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DVD REVIEW: The Bobby Darin Show
Blog, TV, People, Music
Posted on Apr 08 2014 by Greg


The Bobby Darin Show may well be the very last of the grand TV variety shows done in the classic style. Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie and their ilk were more campy, more deconstructive, in their approaches. Bobby Darin was a throwback to the Rat Pack, the essence of cool and ultimate timelessness. (For those too young to know Darin's work, one of his biggest hits was "Beyond the Sea," which gained new fame in Finding Nemo, as performed by rock star Robbie Williams in tribute to Darin.)

It's also a study of a extraordinary performer giving his/her all, almost to the point of collapse. (Judy Garland's TV series is another example.) Here is a singer/actor/musician/showman who is seriously ill. Darin had struggled with health issues since childhood and when he was doing this series, his irregular heart beat often made him in a dreadful state when the cameras stopped rolling. He passed away only a few months after the series left the air.

But when the cameras were on, all the audience sees is a consummate entertainer with seemingly boundless energy and a personable quality ideal for television. He also had the rare quality of reaching audiences of all ages by singing Sinatra pop, country, classic rock and roll and blues, all in a way that came naturally. That was because there were many Bobby Darins -- he was one complicated fellow. Everything he had he gave on stage.

The TV show, whose writers included Alan Thicke and regulars included versatile TV host/radio personality Geoff Edwards, followed the basic variety format. The first few shows' finales salute a specific city with its music, there were assorted sketches, commercial bumpers with Darin as Groucho, and what had to be the most personal of the sketches, "The Neighborhood."



"The Neighborhood" was akin to Jackie Gleason's "Honeymooners," a slice of life in the tough, working class streets of New York, surely as much a part of Darin's early life as Gleason's. Darin plays Angie, the voice of reason, while familiar character actor Dick Bakalyan (who appeared in numerous Disney comedies, as well as voicing the Oscar-winning "It's Tough to Be a Bird") plays Carmine, the dreamer who always hatches a money making scheme or is snared by a fishy endeavor.

Darin's other characters include a hippie poet and "The Godmother," two more personas that come from his life as living in a trailer on the beach and in the company of tough old Italian mamas.

The shows also include another unique regular feature, in which Darin sings to his female guest, face-to-face, both in a highly seductive way that says more than the most of today's more overt depictions of romance and general bedroom hijinks.

This was the early '70s, so many of the songs have that groovy sound. The dancers have that Disneyland "Kids of the Kingdom" vibe. It's also interesting to see what fine singing voices guests like Dyan Cannon and Cloris Leachman have. (Ever strange, Leachman does a butterfly number that is characteristically bizarre.)



But it's the last episode that is most unforgettable. Watch the bonus documentary for the background. Because of a lack of rehearsal, Darin performed pretty much his entire Las Vegas act while Peggy Lee simmered in her dressing room, waiting to go on. Once she did her segment with Darin, the tension is palpable, yet fitting as the duo sings very dark songs of lost loves. By the end, the two have connected as two giants of song interpretation.



One can only speculate what Bobby Darin would have given the world had he not died at 37. This DVD truly captures his lightning in a bottle.







Floyd Norman Talks Jungle Book, Hanna-Barbera and "The Old Mousetro"
Blog, Movies, People
Posted on Feb 09 2014 by Greg


With the arrival of Walt Disney’s 1967 animated hit The Jungle Book, there’s been a lot of attention to Disney Legend Floyd Norman, and rightly so. He worked for the studio at a point when it was changing in size, focus and its approach to animation. His career at Disney, as well as at other studios, including Hanna-Barbera, happened as tectonic shifts were occurring in entertainment as well as in the country.


Floyd also has no problem speaking from the heart. His opinions and his love for his craft, especially as it flourished at Disney, is matter-of-fact. And he has had reveled in affectionate but barbed satire of his workplaces through the insider gag sketches that have become legends in themselves. From Walt to Bill and Joe to Michael and Jeffrey, check out his cartoon collections and enjoy the ride.


With all this in mind, the challenge of an interview with Floyd is figuring out where to start and trying to avoid the same old, same old. But you can’t blame a guy for trying.


GREG: First of all, I have to tell you how much I enjoyed your book, The Animated Life. And what I loved about it was how you were up front with the pros and cons of the business, but always in a way that didn’t diss anyone. It’s the kind of book I would want to write someday, even though my career can’t get near the same chart as yours.


FLOYD:  Thank you. I really wanted to bring readers into those days, to know what it was like when I worked in the Walt days, and what I have learned about animation.


GREG: I also want to thank you for the eloquent and knowledgeable way you have addressed recent public character attacks on the man you call “the Old Mousetro.”


FLOYD: Thanks again. I said what I thought needed to be said, and it was all true. I was there.


GREG: You were at the Walt Disney Studios during what might be called a sea change in its approach to animation. Sleeping Beauty was the classic fairy tale done on a grand scale, but its box office results made it necessary to look at animation in a very different way.


FLOYD: Well, the  had changed a lot. We had to make features with a lot less money, but still retain the quality people expected. I think we succeeded in a lot of ways, particularly with the strength of the story and the characters. The budget didn’t matter to the audience and they still loved the work we did.


GREG: Even though it’s not a very equivalent comparison, you also experienced a similar turning point during your Hanna-Barbera days. As the studio grew, the cartoons were done, as you’ve said, “Faster, cheaper!”


FLOYD: Yes, and some of the things I worked on were fine, while some weren’t very good.


GREG: But you know, it didn’t matter to us kids watching on Saturday morning. I liked Captain Caveman and a lot of the other shows. Still do.


FLOYD: (laughs)


GREG: No, really! If you take into account the speed you all were working at, it’s a wonder that those shows are even coherent.


FLOYD: That’s because there were some of the best artists working at Hanna-Barbera. It was amazing what they could do.


GREG: But working on The Jungle Book must have been incredible.


FLOYD: I came into it later in the production. There had been changes along the way.


GREG: Is it true that there was originally only one Kaa scene?



FLOYD: Yes. And Walt really liked it so he asked for a second one. Dick and Bob Sherman wrote that great song for it.


GREG: What do you think of the Blu-ray?


FLOYD: I think it looks great. They did a great job on it.


GREG: When I was a kid, my brother and I called the ‘60s Disney cartoons “the ones with the scritchy lines.” We didn’t know what the Xerox process was, and frankly we liked the smoother lines better in the other features. Didn’t Walt hate the scritchy lines?


FLOYD: At first, he didn’t like them, when he saw the look of 101 Dalmatians. But it didn’t bother him later.


GREG: When you watch The Jungle Book now, do you recognize the precise moments of your work?


FLOYD: I recognize every one, every time. I’m grateful for being part of it.








Arthur Rankin: "He's gone! Oh, he's gone!"
Blog, TV, People, Music
Posted on Feb 01 2014 by Greg


That's what Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer said when he thought he lost Yukon Cornelius. But Bumbles bounced and Yukon survived. Sadly, mega-producer/director/writer Arthur Rankin Jr. did not -- he passed away Thursday at his Bermuda home.


Rankin is major to television as the lead visionary behind TV specials that only grow in popularity and iconic stature as one generation passes them along to the next one. Rankin's contributions to feature films are less known, but he spearheaded a number of films, of which "Mad Monster Party" has become a beloved classic that inspired everyone from Tim Burton to John Lasseter.



The multi-award winning Rankin/Bass version of "The Hobbit" was the first filmed adaptation to be released, almost four decades before Peter Jackson brought it to the big screen.



He also sustained the TV musical, particularly with creative partner Jules Bass and musical director Maury Laws. When musical specials were long gone, Rankin/Bass continued them in animated form much like Disney has done in theatrical films, with original songs such as "Holly Jolly Christmas" and "The Heat Miser/Snow Miser Song" becoming perennial holiday hits. (You can even see how the Rankin/Bass look influenced today's biggest box office hits.)



It must be noted that neither Rankin/Bass nor Arthur Rankin ever received an Emmy Award, despite the fact that their work has proven to be some of the most solid entertainment the small screen has ever seen. There was only one nomination for "The Little Drummer Boy Book II." A posthumous Lifetime Achivement Award is certainly due. 



To paraphrase what Santa said to little Karen when she lost her friend, Frosty the Snowman, “You see, he was made of Christmas specials. And Christmas specials will never disappear completely. Oh, his name may disappear for months at a time, and take the form of springtime specials or 'Mad Monster Party,' but when a good December season comes along, he’ll be with us through his Christmas specials all over again.”


To learn more about Rankin/Bass, the ultimate authority is author Rick Goldschmidt, who has published several best sellers about Rankin/Bass. Visit Rick on Facebook or at rankinbass.com.








Miley's Antics Get Spot-On Spoof by MAD Magazine
Blog, News and Events, People, Music, Records
Posted on Dec 28 2013 by Greg



This month's MAD Magazine says what most "respectable" forms of news have not been able to but most of the country is thinking. People are smart enough to see the shrewdly engineered "grown up transformation" of Miley Cyrus into exactly what she was before: a  packaged pop product with a strong marketing plan drawn up by top brand managers that get her name in some sort of "shocking" headline every day. And it works.

This is indeed "art" -- the art of distribution and targeting, media manipulation and initially seeded enthusiasm. When she was Hannah Montana, there was never any doubt that this was the game, nor were the intentions to "package" a star being touted as the pursuit of art and self-expression.

Unlike artists of the caliber of Madonna and Lady Gaga, who built their persona and music brick by brick before it mushroomed into big business, Miley's not behind (pun) most of the decisions, though she might make suggestions and approve strategic formulas. It's fictionalized reality in the most garish of Hollywood traditions. It would be nice if someone would just admit the machine-like process.

Miley is a smart young lady who has proven to have loads of talent beyond performing as if she's appearing on amateur night at the Newark strip club. That's as old as Little Egypt. But if she and her staff are really shrewd, she'll alter the brand within the next year before she becomes a self-parody.

If that hasn't happened already (see above).







2013 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE, PART ONE
Blog, Reviews, Movies, TV, People, Music, Downloads, Records, Books
Posted on Dec 02 2013 by Greg

BLU-RAY/DVD


THE LITTLE MERMAID II: RETURN TO THE SEA / THE LITTLE MERMAID: ARIEL’S BEGINNING
Both sequels are on Blu-ray for the first time, along with two DVDs with each film. The first sequel, Return to the Sea, boasts many of the same cast members as the original film including Disney Legend Jodi Benson, but the nice songs by Patti and Michael Silversher are too few and the plot is a retread of the first story. This time we get a skinny version of Ursula and Disney’s version of Tennessee Tuxedo and Chumley. Plus, Ariel and Eric are put in a situation very frustrating to the viewers as well as their daughter, Melody, but being brick walls about everything to do with Ariel’s magical past. Plus, in limited animation, Eric looks even more like the David Seville of the ‘80s.



The third Little Mermaid film (second on this set), Ariel’s Beginning, is a far superior film with a more solid storyline without delving into set pieces to extend the film length. We also get to know Ariel’s sisters better and meet a more original villain, amusingly named Marina Del Ray and superbly voiced by Sally Field, singing for the first time since The Flying Nun. Even the extras are better on this film. The animation is startlingly fluid for a direct to video production. Make the whole package worth it.


PLANES
Disney has taken a few jabs for putting what was originally planned as a direct to video feature and releasing to theaters, but Walt Disney did just that with Johnny Tremain and several other of his live-action features which either turned out better than expected or ran over budget.



In the case of Planes, the budget was upped and though the film seems to dreamily ramble a bit, it was clearly an attempt to attract more of the male sector of the audience and it succeeded tremendously. I’m not a big Dane Cook fan, but he does a creditable job as Dusty, a crop duster with a fear of heights, a character much more likable than Lightning McQueen in Cars. John Cleese turns in his usual scene stealing best as a jolly old British plane. Looks wonderful in HD on a big screen.


THE FLINTSTONES CHRISTMAS COLLECTION

It's nice to have these shows on DVD after wearing out my VHS tapes, which sometimes were recorded at EP and looked ecch. The 1977 A Flintstone Christmas special is of particular interest, coming at a time with The Flintstones and Hanna-Barbera were enjoying a resurgence in popularity.



It's also a musical special with songs that also popped up in other H-B Christmas specials. "Hope," sung by Wilma in this instance, is a cousin to "When You Wish Upon a Star" and was sung by Boo-Boo in Yogi's First Christmas. "Brand New Kind of Christmas Song" did originate in this special. Both this song and Boo-Boo's "Hope" can be heard on the Hanna-Barbera Christmas Sing Along sound track album.


The second special on this collection, A Flintstone Family Christmas, came after Turner acquired Hanna-Barbera and there was another resurgence with new merchandise and some really fine books, including a hardcover based on this special, which was nominated for an Emmy, a first for The Flintstones.


MARINE BOY – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
Depending on where you lived, this dubbed Japanese cartoon series ran in syndication between 1967 and 1969. What’s interesting about it is that members of the Speed Racer cast does the dubbing, including Speed himself, Peter Fernandez. The music sounds to me to be composed by Billy Mure, who scored many MGM children’s records with Fernandez and the same cast.



“Marine Boy” is sort like “Jonny Quest” underwater. For some reason, even his dad calls him “Marine Boy.” But then, did Speed's parents give him that name at birth? Guess both were endearing nicknames.


The stories in Marine Boy are not as complex as some Japanese TV cartoon imports of the era, so younger kids will likely follow along nicely. The animation looks to me to be that Korean traced stuff that Warner/Seven Arts did with Porky Pig cartoons, though a little neater. I can’t confirm that as a fact, though. It’s just that the draftsmanship is not what I’ve seen in similar cartoons. But what a groovy theme song! There are actually two of them, and I like the one with the “oooooo’s.”


CDS AND DOWNLOADS


WALT DISNEY’S BABES IN TOYLAND – Original Cast Album
This is from the 1961 live action fantasy starring Annette, Ray Bolger, Tommy Sands, Ed Wynn and a very young Ann Jillian. It’s not the sound track but a “re-creation” with slightly different orchestrations, produced at Tutti Camarata’s Sunset Sound Studios.



It is not available on CD (though the Disney Parks did offer CD-R’s for a short time years ago). You can download it—with a pristine restoration by Walt Disney Records’ master producer, Randy Thorton—on iTunes.


SANTA CLAUS-THE MOVIE Original Sound Track Album
Though I love the movie and enjoyed it when it was released, not everyone does. Regardless, the magnificent score by Henry Mancini is one of the best “traditional” music and song scores of the ‘80s, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and a pop solo by Sheena Easton (“It’s Christmas All Over the World”) that should get more airplay.



Be careful when ordering this album on CD, as you’ll want the expanded edition, not the single album on CD. The expanded edition has everything the original EMI LP had plus many more pieces of music that couldn’t fit on the vinyl disc as well as alternates and deleted selections and an interesting booklet.


MARY POPPINS Special Edition Original Sound Track Album
You know that tape recorder you see taking in what happened during those meetings with the persnickety Ms. Travers and the supercalifragilistic Shermans? You can hear many of the REAL ones on disc two of this glorious sound track album.



The aforementioned Randy Thornton pretty much put the entire musical score on this album for the first time and it should be in every home.


THE SHERMAN BROTHERS SONGBOOK



Speaking of the Shermans, the landmark songs from their history making career are contained on two discs here. There's even a non-Disney film represented in this collection, with the Oscar-nominated theme from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It was tthe brothers’ first outside film, done with the approval of Disney. On this collection, the great Mike Sammes Singers perform the song. Every home should have this, too.


BOOKS


JIM HENSON – THE BIOGRAPHY
A meticulously detailed portrait of the man behind the Muppets, unlike anything published before. Lengthy yet a brisk read, the book covers the length and breadth of Henson’s life and career in a matter-of-fact, clear headed way, without the armchair speculative psychology of other bios of others (you know which ones).



Few will read this and say, “I already knew ALL of that” or they’d be fibbing.

 

INSIDE THE WHIMSY-WORKS: My Life with Walt Disney Productions
Disney Legend Jimmy Johnson rose from the mailroom to merchandise and from publishing to launching what is now Walt Disney Records. He wrote this memoir in 1975 but it was never published until now.



This is one of the very first insider looks at what is was like working for Disney from the Snow White days to the opening of Walt Disney World. I know this is a blatant plug and you have to pre-order the book because it won’t be sent out until February 2014, but please consider getting a copy and wrapping up the amazon description as a lovely thing to place under the tree.










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