The Simpsons Movie

I know, I know — I still have a pile of reviews to write, but I am going to write this first…

1989 was an interesting year.  It ushered in the era of Macaulay Culkin, the beginning of Tim Burton’s vision of Batman, and the beginning of a 6-year hiatus for the James Bond series.

1989 was also the year I discovered Fox TV programming.  Due to a series of unfortunate events, I found myself in a hospital where Fox was one of the stations.  It had only been a national network for about three years, marking success with Married….With Children and The Tracy Ullman Show.  In watching The Tracy Ullman Show, I, along with the rest of the country, was introduced to an animated family that seemed to take the antics of the Bundys a step further.

After returning home, I was greeted with two pieces of news that would have a huge impact on my TV viewing habits: 1) Fox was finally being offered in Panama City; and 2) The Simpsons would become its own series in December, 1989, with a Christmas special.  Over the next two years, the country was caught in Simpsons mania, with its merchandising battling New Kids on the Block for parents’ hard earned dollars.

As with all things, the hype died down and most people expected the show to only last another season or two.  After all, The Flintstones had only lasted 4 seasons and that was considered the hallmark of animated, prime-time series.

Fast-Forward to 2005…

Seven years after the release of the South Park movie, based on the show that could be the heir to the Simpsons’ crown, it was announced that a movie would be finally made of Bart and the gang.  A lot of fans went into worry mode.  I asked one friend what the worst that could happen and they reminded me of the Flintstones/Jetsons animated movie featuring Tiffany as Judy from years ago.  I simply shuddered.

Fast forward to last weekend…

Due to other commitments, I had to delay seeing the movie.  I finally was able to head to Altamonte AMC to check out the first showing of the day.  I walk in just as the trailer for the live-action Chipmunks is playing and I shake my head.  Jason Lee — where has your movie career gone?  Better not walk away from TV anytime soon.

The movie starts up and for the next hour and a half I am with the residents of Springfield.  Lots of sight gags, movie parodies, and they even got Green Day to perform the theme song.  The animation was beautiful and the story was actually fairly strong.  My fears were for naught — Groening and company delivered.

My advice: see it on the big screen — to wait for DVD is idiotic.  This one is good for everyone and worth the time in the theater…

Looney Tunes: Back In Action

Now that my theatrical release reviews are caught up, I can delve into a stack of DVD reviews…

As a kid, I could count on two things on Saturday morning TV: Super-Friends and Bugs Bunny. ABC had some incarnation of Super-Friends on from the early 70s until around 84 or 85. CBS offered up Bugs Bunny and pals from the early 70s until around 82 or 83. I would get up, get breakfast, watch my hour of Super-Friends, followed by an hour of Batman/Tarzan, and ended with 90 minutes of classic Warner Brothers cartoons. Often times, my dad would join me for this last 90 minutes — one of the few times he would actually rest from doing something. My parents never worried about me getting violent ideas from the cartoons, because they had done their job in teaching me that the cartoon world operated under different rules than the real world. People did not survive falling from cliffs or holding dynamite sticks. Once that was clear, they let me enjoy the cartoons.

As I grew up, networks started running cheap cartoons made by toy companies to sell products. Bugs Bunny was a casualty of this as CBS shortened the show to an hour, then a half-hour, and then finally pulled it from the schedule. This started the creation of generations that did not fully understand the genius of Warner Brothers in its heyday. The late 80s brought us Tiny Toons, and the early-mid-90s brought us Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. Mel Blanc, the voice of all, passed in 1989; his son did a Broadway tribute 1991 to some of the greatest cartoons.

Fast-forward to 2003…

I was working at a place that shared a parking lot with an AMC theater, so I would often catch twilight shows after work. Looney Tunes: Back in Action was one of those shows. A few months later it came out on DVD and I immediately got it.

Fast-forward to last month…

I couldn’t sleep one night and usually putting in a DVD I have seen many times will induce sleep, particularly one with animation. This time the plan backfired — I ended up watching the whole movie.

Don’t get me wrong — this is no great piece of film history. But it is cheesy and can be fun if you allow yourself to become that child that loved Saturday morning cartoons. Like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, LT is a mix of live-action and animation. All of the classic gags from the original WB cartoons are hit, and the live actors do a great job of not taking the movie too seriously. Everyone is in on the gag. Brendan Fraser has some good comic timing and should attempt these roles in the future. This was the first time that Jenna Elfman actually looked good to me and Steve Martin channeled his drug-induced SNL days.

The best comparison I have to this film is The Muppet Movie — not much plot, but lots of cameos and just plain fun.

The DVD has all of the usual features including:

  • Gag Reel
  • Deleted Scenes

My advice: grab this one if you have some time to kill and want to see some good cheese with homages to classic cinema genres. It is also a fun way to spend some time with the kids. You could certainly pick worse movies to watch….

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

My original plan was to see this on the Friday of the week that it opened. I am glad that I deviated from the plan, because I missed the group outing on that Friday.

So what caused me to deviate from the plan? Well, my buddy, Mark, had been telling everyone that he was going to midnight show on Tuesday night because he was excited to see it. I thought about it, but was going to pass due to being burned by Spidey 3. So I went to play poker instead. Well, fate has a way of stepping in and redirecting one’s plans. After being bounced early from the 10:00 game, I found myself driving home past the Altamonte AMC. As I got close, I knew what I must do: go see Harry Potter.

Plenty of tickets were still available. I called my friend, Heather, to see if she and her roommate had already committed to a theater. Alas, they had, so I found myself alone for the evening. Walking in the ticket-taker was beyond caring what theater people were supposed to be in. He simply said, “Just go in any of the ones marked Harry Potter.” After grabbing food, I ducked into one of the open doors.

I found a good seat on the aisle.  Actually there were 2 seats with a guy my size occupying the third. He sighed with relief when I took the aisle one, creating an empty seat between us — we both got armrests and space. Life is good.

The movie is definitely darker than the others — it also seemed to flow more quickly than the previous entries in the series. This is the point where you start to see the growing-up of Harry and the gang. He is still dealing with the death at the end of the Goblet of Fire, and is not doing a good job. He feels abandoned by Hagrid and Dumbledore, and that Ron and Hermoine are not supportive.

The climax of the movie is the darkest of all. Interestingly enough, a series of events occurs that makes me immediately flash back to the climax of The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke races to Cloud City. The filming of this movie and the way things unfolded showed that Empire had a big influence on the adapter and the director.

My advice: worth seeing in the theater. If you go to an IMAX screen, the finale is in 3-D. Parents should watch before taking young children, due to its dark nature and the harshness of death…