Friday, April 01, 2005

What I'm Watching: The Band Wagon

The Band Wagon is often described as “Fred Astaire’s Singin’ in the Rain”, which really doesn’t do it any favors. The fact is, there is no other movie comparable to Singin’ in the Rain, which might well the most joyous film ever made. That said, The Band Wagon is probably the closest Astaire came to that Gene Kelly classic, and it is indeed a pip of a musical.

On the other hand, The Band Wagon might well have been intended to be Astaire’s Singin’, given that it came out the year following that film. It’s also difficult not to notice how Astaire’s film apes Singin’s (admittedly generic) plot. In Kelly’s movie, an attempt to make an early talkie results in a disastrous flop. The film (within the film) is saved when it’s decided to make it a musical.

The Band Wagon features a musical Broadway production that, due to its intellectual pretensions, results in a disastrous flop. The musical within the film is save when it’s decided to make it a more light-hearted affair. Even the showstopper dance routines are similar, with both Band Wagon and Singin’ boasting gangster-themed set pieces featuring balletic dancing with dancer/sex goddess Cyd Charisse as a gangster moll.

Astaire is Tony Hunter, basically a version of himself but one on the skids. A legendary song and dance man, he hasn’t made a film in three years and is desperately seeking a comeback vehicle. Luckily, two buddies of his, Lily and Lester Marton, are husband and wife playwrights, and they’ve just finished the book for a new Broadway musical that they believe is a sure fire hit.

In fact, they are so sure of its potency that they hope to involve the toast of Broadway, artistic powerhouse director/actor Jeffrey Cordova. (I assume Cordova is a jape on Orson Welles, who similarly stormed the dramatic world before turning to films. Even is this is true, however, Cordova isn’t an actual impersonation of Welles or anything.) Cordova, who has three hit shows running at the moment—and who is starring in one of them, an impressionistic take on Oedipus Rex—has never done a musical before, and instantly agrees to the idea.

Success seems assured when Cordova manages to snag the much-sought ballet star Gabrielle Gerard to star opposite Hunter. However, the two are secretly so frightened of each other—Hunter because she’s a classical trained dancer, Gabrielle because he’s a legend—that their insecurities result in mutual hostility. (This again apes the early dynamic of Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynold’s relationship in Singin’ in the Rain, since she initially tells Kelly that she’s a “serious stage actress,” and expresses disdain for his movie work. Kelly reacts cavalierly, but is actually fears that he’s the hack she accuses him to be. Eventually, though, he learns that she’s actually a wannabe film actress herself.)

Cordova keeps the show together, but ultimately his attempts to fashion the Martons' lightweight song and dance review into an ominous take on the Faust legend nearly sinks the endeavor. In the end, with only weeks to spare before they take the Broadway stage, Hunter assumes control of the show and attempts to reorient it back to what it was supposed to be.

Of course, the plot doesn’t matter in a show like this. The movie features a full eleven song and/or dance numbers, many of them classics. Astaire’s “Shine on My Shoes” number is a marvelous thing, especially in that he spends a good hunk of it dancing while sitting in an immobile chair. “Triplets,” with three of the cast dancing on their knees as they portray grouchy infants, is hilarious. Astaire’s classic “Dancing in the Dark” routine with Cyd Charisse reminds you how incredibly sexy movies can be when nothing overtly sexual is going on. When the number ends, they both look like they could use a cigarette. (And Cyd Charisse—Wow! That lady was something.) And, of course, there’s the immortal “That’s Entertainment.”

Personally, and although I’m hardly a dancing buff, I’m more of a Kelly man than an Astaire one. Astaire was more graceful, but Kelly was more masculine and just vibrantly, irrepressibly American somehow. Kelly was also the more ambitious of the two, which is why Astaire never managed to match either Singin’ in the Rain or Kelly’s more artistic triumph An American in Paris, in which Oscar Levant played the same comic sidekick role he did for Astaire here.

Still, Astaire is amazing to watch, even for the non-aficionado. His control, grace and economy of movement are hypnotic, in the same way that a great athlete or martial artist can be. Astaire was a good twenty years to the north of Charisse, and certainly looks it here, but when they’re dancing he’s entirely believable as her romantic partner.

The Band Wagon just came out on a special edition DVD and looks eyesmackingly gorgeous. The film is saturated with color in that way that modern, more naturalistic films almost never are. The set features a commentary by Liza Minnelli (daughter of the film’s director, Vincent Minnelli) and Michael Feinstein, a couple of documentaries and an outtake musical number. The discs are also available in box set of musicals, including Easter Parade (Astaire and Judy Garland, another great film), Finian’s Rainbow (Astaire), Bells are Ringing and Brigadoon (Kelly and Charisse). The Band Wagon is the pick of the litter, though.

Warning! Warning!

Fran Drescher apparently has a new sitcom. Luckily, it has been safely contained on the WB network, where it should be safe from being accidentally viewed by anyone for the four or five weeks it's on the air.

And so the day of the superstar passes...

Who'd have thought we'd look back at the original cast of the 'reality' series The Surreal Life, including such luminaries as Corey Feldman, Vanilla Ice, Tammie Faye Baker and MC Hammer, and think, "In those days, giants strode the earth"?

Well, that's what I thought was I got a gander at the line-up for the show's fifth (!) edition, which features such 'celebrities' as Caprice (a British model), Corey Hart, Janice Dickensen (a former girlfriend of Sly Stallone; at least former cast member Brigitte "Ex-Mrs. Stallone" Nielsen actually had her own show biz career), Jose Canseco, Sandi Denton (of Salt n' Pepper, I guess), Bronson Pinchot and the inevitable Omerosa from the first season of The Apprentice.

This week at the Movies...

The longest summer movie season ever unofficially kicks off today with the release of the critically lauded Sin City. Although it scores a healthy 75% positive rating at rottentomatoes.com, its real strength lies in not just positive but often stellar reviews it's receiving from many mainstream critics. Roger Ebert has given it four stars, and calls it a work of "cinematic genius." Three and a half and four star reviews for the film abound. It'll be interesting to see just how good this one does.

The similarly well-reviewed romantic comedy for adults The Upside of Anger goes wide this week. It's done well in limited release, and don't underestimate Kevin Costner's appeal when he's in the right part. I don't think anyone expects this to shatter box office records, but it should post healthy numbers.

Wednesday saw the mid-week release of Beauty Shop, a spin-off of the popular Barbershop movies. Queen Latifah headlines, and given the success of such recent 'urban' (i.e., black-skewing) titles as Diary of a Mad Black Woman, expect this one to post decent numbers and then clean up on home video.

DVD announcements...

DVDdrive-in.com announces that on July 12th, MGM will release DVDs for Love at First Bite, Bert I. Gordon's cheeseball fantasy flick The Magic Sword (a hell of a lot better than Dungeons & Dragons, I tell you what), and Lou Ferrigno's Sinbad of the Seven Seas and YES! a double bill DVD of his Ferrigno's hilarilous Italian Hercules movies. Man, that makes my day. Also mentioned are the previously announced Paramount special editions of Danger Diabolik and George Pal's War of the Worlds, out in June.

In November, Classic Media will release five previously available Godzilla movies: Godzilla King of the Monsters, Godzilla vs. Mothra (aka Godzilla vs. The Thing), Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Godzilla's Revenge and Terror of Mechagodzilla. Supposedly these will feature better transfers than the previously available Simitar DVDs. Too bad they didn't get the rights to King Kong vs. Godzilla, as the previous, OOP DVD for that title wasn't in widescreen. However, Classic is supposedly seeking the rights to more Godzilla titles. The notoriously balky Toho might just be waiting to check out their first batch, for quality and/or sales. Sony and especially Media Blasters (the recent Matango and Mysterians discs) have really raised the bar.

Hilariously, Classic will also release a DVD set of the dreadful King Kong cartoon show, most famous for its memorable theme song: "King Kong/You know the name of King Kong/You know the fame of King Kong/Ten times as big as a maaaahn!" However, the show also was the basis for the Toho Kong film King Kong Escapes, which featured the series villain Dr. Who and, of course, Who's MechaKong.

DVD Bargain of the Day...

Deepdiscountdvd is selling the Marx Brothers Collection for $35, 42% off list. The set includes five discs and seven movies. Even the minor ones have some good bits, and $35 wouldn't be a bad price to pay for A Night at the Opera (which features a commentary track--although, warning, it's by Leonard Maltin) and A Day at the Races alone.

[Thanks to Scott, propriator of the Drunken Republican blog, who points out that the A Day at the Races disc also boasts a commentary, this one by a Marx Brothers biographer. Also included in the set are numerous cartoons, documentaries and other features. A complete list of them can be found here.]

The company is also selling a wide range of other box sets for up to 44% off list. The selection can be found here. Check the price against the listing for the same item at dvdpricesearch.com, just to make sure you're getting the best price, but there are many, many good bargains there. Hell, you can always grab something at a good price and stick it away for Christmas presents.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Who are you...Who Who?

After a 16 year hiatus, the BBC brought back Dr. Who last week, as the first of 13 newly commissioned episodes was broadcast.

The ratings were strong enough that 13 more episodes have been commissioned. There's one problem, though. The actor newly playing the Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, has given his notice. Oddly, he noted that he didn't want to be typecast in the role. If that's the case, he's an ass. No one had mentioned to him the possibility that they'd order further shows?

The woman who plays his assistant in the latest skein will return, and Ecceleston's Doctor will regenerate into a 10th incarnation (apparently the Paul McGann's TV movie Doctor is officially part of continuity; hopefully they'll 'forget' that part about him suddenly being half-human). Actor David Tennant is supposedly the front runner.

No word, that I know of, on when and where the new skein will play here in the States.

Warner Brothers DVD news...

The Home Theater Forum website had one of its essential Internet chats with representatives of Warners DVD. A transcript of the entire chat, which lasted three hours, can be found here.

The basic idea for these is that a muckity muck from some studio's DVD department takes questions from (some rather obsessive) fans on issues ranging from disc problems and presentation issues to, and this is the most fun, what's in the pipe to be released over the next year. I'm always amazed at the films people asked about.

Note the animation DVD guys weren't there (probably to avoid being raked over). This confirmed what I already assumed, that there were different Warners dvd departments. The reason I thought that is because the movie department is great, as proved by all the awesome boxed sets of classic films they're released over the last couple of years, and the animation releases suck; i.e., putting out one or two episodes of shows like Batman:TAS and Justice League, and then screwing consumers either by subsequently putting out partially redundant, double dipping full season sets (Batman:TAS) or conversely not offering full season sets (Justice League). Anyway, except for the Looney Tunes, the Warners animation release guys are incompetent dicks.

A quick run-down:

Single coolist news: This year will see a box set of nine (!) Val Lewton films, with special features and commentaries.

Plus: "We plan to start releasing all 48 of our BOWERY BOYS films in collections during 2006."

Also Mighty Joe Young (the real one) out before Christmas.

Potentially most valuable news: Warners is "working hard to resolve" the rights issues on the Fleisher B&W Popeye cartoons. I can't think of anything that would excite me more than getting a big set of these classics on DVD.

Asked about/No current plans to release: Night School, New Year's Evil, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Killer Party, Not of This Earth ('57), Caltiki, Giant Behemoth, Mad's Up the Academy; Under the Rainbow (!); Electric Dreams; Mama's Family , The Hogan Family, Growing Pains, Freddy's Nightmares, Shazam!; Time Trax, Just the Ten of Us, Flamingo Road, Family Matters, Step by Step; Falcon's Crest (TV).

Asked about/in the pipe for release: Streisand Star Is Born (by end of year); Point Blank, Thin Man Collection, Adventures of Superman (Reeves TV show set); Ben-Hur 4-disc set, with both '25 & '59 versions of film, restored; Outsiders extended edition; special editions of Dog Day Afternoon, Network and All the President's Men (nice); two box sets of Astaire/Rogers flicks; Lois & Clark (TV); The Naked Spur; Looney Tunes Box Three before Christmas '05; 2001: A Space Odyssey SE (2006); a supposedly super-super Wizard of Oz SE; Streetcar Named Desire SE (2006); a whole mess of Steve McQueen stuff; The Devils SE; Maltese Falcon SE (2006).

Projects in limbo: Magnificent Ambersons (looking for elements), Zabriskie Point ("under consideration"), Get Smart (don't own), Batman TV show (don't own), Superboy TV show ("under consideration"); Cold Case TV show ("music rights issues");

Stuff to come out eventually: Welcome Back, Kotter; The Flash (TV); Witchblade; Batman: Mask of the Phantasm SE; Green Mile SE; more Lon Chaney Sr. stuff; L.A. Confidential SE (finally).

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

(Mostly weird) DVD news...

Digitalbits.com reports that David Lynch, who promised never to go near the movie Dune again, has reconsidered and will be working on a SE DVD set. The longer version that played on TV, with added length and narration and stuff to try to make the film sensible, was not Lynch's, and carried the traditional Alan Smithee directorial credit. Now, however, it looks like this future DVD set will include the original theatrical cut of the film and, for the first time, an extended version that Lynch will call his own.

An extended cut (??) of Bruce Willis' already forgotten war pic Tears of the Sun will come out on June 7th. Weird, the films that get this sort of treatment.

More pleasing to a presumably wider base of fans, Bill Murray's Stripes is getting an extended cut with 18 (!) more minutes of material. No other extras have been announced, so that may be all the disc offers. Meanwhile, a 30th Anniversary, two-disc set of Jaws will hit shelves in June, although again no hints as to what it will offer have been provided, although I guess the full set comes with a book. Hopefully this means I will still get a call fro Universal about doing a commentary regarding the degradation of the series, as detailed in my world famous series of Jaws 1-4 reviews. Or maybe they'll let me put a documentary on the subject together.

Hey, I can dream, right?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Oh, Madonna...

Despite my general disdain for the intellectual capacity of your average celebrity, I really couldn't care less about their private lives. (In fact, I often go cross-eyed from the amount of 'news' coverage their 'love' lives get.) This site is not intended as a forum for bashing them, in any case, but there are times...

[Per the IMDB]: "Madonna and her husband Guy Ritchie celebrated the Jewish holiday of Purim in an unusual manner on Thursday - by dressing up as a nun and the Pope. The couple were spotted on the streets of London as they made their way to a Kabbalah party to celebrate the holiday, which commemorates the day Queen Esther saved the Jewish people living in ancient Persia from extermination. Madonna's publicist, Liz Rosenberg, tells MTV, "Yes, she was dressed as a nun and Guy was dressed as the pope. Some Catholic groups are saying stuff, but Purim is a joyous holiday occasion. Madonna and Guy had a great time drinking and dancing. It's funny, because she said that she was happy that the pictures of her are out there because her father would be so proud. She said that when she was a girl she wanted to be a nun and she guesses that she's still a nun at heart."

No comment needed.

Cinema buffs give forth a sigh of relief...

Per the IMDB:

"Hollywood star Ben Affleck's deleted cameo in girlfriend Jennifer Garner's latest movie Elektra is set to be included in the forthcoming DVD of the Daredevil spin-off. Affleck began dating the Alias beauty shortly after he visited the Vancouver, Canada set of the action movie last summer. Despite filming a small role in Elektra, producers removed Affleck's scene from the final cut after they discovered the two actors were dating, fearing a similar backlash to Affleck's films Gigli and Jersey Girl, in which he starred alongside then fiancee Jennifer Lopez. Movie site RopeofSilicon.Com has posted the deleted scene, entitled "Come Back," in a DVD preview of Elektra."

Note: Some radical cinema theorists have argued that the 'backlash' against Gigli and Jersey Girl didn't stem from its lead actors dating, but the fact that both movies really, really sucked. So why this should have any effect on Elektra...oh. Never mind.

Bond is Blooming...or, Bloom is Bonding....

Per IMDB:

"Orlando Bloom's dream of becoming the next James Bond looks set to become reality - but he'll be playing the young 007. The Pirates Of The Caribbean actor has confirmed he has been in negotiations to star in Young 007. He says, "I love the idea, in principle, as he can be far more adventurous and do more stunts. This is as near as I think I will get to playing the grown up James for the next 20 years." The first Young 007 movie will be based on new novel Silverfin and will be set in the 1930s, years before Bond discovered he likes his Martinis shaken, not stirred. The film will follow the young Bond from school at Eton, England, to his uncle's house in the west Highlands."

Of course, execution is all. I remember that one problem with the Young Sherlock Holmes movie was that they had Holmes involved in a fantastical case, which didn't really suit the character. I'd like to see a tough-minded film, with much less reliance on gadgets, and have Bond be a bit naive but lot so much as to be played for comedy. In other words, don't "make this for kids" in the way Hollywood uses the phrase, as with "it's a comic book movie", as shorthand for "it doesn't matter if it makes any sense or not."

New on DVD today, 03/29/05

Astro Boy the Complete Series: So when does Prince Planet come out?

A Bell From Hell: Another '70s Italian Horror flick giving a loving DVD release. This sort of thing isn't my bag, but if it's yours, check out this review.

Lady in a Cage: Camp classic featuring a rich but crippled Olivia de Havilland caught in her between-floors elevator during a power outage, when violent punks lead by James Caan (!!) invade her house.

The Lone Gunman: The Complete Series: The short-lived X-Files spin-off.

Treasure of the Amazon: I had never heard about this film, but hey, it starred Donald Pleasance, Stuart Whitman and Bradford Dillman, and was directed by noted hack Ray Cardona Jr. That's good enough for me.

The Twilght Zone Season 2: The Definative Collection: An essential buy.


The spotlight disc of the week is the Criterion Collection 2-disc special edition release of Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha.

DVD bargains...

Bestbuy.com is selling the nifty tin enclosed Walt Disney Treasures: On The Front Lines collection, featuring much of the studio's propaganda cartoons and shorts from WWII. Fascinating stuff, especially for history and animation buffs. They are selling it for a thrify $17. When these are gone, they are gone. Order here.

DVD Announcements...

D.E.B.S., the dismal 'lesbian' 'spoof' of the Charley's Angels films, hit theaters this weekend in a limited release of only 45 theaters, and pulled in a dismal $56,500, or under $1,300 a screen. Meanwhile, the DVD 'special edition' (!!) release has been announded for June 7th, barely two months after it's theatrical premiere. This indicates that the release was meant basically as a form of advertising for the DVD release, a cheap way to get pictures of the cast in their little Catholic schoolgirl outfits into a range of metropolitan newspapers.

B-Movie buffs will be glad to hear the the long-delayed Danger: Diabolik DVD has been rescheduled to hit shelves on June 14th. Star John Phillip Law and Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas, director Mario Bava's biographer, provide a commentary. The decision to include such a commentary may be what delayed the disc's release in the first place. If this is true, and despite my frustration at the time, kudos to Paramount for not releasing it on schedule and then putting the commentary on a double dipping 'special edition' release.

Meanwhile, I can't say it better than the fine folks at Digitalbits.com: "Remember how (a few months back) I asked when someone was going to release one of my favorite B-grade camp classics from the 1980s... the docudrama Sasquatch, The Legend of Bigfoot? Well, leave it to our friends over at Image Entertainment to step up to the plate! On 6/14, look for their Sasquatch Horror Triple Feature (SRP $19.99), which will include Sasquatch, The Legend of Bigfoot, Snow Creature and Snow Beast."

I loooove the folks at Image. They are awesome. Meanwhile, Image continues to release their lauded 'definative' season sets of The Twilight Zone. The second season will come out on April 5th, and they've just announced the third season set, due on June 28th. It's kind of cool that we don't have to wait a year for each set to come out.

Also in June, Image collects a number of previously released '50s schlock classics in one convenient package in their Alien Attack Collection. This boasts Brain from Planet Arous, Cat-Women of the Moon, Missile to the Moon (a remake [!!] of Cat-Women) and The Day It Came to Earth. This should sell just north of $20 and is a great bargain for those who didn't buy the earlier releases. No word yet on whether each film gets its own disc or whether they are grouped onto one or two discs.

Similar sets that month (including the above noted Bigfoot set) include the Monster Madness Collection, featuring the essential Killer Shrews, Giant Gila Monster, Monster from Green Hell and She Demons; and the Poverty Row Theater Collection, with
some fun looking '30s cheapies, Detective Kitty O'Day, Club Paradise and Private Snuffy Smith.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Stuff I've bought...

Just got in the swanky new 2-disc set for The Band Wagon, a simply terrific Fred Astaire movie (it's the film the "That's Entertainment" song comes from), and the set for The Incredibles. The latter is a great film, but I really bought it because I got the Band Wagon from Amazon and you need to spend $25 to get free shipping. The fact that Amazon was selling The Incredibles for like 40% off certainly helped.

Both sets come in easily scuffed slip covers, the one for The Incredibles all shiny and hologram-y. Extras are extensive, including a Jack-Jack cartoon (I think it portrays the events, unseen in the main film, that drives the kid's babysitter away), some faux 'bloopers and outtakes'--standard now for animated films, some commentaries, deleted scenes, etc. One of the extras that really sold me though is a mock '70s cartoon show episode featuring Frozone, which comes with an in-character commentary by Frozone and Mr. Incredible.

The cover for Band Wagon is poorly designed, with a cutout box for the interior case's UPC symbol, so that it can be scanned at retail outlets. The edge of the cutout area abuts the spine, and is simply an invitation to tear the outer slip cover. The disc features a making-of doc, a doc on director Vicent Minnelli, an outtake musical number, and a musical short featuring co-star Jack Buchanan. Liza Minnelli (the director's daughter by Judy Garland) and Micheal Feinstein provide a commentary.

Things that make you go, "No, I don't think so"...

I realize tastes very, and you might grade different sorts of films differently, but I was aghast that in the April 1st issue of Entertainment Weekly, the DVD review section gives a B+ to the new Criterion Kagemusha DVD, and an A- to a special edition of Orgazmo. You might argue this is based on the extras, rather than the film itself, but the Kagamusha review mentions an "outstanding commentary".

I'll don't think I'll regret having bought the lower rated disc.

Odd situation with MGM Midnight Movie DVDs...

I recently posted that I had received a shipment of the latest slate of MGM Midnight Movie double bills. These used to be general releases, and then were (in the states) Best Buy exclusives, along with being available at Canadian DVD retailers, including DVDSoon, where I buy most of my discs.

A report on the invaluable DVDdrive-in.com site indicates that Best Buy doesn't seem to be carrying the latest bunch, which in effect means no U.S. retailer is. Those looking to purchase these great bargain DVDs are thus directed to DVDSoon.com, Amazon Canada or Dvd-plus.com.

To reiterate, here is the latest crop, with each disc running roughly $10:

PANIC IN YEAR ZERO/THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
VOODOO ISLAND/THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE
FIREBALL 500/THUNDER ALLEY
THE MINI-SKIRT MOB/CHROME AND HOT LEATHER
DIE, MONSTER, DIE!/THE DUNWICH HORROR
MORONS FROM OUTER SPACE/ALIEN FROM L.A.
TALES OF TERROR/TWICE TOLD TALES (Vincent Price flicks)
WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP/AT THE EARTH'S CORE

Details on each DVD can be found here.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Arrested Development nearly arrested...

By my count, there are four remaining episodes of the brilliant Arrested Development left before the show most probably goes off the air. It's entirely too late to urge people who haven't been following the show to start watching it now, but its something we fans should be aware of so that we can wring every last morsel of entertainment out of the remaining shows.

For those people who didn't watch the program as it was broadcast, check out the season one DVDs. It's a great show.