Treehouse of Horror Roundup 7-10

A shorter batch tonight. My stamina is already waning. And yet so far I feel really engaged with this exercise. This is fun. This group reminded me that for such a topical show, The Simpsons can also feel extraordinarily fresh and relevant even two decades later. I tend to roll my eyes a little when people say stuff like that because I’ve never been quite the Simpsons devotee that many other people are. But sometimes a particular joke will reach out and shake you by the throat until you acknowledge the truth.

Not a single chuckle-worthy tombstone or framing device to be found tonight. I guess those are well and truly dead.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Treehouse of Horror Roundup 1-6

In honor of All Hallows Eve 2016, I intend to revisit every single Simpsons Halloween special. Many I’ve seen countless times before, but many I’ve never seen at all. So this should be an interesting experiment… at least for me. However, because The Simpsons has been in continuous production for the majority of the years I’ve walked this planet and because I have a day job, I won’t really be able to dig deep with a lot of substantive commentary. And it will still take me most of this week anyway. I hope you enjoy this quick-and-dirty nostalgia trip anyway.

Opening title from the first Simpsons Halloween Special

Wait, are these not actually called Treehouse of Horror? Everything I know is a lie.

Continue reading

The Movies of 2015

In 2015 I decided to focus on my professional development rather than hobbies. I started a certificate program to build my technical qualifications, and that takes up approximately 120% of the free time I would rather spend blogging about movies and television. The program ends in May, so mark your calendars, kiddies. This blog will be back with a vengeance Memorial Day Weekend 2016. Woot.

In the meantime, here are my 2015 watch lists.

The System (only for theatrical viewings):
* Good enough to justify the ticket price
** I genuinely liked it
X I hated it
+ Number of repeat viewings at the theater

Theatrical List:

Birdman *
Oscar-nominated Animated Shorts **
Jupiter Ascending
Home *
The Avengers: Age of Ultron **
Tomorrowland *
Jurassic World *
Inside Out **
Minions *
Terminator: Genisys **
Ant-Man *
Trainwreck *
American Ultra *
Hitman: Agent 47
Mad Max: Fury Road **
The Martian **
Crimson Peak **
Spotlight **
Krampus *
The Good Dinosaur *
Star Wars: The Force Awakens *

Some thoughts on my theatrical list:

  • I saw 21 movies in theaters this year with no repeats. This is a marked drop over my average from the last several years. See note above re: certificate program. But I enjoyed myself almost every time.
  • If I had to pick a favorite, I’d probably say The Martian. But Terminator: Genisys and Spotlight are a close second and third. Genisys will probably hold up the best for multiple home viewings over time.
  • Marvel’s offerings this year didn’t speak to me as much. They still have my love, but the bloom is probably off the rose at this point. Also, they’re releasing just too damn much product. I can’t keep up anymore. Do you know I’ve still only had time to watch one episode of the Daredevil show? Tragedy. I’ll be drawing social security before I get to Jessica Jones at this rate.
  • My most anticipated movie of the year was Jurassic World, which is a weird thing to admit in the midst of all this Star Wars mania. Yet, still true. I don’t think I loved Jurassic World as much as I’d hoped I would, but I wouldn’t characterize it as disappointing either. Solidly entertaining, but just a little problematic in some places.
  • I liked The Force Awakens well enough, but it really seemed to exist primarily to get pieces in place for future movies. If Disney really plans to churn out a movie a year using this film as a starting point, then I’m hopeful that at least some of them will rock my face off.

Home Viewing List:

Let’s Be Cops
MST3K: Rocket Attack USA
Predestination
Patton Oswalt: Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time
The Interview
The Awakening
Boomerang
MST3K: Hamlet
MST3K: Girl in Gold Boots
Horrible Bosses 2
Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Sinister
Into the Woods
MST3K: Alien from L.A.
MST3K: Project Moonbase
The Babadook
Best in Show
The Others
Going Clear
Dennis Rodman: Big Bang in Pyongyang
Snowpiercer
MST3K: The Day the Earth Froze
Justice League: Gods and Monsters
MST3K: Secret Agent Super Dragon
The Skeleton Twins
Cars
Lilo & Stitch
James and the Giant Peach
Big Fish
Ex Machina
MST3K: Space Mutiny

Quick Comparison

Jurassic World Poster

Franchise: Jurassic Park
Years since previous installment: 14
My opinion of previous installment: Utter bullshit.
Reaction to new sequel: Mind-blowingly excited. Can! Not! Wait!

Terminator Genisys Poster

Franchise: Terminator
Years since previous installment: 6
My opinion of previous installment: Solidly entertaining.
Reaction to new sequel: Exhausted. Bored.

I  make zero sense.

The Movies of 2014

Whoops. Totally forgot about this back in January. Also, totally forgot about updating this blog for, like, six months or so.

The System (only for theatrical viewings):
* Good enough to justify the ticket price
** I genuinely liked it
X I hated it
+ Number of repeat viewings at the theater

Theatrical List:

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Midnight Revival Show: Legend **
The LEGO Movie **
About Last Night *
2014 Oscar Shorts: Animated **
Frozen **
Divergent *
Captain America: The Winter Soldier **
Only Lovers Left Alive *
Screening Event: The Room *
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Godzilla *
X-Men: Days of Future Past *
Maleficent * + 1
Edge of Tommorrow **
Mel Brooks Film Festival: Blazing Saddles *
Lucy
Guardians of the Galaxy **
The Giver *
Chef **
This is Where I Leave You *
The Boxtrolls *
The Book of Life **
John Wick **
Nightcrawler *
Interstellar *
Big Hero 6 **

Home Viewing List:

Elysium
MST3K: Future War
Prince of Darkness
MST3K: Horrors of Spider Island
MST3K: Warrior of the Lost World
MST3K: The Phantom Planet
MST3K: Night of the Blood Beast
Pacific Rim
Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain
Europa Report
The Way, Way Back
Justice League: War
Rapture-palooza
Hell Baby
MST3K: Werewolf
MST3K: Beginning of the End
MST3K: The Starfighters
Arthur (2011)
The Conjuring
Dune
Scarface (1932)
Let’s Go to Prison
MST3K: Final Justice
Goon
Tales of the Night
Batman: Assault on Arkham
MST3K: Hercules and the Captive Women
BoJack Horseman (series)
MST3K: Gamera vs. Guiron
Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics
R.I.P.D
MST3K: Gamera vs. Barugon
Marvel’s Iron Man & Captain America: Heroes United
MST3K: NInja Master 1
Insidious
22 Jump Street
Oculus
Coherence
Jack Reacher
Insidious Chapter 2

On John Wick

John Wick surprised me. Not in its content. What you see in the commercials is what you get in the theater. Instead, it startled me with how much I enjoyed it.*

John Wick is what it is and nothing more, but it’s a masterful example of what it is: a straightforward action flick that would’ve starred Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal back in the day. If that interests you, then you’ve probably seen before everything John Wick has to offer. I know I’ve lost track of all those retired bad-asses drawn back into the game by the need for revenge. I’ve also seen mentor and mentee assassins, and I’ve known plenty other Russian mafiosos with callow sons. **

But despite the retro plot elements, the movie achieves its own unique, modern vibe. Had John Wick been filmed in the 80s, it would have been as loud and ugly as it was dumb and violent. Instead,  first-time director Chad Stahelski has created something a little bit dumb and entirely violent, but also smooth and stylish.

It’s frankly amazing how posh this genre has become. John Wick stops short of the Sin City-level of stylized, but it has a toe slightly over the line. So many sleek, powerful cars. So many natty suits. Keanu Reeves looks as much like a Prada model as ever. Such a civilized and urbane veneer disguising the underbelly of the beast.

A key to the movie’s success is that it’s as much about the shadowy criminal society Wick navigates as it is about Wick’s quest to kill the man who killed his dog. It’s a world where you trade one solid gold coin for each dead body you need professionally adios-ed. And that’s just one of many delightfully weird moments that transpire in a wholly matter-of-fact fashion.

Speaking of dead bodies, I admit I entered the theater with an attitude about the basic premise. To my mind, no dog – no matter how cuddly and lovable – is worth taking 60+ human lives (at least). They’re conveyed as meaningless henchmen deaths, but if we don’t care about them, why do we care about Wick exactly? He once was what they are currently, and if he can redeem himself, why can’t they? But I gradually came to understand that the puppy isn’t the point.

Yes, a puppy is clubbed to death (off-screen, with far more discretion than is afforded to several humans receiving bullets to the face). But that isn’t really why Wick goes on a killing spree. I don’t even really buy into the rationale that it’s the metaphorical meaning that Wick attaches to the puppy. I personally see this as a movie about widower working his way through the anger phase of his grief cycle in a hail of bullets. You either get on board with that or you don’t.

The well-staged fight choreography will help with that. The action looks and feels real and brutal. Elegant as it is, it also seems satisfyingly difficult. Action movies always seem to have at least one scene in which a bad-ass breaks someone’s neck with just a swift, little twist. This usually looks like it takes less effort than twisting off a bottle cap. Not here. Wick does overpower many of his enemies within seconds, but it always still manages to look like a job of work.

 

* Particularly because a convenient matinee time factored more heavily into my decision to buy a ticket than any real desire to see it.

** My first recorded sighting: 1997 in The Saint.

 

 

Hello, Mr. King

Tomorrow night I will attend a Q&A event with Stephen King. He will perform a reading from his latest novel, Revival, and, if I’m very lucky, I will go home with a signed copy.

I’m terribly excited. In anticipation, I’ve been re-reading King’s autobiography (which is also a brilliant guide for aspiring authors), On Writing. I’ve also been thinking about my favorite movies based on his works. I’ve collected the following list. Keep in mind these are simply the titles for which I feel the greatest amount of affection, not necessarily the best examples of high-quality cinema.

Continue reading

I’m all atwitter

On Tuesday night, I took a break from watching election results to catch an episode of a new sitcom, Benched. It’s essentially Scrubs with lawyers in a public defenders office, which makes it so perfectly right up my partner’s alley that it’s like scientists developed it in a lab exclusively for him. I enjoy it as well, so I tweeted my gladness to the universe.

I haven’t watched a @USA_Network show since Silk Stalkings went off the air. But I definitely like #BenchedUSA

Cut to Wednesday morning. My alarm goes off. I groggily check my email on cell phone. And then I bound out of bed, exclaiming “Jay Harrington retweeted me!” In fact, no less than three members of the cast of Benched (perfunctorily) interacted with me that night. I’m fully aware how lame it is that I’m excited. This is not a big deal. It’s kind of the whole point of Twitter. But still. This is the first time I’ve really understood the appeal of this particular social media tool. Theoretically, these people I watch on the television read what I wrote about them. Assuming it’s not just a single network intern responsible for re-broadcasting anything anyone says vaguely positive about the show.

So in honor of my first kind-of-sort-of brush with celebrity on Twitter, I’m reprinting here a tidbit I wrote a long time ago about a different Jay Harrington sitcom that I found endlessly appealing:  Better Off Ted. To this day, I mourn its cancellation. You know, people always like to compare The Big Bang Theory to Community, but I really think Better Off Ted demonstrates the better direct head-to-head comparison. It’s not just nerd humor, but the exact same type of nerd humor, and executed with a good deal more panache. And you can stream it on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Without further ado, my thoughts on Better Off Ted, circa January 2010: Continue reading

Deathmatch: Animation Domination

The Boxtrolls vs. The Book of Life!

Posters for The Boxtrolls and The Book of Life

Images from IMDB

There is no real competition here. I loved BoL. I loved it the same way everyone else in the known universe who is not me reacted to Frozen.*

In contrast, I appreciated Boxtrolls more than I really liked it per se. I respect how it expressed a uniquely weird vision. And make no mistake, it is seriously weird. That isn’t precisely a complaint considering I bought my ticket hoping for something as weird-and-wonderful as Coraline and ParaNorman.** The good folks at the Laika stop-motion animation studio aren’t afraid to go scary and unpleasant, and that’s exactly what I like about their product. But this maybe crossed a threshold for me.

While I mostly enjoyed the look and the feel of Boxtrolls, I found some parts almost unendurably ugly and repellent. The icky look of the villains undermines the story’s message of tolerance. I do firmly believe our culture needs more stories about learning to love things that aren’t cute, but this one features trolls that are far cuter than the humans. I spent more than half the running time terribly afraid the movie would go full Jungle Book, but it course-corrected in time to make a nice point about choosing your own path in life. However, that doesn’t completely make up for the fact that the plot jags off on a bizarre, cross-dressing-related tangent, which I wouldn’t mind except that they treat the subject so negatively.

Other than thematic concerns, I just didn’t get swept up in the tale, and I didn’t fall in love with the characters. Frankly, the bratty ginger “heroine” has few redeeming qualities.­ And it felt overly long even at a slim 96 minutes. It would’ve been an amazing short film, though.

As for BoL, I find I don’t have a lot to dissect with it, so I can mostly sum up my feeling with an enthusiastic recommendation. BoL is definitely more conventional, but it still feels like a breath of fresh air. I loved the colorful visual style that felt textured and almost touchable. The soundtrack is a brilliant mix of original songs and pop music arranged in a traditional mariachi style. And it manages to effectively convey a layered narrative without confusing children. It’s not just a love story, but also manages to have something meaningful to say about family ties, the nature of heroism, and how to draw inspiration from folklore to live a better modern life. All strands weave together magically into a lovely tapestry. If I had one small quibble, I do wish we could’ve spent more time with Maria to get to know her better, but perhaps then the movie would’ve overstayed its welcome with the youngest audience members.

* Note: I actually quite enjoyed Frozen. Please don’t send me hate mail.

 ** ParaNorman was once itself the subject of an October animation deathmatch, wherein it cleaned the floor with Disney’s shallow re-imagining of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie.