Category Archives: Movies

Meet Tyrus Wong, this pioneering artist and his impact on American art and popular culture

Tyrus Wong  has always been dear to us.

Make the “deer.”

People worldwide have seen the Disney animated classic Bambi and have been deeply moved by it, but few can tell you the name of the artist behind the film. Even fewer are aware of this pioneering artist’s impact on American art and popular culture. Until his death at the age of 106, Tyrus Wong was America’s oldest living Chinese American artist and one of the last remaining artists from the golden age of Disney animation. The quiet beauty of his Eastern-influenced paintings caught the eye of Walt Disney, who made Wong the inspirational sketch artist for Bambi. Filmmaker Pamela Tom corrects a historical wrong by spotlighting this seminal, but heretofore under-credited, figure.

Learn the truth, witness his genius, in American Masters: Tyrus (PBS Distribution).

Born in Canton (now Guangzhou), China, right before the fall of the Chinese Empire, Wong and his father immigrated to America in 1919, never to see their family again. The film shows how he overcame a life of poverty and racism to become a celebrated painter who once exhibited with Picasso and Matisse, a Hollywood sketch artist and Disney Legend.

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Previously unseen art and interviews with Wong, movie clips and archival footage illustrate how his unique style–melding Chinese calligraphic and landscape influences with contemporary Western art–is found in everything from Disney animation (Bambi) and live-action Hollywood studio films (Rebel Without a CauseThe Wild BunchSands of Iwo JimaApril in Paris) to Hallmark Christmas cards, kites and hand-painted California dinnerware to fine art and Depression-era WPA paintings. The film also features new interviews with his daughters and fellow artists/designers, including his Disney co-worker and friend Milton Quon and curators and historians of Wong’s work.

“Up in Smoke” is 40! The film “started stoner movies and is still going strong so smoke it up one more time” says Cheech

Fire up the home entertainment system and call your buds because the ultimate stoner comedy is celebrating its 40th anniversary.  The high-larious cannabis cultural epic  breakthrough Up in Smoke will “grab you by the poo poo” all over again when it arrives on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD April 10 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.  A special Deluxe Collector’s Edition, pairing the Blu-ray with the original soundtrack on CD and Vinyl LP in deluxe packaging, will arrive the following week from Rhino, featuring a newly recorded 2018 version of the title song “Up In Smoke.”

In 1978, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong made their feature film debut in Up in Smoke, the outrageously funny classic inspired by their now legendary comedy routines of the early ’70s.  Following massive success with more than 10 million comedy albums sold, four Grammy nominations and a win for Best Comedy Recording for Los Cochinos, Cheech and Chong took Hollywood by storm when Up in Smoke became a smash hit, establishing the pair as the reigning comedy duo of a new generation.  Today, the film still has viewers rolling in the aisles and maintains surprising cultural relevance four decades after its original release.

“The greatest thrill is making your first movie and this one has been seen and been influential all over the world for over forty years,” says Richard “Cheech” Marin.   “Up in Smoke started stoner movies and is still going strong so smoke it up one more time.”

Adds Thomas Chong: “Where did the time go? Fortyyears ago we made low budget movies that grossed over 100 million and are still being watched all over the world. And it also helped legalize an important medicine.  I am so proud that a movie bearing a title of a simple song I wrote would be so influential for so many years.”

Cheech and Chong play wannabe musicians and stoners who unwittingly smuggle a van made of marijuana from Mexico to L.A.  Their drug-laced humor keeps their spirits high as they unknowingly elude the police and meander their way to an outrageous finale at the Roxy Theatre in Hollywood where Cheech performs in a pink tutu and Chong plays drums in a red body suit with a Quaalude logo.

The Blu-ray Combo Pack features a brand new short-form documentary entitled “How Pedro Met the Man: Up In Smoke at 40,” which chronicles the duo’s comedy history, as well as the origins and impact of the film itself. Capturing a complex and fascinating pop culture odyssey, the documentary incorporates new interviews with Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong and producer/director Lou Adler along with archival footage.  The Combo Pack is also loaded with previously released bonus material including deleted scenes, commentary, a music video and more.

The Deluxe Collector’s Edition is presented in a 12 x 12 package, limited to 5,000 copies.

The set pairs the Blu-ray with the original soundtrack on CD and Vinyl, as well as a 7-inch picture disc, oversized “Up In Smoke” rolling papers, a film poster and booklet with new essays by both Cheech and  Chong, along with rare and unseen photos. In addition to the new version of “Up In Smoke,” the CD also features another previously unreleased version of the song from 1978 with an additional Spanish verse by Cheech.

Another reason PBS brings out the beast in us . . . witness “NATURE: Animals With Cameras”

We could say that PBS Distribution programs being out the beast in us.

Go where no human cameraman can go to witness a new perspective of the animal kingdom. NATURE: Animals With Cameras journeys into animals’ worlds using custom, state-of-the-art cameras worn by the animals themselves. Capturing never-before-seen behavior, these animal cinematographers help expand human understanding of their habitats and solve mysteries that have eluded scientists until now. The DVD will be available April 24.  The program will be also available for digital download.

Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan (Nature: Snowbound: Animals of Winter) and a team of pioneering animal behaviorists join forces to explore stories of animal lives “told” by the animals themselves. The cameras are custom-built by camera design expert Chris Watts to fit on the animals unobtrusively and to be easily removed at a later point. From this unique vantage point, experience the secret lives of nine different animal species. Sprint across the savanna with a cheetah, plunge into the ocean with a seal and swing through the trees with a chimpanzee.

The one-of-a-kind sequences captured by the animals include several on-camera firsts. The cameras allowed for newborn meerkats to be shown in their burrow for the first time ever, as meerkat pups don’t emerge from the burrow until they reach three weeks of age. In the Atlantic Ocean, an unborn devil ray is shown kicking inside its mother’s stomach—a phenomenon never before captured on film.

 The program visits eight countries and features three different species per episode.

“Extraordinary Ordinary People” is a music-fueled journey through folk and traditional arts in America 

Another First Run Features gem . . .

Extraordinary Ordinary People is a music-fueled journey through folk and traditional arts in America.

At a time when the existence of the National Endowment for the Arts has never been more threatened, this new documentary focuses on one of its least known and most enduring programs: the National Heritage Fellowship, awarded annually since 1982.

Featuring a breathtaking array of award-winners including musicians, dancers, quilters, woodcarvers and more, the film demonstrates the importance of the folk and traditional arts in shaping the fabric of America. From Bill Monroe and B.B. King to Passamaquoddy basket weavers and Peking Opera singers; from Appalachia and the mountains of New Mexico to the inner city neighborhoods of New York, the suburbs of Dallas, and the isolated Native American reservations of Northern California–each of the artists share exceptional talent, ingenuity and perseverance.

Benedict Cumberbatch narrates the riveting “Naples ’44”, a look at a war-torn city in Italy

New from First Run Features . . .

In 1943 a young British officer, Norman Lewis, entered a war-torn Naples with the American Fifth Army. Lewis began writing in his notepad everything that happened to him during his one-year stay, observing the complex social cauldron of a city that contrived every day the most incredible ways of fighting to survive. These notes turned into his masterpiece, a memoir titled Naples ’44.

With narration by Benedict Cumberbatch, this new documentary based on Lewis’s memoir imagines him returning many years later to the city that charmed and seduced him.

Combining archival war footage with clips from movies set in Naples from the ’50s and ’60s (featuring Marcello Mastroianni and Ernest Borgnine among others) we see a thrilling and unpredictable parade of unforgettable stories and characters: women in feather hats milking cows in the rubble, statues of saints carried by hysterical crowds attempting to stop Vesuvius erupting and impoverished citizens impersonating aristocrats. But this unusual and riveting evocation of a timeless city is also a powerful condemnation of the horrors of war, whether just or unjust.

The breakthrough “Shakespeare Wallah”, with a gorgeous 2K digital restoration, is now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms 

One of the first Merchant Ivory productions, the sumptuous Shakespeare Wallah established the tone for so many of the collaborations to come from producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory: the deft, multilayered screenplay by their frequent collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, luminous cinematography, a wry sense of humor and a cast of characters rich in their very human complexity.
Cohen Film Collection’s new restoration of the film, released in theaters nationwide in 2017, came from the 35mm composite fine grain master held at the archive of the George Eastman Museum. The scan and 2K digital restoration was completed in conjunction with the British Film Institute’s Unlocking Film Heritage program. This breakthrough film is now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms.
The true story of British actor-manager Geoffrey Kendal and his family of traveling theatrical players is used as a fascinating lens into the ever-evolving relationship between Great Britain and India. The film follows Tony Buckingham (Geoffrey Kendal) and his wife, Carla (Laura Liddell), as the actor-managers of a troupe who travel through ’60s post-colonial India staging Shakespeare’s plays. But the Buckinghams come to realize to their dismay that classic English theater is falling out of favor in a changing country where the public has become more excited by the explosion of vibrant Bollywood films – and, more deeply, is looking to move beyond everything British. Meanwhile, the Buckinghams’ daughter Lizzie (future Britcom favorite Felicity Kendal) becomes involved in a love triangle that would fit perfectly in both a Shakespeare drama and a Bollywood musical.
With music by the great Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray and memorable performances by cinema icons Shashi Kapoor and Madhur Jaffrey (who won the Silver Bear award for Best Actress at the 1965 Berlin International Film Festival), Shakespeare Wallah remains a one-of-kind gem of modern world cinema.
Both the Blu-ray and the DVD editions are supplemented with a wealth of bonus material, including a conversation with the filmmakers, featuring Ismail Merchant, James Ivory, Shashi Kapoor and Felicity Kendal; the film’s original trailer; and its 2017 rerelease trailer.

“My Friend Dahmer” tells the fascinating story of Jeffrey, before he went on his infamous killing spree

Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer was known as the Milwaukee Cannibal—more precise, he was a serial killer and sex offender, who committed the rape, murder and dismemberment of 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. Many of his murders involved necrophilia, cannibalism and the preservation of body parts. Ugh.

My Friend Dahmer is the story before that story. It’s based on the acclaimed graphic novel about him; its screenplay landed a spot on the coveted “Black List,” ranking it as one of the best un-produced screenplays (at the time) before becoming a hit movie.

Jeff Dahmer (portrayed by Lynch) is an awkward teenager struggling to make it through high school with a family life in ruins. He collects roadkill, fixates on a neighborhood jogger (Kartheiser), and copes with his unstable mother (Heche) and well intentioned father (Roberts). He begins to act out at school, and his goofball antics win over a group of band-nerds who form The Dahmer Fan Club, headed by Derf Backderf (Wolff). But this camaraderie can’t mask his growing depravity. Approaching graduation, Jeff spirals further out of control, inching ever closer to madness.
The flick played extensively on the festival circuit, premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival and going on to play at LA Film Festival, Deauville Film Festival and American Film Festival. The film features an all-star cast that includes Emmy Nominee Anne Heche, Vincent Kartheiser, Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff and Dallas Roberts.

Johnny Orlando, Ambyr Childers and Jon Heder star in a reimagined “Pinocchio”

We never tell a lie. We know what happens if we do . . . our nose starts to grow and we being taking on the look of a famous wooden wonder.

The colorful family adventure Pinocchio includes new wonders you’ve never imagined. This witty, wondrous version of the classic family adventure has been reimagined for a new generation and bursting with songs, color, laughter and thrills. Carved by a lonely woodcutter longing for a real son, playful Pinocchio is eager to do good and become human—but he keeps getting distracted from his quest. Constantly captured by con men, creatures and constables, he finds rescue courtesy of the helpful souls who recognize the wooden puppet’s kind heart.

Awarded the Dove Seal of Approval, this “wonderful family film” (The Dove Foundation) is a modern-day retelling of the timeless fable of a boy puppet and the lessons he learns from his misadventures. It comes to DVD, Digital and On Demand April 10 from Lionsgate.

The film features the voice talents of YouTube sensation and musical artist Johnny Orlando, Ambyr Childers and Jon Heder. Added bonus: The DVD includes a never-before-seen featurette, “Bringing the Characters to Life: At the Recording Studio with Johnny Orlando, Jon Heder and Ambyr Childers”.

This is an adventure you wooden believe!

“Secrets of the Dead: Scanning the Pyramids” solves a 4,500-year-old mystery

The secrets the dead reveal!

Following the publication of Nature‘s article acknowledging the greatest discovery in Egypt’s Khufu pyramid for more than 1,000 years, Secrets of the Dead: Scanning the Pyramids (PBS Distribution) unveils the adventure behind this revelation in this new documentary. The only one of the Seven Wonders of the World still standing, the Great Pyramid of Khufu has fascinated people for centuries. Tracing the origin of the legends of secret chambers hidden in the heart of the pyramid, the program shows what lies within, solving a 4,500-year-old mystery, by following the first scientific mission in 30 years to be authorized by the Egyptian government to examine the pyramids of Egypt.

Passionate about ancient history, the global team of Scan Pyramids consists of particle physicists, experts in innovation and 3D technologies, and engineers in thermal imaging from Egypt, France, Japan and Canada. For more than two years, they explored every corner of the pyramid, using non-invasive technologies including infrared cameras, 3D scanners and cosmological particle detectors located inside and outside the monument. Their search detected unknown cavities in the Great Pyramid of Khufu for the first time since the Middle Ages. Viewers are able to witness Scan Pyramid’s adventures and successes in this extraordinary scientific and historical journey through time and space that led to this historic discovery.

The harrowing journey of Sudan, the last male of his sub-species, the Northern White Rhinoceros, is told in “The Last Rhino”

Meet Sudan, the last male of his sub-species, the Northern White Rhinoceros. NATURE: The Last Rhino (PBS Distribution) tells his harrowing journey through the international cast of characters who have been involved in Sudan’s life, from when he was snatched as a calf from his mother’s side in war-torn Central Africa, to his captivity as a prized exhibit in a cold, concrete zoo behind the Iron Curtain while poaching devastated his kind to extinction back home.

Now at 43 years old and half-blind, Sudan is living out his days under 24-hour armed guard, on a protective sanctuary in Kenya. As his kind nears its last hour, scientists and animal experts turn to technology in a race to save the Northern White Rhino before it dies out forever.