Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tuesday Tidbits

Have you seen any of the new Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince posters? I think they’re going for a new tough guy image. But I guess with aging actors (and viewers), and thus more mature storylines, you gotta market the thing with a bit of grown-upness. You can see all the new posters here at MSN.

* * *

Son K asked me the other day: “What is it about Twilight, why does everyone like it so much? Especially girls? Is it 'cause the guy is a --" (here he indicates air quotes) "-- 'hunk'? What’s the big deal about it?”

I said, "Well, it was a popular book--"

"These kids haven't read the book, I guarantee you," he snorted.

Since the Twilight phenom is something I’m really not up on, I couldn’t answer him with any authority. K’s just turned 12, isn’t particularly interested in it himself, but wonders what the fuss is.

What should I have said? What do YOU know about it? I know vampires are sexy and all, but how do you give that answer to a kid in a way that ... uh... that makes sense? (Actually, I did say that: “Um, some people think vampires are kinda sexy, I guess...” After that, I was at a loss.)

What's your take on the Twilight phenom?

* * *

Lastly (promise I’ll get to a review soon!), here’s a sneak peek at a poster for a film coming out Christmas Day.

Do you know who the actor is? I’ll let you ponder for a moment. Answer in image following.

Here's the answer. Oh, i can't wait!
Jude Law will co-star as Watson, and it's directed by Guy Ritchie, so I rather doubt it will be kid-friendly.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Random Act... Oh, it's gotta be a joke...

Ok, by now perhaps you've heard a story floating around, most recently reported by The Hollywood Reporter, of a Three Stooges flick with Sean Penn as Larry, Benicio Del Toro as Moe, and Jim Carrey as Curley. I just refuse to believe it, even though the stories start to look more and more credible.

Sigh. I had to post this hilarious photo, courtesy Ropes of Silicon.


Maybe this wasn’t a “near miss.” Maybe it’s a “Boy, is she dumb” miss, or a “How could she not have known?” miss.

Bill Murray. 1979. Was that enough of a tip-off? Perhaps. Perhaps I was in denial. Perhaps I should have dug harder around IMDB since Netflix offered no indication that user reviews like, “good family viewing,” were off the mark, unless they meant families with teenagers. Perhaps I should have questioned the “PG” rating since Meatballs was made in1979, and as I’ve noted before, PG now and PG then certainly seem to be different!

Anyway, this serves as notice that, lest you be enticed by Mr. Murray and his inarguable charms, or by the topic (shy boy comes out of shell at summer camp), or by the rave reviews on Netflix, this is far too rife with sexual innuendo to be appropriate for kids. We got into the first ten minutes or so, and after jokes about a “sex machine” counselor picking up ten nurses one night and only “three made it to work the next day” and about about the nice summer kids spending their parents’ money on “hookers from every country” and “raping and pillaging” their way through summer, we abruptly shut down.

Ok, so I’m not up on my Bill Murray like I should be (I do love the guy). Forgive me. But I’m here to serve.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I know I don’t usually write a lot about Disney stuff, but this bit of news is worth reporting.

Disney has been working on a hand-drawn animated feature called The Princess and the Frog, and I seem to remember reading somewhere that they are committing to producing hand-drawn features every couple of years or so. Basically, they are not giving up the tried and true for a world built soley with CGI.

A big cheer for Disney!

Even bigger news: The princesss in the film is not blue-eyed and fair! She’s African-American... a first for Disney. (Is that really true? Really?)

Here’s a trailer: (Princess will hit theaters in December.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Trailer: Where the Wild Things Are

Wow. WOW. (Thank you, D.!!)

(More on WTWTA, opening in October, here.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tuesday Tidbits

So, son K never insisted on seeing Coraline. My theory? I think he’s a little spooked by it! I’m hearing more stories about kids who are/were spooked by the movie, and either skipped it or are now trying not to dream about it.

I guess I’ll have to see it on my own -- in my living room since it’s no longer on a screen near me. Phht.

If you’re a fan of musician Stephin Merritt/Magnetic Fields, you may already know that he has written music and lyrics for a stage production of Coraline that’s opening in NYC on May 7. Arrgh! Can I get back to NYC then? I doubt it.

For those of you lucky enough to go, you should know that for a limited time (through April 12; they just went on sale yesterday), discounted tickets will be available for $39 at the MCC Theater website. You can get more info here at Merritt’s site: www.houseoftomorrow.com

His Gothic Archies project did music a few years ago for the Lemony Snickets books, entitled “The Tragic Treasury: Music for a Series of Unfortunate Events.” They are dark, and cool, and lots of fun for parents. Oh dear, now I’m humming the melody to “The World is a Very Scary Place” .... hmmmmm....mmmmmmmm....mmmmm...

Monday, March 23, 2009


This wonderful French film might serve your kids well as an introduction to subtitled foreign films, if you’ve not ventured there yet. I’ve got a couple other recommendations, but this one might be a good place to start. (I’m pretty sure The Butterfly would carry the equivalent of a G rating.)

The story is easy enough to follow that working on the subtitles without missing screen action will be fairly easy for kids around nine or ten. However, the story is not so simple that parents should shy away from it, lest they be bored. It’s a beautiful and entertaining film on many levels, and of course it’s shot in Paris and in the beautiful French countryside, and so is visually quite pleasing.

I watched this without K (who was in one of his increasingly more frequent tweener moods; “A butterfly? It’s about a butterfly?” [Sigh.] “No thanks.”) (Er, it’s not about a butterfly.) During the last half, I wished I’d twisted his arm, or been more cunning, because he surely would have enjoyed it. K has quite a capacity for emotional empathy (in film, anyway), and The Butterfly is full of quiet little twists and turns expounding on the difficulties of love, trust, parenting, and personal loss.

Claire Bouanich is the young actress playing Elsa, and she is -- sorry, there is no other word -- adorable in every shot. She’s a natural actress, and whether she’s up to a bit of mischief to turn things in her favor, or caught off guard when a deer in the woods falls victim to a poacher’s bullet, her expressions feel genuine and effortless. Many child actors just get by -- you have to admit it -- but this young lady possesses a true gift.

The late Michel Serrault (you may remember him from the wonderful, original La Cage aux Folles, in 1978, as Albin, one of the main characters) plays the cranky old butterfly collector with whom Elsa (rather duplicitously) takes to the mountains in search of the elusive “Isabelle” butterfly. I enjoyed seeing him not long ago in another French film with a similar theme, The Girl From Paris (not a kids’ movie: old, lonely crank befriended by young city woman who moves to the country). He plays a buttoned-up, reluctantly isolated old fellow with a rough charm and a just-soft-enough exterior that giving up on him is just not an option.

In true European fashion, there is one moment in the film that had me doing a double-take, and -- because this is what I do -- you are hereby warned that the adorable Elsa (eight years old, perhaps?) tells a sailor-style joke with the phrase “scratched his balls” in the punchline. I kid you not.

Oh, those wacky French.

Here's a pseudo-trailer, with clips of Serrault and Bouanich recording the charming closing song (sorry, I couldn't find a real trailer with English subtitles):

Saturday, March 21, 2009

This Week's Classic Kids' Movie

There are several film adaptations of Frances Hodgson Burnett's beloved children's book, "The Secret Garden," but I can only tell you about two of them. One is a 1975 BBC version, which feels exactly like a 1975 BBC version. Adults might rather like it and appreciate it for its historic, vaguely Masterpiece Theater-feel, but for kids it’s too slow and too musty.

The other version I’m familiar with is the 1993 version, directed by polish director Agnieszka Holland, who has a string of films you’ve never heard of, plus television credits for shows like The Wire and Cold Case. I was surprised not to see another film or two of significance in his bio, as his Secret Garden is absolutely lovely, and the attention given to things like continuity and visual details are admirable.

This film has a G rating, but I doubt it would work on kids under age eight. It’s a pretty sedate, quiet film, the British accents may be a tad difficult for young (American) kids, and there is a dark, brooding melancholy throughout the first half. Younger children would likely have a difficult time with scenes of neglectful parents, dying parents, and “invalid” children throwing temper tantrums (cousin Colin throws a doozy here).

For the older kids, The Secret Garden is a great example of dramatic cinematic storytelling aimed at children that isn’t candy-coated in Disney sugar, and the film’s messages of hope, rebirth, and friendship are heartwarming and very sweet. It’s also mature enough (and lush enough visually) that most parents will enjoy it as well.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Random Act of Self Indulgence .11

Dave Eggers is a fabulous writer. If you haven't read him, do yourself a favor. Start with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and after that, it doesn't matter where you go, as long as you definitely include What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng.

In addition to being an author and publisher (he founded McSweeney's), Eggers also does a heckuva lot to promote literacy and human rights. Among other things, he founded a nonprofit tutoring center and writing school for children in San Francisco, called 826 Valencia, and has overseen the expansion of the program to other American cities. (More on 826 National here.)

Now, he's breaking into the movies.

Word has it that he's behind the screenplay adaptation (along with Spike Jonze) of the classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are, along with a novel that will be released simultaneously. The film releases in October, and you can get a sneak preview when you see Monster & Aliens; early reports use words like "brilliant" and "breathtaking" to describe it. Of course, being set to Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" already lends itself to use of those kinds of adjectives.

So we've got two Eggers-related treats for you here. First, a peek at the Wild Things poster! Love it? I do. I do.

Secondly, we happened upon a cool looking trailer from another film Eggers wrote (with his wife, Vendela Vida)
, and get this: it 's directed by Sam Mendes and stars a bearded John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, and Jeff Daniels. (Maya Rudolph? She seems pretty convincing here!).

Away We Go (not a kids' film, although parenting is a core theme) hits screens June 11. According to IMDB:

The film is the first studio production to adopt green filmmaking initiatives aimed to reduce CO2 emission. Garbage was reduced by half, thanks to the various bins for recyclable material. Caterers used ceramic and washed dishes as opposed to throwaway products. Vehicles on the set used biodiesel fuel.

Enjoy the trailer:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Sometimes a film demands you suspend disbelief and just go with it, not pick it apart ... perhaps remember that it’s aimed at kids.

I Am David is one such film, and the suspending is worth the effort. It’s curious the movie that tackles deep and ugly issues with a young audience in mind. And it’s admirable (hence the point of this blog: it ain’t all Shrek and roses out there, nor should it be).

David, played by a young British actor named Ben Tibber, has lived a good part of his 12 years in a post-WWII Communist labor camp, separated from his parents at an early age. He escapes, and we follow his bumpy trajectory from Bulgaria to Denmark: one step forward, two steps back. The bumps are small, however, and so the expected cinematic arc/construct doesn’t really take place. The film feels like it’s lacking a plot or real tension, when of course the entire story -- one of escape and survival -- is the plot, woven together by threads of fear, distrust, and the unknown, all of which should provide plenty of tension. It’s an odd feeling.

The last third of the film feels more tangible, perhaps more plot-driven, and the appearance of Joan Plowright is a joy (I didn’t realize how much I like her until now). And there are a couple of unexpected plot twists towards the end that are rewarding payoffs.

This is definitely for mature kids, ten or 11 and up (Netflix says nine, but ...). The brutality of life in a camp, of being separated from one’s parents at a tender age (there’s a heart wrenching moment when the mother is taken away), of not knowing life in the real world, is palpable and may be hard on some viewers. Son K was pretty entranced by it, and we got to work in some history lessons as David moved from country to country, e.g., What was going on in Italy after the war? What happened to Mussolini? etc.

It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a solid, entertaining, mature drama, one which may have mom in tears at the end. Kids seem curiously impervious sometimes...

The film is adapted from Anne Holm's internationally acclaimed novel North to Freedom, which sounds like a very good read.

"The single finest novel ever written for children of about ages 9 to 13."
--School Library Journal


Remakes. And more remakes. We've already mentioned projects under way for remakes of the Wizard of Oz (groan), Karate Kid, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and a few others. Here's news on a couple more:

1984’s NeverEnding Story was a precursor to the fantasy craze in Hollywood, which saw big, big bucks from movies like the Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings franchises. NeverEnding Story did fairly well upon release, and has enjoyed a healthy second life as a rental (this should be featured in a Weekly Classics post by yours truly!). Now comes word that Warner Bros. owns the rights to a remake, and is in talks with various production companies, including Leonard DiCaprio's Appian Way, about the project.

Some diehard fans are up in arms; others welcome the opportunity for a visual spectacular to rival all others (one commenter on a forum suggests the director Guillermo del Toro, of Pan’s Labyrinth, as a suitable match; not a bad idea).

How do you feel about it? I confess I love the original, and think, even in retrospect, that the visuals were pretty cool.

My concern about a remake is that it will go over the edge and be too dark, too scary, too much. I hope I would be wrong.

Here’s a reminder as to how great the original was:

Jack Black is starring in a new version of Gulliver’s Travels, along with Jason Segel and Emily Blunt. Black plays Gulliver, who washes up on the beach of the Lilliputians, and Blunt is the Princess of the ‘putians, while Segel is one who befriends Gulliver. The director is Rob Letterman, responsible for Shark Tale, and this spring’s Monsters and Aliens. (Did you know about some of the voice talent in M&A? Try this: Reese Witherspoon, Rainn Wilson, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, and Stephen Colbert. There are more worth mentioning but I have to get on with it. That’s a big “Wow!” though, isn’t it?)

Feels like an odd pairing, Jack Black and Gulliver. Hmmm. In this version (don’t expect a serious treatment of the book!), Gulliver is a travel agent who ends up on an island of tiny people.

Oh, heck, why not Jack Black?

Gulliver’s Travels won’t be out until 2010.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

This Week's Classic Kids' Movie

“Mandy Patinkin and Andre the Giant star in this oddball fairy tale ...”

Ok, you have to admit, there’s just something weird about that sentence. I started to open with it then stopped short, thinking, gee, that kind of says it all. Doesn’t it?

Okay, I’ll answer: yes. It’s an oddball pairing, in an oddball fairy tale, one that has certainly earned its “classic” status.

Rob Reiner’s offbeat 1987 comedy (the ‘80s were his best years: Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, When Harry Met Sally are all classics!) is a humorous, (mostly) family friendly fable, and the cast is stellar: it includes Billy Crystal, Robin Wright Penn, Christopher Guest, Peter Falk and Wallace Shawn. In another director’s hands, The Princess Bride could easily have become too soft, too sweet, too predictable. But in Reiner’s capable paws, we get clever kids’ fare (bad guys, sword fights, pirates, a pretty princess and a brave prince, fairy tale critters), carefully spiced with Reiner’s own brand of adult, caustic humor.

A great combo, no?

Come on, plenty of you out there who don’t even have kids have seen it. Some claim it’s a great date movie, too.

So if you need a little grown-up cinema fix, but it’s family night, this is a classic you can count on for all age groups.

(Er, almost all age groups; caveat about the PG rating: there are scenes like the prince threatening to cut off a man’s feet, hands, eyes, etc., with his fancy swordplay; it’s a rather graphic bit of scriptwriting. There is also a scene or two involving a “torture machine,” a semi-bloody attack by a giant rodent, sword stabbings, and a comment on the princess’s “perfect breasts.” So keep that in mind for your own kids. It might be best for ages nine or ten and up.)

Friday, March 13, 2009


It’s been a while since we watched a sci-fi movie with K, and so our viewing of The Incredible Shrinking Man was even sweeter the other night.

It’s a pretty innocuous film, from 1957, but there is something that stays with you afterwards in an unsettling, sort of creepy way. Now that I think about it, I think it may have simply aroused some very old memories of seeing a movie called Attack of the Puppet People when I was a kid. It made for fine Saturday afternoon television viewing, but I think I had bad dreams later that night. The idea of having a completely altered physical existence from the one you know and live everyday is pretty terrifying; imagine suddenly becoming tiny, gigantic, invisible, glowing green ...

In The Incredible Shrinking Man, a young, happily married man encounters a strange, radioactive cloud while out boating one day, and later notices some very strange things. He is, of course, shrinking.

The effects are surprisingly good. In the beginning, staging tricks make his wife appear larger,
and his clothes are just a little more ill-fitting each day. Slowly, his physical frame appears child-like on oversized sofas and standing at windowsills he can barely reach. Soon he’s living in a dollhouse, and fearing the house cat, as well he should.

The artistry that went into the sets, and in creating objects many times their true size (scissors, straight pins, mouse traps, twine balls), was impressive. This “shrinking” film inspired others (such as Puppet People), but this is one of the best of the lot.

Without giving anything away, you need to know that it takes its time getting to the juicy stuff, but
stay with it, as it’s well worth it. Our hero’s encounter with the spider (did they use a tarantula?!) is what you want to stick around for.

And my bad dreams, back in the day of Saturday afternoon horror movies on television? After reading up on Puppet People, I’m reminded that the disturbing thing about that movie was that the miniaturized people were kept in a state of suspended animation in bottles, like dolls under glass. What ten-year old wouldn’t be a little freaked out by that?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Random Act of Self Indulgence .10

Ok, how hip are you? For a parent, or otherwise? If you need to up your cool quotient a tad, just name-drop the upcoming Big Man Japan flick at your next dinner party. “Oh,” you say dryly, “it’s a Japanese arthouse film, combining their love of classic monster movies with straight-up Japanese cinema weirdness ... It’s coming out in May....”

The storyline: A middle-aged slacker living in a rundown, graffiti-ridden slum, Daisato’s job involves being shocked by bolts of electricity that transform him into a stocky, stick-wielding giant several stories high who is entrusted with defending Japan from a host of bizarre monsters.. (From Apple Movie Trailers, where you can see a high quality and very bizarre trailer; not for kids!)

I was browsing the Daily Beast to see exactly what Meghan McCain wrote about Anne Coulter (good, hard-hitting points about Coulter’s faults and about how the GOP needs to find its’ “center,” nothing a lot of Republicans aren't muttering under their breaths) and saw the good news that Mickey Rourke is definitely playing the villain in the next Iron Man. Yeah! And Scarlett Johansson has scored the role of Black Widow. (I'm posting a photo here of Robert Downey, Jr, though, because I {heart} him...)

A great sequel in the making? I hope so. But I’m holding my breath, also hoping Jon Favreau doesn’t push the film closer to the border of PG-13 / R and keeps it family friendly (please?)! I’ve also read bits and rumors that Tony Stark’s drinking habits played a more prominent role in the original stories, and that it may be put front and center in Iron Man II. Hmmmm.

Do you need a very special Iron Man collectible? Check this out.

More on hip quotients: Jim Jarmuschs The Limits of Control is coming out in May! This dark crime caper stars Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and the ultra-cool Isaach De Bankolé as a "mysterious loner, a stranger in the process of completing a criminal job."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


In a small, seemingly fading town in South Carolina, an African-American man named Pearl Fryar -- the son of a sharecropper -- moved into what was presumably a white, middle class neighborhood, some 30 or 40 years ago. Although it’s barely mentioned in the film, a neighbor at the time apparently expressed fear that Fryar would not “keep up his yard” (while, in all likelihood, harboring all kinds of other wonderful racist viewpoints as well).

Whether this alone motivated our man Pearl to become the topiary wonder of South Carolina is never really discussed. It’s one of several points the filmmakers fail to explore in this otherwise fine little documentary about Mr. Fryar.

A Man Named Pearl is rated G, and it accomplishes quite a bit in its 80 minutes. Focusing on an intriguing and immensely likable fellow/horticulturist/artist, the film contains some great visual treats for the kids (really, some of his creations are astounding), and paves the way for important discussions about race, tenacity, courage, and human nature (it also offers the opportunity for early dialog about work, and finding your passion in life). Not only do we learn about this wonderful man who taught himself, after a three-minute “lesson,” how to grow, train and sculpt greenery with all the skill of Edward Scissorhands, but we hear his words of wisdom to college students about the artistic muse, and we feel his love for humanity in the way he greets neighbors and visitors, buses full of tourists and young students, and in the work he donates to the town. His nearly obsessive passion is palpable, and breathtaking. Can you imagine doing hard physical labor for 12 hours a day because you want to, when you hit 60 years of age?

We get a strong sense of all he contributes not only to his immediate community, but also to the larger, human community, like the proverbial ripple from a stone in a pond. His story is simply inspiring, in reminding us that we can achieve just about anything, if we put our hearts and minds to it.

And for all those reasons, it’s a recommended watching experience for the family.

As noted, it’s not a perfect film. There a few angles to the story that aren’t probed deeply enough, such as his history with “the neighbors,” and the transition of this very pretty, middle class neighborhood from predominantly white to what appears to be predominantly African-American. The film could have been edited even a bit tighter, as it feels a bit long, even at a tidy 78 minutes. And as far as kids go, it’s just a wee bit on the dry side, so you may hear a whine or two from your crowd (we did). But then something always comes along to liven it up a bit, so don’t let them sway you.

The only moment where a parent might squirm is when Pearl’s wife recalls the land around their house being undeveloped and open, “sort of a Lover’s Lane,” she says, and then recounts how they’d often find underwear discarded on the property. Your little angel may ask you what a “Lover’s Lane” has to do with underwear; now you’ve got some time to cram.

Here's a brief trailer for the film, plus some Q&A with Pearl from
the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Random Act of Self Indulgence .09

If you have any Xbox/Playstation kids in the house, you may know of the game, The Prince of Persia. Son K has it, but I know nothing about it, so I can’t help you there.

But, I caught wind of the fact that director Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) is helming a film version of the story, and Jake Gyllenhaal is in the starring role. I thought, Oh, that’s nice, until I saw some photos from the film set.

Um, I’ll just say that, if the rating is right, moms everywhere may be flocking to the theater with their kids in tow. (It comes out in 2010.)

(That’s girlfriend Reese Witherspoon's hand he's holding.)

Over to Huffington Post for the candlelit photos.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dig Deeper!

I have not a new review for you today, I'm sorry to say.

Instead, I'm encouraging you to dig deeper into KidsFlix and will even give you a (meta)physical assist by driving you right into some titles especially worthy of your time.

It's easy to see from my fabulous tracking software that visitors don't tend to go much past the current month's offerings ... In fact, I may exhibit the same behavior when I hit a blog semi-regularly, come to think of it. Who has the time?

Ok, here are a few gems you should check out (and when I say "gems,"do I mean exceptionally beautiful posts created by your guide, or do I mean films? Hmmm. You decide!):

(Newest to oldest postings --)

Little Manhattan
Hayao Miyazaki films
Linnea in Monet's Garden
The Prisoner (TV Series)
Ray Harryhausen films
Children of Heaven
God Grew Tired of Us

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Lightening Thief" Casting!

I just found out that one of K's favorite books of recent years, "The Lightening Thief," is being cast for film treatment by Christopher Columbus (director of a couple of Harry Potter films, Rent and some others). Logan Lerman (he was Christian Bale's son in 3:10 to Yuma) will take the starring role of Percy Jackson, who discovers his father is the Greek god Posiedon. Brandon T. Jackson (Tropic Thunder) will pay Percy's best friend, the satyr Grover.

K is extremely excited about this news. If you have a boy around age nine or 10, and don't know the Percy Jackson books, you need to seek them out! (Sorry if that sounds sexist; since I don't have a daughter, I'm a little lost as to what girls might like in this department. Are they into Greek mythology the way boys seem to be?)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Back in 1862, during the Civil War, Union Army raiders stole a locomotive named The General, running between Atlanta, GA and Chattanooga, TN, in order to disrupt service and do damage to the track, covered bridges and telegraph wires. The hijacked train was pursued not only by other locomotives, but also by handcar, and on foot. While the event did not exactly go according to plan, and several raiders were executed as spies, other raiders escaped their imprisonment and later -- back in Union territory -- received the very first Medals of Honor ever bestowed.

This exciting story has been told at least twice on film. One is in Disney’s The Great Locomotive Chase (1956), featuring Fess Parker (Daniel Boone!) as the conductor of the hijacked locomotive, determined to stop the Unionists. It gets good marks on both Netflix and IMDB, so check it out.

The Disney version is likely more a retelling of the story, where the Buster Keaton version, The General (1927), is more a feast for the eyes with fantastic stunt work and comedic genius (in silent film fashion) filling the screen.

In The General, Keaton plays a southern engineer (turned down by Confederate recruitment officers when they realize his value as a skilled engineer), aghast to learn his beloved Annabelle is on the hijacked train. He thus embarks on a chaotic adventure to recover the train and his love, and uncovers a dastardly plot against the Confederates along the way. Can he save Annabelle? Regain The General? Can he get word to the south about the impending attack?

It’s a fantastic story, and full of Keaton magic. As with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, there are many worthy films in this artist’s cannon, but we strongly recommend this as a starting point for Keaton. Kids are thrilled with the visuals, especially if you take the time to explain they are all quite real, no computer trickery, and that Keaton actually put his life on the line for some of these shots.

Here is a great little snippet from a documentary (courtesy of YouTube) about Keaton and the making of The General. The narrator reports, during one especially harrowing scene: “The camera man had orders to keep shooting until Keaton either yelled CUT, or was killed.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tuesday Tidbits

Did you know that Terry Gilliam (see my Time Bandits post) has a new film bubbling under that stars not only the late Heath Ledger, but Johnny Depp, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits and Colin Farrell? It’s called The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and Cinematical has more on its alleged troubles making it to the finish line.

My friend Nick over at Fataculture was giving away some online passes for a fascinating documentary called Must Read After My Death, and in addition to a big thanks to him, I’d like to throw the spotlight over to Gigantic Digital Cinema. They’re a distributor of small films and I love the idea of making independent films available -- in their entirety -- online. Why not?! I might pay a couple bucks to rent it if it’s not showing in my area, so why not send them $2.99 directly and watch it on my laptop (something I never thought I’d do as much as I’m doing now!). They have some great looking stuff. My next viewing there will be The Doorman, which looks pretty funny. (Oh, and I didn’t praise Must Read ... enough. See it!)

Another cool sight where you can get indie films -- documentaries, specifically -- directly but for free, is SnagFilms. You can also put the SnagFilms player on your own web site/blog page, which I may do in the future. Their offerings are spectacular: Whether you’re interested in a doc on Robert Mapplethorpe, the Iraq war, the Wright Brothers or Incan Mummies, you’ll find something well worth your time! You can search by topic, by channel, or use the “What’s Hot” button to browse some of the most popular titles.

I think we need more of these “direct to viewer” sites for films that just don't receive major distribution. Support these sites! (And tell me if you have a favorite, please!)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

This Week's Classic Kids' Movie

Ok, when was the last time you thought about the original "Lassie" television series? You haven't, right?

I'm not always digging up semi-obscure or offbeat movies for kids, sometimes I'm just digging up the true classics, and "Lassie" is one of them. Netflix has a special anniversary collection featuring 24 episodes of the 1954 television series, and I'm not going to say I've seen all of them recently (ok, any of them), nor that I remember it, for God's sake (of course I don't! How old do you think I am?), but I will say this: If, when son K was five or six years old and I was OD'ing on Barney or Disney and had thought of "Lassie," I would have run off to the video store in a flash.

You can't get more wholesome than Lassie. "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Waltons" are right up there at the top of the classic, family fare television show list, but those series sometimes dealt with some fairly serious themes and might skew to a slightly older group of kids (say, nine and up). "Lassie," on the other hand, works for younger kids, and employs straightforward tales of integrity, courage and honesty to cook up a little bit of drama.

Give it a try. You might get all verklempt for the old days when things seemed a heck of a lot simpler. Those knotted muscles in your neck and shoulders might actually melt away. You might actually enjoy it.

(There are two "Lassie" movies from 2005 and 1994, but both have clear PG ratings. There are also "Lassie" films from 1944 and 1945 [one with Elizabeth Taylor!], that have G ratings.)