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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

The Simpsons Movie (2007, *** 1/2)

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While it’s taken eighteen years to get blown up to movie scale, the marketing of The Simpsons Movie has taken twists and turns the past few weeks, with a screening in time for most reviewers’ deadlines added only at the end of last week. Fox has in the past few years withheld bad movies from reviewers until the last minute, the rumored reason here was to prevent all the jokes from getting repeated. While the jokes are nonstop from the first frame to the last, if you read five reviews and each give away five jokes with context, there’s twenty-five little “oof!s” you’ll no longer have in the dark with a paying, tickled audience.
The question of spoilers in general came up in a Sunday op-ed by Village Voice writer Nathan Lee (whose passionately empurpled prose is also featured in Film Comment), in which he rows for spoilers. Of the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” early reviews in the Baltimore Sun and the New York Times, Lee writes, “Personally, I couldn’t care less about the fate of the neurotic boy wizard. Professionally—as a film critic who might be assigned to review the movie version someday I hope he croaks. I’m a sucker for bleak endings… I’m that terrible thing, the film critic [who isn’t afraid to use spoilers]… [T]here isn’t a single frame of The Number 23 I wouldn’t mock in great, guiltless detail… I’m confident that my readership does not include humorless scholars of the Joel Schumacher oeuvre. To spoil or not to spoil involves larger questions about the role of the critic, the needs of the reader and the changes to both caused by the scale, speed and outlaw spirit of Web-based commentary…”


The piece is worth the read if your interest is sparked. His ruminations run deeper than, say, “If Maggie were to speak her first words, should you tell?”
While almost all of roaring 88 minutes of The Simpsons Movie was fresh to me, the reason why is also the reason why some fast-moving bits and details were lost to me: I’ve seldom seen more than five minutes of any given episode in all its years on the air. A younger friend of mine, a morbid joker, is always amused to bring up the rationale I gave her: with a broken leg, dengue fever or a long, terminal illness, I would have dozens of hours of “The Simpsons” to while away the eon (Four hundred episodes, twenty-two minutes each…) More practically, I stopped watching cable and broadcast television altogether for several years as part of a pledge after some seismic personal shifts. After that, watching anything filled with commercial breaks grated. (Series on DVD: different affair.)
A reviewer’s personal context as a confessional form of dancing around the plot: yes, there is a plot, about love and family and saving the planet (with a score by hero-scoring Hans Zimmer) and the most inspired throwaway joke is orthographic, approximately so: “, _____________.” The credits, as would be expected, nay, demanded, are rewarding to watch to the very end. (If you leave, you’ll never understand what “Spider-Pig (Chorale)” means.) The script, credited to “Simpsons” veterans James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxstone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder and Jon Vitti leans heavily on irreverence but gratifyingly more so on verbal absurdity.
Even out of context, lines honed to silly perfection have a precision to be admired—skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want anything given away. “I can’t believe everyone in this theater is paying $10 for something they can see for free on TV”; “This Book doesn’t have any answers”; “I’ll teach you to laugh at something that’s funny!”; ”If you can find a greasier sandwich, you’re in Mexico”; “I miss Danny DeVito”; “That could be anyone’s pig crap silo”; “What’s that ominous glow in the distance” and “The top of his head is still showing, claw at it,” are memorable, as are intermittent bursts of animal cruelty, including a lot of business with cats and a burst of penguinicide.
A few notable, arcane references and parallels: The Fox opening logo has an homage to the gag that opens Frank Tashlin’s immortal Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?; a sequence scored to a Carpenters song has all the moony yet moving sap of similar usages in Todd Haynes’ Superstar; a terrific frame seen from atop a hillside of a city in flames being bombarded by helicopters matches exactly the last shot of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Charisma”; and a sustained shot in the naked skateboarding scene shows gratifying invention, as does Bart’s opening chalkboard session. My keenest, dearest piece of advice: if you want to see it, see it cold, and leave at home the know-it-all who will spurt with laughter at even the gags he or she doesn’t understand.

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“His eyes lifting from his iPhone, he took the book from my hands. He congratulated me. Then, staring at the cover, he said, “Great title. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it myself.”

“These words worked on me like a hit of morphine. Like two hits. It felt as if I was no longer the occupant of my own body. The legs had gone weak, the ears warmed, the eyes watered, the heart rate increased rapidly. Barely able to keep myself upright, I told him, “Thank you.”

“Then Roth, who, the world would learn sixteen days later, was retiring from writing, said, in an even tone, with seeming sincerity, “Yeah, this is great. But I would quit while you’re ahead. Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.”

“I managed, “It’s too late, sir. There’s no turning back. I’m in.”

“Nodding slowly, he said to me, “Well then, good luck.”

“After which I went back to work.”
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“Any form of physical or sexual assault is a very serious matter, potentially a legal matter. But I’m also wondering, what about having some kind of “extreme asshole” clause? I know lots of people who have been abused verbally and psychologically. That’s traumatizing, too. What do we do with that?  It takes a lot of energy to be an asshole. The people I admire most just aren’t interested in things that take away from their ability to make stuff. The people I really respect, and that I’ve met who fit this definition, have a sense of grace about them, because they know that there is no evolving and there is no wisdom without humility. You can’t get better if you behave in a way that shuts people off. You can’t! You don’t have all the ideas necessary to solve something. You don’t! I’m sure if you spoke to Harvey in his heyday and said to him what I just said to you, he would believe that he accomplished all that he had because of the way he behaved.”
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