Why Do Cartoon Villains Laugh?

(Credit Stefanie DeCassan-Sanchez for getting me thinking about this. The following is a cut and paste from her Facebook page.)

JJ: I think it goes back to our Puritan heritage. Laughter means you’re having a good time and if you’re having a good time you must be doing something bad. And really whenever you get away with something, even a little thing like getting back to an expired parking meter before the meter reader catches you, you feel pretty damn good. Just a theory.

(Then Stefanie said: Good theory. I’m thinking it’s some psychopathic characteristic where they laugh at others’ pain and misfortunes.)

JJ: Now you’ve got me thinking about this. My own reaction to other’s misfortunes tends to break down as follows:
1. If an innocent stranger experiences misfortune I think that’s terrible and want to help if I can.
2. If the misfortune is due to their own folly I’m less sympathetic and more inclined to a knee-jerk attitude of “What an idiot, Darwinism in action.” Might still want to help though.
3. If misfortune befalls someone I know and dislike, even if I had nothing to do with it, I take some less than guilty pleasure in it. “Couldn’t happen to nicer guy.” I try not to revel in it, but I almost certainly will in private.
4. This last one is rare and I really can’t think of the last time (or any time) it happened, but if I myself am the deliberate instigator of some misfortune against someone AND I get away with it, well, I guess I must take pleasure in it or else why would I bother?
The only thing that comes to mind in my own experience is youthful pranks, teepeeing a house or playing mailbox hockey. High school stuff. Okay, and certainly writing satirical stuff during the last Bush administration, although the “harm” I did there was not nearly enough. It was fun trying though.
Sadly psychotic super-villain stuff is beyond me. I’m not that clever and I don’t like consequences.

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Why let good insurance go to waste?

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How I Voted, SAG Awards 2014

Film first.

ENSEMBLE CAST: “Dallas Buyers Club”

LEAD ACTOR: Matthew McConaughey

LEAD ACTRESS: Judi Dench (This was tough. I’m sorry, Cate Blanchett.)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jared Leto

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: June Squibb (But keep your eye on Lupita Nyong’o. If “12 Years a Slave” hadn’t been written by a union buster I might well have voted for her.)

STUNT ENSEMBLE: “All is Lost”

Television next.

ENSEMBLE DRAMA: “Breaking Bad”

ENSEMBLE COMEDY: “Veep”

ACTOR – TV MOVIE OR MINI-SERIES: Michael Douglas “Behind the Candelabra”

ACTRESS -TV MOVIE OR MINI-SERIES: Angela Bassett “Betty & Coretta”

ACTOR – DRAMA: Bryan Cranston

ACTRESS – DRAMA: Anna Gunn

ACTOR – COMEDY: Jason Bateman

ACTRESS – COMEDY: Julia Louis-Dreyfuss

STUNT ENSEMBLE: “Game of Thrones”

And few people deserve a Life Achievement Award as much as Rita Moreno.

Final thoughts: Several of these were very tough choices. It was aggravating to learn at least two of these nominees shouldn’t have been in the running: “12 Years a Slave” due to it being a creation of a screenwriter who broke with his union, the WGA, during their last strike and “American Hustle” because it was a plainly inferior piece of work to other films that were eligible for nomination. (“Much Ado About Nothing”, “Her”, “Inside Llewelyn Davis”, “Blue Jasmine” and “Gravity” to name a few.)

Likewise there were other performances more worthy of nomination than some that got the honor. I suppose it shall ever be thus, given the differing tastes of whoever the hell gets to nominate this stuff in the first place.

And to end with what I hope is a constructive suggestion: For Stunt Ensemble nominees, in lieu of requesting screeners for a bunch of films/shows that don’t tend to get nominated in other categories, may I suggest the creation and distribution of downloadable “Sizzle Reels” featuring five to ten minutes of the amazing work that someone thought warranted an award nomination?

I wouldn’t ask my worst enemy to sit through “The Wolverine” but having done so myself I can say there were some respectable stunts being done in an otherwise traumatically bad film. I like to be an informed voter when casting my ballot on anything and I’d be happy to devote an extra hour of my time to watching the highlight reels of the ten nominated stunt ensembles. I’m just not willing to pay money to sit through “Fast and Furious 6″ on principal.

I think that’s it. Eff the Oscars and the Globes, I can’t wait for this Saturday!

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My 2014 SAG Awards Picks

I’ve put this off because once I’m done I will have committed to honoring great movies and performances over others that are damn near equally great. It’s been a tough year that way. Before I do that though I want to publicly kvetch at certain producers and publicity departments.

It seems like every year there’s at least one nominated film or performance that is completely abandoned by its custodians, by way of absolutely zero effort being made to get the nominee in front of union voters who might actually vote for the nominee if they got a chance to see him/her/it.

Two years ago it was Tilda Swinton for her role in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” No screener DVDs, no digital download, no Fandango passes, not even a special screening anywhere that I’m aware of.

Last year Denzel Washington got the same (lack of) treatment for his role in “Flight.”

This year’s victim of professional neglect is Best Supporting Actor nominee Daniel Bruhl for his role in “Rush.” I’m aware the movie sank at the box office without a ripple, but in addition to not providing free access to the film for voters, someone saw fit to not even make it available for paid downloading through iTunes until after most eligible voters had already cast their votes.

Honestly if Jared Leto hadn’t been so amazing in his category I’d be tempted to throw my vote to Bruhl as a protest. However, Leto owns me this year so I’ll have to content myself with this kvetch and hope Mr. Bruhl gets more appreciation in his future work.

(BTW, Bruhl is correctly spelled with an umlaut but I don’t know how to type those thanks to General Eisenhower.)

Moving on to the categories.

ENSEMBLE CAST

“12 Years a Slave” was a powerful, but flawed movie with an A-list cast and a Z-list writer. I’m calling out screenwriter John Ridley for breaking solidarity with his union, the Writers Guild of America, and going financial core during the last writers strike. “12 Years” may have a legitimate chance as an Oscar nominee, but it was a huge mistake to nominate a work by a union-buster for a union honor, especially when there were so many other quality films and ensembles deserving nomination.

“American Hustle” was a derivative cartoon and should not have been nominated. I did like Jeremy Renner’s performance though. And I liked the performances of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence when they did the same characters last year in “Silver Linings Playbook.” I hope they’ll let them lay fallow for a year or two before bringing them back in some other David O. Russell film.

“August: Osage County” was a fine ensemble film for lovers of Greek tragedy sold to audiences as quirky comedy. It deserves its nomination, despite Julia Roberts jerking the whole ending out of whack by putting the final focus on her character. It’s hard to do the ensemble thing when someone doesn’t want the audience to forget who the star is.

“Dallas Buyers Club” is a haunting, magnificent piece of work featuring an ensemble whose only flaw I noticed was that Jennifer Garner looked a little too gorgeous to be an exhausted Texas AIDS doctor. SPOILER ALERT: I’m voting for McConaughey and Leto in their categories. I’m voting this one for Best Ensemble too. On the other hand….

“The Butler” (Or “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” if you insist) is the only other serious contender for this award and if you like it over my choice I don’t blame you and won’t argue. Forest Whitaker and his supporting cast are all strong, even Oprah and I can’t stand Oprah. The reason I favor “Dallas” over “Butler” is that this movie is totally a star vehicle for the lead. It’s impossible to imagine it working without Forest Whitaker’s amazing performance. He dominates it, not as a star but as an actor. The remainder of the cast, while solid, don’t share the load in the same way the cast of “Dallas” did. Again, it’s a great film with a great cast. It won’t be a travesty if it wins. I just like “Dallas” a little more as an ensemble piece.

Side note: In “12 Years” and “Butler” I realized some stars are too big for supporting roles. When Brad Pitt and Oprah hit the screen you can’t get past the fact that these are two of the most famous people in the world. A lead role allows them the time to make you forget that. A supporting or bit part doesn’t and I find it takes me out of the movie. Just a thought.

And now it’s late and I’m exhausted. I’ll come back and finish this tomorrow.

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Hackers and Spammers and Bots, Oh My!

I am both frightened and flattered by the number of robots trying to hack into my dusty, humble little website. I sure hope they never figure out that my password is my Great Grandmother’s maiden name in Cockney rhyming slang.

If they realized it was the same one I use for my Citigroup bank account I’d be sunk for sure. Millions of my Powerball winnings all up for grabs! Yikes!

 

Try getting past this security, yo!

Try getting past this security, yo!

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A True “Death of DOMA” Moment

Looking back on a rich day I have to say the best part was seeing the reaction of my camp kids, teenage assistants and tween campers, all delighted that gay marriage was now legal.

I know these kids are “children of privilege” whose parents can afford to send them to Smithsonian day camps, but they are of diverse heritage. Not one of them rolled their eyes or looked confused. They were happy at this news in a way unimaginable to the kid I was at their age almost 40 years ago.

Their generation can be better than ours if we don’t screw them up with negligence and old lies. They already are.

I wish I could tell them all this, but that would be “inappropriate” and they’d probably roll their eyes.

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Man of Steel vs. Fans of Squeal

I must be getting old because the whining of stunted fanboys has gotten to me already.

I’ll keep my response to this simple, since that seems to be what the aforementioned fanboys crave:

1. It’s a movie, not a comic. It’s not Reeve, Routh or (thank Christ) “Smallville.” It’s a new thing. It made some strong choices and committed to them, which for a studio summer blockbuster is kind of amazing.

2. If you don’t like these choices, fine. You have lots of other Supes stories to choose from. Start at 1938 and work your way forward. Something will click for you.

3. If you think you can write, let alone make, The Perfect Superman Movie, let’s see you do it. No one will applaud louder than I.

4. If you’re going to rend your limited edition Comic-Con t-shirt and codpiece over certain details of the movie at least get them right. Or don’t. It’s easier to roll my eyes and write you off as an idiot when you cry “Superman would never do that!” when, no, Superman never, in fact, did that.

5. I believe a man can fly more than I believe a man can always make the right decisions, in the heat of the moment without a flicker of selfishness or doubt. If it was good enough for Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane it’s good enough for Kal-El in Metropolis.

6. SPOILERS AFTER THE PICTURE STOP READING NOW BECAUSE THERE’S  SPOILERS DOWN THAR!!! STOOOOOP REEEEEAAADINNNNG!!!!

6. (continued) I believe a man can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, leap tall buildings in a single bound more than I believe there is never, ever a good and moral reason to kill. If you believe differently, I respect that, but you are probably a Quaker, a Jain or a follower of Martin Luther King, all of which are very cool in their way. I would bet, however, that you are not a cop, a soldier or anyone else who has taken it upon themselves to protect the world from people who don’t share your respect for life.

7. “Man of Steel” is a heroic fantasy that addresses some grown-up themes. How committed the filmmakers are to them will be revealed in the sequel. Will the world have changed for these characters or will they just get right to beating up the next bad guy?
I have my hopes.

8. “MoS” is of its time and place, America after 12 years of war, a place that is less trusting and “fun.” I respect the creators of the movie for facing that rather than denying it. It’s why I’ve thought enough about it to jot this down.

9. Jonathan Kent is a loving dad. He’s not a homophobe or a sociopath. Honestly, that was the dumbest thing I’ve read so far. He has self-interest and nothing close to all the answers. Look at the character through the Real Guy lens and his actions make perfect sense.

10. I just wanted to get to 10.

Now go see the movie and make up your own mind. Thank-you for visiting.

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One for the Sketch Graveyard

Last week I was in LA again for the first time in a long while. I always try to see my old sketch comedy group when I’m in town and I figured it would be fun to write something for the show. They were comping my ticket and it was the least I could do. The sketch I wrote didn’t make the cut but I got a two-line joke in near the end.

The joke was: Cigarette companies in Israel have manufactured kosher cigarettes for Passover. Their slogan: “Why is this night more smooth and refreshing than all other nights?”

The rejected sketch was this one. Enjoy.

ORAL ARGUMENTS

By John Judy

SUPREME COURT BALIFF V/O (in blackout): Oral arguments in cases United States v. Windsor, Defense of Marriage Act, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, Proposition Eight, are now concluded. Justices will recess for deliberation. God save this court and God save the United States of America.

(Lights up. Nine Justices, SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, ROBERTS, ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, GINSBURG, BREYER and KAGAN enter quickly.)

KENNEDY: Oh my god, I have got to pee so bad…!

ROBERTS: Not so fast, Kennedy. You are not getting out of this.

KENNEDY: John, I’m not even kidding. I’m gonna get an infection here.

ROBERTS: “Chief Justice says…”

KENNEDY: Damn it!

SCALIA: Don’t worry, kid, we can do this fast. Could everybody here in this room who’s Catholic and doesn’t want to burn in a Lake of Fire stand over here with Team Scalia? Traditional marriage, who’s with me?

(THOMAS, ROBERTS and ALITO separate themselves from the rest and settle near SCALIA, leaving GINSBURG, BREYER, KAGAN and SOTOMAYOR opposite. KENNEDY stands uncomfortably alone.)

SOTOMAYOR: Um, excuse me? Tony? Yeah, Roman Catholic, standing over here.

GINSBURG, BREYER, KAGAN: With the Jews.

SOTOMAYOR: And equality.

SCALIA: Oooo, sorry, Sonia, maybe I should have said “Real Catholics” over here!

(THOMAS, ROBERTS, SCALIA AND ALITO all high-five each other.)

ROBERTS: Ouch! Burn!

ALITO: Yeah!

SCALIA: “Real Catholics!”

(Rather than speak, which he never does, THOMAS honks a bicycle horn like Harpo Marx.)

 GINSBURG: Alright cut the crap, Scalia. We all know how this shakes out. We have four Clinton-Obama appointees over here and you’ve got five Reagan-Bush appointees over there, one of whom snuck a heart and a brain through the confirmation process. Kennedy, get your ass over here and let’s put this bitch to bed.

ROBERTS: Chief Justice says: “Not so fast, Ginsburg!”

KENNEDY: Damn it!

ROBERTS: I got a few questions for Mr. Swings Both Ways-Voter over here.

KENNEDY: John, come on, you’ve got a lesbian cousin…

ROBERTS: Yes, Anthony, but I’ve also got a lifetime of severe sexual and emotional hang-ups that I’m not gonna toss overboard just because it would be “cool!”

ALITO: John, I think you meant to say “Deeply held religious and moral principles.”

ROBERTS:  Right! Thank-you, Sam. Now I will remind you, each of us Supreme Court Justices made a pinky-swear…

SCALIA: “An oath.”

ROBERTS: Right, an oath, to uphold the Bible…

SCALIA: “The Constitution.”

ROBERTS: The Constitution!

SCALIA: Idiot.

ROBERTS: Idiot! Hey!

SCALIA: How did I not get your job?!?

ROBERTS: Because you’re old!

(SCALIA and ROBERTS are about to duke it out when THOMAS and ALITO pull them apart. THOMAS lets out a few honks.)

KAGAN: Interesting how homophobic Harvard boys can’t wait to wrestle each other…

BREYER, GINSBURG & SOTOMAYOR: Mmmmm-hmmmm.

KAGAN: So who’s coming out on top? I mean with the case. Honest.

BREYER: Guys, could I just ask one question here?

SCALIA: You just did.

BREYER: Can any of you think of any harm that would be done if we just let gay people marry?

SCALIA: Is it harmful to make Jesus cry?!?

THOMAS: (Single honk)

SCALIA: One means “Yes.”

BREYER: Anthony, you’re the swing vote on this. Again. Will you just do the right thing so we can all go home?

ALITO: Oh, he’ll do the right thing, Breyer! Especially if he remembers what happens to guys named Kennedy who try to change things!

 (Everyone stares at ALITO.)

ALITO: Okay, I probably shouldn’t have said that out loud.

KENNEDY: I just want to go to the bathroom!

GINSBURG: I can’t believe I have to do this. Clarence!

THOMAS: (Single honk)

GINSBURG: Clarence, we’ve known each other a long time. And even though your predecessor, the great Justice Thurgood Marshall, could have had unnatural congress with a syphilitic giraffe and produced a more qualified jurist than you, I know that in your heart you are capable of great love. Enough love for two different wives and at least one unwilling subordinate.

THOMAS (wistfully): (Single honk)

GINSBURG: I ask you, Justice Clarence Thomas, to look in your heart and understand that if you vote today to deny the fundamental civil and human right of our gay fellow Americans to love who they were born to love, legally, openly and without fear… It could have a chilling effect on lesbian porn. Clarence Thomas, how do you vote on gay marriage?

(THOMAS slowly raises his bicycle horn over his head.)

THOMAS: (Single honk. Maybe a pre-recorded clarion gets laid over it.) POORRRN!!!

(THOMAS is lifted triumphantly on the shoulders of GINSBURG, BREYER, KAGAN and SOTOMAYOR.)

ROBERTS, SCALIA and ALITO: NOOOOO!!!!!

(BLACKOUT. Cue “Clang-Clang-Clang Went the Trolley” for scene change?)

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Back to Cali

This time tomorrow night I will be back in California for the first time in 19 months. Before that it had been 14 months since we left LA for the sweet life in the DC suburbs.

All told it’s been just three months shy of three years since I was an Angeleno, a title I wore with mixed emotions for nine years. My first two kids were born in LA. My wife and I were in LA when 9-11 happened. I did some of the most satisfying and least paid work of my life in LA and I did a lot of it. It was a meat grinder with gorgeous sunsets.

Being LA it will have changed and stayed the same. I’m sure it’s had work done.

I hope it treats me just bad enough that it doesn’t hurt too much to leave again.

This.

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