Daily Barks 01.07 cataroo.com
Barking at the Moon: January 2007

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January 30, 2007
I am beginning to worry about the bird flu. As the first month of 2007 rolls to an end, it finds Rachel and I sick again. First we fought colds for over a week. Day after day of congestion and pressure. Now, we seem to have picked up the flu from my folks. When my folks got the flu, I was a bit surprised. They always brag about how they get their flu shots... and often hold it over me when I (in days past) occassionaly got ill. But they got it this time... and now we have it. Rachel has it worse. She has been in bed almost 24 hours now with cramps, vomiting, the whole mess. Me, I am racked with muscle aches, upset belly and no energy. Course both of us are pretty weak right now, not having had solid food for over 24 hours. Whew. What makes it a bit scary is that I have seen a number of flu warnings in my time from the Taiwan Flu, to the swine flu, to the new bird flu. Each one was promised to be a major catastrophe. And, at this point, none have really caused much dismay. But I wonder if the normal flu that doesn't make the news, the one that I constantly hear "oh, everyone's been getting that", can really devastate someone, what will a bird flu, or similar major strain, do? Think it would be a good time to buy stock in Alka Seltzer and Pepto Bismol. And the cherry Pepto is pretty tasty.
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"When we think of the major threats to our national security, the first to come to mind are nuclear proliferation, rogue states and global terrorism. But another kind of threat lurks beyond our shores, one from nature, not humans - an avian flu pandemic."
Barack Obama

January 29, 2007
Franchised animation. A recent article about Dreamworks told of some of their upcoming films which included at least one more Shrek and two more Madagascars. This has lead a number of sites to bemoan their "sequelitis". But I see it another way... animation is finally one more step closer to live action films. Once again, the entire industry has been overshadowed by a single person - Walt Disney. Walt had a well-known dislike of sequels. He did work on at least one. Bambi's Children, based on Felix Salten's sequel to his novel Bambi, was in development for several years until World War II diverted Walt from features. As with so many Disney directives, other studios followed suit. But a "sequel" to one person, is a franchise to another. Live action franchises have been a mainstay of live action films since the beginning of film. In the golden age of cinema there was Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, Blondie, The Three Mesquiters, Ma & Pa Kettle, Charlie Chan, Francis the Talking Mule and others. More recently we have had James Bond, Planet of the Apes, Rocky, Sinbad, Mad Max, Rush Hour and Spider-Man. Not say animated franchises do not exist, Lupin and Pokemon in Japan are good examples. But most US films never went beyond a first because the first usually did not do good business. Exceptions include Fritz the Cat, Care Bears, and An American Tail. But the cgi revolution has increased interest in building franchises. Once the characters and patterns are in the computer, it becomes more cost effective to re-use the animated stars. Toy Story, Shrek and Ice Age have shown that animated franchises can perform as a new Mission Impossible. Sadly, most animated franchises are just done as direct to videos. It has soured many to the idea of animated characters returning. While I certainly would not want to see every studio do nothing else but franchised films, I must admit there are a number of animated characters that certainly deserve to come back including Mike & Sulley, Julio & Miguel, Bernard & Bianca, and Bigwig & Hazel.
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"To be connected with a role for over a period of years meant you had a choice really, either the character stood still and you kind of stagnated and repeated the same things, or as all of us determined we would try to let these characters develop and grow."
Patrick Stewart

January 28, 2007
Have put the text of another book online. Now anyone can read The Encyclopedia of Cartoon Superstars. For one of our first books, Jim Korkis and I opted to write an unusual animation biography... of characters. We had seen many a book on creators (including one by us). We realized that outside of Walt Disney, few folks knew any of the creators in animation. But the characters... everyone recognized them. Jim and I had a lot of fun writing it, because instead of using the regular sources already in print, we spent a lot of time going back and re-watching the actual cartoons, as well as digging up all sorts of original press items. While prepping it for online, it was fun re-reading so many of the facts and descriptions. Even more amusing was seeing a number of characters that, at the time, were still well known or loved. However, in the almost two decades since it was published, such characters as Roger Rabbit, Heckle & Jeckle and Mr. Magoo are mostly forgotten or neglected. While some characters in the backs of animated minds like Huckleberry Hound, Alvin & The Chipmunks and the Pink Panther are once again going strong thanks to DVD. This is a great book that certainly deserves a wider audience. It was done with a small publisher, with a print run of around 2000 copies. Attempts to find a new publisher have failed, with most stating such "little interest" in reprinting old information. And publishers are less interested in topics they feel are "easily found" on the internet. Well... now they are right. This wealth of information is now on the internet.
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"Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written."
Mark Twain

January 25, 2007
While at the Pechanga Casino the other night, I was reminded of the first time I had visited an Indian casino. I was struck by how quiet it was. Unlike Vegas casinos, the Indian casino slot machines did not pay out with coins. Instead you received a slip of paper indicating your winnings. That seemed to lessen some of the fun and excitement of playing the slots. A few years later I visited a minor Vegas casino to find that their slots no longer accepted coins - only bills and cards. And that, like Indian casinos, they also paid out in slips rather than coins. However the Vegas slots had speakers that made the sound of coins plunking down when one was a winner. Prior to the recent visit to Pechango, a co-worker boasted of being a frequent Vegas visitor and informed me that all of Vegas was basically coinless. In fact, he bragged about his collection of coin cups that numbered near 100. The cups, which every casino had stacked around the slots, were meant for one to carry their coins from slot to slot. Each casino's cup was a unique piece of Vegas art. After each Vegas trip, we usually had come home with half a dozen. Sadly, I think all of our cups have since been lost due to use as scoops for cat litter, bird seed and such. No doubt this switch is all part of the digitalization of the world. We got used to the slip process at Pechanga. I even kept my fancy slip proclaiming a one-cent value. But as we played a bit and walked, I noticed something else about the new system. It elminated jobs. The coin machines were frequently needing repair from jammed coins and simple wear of metal against metal. No doubt casinos need fewer mechanical repairmen. The coin machines made the need for coins key, so the floors were filled with employees making change. Though I noticed one or two change-makers at Pechanga, no doubt, that position has been greatly reduced. Finally, I remember seeing the travelling "vaults" that looked like the ice cream vendors who push their carts down streets. These vaults always had a pusher and a security guard. They would visit each slot to take out or put in coins. No doubt these positions have been reduced to simply a few folks who need to refill the rolls of paper. In the end, it all reminded me of the time that Disneyland switched from famed ticked books (A through E) to single admission. Though some stated it was to "keep up" with other parks who did not have tickets, and that may have been part of the decision. But the first time I went back to the park when it had no tickets, I noticed something else was missing - the ticket takers. When I worked the Jungle Cruise you needed at least a staff of four. There was one to take tickets, one to load guests onto the boat, one to drive the boat, and one to unload the guests. Now they needed only three. Eliminating tickets probably allowed the park to reduce the number of attraction operators by around 20%. A simple change of removing coins or tickets may be a move to the future... but it is yet another sign how companies seem as interested in cutting jobs as they are in being cutting edge.
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"Last year people won more than one billion dollars playing poker. And casinos made twenty-seven billion just by being around those people."
Samantha Bee

January 24, 2007
The Oscar nominations are out and there are reports all over the place about Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Effects and such. Of course, one needs to go to animation websites to find anyone talking about Best Animated Feature. The nominations are CARS, HAPPY FEET and MONSTER HOUSE. Due to the dropping of one eligible film, the number of nominations was cut to three. It is not surprising that the animated feature Oscar is not big news. It seldom is. As I have discussed before, I feel the category isolates animated films and keeps them from being considered "real" movies. Not helping is the big "scandal" of DREAMGIRLS not being nominated for Best Picture. Some say it is due to the Academy members not being as famaliar with the songs as the "older" CHICAGO. But Chicago on Broadway was a cult show at best, with no real breakaway hits. Much like Dreamgirls on Broadway. So that argument doesn't float. Maybe they should petition for musicals to have their own category. Some are saying it is because the movie is about Black society and culture, something the academy members do not have any insight to. But did Academy members know what it was like to be on the Titanic or live in Middle Earth? So that is not a valid point. Maybe they should petition for Black culture films to have their own category. The fact is, all five films that did get nominated have been very popular with critics. And, in the end, one never knows what the voting numbers were. Perhaps DREAMGIRLS missed by one vote. More likely, it is due to it being a musical. Despite wins like WEST SIDE STORY, SOUND OF MUSIC, CABERET and CHICAGO, musical Best Picture nominations are pretty rare. That was even true in the "golden" days of Hollywood musicals. So despite the conspiracy theories, I think it was just a matter of the other films getting more attention and being more "unique". A check of the history of Oscar finds that popular blockbusters seldom get the nod. As one Hollywood insider once stated, the Academy Awards exists so that for one night Hollywood can pretend it is not just about money. Now that is a real dream!
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"It seems to me like 19 amateurs with box cutters taking over four commercial airliners and hitting 75 percent of their targets, that feels like a conspiracy theory. It raises a lot of questions."
Charlie Sheen

January 23, 2007
Saw the ratings for the top ten shows on cable last week and it brought to mind the old "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Remember following the ratings regularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, the top rated shows were usually on Nickelodeon and WWF wrestling. Many a commentator stated that the high repeatability factor of kids programming, and the wide range of wrestling fans kept the venues atop the ratings ladder. Now, over a decade later, I noticed that of the top ten shows, six were on the Disney Channel! This included three spots for their latest movie - JUMP IN. The other three Disney spots were for shows before or after the movie. Grabbing two spots was WWE, the new name of WWF (who lost their name in a legal battle with the wildlife group). The other two spots belonged to a repeat of THE SOPRANOS and President Bush's Iraq speach - which was #8. So after years of cable programming, kids and wrestling shows still rule. Not quite sure what that says, except that, perhaps, some things never change.
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"Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change."
Thomas Hardy

January 22, 2007
It was a really mixed weekend. Saturday, I spent the morning digging out one car from the snow and then doing grocery shopping. By the afternoon, I felt my illness coming back. Still, we headed to the Pechanga Indian Casino (more on that another day) to see Carlos Mencia. The show was good, though I would have enjoyed it more if I were feeling beeter. However, Carlos is highly animated on stage and puts on a heck of a performance. Easily worth the effort to see him. By the time we got home, I felt dead. Sunday was spent totally in bed, usually asleep. Also watched season four of FAMILY GUY and got several good laughs. In fact, at times it was hard to rest since I wanted to stay alert for the show. Monday was well enough to head back to work... but am still feeling weak and run out of energy early. Hope I can shake it enough for the upcoming weekend. We have a show for the kids.
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"I really have a pretty voice when I'm not sick."
Cass Elliot

January 19, 2007
A Virginia legislator recently commented that Blacks should "get over" slavery. The response has reminded me how similar people are, no matter the location. Of course the legislator's comments have created a great deal of anger, accusations and demands from just about everybody. This from a country that seems baffled at the century old divides between Catholic and Christianity in Ireland, or Islams in the Middle East, or even gangs in the streets of New York. When one of these groups does an act of revenge or retalliation, Americans frequently 'tsk tsk' and wonder how a society can harbor so much hate over past events. Yet, as this Virginia legislator's comments showed, we are not really that different. The angry cries from Blacks, whites, Jews (he likened the Black slavery issue to the issue that Jews were responsible for the death of Christ) show how close we are to the "radicals" in society. It matters not whether the incident was a gang shooting in Los Angeles, a car bombing in Ireland, an attack on a Mosque in Iraq or the issue of slavery in the U.S. One can never dismiss such incidents as "in the past" and suggest we "move on". It would be nice to think that civilization has progressed past such darker instincts. But for the present, it appears we have not.
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"In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior."
Francis Bacon

January 17, 2007
After seeing CARS win the Golden Globe for best animated feature, it reminded me that animation is just like regular films (or cinema). There are societal classes. For example in film, foreign and art films are "serious" and important while comedies and action films are cheap entertainment for the masses. Similarly, there are certain directors (DeNiro, Eastwood) who always get attention, serious study and awards while those who make more audience friendly films (Burton, Brooks) are simply rewarded in box-office percentages. But back to animation. I remember in the 1970s Disney was the upper crust of animation. Warners were "funny". Fleischers were "trippy". TV animation was "crap". Japanese animation was mostly referred to as "Japcrap". Today I see similar class status in animation, especially TV animation. Take three popular animated series - THE SIMPSONS, SOUTH PARK and FAMILY GUY. These eschew the three levels of classic comedy. First is THE SIMPSONS. They are the Chaplin of animation. Critics love to talk about the series and characters as important icons and classic characters. At awards times, the Simpsons are sure to be nominated and win, just as a foreign animated short is most likely to win an Oscar. SOUTH PARK is the current equivalent to the Marx Brothers. Violently battling against all societal morals. They are loud, brash and political. Critics and folks like to point to them as "cutting edge" and anarchistic. At award time, they may or may not get nominations, but the "smart folk" will state the material is just "too clever" for the staid and stable award voters. Then there is FAMILY GUY. They are the Three Stooges of animation. It has the "anything for a laugh" mentality. That can please audiences but causes "serious" critics to look down their noses. I came up with this division based on recent screenings of all three. THE SIMPSONS, like Chaplin can be admired for longetivity and moving animation into new areas. But, I generally don't laugh at films of Chaplin. SOUTH PARK, like the Marxes, surprises me with what they get away with, and I can laugh smile and chuckle at both the brash and double entendre styles of humor. But FAMILY GUY, well, like the Stooges, I will laugh out loud at some of the outrageous, pointless, silly, even stupid things that happen. Whether it is a guy with long arms tickling midgets in trees or Peter talking about the various holes in his underwear, there is an earthiness, almost vaudevillian feel to the humor. It reminds me of Curly trying to eat his clam chowder as a live clam keeps snapping at the crackers. It won't win critical praise or be the subject of chatter among the "smart set". But it will make me (and other people) laugh.
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"There are only two classes in good society in England: the equestrian classes and the neurotic classes."
George Bernard Shaw

January 16, 2007
Every so often you hear a news story that you sort of wish you hadn't heard. It seems that it is getting harder and harder to find telephone 'service' folks in India, so some companies are now using the Phillipines. During the story they talked to teachers who were helping to prepare the workers for dealing with folks in the United States - where the calls were coming from. Favorite aspects included telling them to go "hmmmmm" to show they were thinking when turning pages in their manual; Memorizing holiday events so they could comment about fireworks around the fourth of July and turkey at Thanksgiving; and asking about the weather. Now, whenever I hear someone on the phone go "hmmmm" I will picture them frantically turning pages looking for an answer. But worse was hearing that most companies still maintain a small phone service department in the U.S. It is for their "better" (ie richer) customers. Seems when you call for service and they ask you to "punch in your account number" that information is used to route your call. Big accounts go to the U.S. office, other accounts are sent overseas. I guess I shouldn't be surprised at this since the gap between the haves and almost haves is getting bigger, while the gap between the almost haves and have nots is shrinking. After all, the recent news has been filled with images of a fire in Malibu where 4 mansions were burned! I think I saw more footage of this in one day than I did in a week when our mountains were burning last year and hundreds of homes were threatened. Of course Suzzane Somers doesn't live in the mountains. But I don't pay much attention to network news these days. After all, on a day when the president is about to announce his new plan for Iraq (yet another one) the top story on many stations was the 'feud' between Rosie O'Donnel and Donald Trump. Oh... and speaking of Iraq. I have an idea. Why not insist that Bush match dollar-for-dollar any money sent to Iraq for jobs and rebuilding be sent to New Orleans and the South for post-Katrina jobs and rebuilding.
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"For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow but phone calls taper off."
Johnny Carson

January 14, 2007
Got around to seeing two new films via dvd this weekend - ICE AGE 2: THE MELTDOWN and FAT ALBERT. Must admit, was disappointed with ICE AGE. The first film was one of those light films that is easy to watch with a simple story and fun characters. The second film looks like, well, like they had to make it. The movie has no pacing and no real build up. Things just happen for the sake of a gag or scare or heart tug. Considering where the last movie left off, this one makes little sense with the main characters out of character. And worse, the entire plot is basically rendered pointless by the climax. While the first ICE AGE made me think the producers (Blue Sky) were on to something, their recent films ROBOTS and ICE AGE 2 make them look more like standard studios pumping films through the pipeline. On the other hand, FAT ALBERT was a surprise. I would not say it was a "good" film... but it was not bad either. The film tells the tale of the animated Fat Albert kids coming into the real world to assist a kid. The focus is a bit vague, and there is no consistant take to the material. But the movie was consistently interesting, making me wonder where things were going to go. The movie takes stabs at all sorts of ideas from cartoons living in the real world, to characters from the 70s trying to fit into modern times, and to where ideas come to life. In some ways, it is a daring film aimed at children. But the varying pace and styles, the childish humor, the occasional lack of idea continuity keeps the film from being "neat". Instead it is simply an odd film. But in the end, the "odd" FAT ALBERT was more fun than the "standard" ICE AGE 2.
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"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
Bill Cosby

January 12, 2007
Recently got to watch FLUSHED AWAY. Well, at least part of it. After around 10 minutes Rachel and I decided neither of us were that interested in watching the rest. The story was fairly standard. The characters were not really appealing. In general, nothing about the film engaged us. Rachel then stated how the movie would end. So we scanned forward... and sure enough. That was the ending. So now it joins the ranks of such films as THE CAT I THE HAT, THE GRINCH and other films that are just basically hollow. To be fair, I am not a big Aardman animation buff. I was not thrilled by WALLACE AND GROMIT: CURSE OF THE WERERABBIT, or any of the Wallace Gromit shorts. But I found CHICKEN RUN to be pretty fresh and fun. So know they can create likeable characters and interesting stories. I would place FLUSHED with OVER THE HEDGE. Well done, but pretty common. Not that every film needs to be 100% original and fresh... but I need to find something in the film that intrigues me to watch. For example, last year's THE WILD was similarly pretty common. But OPEN SEASON, HAPPY FEET and even MADAGASCAR had some fresh touches. The tossed rabbits, the hispanic penguins and the signing monkey were all touches that brought the material a bit of life. Now that ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES has been dismissed as an animated feature, only three from 2006 can get nominated. Assume one will be CARS becuase you have to nominate pixar like you have to nominate simpsons. The second will be MONSTER HOUSE since almost every other group has nominated it. The third... most likely it will be HAPPY FEET, another critic/crowd pleaser. My three would probably be HAPPY FEET, OPEN SEASON and ICE AGE II. I haven't seen it. But I like the characters in the first one... and most say it was at least as good as that.
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"I didn't miss the rat race, but I kinda missed the rats."
Jerry Nachman

January 10, 2007
With Rachel being under the weather, I came home a bit early the other night with dinner. She had said "chicken", either KFC or baked from a grocery store. I got KFC because I knew Eagle would appreicate it more. KFC was the first "people food" he recieved... and wanted. I still remember the night I brought some home, and even though he was only a few weeks old, his pink nose popped over the whelping box showing distinct interest in the new smell. He has loved KFC ever since. As with people, our kids have often gravitated to certain smells and flavors. Roku loved beef, particularly Outback. Star liked lamb and deer. Bronx loved grapes. Reveille had a thing for bananas. Jordi adored broccoli. Though of all our kids, Rooster is probably the most unique. One of his favorite foods is apples. He will eat them just as a human would, biting into them. All we need do is rotate it. In fact, the other night he learned he could eat corn on the cob the same way. This is not his only human trait. He also is adept at eating from a spoon. On weekends we share breakfast. He gets a few shredded wheat nuggest while I eat. Then he gets milk via a spoon. He learned not to lick at it, as other canines will do, but to let the spoon go in his mouth, push it up with his tongue and let the milk go down his throat. Just like humans do. His meat interest is a throwback to grandpa. When the litter was young we brought in KFC. Not much interest. A day or two later I brought home some burgers and Rooster's nose shot up. He's a beefeater like Roku. Course they all love whipped cream, cheesecake, ice cream and such. But most have their own preferences for treats. And back to our meal, while we ate the KFC, Rachel noted the bucket, bag and such all stated "Kentucky Fried Chicken". Something we hadn't seen for awhile. With all the push to 'kfc', I wonder why they were using their old name. Oh well. Whatever they call it, the chicken still tastes the same. At least Eagle thinks so.
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"You can tell alot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jellybeans."
Ronald Reagan

January 8, 2007
There's something about Tigger. Something that seems to bring out the lawsuits, that is. Once again a Disney World Tigger has been accused of a crime. Around a year ago, one was accused of molesting a young girl. A jury found the performer innocent. Now a father is claiming his son was "sucker-punched" by the character. A video shows the teen reaching behind Tigger and the costume character pushing him aside. Newsite comment pages are full of folks angry that the story is being given so much publicity as most seem to think the teen was doing something wrong. Especially as the teen is laughing during the "altercation" and after. And, in fact, the performer has stated the teen was trying to reach under his head and he was trying to stop the teen. (Many have noted how the video given the news stops abruptly after the start of the altercation, and is minus the sound.) In typical Team-Disney fashion, the park has suspended the performer. Guilty until proved innocent, of course. When I worked at Disneyland in the 1970s there were a number of times when the public complained about character actions. Recall the time a security person saw Mickey grab a kid by the wrist and pull him down. The kid had just stabbed Mickey in the back. Another time, Winnie the Pooh was accused of hitting someone with his hands. At the time, the Pooh costume had no arms - just 'flippers' that hung down the side. Or the time a dwarf was accused of kicking a child. Witnesses saw the child hit the dwarf and run, tripping over the large shoes worn by the costume. In all of these cases, the Park stood behind its employees (or "cast members" as they were called). The performers had a written statement put in their files, until the resolution came. But all still continued their job. The Park, the Studio, the Management considered that their "zoo crew" was the best around and that most incidents were simply a misunderstanding of some kind. How sad it is that today's Studio/Parks/Management have such a callous regard for their employees. Of course, when a studio can coldly fire entire departments or shut down entire animation divisions without a blink, a "sweaty character" is just a drop in the bucket. Again, when I was there in the 70s some cast members suggested the characters not be allowed in the employee cafeteria. The management dismissed such ideas stating that the character department was a major addition to the Park experience. I wonder if today's zoo crew is allowed to eat with the rest of the cast members.
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"Sometimes I won't even let other people hang up my costumes - I know it sounds crazy, but it's all part of being mentally focused."
Patti LuPone

January 7, 2007
Got to see the broadway version of "The Lion King" over the weekend. It is truly a unique theatrical experience deserving of all the praise. The costumes, which are great, probably attract most of the attention. But of equal interest is how the characters have been deepened with just a few short scenes and lines of dialogue. The relationship between Simba and Mufasa is much stronger. The psyche of Scar is more dimensional. It not only shows how strong the original story was... but also how much stronger it could have been. The audience loved it. My favorite quote was from an elderly lady talking to her grandson. The woman was amazed that her grandson had seen a movie based on the show. It was amazing to find someone who did not know the show is based on a movie - one of the highest grossing films in history! Also had fun bumping into some of the cast and crew at a coffee shop next to the theater. Once inside, we discovered one of the folks was Simba! (Reminded me of the night I went to see "Into the Woods" and shared a dinner table with the Baker's Wife.) Overall a great afternoon/evening thanks to my folks. It was our Christmas present.
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"Being on Broadway is the modern equivalent of being a monk. I sleep a lot, eat a lot, and rest a lot. "
Hugh Jackman

January 5, 2007
Whenever I hear about the Bush administration coming up with new plans to move forward in Iraq, it reminds me of a situation at a studio. We had an employee, who I will call BB, that was well liked by the head of the studio. BB had several years of experience in the biz and seemed a good fit. But as their first year went by, we noticed that BB's skills may have been less than his resume and boasts indicated. Being popular with the studio head, BB was simply moved from one department to another. BB always said he could do the job... but within a few weeks it was found he could not. When a big project was suddenly thrust on the studio, the only person not in a key position was BB, so he was put in charge. Almost immediately he drove the project into the ground as it went overbudget and behind schedule. Luckily, the staff went on autopilot and pulled the project together enough to get it completed - almost in spite of BB's (lack of) leadership. As the project was being delivered, the head of the studio was talking with me and mentioned what a good person BB was, that he had "really pulled the project out of the hole." I then replied, such a skill should be praised... unless it was the same individual that put the project in the hole in the first place. The studio head merely smiled. And BB was moved onto a new project with a strong manager to "watch" him. Now Bush will come out with some plan that will be hailed and cursed. Those hailing it will state he had saved the day. But again, I would consider that mild praise as it was he who put us in the problem in the first place. Reminds me of a scene from FAMILY GUY. Peter, having screwed up again by not setting up a birthday party for his child, is talking to Brian (the canine-american). Brian finally states "If you were planning to pull a party out of your ass, you might want to stand up because this would be a good time to do it." The president may also want to stand up about now.
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"More history is made by secret handshakes than by battles, bills and proclamations."
John Barth

January 4, 2007
Prior to the holidays I purchased a pair of dvd sets that were on sale. One of those purchases that you grab when you see... then debate whether you should spend the money... then end up keeping them. Though this pair was due to Rachel not letting me put them back. It was the first two volumes of Charlie Chan films. Both sets contain four Warner Oland features. So now I have a total of 8 features with the first well known (and in some circles most popular) actor to portray Charlie Chan. Having gotten through most of them, I must say I am enjoying them a lot. Though I am in the Chan clan that prefers Sidney Toler's Chan, the Oland's still have tons of charm to go around. Most are true to formula, but that is a good thing. The mysteries are usually "baffling" (at least a few in this batch have very few "real" suspects). Chan is always wise. And the supporting cast is great fun - mostly switching from amused to irritated to suspicious to amazed as the scene calls. And then there is Keye Luke as number one son. What a natural. A shame he never got another big break until KUNG FU on TV. So though I still wonder if I should have spent the money, I am glad Rachel kept them in the cart. Actually picked up another pair of 'holiday sale' sets, the first two boxes of FAMILY GUY. They are also providing a lot of fun and laughs as we move into 2007. Now if only Brian could play Charlie Chan... and Peter would be the number one son. The rest of the cast, from Stewie to Lois would make great suspects. As the guy in ROBOCOP said, "I'd buy that for a dollar!"
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"Easy to criticize, more difficult to be correct."
Charlie Chan

January 3, 2007
More thoughts about Gerald Ford. Sort of. It seems so many folks are remembering his flat, faulty speaking style. One historian commented that Ford was not a good speaker. This made me realize that the Nixon-Ford era was the end of a political period. After Ford, candidates needed to be glib and more entertaining on TV. It is oft mentioned that one of the reasons Nixon lost against Kennedy was that Nixon looked so bad on early TV. Against Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Nixon was more matched in negative charisma. Ford also was more of a politician than an entertainer. However Carter, Reagan, Clinton were all strong speakers who excelled at working crowds and cameras. Bush I beat his opponent more with dirty tricks and Reagan's coat-tails. Which became clear when he lost to Clinton. Bush II shows that even character actors can succeed. Using his country boy charm (like Carter) a strained sense of humor (like Reagan), and some dirty tricks (like Bush I), Bush II was able to beat off challenges from more staid (aka dull) candidates. Back in the 40s and 50s movies showed evil political bosses hooking up with folksy types to win votes. In the 60s and 70s comedies regulary poked fun at these bosses using 'pretty boys' to win votes. It was obvious to many folks then that the public wanted candidates that looked and acted appealing. There was a time when voters wanted candidates that knew the issues, that had strong experience and that were level headed. Today, they want folks who could win on American Idol or Survivor. Recall a year or two ago someone was pushing a reality program in which the winner would be given money to run a political campaign for office. It sort of faded away. I often wonder if the networks did not pick the show because they thought it was a dumb idea... or because they were afraid it was the wave of the future. I wonder what results would occur if pollsters asked voters "would you prefer your president to be from one of the two parties, or a winner from Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" The answer would probably be scary.
Add another quote and make it a gallon...
"In a rational society we would want our presidents to be teachers. In our actual society we insist they be cheerleaders."
Steve Allen

January 2, 2007
The numbers are in for the top grossing films of 2006, and there is some interesting information. First, we saw half of the 'hit' films this year - PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN:DEAD MAN'S CHEST (#1), CARS (#2), X-MEN III:THE LAST STAND (#3), HAPPY FEET (#7) and OVER THE HEDGE (#9). Usually our tastes are not so well matched with the general public. Of course, of those five, we saw CARS on dvd only. I plan to see at least another three in the top ten - SUPERMAN RETURNS (#5), ICE AGE:THE MELT DOWN (#6), and CASINO ROYALE (#8). Also of interest, despite all the gloom and doom of some animation websites earlier this year, the cgi glut did not translate to lessening box office. Four cgi features (and three in the notorious 'funny animal cgi' category) made the top ten - CARS, ICE AGE:THE MELT DOWN, HAPPY FEET and OVER THE HEDGE. In fact, a fourth 'funny animal cgi' just missed the top twenty. OPEN SEASON came in at #21. For 2007, at least two seem in the running for good box-office - Pixar's RATATOUILE (just because it is Pixar) and Dreamworks SHREK III (just because it is Shrek). Of the two, at least SHREK III looks to be funny. And inline with SHREK, 2007 looks to be a year of sequels with Harry Potter, Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, Rush Hour, Oceans 11 (now 13) as just some of the popular series returning to theaters. (And that doesn't include all the direct-to-video sequels and prequels planned.) At this point, the only must see films for us will be the new PIRATES, SHREK and POTTER films. Yes, all sequels. But all with good heritage, and good possibilities. As for new films. If the previews seen at CHARLOTTE'S WEB are any indication, 2007 could be a year to catch up on our Netflix que.
Add another quote and make it a gallon...
"I'm not Blockbuster Boy."
Johnny Depp

January 1, 2007
It is a new year. Some are making a big deal of the 007 connection. One of the Encore channels has been showing James Bond films all day. And I admit I have frequently been flipping over to it. (GOLDFINGER is on now... and it still is great.) The good Bond films are still good. The so-so Bond films can still intrigue. The blah Bond films are still blah. At least one media convention made Bond and spies their theme. This year marks the 30th anniversary of STAR WARS, the film some say is the most influental movie of the modern generations. Two news stories caught my eye at the end of 2006. First was about the predictions folks had for 2007 - and most predicted another terrorist attack. I think it is a sad statement that terrorism has become such a focal point for much of the population over any other issue. The other story was actually a bit sadder. It stated that a recent survey showed that 2 out of 5 bosses admit to not keeping their word with employees. And over 25% of employees bad mouth the folks they oversee to other employees. In a world in which the corporations are thinking less and less of their staff, it should not be surprising that they are also being openly cruel... but it does surprise me. Perhaps it bothers me because I have more of a chance of having problems with a boss than I do being in a terrorist attack. As for my predictions for 2007? Well, I fear we are going to hear a lot more about Iraq (without hearing any real solutions) and about the 2008 presidential election. Good news? Well, we get a new Harry Potter movie and the final Harry Potter book. We get a new Shrek feature. And I predict a number of people will win big lottery prizes. And I hope I might be one of them.
Add another quote and make it a gallon...
"The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy."
Woodrow Wilson

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