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Magnus Palsson interview

A while back I reached out to Magnus Pålsson, better known as SoulEye, and best known for composing the stellar soundtrack of VVVVVV. He had just released a metal remix of that game’s soundtrack, MMMMMM and he quickly consented to an interview to help promote it.

Great! …except that when my computer crashed soon afterward, I thought I lost the draft. Only recently did I find it, and it might have been a stroke of good timing, since Pålsson had some technical difficulties with his web-host that prevented anyone from purchasing the album until now. So, while the delay wasn’t deliberate, I’m happy to be able to finally post the interview at a time when you can actually buy the album!

(Also, on a personal note, I can highly recommend Adventure. It’s absolutely incredible, and has been on permanent rotation for me.)

1) How did you originally get involved with Terry Cavanagh? How did your contribution to VVVVVV come about?

VVVVVVFirst of all, thank you for having me on here on this excellent site for an interview! It’s my pleasure to answer your questions.

I had put up some of my music for free download online, and one of Terry’s friends named Charlie asked me if he could use one of my songs for his game. I said sure, as long as I can have a copy of the game when it’s done.

He came back a month later and gave me a copy. The game turned out to be a shoot-em-up where you play a severed dog’s head, raining hot death on evil attacking space-penises that attack you with semen. That game is spunky. It’s called Space Phallus if you want to play it.

Anyway, Terry naturally played Charlie’s game, and liked the song I had provided. (The song is “Retro Tune” and can be found as track number four on my album “S” here.) He emailed me and asked if I wanted to make music for his (then-supposed-to-be) free game called VVVVVV.

I thought it was a great idea, since I’ve loved games all my life, so I was happy to make a songs for the game.

2) How much guidance were you given in terms of your work on the soundtrack? Any specific atmosphere or tempo to reach for?

I got a beta copy of the game. It was using an old c64 placeholder song, but I was largely given free reign. Instructions were limited to just a few adjectives. He would give me the beta, I would play it, and then think, “What does the ideal platformer song sound like in my head?” And then I produced “Pushing Onwards.”

Terry put “Pushing Onwards” into the updated beta, and got inspired by the song so much that he created a new level. And then he needed more music! So I made “Positive Force.”

And then he had that one on loop for days on end, and made another level. And so it went on. We inspired each other, like a symbiotic relationship designed to evolve the game.

At a certain point, I felt there was enough good stuff in there, but I wanted a masterpiece in there, that would stand out for a long time. And thus, “Potential for Anything” was dreamed up.

I cut out entire sections after writing these songs until I got everything “just right.” It took almost a month to complete because of all the structures, details and harmonic intricacies that went into it.

3) I’m not sure I’ve ever read a review of VVVVVV that doesn’t specifically praise the music. Why do you feel it’s stood out to players in a way that few soundtracks have?

I am entirely self-taught when it comes to music, for good and bad. Many people come to me and ask what programs I use, how I get inspired, how to be creative. Sometimes, those who have the hardest time being creative are those who have been taught in various educations that there is a right way and a wrong way to create music. That you should follow a certain structure, follow the rules, and if you don’t do it right, you shouldn’t be in the business of making music.

Of course, this isn’t always the case, and most educations are great. This is not about saying education is bad. And I have a point to make. It’s that if you believe someone when they say that kind of stuff to you, you might unconsciously put a lid on the very thing that made you want to go into music in the first place: your own soul’s unique voice.

For me, music is an expression of my inner life. It’s a way of sharing myself to the world, how I feel. The music I write is therefore “true,” in the felt sense of the word. There have been few places where I’ve forced myself to make music in a certain way. This intuitive way of writing music has also made me make music only when I feel like it. Typically, I like to write music when I’m feeling really good, happy and enthusiastic. If I’m not, the music reflects that.

Given the above, consider that the songs in VVVVVV were written from my heart. They were made without any thoughts on profits, career in music, fans, recognition, future travels, and so on. They were made for the sheer joy of it all. No agenda. All the things that happened later were really unexpected.

4) What was the first album you ever owned?

It was Hey Stoopid (released in 1991) by Alice Cooper. I remember buying it because I liked the music and a part of me thought I became cooler just by owning it.

I would listen to it a few times, but not obsessively. At that point I had no plans for making music. I was just enjoying it. I remember being fascinated how one track was produced so that it naturally flowed into the next at one point. I would hear the click sound when the CD player changed tracks, and keep the same synths playing.

It’s a good album even today, but Alice himself was never my biggest influence. The most enjoyable thing on there was, as I think back to it, was Slash and his masterful play on the guitars.

5) What was the first video game whose soundtrack really grabbed you?

Wizball on Commodore 64. The first minute of Martin Galway’s title track is a stroke of genius.

It made me feel like I was tapping into something magical. Like…welcome to the world of wonders, where anything is possible. I had my C64 hooked up to my parents’ old TV, and its crappy mono-speaker (by today’s standards) was, for once, producing something clear, beautiful, new, and real.

I felt exhilarated by it, and wanted the world to know this feeling, this music, and have the same experience I was having. And my teenage self didn’t give an F. I opened the door to the garden, turned up the music, and hoped the neighborhood would rejoice in this wonderful new discovery of mine, that surely would make all those grumpy grownups a reason to put a smile on their faces. But the only result was my mom telling me to shut it off.

I’m happy to report that by now, my now 67-year old mom likes chiptune music. Well, mine at least. There are a few tracks she plays over and over at her house.

6) What was the first film whose soundtrack really grabbed you? How did it make you feel?

The truth is that I was never aware of being really grabbed by a film soundtrack. The only thing that comes up when I think of early movies with good music is Star Wars (1977). I was still in daycare when I saw that movie, and I didn’t completely get what was going on. The appreciation for that music came later on.

I saw an orchestra playing Star Wars music in my home town of Helsingborg a while back. That was an amazing experience. They played it so true to the originals, but the fidelity and quality of the raw vibrations of the different instruments resonating in my body is something I won’t forget easily.

7) MMMMMM is a complete reimagining of the VVVVVV soundtrack with live instruments in a very different style. What sparked this project? How did you come to collaborate with FamilyJules7x?

FamilyJules7x has a long history of covering game music soundtracks. I remember seeing him do a Super Meat Boy medley, and thought, “that’s cool, I wonder what my music would sound like there,” and a seed was firmly planted in me. Given half a chance, I would make it happen.

But I went on my merry way, and didn’t think of it until way later, when, one day, this subconscious dream was realized, and he made a medley of the VVVVVV music, presumably after a number of requests from his listeners. Or, as he put it: “VVVVVV‘s soundtrack is a work of genius and it’s a crime that I haven’t had a go at these songs earlier.”

Anyway, after popping all my gaskets while listening to that, I wanted to make a full remix album a reality, if nothing else, then for my very own listening pleasure. So I just emailed him and we worked it out. It was one of those “this is right; this needs to be done,” kinds of moments, where my guts had a stronger say than my brains.

I love those moments.

8) Explain “Plenary.” This was a track composed for the game, but which wasn’t ultimately featured, to my knowledge. Where was it meant to have gone?

Allow me to enlighten you. The name “Plenary” means “an adjective related to the noun plenum carrying a general connotation of fullness.”

The track which sounds like this in its original form ) is actually in the game but perhaps not heard very often, since it only plays once, when you complete VVVVVV. Am I to take it you haven’t completed the game?

It was a blast creating this jingle. It has a whole slew of intermingling leads, creating a pompous (in the good sense) fanfare that is fitting of a game complete stinger.

[ed: Believe me, I completed the game! I actually meant "Phear," not "Plenary." Magnus was kind enough to explain that track, too, once I'd had my mistake pointed out to me.]

“Phear” was a “song” (it’s more of a sound effect) which appeared on PPPPPP, the game’s soundtrack album, but wasn’t used in VVVVVV. It was supposed to be an Easter egg where if you stood still in a certain room for a long time, the screen would darken, and the creepy sound would start playing over and over at ever-increasing volume. Sadly, it had to be scrapped due to lack of time on Terry’s part for implementation.

9) Name the six biggest influences on your music.

Chris Huelsbeck, Martin Galway, Rob Hubbard, Jeroen Tel, Ben Daglish, and Tim Follin.

You may notice they’re all previous C64 musicians. There are so many others though, and much of what inspires me is unconscious. It’s easy to name these people, as their creations were the music playing during a lot of my formative years. Some of these have gone on to become famous on other platforms as well. Curious fact: one day a few years ago I saw that Jeroen Tel started following me on Twitter. That was a fun moment for me.

10) Name the six biggest influences on your life.

VVVVVVI like how that question was worded. I get to choose any type of influence! I’m going to give them to you chronologically, with the oldest influence first.

1. Games.
I would never be where I am if it wasn’t for computer games. I would play for hours on end, and still do some days, and escape from reality, like so many others. I love it. And at the same time, I’m aware that playing games too much can be detrimental to social interactions, which is where real life is lived.

2. Music.
Obviously. An offshoot from playing games, and hanging around tech-savvy people who liked computers. Music was often a joint interest, and some knowledge on how to work a computer was required to get games working back in those days when it all started. And then it became easy to get music programs working. Suddenly, I found myself at home in making music on a computer, and then I was creating music for others. And now I’m making a living off of it. It’s like I just fell into it.

3. Eben Pagan.
He is a well-known self-development teacher and business coach. He got me started on the road to self-knowledge, which is, like, the best thing ever.

4. Terry Cavanagh.
Again, obviously. And also inadvertently. I never knew what was in store, and how my life would change, after making the songs for VVVVVV. He didn’t either. Terry is one of the most straight-up good guys I know.

5. Decker Cunov.
Decker is transformational coach. If Terry’s influence made external things possible for me, Decker’s influence reshaped my insides in a profound way. With him (and his peers) as a powerful catalyst, I had my mind reset completely after a workshop in personal development back in 2012. I now have a completely different view and approach on life, and those who know me before and after can vouch for me changing.

Because of the great things I experienced in this workshop, I am happy to be part of a worldwide network called “Authentic World.” It consists of people who like authenticity and telling the truth, along with developing ourselves and welcoming different sensations. I educated myself in the subtle arts of the practices that Decker uses in his 6-month course held in your home state of Colorado, and now me and my friends do workshops in Europe in the same fashion, to my great excitement and benefit for participants.

If this tickles your curious bone, more info can be found here. We recently did a workshop in Amsterdam, and if you want to be part of the next workshop in Europe, I strongly recommend signing up for the newsletter.

6. Stefan Molyneux.
Stefan is a philosopher and runs the largest philosophy show in the world. He’s got some 60 million downloads of his stuff, and has almost daily videos put up on his youtube channel. His site is www.freedomainradio.com. If Decker Cunov changed my way of connecting with my feelings, Stefan has changed my way of thinking. He’s radically different than most people, and some of what he says is causing some upsets, but the show contains, in my opinion, healthy and important discussions for any decent human being.

11) The success of VVVVVV must have opened a lot of doors for you, but you haven’t composed for many games since. Are you just being choosy about your next major scoring job?

I have enough material to release a new album tomorrow on my hard drive if I could. There are many reasons for not releasing some stuff. I’ve made music for some games that were shelved at the last moment and now need a new game to make sense, and some games have yet to be released.

To be honest I’ve been dividing my time with other things as well. I’ve been traveling the world and exploring different life stuff. (See my answer to question #5!) I also have a few ideas about making my own game, and am doing research.

The game that is brewing in my mind is a social game about telling the truth or lying, and catching other players doing the same thing. I am still looking for a team on this one (coding and graphics to begin with), and it’s preferable if anyone interested has a solid sense of, and can differentiate between, both objective and subjective truths.

That being said, I’m open for music business! If you’ve got that killer game needing some Souleye TLC, don’t hesitate sending me an email. I would love to make some chiptunes for another fun game. Perhaps they will be chiptunes with some metal infused next time…

12) They’re making a live action VVVVVV movie. Who plays Captain Viridian?

VVVVVVKeanu Reeves. Haha! He took the red pill and became green. Maybe Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt would work as well…let me talk to their agents.

Already confirmed supporting actors are: Christopher Lloyd as Chief Verdigris, Kirsten Dunst as Doctor Violet, Scarlett Johansson as Doctor Victoria, Jim Carrey as Officer Vermilion, and Jim Parsons as Professor Vitellary.

13) Which Mega Man boss has the stage music?

My experiences aren’t THAT in-depth with the series. I’ve played through Mega Man 2 from start to finish, but that was a long time ago.

14) What has your experience been like with fans of your music? I have to assume it’s been positive, as you’ve collected many of their remixes and given them official release on the PPPPPPowerup album.

Oh, the people have been great. Just great. The fans are really nice to me. It’s one of the great things about being in this line of work; you get paid not only in money, but also in little internet hearts! I love my fans. <3

One of the most touching letters came from a guy who had been suffering from depression for months and months, and then he started listening to PPPPPP, and, I don’t know, subconsciously caught on to the subliminal messages that I would never admit to putting in there, because they’re not in there, and anyone who says they are in there haven’t played some of the songs backwards yet because that’s how you really get to…

Wait…I’ve said too much about those subliminal messages. They aren’t there…

Okay, enough with the joking. He claimed that my music helped him out of his depression in a very real way, and was very nice and thankful. His message moved me to tears. When I get feedback like that I sometimes feel like the effect the music had on him alone would have made it worth making the music.

Music is powerful.

15) Name one song that makes you want to turn the radio off every time you hear it.

Oh… I know where this is going. If I bring a song up like that to a friend, they’ll instantly start singing it back to me…

Haha! Well okay, it doesn’t matter. I’ll look forward to getting Rick-rolled with the song in the future.

That which you resists, persists, so… I’m going with a Swedish song called “Hej Monika.”

16) Go back in time and give one piece of life advice to Magnus Pålsson, age 10.

Trust yourself. Find out what your values are, what feels good. Learn how people make meaning out of words. And if the world seems to be doing it wrong, and you don’t quite understand it even if you really try, most likely they’re all doing their best with what they know and the only thing you can do is learn the ways they were taught to do it so that you one day can untangle those webs from yourself and others.

17) Go forward in time and give one piece of life advice to Magnus Pålsson, age 100.

Hey dude, I didn’t think you’d make it this long! But it’s time to face the fact: it’s near the end.

After you’ve said your goodbyes to your, well, to be honest, rather obscenely large family, I want you to have a good time and not fear death. I hear that hard drugs are effective in achieving that.

They’re also addictive and ruin your life in the long run, but there’s no long run anymore, so it’s time to find out what you’ve been missing! Full speed ahead! Geronimo!

On a more serious note though, what I believe is one of the best ways to go is to be in deep connection with your loved ones. Ask them to spend a lot of time with you during those last moments. Knowing that you’ve already imparted what you’ve learned about life with them, and that they’ll be all right. All what we got left is to be with each other, and stay connected for as long as possible.

But then again, that’s true for every moment in life, so why save that piece of advice for later?

18) If you were physically transported into VVVVVV, taking Viridian’s place, how far would you make it before dying?

VVVVVVI would die to the first thing that could kill me, because I’d be in total disbelief and want to see how it feels to die and respawn. If I respawned, I’d be yelling at the fourth wall a lot about wanting to be let out of this Groundhog Day-like spiked-hell existence, or maybe hit on Victoria to create some mini-Vs.

19) Who was or is the handsomest world leader?

Bill Clinton. I’m not that big into checking out political leaders but Bill is definitely charismatic. I even listened to his biography audiobook, read by himself.

20) Your star has risen to the point that every major gaming company on Earth is offering you full creative control over the soundtrack to the next installment of any franchise you like. Which series of games do you give the SoulEye stamp to?

Good question. I went through a bunch of games in my mind before singling out a series, and the honor would go to…

Drumroll…

The Street Fighter series. I think I could really do it justice, legacy-wise, and bring something new and fresh to the series. A bit ironically perhaps, as some of PPPPPP (and therefore MMMMMM) has influences from Street Fighter II. But there you go!

BONUS: Say anything to our readers that you haven’t gotten to say above!

I’m going to go out on a limb and give you a poem on life I wrote two years ago.

As I lay my heart to bare
plain for all to see
the pain I carried deep within
is shared, to more than me

The walls containing my fragile heart
came tumbling down, they broke apart
the life I thought was not for me
revealed itself, and it was free

Connected, I would sense the pain
of life, love, death, my sadness
and for the first time in my life
I made sense of all the madness

The cross I now have to bear
is holding pain, for all who’s dear
I want to ease your heavy burden
shoulder all your fear
staying present, to my purpose
I am with you here.

With strength and courage to be weak
I will shelter all the meek
Let me shield you from your pain
I don’t mind, it’s my gain

I must die, it is my path
from this earth I’m torn
And in knowing but this simple fact
my true love is reborn

ALF, "Movin' Out"

Here we go…including “Movin’ Out,” only five more episodes remain in season two. When those are done, we’ll be at the actual midpoint of this project. And…wow. I couldn’t be happier about that.

At the same time, though, this week marks one full year that I’ve been writing ALF reviews. Season one was reviewed every week, without fail. Season two…had a few delays, but has been reviewed almost as reliably. So, I guess one year from now, we’ll be nearing the end of this whole endeavor. After that, I don’t know. I’d love to do another show, but we’ll see. For now, I shouldn’t be thinking too far ahead, because I’m about as far from shore as it’s possible to be.

“Movin’ Out” is a long overdue episode about Willie’s job as a social worker. We haven’t had one of those since “Border Song,” in which he kidnapped a Mexican day-laborer for ALF’s backyard plantation.

Because Willie’s occupation was kept an odd secret throughout the beginning of season one, and then had almost no impact on any of the episodes to follow, I’ve had a lot of fun pointing out all the times that his ostensible job looks to be incompatible with his daily behavior. But part of the reason I can do that is that ALF is written by goldfish. If it isn’t in this week’s script, they don’t remember it.

That’s why one episode can remind us that Willie is a social worker, but another will see him turning his neighbors away in their hour of need (“Someone to Watch Over Me”), sitting idly by while his daughter is sexually assaulted (“The Boy Next Door”), making fun of a guy for having a shitty job (“Hit Me With Your Best Shot”), refusing a spare bed to a homeless blind friend of the family (“We Gotta Get Out of This Place”), repeatedly insulting a disabled war veteran (“Come Fly With Me”), making fun of his wife for being an unfuckable hag (“Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?”), and allowing the alien that lives in his laundry basket to buttfuck his children (passim).

Willie doesn’t ever act like a social worker, but, every so often, we’re reminded that he is one, either so that he can abduct a child he wouldn’t otherwise interact with, or cripple his boss in a forcible limbo competition. The rest of the time, the show doesn’t want us to remember Willie’s occupation, because, if we did, we’d have certain expectations of who he is, what he’s good at, what he cares about, and how he should be reacting to things.

Here, however, we have one hell of an odd episode: one that relies on the fact that Willie is a social worker, and also at the same time makes it clear that he can’t be one. At least, not a good one. And certainly not one that’s getting yet another promotion this season.

Which is how this episode begins: Willie announces that he’s got a shit-awesome new job as some kind of supervisor or something in San Diego. This makes everyone piss and moan about having to move, but really you’d think they’d be thrilled. This guy’s more sociopath than social worker; they should be excited to pocket that extra pay while they can, before Willie’s incompetence and nauseating disinterest in his fellow man are revealed to whomever signs his checks.

Lynn’s reason for not wanting to move is that next year is her last year of high school. We’ve already established that she’s 18, but now we also know she’s a junior. I’ve asked before, but is this possible without her having been left back a year? I’m not complaining or anything, especially since her character doesn’t seem to be much of a scholar, exactly, but I’m curious.

Also, does this mean she’ll be attending college in season four?

ALF worries that they won’t let him come along, simply because he burns down their house and kills their relatives. Kate says that she’ll consider letting him come along if he stops eating Willie’s dinner. ALF looks at the food on his fork and pauses. Kate asks for his answer, and he plagiarizes Jack Benny: “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!!”

One of the most famous jokes of all time is therefore the punchline to this entire opening sequence. With Benny, as I’m sure you know, the question was “Your money or your life.” Here, ALF rephrases Kate’s question to better suit the joke theft: “Instant gratification, or long term security.” There’s no twist or anything; it’s simply a puppet reciting somebody else’s much better material. When, exactly, did Paul Fusco become Krusty the Clown?

ALF, "Movin' Out"

This episode is a bit odd even in a superficial sense, because the opening credits are in German. As you probably recall (since you bought be the fuckin’ thing) I’m watching these episodes on the uncut DVDs that seem to have been released only in Germany…but this is the first time I’ve noticed German credits. I’m 99% sure they’ve all been in English before this, and I’m 100% sure that the closing credits of this very episode are in English.

I don’t know. It’s weird. Maybe they used some off-air recorded footage for the intro for some reason? Say, the masters being damaged? But then I’d assume the dialogue would all be in German, too…ahhhh who cares. I just found it interesting. Leave me alone. Go start your own damn ALF blog.

The first proper scene is Willie’s first day of work. Google Maps puts his commute from Los Angeles to San Diego at about two hours, without traffic, but with traffic that’s clearly another story, and it wouldn’t exactly be a relaxing ride. At the very least Willie should look into train schedules.

Hey, remember when Willie liked trains? If so, you know more about him than the writers do; even though this bleeding dick of a commute becomes a major plot point, Mr. Meatloaf never even considers it.

Whatever. Brian sleepily announces he doesn’t give a shit, and I’m on his side. Willie’s never taken an interest in him, but now the kid has to get up at ungodly hours to see him off? Fuck dat.

Lynn makes some crappy joke about jazzercise, ALF tries to eat the last cinnamon roll before Willie gets it, and the whole thing makes me wonder why the hell we’re watching it.

Seriously. It’s the second scene in the episode and already “Movin’ Out” is so padded I can barely keep focus.

Yes, it’s nice that we get a “slice of life” scene. What are the Tanners like at breakfast when there’s nothing (immediately) pressing going on, anyway? Finding out could be fun. It would definitely be a chance to build character, explore dynamics, and give the actors some decent dialogue that doesn’t have to drag an ungainly plot behind it.

But, like when we got to see what ALF did all night after the family went to sleep and found out he just danced around in the shed or some shit, the writers don’t know what this family is like when they’re not lugging a plot from point A to point B. So they just kill time in what feels like the the dullest improv imaginable.

This, again, is why Gilligan’s Island served as a feasible fantasy setting for an episode earlier this season and ALF will never be able to. It’s easy to imagine what downtime is like on the uncharted desert isle. We know those characters, how they interact, the challenges they face, what motivates them, what frustrates them, and how they go about solving their individual problems. We can plug different elements into that situation and get a sense of how it would play out. (Arguably, that was the entire premise of the show.) Here, in Tannerland, we don’t have characters that interact. We have actors who recite the lines they memorized. Forget about plugging a different element into this context; the elements that are already there don’t even have a purpose.

ALF, "Movin' Out"

Brian says they got Willie a present, and I really hope I’m not the only one laughing myself hoarse over the fact that it looks like he’s handing his father a bag of dogshit. They should have lit it on fire and had Willie make a wish.

Anyway, it’s some books on tape, with a Twisted Sister cassette mixed in so that they can make a joke about those kids today with their hair metal and the whatnot. The books are Crime and Punishment and Madame Bovary. Since they come on one cassette apiece I have to assume they’re read by that guy from the Micro Machines commercials.

ALF, "Movin' Out"

Mr. Ochmonek comes over to wish Willie a good first day at work.

Yes. Really.

In return, Lynn makes fun of him for being fat and ugly, and Willie asks him what the fuck he’s doing up so early.

Remind me again who the bad neighbors are.

This guy paid a visit just to pass some well wishes onto some asshat who couldn’t care less whether Mr. Ochmonek lives or dies. Willie’s never taken the slightest interest in the guy. Shit, when’s the last time Willie took the slightest interest in anyone who wasn’t him? When’s the last time Willie even said “thank you”?

This is why I don’t believe Willie is a social worker. To succeed in that field, you’d either need to have a great deal of empathy, or be able to fake it very well. Instead, this is what we see: a guy who never seems to care about anybody, ever, for any reason. Usually we’re allowed to forget that Willie’s a social worker, but here it’s driving the entire plot. Would it be too much to show us a Willie who even tries to be nice so that, if only for one twenty minute chunk, we can believe he’s good at the job we keep being told he’s good at?

I don’t know. Based on what I see here, though, I can promise you that if I needed a social worker, I’d hire Mr. Ochmonek long before I went anywhere near Willie.

Anyway, Mr. Ochmonek tells Willie he’d better get his dumb ass on the road because it’s an insane commute. Then ALF pops up to eat Mr. Ochmonek’s danish and the latter doesn’t bother to investigate, because even Jack LaMotta is over this shit.

ALF, "Movin' Out"

I know season two is generally held in higher regard than the other three, but ask any ALF fan when the show jumped the shark, and they’ll tell you it’s this scene, in which ALF and Kate finally give in to the long-simmer sexual tension between them. It’s not a problem with the scene itself, really (as it’s shot quite beautifully, and the expression on ALF’s face as he cums conveys genuine pathos); it’s the mere fact that it happened, and now it’s over. There’s nowhere for the show to go but down.

Willie appears in the doorway to explain that he got home late because of his long commute, in case you missed all forty-seven lines of dialogue preceding this, in which it was repeatedly explained that Willie had a long commute.

Kate, vacuuming alien gooze out of herself, suggests that Willie rent a place in San Diego during the week, which inspires ALF to explain the plot of Three’s Company for some reason.

You know, Three’s Company was one of those shows I watched as a kid without understanding a damned thing about it. I definitely got the sense that Jack was living with two hotties, but the fact that he was pretending to be gay didn’t even register with me. I think I had some vague idea of the concept of homosexuality, but I guess I didn’t see it in the humorous light the show did.

I wonder if you could even do a plot like that today. I think the gay jokes would play differently, of course, but I also think there wouldn’t be a point. Jack and his honies went through two landlords that would only allow him to stay if he was gay, and I can’t imagine that setup working at all today. If you rent an apartment, nobody cares who you’re having sex with in it. In fact, it’d be illegal to discriminate against tenants on the basis of sexual preference anyway.

That’s interesting, actually. Three’s Company was a high-concept sitcom (in the same vein as ALF). Its setup allowed the show to make very specific kinds of jokes that other shows, lacking that setup, could not make. And I was around for it, which means I once lived in a world in which a man had to pretend be gay in order to live with women lest the world collapse into a premarital orgiastic black hole of sin.

Whatever. Don Knotts was in it.

Willie says that they’re going to have to move sooner than planned, because it’s been one day and he already sees that working too hard will give him a heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack. He comes to this conclusion without consulting the rest of his family or listening to his wife’s thoughts on the matter.

SOCIAL WORK

ALF, "Movin' Out"

We then see some people walking around the outside of the house, with a FOR SALE sign in plain view.

This was legitimately shocking to me, because I just assumed they shot a bunch of exteriors up front and have been using those same few establishing shots ever since.

I mean, that’s still probably true, but seeing one this late in the game that’s episode-specific…that demonstrates some very rare effort invested in the production.

That’s pretty much it, though. Kate and Lynn complain that they don’t want anyone else living here, and ALF complains that he wants food. Then the act ends.

What a strange place to break it. It wasn’t funny or compelling. It just kind of ended. I guess they used up all their effort for the week by filming that new footage of the lawn.

ALF, "Movin' Out"

Then we see Willie at his new job, talking on the phone to a woman who hasn’t gotten her welfare check. He is trying to keep her calm, and he says, “Yes, I know you have five children. I can hear them from here!”

SOCIAL WORK

This scene is a great opportunity to show us that Willie, in spite of everything we’ve seen to the contrary in his personal life, is actually an awesome social worker. It wouldn’t even be much of a cheat to do so, since the few times we’ve seen him at work in the past, he wasn’t actually doing any work. We’re almost halfway through the entire run of the show, but Willie’s professional life is still a blank canvas. He just got this big promotion, so why not show us why he deserves it?

Instead, he insults a needy woman for having kids that are noisier than he would like them to be. Who the fuck does this guy think he is? And why are we supposed to be laughing with him when he makes fun of the woman who now can’t afford to buy groceries for her hungry kids?

I’ll spoil something for you: Willie doesn’t like his new job. That’s fine. He doesn’t have to. But since the central conflict of the episode is whether or not the Tanners move, this sort of undercuts all tension. Maybe instead of Willie hating the living fuck out of his new position, he could like it. And be really good at it. That way there’d be an actual difficult decision at the heart of the episode: nobody else wants to move, but Willie does. Instead, what we get is a situation in which nobody else wants to move, and Willie also does not want to move.

Well then. I’m on the edge of my seat.

ALF, "Movin' Out"

Willie goes into the other room to talk to one of his employees about why the check wasn’t mailed. This guy’s supposed to be an idiot, which we know because he has his feet up on the desk, has a phone conversation not related to work, and has a face that looks like it’s growing out of somebody else’s back.

Then some woman comes over and tells Willie he still hasn’t processed payroll, she doesn’t have a parking space yet, and a whole bunch of other shit he hasn’t taken care of because he’s too busy making fun of some lady’s kids on the phone.

After she lays out all the crap Willie needs to do, he says, “No problem, Denise. I’ve got twelve hands!!”

SOCIAL WORK

What a dickbag. Seriously. This guy isn’t just a bad social worker; he’s a fuckawful human being.

If I worked somewhere, and they brought in a new supervisor from outside instead of promoting from within, and he immediately started bitching about having to do all the stuff he was explicitly hired to do, I’d go right over his head and tell whoever hired him that this guy needs to get the fuck out and let someone willing to do the work take his place.

Seriously. What the hell is Willie’s problem? He’s pissy to the idiot who doesn’t do his own work, but then he’s also pissy to the woman who tells Willie to do his own work. What the hell does he want?

Willie finds the check for that lady and fires the guy for losing it. The fake audience of dead people applauds, so that’s our cue that Willie just did something awesome. I’m glad I had the cue, because otherwise I’d have no idea.

I get that a moment like this could demonstrate that even if Willie is terrible at everything else, he at least knows how to lay down the law when his staff fails him, or whatever. Except…yeah. This isn’t really that impressive.

The guy deserved to be fired if he was gabbing on the phone all day and not doing his job, yes, but that’s not something to applaud Willie for. A firing had to happen. It’s not a brave and admirable decision; it’s right to fire a social worker who isn’t actually helping the people he’s being paid to help.

Additionally, we just heard about fifteen other things Willie’s supposed to be doing, and he hasn’t done jack shit with any of those. So, yeah, he fired someone. Great. Unless he accomplishes at least one more thing on his daily goal list, though, I’m not going to join my deceased brethren in a standing O.

Also, before this happened, Willie himself was gabbing on the phone to ALF about personal business, so why is it okay for Willie to dick around and not do his job, but this guy gets fired for it?

ALF, "Movin' Out"

On the way home from work, Willie stops to have his neck surgically removed. Then he bitches to ALF about his new job, where they want him to do stuff and help people. That must be pure kryptonite to this putz.

ALF tries to cheer him up with some words of wisdom from his old Skleenball coach.

But…wait.

Okay.

So, in the first episode of this season, ALF taught Brian to play Skleenball. That’s fine. It was basically baseball played with fish. Okay.

Then, in “Oh, Pretty Woman,” ALF was trading Bouillabaseball cards with Brian. Bouillabaseball was baseball played with fish.

I was confused about why we had two names for what sounded like the exact same sport. Commenter of the week Sarah Portland had this to say in response back then:

I’m just going to guess that someone on the staff said “We should talk about that fish-baseball thing again – what was it called?” and no one wanted to bother looking up what they had called it before. However, it’s possible that they pulled a JK Rowling, and found a better name for something further down the line, simply substituting it without explanation. On the whole Bouillabaseball is infinitely funnier, and fits better.

And, you know what? That sounded entirely reasonable. Bouillabaseball is the better name, and the fact that ALF trading cards (in the real world) came with a Bouillabaseball card in every pack suggests that they decided to rechristen Skleenball.

But now, at the end of season two, we find out there is still a Skleenball, so I don’t fuckin’ know anymore.

That’s what you get, Sarah Portland, when you give ALF any credit whatsoever. Welcome to the club. :(

ALF, "Movin' Out"

ALF decides to be ALF and fucks up the house so that nobody will want to buy it. Of course, before he can start springing his traps, the Tanners piss and moan to prospective buyers about what shitty neighbors the Ochmoneks are. I wonder why they didn’t provide any examples, though. Like the time they formed a neighborhood watch to protect local families. Or the time they took the Tanners on a free vacation for the hell of it. Or that morning a few days ago when Mr. O got up at the crack of dawn just to wish Willie luck at his new job. THOSE SHITS

Whatever. ALF broke everything, so stuff falls down. Over and over and over. And even though the sale of the house and Willie’s new job are related to one another, it feels like two plots at the same time: Willie adjusting to a new working environment, and ALF desperate to not move. At this point, the episode seems to switch tracks from one to the other, with the big setpiece of ALF’s destruction playing like the big finale…while also not feeling at all related to anything Willie’s ostensibly been going through this week.

It’s odd. Both plots could have led to episodes of their own, so having them crowd each other out for primacy during the waning minutes of “Movin’ Out” just makes a ramshackle episode even worse.

Once the Ineffectual Physical Comedy Follies are over, Willie confronts ALF in the master bedroom about sabotaging the sale of the house.

ALF, "Movin' Out"

It would be a great way to tie the climaxes of both plots together, but it’s easier to just end the episode so we’ll do that. Willie says he doesn’t want to move anyway and it’s over.

The reason he doesn’t want to move…well, that’s a little more annoying, so forgive me for breaking it down.

See, Willie already hates his job and doesn’t want to move. We know that. But as in “Weird Science” and some other episode I’m grateful to have forgotten, ALF needs to give an inspiring speech to everyone in the audience dumb enough to have not found something else to watch by now.

He reminds Willie that social workers should be doing work “for the social good.” That’s fine, if a little obvious, but then ALF explains that Willie is no longer doing that. Instead he’s assigning parking spaces and firing people.

And, you know what? I can see a good point being made about how “work for the social good” gets undermined by bureaucracy and red tape, having meetings to schedule other meetings and so on, with good intentions manifesting themselves in such a way that they detract from quality of service.

Here, however, that’s not the case. Willie indeed, as ALF said, was assigning parking spaces and firing people. But they guy he fired needed to be fired, because he wasn’t effectively helping those who relied on him. Isn’t removing an ineffectual social worker so that somebody more helpful can take his place a gesture in service of the social good?

The parking space, too, is a necessary logistical problem. If Willie’s employees have nowhere to park, they can’t do their work. She wasn’t asking for a better parking space, or to trade with somebody else for some cockamamie reason. This lady just wanted a fucking place to park while she worked her ass off and reminded Willie of all the crap he wasn’t doing. If she quits because Willie can’t handle basic administrative duties and she has nowhere to leave her car, how would that serve the social good?

Another thing that ALF doesn’t mention — but which we heard — is that Willie was in charge of payroll. Sure, he fucked it up, but isn’t seeing to it that your social workers are paid a pretty important way to encourage them to keep doing social work? You know…the social workers that ALF just ranted about needing to serve the social good. Stop paying them and they’ll abandon the field. Rightly so, I might add.

So ALF has it backward, and the show doesn’t realize that at all. Sure, maybe Willie preferred the hands-on approach he used to have, and that’s fine. But by no means is the social good better served by one guy with a preference for hands-on work than it would be by an effective leader who can guide and support an entire staff with a gift for hands-on work.

Willie can work with one client at a time. His staff can work with dozens, and potentially hundreds. Willie whining about having to fill out paperwork and pay his fucking employees is what prevented him from serving the social good, not the fact that he was responsible for doing those things in the first place. His new role as administrator didn’t prevent it; if anything it magnified its potential.

If there’s a moral here, it’s that Willie finds it chillingly easy to convince himself that doing almost nothing is preferable to doing an awful lot, because the latter is really hard and the former is so much easier.

The moral is emphatically not what we’re told it is. This isn’t about Willie getting back down to the salt of the earth and helping people. He just had the chance to do that and decided instead to make fun of welfare mothers and be snippy toward better social workers who were actually trying to do their jobs.

So, yeah. Not that this episode was so hot before, but this is a truly botched ending. Also, is this the first episode I’ve had literally nothing nice to say about? Jesus.

Whatever. The point is, Willie decides he’d much rather be here, with the alien who just caved in the roof, than apply himself to sorting out the problems of the less fortunate.

SOCIAL WORK

ALF, "Movin' Out"

Willie announces the good news to his family, and, in doing so, stops Kate from scolding ALF. Yeah, how dare that lippy bitch get angry at the creature that demolished her house and created unsafe living conditions for her children.

It’s a damned good thing that Willie — so intent on serving the social good — was there to put his uppity wife in her place.

This episode is fucking horrible.

ALF, "Movin' Out"

In the short scene before the credits, some guy comes in to see the house. The couch collapses into the floor, revealing that it’s not a house at all, but the set of some shitty sitcom, and the guy leaves because he doesn’t want to live in a place full of dead people laughing all the time.

It’s a stupid gag, but I kind of like that they bothered to work the deadly puppet trenches into the show somehow. They already spent all that time and money creating them so that Paul Fusco wouldn’t have to timeshare his character with a midget, so you might as well write a joke that takes advantage of them.

On the other hand, this visual joke is really fucking dumb. So, there’s that.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

Ever since Jake arrived earlier this season, I’ve been joking that Brian no longer exists. Or half-joking, anyway, because as we saw last week, the kid no longer has anything to do with his own plots. The writers have officially given up on him, which renders him stuck here, like a nail through a thumb that would do more harm to remove than to just leave where it is.

This week, we see exactly how empty the character is. While it takes them a little longer to elbow him out of yet another storyline that should feature him front and center, they know they’ve never bothered to develop him in any way so the episode has to happen around him. He’s just kind of there…and then he’s not…and then they bring him in for the final scene to pretend that he’s learned some grand lesson.

“Hit Me With Your Best Shot” plays like one of those movies in which a lead actor dies during filming, so they try to hide that by padding it out with scenes of other people talking about that guy, and reacting to things he’s done, leaving the audience — hopefully — to just assume he’s on the toilet somewhere, I guess, but is still totally like super important.

And while it’s not the worst episode of ALF (being as it does have a few very good lines), it does sink to depths that even the wonderful Anne Schedeen can’t redeem.

You’d be forgiven for not believing me, though, since we open on a great Kate scene. She walks in on ALF who has apparently been sitting under a sunlamp for five hours. He wonders openly why he isn’t getting a tan…which is a visual joke that works on its own. But then Kate touches him, and he screams. Even funnier.

What I like most about it, though? Look at Kate’s face above. (But…don’t look at her shirt.) Anne Schedeen is acting. Unlike the rest of the cast, she doesn’t just pause and react when it’s her turn to talk. She’s filtering the actions and words of others through her own character, and it often makes her the only thing on screen worth paying attention to.

If she had been in a better show, I think she’d be pretty fondly remembered. Instead she’s in ALF, where she gets nose-fucked by a puppet in her hallway and everyone’s pretty eager to forget any of this ever happened. She really was so much better than this show deserved, and that’s tragic.

She tells ALF that he’s got sunburn, and asks if he wants cold cream. He says, “Yeah, but only one scoop. I’m on a diet.”

I’m not even bothered by the “ALF I AM TALKING ABOUT COLD CREAM NOT ICE CREAM” line that explains the joke, because it feels like Kate is explaining something to the alien, rather than to the audience. There’s a big difference there, and it’s a difference that is only felt when the actor makes you feel it. The rest of these clowns deliver lines for the audience to react to. Anne Schedeen delivers lines for the characters to react to.

So, yeah. Enjoy this while you can, because before long this episode will sink far below her ability to keep it alive.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

We get the credits, and then Brian comes in covered in dirt. At first I assumed this was the Halloween episode, in which the corpse of Benji Gregory rises from its shallow grave in the studio parking lot and seeks revenge on the cast…but, no, it’s just Brian. He’s been in a fight.

I love that the late-80s way of showing that a character has been in a fight is to muss up his hair and rub soil into his clothes. Did kids actually fight back then? Nobody ever seems to throw an actual punch. I guess they just rolled around with each other in the garden, like that thing I wasn’t supposed to do with my cousin. :(

Brian explains that he got in a fight with Bobby Duncan. Kate asks who the hell that is, and rightly so, since last we heard Brian’s tormentor was that kid Spencer. Remember? Willie’s illegitimate child and keeper of Dr. Potato Famine. Oh well. I guess when you have a kid like Brian, you just take it as read that every day brings another bully.

Kate washes the implied physical violence off of him with a rag, and ALF offers to eat the kid’s cat as revenge. There’s another nice moment when Kate tells him that he shouldn’t fight, and Brian says that he did it because Bobby called Kate “old, ugly, and dumb.”

Schedeen pauses, but then repeats her advice not to fight…before mumbling, “That little brat.”

It’s good. She’s being a mother, but still being a person. Her feeling are hurt, and she’s upset, but she needs to set the example for Brian…while clearly believing the kid needs a slap. And this is why I love Schedeen; she’s capable of expressing multiple things at the same time. She doesn’t flip back and forth between settings; she’s a human being with complex emotions. What a rarity here.

Speaking of rarity, we then get a good ALF line when he says, “He’s entitled to his opinion.” And that, in itself, gets punctuated by a perfect Kate glower.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

Maybe I’m just clinging to stuff like this because the rest of the episode is a pretty massive pile of dickshit, but is there anyone out there who doesn’t appreciate Anne Schedeen? Anyone watching this show or following this blog that thinks she’s not worthy of the praise I give her? Maybe I’ve just been driven insane by the show. If that’s the case, please tell me. You’re my last hope for a healthy perspective on things.

Eh, who cares if I’m crazy. I fucking love her, and she’s about the only thing I can count on from week to week, so sue me.

The next day, or whenever the hell Brian changes his shirt, ALF gives him fighting lessons in the garage. He reveals that he was known as “Sugar Ray” Shumway on Melmac, because he loved shitty 90s pop.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

ALF tells Brian that he can’t drop out of school to avoid bullies, because otherwise he’ll end up hanging around the house all day, eating and watching TV. CAN YOU GUESS THE PUNCHLINE AT HOME?

Of course you can. But that doesn’t stop Brian from explaining it by saying, “But I want to be like you!”

It doesn’t land, as you might expect, and it serves as a perfect illustration of my earlier point: Schedeen delivered an unnecessary explanation, but because she was acting it made sense: she was explaining something to ALF, not to us. Benji Gregory only knows how to recite half-memorized lines from a piece of paper, so he ends up delivering this particular unnecessary explanation to us.

Big difference, and one that comes down entirely to acting chops. You can speak the words somebody else wrote for you, or your character can do the talking.

I’m not trying to be too hard on Gregory; I just find him to be a good case study. Acting is difficult. Really. It is. And this is a kid without any real experience doing it, being handed shitty dialogue and being made to perform it under shittier conditions. I’ll joke about him, sure, but I don’t dislike him.

It’s not that he’s bad at what he does…it’s that he’s incompetent. I know that sounds insulting, but what I’m getting at is that he never learned what it meant to be competent. Nobody here taught him. “Good enough” was ALF‘s motto, which is why the good actors brought their talent in from the start (Anne Schedeen and Jack LaMotta), and the lousy ones never got any better (Max Wright and Benji Gregory).

Of course, we do have an exception in Andrea Elson, but I’m sure that’s because she worked of her own initiative to get better, likely learning what she could from Schedeen and the other good actors that dropped in for guest appearances. It’s not because the setting was conducive to her learning these things, and it’s definitely not because the director or anyone else bothered to coach her…if she learned anything, she learned it on her own.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

ALF tries to steal Brian’s candy bar, which Benji Gregory was kind enough to hold perfectly, rigidly in frame throughout the conversation, like the script-reciting automaton that he is. He then gives ALF the candy bar, and ALF eats it so fast! lol!

Brian even gets to deliver a zinger! “You eat fast, Sugar Ray!” It’d be an embarrassing line for even the best of actors, so if you can make it through Benji Gregory slurring it out without flinching, you’re a better man than I.

In fact, he seems to channel the mushmouthed inflection of Max Wright. “Yhou EEatf-fast shuggeray.” Coupled with the extremely delayed physical reaction to ALF trying to grab the candy, it almost seems like while Andrea Elson was learning quietly from Anne Schedeen, Benji Gregory was stuck at the Max Wright Actor College.

Anyway, ALF chops a board, then he tries to chop another board, but he fails to chop the other board, so he makes a face and vibrates.

Good shit.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

Willie comes in to tell Brian that he just heard what a massive wiener he is. Then he sees that ALF has injured the hand that loves him the way his wife used to, so he attempts to massage it back to functionality.

We get a pretty good line stranded amongst all the bullshit when Willie tells ALF, “If you really wanted to help, you’d teach him not to fight.” ALF replies, “He already knows how to do that.”

Good shit.

No…really this time.

Then we get some more Willie backstory. Unlike anything we learned in “Night Train,” though, this is something we probably could have guessed for ourselves: Willie used to get his nuts handed to him. His bully was named Clarence, which I think implies that even Willie’s guardian angel couldn’t resist giving him wedgies.

He tells Brian that once he decided not to fight back anymore, Clarence moved on, because it stopped being fun for him.

I’m pretty sure I’ve heard every sitcom dad in history give this same advice…but has this ever worked in real life? I can tell you for sure that the kid in my school who got picked on the most literally never raised a hand to his tormentors. Ever. And they definitely didn’t stop. Why would they? If anything they’d leave the kid who intermittently stands up for himself alone in favor of a reliable target.

I don’t know. I was never a bully. And — thanks to this other kid serving as a hell of a convenient distraction — I was never bullied, either. But from what I’ve seen, fighting back is the only hope you have. Not fighting back just cements you as a punching bag until you hang yourself in the closet.

Willie mentions that this advice came from his dad, and Brian asks if that’s the same grandfather that used to talk to corn chips. That’s an interesting bit of color. Willie’s dad must have gone through (or is going through) a period of dementia that Brian was around to see. I still don’t know if the guy’s alive or dead, but at least we know that during that ailing, helpless time of his life, the Tanners sat around making fun of him.

Whatever. Willie gets sick of talking to his son and initiates sex with the alien.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

The next day, or whenever the hell everybody changes their shirts, Kate is pissed because ALF stuck all of his karate boards in the fireplace. She chews him out for wasting perfectly good lumber.

…and, sorry. But, yeah. Not even Anne Schedeen can sell that bullshit.

Of all the things Kate could have gotten mad at ALF for (leaving splinters everywhere comes to mind, or actually burning the wood but not opening the flue), she’s mad that he wasted perfectly good lumber.

Kate Tanner.

Says, out loud.

That she’s mad at him.

For “wasting perfectly good lumber.”

She tries, dear reader. She really does. But although Kate is large, and contains multitudes, she does not give a flying fuck about the Tanner supply of good lumber. And she certainly isn’t so emotionally invested in it that she’ll fly into a rage if good lumber isn’t put to appropriate use.

Good fucking lumber.

Good lumber my ass. God damn this awful show.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

Brian comes home and reveals that even though he didn’t fight back, Bobby Duncan still rubbed a bunch of potting soil into his jacket.

ALF pops up through the plot window and suggests solving violence with violence, like they used to do on Melmac.

And then — you know what? — I just about forget about good lumber. Because there’s one hell of a tantalizing moment.

Willie hears this suggestion, and he pointedly asks him if he remembers what happened to Melmac.

ALF replies, “It blew up in a nuclear holocaust. Why?”

And…wow. That’s both a good joke and some nice, potential shading of ALF’s history. Willie, of course, tries to overexplain the connection to the audience, but I’m not disappointed by that. I want to know more. The fact that we don’t get a clear answer here isn’t a bad thing…if anything, it just shows what a good job the show did (accidentally, no doubt) of getting my ears to perk up.

Is the “violence with violence” approach the reason Melmac is gone? Maybe so and maybe not. The fact that ALF can’t see the connection between what he just said and the “nuclear holocaust” he remembers can mean one of two things:

1) He’s a fucking imbecile, because Melmac actually was destroyed in needless conflict and he’s learned nothing, or…

2) Willie’s wrong, and the nuclear accident that destroyed Melmac was coincidental, not caused at all by any sort of hostile act.

They both give up on the conversation, so that’s where we’re left. Maybe the show wants us to believe that it’s one of those things, specifically, and not the other, but, as far as I can tell, they’re both equally valid in the face of what little we’ve heard.

I wonder if we will get any kind of definitive answer about Melmac. I’m assuming not, but I have to admit that these little snatches of dialogue are interesting.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

There’s another good line when Kate asks Brian if the bully insulted her again. Brian says, “No. Dad.” Surprised, Willie asks what Bobby said about him. Brian replies, “He said you must have been desperate to marry someone like mom.”

It’s a legitimately clever moment, and it’s not the last one in the episode. (It is the second to last one.)

That laugh dies pretty quickly, though, because ALF pops up through the plot window again to announce that he called Bobby’s father, impersonated Willie, threatened him, and invited the guy to come over and kick Willie’s teeth out.

Man, what an effortless way to advance the storyline. You’d hardly even notice how this episode was slapped together out of disparate script pages if I hadn’t pointed it out.

Damn that’s good lumber.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

Bobby’s dad comes over and Willie stammers out a bunch of padded bullshit until the credits roll.

Well, not really. But that’s certainly how it feels. This Max Wright stutterlogue goes on so long that Paul Fusco starts to feel insecure, and we cut to ALF in the kitchen for no reason except to assure us that he hasn’t ceased to exist.

Anyway, Mr. Duncan starts hitting on Kate and calling Willie four-eyes, which is the single most hurtful insult in the world after all the rest of them. This makes Willie snap, and he calls Mr. Duncan “Shorty.”

The whole thing reeks of false escalation, but it leads to the best moment in the entire half hour. It gets no laugh from the audience, but I love it: Lynn steps into the tension of the living room and says, “Mom? Dad? Is it time for church yet?”

That was the best Lynn moment ever. I know she’s not the most reliable actor on the show, but when she wants to, Andrea Elson gives good lumber.

Willie physically throws the guy out of the house, and we hear the crashing of garbage cans. Though this is pretty fucking stupid even for ALF, there’s a valid sense of Willie having crossed a line.

Or maybe I’m just going easy on it because it leads to the second best Lynn moment ever when she makes this face:

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

The next day, or whenever the hell everybody changes into a robe, ALF is blabbing about how he called a bunch of people and threatened them on Willie’s behalf.

Remind me again why they don’t just sever ALF’s spine while he sleeps? Why the hell is he not even being threatened with eviction? He’s entering Willie in fucking Bloodsport.

Oh well. The important thing is that we’ve hijacked another Brian plot. There I was, stupidly thinking the episode about Brian getting beaten up would be about Brian getting beaten up. Little did I know it was actually about ALF siccing the city of Los Angeles on Willie’s pasty ass.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

A serious sight for sore eyes, Mr. Ochmonek comes over with his wife. Funny how when the show started, it seemed like Mrs. Ochmonek was going to be the “main” neighbor, and her husband might or might not tag along. Liz Sheridan is by no means a bad actress (see Seinfeld, which made much better use of her talents), but Jack LaMotta leaves her in the dust, and I’d like to think that the writers at least appreciated what they had, and started using Mr. Ochmonek more, making his wife the optional add-on.

He congratulates Willie on knocking some sense into Mr. Duncan, because that guy’s kind of a dick. Kate asks how he knows about that, and Mrs. Ochmonek says she told everyone in town.

Tee hee, sure, but I’m only reporting that because it leads to a fucking gorgeous moment.

Mr. Ochmonek says, “Yeah. There’s three ways news can travel. Telephone, telegraph, and tell Raquel.”

On its own that’s nothing, but look at the screengrab again. Mrs. Ochmonek hears this joke — which she knows is coming, and which she must have heard a thousand times before — and turns to Kate with a huge smile as he tells it. “Isn’t he the best?” she’s asking silently.

This joke isn’t just lame, it’s extremely out of date. When was the last time anyone used the telegraph to spread news? Mr. Ochmonek is telling a joke he may well have told back when he was wooing Raquel* in high school.

And she still loves it.

She thinks her husband is hilarious. This isn’t a joke she’s sick of hearing…this is a reminder of why she fell in love with him in the first place. I can’t stress enough how lovely this moment is, and it bears repeating that I believe the Ochmoneks love each other. I do not believe that of the Tanners. These are the people I’d rather spend time with, because they’re at least recognizably human.

Then Mr. Ochmonek jokes about leaving before Willie throws him out “like yesterday’s garbage.” He even makes a little production out of carrying himself to the door by his shirt color.

Give them just a few lines and a little bit of physical business, and the Ochmoneks will show us what a difference it makes when we’re watching actual characters instead of people on a soundstage.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

Mr. Duncan comes over again and Willie decides to show Brian that you don’t need to fight in order to resolve your problems. Then Mr. Duncan actually sees Brian and asks if that’s really the kid that gave Bobby a black eye, which is a twist marginally less believable than finding out Willie was formed in a lab accident.

Whatever. The guy’s being pretty nice overall, but he mentions he works as a scrap metal dealer, which for some reason causes the Tanners to make fun of him over and over again. Even Kate, with Anne Schedeen proving again that there’s only so much anyone can do with dreck like this.

The joke isn’t even that the Tanners are awful people. As far as I can tell, the joke is that this idiot works as a scrap metal dealer. What an idiot! Everyone, look at the idiot! This idiot probably wouldn’t know good lumber if it bashed his skull open, the idiot.

It actually makes me feel pretty bad for Mr. Duncan. He might be an asshole, but with no amount of self-awareness whatsoever, the writers are having the Tanners bully him, and hoping we’ll laugh along. When we last saw him, yes, he called Willie “four-eyes.” But, y’know, Willie retaliated by throwing him into a row of trash cans, so I don’t think it’s Mr. Duncan who needs a comeuppance.

He gets it anyway, though, when Kate, for some bullshit reason I don’t care about, grabs him and throws him into the garbage again because fuck you for having a crappy job the Tanners don’t approve of.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

Willie then gets down on one knee and asks Brian to marry him. He also delivers this week’s moral to the audience: in spite of what we’ve just asked the folks watching at home to celebrate, violence is totally a bad thing, so don’t throw your neighbors into trash cans…but if you do, do it twice, I guess. I dunno. The episode’s over. If you don’t like it you can suck ALF’s balls.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

In the short scene before the credits ALF fights one of those inflatable wobbler things that he calls “Mummy-hammad Ali.”

That’s all you need to know about that.

It ends with Lynn coming into the living room to announce that Brian and Bobby have stopped fighting. Why she’s delivering the news and not Brian himself is a question that can only be answered by the fact that Lynn is not played by Benji Gregory.

Ugh. This one was fucking lousy. And yet, there have certainly been worse. Oh well. This was the first episode on the final disc of season two. The end is in sight.

I can do this.

MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac somebody called ALF a snitch, just because ALF turned him in to the Secret Police. ALF says they used to call him Sugar Ray Shumway, but he never got far as a fighter owing to his “glass nose.” Raccy the Raccoon was a hero on Melmac who taught everyone to wash their food before they ate it. On Melmac they had no respect for good lumber.

—–
* Yes, her name is Raquel. I know I’ve only ever referred to them as Mr. and Mrs. Ochmonek, but that was because I thought it was funny to do so. Now that they’re both becoming characters, though, I may show them some proper respect by using their first names when appropriate. So, here you go. They are Raquel and Trevor.

Analyzing the Inherent Vice Trailer

October 6th, 2014 | Posted by Philip J Reed in books | film - (0 Comments)

Inherent Vice trailer

In 2009, Thomas Pynchon released Inherent Vice, and oboy did it feel like we’d slipped into a parallel world. The famously oblique and reclusive author had not only attached his name to a straight-forward (relatively, natch…), overtly comic detective novel, but he narrated his own trailer for the book, compiled a playlist of songs (many of them non-existent) for Amazon, and even, for the first time ever, optioned the rights to a screenplay.

Oh, and he makes a cameo in the film. You know…the guy who refused to be captured on film of any kind and who once wrote the line “A camera is a gun.” That guy.

What’s more, this all came not too long after a pair of appearances, as himself, on The Simpsons. Why was the world’s trickiest living author (or most authorial living trickster) toying with public life all of a sudden?

There’s no answer. At least none that I’d have. None that you’d have, either. But the process of writing and publishing Inherent Vice seems to have shaped, however briefly, another version of Thomas Pynchon. A bilocated, more visible double that had his own agenda.

Whatever it is that sets this book apart in his mind…well, let’s just say it’s fun to think about, but nothing we’ll ever know. So what we need to do instead is focus on what we have…the first film based on the writings of a man who writes the unfilmable.

And I’m going to walk you through the trailer, telling you everything you’re seeing without really seeing it, ya got me? Feel free to fill in my blanks; I’ve read Inherent Vice several times, but I’m bound to miss at least a few things here.

If you haven’t seen it, correct that first:

Spoilers, needless to say, abound…but if you’re turning to a Pynchon story because you’re curious about “what happens,” you shouldn’t be turning to a Pynchon story.

Inherent Vice trailer

We open with a shot of what seems to be (but isn’t necessarily) our protagonist’s house. His name is Doc Sportello, but we’ll get to him in a bit. For now, it’s a few seconds of lovely scene setting, and it’s impossible for me to look at this without dreaming of a Vineland adaptation. This is exactly how I’d picture the neglected, dormant beauty of Gordita Beach from that novel. Of course, there’s some overlap in characters and other details (including Gordita Beach itself) between Inherent Vice and that book, so maybe the comparison is unavoidable.

The narration, it sounds like, comes from Shasta Fay Hepworth, who we’ll see momentarily. She’s an ex of Doc’s, a private eye, and the novel opens with her coming unexpectedly to his home to discuss some impending sour entanglements with her more recent flame, the billionaire land developer Mickey Wolfmann. Specifically, the possibility that his wife is going to have him committed…and that she might want to be involved.

I’m having trouble deciding if this is narration recorded specifically for the trailer or not. I’m leaning toward no. And while it all rings a bit false to me — I’m not a big fan of films or television spelling out the reasons you should find them absurd — the fact is that Inherent Vice, though it’s by a wide margin the least complicated of Pynchon’s novels, is still pretty damned complicated.

That in itself wouldn’t be a problem if director Paul Thomas Anderson wasn’t interested in adapting it faithfully…but as we’ll see shortly, he absolutely seems to be. (At least overall.)

For that reason…yeah. Having a character catch the audience up with what the fuck is happening is probably not a bad idea.

Inherent Vice trailer

Shasta is played by Katherine Waterston, with whom I am not familiar. But I have to say that she looks the part. She’s very believable as the kind of girl you stay in love with long after you should know better.

We see her later in the trailer, too, presumably in flashback, and though our glimpses of her aren’t long enough to sell the difference yet, if you keep your eyes open you can absolutely see the distance between the girl he fell for and the woman standing in his apartment, “looking just like she swore she’d never look.”

With Doc, her life was pot and trippy music. With Wolfmann — and others like him — it was obviously something else entirely.

Better? Worse? Doesn’t matter. Point is, it’s something Doc could never provide.

Inherent Vice trailer

We don’t get much of a look at Mickey Wolfmann in the trailer, which is fitting, because Doc doesn’t get much of one at him in the book. Wolfmann is a presence more than a character, and that’s fine. It keeps his motives — and the motives of others, as they relate to him — at a distance.

Wolfmann in the book is much as he would be to us in real life: an image in the newspaper, a name overheard but not really understood. Doc encounters those who know him personally, but is always on the other side of that camera lens there. It remains to be seen if the film will keep him at a similar distance. I hope it does, because that was quite effective at building character through unexpected angles.

His wife, Sloane, is somebody Doc does get to know in person, and the ignorant vapidity of the character comes through very well both in this photograph, and when we see her in person momentarily.

Inherent Vice trailer

See? I love that she’s wearing a veil of mourning along with a bathing suit and suntan lotion. It really goes to show how much she misses Mr. Wolfmann. A great detail in this scene — and the reason I capped it — is that you can see that the man barbecuing is wearing a policeman’s helmet, and it’s almost as easy to make out more uniforms in the background.

In the novel, Wolfmann’s palatial swimming pool was indeed taken over by the police officers sent to investigate his disappearance, and it’s suggested that they were enjoying this seized luxury before the feds showed up to take the case away from them.

Inherent Vice trailer

Riggs Warbling, here. No idea who plays him, but he’s perfect for the character of Sloane’s “spiritual coach.” The narration refers to him as her boyfriend. That’s not entirely wrong, but there’s more to him as a character than that.

In fact, one of the great moments in the book occurs late in the story, when Doc finds him in one of the structures he talks about here: zomes. They make excellent meditation spaces, he says, and I’m hoping Warbling gets to see his arc through and isn’t just used as a visual punchline for this scene.

Either would be fine…but zomes, man.

Zomes.

Inherent Vice trailer

Now this is interesting. The construction site photo plays a large role in the book, but here we can clearly see that the sign says they’re at the future site of the Kismet Hotel and Casino.

The Kismet is in the novel — with a connection to Wolfmann — but Doc at first isn’t able to make out the name on the photograph. Eventually he finds out it’s the Chryskylodon Institute…which is referenced in the narration here as a “loony bin.”

So this may mark our first significant deviation from the plot of the novel. Instead of the Wolfmanns laying out the funds for Chryskylodon as they do in the book, they lay them out for the Kismet. Yet Chryskylodon (under that name or another) still plays a role in the film, as we see it shortly with the STRAIGHT IS HIP motto above its door.

We also see Coy Harlingen there…but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In the book, the photograph also sees Sloane pretending to operate a piece of construction equipment. Here, for logistical reasons certainly, she’s standing with the traditional novelty scissors instead. That’s not nearly as significant as the Chryskylodon / Kismet switch, which interests me to no end.

Inherent Vice trailer

Doc driving through Channel View Estates, a venture Mickey Wolfmann was heading up when he disappeared. There’s a temporary strip mall in the distance, which houses Chick Planet Massage. We’ll see that later in the trailer, too.

The bikers fleeing the scene does indeed happen soon after Doc’s arrival in the book, but here it happens during his arrival. Not as noticeable a change as the Chryskylodon / Kismet thing above, but considering the fact that this is when Wolfmann goes missing — and a homicide takes place taboot — the difference in timing could be significant.

Inherent Vice trailer

The Chryskylodon Institute in Ojai. At least, I think it is. Judging by the robes and its strategic placement in the trailer as Shasta says “loony bin,” it at least fills the role Chryskylodon filled in the book.

Inherent Vice trailer

And now we’ll talk about Doc…played here by Joaquin Phoenix.

I wasn’t entirely enamored with the casting of Phoenix…but that’s less to do with him than it is with my disappointment that the rumored casting of Robert Downey Jr. didn’t pan out. Now that would have been a stellar Doc.

Phoenix, though, seems like he’s going to be a great fit, and this little moment with him walking toward the police station — and being carelessly shoved over by the cops — says a lot about who he is, as well as one of the central dynamics in the film.

Doc’s a private eye, but whatever talent he has for his profession is easily overlooked by those who see only his schlubby, unprofessional demeanor. It says a lot that on his way to speak with the police, Doc would dress exactly this way. He’s not a jerk…he’s just a man out of time.

It’s a great little detail that he’s wearing huaraches, too. I wonder if he’ll lose one like he does toward the end of the book.

His shoddy treatment at the hands of the law — sometimes deliberate, sometimes not, sometimes calculated, sometimes just for fun — informs my favorite relationship in the book. And, come to think of it, my second favorite as well. This shove, and that fall, bring it all perfectly home.

Of course, the cops get shoved around themselves by the feds, which may or may not translate to the film, but it certainly is starting to seem like it might.

Inherent Vice trailer

A nice, good look at our hero. I don’t have much to say here, but I thought it only fair to spotlight poor Doc, as so much in the trailer eclipses him.

Of course, that’s thematically resonant with the book, so…no real complaints.

Phoenix doesn’t look or act much like what I got from Doc while reading, but I’m actually glad for that. It means this interpretation will be a lot less likely to “overwrite” my inner memories.

Inherent Vice trailer

Josh Brolin plays Bigfoot Bjornsen, Doc’s professional antagonist on the badge-wearing side of things. When Brolin’s casting was announced, a friend of mine gushed about how perfect he was for the role. I didn’t have the same reaction. I’d pictured somebody more along the lines of John Goodman. A younger, meaner John Goodman…but not Brolin.

Seeing him here, though? It really is perfect. He plays the consciously square-jawed detective (police detective, that is…) very well, and we even get a glimpse later in the trailer of how well he might play the less self-assured iteration of the character.

Bjornsen’s relationship with Doc is my favorite in Inherent Vice. It seems like a more profound development of the Zoyd / Hector relationship in Vineland, with mutual hatred managing to coexist with sincere mutual respect. These are two characters who despise so much about each other, and yet they each recognize in each other a longing for a world that doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe never did.

A different world for each of them, certainly, but they’re exiles all the same.

Inherent Vice trailer

Now this was casting I did flips over. Still am, actually. Benecio del Toro plays Sauncho Smilax, Doc’s attorney. We don’t get much of him in this trailer, but his look is perfect. I couldn’t be happier about del Toro handling this character.

This moment seems to come from the lunch he has with Doc at The Belaying Pin, and I’m sure that drink in the foreground is his Tequila Zombie. This is also, if I’m correct, the scene in which he introduces Doc to the Golden Fang, a ship — or something — that factors in a major way into the events unfolding around Doc.

The clips here also demonstrate that the characters haven’t quite settled on where the emphasis lies in Mickey Wolfmann’s last name. It’s that “man” part that’s causing so much trouble…some pronouncing it like it’s pronounced in “Silverman,” and others like it’s pronounced in “Super Man.”

Some pronounce it as you would the name of a wealthy land developer, and others as you would a super hero.

And I like that. One hell of a lot.

Inherent Vice trailer

A relatively minor moment early in the novel, and something I didn’t expect to make it to film, is Doc tying strips of an old t-shirt into his hair to build up an afro overnight. The movie could have opened with his hair that way, and I find it interesting that they bothered to include this…along with other seemingly minor details.

At the same time, much seems to be left out. Doc’s friend Denis, for instance, doesn’t seem to have a role in the film. And while not every character in the book could be expected to appear on screen, Denis serves two major purposes in the novel. The most obvious is probably the fact that he has a hand in the way it all ends. But in general he serves as comic relief throughout the book.

In the former sense, I have to assume the ending — or at least the way it plays out — has been changed for the film. In the latter…well, look at the trailer. The entire thing is comic relief. Denis might play on the page as some welcome silliness, but Pynchon’s writing is all silliness when translated to the visual.

Or, again, so it seems.

Doc is on the phone with his Aunt Reet, a real estate agent who gives him the lowdown on some of Wolfmann’s business dealings. The “wants to be a Nazi” bit is an actual line of dialogue from the book, and I have to admit it’s extremely strange to me to hear these lines spoken out loud.

Not that they sound bad out loud, but the more you read Pynchon the more you get accustomed to a kind of internal rhythm of dialogue. When that dialogue is brought into our world, spoken with our rhythms, it’s a little chilling. Like waking up next to a krees you found in a dream.

But, yes. With lines like this necessitating delivery like this, Denis might not have stood out as comic relief at all.

We then see a brief shot of Doc speaking with Jade (possibly Bambi…it’s been a while since I’ve read Inherent Vice) from Chick Planet Massage. Not much to say about it, but if you’re wondering: that’s who it is.

Inherent Vice trailer

Jena Malone plays Hope Harlingen, who hires Doc to look into the whereabouts of her husband, Coy. She believes he might still be alive, even though the official story is that he died of a heroin overdose.

All of Doc’s cases in Inherent Vice are interrelated, but it’s still easy to segment them out, at the very least by who hired him. The Harlingen case leads to many of my favorite moments in the book, and it’s second only to the disappearance of Mickey Wolfmann in terms of overall importance. That’s why I’m a little sad to see it play out like this:

Inherent Vice trailer

See? We don’t need comic relief in a movie that takes one of the book’s most affecting scenes and makes a joke out of it. The movie is comic relief.

It’s a funny moment, I admit, but Doc mindlessly screaming, I’m sure, won’t stack up to the emotional relief of the scene in the book. See, Hope, Coy, and their infant daughter Amethyst were all wracked by the horrors of heroin. Hope and Coy directly, little Amethyst by proxy. The story she tells Doc about it is harrowing…and in a moment of small, uncommon cosmic mercy for Doc, he sees Amethyst wander into the room, and she’s fine. She’s healthy. She made it out.

It’s a great scene of tension and release, so it’s a little disappointing that it gets played for laughs here. Not worrying, mind you, but disappointing.

Inherent Vice trailer

…aaaand suddenly I’m not disappointed anymore. Reese Witherspoon looks like a fantastic Penny, the Deputy DA who now and then holds Doc’s heart, and some other things. The awkward exchange here involves her over-protective cubicle mate Rhus, and it’s played with perfect, absurd tension.

In the book, Penny is an attractive, intelligent, uptight foil to Doc’s…well, to Doc’s opposite of all that. Witherspoon absolutely looks the part, and somehow, in a way I can’t quite articulate, fits the mold of the kind of girl who would fall for Doc against every ounce of her better, more reliable judgment.

Of course, Penny’s not entirely trustworthy herself, being as she shops poor Doc to the feds right about…

Inherent Vice trailer

…now.

Agents Flatweed and Borderline, investigating the disappearance of Mickey Wolfmann, shoving the local badges and batons out of the way in order to do so. At least, ostensibly. The book paints a portrait of a vicious cycle, reinforced by the sheer power of an official pecking order.

I’ll be purposefully vague here. At the bottom (arguably) is Mickey Wolfmann, who could use some assistance. Doc is just above him, willing to provide that assistance. Above Doc is Bigfoot (and his colleagues) who shut Doc down so that they can handle the situation their way. Above them lurk the feds, who shut the cops down so that they can keep Wolfmann away from the help he needs.

It’s a peek into the inescapable future that Vineland has already shown us…but Doc’s there, hovering on the brink of a new decade, and that’s why moments like the reveal that li’l Amethyst is a-ok are so important.

Doc knows he’s a lost cause. He knows there’s no place for him in the years to come. But seeing some assurance, however small, however trivial, that somebody, somewhere, might come out of this okay…why, that’s all he can ever really hope for, isn’t it?

That’s why I wish it wasn’t a punchline.

Because it isn’t funny.

It’s all the guy’s got.

Inherent Vice trailer

Owen Wilson is a great choice for Coy Harlingen, the not-exactly-deceased ex-heroin addict, saxophonist, and political turncoat. He has exactly that sort of effortless attractiveness that also feels quietly haunted. And, hey, he’s a pretty great actor in films directed by guys named Anderson.

Doc finds him here renting a large house with The Boards, a band of the undead themselves. One very nice detail is the saxophone on the ledge in the background…Coy’s icon, and what helps Doc to locate him in the first place.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing the Harlingen saga play out on screen. There’s the potential there for a lot of heart, and unlike the scene earlier, it looks like the emotional holds steady in the Board mansion.

Also, compare the dark, morose environment in which Coy is lost with the bright, airy home Hope still occupies. That’s not unique to the film, but that’s a wonderful visual suggestiveness.

Inherent Vice trailer

A quick flash of Doc in front of Mickey Wolfmann’s tie collection. He’s with Luz, the Wolfmann housekeeper, and they’re about to do what you think they’re about to do.

Doc looks different here because he’s in the Wolfmann residence under false pretenses, looking like he swore he’d never look. Natch.

In the book, the ties are custom painted with very lifelike erotic art, each featuring a different woman Mickey Wolfmann has slept with. It doesn’t look like that’s the case here, but perhaps the imagery is on the back.

Either way, the ties are crucial to Doc’s investigation. Out of his own foolish curiosity he tries to find one featuring Shasta, and fails. Later, in Chryskylodon, he finds that tie…notably not around the neck of Mickey Wolfmann.

The fact that they bother to set up this otherwise irrelevant scene suggests that this detail will still factor into Doc’s investigation. Further confusing the change from Chryskylodon to Kismet in the ground-breaking ceremony.

Inherent Vice trailer

We get a very short glance of Martin Short, out of retirement to play Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd…another in a long (long…) line of untrustable Pynchon doctors. He’s most likely with his dependent patient (and daughter of one of Doc’s old clients) Japonica Fenway, but I don’t know for sure how much of his “Smile Maintenance” we’ll see in the film.

Blatnoyd was a small role in the novel that petered out before it began (with good reason, however), so I’m very shocked Short took it. Either it’s been expanded upon here — which I for some reason doubt — or he was a fan of the book himself.

Whatever the reason, he’s a hell of a get, and I couldn’t be happier with most of these casting choices.

Interesting are the bits of set dressing behind him. An oriental dragon on the coffee table and a ship on the wall…both of which are gold, and both of which passively represent the Golden Fang. Indeed, in the book, Blatnoyd’s very building resembled a big golden incisor.

What is / was / will be the Golden Fang? I’ve read Inherent Vice more times than I could tell you, but like The Maltese Falcon, and, shit, that ol’ muted post-horn even, that’s not what matters. What matters is what it does to the people who seek to find out.

I wonder if the film will retain that mystery. Something I saw in a cast list worries me that it will not.

Inherent Vice trailer

We then flash through scenes of Sauncho picking up Doc from the police station, the younger, original Shasta Fay Hepworth, and Luz overtly seducing Doc (and me…) in front of Sloane Wolfmann.

After that, we get to a very notable image: this Last Supper homage, featuring various members — past and present — of The Boards, having a “heated discussion over a number of pizzas.”

Coy is visible here, and in the book it’s an important clue to his whereabouts. However, in the book it’s a still photograph that Doc is consulting. Here it’s in motion, which means either Doc is present for the scene, or it’s a flashback.

Regardless, an interesting change. This is possibly so that Doc’s photographer friend Spike could be cut out of the storyline without sacrificing an easy visual punch.

Inherent Vice trailer

I love that this scene plays for so long in the trailer. Bigfoot ordering more pancakes (with lingonberries, I hope…) is one of those comic moments that definitely plays better on screen than it does in the book, where it just feels like an amusing incongruity.

Doc’s faltering embarrassment is fantastic, and the comedy is no doubt going to cushion the hard fact Doc learns here: the Mickey Wolfmann investigation is leading him closer and closer to one Adrian Prussia.

Who’s that? The trailer doesn’t answer that question…or, indeed, even raise it. But we’ll discuss it shortly.

We’ve now heard Brolin do his smug, intimidating Bigfoot, and his silly, comical Bigfoot. We don’t really get to hear the fragile Bigfoot, but if the film plays out like the book did, there will be plenty of time for that later.

Inherent Vice trailer

With the exception of a couple of midpoint scenes (such as Bigfoot with his pancakes above), this trailer sticks, understandably, to the front part of the film. Here, however, we get a look at one of the very last plot points.

The dangling handcuffs, the gun, and the “Did I get you?” line all make it clear that the body he’s stepping over belongs to Puck Beaverton. Beaverton doesn’t factor into the trailer otherwise, and neither does his partner Einar, nor his fiancee Trillium.

Theirs was an interesting subplot — and part of the reason Doc went to Vegas (home of the Kismet) at all — so we’ll see. It’s possible that “Puck” here is actually just an anonymous heavy for Adrian Prussia as far as the film is concerned, but I hope not. I really want to hear him sing some Merman.

Doc is asking Prussia, during a brilliantly unprofessional shootout, if he hit him. I’ll spare you the answer, since doing so wouldn’t help identify anything happening in the trailer and would just be a spoiler for spoilers’ sake.

I will say, though, that it’s interesting to me that Prussia is kept out of sight here…just as he is for so much of the book. (And, indeed, in this very gunfight.)

Prussia is Inherent Vice‘s bad guy. At least, within reason. Like Ned Pointsman in Gravity’s Rainbow and Brock Vond in Vineland, we know there are infinite levels above, all working the controls behind the scenes. But as far as what Doc gets to see goes, Prussia’s the one motherfucker he doesn’t want to tango with.

So, yeah. Inevitably, it comes to this. And I can’t wait.

Inherent Vice trailer

Doc outside of Chick Planet — and not at all willingly — with Bigfoot. The trailer ends with a scene of Doc getting knocked out in the massage parlor, and when he wakes up, this is where he finds himself. He gets taken in for questioning, and that’s when Sauncho (as we’ve seen above) comes to get him.

Questioned about what? Well, the homicide. That unfortunate body on the stretcher is Glen Charlock’s, and it’s this murder that sets the gears of complexity really turning. It all interlocks. The only question is…how?

This is when the motorcycles flee the scene. The deed is done on poor Glen, who was working as one of Mickey Wolfmann’s bodyguards, and the bikers hit the road…which Doc hears right before he gets whacked on the head. In the trailer, however, he’s driving to the scene as the bikers leave, which significantly alters the course of events, and doesn’t actually put Doc at the scene of the crime.

It could be nothing, but I’ll be curious how much deviation from the book a change like that will trigger.

Inherent Vice trailer

The LOVE caption is stylized to resemble the cover of the Inherent Vice novel, as are all of the captions in the trailer. This one I’ve singled out, because it’s from another moment I didn’t expect to be adapted: a flashback of a younger Doc and Shasta, caught in a torrential rain as they seek out an address given to them by a Ouija board.

Considering the fact that they asked the board where they could score good weed and the fact that the address ends up connected to the Golden Fang, this is a scene of sweet, unexpected warmth.

It’s no wonder Doc clings to it as control spirals away from him…and it’s a pleasant surprise to find that it made the cut in the film.

God knows the poor guy needs all the happiness he can find.

Inherent Vice trailer

Fragile Bigfoot after dark. His unfortunate homelife is played for both laughs and pathos in the book, and though we can’t hear anything, seeing him cow to his wife while talking on the phone to Doc — his chosen nemesis — is heartbreaking.

Another great, unnecessary element of the book that I couldn’t be happier made it to the screen.

Inherent Vice trailer

Doc and his client Tariq, framed in perfect awkwardness here, in what’s clearly their first meeting. Tariq knew Glen Charlock…and, in fact, has a fling with Glen’s widow once the body gets cold.

Michael K. Williams serves Doc some brilliant, well-deserved bafflement. Their consultation is one of the novel’s funniest scenes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up saying the same for the film.

Inherent Vice trailer

And, finally, we end where things begin: Doc comes to Channel View Estates to track down Mickey Wolfmann, and gets knocked unconscious in the massage parlor. While he’s out, Wolfmann gets kidnapped, his bodyguard Glen Charlock gets killed, and Doc wakes up way over his head.

Maybe, as Shasta herself opened the trailer by suggesting, Doc should have just looked the other way.

Fact is, though, it’s happening.

And it’s happening in December.

I’ll see you there.

Inherent Vice posterThis past week, the trailer for Inherent Vice — the first film Thomas Pynchon has ever allowed to be adapted from one of his books, hit the internet.

If you know me, you’ll know to expect a trailer analysis. And that is indeed coming. While I work on it, though, I thought I’d throw you a little curio: the complete Inherent Vice soundtrack!

…okay, it’s the soundtrack of the book, not the film. But, so what? It’s Inherent Vice, and I spent a lot of time a few years ago putting this together for my own enjoyment. I might as well spread it ’round.

This was my second attempt at compiling a comprehensive playlist of all songs directly mentioned in a Thomas Pynchon novel, but unlike my experience with Vineland, I’ve actually managed to finish this one.

Below is every song mentioned by name (or quoted by lyric) in Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice. It was a lot of work on my part (and on the part of a helpful friend or two), but man was it worth it. Many of these are songs I never would have listened to otherwise, and all of them do an excellent job of setting their respective scenes, and I hope the film can measure up to this standard.

Many thanks go to the (sadly incomplete and periodically inaccurate) song list at the Pynchon Wiki. It missed out some very obvious ones, in my opinion, but that’s neither here nor there. This was still a helpful resource.

Also, Pynchon himself has compiled a playlist of songs featured in the book at amazon.com. It’s far from complete, though, and it contains a few of the fictional songs he wrote himself, so I think this would be more of his personal — and impossible — mixed CD than anything else.

Oddly enough, Pynchon lists “Telstar” by The Tornados, even though it’s not mentioned anywhere in Inherent Vice (and since it’s an instrumental, I’m sure nobody quoted it either).

My guess is that he just really likes the song and thinks it’d fit somewhere in the background of one of many conversations. I’m cool with that; the song is a pretty awesome rocker, and I stuck it at the end of my playlist. Do with it as you please.

Anyway, enough of that. Enjoy the complete literary soundtrack. Maybe eventually I’ll get the Vineland one done, too. (The Crying of Lot 49 is another possibility, but I have a feeling it’d be very short…more of an EP. And I’ll take notes on music references in Bleeding Edge when I finally get around to a re-read.)

Download the Inherent Vice soundtrack:

https://www.sendspace.com/file/cl5463

1) Can’t Buy Me Love — The Beatles
2) Sugar Sugar — The Archies
3) Runaround Sue — Dion & The Belmonts
4) The Big Valley theme — TV Theme
5) The Great Pretender — The Platters
6) “Bang Bang” (My Baby Shot Me Down) — Bonzo Dog Band
7) Strangers in the Night — Frank Sinatra
8) Oh Pretty Woman — Roy Orbison
9) Wouldn’t It Be Nice — The Beach Boys
10) Fly Me to the Moon — Frank Sinatra
11) The Crystal Ship — The Doors
12) Blueberry Hill — Fats Domino
13) Little GTO — Ronny and the Daytonas
14) People Are Strange — The Doors
15) Gilligan’s Island theme — TV Theme
16) Basketball Jones — Cheech & Chong
17) Wipeout — The Surfaris
18) The Other Side — Tiny Tim
19) Pipeline — The Chantays
20) Surfin’ Bird — The Trashmen
21) Bam-Boo — Johnny and the Hurricanes
22) Tequila — The Champs
23) Leaning on a Lamp Post — George Formby
24) Leaning on a Lamp Post — Herman’s Hermits
25) Donna Lee — Miles Davis
26) Here Come the Hodads — The Marketts
27) Eight Miles High — The Byrds
28) Runaway — Del Shannon
29) Happy Trails to You — Roy Rogers
30) White Rabbit — Jefferson Airplane
31) This Guy’s in Love With You — Herb Alpert
32) Desafinado — Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz
33) It Never Entered My Mind — Miles Davis
34) Alone Together — Chet Baker
35) Samba do Avaio — Antonio Carlos Jobim
36) Crimson and Clover — Tommy James and the Shondells
37) Quentin’s Theme (Dark Shadows theme) — TV Theme
38) Something Happened to Me Yesterday — The Rolling Stones
39) Grande Valse Brillante — Frederic Chopin
40) There’s No Business Like Show Business — Ethel Merman
41) One Fine Day — The Chiffons
42) Wabash Cannon Ball — Roy Acuff
43) Wunderbar — Jo Stafford and Gordon Macrae
44) Haunted Heart — Sammy Kershaw
45) Viva Las Vegas — Elvis Presley
46) El Paso — Marty Robbins
47) The Flintstones theme — TV theme
48) (You’re Not Sick) You’re Just in Love — Ethel Merman
49) Tiptoe Through the Tulips — Tiny Tim
50) Everything’s Coming Up Roses — Ethel Merman
51) All Shook Up — Elvis Presley
52) That’s Amore — Dean Martin
53) Interstellar Overdrive — Pink Floyd
54) Tears on My Pillow — Little Anthony & The Imperials
55) When Somebody Cares For You — The Mike Curb Congregation
56) Que Sera Sera — Doris Day
57) Elusive Butterfly — Bob Lind
58) Yummy Yummy Yummy — Ohio Express
59) Hawaii Five-0 theme — TV Theme
60) Something in the Air — Thunderclap Newman
61) We Should Be Together — Shirley Temple and George Murphy
62) Help Me, Rhonda — The Beach Boys
63) Volare — Domenico Modugno
64) Java Jive — The Ink Spots
65) Super Market — Fapardokly
66) A Stranger in Love — The Spaniels
67) God Only Knows — The Beach Boys
68) Telstar — The Tornados

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