Thursday, November 30, 2017

TCM in December: Christmas Movies

It's hard to believe it's time for my annual guide to Christmas movies showing in December on Turner Classic Movies!

TCM will be featuring a lineup of Christmas films every Friday evening this month, with additional films airing on Saturdays and Sundays.

Additionally, the weekend before Christmas will feature films with a religious theme on Saturday, December 23rd, followed by Christmas movie marathons on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

For good measure, there are a couple more films with Christmas/New Year's themes scheduled for New Year's Eve.

Many of the Christmas favorites listed here are playing two or three times, while some only show up once. A complete overview is below. Please also consult the online schedule.

Click any hyperlinked title below for the corresponding review; reviews are only linked the first time a film is mentioned.

Christmas movies launch on Friday evening, December 1st, with an offbeat lineup featuring PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT (1962), ALL MINE TO GIVE (1957), BUSH CHRISTMAS (1947), TENTH AVENUE ANGEL (1948), the documentary A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: MERRY CHRISTMAS! (2011), and NEVER SAY GOODBYE (1946).

A couple of these films, ALL MINE TO GIVE and TENTH AVENUE ANGEL, are tearjerkers to varying degrees; Margaret O'Brien stars in the latter film with George Murphy and Angela Lansbury (seen at right). NEVER SAY GOODBYE, while not a Christmas film, per se, features Errol Flynn and Gig Young chasing each other in Santa suits as the movie nears a conclusion!

A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: MERRY CHRISTMAS! also turns up on the schedule on the 11th and 17th.

On Saturday, December 2nd, there's a '50s Christmas wonderland in SUSAN SLEPT HERE (1954), starring Dick Powell and Debbie Reynolds. James Stewart meets witch Kim Novak at Christmastime in BELL BOOK AND CANDLE (1958).

On Sunday the 3rd, James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan star in THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940), followed by a musical remake, IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (1949). Judy Garland and Van Johnson star in the later film.

On Friday, December 8th, the evening begins with A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951), as well as an earlier version known as SCROOGE (1935), not to be confused with the 1970 musical.

Then it's Christmas mystery time! Raymond Chandler's LADY IN THE LAKE (1947) dresses up its murder mystery with Christmas music and title cards. In the delightful LADY ON A TRAIN (1945), Deanna Durbin sees a murder out the train window as she travels to New York to visit her aunt for Christmas. The film includes Deanna singing "Silent Night.

The evening wraps up with Dick Van Dyke in FITZWILLY (1967), followed by LARCENY, INC. (1942), another movie which isn't a Christmas film but features Edward G. Robinson and several other actors running around in Santa suits near movie's end.

December 9th features the John Ford version of 3 GODFATHERS (1948), along with the delightful IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE (1947). I'm thankful to TCM for showing IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE on the network many times and helping it take its rightful place among Christmas favorites.

Sunday, December 10th, the day's Christmas films are Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh in HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949), plus the classic MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944). If you ask me, you can't see a better film at Christmas than MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS!

The lineup on Friday, December 15th, starts with three reruns, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940), HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949), and IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE (1947). Those films are followed by the month's first showing of THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1941), followed by Doris Day in ON MOONLIGHT BAY (1951).

MGM's A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938) makes its first appearance on Saturday, December 16th, followed by Gary Cooper and Barbara Staynwyck in Frank Capra's MEET JOHN DOE (1941). Later in the day there's a Debbie Reynolds double bill, BUNDLE OF JOY (1956) and SUSAN SLEPT HERE (1954).

On Sunday the 17th it's time for Barbara Stanwyck in CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945), along with one of my all-time favorites, THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947), starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven.

On Friday night, December 22nd, there's another showing of CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945), followed by another Stanwyck film, REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940) costarring Fred MacMurray. (More on it here.) TCM has again played a great role in bringing this marvelous Christmas classic back to prominence.

There are also encores of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) and IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (1949), plus the colorful MGM version of LITTLE WOMEN (1949), with an all-star cast. Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret O'Brien, and Janet Leigh are seen at the right.

The religious-themed films showing on December 23rd are ONE FOOT IN HEAVEN (1941), with Fredric March as a minister; BOYS TOWN (1938), with Spencer Tracy as a priest; BEN-HUR (1959), THE SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943), and KING OF KINGS (1961).

On Christmas Eve there's the classic Katharine Hepburn version of LITTLE WOMEN (1933), followed by repeat showings of THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1941), IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947), IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (1949), HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949), CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945), MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), and THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947).

Showing up on Christmas Eve for the first time this month are THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S (1945) and THE CHEATERS (1945), as well as POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES (1961). A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938) is also re-airing Christmas Eve.

And showing on Christmas Day: The short STAR IN THE NIGHT (1945), followed by MEET JOHN DOE (1941), BABES IN TOYLAND (1934), SCROOGE (1935), LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938), FITZWILLY (1967), BUNDLE OF JOY (1956), and THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940).

A 24-hour Alfred Hitchcock marathon begins in prime time on Christmas Night.

There are a couple more films featuring Christmas or New Year's scenes on New Year's Eve: The classic comedy BACHELOR MOTHER (1939), starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven, plus the all-time classic THE THIN MAN (1934), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Coming on New Year's Day: Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in HOLIDAY INN (1942)!

An overview of the rest of the schedule for TCM in December will be posted on December 1st, and a look at Lana Turner as Star of the Month will follow early next week.

Merry Christmas!

Update: Here's a lovely Christmas movies promo video from TCM.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

It's the time of year to gather with family and friends to celebrate the holidays. For those of us who love classic movies, it's also a special time to pull our favorite titles off the shelf as part of our holiday celebrations.

It seems to me that Christmas movies often seem to have a special, indefinable glow. I suspect this is partly because they've become part of our heightened memories of happy times enjoyed during the Christmas season. It's also true that the stories in most Christmas movies evoke warm, positive feelings.

It also doesn't hurt that many Christmas films are simply exceptionally good movies, and one of the very best is THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940).

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER's screenplay by Samson Raphaelson and the uncredited Ben Hecht was based on a play called PARFUMERIE by Miklos Laszlo. Several years after THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER was released, MGM repurposed the story for the Judy Garland musical IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (1949).

The property has proven exceptionally durable, eventually becoming the Broadway musical SHE LOVES ME in 1963; SHE LOVES ME was filmed for TV in 1978, and a revival opened on Broadway in March 2016, starring Zachary Levi and Laura Benanti. (The Levi-Benanti version recently aired on U.S. public television's GREAT PERFORMANCES.) And let's not forget the story was also the basis for the modern classic YOU'VE GOT MAIL (1998), starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

The now-familiar plot concerns Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan), who work at Matuschek's store. They bicker incessantly, not knowing that when they go home at night to write letters to an anonymous penpal, "Dear Friend," they're actually writing to each other.

Eventually Alfred realizes the truth, which causes a sea change in his opinion of Klara, and as Christmas approaches he must find a way to give their relationship a fresh start and ultimately tell her the truth...which leads to a magical Christmas Eve.

As lovingly directed by Ernst Lubitsch, all the characters in the shop come to life along with Alfred and Klara: Troubled shop owner Mr. Matuschek (Frank Morgan), smarmy clerk Mr. Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut), kindly Pirovitch (Felix Bressart), cocky delivery boy Pepi (William Tracy), and clerks Flora (Sara Haden) and Illona (Inez Courtney, who retired shortly after this film was released).

Except for scenes in a restaurant and Klara's bedroom, the entire movie is set at the shop, which lends to the feel that the movie creates a cozy little world of its own, in Matuschek's; as Mr. Matuschek says, the store is where he spends most of his life, and the staff are family.

James Stewart was never better than in THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, as a world of emotions play clearly across his face, with every line reading perfection. The moment on Christmas Eve when he seriously tells Klara that he's certain she'll return to the store after Christmas engaged to be married is thrilling, just because of the way he says it. I'd go as far as to say that the Academy should have awarded Stewart the Oscar for this film, rather than his role later that year in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940).

He's matched step for step by Sullavan, who makes dreamy Klara likeable despite her constant sparring with Alfred; indeed, they have such excellent chemistry that it's almost surprising they don't realize earlier that their bickering masks a compelling attraction. Her reactions near the end of the film are delightfully funny. Sullavan had previously costarred with Stewart in THE SHOPWORN ANGEL (1938), and they would costar in a second film in 1940, THE MORTAL STORM.

Frank Morgan did superb work in a number of films at MGM, most notably, of course, the prior year's THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), and he's quietly heartbreaking as a man hiding the fact that his life is falling apart, while erroneously taking it out on Alfred.

This is my favorite performance by Felix Bressart, who combines tenderness with a puckish sense of humor as Pirovitch; he scurries out of the way whenever Matuschek starts asking for opinions, but he never hesitates to step in to help his friend Alfred, whether Alfred needs the night off or wants a wallet for Christmas instead of a musical cigarette box. The moment where he sticks his head in the office and announces to Alfred that he'll be getting the wallet he wants is one of my favorite moments in the movie. He's delightful.

Although she doesn't have much screen time, Sara Haden (Aunt Milly from the Andy Hardy series) has an appealing serenity as one of the more senior clerks. Inez Courtney's role as Illona is considerably smaller than it is in the musical SHE LOVES ME, but it must be admitted that that helps keep the movie at a brisk 99-minute running time.

Director Lubitsch keeps the film moving along with a lighter-than-air touch; the importance of director and screenwriter are especially apparent when comparing the film to the remake IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME; the later film is pleasant but is also heavier and clunkier than the perfectly paced original.

William Daniels shot this 99-minute film in black and white. A trailer is here.

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER is available as a single-title DVD or as part of the TCM Greatest Classic Films Holiday Collection. It can also be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.

It had been some time since I last watched this film, and revisiting it was like becoming reacquainted with dear friends. I resolved not to let so much time pass before I watch it again! Why not make this charming film a part of your holiday viewing this year?

Update: This film was released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive in December 2020.  My review of the Blu-ray may be read here.

This post is adapted from a review originally published by ClassicFlix in 2015.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Washington Masquerade (1932) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Lionel Barrymore stars in the pre-Code political melodrama THE WASHINGTON MASQUERADE (1932), recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

It's the tale of Jeff Keane (Barrymore), a defense attorney who parlays his popularity into a successful run for the Senate.

The widowed Keane and his daughter Ruth (Diane Sinclair) head for Washington, where Keane has his head turned by the attentions of younger, glamorous Consuela Fairbanks (an icy Karen Morley).

Consuela marries Keane but is soon revealed to be carrying on with suave but slimy Brenner (Nils Asther)...and meanwhile she's pulling strings behind the scenes to make money and bring down her previously ethical new husband.

THE WASHINGTON MASQUERADE is reasonably entertaining to watch; those who think modern-day politicians have cornered the market on questionable behavior should take a look at what filmmakers thought of the inhabitants of Washington, D.C., 85 years ago! Much of the plot revolves around Keane taking unethical payoffs from lobbyists to placate his greedy new wife.

While the movie held my attention, this 88-minute film was more Barrymore than I enjoy in one sitting. He's fine in supporting roles, but I don't really enjoy him as a lead character, and especially as a leading man. Watching him romancing the younger Morley is awkward, to say the least, even if the age difference is addressed in the script; among other things, there's a discussion of him dying his hair to look younger!

THE WASHINGTON MASQUERADE was directed by Charles Brabin and filmed by Gregg Toland. The supporting cast includes Reginald Barlow, Henry Kolker, William Morris, Berton Churchill, Charles Coleman, Sidney Bracey, William Collier Sr., and Charley Grapewin.

The DVD picture quality is variable, with some scenes being more soft and hazy than the others. At times the picture quality changes sharply from shot to shot within the same scene, which is a bit distracting; that said, it's still a watchable print with good sound. There are no extras.

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

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

My third theatrical film of the long holiday weekend, following COCO (2017) and THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (2017), was Kenneth Branagh's new version of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017).

Reviews of the film, as well as reactions from friends, have been all over the map. I previously enjoyed a pair of films Branagh directed, JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014) and CINDERELLA (2015), feeling he did a lot with the material in each case, so I decided to give MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS a try.

Branagh directed, co-produced, and stars as Agatha Christie's legendary detective, Hercule Poirot. (I should perhaps add at this juncture that I have yet to see the 1974 version with Albert Finney as Poirot, nor have I seen any other Poirot films or TV productions.)

I quite enjoyed MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, which for me ranks with WIND RIVER (2017) and BABY DRIVER (2017) as one of the most visually appealing live-action films of the year. Admittedly, Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos put their camera in a couple odd places now and again, such as the discovery of the murder victim filmed as an overhead shot, but for the most part the film is beautiful to look at, and at times it's downright majestic.

In the interest of keeping the mystery spoiler free for those who haven't seen the earlier film or read Agatha Christie, I'll keep my plot description bare bones. Poirot is a last-minute passenger on the Orient Express thanks to the intervention of a friend (Tom Bateman) at the railway. During the course of the trip one of the passengers turns up dead, and it's up to Poirot to figure out whodunit.

The passengers are played by an all-star cast including Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Willem Dafoe, and Josh Gad.

With such a large cast, it's perhaps not surprising that some characters have more of a chance to register than others. For instance, Dench has relatively little to do, simply adding some gravitas with her presence. Pfeiffer, on the other hand, has one of the largest roles and does an excellent job with it; that's also her singing the haunting song over the end credits.

Branagh is fun as Poirot although I think such a huge, unattractive mustache is an unnecessary distraction. In an interview he said he felt the mustache disarms the people Poirot deals with as they see it and don't take him seriously, "then suddenly he's got you by the throat." His obsessive-compulsive tendencies are an interesting touch as well.

Other than the splendid visuals which take the film to a higher level, this ORIENT EXPRESS isn't a classic, but it is a well-crafted, solid film which provides an enjoyable 114 minutes at the movies. I'm quite glad I decided to check it out, especially as I love "train movies." This was a good one.

As hinted at the end of the movie, a sequel with Branagh as Poirot in DEATH ON THE NILE is in development. A previous version of DEATH ON THE NILE was released in 1978. (2022 Update: Here's a review of Branagh's version of DEATH ON THE NILE.)

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for violence and "thematic elements." There's some blood on the corpse, and another story aspect may trouble young children, but I felt this was a pretty tame PG-13; I think PG would have been more appropriate. Whether this somewhat slow-moving yet elegant film, with its accented lead character, would appeal to children is another question.

A trailer is here. It's the best of the trailers I've seen for the film; if you enjoy the trailer you'll probably like the movie as well.

Finally, as part of my occasional commentary on moviegoing in 2017, our local Cinemark theater, where I saw two of this weekend's trio of movies, has switched to "luxury loungers" in every theater. While I'm still not a fan of the concept, at this theater the loungers at least allow me to choose to sit with my back against the seat and my feet on the floor, unlike the seats at a theater we visited last January.

On a more important note, I saw all three films this weekend using my new MoviePass. For a $9.95 per month subscription, MoviePass currently allows card holders to see one 2D theatrical film per day. (I say "currently" because I don't understand how the company can sustain that pricing over the long term!) MoviePass drew such big business after news coverage a few months ago that some people are apparently still having trouble receiving their cards promptly, but I figured a month-at-a-time subscription was a low-risk investment. I got my card right away, and it's been easy to use; it certainly paid off for me this weekend.

For those not yet familiar with MoviePass, you "check in" on a smartphone app when you're within 100 yards of the theater, easily selecting both the theater and then the movie showtime. After the App says "Success! Go Buy Your Ticket," you buy your ticket as usual, using a MoviePass Master Card.

Here's more info on MoviePass from Variety and Wired.

Tonight's Movie: Dance Charlie Dance (1937) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

DANCE CHARLIE DANCE (1937) is the final film reviewed here from the new Glenda Farrell Triple Feature collection, available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

I've previously reviewed THE LAW IN HER HANDS (1936), an entertaining film which I thought was the best of the set, and the disappointing HERE COMES CARTER (1936).

DANCE CHARLIE DANCE was based on a play by George S. Kaufman called THE BUTTER AND EGG MAN. Warner Bros. filmed the story multiple times over the years, with the best-known versions including AN ANGEL FROM TEXAS (1940) and THREE SAILORS AND A GIRL (1953).

Stuart Erwin plays Andy, a small-town guy who arrives in the big city, hoping to invest an inheritance in a theatrical production. He gets mixed up with no-good producer Alf Morgan (Allen Jenkins), who has a knack for producing flops.

Morgan's nice secretary (Jean Muir) likes Andy and eventually helps him finagle his money back. That's about the size of the plot of this 64-minute film.

Farrell plays Jenkins' wife. She's sadly underused, which makes the film's inclusion in the set a bit of a question mark. I hope we get a Farrell Vol. II, as I'd like to check out more of her films.

Given the cast, I expected to like the movie more than I did, but I guess I should have been forewarned given that I found the plot in the 1940 remake "a tedious yawner." That's about the size of it here as well. There are bits of amusing moments here and there but this isn't one of the better films made by anyone in the cast.

That said, I love the Warner Archive doing deep dives such as this, making rare films available. I really appreciate being able to check out a film for myself!

DANCE CHARLIE DANCE was directed by Frank McDonald and filmed by Warren Lynch.

A funny goof: Charlie is misspelled CHARLEY on a theater marquee.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good print. 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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

My second theatrical film of Thanksgiving weekend was THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (2017), a fanciful telling of how Charles Dickens came to write A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Other than the title being in questionable taste -- it refers to Dickens helping to establish modern Christmas customs and celebrations -- this film was a pleasant watch. I didn't find it especially noteworthy (perhaps I was a little spoiled by yesterday's COCO being such a stellar experience), but I enjoyed it. Speaking of modern Christmas customs, it's always nice to have a new Christmas film to watch!

Dan Stevens (DOWNTON ABBEY) plays Dickens, who has hit an artistic roadblock following OLIVER TWIST and a tour of America. With a growing family depending on his success, he eventually latches onto the idea of writing a Christmas story. When he and his loyal agent and friend (Justin Edwards) are unable to sell the idea to his publishers, Dickens decides to risk his finances by self-publishing the book. Adding to the pressure, he's up against a tight deadline to publish the book before Christmas.

We follow Dickens as his pastime of collecting real people's names results in some of the unusual character names in the book, while bits and pieces of his daily experiences begin to make it to the written page. More significantly, as the story unfurls he is visited by the characters, most particularly Ebeneezer Scrooge himself, wonderfully played by Christopher Plummer.

Plummer's appearance in the film adds considerable weight to this spun sugar story, and his arguments with Dickens regarding the course of the story and his character's fate are some of the film's most enjoyable moments.

Stevens is fine as Dickens, whose essentially kind persona becomes increasingly self-centered when in the grips of his creative process. (You'd probably be a bit short-tempered also if you had a dozen characters only you can see sitting around your writing desk, impatiently waiting for you to finish!) Morfydd Clark plays his patient wife, Kate. Jonathan Pryce and Simon Callow are also among the large cast.

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS was directed by Bharat Nalluri, who also did the fine MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (2008). It was filmed by Ben Smithard. The running time is 104 minutes.

Parental Advisory: THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS is rated PG for "thematic elements" and minor language. The most disturbing sequence involves Dickens looking back on his childhood working in a rat-filled shoe factory after his father was taken to debtors' prison. On the up side, this is an unorthodox telling of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, with all the story's positive messages dressed up in a new package.

Leonard Maltin found the film "heartwarming family fare," while Gary Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times found it a "jaunty, amusing patchwork of truths, half-truths and pure fiction that cleverly combine."

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS is worth a look during the coming weeks. Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Coco (2017)

While many people like to shop on Black Friday, our family usually goes to see a movie!

Our Black Friday movies tend to be animated films released by studios for Thanksgiving vacation. The last few years, for example, our Black Friday movies have included FROZEN (2013), THE PEANUTS MOVIE (2015), and MOANA (2016).

Today we saw the Disney-Pixar film COCO (2017), which joins the ranks of great animated films. Brimming with beauty and creativity, it's a top-level film ranking with Pixar's very best.

I'm especially happy to say that, given that I'd been dubious about seeing COCO in the first place! (A marvelous live concert performance by Benjamin Bratt at last summer's D23 Expo helped persuade me to give it a try.) I was uncertain how I'd feel about what I perceived as "ugly" visuals (skeletons galore!) along with the film's thematic elements, including the treatment of the afterlife. As it turned out, none of that mattered at all.

The story and warm-hearted personalities carried me past the way the skeletons looked, all the more so as the setting in which they were seen was stunningly beautiful; and I approached the story as fantasy, along the lines of something like A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946), letting go of any need to match it up with my theological beliefs.

Set in Mexico, COCO tells the story of young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who longs to be a musician like the late, great Mexican singing star Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt). Miguel's family, however, forbids any music whatsoever, especially his Abuelita (Renee Victor).

As Miguel's town prepares for the annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), when it's believed ancestors return to visit their families, Miguel dreams of performing in a talent show and visits Ernesto's tomb to "borrow" the guitar hanging over it. Thus begins a very unusual adventure as Miguel unexpectedly journeys to the Land of the Dead, where he meets the relatives he's only seen in pictures and learns the secret behind his family's rejection of music.

That's a very bare bones (sorry) description of the plot; I don't wish to spoil any surprises regarding this most unusual film, which simply needs to be experienced. The film melds wonderful music with a loving depiction of Mexican family and culture, told in scenes of breathtaking artistry. For those like me who may have had concerns going in, this isn't really a film about the dead; it's a celebration of life, which is underscored in the final moments as Miguel "introduces" his baby sister to her relatives.

As I write, the film is rated 9.1 out of 10 at IMDb, an unusually high rating which is richly deserved. As Disney historian Leonard Maltin wrote earlier this week, "This is Pixar at its best."

The voice cast also includes Gael Garcia Bernal, Alanna Ubach, Edward James Olmos, and Jaime Camil. The filmmakers worked in a line for Pixar's "good luck charm," John Ratzenberger, among the otherwise all-Latin voice cast.

COCO was directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina. The score includes songs by Michael Giacchino and Molina, as well as Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (FROZEN). The film runs 109 minutes.

Parental Advisory: COCO is rated PG for "thematic elements." That seems about right. There was one section early on which I reflected would have given me nightmares if I'd seen it as an impressionable young child. For children old enough to get past the skeletons and the referenced thematic elements, it's a very uplifting film about love, family, and the "circle of life."

A trailer is here.

COCO is preceded by a new Disney short, OLAF'S FROZEN ADVENTURE (2017), which at 21 minutes is much longer than the usual Disney or Pixar shorts. Unlike the eight-minute FROZEN FEVER (2015) of two years ago, which I found quite disappointing, OLAF'S FROZEN ADVENTURE is charming. It features new songs including the lovely "When We're Together." I already ordered my CD, along with a COCO CD!

COCO and OLAF'S FROZEN ADVENTURE are highly recommended.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Eddie the Eagle (2016)

Back in February of 1988 I was expecting our first child. I was terribly ill and unable to work for quite a while as a result, and the Calgary Winter Olympics provided a helpful distraction during that challenging time. (Side note, my baby recently turned 29 and was more than worth it!)

One of the highlights of the Winter Olympics that year was the unorthodox British ski jumper Eddie Edwards, who became known as "Eddie the Eagle." He was the first ski jumper to represent Great Britain since the '20s, and while he didn't do well (to say the least), he did set a British record. His enthusiasm and determination endeared him to viewers. It was a ROCKY-style story where "winning" came by simply landing and staying upright!

EDDIE THE EAGLE tells this story, with Taron Egerton as Edwards. Fascinated with the Olympics since childhood, he is determined to participate in the Winter Olympics and eventually connects with a former U.S. ski jumper, Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), who becomes his coach.

It's an interesting, fairly straightforward rendition of the tale, although I did find it of note that neither of the lead characters is especially likeable, particularly in the early going. As played by Egerton, Eddie is so oblivious to social norms and cues that I started to wonder if he had something like Asperger's syndrome.

As for Peary, he had left the U.S. team in disgrace and become an alcoholic. At least as the movie tells it, working with Eddie had a positive effect on Peary, and the characters do become more sympathetic as the movie reaches the Olympic games sequences.

Despite my reservations about the lead characters, it's an engrossing movie which fans of inspirational sports films will likely enjoy, as I did. It was perfect upbeat viewing for our Thanksgiving.

Christopher Walken is excellent in a tiny yet memorable role as former U.S. coach Warren Sharp. Walken's charisma enables his character to have an impact despite limited screen time.

Tim McInnerny seemed overly cartoonish as a British Olympic official unenthused at having an upstart like Eddie on the team, though my reading indicates it's true some were unhappy he made the team; in fact, entrance rules were changed going forward to make it more difficult for someone who wasn't part of the athletic "establishment" to make the team.

Jo Hartley and Keith Allen play Eddie's parents, who are by turns supportive and exasperated with their son's single-minded ambition.

EDDIE THE EAGLE runs 106 minutes. It was directed by Dexter Fletcher and attractively filmed by George Richmond. The ski jump scenes were extremely well done, so that the viewer wasn't constantly distracted wondering about stunt skiers or computerized effects.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for swearing, partial nudity (nothing is really shown that I noticed), and suggestive material; the latter was a completely unnecessary training sequence scene which might go over small children's heads while embarrassing older viewers. On the plus side, the film is a "never quit" story of determination and redemption despite long odds.

EDDIE THE EAGLE is available on DVD or Blu-ray, and it can be rented for streaming. We watched it via Cinemax On Demand streaming since it's included in our cable package at no extra cost.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Best wishes to all for a very happy, blessed Thanksgiving!

Here's lovely Hedy Lamarr ready to serve up some pie:

I'm thankful to each and every one of you who regularly visit and support this blog. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Previous studio Thanksgiving photos: Jeanne Crain, Angela Greene, Ann Blyth, and Marsha Hunt.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Here Comes Carter (1936) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

HERE COMES CARTER (1936) is part of the new Glenda Farrell Triple Feature, available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

HERE COMES CARTER is featured in the set along with the previously reviewed along with THE LAW IN HER HANDS (1936) and DANCE CHARLIE DANCE (1937), which will be reviewed at a future date.

In the slight story of this 58-minute film, Ross Alexander plays Kent Carter, a former studio publicity man who finds himself out of a job, after which he makes a new career for himself as a movie business gossip on the radio.

Along the way Carter boosts the singing career of his girlfriend Linda (Anne Nagel, GUNS OF THE PECOS) and deals with villainous movie star Rex Marchbanks (Craig Reynolds) and some mobsters (Norman Willis, John Sheehan, and George E. Stone).

Glenda Farrell is firmly in the supporting cast in this one, playing a radio station secretary, though she does have a nice scene where she encourages Linda not to give up on her relationship with Carter, despite her own feelings for him.

It's a minor film, and truth be told I found Alexander quite unappealing; I didn't find him attractive, and the odd laughing "Ho Ho" sound he made at the end of each radio story drove me batty.

It seems especially sad to say the above, given that Alexander committed suicide in January 1937, just weeks after this film's release. He had married his leading lady, Anne Nagel, in October 1936. Alexander's final film, READY, WILLING AND ABLE (1937), was released posthumously.

HERE COMES CARTER was directed by William Clemens and filmed by Arthur Todd.

I found spotting the bit players the most enjoyable aspect of the film. Jane Wyman has roughly three scenes as a nurse; Wayne Morris runs a cafe; and Marjorie Weaver is a secretary.

The DVD includes the trailer. It's a good print.

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

Today at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure: Thanksgiving Eve 2017

We spent several hours at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure today enjoying our family's traditional Thanksgiving Eve visit to the parks.

Main Street U.S.A. bright and early this morning, as viewed from the horse-drawn trolley at Town Square:

Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle is always a beautiful sight:

Here's Figaro napping in the sun in the Fantasy Faire. It was 94 degrees in Anaheim today!

Snow White's Grotto is one of my favorite photo spots, and I noticed that a mine with sparkling jewels has been added. I wasn't able to get a good angle today, but it's behind the leftmost dwarf:

An alternate view of the Grotto, this time including a glimpse of Princess Aurora:

Cheery scenes inside and out at It's a Small World Holiday:

Over at Disney California Adventure, Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters has a holiday layover, dubbed Luigi's Joy to the Whirl:

The short performance of the "Toy Soldiers" was a lot of fun, with some cute routines:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Previous Thanksgiving Eve at Disneyland Posts: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

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