Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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IN MEMORIAM: THE DEAN OF DISNEY

September 3, 2015

If you grew up in the 1970’s like I did, then I would be willing to bet you spent many Sunday nights watching THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY. It was pretty much a tradition in my house. For those of you who are too young, WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY usually aired classic films from the Disney library in shortened 60 minute installments. Sometimes they would show Disney cartoons revolving around a theme. In any event, you could count on one of several things Sundays at 7, you’d either see a nature film, the aforementioned cartoons, or one of the movies, sometimes starring Kurt Russell (yes, that Kurt Russell), playing his bumbling genius character of Dexter Riley, or you would see the man I am here to pay my respects to today, the loveable and talented Dean Jones.

Rather than review his extensive resume, which you can do at imdb.com, I’d like to use this post to remember my favorite movies that stared Mr. Jones. The best place to begin, I think you will agree, is with THE LOVE BUG movies. Here, Dean played Jim Douglas, a down-on-his-luck race car driver, who rescues the legendary VW Ragtop Beetle from a ruthless car salesman. Herbie, as Jim’s mechanic christens him (a little trivia for you), we learn has its own personality and mind. When Jim discovers Herbie’s love of racing, he starts mounting a comeback. While it would have been easy for the studio to just make this a simple rags to riches fluff fantasy, Dean grounds Jim Douglas firmly in reality, denying Herbie’s gift, abandoning Herbie when he loses his first race, finally realizing that he wasn’t winning alone. In the end, we come to like the character, flaws and all.  Dean would reprise the role of Jim Douglas no less than three times. After HERBIE RIDES AGAIN, the studio realized that Dean Jones and Herbie were inseparable. So, they brought Dean back for HERBIE GOES TO MONTE CARLO,  a fun mix of racing and thievery, with a very funny turn by Don Knotts. CBS brought Jomes and Herbie to television for a short lived series, which explored their life off the track. To this day, I still remember an episode where Herbie gets himself impounded, and Dean, as Jim, gives him a chewing out. Herbie tries to play on Jim’s sympathies by activating his windshield wipers and washing fluid to suggest crying, but Jim wasn’t having any. It was great. Finally, in the late 1990’s Dean retired the character in a new LOVE BUG movie which sought to explore the origins of Herbie’s abilities. Sadly, it was not a shining moment, as the movie took the magic out of Herbie.

Then there’s THE SHAGGY D.A., a sequel to THE SHAGGY DOG, which had come out many years earlier. The story focused on Wilby Daniels, who upon reading the inscription on Lucretia Borgia’s beetle ring too many times, turns into a sheep dog. In SHAGGY D.A., Wilby’s a married man, with a son, and has completely forgotten about the ring, until it’s stolen from a museum. This would be bad enough if it weren’t for the fact that Daniels is trying to unseat the town’s corrupt District Attorney, played with hilarious bluster by Keenan Wynn. Again reading the inscription causes Daniels to turn into a sheep dog, this one owned by an ice cream man played by the great Tim Conway. Naturally, Conway’s character thinks his dog can really talk, which becomes one of the movie’s funniest running gags. As you probably guessed by now, Daniels transforms at the worst possible moments, on TV, at a fundraiser, and worst of all, right in front of his rival. I loved this movie for its pure slapstick sensibilities, including a search for the ring in a cherry pie, which ends up in an all out pie fight that stands toe-to-toe with the one in THE GREAT RACE. Once again, Jones draws us into the character he’s playing, we care about him as a devoted dad and husband, and we sympathize with his plight while laughing at the sheer craziness of it all. By the way, the TV spots for this movie used David Lindup’s I SAY, I SAY, I SAY. I told you that piece was everywhere in the 1970’s.

Finally, there’s THAT DARN CAT, in which Dean plays Agent Zeke Kelso, assigned to track down a kidnapped woman with the unlikely help of DC, Hayley Mills’ very intelligent cat. One problem, Agent Kelso is allergic to cats, and DC isn’t too crazy about Kelso. In a documentary about Disney’s live action movies, the producers weren’t sure this would hit with the audience. They snuck into a screening, just in time to see the scene in which DC leads the agents on a wild goose chase that leads them all back to DC’s house, where the two teams of agents ambush each other. The audience was on its feet, laughing and cheering, and the producers knew they had a hit. And once again, we get to know Agent Kelso, and like him for the everyman agent he is.

Well, there it is my readers, my fondest memories of Dean Jones. Dean, wherever you are now, I just want to say thank you for the great work you did for Disney. You were a class act, and a great person in general. Say Hi to Walt, Don, and  Buddy for us. Tell them the movies are still a part of who we are. Rest in Peace, Mr. Jones.

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WE GOT IT ALL ON UHF

August 18, 2015

George Newman considers himself a man of vision. Actually, he’s a daydreamer who’s gotten himself fired from every job he’s had over the past month. He’s also gotten his friend and roommate fired as well. George’s girlfriend Teri feels that things would turn around for him, if he could just land a job and keep it without the daydreams getting in the way. Still and all, she loves him.

Little does George realize that his dreams are about to take him, his hometown, and we the viewers on a crazy, joke-a-minute adventure into the world of independent television. You see, George’s uncle just won ownership of U 62, the town’s lowest rated TV station. He decides to let George and Bob run it, after all, nobody’s watching, what could possibly go right?

U62’s staff consists of Pamela Finklestein, secretary, and would-be anchorwoman, Noodles, her diminutive cameraman, and Philo, the spacy technician.  George does his best with what he has, hosting the station’s only two original shows: UNCLE NUTSY’S CLUB HOUSE, which puts its young studio audience to sleep, and TOWN TALK, whose first guest, an eighth grade shop teacher shows us how NOT to use a saw.

George’s problems are compounded when he misses Teri’s birthday dinner while going over the accounts, and realizing that the station will fold within a week.

A misdirected envelope meant for the town’s network affiliate soon proves to change George’s luck. At the affiliate, he has his first encounter with R.J Fletcher, who would love nothing better than to see U 62 go off the air, so his station can dominate. He also meets Stanley Spadowski, a hyper, but loveable janitor who was just wrongfully fired by RJ. Stanley starts out as George’s janitor, but after the missed birthday with Teri, his Uncle Nutsy breaks down on the air. Stanley takes over, and becomes U62’s breakout star. The money starts coming in, as do new ideas for original shows, including WHEEL OF FISH, RAUL’S WILD KINGDOM (promise me that, if you have a poodle, you’re not trying to teach him/her how to fly) BOWLING FOR BURGERS, PRACTICAL JOKES, STRIP SOLITAIRE, and a new more Jerry Springer-like TOWN TALK.

Happy ending right? Wrong! George’s uncle soon finds himself owing his bookie $75,000, and makes a shady deal with Fletcher to get U 62 off the air. George, Stanley, and the rest of the U 62 gang have just a couple of days to cover the debt and save the station. Can George raise the funds? Can RJ stop raising his voice? Can YOU raise the window blinds? For the answer to these and other questions….ooops, wrong show, sorry. I was getting silly.

But then again, that’s the whole POINT of UHF. It’s supposed to be silly and goofy, and off-the-wall. This isn’t Shakespeare we’re talking about, it’s Weird Al Yankovic. Who better to poke fun at the tropes of TV, than someone who pokes fun at all sorts of popular culture in his songs. I remember how cruel the critics were to this now classic comedy gem. They tore everything apart, including Al’s mustache. Excuse me, but that’s going too far. And Al knows when to play George seriously. He loves Teri, he cares about the station and the people who work with him. So much so, that when Fletcher’s men kidnap Stanley, George goes to rescue him, and finds courage he didn’t know he had.

UHF was never meant to be more than what it is, 90 minutes of escapist fun. Perfect after a tough day at work, a good killer of the blues, a movie to watch with your friends when you get together. I’d even go so far to say you can watch it with your kids if they’re getting into their teenage years. According to the trivia facts at imdb.com, Al thought that PG-13 was too strong a rating for UHF. He wanted the whole family to enjoy it, but some of the jokes and references just wouldn’t pass muster with the censors, and to cut them would have meant ruining the movie completely for Al.

As for the title song? For me it’s one of Al’s best original songs. See for yourself  UHF-Weird Al

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ATTACK PLUS 30 YEARS: REMEMBERING “THREADS”

August 6, 2015

It was May 1985. My ninth grade Ancient History class was winding down for the year. As a way to bring us full circle from where we’ve been to where we might be headed, our teacher decided to explore nuclear warfare. He started with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, lecturing us and showing us pictures of the victims.  But little did we know what he had in store. He told us that, with our parents’ permission, we would be watching a movie called THREADS. I had never heard of THREADS, and one of my classmates asked if it was as scary as THE DAY AFTER. Without hesitation, he told my classmate it was actually worse.

how right he was. About a week later, in a mini classroom across from the library, we all watched THREADS. None of us had seen anything like it, and I doubt any of us will ever forget what we saw…no matter how hard we try.

Some of you come to my blog to read up on COUNTDOWN TO LOOKING GLASS, so you may already be familiar with THREADS. Bear with me while I fill in my readers who are unfamiliar with this movie. Be warned. You may be glad that ignorance is sometimes bliss.

It’s May 1983. Jimmy Kemp and Ruth Beckett are a very young couple in love, and in a predicament. In a moment of passion, Ruth gets pregnant with Jimmy’s baby. Jimmy decides he and Ruth will marry and raise the baby, much to the concern of Jimmy and Ruth’s parents. Meanwhile, the US has sent troops into Iran to overthrow the government. The Russians decide they can not allow this, and send tanks and troops in from the North, with the idea that they will invade in a southern direction towards the oil fields. Needless to say, things get very bad quickly. The head of the Town Council soon finds himself assembling a Crisis Team that has no idea what their jobs are or how to do them. The British Government felt at the time, this was the best way to keep the country running during a nuclear crisis.

As we watch the team assemble, and follow Ruth and Jimmy’s stories, we also see the country preparing for the worst: cots and blankets stocked up at schools, fire trucks deployed to key locations, gas stations being closed for everyone except military vehicles and other first responders. And the grand-daddy of them all: PROTECT AND SURVIVE, an actual Public Service Film about preparing for nuclear attack is being broadcast over the BBC networks and radio stations 24 hours a day. You can see PROTECT AND SURVIVE on YouTube. It’s as stark as THREADS in spite of its look.

All of this made for great dramatic tension in the first part of THREADS. Then it happens, and by “it” I mean all out nuclear war. Barry Hines, the writer and Mick Jackson, the director do not spare you any of this horror. You see it all. From burning bodies to bottles melting to shockwaves from the blast. It is hell on earth. Literally.

The attack scene alone was enough to give me nightmares on a regular basis for a good year after. But the attack is just the beginning of the horrors. Over the course of 10 years, we are bearing witness to the debilitating effects of radiation poisoning, we see infestations of every kind, we see a new totalitarian police force form to keep order. We see the decline of sanitary living, as well as the decline of language. We see nuclear winter, and what happens when the sky clears. Nothing is held back.

Like I said, this movie gave me nightmares after I saw it. It was a long time until I could watch it again. By then I was about 30, and found an NTSC videotape at Blockbuster. You would think it would be easier now that I was a full grown adult, but no. It still ripped my heart and my guts out. What was worse, I made the mistake of watching it at night. I stared at the ceiling in my bedroom begging the Almighty to get the images out of my head so I could sleep. If you’re going to brave this movie on YouTube, where it can be seen in its entirety, I recommend doing it during the day, then watch some viral videos of animals doing cute and funny things. It won’t erase what you just saw, but it will take the edge off.

Please do not mistake my feelings for THREADS as negative. Quite the contrary. In my opinion, humble as it is, I think it’s one of the most important movies I’ve ever seen. It’s as relevant now as it was 30 years ago, but it’s still just as shattering to watch. Some people I knew and know thought I was exaggerating what I saw. But I have yet to see any of these same people actually sit down and try to watch it. I have the feeling that if they did, they would come back to me and tell me I was right about THREADS. But I wouldn’t be happy that I was.

So, I do encourage you to see THREADS if you haven’t before. But brace yourself. This is not a happy movie, in fact, without exaggerating, this may be one of the scariest movies you may ever see.

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THE LURKING MONSTER

July 27, 2015

Hi gang, sorry it’s been a while, but now that I have my laptop again, blogging is going to be much easier…no more Kindle AutoCorrect..

So, what’s on my mind? I feel the need to get the word out about a monster on the net that grows unchecked day by day. It has many names, but one home. Every time its internet home adds something new, it begins to attack. Surfers beware. When you fall into this monster’s lair, it will belittle you just because of what your likes and dislikes are. It gives itself the power to pass judgment on things not yet seen. Worst of all, anyone who dares to challenge it will soon find itself under attack by hordes of minions (and not the cute yellow ones) who claim to know everything and should not be questioned no matter what.

What is this monster you ask? It is none other than the various movie message boards at imdb.com. Let me say that imdb.com is a great resource for finding out bits of movie trivia, confirming if the actor you thought you recognized was in what you are watching, and seeing which famous people share your birthday. But beneath that trove of fun information, there is a mass of people who take it upon themselves to criticize new movies, EVEN BEFORE THEY GET RELEASED! I wish I had their ability to see into the future. I can avoid some costly mistakes that way. You can call these people trolls, fan-boys, heck you can even refer to them as elitists. But despite the advice if not feeding these people, they still suck you into their negativity, and try to tell you how you should think and what you should see.

DON’T LET THESE PEOPLE TAKE OVER YOUR MINDS! If there’s a movie out now you want to see, or one you know is coming that has your interest, then I say IGNORE THESE BOARDS AND THEIR TROLLS, BUY YOUR TICKET, AND HAVE FUN! And if anybody tries to tell you that you shouldn’t see this movie or like that movie, you tell them that if they are willing to pay for your tickets for the rest of time, you will go to any movie they want you to. Watch them shut up when they do the math regarding the prices these days, and the real cost in the end.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s time we get off the bandwagons of trashing or praising any movie based on someone else’s say so. You and I have free will, and we have the right to choose how we spend our movie money. We don’t have to justify our likes and dislikes to anybody.  Oh, one last thing (this is really going to tick of the anti-Adam Sandler faction). I saw PIXELS this past weekend. I paid with MY money, and I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT.  And if anyone in the anti-Sandler camp thinks they can stop me from buying the Blu-ray when it comes out, just try it…you can’t be everywhere at once….

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TWO GUYS, A BILLBOARD, AND A TRAIN

June 3, 2015

Some of you know from my Facebook profile that I follow Emilio Delgado, who played the very likeable Luis on SESAME STREET for many years. He’s a very gracious gentleman who loves to share his memories with anyone who asks. A few weeks back, I sent Emilio a message, asking him about the famous clip of him and Bob McGrath assembling a billboard of a train tunnel at high speed (on YouTube, it’s called BOB, LUIS, AND THE TRAIN). I was curious about how long it took to do, was there improvisation, and were those big pieces heavy.

I had forgotten about this message, and I thought maybe Emilio was too busy to answer his messages, or maybe he forgot. Yesterday, there was a nice surprise in my Inbox. That nice guy answered my email, and gave me the story!

According to Emilio, this segment took an entire morning to tape. Emilio said that in those days, they would work on one episode in the morning, and one in the afternoon, then piece it all together in post-production. Despite the length of time they needed to do this bit, Emilio enjoyed doing it. Jon Stone directed Emilio and Bob, but he merely provided guidelines about the piece. The over-the-top expressions, the interactions, the moving around, that was all improvised. The actual billboard pieces weren’t heavy at all. They mimed it to nake them look that way.

Emilio did acknowledge the fear this bit caused many of us. I wrote back and confessed how much I hated the duck noises in the music. Obviously, I have since become cool with it, since becoming a Spike Jones fan myself. The best part of all of this was Emilio sharing this on his Facebook wall, and crediting me with stirring his memory. I feel honored that he would make this gesture for someone he just met a few months back.

So there’s the inside scoop on a clip that sent many running for cover. My thanks to Emilio Delgado for sharing this memory, and just for being as classy in life as he was on TV.

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THE FORGOTTEN WIZARD

May 9, 2015

I think at one point or another, we get fascinated with wizards. For some it’s Gandalf, others prefer Harry Potter and his Hogwarts friends, while others dig on Oz or the legendary Merlin. Lately, though, my attentions have turned to one Simon McKay. A wizard we can all admire.

What’s that? Who’s Simon McKay? Okay, maybe the name doesn’t cry out WIZARD, but McKay is, in fact THE WIZARD, the central character in a series that aired on CBS in 1986, for a too brief 19 episode run. The story is easy enough to explain. McKay, played beautifully by David Rappaport, is a diminutive genius weapons technology designer, who decided to leave his government job to focus his creative genius on making amazing toys that he hopes will preserve the joy and innocence of youth.

The government, however, is worried that America’s enemies, and homegrown profiteers will either harm or kidnap McKay for their evil ends. Enter Alex Jagger, played by Doug Barr. Jagger is assigned to watch and protect McKay at all times. Jagger becomes McKay’s housemate, and soon enters the realm of McKay’s genius.

Now, as you may have guessed, this is no LAW AND ORDER, CSI, or CRIMINAL MINDS, gritty action drama. On the contrary, THE WIZARD centers itself on missions of humanitarianism, as evidenced in the pilot episode, which not only gives us an idea of what McKay can do, but, also his noble and generous spirit. In this episode, McKay meets Bryan, a young boy in a fight for his life with leukemia. If Bryan doesn’t get a bone marrow transplant, and quickly, the leukemia will claim him. Knowing this, McKay grants Bryan the wish he made through the worthy Starlight Foundation to meet him. McKay, upon meeting Bryan tells the boy how special it makes him feel to know that of all things Bryan could ask for, all he wanted was to meet McKay.

But McKay doesn’t end it there with Bryan. He lets Bryan explore his open basement work area, to try different things, then ups the ante by taking Bryan into the secret workshop for some alone time together. There, Bryan and McKay talk about their unique challenges. We learn, along with Bryan, that McKay doesn’t dwell on his height, because the size of one’s heart is more important. In this day and age of focusing on the superficial exterior, we need reminding of this more than ever.

Bryan isn’t naive, though, he knows the clock is ticking on him, and he doubts he’ll be around much longer. Here we learn McKay’s two most important philosophies: Never give up, and Everything’s Possible. I can’t think of a simpler, or more beautiful definition of what faith means. Again, it’s a message that we still need to hear. To prove his point, McKay lets Bryan try out his new take on a remote controlled helicopter. No levers or joystick, just a pilot helmet with an antenna that transmits Bryan’ s thoughts of flight to the helicopter. The joy on Bryan’s face says it all, once he makes it work. McKay puts the icing on the cake when he refers to Bryan and himself as the Wright Brothers, since nobody else will ever be the first to fly a toy helicopter this way.

Upon learning that Bryan’s lost older brother is a suitable donor to save Bryan, McKay and Jagger go off to find him. I won’t say more, as to do so would reveal spoilers. I would like to tell you how much I loved THE WIZARD. This was appointment television for my family and me while and when it was on. We always wondered how McKay would use his gifts to save the day, and it was always a fun surprise.

So what happened that caused THE WIZARD to disappear? My research told me that 20th Century Foxwas pulling funding from many of its big three network shows to fund its new network, which meant THE WIZARD had to go. Research also revealed that CBS helped Fox by changing THE WIZARD’S timeslot at will, just so they could preempt it and drive the numbers down, and spin it as low ratings to cancel it. The episodes are now in Fox’s vault, and there they remain.

I never talked much about THE WIZARD until recently,when I found episodes on YouTube, which was followed by the discovery of thewizardtvfansite.com, which is the officially sanctioned website for WIZARD fans. It us there that I learned of an ongoing campaign for a DVD release with suggestions on how best to help accomplish this. There is also a RESCUE THE WIZARD Facebook page established by the fan site’s webmaster, which I have joined.

Now my readers, New and old, I am here to try to fulfill a promise I made on that Facebook page. Simon McKay always believed that everyone was capable of doing something to help. I promised that I would write about THE WIZARD, which I have done. I also promised that I would encourage my readers to help RESCUE THE WIZARD, by visiting the fan site for instructions and joining the Facebook page, which I am now doing. So, my readers, if you loved and remember THE WIZARD, Come join us and help us get this wonderful, quality show on DVD, where it most certainly belongs, and always remember….EVERYTHING’S POSSIBLE!

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30 Years Later, Why We Still Love DANGER MOUSE

February 23, 2015

Let’s start with the obvious. It’s easily one of the funniest cartoons…Ever. The show revels in its lampooning self-awareness, and EVERYONE gets in on it, from the off-screen narrator commenting on the writing to the one-time characters talking to the camera, rare is the episode that doesn’t have me on the floor at least once. DANGER MOUSE is my generation’s ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE with jokes that cross generations with ease.

But that’s only half of it. Danger Mouse is a true hero. No mission is too dangerous or outrageous (and believe me, they can get pretty outrageous) for the white wonder. He never lets a difficulty get the best of him, even when his life is in jeopardy, he remains defiant in the face of his foes. That’s real courage. Also, he never leaves his assistant Penfold behind. Danger Mouse will always save his friend, and complete the mission.

And what of Penfold? It would be easy to dismiss him as the fearful comic sidekick, but Penfold also has to be admired. He sticks with Danger Mouse no matter what. Occasionally, he’ll even try to emulate Danger Mouse’s style and technique. Granted, he doesn’t succeed often, but he hits the mark once in a while. So Penfold can also be looked upon as a hero in the making.

Now, BBC is getting ready to reboot the series. It is my hope that the new creative team remembers what made the original a smash hit. Time will tell if the magic is still there, or if we should stick to the original series, because the new team of writers try to reinvent the wheel with too much ego, and too little laughs.