Friday, August 3, 2007


Hey, hey, boys and girls!

Man, after an exhausting week of long hours and much craziness at work, in the wake of an insane weekend in San Diego, I am more than ready for a little R & R, and at least one night's sleep lasting approximately 10 - 12 hours! Yes, when given the chance I enjoy sleeping that long. But anyways, SO many interesting movies coming out. This weekend alone, the fine folks at UNIVERSAL (cheap plug!) have the Bourne Ultimatum, which should be great. I am sad to say however, that until last night I had never seen any of the Bourne movies. So yesterday I finally watched Part 1, and hope to catch Part 2 ASAP so I'll be ready for Part 3. I enjoyed The Bourne Identity a great deal - it was far removed from your typical action flick and reminded me more of films like Point of No Return, more cerebral, more about atmosphere, and with a plot that clearly seemed part of a planned, well-thought-out trilogy rather than a one-and-done. Great turns from Damon, Chris Cooper, and Brian Cox as well. Looking forward to checking out what Paul Greengrass did with Bourne Supremecy and then with Ultimatum, as I was blown away by his directing in United 93.

But I have to say, my #1 most anticipated movie of the weekend is one that anyone who likes comedy should be psyched about: THE TEN. Basically, this is the next true project from the guys behind "The State" and "Wet Hot American Summer," which to me is one of the funniest movies ever made. The movie is written by Ken Marino and directed by David Wain, and actualyl features EVERY member of The State comedy troupe as well as people like Paul Rudd, Wynona Rider, Adam Brody, and Jessica Alba. I cannot WAIT to see this, and if you consider yourself a comedy fan whatsoever, you need to go familiarize yourself with The State, Wet Hot, and now The Ten as soon as possible. Go see it!

Now, for the main event:


- As I detailed here a few days ago, this was in many ways a movie I was both anticipating and dreading. I've been a Simpsons fan, for all practical purposes, for my ENTIRE LIFE. I am 24 years old. This means the Simpsons has been running since I was about 6. And even though the show has steadily declined in quality, I've remained a faithful viewer, because for me the show has become a comfort, a routine, a way of life. Sunday night at 8 pm it's time for The Simpsons. At times Sundays on FOX have been home to Futurama, King of the Hill, Malcolm in the Middle, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Family Guy, The X-Files, and many more. But the one constant for many years has always been The Simpsons. Even when the episode turns out to be mediocre, which tends more often than not to be the case these days, there is that certain comfort in seeing that familar opening, checking out what the couch gag will be, hearing that familiar theme song play. The Simpsons isn't just a TV show at this point - it's a pop cultural touchstone, the shaper of an entire generation's sense of humor. It's a tradition.

So it was only fitting that I saw The Simpsons movie on a Sunday night. And even more fitting that I saw it in San Diego in the last hours of Comic-Con, a crowd to which The Simpsons has always played remarkably well to. It's a show that rewards attention to detail, obscure pop culture knowledge, and one that has always been an equal opportunity offender. But the question was this: even with the return of classic writers like Mike Reiss and John Schwartzwelder to the fold, could The Simpsons movie mark a true return to form for a show that is on the verge of having as many subpar years as it has had classics? In an era when so many episodes feel like remakes of rehashed concepts, could the movie give us everything we love about the show AND something that felt new and different?

It's funny, because The Simpsons itself provided just the right metaphor for this situation, in the episode where the Itchy and Scratchy movie is released and Bart finds himself bursting at the seams with anticipation. If this movie had been released in The Simpsons' heyday, I'd probably have had that same child-like anticipation for this, no trepidation, no anxiety, just pure, unadulterated excitement. And I have to admit, as the buzz grew in the weeks leading up to the film, as I saw a genuine Kwik-E-Mart pop up down the street from me in Burbank, well, I WAS starting to get a little giddy. For a long time, The Simpsons as I remembered it from back in the day and The Simpsons as it currently existed were two very different things. What was so exciting about the movie was that it held with it the promise of a return to those glory days. The days when all we could talk about at school on a Monday morning was last night's episode of The Simpsons. The days when my brother and I watched on a Sunday night with a mix of uncontrollable laughter and student-like attention for fear of missing a classic joke. The days when it was merely an unspoken and inarguable truth - The Simpsons was not only the funniest thing around, it was the Best. Show. Ever.

And all this brings me to the movie. In short - I am pleased to say that this represents the funniest that The Simpsons has been in years. Aside from a few standout episodes scattered over the last several years, this was the most laughter I've gotten from a new Simpsons story in a long, long time. The best news to report about this movie is that above all else, the writing is spot-on. The jokes zing like old times. There are a few clunkers, sure, but when Ralph Wiggum sees a naked Bart Simpson skateboarding by and nonchalantly remarks "I like boys now!" - well, all seems right in the universe, and The Simpsons of old had returned without missing a beat. The fact is, there are a number of instant-classic jokes in the movie that will join the cannon of amazingly quotable Simpsons lines. "I'm just concerned about Grampa." "I'm in the mob!"

Now, the major knock against this movie is that the plot is nothing special. In fact, not only is it kind of a mixed bag that's fairly all-over-the-place, but many of its major themes and beats have very noticably been done to death over the last decade and a half of Simpsons episodes. Let's look at some of these redundant plot points:

- Lisa falls in love with a similarly globally-concious boy.
- Homer and Marge's relationship is on the rocks thanks to Homer's latest act of stupidity.
- A Simpson kid gets taken in by Ned Flanders.
- The town of Springfield seems to be on the brink of disaster.
- A climactic moment involving the jumping of Springfield gorge.
- The Simpsons being forced to relocate away from Springfield.

All of these are MAJOR plot points of the film, and all are pretty much things we've seen a million times over on the show, sometimes to better and more well-thought-out effect. Of these, my two main criticisms are the following: We've seen Marge question her relationship with Homer based on a screw-up that is purportedly his worst ever, and then eventually reconcile with him after his misguided but well-intentioned plan to save face, over and over again throughout the show's history. In particular, we've seen this plot resurface more times than I can count in the last few years, and it's probably the #1 generic plot that has been used of late when it seems like the writers are grasping at straws for new plot ideas. To see it return yet AGAIN here is pretty disappointing in some respects. But I'll tell you why it's not wholly disappointing in a minute. But first, my other main plot complaint is that the overall premise for the film is simply not that great. Even as the snappy jokes are hitting their mark, it's for the sake of advancing a plot that seems cobbled together simply for the sake of hitting all the necessary beats: Homer screws up, Marge gets mad, Springfield is in jeapordy, Homer saves the day. Instead of using all of the established Simpsons characters to full effect, like, say, Mr. Burns, Albert Brooks steps in as an EPA official who serves President Schwarzenegger (randomly, the apparent Prez in the Simpsons-verse these days). Now, it's always great to hear Albert Brooks, Hank Scorpio himself, voice a Simpsons character, but again, it just seems like his character is one of many random and underdeveloped elements that were thrown into the salad bowl that is this movie's plotline.

What I'm getting at is this: while the jokes here have the same zip and laugh-factor as the classic episodes, the plotline has the scattered and random feel that tends to characterize the newer episodes. We have a running theme of Grampa predicting the movie's plot as part of a weird doomsday prophecy, an extended relationship between Homer and his new pet pig, and a long segment detailing the Simpsons' new home in Alaska. All of these stories produce funny scenes, but they all serve as these weird divergences that don't necessarily contribute to the whole. In addition, all of the randomness means we have less time with beloved characters like Principal Skinner and Mr. Burns, probably the two most conspicuous by their lack of screen time. Not to mention, it's too bad that this movie didn't make use of probably the greatest Simpsons villain - Sideshow Bob, who would have been a great fit for an epic movie with one of his typically diabolical schemes.

But here's the thing -- because the writing here is much sharper than what the show has produced as of late, the plotlines, even though they are somewhat rehashed and jumbled, are really pretty scecondary. Because, for example, even though we've seen Homer and Marge have relationship issues all too often of late, it's been a LONG, LONG time since their marriage was written with as much nuance, heart, and character as it is here. It's a sharp reminder of the fact that in its prime, the brilliance of The Simpsons wasn't just how funny it was, but how these yellow cartoon characters could inexplicably possess the ability to make your eyes water and your emotions swell. What separates The Simpsons from its descendants like Family Guy and South Park, and puts it, to me, on a level that those shows will never reach, is that it has that hefty dose of HEART. That classic element that defined episodes of old returns in full force here, and it's a testament to the writing and of course the superb voice acting that even though I've seen Homer and Marge struggle so many times, this time, it actually really got to me, in a way it hasn't since that one episode where Homer realizes that Marge is his soul mate from 1990-something. I mean who knows, maybe guys like Schwartzwelder haven't been watching the show lately and didn't even realize that some of their plotlines had since already been done to death. I don't know, maybe that's the case. But in a weird way it's okay, because again, the heart is there, the dialogue is there, that genuine sense of emotional involvement is there, and man is it great to see.

And again, how can one see this movie and not give heaps of praise to the brilliant, brilliant voice actors who give these characters life. To think that a guy like Don Castanella is so consistently brilliant as Homer Simpson, I mean the guy deserves some kind of award. He's hilarious, random, moving, empathetic - a true classic on the top of his game here. And Julie Kavner as Marge really shines as well - she has that way of making you sad that a cartoon character really shouldn't be able to pull off, but somehow, she does it. There is just this magic between Homer and Marge that is on full display here, and the movie really does a great job of reminding you that in the end, The Simpsons is really just about a dysfunctional family that somehow still loves each other and sticks together in the end. Homer and Marge are the true stars of this movie, and I am just continually amazed at the combination of hilarity and pathos that their respective voice actors bring to the table. I mean, all of these guys are just amazing. Nancy Cartwright, Hank Azaria, Yeardly Smith, Harry Shearer ... what these people do really is lightning in a bottle.

So there you have it. In some ways, the movie reminded me of some of the things that I've grown to dislike about what The Simpsons has become. It's gotten too jumbled, too random, and too derivative of itself, and some of that is evident in the movie. But in a much bigger way, this movie was a testament to how great The Simpsons has been and can be when it hits its stride. Not only is it one of the funniest franchises ever, if not THE funniest, but it has so many levels of depth - social commentary, political commentary, a real family dynamic, pop culture satire and homage, and a hefty helping of heart. To be reminded of the show's greatness and continued potential was truly awesome. It reminded me that in a weird way, the show's humor and sensibilities are so affecting and so near and dear to me, that when I meet someone who is NOT into The Simpsons, I have to try hard not to judge their sensibilities in general. In the end, this wasn't the super-ultimate-better-than-anything-ever Simpsons movie that I used to dream about as a kid, but it was a worthy flashback to a time when The Simpsons ruled the world. And it's nice to see the movie do so well at the box-office to boot, because as far as I'm concerned, if the masses are into The Simpsons, then it's one of the few positive signs we have that maybe, just maybe, we're not as doomed as we think.

My Grade: B+

- Have a great weekend.

"De Goggles, dey do nothing!"

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