Daily Barks 04.07 cataroo.com
Barking at the Moon: April 2007

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April 29, 2007
A night of random thoughts. As predicted a few barks ago. Now that the pet food contamination has entered the human food chain via feed to pigs, suddenly it is important. The government and various agencies are now spending all kinds of money and time investigating where the contamination came from. But, as mentioned, some good is coming from it. More folks are looking into alternatives to the standard big name pet food companies. That should make for some healthier pets. Meanwhile, our three foster kittens are now around 5 weeks. They have moved off of formula and are mostly eating solid food. Also evident is that they are getting more and more cat/kitten like. No longer small lumps of fluff, they are now running around, playing, beating each other up and such. They are quite the little whirlwinds. It is astounding how much fun it is to watch them. The sad news is that as they get older, they are closer to leaving us. We plan to keep one fellow. But the other two will find good homes. And even though last weekend found me digging through the snow to get up the stairs, this weekend found temperatures near 80 degrees! Also got more surprises from the 99-cent dvds. One contained an 80s film festival that included shorts like Brett Koth's "Happy Hour" and the satire of a cat and mouse in the retirement home talking of how the old, violent cartoons were funnier. It had various eurotoons including the clay one where the character keeps changing its face. (Have loaned the dvd out so can't view it for titles.) The source looks to be a worn film (16mm?) and might have been an early Mike & Spike or Terry Thoren' Animation Celebration. Wonder if any of the creators of films on the dvd even know they are now available.
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"The progression of roles you take strings together a portrait of an actor, but it's a completely random process."
Meryl Streep

April 27, 2007
What history? While doing some searching this week, I found the official website for Film Roman. It states, "Founded in 1984, Film Roman has produced countless animated" followed by a list of productions from features to commercials. No where on the page is the name of the studio's founder, Phil Roman. I was astounded. Yes, I have heard of folks who believe the Disney Studio is just a name someone came up with, and not a real person. I even heard how some younger folks think Led Zeppelin is the name of a member of the band. (Wonder if the same folks think the Beatles were a brother group like the Jackson Five?) But no matter what the general public may think, it is hard to find any history of the Disney studio that does mention something to the affect of "founded by Walt Disney". Similarly, Hanna-Barbera is always listed as being from Bill and Joe. How can a studio not mention its founder? Phil Roman has won numerous honors through his career, which began at Disney in the 1950s and included stints with Chuck Jones and Bill Melendez. Of course, a studio can present its history any way it wants. And Disney and Hanna-Barbera have long played fast and loose with their events. But today, I heard several employees of Film Roman who were not aware that there was a "Phil Roman" or that he was the one who created the studio with a string of successful, Emmy winning Garfield specials, followed by the top rated (and Emmy nominated) GARFIELD AND FRIENDS Saturday morning series. Today the studio, and not the man is remembered as the home of THE SIMPSONS. Of course I was there when that series arrived. It had been yanked out of its original studio and placed on the first floor of Phil's new studio in North Hollywood. When the crew showed up, there was a welcoming party. I remember one of the Simpson's artists came up and said that Phil probably felt lucky to get the Simpsons. After all, it had won three Emmys. I mentioned that I was not sure Phil had any more room on his shelf that had nearly a dozen Emmys! The artist sneered and walked away. When the studio went public, and times got tough, Phil left the studio. (He later began a new studio - Phil Roman.) One often talks about a forgotten film, or TV show, or artist. But it is sad to think of a forgotten studio mogel.
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"There is nothing new except what has been forgotten."
Marie Antoinette

April 26, 2007
V for victory? Not in the technology front. A recent report from the FCC states that the v-chip, which allows parents to control what types of programming are allowed to be viewed, is not used. Because of this, they are suggesting the government step in and control when violence programming on TV. It really doesn't make much sense... unless the final goal is to censor TV even more than it has been since the infamous clothing "malfunction". After all, the v-chip was created to work with the TV rating system. If you want to keep shows rated "v" for violence off your TV... you can. Yet even this simple plan is too much work for today's parents who gripe about how the government is too controlling yet want the government to control TV for them. I think the problem is that the v-chip is too limited in its ability. Forget shows with violence, strong language or sexual situations. What I want is the ability to set my TV to avoid "paid programming" (half hour commercials), shopping channels, and religous programming. After all, if our government is out to protect our society they should make it possible to delete the shows and channels that are just pitching merchandise. That would protect people from going into bankruptcy by stopping them from using their credit card every five minutes. And since I don't believe we should have religion shoved down our throats, any religion, all shows and channels with religious themes or messages should be blocked. Come to think of it, the government keeps talking about forcing cable companies into offering channels ala carte. Instead, they could simply make a smarter v-chip and more explicit rating system. Heck, they could even allow one to block black & white programming, or shows with single parents, or crime shows, or quiz shows. With just a little fine tuning, the power could be returned to the people. Or if nothing else, the remote.
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"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
J. K. Rowling

April 25, 2007
Mules. Or donkeys. I am not very good at telling them apart. I just know there is a herd... pack... bunch of them on my drive to/from work. As housing projects keep flattening the terrain, I fear one day they will be gone. There is something about them that is comforting. Even if one did nibble on my finger (painfully) until Rachel could get my hand out of its mouth. They make me think of the book Animal Farm with Benjamin the mule. Had to read the book three times in three years in High School as different classes found reasons for assigning it. And that leads me to think of Boxer. The strong horse who continually does a good job, always striving to be helpful and supportive of the farm. As conditions worsen on the farm, due to the take over by pigs, Boxer continues to inspire others with his drive and loyalty. When Boxer gets too old, and becomes injured, the pigs ship him off to a glue factory. Benjamin is sad, but just goes on alone. Sometimes I feel like Boxer. Though in my story, the mules may be gone before Boxer. Not victims of pigs, they simply got in the way of builders. How sad.
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"The North African mule talks always of his mother's brother, the horse, but never of his father, the donkey, in favor of others supposedly more reputable."
Clifford Geertz

April 24, 2007
It is strange how two deaths can create a revelation, the way adjusting two lenses can bring a telescope into focus. The men who died were not similar, except in the newsworthiness of their passing. But the discussions of their lives made an interesting comparison. The first death was of former Russian president Boris Yeltsin. The second was of Pulitzer prize winning journalist David Halberstam. Yeltsin is being remembered as a leader who brought great change to Russia by pushing aside the heavy handed communist government and allowing a free market, a free press and other democratic ideas. Sadly, those ideas are slowly being eroded by the current president who has taken control of the press, major industries, and generally pulled away from a democratic government. Halberstam is being remembered as a crusading journalist who reported on civil rights in the 50s and the Vietnam War in the 60s and numerous other issues. As several stations play past interviews with the reporter, I suddenly made a connection between the US in the 50s and 60s and Russia in the 90s. During the 50s and 60s, America was arising out of decades (centuries?) of inequality. It was a time of civil rights for people of color. It was a time when women (feminism) came to the front. Suddenly the US really was a country of liberty as more and more of the "minorities" began to demand and receive equality. No amount of right wing government and industrial bigotry could stop the movement to freedom. However, just as Russia's period of democracy was short lived, so it seems is America's. Though ours obviously lasted longer than Russia's, each country is now under an administration in which the focus is more on repealing rights than granting them. Every day the government gets farther and farther from the democratic, freedom forces of the 50s and 60s. In the last few years we have seen the government increase spying on its citizens; control of the media through false reports and phoney reports; push for laws that reverse rights given in the past; and strike down attempts to offer new rights. It is ironic, that at a time a US administration is pushing a "spread democracy" plan to other countries, instead of pushing to increase freedoms at home, it is following our "one time enemy" Russia down the path of a restrictive, all controlling government.
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"And freedom is what America means to the world."
Audie Murphy

April 21, 2007
When I was growing up, a popular song was "Dead Man's Curve" by Jan & Dean. As the years went by, I often heard about deadly roads in various movies and books. I just never thought I would live by one! Recently, the road that comes up our mountain has become a real "killer-diller". For the last few months, I have noted an almost daily report of a vehicle flipping over or hitting the mountain. Now our mountain road is certainly a winding route. But the usual problems are in the winter when it is icey and snowy. It is tough enough to have to put chains on the tire, but having to watch those who don't know about chains slip around the road is sheer torture - especially when you are near one. It is a truely eerie and scary sight seeing a car near you begin to just slide in one direction or another. But, even with the odd weather we are having, the roads are basically in good shape. Yet day after day someone flips over or slips into the mountain. Recently the stakes have been rising. Around two weeks ago, I found the road blocked and had to take a detour. I later found out a car had flipped off the road and tumbled around 200 feet down the mountain! The driver, a local lady, died. Since that event, almost every other day, there is now a car flying off the road down the mountain. A few days after that, a car went off very close to my turn-off. He went over around the same time at night as I was there. But he could not/would not get out of his car until the sun was up, and crawled his way about 100 feet up to the street. When driving in the day you can see spot after spot where the guard rail is crumpled or gone - the remains of a car over the side. And almost all of these events have caused the road to be closed. Again, I have gotten used to an occasional road closure due to snow or rock slide. But constantly being shut down due to accidents is just weird! It has become such a standard event that recently our local website announced "Already noon and the road is still open." I laughed at the absurdity of the story. It was if, things were so bad that nothing happening was news - like reading, "no one died in Iraq today." However, by around 2pm, they were reporting a tanker truck had flipped over and was blocking lanes midway on the mountain! It is a real mystery. Now when a tractor, truck or 'flatlander' comes up the mountain, they are strangers to the trek. So an accident with them is not uncommon. More common is their erratic driving (fast, slow, weaving, whatever). Yet this current wave of cars sailing off the mountain are mostly locals! Folks who should know the road well. It is all quite mystifying. If I were a less rational person, I might start wondering about a giant gila monster or enormous spider. They were knocking cars off of roads about the time Jan and Dean were singing "Dead Man's Curve".
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"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"
George Carlin

April 20, 2007
53 and counting.
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"Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life."
Kitty O'Neill Collins

April 19, 2007
More on the recent "shooting rampage" in Virginia. Now that a gunman has been identified, we get to hear all the psychologist, psychiatrists, human behaviourist and others pontificate about what type of person he was... and why all the "signs" were not seen earlier. Again, it is all nonsense. They talk of how the killer was a loner, who did not talk to people. They state his fiction often featured violent images. They tell of how he fantasized about having relationships with girls on campus. They ponder how he made other students feel "creeped out". And then they discuss the teacher who was afraid of his brooding attitude. Media mouths are debating what these actions mean... and how they could have been ignored. Well, for one thing, none of these really mean much. Withdrawn kids? Violent fantasies? Imaginary love lives? I work in a business full of those types! The descriptions given to the killer are very familiar to me. Kids with similar backgrounds have turned out to be some of the most popular (and highly paid) film directors, animators, comic artists and sci-fi writers. While a few experts are trying to point out that the actions of the killer were not necessarily part of why he "snapped", most are certain he had a mental illness. That is like saying since all drunk drivers drink, anyone who drinks must be a drunk driver. Perhaps the most sane voice I heard was a professor from USC. She indicated that the percentage of students with emotional issues is probably the same as anyplace else in the population. They also stated that these tragic events happen so seldomly, that it is impossible to draw any real conclusions about what certain personality types might actually do. Another psychiatrist stated that the whole issue was that the public likes to feel that there a fantasy (as he put it) power that people think exists. As if, a counselor talking to an individual can really tell what the individual is thinking... or even what the individual is contemplating. No one is a mind reader or fortune teller. Yet I can predict when the next tragic event occurs, the media, public and politicians will jump on it as if it were gold in the street.
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"There are enough people out there who still equate mental illness with damaged goods that can't be fixed."
Patty Duke

April 18, 2007
Another "tragedy" and another string of stupidity follows. Monday saw a student go on a "shooting rampage" in Virginia. The current death toll is 33 (including the shooter who committed suicide). A few hours of violence begats an endless amount of stupidity. First, the media is all over the place, repeating the same info over and over. News stations have little to report, as the incident is being investigated and many questions remain. This leaves the media, and the public free to hypothesize all sorts of theories. My favorite line, "it does not appear to be a terrorist act". I am sure that makes the victim's families feel better that it was not done by a terrorist. Idiot. Next comes "the public, bless 'em" (from the original King Kong). Screwball theories are flying all over the place. The worst comments are from those who are now "frightened". I keep hearing how "9/11 changed the world", and I keep responding I have yet to see a positive change. Anyway, the media is piling up folks who are afraid to go to school, afraid to leave the house, afraid to be in public, etc. etc. etc. It seems since the infamous tragedy of 9-11, the US citizen has turned into a frightened mouse. Every time a new tragedy strikes they run and hide. I don't get it. Everyday there are people killed on the freeways for mostly senseless reasons. Yet I don't hear folks say "I'm afraid to get into a car". Yet they have a bigger chance of being killed in an auto than in a freak massacre. When the news hit that the gunman was a student from Korea, I got to hear various Korean groups. Some were asking Americans not to judge all Koreans by the actions of this individual, while others were stating they had "friends" who had been threatened by "white neighbors". One Korean spokesperson had allegedly gotten a call from a female Korean student who had been attacked at a school and was now fearful to go outside. Finally, the politicians and pundits must come out to use the tragedy as proof that their opinion is correct. No matter whether you are pro or con gun control, the spinners show how this tragedy proves their point. Worse was the appearance of George Bush. Dozens of students are shot and the president shows up to talk to the crowd. I wonder how many times he showed up when one of the thousands of soldiers killed in Iraq came home? This few hours of tragedy will affect the friends and families for a lifetime. Fortunately, for the general public the tragedy of stepping on the graves of these people to make a story, push a political belief, or draw attention to your own fears will cease after a few months... or when the next tragedy occurs. About the only guy relieved by this is the attorney general who's questioning by congress was delayed by the event. Congress said they did it out respect for the victims, and to let the attorney general do his job (which the questioning is to discuss)... and mostly because due to the shooting, reporters were as rare as leadership on capitol hill.
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"One must never set up a murder. They must happen unexpectedlly, as in life."
Alfred Hitchcock

April 16, 2007
Sometimes things happen too late. Like movie adaptations. Just read where they will be making a live action (and heavy cgi, no doubt) feature based on DC Comic's METAL MEN. In some ways, I am surprised they would do it. The title was never heavily popular. In the 60s, it was an X-men style gathering of misfits and personalities under the guidance of a scientest. But in the 80s or 90s, they were modernized into a hard edged, drama series. Why couldn't the film have been made when the characters had heart and charm? In the comic boom of the 1960s, the few transfers to movies or TV tended to follow the Adam West Batman model of camp and silliness. Either that, or they went the way of Saturday morning cartoons, which were not necessarily the worst fate. The early Filmation Superman cartoons are great because they used many of the 1950s comic stories as their basis. Similarly the Bakshi Spider-man was fun in a way the comics had abandoned in their attempt to be "relevant". Because of this "silly" factor, there was a backlash by comic creators and adaptors to swing away from humor. Today, most comics from Aquaman to X-men have been modernized to be gritty, humorless, psychotic messes. No longer simply standing for good, they all have tremendous back stories (ie backage) that must be continuously brought up. And when movies are made of these, they are often as ponderous as the characters have become. I could probably blame anime or videogames for this shift in heroes. As many will say, today's heroes must all be flawed. And villains... well, they must be disturbed. Batman can no longer be a guy who simply wants to avenge his parents by fighting crime. He must be constantly tormented by their deaths and restrain his violent hatred of criminals. The Joker is no longer the crown prince of crime making jokes as he commits outrageous crimes. Now he is a victim of child molestation who takes out his anger on the world. Feh. Now there will be those who state that such characters were originally "dark", or meant for adults. But the fact is, the characters evolved into popular icons. Just as the X-men are humans mutating to super-powered beings (which, if you follow the logic through means all humans will someday have super powers), heroes are mutating from vengeful, Grimm fairy tale personalities to fast talking, never erring characters and now back. The trouble seems to be in finding a balance. Tim Burton's Batman was all dark and flat. (Modern) Comic fans cheered, but I had no interest in this introverted stalker personality. X-men was able to find that good balance on the first film bringing a 60s blend of humor, humanity and drama. It is still a tricky business. Some folks try to go totally camp (TANK GIRL) and die at the box office. Others try to keep things serious (SUPERMAN RETURNS) and find only a modest audience. While others do find the mix, like X-MEN and succeed. I just wonder what happened to those who could balance so well. I remember when comics began pushing the relevance card. They fought to show that nothing was black or white, right or wrong. In doing so, it seems they have actually done the opposite, for today, instead of things being a blend, everything is either cold and straight, or silly and comical. I bet a film based on the 60s Metal Men could be fun. Actually, the 60s Doom Patrol would also be great. But I fear now all I can expect is loud, noisy, melodramatic, fx loaded messes. Kind of like the upcoming Transformers movie.
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"You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by."
James M. Barrie

April 14, 2007
A day of additions. Put up some more animation pitches, as well as another mascot costume. And was the kitten sitter while Rachel, Eagle and Luca hit the Pet Expo.
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"Kittens can happen to anyone."
Paul Gallico

April 13, 2007
I am not considered a "funny person" by folks who meet me. However, there is a small circle of friends who are amused by my observations of situations or asides to conversations or twisting of a phrase. When asked to tell a joke, I frequently go blank. I guess I am more of a humorest than a comedian. This creates a bit of a struggle when pushing my writing abilities. When in a brainstorming session, others will be throwing out gag lines, slapstick scenes and more. I will sit quietly, laughing at some things said, but really just concentrating on "what" would be funny. I recall during some of the DEXTER LAB story sessions, someone would mention a story about staying after school. A director would then come up with scenarios of DeeDee (his sister) getting into mischief after school. The board artists would be piling gag upon gag, line after line. The producer would look at me and ask if I had some ideas. After a pause I would start out with something like, "that's a good idea, but what if it where Dexter who had to stay after school." There would be a pause and then all at once the directors and board artists would start laughing and tossing things about this twist on their first idea. Sadly, the humor I am quickest at is usually puns. Which, for some reason, are supposed to be hated by all. I guess if I was ever to try to be a real "comedy writer" it would be for a comic that likes use clever phrases. Bob Hope in his prime. Woody Allen in his prime. Stephen Wright now. (Well I think he is funny.) Maybe Jay Leno. Kind of like Will Rogers, I only know what I read in the papers (or hear on the radio, see on TV, or surf on the web). I see a story or quote and instantly an alternate pops out. For example, the other day I heard a story about an upcoming labor dispute. The union claimed the company's lawyer were "moving glacially". Of course this meant the negotiations were going slow. But I instantly thought, "wait a minute. With today's knowledge of global warming, moving 'glacially' really means 'retreating'." So the company's lawyers are not only moving slowly, but moving slowly backwards! As a scripting friend once told me, "there's a joke in there somewhere, keep working". If I think about it again, maybe I'll try a better wording/delivery. And despite the enormous odds against it... I still think doing stand-up would be fun. Maybe because I got fascinated with the world of vaudeville. And the fact that folks around me may not think of me as "funny" is a good thing. After all, most classic comedians comment how "off stage" they are generally quiet. Course, don't know how many folks would call me "quiet" either.
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"I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts."
Will Rogers

April 12, 2007
Sometimes it gets very confusing. I am constantly bombarded with stories of how TV, videogames, movies, magazines and such are "insensitising" us. The reports talk of how we are no longer affected by many aspects of real life. Well, I think they are wrong. If anything, I think our society has gotten more sensitive. My evidence? A few months ago, a standup comic uses a racially "insensitive" word and everyone gets upset and hurt. He is forced to apologize and (I believe) took sensitivity training. An actor on a TV series uses a sexually "insensitive" word and everyone gets upset and hurt. He is forced to apologize and goes to sensitivity training. Just recently, a radio personality describes a mostly Black female basketball team as "hos" (whores). Everyone is, again, upset. A report on the radio interviewed a variety of folks. Some were offended that he compared women athletes as whores. Some were offended that he used the "Black word for whores" (as one person put it). A commentator mentioned that the word "ho" is used in many rap songs, which led one interviewee to inform us that Blacks can use that word, not whites. Huh? How sensitive can one get. Can only folks from Boston use a Boston accent when talking? How about a southern drawl. Must you get permission from the South to use same? This is all nonsense. Do I think there are certain words that should not be used freely. Well, I would certainly like to see the "f" (sexual) word used less in movies and HBO series. But I would not demand the user apologize for this language. Standup comics and "shock jocks" make a living out of making fun of things and using language that can be offensive. Should they apologize? No. I would have more respect for these people if they just came out and said, "it was a joke" or "it was said in anger" and then state "sh-t happens". The radio personality is seeing sponsors flee his show. He is now going to be put on two-week hiatus. Why? Because he referred to female athletes as whores? But jokes about them being lesbians is okay. Because he used a word "owned" by one sector of society? Since when is language trademarked to one sector? Each of these incidents show me that we are far from a society that has been desensitized. Heck, if joke or casual remark can cause such an uproar, no wonder Disney is afraid to release SONG OF THE SOUTH. It actually shows Black people as slaves in the old south. And I bet somewhere there is someone who will claim only Blacks can make that statement. And Disney was not Black. Come to think of it, he wasn't a deer or elephant either. Maybe we should get sensitive over BAMBI and DUMBO. What nonsense! And word has just come in that the radio personality was fired. Almost immediately a speaker on the radio stated it was "black money" that got him fired. He said it was the fear of Black consumers (which he claimed now outnumber White consumers) that caused advertisers to desert the show and cause the cancelation. "Black money?" Sounds more like blackmail.
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"I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it."
Mae West

April 11, 2007
The pet food recall continues to expand, and two things strike me. First, some good may come from this. The "contaminated" ingredient is a wheat by-product. Wheat is not needed at all in dog food. It is basically a filler. Maybe the fear of such fillers will cause pet food companies to revise some of their "recipes". Also, as pet owners look for safer food, I have heard more and more folks look at a raw diet. So as sad as it is that pets have gotten sick and died during this crisis, it may mean healthier pets in the future. The second thing to strike me is the extreme lack of interest this has gotten in our government. True, it is "just" a pet food. But the problem ingredient was wheat. How many things do we (humans) eat every day that contain wheat? Well, there's cereals, breads, crackers, pancakes, cookies and more. When there was fear of madcow disease people began switching to chicken and fish for safety. And there was actually a very small chance of getting an "infected" cow. Yet, grain, which is all over the place. Being larger than most pets, it may not affect us immediately, but it could be slowly poisoning us. Has anyone checked the human wheat? The point is, any time there is a contaminated food source (whether for animals or humans) our government should spring into action. They did when ecoli was found at a Taco Bell. They did when folks were tampering with Tylenol bottles. Now that we have poisoned wheat coming into the country, all we hear is how "sad" it is. Wait till the first baby has liver issues eating baby food. Or maybe an elderly person who is on a low fat diet and eats lots of whole grain foods will have a problem with their liver. Will any connection be made? I don't know. And that is scary.
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"I think I was immediately fed, so food became a very important part of my life."
Dom DeLuise

April 10, 2007
There is a commercial on the radio now about a guy buying something for his parents (wine?). As he tries to decide he muses, "what do I really know about these people? And are they really my parents?" The ad brought up something I often wonder about these days. Not whether my parents are my real parents, but do I really know them. One would think that living with two people for around 20 years, there would be few secrets left. I knew my dad lost his parents when he was young. I knew my mom had been a 'candy striper' type nurse. I knew my dad was in the air force during world war II. I knew my mom always wanted to play the piano. They had shared many of their memories in my years living with them. Yet, there were bits of important information never mentioned. I was in my 40s when I discovered that my father changed his name when he was young. He felt kids would tease his real name. So I suddenly learned all the research I had done into a family tree was based on a false name. It has only been in the last few years that my mother mentioned that my aunt (her sister) had a twin that died around age 10. I learned that "uncle jack" who my folks often talked about (but I remember nothing about) was not an uncle at all. He was someone who was kind to my father when he was a foster child. With recent visits to the hospital for my dad, my mother revealed that she had been a sickly child and could not always play, and then this week disclosed that when she was young she fell out of a tree, seriously injuring herself. Now maybe childhood injuries, relatives who died young, and name changes are not that important. But are they less important than discussing how they saw Spike Jones in person during the 40s? It makes me wonder. If I can still be surprised by incidents in my folks past, what secrets lie in the past of other friends and loved ones. Suddenly those movies where somone discovers a relative is a serial killer, or a spy, or an imposter are not that improbable. Hopefully no one in my circle is hiding such secrets. But it is getting harder to surprise me when it comes to things in people's pasts.
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"A writer should have this little voice inside of you saying, Tell the truth. Reveal a few secrets here."
Quentin Tarantino

April 6, 2007
Today was amazing. I have seen what may be the worst animated production in my life. While at the 99-cent store, I glanced through their dvd selection. To my surprise, a company seems to be releasing a bunch of independent films. One had two films from folks I know - one a student film (from a fellow who is now quite an accompishment writer) and one indie film from a guy who has a career that ranges from YELLOW SUBMARINE to ROGER RABBIT and more! But the film I am talking about was not on that disc. The film was THE BRAVE HUSKY. Now I have seen some weak animation. Early silent films that had no pacing; early TV animation that had no humor; flat Terrytoons; dull Chuck Jones shorts; student films that (even at lengths of 2-3 minutes) were too long. But I have never seen a film so badly done as THE BRAVE HUSKY. It was made in 1997 and obviously released to tie in with BALTO's theatrical release. [History sidenote: In the 90s, since there was often a long time between the theatrical release of an animated film, and the video release, several companies would hear of an upcoming film and do their own version that would hit videostores about the same time the movie hit theaters. Most of these were usually flatly done and looked like lame TV animation.] But this film... I don't even know where to start. It may be the only time I think the price of 99-cents was more than the actual budget of the film. The animation? It is cgi, and credited to one animator. Considering the constantly repeating, jerky cycles, I believe it. (They splurged on the backgrounds, as two artists were used there.) At best, it resembles early 90s videogames. The cycles did not always match the action; and the lip sync was almost non-existent. Of course the dialogue did nothing to help. Handled by (apparently) two voice artists, the voices ranged from high-pitched gay to gravely coarse. And all were annoying! The actors obviously could never figure out how to pronounce some of the names. Balto was prounced as "ball-tow" and "bal(like balance)-to". One child was Niko and pronounced variously as "Nee-ko" and "Nick-o". The designs reminded me of art one would see in Elementary school. The plot? Well it seems the kids have a disease, so they send the two fastest huskies to carry a message for medicine. Oh... and I should mention that the dogs and humans can talk to each other. Animated in Germany, the dialogue constantly refered to how the children "must die" (not "might", "must") due to the disease! The two huskies sent are Balto and "Como". A girl husky is Balto's first partner, but she decides to stay with the child Neeko/Nicko. On the trip, the huskies come across a Moose and wolf pack. They also argue about who is doing a better job, yet they constantly are neck and neck. When they arrive at the city for help, the fall asleep in front of the hospital. The doctor reads the notes and mentions how there isn't a minute to lose... but decides to let the dogs sleep for awhile, anyway. On the return trip, Como falls gruesomely to his death. (At this point, Rachel said she didn't think young children should see such a gloomy film.) Balto gets the medicine there and all the kids are saved. When asked where Como is, Balto closes his eyes and all know Como is dead. In between this story are a polar bear and seal constantly arguing over something. And shots of penguins standing around on the ice. Then there are the townsfolk standing around talking about how the children will all die. Oh, and a guy who keeps saying he will take a dogsled out to get medicine, find Balto and Como and such... but never does... until the end of the film when he heads off and finds Balto in front of a house, asleep. (When Balto stopped at the house to sleep, I was under the impression he was home.) Several times during the film, Rachel asked if I was going to really watch the whole thing. And though there have been films that I easily turned off or walked out of (SNOWBALL EXPRESS, ANNIE, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, BIG TREE, etc). This was the first film that was so bad... I just had to see what they were going to do next. Then I wanted to see the credits. They were brief, but (most likely) totally German. Kind of like the old Alka-Seltzer commercial, I can't believe I watched the whole thing. Worse, I feel like watching it again. It all reminds me so much of films like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. THE BRAVE HUSKY is a huge waste of time... but like the proverbial accident, it is hard to walk away from. It will (hopefully) be a long time before I see a film this bad.
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"My good films were independent and my bad films were not."
Ralph Bakshi

April 5, 2007
Fat kids. It seems that all I hear about these days is the problem with obesity in children. As usual, what I hear the most is how someone has to take control of the situation. Sadly, it seems the government wants to do it. That means we are bound to see a "war on obesity" being announced. And it will be another quagmire of misdirection like the "war on drugs", the "war on poverty" and the "war on terror". What is most frustrating is that this is a problem that has a simple solution: parents. Yet everytime they mention it, folks try to point to the industry, or our leaders, or business as the culprits. The other day one action group was noticing how kids shows are full of commercials for sodas, cereals and candy, but not fruit and vegetables. The reason? Because companies buy the commercials. About the only "health" advertised is milk and cheese from the dairy board. Some claim it is because the food served in school is all fat and salt. But I am proof of the falsity in those claims. Growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were tons of commercials for candy, soda and cereals. There were even TV shows based on cereal characters, like Sugar Bear. And shows like Huckleberry Hound featured the animated stars appearing in commercials for Kellogg's sugar coated cereals. I also ate almost all my lunches at the school cafeteria. And in spite of all that, I and most of my class mates were not fat. We also had 'fast food'. But in those days a meal at McDonald's featured the standard burger, fries and coke... the current sizes used in the kids meal. So even in my generation, we had the temptations and tastes of today. But we did not get fat. Our parents did not make enormous meals at home. Suppers fixed by mom were good and (again) average portions. And we did not eat hamburgers featuring 3 patties with bacon and cheese, large fries and a gallon of soda. So despite being barraged by ads for junk food, eating the meals given at schools and going out to fast food places, I (and my family) never had any problems with weight. Parents, and maybe even kids, were just smarter then.
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"Is Elizabeth Taylor fat? Her favorite food is seconds."
Joan Rivers

April 4, 2007
Why do they do it? And why won't they stop? I'm talking about the bakery benefits of studios and other companies. Out of the kindness of their hearts, many a company supplies the staff with occassional offerings of bagels and/or donuts. Such acts are generally appreciated by their staff. Of course there will always be those who want "more" or "better" foods. I recall at two studios, they even offered occasional lunches or barbecues for the crew. No matter what the free food of the day would be, there would be a number of disgruntled employees griping about the food the studio chose. These grumps seemed to have forgotten it was a free, "thank you" meal. There were no rules about having to eat what the studio served. Those who wanted to partake of the offerings could, those who preferred to hit Taco Bell or Sizzler could. But back to donuts and bagels. Every time these goodies show up, they are quickly picked over. It is truely a case of the early bird getting the worm, or warm pastry. Reminds me of the Disney studio in the late 80s. They were constantly being crushed by impossible deadlines. In an effort to get the crew to show up early for work, the studio offered free breakfast until around 7:30 am. Those who came in early, and thus were maybe starting a bit early, got free food. Those who came in for an 8 hour day had to go without. But those donuts and bagels. As mentioned, they always go fast. Except... By the end of the day, or perhaps even the next day one could be guaranteed that some would be left. In bagels, it was the bagels with the slice of cheese on top. By day's end, the cheese had hardened and was brittle. Anyone looking in the box would notice the cheese cracking and crumbling just by the motion of lifting the box lid. In donuts, it is the pink frosting. Almost as sure as tomorrow will come, it will arrive with any donut that had pink frosting. By now, the frosting had also become hardened. In fact, at this point, most of it is broken away. Yet one can still see it as the frosting as stained the donut so what is left is a cake donut with pink food coloring on top. So my original question beckons "why" do studios get the cheese bagels and pink frosted donuts in the mix? Maybe they get a discount from the baker who knows he will never sell a cheese topped bagel or pink frosted donut. By putting them in the studio mixes, he cuts down on his leftovers. Kind of like fruitcake. No one seems to want it. But they keep making it. Yet, no matter what one thinks of those day old, dried top pastries, someone will still eat what's left of them the day after. That is one true rule of studios. You can put any food in a studio, and it will be eaten. ANY food. Really helps get rid of the questionable goodies one gets over the holidays. Peeps, anyone?
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"I owe it all to little chocolate donuts."
John Belushi

April 3, 2007
YouTube is definitely not "my tube". I always say I don't have a lot of time to surf the web for entertainment. This includes looking for videos on the various vidsites like YouTube and such. However, as a mod on one of the boards I frequent, it is one of my duties to check content of links to videos. It is a family friendly board, and we don't want members being "surprised" by a link to a non-family video. So, I spend a few minutes each night checking out the vids being posted. Some are original animations. Some are clips from movies or TV. Some are home movies. Some are amateur productions. Some are student films. You can find phoney movie trailers. And a lot are music videos combining a variety of songs to an equally large variety of odd and famous footage. Having viewed dozens and dozens of such entries, I have come to the conclusion that folks who watch this stuff have way too much time. My first observation is that almost all of the videos on such sites are around twice as long as they should be. And some are re-e-e-eally long. Second, many have audio that is way too loud. (This is where YouTube is one of the better venues with easy to reach volume controls.) Third, you can tell how popular a clip is not by the number of hits... but by the number of times it is actually on the site under various names. (I saw one clip at least four times with slightly different titles, and saw another few in the "other clips you might like" section.) Again, considering how busy I am, I don't know how folks sit through 8-12 minutes of "cute" footage or amateur jokes. Then there are the "America's Funniest Home Video" types that feature average folks being badly hurt. (And a good number come directly from that show.) And the home made music videos. Well some are pretty clever. And some are really awful. But in the end, I guess the reason TV is losing to YouTub and such sights is, they probably have the same batting average. Yes, there is a lot of dreck on the internet (and TV), but there are moments of really neat stuff. Backstage footage of films, clips from really old TV shows or obscure movies, actually funny amateur (and professional) productions, scenes from stage shows, and the mix of music videos. I guess if one has the time to stare at the tube, one could do worse than sifting through millions of clips. I probably spend that much time some nights scanning through my satellite channel listing over and over trying to find something that won't drive me nuts. Maybe I should just check out some of those music videos. Maybe something from Sondheim... or maybe Chicago's "Cell Block Tango" featuring the characters from LION KING and BAMBI. It's actually well done.
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"We cannot blame the schools alone for the dismal decline in SAT verbal scores. When our kids come home from school do they pick up a book or do they sit glued to the tube, watching music videos? Parents, don't make the mistake of thinking your kid only learns between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m."
George W. Bush

April 2, 2007
The awards season has finally ground (or splatted) to an end with last weekend's KIDS' CHOICE AWARDS on Nickelodeon. Over the last few months, I have been tallying up the nomitions and wins in the Animated Feature category. And it seems there is no concensus of a winner - just that CARS and HAPPY FEET were the best. Out of seven critics' award groups, HAPPY FEET wins flippers down with four wins (Dallas-Ft Worth; Toronto; New York; Los Angeles) to CARS two wins (Oklahoma; US Critics). MONSTER HOUSE scared up a win from the Florida Film Critics Circle. In the "real" awards arena CARS beat out the penguins with four wins to HAPPY FEET's three. Still no obvious opinion comes forward. When the public voted, Adults went with CARS (People's Choice Awards), while kids went for HAPPY FEET (Kids Choice Awards). Though it could be said that professionals and critics agreed on CARS. The Producers Guild, ASIFA-HOllywood (which has a mix of animation professionals and fans) and Golden Globes (allegedly international film critics) all gave CARS their top trophy. (Though note should be made that ASIFA's voters gave the best directing, writing, and other awards to FLUSHED AWAY.) Film Academies also together when both the British Film Awards and Academy Awards gave their top statuette to HAPPY FEET. All the folks with 20-20 hindsight will find that this toss-up proves their film was best, and the other film got by on sentiment - CARS due to an industry and fan love affair with Pixar; and HAPPY FEET due to an industry love affair with George Miller. In my mind, I was glad HAPPY FEET won. But equally glad that CARS, and even MONSTER HOUSE got some recognition. In years past, it seemed as if a single film could grab all the glory and awards. This year, there were at least three films that stood out in the minds of the public, critics and professionals. That speaks well of the business and the perception of animation. 2007 will give us another dearth of animated features from the modest budgeted HAPPILY NEVER AFTER and AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE (COLON) MOVIE FILM FOR THEATERS to the mega budgeted SIMPSONS MOVIE, RATATOUILLE, SURFS UP, SHREK THE THIRD and even MEET THE ROBINSONS. At least two of those films will make it very tough for award psychics to make their picks.
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"I am not an animation buff, per se-I like specific animation, but most of it bores me."
Ralph Bakshi

April 1, 2007
The magic is pretty much gone. Hollywood magic, that is. When King Kong first climbed the Empire State building, it was magic. When Dorothy landed in OZ, it was magic. When seven dwarfs danced, it was magic. When Fred Astaire danced on the ceiling, it was magic. Of course all of these magic moments were simply special effects in early movies. In those days, such things really were amazing. Whether accomplished with trick photography, matte paintings, animation or rotating sets, it appeared as real magic. Today, such effects are done so easily, and commonly that it seems the magic is gone. Today, it can be hard to tell where the actors stop and the effects start. Computers have turned filmmaking into a wonderland of effects. When George Reeves played Superman on TV, he had to settle for bouncing off (out of sight) trampolines and laying in front of rear screen projector while fans flapped his cape. When Christopher Reeves played Superman in the movies, he flew with the help of special wire riggings and (again) rear screen projectins. These days, Superman flies by having his real image matted onto the screen with computers. Or his cgi-created image blended onto cgi created backgrounds. You see bad rear screen and wires with Reeves and Reeves. You see no such gimmicks with the modern supermen. As effects get more and more used, and more and more sophistcated, it is harder and harder to see them as magic. They are no longer special moments when the unbelievable happens. Now they are expected to be there. And to be there a lot. I remember a father and son who constantly argued over which was the better Star Trek: the original series, or the Next Generation. The father loved the original. He grew up with it. His son preferred the Next Generation. He could not believe the poor effects in the original. Ironically, the older series has been totally digitized with new effects to make the older shows look more like they were made today. (It is the same mindset that colorizes black and white movies for modern audiences.) No longer the treat, special effects are the major part of the diet. I am not bothered by a world that expects to be amazed at every scene and event. I just wish the amazement could equal the magic felt in those earlier films.
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"I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians."
Francis Ford Coppola

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