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Furry Vengeance (2010)
A Disney-like Version of the Seven Plagues of Egypt
Come on, folks. This movie isn't that bad. Forest animals taking vengeance on the employee of a real estate developer? Why not? I have to say that I sympathized with the little (and big) creatures in the woods that are trying to protect their home from the encroachment of a housing development.
Dan Sanders (Brendan Frasier) suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune in this kind of cute and kind of silly venture. I found myself chuckling as animals discharged their bodily fluids on Sanders and used a Rube Goldberg contraption to hurl large stones at his vehicle.
I even felt sorry for them when Sanders and company exacted their own revenge. All in all it's a funny and lovable movie, and Frasier gives a bravura performance as the put-upon salesman/pitchman.
The Money Pit (1986)
Funny remake of a remake of a.......
One of the things that makes this movie so enjoyable is that millions of Americans can easily empathize and draw upon their own experiences with the travails of fixing up a dilapidated house.
The plot is a familiar one and follows in the footsteps (which usually collapse) of such classic films as "George Washington Slept Here," "The Egg and I" and "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House."
Shelley Long and Tom Hanks seem evenly matched as the tormented couple who suffer almost every wacky indignity and calamity imaginable. Tom Hanks has a flair for physical comedy, which he rarely got the chance to exploit in his later films. Unfortunately, except for Philip Bosco and Maureen Stapleton, the supporting players in "The Money Pit" are not in the same league as the actors who added so much flavor to films in the old studio days.
Indeed, as a classic movie buff, I find today's crop of character actors pallid in comparison with their counterparts of more than 50 years ago.
Who can forget Percy Kilbride and Hattie McDaniel as Mr. Kimber and Hester the maid in "George Washington," and Harry Shannon As Mr. Tesander, the well digger, in "Blandings"? Don't forget Donald MacBride and the coupling of Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as Ma and Pa Kettle in "The Egg." We'll never see the likes of them again.
Still, "The Money Pit" is all good fun and very entertaining.
Not Ready for Prime Time
With a few exceptions, I've long ago given up commercial TV. With a collection of more than 500 DVDs and access to Netflix Instant View, I'm not dependent of the networks for entertainment, although I have some TV shows in my collection.
"Friends" is among the reasons that I've abandoned commercial TV. The show goes nowhere and it lacks the tact and daring of HBOs "Curb Your Ehthusiam, " which NBC progenitor "Seinfeld" explored to great success.
Words such as "brilliant" and "awesome" have been used to describe mediocre "Friends." The program's main draw comes from male viewers who want to look at the attractive female stars, and they tune in each week to whet their sexual fantasies.
Female viewers use the female actors as to serve as models. They want to look like Courtney Cox and the others and keep up with clothing and hair trends. What takes place between is jejune filler.
I hope that foreign audiences who watch "Friends" do not assume that all American twenty-somethings live that way.
One of the most despicable smear pieces ever aired
At the time this program was broadcast I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, so, naturally, I was intrigued by the subject. I knew many gay people, and the gay community was by that time well integrated into the city's social, political and business structure.
The program started off with what seemed like a well-balanced presentation. Then, after about 20 minutes, the show charged drastically in tone. Every group -- religious, ethnic, social, economic and political -- has been stereotyped and characterized in negative ways in books, articles, plays and others forums and media.
But rarely before had I seen or read such a concentration of dirt and muck. For 40 minutes gay people were smeared, slandered, stereotyped and pulverized to such a degree that by comparison the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" looked like a puff piece.
I don't know what producer George George Crile's motivation was in creating such a hit piece, but the program should be used in broadcast journalism classes as an example of how not to make a news program.
As a former newspaper copy editor myself, I would have tossed it in the trash. It violated every rule concerning fairness, balance and structure. There were so many factual distortions and biases that I would have "spiked" the story as unsalvageable.
CBS should forever stand in disgrace for airing this monstrosity.
Holy Ghost People (1967)
In the current political environment, religion has become a political football that's been kicked around by zealots who claim that government is anti-religion and antagonistic to God.
Although this enlightening film was made about 40 years ago, it clearly demonstrates that the freedom to worship as one pleases is as solid as the bedrock under the skyscrapers of Manhattan.
It's up to the viewer to decide whether the members of the Holiness Church in Scrabble Creek, West Virginia, are filled with the spirit of the Holy Ghost, mad or engaging in an uninhibited (and healthy)form of emotional release.
Nevertheless, the people at the service appear to be down-to-earth and brimming over with faith. The music and dancing are exuberant. They speak in tongues, handle snakes, drink poison and give testimony.
It all may seem bizarre, but their freedom to worship the way they do demonstrates that the First Amendment of our Constitution can withstand anything -- even the pronouncements of nutty politicians who want to turn the United States into an officially Christian country.
A superb film. Let freedom ring!
Misadventures of a Juror
Rob (Dick Van Dyke) gladly agrees to serve on a federal jury in a criminal case involving a comely exotic dancer, Marla Hendrix (Sue Ann Langdon), who's accused of smuggling jewelry into the United States. Without being aware that wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) is in the courtroom observing the trial, Rob puts on an embarrassing display of "oogling" the defendant. Laura is not amused by Rob's partiality, and neither are his fellow jurors.
This hilarious takeoff on "12 Angry Men," in which Henry Fonda played a holdout juror, is notable for its supporting cast, which features such familiar faces as Dabbs Greer, Howard Wendell, Herbie Faye, Patsy Kelly and Herb Vigran.
Anything Goes (1936)
Merman is the tops
The closest you'll ever come to hearing a faithful recording of Cole Porter's original score is by listening to the faithful 1988 studio cast recording directed by John McGlinn, which uses (as much as possible) the original orchestrations of Robert Russell Bennett and Hans Spialak.
However, that doesn't mean you should ignore this revamped film version, which has historical interest because it preserves one of the few film performances of Ethel Merman. The Broadway show, which opened in 1934 and ran for 420 performances (quite a long run in those days), actually gets better treatment than other Porter musicals adapted for film. I have in mind "DuBarry was a Lady," the 1943 vehicle that stars Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly and Red Skelton, and "Something for the Boys" (1944).
"Anthing Goes," which was renamed "Tops Is the Limit" to prevent confusion with the 1956 remake, again starring Bing Crosby, is more of a vehicle for Crosby than anyone else, which is why outside songwriters were brought in to provide him with material more suited to his vocal skills.
Only three of Porter's songs are given anything resembling a full treatment (albeit with laundered lyrics): "You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "There'll Alway Be a Lady Fair." Other songs are used as background or underscoring (e.g., "All Through the Night," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow.").
In the original cast, Merman was joined by two big Broadway stars -- William Gaxton and Victor Moore -- as well as a lady named Vivian Vance, while the film gives us, besides Crosby and Merman, Charles Ruggles, Ida Lupino and the veddy, veddy English Arthur Treacher.
The plot, such as it is, hardly matters. In her autobiography "Who Could Ask for Anything More," Ethel Merman tells why:
" ...the writers who used to think up the books that were wrapped around Gershwin or Cole Porter scores, started from scratch, which only their bare cupboards and an unmanageable sense of humor to guide them. First a producer signed a cast; then he hired writers to rustle up some material for that cast to use. 'I've got Bert Lahr,' he'd say. Or 'I've got Victor Moore. Get going' buddy. Make with the Moore-type yoks.' " In the mid-1950s, Merman and Frank Sinatra performed in "Anything Goes" on television. The program was later released on a bootleg album. If enjoy the film, with a little research you'll even find it on DVD.
Enjoy the hijinks, singing and production numbers.
Red Planet Mars (1952)
95% fiction, 5% science, 100% baloney
An American scientist of dubious qualifications builds a device for communicating with life on Mars. The centerpiece of his homemade lab is a "hydrogen valve," the plans for which he discovered in postwar Germany.
After sending a message to Mars, his TV monitor indicates that he has received a response. Several messages reveal that the Martians have an advanced civilization that can produce food and energy with only a fraction of the resources required on Earth.
Let's not quibble with the fact that there is no independent scientific verification of these Martian chats. Apparently, the world's leading scientists are conveniently asleep.
When the news get out, the world goes into a state of panic and economies collapse. Even the president of the United States comes under the spell of the Martian achievements. I hate to ruin the fantasy, but Earth has no trade with Mars and hundreds of Martian ships aren't descending on Earth to deliver, free of charge, the achievements that will supposedly put millions of Earthlings out of work.
While this is going on, the Communists are listening in and collaborating with the Nazi scientist who developed the hydrogen valve. Their goal is to pull the rug right out from under the West by creating chaos.
Even more startling is the news that the Martians are Christians, which leads to a worldwide revival of religion. Citizens of Communist countries are digging up religious paraphernalia and the Soviet government is replaced by the patriarch of Moscow. I suppose that the KGB and the Soviet Politburo are so awed that they have given up without a fight. One might suppose that Joseph Stalin has just erected a 75-foot cross over his Kremlin office. Yeah, right! Moreover, the fact that Biblical story of creation and dozens of prophesies have just been severely compromised doesn't raise the slightest peep from Bible scholars. They, along with the world's scientists, are asleep, too.
We discover at the end that the Nazi scientist has been perpetrating a hoax. The American scientist and his wife don't want the world to be let down by making the hoax public. Just as they are about to blow up the lab by lighting a cigarette while the lab is filled with hydrogen, a signal appears on the monitor that supposedly indicates that the Martians really are in contact with Earth.
However, because suicide is unacceptable, the Nazi fires a bullet at the TV, igniting an explosion. The world is thus saved being shaken from its delusions.
This film, born in an atmosphere of McCarthyism and Cold War hysteria, defines the word drivel. The only emotion it inspires in me is a feeling of contempt directed at those who are so desperate and naïve as to give it any credence.
Your Show of Shows (1950)
To understand why "Your Show of Shows" (YSOS) is so highly regarded, just take a look at the list of the cast and crew. The confluence of all that talent took place at a time when the industry was still being burped on the shoulders of its fathers. But, in retrospect, it was an experiment that worked.
If the episodes don't seem as hilarious today as they did when the show was originally broadcast, it's because so many subsequent programs have absorbed, borrowed and reused elements of YSOS. The brilliant Carl Reiner's "Dick van Dyke Show" was undoubtedly inspired by YSOS, but that's an obvious example, and a classic in its own right.
The strain of putting on a 90-minute live TV show, with the same lead characters in harness week after week, must have drained even the most sturdy contributors.
I recall the last show of the run. Pat Weaver was there to help say good-bye. I had tape-recorded about a dozen programs on a reel-to-reel machine. At least I had those episodes to soften the blow.
Fortunately today episodes aplenty are available for home viewing, and that's something to celebrate.
December Bride (1954)
A long-forgotten gem
I was 9 years old when this show premiered and, if my memory serves me, it followed "I Love Lucy," providing an hour of solid comedy. But even if my gray cells are faulty, I remember "December Bride" as being one of the best sitcoms of the 1950s.
Spring Byington played Lily Ruskin, who lived him her daughter and son-in-law. The comedy was based largely on Lily's adventures with her close friend Hilda Crocker (Verna Felton), which often left son-in-law Matt Henshaw (Dean Miller) exasperated.
The icing on the cake was provided by Harry Morgan ("M*A*S*H") as next-door neighbor Peter Porter, whose sardonic remarks about wife Gladys (who is never seen on camera) rarely failed to trigger guffaws.
This was a show that the whole family could watch, and I'm saddened that it is not available for home viewing. It's a treasure that is likely to languish in studio vaults for a long, long time.