Monday, May 23, 2016

A Quick Film Non-Review

So, yesterday I was flipping channels and the recent remake/reboot/whatever of Vacation was starting on one of the array of HBO channels. The opening credit sequence is actually charming and funny; it's just Lindsay Buckingham's "Holiday Road" paired with authentic, hilarious family vacation photos (a few of which you've definitely seen online). It was kind of nice, and I watched the whole sequence.

It was nice.

Then the movie started.

We join Ed Helms (whom, turns out, I still despise on sight) as grown-up Rusty Griswold, now an airline pilot. After some hacky banter with his aged co-pilot, Rusty steps out into the cabin and tries to be the impressive captain in front of a boy. But, thanks to some turbulence, he ends up falling several times, in the process grabbing the boy's mother's breasts and ripping her shirt off, and finally face-planting directly into the boy's crotch in a serious of "hilarious" accidental incidents.

"STOP!" I yell and change the channel.

Stop.

Stop.

So... look, I've never intended to watch this movie in the first place and, based on this, I never will. I'm just mentioning it here because tuning out after a couple of minutes and then reviewing it as though I actually saw it seems intellectually dishonest.

But I had to get this out: seeing just that little bit of Vacation made me want to turn off the television, call Comcast and cancel my cable. disconnect my television, put it back in the box it came in, tape the box shut, and go drop it off at the Goodwill.

It made me feel like humankind's whole experiment with cinema should maybe just be ended.

It made me hate that we have the need to tell stories at all.

I'm... still weirdly angry about it.

Even after this weekend's traumatic episodes of Outlander and Game of Thrones, this is the thing that stands out from the last day.

Fuck you, movie.

Muppet Monday

This is kind of a rare and wonderful video of one of the last Muppet appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. It aired in color on May 31, 1970, but the only copy of this clip that appears to have survived is this black and white version that appeared in a 1984 documentary called Henson's Place. In the bit, Kermit attempts to perform Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley's "What Kind of Fool Am I?" while being repeatedly interrupted by Grover.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Alan Young 1919-2016

It just came to my attention that Alan Young passed away a few days ago. This makes me very sad. During those friendless years in junior high and high school, one of my biggest pleasures was getting home from school and watching DuckTales, which has remained one of my favorite shows.

When I was a little kid, my Dad used to take me to his barber shop to get my hair cut. It made me feel terribly grown up. There was a magazine rack with three shelves. The top shelf had news magazines like Time, but also had Playboy. The middle shelf had more general entertainment mags. But the bottom shelf had comic books, and that's where I discovered the joys of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics. DuckTales just took me right back to that barbershop and those good times with my Dad, the same way smelling certain powders or aftershaves still does today.

I didn't know at the time that DuckTales was basically Carl Barks: The TV Series. But seeing it inspired me to go back to Disney comics and try to capture the feeling of reading those adventures again. And I found out all about Carl Barks, and that led me to Don Rosa, and to some of my favorite stuff that ever existed. And for me, Alan Young and his characterization of Scrooge McDuck is an integral part of it all. Scrooge is basically my favorite Disney character of all time, and the man who voiced him has passed on. In a time of pretty intense loneliness, Scrooge was an escape.

Young was also in George Pal's The Time Machine, one of my very favorite movies. I used to get excited when they'd show it on WGN's Family Classics show. "Thanks for being such a good friend, David."

Thanks for being Scrooge.

Song of the Week: "God Only Knows"

This is my 500th Song of the Week. 500 weeks of songs... that's 9.6 years. Gosh, I've had this blog a long, long time. It's only natural for me to fall back on my favorite album here, and a song that I've gone on record as calling the most beautiful ever written, yet somehow never posted before.

Friday, May 20, 2016

This Week in Neat-O

Not a lot this week, but here's some stuff.

:: Trailers: Don't Breathe, from the maker of the terrible Evil Dead remake, looks kind of crazy. I very much want to see The Red Turtle, the Ghibli co-production directed by Michael Dudok De Wit. The new Ghostbusters trailer (and international version) are frankly better than Ghostbusters II. I'm really looking forward to Personal Shopper, the re-teaming of Kristen Stewart and writer-director Olivier Assayas, who made the best film of 2014, The Clouds of Sils Maria. (Yeah, it got booed at Cannes. So did L'Avventura.) Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping looks funny to me; it looks like a feature-length Bieber parody, but I love the Lonely Island guys. And lastly a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows trailer where you can see some Krang action. I hope this one is at least fun.

:: A supercut of Matthew McConaughey's weird noises.

:: The Many Myths of Making Star Wars, Busted

:: Rob Zombie debunks his Wikipedia page.

:: We Knew Her Value: Why Peggy Carter Will Be Dearly Missed

:: Game of Thrones' Tower of Joy Scene Is Vastly Improved With the Music of Ennio Morricone

:: The Muppet Mindset is still my favorite Muppet fansite; Jarrod Fairclough has some thoughts I echo on the cancellation of The Muppets.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this week.

SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE (1960)
Mamie Van Doren as a professor with multiple degrees, a keen mind and a photographic memory who speaks 18 languages, but gosh darn it, needs to learn that there's just no place in the faculty for a body like that. So, yeah, that kind of "tee hee charming" misogyny that these kinds of B pictures excel at. Lots of elements--sexy co-eds, guys in their forties playing star university sportsmen, a smoking chimpanzee who uses a typewriter, Brigitte Bardot's sister, an honest-to-goodness robot from the World's Fair, "funny" gangsters, a lounge, hypnotism, rockabilly, Jackie Coogan--in search of being used well or at least in a way that's remotely fun. Tedious, but Mamie's beautiful. Not enough to make up for the tedium, but... well, it ends, eventually. *1/2

MINIONS (2015)
Light and fluffy, but charming and delightful prequel to Despicable Me. It's basically an origin for the Minions, appearing at the dawn of the Earth and settling into 1968 London when they think they've found the perfect villain to serve. (Excellent soundtrack.) I dug it. ***1/2

GOOSEBUMPS (2015)
I have no experience with the books or the TV show (probably because I was in high school when both appeared; I did work in a bookstore when they were at the height of their popularity, though, which was occasionally aggravating), but I found the movie very cute. The new kid in town wants to go to the high school dance with the neighbor girl, but her father (Jack Black) wants her to stay away. The father, it turns out, is Goosebumps author RL Stine, and on the night of the dance, all of his creations come to life and terrorize the town. Cute premise, and I enjoyed the movie; it has the silly energy of movies like The Monster Squad or Gremlins or Jumanji. I found Black's very arch performance funny; he's playing Stine as though he's John Carradine. ***

CONFIRMATION (2016)
A docudrama about the confirmation hearings that put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. Kerry Washington plays Professor Anita Hill, the woman who accused Thomas of past sexual harassment and was vilified in the press. I remember it all happening; it was sort of an eye-opener for me (I was 15 and still being taught about the sanctity of the US government in school). That was a weird time to be a teenager, because of the first explosion of political correctness as both real concern and idiotic punchline. Coming of age in a time of Camille Paglia, Bill Clinton, and OJ Simpson was really, really bizarre. I can't speak to the accuracy of the movie (online opinions vary wildly, depending on your political leanings), but Clarence Thomas is pretty awful, George Bush was a garbage president, and most of the senators involved in the confirmation hearings have really never stopped being scummy or ineffectual. I think the movie raises an important point about how the establishment will protect its own just to save face, and how often we seem to value shaping the narratives of others to fit our own. There's a lot being said here about the way black women are silenced in America that's important. Kerry Washington and Jeffrey Wright are both very good, but it can be an at-times frustrating movie to watch. It doesn't help that I'm already so damn disillusioned with the government because of these primaries... ***1/2

Monday, May 16, 2016

Muppet Monday

Well, as I mentioned on Friday, The Muppets got canceled and I'm not really that surprised. One of the things I've come over the decades to accept as a Muppets fan is that the Muppets are something of a niche interest. The world isn't exploding with Muppet fans, really, and there's a lot of complaining from the general public that comes with anything... well, anything that isn't The Muppet Show, really. All of those 90s kids that grew up loving Muppet Treasure Island because they had the VHS don't even realize how unpopular that movie was when it originally came out. I remember reviews suggesting the Muppets should just pack it in forever. I have a friend who watched people walk out of that movie with their kids.

I don't know, I liked the sitcom. Yeah, it was different. They tried to explore the characters in a long-term way that they hadn't really before, and people didn't react well. People want the Muppets to never change, yet somehow also stay relevant. I thought it was interesting the way the show took Kermit back to being the more multifaceted character he was on The Muppet Show (easily exasperated, with a bit of a temper, caught in the position of trying to make things run smoothly and maybe too concerned with keeping the peace to really relax), and people seemed to really hate that. Personally, I like it when the Muppets are allowed to be actual characters rather than the Repositories of All Our Joys.

Today is the 26th anniversary of Jim Henson's death. A lot of key creative people from The Muppet Show have died or moved on. It's not gonna be the same, folks.

Was The Muppets always funny? Not really. It was rough in the first few episodes. I think the last six or seven episodes saw things really clicking into place. There were a lot of creative folks there, and the characters were starting to take good turns, and it gave us a wonderful role for Uncle Deadly and, it gave us (in my opinion, anyway) one great new character in Chip from IT. I'll miss the show, but I got 16 episodes of a new Muppet show, and that's something good. I can't wait to buy it on Blu-Ray.

And I'm not mad. I think there were some people--as there always are--who decided they hated it after the first act of the first episode and spent a lot of time complaining about. And, as always, there were a lot of people who just wanted The Muppet Show and were angry not to get that. But, obviously, there were a lot of people that just didn't dig it. The ratings weren't great, it was expensive, etc. I kind of went in knowing that we'd be lucky to get all the way to the end of the first season. But it was one of my favorite things this TV season. And I'm glad to have had it. I'm not bitter at anyone.

Well... probably ABC.

ABC really needs to make it up to me between canceling The Muppets and Agent Carter... That just stings, you bastards.

Anyway, here's a clip of Miss Piggy and Kermit singing the John Prine song "In Spite of Ourselves" on Episode 11, "Swine Song." I can't wait to see what the Muppets have in store next. If anything, because Disney has no idea.