WHY "LITTLE FUGITIVE" IS STILL SO COOL
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.
NICE ENTERTAINMENT YOU CAN ENJOY FOR FREE
Blog, Movies, Records
Posted on Jun 21 2011 by Greg
The superb Sherman Brothers version of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer (a great summer movie), with Johnny Whitaker, Jodie Foster and Celeste Holm can be watched on your computer for free here
, along with lots of other good (and not so good) MGM owned movies through Hulu.
If you like the musical score, the original album is available on CD
, not for free, but very much worth it.
LEMONADE MOUTH SHOOTS FROM THE HIP
Posted on Jun 06 2011 by Greg
It might be easy for the jaded among us to dismiss Lemonade Mouth
as a TV movie attempt to launch another Hannah Montana
franchise, this time with a full group, or to make the High School Musical
lightning strike again. That may all be true to a degree; surely Disney Channel would welcome a new vein of gold, especially since so many of their series (Hannah, Jonas, Zack and Cody, Wizards of Waverly
) are now in the rearview mirror.
But Lemonade Mouth
is actually a solid little teen drama with music. The songs are more or less incidental to the story. Each of the leads has his or her own cross to bear and the film is about their journey through acceptance of their situations, not simply easy, Brady Bunch
style solutions. They that also launch a successful rock band is perhaps preposterous, but their cohesion as a group is really the focus, not the showbiz glitz. It's not the dazzling Barbie-playset fantasy of Hannah
or the recent Sharpay
And these young people are actually given roles to play, some rather complex. It is a credit to the actors and the director that they don't take the easy route of teenage overacting so common in teen dramas that it almost becomes self-parody (and was actually skewered on Sonny With a Chance
, another Disney Channel series that has ended, albeit retooled as a sketch series called So Random
I like this film much more than I expected to and so did my wife. My 13-year-old daughter adored it and watched it multiple times. But parents be warned -- this is not your usual pratfall-but-good-natured goofball Disney Channel fare. One girl is asserting her question of authority, a very natural course for the age group but still uncommon in this venue. But though these kids have fairly dark and realistic problems, it's all done with taste and restraint.
Ably heading the cast is Bridgit Mendler
, skillfully carrying off a much deeper characterization than she is allowed to do on the broad sitcom, Good Luck Charlie
. She reminds me of a young Audrey Meadows
, or perhaps Victoria Tennant
really should apply for a patent for the role he once again plays -- an insufferable, narcissistic glory seeking bureaucrat -- this time as a principal on wheels. His performance is a nice example of comic timing and lightens the mood as well as providing a foil.
And Mel's Lemonade looks like something I would want to buy if I could find it in a vending machine.
I AM NUMBER FOUR. YOU ARE NUMBER SIX. WHO IS NUMBER ONE? I'M NOT A NUMBER, I'M A FREE MAN!
Posted on Jun 02 2011 by Greg
Baby boomers will get the reference in the title -- couldn't resist it. Ah, if only I Am Number One
were even close to the original series, The Prisoner. Alas, it's not to be, but that's not to say that this film is a total loss if you're looking for a date movie or a Saturday afternoon popcorn-cruncher.
In a blend of the displaced but hunky alien of Starman
with the telekinetic oomph of the Witch Mountain
movies on steroids and the prerequisite serious teenage heaviness of Twilight
and certain Life with Archie
comics, I Am Number Four
strives to launch a series by setting up a teen magazine contender as a haunted yet stalwart hero searching for truth, justice and a lovely young lady. Sound derivative? If you saw Disturbia
and Rear Window
, the similarity cannot be denied, though Shia LeBeouf
's performance often transcends the material in the earlier film helmed by the same director, D.J. Caruso
will no doubt flutter many a teeny bopper's heart but he tends to speak in a brooding monotone without much facial expression. Understated would be a kind way to describe his performance. He was being directed, so we can't be sure if these were all his choices, since he seems so have more personality in the bloopers.Teresa Palmer
plays the Lara Croft-type super catsuit lady -- a modern-day movie and TV action icon, by the way, that was really created in 1962 by Honor Blackman
on TV's The Avengers
and perfected by Diana Rigg
, who replaced her on the same series in 1965. Dianna Agron
is earnest as the object of Pettyfer's affection, but resembles Palmer to the point where you're not sure who's doing what until you sort out the characters (and hear Palmer's Aussie accent).
Best aspects: Timothy Olyphant
's standout performance, bringing depth to his character, excellent special effects and some really creepy, easy-to-loathe villains (whose sadistic cruelty makes this a little too strong for younger viewers).
No commentary on the bonus features, but there is a set of bloopers and a short feature focusing on the lovely Ms. Palmer.
WHEREFORE ART THOU, GNOMEO?
Posted on Jun 01 2011 by Greg
It's certainly a novel concept, despite the fact that Shakespeare's Romeo and Julie
t has been retold in almost every form, from West Side Story
to The Flintstones
. In the case of Gnomeo and Juliet,
the story becomes one of lawn gnomes, the "red" and "blue" groups who live next door to each other in a British suburb.
Lawn gnomes and gardening are popular in the U.S. to be sure, but their is a significant passion and pride in gardens that is decidedly English. That doesn't mean Americans won't "get it;" and as a matter of fact, the film was a surprise box office hit domestically. Just pointing out that the tone, comedy and the cast is predominately English, which suits Anglophiles like me just fine.
It's a very funny film, not so much an animated film in the Disney Cinderella
sense than in the Disney Jungle Book
sense -- a collection of funny set pieces arranged around a simple storyline with some tender moments here and there. The film was released under the Touchstone banner rather than Disney, perhaps because it doesn't follow the Disney mold in general and contains a few naughty bits, like the one gnome who runs around in a Borat-like swimsuit.
Overall, it's a charming, witty romp, beautifully designed and executed (though I kind of liked the second alternate ending better than the one that was used).
The voice cast is excellent, but the stars are really the Elton John/Bernie Taupin
hits that complement the story, including two superb new songs (John himself appears in a bonus feature). The songs don't seem clumsily shoehorned into the story as an excuse to use them; they fit remarkably well.
Sir Elton was reportedly miffed that the film was not given what he perceived as sufficient support, yet it did quite well anyway. I can't help wondering how much more of a sensation it would have been had it been released shortly after The Lion King
, which would have capitalized on the new renown for Elton John and when his music catalog was at the perfect age for nostalgia and the fascination each generation has with whatever was popular two decades before it).
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