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Tag Archives: Pixar

Weekly Mishmash: July 18-24

The Circus Queen Murder (1933). I gave this Columbia ‘B’ a shot when it received an unusual prime time showing on a recent Turner Classic Movies night devoted to circus movies. Dapper Adolphe Menjou stars as Thatcher Colt, big city detective who takes a vacation in upstate New York. He and his secretary (the strangely alluring Ruthelma Stevens) are there to relax, but instead they find themselves involved in the shady dealings of a traveling circus with quarreling lovers, and a mysterious tribe of cannibals, and (you guessed it) murder. This is an efficiently made, very watchable little flick somewhat spoiled by the lack of mystery throughout. The murder happens too late in the film, and since the killer’s identity is plainly telegraphed early on there isn’t much suspense, either. Despite that, I enjoyed watching this not only for the cast (apparently this was one of two Thatcher Colt/Adolphe Menjou flicks), but for the many similarities between this and Freaks. Although this film is lighthearted mystery and Freaks is terrifying horror, it appears as if Greta Nissen’s trapeze artist is patterned after Olga Baclanova’s character in the earlier film. The filmmakers also included a group of vaguely creepy cannibals which call to mind the assorted Freaks freaks. Coincidence or not, the circus backdrop is vividly portrayed and adds some much needed depth to the film.
poster_castawaysIn Search of the Castaways (1962). Another week, another live action Disney adventure! In Search of the Castaways stars winsome Hayley Mills as a pre-teen who comes across a bottled message sent by her father, a shipping merchant previously thought to be killed at sea. Teaming with her brother, a ship’s captain and his son, and the French fisherman (Maurice Chevalier) who found the bottle, she goes on a journey that takes the troupe through snowy mountains, flash floods, volcanoes and a menacing band of cannibals (two cannibal movies in one week!). Fun in its own way but it does rank as one of the lesser Disney live action flicks, with scenes that stretch the notions of credibility and provoke the image of Jules Verne spinning in his grave. If the idea of watching people maneuver a giant boulder down a snowy canyon like some sort of king-sized toboggan strikes your fancy, this is the flick for you.
Inception (2010). Christopher and I took a day off on Friday to do a double feature at the local cracker box cinema; the trippy Inception was one of them. You oughta know by now it’s about Leo DiCaprio and pals invading another man’s dreams in an Oceans 11 meets Mission: Impossible type scenario. I thought it was a fun way to spend two and a half hours. I found myself lost in the film and admiring (if not exactly being wowed by) Christopher Nolan’s knack for audience-friendly yet cerebral entertainment; a very similar reaction that befell Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The story gets very dense at times, introducing characters whose function I couldn’t figure out (Ken Watanabe?). Although the four dream states never tripped me up, I have to admit to being disappointed that they all have a similar “action movie set piece” look that doesn’t bear any semblance to any dream I’ve ever had. The special effects are very cool, however. Just be prepared for many scenes of people drinking, rain-soaked, underwater, etc. — this is a film that seems specifically engineered for strategically placed bathroom breaks.
album_parissistersThe Paris Sisters — Sing Everything Under the Sun!!!. The Paris Sisters were a girl trio best known for the moony 1961 hit “I Love How You Love Me.” Despite its having four flop singles, their 1967 LP Sing Everything Under the Sun!!! was considered a sought-after cult item for Girl Group collectors until it finally got a CD reissue in the mid-2000s; I got to check it out on eMusic. This short, sweet gem of an album is a good showcase for the sultry voice of Priscilla Paris (who also wrote four of its ten tracks). Producers Jack Nitzsche and Jimmy Bowen built a consistent sound for the album that lies halfway between Phil Spector and easygoing mid-’60s “beach” music, a mood that sometimes detours in a nicely atmospheric direction (a dirge-like take on “It’s My Party,” for example) which likely influenced David Lynch and Julee Cruise some 20 years later. Priscilla Paris has an interesting, somewhat sleepy sounding voice, but the true highlight of this album comes when she pulls out an unexpectedly emotional performance on “See That Boy.” In just under 2-1/2 minutes, here is the epitome of why I dig obscure ’60s music. I’m positive that in an alternate universe somewhere it’s a huge, huge hit.
They Drive By Night (1940). Re-watched this after adding the DVD to my efforts to collect the films of Joyce Compton. Joyce appears briefly in the film’s second half as the ditsy girlfriend of one of the film’s supporting characters; in my totally biased opinion she holds her own opposite George Raft, Ann Sheridan and Humphrey Bogart. Actually, the first (non-Joyce) half of this film is the kind of cracklin’ working class drama that Warner Bros. did impeccably during this time. It follows truckers Raft and Bogart as they deal with punishing hours and low pay hauling produce on all-night drives, with Sheridan adding a salty cynicism as a waitress whom Raft takes a shine to. It’s such a cool, supremely exciting movie (even the normally cardboard Raft does a great job), that it’s a bit of a disappointment when the film shifts gears to shrill murder melodrama with a hysterically overacting Ida Lupino. That plot development is still interesting in a campy way, but it detracts from what would have otherwise been a perfect, gritty film. Although I normally adore Ida Lupino (see The Hard Way or The Man I Love), she’s too much here; it’s hard to believe that critics of the day heaped praise on her performance.
A Town Called Panic (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010). Animated films which both deal, directly or not, with our relationship with toys and play objects. A Town Called Panic is an inventive, generally successful French-Belgian stop motion film that weaves a wacky story out of cheap plastic playthings a la army men, farm sets, and cowboys and indians. The cowboy and indian in this instance are two boys who live in a house under the parentage of a stern horse. Although I won’t go into the plot details, it involves an underwater city, a giant mechanical penguin, and lots of weirdly mismatched farm animals. The absurdist humor throughout actually reflects the way real children play with toys, independent of what they were made for (I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t use army men to do army battles). This film is too long by a good half hour, but I found it totally charming and bizarre in ways that market-tested Hollywood flicks could never touch. Hollywood flicks excepting those from the mighty Pixar, which brings me to Toy Story 3. What a fabulous way to close out the tale of Andy, Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang! This film was much more emotionally resonant — and darker — than I ever expected. I appreciated the level of detail that they put in every scene, and the additional characters were so wonderful it almost made me forget the regrettable absence of Bo Peep and that penguin squeaky toy. Probably the most poignant addition is the creep inducing lazy-eyed baby, a character that is set up as a villain but somehow ends up being more sympathetic than the nominal leads. I think it’s because the baby is presented as a realistic child with adorable cooing sounds and infantile reactions, giving the viewer the uncomfortable notion that abandoned baby doll = real abandoned baby. Speaking of which, the film’s climax goes to intense, emotional places even previous Pixar efforts like Up didn’t venture. The much spoken-of final scene was a beautifully done and affecting bit of closure, even though it failed to bring a single tear in me (just raised a lump in my throat) — probably since it went on too long. Yeah, I’m a scrooge. Despite that minor disappointment, this gets a solid ‘A’.

Huggy Bear Gone Viral

An adorable circa 1983 commercial for Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear. What, you never heard of Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear? That’s because the pink ‘n fuzzy toy only exists as a character in the forthcoming Toy Story 3; the commercial is actually a promotional tool from those sneaks at Pixar. Brilliant!

Weekly Mishmash: December 27-January 2

The Beatles — Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A Christmas gift from my brother — one of my favorite Fab Four albums, and one I especially wanted to check out again in the form of the much hyped 2009 remasters. This is an excellent album whose reputation seems to ebb and flow based on whether twee ’60s psychedelica is currently in vogue. The album itself is much deeper than that, of course. Love or hate him, Paul McCartney’s melodic cleverness dominates the proceedings, although John Lennon’s powerful “A Day In The Life” gives the project a gravity lacking in many of Paul’s sweeter efforts (“When I’m 64,” etc.). The whole thing hangs together wonderfully, a fanciful salute to Mod England, tangerine trees and looking glass ties. To my ears, George Harrison’s trippy “Within You Without You” strikes the one weak point, a fascinating but overlong Indian detour. This CD comes in a great package with informative liner notes. There’s even a diagram of the personalities pictured on that famous album cover. Amazingly, Capitol records didn’t release a single off this album until 1978!
Golden Boy (1939). Preachy, dated but worthwhile melodrama with excellent turns by Barbara Stanwyck and a young William Holden. Holden plays an idealistic young violinist who finds that he has a talent for boxing, one that agent Adolphe Menjou wants to milk for all it’s worth. As Menjou’s hard-bitten girlfriend, Stanwyck is a marvel to watch as she gradually falls for Holden. The acting makes up for the stagy script, which has lots of pontificating and little boxing. Columbia TriStar’s DVD edition of this film has a lot of cool extras in the mold of Warner Home Video releases — a vintage cartoon, fun newsreel and a 1956 Ford Television Theatre episode starring Barbara as a Western hausfrau.
No End In Sight (2004). Good documentary on how the U.S. government got in over its head in Afghanistan and Iraq. While it didn’t have much that wasn’t already news to me, it does present its case with a concise eye for detail. Campbell Scott’s narration has that appropriate schoolmarmish tone. What a monumental mess — one that is still raging more than five years on.
The Pixar Story (2007). This inspiring feature-length documentary was quite a pleasant surprise, tucked away as an extra on the DVD edition of WALL•E (a gift from the hubby). Leslie Iwerks’ film traces the origins of Pixar, going back to when the company’s founders were a bunch of scrappy, animation-mad CalArts students in the ’70s. Strangely enough, the Disney company doesn’t come across too well here. Whether it’s firing John Lasseter in the early ’80s or squashing Pixar’s plans after its initial Toy Story success a few years on, they seem (with the exception of Roy O. Disney, who always championed creativity) like a bunch of heartless bean counters. People like Lasseter and Apple’s Steve Jobs are visionaries who know that true innovation involves taking massive chances. In the end of the film, I felt exhilarated that real creativity still has a place in the movie biz.
Porco Rosso (1992). Our New Years Eve viewing was one of the few Hayao Miyazaki animated epics that we hadn’t yet seen. This one concerns a 1920s military pilot who fell victim to a spell that (for reasons that are never adequately explained) transformed him into a half-human, half-pig. During the film’s course he battles air pirates, hides out in a cool ocean cove, and pines for the actress who once loved him in human form. Kinda dull actually, but Miyazaki does amazing things with animating water and clouds here, and the oceanside scenery is wonderfully rendered in gorgeous pastel tints.