Friday, December 31, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: Rock 'n' Roll High School

People who know me are well aware of my massive dislike of musicals. I can probably count the musicals I enjoy on one hand (let's give it a shot! Little Shop of Horrors, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Forbidden Zone [the Danny Elfman factor, I guess... I am listening to Oingo Boingo right now], Singin' in the Rain... and now I start to struggle). My issue with the genre is largely the same as my issue with most action movies: all forward momentum of the story consistently stops for five or so minutes for some spectacle in which I have no interest (special exception for awesome car chases). Even Singin' in the Rain has a fairly useless and unrealistic (in the context of the film) scene in the Gotta Dance sequence. It feels like it goes on for fifteen minutes, though I'm (mostly) certain that that's not the case.

However, Rock 'n' Roll High School has a lot going for it. P.J. Soles (who is one of my top three all-time film crushes), the involvement of Joe Dante (you'll learn a lot about my love of him in 2011), and awesome soundtrack even if you aren't a Ramones super-fan, and Clint Howard. What really helps is that the narrative lends itself to becoming a musical pretty effortlessly. Riff Randell (Soles) wants to write songs for the Ramones. Why wouldn't there be singing?

One of the great strengths of Rock 'n' Rolls High School is that it feels no need to take itself seriously. In fact, it almost revels in its silliness. In what must have inspired Nelson Muntz, Clint Howard has an alternative guidance counselor's office in a men's room stall. Mice experimentation has... unexpected... consequences (with an assist from eventual The Thing creature designer/make-up effects maestro, Rob Bottin). Dialogue is both hilarious and punnerific (though, admittedly, most of the puns are on the walls) :
Kate: Look at your algebra book; it looks like it's never even been opened!
Riff: I only use it on special equations

Miss Togar: [holding phone to radio broadcasting live Ramones concert] That, Mrs. Rambeau, is where your daughter is.
Mrs. Rambeau: [over phone] My daughter? Kate? I thought she was in the basement splitting photons.

Kate: I don't wanna have fun! I wanna be with Tom!

Miss Togar: Those Ramones are peculiar.
Police Chief Klein: They're ugly. Ugly, ugly people.
I'd only seen the trailer before checking Rock 'n' Roll High School. Perhaps it was preordained that I'd like it. It was released on my birthday, August 24 (three years before I was born). I went to see it mostly because the Hollywood Theatre was screening it and I got to see it for free (though it had been on my "I'll get to it eventually" list). The experience was such a complete surprise and utterly joyous. I want to share it with the world.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Weekly Film Wreck: Bringing Up Baby

I thought I'd get all clever on you guys with a little wordplay. I've already got my Weekly Film Rec, so the Weekly Film Wreck will be it's companion. As I'm sure you've already deduced, this space is going to be dedicated to films that I just don't care for. Sometime, it will be classics that I can't understand why people enjoy them, sometimes it's going to be horrible films that I can't imagine anyone would like. I'll never not recommend something, just because sometimes you have to see for yourself (and if I do this right, your curiosity will be piqued just enough to seek the film out). The one problem I face is that if I'm operating from a film I saw months or years ago, I'm not going to be really inclined to revisit it (but in some cases, I might, just to reassess my opinion).

I don't need to revisit this week's selection because I already did that (speaking of which, I think it's time to revisit Sunday Screenings... Paul?). Bringing Up Baby is widely regarded as a classic. It's saved for all time in the National Film Registry and #88 on the AFI Top 100 (and #14 on their 100 Laughs), but I couldn't even watch the whole way through a second time.

In my recent Radioland Murders post, I talk about the how the madcap antics are excused because of the nature of live radio and the murder investigation. Everyone is motivated by something different and trying to achieve their goal before everything falls apart. There's not time for anything else. In Bringing Up Baby, this is done with no reason. It exists only because the film needs to be feature length. If people would simply take the time (which they have) to listen to one another, everything would be cleared up in fifteen minutes. This makes the entirety of Bringing Up Baby contrivance. All films are built on some level of contrivance, but Bringing Up Baby is nothing but. It makes for an incredibly obnoxious viewing.

Katharine Hepburn's Susan is the epitome of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I stand by my comment in the Sunday Screenings post that Grant's David would get frustrated of the runaround faster than the dialogue flies out of people's mouths in Bringing Up Baby that he would be just as miserable as he was with his fiancee. What he really wants is a happy medium. Of course, he's gone mad by the end, as well, so maybe their lives together will be lunacy.

I don't know how Bringing Up Baby achieved "classic" status. Maybe it's because its Hawks, Grant, and Hepburn during their peaks and, therefore, it must be great. Lord knows they've each made enough great films. This just isn't one of them.

“Nonsense, you tried it in the tail yesterday and it didn’t work” is still a great line, though.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: Radioland Murders

I've gotten out of the habit of writing here and as a result, I missed last week's film recommendation. Well, I apologize. I know that all of you were left with nothing to do for your entire weekend and we all know there isn't much going on this weekend...

I initially thought I'd go seasonal, but everyone does top Christmas movie lists this time of year, so there isn't really anything flying under the radar (most of the lists are about "under-seen" Christmas movies).

Instead, I've got Radioland Murders. It's a screwball comedy of the highest order in which a radio station is going national and is putting on its first big show. Of course, things can't go off without a hitch and people start dying. The cops show up. The wrong man is accused. Wackiness ensues.

I don't typically like madcap comedies like this too much, but the murder plot helps Radioland Murders a lot. In many screwball comedies, everything could be settled if people would just shut up and listen to each other (one of the reasons I can't stand Bringing Up Baby). However, with the police chasing a would-be suspect around the station who is trying to find the real killer, there isn't time to slow down. The zaniness is all pretty organic.

Another asset is the setting, in which everyone is just trying to put on a good show, but live radio is naturally hectic. Most of the characters are still trying to retain a modicum of professionalism as chaos envelops the studio. The combination of the broad comedy and the subtler, situational comedy finds a nice balance.

The real reason to watch Radioland Murders is to become awesome at Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Seemingly every great character and comic actor is in this film. Ned Beatty, Michael Lerner, Michael McKean, Jeffrey Tambor, Stephen Tobolowsky, Christopher Lloyd, Larry Miller, Dylan Baker, Peter MacNicol (I'm sorry that list is all men, but there's mostly men in the film and I'm not too familiar with Mary Stuart Masterson's work). Then there are the people that will link you to the past like George Burns and Rosemary Clooney. And I just want to mention that Joey Lawrence is in the film, too. And I thought Apollo 13 and A Few Good Men had a lot of links (they do, however, both have Kevin Bacon).

What's weird to me is that it stars Brian Benben who, much like Mary Stuart Masterson, I don't know much about (aside from wanting to spell his name BenBen or Ben Ben). The only other thing I've seen him in is John Landis' contribution to Masters of Horror, Deer Woman, and he's awesome in that. He's really good here, too, and I can't believe he hasn't had a bigger career that he has. I guess he's been on lots of TV shows, but the man is charismatic and funny.

George Lucas was supposed to direct the after Star Wars and, for reasons he hasn't told me, that didn't happen. That's a little disappointing because I love American Graffiti (and Masterson and Benben's characters are supposedly Richard Dreyfuss' character's parents) and had Lucas directed this, maybe he wouldn't have fallen into Star Wars Forever! mode. That's not to speak ill of Mel Smith (the albino in The Princess Bride), who did a great job of capturing the chaos on screen.

Radioland Murders is on Netflix Instant View and well worth your time. It's a lot of fun.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: Eight Men Out

The problem with my Weekly Film Rec's is that I keep a list of films for the list as I watch them, but occasionally I come across a film I really want to write about, so a lot of films get pushed back. I just end up with a list of movies I watched a few months ago and realize I'm going to have to call on this impression to write something pseudo-interesting. I'd take notes, but not every film is a winner (plus, I pretty much watch a movie a day... I'd be swimming in film notes). Some of the films are horror films which, after October, I promised to take a break from, but there's no real reason why the others should be pushed back. Anyway, this week's selection is coming from the archive, so to speak, and partially inspired by my recent Freaks and Geeks marathon and trivia win (Kevin Tighe is in both): Eight Men Out.

I'm a life-long baseball fan currently living in a city with no baseball team. Even our minor league team is leaving. This, along with the end of the baseball season (along with football and basketball moving to the forefront) made me wistful for my favorite sport. It's fairly surprising that I hadn't seen Eight Men Out before, but I'm certainly glad I finally caught up with it.

John Sayles (who wrote the amazing monster trio Piranha, Alligator, and The Howling) writes, directs, and even acts in this tale of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal. There is an astounding ensemble cast and all of the major players are well-drawn and sympathetic (well, maybe not Charles Comiskey), not a small feat fore such a huge cast. You really get the sense that these players want to excel, but they are driven to throwing the game by a selfish and stingy owner. The players all have different takes on the situation and the conflict is palpable. How can a team succeed when everyone is pulling in different directions. Even players in on the plot can't turn off their competitive spirit and wind up playing too hard at times.

Like any good movie, you don't need to know much about either the scandal or baseball to follow the film. Perhaps the oddest thing you'll come across is the players leaving their gloves on the field for the other team, a practice common at the time. And unlike other baseball movies ( Bull Durham ) all of the actors actually look like they can play baseball. The jazzy score is incredible and you'll finally be able to quote "Say it ain't so, Joe" with context.

Even though Eight Men Out is about a very dark time in baseball, I found that it's really about loving the game. Yes, people were banned for life from the Hall of Fame. Sure, the motivation is all about greed. But many players realize they aren't satisfied with money. They play the game because they love it and the coda really hits that home (pun mildly intended).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: The Films of Joon-ho Bong

Sorry that I skipped over last week's Weekly Film Rec. I hope most of you were still in a food coma and failed to notice. I haven't posted in a while and I blame Thanksgiving and my parents (who visited over Thanksgiving), but in the best possible ways. As a penance for not recommending something last week, I give you three this week! Joon-ho Bong is a Korean filmmaker who, as far as a can tell, only makes awesomely interesting movies. I've yet to see his first film, Barking Dogs Never Bite, but it's on my Netflix queue and may end up in this space in the future.

Memories of Murder
I remember seeing a poster for this film in the lobby of the Carlisle Theatre in Carlisle, PA when I went to see 2046. This was before my eyes were opened to the greatness of Korean cinema. Obviously, it left some kind of impression on me since I remember it, but it took five years to finally catch up with Memories of Murder. The film takes place in the mid-80's and follows two detectives as they try to solve Korea's first serial killer case without benefit of proper forensics procedure. The particulars of the murders are pretty horrific and it's a testament to Bong that he is able to throw in quite a lot humor without sacrificing the tone of the film (something, you'll find, he is quite adept at). It helps when you have a lead actor as likable as Kang-ho Song (Thirst, The Good, The Bad, and the Weird, among many other great films) who has an air of imbecilic aloofness about him even though all evidence is to the contrary. My enduring thought after watching Memories of Murder was that I need to have a double feature of this and Zodiac, as they explore similar themes and subjects. Keep an eye out for an epic instance of background action that I missed the first time around.

The Host
I feel like I'm tracking my life via Bong's films since I saw this one at the Brattle Theater in Boston (OK... Cambridge). The Host received a lot of attention upon it's release, probably because there hadn't been a really good monster movie in a while. Once again, Kang-ho Song stars and, once again, he is amazing. I don't know what it is about him, but you simultaneously can't take him seriously and must take him seriously. I love him! Anyway, The Host is basically an anti-pollution monster movie in which a family is being pursued by the authorities while trying to locate their daughter/niece/granddaughter. What was most surprising to me the first time I saw the film is that the tone goes all over the map early. The early monster scene is amazing (and totally ignores the "don't show the monster until the end"conceit), but right when you think the film is going to have a somber, emotional moment, that moment is played as a farce. It's so over-the-top that it's funny. As I mentioned above, Park is somehow able to balance these extremes so as not to harm the film (it helps that the subject matter of The Host is so outlandish to begin with that it's easier to get away with these stylistic leaps). The Host is just a great monster movie with an ecological message which, in the tradition of Gojira, is blamed on the Americans.

Once again, tracking my life, Mother showed during the Portland International Film Festival (which I worked) and got great reviews. Bong returns to the murder mystery genre with Mother but instead of the cops trying to solve the crime, the accused mother is trying to prove his innocence (which, given the unfamiliarity with protocol of the detectives in Memories of Murder, is essentially the same plot as said film). Mother can be frustrating to watch simply because it's hard to see someone work so hard for the one they love yet meet an endless succession of roadblocks. However, Bong (as always) makes it worth your while in visuals, content, acting, and an unexpected ending. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bong's films is that they never end up where I expect them to. And Hye-ja Kim as the eponymous mother gives a hell of a performance. The opening scene really sets the tone for the rest of the film. It's slightly slower paced than his other films, but no less awesome.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Netflix, I'm Warning You!

Apparently, Netflix is going to do something every other month to piss me off. It started in July with Party Down being removed. Then, in September, they took away the "Friends" feature (which isn't a feature that let's you watch Friends ad nauseum or substitute the Friends cast into any movie you're watching). Now, they are increasing prices.

In theory, I don't have a big problem with this. I use Netflix pretty much every day of the month, be it DVD or Instant View. Clearly, I'm getting my money's worth. However, the reasoning is so incredibly flawed that it reeks of bad business.

I've long been impressed that Netflix shifted from each plan plus 100+ hours of streaming (or whatever the plans had) to each plan with unlimited streaming without increasing prices. It was a great way to get people watching streaming content without making them pay for something they may not use. Now, they are forcing all customers to pay more for this service even if they don't/can't use it without offering a DVD-only option. This is just the start of the problem.

Netflix, apparently fashioning itself as a streaming provider over DVD provider, thinks that it offers enough quality on Instant View that it can do this without pissing off customers. For example: I have 381 films in my queue (with and additional 42 unavailable on either DVD or Instant View) and 112 are available on Instant View. That's about 3.5 times as many DVD options that streaming. Taking into account that I stream though my Nintendo Wii where the quality is definitely below DVD quality and I can subtract another 11 that I will only watch on DVD because I want the complete visual experience intended.

The only time I use Instant View is when I don't have a DVD at home. Usually, this falls on the weekend or Monday. Instant View has been great to watch The X-Files and some other shows, but most of what it offers doesn't interest me. And, there's always the risk of something being removed from Instant View (like Party Down).

This news comes at a particularly unfortunate time in my relationship with Netflix because I'd already been considering bumping my account down from 3 DVDs out to 2 for financial reasons. I decided not to because the difference wasn't all that huge. But now that the difference is $5 instead of $3, or $10 instead of $8 (for the 1 DVD level), I really have something to consider.

Many people are complaining about the lack of access to new movies on DVD and Instant View, but clearly those people were content to wait three months for the movie to come out on DVD. They can wait a little longer. The real issue to me is taking advantage of the customers who legitimately love movies and not understanding that there are still people who value things other than convenience.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: Runaway Train

I've been thinking about films that take place on trains a lot lately. Maybe it's because I just watched Strangers on a Train again. The realization just hit me that, by and large, I love movies that take place on trains. The General, Silver Streak, The Lady Vanishes (Hitchcock really loved trains), The Taking of Pelham 123 (the original), Murder on the Orient Express, The Darjeeling Limited. Perhaps it's a deep-seated yearn to have a train set. Regardless, these films can be like rolling chamber pieces (limited sets/characters) or be travelogues.

Upon one of my ruminations about train films, a coworker suggested Runaway Train (not to be confused with the song, which greatly differs in subject matter). Jon Voight plays Manny (using the voice Michael Scott used for "Prison Mike" in The Office) and Eric Roberts plays Buck (doing his best Lenny from Of Mice and Men). They just escaped from an Alaskan prison and hopped a train heading... somewhere, but the conductor has a heart attack and various train malfunctions result in a, you guessed it, Runaway Train! Oh, and somewhere along the way, Rebecca De Mornay pops up.

The great thing about Runaway Train is that you not only get a film about a runaway train, but it starts out with a prison break! How many movies have you seen that have some huge event like a heist happen before the movie starts and the characters just talk about it? Prison Mike apparently made it a hobby breaking out of this prison, so it comes pretty easily to him, but Lenny just had to tag along, who is really pushing the limits on how much irritation one can take and is probably the least enjoyable part of the film.

Aside from the train, you've got the control booth where they are trying to figure out how to stop the train. The best part of these scenes is seeing Nauls from The Thing (T.K. Carter) pop up dressed very much like he would fit into the Portland scene today. Also, the head of prison security is trying to track down Prison Mike as they have a long standing feud.

I have to give the film a lot of credit. Once you establish that a train is careening down the tracks, it seems pretty limited as to what all of the option to stop it will be, but Runaway Train defied a lot of my expectations. Sometimes the results of this defiance weren't as spectacular as I imagined they'd be, but it's nice to be kept guessing.

Probably the most interesting tidbit about the film is that it's based on a screenplay by Akira Kurasawa and was apparently going to start Henry Fonda and Peter Falk. Now that I have that knowledge, I can't help but feel sad and a little bit empty inside that that film doesn't exist.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Get Your Start In Horror!

We're all well aware that the horror genre has been a pretty good jumping for director's. Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and Joe Dante just to name a few. What people may not realize is how many of the biggest stars working today got their start in schlocky horror films. There are the classic examples of Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, Kevin Bacon in Friday the 13th, and Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it goes much deeper than that. It also helps that those are good to great movies. I'm sure every actor thinks that their next role will get them the attention they surely deserve, so let this list inspire those people to believe that maybe greater things are ahead of them. I'm certain there are many more, but that's just a lot more effort than I'm willing to put in right now.

Jennifer Aniston -- Leprechaun
I like to think the creators of Friends (which began the next year) saw this and just had to have "that girl from Leprechaun." Bonus points for starring with Warwick Davis in her first film. I'm always amused by how prominent she is on the post-fame artwork. Even the tag line changed.

George Clooney -- Predator: The Concert, Return to Horror High, Return of the Killer Tomatoes
I'm not going to lie, Predator: The Concert sounds pretty awesome, even if it isn't a live, musical version of the movie Predator. And it's got a pretty impressive cast for what's your typical psycho-bear attacks rock concert film. I also want to give a shout-out to his appearance in The Harvest where he's billed as "Lip-syncing Transvestite."

Tom Hanks -- He Knows You're Alone
While Clooney had been on The Facts of Life prior to his film appearances, this is Hanks' first credit anywhere. He got his start in silly comedies before getting all serious on us, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that he has this pretty awful slasher on his resume. However, I was shocked to discover that Hanks is 100% charming and funny in He Knows You're Alone. Apparently, I wasn't the only one since audiences liked him so much, the filmmakers changed the film to let him live. Nice guys do finish first, sometimes.

Julia Louis-Dreyfuss -- Troll

Not to be confused with the "Best Worst Movie," Troll actually features the eponymous creatures (as well as Sonny Bono and the characters Harry Potter Sr and Jr). Louis-Dreyfuss gets to frolic nude in a fantasy land contained in an apartment building. It's an interesting and not all-together terrible film.

Brad Pitt -- Cutting Class
I don't really have anything to say about the movie, though I'm interested in it just because I like slasher movies and apparently it tries to be intentionally funny (the presence of Martin Mull seems to support that). Doesn't Brad look just dreamy on the box art?
Cutting Class Poster

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Punk Movie Night

Last night, I went to the Hollywood Theatre to watch Rock 'N' Roll High School (35mm, of course) and it was awesome! Not only is it hilarious, but Joe Dante was involved (and even directed a few scenes) which only reinforces my undying love of him. It was part of a book tour for Destroy All Movies, a history of punks in movie history (from about 1975). Before the screenings, the folks at Everything Is Terrible edited together a ton of clips from movies featuring punks. While it was a bit on the long side, I couldn't help but want to do a punk movie marathon. As my recent Evil Dead marathon showed, it's hard to sustain 4.5-6 hours of movie watching. People drop out, get tired, lose focus. It's hard work to sit on your butt. So even though the marathon won't be happening, I still like to think about what I'd program, so here it is. If you think there's a glaring omission, it's probably because I haven't seen it or just plain forgot.

Rock 'N' Roll High School (12 PM - 2 PM)
Why not start off with the film that inspired this list? It's light and fun, with lots of stupid (read: amazing) puns and giant mice (made by Rob Bottin, the man responsible for the special effects in John Carpenter's The Thing!). Plus, P.J. Soles will instantly win over any audience with her infectious charm. A+!

The Road Warrior (2 PM - 4 PM)
Next, we shift to the barren wasteland of the Outback for epic car chases and crashes. This film is visual adrenaline. The bad guys are assorted crazed maniacs led by the same guy who literally crashed the party in Weird Science (just realized that connection last night). Great use of the punk aesthetic in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (and if the and of Rock 'N' Roll High School is any indication, that's an inevitability if these punks aren't contained).

Doomsday (4 PM - 6 PM)
From one island to another (well, part of an island). This may seem a bit redundant as it's directly inspired by The Road Warrior (and Escape from New York, 28 Days Later, and whatever medieval films you can think of), but it's a hell of a lot of fun. Scotland has been quarantined after a virus outbreak, but the virus got out and England needs to go in to find a cure. The survivors are resistant, but to more than just the virus. To everybody, even family. Not just resistant, but hungry, too. I'll admit, I feel validated for including this just for the line, "First we're gonna catch 'em. Then, we're gonna cook 'em! Then, we're gonna EAT 'EM!"

Phantom of the Paradise (6 PM - 8 PM)
Released a year before Destroy All Movies cut-off (or what they told us was the cut-off), but you can't look at The Phantom or Beef and not see at least a little bit of punk. Phantom of the Paradise runs the gamut as far as genres (both music and film), but it's all good. Like Doomsday, Paradise is a pastiche of several existing plots with many references to other films (most obviously, Touch of Evil). Another musical, but sometimes you just need music.

The Warriors (8 PM - 10PM)
Technically, not about punks, but gangs. I just have a hard time convincing myself that in all of those gangs, there aren't a bunch of punks at heart. Plus, it's all about attitude and appearance that separate one from the status quo. They share an ethos even if not a point of view.

The Return of the Living Dead (10 PM - 12 PM)
The series that gave us fast zombies, "Braaaaains," and parties in the graveyard. Just an all around awesome movie and a great way to finish the night.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Top 5 Films: Kansas

The Ice Harvest
Harold Ramis as a weird career as a director. His successes are classics (Caddyshack, Groundhog Day), but his failures are far more numerous and easily forgotten (Analyze This/That, Bedazzled, Year One). Of course, his work as a writer helps puff up his resume into respectability, again. So, while in my mind, I'm a huge fan of Ramis as a director (and I am a huge fan of his, in general), in reality, I'm pretty indifferent on his work. It was his involvement with The Ice Harvest that put it on my radar at all and I'm glad it did. The Ice Harvest is a pretty great black comedy that doubles as a Christmas movie (and Billy Bob Thornton's second Christmas-related black comedy). The twisty script was co-written by Robert Benton who really has a stand-out career. Definitely an enjoyable movie. Perhaps watch it with Grosse Point Blank for the Cusack double feature.

National Lampoon's Vacation
We've already had our discussion about Harold Ramis, so I'll leave it at that aside from the fact that, clearly, I think this is one of his successes. I suppose one could view this as a cheat because it's a road trip movie and can therefore be attached to a number of states. Certainly, Kansas isn't the first thing one thinks about when one thinks about Vacation. My reasoning regarding road trip movies is that if a major or memorable plot point happens in the state, it qualifies and what could be more memorable than Cousin Eddie and his family? Not only are we introduced to Eddie, but they load the Griswold's down with Aunt Edna and her dog, both of whom are treated pretty poorly in death.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
And while we're talking road/John Candy/John Hughes-written movies, let's hit up Plains, Trains, and Automobiles, unintentionally making an appearance just in time for Thanksgiving. This film is more about trying to get out of Kansas (which, come to think of it, all of the films on this list are to a degree) as Neal Page (Steve Martin) is rerouted to Kansas on the way home to Chicago from New York. Del Griffith (Candy) tags along, much to Neil's chagrin and their first night in Kansas, most of their money is stolen. The film is hilarious and sad, mostly due to Candy's fantastic performance. In lieu of a trailer, I'm giving you my two favorite scenes.

Mars Attacks!
I have know link between Mars Attacks! and the films above, though it seems impossible that there isn't one with this cast. Nicholson, Close, Bening, Brosnan, DeVito, Short, Parker, Fox, Steiger. It seems like there isn't a no name in the cast. Even Jack Black and Christina Applegate (at the height of my desire for her... hey, I was 14) are in there. It's a fun homage to the B-movies of the '50s and I can't help but think it would be received better had it been released in this decade, what with success and continued success of Tarantino, Rodriguez, and Wright, all of whom where their influences proudly. OK, so maybe they have mostly cult appeal and Mars Attacks! is right where it belongs. That doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Plus, the way to kill the aliens is discovered in... Kansas!

The Wizard of Oz
I suppose this was inevitable. My antipathy towards leads me to not care for this as much as others and I generally like it more because of the who Dark Side of the Rainbow thing. However, the film is amazingly impressive. The Wizard of Oz also represents my only experience as a stage actor (when I was 11-years old, I believe). I've never understood it's relationships to Christmas, as shown in A Christmas Story, so if anyone can explain that to me, that would be great. Interestingly, perhaps the most famous line from the movie states, "we're not in Kansas any more." I may have to rethink this entry.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: Clue

The entire concept of movies based on boardgames seems horrible. Battleship. Monopoly. Ouija Board. Magic 8 Ball (which can only be some horrible romantic comedy). Candyland. It all reeks of an idea bankrupt industry looking for a quick buck based on name recognition and nostalgia (so the status quo, then). There are so many people trying to write original material or adapt something from and interesting source struggling to find a place in Hollywood, why do we even need to cull the board game shelf for ideas? If you went into a pitch meeting and said something like, "warring ships" or, "a ball that tells the future," you'd be thrown out immediately. There's no story inherent in these games. It's just vague ideas with a goal to win. Totally ridiculous.

However, aside from the names involved, are these such bad ideas? Pretty great movies could (and have) been made about war at sea. The battle for economic supremacy could be interesting. Ouija boards are already a staple in the horror genre (more specifically, haunted house movies). Even Candyland could be fun for a child (just look what it did for Homer):

The fact that they are blatantly using the name of a successful brand seems to be what sets most people (including myself) off. Incidentally, I can make no excuses for Magic 8 Ball.

Perhaps the reason I'm feeling rather lenient towards the people making these board game adaptations is because I'm already in love with one. Inspired by the recent The New Cult Cannon article at A.V. Club, I've got to recommend a perennial favorite of mine: Clue.

We were well underway into the world of the Blockbuster and massive corporatization/commodification/synergization of the film industry by 1985 (not to suggest it didn't exist before, it just wasn't as whorish-seeming before), but compared to today, it seems like an intellectually vibrant era. I can only imagine what people would have thought about turning a board game into a film (as I was only 3). The poor box office receipts surely put a halt to any other designs of board game adaptations. However, adapting Clue seems like an obvious place to start. There's already a literary and filmic history of murder mysteries, not to mention sketch comedy's contribution to the subject:

Of course, it helps to have any amazing cast of character actors and comedians at your disposal when making said adaptation. Martin Mull. Michael McKean. Madeline Kahn. Tim Curry Lesley Ann Warren. Eileen Brennan. Christopher Lloyd. Plus based on a story buy John Landis. That's a line-up I can get behind.

I'm not really sure why people didn't connect with the film. The dialogue is hilarious (personal favorite, "I was in the hall... I know because I was there) and the way the actors play off of each other is perfect. I first saw Clue as a child. For some reason, my family had taped it off the TV (though I'm pretty sure no one had seen it) and my older sister and I watched it constantly. Only upon viewing it in my adult years did I realize that I didn't get half of the jokes (pretty much anything related to Communism). It's a film that rewards rewatching because of it's lightning fast pace, which becomes absolutely manic in Tim Curry's performance summing up the events of the entire night.

Maybe by that time people were expecting "the Christopher Lloyd show" since he'd just been in Back to the Future. I have no idea. I'm just glad it's been a part of my life for so long and that I've had the chance to share it with others.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Top Films from Each Year of My Life: 2004

Shaun of the Dead

"You've got red on you"

It should be no surprise to anyone who knows me that Shaun of the Dead is my top film for 2004. I've mentioned my love for it many times in this space. Hell, Google should be giving me kickbacks for all the times I've embedded the trailer. This is the film that introduced me to the greatness that is Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost, a love that has never waned.

I'll never forget my excitement at hearing about Shaun of the Dead and seeing the trailer. I was in the early stages of my horror fandom. I only started watching them actively my junior year of high school and I was in the process of filling in all the classics I'd missed out on. In fact, I'd only just seen the original Dawn of the Dead a few months before Shaun came out. All summer long, while I was back home from college I watched the trailer online, frequently dragging family members to the basement to watch with me. Two jokes that stood out to me at the time were the throwing of records in effort to try to fend of attacking zombies (er... zed-words) and when they accidentally hit the man with the car and return to see if he's OK. Yeah... this was my kind of movie.

I saw it three times in the theater with different people (one of whom was my dad who also went to see Saw with me, which did not live up to expectation), much like I would later do with Hot Fuzz. Shaun is the perfect parody where the film stands alone even if you don't get the references, but the references are there if you love zombie movies ("We're coming to get you, Barbara" is the most obvious example of this). Shaun doesn't skimp on the gore, but keeps the funny coming and all of the characters are immensely likable. In fact, the characters are incredibly well drawn, which is rare for both horror movies and comedies. Perhaps in further support that this film is for everyone, it was billed as a rom-com-zom, or a romantic comedy with zombies.

The film also introduced me to Peter Serafinowicz (who follows me on Twitter even though I don't post much anymore) and Kate Ashfield. The former is notable now because he's in Running Wilde, but he is one of the funniest individuals in the world and is an amazing mimic:

As for Kate Ashfield, I've never seen her in anything else that I know of, but every time I watch Shaun of the Dead, I fall a little bit in love with her, especially the way she ends her phone message with a "Bye bye bye" (in order for it to not seem like an N*Sync song, you'll just have to watch the scene).

And just so you know what Shaun of the Dead beat out: The Incredibles, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and A Tale of Two Sisters. A pretty amazing list of films (a slight dip in quality follows the fifth spot).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: The Front

I hesitate to bring this up because he didn't write or direct The Front and because it's mildly sacrilegious for a film lover to say, but I'm not a huge fan of Woody Allen. I've enjoyed the clips of his stand-up act and his films before he got serious (Bananas and Sleeper), but am generally underwhelmed by his oeuvre. Perhaps his lack of presence (a weird thing to say about the star of a movie) is why I like The Front so much. Allen's character, Howard Prince, doesn't come off as superior to everyone, which is how Allen usually seems to me. Howard Prince is a genuinely nice guy (with barely a hint of neurosis) who is just looking to help out some friends.

For me, The Front is inherently interesting from the start because it's about such a strange time in America's history: the Communist witch hunt in the 1950's. I have such a hard time fathoming how people could get so worked up over ideology and how it could bring about nation-wide hysteria. Really? Communism is going to destroy our way of life? It's all so irrational. It's insanity that they blacklisted people based on hearsay (I wish I'd thought about the subject more before I started writing this because I'm having trouble expressing my exasperation over it all. I can't imagine how I would've felt at the time it was happening).

The Front deals with Howard Prince, a largely non-political small-time bookie, who is convinced by a blacklisted screenwriter friend to act as a front in order to continue working. Prince quickly becomes a success and eventually takes on more blacklisters to front for. That's the short of it all and obviously Prince will learn something about himself and the nature of blacklisting, but the film handles everything so elegantly. Along the way, Prince meets Hecky Brown (played by the always amazing Zero Mostel) who is the example of how much the blacklisting has effected people. Brown's story is particularly harrowing.

Many of the people involved with the film were blacklisted (that word is appearing a lot in this space) including director Martin Ritt and screenwriter Walter Bernstein. In many respects, The Front reminds me of To Be or Not to Be (for now, just the Mel Brooks version as I haven't seen the original) in that it takes a comical look at a serious subject using a slightly detached main character. Though the film received mixed reviews, but I found it funny and engaging without beating us over the head shouting, "look how bad blacklisting is!"

I couldn't find the trailer, but here's an early scene setting things up:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

World Series and Ratings

Apparently, the World Series this year tied for a record low for the broadcast. In addition to this, the MLB playoffs routinely lost out to regular season NFL games in the ratings. Many would like to cry doom and gloom. There's some bizarre battle for propriety over the title "America's National Pasttime." It's been going on for years, but this seems to be the nail in the coffin. Amidst all of this, for the life of me, I can't figure out why anyone cares. OK... that's not true. I understand why the TV networks care. They have money on the line (but why make the playoffs such an unpleasant experience with all of the bizarre tie-ins and keeping Joe Buck and Tim McCarver around? Surely that's hurting as much as anything).

The only sport I give a damn about is baseball. The Red Sox are my team, and though I have other teams I'm fond of, they occupy very little of my time. When the Sox were inevitably eliminated from the playoffs, I picked the Rays and the Phillies as my playoff teams. When they were eliminated, I moved to rooting against the Yankees. Finally, when left with the Rangers and the Giants, I really didn't care which team won. Both had good stories while one had George W. in the stands and the other had Barry Bonds. Easy to root for and against (though the against is far more petty).

But I didn't actually watch a single playoff game. The most effort I put into it was watching the scoreboard online. Part of this was due to the fact that I don't have cable or an antenna, but most of it was that none of it really mattered to me. If I, a huge baseball fan, can't be bothered to watch all of the playoffs, why should we expect the general public to do so?

This year, the World Series played out as it should: for the fans. The Rangers and Giants fans got to see something unique for each team. The Rangers had never been to the World Series and the Giants had never won in San Francisco. It doesn't matter to them whether people watched on TV. They got to see their cities get swept up in the excitement. That's really all that matters. The only time playoffs get get ratings is when there is a team for people to root against (Yankees, post-2004 Red Sox) or for (Cubs, 2004 Red Sox).

As far as ratings go, I'm not sure what people expect. Of course the ratings are low. Look how ratings stack up historically. Everything is low. The hit shows of today don't match up with the highs shows like MASH, Cheers, The Cosby Show, and Seinfeld reached. It's a different entertainment landscape. Plus, not everyone watches on TVs. You can get live streams of the games for free or pay online. Television ratings are an outdated way of measuring, but most people realize that (which makes the fact that people are making this an issue even more asinine).

Finally, with fantasy football, every game takes on added personal meaning for people. So while the Giants are playing the Rangers, some random guy is trying to beat his buddies at a game, usually for money. For real stakes.

So who cares that football drew more viewers? History will simply show the Giants beat the Rangers in the 2010 World Series and there won't even be a note about the ratings. It doesn't effect football. It doesn't effect baseball. And it doesn't effect us.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: Hausu

I feel like all I've been doing this past week is Halloween recommendations and really, I have (you can see for yourself here). This will be my last horror recommendation in this space for a while just to give you all a break. Fortunately, I saw Hausu before the end of October so I can squeeze it in before the self-imposed moratorium.

Without question, this is the most insane, off-the-wall, bonkers, nusto film I've ever seen and I took a whole semester on avant garde filmmaking (ok... so most of that stuff is just boring). It's a hallucinatory haunted house movie with an identity crisis. It's almost too wacky to be scary and too crazy to be funny. The effects are ridiculous but do their job completely.

The plot sends a group of girls (all named for their dominant feature or personality trait) to a friend's aunt's house which happens to be haunted. There's some ghostly back story about her aunt and an old love the doesn't really make too much sense, but nothing here really does. Eventually, the girls go missing through increasingly bizarre circumstances. My favorite has to be Kung Fu, who fights off an attacking horde of flaming logs, among other things, with her awesome kung fu skills. Also, there's an evil cat (aren't they all?).

Words can't do this film justice. You simply need to look at the DVD cover art to find out all you need to know. I'm kicking myself for not checking it out when a local theater showed a 35mm print. This will become a regular in the scary film rotation. And if you don't watch it on your own, I will eventually make you watch it. Thank you Criterion for bring this movie into my life!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Top 5 Films: Montana

I've finally hit a state for which I can't find five films to recommend. Not only could I not find five, I couldn't find one that I could really get behind. A random suggestion brought about this inevitability prematurely, but I'm kind of glad it happened. No sense in always taking the easy way out in life. This no one has seen fit to use Montana as a setting for their great opus, I'll still list five movies for you, but they will represent five separate, arbitrary categories of my choosing. Note that it's apparently impossible to set a contemporary movie in Montana.

Best of the Bunch: Little Big Man
There's nothing wrong with Little Big Man, in general. I just found my mind drifting in and out through the film. Perhaps it's because the scope of the film entails following a man's exploits (Jack Crabb, played by Dustin Hoffman) essentially through his 121-year life. It's told in flashback, which I don't particularly care for as a narrative device and it gives the film a very episodic feel. I also think that I like Arthur Penn, the director, better in my mind than in actuality. That all said, the film is great to look at, well-acted, and features Faye Dunaway at the peak of her beauty. It's also interesting for the fact that Hoffman plays the character as a 17-year old all the way to the 121-year old (even Martin Short in Clifford couldn't compete with that).

Best Movie that Mentions Montana: The Hunt for Red October
Not so much an endorsement for the film, though it's pretty good, but more for Sam Neill. A Russion submarine crew goes AWOL with their newest sub and Sean "I can only speak with a Scottish accent" Connery leading the way. Sam Neill plays Captain Borodin and has but one desire: to see Montana. Notably absent from the trailer... Sam Neill.

Movie to Avoid Ever Seeing: A River Runs Through It
One of the coaches of my undergrad baseball team put this on while we were traveling back from a game. I've never heard so much outcry to have a movie turned off and be banned from ever being played again. It's, to put it simply, boring. The only thing more boring that fishing is watching other people fish. I can't even make it through the trailer. May you have better luck. And yes, that is a very young Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Best Movie that My Older Sister Loved: Legends of the Fall
Much like A River Runs Through It, it stars Brad Pitt and takes place in Montana. I've never seen it, but my older sister loved it (clever category title, eh?).

Best Movie Shot in Montana that Destroyed a Studio and a Career: Heaven's Gate
Ego, cost over-runs, and horrible press pretty much crushed United Artists and Michael Cimino's (The Deer Hunter) career. It's pretty famous, actually, and most of you probably already knew this. Interestingly, you can't really see the theatrical release anymore to understand what the hubbub was about. You have to sit through the 219 minute version as opposed to the 141 minutes of the original. Even more interesting is that this longer version is somewhat praised. Maybe one day I'll work myself up to sitting through it. Maybe.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: The Innocents

I apologize for that absence of posts the past week or so (though not about the lack of recommendations because the Romero stuff should've kept you more than a little busy). Things got crazy what with a special guest for a week where awesome times were more important than awesome blogging, then getting back into the swing of things (plus, my garbage disposal broke while we simultaneously had a clock in the drain that spilled water all over. That set my day back a bit).

Anyway, none of that matters because I've only got two more weeks of recommending solely horror films (as opposed to doing it every other week). Most people seem to regard The Haunting as the eminent haunted house movie, at least in terms of classic films. For my money, that honor has to go to The Innocents. Released two years before The Haunting, The Innocents offers up more scares and suspense than almost any other film of the era (and I'd argue ever, even with the changing aesthetics of horror films). Don't get me wrong. I love The Haunting (and watched it last Halloween alone before I knew anyone here in Portland), but it's time for The Innocents to get some recognition.

Perhaps most striking about the film is the cinematography. Black and white rarely looks this good and apparently, jokes flew about the set and Shepperton Studios the D.P. Freddie Francis was trying to burn the place down with all of his lights (another anecdote states that star, Deborah Kerr had to where sunglasses between takes). Francis directed several Hammer Horror films, which could use their own Film Rec feature, but I'll lay off those for now. Interestingly, Francis would later shoot The Elephant Man for David Lynch. I can't help but think this film had an enormous influence on that decision.

Director, Jack Clayton, wanted to distance the film from the Hammer films that were being shot concurrently in England and did so with great success. The Innocents avoids some of the more exploitative tendencies of the Hammer Films and creates an incredible sense of foreboding. The audience really gets into the head of the governess, Miss Giddens (Kerr, who had quite an impressive career). Her dread and paranoia becomes ours.

The film is based on the story "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James (something I remember being told not to read unless I wanted to be terrified by some high school English teacher. I'll show her! I just bought it from Goodwill for two bucks!) and was co-written by Truman Capote, who becomes more fascinating the more I encounter him. Definitely check this movie out for Halloween. Hell, a The Innocents and The Haunting double feature would be just about perfect.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: Romero Non-Zombie Films

Seeing as how I missed last week due to a Florida excursion, I wanted to make it up to you all somehow. And given that it's October (my favorite month, incidentally, and should be the real name of August [and I know the history as to why, or at least the apocryphal story]), I want to stick with horror films.

I never really watched much of Romero's films outside of the Living Dead stuff until recently. My earliest excursion was Martin about two years ago and I remember being terrified by images of Creepshow when I was really young, but I never watched them the whole way through (or even through one segment). Having explored his work deeper, it saddens me that he seems to feel that he can only make zombie movies anymore (his last three films have been Land, Diary, and Survival of the Dead). Apparently, he's working on a remake of Argento's Deep Red, so it's good that he's moving away from the zombies, but he's heading into remakes (to be fair, much like most of Argento's work, Deep Red deeply flawed even if it has moments of gruesome elegance).

I'm just going to tackle this in chronological order from earliest to most recent. Obviously, I can't recommend stuff I haven't seen, so there will be a few gaps in the chronology, though not too many. Plus, I've seen most of his "big" works. On with it!

The Crazies (1973)
The Crazies was recently remade into a film that I will probably never see. It's actually very similar to zombie films, just with less viscera. I'd call it a precursor to 28 Days Later (which throws the viscera back in, thus making people think it is a zombie film). A town where people have been going crazy becomes the subject of a quarantine and a small group of people are trying to escape. Men in HAZMAT suits with guns are around every corner and a cure is quickly trying to be found before the entire town has to be eliminated (kind of like what the government wanted to do in The Simpsons Movie: the New Grand Canyon). Of course, people in the small group on the run become infected and troubles brew inside and out. There's a overwhelming sense of hopelessness, much like the end of Night of the Living Dead.

Martin (1977)
Apparently, this is George Romero's favorite film of his and marks the first collaboration of Romero and special effects icon, Tom Savini. It's a vampire story unlike any other because it's so rooted in reality. There's no turning into bats, no sprouting fangs, daylight doesn't kill Martin. Pretty much, the film does away with all of the classic vampire lore except the one thing that matters: Martin drinks blood. The pacing is pretty deliberate, but then, so are many horror films of the '70s (and before). Unlike with most vampire films, the stakes (I assure you, pun not intended) feel much greater for Martin since he doesn't have the benefit of being supernatural.

Knightriders (1981)
This is one of the more bizarre films I've ever seen and, no, not a horror movie. I'm not exactly sure how Romero came up with the concept. It's like he mashed up the Hell's Angels and Renaissance Faires. A group of artists ride around the country staging motorcycle jousts for country folk. They are poor, but largely happy. That is until they realize that there's money to be made. The group divides and there is a power struggle. The only thing that prevents Knightriders from being truly great is its length. It's 2.5 hours long, but in that time, there is a great journey. Ed Harris and Tom Savini are the main headbutters, with Harris the "king" of the troup and Savini desirous of the throne. Nearly the entire community is well-drawn and have there own story arcs, which is one benefit of the running time, I suppose. This helps the movie come to an inevitably melancholy, but joyous end. Definitely a movie that gets better the more I think about it.

Creepshow (1982)
Born out of a love of EC Comics and written by Stephen King, Creepshow is five tales of the macabre. While not every vignette is created equally, Creepshow is tons of fun. Everytime I go to the beach, I can't help but think, "I can hold my breath for a loooooooong time!" Incidentally, the tale that quote comes from is also the one responsible for some of my nightmares as a kid. Damn the presence of Leslie Nielson snookering me into thinking it might be funny (the young me was too overwhelmed by the horror to notice the funny)! Also appearing are Ted Danson, Hal Holbrook, Ed Harris, Tom Atkins, and Adrienne Barbeau. There's also a Creepshow 2 written by Romero (again based on King stories), but it's not nearly as good, aside from the excellent The Raft segment. I'm including the trailer simply because it's awesome.

Monkey Shines (1988)
After my recent "monkey with a knife vs. octopus" discussions, I'm more convinced than ever that an octopus would win after seeing Monkey Shines. A quadriplegic, Alan Mann, gets a helper monkey that was donated to be trained by his scientist brother. What starts off as a cute, handy little house helper starts getting into Mann's mind and runs about killing people. It seems there are only two ways to go with helper monkeys: murderous rampage or this...

What could be a completely silly concept is actually incredibly tense. It helps that the main character is nearly incapable of defending himself. It's kind of like the end of Rear Window when the killer comes over to L.B. Jeffries' apartment. A final note on the film: the monkey sounds were provided by none other than Frank Welker, the go to man for all your animal noise needs

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Top 5 Film: Ohio

I have certain friends that would literally spell this one out for you, as they went to a certain school in Ohio that shall remain nameless. There's really no reason that I picked Ohio other than saying to my girlfriend, "Pick a state" and she gave me this one.

I'm getting a little bit nervous about being able to find 5 worthy candidates for each state and may have to adapt the arbitrary number accordingly. I do like a challenge, though, so we'll see what happens together. If anything changes, you'll be the first to know. On with the list!

American Splendor
I'll admit that this one is a bit of filler. I enjoyed the film when I watched it and thought Giamatti was great. A lot of mileage is gotten out of using the real life subjects and their actor counterparts, but aside from that and some interesting images, American Splendor kind of went in one ear and out the other. I've been meaning to give it another shot, but there are so many movies to see that it's always pushed to the backburner. However, this is the sort of "comic book" movie I want to see. No more superheroes.

The Faculty
I'm not a huge Robert Rodriguez fan. I've been entertained by some of his stuff, but mostly I'm uninterested. Of his films, The Faculty is probably my favorite (aside from the offensively bad covers of Another Brick in the Wall Parts 1 and 2). The cast is comprised of an impressive variety of performers (something Rodriguez has a knack for): Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Salma Hayek, Bebe Neuwirth, Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick, Usher, Christopher McDonald, and Jon Stewart(!). I remember stories from the set about John Stewart being the only adult who really hung out with the kids. Makes sense. Some complain about the film just being a bunch of references, but I kind of dig it in the way I dig Shaun of the Dead (a much better film). I like seeing the huge The Thing set piece (where they test who's an alien). Hell, if I didn't, I wouldn't be allowed to like the X-Files episode, Ice, which is a bigger riff on The Thing that The Faculty could ever be. It's just a fun, silly, high school aliens-are-taking-over-our-bodies type of movie.

Major League
This movie is in my veins. It's one of the earliest films I remember watching repeatedly. I'm not really sure why my parents let me watch an R-rated movie so much, but it's appreciated. I even remember hiding my eyes at the sex scene (where there wasn't any nudity) because I didn't want them to think that I was interested in it. Like most baseball movies, the team to beat in the end is the Yankees. My only consolation is that being the case, the Yankees tend to lose in the end (unless the movie is, you know, about the Yankees). Probably the most surprising thing about Major League for me today is that Dennis Haysbert plays Pedro Cerrano. That man is ripped! Also notable, my nickname as a young pitcher was Wild Thing, probably because the first game I ever pitched I didn't get an out or give up a hit, but proceeded to walk (or bean!) every batter I faced. Finally, James Gannon is the classic manager in my mind. Sadly, he passed this year. The man had the best voice in film.

Tommy Boy
An undisputed classic of dumb comedy. Not a moment is unquotable or unfunny and it has a huge heart. This amuses me because apparently Roger Ebert said of it, "No one is funny in Tommy Boy. There are no memorable lines. None of the characters are interesting..." I guess there's no accounting for taste, though it makes one think how much nostalgia influences the viewing of movies. Someone at suggested that the appeal of Ghostbusters was purely nostalgic, an opinion to which I can only respond, "FIE!" Anyway, it still makes me sad that Chris Farley's choices led to an early grave. I'm incredibly intrigued to see how his version of Shrek would've come out. I like to think he would've made a few more bad movies then become a stellar character actor. Sigh...

A Nightmare on Elm Street
So I could've burnt up every space on the Ohio Top 5 with Nightmare movies (including Freddy vs Jason, which is awesome!). I even left off Jason Goes to Hell, which allegedly takes place in Youngstown just so I wouldn't overload you with horror. So, we'll just go with the best out of them all. I love the way Nightmare blurs the line between dream and reality. At any moment, the film could turn into some surreal, well, nightmare. The image that always sticks in my mind is Freddy's form pushing through the wall above a victim's bed. So creepy. Who cares if I've been afraid of Freddy Krueger for about 20 years or that I still have dreams where he pops up and leaves me afraid to return to slumber after he scares me awake because I know he kills in dreams? The movies are just so damned entertaining! Even when they get cartoony and kind of bad they are tons of fun, especially when Johnny Depp returns for a cameo Freddy's Dead (Depp also gets one of the best deaths in horror history).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sleepover Shows

Some of my friends from Boston University are up to something. While it seems like many of us are still trying to find our little niche in life, waiting to fall into something big (or actively searching for it and meeting nothing but rejection), Kelly, Rob, and Aviv are well on there way somewhere. Even they don't know the destination, but it's still early in the trip. It's one thing to have big ideas but an entirely different thing to act on them (a battle I'm constantly facing).

It does my heart good to see my friends working on something that is theirs. Something they conceived and are creating. Something that is connecting with people. And that's what I want it to do. I want their work to connect with you. It's the reason for this post.

I know most of you love music and you love discovering new and interesting music. My friends over at Sleepover Shows are doing this for you! Here's what they're all about:
Sleepover Shows are three song sets of acoustic or stripped down versions performed by bands that we love as they make their way through Boston. Though it started as something we did when bands needed a place to crash on the night of their shows, we now mostly film the sessions before or after a show and let the bands find their own ways home (though the offer still stands).

Basically, we try and use our spaces as creatively as we can. We've filmed in the backseats of cars, on top of playground equipment, in doorways and alleys, in bathtubs and stairwells. We try our best to get the bands to take their music outside of the confines of the studio and have some fun.

And that's the point: to capture some great music that maybe isn't always as polished, but shows these artists having a good time doing what they love. We're doing what we love too, and hope you enjoy the videos!
To make matters sweeter, for all of my Oregon friends, Kelly grew up here and went to the University of Oregon. For all of my Pennsylvania friends, Aviv is from Philly. So it's like you're supporting local talent! Rob is from New York, but we don't hold that against him. Check it out and love it like you love hot cocoa by a fire on a cold day.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tropicana Field Revisited

Just over a year ago, I made a trip to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL (Home of the Tampa Bay Rays) for a Red Sox - Rays series. My grandparents have season tickets located in the upper deck just behind home plate (a location the yielded me my first and only foul ball). Anyway, the experience was not the best. This time I was bringing a guest who'd never gone to a professional baseball game. I secretly hoped that the experience wasn't going to kill any desire for her to ever return to a game let alone watch one on TV.

To set the stage, the Rays just needed to win one game to clinch a playoff spot (they've since clinched the division thanks to help from the Red Sox taking two out of three from the Yankees in the final series of the season, but don't get me started on the Rays fan at Busch Gardens who "boo"'d by Red Sox hat who had apparently no understanding that she should be routing for the Sox that weekend). They were playing the Baltimore Orioles, owners of the 4th worst record in baseball at the end of the season, who had been playing well lately. Just the day before, Rays players were complaining about the lack of attendance for their playoff push (which is a whole other discussion given some of the press and public reactions). Apparently, the complaints helped a little because attendance was up about 5000 fans.

Maybe it was the fact that the Red Sox are a bigger draw than the Orioles, but the whole experience was exponentially better this time than last year. Sure, the horns need to be banned (and a quick look at stadium rules would lead one to believe that they already are), but the cowbells didn't seem nearly as obnoxious. Gone were a lot of the annoying songs and even the Ryan Seacrest-wannabe was toned down. The Ray Girls were barely noticeable, too! Maybe it's because I was less invested in the game because I wasn't trying to focus all my energy on bringing the Sox victory (it works, I tells ya!), but the whole experience was far more enjoyable.

I've never had the opportunity to see any team clinch a playoff spot in person (nor have a gone to a postseason game, which makes me very sad) which the Rays did that first night we went. It was quite an experience. As a baseball fan in general, it's hard to not feel happy for the fans and the players, especially of a team who had ten years of last place finishes. It's nice to see a well run, low to mid-market team succeed.

Unexpectedly, the experience made me incredibly homesick for Boston. I didn't watch any full Red Sox games this year and missed nearly all of the excitement of any possible playoff chase (of course, the Sox did there best to make the last weeks of the season as stressful as possible). I miss the feeling of fall baseball in Boston and the excitement at Fenway. It was a feeling that stuck with me the rest of the night, made worse by the fact that it meant my team was eliminated from the playoffs (the Yankees won that night as well), and that I live in a city with no professional baseball (and maybe no minor league baseball any more).

The next day, the Rays gave away 20,000 free tickets for the last regular season home game. They were gone in 90 minutes. It made for an interesting dynamic (at least to me). Here you have fans that were supposedly annoyed at the players for calling them out for not bothering to support the team in the playoff chase showing up the day after the Rays clinched and cheering them on like they'd been coming all season. My grandparents said that the Rays' television audience is one of the largest in the league, so I guess there are lots of fans, but it seemed slightly hypocritical to have them cheer so hard and I wondered what the players felt about it taking free tickets to get fans to show up (incidentally, the fans started the wave in the 3rd or 4th inning. I hate the wave, but that said, that's WAY to early to start the wave). The Rays gave the fan their money's worth by getting shut out by the Orioles for the second time.

However, even with 35,000+ fans, Tropicana Field was tolerable. Maybe if I'm to enjoy Rays baseball, I have to have no rooting interest (or at least mild interest in Rays success). I extended a courtesy by not wearing my Red Sox hat to the games, and Tropicana Field extended on back to me.