Tuesday, December 31, 2013

happy new year!

Have fun — but not too much fun this evening. I imagine the revelries at our house to resemble this somewhat ...

Monday, December 30, 2013


The kid and I checked out Frozen the other day. It only shares the slightest similarity to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen, so fans of Gerda and Kai may need to adjust their expectations before attending. Instead of a girl-power story of a young girl, against all odds and an evil Snow Queen, rescuing her young male friend Kai, Frozen features two strong female heroines, a pair of sisters (and princesses, of a northern country dubbed Arendelle) named Anna (Kirsten Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel). Elsa has a special ability — she can create ice and snow with the wave of her hand. But after some childhood play goes horribly wrong and her younger sister Anna is injured, their parents rush them to some friendly trolls, who take away Anna's memory and doom the fearful parents and Elsa to hiding their older daughter's gift away from the world — and her sister. "Conceal, don't feel," is the mantra they insist Elsa adopt.

Elsa, the Snow Queen - it's lonely at the top of a mountain of ice

Par the usual Disney fairytale adaptation, the girls' parents soon meet a tragically convenient end, leaving the sisters to grow up orphaned and estranged — as Elsa fears that she will lose control and seriously harm Anna and others. When Elsa comes of age there is a glimmer of hope at her coronation that the two sisters may finally grow closer, but that hope is quickly dashed when the impulsive Anna falls immediately for a visiting prince named Hans (Santino Fontana), and Elsa loses her temper and control of her powers, to the horror of her sister and coronation guests. She flees the scene, unwittingly covering Arendelle in ice. She may be forced into a life of isolation, but she is finally free, and no longer hides her ability but exults in it, constructing an enormous mountain castle made of ice.
Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don't care what they're going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway 
"Let It Go," music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, performed by Idina Menzel
An intrepid Anna sets out after her sister, sure she can convince her to come home and "fix" everything. She is joined on her quest by some comic (and potentially romantic) relief — Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his lovable and loyal reindeer Sven, as well as a magical snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad).

Beware, spoilers below:

Frozen has a lot to recommend it. The vocals by Bell, and especially Menzel, are great. I do think, however, that apart from Elsa/Menzel's big number "Let It Go," the songs were pretty forgettable. Does every Disney animated movie have to be a mini-musical? Maybe it's time to move beyond Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. Pixar and Dreamworks are making entertaining pseudo-Broadway song free animated movies.

Olaf the snowman is adorable and sure to have multiple spin-off cartoons, as his character of a snowman who yearns for sunnier days is just too great to resist. After the sisters have an unsuccessful reunion Elsa once again unwittingly injures her sister, lodging a shard of ice in her heart, You would think that after being able to build such an amazing palace of ice (a truly gorgeous sequence) she might pay a little more attention to what she does with her flying ice hands.)

Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven in a beautiful ice forest

When the trolls confirm that the only thing to melt the ice that is slowly freezing Anna's heart is an act of true love, it is assumed that true love's kiss will save the day. The audience knows that Kristoff, not Hans, is the candidate for that job. But there is a last-act plot turn that spoiled a bit of the magic for not just me, but my daughter. The screenwriters make Hans a truly nasty villain, robbing Anna of the ability to realize for herself that she doesn't really love him. They do minimize that blunder by having the love that saves the day be that between the sisters, and not dependent on romance, which, admittedly, is great. But the sour, clichéd character of Hans still hung over our movie-viewing experience as we exited the theater.

That said, I would still recommend Frozen. Making Elsa a conflicted and not evil Snow Queen was an interesting choice. Along with Tangled and Brave, Disney's princess stories are trying to take some forward steps. Teeny, tiny, baby steps forward. But next time let the girl be strong on her own and make her own decisions about love, and not let her get dumped and disappointed by a bad guy so that she then notices a good one. Let the conflicted, "dark" girl like Elsa be the main focus rather than her spunky, cute sister. Could Disney manage a story that didn't have princesses in it at all? The original Snow Queen didn't need Gerda to be a princess. Far from it — she and Kai were poor. Not every girl dreams of being a princess. Remember Lilo and Stitch? It's worth a try.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

floating ...

Sometimes the best way to spend the weekend is to just float.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

on the riviera

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has released On the Riviera, one of actor Danny Kaye's lesser-known musical efforts from 1951. Not as familiar to movie fans as his hits The Secret Life of Walter Mitty or The Court Jester, On the Riviera has many charms to share, and looks great in this Blu-ray release.

Jack Martin (Danny Kaye) meets his doppelgänger Henri Duran

Danny Kaye portrays two men who resemble one another - American nightclub performer Jack Martin and famous French aviator Henri Duran, who despite his glamorous wife Lili (Gene Tierney) has quite an eye for the ladies. In typical Hollywood movie fashion, Martin is hired to impersonate Duran - by Duran himself. Things get complicated when Duran begins to get jealous of how much his neglected wife seems to like "him," and even Martin's French girlfriend (Corinne Calvet) and Lili start confusing the two men. If the plot sounds familiar, that's because it is. It is the second remake of the story. It was first filmed as a vehicle for Maurice Chevalier in 1935 as Folies Bergère, and again in 1941 as That Night in Rio, starring Don Ameche. The background of the making of the film in all of its incarnations, from its start as a Broadway play called The Red Cat is included in one of the disc extras, the featurette, The Riviera Story: A Remarkable Impersonation.

Kaye and Co. in the closing number, "Happy Ending"

The Technicolor is vivid and bright, with sharp details, especially highlighted by the many musical numbers, which were staged by Jack Cole. Hollywood musical buffs should also keep an eye out for a young Gwen Verdon. The disc includes a nice short feature on the famous choreographer, The Jack of Clubs: Choreographer Jack Cole. Cole worked most notably with Marilyn Monroe in Gentleman Prefer Blondes, and Rita Hayworth in Gilda and had a huge influence on dancers and choreographers in Hollywood and on Broadway, including Bob Fosse, Michael Kidd, Jerome Robbins, and Tommy Tune.

Lili (Gene Tierney) is charmed by impersonator Jack Martin - or is it her husband Henri Durand?

Another fun movie reference - the famous painting from Laura, featuring Gene Tierney, can be seen in color, in her character's apartment in this film. On the Riviera was nominated for two Academy Awards - Best Music and Best Art Direction. Kaye won a Golden Globe - Best Motion Picture Actor in a Comedy/Musical, for his performance. His daughter Dena Kaye talks about her father's career in a short film that is included as an extra on the disk, A Portrait of Danny Kaye. The final extra on the disk is the theatrical trailer.

The Blu-ray looks great on a widescreen high-definition television screen. It is in fullscreen format with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The dialogue and music in Dolby, DTS Surround Sound sounds crisp and clear. On the Riviera has a running time of approximately 89 minutes, with subtitles available in English, French, and Spanish.

Director Walter Lang (State Fair, There's No Business Like Show Business, The King and I) lets Kaye run loose, to comic effect. The songs are fast and fun and written by Kaye's wife Silvia Fine. Kaye also does a wonderful, laid-back rendition of "Ballin' the Jack" which should not be missed. On the Riviera may be slight in the plot department, but its music and the immense talent of its star make it a classic film that should not be missed.

Originally published on Blogcritics: Blu-ray Review: ‘On The Riviera’

american guerrilla in the phillipines

A rarely-seen film starring Tyrone Power, American Guerrilla in the Philippines, is the latest release from Twentieth Century Fox in its Fox Cinema Archives collection. Like many of the other films in the archives, the film comes to DVD for the first time.

Directed by Fritz Lang and filmed on location, the 1950 film centers on Ensign Chuck Palmer (Power) an American Naval officer who has become stranded in the Philippines after Bataan. The film was based on the real life story of Based on the story of Iliff David Richardson. The soldier's memoirs were turned into a best-seller, An American Guerilla in the Philippines, by author and war correspondent Ira Wolfert.

Palmer and a group of locals and soldiers must survive, after their torpedo boat is destroyed by a Japanese air strike, until General MacArthur (Robert Barrat) does indeed return. Palmer, another soldier named Jim Mitchell (Tom Ewell), and Filipino resistance member Miguel (Tommy Cook) team up, while trying to evade capture by Japanese forces. In the middle of all of the fighting and espionage Power (of course) finds time for romance with the wife of a local planter, Jeanne (Micheline Presle), who has also joined the resistance movement after witnessing the murder of her husband by Japanese soldiers.

Navy Ensign Chuck Palmer considers his new orders

The resistance tries to hold off the Japanese, from L-R: Tom Ewell, Tyrone Power, Micheline Presle

Movie buffs will enjoy the opportunity to view a rare item from Lang's and Power's ouevres, but they must also be prepared for images that are frequently grainy and murky, especially in night scenes. The color images, when the light levels are better, are vibrant. The 105-minute film also includes frequent derogatory references to the Japanese, with cardboard cutter villains and some (for its time) fairly violent scenes. All in all, American Guerilla in the Philippines is a patriotic war movie that is of interest for fans looking to see all the films of Lang and Power.

First published on Blogcritics: DVD Review: ‘American Guerrilla in the Philippines’

Friday, December 27, 2013

favorite song friday: space oddity

We just saw and really enjoyed Ben Stiller's new version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (review to come). The film has an original score by Theodore Shapiro, but the song that really stands out, and becomes a welcome ear worm, is the David Bowie classic "Space Oddity."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

the day after xmas

There may be a lot of great sales out there, but we decided it should be a game day, at home and out.

The cats were tired out by a few rounds of The Game of Life.

The kid loves playing driving games in the arcade before the movie starts.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

merry xmas!

The tree, quiet at night, not a creature stirring ...

The gifts all wrapped and arranged, while visions of Louis from One Direction danced in her head ...

In just a few moments all was unwrapped and enjoyed ...

Dash proving that as always, playing with the wrapping paper is the best part ...

Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

santa's almost here ...

We're getting pretty excited around here ...

Monday, December 23, 2013

percy jackson: sea of monsters

Just in time for the holidays and any tween or teen gift-giving ideas comes the Blu-ray (+DVD and DigitalHD) of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. The film is a sequel to 2010's Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Akin to the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson books by author Rick Riordan follow a trio of intrepid teenagers who have special powers — they are the sons and daughters of the Greek Gods, or "half-bloods."

In the first film Percy (Logan Lerman) discovered that he was the son of Poseidon, god of the sea. This gives him some pretty nifty advantages — being able to stay under water for a really long time, having an ability to communicate with horses, and even being able to control water — a lot of water, if necessary. He also gained a nifty friend and protector of sorts, named Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), who happens to be a satyr. Grover brought him to Camp Half-Blood, which is a training ground for young demigods like Percy, where he met and befriended daughter of Athena, Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario).

The gang grabs the Golden Fleece: L-R: Tyson, Clarisse, Grover, Annabeth, and Percy

In Sea of Monsters Camp Half-Blood's safety is threatened by the trio's old nemesis Luke, a disgruntled son of Hermes who has decided to cast his lot with the Titan Cronus and overthrow the Greek gods. If this background sounds like a lot to take in, never fear. It is not really necessary to have read the books or seen the previous film to enjoy Sea of Monsters. The film does move quickly, but anyone with even a smattering of Greek mythology can enjoy the CGI renderings of a dangerous mechanical bull, a beautiful hippocampus (part horse, part fish) and a modern-day quest to recover the Golden Fleece, which happens to be held in the Sea of Monsters, which, amusingly, is smack-dab in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle along with the monsters Scylla and Charybdis.

The three young leads have a great rapport, and are helped this time out by some new and familiar faces. Leven Rambin joins the cast as Clarisse, a daughter of Ares, and Percy's main competitor at camp. Another new face is Douglas Smith as Tyson, Percy's newly-discovered half-brother, who also happens to be a Cyclops. Smith is quite touching and funny, and sure to become a fan favorite. Two of the disk's extras center on his character, a "Tyson Motion Comic," which shows how Tyson came to Camp Half-blood, and "It’s All in the Eye," a behind-the-scenes look at how make-up and CGI helped create his character's one-eyed look.

Tyson introduces Percy and Annabeth to a hippocampus

The Blu-ray is in widescreen (2.40:1) format and looks great on a large-scale, high-definition television screen. Colors and shadows are sharp. The sound quality  is also good, with subtitles available in English (DTS-HD-MA), French (5.1 DTS), and Spanish (5.1 DD), as well as closed captioning. The film has a running time of 107 minutes.

Some of the best set pieces, which combine teen angst with mythological creatures, include Percy's visit with the Oracle to discover his quest, a watery ride on a hippocampus, and a fun visit to Hermes (Nathan Fillion), who runs an Olympian message and package deliver service that may seem familiar to regular non-demigod folks. Fillion even manages to get in a joke that references his canceled cult series Firefly.

Hermes hands Percy a thermos which contains the four winds, a gift that is sure to come in handy on their quest, "Here, you'll need this." 
Percy reads the label on the thermos, confused, "What's this? 'Hercules Beat 'Em?'
Hermes, "Yeah, it's based on a TV show. Pretty much the greatest TV show of all time. So of course they cancelled it after one season."

Hermes offers the kids some helpful advice

Other familiar faces that round out the cast include Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games, Big Night) as Dionysus, who as a punishment from Zeus has been made the head of Camp Half-Blood; Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Merlin) as Chiron, Percy's wise and kind centaur mentor (played by Pierce Brosnan in the first film); and as a trio of witches called the Graeae, who share one eye and drive a New York City cab — Missi Pyle (Galaxy Quest , Bringing Down the House), Yvette Nicole Brown, and Mary Birdsong.

Annabeth, "It's a Chariot of Damnation." 
Grover, "Looks like a New York City cab." 
Annabeth, "Same difference."

Apart from its teen appeal, what really makes this second installment in the Percy Jackson series so enjoyable is its sense of humor. Combined with all of the monsters, bravery, and mayhem, the film is fun and moves quickly. 20th Century Fox is rumored to have a third film in the works, to be set for a 2015 release, based on the third book in the series, The Titan's Curse. It is not yet confirmed whether Sea Of Monsters director Thor Freudenthal (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Hotel for Dogs) will also helm the project, but Sea of Monsters did well at the box-office, grossing more than $200 million worldwide, so it looks like fans can get set to enjoy more danger and adventure to befall Percy and his friends in the future.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

more holiday lights

We love this local display of holiday lighting. The white trees are my favorite.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

waiting for santa

Dash likes to call ahead and get a good seat.

Friday, December 20, 2013

favorite song friday: you're a mean one, mr. grinch

Christmas music has been everywhere lately, seemingly piped in no matter one's location. I actually enjoy hearing some of these songs, especially the oldies, once a year. But I have to admit that my all-time favorite holiday song dates from my childhood, from the wonderful animated Dr. Seuss classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! All of the music from that special is great, but the best and most enduring is of course "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch."

The vocals by Thurl Ravenscroft are wonderful, but the lyrics, by Dr. Seuss, are simply amazing:

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch
You really are a heel,
You're as cuddly as a cactus, you're as charming as an eel, Mr. Grinch,
You're a bad banana with a greasy black peel! 
You're a monster, Mr. Grinch,
Your heart's an empty hole,
Your brain is full of spiders, you have garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch,
I wouldn't touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole! 
You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch,
You have termites in your smile,
You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile, Mr. Grinch,
Given a choice between the two of you'd take the seasick crocodile! 
You're a rotter, Mr. Grinch,
You're the king of sinful sots,
Your heart's a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots, Mr. Grinch,
You're a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce! 
You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch,
With a nauseous super "naus"!,
You're a crooked dirty jockey and you drive a crooked hoss, Mr. Grinch,
Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful
assortment of rubbish imaginable mangled up in tangled up knots! 
You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch,
You're a nasty wasty skunk,
Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch,
The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote,
"Stink, stank, stunk"!

Merry Happy Christmas music!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

the glam that fell to earth: velvet goldmine

1998's Velvet Goldmine is more than just an attempt to capture Britain's (and marginally, America's) short-lived obsession with glam rock in the 1970s. It's a true aural-visual experience. There is dialogue, but not much of what the characters say is as affecting as how and what they're wearing while they say it.

Director Todd Haynes (Safe, Far From Heaven) has always had an eye for color, but the David Bowie-inspired Velvet Goldmine is a non-stop assault of jewel-toned and glittery beauty. The original idea for the project was a Bowie biopic, but Bowie didn't like the script and didn't allow any of his music to appear in the film. What may have first seemed a blow ended up being a boon to the project, as Haynes could take aspects of Bowies life and career, like his Ziggy Stardust character, and spin it off in his own direction. He not only had fun with his version of Ziggy, called Maxwell Demon, but also references Citizen Kane, and even channels an alien Oscar Wilde (many of the characters' dialogue is made up of Wilde quotes) to add to the benevolent excess.

Brian Slade, "Rock and Roll is a prostitute, it should be tarted up."

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Brian Slade (courtesy of Fan Pop)

Velvet Goldmine poses the question, a la Kane, of what happened to '70s superstar Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), after he hoaxed his death on stage — and his fans and critics abandoned him after the deception. A British reporter now living in America named Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) is tasked with the assignment of uncovering the disappearance of Slade. Stuart is at first reluctant, as his own troubled youth and sexuality are closely tied to Slade and glam rock. Scenes from Slade's rise and fall are intercut with interviews between Stuart and Slade's ex-wife Mandy (Toni Colette), and his attempts to contact rock star Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor), who was Slade's collaborator and for a time, lover. While Slade is clearly Bowie-esque, Wild's character has aspects of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and even Kurt Cobain.

Mandy, "What is true about music is true about life: that beauty reveals everything because it expresses nothing."

Toni Colette as Mandy Slade
Mr. & Mrs. Glam

The bisexual Slade seems to enchant everyone in his orbit. He seems to have genuine affection for his wife Mandy and lover Curt, but does he love them — can he love anyone? Fame seems to be the only thing that he truly desires or understands. He has as deep an impact on Curt, who truly loves him, as he does his young and naive fan Arthur, who only loves him from afar. As much as Velvet Goldmine may be considered a "gay" love story (and part coming-out film, from Arthur's point of view), what comes across most strongly while viewing the film is its romanticism. A very long kiss between Brian Slade and Curt Wild is heady and romantic, no matter what your orientation. Maybe, for just that moment, Slade is truly in love.

Curt Wild, "The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history."

Hello young lovers: Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor) and Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers)

Rhys Meyers and McGregor do a lot of their own singing in the film, but they are also ably abetted by  such music luminaries as Thom Yorke, Thurston Moore, Andy Mackay, Ron Asheton, and many others. Classic glam rock hits are reinterpreted for the film, including T. Rex's "20th Century Boy," The Stooges' "T.V. Eye," and Lou Reed's "Satellite Of Love."

When the mystery of Slade's disappearance is finally revealed, it isn't exactly equivalent to a "Rosebud" moment. But I was still sorry to see the end of Velvet Goldmine. There aren't many movies that are so beautiful to watch, from scene to scene, even frame-to-frame. That are so unabashedly sad, and goofy, and exhilarating, and romantic. I'm still thinking about it, days later, and may have to watch it again soon.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

the tee shirts of my life, #1 — the hometown news

I have been going through some drawers, trying to clear things out, and found a bunch of old tee shirts that I hadn't seen in ages. Most were saved by my mom, I think. And did they bring me back. It's amazing how something like an old tee shirt could tell a story. For instance, this shirt, from the mid-70s. I didn't know that any of these had survived.


My dad was a newspaperman, who worked the political beat for New Jersey papers The Newark News and later, The Daily Observer, which operates out of Ocean County. In the '70s he decided he wanted to be his own boss and opened a local weekly paper called The Hometown News. He did everything — wrote the stories, taught my mom and me how to do layout, took and developed the photos in the darkroom (which he taught my brother and me how to do, too), sold advertising (until he could hire someone else to do that), even delivered the papers to stores and to the homes of paper boys and girls. And he had some tee shirts made. This must have been my mom's. She also wrote the entertainment column, mostly about television.

The artwork, which was also part of the paper's banner, was from one of our gigantic clip art collection books.


The Hometown News didn't survive very far into the 1980s, however. But I learned a lot. I wrote the music column, and my dad suggested that I write to major record labels; that I would be willing to review new releases. I did and they sent me free records. Some of them were pretty awful, but because of The Hometown News I also got free records and was introduced to and fell in love with some of my favorite bands like The Police and The Clash. And these days I find myself still writing, and even reviewing. It just takes a tee shirt to connect the dots.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

hanging with santa

We visited a local candy shop over the weekend that also has a holiday Santa and Mrs. Claus in residence. It's funny that when the kid is almost too old for all of this (thankfully not yet) she also, finally, isn't freaked out by gong to see the man in the red suit. I'm not so sure about the electric scooter they were discussing, however ...




Monday, December 16, 2013

the snow queen

BBC Home Entertainment recently released The Snow Queen, a movie originally screened on the BBC in 2005. Just in time for the holiday season, The Snow Queen is based on the classic children's story by Hans Christian Andersen. The project began as a showcase for the music of composer Paul K. Joyce, which debuted at the Barbican Arts Centre in London. The concert featured the London Symphony Orchestra, soprano Sydney Rae White, and actress Juliet Stevenson (The Secret of Moonacre, Mona Lisa Smile, Truly Madly Deeply) as the narrator. It was such a success that a filmed version of the concert was devised, under the direction of Julian Gibbs. The remastered version of the film includes 5.1 surround sound.

Gerda misses her friend Kay

The Snow Queen's palace

The Snow Queen becomes almost a tone poem, as Joyce's music tells the story of Gerda, who must journey to the dangerous and forbidden castle of the Snow Queen (Tiffany Amber Knight), who has kidnapped her best friend Kay (Pax Baldwin). White and Stevenson return for the film version; White plays Gerda, and Stevenson her mother. Patrick Stewart (X-Men, The Canterville Ghost, Star Trek: The Next Generation) joins the cast as a talking raven who helps guide Gerda on her adventure. There is minimal dialogue throughout, with the music and the acting telling the story. The Snow Queen, with its running time of 56 minutes, has the feeling of an animated film, even though it is populated with real actors. The live-action scenes were all filmed in bluescreen, and the CGI fanciful and painterly sets and backgrounds added later. A disc extra about the making of The Snow Queen features the film cast and crew talking about the logistical challenges of blue screen and how they brought the fairytale to life. The other extra, besides the behind-the-scenes featurette included on the disc, is a Blue Peter short film about Hans Christian Andersen’s life.

The Snow Queen should be perfect viewing for a cold winter's night, with Gerda's girl-power quest and lovely soprano voice taking viewers on a fanciful adventure. Parents may even get more out of this highly stylized version of a beloved fairytale than their children, and be the ones who opt for repeat viewings.

Originally published on Blogcritics: DVD Review: ‘The Snow Queen’

Sunday, December 15, 2013

r.i.p. peter o'toole

Simply one of the very best.

What's New Pussycat, The Lion in Winter, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year, Becket, Lord Jim, How to Steal a Million are just a few of my favorites.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

the lady vanishes

BBC Home Entertainment has recently released The Lady Vanishes, an update of the classic 1938 film by Alfred Hitchcock.

Bored with her hard-partying crowd and desperately wanting to return to London, spoiled young heiress Iris Carr (Tuppence Middleton) just manages to book a seat on the train, and just manages to catch it and nab the last available seat (with a helpful bribe at the ticket counter). As she stumbles towards ghee seat, Iris recognizes some of the train passengers from her hotel — A strict vicar named Barnes and his timid wife; two elderly women, the Floodporter sisters, fond of debating about their fellow hotel guests; and a glamorous couple, calling themselves the Todhunters, who are clearly having an extramarital affair (Julian Rhind-Tutt and Keeley Hawes). But Iris is at first much less interested in her fellow travelers than why there is a bump on her head — she fainted at the train platform before boarding.

Miss Froy (Selina Cadell) and Iris (Tuppence Middleton)
A young woman traveling solo can face many challenges, but the sinister camera angles and expressions on characters' faces in The Lady Vanishes signal, telegraph, that something unsavory is afoot. The only passenger who doesn't look like a bit player from a horror movie is a woman from her compartment, Miss Froy (Selina Cadell), who invites Iris to join her in the dining car. While Iris nurses her headache with a cup of tea, Miss Froy chatters on about her fellow travelers, especially her former employer, a sour-faced Baroness (Benedikte Hansen) who is also traveling on the train. Still dazed from sunstroke (or was it something else?) Iris only hears snippets of the conversation. She comes to regret her inattention later when Miss Froy has disappeared.

Back in their seats Iris drifts off to sleep and wakes up to find Miss Froy gone — and no one in her compartment, or anywhere on the train will admit to having seen her. She feels adrift, with no allies, except for one young man, Max Hare (Tom Hughes). He hasn't seen Miss Froy either, but he is at least willing to take Iris at her word and help her search for the older woman.

Iris and Max (Tom Hughes) search the train
It's impossible not to compare this updated version with Alfred Hitchcock's original film. Although certainly stylish in its use of locations (shot in Hungary), detailed and opulent-looking sets, and period-accurate costumes (lots of silk and satin), the 2013 version, directed by Diarmuid Lawrence (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Silent Witness), cannot equal the breakneck pace and forward momentum of the first film. There was another version, made in 1979, which starred Cybill Shepherd and Elliott Gould as the young couple trying to find Miss Froy (Angela Lansbury.) It was faster-paced than this British version, almost verging on hysterical, its focus on screwball comedy over mystery.

The Lady Vanishes has a running time of 90 minutes, with an aspect ratio of 16:9 HD. Its colors look bright and sharp on a large-scale high-definition television screen. The Dolby Digital dialogue and music, sounds crisp. Subtitles and chapter selection are available, but there are unfortunately no other extras on the disc.

Fans of British mystery will recognize some familiar faces, including Stephanie Cole (Waiting for God, Doc Martin) and Gemma Jones (The Duchess of Duke Street, MI-5) who play the Floodporter sisters. Everyone has their own, somewhat personal reasons for not wanting the authorities to stop the train for a complete search, which is understandable, in the pre-WWII climate. The Lady Vanishes is an entertaining and high quality remake, but it is impossible after watching it to not want to look up the original, and see how the master, Alfred Hitchcock, handled a mystery.

Original post on Blogcritics: DVD Review: ‘The Lady Vanishes’ (2013)

Friday, December 13, 2013

favorite song friday: monster

I guess I can hold off having to deal with Christmas music a little longer by featuring this song by Eminem, featuring Rihanna, which deserves all of the airplay it's been getting. These two artists seem a perfect blend, much more so than another song that I like, "Holy Grail," where the melodic (Timberlake) and rap (Jay Z) seemed more disjointed.

Plus, Eminem's self-searching lyrics actually seem to be about something here, as opposed to Jay Z's more typical fame-posturing. Eminem also hasn't released a studio-produced video and the song, which has been out since the end of October, is still #1. What can I say? I like it.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

small world

The fire alarms in our building went off last night after dinner. Our stone and concrete structure didn't seem likely to be a tinderbox, but better safe than sorry. The kid and I marched downstairs to await the fire department's arrival. We were actually the only two residents to do this. I don't think everyone else was out to dinner on a Wednesday night, but it's Palm Beach, you never know.

The fire truck drives away — false alarm (whew!)

Three fire trucks showed up, plus a patrol car. As we waited for the verdict near the parking lot (the quietest place in the vicinity) the policeman on call made a little small talk, praising us for leaving the building. Apparently most folks tend to ignore fire alarms. He then looked at us a little more closely and asked, "Do I know you?" Before you imagine that the kid and I engage in crime sprees in our spare time, we determined that he was the cop who showed up back in June when my mother fell and the ambulance came. Small world. He asked my daughter if she was the one who found Grandma and she nodded. He then asked how mom was doing, which was nice.

The firemen came out, axes unused (thankfully). Apparently the smoke detector in the elevator had gone off, setting off all of the building's alarms. So a false alarm, but an extremely loud one.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

the centered worlds of moonrise kingdom and fantastic mr. fox

Sam, "I admit we knew we'd get in trouble. That part's true. We knew people would be worried, and we still ran away, anyway. But something also happened, which we didn't do on purpose. When we first met each other, something happened to us."

Sam and Suzy embark on an adventure

Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom tells a tale of young love, circa 1965. Or, a love story that happens to be happening to two young people. Kids, most would call them. 12-year-old Sam (Jared Gilman) and the lovely deadpan Suzy met one summer and it was clearly a meeting of the minds. Or souls. After some serious pen pal-manship the two decide to run away together the following summer. Sam is a Khaki Scout, and comes to the rendezvous equipped with all matter of survival gear. Suzy brings her kitten, favorite books, her portable record player and a suitcase. Suzy's parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), Sam's scout master (Edward Norton) and troop and a laid-back local policeman (Bruce Willis) go on full alert and try to locate the missing pair. But Moonrise Kingdom is not really about whether the kids will be found or not. It's about love and family. Sam is an orphan and envies Suzy's large family, while Suzy detests them and romanticizes Sam's situation.
Sam, "I feel I'm in a real family now. Not like yours, but similar to one."
Suzy, "I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favorite characters are. I think your lives are more special."
Sam, "I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about."
Suzy, "I love you, too."

The fantastic Mr. Fox

An equally fantastic treehouse from Moonrise Kingdom

Bill Murray has been working consistently with Anderson since Rushmore, and the director has always managed to assemble the best talent. Also on board for Moonrise Kingdom are Bob Balaban as an overly-involved narrator, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand, and another Anderson regular contributor, Jason Schwartzman. I've been a fan of Anderson and his highly stylized films, featuring twisted family situations since Rushmore. Moonrise Kingdom is a visual feast as well as sweet and funny. But as I was watching it I couldn't help but be reminded of his previous film, the stop-motion Fantastic Mr. FoxMoonrise Kingdom's opening credit sequence set in the Bishops' (Suzy's parents) house, how the characters are placed in a frame, and how the camera moves, reminds me of Anderson's animated animal characters as well as being very reminiscent of Mr. Fox's home.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the Roald Dahl children's book, tells the story of Mr. Fox (George Clooney) his wife (Meryl Streep), and his uneasy relationship with his son Ash (Jason Schwartzman). Mr. Fox and his friends steal food each night from some rich and angry farmers, but soon find their lives and homes threatened by the humans, until they turn the tables on the farmers and find a new life — underground. The disaffected Ash and his gripes, especially his resentment of his talented cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), sounds similar to runaways Sam and Suzy.
Beaver's Son, to Ash, "We don't like you and we hate your dad. Now grab some of that mud, chew it in your mouth, and swallow it."
Ash, "I'm not gonna eat mud!"
Beaver's Son, "Cuss yeah you are." [Shoves mud in Ash's face]
Kristofferson, "Don't do that."
Beaver's Son, "Why'd you take your shoes off?"
Kristofferson, "So I don't break your nose when I kick it." [Karate moves ensue, Beaver's son walks away crying]
Ash, "I can fight my own fights."
Kristofferson, "No, you can't."

The crew from The Life Aquatic, led by Bill Murray

Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore

A tableau semi-vivant from The Royal Tenenbaums

Anderson has always been a fan of ultra-saturated colors and (mostly) centered compositions. Think about the framing of a scene the next time out watching The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou or The Royal Tenenbaums. His highly stylized visuals effortlessly leant themselves to the animation of Fox, but that sensibility, especially coupled with an attention to detail, is just as wonderfully employed in Moonrise Kingdom. The Bishops' house interiors resemble a miniature dollhouse — until someone actually walks into the frame and surprises the viewer. There are many set pieces in Moonrise Kingdom, but one of the funniest, an amazingly tall tree house built by the troop Sam belongs to, the Khaki Scouts, brings the tree that houses Mr. Fox and his friends to mind as well.

At the Bishops' house, with Suzy ...

... and without Suzy
Mr. Fox, "They say all foxes are slightly allergic to linoleum, but it's cool to the paw — try it. They say my tail needs to be dry cleaned twice a month, but now it's fully detachable — see? They say our tree may never grow back, but one day, something will. Yes, these crackles are made of synthetic goose and these giblets come from artificial squab, and even these apples look fake — but at least they've got stars on them. I guess my point is, we'll eat tonight, and we'll eat together. And even in this not particularly flattering light, you are without a doubt the five and a half most wonderful wild animals I've ever met in my life. So let's raise our boxes — to our survival.

Families may be dysfunctional, and our world and our lives, may be less than perfect, but somehow Anderson's characters manage to find ways to enjoy themselves and make the best of things. All while keeping things centered.

Monday, December 09, 2013

the rockettes

Believe it or not, all my years living in Brooklyn and New York, and growing up in suburban New Jersey I never saw the Rockettes. So when they booked a week of their famous Christmas show at our local theater I knew I had to take the kid.

It was a blast. Both the kid and I loved it.

Beautiful tree made of poinsettias
Beautiful kid with tree
Waiting for the Rockettes
Waiting for the curtain to rise

The Rockettes (photo courtesy of The Kravis Center)

Sunday, December 08, 2013

getting ready for the holiday

Ok, we may be mixing up our holidays here a bit ...