I've never met anyone who hates movies. Everyone likes at least one. Our cultural awareness is often shaped by them, and it's easy to see why. We all experience life, I think, as though we are the protagonist in the movie of our lives. We star in it, sometimes reluctantly, we face off with villains, we interact with our supporting characters, and we all, at times, find that the plot can change from romance, to comedy, to action, to drama without anyone asking if we approve of the changes. Life immitates art, art imitates life...whatever, right? But movies mean something to us, even the bad ones. So, here's a list of movies from my life, starting from the year I was born, just to keep things in perspective. I know your list will be different, but these are films that helped shape my life experience, and I'm sure you'll find some here that you love and loathe as much as I do.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Full Metal Jacket  There's plenty of movies, novels, and songs out there writen for the sole purpose of explaining to the audience that "war is bad."  This is not one of them.  As with Apocalypse Now, this movie doesn't beat you over the head with slogans or try to persuade you one way or the other, it just is.  Being the kind of person who can think for himself, I appreciate that, especially since to try to go one way or the other does a real disservice to the people actually involved.  Some people want you to think that the entire conflict was basically the My Lai Massacre over and over for about 15 years, and others would have you believe that anyone who questioned our involvment in Viet Nam was a filthy hippie.  Stanley Kubrick knew better.  All he set out to do was make a movie about an experience and let us sort out how we felt about it.  Half of the movie takes place during basic training as we watch Drill Instructor Hartman tear down Joker, Pyle, and the other recruits so he can build them up as marines.  The other half follows Joker, now a corporal in Viet Nam writing for Stars and Stripes.  Neither half is as tame as it sounds.  This war was crushing for Americans,  for the loss of life, and for the spirit of the nation, and we've been picking at the scabs ever since. Other movies, like Casualties of War, Platoon, and Good Morning, Vietnam, seemed to flow out like blood from those wounds.  There are bound to be people who are looking for a larger moral lesson in this film, but I don't think there is one.  It's simply Joker's tale, and what he learns is something only he and others who served will ever know. 

The Princess Bride    I don't see how anyone can have escaped the 1980's without having seen this film.  Out of all the movies I will ever talk about, it is probably the most quotable, the most heartwarming story ever told.  And, actually, it's a story within a story, although not like The Never Ending Story.  I'm not much of a "fantasy" guy, I don't really get in to stories about Wizards, or trolls, or knights, with the exception of a few great ones, but this is one of those exceptions. It's a story as old as time, it is the original story.  Boy of lowly status loves girl of higher status, leaves the farm/village to seek his fortune so he can win her, et cetera, et cetera...but there's more than that.  This is a movie that winks and nods at you, because they know you've heard this one before, and on top of it all, the story isn't being told to us, it's being told to a sick kid by his grandfather.  Of course, there's the story of true love that involves Wesley the farm boy and Princess Buttercup, but the real love story here is the Grandfather and the boy. Most of the laughs, the quotable stuff, comes from Andre' the Giant, or Indigo Montoya ("Hello!  My name is Indigo Montoya!  You killed my father.  Prepare to die!"), and it's hard not to love to swashbuckling adventure of The Dread Pirate Roberts, but as Grandpa says to grandson, "as you wish," we know what he really means, and that, I think, is the soul of this film.

Evil Dead 2   It's considered a sequel, but it would be more accurate to call it a reboot.  Ash (Bruce Campbell) comes back to the cabin in the woods that killed all of his friends in the first film, and this time he brings a date?  Not likely, especially considering he acts like he's never seen The Book of the Dead before.  No, this is a do-over by Sam Raimi, and it adds some grim humor to the story.  That's what I like about it.  As a straight horror film, it would have been as flawed as the first film, and not just because of the cheap effects like stop-motion animation and Karo syrup.  It's a lot of fun to watch, mostly because of Bruce Campbell, the king of B movie actors, and his delivery.  Without him, this franchise just doesn't work.  From this, we get a silly sequel, a handful of video games, and a comic book cross-over with Marvel's superheroes as zombies.  Skinny Puppy even sampled some lines from this movie in a couple of their songs ("I hope you rot down there!").  While it may not be a blockbuster, it has become a cult sensation, so much so that I'd be willing to bet if you check your Facebook page, at least one of your friends has referenced it within the last week.  So why mention part two and not the original?  Well, while the original was notable for a lot of reasons, without this sequel (reboot), it would have been forgotten as a B horror movie.  Evil Dead 2 made the franchise and Bruce Campbell into something that left people wanting more.

Robocop  In the near future (which, today, would actually be the past), the city of Detroit is broke, polluted, corrupt, and infested with violent criminals.  I was in Detroit with two of my best friends just three years after this movie was released, and I can tell you, they needed a cop like this back then.  So a cop named Alex Murphy is cut to ribbons by a ruthless crime lord and his men, and his body is used to create the first cyborg police officer.  Okay, I know, it sounds silly, but this was the 1980's, and the only thing that could have made him cooler back then was if he'd also been a ninja.  Besides, there's another element.  What happens to Alex Murphy, not just the body, but the man, the soul?  Murphy, as "robocop," actually remembers.  I don't mean that his memories are stored somewhere on a computer chip, I mean he starts to remember bits and pieces of his life, like his son, the moment he was killed, and his wife.  He even uses some of his old mannerisms, despite the fact that he's supposed to be dead, a programmable machine fused to organic tissue.  Somewhere in there, Alex Murphy is still alive.  There are also the issues of how we deal with crime as a society, whether or not a police force should go on strike, and the concept of gentrification.  It would be easy to dismiss this movie as mindless action-adventure (which I would have enjoyed, anyway), but like the buried memories and feelings of Alex Murphy, there is more.  Robocop is more than the sum of his parts, just like Captain America is more than his shield, and I guess that's why it stuck with me.

In Television-   Star Trek:The Next Generation, Max Headroom, Married With Children
In song"Fight For Your Right (To Party)," "Bad," "Who's That Girl?"
Big Event-  "Black Monday" Stock Market crash

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Big Trouble In Little China   I don't know if there's really any cultural significance here, but you know what's so awesome about this movie?  Jack Burton is a guy that thinks he's a reluctant hero, but he's really more like the bumbling sidekick.  He's got plenty of John Wayne swagger, and he says all the traditional hero catchphrases ("I was born ready"), but just when he's about to leap into action, a piece of the ceiling falls on his head and knocks him out cold while the sidekick does all of the really awesome kung fu stuff.  He's not a complete boob, though, and even though his main goal is to get his truck back along with the money he's owed, you can tell he wants to do the right thing. He's an average guy with an average job who gets caught in the middle of some pretty weird situations.  "All I know is, this Lo Pan character comes out of thin air in the middle of a goddamn alley while his buddies are flying around on wires cutting everybody to shreds, and he just stands there waiting for me to drive my truck straight through him with light coming out of his mouth,"  he whines, but even though he protests, he wants to help his friend and defeat the evil villain. Even though he's a total creep, you just have to like the guy, and his friends really value his contribution, even when it's just a smartass remark.  People with "credentials" usually hate this movie, because they think it's racist to have this overly macho doofus be the hero in a story like this, but they're overlooking the fact  that Jack Burton is more like Daffy Duck than John Wayne.  It's his buddy Wang Chi and his neighbors that do all of the heavy lifting, and Jack seems like what he is, an average truck driver who accidentally drove down the  rabbit hole.  For people who didn't like this movie, all I can ask is, "Are you crazy?  Is that your problem?"

Ferris Bueller's Day Off   I never cut class or played hooky when I was in school.  Not because I loved school, or because I was a goodie two-shoes, but mostly because I never had a way out of it.  I had a stay at home mom, and my dad worked right next door, so there was no pretending to be sick and then sneaking out later.  To be honest, there wasn't anything fun to do even if I had cut class, and I'm pretty sure most of the people that did just went to a basement somewhere to get high.  Ferris Bueller, on the other hand, not only had the means, but he actually had some cool things to see and do once his plan was executed.  Of course, and I hate to be "that guy,"  there was more to it than that.  Beyond the Ferarri, past the singing on a parade float, and more than the sausage king of Chicago, there are other stories.  We have Cameron, the best friend who feels as if he's being taken for granted, not just by Ferris, who might not have even called Cameron that day if he hadn't needed a ride to pick up his pretty girlfriend, but also ignored by his own father.  There's also Jeanie, Ferris' jealous sister, who is clearly not getting enough attention, not from her parents, not from her classmates, and not even from the school staff, who want to bust Ferris as much as she does.  And what about Ferris?  He's obviously clever, and smart enough to hack into the school's computers to change his attendance record, but he's utterly aware of the choas he causes as he skates through life proving that with enough charm, good looks, and cash, you can get away with anything.  Is that all we have to learn from him?  Maybe.  Because at the end of the film,   we're all saying, "Ferris Bueller, you're my hero."

Sid and Nancy   Sid Vicious was a punk rock hero to me when I was 15 years old, but it's only now, as an adult, that I can be honest about what was so appealing about him and the Sex Pistols.  The truth is, image is everything when you're a teenager, it's the most important thing in the world,  despite what The Breakfast Club tries to sell you.  The words "revolutionary," "individual," and "iconoclast" seem to come to mind.  That's what I was going for, anyway.  Unfortunately, the words that describe Sid (and Nancy) are "tragic," 'addicted,"  and "dead."  Nothing much worth emulating, really, but it was fun singing about anarchy and such, at least until I realized that a little bit of government might be a good thing, especially if you value things like firefighters and sanitation.  So, Sid joins the band, Sid meets Nancy, they do drugs, the band breaks up, Sid kills nancy, and they ride off to heaven or hell in the back of a New York City taxi.  When I was pushing really hard to prove what a non-conformist I was by conforming to the image and sounds of (mostly English) punk rock, I guess that was on par with West Side Story.  I still have a special place in my heart for those days and the people I spent those days with, but these days, I actually prefer Tony and Maria to Sid and Nancy.

House   I know, I know, it's a goofy B movie, but you know what?  Not every film you see has to be a Golden Globe contender for it to be noteworthy.  This is good, silly horror, and it's not just another "dead teenager" movie.  It has some depth.  Our hero, Cobb, has failed at marriage, his son is missing, and his aunt has committed suicide.  Cobb, himself a writer of horror novels, is planning on writing a novel about his experiences in Viet Nam, but his fans don't really care about that.  And then there's the house, which brings all of his anxieties, all of his nightmares, to life. Oh, there's monsters, and zombies, and there's a hidden universe in the medicine cabinet, but the demons in this movie are personal, and Cobb has to confront them...and sometimes a shotgun is this best way to do that.  It is by finding and protecting his son, though, that Cobb is finally able to defeat the house, and the lingering, undead spirit of revenge that has haunted him since the war.  Nothing is more important to him, and having finally dealt with his inner turmoil, being no longer afraid, he can regain control of his life.  It may not have been Hannah and Her Sisters, but I think it's a classic.

In TelevisionLA Law, The Oprah Winfrey Show, ALF
In Song"Papa Don't Preach,"  "Take My Breath Away," Rock Me Amadeus"
Big Event-  Space Shuttle Challenger explodes after launch

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Back to the Future   Even people who hate sci-fi like Marty McFly.  As good as this movie is, though, it may not have aged very well.  It's still a good, light-hearted, sci-fi adventure, but a lot of the jokes were based on stuff we took for granted in the 1980's being totally unknown to people of the 1950's,  and they don't pay off today without some explanation.  Marty asks the owner of the diner for a Tab or a Pepsi Free, and the guy treats him like an idiot.  "If you want a Pepsi, kid, you're going to have to pay for it."  To me, it was funny, because my mom used to drink both of those products (in returnable glass bottles, no less), but when I have to explain it to someone who was born in 1985, all the punch is out of the punchline.  To my kids, the 80's may as well have been the 50's.  No internet?  No cell phones?  You must be kidding me.  What's a record player?  And I almost wish they could somehow make Back to the Future 4 so Marty can ask where the flying skateboards and hologram movies went and then freak out over the things we actually do have...but that's another movie in another year, so I'll skip it for now.  This is still a classic in my book, with good songs from the 50's and songs by the most 80's band I can think of, Huey Lewis and the News.  And I have to confess, sometimes when someone is being stupid, I'm still tempted to rap on their head and yell, "Think, McFly!"

Fright Night   It's not just nostalgia talking when I say, "they don't make vampire movies like this anymore."  They really don't.  Vampires aren't scary now, they're conflicted, and depressed, and they're in love, and some of them even sparkle in the sunlight.  That sucks.  Jerry Dandridge, however, is the sort of vampire I grew up with, a thing of evil, a dead thing that comes out at night to feed on the blood of the living.  He slept in a coffin in the basement, not a waterbed, you know what I mean?  Then we have Charley, the kid next door who tries to warn everyone, only to be laughed off as a kid with a good imagination, his reluctant girlfriend, Amy, a fake Hollywood vampire hunter, Peter Vincent, who discovers the truth accidentally while trying to disprove Charley's theory, and Evil Ed, his friend who may or may not be dead at the end of the film.  Pass the popcorn, please.  But I think this movie knew too well that the world of scary movies had no room for its' kind in the future.  "I've just been fired because nobody wants to see vampire killers anymore, or vampires, either," Peter Vincent tells us.  "Apparently all they want to see are demented madmen running around in ski masks hacking up young virgins." 

The Breakfast Club    I knew all of these people in high school.  Well, not these people, but people just like them.  The jock.  The nerd.  The burnout.  The freak.  The popular girl.  The whole point of the movie is that everyone of us struggles to find our identity in those years, to try to fit in somewhere, and that these stereotypes are not who we really are deep down inside.  After having seen it, I decided I didn't want to be any of those things, because even as their inner selves are revealed to us, to themselves,and to eachother, I thought they were all pretty horrible choices.  You know.  If you had to pick which group you were in.  It's a great flick, though, and should almost be required viewing for all American teens.  The sad part is, as our characters fear, even though you know you shouldn't use these stereotypes to judge eachother, you're going to do it anyway and do your best to stay connected with your chosen clique.  Most of us shed these skins when we leave high school, but there are some who never do, and that's a part of finding your identity, too, I guess.  But it's just such a damned shame we can't all just be who we are.

The Goonies     This is the adventure you and your friends made up while playing in the back yard, caught on film.  Pirate treasure!  Somewhere inside of all of us, at least up to a certain age, anyway, is that little voice that grows softer with age, saying, "take the back road!  Follow that trail and see where it goes!  Let's explore!"  You've got your best friends with you, you've got a summer, or an afternoon, or a Saturday to kill, go find an adventure!  Life's not like that.  You do your homework, you punch through study hall, and you stare out the window at the rain.  That's why we have movies like this.  But you still go out looking for trouble, and sometimes you even find it.  We used to sneak out at night to explore the abandoned mental hospital and the tunnels beneath them, and we wandered around in the woods looking for adventures, and when we got to our late teens and early twenties, we tried to think of things we could do to have that one last "Goonies" summer.  Some of us are still searching for One-eyed Willie.

In TelevisionMoonlighting, Larry King Live, The Golden Girls
In Song-  "Careless Whisper,"  "Sussudio," "We Built This City"
Big Event-  The wreckage of RMS Titanic is discovered

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Dune      Here's a movie that, at the time, was both fascinating and irritating.  I loved Dune, I loved the costumes, the characters, the actors that bring them to life, and the whole strange feudal space world in which they exist.  As a kid, though, I just didn't get it.  I didn't understand a frame of it until I read the novel seventeen years later. Then, I loved it even more.  As a kid, it was enough, I guess, that there were good guys and bad guys, space ships and giant worms, and it even had Sting in a very interesting and villanous role, but I didn't understand what the spice was, why anyone needed it that badly, or any of the prophesy.  The problem, of course, was that there was just too much story to fit into one little movie, and even then, if you had read the novel, you had to be "sci-fi" enough to really get into it.  Dune is to science fiction what  The Lord of the Rings trillogy is to fantasy.  You kind of have to bury yourself in it and hope you can dig back out still sane.  So, if you're going to do a movie based on this novel, this is about as good as you can get.  The juxtaposition of the elegant, kind, Atreides family and the brutal, leathery, house of Harkonnen is perfect, and I love the inner monolgue that gives you their thoughts, something you usually only get in books. Naturally, what I hate is how much has to be left out, and that's why I went and found a copy of the book.  Then I discovered why "the sleeper must awaken."

Red Dawn    During the Reagan years, it was pretty hard to imagine anyone being a bigger threat than the Soviet Union.  They had been the bogeyman for Americans for almost forty years at that point, and we didn't know that the Berlin Wall would come down and the Soviet Union would collapse a few years later, and no one expected that the bad guys in places like Iran could touch us.  Naturally, a movie about an allied Russian, Cuban, and Mexican invasion force taking one third of the United States struck a cord, and it was hard to imagine doing anything but joining the wolverines in the forrest and planning raids against the invaders.  At the end of the movie, we are told that America eventually repelled the Russians and their allies, but a lot of people, kids, mostly, died defending our shores.  It may not have been as big of a big box office smash as Ghostbusters or Beverly Hills Cop, but it sure did hold your attention, and I think it says a lot more about the times than either of those.  Don't get me wrong, I loved Ghostbusters, but I was a lot less worried about the Titanic pulling up at the docks as a ghost ship than I was about being incinerated at ground zero.  And you know what?  The Evil Empire may have collapsed, but the threat is still there.  You replace the Russians with the Chinese, throw in some terrorists from Iran and Yemen, and this movie could be made today.

The Philadelphia Experiment   What a cool idea this was.  I wish the special effects of the time could have done it justice.  There was a legend going around some time ago, a conspiracy theory, I guess, that in real life, the military had tried to make a ship invisible to radar and accidentally succeeded in some sort of inter-dimensional travel through time and space.  I once read a book by a guy named Charles Berlitz that claimed it all actually happened, too, but he was a little short on evidence and long on theory.  In the film, a couple of sailors aboard the USS Eldritch in 1943 are accidentally transported to a desert in 1984 during this top secret experiment.  There's some "fish out of water" stuff here with the sailors marvelling at things like aluminum cans and automatic transmissions, and that's fun, too, but it's more of a sci-fi adventure than anything, and it has that fun "what if" feel that movies like this ought to have.  Sure, it was a B movie, but it stirred my imaagination and sent me to the library a few times, which is more than I can say for Police Academy.

In TelevisionThe Cosby Show, Punky Brewster, Kids Incorporated
In Song"Jump," "When Doves Cry," "Karma Chameleon"
Big Event-  Soviet Union boycotts Olympic Games in Los Angeles 

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Return of the Jedi   Does anybody else ever wonder how a giant slug with arms became the most dangerous kingpin of crime in the galaxy?  I mean, it looks like he needs help to do anything. This movie is childhood gold, though.  You've got the Ewoks and their treetop village, all the weird creatures in Jabba's palace, and Luke actually looks like he knows what he's doing with his Jedi abilities.  I was way too young to really notice Princess Leia's slave costume back then, and Carrie Fisher never really did anything for me anyway.  My big question, at this point in the series was, what exactly is she a princess of?  Where are the king and queen, and why does she want to help establish a new republic, won't that make her not a princess anymore?  And why are we supposed to like Lando after he sold out Chewie and Han?  Well, who cares?  We still get speeder bike chases, lightsaber duels, and force lightning.  That might've been the coolest part of the whole movie, watching the Emperor zap Luke until Vader finally can't stand it anymore and has to intercede.  Plus, Darth Vader gets to die as a good guy, kind of.   

War Games   A high school hacker almost starts world war 3 and somehow, he's the hero of this movie.  That sounds dumb, but it's actually a clever idea, and it really taps in to the Cold War paranoia of the times.  I'm pretty sure everybody everywhere actually believed that at some point, the U.S. and the Soviets would start lobbing missles at each other and blow the world to hell.  Pretty scary stuff, especially when you consider what just one of those missles can do.  Today, the big threat is that the Earth might get too hot.  Sorry, but that's just not as big of a deal to me as instant incineration and radiation sickness.  This was the first time I saw Matthew Brodderick and Ally Sheedy in a movie, but I had no idea who they were at the time.  It was also the first time I'd ever heard the words "hacker," or "DefCon."  Anyway, the kid gets the scientist who created the A.I. program to come out of hiding and teach it that war is stupid by getting it to play tic tac toe.  After that, I'm assuming the FBI threw him in jail.

A Christmas Story  Ho, ho, ho.  It may not be It's A Wonderful Life, but it has earned it's place on the list as a Christmas classic.  The narrative style was a little dry for me, as a kid, but I grew to appreciate it.  It may be fiction, but it is still a real story about a real family.   No angels get their wings, and the department store Santa is mean and smells like whiskey, but there's still a lot of magic in this story, and even though dogs never stole our turkey and I never shot my eye out, I could still relate.  Who didn't want to beat the hell out of the neighborhood bully?  Who hasn't let the f-word slip out at the wrong moment?  Ralphie's story is great because it feels authentic, and there are a lot of laughs.  And Ralphie knows the truth about Santa Claus; " Let's face it, most of us are scoffers. But moments before zero hour, it did not pay to take chances." 

In Television-  The A-Team, Friday Night Videos, Webster
In Song-   "Hand In Glove," "Say Say Say," "99 Luftballoons"
Big Event-  Bombing of U.S. Embassy in Beirut

Just For Fun- How Return of the Jedi Should Have Ended

Friday, May 11, 2012


Blade Runner   Here's some awesome sci-fi, and a nice little piece of my childhood, starring noneother than Harrison Ford, who has been in so many good movies, you might think I'm playing favorites.  I even had a matchbox version of Rick Dekkard's flying car when I was a kid. This movie is often said to be based on the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Phillip K. Dick, but it would be more accurate to say it was inspired by the book. Having read it, I'm not really sure where the title, Blade Runner, even came from, but it's a lot cooler, so we'll ignore that, because the truth is, I think the movie is better.  No, really, I do. The important elements are all there, and we get the whole existential "what makes you human" thing, but we also get a 1940's style noir feel even though we're looking at the future.  One quick sidenote- science-fiction writers all seem to agree on one thing- the world will be destroyed or nearly uninhabitable due to nuclear war by at least 1992. This is also the case in the book, but, thankfully not touched on much in the movie.  Why are there Androids?  Don't care.  Why are people colonizing Mars?  Don't care.  Why is there so much pollution?  Shut up and show me more flying cars.  I really love the style and feel of this movie, and I actually think it holds up pretty well after 30 years, and while it may not give answers to life's big questions, it at least makes you think.  As Dekkard points out, " All he'd wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? All I could do was sit there and watch him die."

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan    Ok, I know the tech looks a little dated, but I say this is still the best Star Trek movie ever made.  First of all, it's just a great movie in general, even if you're not a trekkie.  If you are a fan of the original series, though, then this is about as perfect as you can get.  I used to love to watch the reruns of the original series as a kid, it was exciting to me, but the first attempt at a movie, Star Trek The Motion Picture was an unbelievable snooze-fest.  Where the first movie nearly destroyed Star Trek, the second one gave it new life, just like the Genesis project.  I especially liked the way everything sort of had a navy vibe to it, you know, even though they're in space, they still follow 1000 years of maritime tradition.  It ties into the original series, but not in such a way that we feel like we're watching a really long episode, and the acting is solid, way better than the original show.  Plus, you get mind control ear bugs, the creation of a new planet, and outright space adventure with James T. Kirk, a man who doesn't believe in a no win situation.  And call me a sap, but I teared up a little at Spock's funeral, as Kirk says, "Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most... human."

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial   A little brown lump of an alien, Drew Barrymore, and some kid named Elliot jerked a lot of tears out of my eyes that year, and made me eat a lot of Reese's Pieces.  What it did not do, even though it beat Star Wars as the highest grossing film of the time, was make me want to go home and play E.T.  It was good, but it was no Raiders of the Lost Ark.  A writer by the name of T.M. McNally once told me that writing comedy is hard, but writing drama is easy.  Just write a story about a boy and his dog, or cat, or whatever, and kill one of them.  Well, E.T. doesn't die, but the premise is the same.  Make you fall in love with it, then rip it out of your arms.  I haven't seen it in 30 years.  All I remember is "phone home," the bicycle in the sky, and the candy.  As a kid, it moved me to tears...and then I forgot about it and went home and played with my Star Wars toys.

 Poltergeist  Before I saw the film, I read the Mad Magazine parody of it.  They're remarkably similar.  Some people think these movies are cursed, but Craig T. Nelson is still alive.  Which is good, because I loved him in The Incredibles.  And Coach was pretty funny, sometimes, too.  I wonder whatever happened to Dobber?  Anyway, let me think... scary tree, scary clown, scary mirror, creepy girl in front of the television.  All around, a pretty good ghost story.  I'm always praying that Hollywood leaves it alone instead of rebooting it or trying to make a prequel, or something.  Besides, who else could they get to scream, "You didn't move the bodies?"

In TelevisionCagney & Lacey, Cheers!, St. Elsewhere
In Song"Rock The Casbah," "Hurts So Good," "Do You Believe In Love"
Big Event-  Tylenol laced with cyanide

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


 Raiders of the Lost Ark   This might possibly be the best action/adventure movie ever.  Every element of this film is placed so perfectly, that I can't think of a single part I'd want rewriten, recast, or reshot.  I can't say the same for many other movies.  After watching this movie, I spent the next week wearing my dad's leather jacket, rearranging the couch cushions into a chasm I could leap across, using a dog leash as my bullwhip and singing, "dun da dun DUN, dun da Dun..."  I still get that urge thirty years later.  I remember the Banana Republic catalogue would come in the mail back then, and it was full of stuff like Indy's Fedora, Leather Jacket, pithe helmets...Adventure stuff!  L.L. Bean?  Not for me, Mac.  I'm dreaming of Cairo!  If I had to use one word to describe Indiana Jones, it would be "determined."  Sure, he's a hero, he's smart, he's brave...but in the end, what made him who he was is that determination.  The guy just kept on, no matter what.  He was getting the Ark back from those Nazis, even if he had to ride on the outside of a submerged submarine, damn it.  And can you have  a more perfect enemy than Nazis?  Could there be a better irony than them trying to get their hands on a holy Jewish relic?  They don't make movies like this anymore...and by "they," I mean George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg.  

The Road Warrior   I don't think you really need to have seen Mad Max to understand what's going on, here.  There's been a nuclear war, food and gasoline are scarce, and Australia is now a two-lane highway in a desert run by a biker gang.  Max is an ex-cop whose best friend and family were murdered, and after he got his revenge, he decided to ride around the outback in his old patrol car with his dog.  Why there are still police officers in a post-apocalyptic world that has descended into anarchy is never explained, but there are some psycho punk rockers in some pretty awesome end-of-the-world hot rods, and Max regains his honor by helping out a settlement of oil drillers.  If you got more out of it than that, please let me know.

An American Werewolf In London     There's really not much new ground to cover when you take on a werewolf movie.  Guy gets bitten, refuses to believe the crazy people who tell him he's cursed, grows a beard and kills folks, then gets shot and killed with a silver bullet.  This movie, though, has a lot of morbidly funny moments in it, mostly due to David's dead zombie friend, Jack.  It also has one of the best wolf-to-man transformation scenes I've ever seen, pre-CGI or not.  People with bigger brains than me see things in these movies like the dual nature of man, and stuff like that, but for me, it's a monster movie, pure and simple.  One thing I did love, besides the beautiful nurse, of course, was the American "fish out of water" trying to get himself arrested by the stereotypically hyper-civil English, yelling, "Queen Elizabeth is a man!  Prince Charles is a Faggot!  Winston Churchill was full of shit!  Shakespeare was French!"

In TelevisionDynasty, Hill Street Blues, The Smurfs
In Song"Stray Cat Strut,"  "Jessie's Girl," "Keep On Loving You"
Big Event-  Pope John Paul assassination attempt

Monday, May 7, 2012


The Empire Strikes Back   Most people I know consider this to be the best of the original trilogy, one of those rare sequels that surpasses the original.  All I knew back then was that Luke Skywalker was back!  There would be more new toys at the local K-Mart!  I'd be getting The Empire Strikes Back sheets and a lunch box!  At the tender age of six, I sat in the theater, slack-jawed and awed.  The world of Star Wars had grown.  More exotic and dangerous locations, better dialogue, more action, and...what's this?  Emotion?  I actually felt sad for Chewbacca as his best friend is frozen alive and taken away, and I realized that Han and Leia belong together, and I knew that Luke had to try to save them, even if it meant they all died.  I also learned that there really are Muppets in space, and that they are silly, but wise, and are worthy of a Weird Al Yankovic song.  Ultimately, though, I have a feeling that a lot of people liked this one better simply because the bad guys win.  That was a turning point for a lot of people, I think, and I can't explain it, but after that movie, people weren't scared of Darth Vader or Boba Fett, they wanted to be them.  Back then, Luke was my hero, but as I grew up, I decided I'd rather be Han.  Who can say why?  Maybe because deep down inside, we all knew this was not the way it ended, that, as Yoda said, "There is another."

The Shining   Take a novel by Stephen King, add a pound of Jack Nicholson, and stir it up with Stanley Kubrick, and you get something so disturbing, it's almost comical.  There are a lot of truly awful things that take place, but this movie suffers from what I like to call "seventies-itis."  It is, in many places, boring.  There was something about the way people made films between 1969 and 1980 that is just plain dull, as if they said to themselves, "hey, you know what would really move the action along?  A scene where we just see the guy sitting quietly in a chair!"  I also had a hard time believing that Jack wasn't a little crazy before they even get to the old hotel.  Still, though, there are some great moments, and they will be stuck with me forever, such as little Danny writing "redrum" on the mirror, and the two little girls in the hall, and of course all those typewritten lines of "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."  Besides, you know you've made a great horror film when parts are sampled into a Skinny Puppy song. and this is one to watch and remember mostly because no one does "crazy" like an axe-wielding Jack Nicholson screaming, "Here's Johnny!" 

The Blues Brothers    At the time, I wasn't even old enough to stay up and watch Saturday Night Live, but I'm pretty sure this was the first SNL sketch that ended up as a movie.  There would be others, and some of them would even be funny, but this is one that has had a lot of mileage.  A great deal of its' success is probably due to the great soul music and cameos by people like Ray Charles and Cab Calloway, as much as the plot or the comedic, quotable lines.  Chicagoans liked it, I guess, because, well, it's a little slice of the South Side.  I liked it more for the music, myself.  Even in my youth, I recognized that the whole plot revolving around paying the back taxes for "the penguins" was just an excuse for them to drive around, get into trouble, and play some old R&B tunes.  Today, I'm not sure if it is remembered more for the music, the jokes, or the fact that John Belushi is dead.  It falls into the same category as Animal House, for me, as it was more for my older brother's generation, than me, but it was all in good fun.  Besides, you had to know what you were getting into when Elwood says, "It's 106 miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses." 

In TelevisionThat's Incredible, Magnum, P.I., Thundar the Barbarian
In Song"Whip It," "Call Me," "Another One Bites The Dust"
Big Event-  Mount St. Helens erupts

Just For Fun- How The Empire Strikes Back Should have Ended

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Apocalypse Now   If you ask me, this title is more than a little misleading.  I went into this film expecting the end of the world, but what I got was a simple lesson in war.  If you want to win, you have to be more savage and barbaric than the enemy you are fighting.  Seems pretty straightforward, right?  The problem is, our Western minds cannot accept that, and that is why Captain Miller has to kill Colonel Kurtz.  This Viet Nam war movie can speak a lot to what we've been arguing as a country for the last ten years- can we torture the enemy, burn their places of worship, and do unspeakable acts and still be able to call ourselves the good guys?  We, as Americans, say, "no."  Colonel Kurtz says to us, "that's why you will lose."  The film is a journey, and on the way, we see confusion, pain, and horror, and we learn that "Charlie" doesn't surf,  but I never thought of this as an "anti" or a "pro" movie.  It doesn't try to make the case that our involvement it Viet Nam was right or wrong, it just shows us what it was,  and what I took away from it was, "the horror....the horror."

Alien   My first "modern" horror movie.  This was on the television in a hotel we stayed at during a family trip when I was a kid.  Yes, the monsters are aliens, and the scary stuff happens in space, we've seen that before, but the real terror here is that they don't kill you.  At least not immediately.  No, death would be a relief.  Maybe you don't know what I'm talking about, because you haven't seen it, but I'm sure you've at least seen a parody of the alien popping out of somebody's chest.  Just plain yuk.  It turns out that one of the crew members isn't even human, and he still dies, that's how mean these big sticky bugs are.  I guess there was a plot, maybe even a message, but how can you even focus on stuff like that when a big ugly bug pops out of a guy's chest?  And we know things are only going to get worse, because as the android lies dying on the floor, he says, "I can't lie to you about your chances, but...you have my sympathies."

The Muppet Movie   Usually, when I think back to 1979, I remember plaid pants, the hostages in Iran, and Jimmy Carter.  Thank God for the Muppets.  I watched them every week on CBS and just laughed and laughed.  If I remember it right, it's basically the Muppet's "origin story," as it involves them all meeting for the first time, as Kermit and Fozzie drive across the country and meet lots of famous people my parents recognized in cameo roles.  The best part of it all, though, is that it's never presented as a puppet show.  Kermit and Piggy are as much "people" as Mel Brooks and Dom DeLuis.  And how the heck did they make it look as though Kermit is actually riding a bicycle?  The correct answer is ,Who cares?  As the song goes, "Life's like a movie, write your own ending, keep believing, keep pretending."

In TelevisionNightline, Benson, Hart to Hart
In Song-  "London Calling,"  "Rock With You,"  "Video Killed The Radio Star"
Big Event-  Soviet Union invades Afghanistan

Saturday, May 5, 2012


 Superman The Movie   This is the original CBM, the mother of all Comic Book Movies.  This is dreams made flesh, and that is why the tag line was, "You'll believe a man can fly."  Superman was already a part of our collective consciousness, but this film brought Superman to life.  This is important, because while we may not believe that Superman exists, we still believe in Superman.  I knew when I was a kid that Superman wasn't real, probably before I knew that Santa Clause wasn't real, but this movie made me believe in the things about Superman that are real.  Truth, Justice, and yeah, even the American way.  Christopher Reeve knew how to play this part, both as Clark Kent and as Superman.  Just a little bit below over-the-top.  As if he was winking at us the whole time.  Cheesy?  Fine.  Make mine cheddar.  The scenes, the soundtrack, it's all been parodied and homaged  to death, and why?  Because, cheesy or not, love it or hate it, it's a part of us now.  But for the idealist in us all, there is also the cynic, and that's why when Superman shares his values with Lois Lane, we laugh we she replies, "You're gonna end up fighting every elected official in this country!"

Dawn of the Dead   Zombie Apocalypse.  Does it really matter how or why?  George A. Romero took zombies out of their Voodoo swamps and put them in a shopping mall in Pittsburg.  They don't follow any master, they don't have any part in some evil plan, they're just...rotting corpses that want to eat you alive.  Romero changed the rules, and by doing that, created a new genre, not just "horror," but "the zombie movie."  Anyone making a zombie movie is either using his work as inspiration, or flat-out ripping him off.  But you know what irritates me about it?  All of the damned "social commentary."  Gimme a break.  I don't mind that he has a social message, but I prefer a little subtext.  I rented this because I want to see the zombies try to eat people and I want to watch the characters get away, not because I want to hear about how much Romero hates commercialism!  You hate it when people make money, George?  Fine.  Stop making movies people want to see.  Oh, wait, he's already done that.  All in all though, this one has earned a spot one my list, because he's still the master who started it all, and he does have a point to make.  "When there's no room left in Hell, the dead will walk the earth." 

In TelevisionFantasy Island, Battlestar Galactica, Taxi
In Song"Dust in the Wind," "Come Sail Away," "Stayin' Alive"
Big Event-  First "test tube baby" is born

Just For Fun- HISHE Superman

Friday, May 4, 2012


 Star Wars   It is impossible to exist in this world and not know who Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are.  Is it because this movie was so brilliant? No. This is Citizen Cane for Science Fiction fans, but to be honest, the dialogue is pretty substandard, and the story itself is a hodgepodge of cliché's taken from westerns, kung fu movies, and such.  It's no King Lear.  That's okay.  It's great, in fact, because that's not why I love it.  Technically, for it's time, it was amazing, it made everything seem possible,   as if we were looking through a window at the future, even though it happened, as we all know, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away."  But it was also a story of good versus evil, and hints of our own not so distant past, with the jackbooted imperial officers and "Stormtroopers," the rebellion against his Imperial Majesty, and, of course, the Dust Bowl world that Luke's family struggled to farm.  Some of it though, is simple nostalgia, like holding on to a teddy bear long after the fur has worn smooth, as I tell myself, "The Force will always be with you."

                                    The Spy Who Loved Me   Nobody does it better.  I could actually just stop writing right there, couldn't I?  People from my parents' generation always say that Sean Connery was the best Bond.  Maybe he was.  Roger Moore was my Bond.  Suave, handsome, witty, deadly, and wait...not American?  That's right, Bond is our Cold War hero, but that parachute that opens up is a Union Jack, not Old Glory.  Here is my first exposure to an Englishman, and he's totally awesome.  On top of that, we get to meet Jaws, a guy with metal teeth who actually kills a shark by biting it to death!  I could go on about the plot, and how this influenced my view of the Cold War, or I could talk about the innuendo that, as a child, I was oblivious to, but honestly, this is just action adventure at it's best, and I'm always glad to know that Bond will be "keeping the British End up, Sir!"

In TelevisionThree's Company, The Love Boat, Soap
In Song"Margaritaville," "Da Do Ron Ron," "Hotel California"
Big Event-  Egypt recognizes the state of Israel

Just For Fun- HISHE Star Wars


Rocky   You know, I don't even really remember Rocky.  It was on television one night, and my parent were watching it while I was playing with my star wars toys.  I had a vague understanding of what boxing was, and I remember that he didn't win, but that was okay, because he still kind of did because he went all fifteen rounds with Apollo, and neither one of them really lost.  Still, from that moment on, Rocky was stored away in a special place in my brain.  Rocky Balboa had heart.  He is determination.  He's the American spirit of, "Just gimme a shot, I can make it," and how fitting that the fight takes place during the bi-centenial.  Rocky was already ingrained in the collective consciousness of the country before I was even old enough to really grasp it, and a lot of my love for this character actually comes from the later films, but he was still there when I was growing up, and I did grow up with him.  And even as a child, being to young to really understand these things yet, who couldn't feel the electricity coming off of the screen as our hero, bruised and beaten, but having gone the distance, calls out for "Adrian!"

In TelevisionLaverne and Shirley, Charlie's Angels, The Bionic Woman
In Song-  "Bohemmian Rhapsody," "More Than A Feeling," "Disco Duck"
Big Event-  Apple introduces the Apple II

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Jaws   I love the ocean.  I just hate what lives in it, thanks to this movie.  This was on broadcast television when I was a kid, on prime time, and I will never forgive the network for that.  I couldn't even take a bath or pass by a lake without breaking into a cold sweat for a week.  Sure, vampires drink your blood, but they only come out at night, and you could always keep them at bay with a crucifix. But Sharks are  real.  They swim up from underneath of you without warning while you're splashing and having fun and eat you alive.  The best WTF moment of the film is when Hooper, played believably by Richard Dreyfuss, pulls a Louisiana Licence plate out of a shark.  And it wasn't even the big one.  No social or political commentary needed here, folks.  All you need to know is, "We're going to need a bigger boat."

  Monty Python and the Holy Grail    
 Not everybody "gets" British humor.  I grew up in a house where the television was on PBS quite a bit, so if it wasn't puppets teaching me the alphabet, it was probably some dry English humor like All Things Great and Small on the TV.  Most of it, well...I didn't get.  But you don't have to be a Brit to get the giggles with this one, you just have to have a sense of humor. It's refreshing to see the filth and the muck and the brutality served up in the form of jokes, instead of having the Dark Ages portrayed as some sort of beautiful fairytale for once.  Yes, God, and King, and Country, and Honor, and all of that...but also man-eating bunnies!  Before 1981's Excalibur was filming the first frame, these guys were mocking it, and even if you loved it and it's source material (which I do), you'll still grin like an idiot when the Black Knight loses an arm and declares, "It's just a flesh wound!"

On TelevisionWelcome Back Kotter, The Jeffersons, Wheel of Fortune
In Song"Mandy," "Black Water,"  "The Boys Are Back In Town"
Big Event- Bill Gates founds Microsoft

Just for Fun.  These guys are hillarious.


Chinatown    The 70's looks back on the 30's.  I always loved those old detective movies from the 30's and 40's...this was nothing like them.  In fact, it was pretty boring.  So why bring it up?  Well, it does have merit, especially as a cultural signpost.  Chinatown taught me that Los Angeles is not the nirvana that I thought it was growing up, and racism in the 30's was pretty casual.  It also showed me a young Jack Nicholson doing some fine acting, not the ham I knew from 1989's Batman.  In the end, though, it finds a spot on my list because, having seen it, I can appreciate the pop culture references to it.  After having seen 2011's Rango, I thought to myself, "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown!"

Blazing Saddles   Most of the jokes went over my head when I saw this as a kid, which is probably for the better.  Fortunately, a lot of the bad language was in Yiddish, so a name like Lili Von Schtupp didn't sound  dirty to me then.  I had no idea why all of the townspeople were freaked out that the Sherriff was black, or why they kept calling him that word.  Then again, growing up in a small midwestern town, I'd only ever met one black person back then, and she was just a little girl about my age.  Blazing Saddles has the distinction of being the first movie I had seen depicting racism, but it also has the distinction of being a comedy that laughs at hate.  That's a pretty awesome thing for a kid to absorb, even if I didn't get all of the jokes.  We still get the classic, "badges?  We don't need no stinkin' Badges!"

Young Frankenstein   Monsters terrified me as a kid.  Yes, Dracula and the Wolfman seem pretty lame by today's monster standards, I know, but those old black and white films gave me nightmares as a child, and I'm not affraid to admit that.  Then, Mel Brooks did it again.  Whether he meant to or not, he created a film that made it okay for me to laugh at my fears.  As it turns out, most of the things I was afraid of were pretty silly anyway.  As with any Brooks movie, there were lots of penis jokes tossed in and disguised in Yiddish, but that isn't what I took from it.  For me, it's always been about that jar with the brain in it that was clearly marked "abnormal," and all of that sly winking at the audience.  As for the monster, well, even when I see a kid dress up as it on Halloween, in my head, I'm screaming, "FronkenSHTEEN!"

On Television-  Happy days, Little House on the Prairie, Hong Kong Phooey
In Song"Time in a Bottle," "Waterloo," "The Joker"
Big Event- President Richard Nixon resigns