30 September 2009

Posts about Nothing: Jerry Seinfeld; Nihilism of the Comedian, Part Two

Hola! Welcome to Part Two of my look at Jerry Seinfeld. There are a few more elements to his character that we need to discuss, firstly, a continual look at his basic character flaws, this time focusing on his Condescension and Egoism, then an examination through the lens of other characters, in particular, his Comedy and the Reflection of Newman. Let's get to it:

"A Simple Joke for a Simple Man"

So says an enlightened George Costanza in "The Abstinence" (S8;E9) criticizing both Jerry's sense of humour and basic personality traits. In addition to his rampant insensitivity and emotional repression, Jerry has an enormous Ego among other very juvenile traits that he not only admits, but relishes in. Throughout the aforementioned episode, which deals partly with Jerry trying to get a gig at his former Middle School he often reverts to juvenile behaviour, most likely partly due to its inherent comedic nature. This explanation also serves for much of his egoistic behaviour. A great general rule for examining Jerry is understanding that the joke always comes first.

The line gets blurred however, mostly because either Jerry finds himself in juvenile situations (see "The Race" S6;E10 or "The Library" S3E5), or because he jokes so much that it actually becomes his reality. Kramer in "The Mom & Pop Store" critiques Jerry as having a "Peter Pan Complex." As shown quite literally in "The Pez Dispenser" (S3;E14) Jerry has an inability to do anything high-class or "serious," everything always ends up as an opportunity for jokes, even at the expense of others' pride. In this way, not unlike his emotional suppression, Jerry works to cut down the egos of others, while serving his own (also see "The Opera" S4;E9).

Jerry seeks to boost his own ego on numerous occasions. While I already mentioned his perceived confidence with women in Part One, there are also a few phrasings, presented as half-jokes that also show this extreme amount of inner confidence. In "The Face Painter" Kramer has a problem and says, "Jerry, you're a smart guy, right?" Jerry responds with full bravado, "No question about it." Quite to the point of his Jerry-centric personal world in "The Blood" (S9;E4) Elaine begins a story to which Jerry interrupts, "Is this about me?" Elaine says, "No." Jerry then curtly replies, "Then I'm not interested."

This confidence however, is severely shaken a handful of times, most often when dealing with Elaine, with whom there is admittedly a grand amount of unresolved sexual tension (not to mention "the other," see "The Stake-Out" S1;E2, "The Deal" S2;E9, "The Mom & Pop Store," "The Serenity Now," and "The Finale").Jerry jokes constantly to deal with the few real problems he has, such as the severe blow to his perceived masculinity Elaine gives him with the revelation that she faked orgasm in "The Mango" (S5,E1). Examine the subtext of this phone conversation as Jerry covers his real feelings:

Jerry: Hello... Oh hello Elaine.

Elaine: So we're having dinner tonight?

Jerry: I don't know, I'm not really in the mood.

Elaine: Why? What's wrong? You're not still thinking about this afternoon are you?

Jerry: What, the grilled cheese? Nah, they always burn the toast.

Elaine: No, the other thing.

Jerry: Oh that. Well...

Elaine: Oh come on, Jerry. Making to much of a big deal about it.

Jerry: Yeah I guess. So you wanna meet at that place at seven thirty?

Elaine: Okay.

Jerry: All right.

This same sort of joking fear is also present ironically in "The Deal" which showcases Jerry and George half-concerned over ending up in prison, all joking of course. Jerry's such a comedian, always joking to deal with very personal problems. I must again point out the brilliance of Funny People (2009) that really nails this regard. Essentially that movie and Seinfeld really examine the psyche of joking, which more often than not covers up dangerous or uncomfortable truth. Whereas Seinfeld never really deals with this truth in a serious way, being the ultimate Comedian show, Funny People does and everyone should watch it. There's my Apatow plug. Let's move on.

In bizarre irony, Jerry does seem to be very self-aware of his ego. In "The Pledge Drive" (S6;E3) his girlfriend Kristin critiques him for lack of sentimentality after he throws out her thank you card. Jerry is unapologetic but admits the flaw without regret. This repeats itself in "The Serenity Now" (see Part One) as well as "The Foundation" in which Jerry states that he has had no growth since his failed engagement, then girlfriend Dolores (Mulva) calls him immature. He also has a kind of raw honesty at times if he can underlay it with a joking tone, as he tells his girlfriend in "The Reverse Peephole" (S9;E12), "I dont go dancing because it's so stupid." Again in "The Susie" when George is talking about about the Yankees Ball in the Coffee Shop, Jerry responds, "Can't be worse than this." Jerry is not afraid to detract and denounce that which does not fit with his ego yet simultaneously at times admitting his low self-worth and ultimately miserably self-focused life. It becomes a hard line to follow at times, the measurement between how self-aware Jerry is of his own ego and how content he is with his lifestyle. The answer turns out to be simple- that Jerry is extremely content with a miserable self-focused lifestyle, which in turn fuels the ego. Fun stuff.

Worth noting here of course is "The Invitations" (S7;E24) where Jerry dates someone exactly like himself at first to his endless glee and later with the horrible realisation that he hates himself. His ego-fueling can only carry him so far and then he is ultimately torn up by seeing a very flattering version of himself. It is fitting punishment that he should end up with someone so soulless and unrepentant towards humanity as himself, but ultimately because this cannot fit into his (and by definiton her) ego-trip, hence the mutual break-up seen in "The Foundation."

"What's the Deal with Airplane Peanuts?"

There are numerous references to the nature of Jerry's comedy act in Seinfeld, most of them negative. There are also a few occasions where Jerry the Comedian enters Jerry's real life, which further crosses the lines of reality. It is interesting for me to watch "The Seinfeld Chronicles" (S1;E1) and observe how stiff and awkward Jerry's acting is, but at the same time, how incredible his comedic timing and stage presence is during the stand-up interludes. Anyway, a basic rule in the Seiniverse is that Jerry's act is awful.

In "The Stranded" a fellow partygoer is passively dismissive of Jerry's act. Other characters either make fun of or tiff on Jerry's comedy include George in "The Race," Newman in "The Millenium" (S8;E20) and his own girlfriend Marlene in "The Ex-Girlfriend" (S2;E1). In particular Marlene nails Jerry with the most accurate criticism, calling it "too much fluff." In "The Abstinence" Jerry is booed by a junior high school crowd. Rough. Furthering this trend with his own parents, in "The Wallet" Jerry's parents do not believe that Jerry makes money with his act. This belief continues with many of the retirees of Del Boca Vista in "This Cadillac, Parts 1 & 2" (S7;E14 & 15) where Jack Klompas in particular is derisive towards his act and does not believe he could afford to buy a Cadillac.

In the Seinfeld Universe most of the supporting characters do not think highly of Jerry's profession, thinking its easy or just mundane - which is exactly the point of the show. In "The Phone Message" (S2;E7) Kramer gives Jerry some possible joke material, all terrible suggestions but retorts, "That's as good as anything you do!" This trend continues in this continues in "The Summer of George" (S8;E22) where George presents a joke about the guys in the pit at an awards show, that is the kind of humour George believes that Jerry does. Later in this episode, as George tries to make a decision between playing frolf or helping Jerry, he envisions Jerry's dumb joking and frolf is the easy winner. George identifies Jerry through his jokes, and thus thinks lowly of him.

This mockery continues in "The Puerto Rican Day" (S9;E20) wherein George shouts out a line while watching Blimp, a movie about the Hindenburg disaster, "That's gotta hurt!" He says he's a performer, just like Jerry. The following has some good commentary on Jerry's act:

Jerry: That's not what I do.

George: Isn't it?

Jerry: Maybe a little. I guess it is.

Kramer: You know Jerry, you haven't worked a room that big in a while.

George also critiques the laser pointer guy as having no craft in his humour which is somewhat analogous to Jerry's views on hack comedian Kenny Bania. We can further examine these guys' views on each other in "The Butter Shave" (S9;E1). George admits he likes Bania's act. Bania is basically a dumber version of Jerry. This hints at a fact in the Seiniverse, common people may just be too dumb to like Jerry's act while all the higher ups in the world (ie, The Tonight Show, NBC) believe that Jerry is very talented and proceed to give him money and a career. Also in the "The Butter Shave," Jerry purposely does a shitty version of his own act to throw off Bania, neverminding that this blows a possible shot at another pilot.

Kramer, very interestingly, also impersonates Jerry's standup when Jerry is out of his apartment in "The Bookstore" (S9;E17). This perhaps hints at a unconscious yearning of Kramer's to actually be Jerry and live his life. This would fit in with Kramer's constant need to visit Jerry's apartment, eat his food, use his table, etc. This unconscious desire of course comes to a head in "The Chicken Roaster" (S8;E8) when the two friends actually quite literally switch apartments as well as personalities.

Alright, some last minute things here, in "The Burning" (S9;E16) Jerry playfully jokes to girlfriend Sophie that he's a comedian when he cant figure out her "it's me." There are thousands of other times that Jerry jokes in real life or says or thinks he's funny (see "The Jacket" S2;E3, any of the "Who is this...?" episodes for starters). I'm also fond of Jerry pretending to kill George in the hospital when Elaine walks in ("The Heart Attack" S2;E11).
"Elaine?! What are YOU doing here?!"
Finally, of course the ultimate criticism, while the Comedian is a of sex in Romania, Jerry is "no comedian" ("The Gymnast" S6;E3).

Well, I ran out of time and space again. Tune in later this week for the exciting (maybe) conclusion (maybe) to this needless drawn out article! So long!

29 September 2009

Posts about Nothing: Jerry Seinfeld; Nihilism of the Comedian, Part One

I'll admit a lack of notable posts the past couple weeks, but here's to making it up- over the past three months I've undertook some extensive research, cataloging and examining aspects of the personality and place of Jerry Seinfeld in his eponymous show (read: I watched a bunch of Seinfeld). More than simply state that Seinfeld is an insensitive, shallow human, which I believe is immediately obvious, I want to place him in the context of the Nihilistic Comedian, harbouring a basic anti-social personality disorder that allows him to detach from humanity, observe and laugh at its inherent stupidity.

I will break this entry up into a few different sections, firstly directly confronting evidence towards his anti-social pathology, then both internal and external treatments of his Comedy Act within the Seinfeld Universe and finally, the Counterpoint of Newman. Let's begin.

"They are not human! Very bad! Very very very bad!"

So says Babu Bhatt in "The Finale" (S9;E24), which beautifully summarizes the basic character traits of nearly all the Fab Four of Seinfeld, but Jerry in particular. Jerry seems to be particularly enigmatic in his extreme apathy and need to disguise many basic human emotions with jokes and comedy. As George says in "The Soup Nazi" (S7;E6), "He's so weird sometimes. I havent figured him out yet."

In many instances, there are very serious issues that Jerry flirts with then ultimately does not care about. In "The Couch" (S6;E5) Jerry cheerfully brings up abortion in Poppie's restaurant, which effectively ruins the business when many issue-charged patrons leave or get into arguments. Jerry even looks proud that this was his fault, he keeps bringing it up to Elaine throughout the episode. Elaine on the other hand, feels so strongly about the issue that she will not eat at Poppie's because he is pro-life. Jerry essentially mocks this belief that she holds so strongly, including the possibility that she could not "love" a dude who would be anti-abortion.

Probably the most significant case of Jerry blatantly mocking his own danger occurs in "The Susie" (S8;E15) wherein he is completely unconcerned towards accusations of murder, instead making snark comments to Elaine's co-worker Peggy, such as "Not only that, I broke his thumbs!" with a big smile.

Jerry is also never too concerned over the status of George and his NBC pilot ("The Watch" S4;E6), even after George negotiates down and then eventually canned ("The Pilot, Part 2" S4;E24) due to Elaine. He is angry, sure, but not tremendously so. It is clear that he makes plenty of money, the throws it around a bit, both in "The Watch" and many others. It is not until "The Cadillac, Part 1" (S7;E14) that demonstrates how much he really makes virtually only through stand-up (although some of his money comes from the Super Terrific Happy Hour in Japan ("The Checks" S8;E7). This draws an interesting parallel to real-world Jerry who loves stand-up and claimed would revert to it if ever "Seinfeld" failed, and notably did the same after when it was a success. He's never too concerned with Television, because he belongs on stage, being that pure Comedian. To further layer this up, feel free to examine George Simmons' (Adam Sandler) career path in Funny People (2009). It's the heart of comedy that keeps people like this going.

In addition to his own problems, he is also never moved very much by the serious plights of others. In "The Bubble Boy" (S4;E7) as the bubble boy's father is crying, Elaine hands him and Jerry napkins to wipe their tears but Jerry simply nonchalantly wipes his mouth instead. He consistently goes for the joke over any display of serious emotion. In "The Pony Remark" (S2;E2) he displays a raw sort of insensitivity, albeit on accident, although it is worth noting that his joking often causes faux pas with older people or simply anyone who don't realise that he jokes all the time. To a slightly lesser extent is his treatment of fights or girlfriends, such as in "The Glasses" (S5;E3) where after a big fight he asks his girlfriend in a goofy tone, "Wanna get some pizza?!" In Jerry's mind there is never a need to dwell on something sad or terrible, a good joke is always around the corner.

Jerry's relationship with women could be an entire post in itself, but several common elements demonstrate his apathy towards the fairer sex. In "The Voice" (S9;E2) Jerry claims not to harbour strong feelings for girlfriends so he can break up quickly. Also note carefully in this episode how Jerry, always the comic, chooses the fun voice over the dry girl. He also picks soup over girls as well as friendships in "The Soup Nazi." Perhaps Jerry is so confident in his ability to get another girlfriend that he feels free to break up on a whim, or else he truly does not really care about who he dates, exemplary of floating through a beautifully comic nihilistic life.

Jerry and Elaine together are probably two of the more insensitive characters on the show. George will lie and steal, but he feels intense guilt over things he perceives as personal wrongdoing (see "The Masseuse" [S5;E9], "The Wait Out" [S7;E23]). Notably, Funerals and death cannot interrupt their petty insignificant lives. In addition to the already mentioned funeral of Susie, Jerry and Elaine at Gary Fogel's funeral ignore actual sobbing and instead partake in meaningless idle conversation ("The Face Painter," S6;E23). This trend continues in "The Alternate Side" (S3;E11) where Jerry and Elaine are generally unconcerned about her passed-out, possibly near death boyfriend and instead appear nonchalant and inept over his crisis. They mull over the nature of his eyebrows basically because they have no idea what else to do. Their lives are so vapid and empty that when faced with an actual catastrophic event, their minds find no other reaction that what they have trained to do.
"That's a shame."
This comes up in "The Soul Mate" (S8;E2) as well wherein Elaine and Jerry demonstrate this obsession with infantile subjects (like the whitefish she ate) compared to "real" problems that some of their married friends have.

Kramer is by far the most honest character, he fears no social reprisal for speaking the truth all the time. Jerry's lies are generally well-meaning, he attempts mostly to avoid hurting feelings. Elaine's are slightly worse in nature as they usually stem from trying to avoid punishment or confrontation, inherently more selfish than Jerry's. George's lies, however are the worst and constantly only to get jobs, girlfriends or other personal gain, entirely self-serving. Thus, while George is one of the most sensitive characters (He can detect almost any level of human suffering ["The Maestro" S7;E3]) he also contains the greatest evil in his lying. Oh hot daffodil.

In dealing with his friends, Jerry can be equally insensitive. He makes an offhand comment to George in "The Betrayal" (S9;E8) that he has backups for all friends (or at least for George and Elaine). He also unashamedly makes fun of george's fake jon voight car in "The Mom & Pop Store" (S6;E8) until george kicks him out, although this does not hinder his mocking. In "The Foundation" (S8;E1) he hardly cares about telling his parents he's no longer engaged, while also earlier in the episode with George barely shows any remorse towards Susan's death while visiting her grave site.

The single greatest episode that deals with Jerry's emotional issues is "The Serenity Now" (S9;E3). Indeed many Season 9 episodes dealt with these kinds of issues as the show gave its final push outside the realm of everyday-based humour and into the surreal. Elaine also typifies this push, becoming more desperate, vengeful and neurotic as the show progressed. Anyway, in "The Serenity Now" Jerry perfectly only cares about opening up in the first place because his girlfriend Patty (Lori Loughlin) has a "good body."
"I'm open. There's just nothing in there."
At first, his friends and associates are so inundated with his comedic stylings and easygoing mannerisms that any attempt for him to get angry is met equally with laughs as if he were joking. Jerry being serious is in itself a joke. Thus the crux of his personality and life as humour and drama is identical. As he experiments more and more with letting out his emotions (mostly with the goal of getting laid), his new emotional freedom leads to several disasters: Kramer gets sprayed with silly string because Jerry's love distracts George, Jerry eventually breaks up with his girlfriend, and Jerry's proposal to Elaine leads to George storing computers in Kramer's apartment, all of which are eventually destroyed due to Kramer's own emotional meltdown. If any of this flies over your head, watch the episode, it'll be easier for all of us.

Jerry's stress over this particular breakup heavily contrasts with the earlier confidence I proposed in my analysis of picking soup over girls in "The Soup Nazi." There is some evidence here that Jerry as a character only works because of this emotional bottling. As he says, "Sure I'm not funny anymore, but there's more to life than making shallow, fairly obvious observations" (Also a dig at his own brand of comedy, more on that later). Jerry's detachment and nihilism are what funds his humour. As soon as he lets himself breath and hate and love, he loses his lifeblood. Quite literally - as I have also established that Jerry makes a ton of money in-show solely on stand-up routines. Thus when he allows emotions to flow, he loses his only source of income. And as he says, "I've never had a job" in "The Stranded" (S3;E10) and reiterates the same in "The Calzone" (S7;E20). It is ironic therefore that Kramer and Lloyd Braun's artificial emotional bottling leads to outbursts of insanity while Jerry seems to have mastered the technique of emotional suppression for his entire life. Thus we reach a simple question- is Jerry Seinfeld in fact insane?

Stay tuned for more on this exciting topic later this week!

25 September 2009

Tops of the Millennium: Preliminary Candidates for Top 15 of the Decade

Howdy. As you probably know, the year 2009 is almost at a close, and as such there is a strong need for many many needless lists and tabulations of different movies and genres and crap. This blog sees no different. I've been on a mystical quest that started last month to try to produce a list of the Top 15 Best Films of the decade spanning 2000 - 2009. I thought it would be nice to take a moment here and give you some of my criteria.

I first visited each year (using mostly Wikipedia, IMDB, BoxOfficeMojo and Rotten Tomatoes) and tried to write down, regardless of personal feelings (as good as that will get ya) the top movies of each decade, not necessarily counting Oscar wins or Box Office draw, but moreover which films stuck with me, perhaps more importantly for some older movies, films that were still relevant. In this kind of way, something like Chicago (2002) I don't believe makes the cut, even though it's a Best Picture Winner. Seven years later no one fucking cares about Chicago. So this kind of thing was my reasoning. What follows, year by year, are 38 movies that I have handpicked that fit this sort of vague criteria, which I will eventually refine down to 15 based on other criteria. Now is your perfect chance to disagree or yell at me, keep in mind this is based pretty much on personal instinct at this point. Let's begin:


1. Almost Famous- Rock and Roll will never die.

2. American Psycho- Playing with psychology, reality and narrative and Pre-Batman Bale make this worthwhile.

3. Cast Away- Tom Hanks and quirky volleyball-based humour dominate the screen.

4. Gladiator- The definition of an epic movie, one of the few movies of this decade I quote weekly, dominated box office and awards and provided a resurgence in its genre.

5. Memento- Very quickly you'll find out here that I love some certain directors. Chris Nolan is one of them, his first entry being one of the most original and engrossing movies of the past decade.

6. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?- Add the Coens to that list of directors I'm incredibly biased for. This is the first and probably weakest of their entries here.


7. A Beautiful Mind-
Crowe at his peak, fightin' 'round the world...and in his own brain.

8. Mulholland Drive- You'll quickly notice a slew of fanboy-ish smaller movies here amidst the blockbuster giants. This is a gem.

9. Ocean's 11-
Remember how plain cool it was watching this for the first time? The second? It's still cool for me watching it for the 30th time really, this gets points for being the coolest movie of all time.

10. The Royal Tenenbaums- Incredible heavy-character based quasi-indie featuring the dynamic team of Stiller and Owens in some of their best insanity-turned-down roles.


11. Equilibirum-
I'll probably get some flack for this, essentially to me much worse than The Matrix (1999), but superior to V for Vendetta (2005), its only faults should be existing in an overdone genre.

12. Gangs of New York- This has been on IFC a lot lately, so I've watched it about three times in the past two days, never gets old and Danny Day-Lewis is incredible as Bill Cutting, probably underrated as one of the top villains of the decade.


13. Finding Nemo- If you dislike this movie you have no soul.

14. Mystic River- I feel like this is another movie from this decade that should be remembered a long time from now as being truly great. The acting and story are incredible.

15. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King- Let's be honest, this is a sure shot. A monumental achievement in film making, its predecessors should be on this list as tops for their years as well, but I wanted to slim it down and give room for other competitors. We all know this will take some glory, let it be known though, that The Fellowship of the Ring could nearly beat anyone else from 2001.


16. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind- As it turns out, Jim Carrey's best performance in his lifetime, a great sci-fi spin on essentially a romantic drama.

17. Sideways- Merlot is good, so is this film essentially about the struggle of genius behind the limits of middle-aged-ness.


18. Brokeback Mountain- With all the gay shit aside, this is legitimately a great movie simply about two souls trying to be true to themselves amidst incredible social pressure to be something else. It should have won the Best Picture, feel free to notice that I don't think Crash (2005)has staying power at all.

19. Kingdom of Heaven- I should get some shit for this as this is probably one of the weaker movies here, but it's got some great moments. C'mon, it was at least a Nominee for Best Picture at the Teen Choice Awards.


20. The Prestige- Definitely one of my personal favourites from this decade without question, incredibly heavy thematically.

21. The Departed-
I'll say this is one of the very few classically good films from this decade, it's instantly quotable, spoofable and incredible experience. Also I clearly love Scorsese.

22. Borat! Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan- Strong runner for funniest movie of the decade, essentially brilliant in style, execution and push for social awareness. Kind of.

23. Children of Men- Clive Owen needs to take more films like this and Fonsy Cuaron needs to make more films like this. The impressivity of a couple of breathtaking single-shots alone should secure it a spot.

24. Pan's Labyrinth- Guilly del Toro should also do more of this and less of Hellboy/Frankenstein/whatever-the-hell else he's been up to lately (wtf)


25. American Gangster- A good Denzel flick deserves to be here, and it should probably be Training Day (2001). Gangster's all-around superior cast and directing give it the edge, though.

26. No Country for Old Men- This is really an incredible movie that tends to have more layers the more I see it. From a relatively simple story, the Coens blow normal narrative structure apart in a way that is effective, communicative, indicative of theme and groundbreaking-ative. Nice.

27. There Will Be Blood- I love No Country, but I always thought this was the superior film. Naturally they both deserve mentioning.

28. Knocked Up- Incredibly well-directed, scripted and original, not too mention one of the biggest influences on Modern Comedy, strong case for funniest movie of the decade. Nowadays try to watch it past ubiquitous Spider-Man 3 (2007) references and picture the first time you saw it, the reason it's here should be no question.


29. Wall-E- Arguably there should be more Pixar here, but Wall-E is by and large their best film, with a strong message, tone and humble cast by animation standards, all fueled by a charming little robot who hardly speaks. Awesome.

30. Cloverfield- Bear with me, this movie gets in based on its concept and execution, which is beyond extraordinary. Will it get the final cut, probably not, but it deserves some credit.

31. Gran Torino- Unlike the Oscars, I refuse to snub what might become Clint's final film. It's fantastic in every possible way and dammit...I do buy American.

32. In Bruges- This kind of caught me off guard, but it is a superbly acted film with a very unique story that also deserves a place here but may not make the final cut.

33. The Wrestler- This documentary of Mickey Rourke's life won all our hearts. Okay, maybe not but a superb film nonetheless, a great acting achievement.

34. Tropic Thunder- I love a lot of 2008 movies but this might be near the top. A cunning swipe at Hollywood featuring most of its major players in very original roles, half of which got Golden Globe noms and one very ironic Academy nomination. I'd love to see what some of these guys would have done in a year without a young actor from the next film.

35. The Dark Knight- I've been meaning to fit in some kind of entry on some faults for this movie, which weirdly get completely overlooked and ostracized in the fanboy world. To be perfectly honest, with all of Heath's stellar acclaim, part of me likes this Joker much much more. Hopefully that should gain the ire of every single reader out there.

36. Burn After Reading- Essentially perfect storytelling and screenwriting, I can't believe this didn't get a nomination. Here's their chance for redemption.


37. District 9- Now, there's no telling what the Autumn of 2009 will bring, but District 9 should be a good forerunner already for one of the best films of this decade. Just look.

38. Inglourious Basterds- As should Tarantino's only entry. Check this out for much much more!

There are many more possible candidates from the rest of 2009, including The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Shutter Island, A Serious Man and Sherlock Holmes (Check out my strong director diversity!) and I'm sure much more. Thus, there's a few months for this list to wax and wane, and surely I'd say we won't know what our best films were for months, if not years into 2010.

But that's just me.

So from this impressive list I will cut about 23 films to boil the whole crapfest down to 15. I'm planning to do this with some unbiased criteria from this point out, crunching some essential numbers. In the meantime, feel free to argue, yell, point out anything I blatantly missed, including every shitty indie film you discovered at the big Hipster Conference last year. Stay tuned, dear readers, stay tuned, to see how this whole mess works out!

18 September 2009

Because it was on TV: Masculinity and Gender Roles in Zack Snyder's 300

If any of you eager young readers out there own a television set I'd hope in the past week you've caught the 2007 movie 300 on TNT. I know I did during last weekend's Network Television Premiere and I was reminded about its brash stylistic display of man and muscle, as well as how cool, ridiculous and stupid every single scene is.

So I didn't give it much thought after that. I see a lot of movies on TV and I have no reason to blog about them. At work today however, I found that a pair of my co-workers also had the good fortune of watching this movie. For the first time. Thus as you may imagine I was treated to an entire morning of "THIS IS SPARTA!," "TONIGHT WE DINE IN HELL!" and "HOO! HOO! HOO!" I really thought we had moved past this like two years ago.

So I figure it's still somehow relevant and I can ramble for a second about all the huge problems I had with this movie, mostly about the gender roles it both confirms and disaffirms as well as the sorry state of modern day overcompensating for masculinity. Let's begin!

Every part of this movie is unsubtly crafted to suit the male ego. Every Spartan looks how a man should look. Perfect, rippling, glistening bodies, working in sun and war, sweating and taught. Kind of makes my dick soft, but that's just personal taste. More than physical appearance though, the Spartan attitude is ludicrous, really. Hubris, ironically considered one of the greatest sins in the Greek world (thanks) comes out the wazoo. Almost every character in this movie is prideful, lustful, arrogant and extremely cocky. It's much more American than Greek, every man wants to be the best but that's not enough. Spartans must be the greatest nation in the world with no one even close behind. The Persians feel about the same pride in their country and god-king yet King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) can never reconcile with Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) based solely on his pride in his nation. Certainly he is looking out for his independence and freedom of his people, but there is such a blatant disregard for civility and discourse (to which Leonidas highlights in half-joking "There's no reason we can't be civil," and to which the messenger famously states "This is madness!" Leonidas' oft-repeated catch-phrase, "THIS IS SPARTA!" essentially equates Sparta with madness very early on in the film, which should serve as a guide for interpreting the rest of Spartan custom).

Anyway, all of this arrogance and wish fulfillment fills in nicely with the desired male gender role. Spartans basically go, kill and fuck wherever and whoever they want, all the time looking like, for lack of a better word, Greek gods. It's the ultimate in a male-dominated world. There is a strong male desire to go out and soldier in the world, perhaps a more American desire to fight for what you believe in, especially when that belief is freedom and democracy. Spartans are the epitome of masculinity, they do everything men should do in the world. Thus, the American audience idolizes them.

To contrast against the manly glowing Greeks, the Persians appear foreign and effeminate. One of my previously mentioned co-workers this morning made an off-hand comment that he couldn't tell if Xerxes was male or female. This also ties into plot-changing androgyny of the South Park episode that takes inspiration from 300, "D-Yikes!" Even as Queen Gorgo (Lena "Gettin Sum" Headey) says, "...only Spartan women give birth to real men." It's a world based on absolutes and ultimatums, cut and dry stuff, unequivocally masculine.

Queen Gorgo presents a good counterpoint, though. While Sparta of 300 is composed of an ideal-male world, it is not necessarily an anti-feminist movie or anything like that. Ironically while the Persians appear effeminate, they treat their women as more objects than the ("good") men of Sparta who are willing to listen to their women and let them speak publicly, an act that at first perturbs the Persian messenger. King Leonidas takes much advice from his Queen, and without her indelible influence it is unlikely he would have gone to war in the first place. So while the male gender roles are extremely solid, the female gender roles tend to buckle, especially when Gorgo ends up really taking a stand for herself in murdering the traitorous rapist Theron (Dominic West).

One of the major irritations of overhearing my co-workers chat today was their adamant belief that this insane movie was completely historically accurate. I've heard this before from a few different people, including some who actually argued that giant monster warriors existed in ancient times to fight our ancestors. After exhaustively researching this topic, it seems pretty clear to me that Zack Snyder effectively captured some of the spirit of Sparta, but pretty much missed the big points and massively exaggerated and stylized all the details. Think of a Greek Pearl Harbor and I think you can get the idea. The basic fact that this thing is a movie inspired by a comic book inspired by another movie should pretty much point you right in the direction of historical accuracy you should end up.

This should lead us to that wonderful author, Frank Miller. I probably feel another post bubbling over concerning this gentleman's basic conservatism, jingoism, blatant attempts at American propaganda and general excessive indulgence in all his works that I think has become detrimental to this culture in recent years. Needless to say, his revolution of Batman in the 80s should give him a pass from nearly all criticism I can give out, but the xenophobic male-centric, Michael Bay-esque pursuit of the "Awesome" pollutes and protrudes from 300 like a boner showing through tightie-whities. There is never a moment of relief or reflection; the gung ho, male obsession with conquering, fucking and subscribing to an impossible set of morally ambiguous values and desires renders 300 one of the more shitfucked movies of this decade.

Busting the Hymen: The Start of the 2009-10 Television Season

When I was a small child my teacher gave my class a writing assignment. We were to think carefully about each season of the year and write down something we liked about each one, then present it to the class.

The pertinacious scholar that I was, I presented the following: "I like Fall because the new Television season starts, there's always good season premieres. I like the Winter because usually there are really good Christmas specials on. I like the Spring because that is season finale time and there's good shows on then too. Finally I like Summer because it's repeat time and we get to do it all over again!"

I'm not that good at much in this world. I can't really do a lot of sports or math or music or anything. I am, however, an exceptionally adept Television watcher. Thus this time of year is always dear to my heart. It's Fall. Time for some Season Premieres.

Now, I've just barely wet my appetite, although to be honest there's only a handful of shows that I watch on a regular basis (ie every week with no exceptions). Four of these come on on Thursday nights, which I will quickly highlight here:

Parks and Recreation (NBC): I wrote a tiny review after watching one episode at the end of this insane diatribe but now that I'm a little more comfortable knowing the characters I will admittedly say this started off as a straight "The Office" clone but has grown into something a bit more special. I don't know a single person who has discovered this show yet which is a shame because I'd love to talk to any living human about it sometime, while it's also a very worthwhile show. Out of everything I saw last night I ended up thinking of this episode the most- you know that means a lot in my TV-inundated world.

Anyway, the first episode this year consisted of an accidental marriage of two gay penguins, which threatens Leslie Knope's (Amy Poehler) attempt at not taking a political side working in the Parks and Recreation department of the Pawnee, IN local government. Regardless to say, hilarity ensues as Knope defends her right to be cute in the face of amassing gay rights vs. family values controversy. Oh ho ho.

The Office (NBC): I also chatted for a while here about my undying love for "The Office" but a masterful show like this could always use some more lubrication before the deep plunge. Last night's episode concerned rumours and gossip spread around the Scranton office of Dunder-Mifflin. It was nice after a lot of "big" storylines last year involving job loss, transitions and far-reaching struggles to return to ridiculing basic office politics, which is what makes this show work in the first place. Also Andy Bernard's (Ed Helms) quest to discover if he is gay or not was superb. Hmm. A lot of gay stuff so far. Let's continue.

Community (NBC):
Can you tell I like NBC yet? Out of the handful of shows I watch for my own personal amusement and not just to figure out zeitgeist, I'd say roughly 60% come from this channel. They're one of the only major networks who strives for high quality and critical claim from its shows in addition to popular response. It's also one of the few networks that will go out on a limb for a show, give it time to digest into the people's consciousness and support it if the ratings are poorer but the acclaim is good (The reason for this is simple, look at the history of "Seinfeld"). This is unlike Fox, for instance, which will go out for outside-of-the-box shows, then switch them around every week, go on hiatus for weeks on end and then cancel their goofy show before the first season ends. Of course after that you've got CBS who just goes after every broad demographic they can grab and ABC which essentially has just all shit all the time (except for LOST).

Ok. Now that I've got that awkward rant out of the way, let's talk about "Community." I fucking hate Joel McHale. He's Seacrest-Lite (which they awesomely acknowledged in the episode actually) hosting "The Soup" on E! and in general nearly an Affleck-caliber douchebag. In this show though, he works, which is making me shift my entire perceptions of reality and judgment. It was a solid premiere with some weird dialogue that went no where for some reason, but a good amount of laughs and a promising premise.

One thing cool about NBC is how they unquestioningly adhere to the single-camera "real" world set up pioneered by "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Arrested Development." It's such a seamless, natural feel that they've implemented with "Parks and Recreation" and "Community," that really should be the sitcom style of the late-2000s and hopefully more mainstream in the next decade. I'm too used it, frankly. I personally can't stand "Big Bang Theory" and "How I Met Your Mother" on CBS anymore because of their painfully dated audience and camera set ups. It's so limiting and removed from reality these days, I can't believe those formats are still popular. Of course these shows get huge support for some reason that escapes me.

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (F/X): There's only a handful of cable shows I watch, most of them on F/X and Comedy Central (I love denouncing broad-taste favouring CBS in favour of more intelligent NBC shows, then subsequently admitting an avid viewership of F/X). I really should have written more about "Rescue Me" this summer which was an incredible series, including one of the best Season Finales I've seen in decades, but I digress. Let's go down to Phillie.

As far as episodes go, I thought this one was a little weak. I love when shows make fun of their own format, which the cast did marvelously at the beginning of the episode, trying to side with either a story about buying a house or Sweet Dee getting preggers, but after that I think it went downhill a bit. I think the show needs to liven up a bit instead of pitting the Gang against real-world humans, which it has done excellently in the past (and did excellently in this episode) but this repeated idea I believe is getting stale. Anywho, I laughed a shitload so maybe that's all that matters.

Concluding Thoughts:

I'm pretty pumped for this year, my dear readers. I follow about ten shows pretty regularly, but I'm pretty sure I can't pound out ten entries in addition to my usual...two per week. C'mon, that's a tall order here. If I see something I like, though, I'm going to ramble about it. That, my friends, you may look forward to.

Happy Clicking!

09 September 2009

Profiles: Ben Affleck, Eternal Douche

Let me back up a tad because the title to this post may be misleading. After watching our friend Ben in Extract (2009) this weekend past, something dawned on me. Affleck is a tremendously huge douche. However, his doucheyness worked very well for the story of that movie. This got me thinking, and I believe I've come to the conclusion that the measure of an Affleck movie may be tested through the level of douche that he exudes. Let me go a little deeper and explain:

I enjoyed Extract. In fact, when looking back at it, I enjoy a lot of Ben Affleck movies. The films I enjoy the most, however, are films where he is at his douchiest. That is, when his character is a douche, it tends to serve the story as some form of heavy, which ends up being pretty entertaining. Thus, we have my list of Biggest Affleck Positive Douche Movies (Ranked in Consummate Douche Factor), all of which I thoroughly enjoy:

1. Dazed and Confused (1993) - 70s Hazing Douche
2. Shakespeare in Love (1998) - Prima Donna Acting Douche
3. Mallrats (1995) - Anal Sexing Douche
4. Dogma (1999) - Vengeful Angel Douche
5. Good Will Hunting (1997) - Boston Douche
6. Extract (2009) - Bearded Horse Tranquilizer Douche
7. Hollywoodland (2006) - Bitter Hollywood Douche

He also does well when he douches on himself, which indicates to me that he has a good knowledge or is at least self-aware of his public douche perception. You can see this self-douching best in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) in both his scenes as Holden McNeil dissing the actor Ben Affleck and as a fictional version of himself later on.
"No, bullshit, because I wasn't with a hooker today, haha!"
The whole "I'm Fucking Ben Affleck" escapade on Jimmy Kimmel Live also tends to back up this weird self-awareness of his doucheocity.

So beside all this, he has quite a number of serious roles in incredibly awful films, which I now attribute to his enormous inner-douche inevitably shining through his attempt at doing a non-douche role, which of course just douches up the whole movie. He is so good at playing douches that whenever he has to play a non-douche, he fucks it all up and we have this prickly little super-douche on our hands, which is messy and sticky for everybody. Take a look at his Shittiest Inadvertent Affleck Douche Movies ranked upon relative Douche Levels:

1. Changing Lanes (2002) - Lawyer Douche
2. Surviving Christmas (2004) - A Douche for the Holidays
3. Gigli (2003) - J. Lo Humping Douche
4. Reindeer Games (2000) - Officer Douche
5. Paycheck (2003) - Bourne-Wannabe Douche
6. State of Play (2009) - Congressional Douche
7. Pearl Harbor (2001) - Missing the Point Douche
8. The Sum of All Fears (2002) - Not Harrison Ford Douche
9. Armageddon (1998) - Douche in Space
10. Daredevil (2003) - Blind Douche

This Douche Compendium is arguably far from complete, but clearly, the douche-streak is highly evident. I'm going on a limb and saying that Changing Lanes has him at his douchiest point, but this is also debatable. You can also judge very easily how Michael Bay treats Afflecks douche-levels as compared to someone like Kevin Smith. Bay easily goes for a wide mainstream douching while Smith knows to keep that douche on the fringe or at least in a heavy where it should be. Of course like any rules, however, there are two major exceptions to Affleck's douching.

These are Smokin' Aces (2006) and Chasing Amy (1997). There is very little douche involved in these two flicks, probably less in Aces than Amy, where he is surprisingly mild and controlled in a huge room full of excessive douchebaggery. Chasing Amy is kind of a weird turn, it's a fantastic movie that works mostly based on Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams' chemistry and believability as a lesbian/friend item turned lovers. Not so much a douche, but suggesting a threesome between your lesbian girlfriend and slacker best friend could arguably be considered a douche move. All in all, though, the douche is not heavily present in this good Affleck film.

Thus I have concluded that when Affleck is meant to be a douche on film, he pulls it off and proves decently entertaining. Many of his purposeful turns as a huge douche resulted in some of my favourite films of all time (Read: Mallrats). His chronic inability, however, to channel or control this great douche, not unlike the Ghost Rider, can get far out of hand and end up hurting people. Thus we get things like douche-tastic Gigli. Two sides of a very sinister douchey coin, my friends.

Plus he was the bomb in Phantoms (1998).

08 September 2009

Modal Nodes: The Throne is Taken! Winners of Summer Jam 2009!

Today in my neck of the woods was a day that students dread with every bit of terror in their trembling hearts. The first day of school. Thus, in many sad ways, the summer is over. Indeed these are dark times.

But we also have a Crown to bestow! As you know, there can be only one. It's been a long, mostly shitty summer full of dumb songs, but out of many, there becomes few. To refresh your memories, here is my list of contenders as described here and more intimately, here .

1. Black Eyed Peas, "Boom Boom Pow"/"I Gotta Feeling"
2. Jamie Foxxx, "Blame It"
3. Lady GaGa, "Poker Face"/"Love Game"
4. Flo Rida ft. Kesha, "Right Round"
5. Green Day, "Know Your Enemy"
6. Kelly Clarkson, "I Do Not Hook Up"
7. Jeremih, "Birthday Sex"
8. Drake, "Best I Ever Had"
9. The Ting Tings, "That's Not My Name"
10. Pitbull, "I Know You Want Me"
11. Katy Perry, "Waking up in Vegas"
12. Keri Hilson ft. Kanye & Ne-yo, "Knock You Down"
13. Sean Kingston, "Fire Burning"
14. 3OH!3, "Don't Trust Me"
15. Kings of Leon, "Use Somebody"
16. Kid Cudi, "Day and Night"

Now, out of this debacle, we can obviously pull a list of seriously serious contenders. Now to me, this required at least 1 - 2 exposures per day for a period of no less than two months of summer, hopefully with some straggling exposure outside of its most intense, overwhelming airplay. As you can guess, this is the bear minimum. Like the Anti-Christ, for years you wonder who will get the Throne, and you may make many guesses, but in the end, you know in your gut who it is. So, let's narrow this list down to seven:

1. Black Eyed Peas, "Boom Boom Pow"/"I Gotta Feeling"
2. Lady GaGa, "Poker Face"/"Love Game"
3. Drake, "Best I Ever Had"
4. Pitbull, "I Know You Want Me"
5. Katy Perry, "Waking up in Vegas"
6. Keri Hilson ft. Kanye & Ne-yo, "Knock You Down"
7. 3OH!3, "Don't Trust Me"

All of these songs had great runs, but we can still take a few off the list. Pitbull, while surging immensely in August, has declined the past few weeks, leaving its dominance quite short. The same could probably said of Katy Perry who broke late with a much weaker song than "I Kissed A Girl" last year. 3OH!3 and Drake performed strongly all summer which is frankly surprising, but never cracked that 1 - 2 times a day airplay that I was listening for. I never truly suffocated under their songs, so while long-lasting, generally weak. So we come down to Black Eyed Peas, GaGa (penis or not) and Keri Hilson.

Now, I'm sure there is some controversy here because I've given BEP and Man GaGa two songs. Assuredly pulling double duty, it'd be a tough race, but I'm sure the Peas would have an edge with "I Gotta Feeling" nicely filling in the gaps that "Boom Boom Pow" left behind (I heard that song three times on the radio today). Let's look at the billboard charts for each song:

"Knock You Down" has been on the docket for 23 weeks, peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 on the week of 6/20/09. It did not, however, sink below #4 until 8/29/09 where it went to and still is #8.

has had 19 weeks, entering the Top 10 on 6/13/09 and staying until 8/15/09, peaking at # 5 in mid-July. GaGa's other summer opus, "Poker Face" I believe is safe to say peaked far too early, breaking the Top 10 on 03/07/09 but impressively staying there until 6/20/09, with numerous #1 gains in its early triumph, but more of a #2 when summer came along.

"Boom Boom Pow"
has had 26 weeks on the charts, including an awesome twelve weeks at #1 from 04/18/09 until sister hit "I Gotta Feeling" dethroned it on 7/11/09, controlling the One Spot from until the current week. "Boom Boom Pow" dropped out of the Top 10 on 8/22/09. I'll apologize now if there's any inconsistencies here, Billboard.com is incredibly retarded to use to find out this information.

So, as you can tell, I'm leaning in a certain direction here. What really blew my load, though, was the Channel Fuse's Top 20 Songs of Summer. This is like an all-time list here, folks, this is some serious stuff. Because apparently Fuse doesn't have a listing of its own, you can find the whole shebang right here. Check out #13, #3 and #1, all from Summer of '09. #1, of course, "I Gotta Feeling." Although it hit Rochester relatively late and feels to me more of an Autumn College Pre-gaming song, I feel compelled to grant it the Crown of Summer Jam 2009.

So there you have it. Black Eyed Peas, one of the most worthless shitty bands in the history of mankind, earning the undeniable title of Kings and One Queen of Summer 2009.

See ya next year!!

07 September 2009

First Impressions: Extract

If you've somehow managed to read this post a few hours ago, you already know some of my feelings on this movie. By and large I consider this Mike Judge's most disappointing feature film. It wasn't terrible by any means, much of it was very funny and relatively intelligent, however lacking in some cohesive storytelling and overall message. Let us begin, hopefully with oodles upon noodles of spoilers to come:

I really couldn't figure out the overall message of this movie. There's a lot of movies seemingly about nothing that really mean something. Clerks (1994) consists mostly of people talking for an hour and a half, but there's definitely character growth and other themes of maturity there. Napoleon Dynamite (2004) is a fantastic movie about nothing that really is more about being consistent and true to yourself in an insane environment. I couldn't really find solidly what Extract (2009) is about. Let's see what we got.

There's some obvious parallels to Office Space (1999) so let's start there. Both focus on a tightly wound, work-focused protagonist who is having difficulty dealing with a both a job and spouse. Both protagonists also have quasi-gruff or Blue Collar friends who represent a kind of freedom that the protagonist lacks. A major difference between the two is that in Office Space, Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) joins his friend, Lawrence (Diedrich Bader) in spiritual freedom while Joel (Jason Bateman) in Extract ultimately rejects his friend Dean (Ben Affleck).

This rejection perplexed me a tad, it was a strange character treatment in a comedy movie. All in all, Bateman's performance is actually pretty intense for a comedy movie. Both Dean and Cindy's (Mila Kunis) stories felt like they petered out without a satisfying resolution. Dean's more than Cindy in this regard. It is interesting that Joel's outlet into more emotional and spiritual freedom comes from drugs supplied (accidentally and purposefully) by Dean, and that even though this proves to be the catalyst for widening the available emotional spectrum for Joel's character, he very clearly regrets, rejects and abhors both the drugs and Dean. For a while I was thinking of this as either a pro-drug and enlightenment movie or an anti-drug and chaos movie, but it seems to never settle on a direct path.

Joel's wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig) shares a similar arc through unknowing Brad the Male Prostitute (Dustin Milligan). Her experimentation in adultery proves the catalyst for her emotional rebirth and the reinvigoration of her marriage with Joel. While her character is bland and unsex-driven at the beginning, once she adds some passion and drama to her life, exactly as Joel does with drugs, she is also freer and more emotionally expressible. She, however, also ultimately rejects Brad and his dumb love. Thus, both sex and drugs in this movie prove to be unwanted but necessary means to an end which are frowned upon after they complete their goals. I still can't tell if this a pro-sex and drugs movie or not.

I want to watch this again to fully elucidate the meaning of one scene, towards the end of the film, and this could be total coincidence, Joel is talking on the phone about his wife in his apartment, and an advertisement for Joe Adler (Gene Simmons) appears on screen, with the giant headlines, "SUE! SUE! SUE!" I'm sure there is some depth here and no coincidence that his wife is also named "Sue," if not just tying all of his major problems into once place. Both sues are his greatest adversaries, and he conquers both by tempering his emotions, taking back pride and talking through his problems. This of course contrasts with Adler and Willie (Matt Schulze) who solve their problems with violence and threats. Thus in the end, Joel is able to bang Mila Kunis, while she only screws Adler and Willie. Hey oh!

Profiles: Mike Judge and Philosophies of the Self, Enligtenment and Work

In honour of Mike Judge's latest film, Extract (2009), today I will examine his three feature film directorial efforts and a handful of philosophies that embody them. There are a lot of ideas in all these movies, commonly masked behind a trinkling of dick and fart jokes. I'll admit towards just recently seen Extract, thus any truly deep meaning it may contain I may have not realised. As always, any input I'd love to hear spew from your hands in the comments section below.

I've picked his three feature films, not wanting to completely ignore Judge's television and animation efforts but essentially doing so anyway. For each film I've picked a philosophic concept or idea that I think best pertains to the story or a scene, trying my best to diversify these topics as best I could. So then, without further ado, be ready to stretch your minds, intellects and sphincters, this is the Philosophic World of Mike Judge.

Office Space and the Bhagavad Gita: Concepts of Self-Realization

The Bhagavad Gita is essentially a Hindu Upanishad, an Indian holy text that traces its earliest legacy to around 1000 BCE. Its discourse consists of around 700 verses of dialog between the great warrior Arjuna and his charioteer, Krishna who is an incarnation of God, debating the nature of God, souls and paths to inner peace. Office Space is a 1999 movie inspired by this cartoon.

The core of the second chapter of The Bhagavad Gita is all about suppressing possessiveness and egocentricity in order to know the true self and union with God. The goal being to eliminate desire for kama (psersonal satisfaction) and not let personal choices be dictated by desires, rather by the true immortal self.

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) embodies this after his bunk hypnosis fiasco. As the Gita states in 2:55-56,
"Neither agitated by grief nor hankering after pleasure, they live free from lust and fear and anger. Established by meditation, they are truly wise. Fettered no more by selfish attachments, they are neitehr elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. Such are the seers."
As Peter states to the Occupational Hypno-Therapist, "...ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life." Peter is depressed because of his attachments to his possessions and the empty fulfillment of ego he thinks he needs. His hopeless attachment to cheating girlfriend, Anne as well as his demeaning and soulless job adhere to this principle. Once he is able to let go and not worry about work or performance reviews, his life becomes much happier.

Indeed the Universe tends to punish Peter when he strays from this path and attempts to go back on his new vow of "doing nothing" and steal money from Initech, his workplace. One of the more famous quotes from The Bhagavad Gita is thus: "You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction" (2:47) Peter selflessly attains some Nishkama Karma (work with no selfish desire or ego) through giving up his kama (personal desire for stolen money) when he decides to turn himself in, saving co-workers Samir and Michael.

In the end, though Peter had a dream of doing nothing (inactivity, frowned upon in the Gita), he settles for a job that he may enjoy, not motivated by the fruits of his action. As he says, "This isn't so bad, huh? Makin' bucks, gettin' exercise, workin' outside." Fuckin' A.

You can check out more of my thoughts on Office Space right here.

Idiocracy and Plato's Allegory of the Cave: The Confrontation of Knowledge and Ignorance

The Allegory of the Cave comes from Plato's The Republic (Book VII, 514a–520a), written around 380 BCE. Similar to The Bhagavad Gita, the Allegory of the Cave is a dialog between Plato's teacher, Socrates, and his brother, Glaucon. A whole, handy copy of which can nicely be found here. Please read through before continuing.

Nah, I'll sum it up here for you lazy asses: In the Allegory, Socrates presents a situation with a bunch of people chained to a cave their entire lives so that their eyes are fixed on the wall in front of them. In essence, their entire reality is based on the interplay of light and shadows and meager sounds they can observe. Socrates goes on to describe what would happen if one were to break free and see the outside world around them, that they would have trouble acclimating at first, but then realise how much better the expanded reality and truth is, eventually pitying and patronizing his former people. Thus on his or her return, he would appear wiser, though suddenly foreign, disenfranchised and unsatisfied with the meak shadow-guessing game that constituted their reality.

Now, this confrontation between wisdom and ignorance is very much at the forefront of Idiocracy (2006). The major disgression, of course, is that Joe Bauers' (Luke Wilson) journey, leaving and entering the cave is not as direct as the allegory states, his "cave" as it were molds and shifts reality while Joe is away, frozen in a box.

Upon his return, however, Bauers is greeted with shame and hostility for his supposed intellectual elitism and perceived effeminacy due to his normal 21st Century vocal patterns. As he tries to describe his own way of thinking, the dumbed down people of the future share a different reality and thus there is conflict. The greatest scene that exemplifies this is Bauers describing to the Presidential Cabinet his plan to fix the failing crops with water. For all of their lives the Cabinet members have only known water to exist in Toilet Bowls, and Brawndo Energy Drink (with Electrolytes) to give plants what they crave. Thus Bauer's proposition is a dangerous direct threat to their reality. The Allegory goes on to state,
"Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death."
This is verbatimwhat happens in Idiocracy. Bauers is sentenced to death for his perceived inability to solve their problems (a disillusionment with dashed hopes at an intellectual saviour not dissimilar from a movie like District 9 [2009] either).

Eventually, Bauers' system bears fruit, and he is pardoned by President Camacho. Hey, it's a comedy, not Plato after all.

Extract and Marx: The Worker's Plight

The best I can do for Extract right now is cite both some of its similarities and distances from Marxism, founded of course by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the late 19th Century CE. This section should be admittedly lighter than the other two, due to my lack of immediate knowledge in both the movement and recent film.

Essentially, Marxism is all about the workers, which the Blue Collar proletariat (and their employer, Joel [Jason Bateman]) in Extract (2009) briefly adhere to. The film is moreover about the ignorance and dumbness, if not endearing nature of the Blue Collared Worker than it is a plea to give them the rights and means to production.

Whereas Marx through careful thinking came up with the concept that Capitalism screws over the common man, the Reynolds Extract Factory workers through idiocy and misinterpretation arrive at the same concept. Fearing that Joel will sell the factory, they attempt to strike and rise against him in order to obtain an equal share in the prize. This in the context of the movie is flagrantly unfair, as Brian, Joel's second in command states on a few occasions, most of the workers are dinkuses, poor at their jobs and generally undeserving of this kind of responsibility. Joel came up with the product in college Chemistry class and is one of the only organised members possessing leadership and discipline in the entire plant.

Once Joel becomes dissatisfied with this responsibility, however, he briefly tells his workers attempting to strike that the whole place should be theirs so they can deal with all the problems he must face. I'd like to see what ol' Karlos would think of this notion, that is, the general shittiness that comes with the pressures of running a company.

So, the workers basically fail in unionizing or obtaining any money made from the rampant Capitalism that Joel would absorb if he sold the company, which he ends up not even doing anyway. Thus they fail in their flirtations with Marxism. I'd say it's not an explicitly anti-Marxist movie, if it was I'd picture Joel selling out and retiring on his new found wealth somewhere. On the other hand, though, it's definitely not pro-Marxist, if it were I'd say some credibility or intelligence would have to be given to the common worker, which sorely lacks. So basically, kind of like my feelings on the movie as a whole, more of which can be seen here, it's a flat, positionless movie. Awesome.


Easwaran, Eknath, trans. The Bhagavad Gita. Berkely, CA: Nilgiri, 2007. Print.

Extract. Dir. Mike Judge. Miramax, 2009. Film.

Idiocracy. Dir. Mike Judge. Twentieth Century-Fox, 2006. DVD.

Kreiss, Steven. "Plato, The Allegory of the Cave." The History Guide. 13 May 2004. Web. 7 Sept. 2009. .

"Marxism." Wikipedia. Web. 7 Sept. 2009. .

Office Space. Dir. Mike Judge. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1999. DVD.

02 September 2009

War of the Decades: 1974, 1984, 1994, 2004

Welcome boys and girls to our ongoing discussion of which year in which decade produced the greatest films. On the 5th, 15th, 25th, and 35th Anniversary of these years, today we'll look at the '4's. That is, 1974, 1984, 1994, and 2004. I'm very interested in tracking how some different genres evolved through the ages here, so I will be taking a slightly different approach than I did with this go-around.

It's a Laugh! Wha-Hey!

There's some very interesting fluctuations in comedy over the past 35 years, ranging from genius to moronic slapstick. 1974 is a powerhouse year with the double shot Mel Brooks flicks, "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein," creating the foundation of the genre spoof, while simultaneously hitting at some deeper issues, an assuredly strong year. 1984 leaves me in a bit of quandary, though. There are instant classics like "Ghostbusters" and "This is Spinal Tap," among cheeky throwaways like "Police Academy" and "Revenge of the Nerds." While the former was a hallmark for comedy/horror/scifi (which clearly had a wide influence with such films as "Ghostbusters II" [1989] and "Bubba Ho-Tep" [2002]), the latter two built in a misdirection derived from "Animal House" (1978) and were sure forerunners for many, many shitty teen comedies to follow.

There's only one name in 1994 Comedy, Jim Carrey's Holy Trinity of "The Mask," "Dumb and Dumber" and "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective." I dore these movies based on the fact that when they came out I was eight years old and loved poopie. I've been riding nostalgia ever since. Considering his six MTV Movie award noms and two wins, he did put out some stellar performances. Finally, 2004 is the quintessential "Frat Pack" year (I still hate that term) with "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," and "Starsky & Hutch." All very funny, but none nearly as memorable 25 or 35 years down as Mel Brooks and Spinal Tap are. Maybe Ron Burgundy.

Eek! A Monster!

Each decade also contained very different horror movies. 1974 brought us a gritty realism and innovative, first-hand filming techniques with "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." This 70s realism descended into 80s fantastic slasher silliness with "Nightmare on Elm Street," forgoing the grittiness imaginary horror for straight up slashin and dashin. I couldn't find much great horror movies from 1994, if any of you dear readers come up with any comment below. The best I can come up with is the 90s attitude of self-referencing and reevaluating its films. Something like "Ed Wood," in a great stretch of the imagination, can lead to something like "Scream" (1996) in the vain sense that they both analyse, sometimes ridicule, and ultimately honour the horror giants that came before it. By 2004, however, we've let everything all hang out and introduced to sweet sweet torture porn with "Saw." Admittedly, the original "Saw" is still probably one of the best horror films of the decade. The rest of the 2000s would see nothing but remakes and sequels and...oh wait it's just like every other decade for horror.

Get Animated!

"The Lion King" in 1994 assuredly holds its own against "Shrek 2" and "The Incredibles" from 2004. The years preceding these were horrendous animation years and do not have too much to offer. Unfortunately, much like Jim Carrey, my overpowering nostalgia for "The Lion King" causes me to lean heavily in its favour, but its certainly debatable. Does "Team America: World Police" count as animation? I'm giving it to 2004.

Thanking the Academy...

Let's call this the Oscar-bait movies. 1974 is a tough year to argue with, its high points and biggest winners commercially and critically being "The Godfather Part II," "Chinatown," and "The Towering Inferno." Yes, "The Towering Inferno." It won like three Oscars. 1984 seems a little weak to me know, all we have are the character studies of obsession and nuance with "Amadeus." The 90s here I believe are very strong, with "Forrest Gump," "The Shawshank Redemption," and "Pulp Fiction," which I think could stand against the 70s. Maybe. Countering again, 2004 seems week with "Million Dollar Baby" bringing home the Best Picture, which I never thought was that memorable, which leaves the quirky dramadies "Sideways" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" as some of the best films of the year. Great films, but no "Chinatown."

Impressive Starts!

In many of these years, a director or actor got a big break or a great start to an excellent, sometimes ok career. 1974 is somewhat lacking, I couldn't find many people who got their big breaks here (besides being the birth year of Chris Bale and Leo D). 1984 is huge both with James Cameron's first non-piranha movie, "The Terminator," Ethan and Joel Coen premiering "Blood Simple," and Christopher Guest in "This is Spinal Tap." 1994 is the start of a lot of the indie-type comedy directors, providing the first go around for Kevin Smith in "Clerks" and Benny Stiller in "Reality Bites." The only major debut was on this side of the pond for Edgar Wright with "Shaun of the Dead" (add Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for that matter), as well as the incomparable Jared Hess with "Napoleon Dynamite" (and Jon Heder!), which of course has led to many innovative, profitable films. And of course I don't want to leave out the break-out sensation known as the Lohan with "Mean Girls" (I'll legitimately honour Tina Fey's first written feature film here).

So, What did We Learn Today?

1974 seems to be a stand-out year, with heavy quality over an egregious quantity of forgettable films. Or maybe we just forgot all the forgettable ones by now. Who knows. But one thing is for sure, 2004 will always be remembered as an incredible surplus year of terrible, terrible mindless action movies. Check out the list:

Chronicles of Riddick
Van Helsing
King Arthur
I, Robot
The Punisher
Spider-Man 2
The Day After Tomorrow
National Treasure
Ocean's 12
The Passion of the Christ

1984 and 1994 have some very good features, but 2004's sheer catalog tends to be overpowering, and also serves recent memory. The most classic films on this post are all from 1974, it's a tremendous year and I'd probably call it the winner of "Blazing Saddles" alone, but the true winner may only be decided if you judge for yourself. Comments appreciated below...
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