October 28th, 2004

Whale fluke

I'm a smartass and I vote!

So Oregon’s voting on Measure 36, which would change the state Constitution in a way that bugs me (so a “NO” vote from me) – it would constitutionally define marriage as being between one man and one woman.

And so supporters are sporting bumper stickers on their cars that read


What do I want to see? Someone taking three of those stickers, cutting them up, rearranging the words, and creating

Whale fluke

Blood, devastation, death, war and horror -- all involving puppets

They kid because they love…

I’m talking about Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who (like me) have way too much fondness for those Jerry Bruckheimer action extravaganzas that peg the red on the old Nuts-o-meter. Their latest contribution to movie insanity, the puppet film Team America: World Police, is a wring-you-out-and-shake-you comedy, exactly the sort of movie they’re good at. I roared more than once, and laughed many, many times. (Though here’s something truly nuts: I thought about Team America later, and said to myself “It doesn’t have quite the emotional depth of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut…” Seriously, I feel for those cardboard cutouts. I have history with them. So that film was a purer experience for me.)

But I needed laughs yesterday, and they’re there (along with plenty of moments where “Dear Holy God” is the only correct response): the large-scale mayhem and destruction of Bruckheimer action flicks, done at tiny, out-of-proportion puppet-theatre scale. The motivational speech that (it seems) totally backfires. Dialogue like “I could hear my goats crying in the fiery death” and “You can’t blame yourself for what a bunch of gorillas did.” A character who has a life-changing experience while vomiting (and vomiting and vomiting and vomiting…). The Star Wars riff in the Cairo tavern. The signal for when a Team America member is in trouble. How pissy the film’s villain, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, is (“You’re breaking my bars! Are of you are breaking my bars!”). A rescue via motorcycle that can only happen in the movies, so having it happen with wobbling marionettes makes it even more ridiculous. The sequence set in Washington, D.C. as a puppet looks at the monuments (this opens with the camera focusing on the statue of Abraham Lincoln, in the real Lincoln Memorial, understand, and panning down until we see the 18-inch-tall puppet looking up at it). Our heroes being menaced by panthers…which are played by black housecats, who sound like snarling panthers through sound effects. (And how ‘bout those sharks, too, huh?) The decision by Parker and Stone to have Matt Damon only say “Matt… Damon…” throughout the movie. The absolutely straight-faced musical score, by Bruckheimer scoring veteran Harry Gregson-Williams, and Bill Pope’s gorgeous photography of every puppet set, both of which help make so much of the film even funnier. And the big speech at the end comparing the people of the world to three particular body parts, and extending this already-extended metaphor until it has frickin’ stretch marks.

Now they need to do a special edition of Team America: World Police where the real-life people lampooned in the film get in on the joke and dub in their own voices…

And by the way, how nuts does the MPAA Ratings Board have to be to think that people would be turned on by the puppet sex scene? But the people who actually are turned on by the puppet sex (and I’m sure they’re out there) are really nuts.

One last bonus for Portland, Oregon veterans: our orange-and-blue KOIN Tower is in the film! Watch the video monitor behind Puppet Peter Jennings during the news broadcasts.