Posts Tagged ‘Top 11’

Top 11 Movie Directors

September 3, 2016

Directing is a tough gig. I thought I would honor their commitment to film by coming up with a list of my favorite movie directors as of today. I have only one caveat before we get started. There are directors who have two many movies that I did not like or too many movies that I have not seen yet and are therefore not a proven commodity. Steven Spielberg is actually a good example of that for me but it does not mean that his work is invalid at all. I love the Indiana Jones series and Bridge of Spies a lot but I hate ET and Terminal. Same goes for guys like Tim Burton whose latter movies I do not really care for even though I am a huge fan of his earlier work. I chose to disqualify them because I felt conflicted about their body of work. Everybody on this list is a director whose body of work I admire. While I do not like every movie, I like most of their movies that I have seen.

 


11 Peter Jackson

Jackson left me spellbound the first time I saw his name on the credits on a movie. I read the Lord of the Rings book series near the end of my tour of duty in high school. I had heard the movies were coming out and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The Fellowship of the Ring was amazing and pretty much exactly what I had pictured when I read the book. Not only that but it was a beautifully shot movie with great acting and great pacing. I was eagerly waiting when The Two Towers came out and it was even better than Fellowship. The battles were epic and the music, acting and visuals were even more striking. Then Return of the King came and it was even better. Many criticize its multiple endings but it was in keeping with the book and I thought it was well done. As college continued, I saw The Frighteners which is a funny and scary horror movie that I encourage everybody to check out. Finally, he made the Hobbit movies which I like very much but all three were overly long and that’s coming from somebody who has watched the extended LOTR movies more than once. Jackson is really good at getting awesome performances out of his actors and putting together beautiful movies.


10 Luc Besson

My experience with Luc Besson started when I first saw The Fifth Element in High School. That movie has his fingerprints all over it. Besson put together an amazingly quirky and fun action/comedy movie that just has so much to love in it. It has always been one of my favorite movies and probably always will be. Of course, I have talked about Monsieur Besson on this blog before when I reviewed Leon: The Professional this past April. Leon was a great movie that I have learned to appreciate more and more after seeing it. There is a third movie of his that I recently saw that I will be talking about on Thursday. He crafts visually pleasing movies and not only that but each movie I have seen looks significantly different from the last. He does really good drama, makes potentially annoying characters fun and just puts together a lot of great movies. He makes me want to see more of his work and especially whatever he does next.


9 Robert Rodriguez

I was thirteen when Desperado came out and I loved the fresh Mexican flavored action with just enough comedy to keep things light. It was an exciting movie. Based on my enjoyment of Desperado I insisted that we rent From Dusk Till Dawn which horrified my mother but thrilled me. This was another movie that helped form my love of horror movies. The acting is great but the action and gore are even better. After that, I read his book about the making of El Mariachi and I was inspired to watch and love that movie. It was also at this point that the Spy Kids movie series became a guilty pleasure for me. Now they are not even that guilty a pleasure for me because I know there are stupider kids films out there. He made Once Upon a Time in Mexico which I love mostly for Johnny Depp’s character but it’s a great end to that trilogy. Finally, he made Planet Terror which had me laughing really hard and while it’s not a “good” movie, I enjoyed it a lot. I guess I can forgive him for Machete and the Sin City movies. Rodriguez casts good actors and makes well-shot and fun movies. He also writes the music for his movies and is often the screenwriter as well.


8 Sam Raimi

Sam Raimi was one of the formative directors of my youth. I think that he and his friends are the driving force behind me being a superfan of Halloween. I was in middle school when I first saw Army of Darkness. It was at an afterschool club during middle school and I absolutely loved it. His blend of comedy, action and campy horror was something I had never really seen before. I eagerly obtained The Evil Dead and I liked it but I like it even better now that I have learned to appreciate it. Evil Dead II is actually my favorite of the series. It is here that Raimi first got the right balance between comedy and horror by combining his love for The Three Stooges with his love of blood and guts. He could have done just that but he also created the first Spider-Man films that meant anything. While his trilogy has its problems, at the time it helped launch the current crop of good comic book movies. Spiderman 2 is especially good with a great mix of darkness, drama, comedy and adventure. He also made Darkman which was an early shot at combining horror and comic book-style action. Raimi is great at mixing genres and especially using the genres of action, comedy and horror.


7 Brad Bird

Iron Giant came out right in the middle of high school and I had no idea what to expect. This was probably the start of my adult experience with animation. Now that I had friends who could draw really well and some who wanted to go to film school, I started to realize the real art behind animation. Not only was Iron Giant great but it was beautifully crafted. It wasn’t until after college that I saw another of his movies when he made the blockbuster The Incredibles. It coincided with the Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and was somehow a better superhero movie than a lot of what had come before. It was the first Pixar film I owned on DVD. Pixar tapped him again to direct Ratatouille which was a touching and sweet film that often gets overlooked but I like it a lot. He then moved on to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol which took the fresh new stuff JJ Abrams had done with the franchise and ran with it. Finally, he returned to Disney with Tomorrowland. Tomorrowland is a movie that disappointed a lot of people but I really loved it and my mind keeps drifting back to it every so often. It is a movie I hope gets more recognition down the line. Bird makes really touching movies that are also really inspiring and visually striking. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

 


6 Quentin Tarantino

I probably was a little young for my first Tarantino movie. I knew he had written From Dusk Till Dawn so I set out to watch his movies. My first was Reservoir Dogs which had a great cast and had some of the best dialogue I have ever seen. After that, I had to see what all the fuss was about with Pulp Fiction. Pulp Fiction was fun and exciting and one of the first films I saw that had a non-linear structure to it. Kill Bill was one of the coolest action movies that I had ever seen. With minimal plot, good actors and awesome action it rivaled some of the best Hong Kong action and martial arts films in history. I felt like Volume 2 did not live up to 1 but it was still really good. Death Proof was the first thriller that I had watched in a while and it scared the crap out of me but it was also exciting and cool. Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained were both interesting takes on historical periods and homages to a bygone era in film. Finally, The Hateful Eight is practically a perfect film with not a wasted moment in it. None of Tarantino’s work is for the squeamish but he is a master of great dialogue and does violence with flair.


5 Christopher Nolan

I know that this pick might be a little controversial considering most people either love or hate Nolan’s films. I happen to be in the camp that loves his work. I had just graduated from college and I had not yet landed my first big job out of college. So I was driving my little brother around a lot when his new PhD. was just a twinkle in his eye. We went and saw Batman Begins and I was excited. I had half-heartedly defended Batman and Robin but I knew in my heart that it was bad. I wanted a return to being inspired by Batman instead of feeling sorry for him. The movie was great and it renewed my love for the character in all the best ways. A year later and I wanted to see The Prestige mostly because I had really liked Christian Bale who was new to me. I loved the dark, crazy tale that Nolan laid out. Then the Dark Knight came out and it blew my mind. The music, the acting, the imagery were all just so perfect to me. Of course I was going to watch Inception and I loved the dream imagery and the trippy plotline and the maddening open ending. It was so great. Finally, the Dark Knight Rises came and I thought it was the perfect end to Nolan’s trilogy, finally showing hope in a dark world. He also had the good sense to not direct for DC anymore, dodging the Man of Steel bullet somewhat. He is a great director who knows how to use his actors and knows how to paint great pictures.


4 Joel and Ethan Coen

This is a little bit of a cheat because not everything in this section will be directed by both brothers but they are a team so they get counted together. My experience started off with Oh Brother Where Art Thou? which came at just the right time. I had studied and adored the Oddysey and I drank in the parallels while falling in love with Bluegrass music. It is still one of my favorite movies. Then I saw The Big Lebowski which I had to finish in two sitting because my mom shut it off during family movie night. Then I watched Fargo which is beautiful in its simplicity, full of great characters and beautiful shots. I still see it as a grim movie with light touches that pull it back out of the darkness a little bit. No Country for Old Men was tense and dark and was refreshingly different from a lot of other stuff I was watching at the time. Burn After Reading was a return to dark comedy but it my least favorite of their films which still makes it a very good movie. I saw True Grit on my birthday six years ago and I loved it. I was impressed that they took a John Wayne movie and made it good. Finally, there was Hail, Caesar! which I talked about loving recently on the blog. The Coen Brothers are an excellent team who have memorable characters, offbeat comedy and incredible shots.


3 Kevin Smith

Finally, we come to one of my heroes. Of all people, my parents suggested that I watch Dogma because it had such an important message that I still live by today. The great dialogue that mixed comedy with drama really struck a chord with me. I went on to pick up Clerks and the dialogue was just so close to the way my friends and I talked. The same goes for Mallrats, where even among all the wacky hijinks there is a lot of dialogue that I heard in the halls of High School and then college. Chasing Amy is a movie that I came to appreciate a lot more later as I started to support LGBTQ rights and respect adult relationships. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is a stupid movie in the best ways and one I have watched over and over. Jersey Girl was not well received but it really reached me emotionally when it came out. He evolved a bit with Clerks II which is not for the squeamish but it felt so real and it is probably the movie of his that I have re-watched the most. I have already talked about how I liked Zack and Miri Make a Porno because of its honesty about sex and adult relationships. The last movie I have seen of his is Red State which was so different from anything he had done before and it was scary, exciting and a little depressing. I loved it so much. I need to see more of his stuff because he is one of the best at dialogue and creating interesting characters that you want to spend time with.


2 Joss Whedon

This is kind of a different choice because Joss Whedon has not actually directed a lot of movies. Instead, he started off as a showrunner, writer and director for television. I first discovered Whedon through Buffy the Vampire Slayer which really mirrored my high school and college experience but with far more vampires than I had. After that I watched Firefly and I was convinced that Joss Whedon was the best thing to ever happen to television. I quickly got my hands on Angel and Dollhouse which definitely scratched the same itch that his previous work had scratched. Then he directed Serenity which I eagerly bought on DVD and have forced other people to watch because it is so endearing and fun to watch. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog came out on the internet for free but I bought the DVD because I wanted to support Joss and his friends so much. It was sad, funny and the character of Dr. Horrible felt so much like the way I’ve felt several times in my life. Finally, mainstream Hollywood finally realized Joss’ value and hired him to direct The Avengers, a flagship Disney/Marvel movie. The Avengers remains one of my favorite movies. Its release made it possible to also release Much Ado About Nothing which is a really well shot and directed Shakespeare movie which was the first of his comedies on film that I actually laughed at. Finally, he directed Avengers II which is often lost in the mix but I really liked the feel of it and the way it sets the stage for later Disney/Marvel movie. Joss Whedon is the king of dialogue and getting great performances from every actor who works for him. He also has slowly evolved to make his work really visually appealing and he can do both drama and comedy so well.


1 Guillermo Del Toro

I first encountered Guillermo Del Toro through Blade II. The visuals of Blade II were so out of this world after the simple but pleasant first installment of Blade. Blade II’s version of vampires and additions to the vampire mythology were amazing and the actor’s performances were so interesting. Hellboy was where I truly fell in love with Del Toro because I found the movie strangely similar to the way I had felt throughout high school and college. The visuals were again amazing and the characters were so charming. Pan’s Labyrinth scared the crap out of me and I still shudder a little when I see the mindbending horror visuals of the movie. Hellboy II was even more charming and amazing than the first movie. It was like he took every little weak spot from the first movie and made it stronger while combining it with the awesome visuals from Pan’s Labyrinth. Pacific Rim was so awesome. It was exactly the movie I needed to see and it felt like there was not a single wasted moment in the movie. I literally cheered while watching this film in theaters. The last of his movies that I have seen is Crimson Peak which creeped me out but also inspired me. I talked last year about how I admired the movie while other people may not have dug it in the same way I did. Stay tuned for another Del Toro movie review this October on this blog. Del Toro is a master of getting amazing performances out of lesser known actors, creating mindblowing visuals and setting just the right tone for his movies.

Top 11 Romantic Comedies

April 23, 2016


11 Jerry Maguire

Jerry Maguire was a powerhouse when it came out. It stars Tom Cruise when he was at the height of his pre-freakout part of his career. So far it was also the height of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s career and the movie even got him an Academy Award. The one is probably the most critically acclaimed movie on this list and it won or was nominated for a lot of awards. It has a great cast with Cruise, Gooding Jr., Jerry O’Connell and a great villain in Jay Mohr. A lot of the movie is focused on the title character trying to regain his honor and his career after a huge professional setback. There is plenty of romance, though. Unfortunately, a lot of this movie has been heavily quoted and the movie’s tropes have become very cliche. At the time, it felt pretty original. As a warning, it has some pretty graphic sex scenes in it that I was not allowed to watch when this first came out. Other than that, it’s a pretty fun movie.


10 Alex and Emma

Go figure that a romantic comedy movie about a writer would be on this list. I guess I have always identified with writers. Also, a big part of this is a deadline which I think we are all far too familiar with. Now, I’ve never really been one for writing romance but the main character is a writer played by Luke Wilson who enlists Kate Hudson to help him work through his latest book. So we get them working on the book and that is juxtaposed with scenes from the book. The two stories contrast and fit together and we get to see a lot of the growing chemistry between Kate and Luke. This was only the second romantic comedy I saw that more or less had a male lead. Of course, Luke is the guy who must change to get the girl he needs instead of the one he wants. It’s a cute little movie that has a bunch of interesting twists to it.


9 Coming to America

Most of you have probably seen this movie already. It’s often in rotation several times a year on Comedy Central and it was a big hit around the time of Trading Places. It comes from the brighter part of Eddie Murphy’s career when he regularly picked better movies and was not yet a caricature of himself. Ok, I am mostly kidding because Eddie Murphy often gets a bad rap even though he has made some great or at least fun films along with a string of bad ones. This is the tale of an African prince who journeys to America to figure out his path in life and to try and find a wife. The movie is surprisingly subtle for both the times and for Eddie Murphy. There is an interesting fish out of water story mixed with a story about a man hiding what he is for benevolent reasons. The movie is funny but not at the expense of the story moving forward. It ends up being a pretty sweet movie with a tight little love story.


8 Shakespeare in Love

I love the plays of William Shakespeare. My early days in theater were spent doing a lot of Shakespeare plays and they were so fun to do creatively. This movie was a massive hit when it came out, it was nominated for and won a lot of awards and for good reason. I love anything that humanizes Shakespeare. I don’t like ‘updating’ classic literature as much as I like when that literature is brought to life. Romeo and Juliet is arguably one of Shakespeare’s worst plays but mostly because people misinterpret it. It is a play about the excitement of lust and new love and the insanity it can cause. This is the backdrop of the movie, a romance set in an obviously romanticized Elizabethan era while Romeo and Juliet is being made. Almost everybody is somebody you could read about in a history book but they feel like a real person. They didn’t whitewash Shakespeare’s real history either at least not much. As I get older, I have learned to really embrace the ending as a happy one.


7 Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Now hold on, don’t leave right away. I promise I won’t go int the porno part of this movie if you don’t want me too. It’s enough to know that this one is about two broke roommates who decide to make a cheap porno spoof to pay their bills. There is a lot of wackiness involved and you get a lot of sexual humor and humor based on the awkwardness that we feel around sexual humor. It has a cast of supporting characters who are zany but human and it’s really fun to see them all interact. However, above it all is a story about two people who have known each other a long time. Two friends who explore whether they might be more in a very interesting set of circumstances. Like a lot of Kevin Smith’s movies, I went in expecting a silly stoner comedy and I came away with something that felt really interesting. Who says friends can’t become a couple? (Fair warning there is some nudity in this one)


6 Catch and Release

So I watched this movie initially because of Kevin Smith’s involvement. It certainly did not hurt that the movie also stars Jennifer Garner who I had liked in Daredevil and Timothy Oliphant who I had enjoyed in Die Hard 4.
This was probably the first or close to first romantic comedy that I watched on my own recognizance. I will give you a heads up here, this one looks weird on paper. It starts with Jennifer Garner’s fiance dying on a fly fishing trip and then goes from there. The relationship between Garner and Oliphant is pretty funny and interesting to watch as there is a strange dynamic from the start. On top of that, there is a B-plot where Kevin Smith romances a single mother with a kid. The two stories are fun to watch separately but watching them interact is even better. I know this one is kind of an obscure pull but I really enjoyed it.


5 Chasing Amy

Alright yes, three movies in a row on this list have Kevin Smith involved but it is a known fact that I am a big Kevin Smith fan. More than any other movie, this was the one that broke Smith into the mainstream studio system. For this movie, we delve into the exciting world of comic books which is a topic near and dear to my heart. Two of the main characters make comic books for a living and you know Kevin Smith has been in the industry because everything about that feels right. The movie is a little bit of a product of its time. There is a flamboyantly gay black man in a time when there were a few of those sorts of characters in Hollywood. Kevin Smith is so great at dialogue that even the more cliched characters come off as real and likable. The main part of this movie is that Ben Affleck plays a guy who ends up dating a lesbian. While some people thought it was a little crass at the time, I think it was a little ahead of its time in depicting the unpredictability of the Kinsey scale. Of course, that’s just my opinion.


4 Groundhog Day

This is technically the only science fiction movie on this list. I would also classify this as a dark comedy while most of the rest of these movies are at least a little bit lighter. Bill Murray is a comedy legend and is very funny as a man who is trying to decide what is important. The universe makes him repeat the same day over and over again until he achieves what he is supposed to. Andie McDowell is a great romantic lead. She is cute, funny and appropriately skeptical as a formerly grump starts to become a romantic. Another strength of the movie is that it has a great ensemble of character actors who interact really well with Bill Murray. I feel like the movie is about discovering that love is not checking things off a list but is more about realizing how to make a real human connection. I am sure most people reading this have already seen the movie but it is worth checking out if you have not.


3 Forgetting Sarah Marshall

I was totally blindsided by this movie. While I had heard that it was a good movie and that it was worth seeing, I had no idea how good it could be. I actually watched this movie for the first time this week so it is the freshest in my mind. Ten minutes in and I was definitely hooked. The cast is fantastic as it has Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand and a whole bunch of great actors in smaller parts. I especially love Kristen Bell and the meta references to Veronica Mars which was one of my favorite shows of all time. Segel shows why he was able to rock it in The Muppets as he is the star and the writer of the movie. Frankly, more of this movie is about break ups rather than new relationships. Everything really clicks together and there are a lot of moments where I felt like the movie had really shown what had been in my heart during my most awkward moments. It may have the best message at the end of all the movies on this list. (Fair warning there is a lot of nudity in this one)


2 Love, Actually

This movie is a Christmas tradition for my family. My mom actually owns three copies of it on DVD. This movie is actually pretty atypical in structure for a romantic comedy. There is a huge cast of characters that make up a whopping nine couples who the audience gets to follow. At times, the movie seems to employ just about every actor in England which is the setting for most of the movie. A couple movies like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Day later tried to use this formula to zero success. Love, Actually is a really charming movie. There is a bitter, sardonic edge to a lot of the humor that makes it feel emotionally true even if some of the plots are contrived. I am trying to spoil as little as possible with this list but it is important to note that not all of the stories have happy endings. Not all of the stories and couples are even very likable but the movie as a whole is very cathartic and is always a good watch.


1 Trainwreck

I have talked about this movie previously in this blog, shortly after I saw it in theaters. Amy Schumer is a great comedian who works very blue and also works very dark. She manages to make a lot of that subject matter way funnier than it should be. There is also something to the cadence of her voice that is just inherently funny to me. Combine that with the great, befuddled straight man in Bill Hader and you’ve got a beautiful match. The movie uses a lot of modern romcom tropes and dumb comedy tropes but it manages to strip them down and make them feel more real. There’s real drama and at the end of it, both people in the relationship have changed their lives for the better in a deeply transformative way. It’s really ugly to watch but it’s beautiful too and I feel better for having watched it.

Top 11 Christmas Episodes

December 20, 2015

Top 11


11. Scrubs – My Own Personal Jesus

Probably last on the list because it leans heavily on the belief in God and the low production values. It largely deals with how hospitals are one of the worst places to be during the holidays. In the emotional parts of our lives, it can sometimes bring the worst of us bubbling to the surface. A young Catholic surgeon loses his faith while on call on Christmas Eve. He feels he has been proven wrong in his assertion that God watches over all of us. In the end, his faith is restored and we’re reminded that even if you don’t believe in God, you can believe in people. The subplot has plenty of comedy about dealing with people you don’t like but coming together anyway. It’s a welcome balance to the sad but uplifting main plot.

10. Rick and Morty: Anatomy Park

Alright, this one is only this low on the list because half of it is a Jurrasic Park/Innerspace parody. That plot has little to do with Christmas besides taking place inside a homeless man in a santa suit. The title characters (and Jon Oliver) are busy dealing with the strange problem inside Ruben. While all of this is going on, the rest of the family is playing host to Steve’s parents and trying to get along during the holidays. The family in Rick and Morty are pretty disfunctional. They’re perhaps the most disfunctional family I’ve seen in fiction that still stays together. Steve, the father, decides to disconnect his family from electronics for the holiday so they can connect with one another. He’s not prepared for the consequences of his action. The episode teaches that sometimes our family can annoy us and drive us crazy, especially around the holidays. That’s ok. It’s very normal.

9. Futurama – XMas Story

While the episode is largely silly, like most Futurama episodes there’s a deeper message involved. The surface story is about how a Santa Claus robot has gone crazy in the year 3000 and will murder anybody after sundown. Naturally, this is because its naughty/nice processing unit has been damaged. However the episode more expertly deals with two characters who are feeling lonely on Christmas because they have no family. Both of them fail to see that they can always fall back on their circle of friends because friends are our extended family. They also tackle the folly of being selfish especially around the holidays. There’s also a mostly subtle message that possessions are fleeting and no thing can take the place of a kind thought.

8. Boston Legal: Loose Lips

Now, I’ve only seen the first season of Boston Legal but it’s definitely got cynical edge to it that you might think would clash with Christmas. The thing is, beneath that cynical and bitter surface, Boston Legal has heart and that especially applies to its star, James Spader. His character likes to pretend he has no heart and that he’s the villain but in the end he often does the right thing in spite of himself. Christmas is all about that sometimes. Christmas can be the one time all year where we stop ourselves and do the right thing. Not because we’re supposed to but because we realize we want to be good just like Ebenezer Scrooge did. The secondary plot has to do with a confidentiality dilemma when a doctor’s patient may be planning to kill somebody. The main plot is much more Christmas-y and has to do with a Santa who was fired because it was discovered that he cross-dresses on his off hours. The main plot starts kind of comedic but ends up being pretty touching and features one of those good mall Santas.

7. 30 Rock: Ludachristmas

30 Rock was a clever show that was always funny but every episode devolved into insanity unless it already began insane. This is one of those episodes that starts with a lot of crazy concepts and premises and just runs with it. There’s weird amnesia, crazy alcoholic christmas and paper shredders that are easily mistaken for a photo scanner. There is a clash between those who just want to have fun with those who would dictate how you should celebrate Christmas. In the end, maybe it’s not such a good idea to meddle in how other people celebrate as long as they’re responsible and safe. The main story hammers home how everybody’s family is pretty crazy so there’s not much point worrying about the grass looking greener on the other side. It’s best to just live and let live most of the time.

6. Bones: The Santa in the Slush

Bones has always been a good show. Some of my scientist friends might have problems with it but I’ve liked the show because it has compelling characters and stories with a lot of heart. Even the worst episode of Bones is head and shoulders above a lot of other stuff on television. The show has had a long run so it has a lot of holiday episodes to choose from. I had to go with The Santa in the Slush because of the interesting imagery of the episode. It starts with the discovery of a murdered mall Santa and the mission to discover who could do such a thing. Now, these days its popular to depict mall Santas as alcoholic jerks who are just faking it for cash. However, I love a good story about a true mall Santa who loves kids and is sticking it out in the trenches as a true foot soldier for the North Pole. We all want to believe in magic. Whether it’s the magic of Santa or the magic of human kindness, we all want to believe. This is a good story that shows that there are people out there who really believe in humanity and what’s right in the world.

5. Supernatural: A Very Supernatural Christmas

Brothers have history together. I lived in a house (several in fact) with my brothers for 18 years and then spent holidays and some summers with them. Granted, we never had the history the Winchesters had but we went through a lot of stuff together. Even in moments where that’s not being directly dealt with that is the major undercurrent of the show. So how do two guys who grew up experiencing Christmas in motels on the road view the holidays? Both Sam and Dean have had a taste of normal Christmas but that’s gone for them. The episode also deals with various mytholigies that surround Christmas. Some have been forgotten and some were appropriated for use by Christianity. It’s a fun but creepy look at those myths coming to life.

4. Veronica Mars: An Echolls Family Christmas

Since this episode occurs in the first season, Veronica is very much separated from the friends and family (minus her dad) that she used to celebrate with. This isn’t necessarily a happy episode, especially for one set at Christmas. That’s fine as the holidays are not always so happy and problems don’t just magically stop during the holidays. This episode primarily focuses on the Echolls family’s dysfunctional problems. There is a more lighthearted whodunit trying to figure out who stole the poker winnings from the last poker game with Veronica taking great pleasure in shaking down the rich boys (even her ex). In the main plot we have a much more dangerous mystery that includes cheating, stalking and holiday parties. It foreshadows a lot of stuff later in the series. It’s a good dysfunctional look at the holidays because we’ve all experienced that at one point or another.

3. Leverage: The Ho Ho Ho Job

When your main cast is a bunch of ex-criminal vigilantes who no longer have any family connections, you don’t really expect to have a Christmas episode. However, from its inception, episodes of Leverage are about restoring hope to the hopeless and defending the defenseless. Most of the characters are loathe to get into the Christmas spirit but all they need is a little push from the suddenly cheery orphan thief to try and stop a holiday heist. They take the case of a mall santa who may as well be the real man in red. In the end the crew and even some of the villains embrace the season. It’s a lot of fun and doesn’t delve into the somewhat dark histories of the characters but does show them getting a little light in their lives.

2. Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

It was hard to pick just one Doctor Who Christmas episode but I managed to whittle it down eventually even though I could probably do a separate list. British shows tend to run a little dark around the holidays and Doctor Who is often not an exception. This one starts with a mother taking her kids to the country for the holidays while trying to keep it secret that their dad recently died. While there is a horror/science fiction plot at work, there is a bigger discussion on the nature of the collision of happiness and tragedy. The Doctor does his best to heal this broken family and in the end I was so filled with joy that I cried.

1. Community: Comparitive Religion

The first season of Community was like a force of nature when it showed up. It was a little more cynical and bitter as the characters were still feeling out their relationship with one another. Still, by Christmas at the end of their first semester they had grown into a tight group that genuinely liked each other despite all of their flaws. However, sometimes it is the people with the best intentions who can cause the most pain. Shirley is a devout Christian and chooses to impose her will and control over her non-Christian friends using motherly guilt. The episode features a pretty even-handed look at how many different cultures in the United States celebrate Christmas because it’s fun and not because they’re Christians. In the end, everybody learns that family means togetherness and that’s way more powerful than any religion in the world. It manages to achieve this message without putting anybody’s beliefs down and isntead preaching peace and the ability to live and let live. It’s a violent but strangely joyous way to celebrate the holidays.

Top 11 Horror Movie Connections

October 30, 2015

So, I whipped this up because I love imagining what’s beyond the limits of a film. I readily admit that this is barely researched. I also admit that I know there’s a simpler story for a lot of these examples. I also admit that these were fun to write. These are the top eleven horror movie connections with greater story implications.

Xenomorph
11 Xenomorph Skull (Predator 2)

Alright, we start with a well-known easter egg in the background of the lesser-liked sequel to a great, yet cheesy Schwarzenegger film. This crossover is actually happened so it’s not the most exciting on the list to me. However, back when Predator 2 was released it took a quick eye to pick this out. It was casual confirmation that the two awesome franchises might share the same world. It opened up a lot of possibilities where we could have (and still could see) some awesome stuff. An interesting side note: the xenomorph skull looks an awful lot like the xenomorphs in Alien and Aliens which are set centuries after Predator 2. Does this mean that there were no advances in xenomorph evolution for centuries? Considering that xenomorphs use other species as incubators, they must have some dominant genes. Maybe, they’re a genetically manufactured species?

Max
10 Max Schreck (Batman Returns, Shadow of the Vampire)

Batman Returns is a pretty good Batman movie (Catwoman is great though) and it has some very memorable characters. You have your Batman, your Penguin, your Catwoman (rowr!) and you have the corporate villain who doesn’t really have a comic book counterpart. Max Schreck is the tycoon who isn’t above manipulation, fraud and even murder to earn money. He’s pretty much an unrepentant evil monster who easily out-evils the other two villains put together. The thing is, he started out with the last name Schreck and his parents called him Max. Max Schreck is a little known film actor who worked in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Of course, the one movie of his you might have a snowball’s chance in Hell of knowing is Nosferatu in which he plays the vampiric Graf Orlok. Not only that but in Shadow of the Vampire, a fictional telling of the making of Nosferatu, it’s revealed that Schreck himself was a vampire. Am I saying that Max Schreck (Batman Begins) is a vampire? Well, definitely figuratively as a sort of financial vampire. A bit of a stretch but it makes me smile.

Bachman
9 Bachman (Sons of Anarchy)

Alright, Sons of Anarchy isn’t a horror movie or even a horror television show. Instead it was a long-running show about a motorcycle club’s politics and crimes and the personal lives of the members. It’s a great show (at least as far as I am in it) but it definitely has its dark moments. Without giving away too much, during Season Three of the show a couple of main characters need a body to completely disappear. They call in a guy they know and a character played by Stephen King shows up and claims that his name is Bachman and that he is a cleaner. He plays his scenes pretty low key but there’s definitely a creep factor to his lines and delivery. So, “Richard Bachman” is an alias that King has used freely to publish a few of his books (The Regulators for example). What if Sons of Anarchy’s Bachman is supposed to be Stephen King? What if that’s what he does in his spare time? He travels around and makes bodies disappear for some extra cash but mostly for the fun of it.

Midwich

8 Midwich Elementary (Silent Hill, Village of the Damned)

Village of the Damned is a B Horror movie where weird albino children appear who have psychic death powers that they use to hold adults hostage and get what they want. It capitalizes on how creepy kids can be without even trying. It takes place in the Midwich, England and therefore the creepy kids all attend Midwich Elementary as the adults try to figure out how to survive their predicament. In the Silent Hill video game series (and the first movie) characters encounter a Midwich Elementary where the kids of Silent Hill attend school apparently. It’s situated on Midwich Road but I would still think it would be called Silent Hill Elementary because it’s in Silent Hill. Of course, many places in America are named after places in England but I have a more fun theory. What if the supernatural forces that swirl through Silent Hill were attracted the residual psychic resonance of Midwich Elementary. What if the town wanted to possess such power and somehow transported the school to Silent Hill and then cannibalized it to create its own school?

Chalk Door
7 The Chalk Portal (Beetlejuice, Pan’s Labyrinth)

In Beetlejuice, Barbara and Adam Maitland find a spell to access the Netherworld. The spell has them draw a door and knock three times and the wall opens to expose a portal to a world beyond our own. The book they get their spell from is readable by mortals who aren’t deceased and later in the film a spell is even successfully performed by a mortal man. Granted, the spell that is used isn’t the chalk door spell but there’s nothing to say it couldn’t be done by a mortal. In Pan’s Labyrinth, the main character Ofelia is given magic chalk by a seriously untrustworthy faun who instructs her to use it to form a door. She does and is transported to a dark, twisted version of a faery lair of sorts in order to further her weird faery scavenger hunt. (Seriously, just go watch the movie. It’s amazing.) It’s almost the same dang spell! It involves the drawing of something in chalk that ritual makes real. It’s almost like the spell relies on the user’s imagination to work. Could these two spellbooks overlap? It’s interesting to think about.

Whiteboard
6 “Deadites and Evil Molesting Tree” (Cabin in the Woods)

Cabin in the Woods is an interesting dark comedy/horror movie because it tears horror movies apart while paying so much tribute to them. I could sit here and list dozens of little homages to a lot of horror franchises that range from subtle to brilliant. However, the main thing about these homages and easter eggs is that most of them look like knockoffs of the originals. They’re close but no cigar. Early in the movie, when certain characters are cataloguing supernatural threats, you actually see the words “Deadites” and “Angry Molesting Tree” very close together. These are very specific words that only relate to one movie which is Evil Dead 2 (basically a gorier remake of Evil Dead). Deadites are practically a registered trademark of the Evil Dead movie and video game series and the Angry Molesting Tree is a pretty infamous part of the second movie. What I’m saying is that those words really don’t apply to anything else. Now, I don’t want to give away the premise of an awesome movie by saying this but could “they” be responsible for the events of Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2?

Ethan
5 Striped Shirt (Nightmare Before Christmas, The Addams Family)

In the Addams Family movie from 1991, there’s a very clear art direction which includes brilliant costumes that fit the tone of the movie exactly. One of the prominent costume pieces is Pugsley’s shirt which is a distinctive black and white horizontal striped shirt. The actor playing Pugsley is a young man and is more than a bit chubby, mostly as a visual counterpoint to his thin sister Wednesday. In The Nightmare Before Christmas, there is a little zombie boy who participates in all of the shenanigans of the movie as one of many good-hearted yet misunderstood characters. He wears a shirt with black and white horizontal stripes and he is pretty portly himself. Granted, he’s a little more plump than Pugsley but he’s dead and sometimes dead bodies bloat. If anyone on Earth would have access to Halloweentown, it would probably end up being the Addams Family. So is the dead little boy Pugsley? I don’t think so but they may have shared some fashion tips. Alternately, Pugsley may have shipped some hand-me-downs to Halloweentown.

Chucky4 “Chucky on Crack” (Leprechaun in the Hood)

This next one is just a little bit of evidence but the idea excited me too much to put it lower on the list. I am a sucker for both the Leprechaun and Child’s Play franchises. In Leprechaun in the Hood (Leprechaun 5), two gang members are startled by their first meeting with the Leprechaun. (As we probably all would be). One of them calls the Leprechaun “Chucky on Crack”, not being familiar with the little demon in front of them. There are many similarities between Chucky and the Leprechaun. They’re both vertically challenged and they both rely on ancient magics. Chucky is fueled by Voodoo magic which somehow keeps his little doll body mobile and able to swing melee weapons. The Leprechaun relies on some sort of ancient Irish magic of his own which allows him to basically break reality. Maybe, just maybe, these gang members called him “Chucky on Crack” because Chucky is a well known urban legend. I want a Chucky vs. Leprechaun movie so bad.

Santa Mira3 Santa Mira (Halloween 3, Invasion of the Body Snatchers)

I have a soft spot in my heart for Halloween 3: Season of the Witch mostly because it’s a good movie but also because a lot of people don’t like it. One of the most eerie parts of Halloween 3 is how ordinary people are replaced by unfeeling automatons who serve Silver Shamrock with undying loyalty. This all took place in the town of Santa Mira, California which was also the site of another famous horror movie. Invasion of the Body Snatchers features Santa Mira getting slowly taken over by aliens who replace human beings with emotionless copies. Both plots are only discovered because one man infiltrates the situation and flees to warn the world. It’s definitely too much similarity to simply be a coincidence. Imagine you’re Conal Cochran and you need guards for your big, magical terrorist plot. You think of androids and then you do your research about the Body Snatchers incident. Maybe you get a hold of info from Body Snatcher technology and you use it to perfect your android copy technology in the same town the original incident it went down.

Necronomicon
2 Necronomicon (Jason Goes to Hell)

The Necronomicon was an important object and an intesely detailed prop created for the Evil Dead series. In Army of Darkness we see it in great detail in a time lapse sequence that explains exactly what it is. It’s a book written in blood and bound in human skin and it contains information and dark spells relating to the deadites and the great magical force of the Evil Dead. Somehow such an important book often finds itself lost and in clear sight of people who could stumble onto its evil. First a cabin and now strewn among a whole lot of other magical items in a Friday the 13th movie. Among the many items in the Voorhees house, the Necronomicon is clearly visible as not many books have a face with a gaping mouth on them. This is another one that needs no speculation because the prop was confirmed by Sam Raimi. Later, in the comic books, Ash has to ride to the rescue to take out Jason and Freddy when Freddy gets a hold of the Necronomicon.

Freddy's Claw
1 Freddy’s Claw in Evil Dead 2

Speaking of unmistakeable props, Freddy Kruegger is a vicious killer/dream demon who takes out his victims in very creative ways. However, one of the most iconic parts of Freddy’s image is that unique clawed glove that has drawn the blood of so many teen victims. In Evil Dead 2 you can pretty easily spot Freddy’s glove hanging in the barn. Ash apparently doesn’t notice it but it is a clear sign that Freddy has entered his world. Now, I’ve already covered how Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash became a thing when it was published in the comic books. However, there’s something else in play here. In New Nightmare we are introduced to the concept that Freddy Kruegger is a real dream demon originally from our world aka the world you’re sitting in right now. He was only tamed by making movies about him which trapped him in the film world where he harmlessly killed fictional characters. What if, between Nightmare movies, they desperately wrote Freddy into Evil Dead 2 to keep him at bay for a little while?

Top 11 Annoying Sidekicks

September 14, 2015

Top 11

So, I came up with this post while thinking about Tom Kenny. To be fair, I hold no ill will for Tom Kenny but he does voice one of the most annoying characters I have encountered in all of the fiction I have consumed. Thinking of him made me remember that he has worked on other projects and isn’t always paid to be annoying. I thought about all the “annoying sidekick” characters and I started to feel disgust. Then I thought of all the ones I liked anyway and I smiled. I had made a promise to myself recently to try and keep this blog positive. If I have a negative review that’s fine. I can’t help but share that with the world. Still, I think when it comes to fiction I tend to make a positive out of a negative so why shouldn’t I try that here?

I decided to limit the list only to the mediums where I could hear the character. In books and comic books, the character’s voice comes partly from my own head. Also, I couldn’t really think of any annoying characters in comics and books that would end up on this list. The list is full of characters who were annoying but somehow redeemed themselves enough or otherwise wormed their way into my heart.

11 Hannibal King (from Blade: Trinity)

I have spoken of Blade: Trinity before in my Blade Retrospective and I mostly hold with what I said about it over 7 months ago. The movie is the third time we follow Wesley Snipes as Blade as he tries to kill off hordes of vampires and stop a vampire plot to take over the world. Blade is a character of few words and therefore the characters around him often have to fill in the dialogue around him. Except, Ryan Reynolds won’t shut up. Seriously, he just keeps talking and talking and telling jokes to absolutely no reaction from the rest of the cast of characters. At some point, it starts feeling hollow and lame. How did it get better? He got no reaction from the rest of the cast because of the laziness of the lead actor. Snipes was often not on set so Ryan Reynolds often improved a lot of these jokes to thin air. I also noticed that beneath the character’s glib delivery, there is a bitter, world weariness to the character. When I learned all of that I respected Reynolds as an actor a bit more.


10 Nate Westen (from Burn Notice)

A friend of mine back in New Jersey introduced me to Burn Notice. When I checked the show out it was a mini-rennaisance for the USA Network where all sorts of great shows were coming out. I was lured into watching the show because of Bruce Campbell and the promise of fairly MacGuyver-esque chicanery going on weekly. The only warning I received was that the main characters brother is annoying but not to worry too much about that. My friend was right. Nate Westen is every deadbeat brother combined with every character who gets into dumb trouble and must ask the hero for help. The character is pretty selfish but also has a chip on his shoulder about Michael and their combined father issues. He does all this while brother is struggling through problems with criminals, black ops intelligence and all sorts of dangerous characters. How does it get better? The character grows up. He struggles and finally admits his faults and tries to improve. He becomes a family man and a stable ally for his family, choosing to set aside the past and look toward the future.


9 Ruby Rhod (from The Fifth Element)

When the Fifth Element came out, I instantly fell in love with it. Everything about it interested me. In my opinion, the movie has a great marriage of many excellent elements. The amazing soundtrack, the quirky characters, the extensive world-building, the beautiful art direction and even the somewhat cheesy dialogue. Chris Tucker bursts into the movie like a wrecking ball swinging from a speeding bullet train. He portrays a futuristic show host/reality radio star. He uses a high pitched, high speed delivery that is full of very strange slang. He instantly annoys the main character and probably every single person who ever saw the movie. How did it get better? Beyond his strange behavior, he’s actually pretty human. He’s terrified in terrifying situations and acts like every spoiled celebrity we’ve ever seen. By the end of the movie it’s strangely endearing because I realize that it’s not an act. He is as excited, anxious and crazy as he acts.


8 Robin the “Boy” Wonder (Batman ’66)

Don’t get me wrong, I watched he hell out of Batman ’66 during afternoons after school where my brothers and I could watch all the Biffs and Bams happen. I hadn’t even read any Batman comics yet but I had seen Batman (1989). I knew that Batman and comedy could work together. I also knew that Batman worked with Robin the Boy Wonder. However, Robin was pretty annoying. He was an insufferable know it all. I particularly hated how Robin reacted in the presence of one of the Riddler’s riddles. Somehow he knew the complicated answers and it made no sense. He also had none of the style, charm or (strangely) intelligence of Robins in the comic books. How did it get better? I realized that those moments I hated were the writer’s fault and the fault of 60’s love affair with camp. I learned to embrace how wrong he was.

7 The Mayor (from Nightmare Before Christmas)

Politicians are hard to portray in television, movies and such. At least, that’s what I’ve gathered from all I’ve seen so far. Politicians seem to be portrayed as either corrupt devils or perfect political beings that please everybody and even sometimes fight off terrorists or alien invasions. The Mayor of Halloweentown has such an annoying voice and is almost constantly whining throughout the movie. He is constantly pestering the main character who has more than enough problems thank you very much! He does nothing, he says nothing of value. How did it get better? I grew up. I realized that the Mayor is just trying to be the best politician he can be. He is a parody of how a lot of us see politicians. He is literally two-faced and spends most of his time in a black and white world. He knowingly hitches his wagon to the hottest celebrity in town and relies on everybody else to do all of the work. Taken that way, it’s actually pretty funny and biting commentary.


6 Claptrap (Borderlands series)

I’ve spoken about the Borderlands series of video games on a couple of occasions. The video games tell the story of a post-apocalyptic future of a planet named Pandora. The characters meet a lot of weird characters who either help or harm them. In the first game, they are confronted by a model of robot called Claptraps who are mostly there to access door panels and other electronics. They speak with a high-pitched robot voice and are highly excitable. They were universally hated. In fact, they were so universally hated that when people found out that they were almost exterminated between games, they were happy. When they made the Claptrap into a character class in the third game, there are a series of four prompts when you try to select it that ask if you are really, really sure. How did it get better? It’s supposed to be annoying. What finally made me accept that completely is seeing how annoyed Handsome Jack is when he encounters Claptraps. If the horrible villain hates it, how can I?


5 Scrappy Doo (from Scooby Doo)

Scrappy is one of the most universally hated characters that I have ever experienced. In fact, he has a trope named after him. Scooby Doo and Mystery Inc. travelled around the country and exposed all sorts of fake ghost and monster sightings. They revealed the “hauntings” as pretty contrived and pathetic felonies. Scooby was the token talking dog whose cowardice somehow always saved the day against all odds. At some point, the gang was joined by Scooby’s pint-size nephew Scrappy and we learned that Doo is apparently a surname. Scrappy was brave to a fault. He was constantly touting his “puppy power” and had to be stopped from charging after dangerous monsters. Of course, being a youngster he was given a confident and somewhat annoying voice. How did it get better? He charged at dangerous criminals while everyone else cowered. That takes bravery. Also, the character was basically a kid and can’t we allow him to be a little stupid? It’s admirable that he thought he could take on the world at his size even if it was a little unrealistic. If the grownups had been as brave as Scrappy then maybe they could have rushed the unarmed criminals and saved us a half hour.


4 Wesley Crusher (from Star Trek TNG)

My first exposure to the Star Trek universe was Star Trek: The Next Generation. I will always hold a place in my heart for the crew of the USS Enterprise-D and its journeys of exploration. The Enterprise-D was primarily a vessel for exploration and was built large enough to bring the families of crewmembers to ease the long tours of duty. So it was that we were introduced to the young son of the resident Chief Medical Officer, Wesley Crusher. Wesley was brilliant and knew it. He always found himself underfoot when it came to the crew, usually in the engineering section. In a crisis, he pushed his way into the conversation and solved the problem in the place of grown up individuals who were being paid to solve these problems. I hate to borrow a term from online jerks but he was definitely a tryhard. How did it get better? Several different things happened. Wesley started to grow up and distinguished himself as an exceptionally intelligent young man. He also proved how loyal he was to the staff of engineering and the ships captain. He proved himself to be serious and more mature than other kids his age or at least far more mature than I was.  The writers actually tried harder too.


3 Dawn Summers (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

I watched Buffy a lot later than most fans of the show but I had somehow insulated myself from a lot of the more terrible spoilers. When I arrived at the fourth season, I was especially surprised and startled by the spoiler that I will relate next. In the first episode of season 5, Buffy is annoyed by her younger sister Dawn. Unfortunately, this also confused all of the fans at home. See, for four seasons Buffy was explicitly an only child and now she had a younger sister to contend with. The show refused to explain it for a while until we found out that Dawn was created by a spell in order to protect the world and everyone’s memories were changed. In the meantime, we experienced Dawn being a little bratty sister. She got in the way, she got in danger and was mostly a device for Buffy and her friends to protect. How did it get better? Dawn grew up. She formed relationships beyond her sister. Through those relationships she discovered a personality of her own. She reconciled with her sister and accepted how screwed up their life was. At times she even became a voice of reason when Buffy and her friends got turned around.


2 Olaf (from Frozen)

The first trailer for Frozen did not inspire confidence. You can actually see it above. It features a living snowman wrestling with a moose over a carrot which is supposed to be the snowman’s nose. There is little dialogue in the trailer and very few cues on what the movie is actually about. There’s no hint of of the brilliant performances from Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell just a dorky snowman and a confused moose. At the time I had become fed up with pointless sidekicks, especially in animated movies. I had just experienced the stupid slugs in Epic and I had shut that movie off. I was disappointed as the animal sidekicks in Tangled had been tolerable and here was a whole teaser devoted to the dumb sidekicks. I had only heard Olaf say one word but I knew he had a dorky voice and he would be in almost every shot and the whole thing would be ruined. How did it get better? He wasn’t actually all that different from what I expected when I saw the movie. However, he wasn’t as dumb and omnipresent as I thought he would be. He was naive but optimistic and actually a character I wouldn’t mind hanging out with. He also had several, pardon the pun, heart-warming moments that made him more than just the comic relief.


1 Mr. Meeseeks (from Rick and Morty)

This is probably the most obscure name on the list. It’s also the first character I thought of for this list because I mistakenly remembered that he was voiced by Tom Kenny. In the episode he appeared, copies of Mr. Meeseeks are summoned to help various characters accomplish tasks. They yearn to complete their task so that they can return to oblivion as every moment is agony for them. However, because of their horrible voices, every moment they are on screen is agony for the audience. Every single word is spoken in the same slightly raspy, high pitched squeal without exception and without mercy. They also all constantly spout the same catchphrase “I’m Mr. Meeseeks! Look at me!” How did it get better? The voice never gets better. However, the instant one of the Meeseeks starts speaking intelligently and eloquently in that annoying voice I couldn’t help but laugh. They each have so much insight into psychology, sociology and any other school of thought. From there the concept of the Meeseeks as a species became more interesting and their existential crisis became far more compelling than their horrible voice. They were the anti-Spongebobs and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Top 11 Disney Animated Films

June 13, 2015

Top 11

I have found myself using the phrase “I’m a huge Disney nerd” a lot lately so I thought I’d prove it by doing a Top 11 Disney Animated films. This does not include films produced by Pixar because that’s a whole list by itself. I also don’t include any movies by Studio Ghibli because Disney just did the American distribution. There’s also numerous other studios that obviously won’t make this list.  These are films that were important to me growing up or spoke to me in more recent times.

11 Alice in Wonderland (1951)

I read Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass at a fairly young age but I’m reasonably sure that the Disney cartoon was my first exposure to the stories. The world of Alice is fantastic and illogical while still having a certain logic to it. As I grew up, I realized that the books were filled with logic problems, puzzles and riddles but the first time reading it I didn’t know all of that. I liked the story of a young girl travelling through a world that doesn’t making any sense that grows increasingly scary. As in the book, she realizes that none of it is real and wakes up. As I grew, I often wondered about how much she was willing to believe until she refused to believe anymore. The voice acting was very good (for its time) and I especially liked the proper British speech of Alice.

10 Beauty and the Beast (1991)

From a young age I was very interested in books and reading in general. Reading was something I grasped early on and being transported into other worlds was something I clung to. My life was good but there were people having adventures and my imagination wanted fuel to create adventures of my own. Because of all that, I identified heavily with the character of Belle and I have since identified with a lot of the dreamers in fiction. As a kid the story didn’t really effect me the way it does now and even now it’s not the story that sucks me in. I love the songs and all the little side characters and the bizarre world where all of the inanimate objects are characters. The animation is beautiful and definitely still holds up after all of this time. The music is fun and pretty timeless. The voice actors are all great but I especially love Jerry Orbach and Lumiere. That must have been a lot of fun to do.

9 The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King came very near the height of my animation hysteria in the part of my childhood when I thought I might be an animator later on. The Lion King’s animation totally blew me away with how fluid and beautiful it was and, as Frank Sinatra sang, the best was yet to come. Still, Disney really outdid itself with this movie. The voice acting is really great even though they succumbed to the pitfall of using celebrities instead of seasoned voice actors. The music was really well done and I sang along to Just Can’t Wait to Be King and Hakuna Matata everyday for a little while. One of my big problems with the movie is that the main character is kind of entitled and looks forward to adulthood for all the wrong reasons. Of course, part of his journey is learning from those mistakes and earning his place of honor. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to respect the character Scar more as a dynamic and fun villain and the probably the first villain song I really enjoyed.

8 The Little Mermaid (1989)

Once again, yearning for a new world and wondering about a life beyond what I saw around me were themes that resonated with me. It’s not that I had a bad childhood but nobody has a childhood that’s without its bumps. Like many children I felt unpopular and unliked as a kid, a feeling that actually grew well into high school and in some forms exists today. When Ariel sings about the world “Up There” I think about all the times I wasn’t invited to a party or when I was picked last for kickball games. Don’t get me wrong, I always had friends but every so often I wondered what being a popular kid was like. At the same time, like Ariel, I wanted to be different and I really reveled in the differences between me and the other kids. Of course, I realized all of that later in life, when I was a teenager. The main thing that actually attracted me when I was younger was the music. Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright and Rene Auberjonois (no really, Odo had a cameo as a French chef) made songs that were a lot of fun to sing along to and enjoy.

7 Tangled (2010)

Depression is a hell of a thing. Depression lies. Even now I hesitate to call what I have bouts of “depression” because depression just calls me an idiot and to stop faking for attention. I don’t feel depressed right now but I definitely go through it from time to time. It’s just bad brain chemistry and it’s hard to get through but one thing that has always helped me fight it off or pull out of the pit is a good song or a good movie. That’s why I talk so much about the stuff I love here, because it really, really means something to me. Tangled was a movie that briefly cast sunshine on a dark period in New Jersey where I had very conflicting feelings about my life. The fluid animation, great music and slapstick humor almost always elicits a smile. The ending just feels really good to me too but I won’t spoil it here. The music is very good and a lot of it feels spontaneous and improvised while being polished at the same time (if that makes sense).

6 The Princess and the Frog (2009)

I love jazz music I like it a lot but not enough to listen to it regularly as many other genres float my boat more regularly. I love the big band sort of jazz that is loud and brassy and full of vibrating, bubbling energy. I love the kind of music that Dr. John sings. What a coincidence, Dr. John sings the very first song in the movie!  I have never been to New Orleans but it’s always been spoken of with almost mythical reverence, especially by the jazz community. The art style and voice acting does a great job of setting the scene in a unique setting. It also takes us back to a different time period pretty effortlessly. The music is downright infectious and I especially like “When We’re Human”. I like the different twist on an old fairy tale with the added theme of working hard to make your dreams a reality but not too hard.

5 Wreck it Ralph (2012)

I love video games. I have loved video games ever since I laid eyes on (but was not allowed to touch) the Atari and watched somebody play Donkey Kong. Not long after we got an NES and I was hooked for life as a console gamer. I also hung out with my brothers and friends in several different arcades around town, pumping quarters for another few minutes of fun. This movie made me so nostalgic for those days of playing the hardest games kids were ever tortured with. The movie itself is really funny and also endearing and charming. I have to admit that I’ve done things in my life solely for the reward. I once ran for class president in high school just to see how many votes I could get. I’m not proud of it nor am I proud of hounding the teacher in charge when I never got an exact count. Later that year I actually won an award for service in the drama department and that felt way better. So I really love the theme of not trying so hard to be something you’re not and instead being the best you that you can be.

4 Big Hero 6 (2014)

This is the most recent animated Disney film I’ve seen. The art style, while similar to other recent movies, is also kind of infused with an anime feel which makes sense. The movie takes place in a mash-up of San Francisco and Tokyo. I read some of the first run of the comic and Big Hero 6 was supposed to be Japan’s official superhero team. While that movie would have been cool, the movie we got was incredibly creative and had a ton of heart. The movie dealt with a lot of tough issues like death in the family but managed to stay lighthearted enough to not get me down. It’s definitely not your typical superhero movie but Disney’s Marvel Studios has proved that it doesn’t always go where you think they will go. This movie surprised me with how good it was and I think it really deserved to win the Academy Award. I really hope that they can write a successful sequel because I will definitely see it opening weekend.

3 Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin was the first soundtrack I ever owned and listened to until the casette tape was nearly worn out. I can sing along to most of the songs (except Friend Like Me. How did he breathe during that?) and I really enjoy doing so. This movie both started my extreme fandom of Robin Williams and it was also the first time I realized that voice actors are people. Aladdin is the story of a poor kid making it to the top with luck and his wits. It’s also the story of being rewarded for both being true to who you are and a good person. The main characters are flawed people but come through fire. Besides the great music, great story and great characters, I also have a very personal connection with this movie. When I had heart surgery in fifth grade to fix the double aortic arch that I was born with, this was the movie they let me watch in the ICU. So it’s also the only Disney movie I’ve watched on heavy drugs.

2 Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

I think this might be the movie that I’ve mentioned most in this blog and it is a movie that I will probably always be fascinated with. As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered more and more that I like about it. When I first saw it, I was a huge Tim Burton fan and fascinated with the macabre elements of Halloween. As I grew up, I still loved the dark elements married to the comedy elements but I began to appreciate the craft of stop-motion animation. I started to understand the story more and that led me to imagine the world they had created beyond the bounds of the story. What was Easterland like? What was Thanksgivingland like? As I watched it again in my adult years I now understood the parts about depression and self-discovery and creativity. I am always inspired by this movie and I love consuming anything connected to it.

1 Frozen (2013)

What more can be said about this movie? The movie became a phenomenon overnight and most people I know either love it or are apathetic. I actually thought I was going to hate it because the early trailer absolutely turned me off. It said nothing about what the movie was about but that actually worked in my favor. I wrote the movie off and filed it away somewhere in my brain. It came into theaters and left and I still had not watched it. Now, I had no idea at the time that Kristen Bell played Anna in the movie which would have swayed me as a Veronica Mars superfan. Also, had I known that Frozen had the same songwriters as Avenue Q and Book of Mormon I might have taken notice. No. I heard rave reviews and just decided to watch it one day. I love it now. The characters are so interesting, the acting is excellent and the story is a little bit different from what I’ve seen before in Disney movies. They’re are deep psychological stories being told just under the surface of a straightforward tale about the bond between two siblings. The music is amazing and Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel blew me away with how well they did with it. I definitely recommend this one and I promise I won’t get mad if you don’t like it. Just ask my brother.

Top 11 “Iconic” Movies of My Childhood

April 23, 2015

Top 11

Here is a list of the some of the movies that guided my childhood and informed my preferences later in life even to this day.  I was born in December of 1982 so do the math where I haven’t and realize that I was probably irrevocably altered by Tim Burton for better or worse.

Top 11 “Iconic” Films of My Childhood

11 The Goonies (1985)

This one is thick with so much eighties nostalgia that if you sliced it, it would bleed such radical blood. The movie is an adventure movie where a bunch of kids and some teenagers search for pirate treasure which is pretty awesome. It was even more awesome when I was a kid. The kids stuck together no matter what and they struggled to keep the faith of their mission. Forget Mikey, I always liked Data as the awkward inventor type. That’s mostly how I felt as a kid. I even liked to wear a long jacket a lot like he did. Even back then the movie felt kind of wistful and slow in places. While it is inspiring, the “our time” speech feels kind of sad as well.

10 Star Trek IV (1986)

I remember being a Star Trek fan long before I was a Star Wars fan. I don’t remember who introduced me to the series but by third grade my friends and I were poring over technical drawings. I never really cared too much about how the ships were put together. I cared more about what the plans said about what life on the ship was like. In my opinion, Star Trek IV is the most enjoyable out of the original six. Sure the crew had aged quite a bit by this point but it’s so interesting to see a future society interact with a more contemporary society. It’s also the funniest Star Trek movie (Generations is actually a close second). I often hear or read about this movie being demaned as the “Dumb Whale Movie” but it’s way more memorable than most of the other movies.

9 Clueless (1995)

This was a surprise hit in my family about the time when I was thirteen. The movie is so good at being a parody of nineties culture that it’s easy to miss that there’s actually a pretty introspective message to it all. Besides, it’s the closest I’ll probably ever get to reading Emma. I think this movie is the first time that I felt safe watching and enjoying a “girl” movie, a distinction that is getting harder and harder to make. It was rare that I watched and enjoyed a movie with so little explosions but Clueless is funny and the characters are relateable. Well, they’re not as relateable now but they were when I was a young teenager.

8 Crybaby (1990)

Any list of movies I enjoyed in my childhood has to include a movie from my hometown of Baltimore. I’m Baltimore through and through and wherever I’ve been, I have always had the city deep in my heart. Not only that but John Waters has always spoken to the weird, geeky and sometimes dark side of me that is fun to explore. The first exposure I had to his movies were a few glimpsed scenes of Serial Mom before it was shut off. Crybaby is the story of a love story amidst the battle between the Squares and the Drapes, a local motorcycle gang. All of this takes place in the suburbs and rural areas ouside of Baltimore. This movie helped prepare me for how cliquish school would get. It’s also way, way better than Grease.

7 Back to the Future II (1989)

The Back to the Future series is awesome. The team up of Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox made for screen chemistry that was off the charts. The first movie was good but I actually prefer the sequels as they up the stakes considerably without dilluting the product. I struggled to decide whether I should put 2 or 3 in this spot but I opted for 2 for several reasons. 1) Where else are you going to find a movie where Michael J. Fox plays three different characters while somebody does a Crispin Glover impression? 2) The future sequence is great because it’s completely optimistic and not a crumbling, post-apocalyptic mess. 3) It is the most science fiction heavy of the series and introduced alternate universe theories to mainstream pop culture. On top of all of that, it’s a great mix of funny and dark and inspiring.

6 Jurassic Park (1993)

I was pretty sure as a young boy that liking dinosaurs was just a fact of life for young boys. I mean, all of the television, toys and theme parks seemed to tell me so. Jurrasic Park was a no-brainer and I’m sure that’s what Amblin and Universal were thinking. Of course, that movie could have ended up being a cash grab but they chose some good source material and injected a lot of heart into it. I remember watching the movie for the dinosaurs but loving it for the people. The cast is amazing and the special effects hold up so much better than some of the cgi monstrosities that showed up just a few years later. Even Jeff Goldblum looked good in this one even though he’s usually kind of a cartoon character.

5 Beetlejuice (1988)

Tim Burton was always pretty much the patron saint of all of the somewhat gothy, geeky and misunderstood kids of the world. For everyone else he was probably an entertaining director who had some hits and some misses but was financially successful. I was always in the first group and Tim Burton’s style of weirdness definitely resonated with me in ways that I felt my friends couldn’t understand. Now, Beetlejuice isn’t exactly a brilliant film but it’s a whole lot of fun. It was the first time where I saw horror movie material used for comedy instead. At this point, Tim Burton’s art direction was still very new and exciting and it feels like there were more hits than misses. It didn’t hurt that Delia Dietz was one of my dream girls.

4 Ghostbusters (1984)

Again, a supernatural comedy/adventure movie that took what should have been scary and made it hilarious. The movie took Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis at the height of their careers. Bill Murray is especially on point as a snarky asshole with a heart of gold. Of course, the three hapless scientists (and later also the awesome Winston) are up against a world of ghost trouble and an elder god. The comedy, effects and story still hold up even when a lot of other eighties movies look completely dated (like The Goonies). The movie actually has some tense and scary moments but most of it is really fun. I was two when this came out so I definitely saw it a little later on VHS but in my late teens I finally got to see it in a movie theater.

3 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

I worshipped Indiana Jones when I was a kid. I even got my folks to buy me an official Indiana Jones leather jacket and fedora. Thankfully for everyone involved, they did not buy me a whip because I would probably still be wearing an eyepatch. Indiana Jones was the ultimate hero for me. I was a smart kid but I disliked team sports but I loved being physically active. I could imagine myself swinging through temples and dealing with bad guys while using my brains to sort out ancient mysteries. I also never liked snakes either. I chose the third movie for this list because it is my favorite of the series. To me the movie is immensely helped by the addition of River Phoenix as young Indy and Sean Connery as Henry Jones Sr. The first movie feels like it drags a little in places and the second one has an insufferable female lead.

2 The Addams Family (1991)

Just like my early exposure to Tim Burton movies, this movie spoke to not only how different I felt but my desire to be different. It made it ok to “wave my freak flag high” which is what any geeky kid interested in the darker side of fiction probably wanted at the time. I was most taken at the time with young Wednesday Addams (another fictional character I had a crush on). She seems bored with what other people were interested in and had her own passions that she embraced. That’s exactly how I felt. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate one of the best casts any movie has ever had. Raul Julia and Angelica Huston in particular are captivating. It all makes me nostalgic for a television show that I never watched in the first place.

1 Batman (1989)

This was the alpha and omega of my childhood. This is the movie that spawned my interest in comic books which in turn led me to walking several miles to blow my allowance at the local comic book shop. Of course, it didn’t do that right away. Before this, the only Batman I had seen was Adam West who was goofy and looked like he’d have trouble fighting a plastic bag. I didn’t understand that the Batman television show was intentionally awful and that finally somebody had convinced Hollywood to do Batman somewhat seriously. All I understood was that Batman was kicking butt and his costume looked awesome and this was so awesome. I still love the tone, the dialogue, the pacing and the cast on this one. This is the best of the original four Batman movies and set the bar high for Joker portrayals on film. It’s also the only movie on this list that I actually saw in theaters, most of the others I saw on VHS months or years after their release. For that reason and many others, this movie will always be magical to me.

Top 11 Musicals

January 11, 2015

I have been involved with theater for a long time.  I was brought to Broadway at a young age and my family frequented the Mechanic Theater and the Lyric Opera House quite a bit.  I even saw Oliver! at a West End London theater at age twelve.  I went through a period where I hated musicals because some of them are poorly written.  RENT especially made me hate musicals for years and I instead embraced Shakespeare and the theater I attended was the kind without singing and dancing.  I eventually went to school for theater but Rutgers never did musicals, instead focusing on acting.  In my short career in professional theater I worked on a few musicals but a lot of them weren’t very good or were for kids.  Still, there are a few musicals out there that I still like.  Here’s the top 11.


1 Annie Get Your Gun

To this day I can’t remember when I was exposed to this musical.  I’m fairly certain we didn’t do it in High School because we rarely did anything this cool in school.  I am reasonably sure I didn’t see the movie version (which is excellent) until later.  I must have seen the show live at some point then.   I doubt it was at the Mechanic and I know I didn’t see the Broadway revival.  According to the internet I could have seen it at the Kennedy Center which actually seems likely.  Regardless, I love this tale of a strong-willed woman getting lost in the world of the show business and then finding herself and her strength again.  The songs are all catchy as hell and there were many times that the entire soundtrack was blaring through my headphones in my late teens.


2 Guys and Dolls

I remember where I first saw this musical.  I first saw Guys and Dolls at the Ritz Theater in Haddon, New Jersey.  The theater’s pretty small but when I went to Camp Shohola, they did an annual live theater trip where you could go and see a show with your fellow campers.  I was blown away by the music and the characters but at the same time I had to play it cool because I didn’t want to seem like a theater nerd in front of the boys.  We were in the back few rows but the place is small enough that you’re still very close.  The score is lively and the show has some pretty good messages about managing your expectations of life and what it means to be in a healthy relationship.  It’s basically a Shakespearean comedy of misunderstandings modernized and set to an excellent Jazz score.  The movie version is pretty good as well as you would think it would be since it stars Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.  Of course, Marlon Brando singing is a little… you know what?  He’s fine.


3 Singin’ in the Rain

I’ve only seen the movie version of this musical but it is really excellent.  As I’ve mentioned on my blog before, the musical is formed by stealing good songs from earlier, inferior musicals.  Of course, I have no problem with this because they took the songs and refurbished and repurposed them for a good cause.  The musical is both a tribute and sometimes almost a parody of musicals from the twenties and thirties.  However, the plot is way funnier and much better constructed than any 30’s musical I have ever seen.  Gene Kelly is basically the human personification of dance and did the Singin’ in the Rain dance number in one take with a 103 degree fever.  The young Debbie Reynolds is amazing and more than matches the skill and enthusiasm of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor.  It really feels like more than just a love story even though the love story is pretty central to the plot.


4 George M

This musical celebrates the loud and passionate personality of George M. Cohan who was a famous composer and star on Broadway after a successful vaudeville career.  Cohan was a famous composer but I don’t think I can point to a lot you would recognize.  He wrote a lot of patriotic tunes and love songs in an energetic ragtime style.  By all accounts, Cohan was a brash and energetic go-getter although this musical kind of exaggerates things.  Historically accurate or not, this movie follows the meteoric rise of George Cohan as he rises through the ranks of the Vaudeville circuit all the way to Broadway.  The music is mostly extremely patriotic as Cohan wrote a lot of his lyrics between World War I and World War II.  One of the things I love about the musical is that it’s about one man’s life and career and not another love story.


5 Little Shop of Horrors

I was always pretty surprised when I saw science fiction enter anything close to mainstream.  When I was younger, most people tended to shy away from science fiction which was right up my alley and what I discussed with my friends while people gave us odd looks.  Geeky things remained geeky until lately but back when Little Shop was made, it was pretty unique.  First, it has a very unlikely protagonist who starts off pretty weak-willed and physically unimposing.  Second, it involved the threat of a killer plant that wants to eat people and take over the world.  So there’s that.  Throw in a lot of catchy doowop style tunes and unexpectedly you have a really good musical.   The movie version was excellent but on further review I was disappointed they didn’t stick with the musical’s original ending.


6 The Music Man

I have a special place in my heart for tales of liars and conmen eventually redeeming themselves while being impossibly charming and entertaining.  This musical has all of that plus the somewhat alien (at least to me) concept of living in a small town.  The three main songs from the show are Trouble, 76 Trombones and Goodnight, My Someone.  Trouble has reached far into the pop culture consciousness and was even parodied pretty early on by The Simpsons (Monorail).  The remaining two hits actually share a lot but I don’t want to ruin it for you.  I never saw a stage version but the movie version hits the spot.  I wasn’t expecting the movie to actually be touching but it kind of swerved me.


7 Bye Bye Birdie

Another musical that I have not seen on stage but the movie version is too good to pass up.  Of course, I’m talking about the 1963 version starring Dick Van Dyke who was strangely the king of quirky movie musicals around that time.  It also has Paul Lynde playing a straight man but we’ll just scoot on by that.  The musical largely capitalizes on the super fame of musicians like Elvis Presley and even mirrors Elvis’ getting drafted.  It has some really catchy lyrics and bouncy music that’s hard to get out of your head.   Dick Van Dyke is on fire and this performance makes me wonder why he was ever criticized for things like Mary Poppins (even with his silly accent).   There are two love stories but both are balanced by a story about getting caught up in fame and rumor mills.


8 Cabaret

This is a gritty little, intimate musical about Germany during the lead up to World War II.  It also happens to be about relationships, prejudice and sexual politics.  The show is intercut with musical numbers and clever satire performed at a cabaret called the Kit Kat Club in Berlin.  The whole story takes place in Berlin during a turbulent time in history but also a turbulent time in a young writer’s life.  The show is raunchy and funny and tragic and very messy.  I was first introduced to the musical through the movie version which is excellent.  I later got to see the revival with Natasha Richardson and Alan Cumming and it was much more amazing live.  Below the playful surface there is a powerful show that is definitely worth a watch.


9 Chicago

The signature song All That Jazz is a pretty good summation of the musical style and the visual style of this show.  This is a very presentational show that feels like the characters are putting on a show for you rather than each other.  Considering that most of the characters are in prison, it’s almost like they are trying for the court of public opinion.  The score and songs are heavy on what I call White People Jazz that really works.  I didn’t see the show until the Broadway revival.  I can’t remember who the female leads were but Billy Zane was in it and he was great.  The show has no love story and is instead about the nature of guilt and public perception.  The movie version is ok but it loses a lot of the excitement from the stage version’s presentational style.


10 Fiddler on the Roof

This was the very first musical I worked on and also the first live theater production I worked on voluntarily.  This musical is very epic in scope and has a handful of love stories but it all forms a tapestry of what it is like to be Jewish in a small town in Russia in the early 1900’s.  I saw a high school version where I grew up in Baltimore long before I saw any professional actors in the roles.  I have to say, and I might be biased, when I finally saw Zero Mostel in the movie version, I thought our production was pretty damn good.  The musical is very much structured around Zero Mostel’s acting style but it’s a great show.  It’s only at the bottom here because the second act is so sad.


11 Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

This is kind of a silly little musical built around Dolly Parton.  The plot is literally about a whorehouse in Texas that is endangered by the moral authority when all Dolly wants to do is make a little money.  It’s the strangest sort of tale about the little guy taking on the big guy that I’ve ever seen.  The music is some of the catchiest country twang that I’ve ever heard which makes sense with Dolly Parton being involved.  I first saw the movie version in preparation for working as a spotlight operator for a summer stock production.  Believe me, there’s nothing that can prepare you at age 16 to see a whole bunch of your female classmates pretending to be prostitutes on stage. (And yes that’s how I’m ending this post)

Top 11 Movies I’m Excited About in 2015

January 7, 2015

It’s been a while since I followed the lead of my friend Joe so I thought I’d talk about the Top 11 movies that I’m most excited about.  There’s a lot more movies that I saw while I researched this.  Mad Max: Fury Road, Pan, Cinderella, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the Jungle Book really look good too but didn’t make the list.


1. Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1)

Avengers is in my top 5 favorite movies and I’ve loved every single part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far.  I am interested to see the characters reunite after what they went through individually during Phase 2 and how the group dynamic may change and evolve.  Now that they more or less trust each other, it will be interesting to see them fight Ultron instead of each other.  Also, it will be interesting to see what they do with Quicksilver since he was already a huge hit in the recent X-Men movie.  We haven’t seen a cinematic Scarlet Witch yet so that should definitely be exciting.


2. Ant-man (July 17)

I’m sure we’re all disappointed that Edgar Wright didn’t get to do his take on Antman.  I would have liked to see that version but I think in the end it will be for the best.  While Hank Pym is an interesting character he also has kind of a history of being an asshole so I’m glad they are focusing instead on Scott Lang.  Having to take up the mantle of one of the smartest men on Earth has always made for a good story.  Besides, I loved Lang’s stints in the Avengers and the Fantastic Four and his relationship with his daughter Stature.  I have faith in this movie.


3. Inside Out (June 12)

I used to say “Pixar can do no wrong” and then Cars 2, Monsters U and Planes came along.  Still, they are the best animation studio on the planet.  (They were tied with Studio Ghibli in my heart but that’s over now)  The shots that I’ve seen of Inside Out so far have shown some smooth character design and animation and it will probably have that usual Pixar flair.  I don’t know a lot about the movie but I prefer to shelter myself from Pixar spoilers before I see the finished product.


4. Tomorrowland (May 22)

This movie has been the subject of a lot of speculation since it was inadvertently announced.  When the name first appeared on some crates at a Disney exhibit, the press guessed that it was part of Star Wars 7.  They were corrected and informed that it was a science fiction movie that has nothing to do with aliens.  Then Disney pretty much went radio silent on the movie for a while.  I am a huge Disney nerd so I’m intrigued about this movie especially after learning that filming was done at both Disneyland and my beloved Disney World.


5. Spectre (November 6)

I like James Bond.  Sure some of the movies sucked and were a total waste of time but at least they were memorable.  The current iteration is miles ahead of Pierce Brosnan’s tenure and I’m interested to see where they go.  They’re both retreading stuff we’ve seen before and showing us a lot of stuff we haven’t seen before.  It’s been all but confirmed that we’re getting the first appearance of Blofeld in this new continuity and that will be intensely interesting.  I hope he can at least match what


6. Jurrasic World (June 12)

I have unashamedly loved every single Jurassic Park movie.  Before you ask: Yes, even Lost World.  I have never regretted watching a Jurassic Park movie and I don’t expect that is going to change anytime soon.  This time, instead of Jeff Goldblum or Sam Neill, we’re getting Chris Pratt which is kind of sad and kind of awesome.  Guardians of the Galaxy quickly shot up to my top 5 movies ever so I’m excited to see more of his career.


7. Kingsman: The Secret Service (February 13)

Even if Matt Vaughn recently put down my beloved Dark Knight, he still puts out a really good comic book movie.  This looks really good and I like a good spy/action film.  It could end up giving Bond a run for his money but I won’t hold my breath.  Unfortunately it will be released the same week as Fifty Shades of Grey which is Valentine’s Day weekend. Yeah, let that sink in.


8. Furious 7 (April 3)

I am not defending this one because fuck you. I have grown to love the later Fast and Furious movies especially the last two.   The earlier ones were kind of boring but, as the movies got more ridiculous, they got more entertaining.  This is the part that Vin Diesel was born to play (that and XXX but I digress).   The movie will be loud, corny and flashy and will have the Rock in it.  I’m sold.


9. Mission Impossible 5 (December 25)

The Mission Impossible series has just gotten better as it has continued but in the opposite way that the Furious series has.  It has gotten a little edgier and a little more serious with each movie.   I loved the addition of Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg in the last movie and that will continue in the next movie.  At the same time they are bringing back Ving Rhames and adding Alec Baldwin.  I like to think that we can all just accept that Tom Cruise is a nutball who makes decent movies.


10. The Hateful Eight (November 13)

I’ve enjoyed everything that Quentin Tarantino has ever done in his career from top to bottom.  Tackling a western is actually pretty logical for him after Django Unchained and I’m interested to see what he can do with it.  Tarantino will also reunite with Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen and Kurt Russell while taking on Channing Tatum and Jennifer Jason Leigh. I could go on listing all of the neat casting choices he’s made but I’ll spare you.  He has a history of getting good performances out of unlikely actors and actresses so I’m excited to see what is probably his take on the Magnificent Seven.

macbeth

11. Macbeth (Sometime in 2015. Also no trailer yet so.. hmm)

I have studied Shakespeare since I first put my hands on Romeo and Juliet at age 14 and I have worked on a lot of stage productions of his plays.  I own at least two copies of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare and I have visited his birth home and his marriage home. I would have visited the Globe but it was under renovations at the time.  Macbeth is the bad luck title but since this is the internet and not the theater we’re ok.  I watch pretty much every version of Shakespeare that hits theaters except for some of the obscure modernizations.  This one stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cottilard who are both on point.  I always thought Macbeth was a more interesting story than Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet which sometimes unfairly get more press.  We’ll see how this one turns out.

Bonus:

Yes I left off Star Wars 7.  I am really hesitant about this one.  Don’t get me wrong, I was a huge fan of Star Wars as a kid and I owned a lot of the action figures and watched the original trilogy over and over.  (God I wish I had those figures now so I could eBay them so fast)  Also, I didn’t hate the second trilogy as much as a lot of people did. Sure, Phantom Menace was a disappointment but it had some cool moments.  The trilogy more or less redeemed itself as it went on despite some really cheesy moments that I just conveniently repress.  The thing is, I thought Star Wars was all done and I had accepted that.  Maybe I’ll get more excited as we get closer.

My Top 11 Favorite Stand Up Comedians

December 3, 2014

1 Kumail Nanjiani

Kumail Nanjiani is consistently the comedian that makes me laugh the most.  The stand-up specials I’ve heard had me laughing like crazy.  His bits are so well-constructed that I did a whole routine of his and got somebody else laughing hard.  He’s the cohost of Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail and is a hilarious host.  He also hosts two podcasts and guests on Harmontown all the time and he’s just so much fun to listen to.  His humor comes from very personal experience and a lot of it is mixed strangely with horror.  Most of this comes from telling stories of his childhood in Pakistan which sounds pretty terrifying.

2 Patton Oswalt

I have laughed at Patton Oswalt until tears have run down my face and black spots have formed on the edge of my vision and I needed to stop to catch my breath.  He’s so good at forming relentless stories that hit you over and over again.  His comedy is really smart and I know he’s a big comic book nerd which puts us somewhat on the same wavelength.  I find myself nodding my head a lot when I listen to Patton Oswalt.  I’m taking that as a good sign.

3 Robin Williams

If you can get in the rhythm of his rapid-fire delivery, this is really great stand up to listen to.  Robin was all over the place all the time in a manic-yet-driven style.  Beyond the pop culture references and impressions and screaming he had a point and it always felt like the truth.  Robin Williams was nothing but honest with his fans even when he was talking about his greatest faults.  Behind that bouncy and bright grin there was always a bit of a realist there.  At least, that’s how I always saw it.

4 Amy Schumer (NSFW)

Talk about honest, Amy Schumer tends to push honest through R-Rated and into NC-17 while still being classy enough to take seriously.  My first exposure to her was her special Mostly Sex Stuff which was a very accurate title.  She’s definitely not safe for work but her bits and delivery are dead on.  She also has a show on Comedy Central which is very good even if I could never watch it with my family.

5 Steve Martin

Steve Martin is one of the first stand up comedians I ever became a fan of.  I will remain loyal to him for a long time, forever if he keeps behaving the way he is.  I realize that it may be unfair to put Steve Martin on this list since he was less of a stand up comedian and more of a performance artist.  Most of the comedians I like tell stories that are mostly true.  Steve Martin did everything but tell the truth.  He was a wacky cartoon character come to life and he brought that to every role even if he was playing the straight man.  Still, I could listen to Steve Martin albums forever.

6 Chris Hardwick

Chris Hardwick has been around forever (or at least since the nineties) but only lately has he became a juggernaut in the geek and comedy worlds.  Chris has honed his craft to a sharp edge but I’ve liked him as soon as I first heard him.  He’s a big enough nerd that he adopted The Nerdist as his brand and has taken that to the bank several times over.  He rubs elbows with every comedian that matters in the business and is funny enough to hang with all of them legitimately.  I’m genuinely happy to see him show up anywhere.

7 Eddie Izzard

When I first saw Eddie Izzard, probably pointed his way by Arthur or somebody way back when, my first thought was:  “Who is this guy in the dress and why is he wearing makeup and why is nobody mentioning it?”  My second question was: “Why haven’t I heard of this guy before now? He’s hilarious.”  Like Robin Williams, Eddie Izzard doesn’t stay in one place for long and jumps along lines of thoughts towards either a conclusion or sometimes just into the ether.  His comedy is surreal and imaginitive and his accent tops it off nicely.

8 Ellen Degeneres

Yeah, I know she’s not somebody you usually think about when you think about stand up comedy.  At least not in the last decade or so.  Still, Ellen has a simple way of setting up jokes that catch you off guard.  Most of her stuff keeps away from personal stories but instead focuses on the everyday stuff we all take for granted.  Thoughts we may have half-formed ourselves but let go of pretty quickly.  Those thoughts do deserve a look though, if only to laugh at how stupid we all can be.

9 Doug Benson

Doug Benson is probably the biggest stoner who has ever held down a job with any reliability.  Get ready for a lot of pot humor since it is his bread and butter but once you’ve accepted that, it gets better.  He has a tendency to giggle along with the crowd which should be annoying but ends up being infectious. His jokes also tend to take a lot of left turns out of nowhere so I end up being caught off guard and laughing harder.  A guy I thought was a one-note stoner comedian ended up being a fun listen.

10 Gabriel Iglesias

Gabriel Iglesias is another guy who looked one note when I first heard his stand up.  He talked alot about how he’s fat (not fat, Fluffy!).  Again, this should have gotten tiresome but the thing is, he was just so damned excited about it.  His enthusiasm flows through every single word he delivers.   He talks a lot about stuff that has really happened to him or at least close enough to seem real.   He has an interesting perspective culturally who lights up like a roman candle when he tells jokes.  If that makes any sense.

11 George Carlin

I have deep respect for George Carlin.   Though, to be honest, I didn’t like his earlier work.  The hippy, dippiness of his earlier work seemed too unfocused and to insubstantial.   He was playing characters instead of speaking from the heart.  In his latter work he never talked about himself too much but he spoke straight from the heart.  He dissected language, pointed out hypocrisy and proudly stated his opinions.  Sure it could come with heavy sarcasm and deadly cynicism but I always liked that.


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