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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bluetoes, the Christmas Elf

Hey, everybody!

I can't believe that we're already on the last day of November already. It's crazy how this year has flown right by, isn't it? And, believe me, when it comes down to the year 2013, it certainly has been quite a memorable year – at least as far as my own experiences go.

And, as we close out the month of November, I imagine some of you in the United States are finishing off the last of your Thanksgiving leftovers. I imagine North Americans are trying to figure out how much money they saved on the television sets, Blu-Ray players, and PlayStation 3 games during the “Black Friday” sales. And, for those of you of the Jewish faith, I hope that your Hanukkah celebrations are peaceful, happy, and filled with lots of food and family.

As for me...the end of November means the beginning of December, and December is all about Christmas, Christmas, and more Christmas.

And, what better way to celebrate Christmas than by doing the second annual edition of the “Pop Culture Addict's Advent Calendar”?

How do you like the new holiday themed logo for this month? Granted, I don't claim to be an expert in creating computer graphic designs. In fact, my logo kind of looks like something that the thirteen-year-old me would have designed on the Super Nintendo drawing game “Mario Paint”. But, what the hell? I think it turned out quite well.

And, if you tuned into the blog last year around this time, you know what the “Pop Culture Addict's Advent Calendar” is all about! Twenty-five different blog entries dedicated to holiday specials, festive music singles, Christmas movies, and more, more, more! How do you like it? How do you like it?

(Ahem...sorry...was channeling the spirit of the late Andrea True...and making a connection, apparently.)

Now, typically speaking, what I would normally do in the advent calendar is kick things off on the first day of December...which in 2013 happens to fall tomorrow.

But this year, I thought to myself...what if I started the advent calendar one day early? And, this wasn't initially a planned decision either. It was more along the lines of “I was thinking about a Christmas special that was exclusive only to Canadian viewers that I haven't seen in a really long time and felt the need to do a blog entry on it because I miss it” topic.

So, consider this to be day zero of the Pop Culture Addict's Advent Calendar!

You know what? Since that ornament happens to be blue, let's make the rest of the text blue too. You'll see why in a moment.

All right. So as of now, we've entered the world looking through cerulean coloured glasses. But, why would I decide on the spur of the moment to make this blog blue?

Maybe it's because the main character of this holiday special happens to be completely dressed in blue. Maybe it's because the main character of the show happens to be feeling all sorts of blue because of the fact that the other elves in the village don't treat him with respect and kindness. Or, maybe it has to do with the nickname that he ends up with at the very end of the special?

That nickname? “Bluetoes”, of course!

Now, how do you suppose that “Bluetoes, the Christmas Elf” got his name? We'll answer that question and more.

Firstly, let's talk a little bit about production, as well as the first time I remember seeing this television special. Now, as far as I know, this special originally aired in December 1988 (TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO!!!) on CBC. I have also heard that Bluetoes aired on certain television stations in the United States as well, though I can't be sure. Though, I hope that some of this blog's American fans will let me know if they remember watching Bluetoes on television, because it is actually one of my all-time favourite Christmas specials. I even have it recorded on VHS somewhere, but for the life of me, I cannot remember where the tape is.

Though, I suppose it's a moot point, since I no longer own a VCR.

Of course, the whole recording of that Christmas special was a happy accident of sorts. I had actually wanted to record a show from channel three. But I was only seven or eight when I was first learning how to set the timer on the VCR, and I ended up making one fatal error. Instead of recording the show I wanted to watch on channel three, I accidentally had the dial set on channel four, meaning that I recorded the wrong show!

Thankfully, channel four was (and still is) our CBC affiliate, and at the time that I set the VCR to record, I ended up recording “Bluetoes, the Christmas Elf”. And believe me, when I realized my mistake, I was very mad and upset.

Of course, after I watched Bluetoes...I ended up loving it. And, it quickly became one of those shows that I had to watch every single year on television. It's just a shame that the last time I remember watching this television special on CBC was all the way back in 1992 or 1993.  It really should air a lot more often so that more people can see it, because it really was a brilliant television special.

Which is why I searched the depths of the Internet trying to find it so that you call could have the opportunity to watch it.  Needless to say, I got lucky!

So, enjoy watching the story of Bluetoes, the Christmas Elf by clicking HERE...or if you rather, just click on the three videos below this paragraph.  We'll discuss it after you're finished watching the whole program!

Anyway, the story of Bluetoes begins as quite a sad tale at first.  You see, every single one of Santa's elves has a very clever name that they are referred to.  For instance, "Chopper" is the elf who chops all the firewood for Santa's fireplace.  And, "Ribbon" is the elf who can wrap Christmas gifts faster than any other elf in Santa's village.

But there's one little blue elf who is feeling blue, because he doesn't have a name.  Because he is the smallest elf in the whole village, Santa just called him "Small One", and the name just kind of stuck.  But "Small One" didn't really care for his name at all.  I mean, yeah..."Small One" would have been a fine name...had it not been for the fact that the other elves saw it as a negative, rather than a positive.

You see, the other elves were quite annoyed with Small One always getting in the way of their Christmas preparations each and every year.  Not that any of it was Small One's fault, mind you.  He loved Santa and the other elves, and he just wanted to do his part to make sure that Christmas ran smoothly.

Now, one thing that I found interesting about Bluetoes, the Christmas Elf is the fact that it probably has one of the most creative interpretations of Santa's Workshop that I have ever seen displayed in a Christmas cartoon.  In Bluetoes, toys are not built...they grow on trees.  And, the toys are sent down a massive slide to the workshops below, where the elves paint, wrap, and sticker each present to go to the billions of children all over the world.  I thought it was a very creative story idea.  Maybe that's one reason I love it so's because it was so different from all the other Christmas specials out there.

Anyway, Small One really tried to help.  He didn't know that the trees that he picked his toys from were saplings that wouldn't be ready until the following year - even though the miniature toys from the tree looked very cool indeed.  And, it also didn't help that the older elves of the village kept passing Small One around to other elves as if he were a hot potato.  No wonder Small One felt as though he was doing more harm than good when the other elves were treating him like an annoyance.

And it certainly didn't help matters much that Small One had inadvertently made himself public enemy number one in the form of a gigantic polar bear, who kept chasing the small elf after he accidentally built a snowman on top of him.  And, even though the polar bear was responsible for the logs rolling down the hill and collapsing the toy chute, the other elves blamed Small One without even hearing his side of the story.  

Some friends, huh?

Of course, that's not to say that Small One didn't have any friends at all.  Santa Claus was nice to everyone, and he always seemed to have a soft spot in his heart for the little blue elf.  And, sometime during the course of the special, Small One befriends a little lost penguin, whom Small One gave the name of "Lonesome".  Lonesome and Small One quickly become the best of friends, and Lonesome ends up helping Small One patch all the stockings that he is forced to repair as punishment for sinking Santa's sleigh to the bottom of the frozen lake after yet another confrontation with the polar bear.

Even though Lonesome and Small One have a lot of fun fixing up all of the stockings, Small One is disappointed that he has to stay behind while the rest of the elves select the Christmas tree for the year.  But thanks to some quick thinking on Lonesome's part, the duo finish the job in half the time, and they set out to join the others to show them all the work they did.

Unfortunately, by the time Small One and Lonesome arrive at the forest, they are unaware that the polar bear has already scared away the other elves, and this leads to one final confrontation between Small One and the polar bear.  Needless to say, the polar bear quickly discovers the bizarre phenomenon known as 'static electricity', and he shreds every single stocking to try and get all the socks off of him - undoing all of the hard work that Small One and Lonesome put into them, and once again making Small One the scourge of the entire elf community.

Really, by this point of the show, I'm ready for Small One and Lonesome to tell those snobbish elves what they really think of them, hop the nearest flight to Jamaica, and enjoy the rest of their lives in a warm, sunny, climate, away from their frosty personalities.  But, Small One isn't like that at all.  Despite how badly he was treated by the elves, Small One still wanted to be helpful.

And since the elves were still angry with Small One, he decided to help Lonesome get back home again.  Unfortunately, the way back home was far away, and the only way to get there was to hitch a ride on Santa's sleigh.  But with it being December 24th, there was no way that Santa would have had time to drop Lonesome off.  So, Small One decides to hide Lonesome in one of the bags of toys in hopes that Santa would be flying over Lonesome's home on his travels.  But somehow, Small One ends up falling in the bag of toys as well, causing two toys to be left behind, and Small One and Lonesome end up going on Santa's sleigh after all.

But what happens when Santa discovers that he is two presents short?  Well, Santa decides to fly back home, believing that he has time to deliver them to the last two children on his list.  In his haste, he leaves Small One and Lonesome behind, outside the bedroom window of the two children - still yet to receive their gifts.  And, Small One is worried that if the kids wake up and see no toys there, they will be disappointed and upset.

Until Small One realizes that he still has a pocket full of the tiny toys that he picked from the baby trees some days earlier.  But, how would he wrap them?  No problem.  He simply used his own little blue stockings to stuff the toys inside, and hung the stockings over by the fireplace.

(Now you have another legend about how the tradition of hanging up stockings came to be.  Cool, huh?)

And, cool would be exactly what Small One felt because as the children were waking up, Small One quickly made his escape - forgetting to put on his shoes as he left.

By the time Santa came back with the two gifts, he was shocked to learn that the children were having a lot of fun with the tiny toys that Small One had given to them.  And when Lonesome got Santa's attention, he found a shivering Small One cuddled up in a ball, with his frostbitten toes turning a sickly shade of blue.

NOTE:  Do NOT go outside in bare feet on a winter day.  Your toes will not turn blue.  Your toes will turn sickly shades of purple and brown, and most likely will have to be amputated.  Just because it happens in a cartoon, doesn't mean it happens in the real world.  Don't walk on snow barefoot.  Wear galoshes or winter boots.  That is all.

Of course, now you know how Bluetoes, the Christmas Elf got his name.  And, you know how Bluetoes was the inspiration behind the tradition of filling up stockings with all sorts of goodies.

As for Lonesome and the polar bear - well, they ended up getting their happily ever after too.  And it's nice to know that even though the polar bear caused all sorts of trouble for Small One/Bluetoes, Bluetoes still gave him a lovely Christmas gift.  

Bluetoes, the Christmas Elf.  He may have a small body, but he also has a huge heart.

And, that wraps up a preview of the blog entries you will be seeing over the month of December.  And to kick things officially off tomorrow, a Sunday Jukebox that will have you singing "Ding-a-ling-a-ling-a-ding-dong-ding!"

Friday, November 29, 2013

Farewell, Brian Griffin...And Other Sitcom Stars Too

I know that I typically don't talk about current events in this blog, but after seeing some of the backlash and outcry over a particular episode of a long running series on television, I knew that I had to speak my piece.

Now, I realize that for some of you, this is old news, but believe it or not, it is still being talked about on social media and the Internet, and may fans are claiming that they will never watch the show again.

Of course, I'm talking about the death of Brian Griffin, the family dog. Brian died of internal injuries following an accident in which he got run over by a car while setting up for a game of road hockey with Stewie.

Now, I'm a casual viewer of “Family Guy”, and have been for years since the show debuted in 1999. I understand that the show is currently in its twelfth season, and really, if you wanted to kill off a character and not have anyone lose their job, then really, Brian, Stewie, Peter, or Quagmire would have worked. After all, show creator Seth MacFarlane voices all of those characters. And, I suppose of all those characters, Brian would be the one that is easily replaceable. The show's already cast Sopranos star Tony Sirico to voice the Griffin family's new pet, so I suppose that “Family Guy” is already moving ahead with the show.

CONFESSION: When I first heard the news that a main character was being killed off on “Family Guy”, my prediction was Chris Griffin, as I believed that Seth Green wanted to move on to focus on creating more “Robot Chicken” episodes. But in this case, I was completely wrong.

Now, here's the issue. When Brian's death was broadcast on the sixth episode of the twelfth season, it caused a lot of outrage and disbelief, which is understandable. After all, in many Family guy polls, Brian was obviously a fan favourite. And with Brian's death, many fans are now threatening to boycott the show unless they find a way to bring Brian back to life. But despite fan outrage, staffers associated with the show defend the decision, stating that killing off Brian was really the only option that they had to make the episode memorable.

Well, I suppose in some way, “Family Guy” achieved that.

Now, here's the question. Did “Family Guy” jump the shark with the death of Brian Griffin? It's hard to say, really. After all, the episode did air less than a week ago. But, when you look back on the seven decades of television that we've seen, Brian Griffin is hardly the first major character to be killed off of a television program. Earlier in the week, a major character was killed off of “Person of Interest”. And on “The Mentalist”, Thomas Jane finally found and murdered the man known as “Red John” - the serial killer who slaughtered his family ten years earlier.

In some cases, while killing off a main character signified the death of a show, others managed to survive several seasons. And, that's what this blog is about.

We're going to be discussing television shows that killed off a major character, and the aftermath following it.

It's unknown how “Family Guy” will fare after this extremely controversial decision. But at the same time, controversy is nothing new for “Family Guy”. I've lost count over how many times the show was yanked off the air and returned again because of controversial subject matter alone!

So, let's begin, shall we?

VALERIE HOGAN (1986-1987)

Does anybody remember the 1986 NBC series, “Valerie”? The name might not ring a bell, but the cast might jog your memory. In the show, Valerie Hogan was played by actress Valerie Harper of Rhoda fame. She was a mother of three boys played by Jason Bateman, Jeremy Licht, and Danny Ponce, struggling to balance motherhood as a mostly single parent (her husband worked as an airline pilot and was rarely home). For two seasons, the show did quite well in the ratings, and everything was fine. At least, until Valerie Harper grew concerned over the fact that the show seemed to be focusing more on Jason Bateman and less on the rest of the cast. The end result was that Valerie Harper was fired from her own show, and replaced with Sandy Duncan.

As for how they explained away Valerie's death? They killed her off in a car accident, and then burned down the house shortly after, making 1987 seem like the worst year of the Hogan family's life. Of course, the fire episode did erase any and all traces of Valerie Harper, and Sandy Duncan assumed the new role of Hogan family matriarch.

Oh, and the show's title changed three times from “Valerie” to “Valerie's Family” to “The Hogan Family”.

AFTERMATH: As lovely and talented an actress as Valerie Harper was, her character's death didn't really cause any damage to the show itself. In fact, Sandy Duncan breathed new life into it, with the show lasting an additional four seasons, wrapping up its run in 1991. This meant that Sandy Duncan appeared in more episodes than Valerie Harper! I wonder if Duncan's Wheat Thins commercials had anything to do with it? They were all over the place during that time period.

CARL KANISKY (1981-1985)

Here's a conundrum for you all. What happens when one of the stars of the show passes away in between seasons? That's the situation that “Gimme A Break” producers faced when actor Dolph Sweet passed away in 1985. At the time of Sweet's death, he had been playing the role of police chief Carl Kanisky, whose wife had passed away prior to the series beginning. Carl's former wife, Margaret, had been friends with a woman named Nell Harper (Nell Carter) for years, and a promise was made between the two women that if anything happened to her that Nell would move into the Kanisky house to help Carl raise his three daughters played by Kari Michaelsen, Lauri Hendler, and Lara Jill Miller.

Carl's death was addressed in the fifth season premiere of “Gimme A Break”, as Dolph Sweet had died around the same time that season four had wrapped up. And, the show tried to go on with Nell continuing to honour her promise to her late friends to look after the girls.

AFTERMATH: The problem was that by 1985, all the girls had grown up. By the conclusion of season five, two of the actresses had left the show permanently, and the third one had a recurring role until the end of the series. But this set the stage for the radical revamp of the show in which Nell's character moves to New York City with foster son Joey (Joey Lawrence), and new cast members were added, played by Telma Hopkins, Rosetta LeNoire, and Rosie O'Donnell. Unfortunately, the show had changed so much that it alienated viewers, and the show was pulled from NBC's schedule by 1987.

PAUL HENNESSY (2002-2003)

Fast forward eighteen years later to 2003, and the same exact situation that happened on “Gimme A Break” happened on the set of “8 Simple Rules”, when John Ritter passed away in September 2003. This left the character of Cate Hennessy (Katey Sagal) as a widow with three teenage children – Bridget (Kaley Cuoco), Kerry (Amy Davidson), and Rory (Martin Spanjers) – adjusting to life without their husband and father. To assist Cate, the producers added James Garner and David Spade to the cast as Cate's father and Cate's nephew respectively.

AFTERMATH: Considering that the show was all about an overprotective father sticking his nose into the affairs of his daughters' romantic lives, the death of John Ritter was a huge blow for the show – one that it never really recovered from. Though Garner and Spade tried their best to turn around the show, the original premise was lost forever. The series was cancelled in May 2005 after three seasons.

MAUDE FLANDERS (1990-2000)

Now, here's an interesting scoop about “The Simpsons”. Apparently at some point during this year, a major character from the show (which has run twice as long as “Family Guy”) is slated to die. And the only clue they've given us is that the person who will be axed is someone whose voice actor has won an Emmy for their role.

(For those of you taking bets, you can eliminate Principal Skinner or Mr. Burns. Harry Shearer plays both characters, and he's yet to win the award!)

But until that death happens, let's take a look at a major death for a secondary character. Maude Flanders was the wife of Ned Flanders, and both of them made a perfect match. They were kind, generous, church-going...and both could be quite hypocritical if either one were challenged on their beliefs. But the reason why I include Maude on this list is because the story behind why she was written out is interesting...and her death is probably one of the most asinine death to ever be written into a sitcom (albeit an animated one).

From 1990 to 1999, the role of Maude Flanders was played by voice actress Maggie Roswell. But when a pay dispute erupted behind the scenes of “The Simpsons”, coupled with the fact that Maggie had just relocated to Colorado, Roswell quit the series in 1999. From that point on, Maude was voiced by Marcia Mitzman Gaven. At least, that was the case until February 2000.

You see, the day before Valentine's Day, Maude and Ned were at the opening of a new speedway, and the Simpson family were seated in front of them. Maude left to go and get herself and Ned some snacks, while Homer was obnoxiously trying to score a free T-shirt from the cannon shooting girls below.

Well, needless to say, Maude got hit with a wayward T-shirt, and fell several stories to her death – and given that the last thing that she saw was Homer Simpson's butt crack, that's a really disturbing way to go. I mean, for god sakes, Homer, where were your tighty-whities? I mean, seriously.

AFTERMATH: Ironically enough, Maggie Roswell worked out a deal with “The Simpsons”, and she returned to the show in 2002. But Maude Flanders stayed deceased, paving the way for Ned to embark on several affairs with a singer named Rachel, an actress named Sara, and Mrs. Krabappel. Wonder how Ned would react if the show killed off Mrs. K, given that Marcia Wallace passed away quite recently?

CHEF (1996-2006)

Okay, so everyone who's ever watched “South Park” knows that the show never ever took death seriously. How else could you explain why Kenny has experienced over a hundred deaths during the show's seventeen years on the air?

And, anyone who has ever seen an episode of the early years of “South Park” knows that one of the stars of the show was Chef, the man who served lunch to all of the students at South Park Elementary. Voiced by Isaac Hayes, Chef was certainly an enigma of sorts. He was often the one adult in the whole town that Kenny, Kyle, Cartman, and Stan could talk to and get an honest answer. Mind you, those answers often came in the form of 1970s era music that deserved one of those “Parental Advisory” stickers on it, but for a group of eight year old boys, it sailed right over their heads. But Chef was definitely the coolest character on the show. He even had a hit on the charts with this classic single.

But when Isaac Hayes voiced his opposition towards an episode of “South Park” that aired during the show's ninth season, he had a falling out with creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and he quit the series just before the show began recording the vocal sessions for season ten. The reason? Well, the show completely made fun of the religion known as “Scientology”, and Isaac Hayes, a Scientologist, took offense.

So, when the show's tenth season premiered, Matt and Trey killed off Chef – ironically enough by having Chef join a cult which brainwashed him. Despite the best efforts of the boys to rescue him, Chef ends up falling off of a bridge that was struck by lightning, is impaled by a tree branch, gets shot, gets mauled by a mountain lion, and is partially dismembered by a grizzly bear.

Or in other words...most gruesome death on a television sitcom EVER!

AFTERMATH: The show is still going on seven years later, and Chef's death certainly didn't affect the show in a negative way at all. But even if everything was hunky-dory and Chef had stayed on for the foreseeable future, Trey and Matt likely would have had to write him off anyway, as Isaac Hayes passed away in the summer of 2008.

So, those are five characters that were killed off of shows, as well as the ultimate fates of the shows themselves. What fate will “Family Guy” have following the death of Brian Griffin? It's too soon to tell, but I think it'll be fun to see what happens.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tomorrow is Black Friday, and I'm SCARED!!!

Hello out there in cyberspace!  It is a beautiful Thursday morning as I type this out, and I just wanted to wish all of you out there reading this in the United States of America a very happy Thanksgiving!  I do hope you get plenty to eat and are thankful for every blessing that has come your way.  And, don't eat too much pumpkin pie.  After all, too much of something is never really a good thing.

And, appropriately enough, today's blog topic has to do with exactly that.

Tomorrow is the day that makes most retailers salivate at the mouth, as well as makes ordinary people into lean, mean, shopping machines.  Their weapons of choice?  A shopping cart and a debit card.

That's right, folks.  Tomorrow is Black Friday.  And, I am very much scared for my life here!

You see...while Black Friday has been a big deal in the United States for several years, it's fairly new on Canadian soil.  You see, a few years back (I think around 2009 or 2010), a few people suggested that we try out the Black Friday experiment here in Canada to persuade shoppers to spend their hard earned dollars right here at home instead of treading down south of the border to experience a trend.

Which judging by this video posted below...AIN'T PRETTY.

NOTE:  This might be the one and only time I use the word "ain't" inside of this blog.  Just typing that word out made my grammar brain cells wince in pain!

Now, to the people who even suggested that we bring that madness into Canada...I have just three words to say.  What the @#$%?!?!?

Well, okay...those were two words and a whole bunch of symbols.  You get the idea.

For whatever reason, I've always managed to boycott Black Friday or any other huge sales.  For one, there is nothing in the world that I want that badly that I would risk getting teeth knocked out or getting a permanent scar on my back from having someone step on it with their high heeled shoe.  And, secondly, I can't condone behaviour like that at all.  I mean, punching people and biting people to score a deal on a toaster, microwave oven, or Blu-Ray player?  No thanks.  I'd rather work at a circus as a lion tamer.  It would probably be safer than braving the crowds on Black Friday.

Now, until recently, I've never really been afraid of the day.  Until recently, I've always made a point to stay home on that day - or at the very least if I worked, I was always in the dairy department.  And, I don't recall any store having huge sales on groceries on Black Friday.

This year, I am in electronics.  And, I have the open shift.  And, that terrifies the bejeezus out of me.

NOTE:  This is also the only time that I will ever say the word "bejeezus" in this blog...only because I may or may not have spelled the word wrong.

As you will see in today's video blog entry, I talk about my fears of Black Friday, I compare it to the holiday in which we USED to fear before Black Friday even came to Canada, and I urge all of you to STAY SAFE.  I cannot stress that last point enough.

Now, before I post the video, I do want you all to know that once again, public speaking is not something that I am comfortable with.  You will see me stammer and hem and haw for the right word, and in a couple of occasions, I end up using the wrong word entirely (I say audacity when I meant to say patience, for example).  So, bear with me.  One of the main goals behind my video blogging is to improve my public speaking skills enough so that I can one day use them to my advantage.

What that advantage is...I have no idea.

So, without further adieu, here is today's Video Blog entry...which was actually filmed on Wednesday, November 27...such as it is.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sadness and Gladness

This edition of the Whatever Wednesday was actually decided after an extremely long day and very little time to write a coherent blog entry in words.  Unfortunately, I fear that my video component of today's blog (which was actually filmed yesterday) is not very clear. 

So, I'm just going to post the video, and from there, I'll explain the point that I am trying to make.

Okay, so point number one that I'm trying to make...I apparently am terrible at filming shots through a window!  Take my word for it.  It was snowing hard when I was filming this entry (and as of six o'clock this morning it is still snowing as I type this out now).  You have to love Canada in November!

But I suppose the bigger point that I was trying to make with this piece is the fact that when someone you know dies, it's never easy to say goodbye.  And certainly attending my friend's memorial service was one of those times.  But the fact that so many people came together in a time in which we all felt our most vulnerable and our most was actually quite nice.  

So, I guess if you watch the video and try to make sense of it...I think I got that point across.  At least, I hope so.  If not, at least I managed to get it out in words.

My thoughts and prayers continue to be with Graham's loved ones during this time.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

November 26, 1981

Today's Tuesday Timeline is brought to you by an artist whom you may or may not know, but whose songs are quite memorable...and today, I'll be posting a couple of them within this blog.  Part of the reason for this is because the songs have a great message to them that are worthy of discussion.  I'll get to the second reason at the very end.

For now though, let's go ahead with the Tuesday Timeline as it was planned and go ahead with the discussion of the historical significance of November 26 throughout the centuries.

Are you ready?  Let's go.

1703 - At least nine thousand people lose their lives during the Great Storm of 1703 in Great Britain

1778 - Captain James Cook becomes the first European to visit the Hawaiian island of Maui

1789 - President George Washington gets Congress approval to pass the national holiday known as Thanksgiving

1825 - The first college social fraternity - Kappa Alpha Society - is established at Schenectady's Union College

1842 - The University of Notre Dame is established

1863 - President Lincoln proclaims that the American Thanksgiving be celebrated on the final Thursday in November (changed to the fourth Thursday of November in 1941)

1917 - The National Hockey League (NHL) is established

1922 - Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz (d. 2000) is born in Minneapolis, Minnesota

1927 - Ernie Coombs (d. 2001) - better known by his stage name of Mr. Dressup - is born in Lewiston, Maine

1943 - HMT Rohna is sunk by the Luftwaffe in an air attack in the Mediterranean

1944 - 168 people are killed in a Woolworth's store in the UK after a German V-2 rocket careens into the store

1956 - Band leader Tommy Dorsey (b. 1905) dies in his sleep at the age of 51

1968 - Helicopter pilot James P. Fleming rescues an Army Special Forces unit pinned down by Viet Cong fire during the Vietnam War

1977 - An unidentified hijacker going by the name Vrillon takes over a television station in Britain for just over six minutes 

1986 - Ronald Reagan announces the members of the group that would be known as the Tower Commission

2000 - George W. Bush is certified the winner of Florida's electoral votes and goes ahead to win the election, assuming power in January 2001

2003 - The Concorde makes its final flight over Bristol, England

2005 - Stan Berenstain, author of many Berenstain Bear books, dies at the age of 82

2008 - A series of bombing and shooting attacks in Mumbai, India kicks off and lasts over a period of three days, killing 166 people and injuring nine hundred more

The following celebrities were also born on November 26, and I wanted to wish the following people a happy birthday.  Happy birthday to Rich Little, Tina Turner, Olivia Cole, Daniel Davis, John McVie, Michael Omartian, Susanne Zenor, Marianne Muellerleile, Dale Jarrett, Jerry Schemmel, Marcy Walker, Garcelle Beauvais, Vicki Pettersson, Christopher Fitzgerald, Peter Facinelli, Tammy Lynn Michaels, B.J. Averell, Chris Hughes, and Rita Ora.

Oh, and there's one more person who we have to wish a happy birthday to.  And, as it so happens, she was born the same year I was.

This makes our Tuesday Timeline date November 26, 1981.

Now, on this date in pop culture history, a lot was going on.  The movie "Ragtime" was playing in movie theatres, audiences were adjusting to life without Suzanne Somers on "Three's Company", and the number one song on the Billboard charts was Olivia Newton-John's "Physical".

But it was also on this date that another British-born artist was born.  The place was Sussex, England.  The date was November 26, 1981, and the parents were New Zealand born John and Molly Bedingfield.  On that date, Molly gave birth to a baby girl - one of four children born to the Bedingfields.  And, I imagine that of those four siblings, you've heard of at least three of them.

Of course, some of you might vaguely remember Daniel Bedingfield.  He had at least three hits charting in America which include "James Dean (I Wanna Know)", "Gotta Get Through This", and "If You're Not The One", all of which charted between 2001 and 2003.  But he was born in 1979 and I've already deduced that the Tuesday Timeline topic would focus on a female artist.  So, he's out for now.

Perhaps we could be talking about Nicola Bedingfield.  She did join a band with two of her siblings called the DNA Algorithm (Daniel was another member), and had a couple of solo singles overseas...but her date of birth is 1986, so that kind of eliminates her from contention.

And, Joshua Bedingfield is the only Bedingfield sibling to not enter the music business, so he's out too.

Which leads us to the fourth and final Bedingfield child in the spotlight.  The third member of the DNA Algorithm.  And, who could be considered the most successful Bedingfield of the bunch - well, musically speaking anyway.

And today is Natasha Bedingfield's thirty-second birthday!

I'm going to be honest with you all.  I really enjoy Natasha Bedingfield's music.  Although I've more or less shunned Top 40 charts for the last ten years or so, I have to admit that Natasha's songs are some of the rare gems of the decade known as the 2000s.  And, I think a part of the reason why I enjoy her stuff so much is because it comes from the heart.  I also think that a lot of the lyrics of the songs she writes sort of fit in with where I am with things in my own life right now.  In fact, I'm going to state right now that a lot of what she sings makes so much sense that I almost think that I could sing them myself!

(Don't worry.  I won't though.  Natasha has a far superior singing voice in comparison to me.  Then again, I think that Milli Vanilli could have sang better back in the 1990s than I can sing in present day 2013.)

So, anyway, as far as Natasha's early childhood goes, it was largely uneventful.  Like many musical artists that started out, Natasha's love of music was greatly influenced by her parents, who enrolled her in guitar and piano lessons.  And when Natasha was a teenager in the late 1990s, she, Daniel, and Nikola formed the DNA Algorithm, a band that combined contemporary Christian music with a dance pop beat!

(I'm sure that sounds a lot better than what I just least I'm hoping so.)

Of course, there's one positive that Natasha Bedingfield got out of performing in the group.  A lot of the band's compositions dealt with the themes of empowerment, independence, and learning about yourself.  And, wouldn't you know it?  All those themes would appear prominently in all of Natasha's future solo projects.

Those solo projects, by the way, began as demos in the garages of her friends.  During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Natasha tried to get a recording contract to sign her.  At the time, older brother Daniel had already seen chart success, and Natasha really wanted to follow in her brother's footsteps.

As luck would have it, she was discovered in 2003 by Phonogenic Records founder Paul Lisberg.  And would you believe that Lisberg was initially dismissive of Natasha's vocal chops, believing that she was not the right fit for the record company.

His mind was quickly changed when Lisberg heard Natasha sing - ad-libbing lyrics along the way as she moved through the song.  That summer, Natasha signed on with BMG UK & Ireland via Phonogenic.  One year later, her debut solo album, "Unwritten" was released.  Upon its release in September 2004, the singles "Single" and "These Words" did quite well in the United Kingdom (the latter also charting in the United States and Canada).  But it would be the album's title track and third single that really cemented Natasha Bedingfield's spot as one of 2004's greatest discoveries.

ARTIST:  Natasha Bedingfield
SONG:  Unwritten
ALBUM:  Unwritten
DATE RELEASED:  November 29, 2004

TRIVIA:  There were actually two music videos filmed for this single.  One was meant for the UK market, the other one filmed for North America.  The version above is the North American one.

I would say that "Unwritten" could very well be Natasha Bedingfield's signature song.  It seems hard to believe that the single was released nine years ago!  Though the song only peaked at #5 in the United States, the single was enormously popular, selling a total of over 2.7 million copies overall.  And, here's a rather interesting statistic.  Did you know that "Unwritten" was declared the most played song on American 2006?!?  

Just let that sink in for a bit.  The song was released in late 2004.  By 2006, it was the most played song on American radio.  If that doesn't constitute a hit, then I don't know what does!  She was even nominated for a Grammy Award for this single, but lost to Christina Aguilera.

But all in all, it remains Bedingfield's most successful song in North America.  And what a song it was.

If you listen closely to the lyrics, it talks about how everybody's life is like a story that still has yet to be written.  It's a nice idea to think about.  I mean, I guess you could look at this blog as an ever continuing story, similar to that of a plotline on "The Young and the Restless".  It keeps going and going, the pages still being written as of today.  As of right now, I'm still creating chapters in the book of life, and pages that were once unwritten are still being crafted each day.  

I mean, the lyrics of the song are just so incredibly beautiful and poetic.  "Feel the rain on your skin, no one else can feel it for you, only you can let it in."  Isn't that just so true about life in general?

After all, the only ones who know our lives best is us ourselves.  Why waste time lamenting about the life we wish we could have when we could be out enjoying life right now?

It's a question that I've asked myself as I grew from child to adult.  Hell, it's a question that I STILL ask myself every now and then.  I mean, I suppose I could say that life is fine right now, and in many ways, it is.  I know that there is always room for improvement though, and certainly anyone who is reading this right now is probably feeling the same way.  But when I look back on how I used to be, I certainly didn't have the same feelings about my unwritten book as I do now.  When I look at the future pages of my unwritten story, I have feelings of hope.  Five years earlier, my story was likely on route to becoming a bleak, gothic tale of woe and self-pity.  

But, why the change in emotion?  What happened over the last five years that caused me to shift my focus and start looking at life in a more positive manner?

Well, I think this second song by Natasha Bedingfield best illustrates those feelings.

ARTIST:  Natasha Bedingfield
SONG:  Pocketful of Sunshine
ALBUM:  Pocketful of Sunshine/N.B.
DATE RELEASED:  January 15, 2008

NOTE:  The song "Pocketful of Sunshine" appeared on two different albums.  Although the albums mostly contained the same songs, the "Pocketful of Sunshine" album was the North American title.  The UK release was named N.B. - the initials of Natasha Bedingfield.  

This song happens to be Natasha's favourite (and one of mine too), because its absolute message is all about escaping your troubles and finding the courage to live your life on your own terms.  

Sound familiar?  I know it does to me.  

Look, I'm not going to sugarcoat it.  I lived a life of self-preservation.  I hid from the world because I thought it to be a cruel place where people harassed and knocked people down if they were weak.  Believe me, at my lowest point, I felt extremely weak and cowardly.  Afraid to face the world and the people in it for fear that I would get hurt.  It's why I kept to myself.  It's why I refused to let people get too close.  It's why I never did any social events at all.  I didn't want to face those people because I was afraid of them.

What a difference a half decade makes, doesn't it?

You see...this photo was taken at a holiday party that I attended a couple of days ago.  As you can tell, it was taken in one of those photo booths that you might see at a shopping mall plaza or a funfair.  Now, the old me wouldn't have had a couple of people willing to look goofy with them in the booth.  The old me wouldn't have even gone inside the booth.  Hell, the old me would have skipped out of the party altogether to stay home to rearrange my sock and underwear drawer.

Not exactly the kind of activity that people envy.  

The very fact that I even went to the party at all and had a good may seem like nothing out of the ordinary for any of you, but for me, it was a real victory.  I was afraid to do social events because I had this distorted view of the world (and myself).  But knowing that I was at a party with some of the best friends that I have ever known and met in my whole life so's made me realize that the pocketful of sunshine that Natasha sang about in that music video...I had it all along.  I was just wearing too much sunblock of shame to really take it all in and do the things that other people take for granted.

It was a good time to be had by all, and I'm so happy that I found the courage to do it.  But then, they were there for me when I was sick and recovering from surgery.  They supported me when I made the decision to drop some pounds to get healthier (which unfortunately I gained some back as a direct result of above surgery_, but I can do it again if I put my mind to it.  And, I'm sure that all of us will be supporting each other later today when we bid a fond farewell to the friend who unexpectedly passed away last week.  

But I suppose if there's one thing that I can take from all those experiences - as well as from the lyrics of our birthday girl, Natasha Bedingfield - it's that life is far too short to have a book that is filled with mostly blank pages with nothing of substance on the written pages.  We have control of the ball point pen that will get us through the rest of our story.  It's up to us to write it.

The writer's block that invaded my subconscious as a direct result of abysmal self-esteem is chipping away more and more.  I have a lot of pages to account for.  Better start now while I still have some ink in the pen left to write with.

So, with that, I put away this pen.  Thank you, Natasha Bedingfield...for giving us your songs.  Songs that certainly have made me think a lot about life in general.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Wreck-It Ralph

Can I just state how excited I am to be presenting this week's edition of the Monday Matinee?  For one, I'm doing a movie that actually came out within the past year!  For another, the movie deals with a couple of subjects that I have extensive knowledge in.  And, the third and best reason of all?  It happens to be a movie that I got on sale!

And as we all know, I love getting a good bargain!

Okay, so you all know how insanely expensive movies with the Walt Disney logo can be, right?  I mean, when "The Little Mermaid" was re-released on Blu-Ray a few weeks ago, the cost of the movie was a stunning thirty bucks.  I mean, seriously?  Who the heck would pay thirty bucks for a movie that is almost a quarter-century old.  I mean, compare that with "Turner and Hooch" which came out the same year.  You can get that movie for less than five bucks in some retail outlets.

What, does the name Disney mean that the movie automatically gets jacked up in price?  I mean, yes, I have to admit that there are a ton of Disney classics that are worth owning on DVD or Blu-Ray, but I also have the opinion that Disney films (and all kids films for that matter) should be more affordable, so that more children can have the opportunity to watch them whenever they want.

So, imagine my surprise when I was at work today and I happened to come across a display of Disney movies where they were bundled up into two packs.  Keep in mind that most of the movies that were featured were Disney films released over the last five years, such as "Bolt", "The Incredibles", "Cars 2", and "Mater's Tall Tales".  The point is that paying twenty-five bucks for two Disney movies is an incredible deal.  Why would you pay $24.97 for one film, when you could pay $12.50 instead?  I call it a no-brainer.

Now, one of the films that was included was "Toy Story 3", which is fine.  Although I have already seen it, it's nice to have a copy of it on hand if I feel a need to watch it.

The other movie?  Today's blog topic.

Truth be told, I had been looking for an excuse to do a blog entry on "Wreck-It Ralph" for quite some time.  The movie was only released in theatres a year ago this month, and released on DVD shortly before I began working in the electronics department, so it's probably one of the more recent movies that I've ever done in this space.

It's also a movie that combines two of my favourite games and underdogs.

Now, I have to admit that when I was a young kid, I got hooked on video games quite early.  I think like most people my age, their first introduction to video games was at a video arcade or a convenience store.  I know that when I was a kid, I always wanted to go with my mom to the nearest Quickie store, because at that time, there were always three or four video arcade games that were just waiting for me to insert a quarter into.  Super Mario Brothers was always a favourite as was Pac-Man.  And, I may have told the story before about how I embarrassed the hell out of a couple of high school students when I kicked their butts in a rousing game of "Bubble Bobble".

(At the time, I was only in the third grade!)

And, like most people who played video games, they were made all that much harder when you had to battle the game with a mean, dastardly antagonist.  Whether it was a barrel-throwing monkey, a fire-breathing turtle, or gigantic hamburger buns falling down on top of you, it certainly made your adrenaline rush as you tried to make every minute of that game count!  I mean, I can't even begin to tell you exactly how many lives I've made Mario and Luigi lose while trying to save Princess Toadstool in Super Mario Brothers, or how many rings I've lost along the way while navigating Sonic the Hedgehog through all those wacky courses!  It's just one of the challenges of any video game.  And, you all have to agree that if you play a lot of video games, it is ever so satisfying to finally complete that one challenge that plagued you.

Even if it meant...cheating...just a smidgen.

Come on.  I know you all did it.  I know some of you had the "Game Genie" in which you could enter codes in that could amp up your game and make it a lot easier to complete.  Whether it was the infinite lives glitch, or the make your opponents slower glitch, or starting the game at level 72 glitch, the Game Genie helped out in a big way.  And, I'm all for the glitches that actually help your game, such as magically transporting from an unsafe area to a safe area, for instance.

It's when the glitches end up completely wrecking your whole game that cause frustration.  After all, I speak as someone who had the experience of losing an entire save file of Final Fantasy VI because I wasn't aware of Relm's Sketch Bug.

NOTE:  Only hardcore gamers will know what I just talked about above.

As a result, glitches in games get a really bad rap.  Now, if you're playing a home console game, your choice is easy.  You either buy another copy of the game, or you never exploit glitches in your current game.  But if glitches occur in arcade games, they are almost always put out to pasture, collecting dust in landfills all over the world.

Well, Wreck-It Ralph combines all those things into one movie.  It has an antagonist who really wants to be a hero, and a glitch who is shunned by all of video gaming society.

I mean, you have to feel for Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly).  All he ever wanted was to be liked by everyone, and all he ever wanted to do was be seen as a hero.  Of course, it's kind of hard to feel that way when you're the primary antagonist in a video game known as "Fix-it Felix Jr.".

You see, the game is sort of like a combination of "Rampage" and "Donkey Kong".  Fix-it Felix (Jack McBrayer) uses his magic hammer to fix the damage to the building caused by Wreck-it Ralph, who breaks windows, smashes doors, and uses his enormous fists to smash holes in the wall.  Throughout the course of the game, Felix has to repair all the damage, getting power-ups in the form of pies baked by the building's residents, while dodging the debris that Ralph rains down from above.  After Felix successfully completes each level, the people in the building throw Ralph off the roof.

Now, an interesting take on this video game is that when the arcade lights dim, Felix and Ralph actually get along great.  After all, they have worked together for thirty years.  But Ralph is always the outsider looking in from his garbage dump home fashioned out of broken bricks and dirt.  Although Ralph likes Felix, he is very jealous of the fact that the people in the building shower him with praise, riches, and hero medals, while all Ralph ever gets is constantly thrown off of a building.

Ralph has the idea that if he can somehow get a medal just like the ones that Felix collects, then he will be able to finally gain acceptance from the people in his own video game.  And as it so happens, there's another game in the arcade that can help him do that.

You see, when the arcade closes, the video game characters are free to visit other video games in the arcade.  The connecting spot is a place known as "Game Central Station".  And, as luck would have it, the "Hero's Duty" game is just a stone's throw away.  In that game - a first-person army shoot 'em up - anyone who passes all the tests will get a medal.  Of course, seeing Ralph try to navigate his way through a "Call of Duty" knockoff game is quite hysterical.

This is all fine and good.  But what Ralph had forgotten was that if a video game character stays away from his home game too long, it can cause games to not function properly.  And when games don't function properly, they become shrouded in an orange-red glow (caused by an Out of Order sign).  And if the orange-red glow remains too long, the game could be unplugged, and everyone residing in the video game will become homeless.  Just ask the poor Q-bert character who hangs around Game Central Station on any given day.

Needless to say, Felix decides to save the day, and sets out towards the Hero's Duty game in hopes of bringing Ralph back to restore the game back to its former glory.  On the way, he encounters and falls in love with one of the main characters of Hero's Duty - Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) - a tough as nails female soldier whose tragic backstory explains her hard exterior (as well as her conflicting feelings for Felix).  And Felix and Calhoun team up to try and find Ralph, who went missing shortly after Ralph earned his medal.

Meanwhile, Ralph finds himself in the video game "Sugar Rush", a game that could best be described as a hybrid of "Gran Turismo" and "Candy Crush".  It's a game in which sixteen competitors could race against each other around a series of sugary sweet tracks that put a Katy Perry video to shame.  The game is ruled by King Candy (Alan Tudyk), and the racers all race together in perfect harmony.

Well, all except one, that is.

Ralph ends up getting his medal stolen by a girl named Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), and the reason why Vanellope stole the medal was so she could use it to enter the race.  All Vanellope wanted to do was drive a sweet covered car and compete against everybody else.  The only problem was that Vanellope was a glitch.  Every few seconds, she would turn blue and randomly appear in pixellated format.  And every time she glitched, she would transport from one area of the game to another.  None of the other racers wanted to race with a glitch, and they bullied her endlessly - even going as far as destroying the car that she built herself with her own bare hands.  And, if you thought that King Candy would be sympathetic, think again.  He refuses to let Vanellope race under any circumstances.  What his motivations are behind it...well, I won't say.

Of course, Ralph witnesses the sour patch kid racers destroying Vanellope's car and he uses his huge size and powerful fists to scare them away.  Ralph then decides to become an ally to Vanellope, and together the two design and build a brand new race car for Vanellope to use in the race.

Of course, Vanellope has never driven a real car before, so Ralph attempts to teach her how in a rather...humourous manner.

Of course, when King Candy hears the news that Vanellope has built another car and plans on entering the race, he freaks out, and decides that she has to be stopped.  And in order to do this, he feels the need to manipulate Vanellope's biggest supporter by promising him the one thing he wanted the most.

I won't go into too much detail with the plot after this point.  I hate spoiling movies.  But I can offer you these clues if you haven't seen this film yet.

Clue #1 - Apparently the key to winning the final race is the combination of Diet Coke and Mentos.

Clue #2 - King Candy isn't the benevolent ruler you might expect him to be.  Instead, he's got a thirty year grudge to settle.

Clue #3 - It's funny how Vanellope is constantly made to feel as though she is not supposed to be a part of "Sugar Rush" when her image appears on the outside of the game.

Clue #4 - When Ralph appeared in the game "Sugar Rush", he brought along a companion with him...and that companion causes "Sugar Rush" to become a glitch filled mess!

Clue #5 - Glitches cannot leave games.  And when Ralph discovers this fact, he is forced to make a decision which could spell doom for both Sugar Rush and Fix-it Felix Jr.

And, here's some interesting facts about the movie as well.

Fact #1 - Did you know that there are some actual Fix-it-Felix Jr. games in existence?  They can be found at Disneyland!

Fact #2 - All the main characters of the film were animated to look exactly like the voice actors playing them.

Fact #3 - You know how video games show the high scores of the players playing them?  Notice how the top scorer of the game received a score of 120,501 points?  Written out as 12/05/01, you have the date of birth of Walt Disney (December 5, 1901).

Fact #4 - Several video game characters appear from the games "Tapper", "Q-bert", "Sonic the Hedgehog", "Super Mario Brothers", and "Pac-Man", amongst others.

Fact #5 - Anyone else find it amusing that the donut cops in the game are named after two donut chains in the United States?  I suppose Sgt. Tim Horton was working as a traffic cop in "Frogger" while Winchell and Duncan were getting all the glory in Wreck-it-Ralph.

Fact #6 - Look closely at the graffiti written all over Game Central Station.  There are references to "Zero Wing" and "Final Fantasy VII" hidden among the paint blotches.

Fact #7 - Mario was supposed to be included in the movie, but production couldn't figure out how to add him into the film.  It is rumoured that if there is a sequel, Mario will be included.

Fact #8 - There are at least three hidden references to Mickey Mouse scattered throughout the film.  See if you can spot them all!

Fact #9 - Did you spot the Contra code being used in the movie?  You know, the UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT B A START code?  I laughed my head off when that scene came up in the film!

Fact #10 - The closing song of this movie charted at #78 on the Canadian charts!