Monday, July 16, 2018

Hocus Pocus

Premiered July 16, 1993.

In Salem Massachussetts, All Hallows Eve, 1693, Winifred "Winnie" Sanderson (Bette Midler) and her two witch sisters Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy) cast a spell on a girl named Emily Binx (Amanda Shepherd) that sucks out her life force, making the witches younger and killing Emily.

Her older brother Thackery (Sean Murray) witnesses this and the witches transform him into a black cat, condemned to forever ruminate over his guilt at failing to save his sister.

The Sanderson sisters are subsequently captured and hanged.  Prior to their execution, Winnie casts a spell that will resurrect them on an All Hallows Eve in the future when a virgin lights their black flame candle.

Three hundred years later in Salem, another All Hallows Eve (aka Halloween) has arrived.  Teenager Max Dennison (Omri Katz) is having a tough time adjusting to life in a new place.  He and his family have just moved from Los Angeles and he's having a tough time fitting in.

Moreover, he has no use for Salem's witchy Halloween traditions, viewing the holiday as something made up by candy companies to sell more candy.  Despite this, Max is interested in his classmate Allison (Vinessa Shaw), who is very enthusiastic about Halloween and witches and isn't impressed by Max's cynical take on the holiday.

After school, Max's parents order him to take his 8 year old sister Dani (Thora Birch) trick or treating.  They eventually wind up at Allison's house, where her parents are hosting a very fancy Halloween festivity.

Allison talks Max and Dani into visiting the old Sanderson house, which is now a shuttered museum.   Naturally, Max winds up lighting the witch's black flame candle, causing the curse to come to fruition and bringing the Sanderson sisters back from the dead to steal the life force of more children!

The kids escape and steal the Winnifred's spell book.  Max, Allison and Dani gain an unexpectedly ally against the witches in the form of Thackery Binx, who, in spite of being a cat, can speak.  Binx vowed to stop the Sandersons if they ever returned and wants to help the kids defeat the witches once and for all.  Dani is quite taken with the Binx and decides to adopt him.

The sisters are uncertain what to make of Halloween and the modern world.  They are mystified by roads made of asphalt rather than dirt.  They smell children, but don't recognize them because the kids are dressed up in costumes for trick or treating.

The drawback of the witches' return is that the Sanderson sisters need more children's life force to brew the  potion that will keep them alive and young forever.  If not, they will die at sunrise.

The Sandersons chase Binx and the kids all over Salem, determined to get their book of spells and gain immortality.  Will the witches succeed and suck the life out of Salem's children?  Or will the unlikely quartet of heroes save Halloween and Salem from the Sandersons?

J.A. Morris says:

I'll start my review by saying that I like this movie, but I didn't see it until years after its release (I was in college in 1993 and I wasn't exactly the target audience.  It's become part of our annual Halloween viewing.  The witches are delightfully over the top and the kids are likeable and sympathetic.  I've owned several black cats, so I appreciate the presence of a talking black cat.

Bette Midler's performance of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You" (featuring backing musicians dressed as skeletons) is a high point of the movie.  Midler later dressed as Winnifred during live performances of this song.

Sarah Jessica Parker also gets a nice moment in the spotlight to sing "Sarah's Theme," Sarah Sanderson's song that's intended to hypnotize children.

Garry Marshall appears in an uncredited role wearing a devil costume.  The Sandersons believe him to be Satan himself!  Any movie that includes Garry Marshall dressed as the devil is worth watching at least once in my book!

In a bit of stunt-casting, the wife of "the devil" is portrayed by Penny Marshall, Garry's real-life sister.

However, it's not a perfect movie and I can understand why it wasn't well received by critics or audiences when it was first released.  Hocus Pocus is a film that doesn't seem to know what audience it's trying to reach.  During the first few minutes we see a little girl killed and three witches hanged.

There are jokes about how the Sandersons can only be resurrected if a virgin lights their candle.  Billy the zombie is beheaded onscreen.   These contrasting tones sometimes took me "out" of the movie.

Still, compared to Christmas, there aren't many Halloween movies (that aren't slasher films), and I'm glad it's around.  Recommended, but the criticisms above keep me from giving Hocus Pocus a higher rating.

J.A. Morris' rating:

2 and a half jack-o-lanterns.

RigbyMel says: 

Like J.A. Morris, I am late to the Halloween party insofar as Hocus Pocus is concerned.   I was in high school and probably considered myself above live-action Disney movies at the time (animation was another story, but that's neither here nor there). 

That being said, I think I like the movie more than J.A. Morris does -- it's fun and funny and the dark touches are appropriate for Halloween.  It's not a movie for little kids, but I can understand how folks who were of the tween persuasion in 1993 or thereabouts would have latched onto this film.    As was customary with Disney releases, Hocus Pocus became a regular feature on cable TV and the film's following grew as a result of cable and home video.

Yes, the plot is a little bit silly at times, but the performances by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker are comedy gold. The child actors do a fine job insofar as child actors go.  Young Thora Birch's performance as Dani is particularly strong. 

Moreover,  I have a weakness for black cats and am not at all surprised that many a millennial pet black cat has been named Binx.  I rather suspect that nostalgia plays an important role in the affection that people of a certain age have for the movie, but even 25 years later,  nostalgia is not necessary to enjoy this as a Halloween classic.

RigbyMel's rating:  

3 and a half jack-o-lanterns.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Popeye The Sailor:"Patriotic Popeye"

Premiered May 10, 1957.

"Fireworks is  too dangerous!  I'm gonna see that you haves a safe and sane 4th of July!"

On Independence Day, Popeye the sailor (Jack Mercer) is tending his garden.  His nephews (also voiced by Mercer) are excited about celebrating the occasion by setting off firecrackers. 

Popeye forbids this says it's too dangerous and locks the fireworks up in a shed.  The nephews accuse their uncle of spoiling their 4th of July.

Popeye is determined that they have a "safe and sane" 4th of July and suggests some alternate ways for the boys to celebrate, like playing baseball, grilling hot dogs and going for a drive in the country.  However, every time Popeye turns his back, the nephews attempt to get the fireworks out of the shed.

The boys eventually get the fireworks and predictable pyrotechnic chaos ensues.   The nephews' actions place them and their surroundings in danger.  Can Popeye save his nephews?

J.A. Morris says:
As we've said here before, there isn't a lot of 4th of July-themed programming out there, so it's always nice to find stuff like "Patriotic Popeye."

Popeye says he wants the boys to have a "safe and sane 4th of July."  This is a reference to a movement that started in Cleveland in 1908 in the wake of several fireworks-related accidents that caused injuries and deaths.  Cleveland passed laws that made it a "safe and sane" city  which prohibited firework use and their ordinances served as a model for other cities.  So you might say "Patriotic Popeye" is PSA about fireworks safety.

Popeye certainly comes off as a killjoy here, but the nephews' antics ultimately prove him right.  This short contains some nice animation, such as this bit where a swarm of hornets forms an eye:

Like most Popeye cartoons, "Patriotic Popeye" does feature (SPOILER ALERT!) some spinach-enhanced heroics from the sailor man.

A note about the nephews:
Popeye's four nephews first appeared in a 1942 cartoon called "Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye an' Peep-eye," which were the nephews names.  "Patriotic Popeye" only features two of these four and doesn't name them.  I'm not sure what happened to the other two. 

"Patriotic Popeye" isn't the best Popeye short ever but it's fun and filled with fireworks, roman candles and hot dogs, it's full of 4th of July imagery.  It's worth watching, especially recommended for hardcore fans of Popeye the sailor.

J.A. Morris' rating:


2 and a half American Flag.

RigbyMel says: 

"Patriotic Popeye" is an amusing, if not a "classic" animated short.   I appreciated the safety message about fireworks,  even if the humorous action of the short kind of undercuts it a little bit. 

I find it interesting that since this is a short made during the 1950s,  we see a large bottle rocket labeled the "Atomic Sky Rocket" -- a reference very much of the time and of the "space race" period of U.S. history. 

Popeye's troublemaking nephews strike me as perhaps owing more than a little bit to some similar tropes employed by other animation studios and it's odd that neither Olive Oyl nor Bluto make an appearance in this cartoon.   However, there's plenty of holiday-themed action, so maybe they aren't needed? 

This is a short worth watching even if it's not precisely a classic.

RigbyMel's rating: 

2 American Flags.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Real Ghostbusters: "The Scaring of the Green"

Premiered November 16, 1987

On St. Patrick's Day Eve,  the Ghostbusters have been called to clean up a pesky ghost at a banquet attended by the mayor.   They get the ghost, but unfortunately, they also manage to zap the mayor's wife by accident (she was fine, her dress got fried though), which lands them in jail.

Deputy Police Chief O'Malley arrives with an offer for the Ghostbusters.   He'll have the charges dropped (and pay for the Mayor's wife's dress) if they help him with a little family problem.   Back in Ireland many years ago, the O'Malley clan stole a leprechaun's pot of gold and was cursed.  The curse says that when there is a full moon on St. Patrick's Day, a Bog Hound will rise and carry off the head of the clan.   Since he's the head of the clan and the conditions are right,  O'Malley wants to avoid a presumably grisly fate.   He says that the only way the Bog Hound an be stopped is with the aid of a four leafed clover.

The Ghostbusters (especially Egon) are skeptical, but agree since this gets them out of jail.   They decide to search the city for a four leafed clover.    Ray (Frank Welker) goes to Central Park where he runs into some trouble with an Irish beat cop. 

Venkman (Lorenzo Music) visits the Botanical Gardens and Winston (Arsenio Hall) visits every florist in NYC (!!).   Venkman manages to find a four-leafed clover and is very excited about it, but Slimer eats it when he gets it back to the firehouse.

Egon (Maurice LaMarche) remains skeptical, thinking that science will solve this problem better than superstition, but goes to the Bronx Zoo anyway.   It turns out that many of the animals have escaped and have fled the Bog Hound, which is prowling the zoo!

Egon and some lions are treed by the Bog Hound!
Egon tries to use his proton pack on the beast, but it fails him and he has to resort to climbing a tree and then fooling the Bog Hound into playing fetch to get away.

Meanwhile, the St. Patrick's Day parade is getting underway and the Bog Hound is still on the loose!  Will the Ghostbusters locate another clover and save the day?  Will science (and ghost traps) or superstition prevail?

RigbyMel says: 

I watched The Real Ghostbusters with some regularity due to having a little brother that was crazy about the show,  but I do not recall ever seeing this episode until deciding to write about it for the blog.

It definitely has lots of St. Patrick's Day thematic elements to play with,  four-leafed clovers,  stereotypical Irish cops, a St. Patrick's Day parade and even a variation on the ghostly black dog myth in the form of the Bog Hound.

Interestingly, the design of the Bog Hound resembles the hellhounds from the original 1984 Ghostbusters film.  

The plot is slight,  but amusing and I've always appreciated the vocal talents in the series, even if they bear little resemblance to the voices of the characters from the original movie.

"The Scaring of the Green" is a light, silly episode of a solid 1980s animated series and might be a nice addition to your St. Patrick's Day viewing.

RigbyMel's rating: 

2 shamrocks