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July 12, 2010

This whole World War II series is totally unbelievable . . .

A satirical look at the narrative of WWII. squid314: Stuff
. . . But then there are some shows that go completely beyond the pale of enjoyability, until they become nothing more than overwritten collections of tropes impossible to watch without groaning. I think the worst offender here is the History Channel and all their programs on the so-called "World War II". Let's start with the bad guys. Battalions of stormtroopers dressed in all black, check. Secret police, check. Determination to brutally kill everyone who doesn't look like them, check. Leader with a tiny villain mustache and a tendency to go into apopleptic rage when he doesn't get his way, check. All this from a country that was ordinary, believable, and dare I say it sometimes even sympathetic in previous seasons. I wouldn't even mind the lack of originality if they weren't so heavy-handed about it. Apparently we're supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war? Real people just aren't that evil. And that's not even counting the part where as soon as the plot requires it, they instantly forget about all the racism nonsense and become best buddies with the definitely non-Aryan Japanese. Not that the good guys are much better. Their leader, Churchill, appeared in a grand total of one episode before, where he was a bumbling general who suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Ottomans of all people in the Battle of Gallipoli. Now, all of a sudden, he's not only Prime Minister, he's not only a brilliant military commander, he's not only the greatest orator of the twentieth century who can convince the British to keep going against all odds, he's also a natural wit who is able to pull out hilarious one-liners practically on demand. I know he's supposed to be the hero, but it's not realistic unless you keep the guy at least vaguely human. So it's pretty standard "shining amazing good guys who can do no wrong" versus "evil legions of darkness bent on torture and genocide" stuff, totally ignoring the nuances and realities of politics. The actual strategy of the war is barely any better. Just to give one example, in the Battle of the Bulge, a vastly larger force of Germans surround a small Allied battalion and demand they surrender or be killed. The Allied general sends back a single-word reply: "Nuts!". The Germans attack, and, miraculously, the tiny Allied force holds them off long enough for reinforcements to arrive and turn the tide of battle. Whoever wrote this episode obviously had never been within a thousand miles of an actual military. Probably the worst part was the ending. The British/German story arc gets boring, so they tie it up quickly, have the villain kill himself (on Walpurgisnacht of all days, not exactly subtle) and then totally switch gears to a battle between the Americans and the Japanese in the Pacific. Pretty much the same dichotomy - the Japanese kill, torture, perform medical experiments on prisoners, and frickin' play football with the heads of murdered children, and the Americans are led by a kindly old man in a wheelchair. Anyway, they spend the whole season building up how the Japanese home islands are a fortress, and the Japanese will never surrender, and there's no way to take the Japanese home islands because they're invincible...and then they realize they totally can't have the Americans take the Japanese home islands so they have no way to wrap up the season. . . .

July 09, 2010

Gateways to Geekery: The Marx Bros.

The Marx brothers | Film | Gateways To Geekery | The A.V. Club The Onions AVClub's semi-regular series turns its focus onto the greatest comedy team of all time. Seriously. The fucking Marx Brothers. I grew up borrowing old Marx Bros. VHS tapes from the Roseville Public Library's collection (siad collection had like 25 tapes in all in the 80s) and watching them over and over and over. It would be mathematically impossible for me to love the Marxes any more than I already do. This one goes to eleven. The Gateways to Geekery series does a phenomenal job of giving you a bit of context, telling you which ones to start with, which to avoid and generally being a huge booster for the Marxes.
But the films of the Marx brothers—Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and initially Zeppo—are more than worth seeking out. They’re downright essential in understanding the way American comedy developed in the 20th century, influencing everything from the sitcom to the game show, and bringing together various comic strains into a unified whole that had a nearly inestimable influence on the way humor in this country was shaped. The movies also helped mainstream previously isolated forms of Jewish comedy, assisted the transition of film comedy from the stage era to the modern age, and turned the Marxes into icons in an almost literal sense: Many comedians still pattern their entire personas after one of the three best-known brothers. And in an era where we question whether comedy from only a decade ago can still be relevant, their films remain incredibly funny as the oldest of them creep up on being a century old.