Friday, September 25, 2015

Everything New is Old Again: Four Follow-Up or Revival TV Series made after the Original Ended

                Just like the movie article about sequels, the idea of remaking an already existing work is incredibly attractive because of the built-in audience.  The concept worked before, so obviously it’ll work again, right?  Well, not necessarily.  Some have huge successes, while others don’t even last a full season.  We’re not talking about wholly remade TV series, like Battlestar Galatica or Hawaii Five-O.  Instead, someone had the bright idea to have a sequel series, exploring the same characters in new situations.
First, Get Smart started as 1965 series starring Don Adams and Barbra Feldon working as agents in a government agency called CONTROL against a evil foreign agency called KAOS.  Don Adams, as Maxwell Smart (Agent 86), was always bumbling while Feldon, as agent 99, was the straight woman who kept him in line…sometimes.  The show was created by Mel Brooks and lasted 5 seasons.  After 2 made-for-TV movie in 1980 and 1989, Get Smart was remade in 1995, with Agent 86 as head of control and his son as a junor agent.  The show only lasted 7 episodes but unfortunately never had the ratings to last any longer.
In 1978, Dallas debuted on CBS.  It was about the powerful Ewing family, oil tycoons in Dallas Texas.  Larry Hagman played J.R. Ewing, the head of the family who was often involved in shady deal and less than scrupulous schemes.  The family would often feud with each other.  The show was famous for its cliffhangers, the most famous of which was when J.R. Ewing was shot at the end of season 3. The show lasted for 14 seasons and 357 episodes.  In 2012, TNT revived the series.  Three of the main characters from the original, along with a new generation of characters, continued the story of the Ewing family.  The show lasted three seasons on the TNT network, and unfortunately, partway through the second season, Larry Hagman died, thus the show lost its most popular character.  It was renewed one more season but the show failed to recover from the loss so it was cancelled.
Dragnet has had an interesting broadcast history.  Dragnet focused on Police Lieutenant Joe Friday, played by Jack Webb (who also created the show) and his day-to-day work.  It used real life stories as plot and changed the names to keep the real people anonymous.  The show originally ran from 1951 to 1959, for eight seasons and 278 episodes.  Jack Webb was able to revive the series from 1967 to 1970, for four more seasons and 98 more episodes.  Both times, Jack Webb voluntarily ended the show instead of the network cancelling it because of low ratings. 
Degrassi started a Canadian TV series called The Kids of Degrassi Stree (1979-1986) then Degrassi Junior High (1987-1989), then Degrassi High (1989-1991).  The show focused on kids growing up, and was noted for its mostly realistic if somewhat soapy depiction of kids’ troubles.  In 2001, the show was brought back again under the name Degrassi: The Next Generation, with the kids of many of the main characters of the original series going to middle school for the first time.  Degrassi is by far one of the most successful revival series, lasting in its original run for 14 seasons and 385 episodes, eventually turning over the entire original cast for new middle and high school characters.  The show was cancelled after its fourteenth season, only to be brought back again by a joint production with Family Channel in Canada and Netflix, called New Class, presumably with a new cast of characters.

                The revival of Get Smart was unfortunately not large enough to warrant a DVD release, but all others can be found on DVD.  Check out all of these original series, and their revivals and see how they measure up to the originals.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

In (Almost) Every Pixar Movie

               Pixar’s genius storytelling keeps audiences coming back for feature after feature.  But Pixar also includes Easter Eggs in all of its movies, as reference or running gag for fun.  There are three Easter Eggs which will appear in nearly every movie.  The first is the code A113, which was the animation room in Cal-Arts where such people as John Lasseter and Brad Bird learned their craft.  The second is the actor John Ratzenberger, and is known by John Lasseter as “Pixar’s Good Luck Charm” and has appeared in every Pixar movie so far.  The third item is the Pizza Planet Truck, which first appeared in Toy Story.  In every movie since (except for The Incredibles, Brad Bird’s first Pixar Animated feature), the truck haCs been snuck into the movie.
                Here are Code A113’s appearances in Pixar Films: (1) Andy’s mom’s car’s license plate in all three Toy Story movies.  (2) During the moment where Flik enters Bug City, it can be seen as code on a Cereal Box in A Bug’s Life.  (3)  This one from Monster’s Inc is a bit of stretch but anyway, in the moment right before Mike and Sulley throw over the door they slammed on Randall, one column in the background reads A13, thus: A113. (4) In Finding Nemo, the camera from the scuba diver contains the code.  (5) It is the room that Mirage sends Mr. Incredible to in The Incredibles.  (6) It is also Mater’s License plate in the Cars movies.  (7) Gib the lab rat in Ratatouille has the tag A113.  (8) The directive code that Auto, the autopilot on the Axiom ship, was given to stop people from returning to earth in Wall-E.  (9) The court room number that Carl has to visit after he hits the construction worker.  (10) Above the entrance to the Witch’s cottage in Brave, the Roman Numerals ACXIII (A113) appears. (11) The classroom where Scare 101 is taught in Monsters University is A113.  (12) And finally, in Inside Out, the classroom where Riley is sent on her first day in her new school is designated “A113.”
                John Ratzenberger’s roles in Pixar movies range from major supporting character to one line cameos: (1) in the Toy Story movies, he plays Hamm, the piggy bank.  (2) In the A Bugs Life, he plays P.T Flea, (3) In the Monsters movies, he plays the Abominable Snowman, (3) At the end of The Incredibles, he plays the villain the Underminer, (4) in the Cars movies, he plays Mack, (5), In Ratatouille he is Mufasta the waiter, (6), In Wall-E, he plays John, (7) in Up he is Tom the foreman, (8) In Brave, he is Gordon, the guard, (9) and finally in Inside Out he is Fritz.
                The Pizza Planet Truck is a beat up yellow Toyota Truck with a red and white space ship on top: (1) After losing Andy’s mom’s car at the gas station in Toy Story, Woody sees the truck and convinces Buzz to hop in.  (2) In A Bug’s Life, it appears beside a motor home where a bug can’t stop going to a bug zapper. (3) Buzz and his friends find the truck and try to drive it to save Woody and Jessie from Al, who is flying to Japan.  (4) After the door he is shoved into shatters in Monster’s Inc, Randall appears in silhouette in a motor home; beside it the truck can be seen.  (5) In Finding Nemo, during the sequence illustrating Gill’s escape from the dentist’s aquarium, the truck is shown driving across the road.  (6) In the stadium at the final race in Cars, one of the cars in the stadium is the Pizza Planet truck, with eyes and a face like the other cars.  (7) In Wall-E, short after EVE arrives, she scans the truck for plant life.  (8) When Carl takes Russell for ice cream at the end of Up, the truck is parked in the parking lot.  (9) In Toy Story 3, Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear, Big Baby and Chuckles ride on a Pizza Plant truck to get to Sunnyside Daycare. (10) In Toy Story 2, the same type of Pizza Planet truck shows up at the Radiator Springs Grand Prix. (11) A wood carving at the witch’s cottage has a picture of the truck. (12) In Monsters University, the truck can be seen outside the first house party.  (13) In Inside Out, the truck can be seen in one of the orbs when Joy and Sadness first meet Bing Bong.

                 The next time you watch these Pixar movies, check out these Easter Eggs.  They are just some of the many reasons to watch our favorites again and again.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Dances With Wolves Summary and Review (Spoilers)

                Nowadays there have been several movies with the theme that Native Americans are peace-loving, friends of nature, and live in harmony together while the whites are bigoted, mean people who only desire to conquer, even with the extraterrestrial version of Avatar.  Nevertheless, to be fair, the depiction of Indians as villainous savages had decades of movies, TV, and novels to overcome.  Around the time the film was made, Kevin Costner was a huge box office star in the likes of Bull Durham and Field of Dreams.  He wanted to make a movie from the 1988 novel Dances with Wolves by Michael Blake.  After failing to find a director to make the project, he decided to direct the film himself. 
                Despite its three hours length, the story begins in the middle, showing an injured Northern John Dunbar at a Civil War hospital tent… with the doctors ready to remove his leg.  The despondent John escapes when the doctors are distracted and charges unarmed with a horse into in the middle of stalemated battlefield.  The confused Southern side shoots but fails to hit John, and that distracts Southern army enough for the Northern Side to attack drive the Southern army back.  John Dunbar uses his victory to request the most remote station possible.
                When John arrives at the station, he finds it deserted.  However there was evidence of people staying there who might have been attacked.  Eventually, the Sioux Native Americans start observing John at the base.  At first their interactions are hostile, but then John saves a bleeding white woman (Mary McDonnell, who now best known as President Roslin from Battlestar Galactica) dressed in Native American garb.  He takes her back to the Sioux village and the Indians slowly realize he means no harm.  They visit his camp and he visits theirs, struggling to communicate, but both come from a place of wanting to understand versus viewing the other as a villain.  The white woman initially resists being a translator, but after some convincing by her adoptive father, she agrees.  It is around this time that it slowly dawns on John Dunbar how wrong he was about the Indians, and his change feels genuine.  He truly is changed by the people of the Sioux.  The bulk of the rest of the movie is John slowly leaving his old life to a life with the Natives, eventually becoming Dances with Wolves. 
                John struggles to connect with the white woman, Stands with a Fist, but slowly he comes to understand that her Native American husband had died recently and was mourning her loss.  Meanwhile, Stands with a Fist comes out of her shell thanks to John’s kindness and falls in love with him.  The two eventually marry. 
                The final act features John/Dances with Wolves going back to his old base to retrieve his journal, only to a new base camp with dozens of soldiers.  John is quickly captured and tortured and questioned for his actions over the past several months.  The soldiers are almost all depicted as uncaring, violent individuals with no care for living things (for example, they kill a dog – that John had befriended earlier in the movie – just for sport).  The Sioux Indians rescue their friend, killing the soldiers.  Dances with Wolves realizes that because of his now outlaw status, he is a danger to his friends.  He leaves with his new wife after the winter breaks. 

                The movie Dances with Wolves works because of the attention to detail and the transformation of the main character.  Kevin Costner had real Sioux dialogue featured throughout the movie, lending to its accuracy.  Kevin Costner’s character doesn’t just change his mind; he is transformed by his experience with the Sioux Native Americans.  The noted difference between John and Dances with Wolves at the beginning of the movie and the end when he is with the soldiers at the base camp shows how much he has left his old life behind.  The movie is not without its flaws, as the soldiers at the end are too harsh in their caricatures, and a depiction of a rival Indian tribe only depicts them as savages.  But Dances with Wolves is still one of the first and the best of the positive portrayals of Native Americans in movies. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Our Love of List Entertainment – and 5 places to find it

           List entertainment is easily digestible because it is about a specific subject that interests us (whether it be a specific type of movie, TV, book, online media, etc., or in the case of Mental Floss, any subject imaginable), and gives it usually in a countdown fashion, ending with the best.  Even if we don’t completely agree with the list, we usually find a favorite on the list.  It also gives us an easily identifiable beginning and ending. 
1. I just stumbled across the YouTube channel Mental Floss, whose most popular video series is called the List Show.  Some of the most recent videos: 31 Amazing Facts about Household Items, 21 Failed Inventions, 22 Bizarre Conspiracy Theories.  Hosted mainly by John Green, but also by Mike Rugnetta, Craig Benzine and Paige Finch, the host rattles off the information in list form, in videos usually lasting 5 to 10 minutes. 
             2. I have already covered watchmojo.com elsewhere, but its top 10 lists are still addicting.  Almost always featuring something to do with entertainment, three of most recent videos were, “Top 10 Hilarious Break-Up Scenes”, “Top 10 Alcohol Chugging Movies” and “Another top 10 Annoyingly Catchy Songs.” 
             3. Buzzfeed has many list articles, dealing with a personality trait juxtaposed with gifs from popular TV shows and movies: A recent article was called, “19 Real, Tiring and Frustrating Struggles of Being Introvert with FOMO” (FOMO stands for “fear of missing out”).  Number Four, for example, says, “And yet, your FOMO means that every time there is a big night out, your guilt makes you feel like you have to go.”  With that caption, underneath is a gif of Michael Scott (Steve Carell) from The Office, with his caption reading “I hate, hate, hate being left out.”  It’s that type of stuff that populates BuzzFeeds page.
             4. Another site I frequent with two separate regular lists is The A.V. Club, an entrainment review and news website.  One of their most popular regular features is Inventory.  Inventory goes In-depth in its list, for example: “The Late Greats: 18-Plus TV characters who Buoyed Shows Midstream” details exactly the circumstances in which the actor and the character revitalized the show.  Other recent articles include “These are the breaks: 10 of the most sampled drum beats in History,” and “’If you’ll love me, you’ll drink this’: 7 Movie Cocktails you shouldn’t Try at Home.”  A.V. Club also includes TV Club 10, a list of 10 episode of a TV series that were the most representative of the shows’ output, not necessarily the best episodes (though of course sometimes they did overlap).  Recent shows included Angel, Modern Family and Weeds. 
            5. And if you read through my past articles, I have also used list entertainment as a way to easily write an article for my blog.  Some of my past articles include: Music Synergy: Nine Teen Actresses with First Songs/Singles made Directly for Their TV Show or Movie, Five Disney-Produced Disney Documentaries You Can See (And One You Can’t), and 3 Sets of Siblings Headlining Their Own Separate Shows.  Yes, I know, I’m sucker for them myself. 

            So what list would you like to see next? What TV shows, movies, books, online videos, music, actors, actresses, sports, demand to be put onto a list?  Let me know, after, I love doing them myself.  And yes, I made this a list of list entertainments on purpose.