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Blog, TV
Posted on Sep 14 2010 by Greg
My kids and I get a kick out of how things are promoted and advertised, especially on TV. My wife and I are big on media literacy, since kids are exposed to advertising almost as soon as they're born.

Anyway, whenever a sequel to something approaches, the marketing department types tend to force "points" into things whether they fit or not. In the case of Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, their "strategy" was to make it clear that the second film is bigger and better. It's not exactly groundbreaking thinking, but you hear it all the time. So for the last several months Disney Channel has been having their stars tells us how this new Camp Rock is "so much more (insert word here)." My kids laugh at this because of how it infers that that original is somehow inferior.

Of course, that's what advertising types must do -- always go for the new and improved. Curiously, Camp Rock 2 seemed to me to be better than the first film -- but not so to my kids.

I liked the big, exuberant musical numbers. Clearly this film feels the influence of past phenoms like High School Musical and Glee. There's a lot more highly choreographed set pieces here and it's great stuff if you like MGM musicals and Annette movies, which of course I do. The songs are more classic Hollywood "out of nowhere" than in the first film, where they were confined primarily to onstage settings.

My kids like musicals too, but they were missing the gentle, simple story of the first Camp Rock. It was basically a cross between Cinderella (a prince seeking a voice rather than a shoe) and the Mickey Mouse Club "Annette" serial (mean girl accuses nice girl of stealing).

The new movie really is bigger. All three Jonas Brothers have key roles this time around, with the most endearing song sung by Nick. Daniel Fathers as the camp leader is more of a plot focus also, as he competes with a rival camp led by an old rock rival (played by Daniel Kash, an actor whom we were sure was related to Tony Shalhoub in look and voice and still, we think, must be a distant cousin).

Therein may have been what lost my daughter in particular. The story was about ambition and business rather than boy meets girl -- or at least the romance took a backseat to the main plot. Don't get me wrong -- she likes the film and watched it again but prefers the first one.

The one thing we all agree on is the talent and likability of the star, Demi Lovato. She had to carry the first film on her shoulders and delivers a strong presence and performance again. She has a Sally Field quality and we hope she takes her life and career in the best possible dircctions. She's the real deal and we wish her well in the mine field of being a young star in show business.

The DVD does not offer more than a sing along (excuse me, a "rock along") option. The Blu-Ray disc also includes interviews.

Posted on Sep 03 2010 by Greg
It doesn't star Robert Downey Jr., so it's not making big headlines, but Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes deserves more attention, one reason being that it actually comes across much better than you might expect when you first hear the title.

First of all, the idea of the battling cat and mouse living in the home of a noted human harkens back to classic MGM theatrical cartoons, like Johann Mouse, in which Jerry danced to the music of Strauss. In this DVD feature, the duo are Baker Street co-residents and provide slapstick shtick in the course of a Victorian London mystery.

Say what you will about revivals of vintage cartoon characters, the issue is really whether the people behind the scenes care about the heritage and emotional value of the characters enough to make them appeal to young audiences but not forget the fans that made them beloved in the first place.

This film succeeds because the talent did indeed care. Veteran writer and acclaimed animation historian Earl Kress brought his expertise to the script, adding nods for fans and blending in Droopy and other great but not as well-known MGM characters such as Spike, Tuffy and Butch. The Tex Avery cartoon Red Hot Riding Hood is celebrated not only by including the libidinous Wolf but by making Red a major character in the story.

Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts will also get a chuckle out of the name of a character: "Brett Jeremy," a reference to Jeremy Brett, who is one of the definitive actors to play Holmes along with Basil Rathbone. And speaking of actors, Michael York is superb as the animated Holmes, with Malcolm McDowell as Moriarity and John Rhys-Davies as Watson. Voice actors include Jess Harnell, Jeff Bergman, Grey Delisle and, doing a particularly accurate Tuffy voice, Kath Soucie.

And, as it should be, Tom and Jerry do not speak in the classic tradition of the original cartoons, all of which were directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera and won seven Oscars.

Posted on Aug 14 2010 by Greg
Top Ten Favorite Classic TV Shows of All Time (not necessarily in order of faveness)

Mickey Mouse Club
The original series redefined children's TV, taking it to a more polished studio-produced level and, after Rick Nelson helped initiate TV's teen pop star phenomenon. Honorable mention: Sesame Street, The Electric Company.

Sophisticated, charming and sparkling in ways for which is deserves more acclaim, no other series captured fantasy or enchantment like this series or its star, though Jeannie came close in a decidedly more farcical way.

I Love Lucy
Still the blueprint of all great three-camera, audience TV sitcoms. Worthy inspirations: Laverne & Shirley, The Mothers-in-Law.

The Flintstones
Hanna-Barbera's first half hour and TV's first prime time animated series with characters you could care about. Derivative of The Honeymooners but takes it to a completely different dimension. Love The Jetsons, too, which predicted more about modern life than Nostradamus.

H.R. Pufnstuf
Nothing else like it on TV before; nothing else quite came close to its magic since. The ultimate fantasy/musical/vaudeville/comedy extravaganza.

The Archie Show
If for nothing else than making it possible for Ron Dante and company to hit the number one spot for the year of 1969 with "Sugar, Sugar," this series reignited the venerable comic series and made cartoon pop hotter than it would ever be again.

The Honeymooners
Every character and almost every life experience Jackie Gleason had rolled into one, an almost operatic comedy/tragedy of circumstances and self-issues as well as Art Carney's ability to make even a single word incredibly funny.

The Flying Nun
Who hasn't dreamed they could fly? Attention critics and snarkers: get over the first-glance silliness of the premise and see how adroitly a skilled cast, good writing and even some catchy songs made this series soar. A personal favorite from childhood that holds up very well, thank you.

The Alvin Show
Actor/songwriter Ross Bagdasarian gave three speeded-up voices distinct personalities and, as David Seville, launched a franchise that is still going strong decades after his untimely passing. This series used the style of UPA to redesign the original characters and really set the stage for their media dominance in the ensuing years. I love Rocky & Bullwinkle too, but the music gives the Chipmunks a paw up.

The Dick Van Dyke Show
A celebration of the sheer joy of life, creativity, possibilities and talent.

I posted this on a Facebook group called the Classic TV Preservation Society.

Blog, Movies
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 again.

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!

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