Friday, June 15, 2018

The Triumphant Return of Rocky and Bullwinkle

2018 promotional poster
Let me state for the record that one of my two favorite animated cartoons is The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Breaking the fourth wall, adult jokes that would normally fly over the heads of youngsters, bad puns and thrilling escapades are part and parcel of the weekly television series. I religiously bought all five seasons as they came out on DVD, then found myself traumatized in 2000 when a big screen, live-action film was released in theaters. (To date, I have never fully recovered from that horrible movie.) 

So imagine my surprise when it was announced last year that the moose and squirrel were making a comeback on Amazon.com's Prime streaming service... and soon after the May 11 premiere, the short run, 13-episode mini-series went under scrutiny from this avid fan boy.

Once again, Rocky and Bullwinkle are thrust into harrowing situations but end up saving the day time and time again. Their innocent and silly ambitions to become rock stars, find lost treasure and win the annual Frostbite Falls Pie Contest (using grandma's stinky pie recipe) somehow dovetail with Fearless Leader's sinister plans for world domination. Enter stage left, Boris and Natasha, the notorious super spies, who seem to always fall victim to the diabolical boobytraps originally created for moose and squirrel.


There are three story arcs for this new series, "The Stink of Fear," "The Dark Side of the Moose" and "Moosebumps." Marco Schnabel wrote the first, which brilliantly captures the spirit of the original series, leaving me hooked long enough to view all 13 episodes. While I am not a fan of this new style of animation, there was enough here to binge-watch in two-and-a-half hours. Mr. Know-It-All segments, Bullwinkle's Corner segments, and "Hey Rocky, Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat" segments are few and far between. There are no fillers such as Peabody's Improbable History or Fractured Fairytales. The adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle last 21 minutes each, long enough for you to witness a cliffhanger that leads into the next episode.  

In an era where Hollywood continues to look at vintage property and attempt an update, rather than take a chance on an original concept, and without the voice legends of William Conrad, June Foray and Paul Frees, it is gratifying to know that the characters we have come to love are being introduced to a generation that never grew up with the original cartoons. As for this fan boy, it would be nice to see a second season with a few cartoon fillers (such as a Mr. Know-It-All segment). My only hope is that the new series will expose youngsters to the original series.

Friday, June 1, 2018

78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene

Whoever thought a documentary on the making of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, most notably the shower stating scene, would remain entertaining and fascinating for 90 minutes? Alexandre O. Philippe's last documentary, 78/52, referring to the 78 camera set-ups and 52 edits over the course of three minutes, proved that 90 minutes is just not enough time. The documentary reminds us of the domestic times when Psycho hit theaters, how the film went to combat Hollywood censorship, and the impact that one scene had on the future of American cinema. Commentary from editors, scriptwriters, actors and filmmakers, along with a frame-by-frame expiration of the scene as it was edited together, was equally engrossing. If you are a fan of Alfred Hitchcock and/or admired the shower stabbing scene for all its celluloid glory, this is a must-see documentary.

Practically anyone in Hollywood who was affected and influenced by the movie provides trivial bits of knowledge about the movie, from bookend frame shots, the type of chocolate syrup used to simulate blood in the shower, to both visual and verbal references forecasting gloom in the movie that the audience never picked up on with the first viewing. Jamie Lee Curtis discusses her mother's involvement in the movie, Peter Bogdanovich recalls the first screening permitted for movie critics and columnists, Danny Elfman recalls how Bernard Herrmann's music score influenced him as a musician, author Stephen Rebello discusses some clever behind-the-scenes production trivia, and Marli Renfro (the stunt woman for Janet Leigh) discusses how she got the job and which scenes you can clearly see her in the movie. 

Archival footage of screenwriter Joseph Stefano, actress Janet Leigh, and director Alfred Hitchcock also provide commentary courtesy of archival footage. 

The documentary examines the movie Psycho from the perspective of the shower scene, while covering numerous other topics such as the music score, and the decision to film in back and white, while the narrative shifts back to the construction of the shower sequence. Did you know that the wallpaper design in the Bates Motel was copied for the hotel hallway scene in The Shining? Did you know that Martin Scorcese virtually captured the Sugar Ray Robinson boxing match in Raging Bull alongside the shower stabbing scene? (A split screen is shown for comparison, with Scorcese confessing his intention.) Did you know how many melons were tested to create the sound of a knife cutting into human flesh?



Covering a lot of ground in a short period of time, while capturing commentary in black and white to match scenes from Psycho, the film also provides the atmosphere of a group of film geeks chatting about the movie... with you alongside them. Honestly, this documentary could have gone on another 30 minutes and I still would have been begging for more. As it stands, this is a wonderful diversion that any fan of horror films, Alfred Hitchcock and cinema studies should take time to check out. Now available on DVD, this documentary comes recommended.

Also recommended (and I cannot speak highly enough) are two books worthy of reading about the subject, listed below. I have been recommending them for years and those who accepted by recommendation were never disappointed.

Hitchcock: A Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock (by Francois Truffaut, 2015 edition)
Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (by Stephen Rebello, 2013 edition)