DVD Review: OLIVER! from Twilight Time
Posted on Nov 16 2013 by Greg
Oliver! is one of the last of the internationally successful family musical extravaganzas of the ‘60s. After Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music became such megahits (both as movies and as sound track albums), a parade of expensive, episodic movie spectaculars hit theater screens (most at higher, reserved seat ticket prices) that usually had intermissions and very long running times.
Most were financial disappointments (Hello Dolly!, Doctor Dolittle), some did very respectable business (My Fair Lady, Funny Girl) and others gained respect and admiration over the years (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Finian’s Rainbow).
But Oliver!, which had already become a Broadway and West End hit (and has since entered the canon of much-revived classics), made the very difficult transition from stage to screen. Dickens is a font of infinitely filmable stories anyway, but musicals based on stage hits did not always survive the adaptation. Oliver! succeeded beyond many of its kind.
If you like Harry Potter, Oliver! offers a rags-to-riches twist on a similarly British series of contrasting existences. It’s like Annie (or rather Annie is like it), but with bigger and more stringent messages of compassion and cruelty, haves and have-nots, cold-blooded evil and sacrificial love.
The duality of the film is exemplified most visually in its two gigantic ensemble production numbers: “Consider Yourself” and “Who Will Buy?” The former turns the poor working class labor districts of Victorian London into a kid’s playground through Oliver’s eyes. The latter is the flip side of the economic coin, without the hypocrisy of the workhouse governors and instead with the elation of a new day in a setting that suggests, again to a naïve young boy, how joyous life can be. Both are almost overwhelming in their sheer size—few if any musicals had so many musical performers onscreen at once since Busby Berkeley.
Put all this into the context of the turbulent release year of 1968 and it should come as no surprise as to why it resounded so strongly with the public, the critics and the Motion Picture Academy—winning six Oscars including Best Picture. Dickens’s work railed at the injustices of society, especially the effect it had on children, but it also had humor and colorful characters.
The world of the late ‘60s saw war and unrest, yet at the same time, mod designs and wacky Laugh-In escapism. Oliver! managed to thrive within the “new Hollywood” sensibility in the idiom of the traditional popcorn-cruncher. To today’s viewers, with today’s social and economic issues (as well as the international fascination with the temporally distant yet relatable world of Downton Abbey), Oliver has lost none of its relevance.
Stylistically it’s as meticulous as the film version of West Side Story in managing to give even the grittiness a Technicolor glow. The slums have the same narrowing, “closing in” feel as the tenements where Tony and Maria sang “Tonight.”
Twilight Time’s limited edition Blu-ray is pure gold for all the above reasons and more. I’ve never seen the film's details, especially on a home screen, as on this new disc. Even in 1968, you most likely would have had to see Oliver! in a reserved-seat theater with a great widescreen print, properly projected, to see all this detail, and even that's debatable. While there is still a bit of flicker in the image on occasion, especially in the lighter scenes, I love being able to make out every square inch as much as possible.
But the real gift is in having the isolated sound track music. Oliver! had a fine, lengthy sound track album originally on Colgems Records (label of The Monkees and The Flying Nun). When RCA remastered it a decade or so later, the reverb was removed and it sounded better.
But it never had the space to fit all the music from the film, so you lost most of the opening music and parts of songs like “Oom Pah Pah” and “I’d Do Anything.” It has not proven economically feasible, at least in the near future, for a record company to release an expanded sound track album (though I keep wishing). However, having the entire score to enjoy on this Blu-ray (even though it was not possible to find the tracks without sound effects), is a glorious thing indeed.
I was about the same age as the onscreen Oliver when I first saw this movie. We were already singing the songs in grade school and I had memorized the sound track album. Jack Wild was a star among kids who watched him on H.R. Pufnstuf each Saturday morning. The film had a profound impact on me: the immensity, the epic story, the comedy and drama, and the devastating last reel in which the film becomes like a Hitchcock crime thriller.
Being able to share the movie with my kids was among the wonderful moments in my life. It’s best to wait until the children are out of the early school years so they can handle the sorrows and the joys of the story, as well as being old enough to discuss the social setting, the wry humor, how much things have changed—and how little has changed in some ways, too.
• Isolated Score Track
• Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
• Meeting Oliver!
• Meeting Fagin!
• 8 Sing-alongs
• 3 Dance Instructions
• 3 Dance & Sing-alongs
• Original Theatrical Trailer
DVD REVIEW: A Very Merry Pooh Year
Posted on Nov 15 2013 by Greg
This gentle, low-key production is a welcome relief from the sometimes frantic, high-speed animation that kids seems to dial up this time of year. It’s not really a full-length feature, but actually an edited combination of the 1991 TV special, Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too.
It was a by-product of the Emmy award-winning series, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Paul Winchell is the voice of Tigger in this portion, which was animated in Taiwan.
From Walt Disney Animation France come Happy Pooh Year and A Very Merry Pooh Year. The overall quality of the production is so consistently high that it’s difficult to tell the segments apart except that there is an episodic feel to the story – but that’s generally the case with any extended Pooh feature.
The talented songwriters Michael and Patty Silversher, who wrote a good many memorable tunes for Disney cartoon series and Disney records, contribute original songs. Carly Simon makes her Pooh debut with her wonderfully warm rendition of the classic Sherman Winnie the Pooh theme.
Some of the animation is pretty much what you might expect of the high-end TV variety, but other moments have downright theatrical quality.
One example is the scene in which Christopher Robin reads his Santa letter to his friends. It’s not only flowing, it’s all in character.
And there’s even a tangible connection to all the “bother” in the story about letters to “Santy” Included with the package are two glossy wish cards with a little Pooh pen for kids to fill out and mail with the envelopes and stickers provided. A nice touch.
Other Extras (on both the DVD and Blu-ray):
• Disney’s Song Selection
• Sing Along with the Movie
• Enchanted Environment (This is a cozy Christmas living room with a fireplace that you can leave on as you enjoy the holidays, much like those video logs)
Directed by Gary Katona and Ed Wexler
Written by Brian Hahfield, Ted Henning and Karl Geurs and Mark Zaslove
Music Score by Mark Watters, Steve Nelson and Thom Sharp
Voices: Jim Cummings (Pooh, Tigger); Paul Winchell (Tigger); Michael York (Narrator); John Fiedler (Piglet); Peter Cullen (Eeyore), Michael Gough (Gopher); William Green (Christopher Robin); Nikita Hopkins (Roo); Ken Sansom (Rabbit); Kath Soucie (Kanga); Jeff Bennett (singing voices of Piglet and Christopher Robin).
Songs: “Winnie the Pooh” by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman, Sung by Carly Simon; “Auld Lang Syne,” additional lyrics by Carly Simon; “Snow Snows,” “Happy Pooh Year,” “Hunny, No Not for Me” by Patty & Michael Silversher; “Jingle Bells.”
DVD REVIEW: Monsters University
Posted on Nov 08 2013 by Greg
Disney•Pixar’s first prequel plays around a little with the mythology of the Monsters (which is fully explained in the fine audio commentary), brings Mike Wazowski more to the forefront and ups the onscreen creature ante from about 25 to more than 250.
Many have opined that Monsters University cannot pack the emotional punch of its predecessor. Let’s face it, without an adorable little girl like Boo, the emotional is at least different if not as intense.
Mike is actually a more sympathetic character than Sully, who has had everything handed to him throughout life and learns that effort is necessary to really succeed. We also get a few origin stories, particularly focusing on creep-in-the-making Randall.
Too many recent animated features seem to have a checklist approach to the supporting characters, rehashing “types” rather than coming up with something new. Not so here, with such new friends as middle-aged Don, the kind of guy you might meet in night school.
The voice cast is, as always, impeccably cast with recognizable names chosen for what they bring to the characters and story, as well as the best Hollywood voice actors rounding out the ensemble.
Randy Newman’s score is a little different from what one might typically expect. There’s quite a bit of the college pep rally sound – and a main theme that reminds me of John Williams’ theme to Steven Spielberg’s 1941.
Like the best Pixar Blu-ray packages, this one is loaded with superb extras, so much so that I have annotated the list. You can really get a feel for the creative process at the studio, minus the “look where we get to go” feeling that some other features seem to engender among those who will never trod in the same footsteps. Instead, the Pixar staff shows their human side in a way that is sure to affect many an aspiring, struggling person of any age. Even Don.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
• The Blue Umbrella (short)
• Audio Commentary
• Campus Life: Dan Scanlon and the staff in a typical day at Pixar during the making of Monster University
• Story School: Very interesting examination of how the story for Monsters University was developed
• Scare Games: Pixar employees play games as a group to get to know each other and create the atmosphere of the monster scare games
• Monthropology: Examines the vast array of monster types that inhabit this film and how many more there are (by the hundreds) than there were in Monsters, Inc.
• Welcome to MU: The archway that leads into the campus and overall set design of the film
• Music Appreciation: Randy Newman, the orchestra and music team, speaking a language only musicians understand, create the musical score
• Scare Tactics: The acting aspect of animation and how the animators paralleled the monsters learning their craft in the film
• Color and Light: Meticulous details about how color and light are created to accent the characters and scenes
• Paths to Pixar - Monster U Edition: Members of the film’s creative and administrative team talk about their first jobs, striuggles and failures that formed their journey of life and career, emphasizing that it’s never easy and the path is never clearly mapped out
• Furry Monsters: A Technical Perspective – How the monster hair creation developed over the years and an easy to understand look at how it was done for this film
• Deleted Scenes: A staggering amount of very entertaining animatics for scenes that were great but just didn’t fit into the movie. I especially like the drama class skit.
• Promo Picks: Original animated snippets that appeared as short promos
• Set Flythroughs: First person camera-style journeys through the settings (sort of the like the opening shots of The Sound of Music). A really nice extra feature because you see so much more than was possible within the actual film
DVD Bonus Features
• The Blue Umbrella (short)
• Audio Commentary
Steve Martin and Gilda Radner - Dancing in the Dark
Blog, TV, Music, Records
Posted on Oct 26 2013 by Greg
One of TV's great moments was "Dancing in the Dark" with Steve Martin and Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live.
One of the things that made it stand out was that the setting was a typical disco club of the day, and when Steve Martin and Gilda Radner spotted each other, the trendiness of the era vanished for them and it all became about real stylishness, real music and true artistry (even though they clowned around a little, which was also fun). When they finished dancing, the disco music came back up, and there we all were, trapped in what is accepted as the style of the day, whether we all like it or not.
After Gilda Radner's passing, Steve Martin presented this clip again and become as emotional as viewers had ever seen him, before or since. When TV news shows reported the loss of Gilda Radner, they also used "Dancing in the Dark".
This particular version of "Dancing in the Dark" is from the soundtrack of the MGM classic, The Band Wagon.
The legendary Uan Rasey actually hits a flawed note at one point, but the overall performance and impact of the whole is so great that it was left the way it is.
It's a masterwork of musician and composer, and yet it is not perfect. In this era of over-editing, over-shooting and CG to cover flaws, it's important to remember that you sometimes have to look at the work as a whole, otherwise the unchecked pursuit for perfection becomes like sawing legs off a coffee table to keep it from wobbling.
DVD REVIEW: Gravity Falls - Six Strange Tales
Posted on Oct 24 2013 by Greg
Regular Voice Cast: Kristen Schaal (Mabel); Jason Morgan (Dipper); Alex Hirsch (Grunkle Stan, Soos)
Recurring Voices: Linda Cardellini (Wendy); Keith Ferguson, Kimberley Mooney, Frank Tataschiore, John DiMaggio, Will Forte, Kevin Michael Richardson, Gregg Turkington, April Winchell, Grey Delisle, Jennifer Coolidge
Guest Voices: Alfred Molina, Larry King, John Oliver, Chris Parnell, Horatio Sanz, Coolio, Will Friedle, Justin Roiland, Stephen Root, Thurop Van Orman, Eric Bauza, Stephen Root, Michael Rianda, Jessica DiCicco, Ken Jenkins, TJ Miller, Andrew Pifko, Chris Wylde
Music by Brad Breeck
Gravity Falls is an imaginative Disney Channel animated series about a brother and sister who are sent by their parents to stay with their Great Uncle (“Grunkle”) Stan, who operates a cheesy “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”-type tourist trap in a bizarre but picturesque locale called Gravity Falls.
The premise is very slightly like the short-lived series Wonderfalls as far as the shop and location, but really reminds me of Eerie, Indiana, another short-lived series about two boys who keep discovering strange goings-on in their seemingly ordinary town (ironically this series was rerun on Disney Channel). I mention these only because those two shows were actually pretty cool, so it’s nice to see the basic idea being done in an animated setting—and finally with success.
The show is packed with gags but does not have the jagged edge of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, a series I would recommend for older kids and teens but not young tots. Gravity Falls has the fantasy but not all the farts, though the very young may find it a little scary at times.
It’s wonderful that this collection includes the first six of the 20-episode first season in chronological order, which hopefully will continue with subsequent releases like it. More often, shows like these are cobbled into a themed collection that combine episodes from previous collections with a few previously unreleased ones, making it challenging for fans and collectors.
The DVD has no bonus
features but the package includes a poster and a booklet resembling a
mysterious journal that figures into the premise of the series.
Episodes in this collection:
1. Tourist Trapped (June 15, 2012)
Dipper and Mabel settle into Gravity Falls and discover the mysterious journal.
2. The Legend of the Gobblewonker (June 29, 2012)
On a fishing trip with Grunkle Stan, the kids plan to get a picture of the legendary Gobbley-wonker(?) is rumored to exist on Scuttlebutt Island.
3. Headhunters (June 30, 2012)
Mabel sculpts a wax figure of Grunkle Stan, but the figure’s head mysteriously disappears.
4. The Hand That Rocks the Mabel (July 6, 2012)
Mabel is drawn to Gideon, a would-be psychic and rival to Grunkle Stan. Gideon is a twisted, twangy villain who unmistakably suggests faith healers much like the one Steve Martin portrayed in the movie Leap of Faith.
5. The Inconveniencing July 13, 2012
Dipper is drawn to Wendy, an teenage co-worker who introduces them to her noncomformist friends and a trek inside a very strange convenience store.
6. Dipper vs. Manliness July 20, 2012
Dipper set out to prove how manly he is, while Mabel helps Grunkle Stan to get noticed by waitress Lazy Susan.
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