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Blu-ray Review: Pixar's "The Good Dinosaur"
Blog, Reviews, Movies
Posted on Mar 15 2016 by Greg

“This is probably one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in my life, probably the toughest gig I’ve ever had,” says The Good Dinosaur director Peter Sohn on the Blu-ray Audio Commentary. “I can’t tell you how my journey on this thing has completely paralleled Arlo and his fears, not having a lot of confidence. I remember jumping into this thing, being terrified of this, trying to make a movie and my confidence levels dropped down like a million, but… like Arlo and the characters that he meets—and the T-rexes and Spot—you guys have been that ‘Spot’ for me, where you have helped me. And I can’t thank you guys enough in terms of giving me that strength and confidence...”

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat, Pete,” says Story Supervisor Kelsey Mann.

Only a handful of DVDs and Blu-rays have such revelatory features as those on The Good Dinosaur. It is no secret that this spectacular yet intimate adventure is the “Jan Brady” to Inside Out’s “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.” But as the above quote illustrates, there is an open sincerity inherent, not only in the film itself, but also in the thoughts and feelings the filmmakers share on the various features.

Of course, younger children can just watch the movie, though depending on the sensitivity of the kids; you might accompany them, as there are some impactful moments of danger, violence and extreme peril. Arlo spends a lot of the movie saying this: “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

But here’s the unusual angle: this Blu-ray package offers a way to better appreciate and enjoy the film more than would have been possible in a theater, due in no small part to the illuminating bonus features.

If you have not yet seen the film, the following is a rather unusual suggestion. Watch some of the extra features first. Not all mind you, but just the ones that provide a prelude to the film as a production experience, which, while ultimately satisfying, was fraught with challenges. Director Sohn identifies with Arlo, but on a larger scale, the entire film is like the timid dino—there are missteps that keep the story from being completely focused, but there are also moments of unfathomable beauty and emotion.

Here’s a wild idea: before you play the film, watch these generously lengthy extra features first:

1. Always begin with the cartoon. “Sanjay’s Super Team”: an exquisite short in which a little boy’s action hero TV watching is disrupted by his father’s prayer observance—and vice versa—this morphs into a wondrous fantasy steeped in cultural iconography.

2. “The Filmmaker’s Journey” – Sohn and his dedicated and highly supportive creative team don’t mince words about how this project shifted gears and went into overdrive. Presumably there was only so much time to address the most urgent issues and get the project into theaters in the best way possible—the result being a film, though flawed like its protagonist, worthy of the immense pride and love they share for the finished product. (NOTE: There is a spoiler at the end.)

3. Every Part of the Dinosaur – This goes further into the exhaustive efforts to design the characters and create their world. To me, the film plays better on a home screen because, when a film has such a strong design sense, it can overpower the primary characters and their story. On TV, it becomes more cohesive.

4. Following the T-rex Trail – This and “The Filmmaker’s Journey” are the two most important mini-docs. It’s about a remarkable ranch family and their approach to life. For animation fans and students, you can see how getting to know such a family was pure gold for character development. If only we could see more of this family. They’re great.

5. True Lies About Dinosaurs – Aimed at preteens, this is a jaunty look at how the film plays fast and loose with the chronology of history, especially blending species that had never coexisted. It’s a good feature to see because it sets the stage for a film that asks the viewer to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow.

Now it’s time to watch “The Good Dinosaur”! (By the way, does anyone else wish there had been another title, like “The Journey of Arlo” or “Arlo & Spot?”? The chosen title recalls the awkward “Great Mouse Detective” that was changed from “Basil of Baker Street.”)

After the movie and a nice cool beverage, enjoy the following:

6. Deleted Scenes – Of course, these must be seen after the film. I couldn’t help wishing that the sequence between Arlo and his father had been left in. The film was a bit of a downer for at least the first reel and the father-son moments made them more identifiable.

7. Hide and Seek – These interstitials are perplexing, as they seem to come from another film, like Ice Age or Open Season. In this comedy blackouts, the character play directly to the camera and engage in wacky pratfall hijinks, not at all in the spirit of the more lofty visions of the feature itself. Please do not watch these before the movie.

9. Audio Commentary – thank you! Not all Pixar releases include audio commentaries and it is a glaring omission when that happens. In the case of The Good Dinosaur, getting first-hand, genuine anecdotes and observations about the film as it is running is one of the best things about DVDs and Blu-rays. The fact that the commenters are so eager to credit as many members of the team as possible speaks well of them as people.

8. Recyclosaurus – A little slice of life at the studio as the employees participate in a dino building contest, using only things on the “free table”. These folks appear to be having fun.

Note: Special Features noted above are only on the blu-ray disc. The only extras on the DVD are the commentary and the short film.








Blu-ray REVIEW: Tomorrowland
Blog, Reviews, Movies
Posted on Oct 21 2015 by Greg

Seeing Tomorrowland for the second time is infinitely more satisfying than seeing it for the first. It's a movie that, even with such spectacular visuals, is largely an intimate, earthbound story about several relationships and the potential of humankind.

The trailers and preview clips could not help raise expectations for a movie that didn't exist. Either that, or the movie we saw was not the movie edited as intended. Maybe something was missing that had been there before, in addition to the deleted scenes included on the Blu-ray.

Like the World's Fair and the Disney Parks versions of Tomorrowland, the first thing one might expect of this film would be a live-action Jetsons with pithier undertones. George Clooney chooses most of his first because of meaning as well as story. The overall message is very powerful and inspiring (without giving anything away), but the movie itself is largely a simple and small drama with action set pieces.

Seeing it again, knowing what it will not deliver helps the viewer appreciate the uniformly fine performances of the young players. A second view also eliminates the (sorry) letdown when the film's dogged pursuit of a fantasmagorical new world where we spend lots of time and get to know what life is like there and Rosie the Robot and all...well, once Hugh Laurie and George Clooney face off after Laurie hits him with the standard sci-fi "those puny humans are such useless fools" it brings back memories of such confrontations at the end of each Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman episode.

That said, props to Brad Bird and his team for risking an original story in a film marketplace dependent on sure things like sequels and movies with stars who do the same things in each of their movies. Hopefully Bird's not out of the original live action movie business quite yet.

The Blu-ray looks magnificent -- this movie is worth marveling at if only for the loving, meticulous recreation of the 1964 New York World's Fair, something that we can never visit in real life -- and that's really what movies can do for us, isn't it? The Emerald City-like moments of flight are wonderful, too, and remind one of such a sequence in Disney's underrated Meet the Robinsons, another film that was undefinable and turned out to be a superb experience if approached with no previews or sneak peeks.

Alas, there is no audio commentary for Bird to further explain his vision, which, despite whatever strengths and weaknesses are -- is earnest, sincere and fascinating. We spend some time with him and the cast and crew at Kennedy Space Center and the awe with which they see the structures and gadgets is very real indeed.

My favorite bonus feature is something we rarely experience on bonus features, some time with the composer. It was charming and informative, as Michael Giacchino's brother narrated and took video of a day in his life (what's the deal with the peppers?) and truly marvelous when Richard Sherman visited the music studio to hear the orchestra perform "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow." What a great big, beautiful moment it was. Giacchino's awe was akin to that his colleagues at the Space Center.

Fun fact:  In the shop scene, the disc is placed on the album cover of a 1979 Disneyland Storyteller Record of The Black Hole. Ironically, that film is also better on the second viewing because it does not pay off the anticipation of what the black hole is like. Seeing it again, it's a fine space opera romp for a Saturday afternoon.








Blu-ray REVIEW: Disney's Cinderella (2015)
Blog, Movies
Posted on Oct 07 2015 by Greg

The ongoing motto of the spectacular, shiny new Cinderella -- a reimagining of the 1950 Disney animated classic. It's a richly detailed extravaganza that incorporates into its script elements of the earlier film, but adds more spunk to Cinderella -- the ending scene with her Stepmother and Stepsisters was much needed in the original. But it also actually tones down some of the most dramatic and intense moments in the 1950 film.

Most notably, the Disney-created "mother's new dress" sequence is downright horrifying as depicted by Walt and his artists. The abject cruelty is so deeply felt, the evil is more demonic that many of the other Disney villains, like Maleficent or the Evil Queen. It's physical and psychological abuse. In the new film, the actions are less pronounced and a little less dark, but it does produce the same emotional effect nonetheless. Maybe it was too intense to be done with live actors.

Speaking of the actors, they are hand picked for perfect roles. It's clearly Cate Blanchett's movie to dominate, and she is a slam dunk, adding a twisted, bitter reason for her evil -- a counterpoint to Cinderella's way of handling adversity. The stepsisters are still comical, and the mice are there, too.


I would have loved it if we could have heard Helena Bonham Carter sing "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo" and Lily James sing "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" on the soundtrack. But the background music by Patrick Doyle is sweeping, elegant and just as magnificent as the scenery.

The castle is the visual centerpiece. Interestingly, the digital graphics are so convincing that one wonders just how elaborate the set had to be. Never mind -- they filled Pinewood's James Bond stage with grandeur.

One major story change was introducing Cinderella to the Prince early. This also happened in The Muppet Special, Hey Cinderella, in which she thought he was the palace gardener. Cinderella also encountered the prince early in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical version. It's a fine way to work the prince into the story more than he is in the animated film (princes were notoriously difficult to animate). It also comes as a bit of a relief to the viewer, as the opening sequences are filled with tragedy.

It must be pointed out that there is one other live-action Cinderella that compares favorably with this version, in that it opens up the story, adds political intrigue and actually takes the tale beyond the shoe fitting. This is the Sherman Brothers' exquisite musical, The Slipper and the Rose. Featuring one of their most sophisticated scores, this isn't quite as elaborate as the 2015 version, but it is highly recommended.

Blu-ray is a welcome medium to capture all the filagree, ephalets and taffeta and curliques.. There are also a few generous behind the scenes bonus features but no audio commentary (good grief!)






DVD Review: TEEN BEACH 2
Blog, Movies, TV, Music
Posted on Jul 06 2015 by Greg


Before we get to Teen Beach 2, let’s go back to 1966, when there was a CBS sitcom called It’s About Time. Created by Sherwood Schwartz, the escapism-era series was about two astronauts who travel back in time meet a wacky stone age family. Later in the season, the premise was reversed, and the cave people ended up in modern times, adjusting to newfangled life in zany ways.

 

That sums up the twist in the sequel to the highly-successful (and highly entertaining) Teen Beach Movie, an unabashedly silly musical comedy TV movie in which two teens are transported inside a 1962 beach movie (for diehard fans of the genre, the first actual “Beach Party” film was released in 1963). They had tissue-thin romance problems and a tangle with a Vincent Price-like mad scientist.

 

The new sequel reverses the story and takes the two 1962 movie teens (and members of their cast, eventually) into a 2015 rendered in as gritty and cynical style as Disney Channel can muster. At the same time, our modern-day couple is having relationship issues. Things get “tense” when it becomes apparent that the 1962 movie might vanish entirely, along with the characters—and the 2015 couple will have never met and fallen in love!! Will it all turn out okay. Maybe I shouldn’t tell.

 

Teen Beach 2 is certainly chock full of comedy and excellent song and dance set pieces, but, perhaps because it takes place in “today’s real world”, it does not get as loose and campy as its predecessor. The songs, though, are just as good and eclectic. There is enough of all possible rock and pop tunes to satisfy kids and the parents and grandparents who love the earlier eras. The music alone is a strong reason these movies seem to work so well.


 

The DVD contains some rehearsal footage, and that’s about it for any bonus features. For parents concerned about questionable material, this being a Disney Channel movie, there is pretty much nothing of concern. It might be worth noting that the original beach movies, squeaky-clean as they were, had some nudge-nudge material in them. All of them are pure escapism that are so knowing about their silliness, they sometimes break the fourth wall to remind us that they’re in on the jokes with us.

 








Blu-ray/DVD Review: McFarland USA
Blog, Reviews, Movies, Music
Posted on Jun 15 2015 by Greg


Every year or so, there seems to be a new movie about a rag-tag group of unlikely people who are thrown together by circumstances with a mentor who sees potential in them and organizes them into a socko team that beats the smirking, overconfident opponents.

McFarland USA delivers on that cliché, but this time the mentor is a white bread coach who apparently was fired and sent with his family to his last-chance position in a Latino neighborhood. Apparently much of this was fictionalized but the overall spirit of joining into a community of seemingly disparate friends is true. The real life Jim White, who appears in a bonus feature, is very happy with the film (and how many real life people are pleased with how their lives were fictionalized?)

And therein is the reason for this movie's merit. It's about the young runners, but it's also about their families and friends, sharing cultural traditions with nary an ounce of disdain. If this comes across as too much of a Disney fable, and maybe it is, the up side is that there enough positive messages out there for young people to watch.

Kevin Costner is at his minimalist, Gary Cooper best in the role of father to his family and fish-out-of-water leader to young people with whom he seems, at first, to have little in common.



Though there is no audio commentary, which would have added tremendously, there are a few nice little extras, the best being a reunion between the real students, now grown and largely successful.

These small independent Disney films are a stark (forgive the Marvel pun) contrast to the superspectacular tentpole films of today. Though films are fine, too, but there is room for simple stories about ordinary people.



Walt Disney Records has also released a soundtrack CD of Antonio Pinto's unique score for the film.










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