Monday, March 31, 2014

The Secret Files of Pride Fighting Championship REVEALED!

For ten years, Pride FC was home to some of the zaniest -- and most memorable -- moments in MMA history. Seven years after the promotion’s demise, here’s a look at some of the organization’s wild plans that didn’t quite come together…

From 1997 until its untimely death in 2007, Pride Fighting Championships was unarguably the zenith of global mixed martial arts. What the Ultimate Fighting Championship pioneered, Pride FC more or less perfected, providing MMA fans with crazy ass match-ups, incredibly awesome tournaments featuring the best fighters on the planet, and of course, grandiose spectacles at the Tokyo Dome and Saitama Super Arena that made the UFC’s Las Vegas cards look downright staid by comparison.

About two years after Pride FC was bought out by UFC parent company Zuffa, a somewhat mysterious book was published by Japanese fighting magazine Kamipro titled “Pride FC: Secret Files.” The book, according to Sherdog prattle, was penned by someone with some inside info at Pride, whom apparently was privy to all of the bizarre and outlandish things the suits at the promotion wanted to green light. Recently, an English fan translation of the book has popped up on the MMA shareware circuits, and if even HALF the things the enigmatic author of the title says are true, then it appears we, as mixed martial arts fans, were this close to seeing some truly unforgettable things transpire in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The book begins with a recap of the Zuffa buyout on March 27, 2007. According to the author of the book, Lorenza Fertitta (who shilled out $3.3 million from his own pocket to pay for the announcement press conference) had a major tiff with Nabuyuki Sakakibara and Dream Stage Entertainment shortly thereafter, which more or less sunk any chances of Pride FC shows operating under the Zuffa banner. The two sides exchanged legal threats -- with DSE accusing Fertitta of contractual breaches and Zuffa accusing Sakakibara of fraud -- until Zuffa decided to just shutter the Pride FC Worldwide offices in Japan on Oct. 4 of the same year.

According to the book, Fertitta (whose interest in MMA was sparked by the legendary Royce Gracie/Kazushi Sakuraba bout at Pride GP 2000) said that without a TV deal in Japan, the costs of running any Pride shows in the promotion’s home country were just too expensive. On April 8, 2007, Pride FC officially became “American capital,” but due to insufficient “asset assessments” on Sakakibara’s behalf and a lack of time to schedule shows in the wake of the transfer, plans for the much ballyhooed Pride Lightweight Grand Prix had to be nixed. Speaking of which, had that tournament gone on as planned, it likely would have consisted of a who’s who of then-lightweight and welterweight Japanese heavies, including Shinya Aoki (who said that he was given an offer to fight BJ Penn before going full time with Pride) , Gilbert Melendez, Joachim Hansen, Takanori Gomi, and Satoru Kitaoka. Furthermore, there was at least discussions of bringing in some current UFC fighters for the tourney as well, including Sean Sherk, Matt Hughes, and yes, possibly Georges St-Pierre himself. While the Pride tournament never came to fruition, we did end up getting something of substitute with the DSE-backed Dream 2008 Lightweight GP, the book reminds us…which, of course, was sans Zuffa umbrella fighters of any kind.

While the end of Pride is somewhat glossed over (funny, the authors of the book never really seem to address the well-founded accusations that, at least in part, the promotion’s downfall could be traced to bad business with the Yakuza), there is a WEALTH of information about the original plans for the first couple of Pride FC shows.

As it turns out, the entire point of the first Pride show was to basically be a Pro Wrestlers Kingdom vs. Gracie family exhibition. That initial show -- held Oct. 11, 1997 at the Tokyo Dome, with the main event of Nobuhiko Takada vs. Rickson Gracie -- originally had Kazushi Sakuraba penciled in to do battle with RENZO Gracie as a co-main event. Of course, seeing as how important their eventual showdown in 2000 became to the history of mixed martial arts, the author of the book rightfully muses what could have been had the two tangled three years before their infamous, arm-snappy bout.

Additionally, there were plans for Tank Abbot to battle Kimo Leopold on the first Pride show, which ultimately tuned into the colossal Kimo/Dan Severn snoozer. Various other wrestlers, among them Akira Maeda, Minoru Suzuki, Riki Chosu and even MITSUHARU MISAWA were also contacted about appearing at Pride 1, although little came out of the discussions, obviously.

The original main event for Pride 2 was to be Mark Kerr vs. Royce Gracie, with the Gracies ultimately cajoling the Pride suits to turn the bout into a no-time-limit, no ref-stoppage affair (virtually, the same regulations they demanded for the Saku bout in 2000.) However, Royce got a bad case of bitch flu before the fight could be finalized, and we instead ended up with the Mark Kerr/Branko Cikatic “classic” that saw the former K1 Grand Prix champ disqualified just two minutes into the match-up.

A dude named Akimoto Yasuhsi, who is probably best known for being the Svengali behind the popular girl group Onyanko Club, was originally pegged as the producer for Pride 4, but it was not to be. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but the guys at Pride also had a really intense interest in luring a ton of sumo wrestlers over during the early years of the organization. Alas, few grapplers of name value took the lure. The book skips chronological sequencing for a while, it lets us know that the reason Pride held its U.S. shows in smaller Las Vegas venues than the UFC wasn’t because of territorial reasons, but because the larger arenas wouldn’t let them use gun powder.

With DSE taking the reins from KRS, Pride FC underwent a huge restructuring that saw the promotion land a Fuji TV deal as well as hash out partnerships with organizations like K1, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Rings, which went a long way in helping the fledgling MMA organization secure a much-needed “end of the year” television special. Of course, that DSE takeover didn’t mean that Pride was soon to abandon its leanings towards the bizarre, as the author of the book informs us that the promotion had THREE different plans lined up to bring in a Tiger Mask-themed fighter. Originally, Pride went after pro wrestler Tiger Mask IV, but negotiations fell through. A plan for journeyman Guy Mezger to rock the iconic furry mask in battle similarly was on the table, but it likewise deteriorated. At one point, the organization even wanted to create TIGER MASK V as an all new mascot, to be “played” in battle by Kiyoshi Tamura. However, the sight of a grown man a giant cat helmet in a genuine mixed martial arts bout just wasn’t in the cards for Pride, unfortunately.

From there, we leap a couple of shows to Pride 23. A symbolic event of sorts, that show saw longtime Pride FC spokesfighter Nobuhiko Takada get "retired" by Kiyoshi Tamura. However, Naoya Ogawa was actually penciled in to be Takada's final opponent, and when that fell through, both Hidehiko Yoshida and Big Nog were floated around as possible adversaries before the powers that were ultimately decided upon Tamura.

Believe it or not, a good five years before The Ultimate Fighter made its cable TV debut, Pride FC had its own reality program, titled "Pre-Pride" and later "Pride King," which aired on Toyo TV. According to the book, none other than Yushin Okami served as the ultimate winner of the program's fourth season, where it appears as if he strolled out to ringside while rocking a Batman mask. Other reality TV experiments backed by Pride included a similar show called "Pride Challenge," "Sayama's Ultimate Boxing" and "MMA the Best," which featured not-quite-ready-for-PRIDE-time fighters duking it out in a very familiar looking eight-sided cage.

Pride 25 basically marked the beginning of the organization's second life, with the "passing of the torch" from Big Nog to Fedor. At the next numbered event, Mirko Cro-Cop became an instant legend when he KO'ed Heath Herring, thus setting up what was basically a two-year long "angle" with the Croatian kickboxer on a collision course with the Last Emperor. At the same time, however, the UFC was in the midst of some wheeling and dealing with the Pride powers that were, with UFC 46 almost landing a Kazuyuki Fujita vs. Wesley "Cabbage" Correiera match-up. The UFC also made a bid for Saku, and allegedly turned down a contractual offer for Sergei Kharitonov, because he was a "no-name Russian" that was too good for the comparably thin UFC heavyweight division at the timeframe. The UFC even gunned for a cross-promotional show in Japan, with Cro-Cop is a potential headliner; and had things gone smoother, we may very well could have had ourselves a Wanderlei Silva vs. Randy Couture bout at the 2004 New Year's Eve show.

Speaking of NYE shows, the original plans for the 2003 event were downright insane. While we ended up with a pretty boring Ronnie Sefo vs. Tamura bout, the original plan was to have Tamura do battle with Saku. With Saku and Tamura unwilling to come to terms for the bout, the back-up plan was to have Tamura fight Big Nog, and when talks sputtered there, Pride FC talked about bringing in former heavyweight boxing champ EVANDER HOLYFIELD as Tamura's opponent! The organization also targeted Oscar de la Hoya and Sugar Ray Leonard for contests, but unsurprisingly, not much came from the discussions. Believe it or not, the blueprints actually got even crazier from there, with Pride wanting to have Saku fight at the show while wearing a lucha libre mask, and the suits even mulling a TAG TEAM BOUT with Saku and Tamura teaming up with partners of their choosing in what would've been an MMA first (and most likely, an absolute train wreck, to boot.) And before Saku's bout with Lil' Nog was finalized, he came pretty close to having a match against lucha libre legend El Solar.

Russian Top Team, the book alleges, really had it out for Fedor. In fact, RTT was downright obsessed with creating their own homegrown monster to take down the Last Emperor. While the grooming of Kharitonov didn't go as planned, RTT was -- at one point, at least -- deadset on turning Suren Balachinsky, a guy that had bested Fedor in Sambo competitions, into the next great Russian MMA wrecking machine. Alas, the best laid plans of both mice and men often go awry, and they certainly went awry for RTT.

Ryan Gracie was the loose cannon of the first family of mixed martial arts, and his ongoing "backstage feud" with Chute Box is well documented. Ryan provides us with perhaps the book's funniest passage, in which the author describes how, as soon as he buried the hatchet with Chute Box, he immediately pissed of a bunch of fighters under the Brazilian Top Team umbrella to start another ongoing rivalry. Speaking of backstage fights, there's an old urban legend claiming that Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett once knocked out Wanderlei Silva, after he himself was choked unconscious by Cristiano Marcello. While Krazy Horse, to this day, claims to have KO'ed Silva in a fury after regaining consciousness, the book tells a different story -- namely, that a disoriented Bennett swung and landed a few hits on Silva after waking up, but coming nowhere close to knocking out the long-time Pride middleweight champion.

According to the book, the Bushido co-brand was to be an "MMA toy chest," largely anchored around homegrown Japanese talents (who, as fate would have it, weren't doing too well against their Brazilian, American and Russian cohorts.) The idea of a "Pride Survivor" program was also knocked around, focusing on fighters on long losing streaks, but it never came to fruition. If you recall the first Bushido event, you'll probably never forget watching Mirko Cro-Cop knock Dos Caras, Jr. (now, WWE'S Alberto del Rio) silly -- per the author of the book, Mil Mascaras was none too pleased that his protege wore a modified mask during the bout as opposed to his traditional luchador regalia.

Before Brock Lesnar became a pro wrestling-turned-MMA sensation, Pride sought their own American heavyweight import -- none other than the man called Vader himself! Way back in 1996, Vader was scheduled to do battle with Kimo in a U-Japan bout; eventually, Vader backed out, with Bam Bam Bigelow stepping in to get his ass kicked instead. So, what kept Vader from making his Pride debut in 2003? Well, it was primarily due to his in-ring performance at a Hustle pro wrestling show a few weeks earlier, where he allegedly spent a great deal of time backstage puking blood everywhere.

As Pride reached its twilight, the organization became obsessed with weird-ass publicity match-ups. First up was a proposal for the 2006 NYE show that would have seen Takanori Gomi doing battle with former WBC Super Flyweight boxing champ Masamori Tokuyama. The original plan was for the bout to be contested under boxing rules, with four rounds, and only knockouts "counting." Needless to say, things never really progressed that far from the drawing board.

For the last five years, the two biggest MMA stars in the world have been Anderson Silva and GSP. According to the book, Pride cut Silva back in 2005 because he was on bad terms with Chute Box, and the organization didn't want to do anything to alienate its fighters. And believe it or not, Pride actually passed on Georges St-Pierre, with DSE stating they were't interested in the fighter prior to his signing a contract with UFC, although they did send him "materials" regarding the organization.

Perhaps the last major hurrah for Pride's crazy-ass planning was in 2006, when the organization bandied about an idea for a "Mike Tyson World Tour," which would have seen the iconic fighter boxing Pride heavyweights like Fedor and Cro-Cop in special events in China, Russia and Europe. And if you know anything at all about Mr. Tyson, you already know why that shit never got off the ground, either.

As for the organization's final two shows, the book tells us two things that most MMA fans weren't aware of. First, the original plan for Pride 33 (one of the best MMA cards of all-time, by the way) was to have Lil' Nog do battle not with Sokoudjou, but none other than KIMBO SLICE! According to the book, however, Pride decided on an "other black and beastly" fighter (those quotes are theirs, not mine), which itself led to one of the greatest upsets in mixed martial arts history. And for Pride 34 -- what would come to be the promotion's final card -- the original main event was supposed to be Saku versus Tamura, which was then scrapped for a hypothetical Saku vs. Wandy IV showdown -- a bout made impossible because Wanderlei got knocked out just a few weeks prior by Dan Henderson.

After reading "Pride FC: Secret Files," I really got me a hankering for some old-school, mismatched, freak-show, weight class averse Japanese MMA action, all right. While the book itself seems pretty biased towards Pride FC -- what, with the vilification of the UFC and the brazen oversight of the organization's shadier business doings -- the stench of sour grapes isn't that overwhelming, thankfully. Needless to say, the big draw for the publication is all of the "top-secret" data on Pride's kookier matchmaking ideas, and there is a ton of such material to be found within said treatise. Of course, this being a Japanese publication, the Engrish is out in full force, and the "exclusive" interviews with dudes like Gomi and Minowa really don't tell us anything we don't already know. Beyond a few outright miffs (like the author of the book saying that Fox tried to buy the UFC for $1 billion in 2009), it seems to be a rather reliable tome, for the most part; and perhaps best of all, virtual copies of the publication aren't difficult at all to come by.

There's no denying that Pride FC had a penchant for the grandiose, the bizarre and the downright absurd, and this book was a delightful look at all of the crazy ass ideas that were just too much, even for the nation that once gave us a live, televised bout featuring Bob Sapp and an anthropomorphic cartoon character. It's a fun, nostalgic look back at what once was, and the downright insanity of what could've been -- it may not be sports journalism at its finest, but for hardcore MMA fans that sure do miss them some wacky, soccer-kick-laden action, it's most certainly a tract worth thumbing through, if nothing else, for the sheer "WTF" value contained therein.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted / Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 1

One's a Disney-produced family musical comedy starring puppets, and the other...well, ain't

Walt Disney and Troma are pretty much opposite sides of the same coin. Both companies are veritable pop cultural industries, forged from the minds of ahead-of-their-time (and perhaps just a bit full of themselves) film and business visionaries. Both companies pride themselves on being American institutions; not just film production firms, but distributors and producers of American culture itself. And both companies, of course, are responsible for the creation of countless iconic characters, ranging from lawsuit-happy, big-eared omnipresent mice to a toxic waste spawned janitor vigilante with a penchant for bloody vengeance and boning blind chicks. How the latter was able to parlay that into a short-lived Saturday morning television series, the world may never truly know.

Then again, Walt Disney is a Fortune 500 company with bi-coastal U.S. theme parks, while Troma is more or less run out of the backroom of a McDonalds in Queens. As similar as the companies are, their differences are just a tad more detectable, however, and nothing demonstrates those discrepancies more than their respective latest releases; "Muppets Most Wanted" and "Return to Nuke 'Em High: Volume 1." 

Strangely enough, both films are, in essence, the exact same experiments, with both companies attempting to relaunch two of their respective, domestic box-office-proven cash cows: sure, one may be about cutesy creatures that break out into Broadway numbers at the drop of the hat while the other may be about irradiated teenage junkies who rape and murder their way through suburbia, but at the end of the day? We're pretty much talkin' the exact same kinda' movie here...basically

Muppets Most Wanted
Director: James Bobin

I really, really enjoyed 2011's "The Muppets," which was a rare franchise reboot/updating that managed to restart a franchise without completely obliterating its core roots. Yeah, it had a few fart jokes and some groan-inducing self-reflexive humor in it, but it also had some genuinely heartstring-plucking moments; that, and I still think Fozzie Bear deserved at least a nomination for Best Supporting Actor that year. 

"Muppets Most Wanted," however, is a huge step down from 2011's do-over. It's not a terrible film, but it's definitely a movie with far less vim than its predecessor; indeed, the absolute best "joke" in the entire movie occurs within the first ten minutes, with the Muppets crew singing a song (complete with an Ingmar Bergman reference, if you can believe it) about how sequels are almost always disappointing. Sadly, as the film chugs along, that "joke" actually becomes more of a self-fulfilling prophesy. 

To begin, pretty much the entire human cast from the first film is gone; while Jason Segel and Amy Adams' trying courtship served as the semi-sincere bedrock of the first film, there's really nothing in "Most Wanted" that carries the same sort of weight. Similarly, the cameos in this one are extremely disappointing; a five second scene of Puff Daddy playing cards and that chick from "Kick Ass" just standing there is the best you guys could do this time around? 

There's a lot more emphasis on the puppets themselves in this one, which is actually a negative, since most of the characters are rather one-dimensional. That, and the obvious is never really skirted here; namely, the fact that it's really, really hard to empathize with the celluloid "plight" of pieces of felt. 

The plot is as follows: immediately after the last movie ends, the Muppets are confronted by Ricky Gervais, who plays a sleazy talent agent/cat burglar who convinces them to go on a world tour. Of course, the tour is nothing more than a front for Gervais to scout out clues to finding some long-last pirate gold or something, and as expected, the Muppets are none-the-wiser to his scheme. To help aid him in his nefarious quest, Gervais recruits an evil Russian frog named Vladimir Constantine, whom sans an idiosyncratic mole, bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain Jim Henson-designed amphibian. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what happens next -- the evil frog takes Kermit's place, "Ernest Goes to Jail" style, while Miss Piggy's main squeeze is exiled to Siberia, where he's forced to watch the likes of Tina Fey, Machete and the dude from "Goodfellas" chew the scenery until their gums bleed. 

Eventually the Muppets wise up to Gervais's evil doings (thanks in no small part to the assistance of a guacamole-loaded Subway sandwich, if you can believe it), and Kermit has to race against the clock to save Miss Piggy from wedding Constantine, who wants to blow up the Tower of London so he can retrieve the Crown Jewels or something. Be forewarned, however, that the film's last act contains two of the most terrifying scenes in recent mainstream movie history: the emergence of these absolutely hideous "baby" Muppets that could serve as The Garbage Pail Kids' distant cousins and even more stomach-churning: a Miss Piggy duet with Celine goddamn Dion

Ultimately, what surprised me most about the film was its inherent dullness, as if the producers themselves thought that every second of shooting the film was a chore. The plot drags on rather predictably, and the script throws in very few curve balls; hell, at times, it even feels as if the puppets themselves are phoning in their performances. If the 2011 film was a cheery blur, "Most Wanted," then, is the equivalent of watching janitors emotionlessly scrape bubblegum off a brick wall for an hour and a half. 

For the most part, the song and dance numbers are decent, but nothing on par with the tunes from the previous movie. And while there are some humorous bits here and there, once again, the film, holistically, is nowhere near as funny -- or intelligent -- as the 2011 flick. For that matter, the "Monsters University" short before the feature was an all-around superior offering to the cinematic main course; then again, anything that grants unto the masses the gift of more Art isn't going to receive anything less than glowing admiration from me. 

As previously stated, it's not that "Most Wanted" is a bad movie, per se, it's just that it feels so unbearably plain and forced; at best, this one is nothing more than a reheat of a reheated meal, and by the way? Somebody forget to plug in the microwave before hitting the "start" button, too.


Two Tofu Dogs out of Four

Well, Disney's latest attempt to catch lighting in a Pepsi bottle twice had some less than stellar results; turning our attention towards the House that Toxie Built, can Troma do a better job of reluanching one of its time-tested warhorses? Well, there's only one way to find out, of course...

I'm as shocked as you are that it didn't get an Oscar nod this year!

Return to Nuke 'Em High: Volume 1
Director: Lloyd Kaufman 

It's hard to believe that we've gone nearly eight years without a proper, flagship Troma movie coming down the (sewer?) pipes. Indeed, quite a bit has transpired in the world around us since the 2006 release of "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead" (itself, easily the best anti-consumerist, pro-vegetarianism, musical-love-story-barfola-zombie movie of the 2000s), so perhaps its not all that surprising that "Return to Nuke 'Em High, Volume 1" is pretty much all over the map, thematically.

If you're unfamiliar with Troma's "Nuke 'Em High" trilogy, they're not really prerequisites at all heading into "Return," a sorta'-but-not-quite-remake/reboot of the "venerable" teen-sex-anti-nuclear-shock-comedy series, which I believe were shown on a perpetual loop on the USA network every Saturday night for a good part of the mid-1990s.

The storyline in "Return" -- which has been broken up into two films, "Matrix"/"Kill Bill"/Lars Von Trier-style -- is pretty straightforward. A Final Cut pro-worthy opening vignette with V.O. from Stan Lee(!) informs us that since it's no longer "cool" to criticize nuclear energy, the former owners of Tromaville, New Jeresy's nuclear power plant have switched businesses to "organic" foodstuffs, but wouldn't you know it, all of those tacos they just shipped out to the local high school just so happen to be irradiated with toxic slop. Before long, the dorky glee club is turning into punkola 1980s vomit rocker delinquents and the Rush Limbaugh-esque principal is trying his darndest to cover up all of those pesky, cafeteria-related exploded heads -- which, of course, he attributes to the drama club putting on a performance of "Death of a Salesman" in the style of Christopher Nolan.

The cast in this one is your usual assortment of hyper-stylized Troma stereotypes. The main protagonist of the film is a wealthy blonde girl, who spends half of the movie trying to locate her lost duck (which, in typical Lloyd Kaufman fashion, receives "top billing" as an actor.) She strikes up a confrontational relationship with a socially conscientious student blogger, which quickly turns quite sexy -- that is, until they start having post-coitus "nightmares" about growing enormous Johnsons and spraying acidic breast milk all over the town's nuclear-spawned punk mutant biker gangs. Other standouts include an African-American student who believes the producers of "The Hurt Locker" are out to get him for illegally downloading their movie, a borderline retarded jock who feels sexually conflicted after feeling up a tranny and a super-nerd (who looks JUST LIKE "The Amazing Atheist"), who thinks references to Joel Schumacher movies are great ways to pick up chicks.

As stated earlier, the film feels just a wee bit directionless, but the pell-mell nature of the flick isn't really a negative in the slightest. One minute, you've got jokes about CNN not covering school shootings anymore due to their commonness and the next, you've got some wacky-ass vignettes about corporate (ir)responsibility, characterized by Lloyd Kaufman confusing a glass of milk for a cell phone. And, as expected, the scatter-shot plot is buttressed by a healthy helping of gore, gunge and completely needless nudity -- not content with just ONE self-loving scene, the film is home to THREE, count 'em THREE, masturbatory sequences.

As a Troma film -- with all of the lame jokes and goopy special effects and up-close nipple shots -- you really can't be disappointed by "Return," but I was expecting a bit more focused social commentary in this one. Sure, there are a few potshots at the selfie generation, with characters literally speaking in hashtags and dancing merrily while some pedo-bearded crud rockers yelps "I'm gonna' kill myself tonight" at a house party, but for those expecting a Harmony Korine-quality indictment of today's hyper-pastel youth, you'll probably be disappointed by the contents herein.

On the whole, "Return" isn't quite on par with Troma classics like "Terror Firmer" and "Citizen Toxie," but it's a hell of a lot of fun, regardless. It's got all of the sleaze and slop and trash you'd possibly want from a visionary/foot fetishist like Uncle Lloyd, and needless to say, "Volume One" has me mighty interested in what "Volume Two" has in store for us.

Oh, and that's not to say that this film isn't a little educational, either, as I, for one, had no idea that the Affordable Care Act didn't cover "duck-rape" as a pre-existing medical condition until viewing this motion picture.


Two and a Half Tofu Dogs out of Four

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Breaking Bad SUCKS.

Why the program isn’t just merely overrated, but detrimental to U.S. society as a whole. 

One of the old standbys when it comes to anti-censorship rhetoric in the U.S. is the idea that pop culture -- i.e., entertainment such as television, film, music and video games -- doesn’t have a profound psychological impact on viewers, listeners or players.

Funnily, empirical evidence seems to point otherwise.

Perhaps it was just coincidence that James Holmes elected to shoot up a movie theater screening the loud and violent “Dark Knight Rises,” only to identify himself as “The Joker” -- the homicidal, anarchistic pop culture icon whose visage was as commonplace as Barack Obama’s in 2008 -- when police finally ended his dozen-corpse shooting spree two years ago. Similarly, perhaps it is just “coincidence” that Anders Breivik was a fan of the hyper-popular “Call of Duty” games -- so much so, that he said he used the game as a virtual simulator for his unprecedented rampage in 2011 that left 77 individuals dead…not to mention an additional 300 whom were seriously injured or critically wounded. Perhaps we can also chalk up a would-be mass shooter’s plans to decimate his high school in 2013 as “mere coincidence,” despite the fact that said perpetrator intended on carrying out said rampage while music from the infamous “No Russian” level in “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” played on his iPod. Similarly, the number of “copycat” crimes based on Oliver Stone’s super-overrated 1994 pseudo-opus “Natural Born Killers” is so high, it has it’s own tally sheet on Wikipedia.

Of course, media has very little impact on individual psyches and their personal decision-making, which is exactly why navy recruit numbers skyrocketed after “Top Gun” was released. Nor can that be the reason why, in the wake of made-for-cable “reality” dreck like “Storage Wars,” auction attendance numbers across the U.S. have exploded. And of course, lawyers and judges across the country aren’t complaining about something called “The CSI Effect,” in which “Law and Order”-weaned jurors keep demanding non-existent technologies be used to “solve” actual criminal trials.

When “Breaking Bad” -- the unexpected AMC mega-hit, starring of all people, the dad from “Malcolm in the Middle” -- concluded last fall, it wasn’t just a television event, it was indeed a generation-defining moment. That evening, my apartment complex -- itself, a glorified student housing project -- was literally overflowing with cars. The communal Wi-Fi was lagging, because so many people were on Twitter and Facebook and texting each other back and forth about the final episode. Many acquaintances later told me that the “Series Finale” parties they attended were more densely populated than any sports-centric get-together they had ever seen. The grand finale for the program was a mass cultural experience, something more akin to the Super Bowl or even a Presidential election than just some sliver of pop cultural ephemera.

And of course, I didn’t watch a second of it.

When it comes to modern-day pop culture, I admit that I am something of an aberration. Simply put, I don’t know what the hell’s going on, since I have refused to own a television since 2007 and haven’t turned on my car’s radio since 2009. As such, pretty much all of my pop culture intake comes from Facebook chatter and other Internet-borne phenomena, which I usually ignore until it becomes absolutely impossible to scroll three centimeters up, down, left, or right without being bombarded by massiveness of whatever contemporary pop culture thing is going on at the juncture.

In regards to “Breaking Bad,” I avoided it for quite some time, primarily due to spending my free time doing stupid things like being outside, hanging out with my loved ones and writing about four bajillion things simultaneously instead of watching a non-stop, 12 hour block of TV programming in one sitting like God intended us to do as a species. Alas, my curiosity finally got the best of me, and I decided to skim my way through a couple of episodes. And after all of the nonstop media bombardment, with people endlessly celebrating it as the best thing since sliced bread, you know what my reaction was?

“Well, that’s pretty unremarkable.”

Simply put, “Breaking Bad” -- in my eyes -- sucked as a drama, a television program and a work of fiction. As is, television is pretty much the lowest form of “art” there is -- being the only self-censored media format, designed solely for the sake of unabashed commercialism and all -- but even in a world glutted with “Dance Moms” and “Duck Dynasty,” I found “Breaking Bad” to be especially lackluster.

For years, I was told that “Breaking Bad” was a deep, humanistic work of art, with character portrayals of criminals so real, it felt less like your standard TV tomfoolery and more like a Scorsesian drama -- not that films like “Goodfellas” or “Casino” completely romanticize the mob or anything like that, but alas, such is an aside for a different day. This was, allegedly, a gritty, psychologically rich tale about life after the recession, and how far desperate people are willing to carry on in the face of inevitable destruction. The way the pop cultural wehrmacht posited it, you’d think “Breaking Bad” was scripted by the resurrected corpse of Erich Remarque himself.

Alas, such was not the television program that I saw. Instead, what I saw was a downright pandering, fantastical program that once again glorified criminality as a reasonable way of life and a just response to adversity. Told that “Breaking Bad” was the definitive post-Recession pop culture construct, I was actually offended by what I saw: instead of focusing on the real-life degradation of the American family (and with it, an entire generation’s sense of optimism and belief in self), “Breaking Bad” was a borderline fascistic show that, with the lung cancer skeleton key, completely exonerated its characters from any sort of moralistic retribution for their own doings. Very few television programs I have viewed have had such a nihilistic, and socially destructive, mindset: the main character’s just going to die, anyway, so why not break the law and fuck up the lives of countless others as some sort of bizarre, sociopathic riposte to one’s personal setbacks?

I’ve written dozens of stories about real-life human beings aversely impacted by the Great Recession, and not a single one has been analogous to Walter White -- the meth-cooking, unconscionable protagonist who has since become the unofficial icon of an entire generation. Faced with their own financial doomsday -- and among some, their own impending mortalities -- none of the people I interviewed seemed to port about attitudes as vicious and unprincipled as the “hero” of “Breaking Bad.” Instead of seeking an “easy way out” by getting into illicit trade, the people I’ve seen have worked like crazy in menial labor to support those who they love, and of the people starring into the economic abyss, the ones I have talked to have spoken about entering poverty gracefully; that is, instead of going into despair with an anti-social disposition, they’ve tried to pattern their old ways of life around being poor.

The story of real American life, post-recession, has been one of sacrifice: families taking the deep cuts to support themselves. However, the story of “Breaking Bad” is almost the complete inverse: instead of focusing on a family man who sacrifices his own wants for a greater good, he more or less goes on a rampage, engaging in sundry antisocial behaviors, with the needs of his family serving as a convenient “excuse” for his own sociopathic, criminal behavior.

With all of the corpses piled up on the show, defenders of “Breaking Bad” claim the program doesn’t glamorize the drug trade, to which I call bullshit. At the absolute best, “Breaking Bad” is a program that philosophically argues that extreme conditions (such as financial insolvency and terminal illness) provide one with a moralistic carte blanche, that with self-destruction imminent, the moral guidelines people follow under “normal conditions” no longer apply. “If you suffer an injustice,” the show’s mantra seems to be, “it’s OK to perpetrate more injustices to get back to square one.”

You see this kind of shit all the time. How many rappers, many of whom have been convicted of felonies and/or been the victims of homicide, have cited “Scarface” as an influence? The underlying theme of that film, similar to the theme of “Breaking Bad,” is that if you get wronged or marginalized, it’s completely reasonable to do what most people would call “unconscionable actions” in order to “fix” said problems. How many gangster rappers sing the exact same song and dance? They were born poor, in crappy environments with few educational or occupational opportunities; denied those “legitimate” opportunities by “the man,” is it really that “wrong” if they turn towards criminal enterprises as way of “making it” as others do?

The key “life lesson” in oh so many a gangster rap classic is the same virtue that’s promoted in “Breaking Bad” -- do unto others, as others have done unto you. Note that such is not “as you would like others to do,” as the Golden Rule postulates, but “as other have already treated you.” Everything an individual does, then, is not an action, but a reaction -- not individual choice, but reciprocity stemming from an event the individual has no control over. If “wronged,” in any way, shape, or form, the individual has no moral restrictions on doing whatever it is that he or she believes is necessary to right that perceived injustice. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because it’s the law of the jungle --  “and the wolf that shall keep it may prosper,” as Rudyard Kipling once penned, “but the wolf that shall break it must die.”

If there was ever a program that so vigorously defended the literally inhuman construct of survival of the fittest, “Breaking Bad” would personify it. Why not turn towards meth-making, and the murderous drug trade, if it meant “survival?” Who cares if you create a monster that destroys the lives of oh-so-many families and relationships, if it’s done solely for the sake of “survival?” Why not turn on your best friends and align yourself with absolute miscreants, if it’s just for “survival?”

Walter White is pretty much the antithesis of what served as a protagonist half a century ago. Whereas the pacifistic, morally-guided Atticus Finch was once deemed the cultural depiction of heroism, the principle-less White has become this generation’s de facto icon. We’ve no time, nor patience, for self-sacrificing, virtue-driven heroics anymore; it’s much more entertaining to watch conscience-less anti-heroes do as they please, with the auger of “past injustices” serving as a universal “justification” for their doings, of course. Resiliency and moral high grounds, it appear, went out with landline phones and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

“Breaking Bad,” as such, may not glorify methamphetamine use, per se, but it does something that’s actually far worse: it rationalizes the methamphetamine drug trade as a “just cause” in times of personal tribulation. Throughout the episodes of “Breaking Bad” that I scanned, I wondered about the clientele that Walter poisoned, and if their home lives were anything like the home lives of actual methamphetamine-impacted families that I’ve interviewed over the years.

Were there seven kids in one mobile home, with pink insulation falling out of the ceiling? Were there squalling kindergartners abound, whom lacked the cognitive ability to fully grasp what their daddy’s 20-year-prison sentence actually meant? Were there any 28-year-old kids, with more fingers than teeth, literally foaming out of their mouths due to withdrawal? “Breaking Bad,” you say, is drama, sheer entertainment. I’d highly recommend those same individuals, whom find the program so “enthralling,” actually participate in a Functional Family Therapy session, and watch the decades and decades of loving bonds disintegrate before your very eyes, thanks to the demon of meth addiction. That, my friends, is the TRUE face of methamphetamine, not the guns-blazing, made-for-cable bullshit that “Breaking Bad” represents.

Of course, I’m not going to change anybody’s opinion about the program. After all, it’s just
“entertainment,” you’ll tell me, and nothing more than mock dramatics with an engaging storyline. What’s so bad about a show, after all, that completely trivializes one of the nation’s greatest health epidemics, turning the real-life suffering of hundreds of thousands of families into action-movie bravado? What’s so bad, you’ll tell me, about a show that makes a “hero” out of a character who destroys so many lives with the justification in mind that it’s “OK,” because he too has experienced his own difficulties? What’s so bad, you’ll say, about an entire culture embracing a show so decisively nihilistic, and fascistic, and antipathetic to any and all forms of selflessness?

It’s not like “entertainment” has any impact on culture at large, after all

Monday, March 24, 2014

Eight Things the Great Recession Destroyed...

...that most Americans haven't noticed yet.

When it's all said and done, Generation Y's collective story will be one of diminished expectations and terminal angst: the end dividends, ultimately, of growing up in a 1990s economic boom that promised us the world on a diamond platter only to reach maturation at a point in time in which the national economy was completely tanked by globalization, deregulation, and the suspiciously under-blamed gray ceiling.

The post 2008-years, clearly, have not been fun ones. Almost overnight, the neo-American Dream (that being, the advertised promise of unlimited credit cards, a house of one's own and a stuffy, super-secure office job until the day we died) was replaced by the Millennial Nightmare: mountainous student loan debts, devalued college degrees and job markets that are about as optimistic as the odds of a Buffalo Bills Super Bowl run have become the norm as opposed to the exception, and it doesn't appear as if things will be straightening themselves out anytime soon.

Without question, the Great Recession has had a tremendous impact on the national psyche, but that's not the only thing the ongoing financial turd storm has affected. In fact, since things took a nosedive back in '08, the entire world around us has changed seemingly overnight, with technologies, industries and entire lifestyle components becoming obsolete, or near-obsolete, over the last seven years.

So, beyond an entire generation's sense of hope and career aspiration, what else has the Great Recession fatally wounded over the last 90 or so months? Well, here are eight social components that have definitely taken a bruising over the better part of the last decade...and some of the battered victims of the financial downturn might just surprise you.


Even before the Great Recession, the writing was on the wall for houses of worship: less people in America are reporting themselves as "religious" individuals, and even among those that do, an ever-increasing number of them are describing themselves as non-denominational believers, a sizable portion of whom forego church attendance altogether. 

So, when the Recession hit, the impact on smaller churches was devastating. You see, despite being tax-exempt organizations, churches still have to pay for standard amenities, and when all of your "profits" are derived from meager skimmings of a brass collection plate, perhaps you can see how some churches were unable to keep their lights on. 

Of course, mid-sized and mega churches continue to truck along, no doubt due to their consistent funding bases and secondary operational income (such as faith-based academies and schools.) However, the dwindling attendance figures for smaller outfits has resulted in the shuttering of numerous churches, which in turn, has lead to a spike in so-called "house churching" activities -- a phenomenon that, since the Recession kicked off, has grown to include nearly 10 percent of all U.S. adults as semi-regular participants.  

Nutritional Diets

Before the Recession, America was in the grips of an a obesity epidemic, with consumers struggling to maintain healthy body weights while awash in a sea of easily accessible, extremely affordable comestibles. At the same time, Americans spent about $35 billion on alleged dieting aids in 2006 alone; in effect, the two antithetical causa suis -- a simultaneous addiction to overeating and an addiction to diet programs and supplements to combat said overeating -- became an inescapable (and unquestionably profitable) vicious cycle. 

As of 2012, however, things appear to look a little different. While roughly a third of the nation says they are on regimented diets, the nation, as a whole, is spending almost half of what the nation was spending on miscellaneous dieting tools prior to the Great Recession. Similarly interesting is national data on obesity. While more than a third of all Americans were categorically obese in 2006, the total number actually decreased to about 27 percent last year (this statistical anomaly, I suppose, can best be explained by the onset deaths of those categorized as obese since the mid 2000s.) 

All in all, a good 70 percent of all Americans today are overweight, however, representing about a five percent gain compared to 2005 estimates. With rising food costs (keep in mind, whole-grain organic stuff costs way more than Fruit Loops and Twinkies) in tandem with an across-the-board decrease in discretionary income, the takeaway here is pretty clear: since the Recession began, Americans just aren't as obsessed with weight-loss-targeted diets anymore. 

Disc-Based Media

Some consequences of the Recession are so obvious, they don't really seem to be worth stating. That said, the drastic decline of both CD-Rom and DVD-Rom media over the last seven years has been one of the major cultural shifts of the new economy, spelling the virtual (pun, definitely intended) doom for a large swath of the entertainment and retail industries. 

You don't need me to tell you the impact MP3s and services like Netflix (and sundry other, more shadowy sites) have had on music and film delivery: the fact that huge chains like Circuit City and Blockbuster Video have gone belly-up is pretty much all the indication you need that the digital has triumphed over the solid state since the '08 downturn.

At this juncture, the video game industry is pretty much the only sector still dependent upon disc-based media, but as the recession drags on -- and on-demand services like Steam prove themselves more and more lucrative and sustainable -- it may in fact be just a few years before disc-based gaming becomes obsolete, too. And speaking of media formats driven to the brink of extinction during the Great Recession...


It's certainly not a good time to be in any kind of industry or field beholden to the printed word right now. Newspapers, text books, magazines, hell, even paperbacks, have all taken major bruises since the Recession began, and the ultimate consequence here might just be the death of ink and parchment altogether.

How many formally lucrative newspapers and magazines have gone under since 2008? What do you make of the bankruptcy of Borders, one of the largest wholesale retailers of printed works in the nation? Haven't multifunctional, high-tech devices like tablets made traditional literature completely obsolete at this point? 

The same way downloadable and streaming services on the Web have made film, music and gaming delivery more cost-efficient, the rise of the e-reader has pretty much made traditional mass publication a modern day anachronism. While the environmental and intellectual impact of the great media transition will take some time to fully iron out, it's pretty much unmistakable at this juncture: one of the greatest casualties of the global downturn has indeed been the significance and viability of the printed word as both a media format and profitable enterprise. 


Peculiarly enough, though, it's not just print publications that have taken a major punch to the gut during the Recession, as computers themselves have experienced a general decline in technological importance and commercial success. 

When was the last time you fired up a true desktop PC, complete with one of those enormous towers? With the rise of smart phones, tablets and much more portable laptops (which, themselves, are beginning to lose market prominence), the old desktop model has been relegated to stuffy office use only it seems, with most consumers flocking towards the newer, World-Wide-Web powered mobile devices


Now I know what you're thinking here: of course, the Great Recession had a tremendous impact on the housing market. In fact, you could definitely say that the U.S. housing market crash in 2006 was really the catalyst for the global downturn as a whole. And while housing sales have generally been shitty for the last decade or so, the housing market itself isn't really what I'm talking about here. Instead, I am referring to the idea of the house as a dying generational concept

Houses, at one point in time, were considered safe investments. No matter how much you spent, you could probably turn around and sell the thing for roughly the same amount you plunked down on it, and depending on the local real estate market, sometimes for a hefty profit, too. The great housing market crash, however, has pretty much decimated this ideal, and today's kids -- already saddled with gargantuan student loan debts -- are quite hesitant to take out a mortgage on something they'll almost assuredly sell for a loss...if at all. 

As a result, we're seeing less people investing in long term housing situations. As the under 40-crowd today is such a rootless culture as is, the idea of purchasing a home and cementing ourselves in one place for twenty or thirty years at a time isn't just undesirable, it actually sounds downright illogical. Hopping from job-to-job and city-to-city, it seems as if the concept of "home ownership" is becoming less and less of a realistic (or yearned for, really) proposition: looking at our long-term living arrangements, perhaps a more apt name for the Millennials would be "Generation R" -- the "R" in question, of course, standing for permanent renters


The most profound impact of the Great Recession, ultimately, might not be something we fully experience until a good twenty years into the future. 

With the sudden, quasi-cataclysmic shift in the global economy, job markets are certainly shakier than they were ten years ago. With Americans now in direct competition with international workers, there are less jobs available for U.S. citizens, particularly in the manufacturing industries, which have been outsourced to China, Mexico and various plants throughout southeast Asia. For skilled labor and IT jobs, more and more U.S. jobs are being electronically shipped over to India, West Africa and Europe, where arguably better workers are willing to do the same jobs for significantly less money. And with the recession taking a toll on the domestic economy, even highly-decorated professionals and paraprofessionals are finding themselves in less-than-certain financial standings. 

With less financial stability, less younger Americans are making the significant lifestyle choice to get married, and even fewer are deciding to have children. Depending on your perspective, the final dividend here could be an unfathomable worker shortage in the next two to three decades due to a declining national birth rate or something a tad more grandiloquent, in the Malthusian sense -- according to some, the fictional predictions of "Idiocracy" may in fact be on the verge of transpiring for real. Either way, this much is for sure: the recession's impact on the American psyche, and especially the construct of the family, is certain to be something we'll be feeling for a long, long time to come.  


And lastly, we come to the social mechanism that more or less caused the Great Recession to begin with. Without question, they way Americans perceive money in the wake of the downturn has changed considerably, but what many folks tend to overlook is just how much money -- as a cultural commodity -- has changed over the past seven years.

First things first, the concept of credit has been pretty much threshed to a fine pulp. While credit card companies and banks, pre-recession, were handing out loans to anybody and anything, in the wake of the sub-prime apocalypse, getting credit is a substantially more difficult task. Indeed, at the current, the only real loaning mechanism out there that's accessible to most Americans are subsidized college loans...not that such is causing some major problems, in and of itself. In addition to employment being harder to obtain in the post-2008 global economy, actually getting loaned monies has become more arduous, too. With fiat capital and credit being less accessible to the masses, perhaps its not surprising that so many alternative currencies began sprouting up in the wake of the downturn.

First, there was the miniature "gold" boom around 2009, which was eventually supplanted by the "e-currency" boom of the early 2010s. With Bitcoin and Dogecoin becoming makeshift forms of online capital, perhaps we're seeing the emergence of an all-new financial system, which is actually something of a high-tech spin on the bartering system...well, until such comes inevitably crashing down like Skylab, of course.

Even the delivery systems for capital have changed in ways that, circa 2007, would have been unfathomable. For example, in 2005, who would have thought something like Google Wallet could ever possibly exist? With the rise of newer consumer technologies, perhaps the tethering of mobile apps and capital will continue to expand, in ways that we really can't even predict at the current. Are we on the precipice of an economic system were e-currency (think: PayPal credits and the like) will be accepted as forms of trade on par with actual money and credit cards? As it turns out, such has been precisely the case for several years now.

The post-Recession state, ultimately, may end up being known as the post-Money state, when it's all said and done. Many, many things have changed in American life since the '08 crisis, but perhaps the single most pivotal has been the way in which money, and personal finances, have been synced with new technologies. The same way mobile Web-applications have made physical commodities like CDs, books and DVDs virtually obsolete, could the end dividend of the Great Recession be the end of physical currency and the beginning of the post-fiat, e-currency era?

Only time well tell, I guess...but that time might just get here quicker than we'd imagine.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) Review

Depending on who you ask, it’s either the best movie of 2013 or the most controversial. But is the much talked about French film as good -- or as shocking -- as some critics would have you believe? 

Let me start off by saying there is a lot of eating going on in “Blue is the Warmest Color.” And no, that’s NOT the brusque euphemism you think it is, I’m being hyper-literal here; virtually every scene in the movie revolves around food, or restaurants or people talking about what foods they like or don’t like. Of all the recurring themes director Abdellatif Kechiche throws around in the movie -- and trust me, there are a metric ton of them -- it is this motif of food and food ritualism that becomes the most pronounced and omnipresent throughout the film. For all the hubbub the film has stirred, at the end of the day, “Blue is the Warmest Color” is really more about food porn that it is lesbian erotica -- at times, it feels less like it was helmed by a horndog alpha male than it was an anorexic, Pinterest-obsessed high schooler.

For those of you that have been living in a cave since last year (or, for those of you that think “media” ends on both coasts of the continental U.S.), “Blue is the Warmest Color” is a European production that took home the prestigious Palm d’or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. After its release, it was condemned by those on the right of the aisle for its allegedly graphic sexual content (it was successfully banned from public viewings in Idaho) and then it took a few punches from the left, whom accused Kechiche of promoting the fabled…I mean, tyrannical…patriarchy by supposedly “taking advantage” of the film’s lead actresses during the shoot. The heavy political forces squeezing the movie on both sides pretty much kept it from getting much of an American theatrical distribution, and despite glowing praise from trendy art house folk the world over, it didn’t even manage to land a Best Foreign Language Film nomination for this year’s Oscars. Alas, now that the film is making the Netflix rounds, it’s finally getting a crack at a widespread U.S. audience, and after catching a showing of the film myself, I have to say that it is a really good -- albeit flawed -- motion picture, that’s probably worth at least one viewing for the more cultured filmgoers out there.

The film is centered around the exploits of high school junior Adele (played, reasonably enough, by an actress named Adele Exarchopoulos), who has a schnoz like Anna Kendrick and a set of bee-stung lips that more or less resemble what Angelina Jolie’s kisser would look like if she stuck her face in a hornet’s nest. She also parades about in the film with this perpetual huge-eyed, deer-in-headlights gaze, and spends more screentime with her mouth hanging open than Kristen Stewart does throughout the entire “Twilightpentalogy. Anyway, all of Adele’s friends are a bunch of brunettes with bangs who wear blue and red nail polish (that’s called “symbolism,” Holmes) who want her to sleep with this short-haired heavy metal singer, so she goes out to dinner with him and talks about “Dangerous Liaisons” for ten full minutes. At around the 20 minute mark of the movie, Adele has a fairly intense fantasy about this random blue-haired girl she saw prancing about town earlier, and I guess this freaks her out, because she has sex with short-haired metal singer guy in the very next scene.

In the next scene, Adele looks disheveled as all hell and asks one of her (gay) boy friends to help her break up with Mr. Heavy Metal Singer, and she does, and then she walks around town chain smoking at midnight and then she cries and rips into her hidden chocolate bar stash underneath her bed. Then she and her fellow students go on a protest march and drink Coronas and get a lecture about Antigone, and then one of Adele’s gal pals tells her she thinks she’s all cute and mysterious and they smooch for a bit and the next day at school, her not-quite-out-of-the-closet amiga tells her that she didn’t really mean it yesterday so she decides to go hang out at a gay bar instead.

So Adele sneaks off into a lesbian dive, but not before a geriatric John Cena lookalike tells her that “love has no gender” and to “take whoever loves you.“ Conveniently enough, the blue-haired girl Adele fantasized about earlier then emerges from the bar’s bathroom. The eel-eyed, denim jacket sporting Emma (played by Lea Seydoux) is a Fine Arts student, who gives Adele some strawberry milk and pretty much knows that she’s under-age, but decides to strike up a conversation with her anyway. The next day, Emma draws a picture of Adele in the park, and they talk about Sartre for a bit, and Adele tells her she likes probable rapist Bob Marley, and they cheek kiss, and the next day at school, Adele gets into a fight with one of her friends who calls her a lesbian.

Next scene, Adele is in class getting a lecture about gravity and water, and then she and Emma sneak off to the museum to stare at statue asses. Adele tells Emma she’s basically bulimic and can’t stand shellfish, and then they start talking about their first lesbian experiences. And at the one hour and 14 minute mark of the motion picture, we get the much talked-about lesbian sex montage bonanza, in which Adele and Emma engage in pretty much every position found in the Kama Sutra, for a full SIX MINUTES. Afterwards, the two go to a gay pride parade and make out on a park bench, and then they go over to Emma’s parents’ place for dinner, and they’re all super-liberal and accepting, but they’ve prepared oysters and Adele’s grossed out and they talk about how much the current job market worries them and then they go upstairs and “scissors” each other, really, really hard.

Then, Adele gets thrown a surprise birthday party, which is so lame that even the black attendees dance like white people. Adele’s parents are a bit less open to the whole “lesbianism” thing, and her mom thanks Emma for helping her daughter out with her “philosophy,” while dad cautiously asks Emma what her “boyfriend” does for a living.

Emma, now devoid of blue hair dye (and eerily resembling Eric Stoltz, circa 1985), does a nude sketch of Adele, who we learn is a kindergartner teacher or something like that. Then, Adele and Emma go to this art crowd party, and Emma flirts with this pregnant chick, and Adele gets jealous and starts talking with this Arabian guy about action movies while all of the other partygoers eat spaghetti and discuss “the philosophy” of orgasms.

There’s a lengthy pillow talk sequence, and Adele’s paranoia about her partner’s infidelity is clearly rising, so she goes out and makes out with this dude, and then she has a nasty argument with Emma, and they decide to break up. Then Adele goes to the beach and just floats in the water for awhile, and she has a post break-up encounter with Emma, and they talk about how much they miss each other’s touch, and they monkey around for awhile, but Emma cuts her off and says she can’t do it, because she doesn’t love Adele anymore. And then the film concludes with Adele going to an art gallery, and talking to a dude and a chick while some guy in the background gives a really, really heavy-handed lecture about the significance of the colors red and blue. And then Adele simply walks out into the great unknown, and this movie is all over, folks.

I suppose the first question most folks would be asking is if the lesbian scenes are really that intense. I guess they’d give your motor a good whirring if you were a Quaker or something, but to be honest, the scenes go on for so long that they pretty much begin to border on self-parody, like that infamous “puppet sex scene” from “Team America: World Police.” That, and the visuals here are pretty hard to take too seriously: I mean, half the time, the scenes just look like Sonic the Hedgehog is going down on Jennifer Love Hewitt, anyway.

Now, as to the allegations that the film is somehow misogynistic or even homophobic -- and yes, there actually are people out there accusing the filmmakers of being precisely that -- I’d have to roll my eyeballs down to somewhere around my shins. If anything, hardcore leftists that hated the movie probably disliked it so because it actually had the audacity to focus on a main character who has no idea what her sexual identity is, let alone be able to make any efforts to politicize it. Instead of being a militant LGBT film about identity politics, it’s much more a film about self-denial and the troubles one goes through differentiating interpersonal intimacy from sensorial chaos. Mayhap the “problem” of the film, from the standpoint of leftist detractors, is that it’s a movie that has the gall to take the sexuality out of homosexuality, and explore sexual non-conformity as a confounding experience instead of a liberating one. “Blue is the Warmest Color” doesn’t paint its multi-sexual protagonists as heroes, and perhaps more infuriating to the more politically-motivated viewers out there, it also doesn’t really paint them as “victims” of mass social prejudice, either.

As for the film’s biggest positive, it’s absolutely LOADED with subtext. Really, the entire film is pretty much an Easter egg hunt for veiled meaning, in particular, the picture’s intriguing “red vs. blue” color dynamic. OK, so “red” imagery could come to denote heterosexuality and “traditionalism,” while “blue” imagery represents both social and sexual non-conformity; but what of Adele’s aversion to oysters, the (in-text) symbol of upper middle class pseudo-intellectualism? As much as the film is about sexuality, it’s probably an even blunter statement about contemporary gender roles and socioeconomic class differences. It’s definitely refreshing to watch a movie that forces viewers to read between the lines and through the character’s own dialogue to get the most out of the narrative; it’s definitely a film that rewards you for paying attention and playing armchair psychoanalyst, that’s for sure.

The biggest negative of the film, of course, is its length. Really, “Blue is the Warmest Color” is about 66 percent really, really good, but by the second hour, it really starts to drag. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the makers of the film for giving the flick the time that it needs to get rolling, but the film as a whole is at least a half hour longer than it really should have been. It’s a fun sprint for 120 minutes, but those final 60 are sure to take a whole hell of a lot of wind out of your sails.

The direction is sure-handed, and the acting is solid throughout, but the cinematography is the true star of the show here. Everything in the film looks crisp and super clear, and it has some of the most beautiful shots you’ll see in any movie from 2013 -- the sound-stage, CGI crap from “Gravity” can take a hike, as far as I am concerned. The script is generally quite good, and until the final third of the film, it never really hits any snags. The script reminded me a lot of “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul,” which was a similar film about a “forbidden romance.“ Of course, “Ali” is a far superior movie, but that’s not to say “Blue” doesn’t have a certain vitality all its own -- if nothing else, it definitely feels a lot livelier and way more realistic than a good 99 percent of the U.S. rom-coms and rom-dramas that came out last year.

Ultimately, I think the “problem” that kept most U.S. distributors from eyeing “Blue” wasn’t its sexual content, but simply the fact that it was too good and too anti-commercial for American audiences. As a film sans jump cuts or explosions of any kind, it’s just too much of a hard sale for today’s ADD-addled masses, and the three hour run-time was pretty much the fork in the proverbial roast beef sandwich. “Blue” is really, really good (but not necessarily great) world cinema, which is pretty much anathema to the Hollywood mode of production -- more sequels, more toy tie-ins, less dialogue, more ka-boom.

Thankfully, the advent of streaming, on-demand video allows movies like “Blue” to sneak their way through the multimedia backdoor, and hopefully into the living rooms of filmgoers who, in addition to porting about adult bodies, also port about adult sensibilities. After all, home video has always been the saving grace for films given the “NC-17” death sentence -- which, as it stands today, is more or less a safety mechanism that keeps children and men-children alike from having their fragile intellects damaged by that much vilified ailment, individual thought.