THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE (2000) – Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a minor miracle outta my hat!

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It seemed impossible, but The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is the first feature-length movie that has translated the wacky spirit of Jay Ward’s great TV cartoons to the big screen. Other such movies usually dwelled on dumb physical comedy or throwaway gags that should have been thrown away. But this movie breezes along, barely stopping to acknowledge some of the terrible puns that are posted on buildings and streets as though they were old Burma Shave ads.

I’ve also not seen a movie that could get away with spending a full 90 minutes of jokes referring to itself as a movie (even Wayne’s World didn’t get this carried away). The entire movie is based on the premise of Rocky and Bullwinkle escaping out of their TV show and into the “real world” after spending 35 years in reruns. (I swear I can hear Jay Ward chortling somewhere.) They enter the real world because Fearless Leader (Robert DeNiro!) and his flunkies Boris and Natasha (Jason Alexander and Rene Russo) are using a cable-TV network to hypnotize America into thinking that they should vote for F.L. as our next president. (Heck, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t vote for him these days, even without hypnosis.)

Yes, the whole movie is just about this literal, and it doesn’t entirely succeed. As a helper for Moose and Squirrel, the movie employs a doe-eyed FBI agent (Piper Perabo) who is improbably named Agent Sympathy. This entire character, much like her name, is one of those jokes that doesn’t quite come off. And when the plot requires Bullwinkle to get a bogus degree from his old university (don’t ask), it’s hard to figure out why the university’s students are protesting the award when nearly everyone else in the movie is gaga over meeting their favorite cartoon character.

On the other hand, the movie makes you laugh at some of the obvious jokes and even harder at the less obvious ones. I laughed when Robert DeNiro did a flaky dance to his country’s national anthem. I laughed when Sympathy told her boyfriend he could hold her hand during a movie and he debated the merits of doing so while holding lots of refreshments. Most surprisingly, Jonathan Winters — not one of my favorite zany comics — appears in three different roles, and I laughed at all of them.

The voice work is wonderful. June Foray returns as Rocky — a little the worse for wear after 35 years, but she’s still got it. Bullwinkle’s original voice having long passed on, Keith Scott does the work here (doing double duty as the flustered narrator) and does it admirably.

The cartoon-cum-live-action characters are nice enough (though DeNiro does a scenery-chewing job on a par with Jack Nicholson’s in Batman). But the stand-out is Rene Russo. She gets Natasha’s voice down perfectly, and she’s proof that you can take sex appeal and dress it up in a purple wardrobe and cartoony writing, and it will still be sexy.

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Charlie Chaplin’s THE GOLD RUSH (1925) – The mother lode of Chaplin comedy

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The following is my entry in The Colours Blogathon, being hosted at the blog Thoughts All Sorts on Sept. 8 and 9, 2017. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ reviews of movies with very colorful titles and themes!

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(WARNING: Spoilers abound!)

There’s not much praise that hasn’t already been bandied about for The Gold Rush, but I’ll add my two cents’ worth anyway.

If you want to introduce Charlie Chaplin to someone who has never seen his work, this one has it all. There’s, of course, Chaplin’s Tramp (here dubbed “The Lone Prospector,” trying to survive during gold- and cold-strikes in Alaska); a lovely heroine (Georgia [Georgia Hale], a dance-hall girl with whom Charlie becomes smitten), and villains big (Black Larsen [Tom Murray], one of those great, wordless silent-movie villains who exists just to be mean), medium (Jack [Malcolm Waite], who thinks he deserves Georgia more than Charlie does), and small, at least threat-wise (Big Jim McKay [the wonderful Mack Swain], who starts out tolerating Charlie and then takes him to heart).

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The movie also has set pieces that are now silent-film folklore (the boiling of the shoe in lieu of a Thanksgiving turkey, Charlie entertaining his guests with a “roll” dance) and a roll-call of memorable gags (gotta love Chaplin doing the chicken). And the pathos is perfect here, never done to excess (Who couldn’t feel for Charlie, all alone on New Year’s Eve when Georgia had half-heartedly promised she’d visit him?).

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Countless critics have complained about Chaplin’s cheapness, how he often spared a buck to do a realistic special effect. Have you ever noticed that nobody complains about cheapness for The Gold Rush? There’s probably little of this movie that couldn’t be done just as effectively on stage as a play. But when Charlie and Big Jim are about to go over the cliff inside their cabin in the movie’s climax, I don’t care if that cabin is a model or not, you feel every inch of that potential fall. (My favorite moment in the entire movie is when Big Jim, having made his way safely out of the tottering cabin and found his lost gold stake, suddenly breaks out of his reverie when Charlie yells for help. Cut to a wide-eyed Charlie, beckoning a single finger to Big Jim, as if he was just asking for help cleaning up the cabin.)

Some movies go straight past the logical side of your brain and head for that primal spot where the kid in you still resides and responds. When such a movie fails or goes over-the-top, you find yourself embarrassed to look at the screen; when the movie is operating on all cylinders, it’s something like The Gold Rush.

IT’S JUST A JOKE: THE MOVIE PARODY BLOGATHON – Final recap

Sadly, we received only two more entries in the final two days of our blogathon. Happily, those entries were excellent. So let’s shoot the works as we present

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Click on an individual blog’s name below to see the blog entry. (And click here to see the ‘thon entries from Day 1.)

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Silent-ology examines the local-girl-makes-good-in-Hollywood trope as presented by Marion Davies in the silent comedy Show People.

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And Moon in Gemini takes a look at Soapdish, where the cast and crew of a TV soap opera provide just as much drama behind the camera as in front of it.

Many thanks to all of our participants and readers — we hope you got some big laughs out of our little blogathon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My adventure at the DMV – A license to kill for

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(NOTE: I wrote this piece for a local newspaper in April of 2010, on the eve of my 49th birthday.)

Age is not only a harsh mistress, she’s a smug little tease.

This month, I have to get my driver’s license renewed. In person. They won’t just send me one of those cute little “update” stickers this time.

The last time I had to physically show up to renew my license was in 1995. As I recall, that renewal amounted to: You got two eyes? Fine, here’s your new license.

Sadly, in this age of terror-noia, those days are a fleeting memory. To renew your license in Florida now, you must have:

(1) a birth certificate. I lost that years ago (I think the stone it was chiseled on got broken at some point). So I had to pay $50 to my hometown of Chicago to get another copy. It looked far too youthful to represent a 48-year-old.

(2) My marriage license, which is necessary if you’ve changed your name. I took my wife’s maiden name when we got married. Such is the price of progressivism.

(3) Proof of my Social Security number. The only Social Security card I still have is my first one, from 1970, complete with my nine-year-old scrawl of a signature. The DL people almost laughed me out of the office when they saw it.

(4) Two documents showing my current address. As I hold the world’s record for getting the most junk mail every day, this was the easiest part of the process.

My first visit to the DL office was two weeks ago. The first obstacle was my vision test. They told me to read the letters in the boxes on the bottom line. I read them. They said, “You didn’t read the third box.” I said, “Were there supposed to be letters in that box?”

Last Wednesday, I went to the optometrist’s office to blow off another $79. They informed me that unfortunately, their “same day service” would be delayed by 24 hours.

On Good Friday, I got the glasses, went to the DL office again, and sat with the other 100 people who were there on their day off. After about an hour, it occurred to me that my wife was off somewhere with our only checkbook and credit cards. All I had was a debit card with a forgotten PIN number. Well, at least I got to relax for an hour.

On Monday, I got caught up on my work early at my job. With my boss’ approval, I seized the opportunity and rushed once more to the DL office, paperwork and check in hand. There, I was told that their DL renewal system was down, statewide, for an indefinite period of time.

So now, I have only 18 days to renew my driver’s license. And I have to spin the wheel and hope that the state’s computer system is in a state of grace on the day I take off from work.

I’m now a bit more sympathetic to people who drive without a license. I’m already getting my affairs in order, in the belief that it would be easier, at this point, to get arrested.

TOY STORY 3 (2010) – A toy valedictory

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Toy Story 3 was released in June of 2010, just in time to garner Father’s Day box-office, but it would have been more appropriate for high-school graduation day. The movie has an elegiac tone to it – with plenty of the expected laughs, but also with the throat-catching idea that we’re seeing the end of an era for a group of old friends.

And did I just write all teary-eyed about a movie with a “3” in its title? For that, thank the wizards at Pixar, who continue to maintain their standards of high quality and never forget to include a storyline with pulse-pounding heart. In a movie world where every successful trend gets copied to death, why can’t Hollywood pick up on this one?

The story here is that toy-owner Andy is heading off for college, dooming his childhood toys to a drab life in the attic. Most of the toys, including Buzz Lightyear (voiced again by Tim Allen) and cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), brighten up considerably when they hear they might be donated to a day-care center. Loyal cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) advises the toys to stick with Andy’s choice, but the others relish the thought of being endlessly played with. The remainder of the movie dramatically demonstrates the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Along the way, the veterans compete for screen time with new toy characters. These include Lotso (Ned Beatty), a seemingly huggy bear with a dark side that Darth Vader would be proud of; and Ken (of Ken-and-Barbie fame), who has a retro side we’d never imagined, and is voiced by Michael Keaton with all the gusto of a career comeback.

Happily, the old characters get some hilarious new quirks of their own. By itself, the results of switching Buzz Lightyear to Spanish-language mode might have won this movie its Best Cartoon Feature Film Oscar.

Funny thing is, just when you think the movie’s over, it finishes with a valedictorian scene that will have many moviegoers – including your faithful correspondent and his son – blubbering in the aisles. Again, that’s Pixar standing head and shoulders above the mass of indistinguishable CGI stuff. Just try and copy this formula, Hollywood – moviegoers everywhere are begging you.