LIST: Memorable Movies With Dad

Though it may sound it at first, this is not a rundown of my favorite father/son movies. I glanced down the last Top 100 list I put together and the closest two to that sort I found were The Weather Man... and Pink Floyd's The Wall. Yeah. No, this is a lineup of films my father took me to see in theaters that I remember most fondly - or at least with the most clarity - and my stories of the experiences. I've always felt fortunate to have such a good family situation and, in turn, such a great father. Since I always seem to express myself through motion picture media (going back to eighth grade when I thought liking Bond flicks was a defining personality trait and I responded to everyone's personal stories with, "I can totally relate. You see, this one time, on The Drew Carey Show...") this seems an appropriate way to honor that paternal relationship.

Now, nothing against hitting a picture with the ol' lady. My mother and I have had a handful of remarkable theatrical experiences such as Kill Bill (both "volumes") and Spielberg's War of the Worlds remake. And as a whole family, naturally, we've shared experiences, for better or for worse, such as with Inside Man (that's what I did on my 21st birthday instead of getting trashed on Irish car bombs) and Ratatouille (for some reason it wasn't until then my parents realized "family movie" didn't have to mean "rated PG for mild peril" now that I was 22 and my sister was 17... suffice to say, not one of our more successful excursions). Getting out to the cinema with dad, though, has always been something special no matter what we're seeing. Always keeping himself busy in one way or another around the house, dad's tough to nail down for a whole movie. We'll watch Jeopardy together or reruns of old cowboy shows (just the other night we checked out a great episode of Gunsmoke) - and even within the past few months I managed home viewings of There Will Be Blood and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus - but getting him in the theater with no distractions is where it's at.

The earliest film I can remember dad bringing me to is Ghostbusters 2. This one doesn't quite fit the criteria since mom was along, but is worth mentioning since I was but 4 years old and mom wasn't so sure about bringing me to a movie about ghosts with jokes sure to soar over my wee noggin. 108-minute(-plus-previews)-long story short: mom was right. We all look back and laugh (even at the movie itself - now that I'm "of age" it's quite hilarious), but for two years back then I refused to take a bath without supervision due to fear the "strawberry monster" would get me. Mom even recalls a similar apprehension regarding witches in the refrigerator.

When I turned 13, dad took me to Dante's Peak at a second-run theater. Having thoroughly enjoyed that and finally being certified to see a broader range of material by the evil, evil MPAA, that November I urged him to follow up with Starship Troopers. He was all for it, but at the last second I wimped out and we saw Disney's Hercules. I was probably the oldest kid in the auditorium but I still enjoyed the heck out of it, even if I didn't get up and dance to "A Star Is Born" like everyone else (and when I finally saw Starship Troopers a couple years later, I figured I had made the wise selection).

To provide an idea of what gets our butts in the seats, some titles we traversed once finally ready to traverse them (some of which dad himself helped me remember here) were Mission: Impossible, Roland Emmerich's Godzilla, The Haunting's remake, The Green MileThe MummyThe MatrixSwordfish and Tomorrow Never Dies. Later we would take in Jurassic Park III, A History of Violence, The Village, King Arthur and Rob Zombie's Halloween, the last of which was certainly an odd choice for father/son viewing (although I suppose you could also say Stabbing Westward's Wither Blister Burn & Peel would be an odd album for a father to gift a son, but then finding that very CD waiting on my middle school bed is one of the best gift-receiving moments I've been lucky enough to experience... and I'm still listening to the same disc... even now, as I write). Sheesh, and then I'm almost forgetting the utter hilarity of seeing Tropic Thunder together during dad's 2008 visit to my then-home of Orlando.

Most recently we went to J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, which dad said was like a missing piece of his childhood, and Public Enemies. I felt Michael Mann fumbled the latter, but dad, typically appreciative of true biographies, loved what we saw. We discussed John Dillinger for days. A somewhat funny side-note about that Public Enemies screening: We initially went to a matinee with the whole family... but I was so dissatisfied with the tiny screen size and projection quality (as my local Regal tends to do on those smaller screens, they sliced the 16:9 ratio on either side) that I dragged everyone back home. By the time our better screening rolled around, only we guys felt like going anymore.

So, as you may have discerned, we don't necessarily aim for sure-fire classics or high-brow fare. No matter what we go to see together or what quality it exudes, though, it always winds up holding sentimental value simply for having seen it together. Here's a list of stories about the five most memorable outings:

Walk the Line (James Mangold, 2005)

We kick off with a film very similar to Public Enemies in the sense that I didn't particularly care for it but, it being a true biography and all, dad enjoyed it greatly. The Johnny Cash factor helps immensely, of course. Ever since he was young, since before his days in Yellowstone National Park as a gas station "pumper" (something I followed in his footsteps with in 2006) dad has been listening to and loving Cash.

As many surely recall, Cash and wife June Carter had recently died in 2003. With their names reentering headlines, I realized how unfamiliar I was with their music and bought compilation CD The Legend of Johnny Cash. The CD barely left my player for months. It primed me for what would be the theatrical Walk the Line experience at the AMC Veterans Expressway 24 in Tampa - an experience that made me feel like I was doing something nice for dad... even though he was paying... and doing the driving.

See, I'm not sure dad would have gone out of his way for the movie had I not mentioned it to him, and seeing him get into the music - even sing along to himself at certain points (Big River, as I remember, was a highlight) - was very special.

To reciprocate a meaningful movie purchase I'll mention later (at the very bottom of this list, actually), I bought dad the Walk the Line DVD when it was released. Then, in 2008, I brought a copy of Walk Hard along for Christmas vacation... I can't be sure, but I'd like to say dad at least found the parody to be amusing. He's certainly in its demographic regarding its more subtle, derivative humor, anyway.

The Spy Who Shagged Me (Jay Roach, 1999)

This story will be informed by one told further down... but for now, the set-up. Dad's always been a biker of sorts. He may not sport a Hell's Angels tattoo and cruise to Sturgis every August with a motley crew of leather-for-lifers, but he loves his two-wheeled Hondas and has been riding since his late teens. In summer 1999 he sat me on the passenger's seat of his Goldwing. We left for a week-long motorcycle trip from our then-home in Woodstock, Connecticut to North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with plenty of pit-stops along the way including the homes of his grown daughters and old Yellowstone pumper buddies and the Luray Caverns in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

I have spectacular memories of the trip and feel I appreciated it as well as I could for the level of maturity I had at the time, but, being me, I was always thinking about specific examples of immersive media as opposed to the overall immersive experience I was embarking upon. At one point I even convinced dad to go halvsies on a Game Boy Pocket so I could play Wario Land 2 on the back of the bike (with the volume jacked all the way up so I could hear it through my helmet and, subsequently, rack up a big battery bill).

So with this perpetual distraction of media, of course I was constantly checking our motels' surrounding areas for cinemas. Now, I either hadn't seen the first Austin Powers at this point or I had seen it and not really cared for it (aside from the "Who does Number Two work for" scene, that is) but this one looked good. Honestly, I don't remember whose idea it was to see it, but the ultimate decision was definitely mutual.

We had an absolute blast. Rarely do I recall laughing that much at one time, let alone laughing that much with someone else. The shared hysteria made for possibly the first time I realized, "Hey, my dad is a real guy, too!" We later took the family to see Goldmember and still quote each movie to one another every great once in a while.

The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001)

Somehow, perhaps due to 9/11 dominating public and private consciousness, I managed to remain ignorant to the fact someone was trying to make some Lord of the Rings movies. Well, sometime in December 2001 dad and I decided to hit the Regal at The Falls in Miami. It's one of the few occasions I've ever gone to a theater without a plan as to what movie, exactly, I was going to see (another time was just the year prior with Singer's X-Men, which again, for some reason, I had no idea had been made until I stood before its glowing title at the box office). Opting to give this Lordy, Ringy, Fellowshippy thing a shot was pretty adventurous for us (we're exciting folks), and I'm not sure we even expected it to be three hours long.

At a certain point I thought to myself, "This sure seems like that funky book that one family friend of ours lent me upon discovering my penchant for Piers Anthony's Xanth series..." Sure enough, I was vaguely familiar with the story already, but even still I was taken captive by surprise. I wasn't the only one - by the end my father confessed if the next installments were ready to screen he would have gladly sat there another six hours to devour them. I concurred.

When The Two Towers came out, I was with a fellow movie-buff girlfriend so dad and I didn't wind up seeing that one (or Return of the King, for that matter) together. It's just as well, though, because I have always found Fellowship to be by far the superior segment of the trilogy and the successors may have soured the original experience's memory. Besides, once I had my mitts on all three extended editions (purchases that began my thankfully-now-rectified descent into credit card hell), we pseudo-marathoned them over the course of a week.

October Sky (Joe Johnston, 1999)

Ah, October Sky. The few times I've inquired, dad has noted this as his favorite movie. It is indeed a very "dad" movie - an inspirational small town true story (a la Hoosiers or We Are Marshall) that involves a teacher. Oh, I suppose I haven't mentioned that yet. Dad's a teacher. So... definitely, without a doubt, a "dad" movie.

The first time we went to see this, I wasn't game for some drama about a kid building rockets. No, really, I wasn't. I pleaded with dad to just wait in the lobby to the point that he gave me the ticket price in quarters and let me take on the arcade while he went in to the auditorium (don't worry, this was rural Connecticut and I was - or like to think I was, anyway - a fairly sharp kid... I wasn't about to get turned into a lampshade in some creepy dude's basement).

Not surprisingly, I wore through the pile of quarters within ten minutes playing one of those Area 51 shooter games. The aliens had my virtual number... and I deserved as much, I suppose, for being selfish. Dad came out of the movie raving, though, and some time over the following week (perhaps even the next day... can't remember exactly) we returned... and I'm glad we did.

Sure, October Sky may be far from my favorite film (that's another kind of Sky, thankyouverymuch) but it's a worthy dose of inspiration with a bittersweet dessert of father/son drama (so hey, I managed a list entry meeting not only the intended criterium but the inadvertently implied one, too). Incidentally, Joe Johnston is the only director to repeat in the mutual moviegoing history what with Jurassic Park III entering the fray in July 2001.

The Phantom Menace (George Lucas, 1999)

Wow, 1999 was a pretty memorable year for father/son movies, eh? While sitting in that lobby, after Area 51 whooped my lilly-white booty and before dad emerged beaming from October Sky, I watched the Phantom Menace trailer on nonstop rotation. I couldn't get enough of John Williams' new composition for the more intense scenes even if the visuals seemed suspiciously against the Star Wars grain I was such a fanboy for (oh yeah - novels, encyclopedias, video games, toys, trading cards, my own fan fiction...).

As established with the Spy Who Shagged Me entry, 1999 saw the summer motorcycle trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains. I mentioned I was always hunting for movie theaters near our motels. Well, with the Spy night as an exception, each motel stay was accompanied with a viewing of The Phantom Menace. We must have seen it at least four or five times. We typically lunched at KFC, too, and the fast food joint was running a promotional tie-in that yielded a few cheap Phantom Menace toys for yours truly.

Between the previously discussed Game Boy Pocket and all this Star Wars stuff, the whole trip pretty much became as much about bonding with dad over my interests as it was about bonding over his. I remember dad saying to mom before we left that, due to road conditions and what one might call "parental relationship cabin fever", he expected we would have a tiff or two and have to hash some issues out... but really, we just had a grand ol' time mixing nature and motorcycles with virtual reality and speeder bikes.

Sometimes I feel bad for having dragged the old man to the same movie over and over, but he always says it was a good time that didn't get old! Actually, the only movie I've seen more times in theaters is Attack of the Clones. Man, was I ever trying to convince myself that these new Star Wars movies were worth a damn beyond sentimental value... and shucks, there it is... here I was about to get through an entry involving Star Wars without blatantly ripping on the prequels. It's no use, I tell you! At least I didn't mention Revenge of the Sith... that would certainly have been a losing battle (and I know dad agrees - though at first when he took the family to see that third prequel I was grabbing at optimistic straws, he was very open about his dissatisfaction with it).

Oh yeah! That Christmas of 1999 dad's gift to me was the Phantom Menace VHS to commemorate our trip. Talk about things to actually feel bad about... I, having a tendency to think practically at the wrong times, said something to the effect of "Well, I was planning to wait until all three had come out so I could save money getting the box set... but this is cool, too." Silly me. I do still have that VHS, though, and think about dad and our most triumphant motorcycle adventure every time I look at it.


REVIEW: Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)

When Ashecliffe, island-based hospital for the criminally insane, experiences an implausible patient disappearance, a U.S. Marshal undertakes investigation of the premises. Unnerving suspicions arise when the Marshal's thorough survey is not met with unanimous compliance from the facility's operators. Are hidden practices being carried out deep within the hospital's isolated confines, or is something even stranger afoot? Magnificent movie maestro Martin Scorsese and his new millennium muse, Leonardo DiCaprio, return to Massachusetts for their fourth collaboration, based on the 2003 novel by Mystic River author Dennis Lehane.

I could unfairly state - as I admittedly have many a time since my theatrical experience with Shutter Island - the film's dominating stigma of predictability presents itself almost immediately. Don't get me wrong. Scorsese doesn't seem capable of unworthy output. Even when I don't necessarily "like" something he's done (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) I generally garner objective respect for it nonetheless. Shutter Island isn't bad, per se, but it is predictable. If you've seen films with similar twists, it's likely you'll piece this one together, if not in the opening scenes at least by the midway mark. What makes this statement unfair, though, is how Scorsese handles such predictable fare. Ol' Marty seems savvy to we sharp moviegoers and toys with our hypotheses. Through a descent into madness in which no one's word can be taken without a full shaker of salt, he never allows full galvanization of our hunches. No matter how obvious answers may seem, we can't knowingly shake our heads until the final unveiling provides procedural confirmation (displayed in a fashion rather reminiscent of Vanilla Sky).

So, the plot being in "Eh, ya like it or ya don't" territory, the most important aspect here is atmosphere, and Scorsese lays it on thick right from the get-go. The most memorable sequence I found was no more than two scenes in, when encroaching, methodical visuals and a dynamic score meld to produce a sense of isolation. With the location's remoteness, even the employees and administrators seem imprisoned... and now we, the audience, are prisoners as well. There's a very classic feel to it all, really, and through this Shutter Island feels like what a 1940s-'60s thriller would be if it were made today. It is all very Hitchcockian, and provides what I imagine must be the sort of excitement people felt when, say, Psycho was first released.

As far as new millennium Scorsese goes (and overall I do prefer this more recent stuff), Gangs of New York still commands the crown but Shutter Island commands a certain respect. Here the director is letting loose with material he hasn't completely delved into before with mountains of conviction and zero restraint. Peter Travers provided the film's marketing the blurb, "For people who live and breathe film." I concur to an extent, but I'd more strongly recommend to people who aren't total cinephiles, for they may be more taken with the twists and turns.


REVIEW: Piranha 3D (Alexandre Aja, 2010)

With ragging on the resurgence of the cinematic third dimension being a popular thing to do, it may be controversial for me to state I enjoy 3D... but I'll quickly clarify: only when it's used in just-for-fun, often silly context as opposed to underhanded cash grabs. Letterier's Clash of the Titans? Pass, thanks... I gladly opted for a 2D screening there. Friday the 13th: Part 3, though? Bring it on, baby! Anytime, anywhere!! Much like My Bloody Valentine 3D, which made for likely the most fun I had at the movies last year, Piranha was planned for 3D - not strapped with a sub-par conversion after filming. Although the extra $4 per ticket hurt, it seemed worth the gamble.

Now, I could whine all day about the downfalls of current 3D technology. It's often blurry, the lumens get split between your eyes generating a murky appearance (it almost looked as though this film was brightened in post to diminish this side effect) and it often fails to add much since our brains already interpret 2D images in three dimensions. I could even debate what I call the aquarium effect versus the pop-out effect (looking into an image versus the image coming out at us) until the sea-cows come home. Since Avatar re-popularized the format, though, it's all been said and said again. I'll simply suffice to state that due to an inability to take full advantage of either the aquarium zone or the pop-out zone, along with the referenced issues, Piranha would have been much better in good ol' regular 2D.

The extra dimension aside, Piranha looked deliciously satirical of its beach party/monster trappings. Gotta say, I was darn stoked for this one (downloading its official desktop wallpapers, "liking" it on Facebook - the works). Even in the opening seconds the implemented color scheme and overall demeanor made me feel - as The Devil's Rejects did (twice!) in 2005 - like I was watching an actual '70s schlock classic. It is due to this excitement I am now heavy-hearted to report Piranha's dreadful mediocrity. You see, the movie actually tries to have real characters. It does precisely what I was tightly crossing my fingers it wouldn't do, and idles with inane personality-type development scenes whenever it gets the chance, trying to get us to care about its walking meat bags. What it should have done is stick with eccentrics like Eli Roth and Christopher Lloyd. In fact, if you can believe it, Lloyd only has two scenes and he steals the whole friggin' show.

Really, the movie gets almost immediately split into two threads - one about a wild, wild party and state troopers' efforts to keep scantily clad movers and shakers from becoming fish food, and one about our "main characters" going out on their own in a boat. Hey, filmmakers! I didn't come to see what's happening on your stupid little boat! Sure, build to the more intimate setting for a big scene later on or whatever... but had you forgotten what movie you were making here? Although it's not particularly well realized due to uninteresting compositions and practically zero action continuity, the beach party massacre sequence is likely the movie's bloody best... but then it's back to the boat for more blabber. Confused pacing like this may just be Piranha's key downfall. Even during the climax there's no sense of urgency.

So I went into this thing anticipating a specific type of experience but received something unexpected. That's fine. Films are allowed to do whatever they want to do. Thing is, in the case of a satirical creature feature, if you take out the satire you're left merely with an undercooked creature. Along with more Roth and more Lloyd, Piranha could have done well with some groan-worthy puns (not once did Ving Rhames turn to camera to declare, "Something smells fishy...") or, heck, some more belched-up penises (you'll know if/when you see it).

We're talking about a movie in which a prehistoric swarm of flesh-devouring monsters attacks a beach populated with a Girls-Gone-Wild-esque Spring Breakers. Basically, this was supposed to be the next Snakes on a Plane. Through taking itself too seriously, however, it becomes just another overpriced remake. Regarding the 3D, it's probable I'll still give Resident Evil: Afterlife a shot in theaters, but Piranha has done a number on my if-I-want-to-see-it-and-it's-3D-I-have-to-see-it-in-theaters mentality. If Afterlife blows gooey chunks of undead flesh, I'll wash my hands of theatrical obligations to 3D.

If I take anything away from Piranha, it's that pull-pushes do not work quite the same in 3D.


REVIEW: 2012 (Roland Emmerich, 2009)

After ten minutes of Roland Emmerich's 2012, I was wondering if I may have a film to join Donnie Darko, Chapter 27, National Lampoon's Spring Break and, yes, The Day After Tomorrow on my list of least favorite films. Within these opening moments just about every rotten cliché in Hollywood's disaster book dawdles cross screen, effectively embarrassing the reputable actors involved (a very Orson Welles-looking Oliver Platt and a very Chiwetel Ejiofor-looking Chiwetel Ejiofor, among others). The only element of the formula suspiciously absent is, well, the disaster. It may not always be the case, but I find most effective films of this type open with a precursor catastrophe - an appetizer for the destruction to come - to whet our curiosities and prompt our keesters to the edges of our seats. Here, though, we merely get a character development-lite Cliff's Notes version of Independence Day with solar flares in place of aliens, while Danny Glover (as the President of the United States) grimly yet emptily announces, "It's the end of the world." Cue orchestral stabs!

After the computer-generated wolves and insular familial frivolities of Day After Tomorrow and 10,000 BC's, well, all-around awfulness, I was about ready to give up on Emmerich. I enjoy Stargate and have seen and had a ball with Independence Day countless times. I'm even one of those weirdos who doesn't at all mind the 1998 Godzilla (even though, apparently, Emmerich himself minds it). But post-millennium the director was going down a bad, bad road as far as I was concerned. The main reason I've continued to check out his offerings is that pesky curiosity factor. Like many others, I'm sure, since the marketing campaigns seem hinged on generating just this, I always find myself pondering the whys and wherefores of each film's grand plot, in spite of anticipated quality (or lack thereof). I muscled through the aforementioned ten minutes... and for that matter, the entire first act (superiors of which I've seen branded with - oh yeah, I'm going there - the SyFy Original label)... and you know what? I had a good time. In its middle and end, 2012, contradictorily, is as much an unbelievably ridiculous, leave-your-mind-at-the-door thriller as it is an intriguing and intermittently heartfelt contemplation of potential end times.

The second act, arriving off the tail of a preposterously video-game-like chase between a computer-generated limousine and a very angry, computer-generated earthquake (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Fault?), escorts us to Yellowstone National Park. Now, this is where my neutral-on-the-side-of-positive reaction begins to reveal it's more based on my own thoughts and experiences as opposed to those presented. See, I spent almost eight months working out in Yellowstone in 2006. The Park holds very dear meaning for me, so revisiting it as a key location in a blockbuster was a welcome treat. What's more, when out in the Park for an extended span it's near impossible to avoid doomsayers going on about the Yellowstone Caldera - the super volcano. It's quite real and quite harrowing to consider, and I know people who claim they'd love to be at the epicenter when it erupts. You know, the whole if-we're-all-gonna-die-I-wanna-be-the-first-to-go-down-in-a-blaze-of-glory mentality. Motherland! So, all this considered, I marveled seeing a (sure, overdramatized) vision of what the much-foretold eruption might look like. I'm under no illusion the scene was by any means "good", but after a certain point I wasn't really concerned any longer with "good" or "bad"... I was just embracing cinematic escape.

Though act three may yield the most obvious computer-generated wolves of the proceedings (if you take my meaning regarding anticlimactic pratfalls with uncharacteristically curt results in the midst of global devastation), it also presents the most discussion-worthy aspects to be found. Following some interesting plot developments along Dr. Strangelove lines (although without the comedy... well, the purposed comedy, anyway), we find ourselves in a situation dripping with discussion potential. Faulty moralities and faulty logistics of intentional and unintentional varieties... they're all there for conversation fodder, and in my case have already produced two satisfying chin-wags with friends who reacted similarly, if a bit less forgivingly, to the film as I did.

Throughout his career, going back to his 1984 debut feature, Das Arche Noah Prinzip, Emmerich has been fascinated with the apocalypse as brought on by coinciding natural disasters. Discovering Graham Hancock's Earth's Crust Displacement Theory, he finally found the hook he needed to achieve his desired scale. On this inherently epic scale, it's tough to screw up, even when it's more than obvious your actors are standing in a small blue screen studio before being surrounded in post-production by extremely cartoonish destruction. No matter what levels of paint-by-numbers, caramelized melodrama are reached, it's still a movie about the apocalypse (and believe me, it's melodrama... think Deep Impact... then divide the script's emphasis by some large number and use your quotient to multiply the schmaltz). Even if the film itself isn't taking full advantage of its subject matter, my mind is apt to contemplate the various causes and consequences of the events displayed, making for a worthy experience no matter how that worth was achieved.


REVIEW: Eat Pray Love (Ryan Murphy, 2010)

I'd like to believe there's more to this logically marketable bestseller-to-blockbuster adaptation than is present on screen. I'd like to, but flat, by-the-numbers convention discourages such belief. Let's look at a couple scenarios. First we have Liz traveling halfway across the world in hopes of expanding horizons and discovering herself beyond the bounds of nationality, only to take solace in the most American surroundings she can find - an air-conditioned lounge. On top of that, we realize the guru she came to see has left for New York. Did Liz really have to leave her husband or her home at all? Just to have a tiny plate of spaghetti in Rome and sit in an air-conditioned room in India? One may notice these thematically contradictory and ironic subtleties lurking around each corner, but lurking in chains, denied precedence in favor of such groundless, shallow observations as, "having a 'muffin top' is okay". And if you're wondering, no, Roberts does not appear to have gained weight for the role a la Robert De Niro in "Raging Bull" - she simply tries squeezing into tinier jeans to attain the effect. If anything, she looks like she underwent a bargain-bin Botox boost prior to the shoot. At least her hair's nice.

For a movie intent to enlighten through various cultures, it never shakes its strong undercurrent of white supremacy. Rather than learn from these cultures, Liz looks on quizzically before pocketing them as cute pets for some collection. Furthermore, most every key player is caucasian - aside from the "token" black best friend (Viola Davis) - and hints through dialogue their race renders them automatically important. For example, in response to Liz' hesitation to discuss something with the Richard character (Richard Jenkins) in the midst of the well-populated Indian Ashram, Richard demands, "Who else are you going to talk to? I'm the only one here!" Mind you, this is after Liz was about to have an internal meltdown from being surrounded by all the poverty-stricken, Hindi-speaking Indians. She was rescued by the sight of Richard. He's white - sweet relief! Through all this, the film feels extremely presumptuous about its audience. It would be easily argued "Eat Pray Love" is primarily aimed at Americans - more specifically, American women - and since I'm American, that means I'm white, rich and religious, right? In this film's eyes, that's darn tootin'. Well, seeing as now I'm not only white but rich and religious, too, I suppose I should take an expensive, international trip so I can better stuff my face and cozy up to God.


ARTICLE: Ke$ha, Pronounced.

Ever since I can remember - since I nabbed a used copy of Michael Jackson's Thriller in my single-digits, perhaps - it has taken something truly special to get me into a pop album. For the most part, the monotonous volume touting itself as "music", its classification an abbreviation of the term "popular", exists as nuisance in my world - nuisance widely and blissfully ignored.

The exceptions alluded to may be extremely rare but typically topple barriers, transcending the simple realm of their peers and causing me to obsess for a few months. The perpetually self-challenging and self-redefined Christina Aguilera, whose soulful voice soars with the greats, demanded my attention with the permeating Stripped in '02. Then, in '05, the rebellious, naturally beautiful P!nk blasted my radar with her delightfully un-PC I'm Not Dead!.

Earlier this year I caught an unusual guest performance on American Idol. In spite of the show, the girl with the mic (and, eventually, the headdress) seemed to be more rapping with hints of melody than singing (though I soon learned singing was well within range). Four dancers with giant televisions on their heads hopped and pranced in the background as the brash tune went on. I'm honestly not sure if I full-on "liked" what I was seeing in the moment, but I certainly enjoyed it, and one thing's for sure - I remembered the song Blah Blah Blah... and the name "Ke$ha".

Well, to quote Boots & Boys, I think it's time that I mention I've got myself an obsession. Honestly, it started as more or less a goof. I knew what Ke$ha's reputation about my social circle was apt to be and, for laughs and some guilty pleasure, I racked up some Blah Blah Blah scrobbles on my last.fm profile. Soon I was scrobbling other singles TiK ToK and Your Love is My Drug while sporting a Ke$ha avatar on The Corrierino. Not so slowly, I was finding something I genuinely liked about the starlet, and it wasn't much longer before I picked up her debut album, Animal.

As I type this, Ke$ha stands at position seventeen on my overall last.fm chart with well over three-hundred scrobbles, beating out long-time favorites like Alice Cooper, Poison and Van Halen. On the merit of just one album and a few officially unreleased songs, she has already breezed past the aforementioned, contemporary pop veterans Xtina and P!nk. Beyond the taste-tracking site, I have also joined the online fan club to stay on top of releases, added hordes of relevant videos to my YouTube "favorites" and even made plans to shoot an amateur music video for Dinosaur. Yeah, I've got myself an obsession, alright.

I attribute much of this obsession to not only the catchy music but also the backing attitude. For being who some are calling the "New Queen of Pop", I feel Ke$ha is almost anti-pop. Yes, of course, the music can hardly be tagged as anything else, but there is a strong streak of irony through every track. Though many of the purposefully "shallow" lyrics are revealing of the artist's party-hardy lifestyle, more than that they tear a veil away from the pop world. Ke$ha, even for this early stage in her high-profile career, has a significant amount of creative control over her work (a running theme amongst pop artists I favor, it would seem) and uses the platform more or less to roleplay. Purported is not the ideal image of a Britney or Jessica, but the public's wide (if eagerly presumptuous and possibly uninformed/misinformed) view of them - trashy, ditzy and easy. Ke$ha gives it to us raw and wriggling - sex, booze and rock 'n' roll.

One particularly impressive aspect of the young singer's blossoming career is how true she seems to have stayed to herself. You look at most any pop sensation and they started out as a puppet for a production company. Even Xtina's self-titled freshman outing was a mere notch or two above having its every string yanked by money-grubbing suits. Ke$ha, contrarily, has managed a seamless segue into fame without "selling out". In that sense, she's easily relatable to the fresh screen talent Kristen Stewart. She hasn't gone into shell-shock mode with the onset of popularity. Of course, where a key characteristic of "KStew" is shyness, Ke$ha is on the opposite end of the spectrum. In interviews she avoids pretension and overconfidence with an organic heedlessness but saturates her art with bombast.

What's more, Ke$ha had been making music for a good handful of years, scraping by on peanuts, prior to snaring the spotlight, and her stylings have not been undermined through the transition. Early tunes like Butterscotch or Lost Weekend would fit right in with Animal's offerings. What might be even more important is she seems to be having a ball with success rather than huddling away to protect some kind of image. It's not just refreshing, it's empowering, and through her interviews and even songs I feel, to reasonable extent, as though I know the real Ke$ha as opposed to some intangible entity of popular culture.

Speaking of style, how about that Auto-Tune? Generally my opinion of the pitch-correcting software is right in line with common thought - it's annoying, unnecessary and makes sub-par music even worse. Well, leave it up to Ke$ha to instill an alternative viewpoint. Now, I'm under no illusion Ke$ha is in complete control of this technical aspect of her output. Whoever does have that control, though, uses what's often an ear-sore to perfectly compliment what's already, yes, good singing. The way Auto-Tune is implemented here alongside penetrating record-spinning adds "oomph" and an extra dimension of fun.

According to her Wikipedia page, Ke$ha lists among her influences Beck, Madonna, the Beastie Boys and even Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. And you know what? It shows. She's distinct, like any of the credited artists, and while she may not be doing anything on the level of Desolation Row, the influence is apparent through uniquely defined presentation.

To identify what makes a Ke$ha song a Ke$ha song, just look for the fortitude. As previously mentioned, her confidence straight out of the box allows for heavy doses of irony. Along with this irony, which often comprises self-objectification, she objectifies men just as men do women in most Top 40 content. Contemporaries, like Xtina, have done this in the past, but never as overtly. All the while Ke$ha maintains versatility, effortlessly gearing between the sexual intensity of Take It Off, the bubblegum mentality a la Kiss N Tell and even more goofy realms as in the hilarious Dinosaur. Then, the stand-out cherry on the debut album - title track Animal - goes empoweringly philosophical, encapsulating the pop star's core mentality: "I am in love with what we are, not what we should be."

So, to the naysayers, go ahead - say your nay. It just makes things better for those of us enjoying the raucous abandon.

Massive records have already been crushed (and TiK ToK is the only song to have ever replaced the Simpsons theme), yet I still feel Ke$ha is an underdog. In spite of these accolades she doesn't even have her own tour yet, instead acting as "special guest" on Rihanna's Last Girl on Earth tour. Hopefully Ke$ha karrie$ on to create a multi-faceted career without losing her edge. I, for one, already can't wait to see (and hear) what comes next. After all, who doesn't love an underdog?


LIST: Top Five on Gorillaz' Plastic Beach

Okay, so Plastic Beach isn't a movie (yet! ...wishful thinking) but this is under the "Lists" category so... loophole! Hm, "Loophole" could be a cool name were I ever by some means inducted into the Gorillaz crew. Anyway.

Not being a music critic, which hopefully won't make for pedestrian descriptions of why I adore these tunes, or harboring any music-making aspirations (although learning to pick up a storm on the banjo would be sweet) I'm not quite so jaded to the recording arts world. Due to my noggin's hardwiring to cinema, even the best flicks I see anymore cannot avoid technical examination whereas melodic, aural offerings can still accomplish 100% of their goals if they land favorably.

Interestingly, the album could almost be reviewed as if it were film. In fact, I'd maim to see a film - told almost entirely through visuals and music, spanning vast and varying landscapes of cinematic methods from highly stylized live action and colorful rotoscoping to cel animation and stop motion - about the Gorillaz' story thus far (and beyond, natch). We would begin with the bold yet innocent funk of the self-titled 2001 album before quickly moving in to apocalyptic Demon Days territory. Then, once the fire has spewed forth from the monkey's head to mute the happy folk, we would venture to - where else? - the Plastic Beach.

Wait, where was I? Oh. 'Is an album... blah blah blah... if it were a film'. Right! So, Birdie (whose 'rillaz - or, if you will, rilla-dillaz - moniker I imagine would simply be "Birdie") and I have had a handful of discussions regarding the continuing story of this animated band. These discussions have not been too specific regarding whys and wherefores (stuff like Noodle dying and Murdoc building a cyborg version of her before kidnapping 2D and... uh... yeah), but have orbited more around concepts and ideas. See, if you told me Roger Waters was just compiling a bunch of random songs in The Wall (or most any if not all of his albums to follow, for that matter), you'd have some serious eyebrow raising coming your way courtesy yours truly. What's that you say now? Billie Joe Armstrong was just using the term "Jesus of Suburbia" repeatedly in American Idiot for giggles? Phew, these eyebrows are gonna need a Crunk!!! Energy Drink after this barrage of nonsense (and that link isn't a sponsorship thing, although that'd be great... Crunk is the nectar of Hera and y'all better recognize). The tanky, blurred and British über-duo of Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn's offerings, though? Please, be free to take 'em as you will. One of our subject matter's many beauties is an openness to being interpreted however each particular audience member chooses. Do you think the "Glitter Freeze" is outer space? Word. Oh, it's a metaphor for a technology and internet-dominated lifestyle? Sure, sure. Well, that dude over there told me it's just a groovy butt-wiggler and he's not too worried about deeper meaning. That's fine, too.

Although I always wind up adoring the tunage, I typically take a little while to warm up to each new Gorillaz outing. So far they've been quite distinct from one another, to the point where I was actually rather underwhelmed with both Demon Days and Plastic Beach upon initial run-throughs because they didn't represent the Gorillaz I was already familiar with. Same reason I, embarrassingly enough, thought Kill Bill Vol. 2 was somewhat of a disappointment at first, or how I gave up on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs after listening to It's Blitz (although that album is still more or less a smelly pile of giraffe diapers so... bad example, perhaps... but after the unforgiving excellence of Fever to Tell and the almost Metric-esque sweetness of Show Your Bones - and that's not to mention the EPs - yeah, yeah, no). That said, something particularly unique about this latest album is how, at first, the songs seem to meld together. It's a 16-piece cluster of mellow-sauce slowly rolling through coolsville. After third and fourth replays it grew on me in a big way. Listening now places me directly in the realm of the proverbial title retreat - in different, specific spots depending on what track is playing. It fascinates me, actually, to listen back on 2005's Demon Days and realize how similar to the 2001 album it actually is. Simultaneously, Demon Days almost teases what would come in 2010, making for an ideal connector betwixt two masterpieces and, really, being rather a masterpiece itself.

I've taken a while to formulate this list. Some days it's looked almost entirely different and I can only hope a week after I publish this I don't look back and think "No way, Rhinestone Eyes is way better than White Flag!". Initially, Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach with Snoop Dogg - arguably the most accessible track to be found - was connecting with me the most. Now it's struggling to maintain honorable mention status. That's not to say I've changed my positive opinion of it, though. Though Some Kind of Nature featuring Lou Reed did take longer than the rest to find footing and Sweepstakes, in spite of Mos Def, has lost ground, I think every Plastic Beach track is very, very good if not fantastically stellar. Overall I'd have to place the album as Gorillaz' best and perhaps even the best thing either Hewlett or Albarn has worked on. Each second of runtime seems intricately pondered and flows with the best of them, often redefining the very essence of "flow". Fittingly, it is without question an album for the what-I'd-bring-if-I-were-marooned-on-a-desert-isle list.

Runners-up for this list (oh, yeah... so this post isn't just me fellating an uncommonly superb melting pot of pop-rock, techno and hip-hop with a blockade of text), simply because I wouldn't want to leave them out entirely, are the epic Glitter Freeze, the epilogistic Pirate Jet (reminds me of Pink Floyd's Outside the Wall), On Melancholy Hill (the album's Feel Good, Inc. or 19-2000 - always makes me think of David Bowie's Heroes during its intro) and, why not, Stylo (a groove-tacular, partially improvised ditty featuring Mos Def and Bobby Womack - an intriguing combo to me since I think Def is a shoe-in to star should a film ever be made about Womack). Really, I could list every single track and what makes them great. Hell, if I wanted to I could put out a much more artistic and even existential article on the subject... but you should just check out the album for yourself and revel in the awesomenosity. It's music that, to oversimplify, redefines your being as it massages your eardrums. It's music that enhances life, teleporting it to nearly unfathomable, imaginary realms.

Sure, out of curiosity I've taken a gander at a few Wikipedia and Song Meanings pages for these tunes, but what follows are my own personal reflections. I've tried to avoid influence from outside opinion and fact here, instead taking those nuggets as side-notes, in effort to present an entirely personal list. And, finally, here we go...

5. White Flag (ft. Bashy, Kano & the Lebanese Nat'l Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music)

Look, respect the island; no stealing
And don't bring religion here; no three kings
It's great and we ain't leaving
We come in peace, sing
White flag? White flag

Swag though Snoop Dogg's introductory track may be, White Flag most effectively welcomes us to the new world. We venture with Bashy and Kano on a voyage of discovery as they detail what they've gleaned of their destination to sounds of a mijwiz conjuring notions of a pilgrimage.

I get visuals of two rag-tag compadres sailing forth on a barely respectable dingy (perhaps even a raft crudely fashioned from felled trees), maintaining valiance as best they can. The two have no target, merely trajectory from a subpar society they escaped. Without specific aim, they are presented sanctuary in the form of the Plastic Beach. With this manifestation they go nuts like cartoon wolves ogling scantily clad babes and engage in conversation regarding what the place is all about before ultimately agreeing to cruise in bearing a peace symbol.

Basically, we learn how much of a paradise our new surroundings appear to be. Until this it's unclear (and, really, remains purposefully ambiguous even beyond this optimistic track) whether the man-made state of the island is to be seen as a positive. Turns out it's a crime-free, religion-free Utopia.

So, does our endearing duo have false hopes? Is their grass always greener, or is this truly their ideal environment? Even More's Utopia had its problems. My take: these two blokes are spot-on, and they have truly found "the place to be". But then, it really depends on your own interpretation.

4. Empire Ants (ft. Little Dragon)

Little memories... marching on
Your little feet... working the machine
Will it spin? Will it soar?
My little dream... working the machine

I mentioned above that Pirate Jet calls forth thoughts of Pink Floyd's Outside the Wall - the soft aftermath of The Wall's explosive The Trial. Well, if Pirate Jet is The Wall, Empire Ants is The Dark Side of the Moon. Consider Breathe in the Air's Run, rabbit, run portion or the sun is the same in a relative way stretch in Time compared to this: The sun has come again to hold you/Sailing out the doldrums of the week, or this: Where the emptiness we leave behind on warm air rising/Those are the shadows far away.

To oversimplify: we toil endlessly to clear monthly high-jumps, constantly dreaming of what's next once we graduate. When you're through scooping pooch poop or filing inane paperwork, what will that next rung be, anyway? Artistic endeavor? A kush life of luxury? Well, realistically, no - just more toiling. If you're lucky you'll climb from burger flipper to chief chili-fry maker. Really, this song could also easily be compared to Welcome to the Machine from Floyd's Wish You Were Here. What did you dream? It's alright, we told you what to dream.

Now, however, something else is here to hold you. The empire is crumbling as its middle children flee - like Bashy and Kano in White Flag - and find the Plastic Beach. The song lures us, reminding of the hamster wheels that are our existences.

As for the music itself, its paced, melancholy build entrances before Little Dragon's synth-assisted segment carries away like a schooner full of inflated whoopie cushions floating on A Pillow of Winds.

3. Plastic Beach (ft. Mick Jones & Paul Simonon)

It's a Casio on a plastic beach
It's a styrofoam deep-sea landfill
It's sort of made a computer speech
It's a Casio on a plastic beach

For as simple and almost minimalist as this one is, it carries an engaged subconscious. Sparse lyrical variety imbues polysemy but the chorus treads broad, providing more to ponder than many of its peers. Those forbearing peers do, however, help inform what may have otherwise been aimless (though pleasantly so).

Just what does this Casio represent? In spite of a relatively upbeat tone, the song seems littered with despair, and this Casio exists as a glimmer of hope. The image in my mind is, rather straight-forwardly, a cheap keyboard, alone on a stretch of miniscule, ductile shards - or, plastic sand. Is this keyboard the only object to survive the sea's dull grind - a grind that rendered its fellow man-made products into the artificial bed on which it rests? One could even say the Casio is us. Simple, stranded... but capable of beautiful acts so long as our chins are up.

Until this point our cast of characters, primarily lead singer 2D (oft-credited as "the idiot", making him intriguingly more vulnerable than most musical frontmen), have been reveling in an accomodating Shangri-la of all-around easy living... but now the enigmatic island is a barren landscape of waste. The very use of the term "landfill" is probably the closest to a subversion of paradise to be found on the album, as, typically, outlooks are kept ambiguous. Albarn himself has gone on record suggesting all the unnatural aspects of our human society that have been popularly scorned in recent years aren't quite as abominable as they have been accused of being.

Now that 2D seems to lean more introspectively, though (following what could be considered the climax of a certain subplot as will be touched on with the next track's entry), he is seeing the beach for what it is physically as opposed to what it represents.

2. To Binge (ft. Little Dragon)

I'm caught again in the mystery

You're by my side, but are you still with me?
The answer's somewhere deep in it
I'm sorry that you're feeling it
But I just have to tell you that I love you so much these days

Amidst Plastic Beach's revelrous abandon and social commentary surges an undercurrent of unrequited love. After all, an island of bliss is but murk and void without love, so even with his idealized surroundings, 2D is preoccupied with desperate, amorous feelings for one who does not give as she gets. Much of this relationship is suggested in tracks such as Rhinestone Eyes (which, along with open-ended opinions of artifice and industry, introduces romantic allure) and Broken (a contemplation on the undermining of genuine connection through desire for instant gratification and, out of specific subsequence, the unconscious crutch of internet and television).

2D's relationship (that some may presume is with Noodle though I'm not so sure...) comes to a head here, only to be uncertainly lamented with the following Cloud of Unknowing. There is an ultimatum in place. Each party searches for rescue but through different means. Bitter end is in sight if those means don't meet at some compromise.

I'm sure the beach has crucial significance in these characters' mental dwellings (it's even strongly suggested by the very title To Binge). I'm half-inclined to suggest the beach a narcotic, but that would be all too easy. Though in a month or so once I've figured my take on the correlation I'll surely re-read this and be embarrassed for not yet having "gotten it"... but for now I'm truly okay in the dark. I'm placed more in 2D's conflicted shoes, navigating emotional mire. Besides, if I had it all worked out, what fun would be left? Well, okay, lots of fun... but y'know.

In step with what is almost a motif of contradictory lyrics and tones, the anxious and depressing verbal content is accompanied by the album's most relaxing sound. It actually feels like something you'd hear from a grass-skirted house band at a resort on Waikiki's shores while sipping las luces de la Habana from a halved coconut through an obscenely frilled-out straw. And Little Dragon. Oh, Little Dragon. Leader of the Swedish-Japanese electro-lounge group, Yukimi Nagano, gently caressed us with Empire Ants and now toys with our affections for her smooth-as-melted-margarine vocals. I, along with many others, I'm sure, can thank Plastic Beach for introducing me to the talent, whose own albums Little Dragon and Machine Dreams are as chill as a popsicle-popping penguin cryogenically preserved in 1982.

To Binge essentially closes the album, as I consider the one-two combo of Cloud of Unknowing and Pirate Jet to be epilogue, and what a close it is. Now, to close out this list...

1. Superfast Jellyfish (ft. Gruff Rhys & De La Soul)

Look, it comes with a toy
Hehe, I like that
I want a number four, a number six
And throw in a plastic donut
Just enjoy the gritty crunch
It tastes just like chicken

I get a feeling the highly quotable and hilarious Gruff Rhys (of Super Furry Animals) and De La Soul (who also featured on Feel Good, Inc.) represent here the same pair who arrived 'neath that White Flag after having acclimated further to the Plastic Beach. Their days just aren't complete, though, without a Superfast Jellyfish - delicious and piping hot in only three microwave minutes!

This whacky tune's message (which smacks of an excerpt from The Who Sell Out) could be read as a bemused "Ew, capitalism". Or, more intricately, it could be a spiteful "Yuck, haphazardly produced Top 40 'music'". For being just shy of three minutes, it has enough layers to be heard different ways with almost every listen. It has a blast with its subjects and with this in mind, I prefer to take it as a couple of dudes finding guilt-free delectation in something that isn't necessarily a zenith of craftsmanship. With this preference to set aside more specific and broadly accepted meanings, I suppose I'm right there with our characters, taking giddy delight in something without needing to fully explore its makeup.

Occasionally I get my silly off self-deprecatingly flaunting vices like Kurt Wimmer's Ultraviolet or Ke$ha (a recent infatuation... Hungover, Dinosaur, Party at a Rich Dude's House... mega-yum)... or even, as with the microwaveable medusozoa in question, my undying adoration of Aunt Jemima's sadly discontinued sausage breakfast burrito. I recognize how surface-level and arguably unhealthy (and, in the case of the burrito, emblazoned with an uncomfortably narrow-minded choice of mascot) these are, but I love 'em anyway. Making that love more fun is the rush I get from knowing it's foolish but diving in anyway.

In a way I feel Superfast Jellyfish is trying to say, "Enjoy your fast food... your cheap toys... the small things! If they happen to wind up on your plate, make the most of them because there ain't no changing the fact that their production lines are gonna keep on trucking (your little feet...). Going against the grain with a sour scowl will only make a less happy person out of you."

There's nothing wrong with a little vice. "Anti-" mentalities are not the way. It should simply be kept in mind that moderation is key. 'Course, I've been disobeying that idea a bit... what with Plastic Beach on loop practically ad nauseam for the past week or so. Don't waste time!


FILM: Hurricane Who? (2004)

A highlight of my college days at Full Sail University in 2004, this short was made by friend Jason Hubsch as an assignment for his video editing course. I helped with some of the camerawork, acting (portraying "The Insensitive Driver", "The Mugger" and doing narration) and, at least one would hope, partial behind-the-scenes encouragement. Jason, then a student of Full Sail's digital media program, did a great job with this little thing.

During our Full Sail days Jason and I could often be found hanging at his apartment, playing FFXI, listening to ICP and, eager to pack more abbreviations into our repertoires, watching WWE. A mutual favorite World Wrestling Entertainment superstar of ours was Shane Helms, or, as he was better known on Vince McMahon's side of the pro-wrestling world, The Hurricane. This character was a purposefully goofy superhero prone to pratfall and his underdog status (fictional and factual) elicited great adulation and appreciation from the two of us.

I had written, partially directed and edited Thursday the 12th based on a colleague's story - of an '80s-style slasher fallen on comically hard times - in my digital dinematography course a month or so prior when this assignment came up. Jason had a similar idea to that of Thursday's - to give The Hurricane somewhat of an origin story, painting him as a downtrodden do-gooder who just wasn't getting a break before discovering the WWE. Jason did more legwork than he probably needed to, recruiting on-screen talent from the neighborhood (including my then-roommate whose face is never seen in his role as "The Psychiatrist") and even securing our frequent watering hole - the local Hooters - for a key scene.

As Jason mentions on his website, the video was an academic success and went on to be used as the demonstrative example for future classes. It can be viewed by clicking over to Jason's online home base as linked above and following the "Digital Video" tab, or in a slightly more direct fashion by clicking here to visit an older (but very similar and very functional) version of the site.