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).

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Lovely Ann Blyth is above in one of my favorites of all the holiday photos I've found over the years.

I'm grateful for so much, including everyone who reads this blog. Thank you all for your support and friendship, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Hoodlum Saint (1946) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

William Powell stars as THE HOODLUM SAINT (1946), available from the Warner Archive.

Powell plays Terry O'Neill, a WWI vet who returns from Europe and quickly determines the most important thing in life is to make money, and lots of it. He meets two special women (Esther Williams and Angela Lansbury) but his focus on making money distracts him from committing to either one of them for many years...and also dissuades one of the women from agreeing to finally marry him. Then comes the stock market crash...

THE HOODLUM SAINT isn't boring, yet it's also not particularly interesting. It just sort of moves along at a low hum, with the actors pleasant company but nothing very memorable happening in its 91 minutes, despite a writing staff which included Frank "Spig" Wead and the uncredited Frances Marion.

The theme is that Terry ultimately learns what's really important in life, but that revelation is played at exactly the same emotional pitch as everything which goes before.

It doesn't help that Powell is too old for the role, being roughly three decades older than his leading ladies, give or take a couple years in either direction. Putting that aside, he's his usual interesting self, though the character is more charmless than his usual.

Williams, on the other hand, has charm to spare, in a rare dramatic role. She exudes self-confidence, and the camera loved her.

Lansbury has a nice if somewhat underdeveloped role as a singer who works her way up from the neighborhood saloon to swank nightclubs. She was clearly dubbed, a curious choice by MGM.

The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces such as James Gleason, Frank McHugh, Henry O'Neill, Lewis Stone, Rags Ragland, Louis Jean Heydt, and many more.

THE HOODLUM SAINT was directed by Norman Taurog. It was filmed in black and white by Ray June.

Other Norman Taurog films recently released by the Warner Archive and reviewed here: LUCKY NIGHT (1939), THE BEGINNING OR THE END (1947), and PLEASE BELIEVE ME (1950)

The DVD is the typically fine Warner Archive print, and 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.

Today at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure: Thanksgiving Eve 2015

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

I've been collecting the "decades" series of mugs celebrating Disneyland's Diamond Anniversary, and this holiday design is my favorite:

The latest Emporium display window has been unveiled on Main Street, featuring FROZEN (2013):

The first thing we did when we entered the park was get Fast Passes for the "Hyperspace Mountain" STAR WARS overlay at Space Mountain. This was obviously a popular idea!

The STAR WARS theme was beautifully executed, especially with the John Williams music playing as the ride begins. Thumbs up.

Time for the Jingle Cruise! This wacky holiday overlay, now in its third year, is lots of fun.

The premise of the Jingle Cruise is that a shipment of Christmas decorations and gifts goes missing and falls into the hands of the jungle animals.

One of my favorite Disney holiday events created in the last few years is the Viva Navidad! celebration at Disney California Adventure.

The fun includes a festive street parade featuring the Three Caballeros (above):

Mickey and Minnie appear at the end of the parade:

In Hollywood Land I enjoy the decorating next to the Hyperion Theater, against a backdrop inspired by Hollywood Boulevard:

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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

Setsuko Hara, 1920-2015

Sad news today: It was announced that the great actress Setsuko Hara passed away in Japan last September 5th.

She was 95 years old.

Rather like Deanna Durbin before her, Hara completely turned her back on films after retiring in the early '60s, refusing interviews.

Obituaries have been published in The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. Adam Bernstein of the Post describes her as "a movie star of exquisite power," while David Mermelstein of the Wall Street Journal writes that her films "will continue to enchant and move future generations largely because of her presence in them."

Setsuko Hara has been one of the standout performers as I've started to become acquainted with Japanese cinema in the last few years. It is not overstating to say that her performances in Ozu's LATE SPRING (1949), EARLY SUMMER (1951), and LATE AUTUMN (1960) are unforgettable.

I'm glad to know I have so many of her performances still ahead of me to become acquainted with for the first time, including TOKYO STORY (1953). Truly, she was one of the greats of the cinema.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Tonight's Movie: 3 Bad Men (1926)

Tonight I watched 3 BAD MEN (1926), one of the movies on my list of 10 Classics to see for the first time in 2015.

A couple of years ago I watched THE IRON HORSE (1924), which like 3 BAD MEN is a silent film directed by John Ford and starring George O'Brien.

THE IRON HORSE didn't do much for me, despite my admiration for both Ford and O'Brien, but my reaction to 3 BAD MEN was quite the opposite; it was really lovely, a special film which I'm glad to have finally seen thanks to a push from my list. This is a movie I'll be wanting to watch again in the future.

Olive Borden stars as Lee Carlton, who is heading west in a covered wagon with her father when they are set upon by horse thieves and her father is killed.

The titular three bad men, played by Tom Santschi, J. Farrell MacDonald, and Frank Campeau, had originally been thinking of stealing the horses themselves. However, after witnessing what Lee goes through at the hands of the bad guys who got there first, the "bad men" come to Lee's aid and virtually adopt her; they help her get to the site of the Dakota land rush, chase off the lecherous, evil local sheriff (Lou Tellegen), and set her up with handsome pioneer Dan O'Malley (George O'Brien).

It transpires that the sheriff had led on Millie (Priscilla Bonner), younger sister of one of the "bad men," with promises of marriage but then abandoned her. After the sheriff commits further evil acts the "three bad men" determine to take care of him once and for all, while also protecting Lee and Dan in the process.

That's a simplistic recounting of the story, but what makes it special is the poetry with which it's told. It was mostly filmed on location, including in Lone Pine and the Mojave Desert, and Ford makes great use of nature's backdrops; the wagons trains are impressively long yet at the same time seem to be mere specks as they cross the endless landscapes.

The performances and staging are beautiful. There are moving moments, such as the scene where Dan learns Lee's father has been killed, which builds to a sweet kiss between the two. There's also some wonderful Fordian humor; a couple of scenes had me chuckling out loud. It's a compelling film from start to finish, building to a beautiful ending.

I always love George O'Brien, and he's terrific as the Irishman that the "bad men" immediately deduce would be a great catch for their little lady. I believe this was the first film in which I'd seen Olive Borden, and she's great as the spunky young Lee, with a nice sense of humor. That same year O'Brien and Borden costarred in FIG LEAVES (1926).

Tom Santschi, playing the biggest and meanest of the bad men, has soulful eyes and gives a tender performance as a man who turns out to have quite a noble character, as do his comrades.

This is a special film which is well worth seeing. Recommended.

3 BAD MEN was filmed by George Schneiderman. It runs 92 minutes.

3 BAD MEN is available on DVD in the Ford at Fox "Silent Epics" collection or in the giant Ford at Fox Collection. I was fortunate enough to pick up that set on sale at Fox Connect last year.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...There's another terrific classic film being screened nationwide this coming November 29th and December 2nd: ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953), the classic romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, directed by William Wyler. The movie will have a special introduction by Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies. It sounds like a great idea to round off the upcoming holiday weekend! Visit Fathom Events to check for a local theater and/or purchase advance tickets.

..."16 Struggles That Are All Too Real For Movie Buffs." My oldest daughter sent this to me and I think film fans will smile and nod in recognition at many items on the the list -- I know I did!

...New book: HOLLYWOOD CELEBRATES THE HOLIDAYS: 1920-1970 by Karie Bible and Mary Mallory, published by Schiffer. Karie is a regular attendee at Los Angeles area classic film screenings and is well known as a tour guide at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. I'm looking forward to checking out this book!

...I was unaware of the documentary HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY (2015) until reading Raquel's review at Out of the Past. It sounds very interesting.

...Glenn Erickson's recent DVD Savant reviews include Dick Powell in PITFALL (1948) and Marie Windsor in NO MAN'S WOMAN (1955).

...Coming from Schiffer in January: HOLLYWOOD CAFE: COFFEE WITH THE STARS by Stephen Rea.

...Here's Cliff of Immortal Ephemera on Mary Brian and Glenda Farrell in GIRL MISSING (1933). I really enjoyed this film in 2013.

...Here are wonderful photos of Charlton Heston's home -- love his library and pool especially.

...Jacqueline pays tribute to the wonderful character actor Jerome Cowan at Another Old Movie Blog. It's part of the What a Character blogathon -- for more links start out by visiting one of the blogathon cohosts, Once Upon a Screen, and keep going from there!

...Coming in January: The Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon, sponsored by The Cinema Dilettante. It will take place January 3-6, and I plan to participate, writing about AND NOW TOMORROW (1944).

...Attention Southern Californians: The Archive Treasures 50th Anniversary Celebration at UCLA continues well into December. Films on the schedule include SAFETY LAST! (1923) and THE BIG SLEEP (1945) to name just a couple.

...Coming up at the Egyptian Theatre this holiday weekend, the American Cinematheque presents REAR WINDOW (1955) in 35mm and GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) in a digital presentation.

...Thanks to my friend Lindsay for pointing out that the Academy is hosting a 75th Anniversary Holiday Screening of REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940) at the Linwood Dunn Theater on December 10th.

...Notable Passing: Actor Rex Reason has passed away at the age of 87. He may have been best known for the sci-fi film THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955). I also remember him as the gambler in the Western RAW EDGE (1956).

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

Have a great week, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Tonight's Movie: Murder in the Fleet (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

MURDER IN THE FLEET is an MGM murder mystery starring Robert Taylor in one of his earliest roles. It's a new release from the Warner Archive.

Like last night's mystery MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR (1934), MURDER IN THE FLEET prominently features Una Merkel in the supporting cast. Jean Parker is Taylor's love interest, with Nat Pandleton costarring.

Taylor plays an officer aboard the USS Carolina, which is under a tight deadline to test a new weapons system. Someone on board is sabotaging the test and killing people in the process.

Due to the murders, visitors to the ship are kept on board while things are sorted out, and the story takes on sort of an "old dark house at sea" feel, as one by one people are bumped off -- or if they're lucky, simply bumped in the head.

This is a fairly tepid mystery as this kind of movie goes. Taylor is incredibly handsome, but it's a bland role, and Jean Parker, so charming in LITTLE WOMEN (1933), plays a spoiled brat.

Pendleton can be funny in small doses but he has a huge amount of screen time here, and much of it is with the annoying Ted Healy, playing a contractor working on the ship. Pendleton and Healy spar over Merkel, who is stuck on the ship due to the security lockdown.

Some of the fun for a film fan is recognizing faces, such as realizing that it's Ward Bond as the sailor looking over someone's shoulder, or Keye Luke as secretary to the consul (Mischa Auer).

All in all the film is a mildly entertaining 69 minutes, but only just. Taylor would soon go on to better things, rising to the "A" list ranks after being loaned out to Universal for MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1935) that same year.

MURDER IN THE FLEET was directed by Edward Sedgwick and shot by Milton Krasner.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good print, and 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.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Murder in the Private Car (1934) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

The equivalent of an "old dark house" mystery takes place on the rails in MGM's MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR (1934), just released by the Warner Archive.

Young Ruth (Mary Carlisle), a phone operator, learns that she is the long-lost daughter of Mr. Carson (Berton Churchill), one of the wealthiest men in the country.

Ruth quits her job, taking along with her fellow switchboard operator Georgia (Una Merkel), and plans to meet her father, but her life is quickly in grave danger.

Soon the main characters, including Ruth's boyfriend Blake (Russell Hardie) and would-be detective and crime "deflector" Scott (Charlie Ruggles) are trapped in a train car with sealed windows and an ominous voice counting down the hours they have left to live.

The general theme of being trapped in a small area with a murderous voice issuing threats over speakers is rather similar to the storyline of THE NINTH GUEST (1934), released by Columbia Pictures earlier in the same year.

While it has some thrills and chills, MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR is played more for laughs, including Ruggles' inept (or brilliant?) crime deflector, not to mention a runaway gorilla. Honestly it all gets a little too silly but at only 63 minutes, who cares? It's not the world's greatest movie but it zips along quickly and makes a reasonably entertaining hour.

MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR was directed by Harry Beaumont. The movie was shot by Leonard Smith and James Van Trees.

Porter Hall, Willard Robertson, and Fred "Snowflake" Toones round out the cast. Watch for Sterling Holloway as an office worker and Walter Brennan in a tiny role as a railroad yard employee.

Leading lady Mary Carlisle is still alive today, at the age of 101. In a tribute to Carlisle on her birthday last February, Nora of The Nitrate Diva wrote, in part, "It’s somewhat mind-boggling to consider that, in California, there still lives a stylish screen veteran who was photographed in two-strip Technicolor and starred in pre-Code films with the likes of Bing Crosby, Lionel Barrymore, and Jimmy Durante."

Another great bit of trivia: Over a quarter century after costarring in MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR, Charlie Ruggles and Una Merkel both appeared in the beloved Disney classic THE PARENT TRAP (1961).

The MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR disc is a good-looking print, especially considering the film's age. The sound quality is also fine. There are no extras on the DVD.

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.