koconnor-1

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Reviews

Disneyland: The Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park Grand Opening
(1989)
Episode 21, Season 33

Good but dated...
I was one of the lucky few that got to go into the Disney MGM Studios just a couple of days before it opened to the general public. This show was broadcast three days later. I greatly enjoyed it, particularly looking at all of the attractions that I had just walked through a few days before. But now many of those attractions have either been removed or altered, so the show is dated. (As an example, Superstar Television has been replaced by an audience-participation "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" show. And the "Monster Sound Show" has been retrofitted with a Drew Carey sound effects extravaganza. Likewise, the areas previously only accessible via trams are now walk-throughs. The theme park has lost some of its "Real Hollywood Studio" feeling in favor of the "Theme Park" setting. But even so, this show is a great testament to the Hollywood of days gone by. And a stellar lineup of talent that participated - everyone from Dick Van Dyke to Ronald Reagan to Mickey Rooney and Tony Randall played a part.

Martian Mania: The True Story of The War of the Worlds
(1998)

Outstanding Documentary
Outstanding documentary on what has been dubbed "The Night that Panicked America". Filmmaker James Cameron narrates a behind the scenes look at the infamous "War of the Worlds" broadcast of 1938 by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater Company. Includes rarely seen/heard footage of the great huckster and his statement to the world following the harrowing night of the hoax, and even a footnote of a greater tragedy that took place following a similar broadcast in Mexico two decades later. For fans of old time radio, WW2 and Scifi, this is a must see. I particularly liked the real comments from residents of New Jersey who listened to the actual broadcast on that Halloween eve. While we have heard stories about the various fears and panics of persons who witnessed the events of that night, this is the one documentary I have seen or heard that truly puts it all into perspective. As a companion piece, I recommend the film, "The Night that Panicked America" which starred John Ritter.

Detective School
(1979)

Funny Stuff... I'd like to see it again!
This admittedly forgettable short-lived comedy gem served a dual purpose for me... It was mildly amusing in a "Barney Miller-esque" sort of way, but more importantly, it was my introduction to the Mystery genre... The eager young (or old!) detectives in training helped PI Nick Hannigan (a "Miller" veteran) solve a puzzling crime/mystery. For me, the real payoff each episode was when the culprit was unmasked, or the lost item found, the studio audience burst into applause. This never happens on traditional detective shows, and I finally understood WHY people loved a good mystery. Now, I love cop/detective shows, and am an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes. And it's all thanks to Hannigan and his students...

Lucy Calls the President
(1977)

The Last of the Lucy We Knew and Loved
This intriguing (but probably forgettable to most) farce was most likely an attempt to launch an all-new Lucy series, with most of the original cast members (sans-Desi Sr.). The humor was quite good for those that remember and loved the original Lucy shows. And it was a delight to see these lovable oddballs together again, but it still seemed like there was something missing. The humor and pratfalls and gadgetry gags were done with a bit less energy... clear indicators that our favorite redhead and her pals were beginning to look and feel their age.

I don't remember the premise for WHY President Carter and family were going to visit Lucy's home, but I do remember that - after a number of hilarious calamities in the home, capped by the loss of Lucy's front tooth and the "thubthequent thlurring of her thpeech patternth", it turned out that the President had to cancel. (Did anyone REALLY expect the Chief Executive to actually visit a sitcom pilot?)

Still, all was not lost when Miss Lillian did place a call to Lucy (and comments on Lucy's speech impediment, "And they say WE talk funny...")

Unfortunately, Lucy's future in television sitcommery only went further down when she tried to again revive her old glory with "Life with Lucy". Now, I was not so much laughing at her antics, as I was concerned that she would need a hip replacement if she fell. It was sort of like watching Roger Moore attempt to run across train tops and climb the Golden Gate Bridge as James Bond, when he was already pushing his mid-fifties...

By the time she had reached this point in her life, I found her to be much more effective as a dramatic actress ("Stone Pillow"), or grand-dame host of special events like the Emmys, with David Letterman.

Her passing was especially poignant for me as it was on the day before I first visited the newly-opened Disney MGM Studios in Orlando. The flags were at half staff, and the "Superstar Television" attraction held a moment of silence in tribute to her.

After more than half-a-century, we STILL love Lucy.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
(1981)

Sophisticated Scifi Humor for Intelligent People
Imagine, if you will, Doctor Who, Babylon 5, Galactica and Star Trek compacted into a compost heap and recycled by the hands of the Monty Python troupe. Now you're getting the idea.

Douglas Adams (a co-writer for "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", among other things) takes us on a hilarious romp through the universe and the space-time continuum with wimpy nebbish Arthur Dent, intergalactic field researcher Ford Prefect, a beautiful (hyper-intelligent) earth girl, a two headed drunken ex-galactic-president, and a paranoid android.

With clever asides and witty dialog, the mismatched team discovers the origins of the universe, witnesses the end of same (over cocktails and the dish of the day), and scours the universe for a decent cup of tea. Particularly funny are Adams' (through the voice of the narrator) wry observations on humanity and the oddball track that we supposedly-intelligent lifeforms have taken in the grand scheme of things.

All in all, a most satisfying bit of comedy for people who love to think.

Young Sherlock Holmes
(1985)

Highly Recommended; Brilliant Introduction for Non-Holmesian Purists
This film lists as one of my top 15 all-time favorites, as it was my first introduction to the rich complexity of the world of Sherlock Holmes. We went to see this film quite by accident when we arrived too late for the film we had originally intended to see. I was totally spellbound from the first frame to the last, and after viewing the film, I pledged to absorb as much of the true Holmesian canon as I could, and even wrote a few short stories about him myself. This film is NOT Holmes canon... It is not meant to be. But it succeeded brilliantly by presenting a ripping yarn filled with mystery, suspense, action, and a pair of likable heroes who unravel the incredible twist ending. Let the Holmes purists rant about the inconsistencies with the true Holmes lore, the special effects, and the "Indiana Jones"-inspired sequences. To those of us that truly enjoyed this film for its own merit, there is no greater introduction to the world of Sherlock Holmes.

The Barefoot Executive
(1971)

Monkeying Around with an Industry
Nice, safe family comedy featuring a television network, a cute/funny chimp, and a young Kurt Russell in the prime of his Disney phase.

Kurt is a low-level employee with a big television network with high-level ideas. By shear chance, he discovers that his neighbor's pet chimp is able to correctly predict the big ratings winners for each week's programs, and surreptitiously uses the animal to move up within the organization.

The chimp demonstrating his disdain for poor programming (clearly enunciated raspberries, followed by screams of displeasure, and culminating in his throwing some destructive object at the screen) sent me into fits of laughter.

But it also gave me (as a seven year old) an inkling into how the television industry works, and thereby planted the seeds of a life-long interest in the boob tube. And to this day, I am still wondering what the subject matter of "Devil Dan" is, and why it was so much more of a winner program than "The Happy Harringtons"...

Get the kids away from "Nickelodeon" for a couple of hours with this campy treat...

The Funky Phantom
(1971)

Cute but somewhat forgettable
A Scooby Doo clone - teenagers and a goofball sidekick with a gimmick travel the country tackling baffling mysteries and unmasking the bad guys. The difference here is that ghosts are real... as evidenced by the title character, Sir Muddlemore, a timid ghost who's afraid of his own shadow, and his sidekick kitty, "Boo". Muddlemore was voiced by Daws Butler, and his voice characterization is virtually indistinguishable from animation's own "Master Thespian", Snagglepuss ("Heavens to Mergatroid!").

Another 48 Hrs.
(1990)

Nice try, but misses the mark...
I eagerly awaited a sequel to Hill's classic "48 Hrs.", but this film just wasn't it. In the original, Nick Nolte's Jack Cates was the cop who knew all the ins and outs, but needed the wise cracking little black hustler to assist him in his investigation.

But in this sequel, their roles are completely reversed... Cates seems to have lost any modicum of respectability or skills as a detective. And Reggie Hammond (Murphy) seems to have spent 8 years in Beverly Hills being a cop! Go figure.

MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD

What really ticked me off is a fair amount of logic thrown to the wind... Ganz's brother (who looks just like him, from the first film... cuz he's played by the same actor... natch!) teams up with the Iceman - the very guy that his brother robbed a half-million dollars from just a few years earlier - to get revenge on the cop that killed him. Okay, I see it... BUT...

The Iceman, it turns out, is Kehoe - the wiseassed cop from the first film that occasionally gives Nolte a hard time... What's with that? Why wouldn't Kehoe have put a hit on Hammond in the first movie when he was getting out of jail for the first 48? At very least, wouldn't he have recognized the mug shot that Cates had hanging on the wall in the squad room? (Remember the "Dick-f**king-Tracy" comment he made when Cates shows the picture of Henry Wong?) And wouldn't he recognize the name "Reggie Hammond" that Cates and other cops bandied about a couple of times? Sorry, but if the Iceman is so slick, how come he's so god awful stupid?

There are some clever moments, particularly the whole business with Cates' lighter - but the first movie starred "Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy". This one just starred "Eddie Murphy, with Nick Nolte"...

Darby O'Gill and the Little People
(1959)

A taste of the magic of Ireland...
As a third-generation American of Irish descent, I have had more than a little interest in the folklore and mythology of the Emerald Isle. This film wraps up some of the finest Irish traditions in a bright green bow.

The plotline of Darby's many humorous battles of wits with the spirits of the night are a wonder to behold, particularly when he interacts with King Brion. And a shiver still goes up my spine when the coachman calls his name and bids him enter the coach of death.

A thoroughly enjoyable magical romp that never lets you go. Oh yeah, and a pre-Bond Sean Connery sings(!)

Erin Go Bragh!

Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp
(1970)

Call him Bonzo... James Bonzo
The earliest kids' show I can recall watching with any regularity, and probably still one of my favorite guilty pleasures.

In the grand tradition of "The Man from Uncle", "Secret Agent", and "The Avengers", comes this late 60s spy series, with a twist.

The twist? It was done ENTIRELY with live chimps acting out the roles of the characters, with voiceover artists providing the dialog. It was incredibly funny watching the chimps talk, brandish weapons, drive cars, ski, and doing just about anything we higher-order primates are capable of... and probably with more sincere acting!

Lancelot Link is a brilliant (though slightly inept) secret agent with the Agency to Prevent Evil (APE) fighting to thwart the evil schemes of CHUMP - a renegade syndicate bent on world domination, run by a vicious Baron, and his horde of evil-doers. Trotting around the globe waging a covert war against CHUMP, Link is aided in his battle against the forces of evil by his trusty lady agent sidekick, Matta Hairy, as they carry out the orders of the venerable Commander Darwin (who usually runs afoul of Link's attempts to be helpful).

The show provides a big tip of the hat to "Get Smart", which it parodies mercilessly (a spoof of a spy spoof!). Veteran character actor Bernie Kopell (Conrad Siegfried on Get Smart, and Doc on The Love Boat) even reads the role of the villainous Baron in all his "Goot Evenink Shmart!" nastiness. The episodes were always filled with simian puns (a rock group called "The Evolution Revolution", etc.) The Baron's Rogues Gallery of Bad Guys included the despicable strong monkey, Creto, the Hong Kong-based Dragon Woman, and the despicable Dr. Strangemind.

The real fun of this piece is that after a few minutes, you get so involved in the plot and the action that you almost forget you are watching a group of live monkeys performing tricks. You really begin to believe that they can talk and do all that other stuff. I loved it as a kid, and years later when a local affiliate ran a few reruns, I loved it as a teenager. I imagine if I see it again on cable, I will love it as an adult.

This series was semi-recreated years later on Fox with a series of bumpers for their Saturday morning series, called "Dynamo Duck" - a secret agent baby duckling thwarting the evil plans of guinea pigs, lab mice, and other small creatures. A little hipper and edgier than Link, but it's Link that everyone remembers.

V
(1983)

Chilling allegory and social commentary, all dressed up as slam-bang scifi entertainment...
To see "V" for the first time, without any advance knowledge of the plot or special effects, is to bear witness to the ultimate nightmare made televisual reality... This two-part miniseries was hyped by the NBC network for several weeks before its premiere by showing nothing more than those gigantic mother ships hovering over every city on the planet, and the incredulous look of fear in the eyes of humanity seeing them for the first time. They dangled the worm, and I was hooked...

"V" is the story of humanity's first contact with an alien race, and how this earth-shaking event affects the lives of a cross-section of the citizenry. By all appearances, the aliens appear to be benevolent and trustworthy... But appearances are quite deceiving, as news reporter Michael Donovan learns all too well. By the time the "Visitors'" motivations (and their truly alien nature) become clear, they are so firmly entrenched in our world and our culture, that getting rid of them becomes the most herculean task... one that a noble band of resistance fighters take upon themselves to accomplish.

Allegory and symbolism abound (aliens as genocidal "supermen", allusions to the Holocaust, the hanging of propaganda posters, that almost familiar icon on the Visitors' vehicles and uniforms, to name but a few). The manipulation of mass media, and the ability of the public to accept the media's word as truth is particularly unsettling. The media aspect is similarly explored in such diverse fare as "Network", "The Net", "Tomorrow Never Dies", and "Special Bulletin".

There is a strong human element at work here. We see the various lives that are affected by a cunning invasion (reminiscent of Europe in the 1930s). One cannot help but ask how each of us would react given the same situation.

The world of "V" is not far removed from our own. Spaceships have not landed on top of the UN building, but we have seen war, genocide and the hand of tyranny in their myriad forms more often than we care to remember. El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Iran, Iraq, Kosovo, Cuba, China, Israel, Palestine. The list goes on. To what lengths must humanity be pushed before we stand up to the oppressor and say "No more!"? "V" shows us that, as in most any war, there are your heroes and patriots, your villains and murderers, your hapless (or apathetic) bystanders, your profiteers, and most sadly, your innocent victims. By the time frail Mr. Bernstein reminds us that "...we must help, or we haven't learned a thing.", the fear and resentment in the viewer's heart is kindled into a flame of anger and a call to action.

This two-parter lays the groundwork for the following year's "V: The Final Battle" and a later series. However, I think the latter series were a huge mistake. Far better would have been to make a series which picks up at the conclusion of this original miniseries - with the aliens firmly entrenched and in power, and the ragtag rebels attempting to disrupt their plans at every possible turn. The possibilities for drama on that scale were endless, on the order of "X-Files" complexity.

All-in-all, a wondrous achievement in television that gave the world a new respect for science fiction and its ability to make you imagine "what if..." Watch it with a pitcher of ice water available, and then thank your lucky stars you have that water to drink...

The Man Who Saw Tomorrow
(1981)

Dated - but still packs a whallop!
This excellent documentary by David L. Wolper is a marvelous example of the "Mysteries of the Unexplained" style of documentary film-making (the type that "Blair Witch" and company enjoy poking fun at). As a historical showpiece, it's amazingly on-the-mark (utilizing re-creation film pieces, stock Hollywood footage, and actual video/newsreels), while still wowing those casual viewers interested in being entertained (nee, scared right out of your wits!).

"The Man Who Saw Tomorrow" is the amazing story of French Physician/Scholar, Michel de Nostradamus - a pious and learned man who, through some uncanny ability, had apparently predicted the events of the future with startling accuracy. The film examines many of his key predictions and, through benefit of hindsight (and a fair amount of conjecture and theorizing), examines just how accurate his predictions of the past were... Leading to the ultimate question - what is still yet to come for us all?

From the opening credits, the film immediately grabs our attention and, over the next two hours, refuses to give it back! The opening sequence tells the story of three grave-robbers who unseal the 200-year-old coffin of Nostradamus and find a plaque with the current month and year inside. With the subsequent and predicted death of one of those who disturb the grave, we are immediately intrigued, and demand to see more... and we are not disappointed.

The film tells us of the life and death of the scholar, several key events in his life (including a meeting with a future pope, the prediction of the death of the reigning king of France, and a rather amusing happenstance at a dinner party). We begin to feel for, even care for, this poor chap who seems to have powers and abilities that he does not yet fully understand. When he begins to write his verses of the visions that torment him, we are already consumed with the thirst for additional knowledge.

The story shifts to detailed examination of Nostradamus's writings, and their eerie similarity to actual events occurring decades (or centuries) after his death. The sequences on the French Revolution, Hitler and the Kennedys give you a shiver... particularly when it is shown that both the Allied and the Nazi forces began utilizing the writings of Nostradamus in vicious propaganda efforts. By the time we start seeing events from our here-and-now taking shape, the repercussions of the writings become all too apparent.

When the future (from a 1980 perspective) is examined, some of it is laughable (In spite of what Nostradamus said, it is highly doubtful Ted Kennedy will EVER be president.) and some of it is quite alarming (Predictions of floods, famines, earthquakes, global wars, and wild weather have, to my satisfaction, all come quite true... just not on the fully global annihilative scale that we were led to believe.).

The narration of Orson Welles (he of the grim rotundity and eternal scowl) is dead serious enough to induce the shakes at certain points. He's kind of a loving grandfather who is "only telling you this for your own good", but he still gives you the creeps. And the assorted film montages are edited together seamlessly, so it's difficult to tell where the true footage ends and the re-creations begin (although I doubt they had film cameras available during the assault on the Tuileries in 1789).

I will not debate what is/is not "true" based on the information in this film - that is what historians and scholars are for. And I do not deny that Nostradamus's writings are both cryptic and vague. I can only say that:

  • When Band Aid, USA for Africa, Farm Aid, and Comic Relief sought to wipe out world hunger, I watched this film again.


  • When the massive earthquakes hit California in the late 80s, I watched this movie again.


  • When Sadam Hussein faced off against the world in the Persian Gulf War, I watched this movie again.


  • When India and Pakistan began dabbling with nuclear weapons, I watched this movie again.


  • And now that Iran is working on building long range surface-to-surface missile systems - allegedly with help from Russia, China, et al... Where IS that damn videotape?


As a piece of historical entertainment, "Man" is a winner. As a doomsday warning for the nuclear age, it's a hit. And as a frightening piece of film-making for those who just want a good scare, this is a bona-fide hit.

Jingle All the Way
(1996)

Very Funny - But for older kids and grownups only!
Any parent who has madly dashed from store to store looking for the "gotta have it" gift of the holiday season for their innocent tyke can relate. AH-nuld finds himself in pursuit of the elusive Turbo Man on Christmas Eve, setting off a series of comical misadventures in the holiday vein.

Let me say right now, this is NOT a film to let your younger children see. There is plenty of myth-busting in it, including the truth of just how "Santa" REALLY fulfills the wishes of children worldwide, and some shady doings by a naughty Kringle-wannabe (Jim Belushi). Add to that the nasty language, the borderline-cartoon violence (including the near-burning down of a house, the no-holds-barred rivalry between Arnold and mailman Sinbad, the scary chase sequence at the end), and the smarmy divorced neighbor putting the moves on Arnold's wife. This film tells us exactly what the holiday season should NOT be... Jealousy, selfishness, over-commercialism, and beating everyone else out of the way to grab the season's hot item... Not what comes to mind for me each December! (If this is all you can think about when the holidays approach, you have problems... Put down the clicker and see a shrink!)

That said, this wacky action/comedy is actually very funny. Although the star is the "Turbo-nater" himself, there is a great ensemble here that keeps you laughing and smiling. There are plenty of holiday and pop-culture inspired puns, and self-referential gags floating about. The cast is a likeable gang of misfits, off-beat characters, second bananas, and harried straight men/women. Rita Wilson is adorable and sexy as Arnold's frustrated wife. And Phil Hartman (as the too-perfect-Dad-next-door) oozes charm like a viper oozes venom.

The holiday frenzy which overtakes middle America every year (right after the Halloween candy is doled out) is captured, chewed up, and spit out for us to see in all it's peppermint-cane coated glory. We can identify with the poor dad who's let his family down once too often, even as we marvel at his quick thinking and the hilarious missteps that result in his attempt to fly in a superhero jet pack.

This is not a film - it's an insane asylum in a Santa Suit. The only vestige of model behavior comes from an 8-year-old kid (a pre-Anakin Skywalker Jake Lloyd!). Shown to the right audience, this film pleases immensely. Though, do yourself a favor and keep it away from the little tykes. Otherwise you may have to deal with a lot of sensitive questions ("How come he's buying a gift Santa's supposed to deliver?"), aggressive behavior (looking for a reindeer to roundhouse), and generally nervous kids ("Are you and mom gonna get a divorce too?")! Take it at face value; have a late night laugh after the youngsters are in bed.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go catch the billionth rerun of "It's a Wonderful Life"...

The Thomas Crown Affair
(1999)

"Thomas" is the "Crown" Jewel for your collection... SEE IT!
This DVD was an impulse buy, pure and simple. My wife and I like Pierce Brosnan, and I have enjoyed Renee Russo's other works, so what did I have to lose? Only my mind! This film was positively one of the most enjoyable, nail-biting, suspenseful romantic capers ever made.

A remake of the steamy 1968 Steve McQueen flick updated to the sleek and self-referential 90s, "Thomas Crown" features Brosnan as the title character - a bored billionaire businessman in the business of "acquisitions". For a thrill, he heists an extremely valuable Monet from the New York Museum right under the noses of security guards, cops, and about a thousand unsuspecting museum-goers. Renee Russo is the very sexy, very worldly Catherine Banning, whose insurance company underwrites the painting - and she is determined to get it back at any cost... But the cost just may be her soul as she woos, and then falls under the spell of the enigmatic Crown. Will Russo discover the location of the Monet? Will she rat out Thomas Crown? Or is Crown manipulating her affections like Bobby Fisher manipulates the pieces on a chess board?

What we have here is a high-speed chase film whose vehicle is clever dialog, rich and exotic direction, and more than a little sexual tension! Brosnan, as Crown, is ever the cool Brit charmer whose every word and action are as calculated as the movements of a Rolex. Russo smoulders every time she appears on screen. And when the two of them get together, the chemical reaction is pure dynamite.

Dennis Leary has a nice bit as a streetwise NYPD detective on the case, who dispenses advice to Russo's Banning, and watches her begin to spiral out of control. His role here most likely resulted in the deserved attempt at a television series on ABC ("The Job").

The action in the film moves exotically from caper to cover-up and back with dizzying speed... All the while, we are kept guessing about the motivations of the two lead, and find ourselves eagerly anticipating their next move. When the final checkmate comes, we are left totally bewildered, befuddled, and baffled... which is most-likely the director's intention!

On all levels, "The Thomas Crown Affair" will steal the hearts of men and women alike... but for different reasons - Men can enjoy the action and thrill of the chase, and Crown's ability to win over the most beautiful women and his attempt to get away with the ultimate heist... Ladies can marvel at the suave Brosnan and his life of extreme wealth, and all-the-while wonder if he will betray her, or if she will betray him...

I will not betray you... I ain't saying!

Mulan
(1998)

A kid flick adults will love... A chick flick guys will love...
Although I bypassed this film in the theaters, I took a chance and purchased it for my Disney movie collection (a strategy which served me admirably with The Rescuers Down Under and miserably with Pocahontas!).

"Mulan" is the powerful story of a headstrong and ambitious teenage girl in medieval China who, in an effort to save her ailing father, impersonates a man in the Chinese army, repels a Hun invasion, and falls for her commanding officer. She is aided in her adventures by a comical dragon named Mushu, a lucky (or is it unlucky?) cricket, and three wise-cracking compatriots at arms.

The Disney formula works remarkably well here (though the love story angle is a bit of a stretch). Mulan is a likable and gutsy representation of grrrrrl power in a predominately male society. Her outspoken nature and penchant to think and take action when necessary are in direct contrast to the normal feminine roles in the ancient world. Voluminous supporting players require more-than-average attention span by the viewer, but then this is an epic war story! And each of these characters is given their moment to shine, while never fully taking the reins from the true heroine.

The lessons of tolerance and empowerment for young girls are blatantly obvious, but they do not detract from what is a terrific and moving story. As in any good Disney animated adventure, the music plays a big part, and some of the songs stick with you long after the end credits run. The animation is incredibly fluid and evocative of the oriental setting, and some of the special effects are a wonder to behold. The training sequences and mountain battle scenes are brilliant examples of the craft.

The vocal cast is an international potpourri of talent, including Pat Morita, Harvey Fierstein (as a REAL man's man! Go figure!), June Foray, George Takei, and Eddie Murphy (hilarious as fast-talking dragon, Mushu). The dialog is rapid-fire and intelligent for adults, but easy enough for older children to grasp. Donny Osmond's song for the training sequence ("I'll Make a Man Out of You") is a thunderous and inspirational war ballad that still rings in my ears - particularly when I am working out or have a heavy job to accomplish. Also, listen carefully to the music for the closing of the film: No less talent than 98 Degrees, Stevie Wonder, and Christina Aguilera (before her genie ever came out of its bottle)!

There are a few small flaws in logic (i.e., The rescue of Mulan and her horse during the avalanche - While Mulan may be a fierce and powerful warrior, I don't think even HER legs could hold up that horse!), and some of the humor may sail past younger viewers (cross-dressing gags, suggested nudity and jokes about the hygenic habits of men, to name a few...). Still, the multitude of characters, snappy dialog, and various levels of action and adventure make this film as much fun on the twentieth viewing as on the first.

"Mulan" is highly entertaining kids and adults equally (My 3-year-old son requests this one regularly!). And this is a "chick flick" for guys, too! Get some takeout Chinese and make a night of it with the kids... or with that special someone in your life.

That Darn Cat
(1997)

That Darn Christina...
I have an extremely open mind when it comes to Hollywood remaking, revisiting, creating a sequel to, or otherwise building upon an established film. Consider that mind slammed firmly shut!

The original "Darn Cat" featured a precocious feline surrounded by a village of humans (some funny, some scary, some just plain annoying). But the cat always remained at the center of the story, and the cat's actions are what propelled the whole thing forward. But here, the focus is on Patty Randall (Christina Ricci) and her FBI-rookie pal, Zeke Kelso (Doug E. Doug).

Apparently, the producers knew that they had an up-and-coming young starlet in their midst when they created this litter-box, because the focus is moved away from D.C. and onto Ricci's bratty and generally unlikeable Patty Randall. While no producer can be blamed for seeing talent and grabbing it (Two "Addams Family" films and "Casper the Friendly Ghost" had already gotten Ricci significant exposure!), they forgot that the film's title is "That Darn Cat"... not "That Darn Pat".

And it shows. We still have a minor league all-star cast, and we still have the FBI agent, the young girl and her cat as the heroes of the piece, but we cannot even see the villains (who provided so much of the menace in the original) and we see entirely too much of the assortment of freaks, geeks and throwaway nutcases that populate this burg.

I submit a challenge: Watch this one, then go back and watch the original. Then TRY to remember something significant that the cat in the new version did.

See, you're learning!

That Darn Cat!
(1965)

Pure Catnip for Film Fans!
"That Darn Cat!" can be considered the first in the series of human/animal buddy caper films (see "K9", "Turner and Hooch", "Oh Heavenly Dog" to name a few). And it's also one of the funniest.

D.C. is a clever and precocious Siamese who is forever getting into mischief, but who forever remains one of filmdom's coolest cats. But when D.C. (for "Darn Cat" - though D.C. is also an acronym for something unspeakable in a Disney Film!) becomes an unsuspecting witness to a bank robbery/kidnapping, he finds himself the FBI's most valued informant.

The cast of this of this cool Disney caper is sophisticated, intelligent and frequently hilarious. Hayley Mills, as D.C.'s overly-zealous owner, has finally graduated to womanhood, while still maintaining the girlish charm that captured the hearts of Pollyan-ites and Parent Trappers everywhere. Her lines of dialog are extensive, and though her voice begins to grate after a while, she is both smart and quite ballsy for a teen of the early 70s. Dean Jones as unflappable FBI Agent Kelso manages to display a dignity, wit and charm not usually present in the straight man of a Disney Comedy (Who else would remain calm as the little beast nearly tears him to shreds, covers him with ink, and leads him on three separate chases in pursuit of the elusive wild goose?).

Bad guys Neville Brand and Frank "The Riddler" Gorshin simply ooze evil when they are coolly discussing the potential fate of hostage Grayson Hall. Even now as I watch this movie, I really BELIEVE they would do serious bodily harm to this poor woman, in much the same manner that Roddy McDowell (as a hot-headed and stuffy neighbor) would be willing to de-gut our hero, the cat.

And therein lies our focus - the cat. This brave little feline is the true (and UNBILLED!) hero of the piece. And D.C. clearly is capable of holding his own against overwhelming odds. Even with star talent surrounding at every turn, the writers were smart enough to keep the focus on D.C. and his antics. The assorted chases, the jealous boyfriend, the vengeful neighbor (with his duck dinner clutched firmly in hand), the bickering couple next-door; all revolve around or are in some fashion related to, the actions of the furry little sleuth.

The writing is fun; speaking on a heretofore unseen level of intelligence to its young audience. The result is that children are entertained and clearly understand what's going on, while grownups marvel at the complex doings in a small town that are precipitated by one mischievous kitty and the screwball humans that surround him.

This film is a whopping credit to Disney's talented live-animal handlers and art direction teams. The sets and scenery in this delightful little any-town are realistic enough to make you believe they are a real community, yet spritely and colorful enough to make you want to move there... The drive-in movie theater scene still gives me a good laugh.

In all, "That Darn Cat!" is a delight to view on multiple levels, whether you're all alone, or in a room full of pre-schoolers. For an extra treat, pick up any CD by Disney that has the film's title track by Bobby Darin. The cool loungey tune rings vaguely of Harry Connick Jr. and would probably be right at home coming out of the pipes of Ol' Blue Eyes, Mr. Sinatra, himself.

The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle
(2000)

A good attempt, but missing something...
This was a very noble attempt to bring Moose and Squirrel into the new Millennium. The animation was very good, and the classic full-cartoon sequences were (if anything) TOO well-animated (Remember how clunky the animation and backgrounds were in the classic series?) Even the color was exceptionally vibrant. The many sight gags and puns were a treat, as were the numerous cameos (including "Judge Cameo" played by Whoopie Goldberg). Who would have thought of bringing a cartoon character to life by getting Hollywood to "Greenlight" the movie?

But this film still left me wanting. Rocky and Bullwinkle always put the plot and cliffhanger ahead of puns, animation and cheeky gimmicks. Here, the story is kind of second nature. I find it hard to believe that even the most die-hard couch potatoes would want to watch a network dubbed "Really Bad Television - RBTV". They have too much to choose from on satellite, cable, home video, and the big five networks. And if not, they can always log on to the Internet or play Nintendo!

While the writing was funny and clever at times, they missed several opportunities to be even funnier. There were three VERY funny lines shown in the trailer that somehow never made it into the final cut:

1. When Rocky & Bullwinkle launch themselves through the air in the live-action convertible, Bullwinkle can be heard yelling "I'm the King of the World!" ala Jim Cameron's "Titanic".

2. When Bullwinkle crashes his plane on the White House lawn, he staggers out and mumbles something about wanting to "use a lifeline, please..." in homage to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire".

3. When Rocky and Bullwinkle are leaving Washington at the end of the movie, Bullwinkle lowers his shades, looks into the camera and shouts "WHASSSUUUUP!" in homage to the Beer Commercial popular at the time.

(These lines were used to help promote the movie, but they never made it into the final cut. DVD owners can catch these lines in the film's trailer, but personally, I consider this to be false advertising! If you're gonna have stuff that funny, leave it in the final cut of the film - don't tease us and then withhold the payoff!)

Deniro, Alexander and Russo are very good, but do not get the screen time they rightfully merit. (Remember, in the TV show, we usually saw more of Boris and Natasha than we did Moose and Squirrel!) But even here, Natasha gets to do some serious soul-searching (about making "leetle boris's that we can teach to be rotten"). Sorry, I don't need angst from a gorgeous lady spy from the sixties, I need her to do what she does best... be sneaky!

And how did the producers possibly miss the opportunity to cast John Ratzenberger ("Cliff") and George Wendt ("Norm") as Chauncey and Edgar; those two old simps who sit on a park bench every episode and invariably point out "Well there's something you don't see every day..."? I hear both actors are available and without a sitcom right now! Wake up people!

And Piper Perabo? Adorable. Funny. Cute. But a waste of screen time! Her character was overwritten. This is not "The Adventures of Karen Sympathy and Her Friends". Don't get me wrong, I think she will make a fine actress in the right part. But here, she is just plain unnecessary.

Jay Ward's legacy is capable of so much more than this (see the 1990s version of "George of the Jungle" to see what I am talking about!). I highly advise the production team to get back to their drawing boards for a sequel - one that really works...

Cry-Baby
(1990)

Johnny Depp was trying hard. The movie just tried my patience...
What can you say about a film that, at best makes you scratch your head in wonderment (What WERE they trying to accomplish here?), and at worst makes you want to vomit? In my thirty years of film-going, this is the first (one of only two) movies I ever considered walking out of before the end credits ran... I stayed, hoping to be pleasantly surprised (or at least vindicated for my staying power) and was ultimately, hopelessly, disappointed.

At the time I saw the movie, I had no knowledge of the works of John Waters... If I had, that would have been the first clue as the this wretch-inducing piece of tripe. With films like "Polyester" to his credit, I could have known beforehand.

Johnny Depp, fresh from his "21 Jump Street" fame, is a 1950s High School Bad Boy whom every girl in school wants, but only one can have - by becoming "bad" herself. The hokey song numbers, disgusting characters (particularly an ugly beast known as "Hatchet Face"), and poor-man's Elvis references are not only unpalatable, they are just plain nauseating. Thank God Johnny learned his lesson - virtually every other film he has done has been quite enjoyable.

Even the welcome presence of a former porn star cannot save this piece of trash. I had hoped at least for a couple of decent nude/sex scenes. But no such luck.

This pseudo-Elvis/Rebel-without-a-Brain/Not-Even-Close-Grease-Wannabe film is not for viewing... It is a film for taking the long way around the aisle in the video store so you can avoid it.

Special Bulletin
(1983)

Dated, but still powerful. Try it, you'll like it!
Although the time period and the technological limitations of early 80s tele-journalism are enough to clearly date this film as a relic, it was still highly enjoyable to watch, and I am still overpowered each time I watch it.

I had the good fortune to see this film when it was originally broadcast. And as soon as I saw the opening break-in to the fictional "RBS" television network, I knew I was witnessing an eerie, modern-day equivalent of the "War of the Worlds" scare of the 1930s.

As I watch it today, I still feel the cold shivers, even while watching Ed Flanders of "St. Elsewhere" verbally duking it out with David Rasche of TV's "Sledge Hammer".

Okay, many of the actors are clearly that - actors. Many of the "facts" about nuclear annihilation are in fact watered down. (Sorry, the cameras and video recorders would not still be working due to the severe electromagnetic pulse delivered by a nuclear blast. So there would be no way to rewind the tape and do a playback.)

Yet the issues given voice here are as poignant today as they were almost twenty years ago. We still stand on the brink, as the Chinese hold pilots of a downed US spy plane hostage, even while the Russians (no longer Soviet) trade barbs and spy accusations with our government. Add the dangerous political instability in the Middle East, Bosnia, Chechnya, political unrest in many parts of Africa and South America, and shake well. And Timothy McVeigh clearly indicated that not all of our enemies come from foreign nations. No, the Cold War did not end - someone just moved the air conditioner on us.

In many ways, "Special Bulletin" COULD have and SHOULD have had the same impact as "The Day After", shown later that same year. Probably because of the news-media backlash (Remember, some of this film does not paint television journalists in a favorable light), it was not given nearly the marketing blitz that accompanied that other film.

"Special Bulletin" remains a chilling, yet mostly forgotten piece of Cold War heritage. Take this film for what it strives to be - a warning about what could happen and how we as a nation could react to the unthinkable...

The Amazing Spider-Man: Spider-Man
(1977)
Episode 1, Season 1

A very good try...
It should be noted that this, not The Incredible Hulk, was television's first real attempt to bring a live action Marvel comic book character to the small screen. (Wonder Woman had come in apx. the same time and finally got it right...) It was a real kick watching a live action Spiderman crawl up the side of a building, spin a web, and use that spider sense of his.

But what STILL gets me is the music. The creepy 70's "wa-wa" enhanced guitar coupled with the orchestral sense of danger and intrigue common to 70s action adventure series was right on. I still find myself humming it from time to time.

And it was quite a hoot to learn (some years later) that Nicholas Hammond, Spidey himself, was also one of the Von Trapp children in "The Sound of Music"... So long, farewell, it's time to web-sling off...

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