PICK THIS ONE -- IT'S A PLUM!
Posted on Aug 10 2010 by Greg
(I used "plum" because "peach" would have been too obvious.)
There is a handful of Disney productions that I feel are underrated and James and the Giant Peach
falls into that category. Not as edgy as The Nightmare Before Christmas
, not as flashy as action/fantasies of its era, yet not conventional to be easily categorized, James
is a gem with a gentle sweetness (ooh, another peach pun) and unabashed stylization that makes it stand on it own as a unrecognized classic.
An early Roald Dahl
work with less of the bitter taste (sorry!) that characterized his adult fiction and crept into his children's books too (don't get me wrong, I love Dahl's work, but it's pretty tough stuff), James and the Giant Peach
is about a tortured youth (a Dahl trademark) who embarks on a magical journey with an unlikely team of garden creatures who have anthropomorphosized into talking friends).
The film, done with the cooperation of Dahl family members, is probably the most faithful visualization of his books, created with the artistry of Lane Smith
, whose books are also distinctive. Smith illustrated a special tie-in edition of James when the film was released, and along with a "making of" book by Lucy Dahl
, were among the sparse merchandise offerings connected with the film.
It's a musical of sorts, with some fine work by Randy Newman
, particularly the touching "My Name is James" and the showpiece "A Family," in which we hear Richard Dreyfuss
, Susan Sarandon
and Jane Leeves
, all giving spirited performances.
The live action segments are deliberately designed to be cartoonlike with no attempt at the gritty realism that took the enchantment out, in my opinion, movies like Hook
and Return to Oz
. It's a throwback to early fantasy cinema, and perhaps why it was not enthusiastically promoted nor received in its day.James and the Giant Peach
was released on DVD once before, sadly without a commentary. There's still none on this new edition, but a new game has been added to the Blu-Ray disc. Most of the other features remain, but the gallery feature has been moved exclusively to the Blu-Ray.
This is a highly recommended, old-fashioned family fantasy with all the classic elements and some astonishingly detailed stop motion. Director Henry Selick
moved on to the impressive Coraline
from here, and is now reportedly back at Disney. It will be nice to see if he creates a sparkling treasure along the lines of James and the Giant Peach
BABULU AND TRON, TOO!
Posted on Aug 07 2010 by Greg
If Tron walked up to Joan Rivers
on the red carpet and she asked, "Who are you wearing?" he might say, "Elois Jenssen
." And if you memorized all those I Love Lucy
end credits over that satin heart, you might have noticed that the Oscar-winning costume designer for Lucy and the Mertzes was the same artist for the groundbreaking Disney fantasy.
Ms. Jenssen won the Oscar for 1949's Samson and Delilah
and was personally hired by Desi Arnaz
for the also-groundbreaking 1951 sitcom. Her Tron
work earned her another Oscar nomination and a Saturn Award win.
Elois Jenssen passed away in 2004 but when you see this year's highly anticipated Tron Legacy
, you'll nonetheless see costumes that drew from the originals -- outfits from the same person who put Lucille Ball into everything from a Carmen Miranda
getup to a stylish "Parisian" burlap sack. Waaaaaaaa!
RON DANTE OF "THE ARCHIES" TONIGHT IN BAND ON LETTERMAN'S SHOW
Posted on Jul 28 2010 by Greg
The lead singer (and much of the background voices) behind The Archies
(whose "Sugar, Sugar" edged out "Hey Jude" for the number one song of 1969), the vocals behind "I'm a Pepper, You're a Pepper," "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," Applebys and hundreds of other commercials, as well as recording and Broadway show producer Ron Dante
will be sitting in with Paul Shaffer
and his band tonight on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Ron's appearance for the show in The Ed Sullivan
Theater is a return, in a way, because The Archies appeared on a Sullivan show once. I remember sitting through most of the show, eagerly anticipating seeing the voices behind the hit songs -- then Sullivan introduced a "special treat for the youngsters" and then came a clip of "The Bubble Gum" dance and "Bang Shang-A-Lang" from Filmation's animated The Archie Show
Ron has just released this new album of all-time great rock and pop hits called Favorites
(with backup from such music notables as Peter Noone
and Andy Kim
) -- and Disney fans can also hear Ron singing "That's How You Know" from Enchanted
on the new Disney Happily Ever After
DAVE IN WONDERLAND
Posted on Jul 27 2010 by Greg
Last Wednesday on Late Show with David Letterman
, among the show's highlights was Bill Murray
going for a swim in a New York dumpster. But the highlight for me was the song Paul Shaffer and the band played right after "The Top 10 Things Overheard on Lindsay Lohan
's First Night in Prison." They briefly played and sang, "What's a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?" from the 1966 Hanna-Barbera Alice in Wonderland
TV special. Cool!
YOURS, MINE AND THE BEAVER'S
Posted on Jul 24 2010 by Greg
They were on sale at Big Lots, so we got DVDs of two remakes.
One was the newer version of Yours, Mine and Ours
that recast Lucille Ball
and Henry Fonda
with Rene Russo
and Dennis Quaid
. Ironically, even though the 1968 version starred two iconic legends, the remake seemed more farfetched and broad.
Dennis Quaid played a higher ranking officer who still had plenty of time for his kids and Rene Russo appeared as a quintessential successful businesswoman who also balanced a lot of time bonding with her kids and a talking stick -- and looked fantabulous.
In the original, Henry Fonda played a career military man who had little time for his family until his wife's death forced him to get to know his somewhat resentful children and Lucille Ball played a military nurse. So much for the "phoney, fakey Hollywood" of yesterday as opposed to the "more relatable, honest Hollywood" of today.
That said, even though it did not compare favorably overall to the original, the new Yours Mine and Ours
The 1997 remake of Leave it to Beaver, now largely forgotten while the original series lives on, was just okay. Clearly produced under conflicting circumstances, there was a lot of valiant effort to reproduce the wit of the series. Everyone tried hard, but it felt that, behind the scenes of the film, there was a "classic" camp and a "contemporary' camp at work, very much at odds with each other.
The film went for a retro look, right down to the title in cement, Wally and Beaver walking home over the end credits, vintage cars and June Cleaver's dresses (which were kind of a caricature here), while there was lots of language that you just wouldn't hear in the Cleaver household. It's as if it was forced in, and maybe it was. There was a talented cast, but just not making the magic -- and how can you -- of the marvelous original.
It sure is hard to capture lightning in a bottle -- again and again.
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