Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Bolt (2008)

BOLT (2008) is a very enjoyable animated Disney film. Its pleasures include on-target portrayals of dog and cat behavior as well as a satiric look at Hollywood and network television. The movie proved to be quite a pleasant surprise.

I think I was put off trying BOLT when it was originally released due to the lead voice actors, John Travolta and Miley Cyrus, in whom I have zero interest. By the time I watched the movie on a recent plane trip I had completely forgotten who was in the voice cast! I didn't recognize their voices so I was able to enjoy the film without my unenthused impressions of the actors influencing my opinion.

I watched the film on my iPad thanks to Disney's Movies Anywhere app; my daughter is a BOLT fan, and I'd purchased the DVD for her as a gift a few years ago. Since I'd input the Disney Movie Rewards code at the time I bought it, the movie was automatically loaded into my Disney Movies Anywhere library when Disney launched the app earlier this year.

Bolt (Travolta) is a doggy TV star, but he doesn't know it. His handlers believe Bolt's "acting" will be more effective if he doesn't see the cameras or special effects, so when he regularly saves his young owner Penny (Cyrus) from the bad guys, he thinks it's real and that he has superpowers. When Penny locks Bolt in his trailer each night after filming, he has no idea where she goes.

Circumstances separate Bolt and Penny, and as Bolt is exposed to the "real world" he gradually comes to realize that he's an ordinary dog. He knows, though, that Penny is his "person" and is confident that their relationship is more than acting.

Bolt sets out on a long cross-country road trip to find Penny, aided by Mittens the stray cat (Susie Essman) and Rhino (Mark Walton), a hamster in an exercise ball who's an enthusiastic fan of Bolt's TV series.

Like the recently seen BIG HERO 6 (2014), the film is derivative; three animals, including a dog and cat, on a long journey has been done by Disney not once but twice! (That would be THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY, filmed in 1963 and 1993.) There's also a touch of LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955), as a sheltered dog learns about the tough world from a stray.

Despite the familiarity, I felt that overall this film worked better than BIG HERO 6, thanks to a solid screenplay, which at 96 minutes is better paced than BIG HERO 6's 102 minutes.

BOLT's script has a nice sense of humor mixed with touches of poignance; the scene where Mittens admits to having been abandoned by her previous owner packs a wallop, but the funny scenes keep the film from being too emotional. The pointed barbs about network executives are quite amusing, and there are some delightful bits with the animals, such as Bolt learning to beg. I liked this one a lot.

The supporting voice cast includes Malcolm McDowell as the TV show villain, James Lipton as the director, and Greg Germann as Penny's smarmy, work-obsessed agent. The additional voice actors include Anne Lockhart, granddaughter of Gene and Kathleen, and daughter of June.

BOLT was directed by Byron Howard and Chris Williams.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG for "mild action and peril." In my opinion it's a family-friendly Disney film.

BOLT is available on DVD or in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...My recent post on THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940), starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, has been adapted and cross-posted at the Movies Unlimited MovieFanFare site. I appreciate MovieFanFare sharing my post with their readers!

...The New York Times recently interviewed Robert Osborne.

...Jonas Nordin guest posts at Out of the Past, writing on the background of the new Warner Archive release WHY BE GOOD? (1929) starring Colleen Moore.

...Here are postcards of movie star homes from the site The Passion of Former Days.

...Glenn Erickson reviews the new TCM Vault releases of ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939) and REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940) at DVD Savant. I haven't seen the new releases, but the movies are excellent; I wrote about them here and here.

...Today's mail brought a new Criterion edition of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934), purchased in the Barnes & Noble half-price sale. It's also been reviewed by Glenn Erickson.

...Over at Another Old Movie Blog, Jacqueline has a very interesting post on Ann Blyth and Robert Mitchum in ONE MINUTE TO ZERO (1952) including background on the film's difficult production history. I especially enjoyed reading Ann's enthusiastic comments on working with Mitchum. I reviewed the film last year.

...Season 5 of DOWNTON ABBEY comes to U.S. television on January 4, 2015.

...Earlier this month Elisabeth wrote about Deanna Durbin's film FIRST LOVE (1939) at The Second Sentence. This modern fairy tale was one of the movies which led me to love Deanna Durbin and her films.

...Growing up some of my favorite books were written by Anne Emery, especially SENIOR YEAR. They're the kind of "retro" reads many classic film fans would also enjoy. Many of Emery's books are now available for the Kindle.

...Prince Albert of Monaco and his wife Charlene are expecting twins around Christmas. The babies will be the grandchildren of the late Grace Kelly, also known as Princess Grace of Monaco.

...The first trailer for the new STAR WARS film, THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015), will play in select theaters this weekend, November 28th-30th.

...And here is a trailer for next year's PEANUTS (2015) film. As a Charlie Brown fan, I'm hoping the movie will turn out well.

...This week's YouTube find: BORN TO THE WEST (1937), starring John Wayne, Marsha Hunt, and Johnny Mack Brown.

...When I went to see BIG HERO 6 (2014) I saw a trailer for SPARE PARTS (2015), an inspirational film about a robotics competition due in theaters in January. The movie stars George Lopez, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Marisa Tomei. I have the opportunity to preview this movie and should be posting a review here in mid-January. A second trailer is here.

...Here is an account of last weekend's centennial tribute to Norman Lloyd at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.

...Notable Passing: Director Mike Nichols has passed away at the age of 83. He was the winner of an Oscar, Tony, Emmy, and Grammy. I especially liked his film HEARTBURN (1986) with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, which Amazon Prime members can stream at no additional charge. For a movie on a sad topic, divorce, it's quite engrossing and even funny at times. Nichols is survived by his wife, Diane Sawyer, and three children from earlier marriages.

...Another Notable Passing: Longtime Los Angeles Times film critic Charles Champlin has died at 88. I grew up reading his reviews and columns with my breakfast each day, as well as watching him with Art Seidenbaum on the public TV program CITYWATCHERS. A number of years ago Champlin wrote a moving column on coping with macular degeneration. I appreciate all his work added to my life over the years.

Have a great week!

Tonight's Movie: Big Hero 6 (2014)

BIG HERO 6 (2014), Disney's newest animated film, is pleasant if not particularly distinguished family entertainment. The movie has flashes of great creativity amidst the familiar.

One of the down sides to the film is that the orphaned animated protagonist has been done to death by Disney, pardon the pun; additionally, at times I felt the movie was "Disney Meets Scooby-Doo." On the plus side, there are some nice moments along with a really interesting setting.

Orphaned Hiro (Ryan Potter) and his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) live with their Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) in San Fransokyo, an ersatz fantasy blend of, you guessed it, San Francisco and Tokyo.

Hiro has a great talent for constructing robots but is getting into trouble with the wrong crowds until Tadashi takes him on a tour of the university lab where he's been working to construct a new kind of robot. Hiro is then inspired to enter a science engineering contest to win a spot at the university and study under Professor Callahan (James Cromwell).

Soon tragedy strikes, but the depressed Hiro then discovers Baymax (Scott Adsit), a healthcare robot created by Tadashi. Baymax is large and cumbersome but caring, sort of a kindly Stay Puft Marshallow Man. In the second half of the film, Hiro and Baymax join a group of Hadashi's university friends to go after the villain who caused the tragedy.

Baymax is cute, although I thought he bumps up (sorry, another pun!) uncomfortably with the constant presence of healthcare in the news; so this is where we're all headed, a cumbersome and insistent robot to look after our medical needs? I'm not sure I find that idea as comforting as the filmmakers intended.

The group of Tadashi's friends is where my "Scooby Doo" comparison comes from; they're a group of nice guys and gals who mix smarts and silliness, with Baymax filling the role of mascot Scooby.

The lower-intellect surfer-type dude (T.J. Miller) turns out to have a couple of unexpected secrets in his background, and I especially liked Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), who is cheerfully normal and polite along with being supersmart. She reminded me of someone, but I'm not sure who; maybe she has a touch of Bailey from WKRP?

As the gang use their scientific talents to turn themselves into superheroes -- the Big Hero 6 -- one of the characters exclaims "This is our origin story!" which I thought was cute. There's also an amusing addendum along superhero lines at the very tail end of the credits, so be sure not to leave too early. And speaking of the end credits, their design was one of the best things about the movie.

Indeed, the film's biggest asset might be its production design, as the San Fransokyo setting is endlessly interesting. I'd love to see Disney put out one of its ART OF... books on this film so I could take a closer look at the city's design.

Along with feeling the film was a bit too derivative and overfamiliar, I had some trouble from the standpoint of logic. Granted, the film is a fantasy, but no teenager would be able to single-handedly manufacture so many "minibots"!

BIG HERO 6 was directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams. It was loosely based on a Marvel comic. The film runs 102 minutes.

Parental advisory: BIG HERO 6 is rated PG for "action and peril and some rude humor." There are a couple of disturbing moments but they are fairly typical of the kinds of tragedies which strike in other Disney movies.

While more of a strong double than a home run, BIG HERO 6 provides an enjoyable time at the movies.

I fell in love with FEAST (2014), the cartoon short which currently precedes theatrical screenings of BIG HERO 6. FEAST tells the story of the life of a dog and his owner, as reflected in what the dog is given to eat over the years; other than worrying about the dog's health (i.e., "You're giving a dog popcorn?!") the film was adorable and should especially push the right buttons for viewers who are dog lovers. It's a wonderful cartoon and a good reason for Disney fans to catch BIG HERO 6 while it's playing theatrically.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Secret of Dr. Kildare (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

The familiar cast of the Dr. Kildare series returns in THE SECRET OF DR. KILDARE (1939), the very enjoyable third entry in MGM's long-running medical series. THE SECRET OF DR. KILDARE is available as part of a nine-film set from the Warner Archive.

This time around Dr. Jimmy Kildare (Lew Ayres) is working with Dr. Leonard Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore) on a cure for pneumonia. However, Dr. Gillespie is in failing health so Jimmy announces he is quitting the project, keeping secret the fact that he actually hopes to force Dr. Gillespie to take a much-needed rest.

Another Dr. Kildare also has a secret -- Jimmy's father, Dr. Stephen Kildare (Samuel S. Hinds), has a heart problem which he fears is terminal. He finally tells his wife (Emma Dunn) but doesn't say anything to Jimmy until he has a diagnosis from Dr. Gillespie.

While Jimmy is on leave from working with Dr. Gillespie, he treats Nancy Messenger (Helen Gilbert), the daughter of a wealthy potential hospital benefactor (Lionel Atwill). Nancy believes she has a brain tumor and no amount of talking from Dr. Kildare will convince her otherwise.

As was the case in the first two films, Dr. Kildare does not always act within the bounds of generally accepted medical ethics -- in this case he lets Nancy think he's performed an operation to cure her blindness, when in truth he has done nothing of the sort. Dr. Gillespie and hospital head Dr. Carew (Walter Kingsford) both approve of Dr. Kildare's methodology because it cures the girl's hysterical condition!

Aside from the odd medical stories, the draw of the Kildare films is the interactions among the large cast. This is a particularly rich episode for Barrymore, whose obnoxiously gruff exterior cloaks a caring and even sensitive heart. His relationships with Head Nurse Molly Byrd (Alma Kruger) and young Nurse Mary Lamont (Laraine Day) are particularly touching. Mary may be young, but she is self-possessed and deals with the crochety doctor as confidently as her much older superior, Nurse Byrd.

Hinds and Dunn are always good as the senior Kildares, who have a very loving relationship and are supportive of their son no matter his problems.

George Reed took over as Dr. Gillespie's personal aide Conover in this entry, replacing Clinton Rosemond. Reed played the role in most of the remaining films in the series, all the way through the final entry, DARK DELUSION (1947).

Likewise, Tom Collins replaced Roger Converse as one of Kildare's fellow interns, Dr. Joiner; Converse left screen acting after the second Kildare film, CALLING DR. KILDARE (1939). Collins would return in three more films in the series.

The supporting cast also includes series regulars Marie Blake, Nat Pendleton, Frank Orth, Nell Craig, and Don "Red" Barry, along with Martha O'Driscoll, Sara Haden, Grant Mitchell, and Robert Kent. Familiar faces such as George Chandler, Byron Foulger, Emory Parnell, and Joe Yule (Mickey Rooney's father) pop up for one scene apiece.

Lead guest actress Helen Gilbert had an interesting if rather sad life, marrying six different times. Her first husband was film composer and musical director Mischa Bakaleinikoff. One of her husbands was Johnny Stompanato, who later famously died at the hands of Lana Turner's daughter Cheryl. Gilbert's brief film career included appearing in ANDY HARDY GETS SPRING FEVER (1939) and as one of the girls on the trolley in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944). She died in 1995.

Harold S. Bucquet again directed, as he did for the first two films in the series. The movie was filmed by Alfred Gilks. It runs 84 minutes.

Other than one brief fuzzy shot of Dr. Gillespie, this DVD is a fine print. The disc includes the trailer.

Previously reviewed Dr. Kildare films available in this Warner Archive set: YOUNG DR. KILDARE (1938) and CALLING DR. KILDARE (1939).

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website. Please note that the initial sets of this series sold at the Warner Archive site are traditionally replicated (pressed) rather than burned on demand.

A Visit to the University of Oregon

We've spent the last few days visiting our daughter, who is a sophomore at the University of Oregon.

We hadn't seen her in four months so it was great to spend a few days with her in Eugene!

I've previously enjoyed sharing photos of our older children's colleges, the University of Southern California (USC) and Northern Arizona University (NAU); here's a brief look at the UofO! Click any photo to enlarge it for a closer look.

My husband had visited the campus when our daughter was making her college decision, but this was my first visit so I got the grand tour.

Our family, incidentally, has roots in the area, as both my husband's parents graduated from the University of Oregon, and my husband, who was born in Portland, lived in Eugene as a young child.

The beautifully designed College of Business:

The Administration Building, which was used as a location in ANIMAL HOUSE (1978):

Hayward Field, the site of Olympic trials:

The Duck Store...

...filled with green and yellow as far as the eye can see.

I left the Duck Store a fully decked-out Oregon parent, with a t-shirt, Christmas ornament, and mug.

We spent a blustery Friday afternoon watching the marching band rehearse for Saturday's football game:

Our daughter has leadership positions in both the Ducks marching band and the band's service fraternity, and is having an all-around fantastic college experience.

Friday evening we attended the women's volleyball game at Matthew Knight Arena.

Usually a small honor band plays at basketball and volleyball games, but that evening the entire marching band was asked to play.

The Oregon Ducks beat the UCLA Bruins.

The Yellow Garter Band is seen to the left of the marching band:

Finally, a fun side note about Dutch Bros., the Oregon coffee chain my daughter loves. It was as good as advertised! I had their hot cocoa a couple of times during the trip and really enjoyed it.

And their cup designs are delightful!

Coming soon: Game day! My second and final photo post on our trip will share our wonderful experience at beautiful Autzen Stadium, where the Oregon Ducks beat the Colorado Buffaloes, 44-10.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

This Week at Disneyland: Holiday Fantasy Annual Passholder Party

Last night Disneyland hosted a "Holiday Fantasy" party for Annual Passholders who are renewing their passes in the next few weeks.

The event was an "after hours" four-hour private party. The entire park was open to passholders, with entertainment including the Christmas Fantasy Parade, the Wintertime Enchantment snow at the castle, and a performance of Fantasmic!

One of the nice perks provided was free downloads of photos taken with Disney characters. Photo stations were set up around the park and were quite popular, with fairly long lines. We had our photos taken with Scrooge McDuck and later with Belle and the Beast, as well as in front of the wintry Sleeping Beauty Castle.

This is the most beautiful time of the year at the park, and this year is no exception! I highly recommend visiting during the holiday season if at all possible.

We plan to head back to the park in a week's time for our annual Thanksgiving Eve visit.

Also this week: This Weekend at Disney California Adventure: Christmastime Arrives!

Monday, November 17, 2014

This Weekend at Disney California Adventure: Christmastime Arrives!

Yesterday afternoon we made a quick visit to Disney California Adventure to enjoy the Christmas decorations, as the holiday season officially began in Anaheim last Thursday.

Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Land have become my very favorite places in the parks at Christmastime, with a fantastic retro vibe. Added to the decor is a wonderful music track which includes artists such as Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald, and it's simply perfection.

Click any photo to enlarge it for a closer look. Here's the Carthay Circle Theater:

Santa holds court at the Elias & Co. Department Store:

Hollywood Land, with decorations inspired by vintage Hollywood Boulevard decorations:

More Hollywood Land:

A terrific display next to the Hyperion Theatre:

At sunset the Christmas lights mixed with the usual neon lights come on in Cars Land while "Winter Wonderland" plays:

Carthay Circle after dark:

Shops on Buena Vista Street ready for holiday shoppers:

Can hardly wait to return and enjoy even more of the season in California Adventure. Meanwhile, Tuesday night we're looking forward to an after-hours holiday party for annual passholders in Disneyland!

Last year's Disney Christmas photo posts: Disney California Adventure: World of Color - Winter Dreams; Today at Disneyland: Holidays in Disneyland; Today at Disney California Adventure: Viva Navidad!; Today at Disneyland: Candy Canes and Caroling; Today at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure: Dia de Reyes.

From 2012: First Christmas on Buena Vista Street.