Saturday, June 27, 2009

Yo, Joe! Episode 14

The Greenhouse Effect

This episode opens with a team of Joes--Alpine, Bazooka, Wild Bill, and Barbecue--watching a scientist, Dr. Bullock, put the finishing touches on his new nitrogen-based fuel compound, which will burn more cleanly and get a driver more miles per gallon. You know, just in case you weren't sure that G.I. Joe was science fiction and not reality--the government would never be involved in creating fuel efficiency when they could just continue exploiting the Middle East for profit.

A word about Barbecue--he's kind of a dick. I just really, really don't like him, with his whimsical Boston accent and his unflappable attitude. "Oh, er, uh, I'm so likable!" Not buying it, pal. Just like Lady Jaye, it comes across a little too desperate to me. Sell it somewhere else.

Well, Cobra apparently wants this fuel, because a Crimson Guard disguised as a janitor reports back to Cobra Commander, who orders the Guard to get the formula and the fuel at all costs. The janitor is really out of shape to be a Crimson Guard, I think, but he's surprisingly agile. Seriously, he manages to fool the Joes by distracting them, take Barbecue out with a bucket (the moron gets his foot stuck in it), swing a mop into Alpine's face, grab the fuel, evade Wild Bill, swing out the window, and--with the accidental help of Bazooka--stuff Alpine in a trash bin and escape. He's the Sammo Hung of Crimson Guards!

This just isn't Bazooka's day. After he helps Alpine up, he then stumbles and ends up knocking both himself and Alpine down a hill. The Crimson Guard, meanwhile, continues getting away, finally walking into a greenhouse and hiding the canister in a plant pot and grappling with the police, kicking their asses as well. The gardener, Harvey Lathrop, finally takes a terracotta pot to the Guard's head and manages to subdue him. Fat guys in overalls 1, G.I. Joe nothing.

Harvey is a simple, long-haired man who talks to his plants and basically makes me think that the producers have seen Creepshow. This guy is basically Stephen King in the meteorite segment. He's been working on a secret plant food formula, which he thinks the janitor was trying to steal, called Harvey's Super Grr-Ow! This is going to make him famous at the county fair so no one will laugh at him again. Well, the rocket fuel canister is leaking, so the plants start to grow at a superaccelerated rate. It's scientific.

The Crimson Twins have to get involved and try to send operatives out to search greenhouses in the area, but there are thousands. Cobra Commander takes this out on Destro, who--as he points out--wasn't even in the lab or the city, to which the Commander replies "You should have been!" Destro doesn't want to listen to this anymore and walks off, promising to find the canister: "Anything to get away from your lunatic ravings." Some days are harder than others for Destro.

Harvey's pretty thrilled with his newly gigantic plants in the morning and heads off to the county fair. The Joes are patrolling the area looking for the canister themselves, but Harvey's plants start going haywire.

"Needs sour cream."

Destro shows up as this is going on and grabs the canister. I particularly love this moment, in cartoon tradition, of Destro turning around and angrily shaking his fist as Wild Bill fires on him. Barbecue fires his foam at Destro's helicopter controls and shorts the thing out, so Destro boards Wild Bill's Dragonfly, knocks Wild Bill and Barbecue out of it, and flies off handily. Unfortunately for him, Wild Bill grabs the canister and leaves Destro holding a giant pea.

(A brief note on Barbecue's foam-gun: it was definitely the coolest part of the action figure because it looked like a Star Trek phaser pistol, which it certainly became in my action figure battles.)

Cobra Commander is not amused with Destro's giant pea, but Destro thinks they could use the rocket fuel (which they don't even have) as a super-fertilizer to create Cobra plants as a substitute for ground forces. The Commander thinks Destro's gone insane and orders the Crimson Guards to take him away, tossing the pea out of the window, but the pea instantly plants itself and grows giant vines, which grip the Commander and vindicate Destro. Destro takes to insulting the Commander, the Commander gets all chummy, and Destro orders the seeds found and a show of force made in Chicago.

The attack happens pretty quickly, too, with giant fruits and vegetables breaking up all over the city (including during what looks like a Cubs game). The Crimson Twins are using a cannon to shoot seeds all over the city... oh, man, that does not sound good. Alpine finds them by climbing up the side of the Extensive Enterprises building, which is apparently in Chicago. Again, why are these guys not rotting in prison? You know right where they are! Alpine makes short work of them, knocking them into some plants and quipping "Imagine finding them in your salad!" Destro tangles with Wild Bill in another helicopter chase. And Airtight rushes to work on some kind of counter formula--a weed killer--which eventually works.

Back at the county fair, Harvey is telling his story to the crowd, making himself look like a big shot that G.I. Joe came to for help. Airtight spooks him with a corn poster because, apparently, everyone in G.I. Joe is a dick. Seriously, this episode kind of makes them look like a bunch of dicks. The writer seems to really only like Destro, which is understandable.

So-so episode.


Yo, Joe! Episode 13

Twenty Questions

The Joes are having war games, and Shipwreck is goofing off with an exaggerated death scene. Even Alpine is unamused.

Alpine: "Shipwreck, that is pathetic."

Shipwreck: "Says you! I thought I deserved an Oscar."

Alpine: "Yeah, my uncle Oscar, the moocher." (Not said: "I'm the funny one here, pal!")

Civilians bust in and the Joes cease fire; it's Hector Ramirez, the sleazy host of Twenty Questions, doing a story attacking G.I. Joe as a rip-off of the American taxpayers, even going as far as to suggest that Cobra is completely fictional. He must be mad at Cobra Commander for breaking into the airwaves all of the time; did he break in on Twenty Questions at some point? Seems like a show that would be on in the afternoons, syndicated on a local channel (and, given the name "Hector Ramirez," it's obviously a slam on Geraldo Rivera). Gung Ho and Alpine have seen the show and, rather than get hanged with their own words, advise a "no comment" approach.

Alpine then calls Flint his "semi-fearless leader." Is he needling Flint over being afraid to move on Lady Jaye? Seriously, I don't think he's taking that "scrubbing bathrooms" crack in the last episode laying down. And by the way, that's kind of an insensitive thing to say to a black guy, isn't it? Threatening him with work? You're lucky it's the Army, pally.

Well, Flint's not taking the blame on this one, so he asks someone to get a hold of Duke, who is really kind of the Joe spokesman in addition to being the liaison with the regular military. He can probably handle the press better; let's face it, Flint's good in a fight and leads well in the field, but he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who can really handle people. It's all business and the occasional awkward non-advance towards women.

You know who else isn't great with people? Shipwreck. He's playing pool, blowharding it up, trying to get Scarlett and Cover Girl to be impressed with him, when Flint orders the sailor to take Ramirez on a civilian tour of the base. Shipwreck is not thrilled and, in true Shipwreck style, puts his hat over his heart and says "I'd love to help, but I was killed in action." Not even a smile from Flint, by the way.

Nice nod to another Marvel Productions piece of animation: Cover Girl is playing a Spider-Man video game.

Something's up with Ramirez's producer; he's talking about the Committee On Basic Reductions of Armies, which has "conclusive proof" that the war between G.I. Joe and Cobra is a hoax. But Committee On Basic Reductions of Armies, if made into an acronym, spells out COBRA. Will anyone notice before it's too late?

Shipwreck begrudgingly, sarcastically takes Ramirez and his producer and cameraman on a tour of the place, showing them an obstacle course and a shooting range. The producer says "Cobra is also a cardboard target," which just pisses off Shipwreck. He's been goaded into proving that Cobra is real, so he nabs some information about a Cobra base in the Rocky Mountains. The producer sniffs that computers should be designed to help reduce world hunger, leading to Shipwreck's angry "Whaddya going to do?! Feed the world a short stack of floppy disks?" He's such an asshole when he gets pissed off. I love it.

Shipwreck stuffs Ramirez and his crew into a Dragonfly helicopter and takes off in search of the Cobra base. (Joe HQ must be near the Rockies, then?) Zartan, disguised as a shepherd (looking like some kind of Lord of the Rings reject), sees them and signals the Dreadnoks. Zartan is a mercenary paid by the hour, and they can't think of anything better for him to do then dress up as a shepherd and patrol the Rockies? Shipwreck dodges a surface-to-air missile and tries to get out alive, making a crash landing on the edge of a cliff.

Shipwreck doesn't take any shit from punks!

Well, Cover Girl and Gung Ho are looking for Shipwreck and Ramirez, when Ripcord and Ace tell them they saw Ship fly off a while ago. They figure out what's what and Cover Girl takes matters into her own hands because Shipwreck is a dead man. "From Cobra?" Gung Ho asks. "No, from Duke when he finds out." (By the way, if G.I. Joe knows there's a Cobra base on American soil why are they busy with war games and not, like, attacking Cobra? Just a question.) She enlists Spirit and Alpine to help them search the Rockies for Shipwreck.

When she gets there, Shipwreck sees them, but so do Zartan and the Dreadnoks. Shipwreck sees the missile launcher before it can fire and pulls out its cables, so Cobra sends out four Rattlers under the command of Wild Weasel.

Wild Weasel is the first character so far that I have absolutely no memory of. I mean, I remember his costume, but I didn't remember that it wasn't just some Cobra pilot uniform and was a guy with his own codename and, let's be generous, personality. Wild Weasel sucks. Completely. It was neat when Copperhead was introduced, but Wild Weasel--and what the hell do weasels have to do with snakes or flying?--is just beyond lame.

Spirit makes pretty short work of him, too. It's pretty funny--he's just so irritated. And Shipwreck rewires the missile launcher and shoots down the other Rattlers, but he's captured by Zartan and Ramirez and his crew are captured by the Dreadnoks. They really should have paid attention to that COBRA anagram! They're taken to an underground base (where there's what can only be a M*A*S*H reference as an unenthusiastic voice announces on the PA that tonight's movie will be The Amusement Park of Terror, with "mayhem on the merry-go-round and revenge on the roller coaster while the bad guys try to beat the good guys on a Ferris wheel"--wonderful touch).

Cobra Commander is there, riding on that staple of underground-dwelling science fiction, a giant borer. He apparently knows Shipwreck by name! Man, can he tell them apart now? The Commander immediately explains his plan, which is to attack the Rocky Mountain military chemical arsenal to capture explosive gases that the military doesn't want to use. Ramirez doesn't buy it; this is all part of the charade.

But the producer is, in fact, the Baroness! Which is really just kind of creepy. That dumpy guy is suddenly revealed to be a thin-waisted lady with big breasts... I mean, no one noticed, or is she just that good with the disguises. Hey, Shipwreck punched out the Baroness! She calls Ramirez a fool and "the stupidest male I have ever met!” Which is really something, because she works for Cobra Commander. Although, again, he's pretty asexual, despite the tight pants. Her mission was to use Ramirez's program to undermine Joe morale, but Shipwreck has ruined everything.

Well, Duke finally shows up, and he's none too happy about what's been going on. Breaker reports that Cobra is attacking the chemical weapons base, and that takes priority over Shipwreck, so they scramble the helicopters. Unfortunately for Ship, his big mouth has gotten him into trouble again and, after insulting Cobra Commander, the Commander orders the Baroness to drive a drilling machine into Shipwreck and Ramirez (and the poor camera dude).

All the while, Cover Girl is still leading the search for Shipwreck in the mountains. They run into Wild Weasel, caught in a tree and suspended upside down by his parachute and about to be killed by a mountain lion. He agrees to take them to the Cobra base if they save him, which they do. Ramirez, meanwhile, saves his own life by appealing to Cobra Commander's incredible vanity and asking for an interview. Well, the Commander stops the drill and decides this is what he wants to do now. And Zartan and the Dreadnoks get the explosive chemicals. Man, there's a lot going on!

Cobra Commander is telling Ramirez a story about leading a mutiny at his military academy. (Continuity wise, this is contradicted later by the truth of Cobra Commander's origins--is he just making this stuff up? Does it matter?) Then Freedom flies into the tunnel, Shipwreck tries to get a gun away from the Baroness, and Cover Girl, Spirit, Alpine and Gung Ho attack. The gas gets loosed, and Shipwreck goes nuts, but still manages to drive one of the borers into the command center and rescue Ramirez and his cameraman. Again, in true cartoon form, some of the gas is laughing gas and everyone is laughing hysterically. The Joes drill their way to the surface and part of the mountain collapses, catching Duke's and Flint's attention.

Of course, the Joes and Ramirez are still laughing, trying to explain what happened when Duke shows up. Ramirez apologizes, kisses Duke on the cheek, and rushes off to edit his tape. Duke just shrugs it off and says "On second thought, forget it." Yeah, that's probably for the best.

Still, any Shipwreck episode is fun.


Yo, Joe! Episode 12

The Funhouse

There is certainly no shortage of brilliant scientists in the G.I. Joe universe. This episode starts with Zartan kidnapping another one, Dr. Hibbentrope. He's the third scientist Cobra has kidnapped--at least, I imagine, very recently. Seems like they've always got one or two being forced to work on something. Flint, Lady Jaye, Alpine, Bazooka, Gung Ho and Breaker try to figure out why.

It's actually Bazooka who comes up with the answer--pulling out a baseball card, he thinks Cobra is trying to put together a complete set. Granted, it's a little like how the Adam West Batman is always magically pulling the correct answers out of his ass, but it works. If you believe, as I do, that Bazooka is actually mentally handicapped, it's a nice little moment.

Flint wonders what will happen when the set is complete. And in answer, Cobra Commander appears on television--can you imagine trying to watch your soaps in this world? guy's always breaking in to demand something! jeez, if it gets All My Children back on the air, just take the money, christ!--and demands sixty billion in gold bullion for Dr. Hibbentrope's return.

Alpine: "Relax, guys. We'll just put it on my credit card. I never leave home with-"

Cobra Commander: "Enough of this foolishness!"


Cobra Commander shows them a captured Dr. Hibbentrope, begging to be rescued. Of course, Breaker's traced the source of the broadcast, because he's just that good. It was also suspiciously easy. But the Joes have to save Hibbentrope, so they get ready to go. But we see that Dr. Hibbentrope was actually Zartan in disguise. He plans to charge extra for his acting services, but the Baroness says his acting skills couldn't get him a job on a soap opera. And if they did, who could watch it? Cobra Commander's breaking in every 25 minutes with another demand! "I require pizza and beer or the entire eastern seaboard shall feel the wrath of Cobra!"

Of course, Cobra Commander leaps to Zartan's defense, saying the extra money is well worth it if it helps him get his revenge on G.I. Joe. He actually calls Zartan's performance "stunning." Will you two just get a room, already?

Well, Flint's done good--he's got what seems like the entire G.I. Joe force attacking the Cobra base in South America. Oh, and there's the iconic Bazooka moment:
Love it.

The Joes are really kicking ass against the Cobra infantry, especially Flint, Gung Ho and Dusty. Quips, barely-concealed condescension towards the enemy, heads butting together, fists flying, lasers in the air--it's classic G.I. Joe. They all make short work of Cobra and then Flint calls Zap forward to blow a hole in the wall so they can get in and rescue the scientists.

Well, turns out the Joes were getting too cocky. After Flint, Lady Jaye, Airtight, Dusty, Alpine and Bazooka enter the base, metal doors slam shut and cut off the exits; then a magnetic panel on the ceiling quickly swings down and takes their weapons. Cobra Commander appears on a screen and welcomes the Joes to his funhouse and offers them three corridors to choose from--two lead to dead ends (he stresses that, dead ends) and the third leads to him.
Alpine gets in another good dig: "Then all the doors are losers!" Cobra Commander especially wants to kill Alpine. To get them to participate, he tells them that the entire island is going to be destroyed by a bomb if they don't stop him in time.

Well, the Baroness is smart and urges the Commander to not take any chances and kill the Joes now. Zartan, naturally, sides with the Commander--of course, he is paid by the hour. Flint, meanwhile, splits everyone into teams to tackle each corridor--Dusty and Airtight on the left, Alpine and Bazooka on the right, Flint and Lady Jaye (of course) in the middle.

I've got to say, I'm starting to remember why I liked Airtight so much as a kid. He's just so lovably nerdy. He's one of the action figures I still have that didn't get destroyed when I was a kid. (Which makes him a real survivor--I remember having one last, big blowout battle when I was in my early teens. It was really unrelenting, and the G.I. Joe figures didn't always last too long--sometimes the rubber band inside would just snap after a few years. Lots of Joes and Cobras "died" in that battle, some mashed, some mangled, some snapped in half by a runaway giant triceratops. But I have a small percentage of figures--or pieces--left. Snake-Eyes, Cover Girl, Airtight, and Sgt. Slaughter are among the Joe survivors--sadly, Shipwreck is not. The surviving Cobras--among them Cobra Commander, Serpentor, the Baroness, Torch, Zartan and Scarface--went to prison. I still have them, too. Scarface, if anyone remembers, was a big villain in the comic books. He was just a Cobra soldier with a scarred face, so I took one of my Cobra troopers and drew a scar on his face with a pen. The Crimson Twins are dead, though. And damn it, I never had Destro. Wow, that was a long digression.)

Anyway, Airtight and Dusty encounter balloons with Cobra Commander's face on them. One explodes right in Dusty's face and gases him with something, and soon Dusty's having hallucinations.

Messed-up, awesomely scary hallucinations.

Convinced that Airtight is Cobra Commander, Dusty freaks out, forcing Airtight to knock him unconscious. Which would probably be a normal hazard of hanging out with Dusty. No, no, Dusty's alright. He's a good guy. He's not Quick Kick, which earns him a lot of points right there.

Alpine asks (a little jealously) Bazooka why Flint always runs off with Lady Jaye while "I'm stuck with you." Well, at least people notice--no one ever thought to ask why Fred and Daphne were always running off together on Scooby Doo. Bazooka, being Bazooka, is probably going to ask the more pertinent question--why is Flint always running off with Lady Jaye when he's so obviously afraid to make his move no matter how hot she is to serve it up (Alpine would've tapped that by now; he's Lando Calrissian, for crying out loud)--when some kind of robotic carnival barker rises up and offers the two a ride on the Cobra Express, the "trip of a lifetime." Not getting the death-pun, they climb in, only to ride straight into a shooting gallery filled with Cobra soldiers. Bazooka takes a hit right in the head, too, and Alpine swears revenge.

Meanwhile, outside, Gung Ho is getting more and more pissed being cut off and wanting to do something. He's yelling at Zap to blow another hole in the base so they can get in and rescue the others. Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, and Short Fuze are standing there, too, impatient.

Airtight, now on his own, encounters giant Jack-in-the-Boxes that try to kill him. It's amazingly fucked up. This is the psychedelic episode. This is like an episode of The Prisoner. One of the clowns is dressed like Cobra Commander and holding a gun; Airtight gets taken out.

Next, it's Alpine's turn; he runs from a giant metal ball and straight into Cobra bowling pins, which knock him unconscious when they fall over. Man, the expense involved must be bankrupting Cobra like mad. At least the Commander's having fun--he turns to Zartan and the Baroness and boasts: "I got an eleven! That's better than a strike!" Classic. The Baroness, ever practical, worries that the Joes outside will ruin the game, but Zap just can't bust in past those metal doors. Why he doesn't try one of the other many stone walls, I have no idea, but that's G.I. Joe for ya.

Flint and Lady Jaye get it relatively easy; they just have to worry about Cobra Commander robots. Lady Jaye gets knocked out from behind and Flint can't find a pulse, although, you know, taking off the gloves might help, dude. Cobra Commander is thrilled--Flint is the last one left. But still the Baroness is worried, on the verge of a serious panic attack, begging the Commander to just kill the Joes. Zartan's all "Let Cobra Commander enjoy the moment!" and the Commander's all "Shut it, both of you, I can't concentrate on delaying it with you talking!" Flint starts fighting back and takes control of his situation, making short work of the robots and taunting the Commander like crazy. Flint's got a real mad on (remember when Spidey used to say that all the time?), finds the control booth, and takes the fight to Cobra.

And the Baroness is all "Tell me again about enjoying the moment, bitch!" and Zartan's all "Watch your tongue while you still have it! But, you know, Commander, she's probably got a point." and Cobra Commander's all "It's time to depart when I say it's time!"

But Zap finally puts together enough dynamite to blow a hole in the metal doors instead of, you know, trying a different part of the wall that's not metal, and Joes flood the base. Cobra Commander, determined to win his little death game, fires missiles at Flint and still manages to miss (and destroy his own robots). Frustration setting in, the Commander quits and stalks off, the Baroness and Zartan in tow. They escape in a Firebat as the Joes all snap out of it (except Dusty, he's stoned out of his mind) and rush out in the Cobra Express. The island is going to blow up in three minutes and everyone manages to escape in time. Except Flint. Oh, no, wait, he's fine.

Well, Cobra Commander thinks he's disposed of G.I. Joe at last, and he's pretty thrilled with himself. He's got the scientists, and he's going to rule the world. Zartan starts sucking up--"Oh, I never doubted your plan for a minute, oh wise and masculine Commander, not like the Baroness, let's just ice the bitch."--but the Cobra Temple is attacked before the Baroness can defend herself. It's Joes a-poppin', and Zartan skins out with nary a thought for the Commander. But you know Cobra Commander is just going to take him back later. What is this strange hold Zartan has on you, Commander? The Baroness and the Commander escape, G.I. Joe rescues the scientists, and it's time for a surprisingly awkward exchange.

See, Flint had Wild Bill keep an eye on the Commander's escaping Firebat so they could follow it, which leads Alpine to mutter "Flint sure does talk a lot, doesn't he?" Flint, who actually saved the day this time and really came through while Alpine was sleeping off his bowling accident, starts to call Alpine on his sass, but Lady Jaye breaks in: "Would anyone like to escort a lady down a moonlit beach?"

Bazooka: "Sure!"

Alpine jabs Bazooka in the ribs: "Ignore my friend, I'd love to."

Flint: "You do and you'll be scrubbing bathrooms for a week."

Lady Jaye: "You sure know how to keep a girl single."

Flint: "That's right. She sees right through me."

So here we have Lady Jaye, always desperate for attention and validation, who wants so badly to be the girl everyone loves, kept in a cage by a guy who obviously has the hots for her but gets all nervous and awkward whenever she tries to make a move. Ha ha?

Otherwise, this is a classic episode of G.I. Joe, spotlighting some of my favorite characters and some truly weird moments.


Friday, June 26, 2009

The Dynamics of Blog Comments

ME: Here's a post of something I really like.

COMMENT: Dude, the thing you like sucks and you're an idiot for liking it.

ME: I don't care.

COMMENT: Why are you so casually dismissive of my opinion?!

Michael Jackson 1958-2009

This is a personal reflection on mourning Michael Jackson. (Though everything on my blog is a personal reflection, so it pains me to even have to say that.)

It's an absolute shock to me that Michael Jackson is dead. He was only 50 years old. He seemed like a constant in pop culture, even long after I'd become sick of hearing about him and, let's face it, long after he'd stopped being relevant to the world of music.

I was born in 1976. Michael Jackson was well-established by then. But the release of Thriller became an event, one of the defining events of pop culture. Everyone had that album. My entire neighborhood was rocking out to that album. Lots of neighborhoods were. It was a pop music phenomenon, and Michael Jackson was as big a figure in many 80s childhoods as Pac Man, Indiana Jones, Artoo Detoo, E.T., and MTV. He was everywhere. And we loved the guy. We genuinely did. The song "Thriller" is still a Halloween staple in my house; the album is still as playable today as it ever was. Michael Jackson recorded great pop music, and "Rock with You," "Human Nature," "ABC," and many other songs of his still have the power to make me smile wide and feel incredibly good today.

And boy could he dance. I mean, really dance. Go and watch The Wiz--it's amazing that a human being can move that way. Dance has since devolved in the world of music videos to a series of spasms and poses--and, sadly, Michael was instrumental in popularizing that sad parody of his former glory--but in the late seventies and early eighties, Michael could move.

In the late eighties and especially in the nineties, something happened. Something dark and maladjusted inside Michael became loosed and sent him into what looked from the outside like a tailspin into madness. He became a joke. He became a sad caricature of himself. His music just sort of ran out of steam (I haven't liked a single of his since "Smooth Criminal" in 1988). There were trials, allegations, rumors, etc. It was pathetic, frankly. And though I have sympathy for what isolation and a troubled childhood may have made him feel, I have no sympathy for any way he may have acted on those feelings that hurt another human being. It was just so sad to see someone who had been not just famous or successful, but genuinely loved by people turn out to be so empty and scary and tragic. What a waste.

I see a lot of people mourning Michael today. I see a lot of people, too, who are calling the mourners idiots who should get over it. Those people make me feel a little sick--just as sick as those blind fans who constantly proclaim his innocence and have created a conspiracy theory to tear down a black celebrity.

It was a surprising loss of an icon that many of us grew up with. And, for better or worse, when those things that connect us to a happier past are gone, it makes us feel a little more removed from that past. Of course I know that there are more important issues to worry about. But, as a human being, I am capable of caring about more than one thing at a time. I know the internet has become, more than anything, a way of lazily shitting all over everything someone else takes the time to do--but shaming people for having emotions just because you think those emotions are frivolous... Get a life. Granted, I wish the media coverage would calm down, but the media has always been intensely focused on Michael Jackson. This was always going to happen when Michael Jackson died.

The Michael Jackson I mourn here is the Michael Jackson of the seventies and eighties. That part of Michael Jackson--the beloved pop culture icon, the maker of great pop music, the amazing dancer, the guy who made some of the greatest songs I grew up with--was already dead. He died a long time ago. What we were left with was some curio piece that the media could not stop chewing over. And maybe we're a little relieved that it's finally over.

So goodbye, Michael Jackson, and thank you for the music.

Friday Playlist

1. Slade: Cum on Feel the Noize
2. The Clash: Clash City Rockers
3. Sex Pistols: I Wanna Be Me
4. The Smiths: That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
5. John Lennon: Woman
6. Bee Gees: Indian Gin and Whisky Dry
7. Michael Jackson: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
8. John Williams: Welcome to Jurassic Park
9. The Runaways: I Love Playin’ with Fire
10. David Bowie: Miracle Goodnight

1. I love this song. Love it.
2. Can't beat the Clash; not my absolute fave punk band, but one of the best ever.
3. I think this is live.
4. I love the Smiths. I never really listened to them until a couple of years ago, either. They weren't exactly mainstream in my suburb.
5. Beautiful. I know a number of women who think this is the most romantic song ever written. "Well, well."
6. From Idea. Not bad.
7. How does my iTunes shuffle know Michael Jackson died? This track from Thriller is one of my favorite songs of his, too.
8. The score to Jurassic Park is one of my favorite Williams works. I think he's gone progressively downhill ever since, if you want my honest opinion.
9. Blistering stuff from Queens of Noise.
10. A nice track from Bowie's underrated Black Tie White Noise.

80s Revisited: The Ewok Adventure

Caravan of Courage: The Ewok Adventure (1984)
Directed by John Korty; story by George Lucas, screenplay by Bob Carrau; produced by Thomas G. Smith

Wow. Just, wow.

Okay, I'm all for the Ewoks and I'm all for Star Wars spin-off specials, but this is truly awful. I loved it when I was a kid, but keep in mind that when this first aired I was 8 years old and Return of the Jedi was still the biggest deal. Watching it now, at age 32, I'm just... wow.

Okay, so the movie takes place sometime before Jedi and has a couple of human kids the Ewoks join in their quest to save their parents from some kind of giant monster. Wicket the Ewok and the girl, Cindel, become really good friends.

What did I like about this movie? Well, some of the slapstick was funny. The costumes on the creatures were pretty neat. I loved the little light fairy. Some of the story wasn't too bad. That big dog-boar thing was kind of cool; here in the days of CGI onslaught fury, it was neat to see some Harryhausenesque stop motion again. It's charming and it's at least physically real.

What didn't I like? Everything else. It meanders on forever and ever--maybe an hour instead of two would've sufficed. It makes the Ewoks look, in general, idiotic (hey, I dig the Ewoks). The little girl who plays Cindel is just atrociously bad--I mean, all of the acting is awful, but we're apparently supposed to think this girl is wonderful and cute on a par with, I don't know, Drew Barrymore or Punky Brewster. But this girl is really, really terrible and amazingly unlikable. I kept wanting them to throw her to the dog-boar thing so they could get away. She's grating.

The whole thing is grating.

And what the fuck, was it too much to even make the masks move? In Return of the Jedi, the actors imbue the Ewoks with some kind of sentience and feeling, and their mouths move visibly. In The Ewok Adventure, the masks are apparently cheaper and the mouths never, ever move. It's creepy. You start feeling like you're watching serial killers who have just murdered a bunch of Ewoks and are now wearing their faces. It's so off-putting.

You want to know how bad this movie is? It made my TV kill itself. Becca and I had a whole day of 80s fantasy movies planned, and we started with The Ewok Adventure. Then we turned off the TV, went out to the grocery store, and came back and found the TV wouldn't turn on. It took nearly a month for the TV to be fixed--the problem ultimately ended up being a burned out capacitor. It didn't want to turn back on. I think the TV sat through The Ewok Adventure and thought: "Oh, fuck it, if this is what you're going to use me for, I don't want to live. Goodbye, cruel world!"

I can't say I blame it.

Another Runaways Post

Damn. I'm getting more and more excited for this movie. They've at least really got the look down.

I read that Scout Taylor-Compton is going to play Lita Ford now, and that Alessandra Torresani is probably going to play Jackie instead. Something to do with Scout being able to play the guitar. I can't wait to see her in costume.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Drag Me to the Midwest


When I posted about the turtle the other day, I mentioned that I like living around animals. I've been thinking lately, just out of nostalgia, how nice it was growing up in Woodridge before it got all built up. Back then, in the early eighties, it was still pretty country-ish, with some dirt roads and no major shopping centers. The 355 tollway goes through Woodridge now; when I told someone who had moved here from Indiana that I remembered a time when that was all homes and trees and no road, they didn't believe me. I just smiled wistfully.

I remember a childhood filled with animal sightings and encounters. We used to see pheasants all the time, for example; I'll bet no one's seen a pheasant in Woodridge, Illinois, for at least 25 years. I remember seeing quails, too. There were always a lot of birds, very colorful ones, like cardinals and bullfinches. I remember one time a bullfinch hit the patio door--actually, this happened a lot, but I remember a specific time when a bullfinch hit the door and my mom gave it some water and petted it while it sat there stunned. Then it just flew away. Too stunned to be scared. Blue jays and orioles were not uncommon. And hawks--which are very common out here in DeKalb, and a sight to behold (as are kestrels). I remember one time when a screech owl somehow got in our garage. That was freaky. They sound like a woman screaming.

This is all from when I was under ten years old. Memories and flashes of memories, like a neighborhood cat fighting--and nearly killing--a fox. I wonder how long it's been in Woodridge since anyone's seen a fox. We had a possum family in our tree for a little while; there's a picture of the possums at night floating around somewhere. And always with the raccoons, getting into the garbage. We see raccoons out here. I know they're a nuisance, but it makes me smile when I see them.

I remember tons of brown rabbits. And moles. And garter snakes. I remember getting mice in the basement a couple of times. And a hornet's nest, too. I was watching The Muppet Movie when all of a sudden there were bees everywhere. (We had a finished basement, which doubled as a playroom for me and my sister and a TV den--it had wood paneling, track lights, and cheap, brick red carpet--oh, and a bean bag chair!) We got to go to McDonald's that day, which used to be an occasional treat. I think that was during the time they had the kid's meals that looked like styrofoam UFOs and featured their alien character/E.T. cash-in CosMc.

We lived on the very edge of our townhome area, with a creek and a forest right behind us, so animal sightings were common. And one thing I can credit my mom and dad with is that they always wanted to point them out for us, to see that there was more to the world than just the home and the TV. We used to see deer, and there are still deer in Woodridge. I remember driving up 71st street by the LDS church and having to stop in the middle of the road because deer were crossing. Becca was in the passenger seat, reading. "Deer," I said. "What?" she answered, thinking I'd said "dear." "No, deer." A whole family crossed from the woods to the churchyard to graze.

I remember one morning when I was six or something, opening up the drapes and seeing a gopher, standing on its hind legs, eating the heads of the tulips that were growing up through the boards of the patio. I remember seeing our cat, Bourbon, fight a ground squirrel. I remember one time we had a skunk living under the patio; that didn't go well. I was in the basement with a friend watching Jaws on TV, and that smell just suddenly went through the entire basement. Blech.

We had two ponds, too, one of which had an island where a ton of ducks lived. We used to fish around there or look at crawdads. Some of the fish, like the bullheads, got huge. And there were muskrats for a while, too--I wonder if they're there anymore. The two ponds were connected by a spillway and a rocky stretch that went under the road. One time I saw a muskrat in there standing on his hind legs and eating a crawdad. It was awesome.

For a long time, it seemed like Woodridge, as more and more subdivisions and office parks went up, shed all of its animal presence, except for the deer and the raccoons and the geese and the ducks and the ever-present seagulls. (We don't get seagulls in DeKalb--we're too far from Lake Michigan out here--and I kind of miss the sounds.) So I consider myself lucky that Becca and I can drive by or walk around the lagoon over at NIU and see groundhogs and water rats and herons and geese. I like living in a world with a lot of animals in it. It makes the world feel bigger and more alive. It makes everything seem less the same, you know?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ponyo Trailer

I can't wait to see this movie. This looks like classic Miyazaki to me, very much like My Neighbor Totoro.

T-Shirt Idea #8

A contemporary spin on "Don't do what others tell you, do what we tell you."

That's All I Was Asking For

President Obama finally made a statement about Iran:

The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.

I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.

All added emphasis is mine.

He said a number of other things as well, but making a statement like that, with hard, clear language, is exactly what I was getting hot over. Make a speech, damn it. It's one thing Obama is very good at. Try and repair the damage done by George "Axis of Evil" Bush by showing the people of Iran that we're on their side, while making it clear to the government of Iran that we're not going to interfere.

It doesn't make up for Obama's hard line on secrecy, refusal to show the torture photos, extending Bush's policies on internal spying, condescending attitude towards gay equality, or any of the other things I'm profoundly disappointed over. But it does count for a lot.

Film Week

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

Nice documentary about Walt Disney's entry into live action filmmaking. Nice, but slight. It skips around from select film to select film. But it's nice. *** stars.

This was of a much higher quality than I was expecting, despite some of the more obvious, irritating kiddie movie touches and the fact that I never required a back story for Tink. But there's something really nice about this movie in the way it allows the actors to just play the characters believably. There is a lot of cutesiness--it's obviously aimed at the prepubescent girl audience--but there's also a real heart and a lot of very charming moments. And I dug the cartoony animals. It's predictable, but nice. But I'll also say that the film's message--accept your natural talents and stop fighting against them because you can find ways to do what you want without rebelling--hilarious because, as we all know, Tinker Bell eventually runs away with a boy. *** stars.

HAMLET (1969)
One of the best, most vibrant versions of Hamlet I've ever seen. Tony Richardson directed this movie on a stage, with the actors in close-ups and mid-shots and darkness all around them, forcing you into the words and the interactions and making this Hamlet surprisingly intimate. The actors make the words at times conversational, at times passionate, at times pointed, at times playful, and it all draws the viewer into the story and humanizes it. I'm very familiar with Hamlet, and one of the pleasures of seeing different movie versions is seeing how various directors fall down on the side of certain issues--the supposed Oedipal tinges, Hamlet's madness, the complicity of Gertrude in the murder, or whether the murder even exists--and Richardson's choices are fascinating. Nicol Williamson, in a breathtaking performance, plays Hamlet as a petulant, paranoid child who just cannot let go of his grief and won't stop until everyone around him is as miserable as he is. Anthony Hopkins and Judy Parfitt are delightful as a very loving, happy king and queen. Marianne Faithfull is a great Ophelia, detached and dehumanized rather than twitchy and mannered, which is an interpretation I get bored with. The entire cast does an excellent job--I especially enjoyed Roger Livesy as the gravedigger. Everyone plays it so human. It's wonderful. A good adaptation of Hamlet is always a joy, and this may be the best I've ever seen. Certainly it's up there with Gielgud's. **** stars.

Hilarious. And Zach Galifianakis is especially hilarious. And Heather Graham is still stunningly beautiful. There's not a lot here that I'm going to go into, except that it made me laugh my ass off from beginning to end, and I can't wait to see it again. You've seen the commercials, you're caught up on the premise. What the movie does with the premise is gold. ***1/2 stars.

Happy 30th Birthday, Mindy Kaling!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Window Sill Jockey

Original at Cute Overload.