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Sunday, September 29, 2013

'William Powell at Warner Bros.:' A Soldier, A Playboy, and a Detective, Oh My!

William Powell at Warner Bros.
Being a HUGE fan of the "Thin Man" series hinders reviewing the recently released 4-disc DVD set "William Powell at Warner Bros.," which features four other WB films starring Powell. Powell is perfectly cast in his roles in the good films in the current collection, but each of these diverse movies only provide an element of the incomparable awesomeness that he brings to the role of socialite mystery solver Nick Charles years before Robert Wagner donned Jonathon Hart's velour wardrobe.

The 1933 film "Private Detective 62" is arguably the best film of the four in "Powell."  Powell plays Donald Free, who literally washes up in New York Harbor following a European scandal for which a Powell character typically is unfairly made the scapegoat. The challenge of finding employment in Depression-era New York leads to forming an incredibly uneasy partnership with unethical and lazy private investigator Dan Hogan.

A series of events leads to Hogan agreeing to help a racketeer with whom the detective agency is closely associated frame a successful gambler who the racketeer owes roughly $50,000 in 1933 dollars. One complication is that the more ethical Free begins a romance with that lucky lady before learning that she is the target of his dirty work.

This role is tailor-made for Powell who gets to display his cunning, wit, and ability to mix it up with the best of them. Free's humorous and very appropriate revenge on Hogan who is ready to strand Free after an inexcusable blunder by Hogan is one of the film's best moments.

On a broader (pun intended) level, "Detective" is a great noir film that is worth watching (pun also intended). It makes New York City seem as rainy as Seattle, is full of characters who look and act like weasels and snakes, and has some of the best banter of the best films in this genre. This great dialog includes the not-so-fatale femme telling the racketeer "I came here to get paid, not pawed."

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Detective's" trailer illustrates the awesome elements described above.

"High Pressure" from 1932 comes in a close second for best film of the set; this screwball comedy has Powell as legendary business promoter Gar Evans brought on board to help launch (yep, another pun) a new company that holds the patent on a process for recycling sewage into artificial rubber; Evans' philosophy that the relevant law prohibits lying about a product but allows exaggeration sums up the theme of the film.

This role allows Powell to show his fast-talking skills and charm that make "The Thin Man" so entertaining; further, opening scenes in which Powell is virtually dead drunk makes good use of his talent for physical comedy.

The well-presented story of Powell initially hyping and building up the business and then struggling to salvage it when the hype seems unfounded is timely 80 years after its release.

"The Road to Singapore," which has no relation to either the later Hope-Crosby film of the same name or those "Road" pictures in general, is the first film of the "William Powell at Warner Bros." era. Although good, it clearly shows that that studio had not yet quite found a role that suited Powell as well as the part of Nick Charles.

Powell's Hugh Dawltry is a British expat playboy who is returning to a tight-knit expat community in the tropics after being run off due to a scandal involving a married woman. Dawltry's developing friendship with the fiancee of a local doctor who focuses more on his patients than his beloved, sets the stage for history to repeat itself.

"Singapore" is an entertaining film with interesting twists and social commentary that makes you think. It also supports the theory that you can take the gentry out of England but not the England out of the gentry. It simply does not generate the same sense of wanting to repeatedly watch as many films of that era.

"The Key" from 1934 rounds out the group and has many good qualities. This one has Powell playing roguish English officer Bill Tennant assigned to Dublin during the Irish Revolutionary period in which the local populace is not shy about expressing its animosity toward those soldiers.

Like other Powell characters, Tennant is not a model citizen but has an admirable sense of honor and duty despite what those ideals cost him. One of the best scenes has Powell bantering with an Irish barmaid. His stating that he is Scotch and pocketing the change from his bill is hilarious.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, conveys a good sense of Tennant's charm and attitude toward life.

Soon on arriving, Tennant is reunited with former Irish flame Norah. The first twist is that Norah, played by Edna Best of many productions including the film version of "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," is now unhappily married to former Tennant colleague and current English intelligence operative Capt. Andy Kerr. Colin Clive of an early film version of "Frankenstein" plays Andy.

Seeing Norah again predictably stirs up old feelings for her and Tennant. This leads to a turn of events that prompt Tennant to act according to his conscience at the risk of both his military career and freedom.

The bottom line regarding these four films is that they provide a good chance to experience nuances regarding Powell's acting style and to see how those roles helped prepare him to play Nick Charles.

Anyone with questions regarding "Powell," Powell, or "The Thin Man" is encouraged to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

'The Royal Bodyguard: Great Melange of 'Get Smart' and Britcom 'Spy'

Royal Bodyguard DVD
The 2011 Britcom "The Royal Bodyguard," which Canadian purveyor of great British programming BFS Entertainment has released to North American audiences on DVD, is like its main character Captain Guy Hubble in that it is denied the regard that it deserves. The tales of the royal family and of threats to domestic and international tranquility told via well-crafted traditional and mostly family friendly jokes and physical humor make it timeless.

The opening scenes of "Bodyguard's" pilot quickly establishes its premise by having retired military captain and current Buckingham Palace car-park attendant Hubble inadvertently spooking the horses who are pulling the carriage in which Queen Elizabeth II is riding and then rescuing her from the peril of his making. Watching this evokes thoughts of both the skit by the Queen and James Bond portrayor Daniel Craig in the 2012 Summer Olympics and the pilot of the truly hilarious (and award winning) Britcom "Spy," which Unreal TV reviewed several months ago, in which "ordinary bloke" Tim stumbles into a spot in the MI5 training program.

Hubble's "heroics" catch the attention of HRM, who has him promoted to the position of Royal Bodyguard to the consternation of both his new superior Colonel Dennis Whittington and the better-qualified security officer Yates, who was next-in-line for Hubble's new job. Yates' animosity is particularly intense and prompts him to give Hubble the boot in one episode.

Sir David Jason, best known for his starring role in "A Touch of Frost," does a great job portraying the same arrogance, naivety, and general simple-mindedness of Hubble as Don Adams and Steve Carell respectively achieved so well regarding Maxwell Smart in the "Get Smart" series and film. Geoffrey Whitehead's, who is best known to PBS Britcom fans as Dick on "The Worst Week of My Life," role as Whittington once again has Whitehead playing a victim of catastrophes of a well-meaning oaf who has rightfully earned his wrath.

Fans of the uber-hilarious Mel Brook '60s sitcom "Get Smart" can think of Hubble and Whittington as the current decade's Maxwell Smart and Chief. Literal echos of the late Don Adams and the late Edward Platt arguing about using the wonky cone of silence bombard the brains of viewers as Jason insists on following protocol even when doing so completely defies logic.

An example of the humor related to Hubble's strict adherence to the regulations forces him and Whittington to spend a physically and mentally uncomfortable night on a moor while trying to locate a younger member of the royal family who is enjoying a wild girls' night out. One can almost hear Hubble state the classic "Smart" catchphrases "Sorry about that, Chief" and "missed it by that much."

Also like "Smart," and to a lesser degree "Spy," "Bodyguard" expertly pulls off being amusing despite many jokes being very predictable. Some of the many examples include that one knows that Hubble will get his arm stuck in a vase that catches his attention and that he will pull the muffler off the underside of a car that he is examining for explosives; Jason's talent for this type of slapstick still elicits at least a chuckle. The same is true regarding a man who is wearing a police officer's uniform turning out to be a male stripper.

Much of the fun comes from seeing both how Hubble will turn things around after contributing to a potentially bad situation becoming a catastrophe and how he will manage to stay in his job to do it all over the following week.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, does a great job conveying the aforementioned arrogance, predictable slapstick, relationship with Yates, and rigid adherence to protocol that make "Bodyguard" a great show.

One can only hope either for a Christmas special in which baby George goes missing during a visit to see Father Christmas that Hubble is coordinating or that the "Get Smart" movie sequel will be "Agent Maxwell Smart 2: Destination London" and will have Smart and Hubble working together to thwart a plot against the royals.

Anyone with questions or comments about "Bodyguard" or "Smart" is welcome to email me. You can also track me down on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

'On Dress Parade:' The Dead End Kids Meet Nathaniel Hale

The “Dead End” Kids On Dress Parade/Hell’s Kitchen
As yesterday's review of the 1939 film "Hell's Kitchen announced, Unreal TV is running a special two-part review of the recent Warner Archive two-film DVD release titled "The 'Dead End Kids' Double Feature." Today's post discusses "On Dress Parade."

"The Dead End Kids," who later became "The Bowery Boys" were New York City delinquents who starred in a series of Warner Brothers films in the '30s. These films typically played on the kids' tough-guy personas and hard-luck lives.

"Parade" had the same theme of reform as "Kitchen" but ramped up the propaganda by substituting social commentary regarding the brutality of some boys' reformatory institutions with a pro-military slant that was as subtle as a hammer blow to the head. "Parade" was also the "Kids" film in which future "Boys" star Leo Gorcey introduced his "Slip" character; Gorcey's "don't call me Shirley" scenes were hilarious to fans of the 1980 comedy classic "Airplane."

"Parade" started  with a 1918 WWI foxhole scene that set the stage for enrolling a highly resistant delinquent Slip Duncan at the Washington Military Academy, which counted patriot Nathaniel Hale among its constituents, 20 years later. The combination of Slip's smart mouth, sharp temper, and aversion to military discipline quickly generally made him the enemy of his classmates and victim of amusing hazing.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Parade's" trailer provides an excellent sense of the story and the aforementioned propaganda. In the interest of full candor, the scenes of the cadets charging evoked more thoughts of the opening credits of the classic '60s sitcom "F Troop" than our nation's fine military tradition.

The pivotal scene occurred during horsing around related to discouraging Slip from quitting the education and military training that his fellow cadets considered critical to his becoming a productive member of society. These shenanigans went out the window when the students figuratively discovered  the truth of the adage that something was always funny until someone lost an eye.

This turn of events sobered up Slip, who got with the program; this attitude adjustment ultimately led to another important moment in which history repeated itself.

The overall message of "Parade" was not so much that there was nothing as a bad boy as it was that the military way of life was a good road to success.

Watching this theme regularly repeated in the film evoked thoughts of intentionally pushing the buttons of a very recent graduate of an Air National Guard Officer Training Course while working for a government contractor.

The graduate's completely playful threat of physical harm prompted a rapid response of "maybe I'd be afraid if you were a Marine." That led to a very tense nanosecond, which included two other guardsmen ready to grab their colleague's arms, followed by several seconds of laughter by all.

The reason for the anecdote above was that it directly related to the pride that "Parade" and the real military instilled in those among their ranks. Seeing "Parade's" portray that life and the early scenes in which Slip gleefully mocked it were very entertaining.

The final debriefing regarding "Parade" is that it, and "Kitchen," make this DVD set worth adding to your collection. These films show a portion of the range of the "Kids" films.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Kitchen" or "Parade" is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

'Hell's Kitchen:' Ronald Reagan and "The Dead End Kids" but no Nancy Boys

The “Dead End” Kids On Dress Parade/Hell’s Kitchen
In recognition of the high quality of both films in the Warner Archive's recent "'Dead End Kids' Double Feature" DVD release, and in the spirit of prime time television's new season, Unreal TV will run a special two-part review of the films in that set. Today's post is on "Hell's Kitchen," and a review of "On Dress Parade" will follow tomorrow.

"The Dead End Kids," who later became "The Bowery Boys" were a group of New York City delinquents who starred in a series of Warner Brothers films in the '30s. These films typically played on the kids' tough-guy personas and hard-luck lives.

The 1939 film "Hell's Kitchen" was a multi-layered story about the Hudson Shelter reformatory where the kids suffered unfortunate incarcerations. The film's title referred to that group's nickname for the institution, and they added that they sometimes omitted the "kitchen" portion of the name.

The crux of the problem regarding this privately funded, and loosely regulated, allegedly rehabilitative facility was its corrupt head Hyram Krispan. Krispan's stern discipline includes depriving misbehaving students of the barely inedible and adequately insufficient serving of dinner and even more brutally locking them in the school's walk-in refrigerator. Krispan additionally pocketed the charitable deductions that he collected under the guise of projects that included a new library and a gymnasium for the reformatory.

This fundraising brought Krispan to the door of Buck Caesar, a racketeer who recently received a heavy fine and strict probation in a criminal trial. The scene in which the judge decreed Caesar's sentence was the funniest in the film.

Caesar's attorney and nephew Jim Donahue, played by Ronald Reagan, advised Caesar to make the requested contribution to demonstrate his desire to reform himself. This led to Caesar and Jim becoming volunteers at the school.

The middle portion of the film involved the efforts of Caesar and crusader teacher Beth Avery to make the shelter less hellish for the students; anyone who has ever seen a film knows that all did not go as planned, but some of the retribution was more brutal than expected. Krispan's iron-fist and particular cruelty regarding one the kids' dog evoked thoughts of brutal women's prison guard Evelyn Harper in "Caged," which Unreal TV reviewed a few months back.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, provides a sense that hell is for children; it also demonstrates the ability of the actors who portray the kids to make the audience sympathize with characters that most of us would walk city blocks to avoid.

The inevitable showdown between the students and Krsipan was both powerful and uplifting in the sense that it showed that these kids who "the system" placed in this place of eternal torment still respected our justice system. The additional element of the final scenes of "Frankenstein" in which a monster was hunted down was another indication that the "Kitchen" filmmakers cared about their craft.

Other "must-see" scenes involved the interaction between the kids and Caesar. Those moments clearly showed that Caesar came from the same place as the kids, literally spoke their language, and represented their future if they did not reform through one means or another.

The final verdict regarding "Kitchen" is that it, and "Parade," make this DVD set worth adding to your collection. These films show a portion of the range of the "Kids" films. They will also make you laugh, cry, and think.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Kitchen" or "Parade" is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, September 23, 2013

'Phil Spector:' David Mamet's Behind the Music

Phil Spector (HBO)
It seems highly improbable that Warner Archive releasing the HBO biopic "Phil Spector" one week before last week's DVD release of the HBO biopic "Behind the Candelabra" is coincidental. (Unreal TV's May 2103 review of "Candelbra" points out a significant similarity between Liberace and Newt Gingrich.) Both made-for-its-not-TV productions present unflattering (but perhaps accurate) portrayals of two former entertainment industry giants at low points in their lives and careers.

"Spector" and "Candelabra" additionally have auteurs behind them. Playwright David Mamet writes, directs, produces, (and perhaps provides craft services for) "Spector." Steven Soderbergh directs "Candelabra."

The parallels extend as well to the tone of  the stars' negative (but perhaps accurate) portrayals of their subject.

Al Pacino's Phil Spector is a highly erratic and ghoulish appearing (of course pun intended) specter (of course pun intended) who has much more in common with Ratso Rizzo of "Midnight Cowboy" than music producer Simon Cowell, who is the current successor to the real-life Spector's throne as the king of the music producers. Michael Douglas portrays Liberace as a caricature of a mincing aging queen who is so light in the loafers that he likely needs weights in his shoes to avoid floating to the ceiling.

The personal crisis around which "Spector" revolves is aspiring actress Lana Clarkson, who apparently is no relation to Cowell discovery Kelly Clarkson, sustaining a fatal bullet to her skull while visiting Spector's home and in his presence. "Liberace" tells the tales of "Mr. Showmanship's" relationship with the decades-younger Scott Thorson near the end of the older man's life.

One difference is that "Spector" lacks any memorable lines. Most people who watch "Candelabra" will never forget Liberace saying that he does not want to be remembered as "an old queen" or a separate scene in which Thorson angrily states "so its only repugnant when I do it to you."

"Spector" opens in the war room of the team of attorneys who Spector hired to defend him in the upcoming murder trial regarding the death of Lana.

As an aside, it is nice to see Jeffrey Tambor in the role of lead attorney Bruce Cutler. Tambor deserves a role that provides some dignity after playing a long series of buffons ranging from Jeffrey Brookes in "The Ropers" in the late '70s to his current role as George Bluth, Sr. in "Arrested Development."

The attention in the war room quickly turns to newly arrived miracle worker attorney Linda Kenney Baden, played by the enormously talented Helen Mirren. This role helps validate the theory that Mirren can play anything.

Aside from the usual challenge of preventing the prosecution from proving that their criminal defendant did not commit the offense with which he was charged, Spector's team faces the double hurdles of being haunted (of course pun intended) by the  negative public opinion regarding the O.J. verdict in O.J.'s criminal trial and having a client whose intensely quirky behavior and equally odd appearance greatly hinder the competition for the hearts and minds of the jury. This is not to mention Spector's reputations for holding women against their wills and for being a gun nut.

Overcoming this challenge requires that Baden spend extended periods in Spector's house, which matches his personality very well. The tacky and macabre Victorian-style decor, complete with creepy portraits, is very reminiscent of the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disney World.

Mirren does an awesome job communicating Baden's frustration regarding struggling to get Spector to at least not act contrary to his own best interest if she cannot get him to actually improve his chances of a favorable outcome. Mirren does equally well conveying Baden's serious illness that blooms into pneumonia.

These scenes between Baden and Spector are only the side dish to the entree that is the real message of "Spector," which is that winning in court requires that attorneys make an adequately entertaining presentation out of the evidence that favors their clients.

In the Spector case, this showmanship necessitates simulating the details of the fatal shooting in a manner both that the jury can understand and that shows that there is no way that Spector pulled the trigger. Merely having a respected expert testify is not adequately flashy.

This message of the reality-show aspect of any high-level civil or criminal trial is an apt commentary on how our legal system currently operates. It seems that we are not far away from having Judge Judy preside over a real-life trial of someone whose best days are long ago and far away.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of Mamet's discussion of the making of "Spector" from a special feature in the film.

The final verdict regarding "Spector" is that its nicely paced and well-produced telling of a story that is a voyeur's dream make it a good DVD to add to your collection.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Spector" or "Candelabra" is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

'Everybody Sing:' The Girl From Oz Puts on a Day-Saving Show

Everybody Sing
The 1938 hybrid screwball comedy/lavish musical "Everybody Sings," which Warner Archive released on DVD in early September  2013, is a terrific example of both genres from this golden age of Hollywood. The more-than-twice told tale is that the character of child mega-star Judy Garland defies the odds to star in a musical revue that will save her family from financial ruin.

The plot that provides the setting for the Divine Miss G. to belt out numbers such as "Melody Farm" and perform a truly delightful Baby Snooks musical skit starts with her character Judy "The Fresh Princess" Bellaire getting chucked from her girls' boarding school for transforming a stuffy music class into a free-spirited upbeat expression of joy.

The expelled Judy arrives at her theatrical family's lavish home amidst the chaos that is typical for that clan. The current mayhem relates to this homecoming coinciding with the final days before the opening of the latest play that her father Hillary (not a debutante) Bellaire, played by Reginald Owen of just about every classic film that you can think of, has written.

Judy' mother Diana Bellaire, played by Garland's future "The Wizard of Oz" co-star Billie Burke, is rehearsing with the foppish cad who is playing her leading man. Burke's Diana is a great combination of Glinda the Good Witch of "Oz" and Faye Dunaway's portrayal of Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest."

Burke participates in one of the best segments in the film, which involves her stating that she is too young to play the mother of her other daughter's character in the upcoming play. The "but you are Blanche, you are" response of Hillary is that Diana is that daughter's mother.

A wonderful separate reference to a (non-flying) monkey in Hillary's further contributes to the "Oz" element of "Everybody."

An additional "Oz" parallel includes an amusing bit in which the authorities attempt to block the under-15 Judy Bellaire from appearing on stage. Garland was 16 when she filmed "Everybody" and a year older when she filmed "Oz."

The equally accomplished actress Fanny Brice as family maid Olga, who has as many opinions and is as free about sharing them as 1960s television maid Hazel Burke (no relation to Billie), adds to the zany atmosphere. Seeing Brice as Snooks more than 10 years before she plays that character on television is another element that makes "Everybody" more fun than a barrel of flying or earth-bound monkeys.

Real-life coal miner's son and former miner himself Allan Jones is family chef Ricky Saboni, who is the straight man of the group and true hero of "Everybody." He literally sings for the Bellaire family's supper and shows the family far more loyalty than anyone could expect.

Garland's scenes with Jones and Brice are just as special as those with her "Oz" co-stars who "eased on down" the Yellow Brick Road with her. One must believe that she missed Jones most of all.

The wacky goings-on in Chez Bellaire are occurring in the context of a financial crisis due to circumstances that readers must watch this "must-see" film to discover. In true Garland fashion, Judy dries her tears and strives to take center stage to remedy her family's reversal of fortune.

Many elements of this film evoke thoughts of the 1933 Marion Davies/Bing Crosby musical "Going Hollywood," which Unreal TV reviewed in a post subtitled "Video Lured the Radio Star" several weeks ago. Both Garland's and Davies' character begin their films in girls' boarding schools that provide highly repressed environments, soon break free from those ivy-covered prisons, seek musical stardom, and even disguise themselves in black face, which the general population did not consider offensive in those less-enlightened times.

The clip below, which seems to be the only one of "Everybody" on YouTube, depicts both Garland's blackface performance and her typical showpersonship and overall spunk. It also provides a sense of "Everybody's" (otherwise non-racist) humor.

It is not a spoiler to say that at least one show goes on, that the Bellaire family gets to continue enjoying the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed, and that the boy (who is not from Oz) gets the girl in the end despite a wacky misunderstanding that threatens their relationship.

The epilog to this tale almost as old as time is that it demonstrates why Jack Warner kept pushing Garland beyond her limits to makes films such as this; the toll on Garland was unfortunate, but the American public truly benefited from her managing to meet the heavy demands on her.

Anyone with questions regarding "Everybody" is welcome to email me. You can also contact me via Twitter through @tvdvdguy.

Friday, September 20, 2013

'Treasure Guards:' Guards Will Not Let You Down

The wonderfully entertaining above-average 2011 made-for-TV British film "Treasure Guards," which is being released on DVD on October 1, 2013, provides "Pushing Daisies" star Anna Friel a chance to say that she had a part in a B movie and played a [wo]man from history. (Additionally, this reference provides the first chance in weeks to state "Google it millenials" in this site.)

Although "Guards" is a B movie that aired on the U.K. SyFy channel, it is heads and shoulders above the recently reviewed summer mega-hit "Sharknado"and similar fare that is typical of SyFy and other basic cable channels. In fact, it is much better than anything that appeared on the big screen this summer.

Friel plays an archaeologist who seems to be named Victoria Carter in homage to rel-life Tut tomb discoverer Howard Carter. Rather than searching for the resting place of an Egyptian monarch who was born in Babylonia and moved to Arizona (millenials know what to do), Carter's quest is for the seal of Solomon of biblical lore. The legend is that the seal provides the means for locating Solomon's diamond mine.

Carter's efforts catch the attention of the Vatican, which wants the seal for its value as the only sacred relic that has been touched by God that is missing from the Vatican's collection of those truly priceless items. This interest results in Victoria teaming up with the Vatican's newly minted Treasure Guard Angelo, whose duties include protecting the acquired relics and completing the collection of those artifacts.

The need for a goofy sidekick is filled by having Angelo's charming ne'er do well brother Luca join the pair in their hunt for the clues that will lead them to the ring with the seal.

Of course, a film of this nature would be incomplete without a surprising betrayal, an equally unexpected alliance, and competition from more ruthless rival treasure hunters.

The elements that set "Guards" apart from other modern action-adventure films is that it relies on decent acting, an actual story that contains elements of reality, and good production values rather than actors with better name recognition but less talent, any plot being highly improbable, and 90 minutes that primarily consists of cheesy CGI effects and big explosions.

The absence of any especially good scenes or particularly strong chemistry between the leads truly is not a problem; holding the audience's attention throughout the film, evoking a few smiles, and creating some interest in seeing a sequel is more than enough.

Anyone with questions regarding "Guards" is welcome to email me. You can also dig me up via Twitter through @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

'Gallant Sons:' Saved By The Bell The Pre-War Years

Gallant Sons
The 1940 film "Gallant Sons,"  which Warner Archive released on DVD earlier this month, deserves the same cult status as its quasi-counterpart the '90s uber-guilty pleasure NBC Saturday morning kidcom "Saved By The Bell." "Sons" has the additional appeal of being a homoplatonic "Romeo and Juliet."

"Sons" revolved around clean-cut high school kids who covered just about every teen stereotype. They almost certainly would have formed a rock band named "By Invitation" if rock-and-roll had existed when the movie was filmed.

Group leader Byron "By" Newbold is a BMOC jock/actor/writer/honor student; his BFF/sometimes rival Johnny Davis is an all-American kid who is also a hustler-in-the-making; Kate Pendleton is an upper-middle-class all-American girl who is one of the boys, and 'Beefy' Monrose is the geeky and creepy brown-nose (a scat reference is mandatory) sycophant who follows By around more closely than a lab assistant trails a mad scientist.

A bimbo-like showgirl and a clean-cut dim-witted tough guy who is as threatening as a puppy on doggie downers fills out the group.

Thanks to the studio system, Warner got its brat pack of the era to play the roles the kids from America. Jackie Cooper, who had a handful of television series and appeared in many classic films, played By. Gene Reynolds, who also had a long acting career but held critical behind-the-scene roles with "M*A*S*H" and Lou Grant, played Johnny. Bonita Granville, who played Kate, also appeared in many films and television series and was the associate producer of the long-lasting "Lassie" television series.

Equally notably, Leo Gorcey of the Dead End Kids and the Bowery Boys played tough-guy malapropism spouting Doc Reardon.

The opening scenes of "Sons" established that Johnny had a boy-crush on the appropriately named By largely based on that stud including Johnny in his inner circle. This bromance was surviving the tension created by By's father, who was a crusading newspaper editor, striving to bring down Johnny's very charming father, who operated an illegal casino. Both the younger and older generations supported the teens' friendship despite the animosity between their parents.

A great aspect of the rabbit-and-hunter relationship between "Natural" Davis, played by Ian Hunter, and Barton Newbold, played by Minor Watson, is the enjoyment that Davis derived from playing Bugs Bunny to Newbold's Elmer Fudd. A scene in which Newbold helps lead a raid on the casino is especially awesome; Davis does just about everything but kiss Newbold on the nose and then rabbit (pun intended.)

The conflict between the elder and younger Newbolds and Davises heats up early in the film when Barton following Natural leads to discovering him over a newly deceased woman. This rapidly leads to Barton's newspaper advocating convicting Natural, who ultimately is found guilty, of the crime.

The scene below, courtesy of YouTube, depicts both the kids' aforementioned personalities and the aftermath of the conviction.

The caper aspect of "Sons" then commences with the gang first taking on the investigation of the murder in an attempt to restore By's and Johnny's bromance. Finding a suspect leads to a plan to obtain a confession from said suspect by staging a high school play that depicts the kids' theory regarding the crime.

Terrific aspects of the play include the talented actors who play the kids doing a great job being terrible actors in the school production and hecklers adding to the entertainment value of that D-level presentation. Johnny's costume alone makes sitting through this hilariously horrible stage show worthwhile.

This is another case (no pun intended) in which providing more specifics about the plot would ruin the fun of discovering the twists. Suffice it to say that the gang's investigation leads to a major discovery regarding Johnny's life and that the kids' pursuit of the bad guys is hilarious. A scene in which Johnny, ala Tom Cruise on "South Park," is hiding in a closet is decades before its time.

The final verdict regarding "Sons" is that it joins the long line of "lost classics" that Archive allows modern audiences to enjoy. The kids are more than alright and do get there on time.

Anyone with questions regarding "Sons" or "Bell" is welcome to email me. You can also track me down via Twitter through @tvdvdguy.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

'Let's Scare Jessica to Death:' That '70s American Horror Show

Let's Scare Jessica to Death (PMT)
The 1971 cult classic horror film, which Warner Archive released on DVD two weeks ago, "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" is a good example of the understated suspense films of that genre. Some of the more extreme examples of the film's leisurely pace will evoke thoughts that the film should be titled "Let's Bore Jessica to Death."

Rather than the generally not-so-scary events, the uncertainty regarding the extent to which the horrific occurrences are all in the mind of the titular character creates the suspense.

The film opens with Jessica, her husband Duncan, and their friend Woody driving their hearse to the isolated New England town. The move relates to Duncan, ala a mix of Oliver Wendell Douglas of "Green Acres" and Utopian-minded hippies of the era, buying a farm to establish an orchard. Unfortunately, the film does not provide any opportunities to exclaim "how about them apples."

In addition to wanting to return to the earth and farm with Woody (no pun intended), Duncan is motivated by Jessica recently being released from a psychiatric hospital after a nervous breakdown. Duncan feels that a quiet and isolated life will be therapeutic.

The following video clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Jessica's" trailer provides an excellent sense of the film's creepy nature and awesomely retro early '70s style.

The predictable cool reception that the local small-town folks provide the newcomers is the first obstacle to the desired ideal life. New Englanders tend to not be very welcoming to outsiders anyway and flaunting a choice to ride around in a hearse does not help matters.

The real creepiness begins on the not-so-ghostly trio arriving at their new home and Jessica being unsure if she imagines seeing someone first on the porch and then in the house. M. Night Shyamalan very effectively uses this technique in "The Sixth Sense," and Jessica is very anxious regarding whether she can see dead people.

The intruder turns out to be a drifter named Emily who has been squatting in the empty house; Emily's quirky nature and her close resemblance to the house's lady in the lake drive most of the suspense regarding how much Jessica is imagining, how much is due to Emily having fun, and whether Emily truly is a spirited individual.

The coolness of the locals also feeds Jessica's paranoia by fueling thoughts that an evil entity possesses these northeast Sam Druckers and Fred Ziffels. Considering the combination of her open nature and psychiatric history, it is not surprising that Jessica looks to the occult for an explanation of why every figurative door that she knocks on is slammed in her face.

The climax comes when Jessica rabbits (this had to be worked in somewhere) at the end of the film; divulging whether Emily is merely taking things too far and if the locals are there out of concern or a desire to zombify Jessica would ruin the fun of watching the film.

The main things for fans of today's faster-paced and gory slasher flicks is that "Jessica" is your father's horror movie. It relies more on the unseen and possibly imagined than frantic chases followed by slicing and dicing to set the mood. Its effectiveness in doing so is why it has name recognition more than 40 years after its release.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding"Jessica" is welcome to email me.  (I'm coming Mother, and she is not a whore.) You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

'David Copperfield:' A Little Dickens of a Boy Meet Victorian World

David Copperfield
The 1935 film version, which Warner Archives has released on DVD, of the Charles Dickens' novel "David Copperfield" meets the same great expectations as the 1946 film version of Dickens' novel "Great Expectations."

Before discussing what makes "Copperfield" so special, it is worth noting that not having read that novel prevents advising whether slackers can get away with watching this film rather than completing a school assignment to read the book.

Both "Copperfield" the book and the film open with one of Dickens' typically classic introductory sentences. In this case it is "whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show." Discovering this is an exceptionally moving and entertaining experience that writing too much about the plot would ruin.

"Copperfield's" legendary producer David O. Selznick ensures its incredible quality by assembling a dream team. He has George Cukor, whose numerous credits include several classics that include "Gaslight" and "The Philadelphia Story," direct. 

The all-star cast of almost thousands includes Freddie Bartholomew in his Hollywood film debut as the titular character, Edna May Oliver, who Archive and Unreal TV fans know from "The Hildegarde Withers Mysteries Movie Collection," as David's wonderfully crusty Aunt Betsey, and Lionel Barrymore as the brother of David's beloved caregiver Peggotty. 

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, provides a good sense both of (please sir, may I have some more) Oliver's awesome performance and the live-action theater feel of "Copperfield."
Basil Rathbone also has a starring role, but comedy legend W.C. Fields steals the show as the surprisingly child-friendly Mr. Micawber. One has a strong sense that he and Bartholomew delight the other.

"Copperfield" begins on the day of David's birth and goes on to show his happy early years with his widowed mother and much-adored Peggotty. Mrs. Copperfield's decision to remarry disrupts their lives and sets the stage for Dickens' typical (and entirely justified) social commentary regarding the hardships of Victorian life.

These scenes, and the rest of "Copperfield" and Dickens' other writings, also depict Dickens' exemplary fairness in that he shows that one's social status does not necessarily coincide with his or her value as a human.

David soon finds himself joining London's child labor workforce and trading in his comfortable country home for lodging in an overcrowded London flat. A disruption regarding those circumstances and an especially heinous act prompt a truly heart-breaking journey.

The entire first-half of the film evokes thoughts of the Angela Lansbury mystery series "Murder, She Wrote" in that it seems that a death always coincides with a visit from David. (No plagiarism Slackers!)

"Copperfield" then soon jumps forward roughly 15 years in our hero's life and depicts him as a young man back in London. This era is marked with the highs and lows that we all begin experiencing on entering the real world. It also shows both that someone who seems to be a soul mate does not necessarily make an ideal spouse but that a good reason may exist for falling short on the domestic front.

Anyone with questions or comments about "Copperfield" the film is welcome to email me. Anyone with questions about "Copperfield" the novel is better off asking Siri. Everyone is welcome to follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, September 13, 2013

'Dad's Army:' Home Guard Hilarity

Dad’s Army DVD
The 1968- 1977 nine series (my people call them seasons) classic Britcom "Dad's Army" is another example of our Anglo-Saxon friends mining terrific humor from the hardships that they sustained during WWII. A great three-disc eighteen-episode DVD release provides a good sense of this exceptional program.

Other must-see titles from the genre of British wartime humor include "'Allo 'Allo" from "Army" scribe David Croft, "Goodnight Sweetheart," and the beyond awesome recently reviewed release of "Stalag Luft."

Arthur Lowe stars in "Army" as bank executive by day and commanding officer by night George Mainwaring; Lowe is best known for starring in the Britcom "Bless Me Father."

"Army" tells the tales of the (mostly elderly) members of a local unit of the WWII Home Guard in England. The actual Home Guard consisted of volunteers who were either too old or otherwise not physically fit to join the regular army. The Guard served the dual purposes of allowing these volunteers to feel that they contributed to the war effort and providing the regular army limited support in keeping the homeland safe.

Much of the humor in the six "Army" episodes on which this review is based relate to the haphazard training that is characteristic of the actual Guard; the unexpected flood of volunteers is a primary factor regarding that lack of preparedness.

The less than military bearing of the well-intentioned but not so bright or rugged Guard members results in great slapstick humor, rambling WWI memories by one particularly senior member, and generally hilarious chaos. The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, illustrates these elements well.

Other bits of era-appropriate humor relates to rationing and extra-legal activity that circumvent those restrictions, sleeping in air-raid shelters, and arguably excessive displays of national pride.

One of the funniest episodes of the first six in the DVD set is titled "Don't Forget the Diver" and involves a war games exercise with a rival Home Guard unit. Great moments include one scene at the local pub and another in which a home team member literally finds himself up the creek without a paddle.

"Sons of the Sea" is another standout episode; this one has an effort to patrol the local river in a newly acquired boat getting our heroes stranded at sea; their confusion is reminiscent of a great scene in the recently reviewed DVD complete series set of the Britcom  "Kingdom" in which a SCUBA diver who is caught in a current believes that he ends up far from home.

The final conclusion regarding this debriefing is that "Army" offers a wonderfully humorous look at an aspect of British culture with which many of us on this side of the pond have little or no knowledge.

Anyone interested in unclassified information on "Army"is welcome to send an unsecured email; you can also communicate on Twitter's open line by using the code @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

'Lady in a Cage:' Awesome Daytime Noir

Lady in a Cage (PMT)
The 1964 "Lady in A Cage," which Warner Archive recently released on DVD, should be mandatory viewing for any college course on the history of film noir.

Like films that include fellow 1964 release "Kitten With  A Whip," "Cage" is a stylish black-and-white drama with a social message in which a culture clash becomes a terrifying experience for characters who believed that their wealth insulated them from the terrifying trauma that this genre depicts.

"Cage" opens with the widowed Mrs. Hilyard, played by classic actress Olivia de Havilland,  seeing her unmarried adult son who lives with her off for a trip over a very warm Fourth of July weekend. Soon after the son leaves, a power outage leaves Hilyard trapped in  the birdcage-like elevator in her home halfway between the first and second floors.

Hilyard's plight prompts her to push the emergency alarm button in the elevator; this attracts a deranged homeless man, played by highly prolific character actor Jeff Corey, known as Repent for his habit of continually repeating that phrase.

Rather than help Hilyard, Repent torments her and steals some household items after raiding the house's liquor supply. The fact that a toaster is a four-slicer may explain why Repent includes it in his haul.

Repent's travels following that initial raid result in his returning with a companion named Sade, played by (no introduction needed) Ann Sothern, who is a prostitute. A trio of 20-something counter-culture type violent delinquents led by Randall Simpson O'Connell, played by James Caan, soon join the party.

The interaction between Caan's rebel without any cause whatsoever and his Sal Mineo-like sidekick alone make this film worth owning. A scene between these characters in the house's bathroom is a true classic.

The roller-coaster ride kicks into turbo mode as the two groups of malfeasors compete with and among themselves while subjecting Hilyard to realistic psychological torture and threats of physical harm. The distressing experience is like the anxiety of watching video of burglars running wild in your home magnified by 1,000 percent.

O'Connell is particularly cruel in that respect and revels in becoming more animalistic as the chaos escalates. The symbolism regarding his character would easily provide enough material for a thesis.

Asserting that films such as "Cage" tell it like it really is is a stretch, but it does an excellent job depicting topics that modern movies and television series avoid; one such theme is that not all aggressive acts against folks who approach (but fall short of) the one percent are justified. Hilyard is a very proper lady and has her flaws, but there is no indication that she obtained her money through unsavory means or that she is at all elitist.

The factors that contribute to the hostility and need to act against "the haves" are very understandable; struggling to get by while others seem to have more comfortable lives handed to them is rough. However, Repent and his band of not-so-merry men and women have little in common with Robin Hood.

Another creepier theme is the inappropriately close (but not at all sexual) relationship between Hilyard and her son. She simply still sees him as her little boy while relying on him to be the man of the house.

The final analysis regarding this exceptional film is that it is well produced and acted and keeps you glued to your seat while giving you many things to think about.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Cage" is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, September 9, 2013

'Dante's Cove' CS: More Than Nine Circles of Hell (or One Snap Down, Hated It!)

An initial thought when focusing on this review of the DVD releases of the three-season gay-centric supernatural soap "Dante's Cove" is that both the subject matter and the complete detestability of this series requires what is being labelled disclaimerpalooza.

First, Unreal TV usually happily focuses on more mainstream U.S. and U.K. fare. These "common experience" productions take the edge off the challenges of postmodern life.

The tone and "mature" nature of this review are unapologetic departures from those usual posts. "Dante's Cove" simply begs too hard to ignore the temptation to take a walk on the wild side. We will return to "our regularly scheduled programming" following this brief detour. A related spoiler alert is that this review contains many more PG-13 penis-oriented jokes than any post has or that any future post will.

Second, most reviews are either raves or are neutral. There is no need to be harsh regarding most productions. "Dante's Cove" is an exception along the lines of (not-so) "Magic Mike," which Unreal TV justifiably raked over the coals last summer. A spoiler alert is that this current review makes that one seem like a tribute to Channing Tatum.

Third, I am roughly a seven on the Aaron Spelling Classic Primetime Soapuality Scale. "Dallas: O.S.," "Falcon Crest," and "Dynasty" remain personal faves. More to the point, I happily own the complete DVD series of the gay-centric serial dramas "Oz" and the U.S. and U.K. versions of "Queer as Folk."

Incidentally, the U.S. version of "Queer as Folk" is a much better choice than "Dante's Cove" if campy gay fun and a regular parade of fully and partially naked men are your thing.

Virtually every supporting and guest actor on "Dante's Cove" goes the full Congressman, and even the men who do not seem to be "10s" have more substantial "war chests" than a certain candidate for mayor of New York City. However, these scenes still come up short (pun intended) regarding any decent narrative.

On a related note, the poorly simulated scenes involving anal intercourse makes "He's Just Not That Into You" a more apt title than "Dante's Cove."

The fourth and final disclaimer is that I have absolutely no problem with seeing full-frontal fellas on the big or little screen be they fully flaccid, fully fortified, or fall in between.

The final word before going thermonuclear on "Dante's Cove" is that one of its most annoying aspects is that it panders to the large segment of the gay viewing audience that in equal parts will embrace any gay-oriented videotaped vomit and any production that features any degree of homoerotic content.

Perhaps that the best unintentional humor associated with "Dante's Cove" is that it aired on the Here TV network, which was part of the Cox cable system.
The exploited tendency described above evokes thoughts of one of the first episodes of Ellen DeGeneres' '90s sitcom after her character came out. That Ellen needed a plumber and chose one solely because he was gay. He turned out to be thoroughly incompetent, and the resolution to the "sit" was both amusing and overall nice.

All networks and studios are asked to please offer shows and movies that are more like the truly charming and funny film "I Think I Do" and weekly series that are more like the admittedly flawed "New Normal" and "Modern Family" than "Dante's Cove" and its presumably even more unwatchable sequel "The Lair."

My personal descent into the hell known as "Dante's Cove" began several weeks ago. A search for an inexpensive TV on DVD set to reach the $25 free shipping threshold of a large online retailer that shall remain shameless led to finding the second-season set of "Dante's Cove" for $3.60. That "buy curious" experience lead to finding bargains on the first and third season sets.

Tracy Scoggins of "Dynasty" and its own spinoff "The Colbys" played bad witch Grace on "Dante's Cove" and was the only really recognizable name when it aired.

Current CW action star Stephen Amell had a supporting role as not-so-straight arrow Adam in "Dante's Cove's" first season; although he was constantly shirtless, no scenes allowed determining if the nickname "The Hood" would apply to today's Oliver Queen (that is his name) in "Cove."

"Big Brother's" surfer dude Braden Bacha made a guest appearance in a "very special" second-season episode. That role largely consisted of delivering his lines in a monotone fashion and then simply disappearing seconds after dropping trou. To his credit, it seems possible that he can hang 10.

The scene that sets the action in "Dante's Cove" in motion occurs early in the pilot in which 19th century lady Grace finds 19th century fiance and closet case Ambrosius, whose name truly should be Atrocious, Vallin on the receiving end of anal intercourse. The audience learns early on that the butler did it. This scene reveals as well that the butler is well equipped for his job.

Grace quickly proves the truth of the adage that Hell has no fury like a woman scorned; the punishment of this Endora on 'roids includes chaining "Bro" in the basement of his home and making him look at least 50 years older than his actual age.

Grace's power, which increases over time, comes from the form of magic known as Tresum. The name is coincidentally amusing regarding the cast's wooden acting.

We then fast-forward more than 150 years. Chez Vallin is now Hotel Dante, a residential hotel for a small group of 20-something gay and straight men and lesbians. The fact that this group lives together in almost perfect harmony is perhaps the most unbelievable aspect of this outrageously far-fetched series.

A third-season twist has the gang moving in with Grace. This is reminiscent of the show within a show in Lisa Kudrow's short-lived HBO sitcom "The Comeback" in which she plays an actress playing a Mrs. Roper type character who temporarily lives with the hot sexy 20-somethings in the series' inset show.

Quasi-closet case (and doe-eyed twink) Kevin has just moved in with Hotel Dante resident Toby after making up following a fight that includes jealousy regarding a pizza boy who apparently delivers. A series of events leads to Kevin breaking the spell that is keeping "Bro" confined and looking old.

The resulting battles between Toby and "Bro" for the heart and another organ of Kevin is a painfully ongoing theme for all three seasons. The good news is that it provides many opportunities to shout "we need to talk about Kevin" while choking down episodes.

This "Mystery Science Theater 3000" technique of riffing on bad shows and movies is as necessary for surviving "Dante's Cove" as it for the MST 3K gang to make it through the horrible fare that they are forced to endure. My highly significant other must bribe me with "Green Acres" reruns and current "Futurama" episodes to keep me watching "Dante's Cove."

Another ongoing theme is a literal power struggle between Grace, "Bro," and Grace's sister Diana. Much of this relates to very specific rituals that must be conducted during separate solstices that are very significant regarding obtaining Tresum-based powers and getting the audience to endure the second and third seasons.

Complete and partial magical power failures during the series evoke thoughts of bad versions of "Bewitched" episodes and prompt shouts of "Dr. Bombay come right away." Similarly, a fight between two lesbians and a resulting botched amnesia spell is straight out of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" handbook.

Further, ghostly siblings who pop up throughout the second season are reminiscent of "The Shining" and additionally prompt thoughts of the hilarious brainwashing mantra "I can hope; and I can dream; and I am full of ... full of ..." from the early Mike Judge MTV animated series "Daria."

The more than gratuitous nudity, horrible writing, and elementary school level acting related to the events discussed above are only part of what makes "Dante's Cove" so detestable.

Having the characters lead outrageously hedonistic lives, which include frequent full-court sex in the Hotel Dante kitchen and other public areas, is either the nightmare or fantasy of disgraced anti-gay evangelist Ted Haggard. On a less amusing note, it simply presents a devastatingly unrealistic and toxic negative image of gay and lesbian life that contributes to harmful and unwarranted prejudice.

The fact that the underlying storyline has "innocent" Kevin get caught up in an apparently never-ending orgy and activity that borders on Satanism almost immediately on deciding to be himself and build a life with the man who he loves only makes things worse.

All of this separates "Dante's Cove" from the escapist fun of other straight and gay-oriented soaps. The other ones at least make some effort with the acting and writing and do not rely nearly as heavily on even flashes of their casts' naughty bits.

Anyone with questions or CONSTRUCTIVE comments regarding "Dante's Cove" is welcome to email me but also to please remember the "rubber and glue" rule regarding unwarranted nasty remarks.

I encourage any male cast member of "Dante's Cove" who either manages to read this post himself or has someone read it to him ask for any needed help composing a message. They and anyone else is also welcome to follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

'Three Worlds:' Its A Different World From Where You Come From

The English-subtitled French film "Three Worlds," which Film Movement releases on DVD on September 10, 2013, is like many European productions in that it does a very good job telling a story that is very familiar to Americans.

Before discussing "Worlds" itself, it is worth mentioning that Film Movement is releasing it as part of its awesome independent or foreign film of the month club. Unlike the great distress of Marie Barone of the classic sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" regarding the endless deliveries of fruit to her home, these DVDs are a real treat. I already look forward to receiving "Aliyah" in the next few weeks.

"Worlds" begins on the evening of the events that cause the three lives to which the title refers to collide. Middle-class Al is less than two weeks away from marrying his wealthy boss' daughter. Student Juliette is fighting with her boyfriend/baby daddy about ejecting her rooommate so said significant other can move in, and working-class illegal Moldavian immigrants Vera and Adrian are entertaining Adrian's buddies.

The figurative collisions commence with an actual one between Adrian and the car that a  drunken Al is driving. Juliette witnesses this hit but cannot see the car or Al well enough to identify him and his drunken work buddies before Al runs.

American audiences have seen this story many times from "The Bonfire of the Vanities" to "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and the many TV and movie productions along the scale between these films. "Worlds" stands out regarding both the high quality of the story itself and how the director and cast present it.

Juliette meets Vera while visiting a badly injured Adrian in the hospital; this leads to Juliette offering Vera emotional support and help dealing with the hospital's bureaucracy.

Juliette also soon discovers Al's identity and confronts him at the high-end car dealership where his boss/future father-in-law recently made him manager and awarded him 25 percent of the business.

The second act of "Worlds" revolves around Juliette acting as a (not-so dangerous) liasion between Al and Vera, Al struggling to secretly raise money to compensate Vera under the table, and Vera striving to get Adrian necessary medical care in a country in which they are not legal residents.

Whether the outcomes in the third act result in justice for every character provides a great subject for a discussion over brie and Chardonnay.

Like all good art films, "Worlds" is not sensationalistic and moves at a leisurely pace. Most of the drama is understated, and the characters largely react to their circumstances as expected. However, one would expect that Al would have displayed a bit more anxiety and that Vera would have been more distraught.

As good as "Worlds" is, the bonus short that comes with it (and every film of the month) steals the show. "The Piano Tuner" is also in French and is more clever.

The titular character is a former concert pianist who turns to tuning other people's instruments after experiencing a breakdown. He successfully enhances the demand for his service by feigning blindness out of a validated belief that his clients will conclude that the loss of his sight improves his sense of hearing.

This subterfuge initially allows the tuner to observe how other people act when they do not think that anyone else is watching. Things take a darker (no pun intended) turn when he stumbles (pun intended this time) onto a recent misdeed that a client committed. Saying more would ruin the experience of watching this well-made short subject.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Three Worlds" or "The Piano Tuner" is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

'The Legend of Smurfy Hollow:' Smurftastric Blue Man Family Entertainment

The direct-to-DVD mini-movie "The Legend of Smurfy Hollow," which is being released on September 10, 2013, truly is a treat for kids of all ages. It is nostalgic fun for folks who watched the smurfs' cartoon series in the '80s and a great bonus for their kids who became "blue man" fans through the recent feature films.

This production should not be confused with the upcoming Fox supernatural drama "Sleepy Hollow," which fanboys all over the world are hoping is more like the unfairly maligned "New Amsterdam" than last year's flop "Alcatraz."

Younger fans will be especially excited that many actors who provided the voices for this summer's big-screen film "The Smurfs 2" reprise their roles in "Smurfy Hollow."

For the benefit of the rest of you, the smurfs are a village of tiny blue creatures who live in a forest; the conflicts typically come in the form of either a threat from evil wizard Gargamel or through a crisis that relates to a smurf acting in accordance with his name. (Only one girl lives in this male-dominated society.) An adult-oriented example would be OCD Smurf constantly washing his hands depleting the community's water supply.

A charming-in-limited-amounts gimmick of "The Smurfs" is liberally using the word "smurf" as a substitute for other nouns and adjectives. For example, community leader Papa Smurf may direct Brainy Smurf to solve the hypothetical water problem described above by telling him to "smurf a solution before the whole village smurfs like a water buffalo."

"The Simpsons''" Hank Azaria is perhaps the best-known vocie actor in "Smurfy Hollow;"  he plays Gargamel, whose purpose largely consists of continuing his never-ending quest to hunt down his own personal blue minnows.

Azaria does a great job playing the deranged villain; his evilly exclaiming "excellent" at one point is a nice homage to "The Simpsons'" Montgomery Burns.

"SNL's" and "Portlandia's" Fred Armisen plays classic smurf Brainy Smurfy; his know-it-all lines and superior tone capture the character very well.

The wonderfully bizarre Alan Cumming fully embraces his role of Gutsy Smurf, who Cumming endows with a wonderful Scottish accent. Gutsy gets the best laughs in the production and shows that Cumming should have been cast as Scotty in a "Star Trek" incarnation.

"Star Trek's" current Chekov Anton Yelchin rounds out the the billed cast as Clumsy Smurf. Like his castmates, Yelchin does a good job with his role.

"Smurfy Hollow" begins with a CGI-animated segment in which Panicky Smurf, voiced by former "Picket Fences" moppet Adam Wylie, and the "Jersey Shore" inspired Hefty Smurf get stranded in the woods at night. Narrator Smurf shows up to entertain them with the tale of "The Legend of Smurfy Hollow."

The format then changes to the drawn form of animation ala the cartoon series. The action starts with the commencement of the annual smurfberry contest in which the smurfs vie to collect the largest quantity of those treats. One can only hope that those berrries taste as awesome as the ones in Smurfberry Crunch cereal.

Gutsy trailing nine-time champion Brainy to learn the secret of his success sets the story in motion; perils include real and imagined predators and Gargamel's pursuit. The following clip. courtesy of YouTube, does a nice job providing a sense of the film.

The moral of this review is that "Smurfy Hollow" is an entirely child-friendly take on a classic tale that almost certainly will prompt most younger viewers to read the Washington Irving story.

Anyone who wants to smurf Reviewer Smurf a smurf regarding "Smurfy Hollow" can smurf him; you can also smurf him via Twitter by smurfing @tvdvdguy.