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Bugsy and Mugsy (1957)
Friz Freling was notorious for re-using gags in his cartoons. These include playing "Those Endearing Young Charms" on a booby-trapped instrument, the trained pigeons gag and many, many others. This cartoon is a nearly complete remake of 1950's "Stooge For A Mouse". Freling replaced Mike the Bulldog with Bugsy, Sylvester with Mugsy and the mouse with Bugs. In fact, if you were to take out everything that was reused from this cartoon, it would only be thirty seconds long. It would be interesting to cut all the repeated gags from Freling's cartoons and see which pile would be larger.
Freling may have once been an innovative director, but as time went on, his cartoons became collections of overworked, reused material.
Seen It Before
This combines several elements of previously filmed ideas. The evil creature/force/spirit inhabiting the bodies of humans to wreak murderous havoc dates back at least to the 1967 Star Trek episode "Wolf in the Fold" (#2-14) and recurs in the 1998 movie "Fallen". Also borrowed from both is the notion that the evil being can move from body to body but, in an added little touch from "Fallen" has only a small amount of time to find a new host or die.
However, the ending of this particular story involves a nice little twist that both of its predecessors missed, an ending which will remain undisclosed here but makes this story still worth watching even if you've seen both its forebears.
A Pale Shadow
It's not as bad as 1964's "False Hare" but other than that, there isn't much good to say about this cartoon. Not only is it a ripo...er...spoof of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", but it's also a poorly disguised clip show (meaning that no imagination was used in the making of this cartoon). The opening of each sequence with Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam and Daffy Duck are poorly re-drawn copies from previous cartoons. The transportation segues between sequences are tedious at best, but better described as just plain old boring. It was obviously written by committee, even if that was only a committee of two. Ford & Lennon couldn't storyboard their way out of a wet paper bag.
If this is the direction of post-Termite Terrace Bugs, Elmer, Sam and the rest, I'd be much happier to never have another Warner cartoon made.
CSI: NY: Point of View (2010)
Does One Good Riff Deserve Another?
The original CSI did an episode that ripped off...er...riffed on Alfred Hitchcock's 1951 "Strangers On A Train", so it's only fair that the New York version do likewise and stage their own version of another Hitchcock classic, this time 1954's "Rear Window". On the one hand, L.B. Jeffries, recuperating from a debilitating injury, stuck in his apartment with nothing to do but watch the pageant of his neighbors' everyday lives play out through his window while a cast of characters drift in and out of his recovery room; on the other, Mac Taylor, recuperating...well, you know. The TV cast is smaller than the movie cast, so some of the roles need to be switched around, and, of course, Hitchcock never imagined cell phones with cameras, but, hey, it's 2010.
As T.S. Eliot said, "Bad poets imitate; good poets steal."
Mouse in Manhattan (1945)
There's a lot of good that can be said for this cartoon; the backgrounds are rich, lushly colored and full of nicely done art deco details. The animation is up to the usual studio standards of the time, which are unquestionably higher than those of the present day. However, I find it tedious for a number of reasons.
The Music: It's definitely not up to Scott Bradley's usual standards. Although it's probably supposed to be evocative of a "Great Gatsby" setting, it ends up being dreary, sleepy, repetitious AND monotonous (repetitious and monotonous are not the same, as Beethoven's 5th Symphony attests). Since most people (including me) tend to close their eyes when they yawn, there's a lot of the visual part of the cartoon that will be missed by the average viewer.
The Storyline: I'm not giving away any secrets that aren't already in the plot summary - country good, city bad. This is a common theme in films, both animated and live, from this era. It's a misplaced nostalgia for a nonexistent rural idyll, which, in the present day, is reflected in a similar nostalgia for "values" that never were.
Watchable but flawed
Not only have I read all 16 of van Gulik's Judge Dee books, but also his translation of "Dee Goong An", which was the Chinese literary source for the Judge, and also a number of van Gulik's other works and source materials (including a very tedious novel in a contemporary setting). Khigh Dhiegh made an acceptable Judge, but I felt that Mako as Tao Gan was a bad piece of casting - he played the character as too fawning and not quite clever enough. Motai (Mo Mo-te in the book) was a bit overplayed. Probably the best bit of casting was Keye Luke as the arrogant Sun Ming.
On the other hand, it was refreshing to see and not a complete disappointment. I have a fairly decent tape I made from a rebroadcast of the movie in the mid-'80s with fairly good picture and sound quality.
The A&E Nero Wolfe series set a gold standard for faithfulness to sources that the '70s just weren't up to. I can only hope that someone will turn up to be for Robert H. van Gulik what Timothy Hutton was to Rex Stout.
I Haven't Got a Hat (1935)
Famous as Porky's Debut, Though He Wasn't The Star
This cartoon is noted as the first appearance of Porky Pig, but he definitely wasn't the star. The setting is a school's student recital, and he gives a painfully stuttered rendition of Longfellow's "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere", which abruptly mashes into Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade". It's not an auspicious start for Porky, who gets booed off the stage. It's significant to note that Mel Blanc did not start voicing him until two years later, in 1937's "Porky's Duck Hunt", taking over from Joe Dougherty.
The stars turn out to be the twin pups Ham and Ex, who sing a creditable rendition of the title song and, in fact, end up with the only successful act of the recital. This is an example of Warner Brothers desperately in search of a strong character to put up against the likes of Mickey Mouse and Oswald Rabbit, and despite starring roles for members of the entire cast, only Porky showed enough staying power, even more so than Bugs Bunny, who didn't appear in his familiar form until 1940. (Versions of Bugs appeared as early as 1938, but are hardly recognizable as the same character. Porky maintained his basic personality, even though he starts out here as a child and becomes an adult in his next outing, Tex Avery's 1936 cartoon "Gold Diggers of '49", in which the rotund one offers to marry off his daughter to Beans.)
Jerry Beck's commentary for "I Haven't Got A Hat" is in volume 3 of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD set.
Medical Investigation (2004)
Been there, done that...
This is not an abysmal show, though it doesn't take a whole lot of motivation to get me to look for something else at 8:00 on Friday evenings. I tend to agree with people on the message boards for this show who are critical of the dialogue, writing and acting.
However, the same approach was done much better nearly ten years ago, in "The Burning Zone". That show had more drama, more tension, better suspense and less predictability. To add to the mix, there were hints of an overall hidden agenda a la "X-Files". Alas, since that show was good and it was on UPN, it only ran for one season. (A rule of thumb - if you have a bad show, pitch it to UPN and it'll get on the air; if you have a good show, pitch it to UPN and it'll be canceled after one season or less.) In any case, give Medical Investigation another season to settle in and it might mature into a show that can draw viewers from alternatives. If not, I don't give it a favorable prognosis.
Show Biz Bugs (1957)
A cartoon ahead of its time.
This cartoon shows that Friz Freling was ahead of his time - a recycler before anybody know the word. Nearly every gag in this cartoon is recycled from other cartoons, such as Ballot Box Bunny (the bomb gag). Freling was seldom an innovator, though he was competent. I've never been able to tell whether his tendency to re-use gags in cartoons was economy or laziness. The tendency outlived his time at Warner's, with material returning even in his DePatie-Freling days. That feeling of deja vu you might have gotten watching a Pink Panther cartoon was very real. He also never seemed to have gotten himself out of the 1920's, but when this cartoon was made, he could still expect some of the audience to have actually seen a vaudeville-type show.
Considered a ripoff by some...
Episode #5.4 of _"The Twilight Zone" (1959)_(qv), "A Kind of Stop Watch", has a storyline that is nearly identical to that of "The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything". The episode, however, aired in October of 1963, the year after publication of John D. McDonald's novel on which the movie is based. Some people, obviously unaware of the novel, considered the movie a ripoff of the episode, and a number of reviewers who wrote unfavorably on this basis had to spend numerous inches of column space apologizing.
One of the contributing factors to the misunderstanding is that the novel quickly went out of print, overshadowed by the author's "Travis McGee" detective series and other adventure novels. In 1980, the year the movie aired, three of his science fiction-oriented novels, "Wine of the Dreamers", "The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything" and "Ballroom of the Skies" were published in 1980 in an omnibus volume titled "Time and Tomorrow" by Doubleday and Science Fiction Book Club. This still, however, did not contribute significantly to clearing up the ripoff accusations because of the limited distribution through the book club.
Gideon Oliver (1989)
Proof positive of what the entertainment industry wants...
...and what they want is the same thing this country's politicians want - people who aren't interested in the world around them and will just accept what's shoved at them. Gideon Oliver was not just smart, it was intelligent. I'd been somewhat familiar with Aaron Elkins' work when this series debuted, and the biggest surprise I had was seeing Professor Oliver played by Louis Gossett, Jr. It's not that this was a problem, it's just that his ethnic background had never been a part of the books (at least the couple I had read), so I had never thought of picturing him as Black. Mr. Gossett played his part admirably and with flair, but the best part of this series was the fact that it engaged the viewer intellectually, not just as a piece of mindless entertainment. That's why it failed: it encouraged viewers to think and there was even the shocking possibility that something interesting and worthwhile could actually be learned from it - Egad, what a horrifying notion! Fortunately, at least one episode, the two-part "Sleep Well, Professor Oliver", shows up on cable as a movie from time to time.
Fit to Be Tied (1952)
Hanna & Barbera created their own spoiler for this one.
People who look at William Hanna & Joseph Barbera's body of work with a dispassionate eye will quickly notice that they had a penchant for recycling old story lines (they weren't the only ones - Friz Freling at Warner Brothers regularly reused gags, but seldom complete stories). With slight variations as to the devices, "Fit To Be Tied" is nearly identical to 1944's "The Bodyguard". The similarities are such that if another studio had produced "Fit" they could have been sued for plagiarism. I guess with hundreds of cartoons to their credit, originality can't be expected every time, but `Fit' appeared long before the general decline of the quality of cartoon storywriting in the 60's, so it could have been closer to the norm in 1952.
Heavenly Puss (1949)
Villains & Moralizing
It's not hard to get tired of the bad reputation cats have been given in animated cartoons (Warner Brothers had Pussyfoot as a sympathetic feline, but that's one of the few). They seem to serve only as punching bags for dogs and persecutors of mice and birds. In this cartoon, we have Tom threatened with condemnation to an animal version of Christian hell populated, of course, by devil dogs, and for what? For following his instincts, nothing more. If Christians can be condemned for following their instincts, there must not be many of them in their version of heaven.
Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, perhaps said it best: "Way down under, we're all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by theirs." Seeing the way Hanna and Barbera always cast Tom as the endless oppressor and the foil for Jerry's sadistic manipulation makes me want to do two things: watch only Chuck Jones Tom & Jerry cartoons, where the motivations were distilled to their purest essence (the chase for its own sake) and to go find a few mice for my own cats to play with while I watch and cheer them on.
Lights Fantastic (1942)
Entertaining but derivative
This cartoon is a good example of the fact that while Friz Freling was technically excellent, he was possibly the least imaginative of the directors in the Warner's stable. Lights Fantastic is essentially a rehash of _Billboard Frolics(1935)_(qv) and showcases Freling's tendency to recycle gags in multiple films. This is not to say that Lights Fantastic isn't entertaining - it is and it gives you a chance to enjoy Freling at his technical best, but it also reveals the dichotomy inherent in the canon of his work.
Another reused routine (appearing for the second time in _Show Biz Bugs (1957)_(qv)) is the trained performing pigeons that flew out the theater window instead of doing their act. _Bugs And Thugs(1954)_(qv) and _Bugsy And Mugsy (1957)_ both have material cribbed from _Racketeer Rabbit(1946)_(qv). Yosemite Sam stands out as Freling's best creation, from his introduction in _Hare Trigger (1945)_(qv) to the mid 1950's when the character ran out of steam.
Creature Comforts (1989)
Very good but...
This is an excellent cartoon, except for two things: first, it shows up in so many compilations that people like me who seek out quality animation have seen it more times than we can count on our fingers, toes and teeth combined; second, EVERY film that Nick Park and Aardman Studios produces, whether a short, a commercial or a full-length feature, has characters with upper and lower jaws that have different curvatures - the lower teeth are in a nearly straight line while the uppers are properly curved. For me, that is a distraction that takes away from the content, and that is why I have never bothered to see Chicken Run - I would not be able to stand watching mismatched jaws for an hour and a half.
Even the best eventually run out of steam...
Chuck Jones made his mark on the world of animation by ignoring current conventions and writing his own rule book. In his later work, however, perhaps in response to an audience that could no longer appreciate subtlety, he ignores the principles that made him the innovator he was. 'Return of the 24½th Century' featured a clumsy plot driven by stilted dialog. Dialog-driven cartoons figured high on his list of gripes about latter-day cartoons. He maintained that if you couldn't follow the action with the sound turned off, it wasn't a real cartoon. By that standard, this isn't.
A "show about nothing" - right!
As I understand it, the basic premise of "Seinfeld" is that it was a "show about nothing". In that it certainly succeeded: nothing to recommend it, nothing funny about it, nothing to make it worth one's while. Over the course of half an hour it might elicit a guffaw or two, but for the most part the humor is either sophomoric or nonexistent. It's the sort of show that made me feel embarrassed to watch, even if I was the only one in the room. My time was better spend elsewhere, like in a good book.
Duck Dodgers (2003)
That whirring sound you hear...
...is Chuck Jones spinning in his grave. "Duck Dodgers" is proof that animation is a dying art. In his book "Chick Amuck", Jones said that animation is primarily a visual art. A cartoon is true animation if you can turn off the sound and still understand the whole thing. If you need the sound to understand what's going on, it's illustrated radio. "Duck Dodgers" is illustrated radio of the worst sort. The character was never intended to be sustained over more than one cartoon, and even Jones' own reprise, 1980's "Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24½th Century" fell flat. Unfortunately, Cartoon Network has seen fit to remove one of the two Sunday evening showings of the exemplary "Toon Heads" to inflict a rerun of this turkey. I suggest they keep it confined to its first-run slot on late Friday night, the later the better, or, better yet, consign it to the dustbin of failure.
Herkimer? Give me a break!
Who can put credibility in any character named Herkimer? He didn't figure in the book, and the buffoonery of his role lowers my respect for Tim Curry a notch or two. I'd like to know why movie makers have to tinker with things so much. Maybe it's to give the kiddies something to watch. On the other hand, they seem to think everyone in the target audience has the mind of a 5-year-old, and Congo is proof of this.
Not the first Jeopardy! VG
The first Jeopardy! video game was released by Coleco in 1984 in versions for four different systems: Coleco Adam, Apple II, Commodore-64 and IBM PC/PCjr. It was distinguished by a carefully designed spelling interpreter that could accept some misspellings or typos, thereby not punishing players for their lack of spelling or typing skills. After Coleco's demise, successor companies which distributed the game erroneously referred the acceptance of misspelled or mistyped answers as a bug.
Snowman's Land (1939)
A foreshadowing of things to come
Snowman's land is close to being a prequel of Conrad the Sailor (1942). The setting and gags are different, but the relationship between the Mountie and Dirty Pierre and that between Daffy Duck and Conrad Cat are virtually identical. This shouldn't be surprising, since the principals in both films are identical: Jones directing, Monahan writing, Blanc voicing the adversary and Colvig voicing the dupe. This doesn't mean that this pair of films are bad; they do show a definite refinement of technique in Jones' use of characters in the three intervening years.
Velocity Trap (1999)
Oh No, Not Again!
When the Sci-Fi Channel started running promos for Velocity Trap, it was touted as being from "...the director of Interceptor Force and Interceptor Force 2...". Those were insufferably bad, and this one wasn't disappointing in that respect. Phillip J. Roth is living proof that there is no limit to the extent that incompetence can be put on public display provided the perpetrator has no sense of shame and the ability to continue conning investors into supplying the funds. If Mr. Roth ever collaborates with William Shatner on a project, I think I'll find a doctor to put out my eyes and sew my ears shut before it has a chance of reaching me. The Three Stooges and "professional" wrestling are no longer the nadir on my personal scale of popular culture.
You want to know why?
Why Did They Put Seatbelts In Theatres That Summer? To keep people from walking out on this turkey in droves, that's why! Here is William Shatner at his self-indulgent worst, showing his complete lack of creative ability and talent, and dragging his whole supporting cast with him. He should have listened to a replay of his own "Get a life!" bit from Saturday Night Live to pull him from the brink. It's a shame that it took five more years and two more movies to finally put Captain Kirk to rest. This is just one more confirmation of the notion that the odd-numbered ST movied are best avoided.
Nero Wolfe (1981)
Egregious casting, worse characterization, literary shortcuts
Lee Horsley stands out (without his "Matt Houston" mustache) as just about the only on-target bit of casting. Conrad, as Wolfe, was large but neither tall nor imposing enough to play the part - to say nothing of the fact that in only one adventure of his 41-year literary career did he ever cultivate a beard, which he shed as soon as the case was over. Nor was Wolfe openly sentimental. Only Archie, with his keen observational acumen and intimate knowledge of his employer's habits, moods and faults, could see its expression. Wolfe himself, in a comment reported to Ken Darby, author of "The Brownstone House of Nero Wolfe", may have been willing to accept Raymond Burr or Orson Welles to play him, but not without reservations. George Wyner as Saul Panzer was even worse. Having played too many comic - make that doofus - roles, he came far short of portraying Panzer's suave acumen, street smarts and hard edge. He also looks too wimpy. Furthermore, three whole novels, "In the Best Families" (1950), "Before Midnight" (1955) and "If Death Ever Slept" (1957) became a single, mistitled, one-hour episide, "In the Best of Families" (ep. #1.7). It was in "If Death Ever Slept" that Wolfe breifly let his face sprout and starved himself to a normal weight.
The only excuse I could ever give myself to watch this show was that any Wolfe on TV was better than no Wolfe.
One Cab's Family (1952)
Derivative...but still entertaining
With few changes, this is basically a remake of Friz Freling's Streamlined Greta Green (1937). The juvenile car chooses the wrong career, gets tanked (literally and figuratively) on premium and races a train, only to end up in a car hospital after a bad crash, followed by reconciliation. Avery reprised with Little Johnny Jet (1953), with the baby born a jet rather than choosing jethood (jetdom?).