Simpsons Marathon: Things Learned Part 1

As we round the last few turns of the unprecedented 12 day marathon of The Simpsons on FXX, I think I’ve learned and been reminded of many things about the show. Watching the first half of the marathon was like growing up again: wonderful, hilarious, sentimental. Besides the hundreds of brilliant jokes I remember loving when they originally aired and still love just as much now, one moment I saw differently now, as an adult, was in an early season episode where Bart and Lisa ask Maggie to choose her favorite sibling. They are in the living room together; Maggie slowly crawls to the tv and gives it a loving embrace.

The prescience of such a scene is difficult to ignore, given the current state of our society, by which I mean that we all love the shit out of one kind of screen or another (phone, laptop, tv, something). Of course, The Simpsons has been aware of this growing screen dependency since its inception in the 1980’s: the title credits of the show appear on the tv screen, where the family rushes to sit down at the beginning of every episode.

I can’t share my favorite Simpsons moments here. I don’t have the time, and you don’t have the patience for another list. I’m not doing lists on this blog, I told myself. I already have a job and a hobby.

The more interesting part of the show’s development, to me, however, is the second half or perhaps last third, the episodes of the 2000’s, the entire seasons that are largely unknown to mainstream audiences. The Simpsons hasn’t enjoyed high ratings in a decade, having been long outpaced by their own imitators (maybe that’s a strong term–at least outpaced by shows they greatly influenced). Everyone you know will tell you these later episodes are bad. Those people, however, are totally, totally fucking wrong.

More on the new Simpsons in Part 2.

 

 


Never Sunny at The Emmy’s–also Hollywood is Terrified of Netflix

The only Emmy nomination It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has ever received is for Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or Variety Program.

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If that doesn’t register as insane to you, then you haven’t been watching one of the most brave, innovative, and hilarious shows of its time. For shame.

So while you are trying to get over your anger at The Emmy’s for not picking your favorites, keep this in mind: they have no idea what they are doing. They are just a huge chorus in a Greek tragedy, echoing what has become evident, even if it’s inaccurate. Does Breaking Bad, the most important show to air since The Wire, deserve all those awards? Sure, you can make the argument. For two years straight.

However, does Modern Family–a show that I also love–deserve to own every Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy since 2010? That’s more than a little questionable. How about this: the three Outstanding Comedy Emmy’s before this all went to 30 Rock. As much as I also love 30 Rock, there is little argument about its inconsistency during those very years it was cleaning up Emmy’s. Just ask Alec Baldwin.

In case you didn’t also know: the voters seem totally incapable of separating individual Actress and Actor awards from the dominant award-winning show. Look at the records. They have become like the Heisman Committee in college football.

Last thing: Hollywood is obviously very afraid of Netflix and its fellow digital content producers. Last year, it was forgivable that House of Cards went home empty because it was up against such an incredible season (and body of work) by Breaking Bad. Last night, however, with Orange is the New Black running strong with a bevy of nominations and also going home empty, as House of Cards did, again, the larger picture becomes more clear.

It’s only a matter of time, Hollywood. Don’t fight.

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Sin City: Rodriguez the Terrible

It’s supposed to be a joke, how bad his films are, but the joke is that he can’t actually do any better.

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The audience is supposed to be in on the joke–ha ha, he’s doing genre, terrible genre, and he’s doing it in such a cheesy way that it’s hilarious and it’s fine to enjoy, because it’s smart and actually satirizing. Only, he’s not satirizing anything. He just enjoys making ridiculous, ultra-cheesy, star-powered films that celebrate their own lack of quality.

But this celebration for lack of quality should not be mistaken for quality. Because it isn’t.

He remains, as always, like what Tarantino would be like if he got brain damage in a car accident–Tarantino without provoking content, smart dialogue, fascinating characters, intelligent set pieces and mise-en-scene, or anything else that makes Tarantino a genius. He’s just poor ol’ Robert Rodriguez, all ham. It’s the good part of the ham, I’ll give him that, and you’ll emerge from the theater this weekend with a few extra pounds and Type 2 diabetes.

And good for you if that’s what you wanted. Personally, I CANNOT BELIEVE I’m not getting in line to see a movie with a poster like the one above (also including ROSARIO DAWSON. I MEAN, FUCK). And the rest of the cast is incredible, both with stars and little-seen actors who have still left their mark, such as Christopher Lloyd.

But I’m telling you–if you actually like noir films, this movie, like the previous, is only candy. Not a true meal. Glam-noir. This fact is kind of common knowledge–and it’s also not. The first Sin City is Rodriguez’s strongest film to date, mostly because it’s built on the shoulders of Frank Miller’s established neo-noir world, and yet it is still basically vacuous. This one will be as well, only with a grotesquely over-the-top femme fatale who, surprise surprise, is actually wicked.

I’m looking at you up there, sugar tits.


I Saw The Karate Kid on Cable Last Night, and the Experience Could Not Have Turned Out Better For Me

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It wasn’t actually last night, but recently anyway. Several pleasing (and perhaps not totally bloodless) revelations came my way during the viewing.

First: if you swap out the karate tournament at the climax with a rap battle, you arrive at the film Eight Mile.

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Eight Mile, it would seem, is explicitly built on an extremely similar structure to The Karate Kid. Both star small young men who live in a culture/society that doesn’t accept them and are bullied, coerced, forced into bad situations, and even beaten up by their antagonists, even throughout the final climactic competition, only to use their various injuries against their enemies to win the tournament in a thrilling coup of personal triumph.

Daniel La Russo is bullied because he’s poor (comparatively). B Rabbit is bullied because he’s white (basically). And I’m not trying to take anything away from either film by pointing out similarities. I just think it’s interesting.

Another interesting thing about The Karate Kid, which I must give credit to the cable program for mentioning, is that it not only shares a director with the early films of the Rocky franchise, it also shares a theme song, in a way. Turns out that Joe Esposito’s undeniably appealing “You’re the Best Around” was originally written for Rocky III, only to be denied in place of “Eye of the Tiger”. This is an awesome detail to me, because it points to the surprising commercial/critical appeal of The Karate Kid, being made in the likeness of Rocky, and how much director John G. Avildsen relied upon–and perfected–similar tropes present in each. Rocky Balboa has more than a little in common with our young heroes mentioned above.

Anyways, I truly love The Karate Kid, to the point that I may have even been caught yelling at the TV during the ultra-exciting tournament.

Now, let’s get down to business:


Is Any Childhood Toy Safe From Michael Fucking Bay?

No.

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I guess the bigger question is: when will we, as consumers (not you or me, other people who watch Michael Bay toy movies), demand better?

Picking on the quality of movies by this particular director is really going after the low-hanging fruit, so I won’t. But I will say I’m pissed off that he insists on reappropriating these toys from my goddamn childhood. I liked Transformers, but the thing is I LOVED THE TURTLES.

Look at this charming fucking screenshot from the 1990 film, Michael Bay. LOOK AT IT.

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I used to say that one’s choice of favorite turtle is an accurate single-question personality test. And if  it wasn’t Raphael, we couldn’t be close, you and me.

In the MB iteration of turtles, however, I’m sure that such questions don’t even matter, because everyone is reduced to type in the simplest and most mindless, shallow way possible.

It’s just for kids, I know, but it doesn’t have to be for dumb kids, in the way that this particular director has reduced the quality of his work to flashy movement without even a hint of intelligent content. If trout watched movies, they’d watch Michael Fucking Bay.


Only Been Waiting on Michael Keaton FOR DECADES NOW

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Stand back…it’s Michael Fucking Keaton!

 

I’ve always vehemently argued that Michael Keaton is not only the best Batman, but also the best actor to portray a superhero in a tentpole Hollywood movie. And then Robert Downey Jr. came along…but I believe that Downey Jr. took a few, and the best, pages out of Keaton’s playbook from Tim Burton’s first Batman installment in order to win over the entire world with his Tony Stark/Ironman.

Keaton has said in interviews that he concentrated solely on the character of Bruce Wayne in preparation for his role, that being Batman wasn’t “way in” to the role. I think this was somewhat revolutionary given the predecessors he’d seen of actors portraying superheroes (Adam West, Christopher Reeves, etc.).

Furthermore, Keaton tapped into Bruce Wayne’s psyche as an eccentric, dark, edgy billionaire who is completely alone in life, yet Keaton also retained plenty of the offbeat humor that had made him famous.

Just like Robert Downey Jr. did for Tony Stark.

Keaton’s Bruce Wayne/Batman is smarter than Christian Bale’s, funnier than any of the others, more interesting than Tobey MacGuire’s Peter Parker, and generally more appealing than any other superhero on celluloid. Except, well, Robert Downey Jr.

Lesson being: nothing is worse than a boring hero. The hero must be interesting, the hero must be funny, and the hero must, in this age, have something dark to him.

Oh, and this new movie Birdman looks amazing.


Gone Girl/The Curious Cases of David Fincher’s Novel Adaptations

Here’s to hoping the movie is as fun as the book. Judging from the trailer, the movie appears to be noticeably lacking the surprising (yet consistent) humor of Gillian Flynn’s amazing novel. That’s troubling. It’s not that I don’t have faith in David Fincher; he’s one of my favorite directors ever. And of course the trailer displays his trademark heavy, saturated, yet also washed-out visual style (you can spot a Fincher film from a mile away from just a screenshot). Perhaps Fincher is taking the story in a somewhat new direction (and new tone) to fit his own aesthetics.

The most amazing thing about the novel, to me, was its ability to have it both ways, to be an absolutely wicked page-turner filled many standard mystery/thriller elements while still being extremely funny, smart, and most importantly, giving us very interesting and real characters–whose developmental paths are both a function of the plot and yet also extremely organic.

If you haven’t read this novel before the film comes out one month from tomorrow, DO THAT SHIT. Gone Girl is one of those stories in particular where knowing how the plot unfolds, the first time you experience it, is uniquely fun because of all the surprises. I imagine the novel would not be nearly as unrelenting and pleasurable if one has already seen the movie.

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Fincher is a director with quite a few novel adaptations under his belt. He actually doesn’t do a lot of features, nearly all of which were first books. Gone Girl will be only his eighth feature film since 1995’s unforgettable Se7en–six of those were adapted from books. Two disparate examples come to mind for comparison: Fight Club and The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons.

One takes a very basic and flawed book (a debut novel) and greatly enhances the power and relevance of  the story via brilliant filmmaking and a changed ending.

The other (and I also lay the blame on screenwriter Eric Roth, perhaps more so than Fincher) rips off a beautiful, heartbreaking novel (The Confessions of Max Tivoli), changes the title to give credit to an obscure and poorly imagined F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, and eventually becomes a hot mess of a film–even if it is warm and lovely–that in some ways , regarding storytelling techniques, bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the American classic Forrest Gump (also adapted by Roth).

I guess this is not so widely known, but the Fitzgerald short story, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons”, is a joke in terms of source material. The true source of the story for the film of that name is the beautifully tragic 2004 Andrew Sean Greer novel, The Confessions of Max Tivoli. I’ll quit my rant about this issue of thievery here in order to move on to my point that if you read Greer’s novel, then Fincher’s film becomes almost unwatchable. Many (including Greer) might diplomatically argue that these two not be compared directly, as they are different. Yet I think this comparison is necessary, and ultimately, the film adaptation of this novel falls dramatically short.

However: go read Fight Club. What you’ll see is a great narrator, whose many clever lines are used directly in the film, telling us an extremely interesting story that is still somehow thematically incomplete. Chuck Palahniuk, incidentally, sold this novel, his first, for a paltry $8,000 (yes, that’s right), because nobody else wanted it. Fincher’s adaptation, on the other hand, is a marvel of filmmaking, particularly when you compare it to the source material. He managed to take the best core elements of the novel–the concept and the narrator–and implement them brilliantly into an intense, visually compelling movie strikes the cultural zeitgeist and stays true to the heart of the novel while altering enough elements to become almost inarguably stronger.

The other Fincher adaptations, Zodiac, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, are generally regarded to be accurate and well pulled-off; Social Network is the exceptional film among them, carried by Aaron Sorkin’s powerful narrative as the adapting scribe. Dragon Tattoo is notable mainly for it’s often creepy similarities to the first Swedish adaptation of the film, while actually not being quite as well done–surprising for a Fincher project. I remember when the news of this American version of the film broke, I thought to myself, “He’s just showing off, doing a much stronger version of the Swedish film.” But I was wrong.

So, herein lies my reservation about Fincher, one of my favorite directors, who doesn’t make a lot of films, yet nearly always adapts them from books, choosing what was probably one of the most fun reads I’ve experienced in years.

I have a friend who claims that mediocre novels often make great films, whereas great novels can only be mediocre films. I’m holding out hope, because I’m basically an optimistic person, but Fincher’s history of adapting books speaks to the truth of my friend’s theory. I’ll get back to you in a month.


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