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DVD Review: Double Seasons of Hit Network Sitcoms
Blog, TV
Posted on Jan 22 2014 by Greg


Do the long-running sitcoms of the "must-see" TV era still hold up today? Times may changes, but human nature doesn't, so the more insightful the series, the more it stands the test of time.

The Cosby Show was a mammoth hit from 1984 to 1992, running for eight seasons, pretty much in the top ten or number one in the ratings. The Huxtables are an upscale family who, even though they have their idiosyncracies, are aspirational role models of their time and today as well.



More TV families should be like this now. Most of the storylines are of the traditional family sitcom ilk, with very funny writing by some of TV's best. And then you have Bill Cosby, who makes every line count and is at his best when constructing a story-joke with the artistry of Frank Lloyd Wright.

This DVD package contains the first two of the show's eight seasons, when the kids were young. Watching is now as a parent is particularly entertaining.



There have been many fine fantasy sitcoms -- even today, with ABC's The Neighbors -- but they all struggled with ratings and/or began strong and lost steam. Only Bewitched was a bona fide hit right out of the gate and self-cancelled even when it was still in the top ten in its eighth season. The hypnotic charm of Elizabeth Mongomery is the chief reason, with a stellar cast of seasoned acting giants including Agnes Moorehead and Maurice Evans. (Learn more about Montgomery and Bewitched by searching amazon for the books by Herbie J. Pilato.)

The first two seasons on this DVD set are considered by many to be the best, with Barney Miller show runner Danny Arnold at the helm. If you want to know how great a show like this can be, just watch the episode "A is for Aardvark," directed by screen legend Ida Lupino.


I always really liked this series, if only because the bald guy was the ladies' man (baldness rocks!). Seriously, Laura San Giocomo is a fantastic lead with Mary Tyler Moore skill. She's surrounded by a great supporting cast that have pretty much gone on to subsequent success in other projects. And of course, there's George Segal, whose timing is impeccable. The material is sophisticated and often spicy but there's more to the show and the characters than that. Just Shoot Me comes from Steve Levitan, who co-created Modern Family.

The new DVD combines the midseason premiere episodes and the second season. You can see the chemistry simmer and come to a boil with every installment.


Often cited as one of TV's most under-appreciated sitcoms, Wings enjoyed a solid run of eight seasons as part of the NBC must-see lineup. It was overshadowed by the more flashy shows of the lineup, but it's proven to be a well regarded favorite to its very fierce legion of fans. (A little bit of trivia: Wings was the second sitcom about a small airline service -- the first was the short lived  Tim Conway Show which reunited him with McHale's Navy co-star Joe Flynn.)

Monk fans, look for Tony Shalhoub in a very different character role and lots of "before they were stars" actors who have become prominent over the years. This set is the second Mill Creek release, containing season 3 and 4 (the first two seasons are already available).


Good Times was a very successful spin off from Norman Lear's Maude, which was a spinoff of All in the Family. Unlike earlier sitcom spinoffs, there were never visits from the cast of the previous shows. So Maude never traveled from Tuckahoe, New York to visit the Florida and the Evans family in Chicago.

The first two seasons of Good Times included on this new DVD release are different from the show it became, as J.J. became like Fonzie and became the focus of the series. But the early episodes are also significant because they were more about the struggles of the Evans' to just get by -- much as the theme song says. Getting a job, having enough money to afford the basics, all very pertinent issues that transcend the 70's setting and style of the show.

Also just released in affordable two-season sets: Married with Children (the bizarro-world opposite of Cosby), Highway to Heaven and Charlie's Angels.







Miley's Antics Get Spot-On Spoof by MAD Magazine
Blog, News and Events, People, Music, Records
Posted on Dec 28 2013 by Greg



This month's MAD Magazine says what most "respectable" forms of news have not been able to but most of the country is thinking. People are smart enough to see the shrewdly engineered "grown up transformation" of Miley Cyrus into exactly what she was before: a  packaged pop product with a strong marketing plan drawn up by top brand managers that get her name in some sort of "shocking" headline every day. And it works.

This is indeed "art" -- the art of distribution and targeting, media manipulation and initially seeded enthusiasm. When she was Hannah Montana, there was never any doubt that this was the game, nor were the intentions to "package" a star being touted as the pursuit of art and self-expression.

Unlike artists of the caliber of Madonna and Lady Gaga, who built their persona and music brick by brick before it mushroomed into big business, Miley's not behind (pun) most of the decisions, though she might make suggestions and approve strategic formulas. It's fictionalized reality in the most garish of Hollywood traditions. It would be nice if someone would just admit the machine-like process.

Miley is a smart young lady who has proven to have loads of talent beyond performing as if she's appearing on amateur night at the Newark strip club. That's as old as Little Egypt. But if she and her staff are really shrewd, she'll alter the brand within the next year before she becomes a self-parody.

If that hasn't happened already (see above).







2013 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE, PART TWO
Blog, Reviews, Movies, TV, Music, Downloads, Records, Books
Posted on Dec 20 2013 by Greg

BLU-RAY/DVD

MARY POPPINS 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION



No home should be without a copy of Mary Poppins to watch. If you've seen it many times, just leave it on and go about your business, it adds an element of fun to every job that must be done.



This is the first time Mary Poppins is on Blu-ray, much anticipated by all its fan. The picture is overall superb, but there is a bit of a contrasty quality that I'm guessing to due to Herculean efforts to spruce up some special effects that were state-of-the-art 50 years ago. The matte lines and grains are much less noticeable now and the animated sequence (I'm just as sorry as I can be, Mrs. Travers) glows with color. Mary Poppins, by the way, has finally been added to The National Film Registry (somebody must have told them, "Spit-Spot! Get to it!"

THE GENE AUTRY SHOW: THE COMPLETE SERIESCOLLECTORS EDITION




Gene Autry was not only King of the Cowboys in the mid-20th century, he also is still one of the best selling recording artists of all time. He recorded the original "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty the Snowman," "When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter" and "Here Comes Santa Claus," which he co-wrote. This series is just a part of his entertainment empire, which you can glimpse in one of the many bonus features (and see momentos of at LA's Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage. The Gene Autry Show is a lot like Scooby-Doo: there are only a handful of plotlines, but who cares because you just want to watch him and his sidekick (Pat Buttram) bring baddies to justice. Some stereotypes are on a very few episodes (amazing considering its age), but overall it's a cozy slice of Americana. Some are even in color and remarkably well preserved.

IRON MAN & HULK: HEROES UNITED




For Marvel fans impatient for the next movie, this nicely constructed animated adventure is an exciting adventure. The action is virtually non-stop, but when there is a brief respite, Hulk and Iron Man bicker like Martha and Gertrude at the Automat. There are a few bonus features, including the very funny re-voiced "Marvel Mash-Ups" that make gentle but ridiculous sport of earlier Marvel TV cartoons.

THE LIFE & ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS /
NESTOR, THE LONG-EARED CHRISTMAS DONKEY




It isn't really the holiday season without squeezing in as many Rankin/Bass specials as you can. The first special in this Warner Archive release, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, is based on the book by Wizard of Oz scribe L. Frank Baum. It's a fitting way finale to the Rankin/Bass canon of stop-motion animated specials, as it combines the whimsy of Rudolph with the mystical fantasy of The Hobbit, drawing both aspects of R/B together (the voice cast is also that of ThunderCats). Nestor is based on another song by Gene Autry (see above), with a very amusingly caricatured Roger Miller telling and singing the story of a misfit who triumphs over his "non-conformity." The animation for this special is especially smooth, (SPOILER) but be warned that there is a sad, Bambi-like moment.

THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER /
MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND




My favorite of the early Muppet films, The Great Muppet Caper was Jim Henson's feature directing debut. The score by "Bein' Green" composer Joe Raposo is the old-school Hollywood extravaganza type, with some major production numbers including a mammoth Esther Williams tribute that actually topped Mel Brooks' similar number the same year in his History of the World, Part 1. Plus it's got Diana Rigg. 'Nuff said. Muppet Treasure Island was the second feature after Jim Henson passed and though very entertaining with the dependable comic chops of Tim Curry, The Muppets were starting to chew their cabbage more than twice here. Both look spiffy on Blu-ray.

KUKLA, FRAN & OLLIE: THE FIRST EPISODES, VOL. 3




First of all, the first two volumes of this priceless DVD series are required if you love The Muppets, clever comedy timing, imaginative use of limited resources and pure talent. Burr Tillstrom's puppets stop being puppets after only a few minutes, thanks in large part to the golden-voiced Fran Allison, who makes us all believe. Forget the picture quality and little cramped stage: Burr and Fran turn it into the Tardis.

MUSIC

DOCTOR WHO: SERIES #7 TV SOUNDTRACK



Speaking of Tardises (or is it "tardi?"), you can't go wrong with Murray Gold's magnificent music for the current crop of Doctor Who series that have really taken the world by storm in a way I can't recall since The Muppet Show. Gold's score for season seven (and also several Christmas episode scores, also on CD) are varied, ethereal, dramatic and as "big" as the galaxy.

SAVING MR BANKS SOUNDTRACK



The Deluxe Edition Soundtrack Album of this very special film not only contains Thomas Newman's masterful score -- weaving his own compositions with interpolated Sherman songs -- but also includes several Sherman Brothers song demos and what is, in effect, Poppin's Greatest Hits. Plus, you can hear Colin Farrell's lyric read from the film's opening and the three memorable song pitch scenes with Emma Thompson, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak. Tom Hanks does not appear on the album, but then, Walt himself only recorded one album for his record company (Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland).

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS SOUNDTRACKS



First of all, know that there are actually TWO sound track albums for the Chuck Jones/Boris Karloff animated TV special. The first one was released in 1966 by MGM Records and combines Karloff's sound track narration with a re-created version of the music and singing. It's quite wonderful, won a Grammy Award and is the only one of the two that is in stereo. You can get it on CD on the Mercury label.



Warner/Rhino released the actual TV soundtrack on another CD many years later. You'll notice a few seconds of additional music at the beginning and end, because they originally had sponsor mentions over them. A brand-new green vinyl disc of the Grinch was just released this year as well.

BOOKS

THE BOOK OF MOUSE



Few if any of even the most knowlegable Disneyphiles can read any book by longtime Disney Historian Jim Korkis and not say "I did not know that!" It's a testimony to the infinite nature of Disney's legacy that factual tidbits keep on coming, and it's also a testimony to Korkis' careful research and easygoing writing style that we get to enjoy it. This time, Jim takes on the life and times of the most iconic of animated characters, so much of a "real" being that he often transcends being a cartoon.

ANIMATED LIFE



If I were writing a book about my career, it wouldn't be nearly as amazing as Floyd Norman's but it would have the same conversational tone, candid without being tattletale-ish, respectful of both the subjects in the story and the reader. As you read, you're seeing the Walt Disney Studios through his eyes as he wanders the hallways where cool stuff is everywhere. The first half of the book chronicles Floyd's journey through his Disney career; the second half is a series of observations, advice, wisdom and fascinating anecdotes. What a joy that we are able to share in all this wonder with a Disney Legend in his own words.

THE ART OF JAY WARD PRODUCTIONS




In addition to animation veteran Darrell Van Citters' gotta-have tome about Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, this is a must-have too. While doing research for the Magoo book, he uncovered a treasure trove of artwork, sketches, layouts and more that really drive home the talent of the artists behind the Ward cartoons. You're only seeing the tip of the iceberg if you've only seen the shows themselves.

EVERYTHING'S COMING UP PROFITS



Longtime Late Night with David Letterman writer Steve Young (who was the mastermind behind "Dave's Record Collection") reveals a heretofore undiscovered side of musical theater, some of which is fantastic, some that might have been better left covered. Industrial musicals were common in the postwar era, all the way up to the '80s. Some soon-to-be Broadway musical powerhouses (like Bock and Harnick, who wrote Fiddler on the Roof) started their careers with these shows, which were surreal ways to get sales people excited about everything from cars and household notions to toilets and tractors. If you ever saw a live corporate sponsored show at a World's Fair, you get the idea. 







Blu-ray/DVD REVIEW: The Lone Ranger
Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 17 2013 by Greg


Sometimes I like movies that are largely considered to be stink bombs. John Carter: flawed but not as bad as many said. Santa Claus the Movie: far from perfect, but wonderful in many ways, especially the storybook quality and Henry Mancini's score. Lost Horizon: misfires aplenty but a fine cast, kitsch value and some catchy tunes by Bacharach/David. And so on.

So I tried to find something to like in The Lone Ranger. The opening, with the boy at the carnival (and the "thrilling days of yesteryear" reference to the radio show) was encouraging. But it just never picks up. Much as I tried, how do I not love thee, Lone Ranger 2013? Let me count the ways...

1. Uneven balance of drama, comedy, send-up, fantasy, sick humor, bawdiness and western melodrama. This could be the first Disney film in which someone is seen peeing on camera. Not long after, another character vomits. Then Silver (as in Hi-Yo) poops and The Lone Ranger himself is dragged through it, head first.

2. The lead character is an idiot. It's as if Jeannie blinked Major Nelson into a very expensive episode of I Dream of Jeannie. The difference is that even Larry Hagman would have played it less silly.

3. Like John Carter, they hung a multi-million-dollar movie on the shoulders of an untested lead actor. It took two Armie Hammers to make a Winklevoss. Perhaps he can redeem his lead status in a future vehicle. Taylor Kitsch is now a supporting actor.

4. Johnny Depp. Plenty has been said about his performance, but I wonder whether the whole concept couldn't work no matter what he did. His Tonto is very much like Jack Sparrow, only his voice sounds like Rob Schneider in Bedtime Stories.

5. Sweaty, yucky, grizzled, bulbous, bloated, scuzzy people, all except for Armie Hammer, followed by the angry-eyes lady who plays the unhappy mom of P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks.

6. Never release a movie in the heat of summer and show a lot of overdressed people who look like they're either in need of a bath or about to pass out, as well as people who look like they need to be hosed down. Another John Carter mistake.

7. Way too much money spent. (SPOILER) As soon as I saw the bridge -- a REALLY big bridge, I knew it would get blowed up real good and come tumbling down. Gene Autry could have made 30 episodes of his TV show,  four movies, six radio shows and a record album in the time it takes to watch this movie. Surely there's a point in the middle.

8. Way too long. An issue with a lot of movies nowadays, though.

9. This is the first time I've ever seen bloopers that mostly could have been in left in the movie without it making much of a difference. Not being facetious.

10. Cannibal bunnies.



Good points: Johnny Depp's performance as the old version of Tonto is the closest any character comes to being sympathetic (though he looks like Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man or Billy Crystal in Mr. Saturday Night). Breathtaking photography. Armie has nice hair when it hasn't been dragged through horse poop. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Is it worth seeing? Well, I couldn't turn away. There's something compelling and astonishing about a work of this magnitude gone astray. My wife, who loves to see a good western, would still like to see a good western.

Clearly this film was intended to do for westerns what Pirates of the Caribbean did for pirate movies. As a genre, they're still too problematic in this day and age to work. And this film's very visible lack of success doesn't bode well for another attempt of this nature to happen anytime soon.







BOOK REVIEW: "Sleigh Rides, Jingle Bells and Silent Nights"
Blog, Music, Books
Posted on Dec 15 2013 by Greg


TThis book is scholarly without being in the weeds and provides an intelligent examination of how Christmas evolved through its pop culture and musical progression. It certainly goes into an analytical depth that other books of this kind do not. Which is why there is a hole in it through which you could drive a truck.

I realize that the throwaway mention of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" as a TV special is within the context of a treatise of the American family and yes, Santa and Rudolph's dad are negatively depicted. But what is astonishingly ignored is that it is the single longest running network special in TV history and has much more to it thematically. How could one overlook that Johnny Marks wrote eight additional songs for the special -- one of which, "Holly Jolly Christmas" is also a standard?

The author mentions the often deleted verse of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town," yet overlooks the verse as it was written for the TV special based on that song. There's discussion of how the lyrics for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" were changed for Judy Garland. Shouldn't special lyrics for Fred Astaire also be mentioned?

How can one write a book about some of the greatest songs ever written yet briefly and arbitrarily dismiss the films they inspired -- particularly the musical aspects of these films? As an author, I know there are only so many pages in a work. However, one can limit extensive descriptions in one area to allow space for another.

No book can contain every song and that's why there are often follow up volumes. But the songs that are included should have benefited from having their cultural context more fully delineated by acknowledging the major and highly ubiquitous Rankin/Bass productions in which they still are seen and heard. We're talking generations of viewers (and listeners to their musical soundtracks) on TV, records and home video. More than a passing glance is needed.



This book really is well-written and it stacks up well against other books on the subject -- but because it aims a little higher, the omission becomes more glaring.









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