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

The Long Hard Road Out of Hell by Marilyn Manson (1998)

February 20th, 2016

I was scared to death of Alice Cooper as a child, a man I thought was the devil himself. After putting on black leather and distorting his face with makeup, Alice Cooper would prance around the singing about hell and murder and all kinds of things that gave me nightmares. KISS fell into the same category; I assumed they were all in league with the devil, and I was afraid that by listening to them, I would be too.

And then one day I saw KISS on television without their makeup, doing an interview. Not long afterwards I saw Alice Cooper — real name Vincent Furnier — participating in a golf tournament. Alice Cooper, the Devil’s right hand man, playing golf! That was the day I realized that these guys were just performers. It was all an act.

In The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, Marilyn Manson goes to great lengths to prove that what he does is not an act, and that the scary and dangerous guy you see on stage is the same scary and dangerous guy he is off stage as well. If everything in this book is to be believed, the off stage one is the one to avoid.

Born Brian Warner, it doesn’t take Manson long to get to the goods. By page two of the book Warner and his cousin have already discovered their grandfather’s basement and its secrets, including his collection of hardcore pornographic photos, his cross-dressing wigs and dresses, and much, much worse. Manson spent the majority of his junior high and high school days running, both away from bullies and toward girls and alcohol.

In its earliest incarnation, Manson’s band (known then as Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids) was a bunch of guys performing bad music and worse performance art, known more for filling the stage with chickens inside of cages and whipping a woman at the end of a dog leash while spitting on her. By the way, on a scale of 1-10, whipping a woman on a leash while spitting on here, compared to what Manson and the rest of his goons do to their fans, girlfriends, and each other, is at most a 2. Trust me, this girl got off light.

Manson and his pals don’t waste much time turning things up to 11. On any given day, Marilyn Manson has snorted more cocaine, drank more alcohol, and had more sex than everybody on this planet you personally know, combined. Have you ever met someone at a party who tells you a completely unbelievable story, only to follow it up with another one, and another one after that? Now imagine if that person did it for 288 pages…

As time goes on, Marilyn Manson becomes more and more numb. During one story in which one of his friends may die from an overdose, he notes that he cared less about his friend dying than having to deal with the cops afterward. Each story is worse than the last, with Manson and his pals increasingly tormenting and torturing their fan base. Woe to the teenage girl who ended up backstage at a Marilyn Manson show.

Fortunately for those in search of debauchery, Marilyn Manson has no qualms in dishing dirt on every single person he met along his journey. Although Manson occasionally blacks out from drugs and alcohol, his memory is as sharp as a tack when it comes to retelling the dark secrets of friends, girlfriends, family members, band members, and anyone else he happened to cross paths with. At one point, Manson goes back to his hometown to attend a wedding and is legitimately surprised that his family is upset that he has aired the family’s dirty laundry. It must not have upset him greatly, based on the contents of this book.

Look — I’m not a prude, and I realize there’s truth behind the saying “sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” but if this book is taken at face value, that’s literally all there was. And the really upsetting part is that he doesn’t talk nearly enough about the rock and roll!

In regards to the band, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell covers his early days with the Spooky Kids through the release of Antichrist Superstar in 1996. Since then, Marilyn Manson has released seven more albums and, no doubt, accumulated another 20 years worth of stories for the inevitable sequel.

God help you if you told him any secrets.

Cast the First Stone (1989)

January 15th, 2016

For a guy who had to build additional shelves to house his horror and kung-fu/ninja DVD collection, I realize reviewing a sappy made-for-television special from 1989 isn’t something I would normally review. And to be honest, it’s not something I would normally even watch, must less review. However, while combing through thrift store VHS tapes in search of commercials to rip and upload to my YouTube playlist, I ran across this movie and (somehow) got sucked into watching it.

(The first movie on the tape (labelled “?? – John Goodman”) turned out to be The Big Easy, starring Dennis Quaid, Ellen Barkin, and Ned Betty. Good luck finding three people who would describe this as a “John Goodman” film.)

Type Cast the First Stone into IMDB and the site’s search engine suggests 2000’s Cast Away and 1966’s Cast a Giant Shadow (starring Kirk Douglas and John Wayne) before offering up the “Cast of Baby Daddy.” Performing the actual search reveals four television episodes and another movie with the same name. Google also turned up a band and a Slayer song with the same name. In retrospect I wish I had watched or listened to any of those things rather than watching this movie.

Our story begins with Diane Martin (Jill Eikenberry, L.A. Law), an innocent (and perhaps naive) school teacher, returning from a Catholic retreat. During her drive home Diane sees and picks up a random hitchhiker, Andy (Sandy Bull). The two of them have a conversation about how Diane picks up hitchhikers because she and her friend hitchhiked across Europe back when they were in college.

Things are set in motion that evening when Diane stops at a motel, lets Andy out, and gets a room for herself. Later, during a rainstorm, Andy locates her room and asks Diane if she will let him sleep on his floor. Reluctantly, she lets him in. In the middle of the night, unable to sleep, Andy retrieves a knife from his backpack and rapes Diane.

STRANGER DANGER!

Diane, feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and humiliated, does not report the rape to the police. Instead, she returns home the following day and, over time, attempts to resume her life. Things become complicated, however, when Diane’s doctor informs her that she is pregnant.

At first, Diane is reluctant to tell anyone she has been raped, and when she does begin to tell people, nobody believes her. Her sister doesn’t believe her, the principal of her school doesn’t believe her, the parents of her students don’t believe her, and the school board doesn’t believe her. All of these people think Diane has made up the rape story to cover up the fact that she is having a child out of wedlock. And when people find out that she plans on keeping the baby, that’s when the townsfolk really begin to revolt.

Let me state that again. When the parents of her students and the school board learn that Diane the Catholic plans on keeping the baby instead of aborting it, that’s when they turn on her.

In one scene, we see Diane concerned about a student who obviously has dyslexia. A meeting with the student’s mother goes south when the parent demands her daughter not be labelled as a student with a learning disability. Later in the year, the same parent complains about Diane when her daughter’s grades haven’t improved. Eventually every parent who has any complaint at all about the school bands together in a motion to have the tenured Diane dismissed.

While Diane is in labor with her son, the school board finds her “guilty of immorality.” (This was back before Facebook.) Diane does return to the school, but after multiple parents and fellow teachers continue to complain about her lack of morality, she is fired. (Diane is by far the most moral person in this TV film.)

Because Cast the First Stone takes place in the late 1980s, we have the typical problems that would be easily resolved by today’s technology. In one scene, Diane attempts to set up an appointment with a counselor but is forced to hang up when students approach the pay phone she is using to make the call. In another scene, we are told that the local police are helpless to track down whoever has been prank calling Diane and calling her a whore because they can’t keep the caller on the line long enough to stay on the line. I’m as nostalgic about the 1980s as the next guy, but life before cell phones and Caller ID had its limitations.

After being fired, Diane teams up with an attorney (Refson) who takes her case in an attempt to help Diane get her job back. From a moral and I suppose legal aspect I understand this, but why would Diane want to work at a school (or in a town) where literally every single person hates her? The only thing missing from this film is a scene where a convicted child molester walks by Diane and spits on her.

After going on trial for “violating moral codes,” where she is (again) accused of making up her story, Diane is eventually successful in getting her job back. Sorry if I just spoiled an 80s TV movie that you will never watch.

Although Cast the First Stone was released in 1989, the actions, thoughts and values of the characters in the film seemed like they were from an earlier time, and after a bit of digging I think I’ve discovered why. The character of Diane Martin and the events in this film were “inspired by a true story” that originally took place in the late 70s.

(For the record, other films listed as being “inspired by a true story” include the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, The Mothman Prophecies, and The Fourth Kind, a film that claimed hundreds of people missing from Nome, Alaska had been abducted by aliens, so there’s that.)

Diane Martin’s story was inspired by the story of Jeanne Eckmann. Like the fictional Diane, Eckmann too was a school teacher who claimed to have been raped and was later fired from her job. Unlike Diane, Eckmann won a $3.3 million dollar settlement from the (then) past and present school board members. (I was surprised when that article named Eckmann’s four year old son by name — another case of “how things used to be done,” I suppose.) I know nothing about the real life case that inspired the fictional television movie, and can only say that real life is complicated and there are three sides to every story. Jeanne Eckmann died in 2001 and took her side of the story with her.

As for Cast the First Stone, I’m not sure if any of that was covered in an epiloge or not. After the verdict of Diane’s trial is announced, my copy abruptly jumps to an episode of Star Trek: The New Generation. I found used VHS copies of the film available on Amazon for as low as $4, but it’s not worth that to me to find out.

Twin Peaks (Definitive Gold Box Edition)

January 10th, 2016

In 1980, the question on television viewers minds’ everywhere was “Who shot J.R.?” A decade later in 1990, the new question everyone was asking was, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” I didn’t watch Twin Peaks when it originally aired on television, but even those of us who missed out on David Lynch’s beautiful yet eternally confusing show the first time around were aware of its cultural impact. Several months ago I ran across a used copy of the Twin Peaks Definitive Gold Box Edition for $10, and decided to find out for myself, who killed Laura Palmer.

The Twin Peaks Definitive Gold Box Edition contains 10 DVDs, and on those discs you get almost everything you could ever want related to the television show. For starters, on discs one through nine you get all 29 episodes of the show — that’s seven episodes for s one and 22 episodes for the second season. You also get two different versions of the pilot episode: the version that originally aired in the US, and a second version containing an alternate ending that essentially wrapped up the story in case the show itself wasn’t picked up by networks. Disc nine also contains deleted scenes from the series.

The final disc of the box set contains a large collection of extras. First up is A Slice of Lynch, a four-part documentary that covers the making of the series and David Lynch’s thoughts about the show. It’s a great documentary that gives viewers a view into the making of this groundbreaking show. You also get Return to Twin Peaks (footage from the 2006 Twin Peaks Festival), an interactive map of the town, a couple of Twin Peaks-related Saturday Night Live clips, a couple of music videos, and a few other random bits and pieces. The greatest inclusion here is Secrets from Another Place, a documentary about the show that includes lots of interviews with people from both in front of and behind the camera.

The video on the discs is great, remastered from the original negatives, and the audio is presented in both 2.0 and 5.1 soundtracks. For a television show that aired years before we knew what HD was, the show looks and sounds great.

Now, the bad news.

Despite being labelled as the “Definitive Gold Box Edition,” it’s not — at least, it’s not any more. The biggest omission is Lynch’s follow up film, 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, a prequel that shows the events leading up to the beginning of the television series. Normally I wouldn’t think of an additional film as an omission, except that it was included in Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, release on Blu-ray in 2014. (Is anything really “definitive,” anymore?) The newer Blu-Ray release includes a few new cast interviews, 90 minutes of missing footage originally cut from Fire Walk With Me, but lacks the Saturday Night Live skits and a few other minor extras.

That being said, especially if you can find an inexpensive copy like I did, Twin Peaks Definitive Gold Box Edition is a fantastic way to experience the television series from beginning to end — although with talks of a new season of Twin Peaks set to begin filming later this year, the word “end” is subjective. Expect a new “DEFINITIVE definitive” version in years to come.

Joe Dirt 2 (2015)

July 24th, 2015

Joe Dirt 2 answers a question nobody ever asked: “Whatever happened to Joe Dirt?”

After a wrap-around introduction that serves no purpose other than to shoehorn Dennis Miller into the sequel, we one again meet our old mullet-headed friend, Joe Dirt. (The mullet is back, despite the fact that it was surgically removed at the end of the original film — then again, if consistency or logic are your “thing,” you’re watching the wrooooong film.)

At the end of 2001’s Joe Dirt, Joe got the girl and lived happily ever after, or so we were led to believe.

Almost fifteen years later in this completely unnecessary sequel, we learn that much like Rodney Dangerfield, Joe Dirt gets no respect. This is shown to us in a scene in which Dirt’s co-workers take time out of their lunch break to fart in Dirt’s face. Unfortunately for Joe his wife and kids happen to visit him at work that day and witness this complete lack of respect. I’m sure he didn’t want them to see that. I didn’t even want to see it.

A few minutes later the tornado from The Wizard of Oz arrives and whisks Joe Dirt into 1965. There we meet Patrick Warburton, who plays both Foggle (an evil imaginary biker) and Joe’s guardian angel trying to earn his wings a’la It’s a Wonderful Life. By the way, everything that happens in the past is being told by Dirt to a random woman sitting on a bus bench (a’la Forrest Gump) which itself is being told to two hillbillies by Dennis Miller. There are more layers to this horrible film than Inception, and you’ll constantly be wishing someone would kick your chair to wake you up from this nightmare.

In another less-than-timely homage, in Back to the Future-style Joe meets the mother of his wife (both played by Brittany Daniel) and later messes up his first meeting with his future wife (in which Dirt romantically helped unstick his future wife’s dog’s testicles from a cold porch). This time around, man’s best friend is rescued by Jimmy, Dirt’s rival played by Mark McGrath. (Joe’s nemesis from the first film “Robbie” (Kid Rock) was apparently the only person with enough sense not to return for this train wreck. And when Kid Rock is the smartest guy around, look out.)

Joe Dirt spends the next fourteen hours (or however long this film is) running around, getting beat up, running into characters from the first film, and repeating jokes over and over again. Remember when Joe Dirt used to introduce himself as “Deer-te?” He does it another dozen times here. And although the jokes are dumb, somehow, the plot is dumber. In one part of the film, Joe Dirt gets stranded on a “desert island” for twelve years after having his organs harvested in a back alley by two thugs. Later, to liven things up, he flushes his testicles in an airplane toilet. Five or six times.

These are the jokes, kids.

Along with David Spade and Brittany Daniel, Clem (Christopher Walken), Zander Kelly (Dennis Miller), Kicking Wing (Adam Beach), and even Buffalo “It puts the lotion on its skin!” Bob (Adam Eget) all reprise their parts, which means the folks at Happy Madison Productions must have some serious blackmail material on these folks.

Ultimately Joe Dirt is forced to navigate through time to fix the mistakes of his past. After the release of Joe Dirt 2, one has to wonder if David Spade and the rest of the film’s ensemble cast wouldn’t love to be able to do the same.

Link: Watch Joe Dirt 2 for free on Crackle.com.

Fear Factory – Demanufacture (1995)

June 16th, 2015

The mid-90s were a time of growth for heavy metal. Arena-filling bands of the 80s wearing eyeliner and lipstick had been recently dethroned by guys wearing cargo shorts and flannel shirts — hair metal was out and grunge was in. In an attempt to stay relevant, metal began to splinter and diversify. In 1994 we saw the birth of nu-metal with Korn’s first album, debut albums from Emperor (In the Nightside Eclipse) and Mayhem (De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas) and another power metal release from Pantera, Far Beyond Driven. I had no idea where 1995 would take heavy metal, but I knew it would be interesting.

Fear Factory was not a new band in 1995, but their 1992 debut Soul of a New Machine had failed to break through to the mainstream. It wasn’t until the release of 1995’s Demanufacture that the world began to take notice. The world has been taking notice — and ripping off this album — ever since.

While Soul of a New Machine had its roots in death metal, the opening of Demanufacture introduces listeners to an entirely new soundscape. Fear Factory introduces itself in the opening/tital track. “Demanufacture” opens with a few sounds of heavy machinery firing up before quickly bringing in keyboard samples, almost robotic kick drums, and a heavily gated guitar. It’s our first exposure to the this new factory of fear, and it feels mechanical and evil. Vocalist Burton C. Bell sings the song’s first two lines before breaking into his traditional throaty screams. If you needed a shout-along anthem to get your blood pumping, “Demanufacture” delivers:

“I’ve got no more goddamn regrets
I’ve got no more goddamn respect”

Demanufacture paints a dystopian story of man vs. machine directly inspired by the Terminator films, most notable in “H-K / Hunter Killer” (robotic Skynet soldiers from the Terminaotr franchise) and “Zero Signal,” which contains samples from Terminator 2: Judgement Day. While Demanufacture is technically a concept album, most of the album’s themes can be applied to any conflict of power. In “Replica,” Bell howls “Every day I feel anonymous hate,” and later admits, “I don’t want to live that way.”

The mechanical element of the story is portrayed by the music itself. The brutality begins with Raymond Herrera’s heavily syncopated drum beats, so fast, crisp and accurate they were rumored to have been programmed (they weren’t; they were triggered). Dino Cazares adds to the machine with staccato guitars (Cazarez handles most of the albums bass duties as well as bassist Christian Olde Wolbers was just coming on board). Rhys Fulber and Reynor Diego bring atmosphere to the best with layers of keyboards and samples, with Burton C. Bell screaming over the whole mechanical beast.

Demanufacture defined the genre of industrial metal and may have perfected it. Fear Factory has continued to dabble in the theme of man vs. machine with their unique mix of bone-crushing rhythms and has inspired an army of imitators, but nobody has done what Feat Factory does better than when Fear Factory did it here. Not even Fear Factory.

June, 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of Fear Factory’s Demanufacture. It sounds as crisp and sharp as it did twenty years ago. If you only sample one album from Fear Factory, this is the one to taste.

Jurassic World (2015)

June 14th, 2015

(This review contains minor spoilers, most of which are revealed in the trailer.)

Can we all agree by now that a theme park that puts people near unrestrained carnivorous dinosaurs is a bad idea?

2015’s Jurassic World skips over the past two installments in the series (1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park and 2001’s Jurassic Park III, neither of which took place on the original island) and picks up where the 1993 original film left off.

Twenty-two years later (both in real time and movie time), John Hammond’s dream of bringing Jurassic Park, a theme park filled with real live dinosaurs (grown from extracted dinosaur DNA), has been fully realized in the form of Jurassic World. Just like in the first film, dinosaurs have been restricted to various zones on the island be large barriers made of concrete. Also, like in the first film, visitors to the park are allowed to be precariously close to these giant beasts in various vehicles and viewing areas. Finally, like in the first film, everyone is assured that nothing could possible go wrong… until it eventually does.

By now Jurassic World’s gates have been open for ten years and the visiting public has grown tired of the same old dinosaurs (really?), so the park’s DNA wizards have decided to create their own dinosaur. The all new Indominus Rex was created much in the way Willy Wonka designed the Everlasting Gobstopper — a pinch of T-Rex here, a dash of Giganotosaurus there, and so on. The end result is a dinosaur that is bigger, meaner, smarter, and more aggressive than any dinosaur the park has seen to date. My nine-year-old whispered to me, “That sounds like a bad idea.” How this fact eluded the park’s board of directors is a head-scratcher.

While only DNA master Dr. Henry Wu returns from the original film, Jurassic World’s new cast of characters are cut from similar molds. Clair is the driven business woman, so dedicated to running Jurassic World she doesn’t even know how old her two adolescent nephews are (Zach and Gray) when they come to visit. Then we’ve got Simon Masrani, the rich backer behind the new park, and Hoskins, the greedy leader of the park’s security team who has other plans for some of the park’s assets. Finally there’s Owen (Chris Pratt), who brings the whole thing together. Navy retiree Owen has established himself as the park’s animal behavioral expert by becoming the “alpha” of a small team of velociraptors and getting them to stop eating people long enough to do a few tricks.

If you’re counting “bad ideas,” add these to your list: sending your teenage kids to a dinosaur theme park in hopes that their career-driven aunt they haven’t seen in seven years will watch over them; attempting to train velociraptors; anything the park’s board of directors has approved in the past 22 years.

Within twenty minutes of its introduction the Indominus Rex has outsmarted every member of the park’s security team, which launches the film’s events into motion. Will our kids be the heros or the victims? Who will save the day and who will be dinosnacks? Ultimately it doesn’t even matter — there’s enough dinosaur-on-man attacks and dinosaur-on-dinosaur battles to keep you cheering and jumping for the film’s run time. Long gone are those slow, tense moments from the first film; we know what these monsters are capable of, and the movie wastes little time in showing us. While Jurassic Park had elements of horror mixed in, Jurassic World is more action-comedy. I laughed outloud at least half a dozen times, mostly to Owen-delivered one-liners. For the record, I also jumped at least twice.

If your brain is bigger than a Stegosaurus’ you’ll laugh at some of the film’s goofy plot decisions and characters’ actions, but the action is so loud and fast that you won’t have time to think about them until you’re back at home, checking your bedroom closet for velociraptors before bed.