Friday, December 19, 2014

Movie Review: Into the Woods

Into the Woods is a Disney film of a Stephen Sondheim musical. It intertwines four fairy tales, which probably isn't a great idea. I mean, when you watch Disney's classic "Cinderella," do you sit there hoping Jack and his Beanstalk will show up? Did "Rapunzel" leave you thinking, "Well, that was fun, but it would really have been great if Red Riding Hood had turned up"? Consider your wish granted.

Rather than try to psychoanalyze the characters, the film pretty much just throws them together. We don't get motivations or hidden feelings or any sort of depth: it's pretty much shallow conversations between simple people who haven't previously met. Exchanges run something like this:

RAPUNZEL: Hello little boy! What are you doing in the woods with a cow?

BEANSTALK JACK: I'm taking it to the market to sell. Gosh, you sure have pretty hair.

RAPUNZEL: Thanks. See you!

BEANSTALK JACK: Adios!

Roughly 90% of these conversations are about the woods. They're so dangerous, stay on the path, or stay out! Despite the talk, we don't really get the reason, because the woods seem to be full of simple people wandering about idly, resembling more of a dirty Bed Bath & Beyond than an actual forest. If this movie had taken place at the Glendale Galleria, it would have been eight minutes long.

For the first half hour, Meryl Streep and fourteen semi-celebs sing the words "Into the woods!" repeatedly. They don't just etch into your consciousness like the theme from "It's a Small World," They actually replace every message sent in your brain, bloodstream and nervous system. At four a.m. this morning I didn't get woken up by my urge to go to the bathroom: no, it was my penis' turn to solo.

The intro eventually ends, and a hundred intermingled stories start. The mood changes with each: Red Riding Hood is sassy, Cinderella is sincere, Beanstalk Jack is a Joey Lawrence-style idiot complete with bowl haircut. An initial encounter with the latter isn't exactly spine-tingling: he climbs up the beanstalk, climbs back down, and then spends twelve minutes singing about it. I'm not sure why: I mean, whenever I've recounted the story to children they've never asked me to repeat the entire thing but this time with a tune.

This is probably why I don't like musicals: they do stuff that people do in regular films, but then they stop and sing about it afterward. Is that really necessary? I'm pretty sure James Bond films wouldn't be quite as popular if he stopped to recap everything in song.

I drove my Jaguar very fast
with Blofeld hot on my tracks.
I would have had sex with Jill Masterson
but I thought I'd get paint on my slacks.

Cinderella's subplot makes even less sense. The prince's ball now lasts three nights in a row -- so for three nights in a row, she captivates the prince, she runs away, and he chases after her. She loses her shoe on the third night and he takes it throughout the countryside to find out who it fits.

I'm not sure I'm conveying just how stupid this is, so let's make up some details and dialog that the movie leaves out.

[NIGHT ONE] PRINCE: You are so lovely, mysterious maiden. Please, tell me who you are!

CINDERELLA: I cannot! But I've had a wonderful evening, and I must go!

She runs off. The prince chases but a handsome, fit male is no match for a chick in stilettos.

[NIGHT TWO] PRINCE: Thank goodness! I've found you again. This time I will never let you go. Please, dance with me again.

CINDERELLA: Okay. [THEY DANCE] This is like a wonderful dream! [SHE SPRINTS OFF] See ya, buddy!

PRINCE [SHRUGGING]: Goddammit. Not again!

She runs off again. The prince chases, this time even more desperately, but again he can't catch her. He's bereft. True love escaped him once more!

[NIGHT THREE] PRINCE: This is fuckin' amazing. I thought I'd lost you forever, but here you are again! My beloved. Life has regained its meaning and birds will sing again.

CINDERELLA: Yup. Good to see you too. [THEY DANCE, THEN SHE BREAKS OFF AND RUNS] Gots to scoot again, beeyotch!

PRINCE [SMACKING HIS FOREHEAD]: Will I never learn?

The movie picks up during her third exit. The prince isn't quite as stupid as I've made him out, because he's covered half of the castle stairs with tar to slow Cinderella down. Sure, it would have been smarter to hire a guard, but these are troubling times in the kingdom, m'lord. Cinderella doesn't see the tar and her shoes get stuck. Oh, damn! Now he'll catch her for sure! She steps out of her shoes and then pulls them out. O...kay. She decides to leave one for the prince as a clue to her identity, and then she sprints off, running carefree through the tar.

Yes, the film definitely explores an alternative side of this fairy tale, because when you read the regular one you don't want to shout, "DOES SHE STICK TO THE FUCKIN' STAIRS OR WHAT?"

This time around we learn that a woman wearing one tar-coated stiletto is faster than our hunky prince. We almost wish the ball would go on for a fourth night, so the prince could lay nails across the exit and she'd step on them and her feet would get all bloody and we could all yell, "SEE IF YOU'RE FASTER THAN THE PRINCE NOW, ASSHOLE!"

Rapunzel is a shock on more of a visceral level. After fourteen people have sung about the glory of her hair, we see it looks like a bungee cord wrapped in a cheap weave. It's literally a matted yellow rope. If I fell into a tar pit and they threw me a lifeline of that shit, I'd be a really pissed-off fossil right now.

The baker is stupid and earnest, his wife is snarky. "This makes no sense!" she notices. "That's crazy!" she notes. She snidely remarks that somebody's wandered in from a different fairy tale. Suddenly we identify the movie's forefathers: we've got the style, though none of the charm, of Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever.

Towards the end you'll be delighted to notice that the observational songs -- classics like, "I Climbed A Beanstalk," "I Saw A Cow In The Woods," and "Man, That's A Really Big Wolf" -- give way to musical platitudes, and your heart races with hope that the end is near. Now all the songs are about hopes and dreams and you half expect a kitten dangling from a branch to sing a ditty called, "Hang In There!" I didn't get the closing song's words exactly but I'm pretty sure it went like this:

Dream a dream or wish a wish,
it is up to you.
But watch out for the dreams you wish;
Sometimes they come true.
If you dream upon a wish,
you get lost in thought.
Dreams and wishes get entwined
and that's one fuckin' knot.
STAGES OF MOVIE BADNESS:

1. You sit there and think, "Hmm. That scene wasn't great."

2. You sit there and think, "This scene was awful."

3. You sit there and think, "This entire movie is a massive piece of shit."

4. You sit there and think, "If I tell everybody Meryl Streep shoots Kim Jong Un in this, will they make it go away?"

5. Six days after you see the film you stop at a local store and buy cilantro. The clerk rings it up as parsley. You clutch your face, drop to your knees and scream, "OHMIGOD!!! IS THERE EVEN A FRAGMENT OF A BRAIN CELL LEFT IN THE WORLD???"

Into the Woods is the Bill Cosby of movies. Judging by the name you assume it'll be great, but even before you get comfortable you're overcome by some odd paralysis and all you can do it stare helplessly while a voice inside your head screams, "MOTHERFUCKER! MOTHERFUCKER!" You're left thinking of the trail this movie has blazed by shoving unrelated junk together. Instead of mashing together four fairy tales, how about one-liners? I mean, if they're funny individually, wouldn't they be hysterical en masse?

PRINCESS: I just flew in from New York.

GIANT: Really? I broke my leg in two places.

PRINCESS: My arms are so tired; is that your wife?

GIANT: Yes: feel free to take her! And maybe stay out of those places.

Monday, December 15, 2014

THE IMAGINED INVENTION OF "THE MENSCH ON THE BENCH" IN THE YEAR 2013

Davy and Debby Hoffman were furious. It was Thanksgiving and at the homes of all of their friends tiny elves were magically appearing on random shelves. Checking their own shelves, though, all they found were books and shit. They ran straight to their father Neal. "Why don't we have any elves sitting on shelves at our house?" they asked.

"'The Elf on the Shelf' is a Christian tradition," said Neal, "and we're Jewish. We don't believe in elves because we don't believe in Christmas because we don't believe in Jesus Christ."

"Oh," replied Davy and Debby. "That absolutely sucks."

Every day Davy and Debby whined a little more. They'd visit another friend's home and see a cute little elf on a book-free shelf, and then they'd go home and scream. "BUY US A GODDAMNED ELF ON THE SHELF!" they screamed in unison. "BUY US A GODDAMNED ELF!"

The last straw came when somebody told Davy and Debby that these little stuffed elves flew to the North Pole at night and talked to Santa about them. "We don't wanna be Jewish," they yelled at their father. "We don't want fuckin' books on our shelves. We want one of Santa's assistants to sit there and watch us!"

Their father shook his head. How could these children see that aside from being outside of their heritage this elf was basically a felt nannycam? Then one day a lightbulb blinked on above his head. "Why," he thought, "I'll make a Jewish version of that infernal toy! Who wouldn't love a little Jewish man hanging around their house keeping tabs on them?" Neal, a former toy company executive, stitched up a crude figure and kept his fingers crossed. Others might have called it a creepy copy of an semi-interesting toy but he dubbed it "The Mensch on the Bench."

"The Mensch on the Bench is even more fun than the Elf on the Shelf," Neal told Davy and Debby, "because he's a nice Jewish man who watches you. If you do good, he's happy. And if you do evil, he's unhappy."

"Every night the Elf on the Shelf flies to the North Pole," said Davy, "to tell Santa if we've been naughty or nice. Where does the Mensch on the Bench go?"

Hoffman wracked his brain. "The senior center," he finally said. "He tells everybody's grandparents about you."

"Oh, okay," said the kids. And a Chanukah tradition was born.

THE END

THE IMAGINED INVENTION OF CHRISTMAS IN THE YEAR 412

Marcus and Augusta Agrippa were furious. It was December 17, the first day of Saturnalia, and all of their friends were hanging ornaments on trees, stuffing themselves with food, getting drunk and screwing and exchanging presents afterward. They went home and complained to their father Flavius. "Why can't we overeat and get presents?" they asked.

"Only the pagans do that," said Flavius, "and we're Christians. We don't celebrate Saturnalia because we don't believe Saturn is the god of the harvest because we believe in one true God."

"Oh," replied the Marcus and Augusta. "That absolutely sucks."

Every day Marcus and Augusta whined a little more. They'd look outside and see drunk people urinating in the streets before going home and giving each other The Clapper. At their house, meanwhile, it was all wrestling lessons and chiseling Latin words into stone.

Finally they threw a hissy fit at the Caesar's Palace Mall when they saw pagan children drinking Jack and Coke out of little sippy cups. "We don't wanna be Christian," Marcus and Augusta yelled at their father. "We don't have any fun. We don't have human sacrifices. We don't get to smash shit up. AND WHAT ABOUT OVEREATING AND GETTING PRESENTS?"

After one last, futile attempt to explain to his kids that only an idiot would celebrate the growth of corn, Flavius got a brilliant idea. "Why," he thought, "I'll make a Christian version of that infernal holiday! Who wouldn't love a religious celebration where you stuff yourself and then get cool shit?" Flavius decorated a tree, wrapped gifts and made green bean casserole, then fashioned a diorama of baby Jesus in a manger and kept his fingers crossed. He knew it was lame but he had high hopes. Others might have called it a creepy copy of a semi-interesting celebration but he dubbed it "Christmas."

"Christmas is even more fun than Saturnalia," he told his kids as they tore at their presents, "because instead of celebrating some stupid harvest, you're commemorating a really nice guy. See, Jesus died because he loved you, then he came back to life and now he and his father watch you all the time. If you do good, he's happy. And if you do evil, he's unhappy."

"Oh, okay," said the kids in unison, and that was the year Christmas was born.

THE END

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Once upon a time, a poor bookkeeper named P. X. Warbie had a dream. He loved children, and wanted nothing more than to entertain them. "Why, I'll write a book," he thought to himself. He toiled long and hard on this book, and three years later he had a finished manuscript about a boy named Sammy Spatula who never grows up, wears lots of green, and flies a lot between his home Sometimesland and earth.

P. X. was very proud of his work; now he just had to get it out into the world. He approached his neighbor, Mr. A. McNutley, who happened to be the Editor-in-Chief of the Grimsby Times. "I've got a great idea!" said Mr. McNutley after reading the manuscript. "Why don't we print your book in my newspaper? Say, five hundred words a day? I think it would be a big hit with my readers."

As Mr. McNutley prophesized, the column was a smash. People raced to the news stand every morning to find out what happened to the boy who never grew up. They'd never read anything like it! It was wholesome fun and suitable for the entire family.

By the fifth day, the newspaper's circulation had tripled, but dark clouds had appeared on the horizon. In the latest extract, the three children of Fred and Ethel Sweetie have been put to bed in a middle-class apartment in the Bayswater suburb of London. Just as they start to fall asleep, though, they notice a mysterious light on their balcony. They run to investigate and discover the slightly-undersized, androgynous lad who is Sammy Spatula.

"Hey, kids!" Sammy chirps. "How about flying off with me to Sometimesland?"

"That's silly," says the eldest, a flame-haired cutie named Barbara Ann. "We can't fly! Now go off and bother someone else."

"Sure you can!" protests Sammy. "Anybody can! You just need to try. Ready? Just close your eyes and leap!" The three children are hesitant but finally take the stranger's word for it. They fling themselves off the windowsill and find themselves being lofted up into the stars by gusts of wind, zipping and spinning miles above the city behind their brand new friend.

The night this column appeared in the paper, though, two hundred children threw themselves out of their bedroom windows and fell to their deaths.

"Maybe make it a little harder," said Mr. McNutley. "Like, they can only fly on a certain day of the year. Or they can only fly if their middle name is Humperdinck."

"I don't know," said P. X. "I'll have to think about this." He thought long and hard, and the next time Sammy Spatula flew, observant readers noticed one very small change.

"Do you all want to go with me to Sometimesland?" Sammy asked the Sweetie kids.

"YES!" they shouted in unison.

"Well, then, think happy thoughts and let's go!"

"That's not actually better," said Mr. McNutley after discovering that this latest episode had prompted six hundred kids to plummet to their deaths. #287 was little Billy Damron, whose last words were, "It's my own fault. I should have thought about puppies instead of my little brother."

"Shucks," said P. X. the next morning. "I was sure that would work."

"Were you?" snapped Mr. McNutley. "Did you actually picture kids standing by their windows thinking, 'Wow, I sure wish I could fly but the newspaper says I have to think happy thoughts and I'm coming up fuckin' blank'? I've got ninety angry parents in my foyer demanding some kind of explanation, and aside from the fact you're a complete nincompoop I don't have a clue what to say."

"Give me one more try," said P. X. "I'll come up with something to make all the parents happy."

As the clouds parted, a crisp white beam of moonlight shone on a tiny figure dressed all in green perched on their windowsill.

"SAMMY!" cried Barbara Ann. "Please let us go flying again! Every time you've shown up in the last two weeks you've just talked about alligators and showed us how to fold clothes. Please say we can go flying again."

"We can!" crowed Sammy to the childrens' cheers. "But this part is very important: flying is very dangerous, and shouldn't be attempted by just anyone. Before we go flying, you have to tell someone."

Little Barney sighed. "But you said we can't tell our parents about you," he said.

"I've got it!" perked up Barbara Ann. "We can tell each other!" She turns to her little brother. "Barney, I'm going flying tonight!"

A grin broke out on Barney's face. "Crystal, I'm going flying too!"

Crystal giggled. "Barbara Ann, I'm going to fly all the way to Somestimesland!"

Sammy looked perplexed, but eventually he nodded his head. "Okay," he said, "let's goooooo!"

"I don't know why the fuck you thought that would solve anything," said a furious Mr. McNutley to P. X. as he pasted obituaries into the first twenty pages of his newspaper. "They don't even take it seriously in the fuckin' story."

"I'm sorry, McNutley," said P. X. "I just didn't think."

"No, you didn't. You blew it again. It's a shame: my readership was up five thousand percent." Mr. McNutley gazed sadly at the crestfallen P. X. "Okay, okay, one more go, but this time I make the rules: Kids can only fly if they have something that no English kid will ever have. Ever. Ever!"

P. X. nodded eagerly. "Thank you, sir," he said. "I'll get right on it." He wrestled with possibilities throughout the whole night, and as everyone who's read this classic of children's literature knows, in a close race between pixie dust and clean, straight teeth, pixie dust won out.

THE END

Monday, December 1, 2014

This is truly a great day for movie lovers. I don't understand the whole story but apparently Seth Rogen made fun of Kim Jong-un and in retaliation North Korea hacked the computers at Sony Pictures. They downloaded every film Sony has ever made, and they've put them all online. Everything! I must have copied a hundred movies, and I only got out of bed eight minutes ago. My favorite so far has to be Big Hero 6. It was great! While I love all of the characters, my favorite has to be Baymax -- you know, the inflatable robot that looks like the Michelin man. I was laughing so hard I could barely take notes, but here are some of my favorite bits.

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BAYMAX: Master Hiro, overwhelming evidence suggests that Professor Callaghan set the fire deliberately. Then he stole your army of bots and used them to escape.

HIRO: He couldn't have. That's nuts.

BAYMAX [confused]: No, it is not. My senso-detectors would have registered the presence of legumes.

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BAYMAX: My calculations have determined that there is a 99.9465% probability that the test pilot was Professor Callaghan's daughter Abigail, and his subsequent actions have been in retaliation for her death.

HIRO: What? I don't believe it. That's sick!

BAYMAX [confused]: I must respectfully disagree, Master Hiro. According to my calculation its immune system has not been invaded by either bacteria or viruses.

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TADASHI: Okay, Baymax, now wait just a minute. My brother Hiro gave you a polymantium exoskeleton, internal scanners and sensors, remote monitors, and jet engine feet. You have unbeatable skills in karate, tae kwon do, Western boxing, and Wing Chun. But you don't understand contemporary English? Jesus Christ, you are so freakin' lame.

BAYMAX: Thank you for your input, Master Tadashi. I will initiate a self-test of my lower limb interface.

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HIRO [weakly]: I must apologize, Tadashi. I believe it was my oversight that put us in this position.

TADASHI [in one last spurt of fury]: You think? Like if you'd just bought a Slang Recognition Chip for maybe six yen and put it in Baymax, he would have understood what we were talking about and not completely messed up our plan? And maybe that's why we're chained to a wall of Adamantium crystals and we're roughly six seconds away from having our insides boiled like miso ramen? These may be my last words so remember this forever: you may be my brother but you're also an idiot, and your superhero friend is totally fucked.

BAYMAX [shrugging]: Well, I'll give it a try. But don't blame me if it makes me deflate.