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Last week, Max Brooks, author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, gave a lecture about zombie preparedness to students on campus. I got the chance to talk to Brooks about zombies, and I wrote two stories about it for the DI. However, we talked for a really long time, and I still have 1,000 good words that deserve to see printship! So, here’s some extended conversation with Brooks about writing, zombie origins and resurgence, and how tween girls are the driving force of the free market.

I know you’re a big Studs Turkel fan since World War Z is inspired by Turkel’s oral history of WWII. I also love Turkel, however, my favorite book is Working. With that book in mind: “What do you call your job, what do you do all day, and how do you feel about it?”

“I’m a writer. I’ve been a writer since I was 12; I’ll be a writer until I die. And that’s it. That’s all it is. There’s nothing cool or exciting or pretentious about it. I’m just a guy who writes down what he thinks about. I don’t feel one way or another about it. It’s not a choice, it’s what I am. I didn’t have a momment where I was like, ‘I’m gonna be a writer'” I didn’t choose writing; writing chose me: this is what I am. Since I sat down and wrote my first short story, the world stopped. I literally looked up, and it was three days later, and I had a three page short story. I remember thinking, ‘I think this is what I’m supposed to be.’

Do you remember that first three page story?

Yeah, I still have it. It was about me and my friends in Europe, in the 80s (obviously, because it was written in the eighties), getting in an A-Team-esque kind of battle with Neo-Nazis in the catacombs outside Rome.

What role would writing and texts play in the apocalypse?

I think they’d be hugely important. It’s an art form that doesn’t require batteries. When the power goes out, you’re going to need people scratching on tablets to keep words alive. I always think it’s funny to see how many people have downloaded the Zombie Survival Guide as an e-book. At least the paperback version doesn’t break.

How old are zombies? They date back to African myths correct?

Well, I always say zombies are the new jazz. Jazz is the only unique American music–all the other music we have is basterdized in Europe. The same thing is true of monsters as well, they came from somewhere else, mainly Europe. Vampires, werewolves, mummies (well, that’s Egyptian, via Europe). But then George Romero created the uniquely American monster phenomina. So it came from Africa, but in a very different art form–like jazz. Jazz started as African music and rythyms, then morphed through the American south into what we call jazz. Same thing with zombies. Zombies used to be African voodoo, witchdoctor raises someone from the dead as a slave zombie. The original zombies weren’t flesh eating hordes, they were somebody hit with zombie powder, then they died, then you dug them up and made them do chores. George Romero turned it into an apocalyptic thread, a fresh eating threat, a viral threat, an uncontrolable thread. George Romero rewrote the book just like the jazz greats did with American music.

Why do you think zombie narratives resurged so strongly in the last decade?

I think Zombie 2.0 started because people were like, “Wow, the fucking system is breaking down.” That’s what I was trying to do with World War Z. People had disaster on the brain because we kept getting hammered, one after another. People are really using zombies in interesting ways to examine societal collapse.

Now, I think we’re in Zombie 2.5. Zombie 2.0 came about in 2002-3: 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, the remake of Dawn of the Dead, The Walking Dead comic, and The Zombie Survival Guide started a zombie Renaissance that started to snowball. Zombie 2.5 are the people picking up on Zombie 2.0–the people picking up on that…The first wave was the sixties and seventies. Romero, and the Italians and some Japanese guys–stuff like that. In 2.5, people are taking the genre even farther and doing even cooler things with it. Daniel Dresner (ed. note: U. of Chicago Political Science prof.) wrote a book called Theories of International Politics and Zombies examining foreign relations through zombie crisis…Dr. Steve Schlozman is a neurologist at Harvard trying to go really deep into the science of zombies with The Zombie Autopsies.

I think Shaun of the Dead is one of the best zombie movies ever made…and it’s a lot deeper than it seems. it’s funny, but the dude shoots his own mother–that’s intense. It’s about British society, their version of the slacker generation: people doing something with their lives. The British version of doing something with your life is a lot different than the American version–we say doing something is making a lot of money. The British think you need to go out and live your life, and do whatever you want to do. Whether that’s find the girl you love, quit the job you hate, whatever. You’re going to be dead soon.

What was your first contact with zombies?

I’m 12 or 13 and my parents went out to dinner. I snuck into their room to try out HBO and look for tits…you never knew when there’d be a sudden flash of breast, so I would stay up all night waiting for it. Suddenly there’s a naked woman, and I’m thinking glory hallejulah! But turns out, it’s a zombie canabal movie.Very gory, very explicit. When you’re 13, that will mess you up.

It’s weird that your first zombie experience was also a sexual one.

Well, that was the goal, but let’s say, things deflated very quickly.

The vampire boom that seems to be happening in tandem to the zombie boom is a lot more explicitly sexual. Can you add eroticism to zombies?

I’m greatful this hasn’t happened yet, but I bet someone will. With the vampires, and Twilight, that’s just the nature of the beast. The beast not being horror, but capitalism. Anytime there’s a hint of money, somebody gets the idea to market it to tween girls. Tween girls are the engine of the global economic system. If you can market something to little girls who spend their parents money, get obcessed, and buy anything related to the product, that’s where the money is.

Do you have any ideas for teen supernatural romance?

I got nothing. So I’m screwed.

What do you think the difference is in how Americans treat zombies compared to the rest of the world?

Americans usually have a happier ending. Italians get pretty hardcore. The Italians use zombies for exploitative blood and guts. The Japanese sort of the same thing, but

I haven’t seen your live readings, but I read you call them “self-defense lectures,” Can you tell my readers more about the performance and why they should go see it?

It’s a self-defense lecture based on the zombie survival guide. If you don’t know how to survive a zombie attack, chances are you will when I get done talking. And of course, answering questions.

Thought provoking?

Everybody has a theory to bounce off me, settle an argument with a friend. One guy had the idea of putting up razor wire, so when zombies come at him (because zombies wouldn’t notice the wire) they would cut their heads off. I said, ‘That’s a great idea, but what height would it be? Zombies don’t have a unified height.” So, then he went back to the drawing board, and I bet whatever plan B he’s thought of now is foolproof.

Do you prepare for zombie attacks? Do you have anxiety about the apocalypse?

I do. I have a zombie proof kit, which is also called my earthquake proof kit. The thing about surviving a zombie apocalypse is that it’s no different from surviving any other natural disaster. You need basic survival gear: a way to purify water, a medical kit, emergency rations, a hand crank radio, and a weapon for self-defense. Essentially though, zombies, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods: it’s all the same stuff. There’s nothing zombie specific in a zombie survival kit.

Lots of earthquakes?

All my life growing up, we trained. We had earthquake drills all the time. Every house I knew had earthquake kits that had to be updated every year. We all had an earthquake plan, like where do you go, who do you meet with, where’s a safe place. Now that I have a family of my own, we do the same thing.

Any really bad earthquakes?

College story. Not interesting enough.

The Center of Disease Control has a Zombie Preparedness website Michael told me. Did you have any role in it? What do you think?

They know exactly what I’ve been talking about for years. If you’re ready for a zombie disaster, you’re ready for a natural disaster. What’s great about what the CDC is doing is they’re getting kids to start thinking about disaster preparedness in a fun way. They’re almost tricking them to be ready for any type of crisis.

Since they’ve put this out, the CDC and I are trying to corporate to work together. They have a zombie preparedness graphic novel and I can help promote that. If I can get a CDC rep to come to my lectures. If you have a kid who reads my book, or the CDC’s pamphlet/graphic novel, and goes home and tells his mom they need a zombie survival kit, they’re essentially building a tornado preparedness kit–they just don’t know it. There’s nothing zombie specific, there’s no silver bullet, no cloves of garlic, nothing in the kit would be useless in a real disaster.

Something that’s always stuck with me was needing a crowbar for the disaster.

I do! That came from my earthquake preparedness kit. In an earthquake, houses can shift on their foundations, and doors can jam in the frame. I know a lot of people who have crowbars to pry stuff open.

You can also slam it through the skull of a zombie to crush it’s brain.

Exactly, and it doesn’t need reloading.

I know you’re not that involved, but what should I print about the movie? Do you keep up with the news? The internet seems generally “piss-off” whenever any new information is released regardless of the information. Does entertainment news transform people into masses of mindless monsters?

From what I’ve heard, is that they’ve wrapped shooting, but I could be wrong because I’m just an observer (and not even a close observer). I’m not a writer, producer, consultant–I don’t even have a cameo. Mark Forester said it best in an interview with MTV, ‘We’re making our own movie; we’re telling our own story.”

I grew up around movie sets and I know enough to know that it’s a work in progress. I’m not going to pass any judgement or even bother to keep up until I see the finished product–because that’s what it’s all about. Movies go through so many changes from start to finish, that’s why I haven’t even read the script. What I would have read in the script wouldn’t have even been what ends up on the screen. They didn’t even want me involved, which is fine because I’m also a zombie fan. I’d like to go see a cool zombie movie.

It seems like the internet gets really mad when any information is released. Is that flattering in a way, like as a respect for your work?

It’s definitely flattering. But if I could talk to the people who get angry whenever they hear internet rumors, let’s just wait until we watch the movie and see what they do. That’s my attitude: I’m not going to get upset until I actually see the movie. What if it’s cool? Then I would have gotten upset for nothing and have egg on my face.

Does Entertainment news have the power to turn people into mindless monsters?

Not as much as Fox news. Zombies are a good metaphor for a great many things. Mindlessness always terrifies me. People who act without thinking–especially people who commit violent acts without thinking–are pretty terrifying. I lost six million of my relatives because of that mindlessness. It’s pretty close to the heart there.

Distinction between Romero’s zombies.

The inhumanity makes zombies scary. George (Romero, but I can call him George because I’ve met him a few times) is a master story teller; a lot of his movies are to make the zombies more human than the humans. I remember when Day of the Dead came out and those two dilweeds Siskel and Ebert were talking about it. One of them said…I think it’s a better…when I go to sleep at night, it’s the static, inhuman, walking ebolia kind of zombie that keeps me awake.

Everybody has their own zombies that they like. For example, I’m a slow zombie fan, but I’m clearly in the minority and I know that now. Most people just like faster zombies–fine, good for them. But that doesn’t do it for me. It’s the difference between fear and aniexty. With fast zombies, you don’t have time to think, you don’t even have time to be afraid. It’s just adderaline pumping, kill or die. But when it’s a horde of slow zombies that will reach you in a few minutes, or a few hours, or even a few days–that’s a lot of time to think about how you’re going to go. That’s anxiety. That’s something even scarier. It’s the difference between getting shot and getting cancer.

There’s a chance no one may ever get to see the movie since they may be busy dying in a fiery apocalypse sonic flare. What would you say if that happened? Would you be relieved, disappointed, or dead?

My reaction would be, “Thank God they paid me in advance.” That’s another reason I’m holding off judgement. I suppose this is the first time I said this in any interview: I don’t have any financial stake in this movie doing well. I don’t get a piece of it. If this thing turns out to be a megablockbuster, I won’t see a dime. So if I see the movie and I go out and say to a microphone in my face, ‘Hey, that’s a really good movie!’

“The only reason I would say it’s a good movie is if I really like it. From a marketing standpoint, the book sales of a novel adaptation peak before the movie comes out…people buy the book before the movie comes out, not after.”

The Walking Dead, Marvel Zombies, your comic, and a proliferation of indies show that zombies are do well as sequential picture narratives. Why do you think that is? Is it just people love zombies, or is there something about the medium that allows writers to tell zombie stories from a new angle?

There were certain stories in the back of zombie survival guide that I wanted to see. I think they would have been good visually, and I didn’t want to wait for some movie to come out eventually. There was no movie deal on the horrizon, and there still isn’t. Paramount has optioned the rights for Zombie Survival Guide, but who knows if they actually want to adapt it, or if they did it because they didn’t want someone else to get it. I thought comics would be a great way to see it.

Since it was a visual medium, I knew that the artist would be the rock star of the project, so I didn’t even worry about people liking my stuff. And the truth is, X is the rockstar of the project; yeah, I wrote directions on what he should draw, but I can’t draw. If anything in there is cool, it’s cool because he drew it.

Did you pick him for a specific reason?

I picked him because I wanted it to be the most realistic artwork I could find. I didn’t want it to be stylized because I felt the historical settings needed to have information conveyed that couldn’t be done with stylized art…How many people really know what the French foreign legion look like in North Africa? Or an 18thc. Caribean slave plantation?

“Before I’m anything I’m a history nerd. I’ve always loved history, it’s always been my passion. It’s the only thing that saved my education because I was so passionate about it.”

How did you write zombie stories for non-American settings?

Lots of homework. lots of book learning. lots of reading. not just dry factual texts, but also books by authors from the countries in question…Plus interviews for people from other countries. I have a friend who works for Uncle Sam–I can’t say what he does, but he goes to China a lot. He was insturmental in Chinese slang, and little things about Chinese culture–the names of their cellphones, the types of cars they drive. The things that make it human, real…For every fake interview I did, I did a real interview.

What role would writing and text play in the apocalypse?

I think they’d be hugely important. It’s an art form that doesn’t require batteries. When the power goes out, you’re going to need people scratching on tablets to keep words alive. I always think it’s funny to see how many people have downloaded the Zombie Survival Guide as an e-book. At least the paperback version doesn’t break.

Do you read ebooks?

I don’t. I like having my books in my hands, and I like when it’s done up here on my shelf. I don’t like having it in the either.

Zombie stuff: What childhood contact did you have with zombies, or even horror in general? Do you remember any early childhood fears or anxieties? What was your first zombie in counter?

Do you have any theories why zombies have been so popular in the last ten years? I have one, inspired by WWZ: zombies are a useful metaphor for dissecting public crisis and government response. I think the scary thing about WWZ isn’t the undead, but the fact that no matter what the crisis–zombie, hurricane, or terrorism–the govt. will do a bad job handling it.

You wrote for SNL during what many (ok, me and my friends in particular) consider Saturday Night Live’s last golden age: Tina Fey, Amy Poler, Tracy Morgan, Will Ferrel (stop me if I’m wrong). Was that your first comedy writing job? As a big SNL nerd, I have to ask, what sketches did you champion or come up with. Do any stick with you? Will you share a story? Do you think the show could exist without Lorne?

You were also there during 9/11 right? Were there conversations about how to handle it? Do you wish you handled it differently at all?

Let’s take a zombie break before we REALLY get into it because I have a few questions about your other entertainment endeavors. How did you get involved in voice acting?h

I ask, because my research led me to The Watch List. Cool movie. What was the impetus in making that?

Zombie epidemics are serious business; the Center of Disease Control says so. On October 14th, the CDC released a “graphic novel” explaining zombie outbreak preparation. The CDC says the comic is to prepare “You…any kind of disaster, even zombies.” Could this be proof the government has invented a contagious zombie virus?! Probably not, but…

“I don’t think there’s anything remotely funny about being eaten alive by zombies,” said Max Brooks, zombie expert and New York Times best selling author of The “Zombie Survival Guide” and “World War Z.” Brooks gave a lecture on zombie preparedness to about 250 listeners, Tuesday night at the Illini Union.

“Zombies don’t obey the laws of conventional monsters,” Brooks said. “Since humans have rose to evolutionary dominance, we need to go out and find creatures that will eat us…[If you get eaten,] it’s your own fault. You just a crocodile hunter.”  Zombies break the “laws” because they come directly to you–and they come in droves.

“That’s why I’ve spent so much time and energy figuring out zombie survival,” Brooks said. “A real zombie apocalypse isn’t going to be like a video game…there’s no random weapons or ammo…[or] magic red boxes that heal you when you touch it…Real disaster preparedness is made up of little details.” In Left 4 Dead, your worst threats are Boomers and Smokers; in real life, your worst threats are dehydration and dysentery.

“You have to go into nature!” Brooks said. The most important thing to do during a zombie outbreak is leaving populated areas; places that had people will become places that have zombies. The second most important thing is finding a weapon.

“This is America, we have to talk about guns. It’s in the Constitution,” Brooks said. He went on to explain that if you want to kill zombies, guns aren’t your best option. Instead, choose a close range melee weapon, like a crowbar, sledgehammer, or machete: they’re silent, multifunctional, and don’t use bullets. Next, you’ll need a way to get around. Perhaps a Hummer?

“No one has ever invented a car that runs on fear,” Brooks said. Cars have the disadvantage of needing gasoline–which, as Mad Max shows, will be a coveted rarity in an apocalyptic landscape.

“How about a bike?” Brooks suggests. “It’s light, easy to repair, and something you can pick up if you run into barracades. Plus, a bycycle does run on fear!”

Reception was mostly positive to Brooks lecture.

Drew Podlewski (DGS as of Spring 2010), ” I didn’t know how much personality he had! He’s really funny. I thought most zombie or horror novelists would be dry and boring. I’ve never seen a presentation like this before, it was really cool.”

Mitchell Paglia, director of enriching programs for the Illini Union Board, agrees.

“I’ve read the Zombie Survival Guide twice, and it was fun to hear the tone behind the words, so to speak,” Paglia said.

Brooks said his humorous approach to zombies lures people to preparing for the zombie outbreaks early. When will zombie infestation occur?

“We don’t know where viruses come from…we just know that they happen….my concern is how we react to them,” Brooks said.

 

HEY! The Art Theater’s screening Tommy Wiseau’s masterpiece, The Room on the weekend of September 2, 3, 4, and Thursday the 8th! Even if you’ve seen the movie on DVD, you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO SEE IT LIVE! Closest perhaps to midnight screenings of Rocky Horror, The Room‘s has weird rituals and antics all its own. Plus, the Art’s screening it for only $5! Bring your spoons!

A Room? No, The Room!

If you’ve never heard of The Room, start here. The Room stands a good chance at being the worst movie ever made. Its plot is nonsense, the acting is terrible, the script, direction, scenery a total mess–everything about the movie screams, “The person who made this must be a total idiot.”

Tommy Wiseau is that idiot. The film’s director, writer, producer, executive producer, and protagonist wears many hats–all of them are big, floppy hats that make him look very silly. The Room cost 6 million dollars (every cent seems wasted) earned from suspicious leather jacket exporting; Wiseau filmed in high-definition and standard def. because Wiseau wasn’t clear on the difference between the two (costing millions extra and completely unusable footage); actors left production on the movie before it finished, then capriciously recast; just a few months ago, years after The Room‘s release, Wiseau’s director-credit was challenged by numerous members of the film’s script producer claiming that Wiseau had no idea what he was doing. The whole thing seemed a gigantic cluster-fuck until something peculiar happened: despite the movie being advertised as a drama, premier audiences laughed from start to finish. Behold the glory of subjective interpretation! Now, The Room is a legitimate cult classic success! Midnight screenings are held across the country, and, because of his introductions and appearances at those screenings, Tommy Wiseau is an internet celebrity. O, the crazy, 21st century world in which we live!

Since movies are expensive, Hollywood does its best not to release expensive, amateur films that have no way of making back their money. Thankfully, we live in an age of handi-cams and Twitter: anybody can make a shitty movie and everybody else can find out how shitty it is. Some folks (including Wiseau himself) call The Room a “Citizen Kane of bad movies”. I agree. The Room champions its auteur a relentless, directorial vision–a vision from the weird, droopy eyes of a man who’s never seen a movie in his entire life. Kane is remembered for its rich narrative, its attention to detail, and its articulation of cinematic language. The Room does none of those things; it does the opposite of all those things. The Room‘s narrative is so banal, so trite; however, the collection of unresolved plot threads give it the illusion of complexity. Every aspect of The Room looks haphazardly compiled, like everything was bought at Home Goods the day before. As for cinematic aesthetic, The Room is a cross between Cinemax skin-flick and corporate training video.  I feel a tension I doubt will ever be resolved when it comes to The Room. Where did I learn so much trivia? How can I quote so many lines? Why am I so in love with such a shitty movie?

Perhaps that answer lies with Wiseau’s utmost sincerity. Remember: the movie was initially billed as a drama. Wiseau thought this movie was worth making; heck, he thought it was worth 6 million dollars! People say The Room is like Rocky Horror, but that’s certainly more in reputation than in content. Most cult classics (Troll 2; anything Ed Wood) are horror movies that aren’t scary. The Room really is unique; no other shitty movie is like it. In a way, isn’t that what makes a good movie? Well, that’s merely one thing; unfortunately, it’s the only thing The Room’s got.

Relive it through these choice quotes. Make sure to use your Tommy Wiseau voice!

These are some of the movie’s best quotes, in order of utterance, so you can replay the entire film in your mind’s eye right this second!

Two’s a party, three’s a crowd; So how’s your sex life?; I did not hit her, it’s not true! It’s bullshit! I did not hit her! I did not! Oh hi, Mark! Hi doggie!; You’re my favorite customer!; Chocolate is the language of love; Anything for my princess!; I got the results back and it’s offical: I definitely have breast cancer; You are tearing me apart, Lisa!; WHAT KIND OF DRUGS DENNY?; You’re not my fucking mother! He beat her up so bad, she wound up in a hospital on Guerro St.,  HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!; I feel like I’m sitting on an atomic bomb waiting for it to go off; You just a chicken, Cheeep cheeeeep cheep!; Don’t touch me matherfucker! (sic); Leave your *stupid* comments in your pocket! Everybody betrayed me! I fed up with this world!

Stuff to Bring to a Screening:
Like all midnight-movies, you need to make up weird traditions otherwise the shitty video starts to get boring. The Room is no different. While its subculture may seem daunting to a neophyte, all you really need to know is one thing: be drunk and throw spoons liberally. This section was adapted from House Of Qwesi “A Viewer’s Guide to The Room” published on The AV Club. Go read it!

Spoons! – Can’t watch The Room without spoons; they’re so important most screenings hand them out at the door. Spoons are kind of the best part about The Room. Completely unexplained or related to the plot, pictures of tacky pictures of spoons line The Room’s room and pop-up all movie. Whenever you see the spoon painting, throw spoons at the screen. As the movie keeps going and people get drunker, you can throw spoons whenever. Rarely will you be in a situation that encourages you to throw so much plastic cutlery–take advantage of it!

Footballs – There’s a scene in the movie where the characters play footballs in suits. Suddenly, one of them trips, falls, dies and is never heard from again. The moral is: if you and your friends play football in the theater, be careful! Don’t break the screen or the projector! Underhand tosses only! Don’t kill your friend! Just toss it gentle, like dad used to. And remember, nobody likes a stuck-up hunk! Share your football with the other boys!

Scotchka – Johnny doesn’t drink, but when Lisa mixes him this tastey concoction, he sips it right down. Is it because Scotchka is the most delicious drink of the decade? Absolutely not, fuck no. Skotchka is terrible and proves that Wiseau must be an alien from another planet because no human being in the history of ever would want to drink this. If you bring/buy Skotchka for a screening, be prepared to find yourself in the bathroom making out with someone wearing a Primus t-shirt and missing the end of the movie.

 

The Military-Industrial Complex and Pulpiticians of Conventional Morality (heretofore, The Man) says  everybody loves Christmas and all its Yuletide cheer. The reality: most of the world doesn’t give a shit about Christmas (or Jesus even), and plenty of people who should be happy are exhausted from the holiday’s obligations and/or disenfranchised by X-mas’ tacky displays of hyper-consumerism. In short: Christmas sucks for plenty. The following media confirm your your suspicions: Christmas is a capitalist conspiracy funded by Coca-Cola, wrapping paper conglomerates, and the American-Dream-Propaganda-Machine known as Hollywood, with the agenda of tricking innocent people into wasting money on garbage, time with people they hate, and the fetishistization of a corrupted Pagan fantasy!

Awesome TV Specials Proving Christmas Sucks — Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) perfectly articulates the angst of Christmas season, set to delightful jazz piano. “I always end up feeling depressed!” Charlie Brown bemoans. The little bald boy resents Christmas’ commercialism–Money! Money! Money! The Meaning of Christmas!–a flyer explains. Minus the secular message, it highlights the holiday’s biggest problem: people demanding gifts. The first episode of The Simpsons, Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire (1989) shows you can’t pick your presents, your family, or even the winner of a dog race; there’s a reason the 90’s most biting satirical wit set its first sites on Christmas. How can we combat Christmas woes? Seinfeld’s Frank Costanza makes up his own holiday in “The Strike” (1999). “Festivus for the rest of us!,” Frank declares, inventing a holiday founded in the traditions of conservatism (a pole instead of a tree), self-improvement (Airing of Grievances instead of gift-exchange) and father fighting. In short: the best way to escape Christmas’ dark chill is beating up your dad.

The Root of All Evil –Arnold Scwatzenegger’s Jingle All the Way (1996) is a shining example of people confusing Christmas as a time for consumption rather than reflection. Sinbad and Arnold try to get their sons a rare action figure and the film tries to purport an anti-capitalist message; however, Jingle All The Way cost 75 million dollars, spawned a series of action figures, and totally sucked. Talk about falling into preformative fallacy! What about schlocky crap cashing in on nostalgic goodwill? Star Wars Christmas Special (1978) was the first appearance of Boba Fett, but is considered so lame even George Lucus himself won’t release it on DVD to make money off of itJim Carry showed the world how easy it is to turn into a hideous monster with, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2001) a lame cash-in on animation legend Chuck Jones’ classic. There’s countless more, but I’m getting too ornery to continue!

How Fucking Romantic — I think the worst holiday movies are the ones that guilting people into enjoying the Christmas spirit. Like Tim Allen’s Christmas with the Kranks: the film that reminds us lots of people use Christmas as a way to ostentatiously compete with neighbors through the display of gaudy lawn ornaments. Hopefully, Tim Allen is done making Christmas movies because America will never forgive him for Santa Claus 3. Vince Vaughn also makes a lot of bad Christmas movies: besides Fred ClausFour Christmases argues that you should have to see every family member in one stressed filled day, even if you’re phony and don’t like any of them. Worst of all, Ben Afflick’s Surviving Christmas: Afflick literally buys a family for a quarter of a million dollars and tries to have sex with his purchased daughter. You may also remember Afflick’s (Reindeer Games (2000), in which he pulls off a huge heist while folks are busy celebrating Christmas. You’re a jerk, Ben Afflack! There’s a reason suicides spike in the holiday seasons.

Deck the Halls with BLOOD!: Some people hate Christmas so much it sends them into a kill-crazy rampage. In fact, it inspired Bob Clark to invent horror cinema’s most notorious genres: the slasher film.  In Black Christmas (1974), a deranged serial killer haunts a sorority house (go Pi Kappa Sigma!) around Christmas time and establishes troupes John Carpenter and Mike Myers would perfect four years later. In 1984, both aforementioned films would be ripped-off with the Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) franchise (spawned four sequels and inspired a similarly named zombie spin-off, Silent Night, Zombie Night). Coca-Cola mascot, Santa Claus, has also been a source of murderous anxiety:  Satan Claus (1996) shows a psychopathic roaming New York, amputating body parts to decorate a really gross Christmas tree; Santa Claws (1996) is an almost-soft-core porno about a crazy Santa stalking an erotic horror actress; cleverest of all, Santa’s Slay (2005) reveals Santa was actually a demon tricked into delivering presents but eventually able to break his curse with capricious murder. Then, there’s the really stupid ones. Like Jack Frost (1996), the movie where an anthropomorphic snowman made of acid kills people by eating them and rapes a girl with his carrot nose (also, the first film to feature “sex symbol” Shannon Elizabeth). Or, Gary Busey’s The Gingerdead Man where the nefarious cookie-killer (made by a witch by combining Busey’s ashes and magic spices) throws his foes into ovens. So good, the film inspired two sequel, The Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust (2008) (the cover shows Gingerdead Man crucified on a cookie cross) and Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver (2011). Strangest of all, Christmas trees have gotten in on the murderous action. I haven’t seen Trees (2000), Trees 2: The Root of All Evil (2004), or the unrelated Treevenge (2008), but I don’t suspect any of them are good in the traditional sense of the word. This section was inspired by, “ko1ru” a list maker on Listal. Thanks!

Miscellaneous:  If you’re looking for more bad-holiday fun, check out: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) (immortalized by that really sweet Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, 1993). Hulk Hogan’s attempt at a family Christmas cash-in, , and, who could forget Adam Sandler’s

In the 90s, sitcoms were a sure thing. Proof: 76 million people watched the Seinfeld’s finale and the franchise  earned 2.7 billion dollars since 2010. Then suddenly, the decade changed. Cable diversified, cheap reality TV got  popular, and, because of genre-pushers like The Office, critics agreed the multi-camera form was dead.

So can anybody answer why the The Big Bang Theory is so popular? Chuck Lorre and his merry band of nerds must have figured something out with around 15 million viewers a week (insanely high in a Hulu/DVR/DVD watching culture), the ability to outperform every competitor in its time slot, newly minted cable syndication rights and a recent contract renewal extending through 2014. New sitcoms can’t last (i.e. ABC) and experimental sitcoms can’t draw (i.e. NBC); however, the traditional CBS style sitcom seems stronger than ever. That’s because The Big Bang Theory (henceforth, TBBT) relies on familiar half-hour comedy troupes but tweaks convention for the 21st century.

1. OLD SCHOOL: Start Broad, Get Specific: Like campaigning politicians, successful sitcoms aim for “the middle,”  to avoid confusing and offending everybody. TBBT, like other Chuck Lorre shows (Two and a Half Men) use a multi-camera form over sixty years old. Location is established through a small set selection; act structure is transitioned by commercial breaks; conflicts are resolved by the episode’s end (or in part two). Since most people are of average intelligence (hence, average), never write a TV show too smart; people like TV formuliac because you can miss an episode or zone out. Don’t get complicated! The central conflict of any given TBBT episode is twofold: a) “Nerds React Poorly to Normal Things”–Leonard/Sheldon/Raj/Howard’s are unable to relate to “normal” society; or, b) “Stupid People React Poorly to Non-Normal Things”–Penny, or a non-male cast member encounters can’t relate to hyperactive nerdiness. These conflicts become the underlying conceit of every sitcom: humans can’t flourish in all situations; therefore, it’s funniest to watch them flounder.

2. WAVE OF THE FUTURE! Find a Fanbase: “How does a show about theoretical physicists play stupid?” Good question. TBBT both mocks and lauds physicists but mostly confuses them with irony (science’s true weakness). This is fundemental to TBBT‘s success. In today’s fickle television market, sucessful shows find passionate fan communities with blogs and message boards. So TBBT has jokes about Star Trek, math, Latin, memes, etc., because a sitcom’s individual jokes don’t matter: the form is so established people know when to laugh implicitly. Only smarty pants critics care about bullshit like “dialogue”. TBBT is just average intellect–corny jokes that reaffirm stereotypes like, “Nerds are weird,” “Blondes are dumb,” and “Relationships are laborious and endlessly complicated”: same shit, different sitcom. The jokes are cake, and the cake is a lie–fanservice tricking nerds into watching a show designed for adults who vote Republican (Middle America!).

3. OLD SCHOOL! Establish Strong Relationships: Critics and fans agree that TBBT‘s greatest asset is character development. Lorre and co. understand this, so they rightfully takes things slow. The entire first season minus 2 episodes develops the dynamic of the core characters (Penny/Leonard/Sheldon); season two explores Raj and Howard and introduces Penny/Leonard “sexual tension”; season three (eventually) resolves the tension introduces new love interests; season four explores the group’s dynamic (season five’s been a crapshoot thus far). A weaker sitcom sets up those first three arcs in season one: not TBBT. Lorre also casts sitcom staples (Johnny Galeck, Roseanne; Kaley Cuoco, 8 Simple Rules For…) for face recognition, and reliablity. TBBT only took one big chance; surprisingly, it’s that chance that’s won the show two Emmys.

4. WAVE OF THE FUTURE! Figure Out What’s Working, Double It: Let’s face it: Sheldon is the reason people watch this show. I like him; Grandmas in Tulsa like him; parents with autistic children like him (seriously, there’s tons of blogging about Sheldon’s ambigious mental predcament). Sheldon’s great! A cursory glace at Neilson numbers and focus groups confirms this. So, the writers  recognized it and made Sheldon integral to every episode’s plot (if he’s not the star, he’s providing irreverent commentary). In fact, the writers literally invented a gender-complementary replica Sheldon. Mayim Bialik is Amy Fowler, an intensely intellectual and socially inept neurobilogist who dresses, looks, and acts exactly like Sheldon. While Bialik is funny, the character also came after allegations that Sheldon might be gay…and gays don’t play in Middle America. More Sheldon, more money!

5. WAVE OF THE FUTURE! Take advantage of Medias: Did you watch TBBT‘s Comic Con Pannel discussion? Because thousands of nerds did. Every month, I see advertisements for syndicated TBBT in my DC comicbooks. 250K Twitter followers; full-motion bus ads; constant late-night talk show cast appearences: TBBT knows how to diversifies its demographics. Since practically anyone can watch the show, any advertiser stands making money from its commercial slots. This readers, is really why TBBT is sucessful: it’s Chuck Lorre certified to make money for years and years to come.

To conclude, I present The Community Counter-Argument. Community went head-to-head with TBBT this season for Thursday night comedy superiority. The outcome: Community is on hiatus and TBBT is renewed until 2014. Critics love Community! How did this happen!? Perhaps because Community openly mocks baby-boomers, Christians, political correctness, and junior college week after week (in fact, the Christmas episode mocked all the aforementioned, simultaniously, in song, while parodying Glee). Or, because Community’s central premise is deconstructing sitcom conventions to show their trite staleness and immobility (also their endeering sentimentality, but that’s hard to catch). Maybe it’s the broad ensemble cast; the complicated plots; the truly esoteric allusions (compared to TBBT‘s facile references); Chevy Chase; etc. Whatever it is, if you ask any TV super-fan, they’ll agree: Community is a great show; TBBT a competent one. So it makes sense why Community might get canceled. Middle America doesn’t want change, commentary, or convention rejection. Middle America wants to see the same thing they saw yesterday packaged with slightly sleaker colors. This is the secret to successful entertainment writing: aim broad, go for the middle.

Since it’s a reboot and nobody’s going to space or Manhattan, a room full of high-powered Disney executives needed to name the new Muppet movie. They chose The Muppets: boring, but signifies the film is about the idea of Muppets (and Muppetry, and Muppeteering) as much as it is a family friendly musical comedy. The essentials are present — the pun-fun and wordplayfulness, the hip self-aware irreverence, and most important to Disney, the sweet billions in collectable tin lunchboxes — but it’s refracted through the point-of-view of adult super-fans fully aware Muppets haven’t been relevant since the internet got cool. In fact, that’s the central conceit of the movie.

To show how awesome the Muppets used to be, we see the childhood of our non-Muppet protagonists, Walter (a puppet) and Gary (Jason Segel) saturated with Muppet movies and merchandise. Walter loves the Muppets because he’s a puppet, and the Muppets are one of the few positive media portrayals of puppet POV (time-out: wouldn’t it be weird if puppets were both cognizant and a disenfranchised minority?); Gary loves the Muppets because he’s a dork without much personality who’s just along for the ride (which makes the equally boring girlfriend, Mary, [Amy Adams] the perfect match). While lame, these characters set the impetus for a Muppet reunion after they hear an evil oil tycoon wants to bulldoze the Muppet theater for oil (typical Muppet dilemma: the drama isn’t in the reason for the show — the drama is the show itself). The show allows the Muppets to postulate what it takes to be popular in the ultra-fickle Internet Epoch by doing exactly what it takes to be popular in said epoch: like hiring obsessive Muppet fans who are musical and funny (remember Segel’s vampire puppet musical in Forgetting Sarah Marshall? Or did you know director James Bobin co-created Flight of the Conchords?); hiring cameos both broad and niche (including Chicago musician extraordinaire Andrew Bird in the final act, Jack Black in his funniest role since School of Rock and even The Guy With The Beard from The Hangover!); and an aggressive viral marketing campaign (Muppet parodies of iconic movie posters; viral videos and trailers; Miss Piggy).

The Muppets is quite “meta,” like the teens say. But, as evidenced by the bored four-year-olds sitting next to me, children always fail to realize the Muppets’ sophistication. Let’s not forget — the not-quite-mops, not-quite-puppets were media savvy and postmodern long before 2011 (The Muppet Show is a show about putting on a vaudevillian puppet show [much more interesting than actual vaudevillian puppet shows], for Henson’s sake!) The Muppets’ genius — the playful absurdism, the biting commentary on celebrity and even a type of moral altruism — is spoken through the mouth of a frog that plays banjo and a bear that wears a floppy hat. The screenwriters, directors and Disney recognize Muppet magic, and that’s how they make a great Muppet movie.

In the winter of 1896, Auguste and Louis Lumiere premiered one of the world’s first movies, The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station. The fifty-second film shows exactly what its title promises: a train pulling into a station. While plain to modern tastes, a locomotive powering across the silver screen scared the pantaloons right off the nineteenth-century audiences unaccustomed to the realism of film. A scene in Hugo (also in the trailer) pays homage to the Lumieres, but also injects 21st century Real™ 3-D techno-vision — a subtle commentary on the progress of the medium (even more realistic today, but nobody loses their pantaloons). The promotional material for Hugo advertised the typical pre-teen world of magical wonder, a knock-off Narnia or The Golden Compass 2: The Clock; instead, Scorsese delivers a surprisingly personal film about coming of age, cinema history and the profundity of creation. I liked it, but I think kids might be bored by all the two-hour running time and the watchmaking metaphors.

The eponymous Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who lives inside the steam tunnels of a French metro station. After Hugo’s family of clockmakers dies, Hugo uses his inherited tinkering abilities and winds the station’s giant clocks for a warm place to sleep and store the automaton his father gave him. Since orphans are not conducive to railway commutes, a security guard with a leg brace (Sacha Baron Cohen) constantly tries to catch Hugo and his robot. With the help of a precocious blond girl, Isabelle, (Chloë Grace Moretz), Hugo learns the robot is related to a famous French filmmaker from the early 20th century — and then the movie becomes a movie about movies.

For 3-D, there’s hardly any explosions or climatic fight scenes! Of course, this is one of Hugo’s biggest strengths. Scorsese uses 3-D for depth and dimension, not cheap pop-outs or literal 4th wall breaks. Pan shots of gears grinding, clocks chiming and machines in motion give Hugo a kinetic aesthetic. Like a clock, the motion is purposeful — Hugo and his family are watchmakers, after all (it doesn’t take a deist to see the significance of a world founded on a well-calculated order). Also remember: Scorsese is dissecting early cinema history by juxtaposing cutting-edge filmmaking of the 21st century. It’s pretty lofty stuff. It hardly feels like a kids movie: if the intellectual rigor isn’t enough to scare the kids away, maybe the dreary setting of the Great Depression or the adults who all seem to despise children will. Yet, Hugo is more significant in the genre of Scorsese than family-friendly classics. Hugo is a boy obsessed with watching, tinkering and creation. It’s hard not to draw parallels to little Marty — a sickly child stuck watching his peers from a bedroom window — dreaming of the escapes of filmmaking. Who knew the guy who made Mean Streets would finish out his career making a kids movie that reaffirms the narrative magic of film while proving 3-D doesn’t have to be a gimmick?