Day 341: General Cinema


Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s usually meant going to the mall to see movies.

This meant seeing films in the General Cinema multiplex, which always ran this before the feature presentation:

I may not remember all of the films I saw during my youth, but I recall laughing hysterically whenever this clip was on screen. My brothers, cousins, friends, and I howled with delight every time this was shown.

I’m still not sure why this tickled our funny bones back then. I’m assuming that after the first or second time, it became a Pavlovian response; it might not have been funny, but hearing that initial high hat guaranteed guffaws from all of us.


Day 305: Street Food Cinema

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

A few years ago my wife and I experienced our first Street Food Cinema in Hollywood. It’s a terrific event of live music, food trucks, and a classic movie shown outdoors in different parts of Los Angeles. I love the picnic atmosphere; it’s family friendly with a laid-back  vibe.

For Halloween last night, my wife scored tickets to the final event of the season at Exposition Park for one of my favorite movies: Shaun of the Dead. Since we’d already dressed as zombies this year, we decided to do a DC/Marvel crossover with my wife going as Spidergirl and myself as Clark Kent-changing-into-Superman (an easy costume for me since I already have the eyeglasses).

We arrived in time for the last song of the band, found a spot near the front to lay down our picnic blanket and beach chairs, then did a quick scan of the food trucks before deciding on our dinner: shish kebabs for my wife and a shrimp po boy and chicken/sausage/corn bisque for me. The food was delicious and we cracked open a bottle of a wonderful wine for the movie.

I was surprised that more people weren’t dressed as zombies or the characters from the movie, but there were some terrific costumes. I particularly liked the McDonald’s Hamburglar I was in line with for dinner.

The crowd seemed to enjoy the film as much as I always do. Shaun of the Dead is such a smart, funny movie, brilliantly versed in its zombie cliches as it pokes fun of itself and the genre. The weather was perfect last night and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend Halloween.

Day 302: Rewatchable

Most Rewatchable Movie of All Time? Star Wars.

Most Rewatchable Movie of All Time? Star Wars.

After I posted my progress on my 2015 Goals list yesterday, I thought about why I haven’t been motivated to complete my goal of watching all 100 of AFI’s Greatest Films. I love watching movies and a lot of those on that list are classics. I should’ve been able to finish that list with no problem, right?

Well, I’ve tried to watch a few of them and either fall asleep or start doing something else. By the time I wake up or focus my attention back on the film, I’ve missed enough that I’d have to start over, so I just end up shutting it off.

Perhaps I should revise my goal to watch all of FiveThirtyEight’s 25 Most Rewatchable Movies of All Time. I’ve seen 24 of the 25 (Pride & Prejudice being the one I haven’t seen), so it’d be no sweat.

Of course, I’d probably get stuck on No. 1. Maybe I should just watch that 25 times? I’d reach that goal in no time.

Day 295: Expectations

I was talking to a few of my buddies last night about the Star Wars movie when I realized that the only way The Force Awakens is going to live up to the hype is if it blows everybody away.

I contained my excitement before giving in to it when the trailer was released, but after a few days I’m back to I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it mode. What pulled me back?

I recalled the anticipation for Episode I was just as high (or at least as high as it could be in a pre-social-media world). People were going to the movie theaters, buying tickets for the main feature, and leaving after the Star Wars trailer.

Yes, this actually happened.

Thankfully, now we can avoid paying admission to see a two-minute clip, instead watching it endlessly on youtube in the comfort of our own homes. The Force Awakens trailer is perfect in that it gives us just enough to quell our Star Wars cravings without giving too much away. We’re introduced to the main characters, our nostalgia is sated with the appearances of the Millennium Falcon, Han, Leia, and Chewie, and it’s all beautifully tied together with the always brilliant score from John Williams.

The other day I mentioned how I hope director J.J. Abrams and writer Lawrence Kasdan don’t rehash too much in order to satisfy the audience’s appetite for the original trilogy. In the poster and the trailer we get glimpses of a Death-Star-like orb and a long trench in the snow.

As much as I hated all of the CGI in the prequel trilogy, this was Lucas at his best: pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with special effects. After the prequels were released it seemed as if the entire movie industry’s special effects departments had grown by leaps and bounds. The biggest benefactors were all of the my favorite superheroes that could finally get on the big screen, thanks to CGI.

Ultimately it was the weak stories of the prequel that doomed them. No amount of political intrigue, midichlorians, or tragic love story was going to get the audience to enjoy what amounted to a special effects show.

Abrams has said that he wants to capture that sense of awe from the original trilogy. He’s using more practical effects and less CGI.  Sure, he’ll still have his trademark lens flares, but that’s fine with me.

This is my (guarded) hope with The Force Awakens: that Abrams lives up to half of what he’s said and shown so far. I can’t expect him to pull an Empire Strikes Back right out of the gate, can I?

Something that my buddies reminded me about was how much we all loved Abrams’ Star Trek movies. He’s used to dealing with unrealistic expectations from a diehard fanbase. Since I’ve already enjoyed the Star Wars teasers and trailer more than the prequel trilogy, though, I’d say he’s halfway home to meeting those crazy expectations.

Day 242: Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton

My wife and I finally got around to seeing Straight Outta Compton today. We’d tried to see it on opening weekend, but ran into a sold-out theater.

I’m still somewhat amazed that a movie about Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, et. al., could be so popular. N.W.A. and the West Coast gangsta rap artists were a huge part of my late teens/early 20s; the music was always present at parties and in our cars during road trips. I expected the movie to be a modest hit.

But to think their story would be a box office smash? No way.

I liked that they didn’t clean up any of the lyrics for the movie because they’re still hard-hitting to this day, especially in light of Ferguson and other violence. Like N.W.A. and the world it it portrayed, the movie isn’t perfect. Straight Outta Compton covers a lot of ground, but doesn’t always cover everything well. Thankfully, the stumbles are few and far between.

The actors were well-cast, particularly O’Shea Jackson, Jr., playing his father, Ice Cube. It was surreal watching him on the big screen: he looks and sounds just like his dad. It was easy to get caught up in the movie, reciting lyrics I haven’t heard in years.

It seems like a lifetime has passed since those times, but the music and the story endures.


Day 238: Metro Manila

Metro Manila

Metro Manila

Currently streaming on Netflix is Metro Manila, an excellent film about a family trying to escape poverty in the Philippines.

Driven by economic despair, a rice farmer moves his wife and two children to metro Manila, where he hopes to take advantage of the opportunities the city will provide. He and his wife quickly discover that predators of all types lurk in every corner of the slums they live in.

Lead actor Jake Macapagal is outstanding as Oscar Ramirez. He’s the moral center of the film and has a quiet dignity about him that stands above the chaos of the big city. John Arcilla is solid as Oscar’s co-worker/mentor Ong, a grizzled veteran with a secret that will change Oscar’s life. The character Ong reminded me of someone who could easily be found in a John Woo heroic bloodshed movie.

I’ve written about a few of the movies on the AFI 100 list this year and Metro Manila reminded me of The French Connection in a few ways: it captured the grittiness of Manila, just as The French Connection did with New York. Both movies were smack dab in the middle of a world full of moral ambiguity.

Day 216: Rocky

Adrian and Rocky

Adrian and Rocky

(This is part of my ongoing series on my quest to watch all 100 of AFI’s Greatest American Films of All Time)

57. Rocky

Rocky is back on Netflix, so I watched it before bed last night. The movie holds up well after nearly 40(!) years, mainly because Sylvester Stallone was born to play Rocky. The slurred speech peppered with “yo’s,” the physicality of the training montages, the surprising amount of emotion in his scenes with Adrian: even with a few of the hammier bits, it’s still a terrific performance and Stallone carries the film.

I’ll save the movie’s inherent racism discussion for others. There’s a reason why the film still resonates with movie fans: everybody loves the underdog. Rocky is the classic underdog making his way through the streets of Philadelphia (admit it, you’re hearing the theme song now).

Whether he’s collecting money at the shipyard or running through the open-air market, the film captures the grittiness of the city, much like The French Connection did with New York. I loved the little scene where Rocky and Gazzo meet at Pat’s King of Steaks; I’ve been there and, yes, there is a plaque at the exact spot where the scene was filmed.

One thing that always bugs me, though, is the final showdown with Apollo (kudos to Carl Weathers; he absolutely steals every scene that he’s in). It’s hilarious that both boxers show up in the ring without their gloves on, only to have them magically appear right before they fight. A bonehead mistake, no doubt.

Still, I loved the ending because by then it’s not about who wins or loses, it’s about Rocky’s love for Adrian. Corny? Yes. And the movie also seems slower than I recalled, but Rocky is such a likable galoot that it’s easy to look past the film’s foibles.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Day 200: Ant-Man

  • Ant-Man


It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the movies, so I was excited to see Ant-Man. He wasn’t a major character in the Marvel Universe comics, but he proved to be a worthy addition to the Marvel Universe films.

I didn’t think Paul Rudd could be a superhero. I loved him in Anchorman, I Love You Man, and Knocked Up (one of my favorite lines ever: “I got Matsui”). He didn’t strike me as an actor that could carry a comic-book-turned-movie.

Thankfully, Rudd plays it just right. He doesn’t take things too seriously nor does he overdo the snarkiness and strikes the right balance between both. There are a few winks to the audience about the silliness of the whole thing, but it never feels patronizing or demeaning.

I didn’t find out until the credits rolled that Edgar Wright had a hand in the screenplay and realized that’s why I liked Ant-Man so much. Wright’s a master at this type of pop-culture fare.

It’s the perfect summer blockbuster. Yes, it’s silly and predictable, but it’s also a lot of fun and likable.

And it’s got me fired up to get back into my AFI Top 100 challenge.

Day 191: Anti-Prequel Approach

Episode 7: The Force Awakens

Episode 7: The Force Awakens

I’m trying not to get too excited about Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I refuse to click on all of the news, gossip, and photo links. I avoid fan arguments dissecting every little detail from the two official teasers. I don’t Google anything related to Episode VII.

But then this happens.

What an AWESOME clip. It’s exactly what all of us diehards want; what I call the anti-prequel approach to making the film. As much as George Lucas and his team advanced CGI special effects during Episodes I-III, those films lacked the heart of the original trilogy. The attention to special effects took precedence over the writing and direction. How else to explain Natalie Portman’s worst acting to date?

Sure, perhaps J.J. Abrams is going overboard with the back-to-basics approach to special effects and forgetting all about the script and his actors. But I doubt it. He seems to be genuinely excited about his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the fans are clearly behind him as he tries to give them a film worthy of the Star Wars legend.

Of course, the fans have also promised to rename him Jar Jar Abrams if he screws this up. I can’t wait until December.

Day 175: Music on Netflix


Rodriguez at the Greek Theatre

Rodriguez at the Greek Theatre

Just as my taste in music has changed over the years, so has my method of discovering new music evolved. As a teenager, I discovered new music through word of mouth; most of my friends were musicians so one of us was always finding a new band and sharing it with the others. Some of us traded tapes via fanzines while some of us stayed up late to tape radio shows that played new and obscure songs.

Nowadays, I’m more likely to hear about a new song or band via social media than the radio. I tend to read books or watch movies during my spare time.

Thankfully, my love of movie-watching actually helps me find new music. Netflix has a great selection of music documentaries. I’ve enjoyed the films about well-known bands (Rush, Pearl Jam, etc.), but it’s the ones about lesser-known musicians and groups that fascinate me.

Two years ago, my wife and I watched Soul of America, a documentary about Charles Bradley, a soul singer eeking out a living as a James Brown impersonator before being discovered as he neared retirement age. It’s an inspiring film and after we saw it, we were fortunate that Bradley was in L.A. that weekend playing a free show at Amoeba Records (he played the FYF Fest the night before).

This past weekend, a fortuitous pair of tickets (thanks to my Yelp Elite badge) led us to the Greek Theatre to see another obscure musician play a big show. We rented Searching for Sugar Man, a film that details the unique career of singer/songwriter Rodriguez (née Sixto Rodriguez). In the early 70s Rodriguez released two albums that barely sold, despite being worked on by top producers who worked with top artists of the day. He was compared to Bob Dylan on more than one occasion, but he wasn’t able to build a fanbase.

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Rodriguez put down his guitar and entered a life doing construction work in his hometown and occasionally dabbled in local politics. Unbeknownst to him, his music had become the anthem of South African youth. He’s regarded on the same level as the Rolling Stones and his albums (bootleg and legitimate) sold more than they did in America. It’s only when two fans of his decide to track him down does he learn the truth. Rumors of his demise had been exaggerated: at one point, people thought he’d killed himself on stage.

It’s a fascinating film, since there are so many unanswered questions, especially by the record label that failed to pay him all of the royalties over the years (there is one revealing interview with an executive). To his credit, there’s no hint of bitterness or self-pity in Rodriguez. He’s led a good, if hard, life and he’s a Motor City son through-and-through.

Like Bradley, Rodriguez experienced his biggest musical moments when most musicians have long retired. I might not have heard either of them on the radio, but I was more than happy to have discovered them via streaming video.