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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

'Magic Mike:' The Decline and Fall of Soderbergh

My incredible disappointment regarding summer blockbuster "Magic Mike" was intense enough to deviate from reviewing classic sitcoms and great old cartoons to provide a public service warning about the completely unmet potential of this film.

I admit that stating that I went to the film because I have been a HUGE Steven Soderbergh fan since he directed "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," because the New York Times gave "Magic Mike" a better-than-expected review, and because the prospect of sitting in an air-conditioned theater watching what I expected would be well-choreographed dance numbers to upbeat music from my youth was appealing can be compared to a man asserting that he reads Playboy for the articles.

Further, I did not need to go to a movie theater if I wanted to see manscaped attractive twinks thrust their moneymakers; the Internet has plenty of videos of guys who fill out g-strings better than Channing Tatum and the rest of the "Mike" cast.

The "Magic Mike" dance routines were true junk male in both senses of that term because their appeal was limited and merely a scam to most of us. Further, the packages did not fill the envelopes particularly well.

I also want to mention that it is sad that it seems that most men who, like myself, go to this film by themselves feel compelled to sit in the back row as if they were at a '70s era Times Square porn theater.

Living in the second decade of the 21st century, men have no reason for any insecurity about even perceptions regarding their sexuality. I sat center row center eating my contraband turkey sandwich and guzzling my gazillion-ounce Diet Coke, which will also soon be contraband in New York City, while stuffing my grocery bag sized of lukewarm popcorn coated with vegetable oil down my pie hole.

On a related note, ogling quarterbacks Tom Brady or the Peyton brothers every weekend, crying into your beer when your "boyfriend" on your baseball team is traded, and missing work to mourn a super bowl loss is far more gay than seeing a movie about 20 and 30-something men who realize that showing off their wares to a crowd of horny sorority girls and desperate housewives is a good way to keep the fridge stocked with Bud.

Getting down to business, Tatum had the looks, body, and charm to play a male stripper. He simply lacked the talent to star in what was intended to be an honest look at the world of men in that "profession."

I never have, and never will, seen a "Twilight" movie but wonder if one of the boys from that series would have done a better job.

First, I did not buy Tatum's 30 year-old character with six years of stripping experience as the Yoda of the group and the mentor of the 19 year-old "kid" played by Alex Pettyfer. He, and Tatum, simply lacked the intelligence and hard knocks to pull it off.

Mike merely seemed like a decent middle-class kid who realized that utilizing his good looks and rockin' bod were the fastest way to raise the money needed to start his furniture design business. His recognition that he did not want to be a pathetic 40 year-old stripper like the sleazy club owner played by the perpetually bare-chested and insufferable Matthew McConaughy was one of the rare real moments in the film.

Additionally, we learn very little about any of the characters. Mike is very one-dimensional, and we never learn why the kid is living with his understanding older sister or really why she feels the need to be strict with him.

Every other character, including the usually much more appealing Matt Bomer of "White Collar,"  is little more than scenery for our modern-day Butch and Sundance who literally jump into the abyss together.

The shame is that Soderbergh's past work shows that he easily could have made this film much better. The unofficial tagline could have been "Come for the six packs and hot naked butts, stay for the compelling drama."

A bromance version of "A Star is Bared" or a more homoerotic take of "All About Steve" would have been soooo much better. These approaches would have had added substance to the elements of the Kid giving into the easy money, casual sex, and drugs of the world of male stripping while he pushed the older Mike out the spotlight.

Despite the incredible risk to his career, it also would have been great to see the dreamy Justin Bieber show up at the end to remind the Kid that someone younger and cuter is always waiting in the wings. "Baby, baby, baby" indeed.

I imagine that many readers will have their own thoughts regarding my take on "Magic Mike" and the latent homoerotic thoughts of sports fans. Please feel free to email me.

My blanket responses to unduly hostile messages are "I'm rubber and you're glue; what you say bounces off me and sticks to you." and "I know you are, but what am I?"

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

'The Jetsons' S2: A '60s Show Set in the 21st Century Updated for the '80s

The many fans of "Jericho," "Family Guy," and "Futurama" who waited up to a few years for new episodes of those shows should consider themselves lucky compared to those of us who liked "The Jetsons." The first season of that early example of a prime time Sunday night animated network show aired in 1962-63. The second season premiered in syndication in 1985.

Before further discussing "The Jetsons," it is worth mentioning that current prime time animation leader Fox may break the record in the lag between seasons of a show. That network's resident perpetual ninth grader Seth MacFarlane is developing a new "The Flintsones" series. 

One can only hope that MacFarlane's creation is more of an homage to the original '60s "The Flintsones" than a "Family Guy" clone. I would hate to see MacFarlane mine humor from depicting Fred Flintstone as a raging alcoholic and his best buddy Barney Rubble as a closet homosexual. 

As they said back in the era of first season of "The Jetsons," now back to our program.
The DVD set of the second-half of the 1985-86 second season of "The Jetsons" is another example of the terrific Warner Archive series making a cartoon series that enjoyed limited success available to its fans.  I never thought that I would have a chance to revisit childhood favorites "The Funky Phantom" and "Goober and the Ghost Chasers."

Warner Brothers has also released the first season and the first-half of the second season of "The Jetsons" on DVD. Each set looks good and has nice special features.

"The Jetsons" tells the tales of computer engineer George Jetson and his nuclear family living a life of relative ease in the latter half of the 21st century from the perspective of writers and animators first living in the early '60s and then the Reagan-era mid-80s. 

The '60s version was a little closer to "The Jetsons'" predecessor the stone-age "The Flintsones" in having more time-period puns and being delightfully corny. The '80s version of "The Jetsons" was totally new wave, totally.

Many of the fashions, including bold prints and skinny plastic space-age glasses, from the latter version of "The Jetsons" were very close to what the cool kids were wearing that year. Additionally, the "Hi-Tech Wreck" episode in S2 V2 in which George's boss Mr. Spacely was obsessed with living the lifestyle of the rich and famous was a perfect example of the "Me Generation."

The episode "One Strike, You're Out" also reflected the '80s very well. This one had humans and computers literally arguing about the threat that each posed to the other in the job market. 

I was especially pleased to see "A Jetson Christmas Carol" in this set; I Tivo that program every year and had thought that it was only a special, rather than an episode of the series. Aside from being highly entertaining, this version of that story stands out by having the Scrooge character not really change at all. 

All of this is not to say that the '80s version of "The Jetsons" was still not cartoon fun for the entire family. There were plenty of very amusing segments in which high-tech gadgets malfunctioned, Astro the talking dog was as cute and loving as ever, and the family continued facing the same entertaining dilemmas as television families have for the past 60 years. 

It is worth mentioning that the somewhat outdated 21st century technology adds some unintentional humor to the show. As someone who is still semi-stuck in the "olden days" of the late 20th century and often embraces technology a little late, and only bought a GPS a few months ago, I laughed when I saw George Jetson reading an old-style fold-out map in an S2 V2 episode.

Anyone with thoughts or comments regarding "The Jetsons" is welcome to email me.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXIV: Vampires, Folk Heroes, and Aliens Oh My

The '80s/'90s Comedy Central/SciFi Channel series "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (MST3K) is a brilliant show that prompted many of us to slap our foreheads and say "why didn't I think of that?" It also arguably is a much cooler cult show than the "Star Trek" or "Stargate" franchises.

Shout Factory has given me and my fellow Misties a great treat in the form of releasing DVD sets of MST 3K every few months. Volume XXIV is coming out at the end of July 2012. The theme of this collection is truly horrible foreign language films that have been inexpertly dubbed into English and inflicted on American audiences.

Knowing Shout, I predict that the 25th volume will be even more spectacular than the 20th Anniversary volume that was the first Shout Factory MST 3K release.

MST 3K used the concept of a mad scientist, replaced later in the series by his even more diabolical mother, trapping a human on the Satellite of Love that orbited earth before breaking free mid-series. The purpose of this evilness was to see how many truly horrible films from the 50s through the 80s that Joel, followed by Mike, could choke down before going insane. As I have written before, I would have been foaming at the mouth within a week.

In true Bugs Bunny fashion, the reluctant astronaut (with the help of his robot friends) turned things around. The trio mercilessly, and hilariously, heckled the film of the week with comments that literally referred to everything from Oedipus Rex to the '60s cartoon "The Flintstones." The riffs come so fast and furious and some are so subtle that you really need to pay attention.

The SOLers supplement their constant remarks with equally hilarious skits that often relate to the film. An example from "Fugitive Alien" in Volume XXIV was Joel helping his robot buddies understand the plot of this confusing low-budget Japanese scifi flick that was cobbled together from episodes of a Japanese television program and then very badly dubbed into English.

On a side note, our friends at Shout thoughtfully included the MST3K episode of "Star Force: Fugitive Alien II." I am saving that one as a tasty video dessert for Sunday evening.

Volume XXIV also has the hilariously awful "Samson vs. The Vampire Women," which Crow the robot stated was a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case.

Samson was a silver-masked Mexican wrestler who apparently was the Batman without any cool gadgets of our neighbor to the south. The vampire women were a flock of undead hags who needed to capture their queen's descendant to restore the group's beauty and power.

The painfully bad plot, cheesy effects, and horrible acting provided Mike and the 'bots plenty of material, much of which was directed at the aging and tall and lanky raven-haired Cher.

"Samson" was also special because it was the last episode that had the Igor-like sidekick Frank after a five-year run. All that I will say regarding that storyline is that it seemed that it inspired the writers of "Stargate: SG1" when one of their actors wanted out after five years.

In typical Shout Factory style, a great extra on the "Samson" DVD was an interview with Frank's portrayor Frank Conniff, who discussed his post-MST3K career as a writer and cameo actor and his involvement with the MST3K like "Cinematic Titanic."

It is worth noting as well that the over-acted and horribly low-budget Russian folk tale "The Sword and the Dragon" in Volume XXIV came to the U.S. courtesy of Shout Factory's favorite schlockmaster Roger Corman. Corman is the Orson Welles of movies that failing UHF stations used to show at 3:00 a.m. if they could no longer afford the broadcast rights to "She's the Sheriff."

Recognizing the appeal of Corman's truly horrendous films, Shout Factory created its "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" line; Criterion Collection it ain't.

I knew that I had to get the latest member of the cult classic line "Black Oak Conspiracy" when I saw the cover art of the shirtless redneck covered in blood and wearing ripped jeans while holding a smoking shotgun. The tagline "Leaving Town Was Easy. Coming Home Was Murder!" cinched it for me.

The "plot" of "Black Oak" revolved around stuntman Jingo Johnson finding on returning to his small tow that there is "a hotbed of corruption and land swindlers abetted by a crooked redneck sheriff." There is no indication of a Duke boy anywhere in sight.

I am saving "Conspiracy" for a day that I really feel like an especially good bad film.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding MST 3K or Roger Corman is encouraged to email me.

Monday, July 2, 2012

'The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan:' 'Eight is Enough' Meets 'Scooby Doo'

The early '70s Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning series "The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan" falls in the Rodney Dangerfield of good cartoon programs that don't get no respect. Hopefully the recent DVD release of "Chan" as part of Warner Brothers Archive Collection will help rectify that injustice.

On the surface, "The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan" is simply a Hanna-Barbera clone of the highly popular "Scooby-Doo."  One significant difference is that the villains in "Chan" are run-of-the-mill, albeit relatively clever, criminals whose ambitions are generally limited to one big heist.

Most of the rubber masks in "Chan" belong to "Number 2" teen son self-proclaimed master of disguise Stanley. Stanley is also well known for being the voice of the series' catch-phrase "wham-bam - we're in a jam."

Stanley is joined by his nine siblings and their father, fictional detective Charlie Chan. Charlie Chan was created in 1919 and was the main character in a long series of light-hearted Depression-era mystery films.

Digging just below the surface shows that "Chan" is more than an example of what Warner Brothers describes as "Hanna-Barbera's winning formula" of  "[meddling] kids, mysteries, [very cute] canine, van." It is the first depiction of Charlie Chan by an Asian-American. Keye Luke, who played "Number One Son" in earlier live-action "Chan" films.

Other great actors who provided voices included Jodie Foster and future "Quincy" star Roberto Ito.

Further, the Chan kids were typical American kids and lacked any of the horrible Asian stereotypes that survived even into '60s animation. They, and Charlie, dressed like everyone else. Everyone also had good teeth, and any accents were realistic.

The kids, who had a "Josie and the Pussycats" style bubblegum rock band, even loved to rock-and-roll and hot dogs made them lose control. What crazy groups of pairs.

The episodes themselves were good as well; a typical offering had a theft occurring within the first few minutes and the kids splitting up to engage in hi-jinks to capture the bad guys. 

Almost inevitably, each group of Chan kids would separately pursue different suspects and ultimately foul up the efforts of their siblings. Charlie showed up to solve the mystery and apologize for the mayhem that his offspring caused.

The spoiler alert is that the meddling kids, and their little dog too, who were always willin' did help catch that villain.

The show's fatal flaw seemed to be its common characteristic with the much more successful live-action '70s show "Eight is Enough." There just were too many kids in both series. 

Despite being a colossal sofa spud, I could only think of the names of  three of the six Bradford girls from "Eight." I can also picture most of them but have no clue which one wanted to a doctor, which one wanted to be an actress, and who was the tomboy.

Even having just watched eight "Chan" episodes, I do not know every kids' name or which girl was Susie and which one was Nancy. I could not even begin to guess which boy was Flip and who was Alan. I do know that Diegoesque spunky six-year-old Scooter rocks.

Further, having ten "Chan" kids did not add much to the show. Six would have been fine.

It is even sadder that the folks at Hanna-Barbera did not develop a "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space" style spinoff for Stanley and his slightly older brother Henry.

Stanley and Henry were the primary focus of "Chan" anyway and were enough of a Laurel and Hardy team that Henry should have been named Ollie. They were simply nice-looking typical suburban teen boys of the '70s minus the drug use.

Seeing Henry and Stanley go off to college and get involved in mystery and drama ala "Veronica Mars" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" would have kept me glued to my parents' ginormous two-ton 25" color console every Saturday morning.

Anyone with thoughts or questions regarding "Chan" is welcome to email me.