Sunday, August 22, 2010

I expect this to be more divisive than my political posts

Today's entry is something I wrote in December 2009 but didn't publish. 

The Onion AV Club has a great feature called "Q&A" where staff writers pose and answer questions relating to how entertainment has affected their lives (or hasn't). I really enjoy this feature, and on several occasions have been inspired to write about my own experiences — sometimes writing much longer passages than the combined length of the AV staff's collective memories. I can't find the link for this particular one, oddly enough, but the others I've written about are there, so I'll probably publish those soon enough. I'd love to hear what you guys have to say on the topics as well.

Over at The Onion AV Club, writers share their list of pop culture phenomena that they've (sometimes secretly) never gotten into. I thought this was a fun idea and thought I'd share my own list.

1) South Park - One of the AV Club writers noted that they couldn't stomach the show for more than 30 seconds based on the voices alone. Hear, hear - or, I should say, don't hear. I further don't care for it because it jabs at gays, liberals and poop. Which is perfectly fine, if the wit is razor-sharp. But most of the jokes are lazy, essentially subscribing to the Larry the Cable Guy school of humor. And that's just inexcusable. Trey Parker and Matt Stone do deliberately stupid better than most, but South Park has never been worth the hype.

2) Batman Begins - Yes, I know, it held the title of Best Superhero Movie in the History of the Universe until The Dark Knight took the mantle. And I understand I may get shot for saying this...but Batman Begins made no impression on me at all. If I'd thought it was awesome, I would have never forgotten it. If it had been horribly bad, I wouldn't have forgotten it. But, for me at least, it fell into that middle sliver of category of movies that I forget almost instantly after watching.

One example: In June 1999, I saw The Thirteenth Floor. Two months later, I was strolling along Venice Beach when I saw a faded soundtrack CD for the movie in an open-air market. Once it managed to jog my memory, I realized I literally had not thought about the movie since minutes after seeing it. If I've ever forgotten a movie more thoroughly than that, then I still don't recall it.

Batman Begins made slightly more of a dent in my conscience than that, but mainly because it reminded me how much I liked the Tim Burton Batman films. Burton added a welcome element of darkness to Gotham City, but he also kept the humor that is a natural by-product of something as ridiculous as the Batman universe. There seems to be a rule that modern superhero movies have to be dead-serious and mildly depressing. This seems to suit today's audiences just fine, but it's not really my bag.

Oh, and Batman Begins also jacked up use of the word "reboot" about 10 million percent. I can live with that, but it's also led to a rise in actual cinematic reboots, which has done more to keep me out of theaters lately than the recession. Will somebody please break Zac Efron's legs before he has a chance to ruin Footloose?

3) Comic books - I share this with one of the AV Club writers, but for different reasons. I have lots of friends who are into the graphic-novel world, on both sides of the pen. I myself once had a substantial comic-book collection, and even drew a comic called Gringo Amigos in high school (so named because in the original plot, three white guys decide to go to Mexico to see if their tacos are better than Taco Bell’s...come to think of it, I should scan that for the blog).

But the same pallor that's been cast over movies seems to have infected (or perhaps was inspired by) comic books. From middle school on, everyone I knew who was into comics were deadly serious about them. One of my friends in 7th grade gave a presentation on how to handle comic books. It was very interesting (I myself had done a similar thing for baseball cards the year before), but it also reminded me how anal the hobby could be. When you can't even lay your publication flat on a table to read it, you know you're in a niche run by obsessives.

But when you're reading something called Elf Quest, a little skin oil on the page is the least of your worries.

4) Knocked Up - I left this entry into the Judd Apatow canon feeling resentful, almost angry. Why? Because this movie, despite its laughs, had two fatal flaws: its attitudes toward women and aging.

This is epitomized in the scene where Leslie Mann's character shadows husband Paul Rudd, convinced by circumstantial evidence that he's cheating on her. She tracks him down to a house and marches in, ready to give him the righteous third degree...and it turns out he's not with a mistress, but huddled with a bunch of guys drafting players for fantasy baseball. The two have a confrontation, with Paul admitting the reason he's been so coy about the league is that he's desperate to have one thing to himself. Virtually every move that he makes has been about her and their children. He is, by all accounts, a doting and devoted family man. She, on the other hand, is a possessive and unappreciative harpy, and a hypocritical one at that. I couldn't wait for her comeuppance.

But who does the movie portrays as the bad guy? Yep, the guy. In the scenes that follow, he's heaped upon by his wife and Seth Rogen alike for having the nerve to have any outside interests. In the Knocked Up universe, growing up means a spiral into solemnity, getting serious about your life by putting away any and all things that sustain you because they're mere distractions in the pursuit of love. And by love, we mean service to a shrill, spoiled woman with few redeeming qualities, to whom you're merely a makeover project. But who nevertheless completes you.

Screw that. Screw screw screw that. I was so angry at that I almost yelled at the screen, right in the crowded theater (actually, I think I might have). Yes, that would have been childish, but with the way that movie portrays adulthood, maybe we'd all be better off as kids.


venessalewis said...

South Park: AGREED, except for the Tree Fitty Loch Ness monster episode which was indeed brilliant and Chef's salty balls, because....come on, you know that's funny.

Batman ANYTHING: Bleh....hate superhero crap. Male machoism combined with the refusal to grow up. Odd combinations...wrapped in tights and capes.

Comic Books: See #2. Only comic books I ever read were Archie in middle school. (And no, I did not grow up in the 50's).

Knocked Up: You REALLY don't like this movie do you? LOL. Freud need not dig too deep to understand why the cheating/fantasy baseball scene (or the whole movie in general) bothers you so much. Ian....not all marriages are like that pal. It's just a stereotype played up for entertainment value....let it go my friend.

Ian McGibboney said...

Venessa, I also liked the South Park episode where they uncovered the secret Family Guy writers' room, and it turned out to be manatees pushing out balls with random topics written on them. Family Guy is my favorite show, but that really seems to be how it's written a lot of the time!

I'm also not high on superheroes. I used to be. Burnout, I guess. I still like Superman the best, because as far as superheroes go, he seems the most likely. He deals with adult moral crises and falls in love. And he's just a good guy.

Which brings me to "Knocked Up": I certainly didn't mean to imply that I think all marriages are like this. I know they're not (yours seems pretty awesome, actually). And in fact, that's why that movie irritated me so much: all it would take for the story to be really great is a few tweaks of personality or plot, such as, Leslie Mann (or the movie itself) concedes that fantasy baseball isn't as evil as sneaking around. That she meets the guys halfway on growing up. Or that love, marriage and parenthood are wonderful adjuncts to adulthood, not a door you have to pass through and then slam on everything else behind it. I've been around enough cool marriages and families to know that isn't the case. The movie would remain solid and funny throughout if the couples didn't seem so doomed.

rhonda said...

stories about happy, functional relationships where people love and treat each other respectfully simply don't sell movies. "perfect" romance sells absolutely nothing, not chick flicks (which i hate), not porn (no comment), NOTHING.

i hated knocked up for a variety of reasons. i actually saw that steaming piece of crap in the theater, and it reminded me why i don't enjoy many movies.

venessalewis said...

HAHA!! Point taken on Knocked Up. Such the idealist, you are. Sure, they COULD have done the right thing....but Rhonda's right, what's the fun in that? Regarding how the men are constantly chided and condescended by the women...let's be fair here. I wanted to bitch slap Seth Rogan when he ran out of the house with his bong during the earthquake and left his preggo girlfriend to fend for herself. You are offended because the men were picked on....hell, I'm offended because the women are portrayed as nags that squash all the fun. Remember....a writer created those characters....but I get your point, you are angry with the idea that real women exist like this. I appreciate the argument though....because I can't take much more of the serious shit right now. I guessing we can agree on one thing....the Loudon Wainwright song at the end kicks ass. Amiright? :)

Ian McGibboney said...

I'm actually more offended by the way women are portrayed in "Knocked Up" than anything else. It's almost comical how terminally nagging they are. They need as big a comeuppance as the men, if not more, but there's very little in the film to suggest that they're even slightly off-kilter. I'm not annoyed as a man so much as I am a human being.

The way I see it, everyone in that movie needs a dose of maturity. And yes, I understand that conflict has to exist to have a movie. I just felt like it wasn't addressed well at all.

Ian McGibboney said...

And yes, that song rocks!