Review: Mickey’s Christmas Carol (Blu-ray)

Mickey’s Christmas Carol is soon to be available as a 30th anniversary Disney Blu_ray and it is so much fun.  I adore the song that plays during the credits.  To me, it is a perfect representation of Christmas that takes me back to my childhood, when I watched this beloved adaptation of Dickens’ classic.  It is short, and therefore lacks the depth of the original story that is more adequately explored in other great versions, but it cuts to the heart of it in a way that is light entertainment fun for kids and just scary enough to be exciting, without any real danger of true fright.  I really enjoy the repurposing of classic characters, casting Jiminy as the ghost of Christmas Present, Mr. Toad as Fezziwig and so on.  That treatment of Disney’s repertoire of characters is what intrigued me most about Tale Spin, a Disney Afternoon series that breathed new life into the cast of A Jungle Book.  It gives Mickey’s Christmas Carol a familial glow that is sweet and funny and bound to be an instant tradition for the family.

The quick boil down of the well known story is the cheap, miserly Mr. Scrooge– mean, but not without humor– reluctantly grants Bob Cratchit (Mickey Mouse) half a day off for Christmas.  That Night, he is spooked by the ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley (Goofy) who warns him that three spirits will visit him before morning.  Scrooge is woken up by Jiminy Cricket who takes him to witness a Christmas party from his past, and the day he turned his back on love for his own greed.  He is next woken up by the Giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk who shows him Bob Cratchit’s family and suggests that the sickly child Tiny Tim will soon be gone.  Scrooge is hardly able to grasp the weight of this when he sees the weasels from The Wind and the Willows digging a grave that the Ghost of Christmas Future (Pete) reveals is his, before pushing him down screaming into a flaming pit.  Scrooge wakes up with a change of heart and makes Bob his partner.

It’s a brief, but fun romp with a bonus features line up of classic cartoons starring Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale, plus, a new Mickey cartoon starring Harold, the abominable snowman, that is in some inexplicable way reminiscent of a Phineas and Ferb type show.  The whole thing is great fun that runs just under an hour.  you can pre-order here for the holidays.

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Review: The Internship

dvd the internshipThe Internship is a smart collaboration between Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps and Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Productions.  It’s intelligently crafted, to the minutest detail, making it yet another pleasurable viewing experience from the director of Date Night and Real Steel.  Worthy of ownership, it was perhaps an easily overlooked movie that might be disregarded as more of the same in a sea of mundane comedies.  With the familiar faces of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn headlining the film you may feel as though you’d seen it before and at the very least, the word fresh is not one that would creep into your preconceptions.

But Levy does with the natural talents of Wilson and Vaughn, what he did for Tina Fey and Steve Carell, and the collaboration turns out wonderfully shaped performances.  The finished product is a perfectly paced, lean comedy that takes advantage of each moment to generate and reinforce positive interest in the story.  The result for the viewer is an engaging experience with plenty of laughs and quotable dialogue that is very re-watchable.  The strength of the story is almost like that of a Pixar movie.  It’s not likely to bring a tear to anyone’s eye by any stretch of the imagination, but it is carefully plotted and the comedy is driven just as much by the ensemble of lovable misfits as it is by the circumstances.

We open up with Billy and Nick, a couple of great salesman getting psyched on the way to a crucial meeting with a client.  They are a confident team who know what they are doing, but the company is in trouble, so the pressure is on.  No time is wasted introducing these guys and getting the audience to empathize,  Within minutes they learn that the company is over and that they are out of jobs.  Rather than take another sales job that will allow them to continue to scrape by, the two decide to jump headlong into a new field created by the technology that rendered their skills obsolete.  They take an internship at Google, where a series of challenges are laid before a variety of teams in a winner takes all race for employment.  Since everyone is much younger and more educated, they avoid Billy and Nick like the plague leaving them to be scooped up with the rest of the losers after all the teams are chosen.  The hostile group of hopeless loners must act like a team in order to survive and find friendship along the way.  It’s not original.  It sounds a lot like Dodgeball if you think about it– or the more recent Monsters University–  But the genius of it is not in the originality of the plot.  All throughout it are elements of many classic comedies, and yet it stands alone as unique, because of what transpires between the bullet points.  It’s funny, it’s familiar, but it’s also new and has a strong identity of its own.  A couple of the best examples is the two or three key stages in the middle act that reveal a lot about the characters and energize the plot; and the sweet, underplayed subplots for Nick and Billy.

I think, what makes the movie work most is that it has heart under the surface, but the focus is always comedy.  There is a kind of slight of hand at play, that I think is mostly due to Levy’s role as director, but also the finely honed sense of comedy Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have their own reputations for.  It goes beyond the clash between cynicism and idealism in the fight for the American dream.  The Internship is sharply focused and deeply felt so that the plot becomes an exercise in fun and frivolity, with a firm spine to carry it through.

Review: After Earth

bluray after earthAfter Earth is a Will Smith and Son project directed by M. Night Shyamalan.  Smith is credited for the story and the M. Night Screenplay was co-written by video game and Book of Eli writer Gary Whitta.  The movie would work much better as a game actually, as the set-ups and stages lend themselves to more potential action a player can create then what actually occurs on screen.  The resulting movie seems like a bad adaptation of a game that never even actually existed.

The look of this futuristic sci-fi tale is not bad.  The fanciful architecture of the canyon dwellings notwithstanding, the more practical materials and designs present styles and textures that befit a proper narrative.  Beyond that, there is less to enjoy or respect.  The narrative is slow and empty.  Will Smith’s story had great potential, as I said it would probably be a really fun video game and it could have been a thrilling movie.  The story of a father and son crash landing on a hostile planet, both of their fates resting on the son’s ability to cross the alien terrain and retrieve a beacon from a lost portion of the ship, is very enticing.  But it misses the mark with lackluster performances and noncommittal challenges for the hero on his quest.

Without properly fleshing out the skeleton of a story, yet presenting it as an exceedingly long feature, it unravels slowly and becomes tedious in no time.  Conflicts arise predictably and are quickly delt with, abandoning the promise of thrill or adventure. The strained relationship between the characters never gets pushed to the point of real drama so the turning point comes suddenly and subsides leaving all the scenes around it wanting for more of anything relatable, threatening, endearing, or otherwise.

Without the spark of passion or inspiration from the actors or director, it is like watching grown men anguish over completing a child’s connect-the-dots puzzle.  The choices decided on in the process, such as miraculous occurances that save the hero in times of despair, are questionable, but really don’t matter, because the movie is a bore, regardless of how, or why.

I’m a big fan of Unbreakable and I have been a supporter of M. Night up until The Last Airbender.  I even liked The Lady in the Water.  I felt that movie delivered exactly what it promised.  I never expected him to make another The Sixth Sense and have enjoyed the bulk of his work.  I was hoping this movie would serve as a sort of comeback or show somehow that he had once again found his way.  But the movie is a disappointment that casts doubt in even my mind as to whether, or not Shyamalan can ever again deliver a substantial movie.

New in Blu Disney Savings Edition

Disney Nature’s Chimpanzee is among the many new Disney bluRay releases.  You can save $10 on two Disney titles HERE!  Other bluRay arrivals are Bernie, starring Jack Black, Mattherw McConaughy, and Shirley MacLaine, The Dictator – BANNED & UNRATED Version, and WarGames.

New in Blu

Remember these?  Adventures in Babysitting, a Chris Columbus comedy from the 80’s starring Elisabeth Shue is now a 25th anniversary edition bluRay!  I remember loving this as a kid.  John Cusack comedy Grosse Pointe Blankin which he is a hitman who drops in on his ten year high school reunion is enjoying a 15th aniversary release as well.  Universal’s latest Dr. Seuss adaptation The Lorax is new in blu.  This year’s documentary Marley, from the director of State of Play, is the definitive life story of the Buffalo Soldier told with the support of his family.

Review: Journey 2 The Mysterious Island

As a fan of all genres that provide high quality entertainment and good writing, I am not the least bit twitchy about renting (or even going to see) a family film if I think it will deliver.  Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is definitely one of those films.  As a sequel it transcends the original with great humor that any kid at heart can enjoy.  It’s a simple story about fatherhood, family bonds, and appreciating those you can rely on to be in your corner.

Far from the typical storyline about oblivious parents who don’t understand their out of control kid, Journey 2 offers a refreshingly interested and helpful stepfather Hank (Dwayne Johnson).  Despite being pretty much the perfect parent, Sean (Josh Hutcherson) and his grandfather (Michael Caine) refuse to accept him at first.  Dwayne Johnson is always awesome and he brings everything to the table for Journey 2.  Despite Johnson’s mass and proven comedic skills, the bulk of the comedy comes from other father in the film (Luis Guzman), the pilot who agrees to fly Hank and Sean to the island.  His silly shenanigans are a delight and make this just a good fun movie to enjoy if you want some really light entertainment.

The film is never bogged down or overburdened with a message.  The message is clear, but it’s packaged cleverly within the unfolding drama and never becomes preachy as these films often can be.  The special effects were good enough, but not prize-winning.  All in all, it was a well-balanced family adventure that is definitely worth watching with or without kids, if you are in the right mood. A