The Best of The Simpsons: Season 10. Pt 1.

As a 30 year old American, I cannot remember a time when The Simpsons wasn’t a TV show. They’re on season 28 now, with over 600 episodes to its credit.

But somewhere in season 10, the show started to veer off course. Seasons 3-7 are widely regarded as the “Golden Age” of The Simpsons, with Seasons 8 and 9 checking in very strongly. However, we start to see cracks in the armor in season 10, and by season 15, the decline is more exposed than Comic Book Guy in a bathrobe.

This can be traced to two things. First, is the introduction of Mike Scully as the showrunner in Season 9, and the declining influence of writer/producer/humor god John Swartzwelder.

There’s been articles and op-eds written about that. I’m not going to go into detail with that here.

Instead, this series is going to redeem seasons 10-15.

I’ll be bringing you the 3 best episodes of each season (and why), the worst episode (and why), and the best jokes/moments from other episodes that didn’t make the best-of list.
Let’s start at the top of the hill before we tumble down, at season 10.

Season 10
August 23, 1998 to May 16, 1999
23 episodes

“Best Of” #1

Viva Ned Flanders

Plot: After accusing Ned of lying about his age to get a car wash discount, Homer finds out Ned is actually 60 years old, but since hasn’t experienced any thrills in his life, looks 40. Ned decides to live a little, and hires Homer. The two head to Las Vegas.

What makes it special: Little did we know, but this episode has eerie parallels to the first Hangover movie. But it’s not fantastic merely because of coincidence. It peels back layers of a beloved side character (Ned) in a “fish out of water” setting and adds to his depth as a character. And that’s what makes ‘The Simpsons’ special – the side characters in Springfield have so much depth (even before the show began its decline) and how they intertwine with the Simpson family.

But the star of the episode is the dynamic between Homer’s Id and Ned’s Superego, with the city of Las Vegas acting as the “calming” Ego. But we all know the city’s motto. Flanders doesn’t stand a chance.

This is also a unique episode in regards to the lack of a “B” story line – a sub story meant to break up the primary story. Instead, ‘Viva Ned Flanders’ is neatly divided into thirds.

Best moments (mostly in gifs)

  • Subtle callbacks to both ‘$pringfield’ and ‘Trash of the Titans” that get run over.
  • Someone didn’t prepare:
  • Comic Book Guy’s collection of bumper stickers:
    bumper.PNG
  • Aww, Melissa Rivers would be nothing without her mom.
  • Lance Murdock returns!
  • Homer: “The one with the red paint?”
  • It’s a sin, Ned.
  • “I don’t know Flanders. Having two wives could have it’s advantages:”
  • This spin on a beaten-horse gag:
  • Ahh! The Moody Blues!

 

And of course, the episode ends with the music of Elvis’s ‘Viva Las Vegas.’ 

Coming next – the two other episodes I consider the best of the season (one is kid-centric, the other is Lisa-centric), as well as the worst of the season.

What do you think?

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Cuz Tony Now We Got Bad Blood: A Captain America: Civil War Primer

Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War opens this weekend, and The Gould Standard brings you a little refresher of the MCU for those who maybe haven’t kept up since Ant-Man came out last July.

There will be very minor plot spoilers in the preview, but nothing that isn’t available in any of the trailers.

There are predictions down at the bottom, and big “POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT” tag there, so you can steer clear.

By the way, here’s Marvel’s official synopsis: 

“Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” finds Steve Rogers leading the newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. But after another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps—one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability.”

THE STATE OF THE MCU’s RETURNING CHARACTERS

Getting the Band Back Together:

At the end of Age of Ultron, we see Cap and Widow leading a new team of Avengers. The roster includes War Machine, Falcon, Scarlett Witch, and Vision. Fury is back as the leader of SHIELD, at least at the Avengers compound.

 

avengers assemble

Fun note – Whedon never filmed Rogers saying “Assemble” in multiple takes, so that Disney couldn’t force him to put the actual line in “Age of Ultron.”

 

Hawkeye has taken a leave of absence to be with his wife and two three kids, and probably to re-floor the dining room.

Hulk took off in a Quinjet while cloaked, escaping the searches of SHIELD.

hulk

How is he saying goodbye to ScarJo as a redhead?

Thor took off back to Asgard (with no regard to lawn maintenance) to investigate his vision of Hel and the deaths of his people.

And if you’ll remember at the end of Ant-Man, Michael Pena’s character (Luis) goes through the convoluted story of his buddy saying this fly-ass dope chick who’s into guerrilla journalism talked to Falcon, who’s looking for Ant-Man.

pena ant man 2.gif

He’s more of a neo-cubist guy.

(By the way, I know this is going to sound a little bit racist – and I’m cool with that – but can Luis get a shrinking suit in Ant-Man and the Wasp and his superhero name be “Jumping Bean?”)

Hydra:

At the end of Ant-Man, we see a Hydra rep scurry off with some of Darren Cross’s shrinking particles after the sale of the Yellowjacket suit goes south.

ant man hyrda

Evil dudes are evil

Crossbones (aka Rumlow from Winter Soldier) is seen in the montage of WS burned to a crisp, but in a hospital getting medical attention.

crossbones

His real name is Frank Grillo, and his character’s name is Brock Rumlow. Both are badass names.

In Agents of Shield, this past week’s episode anti-climactically “cut off the head” of Hydra in a worldwide coordinated attack with the US military.

But Hydra will never truly be wiped out. They’re like COBRA or SPECTRE. Or herpes.

The Unknowns:

In a stinger scene for Winter Soldier, we see Bucky at the Smithsonian, looking at the exhibit about himself in a reflective way. And then in a stinger scene from Ant-Man, we see him captured by Cap and Falcon, with his arm stuck in a vice.

bucky.gif

Poor Bucky. Cap got your arm?

And someone we haven’t seen since 2008 – General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross returns to the MCU, played brilliantly by William Hurt, reprises his role, but now as Secretary of State. He’s the one who brings the “Sokovia Accords” to the Avengers, causing the titular split in this film.

ross.gif

The mustache returns

The Newcomers

Daniel Brühl enters the MCU as Helmut Zemo, who is curiously absent from the trailers. He’s the main antagonist of the movie, but it’s unclear if he has powers, who he works for, what his motivation is, what his goals are, or who he’s controlling. I’m excited to see those questions answered.

zemo

Yes, he was the Nazi hero in Inglorious Basterds.

Chadwick Boseman joins the heroes’ side as Black Panther – real name T’Challa – which apparently has nothing to do with Jewish egg bread. The MCU leading up to this point was ostensibly monochromatic.

panther

Seriously, how badass is this costume?

And then there’s Tom Holland as Spider-man. This is a moment Marvel fans have hungered for since Tony Stark showed up at the end of The Incredible Hulk, and fans realized that these movies were intertwined and part of a greater universe.

spidey.gif

No snarky comment here. This is amazing. It’s his homecoming. 

The Predictions – POSSIBLE SPOILERS!

Disclaimer – no, I have not read any reviews with spoilers.

  • There will be bad blood.
bad blood

T-Swift gonna get jelly. 

  • We find out that Bucky is responsible for the deaths of both T’Challa’s father and Tony Stark’s parents.

  • We will see Ant-Man turn into Giant Man.
  • Zemo is controlling/constructing something that ends up being some form of MODOK, which is why the Civil War will end and the two sides come back together. Or maybe Ross is Red Hulk. But that’s less likely.

  • Peggy Carter dies. She was last seen in Winter Soldier, aged, bedridden, and seemingly suffering from Alzheimer’s. Cap needs an emotional gut punch.

  • Steve Rogers dies.  Notice I didn’t say Captain America dies. Bucky picks up the shield, protects Iron Man from something (thus gaining his trust – finally) and fights the rest of the movie as Cap. But Steve Rogers will be back for Infinity War: Part 1.

  • Despite what the trailer apparently shows, I don’t think Rhodey/War-Machine dies.

  • Spider-man is perfect. Kevin Feige (the creative head honcho for the MCU) wouldn’t make the negotiation to get him into the MCU without making sure he doesn’t disappoint Sony, Spider-man fans and the MCU fans.

  • Ant-man and Spider-man get into a one-liner battle.

  • Two stinger scenes – one for Dr. Strange for sure, and the 2nd will either Thanos doing something again, or the whereabouts of Hulk after his Quinjet crashed down, leading to Thor: Ragnarok.

What are you most looking forward to? What predictions do you have?

Sound off in the comments!

 

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I’ve Lost 19 Pounds in 60 days. Here’s My Journey.

In the Simpsons episode “Brush With Greatness,” the titular family takes a day trip to Mt. Splashmore, a water park shamelessly plugged by Krusty.

Before they leave, Homer puts on his bathing suit, which features a wonderful smiley face on the butt, and after he works the suit past his hips and onto his waist, the smiley face turns sour:

homer 1

homer 2
At the water park, Homer gets stuck in the waterslide known as H2WHOA!, and they have to cut out the piece of pipe he’s stuck in and lift it away:

homer 3

homer 4

 

After he’s mocked on TV for being overweight, Homer decides to do something about it. He steps on the scale, and sees a number he’s horrified to see.

260 pounds.

AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

On December 17th 2015, I went to my doctor for a medicine checkup, and I stepped on the scale. The PA started the slide scale at 150. “Aww that’s cute” I thought, and she slid it up to 200. Then she slid the individual pound slider all the way over, and the slide bar stood still. My chin lowered, and a lump grew in my throat. She slid the main slide bar to 250, and it began to wobble. The individual bar slid over to 6, swayed back and forth, and settled.

“Two hundred fifty six pounds” the PA said.

I looked down and closed my eyes. I almost started crying. I opened my eyes, looked to the heavens (or at least the halogen lights) and thought “how the hell did this happen?”

EXPOSITION – A CHUBBY GUY’S BACKSTORY

I’ve been chubby-ish since college. The freshman-15 was more like a freshman 30. As I got older and got on the right medications, I hovered in the 225-230 range for most of my mid-to-late 20’s.

But sometime between the cruise I went on with my family and the Love of my Life Jessica Liken (that’s how she’s entered in my phone, by the way), and the week before Christmas, I ballooned from 235 to 256.

And I’m writing this blog post (and will keep with it) because I know people will support me in this, and it may inspire someone else to do the same.

Here’s the sexy couple on formal night on the cruise in June and us in December at the Postmodern Jukebox concert:

cruise1

PMJ

 

My face, chest, and gut all got bigger. And my neck. Good lord, my neck.

I felt OK with myself at 230-235. Not great about it, but I felt OK about it.

Two hundred fifty six. 256 pounds.

I was revolted. Disgusted. Other words that mean disgusted. All of them.

Then I thought back to that Simpsons episode. I was not going to let myself get to 260. Nope. No way. No how. Never. Never Never Never.

But it was the holidays, and I had committed to making cookie balls for a couple of events, so Jessica and I decided we would take small steps for the last 2+ weeks of December, and kick it into gear come New Years. I made my cookie balls, but only had 2 or 3 of them. Limited myself to two drinks if we were out. Ate more salad. I was making small, conscious decisions that started to change my behavior.

On New Year’s Eve, Jessica and I indulged in Thai food (pineapple fried rice with chicken, a spring roll, and corn fritters for me, Tofu Spicy peanut for her), had a vodka cocktail, and watched The Philadelphia Story.

(Side note, why hasn’t Jon Hamm played Cary Grant in a biopic yet?  I mean, just look at this!)

The calendar turned over, and Jessica and I downloaded MyFitnessPal, a site/app that helps track the food you eat, calories, macronutrients, etc. It has a wonderful searchable database of foods (hundreds of thousands of items) that you can add to your daily calorie intake and track responsibly. And we were off on our journey.

When you first get MyFitnessPal, you enter  your vital stats (height, weight, age, activity level, gender, and how much you want to lose per week), and it spits out a caloric, protein, carb, and fat goal for you to reach each day, so that in 1 week, you’ll lose a set amount of weight. I set mine to 1.5 pounds lost per week and it gave me a number of 2300 calories per day. In 2 months, I’ve lost 19 pounds. 

me1

 

THE TOOLS

I’m sure you’re thinking “Great Michael, that’s really awesome! But surely downloading an app and entering what you eat wasn’t all there was to it!”

And you’d be right.

There are two more tools I’ve acquired that have aided Jessica and I on our journey.

First, a food scale. 

Here’s the one I got. Using this, I’ve learned more about serving size and portion control than I ever had. And this has taught me about making the most of my calories.

I love crispy salty snacks. Chips, crackers, goldfish, popcorn, etc. I love them all. Except salt and vinegar flavored varieties. You can keep those. But I would eat those snacks by the handful, the bowlful, the boxful. But to keep under my daily calorie limit, I had to now measure out a serving of said snacks, and years of overeating have produced a large stomach on me. It takes more volume to fill me up.

One serving of tortilla chips and one serving of popcorn are the same amount of mass – 28 grams, or 1 ounce. Each is about 130 calories. The difference is that 1 ounce of tortilla chips is about 10 chips, while one ounce of popcorn is 3 1/2 CUPS.

Advantage – popcorn.

And my statement about taking a lot to fill me up leads me to my 2nd important tool:

A Spiralizer. 

You need to spiralize. This is the one Jessica, Jessica’s parents, and I have. It takes vegetables and in seconds, transforms them into noodles.

Here’s a simple math question.

  1. 7 ounces (198 grams) of regular spaghetti has about 315 calories.
  2. A 196 gram zucchini has 33 calories. Total.

Which would you rather eat?

I go through at least three big zucchini a week. They’re cheap, both in co$t and in calories, add much-needed filler, and take about 2 minutes to prepare.

 

But the most valuable tool I’ve used is without question, MyFitnessPal.

NOT JUST A PAL, BUT A KICK IN THE ASS

Here’s what I’ve learned through 60 days of tracking everything that goes in my mouth (and yes, we’re still doing phrasing):

  • First and foremost, than from July-December, to gain 21 pounds, I ate an excess of 73,500 calories of what my body needed for basic survival. That’s an extra 35 days worth of calories over what I’m eating now. When you see my INDULGENCE pizza below, know that it would have taken me eating ONE HUNDRED of those in that amount of time to gain that weight.
  • I consumed way too much salt, without really even trying. Sodium is everywhere. The biggest culprit? Breakfast. I have an egg-white omelette almost every morning, but breakfast meats are loaded with 1/4 or more of your day’s sodium. Now my omelettes are made with ground turkey (not cooked in oil) and are much better. Cheese has a lot of sodium. Sauces have a lot of sodium.
  • By the way, sodium’s effects on the body are somewhat counteracted by Potassium, which I wasn’t getting enough of either. Get yourself some Potassium Citrate powder and mix it into a drink every day.
  • I really don’t care about macronutrient percentages right now, but I make sure to get at least 100 grams of protein a day. How do I get that? Lean meats (turkey, chicken, and tuna), soybean pasta (which you can get at Sprouts or Whole Foods for wayyyy cheaper than Amazon), protein bars (ThinkThin is currently my favorite), and Enlightened Ice Cream Bars. I haven’t had regular ice cream in the last two months, because 1 serving of regular ice cream is HALF A FREAKING CUP. I would eat a whole bowl’s worth (at least 3 servings) in a sitting, maybe more.
  • Cut out oils wherever you can. Or try a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon next time, and see if you notice a difference.
  • I still eat way too many snacks. Healthy snacks, but my caloric proportions are off. I need to eat bigger meals and plan out snacks.

And finally, I’ve learned to use food as an indulgence, not a reward. Ice cream is a part of my daily diet – and at 80-90 calories per bar, it’s just fine. Our favorite indulgence? Pie Five. They have a fantastic Nutrition Calculator that lets you build your own pizza and know exactly what’s in it. My indulgence pizza is a thin crust with mozzarella, double chicken, bell peppers, pineapple, sauteed onions, and magic dust on top. With planning and preparation, this is a pizza I enjoy about once every two weeks.

 

pizza

So to wrap up (and wraps are bad too – get the soft taco, low carb kind!), at the end of the Simpsons episode, Homer says “Okay, scale, we don’t like each other but I’ve been good so treat me right! (steps on scale and sees 239, runs downstairs excited) All right! Marge! I’m two-thirty-nine and feeling fine. Look, I’m using the original notches on my belt!”

I got to 239 last week, and since then I’m down another 2, at 237. I still have 7 pounds to go before I reach my first goal of losing 10% of my body weight. And once I hit that, I’ll set another goal. Not sure what it will be, or how long it will take, but I’m going to get there. I will never reach 239 again. I WILL NOT BE HOMER SIMPSON!!

TL;DR

  • I’ve lost 19 pounds in 2 months tracking everything I’ve eaten and staying within certain goals set by the MyFitnessPal app.
  • At minimum, get a food scale and some kind of vegetable noodling device. There are cheap ones at Target that are “As Seen on TV.” If you like it, get a nicer one.
  • Watch your sodium.
  • Indulge yourself every once in a while.
  • Look for ways to add protein to any meal.
  • Add frozen vegetables to lunch and dinner.

And finally

  • Set realistic, open ended goals. Don’t say “I’m gonna lose XXX pounds by XX/XX date.” You don’t know if you can. Instead, make your goal something like “I’m going to fit into this old piece of clothing I can’t wear anymore but love.”

PS – MICHAEL – YOU DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT EXERCISE!!

That’s right, because other than walking and some 10 pound dumbbells in my room, I haven’t really exercised that much. My food habits were HORRIBLE! I had to change those first, to give me the foundation of healthy living, before I move on to working out regularly.

Please leave a comment below. If you want to get in touch with me about advice, if you want a secret ally, or whatever, you know how to get in touch with me.

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5 Possibilities of Who Luke Skywalker is Mourning at the End of “The Force Awakens.”

About a week ago, I had a chance to see “The Force Awakens” for a third time, this time in glorious IMAX at the Ft. Worth Museum of Science and History. 

Holy Poodoo, it was amazing and intense. But the entire IMAX review will wait for another day.

In my second viewing, I noticed something at the end of “The Force Awakens” when Rey walks upon Luke.

Luke is standing next to a gravestone.

(please forgive the quality of the images)

luke1

“But Michael, it could just be a weird random stone sticking out of the side of the cliff!

No, faithful reader, it’s not. Everything put into a film of this magnitude is meticulously done. It’s in there because Abrams wanted it in there.

Here’s a reversed view:

luke2

Does it look like Luke is looking at the gravestone? Kind of. Angles are weird. At the very least, he’s near it.

So the point of me mentioning the IMAX screening is because I got the clearest view of what’s in front of the stone – a protruding clump of dirt. It was clear as day on the IMAX screen.

Here’s a low-res image (and I apologize for not taking a picture inside the IMAX screening. I’m not a complete Rancor).

luke3

The clump doesn’t look very big – maybe the size of a basketball if it was more elliptical?

Let’s look at the 5 candidates of who Luke is mourning.

1. Han Solo

He died in the film (spoiler alert!) and Leia could feel it across a hyper-space trip. Surely Luke felt it too.

2. Anakin/Darth Vader

I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing Kylo Ren had Darth Vader’s helmet because Luke had it, and stole it from him after turning to the Dark Side. Anakin/Vader saved Luke, and maybe Luke wants to keep some kind of memorial/reminder for that?

3. Ben Solo

Kylo Ren told his father that Ben Solo was dead – that he was weak. Obi-Wan told us that Vader betrayed and murdered Anakin. Perhaps it’s some symbolic item of Ben’s that Luke is symbolically burying.

4. His Wife/Girlfriend/Intergalactic Baby-Mama

This possibility is contingent on Luke having a child. Could be Rey, or hell, it could be Finn. But it would be reasonable to think someone Luke loved would get a memorial.

5. Something Symbolic

A popular theory is that Rey was also training to be a Jedi (and Luke’s daughter), and that Luke could sense what would happen with Ben. So Luke erased Rey’s memory, sent her off to a sandy planet to protect her, (remember, Anakin doesn’t like sand), and Rey lost her connection to the Force. And Luke lost his connection with her. A symbolic loss, thinking he’d never see her again?

Or it could be a monument to the younglings Kylo Ren killed.

Maybe a monument to the Jedi itself, since Luke was the last Jedi and failed in training his most gifted padawan, isolating himself, resigned to possibly live out his days.

 

Did you notice the stone in the film too? Who do you think it’s for?

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Let’s Talk about Star Wars, Baby…

Caution: Spoilers Below!

It’s now “been” two weeks since Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released and while it hasn’t been a 1000 year Sarlaac digestion, there’s been enough time to sift through the rumors and theories and we have a discussion.

First, 3 things I liked/loved

Kylo Ren and Poe Dameron’s Introductions

In the opening scene, after Poe gets the map piece from from Lor San Tekka, we see Ren, Phasma, and a squad take over the village. Poe, from cover, fires a blaster rifle bolt towards Ren, who stops the fucking bolt mid-air, and keeps it there, with The Force. 

This is a power we hadn’t seen before in the 6 previous films (cartoon canon is out of my realm of nerd-knowledge), and it immediately presents us with an incredibly powerful Force user. We know nothing about Ren at that point. It sets the audience up with a powerful, mysterious villain. Which, after the Slooooooooowwwwwwwwww burn that was Palpatine in EPS 1-3, was refreshing. He also has the cognizance to sense doubt and confusion in Finn’s mind among dozens of troopers/villagers there.

And then we come to Poe. He’s captured, and brought before Ren, and the first line he says to the villain is “So who talks first, do I talk first?”

And the audience laughs.

And instantly, there’s a tone shift from the prequels. Lucas tried to be humorous in the prequels with slapstick (Jar Jar), poop jokes (Bantha poodoo!), and C-3PO’s obnoxiousness.

Abrams gives us some sly sarcasm dripping in charisma and confidence in a way only Oscar Isaac can present.

A Strong Female Character

With one line (don’t let the Beatles know), about 20 minutes into the movie, Rey instantly becomes the strongest female character in 6 movies. The most socially influential film series ever needed a strong female character for a new generation. And we got one.

She has moments of independence, doubt, strength, kicking ass, and going on an emotional journey – and not in a “female” way. I mean she’s waiting for her family, and when she touches Anakin’s lightsaber, her mind is flooded with ghosts of the past. And despite her previous showings of resolve, she flees into the forest. She’s human.

Kylo Ren’s Petulance

Some have said that Ren’s “whiny fits” of twice lightsabering the shit out of control panels is whiny angsty behavior not suitable for the Star Wars universe.

I disagree.

Anakin/Vader flat out kills people when he gets pissed off.

A New Hope (2):

  • Physically chokes the guy in the ship Leia is on when he asks “where is the ambassador?
  • Force Chokes dude who questions “The Force”

Empire (2):

  • Force Chokes the admiral coming out of hyperspace into Hoth and the Captain who “apologizes” for losing the Falcon.

ROTJ (1):

  • Strangely, just The Emperor

Attack of the Clones:

  • The entire village of Sand people. Let’s call that 30?

No, i’m not counting those in the Jedi Temple (won’t someone PLEASE think of the children?!?!?!?!)

So Vader/Anakin, when pissed off, kills people. Ren destroys shit.

What I didn’t like as much

Finn*

Finn is here only because we don’t know how he fits into this universe. He doesn’t fit any archetype from the known universe, which is fine. But taking his character as it’s presented, he is a plot device that progresses the story. He mutinies. He has a crush on Rey that leads them to the Falcon and some out-of-place-in-the-universe dialogue – ie “You got a boyfriend, a cute boyfriend, that you make out with?”

*Finn is more of an “incomplete” than a “dislike,” but it’s a sliding scale.

Starkiller Base

It wasn’t until about 2/3 (at least) of the way through the movie we get a hint of what Starkiller Base is, or what it can do. We’re supposed to be intimidated by a hologram? Yeah, it’s bigger, so what?

The Death Star blew up a planet in the same system like it was nothing.

The Starkiller base could what, blow up 5 at once from further away by draining the energy of a star? Wouldn’t that cause more destructive repercussions than blowing up a planet? You’d be affecting light, heat, and gravity for dozens of planets, if not more.

Oh – and I really didn’t like the “oh they have fractal shield harmonics and the only way we can get through them is by going into hyperspace and pulling out just in time” line, but then just showing us crashing into snow. I get it, they need a way to get in without adding 10-15 minutes to the run time, but it was a cop-out.

Too Much Ambiguity

Elements of backstory presented in A New Hope:

  • Obi-Wan trained Vader (who was a Jedi before he turned), knew Luke’s father, and was watching over Luke.
  • Han was a smuggler
  • Leia was a part of the Galactic government and loyal to the Rebellion

What questions did people have after A New Hope? Who is Luke’s father? Does Han stay with the rebellion? Where does Vader go? How did Vader get turned to the Dark side and why did he kill Luke’s Father?

That’s 4 questions. I’m sure there are more.

But after The Force Awakens, here are the questions I’m left asking:

  • How does Lor San Tekka fit into the whole story? (If he’s a one-off character, then they wasted a tremendous talent in Max von Sydow)
  • Who left Rey on Jakku and why?
  • How did Kylo Ren get turned to the Dark side?
  • What happened to Finn’s family?
  • How did Maz Kanata get Anakin’s lightsaber? (and she literally tells everyone “that’s a story for another time)
  • How did Kylo Ren get Vader’s helmet?
  • What does Kylo Ren want to finish what Vader started? Balance to the Force? Keeping someone from dying? Becoming the greatest of all the Jedi? Resurrect grandma?
  • Was it just a coincidence that the Falcon was abandoned on Jakku?
  • Who is Rey related to?
  • What is Snoke’s role? He has a force-sensitive apprentice (they never say Sith) and a General who are both trying to appease him. Why?

Clearly they have a story to tell over three movies, whereas A New Hope was supposed to stand on its own. I get that. But the only closure on rumor we have is that Kylo Ren is actually Ben Solo and was somehow corrupted by Snoke, turned against Luke, and joined the First Order.

I’m closing in on 1,100 words. Theories and predictions will have to wait for another post.

 

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Kingsman: Don’t Do it a Disservice

Matthew Vaughn is a talented sonofabitch.

In the last 10 years, he’s written, directed, or produced 8 films.

Here’s the Rotten Tomatoes ratings of those 8 films:

Layer Cake (2005) – 81%

Stardust (2007) – 76%

Harry Brown (2010) – 64%

Kick-Ass (2010) – 76%

X-Men: First Class (2011) – 87%

The Debt (2011) – 77%

Kick-Ass 2 (2013) – 22% (there were more issues with this movie than just him producing)

X-Men: Days of Future Past – (91%)

He’s also married to Claudia Schiffer.

Basically, I’m trying to say that Matthew Vaughn only commits himself to quality projects.

And Kingsman: The Secret Service is no exception.

Simply put, this is a fantastic movie. It’s a blast to watch that’s half 1970’s Roger Moore Bond film, half Kick-Ass (in that it’s gratuitously violent and self-aware of the genre it’s ripping off).

The cast is flawless, with a trim and cut Colin Firth as the Roger Moore foil (and in another reality, should be James Bond), Michael Caine as the proverbial “M” leader of the service, Mark Strong as the “Q” techie/gear character, and Samuel L. Jackson as the tech genius/billionaire/villain.  Newcomer Taron Egerton plays the spy-in-training, and portrays his character very well – in both phases. He starts off as a Chav in a dingy part of London with a chip on his shoulder. What’s a Chav? This is a Chav:

By the end of the film he’s a full blown debonair spy with hair that never gets messed up, has a silver tongue, and proficient with every type of weapon ever invented.

But this movie is about Colin Firth. He oozes the suaveness a gentlemen spy requires, yet goes full-blown badass so well that Daniel Craig’s Bond would be quivering in his knickers. Seriously – check out this 55 year old piece of man-meat:

Without giving anything away, let me just say I’ll never be able to listen to “Freebird” the same way ever again. And I’ve never seen such a beautifully choreographed, yet ridiculously violent fight scene on film. It’s also a good 3-4 minutes long of non-stop brutality. Just when you think it’s gone too far, it pushes another limit. And that’s what Matthew Vaughn does best.

Without giving away too much, here are some thoughts/observations in list form:

– Vaughn loves the unlisted cameos. In Stardust it was Robert De Niro. In X Men: First Class it was Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Romijn. And in Kingsman it’s a certain former Jedi.

– This film is all about homages, but not just to Bond films. When Eggsy (Egerton’s character) infiltrates Valentine’s (Jackson’s character) lair, there’s a first-person shooter point-of-view shot this is lifted directly from Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass (and I apologize for all of the hyphens in that sentence). Eggsy also dances along the walls of a narrow corridor, drives a weapon into a bad guy, and looks right at the camera, just like Hit-Girl. And I don’t quite know how to describe it, but there’s a James Bond style chime when Eggsy fights Gazelle. It made me swoon.

– Henry Jackman’s score is fantastic and rips off the Bond theme a couple of times.

– Vaughn’s use of music throughout is fantastic – just like in all of his films. He’s like Tarantino in that he uses songs in non-traditional ways.

– Gazelle is a badass henchman with a weird weapon a la Jaws or OddJob.

– Most villains have some kind of physical/facial deformity. Samuel L. Jackson’s villain has a lisp. It’s brilliant.

– Puppies!

– There are some clunky exposition lines that seem really far-fetched early on, but once you accept that this universe is self-aware of James Bond movies, you’ll get over it.

TL;DR: If your female significant other wants to see Fifty Shades of Grey Valentine’s day weekend, go see this instead.

Kingsman

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The Gould Standard’s Frivolous Five – My Favorite Films of 2014

Simply put, these are my favorite films of the year.

Not the “best” by traditional standards, not the most powerful, but my biased, unashamed personal picks for 2014 (and in no particular order).

Disagree? What were your favorites of the year? Comment, fools!

The Lego Movie

Nostalgia overload. I can’t tell you how many dreary rainy afternoons I spent building spaceships and command stations and battle tanks and castles. So when Charlie Day’s character bounces off the wall yelling “spaceship spaceship spaceship!” it too me back to those days in the playroom, shoveling through giant plastic tombs of miscellaneous Lego pieces, searching for that one piece that would give my ship the perfect design.

Beyond the nostalgia, the voice acting was impeccable (especially Will Arnett), visually beautiful (the ocean waves of physical Lego pieces especially), and the humor was very Muppet-like, with some lower-level stuff for the kiddos, but how many are going to understand Green Lantern’s attempts to suck up to Superman?

Everything is Awesome!

Guardians of the Galaxy

Yup, two Chris Pratt vehicles on the same list. There are so many things to love about this film. The cast (I mean, who would’ve thought Dave Bautista would be THAT good?), the soundtrack, the set pieces (Prison, Knowhere, The Collector’s musuem), the humor (Kevin Bacon), the amazing costume designs, and the visual effects that made us care for a foul-mouthed raccoon and flash a stupid grin when Baby Groot started to dance.

My only beef? Ronan was a little underdeveloped. But that’s it.

Birdman

Wow. Such a surreal, absurdist experience. Iñárritu’s use of long shots is breathtaking, as scenes transition from one to the other while barely taking a breath. Conversations between characters that would normally break 5,6,7 times are done in contiguous, rotating shots that creates an authenticity that is rarely seen in film these days.

Oh, and Michael Keaton is a badass. Every scene he’s in has a deeper emotional weight than what’s on the surface.

The funniest moment is when Edward Norton, in his underwear, is wrestling with Keaton. It’s Batman vs. The Hulk.

 

Snowpiercer 

I’ve sang the praises of this masterpiece for about 6 months now, and it’s available on Netflix, so you should know by now exactly what I’m talking about.

It’s a powerful film about class warfare, brutality, indoctrination, isolation, false idols, and how the upper classes manipulate the system to make the lower classes dependant on them. Sounds like the cry of the 99% rally? Well, when viewed through this lens, it becomes shockingly relevant.

As for awards, I hope this gets nominated for Cinematography and I hope Tilda Swinton gets a best supporting actress nomination. Her character uniquely offers a surprisingly deep metaphor about how the ruling class communicates.

 

Gone Girl

I honestly cannot remember the last time I walked out of a movie dumbfounded, frustrated, and just in a state of “wait, what the fuck just happened?”

Ben Affleck’s performance as a smarmy, middle-class white guy whose social skills aren’t perfect is amazing. He disappears into the character so fluidly, it’s scary to think his next big role is Batman.

Rosamund Pike plays the “victim” flawlessly. And Fincher makes us sympathize with her, then hate her in the span of about 15 minutes.

I really wish Tyler Perry would do more roles like Tanner Bolt. Just as a bit player, he was phenomenal.

And finally, I was introduced to Carrie Coon  with “The Leftovers” and absolutely adored her as Affleck’s sister. I hope there are much bigger things in her future.

Just missed the cut:

Edge of Tomorrow
Captain America
X-Men
Interstellar
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Films that I haven’t seen yet but could break into my top 5:

Boyhood
John Wick
Into the Woods
The Interview

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