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SparkShorts: Nona
(2021)
Episode 10, Season 1

A unique take on grandparent experience
I watched this short yesterday and I have been wrecking my brain tying to think of any other media that centers the grandparent-child relationship in the way this short does. The overall story is very sweet and heartwarming but the main thrust of the story is how a grandkid mucks up an important day for the grandmother. (And the attentive viewer will realize why the day was so important. It is not merely about watching some wrestling).

The animation, direction is classic Pixar. I like how "boxy" everything looks. And the more cartoony styling of the wrestling really works. I would put this short right beyond Kitbull for the best of the Sparkshorts.

Captain America: The First Avenger
(2011)

Launched the best set of Marvel films, stories
The Captain America films are all more grounded and more concerned with lived reality than most of the other MCU films. I think this aspect really helps make the film stand the test of time. Re-watching it the other day it struck me as a really solid film. The casting is spot on-I would love to see Tommy Lee Jones in another Marvel film-and Evans is the perfect Cap. Best of all they really nail Steve Rogers as a character.

Rogers isn't a generic American and his sort of patriotism isn't blind jingoism. Instead, Rogers-in most versions of the character-is a New Deal Democrat concerned with sticking up for little guy and he is very much a guy from Brooklyn. The film nails this aspect of his character. The plot is a bit predictable and like most origin stories a formulaic. But the quips work and Johnson gets the most out of the period trappings. The film is delightfully earnest and sincere; just like Steve Rogers.

I maintain that skinny Rogers (in the first ~1/3rd of the film) is the best effect work Marvel has done. The illusion is utterly convincing and the effect is entirely in service of the story and character. Seeing the work in 2021 is as engaging as seeing it in 2011.

Dug Days
(2021)

A fitting swan song for Asner
I'm not sure if anymore performances are coming but Asner had the good fortune to go out with these shorts being among his final work. They are delightful. They are droll. They manage to be a touching portrayal of the bond between an older owner and their new dog.

Dug is such a perfectly realized character; his animation, his dialog and personality are quintessentially the lovable family dog. This is more than solid Pixar. This is a great series of short films.

Moby Dick
(1956)

On its own it is a rousing adventure, but it is a pretty loose adaptation
This is probably the best of all the cinematic adaptations of the novel. It works fairly well as an action-adventure film. It doesn't get bogged down. The production values-even the dated special effects-stand out as well realized. The storm sequence and the final confrontation are really exciting. Peck is a bit too young for Ahab and none of the performances are all that special but nothing is egregiously awful in the formal elements of filmmaking. So if you are looking for a rousing adventure this a fun older film.

But it isn't a good representation of the novel. Once again the film is deadly earnest and serious. None of the novel's mischievousness and barely any of the novel's subversive energy make it onto the screen. While the plot of Ahab hunting down Moby Dick-which is only about 40% of the novel-is largely replicated the film inexplicably shuffles the timeline. Of note the Rachel sequence is moved to prior to the storm sequence despite that does nothing for the film and maims the themes. Ishmael is left intact and he does act as a narrator, commentator but not enough of his digressions make it into the film. I still think the novel is un-filmable but I am shocked that the more surreal sequences-i.e. Chapter 95 The Cassock Are so readily removed in every adaptation I have seen. The novel is exceedingly complex-in tone, theme, structure, etc.-but some of it is clearly comedic. I have yet to see an adaptation even attempt the more complex tone of the novel.

Moby Dick
(1998)

On its own merits it is insipid dreck; it's even worse as an adaptation
I will admit that my harsh reaction to this miniseries stems from my love of the Melville's novel. I recently read the novel for the first time and immediately read it for a second time upon finishing it. And I was in the middle of my third read through when I watched this adaptation. I cannot get passed some of the bizarre choices the screenwriters made with the text.

The novel is un-filmable in large part because of Ishmael's commentary on whales, whaling and the like form about 40% of the text. The plot that people know of-i.e. Mad Ahab tracking down the white whale to his own destruction-only composes about 40% of the novel. (Another ~20% concerns Ishmael's subjective experiences, i.e. How it feels to work spermaceti.) A lot of the novel's impact is in the commentary chapters, i.e. Chapter 42 On the Whiteness of the Whale is a *critical* chapter or Chapter 89 Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish greatly focuses the meaning of the various characters in the drama. These chapters are also deeply uncinematic because they are Ishmael the narrator telling the reader about x, y and z. I expected the miniseries to simply cut them outright.

What the miniseries did instead is mangle Ishmael the character-turned him into a flat land lubber and utter greenhorn (in the novel, the character explicitly states while he hasn't been whaling he has had several trips as a merchant sailor, indeed the wanderlust Ishmael feels is periodic)-to inject a few tidbits of information from the commentary chapters by having stuff explained to him. But not enough of the commentary made it in the series to justify wrecking Ishmael the character. This is the choice that bothered me the most as it reduces a sly mischievous unreliable narrator down into a fish-out-of-water trope. But it wasn't the only choice that left me puzzled.

The miniseries doesn't even attempt to adapt the novel's more comedic bits; everything is played dreadfully earnest and dramatic; especially of note is the strange bedfellows sequence with Queequeg is robbed of its whimsey and joy. The novel is subversive in multiple ways-parts of it read like an ecofable, other parts of it are overtly multiracial, multicultural. The miniseries doesn't even bother trying to hint at the more subversive material. (The crew of The Pequod is too white-only the harpooners remain being characters of color.)

But most puzzling of all is the miniseries idiotically plays around with timeline of the plot for no apparent reason-I don't mean that the timeline is condensed, I mean it is shuffled around. Of note, the Rachel sequence is moved to the start of the second episode (i.e. The middle of the story) which not only makes the ending harder to believe but wrecks the point of the sequence. The Rachel was Ahab's last chance to turn away from his obsession-it is why his choice there was the most cruel and heartless one he makes. For reasons I cannot fathom Ishmael makes his will just prior to the final chase. The miniseries even screws up Ahab's final speech by the exact timing of the fates of the boats. The key line-from hell's heart...-is rendered petulant and rash, not defiant and indominable.

Now it is true that lousy adaptations can make for compelling films but I don't think that is the case here. Maybe if I watch this again I could get into it more but apart from Patrick Stewart (who is a really good Ahab) I didn't like the cast. They don't have good chemistry-especially the blokes who played Ishmael and Queequeg. Thomas is too everyman and indistinct to be Ishmael as well.

The TV production values also hamper the series a great deal. The whaling scenes are not very convincing and there's no point making Moby Dick more of adventure film if the whaling scenes are bad. I found much of the production values, and cinematography garish and cheap. Worst of all, because the script decides to be so dreadfully earnest much of the miniseries moves at a glacial pace. The first part is like watching paint dry.

Moby Dick the novel deserves better than this.

The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror III
(1992)
Episode 5, Season 4

So many classic gags!
I was shocked to see just how many classic bits were in this episode. It is laugh out loud funny the entire runtime. Three of the very best Halloween segments are in this episode. King Homer-I'm a huge King Kong fan-is stylistically committed, hysterical and probably the best 8 minutes of the show's entire run.

The Simpsons: Homer the Heretic
(1992)
Episode 3, Season 4

Ham-fisted and badly dated-go ahead Homer join the majority who are unchurched
I think at one point this episode played a lot better but frankly the central plot element of Homer *gasp* not going to church isn't really a concern for most of us at this point-only 41% of Americans attend church weekly, more than half of all Americans do not belong to a church. I don't know why the writers decided to make an episode with this premise but if they were reacting to the long term decline of the American church that makes me dislike the episode even more. In 2021 the episode has a nasty reactionary vibe.

I think my main problem with it is the episode is very sour. The final act is explicitly divine punishment. And Marge vastly overreacts to Homer's decision.

The Simpsons: A Streetcar Named Marge
(1992)
Episode 2, Season 4

Manages to enrich A Streetcar Named Desire
Most of the time when the Simpsons reference or parody another text it is merely for laughs-nothing more. However, this use of Streetcar and the conscious parallel the writers draw between Homer and Stanley add something to both texts. Both characters are expression of masculine indifference and cruelty. It makes sense that Marge would connect with Blanche. It is very satisfying to see Homer get the point.

Bonus: Maggie kicks Randian objectivism in the pantsuit.

The Simpsons: Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?
(1992)
Episode 24, Season 3

Wraps up a solid season
This episode provides a nice coda to the lost half-brother story; it also has more than its fair share of laughs. I wish Herb would have come back more often as I like the comedic foil for Homer to bounce off of.

Season 3 is the first truly solid season from start to finish and it would set the baseline for competent Simpsons for the next 10 years or so.

The Simpsons: Homer at the Bat
(1992)
Episode 17, Season 3

May be the best episode of the entire series
I am reworking my way through the series on Disney+ to review it. I was extremely pleased to see this episode holds up extremely well after all these years. It has a great many injoke for baseball nerds. It has a relatable storyline for Homer. It has Burns at his tycoon best. And above all it is a very, very, very funny episode.

The Simpsons: Bart the Lover
(1992)
Episode 16, Season 3

The episode does not fully recognize Bart's cruelty.
This is amusing enough and I imagine that some people might find Bart feeling guilty over playing Krabappel's heart engaging; I am not one of them. Bart's actions are exceedingly cruel-too cruel to work as a dramedy- and Krabappel never learns of them. The ending isn't the heartwarming resolution the writers apparently think it is. It is utterly vicious to string a person along the pains of romance-and add in the picture Krabappel sends Bart, who apparently keeps it!, and this is major violation of autonomy.

The Simpsons: Homer Alone
(1992)
Episode 15, Season 3

Even in a grounded episode you get touches of the absurd
This episode begins with a funny riff on a Roadrunner cartoon's trope of character freezing and having a funny name for the character. It is one of the absurd touches that the episode has. It is noteworthy because this is one of the most grounded and thoughtful episodes up until this point in the series. The writing of Marge here is really relatable especially to those who grew up in the "typical" nuclear family. This manages to be really funny and almost touching.

The Simpsons: I Married Marge
(1991)
Episode 12, Season 3

Excessively sentimental.
This is one of those episodes that the writers overdo the cheese and sentiment. Homer and Marge navigating their first pregnancy and early marriage is cute enough and compelling enough. But the mixture of the episode is a bit too sweet and a bit too grounded for what The Simpsons excel at. The show is at its best when it is faintly absurd.

The Simpsons: Flaming Moe's
(1991)
Episode 10, Season 3

An all time classic
I haven't seen this episode in at least 25 years but it is so perfectly realized as a parody of Cheers that I remember basically everything about it. When I re-watched it I was saying lines of dialog because so many of much of the episode is simply burned into my mind. Bonus: this is one of the few times that Homer is completely in the moral right of a situartion.

The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror II
(1991)
Episode 7, Season 3

I prefer the more absurd episodes I think...it is why I love the Treehouses of Horror
The Treehouse of Horrors are probably my favorite type of episode. I think the writers and animators are freer to be a little more absurd. The three segments in this one feel much more complete than the first Treehouse of Horror; the framing device is more natural and less stilted than many of these episodes. But most of all this is just a really funny collection of horror stories.

The final segment is a better parody of Frankenstein than Young Frankenstein. And a board with a nail in it is the classic gag from Treehouses of Horror.

The Simpsons: Bart the Murderer
(1991)
Episode 4, Season 3

Demonstrates that the show always played fast and loose with continuity
I like this episode for its Goodfellas parody as well as Fat Tony being one of my favorite side characters. I also like how the start of the episode is a common experience of having a bad day where everything goes wrong. But if think about the text of this episode with most other episodes about, dealing with Skinner the plot doesn't make since. How did Agnes Skinner miss the person she lives with for about a week?

It is clear the writers didn't conceive of Skinner living with his mother in this episode otherwise they would have at least done a throwaway gag that explained where she was. (i.e. Have Skinner call out for hi mother and do a 2 sec cut to her playing bingo, or whatever, and cut back to Skinner saying "oh right Los Vegas") But later episodes retcon the living arrangements.

The Simpsons: Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington
(1991)
Episode 2, Season 3

Time has ravaged this episode.
The main satire of this episode is the US gov't is too slow too root out corruption, especially at the federal level. It is why Arnold's downfall taking about 5 minutes is suppose to elicit a dry chuckle. Today however it isn't the speed with which such scandals playout but that at least one side of our politics will shield their "team" members from accountability, even if they conduct a putsch ala the Trumpist Jan. 6th 2021 insurrection. This episode ends up being too weak of a punch to really land as merely bribery seems such a quaint concern.

The Simpsons: Blood Feud
(1991)
Episode 22, Season 2

A solid conclusion to the first solid season
Several common Homer tropes make their first appearance in this episode-i.e. Homer and his brain having a conversation. Likewise, the episode combines a moralistic theme wrapped around a faintly absurd resolution with the totem head. And the writers proceed to undermine the point with meta-commentary in Marge trying to figure out the moral of the story. In short this episode is a token of what show was for its first dozen or so years. They made better episodes this season and certainly in the series but this is a good one to watch to get the flavor of the show.

Season 2 on the whole is a lot better than season 1 largely because the animation is better. Season 1 is rough on the directorial and animated level; the writers seemingly exceeded the then animators skills. Season 2 does a lot better on this and the animation is a lot more nuanced and frankly cleaner. The writing is a little tighter as well. There are several very good episodes in the 2nd season but I would be hard press to put most of season 2 in the "Golden Age" of the show. It was only in the final third of the season that the show started to fully hit its stride.

The Simpsons: Old Money
(1991)
Episode 17, Season 2

An early gem
This is one of my favorite episodes in the series. I loved the Tom Jones (film) parody with the pills. I find the Abe-Bea romance utterly charming. And the resolution that Grandpa Simpson ends up improving the nursing home is touching. I would argue this is the episode where the "golden years" start. It has everything that we think of The Simpsons present.

The Simpsons: Principal Charming
(1991)
Episode 14, Season 2

A unique take on the spinster
I'm not sure if the show eventually changes this but I found this episode positioning of Selma and especially Patty lack of lover life to be touching. The two sisters end up finding fulfillment within their twin, sibling bond. There isn't a lot of grief thrown at them for remaining single. It is also a really funny episode.

The Simpsons: Itchy & Scratchy & Marge
(1990)
Episode 9, Season 2

The satire is flaccid. I blame set-ups like this for the deep confusion in America over "free speech"
This episode is clearly intended to be a satire on the dangers of censorship-the point is make Marge seem hypocritical for being OK with nudity in classic art (i.e. Michelangelo's David) but not OK with violence in cartoons (i.e. Itchy & Scratchy). It doesn't really work for a couple of reasons. First, and most critically, nothing Marge did was "censorship" in the manner that is concerning. She merely organized private individuals to engage in criticism of the content of speech (i.e. Free speech itself) and lead a successful boycott of a media property (i.e. Freedom of association). This isn't censorship; it's the marketplace of ideas at work. To make the point the writers were trying to make Marge should have pressured the city of Springfield to shut down I&S studios.

The second issue with the satire is the writers grant that Marge is in fact right about Itchy & Scratchy causing violence. Homer, and multiple other characters, were attacked because of their kids being inspired by the cartoon. (This is reinforced by Maggie giving Homer lemonade when I&S become "nice.") I'm pretty sure this episode was loosely inspired by the backlash to rap and/or violence in video games of the early 90's which made kids acting out the media a key argument. We still don't really know to what-if any-extent violent media causes kids to be violent. It strikes me as stacking the deck against their own position for the writers to structure the plot in this way.

Finally, there is no hypocrisy on Marge's part-despite that writers have her fold like a cheap suit. The final scene conflates the right to speak with the content of that speech. Marge-never-attacked anyone's right to speak; she never advocated for the state to intervene. She criticized the content of speech. Moreover, it is peculiarly Puritan to conflate nudity with sexual, erotic and to conflate sexuality with violence. There are any number of reason why a person might be OK with their kids (or themselves for that matter) seeing Michelangelo's David but not watching Itchy & Scratchy. The line is drawn somewhere for everyone. There is no hypocrisy in saying both media works can be in the marketplace but I won't buy the cartoons and won't be sad if it fails.

The episode itself has a couple a good zingers and I like the focus on Marge. I adore the return to innocence sequence but I can't get pass just how badly conceived the plot is in this episode.

The Simpsons: Dancin' Homer
(1990)
Episode 5, Season 2

Surprised by the lower rating on here
The episode has some early series roughness to the animation and a few of the gags don't work but it is a very funny and engaging episode. I haven't watched this episode for 30 years until the other day when I started going through the series to review it. But it is a testament to how iconic Dancing Homer is that I remembered basically everything about it. Re-watching this was like encountering a long loss friend.

You cannot get more essentially American than Homer being a minor league baseball mascot.

The Simpsons: Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish
(1990)
Episode 4, Season 2

What is it with rich capitalists being populists?
This episode's feeble attempt to try to be nonpartisan and/or not root the plot in any real world analog didn't really work in 1990. And it doesn't work in 2021. Burns eventually became canonically a Republican and it is clear that writers intended that to be the case in this episode. Likewise, Marge and Bailey are clearly meant to be Democrats. I wish the the show was just explicit on this point. Anyone who cares about this sort of thing isn't going to be fooled. That coupled with plot resolution being forced-no campaign would allow Marge to pull her shunt and no way would they be blindsided by it!-is why this episode loses a few points.

It is however striking that Burns-like the obvious parallels of Charles Foster Kane, Willie Stark, and Stark's real-life counterpart Huey Long-cynically plays the role of being concerned with the common man's plight in a failed bid to screw over said common man. This theme is more fully realized in other media and it isn't full spelled out in this episode but wow for a 23 minute cartoon sit-com the writers managed to work in a lot of commentary and cynicism about our system. This episode plays a lot darker post-2016 then it did for the years prior.

The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror
(1990)
Episode 3, Season 2

Even when the series ends they should still make this episode ever year
This is the first Treehouse of Horror-the framing device used here is what the episodes are named after. It isn't quite the classic later Treehouse of Horrors are but the format and form of the parodies mixed with some attempts at actual thrills is present and a smashing success. "The Raven" segment is so good and I really wish they creators took the chance by recording the entire poem. (About half is removed but the abridgement is well done.)

The Simpsons: Some Enchanted Evening
(1990)
Episode 13, Season 1

Brings the rocky first season to a rocky close
This episode famously had to be moved to the season finale from its intended series premiere. This was the case because the animation came back ruined from Korea; the production team spent months trying to fix it. You can tell that this episode has a rough production history in that the animation is crude and there are technical mistakes everywhere. The writing isn't as crisp as it got in the later years of the show as well.

The episode is a good token for the first season however. Because the first season is also rocky and technical, continuity errors crop up repeatedly. And the voices are yet unfinished, undefined. But the show's gentle parody of suburbia and Americana comes through. Season 1 is not part of the golden era of the Simpsons.

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