James Franco, Mila Kunis--and Walt Disney--journey to Oz
Posted on Jun 10 2013 by Greg
No film has ever been completely successful, financially or critically, in revisiting the Land of Oz--with that grand shadow of the 1939 classic still strong in our hearts. The fact that Oz The Great and Powerful has done so and become an international hit, is no small accomplishment.
Garland's Oz is indelibly inscribed in the popular culture, one of the greatest of all films. Rather than foolishly try to replace it in our minds, or reinvent it, Oz the Great and Powerful builds on that fondness, expands the story in a remarkably skillful way. You can literally watch this film and the other in succession and it won’t seem like a break in continuity, visually or otherwise.
There is no feeling that anyone behind the scenes of this new film had the misguided notion to make you forget what came before. You can love this movie and also still hold the MGM one in the highest regard. This is a prequel, so you can watch the ‘39 film after it and they’ll both fit together nicely.
On Blu-ray, Oz the Great and Powerful glows like the Emerald City. And though it might have seemed overlong to some in theaters, it does not seem that way in the home environment. Like MGM’s Oz, I think this film will become a home re-watching favorite.
Since Oz the Great and Powerful seems to have been a big international success, the best thing is that sequels might give us more glimpses into an Oz that has usually been only in Baum’s 14 books. More, more, more!
I would love to have heard an audio commentary by director Sam Raimi among the bonus features, but features are still in abundance, especially on the Blu-ray.
These bonus features are on the DVD and the Blu-ray:
Walt Disney and the Road to Oz
Original Mouseketeers Doreen Tracey and Bobby Burgess, along with historians Les Perkins, Howard Green and myself trace the story of the Disney connections with Oz from the ‘30s to today, particularly focusing on the film spectacular that Walt never completed: The Rainbow Road to Oz, using rare artifacts seen publicly for the first time here.
A good feature for parents of small children who might be frightened at the Wicked Witch, since this shows how they are all actors pretending and can act silly in costume.
Blu-ray Exclusive Features
Mr. Elfman’s Music Concoctions
Danny Elfman takes you through the process of scoring Oz the Great and Powerful, which he calls one of the best experiences of his career.
Another way to show children that the Witch is make believe and the lady playing her is really still a nice person.
China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief
I loved the China Girl! She had a nice Rankin/Bass and Bil Baird look, and an attitude much like our little five year old cousin Lydia. Also, the China City is one of several sections in Baum’s book that never made it to the big screen.
Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas to Oz
Production Designer Robert Stromberg shows how the film is done in classic Hollywood style with real sets and effects in addition to green screen, and most importantly, how his enthusiasm for such Disney classics as Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio and Bambi infused the look of Oz the Great and Powerful.
Other features, depending on which package you choose:
Follow Finley and the magic tricks through the entire movie with select iPads.
Using the enclosed code, you can add points to your Disney Movie Rewards and download a complimentary copy of the movie to your computer or smart phone.
"Howl" overwhelms and "Totoro" charms in new lives
Posted on Jun 02 2013 by Greg
In their new lives as Blu-ray discs, two of the all-time best Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli animated features have finally arrived. It's a celebration for those of us who couldn't wait to enjoy them in the infinite detail of high def.
1988's "My Neighbor Totoro,"
last released on DVD in 2006, is a refreshingly gentle film with compelling characters and a deceptively simple storyline. Even though it seems to amble along, there is an undercurrent of unease -- not from any genuine threat, but from a mother's illness, unexpected adventures and most of all, the treasure of childhood innocence.
Elle Fanning voices Disney's English language version of 4-year old Mei, a very real little tot who pouts as well as laughs, radiates energy one moment and slips into weary sleep the next. (Coincidentally, she is playing Aurora in the forthcoming "Maleficent.")
I have never, ever seen a realistic child depicted in an animated film quite as perfectly as Mei. She is the essence of the joy in life's simplest things. My favorite moments aren't so much the far-flung fantasy as Mei's elation at rolling on the lawn or wiggling a rotten porch post. Everything is new and potentially magical to her.
Her older sister Satsuki, voiced by real-life older sister Dakota Fanning, is approaching what the Sherman Brothers called "The Age of Not Believing," yet she still revels in the world through Mei's eyes. Her father, voiced with warmth and restraint by Tim Daly, models the fact that adulthood need not abandon childhood fascination and fancy. Providing nuanced support is Pat Carroll as Granny.
The fantasy builds in a subtle, matter-of-fact way, becoming more of a reality as the real world becomes more complex. After a while, it seems perfectly acceptable that an invisible catbus exists, even though some cannot see it. The film is as accepting of the fantastic as the children are -- no lengthy explanations or exposition -- these things are just so, that's all.
Seeing the film on Blu-ray isn't so much an exploration of dazzle as it is a new way to see the simplicity without any interference from the limits of videotape, broadcast or regular DVD. This is sweet stuff, but sweet in a good way.
In this edition, all of the bonus features are on the Blu-ray, not the DVD.Blu-ray & DVD include:
Japanese versionBlu-ray-only Bonus Features:
Original Japanese Storyboards
Creating My Neighbor Totoro
Creating the Characters
The Totoro Experience
Producers' Perspective: Creating Ghibli
The Locations of Totoro
Original Japanese Trailer
Behind the Microphone
My family especially loves watching 2004's Oscar nominated "Howl's Moving Castle"
over and over again. Second only to "Spirited Away," this is a household staple standing out in a sea of viewing options.
As adapted by Miyazaki from the book by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl (voice of Christian Bale) is a melancholy young wizard (considered a heartthrob by some of the book's fans) who lives in a castle with doors that open into completely different locales. A young boy and a fire spirit (Billy Crystal) are among his few companions.
Into his life comes Sophie (Emily Mortimer), a young haberdasher transformed into an old woman (Jean Simmons) by the selfish, corpulent Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall, voicing her second animated role). These are characters that all follow their own arcs with twists and turns aplenty.
"Howl's Moving Castle" is a spectacular viewing experience, rich in sweeping panoramas and astonishing detail, even for a Miyazaki film. You just cannot see it all in one sitting.
Pop in the Blu-ray and take a look at the scene in which Sophie enters Howl's chambers, infinitely adorned in glistening jewels, spinning objects and undulating formations. You can't even be sure how deep the space is -- seeing it in 3-D would only literalize it. Once the film was announced on Blu-ray, this is the scene I most wanted to see and it did not disappoint.Blu-ray & DVD include:
Japanese versionBlu-ray-only Bonus Feature
Original Japanese Storyboards
Blu-ray & DVD Bonus Features
Behind the Microphone
Interview with Pete Docter (coproducer of the English version with Rick Dempsey)
Hello Mr. Lassiter: Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar
TV Spots and Trailers
DVD Review: Foodfight! misfires beyond imagination
Posted on Jun 02 2013 by Greg
With the voices of: Charlie Sheen, Hilary Duff, Eva Longoria, Wayne Brady, Christopher Lloyd, Ed Asner, Chris Kattan, Larry Miller, Christine Baranski, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Lawrence Kasanoff
But it's too easy to take a production like Foodfight!
and lob snarky comments at it. Okay, just one. The characters in this film over-move, like Ed Grimley on that Saturday Night Live
sketch when he found out he was going to meet Pat Sajak.
Snark is too easy. Figuring out how it happened is almost unfathomable. Let's start with the premise, which is something like those Warner cartoons in which a grocery store came to life after hours and the products sang and danced on the shelves.
In this case, the aisles become like multi-national city streets. The lead character (voiced by Charlie Sheen either within a very short one-take recording session or deliberately to sound cool and detached) is a cross between Indiana Jones and McGruff the Crime Dog.
All of the primary characters are fictional product icons, while a procession of actual food and grocery item characters, including Mister Clean, Charlie the Tuna and Mrs. Butterworth make cameos. Endless images of real logos and packages make appearances throughout. Perhaps the idea was to have the product placement cover the budget.
But the budget and the whole production were apparently a total bust. The film was eventually put up for auction and got a limited release overseas, even though it was finished in 2003.
Much of it doesn't even look finished -- characters and objects shake, overlap and often don't look anchored in their settings. The characters don't seem in scale with each other, nor from scene to scene.
The creepy villains look grotesque, but so do some of the "nice" characters -- like the evil Mister X and the grocery store manager. Even the copyrighted characters are mere shadows of their former selves as we saw them in commercials. All seem made of PVC and have eyes like marbles.
There are moments in which one might glimpse at what could have been. The premise is kind of clever and there are some amusing moments, like an army of ketchup tanks, along with some spectacular graphics of the cityscape. The concrete objects far exceed the "living ones" in design and execution.
But the script is splattered with lines like "What the fudge!" "You cold-farted itch!" and famous tag lines that might have worked if used more judiciously. And you can look forward to flatulence and a long-playing belch.
I don't like to dump on movie misfires when they're often the product of hard work by good people. And some of these films are fascinating, even likable, despite how the don't, or didn't, work. Often there's more to learn from misses than from hits.
The credits for Foodfight!
include some of the best talent in the business. I cannot imagine everyone who was brought into this project had any idea what might have been going on behind the scenes, nor how the "final" film would turn out.
The DVD itself, with a picture image showing quite a bit of contrast, does not include any bonus features, except for some trailers -- including one for Top Cat - The Movie
In a world we pass through every day yet seldom notice...
Posted on Apr 23 2013 by Greg
"Life depends on little things we take for granted." This opening title sets the stage for another of those jewels of natural filmmaking in the Disneynature
series -- a series that deserves all the attention of tentpole blockbusters but are released quietly on Blu-ray/DVD and perhaps in a few theaters.
The latest is called Wings of Life
, a title that barely encompasses the depth of what you experience in this brilliant film, shot in razor-sharp clarity, even when capturing microscopic miracles.
The title implies birds, but the story is about insects and flowers. Narrator Meryl Streep
's words are those of the plants, trees and flowers, explaining in first person how they all interact with each other.
"One might imagine that the most important life forms are large or flashy or smart," narrates Streep, "But it is love among the little things that runs the vast machinery of life." How true this is. (read my review of Lincoln for this same concept on a human level, as applied to the muckety-mucks and the folks in the trenches).
From bees to bats, hummingbirds to beetles (Paul is the cute one), the creatures are part of a spectacular spectrum of survival, balance and innate skill.
To me, the stars of the film are butterflies. There is one sequence in which what appears to be milliions of butterflies burst from trees and settle in the grasses. It must be seen to be believed.
None of this is done with CG or special effects, yet it is every bit as astonishing as a megablockbuster movie -- albeit with a soothing, ethereal tone, due in no small part to Streep, whose superb narration comes as no surprise to those of us who love her recording of The Velveteen Rabbit
with pianist/composer George Winston
No extras to speak of, unfortunately, since seeing how this was filmed would be fascinating. No matter, the color and majesty makes Wings of Life
like a naturalistic Fantasia.
One of The Most Unique Animated Features of Recent Years
Posted on Apr 16 2013 by Greg
I have to admit that I didn't know what to expect from A Monster in Paris, a French production that combines story elements from The Phantom of the Opera, Hugo, Frankenstein, King Kong, Moulin Rouge and La Vie En Rose. If that sounds like a mixed bag, it is, but somehow director Bergeron and screenwriter StΓ©phane Kazandjian make it work.
Even though the film recalls to mind some other works, it is one of the most unique animated features of recent years because it doesn't conform to the most common formulas, except perhaps after the leading lady (voiced by Johnny Depp's ex-partner, Vanessa Paradis) discovers the true nature of the monster -- and at one point, she says almost exactly the same thing Belle did to Gaston about who the real monster was.
What sets it apart is the delightfully odd character design, ranging from broad caricature to an almost Rankin/Bass look. More than that, this is not your garden variety musical film. There are very few songs, in fact, and most originate on a stage setting. But Sean Lennon, who voices the creature, sings some very unconventional songs (as does Ms. Paradis) that are hard to describe unless you hear them -- Danny Elfman but not as dark, The Beatles but softer, Edith Piaf without suicidal tendencies. The most conventional pop song comes at the end, perhaps the one designed for airplay as so many such songs are.
The music, like the dialogue, doesn't always stay true to the early 20th century French style so meticulously rendered in the visuals. Perhaps that was intentional too, as the story transcends its time and could have happened today as well as yesterday.
Before I get to the other characters, I have to mention Catherine, who is a rickety delivery truck so dilapidated it can't decide which way to fall. Catherine isn't anthropomorphic, yet she steals the scenes in which she rattles along. She is driven by insufferably narcissistic Raoul (actor/musician Adam Goldberg), with his shy assistant, the film-loving Emile (Jay Harrington of Hot in Cleveland).
The film does not rely on star voices. The most recognizable names in the cast are solid featured actors like Catherine O'Hara, Bob Balaban and John Huston's son Danny.
The Blu-ray looks marvelous, capturing both the color and the grime of urban Paris, and though released in 3-D it holds up well without it, as there aren't a lot of scenes dependent on it.
Sure would have been nice to have lots of bonus features, even if they had subtitles, as the Ghibli discs have. It is an artistically rich film and seeing a gallery might have been nice. There doesn't even seem to be a French language option. But budgets are an issue today, and it's nice to have the film anyway.
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