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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.

 








MAD MEN's Final Episode: The tone arm lifts off the record...
Blog, Reviews, TV, Music
Posted on May 18 2015 by Greg


While I still reacted to the last scene of Don with a "Wha--?" it somehow made sense. Like the entire series -- and like life, like art -- it's ambiguous and open to interpretation. You almost don't want to have a solid answer with Don, just with everyone else.

 

If I regress to my college film analysis days (and just I happen to have Marshall McLuhan right here) Don's whole existence was advertising, marketing and especially branding. People compare Jon Hamm ("I am Hamm") to Cary Grant, who was a self-created brand of suave sophistication, reborn from a life of squalid poverty as Archie Leach.

 

Many actors, politicians and other famous people are brand. We live in a brand society that advertising taught us. We send it and we receive it.

 

Hillary Clinton is refining her brand. Eventually Miley Cyrus will put her pants back on and be a serious artist who laughs at her past silliness but is proud of it. In twenty years she'll be singing jazz with Tony Bennett on the New Year's TV special. Madonna made marketing and branding an art form and career path.

 

That's Don Draper. "Hey hey we are the Monkees/And we are here to please/A manufactured image/With no philosophies."


Whether Don went back and created the commercial, or called Peggy to give the idea to her, all of it is possible. But on a college-class "read stuff into it" "What words can you see in the ice cubes" sense, Don was advertising in human form and he literally faded into a commercial. A very successful one. The only commercial to generate such a big hit song and cultural anthem.

 

Don found peace, he found way for people to need him -- that's what made him ultimately break down -- no one really needed him (just like a bottle of Coke or a Coke commercial, which we want but don't need).

 

Pithy. Lots of pith. But my favorite aspect of the ending was that the last voice you heard was that of Ron Dante of The Archies, one of the most successful jingle singers ever, who fronted a band that did not exist yet had the number one hit of 1969. Am I digging too deep to connect Ron Dante literally to the ending? Maybe. But he's an icon of the '60s and of advertising.

 


And his real name is Carmine Granito.


• Yes, Sally deserved more. Yet she emerged as the solid rock of the family, such as it was. Betty was smoking her life away, dying the way she wanted, and there's Sally doing what needs to be done, canceling her trip, being the adult her parents were not. You're right, no need to worry about Sally or anyone lucky enough to be in her life.

 

• The show ended, but life goes on. The endings (or new beginnings) for each group of characters were not fairy tales in the literal sense, because there would be troubles ahead, along with a fulfillment none of them had before. A satisfying close for a series should offer its viewers some closure.

 

• I felt that Elisabeth Moss's phone scene was thankless and must have been hard to write. They only partially succeeded. When Stan declared himself, it was something he might have done at any point in the show. In Peggy's case, having her transform from angry to Lollipops and Roses was not fair to the actress. I don't think Meryl Streep could have made it any more believable, but she should not have been put in that performance position. It was like Jan getting a date on the phone with the boy she thought didn't know she was alive.

 

• Joan. Yes, she has deserved to run the place since she took over media and made it hum, only to have to train a bozo to do it and go back to her desk. I've been there -- a lot. No question of her success. Like Marlo Thomas or Gloria Steinem and heading right into the decade where she can rock, or at least, start to rock.

 

• Roger and bat-crazy mama – Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold in Gigi. A match made in Dewar's. I guessed he was going to die after he played the creepy organ (why was that in the office?), but he's gonna go out, as my dad used to say, "Spoo-ja-dooin'". Don doesn't know who he is, Roger knows himself too well.

 

• Very glad Ken was a catalyst for Joan (and maybe Peggy in the future) after his scene where he was being "spoo-ja-dooed" by Roger and his "friends" after the merger. (I've been there too.) He was forbidden to write books on his own time, mostly because he was so good at it but it wasn't "his place". His talent was slowly marginalized by those who had no real reason to beyond their own insecurity. (Hmmm?) Ken was one of the few who had matured and realized things about life that the others either found out too late or just recently.

 

• Don wanted to be needed by someone and did, in his way, try to help people, over the course of the series. He mentored Peggy, most of all. When he hugged "chair guy", he finally have someone something only he could give, as he was looking at a mirror of himself. Back to college analysis: Matthew Weiner resembles Chair Guy and I have a feeling Weiner was baring his soul completely in that scene. Don, who is Weiner's alter ego (one of them), is everything that, on the surface, Weiner is not, yet the two connected as one and the same.

 

It's not money, it's not fame, not power, success. Those can be nice within perspective (from what I hear). It's really about finding out who you are, how you can gain contentment with what you're doing (or changing it), seeking balance, connecting with others in a deeper way, and things like that there (I'm getting 'way too pretentious now. Sorry.)

 

I still miss Suzanne Pleshette.






DVD REVIEW: Paddington Bear Collectors Edition
Blog, Reviews, TV
Posted on Feb 13 2015 by Greg


With the popularity of Paddington in movie theaters, Mill Creek must have struck gold by releasing this DVD set of the little bear's two fine TV series set. The good news is that great value with excellent content.

The complete 1975 stop-motion British animated TV series is presented, along with three specials. It was produced by Filmfair, which also made the clever short cartoon series, "Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings" that you may remember as a Captain Kangaroo cartoon segment or a Saturday Night Live spoof with Mike Myers.


Each of the 56 episodes of this series runs about five minutes and is unique in that Paddington and his immediate props are three-dimensional puppets while the other characters are "replacement animation" cutouts that had been draws in various poses, then cut out, positioned and replaced for each of its movements, which are minimal. The background all have a papery hand-drawn look as well, very much as if the book has come to life.

While these are very low-budget cartoons and the catchy theme music tends to become overused, they're not short on charm. The short length allows for very simple stories that are very faithful to the books but not necessarily word-for-word adaptations. Legendary British actor Michael Hordern (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Slipper and the Rose) is perfection as the narrator.

The three specials are about 20-25 minutes each. The highlight -- and reason alone to check out this set -- is the first special, Paddington Goes to the Movies, in which the little bear duplicates Gene Kelly's dance from "Singin' in the Rain" as the soundtrack plays!



The third disc contains 13 episodes from the 2008 Canadian/ French cel-animated series, previously aired on PBS and various cable channels. This series is more contemporary than the earlier one, with light jazz music that includes a larger variety of themes and several amusing songs. Each half hour show contains two segments that take several of Michael Bond's stories and expand upon them. Perhaps not as traditional at the 1975 series, this version is more akin to what currently runs on TV for young children.



This is a wonderful way to gear up for the day when the recent hit movie hits the store shelves.







DVD REVIEW: Rodgers & Hammerstein's CINDERELLA starring Lesley Ann Warren
Blog, TV, People, Music
Posted on Oct 24 2014 by Greg

There is no shortage of great performances of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s only musical created for television. Of course, there is the original 1957 CBS live telecast starring Julie Andrews, the recent Broadway show, a British panto starring Tommy Steele, a touring production with Eartha Kitt and the 1997 version starring Brandy and Whitney Houston.

Each version has its own special magic, but the 1965 version (now in its 30th anniversary year) starring Lesley Ann Warren has the distinction of being smack in the middle of an era spangled with full-color, escapist entertainment still dear to baby boomers. Premiering on February 22, 1965, the CBS special came along just as musicals—like Mary Poppins—seemed to be having a resurgence in Hollywood, and before such programming became passé in the minds of many.

Pat Carroll, who became legendary as the voice of The Little Mermaid’s Ursula (and the original Mother Magoo), was an oft-welcomed presence on series TV, game and talk shows. In this production, Carroll played one of the stepsisters. The other sister was played by Barbara Ruick, who appeared as Carrie (“Mr. Snow”) Pepperidge in the movie version of Carousel. Ruick was the wife of composer John Williams, who among other projects at the time, was scoring episodes of Gilligan’s Island and Lost in Space (and that's not a diss -- his work elevated both shows). Sadly, Ruick passed away in 1972, before she could experience Williams’ colossal success with Star Wars and his other sweeping movie scores. Oscar and Tony winner Jo Van Fleet (East of Eden), properly snooty as the Stepmother, gives the suitable impression that she constantly smells  some very strong cheese.

R&H favorite Celeste Holm played the traditional fairy Godmother in 1965, in contrast to Edie Adams’ sassy fairy in the 1957 show. And the Prince was Stuart Damon, later to play Alan Quartermain on General Hospital (which included a “prince” nod in at least one script, maybe more). Damon reveals in the bonus documentary (from the previous DVD release) that Jack Jones dropped out of the show as the Prince, so he filled in at the last moment and it was a "Cinderella story" for him.

The production values, as far as the imaginative sets and costumes, is magnificent, but because TV was still relatively young, this videotaped production has some special effects that would make Electra Woman and Dynagirl sneer, especially the flying horses (from a Marx "Best of the West" playset?) and the final materialization of Holm, whose chroma-key glitch gives her have a "Max Headroom" spell.

No matter, the show is still first class and one of TV's all-time best, made back in a time when musical variety was still a major force. And the Columbia/Sony cast album is excellent, too, with a few bonus tracks on the CD/download and a great overture created just for the record by conductor Johnny Green.








BLU-RAY REVIEW: Million Dollar Arm with Jon Hamm
Blog, Movies, TV, People
Posted on Oct 24 2014 by Greg


"Million Dollar Arm," aka "The Jon Hamm Movie" is the "Mad Men" star's debut as a big-screen lead, so the whys and wherefores of the film are as interesting to ponder as the movie itself.

Of course, this being a Disney sports film, the ending is as clear as Cinderella's glass slipper. The attraction is journey to the goal. In this case, Hamm plays a narcissistic, deal-driven but down on his luck sports promoter who gets the idea that Cricket players from India might have the potential to be star baseball players.

This raises a lot of issues, some covered in the film and some not. There is a stark contrast between the jaded, wealthy American star players who are just as manipulative as Hamm's character, and the naive, trusting Indian newbies who are overawed by elevators and such.

But isn't Hamm (sorry, but it IS a vehicle for him) also exploiting this difference? Yes, and the film points that out, as well as his dismissive attitude towards the young men he has relocated and then left on their own. They see him as a father figure, he sees them as commodities. But what is not really addressed is that he is also outsourcing; he still yearns for the American star player but the Indians will do until his dream player comes along.



SPOILER • SPOILER • SPOILER • SPOILER • SPOILER

Of course, Hamm learns a lesson because this is a Disney movie. The pure, genuine warmth and integrity of these young men change him. Had this been a Judd Apatow movie, it would have been the other way around. Good gravy Marie -- they actually think he should marry his attractive neighbor! Don't they know this is America and we're free to be you and us? Sakes alive!

Anyway, Hamm does a fine job but is really not allowed to stretch as an actor -- and as his Saturday Night Live appearances have proven, he has a lot more to give. But this is an ingenious way to reach the big screen because it's a low-budget, low-risk endeavor, unlikely to dent his aspirations in a way that a tentpole movie debut would. It proves that he can carry a movie, but it will be interesting to see if he gets another shot at a big screen role that is more than "Don Draper-light."









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