Send us an e-mail please: giantpengy@yahoo.com

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Scenes That Make You Go 'Ugh': Cinderella (1950)


I had a helluva time coming up with a title for this new feature that looks at scenes from movies and TV shows that stir up feelings, uncomfortable in nature, when I watch them; or that unleash a torrent of emotions, a nauseating rush of feels that could easily lead to either spontaneous vomiting or violent sobbing, maybe both; or that deliver a surprise emotional gut punch, a kind of cosmic sucker punch, that knocks the happy out of my brain and reminds me that life is hard and gross and ultimately unrewarding.  Fun, right?

My first inclination was to call it Scenes That Make You Go 'Ew,' but I felt that would trap me in the basement of slasher fare and torture porn, forced to focus primarily on disgusting stuff, like quivering viscera and geysers of blood spray.  Sure, those types of scenes do the trick, as it were, but they are limited in scope.  I dismissed Scenes That Make You Go 'Yuck' for similar reasons.

Scenes That Make You Go 'Eh' seemed worth considering, until I realized that 'eh' is a little too close to that old millennial chestnut 'meh,' and since this feature isn't about moments in popular entertainment that bore me, it was right out.  Plus, 'eh' feels like a question word, and none of these scenes have ever made me question anything, really.  For the most part, the scenes that will be discussed in this ongoing series will be from movies and television programs I actually like, and the scenes themselves are ones, that because of their emotional weight, add something important to the proceedings, scenes, that if excised, would leave an unwelcome and obvious emotional gap--a gaping hole of emo, if you will.

I briefly considered Scenes That Make You Go 'Ewugh,' but 'ewugh' isn't a proper word, so that was dropped pretty damn fast.  Look, all I really knew was that I wanted the title to be a play on the hit C + C Music Factory song we all know and love, and, in the end, Scenes That Make You Go 'Ugh' appeared to be the best choice.  I don't know if it is.  I really don't care.  I just want to get to the first scene, the scene that inspired this whole endeavor, the most troubling scene in cinema history.

Here's a quick recap to get you up to speed before the bowel-shattering gut punch is delivered: Cinderella's life is pretty bleak.  Her beloved father has died and she is forced to be a servant girl for her stepmother, Lady Tremaine, her two loathsome stepsisters, Drizella and Anastasia, and Lady Tremaine's asshole cat, the appropriately named Lucifer.  Yes, Cinderella's life sucks pretty hard, but redemption arrives in an invitation to a ball at the palace.  By royal decree, every eligible maiden in the land is invited to attend, and Cinderella, who has somehow retained a sunny disposition in spite of her dreary existence, is delighted.  Lady Tremaine gives Cinderella permission to attend the ball, but only if she finishes her chores first, the list of which is nearly Stephen Kingian in length.  While Cinderella throws herself into a marathon chore sesh, her friends, the mice and birds that live in and around her late father's estate, sew her a beautiful ball gown, using discarded scraps of Drizella and Anastasia's own dresses for added flair.  Contrary to Lady Tremaine's belief that the chore list will crush her, Cinderella appears in the foyer mere seconds before her stepfamily is about to leave, dressed in a beautiful vermin-sewn gown.  What follows is, well, a scene that kills me every single time I see it.  Cinderella's stepsisters rip her dress to pieces and leave her devastated and alone.

I get what I can only describe as a sick, hot rage bubble in my guts whenever I watch this scene.  It is often accompanied by a light headedness and prickling sensation in my eyeballs, typically followed by a torrent of tears (Ask my wife.  She knows how deeply this scene affects me.  She will look at me during this scene and others of its ilk and ask me, which a devious grin on her face I might add, "You OK?"  She is delighted by the distress I often experience when watching animated films.  It's one of the many reasons I love her so much.).  The cruelty on display is nauseating.  It makes me want to punch things and lock myself in a dark closet wrapped in the fetal position at the same time.  I guess this reaction means I'm not a sociopath.  I should probably be concerned if I ever watch this and don't immediately feel terrible.

As angry-sad-sick this moment in Cinderella makes me, I also recognize how essential it is to the story.  This is Cinderella at her lowest point; finally broken, she, for a moment, recognizes that life can be cruel and empty, and that the good and kind-hearted are often shit upon for no other reason than that their goodness angers and disgusts the vile and the powerful.  And then Cinderella's fairy godmother shows up.  And then she meets the prince and they totally hit it off.  And then, eventually, she marries the prince and becomes an official member of the royal family and probably presides in some capacity over the trial of her stepmother and stepsisters, who are charged with crimes against humanity.  She might even be present at their executions.  Gasp!  Is Cinderella the one behind the executioner's mask, lowering the axe?!?  Probably not.  Princesses don't usually do that kind of stuff.

The point is, good triumphs over evil almost always.  Well, more often than not.  A lot of the time, OK?  It pays to be a good and honest person is the takeaway here.  Cinderella, while not the most dynamic of films, does promote a good message, and that's the reason I don't mind my 3-year-old daughter being as into it as much as she is, which is a lot.  It also promotes friendship with vermin, which I'm a not a huge proponent of, but mostly the honesty and goodness thing.
I took my daughter to see the new, live-action Cinderella last month.  It was her first movie in a theater, and we had a great time.  We ate popcorn, complained about the pre-movie entertainment and thoroughly enjoyed the new Frozen cartoon that played before the feature (As much as Q loves Cinderella, she loves Frozen even more.  There are so many Annas, Elsas and Olafs in my house, it's ridiculous.  Every room has its own collection of Frozen paraphernalia.  My parents bought her a three-foot tall Elsa for Christmas!).  We also enjoyed Cinderella.  Q especially liked the royal ball scene.  She could barely sit still when Cinderella and Prince Charming had their first dance together.  She had this big goofy smile on her face the whole time.  She'd squirm a little, then get out of her seat, then plop back down in her chair and grab my arm.  Halfway through the first waltz, Q hugged my arm tight and said, "I love you, Dad," which, obviously, made my day.  Of course, my daughter is also, well, my daughter, which makes her kind of a weirdo, so before the dance was over, I did catch her licking my t-shirt, which she promptly stopped doing after I shot her the confused dad face she knows so well.

Sorry, got distracted in that happy memory.  The dress-spoiling scene is in this movie, except it's kind of worse, because instead of a dress stitched together by anthropomorphic mice and bluebirds using pilfered scraps, it's Cinderella's mother's dress, a mother we meet, fall in love with and watch die in the opening moments of the film.  Cinderella descends the stairway per usual, and then Lady Tremaine herself, played by Cate Blanchett, walks over nonchalantly and rips a giant whole in Cindy's dress.  "Hello, old familiar friend," I thought as my body filled up with sick, hot rage.  Dammit, it's so devastating!  Ugh!  I hate it!  But I love it!  It's enraging, but it's important!  Aghhhh!

I hope the preceding has give you a better understanding of the kinds of scenes I will be exploring in this new feature.  Here's to future posts full of sadness and pain.  Yay?



Read the rest of this article.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Watch This Immediately, You Idiot!: It Follows


I always feel a little weird saying this about movies that open with a dead girl twisted into a flesh-pretzel with one of her legs torn off and tossed thoughtlessly next to her on the beach, but It Follows is a beautiful film to look at.  It's so artfully crafted, impeccably composed and amazingly shot, that I found myself in awe of the beauty of the filmmaking, even while I was cringing and watching the screen through squinted eyes.  The direction, script, actors, score--oh, good God, the score!--are as near perfect as I've seen in a long time, and as a longtime, committed horrorphile, it felt like director David Robert Mitchell had created a film to specifically ping all of my horror pleasure centers.  It Follows deliberately harkens back to the horror of the 80's and early 90's, a time period for which I have quite an affinity.
It Follows is the story of Jay, a young woman who has sex with her new boyfriend, only to discover afterward that she has inherited a sexually transmitted curse in which she is doomed to be forever followed by a monster who can take on the appearance of anybody it wants--from friends to family members to complete strangers--yet can only be seen the carrier of the curse.  If it catches up with you, well, it kills you (see: dead girl on beach minus a leg).  If it kills you, it takes up following the person that passed the curse onto you again, and so on. The only way to keep the monster away from you, is by passing the curse along to someone else (Think The Ring, only you get to have sex!) and then, I guess, encouraging them to bone someone as soon as humanly possibly.  The bulk of the movie involves Jay dealing with this monster with the help of her friends.
 
It. Following.
 

On the evening I saw It Follows, I made sure, beforehand, to announce my plans for the evening on several different social media platforms--as one does--accompanied by a picture of the double chili cheeseburger and parmesan fries I was having for dinner.  "Dinner, then It Follows with Jonathan," my message of movie night goodtimes read, a simple missive I hoped would elicit twinges of excitement and jealousy in my online followers.  What I got was this comment: "NO NO!!  Don't go see it!  It's awful!!!"  I asked this person later why she didn't like it and she said, among other things, "it didn't scare me."  While I am willing to admit that, no, there were not an abundance of "jump scares" in It Follows (There is the one scene, mentioned by the online commenter, where a ball loudly smacks a window from out of nowhere, that made me and my fellow moviegoers jump; in fact, said scene lead me to describe It Follows to Jonathan as "key-janglingly frightening," as I found myself more startled by the jangling keys of the woman sitting behind me in the theater then the rubber ball itself.), but "jump scares" are nothing but cheap tricks to fool the horror amateur into thinking a film is scary when it actually isn't.  "This horror film we're making is kind of not scary.  Oh, I know, throw a cat at the protagonist and make sure the volume in the theater is cranked to 11."  Instant (pseudo) scary.
 
I submit that It Follows is one of the scariest, creepiest movies I've seen in a good long time, and that is based solely on the film's premise:  It--whatever 'it' is--follows you.  Everywhere.  Always.  Ceaselessly.  Until it catches up to you.  And it kills you.  That is immensely unsettling and scary.  No matter how far you run, drive, fly, teleport, etc, etc, it will catch up with you.  Sure, the rules of the movie demand that it walks, but it doesn't mind walking.  It doesn't mind walking at all.
 
Want to see a perfect horror film?  Well, watch It Follows.  Immediately.  You idiot.
 
 
 
Read the rest of this article.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Movie Penguin Monday: A Couple of Weirdos Edition: #27 & #28. Lars and the Real Girl (2007) & Dummy (2002)

The indie film landscape of the 2000's is lousy with lovable oddballs, huggable weirdos, cuddly undiagnosed autistic menchildren and pitiable quirk blobs mashed into human form.  Manic pixie dreamgirls get all the press, but these goofy, unassuming, frustrating-but-worth-it sad sacks deserve recognition as well, at least in the sense that independent filmmakers need to learn from the mistakes of the past, and realize that watching this character-type bumble around for two hours is about as fun as being forced to sit through an elderly co-worker's daily barrage of abysmal dad jokes.  And allowing them to perform the aforementioned bumbling for two hours of plot-free quirk is even worse, and might, in fact, be criminal.  I'm not an attorney, I don't know the law, but I work with attorneys, so I can find out if I need to.

I recently watched two indie quirk-fests featuring two awkward, mumbly weirdos from the 2000's back-to-back for reasons I'm still not entirely sure of, but were probably related to some kind of self-punishment I subconsciously felt I deserved: 2007's Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling with a mustache, and 2002's Dummy, starring Adrien Brody.  Both films' protagonists are "charming" oddballs who form an attachment to a human-shaped inanimate object--Lars with a life-sized love doll manufactured specifically to make masturbation a little creepier; and Steven with, well, a dummy--that somehow makes said oddball a better, less awkward person worthy of a female human's love and affection.  These non-traditional relationships also make the community in which the oddball and his object of desire exist, a better place, filled with "normal" individuals who have been made better for being forced to accept said oddball's quirkiness.  Both films are pretty bad, but great examples of what came to be known, for a time, as the very definition of independent cinema.

Let's start with the better of the two, Lars and the Real Girl, a film I liked and hated in almost equal amounts.  It tells the story of a sad, shy weirdo who purchases a realistic sex doll, which he names Bianca and introduces to everybody in town as his girlfriend from Brazil.  There is the usual hemming and/or hawing that one would expect when a mustachioed goofball expresses a desire to, say, bring his life-sized sex device to church, but in the end, everyone in town falls in love with Bianca, hiring her to work weekends at the mall or, in the film's most "we-thought-this-would-be-funny-but-oops-it-really-really-is-not-in-fact-it's-gross-and-almost-certainly-criminal" scene, reading to school children.  When Bianca eventually dies--that's right, Bianca dies--all the citizens of Quirkville, USA, attend her funeral, in a scene that I initially mistook as poignant, until I remembered that they had just buried a rubber sex doll in a legitimate grave in an actual graveyard surrounded by the remains of people's actual loved ones.

If I were to give Lars and the Real Girl a letter grade, I'd give it a C+; a star rating out of 5, 2-and-a-half stars; and snarky verbal rating, a "meh."  The actors are fine, the cinematography is OK and the plot, while nothing I've really seen before but still feels hackneyed somehow, exists, which is more than I can say for other quirky weirdo indies from The Aughts, for example 2002's Dummy.  Lars' relationship with Bianca helps him work through some pretty heavy shit, and Lars is a nice guy--even though 20 minutes into the movie, I felt compelled to tweet out to whoever would listen, "Is Lars Lindstrom the biggest asshole in cinematic history?" as I was convinced he had purchased Bianca simply to fuck with people who wouldn't leave him alone about being single and quirky and mustached--so, I fully understand why everybody in his small town plays along.  And, honestly, the "+" part of the "C+" is because of Emily Mortimer, who is a delight in everything.  

My biggest problem with Lars and the Real Girl?  I'll get to that in just a minute, because it is also my major problem with Dummy.


Here are the things I liked about Dummy: 1) The scene where Steven invites Lorena over for a romantic evening, but fails to set the mood when he plays a CD of John Phillip Sousa's greatest marches; and 2) Jessica Walter.  That's it.

Now I don't like to come online and bad mouth things like everybody else, but, c'mon, nobody in this movie looks back on Dummy fondly.  How could they?  You can't tell me that Milla Jovovich is proud of her work in this movie?  Her character is awful and unnecessary.  And Jared Harris!  Wonderful Jared Harris--look what they have you doing!!!  And Adrien Brody's Steven makes Lars look like the life of the party.  What a sad sack piece of shit.

Look, everyone in Dummy has done vastly better things--I watched Grand Budapest Hotel two weeks ago, and Adrien Brody was great!--so I'm not going to waste my afternoon and your precious reading time actor-bashing.  An actor is only as good as his/her words, and the words these fine actors were forced to recite in this thing are shit.  This is sub-sitcom nonsense, with way too many characters given their own subplots, when all we really care about is the relationship between Steven and Lorena, played by Vera Farmiga.  If you want a plot summary for Dummy, read the Wikipedia page, because I want to talk about Lorena and Margo, the love interests in Dummy and Lars and the Real Girl respectively.

Lorena and Margo do not make sense, and this is why I reject them.  This is not a manic pixie dreamgirl situation, but, rather, an awkward, oddball manchild one.  In these movies, two quirk-crammed weird-balls turn two perfectly nice and normal females into, I don't know.  I guess they don't turn into anything, it's just the fact that they find anything interesting about Steven and Lars at all.  Especially Margo.  Lars rejects her up until the final scene of the movie, Bianca's unholy funeral, at which time, after Margo gives her condolences on the death of a female-shaped sperm collection device, Lars asks her if she'd like to take a walk.  

Lorena's interest in Steven is also troubling, chiefly because she has a young daughter, and Steven is a directionless geek who lives at home with his parents and spends most of his free time hanging out in Target with crazy person who dresses like a 14-year-old girl, but is definitely in her early-30's.  I'm not saying there is anything wrong with living with your parents or shopping at Target, I just don't know many woman of Lorena's age, level of employment and emotional maturity that is actively seeking someone like Steven.  Hey, I'm what you might consider a weirdo, and I found love and happiness with a wonderful woman, but I was also actively employed, out from under my parents' iron fist and wasn't known around town as "that guy who used to tell everyone a sex doll was his girlfriend."  For a weirdo, I'm relatively normal.

In the end, in Lars and the Real Girl, I liked that no one had sex with Bianca.  In Dummy, I liked nothing.  






Read the rest of this article.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Highs and Lows of 2015: So Far

As you may have noticed, I really enjoyed Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  I tried to make that clear in my previous post, but I'm not entirely sure I was successful, after all, I did only use three exclamation points when I called it the best program of all-time, by which I meant all the times since TV has existed.  If I failed at selling the show to you, dear reader, then I sincerely apologize.  I will do my best in the future to more succinctly express my love for things when recommending them to you.  I'm thinking of adding a fourth exclamation point to the roster.  I'm currently in talks with my legal team about it, so I'll keep you posted.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt hasn't been the only high point of 2015 so far though, in fact,  I've bumped up against plenty of other top-notch entertainments-n-such this year.  And it's only March!  Who knows how many more dizzying highs I will have personally experienced by May!  July!  Um, ever heard of a little month called October?!?  I'll be flying so high you might mistake me for popular stand-up comedian and podcast host Doug Benson.  We're talking high!  Am I right?

Of course, with peaks there are always valleys, and, man, have I found myself in some bummer valleys this year.  So, I thought it might be amusing to take a look at some of the highs and lows of the current year so far.  In the spirit of honesty, I feel I should admit that this post was originally planned to be a comparison of two recently released stand-up specials, but I started to feel crummy about pitting comedians against each other, especially when one of them is a well-documented favorite of mine and the other is someone I don't think I've ever laughed at once.  That didn't seem fair or cool, but I wasn't going to have watched one of the specials for nothing (the horror, the horror), so, you know, this thing.  All right, let's have some fun or something.

Aziz Ansari: Live at Madison Square Garden (High):  I'm a guy who makes lists; not to-do lists or grocery lists or any other helpful kind of list you can name, but pointless lists that do nothing more than help me keep track of the ultimately useless information floating around in my pop-culture-addled brain.  Lists like Top 10 All-Time Favorite Movies (a list that is reviewed every couple years or so to see if any readjustments need to be made), Top 5 Favorite Chili's Entrees (I'm super into the Bacon Ranch Chicken Quesadilla right now) and Top 10 Animated Female Characters I'd Have Sex With (N/A).  I also have a list of Top 10 Favorite Stand-Up Comedians, a list on which Aziz Ansari appears (along with Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, Brian Regan, Dave Attel, the aforementioned Doug Benson, and at least 4 others), so naturally, I am inclined to like Live at Madison Square Garden.  But I don't like it simply because it is my sworn duty as a fan of Ansari to enjoy everything he does, but I like it because it's fucking funny, and it is so fucking funny.  It's also kind of moving--and I'm not just talking about the fact that he brings his parents up at the end or dedicates the special to the memory of Harris Wittels.  He does a bit near the end in which he imagines married life as a graph that is so emotionally moving and funny it makes the first ten minutes of the Pixar film UP look like a hunk of flaming garbage (that's not accurate or true).  And I'm not the first, second or third person to write this about Live at Madison Square Garden, but this show feels really intimate.  It doesn't feel like a comedy show in a sports arena, and that's what makes it so special, I think.  Sure, there's a confetti cannon, but what club show couldn't benefit from one of those?  Exactly.

Ralphie May: Unruly (Low): I'm going to say something nice about Ralphie May: I think he was robbed on the first season of Last Comic Standing.  I didn't find him particularly funny then either, but I thought he had a lot more going for him then that season's winner, um, you know, uh, that guy with the, er, jokes or something (I know it was Dat Phan!  Geez, I'm just making a point.).  Ralphie May has turned his television debut into a successful career--he mentions in Unruly that he has been doing comedy for 25 years!--and for that he should be very proud.  The thing is, I don't find Ralphie May funny, and I think that's OK.  Hacky jokes about Asian stereotypes, excessive marijuana use (Apparently, May once go to high he sat in a Chick-fil-A drive-thru line for 3 hours...on a Sunday!  Can you believe it?!?!?) and pubic hair aren't my idea of a fun night out, but again, that's OK.  Other people eat that stuff up, and that doesn't make them bad people, it just means they find different things funnier than I do, and luckily for Ralphie May's bank account, that's Ralphie May.  My main issue with May--and it could very well just be this special, I haven't seen any of his other ones--is that his act kind of makes me physically ill.  I like vaginas as much as the next guy--maybe more!--but listening to a man refer to them as "pussy meat" or, worse, "'giner meat" for an hour-and-twenty-three minutes, is nauseating.  Why does he have to keep adding meat to the end of it?  And why is this special over an hour?!?  Live at Madison Square Garden is 58 minutes long, 58 tight minutes of insightful, expertly-crafted humor.  Ralphie May spends the last 30-minutes-but-it-feels-like-4-hours berating a 21-year-old in the front row about how he's less-than-a-man because he's never "fingerblasted" a girl.  Kudos to May for presenting a routine devoid of fat jokes, but, dude, we get it, you've touched a lot of different vaginas.  You win, OK.  Shut up already!

The return of the Best Show (High): Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster brought back the Best Show this year, and while Tom's life was completely upended only two episodes in (his father died suddenly), he has soldiered onward, proving that even in the difficult times he is still capable of steamrolling any chump that gets in his way.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Season 10 (High): Still the most consistently funny show on TV right now.  I recently re-watched every single episode on Neflix--a worthy endeavor that I encourage you to undertake if you have not already--and there simply isn't a low-point, a lull, a broken toilet (to borrow a phrase from Mr. Scharpling) of a season.  It's as close to perfect as you can get.  And this season has been no exception.

Chappie (Low): The trailer for Chappie made me cry...all three times I watched it.  I'm not embarrassed to admit that.  I'm a sensitive male in touch with his emotions, comfortable with the feel and taste of tears on my cheeks (I have an absurdly long tongue, ant-eater-esque even). I was up for Chappie, ready to get in there and cheer and cry and let whatever else wanted to spray out of my body, um, spray out of my body.  But then the lukewarm reviews started rolling in (It's currently sporting a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes!) and my tear valves dried right up.  "This is Elysium all over again," I tearlessly wept.  I don't usually let reviews dictate what movies I see or music I download (I am quick to trust television critics however), but there is just too much negativity surrounding poor lil Chappie, so I think I'm going to wait until this one comes to DVD or Netflix and then I forget about it and never see it, i.e. Elysium all over again.
Marvel Contest of Champions (High): I don't let my 3-year-old daughter watch violent TV shows or watch scary movies or read Highlights for children (I feel like she might confuse Goofus for Gallant--maybe in another year she'll be ready), but I do let her watch me play Contest of Champions, much to the chagrin of my wife.  It's not the colorful characters or the emphasis on teamwork the game promotes that she is opposed to, but more the violence, some of which involves giant space-swords and guns, both laser and bullet-filled.  I mean, the game consists of two Marvel superheroes engaging in hand-to-hand combat, until one is knocked unconscious, so I kind of see her point.  Also, my daughter likes to play Contest of Champions with me even when my iPhone is not around.  "I'll be Gamora and you be Spider-Man," she says, gleefully, before making sounds with her mouth that sound a bit like punching.  Then, at some point, she'll raise her arm and bring it down in a mighty karate chop saying, "Whoopsie, sword!" a phrase my wife and I repeat constantly because it is so cute to hear a 3-year-old say.  Also, it refers to Gamora's special movie, in which she removes a previously unnoticed sword from out of thin air and slices her opponent with it mercilessly.  Fun!  Anyway, this game is the reason you should get an iPhone.  'Nuff said.

Whoopsie, hook!
Disney cruise (HIGH): I went on a Disney cruise with my wife, my daughter and my parents the last week in February, and I haven't been the same since my return.  I'm my best self on a Disney cruise, my happiest self.  Also, my fattest self, but we don't need to talk about that right now.  Anyway, it was more fun than I can describe in a short blurb.  Above, please see myself and my daughter dressed up for Friday night's pirate party.  Yeah, that's a parrot on my shoulder, and at least one little kid at the pirate party thought it was real and asked to touch it.  I told him it was dead.  He gave me a horrified look, and disappeared back into the crowd of pirates.
The death of Harris Wittels (LOW): I didn't know Harris Wittels personally, but I am a huge fan.  I fell in love with his comedy through his many appearances on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast, as well as other podcasts to which I listen regularly.  If Harris was in an episode of something, I was excited.  I am still devastated by his loss, so I can only imagine how his friends and family feel.  I can't remember who said it, but someone funny postulated, and I'm paraphrasing here, that the loss of Harris will be felt more and more as time goes by, as he was a singular voice in the world of modern comedy, and his death is not only tragic because of how young he was, but because of how amazingly talented he was.  There will never be another Harris Wittels.  I'd just be happy to have the old Harris Wittels back at this point.





Read the rest of this article.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Watch This Immediately, You Idiot!: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I've been racking my brain for the past 48 hours trying to come up with a way to describe my feelings about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the new Tina Fey-created comedy that debuted on Netflix last Friday, in a single, direct statement that doesn't sound like an incredible exaggeration, and therefore, open to the scoffing and eye-rolling of the general public.  But then I remembered that Giant Electric Penguin is nothing if not one man's hyperbolic ramblings regarding the pop culture he adores, so here's what I came up with.  You can tell me in the comments if you think I've gone too far.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the funniest half-hour, single-camera situation comedy to ever exist in the history of TV and/or subscription-based entertainment-streaming services.  In fact, it may the greatest comedy program of ALL TIME!!!
In Time's Square--where New Yorkers shop!

I'm willing to agree that perhaps that third exclamation point is a bit "much," but I stand by the rest of my statement.  Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a consistently hilarious endeavor from top (by which I mean the Gregory Brothers-created theme song that has been stuck in my head all weekend) to bottom (the credits, in which the names of all the people responsible for this genius comedy are contained), and I for one am glad I devoted six-and-a-half hours to watching the first season on Friday.  Feels like time well spent, and I mean that.

If the fact that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was created by Tina Fey and that I was compelled to use three exclamation points earlier--something that I've now decided was not a bit "much" but maybe not "enough"--then maybe I should tell you that it stars Ellie Kemper (of "being hilarious" fame), Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski doing some of the best work of their careers, as well as some amazing guest turns from Richard Kind, Tim Blake Nelson, Martin Short and Jon Hamm as charismatic cult leader/wannabe Apprentice cast member, Richard Wayne Gary Wayne.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a joke machine in the 30 Rock tradition, but I think it tells a more readily identifiable story, even though it revolves around a young woman (the titular Schmidt, played to perfection by Ellie Kemper) who has just been freed from 15 years captivity in an underground bunker located in a local weirdo's backyard.  After being interviewed on the Today show with her fellow cult captives, Kimmy decides she doesn't want to be defined by her past, isn't content to simply live out the rest of her days known as one of the "Indiana Mole Women," and chooses to remain in New York City and make a go at a normal life, even though she sports an eighth grade education, can fit her all of her earthly possessions in a purple backpack, has no place to live and says things like "what the ham sandwich?!?" on a regular basis.  Through the magic of positivity and pure dumb luck, Kimmy finds an affordable basement apartment, which she shares with Titus, an out-of-work actor, and a job keeping house (kinda-sorta) for an eccentric family run by Jane Krakowski, who is never not funny, and while in some ways as strange as 30 Rock's Jenna, is less off-putting and seemingly capable of change--also the handful of flashbacks to her life before moving to the Big Apple and marrying a neglectful millionaire, are some of my favorite moments of the first season.

I don't want to write much more, not for any dumb spoilery reason, but because you need to watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for yourself.  It's funny, strange, sweet and emotionally satisfying.  And it's got the most sophisticated robot character since Screech Powers' Kevin.


Read the rest of this article.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Top 7 Movies of 2014

It's Academy Awards Day, and that means it's time to reveal my Top 10 favorite films from last year.  Only, um, I only saw 15 films released in 2014, none of which are nominated for any of the major categories (as far as I know), so I only have a Top 7.  I watched plenty of straight-to-streaming action movies and painfully unfunny Marlon Wayans comedies on Netflix, but, sadly, none of these qualify for the following list.  Anyway, here are the movies that were released in 2014 that I saw and enjoyed.  You'll notice that Godzilla is not on this list.  This is because I hated Godzilla so much.

7. Edge of Tomorrow
6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
4. Frank
3. Snowpiercer
2. Blue Ruin
1. Guardians of the Galaxy


Read the rest of this article.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

50 Shades of "Hey, Let's Go See Something Else"

While millions of horned-up housewives make the filmed adaptation of E. L. James’ pervy non-classic, 50 Shades of Grey, the number one movie at the box office this weekend, I’ll be joining my fellow cinephiles in giving my hard-earned monies to entertainment more deserving.  Did you know that Valentine’s Day weekend is the single biggest release date for movies in any calendar year (i.e. any year that has a Benedict Cumberbatch-themed calendar mass produced for it)?  It’s true.  In fact, I’ve found 11 films alone that are more worth your time and money then 50 Shades of Yuck (My awesome joke.  Don’t steal it.), all of which, oddly enough, seemingly titled to trick less observant viewers into the wrong theater.  Hey, whatever works! 

1. 50 Shades of May (Rated PG): A contemplative meditation on what has historically been the most ignored month.  From Japan, 50 Shades of May follows the day-to-day life of a young monk residing alone on an island in the middle of a lake over the course of a single May.  The story unfolds exclusively through voice-over and is mostly made up of static shots of tree limbs, but the scene where the monk eats rice out of bowl while describing the many varieties of May breezes, is extremely moving.

2. 50 Shades of Day (Rated R): A rare look into the mind of one of the world’s greatest living actors. Daniel Day-Lewis performs 50 original characters in 50 minutes.  Filmed live in front of a small audience at Mr. Day-Lewis’s neighborhood pub.

3. 150 Shades of Gray (Rated PG-13): A revealing documentary that recounts the infamous Crayola Dispute of 1907, in which Edwin Binney was faced with the herculean task of deciding which of the hundreds of shades of the color gray should be included in the popular Crayola 10-Pack of crayons, and then, upon making the choice, having to convince C. Harold Smith, a notorious hater of non-bright colors, that he was right.

4. 50 Shades of Dre (Rated R): The Andre “Doctor Dre” Brown (of Yo! Mtv Raps and Who’s the Man) biopic that made such a splash at the Munich Film Festival last year.

5. Nifty Shapes of Grapes (Rated G): Ever wondered why grapes are round?  This new film from Christ Almighty Pictures, tells the story, but in a comical way that will delight Christian families and the heathen friends they bring along to the theater.  Dean Cain stars as Sammy, an angel sent to Earth and tasked with helping the Big Man Upstairs intelligently design the perfect grape and Kevin Sorbo plays the angry atheistic college professor he meets on his journey.  The whole movie takes place at a Newsboys concert!

6. 50 Shades of Neigh (Rated R)50 Shades of Grey, but with horses.

7. 50 Shades of Shades (Rated R): A documentary about the cutthroat world of lampshade sales. Inspired the return of the UK’s Video Nasties list.

8.  50 Shots with Clay (Rated PG-13): My Dinner with Andre for our time!  Clay Aiken and Clay Matthews III meet for drinks at a local watering hole and discuss their careers with one another.

9. 50 Shades of Tea (Leoni) (Rated NC-17): Tea Leoni plays a fictionalized version of herself in this dark mockumentary about the Hollywood machine.  Surprisingly racist, and not ironically so.  A huge hit at last year’s Munich Film Festival.

10. 50 Shades of Sade (Unrated): Singer-songwriter Sade performs 50 songs in 50 minutes to crowd who gets increasingly more upset as the realize what is going on.

11. Quickly!  Shade the Hay! (Rated R): A thrilling indie drama about a farmer (Gary Sinise) and his wife (Penelope Ann Miller) who must protect their farm from a ruthless land baron (Nicolas Cage) and his mentally challenged brother (Rob Schneider) working for a corrupt politician (Wayne Coyne) who wants to build a superhighway (voiced by Nick Swardson) through America’s (played by Ontario, Canada) Heartland.  Fearing he’ll lose everything, the farmer seeks assistance from a local crime boss (Blythe Danner) and her notorious gang, known locally as the Murderous Duo (Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans), and a bloody conflict ensues, a conflict in which no one is safe, including the town librarian (Christina Hendricks), the milkman (Toby Huss), a retired train conductor who spends his days making dolls out of barbed wire and pocket lint (Werner Herzog), the town florist (Paul Dano) and his wife (Octavia Spencer), and Joseph Hesselbaum (the WWE’s Hornswoggle, in a career-making performance), an attorney who grew up next door to the farmer and loves him like a brother, but is hiding a terrible secret.

So, there you go, eleven reasons not to see 50 Shades of Grey this Valentine’s weekend.  Or maybe just watch a movie at home.  Whatever you decide to do, remember, the popcorn trick is only cool if you make sure the other person is into it first.  OK? 

Read the rest of this article.