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"I ate my boyfriend--but we can't let it stop us."
Blog, TV
Posted on Aug 26 2013 by Greg

So says Red Riding Hood, who is also a werewolf, to Dr. Whale, who is also Dr. Frankenstein.

They're two residents of Storybrooke, the New England town that wasn't there before 1983, when the Evil Queen moved the whole population. Sending fairy tale characters from their enchanted world to the modern world isn't new to ABC--a short lived, broadly played sitcom called The Charmings had a similar premise.

But Once Upon a Time is a sumptuous "theme park opera" in which the relationships and the relatives are as serpentine as Maleficent the dragon.

Season Two brought the realization to the characters that they were actual fairy tale people. They didn't believe young Henry last year, but like the existence of Mr. Snuffle-Upagus, eventually you can't keep denying the truth. So now the characters have dual essences; they remember who they were and who they are. Prince Charming (or should I say "Cool Hand Charming?") takes control and sets the town straight.

Snow White and Emma Swan realize they're mother and daughter, and are embarrassed about all the intimate talks they shared (apparently Snow had a one-night stand, but it was caused by a spell).

The season also brings us the even evil-er Queen Cora, played by Barbara Hershey (who renamed herself "Barbara Seagull" in the '70s to draw attention to the plight of the species, and then changed it back). Was the name "Cora" drawn from the character Margaret "Wicked Witch of the West" Hamilton played in hundreds of Maxwell House commercials before her passing?

The other major newcomer is the beardy, Revlon-eyed Captain Hook, played with vim and vigor (but mostly vim) by Colin O'Donoghue, who in a bonus feature seems to be shocked by the amorous attention he apparently is getting from fans. (It's not like he asked to wear the sleek leather outfit with the flowing cape and the shiny chain around his neck and the shirt open to there, ladies!)

Hook is much better in the second half of the season when he settles into a supporting role. He plays well off the other actors, who have really honed their roles and created a nice chemistry.

Moving right along to biology, what's with Snow White and the Prince doin' it on camera, as their daughter and grandson enter the bedchamber? Without being a spoiler, Snow is racked with guilt about another questionable deed, yet after being found together with nothing on but a 250-count cotton percale, she and Princey wait for their family to leave and then get back to gettin' it on.

Even Mom and Dad Dunphy of Modern Family were shocked, embarrassed and angry when their kids discovered them doing the same thing, and they're not even Disney characters.

No matter how complex the storylines get and the double crosses get double crossed this season, the standard bearers for the series remain Lana Parilla as Regina the Evil Queen (what's really magic is how she never smears that ruby red lip gloss) and Robert "Full Monty" Carlyle as Rumpel Stiltskin (but you can call him "Rumpel").

Like Dark Shadows, another ABC series, in which vampire Barnabas was racked with guilt about his murderous condition, yet slipped in and out of being a hero and a villain, so do Regina and Rumpel. Between that classic conflict and their acting skills, they're the ones upon which most of the rest of the show radiates. They can't turn nice, or you'd have no story. But you find yourself hoping they'll reform. And they do, then they don't, then they do.

Season two of Once Upon a Time looks like a movie on Blu-ray. The details of the costuming and art direction show up nicely. The special effects are mostly impressive, though the seams show once in a while. But you just couldn't do a show with the illusory sets and vistas in this series back in the day, before green screens and digital effects made such things faster and more economically feasible for TV.

And now for the bonus features (wait, let me get out my invisible chalk). This set has some of the most entertaining on any DVD set. Ariel Winter of Modern Family traces the convoluted family trees of the characters, so completely outlandish that even the cast themselves has trouble keeping it straight.

Several interesting audio commentaries add to the understanding of how stories were created and how the actors approached their roles, especially after the curse ended, and they had to be two people in one. Gennifer "Snow" Goodwin explains that "Bobby" Carlyle actually changes Rumpel's behavior based on which character he encounters. Carlyle himself has assigned numbers to the levels of Rumpel's intensities. This is why I love commentaries!

The gem of the bonus features is a spoof of Good Morning America that features funny commercials (particularly the one for Granny's Diner in which Red does her impression of SCTV's Edna Boil) and the cast gets to have fun making fun. Check out how unctuous Doctor Whale is in his segment. They're having a blast with this short video, which was played at this year's ComicCon.

Next season promises a visit to Never Land and the appearance of Ariel. Even though the best of TV's series can ebb and flow as Once Upon a Time has this season, who couldn't resist sticking with it?

How Tim Burton and John Landis lent a hand to "The Muppet Movie"
Blog, Movies
Posted on Aug 16 2013 by Greg

When Jim Henson wanted every Muppet in the grand finale of his first feature film to be operated by a person, rather than being static or electronic (there was no CG in 1979), the call went out for performers to converge on the studio where it was filming. Among them were a young animator (Burton) and a fledging filmmaker (Landis).

And while The Muppet Movie was the first feature for the Henson crew, it was the last for legendary ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, whose Charlie McCarthy character was a forerunner for figures that transcended their technology. It didn’t matter that Bergen’s lips moved, or that he when he was on radio there was no visual, Charlie McCarthy was a living breathing soul, just as Kermit and Miss Piggy are, regardless of whether you can see the puppeteer.

When you see The Muppet Movie, you are seeing the cutting edge in puppetry and an endless procession of celebrities. Even though both are still impressive and make many current billion dollar special effects extravaganzas of today pale in comparison, what stands out is the clever script, the music and the unearthly talent of the Muppet performers.

Even though The Muppet Movie was a major release in 1979 and a huge hit, it has a gentle smallness, almost an underground film feel. Though it looks better than I’ve ever seen it on Blu-ray, there is a marked difference between this film’s image and sound quality and that of the Muppet films that followed.

If you’re a Monkees fan, The Muppet Movie is helmed by the same director of much of that series, a nice blend of the fourth wall breaking style of Monkee and Muppet.

This new “Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition” includes Frawley’s test footage of The Muppets in natural settings a feature well worth the price of the package that was left off the 2005 DVD edition.

Perhaps the major stars of the film is not seen but heard the musical score and songs by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher. “The Rainbow Connection” has become a standard, while the song that took its Oscar, “It Goes Like It Goes” from Norma Rae, is largely forgotten. Ah well, such is also like it goes with many awards and their ultimate meaning...

“Adele” twists on “Tintin”...or “Indiana Jones” meets “Mary Poppins”
Blog, Movies
Posted on Aug 15 2013 by Greg
Like the Belgian comic book series "The Adventures of Tintin," "The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec" is a beloved comic book series in France. "Tintin" became two animated series and a 2011 Steven Spielberg motion-capture Hollywood spectacular, while "Adele" was adapted into this more modest (though certainly flashy) French live-action feature in 2010.

This new DVD of "Adele," directed by Luc Beeson ("The Fifth Element"), includes an English dubbed version as well as the original subtitled French language version. The bonus features are in French with English subtitles. Usually it’s not recommended to watch the bonus features first, but in this case, if you’re not familiar with the Adele character or the comics, it actually enhances watching the film and gaining excitement for the experience.

Some have compared "The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec" to an Indiana Jones movie, and there are indeed some scenes that resemble the first in the film series (Adele runs through a pyramid from an explosion much as Indy ran from the giant ball), but it’s a different kind of narrative. Right from the opening narration, "Adele" is a highly polished satirical farce, consistently poking fun at pompous types. There’s a bumbling duo in this film that are reminiscent of the spies in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

But there were no pterodactyls or mummies in "Chitty." And even though you’ll see them in "Adele", they may surprise you.

Adele herself, as played by Louise Bourgoin, is a bit of a smart aleck. In her turn-of-the-century posh frock, Adele nay resemble Mary Poppins or Truly Scrumptious, but with a more irreverent attitude.

Beeson apparently cast Bourgoin because of her talent for mimicry and ability to play multiple roles. She was also primarily a TV rather than a movie presence so the most audiences would accept her as Adele and not as a big name movie star.

Though the film rambles at times (it’s based on two graphic novels), "Adele" is a jaunty romp that never takes itself as, say, the recent "Adventures of Tintin," which had humor but had anything but a light touch. The most serious and heartrending moments in "Adele" concern her disabled sister, the freak accident that caused it and how it motivates Adele in her various quests and gives the story a thread.

Speaking of Adele’s sister, there are a few deleted scenes in the bonus features that showcase the zany side of the two trouble-prone young ladies in their earlier days.

There’s also a feature about Bourgoin’s singing of the end title song, a peppy tune that has a very European sound, very unlike pop in the U.S., at least of recent years. It’s very catchy stuff.

"We've died and we've ended up in a musical!"
Blog, TV
Posted on Aug 05 2013 by Greg
According to the Deadline Hollywood site, Teen Beach Movie is the number 2 most-watched movie in cable TV history, after High School Musical 2. My guess is that, the new film, just released on DVD, has exceeded even Disney Channel's expectations.

While Disney Channel remains a kids' cable powerhouse, its level of huge, phenomenon-generating sensations such as Hannah Montana and High School Musical are several years in the past. The channel has some big hits, particularly Phineas & Ferb, Gravity Falls and Disney Junior shows Sofia the First and Doc McStuffins, but TV viewership has changed dramatically since the last decade. That makes the high viewership of Teen Beach Movie an even more significant success.

So how it make such a (forgive me) splash? I think people of all ages discovered that it was better than they expected, if not better than average for Disney Channel movies of the last few years. It's genuinely funny, colorful escapism, the kind of thing popular in the '60s and other periods in history when the country needed fun, silly stuff to take them away from economic and political issues.

If you liked the Annette & Frankie beach movies, this movie has more than just overt references. The leading lady is going to be sent to "Dunwich Academy," surely a nod to The Dunwich Horror, produced by American-International Pictures, the same low-budget, high-profit studio that made the seven "official" beach movies.

The villain, parodying Vincent Price from such fluffy frolics as Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. Like Price, his British accent is theatrical. This villain is really from Pittsburgh. Vincent Price was really from St. Louis.

At the start of Teen Beach Movie, there's an iconic image for those who knows the original beach party films: a twisting young dancer dressed in frills -- certainly inspired by Candy Johnson, the "world's fastest twister," who danced over the end credits of most AIP beach movies. (I hope that, if there is a sequel, no one second-guesses the inclusion of such nice touches because "No one will get it."

Teen Beach Movie is Grease without the viscosity. The humor is more in the farcical style of The Monkees TV series (right down to the Davy Jones-like twinkling eyes). There's virtually no innuendo. 

David Lawrence, son of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, did the score and wrote some of the songs, a task he excelled at for the High School Musical movies. The songs on the soundtrackare a canny blend of '60s styles and contemporary teen pop mixes.

Perhaps more than anything, Teen Beach Musical is a dance film -- more so than High School Musical. Director/choreographer Jeffrey Hornaday vast list of credits includes the Disney Parks attraction, Captain EO. Members of the cast are recognizable from such TV competitions as "So You Think You Can Dance?" The bonus rehearsal footage bears out the energetic dance moves as well as the talents of the cast.

Don't expect Teen Beach Movie to be Jean-Luc Godard or Orson Welles. Just find a comfy chair and let it take you out on the surf. Even though the surf looks deliberately like it's been filmed against a green screen and no one's hair gets wet.

Dustin Hoffman, Sylvester Stallone, Billy Crystal & more stars as "Liberty" returns
Blog, TV
Posted on Jul 28 2013 by Greg
What a cast: Walter Cronkite as Benjamin Franklin. plus Billy Crystal (John Adams), Annette Bening (Abigail Adams), Dustin Hoffman (Benedict Arnold), Sylvester Stallone (Paul Revere), Liam Neeson (John Paul Jones), Michael Douglas (Patrick Henry), Ben Stiller (Thomas Jefferson), General H. Norman Schwarzkopf (George Rogers Clark), Whoopi Goldberg (Deborah Samson), Warren Buffet (James Madison), Michael York (Admiral Lord Howe), Kayla Hinkle (Sybil Luddington), Aaron Carter (Joseph Plumb Martin), Arnold Schwartzenegger (Baron Von Steuben), Maria Shriver (Peggy Shippen), Yolanda King (Elizabeth Freeman), Mario Kreutzberger (Governor Galvez) and Charles Shaughnessy (Various Voices)

An ambitious, 40-episode animated series created for PBS, I would hope that "Liberty's Kids" might have been utilized by some teachers to augment their American history curriculum. (Not to replace, mind you, but augment.) When I was a kid, history was kind of dry, but this series is a great way to bring what is really a very exciting story to a level that kids understand, are compelled by (my kids saw every one when they were young) and avoids being too stilted.

Young people are the fictional lead characters who thread us through real events throughout the Revolutionary War Period. It's not the first time cartoon watchers have seen this narrative technique. Archie comics have been doing it for decades and of course, CBS broadcast their final Filmation Archie series, "The U.S. of Archie," with the conceit that Archie and his friends somehow had ancestors during every crucial period in American history. Then there's "This is America, Charlie Brown," which didn't even explain how the Peanuts characters materialized in these historic settings.

"Liberty's Kids" doesn't star familiar cartoon characters. Instead, it stars a very impressive roster of celebrity guest voices. The combination of acting styles sometimes clash a bit, between the voice actors specific kind of style, the somewhat naturalistic approach of certain star voices and the rather surprising casting of others.

To their credit, the stars do give their all. But once I discovered Billy Crystal was voicing John Adams, I had the same challenges Phil Harris fans had when watching "The Jungle Book." The personality is just too ingrained in my head. Sorry to single him out, as Crystal has proven quite capable of drama before and he does not phone in John Adams here. But he's very distinctive, especially now that Mike Wazowski has appeared in two hit movies. Even though Ben Stiller has also voiced the lead in the Madagascar movies, his voice is not as unmistakable as Crystal.

And it's not like Walter Cronkite isn't unmistakable too. Cronkite was not an actor, but he was a master of presenting words and you would not expect him to be anyone but himself in the role of Ben Franklin, who is the only continuing adult character in the series.

DIC's animation is very much the slick TV type you might see in an upscale direct-to-DVD movie, with elaborate execution in some places and limited movement in others. The writing is uniformly solid, scripted by such primetime veterans as Bill Dial ("WKRP in Cincinnati") and Marc Zicree ("Star Trek: The Next Generation"). The best moments are not necessarily the "big" historical ones, but rather the lesser known, realistic details, such as a scene in which James, the young reporter, assumes that tar and feathering is a laugh fest until he is told how horrifyingly painful it is.

This is a very affordable reissue of the complete series. It should be noted that it, contains the dramatic content of the episodes without the interstitials that replaced commercial breaks on PBS. An earlier set did include them as separate bonus features. They do not advance the narrative but if you want them, you may want to seek out the earlier release.

Episode 1
September 2, 2002
The Boston Tea Party

Episode 2
September 3, 2002
Intolerable Acts

Episode 3
September 4, 2002
United We Stand

Episode 4
September 5, 2002
Liberty or Death

Episode 5
September 6, 2002
Midnight Ride

Episode 6
September 9, 2002
The Shot Heard Round the World

Episode 7
September 10, 2002
Green Mountain Boys

Episode 8
September 11, 2002
The Second Continental Congress

Episode 9
September 12, 2002
Bunker Hill

Episode 10
September 13, 2002
Postmaster General Franklin

Episode 11
September 16, 2002
Washington Takes Command

Episode 12
September 17, 2002
Common Sense

Episode 13
September 18, 2002
The First Fourth of July

Episode 14
September 19, 2002
New York, New York

Episode 15
September 20, 2002
The Turtle

Episode 16
September 23, 2002
One Life to Lose

Episode 17
September 24, 2002
Captain Molly

Episode 18
September 25, 2002
American Crisis

Episode 19
September 26, 2002
Across the Delaware

Episode 20
September 27, 2002
An American in Paris

Episode 21
September 30, 2002
Sybil Lundington

Episode 22
October 1, 2002
Lafayette Arrives

Episode 23
October 2, 2002
The Hessians are Coming

Episode 24
October 3, 2002
Valley Forge

Episode 25
October 4, 2002
Allies at Last

Episode 26
November 4, 2002
Honor and Compromise

Episode 27
November 5, 2002
The New Frontier

Episode 28
November 6, 2002
Not Yet Begun to Fight

Episode 29
November 7, 2002
The Great Galvez

Episode 30
November 8, 2002
In Praise of Ben

Episode 31
November 11, 2002

Episode 32
January 20, 2003
Benedict Arnold

Episode 33
January 21, 2003
Conflict in the South

Episode 34
January 22, 2003
Deborah Samson - Soldier of the Revolution

Episode 35
January 23, 2003
James Armistead

Episode 36
January 24, 2003

Episode 37
January 25, 2003
Born Free and Equal

Episode 38
March 4, 2003
The Man Who Wouldn't Be King

Episode 39
April 2, 2003
Going Home

Episode 40
April 3, 2003
We the People

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