Monday, August 31, 2009

Trees In The Forest

  • The Monologue:
    • Quick: what do Ricky Rubio and I have in common? Neither of us will be playing for the Timberwolves next year. Good pick, guys.
    • Disney bought Marvel. Everyone's making jokes about Wolverine versus Snow White. Not me. I'm actually excited about the idea of the comic book company having a big movie studio behind it. We're this much closer to Ghost Rider 2, people!
    • I'm excited for vacation after a rough few weeks at work. My boss, Rich Rodriguez, keeps promising me it's going to better, but he works me so hard.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • Finished the first season of 30 Rock. It amuses me greatly that the second-to-last episode includes a trip to Cleveland, replete with a travel montage of the best sites. Not only did I visit all of those sites when I was there for two days back in July, but they are all within like a five-block radius of each other. Cleveland, ladies and gentlemen.
    • I'm getting a little bored with the premium cable TV shows. Weeds and Entourage have lost "it" and I don't know if Hung ever really had "it" in the first place. At least Curb Your Enthusiasm (September 20) and Dexter (September 27) are coming back soon and HBO's new Bored to Death (September 20) has to be good with its three main stars -- Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, and Zach Galifianakis.
    • The theater scene from Inglourious Basterds is the most celebrated one and the one which I could watch a million times, but I'd be lax if I didn't mention the opening scene as well. It's all dialogue but it is intense. Landa's monologue in this scene about the Jews and rats is tremendous. I still can't get over this movie.
  • Your List Sucks!: Top 5 Favorite Quentin Tarantino Films
    • 5. Kill Bill, Vol. I
    • 4. Reservoir Dogs
    • 3. Jackie Brown
    • 2. Inglourious Basterds
    • 1. Pulp Fiction

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Jews Kicking Ass

"This is the face of Jewish vengeance." -- Shoshana Dreyfus, Inglorious Basterds

The Holocaust killed sixty-seven percent of the Jews in Europe, including as much as ninety percent in Germany, the Baltic states, and Poland (3,000,000 of 3,300,000). According to an Israeli demographer, without the Holocaust there would be thirty-two million Jews in the world instead of the current thirteen million. Utter devastation. Everybody's heard the numbers, everybody's heard the mantra, "Never forget." It was a devastation of the sort that informs the cultural outlook of a group. That kind of stuff stays with you for a very, very long time.

Indeed, even though the Holocaust was a large step on the way to the founding of Israel, the hurt is still relatively fresh. And with good reason, of course -- there are still many survivors still living and even the first or second post-war generations feel the pain through their relatives or through their education. The Holocaust is an integral part of Jewish education. We learn history so we are not doomed to repeat it. We learn it so we can be ever vigilant, always the outsider in most societies. We learn it so that we can remember the hurt and appreciate what we have.

But at what point is being taught to hurt damaging? The Holocaust is a story of millions of Jewish victims. Victims, helpless to stop their murderous destiny. The books, the stories, the movies -- so many about how the Nazis preyed on the helpless, harmless Jews. Sixty years later, we're still being taught these lessons about a people who were incapable of standing up for themselves.

There is an outcry, though. Small at first, but I feel like it's gathering some steam. I've heard it from other people, but I can only speak for myself, especially on such a sensitive issue. I'm sick of hearing this victim stuff. I don't doubt that the Jews were helpless, but to focus on that teaches us a horrible lesson for our own lives. We should never forget, but we should also learn to take action to help ourselves in the future. It's time to get past the victimization and learn some new lessons about our ability to fight. It's time to focus on some stories of Jews kicking ass.

Leon Uris wrote Mila 18 about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising; the story of the Bielskys, Jewish resistance fighters, was turned into the movie Defiance; and maybe the best Jews-kicking-ass story yet, Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, is in theaters now. I saw it today and it is extraordinarily well-done -- it is a Tarantino movie with his usual great camera-work and some Oscar-worthy acting by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz as a Nazi detective. More than that though, given my mindset on the Holocaust, it has stuck with me emotionally. I want to write more below a spoilers alert, but I'll leave it to you to go see it and let me know what you think. Maybe I'll touch back on it another time after it's been out for a while.

Hopefully we'll see more of these types of books and films. Even more hopefully, the idea that Jews really can kick ass will be taught in Hebrew school. Israel certainly hasn't hurt that hope, so maybe it's closer to being a reality than I think. In the meantime, we have what I would refer to as the "Jewish revenge pornography" that Quentin Tarantino has delivered. Inglorious Basterds: funny, beautiful, emotional, my favorite movie of 2009, and maybe, after I see it one or two more times, the newest addition to my Top 100 list.

Random Music Video

Fantasy football draft tomorrow. You should draft QBs as early as possible, any guy can fill in at running back. Also, just like crazy adds hotness to a woman, crazy adds TDs for a wide receiver -- draft Brandon Marshall as early as possible. Ditto T.O. On the other hand, think about how hard Larry Fitzgerald had to play in the playoffs last year! He's probably still tired. You don't want him.

The Ravens' 1st team has now dominated all of the time they've played; tonight Flacco threw for 247 yards in just over a half and the defense wrecked Carolina (the Panthers did rest DeAngelo Williams). They are throwing an awful lot during the preseason.

Non-sequitir: heard this song on the way home from a party tonight. Rock.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


This is from tonight's The Soup. It's... well... just...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

So Just Chill...

  • The Monologue:
    • Michael Vick threw for 19 yards in his Eagles debut tonight. That's one for each month he spent in jail and one for good luck.
    • Madonna was booed when she defended Gypsies in Romania during her European tour. I know she's old, but that happened yesterday, not in 1943.
    • Great. White. Hope. What the f*** is going on with the GOP?
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • This site is great -- it shows pictures of weird people at random Wal-Marts. The internet has been around for quite a while and websites have gone from being very simple to extraordinarily complex. With all of the videos and fancy navigation, why is it that some of the best sites right now are extremely simple, like this one or F-My-Life or Texts From Last Night? And why didn't those kinds of sites exist when we first started using web browsers? Wouldn't it have changed the entire way we looked at the internets from the beginning?
    • One week from tonight, we'll be embarking on a road trip -- no, a pilgrimage -- to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Stay tuned.
  • Random Music Video:
    • After the video last night, my wife asked me what's so special about Nate Dogg. It's hard to put into words. He just adds more to a song than his actual part. There's something about his presence. Can someone else explain it better?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

About To Make Some Bodies Turn Cold

  • The Monologue:
    • I can't stand all of the stupid words that people have made up over the last year or two. The word "staycation" -- I can't believe I even typed that -- makes me apoplectic. That being said, wouldn't layoffs and furloughs be a lot more palatable if they were called "paycations"?
    • It would be wrong to make any jokes about Ted Kennedy, right? Like if I were to note that the reports say that he was killed by brain cancer, but I think pancreatic cancer was on the grassy knoll -- that would be wrong, right? Oh crap, that would be a cancer joke, too. Bad times.
    • Mark Sanford said he won't quit, he's going to finish his term, but only after making sure his friend in Argentina finishes hers first. I mean, he loves the people of South Carolina. He's proposing to "hike the Appalachian Trail" with each and every one of them.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • I am so late to the 30 Rock party. Only three four episodes in now, but it's funny. Duh.
    • There are a lot of people who think they know how to curse, but don't. The Cincinnati Bengals' Defensive Coordinator, Mike Zimmer, knows how to curse.
    • Having finished Ben Mezrich's book on the founding of Facebook -- it's an enjoyable read -- I'm turning to Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, once I track down a copy of it.
  • Random Music Video:
    • I've lauded's video library before, but they've changed it a bit and added a feature that lets you look at the best videos from any year since 1981. So, tonight, we go back to 1994 when I graduated high school. I have a story about this song. After Dr. Dre released his second solo album, 2001, he put together the Up in Smoke Tour, featuring himself, Snoop, Eminem, Ice Cube, and, among others, Warren G. Warren G played towards the beginning of the show and when we saw it at the then-MCI Center, Nate Dogg wasn't there. Warren came out, the beat to this song started, and he started rapping. When they got to the Nate Dogg parts, he got the crowd to sing them. It was pathetic. No energy, he looked sad on the stage by himself. Huge disappointment. The headline act was, of course, Dre and Snoop together. They came out and started doing "The Next Episode", which features Nate. They get to his part and all of the sudden the beat stopped and all of the lights went out. One spotlight hit the stage, illuminating a man, standing by himself, in a bowler hat. The crowd exploded. Nate sang his part, leading into a memorable set. One of my favorite concert moments ever. I don't know if he was just late or if he punked Warren G, but it's never quite made sense to me. Hopefully, they all partied together later at the East Side Motel.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kentucky Fried Garbage

  • The Monologue:
    • I just found out that Isiah Thomas will be coaching Florida International University this season. Has a college coach ever driven his school into bankruptcy? It's going to happen.
    • They've finally decided on how to test Caster Semanya. They've contracted with Paul Hogan to do a genital grab like he did in Crocodile Dundee.
    • Johan Santana is done for the year with bone chips in his elbow. It's gotten so bad for the Mets that Dr. James Andrews is throwing out the first pitch at the next home game.
    • It's gotten so bad for the Mets that they're rethinking their choice of Tommy John as pitching coach.
    • The Mets have been hurt so much that they've resorted to only having drunken one-night stands with players instead of signing them to contracts.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • Really good Entourage episode this week -- Bob Saget is always great on the show and Scott Caan did a good job as well. The gun humor was a little cheesy.
    • Weeds, which I mistakenly watched after Entourage, was not as good. It was okay, I guess. Just not sure where they're going for the season finale and how resolved things might be. I don't know if I can take another season of this same story line.
    • Baseball trivia question from MLB Tonight this evening. Who is the active career leader in doubles? I guessed Todd Helton. The answer is below the video.
  • Random Music Video:
    • We all love fried chicken sandwiches, right? Especially with bacon and cheese, right? But that pesky bread is so bland! So, what if we had a sandwich that had fried chicken as the bread? That sounds so good!!!

Baseball trivia answer: Ivan Rodriguez.

Blind Homerism

I try not to be a blind homer when it comes to my teams. It only sets you up for disappointment. So, as I watched the Ravens beat the Jets tonight -- the Ravens' 1st team destroyed the Jets' 1st team -- I had to question my optimism. They shut out the Redskins last week and ran up 500 yards of offense. This week, the defense scored twice and Flacco threw for 125 yards in his quarter of play. They were in the AFC Championship last year, it's not like they don't have the pedigree. But, are they legit Super Bowl contenders? We'll see, but it's hard not to get really, really excited at this point.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Mean Pinball

  • The Monologue:
    • Allen Iverson is headed to Charlotte to reunite with Larry Brown. I thought he might go out to Phoenix since he's apparently a big fan of cactus. Cactus? Cactus? We talkin' 'bout cactus?
    • This is a dumb story about a guy who found his ring on the ocean floor. The kicker is that he's from New Zealand and he's been dubbed the Lord of the Ring. Took a few minutes to come up with that one, huh?
    • A pretty cool story about a plant that actually eats rodents. I tried having Rick Moranis sing the story, but he wouldn't return my calls.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • Every episode of Mad Men is fascinating, but this one was particularly so. You had the normally unflappable Don get into a bad mood and start getting aggressive, even snippy, at people. Even better, you had the great Peggy story. The first shot of her coming out of that subway was fantastic -- even though Don had described New York as filthy earlier in the episode, the city they always show is clean and smooth, Bohemian at worst. The stairs coming out of the subway tunnel were overcrowded and the camera first focused on some garbage before pulling back to show Peggy fighting her way through the crowd. In terms of her story, after having been told time and time again that women don't know what they want or shouldn't be marketed to differently, Peggy lashed out using the only power she knows will always win, her sexuality. Just some meaningless college student, but it was a man that she could control. Really good stuff.
    • I've been meaning to go through all five of the original Planet of the Apes films and this morning, I watched the third, Escape From the Planet of the Apes. The acting was surprisingly solid and the story was okay for most of the movie. It got a little weaker towards the end, but so far I've enjoyed the second and third films much more than I thought I might.
    • Way too busy a weekend to get out and see Inglorious Basterds. It's killing me.
    • Eric Bruntlett of the Phillies turned an unassisted triple play today in the 9th to end the game, but the video is a bit anti-climactic. The concept behind it is much more impressive than the actual execution.
  • Random Music Video:
    • Last week was the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. The good one. With no Beatles and no Stones, The Who were the best band there. They kicked off their set at 4 A.M. on Saturday and played Tommy. Here's the best song from that album:

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Why do I disrespect sleep so much? A long week, a long weekend, it just keeps going. Movie scene, from my #1, the Battleship Potemkin homage:

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Rolling Monkey Gathers No Moss

One of the longest work weeks of my life, so all I have left in me is to reach out to YouTube and find something, anything, having to do with monkeys:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fat, Drunk, And Stupid Is No Way To Go Through Second Life

  • The Monologue:
    • Studies show the average gamer is overweight and depressed. Give me grant money to tell you obvious things. Come on, give me grant money!
    • The only convicted bomber of Pan Am flight 103 was freed from prison. Happy to be free, he was returned to Libya. D'oh!
    • Former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge said today that the Bush administration asked him to raise the terror alert right before the 2004 election. In other breaking, shocking news, studies show the average gamer is overweight and depressed.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • CNN has this article on the twelve annoying types of Facebook users. I'm writing this sentence about the twelve annoying types of journalists who fool an editor into publishing stupid lists.
    • Saw Coraline tonight. Eh. I guess kids would like it, unless kids somehow have short attention spans. But I don't think that's-- Ooh, an article on annoying Facebook users! I hate those people!
    • Speaking of, I'm in the middle of Ben Mezrich's new book, The Accidental Billionaires, about the founding of Facebook. It's a quick read, similar to his other books.
    • Trying to figure out when I'll get the chance to see the new Tarantino movie. Very excited for it. Very into "Jews kicking ass" movies right now.
    • This site is pretty funny, sort of a TFLN of Facebook.
  • Random Helpful Hint:
    • Not only does one get fat and sad like I did from playing Madden tonight, but the eyesight starts to go, too. Now this kid can't play baseball! Luckily, the boy with the weird man's body but kid's voice (thanks, steroids!) will overcome that. But he'll look like a nerd at the end. Nerd!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nic Cage, Funny Man

  • The Monologue:
    • There's no joke on this one. It's just a big... huh? You can't just look to see if she has an innie or an outie?
    • A radio station planted a guy with an assault rifle outside of an Obama rally in Phoenix. Seriously, can I make jokes about anything? What the hell is the world coming to?
    • The Amish have a newspaper and refuse to put it online. That might just work. We all know that every other paper has started to go under after publishing on the web.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • Going into this year's Hard Knocks, you had to know that Chad Johnson (yes, Johnson) would be funny, but who knew that Carson Palmer would be, too? His whole Gatorade bit is great.
    • By the way, if you're a Cincinnati fan, you had to love hearing a coach say after their preseason game that they are "lacking in talent at some positions so we have to play with more energy." Another long year for the Bengals.
    • Have I said anything before about Michael and Michael Have Issues? It's really funny, you can find it on On Demand.
    • If the Ravens offensive line is half as good in real life as they are in Madden 10, then it should be a really fun year. I found the button combination that lets me have Flacco eat a sandwich and read the Amish paper while he's waiting for Mason to get open.
  • Random Movie Fun:
    • Nicolas Cage movies are generally bad, so I try to avoid them for the most part. One that I won't watch is The Wicker Man, which I guess is some sort of weird horror thing. Why watch it and hate it when you can instead watch this two-minute montage of scenes. It's hilarious. It's fun to not know what the movie is about and try to guess why he would be dressing like a bear and screaming, "My eyes!!! My eyes!!!!" at the end:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fire, Walk With ZZZ

  • The Monologue:
    • Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan was detained at the Newark Airport while in the U.S. filming a movie about racial profiling called My Name Is Kahn. When reached for comment, William Shatner said, "Who?"
    • A huge forest fire in Santa Barbara was started near where people were growing marijuana. "I just couldn't make it on time" leave is in effect for all Santa Barbara employees tomorrow.
    • My cell phone just rang. It was John Kerry, calling Brett Favre a flip-flopper.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • I'm not the only one who's going to boo the last few scenes of There's Something About Mary from now on, right?
    • Greg Paulus, a four-year player at point guard for Duke, is now the starting QB at Syracuse, where he's attending grad school. How the heck does that work?
  • Random Question:
    • Gave up on a rewatch of Twin Peaks -- it just doesn't hold up. It's boring, too weird, too slow. There are shows we know sucked back in the day -- Alf, Small Wonder -- that don't hold up and there are shows we thought were good that don't hold up now. Of course, there are shows besides your obvious Nick At Nite ones like Lucy or Dick Van Dyke that do hold up and are just as good now as they were then. On the ones that don't hold up, I can think of Twin Peaks and Family Ties. For ones that do, I can think of Cosby, Cheers, and Married... With Children. Which others?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Worth Living In

  • The Monologue:
    • It's been since July that I've worked off of the regular format, between the movie list and my vacation. Back to work.
    • Is everyone scared of Hurricane Bill? Hurricane Bill. It sounds like the former president at a Hooters employee convention.
    • Over the weekend, our current president backed off of the public option for health care. People won't be able to buy treatment from the government. Funyun retailers in California are mortified.
    • Michael Jackson is finally going to be buried on August 29th. He died June 25th. Over two months of laying around lifelessly. The Republicans in Congress are going to start insisiting he get a feeder tube.
    • Over two months of laying around dead. Talk about the funk of forty-thousand years.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • I neglected to mention yesterday that I also watched Grand Turino on DVD Saturday. Very good movie; Eastwood is outstanding in it.
    • Weeds this week was Esteban-heavy and relatively Andy-light. Wonder why I didn't like it that much...
    • If you're a sports fan, last week's Entourage with Tom Brady is a must-see. The premise is that Turtle, a Giants fan (though a Jets fan would have made more sense), wants to curse out Brady at a golf tournament, but ends up getting a man-crush on him. It's perfect.
    • The Oregon Trail app for iPhone and iPod Touch is pretty sweet. True to the old game with some more modern updates.
  • Random Music Video:
    • Someone mentioned this yesterday in a discussion about Phil Collins. A great song and a classic video (yes, I know it wasn't from his solo work). I still insist that Tim Russert looked like the Phil Collins puppet:

Back To The Front

Well, after a week's vacation (and thank God nobody took the keys to my brand new Porsche) and a day spent today in the Philly suburbs, it's time to go back to work. But first, a weekend of watching a few movies and tonight's Mad Men season premiere:
  • Great season premiere, because every episode is great. They go to Baltimore, stay at the Belvedere, and eat at Hausner's? Awesome. Killer reference for us Baltimorons, though creator Matt Weiner is from Pikesville. The scene with the fire alarm and Don's discovery of Sal was fantastic and it looks like, between that and Betty's lesbian joke at the beginning, homophobia is going to potentially be a big issue this season.
  • If you're a fan of movies like Aliens, you really should go see District 9. I hesitate to really give the plot away because it's so well-hidden by the previews, but the basic premise is that a ship full of aliens came to rest over Johannesburg twenty years ago and its inhabitants have been put into a camp (District 9) to keep them separate from the human population. After building a new home farther from the city, a team of government contractors led by a middle-management bureaucrat goes in to District 9 to evict its residents. And then something goes horribly wrong. Or sort of, you'll have to see, and you should see. I think The Hangover is still my favorite movie of the year, but District 9 is going to be lauded for years to come in the sci-fi genre. It is non-stop from start to finish; very intense, but not scary at all. Very, very strong movie.
  • Not The Goods though. What happens when someone takes a plot that's been beat to death (small business is threatened by big business, small business calls in an unorthodox mercenary, unorthodox mercenary had a bad thing in his past that haunts him) and then tries way too hard to be funny? You get a few light laughs and a lot of "what the hell were they thinking?" moments. It's not Anchorman, it's not Talladega Nights, it's not even Step Brothers. It's more Blades of Glory. I hated Blades of Glory.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mad About Mad Men

We had a discussion on here a month or two ago about the perfect songs and movies, those with which you can't find anything that needs to be improved. It's one thing for a musician to have their song be the perfect embodiment of what they are trying to accomplish. It's even harder for a director to get the script, the actors, the camera people, etc. together to put together a flawless movie. But imagine a TV show that is flawless, hour after hour of absolute perfection. Every episode for two straight seasons.

Such is the story of the men and women of Sterling Cooper and their clients and families. Perfect. Every second is dripping with drama, every episode its own little story on the path to the larger story of society in the early 1960s. Story, story, story. For a show to be as perfect as Mad Men is, you need more than just story, but that's where the show begins and ends. The three leading men and woman -- Jon Hamm's Don Draper, Vincent Kartheiser's Pete Campbell, John Slattery's Roger Sterling, Elisabeth Moss' Peggy Olson, January Jones' Betty Draper, and Christina Hendricks' Joan Holloway -- pace the show and make up the largest part of the best ensemble cast on TV, but they would be nothing if it weren't the elaborate story. Much like in the best seasons of The Sopranos, each episode of Mad Men is very slow, with the events taking their time to develop and the nuance taking center stage. There's time to discuss the associate whose interracial relationship has put him in the middle of the budding civil rights movement, time to discuss the associate who is trying as best he can to hide his homosexuality from even himself, and so on and so on. Even the side character development is impressive, with Colin Hanks' fine work as a priest in the second season.

The story of Don Draper himself is too complicated to hit on quickly and I don't want to spoil if you decide to start watching. He drives the show and much of the plot is centered on the male power culture of corporate America, but the heart of the show is its three leading women. The second season dealt with each of them in depth, with the examination of Peggy's complicated relationship with Don leading to one of the finest episodes of dramatic TV I can remember seeing, "The New Girl". Delivered the way it is, the key line in that episode ("This never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened.") is one of those breath-taking moments of writing that makes you want to pause the show, absorb what was just said, and then rewind and watch it all over again.

And, man, I'm just gushing at this point. Perfection. A show based on an iconic culture that has become inseparable from that culture -- just look at how the show has affected fashion -- and therefore has become iconic itself. Man, it's really just that freaking good.


Saw a couple of more movies today and I'll give in-depth reviews tomorrow. The quick hits (which may be enough for one of them)? If you like sci-fi and action, go see District 9. Drop what you're doing and go see it right this second. If you like to laugh, do not go see The Goods. If you like to not laugh at people trying too hard to be funny, by all means go enjoy it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hooray For Hollywood

There are a number of movies that come out this weekend that I want to see. My wife took me to one this afternoon that she wanted to see, The Time Traveller's Wife. It's actually enjoyable, with an interesting plot and no real glaring negatives. It's shot beautifully with a nice use of color and the main actors, Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, are both very capable and very likable. Not the kind of movie you have to see in theaters, but it would make for a nice date night DVD rental down the road.

Since we didn't lose our shirts in Vegas, we might actually go see the two others tomorrow, District 9 and The Goods. As for The Goods, I've promised some photos from the red carpet at its premiere, so here you go. A lot of them have already been on Facebook and/or Twitter.

The Daily Show's Rob Riggle

Anchorman's Champ Kind, David Koechner

The Hangover's Ken Jeong

The blurry (he was actually blurry in real life) and perpetually unfunny Dane Cook

Jason Seaver himself, Alan Thicke

I don't watch My Boys on TBS, but this is Jordana Spiro from it

I didn't watch Girls Next Door either, but I know Holly Madison from The Soup

Don't get too close! Kid Rock has whatever Pamela Anderson does.

I like to think of Will Ferrell as being from Anchorman, not A Night At The Roxbury
We also saw Jeremy Piven (the picture isn't as good) and actually met Penn and Teller after their show (you'll have to go to Facebook for those since those pictures actually have my wife and me in them).

Friday, August 14, 2009


Long travel day, but good -- thanks to a fortuitous bump, I got a voucher and got to ride in first class for the first time. It's pretty good, though not so good that I'd pay a lot more for it. You're still stuck in a big metal tube in the sky, just in comfier chairs. Anyways, I have nothing today.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Forgot to post last night after another late night out. Went to the red carpet for the premiere of The Goods. Have lots of great pictures of Ken Jeong (the funniest guy there), Alan Thicke, Will Ferrell, Kid Rock, Jeremy Piven, and more. Some are already up on Twitter and Facebook. I'll post some here tomorrow when I'm home.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New In Town

There are a lot of new properties since I was last here: Trump, Wynn's Encore, the Palazzo, and a ton of others under construction. The weirdest new thing though is that are dancers everywhere. Almost every casino now has an area where the dealers are women wearing lingerie and there are women dancing on top of slot machines. Let me say that again: At the Excalibur, and many others, there are women in lingerie dancing on top of slot machines.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Eh, I'm on vacation. Went to the Valley of Fire today, some crazy rock formations in the desert where the exteriors for Total Recall were filmed. Otherwise, if something noteworthy happens I'll be sure to pass it along.

Monday, August 10, 2009

River Of Dreams

The second straight night of getting back to the room at 1:30, which means the post says I did this at 4:30 AM, which is funny. Saw Penn & Teller; they stick around for handshakes and pictures after the show which is really cool. One good gambling story.

My luck had stunk so far, but I had 45 free minutes and decided to sit a 2-4 limit hold 'em table. Not enough time to recover from a down streak, generally not enough time to piece together any substantial winnings. So my 5th hand in, I'm on the button and looking at Q-Q. Someone raises pre-flop, someone else re-raises, it gets capped. I had to call it all, obviously. Flop comes 10-J-Q rainbow. A guy bets, another guy raises, I have to re-raise with my set. It gets capped. Turn comes A. Now I know someone has the King and my set is screwed. Luckily, it only gets bet once so I don't really have to think about whether to fold. River: J. I made my boat. I cane out blazing and the betting got capped again. 3 people left at that point, but there were 6 people in after the flop. Guy shows A-K, he had flopped the high straight. Sucks to be him, there ended up being over $100 in the pot, $95 of which ended up being my profit. Lucky, but that's why they call it gambling.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Strip Club

Walking up and down Las Vegas Blvd. ("The Strip") on a Saturday night is an experience. Lots of extraordinarily drunk people and enough fodder for Hot Girls with Douchebags to start their very own Vegas-themed site. We even saw a midget Elvis. No good pictures or stories tonight -- the camera and phone stayed in the room. Lost a small amount messing around with Let It Ride and video poker, but I'm now going on 22 hours of being awake, so more tomorrow.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Clean Up

I realized the list of every movie I rated is a mess and leaves out a lot, because once I thought of a movie that wasn't on my original list and then deemed that movie wasn't a top 100, I just disregarded it. Here are my next 100 though. The closest movie from this year was The Hangover at #138. I'm sure there are some I'm leaving out here, but I don't care too much since I focused on the list I actually published. A couple of movies I'd like to point out from that next 100, just because they may be a bit underrated or obscure (but obviously I think them very worthy): #124 Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro's beautiful, beautiful fairy tale about a girl in fascist Spain), #144 Walk On Water (an Israeli film in Hebrew, German, and English about the way the Holocaust hangs over both modern Jews and Germans), and #185 Series 7: The Contenders (a low-budget satire about reality TV that makes its point much more effectively than The Running Man did). #201 was the original Night of the Living Dead.

I talked about how Superman has my favorite opening and I talked about the shark as menace in Jaws and in doing so I completely neglected John Williams' role in those and many other movies. Beyond just the two mentioned above, his scores of Star Wars and E.T. are not insignificant parts of the movies' power.

If anyone who reads this and hasn't seen any of the movies wants to get together to watch them (or re-watch ones they have seen), I'm down. I could watch any of these any time.

It probably took me two or three hours (pieced together over a few days) to come up with the top 100, but somewhere between one-and-a-half and three hours to do each night's post. Writing the right blurb and finding the right videos from the right sites takes some time. In other words, I'm not doing a list like this again for a while. Trying to think of what the next might be, though. TV shows? Books? I wouldn't be able to do albums or songs justice. Cities I've visited? My all-time favorite baseball players or athletes? We'll see.

Leaving tomorrow afternoon for five days in Las Vegas. Gambling stories to come.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The RB 100, Part V, 20-1

I've spent a lot of time at work on this list. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed putting it together. The ultimate portion begins... now.

20. American Beauty (1999): What happens when you take your average suburban family and you twist everything just slightly? Sam Mendes' story of midlife crises, adultery, latent homosexuality, and a stray plastic bag. The first time I saw this, in the theaters, I had this sudden urge to applaud randomly in the middle of the movie. It's that good.

WALL-E (2008): When I first saw this last year, I wrote a very long review that discussed the movie's place in the history of animated films. This, the newest movie to show up on my list, is so far beyond any other animated film in terms of depth of theme and story that I have a hard time thinking of it as an animated movie at all. It is a great movie. Not every movie in these final twenty movies is going to be remembered as an all-time classic thirty years from now. This one will be.

Aliens (1986): James Cameron took Ridley Scott's dark, mostly boring space thriller and blew it the hell out of the water. Everyone can think of a few movie series in which the sequel is better than the original, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a sequel that is as better than the first as Aliens is to Alien. It's scary, it's exciting, it has a great star (Sigourney Weaver). Plus, thanks to a South Park episode, it has an unintentionally hilarious scene:

17. The Empire Strikes Back (1980): This is an interesting one, in that many people believe this to be a better movie than the original. It's certainly better directed; Irvin Kershner was one of George Lucas' professors and Lucas asked Kershner to helm the second part of his grand trilogy. Kershner's commentary on the Empire DVD is a master class, full of descriptions of his techniques. Particularly interesting is how they shot the Hoth scenes right outside of the front door of their hotel (it was too cold for the cameras to go outside). Also on that commentary, one of the crew talks about how poorly-received Empire was when it was originally released. Because it ended on such an unresolved, dark note, Lucas and company knew that it couldn't be fully evaluated until after the trilogy was complete. In the end, the movie becomes a story of Luke's growth from boy to man -- his apprenticeship under a mystical creature (common in myths) and his discovery about his past that allows him to eventually become fully self-actualized in Return of the Jedi. It has one of the great romantic lines in movie history -- Han's "I know" -- and it has the ultra-gross moment at the beginning when Leia kisses Luke. There are a lot of twist endings on this list, but this one may be the most underrated. We take it for granted to such an extent that it's almost never mentioned with The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense, but it should be.

Saving Private Ryan (1998): I couldn't find exactly how long the D-Day sequence is, but let's say it's thirty minutes. Those are the best thirty minutes ever. This movie has been ranked by countless publications and polls as the best war movie ever and you'll get no argument here. I've never been in a battle, but I imagine that the sequence, if not the whole movie, is as true to a "war is hell" reality as anything ever has been. I can talk about the great job by the actors used for the unit who, besides Tom Hanks and Tom Sizemore, were relative unknowns who have gone on to be successful actors (Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Edward Burns, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies). I can talk about the overall camera work, which is superb. I can talk about the use of a somewhat-twist ending, since the older James Ryan's eyes at the beginning fade into Tom Hanks' eyes. In the end though, it can all come down to the D-Day sequence.

Jaws (1975): The first true summer blockbuster, Jaws was Steven Spielberg's first major movie. The production designer had put together a mechanical shark to use, but the shark kept breaking, so they had to use it as little as possible. It's hard to imagine what this movie would be like with the full shark shown throughout the movie. Instead, the shark hangs over the film as a menace that could be anywhere and the movie becomes a more character-driven story about the police chief, the young scientist, and the crazed fisherman. Peter Benchley's original novel included some nefarious personal dealings that Spielberg did not use in his adaptation, but all the better. There's no in-fighting except for in terms of their hunt for the monster. Everything is about that presence and how the characters come to grips with their inevitable battle to the death with it. Spielberg's blockbusters have always been set apart by the depth of his characters and Jaws set the stage for that.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): "The creators of Jaws and Star Wars now bring you the ultimate hero in the ultimate adventure." Three Spielberg movies in a row. Lucas and Spielberg collaborated on this modern-day take on the classic serial adventure films. Take a hero, throw him into a crazy adventure, and have him dodge certain death time and time again. This movie is so exciting, so well-written, so well-shot. Not only is it the best adventure film ever, but any number of scenes would qualify as the best adventure scenes. Other people have been trying to rip this movie off for decades, but they always seem to fall short. Not just because this movie is so much better, but because it is so timeless and so familiar to everyone that it feels like it was just released yesterday.

13. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) : I saw the posters and the previews and I thought that it might be funny, but it might also be really lame. I decided one night to go see it in the theaters, just to see. After all, Will Ferrell had been on a roll with Old School and Elf. I had never and still have never laughed so hard in a movie theater. There are comedies that are great the first you see them, but have no staying power. There are comedies that you don't get right away, but seem to grow on you. This movie doesn't fade and it doesn't grow, because it is as funny as a movie can be every time I see it. So many classic scenes, so many classic quotes. To top it all off, I bet you think the movie is rated R. I did. Wrong, it is rated PG-13. As great as the mature comedies since Anchorman have been, this didn't need nudity or the f-word a billion times to be as funny as it is. I love this movie so much that I feel like I need to romance it. Say, by putting on a little cologne:

Do The Right Thing (1989): The biggest error that the AFI made in their original Top 100 list was to leave this Spike Lee film off, but they fixed it in their tenth anniversary edition. A look at a day in the life of a multi-racial neighborhood in Brooklyn, the film is unforgiving in its portrayal of everyone as both aggressors and victims walking the tenuous line between tolerance and violence. It throws extreme language and situations into the audience's face as a wake-up call to the problems of the inner city. The writing and movie-making are top-notch, but the acting is especially superb, including Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Giancarlo Esposito, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee. In some ways, this might be the least celebrated of the movies in my top twenty. A shame.

11. Gladiator (2000): This movie was released to extraordinarily high expectations and, boy, did it live up to them. I have a very vivid memory of watching this in the theaters, looking around the audience, and noticing that people were frozen still at the edge of their seats, completely silent. Russell Crowe gave a performance for the ages in perhaps the last truly epic film that has so far been made. The monologue when he unmasks himself is as powerful as it gets. It's my favorite film of this decade and the one I also consider the best.

Ninety films down and only ten to go. What you don't know is that I actually employed a team of interns to help me with this project. With so little time left, things have fallen apart. They don't feel like writing, I'm tired of finding YouTube links, one of them even got beat up. In a word, it's over:

10. Animal House (1978): The greatest comedy of all time also happens to be my favorite. It set the stage for every comedy that has come after it, with a mixture of classic one-liners, raunchy humor, and a drunk fat guy. It was the first feature film written by Harold Ramis. I mentioned great writing in the blurb about Ghostbusters. After Animal House, Ramis' next five screenplays were Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Back to School. He also directed Vacation and wrote and directed Groundhog Day. I don't think I need to say a lot about this movie, so I'll just give some love to Harold Ramis and his extensive contributions to comedy.

9. Casablanca (1942): This is the newest addition to the list, since I first saw it only a couple of weeks ago. I
raved about it then, but that's kind of dumb. Here's a movie that's ranked #3 on AFI's latest Top 100 list, a movie that many people consider their favorite, and I'm writing about how good it is. A little late to the party. With Psycho, I wrote about how Hitchcock had no wasted motion in his films. Casablanca is the epitome of that. A quick 102 minutes, each scene builds towards the ending and each part of each scene is vital to the whole. Everyone has a lot of movies that they want to see, I understand that. I've obviously made a number of recommendations throughout this list. It can be hard to find the time and even if it's not, the time you do take weighs on your mind. If you watch this movie, there's no chance to think about that. It's short and it feels shorter.

8. Die Hard (1988): My favorite action film of all time, Die Hard is the rare Christmas movie where a guy shoots and blows up terrorist after terrorist. The action itself is as good as or better than anywhere else, with the confined space in which the movie is set adding to the suspense. What sets this movie apart is the comedy. Bruce Willis made his name doing comedy on Moonlighting and that attitude was perfect for a wise-cracking New York cop stuck in an Asian company's headquarters in L.A. Similarly, Alan Rickman's bone-dry wit and delivery were perfect foils for Willis.

Vertigo (1958): Most people might say that Psycho is Hitchcock's best movie, but I'll go with this one starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak. Stewart plays a private detective with a phobia for heights, hired to trail the wife of an old classmate. When Stewart falls in love with her and then the wife dies, Stewart descends into madness and becomes obsessive over a young woman who looks eerily like the dead one. Unlike most Hitchcock films that flow straight through, the split in the movie after the wife's death (marked by the famous animated dream sequence) makes you feel like the movie has lost its way. The twist makes you realize that this break is necessary for the second half to have the power it does. From the opening chase scene to the final shot of Stewart's horrified face, the movie is full of iconic shots. My favorite is this one; the use of color, one of Hitchcock's greatest strengths, is integral to the feeling of the scene, the ghostly light coming from a neon sign outside the window (3:00 mark):

6. Pulp Fiction (1994): Tarantino's masterpiece changed pop culture, makes us laugh, desensitized us to almost any movie violence, and changed our pop culture. It gave John Travolta an improbably comeback, made Samuel L. Jackson a superstar, and introduced the word "gimp" into slang. I'm sure people used the f-word a lot when they spoke before this movie (just watch Beverly Hills Cop), but I feel like this movie helped us down the path to where we are now, where it's almost entirely acceptable in many situations. Pulp Fiction which, along with The Shawshank Redemption, lost Best Picture to Forrest Gump.

The Godfather (1972): The story of immigrant life in post-war America. Okay, not just any immigrants. If this were a list of the best movies of all time, The Godfather would be #1. What makes it so great? Because it's a three-hour movie that feels like thirty minutes? Because it incorporates so many all-time lines and scenes? Because maybe no cast has ever acted as well as Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Talia Shire, and company? Every second is lusciously, delightfully perfect.

Platoon (1986): The story of a young man (Charlie Sheen), his time in the jungles of Vietnam, and his maturation from boy to adult at the hands of two polar opposite officers (Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe). Oliver Stone's Best Picture winner uses the war to reflect themes of personal growth and the loss of innocence of our nation as a whole. How good is the acting in this? I always swear that if I were to see Tom Berenger after having watched this, I would punch him in the face. He's as hate-worthy a character as I can remember in a movie. The scene in which Willem Dafoe's Sgt. Elias dies is one of the best shot, most memorable scenes of any movie.

A Few Good Men (1992): Remember how I said that Ocean's Eleven was a 98 on the rewatchability scale? This is at least a 100. I can't tell you how many times, on DVD or cable, that I've watched this movie, but every time it comes on, I have to watch it again. And again. Aaron Sorkin's writing, based on his play, is what makes the film. Rob Reiner's direction is superb as are the performances, but it keeps coming back to the script. "You can't handle the truth!" may be the most memorable and annoyingly yelled-by-everyone line of the last twenty years, but every time I watch I find something new. Right now, my favorite line is from the part right before the trial starts when Demi Moore's Galloway is trying to convince Tom Cruise's Kaffee to try the case and Kaffee lashes out: "Oh, I forgot. You were sick the day they taught law at law school." Of course, an old stand-by is the inexplicable yelling at poor Lt. Weinberg that Nicholson's Col. Jessep does from the witness stand. Like I said, way back at the beginning of the list, I'm a big Tom Cruise fan. Is it possible for a star that big to be underrated? Maybe.

Star Wars (1977): We come to the film that has probably had more impact on my life than any other and yet I underrate the hell out of it. If someone, for the longest time, were to ask me my favorite movies, I'd say a couple and they'd say, "Star Wars?" and I'd say, "Oh yeah, and Star Wars." Maybe I thought that it sounded too nerdy to say that Star Wars means so much to me or maybe I just take it for granted. Even on this list, it started at #3 and I kept staring at the spreadsheet until I realized that it needed to be switched with A Few Good Men. I am a popular culture fanatic and this movie is a larger part of our popular culture than any other movie. Every second of the movie is cherished, beloved, studied in detail, memorized. Yet it still comes in at #2 for me. Maybe I'm still underrating it? I think I'm okay with this. Being my second favorite movie of all time is exceptional. I am equally, if not more so, fanatical about the next movie.

And so, finally, we reach my favorite movie of all time, #1 on our week-long list. And what is it about #1 that I love the most? What draws my admiration? Is it dames? Music? No, it's baseball.

The Untouchables (1987): Brian DePalma's hard-edged, bloody tale of the men who took down Al Capone during Prohibition. It is fast-paced and unflinching. Not only do DeNiro, Garcia, and Connery turn in some of their best work, but even Kevin Costner is very good. I could probably write paragraphs on just the memorable lines in this movie, from, "That's the Chicago way!" to, "Your friend died screaming like a stuck Irish pig," to, "I want him dead! I want his family dead!" From the first raid to the scene at the Canadian border to Connery's death to the Battleship Potemkin homage to Costner's revenge on the roof to the courtroom scene ("You're nothing but a lot of talk and a badge! YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A LOT OF TALK AND A BADGE!"), I love every second of this film. My favorite film of all time.

My 100 favorite movies, surely a fluid list, but tough to crack. My favorite movie of this year, The Hangover, wasn't that close. Some wrap-up thoughts tomorrow night. Until then, as Eliot Ness said in one of my favorite last lines, "I think I'll have a drink."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The RB 100, Part IV, 40-21

I'm sort of surprised that nobody has yet to hit 20 out of 20 on a given day. Almost definitely not going to happen today either, but it will happen tomorrow. I'm expecting some heat today because of how low I have certain movies ranked, so let's get to it.

40. Pleasantville (1998): I love this movie for how powerful its use of color is, for the great chemistry between its actors, for the not at all subtle social commentary. For how underrated Jeff Daniels is as a dramatic actor and how good its two young stars (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) are. It's a feel-good movie that has just enough drama, but doesn't fail to make you smile. Can't say enough about that in a movie.

39. Aladdin (1992): Disney began its comeback with The Little Mermaid in 1989, but I prefer this, the second of their modern fairy tale cartoons. As with any Disney movie, I feel like I don't have to sell this one too much. The music is very good and different from your usual Disney film because, as they've done with their modern films, they picked a different culture and gave the music an ethnic flair. Robin Williams may be a joke nowadays because he is so maniacal, but that was perfect for his Genie. One of the rare Disney movies that I own on DVD and will pop in on a weekend just for the heck of it.

38. Ocean's Eleven (2001): If Mission: Impossible made the list because it's an 85-90 on the rewatchability scale, then Pleasantville is a 90-95 and this movie is around a 98. Let's say we took the best-looking huge movie stars, threw them all in a movie, and gave them a killer script and an Academy Award-winning director. Is that something you might be interested in? This movie didn't have to redefine cool, it just had to live up to the high standards of Sinatra and company. It did not disappoint.

37. Schindler's List (1993): There is no movie on which I am more torn. It ranks in the AFI's top ten, but I have it lower than some cheesy comedies. It is the movie that transformed Spielberg's image from "director of blockbusters" to "great director". It deals beautifully with the most serious of subjects. On the other hand, it couldn't be less rewatchable (Life Is Beautiful just missed the list because of this factor). I actually only own it on DVD because it came in a double-pack with Munich and I figured I should own both. But I should watch it again, because here's the deal: Schindler's List was released in mid-December of 1993. In July of 1993, I went on a student trip to Europe and Israel that included a day spent at Auschwitz. It is truly a life-changing experience. No words can do justice to the feeling, the physical heaviness, of despair when you walk into the gas chamber and see the ovens. Any other sadness I've ever felt in life pales next to that feeling. So, five months after this experience, I see a movie about Auschwitz. And as we're leaving the theater, people around me are sobbing, unable to walk or even stand, the same feeling I got in the gas chambers. And I'm thinking: It's a movie. When Spielberg yelled, "Cut," all of the dead bodies got up and walked away to grab lunch. Maybe if I watch it again now, with sixteen years having passed, I'll appreciate it for more than just its artistic quality and its importance. Until that happens, I appreciate those things but I can only put it but so high on my list of favorite movies.

36. Office Space (1999): Okay, whew. Let's lighten it up a little bit, because this is our comedy break between two extraordinarily depressing movies. Mike Judge was famous for Beavis and Butthead, but this departure from animation was a major late-blooming hit. It cost about $10 million to make and it made about $10.8 million at the box office, but it became a monster on video and DVD. It's funny as hell, but the added bonus for me is the business theory behind it. Its portrayal of consultants is perfect and anyone who has had to supervise someone on anything has had a Bill Lumbergh moment and died a little inside. The best scene from the movie:

35. Paradise Now (2005, Palestine): It pains me to use that country name, but that's how it was listed. Have you ever watched a movie that was so powerful that, as it ended, you sat there in shock, staring at the screen and not moving, for a while into the credits? Paradise Now is the story of two childhood friends, living in Nablus in the West Bank, who are recruited to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. During their attempt to cut through the wire fence seperating the West Bank from the rest of Israel, they are separated and one of them is left alone in Israel and has to decide whether or not to carry out the planned attack. It is a devestating movie. It looks at the disparity in wealth and standard of living between the Palestinians and the Israelis and discusses the rules of engagement between the two sides. Is it okay for Israeli security to go after Palestinians in fear of potential terrorism? Is it okay for Palestinians to kill Israeli citizens in order to get their message across? These questions are argued as the young men ponder and prepare for their mission. Most importantly, it deals with the issues even-handedly and with the appropriate amount of outrage on both sides of the argument. There are actually a couple of humorous scenes, specifically one involving problems as the men videotape their last words to their families before they set out on their mission. It's not for everyone. It's the only movie on this list that I've recommended certain of my friends not see. It requires a very mature outlook on the situation.

34. Psycho (1960): Best trailer ever? Anyways, this was the movie that changed theater-going forever. It had been fashionable to show up late to movies, so Hitchcock took that and turned it on its head. He hired a big star, Janet Leigh, and set up a plot about her stealing money from her employer in Phoenix and then running away towards California. His promotions for the movie said that everyone must come on time and he insinuated that theater owners would lock the doors so that nobody could come in late. So Leigh (the headliner and biggest star in the movie, by far) drives and drives until, during a huge rain storm, she takes shelter for the night in a roadside motel. And then the sweet, mild-mannered motel proprietor with the nagging mother murders her in one of the most famous scenes in cinema history. Hitchcock is my favorite director ever because every image, every scene, every note of music, is designed to move you along towards the end goal of the movie. No wasted motion. There are so many greats (Rope, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious) that people may not have heard of, much less seen. Psycho, probably his most famous, is also considered to be his best. By most people.

33. The Princess Bride (1987): I happened to see Mandy Patinkin somewhere last year and he had the crowd recite his famous line with him, mostly because he knew that everyone just wanted to hear him say it. It's Rob Reiner's second entry on the list; you should check out his commentary on the DVD. Very good. My favorite part is how he forgot that Christopher Guest was even in the movie because it was such a non-Christopher Guest type of role.

32. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982): The first of two straight movies written by Cameron Crowe, Fast Times deals with the wackiness of an average high school in the early '80s. The screenplay is actually adapted from Crowe's book of the same name, written when Crowe posed as a high school student to observe a school year. I've looked all over for this book, but it's out of print and the cheapest copies from Amazon are around $95. The movie launched the careers of Sean Penn, Forrest Whitaker, Pheobe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Anthony Edwards, and Eric Stoltz. In looking through IMDB, I came across this bit of trivia, which I love: "For his masturbation scene, Judge Reinhold brought a large dildo to work with him, unbeknownst to the rest of the cast. Phoebe Cates' look of horror and disgust is very real."

31. Jerry Maguire (1996): The second of two straight movies written by Cameron Crowe. It is the guy chick flick, where we can root for Jerry and Dorothy, but also root for a 5'10" wide receiver. This is the movie most guaranteed to make me tear up, during the "You had me at hello" scene. The funny story about this one is that the first time I saw it was as a pre-edited cut while I was in college, with boom mikes hanging into some of the scenes. In the "Help you help me" scene in the locker room, the original cut had Cuba Gooding with full frontal nudity the entire time.

30. Swingers (1996): Can this movie's effect on pop culture be overstated? It added any number of new phrases to the popular lexicon. It even made swing dancing popular for a little bit. Jon Favreau's writing captures perfectly how a group of guys reacts to each other. Almost every time a group of guys gets together, say at a bachelor party, you have a guy who is driving himself crazy by being too sensitive, a guy who is too raucous, a guy who takes every slight way too seriously, a guy who is unhappy with his career and how people see him, and a guy who just doesn't care and says, "This place is dead anyway," when it's time to leave. Culture reflects this movie because this movie reflected reality so well. I sat around my apartment in college, playing NBA Live endlessly. Same deal with Vince Vaughn, but he was more interested in video game hockey:

29. Caddyshack (1980): As Kenny Loggins' infectious music runs through our heads, it's time for the tale of Bushwood Country Club and its wacky members and employees. I'll knock Danny's girlfriend for having the worst fake Irish accent ever, but you can't knock much else. I've written a lot today, and feel like I need to write a lot about the more obscure movies, so I'll just let this one talk for itself. It's one of the funniest movies of all time. It has that going for it. Which is nice.

28. Bulworth (1998): Written and directed by and starring Warren Beatty, this political satire deals with a senator, who after hiring a hitman to kill him so his family can collect life insurance, decides to throw caution to the wind and speak freely, particularly on the issue of race. Beatty is tremendous, as is Halle Berry as his love interest and Don Cheadle as an L.A. gangster. The point of the movie is that avoiding the topic of race does not mean people aren't racist, which is all too true. The sight of Warren Beatty wearing a ski cap and rapping is absurd, but he manages to make it poignant.

27. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001, Mexico): This, my top-ranked foreign film, is Alfonso Cuaron's examination of the conflicting forces of youth and death. Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal co-star as two teenage friends who come from very different backgrounds and decide to take a road trip to a hidden beach. They meet an older woman, who they convince to join them. Along the way, they both lust after her and she helps them to learn more about themselves and each other. Cuaron intersperses the trip with dry observations about the every day tragedy the group passes on the road. I have a short list of favorite directors and this movie was enough to put Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men) on that list. The writing is brilliant, the camera work is brilliant, the last scene is as real a scene as you'll see in any movie. Obviously, I like every movie on this list (and many off of it) but this one holds a particular place in my heart. It is truly cinema as art.

26. American History X (1998): If you did a list of the most underrated movies ever (I'm not doing it), this would be near the top. In fact, lest you worry that the top quarter of my list has some of the obscure movies that the bottom three have had, I'd say that this is the most underrated film left. Ed Norton was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a neo-Nazi gang leader who goes to prison after brutally (*shiver*) murdering a black kid. In prison, he learns that his beliefs were wrong and, upon his release, the principal of his high school (Avery Brooks) asks him to intervene with his younger brother (Edward Furlong) who is going down the same hateful path. Norton is clearly one of the best actors of his generation and this is one of his two defining roles, the other being in Primal Fear. The ending was a bit controversial because the studio made the director change his original one, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work.

25. Back To The Future (1985): Eh, no explanation needed here, except to point out this funny Family Guy clip:

24. The Godfather: Part II (1974): I'm going to assume that people will think that this movie and the next one are very low. I've seen this one fewer times than the first in its series, so I'm less into it. It's very well acted and shot and it has iconic scenes, like DeNiro and the party in Cuba, and Fredo's death. It gets up this high on pure quality.

23. The Shawshank Redemption (1994): But this one may come as a bigger surprise. I'm a big Stephen King fan and I've read everything he's ever written. Generally, adaptations of his books -- or short stories, in this case -- do not end up well. There are a few exceptions, including this film by Frank Darabont. Which isn't fair, because this isn't just a rare good adaptation, it's a very, very good movie. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are fantastic together and the screenplay does real justice to King's writing. A lot of people would have this in their top ten. #23 isn't too shabby, especially as you see what I have above it.

22. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982): I hadn't seen this for a long time, but stumbled across it on HBO a few months ago. I think people sleep on what a great movie this is. I believe it's the first movie that I saw more than once while it was in theaters, which means, since I was six when it came out, that my parents loved it, too. This was before Steven Spielberg made "serious" movies, when he put his prodigious skills towards making movies that were huge in scope and visually stunning. In addition to that, E.T. required that Spielberg get the most out of child actors, who carried the movie with a blend of innocence and determination. It's much more epic than I remembered.

21. The Lion King (1994): Speaking of epic, we come to Disney's tale of betrayal and redemption. It's Hamlet with a happy ending, done by lions, a meerkat, and a farting warthog. Granted, "Hakuna Matata" became as ubiquitous and annoying as "Don't worry, be happy," but the music is damn catchy (I hummed "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" to myself for twenty minutes after writing this) and the story-telling is top notch. It has the humor and the darkness of most Disney films, but it goes about presenting them at a higher level. Maybe Beauty and the Beast was the one nominated for Best Picture, but this is the modern Disney cartoon that I enjoy watching the most. And, since this is the end of the post, let's ask Elton John and company to help us out with a huge, swelling, epic ending to present this blog post that I just gave birth to:

Noticed which films are missing so far? Tomorrow: Action, Comedy, Drama. The biggest directors and movie stars in the world combine to bring you the top 20. But what will be #1? It might surprise you.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The RB 100, Part III, 60-41

I guess I should have noted at some point that some of these scenes are NSFW. Movies is movies. The next set of twenty begins with a foreign film that came out of nowhere to gross $128 million in the U.S.

60. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, China): Even though it's at heart a kung fu movie, Ang Lee's masterpiece can be considered an art film to some extent. There aren't many prettier scenes on film than combatants gliding through the trees, fighting from branch to branch, and down on the water. There's a certain degree of difficulty attached to a foreign film getting high in any rankings. It takes patience to want to sit down and read subtitles for a few hours, so I'll watch a ton of mediocre movies in English before I'll seek out the best films in another language. I'll pretty much only watch those that are considered the very best and it's even that much more difficult for these to become one of my actual favorite movies. That being said, this is the third foreign film on my list, but it is not the last.

59. King Kong (2005): Upon seeing this for the first time, I turned to my wife and asked if this was the greatest movie ever made. This after just over three hours of movie time in which nobody got up to go to the bathroom for fear of missing a second, after multiples of that magical type of scene where the movie goes silent right before action and the audience goes completely silent as well and then gasps all at once. The original 1933 movie is good (especially for its time), but it lacked this version's CGI that allowed Peter Jackson to better portray Kong's emotions. This movie is a little romance, a little comedy, and a lot of great action and special effects, but it is at its heart a touching love story. Many would say that Jackson has so far peaked with his The Lord of the Rings series, but I say this is his magnum opus.

58. Gone With The Wind (1939): This movie is so long (238 minutes) that even the DVD has an intermission, so long that I was sure that I was bored out of my mind. But then, as it ended, I realized just how much I despised Scarlett O'Hara, and I realized that I couldn't be bored by any movie that works up that kind of emotion. She has to be one of my least favorite characters ever. I think I actually cheered out loud when Clark Gable's Rhett Butler, as fed up with Scarlett's BS as I was, finally gave her his most famous line:

57. The Maltese Falcon (1941): I'll take some time to talk about great final lines. What is it about these that they seem to show up so often on this list. Do great last lines make a movie great because we remember the end so fondly or are they just the perfect topper on a great film? Gone With The Wind certainly has one, as does this fast-paced detective film starring Humphrey Bogart. Sam Spade, torn up after the murder of his partner, will do anything to find out who did it and why, and this brings him into contact with a group of conniving crooks after one of the great treasures in the world. The best part is Bogart's monologue at the end, his bitterness and anger, and finally his resignation with the wistful, "It's the stuff dreams are made of."

56. No Country for Old Men (2007): Knowing the group who is reading this, this could be the most controversial pick on the list. Why is it here? Javier Bardem's relentless performance, strong acting from Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones, edge-of-your-seat suspense (particularly the hotel scene), the fantastic change-of-perspective towards the end of the movie where it goes from Brolin being the main character to Jones right before Brolin is to be killed, the Coen Brothers' use of the desolate countryside making it one of the more beautiful films of the last few years. It's not your classic Coen Brothers movie (and you'll see soon that it's not my favorite), but I think it's brilliant and the Academy agreed.

55. Annie Hall (1977): And the Academy loved this one as well, as it won Best Picture. Woody Allen's film about a neurotic Jew and his affair with a goy. It has all the things you look for in a romantic comedy/drama, but it is funnier and better written than any other. It is probably Christopher Walken's first big movie (The Deer Hunter came out the next year) and I could show his driving scene, but my favorite is this one. So true:

54. The Big Chill (1983): This movie sort of freaked me out the first time I saw it, relatively soon after I graduated from college. It's a film that deals with a group of college friends, coming together for a weekend twenty years after their graduation to mourn the suicide of one of their classmates. It's a great thing to think about when you're just out of school -- look at these people that are just like me and my friends and, look, one of them is dead, one of them is divorced, one of them is a drug addict, many of them have no purpose in life. Awesome. It's very funny and sweet and has a great cast, including Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Tom Berenger, and Kevin Costner's lifeless hands (he played the corpse but his face was edited out). As much as anything else, the soundtrack is epic (maybe my favorite ever?).

53. Clerks (1994): Dogma just barely missed the cut, so it falls to this debut to be Kevin Smith's contribution to the list, and what a debut it was. Not only did Jay and Silent Bob become pop culture royalty, but this film led to a resurgence of quirky independent films that continues today. Shot in black and white and relentlessly profane, the story of Dante and Randall is my favorite movie that could legitimately be called a cult classic. It was released only five days after Pulp Fiction was released wide in the U.S. and those two movies probably did more than any other in recent memory to promote the fast-talking profanity-laden dialogue that is popular in movies today, with Clerks adding in never-ending pop culture -- particularly Star Wars -- references. In other words, it's not so different from how real people speak. Oh, and while you're crossing the parking lot? Try not to, you know.

52. Boyz N The Hood (1991): It seems like it was sometime in the late '80s/early '90s that mainstream (read: white) society got interested in what life was like in the inner city. My guess is it happened because hip-hop became popular, bringing urban culture along with it and subsequently a number of movies about said culture. Enter John Singleton's debut, as both director and writer, and his story about a kid growing up in the culture with a father that has seen its dangers and wants to protect his son from them. The movie, especially as a debut, is so gritty and unapologetic. It even had a real life gangsta rapper (who went on to star in Are We There Yet?) as one of its co-stars! It launched Ice Cube's career, along with those of Cuba Gooding and Morris Chestnut, but it's all about Laurence Fishburne in probably his defining role. The scene where Ricky gets shot is still one of the more heartbreaking in recent memory.

51. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964): I'm not really a big Stanley Kubrick fan, but there's no denying this classic satire of the Cold War. Peter Sellers delivers a tour de force performance in three parts, as a soldier, a president, and a "reformed" Nazi scientist. Look for James Earl Jones in his movie debut. Oh, and that classic final scene with Slim Pickens.

And we're halfway done! We're going to have a party at my house to celebrate the reading of the next ten. It'll be Friday night. We'll be lighting Shabbos candles. Hey, John Goodman, want to drive on over and join us?

50. The Big Lebowski (1998): My favorite Coen Brothers movie, the story of The Dude and his quest to get his rug replaced. The cast is insane, fronted by the three bowling buddies, Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, and Steve Buscemi. It's hilarious (I particularly love Sam Elliott as the narrating Stranger), it's dark, it's violent, it's weird. Everything you look for in the standard Coen Brothers movie. Say it with me: The Dude abides.

49. American Psycho (2000): The Dude pretty much couldn't be more opposite from Christian Bale's psycopath, Patrick Bateman, in this adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name. It's one of the rare movies that is better than the book upon which it was based. Where the book uses Bateman's rambling thoughts on pop music as essays to break up the extreme gore, the movie uses them as absurdist rants to help work Bateman up to a killing rage. Bale critiquing Phil Collins and then chopping up Jared Leto with an axe is a delightfully evil scene. The movie is made by Bale's pretentious and sarcastic delivery and it set him on his way to becoming one of the rare child stars to be a huge adult one.

48. Best In Show (2000): Born from This Is Spinal Tap, Christopher Guest's madcap ad-libbed mockumentaries had their finest day with this film about a dog show, its contestants' weird owners, and a confused color analyst. I've written a lot more about the movies today, but no need on this one. Fred Willard's always been funny, but he became a legend in this movie.

47. It's A Wonderful Life (1946): This movie freaking kills me, every time. The end, when everyone's coming to give George money and he gets the book with the message from Clarence? There's only one other movie (yet to appear on the list) that guarantees a tear in my eye every time. I also happen to like James Stewart an awful lot as an actor.

46. The Karate Kid (1984): In which we learn how to use wax to defend ourselves and who, exactly, mercy is for. A lot of underdog movies in the '80s and this one was one of the better and most cheesy, as a kid from New Jersey joined with a drunk Asian janitor to shock the amateur martial arts world. He also got to make time with Elizabeth Shue, which is pretty cool. Screw it, it's all about the best montage in movie history:

45. Ghostbusters (1984): Like The Karate Kid and Gremlins, this movie was released in June, 1984. Good month for movies. I like a lot of '80s comedies and it's hard to say that this isn't the best. You've only seen half the list, obviously, but I will say now that my biggest and most painful omission was Vacation. So many great '80s comedies and I love it, but it doesn't quite hold the place in my heart that these others do. As for Ghostbusters, you get Bill Murray in his prime (he and Eddie Murphy are probably the two funniest actors of the '80s) and you get great writing (we'll get into that more in a movie farther down the list). The movie holds up and it's fun. Can't ask for much more.

44. Chinatown (1974): Another great last line, another twist ending. There aren't many movies that end better than this film noir classic from Roman Polanski. Okay, I understand that water could be big business in California, but... She's what? She's who? Is he...? Did he just...? "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown." It's incredible that a movie could end so bizarrely, have the ending be shrugged off like that, and still be a classic. Says a lot about the script and the acting by Nicholson and Dunaway, both of whom were nominated for Oscars. It's similar to The Maltese Falcon in style, but it's a little deeper, a lot more modern, and a hell of a lot weirder.

43. The Contender (2000): It's the president's birthday today (assuming he was born on August 4th; we've never seen a birth certificate!!!) and you know I'm a big fan. It's possible that nothing endeared me more to Obama than when asked who his favorite movie president was, he responded with Jeff Bridges' Jackson Evans from The Contender. Jackson Evans, the politically astute, rebellious, sarcastic president who, in need of a new Vice-President, calls upon a little-known female senator, played by Joan Allen. The problem is that the senator may have a sex scandal in her past, opening up an examination of gender roles, principles, and politics. Gary Oldman is the leader of the opposition party in the Senate and Sam Elliott is the straightforward foul-mouthed Chief of Staff who delivers great line after great line. I love this movie. It not only deals with the kind of political dealings that I love, not only has a great speech at the end by Bridges, but it also has one of my very favorite quotes, from a movie or not: "Principles only mean something when you stick to them when its inconvenient."

42. Apollo 13 (1995): Ron Howard's thriller about the problems facing a moon mission. It's a good suspense film when you know how the story ends but you're still on the edge of your seat. I was at Johnson Space Center in Houston about six years ago and they showed us the room used for Mission Control in the movie. Not that they've fallen off, but Tom Hanks and Ed Harris were right at the top of their game in the mid-'90s and they showed it in this one.

41. The Sting (1973): Paul Newman and Robert Redford, two great movie stars, maybe the coolest duo until Clooney and Pitt hooked up, in the most celebrated of double-cross movies. This movie is so funny and intriguing and... perfect... that I don't even know what to say. If you've seen it, you know what I mean. If you haven't and you like good movies, you need to.

Onwards we move towards #1. If, before I compiled this list, you were to have asked me about most of my movies in the top 40, I'd have said they were in my top 10. Well, I've learned exactly how few ten movies really is. We roll into #s 40-21 tomorrow.