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DVD REVIEW: Disneynature Bears
Blog, Movies
Posted on Aug 19 2014 by Greg

It’s a good idea to keep the Disneynature videos handy when someone in the house says, “There’s nothing good on TV for the kids!” This one is sure thing to please everyone, as it has big and little fluffy bears. They fight occasionally and the mother breast feeds (just in case seeing bear boobies on TV are a concern) but the experts and filmmakers explain in the bonus features that bears get a bad rap for being nothing else but fierce killers.

While they’re not Yogi and Boo-Boo either, the bears we get to know in this gorgeous film are intelligent, strategic, loving, focused and loaded with personality. While this film follows the Disney True-Life Adventures tradition of attaching a narrative to the edited footage, nothing is bogus. You spend a year with a mother and her female and male cubs as they travel the rugged but pictaresque Alaskan countryside in a quest for salmon—settling for other, less substantial foods along the way, and getting into tangles with predators, including bears like them whose hunger drives them to the brink of killing their own species.

The cubs are so adorable and the mother so devoted, this is a fine movie to watch together. As the narrator, John C. Reilly maintains a jaunty, gently humorous tone, interjecting facts so seamlessly that it doesn’t come off as dry and lecture-y. (One wonders how much of his “just a guy watching the movie with you guys” style narration is improvised.)

It’s likely that anyone watch Bears is going to say, perhaps more than once, “How did they film that?” There is a bonus feature with that name, along with other short docs about the bears, the filming and the rough terrain trodden by the movie crew.

Most fascinating is that the filming rarely took place a great distance from the bears. Within the protective boundaries of the sprawling preserve, the bears were never hunted or threatened by humans so were very comfortable being around people, as long as the skilled guides kept them calm off camera and the crew’s food was contained (more of this is explained on one of the bonus features). Jane Goodall even makes an appearance, visiting the crew and guides during their expedition.

Disneynature is an outstanding, spectacular and highly entertaining series of films. Bears is a worthy addition to the library.

DVD REVIEW: Muppets Most Wanted
Blog, Movies, People, Music
Posted on Aug 19 2014 by Greg

It’s always a great pleasure to see another big-screen Muppet movie. Like the earlier film with Jason Siegel, director James Bobin makes Herculean efforts to recapture the style, flair and glorious inanity of the original Muppet Show, thus the segments of the film featuring the actual show are the most fan-appealing. All the major Muppets and some lesser-known ones get a chance to shine in the most Muppety way possible.

The new movie has lots of color, great songs, clever cameos, very savvy scripting and skillfully timed direction going for it. But there’s still something missing. A jewel heist story was already done back in the ‘70s. Muppet movies seem to work better when they satirize show business, advertising or some other ripe-for-ridiculousness institution. Granted, the stakes are much higher here than they might have been in The Great Muppet Caper. Both films even have an Esther Williams-swimming cavalcade scene, though it was more lavish in Caper.

That wouldn’t matter so much if Ricky Gervais was either a supporting character than the co-star, was given more comedy to do, or was left to improvise so he would have been as funny as he is in the outtakes. Gervais is a great comic star, but not a movie star. Nor does he have the widespread appeal to justify how much screen time his character gets. This is in no way a criticism of him nor his talent, just a comment about how he might have been better utilized.

Ty Burrell, who gets just the right amount of screen time, making one want to see more, delivers his customary screen stealing performance—perfectly teamed with Sam the Eagle. Yes, his character is a Clouseau type, but he could easily play Clouseau. Nobody does determined cluelessness like Burrell. Tina Fey also takes on a tasty comic character role as the head of a Siberian prison, with convict show tunes (and incongruous cameos) worthy of Mel Brooks.

Like the last film, the songs are perfect for The Muppets and have a quality on their own that justifies more attention than they get. It was a shame that singer/songwriter Bret McKenzie did not get an appearance on the Academy Awards telecast, since that would have deservedly raised his profile. At least he is showcased to advantage is a music video with Miss Piggy (Bret looks a little like a bearded, lanky Herb Alpert).

Muppets Most Wanted is very good, yet not quite great. There’s a lot here to love, though, especially seeing the old gang (as well as welcome newcomer Walter) doing whatever it takes to get them on screen. Even on the classic Muppet Show, some episodes were better than others but it didn’t matter because The Muppets were the main raison D’être to tune in (ain’t I continental?).

Bonus Features are fine (but no commentary, sigh). There’s a blooper reel with a funny title about it being the longest ever, maybe. Again, Ricky Gervais is funnier here than he is in the movie. I realize he was playing a villain (Mr. Badguy), but they might have added in some of his infectious laughter.

This week's Spin: Hercules and Thor on Records
Blog, Movies, TV, Music, Records
Posted on Aug 06 2014 by Greg

With Disney's Hercules premiering on Blu-ray, here's a look at how Golden Records interpreted humbler version of the Olympian wonder boy from early '60s TV, plus another Golden adaptation of Marvel's movie powerhouse, The Mighty Thor...

This week's Spin: Bedknobs and Limpets
Posted on Jul 31 2014 by Greg

The music of two beloved live-action / animation movies -- both of which take place during WWII and have underwater sequences -- are showcased in two vintage records.

This week's Spin: TV Classic Top Cat on Records
Blog, TV, Music, Records
Posted on Jul 26 2014 by Greg

Hanna-Barbera's impeccably written and masterfully acted prime time animated series gets the vinyl treatment on two classic albums from the mid-60s.

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