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Review: The Simpsons Movie

3.0

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The Simpsons Movie

Despite popular belief, The Simpsons still matter. Those who’ve stayed the entire course have watched the show transform into something almost avant-garde: Its cutting social commentary and hilarious gags used to coast off cleanly delineated narrative through lines, where now the show’s humor ricochets onto audiences off idiosyncratic acts of storytelling tyranny. Its experimentations with form and function are not quite Dadesque, but they’re close. An episode from 2000 titled “Pygmoelian” largely concerns Moe getting plastic surgery but also features Bart and Lisa chasing a pink elephant around town and straight into a meeting for gay Republicans—a seemingly arbitrary bit of nonsense that connects succinctly with the theme of identity in which a person changes their face only to realize the efficiency of their old one. We may now consider this great episode a metaphor for The Simpsons Movie.

Because this movie has been a long time coming, its lack of actual movie-ness comes as something of a surprise. So, not quite cowabunga, but it’s still good, it’s still good! I was smitten as soon as Ralph Wiggum, pop culture’s purest and funniest expression of the id personified, appeared from inside the zero in the 20th Century Fox logo to sing along to the studio’s theme music, only to be taken aback by how little Matt Groening & Co. exploit the fact that the Simpsons are now tearing up the world in widescreen. Homer isn’t far off the mark for calling us a sucker for paying money to see what we can get on the small screen for free (just as you’d be a sucker for reading the rest of this review before seeing the film), but even if The Simpsons Movie doesn’t overplay its hand, trying as it does to appease fans of the show both old and new (the narrative though-line is as straight as an arrow, but the gags are as queer as all get-out), it is surprisingly aggressive in its engagement with our contemporary political malaise.

The movie begins with an Itchy & Scratchy sketch during which Itchy leaves his fellow astronaut Scratchy on the moon and returns to Earth to be elected ruler of the free world, with Hillary Clinton as his second in command. Itchy is cleverly seen as a distillation of 50 years of American political rectitude and aggression, from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush. But while The Simpsons TV program celebrates Itchy’s butchering of Scratchy as an ongoing commentary of “wholesome” Walt Disney family values, TV violence, and the dangers of parental complacency, the movie considerably ups the political ante, afflicting the mouse with a rather humane sense of remorse for his natural-born enemy. This connects to a later scene, during which President Arnold Schwarzenegger (essentially Rainier Wolfcastle with brown hair) inspires our pity, regretting having delegated authority to his advisor, the string-pulling Cheney-esque monster who attempts to shoot Homer in the face by the end of the film, and not reading the literature that damns the people of Springfield to life inside a huge dome.

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The Itchy & Scratchy episode is also a lubricant of sorts, easing one into the elaborate political discourse of the film, which begins with Green Day drowning in Springfield’s lake after lecturing the town’s citizens about global warming. (The hymn played at their funeral service is a cunning joke only the band’s fans and naysayers will get: “American Idiot: Funeral Version”!) This premise seems predicated on a line from my favorite episode of the show (“Lisa the Vegetarian”), during which Homer declares, “Rock stars—is there anything they don’t know?” The movie, like that episode, also features a pig in a very crucial role. Homer gives the hog a home, then a name (first Spider Pig, then Harry Plopper), before storing the animal’s feces (and some of his own!) in a silo that he dumps into Springfield’s newly conserved lake, thus transforming the town into an environmental hellhole. Before you can say “Katrina!,” Springfield is under the EPA’s lock and key.

The members of the Simpson clan fulfill familiar roles as agents of chaos and change within this nightmare: Lisa, strident in her political conscious and weak-kneed in the face of romance, tries to bring Springfield’s environmental woes to the attention of the city’s clueless citizens; Marge, a busybody with a tragically less refined sense of direction, senses warning in one of Grandpa’s psychotic ramblings; Maggie, whose wordless gifts of physical and mental ingenuity go largely unnoticed by the adult world, saves the day in unexpected places; Bart, whose newfound fondness for Ned Flanders is an excuse for a dynamite string of Freudian teasings (one joke aptly ends in a display of yellow balls—hello, PG-13 rating!), unconsciously catalyses everyone to action; and Homer, still a hypocritical dumbass, is ostracized by his neighbors for their tragedy and must arrive at a place of selflessness, no doubt fleeting, in order to redeem everyone.

Springfield’s crisis is both political and pop in its allusiveness, a parallel to New Orleans and an extended reference to John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, with people stalking the streets like zombies and Moe boasting about his self-appointed position as the town’s Emperor. Equally delicious: The immigrant Simpsons being given $1,000 when they arrive in Alaska for “allowing the oil companies to ravage the state’s national beauty” and the National Security Agency getting results—finally!—from spying on everyone’s phone calls. The movie understands how the nightmare of our current political state of affairs manifests itself in different areas of our social-economic life, which the writers convey through zesty hit-and-run bits of comic absurdity. My fav is the movie’s rebuke of right-wing opinions about the root cause of homosexuality, when Ralph, upon seeing Bart’s pee pee, immediately yells out, “I like men now!”

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The more things change the more they stay the same: No TV show has ever acknowledged with such persistence the complicated role institutions like the church play in our daily lives and the wide-ranging emotions—skepticism, love, disrespect, hope—that are crucial to keeping families alive and going, and like the show, the movie complements its biting religious ribbing with its completely sincere belief in spiritual need. Schwarzenegger, seeking salvation, accepts his duty as President and tries to read the literature in front of him but is still unable to save Springfield from annihilation, the news of which sends Reverend Lovejoy’s sheep to Moe’s Tavern and the town’s drunkards to church—a sight gag that cuts deeper than no other in the film.

The movie’s subversive streak is not as acutely pointed as that of the great “Homer Bad Man” episode from 1994, nor does it ever break your heart like 1995’s “Marge Be Not Proud,” which ends with Bart understanding the importance of repentance, but it’s funny because it’s true, and like the show’s recent 24 spoof, it uses its pop savvy and narrative circuitry to emphasize the bonds that tie families together. One joke the show has long driven into the ground is the sight of Homer choking Bart with his hands. In the movie, Homer’s rage and its effects on Bart allow for the bittersweet understanding of compliance as a major part of our social conditioning. Sight gag transforms into gag reflex when Bart loses Ned’s favorite fishing pole and instinctively reaches for his neck, expecting the same punishment from his daddy substitute that he always gets from Homer. These bold yellow characters continue to verify our strength as people, families, and a nation, and their agelessness continues to stress that their journey, like ours, is an eternal act of learning. It may not be the Best. Movie. Ever. but it is the Best. Simpsons. Movie.—so far.

Cast: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria, Pamela Hayden, Tress MacNeille, Marcia Wallace, Philip Rosenthal, Joe Mantegna, Albert Brooks, Russi Taylor, Karl Wiedergott, Billie Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool, Mike Dirnt, Maile Flanagan, Tom Hanks Director: David Silverman Screenwriter: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti Distributor: 20th Century Fox Running Time: 87 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2007 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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2019 Oscar Nominations: The Favourite and Roma Lead Field, Bradley Cooper Snubbed for Director, & Cold War Surprises

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced today and The Favourite and Roma led the way.

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The Favourite
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced Tuesday morning. Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma led the nomination count with 10, followed by Adam McKay’s Vice and Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born with eight, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther with seven, and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman with six.

Cold War made a strong showing, with Pawel Pawlikowski claiming his first nomination for best director. Notably snubbed in the category was Bradley Cooper and Peter Farrelly, whose Green Book is considered the favorite to win best picture after its victory at the Producers Guild Awards. Elsewhere, Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) had to make way for Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) in best supporting actor, while Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) snagged a spot in the best actor race thought to be reserved for John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman).

See below for a full list of the nominations.

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Best Picture
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Adam McKay (Vice)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)

Best Actress
Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

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Best Actor
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Best Costume Design
Mary Zophres, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther
Sandy Powell, The Favourite
Sandy Powell, Mary Poppins Returns
Alexandra Byrne, Mary Queen of Scots

Best Sound Editing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

Best Sound Mixing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star Is Born

Best Animated Short
Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

Best Live-Action Short
Detainment
Fauve
Marguerite
Mother
Skin

Best Film Editing
Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman
John Ottman, Bohemian Rhapsody
Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite
Patrick J. Don Vito, Green Book
Hank Corwin, Vice

Best Original Score
Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther
Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman
Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs
Marc Shaiman, Mary Poppins Returns

Best Documentary Feature
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

Best Documentary Short Subject
Black Sheep
End Game
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence.

Best Foreign-Language Film
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Best Production Design
Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart, Black Panther
Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton, The Favourite
Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas, First Man
John Myhre and Gordon Sim, Mary Poppins Returns
Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez, Roma

Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Cinematography
Robbie Ryan, The Favourite
Caleb Deschanel, Never Look Away
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Matty Libatique, A Star Is Born
Lukasz Zal, Cold War

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Border
Mary Queen of Scots
Vice

Best Animated Feature
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Adapted Screenplay
Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, and Eric Roth, A Star Is Born
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott, BlacKkKlansman
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Original Screenplay
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Paul Schrader, First Reformed
Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, and Nick Vallelonga, Green Book
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

Best Original Song
“All the Stars,” Black Panther
“I’ll Fight, RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow,” A Star Is Born
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

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Review: Never Fear Is Driven by Its Maker’s Personal Demons

If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Ida Lupino’s own.

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Never Fear
Photo: Eagle-Lion Films/Photofest

In a 1985 interview with DeeDee Halleck conducted at the Chelsea Hotel, filmmaker Shirley Clarke stated that she made films about African-Americans as a way of working through her own ambivalence about being a woman in a male-dominated culture: “I identified with black people because I couldn’t deal with the woman question and I transposed it. I could understand very easily the black problems, and I somehow equated them to how I felt….I always felt alone, and on the outside of the culture that I was in.” One can detect a similar tendency in the work of Ida Lupino, whose independently produced dramas of the 1940s and ‘50s tackled hot-button issues such as rape, bigamy, and unwanted pregnancy. These films are no mere homilies on contemporary social problems, but complex and deeply personal explorations of what it means to be an independent woman in a world ruled by men.

Lupino’s pioneering work is suffused with a profound sense of alienation and self-doubt. Her films are about people whose conventional middle-class existence is suddenly, sometimes violently, upturned, causing them to feel completely unmoored. No longer sure of where they’re going in life or what they truly want, these people find respite away from their old life, in an unfamiliar place with a new potential lover. And Lupino tells these stories with an empathy that’s striking for its directness and lack of condescension.

Such is the case with the first film Lupino directed completely on her own, Never Fear, an emotionally complex drama about a young dancer, Carol (Sally Forrest), who seems to have it all, as she’s just gotten engaged to her partner, Guy (Keefe Brasselle), and their careers are on the verge of taking off. But then, all of sudden she’s stricken with polio, and everything changes. Carol, depressed and bitter, enters a rehab facility where she eventually makes strides toward walking again, thanks in part to the inspiration of a hunky fellow patient named Len (Hugh O’Brian). As Carol struggles with her own will to get better, she grows increasingly distant from Guy, urging him to keep pursuing his dancing career rather than settling down into a conventional job selling pre-fab “Happy Homes” as he waits around for her to recover.

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Free of the noir-ish inflections Lupino brought to her other films—most notably The Hitch-Hiker, and the rape sequence in OutrageNever Fear is directed in a simple, straightforward style that bears comparison to the stripped-down neorealism of Roberto Rossellini. Lupino is captivated by the process of physical rehabilitation, offering detailed observations of Carol’s stretching routine, swim therapy, art classes, and, in one show-stopping sequence, a square dance featuring lines of wheelchair-bound patients twirling each other around in consummately choreographed synchrony. Carol is clumsy and awkward as she struggles to operate her wheelchair, a marked contrast to the film’s opening scenes, in which Carol and Guy move together with lithe sophistication as they perform a romantic swashbuckling tango.

Never Fear’s subject matter was personal for Lupino, who survived polio after an attack in 1934. But the filmmaker isn’t merely interested in the physical ailment itself, but also in the complicated pressure that recovery places on Carol. There’s a tension in the film, which was released at the height of the U.S. polio outbreak, between what Carol wants and what the men in her life want for her. When Carol begins to reject her own treatment, it’s in part because she’s rebelling against the expectations that her doctor, her fellow patients, and especially Guy have placed on her. “Be a woman for me,” Guy asks of her, but the demand is counter-productive, as Carol can only truly recuperate when she decides to do it for herself.

In Carol’s dilemma, one can sense Lupino wrestling with her own artistic ambitions, coming to grips with the reality that as the only woman director working within the Hollywood studio system in the ‘50s, she too would have to accept the guidance of the men around her, and in so doing she would be forced to bear the weight of their expectations for her—their demands, hopes, dreams, and pity. Unfortunately, Never Fear closes with a cop-out, a last-minute reconciliation that cheapens Carol’s hard-fought struggle to learn to live on her own terms by suggesting she’s fundamentally lost without a man. Almost as if the film is embarrassed by its own denouement, the final screen assures us, “This is not THE END. It is just the beginning for all those of faith and courage.” If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Lupino’s own. Never Fear wasn’t the end for her either, but merely the start of one of the most unique and pathbreaking directorial careers in Hollywood history.

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Cast: Sally Forrest, Keefe Brasselle, Hugh O’Brian, Eve Miller, Lawrence Dobkin, Rita Lupino, Herbert Butterfield, Kevin O’Morrison, Stanley Waxman, Jerry Hausner, John Franco Director: Ida Lupino Screenwriter: Ida Lupino, Collier Young Running Time: 82 min Rating: NR Year: 1950

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WATCH: Stylish Queer Short Film Stay Makes Its Online Premiere

Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay debuts for free online.

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Stay
Brandon Zuck

Writer-director Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay made its premiere on the film festival circuit back in 2013, but the L.A.-based filmmaker is finally debuting it for free online. The short film, which Zuck claims is loosely based on events from his past, follows Ash (Brandon Harris) and his ex-boyfriend, Jacks (Julian Brand), on a road trip to the Florida Keys where the pair get mixed up in a fatal drug deal.

“I think maybe I was holding onto the film because it’s such a part of me,” Zuck says about his decision to release Stay on YouTube, which has been criticized by queer creators and organizations like GLAAD for ever-changing content guidelines that appear to target content made by and for LGBT people.

“YouTube started age-restricting my other LGBT films and—to be totally honest—I got furious. YouTube is this faceless behemoth and there’s nothing someone like me can do to fight any of it directly. Really the only thing I could think of was just putting more queer content out there. And Stay was sitting right there on my desktop where it’s always been. So I just hit upload. And it got age-restricted. C’est la vie. Next.”

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Watch Stay below:

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