Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Crowded Sky (1960)

Late this evening it was time for our annual New Year's Eve tradition: watching a hokey disaster movie. Previous New Year's Eve entries include TWISTER (1996), SKYJACKED (1972), and ZERO HOUR! (1957).

Tonight's movie was THE CROWDED SKY, a fairly silly yet quite entertaining film in the airplane disaster genre. The film borrowed heavily from THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (1954), with the disaster-bound crew and passengers all having flashbacks, and as in ZERO HOUR! we once again find Dana Andrews heroically piloting a passenger plane.

In THE CROWDED SKY Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is piloting a military jet which has lost its radio and ability to read altitude. Troy Donahue is also aboard the plane as Zimbalist's passenger -- he should have listened to the warning at the airport and waited for another ride east! Zimbalist is on a collision course with Andrews' passenger plane. The disaster climax was actually rather shocking; I didn't expect things to go quite the way they did.

I don't know if it was coincidence or a deliberate tribute to this film, but in AIRPORT 1975 (1974) Zimbalist and Andrews were cast in flip roles, with Andrews piloting a small plane hurtling toward a passenger jet piloted by Zimbalist!

The movie has some delightfully bad dialogue, as well as some lines that were quite surprising for 1960. (Rhonda Fleming musing about why she likes banana splits was a real eye-opener.) The flashbacks were pretty awful, with the camera zooming in and the background behind the actors going black, although they weren't as groan-worthy as the gauzy flashbacks with the cheesy '70s music in SKYJACKED. Nor were they as boring as the too-long flashbacks in the otherwise entertaining HIGH AND THE MIGHTY.

As always, Dana Andrews plays it straight and ends the film with his dignity intact. January 1st, incidentally, marks the 101st anniversary of Andrews' birth.

Fleming plays Zimbalist's unfaithful wife, with Karen Green as their young daughter. John Kerr is Andrews' copilot, who is torn between flying, art, and whether or not to marry pretty stewardess Anne Francis. Joe Mantell plays the navigator. The passengers include Keenan Wynn, Patsy Kelly, and Ava Gardner lookalike Jean Willes.

This film was directed by Joseph Pevney. It was shot in Technicolor and runs 105 minutes.

THE CROWDED SKY is available in a widescreen DVD-R print from the Warner Archive. For the most part it was an excellent, crisp print, other than a few faint black lines which appeared randomly near the start and end of the movie.

On March 5th, 2010, Turner Classic Movies will show THE CROWDED SKY as part of an evening of airplane disaster movies. The other films to be shown are CRASH LANDING (1958), ZERO HOUR! and the spoof AIRPLANE! (1980), which recycled huge chunks of the ZERO HOUR! script. 

THE CROWDED SKY is a worthy entry in the hokey airplane disaster movie genre. A good time was had by all.

Update: Be sure to read a fun review of the DVD-R posted by Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant. Erickson terms the film "a hugely enjoyable Bad Movie."

Tonight's Movie: George Washington Slept Here (1942)

Bill and Connie Fuller (Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan) are contented New York apartment dwellers...until Connie decides they should buy their own home. Connie surprises Bill when she purchases a ramshackle place in the country, charmed by the notion that GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE.

The Fullers immediately move into their new home, accompanied by Connie's kid sister Madge (Joyce Reynolds) and their maid Hester (Hattie McDaniel). The house is an absolute disaster, but they set out to fix it up with the help of the local handyman, Mr. Kimber (Percy Kilbride). The Fullers also contend with a visit from cantankerous but wealthy Uncle Stanley (Charles Coburn) and Connie's obnoxious young nephew, Raymond (Douglas Croft).

This amusing movie is based on a Kaufman & Hart play. 1942 was a good movie year for Kaufman and Hart, as another of their hits, THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, was also released that year. An interesting tidbit is that the casting of Jack Benny necessitated that the roles of the husband and wife be flip-flopped from the play; in the play the husband is the straight man, so the script was rewritten so that Benny could be the one reacting with dismay to each new problem with the house.

Benny and Sheridan have nice chemistry, particularly in the early scenes. It's a good thing that the first part of the film establishes their loving relationship, as Benny's Bill spends much of the movie carping about Connie's boondoggle of a house. However, when things get serious late in the film, it's clear once more how much Bill cares for Connie...and the house.

Percy Kilbride, who became famous as "Pa Kettle" a few years later, had his first major film role in GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE, recreating the role he had played in the original Broadway play. Kilbride's vacant-brained handyman surely must have helped inspire the part of George the handyman played by Tom Poston on NEWHART. Kilbride is very funny; it's hard to imagine the film without him.

The movie almost has more characters than it can use; for instance, Joyce Reynolds' Madge doesn't have much to do, although her final scene with Benny is fun. Charles Coburn has a relatively small amount of screen time; it would have been nice if the pointless character of bratty nephew Raymond had been eliminated so that Coburn and Reynolds' roles could have been expanded.

The supporting cast includes Franklin Pangborn as a fussy (what else?) landlord, William Tracy as Madge's boyfriend, Harvey Stephens as a local historian, and Lee Patrick as an actress.

GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE was directed by William Keighley. It was shot in black and white by Ernie Haller. The running time is 93 minutes.

This film has had a release on VHS. It has not been released on DVD.

GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE can be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

The trailer can be seen here.

November 2013 Update: This film has now been released on DVD-R by the Warner Archive.

TCM in January: Highlights

Lots of great movies are coming to Turner Classic Movies in January!

...The fun begins on New Year's Eve with a six-film marathon of the THIN MAN movies. Spending New Year's with Nick and Nora Charles is hard to beat.

...I'm especially looking forward to Fox's THE NORTH STAR (1943), with Dana Andrews and Anne Baxter, which is being shown as part of the month-long "Shadows of Russia" series. THE NORTH STAR airs on January 20th, along with MISSION TO MOSCOW (1943), which inspired this month's festival.

Shadows of Russia will also include several MGM films: THE RED DANUBE (1949) on January 6th, COMRADE X (1940) and NINOTCHKA (1939) on January 13th, and CONSPIRATOR (1949) on January 20th. The latter film, which costars Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor, is a "must record" for me.

...Speaking of Robert Taylor, don't miss Taylor and Cyd Charisse in PARTY GIRL (1958) on January 12, 2010. It's a terrific gangster film directed by Nicholas Ray.

...January 7th the network pays tribute to Jennifer Jones, who passed away earlier this month. Four films will be shown, including DUEL IN THE SUN (1946) and MADAME BOVARY (1949).

...January 6th is a birthday celebration for Loretta Young, born this date in 1913. Several pre-Codes will be shown, including the fascinating LIFE BEGINS (1932). I'm especially anxious to see two films for the first time: PLAY GIRL (1932) with Loretta's future brother-in-law, actor-director Norman Foster, and SHE HAD TO SAY YES (1932) costarring Lyle Talbot.

Other Young films screening that day include the spooky THE STRANGER (1946), with a terrific performance by Edward G. Robinson; KEY TO THE CITY (1950), a light comedy with Clark Gable; and the nifty suspense film CAUSE FOR ALARM! (1951). I think my favorite Young film being shown that day is one I haven't reviewed here: RACHEL AND THE STRANGER (1948), costarring William Holden and Robert Mitchum, directed by Loretta's brother-in-law Norman Foster. It's a sweet Western tale of a marriage of convenience turning to love.

...January 13th is a nine-film birthday tribute to the one and only Kay Francis, featuring THE GOOSE AND THE GANDER (1935), IT'S A DATE (1940), and THE FEMININE TOUCH (1941).

...Don't miss JOURNEY FOR MARGARET (1942), one of seven films being aired on Margaret O'Brien's birthday this January 15th. JOURNEY FOR MARGARET costars Robert Young and Laraine Day and is a deeply affecting story of the London Blitz and its impact on children. LOST ANGEL is another favorite which airs that day.

...Lots of interesting pre-Codes are being shown on January 21st, including CROONER (1932) with Ann Dvorak, IT'S TOUGH TO BE FAMOUS (1932) and CAPTURED! (1933) starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and NO OTHER WOMAN (1933) starring Irene Dunne.

...On January 22nd the theme is "brides," including Anita Louise in BRIDES ARE LIKE THAT (1936); Fred Astaire and Jane Powell in ROYAL WEDDING (1950); Debbie Reynolds, Rod Taylor, and Bette Davis in THE CATERED AFFAIR (1956); Joan Crawford, Robert Young, and Franchot Tone in THE BRIDE WORE RED (1937); and of course the classic FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950), starring Elizabeth Taylor.

...TCM will be showing more Paramount movies this year; Paramount highlights this month include Mitchell Leisen's TO EACH HIS OWN (1946) on January 24th, for which Olivia DeHavilland won her first Oscar, and Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby's BLUE SKIES (1946) on January 31st. Looking ahead to February 4th, another Paramount film will be shown: KITTY (1945), starring Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard. Hopefully more Paramount films will air in conjunction with releases in TCM's new DVD on demand program, which will feature films from Universal along with Paramount.

The above are just a few of the treasures Turner Classic Movies will share with its viewers in January. For more information and the schedule, visit the TCM website.

Stephanie Edwards Hosts 2010 Rose Parade

Every year around this time I start noticing lots of hits from folks searching for news on Stephanie Edwards and the KTLA Rose Parade coverage.

For those of you who were wondering: Yes, Stephanie is hosting again this year! She and Bob Eubanks will anchor the parade coverage beginning at 8:00 a.m.

For those who don't have KTLA, the station is streaming the broadcast on the Internet this year.

Happy New Year!

Previous posts: January 2, 2006, January 3, 2006, January 4, 2006, December 29, 2006, January 1, 2007, January 5, 2007, January 1, 2008, September 17, 2008, and January 1, 2009.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Katharine Hepburn Honored with U.S. Postage Stamp

Multi-Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn will be honored with a postage stamp in 2010.

The stamp will be released on Hepburn's birthdate, May 12th.

Roy Rogers and Gene Autry will also be featured in 2010 U.S. postage stamps. The Rogers and Autry stamps will be part of a set spotlighting film cowboys, along with William S. Hart and Tom Mix. They'll be out on April 17th.

Another interesting stamp will focus on baseball's Negro Leagues. That stamp comes out in June.

And who can resist a "Sunday Funnies" series of stamps focusing on Dennis the Menace, Garfield, Calvin & Hobbes, Beetle Bailey, and one of my all-time favorites, Archie? Archie is featured on the stamp with -- of course -- Betty and Veronica. The comics stamps go on sale in July.

Reading the Movies, Part 1 (or Growing Up with the Movies)

Last summer several classic film bloggers shared their thoughts on film books which had influenced them over the years. I believe the thread started at The Dancing Image (click the title of this post). Moira, R. Emmet Sweeney, and the Siren were among the bloggers who wrote about their all-time favorite film books.

I didn't get around to writing on this subject at the time, but as I enjoy the newest beautiful film book in my collection, I have also been reflecting back on the books which were among the most significant to me as I learned about the world of classic movies. Many of these books, though out of print, are still available from used book sources such as Amazon vendors.

Paul Michael's THE AMERICAN MOVIES REFERENCE BOOK: THE SOUND ERA helped trigger my love for classic films, along with being exposed to them by my parents as I was growing up. The book is divided in half, with one section listing actors' biographical information and film credits, and the other half providing the film credits for a well-chosen cross-section of great movies.

I was perhaps six or seven years old when I first came across this book in our living room, and the photographs fascinated me. Over the years I paged through it countless times. The variety of photos and films represented opened my eyes to the wide world of "old" movies. To this day, I will see a scene in a particular movie and realize it was pictured in a photo in what I called "the big black book."

A couple of years before the release of THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974) the beautiful book THE MGM YEARS: THE GOLDEN AGE OF MOVIE MUSICALS by Lawrence B. Thomas was published. Once I found the shelf on movies at the public library I checked this book out over and over again. I was so happy when I later received my own copy for Christmas!

I was already familiar with some of the titles depicted in the book, such as TV perennials THE WIZARD OF OZ and EASTER PARADE, but for the most part the book showed me a world of musicals I could hardly wait to visit -- a feeling which was accentuated when I first saw THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!

A recent column at Big Hollywood captures well what it was like growing up with a mere handful of commercial TV channels in Southern California. (Another post at Sidewalk Crossings, which I first linked to in September, covers a similar theme.) If you were busy during the annual showing of WHITE CHRISTMAS, it was a calamity, as that was the only chance to see it that year -- and never mind that it was going to be edited and filled with commercials. Like one of the commenters at Big Hollywood, I would sometimes set my alarm and get up during the middle of the night to see a movie. After all, it might be my only chance to see the movie for years! My parents were tolerant of this since I maintained good grades (grin).

Fortunately the mid-'70s began a great era of revival theaters in the Los Angeles area, so while there was no VHS, cable TV, or DVD, I was able to see a great many musicals and other films on the big screen. Along with reliable venues such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Vagabond, and the Tiffany, we had our share of unusual viewing experiences. When I was about 12 I saw ON THE TOWN and SUMMER STOCK at the Gary Theater, projected onto little more than a sheet, accompanied by the sound of machine guns from the James Cagney film playing on the other side of a paper-thin wall. There was also a theater in Fullerton which was built in a former swimming pool -- if you walked down to the front of the theater there was still a drain in the floor! Back then you had to be a bit adventurous and willing to put up with quirks and inconveniences in order to see the movies on one's wish list.

On the plus side, I was fortunate to see a great many filmmakers who made personal appearances at various screenings and classes our family attended...I can barely scratch the surface, but the list includes Olivia de Havilland, Loretta Young, Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Margaret O'Brien, Donald O'Connor, Ann Miller, Vincente Minnelli, Charles Walters, and many more. On more than one occasion we found ourselves watching a film with Mel Torme also in the audience...he was quite a film fan, and of course appeared in a handful himself!

To this day I still can't quite believe how many movies are available at my fingertips, any time I choose to see them -- and, whether they're on DVD, video, or Turner Classic Movies, they're typically beautiful uncut prints which I can watch on a fairly good-sized TV screen. I'll never take that for granted!

Returning to the subject of film books, one of my other early favorites was THE MGM STOCK COMPANY by James Robert Parish and Ronald L. Bowers, which I received when I was about 12. This began a very large collection of biographical film books by Mr. Parish and his colleagues; other favorites included THE FOX GIRLS and HOLLYWOOD PLAYERS: THE FORTIES.

Along with THE MGM YEARS and THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!, THE MGM STOCK COMPANY started me on a lifelong love affair with MGM movies.

Leonard Maltin's THE DISNEY FILMS is another book I first discovered at the library when I was perhaps 10 or 12. Given that the first movie I ever saw in a theater was MARY POPPINS (1965), the book immediately caught my interest and helped feed a love for Disney films which continues to this day -- as does my longstanding admiration of Mr. Maltin. It's amazing to me that decades after my first discovery of that book, next semester my oldest daughter will be taking his film class at the University of Southern California.

I hope to highlight some other favorite film books in future posts.

The end of the year is always a nice time to reflect back, and I hope my fellow film fans enjoy this trip down memory lane!

More: Los Angeles Movie Memories.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Honeymoon in Bali (1939)

My daughters recently came across HONEYMOON IN BALI while shopping at a used book and DVD store which recently opened in Orange County. They thought I'd want to see it, since I've become a Fred MacMurray fan, and they were right. :)

I was surprised I'd never noticed a DVD listing for this film. It's had multiple DVD releases so I'm curious whether it fell into the public domain. The copy I bought was put out by a Canadian company, Front Row Entertainment, in 2001. The black and white print wasn't crisp, but it wasn't bad, either -- I've watched many movies with prints in far worse shape. This was a nice find, especially given that it was in brand-new condition for just a few dollars.

The film itself was agreeable, although it could have been better. Gail (Madeleine Carroll) runs a New York department store. She falls in love with Bill (MacMurray), but doesn't want to give up her career and her independence in order to move to Bali, where Bill works for a cocoa company.

Matters are further complicated when Bill becomes the guardian of a colleague's little girl, Rosie (Carolyn Lee). Meanwhile Eric (Allan Jones), an opera singer, would like to marry Gail, and Noel (Osa Massen), a woman from Bali, has her eye on Bill. It takes every last one of the film's 99 minutes to untangle all these complications for the requisite happy ending.

The film is pleasant company, with both strong and weak points. MacMurray and Carroll, who worked together several times, have good chemistry. I enjoyed Gail's constant exclamations of "For Heaven's sake!" when she doesn't know how to respond to Bill.

The cast, which includes wonderful Helen Broderick as Gail's best friend, is for the most part excellent. Jones plays a nice chap in the Ralph Bellamy mode, and he adds some musical moments to the film. Astrid Allwyn is personable as a restaurant fortune teller in a key scene, and Akim Tamiroff has a fun role as an observant window cleaner whose scenes bookend the film. Charles Lane has a one-scene part as a photographer, and Monty Woolley has a similarly brief appearance as a publisher.

I did think Carolyn Lee, who was all of three years old at the time, was a weak link as Rosie. To some extent it wasn't her fault as she was given some awful dialogue. And she was so little, with so many lines, that they all tended to be shouted in the same tone of voice. It was a lot for a child that young to handle, and it would have been much better had she been used more sparingly.

However, there is a lovely scene in which Gail teaches Rosie to pray and tells her about the Lord being in her heart; sadly, a sincere religious moment like this is almost surprising to the modern viewer. The scenes drawing out Gail's maternal instinct are some of the film's best moments.

The script has some creative devices, such as the window cleaner, but MacMurray's Bill is overly aggressive, and the film would have been stronger if Bill and Gail didn't spend so much screen time battling or apart. A little more romance would likewise have been welcome.

Despite the film's flaws, it's a nice diversion for those who enjoy the cast.

HONEYMOON IN BALI has been shown on television under the title MY LOVE FOR YOURS.

It was directed by Edward H. Griffith, who reunited with MacMurray, Carroll, Broderick, and Lee to film VIRGINIA in 1941. Griffith also directed MacMurray and Carroll in CAFE SOCIETY (1939) and ONE NIGHT IN LISBON (1941). Griffith also worked with Carroll on SAFARI (1940) and BAHAMA PASSAGE (1941).

Unfortunately, MacMurray and Carroll's films were for Paramount, and that studio's films are relatively hard to obtain. However, TCM is expected to show a greater number of Paramount films in coming months, or even release some Paramount titles in their new DVD program, so hopefully at some point more MacMurray and Carroll films will be available for viewing.

More films directed by Edward Griffith which have been reviewed here previously: ANOTHER LANGUAGE (1933), NO MORE LADIES (1935), CAFE METROPOLE (1937), and THE SKY'S THE LIMIT (1943).

Tonight's Movie: Up in the Air (2009)

Sophisticated, thoughtful, and intelligent are not adjectives which can frequently be used to describe modern films, but they all apply to UP IN THE AIR, a very enjoyable and interesting movie which is perfectly suited to the uncertain tenor of the times.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a happy road warrior who loves his endlessly on-the-go lifestyle and prefers to do without the emotional baggage that comes with close relationships. Ryan's job is to visit downsizing companies and inform employees they're being let go. When his company hires a young hotshot business school graduate (Anna Kendrick), who proposes laying people off via teleconferencing as a more cost-effective way to do business, the emotionally aloof Ryan finds himself in the curious position of advocating the continuance of personal, face-to-face contact when employees are given the bad news and handed their severance packages.

In the same time frame, Ryan becomes attracted to another frequent flier, Alex (Vera Farmiga). Ryan and Alex enjoy each other's company when they're in the same city on business, but a visit to his hometown and his little sister's wedding starts Ryan thinking about investing in a deeper relationship with Alex.

I thought this was a terrific movie. It was superbly acted, first and foremost by George Clooney, and tells a story which is quite unusual. It contains moments of great pathos and yet simultaneously manages to be uplifting; at least one reviewer has compared it to some of Frank Capra's darker films, such as MEET JOHN DOE (1941), for its ability to simultaneously be a downer and yet leave an audience feeling good.

The film is completely of its times, whether it's the overarching story of large numbers of people losing their jobs or smaller details such as the constant use of text messaging. The themes, however, are timeless: what's the purpose of life and work, and why do relationships matter?

Most of the people laid off in the film are non-actors who have actually experienced being downsized. One of the employees in a more extended scene is played by J.K. Simmons, who was excellent as the "made for heating and air conditioning" father in JUNO (2007), a film by the same director, Jason Reitman. Jason Bateman, who played the immature adoptive father in JUNO, appears here as Clooney and Kendrick's boss.

Ryan's sisters are played by Amy Morton and Melanie Lynskey, with Danny McBride playing Ryan's future brother-in-law. Sam Elliott has a delightful cameo as an airline pilot in one of the film's final scenes.

The movie runs 109 minutes.

This film is rated R for language and a couple relatively brief scenes with sexual content. Despite the rating, I frankly found this film less offensive and more mature in tone than a couple PG-13 movies seen this year, which I was surprised weren't rated R.

George Clooney movies previously reviewed here: OUT OF SIGHT (1998), GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (2005), OCEAN'S 13 (2007), and MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007).

UP IN THE AIR is highly recommended. It's the kind of film you'll still be mulling over long after the theater lights have come back on.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

View From the Road

The California coastline south of Santa Barbara, California, as seen late this afternoon...

We had a very nice day visiting family. Time now to relax and unwind with a movie!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Proposal (2009)

THE PROPOSAL is a flawed but fun romantic comedy starring the ever-reliable Sandra Bullock.

Margaret (Bullock) is a book editor whose whole life is her career. She seemingly delights in intimidating other employees -- think Meryl Streep in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006) -- and expects her assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) to forget he has a personal life as well.

Margaret's career may crash to a screeching halt when she is threatened with deportation to her native Canada. Her solution to the problem is a quickie marriage to Andrew, who agrees for reasons of his own.

The couple fly to Andrew's hometown in Alaska, where life is as far removed from Manhattan as can be, in order to announce their engagement to Andrew's family. Andrew's mother (Mary Steenburgen) and grandmother (Betty White) are thrilled, while his father (Craig T. Nelson) is skeptical. Meanwhile an immigration agent (Denis O'Hare) is watching Margaret and Andrew's every move, looking for evidence that they are planning a fraudulent marriage.

The movie starts out with great promise and a number of extremely funny moments. The initial scenes are fast-paced and have excellent dialogue.

The film's relocation to Alaska has pros and cons; the setting is beautiful and Andrew's family are interesting -- Steenburgen is particularly charming -- but at this point the film also gets sillier and the pace slows down a bit too much. A side note, coastal Massachusetts, including Rockport, stands in for Alaska.

The film's Alaska scenes borrow heavily from Bullock's own WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING (1995), once again tossing a lonely woman who isn't what she appears to be into the bosom of a loving extended family. The wedding scene is recycled fairly closely from the earlier movie, and THE PROPOSAL also borrows the device of needing to protect a grandmother with a heart condition from surprising news.

Unfortunately the film departs from emulating WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING with two completely unnecessary scenes with nearly naked people running around. The scenes were tiresome and added nothing whatsoever to the story, as evidenced by the fact I fast-forwarded through them and didn't miss a single plot development. These sequences were supposed to be funny but the humor escaped me. The film is rated PG-13 but I would not be comfortable with my 14-year-old watching the first scene, in particular.

I also could have done without the silliness of Betty White's character beating drums and communing with nature in the woods, and Ramone (Oscar Nunez) didn't strike me as funny, particularly in his first appearance. On the other hand, the film would have benefited from Andrew and Margaret having more screen time alone together in order to more deeply develop their relationship. If these additions and subtractions had been made I feel the film would have been much stronger.

That said, I had a fun time watching the film and found much to enjoy. Bullock and Reynolds have good comic timing -- the "announcement" scene to Margaret's superiors had me laughing out loud -- and the supporting cast members are always enjoyable. It's a pleasant film, and its strongest moments are very good indeed.

THE PROPOSAL runs 108 minutes and was directed by Anne Fletcher, who also directed 27 DRESSES (2008). Malin Akerman, who played the "bridezilla" sister in 27 DRESSES, plays Andrew's ex-girlfriend Gertrude in THE PROPOSAL.

THE PROPOSAL is available on DVD in a widescreen single-disc or two-disc edition; the two-disc edition also includes a digital copy.

Extras in the two-disc edition include an interesting alternate ending, deleted scenes, and a commentary track.

Around the Blogosphere This Week... on holiday weekend hiatus and will return next week.

Happy Boxing Day!

Tonight's Movie: (500) Days of Summer (2009)

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER randomly chronicles various incidents in the relationship of a young couple, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel). It's a creatively made film, although ultimately I found it emotionally unsatisfying.

Tom, a wannabe architect who works for a California greeting card company -- which improbably has New Hampshire in its name -- falls for the new employee, Summer. The film skips backwards and forwards in time, labeling each new sequence with the day in their relationship (i.e., "Day 151"), occasionally employing comedic narration to fill in narrative gaps. Another interesting technique employed is the use of a split screen to simultaneously depict "Expectations" versus "Reality."

Gordon-Levitt's whiny Tom ultimately matures into a somewhat more interesting character; one hopes that he eventually grows up enough to stop depending on his (very) little sister for guidance. Summer, on the other hand, is a vacant-eyed enigma from start to finish. I didn't care about Summer, who's pretty but selfish, and so I didn't care that Tom loved her; I also found Summer's destiny unbelievable based on what had been previously shown.

The film raises a question worth pondering: do viewers not know more about Summer and her motivations because the filmmakers erred and left out key information, or is the viewer not meant to understand Summer because we're seeing her through Tom's narrow perspective?

The movie was worth seeing and analyzing, but I felt detached from the characters. The very thing that makes the film unique also causes it problems. The style of filming screams "look at me and how different I am," while jumping backwards and forwards in time, without a strong emotional narrative or key character information, caused me to view the film more analytically than emotionally.

Despite my complaints, it's a worthwhile film which I would watch again; I just didn't feel the rave reviews it received earlier this year were justified. While the presentation was unique, the story itself was the age-old boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy loses girl, and in this case the characters involved just weren't that appealing. One of the problems with so many cardboard, silly films being released these days, aimed at the lowest common denominator, is that any reasonably well-made film may receive stronger reviews than it deserves simply because of the contrast with all the dreck that's out there.

As is unfortunately par for the course, this PG-13 film was loaded with unnecessary language which merely served to underscore the characters' immaturity.

This film was directed by Marc Webb. It runs 95 minutes.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER is available on widescreen DVD.

City of Oakland Parking Ticket Scam

We received a delightful Christmas present from the City of Oakland, California, today -- a parking citation titled ADMINISTRATIVE REVIEW DECISION - LIABLE demanding $68, or double that if we don't pay by January 13th.

The license plate number on the citation is ours -- but they say it's a four-door silver Toyota. We've never owned a Toyota.

Moreover, my husband's never been to Oakland, which is hundreds of miles from here, and I think the last time I was there I was about 13 years old.

The parking citation date was on our daughter's birthday last October, when we were busy here visiting Disneyland and watching the USC-Notre Dame game.

Here's the kicker: in order to contest this -- whether by phone, mail, or in person -- the city demands that we pay the fine up front! They will not hold a hearing and review it without the payment of the fine.

How can that possibly be legal when this is so clearly an error on the part of the city? Guilty until proven innocent? The state and also the City of Oakland are hard up for money...I suspect they want to have use of people's money for a few months and then if you're lucky you might get it back.

We don't intend to pay...let's hope we can get through and speak to someone reasonable next week. Anecdotal stories posted on the web lead me to suspect this is going to be a miserable experience.

I'm posting this with the thought there may be others out there experiencing the same thing, who will find it of interest to know it's happening to others, or perhaps someone else has been through this and can share how they resolved the problem.

December 28th Update: The city's parking division is closed all week and will not reopen until January 4th.

January 4th Update: My husband got through after a long time on hold and was able to get an employee to look up our plate in the computer. The employee admitted that the license plate doesn't match the make of the ticketed car and that the ticket was sent to us in error; she promised to send a letter confirming we aren't liable. I'll breathe easier if/when that letter comes, but so far the news is good.

June 16, 2010 Update: Today, roughly 5 and a half months after my husband's phone conversation (described immediately above), we received a letter from Oakland clearing us of the ticket.

I'm relieved the news is good, but needless to say the delay speaks volumes about dealing with Oakland's parking division.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

The view in our church before the Christmas Eve service began tonight:

I hope everyone is having a lovely holiday.

Merry Christmas to All!

Best wishes for a very happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Almost Christmas!

It's been a hectic couple of days, with yesterday spent wrapping up work for the week and today a nonstop blur of grocery shopping, Christmas shopping, cards, and wrapping. I had time to watch half a movie tonight but finishing it up will have to wait a day or two. I'm sure many of you have had a similar week! The pace of blogging should pick up again soon.

In the meantime, check out these Christmas-related links:

...Barrie Maxwell reviews some Christmas DVDs, including REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940), at the Digital Bits. (Click the title of this post.)

...Update: Susan King of the L.A. Times calls REMEMBER THE NIGHT "the best holiday film you never heard of" and gives the "sorely underrated" Fred MacMurray well-deserved praise.

...Arlene Dahl is profiled at Skeins of the Christmas photo!

...Raquelle put together menus using the foods mentioned in CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945).

...Read Clydefro's interesting review of an "alternative Christmas movie," LADY IN THE LAKE (1947), a film noir with a Christmas setting.

...John Nolte lists his Top 10 Best Christmas Specials at Big Hollywood. As much as I love CHARLIE BROWN, I think I'd have to flip his top two choices and give the GRINCH the No. 1 spot. I agree with some of his choices and quibble with others...see what you think.

...There are lots of great Christmas links and old-fashioned Christmas graphics at Santas Working Overtime. (Thanks for the link!)

...Update: Here's a look at THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942) by Jacqueline.

Merry Almost Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Today at Disneyland: Christmas Visit 2009

Today was our family's annual all-day Christmas visit to Disneyland. The six of us had a wonderful time including a great breakfast at River Belle Terrace.

As always, the flowers at Town Square were a beautiful reflection of the season:

A highlight for us was seeing Tiana's Showboat Jubilee! for the first time.

The Jubilee is inspired by the new Disney cartoon THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG; in a nice bit of synergy, the movie is set in New Orleans and features a riverboat, both of which tie in with Disneyland.

The Jubilee starts out with a parade through the crowds in New Orleans Square.

The parade ends at the Mark Twain Riverboat...

...which then moves down the river towards the New Orleans Square end of Rivers of America.

The boat stops at that point for a colorful musical show. When the show concludes, the Mark Twain then circles around Tom Sawyer Island, at which point the cast disembarks and parades back toward the Princess and the Frog "meet and greet" area at Court des Anges.

It was a fun experience which is a good example of the extra entertainment value to be found in Disneyland for the price of a ticket. The Jubilee runs through January 3rd.

The official Disney Parks Blog has some video of the show.

Unfortunately I didn't realize my brand-new Panasonic camera was on night setting, which turned many of the photos a tint of blue. I never had anything like this happen with my Canon cameras, which I think were a little more intuitive. Argh.

Details from the tree at Town Square:

Another highlight of the day was seeing Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, which opened a few days ago after an absence of several years.

We found President Lincoln's words about the greatest threat to our country coming from within to be disturbingly prophetic given what is happening in Washington this year.

Dusk at the Main Street Train Station:

The Disneyland pennants atop the train station were at half mast to mourn the recent passing of Roy E. Disney. The pennant atop the Mark Twain was likewise at half mast.

On a lighter note, the first pieces of 55th anniversary merchandise have hit the stores. (Is it really possible it's already been half a decade since the Golden Anniversary celebration?!) Colorful Christmas ornaments and oversized mugs are available.

I'm glad we were there at park opening and were able to do all the things on our wish list over the course of the day. By the time we left around 5:00 p.m., Disneyland was so crowded it had to close to new guests.

Previously: 2006, 2007, and 2008.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Tonight we saw THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, which marks Disney's successful return to 2D animation. We found the movie very enjoyable and worthwhile. The film may not rank alongside the greatest of Disney's animation of the last two decades (i.e., THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), but it's a very worthy entry in the Disney animation pantheon, holding its own alongside titles like POCAHONTAS and THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE.

The film has a unique, appealing setting in the New Orleans of the early 20th Century, a world of mansions, gumbo, riverboats, beignets, streetcars, and jazz. Tiana (winningly voiced by Anika Noni Rose of DREAMGIRLS) works double shifts as a waitress, saving every penny to finance her dream of opening her own restaurant. One evening, as it appears her plans may be falling apart, she meets a frog (Bruno Campos) who begs her to kiss him and turn him back into a human; alas, since Tiana isn't a princess, she can't break the spell and turns into a frog herself!

The frog is actually a prince named Naveen, and he and Tiana set out to find someone who can turn them back into humans, aided by a jazz-loving alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) and a firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings).

The voice cast also includes Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard as Tiana's parents and John Goodman as the father of Tiana's friend Charlotte.

As pointed out yesterday at Big Hollywood, the movie's viewpoint is bracingly conservative, celebrating the value of hard work and the American dream. I very much appreciated this aspect of the film. It's not enough to just wish upon a star -- you also have to work hard to make your wishes come true.

One of the other things I really liked about the movie was the handling of the character Charlotte (Jennifer Cody). I expected Lottie to turn out to be the stereotypical "wicked stepsister" character -- Lottie's not related to Tiana, but I refer to that fairy tale "type" -- and the filmmakers took her in a refreshingly different direction.

As a Disneyland fan, I also enjoyed the incorporation of a riverboat which looks like Disneyland's Mark Twain into the movie. We're looking forward to seeing Tiana's Showboat Jubilee, perhaps as soon as next week.

Fair warning, the film has one of the most beautifully poignant sequences in all of Disney animation -- if you're a sentimentalist, as I am, prepare for waterworks.

My biggest complaint about the film is that I didn't care for the villain, Dr. Facilier, aka "the Shadow Man" (voiced by Keith David), being involved with voodoo; his references to "my friends on the Other Side" creeped me out. I wish Disney had stuck with a villain who was simply mean, but given the story's New Orleans setting, I guess it was inevitable. The closest Disney comparison to Dr. Facilier may be Jafar from ALADDIN. The villain's final scenes will very possibly be disturbing to young children, for multiple reasons; parental caution is advised. Perhaps it wouldn't be a Disney movie if there weren't darker elements mixed into the story -- Bambi's mother, anyone?

The movie's score is by Randy Newman. My favorite songs were "Down in New Orleans" and "Almost There." (In a nice nod to another Newman Disney score, at one point you can hear a bit of "You've Got a Friend in Me" in the background.) Just as when we saw ENCHANTED (2007), after the movie we walked over to Barnes & Noble and bought the soundtrack. Modern technology being what it is, we'll be taking turns loading it into iTunes accounts on various family computers (grin).

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, who both have long histories in Disney animation. The film runs 97 minutes.

A trailer is here.

The L.A. Times and USA Today were among the papers which published positive reviews. Leonard Maltin was also enthused, calling it "tuneful, entertaining, great-looking, hip, funny."

Recommended as very solid Disney filmmaking. I'm looking forward to more 2D animation in Disney's future, just as John Lasseter promised nearly four years ago.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...My husband thinks this Hallmark Robby the Robot ornament is just about the coolest ornament ever. It appears others feel the same... I like the glass Turner Classic Movies 15th Anniversary ornament I bought on sale this year. :)

...Thanks to Missy who answered my query last weekend about recordings of "Christmas Island." Today I downloaded Ella Fitzgerald's recording of the song, so I've now got three versions in my collection. Curiously, I own the CD of the album the song is supposed to come from, but it's not one of the tracks. (P.S. Check out Missy's nifty Christmas light photos.)

...Speaking of Christmas music, here's Jacqueline's favorite Christmas music scenes from movies.

...Motion Picture Gems shares thoughts on CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944), a film noir starring Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly (how's that for an interesting combination?). Tom's post includes artwork and a YouTube video. I hope to watch this before year's end thanks to recently acquiring a Region 2 DVD of this hard-to-find title.

...Another study shows that homeschoolers are more "socially engaged" as adults -- and far less likely to end up on welfare -- than their public school counterparts. It's far past time for the "lack of socialization" myth about homeschoolers to be permanently put to rest. Over the years my kids have had more social opportunities than we can keep up with -- and with more diverse age groupings than is experienced in a class with all same-age peers -- and my children are hardly unique.

...Fans of THE VIRGINIAN may want to fire up their DVRS for New Year's Day, when the Encore Westerns Channel presents a 24-hour marathon of the show. A DVD release of Season 1 of the show was recently confirmed for March 9, 2010.

...Politico just did a nice profile of Bret Baier of Fox News Channel's SPECIAL REPORT.

...We were extremely impressed with our Eurostar experience last May...we're sure glad we didn't experience this. Being stuck in a dark, unheated train under the English Channel for as long as 16 hours sounds like a pretty unpleasant experience, to put it mildly.

..."Scholars" are criticizing the decades-old voice track by Royal Dano for Disney's newly reopened Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln? Give me a one living today has ever heard President Lincoln speak.

...Here's a Wall Street Journal interview with lovely Leslie Caron.

...Here's another plug for Maud Hart Lovelace's BETSY-TACY books, mentioned frequently here in recent months due to their republication: "Lovelace's Books Remain Relevant for Today's Girls." They'd make great Christmas gifts for a girl in your life -- start with BETSY-TACY for elementary age and HEAVEN TO BETSY for the older set.

...Glenn Erickson presents a thoughtful summary of the past year in the DVD business and lists his 10 Most Impressive DVDS of 2009. His list includes WAGON MASTER (1950).

...The L.A. Times and Washington Post were among the very enthusiastic reviews for THE YOUNG VICTORIA (2009). The Times calls the film "a terrific period piece" starring "transcendent" Emily Blunt, while the Post says the film is "a heady, thoroughly transporting plunge." Leonard Maltin termed it "a solid piece of entertainment." For those who didn't catch them the first time around, my reviews of May and July are here and here.

Have a great weekend, and Merry Christmas!

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