Friday, November 30, 2012

My Week In Movies - It's A New Princess

Sofia The First: Once Upon A Princess (2012) Disney's newest Princess franchise is a show directed at preschoolers, but the debut of Princess Sofia was rolled out in a family-friendly TV movie that sets up the series without being an educational lesson or the usual mind-numbing kiddie show fare. The film follows commoner Sofia, whose mother ends up marrying the King of a neighboring Kingdom. Soon Sofia finds herself in the world of castles and servants and so many other things she's not used to. Ok, I realize this show and starter film is pretty much aimed at little girls but let me tell you why it's awesome. Since it's aimed at an undiscerning preschool audience, the whole thing is just unabashedly Disney! It's like someone said, "Oh, you like Disney?" And then threw a bucket full of Disney at your head at point blank range. There's castles, and bad guys and cute little animals and singing and dancing and the coolest part of all is the Disney references and nods throughout the whole film. The kids in Sofia's new class are all inspired by other famous Disney characters. The real kicker, and the main concept for the show - is Sofia has a magic amulet (of course she does) which when Sofia needs advice, will summon another Disney Princess to help her out. In the movie, Cinderella drops by for some Princess Advice and a song! When they get to The Little Mermaid episode...I'll be watching. The three fairies from Sleeping Beauty are also series regulars as the head masters of Royal University, where Sofia attends. I'm sure the following TV series, which debuts next month, will be more directed at little kids, but this debut movie was a nice family event. And between The Disney Channel and Disney Junior channel, it's on about every two hours between now and Christmas.

Arthur Christmas (2011) Ok, we get it. Everything we know about Santa Claus and his operation is obsolete. The North Pole organization is now updated with computers and hi-tech this and iPad that...we get it. This concept has been done a handful of times already, most notably Disney's charming Prep & Landing specials. Arthur Christmas covers much the same ground, with Santa's spaceship (Sled-1) zipping across the planet, delivering gifts by zip-line all while Santa watches from above on his iPad. It's cute and will provide the necessary amounts of Holiday Cheer for a Christmas movie...but as with most non-Disney animated films, it's just "...eh?!"

Ruthless People (1986) I used to love this very grown up movie about a kidnapping going all wrong. I haven't seen it in probably 20 years, and I don't know if it's because I watched it so many times when I was younger, but I barely cracked a smile watching it this time around. It's still a good movie, with a solid story and plenty of gags...but I guess it's all etched in my mind pretty well because I was just sort of bored. If you haven't seen it, it's worth a look though. It's directed by the team responsible for Airplane!, Top Secret! and The Naked Gun, but this is not like those films at all. This is a normal movie with a real story set in the real world. It's good fun, I think I just wore it out for myself.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Week In Movies - November part 2

Vamps (2012) Director Amy Heckerling was at the helm of four movies I adore; Fast Times At Ridgemont High, National Lampoon's European Vacation, Johnny Dangerously and Clueless. I was really excited to see her new flick which reteams her with Clueless star adorable Alicia Silverstone. Alicia is fantastic as ever along with Kristen Ritter (from The B- in Apartment 23) as a pair of vampires trying to navigate the singles scene in modern day New York. Sadly, this is the second Heckerling film in a row that I couldn't even make it through all the way. This is just a horrible film with way to much Vampire mythology thrown at you in the first 10 minutes that it just gets bogged down under it's own weight and it's just not funny. Too many special effects driven jokes and a way too complicated set-up make this film hard to enjoy. The longer it goes on, the painful it is to watch. A real let-down, and the fact that it debuted on iTunes the same day as it's alleged theatrical release should have been a clue.

The Last Flight of Noah's Ark (1980) Here's a Disney film that I remember coming out when I was a kid and it's taken me 32 years to finally see it. This is another of the Disney Tries To Go More Mature era pictures, except this one is a very Disney film. A plane crashes on a deserted island and the passengers and a large number of animals onboard try to make the best of it. They eventually build a boat out of the plane and make a go for safety. Well done flick.

The Queen of Versailles (2012) This documentary/reality movie centers on the The Siegel family. Jack Siegel is founder and CEO of Westgate Resorts, the largest time share company in the country. The film starts as a profile on their efforts to build the largest private home in America but when the stock market crashes the company takes a dive and so do their plans to build this huge house. I thought the film was going to be about this gigantic house they were building, but the story is more about this family that is so stinkin' filthy rich they don't even know what cutting back on expenses mean. The film doesn't make a commentary on the wealthy couple, it doesn't need to...these unsympathetic billionaires paint their own sad picture.

Mickey's Twice Upon A Christmas (2004) It's been a good while since I'd seen this follow up to Once Upon A Christmas from a few years earlier. It holds up alot better than I remember it. The film tells 5 short stories about Mickey Mouse and company and their holiday adventures. After a weak opening story about a skating duel between Minnie and Daisy, there are some solid cartoons with Huey, Dewey and Louie breaking into the North Pole to add their name to the "Nice List" and Goofy's son Max bringing a girl home from college for the holidays. Good stuff and a great way to kick off the Holiday Movie Season!


Tangled (2010) Easily, the best Non-Pixar Computer Animated Movie to ever come out of Hollywood!

Friday, November 16, 2012

My Role in the Elmo Scandal

The other night around 11:20 I started getting messages through Facebook that people thought they had seen me on the news in Baltimore. It turns out, while doing a story on the Kevin Clash allegations, WJZ 13 used file footage of an event at Port Discovery children's museum including a shot of myself working with Elmo & Clash. We don't get Channel 13 where I live, but I just found the story online so I thought I'd share. Look for the very large fat guy in a purple shirt talking to an audience with Elmo. That was back in 1999, and perhaps about 100 pounds heavier...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

edTunes - Anticipating

I pulled out a bunch of CD's from the back of my CD collection while I've been painting our kitchen this week. From Britney's third album, I forgot how great this song is...

Monday, November 12, 2012

My Week In Movies - November part 1

Anybody who has ever spent any significant amount of time in an arcade or even in front of a game console needs to go see Wreck-It Ralph (2012), a totally unique and charming film from Walt Disney Feature Animation. Filled with real life video game character cameos and lots of gamer in-jokes, the film follows Ralph - a bad guy from an 80's arcade game who travels into other video games looking for a chance to be a hero instead of the villain. My biggest rule for a comedy is to stay funny throughout the whole picture, Wreck-It Ralph succeeds. In addition to all the great video game jokes, the characters eventually enter a game called Sugar Rush which is sort of a Mario Kart in CandyLand game. There, the jokes and references switch to candy and food and there are plenty of great puns and familiar candy brands that the writers had fun with. This is a great time at the movies. I was worried it wasn't going to be very good since the marketing for the film has been shoving clips down our throats for the past 6 months - but it turned out to be a wonderful, well-done movie!

Before Cinderella III, The Lion King 1 1/2 and Lilo & Stitch 4 there was The Return of Jafar (1994), the very first time Disney made a direct-to-video sequel to one of their beloved animated features - in this case Aladdin. Even though it's just television animation, which is several...several bars below the theatrical original, I've always thought this was a pretty decent follow-up as far as humor, story and music. None of it is as good as the 1992 original film, but it's all still pretty fun. It's hard to track down a DVD of this film now, but you can go to any Goodwill and buy the VHS for $1.97.

I have wanted to see This Is Cinerama (1952) for as long as I can remember. The film is nothing more than an introduction to a new film process called....wait for it...Cinerama. Cinerama was the movie industry's attempt to lure folks away from their new TV sets and back into the theatre with a screen so huge, it wraps around the audience. It took three projectors to show the film theatrically. Turner Classic Movies secured a nice print of the film, presented in Smilebox - which is a letterboxing format that curves the picture on a television set to allow the full scope of the enormous screen. I thought it would be interesting to see a movie whose sole purpose was to simply show off a new size of screen but there is only so much "nothing" you can watch before it gets boring. There's no story just lingering shots of boat rides, helicopter rides, concerts and landmarks. The opening shot is a roller coaster ride, which is pretty neat even on a 42" screen and the finale was filmed at Florida's Cypress Gardens theme park which was very beautiful. But in between was a gosh-awful bore.

From the very first time I saw the trailer for Madea's Witness Protection (2012) I knew something was up with this latest Tyler Perry production. Whereas all of his previous films have been black melodramas sprinkled with comedy, Witness Protection is Perry's bid for a bigger audience by playing it strictly for broad laughs. When Eugine Levy and his family end up in the care of the Federal Witness Relocation program, they end up in the home of Madea. If you are unaware of Madea, she is played by Tyler Perry in drag - she's a huge old woman who don't take nuttin' from nobody! Hi-jinks ensure as Madea tries to adjust to having a wealthy white family staying with her. Whereas most Tyler Perry films end with some heavy duty drama, this one sees Madea and Levy traveling to New York in disguise to fool some investment bankers. It's comedy ahoy! In all honesty, I laughed several times - very loud and very hard. I thought this was a solid comedy!

I wasn't expecting anything from another visit from the Madagascar gang and Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012) was even more lame than I could have imagined. The Madagascar machine is on full auto-pilot here with nothing new to offer except Chris Rock's Marty the Zebra wearing a Rainbow Afro wig. That gag must have gotten so many laughs around the Dreamworks office that the wig is the center of attention for almost half the film not to mention the song dedicated to said wig. Ugg! Also, I can't have one regular bear, with regular bear eyes and a real bear growl surrounded by cartoon animals. It doesn't work that way.

Finally got a chance to see Disneynature's fourth film, Africian Cats (2011). I love the Disneynature films because they are one of the few old-school Disney things the company still does. However, this flick about lions and cheetahs was pretty boring. It's essentially 90 minutes of animals chasing each other. And what's with all the slow-motion? I felt the scenes were completely cut of their true drama by slowing down all the action. What's the point of a chase scene if it's slow? The narration is provided by Samuel L. Jackson, who delivers a down to Earth explanation of what you are looking at but this movie in nowhere near as good as the more recent Chimpanze, from the same series.


Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) is another mid-80's attempt by the Walt Disney Studios to find their voice in the changing movie market. This time they go for a mature, psychological thriller penned by Walt's friend Ray Bradbury. The result is a concoction of creepy images, strange occurrences and some half-decent special effects which unfortunately don't add up to much. The idea of a Disney Thriller was done much better in The Watcher In The Woods. Still, this is one Disney movie that I hadn't seen - so at least now I can check it off my list.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

My Month in Movies - October Wrap Up

After cramming 30 movies into as many days in September, I cooled off from the flicks quite a bit this past month. First, there was the 11 days we were on vacation followed by an exhausting experience with some contractors we hired to do some work on our kitchen. Long story short: I only got to 10 films in October - and I didn't do too many Halloween or scary pictures as I would have hoped to. In fact, the majority of my film watching last month was made up of Disney movies.
I stocked up on quite a bit of Disney this month. Some of it in preparation for going to Walt Disney World, others trying to hold on to that Disney Magic after we returned to the "real world". My kids and I watched a bunch of classics. Lady and the Tramp (1955) is one of our families favorites. We ate at Tony's Town Square Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, which is inspired by the eatery in the film, so this was some prep work to get the kids excited about going to the restaurant. It certainly enhanced our visit, having just seen the movie.
 
Dumbo (1941) is one of my personal favorites, short and sweet at 64 minutes - it's alot of fun for such a quick movie. I wanted the kids to see this because so much of the new revamped New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom takes it cue from the circus theme of Dumbo. The classic Dumbo ride has recently been enhanced as well as the addition of a Casey Jr. water playground and a Dumbo gift shop. Great movie!
 
We watched Alice in Wonderland (1951) which was never one of my favorites, but it's certainly grown on me over the last few years. Perhaps in comparison to the dark Tim Burton take on the tale, I find this cheerful and silly Walt Disney version quite enjoyable now.
 
And my kids didn't have to ask twice the night they suggested we watch The Little Mermaid (1989), one of my all-time favorite movies. Having had the Mermaid shoved down their throats for a week at Disney World, it wasn't surprising they wanted to see it again. Plus, that night we had just come back from a costume party where I was dressed as Ariel's father - King Triton. I looked pretty good if I do say so myself.
 
Without the kids, I watched So Dear To My Heart (1948) which is just about the most obscure animated film in the Disney library. A story about a young boy at the turn of the century who dreams of raising a prize winning sheep for the county fair. It's a mix of live action and animation, similar to Song Of The South which came out a few years earlier. There are no classic Disney characters to be found in this film, just a ditty called Lavender Blue, which had become somewhat of a Disney standard nowadays. It's good nostalgic entertainment even if it's not nearly one of Disney's best. It is said to have been Walt Disney's personal favorite.
 
Two more I watched without the kids, the creepy and well-done The Watcher in the Woods (1980). Disney's only foray into horror, this came out a time when the directionless Disney Studios was really trying to figure out they were going to fit into the changing landscape of movies. There's some genuine scares tucked in this picture along with alot of creepiness. For someone who doesn't like horror movie, I really enjoyed it.
 
As always, I also enjoyed Disney's The Million Dollar Duck (1971). You can't go wrong with a madcap comedy about the Federal Reserve chasing after a kid and a duck that lays golden eggs!
 
Another Disney World prep film the kids and I watched was Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). My little guys had never seen the original, which I remembered as being much better than the other films in the series. However, after seeing it again for the first time in at least 7 years - it's pretty much just as boring as the other three except for a few references to the Disneyland attraction it's based on.
 
And the only two non-Disney movie I saw in October were: L!fe Happens (2011), a horrible comedy about a girl trying to raise a kid on her own while all her friends keep partying and living the single lifestyle. It stars Kristen Ritter and Kate Bosworth, both who I really like alot, but this direct-to-everything-but-a-movie-theater film was a real bore! The Magic of Belle Isle (2012) is another movie that seems to have bypassed theaters, however it is a really nice little movie about a slightly odd-relationship between older than dirt Morgan Freeman and 50 year old Virginia Madisen and her daughters. The nice surprise is it's a well-told, mature story that is done without anything inappropriate for children to watch. It's a bit over the top in the sappy department, but it's worth a watch!
 
 
 
October Movie Count: 10
Best New Movie: The Watcher In The Woods
Worst New Movie: L!fe Happens
Best Rewatch: The Little Mermaid
2012 Movie Count: 201
 
 

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