Friday, May 30, 2014

Film Friday: Fun With Dick and Jane (2005)

Continuing with Judd Apatow from Wednesday: he sucks. He’s an awful writer with no wit, no sense of storytelling, and most importantly, no grasp of how anything in the world actually works, which keeps his jokes from scoring meaningful hits. Well, Judd wrote the screenplay for Jim Carrey’s Fun With Dick and Jane, and let me show you just how bad Judd is by sitting with Judd and teaching him what’s wrong with his screenplay by doing a filmtopsy.

Before we start, the idea behind the film is that Dick Harper (Jim Carrey) and Jane Harper (Tea Leoni) are a yuppie couple who find themselves broke when Dick’s company, Globodyne, goes broke overnight. Unable to pay their bills, the couple turn to crime. This is a remake of a 1977 film and it has potential. Let’s see if Judd can exploit it.

Ok, I see you open with a generic Jim Carrey introduction. This feels like a rip-off of The Truman Show, but I know Carrey likes that, so I can’t blame you. Ok, now we switch to see his wife “Jane,” who is Tea Leoni. We’re seeing her at work as a travel agent. Huh. Judd, you have her on the phone with a client who is calling from the airport and he’s angry that he’s trying to board a flight to Russia for a vacation but he doesn’t have a passport and she didn’t tell him he needed one. Ok, look, when you travel to Russia or China or most places overseas, you need to get a Visa before you can book the flight. To get the Visa you need to present your passport at their embassy. So this couldn’t happen... not even close. Don’t whine, Judd. Yes, I know that not everything in a comedy needs to make sense, but Judd... some of it does.

On the plus side, I’m happy to see that both characters drank coffee without a hint of there being feces or human ejaculate in it. Nice restraint. One thing though, they are supposed to be a married couple and yet there wasn’t a single moment in their interactions which made them feel like more than acquaintances. Humans tend to show that they care about each other in their interactions. No, Judd, I’m not kidding.

Moving on. Ok, so here’s your idea. Jim gets promoted to VP of communications. Within minutes, they send him onto television, hand him some talking points right as the camera starts rolling, and then he gets sneak attacked by the journalist demanding to know why the CEO (Alec Baldwin) has sold 100% of his stock over the past year. As he fails to have an answer, we see the stock price fall from 140 to 0. There’s the set up.
//scratches head

Oh boy, Judd. First, a large company like this will have many qualified spokesmen and lawyers who are ready to deny this. And if they can’t, then they decline the interview. No company would send Carrey as an unknowing sheep to get them slaughtered. Secondly, the markets automatically halt trading in stocks that fall too much, so you can’t get to zero. Third, all insider stock sales are reported. So if the CEO sold 100% of his stock over the past year, as you claim, then this would have been well known both inside and outside the company, so how in the world could everyone inside the company be caught by surprise by that? Forth, skipping ahead, you say later that the CEO’s “plot” was to crash the company so he could “sell his stock.” That’s nonsense Judd. He can sell at any time. Crashing the stock only hurts the value of his shares as he tries to sell them. What you really meant was that he sold the company’s stock short... only, CEO’s can’t get away with that. Did you not know any of this? You didn’t? Seriously?

Ok, continuing, Jim goes home to discover that his wife has quit her job. Now you may not know this, but married couples tend to alert each other before they make monumental life decisions like this.

Let’s see, the next morning, their check bounces to the landscapers and they “repo” the lawn. Why would their check bounce? Most people have more than 0.5 days of savings, especially if they have contracted landscaping, which typically is paid in advance or after 30 days. So that’s cute, but that’s not going to happen either. Now his electricity and water get shut off. Again, that won’t happen. They can’t cut you off the moment a check bounces. Also, with them having no money, there are poverty programs that let them get it for free.

So now they’re selling all their stuff so they can keep the maid? Why? Why doesn’t Tea go get her job back? You don’t know? Ok. You do know that being a travel agent isn’t that hard and she could probably get a dozen other similar jobs, right? You didn’t know that. I see. So instead, you’ve got her deciding to become a human test dummy for a make-up company and getting paid $14. That’s, uh, stupid.
At least Jim is trying to get another job. Whoa! Why are they engaging in a foot race to get to an interview? Corporate jobs aren’t handed out first come first serve. You know that right? Oh, you’ve never applied for a job. I see. Ah, and it wasn’t even a real interview, they just wanted to mock him. Yeah, um, that can’t happen. Why not? Go ask a lawyer. Heck, go ask someone who has a job, they’ll tell you.

So now Jim is day labor and he’s standing among the Mexicans at Home Depot. And he gets punched... of course. Oh, and here comes INS, this is going to be obnoxious. Yeah, as I guessed, the guy who looks 100% white and nothing like the Mexicans around him and who speaks English without a Mexican accent can’t prove he’s an American. Oh, and they are letting some other Mexican go because he stole Carrey’s license and Carrey can’t convince them to compare the picture on the license to himself. Yeah, that’s retarded. Oh, even better, instant deportation... no arrest, no detention, no judge, no appeal, just dumped on the other side of the border. Yeah, that’s not how any of this works.

//looks at watch

Judd, we’re 47 minutes into this turd and you have yet to achieve the premise. You should have hit the premise about 10 minutes in, don’t you have even the slightest sense of timing? Ah hah! Wait! Here it comes. We can see the wheels turning inside his brain. Ok, now you’ve got Jim doing Jim. Ha ha, he desecrates a grave. Ha ha, a dog peeing. AND... WTF?! He steals grass to replace the grass he lost. That’s the idea?

Oh, that was just a head fake. Yeah, this movie needed a pointless head fake to slow it down. We’re now an hour in and he’s being evicted – final notice, 24 hours, and we see the wheels turning. One problem though, this can’t happen. The law doesn’t even come close to allowing this. You typically get 90 days in pro-bank states and 6 months in pro-borrower states, and that’s after three notices. I take it you didn’t know that either. Have you been living in your parent’s garage or something? Oh, you have.

At least he’ll start robbing banks now. Finally, let the humor begin!

Uh... he’s robbing a 7-11... a 7-11 which every human on earth knows has only $20 to rob. Yeah, yeah, brain freeze from the slurpee (at least there’s no human ejaculate in it), can’t get the gun out of his pocket, ends in disaster. When does the funny start? Now he robs an ATM and the guy he’s robbing knows him. Still not funny... just very, very predictable.

Hmm. Now his wife tells him “maybe you’re not badass.” So it takes his wife challenging his masculinity before he finds the courage to perform a “real” robbery. Welcome to the world of Judd Apatow. Of course, now that he’s done it, his wife can’t control herself and they have sex in the car. Yeah, you need help Judd.
Next robbery is a coffee-shop. Naturally, they grab a coffee and “low-fat” muffins to go. Saw that coming. Ouch... a montage: they’re wearing costumes so you can squeeze in cultural references, Jim is doing Jim in each scene, oh goodie a cross-dressing scene, why are these scenes stretching on to the point of being painful? Now Jim, in an unbelievable costume, walks into a bank and pretends to be “the vault inspector” and walks right into the vault. There’s no bank in the world where that would work except maybe a cartoon bank.

Oh hey, a twist. Another Globodyne couple is doing the same thing and they just happen to pick now to rob the bank. That’s almost interesting! Nice work Judd. That’s the first almost interesting moment in this film... after an hour and ten minutes of nonsensical pointlessness.

Well, that didn't last. This only caused Jim to realized that what he's doing is too dangerous and he wants to stop. But wait, the television news now mentions that Jim will be the next employee indicted in the Globodyne scandal for his role in spreading false information. //slaps Apatow Sorry, that’s a reflex. See Judd, first, as you may recall, Jim said nothing on television, he just mumbled nonsense. So he can’t be indicted for what he said. Secondly, his being appointed to the job minutes before the company failed makes this a dead case – he had no involvement. Third, indictments aren’t a surprise; if the government was interested in him, they would have seized his records from day one, teams of lawyers (paid for by executive and officer insurance) would be swooping in to defend him, and he would have testified in the prior trials. So this is 0.0% real.

Now we get to see Jim do Jim in a bar as he pretends to be drunk. At least there’s no excrement, masturbation or cross-dressing... though that might actually help this lame scene. Oh hey, the good bad-guy just happens to be here and he knows how to save Jim by stealing the evil CEO's money... which would do nothing about an indictment except add more charges.

Apparently, having crashed the company so he could sell his stock (wow, that’s retarded), the CEO hid all $400 million in a Cayman Island bank to avoid taxes -- of course, that can’t happen because the stock sales took place in the US. Anyway, knowing this, the plan is to create a fake transfer form listing Jim’s bank account instead of the CEO’s bank account as the deposit account. Then they will sneak into the US branch of this secret Cayman Island bank (excuse me: ha ha ha you don’t understand banking law do you, asshole? That would void their secrecy.). Anyway, they will sneak into the bank at the exact time the CEO comes for a visit to get his money. How they know the precise time is a movie miracle. They will wait for one bank employee to carry the form from one desk to another. How they know this will happen is another movie miracle. At that point, Leoni will collide with the employee and swap the forms and no one will notice that she's not an employee. A third movie miracle.
Of course, the form gets shredded by a lawnmower after Jim does Jim in the parking lot. Now they need to create a new fake form to substitute it. That means breaking into an office in the bank without being noticed, which only works if the bank employees have no idea who belongs there. Another movie miracle. Of course, Leoni now needs to delay the CEO and we need to hope that the CEO doesn’t spot Jim. More movie miracles! That’s genuine comic pyrite right there!

Oh oh, Jim gets caught. The CEO acts like a jerk, but they get his signature and can now steal his money... somehow. The movie ends suddenly with a declaration that they stole all $400 million and used it “to fund the bankrupt employee pension fund.” Now we’re seeing stories about how all the “thousands of employees” will get their life savings back. Oy. First, the film tells us this money is illegal, so the feds will take it. Secondly, putting the money into the pension fund will only fund pensions, it doesn’t provide relief for losses... no one is getting their life savings back. Third, while $400 million sounds huge, it’s not when you’re talking about thousands of employees. If there are 10,000 employees, then each gets $40,000 back, which is about 1/3 of Jim’s paycheck as an employee. Fourth, this is the type of mistake that can be reversed by the bank before it happens. Even hobos know this... too bad you don’t, Judd.

So let’s see what we have here, Judd. You failed to write anything to give a sense that the characters are real people. You completely misunderstood the stock market, how billing works, how jobs work, how banks and mortgages work, how INS works, how couples work, and how people respond when they lose their jobs. You set up obviously worthless robberies, obviously false evil schemes, and an obviously false solution. At no point in this film did you come close to reality on anything. There wasn’t a memorable line of dialog. There was only one half-interesting moment, and you squandered that. Your scenes were painfully long and it took almost the whole movie before you reached the parts that should have been comedic gold, and then you bizarrely chose to race through those scenes in an idiotic montage. Finally, after avoided all the moral questions your film raises, you self-righteously dump a moral message on the evil rich. Wow.

If you want my advice, Judd, stick to playing with ejaculate... that's more your speed.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Lowest Common Demoninator Speaks!

There's an article at Yahoo movies by “Senior Editor” Kevin Polowy, which just screams for comment. Here’s the article: Why I Fell in Love With Adam Sandler — And Why We Had to Break Up. It’s about why Kevin stopped being an Adam Sandler fan and it’s one of the most non-self-aware article I’ve ever seen. Kevin truly is the lowest common denominator only he doesn't seem to realize it, and he actually spends his time insultingly telling us how he's now too mature to be a pathetic Sandler fan. Wow.

Kevin begins by telling us that he was a junior in high school when he fell in love with Adam Sandler. Sandler had just done Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, and this was “proof that Sandler wasn’t merely a comedy genius; he was, in the most obnoxiously grandiose words of Billy Madison himself, ‘The Smartest Person Alive.’” Kevin was hooked.

See, it wasn’t just the “oddball, aggro comedic sensibility”[sic] that earned Kevin’s love, it was that Sandler was “an antihero perfectly suited to an adolescent boy.” He “stood up to the douchiest of douchebags.” He always got the girl. AND he stubbornly refused to grow up. He stood for the idea of proving that “one could get older without necessarily ever maturing.”

Now let me stop right there and point out a few things to Kevin. First, only the “douchiest of douchebags” would use that phrase in an article written on a public site like Yahoo. Secondly, getting older without maturing is precisely how one becomes the douchiest of douchebags. It is the easiest road to take and every single obnoxious, self-centered abusive dipsh*t grew old without maturing. It is the act of maturing which keeps you from becoming a douchebag. And I find it extremely telling that Kevin doesn’t realize this. It tells us he lacks maturity and judgment... something Kevin is about to prove undeniably.

As an aside, Kevin also mentions that Sandler films are packed with “memorable one-liners,” like “Stop looking at me, swan.” Actually, no one talks about memorable quotes from Sandler films. It seems that Kevin has confused “quotes that have meaning to me” with “memorable quotes.” That’s not surprising since Kevin doesn’t seem to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around him, that his tastes are not respected and revered by the world, and that his immature ass is not the hero in this world.

Anyways, Kevin went on to college and started to “grow,” though he is careful to point out that he hadn’t grown up yet. Hence, he still liked The Waterboy and The Wedding Singer and he pulled a good one on his girlfriend. When she said she wanted to see The Wedding Planner to “take their relationship to the next level,” he showed her The Wedding Singer instead. That's sweet, dude!!

Ok, seriously, first, anyone who thinks that seeing a movie will take their relationship to the next level is a dipshit of the lowest caliber. I cannot imagine a more stupid, meaningless idea. That is the kind of retardery characters spew in films to let the audience know they are shallow, moronic douchebags. Kevin doesn't get that. Secondly, this tool actually tries to score some “I'm cool” points by further telling us how he tricked his girlfriend in this moment where he was supposedly making a commitment to her. What a turd! Seriously, does Kevin live in a sitcom?

Oh, and it gets worse.

Kevin now tells us that he stayed with his lover “into my young professional days.” I can’t imagine what kind of profession would accept Kevin, but I’m assuming he is mistakenly using “professional” whereas others would merely say “employed.” Anyways, that's when they had their first spat: Little Nicky felt like “90 minutes of hell” to Kevin. At that point, Kevin felt his fandom “dwindle and teeter toward ambivalence.” So Kevin is so shallow that a single bad film kills his fandom. Wow, how fickle.

Oh but wait, Sandler did do a dramatic role in Punch-Drunk Love, which kept the now mature Kevin on the team through “the rocky mid-00’s” as Sandler “churned out increasingly formulaic comedies like Anger Management and Click.” Of course, Kevin doesn’t realize that the films he praised before this were entirely formulaic as well. But like all morons, the thing that opened his eyes becomes a revelation and he wants to believe it stands unique in the world... despite all the evidence to the contrary that this was just the first time he noticed what everyone else already knew.

Suddenly, Kevin became a grown-up... he discovered Judd Apatow.

//laughs self silly

According to Kevin, Mr. Apatow’s gems like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Wedding Crashers were a “comedy renaissance.” These “were the adventures of stunted guys, but there was a cleverness behind their adolescent jokes – the people making these films were obviously adults.”

Wow, poor Kevin is a retard. Apatow is Sandler without the cleverness or the knowledge of the adult world. What made Sandler work, when he worked, was that he injected these child-like characters into the adult world and he played off the juxtaposition. What makes Apatow so forgettable (and being forgotten at record speed) is that his world is one of slackers who live in their parents’ basements. He has no grounding in the world of adults, no understanding of reality. He just has losers sampling each other’s bodily fluids for two hours as they improv low-hanging fruit at each other. The closest Apatow comes to “adult” is the bookstore where he buys his “literature.” That Kevin thinks Apatow is somehow for adult tastes tells us way more than we need to know about Kevin.

And it gets worse.

See, Kevin now gets self-righteous. One of the Sandler films that bothered Ken was I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry: “It wasn’t just horribly unfunny, it was icky and outdated – full of gay-panic undertones and over-the-top stereotypes.” Icky? Who says that? Teenage girls? Also, your whole article has been about why you think comedy about over-the-top stereotypes and dirty sex jokes are what make you the bastion of maturity you are, dipshit! So what's the problem? Oh, I see... Kevin then says this, “But it was 2011’s Jack and Jill, in which Sandler plays male and female twins, that finally made me realize we were through. . . I was too embarrassed to be in the same room with him.”

So let’s compare these two thoughts. First, Kevin blasts Sandler for doing a film with “gay-panic” undertones because Sandler clearly is not as enlightened on the gay issue as Kevin. Yet, the movie that ended their relationship was one where Kevin became embarrassed because Sandler played both male and female roles. In other words, Kevin felt uncomfortable seeing a movie in which the heterosexuality of his hero was questioned and he couldn’t take that, i.e. Kevin suffered from gay-panic. Hypocrite.

And he’s not done yet.

Kevin now smugly moralizes about how he’s so over Sandler and how he sometimes notes that Sandler made foolish choices in choosing “all these shameless cash-grabs aimed at the broadest, lowest common denominator.” Uh... that's you Kevin! You were the target audience and you bought it, buddy. Ergo, you are the lowest common denominator you disdain. Wow, this guy is not self-aware. Kevin then self-righteously asks, “Does he look at actors like Seth Rogen and Jason Segel, whose man-child characters are allowed to actually become men, and secretly envy them?” Uh, when did that ever happen? Rogen and Segel are the poster-boys for exactly what Kevin is whining about... dochebags who never grow up and think their childish BS is held in high regard. I don't know a single actual man who thinks Rogen or Segel are anything like actual men. Are you really looking at them for guidance on how to be a man, Kevin? Good God.

Finally, in the most wretched moment, Kevin finishes with this little turd: “I find myself thinking about who’s to blame for our failed affair; I don’t think it’s me.” Of course, you don’t because the idea of accepting responsibility for your own actions and tastes if beyond your limited skill set. “It’s strange to think I’m the mature one in this scenario.” It's strange because it's wrong: you aren’t the mature one. “I still laugh at lowbrow gags in spawn-of-Sandler films. But the truth is, I’ve moved on and grown up. Sandler, meanwhile, is still stuck in grade school.” Uh, no. The truth is that you moved on to a different crush who is even less mature than Sandler. You just aren’t self-aware enough to realize it. Sandler, on the other hand, was playing a role... a role that is unlike the man in real life... a roll that had you giggling in your little boy pants and dreaming of crushes on film characters. Wow, you're pathetic Kevin. Get bent, man-child.

Anyways, tune in Friday to see how well Apatow really grasps the adult world.
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Friday, May 23, 2014

My Favorite Films: War Films

War is hell... photogenic, exciting hell. In honor of Memorial Day, here are my favorite war films.

1. The Great Escape (1963): This is easily my favorite war film. Not only does this film highly a vast array of tough guys from the era, but it lets each be himself within the story rather than just giving them cameos. Even better, it doesn’t make the Germans out as monsters or incompetents. That gives the good guys some strong characters to play off of, and it makes the challenge feel more authentic.

2. Zulu (1964): Love this film! Again, this is a film which respects both sides and shows the amazing bravery of both. Also, despite being written by Marxists, this film comes across as very fair in presenting the issues of the day.

3. Bridge on the River Kwai (1957): Alec Guinness is amazing in this. He plays the stiff-upper-lip British commander who works hard to keep his men from falling apart into a rabble in a Japanese prison camp and soon he starts to cross the line into becoming a collaborator, even as he humiliates his Japanese captors.

4. Gettysburg (1993): No CGI and yet, you get to see tens of thousand of soldiers fighting the most important battle in US history, and you get to hear both sides presented fairly and in detail. A truly thoughtful film.

5. Das Boot (1981): This is the definitive submarine film and it’s positively gripping to watch the horrors these guys go through.

6. The Dirty Dozen (1967): What a great idea combined with fantastic execution. I never get tired of watching this one.

7. Where Eagles Dare (1969): This is an awesome a spy thriller that involves two incredibly compelling actors – Eastwood and Richard Burton. A very smart and entertaining story.

8. Breaker Morant (1980): A strong morality tale that just happens to be true, this film shows you how the Boer War was fought and how Britain tried to wash its hands of its tactics by blaming commanders.

9. The Guns of Navarone (1961): Another film written by a communist, this one ends up as a surprisingly rousing call to arms to defend freedom.

10. Kelly’s Heroes (1970): A fun heist film about some guys who learn about a cache of gold bars behind enemy lines and they set out to get that gold by moving the lines.

11. The Longest Day (1962): Packed with stars, this gives you a huge overview of the D-Day landing.

12. Platoon (1986): This is the definitive Vietnam film and it’s truly impressively done.

13. Stalag 17 (1953): What an excellent film about a man wrongly accused of being a traitor.

14. All Quiet On The Western Front (1930): Based on an amazing book, this film captures the feel of what WWI was really like for long-suffering ground troops.

15. Stalingrad (1992): A fascinating film which does an excellent job of showing the horror of the fight to the death that was Stalingrad. Just seeing the size of the unit shrink throughout the film is shocking.

16. Sergeant York (1941): This film is kind of a last hurrah of the “innocent American.” It’s also an excellent feel good film as this humble hero does his duty in an amazing way.

17. Tora Tora Tora (1970): Easily the best Pearl Harbor film, this one presents both side quite fairly.

Thoughts?
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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Toon-arama: Thundercats (1985-1989)

by Jason
Thundercats is a cheerful mishmash of adventure, science fiction and fantasy tropes with a big dose of 1980s cheese. This series was all too happy to throw in, well, just about anything, from a mummified sorcerer who lives in a pyramid, a group of mutant animals from another planet, and oh yes, alien humanoid cats whose leader wields a sword that flashes a cat symbol in the sky much like the Bat-signal. And you got to love that battle cry, “Thunder…Thunder…Thunder…Thundercats…HOOOO!” Say, did I mention this show also has robot bears?

The backstory of Thundercats: a small group of survivors flee their disintegrating world Thundera and crash on a planet called Third Earth, where subsequent episodes take up their adventures trying to adapt to their new home while fighting baddies. Our main cast includes Lion-O, the main hero and wielder of the magical Sword of Omens, his Obi-Wan-like mentor Jaga who dies en route to Third Earth but appears in a ghostly form, Lion-O’s mentors and friends Tygra, Cheetara and Panthro, Lion-O’s old nursemaid Snarf, and the mischievous thunderkittens Wilykit and Wilykat. But the Thundarians have been pursued to Third Earth by the evil mutants of Plun-darr, led by the lizard S-s-slithe. To top it off, a mummified sorcerer named Mumm-Ra covets the Sword of Omens and frequently attacks the Thundercats to get the magical item, although after a while he’s pretty much obsessed with destroying the cats altogether.
The first few episodes have the Thundercats establishing themselves on Third Earth. From there, the bulk of the first season usually featured stand-alone episodes in which Mumm-Ra and/or the mutants hatch a new plan to get rid of the cats, or the Thundercats will run into some new problem or meet a new ally. The second season debuted with a five-parter in which three new Thundercats, Lynx-O, Bengali, and Pumyra, are discovered hiding on Third Earth. In the subsequent five-parter “Mumm-Ra Lives!” an ailing Mumm-Ra assembles a new group of villains called the Lunatacs to take on the Thundercats. The third season was mostly a chase between Mumm-Ra and the Thundercats to reclaim pieces of the Treasure of Thundera. Finally, the last season saw the cats moving to a reformed version of Thundera, but Mumm-Ra follows to once again cause trouble.

With 130 episodes brought to us by Rankin-Bass (yep, the same folks that gave us Rudolph and all those stop-motion Christmas specials), Thundercats had to have something going for it to last so long. To start with, the artwork and designs of everything from the characters to the landscapes to the backgrounds is great, weaving together a universe that is part fantasy, part sci-fi. The character design, primarily for the cats, and the backgrounds also has an anime resemblance, helped by the fact that it was animated in Japan. The writers also developed a mythology that made the Tcats universe deeper and more fun to explore, likely helped that Thundercats featured writers with backgrounds in comic books or comic strips, not just writers who worked solely in animation. For example, one of the writers, Bob Haney, actually co-created the Teen Titans for DC. The Thundercats themselves are like a band of superheroes, with each possessing a weapon (like Cheetara’s staff, Panthro’s nunchucks, or Tygra’s bolo whip) or a special power, like Cheetara’s super speed.
Also, the Thundercats are enjoyable characters. They all have a commitment to noble ideals (embodied by the Code of Thundera) without being insufferable or pretentious. The fact that they are a handful of survivors, cut off from other known Thunderians, also added pathos to their situation. The three adults, Tygra, Cheetara, and Panthro, are all Thunderian nobles who have to shepherd Lion-O into his role as the Lord of the Thundercats. Lion-O’s journey gets sped up in a big way because on the way to Third Earth, the capsule holding him in suspended animation malfunctions and he ages to adulthood by the time the Thundercats crash on the planet. That thrusts him into adult responsibilities pretty quickly, but Lion-O is eager to take up the task. On occasion, Jaga appears to give Lion-O guidance. As for Wilykit and Wilykat, they seem to be there to be the “kids” to balance out the adults, but as much as I ranted about kid characters in my Real Ghostbusters review, I think these two turn out okay. For one thing, they’re part of the initial main cast and aren’t tacked on to be “junior” versions of the main heroes. Also, they have their own tricks up their sleeves and are actually capable of handling themselves. In all, I think the cast gave kids a lot to relate to.

The stories of Thundercats were straightforward good versus evil plots, and if the episodes had morals or messages, they were portrayed more subtly than other shows of the time (No Filmation “morals” here!). The series also provides great masculine role models. Panthro is a great mechanic and fighter, with Earle Hyman giving him as much of a “man’s man” voice as you’ll ever hear. Similarly, Lion-O is dedicated to doing good; he just has to overcome some immaturity and in the process he becomes a good leader. Lynx-O, a blind elder Thundercat, serves as an old warhorse, but not so old that he can’t get into the action, and he manages to stay useful in spite of his handicap. The Thundercats’ overall dedication to working together and high ideals contrasts to Mumm-Ra, the mutants, and the Lunatacs, who would all backstab each other if they got the chance. In fact, three episodes in the first season deal with a single mutant trying to seize power by himself.
Another standout of the show is Earl Hammond’s voicework as the evil Mumm-Ra. The undead sorcerer lives in a gloomy looking pyramid. The pyramid contains four tall animal statues that house the Ancient Spirits of Evil, a bubbling cauldron, and a sarcophagus housed inside a stone serpent’s head. To fight the Thundercats, Mumm-Ra chants an invocation to the Ancient Spirits of Evil to transform him from a frail mummy into a super-muscled version of himself with a helmet and a cape, called “Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living.” While cartoon villains aren’t known for their subtlety, Hammond’s performance negates the term altogether. Mumm-Ra has a guttural, growling tone when quiet, but most of the time the evil mummy erupts into loud cackles and booms. He doesn’t just chew the scenery, he gorges on it.

The voice acting also highlights a main characteristic of this show, namely that it’s not very subtle. Not that action cartoons in the 80s were subtle, but Tcats had a flavor all its own. Most of the music cues are fast-moving, bombastic, with rock guitars, synthesizers, or rapid drum beats, matching the high energy of the episodes. Also, I had previously mentioned the show loves to throw in just about anything it wants into the mix. While other shows like He-Man or Avatar tried to make their fantasy universes cohesive, Tcats had a more hodgepodge feeling. We’ve got robot bears (the Berbils), a samurai named Hatchiman, an episode where Mumm-Ra disguises himself as King Arthur to get Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, a space policewoman named Mandora, an intergalactic big game hunter named Safari Joe, Amazon-like women named the Warrior Maidens, cyborg pirates called the Berserkers, a robot pirate called Captain Cracker (with a robot parrot), and other evil rogues, dangerous lands, monsters, and intergalactic threats. However, sometimes the series got a little too strange. In some episodes, the cats venture out into the vacuum of space, without protection or oxygen, and are perfectly fine! Also, in the second season the writers give Mumm-Ra an undead bulldog named Ma-Mutt. So in-between scheming to rub out the Thundercats, Mumm-Ra dotes on his beloved pet. Hey, I guess even evil undead mummies have their soft side.
So what’s the best Thundercats has to offer? The pilot “Exodus” shows the cats leaving their crumbling planet, fighting off the mutants, and crashing on Third Earth. The space battle is very animesque, and even kills off many Thunderians as the mutants destroy their ships! There’s also the five-parter “Lion-O’s Anointment” where Lion-O has to defeat all the Thundercats in various contests and then Mumm-Ra without using the Sword of Omens to formally claim the title of Lord of the Thundercats. “Excalibur” features both the Sword of Omens and Excalibur actually flying out of their wielders’ hands and clashing by themselves in the air. And for one of the very best, you can’t go wrong with “The Last Day.” After the mutants and the Lunatacs are exiled, the Ancient Spirits of Evil put Mumm-Ra on notice: you got one day to destroy the Thundercats for good or we’ll banish you to a dimensional limbo. So Mumm-Ra bulks up to full power, turns into a giant, destroys one of the Thundercats’ bases, banishes most of the cats to another dimension, and nearly beats Lion-O, but in the end he loses and the spirits exile him (he comes back for the last season, though). If this was the series finale, it’d have been great. Still, the actual finale, “Book of Omens,” isn’t too bad. It features a pretty cool armored warrior named Pyron who sadly isn’t on screen very long. Other gems include “Safari Joe,” “Return to Thundera,” “Ghost Warrior,” “The Astral Prison,” “The Thundercutter,” and the five-part “Thundercats Ho!”

As far as the worst, few episodes strike me as memorably bad. Probably my least favorite episode is “The Circus Train.” This episode writes out the mutants and the Lunatacs…by having the Thundercats vanquish them in an epic battle? Nope. Instead, an intergalactic circus headed by a Captain Bragg captures them with the help of Wilykat. Not a great way to write out most of the show’s villains. The show’s overall quality was clearly declining by this point. With as big a run as Thundercats got, some fatigue sat in, exacerbated in part by the show’s writers also tacking a new series called Silverhawks. It seemed after a while the writers didn’t know what to do with some of the heroes; over time Tygra and Pumyra eventually stopped showing up altogether. Sometimes the show took weirder than usual turns, like when Snarf’s squeaky-voiced nephew Snarfer went to pick up Mexican food from a Berbil’s taco stand when there had been no reference to any regular Earth country or culture before (I’ve heard Third Earth is supposed to be our earth after an apocalyptic disaster, but it’s never established). The Sword of Omens also gets ridiculously powerful in the series’ later half; it seems it can do anything or get the Thundercats out of any jam, like carrying passengers by the hilt through the sky, or even recreate destroyed machinery out of thin air. And finally, I should address the bane of many viewers: Snarf. He’s the resident worrywart, coupled with a scratchy, whiny high-pitched voice. He seems to be part of that class of cartoon characters (Scrappy Doo, for example) that gets on people’s nerves. All I can say is, he didn’t bother me. Now Snarfer, on the other hand…
Personally, I find Thundercats to be a lot of fun. It’s a great collection of sci-fi, fantasy, magic, superhero tropes, and even anime-ish adventure all melded into one package. Moreover, the series didn’t beat its viewers over the head with social messages or any annoying politically correct agendas. As far as after-school action cartoons went, this was one of the finest.

P.S. There was a new Thundercats cartoon made for Cartoon Network in 2011. I haven’t seen enough of it to form a complete opinion, but based on the few episodes I watched, I liked what I saw but it is definitely darker and more complex than the 80s Tcats. I may have more to say on that show later.
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Sunday, May 18, 2014

My Favorite Films: Heist Films

Perhaps it's my past as a professional bank robber, but heist films are some of my favorite films. As so often happens, there are many more excellent films than can fit on this list, but here are my favorite Eleven... Andrew's Eleven.

1. The Usual Suspects (1995): This is one of my favorite films, and it also happens to be a heist film. With a truly brave screenplay that could have completely turned audiences off as you know almost nothing when the film ends, massive doses of ambiguity throughout, great actors giving great portrayals and a talented director at his best, this one is not to be missed. Here's an interesting thought too, what if Keyser Soze is Satan and the film is actually supernatural?

2. Ronin (1998): This is easily the best spy film ever made. It's also a fantastic heist film. Written by David Mamet and staring an awesome cast with amazing chemistry, this film twists and turns its way through the backstreets of France in a tight story that is just packed with fantastic moments. If you haven't seen this, you need to.

3. Reservoir Dogs (1992): Coming right before Pulp Fiction, this film kind of gets lost by general audiences, but it shouldn't. This is a gripping, gritty film about a simple robbery gone wrong which introduces many of the hallmarks that will become Tarantino's style, and it does so without the excesses he develops later. I highly recommend this one. It's possibly his best film.

4. The Sting (1973): This one is a classic. In fact, this is the granddaddy of all modern heist films and their good and bad traits can be drawn back to this film. And while this film unfortunately loses a lot once you know the story, this film is absolutely worth seeing, even if only to see Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw at their best.

5. Ocean’s Thirteen (2007): I’m sure this is a sin, but I like this best of the three newer films and the original. This one is the most stylized and that is what works best for the setup: Danny Ocean and his crew of all-knowing hip expert criminals conspire to rob a casino owned by the venomous-yet-charismatic Al Pacino. This is great fun as an experience film if you just take it at face value and don't let reality intrude.

6. Ocean’s 11 (1960): This is a fantastic film and, as a fan of old films, this is one of the best the 1960s had to offer. Starring the Rat Pack at their peak as they conspire to take down a group of casinos all at once, this film is fun, hip and makes you wish you could have been there. That said, the film does lack the kinds of twists and turns we have come to expect from modern twist films.

7. Ocean’s Eleven (2002)/Ocean’s Twelve (2004): Between Eleven and Twelve, it's hard to say which I like better. Both have pros and both have cons. Both are equally self-indulgent and both are equally unbelievable. Still, both are very entertaining as fantasy and for the relationships between the characters. Essentially, these are buddy films in ultra-rich environments as the good guys take down arrogant villains who absolutely deserve it... kind of a feel good film.

8. Out of Sight (1998): Written by Elmore Leonard, who also wrote Justified, this film is about a US Marshal who chases a bank robber she's falling for hard. Starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez back when they were both top sex symbols, this is a good one.

9. A Fish Called Wanda (1988): This is the first pure comedy on the list, and it's a good one. Great characters, great dialog and a great sense of humor add this one to the list: "I looked at the clock... because I was saying to myself... It's five to seven, where could he be going with that sawed off shotgun?"

10. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974): Robert Shaw is back and this time he's holding hostages in the New York subway system. This is one of those films that just works in every way and it definitely rises above the rest.

11. Kelly’s Heroes (1970): What a great idea! A group of disgruntled soldiers learns of a bank vault full of gold behind enemy lines and they decide to go get it. Before you know it, they've got half the army working with them right under the general's nose and even the Germans end up getting into the game. This is a truly fun film.

Thoughts?
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Friday, May 16, 2014

Film Friday: Elysium (2013)

You’ve heard the expression “a sucker punch,” right? Well, Elysium is a sucker gang rape, and it just won’t stop. This film is a nonstop blast of nasty liberalism from start to finish, and it’s very annoying. It’s also not a very good film.

Writer, director Neill Blomkamp became famous for District 9, a film that criticizes apartheid through an alien analogy. Basically, undesirable aliens land in South Africa (they are derogatorily called “prawns”), and they are put onto a reservation away from the humans, where they are kept under martial law including forced abortions and extra-judicial killings. This is a metaphor for South Africa’s homelands and shantytowns, and you are meant to leave the film feeling that the humans (read: whites) are murderous and racist.
Interestingly, like all self-righteous liberals, Blomkamp actually creates a rather racist metaphor in the process of accusing everyone else of racism. Indeed, the aliens are a metaphor for South Africa’s blacks. And how does Blomkamp present them? They are presented as murderous, violent and oversexed. They are borderline retarded, with most residing south of the border. They are lazy. They steal for a living and without compunction. They “have no concept of private property.” And most tellingly, the ultimate point to the film is that exposure to these prawns will infect the humans (read: whites) and turn them into prawns. Call me crazy, but that sounds kind of racist to me. Oh, and like all child-races, they need white liberals like him to protect them.

Well, Blomkamp has done this again in Elysium. This time, the story ostensibly involves evil rich people (read: whites) who live in a floating space station which gives them a lifestyle similar to the McMansion lifestyle so in vogue today while Hispanics fester upon the Earth in the once livable city of Los Angeles, which has now been reduced to little more than a massive shantytown. What’s more, these poor Hispanics are kept down by a robotic police force, slave labor jobs, and a total lack of healthcare. Again, you are meant to leave the film feeling that the rich (read: whites) are murderous and racists.
Once again, however, let us examine the other half of the equation. Here, Hispanics have taken over the golden city of Los Angeles and they have turned it into a shantytown. No attempt is made at running a self-sustaining economy as the only jobs anyone holds are those given to them by whites. Law and order has collapsed. No one cares for their homes or their property. Most get by engaging in criminal activity, such as stealing cars from other poor people. Essentially, they are lazy, dirty thieves who have ruined paradise. And the only person who can save them is white (Matt Damon). Call me crazy, but that sounds kind of racist to me.

Anyway, Elysium takes place in 2154 and boy is it ever full of holes. Matt Damon works in a factory and gets injured in an accident. He will die in five days from radiation exposure. Of course, he's a parolee, so he's easy to manipulate by the evil boss (a standard liberal trope) and he is forced to sign a release to get medical treatment, which release then cuts him off from medical treatment (another liberal trope). The only thing that can save him now is if he finds a way to sneak aboard the Elysium space station where every family has their own medical machine which can cure anything that is wrong with you. To do this, Damon agrees to kidnap his boss for an Hispanics gangster and retrieve information from his head. Only, it turns out that his boss is working with Elysian Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) to stage a coup so she can shoot any Hispanics who try to flee the surface to the space station – when the story begins, Elysium is run by an Indian President who is soft on killing immigrants. I’ll leave the rest for you to figure out, only I will say that the story involves a corporate hit team and shaky-cam chase scenes until you’re ready to vomit.
Everything about this film stinks.

The message of this film is idiotic and offensive. The idea here is that whites don’t want to help Hispanics. In reality, the US alone gave $56 billion in foreign aid in 2013. Even worse, the film implies that the whites are maliciously denying the Hispanics medical care. Indeed, at the end of the film, medical robots race to the planet to hand out free medical care, and they do so without costing the whites anything. Hence, the message of the film isn’t that whites are cheap, it’s that they are malicious and are withholding lifesaving care even though it would cost them nothing to provide it. In real life, the West is constantly providing medical care throughout the world, even at a cost of reducing the care available here. In the US, $80 billion in free medical care is given each year to illegal aliens. So this film is slander.
Even beyond the messages however, this is just a poorly done and idiotic film. First, the film is awash in a particularly annoying shaky cam. It is as bad as Cloverfield at times. Secondly, the film is hard to understand as the sound is poor and, even worse, the accents are hard to follow. Third, the logic of this film is a joke. Consider this:
● A human race that is capable of building Elysium is more than capable of turning the planet into a paradise, so why waste billions of trillions on building the space station when it would be cheaper to clean up the planet?

● Secondly, what’s the point in denying the surface dwellers healthcare when it wouldn’t cost the Elysium dwellers anything to send down a few robot doctors.

● Third, to stage the coup, Foster gets an arms-dealer (military industrial complex) to re-write Elysium’s code to have her recognized as President. Doesn’t anyone think the people who live there will notice that their President has been deposed?

● Fourth, why have the surface dwellers given up any attempt to improve the planet themselves or run their own affairs?
The film is also deeply manipulative, only you won’t buy into their manipulations, which makes those scenes annoying rather than emotional.
In the end, this film pounds you with liberalism at every turn, and with nonsense – each scene ends with you wondering why anyone would actually act the way the people do. It presents whites, corporations and the military in the most clich├ęd, liberal-fabricated-negative light possible while it washes away the responsibility of these people to care for themselves. The plot is paper thin. The acting is poor. The action is entirely predictable. The fight scenes are way too long. The cinematography and sound are horrible. And you won’t care for a second about any of the characters.

Put simply, this film sucks; it’s a hacky political hit piece. You should avoid it.
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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Guest Review: Narrow Margin (1990)

by ScottDS

Andrew’s reviewed a few of them already so now it’s my turn to review a Peter Hyams movie. 1990’s Narrow Margin is a slightly better-than-average thriller, not really memorable, but quite watchable if it comes on TV. It’s also a little too convenient at times and, thanks to technology, it falls into the “Couldn’t be made today” category.

Carol Hunnicut (Anne Archer) witnesses the murder of Michael Tarlow by crime boss Leo Watts. Apparently, Tarlow spent some of Watts’ money without his permission. Los Angeles district attorney Robert Caulfield (Gene Hackman) is desperate to put Watts behind bars. He travels up to a secluded cabin in Canada where Hunnicut’s been hiding. She refuses to go back to LA but they’re ambushed by Watts’ goons (who seem to pop up everywhere). They drive to a train station and board a passenger train bound for Vancouver. Two of Watts’ men are also on the train but they don’t know what Hunnicut looks like. Caulfield has an encounter with an attractive woman and believes the goons think she’s Hunnicut. He also spots a mysterious man who turns out to be a transit cop... and not long for this world. The climax takes place on top of the train... Caulfield dispatches the goons as well as the attractive woman who it turns out is also a villain. We also find out there’s a traitor in the DA’s office, which explains why the villains always know Caulfield’s plans. Hunnicut testifies against Watts and all is well in the world.

There’s really not much to it. Reportedly, Hyams was looking for an older movie to adapt and stumbled across 1952’s Narrow Margin, starring Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor. I vaguely remember it and honestly, I get it confused with another transit-themed mystery: 1950’s Union Station, starring William Holden. (Now where’s that remake?) As I said above, it’s one of those movies that couldn’t be made today because we all have cell phones. Caulfield has no way of contacting his superiors, the villains disable the train’s communications gear, and the only radio aboard belongs to the aforementioned transit cop who gets killed. So what’s a hero to do?

The acting elevates things somewhat above B-movie level. Gene Hackman is the bespectacled Caulfield and his presence is always appreciated. He’s one of those actors who does well both with quiet moments and action and he makes everything sound believable even when it isn’t. Anne Archer is Hunnicut and I’m pleased to say she takes a role that could’ve been “damsel in distress” or “stuck-up bitch” and makes it work (mostly). The rest of the supporting cast features some familiar character actors. Leo Watts is played by Harris Yulin. He does “menacing” very well. The late, great J.T. Walsh is Tarlow and James B. Sikking is Nelson, the main goon aboard the train. (Sikking also appeared in Hyams’ Outland and The Star Chamber.) Nelson’s associate Wootton is played by Nigel Bennett and Susan Hogan plays Kathryn, the attractive woman whose height quickly becomes a disadvantage while standing on top of the train. J.A. Preston is Hackman’s boss and M. Emmet Walsh shows up (all too briefly) as a detective who travels to Hunnicut’s cabin with Caulfield... and gets killed.
And then there’s Peter Hyams. I watched a recent interview with him and, while I’m usually not very good with this sort of thing, if you read between the lines, you can tell he’s kinda resigned to the fact that he never quite became as big as Spielberg. The man is talented and he had a pretty good run. Capricorn One, Outland, and 2010 I consider the perfect “comfort food sci-fi trilogy” and I mean that as a compliment. Stay Tuned is a childhood favorite. Timecop and Sudden Death are over-the-top cheese. The Star Chamber and The Relic were okay but The Presidio and Running Scared didn’t do it for me, though I know the latter has its fans. I have yet to see his earliest work nor have I seen Hanover Street, End of Days, or his latest: Enemies Closer (available at your local Redbox). He’s only had one major clusterf--k and that was A Sound of Thunder. The short version: it wasn’t his fault! He and James Cameron even collaborated on a killer asteroid script which was never made.

In addition to directing, Hyams wrote the screenplay and served as his own DP. The film exhibits his trademark use of naturalistic lighting. I say “naturalistic” because people say he only uses “natural light.” Hyams scoffs at this: when you’re on a soundstage, there is no natural light! His script features his usual trademarks: the names Caulfield and Tarlow (no Spota this time), referring to the bad guys as “grown-ups,” a reference to Con-Amalgamate, and the characters are so damned... sarcastic! I don’t know if this is just his personality, or his New York upbringing, but in all of the movies Hyams writes, the characters are often wise-asses: the heroes, the villains, everyone. Sometimes it sounds natural while other times it sounds too “writerly.” It works in something like Outland or Sudden Death but 2010 suffers at times from making Scheider and Lithgow too snarky. And aside from Connery’s “Think it over” in Outland, I can’t think of a “classic Hyams line” that anyone would remember. (Again, I have yet to see all of his movies.)
I said above this movie was a little too convenient at times. Hackman and Archer are trying to get a passenger compartment. Archer says she needs to lie down because she’s pregnant and the baby is due in a matter of weeks. One problem: she does NOT look pregnant!!! She puts her hands in her sweater pockets... big deal. Then there’s the transit cop. He’s, uh... he’s fat. He even makes a joke about it. I can’t believe this guy would: a.) be a cop, and b.) work on a train where the corridors are smaller than normal. He even has to back up to let Hackman through... how efficient could this cop be? Hackman reaches Archer’s cabin via helicopter yet they can’t hear the villains’ helicopter until they start shooting. And I’m still not sure how the goons made it to the train station. Sure, they were in a helicopter but did it just land next to the train without being noticed? Hackman also fools the villains with a kid’s water gun but he gives himself away too fast – never tell the villain with the real gun that your gun is fake! [smile]
So that’s Narrow Margin. Not a classic but it’s also the kind of movie that isn’t made today. In case you haven’t noticed, the studios don’t make mid-level movies anymore: everything is either very small or very, very... very big. If this movie were released today, Hunnicut would be a 20-something model, Caulfield would be a young hotshot intern at the DA’s office, there would be some useless plot complication in the third act, and the train would explode in a flurry of CGI. The bad movies of today seem to make the average movies of yesterday appear better than they are. At least, that’s the theory!

“This guy's lying – he’s a train robber!”
“What would I want with a train?”
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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Toon-arama: My favorite voices

by tryanmax

I’m going to admit it up front, this article is meant to generate controversy. I fully expect arguing and name-calling in the comments section. But that’s okay, because this article is all about what I like, and if I leave out any of your favorites, it’s up to you to defend their honor. Because here is a list of MY favorite voice-over artists.

I’ll start with the best, the legendary Mel Blanc. Blanc is famous for his 60+ year career voicing literally hundreds of popular and beloved characters. His most well-known work was for Warner Bros., creating distinct voices for Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and virtually the entire Looney Toons stable. Blanc’s talent was for creative voices that were on their own just as distinct as any other aspect of the characters. Other notable Blanc voices include Barney Rubble, Cosmo Spacely (The Jetsons), Speed Buggy, Woody Woodpecker, and Toucan Sam.

It’s an injustice that June Foray is nowhere near as well-known as Mel Blanc. While her work is not as iconic, it is certainly no less diverse. For Warner Bros., Foray provided the voices of Granny and Witch Hazel, as well as every incidental female character during her years with the studio. However, she is probably better known for The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show as Rocket J. Squirrel, Natasha Fatale, Nell Fenwick, and many minor roles. She also performed in many Rankin/Bass TV specials, most notably as Karen in Frosty the Snowman. Additional popular roles include Ursula on George of the Jungle, Cindy Lou Who (How the Grinch Stole Christmas), and the voice of the original Chatty Cathy doll, as well as the evil Talky Tina of The Twilight Zone.
If Mel Blanc set the standard, there are several who follow his example. Foremost in my mind is Billy West. West’s vocal versatility is absolutely incredible. He voices four widely different leads on Futurama—Fry, Prof. Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg, and Zapp Branigan. Before that, he proved his chops voicing Nicktoons’ titular Doug and Ren and Stimpy (both of ‘em). Futurama takes most of West’s attention, but he has found time to do voice matches for Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Woody Woodpecker, Shaggy (Scooby Doo), Popeye, and more.

Keeping pace with West is Dan Castellaneta, whom you may be forgiven for mistaking for the entire population of Springfield on The Simpsons. Homer Simpson is, of course, his main role, but he also produces a full range of characters from the gravel-voiced Krusty the Clown to the squeaky pimple-faced teenager. His talent isn’t just for voices, either. Castellaneta is known for great improvisation leading to many of the show’s most quotable lines, including Homer’s famous “D’oh!”

Tara Strong, what exactly can I say except to provide a partial list of her work? Hello Kitty (title character), Bubbles (Powerpuff Girls), Dil Pickles (Rugrats), Timmy Turner (Fairly Odd Parents), Princess Clara and Toot Braunstein (Drawn Together), Raven (Teen Titans), Batgirl (various), Terrance (Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends), Ben Tennyson (Ben 10), Melody (Ariel's daughter, The Little Mermaid II). She also has an extensive videogame resume, most notably Rikku of Final Fantasy. In other words, she’s damn good.
While the amazing versatility of the above-named actors commands much respect, there is something to be said for those who are simply born with the gift of voice. Arguably, these men and women are one-trick ponies. But how does that critique stand when the trick is performed so well?

Sterling Holloway lent his unique raspy tenor voice to the narration of several Disney animated productions—my personal favorite being that for Mickey and the Beanstalk—but it was as the beloved bear, Winnie the Pooh, that he is probably best remembered. An interesting bit of trivia, Holloway auditioned for the role of Garfield, but lost to Lorenzo Music.

The voice of Garfield the cat, in many people’s opinion including my own, is Lorenzo Music. His low, sardonic tone perfectly suited the mischievous yet lazy feline. He is also fondly remembered as Carlton, the unseen doorman from Rhoda. He also voiced Peter Venkman from The Real Ghostbusters before Bill Murray complained and put an end to Music’s portrayal of their shared character. Ironically, Murray would go on to voice Garfield in the live-action/CGI films.

Few voices are more perfectly, deliciously menacing than that of Elenor Audley, the voice of Sleeping Beauty villainess, Maleficent and also Cinderella’s Lady Tremaine. Her vocal style switched effortlessly from cool and threatening to booming and fierce. Though her resume is brief, Audley helped create arguably the most iconic Disney villains and the legacy thereof.
Every child of the 80s and 90s remembers the trauma of learning that the original bad boy, Bart Simpson was in actuality a girl. Though Nancy Cartwright had already proven her chops on shows like My Little Pony and Richie Rich, her breakout role was with The Simpsons. Originally auditioning for Lisa, she quickly gravitated to Bart, capturing perfectly the adorable mischievousness of the iconic elementary-school hooligan.

Christine Cavanaugh may not be a true one-trick pony, but she stuck to a particular vocal type. She mainly did nasaly, nerdy characters, such as Chuckie Finster (Rugrats) and Dexter (Dexter’s Laboratory), though my personal favorite was the rambunctious Gosalyn Mallard from Disney’s Darkwing Duck. Her biggest claim to fame, however, was voicing the titular pig in the movie Babe.

Finally, I want to give honorable mention to Walt Disney. To cartoon fanatics, he is rightly loved for a whole host of reasons. Thus his stint as the original voice of Mickey Mouse often gets overlooked as a reason. In all honesty, it wasn’t all that great; just a grown man squeaking in falsetto. But the act perfectly captures the audacity of the man.
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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Question

Tonight is a question. What other things would you like me to cover in the "My Favorite" articles. There are a couple genres I haven't done yet(e.g. classics), so those are obvious. But I'm curious what other types of categories people would be interested in seeing me cover.
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Friday, May 9, 2014

Film Friday: Trance (2013)

Danny Boyle is a mixed bag for me. I loved Trainspotting and the first half of 28 Days Later. I hated the second half of 28 Days Later. 28 Weeks Later and Sunshine bored me. And Slumdog Millionaire felt like the film version of a tourist trap. Today we talk about another Danny Boyle film, Trance and I put this in the “loved” category, with a minor reservation. Indeed, with a great cast, nice direction and a strong story, I highly recommend this one.

The description of this film did not sound promising: “A fine-art auctioneer joins forces with a hypnotherapist to retrieve a stolen painting.” Hmm. Sounds like some erudite version of Matlock, doesn’t it? It’s not. Before I tell you what it is though, let me say that I went into this film knowing nothing at all and I found that to be a very pleasant way to watch this film. So you might want to skip this review and do the same, though I will carefully avoid spoilers. In any event, come back and share your views.
Plot
The story opens with the main character giving you a brief history of how art theft once worked and what the auction house he works for now does to stop modern thieves. Our hero happens to have a specific role in that, which requires him to spirit away the most expensive piece of art in the event of a robbery and drop it into a huge time-lock safe. The hero, by the way, is Simon (James McAvoy). No sooner does Simon tell us this, than a robbery takes place. As thugs release smoke grenades, Simon does his thing, only before he can drop the painting into the vault, he runs into Franck (Vincent Cassel). Franck takes the painting from Simon.

The movie has begun.

To dance around some spoilers, Simon attacks Franck even though his employer has explicitly told him never to do that. Franck, in turn, knocks Simon out with the butt of his shotgun. Simon seems badly hurt. Franck then disappears with the painting... only, the painting isn’t in the case. Somehow, it has vanished.
When Simon gets released from the hospital, Franck and his crew find Simon and they try to get him to tell them where he put the painting, but Simon has amnesia from the blow to the head. To overcome this, Simon’s doctor suggests that they seek the help of a hypnotherapist. This is how they come to meet Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), who undertakes to help Simon recover his lost memory.

That last line probably has you thinking that this film will be really dull with Simon going through a journey of discovery about childhood trauma as he weeps on Elizabeth’s couch. It’s not. (Remember my spoiler warning.) Elizabeth figures out who Simon is and what he’s after and she decides she wants a piece of this, so she makes a deal with the group for a share of the take if she can help Simon figure out where the painting ended up. From there, the story turns into a bit of a mystery of what really happened to the painting, who is on what side, and how did this all really happen in the first place. You will be surprised.
Really A Top Notch Film
As I said, this is a Danny Boyle film. I actually didn’t know that when I went in, but I see it now that I know. Boyle has a strong style that employs witty dialog, great use of color and music, a solid eye for images, and solid pacing to all of his scenes. All of those things are at play here. Boyle sometimes has an unfortunate penchant for drifting far left in some of his films, but this one is politics free, except perhaps for a bit of feminism near the end. So that’s not a problem.

The film also has a strong plot, though it’s not as profound or revealing as Trainspotting or as creative as 28 Days Later. What makes the plot so strong is three things. First, Boyle takes his time revealing his secrets. He doesn’t prematurely eplotulate onto the screen, so you will find yourself amazed throughout as the plot unfolds. In fact, at almost every turn, you learn something new about the characters and you come closer to understanding what really happened.
Secondly, Boyle doesn’t mind keeping things ambiguous. I know a lot of people hate this and that’s probably why the film wasn’t embraced by the general public, but it makes the film a lot stronger. Indeed, there are several minutes toward the middle-end where you have no idea if what you are watching is the real world or a dream brought on by hypnosis. And that really helps you feel what the characters are going through as the whole scheme starts to unravel near the end.

But third and most importantly, Boyle never cheats. In so many heist films, things happen that can’t be explained, so many holes are left ignored, and the film passes off these problems with a wink and some fake after-the-fact presentation that only fills in the holes in a broad way but aren’t things the audience could ever have guessed. This film isn’t like that. Yes, this film has some serious twists as it drives toward the ending and, no, you won’t figure it all out, but this film gives you all the clues you need to figure it out. In fact, watching it a second time, it’s shocking how blatantly all the pieces are strewn about the film. You just don’t understand their importance until later.

For these reasons, I really highly recommend this film: (1) great cast, (2) solid direction with great eye for images, (3) fast paced, (4) the twists and turns are organic to the story and are fully earned, yet they are unpredictable and change the movie in fascinating ways, and (5) the story is strong and holds your attention throughout.
I do, however, have a huge caveat. Before I discuss it, let me warn you that this will involve BIG, HUGE spoilers!! Ok. When the ending finally unfolds, you discover who is really behind the heist and why they did this. The reason has to do with Simon’s character being less than savory. You are suppose to feel uplifted by a sense of vindication in this, i.e. that the victim has turned the tables on their abuser. Unfortunately, there are some problems with this that produce the exact opposite feeling. First, it doesn't fit the Simon we know. Simon is presented as violent and obsessed and that is why he was put through this. However, throughout the film, there is no sense that this is Simon’s true personality. Throughout the film he plays a genuinely nice guy who is meek and seems to be a victim himself. So it’s very hard to believe that he was this other person the film claims and it just doesn’t feel right.

Secondly, for this to feel right, we need to see Elizabeth as the victim who is justified in striking back. But that becomes really hard because of some choices the film makes. First, to make this work, she uses Franck as well as Simon and Franck becomes a very sympathetic character over time. So that doesn’t feel quite right. More importantly, however, because of her messing with Simon’s mind, Simon brutally kills an innocent woman and Elizabeth doesn’t really seem to feel any sense of responsibility for this. That makes her just as rotten as Simon, if not worse, and it wipes out the happy/sexy feel that the film tries to end upon. Thus, while the film is really well done and enjoyable up to this point, the ending is a bit jarring when it's meant to be sexy and light, and that ultimately hurts the film.

Thoughts?
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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Liberal Projection: The Politics of The Purge

The Purge is not a good film. It's totally derivative. It adds nothing original or compelling to the films it copies. And frankly, it just wasn't very interesting. What is interesting, however, is how it twists ideologies to present a false view of conservatism. Sadly, this is all too common with liberals, that they project their own worst traits onto conservatives.

The Purge is a sort of horror movie, sort of politicized action movie which attacks American conservatives basically for being religious Nazis. The story is as follows: America has been taken over by a group called the New Founding Fathers of America. They are a mix of Tea Party types and Religious Right. On the surface, they've turned America into a sort of Stepford. To keep Stepford happy and clean (and white), the New Founding Fathers of American created "the purge." The purge is a single night each year when everyone is allowed to go crazy and kill and rob and rape anyone they want... kind of like Festival in the Star Trek episode "Return of the Archons." This idea, ostensibly, comes from a mix of psychobabble about giving people an outlet and supposed conservative ideology about purity and efficiency and making sure that only the strong, productive, pure people control America. That's why it is loudly implied that the New Founding Fathers want everyone to wipe out the homeless, the undesirables, and minorities. That's the premise.

As the story opens, it's purge night. Ethan Hawke has just sealed up his house behind his security system. Suddenly, a black man appears at his door... blech, a NEGRO! He's being chased by some wholesome rich white kids who dress like Mormons and talk like the Amish with "thou" and "thee" tossed in a lot -- a typical bit of Hollywood anti-Religious stereotyping. Said dirty minority gets into the house because Hawke's kids (particularly his disloyal, liberal daughter) are weak on the whole culling the turds mentality and actually see humans as deserving of rights. Pathetic. Hawke is then put into a hard spot -- turn over the black gentleman to be murdered or the rich kids will kill his family. Doing as all conservatives (and no liberals) would do, he opts to turn over said dirty minority.

Anyway, things don't go right. Soon the rest of Hawke's family have turned away from his button-down, white conservative worldview of culling black people, and they too want to protect this gentleman. Hawke, who clearly lacks true faith in conservatism, decides they are right and refuses. He then fights the kids. But the kids are just the beginning. See, rich conservatives are notoriously greedy and jealous, so Hawke's neighbors are hunting them too. They want to punish Hawke for his success compared to them. Damn conservatives!

Ok, stop. I can't take any more of this. This is bullship. None of this is conservatism... it's liberalism.

I can't think of a single conservative, even on the fringes, who have ever suggested purging society of undesirables. Yet, that has been the history of liberalism. In America, it was liberal justices who endorsed Eugenics. It was liberal presidents like Jefferson who represented slaveholders and engaged in the enslavement of Indians, see e.g. Jackson. It's the conservatives who wanted government to have less power over people. It was FDR who put loyal Americans into camps because they were "undesirables," i.e. Germans, Italians and Japanese. It's inner-city liberals who sent almost every black male in prison today to prison. Civil libertarians have fought all of this, and conservatives who come from libertarian or religious backgrounds have fought every step. And let's not forget that socialists, i.e. slightly fringey liberals, rounded up and purged people in Europe, Russia, China, Cambodia and a dozen other places. Show me a single purge led by a conservative ("liberal" in European parlance) government. And whose supporters are constantly having to apologize for suggesting an end to rule of law, making death threats to conservative candidates, or flooding twitter with rape comments whenever a conservative woman gains prominence?

Moreover, it's fascinating how the real motive behind the purge quickly becomes greed and envy and spite, and how this is attributed to the conservative cause. Spite and greed are antithetical to conservatism, which seeks to leave people alone, but are the very basis of modern liberalism. Riddle me this: which party screams about people taking more than their fair share and rails against "the rich" as a matter of policy? I'll give you a hint, they ain't conservatives.

This is the problem with liberalism. Liberals love to grant themselves a world of good traits they haven't earned (like a deep love of charity none of them ever seem to perform except with other people's money or tolerance, but only for views of which they approve... which ain't tolerance) and they project their own worst traits on the opposition. This is why you can't argue with liberals. If you point out their flaws or the damage they cause, they will simply accuse you of being the real cause of the consequences of their own actions. This film is a classic example of that. Here is a suppose conservative government that acts in ways which fly in the face of conservatism, and the film then uses its made up reality to chastise conservatives. That's crap.

As an aside, the first time I noticed this was actually in a John Carpenter movie. Carpenter is a big time liberal. And in the 1990s, Carpenter decided to remake Escape from New York as Escape From L.A. The movie is a turd, but here's the point. The villain in the film is the President of the United States, who has taken over the country on behalf of the Religious Right. Having done so, he tries to turn the country into a more "moral America." He does this by... banning smoking, alcohol, red meat, guns, profanity, and non-Christian religions. WTF?!

Think about this. To make his right-wing villain, Carpenter assigns him political views that all come from the left. Seriously, which side wants to ban smoking, alcohol, red meat and guns? Which side has passed laws making profanity a hate crime? Which side wants to ban religious expression? Those are all leftist causes and they always have been. Yet, Carpenter recognizes these things are wrong, so he assigns them to conservatives. That's ridiculous.

This is why liberals are so blind to the world. They can't recognize their own behavior, whether good or bad, and instead they simply claim good behaviors they don't perform and disclaim bad behaviors in which they engage, and they compartmentalize it all. I guarantee you that the same John Carpenter who sees a red meat, gun grabbing character as a villain will happy advocate banning both "for the public good" without ever recognizing the inherent contradiction.

This is yet another reason conservatives need to join the culture machine, to start portraying liberals in their real light and break their ability to idealize themselves. In the meantime, we need to call out films like The Purge for wrongly portraying liberalism as conservatism.

Thoughts?
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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Toon-arama: Top Non-Disney Cartoons

by tryanmax

There’s no question that when it comes to animated features, Disney rules. Even in the digital age, where the barriers to entry are far lower, the classic studio reminds us with blockbusters like Frozen why they are the beginning and end of cartoon movies. Still, every now and then another studio will make waves or even steal the spotlight, if only for a moment.

NOTE: This isn’t really a “best-of” list so much as it is a “must know” list.

Anastasia (1997)

If this were a ranked list (which it is not) Anastasia would probably be number 1 simply because, to this day, Disney is wrongly credited for this film even by those who should know better. It’s not hard to understand why. It is a princess-centric musical featuring talking animals and magical villains. Moreover, with former Disney animator Don Bluth directing, the animation style borrows heavily from Disney while keeping the same high production values.

Yellow Submarine (1968)

This is a must see film if only for its connection to the Fab Four. That said, it is a wildly entertaining and surrealistic show. I daresay it is unparalleled in that last respect. The plot is not much deeper than a typical Saturday morning adventure cartoon, existing only to set up songs from Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band plus a few previously unreleased novelties. However, the animation captures perfectly the psychedelic aesthetic of the time and remains instantly recognizable.

Fern Gully (1992)

This is the quintessential tree-huggers cartoon. Time has not been kind to this environmentalist propaganda piece. Even present-day greenies are likely to cringe at the heavy-handed save-the-rainforest message as its related by mystical noble-savage fairies who turn to a (surprise!) white guy to save them. That’s without mentioning how deeply stuck in the 90s the soundtrack is. (Robin Williams raps?) Yet its mark remains on the culture, as indicated by some of the flack James Cameron’s Avatar received for seeming to imitate the cartoon.

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

This may well be the film that saved American animation. Don Bluth, fed up with the artistic constraints and lack of respect at the studio, jumped ship to create his own studio. Despite an almost non-existent budget, Bluth managed to produce an exquisite film that completely eclipsed Disney production values that that had steadily declined over the previous two decades. While in the end, Bluth Studios was a short-lived affair, it gave Disney a much-needed kick in the seat.

The Land Before Time (1988)

While this endearing tale about a group of baby dinosaurs’ harrowing journey to find their parents in a tumultuously changing world is highly enjoyable in its own right, it really makes the list for one reason only: a legacy of twelve direct-to-video sequels.

Shrek (2001)

This film deserves a spot just for launching the most successful animated film franchise to date, even if the sequels drove what was a brilliant concept deep into the ground. Shrek won acclaim and made its mark by directly parodying Disney’s classic fairy tale movies. At the same time it put DreamWorks animation in a shoulder-to-shoulder stance with elder studio.

The Iron Giant (1999)

This is the first outing as feature director by Brad Bird and what debut! Though a bit more serious than the work he would become later known for, Bird’s cold-war allegory previews of the sense of style and humor that would eventually permeate The Incredibles. At the time this film was released, musical fairy tales were all the rage (as they are again) so The Iron Giant didn’t fare so well at the box office. However, it gained a loyal fan base on home video and is now regarded as one of the best traditionally animated features of the era.

The Prince of Egypt (1998)

While this isn’t the first feature by DreamWorks Animation, Disney’s closest rival so far, it is the film that showed them to be a serious player. While their traditional animation department would soon fizzle out in favor of CGI, this first outing was epic in the truest sense, not in small part because it tackled the same material as The Ten Commandments. It does, however, depart from the Heston classic quite a bit and even won an Oscar for best song.

The Lord of the Rings (1978)

I was first introduced to the animated The Lord of the Rings in my junior high English class, the last week before Christmas break. This ambitious film is perhaps the most extensive use of rotoscoping ever, to an unfortunately jarring effect. Another unfortunate aspect is the film’s abrupt end midway through the second book due to the studio’s decision not to produce “Part II.” Still, it is a loving and faithful adaptation of Tolkien’s work that took the lifeless interpretation of Peter Jackson to gain full appreciation.

Everything by Hayao Miyazaki

Admittedly, I’m no anime buff, but Hayao Miyazaki is impossible to ignore. I haven’t seen his entire catalog yet, so I’m reluctant to name a best or to say which of his films is most impactful. That said, his titles, including Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Howl’s Moving Castle seem to pop up in almost every discussion of animation these days. I recommend you check some or all of them out as I also get caught up.
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