Thursday, August 28, 2008

Not so fast, Obama

Congratulations, Mr. Obama, you’ve accepted the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. But why all the celebrating? I hope you’re not forgetting this little matter of the Test of the Burning Blades, are you? Have you forgotten that our nation was put under a curse millennia ago by a Chinese god, and the only way to appease him is by electing a—

What? That was just a misunderstanding? No more Test of the Burning Blades? Then why are we still funding the test and subjecting thousands of people to burnt and cut hands?

OK, so you don’t have to worry about that one, Mr. Obama, but you do know that anyone who comes to Denver (where the Treemen reside) must battle the Wood Beast, right? It’s a simple game, just stick your hand into one of these knotholes – your fate will guide you. And I don’t need to remind you that the Wood Beast’s sting is so –

No -- the Wood Beast is an endangered species now? Exploiting its deadly sting is no longer an option? What am I going to do with this giant stump?

Yes, Mr. Obama, luck seems to be on your side tonight. But there's no luck to be found inside The Cave, in there is only what you can take with you --

You're kidding, why is there an old couch inside the Cave? And a Wii is set up in there too? Goddammit, what good is the Cave if there's more inside than just what you can take with you?

So it seems like you're getting off pretty easy, Barack -- or are you? You may not know that to leave this stadium, you have to leap from the Lion's Head in a Test of Faith, you'll see that --

No. No, no, no, no. The Leap of Faith got shut down? Bunch of tourists from Nevada fell to their death? Why did they keep trying? Just exit from the loading dock. Congratulations on your nomination. Good luck giving your acceptance speech without the blessing of the Jade Monkey.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The 20 best 'Simpsons' gags (Part 2)

Read Part One here.

10. Boo-urns
The Episode: A Star is Burns (Season 6)
The Setup: Mr. Burns' self-serving A Burns for All Seasons draws boos from the crowd at the inaugural Springfield Film Festival.
The Joke:
BURNS: Smithers, are they booing me?
SMITHERS: Uhh, no they're saying "Boo-urns, boo-urns."
BURNS: (to crowd) Are you saying "boo" or "Boo-urns"?
(crowd boos louder)
HANS MOLEMAN: I was saying "Boo-urns."
Notes: A wonderful play on the tired "Bruuuuuce" (not "boo") chant for Bruce Springsteen, this is joke is a classic and it wouldn't have worked with any character but Hans Moleman. Who else would have been saying "Boo-urns"? Only the man whose submission to the film festival was a short starring himself getting hit in the groin by a football.

9. The College Application Photo
The Episode: Homer Goes to College (Season 5)
The Setup: Homer must return to college to retain his job, and applies to Springfield University.
The Joke: (See above) Homer underestimates the importance a college applicant's picture plays in getting admitted, and the university officials don't even bother to look at his application after seeing this horrid picture.
Notes: The sight of this picture still makes me laugh, it's beyond perfect on every level. There are, of course, innumerable examples of Homer's gluttony -- but shoving a birthday cake (with candles) into your mouth ... and with the shamelessness to do it right in front of a camera? I love how he even has red eyes, and that his party hat is perched so precariously on his head.

8. Elvis Does Not Approve
The Episode: The Front (Season 4)
The Setup: Bart and Lisa are bored over the declining quality of Itchy & Scratchy episodes, so they decide to write their own, set in a barber shop.
The Joke:
BART: Itchy takes out a bottle of barbecue sauce and pours it on Scratchy's head, then he takes out a box of flesh-eating ants, and the rest writes itself!
(the ants reduce Scratchy's head to a skull, and Itchy raises the barber chair through the ceiling, putting Scratchy's skull inside the television of Elvis).
ELVIS: Eh, this show ain't no good (shoots Scratchy's skull inside television).
Notes: When this episode first aired, I think this moment made me laugh harder than at any moment in my life. The sheer vulgarity and ridiculousness of the Elvis twist was too much for me to handle. It would be easy to say that the Elvis character is just some guy dressed up as Elvis, but I think this episode was made around the time rumors of Elvis still being alive were popular. Apparently he lives above a mouse-run barbershop, and he shoots his TV when he doesn't like the show. Fantastic.

7. Vengeful Big Brother
The Episode: Brother from the Same Planet (Season 4)
The Setup: To get back at Bart for having a big brother mentor, Homer sets out to become a big brother himself.
The Joke:
WOMAN: Why do you want to become a big brother?
HOMER'S BRAIN: Don't say revenge, don't say revenge, don't say revenge...
HOMER: Uh, revenge?
HOMER'S BRAIN: That's it, I'm outta here (we hear the sound of a car driving away)
WOMAN: (scanning list that includes malice, spite and revenge) Welcome aboard!
Notes: Revenge takes many forms, including the act of mentoring a disadvantaged child. Not only do we get the delicious insanity of Homer's "brain" getting the hell outta Dodge, but the amazing twist of "spite," "malice" and "boredom" also being acceptable reasons for a man wanting to be a big brother.

6. Judge Snyder's Dog (son)

The Episode: Marge in Chains (Season 4)
The Setup: After Marge is arrested for shoplifting, the Simpsons once again hire attorney Lionel Hutz, who is confident about the case until he sees what judge is assigned to it.
The Joke:
HUTZ: Oh no, we've drawn Judge Snyder.
MARGE: Is that bad?
HUTZ: He's had it out for me ever since I kinda ran over his dog.
MARGE: Really? That's terrible.
HUTZ: Well, replace "kinda" with "repeatedly," and "dog" with "son."
Notes: One of the hardest aspects of putting together this list was narrowing down the best Lionel Hutz moment, because you really can't go wrong with any of them. "Judge Snyder's Dog" ultimately won out because it sublimely combined Hutz's trademark lunacy with a surprising amount of heinous violence.

5. Homer as Mr. Burns
The Episode: Blood Feud (Season 2)
The Setup: Homer takes out his anger toward Mr. Burns by writing a hateful letter to his boss, but later decides not to mail it. Unfortunately, Bart has already put the letter in the mail, leading Homer to desperate attempts to intercept it.
The Joke:
HOMER: Hello, I'm Mr. Burns, I believe you have a letter for me.
POSTAL WORKER: Okay, Mr. Burns, what's your first name?
HOMER: I don't know.
Notes: If you know this gag, then you know this print representation of it does it no justice. This is all about Homer's delivery, as he uses quite possibly the worst fake voice ever to impresonate Mr. Burns. But what kills me about this gag is the timing of the final line, Homer never even stops to think what Mr. Burns' first name is.

4. Message from Vera
The Episode: $pringfield (Or how I learned to stop worrying and love legalized gambling) (Season 5)
The Setup: After being turned away for a job at Mr. Burns' casino, Bart vows to open his own casino. Things at Bart's casino go swimmingly, especially since he can attract top talent like Robert Goulet (via intercepting him at the airport).
The Joke:
GOULET: This is the casino? I think I should call my manager.
NELSON: Your manager says for you to shut up!
GOULET: Vera said that?
Notes: The final four entries on this list can all make a case for being No. 1, and for a long time I considered this my favorite Simpsons joke. I love Nelson's line, does he say that just because he's being Nelson, or does he have a genuine interest in seeing Goulet perform at Bart's tree house casino? Goulet's delivery is also great, he's actually wondering if Vera called and told him to "shut up."

3. Bare Cupboard Pie
The Episode: $pringfield (Or how I learned to stop worrying and love legalized gambling) (Season 5)
The Setup: Marge becomes addicted to gambling, leaving Homer and the kids to cook and clean for themselves while she feeds her new habit.
The Joke:
LISA: There's nothing to eat for breakfast.
HOMER: You gotta improvise, Lisa: [mixing ingredients] cloves ... Tom Collins mix ... frozen pie crust ...
LISA: Maybe mom just doesn't realize we miss her. We could go down to the casino and let her know ...
HOMER: Oh come on, Lisa, there's no reason to [takes bite] ... let's go see mom.
Notes: This joke still makes me laugh out loud. It's so impossibly ridiculous that on the occasion it pops into my head I just start laughing (my wife has learned to stop asking). Cloves!? It's also amusing that the Simpsons even have Tom Collins mix in their house, how did that get in there?

2. Evil Frogurt
The Episode: Treehouse of Horror III (Season 4)
The Setup: At Bart's birthday party, Homer realizes he forgot to buy a present. Slyly escaping, Homer stops at the aptly-named House of Evil to seek out a gift.
The Joke:
HOMER: Do you sell toys here?
SHOPKEEPER: We sell forbidden objects from places men fear to tread. We also sell frozen yogurt, which I like to call 'frogurt'!
HOMER: I'm looking for a present for my son.
SHOPKEEPER: (holding Krusty doll) Take this, but beware it carries a terrible curse!
HOMER: Ooooh, that's bad.
SHOPKEEPER: But it also comes with a free frogurt!
HOMER: That's good!
SHOPKEEPER: The frogurt is also cursed.
HOMER: That's bad.
SHOPKEEPER: But you get your choice of topping!
HOMER: That's good!
SHOPKEEPER: The toppings contain potassium-benzoit.
HOMER: ...
SHOPKEEPER: That's bad!
HOMER: Can I go now?
Notes: This one briefly flirted with being No. 1, it's just the epitome of a perfect Simpsons gag: taking a routine joke to another plane of surreal hilarity, with flawless timing and delivery. And admit it: have you really looked at frozen yogurt toppings the same way since this episode?

1. Buying Illegal Fireworks
The Episode: Summer of 4 ft. 2 (Season 7)
The Setup: On vacation at Flanders' beach home, Homer is intent on celebrating the Fourth of July with illegal fireworks.
The Joke:
HOMER: Hmm, I bet this place sells illegal fireworks ... just act casual, like you buy them all the time.
Yeah, uh, why don't you give me that porno mag ... bottle of Old Harper ... box of condoms ... some panty shields ... illegal fireworks -- and a disposable enema. Meh, make that two!
EMPLOYEE: Sorry sir but the sale of illegal fireworks is strictly forbi -- (notices customer leaving) come with me.
MARGE: (later, seeing what Homer bought) Hmmm, I don't know what you have planned for tonight, Homer, but you can count me out.
Notes: There was really never any doubt with me about where this one would land. At the conception stage of this project, I immediately had three gags in my head that I knew would be somewhere in the top 5, but this one would definitely be at the top. Where else would you find a gag of this caliber? It cannot be charted. This joke has taken on a life of its own within my family, sometimes adding "two disposable enemas" at the end of a grocery list. I think the most brilliant part is Marge's reaction, which happens a couple scenes later.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The 20 best 'Simpsons' gags (Part 1)

Next month will mark the 20th season of The Simpsons, and to celebrate the historic mark I embarked a month ago on ranking its 20 best gags. Arriving at 20 was not easy, and deciding on a final ranking of the 20 meant many tough choices. In weeding out the hundreds of elite gags from The Simpsons, I settled on a fairly basic criterion: the gags had to be a great representation of Simpsons' trademark humor, which is so often imitated, and also staying power -- able to make you laugh years later after you've heard it countless times.

What I found after arriving at the top 20 was that not every popular character was represented (no Troy McClure, no Willy, no Ralph), and that many of the consensus top episodes also did not make the cut (my three favorite episodes fall into this category). So no bias was given to characters and episodes, but I can't say the same for the seasons that are represented. Try as I did, I just couldn't find any worthy gags from the last several seasons to put on the list, not to say there weren't contenders. This could be due to the high level of gags from The Simpsons' golden age in seasons 3-6, when the show was writing its own standards of humor, before trying to live up to those standards in later seasons. On this list you'll find some well-known gags, a few you might have forgotten about, and a handful of underrated gems. Some of the entries have accompanying video clips, via Fox's (Simpsons clips on YouTube usually vanish after a couple days).

Today also marks the third anniversary of DVD Panache. My first post was about The Simpsons, it wasn't very good, but it was a beginning. And now here I am three years later with The Simpsons again. Enjoy the list:

20. 100 Tacos
The Episode: Bart the Fink (Season 7)
The Setup: After the passing of their Great Aunt Hortense, the Simpsons family gains a modest inheritance of $100 each.
The Joke:
MARGE: What are you going to do with your money, kids?
BART: There's a special down at the Taco Mat: 100 tacos for $100. I'm going to get that.
(Later, as Bart spies the Taco Mat)
COMIC BOOK GUY: (wheeling out 100 tacos) This should provide adequate sustenance for the Dr. Who marathon!
Notes: One of the most vicious of all the Comic Book Guy jokes, I love the idea of 100 tacos for $100 being a "special" at Taco Mat, since tacos cost about $1 in most parts of the world. According to the The Simpsons Guide to Springfield, this deal offers the consumer $5 in savings.

19. Earl Warren, stripper?
The Episode: Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie (Season 4)
The Setup: As Bart is once again destroying the Simpsons residence, Marge comes home to see Homer oblivious to the situation.
The Joke:
MARGE: Do you want your son to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or a sleazy male stripper?
HOMER: Can't he be both, like the late Earl Warren?
MARGE: Earl Warren was not a stripper.
HOMER: Marge, now who's being naive?
Notes: The genius of this joke lies in the subtle build-up. In this episode we learn of Homer's strangely impressive knowledge of the Supreme Court, which adds another layer to his ridiculous Earl Warren comment. When hearing that Bart could turn his poor grades around and earn a spot on the highest court, he easily lists his favorite justices, and later mentions Justice Suiter. The care given to setting up this short joke is something you rarely see on television.

18. Steamed Hams
The Episode: 22 Short Films About Springfield (Season 7)
The Setup: Preparing for a nerve-wracking dinner with Superintendent Chalmers, Principal Skinner is horrified to see his roast go up in smoke. When Chalmers inquires about the smoke, Skinner assures him that it is in fact steam, from the steamed clams he was making. With a burnt roast in the oven, Skinner rushes to Krusty Burger for a dinner that is definitely not steamed clams.
The Joke:
SKINNER: Superintendent, I hope you're ready for mouth-watering hamburgers.
CHALMERS: I thought we were having steamed clams.
SKINNER: Oh, no, I said "steamed hams." That's what I call hamburgers.
CHALMERS: You call hamburgers steamed hams.
SKINNER: It's a regional dialect.
CHALMERS: Uh-huh, what region?
SKINNER: Uh, upstate New York.
CHALMERS: Really. Well, I'm from Utica and I never heard anyone use the phrase "steamed hams."
SKINNER: Oh, not in Utica, no; it's an Albany expression.
Notes: The finest example of Skinner embarrassing himself in front of Chalmers as a result of his own good intentions. What makes this exchange so perfect is the delivery of Chalmers' final line -- it sounds like he's on the verge of believing Skinner's B.S. It's also hilarious how Chalmers reacts to the Skinner's initial "steamed hams" revelation, treating it somewhere between pathetic and amusing.

17. The Jazz Umbrella

The Episode: 'Round Springfield (Season 6)
The Setup: Bleeding Gums Murphy recalls his jazz mentor, Blind Willie Witherspoon.
The Joke:
WILLIE: I've been playing jazz for 30 years and just can't make a go of it. I want you to have my saxophone.
MURPHY: That's not a saxophone, it's an umbrella.
WILLIE: You mean I've been playing an umbrella for 30 years?
MURPHY: We all thought it was kinda funny.
WILLIE: That's not funny.
Notes: Another in a long list of jazz bashings from "Round Springfield," the Jazz Umbrella gag is one of the better flashbacks that permeated Season 6 (this joke device would be famously copied by Family Guy). Willie's final line could have only come from Simpsons writers.

16. Jeremy's Iron
The Episode: Lisa's Rival (Season 6)
The Setup: After meeting her intellectual rival, Alison, Lisa is invited over to the girl's house, where she meets her father.
The Joke:
TAYLOR: Hi Lisa, I'm Alison's father, Professor Taylor, I've heard great things about you.
LISA: Oh really, I--
TAYLOR: Oh, don't be modest. I'm glad we have someone who can join us in our anagram game.
ALISON: We take proper names and rearrange the letters to form a description of that person.
TAYLOR: Like, uh ... Alec Guinness.
ALISON: (thinks) ... Genuine class!
TAYLOR: Ho, ho, very good. All right Lisa, how about ... Jeremy Irons.
LISA: Umm, Jeremy's ... Iron?
TAYLOR: Well,... that is very good ... for a first try. You know what? I have a ball, perhaps you'd like to bounce it?
Notes: This gag's greatness is almost as unbelievable as Alison's anagram wizardry. The Simpsons has a long history of viciously skewering the over-educated (as you will see in this feature), and this gag is one of the best of that class. What I love about this exchange are Taylor's choices in the game, picking out Guinness and Irons off the top of his head. Since he's a stuffy professor, the first names he can think of are celebrated British actors.

15. Naked Lunch Date
The Episode: Bart on the Road (Season 7)
The Setup: After securing a fake I.D., Bart and friends embark on a journey of adult-oriented activities, and their first stop is a movie clearly not suitable for children. But as Nelson points out as they exit the theater, the David Cronenberg movie is guilty of a little false advertising.
The Joke:
NELSON: "I can think of at least two things wrong with that title."
Notes: The premise of going to see an inappropriate movie is overflowing with potential, and the result is miles from predictable. For anyone familiar with Cronenberg's movie, or William S. Burrough's novel, this joke reaches milk-out-your-nose funny: Naked Lunch features talking typewriters, lots of bugs and women getting shot in the head ... but sadly no women of the naked variety. Jokes like this one helped The Simpsons transcend its animated family show medium, as clearly this was aimed far above the heads of kids dancing The Bartman, or even their older siblings.

14. Krusty's Koffee
The Episode: Radioactive Man (Season 7)
The Setup: With Hollywood in town to film the much-anticipated Radioactive Man movie, Springfield rolls out the red carpet. Some local talent will be utilized, and surely that includes famed actor Krusty, right? Unfortunately, the role of Crispy the Clown has already been filled, and Krusty is forced to beg for a bit part. When the movie's hugely expensive centerpiece stunt goes down in acid ("real acid"), the production looks doomed, and there are also more pressing concerns ...
The Joke:
KRUSTY: "I want to talk about this coffee!"
Notes: This is an underrated gem that over the years has become one of my favorites, from one of the series' all-time best episodes. The build-up to this joke is similar to No. 19, with the seed planted much earlier, except this one has a greater payoff. In seeing Krusty in full "Dr. Clownius" costume, we learn that Krusty somehow secured a role in the film, and has taken his trademark wannabe-Hollywood abrasiveness ... well, Hollywood.

13. Two Ruined Jackets
The Episode: Secrets of a Successful Marriage (Season 5)
The Setup: In order to gain respect, and silence complaints that he's mentally slow, Homer offers his marital expertise as an instructor of an adult education course.
The Joke:
HOMER: Look everyone, now that I'm a teacher I've sewn patches on my elbows!
MARGE: Homer, that's supposed to be leather patches on a tweed jacket, not the other way around. You've ruined a perfectly good jacket.
HOMER: Ah, incorrect Marge -- two perfectly good jackets! (Homer holds up tweed jacket where the patches were cut).
Notes: Homer's understanding of academia includes the fact that he is now able to correct his peers in a scholarly manner. It should have been a given that as a teacher, Homer would utilize a pipe, but it still adds another awesome layer to this joke.

12. Meet Cerberus
The Episode: The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show (Season 8)
The Setup: With ratings sagging, The Itchy & Scratchy Show needs revamping -- namely, a new character. In a meeting with Krusty and the show's writers, a savvy marketing executive spells out exactly what she has in mind.
The Joke:
KRUSTY: Whaddaya got in mind, a sexy broad, a gangster octopus?
MEYERS: No, no, no. The animal chain of command goes mouse, cat, dog. (To writers) D-O-G.
WEINSTEIN: Uh, a dog? Isn't that a tad predictable?
LADY: In your dreams. We're talking about the original dog from hell!
OAKLEY: You mean Cerberus?
Notes: An offshoot of The Simpsons' self-deprecating humor was the show's lampooning of its own writers, portraying them as Ivy League shut-ins (with at least half of that statement being true). The underlying gag is that a show like Itchy & Scratchy would need a team of writers at all.

11. Stringent Usury LawsEpisode: Lisa's Pony (Season 3)
The Setup: Desperate to regain Lisa's affection, Homer decides to finally buy her a pony -- which don't come cheap. Homer has no choice but to ask for a loan from his employee credit union, where he meets a familiar face.
The Joke:
HOMER: Mr. Burns, you do this personally?
BURNS: Oh it's a hobby, I don't do this for any personal gain, heavens no. By the way are you acquainted with our state's stringent usury laws?
HOMER: Usury..?
BURNS: Oh, silly me, I must have just made up a word that doesn't exist! Now, what is the purpose of this loan.
HOMER: I want to buy a pony...
BURNS: Isn't that cute! Smithers, he wants to join the horsey set. That is it, isn't it? You're not planning to eat it?
HOMER: No, no, I need to get it for my little girl because she doesn't love me any--
SMITHERS: Shut up Simpson. Do you have any collateral?
BURNS: Oh Smithers, don't be so cold -- his spirit is my collateral. Now just sign this form (laughing maniacally). Ahem, sorry, I was just laughing at something funny Smithers said today.
SMITHERS: I didn't say anything funny, sir.
BURNS: (under breath) Shut up!
Notes: I love this side of Mr. Burns, at once sarcastic, vindictive and playful. It's also apparent from his tone that Mr. Burns is just a little bit scared that Homer was asking for a $5,000 loan so he could purchase and slaughter a horse for his own insatiable appetite.

Tune in Monday for Part 2!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My friends treat me like I'm a guest

So if you knock on ol' Piper's door during the next couple weeks, don't be surprised if it's me or Fox who comes to answer. Yup, we're keeping watch over Lazy Eye Theatre while the proprietor sorts out some problems with his finances in the Cayman Islands. It took me awhile, but I finally got my fill of Piper's backyard carousel (where'd you find a calliope that size?), and sat down to some housekeeping business. My first post at Lazy Eye is a Top 5 Tuesday entry on The Impossible. I'll have a few more bits and pieces over there through next week, so stop by (and does anyone know how to cook an omelet with ostrich eggs? I swear that's all he has).

In other news ... did you spy the teaser to your right? That's right, Friday will see me unveil my long awaited blog project.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Heading up north for some quiet time

So you may not see much of substance around here for a little while, and I actually have a good excuse. I'm still working on my Big Blog Project, which will definitely debut sometime this month. I'm not at liberty to discuss the details (trademarks, legalese and what not are still pending), but you'll know it when it hits. So until then I'm laying low, but I'll still welcome any random acts of monetary kindness if you feel the situation warrants it.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Greatest Thing Ever!

Thanks to weepingsam for pointing me toward The Greatest Thing Ever, also known as The Parallel Universe Film Guide. Did you know that in the Parallel Universe, D.O.A. is titled Eh...What Are You Gonna Do? and is summarized as:

Man is injected with poison that will kill him in 24 hours. He searches for the person responsible, gives up, has last meal surrounded by family and friends, dies peacefully.
Most curiously, the Parallel Universe rates its movies on a 10-star scale, with the full rating reserved for Unquestionable Masterpieces (as opposed to nine and a half-star movies, which are "masterpieces with minor questions"). Of course, there are also parts of the Parallel Universe that we may never understand -- such as the wonder of The Kid With Damp Clothes (1948) or The Plumber Grew Quills (1959) -- and that's where the Parallel Universe Film Guide comes in. Though it's obviously still combing through this ever so similar universe, the PUFG has unearthed many finds.

The PUFG is hilarious, but it's also quite a challenge for film fans -- can you recognize many of the movies? It's too addicting to just keep hitting the "random page" button again and again. My favorite so far is probably At Least I Have a Hobby (1931), but I know that will change in about an hour.

There's too many great entries in there for one man to find, feel free to post some of the gems you come across.

Monday, August 04, 2008

We built this city on stolen memories

Before its release last week, a director's cut DVD of Dark City had been rumored for years (including Roger Ebert's 2005 note that he recorded a new commentary for such a DVD). That a director's cut would result in a superior movie was almost certain, as the film begins with an infamous prologue that screams "studio interference." In 1998, audiences were introduced to Alex Proyas' landmark film with Kiefer Sutherland giving a breathy, spoilerific voice-over that ruins about half of the movie's surprises. By explicitly knowing up front that the Strangers are aliens, it erases any uncertainty about their origins which would otherwise be revealed about an hour into the story. So reviled was this introduction that it became popular for fans to tell the uninitiated to turn the sound off for the first minute. Removing this voice-over is an easy improvement, but Dark City: Director's Cut also adds about 10 more minutes of additional footage that make for a subtly (not spectacularly) better movie.

Annoying voice over aside, there is little else to complain about with Dark City. We are first introduced to a confused man awakening naked in a bathtub. He's in a hotel room, and there's a strange syringe near the bath, but his main problem is having no memory of who he is or why he's in the strange hotel room. One of those questions is answered as he walks by the front desk, the manager telling John Murdoch that his bill is overdue. More revelations will follow, with John finding out that he's an accused serial killer, he's estranged from his wife, and apparently has a history in this odd city -- which stops cold at midnight every night on the dot. But while the rest of the populace fall asleep at midnight, John is unaffected, and he is still trying to understand his "tuning" superpowers that alter physical reality through his will alone. John will find out that this city is one giant experiment conducted by the mysterious Strangers, and he is the only one who can put an end to their plan.

Dark City's memorable combination of stylish visuals, original sci-fi story and near-flawless resistance to the genre's usual cliches almost guaranteed it would be a commercial failure, then rediscovered on video. I first discovered it like many people, after Ebert surprisingly named it his favorite movie of the year and generally heaped tons of praise on it throughout the year. I've since tried to watch it every year, as Proyas' story and visuals encourage repeat viewings. What I appreciate more with each viewing are the central questions about memories, and the value we put on them. Other movies have touched on the issue of losing our memories, but what if you can't trust your memories, does that diminish their quality? The inhabitants of Dark City are ignorant of their captivity, but even with their memories being mixed and matched, they are still capable of displaying the unique human qualities that the Strangers so cherish. Do memories drive the human spirit no matter what they are, or is our vitality linked to something deeper? The Strangers, who have a communal consciousness, are obsessed with this question that has no answer.

In his director's cut, Proyas adds in small scenes that create a couple nice little subplots. Chief among these is John noticing his fingerprints, which resemble the vertigo symbols that permeate the movie. Inspector Bumstead and Mr. Book of the Strangers also pick up on this, leading both parties to suspect John has truly evolved. The problem with these scenes is that it's not readily apparent that his fingerprints are out of the ordinary; if there wasn't so much attention paid to them, I would have thought they were normal. My favorite new element is the revelation that the prostitute John meets at the automat has a daughter. At her apartment, John sees the girl peaking around a door, adding more reason for him to leave in haste. But her biggest role in the film comes later when Bumstead and Emma Murdoch find the prostitute's mutilated body, and discover the girl hiding in the house. As Emma comforts her, Bumstead finds a picture she had drawn of the Strangers. The eerie drawing becomes key to the story, as Emma and Bumstead until this point had not seen the Strangers, but will catch a glimpse of them only moments later.

Early announcements of this DVD promised new special effects, but the only enhancements I caught were some slight changes to the tuning effects, cleaning them up a little bit. There are also a few extended scenes that add more depth to Bumstead's character in particular. One little note about the packaging: the cover art is beautiful, and much more detailed than you see in this picture, but what's odd is the design on the reverse. The DVD comes in a slip package, which contains no information on the reverse, just another cool design. This has been done before, but in those cases there was at least a sticker or an insert beneath the plastic with a synopsis and list of extra features. There's nothing like that here, which is frustrating for anyone who is interested in what new extras are on the disc, or for that matter anyone unfamiliar with the movie.

Indeed there are new extras, all high quality. Ebert adds to his previous commentary, and Proyas has provided an all new track. There are also two documentaries, one focusing on the movie's production and another offering five perspectives on the movie from the likes of Proyas, the screenwriter and three critics. The documentary "Memories of Shell Beach," is excellent, with much of the cast and crew giving candid reflections on the movie from inception to its box office receipts. The common thread through all the interviews is everyone involved never cared about the movie's cold box office, because they knew from day one they were making a great movie.

Friday, August 01, 2008

FRIDAY SCREEN TEST: Season 2 wrap-up

Well folks, we've made it through another season of Friday Screen Test. I'll admit there were times when all the pressure from city, state and international interest groups to shut it down became a little too loud to ignore -- but luckily I was able to avoid being served for seven whole months (it's an art). And though there were new outlets for my free time introduced to me this year, the series prospered on. But it may not have been that way were it not for the generosity of many of this year's contributors, those who had the gumption to contact me and volunteer their time. Otherwise, I would have had to seek them out on my own, and I'm not sure I would have had the time for it. And as always, don't hesitate to email me if you want to take the plunge and become a Friday Screen Tester yourself!

Because of these free will enlistees, I was introduced to blogs and writers I was entirely unfamiliar with, which in turn increased the variety of the series. I am grateful to all of this year's contributors, as without their entertaining answers, the series wouldn't be worth reading. And it's because of them that Friday Screen Test remains a blast for me to produce, as I'm continually introduced to more and more film fans. The 2009 series will begin in January, and will again feature new (and more) questions.

If you're wondering "why stop now?" the answer will become more apparent in August, as a project I've been working on through July will hopefully come to fruition. Thanks again for reading, and if you missed any of 2008, here's a week-by-week recap:

ANNIE FRISBIE: 'My husband and I got into a very heated argument over Forrest Gump. I said he couldn't possibly think it was a good movie. He got very offended by that remark. Back when I worked at Kim's Underground, I used to have knockdown drag out fights about movies all the time. I once got so upset during a "discussion" of Lee Marvin that I threw a plastic soda bottle.'

PAUL CLARK: 'I'm sure this is a cliché answer, but for me it doesn't get any better than the scene near the end of Cronenberg's remake of The Fly, when Jeff Goldblum vomits acid on John Getz. It's disgusting as hell, but it's not just about the ick factor. I love that while the film makes Getz's character such a rat, by the time this happens in the story our urge for him to get his comeuppance is swept aside by our pity and revulsion for what Goldblum, playing a character we used to like, has brought upon himself. And yeah, seeing someone's flesh and bones dissolve before our eyes is a pretty awesome sight.'

JOE BALTAKE: 'I love the films from the 1960s and especially miss the breezy, star-driven films that Doris Day and Frank Sinatra made. However, I am really obsessed with the film musical because the genre as been so cruely abandoned by moviegoers and because it makes male moviegoers so uptight. Since when is it a negtive comment on a man's sexuality if he goes to and likes film musicals? My dad loved them. He loved all movies. He had no problem with the idea of going to see Gigi and, believe me, he was all-man. (My wife has the same memories of her father.) The film musical must be rescued! It must be saved, I say.'

RYLAND WALKER KNIGHT: 'My distaste for Pan's Labyrinth has gotten me into some interesting debates in 2007, and I'm almost alone in loving the Pirates sequels, but here's the most recent, the trump card: Oddly, my dad pushed my buttons when he said, "I think Jaws is a better movie than 2001, yeah."
I tried to reply, "Apples and oranges..."
"Yeah, well, [that's my story and I'm sticking to it]."
"Okay, [but it's a left-field comparison that makes zero sense. Both are ostensibly excellent but, c'mon, you know that one is truly transcendent, right?]"
"Which one, Jaws?" (Dialogue edited for the sake of readability, and cuz my memory is hazy.)'

NATE YAPP: 'Tim Lucas's 1128-page magnum opus Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, bar none. Everything you thought you knew about Mario Bava, Italian cinema, horror is either illuminated to a greater degree or(better) completely tossed in the wastebin. The sheer comprehensiveness of the work makes me giddy.'

ED HARDY, JR.: 'I grew up near the drive-ins in Union City, CA so I have a ton of drive-in memories: there was Army of Darkness at a birthday party, or the time my family was pictured in a local paper's "Death of the Drive-in" story watching Back to the Future in our drop-top Impala. The last film I saw there was David Fincher's The Game. It was too dark to see anything and I had to see it again in a theater. They closed the drive-ins down not too long after.'

MARTY MCKEE: ‘70s crime dramas. I’ve seen just about everything from Dirty Harry to Psychopath. It’s a time when cinema wasn’t afraid to be rough and gritty and realistic in its portrayal of action and the criminal element, and I find it fascinating. Plus, there were so many very good action directors working then—Don Siegel, Richard Fleischer, Phil Karlson, Jack Starrett, John Flynn, I could certainly go on—that, for all their obscurity, were better at their craft than all the Doug Limans and Paul Greengrasses of today.'

BOB TURNBULL: 'My favourite soapbox film - Ocean's Twelve. People tend to hate it because it didn't make sense or the heists were stupid or because they can't stand Julia Roberts. I can't help them on the Julia front, but the plot does actually hold together. And the plausibility of the heists doesn't really matter - it's an art film and a playground for Steven Soderbergh. I had pretty much this same conversation with a friend and a new acquaintance at a Christmas party this year (I'm pretty sure we drove several people from the kitchen), but all was well in the end as we agreed that Takeshi Kitano rules.'

ERICH KUERSTEN: 'Robert Redford in 3 Days of the Condor is the freakin' antichrist of 1970s cinema; his bland attractiveness as a smug publisher-CIA agent heralds the end of gritty, ugly depth in our lead male actors. He bosses around Faye Dunaway like a spoiled kid with his dad's new trophy wife; Tom Cruise must have been taking a lesson.'

GARETH MOSES: 'I have quite an appalling DVD habit. I love having thousands of movies I adore at my fingertips so I can bore my friends and family with examples of shots or sequences (Lined up on the wall arranged in different ways: Criterion, Hitchcock, Hammer etc…/). My most recent haul included This Sporting Life, Green For Danger, Blood From the Mummy's Tomb, Lifeboat and a pirate of Island of Lost Souls.'

JONATHAN PACHECO: 'When I was just a couple of years old, I remember sneaking into the living room while my older brothers and uncles were watching Just One of the Guys. I remember a surprising amount of details about the film, especially the language and the nudity. And it was only PG-13!'

ARBOGAST: 'I'm a horror man, a lifer. I live it and breathe it, everything from the silent era right up to the 80s, after which I started being a lot more selective in my ardor. During the franchise horrors of the Reagan era, I went into a kind of latency period, laying low until Freddy and Jason and Michael and Pinhead all retreated to their respective hells.'

JAMES FRAZIER: 'I haven’t been able to become obsessed with any particular genre or era because there is so much I haven’t seen. It’s not really a genre, but one of my party tricks is where I’ll have someone name an actress, and I’ll proceed to list all of her nude scenes, what year the film was made, how good the scene was, and a list of other details.'

ANDREW JAMES: 'A really great movie. The perfect movie. That very rare 5 star film. They're so much fun to review because (a) they're easy to review and (b) it feels good coming up with all of of those positive adjectives and (c) I love to convince people to check out something that I know they'll love. '

FLETCH: 'It's certainly not a favorite, but the standout gross moment that comes to mind is seeing waaaay too much of Bill Macy's ass in The Cooler.'

MELISSA PRUSI: 'I remember when I was a little kid my big brother being really excited that The Poseidon Adventure was going to be on TV, so of course we turned it into a big event. We had our snacks all laid out and planted ourselves in front of the TV right before it started, and nobody was allowed to talk during the movie. For a few weeks afterwards I practiced holding my breath in case I ever had to swim underwater for a long time.'

KINDERTRAUMA: 'I have a huge soft spot for the Spelling/Goldberg-produced television movies of the '70s, and would love to force TCM host Robert Osborne to watch Satan's School for Girls, Crowhaven Farm, and Home for the Holidays.'

GAUTAM VALLURI: 'I have a wide range of films that I love and as I had already mentioned earlier, I have a great love for the independent films of the 1960s and the 1970s. But then again I love a lot of films outside this particular era. I never really believe in going by genres because they are not that reliable most of the time. I think its safe to just say that I'm obsessed with films.'

MARILYN FERDINAND: 'In 1973, with a bunch of friends, to see The Last Detail. Somewhere along the line a spider on the windshield was drowned by half a bottle of gin. I’ve always wondered if the movie was good.'

CHRIS POGGIALI: 'When I was in the second grade, I got in trouble for twisting myself up in my desk trying to recreate the final shot of Barry Robins in Bless the Beasts and the Children. I’ll never forget the blood rushing to my head and the (upside down) sight of Mrs. Lambert at the blackboard pointing at me and yelling, “Chris, get up! Stop fooling around and get up!” So that ending immediately comes to mind. But the key word is “favorite,” so I’ll have to say It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.'

DAVID HUDSON: 'Premieres. I just enjoy the occasional opportunity to get word out early on a film, whether that word's positive or negative. Of course, it's not long before that early word is drowned out by louder, better positioned voices, but it's fun while it lasts.'

JOSEPH CAMPANELLA: 'Joseph Pilato for his performance in Day of the Dead (George Romero, 1985). I wouldn't say he's better than Daniel Day-Lewis, but he is.'

CRAIG KENNEDY: 'My childhood is a haze of age-inappropriate drive-in movies that my father used to drag my older brothers and me to in the mid-70s. He used to pack us into the station wagon and head to the multi-screen Valley Drive-In for a double feature. More often than not, I'd be asleep in the back by the time the second movie came on, but I have fragments of memories from a bunch of different movies. It's hard to say which came first, but I'll go with Walking Tall or perhaps the re-release of Billy Jack.'

: 'I'd go with three films I saw back-to-back-to-back for the first time when I was thirteen: Vertigo, Lolita and Blue Velvet. One jackpot of a trip to Blockbuster and my mind was opened to cinema's transgressive possibilities.'

: 'This is a really hard question, and I don't think I could provide an absolute answer, but one theme I always go back to is the way the glamour close-up––an image type and use of technology that has remained virtually unchanged since the beginning of cinema––can be used to wildly different ends in different contexts. So I'd show three films featuring some of my favorite close-ups: Pandora's Box, Pickup on South Street, and something where Judy Garland's lips quiver––maybe A Star is Born, maybe The Clock. If TCM deemed that too wonky (and they probably should), I'd probably put together a Lubitsch triple feature, because there are so many of his films I've never seen, and TCM never shows anything but Design for Living and Trouble in Paradise.'

JEREMY RICHEY: 'Melanie Griffith was one of the brightest flames that burned throughout the seventies and eighties. How ironic it is then that her one Oscar nomination would come for Working Girl, a film that effectively blew her once mighty flame out.'

IBETOLIS: 'We all know that the Oscar's are a sycophantic charade at the best of times, woefully unable to recognise brilliance when it lands on their face. So it's no surprise that a) 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days was omitted from the Best Foreign Film category and b) it's lead actress, Anamaria Marinca, who incidentally gave one of the greatest performances seen in the past 10 years, was never even mentioned, I'd like to give the Oscar to her.'

SCOTT KNOPF: '2003 was a great year for female performances. Salma Hayek playing Frida Kahlo, Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven, the Zellweger/Zeta-Jones duo in Chicago, and Nicole Kidman in The Hours. Kidman went home with the Oscar but if I had done the voting things would have turned out a little differently. And the Oscar goes to... Diane Lane in Unfaithful! I've championed for Miss Lane for a very long time and watching her get so close to the gold only to have it stolen away from her was a travesty. Unfaithful is an incredible film and her performance knocks the pants off of some fake-nose donning Virginia Woolf. Sorry, bit of a sore subject.'