Sunday, December 21, 2014

Walt Disney's Robin Hood

Robin Hood ~ Although it's from the watered down Don Bluth years, the post-Walt Disney era in the 1970s when the studio really didn't know what to do with itself, this 1973 animated version of the Robin Hood legend still holds good memories for me.

My big brother took me to see this flick at the old Atco Drive-In, where it was on a triple bill, followed by the original 1965 That Darn Cat with Disney mainstays Dean Jones and Hayley Mills. The last feature, which we only stayed through the opening credits for, was the gentle Sam Peckinpah classic Junior Bonner with Steve McQueen and Joe Don Baker. It was only rated PG but I guess my brother didn't want to take any chances in case there was anything iffy for eight-year old me in it. I remember sharing a box of Junior Mints with my brother, laughing at That Darn Cat, wondering what Junior Bonner was about, and in general being unimpressed with Robin Hood, which was essentially why we were at the drive-in to begin with - to see the Disney flick. Other than good times with the bro, the movie has never been a favorite. I'll take Errol Flynn over this any day.

Even as a kid, this toned down, sickly sweet, kinda boring version of Robin Hood just didn't do it for me, and having characters so similar to those in The Jungle Book and even Bedknobs and Broomsticks didn't help either. It was upsetting to find that some of the film was reused and traced footage from previous Disney movies. The Jungle Book frustration was heightened by not just it being one of the movies, but also by the inclusion of a snake character (Sir Hiss = Kaa) and a bear character (Baloo = Little John, the latter both voiced by Phil Harris), and even a couple vultures. Even at eight, I could feel the constraints of the budget.

Having been raised on the wonderful 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood, most other versions of the character pale in comparison, this Disney one much more so, as it's not even a very exciting adventure. There was a lot of care put into the idea of watering stuff down for the children, and the tirade against violence on television and film was just beginning at this time so there's not much really one could do with Robin Hood in this atmosphere. There's even an alternate ending to this flick that was scrapped to make it palatable for the kiddies - or should I say, palatable for the overprotective parents?

Imagine my surprise when I found out that this particular story wasn't even really Robin Hood to begin with, but another character of Eurpoean folklore called Reynard the Fox. Disney had been trying to find a way to bring this story, as well as that of Robin Hood to the screen for quite some time. Animator Ken Anderson found a way to kill two birds with one stone, and combined them. That's why Robin and Marion are foxes. The lion and the rooster also correspond to animal characters in Reynard's tale as well.

Perhaps the powers that be should have just made a Reynard the Fox animated feature and left Robin Hood for future filmmakers to do better, as was done with both Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan many years later at the studio. Recommended only as a curiosity, or for Disney completists.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Poor Devil

Poor Devil ~ This failed TV pilot/made for TV movie is one I have been trying to locate for a while. I saw it a couple times as a kid and then never again, until recently I discovered it on YouTube. From 1973, Poor Devil stars Sammy Davis Jr. as a devil named Sammy. Sentenced to the furnace room of Hell, he's just trying to catch a break and get promoted, you know, up to a good devil position like buying souls.

In this case, the client is Jack Klugman, in his "Odd Couple" prime, trying to get revenge on his boss. He plays a similarly never promoted junior accountant who's just been overlooked after spending twenty-five years working at a department store in San Francisco. Frustrated, he finally says he'd sell his soul to get even with his superior. Along comes Sammy.

Klugman is always good, even as the nebbishy wimp he plays here. Sammy fills his scenes with class and enthusiasm, and sharp duds. This is the early seventies after all and everyone is dressed to the nines, especially in Hell, which is run like a corporate office (all in Satanic reds) that would make Don Draper proud. Christopher Lee rounds out the cast as the mod young Lucifer. The real standout of this flick however is Adam West as Klugman's slimy boss. This anti-Batman role was probably the template for Gary Cole's Bill Lumbergh from Office Space. Yeah, he's that big of a jerk.

Klugman's plan for revenge is to empty the department store the night before the biggest shopping day of the year - December 23rd. Yeah, this is also one of those Christmas movies that happens at Christmas but it's not really a Christmas movie. Yeah, I know, a Christmas movie with devils. I can definitely understand why NBC didn't pick it up as a series.

While it's hopelessly dated, but in a good way, and unfortunately slow in some places... I found that it still holds up. It was simple, but I enjoyed the flick. Catch it on YouTube if you get a chance.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Arrow S03 E09: "The Climb"

Finally after seasons of teasing us with the League of Assassins, we get to see The Demon himself, R'as Al Ghul. I love that the previews are visually recalling that first duel between Batman and R'as from the classic 1972 Batman #244. I remember the issue fondly as it was my introduction to R'as, Talia, and the League of Assassins. And of course, the creators of that comic, Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams, rebuilt Green Arrow from the ground up around that time as well.

As this is the mid-season finale, and made by the same folks as "The Flash," we should see some resolution and ongoing subplots end or collide. That's how it's been the last two years on "Arrow" and how it was earlier this week on "The Flash." After all, this isn't "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." "Arrow" delivers.

After delivering a 'package' to police headquarters, Arrow is captured by Nyssa and the League of Assassins and given an ultimatum. If you recall, Nyssa and the League had decided it was Malcolm Merlyn who killed Sara, and wanted to take him out. Arrow knew it wasn't him and defended him - to old R'as, this was an act of war, but Nyssa allowed him time to find the real killer. Unfortunately with a week off and a crossover with the Flash, Arrow hasn't had the time.

Nyssa says dad has a new deal. Find the killer in forty-eight hours or the League will start killing citizens of Starling City. This 'cleansing' of the city will be supervised by the assassin called Sarab, who Oliver knows better as Maseo, Katana's husband from Flashback Hong Kong. See what I mean about moving forward? Pay attention, Agents. And speaking of Flashback Hong, we get a bit more on Oliver's first clash with China White and her use of a super virus.

With only so much time, the search for Sara's killer is kicked into overdrive. So much progress is made with a clock ticking, I really can't help but think maybe Team Arrow wasn't really trying all that hard to find her killer before. I know that sounds harsh, but hey, look at the results here. It's more than a little embarrassing when you think about it like that.

Secrets that viewers have known for a while are out in the open to the characters involved. I told you things are moving forward. As it turns out, Sara might have been killed by... da da dum... Thea. Used by Merlyn, she, under his drug induced influence, killed Sara. It's his convoluted (even for a show based on a comic book) plan to get Oliver to fight and kill R'as Al Ghul, thus erasing any debts or bounties - like the one on Merlyn's.

As expected, to protect his sister from R'as, Oliver takes the blame, and challenges The Demon to a duel, a trial by combat - according to R'as, his first in sixty-seven years. At least here, as opposed to the Dark Knight film trilogy, they are acknowledging his immortality. And we also know that R'as will be back. The title of the episode comes from the climb Oliver takes up the mountain to the consecrated area of combat. It's a metaphorical climb similar to the one Bruce Wayne made in The Dark Knight Rises.

And wait, what, did Oliver just tell Felicity he loved her??? But that trick never works…

Just in time for Christmas, the soap opera aspect of the show is back in full force. Ray Palmer is feeling guilty about kissing Felicity because he lost his true love when Deathstroke took over the city last year. Laurel blabs to Thea that Sara is dead. And Mom is back, River Song herself, and she knows something wrong, so Laurel blabs to her too. How the heck is she going to keep her identity a secret when she becomes Black Canary? Loose lips, Laurel, loose lips.

We get other Christmas presents as well. We get to see Katana and China White go at it with swords, and Ray reveals his A.T.O.M. exosuit to Felicity. At first he calls it O.M.A.C., the designation Queen Consolidated gave it, but says he prefers Advanced Technology Operating Mechanism. Bleah. How about atom because he'll be able to get small like an atom? I love how Felicity keeps getting saddled with superhero secrets just like Alfred in the 1966 "Batman" TV series.

The duel ends exactly as one would expect a duel between Green Arrow and R'as Al Ghul to end, with our hero's death. Don't worry, it's not the first time Green Arrow has been dead, nor is it the last. See you in January.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Mr. Holland's Opus

Mr. Holland's Opus ~ One of the treats on board the Disney Magic on the TCM Classic Cruise was seeing films on the big screen, and having it introduced and discussed by its star. Such was the case one early morning after breakfast with Richard Dreyfuss and Mr. Holland's Opus.

It's amazing to me, while waiting in a huge line forty-five minutes early, how many people are similarly amazed, but for a completely different reason. Everyone says this is their favorite film, yet they can't believe anyone else is here. What? It can't be someone else's favorite film? That's how most folks were waiting for Mr. Holland's Opus. It was their favorite film, but were stunned that anyone else felt the same way. I guess everyone thinks it's a secret.

Speaking of favorite films, this is one of The Bride's favorites, right up there with The Princess Bride and Frozen. And as I mentioned, well over a couple hundred folks agreed. So a chance to see Mr. Holland's Opus on the big screen (again) and especially introduced by the star of the film himself could not be missed.

Richard Dreyfuss loved this film and reflected on its origins, as he was interviewed by actress/director/film historian Ileana Douglas. Written in just two weeks after the screenwriter was confronted by a teachers strike and deciding that teachers are real heroes - Mr. Holland's Opus is a tribute to teachers who make a difference. In that case I'd want to thank Mrs. Pfleger, Mr. Stewart, and Mr. Lee who, much like Mr. Holland, made a difference in my life at what passed for a high school back in the day.

We watch in loose episodic vignettes as Holland, a frustrated musician and composer takes a teaching job as a last resort, a temporary measure, and stays for several decades as he raises a deaf son, and changes the lives of many students along the way, to the music of the times. It's an uplifting teacher story in a decade where uplifting teacher stories were in vogue, but it's special, it has heart, it has realism, as opposed to being overly sentimental or emotionally manipulative like lesser, but still amazing, films like Stand and Deliver or Lean on Me. This one feels real, and if you're not in tears at the end, you're heartless.

Dreyfuss in various and subtle stages of age and make-up gives the performance of his life, and co-stars Glenne Headley, Olympia Dukakis, William H. Macy, Terrence Howard, and even Jay Thomas follow suit. It's powerful, emotional, educational, and even funny. It affects me the same way every time I see it, and I have to watch it every time I see it's on. This is a must see film.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Flash Vs. Arrow - Part Two

For the second part of the CW's big Flash Vs. Arrow crossover television event, you can read my review of the Arrow half here at Biff Bam Pop!. You can read part one here, and over at Biff Bam Pop!, yesterday.