Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Greetings from Baltimore!

A couple weekends ago, I celebrated my birthday with a trip to Baltimore, MD, one of my favorite cities in the known universe!

I was accompanied by my co-blogger Rigbymel and several family members.  We saw an Orioles game at Camden Yards (they lost to the Yankees, but it was still a good time).  We also took a Water Taxi from the Inner Harbor to Fells Point, where we had some pizza at Baltimore's locally owned Brick Oven Pizza. We crammed in just about everything you can do in a single afternoon, and it was cooler than usual for the summer.  All in all, it was a great day.  But we had a "classic tv"-related added bonus.

The Fells Point Water Taxi stop just happens to be next to the old City Recreation Pier.  This famously served as the exterior of the police station on Homicide: Life On The Street, one of the best series of the 1990s and in my opinion, the best police procedural drama of all time.  We featured a review of Homicide's Christmas episode last December. 

Cast of Homicide poses on the steps of the Recreation Pier.
So we figured it would make for a good blog photo-op!

The Baltimore P.D. gets two new detectives!
Here's the same spot from the series' 1994 Christmas episode:

We were a bit taken aback by the current state of the building.  The Recreation Pier has fallen into disrepair in the 15 years since Homicide ended.  Note the peeling paint on the lampposts in the above photo.  But  we've since learned that the Pier will be repaired and converted into a hotel, more info about that project here.

That's all for now, check back soon for this blog's celebration of Christmas In July!


Friday, July 4, 2014

Ben & Me

Premiered 10 November 1953

Human Tour Guide: "Benjamin Franklin was one of the most extraordinary men of the 18th century.  Philosopher, inventor and patriot, he rose from obscurity to become one of the greatest figures in American history.   In our struggle for freedom, much credit must be given to this illustrious ... "

Mouse Tour Guide: "... MOUSE. For it was Amos who was REALLY responsible for the great deeds attributed to Benjamin Franklin."

A human tour guide sets the stage

This Disney animated short subject tells the story of Amos, a poor Philadelphia church mouse who sets out to seek his fortune and finds refuge and employment in the print shop of one Benjamin Franklin.

A mouse tour guide sets the record straight
We learn that Amos was responsible for helping Franklin with many of his best known inventions including bifocals and the Franklin stove.

By George, bifocals! 

 He also helps start the Pennsylvania Gazette (and muckraking reportage).

Amos introduces himself to Ben Franklin
Franklin keeps Amos and his contributions (literally) under his hat.  Amos helps his friend Ben with correspondence and with printing the Gazette.

Ben and Amos working hard on the Pennsylvania Gazette

Amos becomes frustrated with Ben pottering around with inventions and zapping him with electricity.
Ben promises to behave better, but instead involves his small friend in a certain well-known kite-flying experiment with "shocking" results.

Amos is incensed, leaves Ben and returns home to his church mouse family.

The "Liberty Bell" makes a cameo
Time passes and the political situation in the Colonies becomes serious.   Franklin is sent as an envoy to the King of England but his efforts are unsuccessful.

It is now 1776,  and Franklin comes to the church to beg Amos for help.   Our mouse hero agrees, but only on condition that Franklin adhere to the terms and conditions of a document drawn up by Amos.

Said document inadvertently becomes Thomas Jefferson's inspiration for the Declaration of Independence!

Jefferson reads the Declaration (note Amos in Franklin's pocket)
RigbyMel says:

I remember watching this film in elementary school.  I enjoyed it then and enjoy it now.  The animation is top notch and the voice actors are Disney regulars from this time period.

Sterling Holloway (perhaps best known today as the voice of Winnie the Pooh) voices Amos the Mouse and Charles Ruggles (aka the big game hunter in Bringing Up Baby) give voice to Benjamin Franklin.

To my mind, the only slight misstep in casting is the use of the great Hans Conried  as Thomas Jefferson. Conried is unforgettable as the voice of Captain Hook in Disney's Peter Pan (which was released earlier in 1953),  but his booming voice seems jarring coming from Thomas Jefferson who was said to have been very soft-spoken.

Jefferson suffering (loudly)  from writer's block
That being said, Ben and Me is a fun little film based on a fun children's book (written and illustrated by Robert Lawson and published in 1939).   It's a nice introduction to the history and is definitely worth sharing on or around the 4th of July seeing as the Declaration of Independence does figure prominently.

RigbyMel's rating:

3  1/2 waving flags

J.A. Morris says:
I mostly concur with my co-blogger on Ben And Me.  I first recall seeing it as a cartoon that played before a Disney movie (can't remember which one) when I was very young.

Speaking as a someone who holds a degree in history, I believe films like this one can encourage kids to be more interested in learning the real story.  Things like Ben And Me and Schoolhouse Rock always had that effect on me.  The scene that features the angry protest against the King is especially dramatic and intense for a cartoon aimed at children.

Amos helps invent the Franklin Stove.
Ben And Me is available on dvd several ways.  The most accessible is a disc called Walt Disney's Timeless Tales Vol. 3, which may be found here.

This short cartoon is recommended for Independence Day viewing and any other time of year.  Ben And Me is also a must-see for fans of Sterling Holloway and Hans Conreid.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 1/2  flags.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Casey Kasem (1932-2014)

Casey Kasem passed away over the weekend at the age of 82.  Like most members of our generation, we were introduced to Kasem through his voicing of Shaggy on Scooby Doo, Where Are You! and Robin on various Super Friends series.  We later enjoyed his work as host of the American Top 40 countdown radio show, and America's Top 10 video countdown.

We pay tribute to Kasem today because his voice acting has been featured several times in our reviews and in other holiday programming that we have yet to cover.

Cases in point:
* Kasem portrayed the title character in Here Comes Peter Cottontail

* He also played Robin in "From Catwoman With Love" and "The Great Scarecrow Scare."

* And he voiced Shaggy in "A Scooby Doo Halloween" and "The Headless Horseman of Halloween."

In addition to those, Kasem's voice can be heard in The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas, a holiday staple during the 1970s and early 80s.  And we hope to review other Scooby holiday episodes, such as "A Halloween Hassle In Dracula's Castle" and "A Scooby Doo Valentine."

Kasem will be missed by many.  For our part, our childhoods and this blog would not have been the same without him.   RIP.

-- J.A. Morris & RigbyMel

Fan tribute art borrowed from ninjaink 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A quick post about "The Monuments Men"

I went to see the recently-released film The Monuments Men last night.   I hold a degree in History, so I've always been a fan of movies that are "based on a true story."

The Monuments Men tells the story of soldiers who rescued priceless works of art that were stolen by the Nazis during World War II.  It's a story that I wasn't very familiar with, it's nice that those soldiers (two of whom were killed during the war) are getting the respect they are owed for saving so many great paintings and sculptures.  Plus, it features an all-star cast that includes some of my favorite actors.  Here's the trailer:

So why am I writing about The Monuments Men on this blog?  It's not a "Holiday" movie, but it certainly feels like one during one scene.  I don't expect 100% accuracy in historical films, but when it comes to "Christmas Pop Culture-related accuracy", that's another story.
There's a nice moment that takes place during the Battle of the Bulge sequence.  The song "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" plays over the PA system at the soldiers' camp.

Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) carry Christmas packages sent by their familes.
This scene rings true, as the song was very popular among members of the military during the 1944 Christmas season.
A little background info about the song:
"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine. It was introduced in the movie Meet Me In St. Louis where it was performed by Judy Garland.

 The last verse was very relevant for families separated by war:
Someday soon, we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow

Those lyrics are often changed to "Through the years, we all will be together", but the sentiment remains the same.  Families were separated and forced to "muddle through" until war's end and they concretely identified with the song at Christmastime.

Since its introduction, the song has been covered by hundreds of artists and is one of the most popular Christmas songs.  In 1957, Frank Sinatra covered the song and believed that the "muddle through somehow" lyric wasn't "jolly" enough.  Sinatra asked the song's co-writer Hugh Martin to change it.  It was replaced with "Hang a shining star upon the highest bow".

Sinatra's version was very popular and most recordings of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" since then have used these lyrics. 

When the song is played in The Monuments Men...it contains the Sinatra lyrics.  Which, of course did not exist until 13 years AFTER the Battle of the Bulge.   I'm surprised that the film's director George Clooney (nephew of Rosemary Clooney, who also recorded the song) didn't catch that.

I still recommend the film, but the incorrect lyric sort of took me out of an otherwise touching scene.

For further reading about the real Monuments Men, check out their official site, monumentsmen.com


Monday, March 17, 2014

The Office: "St. Patrick's Day"

Michael Scott says "Top o'the mornin'" (in a horrible "Irish" accent) to Erin and the viewers.
Premiered March 11, 2010. 

"It is St. Patrick's Day.  And here in Scranton, that is a huge deal.  It is the closest that the Irish will ever get to Christmas."
-Michael Scott 

It's St. Patrick's Day and the staff of Dunder Miflin are decked out in green and in a festive mood.  Except for Angela (Angela Kinsey) who is wearing white and "protesting" St. Patrick's Day.  

Michael Scott (Steve Carell) wants to let everyone leave on time so they can gather at Shanny O'Gannigans, a nearby Irish pub, to celebrate and consume green booze.  But company CEO Jo Bennett (Kathy Bates) has other ideas.  

Erin (Ellie Kemper) gives out green M & M's, Michael calls them "Nature's Viagra."
Michael has been kissing up to Jo all day, telling her he can't wait to visit her in Florida.  (Jo made the mistake of issuing a polite "invitation" to visit, which Michael, naturally, takes to be sincere.)  She hangs around the Dunder Mifflin because she is a workaholic herself and hopes to encourage Michael to be a more productive manager.  As a result, none of the rest of the staff feels comfortable leaving before they do.

Jo Bennett with a friend.
Meanwhile, Andy (Ed Helms) and Erin are getting ready for their first date.  Darryl (Craig Robinson) finds himself promoted from the warehouse to a desk job.  And Dwight (Rainn Wilson) does battle with Jim (John Krasinski) over "MegaDesk."

Andy tries to impress Erin with his "kilt" (actually his sister's field hockey skirt!)
Will Michael summon up the courage and maturity to dismiss his employees?  Or will Jo's work habits ruin St. Patrick's Day for everyone?

J.A. Morris says:

This a good episode of The Office.  We get one of the rare signs that Michael has grown at all since the first season when he (sort of) stands up to Jo.  Of course he spends most of the episode acting like an idiot, saying inappropriate things about the staff, and kissing up to Jo, so his "growth" is relative.

But at least the workers get to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

Creed (Creed Bratton) and Meredith (Kate Flannery) dance a "jig".
The main problem I have with this episode is the same problem I have with most episodes.  The "documentary" concept is strained.  I'm not sure why a documentary about an "American Workplace" would spend so much time in the homes of the workers.

If you enjoyed The Office, you should revisit "St. Patrick's Day" now or on a St. Patrick's Day in the future.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 shamrocks

RigbyMel says:

I don't know if I have a lot more to add to my co-blogger's comments above, but here are a few thoughts:

The Office trades on awkward situations and St. Patrick's Day (as presently celebrated in the U.S.) certainly has the potential to create awkwardness.    So, the holiday and the show are a good fit for each other.

Drinking green shots with co-workers on St. Patrick's Day -- is this really a good idea? 
I tend to enjoy the winking asides, lack of self-awareness of most of the characters and the ridiculous in-fighting between co-workers (particularly Dwight and Jim) more than the specific plots of most episodes of the series,  but this one is definitely entertaining to watch.    Elements of The Office are certainly recognizable to most people who've worked a desk job, although I do think that our band of office misfits probably hangs out after-hours a lot more than is common in most workplaces.   Most of us can relate to unreasonable demands from higher-ups like Jo,  even if the situation is exaggerated for comedic effect.

Jo holds a "town hall meeting" to solicit ideas from staff -- is this really a good idea? 
I liked this episode and the St. Patrick's Day elements serve to heighten the silliness.   It's worth re-visiting if you have the time or inclination.    This episode currently streams on Netflix, pops up in re-runs and is available on DVD.

RigbyMel's rating:

2 and a half shamrocks

The Crazy Ones: "March Madness"

Premiered  March 13, 2014

“Why would I have problem with a holiday that turns this entire town into a drunken frat party?  Where a man can’t walk 3 feet without someone vomiting green beer on his new Tod’s driving mocs. Where you’re asked to kiss someone based on their ethnicity.  Which is racist.”
-Simon Roberts on his dislike of St. Patrick's Day

Andrew shows the others a mock-up of his parade float which will have "undulating leaves"
It's St. Patrick's Day at the ad firm of Lewis, Roberts & Roberts, and art director Andrew Keneally (Hamish Linklater) is designing the company's charity float for the St. Patrick's Day parade.  His boss, Sydney Roberts (Sarah Michelle Gellar) tells Andrew and the rest of the staff that they are forbidden from mentioning St. Patrick's Day.  Her father (and their boss) Simon Roberts (Robin Williams) is a recovering alcoholic and now hates the holiday.

Here comes trouble ... !
That goes out the window when Andrew's six boisterous grade school teacher sisters arrive.  L,R&R's offices are on the parade route so they plan to celebrate "St. Patrick's week" by hanging around the office, getting drunk and staking out their parade post...for two days prior to the parade.  Surprisingly, Simon agrees to let them stay, despite Andrew's objections.

A pinch for the (St. Patrick's Day) grinch
Meanwhile, Krispy Kreme is auditioning actresses for its next commercial produced by the agency.  Their guy isn't happy with anyone until Sydney and Simon's assistant, Lauren (Amanda Setton) find themselves unexpectedly in competition to be the next Krispy Kreme spokeswoman.  

The Keneally sisters have a somewhat negative impact on the office.  Molly gropes Simon for not wearing green.  Katherine (Jamie Denbo) and Elaine (Jessica Chaffin) seem determined to get everyone drunk.

Elaine asks Sydney to sign her boob since she may be the next "Krispy Kreme girl"
Cute copy writer Zach Cropper (James Wolk) says he'll take them out drinking after work, mostly to get them out of Simon's hair.  This turns out to be an issue the next day.

Zach gets more than he bargained for.
Zach wakes up extremely hungover, with an injured eye and an elaborately painted face courtesy of the Keneally sisters.

Oh dear.
He's in no condition to do his job, which is unfortunate as he is part of an important client meeting which goes badly.

The Keneally sisters transform a mural of Simon into a lepre- ...
On top of this, the sisters have taken Simon's giant Rock 'em  Sock 'em Robot outside and adorned it with shamrocks.

One doesn't mess with a man's giant robot
This is a bridge too far for Simon.  He orders all of the St. Patrick's Day paraphernalia removed from the premises.    

Plans are going awry.
The St. Patrick's Day charity float for the parade gets caught up in the shuffle and trashed,  which could spell PR disaster and unhappy children on St. Patty's Day.

Potentially disappointed children (including a "Tiny Tim" on crutches) and celebrity guest Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ! 
Will Simon be able to overcome his St. Patrick's grinch-ness and save the day?  Or will he stick a shillelagh somewhere the sun doesn't shine?

RigbyMel says:

This may well be the St. Patrick's Day-est television episode I have ever seen.  There's plenty of green and plenty of drunken hijinks.  It's quite enjoyable for the most part.  We see the raucous side of the holiday in full force.  

The Keneally sisters are pretty darned funny and their interactions with the various members of the ad firm really enhance the show's energy.   I also love that hard-partying,  off-duty grade school teachers help save the day in this episode.

"They're grade school teachers.  Masters of the hastily thrown-together art project!"
I also like the Grinch-y/Scrooge-y thing that happens with Simon during the course of this episode. It's nice that he is able to find his St. Patrick's Day spirit.  

Paper mache shamrock in progress! 
The resolution of the episode is sweet and funny and manages to tie everything that went before it together very nicely.  
Mild spoiler:  Everyone pitches in to make a great float for the parade.
My only real complaint is a problem I have with the series in general, an over-reliance on product placement. In this episode, it was Krispy Kreme, but I can think of many other examples from earlier episodes.  (As an aside, this also bugs me about Mad Men - which is also about an ad agency and also features James Wolk.)

Still the comedy and fun of this particular episode make it one of my favorites in the series.  It's one I'd definitely recommend checking out.   You can catch it online (at CBS.com) or on demand at the moment.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 and a half shamrocks

J.A. Morris says:
I can't add much to what my co-blogger said.  If I have any problems with "March Madness" it's the same problem I've had with every episode of this series.  It has One too many "random" for the sake of being random jokes or "weird" statements that are supposed to be funny, but fall flat.

Kareem was also looking forward to the "undulating leaves" on the float.
But this is the best episode of The Crazy Ones.  There aren't many St. Patrick's Day episodes (compared to Christmas & Halloween) and this will probably be one I watch in the future around March 17.

Molly & Andrew enjoy a beer;Wanna guess what the "gold" behind them is made of?
The Keneally sisters are the highlight of this episode, and if they had their own show, I'd watch it!  The entire ensemble is pretty good here too.  Robin Williams is restrained (well, as restrained as he can ever be!) and Sarah Michelle Gellar is a good "straight man."

All in all it's a lot of fun with plenty of seasonal trappings.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 and a half shamrocks