Blue Hawaii

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 11/15/22;
Paramount;
$39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Elvis Presley, Joan Blackman, Angela Lansbury, Gilbert Roland, Nancy Walters, John Archer, Jenny Maxwell, Howard McNear.

Why did they call it Blue Hawaii? It blew in Hawaii, it blew in Akron, it blew in Pacoima, it blew in Delaware, everywhere it opened it blew. Chicago radio legend Steve Dahl deserves credit for the line, but the joke is decidedly on us. It should come as no great shock that the Presley pictures to best withstand the test of time — Michael Curtiz’s King Creole, Don Siegel’s Flaming Star, and Phil Karlson’s Kid Galahad — reflect three rare occasions in the King’s career where he teamed with directors capable of producing something more than a camera nailed to the floor drearily canning his lip-synched pursuits. (I’m a fan of Gordon Douglas and George Marshall, but Follow That Dream and Viva Las Vegas are a safe distance from both directors’ pantheons.) Blue Hawaii, Elvis’ eighth vehicle, was such a box office smash that it became standard boilerplate stuff for Col. Tom Parker, a formula for box office gold he applied to every campy money-grab that followed.

Parker’s model for success was just slightly more sophisticated than the rudimentary stories he personally selected for his star. A glamorous and/or one-of-a-kind location (Acapulco, the World’s Fair, Las Vegas) was a must. His client needed as many interchangeable, scantily clad starlets as possible to act as eyeball massaging props. The soundtrack was to be padded with enough numbers to guarantee LP sales. With 15 tunes, Blue Hawaii more than tripled the number of songs found in his previous pictures. The album topped the charts for 20 consecutive weeks, but one would still be loath to call it a musical. At 102 minutes it plays like a series of songs occasionally interrupted by patches of dialog. 

What little story there is involves Chad Gates (Presley), a soldier in peacetime back from serving a 2-year stint with Uncle Sam. His ditzy Dixie Belle mother Sara Lee (Angela Lansbury) half wishes her boy was doing something constructive like bayonetting the enemy in combat rather than twiddling his thumbs on a military base. It’s her calling to see to it that Chad rubs elbows with the finer elements on the island. In his parents’ eyes, Chad’s future is a lifetime sentence in the family’s lucrative fruit company. The fiercely independent-minded Chad wants nothing to do with nepotism, refusing to be known as the boss’s son. And if mom has any say in it, the future Mrs. Chad Gates will be a wealthy socialite, not Maile (Joan Blackman), Chad’s pre-service gal pal he spent 5 days shacking up with before having the nerve to face his mother’s suffocating, borderline-incestuous embrace. She’s the kind of mom capable of putting a son off his appetite, particularly with her constant demands for “sugar” kisses from her boy.

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You’ve heard of the Lubitsch Touch? How about a Taurog Slog? Norman Taurog signed nine Elvis vehicles. As a director, he made a great yes man, quick to move on the Colonel’s every wish. With almost 200 shorts and features to his credit, Taurog’s childish way with child actors (Boys Town, Young Tom Edison, Room for One More) must have triggered something in Parker that made him the perfect man for the job of Elvis wrangler. Taurog was Jackie Cooper’s uncle and together they teamed on Skippy, a maudlin tale of a boy trying to save his pet pooch from the dog catcher that earned the director an Oscar. (Allow me a moment to point out that Hitchcock and Welles never took home a competitive Academy doorprize, but Elvis’ director of choice did.)

Presley had style, a killer grin, charm to spare and enough rock-a-hula, baby in his hips to set an audience’s feet tapping. But on his best day, movie star Elvis couldn’t get arrested as an actor due in large part to the Colonel’s refusal to allow the King to stretch. Poor little rich kid Chad sets his bar low with a future in tourism, guiding deep-pocketed vacationers through the Islands. Elvis’ brightest moment entails a job interview with his future boss Mr. Chapman, played with customary discombobulated aplomb by Howard McNear. (You probably know him better as Floyd Lawson, Mayberry’s No. 1 barber.) Elvis’ reactions to McNear’s addlebrained state and back-tracking stammer are genuine enough to give the scene a playful bounce. McNear returns for one more spirited exchange of malapropos before it’s over and in each instance leaves the audience longing for more.

There’s double entendre to spare when Abigail Prentice (Nancy Walters), Chad’s first client, asks if he can satisfy a high school teacher and four underage students. (These gals may be underage and oversexed, but by his own admission, Chad’s no cradle robber.) There’s bookish Beverly (Christian Kay), the adorably immature Sandy (Pamela Austin), a nondescript Patsy (Darlene Thomkins), and Ellie (Jenny Maxwell), the cigarette smoking, hot-to-trot minor spurned by Chad. She’s also the one voted most likely to pull a Norman Maine at the end of A Star is Born. (The only member of the group not to show up in Chad’s bedroom before the final fade is Beverly. And not one of the girls seems bothered over finding their teacher in Chad’s room.) Don’t worry about Ellie’s suicidal bringdown hampering the fun. Her cry for help becomes a punchline with Chad bending the girl over his knee for a “This’ll hurt me more than it will you” spanking. In no time, she’s back on a Paramount soundstage seated before a rear screen projector pretending she’s on location listening to Chad croon.

While on the subject of process shots, Elvis was so famous that filming on location became a practical impossibility. Paramount’s process photography wizard Farciot Eduoart deserves to share a co-director’s credit with Taurog. See: Elvis picnic before a rear screen. Watch: Elvis take a romantic drive without ever leaving the studio! Enthrall: As Elvis leads the girls on a musical tour of the process photography lab! When it came time to sing, Elvis didn’t like to leave the studio. This became laughingly apparent as time went on, with Elvis relying heavily on green screen and an occasional body double filmed in long shot.

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Finally, what would an Elvis picture be without a violent exchange? This one’s a politically incorrect doozy. Chad and the girls relax at a late-night watering hole where his buddy’s band performs. In walk a blowsy Enid Garvey (Iris Adrian) with Tucker (Steve Brodie), her inebriated hubby in tow, eager to pounce on the young meat. Enid thinks nothing of Tucker openly slobbering over a juvenile. Patsy sticks a fork in Tucker’s hand, but this turkey’s not done by a longshot. Apparently neither are the censors who thought nothing of including a knock-down, drag-out fistfight in a film otherwise geared for families. It isn’t enough for Presley’s ego to enrapture every female in the cast, he does so in part by proving that fisticuffs make the man.

This appears to be the first Elvis picture to be given a 4K sprucing up. Why Blue Hawaii and not Jailhouse Rock or Viva Las Vegas? Refusing to knock success, Paramount chose this, Elvis’ biggest earner, to kick things off. Normally, I’m the first to observe that the movie in question hasn’t looked this good since its initial release. I’ll watch anything in dye-transfer Technicolor and that includes Elvis. When a friend back home invited me to check out his 35mm print, he didn’t have to ask twice. I have yet to see a digital transfer that comes close to capturing the lush radiance of imbibition Technicolor, but this comes close. Photographed by Paramount veteran of 20 years, Charles Lang, it’s about as pretty an Elvis feature as any filmed. The tropical vistas and nightwork are spectacular, and in spite of Taurog’s lackluster performance in the director’s chair, his cinematographer’s dedication to a near close-up-free Panavision frame is awe-inspiring. Special features include the trailer, a photo gallery and insight into Presley’s place in movie history courtesy of Jim Niebaur’s audio commentary. 

The Court Jester

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Comedy;
$29.99 Blu-ray;
Not Rated.
Stars Danny Kaye, Glynis Johns, Angela Lansbury, Basil Rathbone, Mildred Natwick, Cecil Parker and John Carradine.

The 1956 classic The Court Jester, starring Danny Kaye, is celebrating its 65th anniversary with a new Blu-ray release as part of the “Paramount Presents” line. A riotous combination of physical comedy, wordplay and one-liners, the medieval farce still has the power to elicit laughs (notably without leaning on the crude humor of many modern comedies).

Kaye was a singular talent, with the singing chops of a Broadway star, a mastery of slapstick comedy similar to Jim Carrey or Jerry Lewis and impeccable timing. In top form in The Court Jester, Kaye plays kind-hearted entertainer Hawkins who disguises himself as the legendary king of jesters, Giacomo, to infiltrate the court of an evil villain (the legendary Basil Rathbone). In one of the most memorable physical comedy scenes, when a sorceress hypnotizes him, royal chaos ensues as the jester alternates identities at the snap of a finger — one moment he’s a swordsman with the skill of Errol Flynn and the next a cowering bumbler. The film also features one of the funniest wordplay sequences in classic movies including the oft-quoted line, “The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.” Kaye combines that tongue-twister with another ongoing physical gag that will still make fans laugh heartily 65 years later.

Following a turn in the classic holiday film White Christmas, Kaye earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor — Comedy or Musical for his leading role in The Court Jester, which was added to the National Film Registry in 2004 and included on the AFI’s list of the 100 Funniest American Movies of All Time.

The Court Jester was shot in Paramount’s trademark “VistaVision” widescreen format, capturing a grander scope of information on the film negative. For this new restoration, the original negative was scanned at 6K and one of the “separation masters” was also scanned and recombined with the negative scans to address color fading in the negative. The result is a vibrant picture that beautifully renders costumes by the famed Edith Head, art direction by Hal Pariera and cinematography by Ray June.

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The limited-edition Paramount Presents Blu-ray packaging includes a foldout image of the film’s theatrical poster and an interior spread with key movie moments. The Blu-ray also includes access to a digital copy of the film, the theatrical trailer, and a new “Filmmaker Focus” with film historian Leonard Maltin. Maltin clearly has a special fondness for the film, which he likens to “an old friend” in his commentary outlining the history and talent behind the comedy.

“You do have a relationship with movies that you love, and this is one that I love,” he says.

Ditto.

Comedy Classic ‘The Court Jester’ to Bow on Blu-ray in Paramount Presents Line Jan. 26

The classic comedy The Court Jester, starring Danny Kaye, celebrates its 65th anniversary Jan. 26 with a new Blu-ray release as part of the “Paramount Presents” line from Paramount Home Entertainment.

Originally released in 1956, The Court Jester was shot in Paramount’s trademark “VistaVision” widescreen format, capturing a grander scope of information on the film negative. For this new restoration, the original negative was scanned at 6K and one of the “separation masters” was also scanned and recombined with the negative scans to address color fading in the negative. The result is an incredibly vibrant picture that faithfully captures the colors and textures of Edith Head’s costumes and Hal Pariera’s sparkling art direction.

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Kaye earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor – Comedy or Musical for his leading role in this comic farce, which was added to the National Film Registry in 2004 and included on the AFI’s list of the 100 Funniest American Movies of All Time.

The limited-edition Paramount Presents Blu-ray is presented in collectible packaging that includes a foldout image of the film’s theatrical poster, and an interior spread with key movie moments. The Blu-ray also includes a new “Filmmaker Focus” with film historian Leonard Maltin, access to a digital copy of the film and the theatrical trailer.

In the film, Kaye plays kind-hearted entertainer Hawkins who disguises himself as the legendary king of jesters, Giacomo. Hawkins infiltrates the court of an evil villain (Basil Rathbone), but when a sorceress hypnotizes him, royal chaos ensues as the jester alternates identities at the snap of a finger, between swordplay and wordplay. The supporting cast includes Glynis Johns, Angela Lansbury, Mildred Natwick, Cecil Parker and John Carradine.

Holiday Film ‘Buttons: A Christmas Tale’ Due on Digital Nov. 19, DVD Dec. 3 From Paramount

The holiday film Buttons: A Christmas Tale will arrive on digital Nov. 19 and DVD Dec. 3 from Paramount Home Entertainment.

The cast includes Jane Seymour, Roma Downey and Abigail Spencer, along with screen legends Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury.  The film is narrated by Kate Winslet and Robert Redford.

From creator/director/writer/composer Tim Janis, who has sold millions of albums and worked with a wide array of artists, Buttons: A Christmas Tale follows the heartwarming journey of two orphan girls whose only wish is to find a home for Christmas. With a little help from their guardian angels (Van Dyke and Lansbury), they discover that miracles really can happen when you find the power to believe.

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The DVD includes bonus songs, a music video and a photo gallery.

Mary Poppins Returns

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/19/19;
Disney;
Musical;
Box Office $171.69 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘
PG’ for some mild thematic elements and brief action.
Stars Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Nathanael Saleh, Pixie Davies, Joel Dawson, Julie Walters, David Warner, Jim Norton, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Dick Van Dyke.

There’s a lyric at the beginning of the original 1964 Mary Poppins in which Dick Van Dyke sings “what’s to happen all happened before.” It’s a line that hints at the mysterious nature of the magical nanny but seems a bit curious in the context at the beginning of a story in which we as an audience have yet to witness any of Mary Poppins’ adventures.

Rather, that prophetically tinged turn of phrase would seem to have more meaning when applied to this new installment, which bears fruit for the notion that Mary Poppins’ adventures are somehow cyclical.

The sequel that has been 54 years in the making has been carefully crafted for each story beat to resonate with an equivalent scene from the first film. Indeed, such echoes of the original are even reflected in the musical score, which always seems to play a few nostalgic notes when appropriate.

In the new story based on author P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins novels, the nanny returns some two decades later when the now grown Banks children, Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael (Ben Whishaw) find themselves in a bit of a financial crisis. Michael’s life is in disarray a year after the tragic death of his wife, and the financial toll exacted by her loss have put their famous house at 17 Cherry Tree Lane in danger of being seized by the bank. As Michael seems ready to given in to cynicism and despair, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) reappears to ostensibly take care of Michael’s three children while infusing a new sense of joy and imagination into everyone’s day.

Mary Poppins Returns is an effective follow-up to the original classic, capturing its spirit of whimsy with a slate of catchy tunes, even if its story could use some fine-tuning at points. While every sequence more or less serves a central premise of approaching life with a variety of perspectives, some moments seem less relevant to the primary narrative than others. Colin Firth’s bank executive, for example, seems to want the house just for the sake of typical movie villain greed, where the plot could have given him a more personal stake in the Banks family story by, say, establishing he had a grudge against their father, George, who was a senior partner at the bank.

Likewise, the film’s most eccentric musical number, “Turning Turtle,” seems to exist only to provide an outlet for interesting ideas from the books the filmmakers wanted to use couldn’t infuse elsewhere in the story, resulting in a superfluous guest appearance by Meryl Streep. ‘

Much more effective is a practically perfect appearance by the iconic Angela Lansbury as the magical balloon lady, whose perfectly “Nowhere to Go but Up” number is the most memorable of film while most effectively reminding young and old alike to never lose sight of their childlike sense of wonder.

Bonus features on the Blu-ray are mostly focused on the creation of the various musical numbers, from the 23-minute “The Practically Perfect Making of Mary Poppins Returns” to the 18-minute “Seeing Things From a Different Point of View: The Musical Numbers of Mary Poppins Returns.” And the five-and-a-half-minute “Back to Cherry Tree Lane: Dick Van Dyke Returns” delves into the now 93-year-old actor’s cameo in the new film.

The disc also includes a deleted song sequence that was replaced by another piece early enough so that the version presented here is a scratch track set to animated storyboards. The total sequence, called “The Anthropomorphic Zoo,” runs about five minutes.

There are also two true deleted scenes that run about a minute each that are extensions of musical sequences that are in the final film, as well as a two-minute blooper reel.

The disc also offers the movie in a sing-along mode that shows the lyrics during the various song sequences (as opposed to closed captioning showing all the dialogue).

The digital edition, which can be accessed using the Movies Anywhere redemption code included with the Blu-ray combo pack, offers an informative commentary with director Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca.

Movies Anywhere also has two more vignettes, each running more than a minute. “Different Worlds: Creating Mary Poppins Returns is a shorter clip from the longer making-of featurette about the making of an animated sequence. And “What Is Your Favorite Disney Musical?” is a promotional video in which the title question is asked to various cast members.

Finally, the digital version on Vudu offers a three-minute featurette about the cameo of actress Karen Dotrice, who played young Jane in the original film.

‘The Grinch’ Sliding to Digital Jan. 22, Disc Feb. 5 From Universal

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch is coming to digital (including Movies Anywhere) Jan. 22 and 4K Ultra HD combo pack, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and on demand Feb. 5 from Illumination and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film earned $267.4 million in North American theaters, making it the year’s No. 6 movie, according to Box Office Mojo.

Based on the Dr. Seuss tale, the animated film follows a cynical grouch who goes on a mission to steal Christmas from others only to feel his own heart grow three sizes larger through unexpected friendships. Narrated by Pharrell Williams, The Grinch stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange, “Sherlock”) as the Grinch, who lives a solitary life inside a cave on Mt. Crumpit with his loyal dog, Max, for company. The voice cast also includes Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation,” The Muppets) as Donna Who, Kenan Thompson (“Saturday Night Live”) as Bricklebaum, Cameron Seely (The Greatest Showman) as Cindy-Lou Who and Angela Lansbury (AnastasiaBeauty and the Beast) as the mayor of Whoville.

The home entertainment edition contains more than 60 minutes of bonus content, including three mini-movies: “Dog Days of Winter” starring the Grinch and his heroically loyal dog Max; and “Yellow is the New Black” and “Santa’s Little Helpers,” both starring the Minions. It also includes featurettes and a how-to-draw tutorial.

Bonus features exclusive to disc include the interactive map “Who’s Who in Who-ville” and the “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” lyric video.