Reel Talk

Jason Bourne is an Old Band Struggling to Play the Hits

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I’ve been a fan of James Bond for a really long time. My dad got me into the movies when I was a kid, and I spent a huge portion of my middle and high school years making my way through just about every one of the novels. And that time frame matched up pretty well with the sudden rise of the Jason Bourne movies, and the cultural interest in that series. And I can still remember sitting in the waiting room of my dentist’s office, reading one of the Ian Flemming novels, when my dentist told me that if I liked Bond, I should check out Bourne, because they’re much better. So I did, and I had to respectfully disagree. I read the first two Bourne novels, and checked out all three of the original movies, and I’ve never really found the appeal. They’re certainly more realistic and gritty than the Bond stories, but I personally don’t always find that a marker of something being better. But they were still pretty enjoyable. I honestly don’t remember much of the novels, and probably should revisit them sometime, but the movies I generally hold in pretty decent regard. They’re nothing special, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened in any of them, because they all kind of bleed together into one giant movie that’s basically indistinguishable from each other, but they’re fine. So I wasn’t really expecting a whole lot from this new movie, Jason Bourne, but I still went in with an open mind. The world of surveillance and espionage has changed a lot since the original movies after all, and maybe that had something interesting to say.

Not quite. The movie certainly thought it was saying something interesting, but it failed to create an interesting movie around that. The plot of the film is basically exactly what you thought it was going to be. Jason Bourne is out living his life as a bare-knuckle boxing drifter after finally escaping the clutches of the CIA and their evil Treadwell program in the previous movie. But that all gets blown to hell when he runs into Nicky Parsons, from he previous movies, and she tells him that she found new information about his past. Again. So the two team up during a crazy protest in Greece, and get to work uncovering the truth. Unfortunately Nicky has been found out by the CIA, particularly with the chief of the agency Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and the head of the cyber division, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). They’ve been tracking Nicky, and now Bourne, and have sent in one of the Treadwell assassins, the Asset (Vincent Cassel) to kill them. He manages to kill Nicky, but not Bourne, and sets off the dominoes to have Bourne track them down.

Bourne stars investigating things, and discovers that there are some shady questions behind his father. He apparently always thought his father worked for the agency, but had nothing to do with the Treadwell program, and then was killed by terrorists. But there’s some evidence that seems to indicate that that may not be the case, so he starts trying to uncover the truth while keeping ahead of Dewey and Lee. Which isn’t that hard, since Dewey has his hands full intimidating the head of a Google-esque tech-firm, Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), into letting the CIA have access to everyone’s data otherwise they’ll hit his company with an anti-trust suit. Topical! And after a lot of running around in Europe, having brutal and poorly-shot fight scenes, Bourne figures out that the CIA was involved with his father’s death, and that the Asset was behind it. So he heads to Las Vegas where some sort of security conference is happening that’s being attended by Dewey, Lee, and Kalloor. So we get a bunch of fighting, Lee kills Dewey before he can kill Bourne, Kalloor almost gets assassinated by the Asset for not playing ball, Bourne and the Asset have a huge and destructive car-chase on the Las Vegas Strip, and Bourne finally manages to strangle the Asset to death in some gross sewer under Vegas. And the movie ends with Lee being made the new head of the CIA, while immediately blowing away the trust between her and Bourne that she’d been trying to foster, since these movies are only about Bourne fighting the CIA, they could never get him back on their side.

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It’s kind of insane how much deja vu you get watching this movie. I mentioned earlier that these movies tend to run together in my mind, and I have a hard time distinguishing what scenes happened in which movie. Well you can go ahead and add this movie to the weird mess of scenes that make up the other three, because there’s nothing about this movie that feels different from those other ones. We have another shadowy and clearly evil white guy in charge of everything, the blank-faced female agent who is kind of on Bourne’s side but also kind of not, the evil agent who wants to kill Bourne, endless scenes of computer files being opened, people standing in dark rooms full of computer monitors telling other people to “enhance” images, roughly 1,000 phone calls between people not telling each other the full story, and a bunch of poorly-shot shaky action scenes. That description literally could be for all of these movies. They’re just so paint-by-numbers, and while I usually cut those other ones some slack, this one just feels lazy. There’s not reason that this movie had to be made.

It wasn’t even really saying anything new. They spouted a lot of phrases like Snowden, backdoor, meta-data, and cyber, but I feel like the makers of this movie have no idea what they mean. This could have been a movie about all the crazy invasions of privacy that we’ve been learning about in the real world lately, but instead it was like the creators heard those stories, didn’t really read them, and decided to just make another Jason Bourne movie while mentioning the words. The idea of the CIA blackmailing and trying to assassinate the head of a tech firm because they wouldn’t play ball is interesting, and could have made for an interesting and prescient movie, but it was basically relegated to a side-plot so we could see Jason Bourne beat up a bunch of random dudes while barely speaking to anyone because there’s always more weird shit about his past that he didn’t know. Honestly, the least interesting part of the movie was Jason Bourne! Which is not a good sign. There was an interesting movie in here, but it got ruined the inclusion of Jason Bourne. Or at least the inclusion of Jason Bourne’s life. It maybe would have worked if it was about Jason Bourne uncovering this plot and trying to solve it for his own reasons, that way we wouldn’t be subjugated to a bunch of stupid flash-backs and whining about his past.

And as a side note I just want to mention how weird it is that this movie lines up with the James Bond franchise so well. We have Matt Damon play a super-spy in some movies, leave, have them make another movie with some other dude that only makes one movie, and then Matt Damon comes back to be in a wildly uneven movie that takes place in Las Vegas. This is the Diamonds are Forever of the Bourne series, but without the fun campiness that that movie had.

Jason Bourne was written by Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse, directed by Paul Greengrass, and distributed by Universal Pictures, 2016.

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Reel Talk

Hell or High Water: How the Banks Killed the West

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I’ve said before on this site that the film genre I probably have the least amount of familiarity with is the Western. And it’s something that I’ve been trying to fix. I really love the aesthetic, I just haven’t had a lot of experience with the actual movies. And since I’ve inflicted the ridiculous goal upon myself to see 366 movies I haven’t seen before this year, I’ve been trying to make up for that. And it’s gone pretty well. I’ve seen a lot of classic Westerns, and I’ve really begun to see the real appeal of the genre. But one thing that I’ve noticed that’s a little strange is the fixation on the time period of the Wild West. This may seem stupid, but I think it’s a real shame that we don’t really take the themes of the Western and try to either transpose it to a different time period or location. There a couple movies, like No Country for Old Men, which does this really well, but by and large it’s not just done. It’s kind of like how typically Fantasy is relegated to wizards and goblins and whatnot. So I’m always on the lookout for a Western that doesn’t fall in line with genre conventions. And I’ve found a hell of an example of that.

Hell or High Water is a fascinating little movie from Scottish director David Mackenzie that I got to check out in a sneak peak the other day, and it’s really great. The story is pretty simple, and primarily revolves around two duos. First we have Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), two brothers in West Texas who have decided to start robbing different branches on a bank. And the other is two Texas Rangers, the grizzled old Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his longsuffering partner Alberto (Gil Burmingham). Tanner has recently been released from jail for previous bank robbery, and Toby is the more straight-laced one, who stayed at home with their dying mother on their crappy ranch, letting his marriage fall apart. But when they find oil on the ranch, he decides to start robbing the banks that own the mortgage on the ranch so they can pay it back with the banks own money, and get the ranch back so they can exploit it for the oil so his kids can be set for life.

And that’s basically what the movie is about. We alternate between the brothers and the Rangers, who are hot on their trail. This is going to be Marcus’ last case, and he’s making the most of it, getting all his best insults toward Albeto out of the way, and dragging his feet to make his glory last as long as possible. Meanwhile we see the quiet and kind Toby violating almost all of his principles while trying to keep the wild and vindictive Tanner in line. But that obviously doesn’t last, because after one of the robberies goes wrong and Tanner has to kill several people, they get chased out of town by a bunch of gun-toting Texans, and are on the run. Marcus and Alberto hear about the chase, and join in too, while Tanner is able to get Toby out of danger, and headed in the opposite direction as he leads the police farther into the middle of nowhere to make his last stand. And in the end, Toby basically wins. He’s able to buy back the ranch, gets the oil company in, gets a boatload of money, gives it all to his wife and kids, and is ready to live his life full of guilt for the crimes he’s committed. And the movie ends with that pleasant lack of resolution, with Toby and Marcus chatting about how they both know what really happened, and both of them kind of wishing that the encounter lead to their deaths, but letting it go so just keep living their broken lives.

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I really dug this movie. It was shot in a very interesting way, with a lot of longing and loving shots of both the desolate beauty of West Texas, and the dilapidated ruins of the small towns that populate it. Plus some original music from Nick Cave is always going to make your bleak neo-Western more interesting, and really helped with the mood. But the real draws of this film were the performances. Everyone’s chemistry was great, and the two central relationships at the center of the movie were incredibly believable. Pine and Foster made a great pair of brothers who were clearly not that close. It’s well established that Tanner has been in jail most of his life, so he clearly doesn’t really know Toby all that well, but their brotherly love/duty keeps them together, through the thick of things. They pick on each other, yell at each other, and laugh with each other, just like real brothers would. They have highs and lows, but in the end they have a bond that can’t be broken, and Tanner doesn’t think twice about giving his life to save Toby and their mission. And then there’s the two Rangers. I’m beyond glad that we’re still in Jeff Bridge’s “grizzled cow-poke” phase of his career, and he doesn’t it great. But the real draw here is how he bounces off Gil Birmingham’s Alberto. Marcus treats Alberto a bit like a little brother as well, constantly picking on him, making fun of his mixed race heritage, and just generally belittling his police work. But it become abundantly clear that Marcus really appreciates Alberto and would be lost without him, and he seems to be one of the major factors that’s making Marcus fear his retirement, fearing that what he thinks is good-natured ribbing has actually caused a divide between the two.

But as great as the performances and technical aspects of the film was, I think the thing that most moved me was the central themes of the film. There’s a lot to this movie, like brotherly love, and how we can destroy our futures to save the futures of our children, but there’s a main thing that really struck me about this movie. The role of banks in the West. It’s not a particularly unique perspective, I mean that’s basically what the Grapes of Wrath is about. But it really worked for this story. The central idea of them using the bank’s money to pay back the bank is pretty great, but throughout the movie they really hammer in the idea that the banks have a long history of screwing over everyone. There’s not a single character, other than the bankers I suppose, who really think that robbing a bank is that bad of a thing. They just didn’t like the murder. The Rangers are constantly talking to Texans who have nothing but bad things to say about the banks. Every small town that the characters visit are ghost-towns, because everyone’s been evicted. And then there’s a great scene between Marcus and Alberto when Alberto pretty perfectly sums the history of Texas up by saying that the Texans stole the land from the Comanche, and the banks are stealing it from the Texans. And that’s kind of the crux of the movie. The movie has a plot that honestly could have worked as a classic Western set in the Old West, but thanks to the devastation that the banks have caused, it takes place in a barren wasteland of modern rural Texas. We talk a lot about the death of the American West, and I feel like this movie really beleives, and it’s probably accurate, that the banks were one of the contributing factors to it’s death. Which isn’t to say that I’m one of those idiots that think that they should do whatever they want on their ranches and shoot government officials who try to take the land that doesn’t belong to them, those people are ridiculous and should be arrested, but it’s an interesting idea to investigate nonetheless. And it all came together to be a hell of a fun, tense, and exciting little heist movie with something on it’s mind.

 

Hell or High Water was written by Taylor Sheridan, directed by David Mackenzie, and released by CBS Films, 2016.

 

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Page Turners

Death Masks: Don’t Trust Demons

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It’s that time again folks, time to check in on our favorite wizard/detective Harry Dresden. I talked about the fourth entry in the wonderful Dresden Files series a while back, and I took a bit of a break to pick up the fifth book, figuring that some variety is important. But that itch for a light-hearted and exciting little paranormal noir started to perk up after finishing Shining Girls earlier this month, so I figured it was time to see what new adventures Harry was up to. And I’m pleased to report that what I got was another excellent addition to this series that both managed to have a good stand-alone story that featured Harry at his most Indiana Jones, while also featuring new additions to the over-arching story that the whole series has been telling up until now, coming together to deliver another great read.

The plot of the novel picks up some time after Summer Knight ends and things haven’t changed all that much for Harry. The war between his society of wizards and a group of violent vampires known as the Red Court has been ramping up, his girlfriend Susan is still hiding out and coming to grips with her recent turn to vampirism, and Harry’s just trying to scrape by a living. But things start to take a turn when he goes on some sort of local Jerry Springer-esque show and gets into a conversation with two of the other guests, a representative of the Red Court named Ortega and a Catholic priest named Father Vincent. Ortega is there to tell Harry that he’s proposing a duel to the death between himself and Harry, which would end the war, and Father Vincent is there to offer Harry a new job, looking for the recently stolen Shroud of Turin. Harry agrees to both men, and sets off planning for both plots.

And in true Dresden Files fashion, it starts becoming apparent that both of these missions are linked. It starts off when he decides to go find his good friend Michael Carpenter, a holy paladin with a magical sword, to be his second in the duel, and gets embroiled in an insane plot that Michael and his fellow Knights are solving involving a group of demons called the Denarians, fallen angels who have powers derived from the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas. So on top of all of this, Harry has demons to deal with. But Michael agrees to be Harry’s second, and he heads off to start tracking down the Shroud, which he finds in the hands of two thieves. And wouldn’t you know, these thieves are also being hunted by Denarians.  And to complicate matters even further, Harry girlfriend Susan shows up back in town, claiming to be there shutting down her previous life, but as we eventually learn, she’s a member of some sort of group of vampires who hate their vampirism, and are trying to take down the Red Court.

So there’s a lot of balls in the air, and things get even more difficult when the leader of the Denarians, a being called Nicodemus, shows up and starts throwing wrenches in the various schemes, even going so far as to tempt Harry with one of the silver coins. But our Harry keeps his head straight, and just keeps trucking through with the plan, messing up the duel, fighting the Denarians, and uncovering their insane plot to use the power of the Shroud to create an unbeatable plague that would wipe out mankind. And it’s not too much of a spoiler to just say that the good guys win, for now, Susan leaves again, the Knights succeed in killing a bunch of Denarians, Nicodemus gets away to return as a recurring villain, and Harry gets his hands on one of the coins, only to bury it in his basement.

I just have an incredibly strong affection for this series. I’ve talked way too much on this site about my enduring love of noir, and I still think it’s brilliant how Jim Butcher took the trappings of the noir hardboiled detective genre and slapped a coat of magical paint on it. I can quibble that this book didn’t feature near enough of Harry being a detective, some of my favorite aspects of the previous novels, but that didn’t stop this book from being a lot of fun. All of the recurring characters are here, shining and being as good as ever, and we even get some new characters that I’m sure will stick around and become favorites in the books to come. And really, even though it wasn’t as grounded in a semblance of reality that some of the other books featured, it was pretty fun to see Harry go full Indiana Jones and track down a religious relic to stop some world-ending catastrophe. It wasn’t exactly the Harry Dresden I’m used to, but it was still the character that I love, just a different aspect of him. It wasn’t my favorite of the series, but I think it laid a lot of groundwork to really bring something special in the coming books.

Death Masks was written by Jim Butcher, 2003.

Bat Signal

Issue 93 – “One Night of Crime”

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You know what type of issue we haven’t had in a while here on Bat Signal, that I’ve gotten oddly fond of? One of those silly ones where it’s just Batman and Robin running around after some virtually nameless goons. Preferably with a bizarre trip to the woods. Well, while I didn’t pull one with any visits to the vast woods surrounding Gotham, I did happen to pull one with a whole lot of anonymous goon action! Although I’ll be the first to admit that the cover of this issue really promised more than it delivered. But that’s kind of par for the course for this era of the comics. We sadly aren’t going to see Robin reenacting any crazy Pit and the Pendulum action this week, instead we get out first real foray into some racially questionable caricatures! I’m pretty shocked it’s taken this long!

The story starts off with a man trying to sell tickets for his “rubber-neck tour,” which I eventually realized was basically just a sight-seeing tour of Gotham’s landmarks while riding on an ugly bus. We’re the introduced to some of the people who will be taking this bus ride, like Mary Dale the failed actress, Eddie and Johnny who are two boys who have run away from home to become amateur detectives in Gotham, and Victor Clement a playwright with writers block. Why have we been introduced to these people? I’m not sure, they’ve barely important. But what is important is the fact that some goons have robbed a bank for $50,000 just a couple blocks away. The gang gets away and start trying to make a run for it, only to be stopped by Batman and Robin. The Dynamic Duo starts beating the hell out of the goons while making bad jokes, not noticing that the leader of the gang has sneaked away with the money. And how is he going to escape? Why he’s going to get on the sight-seeing tour of course!

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Unfortunately while our main goon Tiger is boarding the bus he’s spotted by a member of a different gang named Frenchy, who decides to call in to his bosses with the tip. We’re then treated to seeing some of the seedier parts of Gotham thanks to the tour, like Little Bohemia the artist district, the “Port of Missing Men” which seems to be all brothels and bars, and of course Chinatown, which is just full of racially sensitive portrayals. But it’s in Chinatown that disaster strikes, because as everyone is busy gawking at some Buddhas, the members of Frenchy’s gang show up to knock the the bus driver out and take his place. They then hilariously keep doing the tour for a while, telling people about the various prisons that they’ve been in until Tiger finally notices something is suspicious and recognizes the other gangsters. They then promptly shoot and kill Tiger, and start a goddamn hostage situation.

This new gang obviously doesn’t want the several witnesses on the bus to testify against them though, so they drive the bus to one of their garage hideouts while the news of the kidnapping spreads. The driver of the bus has come to and told the police, so they start broadcasting about the hijacking, and of course Batman and Robin hear about it and start speeding towards Chinatown. Meanwhile, the bus has been put in the gangster’s garage, and they’ve started their incredibly complicated plan. Instead of just shooting the tour group they decide to tie them all to the bus-seats, roll down all the windows, seal the garage, and flood it, drowning them all. What the hell? Luckily though the gangsters don’t tie up Mary the actress, because she fainted before the tying began and they didn’t care about her, and she was just faking so when they leave she starts untrying everyone. And once they’re all free the two little detective kids write a note saying what’s going on and use their slingshot to fire it out of a window. And can you guess who happens to be walking by?

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I love that these little dorks have not only signed their full names, but also claimed to be amateur detectives on their note. Anyway, Batman and Robin decide that they should take care of the goons before freeing the soon to be drowned prisoners, and get to work beating the hell out of them. But while they’re fighting one of the guys gets the slip on the Dynamic Duo and knocks them unconscious, only to toss them into the bus room to drown as well. Good work guys! Anyway, they come to and talk with the other captives, doing their best to act like they have a hold of the situation.

And now that they’re in the bus they quickly take charge of the group, and get planning their escape. Which gets pretty ridiculous! Because Batman’s idea is to rip up some strips of steel that line the floor of the bus, put the steel strips up against the wall to function as a ramp, get the bus going and then drive it up the ramp to create a ladder that they can climb to get out the little window that the boys shot the note through. Instead of just using their Batarangs or something to just climb, but whatever, maybe they don’t have them. Even though we saw them use them earlier. And later. But that’s neither here nor there, because they get everyone out and Batman and Robin bust back into the gang’s hideout to start beating them up. Except this time it works! So the goons are brought to justice, the playwright decides to write a play based on the adventure, the actress gets a job in his play, the dorky kids decide to go home, and Batman and Robin are proud to have another crime solved.

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I generally liked this issue, even though it wasn’t the best one of this odd little sub-genre. I think it’s mainly because Batman and Robin did a pretty crappy job, overall. yeah, they won in the end, but they still let the goons get away, chose to fight the other goons instead of saving the captives first, and then proceed to get beat up by the goons and tossed in with the captives. Get it together guys. But hey, it’s still pretty fun in the way a lot of these old issues are. Yeah, I wish that that crazy cover actually happened, but there was still a lot of fun and goofy stuff to like in this issue. I mentioned earlier that there’s a bit of problematic race stuff with the whole visit to Chinatown, but really other than that there was some great art in this issue. Plus, I’m always a fan of checking out the weird parts of Gotham, so even though the whole tour-bus thing was a little odd, it had some fun stuff in it. This wasn’t the worst issue I’ve had, but it wasn’t the best in a while. Just a fun and forgettable one.

“One Night of Crime” was written by Bill Finger and drawn by Dick Sprang and Ed Kressy, 1944.

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S12 E11 – Worst Episode Ever

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We’ve tackled a whole bunch of secondary characters so far on the Simpsons. Hell, we’ve even had episodes revolving around a lot of tertiary characters. We had a whole episode about Otto for god’s sake. So how about an episode about Comic Book Guy? Sure, why not.

The episode starts off with the family sitting around eating breakfast when Lisa finds an ancient box of baking soda in the fridge. It’s apparently been there since the family moved in, and it looks disgusting. So obviously Bart has to bet Homer that he won’t eat it, which Homer promptly accepts. He then takes a bite of the soda, which has been soaked with the flavors of decade’s worth of meals, causing Homer to have a crazy antacid flashback where he trips out. And since he’s a little out of sorts, Bart just grabs the $50 that they bet, and heads out to spend it.

So Bart meets up with Milhouse and the two decide to go on a spending spree with their newfound wealth. The hit up the Kwik-E-Mart where Apu acts as their personal candy sommelier to get them all the sugar they can handle. Next up they go to a Laundromat to get their clothes dried with fabric softener, because Milhouse is a dweeb. And after that failure they head to the Android’s Dungeon, excited about the new Radioactive Man #1,000.

Unfortunately when they get there they find that the new issue is ridiculously expensive, and they can’t actually afford it. Which obviously results in them getting mocked by Comic Book Guy. But they quickly have their comeuppance because Martin’s mother comes in with a box of crap she found in their attic, and wants to know if it’s worth something. And it totally is, because it’s a box of Star Wars relics that Comic Book Guy can’t even believe. So he decides to lowball her, causing Bart and Milhouse to scare her off by saying she’s being ripped off. And this loss of nerdy relics is enough to get Comic Book Guy to ban the two from the store forever.

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And that banning quickly becomes pressing because it turns out that special effects wizard Tom Savini is coming to the Android’s Dungeon for some reason, and everyone wants to go. Homer comes up with a plan to sneak the boys in by pulling a goddamn Little Rascals by standing on their shoulders in a trench coat, but Comic Book Guy figures the plan out immediately, and kicks them back out. So the kids have to peer into the windows and watch the show, which doesn’t go well. Savini does all sorts of tricks, and ends up mocking Comic Book Guy until he freaks out and tries to ban everyone in the audience, where he promptly has a heart attack.

But he’s okay, because Bart and Milhouse apparently took it upon themselves to call an ambulance, even though Comic Book Guy has been such an ass to them. So he’s alive, but he’s going to need some recuperation, and for some reason that’s not properly explained, he decides to let Bart and Milhouse run his store until he’s back to a healthy state. Sure, let some ten year olds run your business, that’s surely not a stressful scenario.

Whatever, Comic Book Guy decides to go live his life and relax while Bart and Milhouse get to work at the comic shop. They decide to make some changes to the store, making it more kid-friendly, and it turns into the place to be among the Elementary School kids. However we see that there’s a bit of a management problem, because Bart quickly establishes himself as the brains of the operation, while Milhouse takes a more subservient role and gets bossed around by Bat while doing all the work.

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Meanwhile, Homer and Comic Book Guy decide to start hanging out for some reason, and they head to Moe’s to make friends. Which doesn’t go well, since Comic Book Guy is abrasive and horrible. So he’s kicked out of Moe’s and starts looking for more friends, causing him to go to a class about friend-making. But he doesn’t even make it into the class, because he runs into Agnes Skinner, who is also going in, and they strike up a conversation based on their mutual horribleness, and decide to spend time together.

But while Comic Book Guy is making his first friend, Bart and Milhouse’s relationship is starting to strain. Mainly because Milhouse decides to impress Lisa by being a manager, and gets taken advantage of by a salesman who convinces Milhouse to buy 2,000 issues of some terrible comic about a superhero with glasses. And it doesn’t go over well. No one wants the terrible comic, and it causes Bart and Milhouse to start fighting in the store. But after a minor tussle, they make a wonderful discovery after they fall through a She-Hulk poster and find a secret room in the Android’s Dungeon full of Comic Book Guy’s bootleg video tapes.

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Oh, and Comic Book Guy and Agnes have started a relationship, mostly based on mutual disdain for the rest of the world. They walk around ruining people’s days, and even go on a date after Comic Book Guy has an incredibly uncomfortable time with Seymour. But back to the tapes! Because Bart and Milhouse have stopped all of their squabbling and are taking advantage of all of Comic Book Guy’s amazing tapes. Which is when Milhouse has a great idea, to start charging kids in the neighborhood to watch the tapes.

So they hold a little film festival and get all of the kids in town to come look at such wonderful things as alien autopsies, Kent Brockman picking his nose, and Ned Flanders informing to the police that Homer released a radioactive ape into his house. Unfortunately these children didn’t keep their underground quite underground enough, because the cops find them and raid the store. And after establishing that these kids didn’t create all these illegal tapes they head to Comic Books Guy’s apartment and arrest him after he has sex with Agnes. So now Comic Book Guy has a heart condition, is arrested, and has no one to run his business. But the episode is over, so I guess it all just works itself out. Oh, and we get to see that ape picking on Ned as a fun little button.

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I think I like this episode, but I’m kind of not sure. I’ve never been a huge fan of Comic Book Guy as a character, mainly because he works best as basically a walking joke and less as an actual character, but the episode is still pretty fun. It’s pretty stupid though. Because seriously, he puts two ten-year olds in charge of his livelihood? That’s some weird stuff. But the Bart and Milhouse stuff was a lot of fun, and I liked it quite a bit. Their hold friendship is a little strange, and this episode really took advantage of this and let their differences play out in a fun way. I just feel like it’s kind of unbalanced. Some fun Bart and Milhouse stuff doesn’t really make up for the weird premise, the bizarre choice of having Comic Book Guy and Agnes become sexual, and the ending that just kind of ends in the middle of a plot just don’t quite gel into a fully functional episode, but it did make one that was enjoyable for the twenty-some minutes I was watching it.

Take Away: Don’t let children run your business. Especially if you’re doing illegal things there.

 

“Worst Episode Ever” was written by Larry Doyle and directed by Matthew Nastuk, 2001.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S12 E10 – Pokey Mom

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It’s a big day folks. No, not really because of the episode. It’s okay and has some fun Michael Keaton action, but that’s not the important part. Today is July 28, my birthday, which mean this project has been going for a year now. Holy shit. Other than a couple time I’ve missed I’ve had one of these posted every weekday for a year. This is the 258th episode! I’ve had 258 articles about the goddamn Simpsons! And I’m not even halfway through! I’m excited, but a little horrified that I haven’t even reached the peak of the journey. But whatever, let’s move on and get going with a pretty fun Marge episode.

Things start off with Marge nagging Homer about taking her to some sort of apron expo. Which sounds pretty thrilling you guys. And despite Homer’s complaining, she convinces him to go, so the whole family heads out to check out aprons. Luckily we aren’t then barraged with several minutes of sight-gags relating to aprons, and just cut straight to them driving home, with aprons, when the real plot gets going. Because on their way home they pass a sign for a prison rodeo, and you better believe the Simpsons have to check that out!

So the Simpsons head into the prison and go to some sort of stadium that the prison has for some reason. And from there it’s basically just convicts being forced to participate in rodeo games, seemingly against their wills. And after some average rodeo stuff we see a convict named Jack who is going to try and ride a bull. But the bull knocks him off, breaks his arm, and starts running around angrily. Marge freaks out, and Homer decides he can fix things by pissing the bull off with Lisa’s red dress. Unfortunately this works too well, and the bull attacks Homer, jacking up his back, and spooking a guard into shooting tear gas at the audience.

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So Homer’s taken to the prison infirmary to get his back checked out, and while he’s complaining Marge starts wandering around with the wounded convicts, and finds a cool painting of Jimi Hendrix. She talks to Homer about it, and is shocked when the Warden says it was painted by the Jack guy from earlier, along with several other painting around the infirmary. The Warden has nothing but bad things to say about Jack, but Marge can’t help but think that there must be a sensitive soul somewhere in there, based on the art.

So the family heads home, and Marge just can’t get Jack out of her head. She knows that he has talent, and wants to help him out, so she heads to the prison to start teaching art classes. Which doesn’t go great, since the prison will only let them paint sauerkraut lit by light through bars. But Jack is doing great, and is painting some wonderful stuff, and his continuing charm just keeps pushing Marge to believe that he’s a good man.

Oh, and Homer’s back is still hurting him. So he heads over to Dr. Hibbert’s and learns that Western medicine has no idea what to do about back pain, and just tells Homer to check out a chiropractor. So Homer goes a meets with Dr. Steve the chiropractor, and gets his back cracked, giving him some minor relief. So he signs up to start coming back to Dr. Steve for future adjustments.

But back to the main plot, Marge has decided to speak at Jack’s parole hearing, and even bakes some cookies to woo the parole board. Which doesn’t go that great. They still think that Jack is a scumbag, even though he’s in prison for shooting Apu, which is just a fine now, and even Apu says he’s a good guy. But the Warden decides to call Marge’s bluff, and releases Jack into her custody. Which doesn’t really seem like something a Warden should be doing, but what do I know?

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So Jack comes home and becomes like the fiftieth person to live in the Simpson’s basement. We also get the amazing Mecca joke from him:

Marge: “I hope this is okay. It’s not very prison.”

Jack: “It’s more than I deserve, ma’am. Now, which way is Mecca? Cause I got to do a little praying.”

Marge: “Uh, Mecca? Well…”

Jack: [laughing] “No, I’m just yanking your chain….I’m Jewish!”

Solid. Anyway, Jack start making himself at home as Homer realizes that his back adjustment isn’t working anymore since he’s in stabbing pain while raking leaves. But he makes an amazing discovery when he fall over, and lands on the trashcan, and is shocked to see that stretching his back on the cylinder has fixed whatever was wrong. He’s a genius!

And because Homer’s always out to find a way to get rich, he decides to go into business and start his own little clinic in the garage where he just pushes people over his trash can in the hopes that it fixes their backs. And shockingly, it’s doing great, and he’s getting a lot of business and happy customers. So that’s good I guess.

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Meanwhile, Jack is still looking for a job, and Marge thinks she’s found the perfect thing. Turns out Springfield Elementary is looking for someone to paint a mural for them, and Marge gets Jack an audition, while neglecting to mention that he’s an ex-con. But issues spring up immediately, because Jack decides to essentially paint a badass heavy metal album cover, and it’s not what Skinner wants. So Skinner forces him to paint some cutsey bullshit, which isn’t making him happy.

But before we see the end of that plot we quickly jump over to Homer to see the ridiculous ending of his silly side-plot. He’s hanging out with Moe, trying to fix his back, when two “investors” who up wanting to buy Homer’s designs. But when Homer starts thinking about it, they steal his trash can, and flee, revealing themselves to secretly be chiropractors. So Homer and Moe run out to stop them, only to see them and Dr. Steve destroying the can with plastic spines, and then flee into the night.

Anyway, we cut over to the ceremony unveiling the mural, and shockingly, everyone is disappointed with the cute thing Skinner asked for. Everyone turns on it, and Skinner even shifts blame to Jack, who starts to snap. And then later, coincidentally, the mural suddenly catches fire, leaving Jack the main suspect. Skinner is pissed, and becomes even more angry when Marge lets it slip that Jack was an ex-con.

So everyone starts to look for Jack, and Marge ends up finding him hiding in the playground, saying that he didn’t cause the fire, and that no one will believe him. So Marge decides to cause a distraction, letting him run away, but is then shocked to find him lighting Skinner’s car on fire. And when he tried to tell Marge that he didn’t burn Skinner’s car, she realizes he’s crazy, and has Chief Wiggum arrest him and take him back to prison. Where he’s treated to a weird conversation about HBO shows.

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This was a fun little episode. I’m always a fan of episodes that revolve around Marge, and aren’t about how shitty the family are treating her. I’ve always loved the idea that Marge has a passion for art, and I feel like it’s never properly exploited. But this one really worked for me. Marge is totally the type of person who would see someone with art talent, and think that they’re misunderstood and have something more going on in their life. Because she knows she has artistic talent and is a good person, so everyone with that talent should be good. Unfortunately it doesn’t really pan out for her, but I don’t get the idea that she’s going to become jaded or anything for this story. It just worked great for me. Plus, the Homer plot was silly and fun, and led to a great Chinatown homage, which is always welcome. It was just a really fun episode, and an interesting one to land on for the year anniversary of the project, and I look forward to venturing into the Dark Ages and the Unknown Ages with you all.

Take Away: Some people just suck, chiropractors are shady people, and if you put your mind to something you can accomplish a monumentally goofy task.

 

“Pokey Mom” was written by Tom Martin and directed by Bob Anderson, 2001.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S12 E09 – HOMЯ

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Look what we have here everybody, an episode that was shockingly more sweet than I remembered, despite revolving around a crayon lodged in someone’s brain!

Things start off with the Simpsons heading to the convention center for some sort of animation convention. Because those are incredibly common. Whatever, it leads to some great gags, like the incredibly accurate joke about anime involving scantily clad women, robots, and post apocalyptic scenery. We also see that all cartoon voices are just rip-offs of famous actors, an old racist Itchy and Scratchy commercial for cigarettes, and Ned and the kids watching a Davey and Goliath parody about sending pipe-bombs to Planned Parenthood. Which is probably something Christian kids actually watch today.

But after the sight-gags we have the family meet together and check out some demonstration for a motion-capture animation company called Animotion. Homer obviously offers to demonstrate the technology, and gets up on the stage to put on the suit. He starts capering about, and the people love it, even when he starts peeing. So Homer has obviously found his next get-rich-quick scheme, and heads down to a stock exchange and buys a whole bunch of stock in Animotion.

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And wouldn’t you know, the next day Animotion declares bankruptcy, and Homer loses all of his money. Good going Homer. You would think that at this point in the series Homer would know not to mess with the stock market. So Homer needs money. And after Marge shoots down his genius surrogate mother idea, he heads to Moe’s to complain. And shockingly, Barney has an idea. He apparently makes his money getting tested on by scientists, and tells Homer that he actually makes good money doing that.

So Homer heads to a research lab, and offers to get experimented on. Which doesn’t go well. He takes a diet pill that makes him blind, uses perfume that burns his skin horribly, and just keeps losing a simple pattern game to a mouse that he evidently brought in with him. Which makes the scientists wonder why Homer’s so dumb. They then start looking at the MRI’s of his brain that they took, and are stunned to find something out of the ordinary. A crayon crammed into Homer’s frontal lobe. They theorize that this is what’s causing Homer’s low intelligence (despite the frontal lobe not having a whole lot to do with that) and offer to remove it for him.

So Homer gets the crayon removed, and instantly gets smarter. He heads home to the family, and stuns them with his new intellect, which Marge and Bart have to verify with Lisa, since they aren’t sure if the things he’s saying are true. And everyone’s happy! Especially Lisa, since she now has someone of similar intelligence to talk with. They even go to the library together and spend the day reading and bonding.

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And things are just going great for Homer. He spends his time solving Rubix cubes while listening to NPR, delivers a speech to the kids at Springfield Elementary about not sticking things in your nose, uses math to prove that there’s no God, and compiles a safety report on the Plant. And it’s that last thing that gets him in trouble, because Homer sends it straight to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who promptly head to the Plant to shut it down, causing Homer and all his friends to get laid off.

And just like that, everyone turns on Homer, even to the point that they start burning him in effigy at Moe’s. So Homer freaks out, and heads home to talk with Lisa about this strange phenomenon of people hating smart people. And Lisa just opens up to him and tells him that when you’re smart, people like you less, and that it’s just kind of a rough life. So she gives Homer the advice to just go for a walk and think things through.

So Homer hops in his car and starts driving around, ending up in a movie to watch some terrible romantic comedy. Everyone else in the theater loves the movie, but Homer thinks it’s stupid, and gets yelled at for not going along with everyone else. And with one attempt down, Homer starts wandering the town, finding that no one wants to be nice to smart people. So with no alternatives left, he goes to the research lab and asks them to re-dumb him.

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The scientists refuse to do it, but do give him the name of an unlicensed surgeon who would perform the operation. Moe! Sure, why not. Homer heads to Moe’s with a crayon, and asks Moe to hammer it back into his brain. Meanwhile, Lisa is drawing a picture of Homer, and realizes that she’s missing a crayon, and puts it together right as Homer comes home, dumb again. Lisa is obviously devastated about that, but finds that Homer wrote her a letter before he got the crayon again, and reads it. And it’s super emotional. It’s basically telling her that his brief time being smart shows him how special and strong she is for dealing with this all the time. So even though he’s dumb now, she knows that Homer has a deep respect and love for her, and the two embrace. Even though we end with a stupid tag about Homer eating a sandwich instead of enjoying the moment.

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This episode is actually really great. There’s some issues, and it doesn’t really hold up with some of the great Homer/Lisa episodes, but for this era it’s pretty terrific. Homer losing the families entire life-savings is a pretty worn out story element at this point in the show, but whatever, it leads to something new that they hadn’t done before. I like the idea of Homer suddenly getting intelligent, and that he actually should be smart like Mona and Lisa, and they used that idea to great effect. I love seeing Homer and Lisa, both smart for once, bonding as Lisa shows him what she lives through every day. And of course Homer is the type of guy who can’t stand the pressure of intelligence, and buckles to join the rank of idiots that inhabit Springfield. And man that ending is sweet. I love Homer and Lisa’s relationship, and seeing Homer finally know what it’s like to be Lisa is incredible. I really hate that they had to end on the stupid sandwich joke instead of just appreciating the sweet hug moment, but whatever, beggars can’t be choosers.

Take Away: Don’t put things in your nose.

 

“HOMR” was written by Al Jean and directed by Mike B Anderson, 2001.

 

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