Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I had a terrific weekend and I’m not saying that just to annoy the
anonymous troll who sends me a message once a month telling me how
awful my life must be.  Besides not having a name or the courage to
sign his little venom-grams, he likely does not have a loving wife
and children, a nice home with nice neighbors, any accomplishments
that comes within light-years of even my meager ones and not even
the slightest clue that his notes bring me and those I share them
with great laughter.  But I digress.

I had a terrific weekend.  Sainted Wife Barb had three days off and
so, with some help from me and our neighbors, was able to get all
sorts of little projects off the “to do” list.  I was able to get
some of my own projects underway and even finished several of them.
We watched Ohio State beat Penn State and the Cleveland Browns beat
the San Diego Chargers.  We had a wonderful early Halloween dinner
with our neighbor Greg, his daughter Giselle and her roommate Mel.
We also had nice evenings watching episodes of Elementary and House
Hunters International and a wild show about large devises chucking
pumpkins great distances.

On Sunday, we enjoyed a special Movie Night, the first in what I’m
hoping will be a nigh-weekly event at Casa Isabella in which I try
to recreate the movie experience of olden times.  The entertainment
consists of a theatrical short, a theatrical cartoon, a chapter of
a serial, and a movie or two.  All that was missing from this night
was popcorn and a raffle.

The theatrical short was “Women Haters” (1934), the first of nearly
200 shorts starring the Three Stooges.  Moe, Larry and Curly join
the Woman Haters Club, but Larry breaks the club’s oath by marrying
a cute, feisty blonde (played by Marjorie White).  All the dialogue
is in rhyme and, though these rhymes are occasionally painful, you
can’t help but admire the tenacity with which the writer and actors
pulled it off.  High brow humor was never the forte of the Stooges,
but I laughed out loud several times.  The performances, the wacky
slapstick and the era in which this short was made all contributed
to my enjoyment.  Even Barb giggled once or twice.

The theatrical cartoon was “Baseball Bugs” (1946), one of my least
favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons.  The brutish Gas-House Gorillas, who
exhibit no personality save for their brutish behavior/demeanor are
clobbering the elderly Tea Totallers.  From his rabbit hole in the
outfield, Bugs trash-talks the Gorillas, yelling he could beat them
all by himself.  The Gorillas hear him and it’s on.

The match-up here is between brute force and cleverness/speed and
there aren’t any surprises.  For the big finish, with Bugs leading
by one run, two outs and a Gorilla on base, the batter chops down
a huge tree and uses it for a bat.  He knocks the next pitch miles
out of the stadium. By taxi, bus and elevator, Bugs makes a catch
at the top of the Empire State Building observation deck.  Out of
nowhere, an umpire shows up to declare the game over with Bugs as
the winner. 

Now I realize it’s silly to complain about the same baseball rules
the cartoons plays fast and loose with throughout its running time,
but that ending has never worked for me.  I would have liked to see
something more clever and more wild.

Maybe Bugs’ pitch hits the bat so hard it turns it into toothpicks
that fly up into the air and form something amusing when they fall
back to the ground.  Maybe the pitch shatters the bat leaving the
batter with nothing more than a limp branch.  An ending that takes
place in the ballpark would work better for me.  Ah, well.

Superman (1948) was my choice for the serial.  “Superman Comes to
Earth,” the first chapter, covers a lot of ground quickly.  We see
the doomed planet Krypton, Jor-El’s attempt to convince the Science
Council of that coming doom, he and wife Lara sending their infant
son to Earth, the Kents finding and raising that son to be a good
man who knows he must use his powers to help others, a little bit
of super-action when Clark learns how to use his powers and when he
rescues his adoptive father from a tornado, a glimpse of Lois Lane
and Jimmy Olsen, and, of course, a cliffhanger involving what seems
to be a certain train wreck disaster. 

Barb hadn’t seen any serials prior to this.  She was fascinated by
some of the things I pointed out to her, notably how animation was
used for special effects that couldn’t have been accomplished with
the serial’s budget and how so much stock footage from movies with
larger budgets was used in the chapter.  As I told her, we will see
some of the same stock footage in other chapters and serials.

The highlight of the evening was Happy Family Plan, my choice for
our feature film.  It was definitely a risky choice as the movie is
in Japanese with English subtitles and Barb had never watched any
films of that nature.  What helped is that this movie is a family
comedy with several characters and situations not unfamiliar to an
American audience.

Happy Family Plan [Shochiku; $29.99] is set in the 1990s when the
Japanese were going through the same kind of tough economic times
we have been experiencing.  Indeed, the studio that made the film
in 1998 was affected by those times and could not release the movie
as planned.  Friends of director Tsutomu Abe formed a support group
to release the film in northern Japan.  It was a hit, playing all
the country and winning an award in the 2000 Houston International
Film Festival.

Salaryman Fujio Kawajiri loses his job in a company restructuring
that puts several of his fellow workers out of their jobs as well.
Since his family - wife Yuko, daughter Yoku and son Yoshitiro - can
no longer live in their company housing, they move into the house
and restaurant of Fujio’s in-laws.  The restaurant is struggling,
Fujio isn’t having any luck finding a job, Yoku is having a tough
time at her new school, Yoshitiro is trying to get on his school’s
baseball team and Yuko’s former flame is working at the restaurant.
When a business venture with a former co-worker turns out to be a
scam, Fujio finds himself at the bottom of the family food chain.

Yoshitiro sends in an application for his family to appear on Happy
Family Plan
, an actual Japanese television show in which the father
or a family must accomplish some task within a week.  Success means
a fabulous gift for the family.  In this case, it’s Yoku’s dream,
a trip to the United States, which, on the TV show, is represented
by a cowboy and a backdrop of New York City.

Happy Family Plan researches contestants to come up with difficult
challenges.  Tone-deaf Fujio has a week to learn how to play “Home
Sweet Home” on the piano.  He must play the song perfectly to win
the prize.  His quest to succeed for his family will have effects
on both his family and others.  It’s a funny and heartwarming film
with relatable characters and situations.  Both Barb and I enjoyed
this movie.  It’s definitely worth watching.

Some quick notes on this DVD package...

Happy Family Plan is the first release of the J Cinema Project, “a
unique educational campaign to provide enhanced resources to learn
about Japanese language and culture through film.”  The second disc
has Japanese language video lessons and games as well as commentary
on the social issues seen in the film.  A dedicated website offers
“bonus content including language learning worksheets, interactive
games and a discussion board.”

I haven’t checked out the second disc yet.  Truth be told, I rarely
check out DVD special features.  I guess I’m a main attraction kind
of viewer.  Even so, these special features interest me more than
most.  If I check them out any time soon, I’ll write about them in
a future bloggy thing.

That was my “Happy Tony Movie Night!” If you have your own special
movie nights, I’d love to hear about them.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2012 Tony Isabella


  1. When I was running a branch of the Whoosier Network here in Columbus some years ago at the local library, that is how I did the programming for the show, as a Saturday afternoon at the movies. We'd kick it off most often with a cartoon, followed by a serial chapter, then a couple of episodes of a once-popular series ("Beauty and the Beast", "Max Headroom", etc.), then end the day with a full-length Doctor Who adventure. It was a great time and for quite a while we would have a pretty good crowd in for it.

  2. What are some of the best serials for this sort of thing, particularly for a non-movie freak audience? I just watched the whole of "Phantom Empire" and while I enjoyed it, I'm not sure anyone else would sit still for it. Perhaps Captain Marvel? Any thoughts?