Driscoll's performance. The show really doesn't try to recapture the film, but instead take a colorful preschool approach, with simple characters designs and lots of peppy songs. There's even a live-action pair of singing pirates in each episode (similar to what Filmation did back in the early '70s with The Hardy Boys).

The breakout star of every show is Captain Hook, played brilliantly by Corey Burton completely for comedy and minus the menace. To keep true to the source material, Hook, Smee and his crew are never familiar with the more contemporary materials that Jake and company enjoy, calling anything modern a "thingy" or some such. Scooby Doo fans take note: more than once, Hook refers to the young pirates as "meddling swabs."



The DVD is generously supplied with other episodes in addition to "Peter Returns" with ten additional segments, or the equivalent of five half hour shows -- including one featuring Hook's mother, voiced by Sharon Osbourne!







ONE OF 2011'S BEST & BIGGEST BIG-SCREEN TRIBUTES
Blog, Movies
Posted on Mar 25 2012 by Greg
Last year, three major films paid tribute to beloved genres, all largely delighting their proponents and enlisting new audiences as to why they were great in the first place. One is the Oscar-winning Best Picture, The Artist, capturing Hollywood's golden age with no cynicism or irony, as seen through the eyes of young French filmmakers discovering the joys of classic moviedom; another is Hugo, an impassioned gateway to a master of celluloid magic, this time drawing the uninitiated into not-to-be-forgotten wonders through his discovery by young people.

The third is The Muppets, the first Muppet project to fire on nearly every cylinder and recapturing the shameless lunacy of Jim Henson's iconic variety show-- once the most popular TV show in the world. Other attempts to bring back their spark have had their moments and should not be dismissed (believe it or not, one project that best captured it in recent years was Elmo's Christmas Countdown with Ben Stiller, which was as much in the spirit of The Muppet Show as Sesame Street.)

It took superfan Jason Segel's A-list clout to get the movie greenlit and Flight of the Conchords director James Bobin's encyclopediac passion for The Muppet Show to make it work. And in the tradition of the self-reflexive, we-know-we're-in-a-movie tradition of the Muppets, the plot is a surprisingly direct address at whether anybody still cares about Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang.

Even Disney, who owns the franchise and released the movie, isn't spared if you know the history: the villain's claim that he owns the names of our friends and they have no rights to them anymore is reminiscent of the attitude attributed to a Disney regime of the past. (But of course, in the words of Basil Fawlty, "We're all friends now!")

Bobin was an inspired selection as director. Though Flight of the Conchords may not seem, at first, to be a cousin in comedy to The Muppet Show (and it's certainly not for children), but the wide-eyed naivete, the shameless absurdity and the earnestness of its main characters is very much in the same vein. Conchords star Bret McKenzie's Muppet songs are very much like sanitized versions of his comic tunes for the Conchords BBC Radio series and HBO TV show.

McKenzie's "Man or Muppet" has made history as the first Oscar winner for the Muppets. Not "Rainbow Connection" nor "The First Time it Happens" won their statuettes -- there hasn't even been a special Oscar for Jim Henson. The song is funny and memorable but I really like "Life's a Happy Song" and Amy Adams' "Party of One."

Speaking of the radiant Ms. Adams, she has little to do in the film (as is the tradition in Muppet productions, after all) but she makes every moment shine. I can't help draw a parallel, this time to another loving tribute film in which she starred -- Enchanted -- which has a lot of similarities in tone and sincerity to The Muppets.



The DVD/Blu-ray/movie & music download package, aka the Wocka Wocka edition, certainly offers a lot for the money. Once again, DVD owners will not get every feature as Blu-ray owners, which still seems not nice.

One thing DVD owners do not get, besides a nicer-looking picture,
is the entertaining audio commentary (thank you!) with Segel, Bobin and co-writer Nick Stoller. Segel constantly ribs the Disney folks in the studio with them by relentlessly cross-promoting in classic Disney synergy fashion, as well as remind us of almost every film in Adams' resume.

One interesting Blu-ray feature is also quite curious: whenever the disc is paused, an "intermission" sequence pops on. Each time, it rests on a different point in a series of connecting gags. It's a nice idea-- but it also prevents the viewer from freezing a frame to catch a quick Muppety gag in the background (a funny sign, inside joke, etc.) So ironically, the DVD owner can freeze frames while the Blu-ray watcher cannot. Wocka wocka, indeed!







THIS FEEL GOOD COMEDY OF THE SUMMER..."DARK SHADOWS?"
Blog, Movies
Posted on Mar 16 2012 by Greg
Maybe I missed something, but it seems to me that they've carefully kept secret that the new Johnny Depp/Tim Burton remake of the TV gothic serial Dark Shadows is actually a wacky, campy, bawdy comedy romp.

Take a look at the trailer.

While watching this, at first I thought it was a mere remake of the 1970 feature, House of Dark Shadows. Then when I saw such moments as Barnabas flabbergasted by the television set (remininiscent of Queen Victoria's reaction on a Bewitched episode), it dawned on me that this was going to be a sly send-up.

Of course, the editors of the trailer may have been made to deliberately emphasize the comic scenes, and the movie may really turn out to be more like Sweeney Todd. Seems unlikely, though, because the original series was wildly camp too. The actors have played it completely seriously back then, but with the limited budget, precarious props and legendary bloopers, it was sometimes one of the most hysterically funny shows on television (or at least funnier than some intentionally funny programs).

Will this approach work? I can't wait to see it and find out. But like the first Brady Bunch movie, which deftly balanced fandom with satire, this might be the kind of inspired escapist stuff that we've needed in depressed times.



Is Barnabas Collins the Shirley Temple of today? Time will tell.







THE WORLD HAS LOST A BROTHER
Blog
Posted on Mar 06 2012 by Greg
Robert B. Sherman, brother of Richard M. Sherman, passed away today and the impact is that of losing a Gershwin. There really aren't words to do justice to what he has given the world -- to quote another great songwriting team, "All the rest is talk."


Burl Ives sings "On the Front Porch" in Walt Disney's Summer Magic,
one of Robert Sherman's personal favorite son
gs.











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