McBoo Halloween Pails

Sit down kids and listen to a scary story: Every once and a while back in the day, around Halloween night, McDonalds would give kids Halloween-styled pails with their Halloween-styled Happy Meals (frightening stuff in there!) to go trick-or-treating with, so you got to know that for a dork like myself, this probably had my name all over it, and it sure did. Despite how dorky you may have looked carrying one these around trick-or-treating, at least the old McBoo pails they used to send us home happy with actually had something to do with Halloween. Usually it was a pumpkin, a ghost, and witch, and I know I definitely had the pumpkin one with the queasy "ga-harsh!"-looking face, and probably still do somewhere, burred out in the garden, waiting to rise again!

But here's the real scary part. The new 2013 McDonalds Halloween "McBoo" pails (which aren't even called that now) are just crass marketing tie-ins for Angry Birds and some other junk they think girls will go for. What a shame.

Happy Halloween!

Forgotten 90s Kids Movies III

We watch a lot of movies as kids, the good, the bad, and the forgettable, and they all kind of just exist as facts of life at the time. We don't know any better, or maybe we do, but we don't care. I've said it before and I'll say it again, kids aren't as dumb as they look. They can discern trash from gold, they just don't always care and usually find something to like in anything. I guess that's where I come in, because I actually remember being disappointed by a few movies even as a kid, and that's got to count for something, even if it was rarely for grown up reasons. Here I'm going to look at some kids movies I spent hours of my life parked in front of back in the 90s, some of which I remember liking and some of which I remember being disappointed by, but still coming away like "eh, it exists, so it couldn't have been bad." Most of these are of the "inspirational" variety. You know, the ones with lots of title cards and stock movie scores in the trailers and deep-voiced men saying "Paramount Pictures presents..." very slowly. That's the kick I'm on now.

Andre - I was massively disappointed by this as a kid. First of all, the movie bills itself as based on some inspiring true story about a seal named Andre that got adopted by a family in Maine in 1962 and then kept returning to shore every year or something and went on to a life of fame because of it. But all of that "inspiring true story" I wanted to see seemed to be condensed to the last two minutes. The rest of it was Free Willy, happening before all that took place. It was instead the touching story of a girl and her seal doing stuff together like blowing copious raspberries and getting into mischief, until the big bad fishermen try to put an end to all the shenanigans because shenanigans shouldn't be had and they got fish to catch. I think it suffices to say that I don't remember anything much about this movie, and so it probably is truly forgotten. And just doing a little reading reveals that the animal in the movie is a sea lion, not even a seal! "He's just a friend!" "A bad-smelling, fish-eating, raspberry-blowing friend??"

Fly Away Home - More girl power. Yay? On the flipside to Andre, when it comes to "girl and her animal" movies, this one I saw with the lowest expectations, even laughing at the premise, and then actually came away much impressed with. I mean, the story sounds ridiculous: a girl becomes mom to a bunch of geese chicks that grow up and need to do what Canadian geese do (fly away home...), so she gets her dad to build a giant flying goose to lead the way for them north or at least back to their homeland Canada before their visas expire. Despite that, this film actually works as a story. The characters are pulled together in this common cause, this girl and her dad become closer during the experience, she learns what being a mom is all about (I don't think she had one, or something), and we even get these spectacular flight scenes. Overall, not totally forgettable, except that it was largely forgotten. And now thanks to the wonders of the internet, I no longer have to feel crazy for calling it "Flying Wild!" Apparently that was its original name. I KNEW I saw it in the commercial once! It took me 20 years but I finally won that argument! "You are risking your daughter's life for a bunch of geese!" 

Angels in the Outfield - This movie could not disappoint, because it was exactly what it seemed. A young foster-care boy longs for the affection of a father who pins his entire acceptance of parenthood on whether a baseball team will win the pennant. So said boy doesn't just wish for this to happen, he prays for it: "God, if there is a God, do you think you could help them win a little?" And because it was a prayer and not just a wish, God responds to it by sending "angel Christopher Lloyd" to do just that for the team, and they do just that, but wouldn't you know it, the kid had a family all along! This movie actually wasn't that bad, and even had some funny bits involving the slapstick physics of the angels ("There was an angel in my Coke!" and the gut-busting scene where a guy sits down on one!), but it also had a heart in there somewhere. Not too many kids films deal with foster care, although maybe Free Willy also had something to do with that. You also don't see too many mainstream kid movies actually deal with religion, even if this is about as saccharine and non-denominational as it gets. I still liked it. Little known fact: Joesph Gordon Levitt had to start somewhere! "Even though you can't see us, we're alllllways watching!" 

Balto - This movie really disappointed me, but only because I was so looking forward to it. The trailers made it look like this epic, mature, beautifully made adventure film based on a true story of the Idig-a-dog snow teams and how they saved Nome Alaska with a shipment of "antitoxin" during an epidemic. Imagine my disappointment when all those beautifully animated scenes in the trailer weren't so amazing in the context of the story, like the trailer's "aurora borealis scene" which turned out to be just... broken glass shining on snow wall... that kind of thing. While there is quality animation at times and the real life story elements are treated pretty well, I wasn't expecting just how much of the film was going to be so "kiddied-up." I didn't care for the live action parts, although I suppose they explain all the fantastical elements, and I actually didn't care for all the slapstick for once, which normally would've been my thing, but maybe I just expected more from Balto... although I did end up loving the polar bears just for being funny, despite their uselessness. "Wolf-dog! Better get back to your pack!!" 

The Indian in the Cupboard - Politically incorrect title aside, this movie was kind of the same as Balto in that it promised much and delivered little. The whole thing is full of strange scenes, like a kid getting a cupboard for his birthday for one. I don't want to see that. I was embarrassed for him! Then there's the long scene where the older brother steals his precious cupboard only for it to be found in the crawlspace two minutes later, and, oh now the key is missing, so now we got to get the key, and it's just goes on and on. Mostly the movie just underwhelmed me. If I had a magic cupboard that made my toys come to life, I'd be bored with a little Indian real fast. I'd be sticking my dinosaurs in there! Let's get some toys to eat the other toys and then we'd be talking. I wanted this cupboard to become a threat to civilization, but no such luck. I don't even remember what the plot to this was. But I will give it credit for depicting dorks in a true and positive light, because this kid and his circle of friends could've easily fit in with my friends back then, real horror-show. "You should not do magic you don't understand!" 

So there we have it. Until next time, wait for next time.

Camcorders and "Home Movies"

Okay everyone, say 'Griswolds!'
Nowadays we can take pictures and video with a few taps of the touchscreen, but I remember a time when we actually dreaded making what we used to call "home movies." I remember how dad (usually dad) was always whipping the big-honking thing out every Christmas, birthday, and just any day he felt like being an amateur filmmaker, propping it up on his shoulder and gathering us all together to be the main attraction, whether we wanted to or not. I remember the "squint" in the view-finder, the ever-present JVC or Panasonic logo, the assortment of big glass lenses covered in fingerprints, and (though it may be total anachronism now) I remember a time when you really did see the little white lines and the blinking red "REC" in the corner when you recorded something. This is where it all comes from kids.

At least these days you can delete horrible shots, but there was a time when your dad's film ambitions would be stuck down on celluloid forever, whether they were picture-perfect Kubrickian high cinema or (more likely) Michael Bay shaky-cam clip show. How many of us have reams of celluloid devoted to us flipping the bird on vacation, getting pukey-faced after too much ice cream on our birthday, or the ever-popular "sitting on the toilet" voyeurism they used to torture us with? Home movies were always more of an interruption. How annoying was it to have to stop tearing into your presents on Christmas morning to announce "what you got" and "show it to the camera" every five minutes like the camera was a person and gave a damn? In fact, I will go out on a limb and say the camcorder was a weapon of psychological destruction... even if it couldn't have been any worse than what these "Disney World! Nah, just kidding..." Youtube parents do these days. At least our humiliations weren't broadcast for the whole world to see! So I guess you could say the camcorder has screwed up two generations of kids, or at least, the people wielding them have. "Daddy did it" indeed.

It was easier said than done anyways. I could never get camcorders to work right. Nobody ever seemed to know if they were actually recording when we thought they were recording, or not recording when we thought they were doing what they were doing when we thought they were recording, or just not recording. If that's confusing, then yeah, that's kind of what it was like. There was always some little "blinking light" hidden somewhere on it that would tell you, nevertheless, I can't tell you how many vacation videos were void of any of the sights and full of hour-long bouncy shots of the interior of the camcorder case. There'd always be that moment after we all got together in front of some landmark, all grinning like a bunch of fools, and dad (usually dad) would go, "Hmm... that's funny... it says the tape is out... I put a new one in two hours ago... just hold still family... got to figure this thing out here..." Better was sitting down later to see your dad's short shorts in a whole new light... for a half an hour.

Not only did I not care very much about making or viewing home movies, I don't know anyone who did. People even used to host parties and invite people over to watch their home movies, embarrassing the hell out of all involved, so I made sure whenever I got the spotlight, I'd make it worth it. I'd usually do things like smooch the camera lens or do a funky dance, just to give the people something. Likewise, my uncle used to play games with it, like turn it upside down randomly so that we were jumping on the ceiling, and my dad used to do "magic tricks" with it when we were little, using jump cuts to make us suddenly "vanish" from a shot. Those were always fun. And I got to say, every time I got to play around with one of these camcorders, getting to prop it up on my shoulders, it never failed to make me feel like an amateur Spielberg. If I had a touchscreen camera as a kid though, I'd probably be an amateur Spielberg by now.

Can I get a boom mic on this?