Saturday, October 03, 2009

Halloween: McNuggets Commercial

I thought the McDonaldland characters were neat, especially when they would do holiday-themed commercials. Sure, they were there to sell that terrible food to kids, but I don't care. The commercials were some of the best stuff on Saturday morning TV. (Though it could effectively be argued that the cartoons themselves were simply long form commercials, but still...) What I love especially at Halloween and Christmas is stuff that makes me feel like a kid again, and a commercial with monster-themed McNuggets certainly does that.

No, You're Certainly Not a Racist

It is absolutely astounding the number of people you see online who hate African-Americans but swear up and down they aren't racists. If hating black people doesn't make you a racist, I'd love to know what does.

Yo, Joe! Episodes 32-33

Cobra's Captives, Parts I & II

Cobra's got some kind of lab up on a rocky hilltop where they're working with some kind of unstable crystals. There's a bad chemical reaction and a gigantic explosion which puts a gigantic boulder on the edge of a cliff, teetering over a town. G.I. Joe is going to have to go in and evacuate everyone.

Gung Ho's leave is pulled at the last minute, which he's not too happy about. Talking to Duke about the Cobra lab, he says: "Right here in the USA. A lot of nerve, huh?" Why is he so surprised? This is the umpteenth Cobra installment on US soil. It's amazing how American defense systems never register Cobra equipment, honestly. Hell, they had two bases in the Rocky Mountains alone!

Duke orders Lady Jaye to inform the Joes already on leave that they're now on emergency standby while the evacuation is mobilized. Buses are taking the citizens away and Army engineers are examining the boulder. Even the Bridgelayer makes a token appearance. If I remember right, it's the last appearance of Tollbooth. What a boring job this guy has.

What's of real concern are the crystals Cobra was working with. Tripwire almost falls right into them. (They didn't play with Tripwire's clumsiness in the cartoon as much as they did in the comic book.) And then, when he picks up a tiny one and throws it over his shoulder, it does this:

Now that's a spicy meatball!

Tripwire says that he thought Cobra was working on creating piezoelectric crystals, but have instead come up with something completely new--and dangerous. Duke orders everyone to vamoose back across the bridge and create a zone of silence around the crystals. The slightest impact could cause them to detonate, and based on what just one tiny crystal did, the Joes could be looking at an E.L.E. here with this giant bunch. Oh, and Alpine notices that the crystals are growing, too. They need to be moved to safety ASAP.

The Baroness is apparently in charge of this little op, because she calls Cobra Commander with a plan.

Baroness: "Tell me, Commander, who in all of the world would you never let come to harm?"

Cobra Commander: "Me!"

Baroness: "Fool."

Her plan is to get into the Pentagon and get some intel on the Joes, including their real identities. Storm Shadow actually does this, but because of a fail safe, he can only get information on seven Joes: Spirit, Thunder, Scarlett, Quick Kick, Shipwreck, Barbecue, and Gung Ho. He puts the info on a floppy disk. Man, remember those?

Most of those Joes are on leave, and Lady Jaye is in the process of calling them back to help with the crystal containment. Tripwire and Gung Ho are using a laser to slice pieces off and put them in padded boxes on a blanket. This is a tense operation. It's nice, too, that because they've got the freedom of a two-parter, they can really build the tension up here. You can feel the precision and you almost hold your breath each time they have to handle a piece of this thing.

Quick Kick's real name is MacArthur S. Ito, which is probably the only interesting thing about him. It says something about his parents, where they lived, and when he was born (obviously during or just after World War II). He's helping his parents out at their grocery store, Ito's, while on leave. The neighborhood people refer to him as "Mac." Wow, humanizing Quick Kick.

What's also interesting is that, when he's beeped, he hurriedly tells his mom that it's probably his agent calling about some stuntwork. So... they don't know he's in G.I. Joe? That raises a lot of interesting questions that won't be answered about how G.I. Joe works in relation to the military and the government and exactly what the level of clearance is. I wonder why he wouldn't tell his parents? I mean, he's doing dangerous military work that could get him killed, and they think he's... well, doing dangerous stunt work that could get him killed, but still... You'd think the Itos would be proud to have a son they named after General MacArthur serving in the military.

Anyway, after Quick Kick leaves, the Crimson Twins show up and subdue his parents.

Scarlett's real name is Shana O'Hara, which is the most perfect name possible for a redhead. She's from Atlanta, and she's on leave at her family's martial arts dojo. It's a little more amusing than it should be that there's an O'Hara Martial Arts Dojo. We find out that she's something of a... well, I don't want to say tomboy, because that doesn't sound quite right, but she's obviously expected to keep up with her martial arts expert father and three brothers. After she's beeped away, Storm Shadow and a handful of Crimson Guards show up and demand their surrender. Scarlett's father, Patrick, refuses to give up until after he sees his sons have been defeated by Storm Shadow.

Thunder's real name is Matthew Harris Breckenridge. He's playing the drums while his dad works on a car engine and his little sister, Chrissie, sunbathes in the backyard. Thunder is beeped away, and his parents and Chrissie are captured by Crimson Guards.

Shipwreck's name is Hector X. Delgado. So, he's Hispanic? Too bad they didn't do anything with that. He's staying with his aunt and her husband, and their adopted son Jesse. Jesse has just found out he's adopted, and he's having a hard time dealing with it, and Shipwreck's smart enough to know what all men used to know: fishing is the cure for everything. They actually have a nice conversation in which Shipwreck reveals that he too was adopted and that they're both lucky to have folks who love them as much as their parents would -- "maybe even more." These are the times I really love Shipwreck; he may be obnoxious, but he's also loyal and, deep down, a caring guy. No wonder he was always my favorite Joe.

Unfortunately, their conversation is cut short when Shipwreck is beeped off of leave. Ship runs off and leaves Jesse in charge of the fishing gear, but the second he's gone a Crimson Guard leaps out of the water and makes off with the kid.

Spirit's real name is Charlie Iron-Knife, and he's out in New Mexico with his family. His cousin Vena is having her womanhood ceremony, and she's so glad that "Uncle Charlie" could make it. There seems to be a little bit of animosity between Spirit and his tribe that stems from Spirit being in the American military, and his grandfather is angered when Spirit has to answer his beeper call, dishonoring Vena. She, however, gives him her blessing to go. Just after he leaves, the Crimson Guards come in and scatter everyone, kidnapping Vena and Spirit's grandfather.

Barbecue, Gabriel A. Kelly, is visiting his father's fire station in Boston. There's an alarm and, since Barbecue is a reserve firefighter, he goes off on the call with them. The fire is a ruse, however, and Barbecue's dad is kidnapped by Crimson Guards while a Fire Chief explains that he's being rushed to the hospital for a routine examination. Barbecue needs to get back to G.I. Joe, and asks someone to explain why he's gone.

Disturbingly, however, the Fire Chief...

... is the Baroness in disguise!

That's just so creepy, I cannot even tell you.

While the Joes are continuing their work, the Baroness orders a Cobra scientist, Dr. Marx, to begin a brainwashing experiment on the kidnapped family members of G.I. Joe. Rather stereotypically, the person it's hardest to control is Spirit's grandfather. Because Native Americans are just so spiritually attuned, or something.

The Joes have finally gotten all of the crystals loaded onto a gigantic ATV that, Duke hopes, they can use to head down the rocky mountain without jostling them too much and blowing everyone up. It doesn't even have to turn around--there's a cockpit on either side, and it can be driven in two directions. Duke mans one, Gung Ho the other. Scarlett, Barbecue, Shipwreck, Thunder and Quick Kick will escort the vehicle on Silver Mirage Motorcycles. They scout a blind curve for signs of a Cobra ambush, and 13 agents are in fact waiting for them.

Shipwreck, horrified, is the first to notice: the Cobra agents are their brainwashed family members!

This is where the first episode ends, and I have to say, it's a tense cliffhanger. You've got a Joe ATV loaded up with volatile, explosive crystals that have the power of a nuclear bomb, and they've got to head down a rocky mountainside and make sure not to bump around too much or else it's goodnight, nurse. And their progress is stopped by the brainwashed family members of the members of your escort. I mean, what are they going to do, shoot their own parents and siblings and what have you? It's an immediate danger vs. a cruel mindfuck. As Cobra plans go, this one is pretty damn good. I wish all G.I. Joe episodes could be this well-plotted.

As the second episode picks up, we see that the Baroness and the Crimson Twins are monitoring this situation from above in Cobra's helicarrier. Apparently our own regular military is so inept that they can't detect this thing on a radar and shoot it down. I know, suspension of disbelief and all that, but sometimes G.I. Joe really does go to the trouble of trying to be believable, and it just makes stuff like that a little galling. (Like Extensive Enterprise, for example... man, that irritates me.)

The family members struggle with their orders to shoot, but Dr. Marx pushes the controls to "max load" and the family members attack. Shipwreck nearly gets his head taken off by Jesse. Yeah, things are going to get mean here.

The Joes retreat, not sure what else to do, so Gung Ho takes control of the ATV and starts driving their alternate route, which is much rockier than taking the main road. It's obvious to Spirit that their family members are being mind-controlled, but they need time to figure out how to deal with this. Tripwire is worriedly monitoring the crystals--he stops Gung Ho from using the cannons to get some boulders out of the way. Gung Ho tries to drive over the rocks instead, but the rubble starts to crumble and the ATV begins to slide toward a cliff.

Tension!

Scarlett decides to use knockout gas against the captives, but the suits are hermetically sealed. Then the Joes get on their motorcycles and try to lead the captives away, but the Baroness orders them to ignore them and follow the ATV, which is still sliding off the edge of the road.

Tension!

Wild Bill flies up in his Dragonfly and drops a net on the captives and starts to carry them off. But their suits have the ability to generate an energy field, and the Baroness actives them. They cut right through the net and fall into a river. The captives just float on top of the river; Dr. Marx explains that with the controls at maximum, they cannot think creatively and the Baroness has to think for them. They're picked up by a Cobra Moray Hydrofoil.

Side mention: the Cobra Moray was one of the coolest toys ever. Frankly, G.I. Joe was the best action figure line ever.

The Joes track the Moray to a Cobra base, but the Baroness already has the captives re-mobilized to attack the ATV. The only escorts left are Dusty and Footloose in an AWE Striker; they scout ahead and determine they can't take Gung Ho's route because it leads straight to town, and the town will be vaporized if the crystals explode. So the Joes are further trapped.

Tension!

It occurs to me that this is a great allegory; we can have two episodes revolving around a race for a nuclear bomb, only without the horrifying connotations of a fallout.

Now all the fighting breaks out. Scarlett leads her team of Joes into the Cobra base, where Dr. Marx is panicking. The captives are ready to engage with the ATV, and open fire on the AWE Striker. They get Dusty and Footloose pinned down, though Footloose gets in a good dig: "How come those civilians can shoot better than you can drive?"

Those crystals are about to go, but Scarlett's team rushes the base and Quick Kick nabs Dr. Marx. Scarlett orders him to shut down the mind control machine, but Dr. Marx explains that if the machine is tampered with, their families' minds will be destroyed.

Meanwhile, the captives have breached the ATV and now have access to the crystals. To make it even more extra cruel, little Jesse picks up a rock and positions himself to blow everyone right to hell.

Tension!

There's a real standoff here, and to make matters worse, Dr. Marx manages to slip away. The Baroness orders Duke to surrender the crystals, but he thinks she's bluffing. She assures him it would be worth losing the crystals if Duke were to die in the explosion. The Joes decide to take a chance and destroy the mind control machine--turns out Dr. Marx was lying, and the captives are no longer being controlled. The Baroness screams at Jesse to smash the crystals, "you little brat," but Jesse drops the rock and says "I am not a brat!" Duke, relieved, laughs and helps Jesse down, saying "You most certainly aren't."

The tension is finally relieved, but only momentarily. The Baroness orders a squad of Rattlers to attack, and, even though it probably flies in the face of military regulations, the O'Haras and Spirit's grandfather join in the fight. The Joes can't get air support in time, though, and the Rattlers have lowered a grappler and the helicarrier is going to attempt to carry the ATV off.

Wild Bill makes it to the battle and tries to support the Joes, but the helicarrier has the ATV. Duke orders everyone to get as far away as they can. Spirit's grandfather makes a one in a million shot and takes out a Rattler cockpit.

Let's be honest, here. He obviously shot and killed the pilot. But, because this show had educational consultants and had to show that everyone escaped with their lives and no one got killed (so much for learning about the cost of war, which might have also been educational), we have to see the pilot parachuting out. But from that shot? No way, the guy died. Spirit's grandfather is just that awesome.

The disabled Rattler flies at the helicarrier and cuts one of the cables holding the ATV. The Baroness cuts the other one while the Joes run for their very lives, and then: kablammo.

Well, this being G.I. Joe, everyone lives. They try to fake you out like maybe Duke is really dead; turns out he can just run faster than everyone else and made it further away. Col. Sharp apologizes to the Joe family members and says they've taken strict measures to ensure this will never happen again, although I'm not sure how that's possible, to be honest. However, Lady Jaye realizes that Gung Ho's family was never gone after, and revenge is a trademark of the Baroness. Obviously, she's going to strike at Gung Ho's family.

Gung Ho's real name, by the way, is Etienne LaFitte. His clan, all 137 members, live out in the bayou like that gathering in Southern Comfort.

In a great scene, the Baroness declares that the entire LaFitte clan are prisoners of Cobra, but both the men and the women are more than a match for her.

They've already captured her soldiers while they crashed their way through the swamp!

They offer the Baroness some gumbo, but she runs off in classic swamp-movie style. Guess Cobra won't be messing around in this swamp anymore! Yo, Joe!

These two episodes are awesome sauce. Just really great stuff, full of tension and well-executed.

JoeToonArchive

Heard on My TV This Morning

"Get the incredible soundtrack to More Than a Game! ONLY LeBron James could've gathered together the biggest names in hip hop!"

Well, LeBron James or lots of money. Because if there's one thing that really helps rappers keep it real and hold on to their street cred, it's truly retarded amounts of money to spend on all of the jewelry, expensive clothes, ridiculous-sized cars, McMansions, and staff that all real people with street cred already have.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Halloween: Jeepers Creepers

A classic 1939 cartoon starring Porky Pig and a ghost. I never see this anywhere anymore.

Friday Playlist

1. Paul McCartney & Wings: Band on the Run
2. Kinky Friedman: Lover Please
3. John Williams: Theme from Land of the Giants
4. Billy Bragg: A New England
5. Belle & Sebastian: Piazza, New York Catcher
6. Men at Work: Underground
7. Harry Chapin: Tangled Up Puppet
8. Curtis Mayfield: So in Love
9. W.A. Mozart: Symphony No. 4 in G Minor, K. 550: First Movement
10. Rupert Holmes: Escape (The Piña Colada Song)

1. This is funny, because my iTunes randomly chose "Jet" as the first song last week.
2. I like Kinky Friedman's music. This is from Kinky Friedman.
3. Sounds a lot like the Lost in Space theme, also like Williams, but not quite as great. (The second theme for Lost in Space is one of my favorite SF themes.)
4. Billy Bragg's single is spare and honest, despite the stolen lyrics and melody.
5. I'm not a huge fan of Belle & Sebastian, but I like the album Dear Catastrophe Waitress.
6. Not a bad track at all. I dig Men at Work.
7. I Chapin track I don't think I've ever heard before. But I'm never sorry to hear one of his songs. I have this from the Story of a Life box set.
8. Classic soul.
9. Beautiful stuff. I love it when my iTunes picks out some art music. It makes a nice interlude, especially with a piece this good. And again, I don't have the name of the orchestra here.
10. I'm amazed how well this works coming in right after Mozart! Weird. Nice for a rainy day.

Random Thoughts

On Eli Malk rock island in Palau, you can actually swim with jellyfish. They were trapped in the lake 12,000 years ago and, with no natural predators, lost their sting through evolution. I just think that’s really neat.

:: Beyonce had a 139-page rider attached to her performance in Singapore, which included six air conditioners, only one of which she used, despite hoarding them and not letting anyone else use them. How does she get people to actually work for her and put up with this kind of thing?

:: I love guys who talk about themselves as if loving brunettes instead of blondes makes them smarter somehow. Yes, I’d hate for you to look shallow in your looks-based sexual objectification. (And redheads are the best ones, anyway.)

:: Everybody please stop saying “hot mess.”

:: “Presented without comment” is a comment.

:: I knew that James L. Brooks was not Albert Brooks’ brother, but I didn’t know that Super Dave Osborn was. That’s just kind of cool.

:: You’ll pray for me? Don’t you think if that actually worked, we’d have a lot less problems than we do now?

:: Walt Disney Pictures put David Mamet’s Anne Frank project into turnaround because they said his screenplay was “too dark.” Does any Hollywood studio actually look at a director’s work before they hire one? That’s like telling Werner Herzog his movies are “too German.”

:: Would everyone getting seriously injured over what Hollywood does or doesn’t do with a movie adaptation just seriously get a grip? “You’re fucking with my childhood!” No. Unless a filmmaker has a time machine, your childhood still happened the way it happened, idiot. They’re just making a movie you don’t want to see. Don’t go see it, then.

:: Holy socks, I can’t believe how much Gerard Butler sucks.

:: Stop trying so hard, David Henrie.

:: GM is shutting down Saturn. That just surprised me. How’s the economy doing, again?

:: I finally just stopped following most of the comic book community online. Everyone seems to be much more concerned with finding sexism and racism everywhere and what every action in the comic book business says to an imagined potential audience of outsiders to the comic book world (yeah, they don’t exist, sorry) than whether or not a comic book tells a decent story and is enjoyable in any way. "Fun" is not a word I hear a lot in reference to comic books, and it doesn't seem to be of much concern to anyone.

Looks like the Chinese paddlefish is gone. A recent search for the world's largest freshwater fish yielded nothing, and it hasn't been seen in six years. It's always sad when a species goes extinct. It lived mainly in the Yangtze River (though there is some debate over whether it truly lived there or merely returned there to spawn). The Yangtze River Dolphin went extinct recently, too. What's going on in the Yangtze River?

:: Don’t Peyton Manning and his amazingly oddly-shaped head have anything better to do than appear on commercials and creep me out?

:: If we’re going to ban ACORN funding, can we also ban Catholic charities funding?

:: Interesting news for Banned Books Week: the Bush administration didn’t give JK Rowling a Presidential Medal of Freedom because several members of his staff “informed” him that the books promote witchcraft. I don’t know what’s worse; the idea that these staff members were so ignorant that they believed the Harry Potter books promote witchcraft, or that these staff members were so ignorant that they believed witchcraft actually exists.

:: The Jack Kirby estate is suing Marvel over the rights to characters Kirby co-created, like Iron Man, Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Thor, the Silver Surfer, and the X-Men. I wonder if that will endanger the Disney deal at all. Granted, they’ll just have to pay a little more for the use of those characters, but since the Kirby estate has already sent notices terminating the actual copyrights to both Marvel and Disney (and all film studios using those characters), it’s probably a real headache. It’d be nice if Marvel and Disney and the Kirby estate could just make a fair deal on this one and move on. The Kirby family’s lawyer is the same one who got Jerry Siegel co-ownership of Superman, so it’ll be interesting to watch.

:: The cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for one year is actually less than a public option would cost. Just thought it deserved yet another mention. No one's worried about running up debt on two wars that we're never going to win. Karl Rove recently said that "The responsibility for the outcome of the war in Afghanistan rests squarely with Mr. Obama." Sorry, Karl, you humanoid virus, but you don't get to criticize Obama for not magically making a clusterfuck disappear when you were one of the guys in the gang bang. Your guy started wars he couldn't win, he fought them badly, and a lot of money, time, and human lives have been wasted in the process. One the one hand, Rove's got a point--it's very important how Obama deals with Afghanistan. But on the other hand, it's not Obama's fault that the previous administration did very little to deal with it reasonably. If knocking over a statue and grandstanding on an aircraft carrier with land in sight to make yourself look macho constituted an actual victory, we'd be better off. Instead, we've got to handle it like adults now.

:: David Letterman has had sex with people who worked for him? Why am I supposed to give even a tenth of a scintilla of a shit?

:: Oh, I also don't care about Mackenzie Phillips having sex with her father. I really don't. It's sick, whatever, blah blah, I just can't work up the energy because two adults I have no personal connection to whatsoever engaged in incest. Whatever.

:: Wait, so now Rich Lowry is in favor of criticizing US presidents on foreign soil? Because he just came in his pants praising Sarah Palin for doing what he vilified the Dixie Chicks for.

:: Texas Governor Rick Perry criticized the federal government as promoting an irresponsible fiscal agenda and claimed that Texas has fiscal discipline that should serve as an example to the nation. What he didn’t mention was that he balanced the books in Texas—and fixed up his governor’s mansion—with $12 billion from Obama’s stimulus bill and that Texas has an 8% unemployment rate. So, either he’s a liar or a moron, take your pick.

:: Sonya Sotomayor said that the Supreme Court was in error when it gave the rights of the individual to corporations. Please, let this be the herald of some real change in American laws.

:: Senator Jim Bunning added an amendment to the Senate Finance Committee health care bill that will add another two weeks to the process. I don’t have anything to say about his amendment (I’m not sure it’s not a bad idea, frankly), but about what he said about the delay, which was rather classless: “What is the rush? Taking a few extra weeks will not kill me, I hope, or anyone on this committee.” Can we get Ted Kennedy’s opinion on that?

:: I don’t find the Obamas interesting enough to care about a new book revealing secrets about their marriage. I also keep hearing President Obama is overexposed, which is about the silliest excuse for a news story I can think of off the top of my head. I mean, he is busy with a high profile job. Still, it keeps Senator McCain in constant appearances on Sunday morning talk shows. Gee, isn’t he the one who should be working? Or is the rest of this term going to be spent commenting on the presidency? You lost, get back to work.

:: Also, speaking of Michelle Obama, I caught her speech about how the Olympics should be in Chicago in 2016 because she really loved her dad, or whatever that whole thing was supposed to be. I’m really sick of Chicago’s endless Olympics news, and Mrs. Obama’s speech was just… who cares?

:: UPDATE 12:00 PM: No Olympics for Chicago. I can't say I'm sorry. But whatever will my local news have to talk about every 8 minutes for the next seven years now?

:: My favorite thing about the Olympics so far: I love that Michael Steele actually had the gall to criticize Obama’s trip to Copenhagen as “not necessary” because of the economy and this being a “time of war” (which it is, though no one’s acting as though it were). I guess Obama should be more like Bush.

It was always work, work, work with that guy.

:: Cracked had a photoshop contest this week called “If Product Placement Invaded Everyday Life.” It’s a good thing product placement hasn’t invaded every day life. Otherwise, I’d be able, without moving my head, to see logos on my ViewSonic monitor, my Dell Dimension 2350 computer, a can of CleanSafe Dust Remover, a wrapper from Kellogg’s Camp Rock Jammin’ Cherry fruit flavored rolls, my Kodak EasyShare camera, a Roaring Springs Paper Products notebook, a Bic pen, an empty bottle of Fitz’s, and my Disney calendar as I drink orange juice from my McDonald’s Mayor McCheese glass. That would be crazy.

:: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Little Women and Werewolves. The problem I have with this classic lit fan fiction is just how clever it really, really isn't. This is the lamest new trend. Plus, I'm so sick of zombies I want to puke.

:: After years and years of denying it, John Travolta finally admitted that his late son Jett was autistic. It’s astounding coming from a scientologist, since his “church” has spent years pushing this lie that autism isn’t real and that it’s just a condition caused by childhood vaccinations that can be cured by eating more fruit or something. It would have been a lot nicer if he’d come out years ago and talked about autism and used his celebrity to bring more attention to it (it seems like whenever a celebrity talks about autism and seizures, it’s to deny their existence, like Jenny fucking McCarthy), and I’m sorry it apparently took the death of his son to bring the truth out, but at least it’s out.

(And to be clear, I don’t blame John Travolta or his wife Kelly Preston for Jett’s unfortunate death—they were medicating him and living with the difficulties of having an autistic child. I think they probably dealt with it as best they could: I mean, he was their son, and I don't care how much I disagree with you, I'll never question how much you love your own kid. I just think it’s a shame they felt they had to hide it for made-up religious reasons forced on them by a “church” that is little more than an extortion racket.)

:: In a similar vein, Suzanne Somers is apparently crazy. She thinks they should’ve given Patrick Swayze “nutrition” instead of chemo to get rid of cancer in his body, and that chemotherapy is what killed him. Look, I have a sister who died of cancer in 2006 when she was 13 years old. The chemotherapy ravaged her, failed to get rid of her cancer, and ultimately weakened her so much that she chose to stop chemotherapy, knowing she would die, because she couldn’t take the pain anymore. Chemotherapy is a shitty way of destroying your body in the hopes that it takes the cancer with it. We should be finding better ways to attack cancer, and I have hope that we will. But doesn't Suzanne Somers think that if my sister’s cancer could’ve been cured through placebo herbal supplements and eating some more fruit, we wouldn’t have goddamn tried that? Fuck you, Suzanne Somers, I don’t care how hot you used to be, you don’t know what you’re talking about.


Here’s a video of Glenn Beck back before he was the new voice of the lunatic right and just some douche on a douchey morning zoo radio show. Someone asked me recently if I though that Glenn Beck really believed in the things he says. No, I don’t. Look at the video again; he’s just going where the money is, and there’s a lot of money and job security in kicking over liberal anthills to see liberal ants run around in butt hurt circles. Well, provided half of your advertisers don’t dump you, that is. I don’t know what his credibility really is with the proudly ignorant who carry guns to town hall meetings and really think Obama is a fascist, but he’s just the latest in a long line. Beck is either nothing more than a con man selling snake oil to people too dumb to know what they’re madly buying, or a complete raving lunatic. It’s not Beck that bothers me, deranged though he seems (and soulless though he is). It’s the fact that he’s got an audience so desperate to believe everything he says and what it says about how little America has advanced. Face it: Beck’s just a symptom. If no one wanted his rhetoric, no one would listen to it.

:: I urge you to read conservative blogger Rick Moran’s recent column calling on conservatives to condemn the racist lunacy of the far right. He makes a lot of great points about why the party leadership really needs to stop embracing the most over-the-top rhetoric and taking it seriously: “those conservatives who don’t see a problem with this, or don’t think it 'representative' of a significant portion of the conservative movement, or who don’t believe this sort of thing should be taken out, examined, and criticized as forcefully as possible are fooling themselves into believing this kind of thinking doesn’t matter. It is poison coursing through the body of conservatism and we either use reason and logic as an antidote or it will end up killing us.” Even if my ideology is somewhat different, anyone on any side who calls for reason and for not treating maniacs as though they deserve equal time needs to be listened to.

:: Overheard at the grocery store yesterday: “The problem with this country is that the Communists are trying to take it over again, but this time they’re wearing suits.” This shit's only going to get worse from here.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Halloween: Flip the Frog in "Spooks"

For the first day of Halloween Month, here's a classic Ub Iwerks cartoon, Spooks starring the underrated Flip the Frog.

It's... It's So Beautiful

At last, October is here. Not only is my wife's birthday this month, but it's only 30 days until Halloween... *sigh*

TV Report: Some More Notes

:: I watched Hank, the new sitcom with Kelsey Grammer. I don't know if I'll be doing that again. I thought it was pretty innocuous. Grammer's an old sitcom pro who knows what he's doing. It's a pretty trad sitcom, but it's kind of cute. It's not as brain damaging as, say, Accidentally on Purpose or Two and a Half Men. The short of it is that I wouldn't change the channel if there was nothing else on, but I'm not setting the DVR for it.

:: I didn't, however, watch The Middle. I despise Patricia Heaton too much for that.

:: The second episode of Cougar Town wasn't as funny as the first, but it gave the characters more depth and purpose and gives me hope for the future of this show. [UPDATE: I've since read four other bloggers that said almost the exact same thing. What does this say about me?] It took Courteney Cox's character and made her more of a person than a caricature, which is good, because the character could so easily come across as pathetic. They downplayed her relationship with her young boyfriend, too, putting the focus instead on Cox dealing with her aging and her feeling that, because she became a mother so young, she missed out on all of her fun years. It widened the scope of what we'll be seeing in the future; it's a character piece, not a gimmick about an older woman and a younger man.

:: The second episode of Modern Family was fantastic. Better than the first. They've discovered something it takes too many shows far, far too long to learn: just because you have a ton of characters, it doesn't mean you have to use every one in every episode and always have them crossing over. The three main branches of the characters didn't get together at all, and it worked just fine; forcing them all together would've felt too arbitrary. Instead, it set a theme (the secret of being a good father) and had three different storylines that examined the question. I thought it was brilliant. This is most definitely the best new show of the season.

:: Heroes, on the other hand, seems to just be figuring out that it can economize its characters, and it's paying off. I remember episodes that have suffered because Hiro wasn't on them; he wasn't on this week's episode, and I didn't miss him because the storytelling was fairly tight. Again, focusing only on a few characters instead of all of them at once is a much better way to do things. Not only that, but this volume's villain is much more complex and interesting than any they've ever had. And the whole storyline with Sylar stuck in Parkman's head is paying off better than I thought it would; even without his powers, Sylar's still a threat. I wonder if they're turning Parkman into a villain here. That would be interesting. But even given the fact that the show is repeating itself to an extent, I really think they're off to a better start than usual.

Heroes seems like it may have learned the lessons of its past mistakes. Too bad it doesn't matter. The ratings downturn on Heroes seems to be permanent; I certainly don't blame anyone for not tuning in anymore. I think this show had a real chance and the writers and producers blew it early, and every time it seemed like they were back on track, they went off the rails, and people have lost patience. It happens (it's happened to me with Lost; I don't care about that show anymore at all), but it still kind of sucks. This show could've been so much more if they'd just been more careful and told a tighter story.

I think this half-season of Heroes is probably going to be the show's last. Last time I looked, it wasn't even scheduled for the spring. I think they were planning on waiting to see how well the new shows were doing before giving it a whole season. I'd honestly be surprised if it happened. Hope they've got a finale in mind...

:: This season's second episode of How I Met Your Mother was surprisingly weak. I think it's because I'm just not interested in Ted's romantic life by this point. If they're going to separate him from the other four, they need a much stronger personality to bounce him off of. Maybe Ted's just funnier when he's douchier.

:: Same thing with the second episode of The Big Bang Theory. The whole Leonard/Penny thing is just boring, and separating them from the other characters--the funny ones--just didn't work. Come on, just drop it and quit pretending that Penny and Sheldon shouldn't be together, because they so should.

:: Man, how glad am I that Castle is back on? I'm so happy that show got renewed. It's fun.

On Roman Polanski's Arrest

Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland and may face extradition to America. There are a lot of opinions going around on this, so I’m just going to give my own and say what I have to say and be done with it.

:: Whatever you think of the man's work isn't the point. I've read too many people over the past couple of days talking about the man's films as though they were actually pertinent to this case somehow. Separate the art from the artist. The work stands for itself. That's not what we're talking about.

:: Polanski, if he’s extradited, is not being gone after because he had sex with a 13 year-old girl. He’s being extradited because he’s considered a fugitive from the American courts.

:: Polanski is in Switzerland every year. I don’t know why they suddenly decided, 31 years later, that they needed to arrest him now.

:: Having sex with a 13 year-old girl doesn’t make Polanski a pedophile. I’m not excusing what he did or trying to mitigate it, but people who have sex, consensual or otherwise, with underage girls who look like young women aren’t pedophiles. It’s sleazy, and it’s illegal, but it’s not pedophilia. Pedophiles are people who create a close relationship with a child and abuse the power they have over them. That’s not sexual; that’s a deep emotional and/or mental illness. So Polanski may be a rapist, but he’s not a pedophile. Again, not to excuse or mitigate what he did, but let’s get the offense right; it’s bad enough without adding on a whole mental condition that isn’t there.

:: Polanski hasn’t, as far as we know, molested or raped any other children in the three decades since. He’s had relationships with younger women, but he’s never committed another crime like this. I think if he were a seriously dangerous individual, we’d know by now. They tend to treat him like he's on the loose, molesting anyone he can get his hands on.

:: How many other rapists and murderers do you think there are every year that are not pursued so vigorously by the justice system? Did you read about this case recently in Australia where a woman was basically kept as a prisoner by her own father for 30 years? They had four children together, and every time over those 30 years that someone went to the cops to explain what was going on, the police did nothing.

:: I think the judge in the Polanski case was grandstanding and double-crossed Polanski on his sentencing. The only reason this case is so high profile is because Polanski is a celebrity, and I think the only reason they’ve wanted to prosecute him so bad in this country is that he’s a high profile foreigner who escaped the system, and it embarrasses them.

:: It’s just now come out, too, that former LA prosecutor David Wells lied on camera in the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired when he claimed to have advised the judge in the case (illegally) on how to deal with Polanski. Wells was either lying then or he’s lying now, but he’s just made himself an unreliable witness (and Polanski recently refused to return to America in large part because of what Wells said in the documentary, which led him to believe he’d never be dealt with fairly in an American court).

:: Otherwise, the legal fees, jail time, self-exile from America, undisclosed damages paid to the victim, and irreparable damage to his career and reputation seem like his punishment. What else are they supposed to do to him? I highly doubt that, if he is extradited, he’ll face any more jail time (especially with allegations of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct from 31 years ago). And what’s the example the system is setting here? Commit a crime and eventually, when you’re an old man and we don't have to run, we’ll catch you?

:: On the other hand, the fact that the victim doesn’t want him prosecuted further—probably more out of embarrassment and having to relive it yet again—is probably irrelevant. Too bad she has to get put through this whole thing again because the courts just won’t let it go and worry about more pressing crimes. The age-old allegations that the victim’s mother was pushing her little girl at Polanski in a sexual way to advance the teenager’s modeling career are also irrelevant by this point. Bad judgment was used all around, but this case is now about his flight from justice, not whatever happened between him and a 13 year-old girl.

:: You’re just making Roman Polanski look like the victim, anyway. At this point, he might as well just come back to the States and pay whatever fine he’s got coming and just have done with it. This case was mishandled 31 years ago, and it’s not going to get any better for anyone involved.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Super Mario Bros. for the First Time

I have been there, man. Thanks to Clay for pointing this out in the comments; this is commentary from, apparently, a guy's first time playing Super Mario Bros. It's hilarious and kind of cathartic; certainly I've had these moments playing video games.

This Year's Halloween Banner

Since tomorrow is the first day of October, it's time for this year's Halloween banner. Gross.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Here's the trailer for the remake.



I wasn't on board with this, but I think this trailer changed my mind.

I've been thinking a little bit lately about horror remakes, something I've railed at length against. Now I'm not so sure that remakes of horror films are necessarily a bad idea. Granted, they're not all going to be good... hell, most of them aren't going to be good... but are they out of hand simply bad ideas? I don't really think so anymore.

Over the past couple of years, I've liked a few horror remakes. And I loved Halloween. I even liked Friday the 13th; sure, it wasn't as great as it could have been, but I didn't think it was all that bad, either. It's better than at least three other Jason movies, so that's something.

I was talking to someone about this recently; he dismissed the remakes of Friday the 13th and Halloween, and then mentioned he was looking forward to The Wolf Man. And I had to ask: why is it exciting to remake The Wolf Man, but somehow ridiculous to remake Friday the 13th? Isn't it just the same thing? Reinterpreting classic boogeyman characters for a modern audience?

That's where I am now on horror remakes. It's not like the "original" horror films we see now aren't highly derivative of earlier efforts. That's not the point. The point is how creatively they're derived, and how well they work on their own. Because, let's face it, our basic fears don't change much over the decades. What changes is how they reach us. So reinterpreting a classic horror film for a modern audience doesn't seem like a bad idea in and of itself to me. In a way, aren't Jason and Freddy just modern spins on Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula?

So, yeah, I like the Nightmare on Elm Street trailer. I see they've recreated several iconic shots from the original, and it seems like they're going for horror rather than a comedy with violence, like most of the sequels.

Or maybe it'll suck. But I like horror movies too much to just dismiss the idea as unworkable.

Film Week

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

RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1978)
As much as I really liked the first Escape to Witch Mountain, that's how much I didn't like this sequel, with Tia and Tony returning to Earth. Yes, Christopher Lee and Bette Davis play the villains, but everything else is just so bland, even Jack Soo as a truant officer. It's woefully naive in its depiction of LA gangs, especially a gang that Tia falls in with and which is played more like Our Gang than like any actual street kids in 1978. ** stars.

WILD ORANGES (1924)
King Vidor-directed epic about a recent widower who goes to a remote island to deal with his grief, but ends up protecting a woman and her political exile father from an escaped killer. Not as much fun as it sounds, to be honest, but it's Vidor, so it's reasonably dramatic. **1/2 stars.

PARK ROW (1952)
Sam Fuller's labor of love about a newspaperman who tries to remain independent and takes on a larger paper in a circulation war. While not strictly a true story, it's very accurate to the way papers were run in New York in the late 1800s, and there are layers of fascination because of it. Besides that, Fuller's writing and grasp of character is peerless. I never quite verbalized it, but one of the reasons I think Fuller's films are so great is that he's able to communicate, in an artful and honest manner, the sense of male expectations of self and others. It's not all macho bullshit, but deep feelings that can be hard to communicate because, really, we're not expected to. A financial failure that--like most of Fuller's work--is well worth tracking down. **** stars.

THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006)
Surprisingly good and suspenseful remake of Wes Craven's classic horror film about a vacationing family trapped in the desert with a family of cannibals after their car breaks down. This one adds a couple of layers (including nuclear testing) that don't quite work, but as an action film, it really holds up. Well-directed, well-photographed, and the actors are all committed to the inherent ridiculousness of the whole affair, so it doesn't come off like a bad attempt at a joke. My only complaint is that you don't put in Billy Drago as one of the cannibals and then barely use him, alright? *** stars.

PHANTASM II (1988)
Not the genuine horror classic that Phantasm is, but a fun horror outing with a number of scary moments. I have nothing to say about this movie, really, if that's an indication. I enjoyed it, I really did, but other than a requisite "Damn, Reggie Bannister is awesome in this movie," I don't have anything to add. *** stars.

1408 (2007)
Oh, what a disappointment. For the first 70 or so minutes, it's one of the best ghost stories I've seen in a long, long time (and that's a genre I tend to hate). Then it suddenly goes off the rails, adds a couple of predictable fake-outs, and ends halfheartedly (though I understand the original ending is better). John Cusack is a writer who debunks haunted hotels and, in typical Stephen King style (the cynic has his cynicism challenged by something real but intangible--I think the spiritual aspect is what really keeps people going back to King), ends up in a room that's actually haunted. It all builds up so well that the ending can't really be anything but disappointing. Samuel L. Jackson ups the movie's awesome quotient with a great, small role as the hotel manager. **1/2 stars. Damn shame about those last 20 minutes or so.

MARTIAN CHILD (2007)
Even more boring than it looks. The works of David Gerrold deserve better. * star.

FUNNY GAMES (2007)
Two young men hold a family hostage in their vacation home, then torture them. I've seen a lot of these movies, and I never quite get the point they're making. Or, actually, I do get the point they're making, but it never really hits home with me. This had pretty cinematography and was very well made on a technical level, but it was very cold and uninvolving at the same time. Something that should be terrifying on an elemental level, but it's too aware of itself to engage me. I like the way director Michael Haneke fucks with the audience sometimes--for example, the way he frustrates (and horrifies) the viewer by focusing on witness reactions to violence or having the violence occur offscreen (we can only hear it) instead of focusing on the violence itself. But it never really reached me.

I don't know, I'll hold off on giving this a rating and try it a second time. Maybe I just didn't get it and need to watch it again. It was well-made to the point where I would hate to just dismiss it.

THE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS (1950)
Robert Rossellini's portrait of St. Francis of Assisi. It's a nice, naturalistic film, not overly pious or reverent or preachy. It's a nice, sometimes moving, but surprisingly simple film about men who live their faith with a sense of purpose and serenity. **** stars.

THE LAST MISTRESS (2007)
A French libertine (Fu'ad Ait Attou) is about to get married to an aristocratic lady, but is still consumed with love and lust for his Spanish mistress (Asia Argento). He tells his future wife's grandmother the story of their turbulent relationship, swearing that he no longer belongs to her, but their destinies are intertwined. An excellent movie, beautiful to look at, though it drags once or twice and seems stuck in the time period of the novel it's based on (19th century Paris). On the other hand, it's very absorbing, and the performances are excellent--especially my darling Asia, who once again outdoes everything she's ever done in an American film. **** stars.

KES (1970)
A lower class British boy finds and befriends a kestrel. I wanted to like it, but found it unengaging and inaccessible. ** stars.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Super Mario Bros. 2 with Hardcore Commentary

I'm catching lots of funny video game-related vids this week. (Still got that Zelda song in my head.)

This is Super Mario Bros. 2 with hardcore commentary. There's a lot of swearing here, do don't watch it at work, I guess. I don't know exactly what it is about this video that made me laugh so incredibly hard, but it worked for me.

Brief Fuckin' Plug

I wrote about the non-event that was hearing the "F-word" on Saturday Night Live for this week's Positive Cynicism column. I was going to write pretty much the same thing here, but wrote it there instead.

Ever, Ever More on the Subject of Me

For the heck of it, I'm doing Cal's recent survey.

NAME? Aaron
NICKNAME(S)? I've never actually had any.
BIRTHPLACE? Des Moines, Iowa.
WEBSITE? You're looking at it. Unless you're in a reader, I guess.
FAVORITE SALAD DRESSING? Caesar.
FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR? Chocolate.
FAVORITE CANDY? I like chocolate bars.
FAVORITE CHOCOLATE BAR? Whatchamacallit, first and foremost, though they're a tiny bit of a rarity. Then Kit Kat.
FUTURE CAREER GOALS? I couldn't even tell you at this point.
PROBABLE CAREER? I like subbing and assisting teachers.
FAVORITE FOOD? Pizza is still my favorite, even though I don't eat it as much as I used to. I've completely given up pasta, and some days I miss it really bad.
FAVORITE DRINK? (Non-alcoholic) SoBe.
FAVORITE DRINK (alcoholic) I don't care for alcohol. Couldn't tell you.
FAVORITE SCHOOL SUBJECT? Tied: English and History.
FAVORITE SCHOOL ACTIVITY? Going home at the end of the day. Or earlier.
LEAST FAVORITE SCHOOL SUBJECT? I used to be terrible at Math, but now I quite enjoy it. I guess I'd say Science, just because I'm surprised by how bad I really am at Science.
LEAST FAVORITE SCHOOL ACTIVITY? Getting up in the morning to go.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOUR TOWN? That it's small and everything I need is fairly close.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE LEAST ABOUT YOUR TOWN? All of the college kids having parties until, sometimes--swear to the elders--seven in the morning. Those are the days I wake up at 8, after they've all gone to bed, to vacuum my apartment.
GREATEST ADVENTURE? It's what lies ahead. Today and tomorrow are yet to be said. The chances, the changes are all yours to make. The mold of your life is in your hands to break. Tell me someone recognizes all of that.
MOST ROMANTIC MOMENT? Coming back from a movie with Becca after we'd been dating for two weeks and her saying, only half-jokingly, "Well, you know we're going to get married some day." 15 years later, we did.
HOW MANY PILLOWS? Three. I need to be propped up because of my acid reflux; it makes me choke (and sometimes stop breathing) at night.
PETS? Thumper.
DEVICE YOU CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT? I'll be honest, it's my computer.
THREE FAVORITE MOVIES? (THIS YEAR) Watchmen, Up, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
THREE FAVORITE MOVIES? (ALL TIME) Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, and Bambi.
THREE FAVORITE TV SHOWS? (THIS YEAR) The Office, How I Met Your Mother, and Sonny with a Chance.
THREE FAVORITE TV SHOWS? (ALL TIME) M*A*S*H, Doctor Who, and The Muppet Show.
FAVORITE SINGER? David Bowie.
FAVORITE MUSICAL GROUP? The Beach Boys.
FAVORITE CELEBRITY? Miley Cyrus. I can't help it, I adore her.
LEAST FAVORITE CELEBRITY? Megan Fox. I despise her.
MALE STAR? George Clooney.
FEMALE STAR? Amy Adams.
WORD OR PHRASE YOU OVER USE? Probably "awesome."
BODY PIERCINGS OR TATTOOS? Nope.
IF YOU COULD WITNESS ONE EVENT IN HISTORY WHICH WOULD IT BE AND WHY WOULD YOU GO THERE? Anything to do with the Vikings. I just think they're fascinating.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OTHERS ADMIRE ABOUT YOU? Others admire me?
WHAT DO YOU ADMIRE MOST ABOUT YOURSELF? Huh?
WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE ABOUT YOURSELF IF YOU COULD? I would be thinner and in much better health.
IF YOU COULD LIVE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD WHERE WOULD YOU GO? WHY? I agree with Cal; I've always wanted to see if New Zealand is like it is in my dreams.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR LAST MEAL? (INCLUDE EVERYTHING) Will, since I'm going to die and don't need to worry about my health: a cheese pizza from Little Caesar's, Crazy Bread, onion rings from Portillo's, meatballs in sauce with mozzarella, some Frito's, a bit of Juusto cheese, a piece of pumpkin pie, and Pepsi Throwback.
WHAT LIVING PERSON WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO HAVE LUNCH WITH? John Lasseter.
WHAT DEAD PERSON WOULD YOU MOST HAVE LIKED TO HAVE LUNCH WITH? Walt Disney.
THREE BOOKS TO TAKE TO A DESERT ISLAND? Watership Down, The Best of Harlan Ellison, and Jim Henson: The Works.
THREE PEOPLE YOU KNOW TO TAKE TO A DESERT ISLAND? Becca. That's pretty much it.
THREE WISHES? (NO FAIR WISHING FOR MORE WISHES) For people to get over their stupid hang-ups (aka "traditions") and stop getting so lathered up over stupid bullshit that doesn't matter; for everyone to get their priorities straight; and for better health.
SPORT YOU MOST LIKE TO WATCH? I don't like to watch sports.
SPORT YOU MOST LIKE TO PARTICIPATE IN? I don't generally play sports.
WHAT DO YOU COLLECT? Music. I also like, when I actually can, to grab old genre paperbacks, action figures, genre stuff. I always wanted my home to look like a comic book store, and it does, to some extent.
WHO DO YOU ADMIRE MOST IN YOUR LIFE? No one, really. We're all very cynical since my sister died.
WHAT HISTORICAL PERIOD WOULD YOU HAVE LIKED TO LIVE IN? The early 1900s, at the dawn of filmmaking.
FAVORITE MONOPOLY PIECE? I'm usually either the race car or the cowboy.
FAVORITE CHILDHOOD BOARD GAME? Trivial Pursuit.
SPIRIT ANIMAL? Usually they say rabbit.
FAVORITE ANIMAL? The African elephant.
BEST AND WORST PARTS OF LIVING IN THE FUTURE? Well, I like having all kinds of ways to waste my time at my disposal. But the economy sucks, and so does America's government leadership, and America's "news" media... we could fix all of those things. Also, it's depressing living in a future where racism and discrimination are still so prevalent, usually in the name of obsolete deity worship.
DO YOU PREFER CATS OR DOGS? I just like animals. I had at least four cats growing up and never really had a dog, so I'd like to do that some day.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR SPICE GIRL NAME IF YOU WERE IN THE GROUP? Um... okay... Lazy Spice?
BEST NAME FOR A BAND YOU MADE UP AND IS NOT CURRENTLY IN USE? I always thought Earthling would be the name of my band--a science fiction themed progressive glam band. But the other day I was thinking I'd also like to be in a hard rock band called Brontosaurus.
DO YOU PREFER COKE OR PEPSI? I like both at various times. Since I don't drink much soda anymore, they both taste alright on occasion. Pepsi Throwback is the absolute best in soda, though. And it's coming back 28 December...

80s Revisited: The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid (1984)
Directed by John G. Avildsen; written by Robert Mark Kamen; produced by Jerry Weintraub

I've always maintained that this is a great film, and seeing it for the first time in over a decade, I have to contend that this is still a great film. Seeing it as an adult, maybe I like it for different reasons than I did when I was a kid, but it's still as involving and enjoyable at 33 as it was when I was 8.

What I loved as a kid--especially a kid who would go on to be bullied by his classmates--was the idea of a teenager who rose to the challenge the bullies laid out for him, and did it in an honorable way. Ralph Macchio, as Daniel Larusso, is a kid who moves from New Jersey to California with his mom. He misses his old life, neighborhood, and friends, and is instantly picked on not just because he's new, but also (I think) because he's small and seems like easy pickings. He's poor and sensitive about it, especially when he falls for Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue), the rich ex-girlfriend of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka as one of the greatest screen bullies of the decade), a karate expert at the Cobra Kai dojo headed by John Kreese, played by Martin Kove with great relish.

Of course, Daniel is taken under the wing of Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), the kindly maintenance man of his apartment complex, who teaches him karate in very memorably unconventional ways. And instead of getting into some big throwdown--and I always liked this about the movie--Daniel and Mr. Miyagi challenge the members of Cobra Kai to a face off at an upcoming karate tournament. So the message of the movie is not learn to fight back so you can be tough, but become an honorable person. Daniel doesn't learn karate so he can fight or even fight back (I always loved the moment in the movie when he says he's learning karate "so I don't have to fight"), even though that's his original intent. By learning karate, he learns focus, he learns willpower, he even learns patience (eventually), and he learns the value of calm and sportsmanship. And I think those are great things for a kid to see.

But beyond that, as I said above, it's just a very entertaining movie. John G. Avildsen directed Rocky, and The Karate Kid follows an incredibly similar structure, right down to the montages and the final victory (and the movie ending when it's actually over, which is a rare thing these days). It's also very easy to like and get caught up in; it's great storytelling. The characters have depth and nuance, the conflicts are clearly defined and given weight, but the film itself is also comfortable being very obviously a movie. It's not concerned with realism, but conjures an emotional realism and never comments on itself. I think movies like this are taken for granted simply because they're so very effective at being what they are.

I also like, now that I'm older, how much this movie reminds me of the sort of family classic that Disney used to make. It's more realistic about what kids in the eighties were really like than a Disney movie would have been--the kids swear, they use drugs, and when Daniel is bullied it's not in a silly movie way: the Cobra Kai kids really beat the hell out of him, leaving him bruised and bloodied. It's things like this that make the movie just realistic enough for the audience to care about Daniel, his struggles, his relationship with Ali, and his friendship with Mr. Miyagi. Why the hell couldn't Disney have made something this powerful and memorable?

(Incidentally, the movie is produced by Jerry Weintraub, who had previously produced Oh, God!, a movie I didn't care for but which is another indicator of the kind of movies Disney should have been making, but very stubbornly didn't.)

The other performers are all pitch perfect in their roles. I don't think I need to say anything about Pat Morita that hasn't already been said. It's a great performance of an iconic character, and it's instantly memorable. Elisabeth Shue is darling; she's the kind of girl I always thought would be a perfect girlfriend back when I was a kid. She's supportive and sweet, assertive and caring. Her performance especially reminded me of some of the girls I like to watch on the Disney Channel now; I could see Selena Gomez playing the same role much the same way. William Zabka is the penultimate bully, but even he gets some nuance, especially at the very end.

I'm really happy to have seen this movie again. It's a classic movie from an underrated decade of filmmaking.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nicolas Cage in Tim Burton's Superman

Not that we really needed visual confirmation to know for sure, but aren't you more glad than ever that this movie never happened?

TV Report: Kristen Wiig

After suffering through perhaps the worst season premiere of Saturday Night Live I've ever seen and her two comedy-black-hole moments on this week's Bored to Death, I have to ask: am I the only one who just doesn't think Kristen Wiig is funny?

She hijacks sketch after sketch with bizarre, self-indulgent characters. She does a lot of accents and speech affectations, but they aren't funny. I keep seeing her hailed as the best thing in comedy since Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but I have to say, I'm just not seeing it.

(For the record, Maya Rudolph was the same way, and similarly loved by a section of the audience, and I didn't see that, either.)

And she's in movie after movie and pops up in everything, and she is just a black hole where laughs go to die.

It sticks in my craw that Saturday Night Live cuts its female performers so casually, as if they feel like they really only need one woman to play every female character on the show. So they dump talented performers like Michaela Watkins and Casey Wilson, who are actually funny, and give Wiig 85% of the screen time and keep a couple of extra chicks like Abby Elliott and Jenny Slate (who was dully unfunny but provided the show with its only moment of tangible energy when she realized she'd accidentally sworn on the air) to just fill out the background. It's annoying, and brings down my enthusiasm. I want to laugh. Kristen Wiig does not make me laugh.

If Kristen Wiig were funny, it would be a different story. But I don't want SNL to turn into The Kristen Wiig Show any more than I wanted it to turn into The Maya Rudolph Show. And I really want to know why SNL thinks having multiple female leads for sketches is somehow too much. Certainly there never seems to be the feeling that they've got "enough" men on the show performing.

Kristen Bell Mondays