Thursday, January 28, 2010

Teabaggers in The New Yorker

I have to say, the article by Ben McGrath in this week's The New Yorker about the Tea Party Patriots™ is pretty bad--a prime example of a left-leaning magazine bending over backwards to be "fair" to the other side. The trouble begins with the opening picture, of Glenn Beck presiding over a bunch of people holding typical nutty-ass teabagger signs. The caption: "Liberals saw the activists as caricatures--mere tools of right-wing media figures like Glenn Beck. They were wrong." Uh?

The bulk of the article consists of profiles of less visibly-insane teabaggers; there are references to your birther-types, but these are exclusively used as lead-ins to "oh ho--look how the other teabaggers (not that McGrath would use that word) (by strong implication the bulk of them) are eager to disassociate themselves from such boorish behavior." Hey, there's nothing wrong with presenting the less unhinged-looking of the movement--I'm sure there are plenty of people who are very nice in their personal dealings who also honestly and sincerely believe that the economy should be permitted to collapse and people dying due to lack of affordable health care should ess tee eff you. Maybe in other areas of their life, they're perfectly smart/non-evil. People are nothing if not complex. But the fact remains that Glenn Beck--without whom this 'movement' wouldn't exist--is a demonstrably crazy person, and as anyone can easily see by looking at a sampling of pictures of signs at teabagger rallies, a lot of his followers ain't so hinged either. Oh ho! But wait! Are you somehow under the impression that the whole movement has been ginned up by Faux News and their ilk? THINK AGAIN.

Yet the presence of paid FreedomWorks operatives at meetings...handing out Obamacare translator leaflets and legislator "leave-behinds" would be cause for greater skepticism if the civilians in attendance weren't already compiling binders of their own and reciting from memory the troublesome implications buried on Page 59 of House Resolution 3200.

That's right--they have BINDERS! Suck on that, skeptics! Also, they've memorized passages from bills! Which they totally did NOT only learn about in the first place from Beck and Hannity! It's unclear to me what sort of behavior, in McGrath's mind, would indicate that the movement IS directed by outsiders. If the fact that Faux literally sponsored their big rally in September is meaningless to him, I think convincing him of anything might be a lost cause.

Oh there are more delights here. Watch McGrath uncritically quote the teabaggers' highball attendance numbers (AHEM) for the aforementioned rally! Watch him describe them as "defiantly nonpartisan!" Watch him sympathetically quote Dick Army! But don't bother looking for any mention of people carrying firearms to town hall debates and shouting down speakers to prevent any contrary view from being heard. That would have disrupted the narrative, and would have been decidedly unfair and unbalanced.

Seriously, The New Yorker, come the fuck on--it's not that everything you publish is always a home run, but you very rarely flat-out suck. This article, however, does more than suck--it fucking sucks. What with this and that awful Michael Savage hagiography you did a while back, you're making me embarrassed to be a subscriber; much more of this you are going to be stripped of your "best magazine in the English language" title.

The Jungle Book (1967)

It's interesting how this movie contains no prey animals, other than a deer that Shere Khan the tiger is going to attack until it gets chased away. This is Shere Khan's first scene, and it appears to be setting up how eeeeevil he is, which is a bit much, really--are we now to believe that panthers and wolves are vegetarians? Still, this is nitpicking, and it's probably Kipling's fault more than Disney's in any case.

Is it also nitpicking to note that after the elephant patrol is persuaded to search for the missing Mowgli…they completely disappear from the movie? CONTINUITY ERROR. Mowgli's wolf family also vanishes quite abruptly. And as long as we're complaining, it really should be noted that the decision to model the four vultures after the Beatles was decidedly NOT a wise one (though, I suppose, understandable for a film released in 1967). It could be a lot worse, however: one of the bonus features on the DVD shows the storyboards from an alternate version of the vulture sequence which would have featured a deleted character, a rhinoceros named Rocky who firmly embodies the DUUUURRR mental retardation thing. Believe me: NOBODY is sorry that Rocky was eliminated.

No point complaining too much, though, because this is still a pretty solid movie, featuring four really great characters. I loved Phil Harris as O'Malley in The Aristocats, and I love him here too, as Baloo the sloth bear. The guy has an exceptionally appealing, mellow voice, and it's hard not to like any character he's portraying (except in the case of the dire Robin Hood, where you kind of hate all the characters--not Harris' fault, however). King Louie may be a marginal character (and I can't help but note that there are NO ORANGUTANS IN INDIA), but as voiced by Louis Prima, he's got great, infectious exuberance, and his scene's just plain fun to watch.

Disney stalwart Sterling Holloway as Kaa and George Sanders as Shere Khan also really sell their characters, the former perfectly nailing the kind of ssssnakey fascination that the movie is going for, the latter an enormous, understated power--a sense that at any moment his jaded, contemptuous amusement could explode into a devastating, deadly force. The bleeding heart in me protests that tigers should not be shown as villains, but you can't argue with the results, and again--Kipling's fault.

So yeah, decent movie that I pretty much recommend. Too bad about the ending, though. I saw this movie many years ago, sometime in the mid-eighties I suppose, in a theatrical rerelease, and from that, I remembered absolutely nothing--literally--with the exception of the conclusion with the girl--and the reason I remembered that was that I found it absolutely, unspeakably mortifying. Obviously, I'm less sensitive to such things these days, but it's still jarringly sudden, rushed, and out-of-nowhere, and it's still a toxic combination of overbearing cutesiness and egregious-even-by-Disney-standards heteronormativity. Blech.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

'Duh' Moments

I have these a lot: I go on and on and on, la la la, and then suddenly, BAM: I realize something COMPLETELY OBVIOUS that had somehow escaped me before. I've played through Earthbound at least twice before, but on this playthrough, it just hit me: hey! Onett, Twoson, Threed, Fourside! The first four towns are NUMBERED! Holy crud! I know it's not super-profound, and it probably just makes me look dumb to put it out there, but what the hey.

This time, for added challenge it's Vegan Earthbound--no eating anything involving animal products. Anything that's ambiguous is assumed to be acceptable. What the heck is in a skip sandwich?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jay Cutler edits Wikipedia entries.

To wit:

He has on occasion spoken negatively of players in the NFL, most recently Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Despite disqualifying himself as an objective source by admitting in an ESPN 1000 radio interview that "I don't know anything about Jay Cutler," he then criticized Cutler's performance based upon watching a single game performance. At no time, however, did he suggest that Cutler wasn't an NFL caliber player, as some have claimed.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sports and Ideology

(This post title wins the coveted "Most Sounding like a Chapter Heading from A Theory of Literary Production" prize! Hurrah!)

I was rooting for the Vikings to lose because Brett Farve seems kind of egomaniacal, not to say thoughtless--it seems brutally unfair that young quarterbacks should get shoved aside because, oh look, Brett's decided to stick around for another self-indulgent season. Also, watching the announcers endlessly fellate him is somewhat repulsive.

But then I felt kinda bad for him in the fourth quarter, obviously in seriously bad shape but still pushing forward. When your life is surely centered around nothing but football, to see your last chance for glory slipping away like that--I can only imagine how much that would hurt, and sure, the guy's been thoughtless in a lot of ways and not as self-aware as he might have been, but do we really think that makes him different than most NFL players? Certainly not if they track evenly with the rest of the population in this regard. When you think about it like that, it's hard to really feel much animosity towards him--I mean, in any case, it's just a game. There are enough genuinely malign forces in America today without constructing extras.

But then, CRIKEY! If you can't have heroes and villains--if you're going to get all empathic all the time--you take half the fun out of sports. It occurs to me that a good part of the success of professional wrestling comes down to the way it emphasizes this aspect--if you have it, then plenty of people don't care whether it's "real."

I'm afraid I have to admit that being a football fan means deëmphasizing those principles that I try to apply to the rest of my life. Not that that's a terrible thing--there are plenty of leftist football fans of various stripes who are able to compartmentalize in this way, and really, why not?

Still, this kind of tribalistic sports fandom is surely symptomatic of who we are as a people. And it isn't all that easy, either. I was and am glad about the game's outcome--the avalanche of Favre-worship that would have followed a victory, to say nothing of a possible Superb Owl victory, is just too much to bear--but I'm not super-gleeful, and I still feel sorta bad for the guy.

Pique: Oil!

(Yes, I'm quite proud of that atrocious pun)

First: a nod of appreciation to the previous, anonymous owner of my copy of Upton Sinclair's Oil, who went through the entire novel and did nothing but neatly and unobtrusively correct the occasional typos, without adding any other annotations and without inflicting any wear whatsoever on the book. You're good people.

Oil! is a much better novel than his earlier King Coal--stunningly so, in fact. While King Coal is generally flavorless, didactic, and, truth be told, probably of more interest to labor historians than anyone else, Oil! is anything but. It has a clear rhetorical purpose, true, but it also has actual characters, whose lives are detailed not solely in relation to labor disputes and the corruption of the capitalist system (although these themes become more dominant as the book proceeds). There's also all sorts of interesting, incidental stuff about the culture of the day--driving customs, sexual rituals of upper-class teenagers, Hollywood aesthetics--that enliven the narrative quite a bit.

It's also a somewhat dispiriting novel, both on its own and especially in light of its predecessor, and I'll tell you why: for all that it's about workers being exploited and how bad that is, King Coal is actually a pretty darned upbeat novel: the system may be rigged against the people, but the villains are pretty cartoonish, and the hero, Hal, is generally able to overcome them without all that much difficulty. The atmosphere is conducive to hope, is what I'm saying. Organization is necessary, but victory is possible.

By contrast, the ultimate attitude in Oil! is much more pessimistic--closer to Dos Passos' USA than to Sinclair's earlier work. Once again, the hero, Bunny, is a privileged kid who becomes involved with the struggles of socialists and communists, but unlike Hal, he can't just use this status to magically solve everyone's problems. He can temporarily alleviate some of them, but it's clear that this is not a winning battle (King Coal sort of occasionally tries to make this point as well, but it is decidedly contrary to the book's rhetorical thrust). The ending is quite dark, and while Sinclair does hold forth the possibility that the situation can be improved IF the greed and corruption that power the engines of the world can be extinguished, given that he's just spent five hundred fifty pages showing us in exhaustive detail how completely overpowering these forces are, how optimistic can you be, really?

One wishes that this attitude didn't seem much more realistic than that of the earlier novel, but…well. And if a tireless social crusader like Upton Sinclair can't hold out much hope, how can you or I be expected to?

This shit never works. Sure, you get some things that make the world better--a few token brakes are put on corporate power--but this just isn't enough, because you're not doing anything to affect the structure of the actual system. You're just switching in a few new parts. The machine remains what it is, and just how the FUCK do you expect it to change, I ask you? In a world where the Supreme Court rules that it's A-okay for corporations to purchase elections--in a world where one political party is monstrously, monolithically corrupt and evil, while the other is so massively stupid, cowardly, and ineffectual that a special election that should have been a meaningless statistical blip causes them to completely lose their shit and start running around like headless chickens--in a world where we're all narcotized by endless, numbing consumerism and relentlessly trivializing media--in a world where a substantial portion of the population is suffering from an absolute and permanent Stockholm syndrome causing them to identity absolutely with the corporate masters whose entire raison d'être is to squeeze every last penny they can out out of them--how, in this world, can you possibly expect anything good to come?

And the really scary part? Politically, the current situation is absolutely as good as it gets. Conditions will NEVER, EVER be more favorable for positive social change than they are now. This seems indisputable. And just look how well that's going. Blech.

(If you're curious, the book has essentially nothing in common with There Will Be Blood. It's actually kind of risible that there's a picture of Daniel Day-Lewis on the cover of my edition, since the character in the movie and the character in the novel are completely different people in every way.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fun and Fancy Free

Fun and Fancy Free is one of the package films that Disney made on the cheap in the forties. It is not one of their more distinguished package films, I will tell you that much.

The movie begins with frippin' Jiminy Cricket, floating down a stream on a leaf and singing a relentless barrage of inane bromides at us, to the effect that you should never ever worry about anything ever, because whatareyagonnado? I'll admit, this idea has a certain appeal to me, but Jiminy is clearly aiming at "insane optimism" rather than "cynical despair," so I don't think we're seeing eye-to-eye, quite. Anyway, it's not a good song.

It is revealed that he is actually in someone's house, in some sort of planter thing. He comes upon a doll and a stuffed bear who look downcast, so he decides to cheer them up with a record of Dinah Shore telling and singing a story about a bear named Bongo, and we're off.

It seems this section of the movie is based on a Sinclair Lewis story, of all things. It is not exactly as keenly-observed as Babbitt, is all I'll say about that.

The situation: a trained bear named Bongo gets tired of circus life and escapes into the forest, where he meets a girl bear named Lulubelle. Romance ensues. So does boredom. The thing is, Bongo is not a very dynamic character, so watching him cavorting amongst the wildlife and disporting with Lulubelle is just tedious--made all the more so by Shore's unbearably cutesy narration and non-memorable (with one exception) musical accompaniment. Seriously, listening to a soporific love ballad while the two lovebirds cavort around on clouds with bear angels and shit is pretty excruciating, and you just want the section to END! END! NOW! QUICKLY!

But the fact remains, I don't exactly hate it, and that can be chalked up to the really fucking strange denouement. You see, after the romance has meandered along for a while, Lulubelle slaps Bongo in the face, once and again, and he retreats! Stunned! Hurt! And she is unwillingly thrown into the arms of Bongo's romantic rival (which actually has a really creepy, unintentional, child-molestation vibe, since Bongo and Lulubelle are small, kid-sized bears, while all the others, including the rival, are large, adult-sized bears).

However, then Bongo sees the bears having a dance, accompanied by the one song that stands out, entitled "Say it with a Slap" (with a brief squaredancing interlude in the middle!) which tells us all about how bears show affection for each other by whacking one another in the face. I don't know if it's a good song, per se, but it sticks with me because it's such a warped concept. I can't help but be won over. Also, for some reason that I can't begin to explain, it's merged in my head with Nick Cave's song "The Curse of Millhaven," so now I have the phrase "the last thing she said before the cops pronounced her dead was 'a bear likes to say it with a slap'" endlessly running through my brain. Good stuff! Anyway, Bongo comes back and pwns his rival and slaps his girl (obviously, there are some troubling undertones to all this), and all is well.

Your mileage may vary, but when Disney goes bugnuts crazy like this (see also: the awesome Three Caballeros), I think we all win.

So that's that. We return to the frame narrative, and the doll and stuffed bear now seem happy, so, after looking at a card and seeing that there's a party goin' on across the way, Jiminy hops on over. The party-goers consist of a young girl, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, and his two dummies, Charley McCarthy and the lesser-known Mortimer Snerd (who embodies those always-hilarious "DURRR"-type mental retardation tropes). If it's not obvious, these are live-action sequences save for Jiminy's appearance. They're mostly pretty dull, although I am amused by the fact that Bergen doesn't seem to be much of a ventriloquist--he throws his voice well enough, but, while I don't know nothin' from nothin' about the art, I'm pretty sure his mouth isn't supposed to be moving as much as it is. Hell, on the promos for the late, unlamented Jeff Dunham Show, Dunham appeared to be more proficient (also, more racist, but hey--gotta take the bad with the good) than Bergen is.

At any rate, eventually Bergen launches into the gripping tale of Mickey and the Beanstalk (note: grippedness may not occur). It's more or less the usual thing, only with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, and man, there's just not much to say about it. It's pretty darned boring. You may think I say that just because of my feelings about Mickey, but you're wrong--the story's just limp. Okay okay, there's one good part--where the famished Donald, faced with a sandwich consisting of one third of a bean between tissue-thin slices of bread, loses his shit and starts eating the tableware before going out and trying to murder their cow with an axe. Also, I like the little song that Donald and Goofy sing in anticipation of the money that Mickey's going to bring in from selling the cow and the food it'll buy--before they realize that poor, dimwitted Mickey bought some magic beans instead. But those are the only parts that stand out at all.

Blah blah--they go to the giant's castle, and boringness ensues. Or continues, rather. There's an unbelievably tedious, allegedly comic sequence--it can't be more than a few minutes, but it feels endless--where Goofy bounces around in a giant bowl of jello, trying to retrieve his hat. Blah. It IS sort of interesting the way the old "I'll bet you can't turn into something REALLY TINY" trick fails dismally on the giant, but that's all I have to say for that.

So they escape, chop down the beanstalk, giant dies, the end. Except then we switch back to the live-action bit, and HOLY SHIT, the giant lifts the roof of the house! When he sees the people there, he STOMPS THEM FLAT! EVERYBODY DIES! A terrible tale!

...yeah, okay. That's just wishful thinking. The giant DOES appear in the live-action section, but nobody dies. And then, the movie ends. And then you think, okay, I might not mind watching the Bongo section again someday, but this flippin' Beanstalk bit can go hang. But you're happy, because you can check another obscure entry off your list of Disney films to see! Huzzah!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Little Lulu subverts some shit

Along with the duck comics, my dad had a bunch of Little Lulu comics when he was a kid, so I read those too. They didn't strike me as deeply as Barks' work (obviously), but I enjoyed them pretty well. So lately I've been looking through one of the LL trade paperbacks that Dark Horse is putting out these days. It's kind of a mixed bag--some of them are nothing special, but some of them are quite entertaining, presenting a view of childhood that, if somewhat warped, is still probably more accurate and less sentimental than most such depictions. Sometimes it's a little TOO mean, actually. But I've been enjoying them more than not.

And sometimes the stories get REALLY weird and--I would say--subversive. There was a recurring feature where Lulu would tell stories to her younger, hyperactive neighbor Alvin to calm him down for a while. Allow me to summarize one of these stories that I just read--and note that I am not exaggerating anything for comic effect here. This is how it goes:

There is an extremely rich girl named Ivy (who looks like Gloria, the Luluverse's spoiled rich girl). She has all kinds of servants and never has to get out of bed--they bring her everything she wants, as well as things that she DOESN'T want, such as priceless Chinese vases, which they smash with mallets for her amusement. However, amusement quickly turns to ennui, and Ivy longs for something that she can't have.

Then, there's a poor girl, Marigold, who looks like Lulu. "Marigold was very kind and thoughtful," we learn. However, this is no ordinary thoughtfulness: it's more along the lines of the sort of self-abnegation you'd expect from your Christian saint who intentionally contracts leprosy so as to more efficiently mortify her body. "Oh, a mud puddle!" a passing girl exclaims. "I'll get my shoes all muddy!" Avoiding this puddle would be a matter of walking a few steps to either side, but instead, Marigold lies face-down in the puddle and the girl walks over her. Marigold's own behavior is complemented by the cheerful way that everyone else is happy to exploit the hell out of her with no compensation--so she pushes a guy's car so he doesn't have to drive it and waste gasoline, and she carries an enormous safe for a couple of burly builders who look on and become quite affronted when she pauses for a moment. Why does she do all this? "Because she had a heart of gold," we are informed.

When Ivy hears about this, she decides she desperately wants that heart of gold. She throws a tantrum and orders her servants to get it for her. After discussing various strategies for murdering Marigold (with unseemly relish, I might add), the butler comes up with the more gentile idea of fashioning a brass doorknob into a heart and giving that to Ivy. Ivy is satisfied for a while, but then wants to know what the heart is really worth. So, she purchases a jeweler for thirty quadrillion and two dollars and gets him to assess it. She's royally pissed to find that it's not the real thing, so she fires all her servants and gets out of bed for the first time in her life to do the job herself. She dresses in a Jack-the-Ripper-ish costume (for unknown reasons, since she makes no attempt to disguise who she is or what she's after) and goes after Marigold.

Marigold is happy to sacrifice her heart, but asks that Ivy wait until she's done her good deeds for the day. So she follows Marigold around and watches her "mow peoples' lawns, mind peoples' babies, take very old people across streets, take very young people across streets, take middle-aged people across streets, save people from drowning, take pussycats out of wells, paint steeples, help kids earn their way into the circus, put out fires, pick up with a piece of chewing gum and string 40,000 pennies that somebody dropped in a cellar grating, help people on with their coats, help people off with their rubbers [no juvenile sniggering, you], return lost hats, purses, umbrellas, dogs, cats, parrots, and people."

Now Marigold is half-dead but happy. "Gosh, if only I could be happy like that," thinks Ivy. Just one last thing to do: she's going to help a boy who needs a tooth pulled by having one of her teeth pulled instead. But Ivy insists on taking on this task herself! And afterwards, she doesn't need Marigold's heart of gold, because she has one of her own. The end.

In outline, this would be the most preachy, anodyne story about the value of helping others imaginable, but the way it's told makes a mockery of the entire concept. In a completely straight-faced way, it takes the concept of selfless service to the outer reaches of absurdity, and Ivy's allegedly redemptive sacrifice is nonsensical. If this is teaching Our Children anything, it sure isn't wholesome family values. The author, John Stanley, reminds me a bit of Roald Dahl, another writer not timid about messing with kids' heads--only Stanley may be even more subversive, since his work was pretty firmly marketed as blandly family-friendly entertainment. I find it rather delightful.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

At first blush... seems sort of admirable for Domino's to be admitting "yeah, our pizza was pretty bad." But then you think about it for a moment and you realize that, if you're willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they really do take pride in their work, then you have to conclude that they went for decades without anyone in the company realizing that they were producing a product more appropriate for constructing make-shift lean-tos out of than eating--which indicates an alarmingly systematic lack of discernment at all levels of the company. This is really about the strongest anti-Domino's argument I can think of.

Of course, it's more likely that they knew damn well what they were doing all these years, but only decided to make some token effort to address the problem when it started to hurt their bottom line. It's too bad they'd never admit as much, since that would be a much stronger pro-Domino's statement, in the sense that it would actually be a pro-Domino's statement.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lady and the Tramp vs. The Aristocats: Conventional wisdom PWNED.

Here are my favorite things about Lady and the Tramp: number one, the creepy Siamese cats and their creepy Siamese cat song. Racially insensitive? Absolutely, but weird enough to be memorable and interesting. Number two: Peg, the Pekingese hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold type. She's the most appealing character in the movie by a rather wide margin, and her song, "He's a Tramp," ain't half bad either. I wish she got more screen time.

These things are memorable because they briefly break the mold in which the rest of the movie comfortably rests. Most Disney movies that I've seen so far--and not just the good ones, either--do not have the feel of being nothing but kids' movies. They are movies that people of any age can enjoy (or not). Lady and the Tramp, on the other hand, is a kids' movie through and through. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, I suppose, but I frankly find most of the ethnic dogs--and especially Jock the Scottish terrier and Trusty the bloodhound, who unfortunately are the most prominent of them all--more irritating than anything else. That's a side quibble, though: my larger complaint is that the relentlessly juvenile nature of the movie prevents it from effectively telling the story it appears to want to tell.

Consider for a moment the character of The Tramp. Going into the movie, I thought--and was perfectly justified in thinking, I have to say--that he was initially going to be a somewhat seedy character (within accepted Disney parameters, of course), and that his reform was going to be a big part of the movie. As it turns out, this really isn't the case: when she's in the pound, the other dogs tell Lady about all of his supposed romantic conquests, but you never get the impression from the character himself that there's anything particularly rakish about him, and his feelings for Lady never seem less than honorable. Instead, there's a sort of medium-level swaggering cockiness about the character which really never goes away and is, to me at least, decidedly off-putting.

Lady is less problematic--I particularly like the parts where she behaves like an actual dog, refusing to sleep downstairs in her bed and barking wildly at intruders, real or perceived. Still, I can't claim to exactly love her, and the romance promised to us by the movie's title--meh. The spaghetti-eating scene isn't iconic for no reason, but to my mind it remains more or less unearned.

You might object that I'm just criticizing the movie for not being what I want it to be, but I don't think that quite holds water. There's nothing wrong with a perfectly straightforward, wholesome relationship--Pongo and Perdita in One Hundred and One Dalmatians (a much better movie than this one) are a very appealing couple--but the fact remains, Lady and the Tramp is going for something, doesn't achieve this something due at least in part to the juvenile nature of the film, and thus, in my view, doesn't achieve much of anything. It's okay. Your kids will like it, probably. But it's not anything more than okay.

Now, let's shift gears: The Aristocats. The general consensus seems to be that this movie, made in the interregnum after Walt Disney's death while the company was struggling to find its artistic footing, is mediocre and mostly forgettable. Now, some of the criticisms of it are valid: it's absolutely true that the narrative isn't very cohesive, with some weird side-plots that don't really go anywhere (still, if my only options are "The Aristocats featuring Napoleon and Lafayette the farm dogs as characters in an orthogonal subplot" or "The Aristocats without Napoleon and Lafayette," I know which I'm going to choose--I love those guys). It's also absolutely true that Edgar is a pretty lame villain, although I can't claim that that really bothers me (Tim's positive obsession with this point is passing strange).

However, let's leave this aside for the mo (that's what the cool kids are saying these days instead of "moment"--they simply DO. NOT. HAVE. TIME. for multisyllabic words) and look at the movie's central romance, which I think puts what I said about Lady and the Tramp in stark relief. The Aristocats has been accused of aping the love story in the earlier film--mildly-disreputable boy meets high-class girl; mild conflict ensues; boy, now less disreputable, is accepted into high-class family. I won't argue with this, but I will say that for my money, the later film enacts this story a lot better than the earlier one. O'Malley, the male lead, does disreputable far better than The Tramp ever did: when he first meets Duchess, the female lead, his intentions are manifestly far from honorable, and he's initially quite put off when he discovers that she has kittens (highly-endearing kittens, let me add). However, as he becomes interested in her as more than just a conquest, we see flashes of awkwardness and uncertainty about his character that I find highly endearing. There was little or none of that to leaven The Tramp's personality.

As for Duchess, I don't know that I can exactly logically justify liking her more than Lady--although Eva Gabor's vocal performance certainly has something to do with it--but I do. And the fact that she already has kittens (by a never-alluded-to father) indicates that this is that rare (unique?) Disney romance where both participants have clearly been around the block a few times. To me, this lends it a refreshing level of maturity (within accepted Disney parameters, natch) that the previous film just can't match. I find the scene where the two of them are sitting on a fence holding tails to be ineffably sweet.

Did I mention that The Aristocats has a pretty darned great soundtrack? Because it does. Everyone remarks upon the manic "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat," but the title song (Maurice Chevalier's last professional performance!), the charming "Scales and Arpeggios," O'Malley's underrated intro song, and the unfortunately-cut "She Never Felt Alone" are also all more than worthy. Great characters, great music--what's not to like? The world seems to disagree with me, but this is one case where the world is wrong wrong wrong. It saddens me to think that people might pass this one up based on its undeserved reputation, especially when there is no chance that they will similarly pass up the inferior Lady and the Tramp.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Psychotic raving in the paper

Insert your own "[sic]"s as needed.

Have you seen him? As of this writing, he is Nigerian man who is alleged to have tried to blow up an aircraft in the air. And he is smiling in the picture I saw. He is alleged because the people who are still alive, stopped him from doing it. Now, bring in the lawyers.

First, did they read him his rights? Our president has given killers we call terrorists a new designation. "Citizen of the World". A takeoff on the slogan "Workers of the world unite". Under this title, everybody has access to the Bill of Rights our Founders gave us but only if you try to allegedly harm U.S. citizens. And, while our soldiers and Marines need to be ID'd by DNA when they are "rescued," our new citizens of the world are given every trapping of decadent American society, plus The Koran, prayer blanket, ethnic food, ect.

Second, is he comfortable? Our President wants to make sure all the other countries like us, so we don't want to cause our new Citizens any discomfort.

Third, will there be charges against the people who injured him? Since we are now court-marshalling our military for injuring people they capture, I'm sure we can press charges on these evil and abusive people who only wanted to live. How selfish. Isn't that just like these greedy and polluting Americans to want everything?

Are we humiliated enough? This was the greatest country on the face of the earth until recently. What has happened? If you don't believe that statement, tell me of another country that has people flocking to it for freedom and opportunity. Show me where the refugees from the U.S. are! You can't!

Rome rotted from within and the people could do nothing. Our elected officials ignore us and do what's good for the party. Will we do nothing and repeat that mistake? We must make sure, peacefully, that the Romans mistake isn't repeated.

Gregory Weigle

It's no fucking joke, people: as I've said before, this country can never not suck as long as mental illnesses are treated as though they were legitimate political opinions.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Jiminy Cricket sucks on every conceivable level.

As promised, I've been seeing Disney movies I missed, which is most of them. Tim thinks Pinnochio is Disney's best-ever. I, um...tend to disagree.

Here's what's good about Pinnochio: the backgrounds are really beautiful, especially the interior of Geppeto's cottage. Figaro the cat is endearing. The "I've Got no Strings" segment is good.* And the Pleasure Island sequence is something else. I mean holy shit--I haven't seen every Disney movie, but I cannot imagine that they ever produced a more primally terrifying sequence than the one where the transformed children are sobbing for their mothers and receiving no quarter from the demonic slaver. I don't see how that wouldn't traumatize the shit out of any five-year-old (it's also perhaps an interesting point that none of the villains in this movie suffer any negative repercussions whatsoever for their evil deeds). In fact, it's my theory that the Disney people decided that this was kind of a bridge too far, which is why Bambi's mother's death immediately segues into a gloriously happy springtime scene and is never, ever alluded to again or acknowledged in any way (Not that I didn't like Bambi a lot, but DAMN that part felt self-conscious).

That said, however--and admittedly, "that" is a fair amount--the movie just doesn't hold together at all. In fact, it undermines itself in such a constant, systematic way that you start wondering whether this was actually, for some perverse reason, intentional.

Pinnochio has to learn to avoid temptation to do bad things. And in this, Jiminy Cricket is supposed to be his "conscience." And Jiminy Cricket is consistently, infuriatingly ineffectual. He runs around after Pinnochio (except in the many sections where he just gives up and is only saved by random flukes), always a day late and dollar short, and at no point in the movie does he provide any sort of effective moral guidance. He tells P not to go with the foxes--P goes anyway. He tells P not to lie to the fairy--P lies anyway. He tells P to leave Pleasure Island--P refuses. And just look at how utterly worthless he is in the whale section: he tries to pry its teeth open and fails. That is ALL he does. The only time he's at all materially helpful is when he finally does lead the way off of Pleasure Island, but that's not a moral issue--it's just a "holy shit I'm going to turn into a donkey" issue.

So how DOES Pinnochio gain this willpower and good character that he's after? Answer: he doesn't. Seriously. When he's trapped in Stromboli's cage (a flimsy-looking wooden cage that any COMPETENT helper could have gotten him out of, but not the ever-worthless Jiminy), he's bailed out by the fairy. I like the way she fucks with him when he's telling obvious, idiotic lies, but in spite of the pious homily she provides, there's no evidence that he actually learns anything about lying. Then, as previously alluded to, he resolutely fails to learn anything from Pleasure Island. He leaves for purposes of self-preservation, and nothing more.

The only time he exhibits anything that could be called positive characteristics is in the final section with the whale, and boy oh BOY, but that section is such a bizarre non-sequitur that it's hard to take seriously. Oh no! Geppeto's gone, and he's taken the cat and fish with him! Oh, here's a note delivered by a dove (The Holy Spirit? Probably futile to try to make sense of this)! Egads! For unspecified reasons, Geppeto and friends are trapped inside a whale! Whuh? The solution: weight ourselves down with rocks and fling ourselves off a random jetty! I can detect no possible flaw in this plan.

Look, you can shout "CARTOON LOGIC!" until you're blue in the face, but you'll notice that that phrase contains the word "logic." The world of Pinnochio is not meant to be a surrealist fever dream. And yet, there is NO WAY that this section can possibly be justified in any narrative sense (also, watching the two of them walking on the ocean floor in slow motion for ten minutes is unbearably tedious--but given the bigger problems, I suppose one needn't dwell on that).

There are three things Pinnochio is meant to learn: truthfulness, bravery, and selflessness. You can argue that he gets the second and third of these from the bizarre third segment, but this leaves the previous sections entirely bereft of any purpose for being. And he NEVER is shown to have learned anything about honesty ("you can infer it," a partisan might argue. "Infer it from WHAT?" I would counter). The fact that that goddamn useless insect receives a "conscience badge" at the end is just too risible for words. Apparently, there was a Jiminy Cricket comic book in the fifties. I can only assume that each story depicted our "hero" setting himself a task, failing pitifully at said task, and then getting rewarded for being a pitiful failure. Very edifying, I've no doubt.

*although I CANNOT understand why they screw up the pattern: the basic idea is that Pinnochio is assailed on all sides by puppet versions of loose women of various ethnicities: first, a German woman, followed by four more German women. Then, a French women followed by four more French women. Then, a Russian woman followed by four…bearded revolutionary-types? What?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Our Boy Jack

c1993-January 4, 2010

Goodbye, sweet friend. You were the kindest dog I've ever known and ever expect to know.