Monday, November 30, 2015

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Out this week from the Warner Archive: Season 3 of LAWMAN, with an exceptionally fantastic cover shot of John Russell.

...Also new from the Archive: Tim Holt and Bonita Granville in HITLER'S CHILDREN (1943), Patricia Morison and John Carradine in HITLER'S MADMAN (1943), Ida Lupino in PILLOW TO POST (1945), a movie I have previously reviewed here, and Ann Sheridan, Alexis Smith, Jane Wyman and Eve Arden as THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944), which I reviewed here.

...My friend Beth Ann Gallagher, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in person for the first time at this year's Lone Pine Film Festival, has reviewed what sounds like a very interesting new book by Michelle Morgan: THE ICE CREAM BLONDE: THE WHIRLWIND LIFE AND MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF SCREWBALL COMEDIENNE THELMA TODD. I've been interested to learn about the restaurant Todd owned on Pacific Coast Highway, Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe.

...Another new book: THE FIRST KING OF HOLLYWOOD: THE LIFE OF DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS by Tracey Goessel.

...Ohio State always has amazing marching band shows, and this show paying tribute to the 50th anniversary of the film THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) is special.

...Is Amazon building the "cord-cutter's streaming dream"?

...Music historian Will Friedwald writes "We've Been Watching the Wrong Version of Oklahoma!" for the Wall Street Journal. Friedwald compares the CinemaScope and Todd-AO versions of the film. I've actually had both versions on a DVD set for several years, and it is indeed fascinating to compare. I remember watching the movie years ago and having an unsettling feeling that it was...different. The line readings and such just seemed slightly off from what I remembered watching most of my life. It was only later that I realized I must have watched the "other" version...though I couldn't tell you know which one I'd watched when! (Incidentally, there is also a SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS set which contains two different versions, CinemaScope and "flat"...comparing the minor differences in staging, etc., is really interesting if you're a fan.)

...Famed Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully says he cannot imagine returning after his 2016 farewell season. Scully just turned 88, and next year will be his 67th consecutive year broadcasting Dodger games.

...Popular former Dodgers player Dave Roberts is the team's new manager. I'm very enthused about Roberts' selection.

...More Southern California sports news: The University of Southern California has named interim coach Clay Helton as permanent head coach. USC, incidentally, beat UCLA last weekend for the first time since 2011.

...Heartiest congratulations to Colin, who celebrated his blog Riding the High Country's 8th anniversary this weekend with a review of Dana Andrews in COMANCHE (1956). I link to Colin's blog regularly here as I enjoy his thoughtful reviews so much.

...There's a short review of Douglas Sirk's LURED (1947) by Pablo Kjolseth at the TCM Movie Morlocks site. It's a good movie starring George Sanders and Lucille Ball, which I reviewed in 2010.

...Also at the Movie Morlocks site, an article by R. Emmet Sweeney on the book WHITE HORSE, BLACK HAT: A QUARTER CENTURY ON HOLLYWOOD'S POVERTY ROW by C. Jack Lewis.

...Notable Passing: Actor David Canary, best known as foreman Candy on BONANZA and later for his multi-Emmy-winning performance(s) as twins Adam and Stuart Chandler on ALL MY CHILDREN, has passed on at the age of 77.

...For even more classic film links on books, DVDs, and much more, please visit last week's link roundup.

Have a great week!

Tonight's Movie: Roman Holiday (1953)

I first became acquainted with ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953) around the age of 14, at a 'round-the-clock Filmex marathon of Oscar-winning films.

I must admit my enjoyment of the film at that point in my life was marred by my incredulity over the bittersweet ending. How could they end it that way?!

It also didn't help that I wasn't an especially big Audrey Hepburn fan; her voice, in particular, bothered me.

In the years since I've revisited the film again on TV on multiple occasions, with my liking for both the film and Miss Hepburn growing with each passing year. It had been quite a while since my last viewing, so it was a special treat to see the movie on a big screen again yesterday at a local theater, thanks to a nationwide screening presented by Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events.

I loved returning to ROMAN HOLIDAY for the first time in a number of years, and especially seeing it once more on a big screen. Hepburn, Gregory Peck, and Rome simply cast a magical spell -- and at this juncture in my life, I can appreciate that the filmmakers didn't take the easy way out on the ending, which is nonetheless beautiful.

I suppose most readers of this site are already familiar with this well-known film, but for anyone who hasn't yet made the acquaintance of ROMAN HOLIDAY, it's the story of Princess Ann (Hepburn) of an unnamed European country, who is feeling worn out and bored after a goodwill tour. Late one night she slips out of the embassy in Rome and has the good fortune to promptly meet reporter Joe Bradley (Peck).

When Joe realizes he's befriended an incognito princess, he realizes he has a story scoop which will bring him a huge paycheck. He cuts in his friend, photographer Irving (Eddie Albert), who surreptitiously takes photos of the princess over the next day.

Joe and Ann become closer and closer, but just when they're quietly realizing that what they feel for each other might be love, Ann must wrestle with fulfilling her duty.

The "incognito princess meets commoner" storyline had been well done before, in both the '30s (THIRTY DAY PRINCESS) and the '40s (PRINCESS O'ROURKE), but it was never better than in ROMAN HOLIDAY. ROMAN HOLIDAY was directed by William Wyler, who pretty much didn't know how to make a movie that was less than excellent, and the black and white photography of postwar Italy adds hugely to the film. The movie was shot by Henri Alekan and Franz Planer.

Front and center, though, are the two lead performances. I'm not sure Peck has ever looked more handsome on film, and with his deep voice, well...sigh. Simply wonderful.

Hepburn, in the Oscar-winning role which made her a star, is enchanting from beginning to end. ("Yes, thank you...no, thank you!") She conveys both the wistfulness and childlike innocence of a sheltered young girl and the grace and mature dignity of a thoughtful woman who knows her place in the world.

In the introduction Robert Osborne told the anecdote that Gregory Peck called his agent early in filming and said that the unknown Hepburn had to be billed with him above the title or he was going to look pretty silly, because it was her movie!

Eddie Albert is also delightful as Joe's put-upon photographer friend, who ends up literally kicked around on a couple of occasions! Albert received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance.

The film runs a bit under two hours, at 118 minutes, but the pacing feels just right. The Oscar-winning script, incidentally, was secretly cowritten by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, whose name was later restored to the opening credits.

A funny aside: During the longer shots in the motorbike sequence, the camera's not far enough away to hide the fact that the people on the scooter are most definitely not Peck and Hepburn!

The digital print shown yesterday was excellent. Fathom and TCM will be presenting MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947) in December, and I strongly encourage readers to go see it on a big screen!

ROMAN HOLIDAY is available on DVD. It can be streamed on Amazon Instant Video.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Girl Most Likely (1958) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

The Warner Archive has just released a lovely remastered widescreen edition of the Jane Powell musical THE GIRL MOST LIKELY (1958).

I have especially fond memories of THE GIRL MOST LIKELY thanks to seeing it as a young teen at the fabled 1977 RKO retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I believe THE GIRL MOST LIKELY closed out the retrospective's remarkable 128 films, as it was the last movie made at the studio. (As different stages of the movie were completed, the studio permanently shut down each department.) I do vividly remember that one of the reels didn't show up at the LACMA screening and someone in the audience saved the day by going home and retrieving the movie from his garage. Only in L.A.!

Although we didn't know each other back then, my friend Blake Lucas, who regularly comments here, was also there that evening and remembers the "movie in the garage" incident.

Since seeing the movie back then I've seen some pretty faded and scratched prints, so I was anxious to see how the Warner Archive DVD would look. I can happily report that I'm sure THE GIRL MOST LIKELY hasn't looked this great in years! The remastered print shows off the film's green and coral color scheme to perfection. The unremastered trailer included on the disc gives a very good comparison example of how much the new print is improved from prints of recent decades.

The fun starts from the opening credits, with the Hi-Los singing the title tune by Nelson Riddle and Bob Russell. There's great footage under the credits of Powell and Kaye Ballard riding the Balboa Island ferry.

One of the film's pleasures is seeing Orange County on the screen. There are terrific location shots of the ferry landing, which I don't think has changed much since the movie was filmed. Along with the location sequences, many of the film's "exteriors" were filmed in soundstages, including the outside of Powell's cute little house, complete with a sandy front yard.

Incidentally, Balboa Island was also the setting for the film noir THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949) nearly a decade earlier. Our family used to go see classic movies at the nearby Balboa Theatre when I was growing up.

In this remake of Ginger Rogers' TOM DICK AND HARRY (1941), dreamy Dodie (Powell) is a bank employee who lives in Balboa with her parents (Frank Cady and Una Merkel) and annoying kid sister (Judy Nugent). She has a steady boyfriend in Buzz (Tommy Noonan), a hardworking realtor, but she dreams of marrying someone wealthy.

Dodie sees a man get off a yacht  and when he rides a small boat across the bay she impulsively dives off the Balboa ferry to meet him. (David Chierichetti's biography of director Mitchell Leisen quotes the director as saying Powell was "a good sport" about diving into the bay, despite it being very cold!) The charming gentleman (Cliff Robertson) who picks her up asks her out on a date, but she is chagrined to learn later that evening that he's not the yacht's owner, Neal Patterson Jr. (Keith Andes), he's just Pete, a broke mechanic.

No matter, she soon meets Neal too, and within short order finds herself sort of engaged to all three men. She's fond of Buzz, whom she's known forever, and she's even fonder of Neal's money...but it's Pete who makes her see "pink clouds" when he kisses her. What's a girl to do?

In heavier hands the plot could be distasteful, as Dodie strings along three men at once, but she seems simply giddy, enjoying each man's company and genuinely torn between the different lives she could have with each one. It strikes me that in the latter respect it's not too dissimilar from the new movie BROOKLYN (2015), seen this weekend.

This was director Mitchell Leisen's final feature film. The multiple musical fantasy sequences call to mind Leisen's LADY IN THE DARK (1944)...whose leading lady, Ginger Rogers, coincidentally starred in the original version of THE GIRL MOST LIKELY, TOM DICK AND HARRY. The dream sequences play off things which happen in the movie, such as a fortune teller predicting Pete will have nine children, as Dodie's subconscious tries to work through her decision.

Other than the title song, the score is by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane (MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS). The songs are of varying quality; I especially enjoy "Balboa," and "Crazy Horse," with Powell made up like Peter Pan's Tiger Lily, is pretty cute too. The musical numbers were staged by another MGM veteran, Gower Champion.

Ballard's dancing sailor boyfriend, Sam, is played by Kelly Brown. Brown played Carl, one of the "town" dancers, in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954). Brown taught dance in Arizona for many years; his daughter, Leslie Browne, was Oscar nominated for her role as a ballerina in THE TURNING POINT (1977). Brown was only 52 when he passed on in 1981.

It's a particular treat to see Una Merkel as Dodie's mother. Merkel had previously appeared with Powell in RICH, YOUNG AND PRETTY (1951); one of her next films would be Disney's THE PARENT TRAP (1961).

THE GIRL MOST LIKELY was produced by Stanley Rubin. It was filmed by Robert H. Planck. Although the film was shot in Technicolor, the film's strong green and coral design palette, used for both sets and costumes, gives the film a bit of a Cinecolor look, although being Technicolor it looks far better than most Cinecolor films!

THE GIRL MOST LIKELY runs 98 minutes,  It looks absolutely wonderful on the Warner Archive DVD. As mentioned above, the disc includes the trailer.

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.

TCM in December: Highlights

It's almost December! Here's to what promises to be a wonderful month on Turner Classic Movies.

The December Star of the Month is Frank Sinatra, honoring the centennial of his birth.

Over three dozen Sinatra films and concert specials will be shown on Wednesday evenings in December. I'll have a closer look on the Star of the Month lineup posted here in a couple of days. (Update: Please visit TCM Star of the Month: Frank Sinatra.)

I'll also be devoting a separate post to a detailed overview of this month's Christmas movies, which will be available in the near future. (Update: Please visit TCM in December: Christmas Movies.)

Treasures From the Disney Vault, which originally debuted in December 2014, returns on December 17th; information on that evening will be included in the Christmas movies post.

Monday evenings will feature a "Girlfriends" theme, hosted by Tiffany Vazquez. Tiffany was one of TCM's 20th Anniversary Fan Guest Programmers. I had the pleasure of meeting Tiffany at last year's TCM Classic Film Festival, and I'm sure she'll do a terrific job.

Here's a look at a few of the other great titles on this month's schedule. Click on any hyperlinked title to read the corresponding review and learn more about the cast and filmmakers.

...December 1st starts off with the theme "How to Marry Off Your Daughters," including titles as diverse as FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938) and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1971). Prime time and the late evening hours will be devoted to mini-marathons of the Ma and Pa Kettle and Five Little Peppers series.

...The primetime schedule on December 3rd celebrates George Sanders. The five-film lineup includes the Douglas Sirk thriller LURED (1947), Fritz Lang's MAN HUNT (1941), and the very first Falcon mystery, THE GAY FALCON (1941).

...Glenn Ford Westerns on December 4th include MGM's THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE (1956), costarring Jeanne Crain and Broderick Crawford.

...Dick Tracy serials are featured on Saturday mornings this month, including DICK TRACY VS. CUEBALL (1946) on December 5th. Morgan Conway and Anne Jeffreys stars.

...Sunday evening, December 6th, features two Japanese films directed by Keisuke Kinoshita: TWENTY-FOUR EYES (1954) and MORNING FOR THE OSONE FAMILY (1946).

...Pearl Harbor Day will be commemorated with a day of World War II films, including TASK FORCE (1949) and THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945).

...December 8th features a centennial birthday tribute to screenwriter Ernest Lehman. Five films are on the schedule including SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957), NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959), and EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954).

...Kirk Douglas turns 99 on December 9th! TCM will be showing seven Douglas films, including the film noir classic OUT OF THE PAST (1947).

...TCM honors Rita Moreno's 84th birthday on December 11th with several films in which she had small roles, including SO YOUNG SO BAD (1950), PAGAN LOVE SONG (1950), CATTLE TOWN (1952), and LATIN LOVERS (1953).

...Also of interest on December 11th: THE YELLOW TOMAHAWK (1954) with Rory Calhoun and Peggie Castle. That's a winning combination for me!

...On December 13th there's a rare showing of the marvelous Fox film APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948), starring Jeanne Crain, William Holden and Edmund Gwenn. Don't miss it.

...I'll also be mentioning it in my Christmas post, but I particularly want to highlight that TCM is showing Deanna Durbin's Christmastime musical mystery LADY ON A TRAIN (1945) in primetime December 13th. Combined with APARTMENT FOR PEGGY, it's my favorite day on the December schedule! Deanna movies turn up infrequently on TCM due to the expense of licensing films released by Universal Pictures, so this is a real treat.

...The theme is "Summer in December" on December 14th, including the MGM musicals SUMMER HOLIDAY (1948) and SUMMER STOCK (1950). SUMMER HOLIDAY was directed by Vincente Minnelli, starring Mickey Rooney and Gloria DeHaven, while SUMMER STOCK was directed by Charles Walters, starring Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, and DeHaven.

...I'm delighted that TCM will be featuring a six-film primetime tribute to Carole Landis on December 15th. The titles include ONE MILLION B.C. (1940) with Victor Mature, TOPPER RETURNS (1941) with Roland Young and Dennis O'Keefe, and a personal favorite, SECRET COMMAND (1944) with Pat O'Brien and Chester Morris.

...Barbara Stanwyck stars as ANNIE OAKLEY (1935) on December 18th, costarring Preston Foster and Melvyn Douglas.

...Those who might be buried in snow on December 21st can try to forget it with the Florida spring break film WHERE THE BOYS ARE (1960), starring Dolores Hart, George Hamilton, Paula Prentiss, Jim Hutton, and Connie Francis.

...The classic MGM musical compilations THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974) and THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! II (1976) will be shown on the evening of December 22nd.

...Spend the day after Christmas enjoying Fred and Ginger in three films, SWING TIME (1936), TOP HAT (1935), and SHALL WE DANCE (1937).

...There's more Fred and Ginger on December 28th, when THE GAY DIVORCEE (1934) is shown as part of a day of musicals which also includes 42ND STREET (1933), SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954), and the compilation film THAT'S DANCING! (1985).

...On December 29th TCM honors five actors who passed away this year and weren't honored at the time with a multi-film memorial tribute. The honorees are Louis Jourdan (GIGI), Lizabeth Scott (TOO LATE FOR TEARS), Theodore Bikel (THE DEFIANT ONES), Coleen Gray (KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL), and Anita Ekberg (BACK FROM ETERNITY).

...On New Year's Eve, ring out the old year with marathons of Marx Bros. and THIN MAN movies!

For more information on TCM in December, please consult the complete schedule.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Brooklyn (2015)

Anyone who loves movies should hasten to see BROOKLYN (2015), a beautifully rendered film with an exquisite lead performance by Saoirse Ronan.

It's been a long time since I've seen a "new" movie which left me feeling as though I'd like to go see it again right away. BROOKLYN is that special, and Ronan is wonderful in a movie which has a distinctly classic-era sensibility.

Ronan plays young Eilis, whose future in her small Irish village looks like a dead end, so her loving older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) arranges for a priest (Jim Broadbent) to sponsor Eilis so she can have a new life in New York.

Eilis lives in a Brooklyn boarding house with other recent immigrants, and the priest arranges a job for Eilis at an elegant department store; he also pays the first semester of tuition so she can attend night classes in bookkeeping. Eilis struggles mightily with homesickness, but with her interest in her classes and the friendship of a smiling young Italian man named Tony (Emory Cohen), she begins to feel happy about her life in America.

Eilis and Tony's relationship is developing into something deeper when tragedy strikes in Ireland and Eilis returns home for a visit, during which she must make a permanent decision about her future.

This is a movie which is engrossing from first frame to last, and Ronan is in almost every second of it. She has some of the most beautiful, sensitive eyes I've ever seen on film, as well as the ability to convey her thoughts wordlessly. I don't know when I've enjoyed a performance more. She is mesmerizing.

She's matched by Cohen as Tony, a genuinely goodhearted, decent young plumber who falls for Eilis almost from the moment he sees her. Together they paint a picture of a couple who feel genuine and real, rather than actors or movie stars. One can easily imagine this young couple achieving the American dream together, running a family construction company.

The one quibble I have with the film is that Eilis' choices in the final section of the film are contrary to the honesty and sensitivity she has exhibited up to that point, not to mention the courage she had shown traveling to New York without knowing a soul. I suppose one could chalk up the human frailty she shows at this point to grief, guilt, and curiosity about what life could be like if she remained in Ireland, but it was disappointing to see her lead on a couple of other characters to have hopes that could not be. When reality smacks her upside the face and she commits to it, it comes as both relief and joy.

Tying in with that thought, one of the film's pleasures is there are no villains. Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters), the boarding house landlady, is both snarky and supportive. Likewise, Eilis's department store supervisor, Miss Fortini (Jessica Pare of MAD MEN), is an exacting boss but she is also understanding. A fellow passenger on the ship (Eva Birthistle) is bossy, claiming her lower berth bunk, but she's also very helpful, and she's kind when it's needed most. The boarding house girls can be silly and thoughtless, yet again they also offer support. In short, the characters are fully rounded and human.

BROOKLYN also succeeds in believably creating a mid 20th Century world which feels real and organic. Too often when watching a recently made period piece one is aware that the cast is simply play acting with background extras and fake computer-generated backgrounds, with potential anachronisms hiding in every corner. (THE IMITATION GAME and SAVING MR. BANKS are two cases in point.) I was never distracted out of the era while watching BROOKLYN, and the warm cinematography by Yves Belanger suits the time period depicted.

BROOKLYN was directed by John Crowley. The script by Nick Hornby was based on a novel by Colm Toibin.

The supporting cast includes Domhnall Gleeson, Jane Brennan, Brid Brennan, Eileen O'Higgins, and James DiGiacomo, who is hilarious as Tony's smart-mouthed little brother.

Parental advisory: BROOKLYN is rated PG-13 for one brief love scene and for brief language. For the most part it is a family-friendly film.

The trailer is at the film's official website.

I enjoyed seeing this as much as anything I've seen this year. Very highly recommended.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Inside Out (2015)

Thanksgiving break is always a good time to enjoy newer movies with the family! I had missed seeing Pixar's INSIDE OUT (2015) in a theater last summer, but I caught it tonight via Blu-ray.

This animated film about all the confused feelings inside a little girl's head left me with mixed emotions of my own. INSIDE OUT was pleasingly colorful and quite creative, but its 94 minutes went on too long and its story was too focused on the negative. While many critics couldn't shower enough superlatives on the film when it debuted, I'd personally class it as a mid-range Pixar movie. It's worth seeing yet overall my reaction leaned toward disappointment.

Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and her parents (Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane) move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Riley understandably misses her home and friends, especially when the moving van with her things is delayed and the new place needs a lot of work.

Riley has much more trouble handling things when chaos suddenly breaks out among the five little emotions running things inside her head. When Joy (Amy Poehler) is accidentally locked out of the control room and sent far away, Riley's emotions sink ever lower and she contemplates running away from home. Joy and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) struggle to find a way back to the control room, which is being run in their absence by Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader).

There are a lot of fun ideas threaded through the film, such as Joy and Sadness needing to ride the Train of Thought to get back home, to give just one example; the movie studio producing dreams as distorted versions of real life was also brilliant. I couldn't help wondering if the filmmakers were inspired by Frank Capra's HEMO THE MAGNIFICENT (1957); it seems rather likely, as Capra's illustration of how the circulatory system works, with a little man with a phone giving out orders, seems like a more primitive version of the concepts in INSIDE OUT.

The movie is initially quite enjoyable, as it unveils a fanciful version of how our brains work and memories are stored. The problem arises when Joy's attempts to get back home, and Riley's corresponding angst, run on far too long. The story is out of balance, with Sadness spending too long at the forefront of the story, to the extent I think it's debatable whether the movie would be appropriate for all children. The movie is rated PG for "thematic elements"; I suspect some children may find it more of a downer than a good time.

Another issue is that Sadness is a boring character. She has a couple nice moments of empathy where she succeeds in helping someone, but she speaks in a monotone, is depressed, and is generally not fun to watch. I suppose that's inherent in her character, but I wonder if there could have been a more interesting way to present Sadness. In fact, all of the "emotions" characters are a bit one note because they're just representing one type of feeling; even Joy's super-perkiness eventually becomes a bit grating, though she's never a dull character like Sadness.

My husband raised an interesting question also, feeling that there was an obvious missed opportunity by omitting a voice of morality alongside Disgust and Anger. I found that a thought-provoking idea.

The single funniest moment for me was in one of the "tags" during the end credits, showing the inside of a cat's brain; the cat walking over the control panel was hilarious. Though just a few seconds, it was such a dead-on depiction of cat behavior that it left me wanting Pixar to create an entire film about cats!

INSIDE OUT was directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen.

Tonight's Movie: The Peanuts Movie (2015)

I've been a fan of Charles Schulz's PEANUTS since receiving a paperback book of his comic strips as a birthday gift when I was quite young. I was thus curious to see how THE PEANUTS MOVIE (2015) would treat the beloved characters, and I'm happy to report the film is a success.

THE PEANUTS MOVIE blends classic PEANUTS storytelling with shiny new computer visuals. You might say it's a sweet, old-fashioned story dressed up in some eye-catching new clothes.

All the familiar characters are on hand in vignettes which are as timeless as PEANUTS. Charlie Brown pines after the Little Red-Haired Girl, Snoopy pretends he's the Red Baron, and yes, Charlie Brown believes that this time Lucy will hold on to the football. The film cleverly refers to the characters' history from time to time in brief black and white "flashbacks."

The classic Vince Guaraldi music was also incorporated into the soundtrack, and there's even a wonderful cameo by "Christmastime is Here." And the use of Schroeder playing the 20th Century-Fox fanfare is inspired!

I was dubious about seeing these characters in computerized animation, but the movie actually looks terrific, with a bright, appealing appearance. It added a pleasing new dimension to enjoying the old gang.

The voice casting was also excellent, sounding rather like the voices in the old cartoons; Noah Schnapp was just right as Charlie Brown. Archival recordings of Bill Melendez were used for Snoopy and Woodstock. The most familiar voice in the credits is Kristin Chenoweth, who voices Fifi, Snoopy's pilot love.

My one complaint is I think the movie defaulted a little too often to Snoopy's Red Baron sequences, but that's a minor quibble. All in all this is an enjoyable film which should please old fans while hopefully winning new ones.

THE PEANUTS MOVIE was directed by Steve Martino. It runs 88 minutes.

Parental advisory: THE PEANUTS MOVIE is rated G.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

The last few months I've been enjoying catching up with the Marvel universe! I spent July and August watching several Marvel films for the first time, along with Season 1 of the TV series AGENT CARTER. Since August I've been focused on Seasons 1 and 2 of AGENTS OF SHIELD, which I completed watching last night.

Today I caught up with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014), which is quite a wild ride compared to the other Marvel films. It's a little harder to follow and a lot more "out there" in terms of crazy characters; tonally it's quite different from the other Marvels, especially in terms of copious bad language.

Though I found it the least enjoyable Marvel film seen to date, it was still definitely worth seeing; some of it is wildly creative, and there is some wickedly funny underplayed humor.

The movie starts off with a little boy named Peter being whisked from earth into outer space just after the death of his mother. Zoom forward in time and Peter (Chris Pratt) is now an adult sort of Indiana Jones of the galaxy, hunting down rare objects and selling them.

I had anticipated there would be some sort of explanation for Peter's abrupt exit from earth, but nope! That's left hanging until the end of the movie, when we get at least part of an explanation; more will apparently be disclosed in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 a couple years from now.

After obtaining a mysterious orb, Peter becomes the target of a manhunt led by evil Ronan (Lee Pace). The warrior Gamora (Zoe Saldana), sent by Ronan to retrieve the orb, eventually throws her lot in with Peter. By the way, Gamora is green, which is apparently normal in Peter's part of the universe.

An unusual pair of bounty hunters also join Peter's side: Rocket, a talking raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot, a lifelike tree (Vin Diesel) whose only words are "I am Groot." It isn't every day you watch a movie with a raccoon and a tree for heroes!

The group is rounded out by the fearsome Drax (Dave Bautista), a convict who wants to kill Ronan because Ronan wiped out his family. This unusual fivesome must keep the orb, and the power to destroy the universe, out of the hands of Ronan; thus they become the "Guardians of the Galaxy."

This is a goofy movie, but it has a lot of good lines, some of which are thrown away so offhandedly that the joke would catch up with me a good 10 seconds later. I appreciated the clever writing, though honestly I wish they had toned down the language. I assume the filmmakers made that choice as fitting the characters; being ruffians, they're a long way from the gallant Captain America!

The cast all do a fine job, and they're joined by the likes of Glenn Close and John C. Reilly on the side of the good guys and Benicio Del Toro as a "collector."

The set designs were simultaneously unique and familiar; at times I was reminded of the Millenium Falcon and the Death Star. In keeping with the film's tone many of the sets, such as a prison, were rather dark; these settings are the antithesis of Asgard, as seen in THOR (2011). The filmmakers succeed in creating a completely new part of the Marvel world; Peter definitely prowls the darker edges of the universe!

I especially enjoyed that in this high-tech world, Peter's most prized possession is a cassette tape of his favorite songs. Tape, cassette player, and headphones somehow survive decades of use in outer space!

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

The movie was directed by James Gunn and filmed by Ben Davis. The director's brother, Sean Gunn, memorably played Kirk on GILMORE GIRLS and has a nice role in the film.

Parental advisory: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is rated PG-13 for violence and language. I found this one less family-friendly than the other Marvel films, though it's probably okay for older children.

In closing, a Marvel bonus for AGENT CARTER fans: There are two promos now available for Season 2 of AGENT CARTER. The adventures of Peggy and Mr. Jarvis in 1940s Hollywood start on January 5th!

Previous Marvel reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014), IRON MAN (2008), IRON MAN 2 (2010), THOR (2011), THE AVENGERS (2012), AGENT CARTER (2015), and ANT-MAN (2015).

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