Lifetime of Simpsons

S11 E12 – The Mansion Family

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Hey there. Yesterday got kind of weird huh? Sorry about that. Let’s ignore that little rant and just focus on the simple things in life, like a monkey knife fight.

Things start off at some sort of awards ceremony called the Springfield Pride Awards, which seems to give random awards to average people in town. Is that a thing? I don’t think that’s a thing. Anyway, it’s hosted by Kent Brockman and Brittney Spears, and the whole damn town is there to check it out. And it seems like everyone is getting awards. Everyone except Homer. He hasn’t won anything, and is getting pretty bitter about it.

But this isn’t going to be an episode about Homer trying to earn an award, so things pivot to the final award, for the town’s oldest citizen. So a rickety old man named Cornelius Chapman heads up to the stage to win his award, and promptly has a heart attack after Brittney Spears kisses him. At which point Kent Brockman pushes him out of the way and starts asking the crowd who the next oldest person is. And after some elimination, it turns out to be Mr. Burns. So Burns wanders up, thinks about reading Chapman’s acceptance speech before realizing it’s too sappy, and just walks away with his award and the knowledge that he’s the oldest person in town.

And this knowledge isn’t really sitting well with Burns. The next day he’s sitting in his office with Smithers, chatting about how maybe he should get a medical checkup. So the two decide to head off to the Mayo Clinic and get Mr. Burns the best medical attention possible. But if they’re going on this trip, they’re going to need someone to watch the mansion. And that’s obviously going to be Homer, which Mr. Burns rationalizes by saying that Homer is due for a good job after all his ridiculous blunders. That’s pretty sound logic.

So Burns and Smithers head out to the Mayo Clinic, and the Simpsons get acclimated in Burns’ mansion. They wander around the place, looking at all the weird extravagances, like infinite beds that can be burnt instead of made and a robotic dressing machine. We also see Bart looking for Burn’s hidden safe, they ride around the halls on bicycles, lawnmowers, and horses, and scratch their asses with giant forks. But things really start to come together when Homer decides that he needs to throw a huge party to celebrate his wealth. But Marge shuts that idea down, and even covers all her bases.

Marge: “No par-tays, no shindigs, no keggers, no hootenannies, no mixers, no raves, no box socials.”

Homer: “Damn! And I look so good on that bike!”

So I guess that plan’s dead.

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Meanwhile, we check in on Mr. Burns’ trip, which has plenty of gags itself. He sees the Pope and Fidel Castro talk about farts, complains about having his Social Security Number be 000-00-0002, and gets some tests done. Which prove difficult since he apparently has no blood and his needle can go through his arm like meringue. And in the end, it turns out that Mr. Burns has every disease known to man. But he has a condition called Three Stooges Syndrome where all the diseases are trying to kill him at once, so none of them can do it. Which makes him immortal!

Oh, and guess what? Homer’s still throwing a party. He doesn’t even come up with a justification, he just shows up at Moe’s to buy some beer. Unfortunately it’s a Sunday, and Moe isn’t legally allowed to sell alcohol until 2 pm. Which leaves Homer with no choice but to get all the guys in town to get on Mr. Burns’ yacht and sail out to international waters so Homer can legally buy the beer, and they can drink it. Makes sense!

So all the men in town get on Burns’ yacht and set sail, enjoying the lawless world of International Waters. They get to see some sort of bikini party boat, a cowboy shootout, a bull-fight, and a man marrying his cow. So they obviously get into the spirit and start having a monkey knife fight, which is exactly what it sounds like. So everything’s going great, and all the guys start dancing and enjoying life.

But disaster starts to strike when some pirates come upon Burns’ yacht, and mistake the yacht for a rich homosexual party cruise, and decide to rob them. So the pirates board the ship and quickly round up all the men except for Homer before preparing to steal the boat. But Homer’s not going to go out without a fight! He begins trying to fight the pirates, but that leads to disaster, and he’s quickly overpowered. So all the men are put in a giant net, have their money stolen, and are dropped off the ship to drown. Luckily though, the ball of humans floats, and they’re able to survive! So they get back to Springfield, just as Burns gets back and is impressed with how well the Simpsons did taking care of his house. But hey, one yacht missing and a knifed up monkey isn’t too bad.

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What a goofy episode. I’ve been noticing that lately there has been a serious lack of my favorite type of episodes, Mr. Burns episodes. They haven’t been as prevalent, and when they have happened they’ve been kind of lackluster, so I’m thrilled to have a silly episode that’s about Burns, even though he isn’t in it enough. The Burns gags are incredibly solid, especially his justification for hiring Homer as the caretaker, but the rest of the episode is pretty solid too. I love the idea of Homer getting insanely excited about being in Burns’ mansion, and throwing a crazy party, and the idea of him deciding to sail to international waters instead of just waiting a couple hours to legally buy beer is wonderful. Is it an emotional episode? Of course not. But this is some incredibly solid silly Simpsons here, and I fully appreciate that.

 

“The Mansion Family” was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Michael Polcino, 2000.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S11 E11 – Faith Off

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Hey everybody! Let’s talk about religion and football! Two topics that I really couldn’t possibly care less about!

The episode starts off with Homer riffling through the mail, throwing away all the bills. But he stops when he finally find something interesting, a letter from Springfield University, you know that college that Homer went to for one course and had to cheat to pass? Well because of that one course he’s invited to some fancy reception before the big homecoming football game. So Homer and Marge head down to college for a party.

Homer and Marge briefly stop by his old dorm room, where they run into the good old Nerds, who haven’t really changed at all. They chit chat for a bit, before going to the party where people get to mingle and meet the star kicker that’s carried the football team to victory. Oh, and in true university fashion, it’s all an elaborate ruse to get money from the suckers, and the party-goers are essentially mugged by the new Dean.

And this slight is enough to infuriate Homer to point where he needs to pull an epic prank on the Dean. Which is a great idea, since Homer has a great track-record of pranking the deans of this college. But he wrangles the Nerds into helping him, and they set up a prank to drop a bucket full of glue on the Dean’s head. Unfortunately some stupid frat already had the idea, and their bucket gets dropped down on Homer’s head instead. And it just won’t come off.

The family go see Dr. Hibbert, who claims that there’s no hope getting the bucket off since Homer’s now “more glue than man,” and they just give up. So Bart helps Homer acclimate to life by drilling some eyeholes in the bucket, letting him go back to his normal life. But things change for the family when they let Homer drive them somewhere, and thanks to his limited vision he gets them super lost and drives into a ditch.

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So the family get out of the ditch, and find that they’re outside some massive faith revival. They decide to roll with it, and just head on into the big tent to see Brother Faith. Brother Faith is a showy preacher who starts singing and getting the patrons all riled up before the big part of his “sermon.” The faith healing. Now, I don’t know if any of you have seen faith healing before, but it’s pretty repulsive. I don’t want to get into a whole thing about how much the idea of people relying on prayer instead of medicine pisses me off, but I will say that I once chaperoned a mission trip with my wife’s church, and we had to go to a “church” in a middle school cafeteria that wasn’t properly vetted, and which featured a lot of faith healing from a “preacher” in ratty jeans. And holy crap, seeing people scam other people with faith healing is one of the most aggravating things I’ve ever seen.

Anyway! Brother Faith starts “healing” everyone who comes up to tell him their stupid problems, and it inspires hope in Homer that this may be the answer to fixing his bucket situation. So he raises his hand and Brother Faith walks up to help. But he’s unable to get the bucket off, and asks for a volunteer to help. So Bart gives it a shock, and miraculously is able to rip the bucket off Homer’s head. Bart has powers!

So after the show Bart goes backstage to talk to Brother Faith, who somehow scams Bart into thinking that he legitimately has powers. Which starts Bart down an insane path where he starts preaching and healing the other kids during lunch. He even convinces a group of the other kids to start a ridiculous church for him where they can keep doing this crap. And obviously this isn’t going to fly with Lisa, who explains that the heat from the lamps caused the bucket to expand and the glue to melt, but who needs facts and logic when there’s magic religion to believe in! Meanwhile, we’re introduced to a B-Plot where Homer is going to create a float for the homecoming football game. But that doesn’t really go anywhere for a while.

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Once Bart has a giant tent, that they stole from an exterminator, he starts hosting sermons in the Simpson’s backyard. Which is weird, because a whole bunch of grown adults in Springfield start going to this weird ten-year olds church. And he’s doing great. There’s songs, over-the-top boasting, and of course some faith healing. A bunch of people come up and get their issues taken care of, all leading up to Milhouse who asks Bart to heal his nerdiness. So Bart just takes his glasses off. Presto chango!

However, this proves to be a horrible idea when Milhouse wanders away from the sermon, with no vision, and ends up getting hit by a car. So Bart goes with him to the hospital, where Milhouse is going to be fine, and realizes that maybe he doesn’t actually have supernatural powers. Shocker. Surely that’s not going to come back later!

But enough faith healing, it’s football time! Everyone has come to the stadium to see Springfield University play against Springfield A&M, while Homer gets very drunk. And this becomes an issue when half-time arrives, and Homer realizes he’s late to get his float. So he runs out to grab the float, and ends up coming in too late, when the teams have already come out onto the field. And of course Homer runs over the star kicker, destroying his knee.

Which doesn’t really make Fat Tony happy, who has a lot of money riding on the game. So Homer and Bart go into the stadium with Dr. Hibbet to access the situation with the kicker. And things are grim. His leg is barely attached, and there’s no way he’ll play again. That is unless Bart uses his magical powers! So Bart gives it a shot, and the kicker goes out to try and make one final field goal that would win them the game. He kicks the ball, but it’s no good, it just can’t make it that far. Until the severed leg comes flying through the air and knocks the football over the goal-posts. Springfield University wins! Bart doesn’t have powers! That kicker lost a leg! The end!

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This is a really weird episode folks. And I really don’t know if my dislike for it revolves around my own weird issues, or because it’s not that good of an episode. I feel like it’s not a good one. But who knows, it could be colored by the fact that this is an episode that’s all about two of my least favorite things in the world. I mean, I can’t state it enough, faith healing infuriates me. That type of religion, especially in the televangelist vein, really pisses me off, because it’s so obviously not real, it’s been proven to be fake, and yet stupid people still fall for it. For the most part I give religion a pass. As long as it’s not teaching you to be a horrible person, and you don’t feel the need to prosthelytize to people, you can do what you want. But when people aren’t getting the real help they need because “it’s God’s will,” or because they have faith that prayer will do anything, I get really mad. I’ve obviously gone way off the reservation with this article, so I’m just going to stop here with the final thoughts that this episode was a drag for me, and leave it like that.

Take Away: Don’t fall for faith healers. Oh, and if there’s something wrong with you, use science, not religion.

 

“Faith Off” was written by Frank Mula and directed by Nancy Kruse, 2000.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S11 E10 – Little Big Mom

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So you know how the most hackneyed Marge episodes all revolve around the family treating her more like shit than normal until she snaps and they briefly agree to be better people by the end of the episode? Well, what if we did that, but with Lisa instead? And lepers?

The episode starts off with Homer and the kids watching some Itchy and Scratchy together. This time it’s Tears of a Clone, and it’s all about Itchy cloning Scratchy so he can continue to murder him for all eternity. Science! But while they’re being occupied by animated genocide, Marge is clearly up to something. She has a box full of crap, and is trying to sneak out of the house without the rest of the family noticing. But she isn’t as sneaky as he thought she was, and they notice her, and realize that she’s trying to give all their useless garbage to Good Will.

So Homer and the kids freak out, and they go chasing after her. She did manage to get the box of garbage onto the Goodwill truck, but Homer springs into action and is able to jump aboard the truck. He grabs the stuff, and gets back to the house so they can yell at Marge for getting rid of their garbage. But in true Simpsons fashion this random beginning gets a real plot going when Marge points out some skis in the box as an example of them never using this stuff, and Homer decides they need to go skiing.

The Simpsons then head up to a mountain for a lovely spiteful outing. And almost immediately they get separated. Marge is too scared to actually ski so she goes down to a ski lodge, Homer falls off the ski-lift and is left to his own devices, Bart learns snowboarding lingo from Otto, and Lisa gets mauled by horrible deer. We also gets the famous scene when Homer runs into Ned, who is in some sort of skin-tight skiing outfit, causing him to say the immortal quote, “Stupid sexy Flanders.”

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But a real plot starts to develop when Marge is down in the ski lodge. Because even though she’s had a nice quiet day in the lodge, tragedy strikes when the family finally come to be with her, and an enormous cuckoo clock falls off the wall and breaks her leg. So she’s rushed to Springfield Hospital and Dr. Hibbert lets them know that she has a compound fracture, and will need to be kept to bed rest in the hospital until it’s healed. So the Simpsons are without their competent member, and Lisa volunteers to step up and be the new head of the family.

And this new status quo goes okay for a while, because Lisa is actually kind of a natural. Even though it quickly becomes apparent that Homer and Bart are utterly incompetent, and can’t even dress themselves without Marge’s help. But things start to change for Lisa when she realizes how crappy Homer and Bart treat Marge, since they start to take advantage of Lisa. Meanwhile, Marge is going insane in the hospital, not used to not being able to clean. That is until she learns about morphine and acupressure, at which point she stops caring about home.

But while Marge is doing pretty good in the hospital, Lisa is starting to go insane. Bart and Homer refuse to do chores, Homer buys only candy for groceries, and they just sit up all night watching I Love Lucy as loud as it possibly could be. So Lisa’s ready to snap. And just on time she’s visited by the ghost of Lucille Ball, who is there to give Lisa some advice on how to prank Homer and Bart back into decency. Which obviously means that Lisa heads down while they’re sleeping in their own filth to pain on some fake oatmeal leprosy sores on them.

The next morning Homer and Bart wake up, terrified at these mysterious new sores all over their bodies, and come running to Lisa for help. Lisa then guides them farther down the prank path, and gets them to use some sort of WebMD site that tells them they have leprosy. Lisa then tries to explain that the only way to cure their leprosy is to clean up the house, but Homer and Bart have no patience for that, and decide to go ask Ned to help them, since he’s holier than Jesus.

Ned obviously freaks out about the sudden appearance of lepers on his doorstep, but since he’s a true Christian he decides to do the honorable thing and pay for Bart and Homer to fly to Molokai, Hawaii to join a leper colony there and get treated. But while all of this is going on, Marge has finally gotten home, and is stunned at how great the house looks. But then Lisa has to tell her about accidently tricking Homer and Bart, and they decide to go find them. Ned points them to Molokai, so the girls go follow Homer and Bart to Hawaii where they’re enjoying their treatment. Turns out Homer and Bart have figured out that they don’t have leprosy, and are just faking it to enjoy a beautiful Hawaiian vacation, the horrible electric needle pain notwithstanding.

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This is a weird episode. I didn’t even really have much to say about it. It’s one of those episodes that seem a little half-baked, like it could have used another pass or something. The skiing stuff in the beginning was fun, and I liked the idea of Lisa having to be the maternal figure of the house for a while, but the episode just gives me the same sour feeling when I watch some of these Marge episodes. Homer and Bart are so shitty to Lisa in this episode, it’s just a bummer. And then the leprosy thing happens, which was a solid gag, but it just got crazier and crazier until we end with the family going to Hawaii to fake leprosy to get a great vacation/torture session. I don’t know, this episode just fell flat for me.

Take Away: Don’t be an asshole, and carry your own weight when it comes to chores. Oh, and leprosy is apparently super easy to fake, in case you need to use that information.

 

“Little Big Man” was written by Carolyn Omine and directed by Mark Kirkland, 2000.

 

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Reel Talk

The Shallows Sure is a Shark Movie

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There’s an episode of the amazing podcast How Did This Get Made about the ridiculous Deep Blue Sea where wonderful comedian Paul F Tompkins asks the question “what are the stats on shark movies? Still just the one good one?” And he’s got a point. There are a shocking amount of shark movies, and if it’s not the original Jaws, it’s probably going to be terrible.  I’ve talked before on this site about how wonderful and perfect Jaws is, but much like the comic Watchmen, its legacy is pretty blighted. Jaws was a wonderfully crafted and amazingly successful suspense film that featured a shark. And Hollywood took the wrong lesson from it, and decided people wanted shark movies. And were never able to make a decent one again. There’s a slew of terrible shark movies out there, from legitimate Jaws sequels, to Jaws ripoffs, to SyFy original movies starring one-hit wonder musicians from the 80s, to a whole bunch of wonderfully terrible Italian movies. But no other good shark movies. And yet, people keep trying to make the damn  things. They try to tackle it from other angles or put clever new spins on the premise, but in the end of the day, it’s just another damn movies about sharks, and it fails. But hey, a new one came out! The Shallows came out this weekend, and I started to see a shocking amount of critics I respect give it good reviews. It was usually given with a huge caveat, like calling it really fun and schlocky or something, but it was still a positive review. So, since I didn’t really want to debase myself and pay money for the new Independence Day movie, I figured I’d go and check out the Shallows, hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

The premise of the movie is incredibly simple. We follow a woman named Nancy (Blake Lively) who we eventually learn is thinking about dropping out of medical school ever since her beloved free-spirit mother died of cancer. She’s lost her faith in medicine, and has decided to go to some secluded and secret beach that her mother once went to to try to reconnect with her and figure her life out. She was supposed to be there with a friend of her, but the friend got super trashed and didn’t want to come, so in the first of several terrible ideas, Nancy decides to go surfing in a secluded beach that she doesn’t even know the name of, by herself. So Nancy starts surfing, meets two dudes who barely speak English, and has a good time. But when the two dudes leave, and tell her she probably should too, she decides to stay and catch one last wave. At which point she notices a dead whale is floating into the cove, and decides that she should totally go investigate. Which is when the horrible monster shark that killed the whale shows up, and decides it should start devoting its life to destroying Nancy. The shark bites her leg, and gets her trapped atop the dead whale. But she notices a small little outcropping of rock that’s closer to the beach than the whale that’s been uncovered due to low tide, so she swims over to it, barely avoiding the shark, and introducing us to the real start of the film, Steven Seagull. Steven is a little seagull who was trying to dive into the water and got smashed into Nancy, dislocating his little wing, so they both get trapped on the rock.

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And the rest of the movie is basically just Nancy trying to survive, and get off the little rock before low-tide comes and kicks her off. She uses her medical knowledge to bind her wound and pulls off some make-shift sutures to keep the wound closed, and even pops little Steven’s wing back into place so he can survive. But once that’s accomplished, she’s pretty much out of ideas. There’s a dingy close by, but too far to get to before the evil shark could get her, and the beach is too far to get to. So she basically just sits on the rock, getting dehydrated and sun-stroke while three stupid guys show up at various points and get eaten. But one of the guys had a GoPro camera on his head, so she gets it and records what’s basically a final message to her father and little sister, assuming she’s doomed. So she tosses the camera into the water, hoping for a message in a bottle scenario, and decides to dive into the water to get to the dingy, right after setting Steven adrift on part of a surfboard, hoping he can get to the shore and be fine. So she makes it to the dingy, while the Terminator shark is following her, and after some ridiculous bullshit involving a flare-gun and some randomly placed whale-oil, she lights the shark on fire, and starts fighting it with the dinghy. At which point she plans this elaborate plan that eventually gets the shark impaled on the anchor of the dinghy, killing the beast. At which point she basically drowns, but luckily that camera washed up on a shore, and a little boy fetches his father, who had previous given Nancy a ride to the beach, who finds her body washed up on the shore, and brings her back to life. So Nancy lives. Woo. Oh, and Steven makes it out! Yay! And the movie ends with a needless epilogue where we see Nancy a year later, now a doctor, getting ready to teach her little sister how to surf, because some people never learn.

So yeah, that’s the Shallows. It was a shark movie. It was fine. It didn’t blow me away, and I really didn’t feel the same amount of charitable fun that some people are. The movie certainly got a little goofy in parts, but not really enough to push it over to an enjoyable place. The CGI was pretty spotty in parts, the acting occasionally went to that Revenant territory where it’s just screaming and crying, and there was virtually no plot. The shark was pretty fun sometimes, since it was just so ridiculous. It was huge, and seemed to have super-shark powers to the point that it felt like this shark came straight from fighting Debby Gibson and Giant Octopus, but even that campiness wasn’t enough to really save this movie for me. It wasn’t really a bad movie, and it was a lot better than most shark movies I’ve ever seen, but it’s not that great. I liked Steven Seagull quite a bit, but overall, this movie was just kind of a dud for me. So don’t worry Paul F Tompkins, the stats have not changed.

The Shallows was written by Anthony Jaswinski, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, distributed by Columbia Pictures, 2016.

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The best picture I could find of the star, Steven Seagull

 

Lifetime of Simpsons

S11 E09 – Grift of the Magi

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Hey everybody! Happy Monday! It’s apparently Christmas! Oh, and today is also the one year anniversary of the blog. Huzzah! The Simpsons project isn’t quite a year old yet, but I’ve been rambling about stupid crap like this online for a year now. So let’s celebrate that with Gary Coleman beating up a robot in an episode I always assume is the one where Homer and Bart are grifters.

The episode starts off with a news report explaining Springfield is going through a crazy heat wave, which I think is only to explain why there’s practically no snow in this Christmas episode. But the episode gets going when Milhouse runs into the Simpson’s house to avoid some concentrated sunlight, and they start looking at boardgames to play. This does not go well, so Lisa abandons the boys, leaving them with no other alternative than dressing up like ladies with Marge’s clothes while jumping on the bed.

But disaster strikes when Homer comes barging in, and Bart slips off the bed, landing on a bowling ball. And after Milhouse explains that they’re drunk, really drunk, they take Bart to the hospital since he just smashed his coccyx on a bowling ball. And after just zapping his ass with the deliberator, Dr. Hibbert just slaps some sort of ass-cast on Bart, and he’s good to go. Unfortunately that means he’s going to need to be in a wheelchair while he heals, and the Elementary School isn’t wheelchair accessible. Which gets fixed when Fat Tony comes out of nowhere and strong-arms Skinner into accepting their bid to make the school compliant.

So Fat Tony’s company builds all kinds of ridiculous ramps around the school, which turn out to be breadsticks that just fall apart when Skinner opens them. So the school is in trouble, because they still don’t have ramps, and they now owe a whole lot of money to the mob, which leaves them in dire enough straights that they’re going to have to close the school.

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This obviously freaks out the parents in the community, so they all get together in Principal Skinner’s house to discuss how they’re going to get the $20,000 needed to open the school back up. And with no other alternative they decide to go get the money from Mr. Burns, which they plan on doing so by putting on a little play for Burns. They somehow get invited into the mansion where they put on a series of skits that are basically thinly veiled threats that their lack of education will lead to these kids eventually killing Mr. Burns. But even though these threats work pretty well on Burns, he still doesn’t want to donate money, and kicks them all out.

But don’t worry, because providence has shined down on Springfield Elementary, and an independent corporation called Kid First Industries has agreed to re-open and staff the school. So all the kids start going back to school, and get used to their new teachers. Bart’s teacher is doing everything he can to appear cool and get the kids to be on his side, even giving them the homework of bringing toys they like to class.

So the kids bring their favorite toys they love, and the teacher starts asking them what makes a perfect toy, writing down all their suggestions. And at the same time we see that the new second grade teacher is having Lisa and her classmates come up with ideal names for toys. Which is starting to get suspicious. And when Lisa has the gall to do math in class, she’s given detention. And the plot thickens when she’s staying after, writing on the chalkboard, when she realizes that there’s a secret room behind the chalkboard. She goes to investigate and finds that the teacher are performing some sort of market research on the kids, collating all their ideas to make some sort of perfect toy. Oh, and she’s also attacked by some creepy little robot.

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Lisa apparently got away from that little robot, because the next thing we see is Lisa leading her folks and Chief Wiggum into the school to investigate the weird goings on in the school. But when they burst into the broom closet that used to hold the robot, they find that it’s just a normal broom closet, leading everyone to assuming Lisa’s crazy. So they head home while Lisa is trying to figure out just what the hell is going on. And that question is answered pretty quickly when she and Bart are watching Krusty and come across a commercial for a new toy called Funzo, which is clearly based on the suggestions the kids made in the classes.

So Lisa has her smoking gun! And with Bart’s help, they head to the Kid First Industries headquarters to confront them about making children create toys. They manage to sneak into the building, narrowly avoiding the security guard Gary Coleman, whose busy making calls to fake Chinese food restaurants and the president. And once past Coleman they talk to the heads of the company, who don’t really seem to care that these children have figured out their greedy scheme. And instead of just calling the police, they decide to bribe these small children with a free Funzo, which Bart accepts. And I guess Lisa just give up too?

But the scheme keeps unraveling when they get Funzo home and Bart start to play with it, which hear means finding new accessories to buy for it. But that’s not the only nefarious thing about Funzo, because it becomes clear that it’s also been designed to break all competing toys. So Bart and Lisa run to the Try-N-Save to warn the parents not to buy Funzo, but that doesn’t work, and they end up just making people want it more.

So, left with no other alternatives, they decide to ask Homer for his help is sneaking around Springfield on Christmas Eve to steal everyone’s Funzo’s. Which they do. Bart and Lisa end up singing Christmas carols to all of the families in town while Homer sneaks in and takes all of the Funzo’s. And at the end of the night they head to the Tire Fire and huck all of the Funzo’s into the flames, destroying them. But just when they think they’re free Gary Coleman comes zipping up to confront them. What follows is a huge discussion between the Simpson’s and Gary Coleman about the nature of good and evil, until morning finally comes. At which point they invite Gary Coleman over for Christmas dinner while learning about all the other good things that happened in Springfield, like Mr. Burns deciding to donate money to the school to revert everything back to normal, and Moe deciding not to commit suicide. Christmas!

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As far as Christmas episodes go, this one isn’t one of my favorites, but it’s still pretty fun. It’s really stupid, what with the insane katate-fighting imaginary-phonecall having Gary Coleman cameo, but it’s also really goofy and enjoyable. Plus, I feel like the central idea of the episode is pretty evergreen. Funzo was clearly a Furby parody, but I feel like these weird toys that the toy companies insist everyone should have still happen. Maybe not, I don’t have kids so I don’t really know if parents are still trampling each other to get Tickle Me Elmos or whatever, but I assume so. Christmas is all about consumerism after all, so we’ll always have some nefarious Funzo to anticipate. Plus, the idea of a private company buying a school solely for market research seems incredibly possible, and I’m shocked we haven’t heard of something like that happening in the real world.

Take Away: Christmas is all about consumerism now, and there’s no point in yelling about the latest toy-fad, because there will just be more the next year.

 

“Grift of the Magi” was written by Tom Martin and directed by Matthew Nastuk, 1999.

 

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Marvel Madness

That Time Dr. Doom Tricked Dr. Strange Into Going To Hell With Him

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Well look what we have here. A Marvel Madness about my main man Doctor Doom that’s not even a silly story? That doesn’t seem right. But it is! Because I’ve pulled up one of my favorite comics of all time to discuss for this installment of Marvel Madness with you fine people. Because according to some cursory Googling, I’m pretty sure we’re around the time this comic takes place. Midsummer’s Eve. It’s the vague time period that’s so important in this story, and from what I could tell it’s on June 20th of this year. That may not be right, but for some reason I couldn’t get a really clear answer on what day this lines up with, and even though this comic has a serious Halloween vibe to me, I decided we needed to check it out.

The story comes from an original graphic novel, which was something Marvel used to do a lot more than they currently do, and is pretty spectacular. It’s one of those stories that you see on a lot of “Greatest Comic Book Stories Of All Time” lists, and I personally think that it really does deserve the praise. And it’s not just because it features two of my favorite characters of all time. I’m very much on record with my adoration of Victor Von Doom, but I haven’t really gotten to talk much about Dr. Strange. I love the guy, and I’m so psyched that this new movie coming out is revitalizing interest in the character. A lot of time you can feel kind of irritated as a comic book reader when the movies start to influence the comics, but I’m all on board if that means I’m not only getting a great ongoing Doctor Strange book, but also a whole bunch of cameos. So of course any story that’s going to be all about two of my favorite Marvel characters is going to be pretty great to me, and when you add in the fact that it’s an awesome story with some great Mike Mignola art, of course I’m going to love it.

Our story begins with a weird little character called the Aged Genghis. This guy is a centuries old wizard who is pretty much all-powerful, but also a little crazy. He awakens one day and decides to tell his servant all about the time that some crazy guy named Victor Von Doom showed up in his cave and demanded he fix his face. When the Genghis turned him down, Doom went elsewhere and took over a colony of magical monks who taught him magic and built him the armor that he used to become Dr. Doom. But that whole story feels a little tangential, especially when The Genghis realizes that it’s time for him to start an important task, since it’s the Time of Vishanti. Now, in case you aren’t a big geek about the mystical side of Marvel Comics, the Vishanti are basically the gods of magic in our realm, and the most powerful mystical beings in existence. So this is a big deal. Which is what warrants the Genghis showing up in some Southeast Asian temple and sending out a magical newsletter to all sorcerers on Earth, letting them know to come to the temple and try out for the position of Sorcerer Supreme.

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So a whole bunch of sorcerers from around the world heed the call, and head to the Temple of the Three to start the competition. Which is a little weird, because it’s just a bunch of random characters we don’t know, Doctor Doom, and Doctor Strange. There are a lot of magical characters in the Marvel Universe, and it feels kind of strange that they just made up these randoms people, but whatever. They all get to the temple and the Aged Genghis basically tells them that the test involves freeing him from some sort of magical crystal created from the energies of the Vishanti. There aren’t really any rules, and they’re free to do this however they see fit. So of course some hotheaded sorcerers just start blasting the thing with energy, but that just bounces back at them, and freezes them. And when enough of the other idiots have been zapped, they start coming back to life like zombies, and attacking the other sorcerers. Until the only two people are Doom and Strange. And how is Doom doing so well? He programmed his suit to scan the other sorcerers and copies their movements, so that he can keep up.

And the fight just keeps going. And Doom’s actually holding his own. He does everything he can to fight off the zombie sorcerers while Strange starts to wrack his mind and find a way to actually fix this, because it’s obvious that blunt force isn’t the answer. However Doom seems to show his true colors when all the zombies are taken down, by turning on Strange and trying to chain him with a spell. But Strange is able to deflect the spell and lock Doom up with it. And with Doom taken care of, Strange has to figure this puzzle out andslips out of his Earthly body, and has his astral form investigate. And what he ends up finding is that it’s actually a super simple puzzle, and all he has to do is lay hands upon the crystal and pray that the Genghis frees himself. So he does that and the Genghis is freed, letting Stephen Strange remain the Sorcerer Supreme. But the plot thickens when the Genghis reveals that part of this contest is that the winner has to grant the runner-up a boon. And wouldn’t you know, that runner-up happens to be Doom. And he just so happens to have a perfect idea chambered.

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Yep, looks like Doctor Doom wants Doctor Strange to help him free his mother’s spirit from Hell. You know, just a normal thing guys ask each other to do. So Strange and Doom head back to Latveria to figure things out. Doom obviously has the whole return to Latveria staged, what with the adoring citizens everywhere singing his graces, but Strange can’t help but wonder if maybe Doom has turned over a new leaf, since his whole boon seems to be pretty selfless. Although Strange can’t help but wonder why Doom never just asked for help. And the answer is pretty classic Doom. “I will bear any ordeal Strange, but Doctor Doom does not beg.” So Doctor Doom participated in that crazy Vishanti test and did everything he possibly could to come in second so that he could request Strange help him with this task instead of just asking him. Right on Doom.

Anyway, we’re then treated to a scene where Strange chats with one of Doom’s servants, and learns his origin story. It’s the basic one we’re heard time and time again, with Doom’s mother Cynthia leading a band of gypsies that are being persecuted by the Latverians, only to sell her soul to Mephisto to gain the power necessary to free them. But making deals with the Devil often doesn’t end well, so Cynthia loses her powers, and is killed. This drives Doom’s father mad, and Doom is left on his own, where he begins studying magic and science before finally becoming the Doctor Doom we all know and love. But that’s not really that important, because the next day is Midsummer’s Eve, time for the pair to enter Hell. So Strange does the incantations, and they teleport into Hell itself.

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And once in Hell the pair are immediately set upon by demons, fighting their way through them. But the fight is cut short when Mephisto himself arrives, furious that these foolish mortals have dared enter his domain. He begins mocking the two for how fruitless their whole task is, and begins screwing with them. He causes them to be swallowed up by the ground, gets them attacked by murderous ravens, and blasted by sandstorms. And when the sandstorm hits them, they’re quickly separated. Strange continues to wander Hell and Doom ends up coming across Mephisto, who decides to strike up a deal. Strange ends up meeting a demon who makes him relive his backstory, with the car crash and the Ancient One teaching him magic while Doom chats with Mephisto.

Mephisto’s bargain is basically that he’ll not only release Cynthia’s soul, but animate it as well. All in exchange for Strange’s soul. But before we see Doom’s response we cut over to Strange, who is fighting off demons all on his own. And once that’s taken care of, he begins trying to find Doom, only to see him being taken away by some other demons. So Strange springs into action and zips down to save Doom, only to be electrocuted by Doom’s armor when he touches him. Yep, Doom sold Strange down the river. So Doom encases Strange in some sort of magic ice and brings him to Mephisto to complete the deal. So Mephisto uses his abilities, and brings Cynthia back to life, earning a tear from Doom. However, things aren’t quite as they seem, because Cynthia is less than thrilled about her son making a deal with the Devil to trade souls with a hero. So she gives herself back up, and reverts to stone. Doom’s lost her again.

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So yeah, things seem pretty bleak. But it’s at this point that Strange springs into action, because it turns out Doom didn’t screw him, and gave him some sort of little gadget that can shatter the magic ice. So Strange frees himself and blasts Mephisto. Doom then fights through his pain, and begins attacking Mephisto too. Unfortunately even though they’re two incredibly powerful sorcerers, and Doom has a whole arsenal of gadgets at his disposal, they are fighting the Devil. So it doesn’t go great. Strange was able to shield themselves, and Cynthia’s soul, as they fight against Mephisto’s onslaught of hellfire. But Doom didn’t come unprepared, and has Strange drop their shield long enough to fire a little capsule of anti-matter into Mephisto, assuming that that’ll be enough to stop the Devil.

Nope! Mephisto comes back and he is not happy. He begins assaulting the two men with all of his power, trying to burn them out of existence. And they’re pretty much screwed. Doom and Strange’s shield’s are barely enough to keep the hellfire at bay. Doom’s pretty much ready to give up, but Strange has one last idea. And Doom’s not going to like it. Because there’s one thing that can defeat the Prince of Darkness, the light of Oshturr of the Vishanti. And the way to get that light is to exorcise Cynthia’s soul, freeing it. So Strange does the incantation, against Doom’s will, and the two are able to defeat Mephisto enough to escape Hell. So they return to Earth, and Doom is pretty furious. Or is he? Because Strange starts to put some things together, and realizes that they did succeed.  Cynthia’s soul has been freed, and she’s no longer in Hell. So the story ends with Strange struggling to figure out if they completely failed, or if Doom is a ridiculous strategist who came up with this whole plan.

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There you have it. The Triumph and Torment of Doctors Doom and Strange. I don’t know about you, but I love this story so damn much. Really any story featuring Strange and Doom would be up my alley, but this story is so magnificent. It functions simultaneously as an origin story for both men, a magical competition, and a crazy into the bowels of Hell to save a woman’s soul. It’s got something for everyone! And it really works as an amazing story for both characters. We get to see how selfless and heroic Stephen Strange is throughout the story. True, he’s kind of obligated to help Doom, but he makes it known that he would do it even if he hadn’t been forced to by the laws of the competition, and he does everything in his power to save Cynthia’s soul once their in Hell. He’s a true hero. And then there’s Doom. Holy crap you guys. One of the running threads when it comes to the Doctor Doom stories I spotlight here is his incredibly convoluted plans. Doctor Doom will not mess around or skimp when it comes to a crazy plot. And this may be his craziest. If he actually planned it all. If he did, this plan involved him joining this Vishanti competition, coming in second so that he could get a boon from Strange, heading to Hell, tricking Mephisto into thinking he’d betray Strange, only to actually screw over Mephisto, causing him to go ballistic so the only escape would be cleansing Cynthia’s soul. Yeah. I don’t know if Doom was actually that on the ball, but it’s incredibly possible. Because that’s how Doctor Doom rolls. And not only is it a great story, it’s gorgeous as hell. I mean, what do you expect from Mike Mignola, the dude can draw the hell out of a comic, especially one that takes place in Hell. The whole thing is just  beautiful, and one of my favorite comics of all time. So this Midsummer’s Eve, remember that somewhere out there, Doctor Doom is doing everything he can to save his mother’s soul.

Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment was written by Roger Stern, drawn by Mike Mignola, and inked/colored by Mark Badger.

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Page Turners

Zeroville: Worshipping at the Altar of the Movies

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Here’s a shocking statement. I love movies. A lot. It’s a passion I’ve always had, and that’s really took off in the last few years. I’ve discussed before that a significant part of my childhood was sitting around watching random movies that my grandparents essentially pirated, and the movies have been with me ever since. I’ve always fancied myself an aspiring storyteller, and one way that I’ve fostered that is to consume as many stories as possible. So I read comics and novels constantly and watch as many movies as possible. I’m currently on a quest to see 366 movies I’ve never seen before this year (just passed 200!) and it all just adds up to one massive addiction. So, obviously, with these two obsessions there’s one thing that really clicks for me. Movies about books and books about movies. It may seem counterintuitive and strange, but I love story-tellers looking at story-telling as a subject. It’s just a fascinating concept to me, and I’m always up for checking out stories about characters that live and breathe stories. Just like me. And while it doesn’t always work out for me (I got next to nothing from the novel The Moviegoer) more often than not it’s a solid gamble for me. And I found just such a novel.

Zeroville is a fascinating little novel that I just sped through, and need to talk about. I heard about the novel fairly recently, when I read an article about the impending James Franco adaptation, where the article and everyone in the comments recommended it highly. So I took a gamble and checked out a novel I knew virtually nothing about. I don’t even think I really read a plot summary beyond the fact that it’s about a weird guy obsessed with movies living in Hollywood. I don’t even think I realized it was a period piece. I just kind of dove on it, and boy am I glad I did. This book is bizarre. It’s a strange little read, anarchic and very punk-rock in its execution and plotting, it’s joining a special pantheon of weird novels I adore like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

And what’s it about? Movies, and the power they hold over us. The book follows a man who comes to be known as Vikar. Now, Vikar is an odd man, possibly autistic, who has lived an incredibly sheltered life, up until the point he finally started to see movies, and decided that he needed to a) tattoo portraits of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift from a Place in the Sun on the back of his head, and b) move to Hollywood and work in the movies. Vikar heads to this land of magic in the late sixties, where things are starting to change. Vikar is shocked that people in Los Angeles are more interested in music than movies, and is starting to feel the rise of New Hollywood and its effects on the city. He lives a pretty meager life, spending all of his time watching movies, and gradually progressing up the ladder in show business. He starts off building sets, and ends up being introduced to a lot of important figures in the business from that era, most importantly John Milius, who is referred to as Viking Man for the entire story. He also starts a bizarre relationship of sorts with a mysterious woman named Soledad and her daughter Zazi.

Time goes on, and Vikar ends up moving from set-building to editing, where he really seems to excel. Vikar is a natural editor, and takes to it incredibly easily, becoming pretty famous in the industry for his abilities. He even secretly edits a film for Milius, gets kidnapped by some Spanish revolutionaries who wants him to edit their weird propaganda film, and gets hired to edit some messy, indulgent train wreck that United Artists doesn’t know what to do with. And that mess of a film ends up some incredibly divisive work that ends up getting Vikar an award for editing at the Cannes Film Festival. So Vikar seems to have reached an apex of his life. He has money, success, a job in the movies, and the ability to watch whatever movie he wants. But it’s not enough, and he ends up falling down some elaborate rabbit-hole of a plot where he discovers frames of a secret movie that are hidden in the reels of every movie in the world, all adding up to some sort of footage of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son. I think? It starts to get really crazy near the end of this novel, and Vikar becomes an increasingly unreliable narrator as his own weird psychosis starts to infect the narrative. Unless he actually does have a pow wow with the ghost of Montgomery Clift.

This novel is strange. That plot description may not really get that across, but it really is one of the odder and more enjoyable books I’ve ever read. Vikar’s stream of conscious narration is scatterbrained, and as confused as you would expect from a man who may or may not be autistic. He doesn’t understand the world around him, makes up identities for the people he meets, and rarely actually tells us the names of the movies he’s talking about. Which is a hell of a lot of fun for a movie dork like myself, trying to puzzle out oblique references to movies based on Vikar’s jumbled descriptions.

And it’s with Vikar’s obsession that this book really got to me. The plot itself is pretty simple. It’s silly and strange, but things move along in an understandable way and is basically just about a guy doing his job. But it’s Vikar’s descriptions of the world, and how he relates absolutely everything to the movies that worked so well for me. We live in a world where people are getting increasingly obsessed with their entertainment. People care enough about the comic books they love to threaten creators with death, and to spend most of their time rallying against people who don’t like the same movies as they do. Religion is fading in our society. It doesn’t always seem that way, but people are leaving religion behind. We’re probably leaving nations behind. But humans seem to need something to believe in. And for some, that’s entertainment. Movies in particular. I talked about this in my review for Hail, Caesar! which dealt with a similar topic. Hell, there’s even a recurring idea that Vikar once built a model of a church (that turns out to be an insane asylum) that’s secretly a movie theater. Vikar’s life is movies. He only gets through the world by comparing everything to movies. And in the end, movies completely obsess his life. His job and seemingly his purpose on Earth is to love movies. He finds the weird conspiracy, he makes his own movies, and he collects a vast swath of eclectic films. It’s what his life is about. The power of the pictures. Something greater than himself to believe in. And I don’t know about you, but I’m more in line with Vikar than any other belief system.

To sum up. I believe this is a very good story.

 

Zeroville was written by Steve Erickson, 2007.