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Dot and the Whale (1986)
The Best Dot Movie Ever!
Producer and director Yoram Gross returns with the sixth film in the Dot series, and gives us the best Dot film ever!
Twentieth Century girl Dot - she of the flaming red hair and bare feet - learns how to breathe underwater from her dolphin friend Nelson. They hear whales speak of a beached whale and decide to investigate. Dot speaks to Tonga, the beached whale, and hears a sad tale about humans killing Tonga's parents and friends. Tonga beached herself to commit suicide as she has no one who loves her and no place to go.
Now THIS is a Dot movie, and it's the right way to make an environmental message movie without being too preachy. The story is very good and the dialogue is better than you'd expect. When Dot notices rubbish on the ocean floor, she tells Nelson, "Sometimes I'm ashamed to be human." (She's not the only one.) She also accuses grown-ups of not wanting to fix problems they make. None of the kids in this movie trust the adults, and most of the adults give the kids a good reason not to trust them. In the end, nearly the entire human race looks bad because of the way we treat the whales, the ocean and each other. This is the type of children's movie that would never get made in this country, but thankfully we can see it.
The screenplay is by John Palmer, who also worked on Dot And The Kangaroo (1977) and Dot And The Bunny (1984). Bob Young returns to compose two new songs. The underwater photography of real ocean creatures really enhances the film. And Moby Dick - yes, THAT Moby Dick - is worked into the story!
Excellent job, everyone! Now where's the DVD?
Dot and Keeto (1986)
Dot Is Back To Form!
After having an environmental message shoved down our throats with the bad pun-laden, unnecessarily violent, anthropomorphic animal fantasy Dot And The Koala (1985) - a movie in which Dot barely appeared in - producer and director Yoram Gross gets back on track with the fifth film in the series, Dot And Keeto.
Dot (played by Ashley Ayre in the live action segments, but possessing Robyn Moore's voice) tries to stop her heretofore unmentioned brother from stomping on ants. She wants to apologize, but she eats a root that causes her to shrink instead of the one that allows her to communicate. A series of events strands her outside among insects both kind and dangerous.
One of the better installments of the series due to decent animation, some welcome humor and a good story. The nature photography is excellent, and it's nice to see how cute Dot is as a live person. It no longer matters what century Dot is living in; she is ageless and timeless.
The opening credits say the praying mantis is named Atlanta, but in the movie he tells Dot that his name is Atlantis Pedantis. Bob Young's jazz theme and other music are reused here.
(For my opinions of the first, third and fourth Dot movies, please go to www.amazon.com and read my review of the DVD titled "The Adventures Of Dot". It's the only review of this DVD to date.)
Wicked Little Things (2006)
I saw part of this film on the Sci-Fi Channel, but missed the ending. I bought the DVD to see the whole movie, and I'm glad I did.
A young mother and her two daughters move into a house out in a backwoods area that they inherited from the husband, who died from an illness. It's very run down, but the three women make the best of it. The teen daughter (Scout Taylor-Compton) is warned by a local boy about the zombies that come out at night. She ignores him, but since he has a cute friend, she joins his group. Meanwhile, the younger daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) makes a friend in a zombie girl her age named Mary. It turns out that Mary and several other kids died in a mine in 1913 while working as child labor. Now that they are zombies, they attack and kill anyone who's not a blood relative.
This movie was directed by J.S. Cardone, whose previous films include The Slayer (1981) and Shadowzone (1990), two movies I didn't like in the slightest bit. This is why I was surprised that I actually enjoyed this movie. The film is deliberately paced, which I liked. This allows you to get to know the main characters, most of whom are likable. Child zombies have been used at least since George Romero's 1968 classic Night Of The Living Dead. Still, I found the tool-using child zombies in this movie interesting. It would seem that Cardone finally found the right script and cast. Only the stereotypical scenes of the teens smoking, drinking and making out in a parked car were boring to me.
Taylor-Compton also appears in the Halloween remake. Moretz appeared in The Amityville Horror (2005) and the horror film Room 6 (2006).
A Very Nice Biopic
The relationship between 10-year-old Alice Liddell, the young girl for whom "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland" was written, and Rev. Charles Dodgson a.k.a. Lweis Carroll, the book's author, is explored in this thought-provoking film.
The former Alice Liddell, now Alice Hargreaves, is invited by Columbia University to give a speech on the centennial of Dodgson's / Carroll's birth. She meets a reporter who becomes her agent and romances her assistant. Meanwhile, she is haunted by childhood memories of her time spent with Mr. Dodgson.
A mostly good script by Dennis Potter only disappoints when focusing on the romance. The excellent cast makes up for the few shortcomings. Amelia Shankley debuts as the young Alice Liddell, and gives a fine performance. She later appeared in a three part adaptation of A Little Princess (1986) and Red Riding Hood (1988). Imogen Boorman, who plays older sister Lorina, went on to co-star in Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988).
A Little Princess (1986)
An Underrated Drama
A British widower living in India with his daughter invests 100,000 pounds in a diamond mine with an old friend. He sends his daughter Sara to a British boarding school for girls after they tour Europe. When he returns to India, he gets a letter from his friend saying the diamond mine was a bust, and soon succumbs to a fever. With her father dead, and no longer having money, Sara becomes a slave to the headmistress's whims. However, she refuses to give in to others who are not kind to her.
This is a very underrated drama based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was originally shown on PBS in three parts of 55 minutes each. It may not have the quick pace of a 90 minute film, but it more than satisfies in terms of story and characterization.
Amelia Shankley of the movie Dreamchild portrays Sara, in an excellent performance. The supporting cast is good too. It should be noted that although there is a Jessica Simpson in the cast, this is not the notorious singer.
Brigadoon: Marin to Melan (2000)
A Very Different Robot Show
I outgrew most sci-fi series involving robots years ago, but Brigadoon somehow seemed different.
The story begins by introducing Marin Asagi (voiced by Kaori, no last name), a very happy girl who delivers papers and daydreams a lot. She lives at a nagaya, a low income Japanese apartment complex, with the elderly woman who adopted her. Suddenly, a strange world appears in the sky, and killer robots attack Marin. Then a blue robot with a gun and sword for arms protects her. What's it all mean? You'll have to watch all 26 episodes to find out!
Tokyopop gave this series a 13+ rating when they released it on DVD in 2003. Certainly it's not appropriate for anyone younger than 13. The robots in this series are living weapons and they bleed purple blood. There's much purple blood splattered about in this show. There are also human casualties. Some viewers may also be offended by the frequency of "casual" nudity. It's hardly sexual in nature, but it's there. The most disturbing element, however, is child abuse. Marin is frequently beaten up by bullies, spit on, pushed off bridges, threatened with knives, guns and swords, shot at and - most disturbing of all - has her head pounded on a table repeatedly by the chief of police while the other officers have their backs turned, all because she won't cooperate! Anyone who has been through the same things will surely sympathize with poor Marin.
There's also a manga version credited to Nozomi Watase that tells an alternate version of these events. Not present is one of my favorite supporting characters from the anime, Midori Mano. Sumire Hanazono is renamed Hannah, and is less nice in the manga. Both versions are out of print, but well worth seeking out.
Red Riding Hood (2006)
The Funniest Version Yet!
Teenage Claire (Morgan Thompson) would rather hang out with her friends at the mall than to stay home with her brother Matt while Grandma babysits. Who wouldn't? Unfortunately, Grandma isn't about to let Claire out of the house. Worse, she insists that Claire and Matt listen to her reworking of the Brothers Grimm classic tale "Little Red Riding Hood". Fortunately, Grandma has a sense of humor, and adds some modern twists. Claire imagines herself as Red, and her brother, parents and grandma as....her brother, parents and grandma.
Although this movie's star drawing power is represented by Lainie Kazan as Grandma, singer Joey Fatone as the werewolf and Cassandra Peterson (a.k.a. Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark) in a small role, the real fun is watching freckle-faced Thompson and Sam Stone (who plays Matt and Rusty) reciting their one-liners. Oh sure, there's the songs and CG effects, but it's the characters and dialogue that you'll remember. (When the werewolf as Grandma tells Red that she must eat to "fill out", Red looks at her chest and says, "Yeah, I know.") Undeniably the funniest version of this story that I've seen.
IMDb and other web sites claim 2004 as the year of release, however Key DVD (20th Century Fox's revival of Key Home Video, the company Fox created to distribute movies it was too embarrassed to put it's name on) claims both 2005 and 2006 copyright dates on the box, while the film itself states 2006.
For the record, this is my fourth and final "Little Red Riding Hood" review.
Red Riding Hood (1987)
Nice, But Not Perfect
Once upon a time there was an unpublished writer who saw five versions of the Brothers Grimm classic tale "Little Red Riding Hood". Here's his review of number three.
A curious young girl named Linet (Amelia Shankley) looks for elves in the woods, but only finds trouble. She lives with her mother (Isabella Rossellina) and a maid, as her father (Craig T. Nelson) is off fighting in a war. Her uncle and now king (also Nelson) wants to marry his sister-in-law (!), as seven years have passed since his brother left for the war. The evil king has used black magic to transform a wolf into a man to spy for him. The wolfman learns that Linet is not afraid of her cruel uncle, so uncle decides to do something about this.
It takes 57 minutes for the story of Red Riding Hood / Linet traveling to Grandma's through the woods to happen, and Grandma isn't even sick or frail! And like most children's movies made for American audiences, this is a musical. This means people burst into song every five minutes for no apparent reason. Since the music is all synthesizer music, it really clashes with the 18th Century setting. Still, some of the songs aren't bad, and who knew Nelson could sing? The bad news is MGM's DVD is fullscreen. A note about this takes up ten seconds of the running time. Something like this should be separated from the movie, which should begin at all zeros. It's unlikely a demand for a widescreen version will create a reissue. At least the transfer is good, and there's a trailer.
Shankley, by the way, debuted as young Alice Liddell in Dreamchild (1985), the quasi-biopic of the girl who inspired Rev. Charles Dodgson / Lewis Carroll to write "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland". Unfortunately, Red Riding Hood is not as good as that movie.
The film's copyright is 1987, MGM's box has 1988 on it and IMDb lists 1989. Just once, can't we all agree on something?
Deadtime Stories (1986)
Freaky Fairy Tales!
A little boy begs his uncle to tell him bedtime stories. The uncle does, but gives them all macabre twists in this fair-to-middling anthology film.
"Peter And The Witches" is about a young man (Scott Valentine) who is a slave to two witches. This segment is slow and almost plot less.
"Little Red Runninghood" has a high school girl in a red jogging outfit picking up medicine for her sick grandma at the drug store. She's given the wrong prescription, and the man the medicine belongs to has a very special reason for needing it before the full moon (hint, hint). You'll guess the punchline, but it's still a funny segment.
"Goldi Lox And The Three Baers" is a very broad, very black comedy about a telekinetic young woman (the very sexy Catheryn DePrume) and a homicidal family - Papa Baer, Mama Baer and Baby Baer - that team up together and go on a crime spree. Sort of a R rated Looney Tunes cartoon, this is the best segment of the film.
Perhaps not the best horror anthology around, it's still amusing in spots. Apparently this movie was shot over the course of four years. The British title is Freaky Fairy Tales.
A Classic Tale Retold
This was an early effort from famed stop motion animator Ray Harryhausen. It basically retells the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of a little girl walking through the woods to her grandmother's house. Along the way she meets a clever wolf who wants to eat her. This version eliminates the gory aspects. Although it changes the ending, it's still a nice little film for kids.
I saw it on a cheap DVD titled "Harryhausen Shorts, Volume 1". The picture quality was acceptable, but it could do with a remastering job. Strangely, only five shorts on the DVD are Harryhausen's. IMDb doesn't list the sixth, "The Figurehead". It appears to be a British short.
The Saddle Club (2001)
The Saddle Club Rides Again!
Lisa (Lara Jean Marshall) is the new girl at a school that gives horse riding lessons. Her mother almost hits two other girls on horses named Stevie (Sophie Bennett) and Carole (Keenan MacWilliam). Not a good way to start off a new school. Various other misunderstandings occur which cause Stevie and Carole to hate Lisa. Mean girl Veronica (Heli Simpson) gloms onto Lisa. But when Lisa learns of Veronica's plan to play a mean joke on Stevie, Lisa tells Carole and together they stop Veronica. Afterward, Lisa, Stevie and Carole become best friends, naming their group The Saddle Club.
If you love horses and are a girl (or like girls) you will love this show. It's a good show with morals for kids.
IMDb's episode guide is somewhat misguided. Missing are air dates, episode descriptions and episode titles. ("Episode 1.6" anyone?) The plot description for "Bridal Path" Part 1 mentions that Melanie teaches Comanche horse tricks and loses Max and Deborah's wedding rings. Actually, Ashley does this. "Comanche" is also misspelled. Strangely, Ashley has a bigger role in this two parter than Melanie, but only Melanie shows up at the wedding. My favorite episode, "Horse Play", is actually episode 17 of season 1, not 23. The end credits state "Production #117". I guess if you want hard facts about this series you should look elsewhere.
There are movies edited from this series on DVD, as is the series itself. I'd recommend watching a few episodes before the movies, in order to understand the character relationships.
Sweet Family Show
I just re-watched a few episodes of this series on very poor VHS tapes that I recorded the series on. I'm glad I did, though.
Ramona is based on the children's books by Beverly Cleary and follows the adventures of the title eight-year-old (Sarah Polley). She has fun with friends and family and gets into trouble much like many eight-year-olds. All ten episodes are pretty good. "Mystery Meal" kind of grosses me out as a vegan, but it's funny seeing the parents trying to get their kids to eat cow's tongue! And any episode that mentions Godzilla Versus The Smog Monster twice can't be all bad. I like "Ramona's Bad Day" even more. Although it's disheartening to see Ramona going through a rough day, she does imagine herself getting revenge on her friend Howie's uncle (a pre-Psi Factor Barclay Hope), who always teases her. "The Perfect Day" is also good.
Lori Chodos plays Beezus, Ramona's sister. I swear I've seen her on something else, but IMDb doesn't list anything besides this show. Unfortunately, this series is not on DVD. Why is every crappy show made these days on DVD except something I'd actually like to buy? An injustice if there ever was one!
Professor Popper's Problem (1974)
A Silly, But Fun Kids Movie
I taped this movie off of The Disney Channel 20 or so years ago and just watched it again. IMDb says this movie was released in 1974, but TV Guide listed it as 1984. There's no copyright date on the film itself.
A very absent-minded professor and his school boy assistant are about to conduct an experiment, but first they must have their morning tea! The professor accidentally puts brown "reducing tablets" into their cups instead of sugar cubes. Suddenly they shrink! The rest of the movie is basically a children's version of The Incredible Shrinking Man. Bad guys want the professor's formula, and the boy's older sister must find a way to get the professor and her brother to another kind professor so they can be restored to normal size.
I found this movie to be fun, despite the very silly nature of the whole movie. I particularly loved Debra Collins, who plays Liz, the older sister. She spends most of the movie in a miniskirt and looks great in it. The special effects are low budget, and some scenes look like there was only one take (Debra's miniskirt is caught on her bicycle seat), but I enjoyed it anyway. Another Miramax acquisition that needs a DVD release. (See also my review for The End Of The World Man.) By the way, the title I saw it under was Professor Popper's Problems.
Disneyland: Casebusters (1986)
Wes Craven Does Disney!
After two theatrical bombs in a row, The Hills Have Eyes Part II (filmed in 1983, but released in 1985) and Deadly Friend (1986), Wes Craven took a break from horror to make this very short (46 minutes!) TV movie - for Disney!
The story has two kids (Noah Hathaway and Virginia Keehne) visiting their grandpa (Pat Hingle), a former cop turned Security Patrol man. Allie (Keehne) has read every mystery book ever written and sees a boy break into a house to steal food. She calls grandpa on a walkie talkie and the kids get in the car and they chase him. The house owners let the thief go. Turns out that they had good reason - they're counterfeiters! Eventually the thief joins the two kids and their grandpa in an effort to stop them.
The movie starts with the Hall & Oates classic "Private Eyes", and throughout the movie we hear music by Madonna, Michael Jackson and The Pointer Sisters. (What tells me this movie was filmed in the '80s?) All in all, a cute movie with a good cast. Craven previously worked with two members of the cast. Virginia Keehne played a child in an episode of The Twilight Zone titled "A Little Peace And Quiet" (1985). Nicholas Worth, one of the bad guys, was in Swamp Thing (1982). Virginia hasn't done anything since 1999. What happened to her? And why won't Disney release this movie on DVD? (Could the music rights have something to do with it?)
The Water Babies (1978)
A Terrific Movie That Needs Restored ?
An orphan boy named Tom (Tommy Pender), who works for a pair of shady chimney sweeps, is falsely accused of stealing from the mansion where he is working at by Mr. Grimes (James Mason) - the real thief - and goes on the run. Tom's only alibi is the niece of the mansion's owners (Samantha Gates, a slender, blue-eyed blonde, with long, wavy hair, who I'm sure was the primary reason why I repeatedly watched this as a boy). He and his dog jump into a river and a witch turns them into water breathing cartoon characters! While underwater, he befriends and rescues a group of water breathing children known as water babies from a shark.
A very interesting and always fascinating fable, set in 1850, that should appeal to all children. The animation (42 minutes of the 85 minute HBO VHS print) is just average, but it's preferable to most modern day animation - even computer animation! My only real gripe is a plot hole caused by a deleted scene. At 42:06, after the first verse of "High Cockalorum", the film cuts to a scene with octopi swimming, followed by Tom and Jacque's encounter with Terence. This leads to a scene in which the killer shark (voiced by Mason) leads our heroes into a trap. The shark then greets Tom with, "Young Tom, so nice to see your ugly mug again" - but this is the first time in HBO's print that Tom meets the shark! Most reference books list the running time as 92 or 93 minutes, and it was previously available from Sultan Entertainment and Nelson, so it's very likely that HBO's print is edited and / or time-compressed. Adding insult to injury, MGM released a fullscreen, 76 minute print on DVD in 2002! Let's hope a restored version appears in the near future.
The film is copyright Ariadne Films 1978. "Ariadne" is the water baby voiced by Samantha Gates. Bernard Cribbins, who plays Mason's partner in crime, also voices the electric eel. A.K.A. Slip Slide Adventures.
The End of the World Man (1986)
My Favorite Irish Film
By reading the title of this movie you'd probably think it's another Biblical prophecy movie. You'd be wrong. It's actually a sweet children's film with some serious issues thrown in for good measure.
The movie starts out with a phony preacher (John Hewitt) warning about the end of the world. We then meet Paula (Leanne O'Malley) and Clare (Claire Weir), two girls who are best friends. One is Catholic and the other a Protestant. They learn that the preacher is trying to turn the local glen into a parking lot, and they try to devise a plan to stop him. With help from a friend, they form a picket line of sorts and make the news. Paula's family is embarrassed. Clare's father, a policeman, is more supportive. Will these girls succeed, and stop the bulldozers? You have to watch the film to find out!
The first time I saw this movie was about 20 years ago. I was a couple of years older than Claire Weir, and terribly attracted to her. As a youth, I had short hair and big, plastic framed glasses, much like Claire. Claire's character (note the spelling) played the cello in the school band. I played the drums. I wanted to go to Ireland just to meet Claire. I never did, sad to say. It's more unfortunate that Claire and Leanne never made another movie. Leanne's often repeated line, "I'll think of something" is the closest thing to a running gag this movie has. It features a score by John Anderson, which I still haven't gotten out of my head. It has an excellent script by director Bill Miskelly and Marie Jackson. The End Of The World Man comes highly recommended. Now, we need a special edition DVD with an audio commentary by Claire and Leanne!
By the way, if you saw this movie under the title The Bulldozer Brigade, the opening credits were slightly altered. I prefer the originally titled version which is about 6 seconds longer. Let's hope someone at Miramax reads this and answers my plea for a DVD.