Category Archives: Movies

They Don’t Make Princesses Like They Used To

Because I am the best husband in the world, I recorded a Disney film on our DVR and left it there for my wife to find when she went to watch “True Blood.” I admit it wasn’t a premeditated act, but that doesn’t invalidate my best-husband status.

You see, Friday night while my wife slept I sat on the couch watching 13 Assassins. I simultaneously scanned the guide for upcoming programs because I can’t just look at the TV like a regular person, and I noticed that the film Brave would be playing at 5:20 AM. I thought, What would the best husband in the world do? Within moments I’d scheduled the recording and returned to my festival of samurai disembowelings.

My wife giggled when she discovered the recording. Well, that’s probably a lie. I wasn’t there, and she hasn’t giggled more than a dozen times in recent memory. She’s just not a giggly girl. But she did express great happiness and appreciation for my husbandly prowess.

Then I mentioned to her the vicious, eye-gouging, internet-shredding riot that erupted when Disney made the movie’s protagonist, Merida, an “official” Disney princess. The character’s elevation to “official” status wasn’t controversial, but the makeover art Disney gave her caused heads to fly off. I won’t go into detail, other than to say they redrew the character to match the artistic style of the older official princesses, and at the same time they wiped out lots of her tomboy individuality. And they took about ten inches off her waist, I guess because an official princess can’t be proportioned like an official real person.

After an internet shelling that made the Battle of Verdun look like On Golden Pond, Disney relented and dropped the new art. I understand their need to make the art consistent, but I think some of the changes kind of sucked. Check them out for yourself:

I don't think you get this kind of makeover on The Learning Channel.
I don’t think you get this kind of makeover on The Learning Channel.

I don’t want to get all spun up about the changes, but when I was looking for a makeover photo to show my wife I stumbled onto something else. I found a number of backlash comments slamming the movie, the heroine, director Brenda Chapman, and all the damned whiners who whined in their whining voices about the makeover. Here’s one example, with the commenting lady’s name omitted:

“Ms. Chapman could not finish this film herself. It was Disney who made it and it should be Disney that is championed. In the super hero line up of princesses- yes the wonderful heroines of films we love such as Snow White, Mulan, Belle etc. all had braver story lines than Merida who poisoned her mother and just felt kinda bad about it. The character was drawn in this clip art by a woman and Merida was drawn to match the world of the characters who were created as early as the 1930’s. To bring them all into the same world they needed to be drawn a bit differently than they appeared in the film. Perhaps Disney should remove Merida from the princess line up- just like they removed Brenda.”

– A Person Who Is Quite Unhappy About All This

I didn’t want to dismiss these objections just because they seemed kind of spiteful. Maybe this person has some real insight. So I considered her argument for a bit, which seemed to revolve around the story and the character being lousy compared to previous Disney films. Then I examined some of those classic films, extracting the plot and moral of the story for each, so I could compare them to Brave for myself.

Snow White

Plot:
The most beautiful girl in the kingdom runs away when the Wicked Queen tries to rub her out. The girl cooks and cleans for seven short guys until the Queen tries to kill her again. The short guys stick her comatose body inside a glass box and set it beside the road as if it were the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. She lays there until a handsome prince comes along and plants one on her, waking her up. They fall in love.

Moral: It pays to be beautiful, lucky, and handy in the kitchen.

Cinderella

Plot:
A beautiful girl’s widowed father marries a vile harpy and her two ugly daughters, and then he dies. The harpy and her daughters treat his beautiful girl like ass-crust. Meanwhile, the king prepares a party to find his handsome son a wife, and he invites every girl in the kingdom. The bill for punch will be murder. Some handily dexterous mice sew the girl a pretty dress so she can go to the party, then her awful step-sisters destroy it, and then a fairy magically sends the girl to the party anyway, where the prince falls hard for her. After some magical mishaps, the prince tracks her down using her shoe. They fall in love.

Moral: It pays to be beautiful, nice to rodents, and have supernatural beings helping you.

Sleeping Beauty

Plot:
A snubbed evil sorceress curses an infant princess to die when she first touches a spinning wheel. Rather than just destroying all the spinning wheels in the land, three good fairies change the curse so that the princess will just fall asleep upon spinning-wheel-contact. They take her to the forest, where she grows into a beautiful princess. She meets a handsome prince in the woods, and they fall in love. The evil sorceress brings the hammer down on her curse, knocking the princess into a coma. The prince then kills the evil sorceress and wakes the princess with a kiss. They continue to be in love.

Moral: Don’t piss off evil sorceresses. And of course it pays to be beautiful.

Brave

Plot:
A willful princess so badly hates the idea of being married off against her wishes that she breaks the rules, defies her father, destroys property, and casts a spell on her mother, which turns the nagging woman into a bear. The princess realizes she screwed up and looks for a way to de-bear her mother, having some heartwarming moments with mom along the way. She at last finds a way to break the spell, contritely offers to marry whomever she’s told to marry, and risks her life to help her clan prevail in one of the giant killer bear attacks that had recently become so common. Everyone agrees that children don’t have to be paired up like show poodles, and the princess spends the afternoon riding horses with her mom.

Moral: You don’t deserve to be your own person if you only think about yourself.

After considering all of that, I’ll tell you right now which one of these girls I’d want to live happily ever after with. But what do I know? I’m just the best husband in the world.

Something to Amuse and Perplex the Entire Family

Last night I looked up from writing my novel synopsis and eating peanut butter cookies, and I realized that this blog has achieved a phenomenal milestone. It has existed for 660 days. The significance may not punch you in the face right away, so I’ll explain. The numeral 660 is the area code for Sedalia, Missouri. That town is only a two hour drive from Branson, Missouri. I visited Branson once. I think it’s pretty much how Las Vegas would look if it were built by the cast of Hee Haw, and yet the place entertained me in spite of myself. Ergo, milestone. Don’t you feel silly that you didn’t see it for yourself?

In celebration, I devoted a few minutes to thinking about the posts in this blog, and the number of posts (176) made it hard to keep them straight in my brain. If my tentacular mass of prior posts confuses me, then it probably confuses more recent regular readers, not to mention folks who stumble across the blog.

And I don’t know about you, but when I find an interesting blog with a long history, I’m puzzled about how to locate the parts of that history I might be most interested in. I know that’s what categories and tags are for, but what does it really mean when a post is tagged “camel”? How to ride one? How to raise them? How do they taste roasted? Do you prefer regular or menthol? It would be nice if the blogger would do some extra work for me. I have my own work that needs to be done and cookies waiting to be eaten.

A quick survey revealed that while this is my general humor blog, it does often follow certain themes. Creativity, marriage, work, family, fear and confidence are common themes. In addition, 33 posts mention movies, 35 posts mention death, 17 posts include strong profanity, 7 posts mention snot, and immersion blenders figure prominently in 2 posts. Cats appear in a full 100 of my posts.

Okay, this is a perplexing mess, and I’m cutting through it right now. I’ve extracted eight general groups of posts and a few posts from each group. You can find them below, along with a sentence or two describing each group to help you decide whether those posts might be interesting to you in any way at all.

My Wife

In order to understand a lot of my posts, it helps to understand my wife. This group of posts describes about 10 percent of her being, but that’s the portion she employs daily, not the 90% capable of sinking you like the Titanic. We’ve discussed getting t-shirts that say “Bill will make you cry. Kathleen will make you disappear.”

Travel

These posts chat about a couple of our recent vacations, both of which almost killed us. Jamaica was romantic. Disney World was nostalgic. Both were horrifying in their own way.

Family

My mother died last year, so these posts may not make you pee with laughter the whole way through. Some are a bit somber, but I tried to avoid maudlin.

Baron Yörg Goes to the Movies

My acquaintance Baron Yörg, a 500 year-old vampire Lord of All Things Foul and Unholy, provides the occasional movie review. I’ve been begging him to review Bambi, but no luck so far.

Jobs

Employment and unemployment seem to weigh on everyone these days. In these posts I touched on employment challenges, with a subtext of living in a ditch and eating dirt, rejected by everyone with more than four teeth, and forced to count my lice to keep from going insane.

Death

These posts contain a below-average number of chuckles, but they do touch on some real ways that death forces itself upon us.

Weirdly Philosophical

All right, maybe this shouldn’t even be a category, but these posts look at some odd aspects of living in the world, such as fear, failure, and walking around with a metaphorical stick up one’s backside.

Top 3

These were the three most frequently viewed posts that didn’t fall into any of the other categories. Yeah, I didn’t do any work at all to list these, but they seem cute to me.

I hope this presentation was helpful to folks interested in checking out some of the older posts. Putting it together helped me. I had no idea I’d never written a post containing the word “spleen.” Until now.

If we're going back in time, let's go all the way back.
If we’re going back in time, let’s go all the way back.

Spielberg Said It, So It Must Be True

The problem with real life is that there are no close-ups. We don’t have camera angles that show us which job we should take, nor key lights that shine on the eyes of the woman we’re supposed to marry. We may lie in bed at night thinking we’ve done pretty well anyway, and that these are the good times in our life, so we’d better appreciate them. But we don’t get a crescendo from a John Williams musical score to tell us when we tip across the best point in life. We’ll look around later to realize that the best time has passed, and we’ll wonder when the hell that happened.

If only Billy Wilder were directing my life, then I’d get some cues about what’s going on. I’d settle for Kevin Smith, or maybe Ron Howard. None of them signed on for the project though, so I have to bumble my way through it.

However, the movies haven’t abandoned me altogether. I’ve watched more movies than most people have eaten sandwiches, and I’ve absorbed quite a lot of life lessons from films. This afternoon I reclined in front of the fire to gather my thoughts, and as I ate a bag of Snyder’s pretzels I documented the nucleus of wisdom that the movies have taught me. I now bring it to you, packaged into seven convenient bundles.

Physics

You can get hit by a car and sprint away unhurt as long as you bounce off the windshield.

Any piece of furniture can stop any bullet, even a couch made of foam rubber and sticks.

You can run around in a burning house for several minutes and be okay as long as you breathe through your shirt sleeve.

If you jump through a glass window, you’ll get three or four tidy cuts rather than a deluge of blood from severed veins and arteries.

Social Conventions

You’ll probably be left at the altar sometime in your life. Your best man or maid of honor will be the one who screws you over.

If you act like a rude, selfish, condescending pig, then the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen will fall in love with you.

It’s okay for a guy to cry, but only if he’s four feet tall and hiking to a volcano.

Biology

You can get away from any predator by climbing a tree.

Even thugs and homeless people have perfect teeth and are better-looking than anyone you know personally.

A dying person will always be able to say some final words before he expires.

Demographics

There are tons of disgraced ex-cops on the streets, but if you have a ten-minute firefight with explosions in downtown, no cops will show up. Also there are more hit men in the world than there are convenience stores.

Half the people in the world have super powers or vast wealth. Another fourth are wizards, hobbits, elves, vampires, or zombie-fighters. The rest of them are pirates, secret agents, or Russell Crowe.

Morality

Bad people are such awful shots they can fire a thousand rounds without hitting anything. A good person can lean out a sports car window with a pistol and hit a moving target a hundred yards away.

All governmental agencies and corporations are evil, and any of them can be thwarted by a single ex-CIA agent or sniper with a three-day beard.

General Probability

You’re more likely to switch bodies with someone or go back to a younger version of yourself than you are to be seriously injured when your car flips half a dozen times.

Helicopters will be shot down by small arms fire 100% of the time.

If you’re someone’s best friend, there’s a fifty-fifty chance you’ll be dead soon. If you’re someone’s mentor, you’re definitely about to die.

Practical Advice

Stay away from telephones, unidentified video tapes, saws, and rings. Just stay away.

When someone asks if you’re a god, say yes. When someone asks if you’re alone in the house, say no.

What invaluable lessons have the movies taught you?

In Jailhouse Rock Elvis Presley taught me that prison isn't so bad if you can sing in a rock and roll band, everyone treats you like a movie star, and pretty girls fall in love with you.
In Jailhouse Rock, Elvis Presley taught me that prison isn’t so bad if you can sing in a rock and roll band, everyone treats you like a movie star, and pretty girls fall in love with you.

And They Levitated Stuff Happily Ever After

I love the fact that stories make my real life look like the dim cousin with snot on his cheek. Things that happen in stories don’t happen in the real lives of real people, and that’s kind of the point. Stories are so unreal we can sink into them without squirming. Come on, nobody wants to be told about real life when they have a real life of their own to deal with.

We don’t live in stories. We’re not going to bring down a corrupt government with nothing but our pistol and a three-day beard. We’re not going to get seduced by some leather and lace vampire prince crime lord saxophone player assassin. We don’t wield magic swords that sweaty fan boys buy replicas of to wear with their fake chainmail and cheap boots. These things are not going to happen to us. We’re going to update spreadsheets, build houses, mow the yard, eat junk food, chase our kids, watch bad TV, go to the bathroom, and sleep. Maybe we’ll drink a margarita. And die. Not from the margarita I hope.

Stories resemble our real lives in almost no way at all, but still we want to understand our lives through stories. Life is big and scary, but fun little stories unfold in familiar ways. Stories strip the detail off our flabby lives and leave us with the polished bones.

Let me demonstrate. I’ll summarize the well-known tale of Luke Skywalker in the very first Star Wars film.

Normal Life. Luke’s a whiny, reckless farm boy on a boring planet hot enough to melt all George Lucas’ Oscars. He wants adventure and glory more than anything else, so he bitches about his chores and drives his uncle insane.

The Adventure Begins. Luke meets wise but scruffy Obi-Wan, and then the evil Empire turns Luke’s family into medium-rare lawn art. Luke makes his first decision. He joins Obi-Wan and right away gets into trouble in a bar. It’s all he can do to avoid tripping over dismembered arms.

Loyal Friends Appear. Luke flees the planet just ahead of the Empire, courtesy of cynical Han Solo and his wookie friend, Chewbacca, who’s like a huge, psychotic shih tzu. We find out that wookies tear off people’s arms, and that Obi-Wan can be given a migraine from a hundred light years away, even when he’s in hyperspace. Luke gets to show he can use his mystical powers to outsmart levitating D&D dice.

Bad Decisions and Worse Results. Luke has recklessly followed Obi-Wan and is rewarded by getting sucked into the arms of the evil Empire, particularly the villain Darth Vader. Then, like a moron, Luke recklessly decides to save the princess. That results in:

  • being trapped in a room with a dozen maniacs shooting blasters
  • almost getting crushed after some garbage monster humps his leg
  • getting stuck on a ledge with storm troopers shooting at him, or at least at the walls near him, and being saved only by heroic wire work and an incestuous smooch.
  • seeing Darth Vader murder the beloved Obi-Wan, producing a disappointing lack of gore.

Setting Up the Big Fight. Luke escapes from the Death Star after a two minute space battle that could have been replaced by footage from any film about WWII air combat. However, he’s leading his enemies right back to the rebel base. Luke’s crappy decisions have now endangered the base and the entire rebellion made up of every white male extra in Hollywood. What does Luke do? He rolls up his sleeves and does some determined moping. Luke and his friends reach the rebel base, and the rebels plan the ultimate assault on the Death Star, which all the pilots agree is pretty much doomed.

The Dark Moment. The assault goes poorly, if getting 95% of your force wiped out can be considered a poor showing. When the rebel base is seconds from annihilation, when the deadliest villain in the galaxy is about to give his son Luke the ultimate time out, when things could not possibly get any worse, and it’s all Luke’s fault—Luke grows up. Rather than recklessly relying on his targeting computer, he trusts his instincts and obeys the disembodied voice of a dead man. Luke fires an awesome sci-fi torpedo into a port the size of a wamp rat. I still don’t know how big that is, but it blows the Death Star into a jillion cheesy 1977 special effects bits.

Wrap Up. Luke gets a shiny medal from a cute princess with whom he has an ambiguous relationship, and about 5,000 rebel soldiers watch while wondering what the mess hall is serving for lunch. And hoping it’s not wamp rat. Luke gets adventure and glory because he changed from a whiny, reckless youth into a confident man with mystical powers and a badass black wardrobe in the sequel.

The story is clear and structured and non-threatening. It’s a nice way to understand things. But here’s my take on real life for Luke Skywalker.

Real Life. Luke’s a whiny, reckless farm boy who wants adventure and glory. He works on his uncle’s sand farm, until the sand market crashes and they go broke. They move to the city where Luke sells deep fried wamp rat on a stick. He does well, opens his own wamp rat stand, and then opens a few more.

Luke meets a girl who can stomach the aroma of wamp rat, she marries him, and they crank out some kids. He recklessly opens a blue milk smoothie franchise, and he loses everything except one broken down wamp rat stand. He recovers by adding grilled wamp rat and wamp rat fingers to the menu.

Luke grows up, stops making reckless decisions, and saves his money, even though there’s nothing worth a damn to buy on this stupid planet. As the kids grow, they take family vacations to the planet’s other squalid cities. Things seem really good.

The kids leave home, and Luke turns the wamp rat business over to his son. His wife gets tired of hearing his stories about the droids he owned when he was a kid, and he spends more time in the garage rebuilding classic land-speeders. He breaks his leg in a horrible bantha accident, and he never dances again. The city raises the taxes on his mud brick hovel, and his idiot son runs the business into the ground. Luke and his wife move to a small sand farm and rarely see their kids. Not only does Luke never leave the planet for adventure, he ends up back where he started, on a sand farm. I could go on, but you see where I’m headed with this.

Luke’s story and Luke’s real life both contain lots of references to wamp rats, so they’re alike in that way. Also, Real Luke and Story Luke both learn to stop flailing off to rescue every princess that comes along, getting their mentors killed and/or sending their blue milk smoothie franchises into bankruptcy. The difference is that Story Luke takes 121 minutes to learn that, while Real Luke takes half a lifetime. That’s a lot fewer trips to the bathroom, even with 64 ounces of Dr. Pepper inside you. Of course, Real Luke doesn’t get any medals, or mystical powers, or a light saber, but restoring land-speeders is probably fun.

If Real Luke saw Story Luke’s tale, would he understand more about his real life? Would it help him grow up and stay away from schemes involving blue milk? Would it convince him to stop wasting his time on land-speeders and go have some adventures? I think it might, but I could be wrong. I guarantee one thing though. It would convince him that you should never let anything bigger than a beagle hump your leg.

After seeing these cute babies, how could you eat wamp rat? Well, maybe with some Ranch dressing…

Photo by Bradypus

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Baron Yörg Goes to the Movies – Despicable Me

One disadvantage of being a soulless, horrific fiend, who with a mere glance can boil the marrow in the bones of the innocent, is that people think you don’t like cartoons. Peasants, tradesmen, and scruffy German professors who should know better all clasp this flabby misconception to their bosoms, as if it were a sickly infant that only the milk of ignorance could nourish. This notion is nothing but odious rubbish. I assure you that I and four other Vampire Princes sat in attendance on opening night of Fantasia, urging that Mickey Mouse suffer damnation, delivered by a broom that surely was animated by the forces of Hell. Therefore, to those churlish enough to suggest I must disdain animated films, I say bah. May their slumber be destroyed by scorpions behaving in an entirely improper fashion.

Today I propose to discuss the film Despicable Me. I admittedly approached it with elevated expectations, since its protagonist is a literal villain, and the word “despicable” dominates the title. It is as if the filmmakers have promised ninety minutes of terror, suffering, and grinding degradation. Indeed, my henchman Nodwick squirmed in anticipation to such a distracting degree that I resorted to chaining him to his seat, and I found myself compelled to threaten him with nailing his hands to the armrests. 

The film’s initial scenes sated my hunger for an execrable, villainous hero and whetted my anticipation for greater depredations to come. True, I could wish that Groo had simply killed his horrible neighbor’s dog rather than alluding to the act in a sideways manner, perhaps with entrails artistically hurled across the lawn. But that is no more than quibbling on my part. I sensed the film urging us forward from Groo’s current loathsome, alligator and rhinoceros-filled existence into a future of shattering destruction, rushing along a story arc that would make Aeschylus blush with approval. I saw the film’s promise come into flower as three moderately innocent young persons thrust themselves into Groo’s world of devastation and woe, and I waited for him to visit profound, agonizing, and all-encompassing obliteration upon them, as certainly he must.

That which followed shocked me in a manner unequalled since Lord Zülta devoured twelve drunken gypsies and goat in three minutes. In fact, I heard Nodwik whisper, “Holy shit,” and I clouted him so fiercely he was unable to open his left eye for a month. Aghast, I observed Groo allowing himself to be cajoled and goaded in a manner that would make any black-faced lamb weep with shame. He accepted this abuse from three insignificant, barely sentient children, some of whom wore pink, if that can be conceived. I felt impelled to slay Groo without hesitation, yet I realized he was merely an image wrought by an animator and his calculating machines. I resolved to find this animator at once and dismember him, hiding each limb on a different continent like grisly Easter eggs.

As I began to unchain Nodwick, an image scraped across the screen that altered my entire perception of the film. I refer to Vector, the supposed antagonist of the film, presented as a villain to rival Groo. I came quite near to smiling in amusement—indeed, my lip might have twitched. Vector was a vapid, crass, worthless excrescence of a villain, undeniably so. Even the squid in Vector’s “squid gun” rolled its eyes at his ineptitude. The appearance of Vector’s repugnant self placed this film into its proper focus. Despicable Me is not a heroic saga of evil and horror on a profound scale, as I had initially conceived it to be. Rather, it is a cautionary tale of allowing one’s potential for hideous malignance to dissipate into pathetic ineptitude. Heedless of the peril, Groo descends into mediocrity by waging against a mediocre puff of flatulence. He embraces frailty by coddling frail and unhygienic urchins, rather than splintering their bones and stripping their souls from the flesh.

Why does Groo fail? The brilliance of Despicable Me resides in Groo’s excuses for his abject embarrassment, which he disguises as compassion and ridiculous finger puppets. Groo fails because his mother treated him abominably. That weakness then seeps into his mighty cruelty and splits it, just as water might seep into an oak tree and smash it open at the first freeze.

Good lord, Groo, we all had mothers. Having a mother excuses nothing.

Every being that wishes to perpetrate evil upon the pure and guileless denizens of this world should immediately watch Despicable Me. Do not wait until you have tortured that final shabby villager. Do not wait for that virtuous young woman to retire, clad in her ridiculously diaphanous nightgown and awaiting your mesmerizing presence to usher her into damnation. Go and see it forthwith.

Despicable Me serves as a foul beacon reminding us to master our craven weaknesses, and to slaughter every prepubescent child before it utters a solitary precocious syllable. For that, I give Despicable Me five horrific tortures involving the mucus membranes, out of five.

Really Groo? A unicorn?

 

Nobody Respects the Human Bladder Anymore

I’m watching this movie called Red Beard, and it’s a cool Japanese movie, even though it doesn’t have any sword fights. It does have Toshiro Mifune in it, who was a Japanese movie god in his day. For Japan, he was like Clint Eastwood and Robert DeNiro put together, except his face didn’t look as weird as either of theirs. He’s a doctor in this movie, and after he pounds the ever loving shit out of about 20 guys, he sends his orderly to carry them back to the clinic to get all their shattered arms and legs splinted. Then he tells his intern how bad it was that he, a doctor, beat the crap out of these guys, and how he’s a weak-willed person, and that it was an all-around awful thing he should be ashamed of. And he says it without sounding pathetic, or whiny, or preachy—like he’d do it again if he had to, but he’d be sad about it later. And you totally believe it.

That’s how god damn cool Toshiro Mifune was.

The really fun thing is that right after that scene the movie stops for an INTERMISSION. I mean, music plays and the screen shows a Japanese character that I assume says “intermission,” because that’s what the subtitle says, and that lasts about five minutes. That’s how long it takes me to jog out to the men’s room, drop off 36 ounces of Diet Coke, and jog back, so an intermission is a pretty neat thing to have in a movie that’s three hours and forty-five minutes long.

Somebody once asked Alfred Hitchcock how long a movie should be, and he said the length should be proportional to the endurance of the human bladder. The director of Redbeard, Akira Kurasawa, who himself wasn’t exactly Mortimer Snerd when it came to making movies, clearly agreed with Alfred. At one time, if a director made a film much over two hours long he showed some mercy on his audience and their urinary tracts. Long movies like My Fair Lady, Gandhi, and The Great Race all had cozy little intermissions.

But now movies like Independence Day, Dark Knight, and anything with hobbits in it give their audiences a stiff punch in the bladder. And what was up with that god damn Titanic? Three hours into the thing I leave for a five minute restroom visit, and when I come back I have to ask my wife, “Why the hell are they running around below deck with freezing sea water up to their nipples? Does this have something to do with the old lady’s necklace? Did you take notes?”

Even The Avengers pushes two and a half hours with no break. Apart from the fact that some of it’s funny enough to make me pee, I’d like to be able to hang in there to see the after-credits fun without an embarrassing accident. Come on, Joss Whedon, you’re a rebel. We know you’re on our side. Don’t be afraid to stand with giants such as Hitchcock and Kurasawa. Bring back intermissions, and help us out. It’s hard enough for young people to get a little action on a date without having to waddle out of the theater like a penguin with a crotch infection.

The spirit of Toshiro Mifune says, “We’d better start seeing some intermissions around here, or filmmakers will think back fondly on the days when they still possessed all the parts required to urinate.”

Image from Doctor Macro.

 

I Remember When Pessimism Was Fun

I’ve decided that pessimism has been given a bad name by Big Fucking Whiners. Now, I’m sure that pessimists like me indeed die younger than our optimist friends. We’re not as happy either, as I think objective evidence like frowning and the compulsion to create unnecessary spreadsheets demonstrates. But the joy of pessimism has been ruined by all those people who cry about every little thing like they were piglets with their foot caught in a fence.

The traditional pessimist/optimist analogy involves the half full glass. As you know, the optimist sees the glass half full, and the pessimist sees it half empty. Big Fucking Whiners jump up and down and moan on Facebook because there probably won’t be any enchanted fairy nectar in the glass. Then they want a hug and somebody to waste part of their precious life playing Farmville with them, just to keep them from whining any more. Yet they get lumped in with pessimists.

By the way, optimists have the same problem on the other end. Optimism has been almost ruined by an infestation of Human Cocker Spaniels. Going back to the glass analogy, Human Cocker Spaniels bounce around and send a barrage of tweets about how they’ll never be thirsty again and how the glass might hold magic water that would let them turn into a well-endowed vampire mermaid with wings. But that’s the optimists’ problem, so to hell with them.

I’d like to see Big Fucking Whiners split off from pessimists into their own category, much like the Emmy Awards have grouped reality shows into separate categories so they won’t pollute the other TV programs. I don’t mind being seen as cynical, doubtful, and suspicious, because that comes along with almost always being right—or at least more right than the optimists. I do mind being labeled as a self-centered, hectoring cry baby. That just sucks. Come on, who’s going to get laid more: cynical, suspicious Han Solo, or self-centered, whiny C3PO? If your answer is C3PO, this may not be the right blog for you.

In the end, I realize that only pessimists care about this distinction, and as a pessimist, I acknowledge that not even pessimists care enough to do a damn thing about it. Changing the way people think about this would take a lot of effort, and not that many people would buy into it anyway, and then they’d get distracted by a video of frolicking goats that’s not as cute as the video of frolicking giraffes, and heck, all that effort would be better spent on something like promoting home gardening anyway, right? So, to hell with it. I’ll eat another cookie and update my retirement planning spreadsheet.

Sometimes being a pessimist is so easy. No matter what the Big Fucking Whiners say.

Okay, this glass is half full. Half full of excruciating death as your face fries off like hash browns.

Photo by Nik Frey.

 

Baron Yörg Goes to the Movies – The Princess Bride

I can testify with certainty that life exists beyond death. I died 500 years ago, and I am still receiving bills for water and property taxes. That seems compelling evidence that I, the vampire Baron Yörg, still live. And though I gladly ravage and obliterate all that is pure, tender and sacrosanct in this world, I still cannot get the tax appraisal district to cease annoying me. No matter how many of them I slaughter, more arise like grubs from beneath a slimy stone. This aggravates me enough to consider falling upon a sharply pruned dwarf holly tree and ending my existence, but one pleasure sustains me. I adore films, and I cherish the opportunity to share my observations about them.

Today I shall discuss The Princess Bride, a modest film released a generation ago that somehow has sustained a cult following. The film is not without charms, I admit. Yet does it merit the ongoing acclaim awarded it by romantics and people who perhaps believe in unicorns and chivalry?

To begin, I am refreshed to find that the story’s hero, The Dread Pirate Roberts, has ordered the murder of dozens of helpless prisoners, and himself has likely killed a good number of unarmed men begging for their lives. He rises above the mass of insipid protagonists who save maidens, fight evil sheriffs, or perhaps fail to kill anyone at all. Though Roberts does not delve into any significant wickedness, he obviously enjoys the pain of others, and the film profits by that in my estimation. Roberts fails to impress when he allows the whining Spaniard and the unintelligible giant to live, but he excels in his lack of emotion. Indeed, though he declares the princess to be his true love, he never shows any greater emotion towards her than he would towards a bowl of tasty mutton stew.

Lest my praise become overblown, I must complain that most of the actors cast in this film are far too pretty. Florin and Guilder appear to be medieval kingdoms, so the main characters should have less than two dozen teeth between them. This shook my suspension of disbelief, as did the general cleanliness and the absence of warts. Just a few pox-ridden wretches in the gutters would have suggested misery and filth, but the filmmakers could not be bothered with even that effort.

That disappointment is compounded by the so-called villains in this film. Prince Humperdinck is nothing but a pathetic string-puller. He does not deserve to be called a villain, and indeed hardly deserves to be called a sentient being. Count Rugen fares no better. He dresses like a Florentine haberdasher on his way to the opera, and no number of extra fingers can overcome so much brocade when it comes to unleashing bowel-loosening terror. And of course the man allows himself to be slain by a melancholy Spaniard, which removes all doubt that he is nothing but a sack of table scraps with a goatee.

Allow me to move on to one of the film’s shining aspects. I of course refer to the Fire Swamp. When Roberts and the princess explore this charming locale, they infuse the middle of the film with energy and a profound sense of fun. When the fire spout set the princess ablaze I felt a satisfying glow, and when the sand smothered her I almost smiled. By the time the last Rodent of Unusual Size had been slain, my henchman Nodwick had prostrated himself to beg for a renovation to his quarters. That dank, leech-infested cupboard was no longer his ideal domicile. In an act of mercy I am ashamed to relate, I granted his request by tossing a diseased rat and a shovelful of sand on him one night as he slept.  

The Princess Bride includes only three deaths, and one of them does not count since Roberts pops right back to life a few minutes later. That is a paltry number of deaths by anyone ’s standards. If no more people than that are to be slain, one might as well watch Pride and Prejudice. Rugen’s death almost fails to signify as a death at all, since he is so lacking in consequence. Yet Vizzini’s death produces odd satisfaction. He is an annoying, petty toad of a man, and would in fact make an ideal bug-eater. Something about his tone of voice inspires thoughts of ripping off his feet and making him wear them like earrings. Thus I feel that Vizzini’s death equates to five or six killings for entertainment purposes, and I am inclined to judge the film a bit more leniently.

Other aspects of the film contest with one another, some disappointing and others charming. Rugen’s torture device is laughable. No villain with any imagination would name a torture device The Machine. What an insipid name. Strap a man to a device called The Water-Powered Testicle Crusher, and then you will see him talk. Contrariwise, any film that includes a blazing, levitating giant who bellows in what might or might not be some human language is a film to be reckoned with.

The Princess Bride’s many charms offset its failures, but it’s greatest flaw is its artistic vision. The filmmakers chose True Love as their theme, and the story whirls inconsequentially around that concept. They ignored many weightier messages already in the film and begging for exploration: The Blind Cruelty of Revenge, The Uncaring Greed of Kidnapping, and The Nether-Tingling Nastiness of Torture. These are the issues that will enlighten, educate, and entertain. Even the filmmakers must have known this on some level, since they chose a pale dimwit with a speech impediment to extol True Love’s fine qualities during the wedding scene.

At the end, when all things are measured out and damnation is visited upon the deserving, how do I assess this film? It entertained me, but it missed so many opportunities to accomplish so much more. I give The Princess Bride two horrific depredations visited upon the innocent, out of five.

Off to another charming day of murdering innocent sailors. Don't wait up, darling!

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Baron Yörg Goes to the Movies: Star Wars

These are times of identity crisis for vampires. Human beings envision us in so many ways that on occasion we become confused. The “tortured undead creature” identity has gained popularity. Vampires have long been considered romantic, but this entity is deemed a safe boyfriend even for troubled young girls. He may even bring corsages, or appear embarrassed by flecks of blood on his collar from a recent victim.

The “appalling fiend” vampire remains a popular identity. Through him, humans fantasize about inflicting wicked but non-specific pain upon employers, rude tradesmen, and annoying relations. This identity provides men a visceral image of the Undead Lord, without forcing upon them any awareness of the geysers of blood or internal organs hurled about during the murder and devouring of human prey.

The traditional “vicious, throat-tearing monster” has fallen out of favor in this diluted, watercolor world of people who tremble lest they violate a rule. This creature is a being of gore and terror, and humans fear to embrace him as once they did. One cannot expect better of a culture in which meat arrives in tidy, prepared packets, so that people may pretend the animal was not ripped apart so that they could eat it.

I, Baron Yörg, heap contempt upon all these images. I do not embrace an identity, for I am a vampire drenched in tradition. I am a faith-shattering rapist of the human soul, and I visit annihilation upon any creature that dares not recognize my full horrific being. Put starkly, I am a vampire of the ancient mark. And I really love movies.

Today I shall review one of the most beloved films of the past 50 years—Star Wars. I refer to the initial film, which has subsequently been recast as “Episode Four: A New Hope.” The filmmakers of course did not explain the movie’s episode number when it was released. Had they done so, I suspect it would have been, “Episode 4: I Hope to Christ Someone Pays to See This Retread of Every Hero Story Told Throughout History So That I Don’t Lose My Ass.”

Allow me to begin with the central character, Darth Vader. Some might object that one of the punier, insipid characters serves as protagonist, but such assertions merit nothing but scorn. Vader appears first in the film. Vader propels the entire story—without him Luke and the rest might as well remain in the cantina drinking and vomiting for the balance of eternity. Vader is the only one who dresses with a solitary shred of dignity. Of course he is the central character.

Vader carries with him an admirable presence, and one may readily identify with his motivations and goals. I myself once obliterated five thousand uncooperative and malodorous peasants. I thus understand Vader’s annoyance with an entire populace of rebels flitting about in spacecraft like flies around a heap of excrement. And I almost smiled when Vader choked that surly insect of an officer, though I did experience disappointment when the man’s head failed to fly off and roll about on the conference table.

Yet Darth Vader somehow falls short of truly visceral menace of the type that promises imponderable obliteration to all his enemies. I am convinced that the problem is the Force. It has a flavorless and pathetic name. It puts one in mind of names such as Norm and Abner. To say that Vader uses the “Dark Side” fails to resolve this. “The Dark Side of the Force” sounds no more threatening than “The Dark Side of Abner.” And in fact Vader’s powers seem rather lacking. Yes, he can choke an obsequious and obviously impotent soldier, and he can sense the presence of a geriatric Jedi, but how would Vader fare when attacked by 500 rabid bats with a wolf dangling from his manhood?

I shall now proceed to the other characters. While in themselves they seem somewhat pedestrian, they do provide effective foils against which Darth Vader may strive. As a group they mesh well, in the manner of a band of tawdry street performers that I observed juggling and dropping their breeches for  bread crusts in Prague two centuries ago. Princess Leia exhibits the greatest spirit. I shall not deign to address her hair. That has heretofore been done by thousands, even by reviewers capable of no more than uttering obscenities and sucking breakfast from their teeth. Leia exhibits rudimentary leadership qualities, and she might have led her cohorts to accomplish greater things had she better material with which to work.

Han Solo drips with the sort of arrogance I have seen hundreds of times, the type that invariably thrusts its owner into an untimely, shallow grave, thence to be exhumed and devoured by the unclean beasts of the forest. The fact that Solo survives until the end of the film provided the greatest assault upon my suspension of disbelief, more so even than otherworldly life and interplanetary travel. Should I ever meet Mr. Ford, I fear I must slay him forthwith merely to preserve my sense of order in the universe.

I find Obi-Wan Kenobi to be a tiresome character. The mountains and deserts of our world writhe with such wise hermits migrating about seeking gullible farm boys. They cultivate mysterious ways of speaking, grow beards that would embarrass a diseased yak-merchant, and adopt unpronounceable names to seduce the unwary into expeditions from which they rarely return. As it is on Earth, so it apparently is on Tattooine. When Vader vanquished Obi-Wan on the Death Star I grinned, and my henchman Nodwick chortled until he blew popcorn out his nose.

The wookie, Chewbacca, inspired sincere enjoyment in me. I found his impassioned groaning rather compelling, and reminiscent of a team of oxen as they are beaten by a drunken gypsy late for the Feast of Wine and Cheap Trinkets. For thirty years I pondered the concept of replacing my wolves with such creatures, but I ultimately dismissed the notion. There is simply no good way to groom them.

From a sense of obligation to the concept of completeness, I feel compelled to mention the “droids.” I find them profoundly disgusting. Could I erase them from the memory of man, surely I should do so. Not a drop of blood between them. Appalling.

This leads us to Luke Skywalker, whom some fools claim to be the prime figure in this tale. Luke whines. Luke is short and dresses like a dead Frenchman in a gutter. Luke listens to voices in his head and kisses his sister in a more than familial manner. I need say nothing further about this repellant toad of a farm hand.

The Star Wars special effects seem primitive when ranked beside today’s films. Yet when Star Wars was released, audiences had never seen anything like it. When Obi-Wan entered the cantina, Nodwick thought he saw three of his cousins. The star destroyers appeared staggeringly huge. The light sabers looked unbearably foolish, but they were so entertaining that one did not care. The area under Luke’s speeder on Tattooine looked as if it had been rendered by the eraser on a herculean pencil, but I concede that is a quibble. On the balance, anyone unmoved the Star Wars effects in 1977 should have returned to watching Petticoat Junction reruns and eating Cream of Wheat.

One cannot discuss Star Wars without mentioning the climactic battle around the Death Star. I could not wish for a lovelier array of carnage. Rebel pilots are smashed and incinerated on all hands, first by the Death Star itself and then by the ugly little Imperial fighters. When Luke and his fellow malcontents descend into the trench they are quite properly obliterated one after another. I found myself nodding with satisfaction, especially when Vader arrives and prepares to hurl a bolt of laser fire directly into Luke’s brain.

As an aside, Princess Leia and her cronies at this juncture are observing a technical display that shows how soon their own destruction shall arrive. That display appears a bit primitive. In fact, I have seen more sophisticated piles of gravel. The filmmakers exerted themselves to make the Death Star appear 500 miles across. One would think they might have spared an hour to make this display look better than something Howdy Doody might wear on his wrist.

I make no objection to Obi-Wan speaking to Luke from beyond death. In my experience, this sort of thing happens upon occasion. When he tells Luke to trust his feelings and turn off his targeting computer I do not feel surprise. This is precisely the sort of advice we should expect from charlatan of Obi-Wan’s ilk. But when Luke follows this laughable advice and still annihilates the Death Star, against every shred of reason that the human mind can encompass—well, let us say that I left the theater downcast, and that Nodwick had a rather bad time of it for the next few days.

When all things are brought to conclusion, how shall I assess this film? Despite the merest of limitations, Darth Vader earned my admiration as the prime mover of this tale. I feel he is one of my few fellow purveyors of evil whom I might not destroy out of hand should our paths coincide. His foes, the Circus of Fumbling Dimwits, collectively provide him a counterpoint and demonstrate how Vader is powerful in all the ways that they are inept. I cannot love them for it, but I can despise them marginally less. But ultimately we must admit that any film in which millions of voices suddenly cry out in terror and are suddenly silenced, is a film to be savored. I therefore am gratified to render unto Star Wars four unholy violations of the sacred heart of man, out of five.