Sunday, November 10, 2013

Uncle Buck

Original Movie Poster

Well here we are again with yet another look back at films from my childhood and of course we are right in the middle of looking at the films that were a little above the normal Disney animated canon and franchise based kid films that other kids my age were watching. I think because my parents had no restrictions or reservations when it came to movies as long as an adult was with me (mostly my dad or both parents) I could watch any movie they did (unless of course they just wanted to go out and see a movie together which I remember they did quite a couple of times). I don't really remember when I first saw Uncle Buck but I do believe that it was probably with my dad mostly because I believe this movie was more in his taste than my mother's because my father was a very funny man not unlike the late John Candy except my father looked more like Tom Selleck (but more on that some other time...)

Imagine Tom Selleck + this suit and face = my late father!

So...What's The Plot?
The Russell Family seem like average suburbanites moved from Indianapolis to Chicago, just one average neighborhood to another with two little kids, son Miles and daughter Maizy, and of course one sullen teenage daughter Tia. Moved away from her friends, Tia takes a lot of teenage angst out on her mother Cindy and it comes to a head when Cindy's father has a heart attack. With no one to look after the kids, Father Bob suggests that perhaps his brother Buck could help out during this time of family emergency but Cindy is none to thrilled with the idea. Buck is an unemployed gambler but he is a fun-loving goof who only seems to really suffer one flaw in having commitment issues with his girlfriend Chanice.

Buck arrives and of course hits it off with the younger children but now he gets to suffer the brunt of Tia's teenaged animosity. Unlike her mother, Buck dishes out just as much sarcasm and snark that leaves Tia to continually push his buttons in a battle of wills. Buck only seems to face one real problem with Tia: trying to keep her away from her punk boyfriend Bug who only wants to use her for sex. All hilarity comes to a stop when Tia leaves for a party and her Uncle Buck must finally face real responsibility for the first time to make sure she doesn't get hurt and her heartbroken. Will this be the thing to finally make Uncle Buck grow up and change all his ways?

Let's hope Buck keeps up the's fun!

I know it doesn't seem like much and even what I described of the plot doesn't sound much like a comedy but if you have never seen Uncle tell you anymore would surely spoil it for you. For those who have had the privilege to view this movie, you know just how hilarious Uncle Buck can get and what a great film this truly is. Now I don't really think there is an official soundtrack for Uncle Buck but the predominant amount of music that you here in the film is by that great nostalgic artist of the late 80s-early 90s Young MC who's biggest hit ever is "Bust A Move" which so dates how 80s this film is. Another musical tidbit that pops up a few times is Tone Loc's version of "Wild Thing" or more correctly an instrumental version that kind of serves as Uncle Buck's own personal theme which must be seen or heard to believe. A couple of other musical selections are some Perry Como in a bowling alley scene, the song "Laugh, Laugh" by The Beau Brummels which is one of my favorite little oldies that my mom would listen to on the radio in the car and a very cute scene which uses The Chordettes classic "Mr. Sandman" which today would probably creep kids out seeing as it's mostly used in horror films (for some reason I know not why...)

Coming to the acting portion we'll start with one big name and then end with another as we discuss what I think of the cast. First, Macaulay Culkin as Miles is just a big bag of hilarious cuteness! Watching this film which was his first major movie role at age nine, you could tell Macaulay was going to be star because not only was he cute and funny but he didn't really have to act like a kid considering he was a real child. The things I noticed with child actors is that they really either act too grown up or they seem really wooden in their delivery and Macaulay Culkin never seemed to do that. Since I was six when Uncle Buck came out, I must admit that I was kind of crushing on Macaulay Culkin which for me it is very rare since given my history I usually go for the older, foreign-accented type but he was adorable. I think the crush waned after I saw The Good Son and slightly returned when Richie Rich came out and has now all but vanished but my admiration of Macaulay Culkin's acting is still intact (ah the day I talk about the movie I truly love him in seems so far away...)

My next favorite character in the film is Tia so let's talk about her and the actress that plays her Jean Louisa Kelly. I think I love Tia because of course she gets as much focus as Uncle Buck and like the character of Miles ends up stealing a bit of the movie's focus because since Kelly was seventeen when the movie was made she can actually relate to being a teenager which doesn't make the acting a stretch. Today most people know Jean as Kim from the show Yes, Dear but did you know that she got her start as a theater actress and even starred on Broadway in a production of Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods? Jean Louisa Kelly has a beautiful singing voice and there is evidence of that if you ever get to see Mr. Holland's Opus on TV sometime which caused me to do a double take because I mostly remembered her from Uncle Buck!

Jay Underwood as Bug with Jean Louisa Kelly as Tia

 I thought I would talk about Maizy and Chanice next because the actors who played them in Uncle Buck, Gaby Hoffmann and Amy Madigan respectively, both starred in the film Field Of Dreams a few months before this film was made. In that movie they were daughter and mother but here they get very little screen time together (spoiler) and the characters aren't related but they are both my next favorite characters in the film. Gaby was seven when she starred in this movie so like Macaulay as Miles she had a cute factor and six year old me thought we could be best friends so as she grew up into more mature roles being the same age as me I begin to appreciate her acting. I absolutely love Amy Madigan as Chanice because she can stand up to Buck for all the bull and bunk he gives her but even Chanice can fall to Buck's fun and witty charm and of course Madigan herself is a great actress who can do drama and comedy on an even playing field.

Amy Madigan as Chanice with young Macaulay and Gaby

The actors who play the Russell parents, Bob and Cindy, don't really get a lot of screen time so I don't really think they are important enough to talk about so the only other actors in the film to discuss are two semi-important characters. There of course is Tia's boyfriend Bug played by Jay Underwood who was memorable in the 80s in films such as Not Quite Human and the nostalgic classic The Boy Who Could Fly. He's an okay actor and quite cute in that jerk kind of way and he's probably as close to an antagonist character as we get. Another notable actor playing a kind of important character is Laurie Metcalf who almost everyone knows as Aunt Jackie from Roseanne. In Uncle Buck she plays a neighbor of the Russell family named Marcy Dahlgren-Frost who kind of develops a crush on Buck and since she is a divorced, upper class housewife she's more into country clubs than bake sales. Metcalf has been nominated for Tony Awards and has won three Emmys for her work on Roseanne so its clear she is a good actress and I have to admit I wish she had more scenes because when she plays off John Candy's Uncle Buck it's hilarious!

To make up for not enough video spoilers here's John Candy harassing a clown...

So of course we leave the best and biggest role for last as we talk about John Candy as Uncle Buck. I just love Uncle Buck and thought it was one of the late Mr. Candy's greatest comedic roles if not the greatest but there are so many films he is in that I love we could be here all day talking about him. Speaking of Candy himself as an actor he was one of the greatest that had to be taken too soon even though its been noted that obesity plagued him most of his life and might have been one of the reasons for his heart attack that claimed his life. Besides his movie roles John Candy was apart of my childhood thanks in part to his animated series Camp Candy which I use to watch a lot as a child that in part made me appreciate his film acting and opened my world to this talented and funny man. We really miss you, John Candy, and all the laughter you brought to us and I think most of us would have been honored to have a father or an uncle like you or Uncle Buck in our lives.

John Candy... Rest In Peace, Sir

I hope I didn't get too sentimental on you and I don't want to leave this post on such a somber note when the movie is anything but. There is drama but ultimately Uncle Buck is a comedy classic of the 1980s and if you have yet to view this wonderful John Hughes directed film that is not a teen flick then I recommend it for your next Family Fun Night. For those of you who have seen Uncle Buck but have not watched it in a while... what are you waiting for? Go get your DVD or old VHS copy and prepare to relive the side-splitting laughs again and again!

NEXT TIME: You know how I was talking about horror movie sequels before? Well even my childhood wasn't immune to them! Did you know that one existed to one of the most memorable movies of all time?'s Grease 2 next blog...

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Adventures In Babysitting

I know it has been about a month or two since I last blogged but October is too much of a temptation to talk about horror films and since I have decided to stray from that particular genre for a while, I thought it best just to not blog at all. So after a break of watching all my glorious gory and scary films I am back, followers, to lighten up the tone with the movie I said I would talk about many moons ago.

Movie Poster

Since I have been talking about films that graced my childhood, I don't see why I can't talk about movies that were slightly above my normal age group. You know I watched Disney films and animated classics but every once and awhile I saw movies that were a tad more mature. You know now that I think about it my parents weren't very strict about what I could and could not watch so I would find many movies on HBO and Cinemax on Friday and Saturday nights when I could stay up late. I don't really remember when I first saw Adventures In Babysitting but I remember what drew me to it and for those who haven't seen it it's not really a spoiler because it was the opening.

Since my parents listened to what we called "oldies" music of the 1950s and 1960s when I heard that opening to The Crystals "Then He Kissed Me" and saw Elisabeth Shue dancing around her bedroom getting ready for a big date it kind of hit a chord in me. Little girls do the same thing in their rooms singing into hairbrushes and lip-synching to the radio (I did that plenty listening to my Heart and Madonna records) so seeing a (at the time) 24 year old Elisabeth Shue pretending to be 17 doing the same was very relateable to a little girl like myself. Nostalgia glasses set aside for a moment let's continue just a little differently...

Plot After Spoiler Opening Video Goes Like This...

So after all her dancing like an idiot our lead character, Chris Parker, gets the news from her boyfriend Mike that he has to cancel their date because his little sister is sick. Dejected, Chris gets roped into babysitting for the Anderson family's two kids, Brad and Sara. Well only 8 year old Sara really needs a babysitter because Brad is 15 years old and happens to have a huge crush on Chris. It seems the night might be a pretty boring one despite the awkwardness of Brad having to be babysat by his older crush until Chris gets a call from her friend Brenda. She's at the bus station downtown after running away from home and having blown money on the ride there, she now needs Chris to come and pick her up. With no choice but to bring Brad and Sara along, Chris heads out in her mother's car to go pick Brenda up.

She has no idea what she's in for...

Another little quirk in this is that Brad's friend Darryl Coopersmith ends up joining them since Brad was supposed to actually be staying the night at his house but opted out so he could spend the evening in the company of his crush. On the way downtown, the car gets a flat tire and discovering that there is no spare (why would you have no spare tire?) the kids hitch a ride with a tow truck driver, a nice enough fellow named "Handsome" John Pruitt who just so happens to have only one hand and the other is a hook (hand-some get it?) However after getting a ride you think the movie would be over but it's really just the beginning of the true adventure and leading Chris to discover that babysitting isn't what she thought it would be.

Let's go back to an image of the intro just because it was that good...

I am still set in my ways that I not tell you everything about the film just in case a few of you have not had the chance to see this movie. For those of you who have you know that there are way too many plots going on so that if I tell one I may spoil the others. In any case, Adventures In Babysitting was Chris Columbus' first directorial debut and if you don't know who he is then I assume you have been under a rock most of your existence since you obviously have never seen Home Alone or the first two Harry Potter films. I guess I could say that Chris Columbus is another one of my favorite directors because I have at least eight of his films in my own personal movie collection and have seen the other films he has directed but do not personally own. I think he does a fantastic job his first time out on Adventures In Babysitting and has only gotten better in his craft despite mostly being a more family film oriented director and that's just fine. Usually I go straight to the film cast but we're going to shake it up a little this time and go to the soundtrack instead.

Darryl: Yeah let's talk about that soundtrack ...ya think?

Not really commercially available (I haven't really seen it unless it's online to purchase or in a bargain bin somewhere for $1) Adventures In Babysitting is set in Chicago so being said it is known for being the home of soul and the blues. Taking advantage of such a musical heritage, the music heard in the movie is mostly good old rhythm and blues from (as expressed by the opening) the 50s & 60s. There is some Sam Cooke, some Junior Walker, some Edwin Starr, Percy Sledge performs a song after the opening that is very memorable and fantastic, there's some more traditional blues artists like Muddy Waters and Albert Collins (who also appears in the film in one great scene...oops spoiler!). There are some non-blues examples like Iggy Pop and The Rolling Stones but the real standout is a band called Southside Johnny And The (Asbury) Jukes.

See they are a real band from New Jersey that have been around since 1979 and have actually played with Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band. They are still around today and even though they appear in the movie as a cover/bar band (another sorry!) they have released albums in their three basic examples: studio, live and compilations. They perform an original song "Future In Your Eyes" which is very nice of what you get to hear and they perform a cover version of "Expressway To Your Heart" originally by The Soul Survivors which besides being really good is the first song ever written by Gamble & Huff who for those not versed in music trivia were a big songwriting-producing team that skyrocketed soul music in the 60s, 70s and 80s and were very influential in Philadelphia soul. With all of that information if you find anything at all to love about Adventures In Babysitting, for music lovers this soundtrack is tops if nothing else.

Okay the music lover in me got all of that out of the way so now we can focus on the acting and characters in the film and I have a feeling I might spoil a little bit more of Adventures In Babysitting for those who have not seen it...damn it.

Publicity still of Elisabeth Shue for this movie

 Of course, Elisabeth Shue is Chris as you know and I think she does an okay job in the role. I have to admit that this is the only movie I have seen of hers that I actually enjoy. Don't get me wrong I don't think she is a bad actress but I guess the nostalgia just holds me back from liking anything else. For those who love Elisabeth Shue don't bash me because I may have a surprise for you in the future regarding Elisabeth Shue's film roles. My by far favorite character and actor in the film is Anthony Rapp as Darryl Coopersmith! He gets the best lines, has the best laugh ever, is a complete horn dog despite probably not having even gotten to first base with a girl yet and adds so much snark to the film that he is probably the reason it's so funny and comedic in the first place! Anthony has turned into a big Broadway actor having appeared in Rent and many other forms of stage theater as well as still acting in films and television.

Elisabeth Shue, I just love this expression on your face!

 My next favorite character is Brad played by Keith Coogan. Though he is still an example of snarky, comedic timing in his lines and interactions with Darryl/Anthony he is also a very sweet and caring person with a shy side and a very level head on his shoulders. At times he is quite unsure of himself but when he needs to be a big brother to Sara, Brad is and when the time comes for him to act a little more mature than Darryl he does in a big way. Keith Coogan was actually 17 at the time so he can play a teenager convincingly and not have to shine it on about how insecure teenagers really can be at that age. I should note that younger me thought Brad was really cute and like a little puppy dog now that I think about it with his big brown eyes and also was literally a fox because he voiced young Tod in Disney's The Fox And The Hound when he was just 11 years's that for a lamp-shading segue?

Keith Coogan as Brad Anderson: Former little girl crush

Okay so I might be a little harsh now because I am older but I really can't stand the character of Sara in this movie. I know she's only a kid and I'm not saying that little Maia Brewton was a bad actress and it's not geared towards her personally but just the character in general. She is kind of annoying most of the time, sometimes showing genuine  hints of concern and childish vulnerability but the character of Sara causes most of the trouble for the others one scene slightly but another in a very big way and I don't think it can even be boiled down to just being a kid and not knowing any better. There are a few other actors that appear in Adventures In Babysitting in smaller roles from the main cast but are worth mentioning.

How did Sara end up here? Answer: It's Brenda's fault!

Penelope Ann Miller I guess can be given the most credit since she is actually the reason our main characters get into the predicaments they do thanks to her character Brenda. We get some really good scenes that show off Miller's acting because when it comes to the comedic element, Penelope is a genius and oh my god I'm rolling on the floor laughing at how well I can imitate her shaky delivery! Despite portraying a comedic character, Penelope Ann Miller is also a very good dramatic actress so if you ever get a chance to see Carlito's Way or have already seen it you can take my word on that.

Penelope Ann Miller as Brenda , the character who ruins her best friend's night more than the boyfriend!

Other actors of note are George Newbern who appears in a small role (later kind of important...spoiler!) and if you remember I already talked a lit about him in my blog post on the film Doppelganger so I guess the last person I can mention is Vincent D'Onofrio. Oh yes Law And Order fans you should know who he is and if you really want to see a different side to him you should definitely check this film out! I could talk about his acting but I kind of want to save that for another film he stars in that I own sometime down the line and besides talking about his appearance here is a big kind of spoiler. Don't worry, D'Onofrio, you're time to shine will come I promise!

Could this night get any worse? Answer: Of course!

Sorry I've been out of the blogging scene for a bit and I'm going to need time to oil my rusty gears to get back to par but I hope you enjoyed my look back at one of the films of my childhood. Adventures In Babysitting is one of those PG-13 gems that I'm glad I got to see in my unhindered movie-viewing youth and it still gives me many laughs and smiles today. If you have yet to see it, I highly recommend you do and if you have, I hope it brought back good memories for you too!

NEXT TIME: I'll be back with a movie I view as being another little more mature family kind of film I had the pleasure of viewing in my youth and it is still one of the best films I have ever seen! So wish me luck because next blog we'll look back at Uncle Buck

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Flight Of Dragons

Be afraid of this cutesy cover art!

 So nice to see you again, blog followers! I know we've been taking on a more family-friendly route lately and talking about fairy tales but I'm certain today's film may be a little more darker for your enjoyment but not to dark that you can't watch with your children if you ever get a chance to come across The Flight Of Dragons. Now the movie gets its source material from two sources that might be more to the liking of older teens and since this was around the time that Dungeons & Dragons was reaching maximum momentum, I could see the appeal to a much broader audience. Now since all of us have grown up with Rankin-Bass thanks to their many Christmas themed specials over the years, they must have come to realize that the little kids that use to love Rudolph were getting older so they started dabbling in more adult themed animated features and specials. In 1976, author Gordon Dickson wrote a novel called The Dragon And The George and three years later, author Peter Dickinson wrote another book that focused less on fantasy and more on the nature of dragons as if they really existed called of course The Flight Of Dragons. Taking more from Dickson's book than Dickinson's (confused yet?) yet slapping the more exciting title of the latter on the film, we are taken into the world of fantasy and magic and well...why don't we just start from the beginning like we always do?

What's The Plot?
It seems that magic is beginning to die as humans embrace the ways of science every passing day more and more. This becomes very clear to the Green Wizard Carolinus so he summons his fellow magical "brothers" to meet and discuss plans to create a realm where the last bits of magic can come together and stand a chance of existing hidden from men. His brothers The Blue Wizard Solarius and The Yellow Wizard Lo Tae Zhao of course agree but the last brother, The Red Wizard Ommadon doesn't seem to keen on the idea of hiding from mortal men but ruling them instead. This is our villain, ladies and gentlemen, and you can tell from the not so subtle hints of his character well look at him...

Yes his robe, shifty eyes and goblin features make him clearly not evil!!

Besides Ommadon being a threat it seems that in this fantasy world, the four magical brothers can not war against each other (hence I guess the trying to co-exist together?) but if a band of three heroes can be formed to go on a quest and destroy his very powerful crown that seems to be okay. Carolinus' very young and exuberant dragon Gorbash is more than happy to volunteer and Carolinus also sends word to a brave knight, Sir Orrin Neville-Smythe, to request his aid. One hero short, Carolinus is given advice from the Silver Tree of Antiquity ( just go with me here it is a fantasy/sword & sorcery kind of time...) to find a man of science and magic who is also a descendent of the man who tamed and taught the dragons how to speak.

Meet Gorbash now...he's got no idea what's in store...

 This leads Carolinus to Boston in the 20th Century and Peter Dickinson (yay for self-promoting!) who is a very bright and scientific young man but also seems to have his head in the world of fantasy as he is working on a book (wink wink) about the science of dragons but also designing a very Dungeons & Dragon-esque board game where his game pieces seem to eerily look like Carolinus, his brothers and Gorbash. This is enough to convince Carolinus that Peter is the one so he transports Peter to this magical land and drafts him into the quest. Peter really doesn't seem to mind after he meets Carolinus' adopted daughter, The Princess Melisande (hello romantic love interest!) but another little snag may just hinder this a bit...

I'm digging Melisande's take on the look Leia had on Endor!

Ommadon doesn't really seem too happy about this and sends his very literal dragon, Bryagh, to kill our hero and in an attempt to save Peter, Carolinus' waning magic accidentally merges Peter and Gorbash together seeing as the dragon was on his own way to save Peter (nice going there with your unpredictable magic, Carolinus!) Peter's mind is now inside Gorbash's very large dragon body and since he literally has no idea what he is doing, Gorbash's adopted uncle, an older dragon named Smrgol, is forced to join the quest and teach our hero how to be the very creature that has always fascinated him. Once Sir Orrin arrives the quest is ready to begin to travel to Ommadon's realm and destroy his crown of power. The trio set out and are soon joined by comrades like Danielle of The Woodlands, a fire-haired archer and Aragh, a very large, sentient wolf. Will this band of heroes be able to defeat Ommadon or will the bigger battle be between magic...and science?

I think Danielle has second thoughts on joining this quest

Do you remember me talking about Kiki's Delivery Service a few blog posts back and about how I absolutely love the animation and backgrounds of the film? A little trivia for you is that before Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli existed, he along with other animators worked for Topcraft, the anime company that did the work on all of Rankin-Bass's non-stop motion productions. Knowing that you can see another reason why I love The Flight Of Dragons because it was films such as this and The Last Unicorn that the company worked on before it went defunct in 1985 and allowed Miyazaki to create his own animation studio.

Carolinus, the wizard who got Peter in this pickle...

 Compare the animation in The Flight Of Dragons with something such as Rankin-Bass' Frosty's Winter Wonderland and you can tell how the animation progressed and become the beauty that we know today. The human characters are still quite well done but the animation of the backgrounds and the dragons is spectacular! Besides the animation, the film has a very beautiful musical score and the opening title song sung by Don McLean (of American Pie fame for those of you who didn't know) is gorgeous and even more so with the provided backdrop.

To make up for the above cover art terror, I give you this!

Another reason I love The Flight Of Dragons besides the aforementioned animation, music and fantasy elements (which I didn't state but isn't it obvious?) is the voice cast. Most of the voice cast for The Flight of Dragons may not be that very well known (the two biggest names I'll leave for last) to the audiences of today but being a child of the 80s who grew up on Nick At Nite when it use to play shows of the 1960s and 1970s I think the cast works wonderfully. There may be a few roles you recognize like Bob McFadden (Sir Orrin and Gorbash)? He voiced Snarf on Thundercats!

Sir Orrin Neville-Smythe in his more younger days

Talented voice actors like Larry Storch (who was also on F Troop) and Don Messick (the original Scooby Doo and many voices from our childhoods) also provide vocal work here. Harry Morgan from M*A*S*H provides the voice of Carolinus and I have to say he does a very good job going from drama to comedy with great ease. James Gregory, like McFadden, also does double voice work providing not only the voice of Smrgol but also of Bryagh which are on very opposite ends with one being a good guy like a kindly uncle and the other being a blood-thirsty despicable monster who almost kills our protagonist!

Best Smrgol quote: "Shut up and eat yer Limestone!"... you have to hear it to love it!

Well if you ever get a chance to find this film I will spoil it for you right now but minutes into the film it's hard not to notice that the villain Ommadon is voiced by none other James Earl "Darth Vader" Jones! I guess it's that voice of his that makes casting directors automatically think let's cast this guy as our main antagonist but James Earl Jones is more than just the guy with the deep voice fit for mostly menacing bad guys he is also a very talented Broadway, Emmy and Tony-award winning, Shakespearean actor. I don't know maybe he likes playing the villain as I have stated that a lot of actors seem to have more fun being bad guys but you also can't deny that James Earl Jones does have a nice speaking voice that draws your attention.

Remember LaserDisc? Maybe not but this cover's epic!

For me I saved the best for last as growing up I kind of had a crush on John Ritter who provides the voice of Peter Dickinson. I think it might have been those re-runs of Three's Company that attracted me physically to Ritter and his acting in Stephen King's IT that attracted me to how good an actor he truly was but seeing The Flight Of Dragons, where you can't see his face but can only hear the acting behind his voice, is what truly amazes me. Since his character is supposed to be very scientific he could have made the voice come of cold and stuck up but Ritter actually makes you like Peter from the first moment he appears. His voice is warm and at times, charming as it is befuddled, you can tell he is having fun and when the time comes for him to be dramatic, you can feel it. I also loved John Ritter because he was funny and seemed such a genuinely nice person that others came to love and that's why you couldn't help but be a fan of his work.  

Voiced by John Ritter makes nerds kinda sexy don't you think?

The Flight Of Dragons also makes me appreciate the cast voice work because most of the people who worked on this film are no longer with us and for most of the voice actors this was the last role of their careers (Victor Buono, who voiced Aragh, died just after finishing all his character's dialogue) so it makes the beauty and the magic all the more poignant. To bring you back from a very depressing place you can be happy to know that as of this writing Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass of Rankin & Bass fame are still alive in their late 80s/early 90s so just think about that and smile :)

Aragh may be a wolf but I just wanna hug him!

If you ever get a chance to find The Flight Of Dragons on DVD, don't let that cover fool you (as so many of them seem to do to classic children's films these days) and give it a viewing. There's comedy, action, adventure and romance for everyone and age need not apply. If like me you already remember this classic and maybe just want to watch it again to see if it still stands up to what you remember as a child then go for it. If the kid in you is disappointed that's fine...I'm sure the adult in you can find new things to appreciate just as I did...

**Found a trailer but not an original...seems like it was a fan trailer because the music didn't seem to fit and plus it was filled with way too many spoilers for those of you who have never seen it :( Don't worry though I hear there is a planned live-action remake coming next year so until that comes true enjoy this video...

NEXT BLOG: We are going to still delve into my childhood but we are going to leave fantasy behind and go on a different kind of adventure. Ready for some...Adventures In Babysitting?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Slipper And The Rose

Welcome back followers! Still going down the more family friendly side of my nature I thought we would also go back and talk about one of my favorite genres of film: the musical. What better way to combine my love of music and movies than to talk about musical films and a very underrated one is The Slipper And The Rose. Of course by the title you may or may not know this is a musical version of the fairy tale Cinderella which is completely a British production filmed in both London and Austria. There is the more famous Cinderella musical with songs written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein III but The Slipper And The Rose is a little more mature in tone but still a family film and quite beautiful the first time you see it. For those of you who haven't despite knowing the story let's first look at the plot of this twice-told tale...

Once Upon A Time...
In the fictional kingdom of Euphrania, their prince returns home from meeting a princess he has been arranged to marry with less than thrilling results. Our prince, Edward, is a romantic who wants to be able to marry for love but his parents (and much of the royal court) need him to marry in order to keep the kingdom from  going to war with neighboring countries. So since Edward has snubbed his chosen bride, a ball is to be held to find himself a wife from one of Euphrania's potential enemy kingdoms.

Since this a Cinderella story we can't go without mentioning our heroine but it's pretty much the same as always: her father has passed away and now she is a servant at the hands of her stepmother and two less attractive stepsisters in her own home. The twist is that before even the night of the ball commences Cinderella meets her fairy godmother who looks less fairy like than you would imagine but she has a way with helping those in trouble and pure in heart and assisting her is a little dog and a lot of wit.

After testing Cinderella's kindness, she helps to send our girl to the ball in wonderful European period dress as "The Princess Incognita" (which I think is quite clever) with the same warnings that at midnight, the magic is over. Once Edward sets his eyes on Cinderella, it's love at first sight for both of them and they dance until the clock sounds its warning and of course a slipper is left behind. Edward searches in vain for his lost love almost to the point of frustration but soon he finds Cinderella and you think our story would end there... but it doesn't it. We go beyond happily ever after... or do we even reach it? Not being of royal blood or born in a country of needed alliance, Cinderella is sent into exile with Edward left to marry for the honor of Euphrania. Will Edward go through with a marriage that is based on duty and not love? Will he ever see his Cinderella again and will she ever get her true happy ending torn from the one she loves?

I can't really remember when I first saw this film but I do remember that when I saw it for sale on DVD that I was intrigued by it because as stated before I love fairy tales. There have been many interpretations of Cinderella and this has to be at least in the top 3 of my choosing for a number of reasons. As I stated the movie was filmed in London and Austria so the backdrop scenery in this movie is absolutely gorgeous especially in the countryside scenes but the palace scenes are also very beautiful...almost as beautiful as the costumes. Since the movie is a period piece set when powdered wigs were the point of high fashion, the costumes are dazzling on not just the women but also on the men and reflect the beauty of the time when Charles Perrault first published the story of Cinderella.

 Before I talk about the actors, another thing that makes The Slipper And The Rose such a gem is of course the music and the composers of the film are ones most of us know very well: The Sherman Brothers. Don't know them you say? Well Robert B. Sherman and his brother Richard M. Sherman are responsible for writing a lot of songs for Disney films and many other films from childhood you may recognize (go on and Google them and just see how many!) and were Academy award winning composers when it came time to do music for this film.

 Besides composing the songs for The Slipper And The Rose, The Brothers Sherman also wrote the film alongside the director Bryan Forbes and as writers they do a pretty good job if only in my opinion of course. Sadly, Robert passed away in 2012 ending the duo but his brother Richard is still alive so their legacy is still far from being finished. The songs themselves are catchy numbers and beautiful ballads and if you love films like Mary Poppins then you are sure to enjoy the songs in The Slipper And The Rose and will end up humming and singing them inside your head long after watching it.

 Now, the film is not all drama and romance there is all hilarious comedy and I believe all three elements work because of The Slipper And The Rose's wonderful cast. The King and The High Chamberlain characters portrayed by Michael Hordern and Kenneth More respectively play off each other very well which provides most of the comedy but the dowager queen played by Edith Evans and Prince Edward's foppish cousin Montague, played by Julian Orchard, also display bits of comedic timing as well.

Even though it is Cinderella's story and I do love romance my favorite character in the film by far is Cinderella's fairy godmother played by Annette Crosbie. She is hilarious in a very lady-like way, poised and kind of soft spoken, but she is clever and witty as well. She doesn't just appear once to grant Cinderella's wish but she also helps drive the story along when needed and the character bows out gracefully when scenes don't call for her.

I guess since this a Cinderella film we should take a look at the actress who portrays her in The Slipper And The Rose, Gemma Craven. I think she makes for a very pretty and sweet Cinderella and she has a nice singing voice but I believe she gets overshadowed by other characters and actors in this film. You wouldn't know that Craven was 26 when she starred in this film because she looks so young and even though she has done acting before and after The Slipper And The Rose, which is a beautiful film but I can see why they don't outright state that this is a Cinderella film because our Cinderella doesn't really shine as bright as her glass slippers here.

If anything The Slipper And The Rose seems to be Cinderella's story told from the prince's point of view and when your prince is played by a handsome actor like Richard Chamberlain it isn't that much of a shock. I'll admit I've always had a small attraction to Richard Chamberlain but it comes from having to watch The Thorn Birds a lot with my mother as a little girl (and there' nothing wrong with that believe me!). Yes, I know now that Richard Chamberlain is gay but you have to admit that you didn't know then because it seems Richard Chamberlain was very good at acting to hide that fact because he seems to be perfect here as Prince Edward. Chamberlain has charm, an excellent singing voice and so much under his belt acting wise before playing this role in The Slipper And The Rose that it is my second favorite role of his even if The Thorn Birds came later.

 Besides the obvious there is actually one more actor in this movie that I have to mention and his name is Christopher Gable, who plays the character John, valet to the prince. Not only does the character get his own side story but he also gets two songs to sing in the film which display Gable's good looks and amazing voice and we even get to see a little bit of his dancing skill seeing as Gable was a British ballet star early in his career.

Once again I stand behind my opinion that The Slipper And The Rose is at least in the Top Three of Cinderella movie adaptations (based on my opinion) for its beautiful cinematography, costumes, songs and its fine cast. The Cinderella character may get lost in the adaptation but it is still a wonderful film worth watching whether it is with your family or on your own curiosity.

***This is a first - I could not locate an original trailer for The Slipper And The Rose for you to watch! There is a fan-made trailer but the beautiful music of the film is too loud in one certain scene but you can still find it on YouTube as well as the whole movie (while you still can since copyrights may cause it to be taken down).***

NEXT TIME: Still in a fantasy mood, we going to look at an animated film that deserves a little love and recognition from those geniuses at Rankin-Bass called Flight Of Dragons.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Polar Bear King

Welcome back followers and I am pretty sure most of you are female as I continue my lighter side of looking at films that I love but if you so happen to be a man I appreciate you sticking it out with me as I talk about today's film. Now I have tackled only one film so far based on a fairy tale and let's admit it was a little heavy-handed and not exactly kid-friendly (if you missed it you can check out my blog post on Snow White: A Tale Of Terror) but today's movie I am going to discuss is quite suitable for least in my opinion. First of all you may ask is why does a 30 year old woman want to talk about fairy tales in the first place? Answer: I enjoy fairy tales because you can do so much with them. Fairy tales come from cultures all over the world and can be told in so many ways such as poetry, music, books, films, plays, ballets, art and other forms of media.

Let's face it we all grew up hearing them at bedtime, during school and most of us grew up watching Disney films based on fairy tales and as we get older we become parents and tell them to our children. For me personally as I have gotten older I have discovered that there are so many obscure fairy tales we never got to discover as children and The Polar Bear King is based on one of those. The plot of this little known movie is actually a mash up of two Norwegian fairy tales, East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon and the almost similar White Bear King Valemon, but also based on Greek mythology and a Scandinavian version basically of the French fairy tale Beauty And The Beast. A lot to take in I know so why don't I just explain the way I always do except since we are dealing with a fairy tale it goes a little more like this...

Once Upon A Plot...
In a kingdom where it is winter all year round, an old king has three daughters and his youngest is of course the prettiest and kindest mostly because her oldest sister is the meanest and her middle sister is well the middle child isn't she? Anyway, the youngest daughter is the heroine of our tale and she has been having dreams about a land where flowers grow and seeing the figure of a handsome prince moving through the trees...well we are meant to believe he is handsome because the princess can never really see the prince's face (this is a major plot point so hold onto your spoilers!). Fortunately for us, we get to see that the prince is indeed handsome since the place our winter princess is dreaming of is quite real: a land of constant summer where the king has died and now his son, Valemon, is its ruler. On the day of his father's death and his crowning as king, a witch who has been lusting after him offers Valemon the chance to rule by her side and when he refuses, she turns him into a polar bear and some what less than stellar 1990s puppetry and animatronics ensue!

Now the Polar Bear King (hence our title) must stay this way for seven years (wow that witch really must have been ticked off huh?) and in that span also find a wife who can look past the bear and love the man within. So naturally the princess finds our bear king and with one look can tell that this is the man she has been dreaming of and accepts from it a golden chain (given to the king by his mother just before he was turned into a bear) that pretty much works as a wedding ring. So leaving her winter wonderland behind, the princess travels to the bear king's kingdom and finds out that at night her husband can come to her as a man but she can never see his face. So whether you find it creepy or romantic, King Valemon and the princess have royal relations at night and though she never sees his face, she bears his royal heirs but every time the witch comes to steal them only for the newborn babies to be spirited away by the king's mother using her more kindly magic.

 Depressed over constantly losing her children, Valemon tells his bride to visit with her family after she receives a gift of enchanted snow (go with me here it's a fairy tale...) from her father which seems to give her strength. So the princess goes home and of course her sisters give her grief over being married to a bear and not seeing the face of the man who has fathered her children when he is no longer a wild animal. The oldest daughter gives her little sister a rather impressive lighter for an enchanted Scandinavian fairy tale land and tells her to finally discover whether she has been hooking up with a troll  even though it's clear from what we saw of the babies that they were perfectly human. Curiosity of course wins out and the princess soon discovers that disobeying her promise to Valemon has now put him in an even worse situation than being a bear for seven years and now she must do whatever it takes to free her husband from the evil witch...

That is as much of the plot as I can tell you without spoiling the whole film but since we are all intelligent people here you can pretty much come to the conclusion that there will be a happily ever after. The middle part of the story as to what the princess must do to save King Valemon from the witch is pretty much the only part that I will not tell you because the fairy tales of which The Polar Bear King are based have different plots concerning our heroine's journey and the way in which the ending of the tale concludes are just as different. I don't expect most of you to watch The Polar Bear King to try and find out unless you have kids or you are just curious but that doesn't mean you also can't get on the Internet or even go to the library or even find a bookseller to find out what happens. If I have done anything it's at least sparked your interest in reading up on obscure fairy tales or even in reading an actual book and that makes me proud because reading is actual quite fun ya know?

Back to The Polar Bear King as a film, if you aren't that into fairy tales you can at least sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the movie. I'm not much of an outdoor person and certainly not a winter outdoor person but I do like to look at snow when its fresh and white before being trampled over and seeing how beautiful Norway looks in this film, I don't think I would mind it as much. One thing that might throw you off if you do watch The Polar Bear King is that the dialogue is completely dubbed over by American voices I believe if not by the actors themselves speaking English. Most of the actors in the film are Norwegian, Swedish, German or even combinations of the three so for American audiences of children to understand the story you could have it narrated completely (half of the story is actually narrated) but it's always nice to have fairy tales acted out.

Since I discovered this movie when I was about out of elementary school going into middle school, I don't mind the dubbing so much but to find a non-English version with English subtitles might be a nice find and bring out the true beauty of the tale. As an adult, I still love The Polar Bear King for the story and the cinematography but the witch and the "polar bear" are the only aspects that may make me a tad embarrassed.  The actress who plays the witch, Anna-Lotta Larsson, seems to be having a ball but because of the dubbing I don't know if it's really her voice spouting out those over-the-top lines of dialogue. Sometimes translating one language to another isn't easy so I can't tell if it's the Swedish-born Larsson speaking her lines in English making the translation sound so cheesy or if the English speaking actress dubbing over her lines is just over-acting because she's the villain.

The polar bear puppet which ironically was created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop may look okay to a child's eye but now as an adult I can tell how fake it looks with no offense to all things Henson I grew up with. Also when the "bear" speaks it can throw you off a little because it does have a gruff voice but again because of dubbing it might not be that bad in the original. The rest of the cast and their dubbed over performances are not as jarring to me and I actually think they translate well before I even knew this film was dubbed I always assumed they did sound that way. Actor Jack Fjeldstad who plays the princess' father was actually a well-celebrated and respected Norwegian actor and the actress who plays the heroine, Maria Bonnevie, is a Swedish theatrical actress. Bonnevie was only 18 when she made her movie debut in The Polar Bear King and she does look the part of a Nordic princess but not just a pretty face either in showing the strength behind her blonde locks as well.

The last character of note of course is King Valemon and the actor who plays him Tobias Hoesl, a German actor. I mention them both because well I feel sorry that we don't get to see more out of Tobias because well I admit he is quite handsome and sadly, that's all I can say about him. Most of the movie his face is shrouded in shadow because that's just how the story goes as well as being that his character is a bear most of the time. Since the film is dubbed, I can't judge Hoesl's vocal performance either but I seriously want to cling to the fact that maybe he did dub his own voice in English because the voice of King Valemon when he is human is perfect to a romantic like me.

So is The Polar Bear King an Oscar caliber high fantasy film? No but it is a good film to watch with your family because the story is simple to follow. It is beautifully filmed and the costumes are nice. It may not be appropriate for really young children and at times the acting may be over the top but you can blame it on bad dubbing or the story being lost in translation due to trying to decipher the script to English-speaking audiences. In my own personal opinion, The Polar Bear King gets high marks for taking on a less known fairy tale with a strong female hero and having her save the prince or in this case king for a change. In short do I feel silly for enjoying this movie and fairy tales in general? Answer: No not at all and maybe that is the real reason I love fairy tales because of the romance and fantasy because it appeals to me on a level that just refuses to grow up and throw away those rose-tinted glasses of childhood and The Polar Bear King is no exception.

NEXT TIME: Sticking with the fairy tale theme but going in a whole other direction a more musical one if you will involving The Slipper And The Rose