Friday, May 29, 2015

Of Mice and Bricks

Get your bricks ready!  It's Krazy Kat time!!!  Yes, before the one reel system changed the face and pace of animated storytelling, we had the Hearst serials like the Krazy Kat series, and of course the unforgettable The Phable of the Phat Woman, amongst many many others.  Animated serials that are about three minutes in length, they don't overstay their welcome like that Heeza Liar guy.  Sheesh.
Anyway, God continue to bless YouTube, where things like the Krazy Kat shorts can have a home.  Stuff you might not be able to easily find on DVD, let alone want to find in the first place.  The Krazy Kat cartoon strip has been better preserved than its celluloid counterpart; you can tell that right away.  And the animated version lacks a lot of the detail and insane nuance of the cartoon strip, but that's the price you pay sometimes, especially when the Fleischers don't work on it... hmm!  Did the Fleischers work on this?  Or are they just slapping a bunch of stuff together on the DVD that's roughly from the same era?  I'm starting to think the latter.
Anyway, back to the current profile.  We find Krazy Kat getting ready to take off in his crazy car slash airship, the vessel that was christened the "Kazook."  We see Krazy Kat flying through the air, then driving up to his destination: the home of his beloved Ignatz mouse.  Krazy Kat gets out of the "Kazook" and starts serenading the open window before him.  It's a subtle kind of crazy: a cat playing a song for a mouse on a banjo.  This goes on for a while until we see Ignatz mouse peeking over the horizon at Krazy Kat.
Now, everyone in the world at this point is already familiar with the ancient rivalry between Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse, and the role that the bricks play in that rivalry.  But don't the bricks deserve a special introduction in their own right?  Sure they do!  And so, for the silver screen crowd, the mouse makes that one mile run to Kelly's Brick Yard, and the mouse runs back with a big boxful of the things, clearly labeled "Bricks" for our benefit.  Past the yarn tree, and the church low on the horizon, up returns Ignatz Mouse to where Krazy Kat is serenading away.
And so... it's time for the bricks.  The first one hits Krazy in the back of the head, sending him spinning around like a guy in space who lost his footing, or that guy in The Road Warrior (1981) who goes flying off his motorcycle... it's somewhere in the big final chase sequence.  Oh, and Fat Bastard in Goldmember has a scene where he runs afoul of stunt wires... I forget if he does a 180 or not.  Ancient comedy tradition is the main takeaway there.  Ignatz throws three more bricks, but they all hit Krazy in his daily doodies.  I think that's out of respect or something.  And then, to add insult to injury, a bird peeks his head out of the window and tells Krazy Kat that he's got the wrong window.  Oh, but the joke's on that bird, you see, for Krazy says "I just found that out!"
... my mistake.  The correct caption is "Y'r too late[.]  I found it out already[.]"  How uncivilized of me.  As you may have gathered, this Krazy Kat animated cartoon was bucking the trends of the time.  The trend for dialogue in a silent film was to have a black screen with just the words... thereby interrupting the visual flow of the film.  This Krazy Kat film finds an intermediate step between that and actual sound films, where noises emit from characters' mouths... ah, who knows who came up with it.  Animator Leon Searl probably didn't originate it.  I think I have an old book of old cartoons somewhere; almost makes me want to look up the old Krazy Kat strip.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

Auteur Watch - Wilkie Cornelius Jr.

Oh good!  Another short one.  Well, they don't have enough yet to justify an IMDb Top 4, but I'm guessing Single Hills would be on it.  Damn, I'm sarcastic today!  And how does this junior get to Spielberg?  Well, I'm thinking Hisham Tawfiq.  You know, Dembe on The Blacklist?  Oh, dude.  A casting coup like that you'll never forget for as long as you live.  I suggest paving the way with fruit baskets before you actually go to lunch, or however it works in Hollywood.  "We had a good time on Single Hills, didn't we?  I was a good director, wasn't I?... okay, CO-director?" you'll say.  I'd suggest that you try to land a gig doing one of the Blacklist episodes, but Spader seems to have all the clout in picking the directors.  I mean, Andrew McCarthy?  Seriously?  Were Pretty in Pink, Mannequin and Less than Zero all that fun to make?

Aloha, San Andreas

The glut continues at the box office, but I wanted to make a note here about a dream I had, because I dreamed the next trend in labeling people in binary ways.  As in, givers and takers, freaks and norms, foxes and hedgehogs, what have you.  Soon we shall either be just a Mouth or an Ear.  And you can probably guess which is which, because the insult that the Mouths will hurl is "This guy's a total Ear!"  It was a terribly cinematic dream; I dreamed I was watching The Running Man, and that Johnny Depp was in it instead of Ah-nold.  What can me say?  Me very gullible.  My dreams lie to me all the time.  If my dreams tell me that the full moon in the sky is three times as big, and appears to float around like an amoeba in a petri dish, well... who am I to argue?  I'm just trying to get by in this crazy-ass world like everyone else.
Speaking of which, we've got two debuts this week... terrible segue, I know.  That's why I'll never make it on the local news.  At #1, it's the Roland Emmer-ish San Andreas.  I believe the term they throw around now is "destructo-porn."  I think even Stephen Colbert used that word once to describe Roland's 2012.  What does it say about our culture... um, that it's awesome!  Derrrr!!!  Of course, for "The Rock," it's the role he was born to play and all that, but how about that Carla Gugino?  There's something about her; I just can't put my finger on it... that's how I lost my last job.  Seriously, though, she's got some kind of beauty secret.  What could it be?  Yoga?  Pilates?  Oh my god... is she the Highlander?  That must be it.
The only other debut this week in America's Top 10 is Cameron Crowe's epic fail called Aloha, the Hawaiian word for hello and goodbye.  I wonder what the Hawaiian word for "meh" is?  I mean, number six?  Bad place to debut.  And when did Sack Lodge's fan base get so damn picky, anyway?  "Oh, this ain't exactly The A-Team sequel, so we'll just skip this one," they said.  Primadonnas!  To make matters worse, now Cameron Crowe is facing a virtual firing squad over casting Emma Stone as the wrong ethnic type for his little movie... oh, dude!  This was filmed five years ago?  Five to seven?  No wonder everyone looks so much younger!  I guess... well, unless it's a Boyhood spin-off, inexcusable.  No wonder everyone's staying away!  They want the older, rougher-looking Bradley Cooper, not the Boy Next Door with all his baby fat and those dreamy blue eyes... where was I?  Oh, right, the ethnic stereotyping kerfuffle.  Well, Cameron Crowe is taking the high road, but I say it's an ancient Hollywood tradition!  Starting with all those Charlie Chan movies, then moving on to Burt Lancaster playing a Gypsy, and ending with... Aloha?  And not just movies, of course.  Where was that thing I saw about "I Shot the Sheriff"?  Radio management has decreed that Eric Clapton's version of Bob Marley's song is the one people actually want to hear, and yes, because if a sheriff had to be shot, they'd rather get shot by Clapton instead of Marley... something like that.  Now, if Quentin Tarantino or Jody Hill ever found themselves backed into a corner like this, well... they're no Cameron Crowe, that's all I'm saying.  What is Jody Hill up to these days anyway?... oh well.  So much for those ten things he had in development before.  Probably for the best.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Heeza friend of mine

Actually, the Fleischers are the friend of mine.  I'm only watching this because it's an extra on Popeye, volume 1.  Dang, but they've got a lot of extras on volume 1!  It's going to take me a whole quarter damn near to get through them all at my current rate!  So, I've decided to start on disc one and go to disc 4, even though I've progressed backwards from Popeye volume 3 to Popeye volume 1.  Hypocritical of me, I know.
Anyway, let's dive right into it.  There once was a guy named Heeza, and he looks like kind of an old geezer... geeza.  Or, he went to the pyramids at Giza.  He stepped in some soot, got it all over his foot, then went to get a piece of pizza.  I only mention that because, as you may notice if you try to watch it on YouTube, all the title cards seem to be four lines that rhyme.  Annoying, to be sure, but also unique, as far as I know.  Maybe it's unique to the Heeza series.  Incidentally, what's with the name Heeza?  Must've gone the way of Adolph and Gertrude as once popular first names.
But let's dive into the film proper.  For students of editing, you just might wince like I did at the first or second edit.  After the first title card that establishes the plot, more or less, we see Liar run out of the house.  SPOILER ALERT: That lasts a little under a second or so, and then... BOOM!  Next title card.  The next title card (pictured above!) lasts about two seconds.  Maybe that's the best print they could find or something.  But generally a title card should last ... oh, I don't know... LONGER THAN THAT.  Maybe six to eight seconds, give or take.  I mean, a title card could have ONE LINE of dialogue and it's on there way longer than necessary, typically!
Now, as the DVD informs us, once you get past the insert with recipes for Popeye's party dip and for Popeye's party pizzas... this Heeza Liar cartoon is from 1915.  And the filmmakers involved decided that they wanted to put less effort into the animation.  I mean, this isn't a Winsor McCay masterpiece that we're dealing with here!  Not by a very very very long shot.  Which brings us to the car that Heeza is driving.  It's one of those old cars with a motor that you have to crank.  And as you can see, the car seems to be either a cutout, or on a cell that can be moved around.  Pretty high-tech for 1915!  Incidentally, speaking of Winsor McCay, this cigar-chomping Heeza character seems a tad inspired by the cigar-chomping character from that one Winsor McCay cartoon... let me see if I can find it now... ah!  There it is.  Just my opinion.  Of course, Heeza's nose is a little different.
Most of the animation seems to involve Heeza switching between two poses.  Different era.  Things pick up a little bit during this sequence in traffic.  I kind of like it, if only because Heeza eventually gets his comeuppance.  Standards for comedy seemed to be a bit lower back then.  For example, there was a ... Mack Sennett silent comedy?  I can't even remember the name of it, but the bad guy shot, like, six or seven of the Keystone Kops before turning the gun on himself.  But he had a comedy moustache so it was okay... SHEESH!!!!!
On to the game proper.  "The players cuss and shout," indeed.  Was I the only one who thought of that Popeye short, The Two-Alarm Fire, where Bluto sings "Rare and tear and yell and shout"?  I thought so.  Anyway, Heeza jumps over the fence that's about ten feet high and makes his way to the game.  And here's yet another example of filmmakers slowly learning the art of storytelling, as a dog follows Heeza into the ballpark.  I mean, we need to root for someone or something here!  Heeza alone's kinda not cutting it.
And so, Heeza joins the players on the field.  An unconventional but apparently welcome solution to their pitcher problem, Heeza shakes hands with one of the guys.  The guy points to the sleeping pitcher.  Heeza looks at the sleeping pitcher, then turns back and shakes hands some more.  World-class storytelling, my friends.  World-class.
On to the first pitch.  The batter gets an eyeful of Heeza and laughs.  Oh, he's gonna rue the day... and then, the day comes!  Heeza's first pitch is thrown.  Kinda reminds me of Bugs' slow ball from Baseball Bugs, only Heeza's pitch has quite a few more loops in it... I mean, "astounding curves."  Why, you'd think that a pitch like that would become the stuff of legend!  Okay, maybe not The Natural legend, but still!
And then, in another feat of technical wizardry, there's a slight perspective change here.  As you can see, now we can see Heeza and the batter!  In 3D, no less!... okay, 2.5D.  It means a little extra work for whoever is animating the ball, but clearly the filmmakers are up to the task.  For when the ball is thrown, it does indeed get smaller as it approaches the batter... I dunno.  There's maybe a little too much magic going on here.  The ball magically ends up back in Heeza's hand after the pitcher catches it!  Too much work for the filmmakers, I guess.
Heeza enjoys another laugh after another successful strike, and he gives the audience another playful wink.  Now it's just getting creepy, frankly.  And to add insult to injury, Heeza throws a pitch that ends up hitting the batter on the head.  I'm speechless.

At this point in the film, the film finally lives up to its title!  And the conflict begins in earnest, for clearly Heeza isn't as good at batting as he is at pitching... and that's putting it mildly.  Reminds me of the recurring gag in Batty Baseball... which is apparently not on YouTube, in its entirety at least.  Oh well.  Can't have everything!  And Heeza can't get no respect from the giant men on the opposing team.  Even the pitcher has a laugh at Heeza's expense!  Dayamn!  Looks like the Gas-House Gorillas' pitcher.  But Heeza's got his cigar and a warehouse-full of gumption and he swings as mightily as Casey. 
And so, Strike One is called, and Heeza rightly complains about it to the referee... boy!  I really know my baseball, don't I?  Or is it wrong to complain?  Probably.  Just like it's wrong for our veterans to want health care, probably.  Oh, you can have health care... if you're a pussy!  Something like that.
Speaking of manliness, s.. the plot's about to get real.  After Heeza's finished complaining to the ... umpire?  Is it the umpire?... how did I get to Psalms 14:1?  Good Lourdes.  Anyway, so after Heeza finishes his complaint, the arbitrator pushes him on the face, down to the ground.  Well, Heeza is nothing if not a man.  A tiny man with a nose that's a different color from the rest of his skin, but he's still a man.  Maybe not a man's man, but he's got his cigar, and he's got his pride, and he gets up and starts beating the sh... he gets into a mild Fist Tornado with the umpire.  Mild by Popeye standards anyhow.  Raining fist blows down upon this thug, Heeza gives the ump one last punch, sending him sailing away into the distance.  Heeza seems surprised by his own strength, as he flexes his arm muscles at the audience, and throws us another loving wink.  Heeza then slowly turns to that bum catcher.  All he has to do is give that guy a dirty look, and the catcher starts quaking in his boots.  He knows what he did!  The catcher leaps away, and we repeat the muscle-flexing animation from a second earlier.
Next scene: the umpire and catcher are BACK!  And Heeza, the "little runt," is back at bat again.  The pitcher is less joyful this time.  He pitches and... I gotta watch that again.  Heeza bunts the ball, apparently.  Either that, or the animation's just leaning a bit towards the crappy side.  Oh, but that couldn't be the case, surely?  Could it?  Anyway, Heeza makes a mighty run for it, and he apparently runs faster than man can throw a baseball, and he ends up safe at home, if only barely.  The umpire learnt his lesson the first time.  Err on the side of Heeza, and for God's sake, don't push him in the face again!
Next scene: the fifteenth inning.  Well, like George Carlin says, we don't know when it's going to end!... oh, right.  A minute, thirty-eight to go.  Heeza's got a slightly different look on his face as he sets the stage for what will either be his greatest triumph, or an epic fail of epic proportions.  Man, how did we ever live without the phrase "epic fail"?  Fumbling around in the dark for words like "total disaster" and "endless quagmire."  Streamlined thinking!  That's the way society should be.  Double-plus good!  Anyway, if you've been watching... and I kind of wish I haven't been... you will know that SPOILER ALERT Heeza has now deliberately missed the ball twice in a row.  So, he's got two strikes against him.  But he's not a total dummy, and after a couple of slow, loving puffs on his cigar, he grabs the bat and is ready to hit the ball this third time.  To build some dramatic tension, the catcher touches the top of Heeza's head again.  Which seems a bit stupid to me, seeing as what happened the last time the catcher played dirty.  Anyway, long story short, Heeza hits the ball and all is well.  HOWEVER, I will give credit where credit is due to even the smallest spark of genius and or ingenuity.  I almost hate to spoil it... okay, a pelican grabs the ball in mid-flight.  Heeza runs around the bases not once, not twice... but three times a victor!  Which seems a bit stupid to me; I thought they had two men on base already.  Maybe I read that last title card wrong... oh, they didn't even give a score!  Just that it was tied!  Still, Heeza Liar is a champion, and the filmmakers give him a shot of the stadium of an epic scale befitting the end of the movie... hmm!  That's odd.  I thought it was just a small stadium... you know, from this scene towards the beginning of the film!  Maybe it's just the expensive seats for the nicely dressed patrons in the crowd. 
I wonder if this was just the best Heeza Liar short they could find.  I admit, I was a little prejudiced when I saw one of the documentaries on the Popeye DVDs, and one of the interview subjects mentioned that the Heeza shorts are terrible.  They are, I'll agree, but I was entertained, nevertheless.  I don't know why.  And I certainly haven't seen the pelican gag before!  Surely that's not out of respect?  I'll bet the Fleischers came up with that gag.
And so, that was my introduction to, and hopefully freedom from, Colonel Heeza Liar.  There's another one here on YouTube ... but it's not on my DVD, so screw it.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

Auteur Watch - Travolta Cooper

...oh PUH-LEEEEZE.  I would've had some sympathy for this guy if it weren't for his IMDb picture.  So, IS he deliberately trying to ride the Travolta coat-tails?  Is it just a coincidence?  Oh, we'll never know, 'cuz he'll never tell!  But the answer is yes.
And you can't argue with results!  Check out this guy's résumé.  P.A. on the MTV Video Music Awards 2004 and 2005?  Why, that's a million times better than any number of films!  I mean, when Travolta Cooper makes his way to Inside the Actor's Studio, and he will, trust me, when he answers those stupid questions at the end of the interview, the one about what God will say when you arrive if Heaven, if Heaven indeed exists, well, God will definitely ask this guy about the MTV Video Music Awards.  That's probably all they'll talk about.  "Lady Gaga in her prime!  What was that like?" asked God.  Travolta will of course just suck his teeth and say "I just knew she was going to be a star..."  Of course, that was a bit before Gaga's time, but who knows?  Maybe she was backstage hanging out.  The VMAs are just that important for a burgeoning star these days.  God certainly can't keep track of all these details.  I mean, God had to ask Cain where Abel was!  The blind leading the blind.
Of course, when you've been in the bowels of the youth beast that is the MTV, and you somehow manage to escape unscathed, as opposed to, say, Duff (very very scathed), you usually want to try and do something useful with your life.  In Travolta Cooper's case, documentaries.  One of his IMDb Top 4 is a documentary called The Black Moses... and despite the involvement of Dennis Haysbert and Jesse Jackson, this film seems to have gotten no traction.  No reviews, no votes... so let's move on to Children of Men... I mean, God.  Children of God.  Ooh!  Look at the top of the poster!  Across the top, no less than four of those things that mean critical acclaim: those olive branch parentheses with the names of prestigious organizations between them... oh, wait, Travolta Cooper didn't direct Children of God.  Kareem Mortimer did, and we're not scheduled to do him until about 2018 or so.
So let's move on to Founding Fathers: Sir Stafford Sands... what IS it with this guy and the Bahamas?!!!!  It's either home, or he's figured out the secret of life.  Because as Jesus knew, life is a Corona ad.  Find yourself a nice spot on the beach, and sit there and get drunk.  And for God's sake, don't have a dad bod... I mean, don't have a double chin and a pot belly.  A hot chick will never go for that!  Which brings me briefly to the last thing on Travolta Cooper's IMDb Top 4: A Miami Tail.  No, don't let the poster confuse you, it's actually got a plot.

A Little Bird Told Me..........

This is another one of those highly contentious weekends, with a lot of aggressive young saplings competing for a dwindling supply of rays of sunlight, none more so than George Clooney's latest, called Tomorrowland... or is it Disney's Tomorrowland?  Or does director and former Spielberg intern Brad Bird put enough of a stamp on this half-retro sci fi think piece / half Disneyland promo to call it his own?  Whatever the case may be, American audiences turned out in just enough droves to make it #1 its opening weekend, but Variety seems to think that the Disney execs were a bit disappointed.  Well, that's why economics used to be called the dismal science.  Now that Stephen Moore has clawed his way to the national spotlight, it's kind of an obnoxious science as well!  I thought dollars didn't care about political bias.  Let me put it this way: if the political parties produced their own chocolate bars, the Republicans in the upper echelons of the party would be eating Democratic chocolate bars, if only in secret.  They would say to each other, "I don't eat our chocolate bars.  Have you tried them?  They're terrible!  The cheapest grade of chocolate they can get.  No thank you.  And did you know that we put sawdust in them?  Sawdust, for God's sake!  Er, I wanted chocolate, not a piece of lumber.  Build my house with it, don't make me eat it.  No, let the idiots eat the Republican chocolate bars.  I'll buy them, of course, to drive the price up, to support the cause, but I'd prefer to eat the good stuff."
Meanwhile, in other debut news, the new Poltergeist debuts strong with... whatever.  This is another one of those weekends where the IMDb gets the news late.  So few things in this world left that you can depend on.  Is that so much to ask?  Is it so much to ask that I get up at noon on a Sunday, get on the web, and get my Top 10 fix from the IMDb?  Oh, speaking of Top 10, one of the last Top Ten lists on Letterman's little show was about the Muppets, and I think number 10 or number 9 was about how Grover is used as an oven mitt when he's not on the air.  Well, some people love the Muppets better than their relatives, a small minority of people really really hate them.
The point being, not all remakes are getting a hero's welcome.  So far I haven't heard any critical acclaim for the new Poltergeist.  But hey!  May this reboot not be cursed, like the original series seemed to be... it must be on Wikipedia somewhere, ask your grandparents.  On the other end of that spectrum, Mad Max: Fury Road continues to gain critical acclaim, as well as slowly inch its way into the black... making a profit, that is.  I mean, if you could only see my Facebook feed, folks.  Every other person asking "Is Mad Max: Fury Road the GREATEST action film of all time, EVER?"  First of all, in my attempt to be the most quotable curmudgeon of all time, whenever someone uses the phrase "No Time to Lose"... I mean, the phrase "of all time," I think to myself "Really?  All time?  Including Cretaceous and Devonian?" ... ask your nerdy friends. 
Okay, so they didn't have films back then.  Point taken.  But they say that the whole film was filmed practically, meaning without CGI and all that Pixar crap that seems to permeate everything these days... even this blog!  This font was personally done by James Lasseter.  Boo hoo hoo hoo... but then, I was watching one of the commercials for the movie, and there's that part with tornadoes and bolts of lightning in the background, and I couldn't help but think to myself, well... that looked a little Zelig'd in!  I mean, Gumped in... ask your parents.  Not to mention that ISN'T IT BASICALLY THE SAME MOVIE???!!!  ONE LONG-ASS CAR CHASE IN THE DESERT???!!!!!!  I just may have to sneak off to the theatre myself and figure this all out for myself. 
I think that's it for the debuts.  Maybe the film that just won the Palme D'Or came in tenth or something, but who cares about that?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Of Supermen, in Documentary and Fantasy

 Boy!  The world's just going completely to hell, isn't it?  Well, apparently, the only extras on the Volume 2 DVD collection of Popeye shorts that count as films in their own right are a documentary about the Fleischer studios, and one of the Fleischer Superman shorts.  Why, I remember seeing it on jumpy VHS tape about thirty years ago!  Dayamn, I'm old...
So, let's do the documentary short first.  It's one of those shorts that might be seen on the Turner Classic Movies channel in between the movies.  And I believe I've seen a Paramount Pictures Popular Science short previously on that channel, just not about the Fleischer studios.  Of course,
back then, Walt Disney himself obtained a celluloid copy of this, and plotted his revenge against his toughest competition.  As a fan of animation, it is of course my duty as a critic to kiss Disney's ass forever, especially now that they own the Star Wars franchise.  Anyone want to enforce the Sherman Anti-Tryst Act?  Anyone at all?  Which reminds me.  I finally remembered the name of a Mickey Mouse short: Mickey's Trailer.  I admit, it was a childhood favourite of mine, but now that I'm a little older, I couldn't help but think to myself as I rewatched it... SHUT THE CAR OFF!  I know, I know, seeking logic in a child's cartoon.  A fool's errand indeed.
Anyway, when you're in management, you have to seek bold new adventures to steer the course of your proverbial ship, and so it was that Max Fleischer, the man behind Popeye, turned his sights to an actual comic book superhero, but this time he won't get to tinker with the storyline as he did with Popeye.  So until we get Jeff Albertson's opinion on how faithful Max Fleischer was to the Superman storyline, I'm just still going to assume that Richard Donner and John Williams owe some degree of gratitude to the Fleischer version of Superman, because The Mechanical Monsters in its own way is as rousing a bit of entertainment as the color Popeye two-reelers.
The DVD version of The Mechanical Monsters is slightly longer and includes a bit about the planet Krypton, minus Marlon Brando.  The audio is also slightly different on the DVD as compared to, say, these versions on YouTube.  Of course, back then, he only fought for truth and justice.  I'm assuming that "the American way" part came around the time of the '50s TV shows... you know, as part of the House Un-American Activities Committee's battle against Communism.  People often forget!  The way to solve any problem is to get the full force of the United States government all over it like a cheap suit... or is that make any problem worse?  One of the two, or a little of both.
And so, we get a problem that only a stronger-than-average man can solve: a Dr. No wannabe has built himself an army of mechanical flying kleptomaniacs.  And despite the fact that robotics was still in its infancy in the 1940s... can we agree on that?... this unnamed villain has become quite effective at robbing banks with his robot army.  Extra kudos to the filmmaking team for the new array of sound effects involved: destruction of very large panes of glass.  Whether they had to record that themselves, or whether it was already in the Paramount libraries at the time, excellent work either way.  And of course, I fondly recall that little bit of music from my childhood as a young film geek in training.  Great orchestration, worthy of John Williams, even if it's light on French horns.
And so, with the introductions out of the way, time for the main event: a place called the "House of Jewels" is planning a big, Trump-style exhibit.  And even though the paper swears that "Extreme Precautions have been taken to Guard against Mysterious Mechanical Monster," quite the opposite seems to be the case.  The storytelling is about as taut as can be: Superman disguised as Clark Kent sees that Lois has shown up at the event.  Superman tries to scold Lois as best he can, but to no avail.  AND THEN... the mechanical monster strikes!  The bad guy sends lucky number 13 for this job... or is it number 5?  Depends on your point of view, I suppose.
Ever the intrepid reporter, Lois hitches a ride inside the robotic bank robber... oh, it's Adam and Eve all over again, I tells ya, but I'll leave that for smarter, more religious minds than mine to sort out.  With Lois out of the way, Kent goes into the phone booth and changes into his Superman costume... or his work clothes, either way.  Now, maybe it's just me, but is Superman a bit of a procrastinator?  SPOILER ALERT - If he's the man of steel... I mean, the Man of Steel, how can he let that flying  robot knock him down into those power lines?  I guess it's all for the sake of showmanship, folks.  And besides!  If he destroys the flying robotic thief before it gets back home, how is he supposed to catch the bad guy?  Superman's no detective!  Gotta follow it all the way back to the lair.
And so, after Superman breaks free from the interstate electrical lines... clearly he's not a fan of the New Deal.  If he's so super, why didn't he repair the damage?  Best to leave it to the human Teamsters, I suppose.  Anyway, next scene: now, in any other context, normally, seeing a lady's things scattered on the floor, we'd probably be headed to the bedroom for some post-coital chit chat.  Not this time, however.  It's a kid's cartoon, for God's sake!!!  This isn't Cool World!  And so, unlike the James Bond series, we get a gander around this supervillain's lair, and we see metal smelting equipment, we see an assembly room where robots are put together, and then we get to the giant... you know, a big cauldron for holding molten metal.  God, I feel illiterate.  Anyway, that much makes sense, but we'll leave aside a discussion of the actual labor that would have to be involved in making flying robotic thieves that function so very effectively.  That's just the Fleischer storytelling power for ya: they will make you believe.
Which makes me believe that the Fleischers influenced the telling of Superman stories more than they know.  For just as they condensed the Thimble Theatre down to Popeye and Bluto being enemies, they also perhaps influenced future incarnations of the Superman story.  Take Richard Donner's 1978 version, for example.  SPOILER ALERT.  I mean, if Superman's fast enough to change the earth's spin, why was he having such trouble catching up to one nuclear warhead, let alone two?  Take also the 2006 Superman Returns where Superman has to save that big-ass airplane from crashing... I can't even remember now.  Was it the Space Shuttle plane?  I hate to be a critic, but something told me he could've saved that plane a little faster or a little more efficiently.  And why didn't the plane break up into smaller pieces, or even the Krypton island that Lex Luthor made?  Any time I try to make a Brio train too long it never holds together.  Stupid magnets!!!!
But back to the Fleischer short.  Another example of procrastination for the sake of showmanship: the bad guy dumps all the molten metal onto Superman and Lois, but Superman protects Lois with his cape.  She might've gotten her legs a little bit singed, however.  But that's the risk you gotta take sometimes.  I mean, all hail Superman's fireproof cape!  Man of Steel, Cape of Goretex. 
And so, the bad guy's last move is to either make a break for it, or kill himself by jumping over the railing, but Superman grabs him and brings him to justice, Lois gets the front page, and Superman hides his identity anew.  Now maybe I'm just an old softie, or maybe the Fleischers produced another animation masterpiece.  Okay, the colors are a little weird, but for me it's still rousing entertainment.  And I've got it on DVD!  Nyaah nyaah.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

Auteur Watch - Barry Michael Cooper

I sorta knew this guy without knowing it.  Of course, if you grew up in the turbulent '90s, you might remember seeing ads on TV for such films as New Jack City, Sugar Hill and Above the Rim.  Well, screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper is the common thread that ties them all together, so to speak.
Naturally, with a track record as good as that, if you're a guy like Cooper, you look at the bozos that directed those movies and you think to yourself, well, hell!  I could direct one of these!  The good news is he did just that... the bad news is, it took him ten years to make the dream happen.  And so, in 2005, the world saw the premiere of Blood on the Wall$... hmm.  Maybe it's just me, maybe I'm just a prejudiced old fart, but 1) I'm a little skeptical of any movie with a dollar sign in the title, and 2) ... did anyone not named Cooper actually see this movie?  No reviews, no votes, a $5,000 budget... does this film actually exist?  Oh well.  If Barry appears as himself in enough documentaries, the film might get a release, if only on DVD.

Pitch Perfect Weekend, or The Hardy Boys

In honor of my new-fangled Russian audience, I'm trying to get more Russian content into this blog.  If Putin can't crack my password, no one can!  Anyway, I thought Tomorrowland was out this weekend, but it apparently is next week.  Oh, it's going to be a crowded summer!
Anyway, there must be much joy and a little confusion over the powerhouse performance of Pitch Perfect 2 at the box office.  But it can't be denied; the saturation bombing ad campaign worked.  Plus it got the Colbert bump, so to speak, when Rebel Wilson went on Stew Beef's show to help spread the word.  And speaking of sequels, Mad Max 4 debuts at #2.  It's getting rave reviews, and doing well at the box office... but I dunno.  I watched a little of The Road Warrior fairly recently, and it seems to be about the same movie to me.  I know, I know, there's more feminist themes this time.  The only other debut this week is a remake of Far From the Madding Crowd... boy!  That Tom Hardy's been busy!... oh, right.  Two different Tom Hardies.  Do they stay truthful to the sheep as lemmings sequence from the 1966 version?  ...'67 version?  Well, I tell you one thing: Carey Mulligan's great and all, but she's no Julie Christie.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Needles to Say

What is the deal with these hands drawing stuff in these early cartoons?  I guess it's like how, when sound first hit the market in 1929, people for a while thought of film as a version of Broadway theatre.  At least it was the case with the Marx brothers, with their references to Playbill and Eugene O'Neill.  They soon dried up, however, when film slowly became its own medium.  By the time they got to Duck Soup, no more Broadway references.
But back to the instant theme.  Now, maybe it's not always the case, but there seem to be themes with these here Koko cartoons.  The Clown's Little Brother is about sibling rivalry, that other one called... (The) Cartoon Factory is about... some sort of factory, and the next one, completing the DVD trilogy, Koko Needles the Boss, is obviously a coded Marxist, Freemason screed... I mean, it's about sewing, sort of.  Max's busy hand draws a spool of thread, and the background gets threaded instead of drawn, because let's face it.  Even Max Fleischer got tired of cartoons that start with the background getting drawn.  Koko eventually gets sewn into place, then the very fabric of paper holding him together gets ripped!  Plot device: the perfect opportunity to sew him together. 
Then, Koko tries to help Max thread an animated needle, but after Koko gets poked in the eye with the thread, all bets are off.  Koko and Max start fencing: Koko with a needle, and Max with his nib pen.  The sewing theme would show up later on in Betty Boop's Crazy Inventions when an early sewing machine runs amok, sewing anything and everything together... a ladder?  A river sewn shut?  Insane-ity!  Inane insanity! 
Then, later on, when Koko escapes the confines of the easel, he starts trying to tie Max down with thread, much like what happened to the giant in Gulliver's Travels... the Fleischers' Gulliver's Travels, not that Jack Black one where his stomach starts sloshing around at some point.  Well, he's not as fat as Farley was, anywho!  The kitten, seen earlier in The Clown's Little Brother, makes a reappearance here and gets lassooed by Koko.  Koko ends up in the inkwell again... well, just his hat, anyway, and a piece of thread attached to the top of the inkwell pulls the inkwell closed.  It's strangely poignant, I suppose because it's never happened before.  Genius.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

Auteur Watch - Ralph Cooper

Now, here's an interesting figure from the past!  At least, for me, if only because that's how limited my film education is.  Ralph Cooper was apparently known as "The Dark (Clark) Gable"... I think because he played the bad guy a lot.  He worked in Hollywood a bit in the '30s and '40s, but the only roles he could get was stuff like playing the bug-eyed colored gentlemen in Stooge films.  He fought Hollywood and Hollywood won.  Another shame.  This is the kind of guy they should probably talk about on, oh, I don't know... TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES??!!!!  Hel-LLLOOOOO!!!!  Maybe Bob Dorian mentioned him once on the old American Movie Classics channel... wow.  The IMDb doesn't have Bob Dorian?  Am I in trouble now?  Tell the NSA I love America!  Anyway, Cooper was brought on as a special consultant on that hot mess known as The Cotton Club, so hope springs eternal!  If you're good at something, you just might eventually get hired for it!

The Weekend of Vergara

Oops.  Looks like I've been playing a little hooky with my blog here.  But you know what?  So did Hillary Clinton, damn it!  And did you know that John Kerry voted for the 87 million before he was against it?... sorry, getting swept up in the latest political hiccup.  Anyway, Hot Pursuit (2015) was the only debut this week in the Top 10.  Now some are calling Sofia Vergara a flash in the pan, the latest and greatest and all that, but I'm telling you!  This kid's got something!  I saw that ad she did with Ellen DeGeneres, and she held her own, what can me say?  What was it for again?  L'Oreal?  Damn... I could've made a cheap Viagra joke.  Wonder if she ever gets that.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Short Reviews - May 2015

Aloha - Oh, it's Cameron Crowe!  Well, as usual, he's staying ahead of the curve.  Late 80s, early 90s?  It was Seattle.  After that, professional sports.  And then, like all great writer-directors, they move on to the greatest story ever told... their own!  And so, it seems that military contractors are the curve these days.  Something kinda depressing about that.

Beer League - Oops, I was confusing this with Beerfest.  My apologies to Broken Lizard!

"The Blacklist" - I'm still thinking about that season finale where Elton John's Rocketman is used during the music video portion of the show.  Wouldn't have been my first choice.  But it just came to me what might have been a better choice: ... you know, that David Bowie song about "Ground Control to Major Tom," whatever it's called.  I know, I know... it was used to such great effect in Adam Sandler's 200 live-action mainstream comedy offering, Mr. Deeds.  But there are some who don't associate it with that so strongly.  But I have an idea for next season's finale.  Here's the song they should use!  Especially if they're going to keep following NBC's hit show, The Voice.  It's... can you guess what it is?  That's RIGHT!  It's B.O.B.'s Airplane.  Several reasons.  Mostly because the show's title is in there somewhere, if memory serves...

Bridge of Spies - Dayamn!  I guess True Grit (2010) turned out better than I thought!

Canfilm - Awesome animated flick.  Kind of a Brazil in miniature, if you will.  And it's on YouTube, no less!

The D Train - With James Marsden as Kyle Gass

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015) - If Carey Mulligan's not careful, she's going to get typecast as that girl that does remakes!  I mean, she was in this, The Great Gatsby remake, that Wall Street remake... oh, right, it was just a sequel.  Never mind.

Inside Out - Ooh, you got me inside out... well, as David Spade might quip, I liked it the first time... WHEN IT WAS CALLED "HERMAN'S HEAD"!!!!

Maggie - Critics are calling it one of the best things that Schwarzenegger's ever done.  On the other hand, someone's bound to compile a list with movies like Joe and Mud on it... but what to call this list?  Probably something glib like "Movie Star Meltdown" or "Old Age Mid-Life Crisis."

The Man from Earth - Hey!  That could be about me!

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) - The new Superman's keeping busy, and as he should, of course.  Being Superman alone doesn't pay the bills... just ask Brandon Routh!  This is a Guy Ritchie directorial effort, so at some point a character's going to say "What.... is THAT?"  He puts the damnedest things in his pictures!

"19 Kids and Counting: First Grandson" - This just in: Bill Cosby sends the Duggars a big-ass 'Thank You' fruit basket and stuff.  In a related story: Family Research Council has some standards after all.  Not many, but some; actually, they're just bowing to peer pressure.  Kinda sad in a way.

Northpole - Gotta get the spelling right, because Lord knows it's one word, and not two, like North Pole.  No sir.

The Perfect Family - I've just been handed a bulletin: Emily Deschanel trending for something other than being Zooey's sister... well, sort of.

Pixels - Here's the only aspect about Pixels that I care about.  For once, on a DVD documentary, I want to hear the CGI guys say that this job was easier than most.  I mean, they're making stuff DELIBERATELY blocky!  No extra passes through Renderman required on this job, right?

The Rat Race - .... Rickles?  Rat roo?

RED 1 - Let me just say this about Red 1.  I was going to say something about Bruce Willis bitch-slapping Richard Dreyfuss, but that pretty much writes itself.  No, I was thinking the other day about that avocado plant that he was nurturing.  I'm still thinking about how it was fake.  Well, there's still no time for small details like that anymore.

"Rick and Morty" - Yeah, Back to the Future was fun

The Room - Let me just say this about The Room.  At least an MRG Entertainment production knows what it is.  But I think I understand, because it's like what Bobby Bowfinger said about turning fifty.  You see, when a man turns fifty, strange things begin to happen.  Especially when you just know that you're awesome.  Sure, the world looks at you and sees Casey Siemaszko with jet black hair, but inside your heart and guts you feel like Willem Dafoe with jet black hair.  And you've got a crappy job with coworkers who don't appreciate you, and all you want to do in life is just... play a little football.  You know, toss that old pigskin around!  Just toss it!  If only people would stop falling down so much.  Such a buzzkill!  Then again, what an opportunity for empathy.  "Are you okay, Mark?"  Football and make love to the missus.  That's the American way.  "Anything for my princess!  Hah hah hah..."  ...did you hear that laugh?  Note it well, my friends.  Note where you were when you first heard it, because this Tommy Wiseguy... I mean, this football-playing Johnny, he is LORD OF THE DOUCHEBAGS.  Now some may think that's meant as an insult, but that's just if you're not a douchebag.  If you are a douchebag, well, life's hard enough as it is, number one, and number two, all douchebags are like Robert DeNiro in Ronin.  Just a guy without a master running around from job to job... but who to believe in?  Buddha?  Well, his parents were Job Creators, but apparently he's still in his rebellion phase with all that "swear off material possessions" crap.  Jesus?  Well, he's got a big inheritance too.  Probably the biggest.  I mean, Son of God?  Makes sense.  But he hasn't inherited all the powers yet, just small stuff like turning water to wine, and the loaves and fishes, what have you.  They're good, just not Douchebag Good.  I WANT A MESSIAH WITH PAIN!  SOMEONE LIVING!  SOMEONE NOT TOTALLY MOLDY.  DERRRRRR....  And that's where Johnny comes in.  He spent one too many days in the daylight playing the ball of foot, and his heart was totally broken.  He trashed his house like some kind of slo-mo Frankenstein, carefully pulling out all the drawers, sweeping off all the stuff off the top of the dressers, flipping over tables, what have you.  All because of a broken heart.  All because of that tramp of tramps, Lisa.  Why, Lisa?  Why?  The pain was so bad, Johnny!  I know this pain!  Well, sure, only theoretically, for I'm still here on the shore.  No, Johnny went full Viking burial, the whole burning boat out to sea kind of deal.  For as in with most of these MRG Entertainment productions, there's usually a scene with a gun at the end.  Someone gets shot, then there's one last sex scene.  Not here, though.  Not with The Room.  No, Johnny's pain is so deep, so acute, so all-consuming, he takes his gun that he's been saving for just such an occasion... either that, or a home invasion.  Never can be too careful!  And even his gun is kinda douchey!  Well, that's the Douchebag lifestyle for you.  Whereas most other lifestyles are a state of mind, the Douchebag lifestyle is firmly rooted in the outward appearance of things.  And so, Johnny takes that gun, puts it in his mouth, and boom.  No room for a sequel, so to speak.  Well, I would apologize for the bad joke, but I need something to help me ease the pain.  Something, anything.  The pain.  The room.  I'll never look at one in quite the same way ever, ever again... and now I've either got it out of my system, or I've finally gone off the deep end.

San Andreas - Boy!  That's just how good Roland Emmerich is!  He doesn't even have to direct these things anymore!

The Star - Bette Davis' take on Sunset Boulevard

"10" - This just in: a shocking revelation from Blake Edwards' autobiography.  His biggest regret?  Casting Bo Derek in 10.  I mean, have you seen anything she's in?  10 and Tommy Boy is basically it!

Tomorrowland - This is the kind of detail I notice in the commercials.  They show old footage of Einstein, Thomas Edison... then Disney.  And I can't help but wonder what ol' Walt himself would think of that.  Probably something like "Einstein?  I'm flattered, in a way, but I'm also uncomfortable being associated with such ethnic types."

Tron 3 - Apparently, Disney just pulled the plug on it.  Some people are upset about that, but not me.  I actually wasn't expecting a Tron 3 until 2038!

Trouble Man - Ooh!  Love that movie.  Jack Nicholson and Ellen Barkin?  Jack's got good taste!... most of the time.

Man Trouble - So THAT's where Mr. T comes from!  Figures.

Uncle Buck - I've just been handed a bulletin: the classic 80s film is going to be turned into a TV series with an all-black cast... actually, the girl that I saw the original movie with in the theater would probably disagree that it's a classic.  And second, it was already (turned into) a TV show!  Der!  And third... okay, Hollywood, you can do what you will with Uncle Buck, but don't touch Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  That one stays un-remade... oh, right.  TV series.  Boy!  John Hughes got kinda greedy!

The Whoopee Boys - With Farley Granger as Extra (uncredited)

The Wild North - With Morgan Farley and Stewart Granger

Sunday, May 03, 2015

I, Koko

Another swipe at Disney!  Our next early Fleischer silent "cartoon" is called Cartoon Factory, and it's another fun mix of live action, animation, and Norman Maclaren-esque pixellation.  I guess I wasn't in the mood for it the first go round, but it's also a hoot, just like the previous entry, The Clown's Little Brother.  Of course, computer nerds and robot geeks alike will find the premise laughable today, but back then in 1924 upon its first release, it must have had some shred of ingenuity to it. 
Alas, it's a sad day for the Luddites, as Koko, one of the first Fleischer characters to take to the silver screen, is rather smitten by the first animated machine he comes across.  It's got a robot arm with a pen on it, and its own inkwell to boot.  At first, the robotic drawing arm toys with Koko's emotions, drawing a turkey dinner, complete with knife and fork, then a sexy babe for him to socialize with.  But as quickly as the machine giveth, it taketh away with its other arm with a big eraser on it.  Koko is nevertheless in awe of its power, and climbs up onto it and goes for a ride as the robotic arm roams the countryside, hastily drawing a background in its wake.  Once that grows tiresome, Koko stops the machine and has it draw a house for him... a drawing room, if you will?  Sorry about that.
With his automaton empire almost complete, Koko swings by the Machine Shop, where he puts together a robotic Max Fleischer!  Koko takes the robotic Max Fleischer home, removes its head, puts a little oil on its neck, pulls the rip cord, then turns it loose upon the world.  In a rather immediate display of ingratitude, the robotic Max Fleischer proceeds to start drawing a cartoon army.  He orders the army to charge at Koko.  Madness.  Sheer madness.  Of course, after Koko's finished freaking out, he finds himself battle ready with the trusty auto-cartoonist from before.  Springing into action, Koko has the robotic cartoonist erase the charging army and, if you're at all familiar with the Fleischer oeuvre, you'll probably think of Popeye taking on Ali Baba's forty thieves... oh, do I have to do all the links for you?
After that, Koko turns his attention back to the defeated robotic general.  Koko draws himself a cannon, and starts lobbing cannonballs at the robotic Max Fleischer.  Max starts playing dodgeball with all them cannonballs.  Boy, the crew must have had fun with that, much like Sid Caesar and his famous parody of From Here to Eternity, where the crew took a little too much delight in splashing him with water.
The filmmakers just didn't know how to end this, so the Machine Shop starts assembling robotic Max Fleischers en masse and they all chase after Koko.  Koko dives into the inkwell and they all follow him into it.  Okay, so they don't all hold up.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

Auteur Watch - Janice Cooke

What's a girl to do?... that is a girl, right?  Janice is still exclusively a girl's name?  Anyway, so Janice Cooke seems to be stuck in a TV wasteland, but now that TV and the silver screen proper are about half and half these days, both simply struggling to stay fiscally afloat, maybe that's not such a bad place to be.  Apparently when you're a TV director, the thing is to not be stuck on one dead end series for the rest of your life.  Sure, there's no Gotham or Person of Interest to her credit, but I've heard of Gossip Girl!  That's... that's something, right?  And I confess, I do like that one title, Hollywood is like High School with Money.  On the other hand, something tells me that the show doesn't satirize the concept, but rather revels in it.  Don't wanna offend Hollywood's nerds or jocks, or you won't get a good seat in the cafeteria!


Well, no surprise here, Ultron smash at the box office!  I think $187.66 million is probably a record that's going to stand unchallenged for a long, long time.  At least, until the next Avengers movie comes out.  Robert Downey's going to have to retire sometime!  Or maybe it's just a sign of inflation of the dollar.  Not that I'm an economic expert or anything.  But I'm still fascinated by the numbers.  The #2 movie raked in a mere 6 million!  Blake Lively's agent will find a good way to spin that at the next negotiations.  Yep, when a movie sucks up all the cash like this, strange things happen, like Cinderella coming back at #6, having been absent last week.  Somehow I think Danny Collins and While We're Young are going to stay gone, though.