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Pussy Goes “Happy Holidays!”

Happy holidays, from us to you! Whatever you celebrate, wherever you are, we love you and appreciate your readership.

As for us: both Ashley and I have spent the holidays with our respective families. We exchanged gifts! I got her a kick-ass Shining t-shirt from Fright Rags; she got me a Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie shirt. (Plus a Godzilla plushie and framed picture of herself for me, headphones and a copy of Chicken with Plums for her.) Oh, and to top it all off? This December 26th is our 4-year anniversary. Cute, right?

So as we move into that awkward half-week between Christmas and New Year’s, stay warm and comfy. Best wishes from Pussy Goes Grrr!

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Link Dump: #54

Ah, Tigger: top made out of rubber, bottom made out of string, the hyperactive bane to parents everywhere. Did you see the new Winnie the Pooh movie? It was a really cute, modest effort that got financially crushed under HP7.2‘s enormous heel. But it’s still very funny, well-cast, and worth watching. (Hell, “Everything Is Honey” and the not/knot routine are both solid gold, and it’s only an hour long.) Now that I’ve plugged one of 2011’s sweetest animated treats, here are some links…

We had a few odd, off-putting search terms this week. First, as usual, are the vaginal ones: “truly the best pussy movie show” and “funny thinkings that women put in cunts.” Then “dark blood satanic pentagram,” which sounds like an excerpt from My Immortal. And speaking of bad Harry Potter fanfiction, “albus and rose incest.” Yep. All right.

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Link Dump: #15

It’s that time of year again! The “most wonderful time”! The time when you start feeling bad about how inadequate all the presents you’re giving are (and all the people you’re forgetting), when you feel guilty over not being able to spend enough time with family, when it’s cold as fuck outside and a new year is looming around the corner. Wonderful.

This week’s special Xmas kitty comes courtesy of Rankin/Bass’s stop-motion classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), because Ashley vetoed my selection from A Garfield Christmas (1987). And now I have an inadequate present for you, dear reader: links! Here’s the best of the Internet for the past week:

  • Andrew Pulver of The Guardian wrote this terrifically in-depth essay on Jules Dassin’s great noir Night and the City.
  • From the “What If?” Department: Victorian Star Trek, complete with sepia tone.
  • The verse may not be great, but Adam Watson’s “Dr. Seuss does Star Wars” drawings are hilarious. Especially Jabba.
  • Vulture has “2010’s 25 Best Performances That Won’t Win Oscars,” many of which are dead-on, and contain a few more end-of-year overlooked movie suggestions.
  • Slate Magazine has 17 overlooked Christmas movies, including All That Heaven Allows and Eyes Wide Shut. That’s my kind of list! Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club has three more, one of which features Jimmy Durante and a squirrel.
  • The San Diego Film Critics Society gets my admiration for 1) being one of the few critics’ groups to break with the Social Network solidarity and 2) actually making interesting, wide-ranging choices. Scott Pilgrim! Shutter Island! Never Let Me Go! Variety!
  • Here’s a hilarious top 10 movies list from Lisanti Quarterly. I seriously can’t wait to see The Super-Loony One.
  • But with all this year-end cinematic partying, we can’t forget the year’s worst movies: here are lists from The Film Doctor, The Telegraph, and The A.V. Club.
  • The ultimate holiday present: zombie-centric reinterpretations of beloved movies!
  • You know what’s really threatening America? Businesses that say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Thankfully, some clever Who down in Whoville came up with GrinchAlert.com, where irate customers can put Baby Jesus-hating stores on the “Naughty list,” and presumably boycott them. (Go sarcasm!)

As your reward for receiving the above gift, here’s a bonus: the past week’s wacky search term action! I was greatly amused by the horny redundancy in “i like sex and pussy also” and the saccharine overkill of “animated smiling heart.” Someone accidentally created a porno spoof title with a dash of Latin by searching for “dr. jekyll et mr. hyde fuck.” (Let’s not dwell on the mechanics of that action, by the way.) Lastly, I’m kind of baffled by all the hits from “fogging cockroach.” Maybe they’re searching for an exterminator? FYI: Pussy Goes Grrr is not a bug extermination website. We also can’t recommend any good ones. Sorry, and have a happy winter!

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Happy holidays: a visit to the mall

‘Tis the season. Etc. I’m sitting once again in the public library trying to write while surrounded by, well, the types of people who use the computers in the public library. It’s late December. In 1-2 days, it will be Christmas. And how does Christmas most visibly manifest itself in America? I’d be lying if I said it didn’t involve money, sales, price tags, advertising, and merchandise.

Much has been said, endlessly, over several decades, about the notorious “commercialization of Christmas.” And, I guess, I’m here to add a little to this fretful discourse. Much hand-wringing persists every December; many remarks about what we’re celebrating and how dollar signs have replaced Christmas trees, or Santa Claus, or whatever it is the speaker holds sacred in the first place (also, at times, baby Jesus?).

My perspective on this came as I was wandering around the malls in this area. I have an affinity for malls, which Ashley and I were discussing last night: they’re simultaneously communal locations where people can gather, and also hubs of economic exchange. You can go to a mall to be around others, but the central purpose is always to spend money. Clothes, jewelry, other necessities, even food (hell, even “courts” of food!) – to quote Homer Simpson, “For an evening or a week, there’s no place like the mall.  Food, fun and fashion – the mall has it all!” (It’s telling that malls would be emblematic of Homer’s hedonistic, spend-happy attitude toward life.)

So I spent some time at the Ridgedale Mall, currently thriving and crammed with rushing consumers, as well as the Knollwood Mall of St. Louis Park, MN, which is slowly dying. Go into either of these places at any time of year, and you’d see them bustling with people who want – nay, need! – to buy things. Visit them a few days before Christmas and you see crowds of people desperate to buy massive amounts of gifts. The socially encouraged need to spend is so heavily compounded by this one time of year when everyone needs to spend more than ever.

One curious phenomenon is window shopping. Stores like to dress up their front windows to show what kinds of products they have to offer inside. So you can peer through, yearn for what you see, and then go in and buy some of it. I’m always a little disturbed by the mannequins. They’re intended to look appealing – for example, see the ones with the silver and gold skin. Clearly they want to give off a feel of affluence, yet all you wonder is, Where did the head go?

The sad truth, of course, is that when the heads are still attached, the mannequins fall into the eerie territory of the uncanny valley. That’s pretty obviously the motivation behind the headlessness. So the fact is that there’s no way for mannequins not to be unpleasant on some level: it’s an attempt to represent human beings wearing clothing without actually having human beings. Either you have a headless doll, or else one with a plastered-on smile, or else one with no face at all, which is prime horror story material by itself.

Maybe I just overthink these things, but mannequins seem to open up all kinds of weird avenues: Pygmalion-and-Galatea fantasies for the consumers, voyeurism, being able to dress up and look at a woman without a subjectivity of her own. After all, these mannequins are being posed with their hands at their sides, passively modeling. And do I even want to get into the issue of their uniform body sizes, suggesting that every woman should imagine being this life-size doll, proportioned like this, wearing these clothes?

Some of the images I found in the Knollwood Mall, a place that’s rapidly running out of stores, felt almost like grotesque self-parodies. Consumerism is a fickle mistress/master/whatever gender word you want to apply to consumerism. There were escalators, no longer in use. There was no food court; instead, they had the “snack shack”:

So barren, so desolate, so unintentionally comical. There’s not much of a shack in sight, unless those white lines painted on the wall are supposed to represent the framework of a building. And aren’t “shacks” pretty shabby buildings in the first place? It feels like a rip-off on top of a rip-off, as if they’d had a sign saying “Crumbling Building Containing Food,” and instead there was just a big box of food, with no roof or door of any kind.

Usually when I encounter a vending machine or two purveying liquid or solid nourishment, it’s without much fanfare. The vending machines are pretty self-evident. Their very presence itself says, “We’re vending machines. Come put coins or bills into us, but don’t try any really crinkled or torn dollars, because we won’t accept those.” In the case of the “snack shack,” however, these two vending machines are clearly trying to be something. I.e., a replacement for a restaurant.

What’s sadder? A temple of money in full bloom, or one in decay? At the former, I was being buffeted by dozens of eager consumers, streaming past kiosks and potted plants, arguing with family members, carrying shopping bags, being barraged with free samples by the folk managing those kiosks. At the latter, I saw a few shoppers, looking dazed and tired, with no opportunity to have their children meet Santa Claus. I also saw a sign advertising advertising.

So at once, this sign is making us aware of the frequency with which advertising enters our lives, and implores us to contribute. Unfortunately for the advertisers, this sign is not being seen every 10 seconds by someone with a product to advertise (and I personally doubt whether it’s actually being seen every 10 seconds; I know that for a few minutes, I was the only person seeing it). I guess I find it a little humorous that a sign should appear both so desperate and so self-aware.

“Advertise here!” it seems to say. “Please, I’ll let you in on my little secret if you do!” Advertising is about creating awareness of a product; this advertisement is about creating awareness of how often awareness is created. It’s fascinating, and a little sad – it’s like a lost puppy, a sign without anything to sell. As if it’s forgotten what it’s like to shill for a specific company. Let’s pray that for Christmas, that sign gets what it so obviously wants: something to sell to people, whether every 10 seconds or every 10 minutes.

So that’s my little visit to the yuletide abyss that is the mall, a place designated solely for shopping, yet one engineered to feel strangely like home. Carols are wafted in over the PA system; a large and jolly man is dressed up in red and white. Tinsel is strung with care by people employed to string tinsel with care. Then the shoppers come, because they must. If they didn’t, it wouldn’t really be Christmas, now would it?

For an evening or a week, there's no place like the mall.  Food, fun and fashion - the mall has it all!

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Yuletide postings

Happy holidays, blogosphere. Christmas is on Friday, Andreas left school to be in Mound for another two weeks and posts have slowed a little. It happens sometimes. I personally have been busy and tired and REALLY need to fucking finish my Christmas cards. Like…seriously, I am running out of time. So yeah, posts will probably be slow in coming until after the holidays/Andreas goes back to Carleton. I never realize how much of my slack he picks up until he’s not around to do it anymore. But it’s okay. Posts will pick up and I’ve still got toys to review (including the large Ripple, which was given to me for Christmas!).

Happy holidays to everyone and enjoy the snow (if you have it)!

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Christmas in hell: The Star Wars Holiday Special

It’s now that season: snowflakes fall from the sky, reindeer land on rooftops, etc., etc., and lots of yule-y things happen. In celebration of this fact, and inspired by the Nostalgia Critic’s recent videos, Ashley and I decided to watch some of the saddest animation Christmas has to offer. We then followed this up with one of the saddest things that have ever been offered by anyone, ever.

Both of the animated videos we watched were silent and sublime; these were The Snowman (1982) and The Little Matchgirl (2006). The Snowman is just beautiful, based on a book of the same name by Raymond Briggs (who you may also know for the bleakly apocalyptic Where the Wind Blows). Introduced by David Bowie (!!!) and animated in Briggs’ quietly emotive storybook style, it tells very simply of a boy playing with his snowman, leading into delightful, imaginative adventures, accompanied by the song “Walking in the Air.” Watching this cartoon is like stepping out into the most tranquil and transient of winter mornings.

The Little Matchgirl comes from Disney and is based on a story by Hans Christian Anderson. Unlike many Disney products, however, it’s neither cutesy nor infantile; instead it speaks to the trauma of poverty and lost dreams as it shows an unwanted girl freezing on the streets amidst her garish, desperate fantasies. No anthropomorphic animals or obligatory songs here: just the contrast between cold gray and the warm colors of house and hearth to illustrate a subtly tragic story. The Snowman and The Little Matchgirl are half an hour and 7 minutes respectively; we strongly recommend you check them out this holiday season.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t just stop there. We had to keep going. And so, urged on by its abominable reputation, we watched The Star Wars Holiday Special. For those of you who don’t know, the SWHS was produced shortly after the release of the first Star Wars movie, when Star Wars fever was blazing a path across the nation. Some folks at CBS figured, Why not make a Christmas special themed around everyone’s favorite galaxy far, far away? (Needless to say, I have many reasons why not.) It was broadcast once. And never released on video. However, because that’s what the Internet is for, you can easily watch it on Google Video. (I am not liable for head injuries sustained during viewing.)

So. The Star Wars Holiday Special. Why is it so bad? There are many reasons, none of which can be recited without causing a little bit of pain. I mean, it all starts out with Han Solo trying to escort Chewbacca back to his home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” i.e. Wookiee Christmas. And at first you can think, “Huh, Han and Chewie flying around in the Falcon. Seems like your typical Star Wars stuff…” Then we have the credits. And it’s all downhill from there. Now, I don’t know too much about 1970s TV. But were variety shows really so madly popular that they had to shoehorn Star Wars into this format?

Presumably, if you are a relatively sane human being, when you think “Star Wars” your mind does not also jump to “Music! Comedy! Musical comedy!” But for some reason, somebody’s mind did just that. To this end, they added to the reliable Star Wars cast with such TV stalwarts as Art Carney, Bea Arthur, and Harvey Korman (the latter of whom plays 3 terrible roles). They also made pitiful attempts to fit the “music” and “comedy” (in the loosest senses of the words) segments into the main story, which only makes the special look more disjointed and inane than it already is.

So, after the credits, we are introduced to the first, agonizing segment, which strongly resembles an abortive pilot for a sitcom about Chewbacca’s family (mother Malla, father Itchy, and son Lumpy. Yeah.) The dialogue is entirely in “Shyriihook,” which is apparently the Wookiee language. Alas, Shyriihook is neither pleasant to the ear, nor particularly expressive. Therefore, we’re treated to about 9 whole minutes of Wookiees walking around their home, groaning and ululating loudly to each other. 9 whole minutes. Plus the first of many colorful psychedelic trips. High-quality television, this is not.

Mercifully, this would-be introduction to “Lumpy Knows Best” is cut short by a human voice – that of Mark Hamill, at the time recovering from a near-fatal car accident. He plays Luke Skywalker, working on an engine with R2-D2, and sets the Wookiees’ minds at ease. “Try to enjoy your Life Day,” he reassures them. If only Hamill’s soothing voice could similarly take away our woes. We then get a skit that involves Art Carney mumbling to himself (is it supposed to be funny-? We’ll never know), after which we’re shown Darth Vader marching about on a Star Destroyer. I know what you’re thinking: Darth Vader, voiced by James Earl Jones. Awesome, this can’t be a total waste of time!

Well, then we cut to a commercial break, and never see Vader again. (OK, maybe for about 3 seconds in animated form.) Instead we get to see more day-to-day Wookiee hi-jinks. Thrilling, no? Malla watches a four-armed Harvey Korman yuk it up while cross-dressing on a cooking show. Later, an ominous Imperial representative appears on an Orwellian telescreen in the Wookiees’ living room and starts barking orders. Then more Art Carney, handing out Life Day gifts. This is a man who had won an Academy Award only four years earlier. Fame is a fickle mistress.

It’s Carney’s Life Day gift to Itchy that leads us out of television hell and into some heretofore unimagined, somehow much worse über-hell. This is the abyss, folks. It’s never really explained, but his gift turns out to be some type of virtual reality chip, allowing Itchy to enter into an end-of-2001-style light show, which is also occupied by the floating head of Diahann Carroll (who had been nominated for an Oscar only three years prior while starring opposite James Earl Jones in Claudine). Carroll here plays a singing cyber-prostitute. Did I mention this has the words “Holiday Special” in the title? Check out some of her dialogue:

Oh, yes. I can feel my creation! [giggle] I’m getting your message. Are you getting mine? Oh! Oh! We are excited, aren’t we? Now! We can have a good time! Can’t we? I’ll tell you a secret: I find you adorable. [Itchy rewinds the program] I’ll tell you a secret: I find you adorable. [rewinds again] I find you adorable. [again] I find you adorable. I don’t need to ask how you find me. You see, I am your fantasy. I am your experience. So experience me! I am your pleasure. Enjoy me.

Oh, the ’70s. Those wild, liberated times, when hairy aliens getting off to human women in virtual porn was considered great yuletide programming. Carter was in the White House, and anything was acceptable. I guess? Carroll sings “This Minute Now,” the first of many unnecessary, forgettable songs. Then we watch Princess Leia chat with Malla while making snarky comments C-3PO – because this is Star Wars, remember? And not Interspecies Porno Theater. Which may come as a surprise.

The viewer is then granted the respite of more commercials, after which martial law is declared on Kashyyyk and the tone of the special radically shifts to a Wookiee Holocaust drama as Imperial Stormtroopers raid the house. And Jefferson Starship is played on a music box. I just said the words “Wookie Holocaust drama” and “Jefferson Starship” in two consecutive sentences. Either I’m babbling and psychotic, or it’s The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Then, finally, about halfway through the special, we get the one piece of redemption, however slight. It’s the segment that’s generally accepted as being not-quite-terrible: a short cartoon that introduces Boba Fett. Sure, it’s poorly animated (the robots look rubbery and Han Solo’s eyes look stitched shut), but at least it has a vaguely Star Wars-ish story. Something about an invisibility medallion on an orange planet called Panna, and Boba Fett being Darth Vader’s right-hand man. And… a sleeping virus that forces Han and Luke to walk upside down?

OK, it doesn’t make much sense, especially not in context (why is Lumpy watching a cartoon about his brother’s adventures?), but the point is, it’s by far the best part of the special. The scenes in the alien city play out like second-rate Ralph Bakshi, and that’s really the best you can hope for. But then, far too quickly, Boba Fett flies away for some reason, and it’s over. And it’s back to The Diary of Lumpy Frank (Schindler’s Wookiee?) as Stormtroopers needlessly tear the head off of Lumpy’s Bantha toy and barge back out. Which means it’s time for another random, unfunny skit starring Harvey Korman as a malfunctioning robot who has to flap his arms a lot!

These skits just go on forever, killing the special’s nonexistent momentum, and making you feel very embarrassed for poor Harvey Korman. (Luckily for Korman, he would go on to such comparatively dignified roles as “Captain Blythe” in Herbie Goes Bananas and “Professor Balls” in those Pink Panther movies they made after Peter Sellers’ death.) Inexplicably, the Wookiees’ telescreen starts droning on about a “live broadcast” that’s required viewing for Stormtroopers. And since a bunch of Stormtroopers are hanging around, they congregate near the telescreen and watch it.

The broadcast is initially described as if it were an ethnographic study of some distant outpost of the Empire. And indeed, it does take place in the Mos Eisley cantina, featuring many of the weird aliens you remember from Episode IV. But then the gruesome truth is revealed: it’s actually another “comedy” skit, plus a song, starring Bea Arthur as a bartender and Harvey Korman as an obsessive, Travis Bickle-esque patron who drinks out of a blowhole in his scalp. (Again, several words I had once hoped never to use in such close proximity.) After some banter, we get to the song, “Good Night but Not Goodbye,” which amounts to the Tattooine equivalent of “Closing Time” by the Minneapolis-based band Semisonic.

This was about the point where Ashley and I looked at the time left in the video and started cackling, “So close, so close, we’ve almost made it!” Han and Chewbacca finally arrive in time to easily dispatch a single Stormtrooper via Railing Kill – which is exactly the kind of thrilling action sequence you were waiting for after an hour and a half of soul-dismembering dreck, right? Han heart-warmingly wishes the family a happy Life Day, Art Carney briefly reappears, and then that ol’ reality rug is really pulled out from under us, as the Wookiees magically have red cult robes on, walk out into space, and end up in a fog-drenched Life Day celebration chamber!

As the viewer squints, disoriented, at the screen, C-3PO waxes philosophical about his inability to fully enjoy Life Day, and Princess Leia gives a dull monologue full of words like “life,” “hope,” “love,” and “life,” concluding with “This is the promise of the Tree of Life.” Finally, we get the big pay-off, as Leia sings a big, stupid Life Day son, set very roughly to the tune of John Williams’ original Star Wars theme. Some sample lyrics:

A day that brings the promise that one day we’ll be free

To live, to laugh, to dream, to grow, to trust, to love, to live, to be!

I’m thinking this was not exactly penned by Cole Porter. Maybe it’s awkwardly translated out of Shyriihook?

Somehow, the special continues even after she finishes singing. We get Chewbacca taking an extended look back at his own life, allowing for liberal repetition of clips from Episode IV. Then the Chewbacca clan returns to its home, where they sit together around a table filled with glowing objects. Just look at all that crass commercialization of Life Day. And at long, long last, the credits roll. Never was there a sweeter feeling than experiencing two hours of unmitigated torment and knowing that it’s finally over. Also, having a list of ending credits is like knowing who to blame. In fact, there’s a fun game Ashley and I played.

Director Steve Binder, shame on you!

Songwriter Mitzi Welch, shame on you!

Assistant art director Leslie Parsons, shame on you!

Choreographer David Winters, shame on you!

Script supervisor Sheila Lauder, shame on you!

You can do this for quite a while. In fact, by itself, it’s far more enjoyable than every second of the special itself. Sure, maybe these people were just doing it for the money. But I don’t see how that excuses participating in such an overwhelmingly atrocious venture. Hopefully they don’t make a mistake that egregious again, but even so… for shame. You too, hairstylist Evelyn Trimmer. That said, I will now try as hard as I can to block the whole damn experience from my memory. Maybe I’ll accidentally forget my sophomore year of college too. I don’t care; it’ll be worth it.

If you’re up for a better-than-miserable Christmas experience, there’s always the classics. Like Santa Claus. The Mexican one, from the ’50s. As featured on MST3K. OK, maybe the movie itself sucks, but there’s nothing like Mike and the bots singing and enjoying space snow to put you in the holiday mood. Alternatively, you can turn to Christmas music like Jonathan Coulton’s dystopian carol “Chiron Beta Prime,” or better yet, an entire movie full of suitably dark Christmas-y songs: Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Happy holidays, from Pussy Goes Grrr!

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