Archive for April, 2008

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SUNSHINE for Heather

April 30, 2008

Every once in a while, I would like to take a step back from discussing a specific movie, or categories of movies to write about people I have met who either have worked, or are currently working in the entertainment industry in some way.

My first spotlight, then falls on a sweet young lady named Heather Ferreira. Now, Ms. Ferreira may not be a household name to you, yet, but it will be soon. Heather is the executive producer, creator, principal song writer and music coordinator, and one of the stars of a children’s TV show currently making it’s way around the country via local access channels. That show is SUNSHINE AGAIN. SUNSHINE seeks to recreate the original magic that was created by the best children’s educational shows of the early 1970’s. According to the SUNSHINE AGAIN website, located conveniently at http://sunshineagain.com, the action centers around the residents of a mythical town called Sunshine Again. The residents include a piano player named Joe (yes, in reference to my favorite Joe of all time), Ophelia (Ferreira), who works in a cupcake bakery, Jim (another tribute to yet another genius), who runs the TV station along with his receptionist Sylvia, and producer Jon (as in SESAME STREET writer Jon Stone). There are, as you might have guessed, some puppets that live in Sunshine Again as well. The fuzzy residents include: F. Scott Alphabets-Fitzgerald, who is into all things alphabetic, Schneider who is, well, we haven’t quite figured that out yet, Nip and Dave, patterned lovingly after another famous pair, and Mortimer, an English, um, we don’t know yet, who is into shapes.

Keeping in line with these classic shows, SUNSHINE AGAIN is going to, and in fact does feature film and animated inserts. A quick search of YouTube, or a visit to the site will give you some samples, but you know I can’t resist offering a taste of what you’ll see, so have a look at this clip that boasts a little of everything:

Now, you may be wondering how I got to know Heather. We met on YouTube a few months ago, when she started posting videos from her collection. I responded positively to what she had posted, and Heather, being the class act that she is, always had a response. Soon, I began to see some of her SUNSHINE material pop up, along with videos from another project or two that she is working on. We’ve been friends ever since.

You may have also noticed that Heather’s musical style favors Joe Raposo. That is NO coincidence. Joe is literally Heather’s muse. She’ll dream of Joe giving her a song, and within a week, Heather will be in the recording studio. I kid you not, we have had conversations about this. Jim Henson and Jon Stone are her scriptwriting muses. Again, we’ve talked about this, and I will vouch for Heather’s sources any day.

Right now, my good friend is hard at work fine-tuning SUNSHINE AGAIN for the next batch of episodes. If you want to know how to see Heather’s work, then you can pay a visit to her site. There, you will find a link to all of the stations that have agreed to air SUNSHINE AGAIN as part of their schedule. I am very hopeful that one day soon, when people discuss great Children’s TV talent, the list will not only include Jim Henson, Joe Raposo, Jon Stone, and Captain Kangaroo, but also Heather Ferreira.

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When the Mood Strikes…

April 28, 2008

I’ve recently noticed that my DVD viewing habits tend to follow a specific pattern.  That’s OK, I guess.  Every day of the week seems to have a certain vibe, although the cast of SEINFELD may disagree.  Let me take you through a typical week of movie watching for me:

Sunday nights, I tend to watch something that will get my mind off of the fact that Monday is on the horizon.  It can be something totally escapist, with a lot of flash, and special effects.  Sometimes it’ll be a modern classic that by coincidence I watch on Sundays more than any other day of the week.

Monday nights, I tend to lean towards action or action comedies.  I guess that helps me wear off some of the left-over adrenaline I might have generated during the day.  Tonight, I may just watch THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, or maybe LADDER 49.

Tuesdays (when HELL’S KITCHEN isn’t airing, that is) are obviously for new releases.  Lately, though, I haven’t seen any new releases that catch my eye.  Fine with me, my money is better spent on other necessities.  But when I DO spot a new release that I want in my collection (which constantly threatens to overtake my living room), it’s a real thrill.  It also helps me prepare for the middle of the week when the next two days seem to blur together.

So I save those days for movies in my collection that I haven’t watched in a while, just to see if I still enjoy them.  I’m happy to say that 99% of the time, I remember why I enjoy that particular title.  Personally, I think it’s great when I rediscover a movie, or notice things about it that I hadn’t before.

Fridays and Saturdays are my nights at the movies, depending on my family’s social schedule-they ALWAYS come first.  On a REALLY good week, there will be two movies playing that I want to see, and with this week being the unofficial start of the summer movie season, my blog may start to get REALLY active.

Now, it’s YOUR turn!  Do you have certain types of movies that you watch on certain nights?  Or, do you save your movie watching for special occasions?  Feel free to post your thoughts here!

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Movie Music

April 26, 2008

A couple of my recent posts got me thinking about the songs from the movies I really like. I know we all have our movie playlists, and even the American Film Institute has a list of what they consider to be the 100 greatest songs in movie history. For my list, I decided to exclude the Disney catalog, because my list would be too long. I also wanted to focus on the movies of my preteenage years through now. So, without further delay, here are my favorite movie songs:

“Happiness Hotel” (THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER). If you read my last post, you know how much I admire Joe Raposo. Joe wrote many great songs for this film, but this one is an absolute must-hear. “Happiness Hotel” mixes bluegrass, dixieland jazz, and rock to spin the tale of the worst hotel in London. It’s also the only hotel that Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo can afford. I laugh every time the third verse comes in. See if this lyric doesn’t make you smile:

OK the lobby’s lookin’ shabby/And it’s got the wrong address/And the whole dang thing has been condemned by American Express/But the management is cheerful though the whole joint’s gone to (expletive deleted, but it rhymes with the next line)/Welcome home to the Happiness Hotel!

That has got to be Joe Raposo’s funniest lyric ever.

“Together in Electric Dreams (Philip Oakly)”/”Video” (Jeff Lynne). If you want to know the truth, I think the entire soundtrack to ELECTRIC DREAMS is worth listening to, but these songs really shine. Oakley, I think has done the impossible: he’s married some very sad lyrics to a wonderfully catchy song with the help of Giorgio Moroder. It’s the first song I heard from the soundtrack, and I flipped over it. “Video”, by contrast is a pounding fast-paced song that gets my foot tapping. I just love the nod to Spike Jones during the instrumental portion of the song, and the music video for this song matches the frantic pacing perfectly.
“Weird Science” (Oingo Boingo). I bet you were wondering when I would get to a John Hughes movie. Well, the wait is over. Before Danny Elfman hit it big working with Tim Burton, he was the front man for the group Oingo Boingo. What I love about this song is the brass section. I can only describe the sound as pure fun. And whle I’m on the subject of John Hughes:

“If You Leave” (O.M.D.). This was the big hit from Hughes’ PRETTY IN PINK. To this day, I can’t listen to this song without sensing the same pain that the lead singer expresses, as he sings about the end of the relationship he describes. That is one of the great things a good movie song can do.

“The Closing of the Year” (Wendy and Lisa, with Seal). TOYS was another movie with a soundtrack that blew me away, thanks to Hans Zimmer’s (THE LION KING) musical direction. This song frames the movie’s opening and closing scenes. I had never heard such a Christmas song before. Yes, this IS a Christmas song, and one that deserves radio airtime, as it expresses the hope that comes with the holiday season.

“That Thing You Do” (The Wonders). Admit it. If you know and love this movie like I do, you always pay extra close attention when The Wonders play their signature tune. I’m not downplaying the other songs featured in the movie by any stretch. They’re all great tributes to the variety of sounds that came out of the 1960’s, but this one really sells the movie.

“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (Aerosmith). Aerosmith surprised a lot of people with the power ballad-to-end-all powwer ballads. I’ll admit that I was never Aeromith’s biggest fan, but when ARMAGEDDON came out, and this song hit the airwaves, I was amazed at the beauty of the lyrics and the power behind the song.

“Rat Race” (Baha Men). RAT RACE gave me a laugh at a time in my life when I needed it the most. The Baha Men’s title song, with it’s brass and percussive sound, just make me feel like dancing.

Well, that’s MY short list. You’ll notice that many of the songs listed didn’t or do not get a lot of air time on the radio. That was deliberate, because I wanted to challenge myself to be as original as possible. Anyone can mention the soundtrack to GREASE or “My Heart Will Go On”, but that would have been too easy. So, what are some of YOUR favorite movie songs that should or should have gotten airtime on your favorite station?

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DVD Paused: RAGGEDY ANN AND ANDY: A MUSICAL ADVENTURE (1977)

April 23, 2008

Before TOY STORY, there was THE TIN TOY. And, before there was TIN TOY, there was RAGGEDY ANN AND ANDY: A MUSICAL ADVENTURE. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this was one of my first movie going experiences, and I loved it. I loved everything about it. But, then, I guess we all have special feelings about the first movie we really enjoyed.

First, let me talk about the animation. The animation was done by a talented team headed by Richard Williams. Williams is also the man responsible for the great animation in ROGER RABBIT, and the equally visually impressive THIEF AND THE COBBLER. In fact, there’s a chase scene in RAGGEDY ANN that reminds me of a chase scene in COBBLER, in which Ann, Andy and the Camel With the Wrinkled Knees are pursued by the Looney Knight in a black and white hall with impossible stairways that seemed to have found their way in the later movie. I also remember how Williams’ team gave the toys very realistic moves for hand drawn animation. You really do believe that this is how the toys would move when Marcella (the girl who owns Ann, Andy, and the other toys) plays with them.

And what about these great toy characters that come to life when Marcella isn’t around? Ann really loves being with Marcella when she goes out to school or to play. I could easily identify with Andy’s frustration at being one of the only male dolls in the playroom. Then there’s the Camel. All that poor Camel wants is a place to belong and feel loved and accepted. I don’t believe there’s anybody who can’t identify with those wants. For laughs, though, I have to go with King KooKoo. I love the fact that Marty Brill did his voice in the style of a German Mel Brooks-it’s great fun to listen to, even though he is the villain.

There is one aspect of this movie that I cannot, and will not leave out. I am a Joe Raposo fanatic. Let’s be honest, if you grew up on the early years of SESAME STREET and THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, then you know what a musical genius this man was, and what a great man he was to know. Joe’s (I just have to use his first name-I know he would want me to) inventiveness is at work here. He manages to incorporate a toy piano into the Twin Penny Dolls’ jazzy rhythmic observations. He gives Andy a rousing song about his desire to be “No Girl’s Toy”. But the real breakout songs are “Candy Hearts and Paper Flowers” and the Camel’s anthem “Blue”. See for yourself:

I’m sure that there are sites and people out there willing to burn and trade copies or even sell them. Let me be clear about something that I wanted to be clear about early on. I do not and will not advocate, defend or support illegal downloading and selling of copyrighted material. Therefore, I am insisting that you do not reply to this post with such information or requests for such materials-I will remove your post. Rather, I would suggest that we use our collective voices to request the studio(s) that hold the rights to this wonderful family film to open the vault and release the movie to DVD.

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See What You’ve Missed: HEART AND SOULS (1993)

April 21, 2008

Time to introduce another new semi-regular feature. “See What You’ve Missed” will showcase movies that were not big box office hits, but should be seen, and ARE available.

I start with HEART AND SOULS. HEART AND SOULS tells the story of Thomas Riley (Robert Downey Jr.), and four people who died the night Thomas was born. These people are Milo (Tom Sizemore) a petty thief trying to go straight, Harrison (Charles Grodin) a would-be opera singer, Penny (Alfre Woodard) a single mom trying to care for her children, but forced to work at night, and Julia (THE CLOSER’s Kyra Sedgwick) a woman afraid to tell the man she loves how much she loves him. These people die at the hands of a careless bus driver (David Paymer), and their souls are transported to Thomas’ side.

None of these people know why they are with Thomas, and it doesn’t help matters that only Thomas can see or hear them. It’s no surprise, then, that Thomas’ parents think he’s strange. Nor is it a surprise that Thomas is getting into mischief that catches the attention of Child Services. This leads the four souls to a heart-breaking decision to disappear from Thomas’ life, and just watch over him.

Thomas, meanwhile grows up to be a tough financial lawyer who saves what little emotion he has for his girlfriend, Anne (Elisabeth Shue). Anne is patient with Thomas, but it’s obvious that her patience is growing thin, and that Thomas is running out of time to make a commitment. Thomas is not the only one almost out of time. The four souls are also out of time. The bus driver who caused their death is back to take them to the hereafter. The souls only then find out that they were supposed to use Thomas to make their lives complete. They bargain for more time, and the clock is ticking.

When the souls do reconnect with Thomas, it’s no happy reunion, and after a bit of posessive persuasion, Thomas reluctantly agrees to help. This leads to scenes that are hilarious one moment and tear-jerking the next, as the souls take care of business. Thomas also undergoes a transformation as he helps the four souls. But will he be able to to make things right with Anne?

I saw this movie when it came out, and felt wonderful at the end. I still don’t see why this movie failed to score at the box-office. The characters were all likable in unique ways. The possession scenes were hysterically funny, and we’re treated to some great renditions of “Walk Like A Man”. I also think this movie would make a fantastic musical, but that’s another column. So, if you get the chance, check out HEART AND SOULS, a movie that lives up to its title.

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Movie Review: THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM (PG-13) ****

April 19, 2008

I became a fan of Jackie Chan about eight years ago, when I went to see him in SHANGHAI NOON.  Up until that day, I just didn’t understand why he was so popular.  Then again, martial arts movies were not my thing, having only seen the badly dubbed second rate ones on Saturday afternoon TV as a boy.  After seeing NOON, though, I became a believer, and tried to see just about every Jackie Chan movie that came along.  I even saw the ones that were considered misfires, and found something to like in those.

THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM shows us Chan doing what he does best.  One of Chan’s trademarks is to try to tell a story during each of his fighting sequences.  Another is to give the viewers a good and sometimes astonished laugh at his acrobatic tricks.  KINGDOM offers a healthy balance of both.  If his drunken boxing scenes early on don’t make you smile, his lightning speed will certainly amaze you.

Not only do we get treated to the Jackie Chan we know and love, but he’s teamed up with another huge martial arts star in Jet Li.  I must admit that I am not as familiar with Li’s work as I am with Chan’s, but I am developing a liking for Jet Li now.  That could be because Li is so much fun to watch as the legendary Monkey King.  Li’s Monkey King smiles, laughs, and makes wonderfully silly noises as he dispatches China’s threats to peace and harmony, in this case the soldiers of the Jade Emperor (a very sinister Deshun Wang).

Sadly,  there’s trouble in the Middle Kingdom.  The Jade Emperor succeeds in robbing the Monkey King of the source of his power-a magical fighting staff.  Now the Monkey King is nothing more than a statue in the  palace, and the Jade Emperor is terrorizing the countryside.  Peace can only be restored if the Monkey King has his staff returned to him.

Enter Jason Triptikas (Michael Angarano).  Jason is a Boston teenager obsessed with the martial arts (especially kung fu), who spends his time at a store owned by his elderly friend Hop.  When bullies discover that Jason has access to Hop’s store they force Jason into setting up Hop for a robbery.  As the robbery goes bad, Jason spots a staff in the storage roo.  The wounded Hop tells Jason that he must return this staff to its rightful owner.  In case you haven’t guessed by now, this is the same staff used by the Monkey King.  Suddenly jason is in medieval China.  This is whhere he meets, receives training from, and learns the story of the staff from Chan’s character.  Along the way they will meet a monk (also Li) with a few secrets of his own, a beautiful young lady played by Yifei Liu, and a witch who can even use her hair as a weapon, which would be great if she weren’t in league with the Emperor.

There’s a lot to like in this movie.  Some of my favorite moments involved Jason’s training, and the chemistry between Chan and Li.  I wonder why it took so long for these two to get together?  I was also amazed at the aerial fighting techniques.  Yes it’s fighting, yes it can be pretty hairy at times, but it’s also like watching trained acrobats.  It’s just thrilling.  I guess I should not have been surprised that these aerial combat sequences were designed by the same person who did CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON.

All of this is under the direction of Rob Minkoff, who was last seen directing Disney’s HAUNTED MANSION.  While Minkoff’s style is definitely aimed at an older audience, he never forgets that Jason is a teenager trying to cope with a bizarre situation as well as his ultimate destiny.  Credit also John Fusco for creating a very believable Chinese legend about immortals, evil emperors, and typical teenagers.  THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is a kingdom I look forward to visiting again

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Carryin’ the Banner

April 16, 2008

In 1992, the director of the wildly popular HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL teamed with the composer of THE LITTLE MERMAID to make a movie musical that would star 3:10 TO YUMA’s Christian Bale, screen legend Ann-Margaret, and Academy Award Winner Robert Duvall. That movie musical was NEWSIES, and with all of the talent in front of and behind the camera, you would have thought that this movie would be a hit with the critics as well as the audience.

That was NOT the case as far as the critics were concerned. Most of the major critics HATED this movie. The negative reviews seemed to have two complaints in common. The first was that NEWSIES was rather violent. OK, I’ll go along with that. I watched it a few nights ago, and I did notice how much violence there was. While I don’t defend the violence, I understand why the writers felt it was necessary. This was New York City at the turn of the century, and Unions back then were more violent than they are now. Still, I think they could have done with less, and I can understand why the critics pounced on that.

The second complaint made me laugh. These critics complained that the lyrics were ungrammatical, and had too much of a New Yawk accent. I would LOVE to ask these critics what they expected from, and I quote, “poor orphans and runaways”, when they opened their mouths to sing? Pavarotti, maybe? Or Josh Groban, perhaps? When poor, uneducated newsboys sing in this movie, I expect them to sing like poor newsboys, and that’s exactly what I got. If Jack Murphy, the lyricist, had done ANYTHING else when the newsies were belting out “King of New York” (one of my favorite songs from the score) or “Seize the Day” (another good one), the movie would have felt false and fallen apart.

Well, it’s no secret that NEWSIES was not box-office gold. Still, when I talk to some young people about this movie, their faces light up, and they start singing a favorite song. When I listen to a couple of radio program on WERS in Boston on Saturdays and Sundays, I can almost guarantee a song from the soundtrack will get airtime. That makes me happy, because it offers young people who may not have heard of NEWSIES the chance to see what HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL’s director (Kenny Ortega) did for Disney before he got “our heads in the game”.