Top Non-Cartoons: 12 Monkeys

Today, I’d like to write about Non-Cartoons. I’m not sure that the term needs definition. Does it? What do you think?

Well, okay, I’ll do it anyway. A “non-cartoon” is a live-action film which, I feel, was made with the ambitious scope, and the careful physical attention, that I associate with animated films. I’m not talking about superhero or Star Wars films, which are practically cartoons already, nor am I talking about dry, adolescent anime films, which would probably turn out the same if they weren’t animated. No, I’m talking about films that go broad: they’re grand in scope, and they deal with very huge characters. They’re extreme, they’re over the top, and yet their live actors somehow keep them from sailing off into space. They are weird, but they would not work if they weren’t.

In this venture, I feel I must start with 12 Monkeys, a film directed by Terry Gilliam: an animator.

Terry Gilliam is the guy who did the Monty Python cartoons. You know, the goofy paper cut-out stuff that bridged the sketches:

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Terry Gilliam is known for his outlandish, ambitious movies, and the boiling water they throw him into. Studio executives hate his works, which often feature bleak and authoritarian settings, strange, cheap-looking props, and dark, ambiguous endings. His most successful movie, Time Bandits, is a whimsical children’s story. Its cast made it attractive — it features John Cleese, Michael Palin, and Sean Connery — and it has some of the most dazzling imagery that I’ve yet seen in a film. I think Gilliam used that marketability to sneak in his trademark cynicism, but he couldn’t get away with that twice. His next film, Brazilwould be his greatest struggle.

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Brazil is another Top Non-Cartoon, one that I would like to write about later. I bring it up now because it is the unrestrained portrait of Gilliam’s vision. It’s weird, it’s silly, it’s frightening, and it’s funny. Different people could call it fantasy, sci-fi, action, horror, art film, and comedy, and they’d all be right. Here’s a movie that’s impossible to categorize, impossible to forget, and, I daresay, impossible to like completely.

12 Monkeys is another one.

This is a time-travel story about a deadly epidemic that’s wiped out eighty percent of the population, and a science team’s efforts to stop it. Forced to live below ground, they send convicts up to the germ-ridden surface to find clues about how everything fell apart. James Cole, played by Bruce Willis, has proven himself to be one of their best investigators, so the scientists offer him a full pardon if he’ll go back in time to find the virus’s source.

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The prison facility is a hellhole with joint-crunching cells and terrifying interview rooms. The scientists exchange sentences in a comic fashion, and they observe Cole through a jittering orb of monitors and cameras. Sorry for bringing it up again, but it’s all very Brazil, and all very Gilliam.

The time-travel scheme doesn’t go well. First off, the scientists accidentally send Cole to the wrong year. Second, Cole’s story and violent behavior land him in a mental institution before he can get anywhere. When he explains himself to a panel of therapists, even he seems to realize just how loony it sounds. So he’s trapped, spending his days in a thorazine haze, and his nights reliving a murder he witnessed as a child. Life sucks in a nut house, especially when you think you don’t belong there.

Cole’s foil is a person who’s owned his craziness: one Jeffrey Goines, a string of firecrackers given Oscar-nominated life by Brad Pitt. I fucking love this guy.

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Pitt was chosen for the role in an effort to deflate his “pretty boy” persona, and boy does he succeed. Goines is balls-out wacko. He spews manic monologues. He flips everyone off. His laugh is a dopey croak. He’s that weird kid down the street that your parents didn’t like you hanging out with, and that you weren’t sure you liked hanging out with, but you did it anyway because you were kinda scared to say no to him.

He’s also a ton of fun to watch. Fast-talking and fast-moving, he’s like James Woods on crack. With his wild antics and anti-establishment speeches, he is the original Nolan Joker. Don’t let anyone tell you different. In the movie’s best shot, a desperate Cole pushes Goines against a third-story balcony railing, and holds his head over the side. The camera is held above the two, so we can see the frightened onlookers from the floors below. Goines doesn’t react in any rational way: he just cracks up laughing, and thrusts a fuck-you finger in Cole’s face. It’s a total Batman/Joker moment, only without the stupid costumes and makeup. It proves the superfluity of the superhero movie.

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So Goines is a force of nature, but he’s also a red herring, and the movie kinda limps to its finale after Goines leaves the picture. It gets reflective and melancholy when it really needs to get up and get moving. Threads about sanity and the Cassandra complex wrap up long after we’ve lost interest in them, and the romance doesn’t feel believable. The language of time-travel movies is so familiar by now that there’s no surprise to the ending at all (this was likely intentional, but that makes it no less boring). There’s an excellent, chilling moment involving David Morse’s character, but the rest feels low and saggy.

Now this brings me to the TV show.

For some reason, the SyFy channel felt the need to expand 12 Monkeys into a series, one of those things that makes no sense to me. The movie may be flawed, but it got its point across, and serializing it won’t do its slower elements any favors. I call it “The Sopranos Syndrome,” and you see it everywhere now. The Peak TV philosophy seems to go like this: stretch a plot until it’s ready to snap, bloat it with tired themes, provide no answers or resolution until the mad rush of the finale, and boom, you’ve got yourself a success. Even South Park is doing this now, and it drives me nuts.

What’s more, the producers decided to cast Emily Hampshire as the Goines character, and one of the first things she says is, “Look at you; you can’t take your eyes off me!” Ugh.

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Already, this new Goines has told us that she knows she’s hot. Come on. A great character shouldn’t have to fall back on hotness. There is nothing sexy or even sexual about the original Goines, and that a sex symbol plays him underscores that fact. In the movie, Goines is Daffy Duck. In the show, Goines is Catwoman.

This doesn’t work for me. I’m not saying this because of any feminist leanings; I just don’t find the “small, cute, and catlike” look to be especially threatening. There are plenty of women in cinema who’ve done crazy and terrible without any eye candy. Look at Misery. Look at La Femme/Inside. Look at The Ring! Perhaps it’s the nature of our culture, but it does seem like this equation of menace with attractiveness is more common among female villains. Is there any male villain like that? Gaston, from Beauty and the Beast, is the only one I can think of.

Anyway, 12 Monkeys is a true Non-Cartoon, not only because of Pitt’s character, but because of the peculiar setting, wild concept, and crooked camerawork. I think its musical score is beautiful too. I believe that animating it wouldn’t damage it, if it was provided the right animator. In this case, that animator is Peter Chung, creator of Aeon Flux. His character designs are freaky and weird, and his settings are eerie and monolithic. I can totally see him doing this movie justice, but I would keep him far away from the show.

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Of Dicks and Donalds

A few nights ago, I was treated to a lovely discussion about the finer points of semen and masturbation, courtesy of the forklift boys on the dock:

“Hey guys, what do you think is more like semen? Cottage cheese or Jell-O?”

“Tell me what happens to your semen after you jerk off in the shower.”

“What about you, boss? How often do you jerk off?”

“Hey, I got a wife.”

“Oh, yeah right! Like that’s enough for you.”

“I’m not saying I don’t do it. I just have a wife and three kids. I ain’t got no time.”

“Hey, I don’t always have time either, but sometimes I’m flipping channels, and I see some big tits, and I say, ‘Hey, might as well.'”

Now, I can only thank God that I wasn’t part of this conversation. I work in the office on the other side of the wall. Had I been among those guys, I would’ve taken the first opportunity to escape to my car. Then I would’ve looked for something shiny to throw, so as to distract them and turn their teeny minds onto something else.

So men are apes. I think we all know and can accept that.

But now this tape comes out about Donald Trump grabbing women and women liking it because he’s a silverback in Stuart Hughes, and…everyone’s getting upset? Like they’re fucking surprised?

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tothereader I don’t really think Donald Trump would make a good president. This post may be many things (e.g. misanthropic and ill-informed), but it’s certainly not an endorsement. Okay? Good.

I have to be honest: Trump used the perfect terminology when he called his tape “locker room banter.” Have people not heard how the alphas talk when they’re amongst each other? Is this sort of thing really that shocking? Can you blame an alpha for being an atavism? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, I can’t blame the media either. Trump practically is the media, and he’s melded with it to create some unique symbiotic life-form. The media may be sensationalistic, but Trump can’t live a day without saying something sensational. A man of his ego doesn’t like attention, he needs it. We should all be used to it by now.

This is important, because it’s plain to me that this latest liberal anger has nothing to do with arguing presidential qualifications, and more to do with swaying the swing voters. “Hey,” they say. “Hey look! Hear what that guy said? Isn’t that naughty? We don’t say things like that!”

Uh-huh.

Of course, this is demonstrably untrue. Morrison, Edwards, Wu, Spitzer, Weiner, Clinton. Get real, people.

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For all their posturing about moral superiority, all Democrats care about right now is winning. Winning, winning, winning. It’s smelly, ugly, prick-waving dressed in a pretty pantsuit. Whether they want to tax rich people or not, we’ve still got two groups of gorillas screaming and scratching and clawing over the water pit.

How many sex scandals in politics must we hear of before we realize that this is what happens when we give our power and faith to other people? Have we all got amnesia? Did we forget the lesson we learned in high school, from our days among the jocks and the rich boys? It’s a fucking law of nature: social elevation creates horny entitlement. No, it’s not fair. No, it’s not sensible, but it’s what we are, and we need to stop pretending that we’re beyond it. People regress to lower beings when they have power, and that’s why our economy, our politics, and our world are so fucked up. The people with the money detach from humanity, they gain access to too many things, and they forget simple societal demands, like, say, compassion and decency. Capitalism is right in rewarding hard work, but when riches are gained without it, we get shit like this, folks.

But we’ll forget. Once Election Day is over, we’ll all forget about this, and then put up the affronted act when it happens again.

Life goes on, it’s an old story, the fight for love and glory, and we keep hoping. We’re humans, right? Not animals. We can transcend our primal urges and improve our society, can’t we? I’m sure that, as long as we keep chugging along the way things are, we’ll get some good people in charge, and close this shameful chapter of history.

I’m not saying I’ll run for office, of course. That shit’s hard work.