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Friday, November 30, 2012

I Dream of Jeannie

Before I get started with today's edition of the blog, I just wanted to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a fantastic actor who passed away recently.

Last Friday, Larry Hagman passed away at the age of 81 in Dallas, Texas. The cause of death being complications from throat cancer. He leaves behind his wife of 58 years, Maj Axelsson, and his two children, Heidi Kristina and Preston, as well as countless friends and co-workers who were lucky enough to have worked with him.

It almost seems hard to believe that Larry Hagman is gone. After all, he did survive a life-saving surgery in the summer of 1995 after being diagnosed with liver cancer and requiring a transplant. And whenever I saw him doing publicity for his work in television, or doing talk-show interviews, he always had something about him that made him seem invincible. The confidence that he displayed throughout the years was nothing short of inspiring, as far as I'm concerned.

At the time of his death, he was working on the rebooted version of the show that helped cement his status as an actor, “Dallas”. His portrayal of the cunning, duplicitous, money-hungry J.R. Ewing helped make the original run of the series a huge success. After all, J.R. Ewing was the key player in one of Dallas' biggest storylines, “Who Shot J.R.?”. What was interesting about his time on “Dallas” was that he played a character that was universally hated by the other characters on the show, but off-screen, he shared an extremely close relationship with them.

When Hagman died last Friday, Linda Gray (who played J.R.'s long-suffering wife, Sue Ellen) called Hagman her best friend of 35 years and referred to him as “The Pied Piper of life” who “brought joy to everyone he knew.” And Patrick Duffy, who played J.R.'s brother Bobby, issued a statement of his own, saying that “he was a fighter in the gentlest way, against his obstacles and for his friends”. Both Duffy and Gray were both at Hagman's bedside when he passed away.

But while “Dallas” was probably one of the biggest career opportunities that Larry Hagman ever had, it was far from being his only successful project. A lot of people may not know this, but he entertained U.S. Troops at Air Force bases in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe during the Korean War, appeared on the television soap opera “The Edge of Night”, and performed in several Broadway plays.

And of course, everyone who grew up during the 1960s probably remembers him best for his role in this particular sitcom, the one that we'll be talking about in this special edition of the blog.

Yes, we're breaking free from the “canceled before their time” CBS dramatic series for this week to talk about the classic NBC sitcom, “I Dream of Jeannie”, which along with Hagman starred Barbara Eden as Jeannie, a 2,000 year old genie who is more than happy to grant the wishes of whoever becomes her master.

Created by Sidney Sheldon as a way to compete against the wildly popular television series “Bewitched”, the television series was inspired by a feature film, “The Brass Bottle”, which ironically enough also starred Barbara Eden, Tony Randall, and Burl Ives. Sheldon came up with the idea of making the main character a beautiful female genie in order to compete with Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha.

Of course, finding the perfect Jeannie was a tough task for Sidney Sheldon. He was very picky about finding the right actress to fill the part the way that he had written it. In particular, he didn't want a genie that was blonde because of the fact that the main character of Bewitched was also blonde...but after many unsuccessful auditions, Sheldon called the agent of Barbara Eden, and the rest is history.

The show debuted on NBC on September 18, 1965. The show centered around astronaut Captain Anthony “Tony” Nelson (Hagman), who ends up landing on a deserted South Pacific island after a space flight. He ends up finding a bottle that has washed up on a beach, and rubs it, which causes Jeannie to appear to him. And it appears as though Jeannie hasn't seen a man for hundreds of years, as the first thing she does is plant a kiss so deep on Tony's lips that he is left completely gobsmacked.

There's also another problem with Tony releasing Jeannie out into the world. She can't speak English, which frustrates Tony as he can't understand her. But then Tony puts his brain cells together and realizes that he could make a wish to understand her better. And once he makes that wish, Jeannie can speak English for the rest of the series. Once that happens, Tony makes another wish, and ends up getting rescued from the island. Tony wishes to express his gratitude to Jeannie, so he tells her that she's free. But Jeannie's already fallen head over heels in love with Tony, and makes the decision to accompany him back to his home by hitching a ride in her bottle and sneaking aboard his duffle bag.

Once Tony returns home, the series depicts what life is like living with a 2,000 year old genie. Tony initially keeps Jeannie in her bottle for the majority of the show's first couple of seasons, but midway through the series, Tony realizes that he isn't doing Jeannie any favours by keeping her imprisoned in the bottle, so he makes the decision to let her out and enjoy her own life.

There's just one problem. Because Jeannie is a genie, her existence is very much linked to her master, and as a result, everything she does, she does out of her love for Tony. And this initially causes problems for Tony, who fears that he will lose his job if any of his superiors discovered Jeannie's identity. Jeannie successfully plays a key part in ending Tony's engagement to Melissa Stone, she almost becomes the master of Tony's friend Roger Healey after he steals Jeannie's bottle for his own selfish desires, and on top of all that, she has an evil twin (Eden in a dual role) that threatens to destroy the relationship that Tony has with Jeannie.

Of course, all that scheming was in vain. Tony ends up getting promoted to the rank of Major, and by the end of the series in May 1970, Jeannie and Tony got married to each other.

There were a couple of running gags that were present throughout the series run. One gag was that Jeannie's powers would be nullified if Jeannie found herself trapped in an enclosed space. In fact, one multi-arc episode featured Jeannie being trapped in a safe that was rigged to explode if the wrong combination was entered. It actually became an at-home contest, with viewers at home trying to come up with the right 3-digit number.

(In case you were wondering, the combo of the safe was revealed to be 497.)

And the other running gag involved Tony trying his best to keep Jeannie a secret, which often involved him acting erratically. This often got him some unwanted attention from NASA's resident psychiatrist, U.S. Air Force Colonel Dr. Alfred Bellows, and Bellows' unsuccessful attempts to discredit Tony.

And, here's some other interesting facts about the show itself.

Jeannie's genie bottle was not specifically created for the show. It was actually a Christmas 1964 Jim Beam liquor decanter!

The original bottle was supposed to be smoke green with gold embellishments, but due to the fact that the first few episodes were shot entirely in black and white, the colours obviously didn't show up. When the show began filming in colour about thirty episodes in, the colour of the bottle changed to purple.

It was estimated that a total of 12 bottles were used during the entire series. Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman, and Bill Daily each kept one of the bottles that were used in the taping of the shows after the series wrapped up.

The reason why season one was filmed in black and white was due to NBC's refusal to pay the extra money to have the show broadcast in colour.

Jeannie's birthdate was reported to be April 1, 64 B.C.

Barbara Eden's real-life husband, Michael Ansara, appeared in three episodes of the series.

Barbara Eden was actually pregnant during the first season of the series, so she was shot in close-up, or had a veil covering her stomach area. And on that note...

Barbara Eden was forced to cover up her navel as – believe it or not – an exposed navel was quite scandalous for the mid-1960s. Weirdly enough, the exposed navel didn't become a problem until the third season, when a person casually observed that it was visible when the waistband of her costume shifted. Oh, how times have changed.

Jeannie's costume is now on display at the Smithsonian. Her shoes were supplied by Neiman Marcus.

Apparently, Pontiac must have been a sponsor of the show, as all the characters drove cars made by Pontiac in the show.

Apparently, Larry Hagman was almost replaced by Darren McGavin, as some people reported that he was incredibly difficult to work with. The only reason Hagman stayed on was because the NBC executives loved him.

At one point, writer James S. Henerson wrote for both “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Bewitched”. Talk about conflict of interest! He was eventually fired from “Bewitched”.

An animated series was filmed by Hanna-Barbera based on the series called “Jeannie” which aired during the 1970s.

And, that's about all that I have to say about “I Dream of Jeannie”. It was a classic show that brought joy to a lot of people...and it was the show that helped kickstart the career of Larry Hagman...even if his behind the scenes storyline wasn't quite as idyllic as the life his character enjoyed on the show.

Rest in peace, may have made a name for yourself by getting shot on a long-running drama, but you also proved that you could be a nice guy on screen as well.

Larry Hagman

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Party of One

The holiday season is a time of year in which people get together for all sorts of parties and celebrations. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or any other holiday, I'm certain that most of you will spend them with family, friends, or other people who mean a lot to you at various gatherings and parties.

This week's edition of the Thursday Diaries talks about a holiday party that was recently held...and why I ended up flaking out of it.

November 29, 2012

Okay, diary...I know it seems a bit weird that I keep referring to these series of blog entries as the Thursday Diaries. After all, there are no books pens, no pieces of paper...not even a key that unlocks it. But, I was told by quite a few people in my life that I should try to bring a little bit more of myself in these entries, so I decided to take their advice. I think in some ways, it's working out better because I get to share more of myself with all of you out there....but also, I get to talk about topics that I likely wouldn't be able to talk about in a standard entry on pop culture.

Most recently, I was faced with another situation in which I was given advice in regards to something else. Advice that upon retrospect I probably should have taken.

I guess I should explain. Last week was my workplace's Christmas party. It was held at a banquet hall in town, and everybody who worked at the store was invited. All you had to do was sign up before a specific date so that the store's social committee could figure out how much food to order.

There were several people who signed up for it. I think that I lost count after 100 people. And for what it was worth, I will say that our store's social committee worked overtime in order to make the party a success. They booked the venue, they bought the door prizes, and they advertised the party in such a way that the whole store knew about it within a matter of days.

And yet, I chose not to attend. Instead, I went home and spent the evening working on writing projects. And at first, I was comfortable with my decision. I believed that I had made the right choice at the time for a multitude of reasons.

But then I went into work the very next day and heard people who had gone to the party talking about how great a time they had, and I saw pictures of the event that people had taken, and I was beginning to change my stance, and felt like I had missed out on a good time.

Funny how that works, huh?

So I suppose that you're wondering why I decided not to go to the party. It's a bit of a complicated explanation, and I fear that I may contradict myself when it comes to trying to talk it out...but it's a risk I'm willing to take.

I should state this from the very beginning. For most of my life, I have had a really terrible experience with parties. When I was a kid, I was lucky if I was invited to one or two birthday parties a year, while all my other classmates went to at least half a dozen. As far as people throwing me parties, that track record was even more dismal. If I can remember correctly, I think I've only had two surprise parties in thirty-one years of living. And that admission is not one that is meant to induce sympathy or pity either...just telling it like it is.

I actually think that those experiences of going to parties as a child (or lack thereof in my situation) sort of hindered my outlook on them when I grew older. By the time I was old enough to pick and choose what parties and social events I went to, I simply picked and chose to not go. And in situations where I was forced to go to a social event such as a wedding or a graduation party, I chose to keep to myself in an isolated corner.

You see, by that time of my life, I was completely over weddings, parties, anything really. I felt incredibly uncomfortable being at them in uncomfortable that I ended up making excuses as to why I would choose not to go. The venues were too crowded, the music was too loud, I didn't want to go to a party without a my head they sounded logical, and I never really thought much about it.

And just as I had for every party that I flaked out on in the past, I made excuses over why I didn't go to the Christmas party last week. I didn't have a date, so I would have sat by myself. Many of the people who signed up to attend the party were people who never really bothered with me much in the first place, so why would the Christmas party be any different? You know, foolish excuses like that.

Now I feel as though I potentially missed out on what could have been a great time.

I mean, yeah, it's entirely possible that the excuses that I kept making for myself could have happened. Yet, it's also entirely possible that these excuses were all in my head and that I was purposely trying to get out of spending time in social gatherings.

The only question that I keep asking myself is...why do I do this?

Well, I think it boils down to this. And bear with me here, it's hard to explain.

I was thinking that because I had a few bad experiences with parties in my youth, that no party was worth going through that again. So, I ended up rejecting any invitation to parties that contained more than three people (which I'm not really sure if a party of four counts as a party) because I couldn't face the prospect of going there just to be ignored or have a bad time.

And what ultimately happened was that I had a bad time at home feeling sorry for myself.

You see, what I didn't realize was that by rejecting party invitations, I was basically closing the doors to future events. I mean, think about it for a second. If you heard that a person rejected six different party invitations, would you even make the effort to invite them to your party?

So, eventually the party invitations just stopped coming...and it was of my own doing...though my mindset at the time was all about blaming others for being snobbish and stuck-up as to not including me in their celebrations. So, yes, I'll own that. A lot of my bad party experiences were of my own doing.

I'm not sure why I spent so much time trying to avoid parties...I can only made educated guesses. I refused to go to the after-party for my high school graduation because, well, let's face it...would you want to hobknob with the very people who spent four to five years bullying you? I don't think so. At the same time, there were some people at my school that I did like, and who did attend the same party that I could have hung around with instead. A missed opportunity, I guess.

And looking back on it, I suppose that my decision to skip the Christmas party at work was based on a lot of those insecurities that I had growing up...insecurities that admittedly still bother me as an adult. Insecurities that I want to obliterate from my personality once and for all.  I mean, many of the people at that party were co-workers of mine...some I've known for eight years.  Why would I be afraid to be myself in front of them at a Christmas party when I am known for making a fool out of myself at work all the time?  It makes no sense...and yet, here we are.

I think that the only way that I'll be able to conquer my insecurities and anxieties regarding social gatherings is by going to more of them, and getting better acquainted with how they run.  And I suppose if it means grinning and bearing it at social events in the future, it might be worth it, if it means that I become more socially approachable in the process.

I guess it's something to think about.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Good Luck Trolls

As we approach the Christmas season, this is the time of year in which most toy companies end up making a bulk of their profits. It certainly makes sense. After all, what do most kids between the ages of three and thirteen ask for on their Christmas lists? Toys, of course.

So, for the next few weeks, I thought that I would do spotlights on some popular toys that were huge when I was a kid...and these are toys that I have actually received as Christmas presents back in the day myself. So in addition to learning more about these toys, you'll also be entertained by some personal stories in relation to my experiences with these toys. I hope you enjoy it.

Okay, so because I'm trying to make this blog a little more personal, I should share with you a little bit of a story in regards to my Christmas well as my family.

It's no secret when I admit that my family didn't have a whole lot of money available for holidays. When you come from a one-parent family income, which barely covered the essentials needed for survival, there wasn't a whole lot of extra money available. And yet, I can always remember having great Christmases. My parents really worked hard to make sure that my siblings and I partook in the joy that Christmas had to offer, and it wasn't just about the gifts either. It was about spending time together, and enjoying the traditions that came with the holiday season.

One of these traditions for the holiday that I can always remember occurred on Christmas Eve. When my siblings and I were children, we were allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve night...the only catch was that it was the same thing every year. We weren't even allowed to choose which gift we could unwrap...we had to open a gift that our parents chose for us.

Those gifts ended up always being some form of sleepwear. Pajamas, slippers, baby doll nightgowns (well, okay, I personally did NOT get that last option). When I was a kid, I admittedly found it to be a drag getting pajamas every single year. I almost would have welcomed opening up socks and underwear least it would have been a change! It wasn't until I got older than I really began to appreciate the tradition for what it was. And if I'm ever lucky enough to have a son or a daughter of my own one day, I plan to share that tradition with them.

So, what does a story about getting pajamas as a present have to do with today's toy spotlight? After all, pajamas are not toys. I'm getting to that.

You see, one of the key elements in trying to figure out which gift underneath the tree was the one we were to open on Christmas Eve was how it was labeled. On our Christmas Eve gifts, the gift tag attached to the present was always from “Dad”. This always meant that every present that had the “Dad” gift tag contained pajamas.

Now when I was twelve years old, I knew the drill. On December 24, I would search under the tree, looking for a gift that was from “Dad”, and opened it up expecting to see some form of pajamas. To my surprise though, when I ripped off the red and green wrapping paper, and opened up the box, I found this instead.

Now clearly I couldn't wear this to bed. But I couldn't figure out how I ended up with a Troll Doll for a Christmas Eve present instead of a pair of pajamas. And neither could my parents, who were just as shocked as I was!

That is until my parents looked over the shredded wrapping paper all over the floor and saw where the mix-up took place. Do you know those ribbons and bows that have the peel and stick backings on them? Like these ones below?

Apparently when my parents were wrapping presents in preparation for Christmas, they accidentally put a big bow so close to the gift tag that it obscured the word “Mom” in the “From Mom and Dad” written on it. And soon after, we found the right Christmas Eve gift, I got my Christmas Eve pajamas, and all was right in the world...well, aside from the fact that I ended up with two Christmas Eve gifts.

Not that I complained too much, of course.

In fact, I'll level with you. The Troll Doll that I accidentally unwrapped that Christmas Eve was a gift that I had never gotten before. It was a toy that looked so ugly, but yet it was kind of cool at the same time. And hey, the troll's hair was my favourite colour (purple), so it had that going for it as well. I think I ended up getting about a half a dozen when I was a kid, just because I thought they were interesting.

In fact, I've decided to use this blog to talk about Troll Dolls, as well as the origin behind them and how they initially became popular during the 1960s, and enjoyed a brief comeback in the 1990s.

The history of the Troll Doll begins a little over five decades ago in the country of Denmark. The year was 1959, and Danish fisherman Thomas Dam was having difficulty coming up with the right Christmas present to give to his daughter, Lila. So, he decided to do what a lot of other people have done...make something. In addition to being a fisherman, he was an experienced woodcarver, and he decided to carve something special for Lila. Christmas came, Lila ended up getting her special present, and she loved it very much.

And apparently, so did all the other kids in the Danish village where Thomas and Lila lived.

This is one of the original designs of what would come to be known as the Troll Doll as it appeared back in 1959. Adorable little creature, isn't he?

So, Thomas Dam decided to mass produce the Troll Dolls so that every kid in the village would have one, substituting plastic for the original wooden one that he had made Lila. The dolls were produced by his company known as Dam Things (a rather unfortunate name for a company when you stop and think about it), and were sold under the name of “Good Luck Trolls”.

The dolls became instant sensations in several European nations, but it wouldn't be until 1963 until they began to make an impact on North America. From 1963 until 1965, “Good Luck Trolls” became a huge fad in the United States.

Of course, with the success of the Troll Doll came the knockoffs and sub-standard versions. The original Troll dolls created by Thomas Dam were known as Dam Dolls (again, a rather unfortunate name), and were made of quality materials including glass eyes and hair made from sheep wool. But due to the sudden popularity of the troll dolls, coupled with a copyright notice error of Dam's original product, cheaper versions were made that flooded North American shelves.

By 1966, Troll dolls were fading in popularity in North America, but the company remained open to produce them for the European market, in which they were still widely popular well into the 1970s. But around 1988, Troll Dolls began to make a reappearance on store shelves all across Canada and the United States. The E.F.S. Marketing Associates Inc. were one of the very few corporations that the Dam family (you can tell I'm having a lot of fun with the play on words here, can you) allowed to market the dolls.

The dolls were sold in the United States under the name of “Norfin Trolls”, and several versions of the Troll dolls were mass produced including the classic Troll...

...Trolls with lucky gem stones...

...Trolls with clothes...

...believe it or not, there was even a two-headed Troll doll! As if they weren't ugly enough already!

In 2003, a Congressional law allowed the Dam family to restore their original copyright and become the sole manufacturer of the dolls...forty years after the misprint in the original copyright statement was made. Despite an American company's decision to challenge the restoration of the copyright in court, the court ruled in favour of the Dam family, and the copyright has been in their possession ever since.

As of 2012, Troll dolls are still being manufactured, though their popularity has waned in recent years. It certainly didn't help that DiC Entertainment tried to capitalize on the popularity of Troll dolls by creating its own animated series known as Trollz – an attempt that failed miserably in the United States, and prompted the company that held the rights to the dolls to file a lawsuit against DiC in 2007. But I'd reckon that Troll dolls might find their way back into toy stores all over the world once again. Believe it or not, there are plans to release a Troll doll movie!

The plans were announced by DreamWorks Animation in the summer of 2010, and as of right now, Chloe Grace Moretz has been cast as the female lead of the film. It even has a tentative release date of June 2015!

So, okay, we have to wait three years before we see any motion pictures featuring the spiky-haired trolls of yore...but would you care to take a wager that if and when the movie comes out, you'll see the fad make a comeback?

Remind me to revisit this topic in the summer of 2015, to see if I'm right!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November 27, 1985

It seems hard to believe, but there are only four weeks left until Christmas, and only thirty-four days left until we ring in 2013!  I can’t believe how fast this year has flown by!

As we enter the month of sparkling lights, freshly fallen snow, carolers singing on street corners, and shopping malls being filled with shoppers looking to cross off the last details on their lists, December is looking like it is going to be a busy month.  And, that’s not even taking into account the hullabaloo that is surrounding the uncertainty of what could happen on the twenty-first of December...though if you ask me, the worst thing that will happen that day is that we have a blizzard...and I’ve survived loads of blizzards!

Before we enter the month of December, we have to wrap up November.  And beginning with this edition of the Tuesday Timeline, the next few entries will be Christmas themed.  In fact, each day that we’ll be flashing back to for the next five weeks will have some sort of link to the holidays.  And that’s your only clue.

So from November 27 until December 25, all the Tuesday Timelines will have at least one reference to Christmas.  It could be a small reference, or it could take up the whole blog entry.  Either way, I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with this feature the next five weeks. 

So, what are we waiting for?  Let’s begin the series of holiday themed Tuesday Timelines with the November 27 entry. As it turns out, November 27 has a lot associated with it.  Some of the happenings throughout history on this date include the following events...and yes, they are written in red and green for a reason.  J

1095 – Pope Urban II declares the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont

1703 – The first Eddystone Lighthouse becomes a casualty of the Great Storm of 1703

1727 – The foundation stone to the Jerusalem’s Church in Berlin is laid

1807 – The Royal Family of Portugal flees Lisbon to escape from Napoleonic troops

1815 – Adoption of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Poland

1839 – The American Statistical Association is founded in Boston, Massachusetts

1856 – Luxembourg unilaterally adopts a new and reactionary constitution following the Coup of 1856

1868 – United States Army Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer leads an attack on the Cheyenne living on reservation land, sparking the Battle of Washita River

1895 – Alfred Nobel signs his last will and testament, which sets his estate aside to establish the Nobel Prize after his death

1901 – The United States Army War College is established

1924 – The first annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is held in New York City

1934 – Bank robber Baby Face Nelson is gunned down during a shootout with the FBI

1940 – At the Battle of Cape Spartivento, the Royal Navy engages the Regia Marina in the Mediterranean Sea the same day that martial artist Bruce Lee is born

1941 – Country singer Eddie Rabbitt is born in Brooklyn, New York

1942 – American guitarist Jimi Hendrix is born in Seattle, Washington

1944 – Seventy people are killed in an explosion at a Royal Air Force ammunition dump at Fauld, Staffordshire

1954 – Alger Hiss is released from prison after serving a 44-month sentence for perjury connected to the allegations that he was a Soviet spy

1965 – President Lyndon B. Johnson is told by the Pentagon to increase American troops serving in Vietnam from 120,000 to 400,000 soldiers if he wished the planned operations in the country to succeed

1968 – Penny Ann Early becomes the first woman to play professional basketball

1971 – The first man-made object, the Soviet made Mars 2 orbiter’s release of a descent module, reaches the surface of Mars

1973 – The United States Senate votes 92:3 to confirm Gerald Ford as the official Vice President of the United States

1975 – The Provisional IRA assassinates Ross McWhirter after a press conference in which he announced a reward for those responsible for multiple shootings and bombings all over England

1978 – Harvey Milk, the first openly gay city supervisor of San Francisco, as well as San Francisco mayor George Moscone are assassinated by Dan White

1983 – Avianca Flight 011 crashes near Madrid’s Barajas Airport, killing 181 people

1989 – Avianca Flight 203 explodes in mid-air above Colombia, killing 107 on board, and three on the ground

2005 – The first facial transplant is performed in France

2006 – The Canadian House of Commons endorses Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s motion to declare the province of Quebec a nation within a unified Canada

2009 – A bomb explodes on the Nevsky Express, causing 28 deaths and injuring 96 people

Okay, so that’s a lot of history.  And there happens to be a lot of celebrity birthdays as well.  The late Buffalo Bob Smith and Chick Hearn were born on November 27, as are these current living celebrities; Les Blank, Gail Sheehy, Dave Giusti, Henry Carr, Nicole Brossard, Barbara Anderson, James Avery, Jayne Kennedy, Kathryn Bigelow, Sheila Copps, Daryl Stuermer (Genesis), Curtis Armstrong, Kimmy Robertson, Bill Nye, Pierre Mondou, William Fichtner, Caroline Kennedy, Michael Stackpole, Mike Scioscia, Charlie Burchill (Simple Minds), Ken O’Brien, Fisher Stevens, Robin Givens, Michael Vartan, Myles Kennedy, Brooke Langton, Samantha Harris, Twista, Kirk Acevedo, Jaleel White, Hilary Hahn, and Domata Peko.

So, what is the date that we’re flashing back to this week?  November 27, 1985.

(Like the Christmas colour logo?  I decided to add a little holiday spice to it.)

Anyway, November 27, 1985 was a day of new releases in the movie theatres.  Two movies were released on this date in history twenty-seven years ago.  The first one was the fourth sequel in the popular Rocky series.

The second one was widely considered to be one of the worst movies of the 1980s, if not of all time.  And it is this second movie that we’ll be focusing on.

Throughout recent history, there have been some fantastic holiday themed films released.  “It’s A Wonderful Life”, “Miracle on 34th Street”, “A Christmas Story”...even “Home Alone” and “The Santa Clause” could be considered true holiday classics today.

And then there’s “Santa Claus: The Movie”, which was released on November 27, 1985.

The movie was one that I believe started with good intentions, and did have an all-star cast...but for whatever reason the whole movie was an exercise in complete failure.  Here are just a few of the statistics surrounding this film.

The film’s budget was between thirty and fifty million dollars.  It only made $23 million at the box office.  Ouch.

On the website “Rotten Tomatoes”, the film only has an 18% rating.  Double ouch.

Film critic Vincent Camby stated that the film was “elaborate, but tacky”, and that Santa’s workshop must have been the world’s largest purchaser of low-grade plywood, and that the flying sequences weren’t all that great.

Another film critic, Alonso Duralde, even went so far as to list “Santa Claus: The Movie” as one of the worst holiday themed movies ever made, claiming that the film is a “train-wreck of a Christmas movie that’s so very wrong that you won’t be able to tear yourself away from it.”

In other words...people hated it.  Even the trailer for the movie looked lame.  Take a look for yourselves, if you dare.

I thought about posting a link to the whole movie (believe it or not, it’s currently posted in nine parts on YouTube), but I thought the trailer was more than enough.

Here’s the thing though.  The movie may have turned out to be a bit of a poor execution...but there really was a lot of planning involved in the creative processes behind the movie.  The cast featured such stars as Dudley Moore and John Lithgow (who both made their roles work given the material), as well as Burgess Meredith, Judy Cornwell, Jeffrey Kramer, Christian Fitzpatrick, and featured David Huddleston as the title role of Santa Claus.

The film was actually the final project by the French father-son duo of Alexander and Ilya Salkind, and was directed by Jeannot Szwarc, and the plot of the movie tried its best to try and explain to young children how Santa Claus originated.  It made an attempt to try and answer some of the most commonly asked questions by children in regards to how Santa Claus flies all over the world every December 24th to bring toys and games to billions of kids.  How does Santa's reindeer fly?  How does Santa ascend up and descend down chimneys?  How did Santa Claus and his wife settle down in the North Pole?

Again, I do applaud the filmmakers for creating an innovative and elaborate story, and certainly they did appear to try their best.  It's just that the execution wasn't the best.  If anything, I found that the 1993 film "The Santa Clause" did a much better job.

Of course, that's just my opinion.

Anyway, I won't really go into too much detail about the plot because I don't like revealing too much about movies (even if they were generally regarded as being overly terrible), but there are a few main plots that intertwine with each other.

We are introduced to Santa and his wife in the early 14th century, where Santa (or Claus, as he is first introduced) works as a woodcutter.  He and his wife, Anya (otherwise known as Mrs. Claus), deliver gifts to children in a nearby village.  One night, two of Claus' reindeer are rescued from certain death in a blizzard, and are transported to the ice mountains.  There, Claus and Anya end up meeting several elves (known in the movie as the Vendequm), and learns that it is his destiny to distribute toys to children every Christmas Eve.

Flash forward to 1985 and Santa Claus is unable to keep up with the demand, leaving Anya to suggest that he get an assistant.  Although several elves want the position, Patch (Dudley Moore) ends up winning the coveted prize position.

But Patch is soon thrown into a huge test of trying to discover what is right and what is wrong when he meets up with greedy toy developer B.Z. (John Lithgow), whose company is failing amidst allegations that they make shoddy toys.  Patch suggests that he help B.Z. make the toys after seeing that all of the store shelves that are supposed to be carrying his toys are empty (unaware that his toys were actually recalled).

Patch also ends up making a series of lollipops using a secret ingredient in the reindeer feed that Santa feeds them to make them fly.  These lollipops also make people float in midair, and Patch ends up marketing them to children, which causes a bit of a rift between Patch and Santa.  B.Z. meanwhile begins to manufacture candy canes laced with the ingredient, at the time unaware that it has a nasty side effect.  It isn't until the candy canes are manufactured that B.Z. realizes that they have the tendency to explode in extreme heat.  With the candy canes being laced with this ingredient, the discovery would shut his company down for good.  But what happens when a little homeless boy named Joe happens to eavesdrop on his plans to flee North America to escape federal charges?

Does this plot seem like a mess to you?  It does to me.  I suppose that's one reason why it failed at the box office.

But, since I try to find at least one positive point in each subject, I will say that Roger Ebert wasn't nearly as harsh with the critique of the movie as others were.  He did say that he liked the way the film envisioned Santa's workshop and the elves, and believed that young children would really like and appreciate the movie.  And since I was four when the movie came out, I probably would have liked it had I seen it for the first time at that age.

Instead, I was in my teens...and the magic just wasn't there.  However, I still think that it could have been a great film, and some people do genuinely like it despite all of its flaws.  I suppose in that aspect, "Santa Claus: The Movie" wasn't all that bad.

But I still wouldn't care to watch it again.

So, that's what happened twenty-seven years ago...on November 27, 1985.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Miss Congeniality

With modern television being the way it is these days, one can sit down and watch as many as five hundred different channels depending on the cable/satellite television package that one might have.

I myself can only afford basic cable, but that's fine with me, as I really tend to watch a lot of television programs online through videos posted on network television websites, video sharing websites, and other forms of digital media.

And certainly with cable and satellite television having so many choices, there's millions of sitcoms, dramas, sporting events, and even full-length feature films airing on the five hundred channels you might have included in your entertainment packages.

But what happens when you have five hundred channels, and you STILL can't find anything to watch?

I'll readily admit to being one of those people who can't seem to find anything to watch on television some days. It seems almost like a first world problem...five hundred channels and nothing to watch.

Unfortunately, for every decent show on television these days, there are always about twenty-five others that are just horrible, cheesy, or so incredibly boring that they would put you in a coma in just a matter of minutes. Such is the curse of cable television, I suppose.

Do you want to know what I find most frustrating about cable television? The fact that some of the cable channels seem to play the same movies over and over again. I can't even begin to tell you the number of times that I have seen “Cocktail”, “Double Jeopardy”, or “Batman Forever” on cable television. It's almost as if all cable television channels own the rights to only ten different movies, and play them four times a day. I'm sure most of you know what I am talking about, right?

Today's blog entry is all about one of these particular movies that seems to air repeatedly on cable television. Worse still, it's a movie that could be classified as a “chick flick”. And yet, I believe that I've stumbled across this film so many times that I reckon I could recite the plot from memory.

That movie happens to be “Miss Congeniality”, which was released on December 22, 2000. The movie was directed by Donald Petrie, and starred Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, Michael Caine, William Shatner, and Candice Bergen.

The movie begins with a flashback sequence in which a little boy is being picked on by a bully. A young Gracie Hart intervenes and beats up the bully who is picking on the boy in an effort to help him (and because she has a secret crush on him). Instead of showing his gratitude, he not only is disgusted that a girl had to bail him out of trouble, but goes so far as to criticize everything about Gracie...which earns him a punch in the face for his trouble.

Fast forward a few years, and Gracie Hart (now played by Sandra Bullock) is now working for the FBI alongside her partner, Eric Matthews (Bratt). Initially, she worked as a Special Agent who went out into the field, but after a mishap which leaves a member of her squad wounded by a bullet, she's forced onto a desk job. Which she hates.

But soon enough, the team gets word that a tragic event could spell doom for the 75th annual Miss United States Beauty Pageant, and the FBI is dispatched down to San Antonio, Texas (where the ceremony is being held) in order to prevent disaster from happening.

Naturally, Eric is selected by the team to go to San Antonio to stop the attack from the domestic terrorist simply known as “The Citizen”. However, the FBI also has the idea to send a female agent down to the pageant where she could go undercover as a contestant in hopes of infiltrating the plot from within.

And surprise, surprise, Gracie Hart is transformed into Gracie Lou Freebush, Miss New Jersey! Bet you didn't see that one coming.

Now, Gracie isn't exactly the most...girly girl of the bunch. She was always a tomboy by nature, liking most hobbies that boys liked including sports and martial arts (which ends up being one of the talents that she displays at the actual beauty contest). She even dressed like a tomboy, which sort of turned off pageant coach Victor Melling (Caine), who was already trying to regain the lustre lost from his reputation after his last client completely tore him apart emotionally. Nevertheless, he tries his hardest to get Gracie ready for the contest, which essentially means a complete head-to-toe makeover. Think transforming a GI Joe action figure into a Barbie doll.

A tough task, given that Gracie hates the idea of beauty pageants to begin with, accusing them of promoting anti-feminism.

A funny thing happens once Gracie arrives at the pageant and starts befriending other girls at the pageant. Some of the girls she starts to develop friendships with included...

Miss California (Wendy Raquel Robinson)
Miss Hawaii (Asia De Marcos)
Miss New York (Melissa De Sousa)
Miss Texas (Deirdre Quinn)
Miss Rhode Island (Heather Burns)

In fact, of all the contestants, Miss Rhode Island happens to be the one person who Gracie gets the closest too. Initially Gracie suspected her to be the one who was plotting the attack on the pageant, but quickly dismissed the idea the more that she got to know her. And besides, there were other suspects on the list.

The suspects included the director of the beauty pageant, Kathy Morningside (Bergen), herself a former winner. This pageant happens to be her last one, as she is in the process of being replaced by someone younger...the same fate that is about to befall the pageant's long time host Stan Fields (Shatner), who also ends up being a suspect. Frank Tobin (Steve Monroe) also becomes a suspect, as he is associated with Morningside (he happens to be her personal assistant).

As the movie progresses, the viewer soon finds the answers out to the following questions...

  1. Who is the person stalking the Miss United States Beauty Pageant?
  2. What is the dirty little secret that Miss Rhode Island has been keeping?
  3. What secret are two of the suspects hiding from the others?
  4. Who wins the title of Miss United States?
  5. What is the real extent of the relationship between Gracie and Eric?

All these questions will be answered and more whenever you get a chance to watch the movie (and considering that it seems to air at least six times a year on cable television, I'm sure you won't have much trouble finding it).

All in all though, I will say this. The movie wasn't as bad as I thought it would be...and in all honestly, I am a little bit of a Sandra Bullock fan.

And now some behind the scenes trivia for “Miss Congeniality”.

  • The film ended up making $212 million at the box office.

  • The song that you hear during the opening scenes of the beauty contest is this one.

  • Screenwriter Marc Lawrence (with help from his then seven year old son) helped write the theme song for the Miss United States pageant.

  • Remember how in the Q & A portion of the pageant, Miss Rhode Island stated that her idea of a perfect date was April 25th? Believe it or not, that scene was inspired by a REAL-LIFE EVENT!
  • The original New Jersey was originally played by soap star Jennifer Gareis, but her part was left on the cutting room floor. Feeling bad, the director created another part for the lesbian lover of Miss New York!
  • Heather Burns was asked to dye her hair blonde for the movie, as she looked a little too much like Sandra Bullock.
  • Both Sandra Bullock and Benjamin Bratt did their own fighting in the film.

  • William Shatner's character name of Stan Fields is a throwback to his Canadian heritage, as Stanfield's is a Canadian brand name of underwear.
  • Originally, Matt Dillon was cast in the role of Eric Matthews.
  • In the scene that takes place at a Starbucks, the employees were actual Starbucks employees.
  • Though Heather Burns learned how to twirl a baton for the movie, she refused to work with the fire baton, so stunt throwers were used in place.

And that is our look at “Miss Congeniality”.