Catweazle 1.7 – The Telling Bone

Catweazle is usually amusing and entertaining, but tonight’s episode was downright hilarious. My son and I laughed all the way through it, even if one terrific exchange was over his head.

The problems start when Catweazle attempts to send himself backward in time, but instead he’s sent sideways a few miles, ending up on the spire of a nearby village church. This leads to a delicious bit of comic misunderstanding with the vicar, who’s played by the wonderful Brian Wilde (Mr. Peacock in my favorite surviving Ace of Wands story). Catweazle thinks that he’s a sorcerer and the vicar thinks the disheveled old fellow is a suicidal Christian, and they have a wonderful conversation where they completely misunderstand each other but agree all the same!

Things get even more wonderful at the vicarage. Catweazle mentions the farm that he knows, and so the vicar rings them up on his “telling bone.” Catweazle doesn’t understand the technology, of course, and thinks that his host is talking to him at first, which had me in stitches, and then he hears the strange voice from the bone…

Things get even more ridiculous when Carrot has to rescue his friend without Sam, and Sam’s sleeping mother, finding out what he’s up to. The kid comes up with a pretty terrific plan, I have to say! I just loved this one. Even enjoying the others, it is by far the funniest adventure on the first disk of this set. I hope that they sustained this level of comedy through the rest of the series.

The Twilight Zone 1.33 – Mr. Bevis

On the off chance that I’ve infuriated any hardcore Zone fans with some of my frustrated commentary, I’m happy to say that “Mr. Bevis,” the pilot for a lighthearted show that never got off the ground, was much more entertaining. It stars Orson Bean as an eccentric oddball who meets his guardian angel at the end of a horrible day of the world forcing him to conform to its mediocrity. The angel is played by veteran Henry Jones – we saw him as Steve Austin’s arch-enemy Dr. Dolenz in a trio of Six Million Dollar Man stories – although I understand that Bean wouldn’t have been available for the proposed series and it was offered to Burgess Meredith before it was shelved.

The strangest thing about this episode from today’s perspective is how normal Mr. Bevis appears to modern eyes, and how stilted, boring, and downright Victorian the world of 1960 appears. Granted, leaving a cup and saucer on the sofa on the way to work is a little absent-minded, but Mr. Bevis’s desk, cluttered by enough knick-knacks to enrage his dull boss, looks like the desks at pretty much every job I’ve worked in the last twenty years. Well, the pop-eyed minstrel clock wouldn’t get on anybody’s desk any more, thank God, but you know what I mean. He dresses kind of flamboyantly for the period – not unlike Jimmy Olsen in the fifties and sixties, now that I think about it – and drives a forty year-old car, but he makes everybody except his boss and his landlady happy.

Overall, this is a cute half-hour that doesn’t have the malice or the misogyny of other episodes that we’ve sampled. It’s also got small parts for William Schallert and Vito Scotti, and our son said that he liked it more than other Zone installments as well. I don’t know that I’d want something this whimsical every week, but I’m glad to have made Mr. Bevis’s acquaintance. He’s welcome to come by after dinner for a few games of Munchkin and Gloom whenever he’s free, and I wouldn’t say that about most of the occupants of the Twilight Zone that we’ve met.

Sigmund and the Sea Monsters – 1.6 and 1.7

I can’t believe it’s over already! Since we don’t watch enough modern television to warrant subscribing to any streaming services before now, and since I’ve always preferred to slowly enjoy episodes over the course of several nights, I’m not really a “binge” kind of person. For anybody who stops by this post in the future, I’m writing this on the weekend that season two of Stranger Things dropped, and I’ve seen death threats levied at anybody who posts spoilers today or tomorrow. I guess I’m a little old-fashioned.

Well, we hope that’s not going to be all. These new episodes were incredibly entertaining and we laughed out loud several times during each one. These last two are also really good. Episode six, “Sigmund and the Sand Castle Contest,” sports a dual plot, with Sigmund belching up so much of his defensive “blue goo” for use as a fixative in the kids’ sand castle that he becomes ill, while Slurp adopts one of those Roomba robot vacuums as a pet, also called Slurp, and panics when the batteries run out and he needs a human pet “fixer.” In episode seven, “The Treasure of Sigmund’s Madre,” the kids all have to negotiate with the sea monsters for a huge drum of gold coins in the hopes of raising money to keep Aunt Maxine’s restaurant afloat.

I hope the show’s done well. I don’t know how Amazon measures these things, but I think it is certain to appeal to modern kids, if our six year-old’s response is anything to go by. He loved this completely and I hope we’ll get some good news about a renewal soon. The series does end on a small cliffhanger, which is really the only complaint I have about the whole shebang; I really wish that producers would not do that unless they’re certain they’ve been picked up for another run. So renew ’em, Amazon, and ask for ten or thirteen new episodes next time!

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

News traveled very, very slowly in the late 1980s. I was talking in a recent post about how I’ve got no time for all that “good old days” nostalgia, but I confess that, of course, I’m fond of thinking about all the hoops we had to jump through to watch television and movies from other countries when I was a teenager. These days, I understand you can subscribe to a streaming service – a legitimate one! – and watch Japanese cartoons, subtitled, the same week everybody else gets to see them. There’s even a company called Discotek that specializes in licensing the most obscure titles imaginable, from stone-cold classics like Endless Orbit SSX to garbage like Chargeman Ken, with English translations by people who actually care about doing them accurately.

But back then, months and months would go by before VHS tapes would start to circulate. People would hear about new films and TV shows, but heaven only knows when anybody would see subtitled copies of them. If I remember correctly, I didn’t see a subtitled edition of this movie, then called Totoro of the Neighborhood, until either the 1989 or 1990 Atlanta Fantasy Fair. (And what I remember is dubbing my own copy of the movie while minding the anime video room, because that’s what we did in those wild west days.) A dubbed edition, made by a company run by the late Carl Macek, didn’t appear until 1993. I have a pan-and-scan DVD of this release which I bought to replace the VHS tape that my older children watched to death. It was redubbed under the Disney umbrella in 2005; I should probably have purchased a proper widescreen version of this dub before now.

(Madly, the release history of Hayao Miyazaki’s first feature film, The Castle of Cagliostro, is more convoluted than that; I have the Manga Video/Anchor Bay DVD and that’s good enough for me.)

So anyway, My Neighbor Totoro is flatly one of my favorite animated movies, despite lacking the sort of plot-driven dynamic that I usually enjoy most. This isn’t an adventure movie; it’s a little character study about two little girls who meet some woodland spirits. The most that happens is that the younger girl gets lost. But it’s just so good. If you enjoy cartoons for perfect comic timing, then this thing is a masterpiece. There’s not a frame introduced too early or held too long in the legendary bus stop sequence. The scene is one perfect shot after another, and I have never watched it without laughing so hard that I cry.

And Mei, the younger girl, is an absolutely perfect creation. Every single thing that Mei does, from opening the same doors that her big sister opens to exploding with tears and stomping away with snot all over her face, just has me in stitches. So when she does get lost, it’s scary. Even having watched this movie two dozen times and knowing perfectly well that she’ll be fine, it’s still scary.

We gave our six year-old son a heads-up that the girls in this movie get scared, but that there is nothing to worry about and everybody in this film will be fine. Either it didn’t sink in or Mei getting lost really is that troubling, because our son was really, really worried for her. But overall he loved the movie, as all children do, and told us that the Catbus was – of course – his favorite character. Everybody loves the Catbus.

Totoro is a magical movie. From the color choices to the music to the nervous body language of the boy next door, it’s a movie with so much more attention to detail than I was expecting in the late 1980s. The 87 minutes you spend in this little rural community feel like weeks, and you won’t mind the time investment even slightly. Whether you’ve got kids or not, this movie is a must.

Catweazle 1.6 – The Magic Face

The previous episode of Catweazle didn’t have many belly laughs, but this one sure did. Our son really enjoyed the slapstick in this one, and there’s a deliciously funny bit that the grownups both liked regarding Catweazle’s misunderstanding of the word capture, in an artistic sense.

In this one, Carrot is concerned when a photographer who’s shooting the derelict cottage on the family farm gets a snap of the old wizard. But Catweazle’s concerned for a different reason: he concludes that to own an image of somebody is to own them outright. So he glumly prepares himself for a life of servitude to the woman with a magic box, which suits her. She thinks he has such an expressive face that he’ll make a terrific model, and if he wants to help around the household as well, that’s just fine with her!

Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.5 – The Squid Stays in the Picture

So in this delightful episode, Maxine and some of the community’s grownups attempt to stage an intervention for Barnabas and his sea monster obsession. At the same time, the kids are making a camcorder monster movie that starts as a giant monster spectacle but the lead actor is uncomfortable in the role and would rather be a detective. It shouldn’t have surprised me that Sigmund, as “Ace Coolstone,” would wander into the intervention while all the grownups were distracted, but it did, and it was hilarious.

This is a great little series. I confess that I kind of miss Blurp and Slurp’s nastiness and malevolence, but they remain engaging because they’re so stupid. And Kyle Breitkopf is hysterical in this one as a school-age acting coach, helping Sigmund into character. Great stuff all around.

The Twilight Zone 1.30 – A Stop at Willoughby

We asked our son, who looked a little confused after this one, whether it made sense. “NOTHING made sense,” he shouted.

“A Stop at Willoughby” seems to have a reputation as one of the great episodes of The Twilight Zone, but I’m with the kid. I didn’t care for it, either. It’s the bad luck of my picks that this is the third of twelve episodes that I picked that center around a character longing for a fantasy life, and I’m tired of it.

Worse, and this certainly isn’t the show’s problem but my own, I’ve had a pretty intense hatred for “the good old days”-fueled nostalgia for quite a long time. The murder rate’s lower than it’s been in decades, people can leave godawful marriages like the one depicted in this episode without scandal, we’re certainly closer to equality than they were in 1960, and I’ve got about seven thousand songs on my phone. I may love sixties and seventies television and fifties clothing, but you can stuff that longing for small town nineteenth century life, grandpa.

To put a few things in the plus column, while James Daly has the thankless and impossible task of making me sympathize with his character, he has a pretty good breakdown scene. The great character actor Howard Smith is well-cast as the blustery boss, and it’s nice to see Patricia Donahue, who was hopping back and forth to appear in both American shows and ITC productions like The Saint, Danger Man, and Thriller, even if her role is just plain awful.

Another thing I’m sick of in season one of Zone – and again, we’ve only seen twelve of thirty – is deeply unhappy marriages. Maybe Rod Serling was projecting a little, because James Daly’s character is not the first literate, gentle, and thoughtful protagonist we’ve seen to be trapped in a loveless marriage with a woman who is depicted as a one-dimensional beast. Richard Matheson’s “A World of Difference” is guilty of it as well. Mercifully, that horrible marriage has ended, but again, the woman is a nasty and unsympathetic piece of work.

It’s a weird, weird blog when I went into sodding Space Academy prepared for the worst only to enjoy it a good bit, and the allegedly classic Twilight Zone is just awful about half the time we watch it.

Catweazle 1.5 – The Eye of Time

The fifth episode of Catweazle honestly isn’t as funny as the previous ones, despite the casting of comedy star Hattie Jacques as a so-called fortune teller. I did enjoy the misunderstanding between Catweazle and the charlatan: she thinks he’s an entertainer like her, and he thinks – at first – that she’s a legitimate sorceress and her caged, talking bird some kind of demon.

I’m actually not familiar with Hattie Jacques. She was incredibly popular in her day, appearing in more than a dozen Carry On movies and over a hundred episodes of Sykes, a sitcom that ran, in various formats, for nineteen years, but I’ve never seen the show, nor a single Carry On. I know, it’s a hole in my edermekation.

Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.4 – Robyn Has a Gift

Well, the grouch in me has to complain that this episode is a little more treacly than I’d prefer. At its core, it’s about Robyn not feeling as though she fits in or is good at anything, and needing some reassurance from her mother that she’s special regardless. Modern day children’s television tends to hammer these lessons in without any kind of subtlety. I’m not complaining “Oh no, a moral,” I’m saying “Don’t stop the mayhem for a moral; we’ll figure it out.”

And that’s a particular shame this week, because otherwise this is really, really funny. Again, the grouch in me wishes we could have enjoyed the chaos that could have erupted in an art gallery, because that’s where the plot is going before Robyn saves the day. Otherwise, this episode is a real joy. I absolutely loved Robyn drafting Blurp and Slurp to help with her project, and Sweet Mama’s failed attempt to apply some passive-aggressive guilt on her idiot offspring is hilarious. I really loved Robyn ripping off the monsters when they demand higher payment, and the monsters being stupid enough to think they got the upper hand.

But while the opportunity for chaos never completely forms, the appearance of several massive sand centipedes is fantastically funny, and leads to a brilliant bit of comedy when Sigmund very casually explains the difference between poisonous and venomous. I do adore the way Sigmund is so casual about weird things in this show. At one point, he explains that if the tips of his tentacles are ever sore, he just bites them off and waits for them to grow back. It’s a funny detail made hysterical by Drew Massey’s delivery of the line. I didn’t realize Massey had played Sid the Science Kid. I suddenly hear the similarities!

The Twilight Zone 1.25 – People are Alike All Over

I’d never seen this episode of The Twilight Zone before, but its twist ending has been ripped off and parodied so many times that I sort of knew where it was going. So will anybody older than, say, our kid’s six, so I’ll “spoil” it for you: this is the one where the first Earthman on Mars, played, of course, by Roddy McDowall, ends up in an alien zoo. Rod Serling wrote the teleplay from a short story by Paul Fairman, “Brothers Beyond The Void,” which first appeared in a 1952 issue of Fantastic Adventures.

Our kid was, on the other hand, absolutely walloped by the ending. He was at a loss for words. “That was just… strange,” he said, not even able to commit to whether he thought it was happy or sad that our hero met such a fate. It’s been a while since I was that thunderstruck. Odd feeling.