Saturday, November 30, 2013

Looney Tunes: "Tom Turk and Daffy"

Released February 12, 1944.

"The yams did it!  THE YAMS DID IT!"
-Daffy Duck

Daffy Duck (Mel Blanc) is building a snowman and singing "Jingle Bells".  Suddenly, a turkey named Tom (Billy Bletcher) runs into Daffy and asks him to help him hide from a hunter.

Daffy complies, but does so in a rather tortuous manner.

The hunter arrives in the form of Porky Pig (Blanc again) dressed as a Pilgrim.  Daffy hides Tom inside a snowman, and refuses to tell Porky where to find him.  Porky expresses disappointment over the possibilty of a Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey, giving a vivid description of items on the menu.  Daffy still doesn't budge, telling Porky "I ain't no stool pigeon."

 But Daffy gives in when Porky mentions yams.  Tom has other ideas and pins his tail feathers onto Daffy's tail, making Porky think Daffy is the turkey.  A chase through the snow ensues.

Daffy's lips are sealed!
J.A. Morris says:
I'm a huge fan of Warner Brothers' cartoons, but I hadn't seen this one until recently.  It's a great short, it's got some hilarious sight gags, especially one that involves a bucket of water thrown at Porky.

  It's also very fun to see Porky go from docile to furious here, as Daffy drives him into a murderous rage!

And Daffy's rendition of "Jingle Bells" will be stuck in your head for a long time.

Daffy sells out Tom for yams.
Some historical notes on this cartoon:
-Tom calls Daffy a "quisling" when Daffy shows Porky where the turkey is hiding.  During World War II, a quisling was someone who was collaborating with the Axis Powers. 

Tom hides out in a snowman.
-Daffy sings the song "Angel In Disguise" while hiding Tom in a snowman.  This song was introduced in the 1940 film It All Came True where it was performed by Ann Sheridan.

"Tom Turk And Daffy" is available on a dvd called Porky & Friends:Hilarious Ham

 If you're a fan of Looney Tunes, you'll want to make it part of your annual Thanksgiving entertainment.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 pumpkin pies!

RigbyMel says:

This is perhaps an underrated/overlooked Looney Tunes short, which is a shame as it features classic, anarchic direction by Chuck Jones.   I was amused to see some gags from more familiar shorts show up in this cartoon.

For example, we see Porky turn into a literal "sucker" when he realizes he's been had and Chuck Jones shorts are always good for comical uses for signage.

Wait, where is the turkey again? ;-) 

In addition to Mel Blanc's sterling voice work as both Porky Pig and Daffy Duck,  we get a vocal appearance by Billy Bletcher as Tom Turkey.

Bletcher is probably best known today for his work as "Peg-Leg Pete" in assorted Disney shorts from the 1930s through the 1950s and he does a great job here.

This short is relatively new to me, and makes me laugh out loud every time I watch it.   It stands up well to repeated viewings.

RigbyMel's rating

4 pumpkin pies!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion

Premiered November 21,1993.

"For me, coming home was remembering what was real and meaningful, even when outside events turned everything upside down, the way they did in November of 1963"
-John-Boy Walton

John-Boy delivers a commentary on the evening news.
It's late November, 1963.  The Waltons are getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, expecting the arrival of all their children and their families.   But this Thanksgiving will be special, since John () and Olivia () have announced that it will be the last held at the old family homestead.  They are planning to move out, sell it and break ground on a new house in the Spring.  Everyone has promised to come home, except for youngest daughter Elizabeth (), who is travelling the globe as a botanist.  Elizabeth's nomadic lifestyle means that she has no permanent address and is hard to contact.

John-Boy introduces Janet to his parents.
Oldest son John-Boy () has become a successful author and television journalist.  He lives in New York and is dating Janet Gilchrist (), an editor at Harper's Magazine.  He wants to marry Janet, but she's worried that the Waltons won't like her.  John-Boy says not to worry because "Virginians fall in love with everybody they meet".

Elizabeth arrives home right after John-Boy.  She runs into her old boyfriend Drew Cutler ().  His wife has recently left him and it's obvious that he's still interested in Elizabeth.

Elizabeth arrives home after & embraces her mother.
The other (now adult) Walton children are living closer to home in Virginia.  Mary Ellen () is a doctor, Jim-Bob () is a pilot, Ben () is working with John at their lumber business and Jason () is a country musician and songwriter.  They all are going through various work and family struggles.

Mary Ellen is having trouble as a single mother.  Her husband Jonesy is serving in Vietnam, his absence has taken a toll their kids.

Ben is frustrated working at the family lumber business.  He feels that John is holding back the business and undercuts his father.  This causes a falling out between the two, and Ben quits.  At the same time, Ben and his wife Cindy () are still grieving over the death of their daughter Ginny.  Cindy would like to adopt, Ben doesn't want to discuss the topic.

John & Ben argue about how to run the family lumber business.
Jason's marriage is also going through a rough patch.  He's been spending lots of time touring, trying to break into the music business.  His wife Toni () feels that their marriage is in trouble.

Middle sister Erin () is divorced and working as a substitute teacher.  Assistant Principal Jeff Dulaney () is impressed with her work and offers her a full-time teaching position. But Erin isn't sure the job would allow her time to raise her three kids.  Jeff is in a troubled marriage (his wife cheated on him & left) and there's a mutual attraction between he and Erin.    

But their personal dramas pale in comparison to what happens a few days before Thanksgiving.  President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas.  The entire family is shocked and crushed.  John-Boy is called to report on the aftermath in DC.  Janet and the family are worried he won't make it back in time for Thanksgiving.
Elizabeth and Verdie () grieve & comfort each other when they learn of JFK's assassination.
J.A. Morris says:

I mentioned in a previous post that my younger self was a fan of The Waltons...up to a point.  I quit watching around the time that Richard Thomas departed and Will Geer died.  I never saw A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion until now, it has several problems.

Olivia & Elizabeth talk over coffee.
First off, the continuity is screwed up.  For example, based on comments made during the series, John-Boy would have been 47 years old in 1963.  He's obviously not.  Grampa died in 1941,John says he's been dead 15 years.  The "1963" fashions are inconsistent at best.  Some characters look like they could have stepped off the set of Mad Men, others have very 90s hair and clothes.

Olivia adjusts a photo of Grandpa Walton.  He's gone, but his presence (and Will Geer's) is still felt in this reunion movie.
The silly thing about this "sliding" continuity is that it's done strictly to tie the story to the Kennedy assassination (FWIW, this movie aired the day before the 30th anniversary of the assassination).  I guess the writers/producers thought that they needed to have John-Boy report on the tragedy.  It was an unnecessary choice, because The Waltons series didn't need to bring in major world events to tell good stories.  While some episodes focused on issues and historical topics (Segregation, the Great Depression, World War II, Pearl Harbor), the show was at it's best when it told smaller, personal stories.  There's enough inter-personal conflict to carry this story without bringing in JFK's assassination.  The storyline involving the selling of the Walton family house could have provided enough drama all by itself (SPOILER ALERT:They don't sell the house), and that wouldn't have required any historical gymnastics.  

A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion is available on dvd.
One other problem was the acting.  Several members of the cast hadn't worked in film or tv since the previous Waltons reunion movie 11 years earlier (imdb doesn't lie!).  I won't name names, but you can tell that some of their acting chops are a bit rusty, especially when paired up with cast members who never stopped acting.
Grandma Esther smiles at Thanksgiving dinner.
But it's not all bad.  I think hardcore fans of the series will appreciate this movie (at least one viewing).  It was interesting to see the older versions of the ensemble interact, and this was Richard Thomas' first appearance as John-Boy in 15 years (he quit and John-Boy was recast in season 9).  Some of the cast has passed away since it was made (most notably, Ellen Corby), so it's nice to have some more footage of them all together.  In addition to the Waltons themselves, we get subplots and cameos that feature the Godseys, the Baldwin sisters, Verdie Grant and Yancy Tucker.

The family joins hands for a Thanksgiving prayer.
 A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion reminds of Gene Siskel's test for some movies he didn't like:Is this better than a documentary of the cast having lunch?  I think a reunion of the cast & creative team would've been more entertaining than what we got here.  If you need a Waltons Thanksgiving fix, re-watch  The Thanksgiving Story instead.

J.A. Morris' rating:

2 pumpkin pies.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

That 70s Show: "Thanksgiving"

Premiered November 22, 1998

Alright, that's it, hold it! Now Kitty, don't get worked up over my mother and you, you're sleeping in the basement! And we're all having a happy damn Thanksgiving!  -Red Forman

It's the day before Thanksgiving, November 24, 1976.  The Formans pick up their daughter Laurie (Lisa Robin Kelly) at the bus station.  Laurie has come home from college and brought her friend Kate (Jenny Maguire) home with her for the weekend.  Kate immediately starts flirting with Eric (Topher Grace).

Mom, Kitty Forman (Debra Jo Rupp) is dreading the arrival of Red's (Kurtwood Smith) mother.  Her mother in law has little use for Kitty and despises her cooking.  This adds to the family tension.  To make matters worse, money is scarce since Red is only working part-time.  But he refuses to scrimp on Thanksgiving.

   Eric's friends Kelso (Ashton Kutcher) and Hyde (Danny Masterson) are interested in Kate, asking how hot she is (Eric says "Oh,so hot!").  Jackie (Mila Kunis) and Eric's girlfriend Donna (Laura Prepon) overhear this, Jackie tells Donna she should be worried.

Eric goes up to his room to get a blanket when Kate (already "dressed" for bedtime) starts flirting with him some more.  She grabs Eric and gives him a very passionate kiss and he doesn't resist.

The next day he brags about the kiss to his friends.  Then he feels bad, since he and Donna "have a thing".  Kelso says he should "juggle them both until it all blows up in your face."

Eric can't keep a secret so he tells Donna as soon as he sees her.   She dumps him, saying he can "kiss whatever you want, why don't you start with your own butt!"

Eric feels guilty and tries to make up with Donna.  She won't have it.

It's finally time for Thanksgiving Dinner.  After the prayer, everyone is ready to chow down, but suddenly the phone rings.  Kitty realizes that no one ever picked up Red's mother at the bus station!

Eric makes one last attempt at reconciling with Donna.  He invites her to Thanksgiving dessert at his house and hopes they can remain a couple.

J.A. Morris says:

This is a very typical, formulaic episode of That 70s Show.  But it's a solid, entertaining formula, so that's okay.  Most storylines centered on interpersonal conflicts among the gang or the parent-child dynamic.  The script gives everyone at least one funny line. And Red gets to call Eric a "dumbass", which is always funny.

"I wonder if the Pilgrims were clever enough to put peanut butter in their celery?"
Thanksgiving is mainly the backdrop, but it helps drive the action.  We've all had relatives who drive us crazy on holidays.  They turn into food critics at Thanksgiving and we dread their arrival.

I was a regular viewer of That 70s Show during the first few seasons, and this is a fun episode.  So if you remember the show fondly, "Thanksgiving" is recommended for November viewing.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 pumpkin pies.

RigbyMel says:

I remember watching this show when it was new.   It was fun in 1998 and it holds up well to repeated viewings.    It does a great job of playing with various Thanksgiving tropes within the snarky sitcom framework.  

This Thanksgiving episode of That 70s Show is well worth adding to your holiday viewing and is available in various formats.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 and a half pumpkin pies

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Star Wars Holiday Special

Premiered November 17, 1978.
Tonight is the 35th anniversary of the 1st and ONLY showing of The Star Wars Holiday Special on CBS.  Unlike all the Star Wars movies, the holiday special didn't have an opening crawl...until now!  Please watch the video below:
(EDIT:Linked video has been removed from, sorry-J.A.)

Chewbacca () and Han Solo () are trying to get back to Chewie's home planet, Kashyyyk.  It's time for wookiees to celebrate Life Day, a festival that celebrates all the forms of life on their planet.  Chewbacca's wife Malla (), son Lumpy (), and father Itchy () are eagerly awaiting his arrival.

Mala & Lumpy.
Han and Chewie are delayed when Imperial Tie Fighters and Star Destroyers divert them from their course, causing Malla to worry that her husband won't make it home for the holiday.  She contacts Chewbacca's friends, Luke Skywalker (), Princess Leia (), C-3PO () and R2-D2 (), but none of them has seen Chewie either.

Lumpy watches a holographic acrobat.
On Kashyyyk, the family is having problems of their own.  The local Imperial troops pay a visit to their house and keep them under surveillance.  Storm troopers and commanders ransack the wookiees' home, looking for ties to the Rebellion, wrecking Lumpy's toys in the process.

An imperial guard () visits Saun Dann's trading post.
Chewie's family receives help in the form of a local trader named Saun Dann (), who helps them conceal contraband and distract the Imperials.

Plus, we get to see what television shows are like in the Star Wars universe!

J.A. Morris says:

In 1978, I was 7 and I was an absolute Star Wars fanatic!  I had action figures, t-shirts, comic books, beach towels, you name it, I had it (or wanted it)!  I remember how excited I was when I heard about this special and I recall watching it like it was yesterday. Think about it, Star Wars...on your house...for free!   I went to my best friend's house to watch it.  I should have known it was going to be disappointing when the opening credits introduced "R2-D2 as...R2-D2!"

After a cold opening that features Han and Chewbacca, we go to the wookiees' living room.  Malla, Itchy and Lumpy engage in a conversation in their language of grunts, growls and mumbles...for a solid 5 minutes...without subtitles.

This is followed by a holographic program featuring acrobats that Lumpy watches ... which also seems to go on forever.

Art Carney, Bea Arthur and Harvey Korman are among my favorite comic actors.  But they just don't belong in Star Wars.  It feels weird to hear "Ed Norton" refer to himself as "a friend of the Rebellion and a member of the Alliance."

Bea Arthur is just a few months removed from the last episode of Maude.  So her sketch basically feels like "Maude Findlay takes over the Mos Eisley Cantina."  Watching "Maude" interact with the cantina aliens just feels wrong.

Ackmena (Bea Arthur) tends bar at the cantina, while Krelman (Harvey Korman) checks her out.
Korman deserves some kudos for playing 3 different characters.  The 7 year old version of me laughed at his performance as Gormaanda, a 4-armed alien version of Julia Child, making a dish called "Bantha Surprise."  In fact, my friends & I quoted this character ("Stir, stir...whip, whip,stir!") for months after the special.

But the worst parts of this show are the "serious" musical numbers.  Diahann Carroll appears in what is essentially a soft core porn flick for Itchy's entertainment. Carroll, a very talented performer, gets to tell a wookiee that she's his "fantasy."   Look at this quote from Caroll's character Mermeia, directed at Itchy:
"I am your fantasy.  I am your experience.  So experience me.  I am your pleasure.  So enjoy me."

Ugh, what were they thinking?!  As a kid, this (fortunately) went over my head.  I just found it boring, which is the word that best describes this special in general.

Diahann Carroll as Mermeia.
Jefferson Starship's performance isn't much better.  I was never a huge fan, but their music was sort of omnipresent in the 70s/early 80s.  Their appearance here is a low point for the group (until they morphed into Starship and recorded "We Built This City"), "Light The Sky On Fire" is a forgettable song.  I've heard their performance described as "Spinal Tap-esque" and that's an accurate description.

Jefferson Starship performs "Light The Sky On Fire".
The "real" Star Wars actors don't bring much to the table either.  Harrison Ford comes off better than the rest.  We get some glimpses of Han's rogueish charm and humor. And Peter Mayhew emerges with most of his dignity intact. However, Mark Hamill barely looks like himself in the special.  Rumor has it that his face was plastered with make-up to obscure the damage done in a car accident.

Sadly, Carrie Fisher fares the worst of all.  I don't know if Fisher's (well-documented) use of drugs affected her performance, but she has a glazed-over, dazed look every time she's onscreen.  Her singing voice isn't as bad as you might think, but the song "A Day To Celebrate" isn't good.

When I watched this back in '78, my friend's father came downstairs and asked us "how was it?"  We looked at each other and rather sheepishly told him "it was good, really good."  We knew we were lying, but if we said otherwise, our love for everything Star Wars would've been mocked incessantly from then on.

Han Solo tangles with a Storm Trooper.
But it's not all bad.

About halfway through, Lumpy watches a cartoon that features all the Star Wars characters voiced by their live-action counterparts.  It features the first appearance of Boba Fett, and some cool caricatures of the actors.  But,when the cartoon ends, you're back on Kashyyyk.

Wookiees celebrate Life Day.
And we also get to see some outtakes of Star Wars.  The scenes of Tatooine and Darth Vader's brief appearance were taken from unused scenes from the movie, probably the first time SW outtakes were shown in public.

George Lucas has disowned this special, but this is not the only appearance of Chewbacca's family. A year later, they appeared in a book called The Star Wars Wookiee Storybook. That makes me think Lucas had other plans involving these wookiees, until the failure of this special.

Did you own this book when you were a kid?  I still have my copy.
J.A. Morris' rating:
I don't know how to rate The Star Wars Holiday Special.  The best thing I can say is that it's better than The Phantom Menace.  If you consider yourself a fan of Star Wars, you should probably watch this at least once...and then forget it exists.   This is normally where I'd post some sort of holiday ratings icon, but I think this image showing the destruction of Alderaan sums up my views on this special:

RigbyMel says:

I was not subjected to The Star Wars Holiday Special as a child.   I only recently sat down to watch the whole thing and I think it is a shame that something that had so much potential to be cool (or at least amusing) fails on so many levels.   I'd say that it should be buried in a sarlacc pit to be digested for 1000 years, but I fear it would give the sarlacc indigestion.   I'd also like to say that it's so bad it's kind of good, but it just isn't.

As J.A. Morris says,  there is some good talent on tap here but their skills are utterly wasted.  The special is alternately boring and disturbing.   The animated sequence with Boba Fett and the fun cartoony versions of our friends from the Rebellion is ok, but not enough to make this mess very worth while.    I can only recommend this for hard-core Star Wars completeists with an hour and a half to waste.

If you're looking for Star Wars holiday fun,  I recommend checking out Christmas In The Stars,  a Star Wars Christmas record that was originally released in 1980 (and which my brothers and I enjoyed greatly as kids) and was re-released on CD in 1994.  

Christmas In The Stars album cover
It is cheesy as all get out but, unlike The Star Wars Holiday Special is often amusing.    Moreover, it contains vocal performances by a young Jon Bon Jovi (who appears as a backup singer credited as Jon Bongiovi), which has to be worth something (not necessarily something good, but something.)

It also contains the periennial holiday classic song "What Can You Get A Wookiee For Christmas When He Already Owns A Comb?"  which is not to be missed.     Check it out:

That being said, I agree with J.A. Morris's exploding Alderaan rating for The Star Wars Holiday Special on the grounds that it might make your head explode in a similar fashion.