August 31, 2015

153 Froghorn

"What's tall and green and loud and hops?"
  1. "The Electric Co." I finally saw U2 for the first time in July (see photo) and this was their opening song. I subsequently listened to Boy all the way through. I appreciate their early mix of punk energy and New Wave romanticism.
  2. "A-Punk" Vampire Weekend more fast-paced guitar rock.
  3. "Lovers Jamboree" Nick Lowe I'm going to put a Nick Lowe or Dave Edmunds song on every playlist until my head explodes.
  4. "Hey Hey" [unplugged] Eric Clapton I think I listened to this CD every day in 1993.
  5. "Budapest" George Ezra I am fascinated by this song- it's half folk/blues mellowness, but also the singing has a Roy Orbison/Elvis Presley vibe. I carefully picked the songs before and after "Budapest" in order to best frame that dichotomy.
  6. "(Marie's The Name Of) His Latest Flame" Elvis Presley this Top Ten hit single, with its strident acoustic guitar riff, seemed a good fit.
  7. "My Love Will Not Let You Down" This Bruce Springsteen tune from the Born In The U.S.A. sessions is prominently featured in the film Rikki & The Flash. (From the 1972-1992 Tracks box set, )
  8. "There Goes Another Love Song" The Outlaws I've been going heavy on the 1970s rock lately, especially focusing on bands who I have overlooked in the past.
  9. "Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)" Blue Ash: a one-hit Power Pop wonder.
  10. "Ruby" Kaiser Chiefs yes I am being too clever with these three songs...
  11. "Ruby Baby" The Drifters (I almost picked the Donald Fagen cover for track 11)
  12. "Baby" Brandy ...but it isn't too clever if it still works!
  13. "I Love You" Climax Blues Band another 70s band I never noticed when I was becoming a rock and roll fan.
  14. "Find Your Way Back" Jefferson Starship a tremendously uncool song. Another song from this LP was played at a Sox game this summer, which inspired me to track this one down.
  15. "Feeling That Way" A good Journey song that didn't make it onto the Greatest Hits CD.
  16. "Bargain" The Who I think I listened to the Who's Next cassette (that I stole from a stranger's house party) every day in 1990.
  17. "Impossible Germany" I just bought the Wilco tour documentary DVD Ashes of American Flags; with my purchase I was granted a license to download the MP3s of the concert performances. A sweet bonus!
  18. "Here Comes My Girl" [Live] Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers from the Tom Petty Live Anthology
  19. "How Does It Feel To Be Back" I am getting into the Daryl Hall & John Oates deep album cuts, including this track with John Oates on lead vocals.
  20. "Don't Dream It's Over" Crowded House I love this song, but I didn't quite stick the landing on this playlist.
  21. "Jamaican Rock" Monty Norman; one of the Jamaican songs from the soundtrack album to the James Bond movie Dr. No.

August 13, 2015

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Truly awful. Peter Jackson has lost sight of what made his Lord of the Rings movies so magical, and has become bogged down in battles for their own sake with no emotional dimension...and no connection with the Tolkien stories.
Smaug the dragon dies 12 minutes into this three-hour beast.  The remainder of the movie is devoted to the five armies of the title crashing into each other in a CGI mishmash. Jackson has invented all of the villains and monster characters in this movie, and scores of Laketown humans, and the Tauriel love triangle. The 'return of Sauron' arc which stretches across all three Hobbit movies has also been invented in an attempt to more fully prequel-ize these films. Yes, the novel has a battle for the elf mountain at the end of the book, but this is like taking a child's tee shirt, ripping open the seams, and sewing in massive panels of new fabric to fit a 300 pound man. The tag may still say "3T" but it's not for a toddler anymore. Much more than Hobbit 1 and Hobbit 2, Battle of the Five Armies has been bloated to justify a third feature film, when a very pleasant family adventure could have been produced for the entire novel in three hours or less.
As a devout fan of the Lord of the Rings movies - I own all three theatrical and extended editions on DVD - I was shocked to find myself fingering the Stop button halfway through this movie. There's only so many ways you can battle Orcs before I've seen it all. On this blog I called An Unexpected Journey "Very good but flabby" and when reviewing Desolation of Smaug, conceded I was ready for the movie to be over after two hours, but this third installment never had me in the first place.

August 12, 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

I watched a five-quel and a six-quel this week:
Rogue Nation is another quality thriller from the Tom Cruise Consistency Machine. Jack Reacher was a little bit fascist, Oblivion was derivative, and Knight & Day didn't make a lick of sense, but the word I'd use to describe his average action thriller is dependable. The action scenes are airtight, if sometimes too unbelievable (no one can hold their breath that long.) The riverside cafe confrontation, and the final chase/battle across the streets of London were the cleverest part of the movie.
  • Rebecca Ferguson is terrific as a double agent...or is she a triple agent? She's practically the co-lead of the movie - she has much more to do than Jeremy Renner - and thankfully, her romance with Tom Cruise is kept to a minimum.
  • Simon Pegg has been promoted to third banana, and his character has a dramatic arc!
  • Jeremy Renner has nothing to do in this movie except let the plot points pivot around him. He has no action scenes, he's turned into a boring boss!
  • Ving Rhames is also only in half the movie, but he looks damn fine in his caramel brown jacket + hat...
  • Alec Baldwin is the director of the CIA, which is a nice touch for the original Jack Ryan. I wish his character were slightly more clever and slightly less a political animal. It would be possible to make his character as clever as Ethan Hunt, but always two steps behind. As it is, I was disappointed watching his character slowly connect the dots.
My two major gripes- the villain was creepy looking but his plans were boring, and Ethan Hunt's motivations for his impossible plans seem more reckless and illogical than ever. I have to agree with the Senate panel at the beginning of the movie that believes most of the IMFs success is due more to luck than talent.

July 27, 2015

How To Train Your Dragon

Our five-year-old son is now catching up with the best PG movies from recent years, so we're finally seeing this 2010 movie in 2015. Terrific fun movie, my five-year-old son is now obsessed with it. Pixar gets all the cachet, but Dreamworks deserves a lot of credit for making a terrific kids movie with spectacular imagery, that parents can stomach too. I liked this movie a thousand times better than Brave, for example. (Amazon Instant Video, then I bought the DVD/Blu-Ray combo)
Dad Goggles: I've now watched most of this movie, mostly paying attention, during three different screenings in our living room.

July 26, 2015


A terrific comedy and unflinching look at a woman coming to grips with her trainwreck life, Amy Schumer pulls no punches in this funny yet heartfelt film. Easily Judd Apatow's best movie...perhaps tied with The Forty-Year-Old Virgin. I truly enjoyed it but the women in the theater loved loved loved it. (Somerville Theater Screen 1)

July 25, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

A fun, light, but action-packed and occasionally overly violent spy thriller, and intensely English all at the same time. A refreshing change from the current mode of dark and humorless spy movies (Bourne & Bond) this movie deliberately sets a different course. I appreciated that this movie makes no concessions to please American audiences, its Englishness adds tons of character where a more "generic" feel would have been boring.
The plot structure is similar to the first Men In Black movie- seasoned veteran recruits a untested rookie to possibly join a secret spy group, except in Kingsman: The Secret Service, the rookie testing/training is a full "A" plotline that spans the first two acts of the film. The other "A" plot is another billionaire Internet genius (Samuel L. Jackson) attempting to pull off a very Bond-ian eugenics scheme.
I was very happy to see Colin Firth having a good time in a movie like this; newcomer Taron Egerton is slyly charming as the low-class rookie; and Jackson is refreshingly light as a villain, he doesn't show any menace even when he's plotting genocide. If you'd like to see the Bond films return to the humor and lightness of the Roger Moore years, but retain a modern sleekness, check it out. (Amazon Instant Video)

July 24, 2015

Ex Machina

A provocative and thrilling mind game that will crush all your hope for humanity in general, and men in particular. A brilliant Internet billionaire (Oscar Isaac) is attempting to perfect a sentient robot that also fulfills as his womb envy urges. He summons one of his programmers to interview her, but no one can be trusted, and nothing is as it seems. This movie stuck with me for days afterwards. Ex Machina is a variant on the movie A.I. if Kubrick had made it without Spielberg- full of unsettling imagery and completely without sentiment. You can also see it as a sexualized Frankenstein movie, or an even bleaker Pinocchio. Strongly recommended, but be prepared to have all your feminist buttons pushed. PS: No one has sex with the robots in the movie. (Amazon Instant Video)

July 23, 2015

152 France-formers

My boy made up this joke:
Q: What do you call a giant robot in Paris?
A: A France-former!
I first saw this homage to Magritte's The Son Of Man
20 years ago and I've been obsessed with it ever since.
If I could buy an poster print of this image I would hang it
in my home. I LOVE IT.
  1. "This Night" by Billy Joel, which borrows the melody of its chorus from Beethoven, was my earworm for a week!
  2. "Dear Future Husband" Meghan Trainor is totally growing on me- she's so adorable!
  3. "All That She Wants" Ace Of Base throwback to the (sigh) 1990s
  4. "Just The Way You Are" Bruno Mars knows how to wear a hat!
  5. "Absolutely (Story Of A Girl)" If you gave me a week or a year, I would never remember the name of this one-hit wonder band from 2000. The band was called Nine Days and that's how long their fame lasted.
  6. "Angels" by David Byrne always reminds me of my tenure as intern at WFNX in 1993-94.
  7. "Fragile" Sting - heard on the radio while having my teeth cleaned in May. I thought to myself (between plaque scrapes) that I might be ready to welcome Sting back into my life after listening to him far too much in the 20th century.
  8. "Crazy On You" I am in the middle of a 1970s Rock Re-appreciation, where I try to open my ears (and Heart) to music that's antithetical to my Power-Pop, New Wave core.
  9. "A Night Like This" I think this Cure song popped up on a Amazon Radio playlist? I don't remember.
  10. Since the first episode of Glee aired, every radio station plays Journey's "Don't Stop Believin", so by that standard, "Who's Crying Now" feels like a deep cut when in reality it was a big hit.
  11. "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)" by the Shangri-Las (great group name, btw) popped up at random in my iTunes - I ripped it from the GoodFellas soundtrack CD, although I don't remember where it appears in the movie?
  12. "Want to Want Me" I had this Jason Derulo hit stuck in my head for weeks, only because the chorus steals the riff from Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody". It took me a long time wondering before I did some digging to figure out whose song it was.
  13. "Got Me Under Pressure" A minor hit from ZZ Top.
  14. "Gumboots" I was a hit singles monster in the 1980s- there were plenty of cassettes I would fast-forward through just to hear the his, but this album was an exception- I must have listened to my Paul Simon Graceland tape a thousand times all the way through. This is one of the tracks I never knew the title to- does he even sing "Gumboots" in the song?
  15. "Solace Of You" Deepest of deep cuts from the late great Living Colour
  16. "Last Child" from Aerosmith is one of those hit songs from the Greatest Hits collection that I never hear on the radio.
  17. "That Was Yesterday" Foreigner - just like Heart (see above) I am making room for hoary old 1970s bands on my playlists (Based on the synths, I suspect this song is from the 1980s, though). Wow Lou Gramm has a good voice!
  18. "Brave" Speaking of great voices, Sara Bareilles really nails this song live at the Variety Playhouse
  19. "Sinner" Neil Finn solo acoustic on 107.1 KGSR
  20. "Lady Madonna" The Beatles, from LOVE
  21. "I Feel Fine" [Studio Outtake] The Beatles Live At The BBC

June 30, 2015

150th Anniversary: Best Of 2004-2015

I am proud to celebrate I have created 150 playlists/CD mixes/mixtapes in 23 years. That's an average of six and a half per year since 1992! That total does not even count the (literally) unnumbered mixes I've made for birthday presents, party favors, Christmas presents, Yankee Swap items and other special occasion mixes. How should I commemorate this milestone? I last celebrated a milestone in 2004 when I reached my 100th playlist, so I've selected 80 minutes' worth of my favorite songs that appeared over the last decade on playlists #101 through #149. These 18 songs are a pretty good distillation of what I've listened to over the last 10 years.
  1. How'd You Like That: The Kooks [136]
  2. One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend): Wilco [143]
  3. Carried Away: Passion Pit [144]
  4. Calamity Song: The Decemberists [135]
  5. Coming of Age: Foster the People [148]
  6. Gold on the Ceiling: The Black Keys [140]
  7. Hey Julie: Fountains Of Wayne [142]
  8. Jesusland: Ben Folds [112]
  9. Thirty-One Today: Aimee Mann [142]
  10. Paper Planes: M.I.A. [121]
  11. People Got A Lotta Nerve: Neko Case [122]
  12. Rumor Has It: Adele [133]
  13. Smile: Lily Allen [114]
  14. Such Great Heights: The Postal Service [103]
  15. Teenage Dream: Glee TV Soundtrack [128]
  16. Tik Tok: Ke$ha [126]
  17. Turn It Around: Lucius [147]
  18. Use It: The New Pornographers [107]

June 17, 2015

Hot 100 from 1984

In 2013, CBS Sunday Morning featured a profile of Huey Lewis, and during their recap of his glorious superstardom, they included an image of the Billboard Hot 100 chart from September 1984, with "If This Is It" at #6. I took a photo of the TV screen and pledged to create a playlist matching this chart someday:
  1. "What's Love Got To Do With It" Tina Turner
  2. "Missing You" John Waite
  3. "She Bop" Cyndi Lauper
  4. "Let's Go Crazy" Prince & The Revolution
  5. "Stuck On You" Lionel Richie
  6. "If This Is It" Huey Lewis & The News
  7. "Drive" The Cars
  8. "The Warrior" Scandal feat/Patty Smyth
  9. "Ghostbusters" Ray Parker, Jr
  10. "The Glamourous Life" Sheila E.
  11. "Sunglasses At Night" Corey Hart
  12. "Lights Out" Peter Wolf
  13. "Cruel Summer" Bananarama
  14. "Cover Me" Bruce Springsteen"
  15. "Dynamite" Jermaine Jackson
  16. "Rock Me Tonite" Billy Squier
  17. "When Doves Cry" Prince & The Revolution
  18. "I Just Called To Say I Love You" Stevie Wonder
This is where the TV cuts off the list. This chart gives me great ideas for making a new playlist, not of the big hits of 1984, but the songs that never quite broke through to the top 20. Here's another fragment of the chart from the right side of the screen...

  1. "Only When You Leave" Spandau Ballet
  2. "Bop Til You Drop" Rick Springfield
  3. "Some Guys Have All The Luck" Rod Stewart
  4. "On The Dark Side" John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band
  5. "Leave a Tender Moment Alone" Billy Joel
  6. "Flesh For Fantasy" Billy Idol
  7. "Who Wears These Shoes?" Elton John
  8. "Swept Away" Diana Ross
  9. "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" Elton John
  10. "(What) In The Name Of Love" Naked Eyes
  11. "Right By Your Side" Eurythmics
  12. "Strut" Sheena Easton
  13. "Shine Shine" Barry Gibb
  14. "You Take Me Up" Thompson Twins
  15. "The Last Time I Made Love" Joyce Kennedy & Jeffrey Osbourne
  16. "Desert Moon" Dennis DeYoung
  17. "Dancing In The Dark" Bruce Springsteen

Some of these songs I have no memory of! Just imagine what charted #51 through #100!
UPDATE: While creating this blog post I discovered Billboard has their archives available online, so I can see the entire chart, not just the songs that appeared onscreen!

June 7, 2015

Melissa McCarthy in Paul Feig's SPY

In the modern spy movie, the secret agent always has a desk jockey walking them through their mission talking in their earpiece. A complaint about the new Bond movies is that Bond never has to act alone anymore because someone at HQ is always backing him up from a console. What would happen if Bond's favorite desk jockey were promoted to field agent?
What a funny fucking movie! I was laughing out loud throughout.
  • It's hard-R-rated, so the jokes are very rough, and worth it.
  • There's real action sequences, including car chases and hand-to-hand combat. Not Bourne Supremacy good, but much better than most comedies.
  • The A-list supporting cast is perfect: Jude Law finally gets to play James Bond, Miranda Hart is wonderful as the best friend, and Jason Statham might overplay the jokes a little bit.
  • Wonderful location shooting- another plus you normally don't see in a comedy.
  • Great interior locations too- a decrepit Paris apartment building and a disused power plant control room are the standouts.

Stub Hubby Grade- I'm giving SPY an A-minus instead of an A because:
  • I figured out the third act twist immediately;
  • The fat-and-ugly jokes are all very funny, but maybe it's time to set them aside? No one actually calls Melissa McCarthy "fat" but it's in the subtext of many jokes.

May 28, 2015

My Barenaked Ladies Phase

Between 1999 and 2003, I placed
eleven different Barenaked Ladies
songs on twelve mix CDs. It was an
intense but short-lived affair: I saw
BNL live in concert twice, and even
had a BNL sticker on my car bumper.
The turn of the century was a exciting
time to be ALIVE! I suppose this list
makes a de facto Nat's Best Of BNL?

Saving Mister Banks

Amazon Instant Video Presents: Saving Mister Banks
An niche curiosity, I can only recommend Saving Mr. Banks to Disney fans in general and lovers of Mary Poppins in particular.
London 1962: P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins book series, is forced to finally unpack and come to terms with her long repressed childhood trauma (which serves as the inspiration for the Banks family of her books) when she consults with Walt Disney's creative team on the 1964 film adaptation.
Travers' travails in sunny Anaheim are intercut with the sad tale of her suicidal mother and alcoholic father. You don't need to be a psych major to notice the strong Electra complex in the relationship between the pre-adolescent daughter and the free spirited drunk dad who encourages and inspires her imagination.
The adaptation process is extremely rocky: the creative team is literally adapting her book, but for Mrs. Travers, they're adapting her own childhood.
It's not clear why Travers is so reluctant to grant Disney any creative license with her book- she seems to be both fully aware of the parallels between her childhood and the fictional book, and at the same time, struggling to make the connections between her life and her work. Emma Thompson does her best with a character that barely moves from Point A to Point B until the very end of the movie, and Tom Hanks is strong as a nice but also powerful and demanding leader.
The intercutting between Australia 1904 and Anaheim 1962 is developed with care at first, but eventually the stories switch back and forth without much design.

Director John Lee Hancock has made a careful and conservative movie without much inspiration or creativity. As the movie lies at the heart of the Disney mystique, I am sure that suits his Mouse House producers just fine. My Stub Hubby Grade: C-plus.

May 24, 2015

Guys Movie Night: MAD MAX - FURY ROAD

Patton Oswalt believes every sci fi nerd can be sorted into one of three classes: Zombie, Spaceship, or Wasteland. I am a strong dominant Spaceship nerd, but I appreciate a Wasteland story that explores a post-civilization world. I am a fan of the first three Mad Max movies, but I haven't seen them 100 times or anything like that. The Mad Max films are characterized by their terrific action sequences (although I don't remember any car chases in Beyond Thunderdome), totally insane production design, and a unique vision of the post-apocalyptic society.
Director George Miller is a curiosity in feature filmmaking- his first three feature films are the original Mad Max (1979) and its two sequels The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2) in 1981, and Beyond Thunderdome (1985). In the following 30 years he directed the following feature films:
  • The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
  • Lorenzo's Oil (1992)
  • Babe: A Pig In The City - he produced the original Babe movie but did not direct it (1998)
  • Two Happy Feet movies (2006 & 2011)
  • ...and that's it.
I don't intend to turn this into a biography, but I wanted to give you some context before I exclaim that Miller has lost none of his flair for the post-apocalyptic; the long-germinating FURY ROAD is a crackerjack thrill ride with the same vision, finely tuned action sequences, and inventive imagery we'd hope for, cranked up to 1,000. I kept marveling over how thrilling, well-constructed, and inventive the movie was, when not doing double-takes at all the totally batshit images of this beyond-civilization world Miller's created.
My Stub Hubby Grade: A! (AMC Burlington with George, Yuval, Angus, and Pete)

May 9, 2015

151 Alles Klar, Herr Kommissar?

  1. "The Creator" ↔ Pete Rock & CL Smooth
  2. "Take A Walk" ↔ Passion Pit
  3. "Awaiting On You All" ↔ George Harrison
  4. "What You Need" ↔ INXS
  5. "Shotgun" ↔ Gerald Levert sings and Tom Scott plays lead saxophone on this track from Standing In The Shadows Of Motown
  6. "I'm Losing You" ↔ A demo/rehearsal recording from John Lennon backed by Cheap Trick!
  7. "I Remember California" (Green World Tour Live) ↔ R.E.M.
  8. "Selling The Drama" ↔ Live
  9. "How You've Grown" ↔ I heard this 10,000 Maniacs song in an episode of Community, and just telling my wife this made her laugh.
  10. "Racing In The Street" (live at the Meadowlands 1981) ↔ Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
  11. "Heaven Knows Your Name" ↔ Blackie & The Rodeo Kings
  12. "Sitting Still" ↔ Another R.E.M. song, this time covered by Matthew Sweet & Susannah Hoffs from Under The Covers Volume 3.
  13. "Gamble Everything for Love" ↔ Ben Lee
  14. "Oo-De-Lally" ↔ I heard a version of this song (which I assume is from the Disney Robin Hood movie?) in a TV commercial and went looking for it on iTunes, when I stumbled across the album Los Lobos Goes Disney, which I bought immediately.
  15. "Twilite Speedball" ↔ Mos Def
  16. "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'" ↔ The Velvelettes
  17. "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" ↔ Spoon from their album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
  18. "Flexible" ↔ Depeche Mode
  19. "Major Tom (Coming Home)" ↔ Peter Schilling; When I was a kid in the early 1980s I used to confuse/conflate/combine "Major Tom (Coming Home)" and "Der Kommissar" in my head.
  20. "Der Kommissar" ↔ After The Fire; They don't sound similar, unless singing with a German accent counts.

April 28, 2015

The Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker Miscasting Awards

I love Keanu Reeves and Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker's Dracula because Reeves is so great in The Matrix, so great in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, and so bad you have to laugh at him and his ridiculous English accent as he helps Dracula buy a house. There's plenty of movies with untalented actors. But there's a special category of miscasting full of talented actors who just don't fit the character or the movie. Sometimes it makes the movie worse, sometimes the movie is better but different than it was originally written, and sometimes the movie is better. Take a step back from the movie and cast a critical eye (pun intended) on the casting of these movies...

Gene Wilder as the Oklahoma Kid in Blazing Saddles

61-year-old Hollywood veteran Gig Young was originally cast as the Oklahoma Kid, but his active alcoholism forced Mel Brooks to fire Young and his friend Gene Wilder flew cross-country to take over the part. An actual aging sharpshooter would have made more sense (Wilder was only 40 when he made the movie) but Wilder is so supremely funny, he's only "miscast" in that he doesn't look the part. When Brooks originally cast Young, perhaps he had lost sight of the humor of the role while pursuing the authenticity of the role?

James Caan as Santino Corleone in The Godfather

He has the energy and the attitude, but he's the least Sicilian-looking actor ever, especially in a movie stocked with terrific Italian-American actors. He looks like the one adopted by Vito Corelone, not Tom!

Anna Camp & Brittany Snow as Aubrey & Chloe in Pitch Perfect

Perhaps the strategy was to cast older-looking upperclassmen to make the freshman recruits look younger, but Camp and Snow were age 30 and 26 when they played, presumably, college seniors (who are typically 22 years old.) Note: Anna Kendrick is actually older than Brittany Snow, and Rebel Wilson was older than all of them!

Freddy Rodriguez as El Wray in Planet Terror

Freddy RodrĂ­guez was badly miscast in the lead role, the badass with a mysterious past "El Wray". When you're looking for a Snake Plissken type, you don't cast a guy who measures 5 foot 6. The entire cast towered over him, and when he stripped off his shirt to reveal his scarred, tattooed body, I almost laughed out loud at his sunken chest. He looks like a "before" photo in a Charles Atlas ad in the back of MAD Magazine.

Matt Damon as Max in Elysium

Despite his performance as Will Hunting back in the 1990s, Matt Damon is unconvincing as a street rat gangster ex-con, reformed onto the straight-and-narrow. The movie justifies his whiteness within an all-minority community by explaining he's adopted, but it would have made much more sense to cast a Latino actor. Big-budget movies require movie stars, so...

Amy Poehler as Angie in Baby Mama

The good news is, Baby Mama is hilarious and I would never wish Poehler and Fey not make a movie together! But take a step back from the comedy genius and consider the cold hard numbers: Fey and Poehler were 38 and 37 when this movie came out. It would have made a hell of a lot more sense if Poehler's character were 10 or 15 years younger than Fey's character.
Re-watching Baby Mama in 2015, I found it hilarious that the actress Poehler was so fit with a very flat belly while playing a pregnant lady in Baby Mama, but beginning a year later, Poehler would have to hide her new mom body while carrying two children as the child-free Leslie Knope on Parks & Recreation.

Jennifer Lawrence & Christian Bale as Rosalyn & Irving in American Hustle

It makes no sense to cast Christian Bale as a over-the-hill, fat, bald, Jewish con man from Long Island. To his credit, he lives and breathes the part. Every moment is genuine. It just makes no sense coming from this actor!
Jennifer Lawrence is supremely talented, very funny, but 15 or 20 years too young to play a faded beauty desperately clinging to Bale's character as her last chance to maintain her way of life. She just turned 23, she's one of the best-looking women on Earth- why is she so desperate to hang onto this dissolute con man when there are scores of men who'd love to marry her and support her? My wife pointed out that another Jennifer would be much better cast in this role - Jennifer Aniston was 45 years old when this movie was made and she'd bring a great combination of faded beauty and comic timing to the part.

Jessica Alba as Susan Storm in Fantastic Four

You had one job, casting director: cast a blonde woman with blue eyes who looks good in a super suit to play the Invisible Woman Susan Storm. Jessica Alba looks great in the super suit, but her wig and colored contact lenses convinced exactly no one that Alba has blue eyes and blond hair. While we're talking about regrettable colored contact lenses, it's bad enough miscasting a famous and established fictional character; miscasting a famous real person is worse. Johnny Depp's eyes look bizarre in the trailers for Black Mass. Depp's complexion is a poor match for the real Whitey Bulger already, but making him wear phony-looking contact lenses was a mistake.

Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin in Beyond The Sea

This film could not have been made without Kevin Spacey, yet at the same time it is doomed to failure because of Kevin Spacey. Kevin Spacey's devotion to Bobby Darin's life story, and his talent for performing Darin's songs, make for a fascinating movie with great musical performances. The problem is, Spacey has been too old to play the part for at least 15 years. Spacey turned 45 in 2004. It is ridiculous to watch Spacey play a 25-year old Darin romancing a 17-year old Sandra Dee, played by age-appropriate Kate Bosworth. Spacey (who directed and co-wrote the movie) opens his film with a lame, paranoid device showing the middle-aged Darin filming his own autobiography, as if we can suspend our disbelief as the 45-year old Spacey, jowls and all, romances a teenager? It simply doesn't hold together.

Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining

I love The Shining, it's a terrifically scary movie, but (and I am not alone here) there's no drama in the transformation of Jack Torrance from family man to possessed killer. At best he's a detached prick at the start of the movie, and at worst, he's already crazy before they even move in. There's no tragedy of the Torrance Family falling apart because we never see any love between them to begin with.

Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Like Jack Torrance, Roy Neary seems kind of manic and crazy before his close encounter, so his journey from middle-American, corn-fed electric company worker and family man to obsessed loner is not so dramatic. When he melts down, crying in the shower, it doesn't seem so weird for a bag of neuroses like Dreyfuss. According to the IMDb, director Steven Spielberg approached Steve McQueen and Gene Hackman for the Neary part, and either would have been amazing- to see these earnest dramatic, serious actors totally melt down would have been a much more dramatic journey.

Penelope Ann Miller as Tina Sabatini in The Freshman

Aren't there a hundred Italian-American actresses who would play a Mafia princess more convincingly than Miller? A thousand?

Patrick Swayze as Sam Wheat in Ghost

Now bear with me- Swayze is all heart and soul after he dies, but he seems an odd fit as the cold fish stock broker at the beginning of the movie, the closed-off husband who says "ditto" instead of "I love you too."

Tim Robbins as Nuke Laloosh in Bull Durham

Tim Robbins turns in a terrific performance as "Nuke" Laloosh, a rookie pitcher with a million-dollar arm but a 5-cent head, but I noticed a line in the movie which reveals what writer/director Ron Shelton might have had in mind when creating the character. When Crash Davis and Annie Savoy take some swings at the batting cages, Davis complains to Savoy "What'you see in that guy? He's a dim pretty boy. A young, wild..."
The words "pretty boy" stuck out in my brain this time. Shelton cast the talented and hilarious Tim Robbins as Laloosh, and he's convincing as young, wild, and dim, but I suspect Shelton imagined Nuke to be pretty too- the locker room sex scene with Millie makes more sense if Laloosh were good looking too.
I feel like I'm really piling on now, and remember that I love this movie, but Robbins was 29 years old- only three years younger than Costner- when he played a rookie in his first season in rookie "A" ball, a league normally filled with kids in in their early 20s.

March 22, 2015

John Wick

Flawlessly executed gun battles and hand-to-hand combat scenes highlight a deadly serious revenge thriller. The story is dead simple- John Wick is a retired professional contract killer, torn from his retirement when the son of a mob kingpin invades his home, beats him to a pulp, kills his dog and steals his 1969 Mustang. Wick digs up his past (literally- his guns are buried in his basement) and re-enters the criminal underworld on the most calm and restrained deadly rampage ever, all to kill the man who killed his dog.

John Wick got a lot of press for being directed by a former stunt man and stunt director- in fact, it was directed by Keanu Reeves' former stunt double.
The movie feels like the answer to the question "What if a movie production was only concerned with staging the best gun battles and fight scenes possible, and all other considerations must come second?"
The action is flawlessly executed, the choreography is exacting but not flashy, the cinematography, sound design, and gun effects are all precise and effective. Wick's combination of ruthless efficiency and improvisation was breathtaking to watch.

The story itself could not be more simple - Retired killer-for-hire goes on one last mission for himself to avenge a terrible crime- but it's a compliment to Derek Kolstad's original screenplay that the movie's richness of detail gives John Wick the feel of a graphic novel.
The criminal underworld is fully realized with plenty of colorful detail. Wick is greeted by the community of criminals that populate the movie as a well-respected former colleague. The criminal underworld includes a hitman's hotel, a work-free zone where killers can unwind; a monetary system based on gold coins; an unbreakable honor among thieves code, and all sorts of rules for "open" and "exclusive" contracts that can be issued and withdrawn.

The cast is chock full of terrific character actors, many much better than their roles deserve:

  • Willem Dafoe has a few meaty scenes as an honorable sniper;
  • John Leguizamo has one scene as a chop-shop owner;
  • Ian McShane is another former colleague who grants one last favor to Wick;
  • Dean Winters (30 Rock, those insurance commercials, Battle Creek) is a mob lieutenant;
  • Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights, Agents of SHIELD, About A Boy, that failed Wonder Woman pilot) is a ruthless, dishonorable hit-woman?
  • Michael Nyqvist (the original Dragon Tattoo trilogy) is the mob kingpin whose spineless, d-bag son sets the story in motion. I remember Nyqvist for his uncanny resemblance to Vladimir Putin in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.
  • Alfie Allen is the d-bag. Best known for his role as Reek on Game of Thrones, he is no stranger to playing spineless d-bags.
  • My old pal David Patrick Kelly, whom I love in Commando and 48 Hrs makes an appearance too!

What about the star of the movie? I don't have much to say about Reeves- he is excellent in certain roles, and he serves the part well. He must really enjoy the nuts and bolts of action choreography - and shooting at night - because that's all he does in John Wick.

My primary complaints: the music had a passe industrial rock vibe that felt at least 10 years out of fashion; I am completely over helicopter shots of cityscapes where the camera is pointed nearly straight down.

The unflinching, humorless violence is not everyone's bag, but what it sets out to do it does well. My Stub Hubby Grade: B (Amazon Instant Video with baby Sweetie sleeping in my arms)

January 16, 2015


There is no normal life for the ultra rich. What happens when you're raised in a universe where no human relationship is not tainted with unlimited wealth?
Steve Carell's John du Pont is a pathetic, creepy, and terrifying character.
Born and raised without attachment to other people and denied simple friendship and affection between human beings, John du Pont is like one of those fish that live at the bottom of the sea. His entire persona is malformed by his environment. All he wants is for his mother to respect him and for genuine kindness from his fellow man, but he's utterly incapable of connecting with anyone, and he lives in a world where his unlimited wealth insulates him from honest human relationships.

What an incredible performance from Steve Carell. I have seen him act in 138 episodes of The Office and a handful of movies, but none of that is onscreen in this movie. Not only is John du Pont a radically different man than any he's played before; it's as if Carell has put aside his toolbox and has opened a whole new toolbox for this performance. He's spellbinding. Not a false moment in the whole thing.
Landmark Embassy Cinema, with Adam

January 1, 2015

150 Pretzelvania

This playlist is named for the punchline of a joke my son made! I finished this mix around the end of the year. Sometimes you don't know you're not going to futz with a playlist anymore until long after you last futzed.
By weird coincidence, this playlist shares two songs* with a CD mix of mine from 13 years ago: Idolatrous
  1. "All Down The Line" The Rolling Stones are one of those bands where I'm not always 100% sure which guitarist is playing which parts. I appreciate that Keith has a distinct style, but I'm not always certain.
  2. "Gardening At Night" (Different Vocal Mix) I used to think R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry was the most boring drummer of any band I really liked, but my taste has evolved over the last few years, and I appreciate him much more than I used to.
  3. "Fix This" The Colourist
  4. "Crosseyed And Painless" Talking Heads live, from Stop Making Sense.
  5. "The Love You Love" The Walkmen
  6. "What's The World Got In Store" Wilco
  7. "Junior's Farm" Steve Miller and Paul McCartney have been buddies for a long time, so it makes great sense for Miller to sing a Wings song from the same era (and style) as those classic Steve Miller Band songs.
  8. "Alex Chilton" (outtake)* The Replacements
  9. "Shake Some Action" The Flamin' Groovies; I think I first heard this song when Cracker covered it?
  10. "When The Levee Breaks" Led Zeppelin; I bought myself the remastered Led Zeppelin IV for myself for Christmas.
  11. "Hide and Seek" Imogen Heap
  12. "Listen To What The Man Said" Owl City; I love it when a band covers a song from more than one generation earlier.
  13. "Even Better Than The Real Thing" U2
  14. "King For A Day" (Versailles Mix)* XTC
  15. "Sun Goze Down" Robin Loxley & Jay Hawke; heard on the TV broadcast of the Red Bull Signature Series super-cross racing event Romaniacs.
  16. "Congratulations" Traveling Wilburys; Bob Dylan singing a comically pathetic and passive-aggressive lament.
  17. "Slip Kid" From The Who By Numbers.
  18. "Cindy" Tammany Hall NYC; heard on the tv show Scrubs, I think.
  19. "My Little Drum" Vince Guaraldi Trio


or, the Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance

Birdman was excellent, fun, inventive, meaningful, and only a skosh self-important. Michael Keaton & Ed Norton are hilarious, Emma Stone was great.
Keaton is a aging movie star searching for relevance and definition by directing, financing, starring in, and adapting Raymond Carver for the Broadway stage. Can he keep his rickety play and incestuous cast together through previews until opening night?
Most of the movie takes place in real time, and no "cuts" from angle to angle or scene to scene. Far from being a gimmick for its own sake, it was easy to become immersed in the movie's style. I'm not sure if this style could work for any genre, it works great for a movie with only six principal actors that takes place in one building.

I also liked the percussion score- mostly performed on a drum kit, it works better than I expected. I would totally go see it again. What fun. My Stub Hubby Grade: A.
TRAILER NOTES: I didn't read the book, but the Fifty Shades Of Grey trailer is laugh-out-loud funny. The trailer makes the most ordinary sex play look so dangerous and forbidden. I've never used whips, blindfolds, or candlewax, or had a special sex dungeon in my penthouse, but this trailer made kinky sex between consenting adults look as debauched as cannibalism.

THEATER NOTES: The small Screen 2 at Embassy Waltham was sold out, and the crowd was mostly 50 and older, but thankfully remained completely silent throughout the movie. Actually it was kind of weird how silent it was. I laughed out loud a few times - not very loudly, but no one else was laughing!
Because I never listen to my instincts, I hung my eyeglasses on the front of my shirt during the trailers. I thought "this is not a smart place to put these" but did I listen? NO! ...and almost immediately they fell on the floor...but I didn't know it at the time. I figured it out two hours later, after the movie was over, while putting my hat on in the lobby. I rushed back into the theater, and voila, my glasses were sitting lenses-up on the floor under the seat in front of me, completely undamaged. Another moviegoer called out "that's a good sign for luck in the new year!" and I hope to remember that for all of 2015.

December 17, 2014

149 Threatens Millions

  1. "YYZ" • A prog-rock instrumental, and as with so many instrumentals, the band (Rush*) struggled to name the song, so they used the airport code for Toronto?
  2. "West End Girls" • Pet Shop Boys*
  3. "Frank & Ava" • Suzanne Vega
  4. "If I Had A Boat" • Lyle Lovett*
  5. "Sussudio" • I only put this Phil Collins on this mix because of a wonderful pun my wife told this month.
  6. "The Boys Of Summer" • Don Henley
  7. "Dead And Gone" • The Black Keys
  8. "Weeds Or Wildflowers" • Poor Old Shine
  9. "Low" • R.E.M.
  10. "Dreams" • I recenly discovered two different covers of this Fleetwood Mac song, but I couldn't use the Killers version because it was too scary, so here's Whiskeytown! Believe it or not, I discovered this cover when I pressed pause on my TiVo: a character on the rom-sit-com A to Z had it on their playlist!
  11. "Heartbeat [remix]" • The Psychedelic Furs
  12. "Adult Education (Special Rock Mix)" • Daryl Hall & John Oates
  13. "Mad About You" • Sting
  14. "Mad" • Anthony Hamilton
  15. "Riding With The King" • Eric Clapton & B.B. King
  16. "Night Still Comes" • Neko Case
  17. "I Just Wanted To See You So Bad [Live]" • Lucinda Williams
  18. "I Saw Her Again Last Night" • The Mamas & The Papas
  19. "You Won't See Me" • The Beatles
  20. "Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town" • One of the best rock concerts I've ever been to was recorded! Woot! This is Pearl Jam at the height of their powers and popularity, April 12, 1994 at the Orpheum, closing their set with my favorite song from the new album.
*Tracks 1, 2, & 4 from the "Karen scrounged from the Goodwill for me" Collection

December 15, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014!

I love creating playlists of Christmas music as much as I love creating playlists the other 11 months of the year.
The best Christmas playlist I ever heard was the three-hour Christmas special on WBLM in Portland, Maine. The special consisted of many of the "Christmas songs by rock bands" we hear so often in December, mixed together with pop-culture tidbits from our favorite TV shows and movies, and an ongoing news report from NORAD, tracking Santa's progress from the North Pole by radar.
A year or two after I first heard that special, I was hired at WBLM as a DJ and producer, and I got to meet and thank the Production Director who created it (damnit I forget his name!) Thankfully for me, I managed to make a cassette copy of the whole three-hour special off his master tape...where are those cassettes?
Since then I've been creating my own Christmas playlist. It's not 3 hours long, but its in that same spirit. Unlike my other 150+ playlists on this blog, each time I create a new Christmas playlist, the song selection only evolves, I don't turn over the whole lists for 20 new songs each time. Here's my playlist for 2014:

1.      "Sleigh Ride" Fun.
2.      "Valley Winter Song" Fountains Of Wayne
3.      "Jingle Bells" Ella Fitzgerald
4.      "The Evil Santa" Bill Murray & Gilda Radner*
5.      "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" U2
6.      "I'll Be Home For Christmas" Aimee Mann
7.      "Christmas Wrapping" The Waitresses
8.      "Rod Serling Explains Christmas" Christopher Guest*
9.      "Winter Wonderland" Ray Charles
10.   The Beatles Christmas Fan Club Record 1963
11.  "Hang Yourself Now" Mashup By DJ BC
12.  "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" Diahann Carroll
13.  "The Littlest Christmas Tree" Brian Doyle-Murray*
14.  "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
15.  "White Christmas" Michael BublĂ© & Shania Twain
16.  "Christmas Time Is Here" Tony Bennett
17.  "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" She & Him
18.   The Birth Of Santa? Produced by Nat Woodward**
19.  "All I Want For Christmas Is You" Idina Menzel
20.  "Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)" Elvis Presley
21.   Chrisssssmassss! Produced by Nat Woodward**
22.  "Wonderful Christmastime" The Shins
23.  "The Christmas Song" Paul McCartney
24.  "Auld Lang Syne" Guy Lombardo
25.  "Skating" Vince Guaraldi Trio
*Tracks 4, 8, and 13 are from the National Lampoon Radio Hour, an early 70s syndicated radio show/precursor to Saturday Night Live.
**Tracks 18 and 21 are radio "sweepers" I produced for a now-defunct radio station.

November 16, 2014

148 Reboot

If I don't make a playlist in a long time, I like to catch up by making two at once...

  1. Bach Minuet In G (Bonus Track) | Willie Nelson
  2. Red Tide | Neko Case
  3. Subdivisions | Rush
  4. Dumb | Nirvana
  5. Counting Stars | OneRepublic
  6. Summerfling | k.d. lang FUN FACT: Ace session drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. plays on this track and is a co-writer; I know him better as Paul McCartney's touring drummer since 2001.
  7. Black Lagoon | Dave Edmunds; my son's favorite rock song!
  8. Belay | The Never Land Pirate Band; my favorite children's song, it sounds like the members of every defunct 1990s ska band took refuge in Neverland.
  9. Rox In The Box | The Decemberists
  10. Coming of Age | Foster The People has perfectly captured that late 80s sound I love oh so much.
  11. Mystify | I kinda forgot this INXS song until I heard it again in 2014. The album KICK was very big way back when.
  12. Underground | Ben Folds Five
  13. Foolin' | Def Leppard
  14. Wave Of Mutilation [live on the BBC] | Pixies
  15. Walls (Circus) | Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
  16. Charmer | Aimee Mann
  17. Suedehead | Morrissey
  18. A Little Bit Of Everything | Dawes; is this a Jackson Browne soundalike parody, or a real song? When I heard their first single "If I Needed Someone", I joked that the lead singer sounded like Daryl Hall. I guess he's just a chameleon?
  19. Say It Isn't So | Everyone knows the Outfield's hit single "Your Love" ("Janie's on a vacation far away...") but this was the other single from that LP. I heard it while waiting for my car to be fixed at the Honda dealership.
  20. Given To Fly | Pearl Jam
  21. Feel It All Around | Washed Out (the theme song to Portlandia)

November 15, 2014

147 Rebirth

After nearly a year off, I've finally bought a new computer and resurrected my iTunes! I finished this playlist sometime in November.

  1. "Down Yonder" Willie Nelson; from Red Headed Stranger [1975]
  2. "The Way You Make Me Feel" Michael Jackson; from Bad [1987]
  3. "Stages" ZZ Top; from Afterburner [1985] Purists would say this album is where ZZ Top capitalized on their breakthrough success on Eliminator [1983] by totally selling out. Afterburner completely departs from their formula with thick synthesizers, drum machines, and pedestrian pop-rock songs like "Rough Boy" and "Stages".
  4. "Sirens" Pearl Jam; from Lightning Bolt [2013] lovely song from Mike McCready.
  5. "Done" The Band Perry; from Pioneer [2013] I discovered this song in the Target commercial/music video that aired during the 2014 Super Bowl. Yes, I am cutting edge.
  6. "Dare" Gorillaz; from Demon Days [2005]
  7. "The National Anthem" Radiohead; from Kid A [2008]
  8. "Twilight World (Superb, Superb Mix)" Swing Out Sister; from It's Better To Travel [1987]
  9. "Beautiful Way" Beck; from Midnite Vultures [1999]
  10. "Crazytown" Aimee Mann; from Charmer [2012]
  11. "New" Paul McCartney; from New [2013] I love the silly a capella coda- song fragment codas that don't really match the rest of the song have been a McCartney trademark since the "Aloha" coda on "Hello Goodbye".
  12. "You Can't Do Me" Madeleine Peyroux; from Bare Bones [2009]
  13. "Gone" John Hiatt; from Crossing Muddy Waters [2000] You don't want to cross Muddy Waters - he will seek VENGEANCE!
  14. "Dance, Dance, Dance" Steve Miller Band; from Fly Like An Eagle [1976]
  15. "We Are Each Other" The Beautiful South; from 0898 [1992]
  16. "Turn It Around" Lucius; from Wildewoman [2013] aka "Wrong End Of The Telescope"
  17. "Don't Carry It All" The Decemberists; from The King Is Dead [2011] Every once in awhile you find a band whose lead singer has the exact same singing register as you.
  18. "A Long December"  Counting Crows Live At The Hammerstein Ballroom NYC [1997] Adam Duritz is one of those singers who doesn't like to sing the melody of his hit songs in concert. He sings the song, but varies the melody, presumably out of boredom.
  19. "Bandera" Willie Nelson; from Red Headed Stranger [1975]

November 7, 2014


Director Christopher Nolan is in a sweet spot where he has unlimited resources to make his movies and he has grand ambitions and epic vision to match. Other directors are given hundreds of millions of dollars, only seek to blow shit up in an amazing way, and possibly make us tear up a little at the end. That's the limit of their ambition.

Interstellar is not based on an old movie, an old TV show, or a comic book.
It's not a "reboot" of an existing franchise.
There are no weapons, two explosions, one car chase, and one brief and deeply lame wrestling match.
There will be no sequels.
So it pains me to criticize the movie.

I am deeply conflicted to say bad things about the only movie I've ever seen that so thoroughly explores the nuts and bolts of real "hard" science fiction.
How many movies can you name that deal with relativity, hibernation, air braking, slingshot trajectories, and both kinds of holes (black and worm?) I love that stuff!
The spaceships, and the wormhole travel, and the alien worlds all look just different enough from Earth to be both believable and eerie at the same time.
This is not a "saving the world" movie where saving the world means pressing a red button with 1 second remaining. This is a "find another world for humanity to live on, and do it quickly before we all asphyxiate and starve to death."
I appreciate the harsh truth of a mission to find another planet to colonize on a mission with zero margin for error, but the problem is, Nolan also wants to make a movie about fathers and children, the survival instinct, and the duty parents have to their children. His goal is to stitch that powerful parental instinct and stitch it together with saving all of mankind, not just his daughter, and there he falls short.
There is fat that could be trimmed. Long sequences early in the movie could be cut out. After they revive an earlier scientist/explorer, I'm not sure why his character, or the events surrounding him, are even in the movie?
Maybe this is an artifact of two brothers writing the screenplay. Sometimes a shorter movie is a better movie. Interstellar is 11 minutes short of 3 hours.
I have truly enjoyed three of his movies (Batman Begins, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight) and liked but not loved four others (Insomnia, Memento, Inception, and Dark Knight Rises) and I will continue to hold him to a high standard.
My Stub Hubby grade: A-minus

Notes: The 35mm film print looked AMAZING. I have been mostly indifferent to digital projection, but upon watching a movie meticulously made on 35mm, I can really appreciate the deep dark colors, especially in a space movie. There have been complaints about the "muddy" sound mix, and I can attest that there were several scenes where I could not follow all the dialog, but I think Nolan knows this and writes accordingly. Early in the movie Matthew McConaughey and his kids spot an "Indian drone" flying over their midwest cornfields, hack into its guidance system, and take it for themselves. Which kind of Indians are they? Why are they spying on cornfields? What the heck is going on here? I don't know, but it doesn't really matter- I know plenty enough to understand the movie.
Somerville Theater Screen 1 With Adam

October 18, 2014

Red Dawn (1984)

Amazon Prime Instant Video Presents: RED DAWN (1984)

I have gone on at length about my love for the pop culture of 1984, it seemed necessary to finally watch a semi-iconic movie from '84 that I had never seen. So one Saturday night while my wife was putting the boy to bed, I started RED DAWN.

(Side Note: What is it about movies with less than eight letters in the title that encourages me to always spell them in ALL CAPS?)

RED DAWN surprised me. It wasn't what I was expecting at all. It wasn't a great movie, but it has a lot to recommend it, maybe even more than it did when it was new. Going into it, I knew it was about a cadre of scrappy high school students who fight back against a Soviet invasion of the Midwest. I knew it had a proto-Brat Pack cast, and it does not have a serious reputation.

With that image in my mind, I was surprised to discover RED DAWN is actually a completely serious war movie, from the sole perspective of a small prairie town in Colorado. The opening image is sobering: a high school history teacher interrupted mid-lecture by Cuban paratroopers silently landing in the football field outside.
Until halfway through the film, our teen rebel force, led by reluctant alpha Patrick Swayze, have no idea of the full scale of the war. Most of the big "global catastrophe" movies of the 1980s and 90s flit from city to city, continent to continent. RED DAWN dramatizes what it would be like if you were suddenly cut off from the rest of the world, not knowing what happened to your parents, never mind the rest of the country. If the nukes dropped on Washington DC, you wouldn't get a Breaking News flash on CNN.
The screenplay (by director John Milius and Kevin Reynolds) takes a real-world hypothetical and brings it to life: Circumstances force the Soviets and the Cubans into invading the USA. they launch a sneak mini-nuclear attack (on only several small cities) through bombers disguised as passenger jets flying from Mexico. RED DAWN dramatizes the political and strategic reality of a Cuban/Soviet alliance, and will remind any viewer just how seriously America took their threats to our safety. There are moments when Soviet-occupied small-town Colorado seems almost a satire: red-and-gold signs for the Soviet-American Cooperation Office, the co-opted mayor's office has a portrait of Stalin on the wall, the local theater shows Russian propaganda for free, while all the suspected insurgents are held in a concentration the drive-in theater.
The Cuban and Soviet leaders of the occupation offer a surprising perspective: the Soviets are completely unilateral in their response to the rebel "Wolverine" attacks, while the Cuban leader recognizes the insurgency from his own experiences overthrowing the imperial regime in his native Cuba.
A pleasant surprise, as it turns out. I'd recommend RED DAWN as a serious war movie, as a time capsule of America's view of the Cold War in 1984, and solid performances from a Brat Pack cast asked to step up their game and perform outside their comfort zone (and literally outside- almost the whole movie is shot outside on location)

August 29, 2014

Ghostbusters 30th Anniversary

I have seen Ghostbusters dozens of times on television over the last 30 years, and at least once in a movie theater in 1984- we were on summer vacation in the Lakes region of Maine and I immediately fell in love with the movie (my mom not so much- she walked out around the time the roof blew off the firehouse.)
I have watched it on a taped-off-broadcast-television tape many times, then I bought the two-disc Criterion Collection Laser Disc (with a badass cover image) around 1994, then on DVD (bundled with Ghostbusters 2) in the last decade.
So, what's the difference? Why spend $13 to see a movie I can watch for free at home? I have already bought this movie twice, why keep paying for it?
Seeing Ghostbusters on a very big screen again was a special treat for two reasons:

Details, Details, Details

One of the advantages of seeing a good movie over and over, you can enjoy the little background details because you don't have to focus on the plot and dialog. The massive movie screen makes it possible to see so much detail that's really impossible to discern even on a LCD television with a DVD player. I can't imagine now, how blurry and incomplete my old pan-and-scan VHS taped off the TV copy was. I really appreciated all the little touches, the production design, and the background action.
The special effects look amazing. Ghostbusters was one of the first comedies of its era to actually spend money on effects- go watch Caddyshack or Animal House and you can see how cheap they were to produce, but Ghostbusters features terrific state-of-the-art effects. Thirty years later, only a few shots of the Terror Dog chasing Rick Moranis look phony.

The Audience

Watching a favorite movie, a movie you've only really seen at home is totally different and rewarding when seen with an audience. Where do the laughs come? This crowd was terrific, and they laughed in places I never noticed were funny, or even places that I didn't notice were jokes- When the mayor is considering believing the Ghostbusters story, Venkman reminds him that he has an opportunity to save the lives of "millions of registered voters." The movie cuts to the Archbishop who smiles and nods. This got a big laugh where I had never thought of it as more than a nice aside.

Theater Notes

AMC Boston Common, with George, Angus, and, sitting in a different row, Erin, Willy, et al. I go to the big movie chains so rarely I forget how nice it is to go to the Somerville Theater. AMC showed 20 minutes of trailers and commercials before the movie. The movie was scheduled for 9:05pm, but the movie didn't actually start until 9:25pm thanks to all this filler. I dislike this more and more the later and later the screening.
I wasn't sure whether the Friday of Labor Day weekend in Boston would be overrun with college kids and families, it turns out the town was very quiet. I drove from work in Lexington, and into a free parking space on Charles Street in 30 minutes. It was also easy to get a table for dinner at Fajitas & Ritas, and the AMC multiplex was very quiet at 8:45pm.

August 12, 2014

Robin Williams

Robin Williams is famous for his silly, nonstop, stream-of consciousness comedy, his wonderful voices, his loudness, but the dark edge has always been there. I had heard that Williams had been sober for decades when he relapsed a few years back, but I didn't really appreciate how low his life had gotten until I heard this interview with Marc Maron on the WTF podcast in 2010. (I haven't re-listened to it yet, but I will shortly.)
Comics are not happy or normal people. Anyone who is compelled to get onstage and tell stories is working some shit out. I think it was Jim Gaffigan who said "what people don't appreciate is, if we weren't paid, we'd still have to get up onstage every night and talk. We have to do it."
I am deeply saddened that Williams is gone. When I was a kid, Robin Williams was the definition of funny. The Garry Marshall TV empire ruled the airwaves. Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy defined and dominated TV comedy, and Williams' Mork from Ork character was on all of them. His brand of childlike, yet edgy zaniness was everywhere.
Stand-up comedians have been trying to act in feature films since they were invented, but Williams was the TV and standup superstar who made that move when I was a kid. My five favorite Williams performances:

  • Williams starred in The World According To Garp during the Mork & Mindy years, and it could not be more different. It's a quirky drama, or an especially dark comedy, or a little of both. It's a challenging story (based on the John Irving novel) but Williams is terrific, especially when seen in the context of the pure silliness of his day job on television.
  • Good Morning Vietnam is remembered for Williams' on-air monologues - I bought the soundtrack album for the monologues AND the 1960s pop music - but also I remember how Adrian Cronauer grows restless with the sanitized "news" he's required to broadcast as he comes to know the country and it's people, mirroring America's disillusionment with the war.
  • Williams won over a whole new generation of fans who never heard of Mork with a perfectly distilled dose of his comic genius as the Genie in Aladdin, the first Disney animated movie where a movie star voiced a character. Williams paved the way for many comic actors animated alter egos, most directly Mike Myers' Shrek.
  • The following year Williams starred in and co-produced Mrs Doubtfire- a perfectly executed high-concept family comedy by Chris Columbus.
  • Robin Williams is amazing in The Birdcage, mainly because he's playing the straight man to the equally brilliant Nathan Lane as his comedic spouse. It's a testament to his acting chops that he lets Nathan Lane (and everyone else in the cast) get most of the laughs while his Armand underplays the comedy.

August 9, 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy

A colorful and funny space adventure, GotG delivers an inventive and slightly oddball take on very familiar plot and characters.
The plot and characters could not be more familiar: five outlaws are bound together by circumstance to save the world by retrieving a powerful object from an evil overlord. The five Guardians are (from left):

  • A smooth-talking Butch Cassidy leader type
  • A gentle giant
  • An amoral thief
  • A man avenging the murder of his wife and child (think Inigo Montoya or Mason Storm)
  • A heartless assassin
[UPDATE: I've been thinking about GotG for a few days, and I suddenly realized that the Rocket & Groot pair are just like Han Solo & Chewbacca- the fast-talking amoral thief and the gentle giant whom only Rocket (Solo) understands. Except, here's the wild part- Rocket & Groot do it better! Groot is a more interesting and better partner than Chewbacca. Chewbacca is less expressive and contributes less to their adventures! Am I crazy or does Groot make Chewbacca really look like a "walking carpet"? PS: Please save the "Rocket & Groot in the comics predate Star Wars" emails- it doesn't matter which duo was invented first, it's just two variations on the same partnership. We could compare them both to Inigo Montoya & Fezzik from The Princess Bride if we wanted to...]

These five bouncing off each other creates lots of fun sparks. The dialog is sharp, five completely different body types leads to dynamic and inventive fight scenes, and their five different motivations are all illustrated and leveraged for interesting plot twists.
The production design also made the movie worth watching. Normally I prefer "hard science fiction" where the filmmakers attempt to be faithful to the way the universe really works. But GotG is more of a "soft sci fi" movie in the vein of the Star Wars prequels, where characters are blue, green, and magenta skinned, where the humanoids are weird looking for its own sake. The second act takes place at a mining colony inside the massive head of some space giant that died centuries ago, now the skull is floating in space, completely encrusted inside and out with an lawless scavenging mining encampment, kind of like Deadwood but with more alien goo. All this color is wonderful, but I was especially reminded of Star Wars (in a bad way) on the aseptic capital home world, that's all white and futuristic plainness and fountains and skyways for no reason. For a movie that's otherwise so inventive, this one planet was too underdesigned.

Fun Moments: Earthling Peter Quill uses the 'finger across the neck' motion as the symbol for 'kill', but the alien he's talking to doesn't know what that means "Why would I put my finger on his neck?"
The soundtrack is great - not my favorite 1970s music, but still, the silly glam and bubblegum pop is emblematic of the whole movie's lack of pretense in the sci-fi genre. Besides, who doesn't want to see spaceships flying set to the Runaways "Cherry Bomb"?
Theater Notes: My audience was completely dialed in- all the best punchlines were followed by that brand of laughter that drowns out the next few lines of dialog. The crowd included a cadre of comic book fans who were especially tuned into the parts that connected to the comic book the most closely.
(Arlington Capitol Theater, Screen 1, with Shiner Bock on draft!)