Thursday, January 28, 2010

The World of Mo Willems

If you've got little ones running around your house then you should be familiar with the wonderful books of author and illustrator Mo Willems. He has a few series of books out at the the moment - my kids can't get enough of them. Probably his most famous creation to date is The Pigeon. He's a wise-cracking, very silly guy who thinks he knows what he wants but doesn't always know how to get it. To date, there are four main Pigeon books: Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, and The Pigeon Wants a Puppy. There are also two smaller board books: The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! and The Pigeon Has Feelings Too! Each of the stories is told using only pictures and comic strip style word balloons. The illustrations are simple yet colored with a nifty pallet of colors that is captivating and soothing! (Ya like that!?) My kids crack up everytime we read one of the books. They got three of the books from Santa and each one of them has been read at least once, every day since Christmas. My 6 year-old son can read them on his own too, and the boys have been caught having a brotherly moment snuggled up together in a chair in their room reading the book together.

The in-house popularity of the Pigeon books sparked a further exploration of the Mo Willems shelf at our local library. It is there that we discovered Knuffle Bunny - the tale of a little girl's trip to the laundromat with her dad and what happens when she leaves her beloved stuffed bunny behind. Again, the book is illustrated with simple cartoon drawings but here they are set against beautiful black and white photographs of New York City. The follow-up book, Knuffle Bunny Too (which we just got at the library this week) is outstanding as well. Personally, I thought it was even better than the original. This time around Knuffle Bunny accidentally gets switched with a similar looking Knuffle Bunny at school. The story has some really nice jokes aimed at adults.

There's also a Knuffle Bunny DVD that my kids were thrilled to discover when it came in the mail from Netflix. (I told ya we became fans!) There's also a Knuffle Bunny Free on it's way in the Fall.

Another series which Mo Willems is currently involved with is Elephant & Piggie. These are simple early reader books, done much in the same style of The Pigeon, except here the heroes of the book guessed it: and Elephant and a Pig. There's a handful of books in this series. We've only gotten to There Is A Bird on Your Head! but it too is alot of fun and the kids just roll around on the floor with laughter when we read it. If you're into putting on a performance while you read to your kids, this is a great book to do that with. Elephant gets quite upset when the bird and his wife lay eggs on his head. (Wouldn't you be, too?)

The books are a bit on the pricey side...a Pigeon book will set you back $15 bucks and the Elephant will cost you $9! I managed to get a good deal on three of the Pigeon books through the book club fliers that come home from the kids' schools. (Three paperback versions - all for $12.00) Of course a library is a great place to get your hands on some of these books. I hate to take money out of such a talented author's pockets but your library should be stocked with lots of works by Mo Willems. He's written a few stand alone books as well.

Be it Pigeons, Piggies, Elephant or Knuffle and your kids are sure to enjoy these wonderful books.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Foodles...for Me and Yoodles

Everytime I go to a grocery store, besides the two I frequent, I always find all kinds of goofy and/or cool blogworthy items. Last week while shopping at a gigantic new store in town I spotted these kiddie food trays from afar. I noticed that the shape of the tray resembled Mickey, and then when I got closer I saw some familiar faces staring back at me!

There's several different varieties of Disney Gardens' Foodles, all of which contain a combination of three different healthy snacks in kid sized portions. You might think that $3.49 is a lot to pay for 1/3 of an apple, a handful of pretzels and six grapes...but did I mention that the package is shaped like Mickey!?!

Seriously, it's a pretty neat little treat for kids. And you have to give Disney some credit...they could slap their characters on sugary-sweet breakfast cereal or potato chips (and they have) but they are trying to make a move to associate Mickey and the gang with good food choices for kids. Now, if we can just get somebody to make Batman Broccoli, I might get my kids to eat some veggies!

Disney Gardens has a pretty nice website, featuring games and kid-friendly recipes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Best Cartoon Video Games

Hey! Did you know that I like classic cartoon characters!? I like them in my movies, I like them on my breakfast cereal, and I like them in my video games. More often than not, a cartoon based video game is slapped together quickly - sometimes the game doesn't even have anything to do with the cartoon. For instance, Snoopy's Silly Sports Spectacular where you have to help Snoopy and his brother Spike carry a stack of pizzas over a finish Italy?! Other times, cartoon gaming experiences are pure joy! Here's some of the best video games based on cartoon properties that I've ever played...

The Little Mermaid (NES) Here's a game where you'd think it was going to be only for four year old girls. But instead, the great game developer Capcom created this multi-level intricate platform game where you swim Ariel through six levels of undersea peril. This was the first video that I played all the way through and beat. That was about 20 years ago and I still talk about it...pretty sad, eh?

Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers (NES) Here's another Capcom Disney game that I beat. Based on the Disney Afternoon series of the same name, this game allowed two players at the same time running through the city and picking up and trowing everything in sight. This was a fast paced game with alot of tricky obstacles and challenging enemies. Even though the cartoon show took some liberties with the Chip `n Dale characters, the video game stayed very true to the spirit of the show. Just don't get me started on how we all got gypped out of a Rescue Rangers movie.

Popeye (Arcade) This might be the first arcade video game to feature a classic animated character and I think most video game aficionados would agree that Popeye is one of the all-time classic old school games. Popeye has to catch the little hearts that Olive Oil is tossing out. He's got to catch them before they reach the water at the bottom of the screen. Standing in Popeye's way is his ol' nemesis Bluto. Luckily, Popeye can always grab a can of spinach and punch Bluto square in the face, or he can hit a punching bag and drop a bucket on Bluto's head. The game even works the obscure Sea Hag character into the mix! Even the cartoons forgot about the Sea Hag!

Donald Duck in Goin' Quackers (Playstation/PS2) This game really blew me away because it's just as challenging and complex as any Mario Bros. game you'll ever play. There's level after level of frustrating situations to make Donald mad. One of the neatest features of this game is that they worked in the animation of Donald's trademark temper tantrum. There's also a full cast of supporting characters from Donald's hometown of Duckburg. An all around really well-done game that took me months to beat...but I did it!

B.C.'s Quest For Tires (Commadore 64) Perhaps the best game ever that you can play with the arrow keys on your keyboard. Thor the caveman must ride his stone unicycle while jumping over rocks, animals and holes in the ground all on his way to save his girlfriend from an evil dinosaur. Good times! A better game has never been put on one of those gigantic black floppy discs.

Sorcerer's Apprentice (Atari 2600) Mickey Mouse has starred in at least a dozen video games over the past few decades, this is one of the earliest and the only one I've ever really gotten into. Based on the sequence from the 1940 film Fantasia, this primitive game was made up of two screens. The first, pictured here, involves Mickey shooting and catching stars. I never really got this stage and never spent much time playing it, but if you exit the screen to either side you got to the meat of the game. On the other screen you had to stop the walking brooms from making their way to the bottom of a staircase and dump their bucket of water. The more brooms you missed, the higher the water lever rose in the room. Quick, simple game play that was also addictive and fun. (There's a new Wii game around the corner called Epic Mickey that looks pretty darn cool!)

Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle (Colecovision/Atari 2600) You have no idea how bad I wanted this game when I was younger! After years of lusting over it, I finally got to play it on a neighbor's Colecovision. It was pure video gaming heaven for this young Smurf fan. Not only does this game incorporate the world of the Smurfs into it, the game is made up of the greatest basic objective in all of video game history: run through a forest, jump over things, collect things. It's all as simple as that! Later on in high school, somebody mentioned that they had this game and I made them dig out their old Atari games and find it for me so I could finally sit and play it. Another check-off on my bucket list! (Here's a link to the old commercial.)

The Simpsons: Road Rage (PS2/Game Cube) The Simpsons have had a long career in video games since the show debuted 20 years ago. I remember playing a game called Bart vs. the Space Mutants quite feverishly back in the day, and The Simpsons arcade game stands out as a classic. But I really loved this 2003 variation of the hit game Crazy Taxi. Road Rage is almost the same game except that it's filled with The Simspsons brand of humor and wonderful cast of characters. The game looks an awful lot like the TV show and you get to drive around town exploring all the nooks and crannies of Springfield. Probably one of the games I've logged the most hours on in my adult years.

Tiny Toons 2: Trouble in Wackyland (NES) In my book, when you mix amusement parks with video games there is much goodness to be had. Using a theme park as it's center, this game was a collection of mini-games based on different theme park rides. There was a roller coaster game, bumper cars, a train ride, and a log flume. They were all pretty addictive, if I recall correctly. I'm not sure how well the game captured the spirit of the Tiny Toons cartoon but it sure was a fun game.

The Flintstones: Rescue of Dino & Hoppy (NES) Like others on the list, The Flintstones have popped up in more than one video game. This Nintendo game was my favorite as it was built around the simple side-scrolling platform engine that I've come to adore in video games. Of course you've got Fred and Wilma and the whole cast of characters from one of my all-time favorite TV shows and there's lots of rocks and boulders to smash. I don't think I ever got past the end of level 2 where you had to beat Joe Rockhead at a game of basketball. Thanks Joe Rockhead!

Darkwing Duck (NES) Finally one last fantastic Disney Afternoon inspired game from the folks at Capcom. Darkwing Duck was a show I really enjoyed and I loved the video game just as much. I consider this one of my all-time favorite video games. The game play is so smooth and fun, with lots of things to shoot at and grab hold to and jump on and's just alot of fun. The game also incorporated the entire world of the show very nicely. I easily burned way too many hours playing this in my Community College days. Tell well spent if you ask me!

Please share with us any toon games you've loved over the years...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Taylor Swift in a Box

It always cracks me up when actual human-type people become lines of merchandising. So now joining the ranks of Britney Spears, Jeff Gordon, Larry The Cable Guy, the Spice Girls and so many others we bring you country/pop crossover superstar Taylor Swift and her new line of dolls. As with most dolls, they look just like Barbie in a box that doesn't say Barbie. But if you push her tummy she'll belt out a few seconds of one of her hit songs.

The selection at the Wal-Mart I saw these at was pretty picked over, yet there were still about 5 different outfits that Taylor came in. Plus, as with any good can buy accessories! Taylor Swift needs a shinny silvery chair to sit in!
I guess in some respects, Taylor Swift is a better role model for little girls than Barbie. She's shaped like a real person and she's worked hard to get where she is today. That's not to say Barbie hasn't worked hard! You can't just be a teacher/veterinarian/doctor/mountain climber/astronaut without a little grunt work.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Yogi Yahooeys Fan For Life

An exciting treasure from the Hanna-Barbera vaults finally made it's way to DVD this week. Scooby's All Star Laff-A-Lympics Volume 1 features four episodes from the fondly remembered 1977 - 1979 Saturday morning series. This has always been one of my favorites from the guys at H-B and I was pretty excited to see the show get a DVD release. Judging from the cover art, Warner Bros. is hoping to ride off the immense popularity of Scooby-Doo. He's featured prominently in the show's opening segment and in most of the episodes but for most H-B fans Laff-A-Lympics stands out due to it's cast of dozens of cartoon superstars.

The Laff-A-Lympics is an Olympics style event, actually a parody of ABC's Battle of the Network Stars. In each episode, three teams compete in an assortment of athletic events at venues all over the world. The teams are: the Scooby Doobies - made up of Hanna-Barbera characters from half hour mystery shows like Scooby Doo, Dinomutt, Speed Buggy and Captain Caveman; the Yogi Yahooeys - featuring the gang from H-B's classic animated shorts like Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Wally Gator and Quick Draw McGraw; and there's the Really Rottens - who look similar to other Hanna-Barbera bad guys but are mostly all original creations for this show. The teams compete in different events and are awarded points throughout the competition. Of course, the Really Rottens always try to cheat and it always backfires on them!

One of the coolest aspects of the show was the guest cameos that pop up from time to time. In the four episodes on this collection there are brief appearances from Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble and Jabber Jaw. The other fun thing about this show is how much my kids got into it! They both really got behind the Scooby Doobies and were cheering them on and hooting and yelling like they were watching something on ESPN. Myself, I'm a life long Yogi Yahooeys fan so the line was drawn down the middle of our house and the kids took great delight in seeing their team squash mine. I really like when my children appreciate the simpler cartoons from the past.

I also have to add that "Laff-A-Lympics" is a totally great title! I'm a big fan of 70's programing that incorporates the words "Laugh", "Comedy", or "Smile" into their title.

Here's a rundown of who's who on the Laff-A-Lympics teams:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Week In Movies - Dead Bodies

Jennifer's Body (2009)[R] Every once in a while I'll watch a horror (or more often a semi-horror) movie and remember why I don't watch horror movies often. This hell-bent high school horror/"comedy" was written by Diablo Cody, who gave us the wonderfully charming Juno. The comedy aspect of this dud is when Cody uses her trademark high school dialogue in situations that involve satanic sacrifice and demonic possession. It doesn't work. After sitting through an hour of lame fake scares and low grade teen angst drama, the climax of this film just comes off as dopey. Anyone looking for a good scare will be very disappointed and anyone looking for a few laughs will be equally let down.

Extract (2009)[R] Another massive let down from a gifted filmmaker. Mike Judge is responsible for three very funny films: Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, Office Space, and Idiocracy. My hopes were a little high on his fourth movie especially since it didn't do well at the box office - I assumed the general public just didn't "get it". Well, I didn't get it either. Extract stars Jason Bateman as the owner of a flavor extract company who is unhappy in his marriage, so he hires someone to have an affair with his wife so that he won't feel guilty cheating on his wife. Haven't we seen stories similar to this a million times!? There's also a subplot about one of Bateman's employee's suing the company over workman's comp. Just plain not funny! There's supposedly some social commentary/satire hidden in this flick...but I couldn't "extract" it...get it!? See what I did there!?

American Pie Presents The Book of Love (2009) [UR] Believe it or not, this was my first foray into the world of American Pie made-for-DVD sequels. For those of you that lost track, Book of Love is the fourth DVD sequel making it part 7 in the overall franchise! I gotta say this about the movie, it is easily the most well-produced direct-to-DVD movie I have ever seen. The production values across the board are on par with any Hollywood blockbuster. The plot, of course, is minimal at best. Three friends stumble upon a legendary book full of notes on how to hook up with girls at their school. There's an attempt at some heart here...and the characters aren't all just two dimensional idiots. There's also the trademark American Pie gross-out scenes, which aren't quite as gross as I think they'd like to be, but the film doesn't push them in your face as aggressively as other comedies of it's type. This movie also boasts a great collection of cameos which I'd love to give away...but I won't! Overall, an enjoyable modern day teenage sex comedy that makes me wonder if I've missed anything in American Pies 4 - 6.

Up (2009)[PG] I'm happy to say that I didn't cry at the beginning or the end on this second viewing of the Pixar masterpiece. Read my original write-up from 7/5/09.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Better Than An iPhone

That's great that I can watch entire episodes of Bones or Ugly Betty on my cell, really it is! But I'd trade all the technology in the world to get my hands on one of these Color TV Set toys again. This was, hands-down, one of my favorite toys of all time growing up! Inside the tubes on the right were long strips of paper with a comic-style story printed on them. You would attach one end of the strip to one of the blue dials and the other end to the other dial. Then you'd slide the dials into a tray with the TV Set cover on it and turn the dials advancing the comic story or "show" frame by frame! Oh, such fun! Seriously, I used to play with these things till the paper scrolls just wore away to nothing!

And this set pictured here is pretty sweet with some of the Hanna-Barbera gang on it. I'm pretty sure I had this very set. Notice how the characters on the packaging are a bit off-model. Back then, toy companies only had to pay for the rights to reproduce the likeness of a character...nowadays the images have to be approved by the animation studio to make sure the characters look right.

Still, this toy is so much low-tech fun it's really a shame that kids today won't even know the joys of spending 45 minutes loading a vertical comic strip into a little plastic machine to read it frame by frame!

Friday, January 15, 2010

We're Finally Going In!
Vintage Kings Dominion Video

I'm not usually a big fan of any video on YouTube over 3 1/2 minutes long. But this video of Kings Dominion, which clocks in at near 10 minutes, is pretty darn awesome and I just had to share it.

The poster, KDFanPre91, took some old home video, slides and television commercials and edited them together into a tribute to the Virginia theme park pre-1991. There's several videos posted, each spotlighting a different section or two of the park. The video here is for International Street, Hanna-Barbera Land and Lion Country Safari. You'll see some great footage of the International Street fountains; the walk-around characters like Fred Flintstone, Yogi Bear and even Hong Kong Phooey; and the old Monorail Safari there's some great TV commercials sprinkled in (none of which I've found on YouTube before!)

If the video is too long for you, you can just scan through it and get the idea. There's a front seat POV of the Scooby-Doo Roller Coaster that's a bit runs from 3:25 to 4:53 if ya wanna skip it. But make sure you don't skip past 5:59, for there you'll get almost one full minute of glorious footage inside my all-time favorite ride: Smurf Mountain! I've searched the internets high and low for some video of the interior of this attraction and this video gives you a good look inside the ride. It's pure Smurfy goodness! Enjoy...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Week In Movies - D.C. & Vegas

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) [PG] I'm almost embarrassed to have enjoyed this movie as much as I did, which is kind of sad in and of itself because I had no problem enjoying The Hannah Montana Movie a few months ago. In this second instalment, Ben Stiller travels to Washington D.C. and does comic battle with another group of historical figures and artifacts come to life. Amy Adams plays Emilia Earhart, Bill Hader is General Custard, and thanks to CG - Abe Lincoln rises from his chair in his memorial and does some wacky shtick. It's all so silly and fluffy and good natured that you can't help but crack a smile while watching. It's a good flick for a Family Movie Night; the violence and action is slapstick and the language is kept clean throughout.

The Hangover (2009)[R] The first movie to be rewatched by me since starting "My Week In Movies" early last year. (Isn't that exciting?!) This painfully funny movie is still alot of fun a second time around and now that it's hit DVD it's sure to become a "quotable classic". My favorite: "Tigers love pepper. They hate cinnamon."

Read my original write-up: My Week In Movies 6/28/09

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Yogi Watch 2010:
First Teeny Tiny Glance

I was pretty darn excited to find this cell phone picture on Facebook that someone had snapped on the set of the Yogi Bear movie. The movie is currently filming in New Zealand. Another movie currently in theatres called Avatar, was also filmed in New Zealand. So, from this broad connection we can only assume that Yogi Bear will be one of the highest grossing movies of all time!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Brush With Greatness

Personal anecdote time!

I thought this might make for an interesting subject: famous people I've met...or at least caught a glimpse of! Seeing a celebrity in a performance doesn't really count, like going to a concert or a show. Basically, you've got your celebrity encounters where you actually come face to face with someone and exchange words and/or you've got your Famous Person sightings, perhaps seeing a celebrity while you're out and about. Here's my list of both types...

...starting with my biggest and most thrilling one. In fact, I've already done an entire post about my meeting with my favorite singer, Debbie Gibson, at a CD signing in Washington D.C. back in 1995. Obviously, that was pretty exciting for me. I've been a huge fan of Debbie's since freshman year of high school. But let's move on...

One of my favorite filmmakers is Baltimore native John Waters. He made two of my all-time favorite movies, Cry Baby and Serial Mom. In 1996, I was standing in line to buy a movie ticket at the Charles Theatre in downtown B'mo and the friend I was with noticed and whispered to me that John Waters was standing behind us in line. I knew if I didn't at least turn around and say something I would spend the next several weeks regretting it. So I turned around and introduced myself and told him how much of a fan I was of Cry-Baby and how it got me interested in writing my own stuff. The only thing I actually remember was I said, "I'm sorry to bother you, but I'd kick myself if I passed up this opportunity to tell you how much I've enjoyed your work." And he said, "Well, we wouldn't want you to kick yourself...would we?" Classic.

My other big, exciting Brush With Greatness was the time I not only met, but also got to work with Muppeteer Kevin Clash. At the time, I worked at the kids museum in Baltimore and we had a very large Sesame Street exhibit one summer. The museum had booked Kevin Clash to come and perform his most popular character, Elmo, to an audience one afternoon. Everyone at the museum knew how much of a Muppets/Sesame Street fan I was and so they kindly selected me to write a short script for Elmo to perform. The script even included me introducing and interacting with Elmo a bit...a very big thrill, indeed. Of course before the audience arrived I got to chat with Mr. Clash and ask him all sorts of nerdy questions about Muppets. He even video taped a short segment for my cable-access show with me. Pretty, very cool!

When I worked at the museum, we also had a few other celebrities drop by for one reason or another. Before the museum's grand opening, there was a media day where Rosie O'Donnell (who was in the middle of her run as host of her popular afternoon talk show) visited one Sunday afternoon for photo ops with some of the shinny new exhibits. I didn't actually talk to Rosie, but I was part of her security detail...which pretty much just involved holding a walkie-talkie and making sure too many people didn't crowd around her. We also had talk show host Montel Williams host a benefit at the museum. He taped a few segments for his show there but again I didn't talk to him.

However, on another occasion we had Maury Povich and his wife Connie Chung as MC's for some gala event that was going on there. Before the event, we were standing around waiting for things to get going and I was joking around with one of my co-workers. I was telling a (slightly off-color) joke and didn't realize that Maury was taking a quick walk-through of the museum before the event. As I was telling the joke, he happened to walk up the stairs behind me and overheard me telling the joke. I thought for sure my job at the museum was finished, but instead Maury Povich laughed and then leaned over to me and told me a joke that was WAY worse than anything I had just muttered. That was pretty cool.

At another point in the museum's infancy, Michael J. Fox was supposed to stop by for some photo ops. He ended up canceling at the last minute and sending some girl from the cast of Spin City in his place. Thanks. Also, one day when I wasn't working Antonio Banderas just showed up as a paying customer. He was apparently very nice and talked to everyone and answered all sorts of questions. I missed the whole thing. Of course I also missed the whole major film production set up across the street while his wife Melanie Griffith filmed an entire action scene for the movie Cecil B. Demented.

I have two minor Walt Disney World celebrity sightings. One time while in line for a Dole Whip in Adventureland, Harry Hamlin and his family were in line behind us. Thrilling, eh!? Another visit, I was in Downtown Disney and saw 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist Kerri Strug getting out of a van to do some shopping. I know...jealous, right?

When I worked at Hersheypark's Guest Services department, WWE wrestler Nick Foley (a.k.a. Mankind) came up to our window for some comp. tickets he had on hold. This just gets more exciting, doesn't it!?

When they were filming the comedy For Richer or Poorer staring Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley in Baltimore I was totally excited because one night we stumbled upon where they were filming. They had turned the outside of some crappy old building in downtown Baltimore into the flashy facade of a Vegas casino. I went to the area everyday hoping to catch a glimpse of filming. After a couple of days of snooping around, I witnessed some honest to goodness Hollywood filmmaking. Wayne Knight (Newman from Seinfeld) was shooting a scene one afternoon. He noticed my friend and I standing around and waved hi to us between takes.

And finally...I was a paid extra on the motion picture extravaganza Thomas and the Magic Railroad. I got paid like $50.00 to stand around on the set all day for something close to 12 hours. Anywho, I ended up sitting next to Mara Wilson on a train (not Thomas) as the train left the station, went about 30 feet, stopped, backed up and then did it all over again - about 13 times.

Leave your Brush With Greatness stories in the comment box. I'm sure they'll make for a great read!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Favorite Movies of the 2000's

I've thought about it long and hard and I've come up with a small list of my favorite movies from the past decade. The 2000's were no 1980's...but there were still some fine films that I've enjoyed quite a bit in the last ten years. Here they are in order of release...

Bring It On (2000) Like any warm-blooded male, I have a special place in my heart for cheerleaders. This comedy has become sort of a cult classic at this point, but I was a fan of it when I saw it in the theater 10 years ago. Funny, energetic and who would have guessed it would have spawned FOUR direct-to-DVD sequels? Oh, of the best closing credit sequences ever!

Best in Show (2000) There's something to be said for a movie that made me a fan of Ed Begley Jr. Christopher Guest's improved look at the world of professional dog shows is some of the best character driven humor you'll ever see. The film boasts an incredible cast of comedic talent like Eugine Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, Michael McKean, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, Larry Miller and the amazing Fred Willard.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) Before self-referential humor became so common place that my 4 year old son got it, Kevin Smith's ode to his previous four movies was the last great hurrah for making jokes about other movies that you've made. Now that DreamWorks Animations has gotten in on making references to everything else they've already made - I'm kinda over the whole thing.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) Not quite as fondly remembered in the pantheon of Pixar films, I've always ranked this fast paced comedy as my favorite from the folks at Pixar. Billy Crystal's Mike Wazowski and John Goodman's Mike "Sulley" Sullivan make a perfect comedy team. It's one of those rare films that truly takes you to another place and it's funny as all get out in the process.

Lilo & Stitch (2002) The ads for The Princess and The Frog quote a critic as saying it's "the best Disney film since The Lion King." As somewhat of a Disney cartoon expert, I'd have to rank Lilo & Stitch as the best output from the studio in the 2000's. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the movie's Walt Disney World attraction Stitch's Great Escape...which has to be one of the worst ways to spend time in the Magic Kingdom.

Finding Nemo (2003) This is one of those movies that as an adult animation lover and a parent, you just have to let go of and let your kids watch it a million times until you can quote the entire movie. Even after having this film run a million and a half times in our home, I could still sit down and watch the whole thing from beginning to end and be amazed at how wonderful it is in every aspect.

Team America: World Police (2004) A perfect parody of big budget action films and also the strange marionette movies of the 60's. But I think it's inclusion on my list is best explained by the MPAA's official rating classification: Rated R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language - all involving puppets.

Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005) The recent Star Trek movie got a lot of credit (even from me) for hitting the nail right on the head as far as rebooting a classic movie franchise while still paying tribute to the original films. Fully Loaded was Herbie The Love Bug's first time on the big screen in over 20 years and it was just as fantastic and magical as the four films that came before it. Without ignoring the classic films, Herbie rode once again with style, grace, all the same gadgets, sound effects and attitude and squirted oil on the feet of anyone who dared to stand in his way!

Hot Rod (2007) Still an undiscovered jem, this off-beat comedy staring SNL's Andy Samberg and the easy-on-the-eyes Isla Fisher just zeroed in on my personal sense of humor and surprised me with how dead-on funny it was. For those of you with a more refined taste in also has Academy Award winner Sissy Spacek in it too!

The Simspons Movie (2007) Anyone who is a fan of the television series had waited 18 long years to see The Simpsons on the big screen. In my opinion, it happened at the right time and of course, Homer and family delivered. The Simpsons Movie was the perfect balance of bringing the elements of the TV show to the larger format of the feature film without alienating the spirit of the show but making it edgy enough to make it worth $9 bucks to see in a theatre. This is the ONLY film, in the last 7 or 8 years, that I saw in the theatre and then rewatched immediately when it was released on DVD. Mmmm...DVD!

Strange Wilderness (2008) The title of Stupidest Movie of the 2000's would have to go to Meet The Spartans, but the Stupidest Funny Movie winner is Strange Wilderness. This idiotic movie is so stupid that I laugh uncontrollably through the whole thing. Large chunks of this film are just stock footage of nature with silly voiceovers. Other highlights include a guy vomiting into a shark's mouth, a wild turkey clamping down on another guy's privates, and the accidental death of Bigfoot. This movie doesn't even have an ending. It goes on for about 80 minutes and then in the middle of a scene everyone starts laughing and then the credits just roll. Good stuff!

Here's to the next 10 years of cinema!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

My Week In Movies - Happy New Year!

I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009) [PG-13] I don't know why I feel the need to see every single teen comedy that comes out!? Perhaps I have some unresolved issues with my non-existent social life in high school or perhaps it's just that I don't like my movies too deep or complicated. In any case, Beth Cooper is a pretty unimaginative last day of high school tale. The trailer gave away all the interesting parts when class valedictorian Denis professes his love to Beth Cooper...whom he's never spoken front of the whole school on Graduation Day. Denis goes on to insult a few other classmates including the class bully and Beth's boyfriend. The remaining hour and a half of the film is Denis & Beth and their friends running from Beth's crazy muscle-bound boyfriend who wants to kill Denis. How does the film explain the boyfriend's over-the-top reaction to Denis' actions? They simply explain that he's high on cocaine. Isn't that a nice touch!?

I Love You, Beth Cooper was interesting and lighthearted enough to keep my attention but it's pretty bland and not very funny. The film puffs on for about 15 minutes longer than it needs to. Probably OK for older teens - there is much teenage drinking, drug references, and teenage sexual situations and of course, a healthy dose of cursing.

Scary Movie (2000) [R] The success of Scary Movie is directly responsible for the recent onslaught of parody movies at the cineplex. Scary Movie is good because it takes it's aim on a small handful of recent horror movies and then goes crazy making fun of them. The more recent parody films like Disaster Movie and Epic Movie try to cram too much into one movie. The two main targets are Scream (which was a parody itself) and I Know What You Did Last Summer. The jokes are fast and set up one after the other. There's some good running gags and some great goofy humor that you almost don't see anymore. When one of the victims is running from the killer she comes to a table in her house with a gun, handgrenade, cleaver, knife and a banana. She of course grabs the banana to protect herself. That kind of stuff just cracks me up!

The violence and gore is surprisingly minimal for a slasher flick, however it more than makes up for that in the vulgarity department. Be warned: there is quite a bit of full frontal male nudity in this silly comedy classic. Also be warned: Although Scary Movie 3 & 4 are both wonderfully hilarious and even more silly movies...Scary Movie 2 has got to be one of the worst drop off's in quality for any sequel I have ever seen!

The House Bunny (2008) [PG-13] I really like this fun flick about a Playboy Bunny who gets kicked out of the Playboy Mansion and ends up as a house mother for a rundown sorority. Anna Faris is probably one of the most gifted comedic actresses working right now and hopefully she'll take on more goofy roles in the near future. My favorite part about this movie is that it's almost a spin-off of one of my favorite shows E!'s The Girls Next Door. Hugh Hefner and the girls from the original cast of Next Door play themselves and appear in several scenes. Now that Holly, Kendra and Bridget have all gone their separate ways - this is the closest we'll ever get to a Girls Next Door movie...which would have been nothing short of fantastic!

Zero Hour! (1957) One of my all-time, Top 20 favorite movies is the 1980 comedy Airplane! which I contest is joke-for-joke hands down THE funniest movie ever made. I've seen it no less that 5,000 times. Most people don't realize that Airplane! is actually a remake of Zero Hour! a black and white disaster-style drama from the 50's. The makers of Airplane! actually bought the rights to Zero Hour! and used it as the frame work to hang zillions of corny gags on. As someone who worships Airplane! as much as I do, it was awesome to watch this older film and see where half of the jokes in Airplane! came from. Now only do they use the same exclamation point in the title, the main character in both films is named Ted Striker. The little boy that visits the cockpit is here...he's even dressed the same in both films. So much of the word play from Airplane! is clearly inspired from this movie also. Airplane! borrows and parodies a number of other films but most of it is all here in Zero Hour! Honestly, I thought it was a pretty good movie even without all the comparisons to Airplane!

If you can quote multiple scenes from Airplane! (as most men can) than you need to check out this old fashioned thriller, it will actually bring a great big smile to your face!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Yogi Watch 2010

The new year of 2010 will most likely be remembered, by me, as the year I sit and wait for the live-action Yogi Bear movie to be released on December 17. I'm soooo excited to see the movie and have Yogi Bear once again become an active participant in pop culture, yet on the other paw I'm worried that there is so much that they can get wrong with this movie there's a good chance they will disappoint me. So, we're starting a new department here at WWoB called Yogi Watch 2010 so we can keep track of all the developments with the film as they become public.

Here's what we know so far:
-The Cast Tom Cavanagh, best known for his title role in the NBC series Ed, has been cast as Ranger Smith. I like that they didn't just go for a big name star. This Cavanagh kid looks the part, I think he can pull it off.

The wonderful Anna Faris is also cast as a nature documentary film maker. Faris is a very gifted comedic actress and she'll add a little star power to the cast - I like her addition to the cast.

When I first read that Dan Aykroid and Justin Timerlake were hired to voice Yogi and Boo-Boo I almost hung myself. But then I stopped and thought...I can hear the two of these guys nailing the voices of Yogi and Boo-Boo, so if they are actually going to mimic the cartoon voices I think it will be an interesting choice. If Dan Aykroid and Justin Timerlake are just going to voice the bears with their regular speaking voices...I might considering jumping into a bear den at a local zoo in protest.

-The Director Eric Brevig directed the recent money making Journey To The Center of the Earth in 3-D, and was brought onto the Yogi Bear project when it was decided that the big screen adaptation of the two-dimensional cartoon be shot in eye-popping 3-D. I'm not sure what to make of the 3-D decision. I guess after Avatar, 3-D has a whole new appeal to everyone, so maybe it will help the movie at the box office. If Yogi Bear swings in on a rope to steal a picnic basket (and he better!) and then flies out over the audience...I'm so in!

-The Plot From the Warner Bros. press release: Jellystone Park has been losing business, so greedy Mayor Brown decides to shut it down and sell the land. That means families will no longer be able to experience the natural beauty of the outdoors -- and, even worse, Yogi and Boo Boo will be tossed out of the only home they've ever known. Faced with his biggest challenge ever, Yogi must prove that he really is "smarter than the average bear" as he and Boo Boo join forces with their old nemesis Ranger Smith to find a way to save Jellystone Park from closing forever.

Sounds promising as long as they don't have Yogi and Ranger Smith being best friends or some nonsense like that. As long as they have Yogi Bear in his green tie and porkpie hat, they are half way home!

Stay tuned to WWoB for more exciting updates from Yogi Watch 2010!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Old Malls: Harundale Mall

I love old photographs of malls. Especially when they are soaked in 1960's and 70's decor and fashion. Here's some great old pics I found online of Harundale Mall in Glen Burnie, Maryland.

I wasn't a frequent guest at this mall, but it was near my grandparent's house and then later in life I had some friends who lived near by, so I did visit the mall on more than one occasion. Harundale Mall was one of the nation's first enclosed malls and at the time of it's opening in 1958 - the only enclosed mall east of the Mississippi River. It was not a very large mall (by today's standards) but it was very grand. It had a unique layout and even when visiting it as a child in the 80's I could tell that the mall was from another era.

I remember the mall had a Horn & Horn Smogasbord Cafeteria, which were hard to come by by the time I was in high school. There was also a Polock Johnny's stand in the middle of the mall which I don't need to tell you...was some good eats!

Here's a shot of the movie theatre, which was actually a separate building in a parking lot across the street. I know I had seen a small handful of movies there but the only specific one I can remember is my mom taking my brother and I to see Back To The Future. Eventually the theatre became a second run/dollar theatre before closing. I think it's a church now!?!

I actually worked at Harundale Mall one night. One of my first jobs was with a photographer who ran the Santa Claus operations at a number of malls. I worked at a mall near my house, but one night I filled in for somebody at Harundale Mall on the night they were having Pet Photos with Santa. (I hate was an interesting night!) Another fun memory I have of the mall is the time my buddy and I were escorted out by security for trying to videotape in the mall. I didn't know you needed permission from the mall to shoot inside and I guess it didn't help matters that I was working on a school project and had a full size professional-grade TV camera with us. Ah...memories! If I remember right, we put the camera in the car and went back inside and got some Polock Johnny's.

The mall was built by James Rouse who much later went on to build the bigger and fancier Marley Station Mall right down the road from Harundale. Over time, Marley Station put Harundale and all the other malls in the area out of business. Harundale Mall hung on until 1998. The following year, Harundale Plaza debuted in the same spot as the mall with a supermarket, Outback Steak House, Hollywood Video and other boring offerings.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Go See The Princess and The Frog

The Princess and The Frog (2009)[G] First off, you need to go out and see this movie this weekend. Whether you've seen it already or not, you need to go to the theatre today or tomorrow and see this movie! Ya see, this is the first hand-drawn animated movie Hollywood has put out in quite a few years (The Simpsons Movie doesn't count) and Princess is getting clobbered at the box office by the shinny, hi-tech Avatar...which is largely computer animated. Now we all know that the folks in Hollywood ain't too bright and when they look at the numbers and see Avatar at $212 million and counting...and even Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 making $75 million in one week, and then they look at The Frog which has taken a month to only rack up $64 million...they are once again going to make the assumption that people only want to see CGI/computer animation and it will be another 10 years before we see a beautiful hand-drawn cartoon feature like The Princess and the Frog.

Now, is Princess as great as Disney would like you to believe? No, the film has some flaws. It follows in the footsteps of some of the greatest movies ever made like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Pinocchio. It also lives in the recent shadow of movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King - which are all beloved films that have become part of the American culture. These are all hard shoes to fill.

The Princess and the Frog is beautiful to look at. Set in New Orleans in the earlier part of the last century, the backgrounds are full of vibrant colors and rich detail while the character animation is flawless and fun to watch. Visuals alone can't carry a picture, and in the second act of this film the story starts to drag as it gets lost in the bayou. There are a handful of characters that are introduced which seem to serve no real purpose except to kill time. Some of the characters are completely forgettable, like a group of backwoods hunters who show up and still some of the other characters are really great: like Louis, an alligator with dreams of playing jazz and Raymond, a Cajun firefly who almost steals the show but again has no real purpose in the story.

The music is great and catchy and will probably add another two or three songs to the legacy of classic Disney music, but the music almost seems to fail to advance the story the way songs are used in true Disney masterpieces. The musical numbers are enjoyable and the highlight of the film, but they lack the storytelling/showstopping power of Disney tunes of the past.

With all the complaints and criticisms, I still found this to be an incredibly entertaining movie. It's just that the pieces don't quite fit together when compared to other Disney cartoon movies. It's still one of the best movies of the year. Hopefully, the talented Disney artists will have another chance real soon to make a trademark high quality picture like this one...but people need to go out and see it in the movies!!!
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