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:




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


The President We Earned

All hail President Trump! That’s right folks, you’d better prep your palates for crow, because you’re going to live to see the first term of President Reality TV!


Yeah, I think it’s going to happen. I really do. While Dems are getting all pissy and sensitive about the differences between Clinton and Sanders, and pledging to stay home on Election Day if their guy or gal isn’t nominated, Trump is cleaning up. With his no-nonsense, no-prisoners, no-knowledge strategy, this guy is a freaking freight train headed straight for the White House.

Like most people, I initially thought Trump was a joke. I had no idea that he’d make it this far. Then he hit the debates, and dick-slapped his opponents with nothing but his massive ego. As a Democrat, I found this highly entertaining. I loved seeing the likes of Chris Christie, Carly Fiorino, and especially Jeb Bush, looking flustered, confused, and seconds from crying. They weren’t ready for this, not in this seemingly easy election that was a presumed gimme for the Republican establishment. But Trump blustered, bullied, and bothered, and he revealed those empty suits for what they were: bought-off puppets with no voices, no ideas, and no solutions. All these dopes thought they had to do was throw out facts that no voters would check, spout off figures no voters would look up, and make fun of Hillary every now and then. Caught off-guard by ad hominem attacks from a blowhard no lobbyist had reached, they had no answers. They turned into cattle, and now they’re getting slaughtered, one by one.

Over here on the left, we’ve got Sanders and Clinton picking on each other’s records. Clinton does have a lot to answer for, having bent to the wills of her donors a few too many times. Sanders talks a big game, but even I’m getting tired of his spiel. He just keeps saying the same things over and over again. Yes, evil corporations, yes, outsourcing, yes, the shrinking middle class, but this shit has been going on for nearly forty years — how in the hell do you plan on fighting it now?

Not that any concrete plan of Sanders will matter if and when he goes up against Trump. Nobody on the Trump train cares about how he actually plans to accomplish anything, and I don’t think Trump does either! He doesn’t see American issues as challenges to face, he sees them as obstructions to step around, and let’s face it: in a campaign, that attitude works.


I used to think that George W. Bush was a stupid man. That’s right: I used to think that. The more I read about the guy, though, the more I realize that he wasn’t really stupid. He was just lazy. He had every advantage a young white man could have in this country, and he took them, even if he didn’t really make the most of them. He coasted through Yale and got a C, but hell, even I’d be proud to get a C at Yale without really trying! He was given a couple of oil companies, but his heart really wasn’t in it and he let some family friends buy them up before they collapsed. He ran for governor of Texas and lost because he presented himself as the smart guy, well-versed on state issues. But here’s the pivot point: Bush learned something from this. He discovered that voters don’t care for smart guys. They find them cold and unapproachable. So he tried a new angle. He decided to be the easygoing, fun guy with a relaxed approach to being the boss. The kind of guy who lets the subordinates handle the real work, and bring the answers to him to choose from. Of course, this worked, and we had eight years of the Connecticut Cowboy making our nation’s most important choices. What’s funny is that when the press conferences went down, and Bush was faced with the idea that people were actually unhappy with him, he was flabbergasted, and that’s why we got that smirk. He simply couldn’t fathom that anyone could have a problem with the golden ideas he was presenting us with. Or at least, the ideas that Cheney and his yes-men told him would work out so beautifully.

The results of Bush’s presidency aren’t the point here, though. The point is that Bush made it to the White House almost solely on personality. You can say family ties and the Supreme Court if you want, but family ties are always involved in such matters, and I have to be honest: the Supreme Court didn’t really give him the presidency. I’m sorry, but it’s true: the SCOTUS only deemed the Florida recounts unconstitutional. Fine line, perhaps, but we have to get over that sooner or later.

Now Trump’s following Bush’s lead, ignoring the details and riding on style. Our leaders are stupid! Everything’s busted and only I can fix it! People like that shit. It’s what they want to hear, especially if you’re a white person who feels persecuted and disenfranchised. And hey, I can understand where they’re coming from. Politics needs some serious disruption. For the last several decades, politics as usual have thrust us into wasteful wars and super recessions. Regular, hard-working, good-hearted people have been fucked over so many times that they’re finally demoralized and worn down. They’ve accepted that anyone who sweet-talks them for their votes will simply bend over for his real masters when he gets into office. They know that the table is tilted, and that things will never improve for them.

So Trump steps in and shouts these puppets down. He wrecks the game and scatters the pieces. Matt Taibbi said that the Republican Party doesn’t hate Trump for his message, they hate him for his autonomy. I think he’s right, and I have to admit, I kinda like that about Trump. After years and years of the same old dopes taking office and then doing nothing to help us, it feels real good to see someone come in from nowhere and humiliate them. I think it makes a lot of other people feel real good too. It doesn’t make the masters of this country feel good, though. No, the big money interests who have this country rolling toward disaster don’t like it one bit, but they’ve been too stunned to react in time, so they scramble the media and their most “trustworthy” personalities to try and discredit the man.

But here’s the question: how in hell do you discredit someone who’s spent the last few decades publicly airing his dirty laundry? What kind of scandal do you throw at a man who thrives on it? And how do you slow him down when he’s already nearing escape velocity?

I don’t think they can. But here’s the next question: what the hell is Trump going to do when he wins?

If the last few administrations have taught me anything, it’s that if rich people don’t want it, it ain’t gonna happen. And it doesn’t matter what party’s in control. Bush I may have helped draft NAFTA, but Clinton ratified it. Bush II may have started a pointless war, but Obama still hasn’t stopped it. No matter what we say or do, or what suit we vote for, this shit just keeps happening. Our true masters have got this country on a rail leading precisely where they want it to go, and if anyone is going to stop them, it’s sure as hell NOT going to be the guy who’s making enemies on both sides of the aisle! Just look at how much trouble Obama had getting anything done, and that was with ONE side against him!

Sooner or later, Trump himself will have to genuflect. Some great force is going to step in front of him and say, “Toe the line, asshole,” and he’ll have to. He’ll simply have to, and all these great promises he’s making right now, that’ve got all these rednecks screamin’ and yellin’ and wrasslin’ with each other? He’ll whiz ’em down his leg. I guarantee you.

I admit that I might be wrong about Trump becoming prez, but I am dead fucking certain that no matter who gets into the Oval Office, nothing, but nothing is going to change. The schools will continue to flounder, abortions and guns will stay legal, the jobs will remain overseas, and the money will keep flowing upward. And the sad part is, those hotheads at the rallies will be too cooled down after Inauguration Day to care. When Trump becomes a lame duck, they’ll just blame the other guys.

Nice try, America. You nearly showed ’em, but you didn’t look at the real problem. You thought that big balls would fix everything, but you forgot that television is an illusion, and that the people on it are just actors. Television has turned politics into a big traveling circus tent, brought to you by Pizza Hut and Coca-Cola, and it’s already too late for you, because you bought lifetime tickets a long time ago.

Don’t Rainn on His Parade

So that new Backstrom show just came out, and already, things are looking grim for it. When I first saw the ads, I didn’t have high hopes for the show, as it looked a little too much like NBC’s The Michael Richards Show, in which the kooky guy from a previously successful series attempted to make it on his own (also as a detective). Now, I hate television as much as the next hipster, and I can think of a lot of shows I’d love to see ripped from the air, but for some reason, I feel bad for Backstrom, and I don’t want to see it fail.


Like AMC’s Low Winter Sun, Backstrom was cursed before it had a chance. The comedians I follow on Twitter tore into it weeks ahead of its premiere. The ire was strong, too. They called Wilson’s character “Dwight Lite.” They said he was the afterbirth of House M.D. And man, they hated that damn Slurpee cup. I mean, really hated it.

I admit that I shared some of the same feelings, but hey, I gotta be honest, that’s not the show’s fault. It was the marketing. The ads tried to sell me on all the wrong things. It’s like with Breaking Bad. I didn’t start watching the show until it was well into the third season, despite the accolades and gushing word-of-mouth. The reason for my delay? That fucking first-season DVD set, the one with the picture of Walter in his undies on the front:

I mean, come onWhat sensible person would look at this and say, “Hey, now here’s a complex, fascinating thriller!”?

I realize that Fox’s marketeers want to re-introduce Wilson to us in a way that feels familiar. He was iconic as Dwight Schrute, after all, so they might as well remind us of that, right? Shoving Wilson’s “different-ness” in my face, though, doesn’t earn my interest. In fact, it gives me the impression that the show has little else going for it. What about the setting? What about the cinematography? What about the rest of the cast? There’s got to be more to it than just a grumpy genius who annoys everyone.

Maybe there is, who knows? Wilson might have a chance to show some impressive range with Backstrom. Maybe, as we discovered with Bill Hader, there’s a dramatic edge to Wilson that we haven’t yet seen. I know he seems like a one-note nutball, but so does DJ Qualls, and he was surprisingly eerie as Detective Getz in Breaking Bad. And speaking of Breaking Bad, who would have thought that this guy…


…could turn into this guy?


My point is, Backstrom might actually be good. Must Wilson, and all the creative people who poured their hearts into the show, suffer such invective? It’s not their fault that Fox pushed this show, and pushed it, and pushed it, and kept pushing it until we all got sick of it. I mean, here’s this actor trying to continue his career, and people are just shitting on him. That’s got to be painful. Where does this all come from? I mean, Wilson was pretty funny before, right? Why would we want him to go away? Is it tacky and disgraceful that he wants to try something new?

I suppose this is bothering me because I know wouldn’t appreciate such preemptive judgment. If I wrote a novel that was criticized simply because my publisher screwed up the marketing, I’d be highly pissed. And hurt. And disappointed with the audience that I thought would give me a chance.

Am I going to watch Backstrom? Hell no, I hate television. But that just means I’m not the target audience. I’d like to think that people who do enjoy TV are a little more open-minded than they seem. After all, they fucking got Snooki her own show; why can’t we let someone talented have a shot?

“Mike Teavee…” by Roald Dahl

Mr. Dahl and I share similar opinions on television!

The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set —
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone’s place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they’re hypnotised by it,
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink —
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!’
We’ll answer this by asking you,
‘What used the darling ones to do?
‘How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?’
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY … USED … TO … READ! They’d READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There’s Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They’ll grow so keen
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.

7th Heaven Star Disappoints

Day Seven, Stephen Collins is a Molester: Say it ain’t so, Father Camden. Turns out that actor Stephen Collins, who played the minister/Ward Cleaver-type on that sappy TV show 7th Heaven, confessed to molesting not just one, but three little girls. It wasn’t a cry for help, though. The guy never intended for anyone to actually hear it. His ex-wife Faye Grant, who’s apparently related to Linda Tripp, secretly recorded him in a 2012 therapy session and sold the tape to the highest bidder.


Collins had no qualms about raking in the praise as the head of the happiest, whitest household on television, even though he was guilty of one of the filthiest crimes imaginable. Grant knew about his problem full well: he told her that he hoped they wouldn’t have a little boy together because he’d be too tempted to put the kid’s penis in his mouth. Instead of encouraging her husband to back away from the limelight and turn himself in, she blackmailed him for millions, and then publicized the confession anyway, even though the guy’s career was already in its winter days. Sadly, the cases are too old to reopen, but at least the truth is out, and we won’t be seeing the bastard much anymore.rs_634x1024-141007090049-634.Stephen-Collins-7th-Heaven-Confession.jl.100714

What a pathetic end to a scummy life. I find this whole affair disgusting, but also fascinating, like watching a big bag of skin and offal go up in hot blue flames. That this one story could so starkly illustrate the gulf between fantasy and reality, and demonstrate the universe’s twisted sense of justice, all while disparaging the institutions of both television and organized religion (apparently even fake churches aren’t safe from this crap) is almost…miraculous. I like to think it’s brought us one step closer to turning the damn idiot boxes off once and for all.