Monday, November 19, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Tonight I continued my exploration of the films of Hayao Miyazaki, seeing CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986).

CASTLE IN THE SKY, which was written and directed by Miyazaki, was shown in an English-subtitled version as part of Cinemark's Studio Ghibli Fest. It's a good thing I ordered my ticket back in August, when I noticed on the Cinemark site that seats were already filling; it was a packed house, with the audience mostly consisting of young adults.

As the film opens, a young girl named Sheeta (Keiko Yokozawa) has been kidnapped and is traveling on a dirigible with Muska (Minori Terada) and his associates. The ship is invaded by sky pirates headed by Dola (Kotoe Hatsui). Sheeta escapes but falls through the sky...only to be saved from certain death as her crystal necklace lights up and she mysteriously floats gently down, landing in a mining town.

Sheeta is befriend by Pazu (Mayumi Tanaka), a boy who helps her escape the pursuing Muska and Dola, who are each after her necklace. Pazu and Sheeta discover that Sheeta is somehow connected to a mysterious "island in the sky" which was once seen by Pazu's late father. The pirates want to find this hidden civilization for treasure, while Muska has more nefarious plans.

It's a scary adventure, but the orphaned Pazu and Sheeta now have each other, and they transcend their previously lonely lives as they find purpose in their quest to escape the villains and find the castle in the sky.

CASTLE IN THE SKY is a longish kids vs. villains tale, running 125 minutes. I didn't connect with it emotionally as I did Miyazaki's THE WIND RISES (2013) or especially MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988); the latter film was a very special discovery for me this year, which I liked so much I saw it twice! TOTORO's gentle fantasy was captivating and touched my heart; I still get teary when I think of the Cat Bus changing its destination near the end of the film to "Mei."

While I didn't find CASTLE IN THE SKY's rather violent story anywhere near as special as TOTORO, it was still compelling and held my attention for over two hours. There was a good deal to admire, starting with the art design. The film has a Victorian setting -- in fact, I was intrigued the characters weren't Japanese -- and the film's impressive look included creative "steampunk" elements such as various types of flying ships. I was also particularly wowed by the mining village which seemed to be a mashup of Wales and cliffside Indian dwellings.

The musical score by Joe Hisaishi was also excellent, perfectly accenting the film's more emotional moments.

Viewers looking for a strong heroine will appreciate finding one here; Sheeta and Pazu are equally plucky and resourceful. The villains are fairly stock characters, although as Sheeta and Pazu realize that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" and befriend the pirates, those characters become more interesting and amusing.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. There are some scary moments; I was particularly struck by the sequence late in the film when Sheeta tries to run away but can't seem to get anywhere, as it's a child's nightmare come to life! That said, the hero and heroine never give up; their admirable traits include bravery and loyalty.

CASTLE IN THE SKY is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

CASTLE IN THE SKY was preceded by an amusing five-minute short, CHOIR TOUR (2012), which is currently available on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Wallflower (1948) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

I'm especially excited about a couple of films being released this month by the Warner Archive, one of which is WALLFLOWER (1948).

WALLFLOWER, which I first reviewed here nearly nine years ago, is a lively, sparkling film written by Henry and Phoebe Ephron, based on a play by Reginald Denham and Mary Orr.

In this brisk 77-minute family comedy, Joyce Reynolds and Janis Paige (who are now 93 and 96 years old, respectively) play loving but competitive stepsisters Jackie and Joy. I suppose in modern lingo one might call them "frenemies," but the bottom line is that despite tangling over boys -- and Joy's ability to attract too many of them -- the sisters love and support each other.

The movie begins with a sequence filmed at Long Beach Airport, as the girls miss their flight home from college due to Joy (Paige) flirting with yet another man. When they finally make it home, Jackie (Reynolds) is disappointed when Warren (Robert Hutton) is distracted from asking her to a dance once he gets an eyeful of Joy in a bathing suit.

Jackie plans to stay home from the dance but attends at the last minute with Stevie (Don McGuire), another of Joy's swains. Jackie cuts the sleeves off her dress and decidedly changes her image; to Joy's shock, the boys start flocking to Jackie! Rather than being upset, Joy joins the band to sing a tune while Jackie dances; she's surprised but genuinely happy for her sister -- all the more so as she's fended off two marriage proposals that night and realizes she's not ready to be that serious with any one man!

It's no surprise that the vivacious Paige is terrific as the boy-crazy Joy, but she's matched step for step by Reynolds, who despite being the title "wallflower" is charming and assured. Reynolds was seen to good effect in several films of the '40s, including a small but noticeable role in THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943) and costarring with Hutton in JANIE (1944) and ALWAYS TOGETHER (1947). Her career ending with just one more film after such a good part in WALLFLOWER is rather a mystery, as she's likeable and appealing.

Edward Arnold and Barbara Brown are terrific as the girls' parents. I don't usually do this when I revisit a film, but I'll quote here from my 2010 review, as it's so on target: "Some of the lines are laugh-out-loud funny, and the characters are well-drawn; it's believable that Arnold's straight-laced district attorney loves his giddy but sweet wife (Brown), and I liked that he didn't condescend to her despite the fact that she's not always quite 'with it.'"

The supporting cast includes the always-reliable Jerome Cowan, plus Ann Shoemaker, Harry Lewis, Walter Sande, and Angela Greene.

WALLFLOWER was directed by Frederick De Cordova and filmed in black and white by Karl Freund.

The Warner Archive DVD has an excellent picture and sound. The disc includes the trailer.

I consider this film an unsung little gem of a comedy and happily recommend it.

Also releasing this month: An all-time favorite Robert Montgomery romance, HIDE-OUT (1934). Look for a review here at a future date!

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: Nothing Sacred (1937) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The screwball comedy NOTHING SACRED (1937), starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March, has just been released by Kino Lorber in a Special Restored Edition.

Kino Lorber is releasing the film, "from a brand-new HD master from a 2K scan of the restored fine grain master," on both Blu-ray and DVD.

I've seen the film multiple times over the years, including in 35mm at the long-gone Vagabond Theater in Los Angeles when I was a teen; I don't recall the condition of that print, but the films there usually looked great.

Other than possibly that, this Blu-ray is surely the best-looking print of NOTHING SACRED I've ever seen; prints are typically washed-out, almost with a Trucolor look, but this Blu-ray looks absolutely terrific. For anyone who loves the film, the Kino Lorber Blu-ray is thus a "must buy."

I've long had a special interest in Carole Lombard -- recounted here and here -- but truth to tell, NOTHING SACRED isn't one of my favorite Lombard comedies. Its story of media hysteria is more timely than ever, but the film's combination of deception and cynicism always makes me view the film with something approaching distaste. I hope each time I see it that it will work better for me, but while I appreciate it enough to rewatch it from time to time, it's never really moved up in my estimation.

Lombard plays Hazel Flagg, who has been diagnosed with radium poisoning. She learns early on that the diagnosis was wrong and she's not going to die -- but she doesn't want newspaperman Wally Cook (March) to know because his newspaper has just promised her an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City.

The "brave" Hazel is feted wherever she goes in New York, but it finally sets in with her that she's in big, big trouble, as everyone in New York expects her to die, and soon! Not only is she not going to die, but she and Wally have fallen in love. What to do...?!

The screenplay of this 77-minute film was by the great Ben Hecht and numerous uncredited contributors; I assume the best dialogue to be Hecht's, but who knows? Also of note is some of director William A. Wellman's creative staging; a memorable love scene is played with only Lombard's feet showing on screen!

Other individual pleasures stand out in the film, including some particularly good lines and Lombard's unique brand of goofiness, yet it doesn't all quite come together for me as one satisfying package. I think mine is a minority take on this film so, as the saying goes, "your mileage may vary."

NOTHING SACRED was filmed in Technicolor by W. Howard Greene.

Walter Connolly and Charles Winninger head a supporting cast filled with familiar faces, including John Qualen, George Chandler, Hedda Hopper, Leonid Kinskey, Charles Lane, and Hattie McDaniel, to name but a few.

The disc has a commentary track by William Wellman Jr. which I've not yet heard, but I've had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Wellman speak at numerous screenings, as well as the opportunity to chat with him one on one (most recently last month), and he's wonderfully knowledgeable about every aspect of his father's career. My expectation is thus that the track will be worthwhile and informative.

Other extras are the movie trailer and a gallery of trailers for three additional films available from Kino Lorber.

Kino Lorber has simultaneously released a restored edition of MADE FOR EACH OTHER (1939), starring Lombard and James Stewart, which I'll be reviewing here in the near future.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Happy 90th Birthday, Mickey Mouse!

Walt Disney liked to say "It was all started by a mouse," and it all started 90 years ago today!

STEAMBOAT WILLIE starring Mickey Mouse made its debut on November 18, 1928, and it's safe to say that from that point on Mickey and Walt changed the entertainment world in ways no one could have dreamed.

I made a quick stop by Disneyland this morning to pick up a birthday button -- they're being passed out today at every Disney park worldwide -- and I brought home a new friend too!

More great Disney news this week: A lost cartoon starring Mickey's predecessor, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, has been found in Japan!

Happy Birthday, Mickey Mouse!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Criterion Announces New Streaming Service

New developments in the wake of AT&T/WarnerMedia shutting down the FilmStruck streaming service: The Criterion Collection has announced it will launch a streaming service in the spring of 2019.

According to the Criterion website, "The Criterion Channel will be picking up where the old service left off, programming director spotlights and actor retrospectives featuring major Hollywood and international classics and hard-to-find discoveries from around the world, complete with special features like commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage, and original documentaries. We will continue with our guest programmer series, Adventures in Moviegoing. Our regular series like Art-House America, Split Screen, and Meet the Filmmakers, and our Ten Minutes or Less section will all live on, along with Tuesday’s Short + Feature and the Friday Night Double Feature, and of course our monthly fifteen-minute film school, Observations on Film Art."

The Los Angeles Times reports that Criterion films will also be available on the new Warner streaming service when it launches in late 2019. (Thanks to Mel for sharing this article in comments here.)

Charter Subscribers of the Criterion Channel will pay a reduced fee of $9.99 per month after a month-long free trial. The regular fee will be $10.99.

Charter members will also receive a "holiday gift-certificate present, for use on the Criterion Collection website" as well as other perks.

It sounds as though the Criterion Channel will be retreating to the original FilmStruck format as it existed before the addition of classic films from the Warner library, when the focus was foreign, indie, and "art house" films along with Criterion titles. Of course, one of the drawbacks is that the new channel will now be showing films from a much smaller library, for the same price as FilmStruck.

This also doesn't solve the problem of the Warner library disappearing from streaming for the next year; it's expected some of the titles will eventually be available on the new Warner service, but it's unknown how they will be presented. Warner Media and Criterion said “Today’s announcement ensures that fans will have access to these films from the Criterion Collection as well as films from WarnerMedia’s deep and extensive library in what will be a rich and curated experience," but there's no explanation of what that means in terms of the Warner streaming service. If they intend to present the films in a curated fashion such as has been available on FilmStruck, why wouldn't they simply keep FilmStruck going for the next year and then fold it into the new channel in some fashion once it's up and running?

At latest check the petition to save FilmStruck has accumulated over 55,000 signatures.

Numerous prominent filmmakers have signed two letters urging AT&T/WarnerMedia not to shut down the streaming service.

I have signed up for a Charter subscription for the new Criterion Channel service and will take advantage of the free month to determine if I'd like to continue with it. Although I own a significant number of Criterion Collection films on Blu-ray and DVD, I've been enjoying the not-on-DVD movies directed by Yasujiro Ozu which Criterion provides on FilmStruck, and I'll be hoping for more of the same on their new channel.

I'll report on further significant developments regarding FilmStruck and the Criterion Channel as news becomes available.

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.