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.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Edward Scissorhands    Three actors pop out of this movie for me. The only thing I knew about Johnny Depp at the time was that he was on 21 Jump Street, but we didn't get that channel at our house, so he was new to me, a teen heart throb wanted to show he could act.  Wynona Rider had been in Beetlejuice (also by Tim Burton) two years before that, which I liked, but I had a hard time picturing her in the character of Kim at first because I identified her as Lydia.   The biggest one, for me, though, was Anthony Michael Hall.  I knew him from Wierd Science, The Breakfast Club, and Sixteen Candles, and in each if these movies he played "the geek."  Everytime I saw this kid, he was a skinny, socially inept nerd with braces and zits, but when I saw him in Edward Scissorhands, I was impressed with how well he was able to convince me that he was really a big, beefy, jockstrap A-Hole.  His character, Jim, is a cliche', a stereotype we all know well, just like the nerds he played in the other movies I mentioned, but I saw it as a bit more, too.  You see, Jim isn't just a jerk who goes after this film's version of "Frankenstein's monster" because he fears what is different and strange, he goes after him because he's jealous.  I could relate.  Now, I was a bit of a misfit in high school, and I could identify with the themes of the movie, the isolation, depression...I had sympathy for Edward.  I liked Jim's character, though, because I understood his motivation.  The artificial man-child with scissors for hands?  Of course, he just wants human contact, but can never have it because he is different, and feared.  Got it.  Message recieved.  But if my girlfriend started spending all of her time with some freak from out of town and, out of nowhere, started treating me like there wasn't a thing to like about me, I'd get a little testy, too.  As a matter of fact, that actually happened to me once or twice when I was in high school.  Of course, I didn't get drunk and chase the guy to his castle so I could try to kill him....  but you probably get the point.

Goodfellas   At some point in your life, you probably thought it would be awesome to be a gangster, right?  Power.  Money.  Respect.  Nice suits.  The part about the mafia being a brutal criminal organization where theft, murder, and the overall destruction of other people's lives, you could do without, maybe, but hey- fugedaboudit.  It was this movie, more than any of the other gangster movies that came out around that time, that got my buddies and I talking to eachother like wiseguys with fake Noo Yawk accents and telling phony stories about our dead friend "Jimmy Staccatta (God rest his soul)."  Goodfellas shows you all of the violence, ugliness, brutality, paranoia, and treachery of mob life...and yet, you somehow still want to be a gangster.  Even Henry, who by the end of the film ought to be thanking God every minute for the witness protection program, still wishes he was in "the life."  His two best friends, Jimmy and Tommy, would stab you in the throat, call you an @#%&!, steal your wallet, and laugh about how funny your voice sounds when you beg for mercy while gargling your own blood, and yet people still watch this movie and think, "man, I'd love to hang out with those dudes."  That's some good acting, to be able to convince an audience that psycopaths are the best kind of company.  You should be horrified, but you can't help but be entertained, and Scorsese gets top honors in my book for making a gangster movie so complex that you enjoy it, but feel like you need a bath afterward. 

Pump Up The Volume   Okay, so what is this movie?  Is it a modern Rebel Without A Cause?   Is it a commentary on free speech and government restriction of the airwaves?  Is it just a bunch of dick jokes with some teen angst thrown in?  Yes.  The answer is "D: All of the above."  Here's the important stuff; Most of the time, Mark is a shy kid who was forced to leave his friends "back east" and move with his family to Lameville, but on the air, hes a rude and crude teenage "shock jock" who says things and plays songs you can't hear on commercial radio. It's mostly just dirty talk and mediocre music until he has a Spiderman-like epiphany about the influence he has on his listeners and his percieved responsibility for a fellow student's suicide, and the evil adults all conspire to take him off the air and toss him in jail. Plus, a cute girl discovers his secret identity as Happy harry Hard-on, and they both take off their shirts, so points are scored for both the males and females in the audience.  There are actually a lot of paralells with Rebel Without A Cause here.  James Dean and Christian Slater both play the new kid who doesn't quite fit in.  Both characters find acceptance by doing things the adults think are stupid and dangerous and find themselves blamed and feeling guilty for the death of a peer.  Both gain the attention of the rebel girl who tries to draw him out of his introverted shell.  Both end up getting caught by the cops doing not much of anything wrong.  And of course, to top it all of, "grown-ups just don't understand what it's like to be a teenager in my generation."  As for the message, well- I don't know.  I'm not a big fan of government control of the airwaves, but it's not like Happy Harry Hard-on was really offering up a needed service.  The way this movie plays out, you'd think kids in 1990 had no other way of hearing Beastie Boys songs or dirty jokes without (gasp) "pirate radio."  I don't know if there even were any pirate radio stations in my area growing up, and I heard plenty of both.  Also, despite what the audio montage at the end would have you believe, I doubt that Happy Harry Hard-on inspired kids to start their own suicide hotlines or local political talkshows.  All in all, though, it goes in my own personal cultural vault, because I still remember Al Gore's wife wanting to censor pretty much all music, and because it's a teen movie made when I was a teen that didn't assume everyone in the audience was the same cardboard cut-out kid they showed in sit-coms.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead   Ok, first let me just say that I have seen two or three film versions of Hamlet, and I do actually enjoy the works of William Shakespeare.  Having said that, I can appreciate the sneers given to hipsters who only listen to vinyl records and only read books written before 1959.  Not enough pretentiousness in your diet?  Have some Shakespeare!  I am no hipster, and I didn't watch this movie because I wanted to explore the ideas of fatalism and free will, or to pat myself on the back for "getting" the jokes.   I watched this movie because my friend Paul Keller recommended it, and because there were parts of it that were truly histerical.  Plus, I happen to think that Gary Oldman and Tim Roth are really gifted, talented actors.  Of course, there's plenty of stuff in there for the more cerebral viewer, and that's cool.  I do get that stuff.  But mostly, I remember this movie because it reminds me of the kick-ass times I had hanging out with all of my friends- they know who they are. 

In Television-  Twin Peaks, In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
In Song-  "Groove Is In The Heart," "Vogue," "Ice Ice Baby"
Big Event-  Operation Desert Shield begins

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Batman   If Superman  was the mother of all comic book movies, then this was its' brooding teenaged son.  It was a blockbuster summer movie, yes, but it was also a cultural phenomenon.  People who had never picked up a comic book in their lives were proudly wearing the Batman logo on t-shirts and hats.  There was even a Santa Monica Airlines Jim Thiebaud skatebaord with Joker graphics (I've seen it for sale for about $900).  It was the most hyped movie in my lifetime up to that point, and it was about a comic book superhero.  Big name stars, big production,and music by Prince.  I got to see this at a drive-in theater when it came out, which was a pretty big deal for me.  I loved the look of Gotham, the insane villainy of the Joker, and was really impressed that Keaton, a mostly comedic actor, could go so dark.  By the time the fall semester started, rumors were already flying around about a sequel with Michael J. Fox as Robin and Madonna as Catwoman.  People were excited.  I guess it isn't posible to talk about this movie without bringing up the rather disappointing sequels or the 2005 reboot and the debate over what actor was the better Batman, but  I don't feel like getting into it here.  You can go to the fan sites and debate how true to the source material it was, or argue over which film really captured the spirit of Batman.  The fact is, there wasn't anything else like Batman in 1989, and the rest of the Batman franchise, including the very awesome animated series, owes a debt to Tim Burton and his vision.

Dead Poets Society   My English professor for the first semester of college told us once, "I am here to teach you how to think." I rejected it immediately, because I didn't need or want anyone to teach me how or what to think.  Engage my mind, challenge my critical thinking skills, encourage me to think, and in new ways, yes, but do not try to teach me how or what to think. We butted heads once over a particular rule of grammar.  I don't remember what it was now, but the rule he was teaching was inconsistent with a rule he had taught previously which would have made the test question unanswerable.  The other students in the class picked up on it, and also asked him questions to which he could not respond, and he became furious.  I don't know if he was so mad because he felt he was losing control of his class, or because he was challenged at all, or because he truly didn't know the answer himself, but it boiled down to him yelling, "I am the teacher, and these are the rules!"  I'll admit that it gave me some satisfaction, because it made him admit that he was contradicting his own lessons, he had no idea why it was the right answer, he was telling us to follow a path we didn't understand and couldn't explain it himself.  "Just do as your told."  And this guy was a published author, one of those guys you'd expect to be a free-thinker.  I guess Dead Poets Society is a subversive film, because it produces students like me.  I admire a teacher like the film's John Keating, because he can teach you that while structure and rules are important, and that, comformity, to an extent, is necessary, nothing new or creative ever comes from paint-by-numbers, march-in-step, ridgid adherence to order.  Stand on top of your desk to get a different point of view.  Sneak out in the middle of the night and meet your friends in a cave.  Be what you want to be.  And if the rules don't make sense, question them.

Pet Sematary  I've seen plenty of scary movies, and I've read dozens of horror novels, but Pet Sematary goes in the top five for sheer creepiness.  An ancient burial ground belonging to the Mi'kmaq indians has the power to bring the dead back to life...sort of.  But, as the old man Judd tells us, "sometimes dead is better."  Burying the family cat in the old "pet sematary" (it's spelled incorrectly on purpose) may seem like a good idea, until it returns as an evil zombie cat.Doing the same with your dead child or wife is even worse.  Driven by grief, that's exactly what Louis Creed does, and the results are pretty chilling.  My one beef with this movie?  The Ramones.  I was a big fan of the Ramones back then, and I loved songs like "I Want To Be Sedated" and "Beat On The Brat," but "Pet Sematary" just plain sucks.  In fact, there wasn't much from their album Brain Drain that I did like ("Pallisades Park" was good, but it doesn't count, because it was a cover, and I already liked that song).  One of the greatest bands, not just of punk rock, but of rock and roll period, and they gave us "Pet Sematary."  Lame.

In Television-  The Arsenio Hall Show, Coach, Quantum Leap
In Music-   "Like A Prayer," "Bust A Move," "Love Shack"
Big Event-  Fall of the Berlin Wall

Friday, June 8, 2012


Heathers   Watching this movie as an adult would be kind of a chore.  I just don't think I could enjoy it any more.  You have to forget everything you learned after high school and try to view things through teen aged eyes.  Sure, you know now that all of the things you went through pale in comparison, the pain, the passion, the marriage, the mortgage- and there are so many more important things than picking a date for the homecoming dance, but, as my friend Brandon Burdick once eloquently put it, "Everything is forever when you're sixteen."  Too right, but more than that, your teenage years are emotion amplified.  You also kind of have to forget Columbine.  In 1988, when Christian Slater pulls a gun on the jock-strap bullies and fires blanks at them, it's a high school prank that puts them in their place.  In today's society, that person would be in jail and the dumb jocks would have to go through years of counseling to get through their trauma.  Since the incident at Columbine, the idea of someone wanting to murder their entire school is not the plot of a movie, it's all too real.  Too real, also, is the story of a gay student who committed suicide after being "outed" by classmates on the Internet, and as the old song goes, "That joke isn't funny anymore."  Sure, there's the uplifting (I guess) ending where we get the impression our popular heroine is going to change the socio-political caste system that is public school for the better simply by being nice to the fat , uncool, ugly kids, but I doubt it really works out that way.  The problem with Heathers isn't that it's unrealistic, but that it's too realistic.  There are too many people that identify with this, too many people who go from thinking, "I wish I could do that," to Google searching bomb ingredients. 

Cocktail   Thanks to this movie, many people believe that you can't be a good bartender unless you are also an excellent juggler.  That may be true at TGI Fridays or at some of the clubs in Panama City, but in the places I've tended bar, most people prefer to get the correct drink, made well, and promptly.  Personality doesn't hurt, but flair is unnecessary.   I've worked with some of those Florida bartenders, and, to be fair, it's just second nature to them.  They can't pick up a bottle without flipping it around.  Sometimes, it's fun to watch, too, and I learned a couple of tricks myself, but in most places, after the novelty of it wears off, there's a guy at the end of the bar shouting, "Hey, Tom Cruise!  When you've finished showing off for the ladies, I could use a beer over here!"  Besides all of that, you also have to have a considerable amount of drink knowledge.  You have to be able to make a drink no one has ordered since the 1950's in under a minute without asking the customer, "what's in that?"  You've never heard of a Rusty Nail?  Never made a Sazerac before?  What kind of bartender are you?  Besides, some people don't even really know what goes in their favorite drink.  When I turned 21, I ordered a lot of drinks just to try them out, I had no idea what I'd be getting.  But anyway, the money is pretty good when you have a decent tipping crowd, especially in a high-volume club where there are lots of tourists.  The downside is, there are a lot of people who don't realize that you're only making $2.13 an hour and that you rely on those tips, especially foreigners.  All in all, I'd say being a bartender was one of my most favorite jobs.  Oh, right the movie...well, a guy gets out of the army, has a hard time finding work without experience or a degree, gets a job as a bartender, and makes a lot of mistakes based on some really bad advice.  But it ends well.

A Fish Called Wanda   My favorite character in this movie is Otto, the obnoxious American.  He gets all of the best lines.  "Oh, no! It's k-k-k-Kent c-c-c-coming to k-k-k-kill me!"  I know I'm not supposed to like him, but damn it, I can't help it, he makes me laugh.  John Cleese and Michael Palin are both in this, and it occurred to me that this might have been the movie that turned me on to the older Monty Python films.  Unlike The Meaning of Life, however, this actually has a plot you can follow about a bank robbery gone bad with a lot of double crosses, some stuttering, and lots of laughs at the expense of both the uptight British and the overconfident Americans.  I saw this in the theater with my fiend Ryan Halze, and we left the theater quoting our favorite lines until about two days later ("what was that middle part again?").  Good fun.  I don't think it really requires much more examination than that.

Willow      It's basically Star Wars retold as fantasy instead of Sci-Fi.  Here are the substitutions- Willow Ufgood is Luke Skywalker; Mad Martigan is Han Solo; Sorsha is Princess Leia; Fin Raziel is Obi Wan; and then we have General Kael as Darth Vader.  Okay, that may not be exactly right.  There's more to it than that, I guess, what with the kidnapped baby who is prophesised to do something or save something.  I actually really liked it, with the exception of the scene where the evil witch turns all of the soldiers into pigs.  I have to admit, I hate that kind of stuff.  Anyway, it was a good movie I might have forgotten about, but I do remember it because I saw it in the theater with my big brother.  That didn't happen very often, he and I doing "stuff" together, just the two of us.  I guess it wouldn't have mattered if we had gone to see Rattle and Hum or Rambo 3.

In Television- The Wonder Years, Murphy Brown, China Beach
In Song-  "Father Figure," "Bad Medicine," "Never Gonna Give You Up"
Big Event-   War between Iran and Iraq ends