31 October 2009

The Long Halloween: All Hallow's Eve

Welcome, my friends to a year-long celebration of the greatest holiday specials ever broadcast. This is a section inspired by these holidays and whose ongoing effort will be to procure for you, dear readers, the greatest Television Holiday Specials for your viewing pleasure. One holiday per month, one show per year. Them's the rules. We start with a holiday very dear to my heart, Halloween.

Mwah ah ha ha! There is no show, none in the world that treats its Halloween specials with more reverence than The Simpsons. The big question then becomes out of its staggering twenty Halloween episodes, which is the best? To me, there's no competition - has to be "Treehouse of Horror V" (S6;E6), made in 1994. There's no other episode that so combines writing, humour and horror in such masterful fashion.

"No TV and no beer make Homer something something..."

"Just use that Shin of yours and I'll come-a runnin'." The first third of the three-part fiesta is one of the all-time greats. "The Shinning" is probably the most well-written of the three parts of this episode, a dear homage to Stanley Kubrick and The Shining (1980). Personally I can't even watch The Shining the whole way through, it scares the dick out of me every time. The Simpsons nail it though, addressing every iconic moment without the cliche ones (ie favouring the blood elevator over the creepy twin girls). I'll also contend that the reveal of the aforementioned "No TV and no beer make Homer go crazy" is much scarier than the reveal in the actual movie. This is parody at its best, not only honouring the source material but going beyond the source material. Brilliant.

"Stupid Bug! You go squish now!"

David Mirkin, show runner of The Simpsons during seasons five and six continually fought for Halloween episodes that were funny while also genuinely scary. "Time and Punishment" is not that horrifying, but it represents the funniest third of "Treehouse of Horror V" and also contains the most one-liners. From Homer somehow constantly jamming his hand in the toaster to the awful irony of a seeming world without donuts, the middle partition of this episode delivers continuously and funnily. Maggie's "This is indeed a disturbing universe" is a sure highlight of the bizarre, along with the deleted scene containing a Simpsons house rendered solely out of squirrels. It's a goofy segment that boosts the other two pretty terrifying stories.

"Now to check on the free-range children"

Be mindful that I was nine years old when I first saw this episode. This is one of the few early episodes that I remember watching the original broadcast. I remember it mostly because of how extremely terrifying the "Nightmare Cafeteria" segment was to a young child. It's real fucking scary. I specifically remember being darkly disturbed by the fact that no parent helped the kids being eaten at school, the descent into madness of Lunchlady Doris as well as the futility of any of Groundskeeper Willie's efforts. I should note here Willie's triple axe back-stab in this episode as well as his role as a Halloween hero contrasted to his later role as a Halloween villain (Treehouse of Horror VI S7;E6). To me this will always represent the truly terrifying moment of this episode, the corruptibility and unbridled evil lurking within a young child's greatest institution, the elementary school. It's scary how much power a teacher can have over a child, and even scarier when this power is abused. Not to say that many teachers eat their kids, but who knows really. This still freaks me out a bit, the blood levels shown are still astounding to this day.

So there's three great segments finished out with an inside-out sing-a-long to the end credits. Truly there is no greater Halloween episode that so balances funny and terror. For your own pleasure now, I will rank the rest of the Simpsons Halloween Episodes in order, view with caution, dear readers. With Caution.


oooo spooookyyyy!!!

29 October 2009

Profiles: The Interesting Career of Chevy Chase

I'm going to admit in the first sentence of this post that I am a Chevy fan. That is, I'm a big fan of his work from about 1975 - 1983. His immense potential and downfall after this period is very culturally significant, as is his current quasi-iconic status as supporting cast member of freshman NBC show, Community, whose prospects after this season are vulnerable at best. There are thousands of decline and comeback Hollywood stories. This is not one of them (Go see Robert Downey, Jr. instead). This is the tale of a righteously destroyed ego and the position that grants a legendary comedian.

In many ways 1975 was a break-out year for a lot of media. Jaws about transformed how Americans interpret the summer blockbuster, the Watergate scandal increased general government suspicion leading to massive culture shifts and a crummy sketch-comedy show premiered on NBC. Okay, maybe only one or two of those events are really significant, but everyone agreed that the funniest man in America was Chevy Chase.

There wasn't even competition. It's hard to remember how immensely popular SNL was when it first came out. Chevy only lasted a single season then he blew up into what should have been an enormous film and television career. Followers spoke of his ability to go toe-to-toe with Carson carrying a talk show and cutting down entire Presidencies with a pratfall. Chevy was undoubtedly the man in the 70s.

After leaving SNL relatively quickly, he owned the early 80s in film. I take singlehandedly his role in Caddyshack (1980) as enough justification to rank him as one of the all-time comedy greats. He nails suave and incompetence so thoroughly and is never off-timed with a witty sarcastic remark. It's incredible. He does the same schtick with less mastery in the Vacation (1983) movies, and much less in Fletch (1985). Somehow along the way here either in an attempt to be a "real" actor with "real" roles or just a declining enthusiasm (on par with inclining cocaine use) he lost this edge. The annoying assholery of Chevy that had always been simmering below the surface fueling his sarcasm burst forth in an eruption of Affleck-like douchebaggery. The 90s were rough.

His one saving grace should have probably been The Chevy Chase Show (1993). This was a late night television show on FOX that premiered around the same time as Late Night with Conan O'Brien and Late Show with David Letterman, all in the wake of Carson's retirement from The Tonight Show and a ton of shuffling that went on. Still with me? Good.

The Chevy Chase Show proved to be one of the most disastrous shows in late night history. The format just didn't work, Chevy wasn't affable as a host and it went down in flames. This is striking considering the very natural desk presence he had in the 70s during SNL segments such as Weekend Update, a fake news format that persists in many variations to the present day (that Chevy basically created). Anyway, this atrocious affair combined with a slew of really pretty shitty movies ground his career to a halt in the early 90s, where it has slowed until pretty much a couple weeks ago.

So we get to the reason I'm writing this at all which is the new show on NBC, Community, which comes on tonight at 8:00 Eastern Time. I think I'm one of maybe half a dozen people who watch it, but it definitely deserves a bigger audience. It's well written, clever without being preachy and pretty damn funny. But let's get back to the only reason to have any initial interest in the show, the presence of a very old and bald Chevy Chase.

Watching this program it is very interesting to see Chevy interact with a slew of young actors, many of which will never enjoy the immense popularity and stardom he one did. It's a level playing field, though, because a guy like Joel McHale, who plays the lead, has been far more active in recent years than Chevy. So while Chevy is a legend, he's a much faded legend, which puts him in an interesting position. He's at a stage in his career now where he can do a show like Community and seem like a big presence among the cast while not actually being so. It's like you think "Wow they got Chevy Chase to do that?" but then you immediately think "Well that makes sense, he ain't doin shit else." It's a way for a small show to get a big star, which is cool.

What is most interesting is how he would have never done a show like this twenty years ago, hell probably not even ten years ago. Once his ego cooled off enough from years upon years of failure and ineptitude he was able to something small, cute and funny like this. It's easy to compare his career with someone like Bill Murray, who by and large was Chevy's replacement on SNL. Murray took that position and blew it into gigantic super-stardom, like Chevy peaking in the early 80s (Ghostbusters [1984]) and then cooling, but in a much more dignified route, choosing quirky quasi-indie comedies over full blown shit to much critical acclaim (see The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou [2004] and Lost in Translation [2003]). The massive success of Bill Murray is in fact most of what fuels his (SPOILER) incredible camero in Zombieland (2009). Half of that shock is "DAMN THEY GOT BILL MURRAY!!" So there are some interesting parallels there and before you write off Bill as having his ego humbled by appearing in smaller film, know the difference between a small movie cameo whose coolness works because of his popularity and a recurring role on a small on-going television show. There's a big difference there.

So what's the point of all this? Well, nothing really except that I like Chevy Chase. 1975 - 1983. And 2009. He's doing a funny job with Community and I dig the show. He's got enough gravitas and experience to be sort of awed watching him, but at the same time he's really a piece of shit so it makes sense that his fading star should be on television. Then again, television somehow became the place for big name actors seeking new career directions (thanks a lot Alec and Kiefer). So to all you dear loyal readers,

Have a good night and a pleasant tomorrow.

28 October 2009

Because it was on TV: The Sweaty Charm and Sex-Fueled Ego of Secret Girlfriend

Tonight at 10:00 pm on Comedy Central you will see one of the greatest shows of our time, South Park. It will be intelligent, charming and crass, Emmy-caliber material here. At 10:30 pm you will watch Secret Girlfriend, possibly one of the worst shows of this or any other generation. It will be moronic, narcissistic, yet sexy. Such a difficult choice here, you will want very badly to change the channel but you can't, your hand is already down your pants and there it will stay for the next half-hour.

Secret Girlfriend isn't even a guilty pleasure of mine, more like a guilty torture I undertake every week. The show is disjointed, filled with incredulous characters and situations that could be saved if a single joke in the show was funny (which it pulls off maybe once an episode. Not bad when considering that's about The Simpsons' current ratio). I watch it for the T & A every week which is absolutely astoundingly awesome, as well as for simple curiosity. How the hell will this show sustain itself this week? It's incredible they still have plot ideas, although the storylines are so weak it took me three weeks to figure out each episode is comprised of two 11-minute stories. Yeah they blur together that much. The show remains interesting to me however, in regards to of pop culture sexuality, gender expectations and audience pandering.

Hitting the Sexual Peak

This show is ridiculously sexy. All the characters bang each other constantly and thoroughly. Secret Girlfriend drips with sex unlike anything else I've ever watched. Shows like Cheers or Friends milked entire seasons of sexual tension with critical acclaim. Secret Girlfriend never got that memo. As the product of a technologically advanced generation that seeks immediacy and instantaneous gratification, whenever the characters are not actually having sex, they talk about sex. I don't want to exactly tout this as a bad thing, fuck it's kept me watching this far. The sexiness of course however, leads me to gender roles.

Girls Pretty; Men Fat

Every girl in this show is a bombshell. Drop-dead gorgeous babes everywhere, all the time. In the park, in the hotel, at the pool, it never ends. Somehow the main characters bang all these chicks, too. It's really bizarre to watch, I can't picture these kinds of dudes getting that much ass...ever. The men are classically schlubby, fat, hairy, adolescent in character. There's absolutely nothing groundbreaking here. Most of the women are either insane, mere objects of sexual frustration or both. Often they're both, which at times is a clever commentary on male sexual obsession. Oftentimes this is botched by the perceived lackadaisical attitude of the protagonist (you). The only fleshed-out realistically acting girl is the eponymous secret girlfriend (fuck is her name? Jessica or something?), although you'd have to simply believe that the protagonist (you) is intensely good looking to land her without saying a word (I guess?). This leads me to my final point:

Hey! Our Audience is Funny, Charming and Gets ton of Ass! Don't You?

The premise of the show is clever for a few minutes into the first episode when it becomes a tiresome and laborious expenditure. For those of you lucky enough to have not seen the debacle at all, the basic premise is that all the stories are told through a first-person camera perspective with all the characters addressing the camera directly as if you are a character in their world. Thus, for some reason, you are the star. This presents a series of problems:

The first of which is simply the fact that about 80% of the time when watching the show you think "Hey...I wouldn't do that." This can lead to a bit of frustration (you know when a character in a show does something stupid and you're pissed off at him or her? In Secret Girlfriend you should be pissed at yourself. Constantly) while also inherently limiting the plot possibilities.

In many ways I believe the creators are pandering to their audience at a ridiculous level. The protagonist (you), as I mentioned before, is charming, witty and handsome and scores a ton of incredibly hot ass on a regular basis. I'm guessing most Wednesday Night Comedy Central viewers look much more like the protagonist's (your) friends, fat, dumpy and generally undateable. Thus the entire show is a childish wish fulfillment that compliments and then (literally) sucks the dicks of its audience. This is not to mention the fact that since the protagonist (you) is definitively male seems to limit viewership to that (albeit key) demographic. Based on the general content though, this isn't a woman's show anyway.

So basically this show sucks for a lot of reasons other than its shitty writing, lack of jokes and intolerable plot structure. It's generally the kind of garbage that should be limited to YouTube; as a matter of fact that is where the damned thing originated. Shit. I am pulling for at least a 20 - 25 (minimum) year run however, just to get that nice dose of ass once a week and see how long this insanely stupid stupid premise will last.

Until next time loyal readers, keep watching the screens. Good night.

25 October 2009

Because it was on TV: The Cultural Synthesis of The Venture Bros, Part I

Undoubtedly one of the greatest television shows of the Millennium, a brand new season of The Venture Bros showcased a stunning Season 4 premiere last week. In honour of the season's highly anticipated second episode coming tonight, I'd like to take a minute and examine the cultural synthesis of the show.

Used to be that only The Simpsons could digest and expunge such an astounding amount of pop culture in a 22-minute long episode, but The Venture Bros have proved more than capable of achieving the feat (albeit to a much more specific cultural degree). Whilst shying away from summarizing Proust, no other show on television has successfully consumed and ratified more nerd culture (Okay, Robot Chicken has a good effort here). The Venture Bros' wicked permutations of the culture, along with its consistency and deep meta-narrative push it on a level above the rest. Let's begin with the basic outlaying plot premise:

Johnny Quest and Hanna-Barbera...on crack (Literally)

At first glance the show is a very simple Johnny Quest parody. Each main character fits the paradigms very well (ie Super-Scientist, his bodyguard, naive boys), although each are spun from the initial character thread into ludicrous hyperbole. Much of the jokes in the early episodes of the first season took off from this concept - Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture as a pasty and extremely neurotic scientist, Brock Sampson the height of all-possible masculinity and the boys, Dean and Hank locked in a mindset of domestic arrested development.

By the end of the first season however, and into the second continuing to this day, the show has become much more than a face-level spoof. In fact I would argue that the show has easily become much better and deeper than the show it initially parodied. The characters while starting out as much more intense variations of themselves by nature found themselves in much more sinister situations. The test of character in these intense situations has proven to showcase stronger personalities than the banality of the original Sixties program. This has been supplemented by the use of a plethora of original characters and concepts from said program, made available from Time Warner's ownership of both Cartoon Network and Hanna-Barbera properties.

Here's where we get our first major Cultural Synthesis. The show, unlike Family Guy or The Simpsons rarely just mentions in passing jokingly a character from pop culture. The Venture Bros instead regularly features very direct representations of characters, from Race Bannon in "Ice Station - Impossible!" (S1;E7) to David Bowie in "Showdown at Cremation Creek (Part I)" (S2;E12). It presents an interesting universe, an apparent blend of cartoon adventurism and realistic features of our own world. To add to the depth is the pop culture references within the show to the Rusty Venture cartoon show (see "Escape to the House of Mummies Part II" S2;E4 and "ORB" S3;E11), further blurring the lines of what is pop and what is reality in the series' universe.

To mention all of the cultural references in The Venture Bros would be an astounding task and as such I am not going to try here. I will mention some of the many uses of Hanna-Barbera characters as well as updated or sarcastic takes on cliched situations. I already mentioned Race Bannon but Johnny himself makes appearances (as a strung out, quasi-realistic take on the psychological toll adventuring would take on a small boy) in "Twenty Years to Midnight" (S2;E5) and "The Buddy System" (S3;E5). Hadji appears in "The Doctor is Sin" (S3;E2). Also worth mentioning here is the strangely psychotic take on the Scooby Doo tropes in "¡Viva los Muertos!" (S2;E11). Each main Scooby Doo character is here represented as a mass murderer or otherwise tragic figure from the 1960s and 70s. Here's a nice little summary of that. It's an interesting dynamic that all of the characters' relationships to each other within the Scooby Doo mythos is immediately recognizable, yet their sociopathic personalities are also very apparent. Everything is played towards exaggeration. It's one of the best cultural meldings in the series and fully demonstrates the creators' realistic take on supposedly cartoony situations and chiches. I mention this realism with a tremendous grain of salt, my point being that an entirely new genre is created when they spin a serious take on a looney situation for laughs. Marvelous.

Many of the plots of episodes derive from comic or superhero tropes, which I will discuss in Part II, however there is also the element of mystery or adventure cartoons present in many episodes, the most notable being "Careers in Science" (S1;E2), "Ghosts of the Sargasso" (S1;E6) and "Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman" (S3;E6). The aforementioned "¡Viva los Muertos!" fits this bill quite nicely as does ""Escape to the House of Mummies Part II" whose side-story has no main plot but is entirely composed of adventure cartoon tropes without resolution. As the series progressed the show has moreover parodied superhero plotlines, which I will discuss next week.

Be prepared, dear readers. Be prepared.

21 October 2009

The Very Very Silly Post Concerning Monty Python


Welcome to the obligatory Monty Python 40th Anniversary Post. This post will forever be notable for its longevity, general admiralty and repeated references to fried haddock. This is a wholly compulsory post, believe me I'd rather be out drinking a Graham Chapman worth of vodka. The post must go on like any other, so now for something completely different:

The Owl-Stretching Inspiration - I've managed to catch three parts so far out of the Six Party IFC Documentary, Monty Python Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut) (2009), which you all can watch at 9:00 pm this very night and the next two nights after. Or catch the whole mess on DVD. I've gotten most of me info from the doc, but it's also notable to scribe to all the universe here my thoughts in general on the slimy scaly comedians.

Days of Yore (When the Parrot was Still Alive) -

Python was very influential in a tremendous consortment of ways. Prior to the show, which admittedly was inspired by Spike Milligan's Q5 series among others, most comedy was pretty flat. There'd be a joke, punchline, everyone laughs, move on. The swarthy Pythons however, were never very satisfied with that. They burst free from a lot of restraints that comedy had (and still does), fiddling with joke and plot structure and sketch show narrative (with mind you, good and ill results). It became and still is one of the freest shows ever put on television. This of course also makes it one of the weirdest.

It's funny though. Like a horde of angry foaming badgers descending on a small English village, pillaging and hording, eventually electing a king who imposes unadjusted tax breaks for those who stand in shallow water as opposed to land.

"I'll have the lot."

While on land, the badgers watched the Pythons make five feature films, about three of which are wholly original and one of which has a consistent plot. I consider Meaning of Life (1983) to be by far the funniest, but Life of Brian (1979) is artistically the best from a film standpoint. I honestly don't give a lot of props to Holy Grail (1975), which should be heresy to most of you k-nigts, but I don't care. More of the film is miss than hit and there's enough cop-outs to be frustrating to me.

It's interesting that they pulled off any movies at all, and I feel like they hit their timing perfect by Meaning of Life. Loaded with offensive and barely watchable material, it's the closest thing you could get to a true translation of what Flying Circus should have been on the big screen. What made the show so revolutionary is its reliance on sketch jokes, but freedom from sketch parameters. They blew the frame like a penguin sitting on top of a television set.

"Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Baked Beans, Spam, Spam, Spam and Spam"

In your face it explodes. One thing besides Lorne Michael's thining hairline that has been with Saturday Night Live since the beginning is a chronic inability to finish a sketch. It's tough because in sketch comedy typically a bizarre situation is presented simply for the given joke and then a forced ending can be pretty awkward. Python realised this very early on and decided to just ignore this problem. This aspect both makes the show revolutionary and alienates it from people who don't "get" it. Many viewers (typically American) are so inundated with a stale form of set-up/pay-off comedy that Python is weird and scary to them. If you don't get Python and consider it weird and scary it may give you some rest that those of us who do get Python still consider it weird and scary.

It works because once the joke is done, the sketch has no more purpose. There is no need to awkwardly finish. Instead Terry Gilliam as a knight with a chicken or Graham Chapman as a General comes on stage and ushers the sketch players off. It creates a feeling of abandonment in some I believe, not unlike the equally revolutionary plot turns of recent Coen Bros films No Country for Old Men (2007) and Burn After Reading (2008). The narrative structure of these movies as well as much of Python is so lose and constantly toyed with that there ends up being little to grab on to. The effectiveness of this style in Coen films is debatable, but within television sketch comedy it becomes very liberating and provides many more jokes and sketches a quicker pace than would normally be allowed with a conventional structure.
"I'd like to answer this question if I may in two ways. Firstly in my normal voice and then in a kind of silly high-pitched whine."
Modern Comedy while is also conventional in a narrative sense also tends to be much less silly than Python. The heartfelt aspects of Apatow Comedy has been praised with giving a film like Knocked Up (2007) much more depth than it would contain otherwise. Indeed without scatological male-centric humour the film would be little more than a chick flick. Again, Python really understood the meaning of comedy and realised that this was also unnecessary. There is a much greater degree of pure silliness, comic actors going all out for their dollar here.

You can see a lot of this silliness in surreal shows like Family Guy and South Park, the latter of which actually directly inspired by Gilliam-style cut-out animation. There is also a huge influence in The Simpsons, as well as most surreal cartoony Adult Swim programs. I miss a time when live action comedy was this goofy; yet the audiences of New Millennium are far leaning towards reality. The immense popularity of Chris Nolan's realistic take on Batman (Begins [2005] and The Dark Knight [2008]), the upsurge of reality TV since Survivor in 2000, and finally the popularity (or at least commonality) of single-cam set-ups such as The Office and most of this line-up as well as critical hits Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm attest to this notion of anti-silly.

This post has become too long and annotative, it must be cut short. Move on to the next one about movies.

17 October 2009

Tops of the Millennium: Villains

Mostly inspired by an offhand remark I made to myself in this post, today I present our Top Ten Best Villains of the New Millennium. I really hate hokey lists like this and I've seen dozens of the same ten or fifteen villains around the internet, hopefully this is more of the same schlock with one or two unusual ringers in there. Let's get started:

#10: Hector Barbossa: The Apple-Lover

Film: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Played Admirably By: Geoffrey Rush

Rationale: Barbossa's the man. He's by far the most watchable character in both the first and third installments of the Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy. Rush really gets into the pirate act and pulls off the look and accent with more enthusiasm and gusto than even John Depp. He's a tortured villain, driven to ghost piracy by his own cursed greed but always with regret and a yearning for a life and world he can feel. He indulges in his immortality however, but always with an eye for the juicy apple he can never taste. It's tragic. He also cuts people.

#9: Miranda Priestly: The Bitch

Film: The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Played Spicily By: Meryl Streep

Rationale: There simply is no better portrayal of the contemporary female office bitch than Miranda Priestly. Ruthless, intelligent, demanding and yes, quite catty Streep captures a lot in this for-some-reason Academy Award-nominated performance. She is immersed in her hyper-specific world with no room for error, but like Barbossa on some level yearns for a simpler existence. She does have the capability to respect and admire her subordinates, but they had better earn it.

#8. Saruman: The Classic

Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Played Angrily By: Christopher Lee

Rationale: "You do not know pain, you do not know fear..." Try saying that outloud. Now with more gravitas. MORE GRAVITAS! MOOORE!! You're no where near Chris Lee's level. It's a powerful character and the best villain of LotR (mostly because we hardly see Sauron, the Balrog doesn't talk and Gollum's a putz). Whereas Priestly and Barbossa are tortured villains who may have resigned towards different posts in life had they had the chance, Saruman's a thoroughly corrupted wizard who should have represented Middle-Earth's beacon of light against the Dark Powers. His wickedry in The Fellowship is truly sinister only to be overthrown by Gandalf the White, "Saruman as he should have been" in The Two Towers.

#7. O-Ren Ishii: The Femme Fatale

Film: Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
Played Coldly By: Lucy Liu

Rationale: O-Ren is almost like a twisted version of Batman. Here me out here - little kid witnesses her parents' murder by ganglord, mentally and physically trains herself for revenge and a life of justice. Eh? O-Ren loses her way on this path to nobility however, because she has no code like The Dark Knight. She becomes the horrible atrocity that happened to her and dishes out ruthless punishment, finding her talents much more suited to the world of criminals and assassins than a world of justice. It's a fine line when comparing the two to see how much internal character it requires to truly stand against evil in the world. Also very cute freckers on her face.

#6. White Goodman: The Goofy

Film: Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Played Sultrily By: Benjamin Stiller

Rationale: Whooaaa! Curveball. "No one makes me spill my own blood." Now say it with MORE gravitas. This was necessary, Goodman is the greatest comic villain of the decade, with layers upon layers of intense masculinity overcompensation disguising homoerotic tendencies as well as over-training problems caused by severe eating disorders and body image issues. He channels all of these problems into a general douchebaggery, which is not only tragic but incredibly funny in many ways. Like when a clown dies. He deserves this spot, if not higher.

#5. Alonzo Harris: The Black Guy

Film: Training Day (2001)
Played like King Kong by: Denzel Washington

Rationale: Denzel's the man, proving he can be brutal in his Oscar Winning Role here alongside his normally heroic acting choices. It's a notable performance of a man who is essentially the most powerful figure in his community, who can only really be stopped by an incorruptible and unrelenting justice. He shows no remorse for any action he takes to uphold the law, as well as any action he takes for his own personal benefit. The slow build-up to the full extent of Harris' corruption is brilliant and the the entire film in general is an interesting view at the dethroning of a madman with unstoppable power in the neighborhood (which amounts to unstoppable power as far as the community members will ever go). Crazy stuff.

#4. The Joker: The Icon

Film: The Dark Knight (2008)
Played Saucily By: Heath Ledger

Rationale: C'mon. This is the only reason you clicked on this post. Another Academy Award Winning Villain performance by the late Heath Ledger is one of the few instantly iconic villains of this decade. The Joker is pure anarchy and pure corruption (notice the slow descent of this list of less and less regrettable villains and more towards pure evil? eh? eh?), whose master plan succeeded as soon as he told Batman the wrong coordinates to save pumpkin-head Rachel Dawes, dooming Harvey "Not-A-Rabbit" Dent. The boat trick is fun but basically a distraction. The Joker works his best almost purely on an ideological level, which is what in part makes The Dark Knight such a good movie. Batman Begins (2005) introduced the notion that a superhero could fight crime by becoming an idea or a fear, The Dark Knight introduced the thought that evil and anarchy can be just as powerful. Deep stuff.

#3. Colonel Hans Landa: The Gentleman

Film: Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Played with Dignity By: Christopher Waltz

The Freshmen on the list gets the Trip Spot. Hellz yeah. I'm very aware that this is the second Tarantino creation here, does that really surprise anyone though? Landa is brutal in this film, the kind of monster that sweeps you into his home with milk and cookies and then strangles you for helping Jews. Sucks. I get into a lot of his character here, which is nifty, but for the purposes of this list you should know that this is an incredibly well-acted role (no major American Awards yet, that should change in a few months), an extremely sinister character as comfortable in formal evening wear attending the opera as he is gunning down Jewish children in a farmhouse. He's a fuckin' Nazi after all.

#2. Anton Chigurh: The Machine

Film: No Country for Old Men (2007)
Played Creepily By: Javier Bardem

Rationale: Seems so easy for great villains to get the Best Supporting Actor nod doesn't it? Chigurh is the ultimate badass, unflinching in his objective and commonly finding neither pleasure nor pain in carrying out his grim assignments. While he's basically the same unstoppable evil from the Coen's Raising Arizona (1987) he's much more developed and centered on. Chigurh provides No Country's only narrative link from beginning to end, thus establishing the audience's connection to the eternal anguish and evil in a chaotic and unforgiving world. Yeah, it's kind of a bummer but it makes him a great villain, number two to the decade, number two all time. Or number one, whatever floats your boat.

#1. Bill Cutting: The American, Dammit.

Film: Gangbangs of New York (2002)
Played with Tuberculosis By: Danny Day-Lewis

Rationale: There were a few pretty shitty music videos for Bill the Butcher, but this speech is the sole inspiration for his taking the #1 spot as well as this entire list, so there ya go. Nominated, but not winning Best Actor (Losing to Adrien Brody for some reason) Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors out there today and his commitment to method acting (shit like truly living like an 1840s gangleader, eventually contracting some serious illnesses, this is the kind of shit Tropic Thunder made fun of) shows in this stunning performance. The Butcher, like Alonzo Harris is a ruthless leader in his local community who faces an unwanted uprisal. Unlike Harris however, he's willing to snuff out a problem instead of letting it grow which this scene blatantly demonstrates. Like Landa, there is a truly brutal personality lurking underneath a demeanor that at first may seem cordial if not noble. He is as brutal and bloody as Chigurh with a cockiness and charm of an American Gentry. He is truly the greatest villain of the New Millennium.

14 October 2009

First Impressions: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

You may be wondering why I am just now talking about the film that launched the Summer 2009 Blockbuster season. Well, the simple truth is that I had no desire to see this shitfest when it came out last May. Last week though, on a whim I ordered it On-Demand and was so offended and repulsed on multiple levels that I felt compelled to rant about it here. Let's begin, spoilers to follow, but who gives a shit -

First of all, there is absolutely nothing in this movie that wasn't in the trailers. Literally there is not a thing. There is essentially no reason to ever pay for this movie because every single scene worth seeing you have already seen if you ever turned on a television in April, May or September. I could have pieced together the entire story from commercials and it honestly went a lot better in my head.

The preceding paragraph is the least negative feeling I have about this movie so if you're a fan at all, turn back now.

The greatest sin this movie commits is that every single character is completely wrong. Now I know movies stray from comics many times (I think of Peter Parker's natural web generation in Spider-Man [2002] as an example of this being progressive) but this movie made far too many mistakes for any comic fan to follow. Hell, Gambit has one line in a Cajun accent then drops it! That's his biggest character trait! He's a renegade Cajun! Blob and Kestrel's relationship doesn't make any sense, Blob wasn't even in Weapon X, later when Wolverine interrogates him it seems like Kestrel doesn't even know who he is but they had been training together for six years, it's bizarre to watch. Not only that, most powers are fucked up, Agent Zero (Maverick) and Kayla (Silver Fox) are completely redesigned, it really pisses me off. Emma Frost's much cooler telekinetic powers are ignored and for some reason she's tied to Silver Fox, which is completely insane, there's no end to my frustration. I know I sound like a whiny fanboy here, but it's nice sometimes when a director will at least acknowledge that he or she read the source material and for good reason went in a different direction. None of this occurs in Wolverine.

Let's move on to the Sabretooth / Wolverine dynamic which should rule, but instead makes little sense. The comic Origin (2001) does a really cool job in making this relationship vague at best, hinting but not saying forthright that Dog Logan is a young Victor Creed. Wolverine tends to be in no way ever subtle or ambiguous in this regard or in regard to the rest of the story. It is a big, loud, dumb movie above all else. Sabretooth and Wolverine should have this rivalry dynamic that has a lot of cool elements, like Creed hunting Logan every year on his birthday, most battles drawing or siding towards whoever has adamantium in their skeleton at the time. The film captures some of this but makes Creed out to be this petty, jealous older brother instead of a cunning sadistic killer. It's like a slightly more violent Everybody Loves Raymond. Sucks.

Schreiber and Jackman might be the only actors well cast for their roles which is the only saving element of the film. Will.i.am's Kestrel is laughably bad as is Taylor Kitsch as Gambit. Kevin Durand is alright as Blob, but most others fall flat. Danny Huston and Daniel Henney have as much depth as a midget boner and Lynn Collins is nice to look at but as boring as a kid on Paraquat. Finally, Ryan Reynolds is immensely underused as Deadpool. In fact now might be the time to chat about Deadpool.

Deadpool is awesome. Great character, incredible rip-off of DC's Deathstroke, only made original by pumping up the cocky assholery and breaking the fourth wall all the time. This is a perfect Ryan Reynolds character. Picture Van Wilder as the world's greatest assassin and it's an exact Deadpool match. Instead he is given no funny lines at all, no attitude and completely dethroned, emasculated and fubar'd during the final scenes. It really is completely unforgivable. I wanted to die.

The little things in this movie were painful, too. Bad dialogue works in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) because it's self-aware that it's pretty bad. Mostly Michael Bay acknowledges that he's going for "pure awesome" and milks that as hard as he can. That's what makes his movies so unbelievably fun. The dialogue in Wolverine doesn't make any sense when it's really trying hard to. There's a scene when Stryker is trying to convince the Wolverine to re-join Weapon X and "become the animal." Watching this scene, literally every other sentence these two gentlemen say contradicts their own motivation. It's insane to watch, my head wants to explode. Comparing again to Transformers, the special effects in Wolverine were absolutely horrible. Wolvy's claws looked better in X-Men (2000). Transformers, even as a structurally poor film, works to some extent in at least keeping the viewer in the bad film through its excellent special effects. When Jackman looks like he's got ReBoot claws on his hand, it takes the viewer out of the story. Sucks.

Lastly, most of the action sequences in Wolverine weren't that good either. In a movie like this you expect it to be pretty dumb but at least entertaining. The biggest thrill was maybe the motorcycle escape chase, which essentially was done better in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). There's hardly anything new here. It's getting tougher and tougher for movies to effectively pull of action sequences that seem fresh and original. I will however, point to Star Trek (2009) which had me on the edge of my seat during the Vulcan Planet Bodysuit Re-Entry. That was an original, breathtaking action sequence in a movie that came out but weeks after Wolverine, giving the producers little forgiving for their shoddy action scenes.

So basically I absolutely hated this movie. I regret watching it, it was one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life, I encourage all those reading this to buy as many of the DVDs as you can and destroy them to no one else has to sit through what I did.

Thank you and have a night.

13 October 2009

Top Movies that Feature the Awesome Power of Rock and Roll!

In honour of okay-looking video game Brutal Legend coming to stores today, I thought I'd countdown for the universe the Top Movies featuring legendary magical Rock 'N' Roll performances to solve their plot problems. Rock is surely an all-powerful entity, not unlike Ion and Parallax from the Green Lantern mythos. On the emotional spectrum, the entity of Rock embodies the Awesome Ring. Let's quickly continue:

First, let's talk about Brutal Legend, which actual looks pretty groovy:

I don't really know anything about this other than it features basically Jack Black using the magical power of Rock in a weird Metal Fantasy world. Pretty rad stuff, good to see the power of Rock justified towards fighting the forces of evil and lameness for once.

#1: Staying on the Jack Black train now, we have Tenacious D In the Pick of Destiny (2006). This showdown is nasty:

I actually really enjoyed this part of the movie, as well as this part, and that was about it for this whole fiasco (tragic being a Tenacious D fan). Rock is consistently used to worship or battle Satan and this scene is the best there out there for the latter. Devilish electronica-Metal vs. Acoustic Sunshine is the name of the game here, clearly, the winner of everything is the potheads.

#2: Next up, the wonderous Goofy Goober Rock from The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004). In addition to normal humans, wizards often use the Power of Rock in addition to the power of Iluvatar in battling the evils of the earth. Indeed Rock is a pure force of freedom and indomitable will, able to break the evil chum bucket mind-controlling helmets. The righteous chops literally "blow minds" free of constricting and negative thoughts.

Well I guess that's about it actually. Just those two. The Righteous Might of Heavy Metal Rock 'N' Roll knows no bounds however. Be warned young metalheads. Be warned of its power.

12 October 2009

War of the Decades: The Gnarly Undead Throwdown

Welcome to a very special edition of the War of the Decades! This week I'm shifting gears a tic in honour of...the second week of release of Zombieland, examining each decade's contribution to the Zombie Horror Sub-genre. Now, there are thousands of campy zombie movies released every minute of every year so for sanity's sake I attempted to stay with the major releases if there were any. Or at least just the ones I've seen. Let's begin:

1960s: Romero, Turbulence and the Apocalypse

The Sixties contain one major film, but it is essentially the most important of any on this list. George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) founded the entire sub-genre, modern zombie archetype and revolutionized horror in general with greater splatter and gore effects as well as placing the genre outside of spooky caves and castles and into suburban lawns. It also had much to say about Civil Rights and Vietnam (whee!). The most important way this changed Horror, not to mention the zombie genre, is the nature of the monsters.

Zombies aren't conscious vampires sentient towards their actions, nor are they powerful space beings. Zombies have no more power than an ordinary human, albeit an ordinary human stripped down to only one basic instinct: FEED. Zombie movies are always interesting to me for this particular reason. It shows us our true capabilities. Zombie Apocalypses are much more possible than Alien Armageddon or a Meteor Strike, if only because all the possible danger zombies could cause are present at this exact moment (maybe besides the persistent survival in the face of non-cranial attacks). They're a really cool enemy in this regard, because whereas one zombie is never much trouble, it's the Inherent Apocalyptic Capability of Humanity that makes Horror like this stay with a viewer much longer than a brief jump scare.

1970s: Imitators, Consumers and the Fucking Goofy

Night of the Living Dead wasn't an immediately stellar commercial hit but ended up grossing $42 million worldwide within a decade of its release (on a $114,000 budget). Naturally, in the succeeding decade there were imitators, most of which missed the original zombie message in favour of excessive gore with no story such as Zombi 2 (1979) or with general levels of extreme stupidty such as Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971). Naturally the decade never found its rightful heir until Romero returned to helm Dawn of the Dead (1978). The zombies mindlessly drawn to the shopping mall are clearly reminiscent of mindless American consumers, whose undead lives had barely changed (you know...except for the flesh-eating). Shaun of the Dead (2004) tends to nail this idea pretty well, too (ie, using zombies in service industries, mindless labour). In many ways, this critique on consumerism seems to have a better place in 1980s decadence, thus Romero's commentary on zeitgeist was ahead of the times.

1980s: Explosion of Insanity

The Eighties began this trend of directors using zombie films as great tools for Horror/Comedy. Unlike Zombi 2, 1980s zombie movies were very much intentionally goofy and oftentimes legitimately scary and gory as well, if sacrificing a substantial message. This includes Return of the Living Dead (1985) and its sequels, famous for a slightly different canon zombie than the Romeran zombie, although by present day this zombie is almost unheard of, yet has seeped into public consciousness. It's like the AFL of zombies. We also get The Evil Dead (1981) and its sequels as well as Re-Animator (1985)...and its sequels. Another great trend of zombie films, they spread and sequelize like the undead themselves.

Finally, Romero's last and weakest entry of the Twentieth Century, Day of the Dead (1985), which had less to do with big sweeping ideas about humanity, and more to do with the nature of zombies, what they can learn, do and act. It also does touche on military excess and pride, the breakdown of small society in face of Armageddon and the general doucheyness of heartless scientists. Neat stuff.

1990s: Video Games, Irrelevance and Decline

Zombies were hard to find in the 1990s. Other than some sequels to the aforementioned films and Peter Jacksons' directorial debut, Braindead (1992) (which is really only notable for killing hundreds of undead with a lawn mower), there isn't too much else in cinema. 1990s Horror tends to be really self-reflexive (see Scream series) or parodic (see later Child's Play series). Braindead itself with its playfully excessive gore can be seen as parodic of of some of the 80s splatter films. Zombies did find a home in video games though, with Zombies Ate My Neighbors (1993), Resident Evil (1996) and House of the Dead (1996). In particular, Zombies Ate My Neighbors stands out the most to me as a successive collection of 50 years of horror dating back to the Wolfmen and Gill-men present. Zombies are the foundation of the game, presenting both the earliest adversary and the least deadly, at least until there's dozens of them bearing down on top of your little spiked head. It's a pretty cool beacon of collected horror culture.

2000s: Resurgence, Camp and Cultural Dominance

See here. But really, the biggest development the New Millennium brought to zombiehood has to be the sprinter. As I noted in the above post I dislike the sprinter for reasons other than simple implausibility and slight disregard for Romeran Canon. Yes the slow-moving hobbler is easy to dodge and run from, but it represents inevitability. It's death itself. You can run and escape one slow zombie, two is a bit trickier, hundreds are a pain in the ass. The point of the slow zombie is that no matter how far you run, they WILL catch you eventually. In hobbler Romero films there was ultimately no escaping Armageddon, the slow zombies would lead the humans to think they had an edge up until the burst into the farmhouse and bite their throats out from behind. It's a slow crawl and creep, a steady descent into madness and death. And that's pretty cool to me, much cooler than an extravagantly fierce sprinter zombie.

So until next time, make sure to check the backseat and happy hunting!

11 October 2009

Because it was on DVD: The Simpsons Season 12, Biggest Transitional Year in Simpsons History

Recently the 12th Season of the greatest television show of all time, The Simpsons hit store shelves. I of course purchases this DVD collection and watched the whole thing and then the whole thing again with commentary. Like many avid Simpsons fans, I have for many years perceived a declining quality of episodes, personally I trace the start of this decline to around Season 9. Whereas 10 and 11 I contend were pretty awful save a handful of episodes, Season 12 remains special, I believe it's a high quality season that represents a deep breath before a plunge into years of mediocrity.

In this sense, Season 12 is the big turning point year for The Simpsons. It is extremely quotable, still very funny and contains both deeply touching stories and even a great deal of (tertiary) character development. There are a multitude of problems however, thus Season 12 is generally a turning point season.

Production Elements:

There are many external factors tied to the production of the show that had created the slight changes in style starting from Season 9 when Mike Scully became Showrunner. In general this was a departure from Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein's Season 7 and 8 emphasis on the Simpsons family dynamic and grounded stories that came from this point. It was also a departure from consistent Itchy & Scratchy episodes, Sideshow Bob episodes and experimental episodes such as "22 Short Films About Springfield" (S7;E21). A lack of sentimentality and consistency slowly gained momentum.

Starting simultaneously with Season 10, companion Futurama premiered, taking many influential writers such as David X. Cohen and Ken Keeler, as well as director Susie Dietter. This also naturally took a great deal of Matt Groening's focus. Season 10 also featured the unfortunate final appearance of any of Phil Hartman's characters due to his untimely death, a vital part of classic Simpsons piece of humour.

The full results of these subtle shifts came to a head in Season 12. Notable new writers include Tom Gammill and Max Pross, which also saluted a shift in Seinfeld's humour in its Fifth Season, making the stories bigger and wackier. Other additions included John Frink and Don Payne, whose sense of slightly more surreal, "zany" humour also preceded a slight but noticeable shift in tone. Season 12 was also a notable season for having an early episode created in Digital Ink (The first Simpsons episode ever to experiment with this was "Radioactive Man" S7;E2) as well as the longstanding tradition of airing the Treehouse of Horror episode as the season premier, often after Halloween due to FOX's commitment to show MLB Postseason games.

So, let's get into several seemingly nit-picky topics that exemplified the transitional season:

In-Show Elements:

Like I mentioned, I like a lot of Season 12. Like the Oakley and Weinstein seasons, it features both a Sideshow Bob ("Day of the Jackanapes" E13) and an experimental episode ("Trilogy of Error" E18), which are two of the greatest episodes in the season. The majority however, is rife with poorly executed story and joke structure:

There are a tremendous amount of episodes that end extremely poorly. Oftentimes it seems like the shows had a good thing going but couldn't stick the landing. Most notorious are "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes" (E6), "Skinner's Sense of Snow" (E8) and "Day of the Jackanapes." By far the worst ending, an ending which still makes me furious to watch is "The Great Money Caper" (E7). It is admittedly an enormous cop-out that attempts to humourously self-reflect on its hokeyness, but ends up just being...hokey. There are some attempts at sentimental endings ("HOMR" E9, "Children of a Lesser Clod" E20), but none approach the levels of say "Duffless" (S4;E16) or hell even "Lisa's Date with Destiny" (S8;E7).

There are also a few elements of a desperate show caving into pressures long resisted. The novel Johnny Tremaine by Esther Forbes in "Whacking Day" (S4;E20) is elemental into getting Bart to read while he is home-schooled. In "Skinner's Sense of Snow," Bart sets it on fire. It's just an example of the kind of negligence and heartlessness the later seasons were known for.

Continuing this subject the series started using jokes it wouldn't stoop to before. During the commentary for "New Kid on the Block" (S4;E8) writer Conan O'Brien makes fun of people in TV shows screaming angrily but meaning good news (picture a boss saying like "JOHNNSOON! WHY I'M GOING TO GIVE YOU...a promotion!"). O'Brien goes on to say these people sound like they have brain damage. The show went from making fun of this kind of absurdity to falling victim to it, as characters use this joke in "Lisa the Tree Hugger" (S12;E4) and "Worst Episode Ever" (S12;E11). This is one example of the sorts of cliches the series began to expume. In addition to this, the line "The Simpsons are going to Delaware!" jokingly used in "Behind the Laughter" (S11;E22) to demonstrate the staleness and repeated attempts to energize a stalling show is actually implemented in "Simpsons Tall Tales" (S12;E21). In the same vein, Ozmodiar, a little green rip-off of The Flintstones' Great Gazoo, jokingly appeared to the same purpose in "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase" (S8;E24) but appears for real in "HOMR."

There is a heavy shift in joke style that began in Season 9, annoying little things like reinforcing or adjusting jokes many times or getting in final words. Season 12 also does retain a lot of fun character humour, often with characters who had not previously been thoroughly explored (Arnie Pie arguing with Kent Brockman in "Children of a Lesser Clod" is great, "Luke's father is Chewbacca?! Oh Oh!" ["Worst Episode Ever"] come to mind). Indeed "Worst Episode Ever" is as much Comic Book Guy's as "Homer and Apu" (S5;E13) was for Apu, and in that sense, it feels more like an older season. The fact alone that Comic Book Guy is basically a nameless character (Jeff Albertson, "Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass" S16;E8 thank you).

This Season also contains the Jump the Shark moment for both me and a close personal big Simpsons Fan Friend of mine. For me on my first viewing not understanding the references to The Prisoner upon my initial viewing of "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes" really turned me off. I thought it was too weird, too absurd, too much of a departure from meaningful storytelling to be a good Simpsons episode and really lost me at that point. For my friend it was the Panda Rape in "Homer vs. Dignity" (E5) which is pretty awful even now to watch to be honest.

Foreign Elements:

Perhaps the biggest influence on the transition of The Simpsons from a groundbreaking animated sitcom to a mediocre one came not from within but without, the simple fact that it no longer stands alone. In the late 90s / early 2000s, continuing to the present day, from what was once sole Simpsons Territory a plethora of competing shows have sprung. During Season 12 (2000 - 2001) animated shows competing with The Simpsons, not just for audience, but for ideas and innovation included King of the Hill (1997 - 2009), Family Guy's initial production run (1999 - 2002), Futurama (1999 - 2003), The PJs (1999 - 2001), South Park (1997 - Present), and of course, Clerks (2000).

Some of these shows proved deadly. South Park could get an idea and produce an episode in under a week's time. This always gave them the edge on commenting on current events. Their dominating presence on a fledgling Cable Network, Comedy Central, also gave them free reign to push hard ideas that The Simpsons pioneered (compare The Simpsons' "Homer's Phobia" S8;E15 to South Park's "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride" S1;E4). South Park was able to undercut some of The Simpsons' ability to push the envelope, both politically and otherwise. Of course, South Park is not without its tribute.

Soon The Simpsons was sort of forced into a new role among these many animated shows. At the time of Season 12, most of these would fail, but just as soon replaced with new crap (see American Dad, all of Adult Swim). Indeed Adult Swim represents an aggressive focus on a demographic that The Simpsons had once dominated. The zeitgeisty youthful taste for faster, meaner shows is dominated basically by Adult Swim and Seth MacFarlane. In these times, The Simpsons is like the grandpa of animated shows. If you listen to it once in a while it's got some good things to say, but most of his humour and rantings seem weird and scary to the young people. I honestly can't imagine JUST getting into The Simpsons at Season 21 now. It has its place oddly as a sort of overly educated, literate show, often at weird odds with Family Guy or South Park which were able to amp up the stupidness of their characters and plots very successfully, which pigeon-holed The Simpsons into a role of self-gratification and pop culture icon instead of pop culture teaser.

Let me end by saying that I do enjoy Season 12 a lot, it's probably the last season that I generally enjoy as a whole. I quote "A Tale of Two Springfields" (E2) and "Tennis the Menace" (E12) easily as much as some earlier seasons, I believe "Trilogy of Error" is one of the best written episodes in the past ten years (well maybe that's not too hard) and the "Night of the Dolphins" segment of "Treehouse of Horror XI" (E1) is one of my all-time favourite Halloween moments. That said, the season is one of transition, as it has both these very good moments, but also foreshadows the disenchantment to come. Like I said, the catch is that it is a good season but the LAST good season.

I hope to do more of these Simpsons posts, especially with the big 20th Anniversary in a few months.

G'Day everybody!

10 October 2009

Future Trends: The Next Big Thing, 2010 and Beyond


Yes, I'm saying Lumberjacks. These guys are ready to burst. Now I don't mean to brag or anything but I am very adept at predicting fads. So far in my lifetime I've successfully anticipated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pokemon, Anime, Pirates and Zombies. I am going to say that Lumberjacks are due. They have a severe Post-Modern potential for Chuck Norris-level awesomeness.

They are hungry, violent, manly enough to help men cope with poor feelings of self-worth and competence, much like Pirates before them. They are a burly, opaque role model that is perfect for parody and simple to replicate, much more so than pirates.

In soon time, most likely 2011 or perhaps slightly earlier, there will be an upsurge on College Campuses of Lumberjack Parties, most likely during the forthcoming "Talk Like a Lumberjack Day" and Lumberjack vs. Humans LARPs. The golden age of continuing Man's Epic Battle Against Trees and Nature will finally emerge.

There are many very subtle signs of this Lumberjack Takeover already taking place. The first is a lengthy and complimentary entry in The Alphabet of Manliness by author of our times, Maddox. Maddox clearly treats Lumberjacks on the same level, if not on a greater manly cultural level as Pirates, so much so that the Men of Plaid clearly at least deserve their own annoying internet meme. Lumberjacks are powerful.

In addition to this is a very important 13-second scene in recent Box Office Okay Movie, Step Brothers (2008).

Clearly, the potency of the Lumberjack cultural movement has been established by these two deep-seeded pieces of art. Furthermore...well...I guess that's about it actually. Anyway, Lumberjacks are pretty cool and deserve to become the next big thing. No...they WILL become the next big thing! Lumberjack films WILL take off and this country will know the true meaning of flanel, beards and destroying nature. She thinks she's so smug...with her typhoons and cholera and...life giving oxygen. The trees must pay, we all know this. Bow to the Lumberjack!

Scooter out.

08 October 2009

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

Wow. 50 posts. I'm proud. Good luck getting through them all, folks.

In my previous two posts on Jerry Seinfeld, we took a very Seinfeldian approach, looking only at the central character's actions. To some extent, we examined in Part Two how other characters treat Jerry's stand-up, but all in all, they were self-centered posts. In my final look now, I will examine his character through the lenses of three other fictional characters- First his nemesis, Newman. Then through another Comedian, Edward Blake of the graphic novel Watchmen, finally through cartoon characters, notably Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker. Let's begin our descent:

Newman, Poet and Dramatist:

The easiest way to look at Newman is through the notion that he is Jerry's arch-nemesis. The Lex Luthor to Jerry's Superman if you will. In the comic book world, the best villains are diametrically opposed to their protagonists (Which I just spontaneously posted about here). Actually very akin to the Luthor/Superman relationship, Newman/Jerry is based on jealousy, hate and twistedly opposed ideology. Luthor is envious of Superman's Kryptonian gifts, he believes the Man of Tomorrow should not be allowed the powers of a god and thus works his own gifts, intellect in order to supplant who he perceives as his better. In much the same way Newman is envious of Jerry's comical talents and success, himself being a gifted dramatist and poet. Newman's talents however, go unrecognized while Jerry gains fame and fortune. This eats Newman's insides much as Luthor's intellectual gifts pale in comparison to Superman's astounding feats.

There are many speeches in the series which demonstrate Newman's gift for dramatic rants (which are commonly presented as jokes, another way that Seinfeld, being the creator of the show and therefore universe, is able to twist and mock his rival's gifts). The best rant, though is in "The Finale" (S9,E23) wherein he calls Jerry's life a fantasy world and accurately predicts its downfall. This accurately sums up much of the cause of Newman's hatred and jealousy of his neighbor. He hits this same chord again in "The Calzone" (S7;E20) when he comments to George that he dislikes him for hanging around with Jerry all day "laughing and wasting their lives." Newman as a poet sees comedy as a waste or corruption of oratory skill. This poetry, along with another rant is demonstrated without much humiliation in "The Bookstore" (S9;E17). We can contrast this with one of the few very sentimental moments in Seinfeld, the William Butler Yeats poem Kramer attaches to Elaine's birthday present in "The Deal" (S2;E9). Jerry's disdain and awkwardness in this moment of true emotion represents a lot of the strife that exists between comedian and poet. Add to this Newman's unrequited love of Elaine ("The Soul Mate" S8;E2) and you've got quite the pickle barrel on your hands.

Newman's strange relationship to David Berkowitz aka Son of Sam is also curious. He claims to have took over his postal route and double-dated with the murderer("The Diplomat's Club" S6;E22). When the police come to arrest him in "The Engagement" (S7;E1) he only responds, "What took you so long?", same as Berkowitz. What does this mean? Newman in a bizarre twist, as all of these are jokes, obviously, represents the serious side of Seinfeld. The fact that his seriousness is continual played up for laughs should only serve to more bitterly embolden the poor portly fellow to destroy Jerry and rule the world! Or something.

Edward Morgan Blake, Absent Friends:

There's a lot here that I'll try to cover. The Comedian in Watchmen (1986) represents many different things. His essence and title are perfect as a reflection of a ignorant and potholed society. Rorschach says it best,
"Blake understood. Treated it like a joke, but he understood. He saw the cracks in society, saw the little men in masks trying to hold it together. He saw the true face of the twentieth century and chose to become a reflection, a parody of it. One else saw the joke. That's why he was lonely." (Chapter II, p. 27)
This quote not only accurately describes The Comedian, but Jerry Seinfeld. Virtually all of the humour in both his stand-up and television show deal with examining the cracks and gaps in society. It is meant to deal with everyday occurrences and laugh at those "trying to hold it together" - people controlled by societal norms. The Seinfeld character however, is free to break social norms in ways like idly chatting at a funeral and getting more upset that his friend may not have said "Hi" to him than the death present ("The Face Painter" S6;E23). This is just one of many examples that you can examine in my first two posts.

Seinfeld and Blake both realise that life moves on. They get the big picture and are not hung up on death or other "real family" problems ("The Maid" S9;E19). There is of course some huge discrepancies here. Jerry's nihilism comes in forms like breaking up with his girlfriend over soup or making fun of fake Jon Voight cars. Blake's detachment from life comes in forms like killing Vietnamese women pregnant with his child and beating up a crowd of protesters. Both men have an uncanny understanding of their world, however. Jerry is often able to understand and comment on the world around him ("The Checks" S8;E7, "The Abstinence" S8;E9, "The Bizarro Jerry" S8;E3. Yes, these are all the same season, I swear there's others!).

There is also some connection between Rorschach's journal entry that contains the above quote also references The Comedian as Pagliacci, the clown character that features heavily in the eponymous Opera Jerry views in "The Opera" (S4;E9). In that episode Crazy Joe Davola, who had a pending pilot with NBC and can be seen as a more disgruntled version of Jerry, perhaps a comedian truly unbalanced by his emotional suppression (see the end of Part One).

Woody Woodpecker, Troublemaker:

There is again a direct connection between Jerry and this cartoon character in "The Mom & Pop Store (S6;E8) when Tim Whatley calls him a "troublemaker," a moniker Kramer previously applied to Woody. Finally Jerry gives Woody's trademark laugh. Jerry consistently acts this way and is also very Bugs Bunny-esque. He routinely makes fun of those around him, jokes about his current situation and more importantly, is never flustered by the chaos in his life. Bugs is notable for always being cool and calm under pressure, unlike some one like Daffy (read: George) who buckles and screams (For a great look at this dichotomy check out "The Chinese Restaurant" S2;E11 and "The Apology" S9;E9).

Moreso in the later seasons, Seinfeld's style became much more abstract and "bigger" with less and less stories revolving around "everyday" annoyances, the mantra of the earlier seasons. This is due in part to the leaving of co-creator Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld's stepping up to the role of sole executive producer in Season 8. Thus we see Jerry's mind on display as lead actor, writer and producer in zany, cartoony situations such as "The Pothole" (S8;E16), "The Merv Griffin Show" (S9;E6) and "The Frogger" (S9;E18).

Well, that's all I have to say about that. I'd like to thank Wikipedia.com for much info concerning episode numbering, Seinology.com for some accurate quotes and Alan Moore for inventing The Comedian. G'Night Everybody!

07 October 2009

The Joker: Greatest Case of a Precisely Ideologically Opposed Supervillain/Superhero Relationship

I was doing some light wikipedia reading the other day, and I stumbled upon a few articles concerning the Joker, that is, nemesis to Batman, Joker. I had never really thought about him that much, but delving more and more into his nature, I have come to the realization that he's actually the greatest supervillain ever conceived, both in respect to his opponent, his universe, and to himself. Let me explain:

I've always been fond of comics and am well acquainted with the natures of good and evil forces within their pages. What makes a good villain is usually to be the counter of the hero. This can create more complex stories, say, if the villain isn't necessarily evil, just a counter to the hero, sort of hero/anti-hero conflicts. Venom and Spider-Man are a lot like this. Venom doesn't believe in killing innocents, he just hates Spider-Man. This makes him a Spider-Man (and by extension other heros, as well) exclusive-enemy, regardless if his tactics in thwarting other evildoers make him a villain in the eyes of police or horrify the innocents he is protecting. What I'm trying to get at is that a good hero/villain set-up are two opposites who just don't get along, rather than a definitive good and evil black and white battle.

The Joker and Batman have the greatest dichotomy in all of comics. There, I'm puttin it out there. The Batman believes solely in order and discipline, he has molded his body and mind into as perfect as a crime fighter as possible without added metahuman powers. He has vowed never to take a life, and without doing so continually avenges the lives taken from him (his parents...duh). The Bat hides everything about his private life and shrouds his alter-ego in darkness, a comprehensive mask and cowl. Everything about him is controlled and inhibited, analytical and comprehensive.

I do love this interpretation of him. The TAS always stealthily treaded the line between goofball and psychotic killer. Voiced by Mark Hamill.
The Joker, therefore, could not be a greater opposite. He is the embodiment of chaos, wildly uninhibited and completely insane. He has no qualms about unleashing the deepest sides of his personality on to the world, including his pension for murder. He doesn't hide his private life, he doesn't have a private life. The Joker has selective memory, his past is shrouded in mystery, even to him. Unlike the Batman's tight regulation and desire for control over his life, the Joker also switches personalities, and day by day may switch from playful clown to deadly killer. He sways in the wind, and takes the easy way out, letting himself float long life instead of Batman's rigid control over his own destiny.

The Joker doesn't care about anything, not even the ramifications of his heinous actions. He's completely unpredictable, mostly because he doesn't choose his own destiny. He lets his own madness control him and push him wherever he wants to go. This also makes him the ultimate supervillain, no other supervillains want to work with him, because he can never be trusted. His unpredictability and savagery actually scare every other villain in the DCU.

Alan Moore's The Killing Joke is a great look into the Joker's history (or at least a possible history), which apparently the upcoming film the Dark Knight is partially based on....which is awesome. According to this story, the Joker at one point had a wife, who was killed in a similar fashion to Batman's parents. It is interesting to note then the strength of Batman's character compared to the Joker's. While Batman is able to focus his pain and desire into something well, arguably positive, the Joker falls completely to his pain and after the chemical tank dealie, too, utterly loses his mind, to the extent that he forgets if he had a wife or not. No other comic book character has lost himself so irreplaceably to his own maniacal mind.
Probably the most famous pic from the Killing Joke. You can really see he's totally overcome by his madness, consumed by himself in his own world.

The Joker and the Batman need each other, and will always exist to oppose each other. A longstanding goal of the Joker is to make the Bat laugh, the Joker does not really want to kill Batman until he meets this goal. Likewise, Batman has a goal of never killing another man, he knows if he ever killed the Joker he would lose control, and become the Joker himself. The Joker, however, consistently gets out of prison and the death penalty by genuinely pleading insanity. The Joker is also so obsessed with Batman, he feels that if he were to ever succeed in killing the Bat, his life would lose all purpose. In one instance, when he thought the Bat was dead, he reverted to total sanity and lost all sense of his own self.

The Batman and Joker define themselves by their opponent. The Batman maintains his sense of order by viewing himself as the opposite of the Joker's chaos. The Joker maintains his mania as the opposite of Batman's stagnation. Without either, the other would lose all sense of direction, however, at the same time, they are locked in continual conflict, born out of the same differences, not least of which are the Joker's megalohomicidal tendencies and the Batman's continual inability to take a joke. It's an incredibly match up, their feud could possibly end if either the Joker were to stop killing, or if Batman would laugh. This is really the only facet prolonging their struggle.

You can really see the difference between them, the bright flashy colours in the Joker's outfit, the mangled hair compared to the conservative darkness of Batman. Yet both are human.

Theirs is almost an ideological and personality-based conflict as much as it is a traditional hero/villain relationship. It's frivolity vs. stoicism, the ridiculous and the conservative. And if you made it through this note, I commend you, folks! Fuck you, Riddler!

Addendum: I felt like adding some more recent thoughts I've had.

For one, I've been stewing more and more over Nicholson's Joker and decided that I really don't like it. For one thing, he has a backstory. I'm more of a fan of the Joker who doesn't know his own past, or future. He doesn't care, as I said before, the Joker's mind is completely locked in the present with almost no quandary for previous relationships or possible negative outcomes. The Joker is not even really about revenge, he's about the thrill and execution, not caring what people do to him but rather in what comedic way he can make a strike at Gotham.

Nicholson was great, but he was almost too campy. He had a fine suit, plenty of loyal followers, but also a sadistically classic campaign to unleash a massive covert chemical attack on the entire city. The latter part is true Joker material. The suit, always a staple of Jokerness, is an element of his attempted class, but he skews it, with jarring colours and out of date fashion. The true joker should just be darker, though, with an even greater touch of mania and sadism. The Joker gets extremely personal, for example killing the second Robin, Jason Todd in the A Death in the Family storyline. You can't really blame the first film for the lack of this intense personal strife, as it is both difficult in films to introduce so many characters at once, even those with such a background as Batman and Robin, and also to kill someone like Robin off so quickly would be both jarring to the audience and squash most sequel appearances.

Anyway, that aside, Nicholson's Joker is just too goofy and too established.
From the Batman (1989), I do look forward to Ledger's Joker. In an interview, Nolan said he cast him because Ledger is "fearless." Makes sense.
I still love TAS's Joker the best, they just got that the most perfect I've ever seen him in a non-comic medium. I like a Joker that literally came out of nowhere, as if necessarily formed by the psychosis of society itself as a foil for a hero trying to stand for alignment and justice. While I did enjoy how the Joker and Batman created eachother in the film, I still don't like Joker killing the Bat's parents. Just as the Joker was seemingly created by the ills of society, as was the Bat. As much as I cave to awesome duality like a mutual-origin storyline, the idea of a corrupted civilisation casting the mold of its greatest hero and villain compels me more. It also beautifully more blurs the line between what really is good and evil. Essentially, Batman and Joker are just vigilantism and insanity, control and chaos, something unlawful that can be inwardly controlled, and something lawful that cannot be. Compelling shit.

Additionally, I've also been gesting over some interesting stuff about both of their natures, focusing on physical appearances and themes. Now, I was heretofore unaware that bats and clowns were natural enemies, but clearly they are. There is an interesting wikipedian theory on clowns; that a normally appearing clown can be equally funny or menacing depending completely on the circumstance. An easy example is that a clown in day at a party is great, a clown at night in your hallway is creepy as hell. Clowns are all about context, and the Joker, by assuming the moniker of a clown, appearing mostly at night, in a dark alley, is inherently disturbing.

There is an incredible irony between hero and villain here. Bats are typically associated with ghouls, vampires, the night, and death. What a great hero. Clowns are associated with laughter, fun, children, and parties. What a great villain! It is exactly this that makes a perfect villain, I mean, look at John Wayne Gacy. Thankfully, the Joker's malalignments are not sexual or pedophilic. Also, awesomely, the Joker hates nazis.
I love this assessment. Only time you should be proud of the Joker ever.
The causes for Joker's psychosis are complex, mostly because no one, not even he knows what his past exactly is. He's clearly not cannibalistic, nor necrophilic. He's just...really really homicidal. This might tame him compared to other factual serial killers, but no one can really match his just utter and complete insanity and freedom.

In terms of the bat being the hero, well, somehow creepy animals like that make pretty good heroes. Spider-Man, Ant-Man, it all works. Not to mention heroes like Nightwatch, Moon Knight, Nightwing and Darkwing. People always identify better with villains, its more fun to indulge an evil desire than to see standards carried out that you normally live by. In this respect, it works that some heroes like these and Batman are so dark, but still somehow noble, serve to protect us. There is some fulfillment gained by watching this, that in some way, the salid evil works to protect us from the maniacal good in our lives. What we're left with is a moderation between the two, the out of control glee and pleasure, and the incredibly restrained solemnity. PASSIONATE STUFF!!
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