'The Last Unicorn' a rare kind of kids movie

This next sentence is going to sound like a massive name-dropping brain dump, but bear with me, because if you are a fan of nostalgic pop culture, it will probably at least arouse your curiosity:

In 1982, the team of Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass — who made all those great stop-motion animated Christmas specials from the 1960s and '70s like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus” — teamed with animators from Topcraft (which would later morph into Japan’s legendary Studio Ghibli) and adapted Peter S. Beagle's 1968 fantasy novel “The Last Unicorn” from Beagle's screenplay.

On March 10, Beagle began a long-overdue victory lap, holding in-person screenings across the country, and celebrating the fact that the rights to a live-action version of “The Last Unicorn” are finally back in his hands. On Sunday, April 12, Beagle will be at Liberty Hall to show the remastered version of the film and greet fans both young and old.

“It was my absolute favorite childhood movie, and I still watch it probably once a year,” says Elizabeth Garcia, a Kansas City resident and fan of the film. “I feel like it's the opposite of sickening sweet — as it's kind of an adventurous, bittersweet think piece; a relic from the time when studios realized children weren't morons.”

The eclectic group of artists that brought this unusual hand-drawn fable to screen is enigmatic of the cross-cultural mess of the early '80s. Here’s some more bizarre pop culture name-dropping: Songwriter Jimmy Webb (best known for writing Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”) wrote the score and songs for “The Last Unicorn,” which were performed by soft-rock kings America.

If that’s not enough, the voices in the film are provided by Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Angela Lansbury, and Saruman himself, Christopher Lee! (Not to mention René Auberjonois, that guy from “Benson.”)

Certainly “The Last Unicorn” is a breath of fresh air from an era when fantasies aimed at a younger audience could be free to be themselves. Since its original theatrical release, it enjoyed a cult following on VHS, but by the time DVD finally caught up to “The Last Unicorn,” so had more conservative times. At least one DVD version edits out several uses of the word “damn,” which might seem incongruous now, but were perfectly understandable in a year when Elliot from “E.T.” called his brother “penis breath.”

Go to libertyhall.net for more information on Liberty Hall’s special screening of “The Last Unicorn.”

'Secretary' is the original '50 Shades of Grey'

“I found someone to love in a way that feels right.” – Maggie Gyllenhaal as the sexually submissive Lee Holloway in 2002’s “Secretary”

Isn’t that really what it’s all about, folks?

Fans of the recent movie adaptation of “50 Shades of Grey” will argue that it lets them experience vicarious thrills and various BDSM practices through film, but 13 years ago, a movie with a similar agenda that’s probably a lot more fun made waves at the Sundance Film Festival before expanding in theaters across the country.

In the wake of the success of “50 Shades of Grey” comes the release on iTunes and Blu-ray of writer/director Steven Shainberg’s “Secretary,” a movie who’s time might have finally come.

“Secretary” stars James Spader (in probably the last role he can be taken seriously in) as an attorney named — get this — Mr. Grey. From the moment Grey hires his new secretary Ms. Holloway (a submissive Gyllenhaal, whose career was officially launched after this role), it’s clear that something else is going on underneath the loaded employer/employee talk.

Shainberg sets up a restless quality in both characters, and he takes them very seriously (while still being playful and suggestive of course), but it still comes as a bit of shock to see what is normally considered to be sexist behavior finally and ultimately embraced. The plot trajectory of “Secretary” is as far-out as its attitudes toward sex, and the whole affair retains a kind of dream-like atmosphere.

But let’s stop for a moment and think about that crucial period; that first-blush of love: It always feels like a dream, doesn’t it?

From a stylistic standpoint, “Secretary” is spot-on, and its limited scope only serves to make it more potent. Luckily, it’s available again for rediscovery.

"Secretary" is available on Blu-ray from Lionsgate Films or from iTunes.com.


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