Sunday, June 26, 2016

I Am Friz-ymandias, Animator of Animators. Look on My Works, Ye Mighty and Despair!

If there was anyone more dedicated to self-acknowledgement in all of cartoondom than Friz Freleng putting not-so-subliminal "Friz"zes throughout his cartoons, well... I don't wanna know about him or her.  But he definitely had a knack for what would become fare for Saturday mornings, if only for a short while.   
So now that I've finished Tortoise Wins by a Hare, then sat through the FBI warning and the blue thing about artists' rights in English and French, Canary Row is next.  Volume 1, Disc 4.

ACT ONE

Scene: the big city.  Time of day: dusk, probably dawn... oh, right.  After the red tubes and all that, we start with a song from Tweety.  "Tweety's my name but I don't know my age" and all that.  Where's the one about the putty tat won't do him no harm?
Scene: the big city, probably New York.  Time of day: dusk, probably dawn.  The sun gives the buildings a little more oomph when it's near the horizon.  Overhead... meh.
We pan over to the window of the Bird Watchers' Society.  Oh, the irony that's about to hit.  That's about as subtle as things get in a Friz Freleng cartoon.  Up pops the head of Sylvester, the black and white tabby cat of international renown.  What Walter Matthau was to Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder, so Sylvester is to the Tunes that are Loony.
It being the Bird Watchers' Society, Sylvester now has access to binocular technology.  Plus, the current president of said Society was in WWII.  Recon, and he had a bunch of leftover binoculars from his stint in Patton's successful campaign in North Africa.  The binoculars give us an extra up-close look at Sylvester's eyes, focused and veiny.  Back then, veins in cartoon characters' eyes didn't take on a life of their own so much.  The '90s and beyond, however... eye veins are contractually obligated to throb.  A lot.
Sylvester scans the exterior of the Broken Arms Apts. (GUFFAW) for his quarry.  Panning up, Sylvester spies a cage.  Next scene: a little bit closer up.  We see Tweety Bird with his own pair of binoculars, probably some left over opera glasses.  Boy, those were the days.
"I taut I taw a putty tat!" says Tweety.  More contractual obligation.  Tweety takes a second look.  We see Sylvester's enhanced eyes once again.  "I DID!  I DID taw a putty tat!" exclaims Tweety.  Incidentally... the Closed Captioning?  Well, it makes no hint at Tweety's thick New York accent, alas.  Only the more abled among us get the full treatment.
And so, the scenario is well established.  At this point, from a plot point of view, it's a bit cut and dry, esp. to someone as jaded and seemingly knowledgeable as I am.  And even though we're not quite at 2:20 yet (the Act Two mark), we might as well start Act Two because, like the Wile E. Coyote cartoons parallel to it, it's kind of just a series of attempts by Sylvester the Cat to get them darned old Duke Boys... I mean, get that darned old Tweety J. Bird.

FIRST ATTEMPT: the direct approach.  Excited at just seeing any bird at all, Sylvester is immediately overcome with joy.  He runs down to ground level and takes the Broken Arms Apts. by force, just waltzing in right through that old front door.  Somewhere, Daniel Goleman is weeping...
Next scene: a close-up of the Broken Arms Apts. front door, where we note the sign that prohibits cats and dogs.  What reasonable public arena would allow those two sparring species to gain entrance?  The very idea!  We hear a scuffle, Sylvester gets thrown out, and we hear the loud clatter of martyr on garbage can.
"AND STAY OUT!" one of the Broken Arms Apts. goons yells.  Kinda didn't sound too Blanc-ish to me, but who am I to criticize, right?
Amid the pile of cans, large garbage and tiny food, lies the dazed Sylvester.  "Thhhh-poiled thhhhh-port!" he says, in that redundant, saliva-producing way of his.

SECOND ATTEMPT: Sylvester gets way way closer to his quarry this time.  He sneakily climbs up the building's drainpipe.  I've seen our cat try to sneak up on birds that way; they'll usually wiggle their ass a little bit before that final sprint to catch their prey.
Off in the distance we can see a sign that says "RISBY."  Must be some kind of nightclub or something.  If we could see the whole thing, it would surely have an 'F' on the front of it.  See?  Friz had some modesty!
Next scene: a close-up of Tweety.  Tweety's singing that one old stand-by, "When Irish Eyes are Smiling."  Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies characters have been singing that one since time immemorial.  Guess they got a bunch of Seinfelds over there working on the cartoons.  How can eyes smile?  And why do Irish eyes do the most smiling, anyway?  ....AIRLINE PEANUTS!!!  As I pointed out, it's a close-up of Tweety's cage, so we can pull back to see Sylvester on the ledge... did I spoil that for you?  Sorry.  I talk too much, I admit it.  But, ...okay, can you guess what Sylvester's doing on the ledge?  Probably not, Mr. & Mrs. Smart Guy!  Why, he's standing there, using one finger to play conductor, of course!  He moves his finger to Tweety's beat, confident in his empire over Tweety's world.
Tweety was swinging on his little swing in the birdcage... incidentally, I know that Tweety's a 'he' because I heard Jerry Beck's commentary track on the DVD, and he said so.  And believe me, he's a guy what knows.  He's not like me, who watches the same things over and over.  He actually has watched every Looney Tune and Merrie Melody that exist... for some reason, I thought there were 5,000 of them.  Guess I just rounded up to the nearest 5,000.
Okay, back to where I was.  Tweety senses the foreign presence in his midst, then looks over at Sylvester, who stops waving his finger to the music and waves a sarcastic hello back.  Tweety is now in full panic mode.  "THE BAD OLD PUTTY TAT'S AFTER ME!" the helpless Tweety cries.  Tweety's panic rubs off on Sylvester, who's now panicking a little bit.
Tweety lets himself out of the cage, and takes off inside the apartment.  Sylvester throws his brief flirtation with paranoia aside, and gives chase.  We hear another big scuffle, as earlier on the ground floor.  Mere seconds later, we see Sylvester getting completely thrown out of the x number of stories window.  Judging from when Sylvester first scans the building with his binocs, I'd say Tweety's on the fourth floor!  So, Sylvester drops four stories and lands on the ground with a mighty bang indeed.  Carl Stalling's slide whistle artist gets special echo-y emphasis on this one.  Granny, Tweety's human guardian, makes an appearance at the window.  "Next time I'll give you what fer!" Granny says to the probably dead cat on the street below.  Guess she's more of a dog person!  Sheesh!  Have some sympathy, lady!
"Bad old putty tat!" says Tweety.  No sympathy from either party.

THIRD ATTEMPT: Sylvester is nothing if not a quick healer, much like all cartoon characters... unless an injury's real bad, like the time Jerry sawed Tom in half.  Lol, right? ...anyway, Sylvester's pacing on the ground below, next to the building's orange drain pipe.  The city fathers of the Broken Arms Apts. are okay with it for now.
Sylvester paces at eight steps a second, or the cartoon speed of schemers everywhere.  Must've had too much homemade kombucha that morning or something.  Sylvester's clearly in a bad mood, but he probably would tell you he's fine if you asked him.  Ain't that always the way?  No, I'm not upset.  I'm NOT!  I'm NOT UPSET!  QUIT ASKING ME!!!  So childish.  He looks at Tweety, then looks at that darned old drain pipe.  Sylvester looks back up at Tweety with a fiendish glee... he's got an idea!
Sylvester starts climbing up through the drain pipe.  Next scene: unfortunately for Sylvester, Tweety saw the whole thing.  So much for the element of surprise.  Fortunately, the infinitely more resourceful Tweety's got just the solution.  Tweety runs over with a bowling ball, and drops it into the drain pipe.
Next couple scenes: we watch as the bowling ball makes its way down the drain pipe.  Humph!  Every time I try something like that, the ball either gets stuck, or the pipes split open prematurely... not for Tweety.  His life is depending on this working.  And then... POW!  Dust clouds burst out of the pipe, and the orchestra gives out a mighty fanfare.  John Williams couldn't have done much better for Spielberg.
Next scene: ground level.  Brought to you by Friz.  In six delicious flavours, no less!  Pop open a nice cold Friz and watch the Olympics, perhaps!  You and the athletes have that in common, except your fat ass is on the couch, and they're on international television with the best abs you've ever seen... but you both drink Friz.  You have that in common.  Again, the slide whistle gets another big echo-y solo.  Sylvester emerges from the pipe... but where's the bowling ball?  Why, in his tummy, of course!  You know, there was a similar gag involving glowing hot coals in Catch as Cats Can... God, I hate that one.  Of course, that was Arthur Davis' generic Sylvester-type cat in that one.  Leave us never speak of it again.  Anyway, Sylvester rolls down the hill and... well, I wouldn't dare spoil the gag's payoff.  Let's just say it's a perfect fit.  No gutter humour here, something like that.  You'll split your sides laughing... ah, probably ruined it.
Slow fade to black.  Now, that's confident filmmaking.  Probably the film's highlight.

ACT TWO

FOURTH ATTEMPT: ...hoh boy.  The politically incorrect approach.  Sylvester spies an organ grinder with a monkey and... what?  What did I say?  It's in the cartoon!!  Besides, it wasn't always a cliché then, was it?
Anyway, Sylvester lures the monkey round the corner... with a banana, no less.  Well, it works in the cartoons, anyway.  Sylvester lures the monkey out of the sight of the organ grinder in particular... and the audience, in general.  We hear a thud, then Sylvester emerges, dressed in the monkey's costume.  Oh, cartoon violence.  How many more minds must you continue to corrupt?
Well, shame on the organ grinder for giving the monkey so much freedom.  Soon, Sylvester's climbing up that orange drainpipe again... that seems to be the go-to method for getting up to that fourth story window now.  Going through it, not so much.
Next scene:  ...oh, and bear in mind, Tweety's not buying it for a second.  "Dat putty tat's after me again!" says blue-eyed Tweety.  And soon, Sylvester in his new outfit is up on the ledge, right next to Tweety's cage... we'll leave that aside for now.  But there's no two ways about it: Granny loves to let Tweety have that fresh air!  Tweety escapes through the cage door again, and runs inside, with the cat-monkey giving close chase.
Next scene: Granny watches as Tweety runs by... incidentally, is that Granny's portrait on the wall?  Anyway, Tweety runs by, and Granny just stands there and watches in awe.  Then, she looks over and sees Sylvester!  Sylvester stops, then starts making those hokey monkey noises of his again.  Lol.  Blanc's a genius.  "Well, just look at this!  A darling little monkey!" says Granny... however, the "well" and "just" seem to have gotten a little smushed together... yeah, should've listened to it with headphones in the first place.  Just can't find the time anymore.  Go figure; my teeny computer speakers don't do it justice.
Next scenes: Confident in the success of his ruse, Sylvester begins to search around the apartment for Tweety.  He lifts up the tablecloth, then the cloth of the chair, and then... oh, he wouldn't, would he?  Oh yes he di'id!  The Carl Stalling Memorial Orchestra is sufficiently shocked as well, as Sylvester lifts up Granny's dress a little bit.  It's as tawdry as the similar scene in Gone With the Wind, it is.
Next scene: Granny gets out her purse and gets a "shiny new" penny for Sylvester.  Sylvester's got the monkey's cup now, and takes the penny.  Sylvester lifts up his little monkey hat and... WHAM!!!  DOWN GOES SYLVESTER with a thwack on his little cat noggin with Granny's umbrella.
And just to rub it in a little, Granny notes that she was "hep" to Sylvester all along.  Sylvester lifts up his cap again, and wanders off in a daze.  Well, at least he's not getting his ass thrown out the four story window again!  That's definitely an improvement!

FIFTH ATTEMPT: For some reason, a human desk clerk gets a big scene here.  In a rare display of humanity in a Friz cartoon, the angry and beleaguered desk clerk rushes over to the phone, teeth clenched.  He quickly puts on his calm demeanor and says "Yes?" as sweetly as he can.  Granny informs him that she's checking out, and could he send up a boy to get her "bags and bird."  She's old old school, and will just tell her friends about all the cat troubles at that hotel later on.  Out of solidarity, her friends won't take their Tweeties to the hotel when they go.  Sylvester's listening in on the conversation from a cubicle in the... you know, the big wooden thing where they put all the hotel keys.  I have absolutely no idea what that would be called... a hotel key caddy?  Wall-mounted?
Fade to black.  Next scene: Sylvester the bellhop is waiting outside Granny's door.  Room 158?  Small world!  We saw Brooklyn tonight... I think the boarding house where she was staying had a big brass '158' upon it!
Sylvester knocks on the door.  Granny appears, looking over the glass transom above the door... what's up with that, incidentally?  Pretty spry for such an old gal!  Sylvester says to Granny, "Your bags, madam?"  Let's just stop for a moment, and take note of the barrier that's been broken here... a cat talking to a human!  Well, apparently Granny's seen it all, and she's certainly not impressed with some talking cat, especially one going after her sweet little bird.  I sure hate to spoil the ruse she comes up with... I guess she knew it was Sylvester all along, as with his monkey costume.  She tells Sylvester "[My bags are] right behind the door.  I'll see you in the lobby!"  Boy, but those were the days.
Sylvester, of course, gets the old sneaky look on his face, and he clasps his paws together on top of everything else.  He gets the suitcase and the bird cage with a blanket over it... can you guess what's going to happen next?  Well, first of all, it's about the journey, not the destination, right?  You probably didn't guess that Sylvester was eventually going to just ditch the suitcase, did ya?  ...you did?  Wow.  And I thought I was cynical!  Okay, so it wasn't a total surprise, but still kinda shocking.  Throwing away an old woman's suitcase... the very idea.  Sylvester gingerly tiptoes down the stairs with the cage.
Next scene: Sylvester finally makes it down to the alley adjacent to the hotel.  After looking around and rubbing his paws together in anticipation, he lifts the grey blanket off of the birdcage and... yup, that's right.  Sylvester is shocked to discover that, in fact, Tweety wasn't actually in the cage, having gained about 110 pounds.  No, it was Granny all along in there, armed with her trusty umbrella, the choice of weapon against cats.  Granny raises her umbrella, stretching the bars of the cage, and smites Sylvester upon his poor little cat head.  Now, you might be asking yourself, but The Movie Hooligan!  How was a ten pound cat able to lift that 120 lb. bird cage and all that?  Oh, but we can debate the physics of it all we want.  I'm more interested in the physiology of it all; more specifically, I guess it would be endocrinology... particularly adrenaline.  Now, I know all the endocrinologists out there are shaking their heads, going "You know, there's OTHER endocrines besides adrenaline, you know!"  They would probably never admit that adrenaline is particularly beloved in America right now.  I blame the internet for that.
Next scene: Granny runs down the surprisingly empty city street, hitting Sylvester about the head and shoulders as many times as she can.  Very spry for an octogenarian cartoon character!

ACT THREE

SIXTH ATTEMPT: We have us a good old fashioned bona fide "Etch-a-Sketch" moment, where it gets shaken and cleared, as has occasionally happened on The Simpsons, for one.  Apparently, Granny leaving the hotel has been cancelled, and Tweety's back on the ledge.  Surely, she didn't try leaving just on account of Sylvester?  Or just to trap him, and perhaps deliver that last, fatal blow with the umbrella?  He just keeps on coming back!  Again and again!
No rumination about a plan this time.  Sylvester's got a box and a board all at the ready.  One last item... and screenwriters take note.  Sylvester arrives a little more slowly with this one, as you'd might expect.  He's got a 500 lb. weight, thereby inspiring Monty Python all those years later.
With the poise of a true Olympian, Sylvester's aim with said heavy weight couldn't be better.  Sylvester pitches the giant weight and it lands on the other side of his ad hoc teeter totter.  Sylvester sounds like a rocket or a plane as he flies through the air, with his arc stopping right at Tweety's cage.  No need for the orange drainpipe this time.  Sylvester's solved all his ascent and descent problems in one fell, elegant swoop.  Sylvester returns to ground level with bird in clenched paw, landing back on the teeter totter, and off he goes.  There's just one problem: the 500 lb. weight is now in the air.  You'll never guess where it's going to land.  Never in a million years... give up?  That's right.  In lieu of Granny's umbrella, the weight lands right on Sly's head.
Sly peels his flattened head off the pavement and looks around... thereby creating Milhouse van Houten of The Simpsons fame.

SEVENTH ATTEMPT: Could this be the lucky break ol' Sylvester has been a-hankerin' for?  Maybe, but Sly's going to take some time with this one first.  As one of the great sequels taught us, "chance favors the prepared mind."  Sure, maybe it says more about the expounder of that philosophy than it does about the true nature of either chance or preparation... or minds, frankly.  All we need to know is that Sly is sort of taking a page from the Wile E. Coyote playbook... granted, we don't usually see Wile E. actually preparing plans or a blueprint that he's working from.  We usually only see the moment when he sets his Rube Goldberg wannabe contraptions into motion, or we (at least once) see the finished blueprints if it's an especially complicated ruse involving at least three different stages or moving parts.  OR we see all the empty Acme crates with the various parts involved... I think that's it.
Now, if you're at all like me (scary thought, I know), you've sat through all this planning and scheming and using of surveyor's instruments from the building across the way... and for what?  Why, for Sly to swing across the street from a rope, Tarzan-style!  Terrific.  Anti-climax personified.  I guess climbing back down the drainpipe is the ex-cape route, even though he actually hasn't done that yet.  Well, at least he's not stuck in a tree, waiting for the Fire Dept. to come.
Still, even the seemingly simple act of swinging on a rope does involve planning if you're wanting some precision in the landing, instead of just good old-fashioned terrifying fun... say, like Chris Farley in Black Sheep.  Not so here; Sly is intending it as a tool.  No more climbing up the drainpipe, no more costumes, just getting the job done will suffice at this juncture.  Wonder how it'll work out?

EPILOGUE

EIGHTH ATTEMPT: Tweety expresses concern for the physical well-being of Sylvester, which is sweet.  His concerns seem a little gratuitous, admittedly... I mean, this is his, what... third or fourth fall from a four-story window now?  No crutches, no sick days in bed... just right back at it.  In fact, notice there's no fade to black this time!  I guess the filmmakers knew it would go way way over a seven-minute runtime if they had that.  But there is a certain finality in the way the orchestra holds the last note of Sly's harried pacing back and forth at 5:54 or so.  This is, of course, when the next bit of inspiration strikes.
Sly runs over to the telephone pole across the street and begins to climb.  I hate to break it to you, Sylvester, but um... seems to me that the problem isn't in how you get up to Tweety's window, dude!  The problems seem to start when Tweety breaks out of the cage and runs inside the apartment!  But Sylvester is nothing if not a glutton for punishment, and if he's going to lose, he wants to do so with a little variety.
And so, here is Sylvester, walking the veritable tightrope that is the matrix of electrical streetcar cables above the city.  The flute player trills the notes to... Sobre las Olas!  That was my second guess.  And yes, it is asking way way too much for the IMDb to guess Canary Row when I type it in to the search field.  No, you're looking for one of The Cat and the Canary films, surely?
And of course, we can see the Friz Plaza Hotel in the background.  WHEN SUDDENLY... yup, here it comes.  A streetcar, and it's now become Sylvester's desire, pun intended, to get out of the streetcar's way.  Take note of who's piloting said streetcar at 6:18 if you dare.
Now, I really do hate to call B.S. on these cartoons for the tiddly-winkies.  I really do.  But they've painted themselves into a corner, plotting wise.  Even they try to have all the stuff conventional movies do: sharply drawn characters, good plotting, backgrounds pleasing to the eye, no pesky hairs in the projector's shutter, what have you.  So what happens is this: Sylvester hears the oncoming streetcar, stops in horror, looks behind him, then begins to run.  Maybe this is some child's game he's playing in his mind, like "The Floor is Made of Lava," but for some reason he can't just jump as the streetcar's electric wheel passes underneath him.  In his panic most extreme, it's all Sylvester can do to just keep ahead of the darned thing.
Now, cartoon characters don't abide by the laws we do.  They can defy gravity, keep getting killed over and over again, and suffer from extremely abnormal degrees of insanity.  And I'm talking to you, bumpersticker that says "I don't Suffer from Insanity.  I enjoy every blessed minute of it."  Lotta sick people out there.  But silly games like this?  Blatant plot devices?  No, no.  This simply will not do.  Meanwhile, Sylvester lights up the daytime sky, much like Yosemite Sam did in his office in Big House Bunny, I believe it's titled.
Again, try to ignore who's piloting the streetcat... I mean, streetcar at 6:35.  Lousy Second Unit work, guys.  Lousy Second Unit work.  Worse than 1941.  Next scene: it's Tweety at the streetcar's strange lever!  He no longer seems too worried about Sylvester's well-being, that's for sure, judging from his smiling demeanor.
"I taught I taw a putty tat!" (TM) says Tweety. (R)  "You DID!  You DID!  You DID taw a putty tat!" says Granny, who's operating the streetcar's bell.  I guess that explains her non-surprise at a talking cat earlier.  Man, was this one exhausting.

***
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

Auteur Watch - Dylan C. Brown

This seems vaguely familiar............  But I tell ya, when you get into the Snoop Dogg business, you apparently don't not want to be in it.  Now, sure, Mac & Devin Go to High School hasn't become a beloved series like Harold & Kumar just yet, but you get a certain kind of quality, life-long fan with a Mac & Devin type, like a salmon swimming upstream, spreading the gospel of MnD as hard and as fast as they can... actually, it kinda looks like Dylan C. Brown got out of the Snoop Dogg business after Mac & Devin.  Maybe he was pissed about not being asked to do Soul Plane, or maybe he and his crew are hard at work on his 2019 project, whatever that may be.

Restricted State of Buzzkill

God, I kill me.  Well, there's all kinda news this week, as per the usual, but I'm telling you, did I have a dream last night.  Ah, dreams, that in-between realm where, if you're a habitual watcher of Hollywood-type movies like I am, the line between movie and audience member is quite porous, indeed.  Now, I don't think I've had a dream quite like this before.  It's kind of hard to keep track of these things, but I seem to have this recurring dream where I'm driving in an underground tunnel shaped like a rollercoaster.  Part car wash, part rollercoaster, you know how it goes.
So, I'm dreaming that I'm watching a Nicolas Cage movie.  It starts where I'm in a bus station, a rather large bus station near my own home town, and there had been a mass shooting about three days earlier.  I was walking around, trying to avoid some bloody footprints, and there was a note left by the police on one of the walls, a half apology about not completely cleaning up the crime scene yet.  Then, I start following the Nicolas Cage character around.  He seems to be a David Lynch-type used car salesman (as opposed to the two Bobs Used Cars salesmen) and he picks up victims in his car... or he hitches a ride with victims, one of the two.  Again, the liquid reality of dreams.  But he always says to his victims, quasi-Terminator like, "I need your teeth, fingerprints..."  You know, that kind of alarming list.  Then, the punching starts.  One of the victims got some kind of caustic blue acid thrown at him, and while he was screaming in pain, he said "I'm gonna kill you if I get the opportunity!"  Very nerd like.  Then Nicolas punched the guy in the face, and the victim's two eyes turned into one eye.  A second punch restored his two eyes back to normal.  Incidentally, if the Zucker brothers want to use that gag for Scary Movie 6... have at it!  It's an honor just to be nominated.
...any readers left?  Okay, back to the box office.  Welp, the much ballyhooed sequel to 1996's Independence Day is out this week, in distant second place to the family-friendly Pixar sequel, Finding Dory and... oh, I think I know what the problem is.  See, the original movie was released dead center on July 4, and I think everyone thought, "Oh!  I thought that was out next week!  And where the hell's my man Will Smith?!!"  I guess he wanted too much money or something, or he wanted his kids to have prominent roles in it.  A fresh regret for a change.
But it's not all sequels and buddy pictures at the box office this week, folks.  It's really not... let's see, there's seven sequels, two not ashamed to have numerals in the title.  Now, The Shallows isn't exactly a sequel, but it does seem to be part of this new horror 'genre' of sorts.  I can't speak to it expertly like The Onion, of course, but take The Conjuring 2, for example.  These new glossy horror movies with B-listers in them... I know, I know, Blake Lively will get off the ground one of these days.  She's the new Ellen Barkin to me, only not desperate to show a little more flesh, apparently.  I mean, she did the poster for Showgirls in Sea of Love, for God's sake!  In a mere convenience store, if memory serves.
And the last debut this week is everyone's favourite stoner dude, Matthew McConaughey.  His latest is called Free State of Jones, which I was confusing with a Christian production from the TV spots.  Well, that's what happens when you fast forward past all these great commercials.  Things get compressed.  But when I slowed down and watched part of the ad... ugh... I saw one of the critical raves that said "Finally!  An adult movie for adults."  I forget the source, probably Army Archerd or Joel Siegel... are they still alive?  I thought that that was a strange thing to say about a movie... until I finally looked at the crew list on our old mischievous friend, the IMDb.  Love that billion dollar website.  I admit, they have been good to me over the months.  Anyway, I think it's like the time M. Night was pushing The Following, having the studio point out that it's his first R-rated pic... sorry, I mean, The Happening.  What did I call it?  I think it was about time-traveling alien shapeshifters who go back to Woodstock and... sorry, spoiler alert.  Anyway, the same logic is at work here with Mississippi Jones and the Revolt Within... I mean, Free State of Jones.  It's directed by Gary Ross, who's been dogged his whole career by being branded a Clinton-era pie-eyed optimist.  Even with the first Hunger Games!  Go figure.  Even with his kinda icky, oversexed PG-13 rated Pleasantville!  Go figure.  Well, all that's changed now with Jones.  It's like when Sam Raimi left TV in the '90s to become a bonafide A-lister director in the 2000s and beyond, only not as close to the Oscar as Gary Ross has been.  I mean, look at that Billy Zane-lookin' smilin' bastid.  It's your year, Gary Ross.  Oscar sweep.  I'm gonna come out right now and declare it.  Best writer, director, picture, caterer, it's in the air now.  Clean sweep time.  I can feel it.

(a little later) ... let me just take this opportunity to point out something.  Or rather, ask the question: what the hell happened to the Warcraft movie?!!!!  Guess they didn't offer enough incentives for the gamers.  That disappeared quick!  Zyzzyx Road quick!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Portraits in Role Reversal (spoiler alert): Tortoise Wins by a Hare

Our next Looney Tunes is another Bob Clampett masterpiece, Tortoise Wins by a Hare.  Sure, it's the same old Aesop's tortoise and hare story... or is it?  Spoiler Alert: I'd be interested to hear the opinions of engineers at the time, as it seems to represent a rare stab at the times' cutting-edge thinking about what Bugs and the turtle themselves refer to as "modern design and streamlining."  Mind you, this one's from 1943, while Rabbit Transit is from 1947, post-WWII, the year of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and all that, and they focus more on the action, and not so much on the mechanics of it all.

ACT ONE

I wonder why Bugs never fell off of the WB logo when it comes zooming up.  Work on that, JibJab!  Make it happen.  I mean, the thing comes to a sudden stop.  A real sudden stop.  Even Mel Gibson's stunt guy in Lethal Weapon 2 wouldn't be able to hang on to that!  I guess Daffy at the beginning of Gremlins 2: The New Batch will just have to suffice.  26th anniversary this year, you know!
Also, I'm real disappointed that there's no mini-doc or commentary accompanying this one on the DVD... maybe they're saving it for the Blu-Rays or something.  On the other hand, we don't have to suffer through another self-indulgent Kricfalusi commentary about how he was very personally influenced by this very cartoon by Clampett and all that.  I'm not denying that John K.'s a genius, I'm just saying he stole Clampett's style and added more veins to the characters' eyeballs.  That's all he did!  But, arguably, it was enough for MTV and Nickelodeon, so we can't argue with the success of bad taste.
Anyway, we start, as anyone who's read the IMDb "Connections" page for Tortoise Wins by a Hare, or who's actually seen Tortoise Beats Hare knows, with clips from Tortoise Beats Hare.  New voice-over narration, though!  We're treated to the parts you'd expect to be highlights, including the part where Bugs is skating along the ground.  This part is so enchanting, in fact, that they had to include the part where he passes the tortoise, up to but not including Bugs' massive double take and doubling back to where the turtle was.  The other major highlight is, of course, the part where Bugs crosses the old rope bridge across the chasm, then cuts it down with a knife, thereby influencing Temple of Doom... there's still only one, right?  Incidentally, why is George Lucas trying to add Indiana Jones' name to Raiders of the Lost Ark?  Does it really need to be standardized like that?  Was ANSI just that up in arms about it?  Inquiring minds like mine want to know... albeit not that badly, arguably, so on to the next thing.
As it happens, a frustrated Bugs is sitting at home, watching old home movies, thereby influencing, amongst many, many others, the Robin Williams character in The Best of Times.  God bless Dickens!  For that alone, this cartoon is a work of genius.
The part of Bugs' home movie where the tortoise is raising his front paws in victory at the cheering crowd, well... I'm pretty confident that that part wasn't in Tortoise Beats Hare, and not just because it looks more like a Clampett tortoise than an Avery tortoise.  You'll forgive me if I have a lapse and refer to the tortoise as a turtle.  I thought tortoises were brown anyway.  Ever seen a green tortoise?  ...I'll take this here page as proof that I'm right.  Ah, Sweet Nuggy Vindication.  Brought to you by The Green Tortoise Hostel in Seattle, Wurshington.  The Green Tortoise Hostel!  Because, let's face it, Uber and AirBnB haven't turned every be-goatee'd hipster into a fellow billionaire yet.
Oh, I've just never seen Bugs in such a state.  His fragile ego hangs in the balance.  Lord help him if his enemies Daffy or Elmer ever see this one!  Bugs spits out his mouthful of carrot, and he gives the projector a good swift kick, and a few seconds later we hear the one crash sound we always seem to hear in these here Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons.  Lol.  Lol, Larry David!  Lol.  Bugs makes the case to his unseen audience of one that, surely everyone knows that, despite the ending narration of Bugs' home movie, the rabbit is clearly the better athlete when it comes to these track and field type deals!  Bugs sounds a bit like Curly Howard, saying "Certainly!" like Curly, and especially so at 1:57 when he asks "How does that moron do it?!"  It all reminds me of the one retelling of Aesop's fable, where the rabbit wins the race in about four seconds, while the turtle's still at the finish line.  I think Aaron Sorkin came up with it, because the turtle said, amongst other instantly quotable lines, that he's never ever sick at sea.  Must've been Sorkin.
It doesn't quite feel like time for Act Two yet, but we're close.  If we say that Act One begins at about 0:25, when the narration begins (over the credits, no less!  For shame, Clampett... for shame) and the film ending at 7:40, just before the "That's All, Folks," Act Two should be at 2:50 and Act Three at 5:15... but who's counting, am I right?  This is art, not a widget.

ACT TWO

Next scene: as in Tortoise Beats Hare, Bugs is so incensed that he finds himself going right to the turtle's doorstep.  In Tortoise Beats Hare, we find the tortoise living in a tree... and apparently trying some extreme diet, as he slips out of his shell quite easily.  In Clampett's version, we get more cinematic touches: the close-up of Bugs knocking, then the wider shot of Bugs in costume, by the light of the moon no less.  If Bugs has ever been a more pathetic figure than this, well... I just don't want to know about it, frankly.
"Hello, old timer!" says Cecil when he finally answers the door.  But just before the door opens, Bugs quickly removes himself from his costume for the benefit of the audience, faster even than Mrs. Doubtfire, and then zips back in again.  Ah, the old Clampett insanity; never far behind.  Now, I'm guessing that either the screenwriter or the director of Tortoise Wins by a Hare probably had some bad run-ins with old timers of their own, perhaps a holdover from the Silent Era spinning wild tales about John Bunny and bemoaning how they couldn't quite make the transition to sound because a) well, they were too old, and b) the sound equipment made them sound like chipmunks... mostly because it was just their natural voice.  And so Bugs begins on the turtle, "Hello Johnny!  Tell me, Johnny... how come you always beat that rabbit?"  Boy!  One too many times being called Johnny by one of their elders, and they get a whole cartoon out of it.  Damn smart-ass whippersnappers.  So ungrateful.  Thank God there aren't sheets of ice in California, or they'd be shipping off old people by the baker's dozen out to sea every fifteen minutes, with some Hollywood tour guide telling tourists all about it, as if it's just another local custom or something.
Of course, there's something happening in this conversation between en-costume-ated Bugs and Cecil B. DeTurtle here, so I suppose we ought to comment on it.  First of all, you'll notice that the turtle doesn't seem to buy Bugs' ruse for a second.  And second, you'll notice that Cecil Turtle's drying a dish with a towel.  He then starts using Bugs' fake beard as the towel.  A level of disrespect that would almost be topped by that one Stooge film, Income Tax Sappy... see, there was a guy with a fake beard in it.  A fifty dollar beard, no less!  In 1954 dollars, that'd be like... a million today!  But back to the conversation.  Cecil Turtle swears that the reason he keeps winning the races with the rabbit is just plain old "clean living."
"That ain't the way I heared it, Johnny!  The way I heared it, you have a secret way of winning!" says Bugs.  Not quite the three times dynamic of, say, The Spy Who Shagged Me, but can't argue with results!  Cecil confides in Bugs the secret: modern design.  You know, streamlining.  Bugs takes notes with a typewriter concealed in his fake beard, no less.  Cecil pulls out a whole blueprint for the turtle shell.  It's not overloaded with secret easter eggs, apparently, but note the "North Orifice" and "South Orifice" for where the turtle's legs go.  Lol.  A little shout out to the herpetologists of the world, I guess.
Oh, but the turtle's not even finished yet.  Time to denigrate rabbits.  "They're built all wrong for racing," says Cecil.  Bugs types something down, of course.  "Those ridiculous ears," says Cecil, mimicing them with his hands, and making the tsk-tsk noise.  "Wind resistance, son, just wind resistance," Cecil concludes.  There's just no way to improve on that dialogue.
Bugs types a little bit more, and this time Cecil pushes the typewriter's carriage and slams his front door.  Bugs finally realizes the jig is up, just like Laurel and Hardy in Blotto eventually realize.
And then, Cecil delivers the final secret to Bugs: "Rabbits aren't very bright, either."  Oh, s'z'nap.  You can imagine how Bugs takes that news.  Is Cecil trying to say that all those years that Bugs has been fighting Elmer Fudd and various hunting dogs... that all those opponents were just dumber than Bugs?  And Bugs is just dumb?  Well, jumping up and down on his typewriter was certainly dumb!  Now, I hate to be critical of the animation at 3:14 and 3:15, but Bob Clampett raised the bar so high on cartoon lunacy, that it just feels a bit subpar in retrospect.  I'm flying without my Pinnacle Studio net here, but I think Bugs jumps up and down three times a second on his beard with the broken typewriter underneath, which would represent eight celluloid frames here.  Plus, he's not even mouthing Blanc's dialogue!  Lazy, guys.  Lazy.  Disney would never let something like that happen!  Never!
Next scene: ...personally, I don't believe Mel Blanc did the voice of the turtle.  Maybe he did, but it just doesn't sound like him... and I've been listening to his voice for most of my life now.  Anyway, in this next scene, he's got the added challenge of playing Mrs. Turtle!  Sure, it's just one line, not terribly crucial, bit of a token gesture, but still.  I think he nails it.  Okay, so they can't all be like the Girl Cat in A Gruesome Twosome, where they become the token fulcrum of the action.  And Cecil calls his old lady "Sweetie Face"!  More sexism.  Another slap in the face.  Anyway, Cecil muses that Bugs is "about ready for another race."  I'm put in mind of Ripley's Game for some reason.  Fade to black.
Next scene: fade in on night time.  We see a sign that says "Danger - A Twerp at Work."  This is the kind of detail that my insane grandmother might be able to speak to, but I haven't spoken to her in years, so it'll just have to wait... okay, my mom clarified it for me.  Why, is it just a mere play on "Men at Work"?  Well, that's the kind of thing that happens to us cinema worshippers.  We get blinded by things like, say, when the Stranger says "Course I can't say I seen London, and I've never been to France"... you know how it goes.
We pan up on a house, with light coming from the windows on the beat of the music, and sparks shooting up from the chimney.  Incidentally... I think the music is "Old Grey Mare Ain't What She Used to Be," and boy, did Clampett love that song.  He used it when the two cats don the horse costume in A Gruesome Twosome, and he named a whole cartoon after it.  Did I mention already at least twice that the opening notes of that one alone are laugh-out-loud hilarious?  Let me check... yup, I mentioned it here.  I mention it also here, just not the opening note.  Wow!  I didn't even call it iconic or anything!  Me proud of self.
And so, we hear what Bugs is working on.  Next scene: Bugs is hammering the finishing touches on his own air flow turtle chassis, made from good old Lockheed steel.  Bugs zips behind his green curtain to try it on... nice to know there's some modesty in this thoroughly indecent affair.  Bugs comes just as quickly back out with his swimming cap on to cover his ears.  Now, some of the more cynical members of the audience at this point will begin to scratch their heads... and you'd be right.  Oh, boy, will this role reversal in progress lead to future problems.
Next scene: a good old fashioned newspaper.  Note the headline in the lower right-hand corner that says "Adolph Hitler Commits Suicide."  Two years early, but it's definitely the thought that counts.  Mel Blanc acts as generic announcer here, and he seems to do that old Vernon Dent trick in the Stooge films where he says a little "Yeah..." before the massive double take.  Blanc goes "Hare races tortoise today.  Y... what, again?!"  Oh, he's so Jewish.
Next scene: a close-up of the pictures in the Chicago Sunday Tribunk... so corny.  The picture of the tortoise comes to live, thereby influencing the Harry Potter series.  The announcer says "The contestants sayyyyy....."  The tortoise, ever the cooler head, very diplomatically says "May the best man win."  I know, I know, it should be "species" instead of "man."  Anyway, Bugs quickly pushes the tortoise aside, then flashes a couple of ration cards... it's a Depression era thing.  Frankly, we should probably bring that back, what with all the junk food we have today.
Next scene: the very bombastic announcer says "The gamling ring sezzzzzzzzzzz....."  We see a group of rabbit gangsters.  The teeny one is the leader, of course, and he sets up the identity crisis that's about to take place.  Unfortunately for Bugs, his little race with the turtle now has gambling interests behind it, and the teeny rabbit mobster tells the press, and the public at large, "We don't even think the toitle will finish!  Do we, boys?"  The three giant gangsters dip low, saying, in Blanc's dippiest voice possible, "Duhhh.... no boss, no!"  Another one of those cinematic moments that, if it doesn't exist up in Heaven, well, it's Hell in disguise, no question about it.
Next scene: Bugs is warming up at the starting line, while the trumpet in Carl Stalling's orchestra plays... you know, that charging song that's typically played before a war begins.  Is it just called the "Charge" song?  Speaking of aimless wondering, Bugs begins to wonder where the turtle is.  Why, he even says so twice!  "Oh, uh... Speedy!" taunts the turtle.  Bugs does a massive double take; he just can't believe the pomp and circumstance he's seeing.  The turtle is held aloft by his adoring throng of fellow turtles, all singing "He did it before, and he can do it again."  Boy, the turtle's being kind of a di... kind of a Richard about this whole thing!
Of course, Bugs is not much better in terms of etiquette and manners.  Bugs gives the turtle a slap, causing the turtle's arm to... I can't even tell what happens!  The animation's just that fast.  Upon the fifth or sixth viewing, the turtle's arm spirals around his neck, covering up most of his face, then spirals back to normal again.
After all that, the race formally begins to begin.  It's clearly a self-refereeing affair, and even now Bugs feels the need to cheat.  "One for the money," says Bugs, creeping a little bit past the starting line.  On the count of four, as in that one where he gets Yosemite Sam to dive instead of himself, Bugs makes an extra bold move, disappearing towards the distant horizon to say the word "go."  The turtle seems to get some speed on his takeoff, but ends up slowly lumping along.  Boy, Bugs really needs some kind of extra advantage to win this thing.  Clearly.

ACT THREE

Okay, we're past the 5:15 mark.  There hasn't been much in the way of Clampett insanity yet, but they're saving it for the Third Act, trust me.  Bugs gets far enough ahead to make it to his special hiding place.  He gets his metal turtle suit out and slips into it, then carefully folds his ears and covers them with the green bathing/swimming cap.  As in Hare Ribbin', and probably others, the putting on of the swimming cap always takes the longest... didn't Daffy do that once?  Someone else look that up, will ya?
Bugs hears the turtle coming, so he hides in the giant crook of the tree.  The turtle lumbers past, then taunts Bugs a little more.  "Time's a-wastin', Speedy!" says the turtle to Bugs.  It's as though Bugs can't hide at all.  Bugs gets revved up with anger, then takes off, doing one loop around the tree for good measure.  Next scene: Bugs passes the turtle with a whirlwind of fury, spinning the turtle around like a top... how did Bugs get so far behind the turtle just now?
"Look folks!  Modern design!  WOO WOO WOO-HOOOOO!!!!" exclaims Bugs, channeling the spirit of Daffy li'l bit IMHO.  Next scene: our concerns from earlier finally come to fruition, as one of the mobster rabbits sees Bugs through a telescope and confuses him with the turtle.  "Hey youse guys!  Here comes the toitle!" he says.  I don't think that was Mel Blanc.
And what sort of devious mobster trick are they going to use to trip up Bugs?  Well, they alter the paint line in the road, of course!  Now, I'm no historian, but is this the first incident of that happening?  And did Wile E. Coyote ever do such a thing?  I think he did ... just double-checked.  At 3:22 in Fast and Furry-ous, Wile E. paints a long, long line to a desert mountain wall where he paints a fake tunnel.  Here, the bunnies are less ambitious, painting a line to a grey brick wall a couple feet from the road.  But unlike Wile E., who still gave the Road Runner a choice of path, the bunnies paint over the straight line and make it look like there's only one choice of road.  Devious and clever!
Back to Bugs who, oddly enough, is now carefully watching the lines of the road while running at 530 miles per hour.  A bad choice for several reasons.  And as predicted, Bugs makes the turn right into the wall, thereby influencing a similar scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Eddie Valiant makes Bizarro Jessica run into a wall the same way).
Next scene: Bugs is lying unconscious on the ground; the orchestra tells us so.  He's got a happy, dazed smile on his face.  No more cares in the world except recuperation.  In lieu of a pair of pliers and a blowtorch, the rabbit mob just hold down Bugs and hit him in the face with a simple cartoon mallet, much like one would use on the Test Your Strength carnival game of the time.  You might notice that no one's holding down Bugs' right arm, but never mind.  Bugs is a gentleman if nothing else, and he accepts that he's being attacked... at least, to a point.  After getting hit in the face twice with the mallet, he objects to the confusion.  See, the not-very-bright rabbits are confusing him with the turtle for some reason!  Must be the metal shell and the visible lack of bunny ears.  "Toitle, schmoitle!  I'm the rabbit!" screams Bugs.  This threatens to go on for the rest of the pic, until...
Next scene: a slight pan to the right, and there it is.  The role reversal is complete.  "Yup, that's the toitle all right!" says the turtle, munchy-wunching a rather large carrot and dressed in a lame bunny outfit.  That must be one of the golden rules of role reversal comedy: the lamer the outfit looks, the funnier it is.  I guess green rabbits are more common than people think.
"HOORAY FOR THE RABBIT!" the mob rabbits exclaim, cheering on Cecil as he lumbers back into the race.  Someone in the audience (who sounds a lot like Mel Blanc) yells "That's my boy!"  The Closed Captioning missed that one, alas.  Next scene: we get a two-layer background of Cecil in his bunny costume.  The foreground has a layer of weeds going by slightly faster than the road.  "I told you rabbits aren't very bright!" Cecil says to the audience, and he takes another big bite of carrot.  Lol.  Back to Bugs, who proudly pushes his way through the stupid audience, and takes off to finish the race his way.  The mobsters shoot at Bugs with a machine gun.  When that doesn't work, they lob some shells at him in rapid succession.  More lol.  Dayamn, them rabbits is cold-blooded!
Next scene: Bugs is about to pass the turtle again.  The turtle does a very elastic double-take, then moves as fast as he can in his ad hoc rabbit costume.  Dayamn, look at that little fat boy move!  The long shot of the two of them begins at 6:41.  The background here is moving a little bit slower than it did at 5:38 or so; must be all the bullets and shells slowing Bugs down, huh?  Do like what's his name said: aim for the head, guys!  Aim for the head!  G. Gordon Liddy, that's it.  I remembered that he was in a turkey called Adventures in Spying.  I'm almost loathe to bring it up because, well... check out writer-director Hil Covington's résumé.  See, you need at least two blockbusters before you start acting like Spielberg.  But who knows?  Maybe he's teaching at USC now.  Three months of principal photography on one film can give you enough anecdotes to be a tenured film professor.
Anyway, either Bugs must be running really slow, or that turtle is going really fast, because Bugs just barely passes the turtle, yet still needs to take his verbal victory lap.  "Look folks!  I'm in the lead!" says a never more desperate Bugs.  Talk about a nightmare for poor ol' Bugs.  But, that's dreams for ya.  You're either naked in school, or you're trying to run but just can't seem to take a second step at all, or you find yourself going down the highway at 70 mph while sitting on a square-shaped skateboard with shopping cart wheels.  That's what I usually do in dreams.  No wonder I never seem to hurt my hands when I push the ground for more speed.  Weird, right?
Clampett's artfully careless direction has Bugs disappear off screen Stage Right, then the scrolling stops.  Bugs should've re-entered the frame, then zipped across the screen from right to left quickly.  I tell you darlings, Disney would never let a slip-up like that pass by... probably.  I can't vouch for all his cartoon work, frankly, except that one about Poseidon and his treasure chest of topless mermaids.  Total WTF-fest, I'm telling you.
Next scene: another gaggle of bunny gangsters is waiting at the finish line.  A Mel Blanc-voiced idiot scout gets them ready for Bugs.  He does still look like a turtle.  And then, within mere centimeters of the finish line... BANG!  A group of rabbit gangsters is pushing back on Bugs, while two bunnies go to work on Bugs' shell with a mallet and a knife.  Strength in numbers, folks... oh!  And one's got a truncheon?  Never noticed that before!  Clearly I didn't pay close enough attention to such details during my VHS phase with this one.
The duo from earlier that repainted the road run over to Cecil and carry him over the finish line.  Now, some of you in the audience might be tempted to hold this cartoon aloft as either anti-union or pro-state rights... aren't those both the same?  Bear in mind, though, that this is illicit gambling funds at stake here, not union members' pension funds, Social Security and Medicare we're talking about.

EPILOGUE

Cecil is held aloft at the finish line, and he gives the audience the OK sign with a wink.  Who's the star of this pic anyway?  "Hooray for the rabbit!" the mob rabbits cry again.
And so, when the pushing and shoving comes to a stop, the hidden truth is finally revealed.  Bugs starts crying and literally ripping his metal turtle suit off of his body.  "I'M THE RABBIT!" he cries out.  Why, he even sticks his cottontail in the four mob rabbits' faces!  Lol.  "Eh, now he tells us!" the four of them cry.
Then, the gangster on the left puts a gun to his temple and pulls the trigger.  The other three have their heads in line, and they all fall down, instantly dead... thereby inspiring a similar scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade... you know, where Indy jumps onto the tank and,... ah, never mind.  Is it creepy that I remember that?  I thought so.  If you notice, Bugs reacts when the trigger is pulled.  He's horrified as much as the rest of us, but not more so than today's TV censors, as the cartoon is now typically faded out before the gun goes off.  Maybe the NRA made that call, who knows.  You'd think they'd be in favour of more guns on TV!
Anyway, as I should've said up at the top, for all of you Shrek fans and, to a lesser extent, fans of the Hoodwinked! series, put Tortoise Wins by a Hare in your bong and smoke it!

*****
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

Auteur Watch - Dwayne Buckle

Boy, but being a sound recordist is hard.  I learned that from Living in Oblivion, having to get background noise, getting the egotistical cast and crew to shut up for a second... thankless work.  Such is the case with Dwayne Buckle.  But when you work with the wide range of directors that he does, you can't help but think to yourself... aw, hell, I could do that!  Get someone else to operate the DAT for a change!  And so, we get films like Cybornetics.  Now, sure, you could be cynical and ask 1) shouldn't it be cybErnetics? and 2) isn't it a ripoff of, 2009's Surrogates, for one?  Alas, there's no review to work off of.  And they probably wouldn't do their due diligence and just say, oh, well, Buckle worked as a sound guy, and the sound in Cybornetics is excellent.  And it seems to have informed his storytelling, but do all the characters really need to keep dropping spoons all over the place?  And isn't the big finale reminiscent of what happened to Venom in Spider-Man 3?  (Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 for when they do the remake)

Blue Tang Clan

Surprise, surprise, the guest appearance of the cast of Finding Dory on Jimmy Kimmel Live... and a few other promotional outlets... and Pixar's latest juggernaut is #1 at the box office, crushing all others in its wake.  And, of course, co-director Andrew Stanton is especially pleased, because the stench of John Carter (of Mars) is almost behind him.  A couple more Pixar hits and you'll be all back to normal!
...boy, but Google Chrome can't handle the IMDb today!  Excuse me while I put Chrome out of its misery... there we go.  The only other debut this week is called Central Intelligence, and it's all part of Kevin Hart's proverbial Reign of Terror atop the Box Office.  If you're sick of him and his success now, well, too bad, because he's got another ten years to go at least.  In the Ride Along movies, Kevin plays the fish-out-of-water working with his cop brother-in-law.  Now I'm probably being cynical, but is Central Intelligence basically the same plot?  And does the poster really say "A Little Hart, A Big Johnson"??  Well, if "The Rock" is okay with it, I'm okay with it.  It's just that...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Buzzard Feed

...man, but I'm still behind.  I've only got seven left to catch up on now!
Our next Looney Tunes is another adolescent favourite.  I would watch this one over and over on the old VHS for some reason, because hey.  I knew how to work the VCR, and this is what I chose to use it for.  I could've done something noble, like help to bring down Sun City and the evil South African regime, or try to apply to the Juilliard dance program, but Looney Tunes it was.  Which brings us in our usual roundabout way to the next Looney Tunes, the Bob Clampett classic Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid.  Hey, save something for "Put a Clampett on It," huh, guys?
Now, sure, some of you probably don't think much of Boid, despite the lewdness promised in the title, and sure, it's probably not Clampett's zaniest work, but... ah, let's just get into it.

ACT ONE

Now, Mel Blanc was the man, of course, creator of many of the, um... most recognizable cartoon voices, possibly ever... Heathcliff, Barney Rubble, and a few others not worth mentioning... I was trying not to use the word 'icon' or any of its variants for once... DAMN IT!!!!
...what was my point again?  Oh right.  Well, as good as Blanc was, sometimes you just need a second voice or two.  For as with the greats like Harrison Ford and Robert De Niro, Blanc had a limited range, and he just couldn't do a Goofy-ish voice as well as others.  Clampett knew this, and employed the other voice actors we get on his films, such as BoidKent Rogers plays the black sheep of the buzzard family, and Sandra Bernhard... I mean, Sara Berner plays the Italian matriarch of this group of buzzards.  Incidentally, Blanc doesn't get credit at the beginning of this one!  Must be one of those contractual anomalies again.  Either Blanc gets the full and only credit for the voices, or he gets none.
In the background under the credits, we see an impossibly thin outcropping of rock, stabbing the sky as it were.  Once the words and union credits fade out, BOOM!  We zoom up incredibly quickly to the top of said thin mountain, Clampett style.  We see the mama buzzard and her four sons.  Note that you can't see the face of the one on the left.  And yes, that's deliberate.
The mama buzzard is planning dinner, and she gives each of her buzzardlings orders for what to bring home for supper... now, before all my bird friends from the Environmental Science program get all up in arms... or wings, as it were (drumroll)... and sit there, furiously emailing me back and screaming, "But, The Movie Hooligan!  First of all, just call the babies a 'chick', not a 'buzzardling.'  Jesus.  And second, they look more like a red-headed vulture than a buzzard, and third, they forage on roadkill.  They DO NOT selectively go out and pick from such a wide variety of animals."  Yes, I know, I know.  The red-headed vulture's got the white neck ruffle, black feathers, and semi-pink head flesh of the birds that populate Clampett's whimsical romp.  Alas, Warner Bros. didn't have extra employees in the cartoon department to make sure that the animals were correct, Linnaelically.  (Jesus)  But this is the premise we go in with.  Clearly, cinematic storytelling standards were poor at the time.  How will our children's children ever forgive our trespasses?  And yet, they love Fred Fredburger.  What an age we live in.
And so, the three Italian alpha males each take off in succession and, beaming with pride, Mama Buzzard watches.  She does a massive Clampett double-take when the fourth doesn't take off in similar fashion.  "Why, Killa!" she scolds.  "Get a move on... SCRAM!"  Needles to say, the black sheep, aka Beaky Buzzard, doesn't wanna go.  We've all been there, folks, admit it.  After all, families aren't robot farms, are they?  The Duggars, for example... okay, bad example.  Let's move on.
"Well, at least go out and get a rabbit!  Or something," the mama buzzard pleads.  How those other three could get anything larger than a rabbit, I'll never know.  Must be that pesky Cartoon Physics at work again.  Beaky still doesn't want to go out.  We've all been there, folks.  One swift kick in his buzzard behind, and Beaky is out in the world... dayamn, but that's your million dollar tough love right there, as Letterman might say.  And unlike the veritable jets his brothers are, Beaky sputters his way out into the sky and, thinking he's still on the ledge, pleading to his mother's breast, Beaky eventually realizes his predicament and plummets to the ground.

ACT TWO

...or does he?  Beaky may not be as fast as his counterparts, but he can at least stay aloft.  (I once heard that birds suddenly taking off flying in the air is bad for their hearts.  I think it was about ducks.)  And so, to the tune of ... 'Arkansas Traveler'... yes, I had to look it up.  Sad... Beaky takes off and scouts the landscape for that rabbit of his marching orders.  Screenwriters take note: there are no accidents.  Everything's done for a purpose.  This is still a Bugs Bunny picture despite all evidence up til now to the contrary, and if it's rabbit Baby wants, rabbit Baby gets.
Spoiler alert: at the end of a long trail of tracks, boom.  There appears to be a rabbit-like creature on the ground far below.  Again, another massive double-take.  Clampett really really loved those.  You don't even need a character to do a double take!  The freakin' camera can do it for you!  Reminds me of that one in An Itch in Time... that's the one, isn't it?  The one that causes the flea to scream "T-BONE!!!!!!"  Love that one.
And so, at 1:59, Bugs' close-up starts.  Sure, technically, a few seconds before, but it's from afar, and it was probably a stunt rabbit.  Why waste an A-lister on a wide-angle shot, says Hollywood?  We pause for the corny joke on the cover of the red book Bugs is perusing.  Just something about that desert sunlight, I guess, that must be ideal for reading.  Next scene:... I don't use enough paragraphs, do I?  Next scene: normally, we'd see the predator sneaking behind trees in a forest, but we're dealing with a buzzard, so we get their equivalent: sneaking around in a clouds.  Something whimsical about that.  This is the kind of seemingly mundane thing I'd nevertheless find myself rewinding on me old VCR tape... you know, just because I could.  Beaky tiptoes between clouds, with xylophone accompaniment, of course.  Incidentally, best Scrabble(TM) word ever, second only to maybe 'quiz', and of course, Scrabble(TM) itself.
Beaky pokes his head out of a cloud, and gets cloud on his face... thereby creating Mr. T 40 years in advance?  Oh, I still think so.  Now, up til now, Beaky's been shown to be a cowardly weakling, but when he occasionally puts his mind to it, he actually does have the speed of his stronger, more Italian brothers, and Beaky swoops down upon Bugs with equal fury and plane noise.  However, Bugs does notice, gets surprised by it, and quickly ducks back into his hole in the ground.
Bugs soon re-emerges, however, to make fun of the buzzard, of course.  Typical.  ... oh, I almost forgot to mention the nod to what would eventually become the trademark of NBC (2 L8 2 Sue?)...  So Bugs is one step ahead, as always, and makes fun of the doofy buzzard.  Typical.  But Bugs does call the buzzard 'B-19,' which Donald Trump surely would appreciate.  Might as well be called the biggest of something in this life, right?  Yolo, kids... yolo.  Bugs pretends to be an air-traffic controller, probably for way too long, and soon enough... yup, Beaky crashes right next to Bugs with a resounding crash noise.
Just as quickly, Bugs loses the ATC gear, and slowly examines the seemingly dead Beaky Buzzard, munchy wunching away on his trademark carrot.  Bugs touches Beaky's tail, perpendicular to the ground, and it goes to the ground with yet another resounding crash.
The buzzard eventually comes to, Bugs having asked of him his usual "Eh, what's up, Doc?"  And then... well, let me put it this way.  As its IMDb "Soundtracks" page helpfully informs us, Beaky aka "Killer" informs us, and by extension, Bugs, through song.  "Blues in the Night," but with special lyrics... doesn't usually happen that way, except in What's Opera, Doc?, for one.  And, of course, the page contains spoilers.  Thanks a lot, the IMDb!
But before it can become a complete musical, the singing stops as quick as it started.  "Eh, what is it you're looking for?" asks Bugs.  He should really be more careful when he talks to strangers about dinner.  And then... boy!  I thought the Stooges were bad about stretching things out.  Beaky Buzzard tries to remember what his momma told him to git.
Now, fans of animation like me will surely appreciate when Beaky cocks his head and says "OH DON'T TELL ME NOW, DON'T TELL ME" and we can see the underside of his beak.  Creepy, I know, to like that kind of thing, but I'm sorry.  It's just the way God made me.  Beaky quickly returns to trying to remember what he was supposed to get... a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.  Oh wait, that's Sesame Street.  God, I love Jethro Tull.  Anyway, once again, this film is full of little surprises, and Beaky instantly goes from harmless oaf to DEFCON 3, grabbing Bugs by the neck and saying "It's a rabbit!  A-hulp!"  Beaky's wings double as human-like hands at times, usually when the occasion calls for them.
As Bugs often does, he makes another plea for a little civility in this game we call life.  Bugs' ruse this time is to escape, under the guise of "tidying up a bit foist."  "Hot diggety!" says Beaky.  LOL.  We then hear the sound of a shower and... well, as much as I hate to disagree with the folks over at Closed Captioning International... I do realize they're awfully busy, and can't be expected to fix every little thing that someone notices, but I beg to differ on their intoipritation of Bugs' new lyrics, changed slightly for the occasion, for "Blues in the Night."  Now, what I heard was "Ta duh dee da duh duh... a buzzard is two faced... a goony old ting that'll leadja to sing, 'A Hoey d'Hoey.'"  Gesundheit!  (someone say that for me, woodja)  The CC people skipped over the 'Hoey' part completely, probably for the best, but their interpretation of the middle section was "a dirty old thing that'll eat you to sing"... WUUUUUUUUUUTTTTT???!!!!  EAT you to Sing?  I've never even heard of that.  And while they're at it, can they fix the menu of Volume One?  I'm getting tired of having to select Feed the Kitty to get to the rest of the shorts.  And get me a Blu-Ray drive for my desktop; we went the Cheapskate route when ordering it from the local place; I knew we should of... have just gone to Costco.
Ooh!  Almost forgot to point this out.  Talk about sloppy animation.  This is why Disney's stuff is so beloved.  He NEVER would of let... would have let something like THIS slip by his QA people.  I mean, look at Beaky's blinking eyes!  LOOK AT THEM!!!!!  LOOK UPON THEMMMM.... a little double line/tracing line action, methinks!
Next scene: ...well, it's actually the same scene, actually.  Beaky listens to Bugs' lyrics, and begins to grow suspicious.  Not so much at the personal insults within them, but more that he just can't see what's going on.  Beaky confides in the audience that he thinks Bugs is trying to trick him, then goes "Shhh!" to the audience.  Now, that's the star's confidence right there, even though he's playing the bad guy here in Bugs' picture.  Kinda like Bogey in The Return of Doctor X... sorry, that's the only example I can think of from that era.  And so, Beaky reaches down into Bugs' hole in the ground, and the singing stops... love the animation of just Beaky's feet.  I guess there's just little rewards like that in this pic.
Now... I keep thinking of what Evan Wright said in 1992's Mistress.  Personally, I think it short-changes the whole purpose of cinema a little bit, but I can see how the Mamet-ian crowd, for one, would find some truth in it, and certainly brevity.  Same complaint lodged against "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" in Sullivan's Travels, really.  Not enough sex.  Wright's line was "People go to the movies to be titillated by sex."  The problem with Clampett's Looney Tunes?  Too MUCH sex!  Or maybe I'm just that prudish.  Bugs emerges from the rabbit hole in a shower cap and towel, dripping wet.  Most noticeably, he's got quite a lot of lipstick on.  In the most girlish voice he can muster, Bugs says to Beaky, "You naughty, naughty boy!!!"  Beaky turns red and gets all sheepish and sh... stuff.  Bugs then rolls up his towel and thwacks Beaky right in his be-feathered ass, and exits Stage Left.  Bugs exits Stage Right.
Things get ultra-kinetic at this point, as they sometimes do in Clampett affairs.  Bugs hides behind a rock, and Beaky reappears, trying to find Bugs.  He just knows that Bugs is close, but doesn't know exactly where.  Bugs then grabs Beaky and plays with Beaky's giant Adam's apple, to which of course we get that AYE-YIY-YIY sound, called "haunting" by some.  They say it was done with trombones... hmm!  Wonder why the Myth Busters never tackled that one.  It's one secret that Hollywood keeps close to its vest, one of the few secrets it has left.  The pie fight from Dr. Strangelove is a whole other beast altogether.

ACT THREE

...I suppose it's a good time for Act Three.  It had to arrive eventually.
And so, Bugs decides it's time to just get the hell out of there, and put as much distance between himself and the buzzard foe hanging around like impending danger.  At first, Bugs hops his ass off, much like in Tortoise Beats Hare... one part of it, anyway.  Also, in Tortoise Beats Hare, Bugs starts skating along on the dry ground, but while on all fours.  Here, in Boid, he's mastered the art of skating along on the ground on his two hind legs, and quite leisurely at that!
Again, he misunderestimated the oft-hidden fury in Beaky's flight.  We hear the approach of what sounds like a jet plane, and soon enough, Beaky comes streaking by, picking up Bugs in its huge yellow feet.  Beaky's force of flight is so powerful, in fact, that the music gets drowned out by it, and starts up again in the next scene.  LOL.
Next scene: we get a mash-up of 'Arkansas Traveler' on queazy trombone AND the 'Over the Waves Waltz' by Juventino Rosas... I actually didn't know that until looking it up on the IMDb just now.  Wotta guy.  Clearly I've let you down, Dear Reader.  Better just stick with The Village Voice or James Bernardelli's ReelViews Dot Net from now on... I'll give you a minute to switch over... sure, it's not as epic as, say, the time they combined The Police's "Every Breath You Take" and the Peter Gunn theme on that one episode of "The Sopranos," but few things are.
Bugs eventually opens his eyes, realizes what's happening, stops his cross-country dirt skiing and goes limp.  Hmm!  Mr. Fudd's bear attack playbook!  Go figure.  Bugs then gets a silly idea.  Bugs plucks one of the buzzard's rudder feathers from its ass, making the Clampett "BYEW" noises, of course.  Apparently, it was Beaky's lone tail feather.  Bugs then starts ticking Beaky's tummy.  Beaky starts laughing, of course.  Also, the Carl Stalling Memorial Orchestra, before they were called that, starts going nuts in their own right.  The xylophone player seems to just rake the spherical hammer back and forth across the xylophone's various keys.  I'm telling you!  The orchestra had more fun on Clampett pics than anyone else.  I can't prove it yet, but the anecdotal evidence is there in spades, believe me... oh, crap.  Another Trump-ism.  I'll be glad when this damn election's completely over.
Next scene: Bugs clearly has cut off his nose to spite his face... something like that.  Or has he jumped from the frying pan that Mama Buzzard had at home, and into the fire of FALLING TO THE GROUND VERY VERY FAST.  This throws off the whole pattern, as the big tumble usually comes right at the end, like that one with Bugs and the big, sad hunting dog, sans the tiny barrel of whisky round its neck... I'm pretty sure it's The Heckling Hare.  Gotta wait til Vol. 2 for that one; figures.  Or Falling Hare... it's right there in the TITLE, for Gawd'z zake!  Bugs, still holding the tailfeather, finally realizes he's falling, and tries to screech to a stop.  He loses the black feather at that point... bet a couple of the animators were relieved at that.  Editor's note: we cross-cut between Bugs falling and where on the ground he's apparently going to land.  Note the bones and flowers... and yes, the scene was filmed at noon day when the sun was egg-zactly overhead.  Why do you have to be so picky all the time?
Next scene: the big landing.  Bugs is submerged up to his arms in the ground, and the assembled bones and flowers on the ground in front of him fly up into the air, and reassemble on the ground anew, much like the wood for Popeye's baby chair at the end of Axe Me Another.  Note the vibraphone on the musical score, used to signify disorientation.
Now, for those of you who've seen Harold Lloyd's classic 1925 comedy, The Freshman, what comes next probably won't be a surprise to you.  Thanks a lot, The IMDb.  Way to ruin another film for me.  And for those of you scrambling to check the rules of Cartoon Physics, well, you probably better go ahead and do it.  Because this cartoon so far is indeed in violation of the main law... or is it?  The law states that "any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation."  In Bugs' case, however, he was suspended by Beaky, so the laws of Beaky (AKA the "normal" laws of physics) take over.
Next scene: a close-up of Bugs, and you'll surely notice, maybe not right away, that there is now a half-eaten carrot under the ribcage in the ground.  Bugs feels around with his eyes closed.  He seems to be intact, but then he notices those bones in front of him.  I can't tell what that is on the musical score.  Stalling would use it a lot; is it an oboe or a flute playing in a register lower than normal?  I'm going to go with the latter; seems like flute to me.
When Bugs feels that carrot mentioned earlier under the ribcage, that does it.  Bugs opens his eyes and almost immediately starts crying.  "Gruesome, isn't it?" he says, in mid-cry.  So much for his chances at an Oscar.  But that's fearless Bugs for ya.  He doesn't go for the Oscar gold like those kiss-ass Disney characters always did... okay, one time.  And this other time.  But that's it!  That's REALLY it... okay, and What's Opera, Doc.  Anyway, Bugs keeps right on crying... and then, his feet slowly appear from under the ground.  I think this means we have to come up with a new rule of Cartoon Physics: a cartoon body will not create more work for the animators if it means disturbing a perfectly good painted background cel.  Now, the sequence in A Pest in the House when the guest's blanket is disturbed by a drunk, laughing Daffy trying to tell a (probably dirty) salesman joke, sure... the blanket gets re-drawn, but not the desert ground here.  Why, Bugs doesn't even leave a hole behind when he pops himself out of the desert ground! (spoiler alert)  Oh, and future thespian's note: Mel Blanc does about as good a job as anyone can do when going from crying to laughing.  Take that, Strasberg!  "Ah, I knew it all the time," says the cocky Bugs.
Next scene: Bugs is back to normal, walking along to Stage Right, eating a carrot.  Bugs looks behind him, as though he's expecting something... I guess I'll make another embarrassing confession here, as any good blogger worth his weight in Tabasco sauce should.  This caught me by surprise the first time I saw it.  Ah, these are the moments that filmmakers live for.  As it happens, spoiler alert, Beaky was hiding behind the tall cactus at Stage Left.  "Ah huh, NOW I gotcha!" he says, making a quick grab for Bugs.  Bugs and he wrestle around a little bit... and there's MORE things for the aspiring actor to take note of.  Blanc does a crackerjack job of making Bugs sound like he's in distress; the nervous laugh, the panic, what have you.  Now, the more jaded amongst us might notice the occasional dance pose amid the panic.  And then... the Carl Stalling drummer goes nuts, as he often does in Clampett affairs... again!  More fun than others!... and then, we get Bugs and Beaky dancing, to the tune of "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree."  HAH!  Take THAT, IMDb Soundtracks page for Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid!  Don't have THAT yet, do you?  Innit?
Next scene: they're still dancing.  Bugs asks Beaky "Why don't we do this more often?"  Beaky's reply is "You mean, just what we're doing tonight?"  Beaky blushes.  Another stab at the Hays Code.  Beaky's blush fades back out quickly, but in clunky chunks, rather than a smooth fade.  I guess the filmmakers didn't want to go to too much trouble on this one.
Next scene: back to the long shot.  Bugs dips Beaky low, holds it, then spins Beaky around, like a record, baby.  Right round, round round... but the record comes off the spindle, and acts more like a top, especially when he appears back in front of that damn skeleton again.  The callback?  Really?  I can completely understand now if you find this one a little bit underwhelming.

EPILOGUE

And so, the spinning Beaky Buzzard drills his way into the ground in front of the skeleton on the ground, where Bugs was a mere second ago, it would seem... and what's the deal with that, anyway?  You're telling me that hole filled in with dirt just as soon as Bugs popped out of it?  I kindly don't wanna picture that... Anyway, once Beaky's head unspins from all the knots in his neck... you know, from spinning around and what not... Beaky looks at the scene laid out before him.  Boy!  He responds to spinning around better than I do.  The older I get, the sicker I get from spinning around... yup, just had to test that out.  Scuse me while I throw up...
(later)  And so, in the tight spot he's in, Beaky plays his last lifeline... that show's still on, right?  Lord knows there's still people out there who want to be millionaires... and he calls his ma.  "Oh, MAAA!!!!" the poor guy wails.  The very next instant: Ma Buzzard appears, amid the sound of a bullet.  Ma looks at poor Beaky and panics, causing her neck frill to twirl. 
Forgetting that Bugs was supposed to be dinner, Ma asks Bugs what happened to her "poor little kid."  Bugs says "Keep your shirt on, lady.  The kid's okay" and pulls Beaky out of the ground by his neck to prove it.  Leaving that slight aside, Mama's just relieved that Beaky's okay and gives him a loving kiss.
Next scene: Mama is about to either tear Bugs a new one, or take him up to the big oven in the mountains herself.  But no, because we need one last plot twist, don't we?  "You are my HERO!" says Mama Buzzard to Bugs, then gives him a big kiss on the mouth.  Boy!  I never realized how elastic her beak is!  Bugs starts to blush, then turns into Beaky in his own way: his mouth starts to morph into more of a beak shape, he turns beet red and starts talking like Beaky.  Judging from the recording, I'd say it wasn't Mel Blanc, but that would've been interesting to hear him try that.  So file this ending along with Racketeer Rabbit and a few others that I can't think of right now... the only other one I can think of is Wabbit Twouble, but that comes in the middle after Elmer Fudd hammers a couple of boards over Bugs' hole.

***1/2
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

Auteur Watch - Dwayne Boyd

Whoa dude... ain't it always the way?  Dwayne Boyd's got about as lengthy a résumé as one could have, acting in about 3 projects a year.  Terribly busy!  And small parts in two YA smash hits will give you a legion of rabid fans that you'll never be able to shake... just remember, they're fans of success, not fans of yours.  Kinda like the vast majority of Dave Chappelle fans!  Owwch.  That was a little mean.
And yet, all this acting, and it's just not enough.  One must stretch and grow into different crafts.  Producing, writing, casting, self... sorry, now I'm just cutting and pasting, aren't I?  And so, after eight years of acting, it was time to try the director's chair proper.  Something called 4 Minutes.  Now let's check the reviews... can someone translate this page, please?  I think they're saying, I enjoyed 4 Minutes... it's good, just not Jerry Lewis good.
I'm going to skip over the beloved TV series "Castle Ridge" and just go right to his next project that seems to be headed for the sliver screen called Big Losers.  What can me say?  I'm kind of a fan of the genre.  You've got 2000's Loser.  You've got your 2010's The Losers.  You've got Mike Nichols' 2004 project, Closer.  The stars of which are certainly the photogenic cream of the crop, but they spend the movie just spinning their wheels, let's be honest.  Now we've got Big Losers.  I mean, hey, if you're gonna be a loser, might as well be big about it, right?... and there are no reviews of Big Losers.  That's terrific.  True to the title, anyway.  So it's time to go to the old Spielberg connection.  Well, Dwayne played a small part in the first The Hunger Games movie, and Jennifer Lawrence is slated to do a pic with Spielberg.  That's one way.  There's also the Billy Crystal connection.  That might be the more interesting way to go, and slightly less blatant.  Billy's connected to Spielberg somehow, surely?  Do they go to the same synagogue?

World of Demographics

Sequels continue to flood the box office this week.  Sequels and movies inspired by video games.  If memory serves, then... if then, am I right, programmers?  I know, I know, Java and C++ don't have the 'then' keyword.  But it seems to me that the video game called "(World of) Warcraft" has been around way, way longer than "Angry Birds."  And yet, here we are... it's 2016, and Warcraft only comes in at #2?  What gives?  Where's the energized fanbase?  They can't all be anti-big cinema Bernie supporters, can they?  Okay, I'll bite.  Who we got in the cast here?... Travis Fimmel.  Never heard of him.  Wonder if he went on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" to promote this.  He plays Anduin Lothar... you know, of the Hill People.  Well, that's one way to beat those Copyright Filter blues!  Clearly, these filmmakers don't know what they're doing.  Get yourself a Josh Duhamel or Gerard Depardieu as one of the Warcraft Elders... promote the hell out of it!
That's exactly why you get beat by Johnny Come Latelies like The Conjuring 2.  Oh, Vera Farmiga!  Playing a damsel in distress.  What happened, grrlfriend?  You should be playing the forever bad girl, as in 2014's The Judge!  And probably others.  Sure, you're filling in seats now, but what about that empty, aching void in my soul?
The last debut sequel this week is Now You See Me 2.  It's about magic.  It's also about Daniel... what's his name... RoebuckRadcliffe!  That's it!  It's also about Harry Potter trying to recapture that old Harry Potter magic.  His naughty appearance on that Ricky Gervais show, that naughty appearance in "Equus" on Broadway, I believe it was.  As long as he doesn't rob a corner grocery store, as so many other child stars before him and after, we'll be fine.
So there we have it.  The only thing in the Top 10 this week that's not a sequel, inspired by a video game, or a reboot for 3D 4K-1080P is something called Me Before You, and that's got Fanboy written all over it!  Ick.  When's Suburbicon coming out?

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Mutton: Impossible

Chuck Klosterman was recently on "The Daily Show" flogging his new book called "But What if We're Wrong?"  It apparently takes a look back through history at how people used to think the earth was flat, and how the sun went around the earth... basically, everything Tommy Lee Jones said in the first Men in Black.  Trevor Noah said he'd never read a book like that before.  Sure, he could've brought everything to a halt and said that he'd not seen a book like it since Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions."  Oh, but that was, like, fifty years ago?  What about the here and now?  We want to see living, breathing authors on our TV shows, not dusty, moldy-old books by, as Letterman might quip, some "dead guy."  But I'll spare you the thousands of dollars spent on my Master's degree and give you the gist of it: textbooks.  That's the pinnacle of the academia craft, it is.  Coming up with your own textbooks, with new, tough problems in it to solve.  But don't make 'em too hard, though!  Word will get around and no one will want to take your classes.
Which brings me in a roundabout way to our next Looney Tunes cartoon called Don't Give Up the Sheep.  According to its IMDb "Connections" page, this is the first of a series of seven.  I forget which one was a consistent Saturday morning favorite, but I don't think this one was it... probably Double or Mutton.  Great title!

ACT ONE

I guess when you invent a timeless character like Wile E. Coyote, you can't help but create a similar character, if only to get the hell out of the desert for a while.  But all the details can't be set in stone right away, for just as "Snake" Jailbird used to live at 742 Evergreen Terrace... oh, it's under "Goofs" instead of "Trivia."  Makes sense... so too was the sheepdog first named Ralph, but focus group testing found that, once the wolf was given a name, it just sounded better with the wolf as Ralph and the sheepdog as Sam, if only for the alliteration of one.
And so, we come upon a lush, green slice of paradise, spoiled only by the threat of unionized labour, and all the machinery it has inspired.  A time clock on a tree, for Gawd'z zake!  Getting paid for lunches.  Weekends off... wait a minute!  I'm not Mr. Burns!  Boy, this Fox News must be getting to me.  Anyway, Ralph Sheepdog greets Fred Sheepdog (no relation), the guy with the night shift.  Ralph's got the coveted 8 to 5 shift... and only slightly north of a baker's dozen sheep to guard!  Cushy!  Well, when you've put in as many years as Ralph, you gotta get something out of the deal.  Incidentally, as I've said once before, to any present and future comedians who might try to make yet another joke about it, we take Labor Day off because work sucks.  I know your job doesn't suck, and I know Tim Allen made the most cans, or whatever the hell he did at his first job, but for the rest of us who are in this for the long haul... we need a break.  A long break, and away from you, hopefully.
But no sooner does Ralph settle in to his shift, than along comes the reason for his job.  A wolf, sneaking along with tail in the air, tries to figure out a way to get between Ralph and the sheep.  The wolf imagines the sheep as cuts of meat on a plate, and licks the entire border of his muzzle in anticipation... hmm!  That kind of looked like a ham at 1:10, but what do I know?  Besides, every cut of meat dreams of being honey glazed ham, don't it?  Except beef, of course.
So this lone wolf is ready to act upon this lush field of sheep.  But Ralph is a fierce opponent one on one, so the wolf needs every advantage he can steal for himself in order to succeed.
First solution: the time clock proper.  Many have tampered with it, mostly to their detriment, but maybe the wolf will succeed where everyone else has failed.  Tick Tock Tuckered comes to mind, for one... that's the only one so far.
The wolf's plan is to disorient Ralph, and the clock, in rapid succession, falls on lunch, the end of lunch, then the end of the day.  Alas, peer review, in the form of the church clock, reveals the actual time... hmm!  The zooming in on the church clock doesn't pause at all for emphasis.  The zoom-in abruptly ends.  Boy!  You gotta be quick around here!  Anyway, Ralph quickly returns to his post to see the wolf carrying all of the sheep slowly away.  See, the wolf's problem is he got too greedy.  He tried biting off more than he could chew and... WHAM!  Ralph Sheepdog returns the sheep to the pasture the same way the wolf was trying to take them away.  I guess animators like to do that kind of stuff; makes the job a little bit easier, and it's funny.  But that's the Middle Class for you.  They don't want to cheat Father Time out of a full eight-hour day of work.  They're just trying to get by like everyone and everything else in his life, unable to buy the political favours that, say, the Koch brothers can afford.
We linger on the be-lumped head of the wolf, dazed, sitting in a hole in the ground, with little tiny sheep dancing around its head instead of stars.  Ready when you are, Raoul!
Next ruse: something a little less ambitious, but involving mimicry, bio- or otherwise.  We see the pasture, and then a small green bit of shrubbery... hoh boy... starts moving in quickly.  See, that's another problem right there... but I guess we'll ignore those for now.  Next scene: a close-up of the nearest sheep to this hot new tumbleweed on the block.  The shrub gets up next to the sheep, and the sheep looks over at it.  Lol.  And then... POUNCE!  The wolf/ghillie combo engulfs the sheep and starts making a fast getaway off the battlefield.  Maybe that's part of the problem, too.  Maybe the wolf should've moved off the pasture at the same cadence as it moved onto it.  But what do I know, I'm no tactician.  I'm an ass-nailer!  Gym four times a week, hour and a half plus stretching... I'm getting off track again.  So the wolf's walking away with the sheep inside his plant suit and... wait.  Was that something behind me?  The wolf has to stop to check his immediate surroundings.
As we can see, the sheepdog takes a perverse pleasure in mirroring the wolf's every tactic.  Not only does the sheepdog have a good tree suit, but the branch arms are functional as well!  With equal parts precision and brute force, the sheepdog delivers a real shiner to the middle of the bush.  Another head lump gets raised, stars emanating from it like lava from a raging volcano.  Just like in the last section we watched.
As with any first blow, the wolf is thinking, maybe it's just an accident.  The wolf continues happily along, dreaming of some great pasture-to-table sheep recipes and... WHAM!!!!  The second head lump.  Carl Stalling's orchestra supplies the same musical flourish for that one as well.  Okay, that was no accident.  The wolf only had one head lump after the first unsuccessful episode, and doesn't want to risk a third.  The wolf puts the sheep back, and it goes right back to munchy-wunching away at the grass, as though it didn't just become the wolf's dinner.  Clean mental slate, I guess.  I hate to think of sheep getting PTSD.

ACT TWO

Next ruse: surely Greek mythology can teach us all a thing or two about catching sheep?  The wolf spends some quiet time away from the laptop and the smartphone to catch up on some reading.
People always talk about how America needs more than two political parties.  The Greeks and Romans used to have more than one God, figuring that Mother Nature in general, and the world in particular, were very complex, multivariate places, and having one God control all that sh... stuff just doesn't make any sense!  Relegation, man!  That's where it's at.  Gods were much closer to man's image back then.  I can barely find my car keys, yet I'm supposed to manage all the beasts of the air and the sky?  I don't think so!
And so, drunk off the pages of history he's been reading, the wolf exits Stage Right, then comes back on Stage Left in the best Pan costume he can muster.  I guess he figured his legs were already hairy enough.  Alas, the world at large tends not to share the excitement about very specific subjects that one individual can experience.  The wolf gets up close to the sheepdog and... what can I say?  The older I get, the more I like reactions like that of the sheepdog.  It's kinda like Powell, Homer's brother, that one time... "So many conflicting emotions... how to express them?"  Sometimes you just gotta punch Homer in the face.  His brain can take it, after all, unless you're Drederick Tatum and can really throw a punch.
The wolf staggers off, and the floutist in Carl Stalling's WB orchestra has more fun than any flute player in a serious orchestra will ever have in their career entire.  Why, they're practically Ian Anderson in their peers' eyes!  They've been dining out on that story for years, how they were there at the recording session...
Next ruse: digging to China.  We're treated to the rather unsavoury view from the sheep's legs.  The wolf's head pops up in the distance, then darts back down again, as bad guys' heads tend to do.  Probing for weaknesses in the Status Quo is a never-ending task.  And so, the wolf gets busy digging a tunnel.  FINALLY!  A smart approach to this business of quelling the growling stomach. 
The wolf's claws are very suited to digging a tunnel quite quickly.  Boy, I'll bet his fingernails are dirty, though.  It always takes me a long time to dig a hole in the ground.  I don't know where he gets the speed and/or will to carry on.  But again, the wolf gets too greedy.  He probably should've stopped after one sheep, and picked one in the middle of the field, preferably behind other sheep that might go unnoticed by the sheepdog.  But they start vanishing in rapid succession, and quite loudly at that.  The sheepdog looks on in horror, as anyone would.  The sheepdog then runs down to the battlefield proper to investigate.  The sheepdog then disappears as all of the sheep did!
As usual, Carl Stalling's orchestra telegraphs in advance what's about to happen.  A roll from the timpani and... KABOOM!  Lol.  Boy, that wolf explodes a lot.  And so, the sheep get put back much as they were taken away, only a little bit faster.  Next scene: the wolf's putting all the dirt back, thereby closing up his network of tunnels.  He should be thankful!  No head lumps this time!
Next scene: Just as the Joker in The Dark Knight said to the assembled gallery's rogue... rogue's gallery of Gotham gangsters that they must "kill the bat man," so too does the wolf decide to take a rather nasty stab at the sheepdog.  Of course, he's still unable to do the deed himself, so he orders the solution from the Acme Corporation in the form of "one wild-cat."  Long story short, the wild-cat goes down the hill towards the wolf instead.  I guess it would've worked otherwise!  Perhaps the wolf should've climbed up one of the trees in the distance where it thought that it would be safe.  Oh well.

ACT THREE

Not willing to waste a good rope, the wolf's next idea is to try swinging down onto the pasture like Tarzan, and grab one of the sheep that-a-way.  The wolf's plan seems to work, and the flock seems to have grown considerably in number.  But why aren't we seeing the sheepdog's reaction to all of this?  Well, screenwriters take note: it's all to set up the next joke.  See, instead of grabbing one of the sheep, the wolf instead grabbed the... oh, skip it.
Next scene: the wolf finally realizes what's happened, but manages to make a hasty getaway and climb up the length of the rope.  Notice the large tree growing so dangerously close to the edge of that cliff.  Only in the cartoons.  And then... dang!  This cartoon's worse than I am!  Time for a tangential story thread.  The wolf saws the edge of the branch with the rope tied to it... I know, I know, harder and more satisfying than just untying the rope.  And then, when the saw finally makes its way through the whole branch, the tree shakes a little bit, just like in the Coens' True Grit, when Matty Ross cuts the corpse loose from the tree.  The wolf reacts when the sheepdog finally hits the ground.
And then... what's this?  Now the sheepdog's cutting down the wolf!  It's Screwball Squirrel all over again, folks.  I guess the gag hasn't been done quite like this before.  And with the way it all ends, I think they're trying to make comparisons between this wolf and Wile E. Coyote, but that's just me.  I'm tired of trying to say that they're two totally different beasts.  I give up.
Next ruse: underwater.  A sheep is having a drink at the nearby lake, and the wolf is there, ready to strike.  One reed for air, and he's ready to go.  Off he goes under the water towards his quarry and... yup, you guessed it, the sheepdog's also ready.  Well, it's near the end of the film, so time for some fireworks.  The sheepdog's poundings sounded vaguely like TNT, but now it's time to use an actual red stick of it.  The sheepdog drops one down the wolf's breathing tube, and apparently the wolf doesn't notice.  A few seconds go by and... well, what can I say?  I'm a fan of a well done underwater explosion.  The giant bubbles are a nice touch.  The only one that's funnier would have to be the time Yosemite Sam got trapped in Bugs' chewing gum bubble... Rabbit Every Monday, I believe it was.  Why that one wasn't on the first DVD is beyond me.  Wiser heads prevailed in these decisions, I guess.  And of course, the wolf makes like a downed sub or something, floating to the surface, then turning head down before sinking like a stone.  Daffy did a similar gesture, but said "Mother!" before slipping beneath the surface.

EPILOGUE

Now, before you go thinking that the wolf's got no speaking lines, well... you're in for a treat.  The wolf's last ruse is his most devious yet, and it involves... well, haven't I already spoiled this cartoon enough with my jib-jabbering away?  It's still less cruel than, say, Two Gophers from Texas.

***1/2
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan