Lifetime of Simpsons

The Simpsons Movie

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Hey there everyone, and look what we have here. The goddamn Simpsons Movie. Hell yes. Not for a second did I doubt that I’d cover this on Lifetime of Simpsons, I just wasn’t quite sure how I was going to tackle it. I thought about doing it like a traditional Reel Talk article, but I decided that since this is just a really long episode, I would treat it as such. So buckle in folks! Sit back, relax, and let’s enjoy the movie that was 18 years in the making!

Things get fantastic right off the bat when we see a little Ralph hanging out in the 20th Century Fox logo, singing along with its fanfare, before tossing us into the real beginning of the movie, an Itchy and Scratchy short! It starts with the two of them on the moon, being astronauts, when Itchy of course smashes Scrathy’s helmet, killing him. Itchy then returns to Earth, becomes a celebrity, and gets elected President. But when the ghost of Scratchy begins harassing him from the moon, President Itchy does the only thing he can, and fires every nuclear missile in America to the moon, destroying Scratchy once and for all!

And after out fun little opening cartoon we get a huge, sprawling version of the opening credits. We whip all through Springfield, visiting the normal haunts of the traditional opening, but also checking in on some other characters. And it all culminates at a concert on Springfield Lake from Green Day. Which I had completely forgotten about, and instantly made me sad that they put fucking Green Day in this movie. Although when the band members try to talk to the citizens about the environment and pollution they do get rocks thrown at them until the barge they’re performing on sinks, dragging them to a watery grave.

This of course means that they have to hold a funeral for Green Day, which the entire town attends. The Simpson family slip into the church a little late, leading to everyone scowling at them. But they ignore that, and sit with Grandpa, suffering through a funeral. But things get a little interesting when Reverend Lovejoy asks for a volunteer to talk about their faith, and Grandpa decides to give it a shot. Except he does this because he’s suddenly having an insane religious vision. He begins babbling, talking about twisted tales, a thousand eyes, and being trapped forever before just shouting “eepa!” over and over.

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Homer manages to grab Grandpa, and wrap him up in a carpet so that they can escape from the awkward situation, and they flee from the church. However, once they stick Grandpa into the car they quickly decide to drop all of this, and go get waffles. Marge is mad about this, and really wants to figure out what Grandpa’s ramblings were about, but she gets outvoted. So they go get waffles and then head back to the house so that Homer can get some chores done.

Homer ignores a sinkhole in the back yard and then gets to work re-shingling the roof with Bart. This does not end well, and almost instantly leads to Homer and Bart having a dare competition on the roof that results in Bart climbing onto their TV aerial, and being shook. Things are going to escalate, but before we check that out let’s see how everyone else is doing. Lisa is walking around town, trying to get people to care about the environment when she runs into a boy named Colin who is also passionate about pollution, and Lisa instantly gets a crush. Oh, and Marge is still trying to decipher whatever the hell Grandpa was talking about.

Anyway, back to the dare competition! Things have gotten ridiculous, like Homer carrying a back-full of bricks while getting shot with a BB gun. But all of this leads up to Homer’s final dare for Bart. Skateboarding through town naked. Bart hesitates, for a moment, and then strips down and heads into the town. It’s a weird sequence, where Bart flies all around town, horrifying people, until we get the weirdest part of this whole movie. Showing Bart Simpson’s nude junk. It’s uncomfortable, and that’s all we need to talk about it.

Bart’s little ride ends in disaster through when he slams, nude, against the window of the Krusty Burger, where Chief Wiggum, Eddie, and Lou happen to be eating. They run outside, and peel Bart off the window, arresting him and cuffing him to a light-pole until Homer can arrive to get him. Several hours later Homer finally arrives, and decides to not tell the police that he dared Bart, because that would get himself in trouble. So Bart has to take the heat, and Homer gives Bart some clothes (except pants), and they go into the Krusty Burger for food.

Bart is furious at Homer, and embarrassed at his continued lack of pants. But he gets aid from an unlikely source. Ned and the boys happen to be inside the Krusty Burger, and for some reason Ned carries around spare pants, which he gives to Bart. But Homer doesn’t really care about any of this, because he’s more interested in the fact that they’re filming a commercial with a real pig. However, when he overhears that they’re going to kill the pig, Homer decides to adopt it and bring it home with him and Bart.

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And this instantly terrifies Marge, who realizes that this pig has a “twisted tail” just like in Grandpa’s ominous warning. But what she really should have been scared about was how weird Homer was about to get with this pig. Because he instantly starts treating the pig like a baby, doting on it. This also leads to Homer dubbing the pig Spider-Pig, which causes Homer to sing a “Spider-Pig” theme song, which is great. While this is going on we see that Bart is still pissed about the nudity incident, and he ends up speaking to Ned, learning what a good parent is actually like. They even agree to go fishing together.

So the next morning Bart and Ned head out to Springfield Lake, and have a great time together, fishing and bonding. Meanwhile, Lisa and Colin are hanging out at the Lake, being pissed about pollution. And this leads to Lisa somehow calling a Town Hall meeting to talk about the lake. And, not surprisingly, no one cares or understands what Lisa is talking about. But what is surprising is that Mayor Quimby decides to declare a state of emergency, and orders that the town stop dumping things in the lake, and start working to clean it.

The town of Springfield then joins together and cleans up their horrible little city. And after a lot of hard work, they manage to curb the pollution in the lake. Which is just when Marge begins to worry about what Homer is doing with all of Spider-Pig’s leavings. And it turns out he’s just tossing it all in a giant crap silo in the backyard. Marge is horrified at this, and tells Homer to get rid of the silo, but to do so responsibly. Which obviously doesn’t work. Homer and the pig, who he is now calling Plopper, head to a place to dispose of the waste. But when he gets a call from Lenny about free donuts, Homer decides they need to do this quickly, and he just drives to the lake, dumping the silo into the water. Which immediately causes a massive ecological disaster.

And things escalate quickly. Whatever was in Plopper’s crap instantly causes the lake to become some sort of mutagen, turning a squirrel into a multi-eyed monster. And this manages to catch the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency, headed by businessman Russ Cargill. Cargill looks at the facts and heads to talk to President Arnold Schwarzenegger about what to do. President Schwarzenegger decides not to actually read the plans though, and just picks one at random.

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And what was the plan? Why it’s to drop a massive impenetrable dome around Springfield, sealing it off from the rest of the world so that its ecological disaster is contained. So Marge has seen a twisted tail, they’re trapped forever, and it was done by the EPA. Grandpa’s vision has come true. And Springfield is doomed. The town is terrified and baffled by this development, and get furious when a televised Cargill appears on the dome, explaining that they’re trapped forever.

Springfield then just kind of gets used to life in the dome, figuring out how to remain a functioning society now that they’re trapped. And one day Marge sees something incredible. Maggie is outside the dome. She runs inside to get Homer, but when they come back Maggie back inside the dome, and in the sandbox. So Marge decides she was just being crazy, and they go back inside the house. Which is when we establish that that sinkhole from earlier is active, and is a secret tunnel out of the dome.

But that’s not important right now, what is important is what’s on TV when Homer and Marge go back into the house. Because the police have apparently been checking out the Springfield Lake, trying to figure out what caused the disaster, and they come across the crap silo, complete with Homer’s name on it. So now the town knows that they’re been doomed to life under the dome because of Homer Simpson, and they get an angry mob ready to come kill him.

The rest of the Simpson’s family is furious at Homer too, but they know they have to save him from the murderous mob. They run through the house, being chased by the mob, when they see Ned across the alley, offering to help them. Unfortunately as they try and climb a board across to Ned’s house, Plopper knocks the board down, dooming them. The family fall to the ground as their house catches on fire, causing Marge to run inside and get her and Homer’s wedding video.

They then jump in the car and prepare to flee, only to be dragged out of the car by the town, and they’re brought to the back yard where they’re apparently about to be lynched. The family then escape their captors, climb up into the treehouse, and realize they’re doomed. That is until Maggie points out the sinkhole, bringing the family to safety. However, right as they go through the sinkhole, it becomes untenable, and ends up destroying the Simpsons house. But they’re outside of the dome and safe.

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So the Simpsons are now free of the dome, and in the outside world. Which makes Cargill furious, because they’re the only people who know what he’s doing to American citizens. So he sets out a dragnet to find the family, who hole up in a sleazy hotel where Bart gets drunk and Lisa tries to convince Marge for the rest of them to abandon Homer. But Homer won’t give up, and tells the family that he has a Plan B for their life. They’re going to go live in Alaska!

Everyone is pretty wary about moving to Alaska, but Homer convinces Marge to agree, so they’re in. Which means they need to find a way to get to Alaska. But Homer has that covered, as is demonstrated by them going to a random carnival and attempting to win a truck by riding a motorcycle around a globe. Homer gives it a couple of pathetic tries, until Lisa uses physics to help him. He succeeds in racing around the globe, and the family are given a truck that they use to drive all the way to Alaska.

And after who-knows how long of driving, they reach Alaska and are are pleasantly surprised at how beautiful it is. So the family buy a house, and set up a new life in the wilderness, hoping to forget Springfield and its dome forever. Homer and Marge even get to have sex with the help of woodland creatures like they’re Snow White. Things seem to finally be looking up for the Simpsons.

However, things aren’t going well in Springfield. Mr. Burns is keeping all of the power for himself, causing things to get incredibly tense. And when a fight a book club erupts and spill out into the streets, the city suddenly finds themselves in a full scale riot. And after a bit of attacking each other, they decide to attack the dome, and actually end up cracking it a bit. Which terrifies Cargill enough to convince the President to sign off on another dangerous measure. Cargill is going to blow up Springfield so no one will every find out what the government did to them.

Unfortunately, the Simpsons still know what’s going on, so when they’re sitting around one day and see a commercial featuring Tom Hanks that talks about a new Grand Canyon that will be opening soon where Springfield used to be, they get worried. But where the rest of the family decide they need to do something to save their friends and family, Homer says that he’s fine with the town being destroyed. Everyone else is horrified at this, but Homer sticks to his guns and refuses to help the family save Springfield.

Homer then storms out of the house and goes to drink at Eski-Moe’s for a while, waiting for the fight to cool over. However, when he gets home he finds that the house is empty, and that his and Marge’s wedding tape is laying on the bed. Homer pops it in, and finds that Marge has recorded over the tape, and given him a message. She and the kids are leaving him, to go save Springfield. Marge claims that she doesn’t know who Homer is anymore, and that she doesn’t think she can love a man who is this callous. So she’s leaving and doesn’t plan on ever seeing him again. The tape then ends with some footage of their wedding, with them dancing to “Close To You,” and no, there’s nothing wrong, I must have something in my eye. Shut up.

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Anyway, Homer runs out of the house, desperate to find Marge, and ends up passing out in the snow, leading to the great gag of the screen going dark and saying “To Be Continued….Immediately.” We then see Homer wake up and get attacked by a polar bear, only to be saved by an Inuit Medicine Woman, who brings Homer back to her hut. Meanwhile, Marge and the kids are aboard a train, heading to Seattle, when the EPA uses the NSA’s surveillance technology to find, and capture them.

Homer meanwhile is in the Medicine Woman’s hut, being told that he needs to go on a vision quest to find what’s really important in his life. So she gives him some herbs and they begin throat singing until Homer gets an epiphany. It takes a while, but eventually Homer is tossed into a psychedelic world where we get a creepy version of the Spider-Pig song, and where Homer is broken apart into pieces by some trees. And while he’s there, suffering, he realizes that other people are just as important as he is, and to save himself he’s going to have to save Springfield. So he’s put together, runs away from the Medicine Woman, and begins dog-sledding back to Springfield.

Homer then somehow manages to get back to Springfield, at the exact same time that an EPA van with Marge and the kids is approaching the dome. They’re going to put Marge and the kids back inside Springfield, just in time for it to blow up. So Homer gets to work trying to stop the van, by stealing a wrecking ball and trying to get it to smash the van. This backfires though, and just results in Homer being grievously wounded. But it’s okay, he’s a cartoon.

Meanwhile, Marge and the kids have been gassed inside the van, and lose consciousness. And when they wake up they find that they’re in the Town Square of Springfield, and that things have turn dire. The town has basically become post-Apocalyptic, and chaos is reigning. Which is when the screen of Cargill comes back, and he explains to the town that they’re going to destroy the town. A hatch at the top of the dome is then opened, and a bomb is lowered inside, hanging by a rope.

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The people of Springfield decide that this is a terrible way to die, and create a plan to escape. They’re going to have Cleetus stay behind, and keep Cargill occupied while they climb up the rope with the bomb, and escape. Unfortunately while they’re planning this, Homer is outside and has gotten a hold of some super glue that he’s using to climb the dome. Homer then reaches the top of the dome, and falls down the hatch right as people are about to escape. He ends up falling, making everyone land back in the town, and causes the bomb to fall off the rope and land with them. Homer has doomed the town, yet again.

So the town is furious at Homer again, and everyone refuses to interact with him. Marge is off being mad, Lisa is looking for Colin, and Bart is off pretending to be a member of the Flanders family. Which is when Homer gets another epiphany, and realizes that with the motorcycle skills he acquired earlier he could grab the bomb and ride along the side of the dome until he reaches the hatch, so he could dispose of it.

Homer then grabs a motorcycle, and goes to apologize to Bart for being a horrible father. The two make up, and Bart agrees to ride with him. Bart grabs the bomb and they start racing up the sides of the dome, getting closer and closer to the hatch. And after some close calls they manage to throw the bomb out of the hatch, just as Martin beats up the bullies an Otto take a hit from a bong. The bomb lands just outside the dome, and explodes, causing the dome to shatter.

Homer and Bart ride down the falling chunks of dome, which largely explode into tiny fragments. Except for one massive piece which appears to kill Dr. Nick. But other than him, everyone is safe! Homer and Bart eventually land near Springfield Gorge, happy that they’ve saved the day. Until Russ Cargill shows up with a shotgun, ready to kill Homer and Bart. Luckily though Maggie was there for some reason, and she drops a boulder of Cargill, saving Homer and Bart. So, the town is safe, Colin and Lisa find each other and go on a date, Bart respects Homer, Homer is a hero, and Marge is done being mad a him. Oh, and the town gets together and rebuilds the Simpson’s house. The movie then ends with the fantastic credit sequence where we see the voice actors along with pictures of everyone they voice, which is great.

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So, there we have it! The Simpsons Movie! I probably hadn’t seen this movie in at least six year, and I have to tell you, it held up. I still remember how massively excited I was for this movie, even though I had tapped out of actually watching the series at this point. But how could I not be excited? I loved the Simpsons, and to finally see it on the big screen was something I was never going to miss. Let me tell you a ridiculous story. This film came out on July 27, 2007. My birthday is July 28th. I chose to take work off on the 27th instead, so I could see this movie on opening night, and ended up working on my 18th birthday. That’s the kind of dude I am. And I don’t regret it for a second. This movie is a hell of a lot of fun, and is a really interesting combination of classic Simpsons, with some of the better parts of the then contemporary ones. There’s some things I don’t like about the movie, like the fact that Lisa barely has a role in it, but over all this movie is some solid and tremendous Simpson’s. I love the central premise of Springfield being locked inside a giant dome, and it all being Homer’s fault, and the redemption of Homer Simpson is a perfect thing to base a Simpson’s movie on. The gags are on point, and there’s some truly wonderful jokes in this movie. Plus, it has a serious emotional heart. That scene of Marge’s videotape telling Homer that their marriage is over, and that he’s not the man she fell in love with is so devastating, especially when they follow it up with “Close To You.”It’s a big, crazy Simpson’s episode that tries to outdo a normal entry to the series, but tat the same time it relies on the characters and their strengths, that’s been building for the entire series. It somehow manages to be a spectacle and character driven, which is a hell of a feat to accomplish. I could go on and on about this movie, but I’ll just leave it at this. This is a delight of a movie, it’s exactly what I would have wanted from a Simpson’s movie, and it maybe should have been where the series ended. But they didn’t, which means you can join me tomorrow as we enter Season 19 in this Lifetime of Simpsons. See you all then.

Take Away: Don’t turn a blind eye to the environment, otherwise evil businessmen posing as politicians will go out of their way to destroy you. But surely that would never happen in real life….

The Simpsons Movie was written by (deep breath) James L Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, and Jon Vitti, directed by David Silverman, and released by 20th Century Fox, 2007.

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S18 E22 – You Kent Always Say What You Want

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Hey everybody, and welcome back to another week of Lifetime of Simpsons. And folks? This is a big week. We start off with the 400th goddamn episode of the Simpsons, which means I’ve written 400 articles about the Simpsons. Holy crap. But that’s not it! Because tomorrow we get the Simpsons Movie! And then we start Season 19! This is a huge week! And, other than the Movie…it’s all kind of shockingly mediocre. Let’s get to it!

Like I said, this is the 400th episode, which results in us getting a fun short from the Tracy Ullman days instead of a couch gag. It’s basically all about Homer trying to wrangle the family together to get a family photo, and everything goes wrong. They spend a whole roll of film trying to get a decent picture, and it just seems impossible. It’s fun. But once that’s out of the way we need to actually go with the episode, and things get kind of weird.

The episode actually begins with Marge and Maggie hanging out with Patty and Selma, playing Pictionary. Maggie and Marge are dominating, because they have some sort of kindred bond, but Maggie realizes that it’s time to leave so they’re home in time for Bart and Lisa to get home. She then draws a picture that conveys that, and Marge and Maggie run from the apartment, and because their car won’t start Marge has to run through the town like that scene from Raising Arizona. She ends up going through sewers, a parade in Chinatown, a St. Patrick’s Day parade, and finally getting home.

And once Marge and Maggie are home everyone else gets there, and we learn that the reason Marge was so eager to get home was because the whole family have to pack up and go to the dentist. So they drive over and we get a variety of sight-gags. Homer has a horrible cleaning that terrifies the people in the waiting room, Bart pretends to be a dentist to harass a gassed out Principal Skinner, Lisa watches a terrible cartoon about gingivitis staring Ludacris, only to have Ludacris show up and assault the dentist because he wasn’t supposed to be showing this cartoon anymore.

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Once their dentist trip is over though, the family decide they need to reward themselves for their lack of cavities by going to get ice cream. So they cart over to Phineas Q Butterfat’s to get some treats. And when Homer goes up to buy a cone, he’s shocked to find that he just bought the store’s millionth ice cream cone. And because Springfield is a sad, sleepy little town most of the time, this is a huge deal, and Homer’s “accomplishment” becomes a media sensation.

And it all leads to Homer getting to come on Smartline with Kent Brockman. Which Brockman is very irritated about, because he would apparently rather cover actual news. This leads to a lackluster interview, which gets spiced up when Homer accidentally drops some hot coffee into Kent’s lap, causing him to scream an unknown profanity, loudly, on live TV. And almost immediately Kent gets terrified about what he just did, and starts to apologize and back track, hoping that no one will notice.

Luckily, no one did. Kent and Homer leave the studio, curious about how the public will respond, and they’re shocked to find that no one actually watches Smartline, so no one saw the gaff. Kent’s clear! Well, that’s not true. Apparently two people saw the episode. Grandpa, who doesn’t really matter, and Ned, who sits and scours local television for signs of perversion so he can post it online and get the over-protective Christian right furious about something dumb. Or, as he puts it “imploring some people In ever met to pressure a government with better things to do to punish an innocent man for doing something that nobody saw.” And this Kent Brockman accident surely counts.

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So Ned gets a wave of complaining Christians to start making a huge deal about Kent’s profanity, and the shit hits the fan. Kent learns that this issue has caused him to be demoted to weekend weatherman, the station is being investigated, Arnie Pie is getting his old job, and finally that Channel 6 is getting a $10 million fine from the FCC. This primarily takes the form of Krusty having to provide the voices for Itchy and Scratchy, making it all about Itchy mad that Scratchy slept with his wife. Oh, and they decide to fire Kent.

This leads, for no reason, to Kent coming and staying with the Simpsons, as long as he provides them with a picture for their wall of random acquaintances that have stayed with them. Because I guess being fired means Kent lost his house? Whatever, he starts living with them and has to sit around with Homer while he watches terrible Fox News. This results in Lisa wondering why Fox shows such dumb and racy television, while Fox News is so insanely right-wing.

Kent explains that it’s all an elaborate con, which is probably accurate. Basically, Fox puts on shows that it knows will get them in trouble with the FCC so that the Fox conglomerate can funnel money to the GOP. This shocks Lisa, who decides Kent should start a YouTube channel and tell the world the truth. So they hook up a webcam and Kent gets all Edward R Murrow, smoking and telling the world how things really work. And this infuriates the local Republican party, who decides to fix things by offering Kent his old job back, with a pay raise, and he accepts, his journalistic integrity gone. The episode then ends with the goofy joke of Homer and Lisa trying to tell the viewer the awful truth of Fox, which gets dubbed over.

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From what I can tell, this episode wasn’t meant to be the 400th episode. The 24 parody should have been, and that would have made a whole lot more sense, because at least that episode was weird and unique. This episode is just so completely average. I mean, it’s the typical “random townsperson loses their job because of a member of the Simpsons family, and have to come live with them.” Except this one is so truncated and rushed. I feel like this episode could have been really interesting if they had cut basically all of the long and winding first act, and had most of the episode be based around Kent becoming some sort of counter-culture voice of the people. That could have been really interesting, giving Kent Brockman more depth and showing his love of truth. But instead they just shoved that into the end of the last act, before rapidly ending. The idea of the FCC taking down a show because of accidental profanity is okay, but I really think that this episode focuses on the least interesting aspects of the plot. It had some real potential to be unique and interesting, making it a better fit to be the 400th episode, but whatever, I don’t write this show. As it stands this is an episode that’s just kind of okay. But hey, we have something fantastic in store tomorrow!

Take Away: Fox, and everything it touches, is shady as hell and not to be trusted.

 

“You Kent Always Say What You Want” was written by Tim Long and directed by Matthew Nastuk, 2007.

 

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Page Turners

Heart-Shaped Box and the Ghosts of Your Past

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Horror has never quite been my genre. I think it has to do with the fact that I’ve almost always had an overactive imagination, and feeding that with horror typically lead to a lot of sleepless nights. But there was one outlier to that aversion. Good old Stephen King. My aunt adored Stephen King, and got me hooked on his books pretty early on, and I’ve always had a place in my heart for King’s work. I’ve been following King’s work for quite some time, so I of course became intrigued when it came out that an up-and-coming horror writer named Joe Hill was his son. That’s a little lousy of me, not being interested in someone until I learned they were the son of a famous writer, but that’s what happened. I first read his work from the absolutely terrific comic book series Lock and Key, which really convinced me that Hill had some serious chops, and a very unique perspective on horror stories. But it isn’t just comics that Joe Hill has an interest in, because he’s also produced a handful of very well-regarded and beloved horror novels that I’d had recommended to me several times. I think by now I have all of Hill’s novels sitting on my Kindle, and I decided that it was finally time to dip my toes into his prose, and I checked out my first of Hill’s novels, and coincidentally his first, Heart-Shaped Box.

This novel tells the story of an aging rock-star called Judas Coyne and his live-in girlfriend Marybeth. The two live out on a farm in upstate New York with Jude’s assistant Danny, where Jude putters around, recording music and collecting a menagerie of macabre artifacts. He has snuff films, a witch’s confession, and used nooses. So when Danny gets a message of a person selling a suit on the internet that in theory contains the ghost of her step-father, Jude has to snatch it up. The suit then arrives, folded into a heart-shaped box, and Jude is eager to add it to his collection and forget about it. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem possible, since that very night Jude is visited by the ghost of an old man, wearing the black suit and using a pendulum that ends with a razor, whose eyes are a blacked out mess. The ghost then begins following Jude around, harassing him and terrifying him. And this scares Jude more than he thought possible, causing him to panic and demand that Danny gets him in contact with the seller of the suit. Which is where things get complicated. Because it turns out the seller of the suit was the sister of a former girlfriend of Jude’s named Anna. When Jude broke up with Anna she went back home to her family, and ended up committing suicide. It appears that Anna’s sister and step-father have blamed Jude, and sicced the step-father (Craddock)’s ghost on Jude.

With this knowledge Jude begins trying to find a way to rid himself of the ghost, which becomes more pressing when Craddock begins stepping up his menace. He drives Danny insane, and begins trying to convince Jude to kill Marybeth and them himself. This causes Jude and Marybeth to flee the farm, along with Jude’s dogs Bon and Angus who seem to be able to hurt Craddock, and they start driving to Florida, where Anna’s sister lives. Jude, Anna, and the dogs then flee south, trying to stay one step ahead of Craddock and his ghostly truck. They stop off in Georgia to meet with Marybeth’s grandmother and attempt to contact Anna’s spirit with an Ouija board. This does not end up being very productive, so they keep heading on the road until they get to Anna’s sister’s house. And this is where things start getting twisted. We learn that Anna’s suicide may not exactly have been a suicide, and that Craddock’s vengance is actually a little different. Turns out that Craddock was a pedophile, and had been molesting Anna and her sister for their whole lives. Anna’s sister was fine with it, and became Craddock’s disciple, and they killed Anna when she threatened to expose them. They were worried that Anna had told Jude too much, and that’s why they send the ghost after him. So with this knowledge Jude and Marybeth lead Craddock out into the middle of nowhere Louisiana to the farm Jude grew up on, and defeat the ghost, at risk of much personal harm to themselves.

This was an incredibly effective and creepy novel. When I went into it I wasn’t really expecting it to be that frightening. Honestly, most of Stephen King’s novels are just kind of spooky, and that same part of me that was only interested in Hill when I learned he was King’s son made me think that his writing style would be similar. Plus, I’ve never really thought the idea of ghosts were particularly horrifying. But Joe Hill has proved me wrong. His descriptions of Craddock have really stuck with me, and proved to be utterly terrifying. There’s also the fact that he used Craddock and all of the other spirits present in the novel to represent everything you did wrong in your life helped. Yes, Craddock imposed a real and tangible threat, and his motivations did end up being a little different, but for most of the novel he seemed to be a metaphysical representation of everything Jude did wrong in his life. Which is a very relateable and terrifying idea.  We all have baggage, and things that we wish we could change about our lives. And the last thing you would ever want was a physical reminder of it, following you around. This novel really worked wonders for me, so I look forward to checking out what else Joe Hill has up his sleeve.

Heart-Shaped Box was written by Joe Hill and published by William Morrow, 2007.

Reel Talk

A Cure For Wellness and Style Over Substance

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Not every movie is going to be for every person. That should be a no-brainer of a statement, but in our current world where everything is so tailor-made for our interests, it seems like that needs to be out-right stated. And there are certain things a movie can do to almost immediately put me off. And when I first saw the trailer for A Cure For Wellness I kind of assumed that it would be completely out of my interests. I’m not exactly the world’s biggest Gore Verbinski fan, since other than Rango he’s kind of a slightly more artistic Michael Bay, so that alone kind of put me off from the movie. But there was just something off about the trailer that I can’t quite put my finger on, and yet which became almost immediately apparent when I decided to go check out the movie. I had actually heard that it was a unique movie, and one worth seeing despite it’s flaws. So I decided to give it a shot, and went to check out this odd little movie, which somehow seemed to be slipping through the cracks while trying to be a huge blockbuster. I mean, why did this movie get a big studio push at the Super Bowl? Whatever, I’m not a marketer.

This film starts off with a businessman working late and having a heart-attack due to exorbitant amounts of stress. And from that chipper image we get a bunch of exposition tossed at us. The man from the beginning works for a massive financial firm that is currently in chaos because their CEO Pembroke has visited a mysterious health spa in the Swiss Alps, and appears to never be coming back. The company needs his signatures on some merger forms though, so they send an oily  young executive named Lockhart to the spa to fetch him. So Lockhart heads to Switzerland, and makes his way to the ominous castle atop a mountain that has some seriously insane history. It was once owned by a crazy baron who did experiments on peasants to try and cure his sister/wife’s infertility, until the peasants burnt the castle down. Surely none of that will be important. Anyway, Lockhart gets to the creepy spa, and is stonewalled by the staff, being told that he can’t meet with Pembroke. This causes Lockhart to have a hissy fit and announce that he’s going back down to the village but will come back. And as he and a driver head down the mountain things are ruined when a CGI elk comes bounding out of the woods, crashes into their car, and Lockhart passes out. And when he wakes up he’s shocked to find that he’s apparently broken a leg, and has now become a patient in the spa.

And from there Lockhart just begins heading around the spa, trying to find Pembroke and discover what the hell is going on in the creepy spa. He meets the man in charge, Dr. Volmer, who is obviously evil, and gets all of the spa’s odd procedures inflicted upon himself. Like being submerged in a giant tank of water that appears to be full of eels. And while all of this is going on Lockhart starts to question his sanity, and that of everyone around him. Everyone in the spa seem to be obsessed with it, and have no intention of leaving, which is obviously horrifying to Lockhart. Oh, and he also meets a creepy woman named Hannah who lives at the spa, and apparently always has. She basically has the mind of a child, and just says creepy things nonstop. Lockhart continues investigating what’s going on, stealing patient files and creeping around the spa. This comes to an end though when he heads into a secret part of the spa and finds the truth about their special treatments, and the vitamins that Volmer and Hannah take. Turns out Volmer has uncovered a process that the baron discovered that involves the aquifer under the mansion, eels, and bodies that somehow creates a cure for basically everything. He then pumps some eels into Lockhart, and turns him into yet another zombie at the spa. Which would have been a great place to end. Instead things keep going, we see Hannah get her first period, we learn that Volmer is actually the baron and has been alive for hundreds of years to become some sort of eel-man, Hannah is actually his daughter who survived the assault on the baron, and he plans on marrying Hannah and continuing their bloodline. Yep. Lockhart figures all of this out by the way, and comes storming down to Volmer’s secret laboratory under the castle. He and Volmer fight a little, and Hannah ends up killing Volmer. They then burn the castle down, and ride a bike off into the sunset together.

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Okay, this was not a good movie. It was the very definition of a slog. There were some good things about it, but basically all of them were visual. The film is absolutely beautifully shot, with a really masterful eye for cinematography. The production design for the movie was also fantastic. Verbinski had wanted to make a film of BioShock for quite some time, and this movie does show that he probably would have nailed the design of that project if it had ever gotten off the ground. The spa was beautifully designed and full of unique and beautiful sets. But where the movie didn’t exactly shine was basically everything else. I’m not a fan of Dane DeHaan in general, and a combination of his performance and the script he was acting out made Lockhart an immensely unlikable protagonist. I mean, we seriously were supposed to care about some little trust-fund brat who called his co-workers pussies? Honestly, no character in this movie was likable. Everyone was hammy and over the top, which maybe would have worked if this film didn’t take itself so deadly seriously. I suppose this movie is nominally a horror movie, but it just comes across as incredibly strange. It’s full of hackneyed horror tropes, like flickering lights, little girls singing, and a soundtrack that was mostly jump-scare stings. However there was a lot of other weird things that didn’t necessarily fit in the traditional horror mold, and maybe say more about Verbinski than anything else. I would wager that Verbinski really has issues with water, eels, doctors, and teeth, because this movie was jam packed with these elements, and then the movie just kind of would sit back and expect you to be horrified, as if we all had weird eel phobias. I really think this movie would have been somewhat less interminable if it had ended when Lockhart was first zombified. There’s a moment where he talks to Hannah and says that he would never want to leave, and that would have been the perfect place to cut to black. The reveal that Hannah was the baby and Volmer was the baron was incredibly obvious about twenty minutes into the movie, and I think ending the film without explicitly explaining this would have been a great move. And ending it with Lockhart losing and becoming just like everyone else would have been even better, and not features bad CGI eel-man combat.

There was one phrase that was cycling through my head nonstop when I was watching this movie. And that was “style over substance.” I know that film is a visual medium, but I’ve never personally been a fan of movies that focus completely on the visuals and ignore the writing. That’s why art films have never really been my cup of tea. It’s probably because I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and have been a rabid consumer of stories. Movies should be a union of visuals, music, stories, and acting. If any of those factors become more important than the others it tends to be problematic. This movie clearly was obsessed with it’s cinematography and production design, and clearly did not give anywhere as much effort into it’s script. Such a beautiful movie shouldn’t have had such a bland, predictable, and overall boring plot. I tried to like this movie, but it just seemed to make every obvious choice, and just dragged on and on. I really think that the movie should have ended about twenty minutes earlier than it did, and not just for narrative reasons. This movie limped along like a CGI elk after being hit by a car. This movie was very pretty, but there was nothing below the surface. And I know some people like that. Some people can get swept up in the beauty and poetry of the visuals. But I’m not one of those people. I can certainly appreciate some beautiful cinematography, but it needs a story to prop it up. And this movie could not accomplish that.

A Cure for Wellness was written by Justin Haythe, was directed by Gore Verbinski, and released by 20th Century Fox, 2017.

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House-Keeping

Brief Vacation

Hey there everybody. I’m going to be taking this week off from my Lifetime of Simpsons project, because my wife and I are taking a brief trip to California to visit relatives and check in on the Happiest Place on Earth, and then take care of some medical stuff. I’ll be back next Monday with a really big week of Simpsons, and then things will be back to normal.

 

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Reel Talk

The Lego Batman Movie and the Importance of Robin

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I talk about Batman a whole lot on this site, and I probably have far too many opinions about a fictional man who dresses like a bat and punches mentally challenged people. But it’s not like I’m alone. Everyone loves Batman, and luckily there’s a version of the character for everyone. Unfortunately most of the interpretations of Batman that have been in pop culture for the last decade have not exactly been my type of Batman. But I guess that’s what people like now, so I just have to deal with a pseudo-fascist Batman that’s full of hate. That is until a few years ago when I went to check out what seemed like one of the most absurd movie ideas I’d ever heard of. The Lego Movie. There’s really no reason that that movie shouldn’t have just been a soulless cash-grab, but somehow it became an immensely funny and shockingly poignant movie that really clicked with me. And one of the breakout performances of that movie was Will Arnett’s over-the-top ridiculous portrayal of Batman. It was seemingly universally loved, and it was only a matter of time that they gave this Lego Batman his own spin-off. So I was always going to be down with this film. But then details started coming out about it, showing what direction they were going with it, and I started to get really excited. And let me tell you, this movie exceeded those expectations.

The movie takes place fully entrenched in the world of Batman, not really serving as a sequel to the Lego Movie by featuring the multiple worlds established in that one. We really just stick in Gotham City, and the Lego version of the DC universe. And things are very Batmany. We start off with an army of all of Batman’s villains (and they get some deep cuts) hijacking a plane full of explosives, and preparing to hold the city ransom by threatening to blow up a nuclear power plant. This of course does not come to fruition when Batman arrives and promptly beats them all, leading to a showdown with the Joker where Batman tells him that he means nothing to him. This turns out to have been a bad call, because this really sticks with the Joker, who decides he needs to do something big and crazy to show Batman that he’s his archnemesis, and the greatest villain of all time. Which is right when the Joker sees an interview with Superman, who is talking about how great the Phantom Zone is, and how many incredibly powerful villains he has locked up in there. So now the Joker has a new idea.

Meanwhile, Batman is living his life, trying his hardest to be sullen and alone, and never Bruce Wayne, when he’s invited to the retirement party for Commissioner Gordon. Bruce goes, and meets a young orphan named Dick Grayson that he accidentally adopts while fawning over the new commissioner, Barbara Gordon. The party is cut short though when Joker and all the villains arrive, and promptly surrender. They’re all sent to prison, and Batman realizes that without villains his life has no meaning. So he starts fixating on them, and decides that prison isn’t good enough for the Joker, and ends up being gaslit into thinking that he should send the Joker to the Phantom Zone. So Batman heads to the Fortress of Solitude, with the newly created Robin, and they steal a weapon that will send people to the Phantom Zone. The Dynamic Duo then go back to Gotham, and zap Joker straight into success. Joker enters the Phantom Zone, and recruits an eclectic group of villains, such as King Kong, some Gremlins, Daleks, Voldemort, and Sauron. They then free themselves from the Phantom Zone and begin destroying Gotham City. Which requires Batman to face his greatest fear, and depend on others. He, Robin, Barbara, and Alfred head into Gotham, and fight wave after wave of villains, eventually being joined by Batman’s whole Rogue’s Gallery. And, in the end they all come together and help save Gotham City, and Batman learns that depending on people is a strength, not a weakness.

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This movie is a whole lot of fun. It has a very similar sense of absurdist humor that the Lego Movie had, just with an extra dose of Batman goodness. Because this movie really gets Batman. It’s full to the brim with amazing references and moments that show that the creators of this movie are huge fans of the character, in all his iterations. I mean, the Two-Face in this movie is Billy Dee Williams and there’s a scene where Bat-Shark Repellent comes into play. Hell, they even mention some of the old serial adventures from the 1940s. This was a movie that took the vast world of Batman, and lovingly embraced all of it. It lovingly mocked the characters weaker points, and fully embraced the delightful weirdness that the character has had over his 75 plus years of existence. It was also a movie that was clearly not half-assed. This wasn’t pumped out to capitalize on the success of the Lego Movie. It was well-crafted and animated, featured some truly clever writing, and a ridiculously great cast. Seriously, go check out that cast-list and appreciate how genius almost every pick for the villains are. And most of them barely said more than one word, but were completely memorable. We got a high-flying and crazy Batman adventure story really unlike any that we’ve gotten lately. This wasn’t a movie that was striving for realism, or “maturity.” It was just a really fun Batman story that ends with Batman and his villains finding common ground and not trying to kill each other. And we don’t get too many of those these days.

Plus, at it’s heart, this movie examined one of the most important aspects of Batman, that so often gets overlooked in modern pop culture. The importance of the Bat Family, and Robin in particular. Batman didn’t exist for very long before Robin showed up, but it really was a formative addition to his character. A Batman without a Robin, and therefore without the larger Bat Family, is not a particularly pleasant character. Without the stabilizing force of Robin, Batman is usually completely focused on vengeance. He becomes a vigilante, not a hero. A solo Batman is more violent and mean spirited. Which seems to be what a lot of people like nowadays. But when you add Robin, or really any of the other Bat Family members, into the mix, there’s a profound change in the character. Batman goes from being a stoic crusader to a mentor and father-figure. The blood-lust gets taped down and he grows a conscience. And that’s where we get the Batman that I love. The beginning of the movie featured a cartoonish Batman who loved being alone, unattached, full of anger and who most loved beating up bad guys. Which is basically the guy that we’ve been getting in movies for the past decade. But this movie showed that that Batman is unsustainable. That Batman isn’t a good guy. That’s a Batman who has more in common with his villains than the police, and who would probably brand people. But by the end of this movie we have a Batman who realizes that there’s more to life than hate, and he becomes a better person for it. Which is kind of exactly what we need right now.

The Lego Batman Movie was written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Whittington, was directed by Chris McKay, and was released by Warner Bros. Pictures, 2017.

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Reel Talk

John Wick: Chapter 2 Continues Building a Fascinating World

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Hey everyone, look whose back. John Wick! I talked about John Wick a couple weeks ago when I felt the need to revisit the film, and I still stand by the opinion that John Wick was one of the best action movies of the decade. It’s inventive, weird, colorful, and features some of the most insane and ingenious action setpieces I’ve ever seen. It’s an incredible film, and as soon as I saw it I knew that I needed more of it’s world in my life. So of course I was going to be excited when I heard that they were making a sequel. And that excitement increased tenfold when I started to hear some early reviews of the movie, and some critics were saying that it may have been even better than the original. This seemed like kind of a ridiculous statement, but the thing people kept going back to was the idea that if you enjoyed all the weird world-building of the first movie, everything with the elaborate world of crime, that you would like this movie even more, because it jumps fully into that insane universe and revels in it. And folks, that weird world that the first film created may have been my favorite part of John Wick. That movie crafted a unique and bizarre world from whole cloth and left me wanting more. So the idea that this movie delivered the same level of crazy action and pushed it’s insane world even further made me very excited. And it did not disappoint.

John Wick: Chapter 2 starts off basically exactly where the last film ended, with John still taking down the Russian mob. He’s trying to find his missing car, which has been taken by the brother of the mob leader from the first film, and he starts mowing down Russian goons like the good old days. For a brief moment I thought that this movie was going to be a John Wick version of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure where he just travels around trying to find his car, but that was just a little cold open before we get to the ridiculous real plot. Because once he gets his car John heads home, plays with his new dog, and buries all of his assassin stuff in the basement again. Which is right when his doorbell rings and he’s dragged back into the criminal world. John’s visitor is a man named Santino D’Antonio who is a member of a powerful Italian crime family. Apparently Santino helped John in the past, and John became in his debt. And now Santino is calling in that debt. Apparently the world of crime is run by several crime families around the world, called the High Table, and Santino’s father was a member. He’s died, and has given the empire to Santino’s sister Gianna. And Santino would like John to kill Gianna for him so he can take over this father’s empire. John refuses this, insisting that he’s done with murder again. Santino does not care for this response, and decides to blow up John’s house.

This spurs John to bring his dog and head back into the city to visit the Continental Hotel again, and visit with Winston the Manager. Winston tells him that the only way to let this whole thing blow over is to do what Santino wants, and then fall back into obscurity. So John bites the bullet, flies to Rome, and gets ready to kill Gianna. He visits the Continental in Rome, goes to a tailor who gives him a bullet-proof suit, buys guns from some sort of gun sommelier, and talks to a historian who gives him blueprints of the D’Antonio estate. John heads into the catacombs of the estate during a coronation celebration for Gianna, and then proceeds to sneak in and find her personal room. The two talk for a bit, and Gianna decides to kill herself rather than have John do the deed. So, contract’s done! Which is when Santino sends his army of goons, lead by the mute Ares, to kill John. This then leads to John realizing that now that the debt is repaid, he’s clear to kill Santino. Thus begins John Wick murdering his way through waves and waves of Santino’s goons, until Santino realizes he needs to step things up. So he sets out a hit on John, offering $7 million to whoever can kill John. We then get a veritable Street Fighter game of insane assassins going after John, including Gianna’s former bodyguard Cassian, who has taken John’s survival as a personal insult. But, since this is a John Wick movie, he manages to defeat them all, fighting his way through a series of crazy set-pieces, all until he corners Santino in the Continental. Unfortunately you can’t kill people in the Continental, otherwise you get excommunicated from the the world of crime. And this is apparently worth it to John, because he shoots Santino, accepts his excommunication, and heads out into the world with the knowledge that he still has a bounty on his head, and has nowhere to turn to now.

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This movie is a hell of a good time. I watched it with a grin plastered on my face basically the whole time. Sequels are often really hard to get right, because they’ve got to try and top the original without going too far and becoming a parody of the first movie. And this flick somehow succeeds in doing that. Because this wasn’t just a retread of the first movie, which is kind of what I thought was going to happen. The through-line of revenge was still present, but it was a much larger scale. The action was still just as absurd, and featured such crazy set-pieces as the fight with Common where they fight and fall down stairs and a ridiculous gun-battle inside a hall of mirrors. And it wasn’t just the action, really everything about this film worked for me. It was shot beautifully, full of amazing colors and frenetic but followable scenes, and just about everyone killed it in this movie. Keanu continued to be terrific as the stoic and tortured Wick, but all of the new-comers were great as well. I’ve been a big fan of Common’s acting work, and he was delightful as Cassian. Ruby Rose’s Ares was a whole bundle of weird character traits, but she was a goddamn joy, dominating every scene she was in. Laurence Fishburn was kind of all over the place as a weird ‘King of the Hobos’ type character, but he was a lot of fun, and it was great to see him and Keanu in a film together again. All in all it was just a really well-made and fun action flick.

But the thing that really stood out about the movie to me, was exactly what the reviewers had said. It had the same amount of action as the first film, but took the foundation of the world-building that the first film did and ran with it. I know this movie may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, especially if they were just looking for another crazy action movie and not exactly seeking out the examination of the political structure of Crime World. But I dug the hell out of it. I’m obsessed with the fact that these films aren’t based on anything, and are completely created for the films, because the world that they’ve created is so elaborate and fascinating that I would legitimate read novels about how this world functions. Learning about the High Table, the system of Continental Hotel’s around the world, and the vast organizations that spread from the two. We get to see the call-center where hits are called into, we get to see a huge group-text informing all of the assassins about a hit, and learn about Laurence Fishburn’s network of hobo spies. And yet there’s still plenty we don’t understand. There’s more backstory that remains vague, aspects of the world that haven’t been uncovered, and plenty more dots to connect. And that’s what’s going to keep me coming back. The action and direction of these films are tremendous, but the thing that really clicks with me about them is the world-building, and this movie proves that they aren’t going to be dropping it anytime soon.

John Wick: Chapter 2 was written by Derek Kolstad, directed by Chad Stahelski, and released by Summit Entertainment, 2017.

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