1. Fishsticks (Season 13, Episode 05)

cmon

It made a pretty lame joke seem funnier than it has the right to be, but this episode was a return to form after a largely disappointing season 12, and the absolute best from season 13, before they flopped again for the first run of the next, season 14.

An episode of South Park can easily derail when Cartman has no redeeming qualities (e.g. adventure spirit) to balance his evil side, and this is who he has been for most episodes since the end of Season 12 or so, i.e. a plain and stupid, one dimensional villain who barely has a good one-liner. With Fishsticks however, they achieve a balance to absolute perfection: with the help of Cartman himself who is now just a messenger or at worst the emperor with no clothes, an idiosyncratic rapper reaches an epiphany of religious proportions.

"Some people just have egos that are so out of whack that no matter what
people tell them, they can't accept the truth of who they are" -Cartman.

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Because no else will, the “voice of a generation” takes it on himself to put aside Ego (which in South Park is as good as Celebrity), and starts to “believe what people tell him.” In the end, he accepts his fate like a true hero, without hesitation discarding his former self to forever linger in his natural habitat and mix with his own kind. The suggestion of all this ridiculousness, if you missed it, is that Kanye is the archetype of FAIL for rap music in the mainstream eye, one of the last in the line from P Diddy to Fiddy Cent. To be fair to the man himself, he’s so easy to make fun of because he’s actually sincere in a roundabout way: that kid in class that acts like a big deal to hide insecurities, but who you know is harmless.

"I'm a genius, alright? I'm the most talented musician in the world. If I was a homosexual, or a fish, 
I would know!" -Kanye West 
"Don't you get it? Please just get it." -Carlos Mencia

The ultimate nature of life is that of process over time guided by a sacred structure, a process that changes through will to ascension and ascends through will to change.

Life is more than one factor at a time. You can choose with firm resolve to fight The Evil Power, but if your plan, arms, man power, nation ideal, will of the people, are not in balance, you will lose. Even if they seem in balance, there could be some other factor you overlooked, if you were looking at logic linearly, one factor at a time. Religion is one type of response to this repeated “problem” of life, though it is not really a problem, but the very thing that makes life possible: who can take on the great unknown with only the belief in something greater than the self to create something from nothing, while keeping all factors in mind at once through abstraction?

If the people of the future are able to continuously conquer their inner fears, doubts, and demons, the outer worlds and great vast unknowns will be explored and humanity will know itself in a way never seen before.

burglar

Ruh roh, Smaug the magnificent is stirring, and he smells the blood of a halfling burglar, come to retrieve the magical Dwarvish Arkenstone from his lair under the mountain, where he sleeps and sleeps, all day and all night, because, you see, he’s got all the gold and treasure in the world but nothing to do with it, so he’s really really really bored and depressed, and now he just lies in wait for any who would dare. Only problem is, he’s the dumbest dragon in Midgard/Middle-Earth, so all his fire breathing nonsense is no match for Bilbo and his dwarves with their little pick axes and swordlings and hominid brainpower and stuff.

There’s loads more going on in this one, with the return of Gandalf and his cooky poo faced wizard friend Radagast, cameos from none other than Legolas fat face and Arwen body double Evangeline Lilly who – alas – is seeing someone else, and of course Azog The Defibrillator commanding Sauron’s minions in the dark tongue.

If all you want from a holiday season blockbuster is high flying action and a bit of festive cheer (and why would you want more?), then this movie will suit you fine, but I dare say Steven Spielberg or George Lucas (the modern versions) could have easily made the same movie. There’s always a moral lesson to Tolkien’s written works, and we hope Peter Jackson will successfully capture it in next year’s finale, but The Desolation of Smaug is too obsessed with being all up in your face with 3D action and adventure, so it misses the bus entirely. It’s just the middle act of a trilogy that sets us up for a final act we pray will properly resolve the five+ hours we’ve all sat through so far.

meg-tilly2

If this movie can teach us anything in historiological terms, it’s that the world was more naive in 1992. That’s only 20 years ago, but it seems further away. What it can teach us in spiritual terms, is that all the doom and gloom of the current time cannot kill the spirit that connects with the greater good to find a way forward, and the piece of mind to be at peace with struggle. Meg Tilly’s performance captures a highly emotional quixotic eagerness for wanderlust that is nonetheless tempered by a quiet, nervous optimism for finding heart and home.

beyond

We sometimes grow up from our fancies. From one view, Villa Amalia suggests a type of modern existence to be one big fancy, the one full of short term thrills put on repeat for a lifetime: fake relationships and meaningless careers that bring the money and the pain but no spiritual gain. From another, it’s the ultimate No to rote normalcy in favour of the Yea to the unknown, and all the fear that gives you a chance to seize its munificent possibility. I only saw this twice, but I often think back on this quaint but painfully precise film that’s part plastic beauty, part existential release (therefore a higher, melancholy beauty), and wonder when and where I will find my Villa Amalia.

looking-glass

Terrence Malick’s take on the legend of Pocahontas is that of the Native American girl (androgynous Q’orianka Kilcher) who stole the heart of British captain John Smith (Collin Farrel), and bridged the divide between English colonialists and her fellow feral Indians in the new unexplored, unmolested world. On one hand, it’s a simple love story, on the other it’s about explorers using Christ to assert dominance on the gentle natives who will harm no one, but nonetheless will defend their land if need be. And how ultimately they accept their fate, peacefully, these Children of the Earth, Mother bless them. Is this simplistic sentimentality? Is it stupid? I don’t know, but it’s what you get when peering underneath the mechanics of Malick’s poetry (visual or otherwise), a feeling augmented by Smith’s voice over.

tree-hug

To critique a proposed work of art, the critic must meet it halfway in that space between speaker and audience where meaning sits. Once the meaning is found and interpreted, its value must be judged against truth itself. Terrence Malick’s The New World posits, seemingly, that the only truth is a dream, sparse and incredible, from which you awake with despair and anguish as you realise it destroyed, yet you turn away for something more simple perhaps, like trees reaching for the light of the sun.

 

signing

Personal and specific, it nevertheless wants to be holistic and transcendental with its summoning of grand metaphors and its lush visual appeal. Any approach to rationalise it proves futile, and perhaps herein lies its greatness, if any, yet I fail to be convinced. Somehow you get the suspicion Malick is “winging” it, playing on artistic pretense — his own, and that of the zealous critic, hungry to praise something as great.

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