Lifetime of Simpsons

S14 E13 – A Star is Born-Again

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It’s been an interesting week here on Lifetime of Simpsons. We’ve passed 300 episodes, we’ve had high, and we’ve had lows. So let’s end the week with some good old-fashioned romance!

The episode begins with Bart and Lisa being super excited to go to the beach, while Marge seems miserable. She’s apparently been up all night mending Homer’s swim-suit, and just kind of seems like a zombie. But she manages to get everyone ready, they pile into the car and head down to the beach with the rest of the town. Apparently Springfield has some annual celebration where a bunch of horrible jellyfish migrate back to their beach, so everyone’s there to watch the gross things arrive.

This is apparently a huge deal in Springfield, and after looking at the jellyfish arrive, they just keep hanging out on the beach and end up having a huge party with dancing and romance at the Squidport. Everyone seems happy and in love. Well, everyone except Ned, who still hasn’t moved on since Maude’s death. He just kind of awkwardly stands there, talking to Captain McCallister until he decides that this whole event is meant for lovers, and chooses to leave and go back to the mall to work at the Leftorium while everyone else is having a good time.

So Ned opens up his store and start working on his taxes, when he unexpectedly gets a customer. It’s a woman who seems to be in a disguise, and who is visiting Springfield from Los Angeles. The two strike up a conversation, and they actually end up flirting a bit. She seems very amused by the fact that Ned doesn’t seem to know who she is, and asks him out to dinner since she’s going to be in town for a while, and doesn’t know anyone.

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Ned agrees and they make a date for the following night. And as soon as she leaves Ned begins dancing around and singing, and heads home. But as he leaves his store, he passes by the movie theater in the mall, and sees a movie poster which features the woman he just met. That’s right, Ned just met an actress named Sara Sloane who is apparently a huge deal. So Ned does what he always does, and runs home to talk to Homer about dating a movie star. And even though he doesn’t have good advice, Ned gets the confidence to go through with the date.

So the next night Ned and Sara have a nice date together, and only get mildly creeped out by Lenny who wanders up to gawk at her celebrity. And after dinner they walk around the Squidport together while Ned just drones on with boring stories about his goober children. But for some reason this charms Sara, who likes that Ned is just an average guy, and they two end up having a great time and even kiss.

But the relationship quickly becomes a bit of an issue, because the tabloids have somehow learned of this huge movie start dating some random dude, and they descend on Springfield to get a story. They burst into Ned’s house while Sara is just hanging out with Ned and the boys, and they end up having to run away. And it’s not just paparazzi that are making things difficult, because it turns out Ned is a super pushy boyfriend, and tries to talk the director of the movie Sara’s in town filming out of all the nudity that was supposed to be in it. But I guess Sara likes that, so whatever.

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The two continue to date, and even have a weird double date with the Simpsons, at the Simpsons house, since we haven’t seen them enough this episode I guess. Although it does lead to more tabloid attacks, and an irate Ranier Wolfcastle to show up. And after that dinner the two head out for a walk, and end up talking about their relationship. Turns out the movie is almost wrapped, and Sara will be moving back to Hollywood. She asks Ned to join her. This causes Ned to have a hilarious fantasy about the evils of Hollywood and James L Brooks before refusing to go. And shockingly, Sara decides that that means she’ll stay in Springfield.

So yeah, a huge movie star will now live in Springfield, and just like when Alec Baldwin and Kim Bassigner moved in, the townsfolk get crazy. But Sara seems to cope better, and even starts to ingratiate herself in Springfield social scene, even joining some sad book club that Marge participates in, and one ups everyone by inviting the author of the book they’re discussing.

But things take a turn when everyone in town is planning to go to some outdoor orchestra event, and Ned is shocked at the revealing dress that Sara has chosen to wear. He’s a little embarrassed by her, and makes that clear, until she tells him that she wants to have sex, which I guess they haven’t done yet. And Ned is awkward. The two go to some secluded town overlook, and discuss premarital sex with Bible verses. But in the end, they go through with it, and the Ned’s apparently amazing. But he tells her that she only gets one for free, and that they now have to get married, and Sara decides that this isn’t working out. The two end their relationship pretty amicably, and she moves back to Hollywood to continue her life, and Ned continues his life with all the single ladies in Springfield flirting with him.

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Ned’s character arc over the last few seasons has really been interesting. I always liked Ned as a character, but killing Maude really changed him. I complained in the episode about Maude’s death that it was more about Ned trying to move on than mourning his wife, but every episode that followed about Ned’s life has been pretty interesting. He’s had highs and lows, and this is a really interesting episode that adds to his life-story. The idea that Ned’s dating a movie star honestly wasn’t that interesting to me, it was more the idea that he’s dating at all. He’d previously been shown to be a little odd when it came to dating people after Maude, but this time he’s pretty healthy. He gets a little clingy and protective of her, and the whole premarital sex thing is odd, but he actually has a normal and romantic relationship with a woman. Yeah, it doesn’t work out, but the episode implies that Ned is going to do alright, and that he’s passed a huge milestone in his life, and that he’s further down the path of moving on with his life than ever before. This episode would have been better if they didn’t have to shove the Simpsons family into it every now and then, but as it stands we got a well-made and intriguing story about Ned Flanders, and his growth as a person and a character.

Take Away: Moving on is hard, and it may require the right partner, but you’ll be so glad when you get through it.

 

“A Star is Born-Again” was written by Brian Kelley and directed by Michael Marcantel, 2003.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S14 E12 – I’m Spelling as Fast as I Can

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Hey everybody, are you ready for some hot spelling bee action? And a goddamn George Plimpton cameo? Let’s get going!

Our episode starts off with Bart sitting around watching some Elvira knock-off host a delightful film where Frankenstein and the Mummy play the Harlem Globetrotters at basketball. It looks like a fun movie, and features a cameo from Ray Romano, but we of course have to leave that insanity to check out a commercial for the Kwik-E-Mart to establish that it’s back to school time. Oh, and I love that a) Apu have the money to advertise on TV, and b) he’s in the ad, and not like, a national spokesperson. Oh, and we also learn that there’s some new sandwich at Krusty Burger called the Rib-Wich, and Homer’s psyched.

Anyway, we cut straight over to the school on the first day, with all the students in the auditorium for an opening assembly. Skinner for some reason thinks that the best way to christen this new school year is to have a school-wide spelling bee, so that’s what they do. We get to see some gags, like Bart get ridiculed for saying “I am pee,” and Milhouse choking on the word choke.

And, obviously, Lisa is the winner of the spelling bee, is now the best speller in the school, and gets the opportunity to represent the school in a state-wide spelling bee that’s coming up. So Lisa goes home and tells her parents about her accomplishment, and tells them that if she wins State she can participate in the Spell-Lympics. And they’re really impressed. Well, Marge is, Homer’s more focused on going to go get one of those disgusting sandwiches.

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So Homer leaves, heads to Krusty Burger, and orders a Rib-Which, and tucks in. And he’s hooked. They’re crazy addictive, filled with chemicals, and make him actively fatter, but they apparently taste great, so Homer eats like ten of them in one go. He’s so addicted that when Lisa easily wins the State competition he suggests that they all go out to eat some of the terrible sandwiches. Sadly though, it was a limited-time thing, and the Rib-Wich is now gone, leaving Homer distraught. Well, that is until he finds that they’re selling the Rib-Wich in different markets, and that there’s a clan of insane people who travel around the country to eat it. So obviously Homer joins them.

But that’s not really important yet, so let’s focus on the upcoming Spell-Lympics, which everyone is moderately excited about. Kent Brockman even does a report on it, showing what a slow news day it is. Well, until he gets an update that Paris has been destroyed. But that’s not a big deal. What is important is Lisa’s training, because she’s running around town, spelling things for people, and just generally seeing the whole town stand behind her for the national competition.

So the Simpsons head to Calgary for the Spell-Lympics and enter the massive arena that it’s held at, along with the host, George Plimpton. Which is pretty awesome. And the kids begin spelling, and slowly they get picked off, with Lisa remaining. Oh, and some little boy named Alex that everyone clearly thinks is adorable and loveable. But besides him, Lisa is doing great and she makes it down to the final three.

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Unfortunately, even though there’s only going to be one more day, Homer tells her he’s going to bail and got to San Francisco to eat one of those terrible sandwiches. Lisa’s pretty crushed, but it’s about to get worse, because she gets asked by George Plimpton to come talk with him. When they’re in his office Plimpton tells Lisa that people aren’t interested in spelling bees anymore, and they need a charismatic winner. He wants Lisa to take a dive, let Alex work, and she’ll get a full-ride scholarship to any of the Seven Sisters colleges.

Lisa’s obviously not down with this, and acts disgusted, but that night she starts to have some doubts. She has a crazy stress dream about taking the Seven Sisters deal, and when she wakes up she has a heart-to-heart with Marge about affording college, and things look kind of bleak. But she still wants to stick with her morals, and gets ready for her big championship match.

Meanwhile, Homer has made it to San Francisco and is waiting with all the other fat hippies for their gross meal. But as they’re waiting Krusty shows up in a limo to tell them that the horrible insect that they make the Rib-Wich out of has gone extinct, and they’re cancelling the product. He has one last Rib-Wich and tosses it into the air. Homer is able to grab it, but all the other lunatics offer him ridiculous things to trade. And while talking with them Homer realizes that he should go be with Lisa, and takes some guys sports car to drive to Calgary.

Back at the Spell-Lympics though, it’s down to Lisa and the Alex kid. The crowd clearly is rooting for him, and George Plimpton is actively trying to sabotage Lisa, but she’s trying her best. But it’s getting hard, and she starts to consider taking a dive. That is until Homer shows up, and she decides to give it a shot, and proudly spells her word. Incorrectly. She’s lost, and she didn’t take a dive. Alex gets the prize, she doesn’t get the bribe, and everyone heads home, a little disappointed. That is until they get home and find that the whole town is waiting for them, because by getting second-place Lisa is now the biggest winner Springfield has ever had, and they’re still proud of her.

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I liked this episode quite a bit. I’ve become a real sucker for Lisa episodes, and this was a really fun and interesting one. So often we get Lisa episodes that revolve around her and Homer having some sort of ideological difference and argument, but this is one of the less common ones where Lisa is having some sort of moral quandary. That doesn’t really come out until Plimpton asks her to make a dive, but it’s a great concept that really worked well for this episode. I love that Lisa is so principled at such a young age, even though it’s a tempting offer. They don’t make Lisa this perfect person, who sticks by her guns and doesn’t even think about the offer, she definitely thinks about it and they make it seems like if Homer hadn’t shown up to give her confidence she would have taken a dive. But she didn’t, because she’s a strong person. The end of the episode may seem a little odd, but it’s like the first Rocky film. She didn’t technically win, but she won the moral victory, and that’s good enough for her.

Take Away: Stick to your principles, because even if you get a tempting offer to compromise them, it won’t feel right. Don’t eat McRibs.

 

“I’m Spelling as Fast as I Can” was written by Kevin Curran and directed by Nancy Kruse, 2003.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S14 E11 – Barting Over

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Hey everybody! Guess what we have here. The 300th episode. I guess. It seems like there’s discrepancy between this episode or “Strong Arms of the Ma” being the actual 300th, but this was the 300th that aired, which makes this the 300th installment of this project. Holy crap. I’ve written 300 of these damn articles! That’s absurd and awesome. So sit back, relax, and get ready to hear about a really weird and mediocre episode!

The episode oddly starts off with Lisa getting recognized at the Kennedy Center Honors awards, but that’s obviously a dream, so she’s woken up by Marge just straight up vacuuming her room while she sleeps. Lisa wakes up, irritated, and Marge explains that it’s time for Spring Cleaning, and that everyone has to pitch in. As demonstrated by Homer and Santa’s Little Helper cleaning the floors by scooting their asses.

After that they all head to the garage and begin cleaning out that rat’s nest. They find a pack of feral Furby’s, a Necronomicon, and a box of VHS tapes. Bart goes through the tapes and finds one labeled “Homer and Marge get dirty,” and against all common sense he and Lisa go inside to watch it. Luckily it’s just tape of Homer and Marge carving pumpkins, so he’s not scarred for the rest of his life. But they do find another tape in the box. One that says “Bart Sad.”

So the siblings pop in the tape to see footage of Bart being sad, but are shocked to find that after a bit of a Perfect Strangers episode, it’s just a commercial. A commercial featuring Bart. Turns out when Bart was a baby he was the spokesman for some horrible product that made baby’s breath smell better. So it wasn’t “Bart Sad,” it was “Bart’s Ad.” And he’s not pleased about this. It never has come up in his life, and he had no idea that he’s been in these ridiculous ads.

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So Bart goes and confronts Homer and Marge about the commercial, and learns that he actually had fun making them, and made a whole lot of money. Which Homer then squandered buying back blackmail photos. Yeah, Homer has basically stolen a fortune from his son. And Bart is not pleased. He starts yelling at Homer, and even tries to strangle him with his belt. And things escalate so much that after a suggestion from Milhouse, Bart goes to a lawyer to get a “divorce” from his parents.

Marge is obviously not thrilled with Bart trying to get emancipated but he makes it clear that it’s not her fault, it’s all Homer’s. So after tricking Homer into accepting a subpoena after an incredibly awkward dinner, they head to court. And since they got Judge Harm to look at their case, things aren’t going well for Homer. He clearly has anger issues and just reads as a terrible father. So even though it’s insane, Judge Harm finds in Bart’s favor and grants him emancipation, proclaiming that Homer’s wages will be garnished until he pays back the money he stole from Bart.

So Bart’s on his own now, and has a lot of money from the settlement, so he decides to move out of the house and get a loft downtown. He moves down to a sad little studio apartment and set up a little home, while Homer actually starts to miss Bart and begins playing with a creepy dummy of Bart. But things aren’t going great for Bart. The loft is sad, scary, and lonely, and after a rat scares him in the middle of the night he runs to the elevator and tries to escape the building.

Unfortunately the faulty wiring makes the elevator go up instead of down, and brings Bart to his upstairs neighbor. Who turns out to be topical guest celebrity, Tony Hawk! Turns out Tony is living in this loft, and has transformed it into some sort of skateboard party, with some terrible punk band playing. I guess it’s Blink 182, so my assessment stands. Tony offers to let Bart hang out with him, and just like that, Bart no longer has a problem with living by himself.

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And while Bart is acclimating to his surroundings, the family is getting depressed. They really miss Bart, and decide that an upcoming visit with him will be their opportunity to convince him to return. So they put on their nice clothes and walk to the shady apartment and head into Bart’s loft, which is now furnished pretty neatly. It at least looks like an ideal college-student’s apartment. And after a day together the family broaches the idea of Bart coming home, but he still refuses. Especially because he’s getting ready to go on a tour with Tony Hawk for a festival called Skewed.

The family obviously don’t want to miss Bart for six months while he’s on tour, so Homer goes to the Skewed show in Springfield to change his mind. Which he decides to accomplish by convincing Tony Hawk to take a dive in a skateboard contest. Tony Hawk is pretty cool with this idea, and gives Homer some robotic skateboard that does all the work for him. So the show begins, and Home throws down the gauntlet to challenge Tony Hawk.

Tony agrees and the two men start competing, with Homer easily outpacing the professional thanks to the robotic skateboard’s abilities. Which starts to piss off Tony Hawk as the crowd begins to turn on him. So Tony Hawk and Homer start having weird wire-fu skateboard fights, until Homer is triumphant. He then returns to Bart, who now doesn’t seem to be mad at Homer. And after agreeing to also start in an embarrassing ad, Homer has fixed their relationship, and everything goes back to normal.

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So yeah, that’s what we got. Doesn’t really seem like it was “Episode 300” material to me. It’s just a little weird. I would have imagined they would have done a really great and huge episode for such a milestone, not this weird little episode about Homer and Bart fighting with some of the most incredibly 90’s celebrities they could muster. Were Tony Hawk and Blink 182 still relevant at all around this time? I’m not quite sure. And it’s just not a story that I liked all that much. The idea of Bart getting emancipated and moving to a loft downtown is so ridiculous and unrealistic that it kind of bugs me. Yeah, I know, this is a cartoon, and it’s moving increasingly away from reality, but it’s just such a dumb and weird idea for an episode. To me at least. Especially for an episode 300. But that’s just me I suppose. Here’s to another 300!

Take Away: Don’t treat your kids like crap, they can easily emancipate themselves and go live with skateboard celebrities.

 

“Barting Over” was written by Andrew Kreisberg and directed by Matthew Nastuk, 2003.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S14 E10 – Pray Anything

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Occasionally on this segment I’ve mentioned that there are episodes of the Simpsons, a show I watched religiously as a kid every week day on re-runs, that I have absolutely no memory of. It doesn’t seem right, especially from this era where I was still watching every new episode each Sunday, but it seems to happen. And we got a real doozey of a weird religious/forgotten episode today!

The episode starts off with the Simpsons going to a WNBA game, and just generally treating it like it’s some weird novelty to poke fun of. They gawk at a giant Chinese lady and look at the terrible mascot that’s dressed like a slutty basketball, that ends up being Gil. But things actually happen when they announce that there’s a competition to win $50,000 after making a free-throw. And after a weird fake-out where we think Homer’s going to win, Ned Flanders is selected to give it a shot.

So Ned heads out onto the court, everyone assumes he’s going to completely miss, and after a quick prayer he tosses to ball like an old-lady. And gets nothing but net. So Ned has now won $50,000 and says that he’s going to give it all to some Bible charity. Which causes the Rich Texan, who owns the team, to give him an additional $100,000. Which obviously infuriates Homer. He gets pissed that Ned is able to succeed at life while he just keeps failing, and does something insane.

He goes to ask Ned what his secret is. And in the end, Ned just says that all of his success comes from prayer. Which is absurd. But Homer decides to give it a shot, and returns home to test out prayer for his benefit. And it seems to work. He uses prayer to find the television remote to get rid of a Ken Burns documentary about himself, and ends up finding monkey Olympics. Clearly superior. And apparently that’s all the proof Homer needs.

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So Homer is now all into prayer, and even sets up a little prayer station at work to get things to go his way. But he starts to get a little crazy, even praying a car accident into existence in order to get the new treat of chocolate covered bacon. Hell, he even tries to use God as a plumber when their kitchen sink gets clogged. But Marge is a little hesitant about using God like that, and calls a real plumber, who quickly establishes that their pipes are full of tree roots.

The Simpsons are now in a pretty familiar predicament, and are pressed for money to fix a household issue. But Homer still thinks that prayer is the route, so as they’re walking into the church he begins praying for a way to fix the house. And just on cue, he falls into a big hole on the church property and hurts his leg. At which point an ambulance-chasing lawyer pops out and tells Homer that he should sue the church. Homer agrees.

So the case gets brought to court, and things aren’t going great for the church. They try to show that Homer is accident-proof with a montage of clips, but that just endears him to the jury, and the end up finding in Homer’s favor, making Revered Lovejoy give him the deed to the church. So I guess Homer’s prayer wins! God didn’t fix their house, but he got them a new one! Because Homer isn’t planning on selling the church. He’s going to live in it.

The family then move into the church, setting the building up as their new house, turning the sanctuary into their family room. Although there are some kinks, like alcoholics trying to meet in what used to be the community outreach room for their AA meetings. But overall it seems great, and Homer decides to celebrate his God-given luck by throwing a huge house-warming party where everyone in town is invited!

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So while Reverend Lovejoy holds some sad little sermon in the bowling alley, every dude in town shows up at the former church to have a hell of a kegger. And the party just doesn’t stop. To the point that Lovejoy decides to give up on Springfield, and packs up to leave Springfield forever. Which does lead to a solid Artie Pie/Kent Brockman screaming match when Artie was supposed to be filming people coping with the loss of their religious leader.

And while all of this is going on, the kegger is still raging, going on days. And Marge is getting worried. She thinks that God is going to be angry at them for sacrilege, and when it starts pouring rain in town, she gets worried. And so does Ned, who already has a yacht with a bunch of male animals (no hankey-pankey) on it ready to survive the flood. But Homer isn’t worried! Things will be great! That is until he literally gets struck by lightning. Which isn’t usually a good sign.

So Homer and the rest of the party-goers climb to the roof of the church as the town starts to straight up flood. They obviously start to turn on each other, terrified of this weird weather event, and decide to kill Homer, since he’s clearly the one who has angered their God. But Homer’s saved at the last moment when Reverend Lovejoy shows up in a helicopter and gets the crowd to pray. At which point the rain ends, and the flood is over. Lisa then tries to explain that there are some logical explanations for everything that happens, but no one listens to her and we cut up to heaven where God, Buddha, and Colonel Sanders are watching Springfield, amused.

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Yeah, this episode really isn’t up my alley. It’s the issue that I occasionally have with episodes that revolve too much around religion and prayer. It comes off a little too pro-prayer, which I know isn’t necessarily a bad thing to everyone, but drives me up the goddamn wall. Prayer actually seems to have benefits in this episode, and while Lisa gives some real explanation at the end, it’s kind of brushed off and assumed that it actually was God. Which makes me mad. Prayer is ridiculous. It’s just a way for selfish people to pass the buck, and not feel bad about either doing or not doing things that they want to do, by saying that some invisible man in the sky is responsible. It just irritates me, and having it not portrayed as something that’s weird and dangerous just turn me off. But, that’s my own personal beliefs.

Take Away: Well, the episode wants me to believe that prayer is great and can help out in life, but that’s just silly. Genie wishes are just as helpful.

 

“Pray Anything” was written by Sam O’Neal and Neal Boushell and directed by Michael Polcino, 2003.

 

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Reel Talk

The Magnificent Seven Is Unnecessary Fun

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Remakes get a pretty bad rap in our world. They’re basically blamed as one of the key pieces of evidence of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy, and one of the sure signs of a cinematic apocalypse. And hey, I’m not going to be the guy who tries to convince you that remakes are a good idea, because generally I don’t think they are, but they aren’t necessarily going to be terrible. By and large they tend to be pretty useless, and end up being nowhere near as good as the original, often begging the question of why they exist. And yeah, that’s a good question most times. At best most remakes tend to just be okay, and not actively bad and damaging to the legacy of the original. I suppose most time the studios decide that there’s some name-recognition in a property, so they remake the movie to avoid coming up with a new property in the hopes that people will pay to watch a new version of a movie that they like. Which seems weird to me, but I’m a guy who thinks that the studios should just re-release movies that they notice are in the zeitgeist again instead of remaking it. I guess people just don’t want to watch an “old” movie and want to see the exact same story with some new actors that they recognize. And look what we have here? A movie exactly like that!

Now, I’m not overly familiar with the original Magnificent Seven, I’ve seen it once, and while I liked it quite a bit it didn’t really some indelible mark on me. I know it’s considered one of the best Westerns of all time, and while I did enjoy it I don’t know if I’d go that far. It’s fun, and lends on the classic Seven Samurai premise that’s a pretty sure-fire formula for a fun genre story. So I wasn’t really that concerned when they announced a remake was coming. It didn’t sound any more or less necessary than any other remake. Honestly it kind of seemed like the right kind of thing to remake. It’s a classic premise, from a movie that’s almost fifty years old, and that could be handled in a new and fresh way while not resorting purely to nostalgia. And, well, that’s not exactly what we got. There was potential to do something new with the movie, to take the Seven Samurai formula and the Western setting and do something fresh with it. But instead we got a perfectly serviceable Western action movie that barely deviated from the plot of the original movie.

Really the only difference between this version of the Magnificent Seven and the original comes right at the beginning, with the central premise. The classic plot revolved around a small farming community being held hostage by a group of Mexican bandits who threaten to come back to the village later and steal all of their food, causing the villagers to request the help of the Magnificent Seven. This time however the threat doesn’t come from bandits, it’s from big business. The town for Rose Creek is being held hostage by an evil robber baron named Batholomew Bogue who wants the townsfolk to basically become his slaves and dig gold for him. So he kills a bunch of villagers, and tells them he’ll be back in a couple months, and if they aren’t ready to dig gold for him, he’ll kill them. But when Bogue and his men leave one of the women widowed by Bogue’s show of force, Emma Cullen, heads out to find someone to stand up for the town. And the man she finds to do that is a black bounty hunter named Sam Chisolm. She manages to convince Chisolm to stand up to Bogue for the town’s sake, and after picking up drunken gambler named Faraday, they get to work forming a team of badasses that can defeat Bogue and his army. So they wander the state, getting all the famous gunslingers that they know. They end up with ‘Goodnight’ Robichaeux the Cajun ex-Confederate, Billy Rocks his Asian knife-wielding assistant, Vasques the Mexican outlaw, Jack Horne a talking bear, and Red Harvest an exiled Comanche hunter.

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So once the team is assembled they head to Rose Creek and get to work. They take out the last of Bogue’s men that were holding the town, and send the corrupt sheriff off to tell Bogue what they’ve done. And once that’s taken care of, they assess the pathetic townsfolk and start planning. They know that they won’t have any chance at fighting Bogue’s men head-on, so they alternate between teaching the townsfolk their various skills and setting up a series of elaborate traps to trick Bogue’s men. All while bonding and busting each other’s balls and becoming a well-oiled machine. Which comes in handy when Bogue shows up with a goddamn army, ready to decimate the town. Which is where we get our massive climax here the Seven fight against Bogue’s army, just shooting down scores of men. Things take a turn when Bogue decides to cheat with a Gatling gun, but in the end the Seven are victorious. There’s of course some casualties, with four of the seven losing their lives, but they still manage to kill all of Bogue’s army, and even get down to Chisolm and Bogue for a climactic showdown. Which is where we learn that Chisolm didn’t take this job out of the kindness in his heart, he did it because Bogue once pulled this shit in his small town, and was responsible for the death of his family, and almost his death. So Chisolm gets his revenge, the people of Rose Creek are safe until people learn that they just brutally killed one of the richest men in the country, and the surviving three members of the Seven head off to be buddies in the Wild West.

Yeah, it’s the Magnificent Seven. I wasn’t really anticipating that they were really going to do something different with the story, but I guess I also wasn’t thinking that they’d just play so close to the original. The characters aren’t the same, and for the most party they play on different Western stereotypes, even having people who aren’t white, but the plot was virtually identical. Which was kind of a shame, because for a while I though that they were going to do something interesting with this movie. The idea of changing the villain from a gang of Mexican bandits to an evil industrialist changes the tone of the movie, and makes it more seem like a group of the 99% taking down the 1% all Occupy Wall Street style, but they never really took advantage of that. I for sure thought that we were going to look at how interesting it was that a black man, a Mexican Man, and an American Indian man were helping take down a shitty rich white dude, but they never played with that, to the point that there didn’t really seem to be much point in making the actor’s of different races. No on really reacted to this multicultural band of badasses, which seems odd with the Wild West setting, and seems like a lost opportunity to actually try and say something. Plus, by changing the villain to a well-known industrialist it kind of raises some ethical questions about what the Seven did, because now I would imagine people are going to be asking some questions. Kill a gang of Mexican bandits, and no one will really care. Kill a robber baron, I assume the government may want a word with the people of Rose Creek. Plus, as I mentioned, it felt a little odd that they gave the Chisolm character a personal grudge with Bogue, instead of just being an honorable man standing up for the little guy like the original. It just comes off as a little selfish, especially because he never tells the others that that’s why he convinced them to help.

But there were good aspects of the movie too. Primarily the fact that it was just a good time. I’ve really come to enjoy Westerns over the last couple years, and it’s a shame that we don’t get enough of them. It’s just such a fun and mythic setting that can be mined for all sorts of storytelling, but just the central aesthetic is enough to  get me interested. And this movie delivered on that. The central Seven Samurai premise is a solid one, and even though they didn’t do anything special with it, it still holds up as a great story. And hey, it’s a movie were a bunch of charismatic actors hang out, drink, smoke, shoot guns, ride horses, and bust each other’s balls. It’s just great “dude” movie stuff. It had fun action, was well-shot, and despite the fact that I kind of feel like Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt don’t work well in a period-setting, the acting was pretty good. Was it better than the original? No. Did it need to be made? No. But I had a good time with it, and it delivered some fun Western action. And sometimes that’s all I need.

The Magnificent Seven was written by Nick Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk, directed by Antoine Fuqua, and distributed by Columbia Pictures, 2016.

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S14 E09 – The Strong Arms of the Ma

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What the hell? Am I being pranked? Two weeks in a row I start off with super weird episodes about Marge getting some sort of physical transformation? That doesn’t seem likely. And it’s kind of the 300th episode? At least as production goes. Weird stuff folks. At least it’s better than “Large Marge.”

The episode starts off with Eye on Springfield, which is great because we haven’t seen that in forever. Although it’s kind of ridiculous to see how different the animation is between all of the old stuff and then the random new addition of Kent and Fidel Castro on a roller coaster. And after that we see that Kent is interviewing Ranier Wolfcastle because he’s going bankrupt. Which obviously means that he’s going to hold a huge bankruptcy garage sale, and everyone in town will be there.

So the Simpsons, and everyone else in Springfield, get to the mansion and start buying stuff. Homer eats a pie with a sword in it, Lenny buys a robotic arm to scratch his ass with, and Moe buys Playdude models. But Homer isn’t satisfied with the normal stuff, and asks Wolfcastle for something personal and sentimental. The two men don’t act like they know each other, but Wolfcastle is down for that request, and sells Homer his first ever weight-set. So Homer buys it, they load the car up like he’s playing Tetris, and finds that there’s no room for him, causing him to get carried home by Wolfcastle in a giant baby Bjorn.

Which means that Marge is going to drive the kids and all the crap home. So they head home, but their trip is derailed when Maggie has a blow-out diaper, and they need to stop at the Kwik-E-Mart to change her. It’s apparently so bad that Apu lets Marge use the employee bathroom in the alley behind the store, but when she’s leaving disaster strikes. A weird mugger with a Goofy hat approaches Marge and demands her purse. Unfortunately it’s just a diaper-bag, so he steals Marge’s necklace instead. He runs off into the night, and Marge returns to the car, weeping.

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So Marge returns home and is incredibly shaken by her mugging. She’s terrified of everything, and after a disastrous second trip to the Kwik-E-Mart ends with her spraying Ralph with pepper spray, she comes home and decides not to leave. Yep, Marge is agoraphobic now. And that’s confirmed by Dr. Hibbert, who comes to do a house call. He also tells the family that the best way to fix her new disorder will be to slowly desensitize herself to the outside world.

Which doesn’t go well. Homer and the kids give her a suit of armor made out of pillows and slowly bring her out into the front yard, which doesn’t go well when some horrible insect attacks them. Next up they make a little fake Kwik-E-Mart, but when Milhouse shows up as a robber she just beats him up and runs to the basement. So that didn’t work. They completely screwed up this immersion therapy, and have made her agoraphobia even worse, because she’s refusing to come out of the basement now.

And the family kind of makes that work. They radio her into church, they eat meals in the basement on the air-hockey table, and they’ve moved the kitchen, dining room, and her room down to the basement. But she’s super bored. So Marge decides to find something to do, and the only thing down there that’s interesting is the weight set that Homer bought. So she gives it a shot, and slowly starts to get into it. She begins lifting like crazy and slowly but surely gets stronger and stronger.

And it turns out that that’s the best thing for her, because one day after a great workout, she decides that the meal she’s preparing needs some lemon, and just runs outside to grab a lemon from their tree without thinking about it. The rest of the family run out to see her, and she’s initially shocked that she made it outside, but then she realizes that she’s cured and strong now, and decides to roll with it. So she starts running through the city, yelling that she’s not afraid, and then ends up running into the mugger. So she beats the bajesus out of him like Sonny from Godfather, and is officially cured.

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But that’s not the where the episode ends. It should have been. It would have been a great episode. But we need to take a hard turn. Because Marge isn’t done working out. Not by a long-shot. She decides to keep doing it, and even finds a place on the beach where people lift weights, and she runs into her old neighbor Ruth Powers, who is now huge. The two strike up conversation, and Ruth encourages Marge to a) start competing in weight-lifting competitions, and b) start taking steroids to accomplish that.

Marge starts really getting into supplements and steroids, making increasingly insane shakes to keep up her muscles. And it starts working. She becomes a terrifying Hulk that can stop the bus with her bare hands and pressures Homer into terrifying sex. And things just get worse when she participates in a lady body-building competition, and ends up coming in second, which terrifies the family, because now she’s going to go even crazier.

Which is completely correct, because after the competition Homer takes Marge to Moe’s, and she reveals that she’s going to double down on her workouts, and become even crazier to win. And when Homer goes to the bathroom, the shit hits the fan, someone makes the wrong comment, and roid-rage Marge freaks out and begins beating up all the men in the bar. And she only stops when Homer comes out of the bathroom and talks her down like she the Incredible Hulk. And he succeeds. She calms down, realizes that she’s been acting a little crazy, and heads home to destroy the weights so she can return to normal by the next episode.

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This episode is really weird to me. I really like the first two acts. The idea of Marge being thrown into some sort of criminal-fear has happened before, but last time she got a thrill for justice, and this time she went the other route and became a shut-in. Which I think is really believable and interesting. I’ve mentioned it on here before, but I was held up while working a menial job a few years ago, and I can tell you that when something like that happens you become really fearful of everything, and don’t really want to put yourself out in the position to be taken advantage of again. And I really liked the idea of Marge finding something that made her feel powerful. The whole weight-lifting thing is a little on the nose, but it works great. However, the episode took a weird turn with the steroids in the last act, and that’s where the episode loses me. It had been a really interesting and beautiful look at fear and helplessness, but then out of nowhere it became this farce about weight-lifting and steroids that really didn’t go anywhere, and was then swept under the rug at the last second by Homer’s weird speech. It just feels strange to me. And really emblematic of the whole problem with the show from this period that I’ve discussed before. She show used to be unafraid to have an emotional episode that didn’t have a lot of goofy jokes, and that relied on the character’s growth. But this period of the show seems terrified of that. They couldn’t have an episode that was all about Marge’ personal growth, so they slapped this weird steroid plot on at the end and filled it with as many gags about women body-builders and steroids as they can to undercut the message and make it goofier. Which I guess is what some people want, but I personally will take an episode that ends more like act two of this episode than act three.

Take Away: When you’re feeling helpless the best thing to help you would be to find something to make you feel strong again. That can take many shapes and forms, but once you find it, don’t let it take over your life.

“The Strong Arms of the Ma” was written by Carolyn Omine and directed by Pete Michels, 2003.

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Page Turners

Shaft’s Revenge Gives You Shaft…Up to Here

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Now, I’m just going to say this right at the top. I’m one of the whitest people you’re likely to ever meet. I have German and Irish blood, and look like I should burst into flames when I’m outside. And I’m born and raised in Colorado, one of the whitest places in the country. And yet, over the last few years, I’ve come to really love just about everything about the blaxploitation genre. I don’t know what it is about them exactly, but these fun and crazy action movies from the 1970’s have become some of my favorite stuff to put on and just have a great time. And it’s not just the movies. I’ve talked before about my undying love for Luke Cage, and how his character was a direct response from Marvel at the sudden interest in such characters, and rereading some of his classic stories is a hell of an experience. So of course, these two interests led me to check out a comic book series from a couple years ago that was about one of the most famous characters from the blaxpolitation genre, John Shaft. I had seen the Shaft movies, and loved them, so I went into the Shaft comic series expecting a good time. What I ended up getting was an incredibly moving and poignant look at a character that was more often than not portrayed as a bit of a punch line. It was a great series, and it really got me hooked on the great writer David F Walker (who is also currently writing an amazing series at Marvel about Luke Cage and Iron Fist). So when I heard that Walker was going to be continuing the life of his interpretation of Shaft, and that it was going to be a prose novel, I was excited.

And it did not disappoint. Now, I’ve never read any of the Shaft novels yet, so I don’t really know how this stacks up with them, but I do know that I had a hell of a time with this novel. It picks up some time after the events of the Shaft film, and seems to blend a combination of establishes Shaft characters, and the ones that Walker introduced in his comic series. This is a Shaft who is haunted by the things he has seen and done, both on the streets of Harlem and the jungles of Vietnam, and who really just seems to be trying to keep his head down and make it through life. But, like any great literary private eye, that goal is utterly smashes when he answers his phone one night and is drawn into an insane turf-war between rival gangsters in Harlem. He ends up finding the leader of the most powerful gang in Harlem killed, Knocks Persons, gets shot along with an old friend of his, and is dragged kicking and screaming into this complicated war that’s pitting several different gangsters, crooked cops, and a sociopathic childhood friend of his into a vicious battle. Along the way Shaft picks up what seems like the only two legitimate police officers in New York, and starts to help them track down both the killer of Knocks, and accidently the truth about the life of his father. We get an action-packed noir tale that has Shaft traversing the Big Apple and its Burroughs, all while trying to survive and find some justice and keep an even darker and more damaging criminal enterprise from rising in his city.

I’ve talked a lot of this site about my love for the hardboiled detective genre, in all its shapes and sizes, and this novel became a welcome addition to that passion. There’s something about the emotionally damaged archetype of a private eye, just trying to get by in life, and being dragged into an insane plot that tends to end up way above his pay grade that really clicks for me. And this novel took that formula, and added the racial politics of being a black man in the 70’s along with some really poignant and engaging pathos from Shaft’s father and his wartime mental anguish. Typically noir protagonists can be a little one-note. They exist more to go through the clues and have insane adventures than to really get much emotional depth. There are obviously exceptions to that generalization, but most novels you read about private eyes feature main characters that are essentially blank slates. But not here. Honestly, I could read an entire novel written by Walker about Shaft trying to come to terms with the things he’s done in his life, and try to reach some closure about that. Shaft became a sympathetic and three-dimensional character for the first time for me in this novel, and I ended up finding myself rooting for him to learn the truth about his father and close that dark and painful chapter on his life. Plus, we get a really fun and twisting crime caper thrown in as well. I really don’t know if the rest of the Shaft novels are anything like this, or if they’re more disposable fun like the Shaft films, but I’m more tempted than ever before to check them out, and if David F Walker gets to write any more of these novels, or any more of the comic series, I’ll be eagerly waiting to check them out.

 

 

P.S. – If you’re confused by the title of this article, check out the poster for the original Shaft film.

 

 

Shaft’s Revenge was written by David F Walker, 2016.