The Mill Creek Entertainment separate June 5, 2018 Blu-ray and DVD releases of the star-studded 2000 mini-series "The 10th Kingdom" provide fans of the recently concluded long-running ABC dramedy "Once Upon a Time" another bite of the poisoned apple regarding a fun melange of our world and that of fairy tales. It further has the same spirit as the 2007 Disney comedy "Enchanted" in which fairy tale folks experience Manhattan melodrama.
These releases provide everyone quality family entertainment that truly appeals to folks from 8 to 80. The bigger picture is that we have another reason to shout for joy regarding Mill Creek expanding well beyond its roots as a purveyor of compilations of public domain television series of the '50s and the '60s.
This epic and very colorful production filmed in a plethora of European countries additionally looks and sounds spectacular in Blu-ray.
The following YouTube clip of the Mill Creek trailer for "Kingdom" perfectly captures the beauty and the tone of the series.
The premise is that the titular realms are fairy tale monarchies that are tied to a specific fairy tale notable or creature. For example, the Fourth Kingdom where most of the action occurs is the Snow White realm and trolls rule the Fifth Kingdom. Red Riding Hood and Cinderella also have their own lands. Our reality is the 10th Kingdom, which is only accessible via a magic portal.
The other broad bit of lore is that the turmoil in the nine kingdoms 200 years ago is the stuff of which our fairy tales are made.
The action begins with Relish the Troll King (Ed O'Neill) breaking into the Snow White Memorial Prison to once again spring his three stooge-like offspring; this escape comes to extend to releasing Evil Queen (Dianne Wiest) from her own unfortunate incarceration.
Another lucky break for the queen allows her to implement the first steps of a plan to prevent arrogant grandson Prince Wendell from ascending to the throne of his kingdom. Comic mayhem begins to ensue when the prince (who is a victim of a "Freaky Friday" style transformation) flees into our world.
A destined encounter between the prince and New York 20-something waitress Virginia Lewis brings her and her deeply cynical building superintendent father Tony Lewis (John Larroquette) into the action. Former guest of the queen Wolf pursuing the prince into Central Park is the final element that allows the story to fully develop.
The Lewises, Wolf, and the prince then essentially travel through the looking glass on crusades with overlapping objectives. Wendell claiming his crown and the Lewises acquiring the necessary means to return home involves battling virtually every fairy tale baddie known to man.
The queen puts the trolls and a huntsman (Rutger Hauer) on the tail of our group. They also square off against other foes whom they meet in their travels.
The ticking clock is the impending coronation which will result in the ersatz prince getting the corner office unless Wendell can timely revert to his true self. Meanwhile, every effort of the Lewises to find a way home ends in amusing disaster. These stories strongly merge in the fifth of the six episodes when Virginia and Tony learn that their connection to the kingdoms is much closer than they ever imagined.
The copious fun of all this begins with the concept that one man's fairy tale is another dwarf's reality; this goes on to non-stop action as our main group essentially follows a long and winding yellow brick road effectively to the castle of the wizard. The third big element is having a perfect tone that reflects modern cynicism and conflict while keeping things adequately light for the kids.
The bonuses include a grand 45-minute "making-of" feature that looks as spectacular as the series. We also get the insights of cast and crew regarding this successful ambitious production.
The Olive Films May 29, 2018 DVD and Blu-ray releases of the 1971 Norman Lear comedy film "Cold Turkey" awesomely fills the void regarding an absence of witty character-driven fare summer fare at the cineplex. Sharing that "Turkey" costars Dick Van Dyke as a minister spearheading an effort to get his town to kick the habit and Bob Newhart as a corrupt PR man trying to thwart that effort should persuade folks regarding whom Lear is not an adequate draw to add this one to their collections.
A perspective to which Millennials can relate is to think of "Turkey" as an episode of the Amy Poehler sitcom "Parks and Recreation" in which Leslie Knope (Poehler) convinces her eccentric friends and neighbors in Pawnee, Indiana to stop smoking in order to get a big payoff.
The premise of "Turkey" is that Valiant Tobacco Company head Hiram C. Grayson (Edward Everett Horton) signs off on the PR idea of Merwin Wren (Newhart) to offer a $25 million award to any American town that quits smoking for 30 days. The obvious sales pitch by Wren is that the offer makes the company look good and will not cost a cent because no town will accept the challenge.
The second piece of the "sit" that paves the way for the "com" in this feature film is that the closing of an Air Force base has left Eagle Rock, Iowa in dire straits. The opening scenes that establish that this community essentially is a ghost town clearly establishes the extent of this desperation.
The same hope that the current bidding to be a headquarters site of an online Pacific Northwest retailer that shall remain shameless represents comes in the form of an Air Force general informing the powers-that-be in Eagle Rock that the town is a contender for a new plant. The catch is that the town first must improve itself to a level that makes it a desirable community.
Rev. Clayton Brooks (Van Dyke) convinces the aforementioned pillars of the community that the Valiant offer is the answer to the prayers of the community. Of course, this is the first nail in the coffin of Wren.
The figurative of cast of 1,000s of (mostly TV) stars comprise the great ensemble in "Turkey." We get Jean Stapleton of "All in the Family" as a housewife who comically overeats on going cold turkey, Paul Benedict of "The Jeffersons" as a very '70s style hypnotherapist who provides a hilarious form of contrary therapy, television/film star Barnard "Doc" Hughes aptly as hilariously especially addicted smoker Dr. Proctor, hilariously feisty old lady character actress Judith Lowry (who has two one-shot appearances on "Maude") as a senior citizen right-wing nut, etc.
The confidence of Wren remains high when the month begins but wanes roughly halfway in; that prompts him to go to the town and engage in hilariously frantic efforts to get at least one Eagle Rockian to light up.
Twists and hilarity galore build to the climax as Wren faces a literal ticking clock; this prompts the most unexpected surprise in the film that offers memorable commentary on corporate politics of the '70s and today.
The outcome is equally special and reflect the related Lear cynicism and talent for breaking the rules
Warner Archive combines its best elements in the Blu-ray release of the 1953 Hitchcock drama "I Confess." This Montgomery Clift-Anne Baxter tale of a priest who is a prime suspect of a murder for which the killer confesses to him is a lesser-known classic and ties into the more recent Archive release of the (reviewed) Hitchcock film "The Wrong Man" because Hitchcock identifies both as his favorites of his films. "Confess" additionally masterfully reproduces a beautifully shot black-and-white film. The typical cherry on the sundae is a few high-quality bonus features. In other words, Archive outshines an arrogant (and grossly overpriced) purveyor who releases films that meet the criterion of that company.
Justifiable arrogance regarding "Confess" starts with feeling that Hitchcock is adopting the style of the French New Wave filmmakers and then seeing a comment in the "making-of" special features sharing that that film is a favorite of those Europeans for that reason. The basis for this observation is the copious imagery and excellent use of the contrast between black and white (which looks perfect in Blu-ray). An example of this is Father Michael Logan (Clift) walking past sculptures of soldiers forcing a bent-over Christ to carry his cross to his crucifixion.
This technique (and the strong noir element of "Confess") is clear from the opening scenes. The film opens on a dark night and begins with a series of shots of one-way street signs in Quebec.
The audience quickly learns of the aforementioned killing, and we see a wolf in priest's clothing seemingly flee the scene. This leads to Logan investigating on seeing the man in black enter his church.
More terrific imagery and symbolism follows as WWII German refugee Otto Keller confesses both to his wife Alma Keller and to Logan. The insult that is added to the central injury relates to Logan having taken in the Kellers and allowed them to live with some dignity in the post-war period.
The rookie mistake of Logan that enhances the scrutiny of investigating officer Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden) is returning to the scene of the crime the next morning. The bigger picture is that this reflects the Hitchcock leitmotif of the scary ease with which an innocent man or woman can get caught up in the system.
The Hitchcock blonde this time is Anne Baxter of "All About Eve." Her innocent/femme fatale Ruth Grandfort is the former lover of Logan and the current wife of a prominent politician. The murder victim being a man who knew too much regarding this triangle contributes to putting a nail in the coffin of Logan.
The suspense escalates to the point of Logan being tried for the murder while Otto essentially sits knitting away in his catbird seat at the trial. Clift puts his method acting technique to good use depicting the Christ-like anguish of watching the evidence pile up against him while the nature of confession ties his hands.
While lesser filmmakers would end their projects with the reactions of the principals on the reading of verdict in the trial of Logan, Hitchcock validates the basis for his reputation as Hollywood royalty. Logan is subjected to a virtual stoning by the outraged masses and finds himself in a final confrontation that truly tests his faith.
The bigger picture (pun intended) is that Hitchcock greatly emulates his actual peer Orson Welles. This comparison extends beyond the New Wave style of filming in black-and-white in this CinemaScope era. Hitchcock and Welles share a similar sensibility of the nature of post-war Germans. The related broad messages are that living under the rule of Hitler affects everyone and that the true nature of all of us ultimately emerges for better or worse. Throwing in commentary on the Catholic Church contributes more food for thought.
The other Blu-ray features are fun newsreel footage of the Quebec premiere of "Confess" and the theatrical trailer of the film.
Norman Rockwell Museum Exhibit of Pulp Fiction Artist Gloria Stoll Karn Gives That Genre Royale Treatment
The most recent exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts goes back even further than the '60s and '70s animation of Saturday morning gods Joseph Hanna and William Barbera and the '50s through the '80s art of Pop Art deity Andy Warhol that has recently graced the walls of this shrine to Mr. Americana. "Gloria Stoll Karn: Pulp Romance" literally hangs the work of this dime-store magazine illustrator on the other sides of the walls of a exhibit of the 21st century art of Tony Diterlizzi of The Spiderwick Chronicles fame.
The common element of these exhibitions beyond all of them being worth a drive to the scenic Berkshires is that they are part of the Rockwell mission to promote the art of American illustrators. The ticking clock regarding the Karn exhibit is that it closes on June 10, 2018 to make way for the summer self-explanatory offering "Keepers of the Flame: Parrish, Wyeth, Rockwell, and the Narrative Tradition" (OH MY!).
An tour of the Karn presentation that is the work of Deputy Director/Chief Curator Stephanie Plunkett by charming and knowledgeable Rockwell curator/exhibitionist Jesse Kowalski was the focus of a recent trip to this very Vermonty region of The Bay State. Two nights at the nearby Red Lion Inn (read all about it) made this journey especially terrific.
Kowalski stated that the exhibit is doing very well and noted that a group from central New York visited the museum just to see it. Personally tagging along with a group of grade schoolers was great fun, but there is no need to share who among us did not meet the ideal of sitting entirely quiet and fully focusing on the member of the Rockwell education staff conducting the tour.
The vibrant reds and yellows that are Karn trademarks MUST be seen in person to be fully appreciated. The same is true regarding the incredible attention to detail that makes this work even more lifelike than the paintings of the dude for whom the building is named.
The below image provide an incomplete sense of this talent. Professional and aspiring artists will note that the rare ability of Karn to draw hands allows her to avoid the cheap trick of hiding them in pockets and otherwise out of the picture.
The follow up was a delightful hour-long telephone conversation with 94 year-old Karn, who is as sharp as she was back in the day.
Art Royalty From Queens
The Bromx tale of Karn begins with her being born in that borough before her parents move to the Sunnyside neighborhood of Queens. While living in Archie Bunker territory, Karn became one of the first ever students at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts of "Fame" fame. Her memories of those days include fellow students jamming on the otherwise empty subway when they left school at 3:00 p.m. each day.
Karn recalled seeing a photo of Jackie Kennedy and the kids by classmate Lawrence Schiller when Karn attended a concert at Carnegie Hall decades after they graduated. This proved the truth of the classic punchline that the way to get to Carnegie Hall is to practice.
One Day At A Time
The amazing story of Karn breaking into a man's world when she was in her '20s during the '40s began with literal housekeeping. Her mother agreeing with Oprah that clutter should not be allowed to accumulate prompted recent high school graduate/current insurance company file clerk Karn to attempt to burn the portfolio of her artwork. The portfolio not fitting in the chute that led to the incinerator prompted Karn to leave it on a pile of newspapers that were due to be directly placed in that inferno.
The building superintendent subsequently meddled in a fully Schneider manner by giving tenant/pulp cover artist Rafael DeSoto (for whom the superintendent modeled) the portfolio. The positive response of DeSoto brought the superintendent to the door of Karn with an introduction to meet DeSoto.
Karn recalled the pulp magazine publisher stating "I've seen worse" when first shown her work. This led to regular assignments during the rest of the career of the pulp cover art career of Karn.
The first amusing aspect of her work that Karn discussed was that she and the other artists never were provided the stories for which they created the art. They merely received general guidance and would submit roughly three pieces for consideration. The related funny story is that Karn often would resubmit the rejected art until it was selected for another cover.
The divulged secrets of the trade were that each illustration would take roughly 3 days. Karn further described the work as "almost like a formula" that included "a pretty girl and a handsome guy." The shortcuts included changing hair color.
Rangeland Romance seemed to be the magazine for which Karn (who has a particular talent for drawing dreamy cowboys) seemed to most enjoy working. She recalled that the guidelines for covers for that publication included that it had to have something to do with horses.
Karn shared as well that she used the superintendent as a model. She described him as "very thin, wiry, tall and strong." She additionally stated that she once drew him holding a chair over her head. Kowalski stated that Karn would draw from live models in contrast to Rockwell photographing his models and using those images when painting.
Kowalski added that Karen based her work on either herself or her friends. He further explained that she used bright colors to help her covers stand out among the large numbers of magazines that newsstands and other outlets displayed.
One sad aspect of this important bit of Americana was Karn saying "we never signed out art work and never got credit."
Karn continued painting covers until she and her husband (more below) moved to her current home of Pittsburgh in 1949 when he got a job with a mining company; she noted that sending her art to New York in a manner that it arrived unharmed was more than a minor inconvenience.
Meeting Prince Charming
The immense appeal of Karn includes her lively sense of the "good old days." This related to liking that everyone was polite and dressed neatly and men wore fedoras in this era before the world went pop and the safety dance became popular. This awesomely related to her fairy tale marriage with her prince.
Karn told the story of her mother often telling her about the handsome well-dressed man in their building. This gallant gent always smiled and held the door open for Mrs. Stoll.
This led to DeSoto once again being a guardian angel for Karn. She and her mother were at a party in the apartment of that artist when her mother pointed out that the fedora-wearing dreamboat who had just entered was the man about whom she had been speaking. This led to actual love at first sight.
The adoration by Karn included her husband being "very handsome" and modest regarding his good looks.
Heeding the Call
The manner in which the Rockwell exhibit of Karn came to be further proves the value of being good and kind. Kowalski shared that a neighbor of Karn called to inquire about showing the pulp fiction art at the museum. Subsequently looking at that work, speaking with Karn, and then visiting with her prompted Plunkett to green light the exhibit.
Kowalski added that "the field of illustration in the early 20th century was dominated by men, especially in the pulp fiction magazine field, so it made sense to show the work of someone who stands out in the field."
Karn stated that she and Rockwell never directly spoke. She did attend a lecture that he gave at a Society of Illustrators event in New York. She noted that "he was wearing a well-worn tweed coat that was very typical of Norman Rockwell." She added that she did not know if he was wearing a hat because she did not see him arrive or leave.
Kowalski noted that one difference between the artists was that Karn got most of her art back and kept the bulk of it with the exception of her work for horror magazines, which was not her preferred genre. Conversely, Rockwell allowed The Saturday Evening Post to keep the covers that he drew for that publication.
The Deal of the Art
The work of both Rockwell and Karn reflect an important era in an American history in a manner to which literally everyone can relate. This is the last time that we were not violently divided along age, gender, class, race, or ideological lines.
The Rockwell deserves tremendous credit and support for providing an opportunity to properly experience this art by seeing it in person. The way cool gift shop is a bonus.
The Time Life May 8, 2018 DVD release of the 1970-71 S4 of "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-in" coming roughly one month after the reviewed S3 set (which comes roughly two weeks after the reviewed S2 set) demonstrates a commitment to very timely release these seasons. At this rate, the sixth and final season will be out no later than August.
The Time Life commitment to "Laugh In" also includes continuing to add special features to these DVD sets. The S4 bonuses include a continuation of the S3 set interview with star Lily Tomlin and a very interesting separate interview with Tomlin co-star Arte Johnson.
The cold open in the S4 season premiere nicely captures the spirit of this hilarious and brave borderline burlesque rapid-paced sketch comedy show that uses risque humor to make politically incorrect jokes that would not fly today and to expertly skewer politicians on both of the aisle. The opening scene has Art "Ed Norton" Carney in character yelling down to an unseen Ralph Kramden to come up and watch "Laugh-in."
A physical characteristic of the regular cast member who plays Kramden prompts a joke that would get "Laugh-in" boycotted in this era in which society has gone from f**k 'em if they can't take a joke to f**ked if you tell 'em a joke. This witticism involves Carney referring to primary Kramden portrayor Jackie Gleason hosting his variety show in Florida by commenting that Kramden has been spending too much time in the Miami sun.
Most of the usual characters and their on-screen creations show up during this season premiere. This includes relatively new girl Lily Tomlin as telephone operator Ernestine talking to an off-screen Aristotle Onassis about his spendthrift wife ordering an absurdly expensive telephone. Tomlin further shines as "Tasteful Lady" who comments on the crude humor of the series.
The political humor includes ongoing jokes about Spiro Agnew being president. Even better humor comes in a "The Mitchells at Home" sketch that has Nixon Attorney-General John Mitchell chastising infamously outspoken "Mouth of the South" wife Martha for offending a foreign dignitary.
The second episode has "Mr. Warmth" Don Rickles knowingly blatantly promoting his recent film "Kelly's Heroes." Although he is a very good sport and fully gets into the spirit of the series, Rickles surprisingly does not engage in his trademark insult humor. A nod to this legacy is his singing in a tribute to show business that his audience thrills at him calling them dummy.
This bit on show business also provides stand-out Ruth Buzzi a chance to shine as an auditioning actress quickly adapting to the demands of a casting director. This one further has Buzzi portray her classic frumpy Gladys Ormphy having persistent dirty old man Tyrone F. Horneigh move his attempted seduction from their typical park bench to the friendly skies. A surprising omission is that his "courtship" does not refer to the Mile High Club.
The third S4 episode can be considered a "very special" one in that the primary guest star is former cast member Goldie Hawn freshish off her Oscar win for "Cactus Flower." Watching Hawn comically play the diva and series hosts Dan Rowan and Dick Martin do a hilarious Abbott and Costello style bit on her absence is hilarious. A chorus line of dancing Goldies is another highlight. No one does the dumb blonde bit better than Hawn.
Other big and small-screen luminaries who guest star on during S4 include Orson Welles, Zero Mostel, Ken Berry, Tim Conway, Carol Channing, and semi-regular Johnny Carson, who literally comes across the hall to join the fun.
The continuing appeal of all this is that "Laugh-In" perfectly combines every element that warrants calling a television show great. The starting point that Tomlin notes in her interview is that an entire family can enjoy it together without anyone either not liking it or getting bored.
"Laugh-in" further benefits from having has a talented ensemble in which everyone excellently plays off each other and seem to genuinely get along, humor that is funny either because it is spot-on commentary of the era of the show or is timeless, and booking every guest star one for which one could hope.
The sad part of all this is that our current society is so divided that "Laugh-in" would not work today. As the beginning of this article states, people no longer can take a jok. On top of this, any current series that hypothetically has Julie Andrews guest star likely does not attract the same viewers who tune in to see hypothetical guest Chris Evans get it socked to him. We simply live in society in which there are numerous fissures that expand into chasms.
Reviewing the Warner Archive February 27, 2018 DVD release of the William Goldman ("Princess Bride," "Butch Cassidy," "All the President's Men") 1975 Paul Newman "Harper" sequel "The Drowning Pool" before the 1966 film provides an interesting perspective on the earlier movie.
A more amusing observation is that both films (including the general tone and "Pool" taking titular P.I. Lew Harper well outside his comfort zone) warrants a comparison to the Chevy Chase "Fletch" films of the '80s. Fans of that franchise still have hope for "Fletch Won" to hit the megaplex as a triple feature with the third "Bill and Ted" and "Gremlins" movies.
Harper is the creation of crime novelist Ross MacDonald. Archive reminds us that the first film is based on the aptly titled book The Moving Target.
One interesting contrast between "Harper" and "Pool" is that the Blu-ray of "Harper" looks and sounds better than the perfectly good BD of the later film. Probable reasons for this include the first film being set in sunny southern California, and "Pool" looking much more gritty to better reflect the tougher New Orleans area setting of that film.
The most noticeable difference in these movies is apparent from the opening seconds of both films. Newman still looks good nine years later, but we see that time has been unkind to this modern day Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe. The implication is that this creation of novelist Ross MacDonald bears the physical and psychological burdens of cases such as the one in "Harper."
A similarity in both films is that the method technique of young lion Newman quickly establishes that he is a downtrodden "have not" who makes his living catering to the "haves." These largely silent scenes heavily rely on the acting talent of this national treasure.
The following YouTube clip of the theatrical trailer for "Harper" is one of the best ever of these promos. Well-written narration accurately and entertainingly conveys the tone of the film, and having the female stars stay in character while commenting on that sexy beast is great fun.
"Harper" opens with our exhausted hero waking up in the one-room office that doubles as his home. His humiliating life includes having to disgustingly improvise on discovering that he is out of coffee. "Pool" has Harper land at the New Orleans airport to discover that the seat belt of his beater rental car is broken.
Both films then have Harper drive either his own beater or the aforementioned crappy rental to the lavish estate of his new client. In this case, it is trophy wife Elaine Sampson. Former Mrs. Bogart Lauren Bacall, who is no stranger to noir, plays this kept woman. Elaine tells Harper that her husband Ralph apparently has run off, and that she merely wants to know the details. The probability that Ralph is with a woman is of less interest than anticipated.
The investigation goes poolside as Harper questions surrogate son/private pilot Allan Taggert (Robert Wagner), who saw Ralph a few minutes before his disappearance. Watching 20-something daughter Miranda Sampson ('60s sex kitten Pamela Tiffin) dance '60s style to the accompaniment of generic rock music of the era is a highlight of the film. Her stereotypical behavior extends to the dancing being part of an extended futile effort to seduce Taggert. Taggert being a substitute for her deceased blood brother contributes an entertaining ick factor.
Harper then sets out to retrace the steps of Ralph with Taggert as his pilot and Miranda as a tag-a-long. Seeing the '66 "Batman" level tacky pied-a-terre of Ralph only is part of the fun. Watching Harper first verbally nail Miranda regarding her attempted seduction of him and then call her bluff is hilarious.
This investigation next leads Harper to the next member of the conga line of Hollywood stereotypes that populate the film. He tracks down Hollywood royalty turned overweight box office poison Fay Estabrook, who is a friend of Ralph. Shelley Winters is very good sport and does a great job portraying this sloppy alcoholic has-been.
The other star-studded stereotypes include Janet Leigh as the no-longer-suffering almost-ex Mrs. Harper, Julie Harris as a former notable jazz musician/current ex-con junkie, and Strother Martin as a guru. Discovering the extent of the connections between the stock character persons in the life of Ralph is much of the fun of the film and is a great example of the cynicism that characterizes noir.
Even more fun comes when the aforementioned reveals prompt the tumblers to click in the mind of any viewer savvy enough to solve a "Scooby-Doo" mystery. Although the general deduction will be correct, the assumption regarding the motive almost definitely will not be. The cynicism here relates to some people simply deserving what they get.
The most notable aspect of "Harper" is that it perfectly represents the transition from the Golden Age of Hollywood to the Silver Age. The tone of the film is very modern with a touch of the noir style that precedes it. We further get young lions Newman and Wagner taking center stage from Bacall and the other cast members of her generation.
The special features include audio commentary by Goldman.