Day 341: General Cinema

GeneralCinema-Logo_2

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 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 250: Movies and Games

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

Since two of my favorite things are watching movies and playing games, here’s a short list of movies that pair well with games.

  1. Trading Places (the classic Eddie Murphy rags-to-Wall-Street comedy) and Pit (the classic card game that recreates the chaos of Wall Street trading).
  2. The Station Agent (a wonderful and underrated film starring a pre-Tyrion Lannister Peter Dinklage as a quiet fan of railroads and trains) and Ticket to Ride (my choice for the perfect gateway game; easy to learn and fun to play).
  3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (a documentary about a sushi master) and Sushi Go! (a sushi-themed card game with cute art and fast play).
  4. Clash of the Titans (the original movie featuring the guy from L.A. Law as Perseus) and 7 Wonders (a civilization game using a card-drafting mechanic that you can play in under an hour).
  5. Shaun of the Dead (hilarious zombie movie featuring Simon Pegg in his breakout role) and Zombie Dice (a light press-your-luck dice game that you can play while watching Shaun of the Dead).

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

    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.

Day 132: Score

Used graphic novel and DVD

Used graphic novel and DVD

I love my local library, especially the adjacent Friends of the Library bookstore, which is where I’ve scored a lot of fantastic used (and sometimes new) books, DVDs, and other goodies. The items are typically in great shape and sell for a fraction of their retail price.

Today after my last appointment I stopped by the bookstore and couldn’t believe my luck. I found a near-new copy of Saga of the Swamp Thing, by one of my favorite writers, Alan Moore. And right across the aisle I stumbled upon the movie Prison On Fire, starring one of my favorite actors, Chow Yun-Fat. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read or seen either of these classics, but thanks to the bookstore and a measly seven bucks, I’ll be enjoying them soon.