Michael Swaim

Movie: 'ParaNorman'


So many of the stories we tell our kids these days seem to be carefully constructed to impart as bland a moral as possible, sure to avoid offending any major demographic. There's an unspoken rule that your kids' movie should teach something, so we end up with a thousand variations on lessons like "Love is good" or "Friends are good" or "Love your friends" or "Purchase things shaped like these things, please."

That's why it's so refreshing when a movie like Up comes along and says "Hey, kids, confront the reality of death and loss, because you're going to have to eventually." In 2012, Pixar continued the recent trend of coming in a few clicks below my impossible expectations, but those expectations were probably the reason that so many of the most artistically challenging and successful films of the year were big-budget animated movies for children. For instance, I liked ParaNorman so much that I picked it as my movie of the year, even though my own movie, Kill Me Now, premiered December 5 and will be available for purchase online shortly. I bring this up only because they're both horror/comedies and I would like to one day be a movie tycoon and own a mating pair of ocelots, so it seemed like an illuminating area of discussion.

ParaNorman is beautiful. As the first stop-motion movie shot entirely at a hundred frames a second or some such carpal-tunnel-syndrome-inducing nonsense, it feels like a wonderful hybrid of the hand-crafted look of claymation and the smoothness of modern CG. It's stuffed with jokes foreground to background (with plenty for the adults present), the retro horror vibe is pitch perfect, the cast is flawless (special consideration goes to the kid they got to play the dumb buddy character), the cinematography takes full advantage of the control stop-motion gives, and some of the sequences involve things done with bunched taffeta as spectacular-looking as anything Pixar's put out.

But ultimately, it really was the message, and the bravery of that message, that stuck with me. ParaNorman tackles things like mob mentality, fear-engendered violence, gay characters, dead loved ones, distant fathers, the absolution of sin and straight-up child murder with such grace and tact, you never realize that this is all shit you'd never be able to explain properly to your kid in 90 minutes. In fact, come to think of it, a ParaNorman DVD is probably a more fit parent than a lot of people I know. That's more than I can say for Looper.


Above: critical life lesson.

Tweet: Britannica Goes Digital

Sometimes when I load up my Twitter feed (or "Tweed"), I feel like the precogs from Minority Report or the Hybrid from Battlestar Galactica: a hyper-aware techno-being plugged into an unending stream of data-bits, most of which come out as gibberish, with the occasional camouflaged ad thrown in (surely I'm not the only one who noticed the Hybrid mentioning "the cool, refreshing zest of Lipton Iced Tea" every sixth line?). So it's rare when a tweet actually makes a lasting impression on me. I don't often see a tweet and think "Oh, wow, history." In fact, I often think "Oh, wow, it's unfortunate that I'd feel like an out-of-touch old dude if I didn't have a Twitter." Do we call it "a Twitter"? Is that the correct nomenclature? Kids still say "nomenclature," right?

At any rate, maybe six times a year, a tweet gets twitted that really hits me. These are the non-trivial diamonds in the rough: international dignitaries tweeting as they're assassinated, the first live tweets from the Mars Rover about that crazy thing it found, finding out that The Mindy Project is airing a special Thanksgiving episode ... you get the idea. And this year, probably for the last time ever, it was the fine people over at Encyclopedia Britannica who managed to hold my interest, with a suicide-tweet announcing the end of their print edition.

Twitter

Seems pretty positive, right? All Obama-y and accepting of change. And hell, it's a tweet with a link to a blog ... pretty hip, Brittanica! Next thing you know, you'll be Pinteresting your articles with your BlackBerry from a Razor scooter.

But if you're like me, and you think about stuff for even a second, you'll realize with a soft sigh that an online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica is essentially just a Wikipedia competitor with no chance of long-term survival. And like that, the part of your brain that recalls a shelf of leather-bound volumes with letters on the spines and very rarely a naked person inside just became more valuable. Now read that tweet again: It's less a rallying cry and more a parent telling their kids that the dog's not sick, she's just going to a big farm upstate where she'll have lots of room to play and stop all the shaking and foaming, except this time, the parent is the one who needs to believe that lie.

SEWilco
Someone needs to take these poor books out behind the barn and Old Yeller them.

And so I bid you a perhaps-premature-but-probably-not farewell, Encyclopedia Brittanica, to spare myself the grisly sight of your inevitable decline. Tell the Yellow Pages hey for me.

Person: Krispy Kreme/Tyler Cassidy


Several of my entries this year have, on some level, touched on the ever-more-fractured nature of a post-post-modern culture where brands multiply ad infinitum and self-aware sub-genres proliferate at a rate never before seen on Earth. Several have also mentioned wieners, but that's incidental. I bring this up because in a world where everything's meta, everyone's aware of everything, there are GIFs of memes of parodies of genre tropes from TV shows that are themselves reboots, and references run amok in even the highest echelons of entertainment (parody porn), there's nothing quite as refreshing as being genuinely tricked. Krispy Kreme tricked me, and that's why he's my person of the year.

In the realm of Internet personalities, there seems to have been a slow but inevitable evolution from "person who has no idea that his inadequacies make him FRIKKIN' HILARIOUS" to "person who understands that he is a joke, but persists for monetary reasons" to "person transparently trying to pretend that he is inadequate so as to fabricate the monetary opportunities our culture now apparently affords the amusingly retarded."

Krispy Kreme, aka Tyler Cassidy, may be the first notable entry in the Web celebrity (or "weblebrity") genre of "person who crafted a replica of a hilariously inadequate human so lifelike, none could tell him apart from the genuine article, and monetary opportunities ensued." Many have tried, few have succeeded, and in my opinion, which means more than yours because it's printed here, he is the best. Case in point:

Krispy Kreme videos are the wonderful kind of magic trick that gets more amusing, more deserving of your respect, once you know that it's a fraud. And a fraud it most certainly is, as I doubt Krispy Kreme could snot-nose his way through something like this:

Cassidy stridently denies the connection and sows disinformation surrounding MC Kreme, despite the Internet's usually thorough job of rooting through every aspect of his existence using all technologies at our disposal. Making obligatory Andy Kaufman references seems belabored, so let me just tip my ornate and many-tiered hat to Tyler, call Krispy Kreme FRIKKIN' HILARIOUS, and get out of his goddamn way.

Krispy Kreme

KRISPY KREME 2012!!!!!

Song: 'Clifton Springs' by Steven Page


Are you ready for your light at-work article-reading experience to get real? I mean "true story, brokenhearted, overweight, drinking too much on a weeknight and eating all the ice cream while you cry on the couch and you DON'T LIVE ALONE" real? While you consider whether or not to have your soul rent by my withering sorrow, remastered and articulated for you in loving, handcrafted detail, please know that I'll be disregarding your answer, as it obviously didn't come in time to prevent me from posting this. Here we go! Hooray! Exciting!


Whiskey-tinis and cough syrup for everyone!

I picked this song because my wife left me quite unexpectedly this year, and it's a sad song about a divorce written by a guy who recently split off from one of my favorite bands from childhood -- the Barenaked Ladies -- effectively ending them, or at least changing both irretrievably. Steven Page has always done one thing particularly well, in and out of BNL, and that's disguise depression, sadness, self-involvement and bitter resentment as cheery, upbeat songs you can dance to. It's a trick that never gets old for me, like how I never tire of the massive crying clown painting that hangs above my bed. On his first solo album, Page One, he pulls that trick, like, exclusively, so it's perfect fodder for a heartbroken comedian drunk on his own woe, and following my breakup, I listened to it on repeat so many times, you'd think I would have a funny way to end that sentence by now.

"Clifton Springs," the track that resonates with me the most, is probably also the most on-the-nose track on the album, insofar as it sounds pretty downer-y and includes the lines "I can see but miss the blindness," "I razed it all to the ground" and "Isn't this what you wanted, darling?" But on the other hand, it's also got little melodic breaks where choirs of cherubs sing and it sounds like a bunch of pastel balloons should be floating by. And it's that duality, overused as it may be at this point, that still gives Page an edge where I'm concerned; an edge I never seem to tire of plunging into my own heart.

Although to be honest, it was only upon listening to Page One that I realized how damn depressing Steven Page's lyrics are, and have always been, even as a lifelong fan. Looking back, so many of his songs were about vanity, self-destruction, rocky relationships and unhealthy impulses that it's shocking how shocked I was when he went off the rails, left his band, broke up his marriage and racked up a few drug charges. Of course, BNL's "One Week" was the real cry for help. I mean, "Chickity China, the Chinese chicken?" Come, now, Ladies; you're not fooling anybody.

It was the same kind of mental retcon I was at that very moment applying to my own autobiography -- dulling the corners of particularly joyous/painful memories, warping mental pictures and planting a trail of red flags to justify the undeniable reality of my present separation.

-I'm no longer with my wife.

-Steven Page is probably sad most of the time.

Mike Stobe / Getty

-The Barenaked Ladies aren't as good now.

-This pint of ice cream is nearly empty and tastes of tear-salt.

-Rum, spiced or generic, can be purchased at locations where ice cream is also sold.

These were the facts on the table, and to fit them into my mind, edits were, for better or worse, required. I also made myself an astronaut while I was in there. We went through a gamma cloud on our return flight from Saturn and my wang is huge now. Sorry for the tangent, but now that I'm single, I just sort of wanted that information out there.

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