Sunday, September 25, 2016

Before the Devil Knows You're Delicious

Ah, time for one of the staples of old Saturday morning cartoons, at least when I was growing up.  How many times we watched as the Tasmanian Devil swung from the high tree branch in his stylish new pink bubble gum netting.  Now there are those who swear that they hate DVD commentaries, and always have, ever since they were the old Laserdisc commentaries that reduced them to 30 minutes a side and quintupled the price, and who always will hate DVD commentaries forever and ever til the end of time, even when they become a staple on cable, and even when googolplexes start to provide free headphones where you can listen to hastily prepared commentary tracks from cast and crew while you're watching the movie in the theater!!!  Get on it, THX and company.  But for me personally, I found the commentary for Devil May Hare quite rewarding indeed, and I find that you need something a little extra to enhance the viewing experience.  For example, now I gotta re-buy everything on Blu-Ray and, eventually, Ultra HD Blu-Ray, at least when they get all, or at least a few of the major, kinks worked out.  They still kinda suck, you see.  And so, even though I should probably recuse myself, and because I don't have Bedevilled Rabbit on DVD, it's now time for Devil May Hare.

ACT ONE

As it happens, the off-handed remark is kind of a staple of Hollywood.  For those without the benefit of Jerry Beck's DVD commentary, here's the one that created the (Looney Tunes) Tasmanian devil in the first place.  The Looney Tunes screenwriters... yes, they did have screenwriters, and no, they didn't just plagiarize cartoon strips.  One of their tasks at hand was to come up with a new villain for Bugs.  They've tried everything: pirates, bandits, hunters, what have you... The story man on this one, Sid Marcus, made the off-handed observation that the only thing they hadn't tried was a Tasmanian devil!  Bingo.  Lights going off, light bulb over heads, etc.  The whole kit 'n kaboodle.  And so, much like Bugs does in Devil May Hare, the story men (and one chick) went to the old dictionary or encyclopedia to begin the hard work of research.  Don't you love stuff like that?  ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?
Of course, this is a motion picture for the tiddly-winkies age eight to eighty we're dealing with here, so a cinematic touch is needed.  Well, director Robert McKimson will just have to do in a pinch, seeing as how Friz Freleng's unavailable.  How Robert Clampett avoided creating this character is beyond me; I suppose because, when you get right down to it, everyone in a Clampett affair had a little touch of Tasmanian devil in them, and elasticity to boot.
To give you an idea of how scary and formidable this Tasmanian devil character is, the first animal we see zipping by is a bird.  Think about that for a second... We see Bugs emptying out a vacuum cleaner full of carrot ends, and he brushes the vacuum's contents out of the picture frame... the picture of sustainability.  Bugs wonders aloud for the audience what the deuce is going on.  And then, the big rumble happens... one still frame alone doesn't do the sequence justice, of course.  This is the best I can do for the moment.
And so, the entire zoo runs past Bugs' hole in the ground.  And, of course, a lowly green turtle is outrunning all the larger animals.  Bugs keeps asking them "Eh, what's up, Doc?" but the animals don't stop.  Bugs gets the turtle to stop in a rather harsh fashion, but can't argue with results, right?  Torture works!  Tee hee hee... turtle torture, anyway.  I know, I know, a bridge too far, but hey.  Why does the president's minions just get to use alternative stuff?  Alternative facts, timelines, rights... and so, Bugs finds out about the Tasmanian devil, and its current designation in society.  Of course, questions lead to more questions, so Bugs has to take the spiral staircase back down his hole in the ground to the library to find out more about said Tasmanian devil.
Next scene... now, for those who are fans of Bedevilled Rabbit, you might recognize this sequence from that cartoon.  But I would like to point out that the sequence here contains a slight zoom on the boulder, then we slightly zoom out on the rest of the sequence.  Of course, I'm reminded of the politically incorrect introduction of Injun Joe of Wagon Heels fame.  I dare say Injun Joe was a little bit stronger, as he split a whole mountain in half.  Another one I gotta wait until Vol. 5 for.  Still, Taz cuts a pretty mean path of destruction in his own rite or right.  He bores Taz-sized tunnels in two trees, has a brief stint underground, then officially comes to a halt, appearing only mildly dizzy.  I guess that's just the way he usually is.  Mother Nature has blessed him with a strong lack of dizziness genes.  And I hate to keep harping on this, but I slightly prefer Mel Blanc's introductory performance in Bedevilled Rabbit... better enjoy this YouTube link while you can, because it's now got a bullseye mark on its back and will be struck down by copyright lawyers very very soon.
Next scene: just as it will come to a shock to you that there's more to the movie Network (1976) than just Peter Finch giving the "Mad as Hell" speech, it will come as an even bigger shock to you that the Tasmanian devil has his quiet moments.  He gets downright deathly quiet as he stops by Bugs' hole and listens to the words coming from below.  "r.... s.... t!" says Bugs as he browses through his reference guide.
Next scene: one of the important establishing scenes retained from a childhood spent watching this one on Saturday morning, Bugs runs through the very, very long list of animals on the omnivorous diet of the Tasmanian devil, many of which just ran past the entrance to Bugs' survivalist-style bunker.  Listing lots of things is, of course, a long comedy tradition, dating all the way back to... John Cleese and George Carlin?  Ooh!  There's James Thurber's "The Story of O" as well; a childhood favourite of mine, incidentally.  And so, the Tasmanian devil has a few more surprises up his sleeve.  He's quite stealthy, having sneaked in behind Bugs while he was reading, and... spoiler alert... the Tasmanian devil is half-assed literate!  In between the spinning and the gorging, he's able to add one more item to Bugs' long yet incomplete list of animals on Taz's diet checklist.  I'll bet Taz makes a mean 25-meat pizza.  What I'm getting at is this: Taz writes "and rabbits" in Bugs' reference guide, and even kinda daintily dots the 'i'.  Taz continues to surprise!  Why, I'll bet WB could get a whole show out of this guy... wonder if it's on DVD at all.
Next scene: as is tradition in all Bugs Bunny cartoons that carry the label proudly, there has to be a moment when Bugs gets an eyeful of his adversary that he will spend the rest of the celluloid affair squaring off against, and says to him or her or, in this case, it... "Eh, what's up, Doc?"  The whole time, of course, Taz is wheezing and a huffin' and puffin'... you know, sometimes I get the feeling that Mel Blanc liked playing this Taz character fella.  Perhaps some of that enthusiasm carried right on over to Speed Buggy and Captain Caveman, for example... wait a second.  Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels?  Now, I'm no member of Focus on the Family or the Cato Institute, mind you, but that raises a few red flags for me.  But when you get right down to it, aren't all couples that way?  He's a caveman, she's a teen angel... let's move on.
And to be fair, Taz writes "rabbits" with a capital 'R'.  Okay, so he's not big on proper grammar.  And so, Taz picks up Bugs as though he were going to carry him across a threshold.  Almost touching in a way.  But Bugs is always looking about five to twelve steps ahead, and he knows that it's the threshold to the devil's stomach.  So what's Bugs' strategy here?  Well, it's basically a variation on a theme, but usually Bugs has to gain direct control of the situation.  He opens with a good hard hit with the carrot he was eating, saying "Put me DOWN, you baggy eyed devil!"  Say what you will, it seems to have worked.  Taz looks confused, and he seems downright domesticated for the moment.
At this point, Bugs tries reasoning with the Devil... Tasmanian, that is.  He starts by showing his very thin-looking right leg.  It's kind of the same argument that the "proto-Bugs" type said at the end of Hare-um Scare-um... indeed a different era.  Incidentally, that's the IMDb's phrase for the lead cwazy wabbit in that one.  However, I don't think that was Mel Blanc doing the voice of rabbit and hunter, but that's just my opinion.  I have no proof that would stand up, certainly not on a game show on the IFC channel... hmm!  Where did it go?  Didn't Chris Gore host it?  Wasn't Jason Mewes a guest panelist on it?  "Ultimate Film Fanatic," that's it!  Anyway, let's move on.

ACT II

And so, Bugs makes a deal with this particular devil.  Well, Bugs turned into one of the establishment eventually, as is poked fun at in his version of Duck Amuck and it's called... Rabbit Rampage?  Whatever.  Guess they ran out of titles that week.
And so, the characters have been introduced, the basic conflict set up... what more do you need?  Time for a long series of gags, right?  Something like that.
...okay, this is more like what I was trying to get at earlier, but I only had Paint Shop Pro at my immediate disposal.  Love that program.  Yes, the earth trembled as only the camera guys can make it do when the storm that preceded the tornado called Taz came to town.  But now the storm has arrived, calmed down, and is engaged in a battle of wits with the ultimate celluloid wit of our time, Bugs Bunny.  Pooh pooh it if you must, Max Schumacher, but it's true.
That being said, I dare say that Bugs has got a little bit of devil in him!  Trying to play that Tasmanian devil like a fiddle and what not.  So Bugs' plan is to help prepare a big meal for the Tasmanian devil... I guess eating trees and dirt can get a little old, but even the Tasmanian devil needs variety in the ol' diet, and a little fiber.  But Bugs is thinking at least three steps ahead, and... Daily Show time!  Gotta run!!!
Where was I?  Oh, right.  Under the ruse of helping Taz plan a meal of many courses, Bugs tells Taz that they're going to start with groundhogs.  Next scene: outdoors, ground level.  Bugs and Taz have shovels. "Okay, Doc, this is the spot.  We'll start digging for groundhogs," Bugs tells Taz.  And so, we're off to the races.  Taz puts his back into it, and digs to China with a shovel about a third as fast as he could by just spinning round and round like a murderous top.  Bugs starts shoveling in his own right, just not as quickly or as voraciously as Taz does, and yet Bugs is able to quickly cover up Taz with dirt, and adds a flower to the top of the pile for good measure.  You know, like a grave and what not... I mean, but dayamn!  Seems like Bugs has got some of the actual devil in him!  Same thing happened to Elmer in The Wacky Wabbit way out there in the desert, but at least Bugs felt a little bit guilty about that one, breaking the fourth wall and saying to the audience, "Gosh, ain't I a stinker?"  Not here.  The stakes against Taz are a little higher.  Once the flower is placed, Bugs says "And dat's dat!"  No remorse; Bugs' only regret is that he didn't use concrete instead.
Next scene: unlike Bugs' earlier pronouncement, that is apparently not that.  As often happens in these cartoonies for the tiddly-vinkies, cartoon characters can perform magic tricks with their own bodies.  Ever the Southern gentleman, Taz is now tapping Bugs on his turned shoulder.  Bugs turns around, and Taz quietly and deeply (deep voice) asks Bugs "What for you bury me in the cold, cold ground?"  Reminds me of the time Yosemite Sam asked Bugs "Why did you pour ink on my haid?"  Hare Trigger, I believe it was, the Friz classic.  Also reminds me of Chris Elliot in Cabin Boy, because in that, he would occasionally say something in as deep a voice as he could muster, but would quickly return to his foppish, Sandler-esque character.
Which brings us back to Taz, now standing on Bugs' chest, snarling and wheezing in that way of his.  But Bugs has a few tricks up his own sleeve, and he starts sniffing the air.  "I smell chicken!" says Bugs.  "CHICKEN?" asks Taz.  Taz has calmed down again, and Bugs must follow through on his ruse, having bought himself a little bit of time.  Why, Taz is far too respectful, frankly!  Bugs is now off to the side, out of Taz's view, and he whips up a thing that looks like a chicken, but as we can see from the ingredients list, it is in fact a chicken sculpted out of liquid bubble gum with a bicarbonate of soda center.  The background music at this juncture is a little reminiscent of the music used in Hal Roach comedies (at 3:08 or so).  Bugs is able to make a chicken out of this potentially explosive mess within a few seconds... seems like it always takes me a few hours to pull off the same thing, and once it's done, I always end up feeling like it's been a full day and I'm ready for a nap.  How's that happen, anyhow?  Daniel Goleman?  Antonio Damasio?  Any thoughts? 
Next scene: Bugs says "Luncheon is served! soived!" and rings a teeny weeny bell, which of course sounds like a giant church-sized tubular bell set.  Wherever Taz was waiting, he comes out of hiding and checks out what Bugs prepared for him.  After audibly fawning over the pink chicken-looking thing, Taz grabs it and eats it in one bite.  However, he seems to have a little bit of trouble chewing it, so there's Taz, smecking away, to the tune of "Mammy's Little Baby Loves Shortening Bread," a WB cartoon mainstay.  And then... the hiccups begin.  Now, Mel Blanc has played drunks before, and they're often falling-down, completely plastered characters.  Usually the stork that misdelivers the baby.  Then there was the time he did a voice-over for a live action short subject featuring an all-dog cast.  I believe his character said "I'm not drunk... >HICCUP<  ... I'm A drunk!!!"  But here, like Steve Martin and his 19 f-bombs in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Blanc has the unpleasant task of doing a lifetimes' worth of hiccups in one film.  Now, I don't know how Carl Stalling would've handled the incidental music for this scene, but I guess Milt Franklyn basically captures the mood... thereby inadvertently creating the ending for the Beatles' 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Now, for those of you who live and die by Adobe Photoshop and its increasingly numerous counterparts, you'll surely have an appreciation for the special effects involved in creating the illusion of an increasingly transparent bit of bubble gum.  The way I see it, this was done in either one of two ways.  1) They found a way to paint cels with a paint that could be done thin enough to see through, or 2) the more likely alternative, which is filming the bubble gum separately, perhaps on a green screen background, or maybe just black, then compositing the gum over the normal image with an optical printer.  The artists and camera persons involved were so good that the final effect looks pretty seamless; alas, they don't get credit at the top of the picture.
As for the plot, well... the day a character like Taz has to slow down and chew his food more properly is a day I just don't want to live and see... NO!  I AIN'T WATCHING IT!!!!!!!!!!
Next scene: fade-in on a (maybe Acme brand) portable life-raft.  Apparently, as the packaging would have us believe, all you have to do is pull the cord and the raft self-inflates!  Not enough self-inflating gizmos in my life, lemme tell ya; oh, the minutes I could've saved.  Anyway, Bugs takes this raft and dolls it up as though it were a pig.  Not one of the pink barnyard variety, mind you; more like one of those brown forest pigs, or maybe a black pot-bellied pig.  As always, in the now grand Looney Tunes Merrie Melodies tradition, Bugs makes it look like a pig with two ears and a tail made of green foliage.  Bugs uses black paint to paint a face on the front of the raft, and of course one eye is bigger than the other, thereby flying in the face of that Sesame Street song that starts "I've got two eyes: one, two.  And they're both the same size: one, two."
And now that Bugs has jerryrigged... I mean, manufactured his latest ruse, he kicks the raft packaging out of the frame at 4:01.  I know this, because the trombone adds a nice musical accompaniment to it: the orchestral version of a fart, basically.  Oh, Carl Stalling, wherefore art thou?  Bugs then hides behind the closest, solitary tree, hangs on to the raft's rip cord, makes very bad "oink" noises, and awaits the Tasmanian devil's damn-near-instant approach.  Having liberated himself from his bubble gum hammock in the trees, Taz reappears, his mental Etch-a-Sketch having been cleared... and he takes a long time to come to a complete stop!  Lol.
Taz eats the raft pig in one bite, damn near engulfing his own arms in the process.  I guess that can indeed be a hazard when you're a creature that's about fifty percent mouth.  I recall from my youth when he said "Melph!" while he was eating; must've been memorable.  Now, the raft was easier to swallow than the bubble-gum and soda chicken, and when Taz swallows the raft, he stands in this kind of curved way, and I seem to recall a page from Preston Blair's oversized animation book, where animators are well advised to think of their characters as a short line, either straight or curved, that represents the emotional state of the character, or maybe the animator's disturbed emotional state.  One of the two.  The curve that Taz makes is just one of those moments.  Okay, let's move on.
And so, Bugs is there behind the tree, waiting for the right moment to pull the rip cord.  But what would be the right moment, exactly?  Well, Taz is pretty much finished the act of eating, then for a brief second he looks over and sees Bugs.  Bingo!  I guess Bugs just wanted Taz to know who was behind all this before the raft enflated.  And so, like all cartoon characters, the ever-elastic Taz quickly turns into a raft-shaped version of himself.  Now, for you musicologists out there, note the eight beats.  Each beat represents one sixth of a second, or four frames of celluloid.  This was the old days when the vast majority of cinema went at the rate of 24 frames per second.  Now it's 30 or 60 or some God d... Gosh darned thing.  Who knows anymore?  Anyway, for the first four beats, Taz briefly floats in the air in his new raft shape, then on the fifth and seventh beats, he bounces on the ground.  Earlier in the pic, the turtle hitting the shovel operated on a similar beat structure.  Oh, if only I had more resources, I could maybe devote a YouTube video to this Looney Tunes-based phenomenon.  Oh well; c'est la guerre.

ACT III

This is a little premature of the Act III mark if you're going strictly by time, if you figure the cartoon proper starts at 0:32 and ends at 6:47 just before the "That's All Folks" starts up.  But there is a bit of a paradigm shift here, for lack of a better term.  We cross fade from the Taz-raft hybrid to Bugs' next ad hoc creation.  We find out later that it's a deer.  Sure, it's crude to you and I, but it's good enough for Taz to forget his anger.  HOWEVER, before we get to that, Bugs is putting the finishing touches on his "deer."  He stands back a bit and admires his handiwork, when suddenly... Tropical Storm Taz has touched down to ground, having finally digested the inflated raft from the earlier scene.  No Etch-a-Sketch moment this time, folks... Taz smells the blood of an English wabbit, and he's not going until he makes a rabbit figgy pudding... something like that.  Bugs takes off, Stage Right, still clutching to his hammer.
Next scene: Bugs finds the tallest tree he can and quickly climbs up it.  Taz stops spinning at the base of said tree and starts taking extremely large bites out of it.  For those of you chronologists out there, this happens at the rate of one bite every 0.66 seconds, give or take.  More like 0.67, argububably.  Bugs slowly finds himself heading towards ground level... hmm!  For some reason, I'm put in mind of Axe Me Another.  Anyway, as Taz power-eats the tree, Bugs tries to calm Taz down.  I've heard there's no worse thing to say to an angry person than "Calm down," but that's just me, and Bugs just has Taz.  Sparing Bugs the indignity of climbing up into the bit of branches that's left of the tree, Taz stops long enough to see Bugs point in the opposite direction, and to hear Bugs say "A NICE FAT DEER!"  Oh, and fans of animation that makes sense will surely appreciate the fact that, as Taz eats the tree, a small pile of bark builds up on the right side of the screen.
Next scene: a long shot of Bugs' ode to Claes Oldenburg that's supposed to be a deer.  Next scene: ...welp, can't argue with results!  For Taz is off and running like a regular two-legged beast, off to get that deer.  But Bugs, in his own way, seems to be trying to tell Taz, for God's sake!  HOW PATHETIC ARE YOU??!!!!!!!  Bugs actually says, of course, "Not so fast!!!  You'll scare him (the deer) away!"  Incidentally, you know the difference between beer nuts and deer nuts?  Ah, love that one.  Anyway, for this particular ruse, Bugs has thought ahead at least two steps.  Oh gimme two steps, gimme two steps babe, said Bugs unto the Lord.  And the Lord provided, and Bugs saw that it was good.  But let's see how it works out foist.
"Foist knock him out with this slingshot!  THEN go get him!" says Bugs.  Ah, reminds me of Rabbit Punch.  Unfortunately, we don't get the 3D view of the aftermath this time.  And so, Taz goes over to the oversized slingshot and pulls back on the giant rock in the sling.  Again, Taz proves to be not so dumb, but he is the bad guy here, and as such, he deserveth what he get-eth... something like that.  Note the rabbit hole beside the base of the giant slingshot, as it comes up later.  Bugs drops into the hole, grabs a saw, and starts sawing away at the base of the slingshot, while Taz pulls back on the boulder.  Oh, I doubt that Carl Stalling could've done much better with the music here than Milt Franklyn, but that's just me.
Next scene: unfortunately, we don't get to see Taz attempt to get Bugs' deer with Bugs' oversized slingshot.  What could of... have been.  Instead, we find that Bugs won the sawing part of the contest, and now Taz is over in the corner, stars orbiting over his head, dazed like a passed-out drunk in a bar, with his only friends being the boulder from earlier under one arm, and a pile of firewood under the other.  I guess this is the big, non-TNT-based explosion to end the film, but like car crashes on the news, they wouldn't show it if someone got killed, would they?
Next scene: now here's an unusual moment in a Looney Tunes film.  Well, Taz is an extraordinary character, to be sure.  A Bambi-like actual young deer (but different enough to avoid a Disney lawsuit) comes up and starts licking Bugs' hand.  I think that's based on something that actually happened, probably to one of the screenwriters.  The deer functions as a surrogate for the audience.  This isn't the ending of Hare Tonic, after all.  After all is said and done.  And so, somehow knowing that Taz isn't dead, Bugs starts trying to impress upon the deer that danger is imminent.  Taz-based danger, that is.
Bugs tries to explain to the deer, but, you know... I mean, it's like a deer caught in the headlights.  They take a while to get out of the way.  Bugs flails his arms about as he tries to paint Taz in the worst possible light possible.  But then, Bugs' hand touches something and, like Billy Crystal saying "...he's behind me, isn't he?" Bugs realizes that Taz's standing there, and that he heard the whole thing.  Bugs turns around and says "Yeesh!"... something like that.  Mind you, this was from a simpler time, and people, and the cartoon characters they created, still felt shame.  We seem to be living in a post-shame society now... on steroids.  And the steroids are on crack.
...guess it's a bit too soon for the epilogue.  Besides, there's feats of greatness ahead yet!  But before we get to that, Taz has got something to say.  To Bugs.  Taz says "Flattery will get you nowhere."  Again, Taz continues to impress.  In between the spinning, he keeps up on the latest catch phrases!  But now it's warning time, as he tells Bugs "...and ya CAN'T fool me again!"  I'll skip over what Bugs says next, even though it is indeed a fine example of ... oh, what would you call it?  A strategic lie?  Okay, so Bugs says, "Oh, why uh, yeah yeah, that's right, Doc!  This little bitsy animal's made out of straw!"  Something like that.  "But YOU'RE not!" sneers Taz right back.  And THEN, Taz tries to bite Bugs' head off... or maybe it was just for show.  But Bugs is indeed taken aback, as only a cartoon character can.

EPILOGUE

And so, having truly exhausted his very last idea, Bugs is reduced to taking off and running away like a common sneakthief.  Meanwhile, that deer's just standing there, taking it all in.  A little overtime for the animators involved, but hey.  Can't keep drawing the same old things all the time, right?
Next scene: not quite as legendary as the finale of "Breaking Bad," say, but legendary on a geological scale.  While Bugs is seen running over the mountains, like A Walk in the Woods on crack-steroids, Taz is under them, like the ring party in Lord of the Rings, Part One. or something.  Eventually, the range drops down after Tropical Storm Taz has passed.
Next scene: now, you'd think that a Tasmanian devil's hunger pangs would slow down a little bit, even after eating a teeny fraction of a mountain range... apparently, not so!  Taz's rage levels are still on the high end of the rage spectrum and, a few bowel movements later, the mountain range is but a distant memory.  Nothing like volcanic rock to really help the ol' stomach churn up the ol' food, ya know.
Note the large tree with the hole in it.  Bugs is darting through the trees in the background, with a spinning Taz close behind.  Bugs ducks behind the be-holed tree and Taz zips past, like the two cop cars at the beginning of Two if By Sea... honestly, I can't vouch for the rest of that movie, except that it chronicles the lives of some douchebags.  And so, Bugs reaches into the hole of the tree to see what Boo Radley left for him... why, an old timey telephone, of course!  Well, this is the end of the film, which means it's time for the plot-meisters to come up with the big paradigm shift, one befitting the end of the film.  You can sort of guess what's coming from the ad that Bugs posts in the Tasmania Post-Dispatch over the telephone, but I mean, hey.  Why spoil the surprise, right?  While he's waiting on the phone, Bugs kvetches a little bit... wow!  The spell-checker's got "kvetch"?
Next scene: as often happens in the cartoonies for the tiddly-winkies, things show up right away when asked for in Cartoon Land.  In this case, no sooner is Bugs looking at his watch, when a plane quickly lands in a clearing right near Bugs.  An international flight of a small plane, no less!  "Tasmanian Air Lines," it says.  More research with the encyclopedia on behalf of the screenwriters.
And so, the lady devil promised in Bugs' classified ad shows up, holding a teeny ring in its hand and sounding a bit like June Foray.  Oh, but those kind of roles are rare for lady voice actors, aren't they?  Taz and the lady devil share a kiss, then the bickering begins.  Bugs had better act fast, or he'll find himself getting chased by two Tasmanian devils.  But Bugs is at least one step ahead and, now wearing a Justice of the Peace outfit, blows a coach's whistle and begins this wedding ceremony.  It's the short version and... well, let me just say this.  If this little bit of film doesn't exist in Heaven, well... clearly it's Hell in disguise.  I don't care who knows it.  Why, I might have to spend a separate eternity listening to the audio from this part over and over and over again, my friend.  Plenty of worse ways to celebrate the eve of destruction, no?  I should probably point out that Mel Blanc does the lady devil's voice when she says "Uh huh."  And does Taz have June Foray's voice when he says "Uh huh"?  Oh well.  Must be all part of the sanctity of Tasmanian devil marriage.
And so, with a stop-over at LAX to refuel, Taz returns to Australia with his new bride.  The Milt Franklyn Orchestra plays that post-wedding song awfully damn fast, but doesn't that befit a Tasmanian devil wedding somehow?  Bugs has kind of a weak line to end the film on, but after what he's been through in this pic, I guess we can let it slide.

*****
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

Auteur Watch - Julius Erving

Our next auteur is... Dr. J?  Boy!  Everyone really does want to direct!  But not everyone's path to the chair is certain.  And even though it's kind of a crappy folding chair that doesn't even get used all that much (at least, not by the really good directors, or the ones who used to be DPs and prefer to spend their time sitting on the crane that has the A Camera)... where was I?  Oh yeah.  Dr. J.  Well, his IMDb bio is certainly an eye-opener.  I sure didn't know that there used to be an ABA in addition to the NBA.  Well, everyone's in favor of competition, as long as they're the ones that eventually win.
Now, you can't just jump right into the director's chair.  Even Steven Paul knew that.  You gotta bring some kind of skill to pushing movie people around.  In Dr. J's case, it was through acting.  Lotta temperamental "artists" to deal with in front of the camera.  But from the various TV shows, he knew all about that.  Probably the highlight of his IMDb résumé would have to be The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh.  HAVE to be.  Well, it's kind of a short résumé and that was the only one that caught my eye, so to speak.  It's got a poster like Mad, Mad World and everything!
And so, after a lifetime of professional basketball and semi-pro acting, it was time to try directing.  But what to pick for a project?  Well, for someone with discretion like Dr. J, only the prestige of a documentary would have to do.  And the subject?  Why, himself, of course!  A little bit like how Jon Stewart's Rosewater didn't stray too far from "The Daily Show," thematically.  But Dr. J's directorial position must've been a little more awkward.  I can't even imagine sitting someone down in front of hot lights and a camera, and instructing them "Tell me about me.  And... ACTION!"  I think it's an unusual situation.

Pratt, Back to Pratt, Pratt Again...

...let's see if anyone gets the reference... and WITHOUT Googling it!  That'll be the tough one.
But this is what Hollywood's all about, right there.  Bringing people together.  And were it ten years earlier, we might have seen a Magnificent Seven reboot starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and... a couple others, I guess.  But it does appear that Denzel's all-too-brief bromance with fellow alpha dog Marky Mark Wahlburgers is over.  You always think when two titans of screen and tabloid get together like that, that they're going to do three pics together.  Oh well, can't have it all.
Boy, what a depressing weekend.  All the debuts from last week, Bridget Jones's Baby, Snowden and Blair Witch (2016) all have a two week total of about 16 million each!  Sure, it's more money than you or I will ever have in our bank accounts, but by Hollywood standards?  Bad.  Very, very bad.  Disappointing for a third installment of a somewhat beloved franchise, a reboot, and a movie about a very controversial figure.  I guess Millennials respond to controversy much different than you or I as well.
The only other debut this week is something called Storks.  I don't watch "Brooklyn Nine Nine" regularly so I probably missed the majority of the ads for it.  It would appear that, much like Seth Rogen is getting into the Pixar game with his little R-rated effort, so too is Apatow peripheral figure Nicholas Stoller.  While he's not ready to make an R-rated Pixar movie yet... sorry, I've got no second part for that.  No, the production cost of Pixar knock-offs hasn't yet sufficiently dropped yet to risk an R rating or beyond.  So the only thing left to wonder about is who's the production company?  Is it Blue Sky?  Big Idea?  That ragtag group of IT people who did all those MoCap pics for Zemeckis in the 2000s?  No, apparently it's just Warner Bros.  They're a long way from painting on cels, to be sure.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

I Don't Want Nobody Messing with my Chicken Leg

Time for our next Looney Tunes adventure and... hoh boy.  Well, maybe I should tell you right up front.  That way, you can skip the rest of the review, as you can tell what's coming.  This time it's about the destination and not the journey.  Now, some may blame the UPA style or the Hanna-Barbera style, but really, it was the television that led to the big drop in quality.  That black hole called television that needed to be filled.  A 24 hour cinema right in the home.  No need to dress up and go out.  And, of course, even the cinema had to close once in a while, if only for repairs or remodels.  Sure, the cartoon characters looked goofy in the 20s and 30s, but the backgrounds were still nice!  Now, here in the late 40s early 50s... not so much.  In the television game, it's all about speed.  That's why classics like "Tom Terrific" won the game early... but are all but forgotten now.  In order to last the test of time, it's about quality.  The quality of the ideas, the quality of the performances.  And when you have a character like Foghorn Leghorn, demands get placed on it.  Demands to stay within its well-defined boundaries.  In our next Looney Tunes, called A Broken Leghorn, the boundaries are redrawn, and the price gets paid.  Sure, the title's funny and all... but does it live up to said title?  Now, it's not just me saying that... but the very crafters of this CD, for a second opinion.  I mean, look at the attached photos.  LOOK AT THEM!!!!  Did you catch it?  That's right!  Even the DVD menu disses this cartoon.  Broken Leghorn is NOT A Broken Leghorn.  Two very, very different beasts, the former holding the promise of an epic physical and psychological struggle, the latter giving away the ending, perhaps yearning for pretensions of a Broadway tragedy along the lines of Tennessee Williams or Robert Anderson... maybe a little Leon Uris thrown in for scale.  Okay, let's just get on into it.

ACT ONE

Scene: Old McDonald's Farm, and alas... all is not well at Old McDonald's Farm.  For on this farm he had an old chicken named Prissy.  Ay yay yay... with a Prissy here and a Prissy there and what not.  Of course, when you have a character like Prissy, you tend not to think of how many Prissy cartoons there were.  Now, the Tasmanian Devil?  Five or six... I watched ahead.  See, once I get through this review, I get to do Devil May Hare next.  Another one of the little tragedies of the running tapestry that is my life.  Anyway, for more information about Miss Prissy, there is indeed a Wikipedia page devoted to her.  However, as of this writing, the page is incorrect, because it says that our current instant case has Henery Hawk in it.  Good Heavens, sir!  The South shall come again, ah say!  It most certainly does not have Henery Hawk in it!  It certainly would've benefitted tremendously from his presence... and I actually don't like the little sh... oe leather.  Funny how that works.
And so, Prissy is introduced to the audience.  Her reputation precedes her in the form of a few other hens gossiping about her before she arrives.  You see, Miss Prissy is an underdog, because she doesn't fit in with the other chickens.  On the other hand, the older I get, the more I believe that, if you're an underdog in a given social situation, it's usually best to just get the hell out of there.  I mean, sure, who wouldn't want to volunteer at the co-op forever and get those discount cards?  The only problem is, I needed a job to crawl my way out of debt!!!!  Can't do that with food cards alone, guys!  Sorry... another tangent.  Incidentally, now that I have a job, I'm taking on debt anew!  Ain't that always the way, folks?
...where was I?  Oh yes.  This old blue-eyed white-feathered hen is intent on defying her age and wants to lay just one more egg.  Apparently, she's a bit of a broken record about it, as one of the more voluptuous looking hens comes over and says "I bet she's going to give it another try!"  Oh, that's so June Foray.  Apparently, none of the actresses who played Prissy liked to do it for too long.  Too depressing of a part, not to mention the typecasting it would lead to.  And so, Prissy endures the taunting of her co-workers, saying "Uh-yeeessssss!!!!" and walking around the corner.  Incidentally, that's what the homeless dude who comes up to my vehicle does.  He asks for money, and once he gets my handout, he power-walks away and heads for the nearest street intersection, and takes it... well, dime bags wait for no man!  And so, we find Prissy, ears burning in her old age, enduring the taunts of her younger, sexier co-workers, and the tears start to drop.  Arguably, those three hens aren't exactly the cream of the crop themselves.  But whatev'z.
Next scene: enter Foghorn, the lone rooster lording over this garden of "fair barnyard flowers," as he once called them during a previous celluloid outing.  Alas, the threat's not coming from without this time.  Ever the Southern gentleman, Foghorn takes pity upon the long suffering Miss Prissy and... now, see, again, the boundaries are redrawn.  Blanc's performance lacks some of the oomph that it had in The Foghorn Leghorn a mere one or two soiree ago.  Anyway, acting as something short of a meddling God, he intervenes on behalf of Miss Prissy.  Again, the older you get, the more you tend to err on the side of "no good deed goes un-punished."  When you're young, you're just trying to get through the day without pissing your pants.
And so, using his strangely human hand wings, Foghorn takes an egg from one hole in the wall and moves it to the hole in the wall behind where Miss Prissy will be sitting... seriously, it's all not as lurid as my description... perverts.  And so, because sittin' space in the hen house is limited, Prissy tries to make her stay in the house of hen as professional as possible.  Time is money!  Oh, and again, I must part ways with the Miss Prissy Wikipedia page, as it's Foghorn himself who refers to Prissy as "old square britches" and NOT one of the hens.  Harumph and double harumph!  Also, he didn't used to laugh like that... did he?  I don't belong in this world... (wipes away tear)
Next scene: Prissy notices the egg now under her, and is startled.  My friend who likes a good reaction would surely like Prissy's reaction.  Me myself, I can't help but be the Pessimist (TM) and think, wow.  That's how long it's been since she laid an egg.  She forgot how it's done!  Prissy sees the egg and starts cackling joyously about it.  In your face, haters!  I yearn for the pre-Instagram days.  "Check out the egg, pullets" would be the caption.
Foghorn listens in on Prissy's day in the sun from behind the henhouse.  However, his sarcasm-tinged joy is soon to turn to sour grapes because..............

ACT TWO

........to cut to the chase, (I know, I know... the nerve I have to ever claim that again) Foghorn's transplanted egg is hatched!  And it's a baby rooster!  Which, incidentally, looks nothing like Prissy, but whatev'z.  The hens are buying it.  Foghorn, however, suddenly feels his own shaky position at Old McDonald's Farm being threatened.  If there's one thing he can't abide, it's another rooster.  It's kinda like how, for a while there, when Seinfeld returned to stand-up, he mused about how children are here to "replace us."  It might be a little less scary proposition to him now, and after all, he did leave the next generation with a whole show filled with great advice, and maybe a few examples of how not to behave.
Anyway, back to ol' Senator Foghorn, whose first thought, in this neo-Rooster Age, is to lay down the law, just shy of spilling the beans on his little prank.  Using a command-and-control approach, he angrily storms in on the celebrating hens.  The hens' reaction, to say the least, isn't what he was expecting.
...sorry, that's actually a still from Hot Cross Bunny... had to go to YouTube to get that like a damn sneak thief!  Why isn't it on my Looney Tunes DVDs?  Why, Video Gods?  WHY?!!!  Also, for once, Prissy is in the other bitchy hens' good graces.  They may not get along, but their being so very tired of men unites them.
Anyway, Leghorn, ever the politician, does a quick 180, starting with "Uh, as I was sayin'... "  Damn, he's good.
And so, Foghorn goes over to see this hatched rooster.  Now, we've either skipped ahead, past where a freshly hatched baby chick dries itself out and has matured enough to be able to walk around, or animated baby roosters just grow up that quickly.  Whatever the case may be, I'm actually feeling Foghorn's pain, because the young rooster gets one look at Foghorn and says "Oh, hello!  You must be the rooster who's job I'll be taking over!"  Almost makes me pine for Henery Hawk.  Actually, it does make me pine for the days of Henery Hawk, and I'm sure Foghorn would too if they didn't hit the reset button with each new celluloid outing on these here cartoon characters.
And when the baby rooster also crows about as well as an adult rooster?  Well, that cinches it.  Foghorn has to just walk away right then and there, saying "Hoh boy," and quickly come up with Plan B.  Actually, he seems to skip right ahead to Plan M.  That's M for murder.  Murder with a capital 'M'.  A side of Foghorn Leghorn I'm not used to seeing, let alone the possibility that Foghorn himself is the father.  I mean, he's the only rooster we've seen at this Old McDonald's Farm so far, right?
Next scene: Prissy and Junior (Rooster) are playing ball with a red and white ball.  The ball rolls out of the frame when Foghorn shows up... you know, to make it easier on the camera layout guys.  One less detail to worry about.  "As senior rooster round here," starts Fog.  He explains that one of his duties on Old McDonald's Farm is to pass on all his knowledge of what being a rooster is all about on to the next generation.  "Don't worry, that won't take long," said Homer Simpson in a similar situation.  Sorry, I guess I'm not having fun right now.  The mind wanders.  Oh why oh why couldn't I be watching that instead?
Now, it wouldn't be a Foghorn Leghorn joint if he didn't stop and say something along the lines of "The boy doesn't pay attention!"  This time he gets a good, long eyeful of Prissy and says "Eh, any of this getting through that little old blue bonnet of yours?"  Prissy says "Yes!" and the Milt Franklyn Orchestra provides accompaniment.  "Well, woman, BLINK YOUR EYES or somethin'!  YEESH!!!!" says Foghorn.  Foghorn formally asks for Prissy's permission to "train the lad."  Prissy says "Yes!" and the Milt Franklyn Orchestra provides accompaniment... much like the same accompaniment provided earlier-like.
And so, the fun begins.  Foghorn picks up Junior Rooster and holds him in his strangely-human hand-wing.  In response, the angry-looking Junior bites Foghorn's strangely human pointer finger.  "EEEYOWWWW!!!" says Foghorn, then gives a little "Why, I oughta..." before restraining himself.  Prissy's got a worried look on her face, but it soon passes when Foghorn compliments Junior.  "He's a little doll! (yecch)" says Foghorn.  Fade to black.
This is probably where the Third Act should go, but I'm going to save it til 4:15 in the proceedings.  And so, the groundwork is laid for Foghorn to try and kill Junior Rooster.  But as creepy old Keith Morrison might say, in that smarmy way of his, there was one thing that Foghorn didn't count on!  After the detectives finally took the psychic's advice and checked under the victim's fingernails, they found little bits of the killer's skin and did the DNA test... oops, wrong movie.  See, Keith Morrison provides a valuable sociological service: he's smarmy on behalf of the victims who no longer have that luxury.  And besides, he was getting a little tired of confronting would-be child molesters.
And so, back we go to the cartoon.  Scene: the side of a busy road.  As Foghorn informs us, one of the most important duties of being a rooster is knowing the answer to that old question, why does a chicken cross the road?  After all, some old jokes are kind of like bacteria and viruses that you spend a lifetime building up an immunity to.  A chicken crossing the road, and someone literally sitting around the house, are two of the big ones that you get very, very early.  Of course, chickens in urban and suburban setting cross the road just to get some new food, and to find nice clean patches of ground that aren't all crapped up by the other chickens.  So like people.
However, Foghorn's found a way to try and get rid of this young rooster, and it doesn't even involve explosives!  I looked ahead and, spoiler alert, all the other methods seem to.  Of course, running out into busy traffic is kind of an explosive situation in its own right, if only metaphorically.  Take that scene from Bowfinger, for example!  Anyway, Foghorn's got a toy red ball, which he rolls across the busy two-lane highway next to Old McDonald's farm, and asks Junior Rooster to fetch it.  Just goes to show what a big city boy like me knows about chickens on the farm.  I didn't know it was their job to fetch things!  Anyway, you might want to skip this part of the review and watch the DVD yourself.  I'll give you a minute...
...okay, welcome back.  And so, Junior Rooster uses his super strength and agility, like all teeny cartoon characters before him and since, to run across that suddenly very busy street and retrieve the red ball.  He scoops it up right away and runs just as quickly back.  And as Keith Morrison would add, there's one other thing that Foghorn didn't count on!  Like all roosters, this young Junior's already a master of psychological torture, just as young baby rattlesnakes are already as poisonous as their adult counterparts, even if they only have little tiny poison sacs to fuel their tiny fangs.  Junior says to Foghorn "I don't think I did that right."  Junior invites Foghorn to demonstrate the ball retrieval exercise for him.  Alas, Junior's as prone as anybody to take things a little too far, adding "...unless you're SCARED!"  Same thing happened to Marty McFly.  Foghorn doesn't realize he's being played, so he takes the bait and does the Crossing of the Road exercise himself.  You can probably guess how it turns out... but I will note that it's that second car that really gets you.  Personally, I think Tex Avery did it a little bit better in one of those Droopy Westerns... I think it was Wild and Woolfy.  And darn it, the YouTube community seems to bear me out.  Out of respect to that one, A Broken Leghorn does a variation on the theme.  Fade to black... oh, I forgot to mention.  One time I was driving around on my route, and I noticed these two rabbits.  One rabbit suddenly started chasing the other rabbit, and the other rabbit almost ran out into the road... and I couldn't help but think to myself, dayamn!  Was the chaser rabbit really trying to get the other rabbit to run out into traffic, perchance to get flattened by an automobile?  Do animals hate each other that much?  I've seen the grey squirrels in my front and back yard sometimes chase each other feverishly up trees, then back down, but never out into traffic.  Must be rabbit and higher or something.
Next scene: standing next to the rain spout.  Is there any more beloved setting in cartoons?  How many characters have ever tried crawling through a rain spout?  I alas don't have the exact figures in front of me, but I'm sure it's a lot, and it's always a hoot... maybe not so much here.  Here, Foghorn explains that it's time for a lesson in patience, a virtue that Foghorn seems to lack quite a lot.  And so, Foghorn's diabolical plan is to have Junior wait at the bottom of the rain spout, while Foghorn drops a stick of dynamite into the top of the rain spout.  Flawless, right?
Foghorn climbs up a ladder next to the barn, lights the gurgling stick of dynamite and drops it.  Strange!  Every time I try to do that, it always gets stuck in the middle of the rain spout.  So many charred spots on the side of the house... well, that's Redneck house paint for ya.  The stick of dynamite hits Junior in the back of the head.  Junior picks up a stick on the ground next to him, just out of the frame, and wallops that dynamite stick right back.  Dang!  This kid probably knows more about roostering than even Foghorn!
Next scene: Foghorn's post at the top of the ladder, up on the roof.  We find Foghorn confidently counting down to detonation time.  He calls zero "oh" and gets to say that again when he opens his eyes to find that the dynamite stick he once loved but set free had somehow returned to him!  Before he can even finish saying the complete "oh" of bewilderment and dread, BOOM!  Off it goes.  Well, the WB editors gotta have fun once in a while, you know.  "One of those days, ah guess," says Foghorn, as he sits there, with his suit of feathers being a little torn and tattered now.

ACT III

And so, we're past the Third Act mark, but we're still in the process of Foghorn finding the right way to kill... er, peaceably remove this upstart young rooster named Junior from Old McDonald's Farm relatively free-range pecking yards once and for all.  We've moved on from the cleverness of having a passing motorist try and do the job, and we're on to a more direct method involving firearms.  And so, Foghorn has jerry-rigged... that is spelled right, right?  Foghorn was watching the DIY channel or something and saw the Bob Vila episode about how to kill someone using a shotgun, and some bait tied to said shotgun with a string.  Sure, it would probably only work on someone like Paul Krendler with the top of his head removed, but surely Junior Rooster will fall for it?  The bait: corn on the cob, which Foghorn has to point out to the little tyke is the quintessential chicken food... even though I've heard that chickens shouldn't eat too much corn.  Maybe they mean the hard kernels usually used for popcorn, I don't know.
And so, Junior runs off to try and get that ear of corn, and Foghorn tries to look away, awaiting the sound of the shotgun going off.  Foghorn makes a joke about the difference between "border" and "boarder" that will probably get cut from future viewings on cable, and then he goes over to micromanage Junior, who's still tugging away at that corn cob.  Apparently, the cob weighs more than Junior.  Foghorn's Southern accent seems to vanish when he's shouting "HARDER!!! HARDER!!!!"  Happens to the best of thespians, I guess.  But the pint-sized rooster's got a lot of pluck, or gumption, or maybe the word "quit" isn't in his dictionary, because God bless him, he keeps trying.  Unfortunately for Foghorn, the young rooster yanks on the cob so hard that the shotgun swings up and is now resting snugly against Foghorn's giant beak.  Foghorn says "harder" a little less loudly, and indeed, seems to switch to saying "Har-de-har" instead before the gun goes off.
After the gun goes off, Foghorn ends up picking up his beak off the ground, much like Daffy Duck putting his beak back into place after getting shot by Elmer on more than about twenty occasions across several different short features.  However, when Foghorn picks up his beak, he seems to be drowning in water, because he's making these disconcerting gurgling noises!  Makes me long for the quiet dignity of Daffy.  I'm telling you!  They tinkered with the Foghorn formula, and they paid the price.  But that's how it is, folks.  You gotta take those kind of risks, otherwise you risk outright stagnation.  Fade to black.
Fourth attempt... you know, the older I get, the less funny land mines become.  Bridges crumble, steel rusts, iron oxidizes, buildings and houses get old, and really bad houses get this funky black mold on it... somehow, time is kind to all those land mines out there!  Must be because they're underground or something.  But don't worry, because we live in the modern world, and someday someone will devise that low-cost yet reusable method of disposing of those explosive little darlings.  I'm thinking a concrete cylinder so big that a single land mine couldn't hurt it so bad.  Four or five mines, sure, it starts to break up, but it can handle the first three just fine.  Maybe a giant cylinder made of steel.  Well, we gotta test the building materials of tomorrow somehow!  Acts of terrorism don't seem to be on the decline.
And so, we see Foghorn taking the top mine out of a giant wooden crate marked "Land Mines."  I guess they're old army surplus mines or something.  Well, that was the era when the Acme corporation was into more household-type goods... okay, bad example.  Wile E. Coyote got his share of explosives and miles of railroad track from Acme.  And so, Foghorn buries one mine in the ground, disguised as a gopher mound.  He's got a length of thin black string and he decides that it would make a suitable substitute for a worm.  And so, the ruse is that he'll pull the string, call it a worm, and tell Junior to go digging after it.  Let's see how it plays out.
So far so good.  I don't know why Junior would trust Foghorn any more, but Junior runs over to the string, thinking it's a worm.  Foghorn pulls the string and it disappears.  "He dot away!" says Junior.  "Well, DIG for him, son!" says Foghorn, throwing a teeny weeny pickax over to Junior.  Look how that pickax glistens in the sunlight and... dude!  What if Prissy saw that?  Throwing a big-ass pickax to a pint-sized rooster.
And so, Junior starts to dig for that darned old worm... to show you how my mind works, I thought Foghorn said "that sensitive mind."  I had to check the Closed Captioning on that one.  Why, duh!  Mine with an 'e'.  Guess I was overthinking it.  Anyway, and so, Foghorn once again turns away, holding his ears, fearing yet eagerly awaiting the largeness of the resultant explosion.  Um... spoiler alert.  Remember all those times one of the Looney Tunes / Merrie Melodies characters plays a piano that has a bomb attached to a very specific piano key?  Remember how those usually turn out?  Same thing here.  Spoiler alert #2: Junior is gently pushed off screen by the resulting explosion.

EPILOGUE

"MAKEUP!!!!" screams Daffy... sorry, I was thinking of A Star is Bored.  Gotta wait for Volume Five for that one, alas.
And so, having exhausted his supply of explosives, Foghorn decides to take his case directly to the management of Old McDonald's Farm.  "It's either that kid or me!  One of us has gotta go!" says Foghorn loudly to himself on his way into the office... sorry, probably should've had that quote in all-caps.  Now, for those of you who say that government is too inefficient, well... let's try to leave the current (sorry excuse for an) administration aside for the moment.  And sure, business could probably be more efficient for some in the business sector, so they will probably admire the speed at which the management of Old McDonald's Farm processes Foghorn's grievance.  As for me, well, I can't help but think of that old line in A Serious Man and in Bridge of Spies... something about that the boss isn't always right, but he's still the boss.  And again, departing from the formula.  These things are supposed to end with Henery Hawk getting his first chicken after all, even if it's not a chicken.  One time it was Sylvester.  Another time it was Foghorn, the dog and a horse.  In The Foghorn Leghorn it was a loud-mouthed shnook.  Here, the Acme Poultry Co. drives slowly away with just Foghorn in its truck with the giant man-sized cage in the back.  I'm thinking Foghorn will be a little too gamey, but whatever.

**1/2
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

Auteur Watch - Christopher Erskin

Well, after surviving making a music video for R. Kelly, Mr. Erskin cashed in his every last chip to do Johnson Family Vacation.  Now, the more cynical amongst you probably think of it as "Black Griswold" and you just might be right.  But c'mon, man.  It's Cedric the Entertainer!  Who doesn't like him?  Someone pretty damn cynical, that's who!
Alas, the JFV trivia page doesn't dish the dirt on what went down on the set.  No turmoil at all?  I doubt it.  I mean, Close Encounters of the Third Kind had two directors of photography duking it out for dominance.  What happened here?  Was Mr. Erskin completely without a net?  The only sign of calm competence in the face of time running out in sight is this guy right here!  And maybe John Carter (of Mars) on the editing deck.
Anyway, once you've got a big pile of hit on your hands like JFV, either one of two things happens to you as a n00b director in the woods of holly.  Either a) you get a positively yuge A-list project next and go right to work on it, or b) you get fed up with the whole system and go back to your day job and or your day school.  I mean, the phoniness.  The lies.  Everyone saying they love you one minute, then turning their back on you in the second!  As for Mr. Erskin, well... he kinda chose the second.  Another music video, and an episode of a show called "Back to the Future"... I'm sorry, I mean "Phil of the Future."
And then, after ten years of wandering in the desert, searching for another purpose in life aside from film directing... anything.  Anything at all... alas, that second purpose just wasn't turning up in the endless wasteland of burning hot sand.  Back to the director's chair we go.  And what's the project?  Apparently, a Lifetime Channel movie called "Back to the Future"... I'm sorry, I mean "Back to School Mom."  And Strike one: the poster has the letters "HD" in a blue stripe at the top.  Not Blu-Ray (TM), mind you.  "HD".  Don't be fooled.
Strike two: its IMDb page of external reviews.  Fortunately, there's one and... damn, a positive review.  Okay, we got a man on first base then.
Strike three: plot summary, and... damn.  It's short and sweet.  Wasn't expecting that.  Okay, so we got two men on base.  Usually with a thing like this, the plot summary will be something like "Plot summary?  YOU want a plot summary.  Well, here it is, you monsters: this movie is about life.  Life right now.  And how expectations are sometimes not met.  It's about the journey, not the destination.  It's about friends, it's about love, it's about enemies, it's about hate.  But you know what?  At the end of the day?  It's about blessings that can be counted, it's about counting sheep when you're falling asleep, it's about having someone close to you that you care about.  It's about having a job to go to, having food on the table... having a table at all."
In the case of "Back to School Mom," it's about a mom who goes back to college to finish up her last year of school.  Fair enough, sir, as Tom Snyder used to say.  But along the way, she becomes friends with a classmate.  The classmate turns out to be the son she gave up twenty years ago.  Um... I'm with Elaine Benes on this one.  There are degrees of coincidence, and that one's a little too big.

Hey SULLY!!!!!!

Well, that's kinda nice!  It's been a while since a movie like Sully was #1 for two weeks in a row.  But the slow march of the debuts continues unabated, so let's get to that.
First, an HD reincarnation of Blair Witch debuted strong at #2... and by strong, I mean just under 10 million dollars.  A lot of money to the likes of you and I, but a mere pittance in Hollywood terms.  How's that supposed to pay the bills?  Guffaw!  Anyway, you thought the camera was shaky in the first Blair Witch, well... imagine how streaky things will look now!  Maybe they used one of those hot Red cameras, or whatever the hell they are.  Who knows.  To the ASC, I say... be careful on those pan shots.  Not quite there yet.
In other nostalgia news, the long anticipated third installment of the Bridget Jones saga debuted this weekend, and it's called Bridget Jones's Baby.  Yes, Renée Zellweger is back and better than ever.  Tanned, rested, and the skin on her face is a little stretched out, but no matter.  Everyone's favourite bawdy Brit babe is back... at least until the new Ab Fab movie comes out... or maybe that bombed already, who knows.
The last debut this week is Oliver Stone's Snowden about Edward Snowden, another one of those heroes of the people, enemies of the CIA.  Well, that's what the CIA gets for using contractors.  They should know better than that.  They're the CIA!  The 'I' stands for INTELLIGENCE, for God's sake!  Hard to say if this will be another one of Oliver Stone's timeless classics, or just his latest project after the usual director's two year hiatus.  But Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems to be checking off his bucket list of big film directors he's always wanted to work with.  There's Bob Zemeckis, of course.  Leonard Nimoy?  Been there, done that.  Stephen Sommers, check.  Spike Lee, check.  The only one left is, of course, Spielberg himself.  Might be tricky, though... maybe he could lobby to be the new Mutt Williams.  No one will mind.  Even Shia himself won't mind, really.
...oh, right!  Lincoln!  There's nothing left to do then!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Grapples with Bears

SPOILER ALERTS - Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for DiCaprio's Oscar win and all that, but... I guess I'm still kind of a stickler for realism in my fantasy stories.  What you've probably heard about 2015's The Revenant is that it's about a guy who gets attacked by a bear.  So, you might be surprised to find that there's a little before, and a lot after, that particular incident.
Because it makes for a good storyline, Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and as the web will tell you, is based on a real guy who lived in the 1820s) is a man caught between worlds.  He is a white man with a half-Pawnee son.  He speaks Pawnee and is a gifted navigator, and some of the members of the expedition that he's with value him quite highly.  He's also pretty good at surviving brutal attacks by Native American warriors, even if it is just a plot device.
So the guy knows quite a lot.  Unfortunately, he's no biologist, and he doesn't know a lot about bears.  One day, when he's by himself in the woods, he sees two bear cubs ambling along.  A few seconds later, he spots the mama bear.  The mama bear charges, and then it's the Passion of the Glass for about five minutes.  Those kind of life lessons are always the worst: the kind that are fatal the first time you get them wrong.
Now, spoiler alert: DiCaprio survives his first bout with the bear, if only barely.  But bear in mind... good Lord.  Sorry, I was daydreaming, thinking of Three Loan WolvesAnyway, hardly able to move, DiCaprio goes for his one-shot rifle and waits for the mama bear to pass by again.  He takes a shot when it gets up real close.  The humongous bear is wounded, but strong enough to start a second semi-rape of DiCaprio.  They both eventually roll down a nearby hill.  I thought those only existed in cartoons.
I'm reminded of what happened to Batman in 2012's much anticipated The Dark Knight Returns.  His back gets broken by Bane (played by Tom Hardy) and is forced to recover halfway around in the world in the most deeply psychologically scarring prison in the history of the movies... or so the filmmakers thought.  Now, given the primitive state of medicine in the 1820s, and the fact that your average bear attack even today is usually fatal, Glass's slow, cinematic road to recovery seems just a teeny weeny bit implausible.
As with many a film before it, the narrative flow of The Revenant is interrupted by some of the most gorgeous vistas you've ever seen.  Now, I hate to be the first to go to war over which film has the most gorgeous vistas, but it's coming someday, I'm sure.  That'll be the next internet billionaire for ya.  But I seem to recall that it was Von Ellstein who said in 1952's The Bad and the Beautiful that a movie with all climaxes is like a necklace without a string.  At some point, possibly a couple, Iñárritu kinda drifts in and out of narrative focus, and things get a teeny weeny bit boring.  Also, why does the whole movie look like it was shot with a GoPro camera whenever there are people around?  Can a brutha get just one telephoto shot?  Just one?  You don't have to go full Tony Scott or anything, just one.
I must've been bored with the whole movie, because I guessed a few of the plot points.  SPOILER ALERT: one, that DiCaprio's character, who would be dead in any other movie, on account of being mauled by AN ANGRY MAMA BEAR, is going to recover and track down the killer of his son (Tom Hardy), thereby getting some sweet, sweet revenge.  Two, that Tom Hardy's character's interest in the upstairs safe was no idle fancy.  Three, when DiCaprio and Captain Henry split up to look for Fitzgerald... must be one of the decidedly un-literary cousins or something... that Henry would find him first and get killed.
Before that big fight scene at the end, there was one other incredible feat of physicality I want to point out.  After his sauna, Glass runs afoul of ... I think they were Arikara warriors.  I will give a shout out to the storytellers on this one.  Always nice to give a shout out to one of the tribes that doesn't usually get one... I'm assumpting, I don't know for a fact.  Anyway, the bow and arrow skills of these warriors are, as Sundance might observe, "very good."  But they can't hit DiCaprio, of course.  You know, privilege of the movie's hero and what not.  So DiCaprio's only means of escape is the horse he found, and he can outrun any equestrian on this side of the planet.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, there's a hundred foot cliff nearby, and Glass's horse makes the ultimate sacrifice, and leaps clean off the cliff.
The horse is dead, of course, but a tall tree slows down DiCaprio's fall a little bit.  Next scene: DiCaprio's lying face down in the thick snow.  Now... I wanna give a shout out to my friend who saw that and said "What is this, a cartoon?"  Yes it is.  It is a cartoon.  A lesser film would've had DiCaprio hanging in the tree or something like that, but not The Revenant, people.  Gotta be lying face down in the snow.  Better visual impact.  And besides, there's a long standing tradition in the movies of people surviving falls from great heights that would kill us mere mortals... don't see an IMDb plot keyword for that just yet.
Which brings us to that big final fight scene.  Don't worry, it's sufficiently violent to slake your bloodlust.  Personally, I blame Miami Blues (1990) for all this.  In that movie, Alec Baldwin's character, long story short, gets several of his fingers cut off with one flick of a machete.  And ever since then, violence in the movies has gotten more, um... creative, let's say.  No more mere gunshots to cover up with your hand, people.  And CGI's made it all the worse.
In the instant case, DiCaprio gets a couple of Tom Hardy's fingers.  Hardy bites off one of DiCaprio's ears, and gives him a damn near fatal stab in the love handles.  But for those of you hankering for a more traditional fight move, never fear.  Watch as they both struggle to put the knife right square in the middle of Tom Hardy's gut.  Now we're talking!
I'll leave aside for now that, despite everything, DiCaprio still can't deliver the final death blow to his nemesis.  Fortunately, there's a group of Native Americans just downstream from the two of them willing to do DiCaprio's dirty work for him.  You know, movie hero stuff.  Sure, he's going to take a couple stabs at Hardy to slow him down and all, but for God's sake!  He's not a killer!

**1/2
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Game of Penalties

Well, personally and semi- professionally, I can't think of a better way to deal with my addiction to film review than by reviewing our next Looney Tunes called Early to Bet, which apparently deals with gambling addiction.  Now, every computer user these days... and I mean every computer user these days, is becoming an amateur psychologist, from the most reluctant user of Facebook to the most prolific user of Instagram, and they'd most likely tell you that all the non-Jungian stuff is basically addiction.  It's a good biological model, really... I mean, that candy bar you ate when you were nine years old, in caveman days it might have been an extra ripe blackberry or something, or the thrill of bringing down your first mastodon, even if you didn't quite have an hibachi to cook it with.  At some point, your brain just says "Hey, that was fun!  Why don't we do it again sometime?  And by sometime, I mean now, within the next 48 hours..."

ACT ONE

If you've seen the mini-documentary that comes with the Looney Tunes DVD, Early to Bet is what they call a "one-off," meaning that the characters in it are seen only once, never before and never since.  Sure, some of the greats started off as one-offs, but sometimes the audience dictates what becomes a hit.  After all, the creative geniuses in the WB Animation Department thought that Beans would be the hit character, not counting on Porky Pig to resonate instead.
Nevertheless, maybe it's a contractual thing, maybe it's just good for even the WB Animation Department to try new things, maybe it's just that you got all these great gags, but nowhere to put 'em.  Whatever the case may be, and it's different in each case, the one-offs persisted, and you get fare like Robert McKimson's Early to Bet.  It starts like one of those MGM mini-nature documentaries narrated by... what's his name, and it's a very white-bread American name.  Some of the late 30s-early 40s WB cartoons had a non-Mel Blanc guy who'd do the narration of their nature doc sendups... Robert C. Bruce, it seems!  I mean, let's face it... Blanc was very versatile, but sometimes you just wanna hear different voices from a different person.  But Blanc does his best impression of Robert C. Bruce as he introduces the "gambling bug" in his "native habitat," basically a condo decorated by the various forms of human gambling that have gained a certain level of universality in the first half of the 20th century.  No spent scratch tickets, as you can see.  The narrator says "Hey!  Stand up!  Let's get a look atcha."  For students of these in-betweener films that they now show on TCM, it's a riot.  Blanc channels the speaking style quite well.
Yes, the gambling bug.  I'm pretty sure that this is his only appearance in Looney Tunes... and maybe in Joe Dante's 2003 classic, Looney Tunes: Back in Action.  Free Blu-Ray for me, maybe?  Oh well, worth a try.  I mean, there was the whole Vegas sequence.  They had every other periphery LT character in that thing, and Jeff Gordon.  Anyway, what else would be next?  Why, some examples of the gambling bug's work in action, of course.  Gag writers, take note.  Always be ready to rattle off a list of gags for a given situation.  Every day, wake up and ask yourself, "Okay, gimme an object, a setting, and an occupation."  See what you come up with.  If you have friends or family to annoy with this, even better.  The first situation we're treated to is a deadbeat restauranteur who hasn't thought to try the ol' Dine 'n Dash move.  No, he's not a complete coward, but he does try to flip the Italian waiter for it.  "Double or nothing, Luigi?" he says.
The next example is especially near and dear to my heart.  Two barflies are sitting around watching an actual fly.  They both have full, frothy, painted beermugs in front of them.  One, voiced by drunk Mel Blanc, says "I'll betcha five bucks that fly lands on my glass foist."  "It's a BET," responds drunk Mel Blanc.  Now, the Coens would appreciate this, because they move on before the fly picks a glass to land on, rubbing its two (strangely human) front hands together before taking off again.  This reminds me of my week stay in Whitefish, Montana, where I realized that the gambling bug seems to have bitten most of the residents of that town.  I went into a bar with some of my work friends.  There was a football game on telly, and one of the local yokels says, to whoever would listen, "Bet you seventy-five cents that he makes a touchdown!  Bet?  Seventy-five cents?"  I'm pretty sure that was the amount.  It all happened too fast for anyone to take him up on his offer, naturally.  Wonder if he was a tweaker.  The other example was when we were sitting round a gas-fired campfire, and one of the Montana dudes says "Bet you five bucks you can't guess my age."  Three people tried, and he said "Five bucks, five bucks, five bucks..."  I of course handed him a twenty and said "Keep the change..."  ...okay, maybe not, but that's maybe what I should of... have done.
The third gambling bug example has a comedy twist, which any true gambling addict would probably have no patience for.  A guy whose face we can't see is sitting there with the one-arm bandit, and he gives the handle a tug... and then he plays the slot machine.  Ba-BOOM!  I'll be here all week, folks; try the veal.  The spinning wheels on the slot machine stop, and he hits three oranges.  Then he cups his hands for the big payoff and... well, I wouldn't dream of spoiling the punch line.  Why should I be the only one to suffer?  Needles to say, the guy never turns to face the camera slash animator at his animation desk.  I should point out that the Carl Stalling Memorial Orchestra plays a little bit of the Looney Tunes theme song, "The Merry Go Round Broke Down."  Okay, so he was having an off week.
As we all know, all good things come in threes, so we must cross-fade back to the gambling bug.  Mel Blanc's narrator offers a rather stern warning about said gambling bug.  What happens next, I personally feel influenced the entirety of the comic and animation style of a little show called "South Park," but maybe that's just me.  The gambling bug repeats the narrator's line and gives a strange laugh-like mocking noise, then says "...and I WILL, too!"  In response to the fact that the gambling bug will "get you," that is.  The gambling bug is purportedly voiced by Stan Freberg, but his voice is altered beyond recognition.  I mean, Freberg was good at characterization, but I'm sorry, it just doesn't sound like his work.  Not in the Pete Puma family of voices, anyway.  Fade to black.

ACT TWO

Next scene: the gambling bug out of his native habitat.  The gambling bug's on vacation, but Carl Stalling's musical choices never rest.  "We're in the Money," the orchestra plays... or whatever it's called.  "I'll leave my victims alone today," says the gambling bug.  But this lord of his own microcosmos must interrupt his confident strut, as he hears footprints behind him.  I think they had this version of "Powerhouse" on that infamous Carl Stalling CD that I don't have anymore, as part of a montage.  The gambling bug hides behind a rock, and we watch as a giant grey bulldog passes by, looming as large as a bent skyscraper, at least from the gambling bug's low-to-the-ground perspective.  Next scene: the perspective straightens out a little bit, as the gambling bug now watches as the bulldog heads over to a red barn in the background.  No white chickens or wheelbarrow, alas...
Next scene: now I hate bullying as much as the next fella, but I'm getting older now.  And, I am a hooligan, after all, so I like a nice celluloid bullying as much as the next fan of cinema.  I have to fantasize just to survive as much as the next fella or fella-ette... fella-ella?  Hmm.  And so, we see the dog reaching under the underside of the slightly raised red barn.  What could he be looking for?  A dog's sense of smell is reportedly quite acute, but I must say that some of the dogs I see on a daily basis are far too busy barking at me to notice it when I throw them treats.  Gotta cut back on that, and I will, if only for the sake of my credit card bill.  Anyway, the dog eventually finds what he's looking for, because he gets a happy look on his face.  And he pulls out, from under the barn... a non-Sylvester-type cat!  Because even the Looney Tunes directors, and perhaps especially so, hate their stars sometimes.  I heard that Frank Tashlin got pretty sick of Porky Pig, anyhow.  But this late in the game, this is more of an Arthur Davis move.  For some reason, he would often work with new characters.  I guess his choice of Looney Tunes stories to tell was so lame, he at least had the decency to not tarnish the regular stable of Looney Tunes stars with them.  They often lack the polish of even something like Early to Bet, and certainly explains why they'll all be on Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 834, after the absolute last of the archive footage on flammable stock has been exhausted.  I got a thing about him, as you might know.
"WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?" asks the non-Sylvester cat of the surprisingly calm bulldog.  If there's one line that Mel Blanc often used when doing Looney Tunes work, this would have to be it.  In a surprising twist, or maybe not so surprising, given the plot's content, the dog wants to play the cat in a game of "penalties."  Which makes me wonder what species of bug has bitten the dog: the Managerial Bug?  We don't get to see that film, naturally.
The cat, without going into too much detailed backstory, flatly refuses the dog's offer.  Let's move quickly on to the next plot point, please... I mean, has this cat suddenly been indoctrinated, vaccinated, built up immunity to the Gambling Bug's touch?  I mean, SURELY, it's gently implied that the cat's played this game with the dog on a previous occasion, no?  I mean, the cat's not asking what "penalties" is or how "penalties" is played?  Surely, he seems to know, no?  Yes?  He seems to have been stung by losing this game on previous occasion(s)?
And so, the cat refuses the dog's creepily seductive offer, and walks away... but not too far.  The cat's somewhere between the dog and the Gambling Bug.  Confusing himself for Superman, the Gambling Bug emerges from his hiding place, motions to the cat, and tells the audience "Looks like a job for the Gambling Bug!"  And you thought people don't take vacations these days!  Go figure.  And so, the Gambling Bug's vacation over after about thirty seconds of its declaration, the bug rushes over to the cat and bites him on the ear.  Gotta hand it to the Gambling Bug: he's not lazy!  A lazier gambling bug would've just taken a bite out of the cat's tail, but not this Gambling Bug!  He runs up the length of the cat's spine, right up to the tippy top of the cat's head.  The cat, sulking on his log, fails to notice.  Which is quite the opposite of my cat, indeed.  I can't even sneak up on my cat without her swiveling one of her ears at me well before I get close!
And so, having been bitten by the Gambling Bug, the cat revs up, becoming a swirling mass of feet and strangely human paw hands, tongue sticking out like a dog, a glazed look over his pretty blue eyes and, like some kind of new zombie that can run, zips over to the dog and its pack of cards, leaving a big grey cloud of dust in his wake.  Spoiler alert: yes, we're going to see this loop of animation a few more times in the coming minutes.  I'm trying to think if I ever rewound a VCR tape of this particular loop of animation.  The one that comes to mind is Clampett's Kitty Kornered, when the four cats in that one are sitting around, drinking and smoking cigars, and when a very angry Porky comes upon them, they all take off running in their varied trajectories.  I had to rewind the tape a few dozen times on that one.  Great animation and sound.  If that's not in Heaven, well... clearly it's Hell in an elaborate disguise.
...where was I?  Oh yeah.  So the Gambling Bug bit the cat on the ear, the cat rushes over to the dog, and the cat starts saying, OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN... "Gimme the cards!  C'mon!  Deal 'em out!!!!"  It's kinda pathetic.  The living picture of Zen, despite his role in all this, the bulldog says "What'll we play?"  The cat responds, "WHO CARES?  Deal the cards!  Gimme the cards."  Now, THAT is a bad Gambling Bug bite.  I don't see how it could be worse, and still abide by the Hays Code.  And so, as in Bugs Bunny Rides Again and What's Brewin', Bruin?, the game of choice is gin rummy.  It's just a funny game, and I guess it was bigger than poker at the time.  "Gin rummy for penalties!" says the bulldog, eerily calm.
Also, I guess what the Looney Tunes mavens found funny about gin rummy is how instantly one can lose the game.  In Bugs Bunny Rides Again and What's Brewin', Bruin?, opponents lose their games rather instantly, and Papa Bear of What's Brewin,' Bruin? fame gets pretty pissed off about it.  Same thing with the cat.  But listen to that happy breathing as the cat gets a handful of cards!  I was wrong.  It did get worse, and the Hays Code was okay with it... somehow, that makes it worse.  Oh well.
The bulldog makes gin with a handful of spades, and the cat slowly drops all his cards, cross-fading into a giant lollipop.  And yet, James Cameron gets all the credit for so-called "morphing."  Harumph.
The cat slowly and dejectedly walks over to the penalty wheel.  Sorry... Penalty Wheel.  The cat gives it a spin, thereby providing some overtime to the camera guys rather than the animators.  If Disney had such a gag, the animators would be working overtime to re-paint the penalty wheel, no less than 360 times, I tells you!  That's how little they skimp on their high-quality animation products.  And so, screen writers take note: our Plot Superstructure is complete.  The cat gets bitten by the Gambling Bug, gambles, then goes to the Penalty Wheel.  Will this be iterated three times or what?  With slight alterations?
FIRST PENALTY: the "Gesundheit."  Oh, if only kids could bully this way.  As it is, they have trouble with "I won the hot dog."  Love that logic puzzle.  Or how about Sesame Street's infamous 10Q?  Anyway, gambling has a dark side, who knew?  However, the Gambling Cat, as he should probably be known now, might not realize it, but spinning the Penalty Wheel is kind of a form of gambling, albeit an unpleasant one?  Alas, he's caught in the gears of this Plot Superstructure, and there's no time for such self-realizations.  And the "Gesundheit" penalty actually has a lot of moving parts in its own right.  How do things get so complicated?
It begins with the dog force feeding the cat a teeny piece of chewing gum.  The dog also force chews it for the cat... we get a helpful close-up of the piece of bubble gum, thankfully.  The dog slaps the cat on the back, then kicks the cat in the ass to create a bubble, which is particularly cruel.  But the cat knew the bulldog was capable of this when the cat took him in.  Next piece of the puzzle: a canister of "Sneeze Powder," since banned by the Geneva Conventions... but don't worry!  The market will soon be flooded with Trump brand Sneeze Powder.  I'm not psychic, but I can see it in all of our collective futures.  And so, a dash of "sneeze powder" on the cat's nose and... yup.  The cat sneezes.  It takes a while, and the pink bubble gets sufficiently big, and the dog backs out of the blast impact zone, but the cat sneezes, and gets a new bubble gum suit out of the deal.  "Gesundheit!" says the dog, ever the embodiment of sophisticated sarcasm.
The cat says "OOOH, I HATE THAT!"  Joe Besser couldn't have done much better.  However, the cat clearly doesn't hate it enough, for it's back to the log to await the Gambling Bug's second bite.
SECOND PENALTY: Now once you have a great Plot Superstructure to lean up against like we have here in Early to Bet, clearly it's time to tweak it as much as you can without changing it... at least, here in the pre-J. J. Abrams Film Storytelling Age.  As it happens, there's a reason the Gambling Bug bit the Gambling Cat on the ear, and now we find out why.  Apparently, the Gambling Bug will talk to his victims before repeated bites.  Here, the Bug says to the cat, "Okay, so ya lost!  So ya didn't win!"  That's like telling a soft person that they're not hard, Frank Lee.  And if that doesn't make them hard, clearly nothing will, forever and ever, till the End of Time.  And Time is a River rolling into nowhere.  We must live while we can, and play Steve Winwood on Top 40 radio forever and ever, till the End of Time... where was I?  Oh, right.  Second bite, just as effective, and the cat's turning into a Limb Tornado before heading back over to the dog's Picnic Table of Doom.  No wonder Joe Pesci's character in 1995's Casino hated "degenerate gamblers" so much!  Yeesh Louise!
And so, we once again find the Cat finding solace in a handful of cards.  "Aah!" the Cat says, looking at his pawful of cards.  However, all is not well in Gamblesville, Florida, as the cat starts to put back a ten.  "I still got my FINGER on it!" says the Cat, with one strangely human finger on the card.  The Cat takes the card back.  Not a completely degenerate gambler after all!  To cut to the chase, we see the Gambling Bug's reaction now when the Gambling Cat loses.  Now, that's powerful filmmaking right there.  We don't even need to see the cat this time!  And so, we come to find out that, much like the Devil working with a sucker, the Gambling Bug takes a much longer-term interest than we first realized.  It seems the Gambling Bug was actually rooting for the cat to win, and was visibly disappointed when the cat lost!  Alas, we still don't get to see the bug that bit the dog; apparently, that's just the way the dog is, especially with this cat.
Next scene: back to the penalty wheel.  We saw the whole drawn-out process once, so we get to the good stuff a little faster this time.  For whatever reason, and maybe to appeal to the booming database community, the Penalty Wheel has numeric codes on it.  Probably more funny that way, forcing the Cat to go to the filing cabinet to figure out what number corresponds to what penalty.  He clearly doesn't have it memorized yet, but might at some point.  The penalty this time is the "William Tell."  The cat tries hard to resist, but he nevertheless eventually gets in place in front of the wooden fence, and he at least gets to pick the largest apple within his reach to place atop his head.  Is the cat at all grateful?  Of course not!  Me, me, me.  I guess it's more about the abject humiliation of it all rather than the brief moments of pain, perhaps.  Again, I hate to spoil the punchline, but basically, the cat's just fine, and being way way too much of a cry baby about the whole thing.

ACT THREE

THIRD PENALTY: even the Gambling Bug is surprised by how much of an unlucky loser this Gambling Cat is!  The Gambling Bug breaks the provincial Fourth Wall over it, for God's sake!  The cat's fevered run over to the gambling table is sped up this time, by the way.  Help that hopes, er... hope that helps!
The punishment this time?  It's referred to as "Roll out the Barrel."  This farm has a wheelbarrow after all, but it ain't beside any white chickens.  And it ain't raining, either.  Now, for those of you who don't know, there's a barrel, and it's full of gun powder, and the barrel is in a wheelbarrow.  So, technically it should be "Roll out the 'Barrow," but you know how it is.  I mean, technically, the acronym should be MILTF, but MILF just rolls off the tongue that much more easily, right?  Anyway, this penalty is especially humiliating for the cat, because typically the "Roll out the Barrel" punishment is inflicted unknowingly on the bad guy in a Looney Tunes cartoon.  We saw it most recently in... you know, the one with Yosemite Sam and Bugs, probably Bunker Hill Bunny.  Arguably, in that one, Sam did figure out what was going on, but his fate was already sealed long ago, and not with a (sweet) kiss.  But it didn't start out that way.  "Roll out the Barrel" starts out with both parties knowing how it must end.
And so, we get a rather Immaculate Explosion.  The bulldog fires a starter's pistol, and faster than even Berthold in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), the Gambling Cat makes for the horizon over four hills in the distance.  If he actually had to roll the barrel along, say with his hands, it might have taken longer, but oh well.  Now, sure, the dog could've ignited the gun powder trail with that starter pistol, but he's a class act all the way, and uses a match instead.  Just as instantly, the powder trail gets burned up faster than fireproof pajamas, and the film gets the explosive ending that it somehow needed.  The cat is blown sky high, of course... and he lands right back in the same place where he first started with the wheelbarrow!  What are the odds?

EPILOGUE

The cat, now in crutches and bandages because of "Roll out the Barrel", heads right back over to the picnic table for another bout of gambling.  If it weren't for the harsh penalties, this might actually be good therapy!  However, in a slightly surprising plot twist, THE DOG HIMSELF has had enough!  The dog tells the cat, "You're too unlucky, cat!  I'm quittin' before ya KILLS yourself!"  A lone piccolo plays lead on "We're In the Money."  I'm reminded of one time on the old Letterman show when Jim Carrey wondered aloud about NASCAR drivers who want to get back in their cars after a particularly horrific crash.  Carrey, of course, made a compelling case about why they shouldn't.  On the other hand... IT'S THEIR JOB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  What else are they S'POZED to do, man?  The job of Ace Ventura AND Ace Ventura Jr. is taken!
Oh, but before we continue, asymptotically close to wrapping this one up, I should reveal the results of my rigorous data analysis before the Trump Administration issues me another gag order.  So, between bites by the Gambling Bug upon the Gambling Cat's ear, here's how much time elapsed, in seconds: 109, 69 and 40.  Study that well, future editors, directors and screenwriters.  This is the formula you'll be tinkering with.  Or maybe you can do like Soderbergh and just tell the story completely out of order, Slaughterhouse-Five style!  Bear in mind, of course, that even Slaughterhouse-Five sort of ends up in a Three Act structure of sorts, in between the fast edits.
Now, if you're like me... scary thought, I know... and you're put in a mind of films like A Life Less Ordinary or Warren Beatty's Oscar-nomination sponge, 1978's Heaven Can Wait, which I have yet to write a review for... you're aware of the line between men and Gods.  Now, the Gambling Bug is a God of sorts, even if his powers are limited, and he's not exactly floating around in the sky, hanging with his eternal posse of clouds and angels with wings and harps.  But up until this critical moment, the Gambling Bug's influence on the story was known only to us, and not to the dog and the cat.  But now that the dog is out of the picture, by his own choice, there has been left a void.
Into this void steps the Gambling Bug.  No cross-fade to the next scene, no long introductions, and the Gambling Cat doesn't ask "Hey, who are you?"  Just as God once made whoopee with Mary about 2,050 years ago as of this writing, so too does the Gambling Bug feel the need to get more actively involved with this living creature he has picked as Soul Mate for this current celluloid outing.  There's no time to stop everything and ask why this is happening, unless you've got this on DVD and are writing a so-called "revue" of it... the film projector just keeps rolling right along, and all the filmmakers involved in its creation are left to sit back and hope it sticks for the majority of the assembled audience, as they watch from the back of the theatre, hands pressed against faces, like Rodin's sculpture "The Worrier."
Either the Gambling Bug's duties to his victims haven't been more clearly defined for me, or maybe we've gone off the rails completely in order to achieve a sense of closure, that's all I'm saying.  But one thing's for sure: the Gambling Bug has picked a much simpler game than gin rummy to play with the cat.  It's time for a game of "High Card," which is usually played to determine who goes first in a more complicated game.  And what are they playing for, incidentally?  What are the stakes?  If the Gambling Cat loses to the Gambling Bug, does the Gambling Bug own the Gambling Cat for life?  Body and soul?  Will the Gambling Cat eventually break his rather consistent losing streak?  Will there be closure at all for anybody?  So many conflicting emotions, how to express them....

***
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan