Sunday, December 16, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

The new animated film SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018) seemed to come out of nowhere; I'd not heard a thing about it until our daughter attended a preview last week and urged me to see it. Other reviewers strongly echoed her recommendation so I went to see it today.

Although Sony/Columbia gave Disney rights to use the Spider-Man character in their live-action Marvel Cinematic Universe series, including SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017), Sony otherwise maintained rights to the character and thus released this new Marvel animated feature.

Since I'm unfamiliar with the Spider-Man character outside of his appearances in the Disney-owned Marvel films, my daughter gave me a brief primer on the concept of "alternate universes" which allowed Marvel to create multiple Spider-Man characters. That was definitely helpful; while on one level the film is very "accessible" and explains the concept well, at the same time it moves at warp speed, so it was easier for me to absorb the story thanks to having that background. I'd recommend potential viewers do a bit of similar reading -- and then go see the film, which is excellent.

Young middle school student Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is navigating some of the usual pitfalls of teenage life, including trying to fit in at a new school and letting a girl know he likes her, when late one night he's spending time hanging out with his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) and is bitten by a radioactive spider.

Peter suddenly has bewildering new powers, including sticky hands and the ability to walk on the sides of buildings. Simultaneously he meets the Spider-Man of his universe, Peter Parker (Chris Pine)...and then a bunch more "spider" people from other worlds begin turning up, because mobster Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) has opened up pathways from other dimensions. Miles finds himself working to save his universe and return his new "spider" friends to their own worlds.

That may sound a bit complicated but I didn't have any trouble keeping up; the film benefits from the fact that while there are a lot of "spider people" (including Spider-Ham, a pig!) floating around, the straight line through the movie is the story of Miles maturing and growing into his own role as Spider-Man.

There are far too many excellent moments to mention, besides which the viewer should be surprised; that said, the late Stan Lee made one of his patented cameos in this film, albeit in animated fashion, and it's a special moment. Watch for it. There's also a lovely tribute to Lee and artist Steve Ditko in the end credits.

I'll also say that the Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) character is a treat for classic film fans!

The story is told with both great humor and genuine heart, presented in a kinetic, uniquely designed visual package. Like most movies these days, it's slightly too long at 117 minutes, but only just.

Favorite reviewer Leonard Maltin wrote that SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE was "the most spectacular animated feature I’ve ever seen." I personally found that praise a bit over the top -- but yes, it is a very good film and well worth seeing.

This film was directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman. Co-Producer/Co-Writer Phil Lord also wrote THE LEGO MOVIE (2014), which I would include on a short list of spectacular animated features.

The only real negative for me was that the stylized camera work -- sometimes shaky, out of focus, or duplicating what was on screen with "shadows" -- was too hard on the eyes. The filmmakers were going for a frenetic "as fast as you can turn the pages" comic book feel but the dizzying style made it hard for me to keep my eyes on the screen at some points. I'm very glad I watched it in 2D as I think 3D would have been "too much"!

All that said, the film deserves praise for creating a unique look, including periodic "thought bubbles" and bits of comic book pages on the screen, which made it very visually arresting.

The voice cast also includes Lily Tomlin, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Kimiko Glenn, John Mulaney, Kathryn Hahn, Jake Johnson, and Lake Bell.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. It's quite "clean" in every respect, and that was one aspect among many I appreciated about the film.

A trailer is here.

This film was an unexpected animated treat which I recommend.

Tonight's Movie: Lady on a Train (1945)

One of the nicest things about Christmas is pulling favorite holiday movies off the shelf; it's like spending time with beloved old friends from year to year.

At the same time, it's always nice to discover a new seasonal favorite. Anyone wanting to add something a little different to their Christmas movie viewing can't do better than Deanna Durbin starring as the LADY ON A TRAIN (1945).

LADY ON A TRAIN is not a film about Christmas, as such; instead, it's a giddy mashup of murder mystery, screwball comedy, and musical, with the added plus of being set during the Christmas season.

Durbin stars as Nikki Collins, who takes the train to New York to visit her aunt for the holidays. While gazing out her compartment window at a station stop, Nikki is stunned to witness...a murder!

Nikki attempts to report the murder but a cranky police sergeant (William Frawley) refuses to pay attention to her fantastic story, so she hunts down her favorite mystery writer, Wayne Morgan (David Bruce), and asks for his help solving the crime.

There are two women in Wayne's life, his wisecracking secretary Miss Fletcher (Jacqueline deWit) and his jealous fiancee Joyce (Patricia Morison), who are perplexed by Nikki's frequent comings and goings, despite Morgan's protestations that he's never met her before. And despite the trouble she causes, by the time Nikki sings "Night and Day" in a nightclub, Wayne is looking at her like he's a goner.

We never do meet Nikki's aunt, and it would be interesting to know if Nikki ever did see her while she was in New York or if Nikki was too busy playing Nancy Drew for a visit!

Thanks to a newsreel Nikki realizes the identity of the murder victim and tracks down his relatives, played by Ralph Bellamy and Dan Duryea. Duryea is in great form as the wisecracking cousin who might be good...or might not. Bellamy plays the seemingly more benign cousin, who has a very...weird relationship with his aunt (Elizabeth Patterson).

Nikki must also contend with a pair of baddies (George Coulouris and Allen Jenkins) while she attempts to solve the mystery, and she's constantly followed by her father's employee, "Mr. Haskell of the New York office" (Edwards Everett Horton). All in all it's a wonderful cast of characters played by some of the best in the business. Look for bit players such as Tom Dugan, George Chandler, Barbara Bates, and Sam McDaniel in the supporting cast.

The movie was based on a story by Leslie Charteris, creator of The Saint mysteries. It's very well plotted and has some excellent dialogue; deWit and Horton, in particular, are a lot of fun, and their lines caused me to do mental double-takes a couple of times! Jenkins has a great moment where he pauses in the midst of his skullduggery to tear up over Deanna and Christmas.

Signs of the holidays are visible throughout the film, from the miniature tree on a police sergeant's desktop to a woman struggling with Christmas packages in a movie theater to characters exchanging gifts. There's even an attempt to cover up a murder with the theory the victim fell off a stepstool while decorating his Christmas tree!

Most sublimely, Deanna sings "Silent Night" over the phone to her faraway father; as the song ends, she looks out a window at falling snow, a truly magical moment.

There are some great sets, particularly the unique Circus Club, a nightclub where the staff dress as though they work for a circus. During the last part of the film the cast run in and out of Circus Club doors, as well as up and down stairs, and in the middle of the chaos Deanna somehow manages multiple wardrobe changes and hairstyles, along with spontaneously performing a couple of numbers for the nightclub audience!

Deanna is seemingly fearless playing someone who's a bit of a manipulative "wild child," clearly used to having her own way, but she gets away with playing a character who could be obnoxious in other hands because she's funny, talented, and had built enormous goodwill with her fans over her remarkable career. She's great fun as she escapes from Mr. Haskell, barges in on Wayne, insincerely coos "Yes, Daddy" to her father via long distance, and teases the nightclub audience with "Give Me a Little Kiss." Her final scene with Wayne is even a bit risque!

Deanna also looks amazing in a fabulous wardrobe by Howard Greer. Along with everything else, she was quite the fashionable clotheshorse in this. The cinematographer was Woody Bredell.

As a postscript, half a decade later Deanna Durbin would marry this film's director, Charles David; she retired and they lived in France, happily married until his passing 48 years later. Deanna lived another 14 years before she passed away in 2013.

LADY ON A TRAIN is a delightfully fun 94-minute film which gets better on successive viewings, and it's a terrific addition to the Christmas movie lineup! It's available on DVD in the Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack, which I very highly recommend, or as a single-title release in the Universal Vault Series. It also had a release on VHS back in 2000.

This post is adapted from a review originally published by ClassicFlix in 2015. I also previously reviewed the movie here in 2009.

Disney California Adventure: Christmastime

Last week after visiting Disneyland we walked across the Esplanade to Disney California Adventure to enjoy the beautiful Christmas decorations.

The entrance advertises the park's Festival of Holidays:

I love the decorating of Buena Vista Street!

The Carthay Circle Theatre:

Trolley Treats and its Rock Candy Mountain are especially appealing at this time of year:

The Elias & Co. window decorations are based on the Silly Symphony SANTA'S WORKSHOP (1932):

For past photos of Christmas decorations on Buena Vista Street, please visit my 2012 post First Christmas on Buena Vista Street or my 2014 post, among others.

Then it was on to the ultra-colorful neon lights of Cars Land:

And finally, I love the simple lights strung through the Pacific Wharf area:

Coming soon: A photo post on the new Disneyland exhibit, The Art of Mary Poppins Returns.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Tonight's Movie: A Letter to Three Wives (1949) at UCLA: A Photo Gallery

Last night was a wonderful evening at UCLA: A showing of the classic A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949) in glorious black and white 35mm nitrate.

The screening was part of UCLA's ongoing Nitrate Treasures series. Earlier this year I saw COUNSELLOR AT LAW (1933) as part of the series, and in 2017 I was able to see both ROAD HOUSE (1948) and NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948) in nitrate.

This screening of A LETTER TO THREE WIVES was particularly welcome as I had passed up a chance to see a digital print at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival, calculating that another film in that time slot, a 35mm showing of LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938), would be less likely to turn up again on a big screen in Los Angeles.

Not only did A LETTER TO THREE WIVES play in Los Angeles again only eight months later, but I lucked into a screening "upgrade" from digital to 35mm nitrate!

I reviewed A LETTER TO THREE WIVES in the early days of this blog, back in 2006, and though brief, my thoughts still stand. To elaborate on two points from that review:

*I'm a very big fan of Jeanne Crain, but her character never gets a chance to shine in this. Sure, we see her "graduate" to being part of the in crowd, outwardly represented by her acquiring a more fashionable wardrobe, but she's the "whiny girl" through almost the entire film.

I'm also curious about this still, as this scene, with Jeffrey Lynn as Crain's husband, doesn't appear in the film:

*Linda Darnell just blows me away in this movie. She was so beautiful that I don't think she ever quite got her due as an actress. A look at her credits shows quite an impressive listing of titles, and I believe she made great contributions to their success. Here she's tops in a fine ensemble.

It's particularly striking to me how Darnell and Paul Douglas bicker through the entire film, yet viewers can still feel the love and longing underneath. I came across a piece by Michał Oleszczyk at Roger which describes it well: "...the way Darnell and Douglas play their parts - as two people exhausted with mutual hostility and secretly craving armistice (but too proud to ask for it) - makes the viewer realize how much affection there really is between them."

I've put together a gallery of images from this film, which was written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and filmed by Arthur Miller. The photos, which also feature costars Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Thelma Ritter, Connie Gilchrist, and Barbara Lawrence, are sure to conjure up happy viewing memories for any fellow classic film fans who also love this movie.

A LETTER TO THREE WIVES is available on DVD in the Fox Studio Classics Series, and it's also had a release on Blu-ray. It was released on VHS in 1996.

Highly recommended.

Quick Preview of TCM in February

Last week Turner Classic Movies posted a preview of the February schedule.

Since February is traditionally 31 Days of Oscar month, the first three days of the March schedule were published as well.

As usual, there are many good films airing in February, while the down side is that there isn't much variety in the schedule year to year, since only Oscar-nominated films are shown.

My personal opinion is that after all these years I'd like to see TCM try something new in February, but I highly doubt they'll follow my suggestion! That said, it's a great month for newer film buffs to become acquainted with classics, and it's also a nice time for the rest of us to revisit old favorites.

I'll have a closer look at the February schedule posted here at the end of January.

In the meantime, Dick Powell continues as the December Star of the Month, with Kathryn Grayson coming in January.

TCM Remembers 2018

Turner Classic Movies has released TCM Remembers, its annual tribute to filmmakers who have passed on in the last year.

TCM Remembers may be watched via TCM's Twitter account or on the TCM website.

TCM always does a very good job, and I was glad to see some lesser-known names like Meg Randall included.

I did note the absence of a few people, including Jean Porter Dmytryk, who died last January and who not only had a bigger career than Randall, she was also married to a prominent director, Edward Dmytryk. I was also a little surprised by the omission of Allyn Ann McLerie of CALAMITY JANE (1953).

It was especially surprising that Mary Carlisle wasn't included, as TCM recently honored her with a memorial tribute night; she passed away in August at the age of 104.

This year I found myself most moved by the tribute to Heather Menzies Urich of THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965), who died on Christmas Eve in 2017.

It was also especially touching to see Peggy Cummins and Patricia Morison listed, as I was fortunate to see each of them in person (click their names for the links describing those events).

Past TCM tribute posts: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Disneyland: Christmastime

Earlier this week we went to Disneyland to enjoy the beautiful Christmas lights in both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

Here are a few shots of Disneyland showing how special it is at this time of year. Click any photo to enlarge for a closer look.

Main Street USA:

Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle at dusk:

We had a wonderful dinner at the festively decorated Plaza Inn on Main Street:

Another view of the castle later in the evening:

The Golden Horseshoe in Frontierland:

Main Street USA by night, looking toward Town Square:

I'll have nighttime Christmas photos from Disney California Adventure posted here in the next few days, along with photos from the new Disneyland exhibit The Art of Mary Poppins Returns. (Update: Please visit Disney California Adventure: Christmastime.)

Previously: Today at Disney California Adventure: Christmastime Arrives!; Today at Disneyland: Thanksgiving Eve 2018.