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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

On mutant powers and being a pedestrian

A weird summit of Raleigh commuters met in secret at the start of 2015 to discuss whether or not crosswalks and those who use them on a regular basis should continue to be paid attention to and/or respected.  Following an unprecedented unanimous vote, it was decided crosswalks should be utterly ignored and the lives of those who use them on a regular basis be devalued  to something below lice on a worm.  Satisfied with their unholy decision, this cabal of sinister motorists sacrificed a virgin to their devil-god and gorged themselves on the blood of infants.

I don't have substantial proof that the above event actually took place, I'm just making an educated guess.  I've nearly been flattened while using crosswalks more times in the first four months of 2015 than I have in the last seven-and-a-half years I've been walking to the office at which my day job is located.  Obviously something strange is going on.  It may not be a secret cult of demon-worshipping baby-eaters, but something unnatural has happened to the brains of the commuting public.
I used to have this fantasy about what I would do if I had the good fortune of narrowly avoiding being steamrolled in a crosswalk and also possessed eerie, man-frog powers.  I developed said fantasy after I was almost smashed to pulp by an idiot, who after nearly causing my death, felt the need to pull over to the curb, roll his window down, shout the word "asshole" at me and then screech away like a getaway driver post-bank heist.  You see, in this scenario, Dum-Dum believed that I was the asshole, when in reality, it couldn't be clearer who the asshole was.  Just so we're clear, the asshole is always the person who almost/definitely commits vehicular manslaughter.  You don't hear a lot of victims of hit-and-runs or police brutality or rape being called "assholes" by the press.  There's a reason for that.

Oh, the fantasy!  Yes, in that moment, as the garbage person drove off into his unhappy life, I imagined I had superhuman frog powers, kind of like Spider-Man if instead of being bitten by a radioactive spider he’d been licked or had licked a radioactive frog.  In my fantasy, I leaped from my spot on the sidewalk onto the hood of the dickhead’s car, smashed the windshield with my superhuman frog strength (???), and using my tongue as a bullwhip or lasso, lifted the man from the driver’s seat by this neck, leaped into the nearest parking lot with him firmly gripped in my prehensile tongue and bashed his face into the concrete.  His car, of course, would veer off into an abandoned lot and explode for reasons unknown.  Finally, I imagined me standing the dude up—he’s now crying like a baby, snot, tears and blood running down his dumb face—removing my tongue from around his throat and spin kicking him through the plate glass window of an abandoned storefront.  Slurping my super tongue back into my mouth, I’d look down at this guy, who is now just a sobbing, blubbery mess, and say, all nonchalant and suave, “Asshole.”  This actually happened—the fantasy, not the man-frog street fight.  I have a rich imagination and should be hired by Pixar immediately to write and direct films.  What do you say, Pixar???
 
For a long time, I thought the frog-man bit was the best way to deal with shitty drivers. Now, I’m not so sure.  I think I found a better way, an easier way, a way that would take away the interaction, the confrontation.  Whenever I want to punish someone for almost killing me dead, I suppress it because I don’t want the confrontation part.  You don’t know who you are about to scrap with if you decide to make a scene, could be someone with nothing to lose—I often assume it is, because I think people who chronically refuse to respect and acknowledge the human beings they share the planet with are soulless monsters without love.  I’m opposed to getting into a shouting match with someone who might, without a seconds hesitation, punch my nose into my brain or shoot me in the heart.  There are people like that.  George Zimmerman, for instance.  Side note, can we get that guy away from the general public, please?  He’s already killed someone.  The next thing is going to be even worse.
 
What do I currently do when I’m almost run over in a crosswalk?  I’m glad you asked.  I mumble curses like an elderly gypsy woman.  I’ll typically flip the classic bird, let the driver in question know I do not support what he/she just did.  I’m almost 100% certain they don’t care even a little bit.  “Gotta get to the office, even if it means committing a murder.”  I hope you choke on your Starbucks, you rat!
 
I give bad drivers the finger and I fantasize revenge scenarios.  The scenario I fantasized last time I was nearly killed, however, may be the best revenge fantasy I’ve had to date; in fact, I’ve found a way to make it work for situations outside of the crosswalk paradigm.  And I owe it all to the film X-Men: Days of Future Past.

If you haven’t seen the film or somehow don’t know the scene by this point—I feel like it’s the only thing people were talking about in the podcast-iverse last summer—you can check it out here.  Doing so is vital to fully understanding my fantasy plan for dealing with the crosswalk-illiterate in this town.  For those who refuse to click the link, I will tell you the scene features Quicksilver, a mutant who can run/perform tasks super fast, running and performing tasks super fast.  This moment in the movie so inspired me, that I immediately upped my already rigorous training game—did I mention I’m running a 10K through Disney’s Epcot amusement park in January?  Oh, I didn’t?  Stay tuned!—in the hopes of building my running speed to Quicksilver-like levels.  This will never happen, obviously, but if sleeping has taught me anything, it’s that it’s all right—nay, necessary!—to dream.  Anyway, here’s my fantasy.  It requires both Quicksilver’s mutant speed abilities and a paper sack full of nails.
 
So, I’m almost flattened by some thoughtless commuter with coffee stains on his work shirt or a cell phone crammed in her ear, and I leap out of the way—not a Quicksilver leap, just a regular fat guy leap, a leap I’m quite familiar with, being, as I am, a regular fat guy.  I take a second to smile deviously to myself, while removing a paper sack of nails from my work bag (my daughter refers to it as my "purse"), and using my mutant speed powers, I do a few hundred laps around the perpetrator’s car, jamming handfuls of nails into each tire as I do so.  Then I dash back to the curb, stash the nail bag and watch the results of my super-powered revenge.  The crappy, almost-a-murderer is stranded at morning rush hour, a chorus of honks and swears serenading him or her and there are no witnesses to how the driver’s four tires got the Cenobite treatment in a matter of milliseconds.  Oh, man, just seeing this fantasy in print brings me so much satisfaction.
 
I’ve found, between the time I started writing this article and having returned to it weeks later, that Quicksilver powers could come in handy for non-crosswalk-related revenge situations as well.  For instance, there was a little girl at my daughter’s gymnastics class last Monday who refused to follow the directions of any of the three Little Gym instructors who have been tasked with the difficult duty of teaching three-to-six year olds to tumble, walk a balance beam and perform all manner of potential neck-breaking activities.  “Like herding cats,” is my wife’s weekly refrain, and if you’ve ever witnessed a child’s gymnastics class, you’d agree said statement is pretty apropos.  Anyway, this girl isn’t listening.  She’s running to whatever station she wants to whenever she wants to, she’s jumping off of things when she’s supposed to be sitting quietly, in essence, she’s being a little shit.  And what are this little shit’s parents doing about it?  Well, they were seated right in front of me in the parent’s viewing area, so I can tell you exactly what they were doing: nothing.  Literally nothing.  They just sat there, slack-jawed and vacant, as their little shit kid wreaked havoc all over the Little Gym.  It’s almost like they couldn’t see what was going on. I’m pretty sure they weren’t blind though.  They weren’t wearing sunglasses or brandishing white canes, and I’m pretty sure I saw them drive away in a car.  They just didn’t care.  At all.  I was enraged.  I know every kid isn’t like my daughter, but, dammit, they should all strive to be.  She has a blast in gymnastics class, but she also listens and follows directions.  This little shit did nothing she was told, and it was fairly simple to figure out why.
 
So, what if, using my Quicksilver powers, I dashed into the gym, picked up the little shit, ran her out into the parking lot—making sure to cradle her neck to avoid whiplash, like Quicksilver does for Magneto—leave her there and dash back to my seat.  To be clear, I don’t want this little girl to get hit by a car—I would make sure the parking lot is clear when I pull this stunt and, if need be, I can dash back outside to grab her if anything goes amiss—I just want her parents to notice her.  My brain won’t let me believe these two want to raise a child who does whatever shitty thing she wants and thinks it’s OK, so, it must be that they view gymnastics class as a break, and when she’s in there, she becomes a blank, or, rather, a blind spot crystalizes over their eyeballs, and they become blissfully ignorant for an hour.  Only you’re not allowed to do that.  You’re not allowed to unleash an unruly kid on an unsuspecting world and force us to deal with your parenting failures.  So, you watch your kid, you pay attention, and when they come up short in the behavior department, you correct them, right the ship as it were.
 
By moving their kid into a potentially dangerous situation, I would be testing to see if they were truly paying attention.  Your kid, who has been running around like a headless chicken, in and out of the gym, jumping off of this and that, is suddenly in the parking lot alone, scared and possibly in the path of a rampaging monster truck—I live in the South, where we do have free range monster trucks, so it could happen—now what are you going to do?  I’m using my Quicksilver abilities here for good, you see.  I’m waking everybody up.  I’m teaching a lesson.  Or maybe I’m just being a dick.  Maybe everybody has a different parenting style, and maybe it’s dickish of me to think I’ve got all the answers.  I mean, people constantly rave about our daughter’s behavior and politeness to us, but maybe me and my wife don’t have all the answers. Maybe I should just stick to jamming nails into people’s tires.

I understand that I will never possess the quickness of a Quicksilver or a Flash or a Fasty the World’s Fastest Toddler (patent pending), so, what do I do when the next thoughtless driver narrowly avoids turning me into a road pancake?  Do I continue my ineffective campaign of subtle bird-flippings or do I, as I’ve also fantasized, pull my umbrella out of my work purse and toss it at the driver, praying it won’t actually hit their car because then they’ll yell at me?  Middle finger salutes haven't helped so far, and umbrellas don’t grow on trees.  Do I write more posts about how important it is to watch out for pedestrians?  Honestly, I don’t think anybody will see them.  Maybe if I mention Taco Bell a lot.  People seem to find my blog when I write about Taco Bell.
 
What I’ll probably do is continue being the cautious one.  I’ll watch out for the drivers who so callously take my life for granted.  I’ve been doing it for seven-plus years at this point.  If I hear anything about creepy experiments to give  people actual, real-life speed powers, I may volunteer, but until then I’ll just watch my back and fantasize revenge scenarios; sweet, sweet revenge scenarios.
 
UPDATE: Because I’m lazy, it took me a long time to finish and post this essay, but during this time, something happened that I feel compelled to mention here in passing.  Last week, while walking to work, I was nearly flattened in a crosswalk by someone ON A BICYCLE!!!  We’re on the same team, bike riders and pedestrians!  I was horrified!  We exchanged glances, the bike rider and me, and she seemed pretty apologetic, and I didn’t scowl at her or flip her off or throw a paper sack of nails at her face, I was just kind of shocked.  I encounter this particular bike rider a lot during my walk to work and in the past we’ve been nothing but friendly (i.e. ignored each other), so I didn’t get too fired up.  Seemed like something I should mention though. 
 


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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Reflections on the first 50-minutes of the film Noah

I don't believe the Old Testament story of Noah and his ark full of heterosexual animals and the flood that destroyed all of mankind thus paving the way for the Earth 2 continuity ever actually happened.  Now, a lot of you are probably saying, "Well, duh," but do you realize that just as many readers have this minute cursed me as a heretic and begged God to purge their minds of the offending sentence they've just encountered on this sinfully liberal, obviously atheistic and virulently anti-Christian Web site?  Look, it's a fine story, an uplifting tale in which an angry deity mass murders his creations because they turned out to be a bunch of jerks, a real heartwarming yarn repeated by others scores before the Bible was even in pre-production, I just don't believe any of it happened.  Starting the post out with this statement is intended neither as a warning to believers that some hardcore religious intolerance is on the horizon nor as a sneering indictment of Christianity as a whole.  I'm merely attempting to illustrate why a lot of what irritated Christian viewers about Darren Aronofsky's 2014 film Noah, didn't bother me all that much.  In my opinion, the story of Noah and his ark has never been rich enough to justify a feature-length film adaptation, so why not include rock monsters?

I should also admit here that I've only seen the first 50-minutes of Noah, and 20 of those were spent on a treadmill--I'm training for a 10K, blah blah blah whatever, stay tuned--so, my thoughts on the compleat Noah experience is not fully formed, though forthcoming.  Netflix issues made it so I had to stop watching around the scene where Hermoine is chatting with Noah about being infertile or something, but I'm pretty sure I've encountered enough of the "offending material" to offer some thoughts.  

The following are my reflections, seasoned a bit with that classic GEP wit you've all come to know/love/roll your eyes at, on the first half of the film.  They are not intended to make religious folks feel dumb or give the impression that I am some Bill Maher-style Christianity hater.  Also, it should not be concluded that I am a super fan and/or defender of Aronofsky's film.  I've only seen 50-minutes of it, for Methuselah's sake, and those 50-minutes, frankly, were just OK.  It's not the worst thing I've seen, but I'm not necessarily champing at the bit to leap back into the fray, if I may use two cliches in one sentence (I may.  It's my blog and I can do what I want.).

1. I conducted the tiniest amount of online research--regular readers of the blog will recognize this as my typical modus operandi--regarding the Christian community's reaction to Noah, and, as you can probably guess, I immediately bumped up against Answers in Genesis, the organization that, among other nutty things, believes that Man and dinosaurs lived together Flintstones-style.  AIG has posted numerous reviews and concerns about Noah online, most of which I, admittedly, barely skimmed, but the thing they took umbrage with that most interested me was Aronofsky's use of artistic license.

Yes, Mr. Aronofsky is presenting his own take on the Biblical account of Noah and the ark.  I do not remember hearing anything about rock monsters and mystical vision tea in Children's Church.  And what's all this about Noah being a vegetarian and respecting the environment?!?  The Noah story "they" tell you when you are a kid goes like this:

God was mad at everybody; He told Noah to build a giant boat and cram two of every animal inside it; He sent a flood to destroy the world--it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, if I'm not mistaken; after the rain stopped, Noah sent a dove on a secret mission; the dove came back with an olive branch, revealing that dry land does exist in Waterworld after all; Dennis Hopper and his band of jet ski thugs are defeated; God sends a rainbow, says "Sorry, dudes;" the animals engage in a massive re-population orgy; and you can't buy beer on a Sunday until after 12 PM.  

I don't think I need to tell you, but the Flood story is one thin soup.  There ain't much to it.  To sustain two hours of prime Russell Crowe brooding, it is necessary, nay essential, for one to take some form of artistic license.  My question to AIG is this:  Who cares?  Aronofsky didn't take the story of Christ's crucifixion--without a doubt a far more important story in the Christian tradition--and add a wise-cracking dog to it.  He didn't depict the Last Supper as some kind of Sushi Girl-style revenge dinner.  He didn't make a movie about the Nativity in which Baby Jesus is protected from an evil wizard and his orc army by a hobbit, two elves and a roguish swashbuckler played by Chris Pratt, and slap the label "Based on a true story" in the opening credits.  He took a straightforward, dusty old bland myth from the Old Testament and added rock monsters to it.  Again, who cares?  Is the Flood story that precious?  It certainly seems so to the AIG people.  To them I say, it's Noah's ark, guys.  So, Aronofsky's Noah doesn't dig on meat and is kind of a treehugger.  It's not Jesus with sunglasses, a black leather duster and a machine gun in the temple warning the tax collectors and falafel vendors , "I'll be back."  It's a Bible story for children.
2. OK.  I've mentioned these rock monsters enough, lets get down to it.  Yes, there are rock monsters in Noah.  I don't yet know the ultimate fate of their race, but they are around, a lot, and they're helping Noah build the ark, which totally makes sense if you think about it, because how did Noah and his family build a boat large enough to house two of every animal on the planet without the help of super-strong giants?  The answers, I'm afraid, are not in Genesis, so Aronofsky had to come up with his own, so, rock monsters.

But it's not like he doesn't explain what they are!  I mean, the movie doesn't just throw in a bunch of rock monsters like it's the most normal thing in the world.  The rock monsters are actually a race of beings called the Watchers.  They were once beings of pure light (i.e. angels), created on Day #2 of God's infamous Creation Binge (AKA The Big Bang).  Through their observations of mankind, the Watchers grow to care for humanity and even begin to pity them after the Fall.  God doesn't particularly like this, so he banishes them to Earth, where they become encased in rocks an dirt for some reason.  The Watchers make the best of a bad situation, and use their banishment to help humanity, until humanity turns on them (i.e. hunts them down and slaughters them mercilessly).  Many Watchers are killed, and the remaining few are rescued from extinction by a fire-sword-wielding man named Methuselah, Noah's grandfather.  When Noah meets the Watchers, they are pretty much just wandering the wasteland surrounding Methuselah's Mountain Fortress Playset, still bummed about being tossed out of Heaven and pissed off at mankind for being a bunch of insufferable dicks.

That said, I still can't quite get a handle on who Aronofsky's Watchers are exactly.  My first idea was that maybe they were the director's take on who God conscribed to stand guard at the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve were evicted.  After hearing their story however, and it was revealed that they are considered fallen angels, I wondered if maybe this was Aronofsky's take on Lucifer's rebellion, but then I couldn't recall if that was Biblical or just Paradise Lost.  And then when that one Watcher tells Noah that they came to Earth to help humans out, I wondered if maybe he was admitting that he was, or at least knew, Satan, and the the whole Tree of Knowledge sitch was what he meant by "helping" (i.e. humans gained free will, put on some pants, etc), but God didn't like that.  In the end though, it doesn't actually matter.  Noah didn't have access to bulldozers or cranes, so, giant angels encased in rocks.  Why is that any crazier than anything else in the Bible.

3. Methuselah is, like, a magical witch doctor, I guess.  I don't know.  It's dumb.

4. I finally have a name for my current look: The Noah
Me, just add glasses, self-control and a boring American accent.

5. I've never been able to come to terms with the fact that Noah had a son named Ham.  That name makes me so hungry for a hoagie!

6. That armadillo dog at the beginning: Is that a dinosaur?  Is Aronofsky saying dogs evolved from armadillos?  Did one male and one female armadillo dog make it onto the ark, or did they get left behind to die with the dinosaurs, dragons and unicorns?  No major spoilers please, but can someone tell me how this whole armadillo dog thing shakes out?  Put it in the comments or send me an e-mail.  Do you think they taste good?  What do you think armadillo dogs taste like?  And don't say chicken.  Could you keep an armadillo dog as a pet?  Are they good with kids?

Next time: My reflections on the rest of Noah, if Netflix can get it's act together!!!



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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I Feel Like This Ren and Stimpy Fan Art Is Offensive Somehow

Take a look at this Ren and Stimpy fan art I came across on the internet this week:
I feel like it's offensive somehow.  Not because it portrays Ren and Stimpy in a homosexual relationship, because, a) Giant Electric Penguin is a gay-friendly site, in fact, we're friendly to all people, with the exception of racists, bullies, and the far-rightest of the Far Right; and b) fans of the show are already acutely aware that Ren and Stimpy are in a homosexual relationship and have been for many years.

What I don't like about this picture, besides the bulges, because who wants to envision their favorite cartoon characters with ample ballsacks and throbbing members, is Stimpy's new bod.  Is the artist trying to say that Ren would never be attracted to Stimpy unless he was a cut hunk?  Is he/she saying that the only way Ren and Stimpy could ever be believable as a loving gay couple is if Stimpy lost a significant amount of weight and Ren underwent extensive facial plastic surgery?  If that's the case, not cool, PsyhicNik!  Who are you to say that these two couldn't find true love with one another they way they are?  It's time to stop bullying 90's cartoon characters!

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Monday, April 27, 2015

The Force Awakens, I guess?


I want to start by assuring all of you that I like Star Wars.  My level of Star Wars appreciation is nowhere close to those diehards known affectionately within the greater Geek community as "Star Wars Nerds," but I am a fan.  Look, we all have those friends who moan and whine about how "the Prequels" (AKA Episodes 1-3) destroyed their childhood, pooped all over their precious memories and took a lengthy, steaming, pungent piss all over their hopes and dreams.  I'm not one of those.  I saw each one of the Prequels in theaters and thought, "Well, those weren't very good," and I went about my life.  But I'm also not one of those jerks who go, "The reason you didn't like the new Star Wars movies is because they aren't for you.  And the reason you think the Trilogy is so good is because you saw it when you were a dumb little kid.  Watch them again, man!  They suck too!"  Again, I'm not that guy.  I hate that guy, the kind of know-it-all a-hole who purports to know why you don't like something, as if he/she has cracked some code about you to which you are completely ignorant for some reason. I once had a know-it-all dick-bag tell me I didn't like Citizen Kane--which I mentioned over dinner I had seen, and while I understood why it was important to cinematic history, didn't particularly feel passionate about--because it was "old" and "in black and white."  Ugh.

The original Star Wars movies are quite enjoyable.  I watched them a lot when I still had my VCR (I own the original trilogy with none of George Lucas's later embellishments on VHS).  My favorite Star Wars movie is actually the one that before the Prequels arrived, Star Wars super fans appeared to agree was the worst entry in the series.  I'm not even going to include its title here because you Star Wars nerds know which one I'm talking about.  Screw you!  I love it!

Why the preamble?  I simply want you to understand where I'm coming from before you read the proceeding post.  It's been awhile since the latest Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer was released, but I've watched it, and, well, it's fine.  Before viewing it, I browsed through my Facebook Newsfeed for people's reactions, and I thought I was in for some mind-blowing stuff.  One guy proclaimed that director J.J. Abrams had restored his faith in the franchise and restored meaning to his childhood.  Two people admitted that they had "pooped their pants" while watching the 2-minute teaser trailer.  Oh, man, was I excited.  I even considered purchasing some adult diapers before pressing play.  Then I watched it.  It was fine.  At the end, when Han Solo is standing there all grizzled and cool, obviously, that was amazing, maybe even pants-poopingly so, but the rest of it was, I dunno, fine.  Is that blasphemy?  I think it probably is to those embedded in Star Wars fandom, but in the Star Wards adjacent world in which I exist daily, I think it's fine.  I'm using the word "fine" a lot.  Sorry, but I think it's the best word for the situation I've found myself in.

I think we're probably going to another, longer trailer for The Force Awakens as we approach the release date, and I bet that one will pump me up a little more.  It wouldn't take very much. Honest.  In fact, I've put together a list of things that, if included in this most recent trailer or in any future trailers, would have me joining the Star Wars fans in their pants-pooping excitement:
1. Boba Fett crawls out of the Sarlaac pit, dusts himself off and blasts off into adventure!

2. Following his "Chewie, we're home," line, Han Solo waits a beat and then slips a fedora on his head.  Next he attaches a name tag to his vest that reads "Jack Ryan."

3. Salacious Crumb is revealed to be a Jedi master on par with the late Yoda.

4. We revisit the Ewoks and find that they have developed a more advanced culture with lasers and giant robotic death machines.  During a friendly chat with some of his old Ework chums, Luke Skywalker accidentally comes across plans for an Ewok-designed Death Star.

5. The new super scary Sith lord: Smaug!  And he's got a light saber for ever color of the rainbow!  And they are attached to a metallic bo staff by laser chains!  And when he spins it around, it creates a vortex of death!

6. Ball Droid is an alcoholic, and we see him at a droid AA meeting.

7. A Wookie strip club, because, like, what would that be???

8. Krang!

As you can see, it wouldn't take much to get my Star Wars juices flowing.  Regardless, I'm going to see this movie.  It'll probably be with my dad and we will definitely go out for pizza afterwards.  So, no matter how things turn out, I'm having pizza, and that's always good.

TL;DR: In a world where the Mad Max: Fury Road trailer exists, who could give a shit about anything else?!?


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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?



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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.
 
 
 
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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.  






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