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Timid Tabby (1957)
Refreshing Change Of Pace For Long-Running Series
Timid Tabby is a superb change of pace for the long-running Tom & Jerry series, in that we see another member of Tom's family and also for a change see Jerry get the worst of the varied encounters. George is Tom's cousin and is deathly afraid of mice, a fact Jerry exploits by scaring George all over the house. Tom, however, bashes Jerry at numerous points of the short, then teams with George to trick Jerry into thinking he's gone insane, leading to an appropriate ending.
George is voiced by Bill Thompson, which adds to the strength of the character's weakness. As George is drawn as a twin of Tom it allows the animators to animate dialogue into the design while leaving Tom mute; given the quality that neither Jerry nor Tom speak in almost every episode, allowing a character who looks like Tom to speak is an interesting angle.
A Clever Character Study Of A Batman Foil
The Man Who Killed Batman is an episode that revolves not around Batman but around one of the people who gets involved with him, in this case a small-time stumble-bum hood named Sidney Debris who dreams of becoming a big shot in the underworld. He runs to mob boss Rupert Thorne when Batman disappears in a gas-tank explosion. With his fellow mobsters believing he killed Batman, he is hailed as "Sid The Squid," and now other punks want his hide, leading to a bar brawl and being bailed out of jail by a lawyer named Harleen Quinzel - who turns out to be The Joker's hench-woman Harley Quinn, as The Joker, supremely jealous that someone else succeeded where he hadn't yet made a full effort, wants bona-fide proof that Batman is gone - and seems to get it in a jewelry store holdup where no resistance worthy of the name is offered and Batman never appears.
Sidney Debris quickly establishes himself as a sympathetic character, and as incidents explode all around him through no action of his own, he becomes someone to actually root for, and when Rupert Thorne suddenly becomes suspicious his luck holds out yet again - and even holds out when he winds up in jail at the end, as the varied incarcerated hoods treat him with the respect he's always craved, since he succeeded in his encounters with Batman, Thorne, and The Joker.
Matt Frewer is perfectly cast as Sid.
The A-Team: Bounty (1985)
The A-Team's Warmest Episode
Late in 1984 a syndicated entertainment magazine show aired a segment on Dwight Schultz and his involvement with "The A-Team." The segment included an interview with Schultz's wife Wendy Fulton. Many fans of the show likely saw this segment and thus, when learning that this episode would co-star Wendy Fulton, looked forward more than usual to this episode.
Knowing that Wendy Fulton is Dwight Schultz's wife is important because it adds to the warmth of the episode as Wendy and Dwight play off the very real love they have and thus imbue the episode with an extra humanity mostly missing from what is supposed to be an action comedy. Wendy plays a veterinarian, Kelly Stevens, who lives in upstate California. When a gang of shotgun-armed hillbilly-style bounty hunters kidnaps Murdock in broad daylight they take him upstate but he escapes, and finds shelter with Kelly Stevens.
The sparkle that emanates from Murdock and Kelly is just part of what makes this perhaps the show's best episode. Not only is there the love angle between Murdock and Kelly, there is the three-way pursuit involving the A-Team, the bounty hunters, and Colonel Decker, who arrives on the scene upon learning of Murdock's capture. This three-way chase intersects at the end of Act One when Murdock escapes the bounty hunters and they pursue, scant minutes before the A-Team bursts down the door of their house and then Decker arrives in a hail of bullets.
This is a case where a little more of Murdock and Kelly and less action would have made the episode better - an Act Three action scene where Hannibal and B.A. blow up some of Decker's cars to force a diversionary pursuit uses mostly stock footage from an earlier episode and could have been deleted altogether without disrupting the flow of the episode. In any event the episode shines thanks to its mixture of action and warmth, and one wonders why Kelly Stevens was never returned to the series as a periodic guest star.
Oddest Entry In Popeye Series
This is the most unusual episode of the Popeye cartoon series in that it is made by one studio - that of Jack Kinney - yet it uses the opening theme and a particular cue from another studio - Paramount Pictures. Winston Sharples' mid-1950s power-march theme introduces the cartoon, editorially extended to cover the longer credits common to Kinney's entries, and the spinach cue from Paramount's 1957 entry "Patriotic Popeye" is also used, and also editorially extended.
The theme closes over the actual title card, which features silhouettes of Popeye and Olive Oyl over an outdoor stove. The silhouettes give away the cartoon's unusual visual quality. Dispensing with the handsome character designs of Paramount's 1950s shorts, Kinney goes back to the future with character designs straight out of E.C. Seger's newspaper funnies; Popeye even wears black sailor garb for the first time since his late-1930s shorts.
The subject matter here is a weekend off for Popeye and company in their new suburban setting, displayed by the opening establishing shot of a suburban block. Popeye is setting up a barbecue for himself and Olive. When he borrows some flowers for his sweetie from his neighbor Brutus, he gets a one-punch pounding but is otherwise unfazed. Brutus, after getting his "favorite pet petunias" back, begins scheming to get into Popeye's celebration (this leads to the short's funniest gag, when Brutus drops a lit match onto Popeye's grill, it blows up in his face, and all his hair is burned off only to regrow in an instant), but Popeye soon finds his hands full with J. Wellington Wimpy and Little Swee'Pea while Brutus regales Olive with his folk song about spilled mustard.
The cartoon is among the loudest and most chaotic of the entire Popeye animated series, theatrical or television, as Popeye runs himself ragged taking care of his unexpected guests while trying to get at Brutus. Falling into his cellar, Popeye finds a can of spinach and that gives him the strength to resolve this situation at last - Wimpy and Swee'Pea get the hint, but of course Brutus doesn't, instead being provoked merely by being referred to as "Junior." The soundtrack stock used for this cartoon has considerable room-sound-quality reverb in the voice performances, which hurts them (Mae Questel's in particular) as voices seem to crack at times. Nonetheless it still works as an entertaining if very unusual entry in the Popeye series.
Popeye Returns In Strong Fashion
The first cartoon of the 1960s Popeye television series, Hits & Missiles is a sleeper classic, in that you do not expect a made-for-TV cartoon to be this clever, funny, or well-made. This is the first Popeye cartoon made since mid-1957, and it's obvious that Paramount Pictures and director Seymour Kneitel welcome the chance to return to the spinach-eating sailor man given the cartoon's energy, much of it derived from the use of a new Winston Sharples score.
The cartoon is handsomely made, even though the animation is considered "limited" by the more free-flowing standards of 1950s theatrical animated shorts. This "limited" animation, though, is not any particular weakness; it actually gives the cartoon a nice stylized quality.
There are numerous puns and in one scene when Olive Oyl and Popeye plunge through the holes of the Swiss Cheese Alps on the moon, there is some semi-improvised Jack Mercer dialog, the use of which recalls its frequent inclusion in 1930s Popeye shorts.
Mercer voices both Popeye and his nemesis, the evil Big Cheese. There is a curious quality to the voice performances, for though they are crisply delivered by Mercer and Mae Questel, the soundtrack used sounds slightly rough compared to the backing score and sound FX tracks. Of course these latter production values were among the strongest in studio cartoons of the time and far better than those used on other entries in the series.
Most of Sharples' score is original to this short, except for the climatic showdown when Popeye downs his trusty can of spinach; here Sharples reuses the spinach cue from 1957's "Patriotic Popeye" to superb effect; this particular cue would become a standard for Paramount's entries into the TV show.
Without question this is a highlight of the Popeye series.
2006 Season Crossroads For Patriots and Vikings
Halfway through the 2006 season, Monday Night Football aired the New England Patriots visiting the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for one of their infrequent showdowns with the Minnesota Vikings. The episode itself opened with a cute bit, as the cast of Ugly Betty spoofed Bill Belichick's wearing of sweatshirts on the sidelines - the concept of America Ferrara or Vanessa Williams taking on Bill Belichick is enough to make one laugh.
The game certainly had promise of good competition - the Vikes stood at 4-2 after a stunning rout of their former nemesis Mike Holmgren, as they took down the ex-Green Bay coach's present team, the Seattle Seahawks, who owned one of the league's best home records (hence their 12th Man trademark). The Patriots, meanwhile, stood at 5-1 but were mocked almost incessantly by many experts because of the contract squabble that led to the trade of Deion Branch to the Seahawks at the very start of the 2006 season. Three shaky performances in Foxboro (close wins over Buffalo and Miami and yet another hair-pulling loss to the Denver Broncos) were cited in "I Told You So" manner by the team's critics about the supposed ineptitude of their passing attack, but lost in the snark fest were three strong road wins (a close win over the NY Jets plus road routs of Cincinatti and Buffalo) by the Patriots.
The game proved a crossroads for both teams, as the Vikings stacked up the line, daring the Patriots to throw - and were shredded thusly in the air; the only things that kept any kind of hope for the Vikings was a first-quarter INT that ultimately led to an end-zone pick by Rodney Harrison, and a third-quarter kick return touchdown. None of this was enough, and when it was over the Patriots would surge to a 12-4 record and yet another playoff run while the Vikings collapsed to a miserable season.
The much-mocked ESPN play-by-play crew lived down to its reputation, notably Tony Kornhiser's perennially uninspiring commentary; all across New England and Minnesota TV volumes were shut down and radios turned up to hear Paul Allen of the Vikings and Gil Santos of the Patriots deliver crisper, more engaging commentary than anything the ESPN types could muster.
The Monkees Deliver As Qualified Dramatic Perfomers
The best episode of the series, The Devil & Peter Tork delivers because it delves into unexpected territory. Though the episode features several superb bits of humor - and hits into the sly with the joke about saying Hell on TV following the brilliant video sequence to the rollicking number "Salesman" - this episode is not, strictly speaking, a comedic episode, for here The Monkees and scriptwriters Gardner/Caruso and Robert Kaufmann with director Jim Frawley delve into legitimate drama to make a point about integrity.
Integrity was always a focal point of The Monkees; it was concern for the integrity of the music that they reacted in horror when their first LPs came out without credit to other musicians for playing on the albums. The excessive (and in hindsight preposterous) critical backlash they had to endure embittered them precisely because they were thrown under the bus by the record producers who by the simple act of acknowledging how the music was created would have avoided questions about integrity.
This episode delves into that issue and delivers qualified drama that grabs the viewer and does not let go until the fadeout following Act II. Peter is tricked into purchasing a harp from S. Zero (Monte Landis), a shady pawnshop owner who is exploiting Peter's genuine love of the instrument, because the pawnshop owner is Mephistopheles himself, seeking to seize the soul of the unsuspecting Peter. Peter, however, is not skilled at playing the instrument, until Zero appears and Peter suddenly finds he has great dexterity in playing the harp. When a booking agent calls The Monkees and tells them to integrate the harp into their touring act (curiously none of the boys ponders that the agent was somehow tipped off by Zero) they take off and erupt into a nationwide hit.
But then Zero comes calling and Mike now takes him to task for his contract with Peter, leading to trial in Hades itself. After some humorous banter by the boys with Zero's witnesses (William "Billy The Kid" Bonney, Blackbeard the Pirate, and Attila the Hun), Mike dives into the heart of the matter by challenging the authenticity of Zero's claim to have given Peter the skill to play the harp. Here the trial becomes an allegory on the chicken-vs.-egg running controversy between artists and music companies over who is responsible for a group's success or lack thereof, with the theme of integrity permeating matters. Peter purchased the harp out of sincerity; Zero, however, sold it to him out of malice aforethought, and it leads to Zero's final challenge - he claims to purge the power to play the harp from Peter, and challenges him to now perform with the instrument, a challenge a rattled Peter must be coaxed by Mike into accepting.
The climatic showdown features several segments without dialog or any sound other than very slight peripheral sounds; this silence multiplies the tension of the episode enormously and requires the viewer to read the eyes of the characters; David Janssen made a superb career out of conveying emotion through his eyes, and here Peter, Landis, and the rest of the cast rise to the occasion. When a harp performance of "I Wanna Be Free" is completed, Peter closes his eyes - conveying he is at peace. It works so well, in fact, that the viewer winds up preferring the silence continue on through the fadeout of Act II; when dialog resumes, it almost rudely disrupts the deafening silence of the scene even though breaking this silence is necessary.
Jim Frawley was nominated for an Emmy for this episode - arguably he should have won it for what may be a directorial apex. It certainly succeeds in elevating a comedic series to legitimate dramatic heights.
A Strikingly Involving Fantasy Tale
The Nemeclous Crusade is unlike anything else in science fantasy. Combining superior CGI visuals with the spirit of 1930s sci-fi magazines, it combines to keep the viewer interested and then some as it proceeds through its world of the sky. The story involves Joshua, a boy who becomes a warrior for a sky-based civilization that is battling a gigantic sky-ship that resembles both a whale and a shark. Joshua's relationship with his mentor and with a girl who lands on their sky-ship and assists in the battle with the whale/shark sky-ship becomes a focal point of the story, told throughout with the feel of a chapter of a biography. The film succeeds in making Joshua a fascinating individual and compels the viewer to see his struggles with an intensity that caught me by surprise the more I watched the film.
The surreality of this world of the sky easily draws the viewer in and keeps the viewer fascinated to the end, making for a sleeper science-fantasy triumph.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
An Inconvenient Fraud
Al Gore hits the big screen with a sham "documentary" about global warming, and it typifies everything that is wrong about Al Gore - his arrogant condescension, his oblivious attitude toward common sense, and a trait he shares with the rest of the intelligentsia - self-appointment to "take charge" of a crisis.
Gore lays on thickly about "moral choices," noting how a relative died of lung cancer and thus forced his family out of the tobacco-farming business, as if that relative's own personal choices were somehow forced by the Gore family's tobacco farming. This, though, isn't rational thinking or policy prescription, it is the knee-jerk thinking of someone without the courage of facing the big picture.
Global warming does not exist. This is the inconvenient fact the film leaves out. All the "evidence" to support the notion of global warming ultimately collapses because of the reality that warming and cooling cycles are geological routine. Scare stories about melting glaciers are just scare stories, not real science or even relevant to anything. That the sun has hundreds of thousands of times more effect on planetary conditions than the entirety of Man's production of "greenhouse" gases over millions of years further discredits the entire global warming mantra. That the same panic over global warming was applied barely 25 years ago to an pending new Ice Age is also overlooked by the film.
Nor does the film bother to wonder that the net result of any global warming might actually be for the planet's betterment, in the form of increased plant growth and improved environment for Man and animals.
There is scare talk about how the US has not signed the Kyoto Treaty, never mind that virtually no nation that did sign it actually adheres to it. And it all becomes too much for the rational viewer to stand.
There is no global warming, and to acknowledge this fact would eliminate any reason for the film (beyond feeding Al Gore's grotesque sense of self-worth) to begin with. Thus has the documentary genre continued to erode.
Galactica's Home-Run Episode
Warning - possible spoilers.
While Battlestar Galactica's episodes were consistently entertaining stories, they too often were missing an extra power and verisimilitude that would make them unforgettable classics. It is a testimony to the show's overall strength that the good episodes are good and the weaker ones are not a total loss, but even so there was usually some twist or aspect of episodes that kept them from quite reaching their full power.
The Hand Of God, however, is perhaps the one episode that reaches full power. The best of the show's one-part episodes, The Hand Of God is a deft mixture of suspense, action, tension, and tenderness; from opening act to clever epilogue, the episode crackles with gripping quality.
It begins inauspiciously, as Apollo treats Starbuck, Cassiopeia, and Sheba to a demonstration of an ancient astro-navigational dome atop the Galactica. The scanner within the dome is set for long-range communication, and to the surprise of everyone it picks up a signal, a signal of an odd-looking spacecraft that Apollo recognizes as something the Colonies flew several millenia past.
Apollo, Starbuck, and Sheba fly to a distant solar system on the line of the signal, and to their horror they find a Cylon base star orbiting one planet in search of the Fleet. Escaping undetected, the three warriors report to Commander Adama, but instead of evading the Cylons, Adama decides to attack the base star - "I'm tired of running," Adama famously mutters to Colonel Tigh.
The Cylon first centurion in command of the base star, meanwhile, has learned of a brief scan blip outside the system, and launches raiders to probe into the area. The contrast between the opulent command bridge of the Galactica and the spartan command chamber of the base star is striking, and the synthesized dialogue between centurions brings out the full menace of the alien cyborg empire that remains a favorite sci-fi villain.
Before the Galactica attacks, however, Apollo gets the idea of trying to cripple the base star's scanners beforehand, and to Apollo's surprise, Adama recruits the Fleet's greatest enemy - Baltar - to assist. The interaction between Adama and Baltar that ensues is among the best scenes of the series and some of Lorne Greene and John Colicos' best work.
The episode's second half covers the actual mission, and the ensuing battle between Galactica and the Cylons is the best single such battle of the series.
The episode received unusually strong ABC promotion weeks before airing, and it's easy to see that the promotion was worth it.