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DVD REVIEW: Rodgers & Hammerstein's CINDERELLA starring Lesley Ann Warren
Blog, TV, People, Music
Posted on Oct 24 2014 by Greg

There is no shortage of great performances of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s only musical created for television. Of course, there is the original 1957 CBS live telecast starring Julie Andrews, the recent Broadway show, a British panto starring Tommy Steele, a touring production with Eartha Kitt and the 1997 version starring Brandy and Whitney Houston.

Each version has its own special magic, but the 1965 version (now in its 30th anniversary year) starring Lesley Ann Warren has the distinction of being smack in the middle of an era spangled with full-color, escapist entertainment still dear to baby boomers. Premiering on February 22, 1965, the CBS special came along just as musicals—like Mary Poppins—seemed to be having a resurgence in Hollywood, and before such programming became passι in the minds of many.

Pat Carroll, who became legendary as the voice of The Little Mermaid’s Ursula (and the original Mother Magoo), was an oft-welcomed presence on series TV, game and talk shows. In this production, Carroll played one of the stepsisters. The other sister was played by Barbara Ruick, who appeared as Carrie (“Mr. Snow”) Pepperidge in the movie version of Carousel. Ruick was the wife of composer John Williams, who among other projects at the time, was scoring episodes of Gilligan’s Island and Lost in Space (and that's not a diss -- his work elevated both shows). Sadly, Ruick passed away in 1972, before she could experience Williams’ colossal success with Star Wars and his other sweeping movie scores. Oscar and Tony winner Jo Van Fleet (East of Eden), properly snooty as the Stepmother, gives the suitable impression that she constantly smells  some very strong cheese.

R&H favorite Celeste Holm played the traditional fairy Godmother in 1965, in contrast to Edie Adams’ sassy fairy in the 1957 show. And the Prince was Stuart Damon, later to play Alan Quartermain on General Hospital (which included a “prince” nod in at least one script, maybe more). Damon reveals in the bonus documentary (from the previous DVD release) that Jack Jones dropped out of the show as the Prince, so he filled in at the last moment and it was a "Cinderella story" for him.

The production values, as far as the imaginative sets and costumes, is magnificent, but because TV was still relatively young, this videotaped production has some special effects that would make Electra Woman and Dynagirl sneer, especially the flying horses (from a Marx "Best of the West" playset?) and the final materialization of Holm, whose chroma-key glitch gives her have a "Max Headroom" spell.

No matter, the show is still first class and one of TV's all-time best, made back in a time when musical variety was still a major force. And the Columbia/Sony cast album is excellent, too, with a few bonus tracks on the CD/download and a great overture created just for the record by conductor Johnny Green.








BLU-RAY REVIEW: Million Dollar Arm with Jon Hamm
Blog, Movies, TV, People
Posted on Oct 24 2014 by Greg


"Million Dollar Arm," aka "The Jon Hamm Movie" is the "Mad Men" star's debut as a big-screen lead, so the whys and wherefores of the film are as interesting to ponder as the movie itself.

Of course, this being a Disney sports film, the ending is as clear as Cinderella's glass slipper. The attraction is journey to the goal. In this case, Hamm plays a narcissistic, deal-driven but down on his luck sports promoter who gets the idea that Cricket players from India might have the potential to be star baseball players.

This raises a lot of issues, some covered in the film and some not. There is a stark contrast between the jaded, wealthy American star players who are just as manipulative as Hamm's character, and the naive, trusting Indian newbies who are overawed by elevators and such.

But isn't Hamm (sorry, but it IS a vehicle for him) also exploiting this difference? Yes, and the film points that out, as well as his dismissive attitude towards the young men he has relocated and then left on their own. They see him as a father figure, he sees them as commodities. But what is not really addressed is that he is also outsourcing; he still yearns for the American star player but the Indians will do until his dream player comes along.



SPOILER • SPOILER • SPOILER • SPOILER • SPOILER

Of course, Hamm learns a lesson because this is a Disney movie. The pure, genuine warmth and integrity of these young men change him. Had this been a Judd Apatow movie, it would have been the other way around. Good gravy Marie -- they actually think he should marry his attractive neighbor! Don't they know this is America and we're free to be you and us? Sakes alive!

Anyway, Hamm does a fine job but is really not allowed to stretch as an actor -- and as his Saturday Night Live appearances have proven, he has a lot more to give. But this is an ingenious way to reach the big screen because it's a low-budget, low-risk endeavor, unlikely to dent his aspirations in a way that a tentpole movie debut would. It proves that he can carry a movie, but it will be interesting to see if he gets another shot at a big screen role that is more than "Don Draper-light."







BLU-RAY REVIEW: Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty (Diamond Edition)
Blog
Posted on Oct 22 2014 by Greg


Sleeping Beauty is a landmark film in Disney history. Beyond its bold, distinctive look, which has already received due praise and discussion, it came along when Walt Disney Productions had fully transformed from primarily a movie-making studio to a multi-faceted company with its own theme park, publishing, record labels and other interests that interwove each other in a process Roy Disney called "cross-pollination" but today we call synergy.

During its six-year production period leading to its much-heralded release in 1959, fourteen different recording releases (one featuring Broadway star Mary Martin and another with Mouseketeer Darlene Gillespie), countless comics, coloring books, toys and other merchandise, and perhaps most significantly, promoted on television from Walt's very first Disneyland show in 1954 to the Mickey Mouse Club.

While these elements existed for Disney in one form or another before Sleeping Beauty, never before had they been so homegrown.

Sleeping Beauty was not the success Walt had hoped for in its initial release, but it was reissued to theaters and became ubiquitous on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray (this edition is the second Blu-ray). It's status as a Disney Princess film makes it part of the pantheon of pix for kids.



But it's also a treat for adults, especially those who appreciate just how difficult this film was to make. The rich detail is well suited to home watching, as one can pause or go back to see some of the breathtaking artwork if desired. And with high-def, large screen screens, the film has really found a good home at your home.

The only thing to note about this release is that, while it has a few new bonus features, there are fewer included than on the 2008 Blu-ray -- and there are also several that did not make it from the 2003 DVD. If you still have those and you love such things (like me), save them (like me). If these kind of things are not a big deal, you've still got one of the most satisfactory Blu-ray transfer of any film.

For more details about the transfer and previous bonus features, take a look at this article.








DVD REVIEW: The Best of The Danny Kaye Show
Blog, Reviews, TV, People, Music, Books
Posted on Oct 14 2014 by Greg


THE DANNY KAYE SHOW isn't good. THE DANNY KAYE SHOW is great. It has a firm place in classic TV comedy/variety between YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS and THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW.

And it is Burnett Show that bears such a close kinship with the Kaye show, both of which were taped at Television City at CBS in Hollywood, likely on the same stage. Kaye's show ended just as Burnett's began. And both featured Harvey Korman.

So much of this is priceless treasure: Rod Serling sending up his own TWILIGHT ZONE series, which was on the air at the time; Art Carney is top form playing comedy against Kaye--as does the underappreciated Alan Young--creating a chemistry not found anywhere else.

Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Michele Lee, Nana Mouskori, John Gary and more. These are both revered names and also names that should be celebrated today. You'll see why.

And you get more of the purest form of Danny Kaye's talent, a quality never fully realized on the movie screen. It's simply Kaye sitting down and speaking to the home and studio audience as if each were an individual to him. The elegance of his hand gestures, the intent eye contact, the melodious voice. Like the image of Hans Christian Andersen he portrayed, Kaye was more than anything a true storyteller.

You'll also want to look into the other two fine Kaye DVD collections:
Christmas with Danny Kaye
The Best of Danny Kaye - The Television Years

and David Koenig's superb book: Danny Kaye, King of Jesters, for a full account of all his TV episodes, films and shows.



GUESTS
• Gene Kelly
• Rod Serling
• Liza Minnelli
• Michele Lee
• Art Carney
• Alan Young
• Jackie Cooper
• Harry Belafonte
• Ella Fitzgerald
• Nana Mouskouri
• John Gary
• Buddy Greco
• Jack Benny (cameo)
• Sergio Mendes and the Brasil '66

REGULARS include: Harvey Korman, Joyce Van Patten, Jackie Joseph, The Clinger Sisters, Tony Charmoli Dancers, The Earl Brown Singers, Paul Weston and His Orchestra

WRITERS: Mel Tolkin, Paul Mazursky, Larry Tucker, Saul Ilson Ernest Chambers Herb Baker, Sheldon Keller, Billy Barnes

SONGS

DANNY KAYE
• Consider Yourself
• You Make Me Feel So Young
• I Like the Likes of You
• Do You Ever Think of Me
• Pavlova
• Pennies from Heaven
• A Fellow Needs a Girl

DANNY KAYE AND GUEST STARS
• It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing (with Ella Fitzgerald and Buddy Greco)
• Mood Indigo (with Ella Fitzgerald and Buddy Greco)
• We Like Each Other (with Ella Fitzgerald and Buddy Greco)
• By Myself (with Michele Lee)
• Just an Honest Mistake (with Alan Young and John Gary)
• Let's Talk it Over (with Liza Minnelli)
• Ballin' the Jack (with Gene Kelly)
• Who Will Buy? (with Harry Belafonte)
• Mama Look at Bubu
• Hava Nagila (with Harry Belafonte)
• Opa Ni Na Nai (with Harry Belafonte and Nana Mouskouri)
• You'll Never Get Away (with Michele Lee)
• Side by Side (with The Clinger Sisters)
• Cherry Pies Ought to Be You (with Lovelady Powell)
• Medley (with Gene Kelly): I Could Write a Book / New York,
  New York / Long Ago and Far Away / 'S Wonderful / Singin' in
  the Rain

ELLA FITZGERALD
• Moment of Truth
• Body and Soul

HARRY BELAFONTE
• Raindrops
• Walk On

LIZA MINNELLI
• Maybe This Time
• For Every Man There's a Woman

NANA MOUSKOURI
• Telalima

MICHELE LEE
• I Could Write a Book

JOHN GARY
• The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
• Hawaiian Wedding Song

BUDDY GRECO
• Charade
• Satin Doll

LOVELADY POWELL
• Bye Bye Blackbird

JOE & EDDIE
• Children, Go Where I Send Thee

SERGIO MENDES AND THE BRASIL '66
• Goin' Out of My Head







DVD REVIEW: Witch's Night Out
Blog, Reviews, TV, People
Posted on Oct 14 2014 by Greg
Gilda Radner voices a bizarre, eccentric old witch in this Canadian production that aired in on NBC in 1978 and later in syndication.

If you're familiar with the artist-driven, independent-style animated films of SESAME STREET, this is a nostalgic throwback to the kind of free-form cartoon style prevalent in the '70s. The characters are usually painted in one color (kind of like Colorforms kits), in a wide range of imaginative countenances.

I seem to remember at least one other special from Leach/Rankin Productions, with some of the same designs and character names (how could I forget Bazooey?). The "Rankin" in this case is not Arthur Rankin of iconic holiday special company Rankin/Bass, but animator Isobel Jean Rankin, who co-wrote the film with partner John Leach.



Mill Creek also included a video comic book version of the story plus a handful of Halloween-themed cartoons to round out the package:

Casper the Friendly Ghost:
• There's Good Boos To-Night 12/23/48
• The Friendly Ghost (Casper's Debut) 11/16/45
• Boo Moon (Originally in 3-D) 12/1/54

Felix the Cat (Original Theatrical Version)
• Skulls & Sculls (1930)

Hoppity Hooper / Uncle Waldo Show (Jay Ward)
• Ring a Ding Spring (9/12/64)

Space Angel (Synchro-Vox TV Series)
• The Ghost & Crystal Mace (All Five Parts / 1964)

Popeye
• Spooky Swabs 8/9/57

The New Three Stooges (Cartoon with Live Action Segments)
• Mummies Boys (1965)

Walter Lantz's Meany, Miny & Moe
• House of Magic 3/8/37









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