31 October 2012

The Long Halloween Vol. IV: Simpsons Edition - Halloween

Hello everyone, and welcome to our Fourth Edition of the Long Halloween! Each year, starting on Halloween we go through every holiday of the year, highlighting  the best sorts of television and movies to watch. The first year we did this, we went straight up through television, commanding the best specials to watch for each Holiday, starting with The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror.

During our second installment, we just blew the wad and talked about EVERYTHING proper to do on a Holiday, starting with the best movies, video games, and food to munch on during All Hallow's Eve. This we spent doing for the next year. After that we scratched our heads coming up with something fresh and we decided on the Obscure Edition - highlighting Holidays off the beaten path and the best flicks to watch then, starting with National Hermit Day on October 29th.

So, here we are again. Another year of the Long Halloween (It's a Batman joke, folks), and we don't have much else to say. Then again, since we're all huge Simpsons fans, it's about time for an All-Simpsons Edition. Jump for joy! We'll start with another look at the Treehouse of Horror series. When we first did this three years ago, we ranked all twenty installments, but there have been a few more since then, so let's update our ranking:

#1: V - Season 6, 1994: "The Shinning," "Time and Punishment," "Nightmare Cafeteria"
#2: VII - Season 8, 1996: "The Thing and I," "The Genesis Tub," "Citizen Kang"
#3: XX - Season 21, 2009: "Dial 'M' for Murder or Press '#' to Return to Main Menu," "Don't Have a Cow, Mankind," "There's No Business Like Moe Business"
#4: VI - Season 7, 1995: "Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores," "Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace," "Homer³"
#5: III - Season 4, 1992: "Clown Without Pity," "King Homer," "Dial 'Z' For Zombies"
#6: VIII - Season 9, 1997: "The HΩmega Man," "Fly vs. Fly," "Easy-Bake Coven"
#7: IV - Season 5, 1993: "The Devil and Homer Simpson," "Terror at 5½ Feet," "Bart Simpson's Dracula"
#8: XXIII - Season 24, 2012: "The Greatest Story Ever Holed," "UNnormal Activity," "Bart & Homer's Excellent Adventure"
#9: II - Season 3, 1991: "The Monkey's Paw," "The Bart Zone," "If I Only Had a Brain"

"I'm so bulgy..."
The First Nine here are all over the place, as you can see. The Simpsons really had their optimal run between Seasons 4 and 8, and all of those episodes are represented here, along with periphery episodes from Seasons 3 and 9. Season 21 and 24 both contain recent episodes that have also been exceptional. I'd consider a high grade here a sign that the entire episode was great, with all three segments being worthwhile.

#10: X - Season 11, 1999: "I Know What You Diddily-Iddily-Did," "Desperately Xeeking Xena," Life's a Glitch, Then You Die"
#11: XXII - Season 23, 2011: "The Diving Bell and Butterball," "Dial D for Diddly," "In the Na'Vi"
#12: XI - Season 12, 2000: "G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad," "Scary Tales Can Come True," "Night of the Dolphin"
#13: XIII - Season 14, 2002: "Send in the Clones," "The Fright to Creep and Scare Harms," "The Island of Dr. Hibbert
#14: I - Season 2, 1990: "Bad Dream House," "Hungry are the Damned," "The Raven"
#15: XV - Season 16, 2004: "The Ned Zone," "Four Beheadings and a Funeral," "In the Belly of the Boss"
#16: XVII - Season 18, 2005: "Married to the Blob," "You Gotta Know When to Golem," "The Day the Earth Looked Stupid"
#17: IX - Season 10, 1998: "Hell Toupée," "The Terror of Tiny Toon," "Starship Poopers"
#18: XII - Season 13, 2001: "Hex and the City," "House of Whacks," "Wiz Kids"

"Wait a minute, Xena can't fly."
"I told you, I'm not Xena, I'm Lucy Lawless."
The Second Nine contain either three weaker but satisfactory segments, or an episode marked by one or two terrible segments but one pretty god one. We'll judge only the first episode as the former. To highlight some great segments from the latter, check out X's "Desperately Xeeking Xena," XXII's "The Diving Bell and Butterball," XI's "Night of the Dolphin," XIII's "The Island of Dr. Hibbert" (Especially for the Homer/Marge Beastiality),XV's "In the Belly of the Boss,"XVII's "You Gotta Know When to Golem," IX's "Hell Toupée," and XII's "Wiz Kids."

#19: XIV - Season 15, 2003: "Reaper Madness," "Frinkenstein," "Stop the World, I Want to Goof Off"
#20: XVIII - Season 19, 2007: "E.T., Go Home," "Mr. & Mrs. Simpson," "Heck House"
#21: XVI - Season 17, 2005: "B.I.: Bartificial Intelligence," "Survival of the Fattest," "I've Grown a Costume on Your Face"
#22: XXI - Season 22, 2010: "War and Pieces," "Master and Cadaver," "Tweenlight"
#23: XIX - Season 20, 2008: "Untitled Robot Parody," "How to Get Ahead in Dead-vertising," "It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse"

I'm not entirely sure what to caption for this one.
The Final Lot are just all awful. They are mostly more recent episodes, although sandwiched in between some of these are times when they just launched it out of the park.

So why are The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episodes the greatest Halloween special ever? They're always this special event within a season. They eschew reality and canon in favour of really outrageous stories and parodies. They're also the best when they're a little scary, as the horrifying "Treehouse of Horror V" attests to. There is also such a rich history, I mean, 23 consecutive years of specials, that's material enough to rival some horror franchises, and provides plenty to do on All Hallow's Eve.

Happy Halloween!

29 October 2012

The Long Halloween Vol. IV: Simpsons Edition - Hurricane Neddy

Soon you will be introduced to the Fourth Installment of The Long Halloween, Norwegian Morning Wood's yearlong look at every special holiday. This year we're showcasing The Simpsons Edition, highlighting a proper Simpsons episode to tag along with a holiday each month. Today, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy descending upon the East Coast, we decided to give a little preview with the most appropriate hurricane television episode ever, "Hurricane Neddy" (S8;E8).

Hurricane Sandy is one of the largest storms to hit the United States in recent memory. The thing stretches from Boston to Jacksonville. It's a classic nor'easter, south'easter, tropical storm, and Fuck-o-cane all at once. Because of its amalgamation of parts along with its Halloween descent, it's been called the Frankenstorm. It should still do less damage than Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), though. It's a shame it didn't land a few months ago for Frankenstein Day.

So in addition to serving as a huge impediment to trick-or-treaters and toilet-paper-throwing-afficionados alike, Frankenstorm is about to wreak havoc all over the Eastern Seaboard. It's snowing in Kentucky. Flooding in Ohio. Dogs now collectively rule the Carolinas. President Obama and Fuhrer-nominee Romney have been forced to cancel many last minute campaign stops in some crucial swinger states like Virginia and Florida (never pick up Romney's keys at a party), and how el Presidente handles this blustery week in the area could have a tremendous influence on the election (I bet Black people everywhere get water a lot faster than Katrina, and that's a good thing).

It is a sign of our technological and social development, and for sure some of its growing interdependence on each other, that there is so much out there right now to prepare and track this monstrosity as it creeps up Appalachia. The Weather Channel is offering live commentary, there is already a Twitter handle out there, and there is even a confluence of zeitgeists with @RomneysStormTips, which was taken down moments ago for unknown, but likely conspiratorial reasons.

It's really the magic of the Internet displayed in full, glorious force. Sandy is widespread and sudden enough that millions of people react to it instantly and put those reactions online. Whether it's to show the devastation of their situations, ask for help, or make pop culture-fueled jokes, the capturing of such a surprise huge event through social media has never been this unified, massive, and instantaneous.

Why did I start this post? Oh yeah, "Hurricane Neddy." As you're bunkering down, you may get some good tips from this episode. When Hurricane Barbara strikes Springfield, a town with no history of such storms ("But the records only go back to 1978 when the Hall of Records was mysteriously blown away!"), the citizens panic. This is all what's going on right now - areas with no expertise in dealing with storms this big are panicking and worrying (probably over nothing, which is what happened with Barbara). Flood the grocery mart, stock up on Creamed Eels, Corn Nog, and Wadded Beef, and then go play in the basement.

The episode really shines though, after the Hurricane subsides and it becomes a deeply intense character study of what makes religious goody two-shoes Ned Flanders tick. What results is an honest and humanizing look at the character, with some hilarious side notes (My shoes are in the den? May God have mercy on us all...). More importantly, as most Simpsons episodes do when dealing with the subject, it is not necessarily a critique of Flanders' faith as much it is the very human tendency to bottle up anger and try to deal with frustration in unhealthy ways. What else would you expect from a Spankological Protocol developed by the University of Minnesota?

So as Sandy barrels down the coast and into the mainland, destroying everyone in her path, we may take a moment to acknowledge good steps to take during a hurricane: 1) Don't spend time with your family, they will annoy you. 2) The animals are always the first to know. 3) Notice that eery calm? That's the eye of the storm, it ain't over yet, bud. 4) I just got that Butthole Surfers joke.

19 October 2012

First Impressions: The Master

I watched Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master (2012) like two weeks ago, it's about time I wrote up my Impressions here. For those of you uninitiated, The Master follows an aimless World War II Navy Veteran (Joaquin) as he drifts through life searching for meaning but not really caring about it. He encounters an enigmatic blowhard (Phillip Seymour) and they become friends as they try to help each other. SPOILERS to come for sure.

From this innocuous synopsis we have one of the best films of the year, in no small part thanks to Anderson's once again brilliant direction and some incredible acting from Joaquin, Phil, Amy Adams, and just about everyone else on screen. Like Anderson's last film, There Will Be Blood (2007), its brilliance doesn't lie in the complexity of the plot or even necessarily the big themes introduced (there are a few - we'll get there in a sec), but through the complex characters that inhabit the screen. Whereas There Will Be Blood exhibited a massive character study of Daniel Day Lewis' Daniel Plainview, in this case Anderson explores the dynamic of the relationship between Joaquin's Drifter, Freddie Quell and Phil's L. Ron Hubbard figure, Lancaster Dodd.

So, let's just say now that Joaquin Phoenix is the greatest actor in the world, ever. This is true. The Master is his first film since he pretended to go nuts with the mockumentary I'm Still Here (2010), which no one really knew was a mockumentary while he was going nuts. He's shown that he has the kind of commitment to an art and a role that goes far beyond many of his contemporaries. The Master does a great job of introducing Joaquin back into the acting world because Freddie Quell is not that much unlike the horny drug-fueled nutty version of himself he played in I'm Still Here. Despite all this, he seems unlikely to be nominated, and he doesn't care - which is part of the issue.

Commodus is back, baby
Freddie is fairly mentally disturbed. His character is brilliantly established in the first beach scenes when his sex joke with the sand babe goes on far too long as everyone else slowly backs off from how awkward he is. Right after that he jacks off on the beach while barely hiding his shame. He's a hardcore alcoholic - like, not a vodka in the morning but a paint thinner in the morning alcoholic. Again, it's not totally different from the version of himself he played in I'm Still Here. This dude has some guts to publicly spiral out of control like that - clearly Joaquin himself isn't afraid of much of any public humiliation. He, like Freddie, isn't bound by social norms that would strike fear into the hearts of more mortal men. Indeed that's the whole point of I'm Still Here, though - to blur the line of who was really Joaquin, who was a character, and who was just an indictment of the idea celebrity itself. In many ways, Joaquin appearing here, skinny, and doing a fantastic job does much to justify I'm Still Here as a hoax and to some extent ease the experience of watching that film knowing that he's going to be alright and is in fact, a smarter and more talented actor than we all could have imagined.

The other big player her is Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd. Though it's not lifted directly from his life story or anything, Dodd is clearly analogous to the Founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. Much of Lancaster's philosophy and movement, "The Cause," mirrors the early days of Scientology and Dianetics - that is, the cause of human suffering is a trillion-year struggle between our souls and aliens. Yipes. If there's a second greatest actor in the world, it may be PHS in this flick. Yes, the fat kid from Boogie Nights (1997) returns, better than ever. He's a total blowhard, the kind of great intense Hoff we saw in flicks like Mission: Impossible III (2006) and Doubt (2008). His Sandy Lyle from Along Came Polly (2004) is still the greatest character ever, obvi, but he knocks this out of the park as well.

It's clear that Dodd is as insane as Freddie, but he hides it in a better shell. While Freddie is open and floating through life without control, Dodd only seeks to control it. Dodd wants to be The Master, but in his own freer way of thinking, the true Master may well be Freddie, which Dodd envies. Freddie doesn't really have a direction in his life, with some heartache but no shame in anything he does. There's this battle between both of their inner desires - Dodd desperately wants to control the uncontrollable - the pain and psychosis of life, and he's willing to use a combination of pseudoscience, manipulation, and bullshit to do so. Freddie is apathetic. He doesn't learn a single thing throughout the course of the film - and the thing is, he couldn't care less. He doesn't have the insatiable drive to better himself that Dodd does - Freddie is fine with the way he is.

"Bitches love him!"

Freddie's also ridiculously dumb. When he gets violent towards Dodd's critics, it's not because he's defending The Cause or his ideas. He strongly dislikes people who are critical of the only character in the film (and in Freddie's life) that is trying to help him, or hell, even cares about him. He's totally animalistic, just futile rage and manly ruggedness boiling over waiting for the slightest provocation to fight.

What the film does a nice job then is demonstrating that there's no real reason for Freddie's condition. He's seen suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after his service in World War II, but he didn't actually do any fighting. He spent the war masturbating on a beach and sleeping at his post on his ship. He was also on the vessel that delivered the bomb to end the war. Since he surely doesn't feel any guilt over anything, he really has no reason to be as insane as he is. He just acts so out of tune with society that everyone he contacts tries to pin down some reason for it or diagnose some mental illness that isn't really there. He's just a huge douchebag.

At one point he does say he had sex with his aunt. That's pretty fucked up, but the reason he gives was that he was drunk and she looked good. It's hardly abuse, in fact, it's possible he raped his aunt, which isn't a reason for his insanity, it's proof of it. He has a disturbing view of women for sure, and they are often literally objects in front of him.

On that note - this is surely one of the more titty-filled flicks I've seen in a while. There are titties everywhere, with no discrimination: Prego titties, old busted titties, young bouncy titties, OK-looking fattie titties, it goes on and on. It's not like it's a very erotic movie, the titties are often not on beautiful women and it's not sensual at all. This is the point of getting into Freddie's head - there's a meaningless to it - it's not even crass or juvenile. The titties are just kind of there well, because Freddie likes titties.

"I love you, man."
In addition to the titties, there are a few other undercurrents of sexuality in this film. The close relationship between Lancaster and Freddie at times gets weirdly close and homosexual (their wrestling, the pain of their "break-up") - although this is decidedly one-sided on the part of Dodd. He clearly has someone other than his wife (Amy Adams) in mind, as when she gives him a surprise handjob after an evening of being close to both Freddie and many women ("Cum for ME" she says over and over again - as if to "right" him). His son-in-law is also fairly effeminate when contrasted with Freddie the Hyper-hetero - no small reason why his wife (and hell, just about everyone else who isn't Amy Adams) finds herself attracted to him. It's not totally overt, but there are some weird sexual desires, but it homosexuality, incest, or marital transgressions, underneath a lot of what's going on here (see also as I mentioned earlier, Freddie's fling with his aunt). We wouldn't lump homosexuality and incest into the same deviancy today, of course, but it's certainly analogous in the time and amongst the characters we see in this film.

So, there's some big questions at work here. Who is the master? Who is really the one suffering from psychosis? What the hell else was in Freddie's moonshine? This ultimately has less to say about Scientology than it does about the personal relationship and conflicts between the two male leads. It does indicate how charming and helpful Dodd is (think L. Ron) while simultaneously being a huge huge douche. There is a degree of instability lurking behind his calm facade, and as he works with Freddie, his jealousy and frustration over not reaching him causes him to become more Freddie-like than the other way around. Since neither bro really actually wants to change, though, their friendship / man-crush is over.

So go see The Master - it's the Bromance of the Season! ;)

14 October 2012

Modal Nodes: PSY, the Korean who Launched the Downfall of American Global Cultural Hegemony

What the hell?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's time NMW takes on Psy, the latest global pop sensation from Korea. Make that the only global pop sensation from Korea. What is the deal with this dude? And what makes his rise to fame so interesting? Or possible?

Psy is really one of the first international pop stars to not sing in English (mostly) and really hit it big worldwide, including in the United States. There have been other big stars that no one in the States has cared about, and of course plenty of American and British music groups that are ubiquitous around the world. Somehow, though, Psy has struck a great blow for K-Pop to launch itself on the global stage.

What does this mean?

Frankly, it's an introduction to a more global culture. The United States is on the other end of a cultural import for once - this dude has racked up 460 million YouTube views, along the way kicking the ass of other greats such as Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Lady GaGa, and Rebecca Black. Yes, even Rebecca Black. It's unbelievable. How did this happen?

For one - his music is easily accessible on YouTube around the world. This should be a great indicator of what YouTube is really for - while it may not be able to directly monetize, it can heavily increase an artist's awareness. I find YouTube copyright laws sort of silly, because that's all it is really meant to do, after all - provide a positive public image and broadcast content to a demographic that is dispersed yet specifically targeted. Psy isn't hurting for pocket change anymore, folks. YouTube launched this guy.

It's also incredible that Psy has done so well in the States because the song is mostly Korea. It's the same reason that big movies like The Avengers (2012) have done so well overseas - it's a reliance on visual appeal over the language which forms a cultural barrier. Psy's "Gangnam Style" video is hilarious in any language, and its crisp colours and unique dance moves are translatable to entertainment in any country. The fact that the words actually do not make a difference at all could lead to a postmodern interpretation of pop music - as long as his beat and flow is excellent, it actually doesn't matter what he's saying. This is already apparent in just about any other American pop song.

Every moment of this vid - from that little weird but cool dancing boy at the beginning that really captures attention to the weird elevator guy and then yelling at women's fannies, Psy has a very natural sense of what he's doing and how to make the visuals really funny and appealing.

He's also a master of his own publicity. As soon as he started picking up steam this past summer he hit hard, baby. He's up on Ellen schooling Britney Spears, as well as in the Best SNL Sketch so far this Season. Props to Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun for signing him immediately. Will he be anything but a one-hit wonder? Considering he's been in the biz (in South Korea, at least) for the past fifteen years or so, my guess is no.

We can call Psy the first non-Anglo-Saxon global superstar who has also really hit it big in America as well. This is more of an indication of our own heavy biases towards who we may consider to be superstars. We have written off the cultural imports of much of the rest of the world since our inception. Will Psy challenge these notions - or is the American embrace of the Korean Legend a sign that his stardom still doesn't matter until he his Americanized?

Either way, I imagine Scooter makes a good buck of him, and no one will ever see his eyes.

11 October 2012

More First Impressions: Looper, Part II: Politics, Philosophy, Time Travel, and Big Guns!

Welcome back to another Looper (2012) post, we'll see if we can get every bit of politics, philosophy, and physics in on this one. Essentially we're looking to cram in all the marginalia of this great Modern Sci Fi feast. In addition to the strong narrative, Looper offers interesting views on all this shib, and really works itself as the first Science Action film of the Recession Generation. Spoilers to come, obvi:

"Go to China."

Looper is a terrifying movie because it's one of the first Sci Fi Future Epics that you can easily picture happening. Maybe not the time travel, but certainly the dystopian American Society. They might as well have had Romney 2012 banners floating in the wind - it's the kind of economic freefall that scares the shit out of everyone all the time. It paints a picture of the United States suffering mass unemployment (to the point of Vagrant Armies roaming the countryside) and little dirty kids playing in the streets with beat up soccer balls. Violence and trash pile up everywhere and crime lords rule cities and run the police out of run down strip joints. Everyone has huge guns and horribly fragile egos.

Note the Lumberjackian Overtones
Yes, the whole film seems to be driven by Vagrants. A few more recessions and a few more political movements that favour more people like Joe and less like Emily Blunt and we're there. The flick is an interesting look at the 1% of the future - young people, fast cars, trendy drugs, nice clothes, all fueled through crime. Fairly lazy crime, at that, you just need a watch for cripes sake. Meet the modern hitman: Stand in a field with a shitty gun. Dude appears. BLAM! When's the party, bro?

As Jeff Daniels says, "Go to China." It's not hard to imagine China as a First World paradise in thirty years. The suburban serenity contrasts with the heavy urban decay stateside. It's an interesting look at the future of our country - all the development and all the technology but none of the power. Apparently the only thing to advance in the next thirty years is cell phones. This is certainly possible.

It's a universe as jaded as we have become having reached 2012 and not experienced anything we thought we were going to have. There's no flying cars, there's no instant dehydrated pizza, and no Martian colonies to vacation to. The cars people drive around are from our day, or hell, even older. There's a patchwork of solar panels and gas pipes to keep these clunkers running. It's a depressing vision, but something that's easily projected from our current trends.

We may also note that Emily Blunt is concerned with her Sugar Cane crops. Yes, in Kansas. What was once a Cuban crop has crept up to the breadbasket as Global Warming screws us over. Also somehow in the next thirty years, some city in Kansas will become one of the five most populated in the United States. In thirty years Kansas will have temperatures like Houston - not that shocking after all, especially as the Deep South becomes inhospitable. It's this kind of subtle implication throughout Looper that really elevates it as a great Sci Fi trip.

Staying in the Loop

So there's all that in the film's subtext, but there's a lot more going on at the philosophical level. This is ultimately a film about free choice or predestiny - why not, this is time travel, after all. Looper does a nice job of ignoring a lot of the nitty gritty messy stuff and instead just presents a ton of interesting shib.

Just like The Expendables...
Joe is not only caught up in his own "loop" - that is, facing the fact that he killed a future version of himself (and the implication that he only has thirty years left on earth [look on the brightside, Joey - you're guaranteed thirty years!]), but also a Loop of Violence. All Joe knows is violence. His mother was killed by Vagrants caught in a self-defeating economic cycle. The only skill he has is violence. Naturally, in the future, the Rainmaker was created through a similar situation. He's a powerful psychic kid hellbent on taking as much pain out on the world as the world did on him.

For the whole movie this is how things are supposed to be. Any change the characters can do has already taken place. Every scar, the aftereffects of torture, even the destiny that some kid WILL become the Rainmaker has already happened. Joe tries to make some free choices, but he's still controlled by the future. The forces of tomorrow force his hand to attempt to kill Old Joe, else he suffer a pretty rough fate. In his arrogance he believes that he can still end this life and go to France, although Old Joe knows he can't escape and ends up working as an assassin until he finds a way to break the cycle - true love in China.

Old Joe then tries to also break his destiny by killing the Rainmaker. Still, even though his life was saved by a loving wife, he can't escape a violent solution. He's Bruce Willis, after all. With where this is going, we should specify that it's specifically a selfish violent solution. Old Joe is only thinking of protecting his own future (or is it his past?). This selfishness and limited cognition traps Joe more than his violence.

It's only at the finale does Young Joe realise that he must be selfless to escape his loop and the loop of pain and tragedy that has befallen the world. In the loop everything plays out for the worst. Emily Blunt dies and her kid grows up pissed and powerful as hell. Only when Joe takes himself out of the world entirely is there a point where the future is unknown - thus showing that even with all the determined paths and predestination there is still free choice, even if that choice is the ultimate sacrifice.

Marty McFly walks into a bar...

So, let's talk about time travel. Even though Bruce tells us not too. Everything seems fair and simple (although how did the Rainmaker get away with all the mass vagrant genocide [not to mention snubbing Bruce's beau] - I suppose it wouldn't take that much to just zap a body back to the past) until the Loopers start coming back and living.

The torture scene may be one of the more disturbing to hit cinemas in years, even though you really don't see anything terrible. It's just the heavy implication of body horror. Which is neat. The way I figure it, though, it simultaneously works as justification for both predestination and a variety of choices. When the mobsters lop off one of Young Seth's fingers that's a permanent action, so Old Seth loses a pointer. There is still, however, room in the future for alternate choices. There leaves room for the possibility of Old Seth walking through the door and ending the pain of Young Seth. There is kind of a rolling timeline at work here that is resistant to change. It supposes that the permanent body damage will happen but everything else will work out. Who knows how Old Seth's memories or the rest of his life changed, but the ultimate fact remained that he was still captured in the future and sent back in time.

The urgency to kill Old Seth is just that - it minimizes damage done to the timeline (or more practically, a highly trained assassin who knows the future seeking revenge on his killers, which would muck up the timeline even more). Like I said, though, the timeline is resilient. Mucking it up is more like the mobsters lose their power.

Timelines are also flexible. I think I figured out the Rainmaker thing - because there were actually in fact THREE timelines, yes, stay with me here (maybe):

Timeline 1) Joe lives to be an old dude in a peaceful future and is captured and sent back in time. He knows this was coming though and doesn't resist, his wife isn't shot to he accepts his fate

Timeline 2) That Old Joe is sent back and Young Joe nails him. Joe then lives his life knowing he kills himself in the past. He resists arrest and his wife is killed. He vows to change his fate.

Timeline 3) That Old Joe escapes, knocks Young Joe on his ass and then goes on a kiddie killing spree. In order to end the Loop, Young Joe kills himself, thus also killing Old Joe.

Anyone else think JGL looks like
Abby Wambach in this Mondo Poster?
Questions remain - like, it seems as if Old Joe was the source of the Rainmaker rather than his killer. By killing Emily Blunt he would have enraged the sprat enough that he would have blown Old Joe apart and became the hard killer he was that inspired Old Joe to come back to the past in the first place. It's possible that the timeline Old Joe is from IS actually the timeline we see in the movie - just one where Young Joe failed to stop his Older Counterpart. It's likely in this scenario that Young Joe would have escaped fine, or even that the Rainmaker wouldn't remember that he was the stranger he made a connection to on the farm thirty years ago (especially since Joe now looks like his mother's murderer).

Since Old Joe's memory gets fuzzy, it's also possible that he doesn't know exactly what's going on or remember that he's done this before. We only know that the film originates for sure at Timeline 1 and ends for sure at Timeline 3. In between there is a lot of pain that could have happened, even an endless loop, if you will. The only thing that ended it was some sudden realization by Young Joe that he needed to be selfless. Maybe some little thing happened - something that Emily said, something he saw in Cid, or something he noticed in the older version of himself. Some little revelation or change or Froggy Phone Booty Call pushed the Young Joe of Timeline 3 over the edge.

This is why you're not supposed to think about time travel in this film, just the themes it allows the story to play with. I'm not sure all of this adds up that nicely. It doesn't, really.

That's the Loop, though. It's this unbroken timeline that happens over and over again. Old Joe kills Cid's mommy, creating the Rainmaker, then the Rainmaker kills Old Joe's wife, making him go back in time for revenge. Lather, rinse, repeat. It's a cycle that repeats with Abe and Blue, too. I have another out-there theory that they are the same character, or maybe at least related. It's the kind of violence, anger, and justified revenge that only begets more of the same. Young Joe is just the dude here, breaking both himself and everyone else out of their loops.

Obama '12.

08 October 2012

First Impressions: Looper, Part I: Characters and Morality

It's time now to chat about one of the best films of the year, the enigmatic original (sort of) Sci Fi Opus from Writer and Director Rian Johnson, Looper (2012). Looper tells the classic story of a transtemporal assassin who is faced with the challenge of killing a future version of himself. Hijinx ensue, as do Spoilers from here on out.

There are a lot of great parts to this thing. It simultaneously rides on its Bruce Willis get and cements the action chops of Joseph Gordon-Levitt a bit better than Premium Rush (2012). Bruce is classic Willis here, gruffly battling through anything that gets in his way, including small children. It's not like he's without a sentimental side, though, but as he's forced to compromise more and more he slowly becomes the film's villain. The shifting morality of this flick could be the source of an entire post in itself. Hrmm -- why not do that now?

We start with JGL (are people using that abbreviation yet?) giving us a bit of narrative explaining the whole deal in a decidedly noir kind-of-way. His face is covered in make-up to make him look more like a Young Bruce, which would be seamless if not for how used to JGL's normal face we are by this point in 2012. The voice and attitude, though, are all JGL and the kid again deserves credit for carrying a film like this. Imagine having this conversation in 1996 about the wiener kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun playing a younger version of Die Hard. Everywhere, minds are blown.

The film is reverent more to Bruce than anyone else. He knocks out his younger self with a single punch, and not even a very hard one at that, which is part of the some of the sly humour sprinkled throughout this picture. He's virtually invincible throughout the whole film, and the only way he's stopped at the end is from Young Joe killing himself, therefore killing All Joes. That's really the only way Bruce Willis should ever die in movies, he's just far too much of a badass any other way.

So we're in 2044 Kansas. Yep, apparently in the next thirty years some city in Kansas (Is it Topeka? Lawrence? Kansas City, which is much more likely? Go Royals) becomes one of the five largest and most powerful cities in the country. More on that later. JGL plays a young version of Joe very reasonably. Despite the drug use and um...killing people, he's got just enough of a good heart to really rally with him. As he gives up his best friend for a stack of silver (It'd be Judas-like if only Seth [Paul Dano] was anything close to resembling a Christ figure. He's not) we realize how much of a piece of shit he is. The thing is, though, so does Joe. This is also when he's at his most delusional with the prostitute he has convinced himself is his girlfriend.

Really, Joe, when you offer the hooker half your stash of silver and she turns you down because she likes the life she has now better, what does that say about you? He's basically a piece of shit assassin at this point. Enter Old Joe, played by Bruce, who through a lifetime of addiction and redemption has finally found some peace in the world, only to have it destroyed by the mob bosses of the future (I will get to the time travel aspects later, for now, the characters are more important). Thus, at this point Old Joe is the righteous force for good, traveling back to kill an evil Telepathic Future Hitler and Young Joe is the selfish prick.

This eventually flips as Old Joe becomes more desperate to protect his own future (past) life and starts blasting little kids in the face who he believes to be this Hitler-figure. Still, The Rainmaker, as he's called, may not really be a bad dude. For all we know he's just running the crime and getting rid of all the old hitmen and vagrants. Either way, he's pissed off Bruce Willis, and that's no good. Old Joe loses sight of anything beyond his mission while Young Joe actually begins to form actually meaningful connections beyond his own bubble.

By the film's end, Young Joe is willing to risk another path - changing Hitler's history to make him a good dude instead of simply killing him. It's an insightful way of thinking he acquired by actually talking with the boy and understanding his situation rather than just showing up and painting the cane field with his brains. Which Joe is the hero and which is the villain shift constantly in this film which elevates the product beyond any kind of simplistic narrative. And we haven't even begun talking about time travel yet.

There are many other characters who fill this thing out. Emily Blunt is awesome as Young Joe's squeeze, although her horny Froggy Booty Call is kind of bizarre, if not appreciated. Her love and dedication to a Child Hitler is the core of the emotional turns of this film and her simultaneous relationship with versions of Joe that either want to kill her or save her is the most important aspect of everyone's relationship dynamic. The aforementioned Paul Dano is an even dumber, more outlandish version of Joe, and his story largely sets up the high stakes Joe has if he fails to close his loop. There's also that dude from Raising Hope.

We've also got Jeff Daniels as an excellent laid back yet ruthless Mob Boss, Abe, sent back in time from the Future, along with Noah Segan as his dopey lead muscle, Kid Blue. I have personal theories that Blue is either Jeff's son or a past version of himself based on their close emotional relationship. Blue is constantly obsessed with pleasing Abe while Abe tends to ignore him for Joe, inciting tremendous jealousy in him. He also gets extremely emotional at Abe's eventual death. Abe acted like a father to all of the Loopers, including Joe, but Blue's focus around Abe and fear of disappointing him lends me to think there's something else going on between those two.

Lastly we have one of the all-time Creepy Psychic kids from young man Pierce Gagnon. The little dude does great here, playing a genius, stubborn kid who is quick to anger as well as penitence. He acts exactly as he should - a little boy who can't control the great powers he was born with. It's tough to learn how to handle that kind of responsibility (especially if no new Spider-Man movies are released in the 2040s) and he plays the classic version of a kid spilling milk during a temper tantrum and then crying to his mama because he knows he was bad. Except you know, in this version, the house explodes.

There is certainly more to come from this flick, I'll be talking about the politics and general coolness coming soon!

03 October 2012

Hey! There's New TV on Right Now!

It's about time folks, after quite a drought in one of the busiest months on record, it's time we chat about the 2012-2013 Television Season. As I figure it, we only have about two months left until the Mayans destroy the world anyway, likely with a Giant Moon Laser of Some Kind, but that really depends on how you translate their ancient text.

So we have plenty of new shows to dig our eyes into this year. None of them look particularly good, but we can at any rate enjoy our last season of Community in peace. Probably. Let's blend this into three big categories:

Huge Overarching Drama Crap:

I still can't quite figure out why Networks are still going after this stuff. There's plenty more LOST-type shows that will cost producers millions of dollars when they go down in flames. It's the idea that Television must offer something that movies can't - a longstanding serial that provides for intricate character moments as well as a much larger set of DVDs for later purchase. It almost seems at some point that these kinds of "Big" TV Shows (and every HBO show) is more made for the DVD life than the TV life, its time in broadcast is more to peak interest and legitimize the format. Any serial that went straight to DVD would be ignored, but it provides the kind of lazy marathon watchability often required for deep readings.

I mean, honestly, they even ripped off the fucking Heroes logo
Not all of these are LOSTy, some are more ripping off the kinds of Homeland-type shows that have sprung up recently (and won a ton of Emmys while going at it). This year you've got Revolution and 666 Park Avenue which both promise weird intrigue throughout. The former has J.J.'s name slapped on it, which is becoming ubiquitous enough to lose both the specialness and fresh style he brought to projects like Mission Impossible III (2006) and Star Trek (2009). 666 Park Avenue stars Locke as Satan and the hot chick from Transformers (2007) (no, the other one) along with a big dose of who give a shib.

Moving on from that we've got things like Last Resort and Vegas, which seem innocuous at best, even if Last Resort is trying superhard not to be. I get why Last Resort is controversial, because it features crises of conscious in the American Military Complex, but the marketing hasn't actually shown us why we should care (or even shown us what the plot is - I had to Wikipedia that shib).

Offbeat Doctor Shows:

There are three new Medical Programs this year, all of which aren't really that typical. The first is Fox's The Mob Doctor, which features that hot chick from The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (2009). Great get, Fox. The same network has The Mindy Project, which for some reason hasn't caught my interest at all despite liking everything that Mindy Kaling has done. I'm most curious about how Bill Hader does playing a normal character on this show, the dude is on his way to becoming a classic comedic character actor - is this where his actual career takes off or grinds to a halt?

Finally, and finally, not least of all we've got Monkey Doctor. Oh, sorry, I mean Animal Practice. Monkey Doctor has a premise so insane it really belongs in Sarah Marshall's oeuvre. Seriously, I mean, they're parodying NBC's terrible desperation for gimmicky shows - and of course Monkey Doctor is on NBC. It does have Taylor Labine, who is the best part of both Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010) and A Good Old Fashioned Orgy (2011). For some reason, though, I don't think Monkey Doctor will follow either of those genres.

Other Comedies Worse than Community:

We don't really know that Community will be cancelled. Will it be the same without Dan Harmon, though? No. And thus it may as well be. At any rate, NBC will say goodbye to 30 Rock and The Office this year. And they're really hinging their bets on Monkey Doctor, Guys With Kids, and The New Normal? I already confused Guys With Kids with Baby Daddy on ABC Family (which seems like a total rip off of Fox's Raising Hope without any of the intense heart). I'm curious when we will get to the point where homosexuality on television will be normal instead of (ironically enough) pointedly abnormal. Will & Grace and Modern Family did it. Shows since then like The New Normal in their showcasing of sexual preferences are more abject in their depiction than anything really helping the gay cause.

Jeez, we've got more. There's Ben and Kate on Fox, which stars one of the German guys from Beerfest (2006). I'll pass. CBS has Partners (see The New Normal, above). The best of the lot may be NBCs Go On, or as Ryan Lochte calls it, Goon. Will it be as good as Goon (2011), one of the greatest Hockey Films of the last ten years? No, but we'll watch Chandler anyway.

We've Got Three More:

ABC offers us a great chance to ogle Hayden Panettiere on Nashville. I can't think of another reason to watch this show. Hey, she's been legal for a while now. There's also Elementary on CBS which offers us a white British Sherlock Holmes played by some white dude and an Asian Woman Watson played by Lucy Liu. I'm not sure why Sherlock Holmes is the hottest dude on the block right now, but it's nice to know a classic character of pulp literature who seemed to peak a century ago is doing well. The same can't be said for everyone.

No carbs.
Lastly, we come to a series that I may actually watch this year, Arrow. The only thing really out of whack with this is that it's on the CW. I mean, really? Fine. Now, I spent a lot of time in this post just talking about Hot Chicks, and that's just because I'm a dude, but look at star Stephen Amell in this poster. It's ridic - you could grate cheese off those abs, man.

Arrow is cool because it features the Green Arrow, one of the more underused DC Heroes who is basically the DC equivalent to Hawkeye. Except that Green Arrow predates Clint Barton by over twenty years and is also one of the more politically intriguing heroes in the DC Pantheon. He's the kind of dude that DC needs to take off if they ever want to get half as close as Marvel has to fleshing out a live action universe (despite varying degrees of success in Smallville...). It's a cool idea and I do complement the CW for taking a bit of a risk on this one - not every network would hinge their bets on a property like this - of course, that's also why a lot of Networks fail. I'd guarantee those aren't peacock feathers on the fletching.

I looked up that terminology.

So what's in store this year? One of the most interesting developments to watch may be the ongoing battles between singing judging shows - both as a rotating part-time job for every possible singer who's had a single hit in the past twenty years and as a fierce competition between Networks. My guess is that American Idol finally falls this year, to be replaced by Dancing with the Stars, The Voice, or hell, Modern Family's got a decent shot at a big upsurge.

There's plenty more to talk about. We can't really ignore the NFL - Sunday Night Football was the highest rated of any regularly scheduled program last year. The game itself is becoming an art form, with storylines interwoven into the broadcast, appealing to a far greater number of people in all demographics than anything else that's worth watching or recording. It's going to be great - really great, in fact, until everyone realises that players receive concussions, become suicidal, and the sport goes the way of Boxing, with Brett Favre shaking all the way to the clinic.

I also ignored cable here. Cable is tough to judge all at once - its shows come so in and out. In fact, that gave the Emmys trouble this year, with shows like AMC's Mad Men's Season straddling the deadline for submitting for nomination. That's not why shows like Rescue Me were ignored, though, and to judge quality by judging Emmys is a serious fault. I'll save you some time, though: Breaking Bad is the best drama, Louie is the best comedy and there ain't shit else coming down the pipe. Maybe The Walking Dead. If they don't spend half a season killing each other looking for a lost girl, that is.

Turn up those knobs - what are you watching this fall?
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