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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cartoon A-holes: Part 1 - The Runners-Up

The cartoon landscape is littered with assholes.  For every good-natured goofball, pretty-pretty princess, friendly monster and anthropomorphic hero mouse—or, simply put, the traditional four types of animated characters according to science—there are a gaggle of a-holes waiting in the wings to muck everything up.  But who is the king—or queen!—of the hundreds of animated asswipes that populate our television screens, movie theaters and funny pages?  Who is 'top dog'—and it isn’t necessarily a dog; that isn’t a clue or a spoiler—when it comes to cartoon assholery? Well, I’ve done the research and I know, but first, how about a look at a few of the characters whose head’s I considered presenting with the infamous Crown of Assholes, which is not a physical crown, but more of an idea.  And what a hilarious idea it is, no?  Can you imagine a crown made of human assholes?  Or cat assholes?  Or dog?  Those are the only varieties of assholes I’m familiar with, I’m afraid.  The idea is funny regardless.  Anyway, here are the runners-up.
1. Pete (AKA Peg-Leg Pete, Big Bad Pete): I’m not familiar with how Pete was portrayed in the Goof Troop television series from the early-90’s, because I didn’t watch that program, so maybe he was more of a loudmouth or a blowhard as opposed to a straight up asshat.  I am, however, intimately familiar with his antics in the Disney shorts of the 30’s and 40’s, as these are the cartoons me and my daughter watch and enjoy regularly.  My two-year-old doesn’t notice this—because she is two and shouldn’t have to think of such things yet—but Pete is super rapey in these old cartoons (Mickey can get a little “handsy” too, I’m not gonna lie.).  Pete is always pawing at Minnie and lifting up her dress.  It’s sick.
One of Q and my favorite Mickey Mouse cartoons is called “Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip” (1940).  The plot is pretty simple: Mickey and Pluto are headed to Pomona for vacation, but dogs aren’t allowed on the train.  Pete is the mean-spirited conductor who gives Mickey a bunch of unnecessary attitude, and then chases the mouse and his dog—once it is discovered that Mickey has snuck Pluto onboard—all over the train in a murderous rage.  Wackiness, predictably, ensues.  Q and I have watched this cartoon roughly 50,000 times.
Now, sure, Mickey is breaking the rules.  Dogs aren’t allowed on the train, yet he’s snuck Pluto on. It is, one might argue, Pete’s job to maintain order on the train.  But the joy he takes in torturing Mickey is completely unnecessary.  But funny.  And of course Pete gets his comeuppance.  He always gets his comeuppance.  Whether it’s being shot in the butt with white hot bolts and dropped into a vat of cement (“Building A Building,” 1933); being beaten mercilessly by two unseen biddies he keeps sexually harassing by accident (the aforementioned “Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip”); or has his tree lot burned to the ground after his attempt to bilk a poor family out of their Christmas budget is thwarted by the archetypal hero mouse (“Mickey and Minnie’s The Gift of the Magi,” 1999).
2. Slimer: Look, I’m not a heartless hater-of-fun, so, somebody please tell me, what is the appeal of Slimer?  What purpose did he serve on The Real Ghostbusters cartoon?  Comic relief?  Maybe, but he wasn’t very funny.  I watched The Real Ghostbusters religiously, and I never enjoyed Slimer. Of course I drank Ecto Cooler, but not because Slimer adorned the box, but because it was delicious.  Slimer was always flying around, blurppling in that dumb language of his (He was a ghost, right?  It is my understanding that ghosts are the lonely, wandering spirits of dead human beings.  What was Slimer when he was alive?  I’ve got a theory or two, but all of them are much too dark for this blog, which I’ve always considered a place for families to gather together and enjoy themselves.  Fine.  I’ll share one theory.  Slimer is the ghost of a dead piece of poop.  Trust me.  You don’t want to hear the other one.) and slathering his ectoplasm all over Peter Venkman, my favorite character in the Ghostbusters universe, animated or otherwise. 
Slimer is an asshole mostly because he is annoying and he gets in the way.  And whenever there was an episode with a Slimer-centric plotline, I lost interest pretty fast.

Check out this collection of total assholes.

3. The entire Archie gang: It’s easy to single out Reggie as the biggest asshole in Riverdale because he’s always coming up with schemes to make Archie Andrews look like an idiot or Veronica because she’s a frigid one-percenter, but in all honesty, every denizen of Riverdale High—with the exception of Betty, sweet blonde door mat that she is—has played the part of the asshole throughout the years.  Archie, with his wavering alliances to the women in his life, would drop Betty in an instant if Veronica showed even a modicum of interest in his ginger ass, or vice versa if Betty baked him a pan of brownies or something; Big Moose disguising his penchant towards violence for simple-minded “aw shucks, I don’t know what I’m doing because I’m a dum-dum” hucksterism; Mr. Lodge with his obvious hatred for the poor; and Jughead, who would rather binge on hamburger sandwiches then give Big Ethel a fighting chance to win his heart.
Can I get off on a tangent real quick?  What is it with cartoons always pairing up the characters that resemble each other?  I mean, Big Ethel is basically Jughead with a wig and rabbit teeth.  There’s no wonder why Jughead isn’t interested.  Jughead isn’t an attractive or stylish man (Nice crown, asshole!), but throw a mop of black hair on him and shove some novelty bunny choppers in his mouth and, voila, you get something even more abhorrent.  It’s the same with the Van Houtens on The Simpsons.  It’s no secret that they look like brother and sister and that their son demonstrates the oddness one often associates, possibly unfairly, with incestuous coupling.  I’m sure there are other examples.  You don’t see a lot of that in the non-animated world.  Take my wife and I.  She’s a beautiful Korean woman and I’m a stocky balding man in my mid-30’s writing an online journal post about cartoons.  And I get sex on the reg, son!  HIGH FIVE!
But, yeah, Riverdale is full of assholes.  (Not you, Betty.)
4. Garfield: Garfield has the distinction of being a total asshole across several different platforms (comic strips, TV, movies, motivational posters, nightgowns my little sister wore, etc).  This dog-kicking, lasagna-hording, mailman-torturing, Arbuckle-insulting, spider-crushing, Mondayphobic dickface has been assholing it up for years and, frankly, I’m sick of his crap!  Why won’t you die, Garfield?!?  You’ve hurt so many people!  When will it stop.
5. Bugs Bunny:  Yeah.  I went there.  I don’t like Bugs Bunny.  Sorry, guys, but I don’t.  In fact—get ready for this revelation, unless you’ve been my friend for several years and had the misfortune of hearing me talk about this on multiple occasions—I don’t care for the Looney Tunes en masse.  I like Daffy Duck (OBVIOUSLY!), but I’m pretty uninterested in the rest of it.  And Bugs Bunny is the worse.  If I hadn’t found a bigger asshole (or assholes?) then Bugs in my search, we’d be discussing how he’s the biggest jerk-off in cartoon history right this very second.  Bugs Bunny has manipulated so many people into violent acts of gun violence, it isn’t funny.  He’s deceived and cross-dressed his way into the pantheon of  the biggest cartoon assholes of all time.  Should’ve taken a left turn at Albequerque, huh?  Why don’t you take a long left turn off a short pier into a sea of used hypodermic needles, Bugs, you carrot-chomping wisenheimer.
Believe it or not, there is a bigger asshole than Bugs Bunny in the cartoon world.  Do you know who it is or they are?  I’d love to hear your thoughts either in the comments or on our Facebook page (Did you know we had one of those?  You can ‘like’ it and everything!).  I will reveal the answer and go into excruciating detail as to how I made my decision next week.  I hope you’ll join me.  Until then, screw you, Garfield!

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Blessed Are The Trailers: Heaven Is For Real

A few years ago, I poked an appropriate amount of fun at a bestselling non-fiction book about a little boy's trip to Heaven and his subsequent return to Earth.  The book was--and as far as I still know still is--titled Heaven Is For Real.  I can't remember everything I said, but it probably had the potential to make people mad, people who knew me in my high school days when I was a regular church attendee and member of my church's youth choir, Breakaway.  I don't mean that I was the kind of person who believed in a literal Heaven with golden throne rooms and angel butlers or thought that half-dead kids could pop in for a visit from time to time, but it's entirely possible that my contemporaries could have had that impression.  Anyway, I made fun of this book.

Well, Hollywood made a movie out of Heaven Is For Real, starring TV's Rake and Lowell from Wings.  And, what luck, it comes out around Easter.  Honey, cancel the Easter egg hunt!  This year we're going to see the Hollywood version of an already highly dubious "true" story about a precocious little boy with sixth sense powers or something.

I don't remember the theme my gentle ribbing of Todd Burpo's book embraced, but I can tell you what I probably didn't joke around about: the kid almost dying.  As a father, I worry about my daughter's safety all the time.  Like, right now, for instance, she's upstairs in her room taking a nap and I'm watching her on a monitor.  There are no sounds of distress coming from the room, just her gentle breathing and the occasional ruffle of the blankets when she shifts.  And, yet, I'm glued to this thing.  What do I think is going to happen?  Probably nothing, but, we do live near an airport and I have seen Donnie Darko several times and...I'm ridiculous.  Kids in peril, though, is not a thing I find amusing.

I think what I thought was so funny (i.e. obviously dumb) about Heaven Is For Real was everything Colton, the boy who proved Heaven is a 100% real place and scientists can suck it, described about the afterlife was so hollow and cliche.  Everybody looks like they did when they were in their 20's; your relatives find you in the crowd and catch you up on all the latest news; Jesus rides a horse (Is this the one with Horseback Jesus?  I think it might be.).  I haven't read the book, but I wouldn't be surprised if there is a part where somebody asks Colton what Jesus looks like and he describes every painting or movie-version of Jesus you've ever seen.  What would be refreshing, and would, frankly, make me believe his story a little more, would be if Colton described Jesus as looking "like Swamp Thing, only with a flute for a nose that played a little tune whenever He laughed."

Here's my potential problem with the movie.  I don't know this for sure, but I think it's safe to assume that in the Hollywood version of Heaven Is For Real, everybody gets to go to Heaven.  And Heaven is up.  That quick moment in the trailer when Rake is all, like, "He's been standing out there for hours," and we see Colton looking up into the sky: Why does everybody think Heaven is in the sky?  Is it because they believe that Hell is underground?  Who decided where these places are located?  

Back to that everybody gets to go to Heaven idea.  I like that.  That's what I want to believe.  If there's a Heaven, we all get to go.  But that isn't what Christianity teaches, and don't argue with me because I grew up in it, man!  I'm no expert, but the "who gets to go to Heaven when they die" issue is Christianity 101.  In the movie, people are asking Colton if this person and that person is in Heaven and I bet they all are, because this is the movie-version of an afterlife that is, in reality, not open to you unless you follow a very specific set of steps.  

But, hey, I'm probably just an asshole who hates feel-good stories with a Christian message, right?  Isn't that what you thought when you saw that I had I posted a link to my review of the trailer for Heaven Is For Real, and then didn't click the link, so you aren't reading this?  I love to feel good, but Heaven Is For Real doesn't make me feel good.  Or bad.  It doesn't make me feel anything, except that you should probably just go see The LEGO Movie again before wasting your money on this treacly garbage.  But it'll probably make 100-million dollars, so, whatever.  Enjoy your Heaven movie, America!

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Brothers in Arms: Exploring the Sibling Relationship in Just One of the Guys (or, We Need to Talk About Buddy)

I woke up Monday morning feeling a tad on the ill side, so I called into work and announced that I would be taking a sick day, as one with regular employment is required to do.  I didn’t know who to blame for my sudden state of headachey-nausea-cum-sore-throat (Was it the fault of all the toddlers I was forced to be around the prior afternoon?  Perhaps I was suffering from a Spam hangover, as I had consumed way too much fried Spam at the aforementioned gathering of toddlers.  Maybe, as my wife suggested, it was the fault of Mother Nature herself, considering her wanton disrespect for the citizens of North Carolina as of late.), but I knew exactly how to heal myself: epic amounts of hot tea consumption, video game playing, and Netflix watching.  So, after dropping my daughter off at daycare, hastily eating a Bojangles Cajun Chicken Biscuit Combo (Which oddly made me more nauseous.  Who knew inhaling a spicy hunk of fried chicken pressed between two luscious, buttery halves of greasy biscuit, could make a combination stomach/headache/general nauseous feeling even worse?  I was, and still am, dumbfounded.), and a quick round of Arkham City for the PS3 (Oh, yeah, I beat it.  No biggie.), I stretched out on the couch to watch 1985’s Just One of the Guys.
You might be asking, “How have you never seen Just One of the Guys?  Didn’t you have Comedy Central in the 90’s?”  To the latter, I say, of course I had Comedy Central in the 90’s, the Lawsons weren’t some sort of caveman family.  How dare you question whether or not my parents provided basic cable for me and my sister.  To the former, I say, I just haven’t, OK?  I remember coming home after school and turning on Comedy Central and seeing it on, but I never felt compelled to watch it longer than the millisecond it took me to think, “This thing again?” and flip the channel.  I had nothing against Just One of the Guys, per se, I just didn’t know what it was.  And I don’t really like watching movies that have been edited for television, and it’s all the fault of the Goonies. 
You see, back in the olden days, networks used to show movies on Saturday or Sunday nights, and as movie fans, my family would dutifully tape said movies to add to our collection, which means we had some pretty great films at our fingertips (Gremlins, the aforementioned Goonies) as well as some “it’s-on-TV-so-I-guess-it-might-be-good-question-mark” (The Hard Way—remember that one?).  Anyway, once taped, these movies were watched over and over and over and over again.  So, anyway, the first time I’m at school talking about The Goonies with some friends, they start talking about all these scenes they love, and I’m not familiar with ANY OF THEM. Why?  Because they were cut out of the version I had at home.  “Chunk breaks off a statue’s penis?  Aw.  I wanna see that.”  That is why I don’t watch/enjoy movies on TV. 

Why did I watch Just One of the Guys on my sick day?  Well, first, I was sick.  I didn’t want anything deep or meaningful or foreign.  Quite frankly, I wanted to be able to close my eyes if I wanted to and still (mostly) following the action.  Second, a comedy felt like the right choice, but I didn’t want it to be too funny, like, I didn’t want to do a bunch of LOL-ing (Laugh Out Louding-ing), and Just One of the Guys didn’t seem like the kind of flick that was capable of  literally "busting" one’s "gut." (I don’t know what I based that on.)  Third, the hosts of my favorite podcast of 2013, The Flop House, bring up Just One of the Guys all the time, and they’ve yet to steer me wrong. 
For those of you who don’t know, Just One of the Guys is about a high school girl named Terry who wants to be a reporter when she grows up.  She writes an article for a contest being held by a local newspaper, but her media writing teacher doesn’t choose her story as one of the finalists, in fact, he chooses articles by male students only.  Terry believes that sexism is afoot and decides to go undercover as a boy at another area high school and write about her experiences.  Everything you expect to happen, happens: she runs afoul of a bully, played by go-to 80’s jerk-off William Zabke; she is pursued by a sex-hungry co-ed, played by go-to 90’s sexpot Sherilyn Fenn; she befriends and falls in love with a cool loner she’s made it her mission to help find a date for the prom.  Basic 80’s shenanigans. 
I found myself charmed by Just One of the Guys, despite its casual sexism (which I understand is kind of the point), its unnecessary and, frankly, unappealing background characters (the two super nerds who won’t stop pretending they are visitors from another planet; the guy with reptiles in his pocket), and its ridiculous premise (I am willing to accept the whole “high school girl goes undercover as a boy to win a newspaper contest” thing, but the fact that all of this happens during a two week period in which her parents are out of town is asinine).  It’s a fun movie and it’s got a great scene where Terry, as Terry, rips open her prom tuxedo to expose her boobs to the young man she’s fallen head-over-heels in love with to prove that she's a lady and not simply a gay dude barking up the wrong tree.
Did I mention Terry has a brother named Buddy?  I didn’t?  Well, she does.  Hm.  Look, we need to talk about Buddy, but where to start…

I think it’s safe to assume that all of us, at one time or another, have been a 15-year-old boy.  It’s a weird position to be in.  Your hormones are raging, but you can’t drive or buy cigarettes or vote in the general election.  There’s no outlet for your sexual frustration, except maybe tube socks.  Well, socks are less an outlet then a receptacle, but you get what I’m trying to say.  I thought about the sex I wasn’t having and didn’t have access to when I was a young man, it’s natural, but I don’t recall being as all-consumed by horniness as Buddy seems to be.  I found alternative activities to pass the time.  And when the aforementioned horniness became too much to bear, I turned to the comforts of that aforementioned sock. 
Buddy, quite frankly, is disturbing.
I have no interest in being crass, but Buddy grows up to be a sex offender, probably a serial rapist, right?  He’s a total Law & Order: SVU Creep-of-the-Week in training.  Like, I can imagine him squaring off against Detective Benson in the interrogation room and saying some really heinous stuff about women, pushing his luck until Tutuola is forced to kick the chair out from under him. That’s what happens to Buddy.  He ends up toothless on an interrogation room floor at the feet of Ice-T.
I found myself torn during the scenes between Terry and Buddy in Just One of the Guys.  On the one hand, I enjoyed their relationship.  They got along in a way most onscreen brothers and sisters do not.  Sure, Buddy was a little obsessed with threatening to give away his sister’s secret—like when he visits her at her new school or happily takes her college boyfriend to the prom to find her—but for the most part, they work as a team.  Everything else about Buddy is chilling.
Just One of the Guys is a comedy, sure, but here’s a short list of just a few of the things Buddy does over the film’s 90 minute running time that is not only inappropriate and weird, but gross.
1.) Buddy decorates his bedroom walls with Playboy centerfolds:  In an attempt to alleviate his sexual frustration, Buddy surrounds himself with porn.  Now, I’m not one of those people who believe porn leads to sex crimes leads to murder leads to Dahmertown, I just think it’s a little weird to be so open about your enjoyment of pornography.  That isn’t a turn on for the ladies, Buddy.  All of the women I’ve had meaningful relationships with have not been anti-porn, but I’m pretty sure they all would’ve been pretty skeeved out if I invited them over and they found centerfolds framed and set out on the mantle like weird family vacation shots.  If you are a straight male, you most likely enjoy naked women—everybody knows this—so, maybe lay off with the Playboy wallpaper.
It should be noted that when Sherilyn Fenn’s character shows up at Terry’s house unannounced with a bowl full of fish and “sexy” 80’s lingerie on, Terry claims Buddy’s room as her own, and Fenn is in no way creeped out by the porn everywhere, and there is A LOT of it.  Oh, and, spoiler alert, Fenn ends up in bed with Buddy at the end, so, you know, ew.
2.) Buddy plots to get his study buddy wasted: Buddy invites a girl from his math class over to study, but makes it no secret that he has designs on getting her drunk on red wine and taking advantage of her.  And he tries all this, IN FRONT OF TERRY’S BOYFRIEND!  Now Buddy needs an audience?  This guy gets sicker and sicker with every frame.
To be fair, Math Class Girl does reject Buddy’s advances, but it’s for pretty shallow reasons.  As she turns to leave, Buddy asks, “Would it help if I told you I was hung like a bear?” to which she responds, “Maybe.  Are you?”  Buddy confesses that he is not, and the girl promptly exits the movie forever.
3.) Buddy and Denise: Terry’s best friend in the movie is a girl named Denise.  Not only does Buddy spend the bulk of the movie hitting on Denise, but he is constantly pawing at her like a kitten.  A horny kitten.  In a sleeveless flannel shirt.  Does Denise ever report this to the authorities or ask Terry to reprimand Buddy about his endless sexual harassment?  Of course not!  She just removes his hand from her inner thigh (HER INNER THIGH!!!) and rolls her eyes.
Quick note on Denise: She ends up with a thirty-year-old guitarist from the band playing the prom.  Gross.  Weird.

Buddy never redeems himself, in fact, his antics are rewarded.  Not only does he get to have sex with Sherilyn Fenn (Audrey Horne herself!!!), but in the final scene, he leaps on the back of a passing cougar’s motorcycle, and drives off into the distance with her, presumably for even more sexually explicit misadventures.
In summation, Just One of the Guys is a charming 80’s trifle with more good than bad, but Buddy Griffith is perhaps one of the most disturbing, sociopathic characters in film history. 

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Blessed Are The Trailers: The Calling

I think we can agree that most motion pictures these days are nothing but tools of Devil, designed to shove mankind off the Path of Righteousness and into the Creek of Despair, which is barely a creek at all.  It's mostly mud.  And there are discarded beer bottles and fast food wrappers all over the place.  It's gross.  But, yeah, Hollywood is a cesspool, and for some reason, "they" (i.e. the Hollywood Liberal Elite, who are probably fornicating at THIS VERY MINUTE!) think we want to jump in and play along.

Of course, I'm kidding.  Film is humankind's greatest achievement after bacon cheese fries.  And like french fried potatoes smothered in melted cheddar cheese, topped with crispy crumbles of hickory-smoked bacon and dipped in thick creamy ranch dressing, film is for everybody.  There are romantic comedies for women; preachy Tyler Perry dramadies for African Americans; documentaries for nerds; and comedy, drama, sci-fi, horror, action, adventure, etc, etc, etc movies for white males between the ages of 18 and 40.  What a rich tapestry!

Did you know they even make movies for religious people these days?  It sounds crazy, but it's true, and that's why, this week, Giant Electric Penguin is going to be taking a look at a few trailers for some Christian-themed pictures, from the past and present, that you can enjoy on your next family movie night.  I was going to call this feature Religi-Trailers, but that isn't clever or funny, so Blessed Are The Trailers it is.

Our first trailer comes to us from Testimony Pictures, but more importantly from my friend Jonathan, who posted it on my Facebook wall.  Hey, Jonathan, do NOT get THIS off my Facebook page.  Ha ha ha!  We're terrific.  Here's the thing:

I grew up in a Christian household, but not the kind where we had to wear homemade clothing or weren't allowed to watch Full House because Uncle Joey was probably a homosexual with an "agenda," and venomous snakes were handled before bed.  My parents took us to the movies (Once I reached double-digits, both me and my sister were given access to the world of PG-13 movies, in fact, the first PG-13 movie we ever saw in the theater was Son-In-Law.  Oh, Pauly Shore!  Were we ever so young?), we were allowed to listen to whatever music we wanted and once a week, my dad would take me to Troy Stamp and Coin to buy comic books.  My upbringing was, I'm sorry to disappoint all of you, completely perfect, which is probably why I'm not a successful writer or artist today.  Thanks for being the best parents in the world, Mom and Dad, you jerks!

I wasn't forced to listen exclusively to Christian music--be it rock, rap or adult contemporary--but my parents would certainly not discourage my interest in the genre when I occasionally brought it up.  I owned Vanilla Ice's To The Extreme and Michael Peace's Rapping Bold at the same time.  Vanilla's had a song in which two people "made love" in an inner tube (My best friend Graham and I used to listen to this song while we played Super Mario 3 and thought the height of comic expression was imagining that Mr. Ice had rapped that was "making love TO an inner tube."  Oh, the fun we had!) and Peace had a super disturbing abortion rap on his album.  So, I experienced the "best" of both worlds, like Hannah Montana, only with horrible rap.

As a teenager, I had some Christian alternative rock cassettes that I mostly got from my youth pastor, but I didn't like them as much as my secular stuff (They Might be Giants, The Smiths, Nirvana, REM, Operation Ivy, any and all ska).  Part of it was the production value.  I can't speak for all Christian rock, but the tapes I had sounded like garbage.  Kind of like how The Calling looks like garbage.  Seriously, what award did this movie win?  Certainly nothing in the cinematography category.  What year was The Calling released?  Don't look it up.  Guess.

Did you guess?  Did you guess 2002?  Of course you didn't, but that's the correct answer.

Per the Internet Movie Database, The Calling has not received any awards as of March 10, 2014.  So, I followed a link to the Christian Film Database.  It was for a different movie, also called The Calling.  A trailer wasn't available.  It's about missionaries in Peru.  So, I performed a quick search of the CFD.  There is no entry for 2002's The Calling, however there was an ad at the top of the page for the winner of the Platinum Award at 2012's Worldfest, Hell and Mr. Fudge, a film the Burbank International Film Festival (The festival itself or a guy at the festival???) called a "wonderful faith-based drama."

I headed back to the IMDB, and guess what I found?  Another movie called The Calling that also came out in 2002, only starring actors you've heard of.  It is also about a dude who heals people, a dude named Leroy Jenkins.  It didn't win any awards either.

I'm pretty confident that this The Calling has never been given an award ever.  It hasn't even been considered.  Until now.  I am officially nominating this trailer for The Calling for an official GEP Worst Trailer Ever Award!  Congratulations, The Calling.  We'll announce the winners at an un-televised award ceremony later this year or never.

Two more things:

*What do those two guys encounter when they open that hotel room door?!?  I gotta know!!!  Here are some things it might be:

--the shittiest hotel room in the world
--the nicest hotel room in the world (this is my vote for what it is, however, I bet it's just a mediocre hotel room that most of us would actually consider shitty)
--a scantily clad woman
--Jesus, just hanging out
--an award from an organization that gives out awards to Christian-themed motion pictures

*I think this 9/10 star review from someone calling him/herself wla-1 on says it all (the bolding was adding by me):

The Calling is by far one of the best written movies I have seen in this genre. I recommend this movie to families, church groups and especially those who have gotten lax in their faith. We all go through "down" periods -this movie lifts us up, inspires and renews our faith. Herbert Porter's portrayal of William Jennings is right on target with the theme and message. Shebeta Carter portrays the perfect supporting role as Porter's on-screen wife. David Hudson adds flavor of the younger generation while inserting bits of comedy. Although produced on a small budget, the movie is well made and worth viewing. The only critique I can give is in regard to the budget. With a larger budget, this film would give even Gibson's The Passion some competition. I give this movie 9 out of 10 points.

Tomorrow: They turned Heaven is For Real into a movie??? 

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Harmontown is my new Best Show

When Tom Scharpling’s Best Show on WFMU broadcast for the final time last December, I, like any other FOT (Friend of Tom) with some variety of blog, wrote a tribute to the radio program/podcast/way-of-life that had steamrolled into my heart five years earlier.  The Best Show enriched my life in so many ways—introduced me to artists like Ted Leo, Kurt Vile and Ty Segall; gave me a second chance to embrace the wit and weirdness of Jon Wurster (that story will have to wait for another day, I’m afraid); provided me a respite from the drudgery of working a stressful job that I pretty much hate.  Most importantly though, The Best Show provided for me a place in which I felt like I belonged.  I’m not comfortable in a lot of places—I can probably count the public, non-restaurant spaces I semi-enjoy hanging out in on one hand—but I always felt comfortable when The Best Show was on.  Is that weird?  I don’t think so.  It’s probably a little weird. Look, The Best Show meant a lot to me, OK? 
I never posted the tribute on Giant Electric Penguin because it was a rambling embarrassment, unworthy of The Best Show.  Said tribute will more than likely never pop up anywhere, unless it is posted posthumously against the expressed wishes of my last will and testament.  In essence, it expressed what I put in the preceding paragraph, just in a more roundabout, poorly-written way.
When The Best Show went away, I didn’t have any designs on filling the void with something else. Nothing could replace The Best Show, and nothing had to.  There are thousands of hours of Tom Scharpling, Jon Wurster and the oddball citizenry of Newbridge, New Jersey still kicking around in The Best Show archives at right this very second.  You can, and should, listen to them right now! So, replacing the Best Show wasn’t, and isn’t, a goal of mine, but I did wonder if I would ever discover a pop-culture entity that would ever mean quite as much to me.
Then, lost, hungry for laughs, and seeking the spiritual guidance of another curmudgeonly comedy writer, I stumbled into Harmontown.

Harmontown, for those who don’t know, is a weekly podcast, recorded live at Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles, CA (“The Podcasting-est City in America”), starring the creator and re-instated showrunner of NBC’s Community, a show I can proudly say I’ve watched from the very beginning, and his longtime friend, actor/improv comedy guy, Jeff Davis.  The show is, in essence, a town meeting, where Davis acts as comptroller and Harmon as mayor of the titular city (sort of like a real-life Newbridge, only populated by tangible weirdos).  Audience members are encouraged to interact with the hosts (when appropriate), and are often invited onstage and handed a microphone.  Various topics are discussed, dissected, then discarded, always in a way both hilarious and oddly compelling.  Harmontown is a place chock full of jokes, but it can also get pretty deep, depending on the current level of drunkenness .  I often find myself communicating out loud with Dan and Jeff as if the three of us are sitting in my office at work or driving around in my car or lying in bed next to my sleeping wife—the office, my car, and the bedroom being the three primary places in which I listen to Harmontown—before realizing I probably sound and/or look like a crazy person.  “Good point,” I’ll say, as my wife grinds her teeth peacefully beside me.  “He’s right you know,” I’ll remark, nodding knowingly at the confused elderly person sitting in traffic beside me.  “Hardy-har-har!” I’ll laugh uproariously behind my closed office door, my co-workers huddled in the hall outside, convinced I’ve finally lost my mind.
The last twenty to thirty minutes of every Harmontown is devoted to an epic Dungeons and Dragons campaign, masterminded by dungeon-master Spencer Crittenden, who, if I’m understanding the whole history of the show correctly (I’m listening back through the archives, but I’m doing it in a weird order that doesn’t even really make sense to me), was an audience member who simply had the thought one night, “I want to play D&D with Dan Harmon,” and, boom, now he does. 
That’s kind of the beauty of Harmontown.  It’s a place where anybody can come and be accepted and celebrated, no matter what.  If you have something to get off your chest, there’s a good chance you’ll be invited onstage to talk about it.  If you just want to hang out in the back and enjoy the show, you can do that to, and you’ll probably get a free-style rap about Dan Harmon having sexual relations with your momma to cap things off.
Harmontown and The Best Show are two different entities entirely, but there are enough similarities that I was compelled to write this post.  Here now is a list of these similarities, as I think said similarities provide an insight into why both shows appeal to me so much.
1. The lovable curmudgeon as host: Tom’s stories about the everyday nuisances he bumped up against at, say, a local buffet or convention for Beatles fan or a chance encounter with Mickey Dolenz, provided some of the best moments in Best Show history.  Like Scharpling, Dan Harmon plays the role of the lovable curmudgeon on his weekly show.  He complains, but there is something more to his complaints then just “wah-wah-wah things aren’t the way I want them to be.”  I mean, he regularly voices said complaints in a loose segment he calls “Things Dan Harmon Isn’t Allowed to Complain About.”  Scharpling and Harmon, while wildly successful comedy writers, largely remain outsiders, and that legitimate outsider status is what makes their examinations of the minutiae of daily life so relatable.  
2. Best friends working together: As The Best Show’s almost-weekly phone conversations between Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster as one of the oddball citizens of Newbridge proved, when best buddies get together with a common vision, comedy magic is bound to occur.  It is the same with Harmontown.  Dan Harmon and Jeff Davis's mission appears to be the proliferation of the philosophy of Dan Harmon, and at this, they are very successful.  When Dan strays from the path of a story or an important philosophical bon mot, Jeff is right there with a question or an improv scenario or a rap beat.  They work together like a well-oiled (yet somehow still squeaky and spark-puking) machine and the results are never not entertaining.
3. Comedians!: Tom had a lot of comedians/humorists regularly on his show (John Hodgman, Patton Oswalt, Kurt Braunholer, Todd Barry, Julie Klausner, Andy Kindler, etc.).  They would promote things, sure, but first and foremost, they were on the show because of their admiration for Tom. Harmontown does have the occasional guest from the comedy world, but a semi-regular co-star (regular enough to have his own player in the weekly Dungeons and Dragons campaign even) in Kumail Nanjiani, one of my favorite stand-ups. (FYI: Nanjiani's D&D character is Chris de Burgh, the singer-songwriter behind "Lady in Red.")
4. The regulars: Not only were people from the comedy and music world regular guests on The Best Show, but Tom had some regular callers as well.  Many of them were weirdos (Spike, Fredericks from New Port Richey, 10-year-old Milo), but lovable weirdos you looked forward to hearing from week after week.  Others were just FOTs checking in with a story or for the pleasure of being GOMPed by the King of Free Entertainment.  Harmontown has it’s regulars as well.  The aforementioned Spencer; Dan’s fiancĂ©e, Erin McGathy, who tries to solve nearly every conflict in Dungeons and Dragons with rom-com tropes and the suggestion of “let's put on a show” (McGathy is a hilarious delight during her turns at D&D, especially when Jeff grows irritated by the complexities of her non-sensical moves); and a handful of audience members (Adam Goldberg, Anatoly, Beef-Fungus Bill, Tyler, etc) that pop in from time to time.
Look, I’m going to be an FOT for life, but I would very much like to apply for dual citizenship as a Harmenian as well.  Both programs provide a safe place for weirdos to congregate and complain and crack wise and hash shit out.  Both worlds are worth your time, so get immersed.  Do it!

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