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The Flintstones: Little Bamm-Bamm (1963)
One of the darker Flintstones Episodes
Flintstones fans today may be taken aback by certain aspects of this episode. Shortly after the birth of Baby Pebbles, The Rubbles long for a child of their own and find a baby with super strength that they wish to adopt. Unfortunately, the amiable amigos of the Flintstones face a rich couple who also want the tot. While I tend not to overanalyze cartoons and despise political correctness, there are some really dark moments and implications in this story. To begin with, there is a shocking and horrible scene early in the proceedings where Fred gets jealous of Pebbles' fondness for Barney Rubble, and he snatches away his child and tells the childless Rubbles "Go get your own baby!" and the Rubbles cry. Perhaps the meanest and cruelest bit in Flintstones history. Not cool. as is the inference of infertility in a kids' cartoon. Later in the proceedings, as Barney's chances of adopting Bamm Bamm become thin, he is shown about to attempt suicide (saying "Good bye cruel world" at that). I won't go into how it ends, but this story, which has very few funny minutes, really leaves a nasty taste in the mouth of the modern viewer.
The Green Pastures (1936)
Enjoyable when viewed in context
Before I get into the film itself, here's the little known back-story. Roark Bradford, a white Tennesseean, was mesmerized as a boy by the sermons of a black preacher named John Wesley Henning (aka "Preacher Wes). Rev. Henning entertained and educated his audiences with imaginative biblical tales done in a fashion in which his rural black audiences could relate. Years later in 1928, Henning's twists on biblical tales were the basis of Bradford's book "Ol Man Adam and His Chillun." Marc Connely enjoyed the book, and the result was the play and film "The Green Pastures." The film and play adds the charming frame device of Mr. Deeshay, a black Sunday school teacher telling the Biblical tales from Bradford's text with Noah, Adam. Moses, et.al. as Southern rural blacks. Much has been said about the dialect and stereotypes. Fact is, the dialect is pretty close to the truth of this time and place, as my parents were of that generation (there is a reference to "Sonny Kick Mammy Wine." My parents would make me laugh at their description of a popular moonshine called "Fight Your Mama" that was supposed to have been so potent that it would make the drinker do as the title suggested).
However, the film, as well as much of Bradford's work, is filled with moving truths about the human condition. Witness the dialog between a pre-Rochester Eddie Anderson as Noah and the dignified Rex Ingram as God, as well as the observations about human nature made throughout the film. As for ending, I won't spoil it, but the final scene before the credits says the true message of the film without saying a word. Watch it with an open mind, enjoy, and think.
Incidentally, in 1963, the great comedian Mantan Moreland (who had a bit part as an angel in "The Green Pastures") went back to the source and recorded an album of tales from the source "Ol Man Adam And His Chillun." It's as delightful as the film and along with the original books, make a great addendum to the film.
A prophecy of TV as it would become
I vividly recall watching this episode as a teenager. This is basically a Rod Serling-esque chilling parody of a daytime game show. A middle class white couple and a poor black woman (Juanita Moore of "Imitation of Life") and her son compete for $100,000. The catch? They have to perform degrading stunts for the television audience. The couples have to slap each other in the face and then publicly confess their most humiliating secret (the image of Juanita Moore confessing her past prostitution in front of her son on camera haunts me to this day). The final degrading stunt is for one of the couples to perform an act of Russian Roulette on national television. What happens? Will they do it? You'll see.
I remember thinking this episode of the religious anthology "Insight" was really over-the top and horrifying when I saw it in the late 70s or early 80s. Unfortunately, it was a grim and nearly accurate prophecy of what television was to become in the following decades. Somewhat of a cross between "Network," "Idiocracy," and "The Shape of Things to Come."However, modern audiences who are accustomed to the reality shows that this show predicted will not be greatly impacted by this.
Your Own Back Yard (1925)
This was Hal Roach's favorite, but......
This 1925 Our Gang comedy has gained notoriety because 1) It has been lost for some 60 years and unseen by the public until a recent internet posting 2) Reviewers of 1925 praised it to the skies and 3) Our Gang creator and producer Hal Roach has said that this was his personal favorite of the series. Was it all that great? I finally saw it last night and well......
The film begins with Allen "Farina" Hoskins, the series Black star, being warned by his mother to "stay in your own back yard, and no harm will come to you." Good advice. The White Gang kids treat Farina with vicious cruelty in this film. Jackie Condon and Johnny Downs beat and kick the then 5 year old Farina. Mickey cheats Farina out of an ice cream cone, and Joe Cobb squirts water at him with a trick camera. All of this sends Farina home crying and leaving him with no one to play with but this chickens in his back yard. However, the film lightens up about midway with some gags involving dogs with dental cream passing as mad dogs and Mexican jumping beans. Does Farina have a happy ending or does he continue to be lonely and abused? You'll see if you're lucky enough to find this film.
The obvious problem of the film is that the Gang's treatment of Farina is so heart wrenching that it is painful to watch, especially considering his age at the time and that this film was made at a time when such mistreatment of blacks was typical (Farina himself was once banned from a hotel with his fellow gangster because of his race some 3 years after this film). This pattern would repeat itself in such gang films as One Wild Ride (1925), The Glorious 4th (1927, when Joe and the Gang throw lit firecrackers at Farina and his sister), The infamous Spook Spoofing (1928), and this film's partial remake The Smile Wins (1928). Fortunately, these films were the exceptions to the rule that made Farina a full fledged friend with the gang in most of their films.
It is perhaps due to the fact that Farina is an amazingly convincing actor at the age of 5 in this film that made Hal Roach love it and the bits with the jumping beans and the mad dogs offer some comic relief. The ending, which I will not describe here, is quite clever and creative, and the horrific treatment of Farina is not presented in a manner that is without sympathy for the boy. But if you get a chance to see this, do so if you dare.
Our Gang (1922)
I've actually seen it and....
I've actually seen this film (or at least all that currently exists of it). It's pretty funny. After a few amusing bits involving a boy trying to win over Mary Jane's love through chivalry and Ernie (Sunshine Sammy) Morrison's efforts to find clothes while his mother washes what appears to be his only wardrobe, we get into the storyline about Mary Jane's mother's store being threatened by a crooked businessman.
There is a good deal of funny stuff in the film. A really clever gag involves the kids putting dental cream on the dog's mouths and yelling "Mad dog" to cause people to faint and land in a wheelchair so Sammy could wheel them into Mary Jane's mother's store (not to be confused with Mary Kornman). However, the 12 minutes that survives of the film does not leave you missing what's left. It tells a good story on its own so we could be thankful for what remains. Judging from this, Our Gang was off to a great start.
The Hollywood Knights (1980)
Leave your brains at the door and laugh
Folks, this is not a movie to be judged or rated by ordinary or serious standards as you would "I Am Legend" or "Gone With The Wind." Admittedly, this is a typical early 1980s (set in the 1960s) teen trash and laugh fests crudely mixed together from "Animal House" and "American Graffiti." No real plot, a thousand different things happen at once to group of wild teenagers (played by numerous soon-to-be's) who pull crazy pranks on Halloween Night 1965.
However, if you are not of the overly-sensitive politically correct crowd or watching this with (very) young children, this film is FUNNY! The gaseus rendition of "Volare", wild catch-phrases (his pants fit him like a glove, Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, et. al) and senseless raunch makes this ideal for firing up the DVD player while your buddies are over for beer and pizza. Don't expect to find the meaning of life in this one.
The Goode Family (2009)
Does to the left wing what Archie Bunker did for the right wing
I saw the premiere of this last night and really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to future episodes and will keep my Wednesday nights open for this one.
Essentially, this is a lampoon of modern day political correctness. The Goode family consists of a caricatured ultraliberal couple who are hooked on every PC pop-culture trendy fad-chasing cliché under the sun. For instance, since they want to adopt an "African baby" (as did Madonna, Angelina Jolie, et. al.) they adopt a White South African boy who they name "Ubuntu" (admittedly a clever inside joke, as "Ubuntu" is a native Black South African word loosely meaning "the oneness of mankind."). They struggle over whether to call their Black neighbor "Black," or "African-American" etc. (The neighbor in question wittingly replies, "We hold a convention every year in Memphis to decide such things. You're not invited.)" Black people such as myself who have suffered such scenes from well meaning but silly and patronizing white liberals as the Goodes in real life could relate.
The Goodes (of course) are fanatical vegan/vegetarians, so their dog Che (after leftist icon Che Guevara, of course) constantly runs after smaller animals to eat in disgust of the Goode's refusal to eat meat.
The scene in the health food store (an intercom announces in a horrified tone, "Someone in Aisle 4 is driving an SUV!" while the patrons gasp) is a real hoot! Needless to say, these folks are straight-up boobs. However, as he does with the "just plain folks" of "King of the Hill," Mike Judge draws the careful line to make the Goodes just real and personable enough so that the viewer actually likes these characters while mocking their foolishness. The one drawback is that the gags are so straight out of today's headlines that it will date quickly and confuse future viewers.
On the whole, I'll rate this equally with Judge's "King of the Hill," slightly below the Simpsons, and far above the abominations of animation known as "Family Guy" and "American Dad."
Historic & Classic Episode
This is an important and watershed episode for a number of reasons. This was one of the last television appearances of Diana Ross and the Supremes as a group (she went solo about three months later) and they do the ironic "Someday We'll Be Together" (they would, in a disastrous appearance on "Motown 25" in 1983, which is another story).
But the beauty of this episode is the national debut of the Jackson 5 (not Ed Sullivan-that would air nearly 2 months later on December 5, although a number of references to Sullivan appear in this episode). The brothers (along with keyboardist Ronnie Rancifer and "Cousin" Johnny Jackson on drums) are far rawer and funkier here than in their Sullivan appearance. A live version of "I Want You Back" differs sharply from the familiar version (more harmonizing from the brothers on this one). Mike does some dances here that, as Diana puts it, "I would get arrested for doing." They also jam on James Brown's "There Was a Time." So in a way, this is a watershed episode of the past (Sammy Davis Jr. in a fit of mock jealousy over young Mike), present (Diana and the Supremes), and future (Michael and the Jackson 5) of African American entertainment. Just as historic as the Beatles and Elvis on Ed Sullivan, but this NEEDS TO BE ON DVD, though. I hope Berry Gordy & company is listening.
Folks, you know it ain't Shakespeare-BUT...
My friends, I thought "Gilligan's Island" was one of the stupidest shows of all time even as a kid. But back in the 70s, we only had 4 channels and not much else to do after we played and did our homework after school and you were too young to go out. So we didn't have much choice other than to watch tripe like this.
Anyway, I recall watching some of this particular flick back in the 8th grade in 1978. I think I fell asleep around the time Thurston Howell orders some cigars from a man who is supposed to be Fidel Castro. Anyway, this was on a $3.99 DVD set at the grocery store with other public domain comedy films, so I said, "Why Not?" Now I know the answer to that last question. This was about every bit as dumb as the TV show, mixed in with topical 1970s humor about Jimmy Carter, Star Wars, Watergate, the Castro gag mentioned earlier, etc. along with Gilligan and the Skipper's poor man's Laurel and Hardy antics redux. About 20 minutes before the film ends, you can already figure out what's going to happen. You see, the late 70s was no golden age of TV comedy ("Hello Larry," "Sugar Time," and"Blansky's Beauties" anyone?)
HOWEVER, there is one redeeming value of this that kept me from doing the Frisbee thing with this DVD (and from giving it only 1 star). This film did more than any original episode to show the way the characters (and the real actors, in a way) really cared about each other. I was actually touched of how each time the castaways back in civilization ran into those who wanted to exploit them individually, they stood together in each case as a united front. (This concern actually extended to real life as a very sick Jim Backus reprised his role in a later GI film out of friendship for the cast).
So if you want a good movie, this ain't it. But if you want to see an interesting look at what real friendship is all about, this might help.
The Proud Family (2001)
Get a grip, people. It's not THAT bad!
My nieces and nephews enjoy this, and having grown up on Fat Albert, Bullwinkle, Hoppity Hooper, etc. myself, I think it's kind of amusing.
Admittedly, Penny (the usually appealing Kyla Pratt) can be annoying at times (with her constant shrieking of "DADDY") and the father (Tommy Davidson) is just a bit TOO stupid. And the show tries a bit too hard to be clever and slap happy (a nerdy character is named "Myron Lewisnsky" and a bratty Latina is named "LaCiegnica Boulevardz" after a street in Los Angeles. Uncle Bobby (Cedric the Entertainer) is cursed with a horrible voice that poorly imitates Larry Blackman of Cameo fame (AAAooow!!!). Producer Bruce Smith is no Jay Ward or Matt Groening (of Bullwinkle and Simpsons fame to non-hardcore cartoon fans). Not everyone can do this kind of comedy well. This show's mix between kid and adult humor sometimes goes off of the mark.
With that said, the show is pretty funny when you don't take it too seriously. Stereotypes? Please, given the choice I would rather the kiddies watch this than anything on BET (Booty Entertainment Television). I have yet to see gang banging, dope dealing, prostitution, or gross sexuality or profanity here. As foolish as this family and group of friends can get at times, it's clear that deep down, they have a fondness for each other and every now and then you get a good belly laugh.
All cartoons do not necessarily have to be morality plays and filled with life lessons (although the Rosa Parks episode was charming in a way). That's the PARENTS' job. It's OKAY to leave your brains at the door sometimes and just laugh. I think that is what THE PROUD FAMILY is all about.