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EVERYBODY'S FINE...except me, I'm a little verklempt
Blog, Movies
Posted on Feb 16 2010 by Greg
Everybody's Fine is a "people" movie, a study of characters -- both central and peripheral. It's a drama with some comedic elements, heavy on emotion but low on over-the-top histrionics. And depending on where it might hit you in your own life, it can be a real tearjerker, in that good way that makes you think about the important things and discuss them with the important people in your life.

Robert DeNiro gives an understated performance as a father who would not or could not realize he was expressing lifelong disappointment with his children if they were less than "the best." They had spent years hiding any flaws from him and sharing their struggles only with their mother, who had passed several months earlier.

Their stories come together as he travels the country to reconnect. Along the way, British director Kirk Wise (Waking Ned, Nanny McPhee) presents snapshots of interesting characters and fascinating faces, both genial and malevolent.

The part that touched my wife and me most was the technique using children to speak for their grownup counterparts in key sections of the film. DeNiro's character still sees them as school age kids and, through his reveries, so do we. It's not a new technique but it seems to work effectively here and often hits hard in ways that standard confrontational scenes could not. Since our kids are school age and we have parents we want to please too, it made my wife and I think about our own parent/child relationships.

One of the messages of the movie seems to be that it's not too late to pick up the pieces, but you can suffer great losses if you get too distracted and wait too long -- and we all need to take a breath and be more accepting of one another's choices. It's not so much that we should "settle" but rather that there are better ways to measure true success.

My only criticism of the DVD is that there is NO AUDIO COMMENTARY. There are a few extended scenes and a short look at Paul McCartney's involvement in creating a song for the film. A commentary was sorely missed.

Posted on Feb 08 2010 by Greg

All these great radio programs (and more) are available free from seven BBC Radio stations to hear on your computer, any time of day, for seven days after they first air!

Open Sesame
A one hour documentary celebrating 40 years of one of the most influential TV programs of all time, with audio clips
 of Jim Henson, Richard Pryor, Ray Charles
and President Barack Obama.
The entire program is available here now and also for the next 5 days.

Around the World in Eighty Days
A four-part dramatization of the Jules Verne adventure, which of course was the subject of the Oscar-winning 1957 film.
Episode 1 is available here now and also for the next 5 days.

In the Chair
Hugh Laurie (TV's "House") is among the cast -- as Prime Minister "Kenny" -- in this wry political murder mystery satire.
Episode 2 is available here now and also for the next 5 days.

Boogie Up The River

Timothy Spall (Harry Potter, Enchanted) stars in this odd series about a man and the annoying, troublesome dog he loves.
Episode 2 is available here now and also for the next 6 days.

Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel
More Chico & Groucho Marx Brothers comedy recreated
 from 1930's sitcom scripts.
Episode 1 is available here now and also for the next 3 days.

(NOTE: Some BBC radio programs contain mature subject matter and historic material of a politically incorrect nature.)

Return to an era of big, glitzy family TV specials
Posted on Feb 05 2010 by Greg
There were two "Alice" specials in 1966: the hip Hanna-Barbera "What's a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?" and the more traditional, Hollywood Palace-style "Alice Through the Looking Glass."

I'm hoping the release of the new "Alice" feature this year inspires the H-B special to be at last released to DVD, but this Tuesday, the "Looking Glass" special is finally going to be available (up until now it was a budget VHS).

This glitzy special, which was rebroadcast on Thanksgiving Day, 1972, after star Judi Rolin appeared in the Macy's parade, features an all-star musical variety cast including Agnes Moorehead, Ricardo Montalbán, Nanette Fabray, Jack Palance, The Smothers Brothers, Jimmy Durante, Broadway's Robert Coote (Camelot), London's Roy Castle (Singin' in the Rain) and great character actors like Iris Adrian and Jackie Joseph. Alice father is played by Richard Denning, who played Lucille Ball's spouse on radio's "My Favorite Husband" and lost Deborah Kerr to Cary Grant in the movie "Affair to Remember."

The score was released on RCA Records on vinyl. The Emmy-winning costumes were co-created by Bob Mackie. Moose Charlap, who wrote most of the music for the Broadway "Peter Pan," did the same for this. The score includes the "Backwards Alphabet," which was also recorded as a single by Soupy Sales.

It's a little corny and cheesy by today's jaded, cynical standards, but a feast for the eyes and ears as well as a time capsule of legendary talents of the 20th century.

And what happened to 20-year-old Judi Rolin, who played Alice? She did some other TV, including a soap opera, but is now apparently a realtor in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 23 2009 by Greg

When I was little I had a really scary nightmare about the washing machine and other home appliances coming to life and threatening the well being of my loved ones and me. Clearly I was watching too many weird Betty Boop cartoons in which everything is alive and sometimes creepy.

Anyway, I bring this dark secret to light because in G-Force, a coffee machine -- which normally is something I like and admire -- becomes a terrifying creature. Fortunately, the hamsters save the day. Whew!

We live in a wondrous age where computers can make it seem like cute hamsters can conquer evil and do it with some attitude. G-Force is clearly a franchise in the making, aimed squarely at popcorn-munching kids. My ten-year-old thought it was just fine.

While Nicolas Cage worked on his finances by providing the voice of a mole and other celebrities also voiced various critters, including Penelope Cruz, Jon Favreau, Sam Rockwell and Steve Buscemi, this was Tracy Morgan's show all the way. And speaking of shows, hearing his performance put me very much in the mind of Saturday Morning TV shows of the 1970's. Morgan would be right at home doing voices for Hanna-Barbera, Filmation or Sid & Marty Krofft. When Hong Kong Phooey is inevitably made into a big-budget theatrical movie, look no further for the lead role.

Okay, I'm done being snarky. G-Force is a solid kid's adventure that's perfect for weekend afternoons. And it's not slapped together thoughtlessly, either. There is an interesting audio commentary from director Hoyt H. Yeatman, Jr., a special effects veteran whose career includes Star Trek The Motion Picture, E.T. and Close Encounters. His comments can get pretty techie, too, when he mentions equipment by name and model number.

The Blu-Ray/DVD combo includes the commentary, deleted scenes, "bloopers," "Blaster's Boot Camp" and "G-Force Mastermind: The Inspiration Behind the Movie," there are three features that can only be accessed on the Blu-Ray, which is packaged with the DVD and a digital copy in the "Best Value" set.

Posted on Dec 02 2009 by Greg
The rabbit hole sequence in Walt Disney's 1951 Alice in Wonderland is perhaps the best  depiction of the way Carroll describes it. It's more than a dirty, viney hole -- it's erratically furnished with impossible shelves and fixtures. Even the music, which is bascially sustained, swirling  effects, is highly unique for its period.

I have seen many many Alice versions and they usually shoot her through the rabbit hole in a few seconds. Walt and the artists understood that the rabbit hole was the very essence of Wonderland's fantasy: a long tunnel that goes down to a place where there are blue skies and spotted skies, thanks to Mary Blair.

I'm looking forward to going down the 2010 rabbit hole in IMAX and 3-D, but to dismiss the Walt Disney 1951 version, as Mr. Burton has, artistically is to miss so very much of the point and focus only on the hype. The reason there are so many versions is that Lewis Carroll's books are the most unattainable by filmmakers. How do you realize a dream state in concrete terms?  There are no end to the ways, and that's why there will always be many Wonderlands.

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