Friday, November 16, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Instant Family (2018)

I really enjoy Mark Wahlberg, so when I saw that his new movie was a change-of-pace family film rather than an action movie, I was immediately interested.

I'm happy to report that INSTANT FAMILY (2018) is a thoroughly entertaining film. In a story "inspired by true events," Wahlberg and Rose Byrne play Pete and Ellie, a happily married couple with a business remodeling and restoring homes. They've deferred having a family but when jolted into the realization that time's running out, they decide to look into the possibility of becoming foster parents, with the ultimate goal being adoption.

Although initially looking for a younger child, they meet 15-year-old Lizzy (Isabela Moner) at a "meet and greet" picnic for potential foster parents, and they're taken by her smart but sassy personality. They're surprised when told Lizzy has two younger siblings, Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz), but the kids are so cute they decide to go for it and take all three children.

All is well during the initial "honeymoon" phase, but as the kids become more comfortable, ironically that's when they begin showing the stresses of having been raised (or not) by a drug-addicted parent (Joselin Reyes). There are times when the kids act out and Pete and Ellie briefly wish they could quit, but those moments of frustration are pushed aside when beautiful things happen, like being called "Mommy" or "Daddy."

The film was directed by Sean Anders, from a script by Anders and John Morris, and to its credit it avoids being overly sappy or maudlin, with a good sense of humor throughout; in fact at times it's riotously funny. This is due in part to a superb supporting cast who hit all the right humorous notes, including Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro as a team of social workers, Margo Martindale and Julie Hagerty as Pete and Ellie's mothers, Michael O'Keefe as Ellie's dad, and Joan Cusack, who has a very funny sequence as a neighbor.

Wahlberg and Byrne are winning as the would-be parents, and the three young actors are all solid, believably presented as children who are both appealing and troubled. The challenges raising them are clear but so are the rewards.

The movie was filmed by Brett Pawlak, with Georgia standing in for California.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13. Some thematic elements and language are adult, but on the positive side it's an uplifting story of family and commitment.

A trailer may be seen here.

I had a very nice evening watching this one. Recommended.

Previous reviews of Mark Wahlberg films: THE ITALIAN JOB (2003), CONTRABAND (2012), TWO GUNS (2013), DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016), and PATRIOTS DAY (2016).

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Today at Disney California Adventure: Christmastime Arrives!

This was the opening weekend of the holiday season at the Disney Resort.


The festivities kicked off on Friday, November 9th, and will run through Epiphany on Sunday, January 6, 2019.

We spent this morning at Disney California Adventure, taking in the sights and sounds on Buena Vista Street and elsewhere. Click any photo to enlarge for a closer look.



The Red Car Trolley in Hollywood Land:


More from Hollywood Land:



The Festival of Holidays returned this year, along with the Festive Foods Marketplace.



Paradise Park:



The Toy Soldiers are wonderful!


The Pacific Wharf:


Viva Navidad at Paradise Gardens:





People sometimes ask me why Christmastime at Disney begins so early, but it's simply that the early decorating -- which, as can be seen in part above, is a massively detailed project -- allows as many people as possible to enjoy this very popular time at the parks. It also wouldn't make quite as much sense for Disney to invest such effort in decorating the parks for a short period of time.


Happiest (early) Christmas wishes to all!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Goldie Gets Along (1933) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

French actress Lila Damita stars in the title role of RKO's GOLDIE GETS ALONG (1933), newly released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Orphaned Goldie had been taken in by her American aunt (Jane Keckley) after her mother died in France, but the free-spirited, unconventional Goldie is a fish out of water in the very strait-laced Saunders household. She shocks the family by staying out late and generally doesn't fit in.

Goldie's earnest boyfriend Bill (Charles Morton) wants to marry her and presents her with a lovely little house, but Goldie has other ideas; she wants to go to Hollywood and be an actress.

Despite having no money, Goldie hits the road, both taking advantage of and fending off a succession of lecherous men; among other things she hitchhikes, "borrows" a car, and wins a rigged beauty contest with a trip to Hollywood as the prize.

Goldie frankly isn't very nice, using everyone in her path, yet Bill inexplicably wants her and keeps pursuing her, all the way to Hollywood.

GOLDIE GETS ALONG is a very loooong 68 minutes. Damita -- who had previously been married to director Michael Curtiz and would marry Errol Flynn in 1935 -- is utterly charmless in the lead role. She made me think of another European actress, Hungarian Franciska Gaal (THE GIRL DOWNSTAIRS); why Hollywood moguls thought either woman would be successful is baffling.

Morton is somewhat reminiscent of actor Charles Farrell, but without the charisma. Bill really needed to go home and find himself a girl actually interested in being his wife, because a marriage to Goldie seems doomed to failure.

In the right hands, with Goldie a less manipulative, hard-edged character, this might have been an amusing screwball story with a fun "road trip" and Hollywood setting; such storylines worked well in other movies, but sadly this film is absolutely leaden.

Thankfully Nat Pendleton and Walter Brennan pop up briefly, along with child actress Helen Parrish (just seen in THE BIG TRAIL), but that's about all I can say for it. Most movies I see have at least some redeeming features which make them worthwhile, but I have to say this isn't one of them. Oddly, I've seen two such films in the last week, the other being WINE, WOMEN AND HORSES (1937).

GOLDIE GETS ALONG was directed by Malcolm St. Clair and filmed by Merritt Gerstad.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good print, particularly considering the film's age. The sound quality is fine, although Damita's accent is a bit challenging at times. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Tonight's Movie: The Last Ride (1944) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE LAST RIDE (1944) is an entertaining Warner Bros. "B" film just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

THE LAST RIDE is about two brothers -- Pat, a cop (Richard Travis) and Mike (Charles Lang), a crook -- on opposite sides of a case.

Mike is involved with a gang of crooks who steal tires for the rubber; they also sell defective tires to unsuspecting people. After a young couple die in a wreck caused by the bad tires, Pat goes to work investigating the racket, which means potentially putting his own brother behind bars. When the chips are down and the bad guys (Jack La Rue and Cy Kendall) try to kill Pat, will Mike be loyal to his brother or the gang?

This was a fairly engaging little movie. The plot elements are familiar but that's not necessarily a bad thing, and the story's put over with energy in a briskly told tale which runs just 57 minutes.

The rubber shortage angle is a rather interesting wartime issue also seen in Universal's EYES OF THE UNDERWORLD (1942) with Richard Dix.

The plot also seems to have been somewhat inspired by the Warner Bros. film EAST OF THE RIVER (1940), which also featured good and bad brothers, who both fall for a young woman taken into their home by their mother. In this case it's just reversed; Pat and Mike both love Kitty (Eleanor Parker), whose mother (Mary Gordon) took them in.

Eleanor Parker got her start at Warner Bros. appearing in "B" films such as this and BUSSES ROAR (1942). Unfortunately her story, as part of the romantic triangle, strangely disappears partway through the film; one minute she's making the brothers dinner and then that's the last we see of her! It's really too bad that story didn't have a resolution but with such a short running time, apparently there wasn't room for it; one would think the movie could have afforded a couple more minutes with Parker at the end!

Travis and Lang had costarred the previous year in the delightfully titled TRUCK BUSTERS (1943), also a Warner Archive DVD release, which was reviewed here in 2012. Neither is particularly memorable -- indeed, I frankly had to watch them closely to remember who was who! -- but they do an adequate job.

There are a number of interesting players in small parts. Virginia Patton, who played Harry Bailey's new wife Ruth in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) -- and is now 93 -- plays Hazel, who survives the first car incident but isn't so lucky later in the film; Dolores Moran of TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944) plays Molly in the first minutes of the movie. William Hopper of PERRY MASON fame is also on hand.

The movie was directed by D. Ross Lederman and filmed by James Van Trees.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good print. I did have to adjust the sound up and down a couple times as some scenes seemed quieter than others. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Love You Like Christmas (2016)

Halloween is behind us, so 'tis the season...for Hallmark Channel Christmas movies!

As has become tradition -- and a ratings juggernaut -- Hallmark is now showing Christmas movies 'round the clock for the next several weeks. A Hallmark Christmas film I've just discovered and thoroughly enjoyed is LOVE YOU LIKE CHRISTMAS (2016), starring Bonnie Somerville and Brennan Elliott.

Somerville plays Maddie, a New York City marketing executive who hates to fly, so when an important client invites her to her wedding in Colorado, Maddie decides to drive. As fate would have it, her car breaks down in Ohio, near a little town called Christmas Valley.

The car repairs will take time so Maddie finds a room at a boarding house run by Pam (Precious Chong). and in no time at all she finds herself part of the local community, which includes diner owner Holly (Sadie LeBlanc) and her cook (Andre Richards); fellow boardinghouse resident Bob (Richard Waugh), a salesman; Cory (Graham Scott Fleming), a mechanic with musical gifts; and Roy (Derek Scott), a regular at the diner who always chimes in with a pithy comment.

Most of all, Maddie gets to know widowed Kevin Tyler (Elliott), who runs a struggling Christmas tree farm, and his daughter Jo (Madison Brydges). Maddie and Kevin "meet cute" when traffic is blocked by a spilled load of Christmas trees; sparks fly, and the pair are happy to meet again when Maddie is stranded in Christmas Valley. Having lost her own mother, Maddie quickly bonds with young Jo and joins her in holiday activities.

Due to a devastating flood the prior year, the tree farm is about to go under, but Maddie is a marketing whiz. Will Maddie and Kevin save the tree farm and fall in love? What do you think? It's a Hallmark Christmas movie, after all!

The joy is in the journey, and it's a particularly good one here. The sense of community is delightful, with fun little details showing how Maddie quickly becomes part of the local scene. Soon the cook knows her order when she walks in the door of the diner, the dog at the boarding house is sleeping on her bed, the salesman pitches in knowledgeably with her project to save the tree farm, and she finds herself baking and decorating with Jo. Who would ever want to leave?

The banter back and forth among the characters at the diner is really enjoyable, as is Kevin and Maddie's straightforward courtship. They don't hide that they like each other, and the only question is whether Maddie is going to be able to leave behind the career she's built in New York.

Add to this some beautiful scenery, with Ontario, Canada, standing in for Ohio, filmed by Fraser Brown, and some lovely music, and you've got yourself a perfect Christmas movie.

LOVE YOU LIKE CHRISTMAS was directed by Graeme Campbell from a script by Karen Berger, who's written several other Hallmark scripts, including the popular ALL OF MY HEART movie series.

LOVE YOU LIKE CHRISTMAS plays regularly on the Hallmark Channel at this time of year. It's also available on DVD.

Recommended.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Arizona Ranger (1948) at the Lone Pine Film Festival

On our last full day at this year's Lone Pine Film Festival, my 12th and final film of the weekend was THE ARIZONA RANGER (1948).

THE ARIZONA RANGER was one of the best Tim Holt Westerns I've seen. It had a fairly atypical story; instead of Tim and Richard Martin's Chito being footloose cowboys looking for work or visiting friends, Tim plays Bob Morgan, a young man just out of a stint serving in Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. Chito is a ranch hand who has come of age on the ranch run by Bob's dad, Rawhide (Tim's real father, Jack Holt).

Though proud of his son, Rawhide is dismayed when he learns that Bob hasn't come home to work on the ranch, but has instead accepted a commission serving with the Arizona Rangers. They quarrel, and Bob leaves the ranch with his fellow army buddies and Rangers, Gills (Richard Benedict) and Mac (William Phipps).

When Rawhide later catches Quirt Butler (Steve Brodie), who he believes has murdered his old friend (Paul Hurst), he plans to administer frontier justice and lynch Butler. When Bob interrupts the lynching, insisting that Butler stand trial, it seems Bob's relationship with has father will be irretrievably broken.

Then Butler is broken out of jail and Bob is relieved of his position in the Rangers, but he's nonetheless determined to bring Butler back in for trial.

This was a very good, meaty story with more dramatic heft than the usual Holt film. Jack Holt's Rawhide is an irascible coot whose anger with his fine, responsible son is fairly irrational -- but that makes him all the more interesting. His inability to tamp down his personal disappointment and clearly see his son's worth might not be reasonable but at the same time is a recognizable human failing.

It's almost seems as though Chito spends more time in this film with the senior Holt, who has brought him up on the ranch and considers him his top hand, despite his periodic goofiness. Chito's light comic moments are all the more needed in this film given its serious nature.

Adding to the somewhat darker feel is the abusive relationship of Butler with his wife Laura (Nan Leslie); indeed, Bob stops Butler from manhandling his wife in the middle of town. Unspoken, burgeoning feelings between Bob and Laura are complicated by the fact she's married and also that she must lie about her husband's whereabouts to save Bob's life.

This is a well-paced, well-acted film which has pretty much everything you'd want in a "B" Western, including a good story and beautiful locations.

THE ARIZONA RANGER was filmed in black and white by J. Roy Hunt in Lone Pine, California, as well as Southern California locations.

THE ARIZONA RANGER is a 64-minute film which was written by Norman Houston and directed by John Rawlins.

This film is not on DVD but has been shown on Turner Classic Movies. I remain hopeful that someday the Warner Archive might release a final collection of Holt films, including a handful of not-on-DVD titles along with Holt films based on Zane Grey stories which fell into the public domain and were released on DVD by Lions Gate.

Monday, November 05, 2018

The Lone Pine Film Festival: Sunday and Oh, Susanna! (1936)

All too soon it was our final day at the 29th Lone Pine Film Festival!

This was our first year to stay for the full day on Sunday, so we were able to participate in Cowboy Church, which has been provided as part of the festival for over two decades.

In years past Cowboy Church has been held on the grounds of Anchor Ranch, but this year it took place on the Rodeo Grounds behind the Museum of Western Film History.


There was a nice turnout despite a strong, very cold wind. We were well bundled up with coats, hats, and mittens! We really enjoyed the local musicians who came to participate in the worship service, especially given the weather.


The spectacular views of God's creation made the brief service all the more special.


Then it was off to see Gene Autry in OH, SUSANNA! (1936). The movie featured the classic Stephen Foster song along with Autry's "Dear Old Western Skies" and "Honeymoon Trail." The movie was a quick and pleasant 59 minutes, directed by Joseph Kane, filmed in Lone Pine by William Nobles.


The movie costarred Smiley Burnette, Frances Grant, and the Light Crust Doughboys.

The Sunday afternoon parade down Main Street was a really nice, old-fashioned parade such as we've experienced further up the 395 in Bridgeport. The participants were a mixture of locals, including veterans, fire fighters, and the 4H Club, along with the festival's special guests.


Scott Eyman (left) and Robert Wagner:



Stuntman Diamond Farnsworth, the son of Richard Farnsworth:


William Wellman Jr.:


William Fox biographer Vanda Krefft:


Roy Rogers and Dale Evans' granddaughter Julie Rogers Pomilia with her husband:


Wyatt McCrea, the grandson of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee, with his wife Lisa. She's tossing candy to kids in the first pic!



John Gilliland, who attends the festival each year in an authentic Hopalong Cassidy costume:


Western historian Rob Word:


The parade ended with local fire equipment. Fire fighters had a tough year and up down Highway 395, and it was nice to applaud for them and let them know they're appreciated!



We concluded our festival events later that afternoon watching Tim Holt (and his father Jack!) in the not-on-DVD THE ARIZONA RANGER (1948), which I'll be writing about separately as my final festival post. (Update: Here is the review link!)

There was a closing night campfire at Spainhower Park that evening, but we decided to skip it given the weather.


As was the case last year, there were also a limited number of tours on Monday, which was the Columbus Day holiday. We had a final breakfast at the Alabama Hills Cafe Monday morning and then headed on home after a wonderful time!

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