September 27, 2013

100 Films That Should Be Watched At Least Once

This is actually an idea a friend of mine had (thanks, Kevin). The idea is that these films are NOT the blockbusters or the ones that everyone knows (or should know) you should watch. These are the films you should see at least once because they are damn good films. They could be damn good for a variety of reasons, but they are all top notch. Oh, and they are in no particular order. So, off we go!

1. The Incredibles

2. The Iron Giant

3. The Limey

4. Tae Guk Gi

5. Der Untergang (Downfall)

6. Ivan's Childhood

7. On the Beach

8. Time Bandits

9. Shawn of the Dead

10. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

11. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

12. Mister Roberts

13. Rango

14. Dark City

15. Moonrise Kingdom

16. Witness for the Prosecution

17. M

18. The Last Command

19. The Blue Angel

20. Morocco

21. Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no haka)

22. The Burmese Harp (Biruma no tategoto)

23. Kagemusha

24. Kelly's Heroes

25. Unforgiven

September 26, 2013

My Five Favorite Films From...1989

Honorable Mention – Field of Dreams: I’m not going to admit to crying at the end of this movie. I’ll just say the room got very, very dusty. And there was some pollen in the air. Someone may have been peeling an onion.

5. When Harry Met Sally…: It can be schmaltzy in spots, but it makes me laugh a lot as well. Plus, it gets the ups and downs of relationships dead-on.

4. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: It definitely measured up to the other two. It really gets the insanity of the Christmas season down pat.

3. Major League: The sequels to this movie sucked. Hard. But this one is flat-out funny. Not a down moment the whole time.

2. Glory: Powerful, powerful movie. I’m still blown away when I watch it.

1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: In the Temple of Doom/Last Crusade argument, I comes down solidly on this side. I love this movie. Action-packed and hilarious. Connery really makes the film. And I am glad that this is still the last movie I saw in the series, since by all accounts “Nuked The Fridge” sucked pretty hard.

Films I Like But Didn't Make The List: Cinema Paradisio, 84 Charlie Mopic, Back to the Future II, How to Get Ahead in Advertising, The ‘Burbs, Casualties of War, Roger and Me, My Left Foot, Uncle Buck, UHF, Born on the Fourth of July, Parenthood , The Little Mermaid, Ghostbusters II, Always, Kickboxer, Lethal Weapon 2, Fletch Lives, Heathers, Dead Poets Society, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, Dead Calm, Henry the V, Godzilla vs. Biollante, Do the Right Thing, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

Underappreciated x2 – Black Rain and Batman: I have always enjoyed Black Rain, but it got no love when it came out and you only see it rarely on fourth-rate television channels. As for Batman…I don’t see why people are slagging it when talking about The Dark Knight franchise. It was a solid movie. The soundtrack, on the other hand…

Guilty Pleasure – Best of the Best: I know this is not a good movie. It has Eric Roberts as a kickboxer, for God’s sake. It has James Earl Jones as the US coach, prostituting his talent for a paycheck. It’s completely ridiculous…and yet I cannot turn away when I see it.

Insane Film That Must Be Mentioned – Meet The Feebles: That Peter Jackson is one screwed-up dude. Imagine the Muppets, except they’re a bunch of sex-starved, drug-addicted, gun-toting freaks. That would be Meet the Feebles. Beyond nuts, but pretty damned funny.

September 25, 2013


I don't know what rules the fairer sex have when it comes to restroom etiquette. From what I can tell, it requires a minimum of three women, two of whom may not actually have to use the bathroom.

As far as guys go, most of my friends are like me: The restroom is a no-talk zone. You don't even say "Hi" until you're done doing your thing and washing your hands.

Personally, I like to take it a step further and not breach the speech barrier until I am out of the bathroom completely. Maybe it's anti-social, but I just don't see a room who's primary activity is defecation and urination as the place to strike up a conversation.

(An exception to this is a sports event/concert. You have zero expectation of privacy and are most likely drinking. So, of course, the bar is set lower. I settle for someone saying "hey" and not vomiting on my feet.)

I bring this up because the other day I had the worst-case scenario occur. I'm standing there, doing what guys who are standing in a restroom do, when another fellow ambles up and this happens:

zipper sound

guy: Hey! How are ya?


guy: (clueless) Boy, this is beautiful weather, isn't it?

me: (trying to go faster) Yup.

guy: (completely oblivious to my growing discomfort) I'm here from New Mexico. This reminds me of the weather in Santa Fe. You know, you can play golf there year-round...

me: (giving up completely and running away) AAAAAHHHH!!!!

Actually, I just sorta clammed up, finished up, washed up and got the Hell out of there. But inside, I was screaming. Loudly.

I don't know what the Hell I would do if I was sitting in a stall and someone hunkered down in the next stall for a "crap and yap." Either spontaneously combust or commit hari-kari with that metal tube that holds the toilet paper in place, I suppose.

Luckily, my house is a glorious refuge from all this. A brief exception to this was when my son was around four. He went through a phase where closed doors and repeated cries of "I just want a few minutes alone, please!" were invitations to enter and gawk. Thankfully, those days are long, long gone.

Movie Review: Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

If our children can live safely for one more day it would be worth the one more day that we defend this island. - General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writers: Tadamichi Kuribayashi and Tsuyoko Yoshido (book), Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis (story), Iris Yamashita (screenplay)

Producer: Paul Haggis, Clint Eastwood, Tim Moore, Robert Lorenz, Steven Spielberg

Studio: Paramount (US theatrical), Warner Bros. (all other US media)

Major Stars: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase, Shido Nakamura

Letters From Iwo Jima is a remarkable film. The counterpart to Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers, it shows us the Battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese. In doing so, it also shows us that the biggest difference in the soldiers who fight is the color of their uniform and not who they are or the color of their skin.

I think this is a very important movie in that respect. If you visit history sites or message boards, you will come across many people arguing that the Germans of WW2 shouldn't be universally vilified because many of the soldiers were just defending their home. But you will almost never see a similar argument made for the men of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). When, truth be told, the "defending their home" argument would apply more for the Japanese than the Germans, who almost universally (at the time) bought into Hitler's program. After all, Iwo Jima was considered part of the Japanese homeland by the Japanese people. The reasons for this dichotomy are rather self-apparent.

We see the saga of Iwo Jima through the eyes of Saigo, played by Kazunari Ninomiya. He is a simple baker who was unwillingly drafted to fight in the IJA. All he wants to do is to make it home alive and see his wife and daughter. He doesn't want to be on Iwo, preparing for a battle he somehow knows is futile. How similar are these feelings to ones an American soldier would feel, far away from his family? That theme of commonality amongst all the soldiers is touched upon again and again by Eastwood.

The commanding officer of the Japanese forces was General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. Ken Watanabe plays the role and he deserved another Oscar nod for it. Kuribayashi was a general who believed in defending his country. He also knew that it would be ultimately futile; he had visited the United States from 1928-30 as as military attache and saw first-hand the might of American industry. These two sides come across easily through the use of flashbacks and Watanabe's portrayal. Kuribayashi breaks time and time again with standard Army protocol. He doesn't want to throw away his soldier's lives on the beach. He refuses to let them engage in banzai charges because they are wasteful and useless. He wants his men to retreat to other locations rather than commit suicide (a gruesome example of this is portrayed in the film). And while all of this is sound military planning that will exact more casualties from the U.S. forces, Kuribayashi also does it because he doesn't want to simply waste their lives, even in a hopeless situation. He fights not to fulfill a warrior's code, but to keep the people of Japan safe for one more day, one more hour, from the American bombers that he knows will inevitably arrive.

The other intriguing character, both in the film and in real life, is Baron Nishi. Nishi was an Olympic gold medalist, winning the individual show-jumping event in Los Angeles in 1932. He moved amongst the social circles in the United States during that time. Played by Tsuyoshi Ihara in the film, we see him as someone who is willing to fight although it pains him to do so. More than anyone, including Kuribayashi, he understands that there is little that actually separates the common soldiers on either side of the war. The film does take a liberty in showing Kuribayashi and Nishi as friends; in reality they did not get along particularly well. And that may have led to a complaint from some reviewers that I will get to in a moment.

We are not spared the sight of true believers, however. There are many soldiers and officers that believe in suicide charges and killing oneself when all hope is lost. And the way they browbeat the conscripts into following them is heart-breaking. You try to understand why they did it, and can't. It was decades of relentless indoctrination, something we have no experience with.

September 24, 2013


I don't know when it was that I fell in love with bourbon...

It is wrong to use "love" with a type of liquor? Some people may say "yes". Those people are idiots.

Anyway, in my early 20s I was more of a gin and vodka man. That, my friends, is the callowness of youth in action. I want to go back and slap the early 20s me sometimes, but he was in pretty good shape and would likely whip my ass. Anyway, this basically sums up that idiocy:

To be fair to my younger idiot self, I did enjoy a Jameson's from time to time but it wasn't my go-to drink. Then in my late 20s the Jameson's replaced the gin and vodka. This is also when my younger self stopped being an idiot. It wasn't until my 30s that bourbon, or whisky for that matter, made their appearance.

Perhaps it's an age thing. We are fed images of bygone years where men sat around at parties and drank scotch on the rocks. Heck, my dad was a Chivas man. They ate porterhouse steaks and smoked cigars. This is also known as the Greatest Time Ever on Earth.

But much I enjoy single-malt Scotch (and I do), I have a special love for bourbon. Equally good in a mix or by itself, a good bourbon is an unparalleled drink. This picture here at the top of the page is of my go-to bourbon, Buffalo Trace. It's high quality and not expensive at all, a rare and wonderful combination. Really, I feel only Woodford Reserve is better when it comes to affordable, high-quality bourbon.

I know some guys cut things like this as they get older in the misguided belief it will make them live longer. If they're alcoholics, maybe. Otherwise, a glass every now and again will just make you more content and relaxed. And I bet that will extend your lifespan more than ditching bourbon for prune juice.

Worst To First: The Films Of John Carpenter

So I figured it might be fun to list a director's films from their worst outing to their best. Because, hey, why not. And everybody loves lists. The first person will be John Carpenter, who has directed one of the worst films I have ever watched and possibly one of the five best. So there's some range here. Also, I didn't include The Ward because I never saw it. But based on popular reaction, it'd be near the bottom.

17. Vampire$ (1998): Possibly the worst movie I ever paid to watch. And that includes Cyborg.

16. Ghosts of Mars (2001): Stupidity on a grand scale.

15. Escape from L.A. (1996): Worst CGI surfing scene ever until Die Another Day gave us Bond hanging ten.

14. Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992): Chevy Chase on the downslope of his career. I want my 99 minutes back!!

13. Christine (1983): Uninspired is the best thing I can say about it.

12. Village of the Damned (1995): Almost beat out Christine, but just had enough going for it to rank here.

11. Dark Star (1974): This may be an unfair placement. I have admittedly not seen this in a while. I remember laughing at some points and being bored to tears in others.

10. Starman (1984): Overlooked. Not a bad film at all.

9. Prince of Darkness (1987): This film wanders all over the place at times. But I love the concept and it has some genuinely scary shit in it.

8. Big Trouble in Little China (1986): You either love this film or hate it. If you hate it, we can never be friends. Sorry. And Jack Burton kicks ass. It's all in the reflexes.

7. The Fog (1980): Great atmosphere, some of the best you'll ever see in a horror film.

6. They Live (1988): Guilty pleasure. But how can you not love this film? B-Movie pulp at it's finest.

5. In the Mouth of Madness (1995): 2/3 awesome, 1/3 stumble. But those 2/3...amazing work.

4. Escape From New York (1981): I say this film still holds up today. Awesome adventure flick.

3. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976): Homage to Rio Bravo. Better than it's remake. Possibly the best adventure flick of the 70s.

2. Halloween (1978): Pinnacle of slasher horror. Still effective 30 years later. Rob Zombie should be castrated for his shit remake.

1. The Thing (1982): Only film to get the Lovecraftian sense of horror and dread right from beginning to end. Never lets you go. No happy endings here...and that's how it should be.

September 23, 2013


I spent most of my 20s and early 30s clean-shaven. I looked pretty much like this.

Well, maybe not that good-looking. Pretty much no one is that good looking. But it wasn't bad either.

Anyway, when my daughter was born in 2005 I began to get lax about the facial hair and then by the summer I decided to let it grow. Since then I have either had a full-on beard of some fashion or a trimmed-down on, usually in what is sometimes called a "van Dyke" style. But it really isn't. It's basically a mashup of a mustache and a goatee.

So I had this great idea to shave off my facial hair about a week ago. It's been eight years, I was kind of tired of it, so why not, right? And I wasn't losing all of it, I decided to keep the mustache. A style I haven't worn in 16 years.

So last Sunday I went ahead and did it. Now, in my mind I pictured it coming out something like this:

Instead, the end result was more like this:

Now, I am not as swarthy as this guy*. My hair is better and I dress better. Which is saying something because "GQ" is not a nickname I have ever held. And I look better than this guy. But the mustache ... no. No no no. It doesn't work for me anymore.

Suffice it to say, I have immediately begun regrowing my beard. Luckilly my hair grows at a decent clip so it shouldn't take too long. Thank God.


* For those of you who do not recognize the image, this is the former #2 of Al-Qaeda, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, when US forces arrested him. I do NOT look like him. Just that the gap between the expected result and actual result was this wide.

I Take Pictures

This is near Thunder Hole at Acadia National Park in Maine. I actually have a better picture of this scene. But it also has an old white guy wearing black socks and sandals in the frame. So we're going with this one.

Movie Review: Zulu (1964)

If it's a miracle, Colour Sergeant, it's a short chamber Boxer Henry point 45 caliber miracle. - Lieutenant John Chard (Stanley Baker)

Director: Cy Endfield

Writers: John Prebble and Cy Endfield (screenplay)

Producer: Joseph E. Levine (executive producer), Stanley Baker and Cy Endfield

Studio: Paramount British Pictures

Major Stars: Stanley Baker, Michael Caine, Nigel Green, Jack Hawkins, James Booth, Ulla Jacobsson

Note: In keeping with my policy about movies 25 years old or more, I feel no compunctions about revealing the ending of the film. With that in mind, there are SPOILERS below. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you may want to avoid this review.

Zulu brings you back to the old days of the epic war film. It was mostly shot on location in South Africa, uses thousands of extras and has those wonderful large-scale war scenes. Held back only by a tendency to play loose with history, Zulu is one of the better war films ever made.

The battle in question is the defense of Rorke’s Drift in 1879 in Natal, South Africa. At the time, a war had just broken out between the British Empire and the Zulus. 1500 British soldiers and native levies moved out to attack the Zulu, leaving behind just under 140 soldiers to garrison the mission at Rorke’s Drift. The rest of the British soldiers were slaughtered at the Battle of Isandlwana to a man. That result left the soldiers at Rorke’s Drift facing over 4,000 Zulu warriors.

The commanding officer of the soldiers, Lieutenant John Chard, is played by Stanley Baker. Chard belongs to the Royal Engineers and isn’t a line officer, and Baker plays him right. Chard is rough around the edges, not hung up on the little formalities than permeated the British military in that time.

Michael Caine plays that kind of officer in his first role of note. His Lieutenant Bromhead is all upper-crust British, with the affectations and perfectly tailored uniform. Watching him develop into a battle-tested officer is one of the numerous character-growth threads that tie together the major story.

Another key figure is Color Sergeant Bourne, played by Nigel Green*. He is the classic sergeant that holds his men together and is utterly stoic in the face of danger. James Booth plays Henry Hook, a soldier who lingers in the infirmary to get out of duty but becomes a hero. These are the major players in the movie.

And mention must be made of Otto Witt, the missionary played by Jack Hawkins. He doesn’t want the British and Zulu to fight. He scares the native levies at Rorke’s Drift into deserting. He tries to scare the soldiers into fleeing. And he exits the movie as a broken and drunken man. It’s a great role to play, if an unsympathetic one, and Hawkins is excellent in it**.

But what drives this film are the battle scenes. The battle at Rorke’s Drift is the epic defense in British military history. 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded to soldiers for their actions that day. They fought off a Zulu army that outnumbered them almost 29-1. And Zulu does a great job of showing how desperate the British defense was against the Zulus.

The native warriors come in waves with their spears and shield as the thin British line engages in volley fire and then use their bayonets. Each soldier has to deal with four or five Zulus. It always looks like they’ll be swallowed whole by the Zulu wave. And yet the Brits survive and keep fighting.

The last engagement is the best one as the power of technology is used against the Zulus. The soldiers form a three-row firing line and set up a rolling fire. Volley after volley crashes into the Zulus as Chard and Bromhead yell out the command to fire with desperation in their voices. It’s a tense scene as the roar and thunder of each volley fills your ears.

The scenery is as authentic as it comes; the film was shot in Natal. It is beautiful and adds even more realism to the film.


Site of Future Awesomeness

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Site of Future Awesomeness

Coming soon