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Blog, Movies
Posted on Jul 31 2011 by Greg

Just got through watching a DVD set called The Films of Morris Engel, to re-watch one of my all-time favorites and enjoy the other two in the "series." It was also nice to share with them with my family. Engel was a renowned WWII and candid "slice of life" photographer who decided to capture the same kind of little moments of New York City life he had in his photography in a feature film (apparently despite the best advice of friends and "experts").

The resulting feature, Little Fugitive, is a powerhouse in its simple and evocative capture of '50s New York, particularly Coney Island. It went from a film nobody seemed to want to one of the most acclaimed independent films of all time, cited by Francois Truffaut as a conduit for French new wave cinema and added to the National Film Registry.

Disney connection: the film was cowritten by Raymond Abraskin, who with Jay Williams (also played the pony ride man), wrote the "Danny Dunn" books, which are credited on Son of Flubber. Also, look for Will Lee -- the beloved Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street -- as a photographer.

Engel provides a delightful, wry commentary on his landmark work, along with video features by Mary Engel, daughter of the director and his wife, Fugitive editor Ruth Orkin.

Orkin directed the "female version" of Little Fugitive, a romantic dramedy called Lovers and Lollipops. Now a grownup story is added to the antics of a small girl, the musical score is more than a solo harmonica (but still supplied by session musician and children's record artist Eddy Manson). Playing an unlikely make romantic lead is Gerald O'Loughlin, best known as the crusty but benign chief on TV's The Rookies.

Engel (and Orkin's) last feature is Weddings and Babies, the most elaborate of the three, with a bonafide star in the lead -- the luminous Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors. Playing the male lead is again an unlikely choice: John Myhers, who you've seen on dozens of movies and TV shows usually as an administrative figure, most notably in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. His performance, though not quite as adroit as Lindfors', is touching and restrained. The story takes place in Little Italy during the festival and sizzles with authenticity.

In a summer blaring with special effects extravaganzas, what a refreshing change to cool down with three unpretentious gems. Sometimes a lack of budget results in special degree of creativity and ingenuity.

Posted on Jul 16 2011 by Greg

We sat in a crowded theater to see Winnie the Pooh today and heard adults and children laughing, oohing and "aww"-ing as, for a golden hour or so, they took a breather from the clutter of the commonplace and watched a masterwork of sheer simplicity, taste and talent.

And it was funny. HA-HA funny. Seriously, more than most of today's sitcoms. The wordplay, timing, and pacing was near perfectlon.

How can you miss when the genius of John Cleese takes up where Sebastian Cabot left off, when the astonishing Jim Cummings channels Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell, when Tom Kenny -- the actor who brings TV's most absorbent fellow -- voices Rabbit and when the temptation to go for BIIIIIIG Hollywood names (of this week) was forgone in place of the best people for the voices?

And perhaps most of all, Craig Ferguson takes Owl, perhaps the least appreciated character in the Hundred Acre Wood, and makes him not just funny, but sometimes laugh-out-loud funny -- if you don't believe me, watch the "pit" scene. The crowd roared.

By the way, Ferguson has been tirelessly and proudly touting his role for months on his late-night show, appeared this week on The Tonight Show to plug it, and devoted an entire hour of his Late, Late Show to the film -- right down to guest spots for Zooey Deschanel, who sings in the film, and the aforementioned Cummings, getting a rare chance to appear in person on a mainstream TV show -- if only we could see other great voice actors afforded the same thing once in a while! Ferguson's show, which is strictly for grownups, can be seen on the CBS website.

Yeah, yeah, I know, a wizard is in almost every other theater. But allow your blood pressure to lower for a shining moment or two with Pooh and crew.

Posted on Jul 03 2011 by Greg
"Li'l Abner" the comic strip is probably unknown to younger audiences, but it was a sensation in the mid 20th century for decades and made creator Al Capp a millionaire -- a bit ironic since the strip spoofed the rich, the powerful and especially the political. Sort of The Daily Show of its day with a rural overlay.

The strip was so successful that it actually spawned a theme park, Dogpatch, U.S.A. and a hit Broadway show that was one of the few to transition to film virtually intact. The wide screen Paramount extravaganza looks great on DVD (compared to washed out prints shown by local TV stations in the '60s) and is worth revisiting or experiencing for the first time.

There are several reasons, one of them being the immensely energetic Billie Hayes as Mammy Yokum. In her TV role as Miss Witchiepoo, Hayes made Sid & Marty Krofft's Saturday Morning fantasy series "H.R Pufnstuf" a showcase of comic timing worthy of classic American vaudeville and British music hall. Her Mammy Yokum is clearly Witchiepoo's cousin -- right down to a few minutes cackling and screaming over a glowing cauldron! The colorfully whimsical Dogpatch setting itself looks like something from a Krofft show, if it had a realllly big budget, with no attempt at the typical realism of a Broadway musical that becomes a movie -- like Camelot for instance, which became extremely gritty on film.

Li'l Abner also boasts Stubby Kaye doing a variation of his Guys and Dolls character with tailor made songs, the most scathingly accurate (and still timely) "The Country's in the Very Best of Hands" with Abner himself, played by Peter Palmer. Palmer did little after "Abner" since he became so identified with the role, but you can see him as a prizefighter in one of those musical episodes of The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason.

Then there's the Amazonian splendor that is the eternal Catwoman Julie Newmar, as Stupefyin' Jones, who entrance elicits a brief cameo by an unbilled Jerry Lewis. This alone makes the movie worth a look or two or three.

Blog, People, Downloads
Posted on Jun 28 2011 by Greg

For the next several weeks on BBC Radio 4 Extra, you can stream FREE episodes of the 1980's NPR radio series Bradbury 13. These outstanding, lavishly produced half hours based on classic Ray Bradbury sci-fi/fantasy/suspense short stories.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the show is that they are narrated by the great Paul Frees -- and he even announces his own name at the end, which l have never heard before. Good stuff!

Blog, Records
Posted on Jun 27 2011 by Greg
The big news among Disney record lovers is that Disney and Intrada have launched a co-branded CD (NOT download) line -- with the classic Disneyland Records label logo. The first release is Michael Giacchino's Oscar winning score from Disney/Pixar's UP, which has never been commercially released on disc. Take a look at the cover art...

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