Opinion, Television

SOUTH PARK .V. FAMILY GUY:

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source: Fark

It’s one of the age old questions – which is better: South Park or Family Guy? Many appreciate both shows, but there are just as many who fall very distinctly into one camp. In my case, I am a huge South Park fan and have never really seen the Family Guy appeal. This is not to say that I don’t think Seth MacFarlane is funny – annoying as he may be, American Dad stands as proof that he is capable of decent comedy – I just find that my personal comedy tastes err more towards Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park.

Parker and Stone have been fairly vocal (understatement) in their annoyance towards the two shows being constantly lumped together, and they have a point. The similarities are undoubtedly there – animation, crude humour, surreal elements and so on – but ultimately the creators have very different approaches to what constitutes comedy, leading to shows which have much less in common than it would first appear.

South Park addressed the issue directly in season 10 with Cartoon Wars, a two part episode which lampooned Family Guy with the no holds barred approach that the show uses to lampoon everyone, suggesting that the plotlines of Family Guy were generated by manatees randomly selecting them. The criticisms were very thinly veiled, and Cartman’s words are particularly noteworthy: 

“I am nothing like Family Guy! When I make jokes they are inherent to the story! Deep situational and emotional jokes based on what is relevant and has a point, not just one random interchangeable joke after another!” 

It is worth noting that MacFarlane and the Family Guy camp have generally taken such criticism in their stride, with MacFarlane saying in an interview that he found Cartoon Wars “funny and accurate” but also questioned the “personal venom that they spew in the press about the show and about me.”

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source: Hulu

As much as I love South Park, it is easy to see where MacFarlane is coming from. Stone and Parker appear to hold the show in utter contempt, though this may just be a result of the two constantly being placed together. It is perhaps understandable in that case, considering South Park is ultimately the superior show.

Of course, as I’ve already pointed out, this is all a matter of opinion, but I think South Park has a much stronger case for being better. What initially began as a crudely animated shock value show has grown into smart and inventive satire, dripping in toilet humour.

Parker and Stone lampoon current events, making episodes just days before they air, and no group has been safe from their razor sharp satire. It is on this point that the South Park/Family Guy divide is at its clearest. Whilst Family Guy does satirise to an extent, it generally focuses more on homage/celebration and the shock elements are much more based on the toilet humour and gross out effects. 

Family Guy is also famous/notorious for it’s extensive cutaway gags. Whilst they can sometimes be funny, there is little doubt that the show ran out of steam many seasons ago, as did the cutaways. Whilst I would be exaggerating if I said I have never laughed at Family Guy, I don’t find the show particularly funny. It’s perfectly fine on a single, on-in-the-background viewing, but not something I would specifically tune in for.

South Park on the other hand, tends to improve on multiple watches. It is a deeper humour which can be appreciated on many levels – there is the base, crude humour which still works even if you are unaware of the current events/group that are being lampooned. Then there is the satirical slant which makes for the majority of the funniest moments. 

South Park is also still going pretty strong after an incredible 19 seasons, whilst Family Guy left its best days behind years ago. The latter show has become increasingly stale and desperate, with the infamous killing and revival of Brian being a prime example of how obsolete it has become. South Park on the other hand never feels stale due to how current each season is, and the fact that Parker and Stone seem to have an endless stream of inventive ideas.

Ultimately it all comes down to personal taste, but South Park offers multi-dimensional humour and social commentary in a way that means it will always win out over the long stagnating Family Guy in my book.

Are you team South Park or Family Guy? Share your views in the comments section! 

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Film, List, Opinion

2015 IN FILM

Looking back on an amazing year in cinema. 

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The end of the year is almost upon us – and what a year it has been for cinema. My Cineworld Unlimited card was put to good use over the past twelve months and I managed to cram in an impressive number of viewings. Whilst there have been a few disappointments along the way, there were also plenty of high points, and even a couple of masterpieces. I have compiled here my top five films of the year – no easy task – with a few honourable mentions for good measure. Let me know what your cinematic highlights were in the comments section!

TOP 5:

BROOKLYN

Director: John Crowley

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domnhall Gleeson

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Chud

It feels like every year cinema is getting bigger and as the MCU and other superhero worlds dominate the box office the human element can be left behind. Richard Linklater reminded us of the extraordinary power of the ordinary with Boyhood last year, and John Crowley has followed suit with Brooklyn – based on the novel of the same name by Colm Toíbín – adding a period setting for good measure. Brooklyn is an understated masterpiece, blending gorgeous visuals with a simple and powerful story, alleviated to near perfect status by the incredibly apt casting  – Ronan has been scooping awards for her central role, and oscar glory is well within reach come February.

On a more personal level, Brooklyn resonated with me much more than I expected it to. The film is about a girl close to my age being torn between her desire to be home with her family and to forge a new life in America, a common struggle that transcends time. Brooklyn is a welcome reminder that a film doesn’t have to have superheroes or CGI to impress.

Read my review of Brooklyn here.

ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

Director: Alfronso Gomez-Rejon

Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman

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Anticool

After the smash hit success of The Fault in our Stars last year, another John Green adaption was a safe bet, and sure enough Paper Towns came along this summer. The film was marketed on Cara Delevingne, who was mostly absent from the largely forgettable flick. However, the genre had some life breathed back into it by Alfronso Gomez-Rejon, who took a script from Jess Andrews (author of the book of the same name) and came up with Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, a film that avoided cliche whilst still packing an emotional punch.

I was not initially hopeful  – the marketing made the film look like a quirky Fault in our Stars rip-off – but it stood out due to its rarely static camera work and the incredibly funny script – it reminded me of 50/50 (2011) in that it manages to be a film about cancer that is funny without being crude. Add this to strong leads, a brilliant supporting turn from Nick Offerman and an incredible soundtrack (which I discussed here), and you have one of the most memorable films of the year.

LEGEND

Director: Brian Helgeland

Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton, Christopher Eccleston

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Trailer Addict

Based on The Profession of Violence by John Pearson, Brian Helgeland takes on the Krays in his biopic, which sees Tom Hardy in the dual role of Reggie and Ronnie. The gangster genre is overcrowded, so its hard to nail the genre in a way that stands out, but the Krays are hugely interesting source material and this film is worth seeing, if only for the technical wizardry of seeing Tom Hardy fight himself.

Legend is not without faults – Emily Browning’s character Frances is used as a narrative device to get to the story of the twins and is criminally underwritten as a result – but it still stands out as one of my favourite films of the year. Mixing the funny with the violent, Legend brings a distinct sense of Britishness to the gangster genre, and is all the better for it.

STEVE JOBS

Director: Danny Boyle

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

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There is a good chance that audiences – particularly those in the US – are getting Steve Jobs fatigue. Since the Apple founder and CEO passed away in 2011 there has been a slew of material on the man, but it would be foolish to pass on this latest effort from Danny Boyle, with a script by Aaron Sorkin.

With a theatre-like three act structure, Steve Jobs is a far cry from the done -to-death biopic structure, and Sorkin’s razor sharp script blends perfectly with Boyle’s unique eye for visuals, and Fassbender manages to inhibit the character despite not physically resembling him. It’s Fassbender’s film through and through – as the title would suggest, he is the focal point of the entire film – but he is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast with Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels and Kate Winslet all providing fantastic turns in their own right.

Read my review of Steve Jobs here.

KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK 

Directed: Brett Morgen

Starring: Kurt Cobain

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Since his suicide in 1994 Kurt Cobain has been somewhat of an enigma, the voice of dissatisfied youth, and the wealth of unauthorised material produced on the man did little to dispel any of the myths that arose. However, Brett Morgen’s documentary – the first to be done with the agreement and co-operation of Cobain’s family – cuts through the cultural obsession to look at the man. Morgen stated in an interview that the film aimed to:

“….present an American icon – a revered American icon – in a completely naked and honest manner. Without tearing him down and without building him up, but where we can look him in the eye.”

Blending animated segments with interviews, Montage of Heck is a welcome departure from the typical over reliance on talking heads in documentaries, and is without a doubt the definitive account of who Cobain was. The only thing missing is an interview with Dave Grohl, as a member of Nirvana he seems like a crucial person to talk to about that period in Cobain’s life, and his presence is missed.

Whilst it is at times unsettling to see how deep-set his issues were, and knowing what happened to him makes it all the more upsetting,  Montage of Heck is essential viewing for Nirvana fans, and an enjoyable watch regardless.

RUNNER UPS:

DOPE 

Dope manages to be a crime caper, a comedy, a drama and a coming of age story all rolled into one excellent script. Rick Famuyiwa’s film tells the story of Malcom, Jib and Diggy, three geeks obsessed with 1990s culture who accidentally end up with a rucksack full of MDMA. The lead performances are fantastic and A$AP Rocky even shows up for a supporting role. The film is one that is designed to make you think about the role stereotypes continue to play in society, and it will stay with you long after the credits roll.

MISTRESS AMERICA

Director Noah Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig, who penned the script together, are at their best in Mistress America, a screwball comedy that allows Gerwig to shine. Their collaboration, which worked so well in Frances Ha (2012) has been honed to perfection here, and the film is full to  the brim with laughs, as well as raising some interesting questions about the self obsession in the age of technology.

SUFFRAGETTE 

Undoubtedly one of the most important films of the year, it’s hard to believe UK women’s  fight for the vote had not already been committed to the screen. Starring Carey Mulligan and Helena Bohem Carter, with an appearance from the ever-fantastic Meryl Streep, Suffragette is a fantastic period drama made all the more emotive by the fact that it is based on true events.

MOST PROGRESSIVE: 

SPY/MAD MAX:FURY ROAD

It would be madness not to include Mad Max: Fury Road in talks about progressive depictions in cinema, but I have not yet seen it, so alas my comments cannot extend much further than acknowledgement of what is by all accounts an incredible film.

However, I genuinely believe in years to come Paul Feig’s Spy could be looked back upon as a landmark in comedy. Spy is a sign of progress – perhaps the most notable since Bridesmaids (2011) – with women who are capable, independent and not used as the butt of jokes. The film turns everything that is so awful about James Bond on its head – here we have men that are inept, being helped along by badass women (not a damsel in distress in sight) – and it’s about time.

It seems real change is finally on the horizon, and as ridiculous as it is that it is only the case in 2015, that can only be a good thing. Misogynists need not worry too much – Spectre brought the already questionable James Bond back a few steps in the progressive stakes (read more on that here). You win some, you lose some I guess.

BIGGEST LETDOWN:

KILL YOUR FRIENDS 

Based on John Niven’s (who also penned the script) novel of the same name, Kill Your Friends had the potential to be the British American Psycho (2000), but turned out to be a hollow disappointment. Despite the best efforts of the cast, led by an appropriately stoney Nicholas Hoult, the script feels empty and you’ll be hard pressed to remember the film long after viewing.

Read my review of Kill Your Friends here.

BEST ANIMATION:

INSIDE OUT 

A true return to form for Pixar, Inside Out shows the studio do what they do best – blending beautiful animation with innovative storytelling that tackles big themes in a way that is accessible to all ages. The casting is incredibly well sourced – Phyllis Smith was born to voice sadness – and the timeless concept is one that has already solidified Inside Out as a modern animated classic.

WEIRDEST:

THE LOBSTER 

The english language debut of Greek director Yorgos Lanthinmos, The Lobster is without a doubt the most unique film of the year. A hilariously deadpan story about a hotel where single people go and if they fail to find a partner in 45 days, they a turned into an animal. The film satirises social constructs in a hilarious manner, and whilst there is no doubt that it won’t appeal to everyone, I found the film to be one of the funniest I saw all year.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

Not forgetting Macbeth, Ant Man, Trainwreck, Ex Machina, The Martian, Man Up, Mr Holmes, Danny Collins, Jurassic World, Irrational Man and so many more…


 

I’ve shared this video before, but it’s so good that I’m going to share it again. Ben Zuk created a 2015 Salute to Cinema on Vimeo, incorporating 164 movies into a wonderful montage that reminds us just how great movies can be. Enjoy!

 


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/147217969″>2015 Salute to Cinema</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/benzuk”>Ben Zuk</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

What was your favourite film of 2015? Let me know in the comments section below!

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Film, List

5 THINGS DISNEY WANTS YOU TO FORGET:

e755b881656bff4380e9febb1c418bdeA silent film featuring Walt Disney’s early creation Oswald the Lucky Rabbit has been found at the BFI after being thought lost for decades. The rabbit was one of the first animated characters that Disney came up with, though he lost control of it when Universal gained the rights. Following  this, he tweaked the concept slightly and came up with Mortimer Mouse, the original name of the iconic mouse that is the face of the Disney empire.

The Walt Disney Company is one of the largest mass media and entertainment conglomerates in the world, emerging from humble beginnings at the hands of the Disney brothers Walt and Roy in 1923. There is absolutely no doubting or taking away from the fact that Disney have been responsible for bringing joy to hundreds of thousands of childhoods all over the world, including my own, but no company can be around for such a long time without having a few skeletons in its closet, and Disney is not different.

Without further ado, here are 5 things Disney would probably rather you forgot about…

5 – RACISM:

zy2dnfniahiunhyftenoOne of the main pillars of Disney is its existence as the provider of wholesome family entertainment. It is so dedicated to this cause, in fact, that it releases most of its more adult orientated material under different names as not to taint the squeaky clean Disney brand. There is no doubt that the company would therefore probably prefer you to forget its worrying history with racism.

Unfortunately it is far from a one off blemish on the company record, with a range of depictions over various films ranging from the questionable to the outright offensive. Perhaps the most famous example is that of the crows in Dumbo (1941), who are now generally accepted to be racist stereotypes of African-Americans, exhibiting a range of negative stereotypes from the time period. The leader of the group (or murder, if we’re getting technical) is also called Jim Crow, which was also the name of segregationist laws in the USA. Not cool, Disney.

Another hugely controversial subject was Disney’s 1946 live action/animation hybrid Song of the South. You may not have heard of it, but you are sure to know it’s most famous song, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ (yeah, you might want to stop humming that from now on…). The film features a former slave speaking about his life on the plantation, and has proved so controversial over the years that it has never been fully released on home video, which is why there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of it.

Disney were also forced to remove a part of the original Fantasia (1940) due to its depiction of a small, dark centaur acting as a servant to larger, pale counterparts. Whilst it can be argued that these examples are a reflection of the mindset at the time, and at least Disney have removed them for the circulation (for the most part), it’s still enough to make you feel a bit uneasy, and accusations have also been lobbied at modern Disney including Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas (1995).

Furthermore, Walt Disney’s grand-niece Abigail has actually publicly called the company founder a racist, posting on Facebook:

“Racist? C’mon, he made a film (Jungle Book) about how you should ‘stay with your own kind’ at the height of the fight over segregation!”

This idea suggests that the company was at the height of its racism when its founder was alive, which brings me neatly onto my next point…

4 – …WALT DISNEY WAS A DUBIOUS CHARACTER:

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Racism is not the only accusation that has been lobbied at the man that started it all over the years, with antisemitism being another common area of discontent. It can be difficult to distinguish the fact from the conspiracy theory (its pretty much guaranteed that he wasn’t cryogenically frozen), but the accusations are far from baseless.

The question of Disney’s character was brought to the forefront again a couple of years ago with the release of Saving Mr Banks (2013), which starred Tom Hanks as Mr Disney. The film was released by Disney, which led to many accusations that the film was attempting to gloss over the less desirable aspects of Walt’s character.

Following the films release Meryl Streep spoke out at a speech at the National Board of Review, blasting Disney for being sexist and antisemitic. Abigail Disney went on to agree with Streep with the comment from the last point, where she argued that in spite of her grand-uncle bringing joy to millions he was far from a saint.

For instance, Disney appears to have links to Nazi propaganda film-maker Leni Riefenstahl (most famous for Birth of A Nation), who he showed around the Disney studios in spite of it being in the wake of the Kristallnacht attacks.

It is also worth noting that Walt Disney was also a very notable FBI informant in the McCarthy Era, one of the darkest periods in recent American history. Disney was a founding member of the Motion Picture Alliance For the Preservation of American Ideals and testified to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that the Screen Cartoonists Guide was a communist organisation. The FBI went so far as to designate Disney as a special agent against the soviet threat.

It’s hard to believe that this is all talking about the same guy that invented Mickey Mouse and countless other cute characters, and the fact that Disney glossed over it with Saving Mr Banks suggests the company would rather you didn’t focus on their founders more dubious attributes.

3 – BLACK SUNDAY:

1955-SilverPressPassAJuly 17th 1955 was meant to be the best day of Walt Disney’s life, the day all his dreams and aspirations came to fruition with the opening of Disneyland. With the magic kingdom now being such an integral part of the Disney experience, it will perhaps be surprising to find out the the original parks opening day was actually nothing short of a disaster.

When the gates opened, staff were still racing around planting trees and much of the paint was still wet, as was the asphalt on the Main Street, which saw women’s high heels sinking into it. A plumbers strike also meant that Walt Disney had to make a choice between water fountains and running toilets on the day – he opted for the toilets, but temperatures ran high leaving visitors thirsty.

This was not all that went wrong. A counterfeit ticket problem meant that over twice the intended number of guests showed up, leading to overcrowding and a lack of refreshments. Several rides also broke down and faced problems. Needless to say, the media had a field day, predicting that the park would be a short-lived phenomenon. Of course that wasn’t the case, but the workers did dub the day Black Sunday, and it is probably something Disney want to erase from collective memory.

2 – SUBLIMINAL MESSAGING?:

proposal2Just like with the questions over Walt Disney’s character, this is an area where it is extremely difficult to distinguish fact from conspiracy.

There are quite a lot of people out there on the internet who are convinced that Disney films exist solely to sexualise and pollute the minds of children and young people.

It’s hard to know how much of it is ‘real’, but there is one particular example that straight up can’t be denied. In January 1999 Disney recalled millions of VHS copies of The Rescuers (1977) after it emerged that that there was a topless woman visible in the background of several frames.

This was a huge scandal for the company – a naked woman in a kids film? It was a direct tarnish on the wholesome image the company work so tirelessly to maintain, and whilst the recall of VHS copies was an attempt at damage control, the material had been in circulation for over 20 years at that point.

Accusations have been lobbied at other films, with another notable example being Aladdin (1992), where there is argument over a dubious sounding piece of audio. Whilst it sounds as though there could be a line saying “good teenagers take off your clothes” in the background of a scene, the company has steadfastly denied this being the case and argue that it is an improvised line about a tiger. The jury is very much out on that one, but there is no denying that the company lost some credibility on the issue following The Rescuers incident.

1 – SUING THREE CARE HOMES: 

L.3_MuralThis one is more of a grey area in that Disney were not technically in the wrong, but it is still accepted that it was still a bit of a dick move on the part of the company, as well as providing them with a PR disaster.

In 1989 Disney began legal proceedings against three Florida care homes for having murals which featured the characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse, as well as Goofy the Dog. This was due to the characters being trademarked and belonging to the company, who claimed that the care homes were reproducing them without permission. They went so far as to threaten to take the care homes to court, and the murals were subsequently covered up.

Whilst Disney were perfectly within their rights from a business perspective, the media immediately picked up on the ‘David and Goliath’ type story and it brought the company lots of bad publicity. The situation was worsened when rivals Universal spied an opportunity and gave the care homes the right to use their characters in new murals. Whilst the publicity did eventually die down, there is no doubt this was an incident Disney would rather keep buried.

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