26 September 2016

I Tried Feeding Popcorn to the Presidential Candidates During Tonight's Debate, and Both Refused

Tonight Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had their first presidential debate, watched by millions. Billions, even! A mere half-hour into the ordeal, I noticed that things were getting a little heated. Even more than your run-of-the-mill presidential debate, I mean. Both candidates were bellicose, hostile, and increasingly impatient. I immediately thought back to that Snickers commercial (you know the one): "You're not you when you're hungry," and all at once I knew what had to be done.

Now I may not be a fan of either of the candidates, but it was still my civic duty to remedy their hunger. Thank goodness I had earlier prepared for the debate's antics a bowl of fresh popcorn.

First I offered a piece of the popcorn to Hillary, who simply pursed her lips shut like a baby refusing a spoon of soft, mushed garbage. Her eyebrows were raised in both shock and disgust.

 Trump, when offered the same piece, looked at me as if to say, "Really?"His chin wrinkled the way it so often did, revealing the three separate chins beneath it. A huff of smoke burst from his widening nostrils, and the thin line of his mouth refused to open.

No dice so far. They're both very stubborn tonight.

 Hillary lowered her eyes and frowned a pompous sort of frown upon being offered popcorn for a second time. "You have to eat," I told her. She responded with a chipmunk sneeze.

 Trump's look of annoyance did not waver, but two of his chins had retreated underneath their parent chin. "Please eat," I begged. "You're going to pass out." Disgruntled, he let out a tired groan.

 Finally, Hillary appeared to take a bite - but she deceived me. She lowered her eyelids and pointed her nose in the air like a pretentious cheerleader who's just been asked to sign the yearbook of pre-makeover Rachael Leigh Cook. She wouldn't have it. Hillary Clinton just wouldn't eat the popcorn.

 For a moment, Donald Trump looked saddened by this third popcorn peace offering...

 ...but then he began to argue and moan. "No, no, no," he spewed through his nasal passage the way he so often does. "But you have to eat something," I tried, to no avail. He just kept moaning that shrill, nasally moan.

 Before long Hillary followed suit, letting out a similarly shrill screech that sounded not unlike a bicycle tire skidding across wet roadkill. Within moments, her noise matched the exact frequency of Trump's, and the two appeared to be shrieking in unison, moaning and crying in torturous synchronization.

Finally, Trump's lips sealed as he hissed through nostrils. He shot an awful glare my way, and his tight-lipped mouth didn't need to open - those burning eyes said it all. He was not going to eat any popcorn tonight. That was for certain. Hillary, meanwhile, continued screeching, now to the soundtrack of Donald's hissing nostrils. This went on until the debate finally came to a close.

Somebody please feed these two. Please. They're going to pass out.

Monster Mash: A look back at Supernatural's love letter to the Universal Monsters

     While September 22nd, the first day of Fall, might have been the start of the Halloween season for most people, the rest of us - those who adore Halloween the way Hallmark adores Christmas, unabashed holiday consumerism and all - kicked off the fiendish festivities in August, at the very latest. That means watching horror movies 24/7, stockpiling candy, and whipping out last year's Halloween decorations (which we didn't take down until roughly six months ago). But I must put emphasis on the former-mentioned activity, because us Halloween fans love ourselves some horror flicks. And when we feel we've binged enough scary movies (this takes a while), there's always some good horror shows to turn to. This includes The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and, of course, Supernatural.
     Say what you will about the current state of the X-Files-inspired Supernatural, which may or may not have overstayed its welcome by two or three seasons, but for a long while the show was pure gold. After X-Files ended in 2002, paranormal-loving viewers pined for their fix of scary television. In 2005 Supernatural filled that void, offering a less conspiracy-rooted show and a more lore-based series. And this was totally fine; in fact, while still being blatantly reminiscent of The X-Files, Supernatural was a breath of fresh air. The show has covered everything, from djinn to rougarou and all the other mythological lore you've never heard of. While X-Files tended to give us admittedly lame crapola like its infamous "missing link" take on the Jersey Devil, Supernatural provided us with hairless werewolves, vampires that could only be killed by removing the head, and other awesome versions of monsters and demons and ghouls that were both original and deeply rooted in traditional folklore. And just like The X-Files, Supernatural knew both how to scare us and how to stop taking itself seriously. One classic example of the latter is 2008's fourth season episode, "Monster Movie."

     "Monster Movie" is, quite literally, one of many monster-of-the-week episodes, as well as one of Supernatural's best comedic eps. It is the perfect Halloween-themed show, from its beautiful black-and-white backdrop to the TranPennsylvanian Oktoberfest setting - and, of course, the fact that all forty minutes of it is one big love letter to the Universal Monsters of old.

     For those new to Supernatural (and X-Files, since this term sort of originated there), "monster-of-the-week" is a phrase used to describe an episode that deviates from the ongoing plotline and features an antagonist who will most likely only show his or her face for one episode. In the ever-so-aptly-named "Monster Movie," the monster appears as a shapeshifter who loves old monster flicks - so much so that the creature mimics the appearance and violent nature of such monsters.

     This is an obvious setup for hilarious scenes and unsubtle references, both of which ensue accordingly. The seriousness of Supernatural's fourth season takes a backseat (in Dean's Impala), paving the way for something more amusing and relatively lighthearted. The entire episode is designed to resemble a circa-1930s monster movie, even going so far as to include a ridiculously over-dramatic orchestral soundtrack reminiscent of the classical stock music soundtracks often heard in old Universal horrors. While "Monster Movie" feels like a parody at times, there's no doubt that it is, at its core, intended to be a heartfelt tribute to Universal's beloved black and white creature features. The nods are abundant, but never overabundant; there are just enough admittedly on-the-nose shout-outs to satisfy any old school horror fan. And the comedy is always top notch, albeit full of corn. But what good is comedy if it can't be a little corny?

     It's difficult to nail a monster-of-the-week, because if the titular monster isn't especially memorable, the episode can feel like nothing more than half-assed filler rubbish. Not only is the villain of "Monster Movie" genuinely interesting, it's also pretty sympathetic and even a bit relatable. A feared monster from birth, the shapeshifting entity in this episode eventually found solace in cinema - easily relating to Lugosi's lonely Dracula and Chaney's afflicted Wolf Man. Like so many of us, the shapeshifter is a geek, a freak, and a big movie buff. Granted, this isn't enough to pardon the creature's homicidal craziness, but it is enough to make us swoon.

     If you ever wanted to get your fellow horror-loving friends to watch Supernatural, this is definitely the episode that will convince them. "Monster Movie" has all the ingredients required for a perfect, unforgettable episode, and it utilizes those ingredients to their full potential. Much like its antagonist, the episode is cheesy, lovable, and sometimes even a little creepy. It is worthy of a late October viewing - and even though I watched it in September, I have no doubt that I will be happily revisiting the episode once Halloween rolls around. And you, dear reader, would be wise to follow suit.

12 September 2016

BrainDead is Anything But

This summer something sinister quietly sneaked its way into the bedrooms and dens and offices of millions of Americans. No, it wasn't Donald Trump's spewed word-salad, nor was it Hillary Clinton's unabashed grandstanding. It also wasn't the Zika virus, although, perhaps it may have been. No, I'm referring to a short CBS television series that started airing in June and did not receive the attention of which it was exceptionally worthy.

Think about this: 2016 has been a feverish political year, in that you really can't avoid our country's latest Big Election and yet its effects seem to only be negative. In a lot of ways, Election 2016 could go down as one of the deadliest virus outbreaks in human history. Lie to yourself all you want, but the fact of the matter is that neither the Red guy nor the Blue gal is a good choice. At least back in '08 we had to decide between a young, bold, charming man of Color and an old White war veteran who wasn't doing that bad until he picked Oblivious Soccer Mom as his running mate. It was obvious America would soon have her first Black president, and this was - and still is - a huge deal. Eight years later we are on the verge of having our first democratically elected Madame President, and yet... well, nobody's really all that excited about it. Could be 'cause we're all still coming down from the high that came with electing a Black man into the oval office twice; not quite ready for another high just yet - one that would come from seeing the first female president. Or maybe it's because Hillary isn't really all that wonderful and it'd be nice if our first Madame President were someone who didn't have quite so many skeletons in her closet. But hey, it's all speculation at this point. Either way you look at it, the general populace has been treating the election like a farce - and can you blame 'em? We've got Let's-Spend-Billions-On-A-Wall versus Whoops-Where'd-Those-Emails-Go. Not one of these two blithering twits belongs in the oval office. This frustrates the average voter, because we only have two choices to choose between, right? (Well, no, there are third par--) And I mean, that's a real head-scratcher, ain't it? How do we pick between the only two candidates? (I mean, there are others, like Johnson or Stei---) Really just a difficult, frustrating process. Especially with allegedly unbiased television programs and news stations and websites displaying flagrant bias in some pathetic attempt to get us to swing a little further to the right or the left. No thank you. Maybe what America needs right now is something that takes this election - this joke of an election - and turns it into the satire it's already become. Something that attacks and mocks both parties. Something that shows us how imperfect every politician is. Something that does it in an honest, believable manner.

source: http://tenplay.com.au/channel-eleven/braindead

Enter BrainDead, wherein alien bugs from the furthest reaches of space crash onto earth and breach the ear canals of Washington DC politicians in order to eat away at half their brains and take them over entirely. Okay, so maybe that aspect isn't very believable, but believe me, the honesty is all there.

And so is the humor. To summarize BrainDead as a genre is a tad difficult. There's the obvious science fiction to it. There are heads exploding and a lot - I mean a lot - of blood and gore and bits of brain spattered on various office walls, so we can pretty much safely call it somewhat horror. And the humor is more than abundant, but efficiently so - it's brilliant really, and it never stops being so fucking dark. So I guess all in all BrainDead is a horror-comedy sci-fi political satire, but that's a bit of a mouthful. Regardless, that's what we're calling it, and we're all just going to have to live with that.

BrainDead is sheer brilliance. It's one of those shows that, as stated earlier, came into this world quietly and relatively unnoticed, and stayed that way, which is quite a shame all things considered. The pacing of every episode is absolutely flawless, succeeding in making the action scenes feel like action scenes, making the suspense as tense as possible, and never rushing a joke or a scene; even its occasional quick (and well-written) dialogue is relatively easy to keep up with. The show never treats its audience like idiots, the way so many sitcoms do today. Instead, it assumes you're hopefully up for the jabs your party is bound to get and it doesn't really care if you're insulted, because A) it's satire, and B) a lot of what they're saying is the unbiased, documented truth. Current political events are often referenced, typically mocking the opinions and perspectives of both sides of the argument; but some of the arguments made - again, from both sides - are legitimately substantial. So that might get a tad frustrating, but when an actress like Mary Elizabeth Winstead is taking the lead, it's difficult not to offer the show your full attention anyway.

source: http://zap2it.com/2016/06/braindead-mary-elizabeth-winstead-super-weird-summer-tv/

While Braindead is very character-driven and Winstead, though obviously great, is our main protagonist, it's mostly the characters around her - all of whom are either Democrats, Republicans, or politically-ambiguous colleagues of the bombshell lead - who steal the show. It doesn't matter with which political party you side, you're sure to love all of these outrageous characters as, while the bugs affect them in a manner that radicalizes the host's personal opinions, most of these people are hysterical caricatures of what the extremist Left and extremist Right look like. And you can't help but laugh. Honestly, if you can't chuckle at your own party's admitted flaws, you should consider taking down that "NO FUN ALLOWED" sign from your front porch and maybe smiling a little more often. Even though this might sound contradictory, if we can't make fun of ourselves nobody will ever be able to take us seriously. Levity breaks all boundaries, so long as all parties are willing not only to partake in the joke-making but the joke-taking as well. Take a look at Celebrity Roasts. Hell, maybe we should have Political Roasts. Except those would probably end in a nuclear civil war, so, on second thought...

source: http://www.vulture.com/tv/braindead/

Tony Shalhoub and Jan Maxwell play our kinda-sorta antagonists - the first significant victims of the alien invasion. They are, respectively, a Republican and a Democratic senator, and they nail their roles accordingly. Shalhoub is heartless, cold, war-mongering, and a raging alcoholic. Ella Pollack (Maxwell), meanwhile, is mostly levelheaded until the bugs take over her brain - at which point she becomes a rambling, easily-offended, irritable buffoon. For Red Wheatus (Shalhoub), the brain bugs escalate his inherently Conservative bigotry and prejudices, while significantly lowering his alcoholism (due solely to the fact that space bugs aren't fans of booze). All in all, though, the bugs have one plan - and that's to spread. Their hosts may have their political differences - now dangerously increased due to the bugs' very presence - but their goal remains the same, and so while they still do well playing enemies in public, their private lives are much more intimate... which, yes, implies weird space bug sex.

Laurel Healy (Winstead) is a young woman whose family has been involved in Liberal politics for as long as she can remember. But Laurel isn't so much into the family business, as she aspires to be a documentary filmmaker - and is tired of never finishing anything she sets out to do. Her brother Luke (Danny Pino), however, took up the family bizz and became a Democratic senator in DC, working under Ella. Needing money to fund her newest documentary venture, Laurel turns to her father who agrees to pay for half the funding so long as she spends half a year helping out her brother in DC. This, of course, is how she comes about being our protagonist - eventually finding out about the "bug problem" in DC. With the help of Rochelle (Nikki M. James) and Gustav (Johnny Ray Gill), Laurel uncovers the mystery behind recent head explosions seemingly involved with the appearance of these weird ant-like creatures. Once she notices an alarming number of people behaving strangely and listening to "You Might Think" by The Cars on repeat, all day, over and over, her initial investigation raises more questions and very little answers. And for the record, you probably won't be able to listen to "You Might Think" ever again without thinking of this quirky show.

source: https://twitter.com/braindeadcbs/status/765016924140900352

One of the best parts about BrainDead, besides its absurd 1980s horror-esque general plot, is the fact that everybody - every character, and there are so many - is portrayed as being flawed in more than one way. They are aggressively human, even those with bugs on the brain. Luke Healy, for example, is a Democratic senator who more than frequently cheats on his pregnant wife, going against nearly every principle for which he claims to stand. Then there's Gareth (Aaron Tveit), a Conservative staffer for Red Wheatus with whom Laurel gets romantically involved. Having been raised in a strict Conservative household, Gareth handles Laurel's sexual past the way a puerile infant might. The point is, nobody's really good. And that's a reality of life. The Conservatives, the Liberals - they're all portrayed exactly how they portray themselves in the reality of this extremely political year: hypocritical, petty, and self-absorbed. But it's not all depressing! A lot of these characters are human in the realistically positive sort of way as well: Laurel and Gareth manage to hit it off despite their vastly different political values. Because love beats the shit out of petty politics.

Yes, aside from having brains, BrainDead's got heart. There are plenty of emotional scenes, those of which I won't spoil as I've already probably given away too much. I promise you, though, this brief little blurb on BrainDead has spoiled nothing major, and I've made sure to edit out all the far-too-spoilery bits so that you may enjoy the show to its fullest extent.

And enjoy it you will. If you're the kind of person who can put your politics at the table for a couple hours and just laugh at both the angles of American politics, you will most definitely like what BrainDead has to offer. It is a completely original, brilliantly-written, bizarrely funny romp that actually takes time to make some good points and bring up a few lessons we could probably benefit from learning. However, I've yet to hear any word of the show on social media. Considering the show is genuinely good, I can only think that either A) it had poor marketing or B) people simply can't handle seeing their own political party mocked in a completely unbiased agenda-less satire. And, jeez man, I sure as hell hope it's not the latter.

Overall, my point is this: while the social media presence of BrainDead was scarce, I'm hoping it'll go the way of every Mike Judge movie - a few years down the line, much like Office Space and Idiocracy, people will rediscover BrainDead (or at least its possible later season(s)) and the show will suddenly become the cult classic it absolutely deserves to be.