Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Third Row's Post-Seasonal Coma Christmas Special

Cause like I said before, it's been one of those seasons.

I'd had more planned for this Christmas on writeups. I really did. But, life loves to throw some pretty wild curve balls- namely working retail during the holiday season sucking the cheer right out of me.

Not wanting to leave you guys empty-handed, I present you with this somewhat belated article in turn.

In the week leading up to the holidays, my girlfriend had suggested doing an article on modern Christmas specials. This idea intrigued me, partially because a lot of the ones considered to be staples...well...let's face it, there really haven't been any recent ones that seem to have the same staying power as the classics. And they certainly don't have the same tone.

I got to thinking on some of the better more recent Christmas offerings (I set the start date from around 2000, to give a decent window.) It was around this time I noticed a particular trend in some of the standouts I was looking at. Specifically, two trends:

1) I have a pretty sick sense of humor if many of these are to be an indication.
2) This past decade or so has seen a pronounced uptake in, for lack of a better term, the Anti-Christmas Special. This isn't in the sense that these episodes are against Christmas itself, so let's have none of that "war on Christmas" talk. Instead, these are episodes that seem to serve as a giant middle finger to the more heart-felt archetype of the Christmas episode. Some of them do have some elements of heart to them, but they also come with either a good dose of cynicism or some incredibly macabre humor to off-set what would otherwise be the heartfelt schmaltz that's become so part and parcel with holiday episodes of this time of year.

So, as an offering for this year, I present a selection of titles that I feel both standout as holiday episodes, as well as a good selection of this new wave of holly jolly middle fingers to the Hallmark standard. This is neither a complete list, nor a gold standard. Just some I've found to be standouts, in no set order.

Futurama: "X-Mas Story"

OK, so I'm TECHNICALLY cheating on this one. The episode aired just a few days shy of the 2000 cut-off. Humor me.
This is also a good point to say one other bizarre trend I've noted our culture seems to have an odd love for - the idea of the murderous Santa Claus. Even before the Krampus comeback, there's something about seeing everyone's favorite toygiver turn bloodthirsty vigilante that's just struck a chord with us culturally. Of the various examples of it, this episode remains arguably one of the most entertaining - recasting the jolly fat man as a robot with an exceedingly high sense of naughty and nice and the voice of John Goodman. This is also one of the few episodes on this list I'd say also flirts a bit more with letting some heart into its story, given the whole theme of who you spend Christmas with, but in true Futurama fashion, it comes with its fair share of warped bits of humor (alongside murderous Santa, the other standout here is Bender leading several homeless robots on what essentially becomes a looting spree.) It also contains arguably one of my favorite seasonal threats in the line "I'm going to shove coal so far up your stocking you'll be coughing up diamonds!" but that's more of a minor point.

Sealab 2021: "Feast of Alvis"

Okay, we'll have a LITTLE discussion of the whole 'war on Christmas' concept here, simply because it's the central tenet behind this gleefully batshit insane holiday episode of Adam Reed's batshit insane early Adult Swim hit. It's kind of weird realizing this episode is now over 10 years old, because the jokes almost feel more relevant now than when the episode first aired. Amusingly, Reed completely dodged any sort of controversy in this thanks in part to the fact the various religions featured in the episode are all run through a filter. It's not a particularly comprehensive filter (it's VERY easy to figure out which group is which just based on the conversations about them) but it was apparently enough to keep anyone from raising much Hell at the time. Even further impressive given the show's Jesus-proxy, the above mentioned Alvis, was recast as a figure from America's pioneer era with a love for three things: firearms, drinking, and vengeance. It's the zeal of Captain Murphy (voiced by the immortal Harry Goz) for Alvis and his whiskey-fueled love that causes him to alienate many of the other crew as they try to explain to him why others may not share his enthusiasm. Murphy is...well...let's just say he handles it in a fashion that anyone familiar with the series would expect. At all of 10 minutes, it's still a surprisingly hilarious shot in the arm towards the idea that all the different faiths should lock horns at this time of year for supremacy.

The Venture Bros: "A Very Venture Christmas"

One of the more open salvos towards the classic Christmas episode, this is another case of concentrated insanity. The episode starts with a cold open of Venture patriarch and failure extraordinaire Rusty Venture (James Urbaniak) in a dream that plays out like a giant list of Christmas special references from Charles Dickens to Charlie Brown. A dream he wakes up from commenting "What a nightmare. I dreamed I turned into a complete ****." That intro on its own sets the tone for the next 10 minutes, in which Hank and Dean's desperate attempts to achieve the more traditional Christmas backfire stupendously, leading them to summon up the Krampus from Christmas lore (introducing many to it a good 10 years before the more recent comeback.) The episode itself ends in a delightfully sick book-end to its opener, but that's all I'll say to keep the surprise. Again, it's only 10 minutes, but it feels a suitable length for the story they want to tell here.

American Dad: -"The Best Christmas Story Never Told" -"The Most Adequate Christmas Ever" -"Rapture's Delight"
-"For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls" -"Season's Beatings" -"Minstrel Krampus"
Okay, I'm just gonna leave this as all of them, because over the course of the series, Christmas episodes have been one of their constant successes. This is partially thanks to the fact the show's writers have seen these as great opportunities for extra flexing of their creativity. Over the years, the Christmas episodes have covered everything from a time travel storyline with the stakes being Soviet takeover (it's the kind of thing that has to be seen in its full episode to really appreciate it), to a bloody gun battle with Santa Claus, to their most famous Christmas episode, where a yuletide case of the Rapture plunges the festivities into a post-Apocalyptic Hell with one of the single most unique depictions of the Antichrist ever put to film. The sheer variety is arguably one of this show's strongest points where its Christmas episodes are concerned. The fact they are singularly strong episodes on their own is a feat in itself, but the fact they each show a surprising variety makes them even better. This seems a surprisingly sparse entry for a tradition the show has now run for six seasons, but that's because if I gave them all a direct focus, it would be an article in and of itself. They have made it a goal to see that no holiday cliche is left unscathed, and so far have done a very thorough job in keeping to it, even with the most recent being delayed a year (though WELL worth the wait.)

The Boondocks: "A Huey Freeman Christmas"

Leave it to The Boondocks to be one of the only Christmas specials to really touch on the origins of much of the holiday. I'm not just talking about the scene where Huey explains Saturnalia either, though I give them points for addressing that as well. When given the task of presenting his version of the Christmas story, Huey, true to his nature, sets to work cutting through much of the traditional seasonal whitewash of Jesus (Editor's note: But I thought Megyn Kelly said……) Well, there are some elements that are fictionalized (the ninjas come to mind) but the fact is, the parts we see the particular focus paid to here are the big factor the show is getting at. Yes, there's some humor played with the fact Huey takes a school production and turns it into a high-budget epic, but at its core, his goal is a fairly noble one - stripping away much of the trappings the holiday has been effected by. Also, in a rare quasi-miracle, this episode marks quite possibly one of the only times we see Uncle Ruckus doing something fairly decent ( decent as Ruckus goes, anyway.)

Moral Orel: "The Best Christmas Ever"

I'll say this much right now - I've actually considered doing an entire writeup about this show before. It's something that may happen at some point, to be perfectly honest. When comedy writer Dino Stamotopolous first debuted his claymation series, about a precocious young boy in a town that was very much a caricature of hyper-moral Christianity, no one was quite sure what to expect-Especially since this episode was everyone's first taste of a series that, as it went on, would become one of the most uncomfortably dark stories put to animation in recent memory. This episode (actually the final episode of the first season, but aired in advance because Christmas) was no exception - balancing Orel's desire for the titular Best Christmas Ever with a rift growing between his parents, fueled by questions of the parentage of his younger brother. The final shot of the episode - in which Orel has been informed that his parents are getting divorced, but he still looks to the skies, hoping for that best Christmas proclaiming "I have faith in you" is a surprisingly well set-up, and incredibly depressing shot to end the episode on. But then again, that feeling sums up a LOT of the series. On its own, this really is one of the single most definitive Anti-Christmas specials out there. The same could also be said for the show's final episode, though that at least ended on enough of an upswing to be considered bittersweet rather than just completely depressing.

Community: -"Comparative Religion" -"Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" -"Regional Holiday Music"
Like American Dad, this has been a series where each new season has a standout in terms of seasonal episodes. To be honest, I almost made this writeup on just the second season episode, Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas, but the first and third season Christmas specials are also strong standouts. The surprising part of this is how, of the examples listed here, alongside Futurama, these are the others that have managed to maintain a heart along with the cynical elements they bring to the table. Between the first season's addressing of different views of the holiday (a bit less 'guns blazing' than Feast of Alvis, but still fairly solid), to the second season's rather direct parody and later inversion of the old stop-motion Christmas specials, to the third's dual middle fingers at Glee, the entire notion of the over-the-top cheerful holiday special, and the different styles of Christmas music, the show has found no shortage of material to rib on in the season. Even tonally, they've shown some good variety, ranging from the third's considerably more joking tone, to the second season's actually surprisingly dark (if still touching) storyline (which, not surprisingly, was also written by MO creator Stamotopolous.) At its best, Community has always had a knack for balancing the humor with just enough heart to keep up the investment, and their holiday episodes have remained some of the better examples over the show's run of this (as well as one of the consistent marks for when a season gets past its rocky starting episodes.) After the much-contested fourth season, it will be curious to see if the fifth can regain the old steam or not.

Again, this is not a complete or comprehensive list. These were just some of the standout examples I had come to mind when looking at the image of the more modern Christmas episode.
Whether any of them will stand the test of time as well...who can say? For my part though, I still enjoy firing up some of these around this time of year.

With that, I raise a glass of strong egg nog and say unto you all:
Alvis bless us, everyone.
...except for the Krebs.

Also, since I forgot to mention in the last post, the deadline for suggestions/votes on this year's pain movie will be January 7th. Gives a good window to work with.

Till next time!

Friday, December 27, 2013

End of the Year Coverage Part The First: "More...HURT ME MORE!"

I know what some of you are thinking 'You promised us a busy week. Then you did a writeup on the Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit and vanished. What happened?'

In a nutshell - the holiday season happened. Anyone who knows me personally will know I spent much of the last week working, eventually causing all the days to blur into a morass of work, eating, and coma.

Suffice it to say, this blur went through Christmas, causing a lot to go off the map.

I have a piece for the holidays to show for this, though I know it probably won't be as well met at this point.

Of course, in recognition of my shortcoming, and in following up on something from earlier this year, we come to this post.

I don't ask participation of you guys too often, but I do from time to time, because I trust you. Yes, maybe it's a mistake, but I do.

Anyway, after last year's masochistic viewing of the movie Smiley, I got to thinking: What better way to atone for any mistakes I made by you readers during the year than to voluntarily subject myself to one of the worst of the worst movies this year has to offer?

This, of course, is where you come in.

Let's face it, each year sees a lot of bad movies. Not just mildly bad, but the kind of stuff that makes an audience feel like the old crew of the Event Horizon bad. THESE are the titles I want to pull up here.

Here to provide a good example of what I consider a good basis for my response here: Sir Ian McKellen, ladies and gentlemen.

So, I'm opening this up as a poll:

Either post your answers here, email me at or hit me up with a tweet @guyinthe3rdrow with your vote. Remember, pain educates. Pain motivates. Help me by hurting me.
...OK, that just sounded INCREDIBLY wrong, but you get the idea.

As it stands, some candidates being considered (but I'll also take other ideas if you know of a suitable abortion) -

-Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor
Everything I have read about this movie sounds like a Jack Chick comic come to life. I feel both intrigued and repulsed by it the more I hear of it.

-Battle of the Year
OK, dance movies in and of themselves aren't that uncommon, nor are dance movies getting reamed by critics; but hitting both of those as well as trying to start the acting career of Chris Brown? THIS may be a special sort of perfect storm...

-The Lone Ranger I even need to say anything here? Like at all?

One of the year's surprise bombs (OK, no one was surprised this one flopped. But it was shocking to see just HOW hard it thudded.) Died with a whimper and only Harrison Ford's impression of an angry chimp to its memory.

These are just a couple of candidates. Again, either put in a vote for these, or offer up your own suggestion. Bonus points if you can come up with a good reason to sell me on it. If it sounds amazingly bad enough, I may eschew whoever wins the vote in its favor.

Do it right and I may briefly declare a fatwa on you for making me aware it exists.
Or not...I mean, that's a lot of work.

Anyway, I try not to ask too much of you guys here, but times like this, your feedback is appreciated - much as I will regret it later.

So let the venom flow, and things will resume their pace here soon.

Till next time.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Hobbit: In Which I Bring My Inner Child Into the Thunderdome

Note before I begin this: I'd like to take a moment to issue a big thank you/apologies to my girlfriend who proofread on this article. She has a lot of strong feelings about this movie. To the point I even offered an out on doing the proof on this. She still opted to do so anyway.
The response...well...

So yeah...again, big thanks and apologies for riding this one out. When I try and take on the other two next year, again, the offer remains on the table for me to get someone else to proof. Just sayin'

I promised there would be another connected piece to go with the release of Jackson's second feature.
It's not a review of that movie. Not yet, anyway- That will come tomorrow (partially cause I'm still mulling over my thoughts on it.)

In the meantime, I decided to finally follow up up on a statement I made the better part of a year ago during my write-up on my favorite bad movies. At the time, I had included Bakshi's problematic adaptation as a placeholder when I had a last minute change of heart. I later acknowledged this and expressed my interest in revisiting the movie to give it a fair chance to stand on its own merits. This is not the time for it, but I got to thinking - given their ultimately checkered reputation on the internet, why not give each of the varied animated attempts to adapt Tolkien its fair day in court?

Of course, this was a challenge since, as the title suggests, I have a lot of childhood memories associated with these films. So I had to get myself into a suitable mindset in order to be able to look at these objectively. This marks my first attempt, using the 1977 made-for-TV version produced by the people at Rankin-Bass during one of their downtimes from largely cornering the market for Christmas specials.

"...and this is Thorin, and Dopey, and Bashful and--you know what, you're really not gonna remember half of these guys later anyway. No sense spending too much time worrying about it."

As I said before, this is one of those titles that has a really strange standing in the eyes of viewers, particularly on the web. I've seen people really love and REALLY hate this movie. In some circles, animated Tolkien is treated as being the equivalent of that cousin no one talks about at the family reunions because he's still in lock-up for things he allegedly may or may not have done to a beached whale while riding a cocktail of grain alcohol and bath salts.
...OK, maybe that's a bit much, but you get my point; This title's reputation somewhat precedes it.

Personally, even looking at this nowadays, and disregarding any sense of nostalgia (which took a fair amount of mental preparation) I'm just gonna say it outright - I really don't think this adaptation is anywhere near as bad as people make it out to be (Editor's note: LIIIIIIIIES). Yes, it has some problems - notably the fact that it barrels through the story with its foot pretty firmly on the gas- despite that, it still manages to hit all of the important points without feeling like it's missing the point. Probably the one big complaint I've heard leveled at this as an adaptation is that the movie is 'too kiddy'. And to be honest, one I've always found a little bit strange when one considers that Tolkien wrote this particular story for children. I mean, if this were The Silmarillion, or their later attempt at The Return of the King, I could see the point. For this particular story though, I never really felt this particular adaptation soft-balled it or softened things up too much. It's an adventure story made with younger readers in mind, and so the film version keeps itself accessible for young viewers. With one strange exception- This may be one of those rare cases I've ever heard of where an adaptation actually kills off more characters than the original story, by a sizable number, and is still considered the "kidder" version of the account.

Yes, it's a PG-rated murderous mob, but it still IS a murderous mob...

And because I know someone's going to bring them up - the complaints about the singing also struck me as particularly odd. With one exception, all of the songs were featured in the original book, so I can't rightly see why keeping them in is somehow a detriment. You can dislike the way the film translated them, certainly, but many of the complaints seem to take umbrage with the fact there are songs in their Tolkien adaptation to begin with (in which case, I wonder just how familiar they are with the books to begin with.) That said, as far as this front goes, I personally don't really have much problem with them. I do have an exception, though- The one area where there is something of a drawback in the music here, at least to me, goes to the songs involving the goblins in the story. Now, again, they keep the same lyrics, and their own, they're actually somewhat catchy tunes (care of Jules Bass.) Which is kind of the problem. Given the reputation goblins have in the story, you'd expect their music to sound crude, mocking, even a bit horrific. Then you have said tunes being sung by the legendary Thurl Ravenscroft (whom many are more likely to recognize as the baritone voice behind 'You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch') and what should be two rather horrible songs by design become catchy despite themselves. Much of the rest of the soundtrack isn't too bad, and there's even a couple of nice standouts, but those two tracks stand as a mix of both 'it works' and 'but it really isn't supposed to.'

Okay, that took care of one of the major dispute points right there. There certainly are some complaints I can certainly see some validity in, even if I don't find them as bad as others. For example, I can see how the art style of the movie (which as odd fun facts go, was animated by the studio that would later evolve to become Studio Ghibli) would prove off-putting to people. The character designs in particular, with their often overdetailed faces, have been described as anything from ugly to downright disturbing. There are a couple of places where I can kind of see the case, more in the case of individual scenes than an overall look. That said, the aesthetic still fascinates me overall, Particularly where the backgrounds are concerned. They all share in the heavy amount of detailing, but it winds up looking a bit more organic. Even now I'm still actually surprised looking at some of the background art on this, especially on realizing the conditions this movie was made in.

One thing I will give the character designs on this movie - they make for an untapped reserve for reaction faces.

Some of the designs as far as particular creatures within the setting, I can understand the complaints about. I have to single out the Wood Elves. With their green skin and overly wrinkled expressions, they seem to invoke a sort of proto-Yoda with smaller ears and a full-sized frame. Fortunately, they're not a major part of this story, but it's still a bit of an unusual creative call. More prominent, and also rather divisive, is the design the movie offers for the goblins - short, blue-grey skinned with a look that's a mix between bulldogs and frogs. It throws a LOT of people. As far as this movie goes, I still think it works out. Tolkien's descriptions of goblins were pretty scant in the book anyway, so there was some room for interpretation, and the size works out alright given how short most of the cast are. This one is really a big case of personal preference more than anything else. When they come back to the story later...well...we'll get to that in the future.

In fact, a good chunk of the problems with this movie really do seem to be more a product of its origins. With those in mind, for a late 70s made-for-TV project, it actually turned out fairly well. Even more surprising, it's actually aged alright under those circumstances. It's no Akira, but the animation is actually still pretty decent in many moments, with very few really glaring errors in it.

Probably the strongest aspect this movie has going for it is probably the voice cast. Orson Bean as Bilbo is one of those roles I've actually come to appreciate more over the years. While there are a few awkward line reads, he is, by and large, a good fit in the role - especially when one considers that, by design, Bilbo was a 50-year-old homebody. Taking that into account,  Bean's older sounding voice lends itself well to the part. John Huston as Gandalf is one I'm a bit more split on. On the one hand, it's John Huston - the man has one of those voices where even the act of reading the nutritional information on a box of cereal can sound interesting (which sort of makes it creepy when you consider one of his most famous acting roles is still as all-around scumbag Noah Cross in Chinatown.) On the other, his Gandalf feels rather flat at points. Some of the edge of that is taken off by virtue of the John Huston voice, but the fact is, some lines do still fumble a little because of it. If anyone could be seen as the MVP in the cast, it's arguably veteran voice actor Hans Conried as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield. While a lot of the character's development is sadly lost in the condensed story, Conried still imbues him with a good balance of the nobility of his position and bull-headed stubbornness. He makes the part work well in spite of its bare bones characterization. The rest of the cast are varying degrees of capable, with a lot of veteran voice actors among them. The two others worth much note being Brother Theodore as Gollum, played here starting quiet and slowly growing more manic, and Richard Boone as Smaug (and here's where I invoke the heretic card and say now, on hearing both in fairly short succession, I think I prefer Boone's Smaug to Cumberbatch in some respects.) The only real grievance I can think of in this cast isn't even so much bad as confusing - I'm not really sure why they got Otto Preminger in this for about maybe 20 lines (tops) as the king of the Wood Elves, but it really comes across a rather random piece of casting and doesn't really add much. It doesn't subtract at least, but it still leads me to wonder where the decision came from.

"They're shipping me with WHO?!"

It strikes me as somewhat humorous that, in all, the biggest problem with this adaptation is the inverse of the problem Jackson's adaptation has been having. Where Jackson's version has been argued as having too much time and playing out too many plot threads to fill all of that time, the Rankin-Bass version is too short: condensing the entire book into a scant 78 minutes. With the time it has to work with, it's still a decent adaptation, albeit one with faults as a result of that compress. Most notably, the fact that most of the dwarves are reduced to the role of non-characters. After their introduction, only maybe four really have any sort of relevance to the film, with most of the rest simply being non-speaking. It's a game attempt to try and tell the story, and while it doesn't always work, I still think the end result isn't quite as deserving of the contempt that's been flung upon it as many others seem to think it is.

Looking at this shot, it's very hard to not picture Gollum saying "Get a load of this motherfucker right here..."

Well, this first one actually turned out alright. A few bumps and scrapes, but in general, it's still a decent adaptation.

The next two we may not get to them until next year, simply because I have some other writeups planned for the rest of this month, but rest assured. They will be coming. Just like winter.

Be warned/till then!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Meet the Feebles: Today's Post is Brought to You by the Letters N and C and the Number 17.

(OK, so it's actually rated R, but the joke didn't work as well there. Humor me.) (Editors note: Speaking of NC17, are you ever doing Showgirls?)

Ever get one of those ideas that come out of the blue? Cause that was what prompted this article.

I didn't want to dive right on into the holiday stuff, so I was trying to find something else for this. The idea hit me earlier this week - this Friday marks the second part of Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit (I do have another article for that, but that will come later.) So, with Jackson continuing to run with his new MO of big-budget epic, why not take a cue from what I did with Edgar Wright earlier this year and dig up one of his earlier pieces? While this wasn't Jackson's first, I'm gonna be honest - I REALLY couldn't pass up the opportunity for reviewing this movie. That said, Bad Taste will likely turn up here sooner or later.

Before I go on, I'd just like to say one more general note on Jackson - while I liked his work on the Lord of the Rings movies, there's a part of me that would really, really, REALLY love to see him make a return to his old splatterhouse roots. Remember how Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell allowed him to go back to the slapstick horror that he made his early bones on? I'd love to see Jackson let his insane/vulgar side out to play again, especially with the new connections he has to abuse and exploit.

Both the insane and the vulgar are out in full force on this project: Jackson and a team of writers, including longtime collaborator Fran Walsh, offer up a vision of Jim Henson through a mirror darkly. Right from the film's opening song number, we're plunged headlong into the world of the Fabulous Feebles Variety Hour - a Muppet Show equivalent, all run by puppets. Of course, before the lawyers have time to sharpen their knives, the differences begin - the verbal abuse the director heaps on his cast winds up actually being the lightest of dark sides this show suffers from. Guiding us into this felt-covered heart of darkness is young Robert (voiced by Mark Hadlow), a naive little hedgehog with stars in his eyes about being able to work with the Feebles- even if it's just as a chorus member. Robert is kind, supportive, shy, and affected by an endearingly innocent speech impediment: in short, his innocence is marked for death the second he shows up with his gear. Beyond Robert's loss of innocence, we learn that the Feebles cast are plagued with almost every conceivable 'behind the scenes' problem imaginable, along with some new ones: the show's manager, Bletch, is cheating on the show's star (who, on finding this out, goes into a pretty far-flung spiral, culminating in a bloody rampage,) one of the cast learns his constant bed-hopping may have garnered him an STD (it's never named, but the fact they call it 'The Big One' makes the implication pretty clear,) another finds himself slapped with a paternity charge (in all fairness, the child DOES have his eyes...among other things,) another cast member is a shattered wreck from his time in Vietnam - and given his act involves knife-throwing, I'll let you guess where this is heading. On top of all this, the studio is being used as a cover for filming underground porn, and Bletch has been buying drugs to sell to his cast. That's just on a short summary, mind you. The fact that Robert isn't the only innocent in this cast is actually rather stunning, all things considered.

It's also rather surprising that his experience on the show doesn't drive the poor little guy to suicide, but I digress.

As you can guess from a summary like that, this definitely isn't a movie for everyone. It's crass, it's vulgar, and at points, it's fairly gross. That said, if you have a sick enough sense of humor (I'll own up to that) it's also funny as Hell. Part of what makes this work is the fact that its concept, despite having some parallels in that Henson analogy, is still its own setting. There's no sense of missing the joke cause you don't catch the specific references. It's all here - in all its wonderfully psychotic glory.

Cause everyone loves puppets, right?

One of the other strengths of the movie, and another odd one, is the fact that, for a variety show doomed to all the vices and lunacies of its cast - this movie actually has some catchy music. It's certainly not gonna be remembered on any of the greatest soundtracks of all time, mind you, but Peter Dasent, Michelle Scullion, and Jay Snowfield keep the film running with a bizarre spread of song numbers that further help maintain the movie's momentum. From the above mentioned song-number, to its last big number (described more below) that segues into a piece referred to as the Massacre Suite, there's a surprising range of both good instrumental tracks and song numbers that further reflect on the full-blown madness that inhabits so much of this movie. They're the kind of tunes you won't expect to have creep back into your head, but every so often, they will to be met with a muttered "Goddammit, REALLY?" Which is a unique ability in its own right as songwriting goes.

If there's one thing I'd say is a consistent between the Peter Jackson of then and the Peter Jackson of now- this is a bit odd to say- it's ambition. No, I'm serious. In its own weird way, I would still consider this to be a fairly ambitious movie. True, it's not on the same scope as Jackson's later big budget efforts. Still, he and his team take a concept here that had been joked about before, and still find creative ways to up the ante. They do so both in terms of just how outlandish the jokes can get - the film's climax starts with a bloody gun rampage set to the show's director performing his own song - in which he dramatically extols on the merits of sodomy...yeah... -  and how fully the movie commits itself to its all puppet conceit. In the latter case, probably the finest example of this comes with the knife-throwing frog Wynyard. When he explains his need for drugs, we're treated to an entire flashback that plays on just about every Vietnam movie trope imaginable, with particular emphasis paid toward The Deer Hunter. Again, all while played out entirely with puppets. This sequence is like watching a Muppet Show sketch guest-written by John Milius, and it's that bizarre mix of both serious 'war is Hell' tropes and the goofier elements the puppets bring that make the whole joke work so well. Further, there are no 'normal' humans in the cast, as we often see in the Muppet films - there's a human contortionist in the show, but he's still a puppet, sort of like the lost Indian cousin of Bunsen Honeydew - so the film remains fully immersed in the joke. This is arguably the biggest 'sink or swim' factor that will determine how you feel about this movie. Yes, more than the crude subject matter, if you can ride with the entire conceit that all of the vulgarity and dark comedy of the soul is being acted out by puppets with decidedly much more human perversions and substance abuse problems, then you're already halfway there on whether or not this movie will work for you.

Yep...war is Hell like that...

This is a tough film to really give a completely solid read on for everyone. Personally, as said above, I think it's funny as Hell. It's incredibly crude, completely out of its mind, almost daring itself to come up with newer and more disturbing ways to top itself in terms of shock value, and this is one of those rare occasions where that actually works in its favor. If you're not sure if you can ride with that level of crudeness or puppets, and if you find yourself easily quote the late Alec Guinness: "Watch your step. This place can be a little rough." If you think you're up for the challenge though, then by all means, get yourself a seat for the greatest (and last) performance of the Fabulous Feebles Variety Hour. A task much easier to do now than it used to be, I might add (for a long time, this movie wasn't available in the US, though that has since been changed in recent years.) Oh, and a friendly warning to those of you in the first few rows - you will get wet, and all the necessary booster shots will be available in the lobby for after.

Well, this marks the end of the first part of this week's...I guess you could call them theme posts. The next will take less time, in part cause that's already been half-written out for a while before this. It's more now's been a good excuse to unleash it.

Till then!