Ghostheads (2016)

July 20th, 2016

If you’ve been to Comic-Con, Dragon Con, Wizard World, or any of the hundreds of other fan conventions across the country, you’ve probably seen them — people who dress up as characters from their favorite movies, cartoons, comic books and video games. It’s called cosplay (costume role-playing), and it’s huge. Cosplayers spend tons of time (and money) recreating the costumes and outfits worn by their heroes. Some of them compete in costume competitions (as shown on the SyFy series Heroes of Cosplay) while others are content to simply show off their hard work.

Some cosplayers are drawn to specific franchises (see Star Wars’ 501st Legion as the most well known example). Another such group are the Ghostheads, super fans of Ghostbusters who, for various personal reasons, are so enamored with the franchise that they feel compelled to dress up as Ghostbusters, network with other Ghostheads, attend conventions, and even perform community service.

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In Ghostheads, director Brendan Mertens and producer Tommy Avallone introduce us to a few of the movies’ biggest fans, each of whom has a reason as to why the franchise is so important to them. Tom Gebhardt, the product of a broken home, bonded with his grandfather through the movie. Today Gebhardt makes pizza by day, but spends his free time as a Ghosthead, driving around in his replica Ecto-1 (the “Ghostbusters Car”) and filling his backyard shed with Ghostbusters toys and memorabilia. Then there’s Abigail Gardner and Craig Goldberg, members of the Atlanta Ghostbusters. Three years ago, Abigail was a struggling alcoholic. “Now I have a reason to live,” she says, after discovering Ghostbusters and other Ghostheads. “The movies are a lot like a family member. They’re better than family members in some ways,” she says, before breaking down in tears. Finally there’s Todd Whalen from Vancouver, British Columbia. Whalen calls himself the “Journeyman Ghostbuster,” and enjoys traveling around the world meeting other Ghostheads and making friends. Nothing wrong with that.

In an attempt to convince us that the Ghostheads aren’t crazy a clinical psychologist is interviewed, but her credibility is undermined moments later after she mentions that she also cosplays, and describes the Ghostbusters’ proton packs as “pretty bad ass.”

Several other Ghostheads are introduced throughout the feature and each one of them has their own personal reasons for becoming Ghostheads, but more amazing than that is the number of people officially associated with the Ghostbusters franchise that Ghostheads was able to interview on camera. Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ivan Reitman, Ernie Hudson, William Atherton, Kurt Fuller, Joe Medjuck (producer of the original films), Ray Parker, Jr., and even Dave Coulier (the voice of Peter Venkman on The Real Ghostbusters) along with others are interviewed. The only major people missing are Bill Murray and Harold Ramis — you’re equally as likely to get either of them to appear in a documentary about Ghostbusters, and Harold Ramis is dead (although we do get a touching segment from his daughter, Violet). We also get Paul Fig, director of the 2016 Ghostbusters film, which might explain how they got everybody else.

On his 30th birthday, after putting on his Ghosbusting costume, Ghosthead Tom Gebhardt gassed up his replica Ecto-1 and drove to New York City to visit Hook and Ladder 8, the firehouse that served as the exterior of Ghostbusters Headquarters in the films. “I feel like I’m a member of the cast,” he says as pedestrians gather round to take pictures of him next to his car. Later, a chance encounter with a production crew members gets Gebhardt the opportunity to see the new Ecto-1 being used for the 2016 reboot. Many selfies are taken on what must be Gebhardt’s best birthday ever.

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Ghostheads is a fun look into the hearts and minds of super fans. Some, like Todd Whalen, admit that they won’t be doing it forever, while others, like Peter Mosen (known as the Original Ghosthead) have been dressing up as a Ghostbuster for thirty years now. Some of them do it because they loved the films, some do it for the comradery, and all of them seem to get something out of making people — whether they’re sick kids in a hospital or simple pedestrians — smile. Some are more obsessed than others, but all of them seem to be enjoying themselves. It’s hard to fault so many people having good, slime-free fun.

Not only should you not be afraid of no ghosts… you shouldn’t be afraid of the Ghostheads, either.

Link: Netflix

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

July 11th, 2016

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The Secret Life of Pets commits multiple sins — it rips off other movies, there’s no character development, and the plot is completely predictable — but its biggest sin is that, except for a two minute montage, we really don’t learn anything about the secret life of pets.

With more speaking character than the average elementary school play, in the opening of The Secret Life of Pets we meet a dog named Max and his owner, Katie. Max doesn’t know why Katie disappears for eight hours a day (she goes to work), but when she does, he hangs out with other pets in the apartment including Chloe the cat, Mel (a pug dog), Hannibal (a dachshund), Gidget (a pomeranian), Tara Strong (a parakeet) and a perpetually lost guinea pig named Chris Renaud.

Max’s world is pretty great until the day Katie comes home with Duke, a big brown shaggy dog. Max dislikes the concept of competing with Duke for Katie’s attention, and comes up with a plan to get rid of Duke. The plan backfires, and the two of them get lost away from home. If this sounds identical to the plot of Toy Story to you, well, you’re not alone, as The Secret Life of Pets pretty much apes the far superior Pixar film beat for beat.

While running away from the dog catchers, Max and Duke run into a gang of alley cats, and while running away from the cats they run into a rough gang of ex-pets straight from the Isle of Misfits. The gang, led by an ex-magician’s stage rabbit named Snowball, seeks revenge against humans. Max and Duke temporarily win their adulation by convincing the gang that they killed their former owners, but when their charade falls apart, they run some more.

While Max and Duke are busy running from a rabbit, a crocodile, a tattooed pig and their entire gang (including the alley cats), Gidget, Chloe, Mel, Hannibal, Tara, and Chris (who by now have picked up Pops (an old dog in a wheelchair) and Tiberius the Hawk) continue to search for them while they all continue to run from the dog catchers. Pets’ secret lives involves running a lot.

The movie both falls apart and shows its true colors in a single scene in which Duke (somehow, in Manhattan) runs across his previous owner’s home. When he arrives, a cat on the front porch informs him that his previous owner died. To back up the claim, the new homeowner pulls into the driveway and barks at them. Then, the dogs leave. In Pixar’s hands, this is a tear-filled moment. It’s the opening to Up, or the ending of Toy Story 3. Instead, Max is all “u mad bro?” and Duke is all “naw y0” and that’s it. It literally could have been the emotional pinnacle of the film; instead, it’s over as quickly as it begins.

And really, the whole movie is like that. There’s no character growth, no arc of change, and barely a plot. It’s literally a series of (admittedly beautifully) animated scenes. As each scene ends the next one begins, and it didn’t take long for me to cross my fingers and hope that the next one would be the last.

If you’re thinking “perhaps you are not the target audience for this film,” you are correct. To my right in the theater were half a dozen kids aged 5-7 who screamed in delight every time an animal spoke. To my left were two women in their sixties who laughed at every single joke, even when they weren’t jokes. When we see a dog adopted from a box with the words “FREE PUPPY” written one the side, the women erupted in laughter, slapping their knees while repeating, “free puppy!” If that’s the funniest joke you’ve ever heard, run, not walk, to the nearest theater.

Pixar and Dreamworks have historically done a decent job of creating animated films that appeal to both children and adults. Illumination Entertainment, on the other hand, have created a film that will appeal to anyone under the age of 5 and cat ladies over the age of 55. For every Up, Toy Story and Shrek there’s “that one movie that had a lizard” and “one of those ant movies.” A year or two from now kids will say, “Remember that one animated dog film?”

With any luck, you won’t.

100 Things Star Wars Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die

June 2nd, 2016

518BM-quKGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_[1]So, I’m that guy — the guy who clicks on every one of those online quizzes like “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Star Wars” and “10 Secret Star Wars Easter Eggs” and laughs. Questions about how many languages C-3P0 speaks, what cell block Princess Leia was held in, and Luke’s call sign number make me roll my eyes. That being said, I still click on them. I can’t help myself!

In all fairness, nowhere in the title of Dan Casey’s 2015 book 100 Things Star Wars Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die does it say you might not already know (or have done) these things, although I learned more than I expected to.

100 Things Star Wars Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die contains 100 chapters with a roughly 90/10 split between things you should know and things you should do. Each “chapter” is 3 or 4 pages long and covers a single subject. For the things you should know, Casey includes major characters, actors, items (like blasters and lightsabers), ships, people behind the scenes, and so on. Each of the seven movies also get their own chapters along with The Clone Wars, Rebels, and the infamous Holiday Special. There are also chapters dedicated to the Wilhelm Scream, the changes made to the special editions, Skywalker Ranch, and a summary of the Expanded Universe novels.

The chapters dedicated to things you should do are fairly sparse. Sprinkled throughout the book is a list of must-play Star Wars games, instructions on how to make your own Death Star scarf, a few Star Wars food and drink recipes, and a few others.

While hardcore Star Wars fans may not find much new material here, I liked the “bite-size” approach to the articles and actually did learn some things, mostly about less popular characters like Ahsoka Tano, Darth Plagueis, and Asajj Ventress. Likewise, I always enjoy reading behind the scene bits about people like John Dykstra, Lawrence Kasdan and Ralph McQuarrie, and was glad to see a few lesser-known names like Drew Struzan, Howard Kazanjian, and Charles Lippincott included as well.

If you’re a fan of almanac-style books (or Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers) and like Star Wars, this isn’t a bad book to own.

Trainwreck (2015)

May 31st, 2016

The biggest problem with self-publishing is that, without an editor, there’s no one around to tell you what to cut. And while Trainwreck certainly wasn’t an independent film, at just over two hours in length, I got the feeling Amy Schumer (who both wrote and starred in this semi-biographical film) didn’t leave much on the cutting room floor.

Amy Schumer plays Amy Townsend. She’s a successful writer for an edgy men’s magazine, but her personal life is a bit of a, well, you know. She drinks, she smokes weed, and despite being in a semi-serious relationship with Stephen (John Cena), she sleeps around. A lot. In an early scene Amy’s father Gordon (Colin Quinn) explains his impending divorce to his daughters by telling them “monogamy isn’t realistic,” and it appears mid-20s Amy hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

Back at the magazine, Amy must write a feature article about Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a highly successful sports doctor. Conners is everything Amy is not — classy, subtle, faithful, and moral — but that doesn’t stop the two of them from becoming a couple. Over time their relationship develops problems, and therein lies the problem — so much time was spent making Amy seem immoral and unfaithful that it makes it hard to root for her relationship to work out.

An equal amount of time is spent on Amy’s relationship with her family. Amy’s father has multiple sclerosis, and is moved to into an assisted living home. Kim, Amy’s sister, resents her father for cheating on their mother and is quick to throw away his sports memorabilia and move him into the cheapest home they can find. Amy, in return, resents Kim’s ideal family model. In real life, Amy Schumer has a sister named Kim and a father who had multiple sclerosis, which is probably why this entire subplot feels less like a part of the movie and more like a personal catharsis for the writer. When Amy’s father passes away (in the movie), she takes the microphone and gives a perfect tribute speech to her imperfect father. I don’t know if that’s what happened in real life too, but fiction’s a good place to address real world regrets.

While the film has received largely positive reviews, I felt like it was a two-hour RomCom that (a) should have been 90 minutes long, and (b) was like on the Rom and Com. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments (Amy on the treadmill in Dr. Conners’ office is hilarious), but overall, it didn’t work for me. In a film where at three different times people hooking up had to establish a “safe word,” I had a hard time imagining Amy magically settling down.

In the real world, a relationship between a driven, successful sports doctor and an alcoholic, weed-smoking, unfaithful mess probably wouldn’t last, but hey, in Hollywood, anything can happen.

We are Twisted F***ing Sister (2014)

May 29th, 2016

To most people, Twisted Sister was an 80s rock band that rose to fame in the mid 1980s thanks to their unique fashion sense and their two hit MTV music videos, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock.”

This documentary doesn’t cover that era. In fact, it ends before that era even begins.

The documentary We are Twisted F***ing Sister covers the ten years before Twisted Sister made it big. Despite being dubbed an overnight success my music critics in the 1980s, the band was actually formed back in 1972 in New Jersey under the name Silver Star by “a bunch of people you don’t know” and guitarist John Segall, who after temporarily trying out the moniker Johnny Heartbreaker, eventually became Jay Jay French.

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Twisted Sister spent years toiling away in clubs around New Jersey and New York without being able to secure a record deal. The documentary contains tons of early live footage of the guys developing their sound and unique look. More than their music, the band became known locally for their on stage “shtick,” which included everything from smashing vinyl disco albums with a sledgehammer to hosting “drink ’til you puke” alcohol competitions while they played. On more than one occasion, the band was invited to play at clubs that were closing down. At those shows, the band encouraged their fans to “rip the place apart,” and they did. Dee Snyder recalls seeing people leaving the show carrying the club’s urinals, which had been ripped off the wall.

The documentary details the amount of work that went into making the band successful. They hired managers, they played two shows a night, six days a week for years, and set up tours both across and outside the United States. During these years, lots of band members came and went. By the time the band got signed and prepared to record their first major label album, they were already on their tenth lineup.

Even if you’re not a fan of the band, We are Twisted F***ing Sister stands as a testament to the amount work, sweat, and luck it takes to turn a club band into a national act.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

May 28th, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane wasn’t written by M. Night “It’s a Twist!” Shyamalan, but it might as well have been.

In this suspense thriller, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens after surviving a horrific automobile accident only to find herself chained to a wall inside a cinder block dungeon. She quickly meets her host, Howard (John Goodman), but we are unclear as to whether he has rescued Michelle or abducted her. Dimwitted Emmett Dewitt (John Gallagher Jr.) is also hanging around the bunker, and collaborates Howard’s story that some sort of cataclysmic event (an attack by “either Russians, North Koreans, or Martians”) has occurred. Despite the occasional sound of cars and helicopters passing by outside, Howard insists that the air outside is contaminated, and everyone outside his bunker is dead.

Fortunately for Michelle and Emmett, Howard was a “prepper,” one of those people you see on TV that spends their money on bunkers and food and weapons. “Crazy is building your ark after the flood has already come,” says Howard, who predicts the air outside will be good enough to breathe “in a year or two.” To pass the time, Howard has stocked his bunker with board games, jigsaw puzzles, and movies (“both on DVD and VHS”).

So many hints and red herrings are tossed about (the jigsaw puzzle they assemble is titled “Cat Fish”) that viewers are never exactly sure who is lying to whom. Because of this, it’s impossible to tell who to trust (or who not to) until it’s too late. This slow-building psychological thriller lasts right around 1:45. I spent the first hour waiting for something to happen, thirty minutes watching something happen, and fifteen minutes wondering what the hell just happened.

If viewers don’t feel claustrophobic enough from spending the majority of the film in an underground bunker, occasionally the characters are forced into even tighter quarters. More than the setting, the characters must deal with the uncertainty that what’s outside the bunker might be scarier than what’s inside it. Maybe.

After watching the film I learned that a pre-written script was purchased and turned into a “Cloverfield” movie. This is completely unsurprising, as the film’s climax feels tacked on. I don’t know what or what was outside the bunker in the original draft of the script, but based on this film’s title, you can probably guess who or what is out there in this one.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

May 15th, 2016

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You can take Seth MacFarlane out of Family Guy, but you can’t take the Family Guy out of Seth MacFarlane. Most fans of MacFarlane’s animated hit television series know that each episode contains thirty seconds worth of plot surrounded by twenty-four minutes worth of crude, funny, and non-sequitur jokes. If a person were to turn that animated series into a live-action film, replace the show’s animated lead character Peter Griffin (voiced by MacFarlane) with the real life MacFarlane, move the setting to the old west and stretch the running time to an excruciating 2+ hours, he or she would end up with 2014’s A Million Ways to Die in the West.

After sheep farmer Albert Stark (MacFarlane) is dumped by his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) for for “bein’ yella,” Albert decides the old west town of Old Stump may not be for him. A few miles outside of town, Clitch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) and his gang of nondescript baddies rob and kill a gold prospector. Leatherwood splits up the gang and sends his wife Anna (Charlize Theron) and partner Lewis (Evan Jones) ahead to Old Stump because the plot requires them to. Albert challenges Louise’s new boyfriend Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) to a duel in an attempt to win back Louise, but instead falls in love with Anna literally hours before trigger happy Leatherwood arrives determined to shoot the man that kissed his wife.

If any of that sounded remotely serious, rest assured that someone gets explosive diarrhea and fills not one but two strangers’ hats with poop on main street, Albert goes on two different drug trips, a cat hops up on an operating table and leaves with a patient’s innards, a sheep pees directly on someone’s face, and so on. One running joke is that Albert’s best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) is dating Ruth the prostitute (Sarah Silverman), and even though she talks about all her daily romps with paying customers, the two of them are “saving themselves” until marriage. Another running joke features multiple grown men dating the same nine-year-old girl.

The unrated Blu-Ray version contains an additional twenty minutes of previously cut material. With a run time of 2:15, this movie felt like a solid three hours, and I’m amazed that the theatrical running time was 1:55, as it could (and should) have been cut to around 90 minutes. Joke after joke falls flat. Don’t worry about missing one, as MacFarlane repeats them two and three times to make sure you catch them all. Just like Adam Sandler and his group of comedic goons, MacFarlane isn’t as funny without anyone to reign him in. Instead, we get too much exposition, too many camera winks, and too many of his buddies in front of the camera doing things that make only them laugh. While not terrible, it’s a two-hour pre-meal snack that doesn’t hold you over for long. The next day, I can barely remember any of the jokes (or the plot, for that matter).

A Million Ways to Die in the West currently has a 33% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which seems about right. Coming from a guy who enjoys Family Guy, two hours of MacFarlane as a clueless sheepherder deciding whether or not he should stand up for himself was too much for me.

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016)

March 18th, 2016

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I was twelve years old when Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was released in 1985. Although Paul Reubens had been performing his man-child character for a few years by that time, it was that movie — a boy in search of his stolen bike — that launched Pee-wee Herman into the public eye. There was a sequel in 1988, Big Top Pee-wee, along with Pee-wee’s Playhouse, a popular Saturday morning children’s show that ran from 1986-1990.

Everything changed in the summer of 1991 when Reubens was arrested for indecent exposure in an adult movie theater. In an era where celebutants and reality television starlets frequently share nude selfies through social media sites and “leak” their own sex tapes, it seems inconceivable that such an incident would be a career ender… but it was. For almost 25 years, save for a few minor cameo appearances here and there, Pee-wee Herman disappeared.

And now, twenty-five years later, he’s back.

Neither of Pee-wee’s previous films were particularly known for their deep plots, and his new film, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (released March 18 on Netflix) doesn’t stray far from the formula. In the beginning of the film, we find Pee-wee living in Fairville, a quaint town with a 50s feel. Finding himself stuck in a rut, a chance encounter with an out-of-town stranger (Joe Manganiello, as himself) leads Pee-wee to leave his small community and travel across the country to attend Joe’s birthday party in New York City.

If the plot similarities between The Force Awakens and the original Star Wars drove you crazy, you’ll certainly enjoy pointing out the parallels between this and 1985’s Big Adventure. Like that film, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday starts with a dream sequence, features (a much less elaborate) Rube Goldberg contraption, and has Pee-wee traveling across the country, making friends and having random mini-adventures along the way. Along the way he meets a fellow selling gimmicks and knick-knacks (just like Mario the Magician), ends up in a car with some criminals (just like Mickey), catching a ride across country (first in an RV and later in a flying car, instead of a box car), and even facing his fear of snakes (again). They even used the same gimmick of Pee-wee escaping a foe by using one of his trick items (swap out his trick gum for a disguise kit). As much as I did not want to, I found it impossible to not compare the two films, which follow one another almost beat for beat.

The difference is, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday lacks a villain like the original’s Francis. There’s no love interest like Dottie here, either. Without them, Holiday quite literally becomes a series of skits with the excuse to get Pee-wee from “here” to “there.” And in case you get lost, occasionally he stops and explains that to the audience, which is kind of ridiculous seeing as how that is literally the only thing happening in the movie.

Also missing from this film are any memorable laugh out loud moments and catch phrases. It’s been 31 years now, and I’ll bet you every day tour guides working at the Alamo get asked if there’s a basement there. Who from my generation doesn’t think of Pee-wee dancing on a bar when they hear the song “Tequila” playing? Who doesn’t remember the story of “Large Marge?” And who hasn’t uttered either “I know you are, but what am I?” or “I meant to do that” while imitating Herman’s voice?

In this movie there are none of those moments, save for Pee-wee’s new catch phrase, “let me let you let me go” — not nearly as catchy as, “What? WHAT? HA-HA.”

Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo) does a good job on the soundtrack of capturing the whimsical feel of Pee-wee’s world, and although the facial make-up on Reubens 63-year-old face is a bit thick at times, there are times when you would swear this was filmed back in the 80s.

Today, thirty years after it was released, I could sit down and watch Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. I’m not sure that the same will be said thirty years from now about Pee-wee’s Big Holiday. I truly love the character of Pee-wee Herman, and I hope that the success of this film relaunches his career and brings us even more of Pee-wee’s adventures. I just hope the next one isn’t one I’ve already seen.

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The Hateful Eight (2015)

March 14th, 2016

Quentin Tarantino has never been particularly coy with the titles of his movies. In Kill Bill we get the protagonist’s goal from the title, and I walked into Inglourious Basterds expecting to see a few. True to form, Tarantino’s latest film, The Hateful Eight, contains eight major characters, all of whom are pretty hateful.

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The film opens with some breathtaking 70mm shots of a snowy pass as a stagecoach attempts to outrun an impending snowstorm. The stagecoach is being driven by O.B. Jackson (James Parks), and inside are John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his bounty, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The group plans to seek shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery, on their way to Red Rock. Before reaching Minnie’s they pick up two separate men stranded in the snow: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and the Sherrif-to-be of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins).

When the five of them arrive at Minnie’s they discover she is not there, but there are others seeking shelter from the storm there as well, including Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). While Minnie is away, Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir) has been left in charge of the shop.

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It is in Minnie’s Haberdashery that most of the film takes place. The first hour and a half of the film (you can do that when you make moves that are almost three hours long) are a slow, pressure cooker. Alliances are made and, almost as quickly, dissolved between the temporary inhabitants of the small lodge.

But, this is a Tarantino movie featuring a roomful of people with guns on their hips, so you can be sure that eventually, bullets will fly. A mystery begins to emerge along the way, but, rest assured, it will be resolved in a calm and rational manner.

Just kidding. People get shot.

When discussing the film’s long flashback, the overly bloody gun battles, and the film’s strong language, I kept wanting to use the phrase “in typical Tarantino fashion,” and that’s when I realized that of all the movies and directors that Tarantino has paid homages to throughout the years, this movie appears to be a tribute to his own work — not quite the homage that The Force Awakens was to the original Star Wars, but close. Fans of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction will not leave disappointed.

Tarantino, “in typical Tarantino fashion,” delves into topics such as racism and post-Civil War grudges, but everybody in the film is so busy being, well, hateful, that it’s tough to get too involved in any single character’s point of view. Each character is given just enough backstory and motivation to allow you to easily identify them (“that’s the hangman, that’s the General”) until, one by one… people change.

Much was made about the film being shot in 70mm, a super detailed and wide format that allows for stunningly high definition images to be captured and later displayed, but the vast majority of the film takes place a single room. There is no arguing that the shots of the stagecoach working its way through the snow aren’t fantastic, but the vista view ends too soon. I suspect the people who invented this highly detailed film format never imagined it would be used to capture every detail of someone’s brains being blown out, but, there you go.

The Hateful Eight is part western, part murder mystery, and a whole lotta’ Quinton Tarantino. If you like his other work you’ll love this, and if you don’t, this isn’t the place to start.

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Cheech & Chong – Get Out of My Room

February 29th, 2016

cheech-chong-get-out-of-my-room-vg-vgA friend of mine shared Cheech & Chong’s Get Out of My Room with me when I was visiting his house back in 1985. I thought the album was so funny that when I returned home, I told my dad all about “these new comedians you just have to hear!” A few minutes later my father showed me his collection of Cheech & Chong vinyl records, informing me that the comedy duo wasn’t quite as new as I thought they were.

Cheech & Chong were a comedy duo who took stages by storm in the 70s and 80s with their drug-fueled humor. Their stand-up comedy led to a series of comedy albums, and their comedy albums led to a series of movies that were either based on or contained bits from their comedic performances.

By 1985, times were changing. While Cheech & Chong were still trying to squeeze every laugh they could from two perpetually stoned characters, we had Nancy Reagan in the White House telling people to “Just Say No,” and arcade games telling us “Winners Don’t Use Drugs” each time we put in a quarter. It was clear Cheech & Chong’s style of humor would not last forever, and Get Out of My Room ended up being their last comedy album before the pair split.

Each side of the cassette has two running jokes that the rest of the bits hang from. On the first side, we get two college radio disc jockeys telling dumb jokes and performing dumb jokes. Three of the tracks on the first side are “Dorm Radio 1, 2, and 3.” Of the remaining four, three are songs and one is a comedy skit. The skit, “Sushi Bar,” is a one-joke skit that things offered in sushi restaurants are weird and gross, including things like wharf scrapings (“sometimes it’s crunchy, sometimes it’s slimy, but it’s always fresh”), half-live baby seal (“they just cook the back half!”) and whale anus (use your imagination). The three songs are “Love is Strange” (in which Cheech desperately tries to get a date over the phone), “I’m not Home Right Now” (a series of outgoing messages left on Cheech’s answering machine), and the album’s one hit-single, “Born in East L.A.,” a parody of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” The “Born in East L.A.” video got regular play on MTV and led to Cheech’s first solo film, with the same name.

Side B is one long string of related skits except for the opener, “I’m A (Modern) Man,” in which a big burly man (who is blind) argues than an effeminate man is not a man. This is followed by “The Music Lesson,” in which Cheech & Chong portray musicians who accidentally electrocute a mentally challenged student, “The Stupid Early Show,” a fake morning radio program, “Warren Beatty,” (the guys call Warren Beatty’s answering machine and hear sex in the background), “Juan Coyote,” (a commercial for a Toyota dealer who smuggles people across the border), “Radio News” (the Stupid Early Show interviews the musicians who killed the mentally challenged boy), and finally, “Get Out of My Room,” the song the musicians were writing when the boy was shocked to death.

Where to begin?

Despite being one of my favorite comedy albums back in the 1980s, today, most everything here feels dated. Tracks like “I’m Not Home Right Now” and “Warren Beatty” revolve around answering machine humor, which I’m guessing would be lost on the youth of today, as would be the mystique of sushi bars (they’re all over today). The repeated attacks slams against a gay man on “I’m a Modern Man” are more likely to elicit gasps than laughs today, which leaves us with the “in between” Dorm Radio and Stupid Early bits, which are nowhere strong enough to hang an album on. Today the album’s only redeeming single is “Born in East L.A.” — the close runners up, “Love is Strange” and “Get Out of My Room,” aren’t all that close.

The album seems short by today’s standards. Each “side” is only 20 minutes in length, so there’s not much time to get things moving forward. Another oddity; I listened to this cassette so many times that I knew (and know) every bit, word for word. On the CD release of Get Out of My Room, the only two references to “the f-bomb” have been removed. If you know where they were, the editing really stands out. Throwing the f-word around doesn’t make or break the album, but it seems odd to me that of everything contained on this album, that’s what they found offensive.

I can only recommend this album to others like me who enjoyed it in the 80s and are looking for a trip down memory lane — but beware, without your rose-tinted glasses on, the past looks a little smokey.

Track Listing

Born In East L.A.
Dorm Radio I
I’m Not Home Right Now
Sushi Bar
Dorm Radio II
Love Is Strange
Dorm Radio III
I’m A (Modern) Man
The Music Lesson
The Stupid Early Show
Warren Beatty
Juan Coyote
Radio News
Get Out Of My Room