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DVD REVIEW: Monsters University
Blog, Movies
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.

Voice Actor Gregg Berger Talks "AAAHH!! Real Monsters!"
Blog, TV
Posted on Oct 20 2013 by Greg

With every episode of Klasky Csupo's 1994 series AAAHH! Real Monsters now released on one DVD set, it's likely to attract new fans who enjoyed the "monsters at scare school" premise that worked so well in Disney/Pixar's Monsters University - but of course with two completely different approaches, styles and characters. 

One of the most popular and memorable characters on the Nickelodeon series was The Gromble, a bombastic headmaster who was just as nutty as students Ickis (Charlie Adler), Oblina (Christine Cavanaugh) and Krumm (David Eccles), To get into the head of The Gromble, we spoke with the versatile voice virtuoso, Gregg Berger.

 First of all, modern audiences are going to be attracted to 
AAAHH! Real Monsters in a way that past viewers could not have imagined: they've seen Monsters University, which is almost an extension of the premise, right?

GREGG BERGER: Well, they certainly share the premise of successful SCARES as a course of study (ha-ha-ha). Our audience seemed to have an instant loyalty to the characters in the show, monsters who just couldn't get their 'scares' quite right because of their inherent niceness, under the tutelage of a bombastic headmaster (ME!) with a very thinly veiled anger management problem and a looming and booming insecurity over things like "do these red pumps make me look fat?!?"

It was so much fun to play and so much fun to watch! Then, now and always. The scripts were smart, funny, clever and not at all tied to any particular time period... so modern audiences embrace it, and additionally embrace it because it's art is so appealingly weird and eternally cutting edge. Kind of an Eastern European Folk Art feel, I always thought, just another part of what made it so distinctive and unique.

GREG E: How much can you share about the concept of  AAAHH! Real Monsters? When were you brought in to read for it? How did the producers convey the vision of the show?

GREGG B:  Voice Actors are usually the last in and the first out, and yet get a huge percentage of the adulation when a show is successful. Not to understate my/our contribution, but the writers and artists had been at it for months when we were first brought in. We were shown still images and writer's breakdowns, very much like live action character breakdowns. Lots of clues but all in two dimensions. It then falls to the voice actor to take it all in, gather all the clues, stir it all around and take our best shot at giving it all a voice.

Klasky Csupo, in those days, was set up so that the collaboration was inescapable and the only way to get to the voice recording booth was to weave in and out of the artists and writers cubicles. The result, whether intentional or not, was that we all became one big happy family. Concept was shared as pages of a storyboard that were flipped so we could see images and have scenarios described and comedic situations explained... but it was an extremely creative environment, where we were not only allowed, but also encouraged to play in the booth and "see what happened." The result, happily, was contagious fun and silliness and shows that stand the test of time and still ring weirdly true and often scarily fun.

GREG E:  As the series progressed over four seasons, surely the characters became richer and the writers and actors developed a rhythm. How do you think "The Gromble" evolved?

GREGG B: Oh, I think there were many moments where that mean old Gromble showed his softer side and ultimately wanted the best for his students.

GREG E:  We've got to ask about Tim Curry (voice of Zimbo). Please share some stories.

GREGG B: I'm afraid most of his scenes were done separately due to scheduling problems. When we did work together on Duckman or Ahhh!!! Real Monsters!, all I can tell you is that he is a consummate professional. But you already know that. No gossip. No pranks. Just the brilliant work you would expect. And a smart, fun, funny and nice guy.

GREG E:   Sure, sure, Helen Mirren is an Oscar winner and all, but hey, you've been nominated for an Annie Award -- and Cary Grant never won an Oscar and neither did Leo DiCaprio. How likely is it that Dame Helen sat on her couch with a bowl of Cheerios and watched episode after episode of  AAAHH! Real Monsters to capture your Gromble nuances?

GREGG B:  Well, that would certainly be nice to imagine... but Dean Hardscrabble is pure Helen Mirren and is quite her own wondrous thing. Don't get me wrong... The Gromble remains a great source of pride for me (and apparently for throngs of FANS whom I meet a Conventions around the world at which I am an invited guest!). And thanks for mentioning the Annie nomination. That was for my role as Cornfed in Duckman with Jason Alexander. Come to think of it... it's probably ME on the couch with a bowl of Cheerios watching episode after episode of AAAHH!!! Real Monsters!

GREG E: With all due respect to Ickis and Oblina and their respective voice artists, did it become apparent that Krumm was the most lovable of the three -- or was Gromble the really adorable one, perhaps in his own mind?

GREGG B: I believe The Gromble would feel compelled to instruct that although it is appropriate for each of us to think ourselves to be the center of our own adorable universes... The Gromble should be the center of EVERYONE's universe!!! (Krumm !?!  KRUMM !!??!!)

GREG E: It's easy to pick up on the chemistry of all of you as a comedy troupe. You recorded together, right? If not, it sure seems that way.

GREGG B:  Whenever possible - and it was nearly always possible. We became GREAT admirers of each other's talent, timing and skill. It was like getting paid to play. It wouldn't have been the same if we hadn't been allowed to record scenes together. Often, we also recorded sections in "splits" or individually... but actors are happiest and at their best when they allowed to "play" together. All FOUR of us... Ickis, Krumm, Oblina... and The Gromble! 

GREG E: What's next on the horizon for the many Berger voices?

GREGG B:   I appear in episodes of The Garfield Show as Odie, Squeak the Mouse, Harry the AlleyCat, and Herman the Mailman; in Transformers: Fall of Cybertron as GRIMLOCK; in Guild Wars 2 as Conrad and Duggadoo; in Dishonored as Street Speaker; in Resident Evil: Raccoon City as Harley; and my voice is still featured in commercials and narrations. In other words... the horizon is noisy!

GREG E:   If you could do the voice a tree, what kind of tree would it be?

GREGG B:  I'll go out on a limb and say... wait for it... The Tree Musketeers! If pressed I will amend my answer to... The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein!

My Mother, the iPhone
Posted on Oct 17 2013 by Greg

Thanks to today's technology, I can hear my mother's voice speaking to me from my car radio. Only a few years ago, you would've thought my story was more fiction that it's fact.

She doesn't generally help me through everything I do but I'm so glad she's here.

After each uproarious chat with Mom, wacky predicaments ensue, filled with zany madcap hijinks for the whole family.

Who knew that the 21st century would offer not so much the promise of George Jetson but more the fate of Jerry Van Dyke?

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