Archive for July, 2008

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All Time Favorites : THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER (Rated G, 1981)

July 29, 2008

THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER was the follow up to the highly successful MUPPET MOVIE .  Instead of being a “biographical” movie about the Muppets, this was a comedy crime caper bar none.  The story opens with Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo leading a rousing musical number about the fact that they’re going to be a movie starring “everybody and me”.  While this is going on, a rich Englishwoman (Diana Rigg) has her jewelry ripped out of her hands by a group of masked robbers.  But Kermit and Fozzie thought that the fact that they just joined their local newspaper as reporters would be a better cover story than the robbery of Lady Holliday (Rigg).  Their editor (Jack Warden) is not surprisingly displeased, and threatens to fire the two, and Gonzo, but reconsiders when the three volunteer to go to London to interview Holliday, and catch the thieves.

Landing in England (actaully thrown out of the plane OVER England), Our furry heroes decide to take up residence in London’s cheapest hotel (it’s actually free):  The Happiness Hotel.  The mere fact that someone wants to check in is cause for celebration at the Hotel, and we’re treated to what is in my opinion, one of the funniest songs genius composer Joe Raposo ever wrote (see my MOVIE MUSIC column for a sample of the lyrics).

Next morning, we find ourselves at Lady Holliday’s London headquarters.  She’s not happy with the clothes from her latest lines, saying that all her dresses make the models look like barnyard animals.  Cue Miss Piggy.  She wants to join the firm as a model, but is ecstatic just to be a receptionist.  This leads to a case of mistaken identity when Kermit walks in on Piggy pretending to be accepting the award for Model of the Year.  Kermit thinks Piggy’s Lady Holliday, and Piggy does nothing to discourage the illusion.  In fact, she ENcourages it by setting up a dinner date in which Kermit has to pick her up at her place.

That evening, as Kermit prepares for his date, he has to tell Fozzie that Fozzie can’t go.  To cheer up Fozzie, Kermit finishes dressing for his date paying tribute to Fred Astaire, in another great Raposo tune.  Piggy meanwhile has to do a little breaking and entering to help her deception be complete.  Luckily she picked the address of the most boring couple in London:  Neville and Dorcas (Neville played by John Cleese).  They’re so dull they don’t even care that a pig has just broken into their home and is answering their door, because neither Neville nor Dorcas can decide who should answer.

It turns out that the whole Muppet gang is going to dinner with Kermit and Piggy after all.  At the club, Gonzo decides to put his photography skills to good use to help pay for dinner (watch for a Jim Henson cameo in this scene).  Meanwhile, Kermit and Piggy are on the dance floor, but Piggy doesn’t want to discuss the robbery.  Also in the restaurant (actually it’s more of a supper club), are Lady Holliday, her brother Nicky (Charles Grodin), an irresponsible parasite of a brother, and Holliday’s top three models Marla, Carla, and Darla.  Holliday is worried about the safety of her jewels, but Nicky convinces Holliday to relax.  Meanwhile, on the dance floor, a huge production number takes place.  This is “The First Time it Happens” and it earned Joe Raposo an Academy Award nomination.  It’s a number that outshines HELLO DOLLY’s “Waiter’s Gallop”, thanks to Joe’s music and Anita Mann’s choreography.

Unfortunately, the magic is short-lived.  As the number finishes, the lights go out, and Holliday is robbed AGAIN!  Kermit realizes that Miss Piggy is NOT the real Lady Holliday, and is understandably upset.  The good news is that Gonzo managed to get a picture of the thieves.  The bad news is the picture gets over-exposed at the Hotel, but that’s OK, as they now know who’s been targeting Lady Holliday.  Kermit confronts Piggy in a classic character breaking argument.  Of course they make up.  But trouble has just begun.

Piggy manages to keep her job with Lady Holliday, and manages to get work helping out backstage at Holliday’s latest fashion show.  The thieves are also backstage, and decide to plant the goods on Miss Piggy.  Piggy is summarily arrested, and now it’s up to the gang to clear Miss Piggy, catch the jewel thieves, and save Lady Holliday’s most precious jewel The Fabulous Baseball Diamond.  You’ll have to see the climactic rescue for yourself.

This movie works very well because the jokes are fast and funny, and even surreal.  My favorite running gag involves the fictionalized family relationship between Kermit and Fozzie.  It just keeps the pacing fresh.  You also have a fantastic multi-faceted score by my favorite Fall River resident.  Joe Raposo is thoroughly in his element writing a musical score that is by turns exciting, hilarious, gentle, and hopelessly romantic (in a good way), with a mix of styles that service the scenes very well.  I personally enjoy the driving beat of “Night Life”, which features into the climactic scene very well.  I recently showed MUPPET MOVIE to my young nieces, and they loved that movie.  I can’t wait to show them this one.

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Thank You for Being A Friend: Remembering Estelle Getty

July 25, 2008

Picture it:  Fall, 1985, Saturday night 9PM.  We (my family and I, that is) were greatly anticipating a new NBC sitcom centered around 4 Senior Citizen ladies sharing a house in Miami.  The talent behind three of the leads was incredible.  There was Bea Arthur, playing Dorothy Zbornak, a recently divorced substitute teacher.  Rue McLanahan was Blanche Devereauz, the man-hungry widow who refused to acknowledge her advancing years.  And there was Betty White, in the role of Rose Nylund, a kind, but not-too-bright widow from St. Olaf Minnesota.  My family knew and loved these actresses, and we had a feeling that THE GOLDEN GIRLS was going to be good.

What we didn’t count on was what the fourth cast member would bring to the mix.  We had no idea who Estelle Getty was.  But by the first commercial break of that first episode, we KNEW that Estelle would be a force to be reckoned with.  Her timing as Sophia Petrillo in that first episode was perfect, and it never flagged for seven seasons.  I don’t know what was funnier, Sophia’s snappy answers to the dumb questions she had to put up with, or her stories which usually wound up being outrageous lies involving famous people.  I remember one scene in particular during the first season which put me away.  Sophia and Dorothy are playing Scrabble, and Dorothy has challenged the word that Sophia had just played, “Ma, there is no such word as ‘disdam’, ” claims Dorothy.  “There is so!” replies Sophia.  “Use it in a sentence then,” challenges Dorothy.  “Fine.  You’re no good at disdam game” Sophia replies.  From that moment on, THE GOLDEN GIRLS could do no wrong with me.

But Sophia was more than just a quick one-liner or outrageous story.  Every once in a while, Getty would show Sophia’s kind and caring side.  This happened more often in the later seasons.  One episode had Sophia encouraging a young cancer patient while doing volunteer work at the hospital, then she prevented her best friend from taking her own life.  And in an episode voted by Lifetime viewers as their favorite Sophia episode, she befriends an Alzheimer’s patient played beautifully by Joe Seneca.

Well, faithful readers, today I say good-bye to Estelle Getty and Sophia Petrillo.  They helped make a social outcast’s Saturday nights worth staying home for.  I’m grateful, though, that Getty’s work on THE GOLDEN GIRLS will not be forgotten easily, thanks to the series availability on DVD and the twice daily airings on Lifetime.  More importantly, I’m grateful for the hours of laughter that Sophia Petrillo gave us all.  Sophia would often talk about her late husband Sal.  I like to think that Sophia and Sal are now really together again in Heaven, and that Heaven has become an even more interesting, colorful, and fun place now that she’s there.  I just know that when I get there, I want to try Sophia’s Italian cuisine.

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You Can’t Stop the Dob!

July 21, 2008

Yes, readers, it’s time for another profile.  To my friends at golden-road.net, he’s affectionately known as “The Dob”.  To everyone who works at THE PRICE IS RIGHT, he is Executive Producer Roger Dobkowitz.  Roger recently left THE PRICE IS RIGHT after 36 years of dedicated service.  This column, though, is not a rant or rave about how and why this came about.  I’ve read enough about that to last a while, and I DON’T want comments here about that either. Rather, this is my little thank you to Mr. Dobkowitz for taking the time to accept my invitation to visit my blog, and write back to me about it.

With 36 years on THE PRICE IS RIGHT, I can safely say that I have been familiar with Roger’s work on that show since the get-go.  Before he became the Executive Producer, Roger would quite often be working behind the scenes on the mechanics of the many games that PRICE offers on a daily basis.  Every once in a while, even back then, Bob would have Roger step out from behind a game to say hello.  Occasionally, these hellos were the result of a mechanical malfunction.  I believe YouTube has a playing of “Cliffhangers” in which Roger is supposedly operating Hans the mountain climber, and steps out from behind the game due to a boo-boo.  Over the years, Roger moved up in the PRICE ranks to become more involved in the creative process.  This included everything from contestant interviews to game creations (his final new pricing game will debut in September).  Yet it was Bob Barker’s frequent questions to Roger about game statistics that gave America the chance to see one of the creative forces behind one of America’s best-loved TV shows.  It didn’t seem to matter what the question was either, when the camera was on Roger, he had an answer and a smile (I think a devilish smile sometimes).  Sometimes you’d even see him at the opening of an episode, whipping an already hyper audience up into an even bigger frenzy.

But Roger’s talents were not limited to PRICE.  During PRICE’S early years, CBS was also producing a revival of MATCH GAME.  Roger was a production assistant on that show, effectively giving him double duties.  Needless to say, in the early days of these classic game shows, Roger was spending A LOT of time at The Bob Barker Studio (which was called Studio 33, at that time).  It would not surprise me if Roger had more than a few stories to tell about what went on with Gene Rayburn and the regular and semi-regular cast of characters that played MATCH GAME over the years.

So, Roger, I want to say thank you. Thank you for first of all for taking the time to read my blog.  It really demonstrates what a class act and true gentleman you are.  I also want to thank you for your creative genius that helped me be a loyal fan and true of two of the best-loved and classic game shows that ever aired on CBS.  Whatever the future may hold for you, Mr. Dobkowitz, you will always be a welcome visitor to the MovieZone.

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Movie Review: MAMMA MIA! (Universal, Rated PG-13 ****)

July 19, 2008

Let me take you back in time to some of my earlier childhood memories.  I can recall how my Saturday mornings used to start when I was growing up in the 1970s.  My parents’ radio would go off, and we’d be hearing the popular music of the day carrying through the upstairs bedrooms.  Without fail, they’d play one of ABBA’s many hit songs.  You could almost set your watch by it.  If it wasn’t HONEY HONEY, it was DOES YOUR MOTHER KNOW, or, if I was REALLY lucky it was MAMMA MIA.  And that was just Saturday morning.  Every once in a while, we’d get in the car and visit some friends of my parents in Rehoboth MA.  Either on the way to Rehoboth or on the way back, I’d be treated to DANCING QUEEN.  ABBA’s music quickly became an essential part of my childhood soundtrack.  And I loved it then as I love it now.  I’ve yet to hear ANY group that can even come close to Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus’s technique.

25 years later these great songs were put into a stage musical with MAMMA MIA as the title.  I bought the cast album when it became available, and liked what I heard.  Benny and Bjorn managed to get this cast of musical theater actors to match the original sound almost perfectly.  About a year later, I found myself in the front row of the Winter Garden theater to see this megahit musical for myself.  I had a blast!  I laughed all the way through, when I wasn’t laughing, I found myself thoroughly engaged in the story, and even emotionally involved.  In short, it was a perfect theater-going experience for me, especially since this was about 6 or 7 weeks after the tragedy of 9/11.  To top it off, Karen Mason, who played the role of Tanya posed for a picture with me for Broadway Cares.  I still have this picture 7 years later, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Now it’s a movie with Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan.  And I will say right here and now that I left the movie theater with the same high and big smile on my face that I left the Winter Garden with.  Let me also say this, I get that the marketing strategy is being geared towards the female market, after all, the two lead characters are a mother and daughter.  But guys, do NOT let that stop YOU from buying a ticket.  This movie really is about family, and discovering and accepting and knowing who you are and where you come from.  What’s more, the male characters are well-defined and are not portrayed as negative stereotypes that some TV commercials can’t seem to let go of.

For those of you who do not know the story, here it is.  Sophie (Amanda Seyfried is about to be married to her fiancé Sky (Dominic Cooper) at the inn her mother owns on an island off of Greece.  There’s only one small problem:  Sophie wants her dad to give her away, but she doesn’t know who her dad is.  That is, she doesn’t know until she starts reading Mom’s diary, and discovers that her dad is one of three men:  Bill Anderson (Stellan Skarsgard excuse the lack of proper punctuation over the final “a”), Sam Carmichael (Brosnan), and Harry Bright (Colin Firth).  Sophie reasons that if she sees these men, she’ll know her real dad right away, so, unbeknownst to her mother, Sophie invites all three to the island for the wedding.  Also arriving on the island are the two best friends of Sophie’s mother Donna (Streep).  Tanya (Christine Barabnski) is on the rebound from her fourth marriage, and Rosie (Julie Walters) is just looking for a fun time and a possible companion.  The sparks begin to fly when Donna discovers the men on the island despite Sophie’s efforts to keep the whole plan a secret, even from Sky.  Donna wants them gone, but Sophie insists that they remain.  Things get even more complicated when all three men put two and two together, almost at the same time.  But fear not, readers, i can safely tell you without giving anything away that it does come out right in the end.

I can always tell when a cast is having a good time with the movie they’re making.  The cast of MAMMA MIA is not just having a good time, they’re having a non-stop party!  Getting to sing ABBA’s music is fun enough, for us fans anyway, but getting to sing this music on an absolutely stunning Mediterranean island is nothing short of a dream come true.  The shots of the island and surrounding waters were enough to keep me cool in the middle of the current heat wave here in the Northeast.  And I’m sure there were outtakes a plenty where the cast broke each other up on camera, can’t wait to see those on the DVD.  Also on the plus side was the fact that practically the entire creative staff from the stage version was involved in the movie.  When that happens, you know they’re going to do their darndest to stay true to the stage version, and they do a very good job.  Yes, songs from the stage version have been lost or moved, or used only as underscoring, but again, that’s what DVD’s can do, give you those missing moments that you might be missing.  So, if you’re feeling down in the dumps, here’s Dr. Andy’s prescription:  Buy a ticket to MAMMA MIA, sit back with your snacks and drinks, and just let yourself go for two hours, you’ll feel so much better.  And be sure to stick around-it doesn’t necessarily end when you think it does!

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MEMO TO WARNER BROTHERS: 3 Discs does NOT make it better!

July 16, 2008

Just when I thought I was going to be able to let go of my utter dislike of SPEED RACER, the Internet Movie Database reports today that on September 16, SPEED RACER will be out in a special 3 disc set of this train wreck.  There’ll be the movie, with extras including how they did the races without a real car anywhere.  Personally, I’d like an extra in which they explain how they wrote a movie without a real plot.  The second disc will be a demo of the video game, and the third will be a digital download copy, so you can be nauseated anywhere.

I guess that the folks at Warner Brothers are hoping that this movie will play better at home.  I suppose it will, if I turn the sound off, and completely dim the picture.  I feel like the execs at Warner Brothers are just throwing good money after bad.  People, the movie TANKED at the box office, and this was BEFORE the economy started to get really bad.  So, I ask you in the name of all reasonableness, why put out a special edition of a movie that FAILED?  I don’t hear people crying out for a special 3 disc edition of GIGLI.  I realize there is a special edition of SHOWGIRLS, but that I understand as SHOWGIRLS has become something of a cult favorite.  And when was the last time you heard this in a conversation:  “Wouldn’t it be great if THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS was a three disc set.”?

I’m sure that some people who initially GOT this movie will want to own the discs that are coming out.  It’s your money, and I have no right to tell you how to spend it, but let me offer this advice to the powers that be at Warner Brothers:  Wouldn’t the money your spending on this special edition of SPEED RACER on DVD be BETTER spent on releasing some of the BETTER titles that might be still sitting in your vaults?  I don’t have any specific titles in mind at the moment, but there must be a classic in there somewhere that HASN’T seen the light of day on DVD.

Let me close this column with a special thank you.  Over the past week, the total number of visits to my blog went over 500, with today’s total reaching 520.  I just wanted to say thank you to my faithful readers, and those of you who happened on it by chance.  I honestly didn’t expect to see such interest in yet another blog about one person’s opinions about the movies.  I thank you all, and I hope you will continue to keep reading!

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Movie Review: JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3D (New Line Cinema, Rated PG ****)

July 12, 2008

JOURNEY is the action packed thrill ride that SPEED RACER should have been.  I don’t know, maybe if the Wachowski’s had done their movie in D, it would have been better, but I doubt it.  Anyway, JOURNEY launches us into a new era of 3D movies.  I was always fascinated by 3D as a kid, but never had too many chances to experience it at the movies, mainly because such movies weren’t being made when I was growing up.  And when I did get the chance, it was always with the red and green or red and blue glasses, which meant that if you were seeing a 3D movie that was SUPPOSED to be in color, you’d get the effects, but at the cost of awful color distortion.   Dolby Digital has changed that forever with their new technology.  If you see this movie in 3D, and I strongly urge you to find a theater that IS showing the 3D edition, you’ll be watching through a special pair of polarized glasses that are quite comfortable, and NOT made from cheap cardboard either.

The story itself is no slouch either.  Brendan Fraser is Professor Trevor Anderson, a geology professor whose career is threatening to crash around his ears.  It seems that the students at his college are as interested in his theories about the connection between volcanoes and Pangaea as they would be about the history of limburger cheese.  Knowing this, the college has decided to close Anderson’s department.  On the homefront, Anderson’s sister-in-law (Jane Wheeler) wants him to spend a few days with his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) while she goes to prepare a new home for herself and Sean in Canada.  It turns out that Sean’s father (Trevor’s brother)disappeared while Sean was very little.  Sean, meanwhile has become surly, unresponsive, obsessed with his PSP and FAMILY GUY-you know, your typical teenager (just kidding to all you teenagers out there-I know you don’t ALL have PSP’s).  Trevor and Sean soon discover a correlation between Jules Verne’s classic novel, Trevor’s research, and Sean’s dad’s last expedition.

It’s off to Rekjavik to put the pieces together.  That’s where they meet their guide, Hannah Ásgeirsson (Anita Briem), who agrees to help them for a price.  The adventure really begins to take off when the three of them get trapped in a cave on a mountainside.  The only way out, as they will soon discover is to find another way to go.  They get to the title destination only after having to stumble around above ground for a while, culminating with a thrill ride on a mining car.   I have to admit that I was a little worried about this scene.  I don’t do thrill rides very well for two reasons:  one, I have a mild heart condition, and I get motion sickness.  But it turned out to be as good as the runaway train sequences in POLAR EXPRESS, and I didn’t feel all that queasy.  But I will caution you nonetheless, I did feel a little out of sorts at the end of the movie, but again nothing to cause me concern.  My advice is close your eyes if and when you need to.

Just be careful when you do, because you may miss some really exciting moments including a battle with giant piranha fish, another battle with giant Venus flytraps, and of course the dinosaur that you see in the previews.  These are just some of the dangers the three explorers face as they try to find out what exactly happened to Sean’s father, and how to find the way out in one piece.  Credit also goes to the two Michael Weiss’s who kept the screenplay fun with some clever dialog and real dramatic tension and humanity.  All in all, this movie proves that you don’t necessarily need to plunk down 40 bucks to find a good thrill ride.  My one concern is going to be the DVD release.  I am hopeful that this Dolby 3D technology will transfer well to standard DVD as well as BluRay, because quite honestly, the red and blue glasses ain’t gonna cut it anymore.

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A Message for the Young

July 8, 2008

I found myself watching Turner Classic Movies again last night.  I caught TOOTSIE at 8:30, which I had seen when I first got cable, but didn’t remember it too well.  I thought it was hilarious.  Then at 11 I watched the first hour of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS.  I would have watched more, but I was starting to get sleepy.  As I watched these great movies, I began to think about how difficult it must be to convince the teenagers and pre-teenagers out there that this is definitely a network worth watching every once in a while.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy newer movies very much, and the movies that are out now will be remembered by this generation of young people as the movies they grew up with.  I have no argument with that at all.  That’s how good memories are created.

My concern is that this generation may choose to ignore Hollywood’s fascinating and fantastic history.  That would be a shame.  I think it’s so important for young people to understand how we got to where we are now, good and bad, through the study of history of all kinds.  I have to give TCM some credit for trying.  This summer, on Sunday nights, movie stars that the younger generation are familiar with are introducing family-oriented movies from the TCM library.  I’m not just talking about the classic Disney library they recently acquired, and shame on YOU Disney Channel for ignoring YOUR own history, but other movies in ALL genres.  The only downside to this noble endeavor is that these Sunday night family classics don’t seem to be advertised on the other Turner Networks.  At least they’re not when I’m watching them.  If they are, and you young people are catching them, then good for TCM, they’re getting the word out.  Otherwise, I’d say they really need to buy time on the other stations to promote this great idea.

As for you young people, I’m going to offer you this advice, and yes, it is always meant to be friendly advice.  How about every now and then, turning off the MTV networks, or the Sports networks, or taking your copy of HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL or NORBIT, or any other movie you’ve seen time and again, and look through Turner Classic Movies’ schedule to see if you can find a film that you might be able to sit through without feeling silly, uncomfortable, or squeamish.  I promise you you’ll find a few if you look hard enough, or are patient enough.  You just might surprise yourself.  You may see an older actor you like in one of his or her first screen appearances.  You may discover that HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL owes a lot to the classic musicals that came from MGM.  You may even find that true screwball and physical comedy doesn’t have to be grotesque to have you falling out of your seat with laughter.  And don’t worry if you feel you might be unpopular for preferring some of these movies over what’s playing at your nearest multiplex.  You don’t have to defend that at all.  Your friends should like you for who you are, and not because you follow the crowd.  You’re learning how we got from scrolling projected backgrounds to blue screen digital effects.  You’re learning how we got from silent to speaking to 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound systems.  Who knows?  You may even be inspired to start developing a screenplay or two of your own.  In any case, if you DO discover a new favorite classic movie, let me know about it here.