Reel Talk

The Lost City of Z and the Obsession of Recognition

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We really take the size of the world for granted. We can now quickly peep in on any place on Earth, seeing what different countries look like, and how people live their lives with a click of a button. But for most of human history we had a shockingly poor understanding of the very world we live on. The Age of Exploration, for all the horrible colonialism it helped create, was a tremendously important time in human history. People literally gave their lives to make maps, just so we could know what our world looked like. And yet, stories about the Age of Exploration and the people who helped map the world are rather far and few between. So it was pretty shocking learning that we were getting a film based around the exploits of Colonel Percy Fawcett, the man who helped map out the Amazon, and whose overwhelming obsession with a lost civilization hidden inside of it. And, to make matter even more interesting, I started hearing nothing but good things about the film. Everyone who saw the film at the festivals it played at began hailing it as an absolute masterpiece, one of the best films of recent memory. And you know what? They were right.

The Lost City of Z tells the story of Colonel Percy Fawcett, the real-life explorer and soldier. We start off seeing Fawcett scraping by in Ireland, desperate to raise above his rank in the British military and make amends for the shame his father brought to their house. And he gets such a chance when he’s sent to London to meet with the geographic society, who have been contracted by the Bolivian and Brazilian governments to find the source of the Rio Verde, and thus the borders between the two nations. This will help avert a war between the two countries, and ensure that the precious rubber that they’re creating doesn’t get caught between them. So Fawcett heads out to the Amazon, along with a man named Corporal Costin and some other crew members. The group head through the jungle, slowly making their way up-river. Things are helped out when they take a native slave to show them the source of the river. However, as they’re heading closer to the source of the river the native man says something that sticks with Fawcett. He claims that there’s a secret city hidden in the jungle, one that’s older than London, and one that the white-man has never discovered. Fawcett kind of blows it off at first, but when they find the source of the river and complete their mission he finds something shocking. Some pottery and engraved images, seemingly proof of the lost civilization that the man told him about.

The crew returns to London, but Fawcett cannot help but become curious about the lost city. He gives a speech in front of the geographic society, claiming that there’s a lost city in the Amazon that proves the people of South America are an advanced people, more advanced than Europeans ever gave them credit for. They find this assertion ridiculous, but when another prominent explorer, James Murray, says that he’s intrigued by Fawcett’s ideas they raise enough money to go on a second exploration. And this one does not go well. Murray turns out to be extremely unqualified for jungle exploration, and drags the group down at every turn. They eventually have to part ways with him, sending him back to London on his own so that he’ll stop hampering them. However, he got some revenge and ruined their supplies, just as Fawcett becomes convinced that they’re close to the city, and they’re forced to return to London. And to make matters worse Murray lies to the geographic society, and gets Fawcett blackballed from further exploration. Fawcett then has to live with becoming a soldier in World War I, still seeking glory and redemption. Fawcett barely survives the war however, and he realizes that he cannot live a happy life without finding his lost city. So, along with his eldest son Jack, Fawcett returns to the Amazon, desperate to find his lost city. And he may have done so. Fawcett and Jack were never seen from again, but stories from the region claim that they became embers of a tribe, and lived out their lives in the Amazon, possibly near the fabled lost city that dominated Fawcett’s life.

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This is a truly hypnotic film that must be seen to be believed. That’s kind of how I’ve felt with every James Gray film I’ve seen, especially the Immigrant, and this film is no exception. It’s a sumptuous period picture, one that throws you headfirst into the brutal world it’s portraying, warts and all. Exploration was not a clean and kind business, and this film showed the colonialism, the racism, and the brutal conditions that entailed it. The Amazon is a beautiful and unbelievable place, and this film treated it with the fascination and respect it deserved, creating an epic film that lavished in the scenery and sheer majesty of the landscape. Which is something you really don’t see from movies anymore. But this film pulls it off. You really get a feeling for how horrifying and all-encompassing the Amazon is. But it’s not just the scenery. This film is what the Revenant wanted to be. The actors in the film didn’t need to be tortured to deliver performances full of pain and horror. You never once question their struggle against nature, doing everything they can to survive. Everyone in this film puts in a hell of a performance, but the real stand-out is the star of the film, Charlie Hunnam. I’ve never been a fan of Hunnam in the past, but he puts in a serious performance in this film. And its Hunnam’s performance that really hammers in the most interesting aspect of this film.

We all want to be remembered. Life is short and fleeting, and one of the meanings of life seems to be the drive to leave a mark on the world. But, even more than being remembered we want to be recognized for what we’ve done. There are plenty of people who get recognized for their work after their dead, not being appreciated in their own lives. And Percy Fawcett was one of them. In recent years there’s been evidence that his lost city most likely did exist, and he probably was pretty spot on about its location. But being proven right didn’t seem to be Percy Fawcett’s main goal, at least in this film. That would have been nice for him, proving to the world that he was right, and that the natives of the Amazon were better than England thought they were. But his real goal in life was to be recognized as the person who proved that. From the very beginning of the film all Fawcett seems concerned with is recognition. He’s irritated that he doesn’t have any medals from the military, and taking his first trip to the Amazon seemed like the perfect way to get recognized as being better than the average person. He’s trying to make up for the mistakes of his father, and be recognized as his own man, and it completely derails his life. Proving to the world that Z exists and that he was right becomes his all encompassing obsession, and when he hears word that some American explorers may get the credit he does everything he can to be sent back to the Amazon. Because finding the city wouldn’t be enough. It had to be him. The drive to be remembered and recognized by the rest of the human race is a powerful influence, and has led to some truly remarkable things in human history. But it’s also led to a lot of pain and destruction. At it’s heart, the Lost City of Z seems to be a warning. Finding a purpose for your life is important, but letting that purpose absolutely dominate your life will bring you to ruin.

The Lost City of Z was written and directed by James Gray and released by Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street, 2017.

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Bat Signal

Issue 864 – “Beneath the Mask, Part One”

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Hello everyone and welcome to another week of Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read random issues of Detective Comics with little to no context. And let me tell you, most issues that I randomly pull don’t really have any context to worry about. For most of Detective Comics’ history it was just some stand-alone stories that aren’t part of long-running narratives. But every now and then I pull issues that just happen to be a piece of a story, and it can be a littler confusing. And immediately, upon seeing that “Part One” was in the title of the issue, I knew I wasn’t going to be frustrated. Although, oddly enough, it wasn’t really the end of the issue that gave me the most grief. I can usually guess how a story will end in the coming issues. Honestly it was the beginning that threw me through the biggest loops. But let’s get to that.

The issue begins with a nine-panel grid of random faces with some mysterious dialogue trying to set a sense of menace. We see an Arkham inmate, a jester’s staff, the Black Mask, several Batmen, and then a trio of random looking crazy people. And once that’s taken care of we cut to a wonderfully odd splash page where we see Bruce Wayne, Nightwing, Robin, and Catwoman fighting with a guy in a Batman costume who is firing guns at them. Not exactly a scene that one would expect. But we do get some context from the narrator, in between some random Velvet Underground references. Basically, this scene is from the past, when Bruce Wayne and the Bat-Family worked together to stop Hugo Strange, who went crazy after they tricked him into believing Bruce Wayne wasn’t Batman. Strange then responded to this by dressing as Batman and trying to gun people down. And once the Bat-Family stopped Strange he was brought to Arkham Asylum, which is where we finally get a hang on what’s going on.

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Yep, it turns out that our humble narrator has been Jeremiah Arkham, the administrator of Arkham Asylum. We see that Arkham took a special interest in Hugo Strange, and specifically tried to help him with his issues. However, this was also not the present. Because the real present of the issue features Jeremiah Arkham as an inmate in his family’s asylum. Now, this is where I got a little confused. I’m familiar with Jeremiah Arkham, but primarily as a somewhat shy and ineffective administrator of the Asylum. But it turns out that somewhere around this issue he took on a different role. Jeremiah Arkham apparently became a new version of the Black Mask. I’m not sure how Roman Sionis felt about this, but it seems like Arkham wasn’t a particularly effective Black Mask, him being put in the Asylum and whatnot.

Although, we also see that there’s certainly some darkness hiding behind Arkham. Because as he sits in the cafeteria, trying to mind his own business, he gets accosted by a fellow inmate. Some creepy old guy that Arkham calls the Mortician begins harassing Arkham, telling him that he and the fellow inmates are going to make Arkham’s life in the Asylum a living hell. And, in response, Arkham lets the Mortician know that if he ever messes with Arkham again, he’ll have some men capture the Mortician’s grandson and torture him for the rest of his life. This works quite well, and Jeremiah is quickly left alone. So there’s clearly something going on with Arkham. And, to make things worse, there’s something crazy happening out on the streets of Gotham.

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So yeah, there’s some guy standing in the middle of the street, holding a woman hostage and demanding to see Batman. And Batman is more than happy to comply. He tackles the guy, demanding to know what’s going on. And it’s not good. The man is a prominent investment banker, and it turns out that the Black Mask, be he Jeremiah Arkham or not, recently kidnapped him and had Hugo Strange implant a bomb into his chest, forcing him to trigger an economic catastrophe in Gotham. And now that Arkham has been arrested as the Black Mask, there’s no one to turn the bomb off. So the man begs Batman to head into the Asylum, and figure out the code to disable the bomb so that the man can try to undo the catastrophe.

Batman then heads to Arkham Asylum, and heads into a cell with Arkham. Everyone that works at the Asylum is very worried about this, figuring that Jeremiah’s psyche is so close to being fractured already that this is too dangerous. But Batman ignores them, and starts trying to psychologically manipulate Arkham into telling him what he wants to know. Which isn’t a great plan when dealing with a professional. Our glimpse into Jeremiah’s head, through the narration boxes, show us that Arkham figures out what Batman is doing, and decides to play him along. Until Batman tells Arkham that he was incompetent, and was never able to cure anyone. This gets Jeremiah pissed, and he tells Batman that he actually has saved three inmates that are hidden in a secret part of the Asylum. And he’ll only tell Batman how to stop the bomb if he goes with Arkham to check on the people, and prove that he was a good psychiatrist. So they head into a secret area of the Asylum, and things get baffling. There does appear to be three people, but they all have Jeremiah’s face, and he ends up stabbing them when they start mocking him. And that’s the end of the issue.

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So yeah, this is a weird issue. But sometimes that’s the luck of the draw. I made the stupid rules for this project, so I don’t get to complain when I get an issue that makes absolutely no sense. Just like this one! I legitimately have no idea what’s going on here. I guess Jeremiah Arkham snapped after years of horrible things happening at Arkham Asylum, and became a new Black Mask. Maybe. Some people in this issue seem unconvinced that Arkham actually was this new Black Mask running around. But whatever the truth, Arkham clearly is an evil asshole in this issue, threatening the Mortician’s grandchild. And then there’s that ending. I have no idea what’s going on there. Did Arkham actually have three secret inmates? Were they all in his head? Were they different personalities of his that he just killed? Were they three random people who he imagined were all him? No idea. And I’ll probably never figure it out. The odds that I pull the next issue are not exactly in my favor. Oh well. It’s not exactly a burning question.

“Beneath the Mask, Part One” was written by David Hine, penciled by Jeremy Haun, inked by Jeremy Haun and John Lucas, and colored by David Baron, 2010.

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S21 E02 – Bart Gets a “Z”

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Well folks, we’ve made it through another week. It hasn’t been a particularly fun week, but it also wasn’t too terrible. Just rather mediocre. The real bane of this week was that we just got a slew of episodes that felt like poor knock-offs of better episodes. And what better way to end the week then by giving us another episodes exactly like that. Because today we have a Mrs. Krabappel episode, and like almost every Mrs. Krabappel episode that means it’s time for Bart to do something horrible, then try to make up for it!

The episode begins with Edna waking up in her depressing apartment, covered in a pile of half-graded papers. She tries to convince herself that this is going to be a good day, and starts getting ready for work. And in doing so begins to prove to herself that this isn’t going to be a good day. Basically everything that could go wrong does, and she ends up getting to class late, already in a pretty foul mood.

And that isn’t helped by the fact that all of the kids are busy playing around on their phones, giving absolutely no attention to her. Edna starts to get really frustrated, and decides that the phones are the root of the problem. And, like anyone would, she kind of snaps. Edna demands that all of the kids giver her their phones, forcing them to pay attention. That does require the kids to call her bluff, and have Edna teach, but she does okay with that.

However, she’s earned the ire of the children. That afternoon the fourth graders call a little meeting in Bart’s backyard, and start to plot ways to deal with Mrs. Krabappel. They decide that she’s too uptight and not fun enough. So they begin brainstorming ways to make adults more fun when Homer comes running through the backyard, drunk off his ass and having a blast with Santa’s Little Helper. And just like that, they have an idea. They need to get Mrs. Krabappel drunk.

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So the kids all go back to their houses and begin smuggling as much booze as they can. They ransack their parent’s liquor cabinets and end up brining all sorts of random bits of alcohol to school. Bart mixes it all up in a thermos, and they manage to spike Mrs. Krabappel’s coffee, hiding any evidence behind some hazelnut creamer. And, shockingly, this works. Mrs. Krabappel doesn’t notice the booze, and begins pounding down her coffees, getting drunker and drunker.

And the kids love it! They’re psyched to see Mrs. Krabappel so goofy and fun, and end up having a great day with her. However, disaster strikes when she has to lead the kids to some sort of assembly, and quickly begins heckling the choir. The other teachers try to calm Edna down, but she’s way too drunk for that, and starts making a complete ass of herself, drawing the attention of the entire school, until Principal Skinner drags her off.

Once Edna sobers up, she’s obviously pretty mortified. She has no idea how she possibly could have gotten drunk, and she’s utterly ashamed. Which doesn’t fix the fact that she showed up drunk to school, and Principal Skinner has to do something about that. And that something is to fire her. So, Edna has no lost her job, and has to pack up her belongings and leave. Which really bums the kids out. They were just trying to play a prank, not get their teacher fired.

But that guilt kind of leaves when they meet their new teacher. He’s a young guy named Zach who just got his Masters in teaching, and has all sorts of new ideas. He’s obsessed with social media, technology, and trying to teach as differently as possible. He gives the kids back all of their phones, and basically just tries to become their best friends. He texts them notes, he convinces them that memorization is pointless because you can just Google things, and he especially hates things like smiley-face stickers, which Edna had in bulk.

Bart is still feeling a lot of guilt though, mainly because it was all his idea. So he decides to grab the roll of smiley-face stickers, and bring them to Edna’s apartment. After school that day Bart heads over to the apartment, and is pretty shocked at how utterly depressing it all is. Edna has basically given up on life, and Bart realizes that since this is all his fault, he needs to do something to brighten Edna’s mood. He tries to convince her to start leaving the apartment, but it’s clear that that isn’t going to happen on its own.

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However, Bart discovers he has a bit of a conundrum. He feels terribly that Edna has lost his job, but he also really enjoys how little he has to do now that Zach is his teacher. So Bart decides that he needs to find Edna a new purpose so he can keep Zach. And it just so happens that he comes across a book called the Answer, that claims it can help stupid people how to succeed in life. And, because Bart’s a child, he decides that this is probably exactly what Edna needs.

Bart buys the book and heads on over to Edna’s apartment, brimming with confidence that this dumb book is going to solve all of her problems. Edna tries to get Bart to understand that the book is bullshit, but he sticks to his guns and convinces her to at least give it a shot. They begin working up dream jobs that Edna could have, and the only one she thinks up is to own her own muffin store. So, with Bart’s help, they get to work making that dream a reality.

We then skip right ahead to Edna owning her own muffin store. That went quickly! And it seems to be doing fine. Bart works there with her sometimes, and the two really seem to be getting close. Which is when Bart decides to tell Edna the truth, and admit that it was he who got her fired. And guess what? She’s pissed. Like, really pissed. Edna starts yelling at Bart, telling him that he ruined her life, and that she had always thought that there was a core of decency to Bart, but now she’s convinced that he’s bad on the inside too.
And this really hurts Bart. He starts to be racked with self-doubt, wondering if he actually is a bad person. He decides that he needs to do something to really help Mrs. Krabappel, and decides that the only thing he can do is to get Zach fired. Which seems like a weird conclusion to make if he’s trying to prove that he isn’t a terrible person, but whatever, the episode needs to end. And because Bart hasn’t learned anything other than how to get a teacher fired, he decides that he needs to do the exact thing he did to Zach as he did to Krabappel.

So Bart creates another thermos of alcohol, and sneaks into the classroom before class begins. Bart finds a can of the energy drink that Zach is obsessed with. However, right before he pours the booze in he realizes what he’s doing, and goes to tell Skinner the truth. Bart spills the beans, and admits that he was the one who put the booze in Edna’s coffee. Skinner decides that Edna could have another shot, but also knows he can’t fire Zach for no reason. Which is right when Zach shows up, drunk, on his own accord. He’s just apparently lost his idealism and has become a jaded teacher. So Skinner fires Zach, and rehires Edna, which for some reason fixes her and Bart’s relationship.

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This is a really weird episode. I haven’t been a big fan of episodes that revolve around Bart being an asshole, and this may be the worst thing he’s done yet. He literally gets Edna fired by getting her drunk without her knowledge. All because she wouldn’t let him play on his goddamn cell phone during class. That’s demented. And, to make matters worse, Bart then decides to make things better, but not too better, because he likes that his new teacher doesn’t make him learn. And then, he fully plans on getting rid of Zach by doing the exact same thing he did to Edna. He didn’t really learn anything in this episode. Yeah, at the very last second he does the right thing, but we’re supposed to applaud Bart for not being a monster, instead of just doing the right thing? It’s ridiculous. And then the episode just ends. It’s all fine I guess. Bart literally did the most despicable thing he’s ever done and got Edna fired, probably irreparably damaging her public persona, but because he got her job back it’s all good. I don’t know folks; episodes like this piss me off, and this one in particular left a bad taste in my mouth.

Take Away: Don’t get people drunk in public as revenge.

 

“Bart Gets a “Z”” was written by Matt Selman and directed by Mark Kirkland, 2009.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S21 E01 – Homer the Whopper

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Hi there everybody, and welcome to season 21! Woo, the Simpsons are old enough to drink! And you know the best way to start a new season? Why, by smooshing two different old episodes together! Did you like the episode when they made the Radioactive Man movie? And did you like the episode when Homer became a vigilante named Pieman? Well, what if those episodes had a baby? I think it would look a little something, like this.

The episode starts off with Bart and Milhouse deciding to prank Comic Book Guy. They wander into the Android’s Dungeon, and find Comic Book Guy sitting there, minding his own business. They approach him, and ask him if Spider-Man was a comic before being in a movie. This of course infuriates Comic Book Guy, who yells about Amazing Fantasy #15, even showing them a copy. So, Bart asks if he can buy it, since the cover says it only costs fifteen cents.

Comic Book Guy is disgusted by this, and has to rush to his backroom so he can momentarily faint and calm down. And while Comic Book Guy is away from his counter Bart and Mihouse start snooping. And they find something surprising. Comic Book Guy has been creating his own comic, and is writing and penciling it. And, even more surprising, they like it quite a bit.

The comic tells the story of a deliveryman who has the ability to touch issues of comic books and absorb the powers of the characters that are inside. And with that power he becomes a superhero called Everyman. They read the issue, and find that it tells the tale of Everyman stopping a bank robbery by becoming Iron Man, and when one of the robbers flees he transforms into Plastic Man and is able to apprehend him.

Once they finish the issue Comic Book Guy comes out of the backroom, and is furious that they’re making fun of his work. But when he realizes that they aren’t making fun of it, and that they really likes it, he doesn’t know what to do. But Bart and Milhouse insist that Comic Book Guy should start self-publishing his book. He agrees, and Everyman becomes a huge sensation. Every kid in Springfield begins reading the adventures of Everyman, which is helped out by the fact that Comic Book Guy already had hundreds of comics written and drawn.

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And, despite this episode taking place slightly before the superhero movie boom that we’re currently in, because people are loving a new superhero the movie studios inevitably learn about it. They hear that Everyman is the hot new superhero, so some studio suits head out to Springfield to make a deal with Comic Book Guy. They offer him a lot of money, but there’s one sticking point that he has before signing the contract. He wants to pick the actor who plays Everyman. And, despite how aggravating that sounds, the suits agree, and he signs away his creation.

So Comic Book Guy and the suits hold some open auditions for Everyman. But for some reason they do it in Springfield, so we just get some local weirdoes. Krusty gives it a shot, but Comic Book Guy insists that he’s looking for a dumpy and unappealing loser. Which is exactly when Homer comes strolling in. He has no idea what’s going on, but as soon as Comic Book Guy sees Homer he knows that he’s found his Everyman.

Homer agrees to play the part, much to the surprise of the family, and they get to work on the film. However, as soon as the movie starts being developed the studio suits decide that Homer is too unappealing to carry a movie. They say that Homer needs to lose weight and gain some muscle, so they hire him a famous trainer to the stars named Lyle McCarthy. Homer’s a little against it at first, but quickly takes a shine to Lyle.

The two begin working on Homer’s healthy, getting to the root of his eating issues and putting him on a vicious exercise regimen. They do have a slight argument about what song to play during the training montage, but once that’s settled we just skip ahead a couple months and find that Lyle is really good at his job. Homer has dropped almost all of his weight, and has become kind of ripped. So he’s really looking like a traditional superhero, which wasn’t exactly what Comic Book Guy was looking for.

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But other than that, things are going great. People are really liking what they’ve made of the movie so far, and Homer is loving his new body. Which is exactly when disaster strikes. Lyle tells Homer that he’s gotten a new job, and will have to be leaving Homer to his own devices. Lyle tries to convince Homer that everything will be okay, and that he just has to practice some self-control. But the craft service table comes a-calling, and Homer quickly falls back into his old eating habits.

Homer rapidly resumes his old weight, primarily due to the fact that he’s basically constantly eating now. Even during takes. Everyone is seeing the issues with Homer’s weight, but no one seems to know what to do. Comic Book Guy arrives on set at one point, but he’s sold out and no one really cares about his opinions, letting them toss him right out of the studio. So they just keep filming the movie, getting ready to a test screening.

And it does not go well. The film plays, and Homer’s weight-fluctuations are incredibly noticeable. The continuity in the movie is completely wrecked, and you can see Homer changing size between just about every take. And people hate it. They hate it so much. Homer’s pretty pissed, and chooses to blame Lyle, but that doesn’t help the fact that everyone is going to hate the movie. They tell Comic Book Guy that they’ll let him write and direct the second movie, letting it be exactly what he wants it to be, if he tells his army of followers that this movie is great so that they can recoup losses. But Comic Book Guy’s integrity is too strong, and he refuses, panning the movie on his website, and making it so that it’s never even released to the general public. Everyman is then assumedly locked in the same vault as The Day the Clown Cried, never to be seen by human eyes.

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Okay, so listen. This episode is kind of weak. It really feels like there isn’t much going on here that we haven’t seen in better episodes, and it’s just kind of an amalgamation of influences. Which it probably is. This episode was not written by normal writers. It was an episode guest written by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg. So, it stands to reason that when given a chance to write an episode of one of the most popular shows of all time, they would pull form what they knew. And, I guess, what they knew were Simpsons episodes they’d seen. There are a couple interesting ideas in here, like Homer dealing with a fluctuating weight, but other than that it’s really all things that we’ve seen in other episodes. Homer being a superhero was more interesting when he actually became a superhero, and Springfield hosting the creation of a superhero movie was far more interesting when it was about Radioactive Man and took a more broad look at filmmaking. Having trouble with your personal trainer isn’t exactly the most relatable thing in the world, despite the fact that actors having to get ripped for one shirtless scene in a superhero movie is quite common. It just ends up being an odd episode that has some good jokes and moments, but largely feels like an episode that you’ve already seen, done better.

Take Away: Weight loss takes personal control, which is really hard.

 

“Homer the Whopper” was written by Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg and directed by Lance Kramer, 2009.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S20 E21 – Coming to Homerica

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Well folks, we’ve made it through another season. That’s right, with today’s episode we’ve officially bested the twentieth season of the Simpsons. Two decades. Holy crap. And we still have quite a bit to go. But, on the bright side, we actually have a somewhat decent episode, and probably the only one I’ll talk about this week that actually elicited some emotion in me.

The episode starts off with Krusty and Mr. Teeny sitting in Krusty’s dressing room, playing chess and smoking. And this little tableau is ruined when Krusty’s accountant comes in with some bad news. He tells Krusty about all of his legal woes, and ends by telling him that the Krusty Burger was labeled the most unhealthy burger in the world. So, in a shockingly display of business acumen, Krusty recommends they start making a vegan burger from barley.

This idea takes off, and it’s quickly marketed as much as possible. They release some ridiculous ad trying to say that veggie-burgers are as American as apple pie, and it easily works on the people of Springfield, who mob the Krusty Burger the day the new burger is released. The Simpsons head into the Krusty Burger and buy a crapload of “Mother Nature Burgers.” And, surprisingly, they seem to actually be pretty good.

Well, that is until a few hours later, when everyone in the family becomes violently ill, getting catastrophic food poisoning. And it wasn’t just them; everyone who ate these burgers is now vomiting as much as possible. And why? Well, it turns out that Krusty Burger got the barley from Ogdenville, which is its main export, and they ended up getting a tainted batch. And after Kent Brockman does a report about how Ogdenville barley is no longer safe to consume, an economic crash begins.

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We haven’t really learned that much about Ogdenville over the years, but apparently they’re an agrarian society that focuses all of their energy on barley, and they’re all of Norwegian descent. And because their whole city was in the barley industry, that new report desolates the entire town. So, they all have to pack up, as if they’re in the Dust Bowl, and head to the nearest place to find some gainful employment. Which just happens to be Springfield.

At first this doesn’t have much of an effect. But things change when Homer and Bart are going to the home improvement store to buy gutters, and realize that they’re incapable of installing it themselves. However, a group of Ogdenvillians are hanging out in the parking lot as day laborers, and offer to install the gutters for Homer. They do an impeccable job and word gets out that these new immigrants are extremely handy and willing to work menial jobs.

So the Ogdenvilians begin pouring into Springfield, and the people of Springfield don’t really mind at first, because these people are basically willing to do anything. The Simpsons even hire a woman named Inga to be a housekeeper/nanny to Maggie. Selma even starts dating a man named Torbjorn. So it looks like everything is working out for the best, and surely nothing will cause the people of Springfield to suddenly turn against their new neighbors!

Well. One day Bart is skateboarding at a park, and notices that the Ogdenvillian kids, or barleyjacks as they begin to get called, are all very flashy at it. So Bart decides to try and impress them, and ends up smashing into a bus and dislocating his shoulder. Homer and Marge rush Bart to the emergency room, but find that the hospital is now full of barleyjacks who have hurt themselves doing their labors. And between the overcrowding and the fact that they’re given a Swedish form, the Simpsons suddenly decide they hate the Ogdenvillians.

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The Simpsons return home and pop Bart’s shoulder into place on their own, and begins plotting against the barleyjacks. Homer starts hating the barleyjacks with a passion, and ends up going to Moe’s to complain. However, he finds that Moe has embraced the barleyjacks, and is even selling Aquavit. So Homer decides to drink a whole mug of it, and ends up getting blackout drunk. And this results in him going to work the next day incredibly hungover, and he gets fired. Which he of course blames on the Ogdenvillians.

And apparently Homer isn’t the only person who feels this way, because the people of Springfield are able to get a Town Hall meeting together where they decide to ban all immigration from Ogdenville. Springfield closes the border, but the police find that since it’s just Chief Wiggum and Lou (Eddie is sick), they aren’t very effective. So, of course, they just allow random insane citizens with guns to begin patrolling the border to keep the city safe.

Homer of course leads these border guards, who decide to name themselves the Star Spangled Goofballs. And, shockingly, they do terribly at it. So Quimby decides they need to do something more extreme, and of course turns to the dumbest choice possible. A wall. That’s right, Springfield is going to build a wall to keep out some immigrants they don’t like. What a crazy, make-believe plot that this cartoon show has come up with.

However, the people of Springfield make a realization pretty quickly. They’re terrible at everything, and won’t know how to build the wall. So they of course pay the Ogdenvillians to build the wall for them. But while the wall is being built and the Springfielders and the Ogdenvillians start working together, they find that they aren’t so different. They make friends, and when the wall is complete everyone feels sad. So instead they build a door, and decide to get rid of the ban, letting everyone be friends and ignoring these ridiculous prejudices.

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Hey, this episode feels kind of weird, right? It’s kind of shocking that the Simpsons had never dealt with immigration, and America’s moronic fear of Mexican laborers coming into the country. It’s been a big deal for a long time, and really seemed rife for comedic potential. Which it was. This was an episode that I really liked. They take Ogdenville, which we’ve basically never known anything about, and give it a goofy background and deliver a pretty great metaphor for the larger immigration drama. Obviously the people writing the episode in 2009 had no idea that we would currently be living in a horrible world where an illiterate and racist failed gameshow host would take over the country by promising to build a massive wall so that stupid people would feel safe, but holy crap does it feel prescient. It’s just a fun episode that really hammers in the idea that being fearful of immigrant is ridiculous. Not only are they doing jobs that most people don’t want to do, they’re just people. The Springfielders and the Ogdenvillians realize that they have things in common, and that they can just people and friends, and everything becomes pleasant. The Simpsons clearly take place in a better world than ours though, so they’re more advanced and evolved.

Take Away: Immigrants are people, and discriminating against them and building a wall to keep them out is ridiculous.

 

“Coming to Homerica” was written by Brendan Hay and directed by Steven Dean Moore, 2009.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S20 E20 – Four Great Women and a Manicure

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Hey everybody! Here we are again, during the most bland and uninteresting week of Simpsons episodes basically ever! And what better way to demonstrate that then by having one of those triptych episodes. And, even better, they managed to cram a fourth story in there two! Lucky us! But they’re at least doing something a little different, because the frame story revolves around Lisa and Marge going to a salon to get a mani/pedi, while also telling stories about great and powerful women.

Queen Elizabeth I

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Our first story, told by Marge, tells the tale of Queen Elizabeth the First, one of the most well known queens in England’s history. Here played by Selma. We see that Queen Selma is being pressured into getting married and having an heir. But she hates every single one of her suitors, so that makes things difficult. Well, until she’s visited by Sir Walter Raleigh, played by Homer, an explorer who has been visiting the New World, and has even brought tobacco back to England, which Selma is a big fan of. Selma takes a shine to Homer, but he’s too busy hitting on Marge, who is one of the princesses under Selma. Selma finds out about their relationship though, and decides to send Homer to the Tower of London to die. Well, that is until they hear word that the King of Spain took offense at being rejected as Selma’s husband, and is sending the Spanish Armada to come take England by force. So they have bigger fish to fry than Homer and Marge’s affair. War then begins, and Homer has to board a ship and head out to fight the Armada, when something dumb happens. Homer lights a pipe, and ends up lighting his ship on fire. All of the British soldiers bail off the ship, and it gets swept into the Armada, lighting all of their ships on fire, and saving England. So, Homer gets a commendation and Marge’s hand in marriage, and Selma went on being powerful and unmarried.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

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The second tale, told by Lisa, is basically just a retelling of Snow White, particularly the Disney version, with Lisa as Snow White. We see Lisa being menaced by a wicked queen, who’s just some generic character, by sending Willie the Huntsman to go kill her and remove her heart. But when Willie gets to Snow White’s house he decides he can’t kill her, and lets her flee into the woods. Lisa wanders around for a while until she finds a little house. She breaks in and heads up to the bedroom, pulling a Goldilocks until she finds a nice bed to sleep in. Which is when the dwarves come in. We have Crabby (Moe), Greedy (Mr. Burns), Drunky (Barney), Hungry (Homer), Lenny (Lenny), Kearney (Kearney), and Doctor Hibbert. They find Lisa in their home, and after briefly contemplating murdering her, they welcome her to their lives, and they become fast friends. But then one day a witch shows up, and ends up forcibly cramming a poisoned apple down Lisa’s throat. Lisa falls into a deep slumber, and the queen has to flee, before getting mauled to death by some cuddly woodland animals. After which they put Lisa in a glass coffin, and she stays there for eternity, because she doesn’t need any man to save her.

Lady Macbeth

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Marge is a little unhappy with Lisa’s choice to end the Snow White story without a husband, and decides to tell the story of a very happy married couple. The Macbeth’s! Well, actually, this story is about Homer and Marge as they act in a staged rendition of Macbeth. Marge is working on costumes, and Homer has been stuck with playing a tree. Marge is irritated that Sideshow Mel is play Macbeth, and not Homer, and decides that they should murder Mel so Homer can get the lead. Homer agrees with this, and goes to kill Mel with his bone, getting the opportunity to be the new Macbeth. Although, Homer’s pretty terrible at it, and has to read most of his lines from a script taped onto his shield. Even though he also has lines from Bye Bye Birdie and the Matrix Reloaded. Which leads to some terrible reviews, especially for Homer. Although, Dr. Hibbert got great reviews, so Marge sends Homer to kill him next. Homer pumps a bunch of laughing gas into Hibbert’s office, slowly asphyxiating him. But this didn’t really change anything, because now the reviews shine light on literally everyone but Homer. So, Marge sends Homer to the cast-party so he can kill all the stragglers, making him the only person on stage. And, without anyone there to upstage him and no one in the audience, Homer does a fantastic job and knocks it out of the park. But Marge’s joy at seeing Homer doing well is cut short when she’s haunted by the ghosts of everyone she had Homer kill, leading to her having a heart attack. Marge’s ghost tries to convince Homer that he can have a great career as a Shakespearean actor, but he just kills himself so he doesn’t have to read any more plays.

Maggie Roark

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But things aren’t over yet! Because when we cut back to the salon we see that Maggie wanted a story read about her. So Marge looks around, spots a copy of the Fountainhead, and she begins to spin a tale about that, even though Lisa accurately points out that it’s just a bible for right-wing losers. But Marge doesn’t care about that, and tells the tale of Maggie Roark, a brilliant baby who loves building impressive building out of blocks at her daycare. However, the owner of the daycare, a man named Ellsworth Toohey, hates that Maggie has so much talent, and just tries to quash it to make her more normal. The two engage in a bit of a war where Maggie keeps outdoing her skills while Toohey keeps destroying them. And it all leads to Toohey holding a weird little court case between the babies, and he gives a speech about how mediocrity is the best. Maggie then gives her own speech, voiced by Jodie Foster, about exceptionalism, and all the garbage Ayn Rand people love. Maggie wins the case, and ends up becoming a famous architect in the future. And the episode ends with Marge scolding Maggie for painting a perfect “Starry, Starry Night” with nail-polish.

Listen, most of these triptych episode have been pretty rough lately. They’ve been getting increasingly strange and strain the theme as much as they can, all while just putting in lackluster segments that don’t have the weight or craft as the Treehouse of Horror episodes. And this one is not really any different. I think the idea of telling stories of powerful women is a good idea, but they barely keep that theme going. Telling the story of Elizabeth the First is great, but it quickly becomes all about Homer saving the day. Snow White is a weird call anyway, but especially so when it just keeps the story of Snow White running from her problems and being bested. You would have thought that they would have changed things and had her get the best of the witch or something. And I really don’t know what’s up with the Lady Macbeth thing, because that’s basically all about Homer being nagged by Marge, and she’s barely in it! I guess the segment that best uses the theme is the Maggie one, but that one is so truncated and weird. I do enjoy the dig at how stupid Ayn Rand is and how people who believe in objectivism are assholes, but other than that there wasn’t much to that one. It’s just a weird episode, that seemed to not understand what the theme was, and then stuffed a bunch of lackluster and rushed little segments in. So, in short, it’s a triptych episode from this era.

Take Away: Don’t blow off the Spanish, don’t trust witches, don’t kill people, and don’t read Ayn Rand.

 

“Four Great Women and a Manicure” was written by Valentina Garza and directed by Raymond S Persi, 2009.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S20 E19 – Waverly Hills, 9-0-2-1-D’oh

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Howdy everyone, and welcome back to another week of Lifetime of Simpsons. And it’s a very mediocre week ahead of us. We’re going to get to Season 21, but other than that it’s pretty unremarkable. And we start off with today’s episode, a largely forgettable episode that does feature an obnoxious song that has been stuck in my head for days. Things are getting dire.

The episode starts off with Mage going out for a jog, when she’s stopped by a guy handing out a new drink called Science Water. It’s just Vitamin Water, but the Simpsons clearly thought that it wasn’t going to be a successful enterprise, so it’s just a lot of mockery. And once Marge has chugged several bottles she realizes she has to pee, and begins racing around town, desperate to find a bathroom she can use that doesn’t require being a customer.

Marge has several failed attempts, but finally finds a viable bathroom when she passes the Elementary School. She runs in, pees, and decides to just wander around and check out the school. And she is not pleased. The school is rundown, every classroom seems incredibly over-crowded, Mrs. Krabappel is straight up asleep, and Ms. Hoover is having Ralph teach the class because she reached tenure and can’t be bothered anymore.

So Marge of course storms into Principal Skinner’s office to yell at him about how crappy the school is. And Skinner doesn’t really care, he’s too busy drinking scotch. He ensures her that since it’s a crappy public school in a bad part of the district, there really isn’t anything that will change. So Marge just has to head home, still fuming about this revelation.

However, that night they find a solution. Because while Milhouse is staying over for dinner he mentions that he has a cousin who goes to another school in the district, but in the rich part of town called Waverly Hills, and it’s amazing. So, seeing no other solution, Homer and Marge decide that they should rent a small apartment in the Waverly Hills area so that Bart and Lisa could start going to school there instead of at Springfield Elementary.

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Homer then goes to wander around Waverly Hills with Cookie Kwan, trying to find the absolute worst and cheapest apartment that Waverly Hills has to offer. They see several terrible ones, but end up settling on a miniscule studio apartment that has a Murphy bed that won’t fully pull out and no bathroom. So, Homer signs the paperwork, and he and Marge head over to the Waverly Hills city hall to fill out the necessary paperwork to get Bart and Lisa enrolled.

But they hit a slight snag. Because they find out that people try this scam a lot, so at some random time they’re going to be visited by an inspector to ensure that Bart and Lisa are actually living in the area. And to make matters worse the inspector is apparently Anton Chigurh. So, until the inspector actually shows up, they decide to have Homer live in the terrible apartment, ready to spring into action whenever he shows up.

That doesn’t really affect Bart and Lisa though, who get to go to their new school. And it’s intense. It’s got everything the kids could want, including stables and real meat in the cafeteria. They do run into a slight problem when Principal Skinner arrives, trying to convince Lisa to come back so that their average test scores won’t plummet. But that doesn’t really cause a big issue. What does cause an issue is that these new schoolgirls are horrible.

Lisa finds that the girls at the school are incredibly cliquey and are all obsessed about a teenaged singer named Alaska Nebraska. And when Lisa admits she has no idea who that is, she becomes the butt of ridicule. She also gets her first B+ on an assignment, and realizes that she’s not popular and she’s not a brain here, and thus has no identity. Which really starts to make her panic and realize that she has no idea what to do.

Meanwhile, Bart has decided that the best way to survive in this new school is to make himself the coolest kid in school. Which he does by striking a bargain with Chief Wiggum where Bart will attend Ralph’s birthday party if Wiggum fake arrests Bart. This goes down, and all of the kids in the school assume that Bart is the baddest mother-fucker in town. And with that power, he decides to do something to help Lisa out.

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And while all of this school drama is going on there’s also a weird little B-Plot developing. Because back at Homer’s terrible apartment he’s realized that all of his neighbors are stupid college students. And Homer fits right in. He begins partying with the students, and even calls Marge over to hang out with him. And, shockingly, Marge isn’t disgusted by this new life he’s leading. Instead, she has fun with it, and the two have a weird evening where they pretend that they’re college students having a one-night stand, and really seem to have a great time together.

But before we finish out this little apartment plot, let’s see what Bart’s plan to get Lisa popular was. Because it’s not great. He goes to all of the popular kids, and tells them that Lisa is actually best friends with Alaska Nebraska, and has just been lying to keep her privacy. The girls then become obsessed with Lisa, even the teachers, and she’s suddenly the most popular girl in school, all while not really knowing why.

Eh, let’s just finish the Marge and Homer plot. The two begin living a weird little life together, pretending that they’re in college and dating. Homer gives Marge a key to the apartment, and she responds by decorating the place so that it actually resembles a place for humans to live in. And this of course irritates dumb Homer, and they have a little squabble about personal space. Which is stopped when Anton Chigurh shows up. Homer and Marge then have to pretend that Homer and the kids live here, and they shockingly do a great job. Chigurh is pleased, and he signs off on the Simpsons attending the new school.

Which may be a little premature, because guess what? Lisa’s popularity is about to burst. Because the girls are done being friendly to her, and now expect some backstage passes to Alaska Nebraska’s concert. And, left with no other alternatives, Lisa sneaks backstage at the venue to beg Alaska Nebraska for tickets. She tries giving an impassioned speech, but this pop star is just here for money, and flatly rejects Lisa’s request. So she has to tell the girls the truth, and they promptly attack her. So Bart and Lisa rush to Homer’s apartment, and tell them that they’re sick of this new school, and want to go back to normal. Which they do, but they also turn Bart’s treehouse into a little apartment so that Homer and Marge can continue their roleplay.

 

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This episode is fine. And really nothing more than that. There are some good things, some weird things, and some bad things, but they all just kind of come out in the wash to just a bland and fine episode. We’ve seen Bart and Lisa try to go to new schools, and we’ve seen them try and pretend to be other people to win over new students. What we haven’t seen was Homer pretending to be a dumb college kid and living in a shitty apartment. Honestly, that B plot was more interesting to me than anything going on in the main story. It’s nice that Bart tried to help Lisa, even though he did it in the dumbest and more short-sighted way possible, but it’s all fine. I have literally no idea why they thought to put Anton Chigurh in this episode, especially being two years after that movie came out, but whatever, I can dig it. Really, it all just boils down to the fact that this episode focuses on something we’ve seen before, and doesn’t do anything special with, while keeping something fresh and weird relegated to a B story.

Take Away: Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t to win over people, and sometimes your marriage needs something to spice it up.

 

“Waverly Hills, 9-0-2-1-D’oh” was written by J Stewart Burns and directed by Michael Polcino, 2009.

 

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