Friday, November 26, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Encanto (2021)

I spent part of "Black Friday" at the movies, seeing the new animated Disney film ENCANTO (2021). ENCANTO is Disney Animation's 60th feature film.

ENCANTO was absolutely charming, an upbeat film with beautiful visuals and a bouncy score by Lin-Manuel Miranda (MOANA).

It's the story of the Madrigal family, who live in a magical house in Colombia. The home appeared out of nowhere as a place of refuge for Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero) and her newborn triplets immediately after her husband was killed in a violent attack.

The casita has sheltered generations of Madrigals, with each Madrigal also receiving a special gift when they come of age. Everyone, that is, but Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). Her lovely sister Isabela (Diane Guerrero) can spin flowers out of thin air and her giant-sized sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow) has superhuman strength, but Mirabel is completely ordinary.

One day the magic seems to start slipping away from Casa Madrigal, and spunky, empathetic Mirabel wonders if she, ironically, might be the member of the family who is able to find a solution to preserve the magic.

Like other recent Disney films, including FROZEN (2013) and RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021), ENCANTO's focus is on strong women; traditional villains aren't in evidence, with the central conflict gradually revealed to be simply relationships which need work and understanding.

The need for working through family issues is especially true when it comes to Mirabel's long-lost Uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), who disappeared after his gift of seeing the future became problematic; he's the subject of one of the film's catchiest songs, "We Don't Talk About Bruno."

I found Mirabel a very appealing character; she's quite attractive in her unique way, all the more so because she's a good person. When little Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) is nervous about his coming of age ceremony, it's Mirabel he turns to for reassurance.

The filmmakers have created a group of distinctive characters. Special kudos go to the film's costume designs, which add greatly to the visual appeal.

ENCANTO is simply a gorgeous, funny, and moving film which I found quite original. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely be buying the Blu-ray to enjoy again in the future.

Trailers may be found here and here.

This 99-minute film was directed by Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith; the screenplay was by Smith and Bush, based on a story by several others, including composer Miranda.

Parental Advisory: ENCANTO is rated PG. There are some mildly scary moments but I found it quite family friendly, with positive messages about family love and working through problems.

ENCANTO was preceded by a lovely seven-minute short, FAR FROM THE TREE (2021), about a little raccoon who wants to go exploring beyond the eye of his watchful mother. It was written and directed by Natalie Nourigat.

Previous new 2021 theatrical reviews: F9: THE FAST SAGA (2021), BLACK WIDOW (2021), JUNGLE CRUISE (2021), FREE GUY (2021), and SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021).

I haven't yet had time to see Marvel's ETERNALS due to a busy schedule, including travel, but I'm hoping to catch it before it leaves theaters! Other films I'm interested in seeing in December include WEST SIDE STORY (2021), SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2021), and AMERICAN UNDERDOG (2021).

Christmas at Disney California Adventure

One week ago we spent an afternoon and evening enjoying the Christmas decorations at Disney California Adventure.

Christmas is my favorite time of the year at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and having the parks closed for the holiday last year was one of the many difficult things about 2020.

Although Disney opened Buena Vista Street at California Adventure for shopping last year, only a few decorations were up, such as the Elias and Co. window decorations, and they didn't put up the tree.

What joy to see the tree back where it should be this Christmas!

This is my favorite tree in the parks; I love the designs and thoughtful details!

Some of the sights seen in these photos may be familiar to longtime readers from Christmases past; older posts are linked at the bottom.

Radiator Springs looking wonderful!

Hollywood Land:

The model of Claude Coats' Rock Candy Mountain at Trolley Treats on Buena Vista Street: 

Details seen up close:

A different window at Trolley Treats:

Here's a bonus photo from a briefer visit on Thanksgiving Eve. The Toy Soldier drummers usually perform "up close" to the crowds, but this year they're on a Paradise Gardens Park stage further away from the audience:

Coming soon: Thanksgiving Eve at Disneyland.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Welcome to Christmas (2018)

A charming performance by Jennifer Finnigan anchors WELCOME TO CHRISTMAS (2018), available on the Hallmark Channel.

WELCOME TO CHRISTMAS is a spin on the tried-and-true Hallmark Christmas theme of an outsider spending time in a small town, falling in love with both the community in general and one person in particular.

In this case the outsider is Madison Lane (Finnigan), whose developer boss (Michael Kopsa) sends her to Christmas, Colorado, to research the possibility of bringing a ski resort to the town.

Immediately upon arrival Madison crashes into a sign at the city limits, leading her to meet Sheriff Gage McBride (Eric Mabius, HOW TO FALL IN LOVE). The widowed sheriff, his aunt (Susan Hogan), and daughters (Lauren McNamara and Payton Lepinski) set about making Madison's stay in Christmas a happy one.

The people of Christmas very much want the ski resort and the tourism it will bring. Madison initially favors a different community, but Christmas wins her over -- to such an extent that she then begins to wonder if the resort and all it entails would change the town she's come to love beyond recognition.

The plot may sound familiar, but as with other genres, what's interesting about Hallmark films is the unique touches a group of filmmakers brings to a particular story.

In this case, Mabius and Finnigan have excellent chemistry; the widowed sheriff initially seems dour but soon reveals he has a way with wisecracks, and Finnigan's Madison dishes them right back.

Finnigan's character struck me as very "real," along with being smart and funny. She's extremely likeable and fun to watch, playing a huge role in making this a strong Hallmark entry. I particularly liked the sensitive ways she connected with Gage's eldest daughter, who continues to struggle with feelings of loss over her mother's death.

The supporting townspeople are slightly cliched, particularly the B&B owner (Sarah Edmondson) who tries to warn Madison away from Gage. Consequently I wouldn't rank this at the very highest Hallmark level, but Finnigan and to a lesser extent Mabius still push my personal ranking for this one up quite high.

The ending left me smiling and somewhat misty-eyed, which is pretty much exactly what I want from a Hallmark Christmas movie. Fans of the genre should definitely enjoy it.

WELCOME TO CHRISTMAS was directed by Gary Harvey and filmed by Pieter Stathis in Vancouver and Revelstoke, British Columbia.

WELCOME TO CHRISTMAS plays in regular rotation on the Hallmark Channel during "Christmas movie season."

Happy Thanksgiving!

Best wishes to all my readers for a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving Day!

Here's Ginger Rogers in Pilgrim garb for a holiday publicity shot.

I have much to be thankful for, including everyone who reads and supports Laura's Miscellaneous Musings.  Thanks to you all!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Torch Singer (1933) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Claudette Colbert gives a tour de force performance in TORCH SINGER (1933), just released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Colbert carries almost every scene in the movie playing poor young Sally Trent, who as the film begins gives birth to a baby girl in a hospital charity ward.

Sally was abandoned by the baby's father but she and her newborn daughter, also named Sally, make do for a year or so rooming with Dora (Lyda Roberti), who Sally meets in the hospital; Sally cares for Dora's baby boy while Dora's at work. But when Dora loses her job and disappears from the scene -- we're later told she married -- things go south for Sally quickly.

Sally approaches a relative (Ethel Griffies) of little Sally's father for help but is turned away. With no other recourse, she signs the baby away for adoption.

Within a handful of years Sally transforms herself into glamorous nightclub singer Mimi Benton. Thanks to her relationship with a radio executive, Tony (Ricardo Cortez), Sally also falls into a job starring as "Aunt Jenny" on a children's radio show.

Eventually Mike (David Manners), little Sally's father, reappears on the scene, having spent several years in China. Between Mike and the radio show, Sally just might be able to track down her little girl, who's about to turn five years old.

I first saw this film in 2009 and had a marvelous time returning to it. Some aspects of the story are admittedly improbable, but Colbert sells every single scene, from despondent young mother to glamorous chanteuse. As I noted in my 2009 review, it's truly an Oscar-worthy performance.

I also especially like that Sally has uncliched relationships with both Tony and her maid, Carrie (Mildred Washington). It's implied that Sally might be Tony's mistress, but they're also simply good friends; Tony is supportive of Sally both personally and professionally. It's wonderful seeing Cortez, who often played villains (i.e., MIDNIGHT MARY), in such a caring role.

Sally and her maid Carrie seem more like friends than employer/employee. The engaging Washington sadly died the week this film was released.

It was a particular treat to see Cora Sue Collins as little Sally in the movie's final scenes. I've been fortunate to see Collins in person on multiple occasions, most recently at an event at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in June of this year. What a thrill to be in the presence of someone who worked with Colbert, Garbo, and so many greats as a youngster! Collins turned 94 this year.

While the acting is strong and the screenplay by Lenore Coffee and Lynn Starling is engrossing, there are some odd aspects to the film. The idea that Sally could use her radio show to track down one particular little Sally out of all the children in New York requires a suspension of disbelief.

More significantly, the film seems somewhat truncated at its 71-minute running time. Dora, a significant character, disappears with just a couple of explanatory lines here and there; Sally/Mimi seems to race to the top careerwise in about a minute's time; and at the end viewers are left to wonder what on earth might have happened to little Sally's adoptive parents. None of this, however, diminishes either Colbert's power or the movie's sheer entertainment value.

TORCH SINGER was directed by Alexander Hall and George Somnes. It was filmed by Karl Struss. Colbert's gorgeous gowns were designed by the great Travis Banton.

The supporting cast includes Charley Grapewin, Virginia Hammond, Helen Jerome Eddy, Albert Conti, Sam Godfrey, and Florence Roberts. Toby Wing can be spotted as one of the group hanging out in Sally's apartment. I didn't notice Dennis O'Keefe, who is listed by IMDb as a nightclub patron, but I thought I might have recognized an uncredited Bill Elliott in the nightclub!

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print looks and sounds terrific. Disc extras are a commentary track by Kat Ellinger and a gallery of 10 movie trailers, most for films starring Colbert.

TORCH SINGER is a must for fans of Colbert and pre-Codes. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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

Tonight's Movie: Ladies They Talk About (1933) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The highly enjoyable pre-Code prison melodrama LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT (1933) has just been released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

As the movie begins, Nan Taylor (Barbara Stanwyck) is helping a gang of crooks (including Harold Huber and Lyle Talbot) rob a bank. Nan is caught but comes to the attention of crusading preacher David Slade (Preston Foster), who knew her way back when in Benecia, California.

The idealistic David, believing Nan innocent, arranges to have Nan paroled to him but drops the idea when Nan makes clear that she really was involved in the heist.

However, David can't give up his interest in Nan even after she's sent to prison in San Quentin. Nan pushes him away while trying to help her old gang members escape from the men's prison, but eventually David's love might get through to her...

Most of the film is set in a women's prison, and it's highly entertaining for a variety of reasons:

*An excellent cast, including Lillian Roth and the always-welcome Ruth Donnelly in addition to Stanwyck.

*Speaking of Stanwyck, she's a bad, bad woman who resists reforming...which is part of the fun. One has to wonder at movie's end whether she can stay on the straight and narrow permanently.

*The fantasy aspect: Were women's prisons ever actually run more like college dorms, to the point of allowing dogs?!

*The very pre-Code dialogue. If someone wants to know what pre-Codes are all about, this film is an excellent example.

*The snappy, fast-paced 69-minute running time, which lends itself to a film which doesn't particularly tug at the emotions yet entertains splendidly.

Nagging question: What happens to the cute dog Nan is carrying in the bank robbery scene? Hopefully it found a good home...

The movie was directed by Howard Bretherton and William Keighley and filmed by John F. Seitz. A trio of writers constructed the screenplay, based on a play by two more writers.

LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT was previously released on DVD in the Warner Archive's Forbidden Hollywood Volume 5 collection; I reviewed the film when I watched that print in 2013

I didn't do a side-by-side comparison of the DVD and Blu-ray but can say that the Blu-ray quality is strikingly good, especially considering the film's age, with an excellent soundtrack.  I'd go so far as to say this is one of the best-looking Blu-ray prints I've seen of a film from this era.  Fans of pre-Codes and Stanwyck should be quite pleased with it.

Blu-ray extras consist of the trailer and the cartoon I LIKE MOUNTAIN MUSIC (1933).


Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...Marvelous news from Flicker Alley: REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947), a huge favorite of mine I've been fortunate to see on a big screen multiple times, is coming to Blu-ray/DVD in January! The set will have extras contributed by a number of familiar names, including Eddie Muller, Alan K. Rode, Farran Smith Nehme (the Self-Styled Siren), and Nora Fiore (the Nitrate Diva). This will be one of the must-have releases of 2022 for classic film fans. I'm looking forward to reviewing the release here in a few weeks.

...Here's the new trailer for DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA (2021), which will be out in March. I loved the previous film which was released in the fall of 2019.

...The Criterion Collection's announcements for February 2022 include LOVE AFFAIR (1939) and WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956). LOVE AFFAIR has been rescued from public domain by the Museum of Modern Art and Lobster Films; extras include an interview with Farran Smith Nehme and two radio adaptations. Douglas Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND has previously had a Criterion DVD release, but the vivid colors make it a natural for a Blu-ray upgrade. Extras include the 2008 documentary ACTING FOR DOUGLAS SIRK.

...Josh Shepherd of Faith & Family Media Blog takes a look at the "hits and misses" of the November 12th Disney+ Day announcements.

...The University Press of Kentucky is having a holiday sale through January 31st. They publish many film-related biographies and other books so be sure to check it out.

...The latest announcements from Kino Lorber's Studio Classics line include two more film noir collections, the Dark Side of Cinema VI and Dark Side of Cinema VII. Not-on-DVD titles such as SINGAPORE (1947), which I only own on VHS, are included in the half dozen titles in these collections. Also ahead: Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne in WHEN TOMORROW COMES (1939); Arthur Kennedy, Peggy Dow, and Julie Adams in BRIGHT VICTORY (1951); and the '70s teen film ALMOST SUMMER (1978), starring Lee Purcell, Bruno Kirby, and Didi Conn. The latter film is of personal interest as my father was acquainted with the screenwriters' sister and I received a poster for the film when it was first released. The Berg Sisters now write Hallmark movies!

...Recent reviews from CineSavant Glenn Erickson include MIDWAY (1976), a UK Blu-ray release from Indictor; THE WINDOW (1947) from the Warner Archive Collection; and the new pair of Argentinian film noir releases from Flicker Alley, THE BEAST MUST DIE (1952) and THE BITTER STEMS (1956).

...Phyllis Loves Classic Movies has a nice close-up look at Audrey Long's wedding gown in a favorite film noir, BORN TO KILL (1947).

...Silver Scenes has the rundown on the 2022 TCM Big Screen Classics series, which includes THE QUIET MAN (1952) and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946).

...From Variety, "The Best Old Hollywood Podcasts." I rarely listen to podcasts simply due to being spread too thin on time, but this seems like a good starter list.

...Two friends have recently spoken on Robert Bellissimo's YouTube series: Toby Roan discusses JOHNNY GUITAR (1954) and Raquel Stecher has an upcoming chat on THE HITCH-HIKER (1953). (Update: The HITCH-HIKER discussion is now available!)

...Raquel also has a new video on classic film books!

...Speaking of film books, Vienna shares her thoughts on Leonard Maltin's new memoir at Vienna's Classic Hollywood.

...Jennifer Garlen shares her five favorite Marvel movies at Virtual Virago.

...Notable Passing: Voice actor Will Ryan, whose long career began in the early '80s, has passed on at 72. His many credits included MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1983).

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my November 6th roundup.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Violent Saturday (1955) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

One of my favorite new-to-me films seen at this year's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival was VIOLENT SATURDAY (1955), starring longtime favorite Victor Mature.

Mature's daughter Victoria was in the audience to watch the film with us, and Mark Fleischer, son of director Richard Fleischer (THE NARROW MARGIN) was interviewed after the screening by festival host Alan K. Rode (photo below).

There was wonderful old-fashioned showmanship at the Camelot Theatre, which closed the movie screen curtains before the film started. As the 20th Century-Fox fanfare began, followed by the CinemaScope extension theme, the curtains parted to reveal the dazzling wide picture on the Camelot's huge screen. A goosebumps moment!

Mature plays Shelley Martin, who lives in the desert town of Bradenville and works in management at a local copper mine. He's happily married to Helen (Dorothy Patrick), with two boys (Billy Chapin and Donald Gamble) and a baby girl.

Mine manager Boyd Fairchild (Richard Egan) loves his wife (Margaret Hayes), but they're having a rough time of it, and he's attracted to nurse Linda Sherman (Virginia Leith, A KISS BEFORE DYING), though they don't act on it.

Into Bradenville come three men who are up to no good: Harper (Stephen McNally), posing as a traveling salesman, and his associates Dill (Lee Marvin) and Chapman (J. Carrol Naish). Their goal: Robbing the Bradenville bank.

The planning of the heist is juxtaposed against the goings-on among the lives of several townspeople. Many of them will be impacted in one way or another by the robbery, along with Stadt (Ernest Borgnine), an Amish farmer who lives outside of town with his wife (Ann Morrison) and three children (Donna, Noreen, and Kevin Corcoran).

The movie was described by Rode as along the lines of PEYTON PLACE meets crime film, which seemed an apt description. It's an absorbing film which covers a lot of territory in just 90 minutes. Sydney Boehm's script was based on a novel by William L. Heath.

Mature, Egan, and Borgnine are always worth watching, and although I prefer McNally as a hero, he's always good as a villain (i.e., WINCHESTER '73). Dorothy Patrick (seen here with Mature) is a longtime favorite I was glad to see in this, even in a relatively small role. Leith also has a good turn as the sympathetic nurse.

There are a couple discordant notes; Sylvia Sidney as a librarian driven to stealing by financial desperation is a small and fairly pointless role, other than to perhaps show that even "good" people do bad things.

Tommy Noonan is plain icky as the bank manager, who's a peeping Tom stalking Linda in his off hours. His character is just kind of gross, with no consequences other than a slap on the hand. Indeed, Linda is very casual about the whole thing when she learns what he's been doing.

The movie was evocatively filmed by Charles G. Clarke in Bisbee, Arizona, a fascinating setting with the town built on multiple levels, nestled against foothills. I visited Google, as I wanted to know more about the town's unusual layout, and learned that in recent years Bisbee has hosted a 4.5-mile run over nine staircases which dot the town.

VIOLENT SATURDAY was released on DVD and Blu-ray by Twilight Time.

Along with daily overviews of the goings-on, I have two more reviews coming from the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival: THE BLACK VAMPIRE (EL VAMPIRO NEGRO), a 1953 remake of M, and JENNY LAMOUR (QUAI DES ORFEVRES), a 1947 French film.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

A Visit to Old Ranch Inn

With all the traveling we've done this year across several states, we've stayed in a lot of hotels!

Most of them have been fine, but when we attended this year's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs, we stayed for the first time at a small hotel we thought was extra-special, the Old Ranch Inn.

On previous trips to Palm Springs we've stayed at the Best Western Plus Las Brisas Hotel and the Courtyard by Marriott and liked them both, but when my husband came across a listing for the Old Ranch Inn we decided to try something new.

The Old Ranch Inn is located in the historic Tennis Club neighborhood a couple blocks from the downtown area.

The Inn is absolutely charming, filled with wonderful touches.

Although the hotel itself is small, our room was huge!

Amenities included a fireplace...

...and a good-sized kitchen including fridge, microwave, and coffee maker.


The patio includes tables, a counter area (with a mist sprayer which can be turned on on hot days)...

...and a beautiful pool.

There are also bikes available, and books and games can be checked out of the lobby.  We had a fabulous time at the festival but enjoyed our stay so much that we wished we had more time just to enjoy the hotel!

We'd definitely like to stay here again, and I highly recommend it for anyone's visit to Palm Springs.