Beyond Cinema: Ugly Americans

31 March 2010 at 12:40 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I do not currently have a cable subscription, so much of my “television viewing” has been limited to shows available via the internet (welcome to the 21st Century). For that reason, I am a frequent visitor to the Comedy Central website where I can get a dose of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert when a little political comic relief is needed. Of late, these shows have featured promos for the latest animated series on the network called Ugly Americans.

Now, I am attaching a huge caveat to this post up-front: I HAVE NOT SEEN A FULL EPISODE OF THE SHOW. Unlike The Daily Show or the Colbert Report, Comedy Central does not provide full episodes online. It does, however, provide clips from the series that offer a glimpse into it, and from what I can tell, it’s your classic fanboy fantasy cartoon with adolescent antics mixing equal parts body humor and body horror.

The series envisions a world in which grotesque monsters from lore both old and new live amongst typical human beings. To deal with the inevitable conflicts that might arise, social workers like the series’ protagonist Mark Lilly assist the monsters with assimilation into society (he works for a fictional “Department of Integration”). This basic premise calls to mind True Blood since both shows play with the idea of monsterous archetypes living openly in society. But while True Blood takes that concept and explores all of its political implications, Ugly Americans seems less interested in a progressive critique of contemporary political realities and the fantastical world it envisions.

The promos do suggest that the show lampoons multiculturalism and its underlying goal of inclusion. The monsters sit around a circle in group therapy with Mark lamenting the ways in which they feel slighted in a human world. A siamese-twin like monster decries the lack of “double-assed toilets” in Manahattan, for example. While Mark sympathizes with the monster’s plight, the complaint is meant to illicit laughter from the audience due to its absurdity. Descriptions of the show also highlight its emphasis on assimilation, with the Comedy Central page explaining the following:

There are easier tasks than weaning vampires off of blood, socializing land-whales, and housebreaking werewolves, but Mark is up to the challenge. Between his stressful job, a zombie roommate, and a demon on and off girlfriend, Mark’s lucky if he can sneak in a few minutes of sleep. But who can sleep when there’s a drop-dead gorgeous Mermaid sitting at the bar?

The final line brings me to my last observation about the show: it’s obssession with fantasy female bodies and what Barbara Creed calls the monstrous-feminine (read my post on Grace for more another discussion on the topic). Clip after clip literalizes the monstrous-feminine through the character of Callie Maggotbone, the boss and love interest of Mark and self-described succubus. Click on Callie below to see a clip:

Callie Maggotbone of Ugly Americans

In short, Callie represents the soul-sucking (literally), power-hungry, professional urban woman. Here’s the Wikipedia description in case you needed more evidence:

Mark’s immediate superior, and also his on-again/off-again girlfriend. In between stealing Mark away for bathroom rendezvous, Callie is berating him for being so soft. She’s the typical 20-someĀ­thing girl who doesn’t know what she wants, but is also bona fide hellspawn, as her father is a high-ranking minion of the Devil. However, since Callie is the product of that demon’s union with her waifish human mother (who was drugged by a cult), Callie is frequently conflicted by her human side. She is drawn to Mark the nice guy, but feels in her heart that she will inevitably end up with someone like Twayne the Bone Raper… after all, it’s what daddy wants. Unfortunately for all of us, such a union could potentially lead to the apocalypse. She also does not like her father, seeming to be more turned on to Mark after believing her father hated him.

Need I say more about how problematic I find this character?

Other female characters prove to be less dangerous but more troubling sexually, like the woman with a face on her crotch and about a dozen breasts on her chest. Even Callie’s yonic abnormality receives attention on the show. The show, then, manifests both fear and awe over female difference through its monstrous-feminine figures.

While I’m not surprised to see Comedy Central churning this stuff out, I’m just a little bit disappointed that the show seems so obviously targeted toward the fanboy with little interest in the fangirl. Gone, it seems, are the days of animated shows like Daria geared toward adolescent and young-adult females. When will producers of such cultural products recognizes that the sex of genre fans isn’t always male?

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Coming Attractions New York Style

25 March 2010 at 21:25 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Last week, my husband and I briefly fled Texas for the urban cultural mecca that is New York City. Being a film fan, I knew I just had to see a good movie while in town. We decided on the latest Bong Joon-Ho film Mother, a terrific character study with a plot that curls nicely into itself.

While the movie didn’t quite live up to the hype (one quote described it as Hitchcockian), it proved surprising in its trajectory and gorgeous in its cinematography. I imagine it’s the kind of film that will only improve upon further viewings.

Even more tantalizing for me were the trailers that preceded the film, the first being No One Knows About the Persian Cats, an Iranian film that takes the meaning of an underground art scene literally as it explores the formation of an indie band in defiance of conservative laws against rock music.

Another potentially interesting film: Everyone Else. The trailer below pales in comparison to the one screened at the IFC, but I want to see this nonetheless:

The promo I saw compared the film to Knife in the Water, and I can definitely see the parallels given this movie’s interest in exploring the insecurities of a young couple, which always seem especially exposed during a vacation.

The most exciting of the trailers, however, would definitely have to be Bluebeard, writer/director Catherine Breillat‘s take on a French fairytale of the same name. Breillat’s films are always lush in look and with provocative plots. This film seems especially indulgent (in the best way possible) in visual excess:

Coincidentally, my friend and fellow blogger Kristen pointed me in the direction of a New York Times piece about Breillat’s interpretation. I am now wishing that I’d delayed my return to catch the premier.

Then again, the rich films on display at my one sitting demonstrate that I’d probably never return to Texas if tried to stick around to catch everything I’d like to see in New York. It’s definitely the place to see a good arty movie.

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Oscar Nominees Round-Up

4 March 2010 at 20:04 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

With the Oscars coming up on Sunday, I thought it might be advantageous for readers to have a list of previous blog entries by myself and friends that discuss nominated films and actors. Below is a list of entries with Oscar 2010 ties:

District 9
District 9 in South Africa
Unanswered Questions in District 9
The Antagonist as Corporation – Part 2
An Education
The Young Ladies of Toronto
Analyzing Your Girlcrush

Inglorious Basterds
Inglorious Basterds: The Review
A Serious Man
A Serious Man: Sound and the Coen Bros.
The Lovely Bones
Peter Jackson’s Girls:The Lovely Bones and Heavenly Creatures
Previews: “Nine”
my thoughts on “precious”

I’d love to see some awards go to The Hurt Locker (especially Kathryn Bigelow) and Inglorious Basterds, two films that are nothing if not audacious. I’m also pulling for the Academy to give some love to Jeff Bridges for his turn in Crazy Heart. Maybe this year, the little guys will put up a good fight against this year’s giant, Avatar.

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