Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Review of Dunkin’ Donuts’ “Men in Black 3”-Inspired Offerings

And just a little criticism of the film’s plot holes…which, presumably, go quite well with donut holes

Maybe you caught “Men In Black 3” this weekend (my review, in less than seven syllables: “eh, just kinda’ all-right-ish”). Somewhere along the way, you might have wondered a few things, like “how much product placement for Baskin Robbins can one movie have?” or “how is Will Smith still culturally relevant following ‘Hancock?’” But more so than anything, you were probably wondering “you know, if Dunkin’ Donuts made an assortment of tie-in, limited time only items to correspond to the film’s release, what would they look like?”

Well, wonder no more, America.

At the ripened age of 26, I have a rather shocking confession to make; my entire life, I have never stepped foot inside a Dunkin’ Donuts. I guess the best excuse I can give you is that I grew up in the southeastern United States, where it took DD a couple of decades to really embed itself in the landscape, but now that they’re almost as ubiquitous in the southland as Chick-fil-a and ignorance of other cultures, I guess that rationale holds a lot less weigh that it used to.

Alas, Dunkin’ Donuts clearly knows my glaring weakness as a human being, and that’s the phrase “for a limited time only.” Odds are, I’ll be able to just waltz into one of their stores at any point in my life and just order a cup of coffee and some bear claws, so to get me to move off my duff and actually visit one of their chains requires something just a little bit extra. As in, a novelty beverage based upon a movie that’s going to get its ass kicked at the box office by “The Avengers” - and knowing my demographic a lot better than most retailers, they had the horse sense to unveil an entire series of desserts and iced coffees with a “Men in Black 3” hook to really hammer that particular point home.

Although the “Black Cocoa Crème Iced Coffee” is clearly the most ballyhooed of the Dunkin’ Donuts/Men In Black tie-in cavalcade, it’s most certainly not the only synergetic product on the store shelves. Behind the counter, you’ll also be able to find two limited-time donut variations, an “Undercover Black Cocoa” offering as well as a “Chocolate Lunarmax” dessert - which I suppose is a reference to the moon prison that was featured at the beginning of the movie. You know, the one that somehow has human visitors from earth, despite it being on the freaking moon, with no subsequent explanation from the film thereafter.

Aesthetically, the products are minimalistically-designed, which I suppose is sort of fitting considering the source material. You get lots of black, white and brown, which are hues that I guess are pretty hard to avoid whenever you’re talking coffee or baked breakfast goods. Seeing as how I was a little pressed for time (why the hell would a coffee shop need to close at just 10 p.m., anyway?), I decided to try just one of the tie-in donuts, which ended up being the star-shaped one because, well, it had more sprinkles than the other one.

As far as quantity is concerned, you really can’t argue about what you’re getting. The small size cup at DD - which runs less than two bucks, American - is empirically large enough for a toddler to drown in, and while it’s kind of hard to capture the size of a donut on camera, rest assured; those things were really, really big. As in, large enough to require an utensil to eat it, and not just because it was filled with an additional half pound of molten chocolate on the inside.

While the price is nice and it’s hard to not enjoy the opportunity to literally ingest fleeting pop cultural whimsy, I guess the ultimate question one asks about the “Men In Black” inspired offerings is whether or not the stuff is actually, you know, edible. And to that question, I can easily answer - that really depends according to your tolerance for loads and loads of sugar.

Look, I enjoy chocolate as much as the next human being. In fact, I’d venture to guess that at least eighty percent of my daily caloric intake is derived from either sugars or sugar-derivatives, and take my word for it when I say that I can eat a LOT of sugar-drenched foods. That said, the combination of cookies-and-cream flavored coffee with a doughnut literally speckled with sugar atop sugar atop sugar was enough to give me a headache that lasted well after the movie I had watched that evening concluded.

But, seeing as how that movie just so happened to be “Men In Black 3,” with its dazzling array of massive plot holes and superb ignorance of diagetic logic, maybe that onset migraine was actually my brain trying to make sense of the mostly illogical cinematic conventions unfurling before my very eyes. Like that one scene, where Will Smith uses time travel to just “Prince of Persia” his way back to about five seconds ago and avoid the bad guy’s poisonous needles EVEN THOUGH that same bad guy just got time warped alongside Smith’s character - for whatever reason, the good guy is able to RECALL the lost time that occurred during the chronological shift, while the bad guy that was time zapped right along side him has ZERO recollection of the events of just a few seconds ago.

And then there’s the film’s GRAND REVEAL, where we find out that Will Smith’s character, as a little boy, actually came into contact with Tommy Lee Jones’ character circa 1969. The “get-out-of-here-with-that-shit” comes a little later, when Will Smith, as an adult, watches his hitherto unmentioned father - a high-ranking military chief - get smoked by the film’s primary bad guy. After 1969 Tommy Lee Jones polishes off the baddie, four year old Will Smith comes out running, asking where his dad went - kind of oblivious to the fact that his pop is about three feet to his left, with about twenty billion moon porcupine needles jutting out of his face.

So, all of that right there means that ALL ALONG, Will Smith’s character would have known who Tommy Lee Jones was, or at least thought he bared a striking resemblance to that one dude that just sort of showed up after his father disappeared from the picture a good thirty years prior. This is a fact that is never brought up in the first “Men In Black” movie, nor its 2002 sequel. Hell, it’s a fact that isn’t even brought up in the film’s denouement, when Will Smith has the ability to TELL modern day Tommy Lee Jones all the shit he learned while time traveling. Additionally, for a movie that spends so much time fawning over the New York landscape (it concludes with “Empire State of Mind” playing in the background, no less), I think it’s downright peachy that Will Smith’s character - nor the MIB operation, which has ACCESS to time travel technology - did anything to prevent 9/11 from occurring. Granted, that’s a complaint I have about EVERY film involving a time travel plot mechanic from 2002 onward, but still.

So, uh, what was I talking about again? Oh yeah, those Dunkin’ Donuts tie-ins. As before, as long as you have a sweet tooth (and I mean, a really, really sweet one) you will probably dig whatever MIB-branded gunk the chain will be hawking at you. The java purist I am, I prefer my coffee hot and chalky-tasting, but I really liked the “Black Cocoa Crème” iced drink, which I reckon makes for a delicious pick-up for those days where it’s a good ten or twenty degrees north of 80 Fahrenheit.

All in all, I guess “Men in Black 3” makes a better coffee than it does a motion picture. Hell, that’s probably why the filmmakers threw in that recurring gag about Tommy Lee Jones’ thinking the in-house Joe tasted like “dirt, because it was ground this morning.”

Well, that, or else Starbucks wouldn’t return Barry Sonnenfeld’s phone calls…

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


A Less Than Comprehensive, Thoroughly Satirical Look Back at the Latest UFC PPV

Welcome, all of you, to the NEW home of The Rocktagon! 

For those of you that don’t know what a “Rocktagon” is, it’s definitely not something that’s a copyrighted brand name for a drum kit device. Not at all, amigos. Instead, “The Rocktagon” was/is the name of a long-running column of sorts I used to do for TWF, which, sadly, passed away earlier this year when site owner Sean Carless decided to actually do things with his life that result in people paying him money for a change.

As far as the “scope” of “The Rocktagon,” it began life as a satirical look at the absurdities and excesses of 1990s professional wrestling, but quickly morphed into a column examining the comings and goings of the UFC world, which, according to some people, is somewhat popular these days. Since 2009 (UFC 97: Redemption, to be exact), I’ve covered just about every major UFC PPV (that I felt like watching, anyway), and I figured this here blog is just about the best harbor to park the venture. 

And what better way to begin The Rocktagon 2.0 than by recapping UFC 146: dos Santos vs. Mir, a.k.a. “The ALL HEAVYWEIGHT PPV?” That’s right, Holmes, there isn’t, so let me formally welcome each and every one of you degenerates to the Rocktagon Revisit of UFC 146

As always, I am calling this here shindig from the lovely “Bailey’s” in Kennesaw, Ga., while the live she-bang is emanating from Las Vegas, Nevada. Our hosts are Mikey Goldberg and Joe Rogan, and tonight’s festivities entail some XL entrees. Now who’s ready to watch some overrated Strikeforce jump-shippers get the taste slapped out of their mouths for our amusement? 

Stefan Struve vs. Lavar Johnson 

Johnson is taking this fight just three weeks after his stoppage of Pat Barry at the last UFC on Fox show. Struve - the tallest fighter in the promotion, by the way - wastes no time taking the fight to the mat, locking in triangle just a few minutes into the first round. Johnson taps immediately, and the ref waves off the contest. 

Immediate thoughts: I know I’ve heard the back-story before, but what happened to Johnson’s chest? The dude’s abdomen is sewn up like he’s Chucky or something, giving him a total of three options to choose from come bellybutton picking time. An impressive enough performance by Struve, who I think should definitely change his nickname to “The Light Bulb Changer,” drop to 205, and begin a feud with Vladimir “The Janitor” Matyushenko as soon as possible. 

Stipe Miocic vs. Shane del Rosario

Miocic is the second coming of Cro-Cop, and del Rosaria is just some fat dude from Strikeforce that’s won a couple of heavyweight bouts over people nobody has ever heard of before. Therefore, he’s already getting hyped as the future of the division, because…well, people are kind of dim, that’s why. 

The first round was mildly competitive, with del Rosario getting some nice shots in here and there, but the pace was still controlled by Miocic (pronounced MEE-OH-CHECK, if you’re having some linguistic difficulties.) The second round, however, was a completely different story, with Rosario appearing gassed like an empty propane tank and Miocic going in for the kill early. It didn’t take long for the Stipe to finish the bout, swarming on del Rosario early in the second and securing a TKO finish shortly thereafter. 

Immediate thoughts: You know, for the longest time, a lot of Internet dweebs thought the Strikeforce heavyweight talent pool was FAR superior to the homegrown UFC crop. Not saying they’re wrong or anything, but of the eight men originally scheduled for the heavyweight grand prix, only ONE of them (VER-DOOM!) has managed to amass an undefeated record after jumping aboard the UFC express. And before you say anything, Overeem doesn’t count, as anybody that literally hops in a car and speeds away from a drug test is probably destined for a lifetime of NSAC-overturned victories anyway.

Dan Hardy vs. Duane Ludwig

Since the first two bouts ended ridiculously early, we’ve got some prelims up in this. Hardy - perhaps the most lame duck UFC championship contender of the modern era (and that’s a list that includes Thales Leites and Patrick Cote, by the way) - took a year off to figure out how to do things like “block” and “get out of the way of stuff” and apparently, his training paid off, as he managed to KO “Bang” Ludwig early in the first to rejuvenate(?) his career. Post-fight, Hardy said some stuff in British-English, which really, nobody can decipher. He either said something about how great his training camp was, or else it was time for tea and crumpets, but the hell if I’ll ever figure out which one. 

Edson Barboza vs. Jamie Varner 

Varner took this fight on retardedly short notice, replacing Evan Dunham, who was probably at home playing “Diablo III” or something. Anyway, if you’re looking for 2012’s presumptive frontrunner for “upset of the year,” I think this one right here is about as shocking a fight outcome as we’ve had over the last six months. Barboza - a dude who many thought was on the fast track to a Lightweight title shot - made Varner taste some nasty leg kicks early, but Varner, perhaps inspired by a week of watching Jean Claude Van-Damme movies, decided to forego all of that “self-defense” nonsense and just start swinging for the fences - and I’ll be several assortments, shades and flavorings of “damned” if Varner not only connected, but managed to KTFO of Barboza to give him his first loss under the ZUFFA banner. 

Roy Nelson vs. Dave Herman

Nelson - basically, the MMA equivalent of Kenny Powers, only without the racist disposition and taste for the cocaine - comes out to Queen, rocking a mullet, a rattail and a mountain-man beard…ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Anyway, this fight was friggin’ hilarious, with Nelson dropping Herman with a solid right hand that not only made Herman hit the mat, but hit it sitting Indian-style, which I suppose means Nelson popped him so hard that he thought he was back in kindergarten or something. Afterwards, Nelson rubs his belly and cuts a promo about how awesome the fans are. 

Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio Silva

JESUS HERNANDES OCTAVIOUS CHIRST. With this bout, Velasquez becomes the first fighter in UFC history to win a bout by making his opponent pass out from oxygen loss without applying a choke hold. I’ve seen some gory fights in my day, and while there’s probably one or two that’s more gruesome than this one, it’s got to be the most brutally one-sided ass beating the UFC has put on in quite some time. Velasquez, despite being smaller than his Tiki-headed opponent, takes Silva down earlier, gashes his forehead with an elbow smash, and proceeds to drain Silva of his entire plasma supply over the next four minutes. The ref calls it with about a minute to go in the first, when Silva’s liquidized bone marrow begins oozing out of his ears. All I can say is, if Silva has any blood-borne illnesses, they’re going to have to quarantine the entire state of Nevada after this match. 

Junior dos Santos (Champion) vs. Frank Mir (Challenger)

As always, dos Santos comes out to “Gonna’ Fly Now,” and as soon as he stomped his foot on the canvas upon entering the cage, you just KNEW Mir was going to end up tasting his own internal organs before the night was over. The champ brought a little Brazilian kid with him, which is great, because I’m sure taking a six year old to a city built by hookers and mobsters and introducing him to a sports world filled with treachery, violence and drug abuse WON’T influence him negatively in any way. Like, at all. 

Mir shoots for a takedown early, and Junior dos Santos - who, more and more, reminds me of an MMA-version of Hulk Hogan, and not just because of the receding hairline - just shakes it off, wags his finger in Mir’s face, and proceeds to box the ever-loving shit out of him for the next four minutes. Mir goes down a couple of times in the first, and by the time the second kicks off, the dude looks like he’s staring at a Magic Eye painting or something. JDS continues to brutalize Mir, drops him and the ref calls it quits after Mir takes a face plant following a nasty overhand from the champ. In the post-fight, dos Santos calls for the kid to enter the cage, but wisely remembering the shit that went down at  the end of the Strikeforce: Nashville card, the ZUFFA brass doesn’t allow it. And it’s a good thing dos Santos wasn’t fighting one of the Cesar Gracie fighters, because I’m pretty sure one of the Diaz brothers would’ve ended up taking a swing at him. 

So, Where Do We Go From Here? 

Well, a dos Santos/Velasquez rematch is all but guaranteed following tonight’s results, but the end-dividends of the undercard give us some entertaining future fight possibilities, too. For example, who among us WOULDN’T love to see Roy Nelson take on Mark Hunt in his next match-up? And it’s pretty much a given that Stipe Miocic and Stefan Struve need to clash at some point, and considering the relatively shallow list of contenders in the division, that “some point” really needs to happen a lot sooner than later. 

The Verdict on Tonight’s Show: 

Simply put, if you didn’t enjoy tonight’s show, you can go kill yourself. Well, that, or watch Bellator, whichever is worse for you at this particular juncture in your life. 

I was sort of skeptical of whether or not an all heavyweights show would work, but I think it definitely delivered here tonight. Granted, every single fight on the card was a mismatch, but shit, sometimes you just want to see people getting their skulls caved in and bleeding a whole lot. If you walked away from UFC 146 a disappointed customer, you really, really need to find a new pastime. It may not have included any fight of the year nominees, but it left me wanting more, more and more after the show concluded, which is ultimately the hallmark of any great MMA show. So far, it’s easily the most entertaining MMA show I’ve seen in 2012, and a show format that I would LOVE to see the company utilize again in the not-too-distant future. 

SHOW HIGHLIGHT: Aw, man, so many awesome finishes to choose from! The dos Santos/Mir fight was satisfying in the same way watching The Incredible Hulk pound the crap out of Loki in “The Avengers” was, and the Velasquez/Silva fought easily registered about a 9.0 on the Muta Scale. That said, Nelson’s KO of Herman was probably the moment that put the fattest grin on my face all night, so to conclude? Yeah, all of the above, really. 

SHOW LOWLIGHT: I really can’t think of anything, to be honest. Maybe they should have shown Glover Texiera’s company debut on the main card, perhaps? 

ROGAN-ISM OF THE NIGHT: “He’s getting fucked up!” - Joe Rogan on the aforementioned Glover Texiera debut fight. 


- Whatever you do, don’t let a seven foot tall Swedish dude hurrancanrana you during a street fight. 

- Sometimes, you don’t need steroids to prove successful in the cage. [RoyNelson.jpg] 

- It’s very, very difficult to win a fight when you’re swimming in your own platelets. 

- If a 240 pound Brazilian waves his index finger at you Hulk Hogan style, run. 

- Apparently, size does matter. 

Well, that’s all I’ve got for you this week. Crank up “King Kong Brigade” by Off! and “Like a Prayer” by Madonna (no, really), and I’ll be seeing you in a few. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My “God Bless America” / “The Secret World of Arrietty” Double Review!

One’s a heartfelt family-friendly adventure, and the other is about killing people that enjoy heartfelt family-friendly adventures. So which niche-market, limited release flick deserves your attention the most? 

A few weeks ago, I took a trip down to the local drive-in, which I proclaimed was going to be my new “summer home” for this season’s cinematic offerings. Well, just a few hours after my initial voyage to that “summer home,” some dude that was well-versed in karate got shot and killed there, so, yeah, give me just a little bit of time to decide how long it will be before I return there. And seeing as how they’re doing a screening of “Return of the Living Dead” with pro wrestling matches featuring movie monsters before that in a few weeks, it looks like it’s not going to be as long a wait as I originally imagined.

Alas, even in tragedy there is unexpected beauty, which for me, manifested itself in the opportunity to check out two extremely different limited-release movies at two of Atlanta’s lesser-heralded movie dens.

If you’re a movie snob in the ATL, you’ve no doubt been to the Plaza theater a couple of jillion times over the years. Well, yank that REO Speedwagon shirt right off my back, because despite being a pretentious douche in every sense of the word, I’ve never actually seen a movie at that particular venue before. And all I can say is…man, I really, REALLY wish I would’ve brought my camera with me.

For one, the lobby is plastered with classic movie posters, of everything from “The Evil Dead” to “Showgirls.” But the best part - and believe you me, this fact alone will inspire many, many return visits on my part - was the in-house arcade, which featured a staggering number of old-school coin-op classics that, somehow, were still in working condition. Finding a playable “Defender” cabinet these days is about as likely uncovering an attractive female in a comic book store, and not only did the Plaza have that, they had it right next to a “Ms. Pac-Man” AND “Bust-a-Move” unit. If you happen to be standing in line there one night, and it sounds like the guy behind you has about fifty pounds of loose change in his pockets, that’s probably me waiting to get my Taito on.

Now, what did I see on my virgin run to the Plaza, you may be asking? Well, just your typical social-satire about a cross-country killing spree, I suppose…and if I see a better movie all summer, I’d quantify myself as one lucky duck.

God Bless America
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Year: 2011

“God Bless America” is a movie that, thematically, covers the same ground covered by a litany of films, from “Bonnie and Clyde” to “Heathers” to “Natural Born Killers.” The variable here is that the film is anchored around a hatred of United States popular culture as opposed to the social order itself, and director Bobcat Goldthwait, smartly, decides to play the movie mostly for dark comedy. And when I say “dark comedy,” I mean it, as within the first 10 minutes of the film, we have a scene featuring the main character revealing in the aftermath of an exploded baby.

Yes, yes, we’ve seen a million, billion social satires about guys “just not being able to take it anymore,” from “Falling Down” to “Fight Club” to the insanely underrated 2007 flick “He Was A Quiet Man.” What Goldthwait’s film does differently, however, is target the insulting banality and crudeness of contemporary American existence. Whereas the aforementioned films were infuriated by the socioeconomic underpinnings of consumer culture, this movie is downright pissed about our low standards for entertainment, eschewing barbs about Starbucks and credit unions for a literal all-out assault on “American Idol” and “The O’Reilly Factor.”

The targets in “God Bless America” - and I use the term “targets” here in just about the most hyper-literal sense you can imagine - run the gamut from racist Tea Baggers to the homophobic Fred Phelps clan to all of those snooty, spoiled teenage hyenas on shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom.” Over the course of 90 minutes, Joel Murray (Billy’s brother, if he looks somewhat familiar to you) and his high-school-aged accomplice (played by Tara Lynne Barr, who may or may not be related by Roseanne, but I haven’t found the time to Google it yet) trek across the country, putting various caps in assorted asses of reality TV starlets, waffle-eating chi-mos and people that can’t keep their fat yaps shut in movie theaters; alike avenging angels for the YouTube generation, they do their part to rid the American consciousness of the vapid, the idiotic and the rude, all the while bantering back and forth about why they hate “Juno” and love Alice Cooper (which makes this the second film released this summer that features the pioneering shock-rocker as a pivotal plot dynamic.)

Not everything the film sets out to achieve necessarily works, and there are some doldrums that kick in here and there, but ultimately, “God Bless America” is one of the most enjoyable, unique and, periodically, unsettling experiences I’ve had in a movie theater in quite awhile. The film’s overall atmosphere is gonzo enough to take the sting out of most of the on-screen mayhem, but rest assured, if you’re up for some soul-churning violence, this movie delivers it in buckets. There is a pervasive unpleasantness that permeates the entire picture, making it this weird bastard amalgamation of “Taxi Driver” and “American Psycho.” You’ll feel like a degenerate for laughing at most of what you see, and when you don’t laugh? Well, odds are, that will make you feel like an even bigger one.

A lot of the humor in the movie is extremely heavy-handed, but it pretty much has to be. There’s nothing subtle about the material the film mocks, so I really don’t see why the film would have to skewer the material in a more skillful manner, anyway. The monologues and socially-conscious dialogue may get to some people, but in a summer season loaded with thoughtless action vehicles and mega-budget franchise flicks, it’s probably about as deep and probing the seasonal slate of movies is going to get in regards to the follies of modern American culture.

It’s hard to call “God Bless America” a classic-in-the-making, but I do feel quite comfortable in labeling the film as a “miniature-classic” in regards to what it set out to accomplish. Not all of the pieces fit, and it’s not a perfect film in any regard, but holy hell, if you want an abrasive, unrestrained social satire that tears apart post 9/11 pop culture, I can’t think of a single film that’s done so better than Goldthwait’s mini-masterpiece of confrontational comedy.

Now, raise your hand if you, too, thought that this year’s ballsiest, most outrageously enjoyable comedy was going to be directed by an “Eek! The Cat” voice actor?


Where a fiver gets you a ticket for you and your ladyfriend AND enough change leftover to score some Sour Skittles and a medium sized Mr. Pibb

Well, “God Bless America” surely demonstrated itself as an aberrational summer-offering must-see, but what if you’re operating on a tighter budget and can’t really afford to see niche interest flicks of the like without selling a pint or two of your own plasma? Well, if you’re ever close by Marietta’s “The Picture Show,” you really don’t have to worry.

“The Picture Show” is basically a poor-person’s theater, where you can catch movies that were zipped out of mainstream theaters several months ago for absurdly low ticket prices (as in, a buck fifty, folks.) Clearly, there are a lot of cheap-os in the metro-Atlanta area, because I have NEVER seen a theater that crowded since 2008. And their arcade was pretty balling too, as it featured both “Marvel vs. Capcom 2” and “Rampage: World Tour” cabinets - surely, things you aren’t going to be seeing at most movie houses you visit.

So, what movie did I select as my economically efficient companion piece to “God Bless America?” Well, would you believe a quality Walt Disney offering that WASN’T produced by the guys at Pixar? Read on, my friend, do read on…

The Secret of Arrietty
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Year: 2010

I’ve never really been a big anime fan. In fact, I guess that’s my one massive, glaring weak spot when it comes to contemporary cinema - I just don’t know a damn thing about Japanese animation.

That said, I’ve seen a few movies, and was genuinely moved by a couple of them, such as the masterful 1988 release “Grave of the Fireflies.” That said, when it comes to Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli - considered by just about everybody to be the Walt Disney of anime - I really have nothing to say on the matters at all.

As such, I went in to “The Secret World of Arrietty” with a very loose set of expectations. While it probably isn’t the greatest animated feature to come out over the last couple of years, I still enjoyed it a tremendous deal - even if I may or may not have yanked away some handicapped dude’s cane while stumbling my way into the darkened auditorium (true story, my friends, true story.)

If you grew up in the late 1990s, you may recall a film called “The Borrowers.” It was a product-placement strewn family fantasy movie starring John Goodman about a bunch of action-figure sized people that ran around this one kid’s house stealing ice cream and batteries, ultimately helping him thwart an evil developer from evicting him from his home. Well, “Arrietty” is a movie based on the same story, although transplanted to Japan, with a couple (OK, a lot) of additional changes.

The premise of the film is simple enough, I suppose. There’s a family of miniature people (complete with a father that bares more than just a passing resemblance to Clint Eastwood) that are living on the periphery of a house inhabited by a kid with a heart condition, his aunt and his maid. One day, the kid sees them while they’re trying to steal some tissues, and from there, the family has to make a call as to whether they should up and bolt from the hinterlands or risk being spotted by the human population traipsing around the place.

It’s a very uncomplicated idea for a movie, and that, effectively, is what makes it work. As with all animated movies, the visuals are really half the story, and the imagery in “Arrietty” is absolutely breathtaking. The 2D dynamic gives the film a vibe that is both traditional and contemporary, with exquisitely detailed backgrounds and some of the most beautiful foliage scenes you’ll probably ever see in cartoon form. The fact that the story is so strong - and completely antithetical to mainstream American animation - just adds to what is already an impressive feature. Especially noteworthy is the sense of scale the movie evokes - odds are, you won’t see a film with a better presentation of height and depth this year, be it animated or otherwise.

There’s a certain sensitiveness to the film that you won’t see in this year’s slate of computer-animated, guaranteed-blockbusters like “Brave” and “Frankenweenie.” The film - alike a lot of anime features - moves at this slow tempo, with characters that seem far more frail and human than the characters we are accustomed to seeing (even if, technically, the characters aren’t exactly human, but whatever.) The film has a very lyrical quality to at, as it unfurls like a poem as opposed to a slam-bang, hyper-active 3D opus for the ADD crowd. The movie will probably bore the younger ones out there, but I thought it was more captivating and engaging as a narrative without all of the claptrap we’re told is necessary in modern kids’ movies.

The film’s lack of sensationalism is such a refreshing change of pace from the myriad “Madagascars” and “Ice Ages” that seem to fill cineplexes year-in, year-out. With “Arrietty,” not only are you getting a downright gorgeous visual experience, you’re also getting a fun, humorous and, perhaps most importantly, heartfelt flick that feels warmer and more alive in two dimensions than most 3D pictures can ever dream of.

Is it on par with the absolute best Pixar flicks, like “Toy Story 3” and “Wall-E?” Eh, I wouldn’t go that far, but “Arrietty” is definitely one of the finer animated movies to get a moderately wide scale release over the last few years, and a movie you definitely need to check out if you have a wispy longing for traditional, 2D animation.


Well, there you have it - two outstanding (albeit completely divergent) movies experienced at two outstanding (albeit completely divergent) theaters. While a lot of you may have plans for some serious I-MAXing this summer, I would really, really recommend giving both of these venues a try (and most definitely, both movies, seeing as how they’re forty five trillion times better than “Battleship” and “The Vow,” both of which, sadly, are most likely going to out-gross “Arrietty” and “God Bless America” by almost that exact figure.)

Oh, and if you see me at either theater, give me a heads-up; it’s been wayyy too long since I’ve straight up schooled a fool on “Tekken 2” in public as it is…

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

JIMBO GOES TO THE MOVIES: “The Dictator” Review

The man that brought us Ali G, Borat and Bruno takes aim at North African authoritarianism in what might just be the summer’s best mainstream comedy offering 

“The Dictator”
Director: Larry Charles
Year: 2012

There’s a fantastic scene towards the end of “The Dictator” where Sacha Baron Cohen’s character - a composite facsimile equal parts Qaddafi, Kim Jong-Il and Saddam Hussein - explains to U.N. delegates how much better the United States would be if it, too, eschewed democracy. He envisions an America where one percent of the population rules over the majority of the working class, crony capitalism runs amuck amongst politicians and big business alike and large minority populations can be detained, just because. And at that point, the theater - perhaps sore from the menagerie of penile jokes and scatological humor that had been the locus of the film so far - falls deathly silent. They quickly realize that the joke wasn’t ass-backwards Arabian culture, but our own; the U.S. hegemony that promotes industriousness and individuality while outsourcing factories and denying civil rights to its own citizenry. It’s far and away the best “joke” in the movie, and you can tell by looking out into the audience; nobody laughs, you know, when they yolk is on their own face.

As with Cohen’s previous films “Borat” and “Bruno,” the centerpiece of “The Dictator” is the hypocritical, domineering auger of American imperialism, although this time, the focus isn’t on cultural xenophobia and homophobia, but a much broader portrait of U.S. unsightliness. We’ve had enough fun playing “Candid Camera” with America’s closeted bigots, racists and anti-Semites; this time around, let’s turn the tables on the audiences themselves, why don’t we?

Of course, “The Dictator” doesn’t directly address American crudeness, and that’s what makes the film so thoroughly enjoyable. Despite being the living embodiment of anti-Americanism itself, Cohen’s General Aladeen - a cult-of-personality figure with such a hard-on for himself that he changes most of the adjectives in his homeland of Wadiya to his own moniker - it’s easy to picture many of his convictions being ported about by any number of right-wing nationalists right here in the States. Aladeen refers to African-Americans as “Sub-Saharans,” and has a decisive hatred of women, the handicapped and especially the Jews. When he’s not beheading Harlem drug lords (long story) and learning the ins and outs of self-pleasuring (again, an even longer story), he’s often found playing the Wii version of “Munich,” or trying to goad his prospective American girlfriend/short-term employer into visiting the local “rape center” (which, apparently, has an entirely different connotation in Wadiya than it does in NYC.) Cohen’s character completely breaks any and all notions of contemporary political correctness, demonstrating a hedonistic lack of restraint that’s probably what would happen had Charlie Chaplin taken the works of Marquis de Sade truly to heart and joined the John Birch Society

“The Dictator” is the sort of all-out, caution-to-the-wind, made-for-adults comedy that’s becoming rarer and rarer these days. It’s not necessarily a work of modern American art on par with “The Kentucky Fried Movie” or “Blazing Saddles,” but it’s not a bad attempt at replicating the success of the afore-mentioned 1970s socially-conscious comedies, either. It’s a very uneven movie, but I have a hard time picturing a film of the like being anything but; the punches here might have been pulled a little, but it still packs more of a wallop than any comedy you are likely to encounter at a mainstream Cineplex this summer.

Structurally, “The Dictator” has a very simple premise. General Aladeen, on his way to a U.N. meeting, gets knocked out by his second-in-command and replaced by a doppelganger. Following a shearing at the hands of Dewey Cox himself, Aladeen becomes just another nobody on the streets of NYC, until he earns the friendship of an eco-conscious grocery store owner (played by Anna Faris, of “Scary Movie” fame). Sensing a catering gig as his only opportunity to reclaim his throne, Aladeen helps his gal pal win back a contract via some particularly shady business moves - resulting in an all-too-predictable, but perhaps unavoidable, blossoming romance subplot. And if it sounds a little drippy, that’s probably intentional, as the film is based, in part, on “Zabibah and the King,” a romance novel allegedly penned by Saddam Hussein himself. No, really.

Cohen has some excellent co-star support in “The Dictator,” ranging from Ben Kingsley as Aladeen’s scheming right hand man to “Mad TV” alum Bobby Lee as an ultra-rich Chinese business mogul that likes to pay A-list celebrities so he can fondle them. At the end of the day, however, it’s Cohen’s swanky, unrepentant vileness that carries the film, and makes every second of the flick immensely enjoyable. I know it sounds like I just drank the contents of a thermometer, but I truly believe that he’s done enough in this movie to warrant an Oscar nod come next spring; pending the people of Wadiya don’t overthrow him first, of course.

“The Dictator” isn’t a perfect film by any stretch, but you really didn’t need me to tell you that. A lot of the humor is right on the money, and other attempts fall flat as a pancake. Perhaps director Larry Charles puts a little bit too much emphasis on the obvious, and at certain points, Cohen’s mugging goes from mildly amusing to seriously grating in just a matter of seconds. Not everything here works, but most of it does; it may not be a classic, or even a cult classic in the making, but you could definitely find way, way worse at the local box office. As in, wayyyyyyy worse. And hell, when’s the next time you’re going to get a chance to hear an R.E.M. song covered in Arabic at your local movie house, anyway?

on May 23, 2012 by Your Friendly Neighborhood Jimbo | 2 comments  Edit

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Review: “The Next 100 Years” by George Friedman (2009)

Are you ready for a world filled with hypersonic missiles, robotic day laborers and an all out U.S. war against Mexico? According to Friedman, if you plan on living in the 21st Century, you better be…

World War 3 will begin after Japan - from its underground moon base - launches several rocket-propelled meteors at the United States’ satellite defense system. The Thanksgiving attack leaves all three of America’s orbiting surveillance systems in shambles, which facilitates an easy attack on US military bases by Turkish forces.

Over the next three years, the United States - alongside Poland, China, the United Kingdom, India and a unified Korea - will wage war against a tripartite coalition of Japanese, Turkish and German soldiers, with a platoon of robotic-armor-clad infantrymen - running off an experimental form of space-based solar power - ultimately serving as the secret weapon that leads the U.S. and its allies to victories.

What today sounds like the makings of an Xbox game may very well be the stuff of history books come 2100, according to author George Friedman, who describes the planet’s next “global war” as the above scenario in his 2009 book “The Next 100 Years.

Friedman (no relation to Tom, in case you were wondering) isn’t just some self-proclaimed “futurist” with a hard-on for “Battlestar Galactica,” though. As the founder and CEO of STRATFOR - perhaps the premiere private intelligence and forecasting agency on the planet - the guy definitely knows what’s up, and this book, subtitled “A Forecast for the 21st Century,” might just provide us a thorough glimpse into the world of tomorrow…and if Friedman is even halfway correct about his assumptions, we are definitely in for one crazy ass ride into the 22nd.

The fundamental point Friedman makes with the book is that, for all of that ballyhoo about America being an empire in decline, the reality is that the United States - as a global power - is just now beginning to exert its full influence on the planet. He reminds us that America represents almost a full quarter of the world’s total GDP, containing an economy that’s larger than Japan, Germany, China and the United Kingdom combined, with an industrial economy that STILL outweighs the combined industrial economies of Japan and China. And for all of the hullabaloo we hear about the U.S. being “dependent” on foreign energy, we’ve somehow managed to overlook the fact that we’re still one of the largest oil exporters on the planet, in addition to being the one of the world's ten largest producers of natural gas. Friedman’s hypothesis is that at the current - even with such a monstrous economy and military presence - the U.S. is still a barbaric culture, yet to reap the full fruits of being a “selective and effective” civilization. In other words? Team America is just getting STARTED, amigos.

Early on in the book - before Friedman even gets into all of the kooky and crazy prognostications and predictions - he notes that the U.S. has five central “strategies”, which pretty much dictate every federal and international policy the entity makes. Ultimately, Friedman suggest that the United States’ primary goal as a “civilization” is to maintain control of North America, eliminating any threats in the process, while maintaining a clear domination over the world’s oceans. Eventually, an additional imperative will arise, the prevention of any domineering force emerging in the Eurasian region, but for the time being, he asserts that the USA’s control over transatlantic and transpacific routes remains the nation’s utmost security concern.

As something of an inversion of traditional Malthusian catastrophe theory, Friedman believes the number one threat to humanity as a whole over the next century is actually under-population. Around 2050, he believes global population rates will hit a steady constant, resulting in gargantuan labor shortages across the planet. This is a problem, Friedman says, that will be exacerbated by the use of robotics, which will make a majority of unskilled workers obsolete by the time 2100 rolls around.

Friedman begins the book’s proper predictions with the contrarian claim that China is, in essence, a “paper dragon,” nowhere near as economically and geopolitically powerful as most analysts assume it shall become. He notes that, at the current, anywhere from a quarter to damn near 40 percent of the nation’s GDP is tied up in nonperforming bonds (as in, debts that will never, ever get paid back, ever) - and seeing as how Japan fostered just a 20 percent non-performing bond GDP percentage back in the early 90s, he predicts that China is on course for a major economic crisis that will take it right out of the “emerging global superpower” discussion. Around the same timeframe, Friedman predicts that an emerging Russian Federation (powered by a raw export and energy based economy) will attempt to reacquire some of the territories it lost following the fall of the Soviet Union, resulting in a 10-year “Cold War 2.0” period that concludes with a regionally fragmented Russia and China being picked apart by several emerging economic powerhouses, including a revitalized Japan, an ultra-powerful Turkey (which, in essence, becomes an Islamic super-state) and even a coalition of Eastern European countries that make up what the author deems “the Polish bloc.”

Around the midpoint of the 21st century, Friedman hypothesizes that a global showdown between the world’s four largest powers (the U.S. and the Polish bloc on one side, and Turkey and Japan on the other) becomes inevitable. At that point, construction of super-advanced satellite defense systems (called “battle stars” by the author, simply because he thinks the name “sounds cool”) will become the norm, as well as the stockpiling of hypersonic weaponry - in effect, missiles launched in Nebraska that can peg a moving target in Australia in less time than it takes to prepare a lasagna dinner.

Following the World War 3 scenario discussed earlier, Friedman believes that a revolution in energy will take place, with complex solar radiation collecting devices becoming the planet’s primary form of power. However, increased energy needs stemming from elevated robotics usage - in addition to widespread immigration law measures - will create a major crisis in the latter half of the century, with an emerging Mexico challenging the United States for control of North America…a matter, Friedman says, will linger well on into the 22nd century.

Of course, all of Friedman’s conjecture is just that, conjecture. Oddly, he makes very few mentions of global warming patterns, nor does he spend any time discussing the impact of cyber terrorism (sort of ironic, really, since his firm got WikiLeaked a few years back), bioengineering or nuclear development on 21st century geopolitics. That said, none of his ideas seem all that far-fetched, and even those that do sound a little hard to chew on are at least based on existing technologies and theoretical applications - from the moon-based mega-microwave-collectors to the battery-powered War Machine suits that give infantrymen what are, in essence, superhuman abilities.

At a little under 250 pages, “The Next 100 Years” is a quick, albeit highly entertaining read, and something that will definitely get you scrambling to do some Wikipedia research on things like Scramjet engines, the Battle of San Jacinto and whatever the hell the Resolution Trust Corporation was/is (hint: if you’re a Republican, you ain’t going to like it.)

The material Friedman throws around here is interesting stuff, no doubt. But even more so, it could even be a quasi-accurate depiction of what’s ahead of us… and if that’s the case, I think I’m going to go ahead and patent the phrase “11-24-50” before it becomes a ubiquitous sticker on every flying car in the country.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

CD REVIEW: Tenacious D - “Rize of the Fenix” (2012)

JB and Rage Kage Return with their Third Album…and it DEFINITELY isn’t on Par with their Earlier Material

My unabashed love of the first Tenacious D album is absolutely embarrassing. Believe you me, I’m not being an ironic dink when I say that I think that their self-titled 2001 debut is not only one of the best all-around albums of the 2000s, but one of my most listened-to CDs ever. Literally everybody in my circle of friends had a copy, and I can’t even recount the number of times we sung along to “Karate” and “Double Team” on rides to and from school. It’s one of my favorite albums ever, and there’s no way anybody can convince me otherwise.

Now, their second album, however, is a completely different story. 2006’s “The Pick of Destiny” (both the album and the movie itself), I thought, were pretty underwhelming, with the band getting way too overproduced and grandiose for my liking. Sure, there were some decent songs on “The Pick,” but it couldn’t hold a candle to their first album - which is why I have been anticipating the band’s third album with way more enthusiasm than anybody probably should for a band fronted by a supporting actor from “Saving Silverman.”

“Rize of the Fenix,” which was released earlier this week, seems like a happy return to form for the band. I mean, jeez, just look at the cover, featuring what appears to be a fire-winged dong screaming into the night (an image, by the way, that’s blurred out on the Amazon download page.) But, once you actually, you know, listen to the CD, what will your reaction be?

Well, I recently gave the D’s third album a thorough listen, analyzing each and every track on the CD. And to make it brief: yeah, it doesn’t look like I’ll be singing any of the tracks from this one on my morning commutes.

Track 001
“Rize of the Fenix”

Right off the bat, the band wastes no time in referencing the commercial and critical failure of their last album…a theme, as we will soon see, that is a pervasive one throughout this disc. The song, which is mostly acoustic, sort of reminded me of Monster Magnet’s “Space Lord.” If you’re familiar with that one, I’m not really sure how you could hear the opening track and not think of it here. Admittedly, it’s a pretty groovy track, with a palpable Judas Priest/Iron Maiden influence, with even a little bit of The Who thrown in for good measure. The only real problem with the track is that it’s just too damn long; at about five and a half minutes in length, you’ll be ready to tune out by the three minute mark.

Track 002
“Low Hangin’ Fruit”

Well, here’s another mostly acoustic track, dedicated to…well, something Tenacious D seems to sing an awful lot about, I suppose. The lyrics here are indelibly stupid and forced, with a particularly dumb breakdown at the midpoint of the track where Jack just starts spouting some nonsensical words before concluding the “solo” with a farting noise. As dumb as it is, I have to admit; it does get a little catchy after two or three listens, so be forewarned if you’re trying to steer clear of earworms this evening.

Track 003
“Classical Teacher”

This track is your traditional Tenacious D skit, with JB forcing Kyle to take classical guitar lessons from a Spaniard named Felix (who is obviously Jack in disguise) because he’s not satisfied that the band is “almost as good as Arcade Fire.” Honestly, this one isn’t really a classic on par with “Inward Singing” or “Drive-Thru,” although there are some guffaws to be had towards the end of the track, when JB attempts to inspire Kage by sodomizing him.

Track 004

For those of you that think of the D as a mere “joke” band, this technically-impressive track - featuring a multi-key classical guitar piece arrangement - may very well be the band’s most skillfully orchestrated tune yet. Unfortunately, the song itself is rather bland, with Jack telling a narrative about getting into a fight over a Spanish girl. It has some decent moments, with JB hitting some extraordinarily high notes and even breaking out into Espanol at one point, but despite its technical merits, this remains one of the album’s least memorable offerings.

Track 005
“Deth Starr”

If you loved “City Hall” from the first Tenacious D album, you’ll probably really dig this pseudo sci-fi rock epic, about the band escaping environmental pollution and overpopulation by hopping aboard a galaxy-faring spaceship - where, of course, copious amounts of kink transpire. Despite being a little forced at some junctures, I definitely think it’s a fun track, and probably the most straight-up ass kicking song on the entire album. I mean, come on: how could anybody hate a song about having sex in “virtual planes” and fighting squid aliens?

Track 006

A super-overproduced, acoustic anti-ballad, with Jack Black turning in his best Bob Segar impersonation here. It’s a pretty slow track, but it picks up towards the end, with Jack firing off “dick” like nobody else can. Oddly enough, this song sort of reminded me of the Bush tune “Adrenaline”…although to be far, this fairly mediocre D song is still worlds better than anything Gavin Rossdale has ever had his hands in.

Track 007
“Flutes and Trombones”

Another skit, featuring Jack going on one of his world famous profanity sprees. A pretty funny track, with Jack and Kage ripping on each other while flute and trombone sounds flutter in the background. For guaranteed laughs, just fast forward to 00:43, and keep hitting repeat.

Track 008
“Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Kage”

On this track, JB shows off his Bruce Springsteen impersonation skills, and I’ll be several flavors of damned if he doesn’t sound a lot like “The Boss.” This super-duper-mega-overproduced track serves as a quasi autobiographical tale about the band’s ups and downs over the years; unfortunately, the acoustic, slower tempo really makes this thing chug along at a snail’s pace, and the styling parodies thrown in (would you believe a flute solo on a D song?) just make the track overlong and a chore to sit through. A track you’re bound to be skipping, no doubt.

Track 009
“Throw Down”

Jack shows off more of his “Bruce voice” here, and all in all, this might just be the most bizarre Tenacious D song ever recorded. Believe it or not, this track tackles a REAL issue (religion versus secularism), with what seems to be a mild bent towards the former as opposed to the latter. If you ever wanted to hear Jack Black sing lyrics about Jesus rocking out and Noah’s ark, well…you’ve got it. Now, as to why you WOULD want that, I suppose, is something I really can’t imagine.

Track 010
“Rock is Dead”

A super fast song with Jack mourning the demise of rock and roll by making random references to “Lord of the Rings,” Axl Rose and Elvis Presley. Too short to really prove memorable, just like…

Track 011
“They Fucked Our Asses”

…this one, which is barely a minute long. A mostly acoustic track with some definite NWOBHM influence towards the end, the song is decent, but yet again, just too damn brief to make an impact. Which is EXACTLY the same thing that can be said about…

Track 012
“To Be The Best”

…the penultimate track on the album, which also barely clocks in at over a minute. It’s a shame too, because an extended version of the tune - a parody of all those 1980s “training montage” classics like “You're The Best Around” and “The Touch” - could have really  proved a killer full-length track. For what it is, it’s pretty good, but it could have ended up being something so much more (which is almost EXACTLY what you can say about this album as a whole, now that I think about it.)

Track 013

Well, if nothing else, you can praise Tenacious D for saving their absolute best song for last on this album. Not only is “39” far and away the best tune on the CD, it’s probably the best post-debut album thing the band has done - and even if you don’t pick up the full album, it’s certainly well worth the $0.99 download at the iTunes store. Jack Black yet again trots out the Springsteen-Segar voice for this, a downright hysterical track about a MILF with an almost Jimmy Buffet-ish vibe to it. Even if you don’t think it’s the most technical track on the album, you really can’t argue that it’s the CD’s funniest, with Jack Black singing about “didariddly doo”-ing himself on the phone while talking to his almost 40-year old honey. It’s a five and a half minute long song that just blasts by in what seems like seconds - essentially, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” only with the narrator fiddling with his bunghole while texting.

As a huge fan of the D, I have to say this was a pretty disappointing album as a whole. Yes, there were several good songs, like the title track and “Deth Starr,” and one absolutely outstanding one with the album’s concluding track, but most of the stuff in between felt more like “Pick of Destiny” warm-overs than anything fresh and progressive. I think the biggest problem with the album was that the band tried too hard to show their technical chops as “real musicians” on too many of the tracks, which is something you really don’t flock to a new D recording to hear, admittedly. With three tracks on the album clocking in at barely over a minute (and two tracks consisting of skits), you really only end up with eight full-fledged songs on the CD, and of those, about half are pretty forgettable.

If you were a fan of the first Tenacious D album, you’ll probably be sorely disappointed by this one. However, if you liked the super-overproduced, quasi-progressive leaning of “The Pick of Destiny,” I suppose your reception of “Rize of the Fenix” will be a little warmer, although I think all D fans will be quick to cite this third album as their least to date.

I hate to say it, but if this album is any indication of where the band is headed in the future…well, let’s just say that maybe it’s time for JB and Kyle to pass Dio’s cape and scepter onto somebody else.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Daytime TV and The Facsimile of American Justice

Why American audiences are so gonzo for courtroom shows…and why that’s something WAY worse about modern society than you’d think

When I was a wee young lad, periodically, I would get sick and have to miss a day of school or two. And when I did, I got very excited, because that gave me the ability to do something that, normally, I didn’t get the chance to - watch daytime television.

In my youth, daytime TV was pretty much a smorgasbord of low-culture cheese, schlock, and sensational rubbish - essentially, the televised version of all those defunct weeklies you used to find at the checkout counter proclaiming Congress was infiltrated by Martians, or that Sasquatch was engaged to a beauty queen from Indiana. Ricki Lake, Yolando, Sally Jesse Raphael, pre-fist fighting Jerry Springer…all wonderful access points to scintillating sex scandals, shock rock music controversies and, if you were lucky, a weekly donnybrook involving members of the Klan breaking Geraldo’s nose.

Granted, those programs from way back when were all undeniably stupid and exploitative, but they were a gentler, more innocent form of stupid and exploitative. Looking back today, even the crassest and most idiotic of daytime television shows from the early 1990s seem fairly staid now, especially considering the nose-dive into the super-mega-hyper-exploitative models pioneered by neo-carnies like Maury Povich in the late 1990s.

Alas, the era of the exploitative talk show - you know, the ones with alternatively fist fighting and marrying cousins and dudes that break dance following an “all-clear” paternity test result - seem to have gone the way of Morton Downey and Wally George. Yeah, a lot of talk shows are still being syndicated (it seems as if Springer will have a run as lengthy as “The Simpsons” at this point), but over the past five or so years, we’ve seen a gradual transition towards more infotainment styled programs - in essence, a series of programs modeled after “The View,” albeit focused on more reduced categories, like healthcare (not that the heaviest TV watchers of any demographic are senior citizens or anything.)

Today’s daytime TV landscape is remarkably different than the landscape I remembered - no longer a haven for infidelity fantasies and vicarious degradation of the poor, a majority of modern daytime TV offerings are virtual catchalls for a target audience with an aggregate age well north of the retirement limit.

Consider me just a little bummed to recently flip through the daytime TV gamut and stumble across “Doctor Oz” as opposed to incestuous racists on Montel, or the million billion “View” imitators instead of cross-dressing trannies with a secret on Jenny Jones. For a moment, it seemed as if the furtive misogyny, racism and ethnocentricism - not to mention the sensational ridicule of the less fortunate - that was a hallmark of daytime TV for decades had, surprisingly, vanished from the airwaves. And then, I did some more channel surfing, and came to the realization that such crassness hadn’t disappeared…it simply changed formats to a totally different kind of daytime program.

Here’s an experiment you can try the next time you’re around  a TV set at 11 in the morning. Start on channel 2, and flip your way all the way to the end of the dial - counting up all of the “courtroom” shows you encounter along the way.

In my trial run, I’m almost certain that half of the daytime programming I encountered began with the word “Judge,” or at the least, had some sort of facsimile of a courtroom setting. While small claims court shows are absolutely nothing new - lest we forget “The People’s Court” and all that - the thing that struck me about these new wave “judge shows” was just how brazenly racist and sexist they all are.

Look, “racism” and “sexism” are words that I think are thrown out way too often, and I try to use such terms sparingly myself, but holy hell, I don’t think anybody can challenge my use of the phrases when describing modern daytime courtroom programs.

If you’ve seen one “judge” show, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Over the course of an hour, about two or three cases are paraded out, most always consisting of minorities or evidently lower class white folk. The defendants and plaintiffs are very, very rarely painted as educated in any regard, and it seems pretty obvious that most of the people that go on such shows are pretty poor. Over the course of ten to fifteen minutes, these figures are berated, assailed, mocked and ridiculed by the judge figure - ironically, almost always a woman or a person of color. The in-set audience cheers, hoots, hollers and frequently laughs at the absurd behavior of the people “on trial,” whom the television audience wants to see get ripped to shred by the guy or gal with the gavel. In the ‘90s, we were content with having the impoverished trotted out for our amusement; in the modern era, however, we not only want to ridicule them for their ways, but find a way to pass literal judgment on who they are as human beings. At the heart of the “judge” show is a sadist impulse - in essence, the desire to see another person not only suffer, but incur some sort of socially-backed penalty as a kicker.

Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mathis…all programs anchored around a charismatic, and frequently hostile, “authority figure,” whom not only doles out punitive damages, but perpetually chides those “on trial” for their ignorance, their incompetence, and the general pointlessness of their own lives. When Judge Alex calls the young black guy with the afro a “liar,” I imagine certain viewers feel something of a titillation, perhaps imagining themselves as the great “social judge” of character, quality and person that they all wished they could be. Whether or not these same shows also allow bigots, homophobes and misogynists the same venue to get their jollies is something that is up to the reader to determine - and deep down, I think we all know the answer here.

I suppose the big criticism would be this: how can a daytime TV subgenre be considered “sexist” or “racist” when so many figures of authority presented on such shows are women and black males? My riposte is a double-tipped one. First, I suppose it gives those aforementioned prejudiced viewers the ability to not only pass judgment on other people, but pass judgment on other people with the added incentive of having a person of color likewise denounce and ridicule that same person. It’s the racist equivalent of a cherry atop a sundae of hatred, I suppose. Additionally, such representations in media mask the reality of the nation’s real legal framework - that even now, an overwhelming majority of the nation’s judges and attorneys are, well, pretty damn white and male.

Perhaps that’s the big issue regarding all of these courtroom shows - it gives us a fantasized vision of the nation’s legal system, turning an overburdened and corruption-eaten reality into a form of cheap entertainment. We all laugh and snort when some dumb ass makes a verbal slip-up on “Judge Mathis,” and we laugh even harder when said judge gives him what-for in return. As a nation, we really seem to enjoy watching poor folk bicker and feud about small claims nonsense, but what happens when those same poor folk go out and steal a car, or break into a home, or start selling drugs to make a living?

Yeah, you don’t see those kinds of cases on daytime TV, because that breaks the illusion of American justice presented by all of these courtroom shows. We like to make fun of the uneducated and the downtrodden for caring about such trivial matters, because it gives us a sense of self-superiority. That was the primary drawing point for all of those talk shows in the ‘90s, and it remains the primary drawing point for all of the “judge” shows on TV today. But examining the real-world courtrooms - filled with incarcerated juveniles, illiterate twenty-somethings and youth neglected, abused and abandoned by social programs - is the kind of thing that doesn’t give us that smug sense of personal stature. Rather, it reminds us that, as a social system, we are all a little at fault in perpetuating cycles of violence, abuse and economic stagnation, and who wants to see that while sipping on their morning cup of Joe?

Daytime “judge” shows, however, give us the sort of idealized “justice system” we all wish we had in place. Final judgments - of both claims and character - are processed in less time than it takes to bake a pizza, by that unerring, charismatic authority figure that cracks jokes in between righting punitive wrongs. Never mind that even defendants are paid handsomely for their appearances on such programs, or that manufactured claims frequently end up on television, this is our fast food brand of justice, and we prefer it to that slow-cooking, icky-tasting real stuff.

You can say you’re not one of “everybody else,” but you are. Just compare the number of daytime TV judges you’re familiar with to the number of sitting Supreme Court Justices you can name, and you’ll realize everything I’m talking about.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

JIMBO GOES TO THE MOVIES: “Dark Shadows” and “The Raven” Double Review!

Your local googolplex has gotten awfully gothic as of late - but are two recent releases tailor-made for the Hot Topic crowd worthy of your disposable income? 

You know how I can tell the official summer movie season has kicked off? When there are actual lines at the local drive-in theater. 

Around April, the place is a virtual wasteland, with only a few beat up Yugos and station wagons littering the lot…and although you don’t need me to tell you, it’s pretty much a given that most of the people there are in attendance for anything but the movies being screened. 

But this past weekend, the turn-in lane for Atlanta’s best (and really, only) drive-in theater was clogged with more motorists than a Wal-Mart has unhappy white people. And why the hell not, I say? Personally, I can’t think of a better way to spend a cool Friday evening than by snuggling up with my gal, tossing back a few bottles of black cherry soda and getting yelled at by attendants on golf-carts to “find an actual parking space.” If there’s anything more American than that, I’ve yet to encounter such. 

So, for my first foray to the drive-in this year, I decided to take in a double bill of “Dark Shadows” - Tim Burton’s “re-imagining” of a TV show nobody in my generation has ever heard of before - and “The Raven,” an April holdover starring that kid from “Say Anything” as Edgar Allen Poe. Granted, those may not have been the most exciting of options, but at a $7 ticket price for two movies (not to mention that, unlike at a regular theater, I CAN take my pants off if I feel like it), I guess it’s pretty much a given where I’m going to be spending a majority of my Summer weekends from hereon out. 

Alas, what did I think of the two movies, you may be asking? Well, since you asked, I have a two-for-one review of both “Dark Shadows” and “The Raven” posted below…and let’s just say, yeah, I wasn’t really a big fan of either of them. 

Director: Tim Burton 
Year: 2012

“Dark Shadows” starts off in typical Tim Burton-movie style, with a gloom-and-doom-soaked prologue reminiscent of virtually everything the director has done over the last 20 years, from “Edward Scissorhands” to “Sleepy Hollow.“ However, as soon as the credits start rolling, the film takes a U-turn into parodist waters, with the undead protagonist rising from his New England grave and finding himself staring down a gigantic McDonalds logo right off the…ahem, bat. 

Needless to say, “Dark Shadows” is a particularly goofy movie, and one that bares almost zero resemblance to the 1960s soap opera from which the title is derived. Granted, the characters may have the same name, but that’s just about it when it comes to similarities with the source material. I can’t wait until a good 10 years down the line, when Burton makes a movie about a dysfunctional family of brain eating cyborgs, and calls it “All My Children.”

The plot of the movie is pretty standard, and executed with mixed results. You see, Depp’s character, after being awaken from his slumber, decides to restore his family’s honor and help them get their once prosperous fishing empire up and running again. The problem is, the seemingly immortal witch that transformed Depp into a vampire in the film’s prologue has gone on to head her own fishing juggernaut, and her 200 year plus hatred of the Collins bloodline hasn’t exactly diminished since the John Adams administration. Adding more weight to the story is the sudden arrival of a mysterious young woman, who - surprise, surprise - looks just like  Depp’s former love. And if you think that’s formulaic, just wait until you get to the film’s last 30 minutes. 

There’s not really a whole lot for Depp to do here, although he tries admirably to bring a little bit of absurdist charm to the role. The problem is, he (as well as the rest of the cast) has a noticeably difficult time arising from the chronological constraints of the film’s setting. It’s mildly amusing to hear Depp quote lines from “Love Story” and the Steve Miller Band, but half-hearted sight gags involving Alice Cooper and Operation can only go so far, you know. 

It’s a loaded cast in “Dark Shadows,” to be sure, but no one really turns in what I would consider a “stellar” performance in any regard. Watching longtime Burton stalwarts Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter go through the motions here is particularly distressing, although the work of some of the cast’s lesser heralded stars - Eva Green and Chloe Grace Moretz, especially - certainly makes the film more endurable.  

While there are occasional bits of quirky humor that, effectively, “work” (such as the scene where Depp eats a number of hippies after getting their advice on modern dating), most of the film’s “big” scenes are underwhelming letdowns. There’s a vampiric love scene that, I suppose, is what Ed Cullen and Bella Swan’s honeymoon would have looked like had the producers of “Breaking Dawn” had any chutzpah, but it’s ultimately a silly throwaway. But it’s the film’s conclusion - a paint-by-numbers, burn-the-house-down, cliché-riddled finale -that stands out as my biggest slight against “Dark Shadows.” 

At the end of the film, Burton starts throwing out more skeleton keys than an 8-bit Nintendo game. Out of nowhere, a central character suddenly transforms into a werewolf, and the hitherto-unmentioned spectral mother of another just shows up out of the blue to kick a little bit of ass when things look plum glum for Camp Collins. It’s a climax so overloaded and choppily-structured that you can almost smell the rewrite ink dripping off the screen. 

Granted, there’s a few things working in the film’s favor (for one, with both The Stooges and The Raspberries represented, it has one of the best  mainstream soundtracks in recent memory), but at the end of the day, “Dark Shadows” is a fairly disappointing movie. There’s some fun to be had, but you’ll spend more time wondering when things are going to pick up than laugh out loud…that is, if the film is even able to elicit a chuckle out of you at all. 

Not exactly the kind of thing you want people saying about a “comedy” film, huh, Burty? 


All right, so “Dark Shadows” didn’t exactly tickle my fancy, but compared to our SECOND screening of the evening, the experience was like finding a free copy of  Criterion’s “The Human Condition” set tied to a Sega-CD pressing of “Championship Soccer ‘94” with a hundred dollar bill. 

Abandon hope, all ye that paid your $12.49 plus tax to see this one…

Director: James McTeigue 
Year: 2012

When you read the plot summary of “The Raven,” you might be a little curious about the feature…hell, you might even be fairly optimistic that a story so solid couldn’t result in a massive cinematic train wreck. 

So, there’s a killer going around, offing people in accordance to thematics culled from the work of Edgar Allen Poe. And if you’re even remotely familiar with the work of Baltimore’s most famous citizen not named John Waters, you’d know that covers a wealth of macabre scenarios, from razor-sharp pendulums to burying dudes alive to sending hatchet-wielding gorillas after people. Hell, how could a variation of “Seven” anchored around such a cool plot device end up sucking in any regard, you might ask? 

Well, the producers of “The Raven” found just such a way to transform cinematic gold into silver screen kaka, constructing an absurd, overlong, intelligence-insulting mystery flick out of what should have been a balls out neo-slasher movie. 

So, how do you turn an awesome movie idea like that into such a horribly executed motion picture? Well, for one, you set the movie in 19th century Baltimore…you know, the Maryland of yore littered with drunks, frilly dresses and homicide detectives that still have British accents even though the Revolutionary War was contested a hundred years prior. And for the kicker, you don’t just have Edgar Allen Poe’s works as a central aspect of the flick…you make Edgar Allen Poe the central character of the film himself. 

That’s right, amigos, “The Raven” is a murder mystery movie about a dude killing people with techniques lifted from the pages of Poe, and the only dude that can stop him is old Eddie Al hisself (played with much, much ennui, by the way, by John Cusack.) And trust me, this movie just gets stupider from the already-super-idiotic premise. 

As a thriller, the film is a fundamental failure, as it takes so long to get off the ground that by the time the killer is revealed (and dear lord, can it be seen from a million miles away), the audience is thinking “who cares?” as opposed to whodunit. 

It’s a shame, too, because the material really could have lent itself to a decent movie in some manifestation. How about doing away with the fantastical hullabaloo and making a straight-up biopic about the last days of Poe instead? Granted, it may not have been Oscar bait with the dude from “High Fidelity” in the role, but it most certainly would have resulted in a more interesting flick than watching Edgar drink poison juice as a means of locating his buried alive fiancee. 

“The Raven” is indelibly a bad movie, but it isn’t even a spectacularly bad one. If you’re going to make a sucky movie, you might as well go all out and give us a musical starring the Village People, or propaganda about Sarah Palin’s failed presidential bid, or Bruce Campbell fighting outer space crickets that cut off peoples’ fingers in Oregon. Unfortunately, “The Raven” is the most despised of all forms of bad film, a movie that’s substandard and boring as opposed to being substandard and ironically alluring. If there are any glimmers of intrigue to be found in the film, they are assuredly just that - glimmers, tiny little fragments that give you the indication that, had the producers given half a damn, the movie could have been tolerable, if not mildly enjoyable. 

And there’s not many of those to be found in the movie, as it is. 


Well, there you have it - two films bound to make beaucoup bucks from the black fingernail polish lobby, despite being fairly underwhelming motion pictures (and in the case of “The Raven,” a genuinely crappy one.) 

Although I wasn’t thrilled with either flick, I suppose you could always find worse ways to spend your afternoon (and by extent, your moolah.) After all, Madonna does have a new movie out, you know…