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Bugs' Bonnets (1956)
One of the Coolest-Looking Looney Tunes Cartoons
"Bugs' Bonnets" is a funny Bugs cartoon which gets a lot of mileage out of the high concept premise (that is, the hat defines a personality). My favorite gag is when Bugs puts on a gangster hat and repeats "See?" and "Out." many times in short order.
However, the real highlights here are the abstract backgrounds. One of the things I love about this era of Looney Tunes is how experimental the crew got in making unique-looking backdrops, a far cry from the realistic styles from the late '30s to early '50s. The setting is an early fall forest, but it's not drawn lushly as to imitate real life; its influence is more UPA and magazines of the time, where objects such as trees and rocks are more loosely defined but still recognizable to the human eye as to what they are. The color combinations are similarly fantastic, with the predominant color being green, but mixed with browns and blacks, plus splashes of reds and yellows to signify fall. Still frames from this cartoon could be used as actual paintings in a museum, they're that striking. At the same time, the backgrounds don't overtake the comedy- it's more something extra you appreciate after you've seen the cartoon a couple times.
This wasn't the only LT cartoon to experiment with background styles, but it was one of the most impressive results.
Video Power (1990)
Better as a Game Show
As a kid, I first caught the series when it was retooled into a game show for the second season. If I had started watching from the beginning when it was mostly a cartoon, I doubt I would've held such nostalgia for it. The cartoon segments are generic action junk with lesser known Acclaim characters- they're certainly no Mario. In-between those segments, a teenager named Johnny Arcade gave gameplay tips and previewed upcoming games. That was really the draw of the program, but because Johnny was delivering a monologue instead of interacting with others, he was a lot more subdued.
By contrast, the second season had him really cut loose, since he was co-hosting a game show where he had to be high energy to pump the kid contestants up. There are many moments when he's hosting that I just burst out laughing because of how over-the-top he was acting, certainly helped by the kids' awkward reactions.
Yes, the game show hasn't aged gracefully- it definitely screams early '90s in the wardrobe/hair styles, music and set design, but you have to understand that as a kid, the second season was like crack. Not only did the gameplay tips from season 1 continue (yes, game magazines existed back then, but it was different and exciting watching actual gameplay footage), but we got kids trying to stump Johnny with video game trivia questions, which was always something kids wanted to see: Outsmarting the adults (okay, Johnny was an older teen but you get the idea). Then we got to see four kids competing against each other in a video game playing round while it was being commentated on like a professional sport with rapid cutting and camera swoops- again, exciting for a kid. Then the questions round, which allowed the kids to prove their NES knowledge. Again, fun in that nerdy "look how much I know about this hobby" way.
Of course, the biggest highlight for the series was the final round, where the winner would run through aisles of video games and velcro as many as they could to their vest and helmet before time ran out. A grand prize could be something as huge as a Neo Geo system. Talk about a kid's wet dream. This is before having more disposable income as an adult, so unless you were loaded, you probably only got a few games per year, if that. So vicariously, this was exciting to watch. You kind of envied the kid and wanted to be in their shoes.
Watching the second season today, it's still entertaining, especially to watch Johnny goof around. Just don't expect it to have a timeless quality. Skip the first season, though, unless you want to be a Video Power completist.
Ricky 1 (1988)
Not "So Bad It's Good", It's Just Bad
"Ricky 1", an amateurish Rocky spoof, is a misfire from beginning to end. It's not even fun in a campy sense; it's laborious to sit through. Even the moments which attempt comedy fall flat because of bad direction, sluggish pacing, and poor cinematography/lighting (besides conceptually not being very funny to begin with). The plot is simultaneously overly simple and hard to follow because it keeps cutting to random side plots like a Godfather parody and whatever's going on with Ricky's love interest's crisis center.
I know it's tempting to see the film out of morbid curiosity because of James Rolfe's review of it, but you should just stick to that. He highlights the quirkiest scenes and makes fun of them in less than ten minutes so you won't waste an hour and half watching the actual film.
Easily the Weakest of the "Leslie Nielsen Golf Trilogy"
Bad Golf Made Easier and Bad Golf My Way are two funny VHS tapes, but the third in the trilogy (released three years after the second!) proves you can milk a good concept dry.
It's basically a mixture of the two storytelling styles from the first two videos: Some parts are Leslie just giving bad golf tips to the camera (like Made Easier) while others have Leslie driving another golfer crazy (like My Way). Problem is, neither part has as memorable of set pieces as the former two videos. The golfer that Leslie plays with, in particular, is not nearly as memorable of a character as Brad was in My Way.
The other problem is, the video is way too long. At fifty minutes, it wears out its welcome well before it's over. The lounge piano/bass music doesn't help; it's fun at first, but they repeat the same music cues over and over. There were only a handful of jokes I enjoyed, one of them being Leslie and the caddy throwing the other golfer's clubs out the cart instead of stopping and letting him choose himself. I also enjoyed the different "zones" of gimmes and the cross-section of a golf ball's hatred for the player. Otherwise, not much stands out.
One edge I will give this video over the other two: The cinematography is just gorgeous. They shot this at Banff Golf Course up in Alberta, and the towering mountains, wild animals (including many random deer shots), and lush vegetation really give us some scenic eye candy.
Otherwise, a disappointment.
Dog Gone People (1960)
A Guilty Pleasure
"Dog Gone People" has a few things working against it: It has basic animation, the gags are kind of predictable, and Hal Smith, try as he might, doesn't really sound like Arthur Q. Bryan's Elmer Fudd.
But you know what? I love the cartoon despite (or perhaps because of) these things. The cartoon is so delightfully corny, with Fudd repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth by treating his boss's dog, Rupert, like a dog instead of a person, saying things like "Oh no, another boo-boo!" and "I goofed again!" There are also silly moments like Fudd eating dog food while Rupert gets to chow down on Fudd's dinner, or Rupert getting drunk on bay rum and then driving drunk, which Fudd is blamed for, or the boss promoting Rupert over Fudd (who's demoted to cleaning the top of flag poles) that are so dumb you can't help but love them.
Hal Smith's decidedly un-Fudd-like voice? Yeah, that's part of the guilty pleasure charm.
The music by Milt Franklyn is a big part of why this cartoon is so fun. He weaves in quite a few catchy vintage songs as part of the background music, such as "Cheerful Little Earful", "Can't We Be Friends", "I Want to Be Happy", "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone", and of course the favorite "We're in the Money". Referencing old songs was less common in the late '50s/early '60s Looney Tunes shorts, so the practice here gives the cartoon a certain throwback feel that works in its favor.
Overall, if you can check your brain at the door, "Dog Gone People" is one of the better later Looney Tunes shorts.
Too Much Recycled Content
The Comedy Central Presents special featuring Frank Caliendo is one of my favorites, with the comedian speeding through a large number of impressions in only twenty minutes. So when I saw this special on DVD, I was hoping for some more new impressions. Unfortunately, Frank mostly recycled his material from the CCP special. This is disappointing for two reasons: One, the obvious; you feel like you've paid for the same content twice. And two, it arguably doesn't do Caliendo any favors, painting him as someone who is content to pander with familiar punchlines instead of coming up with new stuff. This isn't like Jerry Seinfeld's "I'm Telling You For the Last Time", where the gimmick was that Jerry was retiring his old material so he wanted to give the audience one last taste of it; Caliendo was an up-and-coming comedian at the time so it's disappointing he was already in reruns. And even worse, the special is three times as long as his CC special, so impressions that are funny at first (such as George W. Bush) tend to get old when they're repeated so many times over the course of an hour.
That said, if you've never seen the aforementioned CC special, this is still an entertaining hour. While his John Madden impression is arguably his most famous, I found I was laughing hardest at his Yoda, Shaggy (from Scooby-Doo), and Chris Farley impressions. And I liked the self-deprecation, such as when he apologizes for the constant assault of "Frank TV" ads on TBS.
This special opens and closes with a couple brief skits where the Fox NFL Sunday hosts claim that Frank isn't funny in his dressing room. They're okay. But one particularly puzzling choice is that, at random times during the special, it will cut to the audience, where Frank, dressed as a celebrity he's impersonating (such as Jay Leno), will offer their reactions. Obviously, these bits were taped apart from the stand-up, and it's jarring whenever it happens.
If you've never seen Frank Caliendo, this special is worth watching, but if you've seen his CC special, there's really no reason to bother with this.
I saw this TV special on the "Don Rickles TV Specials" DVD, and it was a real letdown. I should mention that I'm a Don Rickles fan, but this special doesn't do him justice. Part of the problem is that this, along with another special on the set ("The Many Sides of Don Rickles") shoehorn him into sketches that don't take advantage of his persona. Aside from the sketch where he played a United Nations security guard that tried his hardest not to lose his temper, the sketches here could really star any comedian and it wouldn't make much difference. There are also a few musical numbers in here that aren't funny at all, and seem to exist solely to let Juliet Prowse show off. When someone upstages Don Rickles (who should control the room), you know you've got a dud special on your hands.
The only highlight is the post-title segment, where Don (as himself) just riffs on one audience member after another. It's the kind of thing that made him famous, and shows him at his best. In all honesty, I could've just watched this for an hour, since he's so good at improv and there's a lot of variety in his insults so it's not one-note. But sadly, this only lasts about five minutes before we launch into generic variety show fluff.
One of the Worst TTA Episodes Ever
Among some animation fans, including myself, "Tiny Toon Adventures" was a much-needed turning point for TV animation: It feature full animation (a big improvement over the previous three decades) and a scene-specific score, which put it leagues above its competitors. Most importantly, though, it was a return to fast-paced gag-based comedy that its predecessor, Looney Tunes, was loved for.
So you can imagine my disappointment when I watched "Whale's Tales". In lieu of the usual silly tone was a sickeningly sweet story about saving a baby whale's mother from poachers wanting to use her for cosmetics. Great, so not only do we have a story that feels out of place in the Tiny Toons universe, but it also wants to be a message show. Look, I hate whales being turned into cosmetics, but this isn't the show for such a message. Where are the laughs?
Well, they are virtually nonexistent in this outing. Outside of a self-aware line or two that seemed added out of desperation, there are no laughs, because the episode doesn't even attempt to be witty or funny. In fact, a couple scenes actually make me gag, they're so cloying.
I also felt that Elmyra was totally superfluous to the story. Towards the beginning, she takes the baby whale home, Buster and Babs discover this by hearing the whale crying from outside, and rescue the whale from her house. The way it was executed, it felt like padding, because it doesn't affect the overall conflict in any way (that is, rescuing the mother whale). Why couldn't they have discovered the whale another way without involving Elmyra?
Why doesn't this get the lowest rating possible? Its score is pretty good, sweeping and grand in spots, and heavily using "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" throughout. So credit where credit is due. Otherwise, this is definitely in the bottom five for "Tiny Toon Adventures" episodes. If you go in expecting to laugh and be entertained, prepare to be let down.
A Really Strange Special
Why is it strange? For two seasons: 1) Due to the lack of many actors, Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield end up playing multiple characters. That wouldn't be so odd if they stayed in the same character for each sketch, but no, often they will switch mid-sketch.
For example, in one skit, Rodney wants to make it on Broadway as a dancer, so he auditions with a really bad dance number. Cut to the producers and directors who are watching Rodney... and who are ALSO played by Rodney! It's very surreal.
In another sketch, Rodney is the co-owner of a nightclub. Bill Murray appears multiple times, as a waiter, as a chef in the kitchen, and as Rodney's partner in business. I feel like saying, "Hey, you look familiar!", but strangely Rodney never lampshades this.
To get the idea of this, try to imagine if Saturday Night Live was only four cast members.
2) Aretha Franklin. She's a talented singer but she honestly seemed out of place this special. Yes, she sings "Respect", which is related to Rodney's catchphrase, but both times that she appears and sings, it brings the comedy to a halt.
The special's still worth a watch, because Rodney's stand-up at the beginning is gold, and he does a good job in the skits. But those two creative choices I listed above just left me bewildered.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: The End (2005)
Easily the Weakest Season Finale
I love Curb Your Enthusiasm but this season finale was lacking. It just wasn't that funny.
But there were other problems (spoilers ahead!): The whole "Larry is adopted" plot was quite frustrating; first the detective tells Larry that he's adopted, then he rushes in to tell him he made a mistake. Meaning, the first twenty minutes or so where he meets his supposed birth parents were pointless aside from finally convincing Larry to give up his kidney to Lewis. And what was the reason that the detective screwed up? They never really say. I guess it doesn't matter why, it was a screw up either way, but it just felt like an arbitrary switcheroo on the audience.
Also, having a character temporarily die and go to Heaven is a tired trope, and the episode doesn't really do anything unique to it. He's sent back to his earthly body because he's "not ready yet". This just doesn't feel as original or as witty as the typical episode, even though the reason for them sending Larry back was different (that is, he kept annoying his guardian angels with questions).
Also, Cheryl was really out-of-character here, confused where the DVD cover went instead of providing support to Larry as he's contemplating what he's going to do about donating a kidney to Richard Lewis. This preoccupation with a trivial thing is something that Larry would do, not Cheryl. And that's not even getting into a financial argument with Jeff and Susan immediately after Larry dies, which is not only out-of-character for her but is something that any sane person wouldn't do, especially not someone whose spouse just died.
I will say that it was refreshingly realistic that Larry didn't change after his near-death experience (giving us a callback to the "handicapped bathroom" joke from earlier in the season in the process), and there were a couple laughs here and there, but it's nowhere near as funny or clever as it could've been.
For my money, season 3's "The Grand Opening" and season 4's "Opening Night" were both great season finales, much funnier than this.
Hare-Abian Nights (1959)
A lot of people like to rag on this cartoon because it's a "cheater"; that is, it extensively reuses footage from old cartoons. Heck, even Ken Harris allegedly wasn't too proud of his efforts in his only directing job. But I think "Hare-Abian Nights" gets too much hate.
For one thing, there's a good plot here to wrap around the old stories. A ruthless sultan wants to be entertained. Numerous victims (including an Elvis expy) have already been fed to the crocodile pits due to his unreasonably high demands for entertainment. So along comes Bugs Bunny, who tells the sultan some stories from his earlier adventures.
Things are going swimmingly (and by "swimmingly", I mean "Bugs isn't killed") until he tells a story from "Sahara Hare", co-starring Yosemite Sam. After much laughter at Sam's expense, it's revealed who the sultan is: Yosemite Sam! This is a wonderful directorial choice, to not reveal the sultan until the very end. Before that, we only got to see his arm push the trap door button, and we never heard him speak. It made him all the more threatening.
You might ask, "Wouldn't Bugs know that the person he's telling the story to is Yosemite Sam? Isn't making fun of him basically suicide?" That's what makes the final clip great; Bugs obviously knew. It's not unlike Bugs to razz his adversaries. And this is further cemented by the fact that Bugs is one step ahead of Sam after the final story, disabling Sam's trap door, and re-activating it right when Sam is stomping on the door, causing Sam to get bit on the butt by the crocs. Great ending, and only helped by Bugs's witty one-liner: "Not a bad act, but... don't call us, we'll call you. And I can think of a few things I'd like to call him."
I won't lie and say this is one of the best Looney Tunes cartoons (precisely because half of it is recycled), but the old clips are entertaining, and so is the new stuff. And the new footage is nicely animated (most of it by veteran Ben Washam).
The Jet Cage (1962)
This Cartoon Makes Me Sad...
...Not so much because of anything going on in the short itself, but because of what was going on behind the scenes. As you may know, composer Milt Franklyn died while scoring this short, and an uncredited Bill Lava had to step in to finish the remaining three and a half minutes. Franklyn is one of my favorite cartoon composers, so it's a shame that we never got to hear how he might have filled out the rest of the short. Instead, we have to listen to the unpleasant dings and dissonant "melodies" of Lava's work, which sharply contrasts with Franklyn's pleasing compositions in the first couple minutes. It's like he didn't even try to imitate Franklyn.
That trivia aside, it's kinda mediocre anyway, with few standout gags (only exception being Tweety tricking Sylvester into letting go of his flying handles). But a good score might have elevated the proceedings, which Franklyn had a great talent for. Unfortunately, Lava just made an OK cartoon worse.
Turkey Bowl (2011)
A Different Kind of Sports Film
I caught this film at the 2011 Driftless Film Festival. Overall, I enjoyed it. It's not often you see a sports film that's focused solely on the game, and it's even less common to see a sports film based on amateurs, who have no ambitions of going pro. It's just a group of ten who play an annual game of touch football and try to have fun. There are flashes of conflict in the film, but the roots of that aren't explored a whole lot and the immediate conflicts are resolved fairly quickly. Mostly, it's just focused on the game itself, and that's pretty rare.
The cinematography is good in the sense that they vary the shots so the film doesn't get boring (which could've easily occurred). I liked the fairly natural method of acting that the performers utilized; they felt like real people anyone would know. And what makes the film engaging isn't necessarily the game itself, but the personalities of the characters, and their chemistry with each other as they make amusing comments throughout the film.
The main I'm rating this only a 7 is because the concept goes on a little longer than it needs to. After about 50 minutes, I was more or less satisfied. Still, it's worth checking out if you want a different kind of sports movie with a unique sense of humor.
Pre-Hysterical Hare (1958)
One of the Few Duds in the Looney Tunes Library
The Looney Tunes series had very few complete clunkers. Unfortunately, "Pre-Hysterical Hare" was one of the few in that category. And it's not just mediocre; it's a total whiff.
The first major problem is that the main premise (that is, prehistoric versions of Bugs and Elmer) takes a good two minutes to get started. By that time, there are room for only a few set pieces before the cartoon abruptly ends. And because the pacing of the gags was slower than in the 40's and early 50's shorts, there are even less gags overall. They really should have started on the prehistoric setting (perhaps with brief narration to describe that the characters are ancestors of the characters we know and love) instead of doing a pointless Bugs/Elmer chase in the present and Bugs discovering and setting up the film reel that showcases the prehistoric Bugs and Elmer.
And what we do get is pretty old hat, even for 1958 when the cartoon came out. Ooh, a gag where Bugs blows into the opposite end of a dart gun so that Elmer swallows his own projectile. Seen that before. Then there's a gag where Bugs teaches Elmer how to load a rifle but puts a component on backwards so Elmer shoots himself. Again, nothing unique there. There was also no creativity to Elmer setting a rope trap but Bugs merely pulling the rope so Elmer falls out of the tree.
But the worst offense of "Pre-Hysterical Hare" is that it's just boring. For starters, there's no energy to the cartoon. There are a few scenes where Bugs and Elmer just stand around, talking. How exciting. And even the gags themselves are executed in a very listless, tired manner. The other reason the cartoon's boring is that instead of Milt Franklyn's always enjoyable orchestral music, we get a series of stock music pieces chosen by John Seely which don't follow the on-screen action as closely. Bear in mind, I have nothing against stock music; for example, I love the music from Ren & Stimpy, and even some of the music used in the other Looney Tunes shorts with Seely's input is catchy (see "A Bird in a Bonnet" and "Weasel While You Work"). But what is used here is just bland, and doesn't accentuate the gags at all. Even the title card music could put you to sleep.
Other problems with this short? There's some brief (yet pretty obvious and jarring) repeat footage from an earlier cartoon, someone else other than Arthur Q. Bryan playing Elmer (and doing a poor imitation at that), a prehistoric Bugs design that isn't really much different than the modern Bugs design (only changes are longer teeth, bad posture, and slightly more shaggy fur), and a glaring goof where Bugs doesn't move his mouth when saying a line. No, I doubt it's an internal monologue, because his lips were moving just a couple seconds earlier.
There's one decent joke in this cartoon, and that's Bugs mocking Elmer's trademark laugh. But it comes at the very end of the short, so by then, it's too little, too late. Overall, "Pre- Hysterical Hare" has a "phoned in" feel that doesn't even come close to taking advantage of its prehistoric setting, which is a shame because Bugs cartoons are often some of the best in the classic cartoon library, and Robert McKimson (who directed this) has done better with the character than this. Worth a look for morbid curiosity, but definitely not one you'll be re- watching over and over.
Bad Golf My Way (1994)
A (Mostly) Humorous Outing For Golf and Leslie Nielsen Fans Alike
The video starts out rather slowly and there are a couple sketches that bomb (like the clown cart), but there are some winners in here. My personal favorite sections:
1) Leslie Nielsen goads Brad into trying to hit a ball out of the lake. "If YOU can make that shot, that will go down as one of the greatest shots in the history of golf!"
2) Leslie filming Brad's swing, and slowly morphing into a sunglasses-wearing director. Brad's thoroughly exhausted doing literally hundreds of takes.
3) Leslie confusing Brad with "left" and "right" when discussing which way the green slopes.
4) Leslie dressing up in drag to tee off from the lady's tee.
5) The dreaded "tick hole", where Leslie convinces Brad that if he doesn't put on repellent, he will get bitten by a deadly tick.
6) Why is a mongoose needing to be fed on a golf course? Oh well, it doesn't matter; it's a hilarious scene, because Leslie is once again able to convince Brad that the threat is real.
7) All of Leslie's made-up golf bets, like Prunies. "All right, I'm not going to argue with you. It's a double Prunie." Though my favorite is the bet where the two participants try to get as close to the green without actually getting on the green, and since Brad got on, he lost.
8) Brad demanding that they play by "all the rules" actually means rules from every other sport, including football (to which he's told to move five yards back for delaying game).
The video also contains some wraparounds that contain Leslie talking to the camera while classical music plays in the background (such as the theme to Masterpiece Theater), and some are rather amusing. "What is the sound of one hand clapping? Or one mind snapping? "
I know it's an incredibly niche release, but I'd LOVE to have this on DVD. Sadly, that'll never happen...