Deck Us All With Boston Charlie…

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!
Don’t we know archaic barrel,
Lullaby Lilla boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don’t love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!
Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker n’ too-da-loo!
Hunky Dory’s pop is lolly gaggin’ on the wagon,
Willy, folly go through!

Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloup, ‘lope with you!
Chollie’s collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarum bung-a-loo!

Totally stolen from the most awesomelus Pogo repository in the innernets!

My friend Liz used to call me every year and sing this to me, as we are both huge fans of Walt Kelly’s Pogo, and love this goofy spoofy song. I don’t have her number anymore, but I know she reads this blog sometimes. I hope she- and all of my readers- have a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season, whether you celebrate or not. Call, write, email, tweet, blog, or facebook someone you haven’t seen in a while. It’ll make you feel better.

Merry Christmas from John McClane

Ho ho ho

Hey, we’re not birds! We’re a Jug Band!

The grass does not grow on the places where we stop and stand!We’re the River Bottom Nightmare Band!

Ah, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas Special. It was one of my favorite Jim Henson creations. The music is great, the characters come to life, in the end Heavy Metal TRIUMPHS. It doesn’t have a smarmy happy ending; there’s no miracle, and the otter family still has to struggle. But they’ve come together and found their talents, and perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for the years to come, if Doc Bullfrog is true to his word.

It’s a simple tale based on O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” as Ma Otter and her son Emmet both vie for the prize in a talent contest so they can buy one another the gifts they want for Christmas- a piano, and a guitar with mother of pearl inlays. It’s based on a children’s book by Russell Hoban, who may be more famous for writing a cult classic post-apocalyptic novel called Riddley Walker. I had no idea. Strange coincidence, is it not? The songs were written by none other than ’70s icon Paul Williams, he of The Phantom of the Paradise who appeared on many Muppet show episodes too.

It all comes together as a tale of bittersweet poverty that reinforces the adage that your health and your loved ones are the real gifts to be thankful for, and that talent and hard work never go unrewarded. Even if the biker gang rock band leaves you in their dust. I haven’t watched this one in a few years, but recently found that my sister has a copy, and we’ll be watching it this Christmas Eve, I’m sure.

Since the internet is bare of the music, here’s a band covering the Nightmare song at Lee’s Liquor Lounge in Minneapolis:

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story has skyrocketed in popularity in the past few years, partly due to TNT playing it in a marathon on Christmas Eve; however, it still remains my favorite holiday film, for its warts-and-all look at the “good old days” so deified in these times. Jean Shepherd, the mastermind behind the movie and its narrator, was a late-night talk radio curmudgeon in the ’50s, probably most famously on WOR in New York City, but also in Cincinnati and Philly over the years. He had a unique, sardonic perspective on ordinary American life, both sentimental and critical, and this spirit is felt throughout the film.
The perfect director helmed the project- Bob Clark of Black Christmas fame- who had only a year or two before cobbled together a bunch of high school tall tales from the ’50s and ’60s from his and his friends’ lives, and made the colossal Canadian hit Porky’s, which not only succeeded due to its titillating low-brow humor, but because it created a warty yet nostalgic past, people with both friendly local cops and legendary strip club magnates. It was more than a story, it was a myth, and A Christmas Story draws on the hard-times childhoods of the pre-WW2 years to create a living world set in the “back when I was your age” era, a time we’ve all heard stories from. When people walked to school in the snow, uphill, both ways, as Bill Cosby would say.
I will not deeply summarize the now famous story, for if you haven’t seen it, tune in to TNT on December 24th at any hour of the day and watch it a few times. It’s a movie that bears rewatching, for many of the little jokes take several viewings to notice. It’s a simple enough story of young Ralphie pining for a Red Ryder BB gun in the days before Christmas, and his quirky family:

The Old Man, played to perfection by “Night Stalker” Darren McGavin, is his profane and temperamental father. Shepherd paints him in a few masterful strokes- “Some men are Catholics, others Baptists… my father was an Oldsmobile Man.” and “My father worked in profanity like other artists worked in oils,” say it all. While everyone remembers him raving about his broken Leg Lamp- sorry, Major Award- he’s best at the dining room table, looking exasperated, just wanting to relax.
Ralph’s Mother, played by Melinda Dillon- a fine character actress who’s done everything from parade around naked in Slap Shot to memorable roles in Magnolia– is another force of nature, embodying the childhood super-heroine known as “Mom.” The scene that captures her character is after Ralphie cusses, and gets a mouthful of soap- when she sends him to bed, she looks around, and tastes the soap. Sure she flies between strict disciplinarian and nurturing caregiver, but Clark gives us little glimpses into her life beyond the kids here and there, which make the film.
Randy, the little brother. Where they found this perfect little menace I do not know, but he manages to be that despised little tag-along younger brother, spoiled by mom. Even if he can’t put his arms down after she bundles him up in a dozen layers of winter coats, and mostly just stares at the screen or cackles his infectious laugh, the movie wouldn’t be the same without him.

and of course Ralphie. Peter Billingsley may have mostly ahem, petered out after this movie, he was the perfect kid actor to portray “the kid with glasses,” which is who Ralphie is in his little childhood gang. He gives pitch-perfect emoting under Jean Shepherd’s narration, whether he’s spellbound by the glow of electric sex gleaming in the window, or furiously pounding Scut Farcus and becoming aware of a stream of profanity leaving his mouth like he was speaking in tongues.

Together they make a rather strange little family but actually seem like they lived together. From singing “Jingle Bells” in the car while Dad tries to concentrate on driving, or celebrating Chinese Turkey after the Bumpus’s hounds devour their dinner, we take one look and know this family will stick together. Even if Ralphie goes blind from Soap Poisoning. But it’s far from idyllic- Dad’s driving an ancient Olds, the outside of the house barely looks better than the hillbillies’ next door. There’s a bully on the way to school who has the kids in terror. Dad curses like a sailor, and while we only get to hear Yosemite-Samisms, that’s as far as the sugar-coating goes. Okay, it ain’t Boyz N the Hood but it’s not the usual Hollywood bullshit family movie crap.

Jean Shepherd brought a lot to the table, but Bob Clark did his share. He has a small cameo as their neighbor Swede, who ogles the lamp in the window. Hardly a virtuoso director, he does manage his subtle little jabs and jokes. My favorite cut is when Ralphie is in the bathroom decoding his secret message from Orphan Annie, and Randy has gotta go. When he finally barges in and hops on the toilet, Clark cuts to later that night, when Mom is opening a pot of boiling red cabbage. Toilet lid opens, pot of dinner opens. Yuck! Without a word, we know what Ralphie thinks about red cabbage. Other touches include the antiqued look of Ralphie’s dream sequence when he turns in his “theme” on why a BB gun is a great Christmas present, and he imagines his teacher giving him an A+++++; the old-timey silent western look of when he imagines shooting “Black Bart” and his gang of criminals with his Red Ryder; but the best is when they finally meet Santa. Look closely, the guy who tells Ralphie to get to the end of the line is Jean Shepherd himself.

When you’re a child, a big man in a red suit with more white hair than a nursing home full of relatives is a scary S.O.B. Of course you want to sit in his lap, because he’s supposed to give you presents, but man is he creepy. Why are his cheeks so rosy? Clark films Ralphie’s meeting from his own POV, as a disgruntled Elf picks him up and swings him around, dizzyingly into Santa’s lap; he slows the soundtrack so Santa seems to growl like a bear, so we understand the kids’ terror. And yet he still has the perfect comic timing to let Santa turn and quip “I hate the smell of tapioca.” We really take Clark’s direction for granted, but he always managed to make things look natural, whether it was kids sticking their tongues to cold metal, or the ridiculous stuff from Porky’s.

Tragically, Bob Clark went on to direct Baby Geniuses and its sequels, and was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver in 2007. A documentary called ClarkWorld, about his life and times, including interviews with the Christmas Story cast and others he worked with, is coming next year.
Jean Shepherd passed on in 1999, but left a great legacy of recorded radio shows, and books like In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, which includes many of the stories that would be crafted into A Christmas Story. Sadly, a poorly executed sequel to the movie, entitled My Summer Story and including none of the original cast, has barely a fraction of the charm that the classic does. It is best avoided; Charles Grodin tries to fill Darren McGavin’s shoes, and while I like him a lot, it just isn’t the same. But if you want to see the Bumpuses have a hoedown, rent it.

Christmas with the Venture Brothers

Each year, the Venture Brothers team- Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer- do a goofy holiday song in the voices of their characters for Quickstop. This year, it’s #21 and 24 singing my least favorite Christmas song- Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” … and if the nerdy henchman duo cracks you up, this song will have you in stitches.

Previous years include:
The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend singing The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl’s “A Fairytale of New York
(That’s my favorite, with the high-pitched Monarch doing Kirsty’s part, and gravelly Dr. G doing Shane MacGowan; plus hearing the Monarch call Dr. Girlfriend a “cheap lousy faggot” vindicates Brock’s assessment of her as post-op)
The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend singing the David Bowie & Bing Crosby duet of “Little Drummer Boy
Henchmen 21 & 24 singing Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas

Best of all may be the epic “Venture Aid 2006” which has so many voice cameos every nerd will be sated.

If the direct mp3 links stop working, they are available via a player on Quickstop’s Holiday Havoc page.

Also, according to Jacks in Public’s LJ, Patton Oswalt, John Hodgman, and Seth Green all did voice work for the upcoming season, which is awesome.

March of the Wooden Soldiers mystery solved!

Another favorite Christmas movie of mine is Babes in Toyland, aka March of the Wooden Soldiers, starring Laurel & Hardy. Made in 1934, it seems like a peculiar relic when viewed today, filmed on an obvious set and full of corny fairy tale characters, but it remains one of the most entertaining Christmas films of all time. It’s still shown on television, and how many ’30s films do you see on TV, other than Turner Classics?
Set in Toyland, a fairy tale city precariously built next to the spooky land of the Bogeymen, it stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as two bungling toymakers working for a tinkerer who Santa contracts his work out to. They screw up Santa’s order for a bunch of marching six inch tall toys, and instead make them six feet tall. This gets them fired, but as you might tell from the film’s alternate title, the soldiers save the day in the end. The other subplot involves the nefarious Silas Barnaby and his fiendish plan to wed Little Bo Peep against her wishes. See, Old Mother Hubbard has been paying the mortgage on that shoe she lives in, and he’s going to foreclose on it unless Bo Peep “bails him out,” if you know what I mean.

Just don’t ask me to pull your finger again, Stan.

My great uncles always called the comedic duo Fat & Skinny, and they do their best to save Ms. Peep from Barnaby’s clutches, but he frames them for the murder of one of the Three Little Pigs- by kidnapping the little porker and tucking a few pounds of sausage in their house. This leads to a hilarious medieval torture scene where Ollie is dunked in the town pond, while Stan looks on in a panic.

Barnaby on the receiving end of a dart

Luckily Peep & her beau Tom-Tom Piper find the missing pig, and save Stan & Ollie’s bacon (sometimes I just slay myself). Once Barnaby is fingered as the villain, he is ejected from town and releases an onslaught of Bogeymen to wreak his vengeance. And this is where the mystery comes in! Stan & Ollie fight off the boogermen by activating the soldiers, but they also use some really nasty looking darts.
Now, having grown up in the age when Lawn Darts were legal, I know a nasty toy when I see one. These look like toy rockets with spikes on the end, and how I lusted after these little destructive devices as a child. Stan uses a crooked stick to smack them on the end, which makes them flip in the air, and then slaps them toward his targets. It is really quite extraordinary, and boy did we want to launch rockets at each other’s butts using this clever method. I think the closest we got was throwing empty toilet paper rolls, and like Ralphie for his Red Ryder BB Gun with a thing in the stock that tells time, we pined for these deadly little objects.

Barnaby, Bo-Peep and the Bogeymen

But over at the Tom Swift Complete Home Page, they have figured out what these devices are. Apparently they are called a “catty.” Back when the stick was the toy of choice, a catty was a cigar-shaped missile launched with a crook of the right curvature. You would smack the end of it in a downward strike, causing it to flip up in the air, and then you’d slap it with the flat of your stick like a baseball, and send it flying at your playmates.

Oh, how we yearned to launch darts in this manner.

Since the stick was recently inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame, we should not mock what little scamps and whippersnappers of yesteryear made play with. Before such gadgetry as the Force FX lightsaber. us whelps of the ’70s had to make do with the lowly stick, and have the welts to prove it. The finale to March of the Wooden Soldiers is one of the classics of old comedy cinema, with little people dressed as the Three Little Pigs whacking the bogeymen with a balloon on a stick, and a monkey in a mouse costume dropping bombs from a little floating airship.

Not infringing on Disney copyright, nope nope…

This remains my favorite Laurel & Hardy comedy- probably for nostalgia’s sake. Stuff like The Music Box is much more fun because they get to be really cruel to each other, but seeing them fight the legions of hairy boogeymen is etched into my brain from a young age. Look at the damn things, they’re still scary. Hell, scarier than the vampires in 30 Days of Night for sure. So this holiday season, scare the living bejeezus out of your children, nieces, nephews and cousins with this fine piece of Christmas movie fare. so that the circle may be unbroken, and they can torment another generation with it, ad infinitum.

Barnaby gets bopped

favorite Christmas movie scene?

The Large Ass(ociation) of Movie Blogs has put forth a blogathon asking what our favorite scene from a holiday movie is, and for me, it will always be the phone call scene in A Christmas Story. It plays out like a cartoon, and brings us back to that time of lost innocence in childhood when we are first caught using swear words, and punished. Does this still even happen? Or do kids just get away with dropping f-bombs while the parents roll their eyes? Anyway, it’s a great little scene- Ralphie accidentally rats out his friend Schwartz when asked where he heard the calamitous F dash dash dash word, and his Mom calls Schwartz’s house to ensure he gets his. If you listen carefully, Schwartz’s mom’s side of the conversation always cracks me up.

Schwartz (Flick was the kid with his tongue frozen to the pole)

Ralphie’s Mom: Do you know what Ralphie said? (whispers)

Schwartz’s Mom: No! Not that!

Ralphie’s Mom: And do you know where he heard it?

Schwartz’s Mom: Probably from his father.

Ralphie’s Mom: No, he heard it from your son!

Schwartz’s Mom: What? WHAT? hmph! (sound of kid getting spanked)

Schwartz: Ow! What did I do Mom? I din’t do nuthin’! Owwww!!

I don’t know who voiced Schwartz’s Mom on that phone call, but the inflection is pure genius. It has a cartoon-like quality and imagining what’s going on at Schwartz’s house is funnier in my head than I could ever picture on screen. So yeah, I guess a child getting beaten is my favorite Christmas movie scene. Therapy can’t be too far away.

Here’s the infamous “Oh, Fuuuudge” scene and a few minutes in we get the phone call.