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Review of ROAD TO BALI (Blu-ray)

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Grade: B
Entire family: Yes
1952, 91 min., Color
Musical comedy-adventure-romance
Not rated (would be PG for mild peril and innuendo)
Kino Lorber
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 2.0
Bonus features: B-
APC teaser
Amazon link

In the 1940s, singers Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour hooked up with hook-nosed comedian Bob Hope for five “road” pictures—comedies about two erstwhile male vaudeville performers in exotic locations who end up meeting and falling for Lamour’s character. Was it a formula? Yes and no. Audiences knew exactly what to expect, but Hope and Crosby ad-libbed so much that the films had the added energy of unpredictability.

After taking the road to Singapore (1940), Zanzibar (1941), Morocco (1942), Utopia (1946), and Rio (1947), the trio took to the road again in 1952 for their first and only color excursion, Road to Bali. Crosby plays George Cochran and Hope is Harold Gridley, two entertainers forced to cut engagements in Australia short when they end up wooing one too many farmer’s daughters and are forced to find other work. The first job that presents itself is “deep sea diver,” and so they’re off on another adventure.

Though it’s not as funny as Road to Morocco and Road to Utopia, this 91-minute comedy is a good place to start for families with younger children because it is color and because Road to Bali is a kitchen sink film. Writers Frank Butler, Hal Kanter, and William Morrow throw everything into the film, including the kitchen sink, among them:

—A treasure hunt
—A South Seas princess
—A romantic triangle
—A long-lost father who turns up
—A wedding
—A battle with a giant squid
—A fight between a tiger and a gorilla
—A close call with crocodiles
—A lovelorn gorilla who decides Harold is the perfect replacement for the mate she lost
—An exploding volcano
—A “Scottish” song-and-dance routine Hope and Crosby perform in kilts
—Cameo appearances by Humphrey Bogart (in a film clip) and Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and Jane Russell
—“Balinese” dancers who move to music that sounds suspiciously like jazz
—A snake-charmer takeoff in which the flute player summons not a cobra but a beautiful woman

Road to Bali may not feature the kind of breakneck pacing that young people are used to, but the film shifts gears enough times and has enough color and humor to make it fun for family viewing—if, that is, your children are open to older movies. And if your family includes a Baby Boomer or fans of vintage television shows, a bonus is that Carolyn Jones (Morticia on TV’s The Addams Family) appears in just her second career role as one of the jilted farmer’s daughters; Leon Askin (Gen. Burkhalter on TV’s Hogan’s Heroes) turns up as King Ramayana, the ruler of an unspecified idyllic island somewhere between Australia and Bali; and Michael Ansara (Cochise on TV’s Broken Arrow and the Blue Djinn on I Dream of Jeannie) is one of the guards that serve the King and Prince Ken Arok (Murvyn Vye).

The Road movies are famous for breaking the fourth wall, and the asides in this picture include Hope telling the audience, “He’s going to sing now, so it’s a good time to go out and get popcorn.”

My teenage son (who loved this film when he was 5 or 6—all the Road pictures are family-friendly) liked it enough to give it a B+, but I think if he saw other Road pictures he might agree that it’s more of a B. Road to Bali is directed by Hal Walker, who directed Road to Utopia and was assistant director on Road to Morocco and Road to Zanzibar. This Blu-ray transfer is superior to the DVDs that have been floating around for this title, with only a few brief moments where the film loses its crispness. What’s more, film historians Michael Schlesinger and Mark Evanier provide an informative and sometimes funny commentary track which, along with a Bob Hope promo, constitute the release’s only bonus features.

Is it worth adding to your family’s Blu-ray library? Absolutely. And let’s hope that the other Road movies aren’t far behind. Kino Lorber did a nice job on this release.

Review of MONEY FROM HOME (Blu-ray)

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Grade: B-/C+
Entire family: Yes
1953, 100 min., Color
Comedy-romance

Not rated (would be PG for adult drinking and smoking)
Olive Films
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Bonus features: n/a
Clip
Trailer
Amazon link

Internet quizzes are fun, right? Okay, then, take this one—and I mean that literally. Just one question:

How do you feel about Jerry Lewis?

A) Love him
B) He annoys me
C) Who?
D) Depends on the movie

How you answer will pretty much determine how you’ll feel about Money from Home, a 1953 comedy starring Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin—the first film the duo made in color. If you answered

A—You’re probably French
B—You saw enough clips or movies to know Lewis’s goofball slapstick style of comedy isn’t for you, and nothing I can say will convince you
C—You’re a Millennial or part of the generation that hasn’t been named yet
D—You probably remember just as many bad films as you do some of the better Martin-Lewis and solo Lewis films

I’m not sure how families today will respond to a Damon Runyon comedy starring Dean Martin as the smooth-talking and smooth-singing crooner and Jerry Lewis as a comic manchild, but the second half of this racetrack nags-and-mobsters film really starts to gallop after a slow set-up that mostly introduced audiences to the typical Runyon stable of prohibition-era Broadway “guys and dolls.” In fact, if you like any of the film versions of his stories—Guys and Dolls, Little Miss Marker, or The Lemon Drop Kid—you’ll probably like Money from Home in spite of Lewis’s antics. Of interest, the film was made in 3D, which accounts for the lively action and some of the in-your-face shots in the third act.

The characters may be as plentiful as in a Russian novel, but the plot is simple. Martin plays gambler “Honey Talk” Nelson, who can sweet talk just about anyone (women especially) but hasn’t had a lucky streak for a long time. In fact, he’s into bookie “Jumbo” Schneider (Sheldon Leonard) big-time, and Schneider gives him a choice: either fix a horse race in Maryland by making sure the “nag” doesn’t run, or else get fitted for a pair of cement shoes and find himself at the bottom of the river. Naturally he chooses to fix the race, especially since he has a dimwitted cousin named Virgil Yokum (Lewis) who is an animal lover studying to become a veterinarian that he’s sure he can con into helping him.

Typical of Hollywood comedies from this period, the males and females are “paired off,” with Honey Talk falling for the owner (Marjie Millar) of the horse he’s supposed to take out of commission, and Virgil getting sweet on the horse’s veterinarian (Pat Crowley). Complicating matters, the English jockey (Richard Haydn) isn’t exactly a teetotaler, and so the plan is to keep him drunk enough to make sure he never gets on that horse. The minute you see how well Virgil and the horse get along, you know what’s going to happen. But there’s also a Poojah (Romo Vincent) who is going to buy the winning horse and brings his whole harem with him, making for additional comic opportunities.

Like most comedies from the fifties, Money from Home is corny and depends on sight gags, slapstick, and a few good one-liners for comedy, but once the characters are introduced you find yourself getting caught up in the action. Apart from adult drinking and the drunkenness of the jockey it’s a pretty tame film, suitable for families. What age group will like it? That depends. What age group likes Jerry Lewis?

As for Martin and Lewis, this entry started them on an upswing. After Money from Home they made some of their most successful films: Living It Up (1954) and You’re Never Too Young and Artists and Models (1955). Most of the Martin-Lewis films fall in the 6 out of 10 range, which makes this film a B-/C+ or vice versa—depending on whether we’re talking about the first half of the film or the second. Watch the clip above and you’ll have a pretty good idea of whether this film is for you and your family. I think the second half is well worth putting up with a slower start.

Language: Pretty clean
Sex: n/a
Violence: Lots of threats but no real violence
Adult situations: A jockey is drunk, Martin always has a cigarette in hand, and there’s some innuendo that will go over kids’ heads
Takeaway: Money from Home isn’t the best Martin-Lewis film, but it’s a solid entry from one of Hollywood’s legendary comedy teams, and the horse-racing angle will pull younger viewers in more easily than some of their other films

Review of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017) (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: A/A-
Entire family: Yes
2017, 129 min., Color
Family musical fantasy
Disney
Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

We seem to have entered a new era of live-action Disney remakes of animated classics.

After a 2014 revisionist Sleeping Beauty story of Maleficent that divided critics, a trio of remakes—Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), and Pete’s Dragon (2016)—fared nearly as well with reviewers as they did at the box office. More live-action remakes are in the works: The Sword and the Stone, Dumbo, Pinocchio, Alice and Maleficent sequels, Cruella (an attempt to improve on the 1996 101 Dalmatians flop), Winnie the Pooh, Mulan, Tink (a Peter Pan spinoff), Prince Charming (a Cinderella spinoff), Genies (an Aladdin prequel), and Night on Bald Mountain (a Fantasia adaptation). It other words, it’s getting real.

Predictably, not everyone is a fan. More audience members (83 percent) liked 2017’s Beauty and the Beast than critics (71 percent), but if you read between the lines you’ll see that the naysayers are mostly purists who think that nothing can compare to the 1991 film many consider to be the high point of Disney animation—one that, like The Lion King, inspired a Broadway version. Additional objections came from closet homophobes who took exception with the slightly flamboyant performance that Josh Gad (Olaf, in Frozen) gave of La Fou, sidekick to the film’s egotistical, intimidating villain. But hey, he’s a musical theater guy, this is musical theater, and children will see in his performance the same kind of second-fiddle comedy as his cartoon counterpart provided.

Our family watched Beauty and the Beast separately—my son, on his college campus; my wife and daughter, at a local theater; and me, when it finally came out on Blu-ray this week—but we all had the same reaction: We loved it.

Disney excels in creating movie worlds, and to create this one they decided against straight live-action and incorporated 1700 visual effects using both old and new technology. Watch a bonus feature and you’ll see Dan Stevens, who plays the beast, decked out in a full-body motion-capture suit, and you’ll see Emma Watson as Belle sitting at a table full of objects—the only actor in the room, because all of the other characters were CGI. But you’ll also see green screen work and matte backgrounds, and the combination of old and new techniques fashion a world that’s live-action but still altered reality—timeless, fantastic.

Gad says that everyone brought their “A” game and you can see it on the screen. That A-game began with a romping, boisterous “table read” that included dancing, singing, pretend swordfights—everything we see in the film. It was clear that Disney meant to pull out all the stops and really nail this, and our family thought they did just that.

The project must have felt both new and strangely familiar to Watson, since Disney filmed at Shepperton Studios in England—the same studio where she and her young castmates shot Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Watson was a perfect choice to play Belle, as her “fantasy cred” is already high and it’s easy to believe her as the fairytale Beauty. Her singing voice is pleasant, too, though the best singer of the bunch is musical theater veteran Luke Evans, who plays a Gaston every bit as robust, menacing, and self-absorbed as the animated version.

Stevens, meanwhile, makes for a convincing Beast, and both are helped by a screenplay that sought to quell any Stockholm Syndrome talk and answer the big question: Why would Belle fall for the Beast? What was in each of their pasts and personalities that might serve as common ground for mutual attraction? Providing backstories for each and answering those questions are the main deviations from the animated version.

Otherwise, apart from incorporating additional songs, Disney follows the same path as the original: Belle wishes for more than “this provincial life,” but in requesting her father bring her back a rose from his travels she inadvertently sets the plot in motion. After being attacked by wolves and seeking refuge in a nearby castle, he’s sentenced to life in the castle prison for stealing a rose. When his horse returns and Belle tracks him down, she offers herself in his place. Meanwhile, her father returns to town and tries to get them to rescue his daughter, but they think he’s crazy. But Gaston, eventually, will lead armed peasants in an assault on the castle. As Watson says, it’s a musical, it’s a fantasy, it’s an action movie, and it’s a drama—four genres in one.

Small children will find the wolfpack attack even more frightening in live action, but the Beast is toned down a bit from the animated original—or maybe it just seems that way since his transformation begins more immediately and there is greater depth in the Beast’s character that makes him seem more instantly likable. Then again, director Bill Condon—who was behind the camera for two of The Twilight Saga films—knows a thing or two about bad-boy, good-girl teen attraction. Ultimately, the Beast isn’t as bad as he appears, and the sorceress (Hattie Morahan) who pinned that curse on him has a bigger role in the live-action version.

Some critics have groused about weak links, but we didn’t see any. The whole cast was remarkable—energetic, “animated,” and wholly believable—whether we’re talking about Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline), Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), or Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci). Ultimately, while the story is the same, it feels like a completely different movie from the 1991 animated classic. And as long as that feeling persists, Disney can remake animated films as much as they want.

Language: n/a
Sex: n/a
Violence: The wolf attack can be frightening, as can the Beast’s initial rage and a climactic scene when one character dies and another appears dead
Adult situations: A pub scene, but the music distracts from anything adult
Takeaway: Empowered by advances in CGI special effects, Disney seems to have found their live-action stride again

Review of LA LA LAND (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: A-
Entire family: No
2016, 128 min., Color
Musical
Rated PG-13 for some language
Summit
Aspect ratio: 2.55:1
Featured audio: English Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

I’m glad that Summit decided to wait a few months before making La La Land available on home video. It’s good to take a step back and approach a film like this fresh, especially after all the hype-turned-hate that swirled around it. I frankly can’t think of another film that had so many Oscar nominations (14) and was so praised initially as the surefire Best Picture winner, then derided in a backlash as the biggest overrated film of the year:

—It’s a slick film . . . maybe too slick.
—Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are amazing . . . or maybe just Stone.
—It was pure Hollywood! (they gushed) . . . It was pure Hollywood (they dismissed).
—First Whiplash and now this? Damien Chazelle is a genius . . . or not.

In retrospect, La La Land lands closer to the bulls-eye of praise, though it’s not a perfect film, as Peter Travers of Rolling Stone insists. That’s clear already from an opening freeway number that’s visually a big musical showstopper but has a sound that’s not so big. Kind of like the singing we get from the two stars, which is soft and slightly raspy and muted—a throaty rather than full-bodied sound that comes from the diaphragm. There are times when the musical accompaniment even threatens to overpower Gosling’s voice. But it’s easy to ignore that when Gosling and Stone are so cute and so charming together. Plus, they handle the flirtatious choreography and dance numbers like a couple of pros, and seem to actually enjoy it.

For me (and for my teenage daughter) the film’s only real shortcoming is the ending—and that’s a matter of taste. This loving homage to Hollywood musicals from the ‘50s is a feel-good movie for 120 minutes, with a 180-degree ending that feels overly clever and totally changes the mood. My daughter didn’t appreciate that kind of manipulation, and I didn’t appreciate that the homage seemed to slide off-track at the end.

But boy, did Chazelle nail the look and feel of those old Gene Kelly movies. You find yourself admiring the choreography and the mise en scene of the song-and-dance numbers because they so lovingly replicate scenes from musicals past. La La Land revives the Golden Age of Hollywood Musicals even if only for a short time. Though Oscars went to Chazelle (Best Director), Stone (Best Actress), and Justin Hurwitz (Original Score, Original Song), the one that feels most deserving is the production design by David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco. Without it, there isn’t much of an homage, and that they were able to achieve a retro look and feel is even more impressive when you consider that most of it was done not on a soundstage but at a range of Hollywood-area interior and exterior locations that reinforce the tribute—as does an opening where curtains part to reveal a screen that says presented in CinemaScope (a retro ultra-widescreen format).

La La Land tells a typical Hollywood story. Stone plays Mia, a would-be actress currently working the counter at an eatery on the Warner Bros. studio lot. Her dream is to become a star. Sebastian’s passion is jazz, and his dream is to open a jazz club of his own. They meet cute on a Hollywood freeway, with her flipping him off for driving around her. They meet cute again . . . and again . . . until they finally start to determine that maybe they’re meant to be together. Viewers who saw Stone and Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love probably will wonder what’s taking them so long. As both of their careers take off, which passion will win out? The Hollywood dream, their romance, or both?

Like Singin’ in the Rain, that other musical tribute to Hollywood, there are a few standouts in supporting cast. Singer John Legend is engaging as a techno-jazz enthusiast who makes a convincing argument for jazz needing to evolve . . . or die, while J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) gets a brief moment in the spotlight as a club manager who insists on a mundane play-list, and Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno, and Jessica Rothe play Mia’s roommates and shine in one song, “Someone in the Crowd.”

“That’s L.A.,” Sebastian says. “They worship everything and they value nothing.” There’s critical commentary here as well as tribute, and hype or hate aside, La La Land is a bit like its Oscar-winning song, “City of Stars”: it may seem slight, but in the end, it’s the little things you remember most.

Language: One f-bomb, two uses of the middle finger, and a handful of milder swearwords
Sex: n/a
Violence: n/a
Adult Situations: Not much here, really
Takeaway: Part tribute, part social commentary, and part romantic comedy, La La Land is the strongest musical we’ve seen in years

Review of SING (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B+
Entire family: Yes
2016, 108 min., Color
Animated musical-comedy
Rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril
Universal
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: ATMOS Dolby True HD
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

When I saw the trailer for Sing I thought, Could there possibly be a less imaginative premise than to build a film around a concert? Whether it’s original oldies like the Broadway Melody films and White Christmas or more recent variations, the concept has been done so many times you pretty much have to watch for the performances. Any plot will be just enough to string those tunes together.

That’s what viewers get in Sing, a film from Illumination Entertainment (The Secret Life of Pets). But here’s the crazy thing: somehow the film holds your attention and works as family viewing. The difference, I think, is in the animation. The art form allows filmmakers to be more playful in the build-up and in the details as they bridge those musical numbers. Though Sing is still no Pitch Perfect, it also helps to have a cartoon koala as the lead “actor.” Cute, right?

Matthew McConaughey gives voice to Buster Moon, a dreamer who thought he’d be much bigger in the theatrical world than he is. Put it this way: he’s no Ziegfeld. To save his theater he decides to mount a production that is guaranteed to pack the seats: a singing competition, to which all the friends and relatives of the entrants will come. Yep. It’s basically an extended animated animal version of The Voice or America’s Got Talent.

Failure hangs on Buster like a cheap suit, so he coaxes his friend Eddie (John C. Reilly), a sheep who isn’t afraid of going against the flock, to ask his retired legendary singing grandmother, Nana Noodleman (Jennifer Saunders), to sponsor the competition. She won’t do that, but she agrees to see a preview of the show. As in Nativity! disasters threaten to cancel the show, but hey, the show must go on, and it does.

A sequence that emulates a fast-moving drone camera introduces us to the contestants and prepares us for a narrative that will shift from character to character. Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) is this film’s Miss Piggy, a housewife who has a brood of 25 piglets and a dream of making it in music; Johnny (Taron Egerton) is a gorilla whose criminal dad wants him to follow in his footsteps instead of pursuing a career in entertainment; Ash (Scarlett Johansson), is a porcupine rocker who splits with her boyfriend in order to prove she can do it on her own; Gunter (Nick Kroll) is a German piggy who seems trapped in the age of disco; Mike (Seth MacFarlane) is an old-school crooner of a mouse who plays guitar on the street for spare change; and Meena (Tori Kelly) is an extremely shy elephant who has more stage fright than talent, and her talent is considerable.

All of the characters are fun, but the scene-stealer is Buster’s elderly lizard assistant, Miss Crawly (“Has anyone seen my glass eye?”), voiced by the film’s writer-director, Garth Jennings. Miss Crawly’s eye plays a big role too, as it’s responsible for adding a few zeroes to the amount of prize money advertised on fliers—the main complicating factor in this otherwise thinly plotted film that’s really all about the performances.

Sing features snippets and extended renditions of 65 different songs, some of them performed by the actors, and the rest of the soundtracks covering a wide range of styles and talents, including Maino, Cat Stevens, Dave Brubeck, Crystal Stilts, Dennis de Laat, Ennio Morricone, Boomish, Carly Rae Jepsen, Major Lazer, Cyndi Lauper, Kanye West, Luciano Pavarotti, David Bowie & Queen, Katy Perry, Spencer Davis, Drake, Gipsy Kings, Wham!, Stevie Wonder, and Ariana Grande. The music is one reason this film works; animation is the other.

For decades Disney has been the absolute best at creating a world, but Illumination pays just as much attention to background details and small jokes and gets it right. They bring to life a world that gives pleasure just to look at it and to appreciate those details. If this were live-action, I think it would be a yawner. Even Glee had more plotting. But the animation sells it and makes it entertaining for all ages, despite the tired premise. And for children, the message is as hopeful as The Voice: if they can pursue their dreams, so can we!

Language: “fart” and “hell” are uttered, but that’s it
Sex: Except for a reference on “cheating,” nothing here
Violence: A building is demolished but there are no casualties; other than that, porcupine quills shoot people accidentally
Adult situations: Johnny is involved in robberies, his father is imprisoned, and Mike is pursued by bear gangsters
Takeaway: Time for Disney to blaze new trails, because Illumination Entertainment and other studios are starting to catch up

BOB HOPE: HOPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS (DVD)

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bobhopexmascoverGrade: B+/A-
Entire family: Yes
1993 & 1950, 110 min., Color & B&W
Time Life
Not rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Bonus features: B-/C+
Clip: “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Forever”
Amazon link

There’s an episode of Friends where an out-of-work Chandler takes an internship and, surrounded by twentysomethings, confesses that he feels old . . . though, he quips, he’s not exactly Bob Hope. “Who?” they say. “You know. Bob Hope. USO . . . ” to which one of them responds, “Uh, USA.” A year before Friends launched, an already old Bob Hope hosted a Christmas special that would turn out to be one of his very best. But if young people had no idea who Bob Hope was back in the nineties, they certainly won’t now.

They should, though. Hope, who lived to be 100, was one of America’s iconic entertainers—an ironic fact, considering he was born in England. Although he appeared in 70+ films, he’s most known for teaming up with crooner Bing Crosby and singer-dancer Dorothy Lamour in a series of “Road” pictures that cracked up audiences during the forties. And he’s known for entertaining America’s men and women in the Armed Forces, making 57 tours abroad for the USO (United Service Organizations) over a course of 50 years. He also did four decades of television specials, always beginning and ending with the theme song “Thanks for the Memory.”

Well, that’s what this Christmas special provides: memories. Those who will be able to appreciate it most will be those who actually grew up watching Hope on television. But the nostalgic tone, family emphasis, and structure of Bob Hope: Hope for the Holidays are such that the show would also work as a watch-together holiday special at the grandparents’ house. Hope made dozens of TV specials, and this one rises to the top because it gives people a nutshell, composite portrait of a Hollywood legend.

I’m a big Hope fan, so I made it a point to introduce my children to some of my favorite movies of his, all comedies: The Princess and the Pirate (Color, 1944), Monsieur Beaucaire (B&W, 1946), The Paleface (Color, 1948), Fancy Pants (Color, 1950), The Lemon Drop Kid (Color, 1951), Son of Paleface (Color, 1952), Casanova’s Big Night (Color, 1954), The Seven Little Foys (Color, 1955), and, of course, the road pictures, the first of which was The Road to Singapore (B&W, 1940), followed by Road to Zanzibar (B&W, 1941), Road to Morocco (B&W, 1942), Road to Utopia (B&W, 1945), Road to Rio (B&W, 1947), Road to Bali (Color, 1952), and The Road to Hong Kong (B&W, 1962). I started them off with the first film and then the only road picture in color, and after that they wanted to watch the others. I say all this because it does help to have a context and a “history” with Hope in order to appreciate this holiday DVD—though it’s not absolutely necessary.

bobhopexmasscreenThe structure is similar to The Nutcracker ballet. A 90-year-old Hope is trimming the tree and singing with his wife, Dolores, when the “guests” for their holiday party begin to arrive. It’s a neat way to introduce the cast and guest stars for this special, and as clips of previous Christmas specials are deftly inserted throughout the hour-long variety show, you realize why they were invited: most of them had appeared with Hope in earlier specials or on his USO tours. It was an honest-to-goodness reunion for them, and Hope’s advanced years underscore the fact that you never know, as people age, when a gathering like this might be the last. That won’t be lost on even the youngest viewers who watch this with extended family.

But it’s not a downer, that’s for sure. The overall feeling is one of holiday warmth. Once Loni Anderson (WKRP in Cincinnati), Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie), country singers Wynonna and Naomi Judd, Joey Lawrence (Blossom, Disney voiceovers), former football player Ed Marinaro (Hill Street Blues), former football player Lynn Swann (The Last Boy Scout, The Waterboy) and Charena Swann enter the house, the rest of the evening is a very fluid blend of stories, comedy routines, songs, and clips from Hope’s 40 years of holiday specials.

It all works extremely well, but what stood out for me is how wonderfully the production is edited. It’s the best clip show I’ve seen, because it all seems so organic, so well integrated into the main structure of a holiday party, and nostalgia is the key. Thanks to the clips, viewers also get to enjoy such stars as Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Macaulay Culkin, Phillis Diller, Redd Foxx, Emmanuel Lewis, Lee Marvin, Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, Brooke Shields, Phil Silvers, Red Skelton, and John Wayne. Call it a Best of Bob Hope’s Christmas Specials show, because that’s ultimately what this 1993 special becomes. There are too many highlights to mention, it’s that good. It’s also old-fashioned, and the hosts are probably older than most grandparents of today’s families. But if children will give it a chance, they’ll find plenty of moments to entertain them.

This DVD is billed as a “compilation,” even though the only other show is an old black-and-white Christmas Eve installment of The Comedy Hour that, for the purposes of this review, I’m considering another bonus feature. The sketches here are not all that funny, but the show does have value as a cultural-historical document. The then-mayor of New York makes an appearance at the beginning, and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt reads an inspirational 1776 message to the nation from George Washington. Today’s viewers will be struck by the level of language and thought and engagement required of audiences back then. This is heady stuff, and in today’s world of dumbed-down voters with limited political knowledge it doesn’t play well at all—except to remind us that back in 1950 viewers were apparently more intelligent and more politically astute. Now it’s only of value as a time-capsule item, not for current entertainment. If you buy this DVD, buy it for the 1993 special, which is well worth the price.

HONEY 3: DARE TO DANCE (Blu-ray combo)

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Honey3coverGrade: C
Entire family: No
2016, 97 min., Color
Universal
Rated PG-13 for some sensuality
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

It’s almost a given that dance movies exist to feature dance moves, with usually just enough plotting to get you from performance to performance. And if those performances are exceptional, the target audience—dance lovers, would-be dancers, and teens still looking to find their passion or their identity—will be happy to overlook the bad acting and scenic construction that strings those dance numbers together.

The problem with Honey 3: Dare to Dance is that the dancing isn’t exceptional. It’s uneven, with decent hip-hop routines mixed in with some very mundane ones that inexplicably have the other dancers on the set “oooing and “ahhhing,” even though the moves and level of excitement aren’t as good as what viewers saw on Glee. For me, the saving grace was that the film was both shot and set in Cape Town, South Africa, and the backgrounds and locations were fascinating. There’s some gorgeous time-lapse photography as well, which looks terrific in HD. Then again, this is a dance movie, not a documentary.

Our 14-year-old daughter is part of the target audience. She’s a serious dancer who also watches every PG and PG-13 dance movie that comes out. But she was bored mid-way through Honey 3—a film she said she’d grade a C. After it was over she needed to watch a good dance movie to set her world right again.

Honey3screen1I would give it a similar grade, though I’m not a dancer. Neither, unfortunately, is the female lead. Cassie Ventura is a hip-hop singer who has the look of a leading lady but not the dance chops to be the focus of a film like this. Both supporting actresses are better dancers and have more stage presence. Dena Kaplan (whom viewers may recognize as Abigail from the popular Australian television series Dance Academy) is a joy to watch, and she was actually born in South Africa. Why not cast her as the lead? Or Sibongile Mlambo, who was a contestant on America’s Got Talent and appeared as a dancer in the 2013 family dramedy Felix? It seems like a waste to relegate Kaplan to the role of “best friend,” while Mlambo, who has more raw stage presence, is cast as Ishani, the street-tough hard case Melea has to win over. Another problem is that Ventura doesn’t have any chemistry with the lead male dancer (Kenny Wormald, Footloose). We don’t buy them as Romeo and Juliet, and we don’t buy them as a couple off-stage.

The first Honey (2003) starred Jessica Alba and was set in New York but shot in Toronto. The plot? Find a place to put on a show to raise money to build a community center. In the tradition of unimaginative dance movies, that’s what happens here too—although there’s also some nonsense about Melea being kicked out of college for not paying tuition and we think the show is going to be all Honey3screen2about her getting back into school again. Instead, that “plot” line just withers away, forgotten by all, while her focus shifts to honoring her dead mother by seeing her thesis project through and producing a modern version of Mom’s favorite play, Romeo and Juliet. And that focus expands to trying to establish a dance center in honor of Ishani’s slain brother.

When they finally get around to producing this hip-hop R&J, we’re not supposed to think too hard about how Melea was able to “borrow” costumes from the college she was kicked out of, or why there isn’t more violence when South Africa is rampant with violent crime. Or how, for that matter, Melea is able to rent an old theater with no money. But of course this is a dance movie, which means none of those questions are supposed to be asked. Viewers are expected to get caught up in the music (which sounds great on a DTS-HDMA 5.1 soundtrack, by the way), watch the moves on this direct-to-video movie . . . and “ooo” and “ahhh” like the extras on set.

Language: Surprising, very clean
Sex: Nothing here to offend either
Violence: Some pushing and posturing and that’s it
Adult situations: We’re told that Ishanti’s brother was killed over a necklace
Takeaway: In a way it’s too bad bad director Bille Woodruff spent his budget on a trip to South Africa; he could have used more money to pay for a little better choreography and dancers

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