Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bell, Book and Carrot

Okay, now here's a Cinematic Confession for ya... I really ought to post it to that Facebook group, but I'm nothing if not a lazy man.  When I think of my favourite Looney Tunes Merrie Melody characters... Witch Hazel isn't in my Top 10.  But I do like her laugh, and the cloud of hairpins she leaves in her wake when making her hasty exits, whether it be to Stage Left or Stage Right.  Oh, she can do both.  June Foray is the female Mel Blanc, no question.  Still... let's see if I can make it through Broomstick Bunny.  Sorry if I've offended any of my dear readers, but to my credit, there doesn't seem to be a whole disc devoted to Witch Hazel on any of my five volumes of Looney Tunes.  Does that not deserve to go under "Undisputed Facts"?  That which both the prosecution and defense can agree upon?


You know, the older I get... I hate to keep saying that, but alas, it's true.  But when I was a younger lad, and going through my M.C. Escher phase, I would've been much delighted by the following scene: we zoom back from a second floor doorway to find ... boom!  No staircase!  Oh, right, it's a witch's house.  Still, don't they have to abide by fire codes and what not?  I say that, despite knowing full well that there's a giant heat vent over the black cauldron we find Witch Hazel stirring.  Dang, but that's a big house.  Must be next door to Buster Keaton's old Italian villa.  Then again, we're well past the Golden Age of Cartoon Backgrounds.  When they didn't have to compete with the veritable instant gratification of TV, they spent more time on such things.  Now everything's just outlines.  As few lines as possible, and get it on the animation stand.
As for the plot, well... screenwriters, take note.  Her extremely paper wasteful calendar shows that it's Halloween.  Ah, the promise of Trick or Treat-ers.  Still, Witch Hazel seems awfully engaged in her recipe.  Seeing as how she's got the giant cauldron, I guess everything on the recipe will go by gallons rather than tablespoons.  Apparently, it's a general purpose witch's brew she's cooking up at this moment.  And even witches gotta sing while doing something; the ever-helpful IMDb informs us, on Broomstick Bunny's "Soundtracks" page that it's a variation on "A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich, and You."  Another one of those songs you've heard a million times in a Looney Tune, but never thought to actually look up... just me?  Thought so.  Sorry.
And so, we move on.  We see the witch's cat, and... dayamn, but that cat is skinny!  Doesn't even move like a normal cat!  Also, it's acting more like a dog, following Witch Hazel around all over the place.  Well, cats do that sometimes, like if you're in the garden, and they can't find any tasty small things to kill.  I don't even know why they bother; all those fur and feathers to spit out and or cough up later.  Ick.  And so, Witch Hazel's on her way back to the cauldron, but... screenwriters take note.  Keep things moving along.  Have a setting only once, if absolutely necessary.  Take Burn After Reading, for example.  Here's the Coens' most blatant plot device they've ever used.  Osbourne Cox is at home, speaking into his little hand-held digital recorder, talking about the "fabled Murrow's Boys" and what not and... boom!  Off in the distance, a phone rings.  Cox runs downstairs to answer it.  A cheap, cheap way to introduce the basement that figures heavily in the plot later on.  Sloppy work, guys... crazy sloppy.  Anyway, back to the instant case.  Witch Hazel walks past a mirror and... she has to stop.  I guess Disney didn't own a complete copyright on Snow White because, as it happens, Witch Hazel's mirror has a little magic of its own.  In a slight twist, however, Hazel's query is the opposite.  "Who's the UGLIEST one of all?"  Ha ha.  So original.  Didn't see that coming.  The genie appears and decrees that... yup, Hazel's still got it.  Positively hideous with her gangrenous complexion... and what's the deal with her tooth?  A green bottom tooth, with a niche in her upper lip for it to fit into.  What is she?  Part crocodile?  You know... that would explain a lot.  Of course, genetic mutations have traditionally not been associated with the witches themselves.  No, if anyone's going to turn into a human-animal hybrid, the WITCH is a'gonna do the turnin', b'atch!  Wordness to the turdness... oh, that's my new phrase of the month.  Lol.
And so, Witch Hazel gets a chuckle out of her tenuous situation which up until now seemed so secure.  A big chuckle, then exits Stage Left, leaving behind a cloud of hairpins... or is it Stage Right?  See, the hairpins should hover there, then move in the direction in which she went.  Sloppy work, guys.  Slpooy.


I'm going to call it here because now comes the part with Bugs, as was promised in the film's opening section... right?  Ooh!  And the title.  However... remember now, remember what day it is!  Halloween, that's right.  For our benefit, Bugs takes off his costume and gives a couple lines of exposition... gotta go!  Dinner time.
...okay, I'm bacque.  So embroiled in her task is Witch Hazel... she's damn near like a computer programmer, I dare say!  Sorry, can't think of any more examples of people who have to close themselves off to the world to get their little tasks done... well, okay, maybe the Brontë sisters.  (Currer Bell indeed)  Or Cathy Guisewite when she was working in her heyday... ack indeed.  So, for some of you, this is where the plot just might begin to break right down.  Just break right down; didn't take much.  And so, as prescribed by the plot... the filmmakers aren't making Slacker here, after all.  These two seemingly opposing plot threads were bound to converge sooner or later... not as blatantly as 1993's Amos & Andrew, but still.
And so, having told us what he's up to, Bugs makes his way to Witch Hazel's house and raps on the door.  Meanwhile, Hazel complains that she needs one more ingredient to finish up her giant cauldron of brew.  WHEN SUDDENLY... there's a knock at the door!  Guess that ingredient will have to wait for later.  Hazel runs to the door, Stage Right... apparently it's not as urgent, and she didn't crack herself up beforehand.  On the plus side, she didn't lose any hairpins!  How many does she have?  Next scene: Bugs holds up his paper treat bag and says "Evenin', Granny!"  Don't even get me started.  Bugs just isn't in touch with the regular folks... it's TRICK OR TREAT!  YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO SAY "TRICK OR TREAT"!!!!!!!!!!  Am I in the room?!  Note the bright green color of Bugs' mask.  It's not quite (0,255,0) but close!  About 220!  Sorry, Photoshop users and others might get that.  It's too inside the digital beltway.
Thankfully, the last word Bugs says is "witch," so Granny ... I mean, Hazel, gets engaged in the conversation.  "I don't remember seeing her at the Union meetings!" she says.  Okay, time out.  First of all, Hazel clearly isn't a devotée of the arts of ventriloquism, and she doesn't notice that Bugs is a) either the greatest ventriloquist of all time, or b) um... HE'S WEARING A MASK.  And second, Hazel has been indoors for so long, she doesn't realize that it's Halloween.  Sure, she saw it on the calendar when she ripped off the page for October 30th... I guess that's all the gripes.  Oh, and third... well, we'll get to it in a second.  Hazel says to Bugs, in a rather grandmotherly way, "My!  Isn't she the ugliest little thing?"  And then... oh, how to describe it.  Hazel stops herself, and makes kind of a squishing noise with her mouth.  Genius.  See, you can't be afraid to embarrass yourself if you want to reach the stratosphere of the Voiceover Actor community.  "Ugly?" says Hazel, then she makes half of the bullet noise as she disappears in another cloud of hairpins.  The urgency of the situation is back.
She's back in front of the magic mirror again, asking the question from earlier.  The genie of the mirror appears, using the curved glass on the animation stand that gets employed in such special effects type deals as these.  The genie has a little bit of latitude, despite the lack of a visible neck, and he... I'm just assumpting up top that he's a he.  It comes up later as well.  The genie gets a gander of Bugs looking inside the house... more rudeness.  We'll deal with that later.  The genie, having seen Bugs and, like Hazel, unawares completely of either masks and or Halloween, so it would seen, makes the shallow, surface-only judgment, in that poetic-like way of his, that becostumed Bugs is now the ugliest one of all.  With the flop sweat starting to flow, Hazel's very foundation of existence is shaken to its core.  Love the electric sound she makes at about 2:29 or so.
Another cloud of hairpins, and Hazel finds herself running to the front door at slightly less than light speed.  She drags Bugs inside, saying "Come in!" several times in a row.  You just don't get that kind of hospitality anymore... well, maybe once on your first tryst, but that's about it.  Cross-fade to next scene: Hazel and becostumized Bugs are sitting at a small table that you might find at a European café.  And it's time for a little shop talk.  Hazel does that creepy walking thing with her fingers... just on the table, though.  Again, tryst stuff.  Apparently Hazel is really really preoccupied with her looks.  If you're looking for turning little boys into mice, well... do I have to post links for everything here?  Mr. Bean's in it!  Look him up yourself.
For some reason, I am reminded of those moments in the non-Trump orange monster pics where Bugs turns into a gay hairstylist.  I guess that's not too far out on a limb.  But enough of this gay banter.  As host of this little witch get-together, it's Hazel's responsibility to provide nourishment!  Snacks!  Hazel gallantly recuses herself and leaves two clouds of hairpins behind: once when she leaves the table, and a second time when she's looking from around the corner of the doorjamb.  Lol.  That one's my new favourite.  And of course, Bugs says what we're all thinking: "...she was someone's baby once't."  ...what?  Well, I was thinking something along those lines.
Act Two and a Half: Just like the Wicked Witch of the West and her bucket of deadly water in 1939's The Wizard of Oz, so too does Hazel possess the ingredients of the potential destruction of her ugly... ugliness.  Yeah, English is a weird language.  I mean, "beauty" is a noun, but "ugly" isn't.  See, if I were real good, I'd have a whole list of little quirks like that.  So far, I've just got "cupboard" and "clipboard."  English is no monolith.  Anyway, Hazel prepares and serves this potentially disastrous brew.  She pours fake witch Bugs a cup of it.  Bugs hesitates, if only for a plot device.  "Come on, come on!" says Hazel.  It certainly doesn't help her cause, dontcha think?  And on top of that... no cookies?  I can't drink a cup of tea without some damn cookies!  Some nice Pepperidge Farm Milanos or sumpthin'!  Okay, the first cup to cleanse the pallet, THEN a cookie to go with the tea.  But no.  Nothing.  Just the tea.  Almost as awkward a scene as with Alex and the subversive writer and the guy who would eventually wear the (first) Darth Vader costume... I mean, outfit.  All the other Dark Side officers have more 20th century Earth-style military uniforms, but only Vader rocks the black cape.  That's hierarchy for ya.
So what's Bugs' move here?  Get a mouthful of the brew and spit it out later?  I dunno... I mean, Bugs is already pretty.  Alas, we don't get to see how Hazel's potion would work on him.  Instead, it's time to Keep it 100(TM), and Bugs takes off his mask.  "Mask?" Hazel asks of herself.  And then, seeing that it's a rather large talking rabbit, asks "A rabbit?" of herself.  Caught up in her own world, time for another cloud of hairpins, as Bugs says "Couldn't tell, could ya?"
And so... as with all these witch spell recipes, there's various garden variety things you have to get.  Why, take the list to your immediate left, for example! dorsal fin?  OF WHAT?!!!!  Probably a shark, huh?  Reminds me of the vegetarian restaurant nearby that serves an all meatless menu, but they have fake meat items like shark fin soup.  Love that place.  Should probably make another link for it.  And so, you've got things like butterfly wings you got to get, mandrake root, nightshade, five-leaf clovers, a little driveway chamomile... and the last item to get, if there's poor character development in the plot, you have to get the smallest leaf off of a plant that ONLY grows on the tallest mountain in the region, and ONLY blooms during the last blue moon of the summer, but ONLY in a freak snowstorm that ONLY occurs every... every 359 years!  My God!  That's TONIGHT!  We've gotta get moving!  Quick, pack the Vanagon with only the essentials!  As for Broomstick Bunny, well... incidentally, very few broomsticks in this one so far... as you can see from the attached picture, that big final ingredient has to come from a rabbit.  A far more insidious plot development.
Next scene: meanwhile, back in Hazel's spacious tea room, Bugs informs us that his Spidey Sense(TM) is tingling... I'm sorry, he refers to it as his "delicate inner sense of danger."  Think about that for a moment.  It occurs to me that this is a rather complicated passage of dialogue, and you probably wouldn't hear something like that, such character introspection from, say, a Looney Tunes from the 30s or 40s.  If this isn't a sign of maturation, I don't know what is.  Maybe Clampett did something similar in one of his works.  Anyway, for the extra jaded cinephile out there, you can probably guess what's coming.  Bugs continues to walk, Stage Left, completing his thought and...
yup, she's baaaaaaacck!  Good Lourdes, but she's got a big nose.  For some reason, I didn't notice until now, but here it takes on an extra proboscis monkey-Durante quality.  And so, we hold on this silent standoff, if only for the benefit of the music... you know, Milt Franklyn's pretty good score.  Apparently, Carl Stalling kept helping, just off the books or something.  He didn't know what to do with himself upon retiring, apparently.  It happens.  It's all Bugs can do to distract Hazel from her new-found goal of dropping that cleaver.  Bugs exits Stage Right, leaving only a couple clouds of dust... and NO hairpins!  If only to relieve her tension, Hazel sinks the cleaver into the floor where Bugs was once standing.  She can always buy another!


A little too early for Act Three, but this is more for the benefit of the action fans in the audience.  For a big rousing chase begins at about 4:18, with Hazel's laughter well preceding her... much like Belloq's laughter once Indy takes off running, but strangely without the echo.  Well, those were the days, you know.  These guys didn't sweat the little details so much, or defy cartoon audio conventions too much.  Sure, they sweated out details, but this time they didn't stop and say to themselves "Wait!  You can't even SEE Hazel, and yet, here she is, laughing as loud as ya please!"
Next scene: more Escher-like stairs.  Man, but she's got a big place.  Definitely an usurped Hollywood mansion.  Next next scene: ...finally!  Here we go.  Now we're talking.  Bugs runs past the broom closet.  Hazel goes past it, then doubles back.  She's had enough thrill of the chase for tonight; now it's time to get the ingredient she needs to finish her latest and greatest.  She grabs a broom and... oh, I dare not spoil the gag.  Sure, maybe it gets milked a few seconds too long, but whaddayagonna do?  Not as long as what happens next, mind you!  Bugs thinks he's gotten away, but for once, the bad guy's one step ahead of him!  However... it seems like a bit of a letdown, if only for me.  I mean, really?  Seriously?  A fishing pole with a carrot on the hook?  That's it?  This is a low-level witch we're dealing with here, clearly, apparently.  Where's the beef?  Where's the MAGIC?  Is that asking so much?  They're just saving the good stuff for the end of the film?  Wotta gyp.  And so, Bugs goes along willingly, munchy-wunching away on that carrot, Hazel reeling away on the reel, pulling Bugs in.  She scoops up Bugs with a net on a stick, and it's fade to black time.
Next scene: fade-in on Hazel sharpening up that damn cleaver from earlier.  She finally pried it from the floor; there'll be time to repair said floor later.  Reminds me of that one with the bull who used a big wheel-shaped rock to sharpen his horns.  Bugs is tied up about as completely as he can be with thick rope.  He's still wearing his giant witch shoes from earlier.
Next scene: Hazel is on her way over to Bugs.  The sharpening stone was a few rooms away, it would seem.  She makes another one of her little jokes and... boy!  She likes her own jokes a lot, doesn't she?  No wonder she was asking about Bugs' hair earlier!  How many hairpins she got in there?  Dayamn!!!!
Next scene: the cleaver's about ready to fall again and... well, it's different, anyway.  Bugs is so completely in a corner, facing down an enemy so merciless... then again, Bugs is being pretty sexist, don't you think?  Oh, when did Bugs EVER shed tears for Elmer?  None.  Not one.  In fact, I'm pretty sure it was Bugs that brought Elmer to tears on more than one occasion!  What a Richard.  But, you can't argue with results.  Also, it's kind of a Chuck Jones trademark.  I forget if we've encountered his sad eyes routine yet, but it's in Little Orphan Airedale, and brought up as a matter of tradecraft, even!  Okay, orphan dog tradecraft, not our intelligence services.  You might remember that it led to the inspiration for the cat first seen in... Shrek 2, maybe?  I don't think I saw the third one at all, and definitely didn't see the fourth one.  What's the matter, HBO?  Are they too old already?  Are they not better than A Bug's Life?  Must they lie in home video purgatory forever, never to be seen again?  Like A Bug's Life?
Next scene: Bugs cries a few silent tears, and Hazel finally loses it.  Incidentally, listen to June Foray's commentary.  Even she stops talking during this scene!... nope, got that wrong.  She stops about 4:42, then there's 50 seconds of commentary silence!!  Oh well.  Sometimes less is more.  Michael Barrier on the other hand... yap yap yap!  Just kidding; I like that guy too.  Plus, he's got actual interviews with many of these people!  Gotta give him some props for that.
Hazel even gets in a good joke here: sad Bugs reminded her of Paul, her pet tarantula... I'll give you a minute.  Okay, back to the plot.  Bugs wriggles out of the ropes just enough to move his feet.  He walks over to the cup with the beautifying potion in it, don't forget!  But while he's doing this, he gives Hazel a rather interesting bit of advice in our carpe diem-obsessed era we live in.  He says "Look, Granny, we can't carry the torch for our loved ones forever!"  There's got to be a way I can sneak that line into casual conversation somehow.  "You gotta pull yourself together!" adds Bugs... okay, maybe not.  Now, for you audiophiles out there, you'll surely like it when Bugs grabs the cup's saucer with his mouth and walks it over to Hazel.  "Here!  Drink this!" he says, with the saucer still in his mouth.  For some reason, I'm reminded of what happened to Wheezy Joe... and you BETTER know what I'm talking about!


In one form or another, the concept of morphing has actually been with us for a while, long before Terminator 2: Judgment Day put it on the map in no uncertain terms.  If you use the "search" feature on this very blog, why... you might be able to find reference to some Fleischer cartoons, and one to Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid... okay, thought I had more than that.
Anyway, the point being, the main takeaway here, the Teachable Moment  (TM) if you will... Hazel transforms and or morphs into a sexy babe!  Note the rings of light that usually signify drunkenness and or dizziness.  And there's another thing, incidentally.  Usually it's Tex Avery who's the flesh peddler in chief in these celluloid outings for the tiddly winkies... your Swing Shift Cinderellas and what not.  Usually it's a wolf ogling a human woman... incidentally, ain't that always the way, when you get right down to it?  Aren't all marriages and relationships like that, essentially?  She's a model, and he's a giant, hairy, slobbering nincompoop?  But Chuck Jones?  This is unusual... save for the occasional Bugs Bunny cross-dressing event; okay, more than occasional.
Hazel quickly finds her giant, hairy, slobbering nincompoop when she goes over to the magic mirror and asks her usual question about who's Queen of Ugly Mountain.  She gets quite a different answer this time, heading back for that broom closet.  She gets the right broom this time, and takes off into the night, with the genie close behind.  Bugs has to get the last word, of course... and what a corny one it is, too!  Ugh.  Nancy Kerrigan would never stop vomiting.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

Auteur Watch - Laurence Fishburne

...Morpheus?  Well, as Jiminy Glick would say, I don't mean this negatively... but Mr. Fishburne is clearly not as ambitious a director as he is an actor slash Thespian.  He's only got the one directing credit to his name, and it's called Once in the Life.  And I'm guessing it wasn't well received critically... yup, 'fraid so.  But it was surely fun to make, right?  Anyway, I have slightly renewed appreciation for Brian DePalma's 1986 effort, Wise Guys... first of all, because of that effect where one guy's up close and in focus, and the other guy's far away, and yet still in focus.  Just don't look at the middle of the screen.  But as for the plot, well... I saw the part where mob boss Dan Hedaya is getting ready to kill the two leads, but he has to stop.  And why?  He has to find out why they're protecting each other.  It gets cliché after that moment, but Hedaya really sells it.

La La World

Well, the Oscars may not have had you in their "In Memoriam" reel, Bill Paxton, but I will, damn it... I will.  Something like that.  Now, I hate to use this platform normally reserved for musings on the cinema, but I just heard that Donald Trump will not be attending the White House Correspondents' Dinner, the annual dinner normally attended by the President of the United States and a comedian or comedienne of his choosing.  So to Mr. Trump, I would just like to say.... bawk bawk bawk bawk!
Anyway, there's only one debut this week in this overcrowded movie marketplace called the Domestic (American) Top 10, and debuting strong at #1 it's something called Get Out.  And once again, it proves that I don't have my fingers on the pulse anymore.  Didn't see any web ads, none of my Hollywood Facebook friends mentioned it, didn't see any commercials for it during "The Daily Show"... it's an 'R' picture so they probably didn't run ads on Nickelodeon.  But you know what?  My man, Jordan Peele, Mr. Obama impersonation, that one half of "Key & Peele"... he directed that mother!  Good on ya!  That almost makes up for the lackluster performance of Keanu.  Also, you're way too young to have that much talent.  Dude's not even 40 yet, apparently.  Or maybe he's like Olivia Wilde in terms of age; keeps getting younger and younger.
...oh, right.  And the Oscars were tonight.  I'll just never forget where I was when they screwed up who actually won Best Picture.  As usual, Amazon got the order wrong.  Ba boom!  Drumroll.  But their picture, Moonlight, eventually ended up getting their Oscar statuettes into the right hands.  There was some kind of mixup with the vote count or something... I guess host Jimmy Kimmel didn't want to risk losing half his audience by saying something to the effect of "If you're just tuning in, we just corrected an error with the Best Picture... too bad we couldn't do that with the President of the United States, am I right?"

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Nightmare on Elmer Street

Awright!  Now that I sat through the FBI warning, and that whole thing about the droits of international artists and what not, I finally get to put Volume One of the Looney Tunes away and start right in on Volume Two.  First up, another elastic Robert Clampett masterpiece, one of his last, if not the last, I think :(... and it's called The Big Snooze.  Oh, it's too hot for TV, I tells ya.


So far I didn't get to hear all of veteran animator Bill Melendez's DVD commentary... it was a fun time working at the ol' Termite Terrace, from what I gather.  Lucky guy.  Lots of pranks, like at George Clooney's Italian villa there on Lake Como; the constant struggle to make the cartoons wild enough.  Damn Hays Code.
Okay, so we don't always get terribly specific details about the given cartoon.  But this much I do know... or at least, I think I do.  This was one of the last cartoons that Bob Clampett did for Warners.  The war was over, and there was this new medium called "television" that seemed like an exciting new thing to be a part of.  The future!  A cinema in the home.  Why, there'd never be a need to go out for anything ever, ever again!  Well... maybe just groceries.  Non-milk groceries.  Or how about eggs?  I mean, besides what we would get from the chickens in the backyard.
And so, it is within this context that we find Mr. Fudd chasing Bugs once again, firing his shotgun to the music.  ("William Tell")  And then, the action comes to the old hollowed-out log.  You know, right there on the edge of the canyon.  You'd think a healthy fear of heights would inform the thinking of cartoon characters, but no.  It always seems to come as a surprise to them!  Why is that, exactly?  Not quite in the purview of the Laws of Cartoon Physics, I'm afraid, nor the Statutes (Kansas Annotated) and Guidelines on Cartoon Pre-meditation.
But, as usual, Fudd finds himself following wherever Bugs seems to be taking him.  Fortunately for human hunters chasing pesky wabbits, either for sport or for the purposes of curbing the growth of invasive species, ... what was I gonna... oh, wight.  Real wabbits aren't that bright.  Although, I'm telling you... those two rabbits I saw one day, I swear it's like the one rabbit was seriously trying to chase the second rabbit out into oncoming traffic.  If only there were a busier street, it might've been a success.  Anyway, Bugs gets Elmer to run through this hollow log... and pretty quickly at that.  Hmm!  Seems like he'd have to crawl through on his hands and knees, but the log's pretty big.  And so, Bugs pushes the end of the log so that Elmer runs right off the cliff... almost.  God bless the Laws of Cartoon Physics, even though I should be rooting for Bugs.  And, of course, the Wikipedia example is just a rough guideline.  Elmer's situation is but another snowflake in the snow storm of cartoon cinema history.  Also, Wikipedia's a more elegant solution than the expensive website that was big in the late '90s early 2000s.  What did we do indeed before the term 'viral' went viral, now thought of practically exclusively as a serious (mind / brain) infection by an internet meme?
Not to be fooled so easily, having turned into a giant cartoon lollipop twice now, Elmer makes absolutely sure that there's solid ground to walk out of that log onto... sort of.  He gives it the ol' tap with the hand test.  Yup; there's solid ground there.  But just before Elmer's able to emerge from the log, Bugs gives the log an extra quick push halfway off the cliff, and... yup, Elmer's making an extra confident run further and further out over the cliff's edge than he ever had before.  Ever had a day like that?  Yeah, me too.  Anyway, once again, the elasticity of the Laws of Cartoon Physics is on display, because Elmer is nauseatingly aware of his dire situation in the face of impending gravity.  And yet...


If there's one thing that Robert Clampett likes, in addition to extremely groundbreaking, extra-liquid animation, it's the wild, wild plot.  And the breaking of the Fourth Wall... for those of you who don't know, the Fourth Wall is when a character in the movie talks directly to the audience.  Like Ferris Bueller or Sam Elliot in Lebowski.  And so, rather than plummet to an easy death, Elmer Fudd stands up and fights, bemoaning his shabby treatment at the hands of Bugs and the city fathers of Warner Bros.  But Elmer's a smart boy, and he knows that he has a contract with "Mr. Warner."  Elmer pulls out a notarized piece of paper from his jacket pocket.  Why... that must be it!
Next scene: if you watched this cartoon a long time ago on old VHS tapes, here's where the rewinding starts.  I mean, talk about creative editing!  Now Clampett's edits are getting elastic and experimental!  Inspired by the French New Wave... oh, wait, that wouldn't be for another 20 years.  Anyway, Fudd starts tearing up his contract into little itty bitty pieces.  The only conventional part of the sequence is his words... ah.  I'm thinking about them right now.  He says "Well, DIS for my contwact!  Ehhhh!  And DAT for my contwact.."  Don't even need to watch it again.  Meanwhile, you can see the distress on Bugs' face.  This is an existential threat he's never faced before, and he's taking it deadly seriously.  As serious as a New York heart attack.  Bugs begs and pleads with Elmer, but this was a long time coming, some say it was too long.  Elmer says "I'm going fishing... and NO MORE WABBITS!"  Next scene: a close-up of Bugs' shocked face.
Next scene: with chin up, as high as a Republican politician, Elmer begins his slow exit march, Stage Left.  Arguably, Elmer's eyelashes seem more feminine than usual... anyway, Bugs continues his begging and pleading, on his strangely-human rabbit knees, no less.  Of course, no matter how dramatic the scene, Clampett always likes to throw in a hint of nudity... take the end of the first episode of A Corny Concerto, for just one bawdy example.  Or that Masked Marauder one... sheesh!!!  Fig leaf to the max!
I dare say I don't even have to watch it again!  I don't want to disturb the house guest, anywho.  Also, my PC video player is in the middle of another "critical" download, so it looks like I'll have to wait anyway... okay, back in business.  Next scene: lakeside, where Elmer's got his fishing gear, as predicted earlier, but he's a multi-tasker, with a nice daytime nap as the primary task.  "And NO MORE WABBITS!" he reiterates before falling into a deep sleep.
Naturally, no sooner does he make his anti-wabbit declawation, when... one slide whistle later, out pops Bugs from Elmer's a'picanick basket!  And then, again, more extra-fast editing.  I wonder what the theatre patrons thought at the time when they saw this one.  Did the editing induce headaches in the tiddly winkies in the audience?  We switch from Bugs' close-up to a long shot of Elmer sleeping away, and Bugs is, well... I mean, let's face it.  Bugs is openly mocking the sleeping Elmer!  Bugs is a bully!  Shame on those who are Bully for Bugs.  Bugs starts singing "Beautiful Dreamer," on top of everything else.  To Elmer's credit, his sleeping is not disturbed by Bugs... until what happens next, of course.  And if you're on Elmer's side of this equation, well... you might want to change the channel at this point.  It's going to get worse before it gets better.
And for those of you who have ever seen The Big Snooze on the cable TV... and I'm pretty sure cable TV is the only place you'll see this broadcasted these days, if at all... you'll probably notice that the DVD contains a little extra footage you might not have seen before.  In fact, the broadcast version might do a quick video fade after Bugs quickly and cheerfully says, after observing the fluffy thought bubble of Elmer dreaming of a log getting sawed, "Hey!  I better look into this!"  There'll be a video fade, then a quick fade-in on Bugs asleep in his own right.  Welp, the part you missed was, um... it's probably described somewhere else on the internet.  But as you can see from the photo I've attached... by the way, is that you in this group photo?  Tee hee hee!  The oldest trick in the NSA playbook... Bugs takes something from a bottle.  It seemed to be a rather empty bottle; there was just one of the items in question left, from the sound of the shaking.  Bugs ingests the item, then seems to practically defy (cartoon) gravity as he eventually falls asleep.. then again, so does Bugs' pill bottle.  Maybe the sequence was actually supposed to be a slow-motion affair?
Bugs is in a singing mood in this celluloid affair and, now that he's sound asleep, starts singing that old Looney Tunes standby, "Someone's rocking my Dream Boat."  Incidentally, good double bill with Gorilla My Dreams... ugh.  Not looking forward to that one for some reason.  More choppy editing after Bugs sings "Peaceful and calm," and we go right into some of Bugs' dialogue.  The music seems to stay on track, so it's just another case of experimental timing in the editing that this affair represents.  Well, if Clampett was indeed out the door of Termite Terrace after this one, I guess something was bound to give!
Now, where Popeye was having a more conventional dream in Wotta Nitemare, Bugs has here achieved lucidity in Elmer's dream, and if you're hipper than I am, Bugs has gone the full Dreamscape.  In full Smart-Ass mode, Bugs breaks the Fourth Wall some more and notes to the assembled audience that yes, Elmer is having a pleasant dream!  Totally boring, too.  What Elmer's dream needs is a little chaos.  But Bugs is nothing if not a Southern gentleman and, after tapping a pink cloud... seriously, it's got the word "Pink" on it, if only for the color-blind in the audience... proceeds to make Elmer's dream a little more colorful with a big bucket of Acme brand Nightmare Paint.  As usual, Carl Stalling's orchestra has more fun in a Clampett cartoon.  Elmer briefly reappears as a naked, pixie-version of himself, then disappears in a Shining-esque wave of Acme brand Nightmare Paint(TM) (C) (R).
Next scene: now the psychological torture really begins in earnest.  "The rabbits are coming, hooray hooray!" sings Bugs over and over again, as dream Elmer gets trampled over and over by mere outlines of rabbits: red with regular-sized ears, and yellow with ears as tall as Bugs himself.  I think it's time to go to the Closed Captioning on this one, for what Elmer says next.
Naturally, the Closed Captioning can't capture the true, full charm of Elmer and his unique speech impediment.  And of course, I would be almost completely derelict in my duty if I at all failed to mention that, just after Bugs begins to turn Elmer's blissfully ignorant suburban dream into a chaotic off-off Broadway nightmare, there's a brief shot of Elmer asleep under the tree, and he begins to twitch.  If there's another Clampett moment that's as classic as this one, that really sums up the pinnacle of what Bob Clampett eventually came to realize and achieve as an artist, I can't think of it.
Anyway, as you can see from the Closed Captioning, despite the relatively small number of "rabbits" in comparison to what is claimed, Elmer says... nay, exclaims "Ziwwions and triwwions of Wabbits!!!!"  Kinda didn't sound like it to me, but who am I to question the genius?  (insert reference to Trump inauguration here)  In all his agony, Elmer wonders aloud where this giant swarm of wabbits could be coming fwom... from, pardon me.  Bugs is at Stage Right, and provides the answer... I wouldn't dream of ruining the surprise... the lewd, groan-inducing surprise.  Elmer bursts into tears and... holy crap!  Is that Elmer's naked ass?
Next scene: more experimental editing, I tells ya!  Bugs is so in charge of Elmer's dream, we don't even dwell on Elmer's crying for the usual amount of time.  Instead, we cut to Bugs grabbing an oversized book entitled "A Thousand and One Arabian Nightmares."  You know, to get some inspiration for his next bit of messing with Mr. Fudd's head.  Frankly, there's a good lesson there for all of us.  Reading: because you just never know where you'll find your next good idea for torture!  I guess "The Prince" by you know who might have been too obvious a choice.  Anyway, for those of you who are fans of torture, I have two points.  One, you will probably be disappointed because a certain Richard Bruce Cheney hasn't enjoyed a wave of good publicity in the Trump era yet, and he never will, and two, if you find yourself disappointed at Bugs Bunny for what he does to Elmer next, well... I don't know what to tell you.  I mean, if you find yourself thinking, "THAT'S too gruesome?", that's perfectly understandable.  I react that way myself from time to time.  And sure, if you think Bugs is being too soft on Elmer, I'm with you.  But if you're thinking to yourself, "I looked up to you, Bugs!  Gimme something to WORK with here!", well... clearly you liked Bugs for the wrong reasons.
And so, I will skip over Elmer's cruel (dream) treatment at the hands and paws of Bugs, and move right along to his next self-realization.  Because, you see, even Elmer seems a little bit disappointed by Bugs' prank, in a way, once the indignity of it all passed, combined with the sheer, eye-widening horror.  See, Elmer's on a dream railroad track, but unlike Inception, which was on AMC this very night, Elmer's not tied to the tracks, but he's covered in so much dream rope that he looks like a giant spool of the stuff.  His fear turns to anger, and he's able to free himself from his state of bondage.  He doesn't achieve complete lucidity, just enough to get pissed off at Bugs.  Real pissed off.  Enough to almost turn into a human-like car... or a car-like human?  His limbs spin as fast as wheels, and he makes that trademark jet noise that always seems to be in these here Warners animated affairs.
Next scene: more deviltry courtesy of Bugs and Elmer.  Elmer's chasing Bugs, and Elmer's got the angry look on his face, but... I dunno.  Seems more like ballet anger to me.  I'm certainly no ballet connoisseur, and I haven't seen Black Swan or anything... so really, I'm probably the wrong person to speak to the subject.  But there are heroes and villains in some ballet, no?  Anyway, this is but a short sequence.  Why, I failed to comment on the ballet at the beginning of this very affair, set to the tune of William Tell, no less!  You know, Bugs' hops being extra exaggerated, Elmer firing to the music and what not...
Next scene: Bugs finds a hole in the ground to dive into.  There's another one right next to it, and Elmer, ever the Sheeple, the slave to Bugs' actions, tries to dive into it in turn, but Bugs yanks it out of the way... let's take a second here to contemplate the nature of dreams, and the nature of cartoons, or celluloid dreams projected (traditionally at 24 fps) onto a giant silver screen.  Leave us try to take leave of thoughts of Fred Fredburger for a second... damn.  I was doing so well for so long, too.  Now, when you think of cartoons, you probably think that Bugs' move here is the kind of thing you see in cartoons all the time.  And you'd be right!... but the only ones I can think of is Screwy Squirrel.  For example, in Screwball Squirrel, the very first Screwy Squirrel cartoon, Screwy dives into a hole in a tree.  The dumb dog tries to follow suit, but Screwy pulls the tree hole up, thereby causing the dog to hit his head on the tree, leaving a head-shaped dent in the tree.  They pause for the laugh, then continue on their merry way.  A similar thing happens in Lonesome Lenny but... for the life of me, I cannot remember what it was!
I guess I'm trying to say it doesn't happen that much.  Okay, confession time.  Elmer hits the ground like a gong, then slowly wilts to Earth... Elmer gets there before his, um... bathing suit does.  Bugs asks the passed-out Elmer, "Eh... what's cookin', Doc?"  I confess: I had to watch that part a second time on VHS... you know, check and see if the Hays Code missed anything.  However, they clearly missed the part where Elmer gets back up again.  I'd post a still of it, but...
Okay, let's move on.


We're probably overdue for an Act break as it is.  Now, arguably, this cartoon has the same Three Act structure that Hare Ribbin' has.  It's almost like how the 50 states of the USA are divided up: mostly along geographic lines.  Well, Act Two is probably where the action moves underwater and... no, wait, that's Hare Ribbin' again.  Anyway, Act Three should probably be when Elmer wakes up... sorry, spoiler alert.  Meantime, Elmer comes to, gets an eyeful of Bugs, and gets mad again.  However, Elmer gets mad as he did before, when he unraveled himself at the railroad tracks.  Now, here's another anomaly that may have never happened before and may never happen again in a cartoon, possibly ever.  I'm not sure what you'd call the noise that Elmer makes, but here's how Bugs interprets it.  Bugs says "What's the matter, doc?  You cold?  I'll fix that."  Hard to say if Elmer would agree with that logic in hindsight, but he's as trapped as a deer in headlights, and Bugs has his way with Elmer.  Bugs dolls up Elmer like a smoking hot brunette, complete with wig, green dress and lipstick.  Feminists will probably not appreciate how Bugs puts the lipstick on Elmer... which, in a way, must make me a bit of a Feminist.  Anyway, let's move quickly on to the next outrage.  Elmer tries to find comfort from the audience and stares at the Fourth Wall in vain, while Bugs lifts the curtain on the background.  The new background shows a group of wolves... the only difference is, these wolves are in what could be liberally described as suits of the zoot variety, and they're standing at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, if the sign is to be believed.  They're Hollywood wolves!  And when Hollywood wolves howl, they say "How OOOOOOOOOOLD is she?"  The Closed Captioning somehow failed to mention that.  If memory serves, even that was too hot for broadcast TV the last time I saw this on it, getting trimmed ever so slightly.  I believe the "is she" got trimmed to protect the freakin' ears of the Puritan.
And so, two of the wolves bounce around, while the third tries to chat up the new Elmer woman character.  Soon, however, Elmer makes his/her escape, with the wolves in close pursuit.  After a quick aside to the audience, Elmer makes his/her way to the wheat field.  The wolves follow Elmer into said wheat fields, and we can only see their hats as they run through the grains.  Next scene: more quick cutting.  Womanly Elmer and Bugs are at the other end of the wheat field.  Elmer's looking to see if (s)he can see the wolves.  Bugs, however, seems kinda helpful at this moment, telling She Elmer "Quick!  Run THIS way!"  Bugs' run, however, is terribly complicated, but it's accompanied by strangely rustic music, a variation on "Turkey in the Straw" if I know my music at all.  Elmer sees Bugs' run the one time, and nails it!  And so, for the third iteration, there's Bugs and Elmer, doing Bugs' idiotic run away from the chasing wolves.  For you audiophiles out there, I agree.  The final "Hey!" before the next scene at the whimsical cliff is the best one.
Next scene: Bugs and Elmer find themselves at the edge of a cliff that's so ga... sorry.  I really oughta cut back on that.  It's an unusual cliff, let's put it that way.  Bugs quickly dives off it, as does Elmer.  Next scene: falling, falling... falling forever.  Much like at the end of The Heckling Hare... in fact, I dare say there's a couple sequences that rather closely copy the animation used in The Heckling Hare!  If I had a gang of interns working for me, why, I'd clap my hands and make it so!  A YouTube "educational" comparison video, that is.  Strictly educational, mind you, just trying to spread the Gospel according to the Tunes that are Looney, the Melodies that are Merrie and what not.
And once again, we find Elmer crying, unedited this time, with Bugs singing all the while, as they both plummet to Dream Earth.  Bugs sings an appropriate song for the occasion, of course: that one that goes "The Leaves of Brown came a'Tumbling Down."  Remember?  Admit it... if it weren't for these Looney Tunes, you probably wouldn't know a lot of them old songs!
I've slowly realized that characters tend to cry to the music in a Bob Clampett joint.  Take the end of Baby Bottleneck, for instance, when the Daffy / Porky hybrid finds its way to a mother gorilla, if memory serves.  Elmer's not crying to the music here, but he does ask Bugs, in a rather Broadway-esque way, "What'll we DO, Mr. Wabbit?  What'll we DOOOO?????"  Remember kids, repetition is the key to getting those lines to stick in the craw of the memory.  As our Russian friends say, repetition is the mother of learning... or whatever Putin says it is, something like that.
And so, much like the similar scene with Bugs and Mickey Mouse in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, so too here does Bugs help himself, and lets she-Elmer continue the long plummet to the ground.  "Ain't I a stinkah?" confides Bugs to the audience.  I'm just too disgusted with myself to describe the groaner, the bad pun that was Bugs' saving grace in this moment.  However, I would like to acknowledge the ... the play on "Reveille" that Bugs does with just his voice when he unveils the Bugs-only helpful solution to their gravity-based dilemmma.  We usually ... lol.  The last time we heard that was in that one with the early non-Freberg version of Marvin the Martian and his strangely-human-Mel Blanc-soundin' trumpet... which one was that?  Rocket RabbitThe Rabbit-teer?  Too lazy to get up out of chair...


Back to sleeping Elmer under the elm tree, with the dream thought bubble over his head.  We see Dream She-Elmer falling in said thought bubble, landing on real-life Elmer, and not crushing him.  Elmer wiggles around, wakes up and, glassy-eyed as hell, says "Oh!  Wotta howwible nightmawe!" to the audience.  Animation snobs will like this, because of the extra layer that is Elmer's mouth... OH MY GOD!  Clampett created Hanna Barbera's TV work!  Well, a good cost-cutting measure is sometimes a good idea.  Whole animation studios have been based on much less.
And speaking of cost-cutting measures, Elmer runs from the countryside back to the movie set where the beginning of this affair was being, um... "filmed."  Note how said countryside looks like the similar scene from Clampett's earlier effort, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, except with Daffy doing the running through the extremely hilly countryside instead of Elmer.  Who says these guys aren't flexible?  WHO?
Now, here's a tiny detail I never cared about before.  I call it tiny, but it probably represents a couple days work on behalf of the in-betweeners and etc.  Next scene: back at the hollow log, and Bugs is still there, but he seems a little happier now, now that Elmer's come crawling (quickly) back.  Man, but Bugs was depressed before, on his knees and weeping and what not.  Elmer returns and re-assembles his shredded contract.  BUT BEFORE HE DOES... he seems to spin around about three times, not unlike a dog chasing its own tail.  Well, I was younger at the time when I first habitually watched this cartoon so much, and I guess I had harder feelings towards Elmer; you know, what with him being Bugs' nemesis and all... now I realize they've both ganged up upon me.  DAMN YOU BOTH!!! 
Now, I'd like to take this opportunity to point out more cost-cutting, but with a twist.  It's kind of a rare positive example of cost-cutting.  Now, the whole time that Elmer puts his contwact back together, then tries to make nice with "Mr. Warner," take a look at Bugs... you probably weren't, were you?  Well, neither was I.  But that's a movie star for you.  You occasionally hear that about movie stars, right?  You just can't take your eyes off them, no matter even if they've suffered a rather convenient head injury yet are still able to sautée vegetables.  Anyway, take a look at Bugs while all this Elmer business is going on.  Doesn't move!  Now, had I noticed this as a younger man, I definitely would've been perturbed by it... maybe not to the very core of my being, but still.  But now that I'm older and greyer,... grayer?... I see the secret genius of it.
And so, they pick up the scene where they left off.  Elmer runs through the log off the cliff, and Bugs gets the last word.  Typical.  I just hate people that always get the last word... except Lawrence O'Donnell.  The ending of The Big Snooze is kinda similar to the ending of The Great Piggy Bank Robbery... as well as the dramatic structure!  Both mostly a dream sequence, both completely insane... and what's the deal with Bugs' hand gesture?  I'll let the historians grapple with that one.  You know, people who actually know stuff.  As for me, well... The Big Snooze is another Clampett classic, but a little bittersweet, on account of it being the last one and all.  I'll probably stick with the more zany ones.
Ooh!  Final observation: I finally listened to all of Melendez's DVD commentary.  Mind you, it's not ALL positive.  He did mention something about the different style of Chuck Jones, and I think he rather specifically used the word "effete" and something about Chuck being too "precious" with his animation.  I couldn't agree more, but Chuck and Clampett are both still the greatest of the Looney Tunes Merrie Melodies directors.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Auteur Watch - Sticky Fingaz

We may never know the origin story of Sticky Fingaz's nickname, how he got it and what not.  But, judging from his online résumé here on the IMDb, I'd say it's because he's got his hands in many different Hollywood pies.  Whether he's a writer, producer, editor, caterer... oh, he's a bonafide n-tuple threat all right, as either a freshman computer science major or a beginning master mathematician on the long journey up that staircase of genius would surely note.
But when you're doing your research on the fly like me (gulp), you can't help but notice that this guy started out as some sort of rap master, a master of rap and what not.  And like most or all rappers, as it turns out, they really want to act.  For what is rapping if not a type of acting?  Is not even Shakespeare's Othello a type of rap?  Iambic pentameter and what not?  Soliloquizing about bling and bitches, and getting rich or dying trying, something like that?  Welp, can't argue with success, because Sticky's got a big-time acting job playing "Blade" on TV.  You know, the half human half vampire hunter of vampires (and what not).  It's kinda like being a runner-up to playing James Bond in a way.  Always a good thing to let people know that.  Lets people know you were vetted by all the right Hollywood people as being certified handsome and or sexy.
However, just like Betsy DeVos wasn't satisfied just being her old rich-ass self and found herself seeking a nice, prestigious government job, so too did Fingaz find himself getting pushed around by all these big-time directors.  Hit your mark, my ass!  The director's chair... that's where the real power is.  I mean, besides being a film producer, making sure the cast and crew don't spend your money in vain.

Happy Mattress Discount Day!

In the crowded movie marketplace, Lego(TM) Batman(TM) and the Fifty Shades of Gray sequel hold fast to their places, as per the expectations of most.  But Matt Damon and Jimmy Kimmel have finally put their differences aside to help flog Damon's latest, the CGI extravaganza The Great Wall, probably based on a graphic novel by ... I'm going to say the Road to Perdition guy, Max Allan CollinsAlan Moore wouldn't want to take credit, apparently ever.  As for those who are thinking that Matt Damon has seen better days, well... hey, look at it this way.  Why does Ben Affleck get to have all the fun?  ...well, the appearance of fun, anyway?  Nice work if you can get it.
Meanwhile, our second debut coming in at #5, it's... yes, even though unions of schoolteachers and concerned parents across the globe are finally putting an end to bullying once and for all, Hollywood has to keep the torch burning.  It's kinda their bread and butter, you see.  Good, enduring screenplay crutches are hard to come by, and what has been better to the advancement of celluloid storytelling than having a big guy come in and say "Well, well, well... what have we here?  Fresh meat!  Scraggly, verbose, pimply, four-eyed fresh meat..."  We zoom in on the big guy feeling the nerd's arms, saying "Hmm!  I'm guessing you don't do push-ups much."  We pan down to the nerd's legs and... okay, enough fun.  You get the idea.  But the R-rated Fist Fight, well... it doesn't seem to be for the kids, let's put it that way.  Even the cool high school kids dating jumpy college freshmen are all, like, "Ah, these movies are too grimy these days.  Let's just watch porn at home instead."  Still, sad as it may seem, the screenwriters and producers of said Fist Fight are thinking to themselves that this is the culmination of a dream.  A dream that began with a screenplay twenty years ago.  They tried to get it to Bruce Willis at the time, but he's harder to get to than a North Korean dictator.  I guess his half brother would just have to do... too soon?  Then they tried to get it to Adam Sandler, but you know how it is.  Screenwriter Tim Herlihy is the gatekeeper of Castle Sandler.  As for the implications of already strained race relations in this particular fist fight... Charlie Day v. Ice Cube?  Should be a no-brainer, right?  They both team up against the evil right-wing Vice Principal!  Duh!
And finally, it's a sad day in Verbinski-ville.  If there is a way to put "#1 for Two Weeks" on a license plate, director Gore Verbinski may have found it, but not lately.  Gone are the days of The Weather Man... you know, the small project done in between Pirates of the Caribbean installments.  But he's working his way back to us, babe, with a burning love for final cut inside.  His latest is called A Cure for Wellness.  The plot?  An ambitious young executive is sent to retrieve his company's CEO from an idyllic but mysterious "wellness center" at a remote location in the Swiss Alps... the writers got the idea after they saw Apocalypse Now recently on Blu-Ray... and not just the part where the section of jungle gets blown up, either.  No, the whole thing, all five or six hours of it.  Also, something similar happened to them after they went on vacation after The Lone Ranger (2013) came out in theatres, then just as quickly left.  Owwch!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Auteur Watch - Kim Fields

Hey, it's Tootie from "The Facts of Life"!  You might also know her as Roseanne from "For Better or for Worse," not based on Lynn Johnston's comic strip of the same name.  These days she kinda splits her time between acting and directing... okay, maybe about a 30/70 split.  Dang, but she directs a lot.  Well, producers like her because she gets things done fast, or on time and under budget rather, just like Donald Trump!  And she was indeed a good get for Tyler Perry, as he had her work on both "Meet the Browns" and "House of Payne."  Of course, Tyler's busy with so many projects.  I'll bet he doesn't even show up at the cast reunions anymore.  Probably doesn't even send over a tape of himself, saying "Congratulations on completing another season of [FILL IN THE BLANK].  TBS has announced that we're returning next year for another season of [FILL IN THE BLANK] and..."  Always remember: hold up a card over your mouth for the titles, just like the animated characters do on the Oscars... or do they anymore?  I think they spend the extra $50,000 now and have the characters lip sync every title, and of course only show the winning clip.  The point being........

A Rising Tide of Debuts

The non-Shyamalan parts of Hollywood breathed a big sigh of relief this weekend.  I mean, hey, Split crossed that all-important 100 million mark and all, so they're all still laughing their way to the bank, but still.  I mean, the day a non-Batman related movie goes #1 for four weeks in a row is a day of reckoning indeed.  But a veritable debut flood has come to town at the air-conditioned Multiplex.  We got Keanu Reeves' latest is at #3.  It's John Wick: Chapter 2 and... whatever.  The timeless story of a well-compensated mercenary is still all the rage.  I mean, he's got a set of rules he lives by!  Who among(st) us can ever claim that?  Of all the things Keanu could make a sequel to, sometimes you just gotta go with the latest and greatest.  But who knows?  Maybe we can expect Chapter 3 in six months.  You know, Matrix and what not.
And coming in at #2, a little earlier than Valentine's Day, is the sequel to Fifty Shades of Black... I mean, Grey.  I WISH it was a sequel to the Marlon Wayans classic, but he's got other fish to fry.  No, we're in for three installments of the E.L. James series of novels, soon to be shrink-wrapped at Costco for your viewing pleasure and the pleasure of buying in bulk.  And just as director Bill Condon revitalized his career with the Twilight saga, so too does James Foley, brother of Letterman's director Jerry and director of such classics as Glengarry Glen Ross and... others, I'm sure... revitalizes his career with the Fifty Shades franchise.  If the camera doesn't come out from behind something black (his signature visual trademark, you see) I'll be very disappointed.
Alas, it's the kid-friendly fare that rules this weekend on the heels of Valentine's Day.  At #1, it's... really?  The Lego(TM) Batman(TM) Movie?  Well, first of all, this is no Henry Selick production, for example.  Bear in mind, this is probably computerized Legos at work here, as with that one Simpsons episode, right?  I thought the whole point of Legos was that you're actually using them with your hands, and not just in digital form on a hard drive farm in Marin County.  Also, there's a little scope creep in the DC Comics universe, as characters from Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings are on hand to add their support.  Also, there's a character named Clayface, but I doubt Will Vinton was consulted on this at all.  One of the draws of the original Lego Movie was that they'd be debuting a new Lego piece, maybe available at Lego's online store.  What paradigm shift will this one have to offer?  A sneak peek at Season 3 and a half of TV's "Gotham"?  Legos will now be made of a cheaper, yet more earth-friendly form of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene?  Oh well.  Think of it this way: when I was younger, I didn't go to see The Mask (1994) because of the plot... I went to see it to honor the legacy of Tex Avery!  And look up Cameron Diaz's dress, of course!  Derrr!!!
Oh, but enough of movie news.  Like most of you, I was just so completely distressed about Senate Rule 19 last week.  I understand that Donald Trump called Mitch McConnell afterwards and said "You forgot to call her Pocahontas, you idiot!"  Apparently, Mitch answers to an even more ancient tradition than the Trump legacy, and getting outraged about this obscure parliamentary procedure could very well indeed be his finest hour.  Well, second only to saying that the "Biden Rule" is about a principle, not a person.  Or a person and not a principle, one of the two.  Must be nice when you get to have your cake and eat it, too, for not only was Elizabeth Warren temporarily shut down on the senate floor, they also got Jeff(erson Beauregard) Sessions as the new Attorney General, ready to carry on the hard work of undoing all the good that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama tried to do... oh, and there were four senators who finished reading the text of Coretta Scott King's letter on the senate floor where Sen. Warren wasn't allowed to finish.
And it is in that spirit that I offer a text version of Coretta's letter.  This is about a principle AND a person!  I read the letter off a couple of jpeg files, typed out the text in Notepad (ick, I know.  Well, I don't get to use pico anymore these days) and double checked it for the many, many typos that I made.  Even though I'm a pretty fast typer, I seem to have a lot of typos creeping into my very fingers as I get older.  Ah!  Fresh bad habits to try and break for a change!  Okay, enough of me.  Here's the letter.  And for those of you who have blogs out there, this might be a good exercise for you too.  Find a copy of the letter online, type it out yourself and post it!  Let's all brace ourselves for our next Attorney General and baby-grandpa hybrid Beauregard Sessions.  He'll probably keep a very very very low profile, but let's see what type of decisions we're in for....

Statement of Coretta Scott King on the Nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions for the United States District Court, Southern District of Alabama

Senate Judiciary Committee
Thursday, March 13, 1986

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

    Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to express my strong opposition to the nomination of Jefferson Sessions for a federal district judgeship for the Southern District of Alabama.  My longstanding commitment which I shared with my husband, Martin, to protect and enhance the rights of Black Americans, rights which include equal access to the democratic process, compels me to testify today.
    Civil rights leaders, including my husband and Albert Turner, have fought long and hard to achieve free and unfettered access to the ballot box.  Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.  This simply cannot be allowed to happen.  Mr. Sessions' conduct as U.S. Attorney, from his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge.
    The Voting Rights Act was, and still is, vitally important to the future of democracy in the United States.  I was privileged to join Martin and many others during the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights in 1965.  Martin was particularly impressed by the determination to get the franchise of blacks in Selma and neighboring Perry County.  As he wrote, "Certainly no community in the history of the Negro struggle has responded with the enthusiasm of Selma and her neighboring town of Marion.  Where Birmingham depended largely upon students and unemployed adults [to participate in non-violent protest of the denial of the franchise], Selma has involved fully 10 per cent of the Negro population in active demonstrations, and at least half the Negro population of Marion was arrested on one day." (The New York Times, Sunday Magazine, March 14, 1985) Martin was referring of course to a group that included the defendants recently prosecuted for assisting elderly and illiterate blacks to exercise that franchise.  In fact, Martin anticipated from the depth of their commitment twenty years ago, that a united political organization would remain in Perry County long after the other marchers had left.  This organization, the Perry County Civic League, started by Mr. Turner, Mr. Hogue, and others, as Martin predicted, continued "to direct the drive for votes and other rights."  In the years since the Voting Rights Act was passed, Black Americans in Marion, Selma and elsewhere have made important strides in their struggle to participate actively in the electoral process.  The number of Blacks registered to vote in key Southern states has doubled since 1965.  This would not have been possible without the Voting Rights Act.
    However, Blacks still fall far short of having equal participation in the electoral process.  Particularly in the South, efforts continue to be made to deny Blacks access to the polls, even where Blacks constitute the majority of the voters.  It has been a long up-hill struggle to keep alive the vital legislation that protects the most fundamental right to vote.  A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws, and thus, to the exercise of those right by Black people should not be elevated to the federal bench.
    The irony of Mr. Sessions' nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods.  Twenty years ago, when we marched from Selma to Montgomery, the fear of voting was real, as the broken bones and bloody heads in Selma and Marion bore witness.  As my husband wrote at the time, "it was not just a sick imagination that conjured up the vision of a public official, sworn to uphold the law, who forced an inhuman march upon hundreds of Negro children; who ordered the Rev. James Bevel to be chained to his sickbed; who clubbed a Negro woman registrant, and who callously inflicted repeated brutalities and indignities upon nonviolent Negroes peacefully petitioning for their constitutional right to vote." (Civil Right No. 1 -- The Right to Vote," by Martin Luther King Jr., The New York Times, Sunday Magazine, March 14, 1965)
    Free exercise of voting rights is so fundamental to American democracy that we can not tolerate any form of infringement of those rights.  Of all the groups who have been disenfranchised in our nation's history, none has struggled longer or suffered more in the attempt to win the vote than Black citizens.  No group has had access to the ballot box denied so persistently and intently.  Over the past century, a broad array of schemes have been used in attempts to block the Black vote.  The range of techniques developed with the purpose of repressing black voting rights run the gamut from the straightforward application of brutality against black citizens who tried to vote to such legalized frauds as "grandfather clause" exclusions and rigged literacy tests.
    The actions taken by Mr. Sessions in regard to the 1984 voting fraud prosecutions represent just one more technique used to intimidate Black voters and thus deny them this most precious franchise.  The investigations into the absentee voting process were conducted only in the Black Belt counties where blacks had finally achieved political power in the local government.  Whites had been using the absentee process to their advantage for years, without incident.  Then, when Blacks; realizing its strength, began to use it with success, criminal investigations were begun.
    In these investigations, Mr. Sessions, as U.S. Attorney, exhibited an eagerness to bring to trial and convict three leaders of the Perry County Civic League including Albert Turner despite evidence clearly demonstrating their innocence of any wrongdoing.  Furthermore, in initiating the case, Mr. Sessions ignored allegations of similar behavior by whites, choosing instead to chill the exercise of the franchise by blacks by his misguided investigation.  In fact, Mr. Sessions sought to punish older black civil rights activists, advisors and colleagues of my husband, who had been key figures in the civil rights movement in the 1960's.  These were persons who, realizing the potential of the absentee vote among Blacks, had learned to use the process within the bounds of legality and had taught others to do the same.  The only sin they committed was being too successful in gaining votes.
    The scope and character of the investigations conducted by Mr. Sessions also warrant grave concern.  Witnesses were selectively chosen in accordance with the favorability of their testimony to the government's case.  Also, the prosecution illegally withheld from the defense critical statements made by witnesses.  Witnesses who did testify were pressured and intimidated into submitting the "correct" testimony.  Many elderly blacks were visited multiple times by the FBI who then hauled them over 180 miles by bus to a grand jury in Mobile when they could more easily have testified at a grand jury twenty miles away in Selma.  These voters, and others, have announced they are now never going to vote again.
    I urge you to consider carefully Mr. Sessions' conduct in these matters.  Such a review, I believe, raises serious questions about his commitment to the protection of the voting rights of all American citizens and consequently his fair and unbiased judgment regarding this fundamental right.  When the circumstances and facts surrounding the indictments of Al Turner, his wife, Evelyn, and Spencer Hogue are analyzed, it becomes clear that the motivation was political, and the result frightening -- the wide-scale chill of the exercise of the ballot for blacks, who suffered so much to receive that right in the first place.  Therefore, it is my strongly-held view that the appointment of Jefferson {Beauregard} Sessions to the federal bench would irreparably damage the work of my husband, Al Turner, and countless others who risked their lives and freedom over the past twenty years to ensure equal participation in our democratic system.
    The exercise of the franchise is an essential means by which our citizens ensure that those who are governing will be responsible.  My husband called it the number one civil right.  The denial of access to the ballot box ultimately results in the denial of other fundamental rights.  For, it is only when the poor and disadvantaged are empowered that they are able to participate actively in the solutions to their own problems.
    We still have a long way to go before we can say that minorities no longer need be concerned about discrimination at the polls.  Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans are grossly underrepresented at every level of government in America.  If we are going to make our timeless dream of justice through democracy a reality, we must take every possible step to ensure that the spirit and intent of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution is honored.
    The federal courts hold a unique position in our constitutional system, ensuring that minorities and other citizens without political power have a forum in which to vindicate their rights.  Because of this unique role, it is essential that the people selected to be federal judges respect the basic tenets of our legal system: respect for individual rights and a commitment to equal justice for all.  The integrity of the Courts, and thus the rights they protect, can only be maintained if citizens feel confident that those selected as federal judges will be able to judge with fairness others holding differing views.
    I do not believe Jefferson {Beauregard} Sessions possesses the requisite judgment, competence, and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court.  Based on his record, I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband's dream that he envisioned over twenty years ago.  I therefore urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to deny his confirmation.
    I thank you for allowing me to share my views.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Auteur Watch - Chip Fields

It was a different era... at least, there wasn't as much internet.  Back then, you could work on something like Menace II Society and still get ahead in the biz.  As for Chip Fields, well, she stuck with the speed and safety of television shows.  But really?  "House of Payne"?  "Meet the Browns"?  How much writing can one man like Tyler Perry do?  Even Stephen King's all, like, "Whoa!  Slow down, dude!"
Alas, work's slowed down lately, as the real directing job is staying home with the kids.  After all, movie stars are a lot like kids, only they eat way way more.  Chip's hubby, Erv, is at least connected to all the right people.  Having worked with Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, the Fields are still well in touch with the pinnacle of Hollywood.  And seeing as how Kimmel's all set to host the Oscars this year, there's a small window of opportunity to get one more acting gig, perhaps in a big commercial.  Hey, it worked for Troy B(e)yer, right? ... I still say it's her.

You Know, that Steve Bannon Makes a Good Point... I overusing this image yet?  And so, the Republicans continue down the slippery slope that represents the level of quality in national politics.  Nixon, Reagan, Dubya... and now Agent Orange.  The neatest statistic I heard was featured on "Late Night with Seth Meyers" about how long it usually takes for a president's disapproval rating to overtake his approval rating.  For the previous four, it was about 1,000 days.  For Agent Orange, EIGHT DAYS.  So my question is... really?  Eight?  Why so long?  I guess it doesn't take into account how fast the data was collected and processed, which could take about eight days, actually.  But apparently it's all part of Steve Bannon's plan to dress like a slob, and apparently at every meeting he goes to, he always says "Sorry I'm late, I was sleeping in my car."  Yeah, we get it.  At least he's not into his hoodie / backwards baseball cap phase yet, but it's coming.  Look at me!  I'm eighteen again!  He's reportedly still taunting his ex-wife by phone, and using the White House to do it.  And why not?  What's the point of being the president if you can't criticize people like TV producer Mark Burnett and movie stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger?  Sure, I could call Ah-nold faded here, but you know what?  At least he tried to do some good as Governor of California.
All right, enough proselytizing for now... wow!  No dashed red line under that one!  Must of... have gotten it right.  On to the box office for this week.  I've noticed the trend of one-word titles before, but there's only four this week.  We've got Lion brought to you by Google Earth, we got Sing brought to you by Pixar-ish.  We've got a reboot of the 1998 Japanese horror classic Ringu called Rings and, well, something tells me we're well past VCR technology now.  Why can't ghosts just pass right through cellphones?  What are the metaphysical rules on that?  We're getting asymptotically close to a Shocker (1989) reboot... but Peter Berg wouldn't touch that with a ten foot director's riding crop!  Incidentally, what's The Ring (2002) director Gore Verbinski up to?... ah, yes!  A Cure for Wellness!  Something decidedly more modest in budget, I'm assuming, especially after The Lone Ranger.  Ain't it always the way?  Same thing happened to the Coens after The Hudsucker Proxy.
Okay, on to other directors.  I just can't bear to give Shyamalan props, I suppose, but it looks like Split isn't going to make #1 for a fourth week in a row.  Not with John Wick 2 coming out next week... that'll be big, right?  Anyway, our final, third debut continues the re-vamped expensive Mars subgenre, which includes titles like The Martian... I guess that's the only one.  But with the debate clearly over about leaving Mars for any indigenous Martians that may exist, living or fossilized, we now get The Space Between Us, about the first human born on Mars returning to Earth.  You know, in the year 2073.  Needles to say, this is probably a return to form for both director Peter Chelsom and strangely-familiar writer Allan Loeb...  I mean, for God's sake!  The dude had to sell an X-Box to someone!  Now that is suffering.  As for the title, well... I'm reminded of that great lyricist who reached into his bag of lyrics and came out with the following: take the space between us, fill it up some way.  Take the space between us, fill it up.  Fill it up... sorry, don't have the resources to do an online contest.  One worth doing, anyway.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Short Reviews - February 2017

I've probably made this suggestion several times already, but I think it's worth repeating: the "Wheeler Dealers" movie.  With Benedict Cumberbatch as Edd China, and Ricky Gervais as... you know, the other one.  And who knows?  Maybe Elon Musk will stop by with a Tesla or two.  Casting directors of Hollywood, let's make it happen.

Suburbicon - So far it's the only new Coen project on the horizon...

"The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" - ...UNTIL NOW!!!!  Oh, I wonder if this is the one with the unforgettable role for a chicken!  N'awesome.


American Hero - With Timothy Bottoms as Jack Armstrong

The Best of Times - With Robin Williams as Jack Dundee (..."Crocodile"?)

Clementine - With Steven Seagal as Jack Miller

Club Paradise - With Robin Williams as Jack Moniker

Dogma - Some have called this a classic.  I call it probably the best that Kevin Smith can do.  Maybe think of it like what Malcolm X is to Spike Lee, for your Movies SAT game.  Or what The Brothers McMullen is to Edward Burns.

Fire Down Below - With Steven Seagal as Jack Taggart

The Glimmer Man - With Steven Seagal as Cole... LIEUTENANT Jack Cole, b'atch!  (Keenan Ivory Wayans co-stars as the glimmer...)

I Am Not Your Negro -  ...with Antonio Fargas as James Baldwin?  Is that asking so bloody much?

I Can Hardly Wait (1943) - ...for it to be OVER!  The current state of our national politics, that is.  Sorry to keep harping on this, but I can't help but think of the current administration when I think of this one exchange.  In Curly's dream, they're getting ready to pull his bad tooth.  Curly asks "Is it gonna hurt?"  Moe says "Of course not.  I won't even feel it!"

The Irishman - Welp, it took about 45 years, but Pacino's finally working with Scorsese on something!  It'll be worth the wait, I know it.

Jack - With Robin Williams as Jack

"Jack Reed: Badge of Honor" - With Brian Dennehy as Sergeant Jack Reed

"Jack Reed: A Search for Justice" - With Brian Dennehy as Sergeant Jack Reed

"Jack Reed: One of Our Own" - With Brian Dennehy as Sergeant Jack Reed

"Jack Reed: A Killer Among(st) Us" - With Brian Dennehy as Jack Reed

"Jack Reed: Death and Vengeance" - With Brian Dennehy as Death and Vengeance... I mean, Jack Reed

The Nostril Picker - Um... and why am I only finding about this title NOW?!!!!!!!???!!!!

Reckless - Somebody remind me to do a compilation of movie posters like this from the '80s with the title in scratchy cursive

"Shadow Man" - With Steven Seagal as Jack Foster

Strange Days - I'm kinda very relieved that the "squid" technology in the movie doesn't actually exist... YET.  Or maybe it does, and the douchebags and or the military just don't want to give it to us ninety-nine percenters yet.  However, the movie does have its limitations.  For instance, Pinnacle Studio doesn't have editing technology for such clips.  You have to watch the whole thing, even if the person dies before finishing the recording... incidentally, what if it keeps recording after the person dies?  And second, there's no good "Squid to 2D" conversion technique.  I mean, Mace tries to get Police Commissioner Tightass to watch a clip, but she doesn't have the finesse of a Leonard Nero, say; however, apparently Nero would have trouble with this guy as well.  This was before people watched YouTube clips on their SmartPhones, mind you... also, Brainstorm called.  Wants their idea back.  Ouch.

The Survivors - With Jerry Reed as Jack Locke

"Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story" - With Brian Dennehy as Jackie Presser