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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

30 Days of Disney: Pocahontas (1995)

Disney's Pocahontas tells the true story of a young Indian girl who unites two vastly different groups of people through the power of Broadway-style show tunes. Disney's amazingly accurate retelling of the love affair between Indian princess Pocahontas and her pale-faced sweetheart, Captain John Smith, serves the dual purpose of providing topnotch musical entertainment while truthfully depicting one of the most loved stories in American history. Here are some of the historical facts I learned from the film:

-Pocahontas maintained a very close relationship with a talking willow tree she called "Grandmother Willow." She rarely made any important life decision without consulting the magical tree first.

-Pocahontas palled around with two animal buddies--a raccoon she called Meeko and a hummingbird named Flit. They filled every one of her days with unnecessary comic relief.

-John Ratcliffe was accompanied to the New World by a homosexual manservant named Wiggins.
Pocahontas? More like "Poca-hot-ass!"

-Pocahontas learned to speak perfect English within seconds of encountering John Smith for the first time.

-John Smith was known to slip in and out of his English accent. This went largely unnoticed by his fellow settlers.

-The Indian word for "hello" is not actually "how." And it involves a whole lot of complicated hand motions. The word for "good-bye" and its designated sequence of hand motions is even more difficult.

-In olden times, people often expressed their feelings through rousing musical numbers. This performances often involved complicated choreography.

-John Smith would become a raging anti-Semite when he drank.

History is fun!
My favorite part: all of the songs are pretty great, especially "Just Around the Riverbend," "If I Never Knew You," "Colors of the Wind," and "Savages."

Most unnecessary part: The animal buddies in Pocahontas are utterly worthless. They are intended to serve as comic relief, but they are really nothing more than an unfunny distraction from an otherwise moving story. There is no need for Meeko's irritating antics. He isn't cute--he's a pest. I hear he dies in Pocahontas 2. Good.

Arbitrary Grade: B


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Wednesday Morning Music - Carl Sagan "A Glorious Dawn"



This may seem silly at first--and it is--and it may be funny--sure--but it's also beautiful and inspiring and loads of giddy fun. For me anyhow.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." Read the rest of this article.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

30 Days of Disney: The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

The Great Mouse Detective is another one of those movies I stayed after school to watch in elementary school. On that level, it will always hold a special place in my heart--the tiny, out-of-the-way place I reserve for middling Disney films released in the 80's that aren't The Little Mermaid. The 1980s were not a great time for Disney animation. The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, Oliver & Company, and today's entry are not necessarily thought of as essential Disney viewing. They are the bastard children of the Disney canon; the wandering souls of the animated damned; the dregs.
While the 80's remain a dismal chapter in Disney history, The Great Mouse Detective, based on the books of Eve Titus, is not without its charms. The animation may be fairly horrible, the backgrounds unnecessarily horrific, and the songs instantly forgettable, but the sheer Britishness of it all makes the film at least halfway decent.

The story is a simple one: Basil of Baker Street, London's greatest mouse detective (he lives in the walls of Sherlock Holmes' abode), assisted by the corpulent Dr. David Q Dawson, help a young girl rescue her father from the clutches of Professor Ratigan, a brilliant psychopath, voiced by the late Vincent Price. Basil uses a combination of dubious science and old fashioned sleuthing to uncover Ratigan's plot to overthrow the mouse government and declare himself the ruler of all mousedom. Adventures are had, robots are built, tobacco is smoked in large quantities, and mice are eaten with reckless abandon by Ratigan's pudgy feline enforcer, Felicia. Everything is wrapped up with an epic battle in and on Big Ben. Now that is a jolly good show indeed.
My favorite part: Basil, Dawson, and Olivia's first encounter with Fidget, a peg-legged bat-goon who works for Ratigan, in the creepiest toy store ever; the Big Ben finale.

Arbitrary Grade: B-

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Banned Books Week!


Ever go to the library to check out a book and find out it's been banned? Me neither, but, in the grand, retarded sweep of human history, we're probably the exception to the rule. Ever since some asshole with a little bit of authority realized someone else's ideas threatened his worldview, we've had banned books (or "scrolls" as they were called in olden times).

We are truly motherfucking lucky to live in a land and a time when banning books is seen by most people as the opposite of the right thing to do. At the very least, most hard working Americans know they have to come up with a pretty good reason to ban a book. After all, wasn't the U.S. Constitution a book or something? The British tried to ban that, and we shot 'em, right? Damn right we shot those fuckers.

But back in caveman days, the pope and his dark minions didn't even have to have a reason to ban science books and stuff. They just burned books on a whim. Shit's cold. And they didn't throw you in Gitmo for reading bad things either. They just killed you or had God strike you dead or something. The pope was wicked, and it wasn't even just the pope. Way back in 1962 the evil overlords of a place called Boston, Mass. banned a snappy little tome called Naked Lunch for its overt references to deli meats. And 1962 wasn't even that long ago. Some of you may have even been alive then, bless your hearts.

What about banned books today? Well, like I said, it's not cool at all to ban books...without a reason. Thing is, reasons are pretty easy to come by.

So this banned books week THINK about how lucky we are to have access to all sorts of different viewpoints, even some we don't agree with, and remember how easy it would be for some asshole with an army to take away something you hold near and dear. It doesn't even have to be a book. It could be a sexual aid. Or a thing you do while you're hanging out with the fellas. Or it could be something genuinely harmful that you, with eyes wide open, choose to enjoy periodically 'cuz, you know, you assumed you at the very least owned your own body.

To help celebrate, the good folks at Tor are providing us with access to the new graphic novelization of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury's classic distopian tale of passion, intrigue, and book burning, for FREE. Every Tuesday they'll put up a new section. Parts one and two are up now.

The new Fahrenheit 451 graphic novel comes complete with a new introduction by Ray Bradbury himself, which includes the following suggestion:
May I suggest that anyone reading this introduction should take the time to name the one book that he or she would most want to memorize and protect from any censors or "firemen." And not only name the book, but give reasons why they would wish to memorize it and why it would be a valuable asset to be recited and remembered in the future. I think this would make for a lively session when my readers meet and tell the books they named and memorized, and why.


Here goes:
I'd memorize Fahrenheit 451 (no shit!). It was my first encounter with real thought-provoking literature, and it either created or rang true with a great anti-authoritarian streak that runs straight through my ears and right out my asshole. If it had a hand in making me the skeptical jerk I am today, then maybe it can do the same to others. And maybe, just maybe, someday we won't have to worry about banned books or anything else. We'll let folks be right, wrong, gay, non-gay, antagonistic, accommodating, counter, original, spare, strange, swift, slow, sweet, sour, adazzle, dim; we'll let 'em do naughty things to their lovers, eat french fries, read about things that might make someone uncomfortable, and post it all to the internet.

Your turn.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

30 Days of Disney: Oliver & Company (1988)

When I started this sweeping review of Disney classics almost four and a half weeks ago, I promised no talking chihuahuas. I lied. I should have promised no more than one talking chihuahua. I hope we can move past this and begin the process of rebuilding our shattered friendship.

I wonder who thought Oliver & Company was a good idea? It is essentially the story of a malnourished, flea-covered, possibly schizophrenic street person who trains a gang of homeless mutts of various ethnic background to rob the citizens of New York City so he can successfully pay back a debt owed to a bloodthirsty mobster who derives great pleasure from torture and smoking. Over the course of the film's 72-minute running time, a young girl is abducted and held for ransom in a dilapidated warehouse, dogs engage in several vicious fights, and the aforementioned gangster dies a graphic fiery death. The film also contains copious amounts of smoking, petty theft, interspecies lust, and vaguely racist stereotypes, a beloved hallmark of the Disney Corporation.

Plus, what is it with all the street crossing? Every other scene it's crossing this street and that street and blabbity-blah-blah-blah! And Dodger and his comrades can't just cross the street like a normal stray. No, they've got to strut like a bunch of smug assholes. Ugh.
Oliver is cute though and I enjoyed his first interaction with Dodger, voiced by pop music icon Billy Joel, in fact, that damn "Why Should I Worry?" song is still stuck in my head. And Bette Midler, as spoiled poodle Georgette, provides a few scattered laughs. Ultimately though Oliver & Company falls flat for me. It is familiar, empty-headed, and not particularly pleasant to look at. It also stops being a musical about halfway through, which seems like kind of a waste when you have artists like Joel and Midler involved. Oliver & Company is essentially the lowest point for Disney animation just before it's rebirth a year later with the vastly superior Little Mermaid.

My favorite part: I got choked up during the musical number "Good Company." I love it when orphaned kittens find little girls to love them, OK? I think this sequence is simply adorable, and I don't care who knows it.

I like that it takes a curtsy from a little girl and a bow from a kitten to wipe the sour looks off of those two geezer's faces. What were they so pissed off about? Stupid geezers.

My other favorite part: Oliver and Dodger meet for the first time, steal hot dogs, and sing:

Good song, but that strut pisses me off. Who does Dodger think he is anyway?

Arbitrary Grade: C-

Up-Grade: OK, dammit, I really liked the songs, I guess. So: C+


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Sunday, September 27, 2009

30 Days of Disney: The Shaggy Dog (1959)

(GEP is totally aware that we failed to post a 30 Days of Disney entry yesterday. We're sorry. Matt was too busy relaxing at a friend's fancy lake house to show any sort of respect for his faithful readers. While he was enjoying boat rides, board games, Japanese game shows, and low country boil, you, dear reader, were left alone and adrift in a sea of old posts. You will be happy to know that Matt has been severely disciplined. He will make it up to all of you with an extra day of Disney magic. And now, on with today's movie.)
When I started this sweeping review of Disney classics almost four and a half weeks ago, I promised no talking chihuahuas. I did not, however, say anything about Bratislavian sheepdogs with the power of human speech. Promising such a thing would have meant banning The Shaggy Dog from our list and that would have meant denying you the pleasure of reading my thoughts on this endearing goofball classic.

I should be upfront and admit that this film scared me when I was a youngster, specifically the scene in which Wilby Daniels morphs into Chiffon, the titular canine, for the first time in his parent's basement. Wilby mournfully repeats "no" as his once human visage becomes that of his pointy-boobed neighbor's mischievous pet. I've racked my brain since rewatching The Shaggy Dog as to why this transformation scene haunted me so, and the only thing I can figure is that it was a symptom of my largely irrational fear of dogs when I was young. I've been told that I was knocked onto the sidewalk by a large dog when I was a little boy and from that point forward I displayed a mixture of hatred for and fear of dogs of all sizes. I was the reason we got rid of Clifford after a week. That poor golden retriever. He was just a puppy, friendly and slobbery, and me and my sister wouldn't get near him. In fact, we ran from him screaming and crying whenever he tried to shower us with wiggly puppy love. I feel bad about it now and more than a little stupid. I'm not sure why my dad took Clifford out back and put a bullet into his brain, I mean, we could've just given him to a family who wanted a dog.
Whenever I watch live-action Disney film from the 50's and 60's, I always think the same thing: What happened? Old live-action Disney flicks are fantastic. They are moving, thoughtful, legitimately funny, and devoid of fart jokes. They haven't been dumbed down for a generation of kids raised by cable TV and nourished by Happy Meals. The family life depicted in The Shaggy Dog may not be the norm in 2009 (though I would argue that plenty of families still look and conduct themselves similarly), but there's something to be said about wholesome-but-not-at-all-cheesy entertainment. Let's put it this way: I spend a lot less time groaning when I watch a Disney movie with Fred MacMurray than I do when Tim Allen stars. Movies targeted at a family audience today are either tremendously dumb, rife with unfunny pop-culture references, or both. The Shaggy Dog, however, is none of these things. I've proudly added it to the list of movies I plan to show my own child one day. You should too. In fact, if you are one of those couples who are considering not even having children, I believe the existence of films as charming as The Shaggy Dog and The Three Lives of Thomasina, should be enough to change your mind and throw those condoms away.
My favorite part: the country club dance, especially the Tag Dance; Wilson Daniels immediately accepts the fact that his oldest son can transform into a sheepdog; Franceska Andrassy's pointy boobs.

Arbitrary Grade: B+


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Friday, September 25, 2009

30 Days of Disney: The Fox and the Hound (1981)

Before Jack and Ennis, there was Tod and Copper. 1981's The Fox and the Hound tells the true story of an undying friendship between a fox and a hound dog. Their love goes against all the laws of nature, yet it blossoms, grows, and falters a bit in the middle, but eventually becomes stronger than before. It is totally gay.

For years, whenever a friend mentioned The Fox and the Hound (it happens more than you'd think), I've been unable to stop myself from breaking into song. "When you're the best of friends," I'll warble, "having so much fun together, you're not even aware, you're such a funny pair. You duh best of friends!" Inevitably, the friend will smile awkwardly and ask me to stop as I launch into the second verse, which in my version is just the first verse again because it's all I can remember. In fact, that was about all I remembered about the movie before watching it again. I don't know what it is about Pearl Bailey's performance of "Best of Friends" that has kept the song lodged in my brain for lo these many years. My sister and I did have the The Fox and the Hound storybook w/ cassette tape when were little which featured the song prominently. We listened the shit out of that tape. That's probably the reason it's still hanging around in the old memory banks. It's either that or the fact that I hate the song so much that I feel the need to torture myself and anyone nearby with it constantly.
Things I didn't remember about The Fox and the Hound:

-Young Copper is voiced by Corey Feldman and Teenage Copper by Kurt Russell, making Copper quite possibly the most bad-ass animated hound ever.

-best villain name ever: Amos Slade

-best love interest name ever: Vixey

-another example of Walt Disney's obvious owl fetish (seriously, there is an owl character in almost every movie--maybe we'll look into this phenomenon in a future GEP feature)

-the bear attack sequence is one of the most terrifying scenes in Disney history:

My favorite part: Little Tod and Little Copper frolic gaily through the forest; Tod attempts to catch a fish for Vixey; the bear scene.

My least favorite part: features some of the worst songs in the Disney songbook--one of them is a spoken word performance by an elderly woman known as Widow Tweed. Ugh.

Arbitrary Grade: B-

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Stop Already: Phony Christian Outrage

Facebook is a great way to catch up with friends from the past, find out which one of the X-men you are, and send electronic flowers and little vegetable goblins to relatives you hardly ever speak to anymore. It's also an awesome place to express misguided rage, like one of my "friends" did yesterday, posting:

On September 25th there will be a national prayer gathering of Muslims on the west front of the U.S. Capitol Building. They are expecting at least 50,000 to attend from mosques all across America. They will gather to pray from 4:00 AM until 7:00 PM. ......They have a website set up for this event. If you never look at another website look at this one, especially the final words: www.islamoncapitolhill.com Obama said No to the National Day of Prayer but Yes to this? MAY GOD HELP AND BLESS AMERICA. THIS IS JUNK!!!!!!!!!!!

Eleven exclamation points? Wow, this is some serious-ass junk.

I checked out the Web site just so I could check out these horribly offensive "final words" mentioned in my "friend's" message of unwarranted fear. Prepare yourself, reader, because this is some frightening stuff:

OUR TIME HAS COME

Oh, shit! We're screwed! Code Red! Code Red! Is it too late to hire Gamera to protect our country's tallest structures?

I suspect that the biggest problem my "friend" has with the Islam on Capitol Hill event is that he incorrectly believes it is an affront to his religious beliefs and yet another liberal victory in the War on Prayer. I was intrigued first by the bit about President Obama saying no to the National Day of Prayer. "Surely, Obama didn't cancel the most important holiday on the calendar," I said to myself, tears welling up in my eyes. I visited CNN.com to find the truth and came across this article from NINE MONTHS AGO!!! Obama never denied American citizens the right to their National Day of Prayer celebrations, he just decided not to have the interfaith prayer meeting some of his predecessors used to hold on White House property. He didn't take to the airwaves, break into 2 And A Half Men, declare "Suck my balls, National Day of Prayer!" and flip Christians the finger; he simply decided to spend that day, I don't know, working on shit that really mattered, like, I don't know, fixing the economy. By the way, "interfaith" in this scenario means "Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish" only. That being said, even if Obama had continued in the Bush grand tradition of using Christianity to win the hearts and minds of the American people while simultaneously committing horrible acts of extreme evil, what would be the harm in the Muslims throwing their own little prayer party later in the year?

There is no War on Prayer, people. Do you know why? Because you can pray whenever and wherever you want. The National Day of Prayer, which incidentally was established to include every concievable faith on the planet, is stupid. That's right. Giant Electric Penguin is doing what Obama didn't have the balls to do. We're saying "NO" to the NDP.

I pray every day. I don't make a big production out of it, in fact, I think that kind of "sport praying" is frowned upon in the Bible, isn't it? But, yeah, I pray, as do millions of others, and I haven't been asked to "knock it off" or "take it somewhere else, God-boy." The War on Prayer is a lot like the War on Christmas: a fiction Christian wackos tell their kids at bedtime to scare them.

I've been checking my "friend's" Facebook page periodically to see if anyone has commented and came across this little nugget of ignorance this morning:

My mom was telling me about this!! Its the last day of Rahmadam..(not sure hot to spell it) on the first day, Obama had a dinner for them at the white house!! We need to be on our guard!!

Obama had dinner with Muslims? That proves it. He's the Anti-Christ.

Listen, last time I looked, Obama doesn't schedule the events on Capitol Hill. Private citizens probably get a comittee together, fill out some paperwork, submit a fee, and BOOM, there's a NAMBLA Pride gathering in full swing! I don't think Obama and his Cabinet sit down and plan out each year's Capitol Hill events.

"Oh, you know what might be fun this Fall? Pro-Choice Chili Cook-Off."

"That's a great idea, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Let's schedule that right after the Keep Kids of Drugs Prayer Breakfast."

"Guess who I got to play the Save the Seals bake sale next July, you guys?"

"Who, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan?"

"Lit."

Awesome!" (high fives all around)

You get it.

Let the Muslims have their day of prayer, dammit! Calling the event "junk" makes you look like a bigoted idiot insecure in his own religious beliefs. If it pisses you off so much, get some folks together and throw a big prayer hoedown. I don't care. Leave the Muslims alone, read something other than the Bible for a change, and STOP ALREADY!

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

30 Days of Disney: Robin Hood (1973)

There's something funny going on in 1973's Robin Hood, but I couldn't put my finger on it without an assist from Wikipedia, my favorite source for half-truths and hearsay. Apparently, the budget for Robin Hood was so low, animators were forced to trace sequences from existing Disney features, like Snow White and The Aristocrats. Old characters were lifted from The Jungle Book, given a quick color change, and squeezed into people clothes to create the new characters, Little John and Sir Hiss. In fact, Little John not only looks like Baloo, but shares the same voice, making Little John, technically, my choice as the second most obnoxious Disney character of all time.
So, yes, there is a cheapness to it, but other than that, how does Robin Hood stack up against the other films on our list?

Well, first off, this was the second film on our list that I the pleasure of watching with my wife and for the second time I was warned, "I will probably fall asleep." She first uttered this oft heard phrase before a screening of Lilo & Stitch. Not only did she stay awake throughout, we spent several minutes afterwards gushing over the film as if it were a newborn child. Last evening, however, Jen made it about halfway through Robin Hood's opening credit sequence before falling asleep the first time. She did wake up in time to see the Sheriff of Nottingham, who speaks in a hillbilly drawl for some reason, steal Skippy's birthday farthing and remark, "Awww." Then, she was out again. So, Robin Hood puts sleepy girls to sleep.
Secondly, Robin Hood just isn't that interesting. I guess I made that clear when describing my wife's reaction. I didn't fall asleep, but I couldn't honestly tell you what kept me awake. I remembered from a childhood viewing that there was an archery contest at one point, but even that scene comes off as kinda hokey with it's out-of-place psychedelic guitar riffs and allusions to American football. And, dammit, in what part of England do people speak in Southern accents?

Listen, I love anthropomorphic animals as much as the next guy, but the story of Robin Hood, Maid Marion, Little John, and everybody else in Sherwood Forest deserves a lot better than this hacky, slapdash train wreck of a film.

My favorite part: the archery contest; I finally know where the Hampster Dance song comes from.

Arbitrary Grade: C


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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

30 Days of Disney: Finding Nemo (2003)

I'm a sucker for a few things: adorable robots, a well-crafted pop song, short hair on girls, and most importantly, as it relates to today's entry, films about father/son relationships. Maybe it's because I never knew my real father. My mother would never be straight with me no matter how hard I begged. The summer I got married, I found this picture of my momz hanging out with these three dudes that I'd never seen in my entire life and thought, "One of these mysterious men could be my father!" So, you know what I did--God, this is so embarrassing--I invited each one of them to my wedding (which, incidentally, was being held at the rustic motel my mother runs on an island just off the coast of Greece) and kept it a secret from my mother. I guess I thought this would be the easiest way of discovering the identity of my daddy. The next week, they all showed up and, well, you can probably just imagine the wackiness that ensued. We listened to so much ABBA that summer. Sigh.
Finding Nemo is a moving testament to the lengths a father will go to make sure his child is safe and sound. Nemo's father, Marlin, dodges shark attacks, braves a field of highly poisonous jellyfish, and swims many miles, all while babysitting a mentally disabled regal tang named Dory, to save his his gimpy-flippered son from a life of maddening monotony in an Australian dentist's office. Now that is fatherly love, my friend. You could learn a lot from Marlin, deadbeat dads who regularly read GEP. Instead of tooling around town in your Ferrari 250 GTO, wearing your Ed Hardy t-shirts, smoking your clove cigarettes, and tongue-kissing your 21-year-old personal trainer girlfriend, you should try paying attention to your kid and teaching him about the dangers of drinking out of fishtanks or whatever. I'm just saying.

Finding Nemo is still my favorite Pixar movie.
My favorite part: I love every colorful bit of it.

Arbitrary Grade: A+

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

30 Days of Disney: Lilo & Stitch (2002)

Lilo and Stitch is a diamond in the rough. Don't believe me? Just look at the horrible shit surrounding it: Dinosaur, The Emperor's New Groove, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Home on the Range. What the hell is Home on the Range?

Disney's animation studio took a devastating dive after the 1994's The Lion King. Movies like Pocahontas (which I'm actually quite fond of), Tarzan, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Mulan were OK, but they were missing that spark that made films like Pinnochio, Dumbo, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast so classic. I remember liking Hercules' visual style, but I couldn't tell you anything about the story, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, well, the less said about that gigantic bore the better (My girlfriend at the time forced me to take her. It's one of the main reasons we broke up) (That isn't true). By the time Lilo and Stitch came around, I was pretty much over Disney's 2-D attempts at capturing my heart through toe-tapping musical numbers and friendly woodland creatures. I was far more interested in Pixar, with it's concise, yet compelling stories and it's colorful cadre of charming characters. It's a shame, really, because Lilo & Stitch is, quite simply, one of the most moving and original films ever produced by the Walt Disney Company.
To me, Lilo & Stitch is just as visually stunning as anything by Hayao Miyazaki, assuredly the most innovative talent in animation since Walt Disney himself. One of the reasons I love Miyazaki's films so damn much, is the endless parade of odd-looking creatures. From the shape-shifting, swollen-nutted tanukis of Pom Poko to the mumbly and mysterioius No Face of Spirited Away, Miyazaki fills the screen with stunningly original and, in the case of My Neighbor Totoro, super cute beasties. Lilo & Stitch is full of nifty-looking, candy-colored extraterrestrials, each more fun to look at then the last.

Not only is the animation absolutely breathtaking, the story is perhaps the most original I've see come out of the Mouse House in, well, possibly forever. It's funny, heartwarming, and, dammit, a little dark. I mean, Stitch (or as he is known to space authorities, "Experiment 626") was created in a lab to be the galaxy's perfect killing machine. Pinocchio came to life because an old man was sad; Stitch is meant to destroy large cities.

If you still doubt the power of Lilo and Stitch (but especially Stitch), look around the various souvenir shops the next time you visit Walt Disney World and tell me how many Treasure Planet t-shirts you see. Or Chicken Little stuffed animals. Or Brother Bear novelty hats.

You won't find any. Stitch, however, is every-damn-where.

You know what, that's not fair. We did run into some Brother Bear characters when we visited Animal Kingdom this year. They had been relegated to the ass-end of the park near the bathrooms, but they were around.
My favorite part: the character design--both human and alien; Lilo and Stitch are just so cute no matter what they're doing; The Kids in the Hall's Kevin McDonald is the voice of Pleakley, the one-eyed, Earth expert sent to retrieve Stitch from Hawaii--I love that guy; Stitch as gramophone; I'm a sucker for a good spaceship chase.

Arbitrary Grade: A


Just a sample of Lilo & Stitch's appealing visual style.


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Monday, September 21, 2009

30 Days of Disney: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Hey, goth kids, I want Jack Skellington back! Look, I think it's great that you appreciate the delicate art of stop motion filmmaking. And isn't it neat that now when your asshole parents drag you kicking and brooding to sunny Florida and force you to walk around the Magic Kingdom with all of the other sheep, sweating to death in your oversized black jeans and Marilyn Manson t-shirt, mascara running thick down your doughy, white cheeks, that there is a character who you feel speaks to your ridiculous sensibilities? On that level, good for you, goth kids.

But c'mon! I can't walk into a Hot Topic without being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of merchandise featuring Jack's grimacing face. T-shirts, hoodies, buttons, backpacks, key chains, bobble-heads. And you can't go anywhere without seeing a herd of overweight, pasty goth brats shuffling about in Skellington-gear, smoking their Camels and frowning at wannabes.

For the record, I haven't been in a Hot Topic in years and only ever patronized them when I was in need of a Morrissey t-shirt. The last time I was in a Hot Topic, I didn't appreciate the unearned familiarity with which a young employee spoke to me (Most of the following discussion actually happened):

Me: (picks up a Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comic book)
Punk: That book is fucked up, yo.
Me: Oh, yeah? It's good?
Punk: So fucking good. You should buy it, you know? Just buy the holy living fuck out of it.
Me: OK...

I did, in fact, buy the comic book, but I didn't need the inappropriate language to sell me. You had me the moment you approached me, Hot Topic employee. The faster I obeyed your orders, the faster I could leave and never have to talk to your stupid ass again.
Listen, goth kids, you can be into whatever you like, ok? I'm just some crusty old guy who loves animation in all of its many forms and doesn't want to see one of his favorites reduced to a simple accessory for the misunderstood. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a great movie beyond the fact that its hero is a creepy skeleton guy. That's all I'm saying. It's an incredibly original film, but at it's heart it is basically a traditional redemption story, and don't goth kids--famously the most "original" individuals in any given population--hate the idea of tradition? They hate the conventional, they strive to be different, distance themselves from the herd by dressing in black and spending their summers in the basement listen to The Cure and spray painting roses black. The Nightmare Before Christmas is about Halloween--one of the goth nation's most beloved holidays, second only to Arbor Day--but it's also about Christmas, the happiest holiday of them all and, therefore, enemy to the goth cause. And by the by,if you'll remember, Skellington preferred Christmas. I'm just saying.

Have I ruined The Nightmare Before Christmas for you, gothies? Good.

My favorite part:

All of the songs are great, but this one is my very favorite.

Arbitrary Grade: B+




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Sunday, September 20, 2009

30 Days of Disney: The Jungle Book (1967)

After watching The Jungle Book, I'll never be able to look at Winnie the Pooh the same way again. Let me explain: Sterling Holloway, the voice actor behind everyone's favorite "chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluffy", provides the voice of Kaa, the pedophilic boa constrictor in The Jungle Book. Each treetop encounter between Mowgli the Man Cub and Kaa is more disturbing than the last. In fact, The Jungle Book is chock full of inappropriate encounters between Mowgli and his potential male role models.

The story of The Jungle Book is fairly simple. Whilst sauntering through the jungle one afternoon, Bagheera, a black panther, finds a baby abandoned by the riverside. Unable to care for the "man cub" himself, Bagheera drops it off with a family of wolves that raise him like a son. Mowgli is ten when Shere Khan, the gentleman tiger, returns to the jungle after some time away, and it is decided at a council of wolves that it would be best for the pack if Bagheera took Mowgli back to the man village. So begins Mowgli's long hike back to civilization, a journey that also serves as a search for a father figure. Let's take a look at the daddy candidates and some reasons why said candidates are terrible role models, shall we?
Bagheera: fond of abandoning Mowgli; Mowgli is often faced with mortal danger immediately following these abandonments.

Baloo: fun-loving and carefree, but doesn't know when it's time to be serious; not adept at the whole discipline thing; more like a young stepfather than an actual dad; probably smokes weed. (Also, how did a bear with a vaguely Southern accent end up living in a jungle in India? I know it shouldn't have, but that bothered me the whole time.)

Col. Hathi: clearly deranged, possibly in the early stages of Alzheimers; runs his house like a boot camp; might shave your head just to make a point.

King Louie: total sociopath; overeater; obsessed with learning how to make fire, possibly to commit arson at strategic jungle locations in the future; the ruins are no place for a 10-year-old to grow up--first, they're falling apart and two, they are teeming with disease-ridden monkeys.

Kaa: child molester.

Shere Khan: hates mankind; wants to kill Mowgli.
The Jungle Book gets one thing right though: when a hot piece of ass enters the picture, your buddies can suck it. Bear Necessities? Hell, I want some Bare Necessities. You know, like, "naked?" You get it.

My favorite part: Mowgli sees a human girl for the first time; Shere Khan beats the shit out of Baloo, second, behind Genie, on my list of the most irritating Disney characters of all time; the Ringo vulture.

Question: Do the events depicted in TaleSpin occur before or after The Jungle Book?

Arbitrary Grade: C+


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Sunday Morning Music: BJ the Messenger-"Crackhead"


Gather your children around the computer screen and tell them to heed the warning of BJ the Messenger's "heavy rap." Le-le-le-le-leave it alone indeed.


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Saturday, September 19, 2009

30 Days of Disney: The Three Lives of Thomasina (1964)

Before this feature, I had never heard of The Three Lives of Thomasina. Upon learning of its existence--I believe the nice folks at Netflix recommended it based on some of the selections I've made as of late--I knew it had to be a part of the 30 Days of Disney. Of course, I assumed it would be a perfect storm of schmaltz and goofiness, and therefore, a helluva lot of fun to rip to shreds with my razor-sharp sarcastic wit. Yes, Thomasina was to provide me with yet another opportunity to saturate Giant Electric Penguin with more of my seemingly never-ending supply of snark.

Unfortunately for you, dear reader, I kind of totally loved it. No snark today, sir.
My viewing experience didn't start out as a love-fest. As the opening credits rolled, a cutesy song about the titular orange kitty brought a smile to my grizzly cheeks (Damn, I need to shave. I am so lazy!). I stopped grinning, however, when the credit "And Elspeth March as the voice of Thomasina" popped up on screen. "Thomasina talks?" I said to the empty room I spend nearly 99.9% of my time in when I'm not warding off suicidal thoughts at the office or taking a dump. I thought the "real" animals talking thing was a fairly recent, completely ill-advised, addition to the wonderful world of Disney, but here we were in 1964 with a talking damn cat. I prepared myself for the worst.

Turns out, Thomasina is the film's narrator. She never actually opens her mouth and says anything. Plus, she speaks with a thick Scottish brogue. I was, for the moment, placated.

Then, literally, the first thing out of Thomasina's mouth (brain?) is a reference to her eventual murder. "Thomasina gets murdered?" I said aloud. The resulting echo proved how truly alone I was and I wept bitterly into the Carolina Panthers blanket I received as a Christmas present last year.

Thomasina's murder--and I assure you, she is murdered...sort of--turns out to not be that big a deal as far as murders go. Spoiler alert: the murder doesn't take. She comes back to life, in fact, she comes back to life fairly quickly.

The truth is, while Thomasina is totally cute (she could be the twin of my own cat, Garbage), her presence in the film serves merely as a catalyst for a whole bunch of totally delightful--and, sometimes, surprisingly dark--shit. I could easily describe the plot at this point--and I may in a forthcoming entry at the Movie Penguin blog--but I would rather you see it for yourself. Plus, I haven't been describing the plots of the movies on this list as much as I've just been cracking jokes at their expense. The Three Lives of Thomasina is worth your time. No joke.

Warning: Thomasina is not for hipster cynics, rabid atheists, people who hate cats, children, and/or the Scottish, or people without tear ducts.
My favorite part: the funeral procession and eventual funeral for Thomasina; any scene between Lori MacGregor, the "witch" of the glen, and Geordie, the good-natured ginger kid.

An observation: Susan Hampshire, who plays Lori, is absolutely gorgeous. She appears in a DVD extra called "Disney's Beautiful Witch," and I've got to say, for an elderly woman, she's still got it.

Arbitrary Grade: A-

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Saturday Morning News Bits: Salvation Army smackdown, monkey news, misguided stalking, Jon Gosselin, football hijinks, and Xena: Warrior Kitten

1. GIANT ELECTRIC PENGUIN'S CITIZEN OF THE WEEK AWARD
I don't throw the term "hero" around willy-nilly. When I affix the label "hero" to someone, it means something, mister. I have no qualms about proclaiming Gloria Ballard "the greatest hero in American history." She shattered a cultural taboo that has kept American society in a stranglehold for far too long. Why don't I just let WLWT in Cincinnati tell you all about it:

Spanking a child in public usually won't cause too much of a ruckus -- unless it's not your child.

Gloria Ballard is accused of swatting a toddler's behind at an Over-the-Rhine store on Tuesday.

Court documents state that Ballard was at the Salvation Army store when she confronted the toddler's mother, Dannay Jones.

Jones told News 5's Brian Hamrick that her son had talked back to her at the store. Jones said that's when Ballard came over and told her to do something about it.

"She was basically telling me what to do with my son," said Jones. Jones said she responded to Ballard by saying, "Lady, you don't know me. I handle my business. I'm doing right to take care of my son."

That's when Jones said Ballard grabbed her son, 2-year-old Sean Goode, from her.

"She took him (off) my lap, bent him over her legs and spanked him like three or four times. He started crying," said Jones.


Mazel tov, Ms. Ballard! Children aren't pummeled by random strangers enough these days. Back in Olden Times, concerned citizens who witnessed a child acting in an inappropriate fashion, would think nothing of whacking said child on the knees with their walking sticks or smacking it across the face with a heavy, leather glove. And the parents of these children would often offer the helpful stranger a tuppence for his/her trouble. These days though, you grab a complete stranger's whiny-ass kid and start smacking him/her on the buttocks in the middle of the slightly-soiled pantyhose aisle at your local Salvation Army and it's a capital crime. Kudos to you, Gloria, for spitting in the face of convention and knocking around strange kids. GEP supports your one-woman campaign to discipline all the unruly children of this great land. God Bless America!
2. JAY LENO AIN'T GOT NOTHING ON SATURDAY MORNING NEWS BITS
This has got to be my favorite headline of the week:

GUESTS, MONKEYS EVACUATED FROM HOTEL

I don't even need to read the story. This headline is more than enough. If you would like to read the story though, you can find it here. It's probably pretty disappointing. There is no way that baller-ass headline delivers the goods.
3. THE HILLS HAVE EYES...STALKERY EYES.
Look, I get Mark David Chapman stalking John Lennon. Lennon was an amazingly talented human being worthy of esteem and psychotic devotion. I still don't get the whole shooting John Lennon thing, but the obsession I can understand. Some celebrities are worth video taping yourself constructing a bomb for; others--not so much. Like, Audrina Patridge, pictured above in Nazi-fetish gear. Were you aware that someone was stalking her? Do you even know who Audrina Patridge is? I'm fairly certain she is on that pseudo-reality show The Hills, but don't quote me on it. Well, good news, Audrina Patridge fans, her stalker, Zachary Loring is behind bars. Now she can get back to doing whatever the hell it is she does with her time.

(Apparently this is what she does. Who knew?)
4. JON GOSSELIN: THE DOUCHEBAGGERY CONTINUES!
In further "not-really celebrity" news, Jon Gosselin is a terrible lay. That's what former nanny, Stephanie Santoro claims anyway. This from the Fox News entertainment blog, Fox 411 (now that's what I call "hip"):

Jon and Kate Gosselin's nanny, Stephanie Santoro, says she and Jon had sex nine times, and that, in the sack, the father of eight "wasn't terrible, but it wasn't the best I ever had."

Santoro, 23, tells the sordid tale in an exclusive interview with In Touch magazine, with even more details of how the lumpy lothario seduced the woman who was supposed to be taking care of his children.

It all started with the classic "Can you rub my shoulders? Now, can I rub yours?" lead-up to some serious hot-tub smooching.

Then, Jon laid down a line every man would do well to avoid.

Santoro says on their first night together, Gosselin told her: "Whatever you do, don't fall in love with me, because it's going to be impossible for me not to fall in love with you."


Ugh. Is there any current pop culture figure more annoying than Jon Gosselin (and Kate Gosselin doesn't count, you guys)? I'm going to say no. He's on a yacht in France one weekend selling his children to Ed Hardy, then he's hosting pool parties at various Las Vegas hotspots Lindsay Lohan-style, then he's in the buffet line at the Mtv VMA pre-show party. He's pretty much anywhere but Pennsylvania giving a shit about this massive brood. Actually, that's not fair. He is with his kids on the days his reality show tapes.

Hey, Jon, maybe basing your career on that of Lindsay Lohan's isn't the smartest move.

Oh, also, In Touch magazine, this story isn't news. I'm not sure what it is, but I know it isn't news.
5. WATCH YOUR BACK, JAKE!
After watching the Carolina Panther's heartbreaking loss last Sunday to the Philadelphia Eagles, I couldn't help but find this story uplifting. From WKBW in Buffalo, New York:

Monday was a tough day for Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin. He fumbled the football at the end of the Monday night match-up against the New England Patriots, and came home to find his lawn vandalized.

"I mean it is scary to a point you know, you got a lot of incidents that happen to football players and it is a way you know how far you can take it," said McKelvin at Bills media day today.

Neighbors of McKelvin noticed the spray paint on the cornerback's lawn Monday evening, which sources tell Eyewitness News contained an obscenity, along with the game's final score and the words "Take a Knee".

I think if the Hamburg Police Department ever catch up with the people responsible for the vandalism of Mr. McKelvin's lawn, they should immediately be awarded the Key to the City.

What does that mean, by the way, the Key to the City? I've never understood that. To me it sounds like you've been given carte blanche to do whatever the hell you want to do within city limits: enter government office buildings and start ordering employees around, help yourself to the kitchen of any local eatery, enter an occupied Old Navy dressing room and take camera phone pictures of the embarrassed, pantless occupants, etc.
6. POMPANO BEACH HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: CATCH THE SUCK!
In high school football news, players for the Chaminade-Madonna HS football team are being encouraged to feel bad about their 83-0 victory over Pompano Beach this week. From Yahoo! Sports:

...in a high school landscape increasingly aware of sportsmanship issues - one where quick harsh judgments are made based solely on a score - Chaminade-Madonna football coach Tim Tyrrell knows he has a tough time explaining how his Hollywood, Fla., team rolled to victory over Pompano Beach last week. 83-0.

"We did not go into the game looking to score that many points,'' he said, "and a lot of them came in bunches and off big plays.

I understand that it's high school football and coaches have to set a good example for the team, but wouldn't it be great if Coach Tyrrell had been like, "Yeah, we kicked Pompano Beach's ass and we had fun doing it. I mean, c'mon, 83 to 0? What the eff is that? That's straight up insane, brah! I mean, right? We mopped the field with those pussies. And I heard some of our players made it with some of Pompano Beach's cheerleading squad. That ain't for sure or anything, but I wouldn't doubt it. Our team is made up of men. Pompano Beach--well, from the look of things--nothing but little girls. Hey, Pompano Beach, suck my hairy nutsack. Tyrell out!"
7. OBLIGATORY CAT STORY
GEP hates reading stories about cruelty to cats, unless they have a happy ending, like this story out of Santa Rosa, California:

Humane society workers in Sonoma County said they were shocked to find a kitten shot in the face by a bb gun.

A good Samaritan said she found the animal wandering in a parking lot and brought it to the shelter in Santa Rosa.

There veterinarians found a pellet lodged in the kitten's jaw.

Vets removed the pellet Monday and said the kitten is expected to fully recover.

Humane society staff members have named the kitten "Xena" -- after the warrior princess from the television show -- and said she'll be ready for adoption later this week.

What kind of piece of shit waste of human flesh shoots a cat in the face? The citizens of Santa Rosa need to get together and make sure something this heinous never happens again. Incidentally, if you become aware of any anti-feline activity in your community, contact the Giant Electric Penguin Cat Protection Squad at giantpengy@yahoo.com and we'll take care of the sick asshole for you. Someone get out there and adopt Xena, all right? Let her know all humans aren't BB gun toting sociopaths with nothing better to do than shoot kittens in the face.


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Friday, September 18, 2009

30 Days of Disney: WALL-E (2008)

The advent of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2001 was a great stride forward for animation, a medium that had until that point experienced very limited success in the realm of arbitrary award receiving. For those who do not remember, Shrek was the first ever recipient of this prize, beating Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (not a bad little film, if I may say so) and Monsters Inc. (WHAT?!?). As a fan of animation in all its forms, I was pretty stoked that the Academy had created a category for films that usually received the shaft outside of the Best Original Song. The creation of a new Oscar category was not without its flaws, however, and on no Academy Award broadcast was this more apparent than the 81st Annual one. The Best Picture nominees that year were:

Slumdog Millionaire
Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The nominees for Best Animated Feature were:

Bolt
Kung Fu Panda
WALL-E

I'm sure you've already noticed the problem, but I will elaborate anyway. THE BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR WAS WALL-E AND IT COULDN'T EVEN WIN! I mean, yes, WALL-E went home with a commendable prize, but not the prize it deserved. By relegating it to the cartoon ghetto, the Academy stripped WALL-E of its chance to go home with the biggest trophy of the evening. Somewhere Beauty and the Beast are turning over in the their neighboring graves.

The winner of Best Picture that year, Slumdog Millionaire, was all right, but what do you remember about it other than that kid jumping into a big pile of shit? And the other nominees. WTF? Frost/Nixon? More like Yawn/Boring. Milk? I'm still not sure what The Reader is, though I've heard Kate Winslet shows her boobies, which I guess isn't a big deal if you've seen Titanic, or as I like to call it, Tit-tanic (oh, boy). And from what I've heard, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is about as fun as falling through the hole in an Indian Port-o-Potty into a pile of human waste. WALL-E was not only the best film of 2008, but it was my favorite, and in the end only my opinion matters. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can start enjoying this blog.
WALL-E is essentially a quirky, indie rom-com with robots. And it's not one of those indie quirkfests you see pop up in clusters every other month on Netflix either. It's more like the indie rom-coms of yesteryear. Or, like, a French one. I believe in a past review I called it "Amelie with robots" or something. I like that. The love story between WALL-E and EVE is way more engaging than that of Jamal and Latika.

Not only is WALL-E a great love story, but it's got a nifty environmental message too. WALL-E shows us an Earth destroyed by mindless human consumption and greed. The haunting images of America reduced to nothing more than a trash heap makes you think about what you can do to make sure that never happens in the real world. Conservative Republicans, however, don't like it when a movie makes them think and they took to the internets en masse to denounce WALL-E for it's bullshit hippy message of love for Mother Earth. Yeah, Republicans, fuck Pixar and it's tree-hugging agenda. Are those elitist liberal scumbags trying to tell us we can't build coal burning energy plants all over the place and rape our protected forest areas for oil? Forget that!

Ugh! Just joking about it makes me mad. It is downright maddening to think that anybody with a brain could watch a movie with a pro-Earth agenda and call it out. C'mon! What kind of message does that send to the next generation? You can disagree about abortion, evolution, and prayer in schools all you want, friends, but when it comes to taking care of the planet, I don't think there is much to debate about. Either do what we need to do to ensure a healthy, functioning environment or end up as humanoid blobs floating in space evicted from Earth forever. I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to give up being able to see my dick.

My favorite part: Can I just say "all of it?"

Arbitrary Grade: A+


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