2014: ”Sinkhole at National Corvette Museum Swallows Eight Historic Vettes”
Via Reddit, an extraordinary video taken not long before the Berlin Wall came down (and more evidence, as if any were needed, that the Wall was meant to keep people in, not out).
A Redditor responds: “I grew up in Slovakia, just on the border with Austria (I can see Austria from my window). At that time it was the Iron Curtain, the most protected border in the country, with all-day armed patrols. Just getting close to the border could get you in serious troubles. Getting a permit to visit Austria was insanely hard…Some 30 years later I’m able to do my day-to-day shoping in Austria, crossing the border without any kind check, without any kind of passport, using the same currency….Blows my mind every time.”
[Originally posted to Blogcritics.org]
Released ten months after his death, The Jungle Book was the last feature-length animated film produced under the tutelage of Walt Disney. I suspect he was more than satisfied with the result. Finally available on Blu-ray February 11, The Jungle Book doesn’t quite rank with Disney’s greatest masterpieces, but it’s still tremendously entertaining.
Loosely based on Rudyard Kipling’s stories, The Jungle Book begins with Bagheera the panther finding a little “man-cub,” Mowgli, in the wreckage of a boating accident. He leaves the little guy with a family of wolves, who raise him as one of their own for ten years. By then, Mowgli feels at home amongst his animal friends, but trouble is brewing: the fierce tiger Shere Khan is back in the neighborhood, and the panthers decide that Bagheera must accompany his friend back to the “man-village.”
Mowgli has no interest in returning “where he belongs,” and resists at every turn, taking up with bumbling Baloo the Bear and King Louie of the apes. Bagheera tries to keep him on the path to his fellow humans, while fending off the devious python Kaa, who thinks Mowgli would make a tasty brunch.
Do I even have to tell you that Shere Khan eventually shows up, and is beaten – with the help of four decidedly Beatlesque vultures – in the nick of time? And that Mowgli finally warms to the idea of joining the man-village when he spies a lovely girl-cub gathering water?
At only 78 minutes in length, The Jungle Book’s plot is pretty thin, and the characters aren’t as well developed as those in other Disney features. Shere Khan, in particular, has it out for humans because…well, he just does, okay? The tiger was the obvious predecessor to Scar in The Lion King– Jeremy Irons undoubtedly found inspiration from George Sanders’ sinister vocal performance – but the latter is a much more fully fleshed out character.
That’s the kind of thing that separates a really, really good Disney film, like The Jungle Book, from one of the best, like The Lion King. Still, the movie looks absolutely breathtaking. The lush Indian jungle was rendered completely by hand, giving The Jungle Book a warmth rarely seen in today’s computer-aided (or fully CGI) animated features.
The musical numbers are the best thing about The Jungle Book. The Oscar-nominated “Bare Necessities” is a classic, but my favorite was “I Wanna Be Like You,” sung by the legendary Louis Prima as King Louie. The cleverly animated “Trust in Me” sequence, in which the devious Kaa lulls Mowgli into a trance, is also a standout. The python stretching and contorting himself to keep Mowgli sleepwalking brings to mind the famed Looney Tunes short “Homeless Hare,” in which a dazed Bugs Bunny navigates a skyscraper under construction.
This “Diamond Edition” release includes the Blu-ray of the movie, the DVD version, and a digital download. The Blu-ray looks sensational; in many scenes, you can even make out the strokes of the animators’ pens, but the DTS-HD High Res Audio is mixed in a way that makes the characters’ dialogue difficult to hear in some scenes. Disney didn’t skimp on the special features, though: making-of documentaries, deleted scenes, a storyboarded alternate ending, audio commentary from animators who were inspired to get into the business because of this film, subtitled “karaoke” versions of the songs, and a featurette plugging Disney’s Animal Kingdom park in Florida.
The Jungle Book may not quite make it into the top tier of Disney’s animated canon, but even a “second-tier” Disney release still makes for essential viewing.
[Originally posted to Blogcritics.org]
Before At Long Last Love, director Peter Bogdanovich was the man who could do no wrong. AfterAt Long Last Love, he became the man who could do no right. Well, that’s not completely accurate; Bogdanovich, who directed the classics The Last Picture Show, What’s Up, Doc?, and Paper Moon in quick succession, suffered a flop with Daisy Miller in 1974. But it was At Long Last Love, his ambitious attempt to make a musical with stars singing Cole Porter songs live on camera instead of lip-syncing, that torpedoed his career.
Critics (who had been looking for a reason to take Bogdanovich and his leading lady/girlfriend Cybill Shepherd down a peg) savaged the film so badly, you’d think he had directed the Dnepropetrovsk maniacs video. The director himself apologized for it after its release, complaining that 20th Century Fox had recut the film against his wishes, but his career – and his personal life – went into a tailspin: two bankruptcies, the end of his relationship with Shepherd, the murder of his subsequent girlfriend Dorothy Stratten (and later marriage to, and divorce from, her sister), and except for 1985′s Mask, a strong of box-office and critical failures.
The new millennium has been kinder to Bogdanovich, however; he won raves for his performance on The Sopranos, and his cachet as a film historian had risen to the point that he provided a commentary track for the Citizen Kane Blu-Ray release. Even some of his “flops,” like Noises Off!and They All Laughed, have gained cult followings and critical reappraisal.
So it was inevitable that a “Director’s Definitive Edition” of At Long Last Love, long unavailable in any home video format, would make its way to Blu-Ray. And you know what? It’s not bad. In fact, it’s quite entertaining.
At Long Last Love features a Depression-era love quadrangle between broke heiress Shepherd, playboy Burt Reynolds, Broadway diva Madeline Kahn, and Italian gambler Johnny Spanish (of course) played by Duilio Del Prete in a rare English-language role. Kahn breaks up with Del Prete and hooks up with Reynolds, Shepherd meets Del Prete but then winds up with Reynolds, Kahn and Del Prete get back together while trying to get back Reynolds and Shepherd, et cetera. There’s also Shepherd’s acerbic wingwoman (Eileen Brennan) and her pursuit of Reynolds’ long-suffering chauffeur (the hilarious John Hillerman, who would go on to play Higgins on Magnum, P.I.).
It’s not much of a plot, but it’s all you need for a series of musical numbers, featuring the characters singing the incomparable songs of Cole Porter. The sorely missed Madeline Kahn is wonderful, of course, but even Shepherd – who really bore the brunt of critics’ anger when At Long Last Love was released – acquits herself pretty well. Reynolds can barely carry a tune, alas, but he has enough natural charm to get past his limitations as a singer.
Because the actors were singing live, the musical numbers are shot in lengthy, unbroken takes that must have taken many, many tries to get right. At one point, Shepherd and Reynolds sing while swimming, and early in the film there’s a particularly striking shot where Reynolds performs while standing on the running board of his moving limousine. (I said to myself, “that’s obviously in front of a blue screen” until the camera panned back and showed the car really moving.)
At Long Last Love isn’t close to a perfect film – it’s a bit too long, and while the actors deserve points for singing live, as a result some of the musical numbers aren’t as elaborate as they could have been. (Shepherd and even Reynolds were better singers than dancers, it turned out.) But it’s a gorgeous looking film, thanks to some stunning sets and costumes and the great Laszlo Kovacs’ cinematography, and it certainly doesn’t deserve the scorn heaped upon it in the mid-seventies. As of this writing At Long Last Love has only a 4.8/10 rating on IMDb.com, but as more people discover Bogdanovich’s brave musical experiment, that should get better with time.
The lushly orchestrated musical numbers sound wonderful in DTS 2.0 sound, but the picture – especially the darker colors – looks somewhat grainy. Unfortunately, except for the original theatrical trailer, there are no special features on this disc. Too bad there’s no retrospective documentary or commentary from Bogdanovich, because even though the movie is better than its reputation, the story of how its making and its very public rejection would be more interesting still.
In Georgia, a personal injury lawyer paid for his own Super Bowl commercial, and it is the most incredible thing I have ever seen in my life.
[Originally posted to Blogcritics.org]
My favorite episodes of Top Gear are the ones where Jeremy, Hamster and Captain Slow take interesting and unusual cars on long road trips in exotic locations. Another BBC production,Russia on Four Wheels, follows basically the same formula: hosts Justin Rowlatt and Anita Rani take two very different vehicles and take them to very different parts of the world’s largest, and in many ways most mysterious country.
They certainly chose the right machinery for the trip. Rowlatt takes a Brezhnev-era UAZ military jeep into Russia’s agricultural heartland, to the awesome Volga River and the outskirts of Siberia. Meanwhile, for her trip through more prosperous, industrialized regions, Rani drives a hilariously insane armor-plated Kombat truck – basically an armored personnel carrier with leather seats. This thing is exactly what you’d picture a flamboyant, slightly sinister Russian oligarch using as his daily driver.
The trip isn’t as irreverent as Top Gear, of course, but it’s a very interesting and beautifully filmed look at the country that will host the Winter Olympics this month. (Both road trips start in Sochi, host city for the winter games, yet a place warm enough for lemon trees to grow). A portrait emerges of a country where many have achieved prosperity – some, almost unimaginable wealth – but much of which is still recovering from 70 years of communism and another decade-plus of total chaos.
Rani definitely gets the easier ride, visiting newly wealthy entrepreneurs, a modern VW factory and Moscow’s GUM shopping arcade, where you can drop the equivalent of £100,000.00 on a fur coat. But Rowlatt’s excursion in his little UAZ (which runs most of the time) is arguably more interesting: Volgograd (where some campaign to restore the city’s historic old name: Stalingrad), the venerable Lada factory, and a haunting trip to a Stalin-era labor camp that remained in operation until 1989. He even meets a prisoner who spent five years in the camp for the imaginable crime of distributing anti-communist leaflets, and he makes the surprising assertion that the gulag was actually the one place in the USSR where you could speak freely. You were already in a labor camp, so what more could they possibly do with you?
Communism is long gone, but as we’ve seen in recent years, Russia is no liberal democracy. Part one of Russia on Four Wheels, however, doesn’t dwell on the Putin regime’s increasing authoritarianism, its laws against “gay propaganda” or its petty and mean-spirited ban on foreign adoptions – all of which, unfortunately, can’t in good conscience be excluded from a program about Russia in 2014. (Part two, which I have not yet seen, features a gay rights protest, so these issues may yet receive the attention they deserve.)
Still, Russia on Four Wheels does show us many sides of the country most of us didn’t know about, and that makes it worth watching. Part one aired on the BBC World News channel February 1; part two will air February 8. Until Top Gear returns, it will do nicely.