My Favorite Comedy Movies (That You’ve Never Seen)


There are a lot of great comedies out there, well-known and deservedly so. Dr. Strangelove, Blazing Saddles, Airplane!, even Ghostbusters are all famous for making people laugh for decades. In the wake of the passing of comedy legend Harold Ramis, I’d like to take the opportunity to spotlight a few of my favorite comedies that aren’t so widely known, but deserve to be praised just the same.

Dr. Detroit (1983) – It only seems right to start with this 80’s gem that stars Ghostbusters co-star Dan Aykroyd as a college literature professor who gets suckered into “managing” four beautiful prostitutes in Chicago. (Once again, I am not making this up.) This movie is 80’s screwball comedy at its finest, with Dan Aykroyd turning in a stellar Jekyll-and-Hyde-esque performance, only in this case it’s all an act until the final reveal. Fans of 80’s beauties will be pleased to see Donna Dixon at her finest, and a young Fran Drescher takes a turn at the risqué long before her debut on The Nanny.

The Big Hit (1998) – Coming out in the same year as The Big Lewbowski, it seemed among my friends you could only love one of the “Bigs”, and personally I have never understood how anyone  can even sit through The Big Lebowski. But I digress. The Big Hit is a throwback to that 80’s screwball style, with class, gender, and role-reversals abounding throughout the film. In particular the concept of the sympathetic, pushover hitman is innovative and fun, and played with remarkable skill by Mark Wahlberg, while Lou Diamond Phillips turns in a surprisingly funny yet loathsome villain. Fans of One Crazy Summer or Better Off Dead will find a lot to like here (especially the “Trace Buster Buster”).

PCU (1994) – I know I said this was all because of Harold Ramis, and truly it was inspired by Harold Ramis, but the world is not about Harold Ramis. I only say this because I do not now nor have I ever been able to grasp the obsession some people seem to have with Animal House. There are a few good lines, but that’s it. The movie does nothing for me. Sorry, but that’s just how I feel. Maybe it’s a generational thing. As far as I’m concerned, you can keep Animal House. This is my offensive college movie of choice. Jeremy Piven as Droz represents the modern character of the “big man on campus”, slightly rumpled, disheveled, and a few years past the prime of what a college student should be. The exaggeration of the oppressive PC culture on display is (sadly) even closer to the mark today than it was when the film was first released (although nobody is spared the barb, even the protagonists). Unabashedly rude, shamelessly corrupting, and magnificently over the top, I recommend this film to anyone who can laugh at themselves.


Quarterly Report: It Came from the Deep (of the Internet)!


Hello everybody, and welcome to the latest installment of Quarterly Report, where I review the contents of the mystery boxes I receive from Quarterly.co! This time I’ll be reviewing the second installment from Laughing Squid. As some of you may remember, I was quite enamored of the first shipment they sent me, and honestly I didn’t think there was any way they could top it. Fortunately I was so very, very wrong. This shipment is all about the memes, and I couldn’t stop laughing from the moment I started digging in.

When I opened the box, I was greeted by something I simply didn’t expect: Nyan Cat! Yes, someone managed to turn this internet sensation (some might say abomination, but haters gonna hate) into a delightful plushy, and it even sings the song so you can get it stuck in your head (or even better someone else’s head) all over again!

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It’s like a Pop-Tart shaped cat. A Pop-Cat. Or a Cat-Tart. Whatever.

And did someone say “haters gonna hate”? (Well, okay, I did.) Show your disdain for the haterade with this sweet meme-inspired (temporary) ‘tat.

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I had mine done permanently, but I’m hardcore.

I had mine done permanently, but I’m hardcore.

Not everybody is a hater, though. Some people are just grumpy, and the most beloved of the grumpy is Grumpy Cat. Nobody loves Grumpy Cat more than My Not So Humble Sister. She’s going to be sorry when she sees she missed out on this sweet copy of his book, “Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book”.

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Just to keep things fresh, there’s also a Runaway Monkey Air Freshener included. It’s almost as adorable as Darwin himself.

 

It smells like lingonberry. No, I haven’t opened it. I have no idea what lingonberry smells like. I do know what monkeys smell like. That’s why I haven’t opened it.

It smells like lingonberry. No, I haven’t opened it. I have no idea what lingonberry smells like. I do know what monkeys smell like. That’s why I haven’t opened it.

Finally, what may be my favorite piece of all, the signature Laughing Squid item: the finger tentacles. Yes, you read that right.

Let the nightmares begin.

Let the nightmares begin.

I can already think of so many ways to have fun with these, including waking up my Not So Humble Mother the next time she stays over- um, that is, NOT waking up… oh, heck, she’s already read it, no point in going back on it. Well at least I can perfect my Cthulhu impression.

The best selfie I have ever taken.

The best selfie I have ever taken.

The internet is a strange place, and I’m a strange guy. And Laughing Squid keeps bringing it right to my door.


It Was My Favorite Dark and Stormy Movie (That You’ve Never Seen)


I’m not really a fan of horror movies. They’re just too creepy, and generally there’s too much focus on gross-out rather than spook factor for my taste. The ones that are genuinely scary usually just give me screaming nightmares, and why would I want to pay good money for that? There’s a fine balance between those, though, a razor’s edge where horror meets humor known as the macabre, or a finely tuned understanding of suspense that relies on shadows and darkness to send a chill up your spine and give you a twist ending that goes beyond simple surprise and into the realm of revelation. That’s where I like to spend my time, and there are a few movies that rarely seem to get mentioned that exemplify the tone for me.

Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995) – Despite my protests about not liking horror flicks, for reasons I can never fully explain I was a HUGE fan of Tales from the Crypt as a kid. The episode I remember most to this day is “Chop Poker”, and I don’t think I’ve even seen it in twenty years or more. It was just that good. The show as a whole was just my brand of scary – not so long that I couldn’t sit all the way through it, and with that wonderfully gruesome Crypt Keeper giving it all a sick black humor to take the edge off (or twist the knife at the end) to make it all the better. When I found out they were making an entire movie out of it, I was onboard immediately, even before I knew what it was about. And wow, what a movie.

The story is of a man who carries the last of seven mystical keys that hold the blood of Christ and is being chased by demons, who ends up being cornered in a boarding house in the middle of nowhere. This could easily devolve into a B-grade slasher flick except for two things. First, the cast is amazing. Billy Zane alone could carry this movie. He is the most charismatic, compelling, likably vicious and evil villain I have ever seen, and he manages to pull off lines that would fall flat coming from almost anyone else. Jada Pinkett Smith makes a strong and likable (though unusual) heroine, not playing to the usual tropes, and William Sadler brings a surprising depth and humanity to the character Brayker. The rest of the cast delivers solid performances for what are for the most part stock characters, although each has their standout moments.

The other thing that elevates this movie from trash to triumph is the script. It combines a surprisingly deep story with some fantastic writing. With great lines such as “Do me a favor? Don’t scream. Just hear what I’ve gotta say… and then scream” and “You know this ‘Hell on Earth’ business? Big fucking deal – I’ve got hemorrhoids”, the script manages to range all over the emotional terrain from terrifying to tragic to comedic without breaking the moment or the momentum. The Crypt Keeper himself is an added bonus.

Death Becomes Her (1992) – Not a horror movie per se, but definitely a dark comedy that shades more to the dark than the comedy. With an amazing cast that includes Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, and Goldie Hawn, you know you’re in for some solid comedy, but I have to admit I had no idea they could go so dark. The basic plot line revolves around the two women who are old rivals and constantly out to “one up” one another, and they both (unbeknownst to each other) discover a potion of youth and immortality. Of course, immortality isn’t always what you think it is, and things get very weird very fast.

The special effects in this film haven’t aged particularly well, but they’re not bad for what they are, and the performance from both leading ladies more than makes up for it. Bruce Willis manages to turn in a surprisingly subdued performance for people who are used to seeing him as the take-charge action star, and the twist ending is decidedly macabre. There’s more humor than horror, but there’s enough darkness to it to definitely put it in the category of spooky films.

Dark City (1998) – A neo-noir sci-fi flick in the vein of Twelve Monkeys, with the same sort of WTF ending that makes you want to watch the whole thing over again, Dark City is another film that doesn’t really fall into the genre of horror, but the dark and brooding atmosphere of noir definitely puts it in the same general ballpark of suspense and thriller films. A bizarre film that revolves around the unfolding story of John Murdoch (played by Rufus Sewell) and the ominously named Strangers, Dark City has plenty of action but also more than a little pop philosophy for those who are inclined to mix some thinking into their entertainment. There’s also a strong performance from the always entertaining Kiefer Sutherland. I could go into more detail, but frankly that would take away most of the joy of watching this unique film. Better to try it for yourself and enjoy the bittersweet ending.

There you have it, my picks for a dark and stormy night, when the wind is howling and the ghouls are knocking at the door. Halloween is fast approaching, so if you’re looking for something different for your filmfest than the usual slasher fare or zombierama, give ‘em a try. Just don’t blame me if you have to sleep with the light on.


Quarterly Report: Blinded Me With Science!


As some of you may recall, I signed up for two different packages from the online service Quarterly. The first to arrive of the tandem is the Technology and Toys box, of which so far I’ve already reviewed one (which you can see here). The second arrived just last week, but with everything going on I haven’t had time to write up a proper review until now. I know, I know, just like I said to the postman, “I don’t care about your problems, I only want to know what’s in the box!” Well, here we go.

First up, I found a set of paper robots.

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All your base are belong to us.

I have to admit, this was an awesome find for me. I can remember going to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum all the time as a kid, and while I never got anything from the gift shop, this is exactly the kind of thing I would pick up and look at longingly while my Not So Humble Mother would wait for me to figure out she wasn’t going to buy me yet another toy that was going to sit around my room untouched for weeks before she finally had to throw it out. Fortunately I’m a big boy now, and I can add this to my growing collection of toys that sits around my room unplayed with that My Not So Humble Wife never gets to throw away at all, because it’s called a “man cave” now, and I can still claim I’ll get around to putting them together someday when I just have the time and didn’t you want me to mow the lawn today?

And speaking of robot toys that are right up my alley, the next item really grabbed my attention:

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Danger, WIll Robinson! Danger!

Yes, that’s a tin wind-up robot. It’s only a couple inches tall, but that just makes it that much easier for it to scoot across the table. I especially love that I got the one named “Ima-Robot”. This is exactly the sort of goofy little toy that appeals to me, and it went right into my kitsch collection in my office along with my Pip-Boy Bobble Head and Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

The next item in the box was only vaguely appealing to me, but at least I can understand why they included it in the Technology and Toys box, and My Not So Humble Wife is quite fond of it. It’s…. sand. Yes, you read that right.

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Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream…

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Still not kidding.

In case you’re wondering “what could this stuff be?” I’ll tell you right now it’s exactly what it says on the label. It’s sand. It never dries out, it’s not too damp, and it’s just like playing with sand at the beach. I personally found it entertaining for about 30 seconds, but My Not So Humble Wife is a notorious fidget and it has kept her busy for hours, so looks like we have a winner with this one.

Alas, the same could not be said for the final item in the box.

I've got style!

I’ve got style!

Yes, it’s a stylus for all your electronic gadgets. Honestly this is the sort of thing I would expect to buy on my own if I felt I needed one, and if I don’t feel a need for one I would never use one even if someone game me one. *cough* *cough* The problem is I see this going one of two ways. Even though I have exceptionally fat fingers for a man of my slender build, the problem is that either I will find it incredibly useless and will throw it away within a week, or I will get used to it and then I will lose it within a day or so of deciding I have no idea how I ever lived without it. I just don’t see the win here. I also don’t see how this relates to “Toys”, although it’s definitely “Technology”.

So here’s the final verdict: all told a cool box this month, but overall I still didn’t find enough here to justify the $50 price tag, even accounting for someone going to the trouble of curating all the items for me. It just doesn’t have enough of the “fun” or “cool” factor to say “I don’t mind paying extra to have someone pick this stuff out”, nor is there sufficient value in the goodies present to say I got enough to be fully satisfied, although it came a lot closer this time than last time. Your mileage may differ, and if you see enough stuff you like I still recommend checking it out. Also if you think you might like any of the other options, of which there are many, sign up now, because more than a few are sold out (including some of the ones I was thinking of switching to). You can sign up for the waiting list, but three months is already long enough to wait between packages. Don’t wait any longer than you have to.


Before They Were Stars, They Were In My Favorite Movies (That You’ve Never Seen)


Everyone loves a good episode of “Before They Were Stars”, but all they ever show you in those are things that (when you get right down to it) are pretty boring. I mean really, how many times can you look at someone’s high school yearbook photos and think “wow, [insert famous person] was a regular Joe just like me!” Or even worse, watch one of those insipid “child star” commercials where someone’s parents got them to say “Mommy, I want Endorsed Product for lunch!”

Booooooooooooooooorrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing.

But you know what is fun? Digging up those lesser known films they did early in their careers and seeing who was really a star even back then, especially when the movie was… how can I phrase this delicately… not up to the caliber of the cast. Here are some of my favorites.

Legend (1985) – Coming off of Risky Business but before his major role in Top Gun cemented him as THE leading man for all time, Tom Cruise needed a big role, something that would really showcase his talent. And who better to star with than the inestimable Tim Curry? What could possibly go wrong? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Legend. This fantasy film is so over the top, so invested with its own self-importance, it’s impossible to describe. The amazing thing about it is, despite everything that should be wrong with it, from the script to the storyline to the sheer “glitter” of it all, it somehow works. Tom Cruise manages to bring his trademark charisma to the role of Jack, and Tim Curry is brilliantly malevolent and at the same time somehow empathetic as the Darkness (but then, he’s Tim Curry).

Hackers (1995) – Some movies just can’t help churning out stars. Long before 1999’s Girl, Interrupted put her on most people’s radar, Angelina Jolie was burning up the screen in this delightful film that IMDB calls an “action/crime/drama” and every real-life hacker I’ve ever known has called a comedy. Either way, Jolie brought amazing presence and style to the role of Kate, helping to boost this slick, stylish film above its otherwise ridiculous premise. T.V. fans may also be surprised to see Johnny Lee Miller, who plays Sherlock Holmes on CBS’s Elementary as protagonist Dade Murphy. Matthew Lillard from FX’s The Bridge plays a major supporting role as Cereal Killer, as well as establishing one of the best jokes, intentional or not, I have ever seen in film history (to get the rest of the joke, go watch Scream).

Stand By Me (1986) – What would you say if I offered you a movie starring River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, Richard Dreyfuss, and John Cusack? How about I include that it was based on a novella by Stephen King? Want more? OK, just for you I’ll throw in Wil Wheaton, Lord of the Internet and God of Nerds. And all of them (ok, maybe not Richard Dreyfuss) look so young. This is early in their careers, the first big role for almost all of them, but you could never prove it by me. The power and intensity of this coming of age story is enormous, and the emotional gravity of it will leave you drained by the end. It’s not exactly an uplifting tale (did I mention it was based on a Stephen King story?), but it is surprisingly reassuring. You won’t want to watch it again right away, but you’ll find yourself coming back to look at it again.


Quarterly Report Redux: The Laughing Squid


When I first signed up for packages at Quarterly.co, I chose to go with two different options. The first was the Technology & Toys option, which you can read all about my experience of here. The second was the Laughing Squid curated box which just arrived in the mail the other day.

The theme for this box was “old school”, and I have to say that, for my money, they hit just the right note. As soon as I saw the zine that they created in lieu of a letter, I was hooked.

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It immediately took me back to my time in college down in Richmond in the mid-90s, and a host of memories came flooding back. The fact that they pointed out such zines were the precursors of blogs such as this one helped bring my past into my present, which (for me at least) was an instant hit.

The next item to grab my attention was the copy of The Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society book that they included.

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While I am not familiar with it, apparently this is the history (and in some senses pre-history) of the Laughing Squid as well as many other cultural icons, and as a hefty tome weighing in at 300 pages, this looks to be a great read. The cover art is inspired by the old-time pulp comics, and the interior includes some great looking art and photographs. If nothing else, this will make a great coffee table book and conversation piece. Also, if I might take a moment to inject a slice of crass commercialism, the cover price on this one book almost justifies the cost of the Quarterly box by itself, which definitely alleviates any lingering concerns I had from the last box.

The next two items are a combination “starter kit” to get you where they want you to be, and even though I have never tried one the desired result is such a cultural icon I guessed immediately as soon as I saw them what the goal was.

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Yes, they sent me the fixings for a Fluffernutter, and as they said in the zine, “all you have to do is add white bread and enjoy!” I have, more than once, thought that I should at least try one of these, if for no other reason than because I want to know what everyone else is talking about. I suppose now I have no more excuses. And if nothing else, I do love my PB&Js, so I’m halfway there.

The final item just tickled me. I have never been a big art collector, but I have always wanted to build a collection. The issue is that, to paraphrase an old joke, art is like pornography; I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it (and I certainly know if I like it). Most art just doesn’t grab me, but the stuff I like I really like, and the print that was included in my box this month hit just the right note of quirky and fun for my taste:

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As soon as I saw it, I just had an image in my mind of Cthulhu and friends toasting the end of the world with “Skaal!” and I couldn’t stop giggling. What can I say, I’m weird. This one is getting framed as soon as possible and going up on the wall in my new home office.

So having received two deliveries now from Quarterly, I can definitely say I am overall pleased with the service. The first was fun but less than I hoped for, while the second was more nostalgic and did a lot to tickle my quirkiness. I was definitely thrilled with the Laughing Squid box and can’t wait for the next one.


Quarterly Report


Those of you who follow HeelsFirstTravel.com (and that should be all of you, because it’s a great site) should be familiar with Keri’s posts on Birchbox and Glossybox. I’ve always been kind of jealous of the idea of getting packages full of random goodies in the mail, but although there are versions available for men they still focus on personal care products and other things I have zero interest in (but if it sounds like your cup of tea, visit the links above and sign up; Keri deserves the referral credit for turning you on to it).

A few months ago I discovered the online service Quarterly.co. They have a different take on the “random package of goodies” concept. They have a list of contributors who “curate” packages every three months (hence the name of the company) based around a certain theme. The themes range over a wide territory, with everything from the generic “Technology & Toys” or “Travel & Adventure” (curated by Quarterly directly) to more specific mailings from contributors such as Style Girlfriend (a blogger who brings her fashion advice to the real world with her care packages) and Jesse Kornbluth of HeadButler.com, who “sends overlooked gems in film, music, and literature.” There are also some more esoteric offerings, ranging from advice and tools for entrepreneurs from True Ventures (a venture capital firm) to themed mailings like the one from Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D., who sends mailings based on “curiosity”.

I signed up for the aforementioned Technology & Toys mailing as well as the Laughing Squid package, but what with the timing of the shipments (the name sort of gives it away) it was a bit of a wait before I finally got my first package, and I’d been eagerly awaiting it ever since. Once it finally arrived, I tore it open and found some curious items inside. It seems the theme of this month’s mailing was “physics”, and all the ways you can play around with it. Here are the goodies I received. First, the Airzooka:

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Not as menacing as it looks.

Looks cool, right? Well, it was “some assembly required”.

Some assembly required

“I fall to pieces…”

And here’s the final product:

Exactly as menacing as it looks.

Exactly as menacing as it looks.

When I finally got it together (which only took about five minutes and a small bit of help from My Not So Humble Wife), I did get some fun out of it. It’s a nifty little toy, and I will probably play with it some more in the coming weeks off and on. Still, not the coolest thing ever. Let’s see what else I got.

Room-a-Rang

Not pictured: an actual Australian.

Yes, that’s a Roomarang. As in a boomerang you can throw inside. And yes, it does work about as advertised. It was fun for a few minutes, and I found myself coming back to it a couple times (and might again), but once I finally caught it on the return trip it wasn’t nearly as compelling as it was at first. Next up was the kite.

Kite

Things I won’t be doing: impersonating Benjamin Franklin. Starring in Mary Poppins. Thinking of a third kite-related joke.

You will notice it is still in the sleeve. There are a couple reasons for this. First is because it’s summer in Virginia. That means the weather comes in two flavors: hot and humid with no wind or hot and raining. In a couple months if I can still find it the weather might be right for flying a kite. I won’t know because when I was ten I realized I will never be one of those guys who can do cool tricks with kites. I also realized that cool tricks with kites don’t actually impress girls. There may be a correlation there. Either way I won’t be flying a kite again anytime soon.

Next up was a funky lens for my iPhone camera.

Fisheye photo lens.

This lens wasn’t the only thing getting the fisheye.

You will notice this is also still in the box. The reason for that is before taking the pictures for this blog post, I hadn’t taken a picture with my phone in weeks if not months. I’m just not that kind of guy. I may not be the norm in that regard, but it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to. You would cry too if it happened to you. I have no idea where they got the idea I would enjoy this, but at least they were kind enough to send me a postcard when they got there.

Postcard

“Just like anyone else who sends you a postcard, we clearly have no idea what you like.”

To summarize: 50% of the toys in the box got played with for a couple days, and the other 50% never made it out of the box. That means that I paid $25 each for the Airzooka and the Roomarang. To say I am disappointed would be an understatement. I was expecting bells and whistles, gadgets and toys. Instead I got a physics lesson, a postcard, and a couple of toys.

I’m not giving up on them yet, because I still have high hopes for this mailing, and even if the next one is disappointing there are several others I’d like to try (such as Netted by the Webbies, Joshua Foer, and Alexis Ohanian). If those crap out on me, I’ll just start buying myself $50 worth of random crap off Amazon every few months. Either way I win.


Kaiju Madness: King of Tokyo


Recently for my birthday (yes, I’m bringing that up again, but I swear it’s in the service of a good cause) some very good friends got me a new board game: King of Tokyo. I had never heard of it before, but just looking at the box got me excited. It had giant monsters destroying a city, and with a name like “King of Tokyo”, there was only one way this thing could be headed. A little while later I headed home, cracked it open, and started pouring over the contents.

I have not stopped playing this game since.

King of Tokyo has won several prestigious awards, including the 2012 Golden Geek awards for Best Party Game, Best Family Board Game, and Best Children’s Game (although a note to parents with little Geeklings at home: pretty much the entire game is a choking hazard). It seems as if someone sat down and scientifically figured out all the things geeks loved and put it all into one game. Monsters? Dice? Of course, and plenty of them. Tokens? Got them too. Points to keep track of? Not one kind, but two, including the ever popular life points, both tracked on individualized and thematically accurate cards. And speaking of cards, there’s a whole deck of them to enjoy! There are even stand-up cut outs that serve as miniatures of your monsters. Monsters? Of course there are monsters. That’s the whole point of the game. And there’s even a board, although it plays a small (but crucial) role in the overall game.

The best part of the game is how fast it is to pick up and play. Everyone I’ve played it with has learned it in less than five minutes, and most of them have beaten other people who have played multiple times within their first two or three games. It plays fast and there are multiple avenues to victory, either by collecting points or (my personal favorite) be the last monster standing.

The game play itself is fast paced and fun as well. Despite (or perhaps because of) all the little pieces and details to keep track of, gameplay is breezy and lighthearted. It’s kind of like a cross between Yahtzee and King of the Hill, with the cards offering a dizzying array of options to expand strategies and take your game in all kinds of different directions. Being the geek that I am I immediately started thinking about different ways to tweak out the rules to create different scenarios, which is part of the fun to a guy like me. There are a few rules that are a little unclear on how they interact with each other, particularly when certain cards get involved, although on the whole the game designers did an excellent job anticipating rules lawyers like my friends and I and provided a handy reference sheet for specific issues that came up during play (and even some that I look forward to having come up in the near future).

All in all, I highly recommend this fantastic game to anyone who enjoys board games, monsters, rolling dice, or just having fun with friends. The more people you get to play the more fun it is (the rules are even slightly different for five or six people). I haven’t gotten the expansion yet, but I plan to soon.

And a quick shout out to the Js: Best birthday gift ever.


Vacation Movie Roundup: High Culture and Low Brow


I’ve been taking some time off this week, and as always that means I’ve been exposing myself to the good, the bad, and the ugly of the entertainment world so that you, my loyal readers, won’t have to. I’ve got a trio of movies for you this time, ranging from family friendly fare to art house Shakespeare, and theaters-only to cable-exclusives.

First up is the Joss Whedon re-imagining of the Shakespeare classic Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve got a huge man-crush on Whedon, but I also have an undying love for Shakespeare that is as intense as My Not So Humble Wife’s passionate hatred for him (which she can even express in iambic pentameter). Considering my strong and mixed feelings about Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 Much Ado (I loved most of it, but there were some serious casting problems, especially Keanu Reeves as Don John), I approached this film with some joy and much trepidation. The fact that it was shot in twelve days during what amounted to a vacation in the middle of making The Avengers added a certain amount of uncertainty as well.

Fortunately there was nothing to be concerned about and everything to cheer for (even the wife liked it). The entire movie played smoothly, with a cool hipster-jazz influenced feel. Alexis Denisof as Benedick and Amy Acker as Beatrice revive the on screen chemistry that long-time Whedon fans will remember from later seasons of Angel. The dialogue is fast, sharp, and well played, and the staging is perfect. Fran Kranz turns in a solid performance as Claudio, bringing a believable yet charismatic youth and impetuousness to the character without being emo, and Jillian Morgese is charming and reserved as Hero.

My personal favorite surprise was Nathan Fillion as Dogberry. I have never really understood nor appreciated the humor of this character before, particularly since every time I have seen the show Dogberry is overplayed and chewing the scenery (Michael Keaton, I’m looking squarely at you). Fillion brings a surprisingly subdued turn to the role, and by underplaying it actually makes it much funnier, as well as giving his fellow ensemble members a chance to shine.

5/5 stars

While I’m on the subject of ensembles, I may as well talk about Pitch Perfect. Yes, I watched this film, mostly because My Not So Humble Sister said it was funny. I hate admitting she’s right about anything (see the part about her being my sister), but I have to admit it was pretty good. It’s about what you would expect, but there are some ways that it manages to rise above itself. In addition to having some really stellar a cappella performances, the film makes a few inside jokes subverting the very form of film it is (my favorite being when Beca (Anna Kendrick) mocks movies that have the exact plotline of the movie she’s in). Another great bit of comedic subversion in the film is Fat Amy, played by Rebel Wilson. Rather than being the typical shy fat girl who needs to develop self-confidence, “discover herself” and open up, Amy is played as a strong, confident woman from the start. She also has plenty of well-sculpted young men keeping her company in her palatial estate over Spring Break, another nice change from expected norms.

The film does unfortunately have some downsides. They play to the lesbian stereotype more than a little, and there is more than a little bit of gross-out humor (some of which is so far over the top I couldn’t even watch). The plot is also so derivative that, as previously mentioned, they felt the need to mock it in the movie. That only gets you so far.

All that having been said, if you’re looking for something relatively light, relatively fun, and not in any way taxing, Pitch Perfect definitely hits the mark.

3.5/5 stars

I also finally got to see Puss in Boots. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while, because Puss has become about the only character from Shrek that I can watch for more than five minutes without feeling the need to punch something. It’s not that I don’t like the Shrek franchise, it’s just that I get tired of the same joke after hearing it enough times, and apparently that number of times is two (hence why I can’t stand Shrek the Third, and the less said about the abysmal Shrek the Halls the better). Lucky for me, ditching Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy seems to be exactly what this franchise needed.

Puss in Boots is a sweet, fun, lighthearted romp. It’s family-friendly, but I wouldn’t hold that against it. It’s got a lot of laughs for pretty much everybody, and they cut back the cast to something a bit more manageable to they can really enjoy and play with the idea of the characters again rather than every character just being a one trick pony (or a one note donkey, as the case may be). If the plot was a little predictable, that’s only because (a) they actually laid everything out in such a way that nobody can cry foul later in the film, and (b) the target market for this film probably doesn’t have two digits in their age. If you can accept that, you’ll have a lot of laughs, maybe even enjoy a heartwarming moment (it’s DreamWorks, how can you not?), and then go to bed like good little boys and girls.

4/5 stars


The Soundtrack of My Life: Coming Around Again


“I know nothing stays the same, but if you’re willing to play the game, it will be coming around again.”

Carly Simon, “Coming Around Again”

By this point I’ve pretty well established I have eclectic taste in music, but there are some artists who I just can’t get enough of. Whether it’s because they have an iconic sound, their ability to weave an amazing story, or just because they captured my imagination and never let it go, these are the artists that tend to dominate my mindscape when I think about music.

Billy Joel – The Stranger: One of (if not the) most successful albums by Billy Joel, it actually took me a while to warm up to this one at first. There’s a certain complexity to it, both lyrically and musically, that he doesn’t quite have on Piano Man or Glass Houses, and I didn’t quite gravitate to it as much as I did those albums. I also didn’t really “discover” it until I was much older and had listened to the Greatest Hits Vol. I & II ad nauseum, so about half the album was old hat to me. All of that being said I think it’s worth noting that, as I just mentioned, about half of this album is comprised of songs Joel is famous for, including “Moving Out (Anthony’s Song)”, “Just the Way You Are”, “Only the Good Die Young”, and “She’s Always a Woman”. These are all great songs, but my favorites also include the slightly less well known “The Stranger”, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, and “Vienna”. I think these tracks are a bit more complex, but they also bring a lot more to the discerning listener.

Pink Floyd – A Momentary Lapse of Reason: As I mentioned previously, this album was my first exposure to Pink Floyd, and as such it will always hold a special place in my heart (although in full honesty I’ve since become more a fan of the Roger Waters era; sorry, David!). There’s no denying the rich beauty and soaring magnificence of this album. While there is definitely the distinct “Pink Floyd sound” to it, this album is a clear change point from the earlier albums, and overall a fantastic work. In some ways I feel like it may have been the perfect entry point for a new Pink Floyd fan, and I might even recommend it to this day. While the lead vocals might not be quite comparable, there’s a certain optimism (or at least a lack of bleak cynicism) that’s not present on many of the Waters-era albums, while much of the storytelling and poeticism of the earlier works is still strong. Oh, and the music is absolutely brilliant. For my money the best tracks on the album are “Learning to Fly” (the first Pink Floyd song I ever heard), “One Slip”, “On the Turning Away”, “A New Machine (Part 1)”, and “Terminal Frost”.

Queensryche – Empire: Speaking of those surprising first albums, here’s another one that got me a lesson in music history. My first exposure to Queensryche was this brilliant, off-beat mélange of hard rock. Each song is like a vignette from a completely different book, complete in and of itself, telling a powerful and moving story that at the same time has nothing whatsoever to do with the previous, the next, or any other song on the album. Add to that the fact my initial introduction was through the power ballad “Silent Lucidity” (it was the end of the 80s, don’t judge me) and you can see why I was completely gob smacked when I heard the entire album. There is a brilliance at work here, a mad genius akin to Scheherazade’s one thousand and one nights, as each story captivates and spins a complete worlds before moving on to the next. Some of the most compelling are “Jet City Woman”, “Della Brown”, “Another Rainy Night (Without You)”, “Empire”, and “Silent Lucidity”.

Jimmy Buffett – Living and Dying in ¾ Time: This is the album I am most ambivalent about in my whole Jimmy Buffett collection (and I actually have quite a few). There are some songs on this album that I listen to because, eh, they’re okay, and there are other songs on this album that I think are so amazing they stop me in my tracks every time I hear them. Surprisingly, the couple of tracks from this album that appear on Songs You Know by Heart fall into neither category (they’re both good, but not that good). Where Buffett really shines on this album is when he stops trying to make music and starts telling stories (in one case quite literally). Some of the most powerful, moving, beautiful and heart-wrenching music I have ever heard appears on this album, along with what has to be one of the funniest comedic monologues ever recorded. There are no bad songs here, but the truly great ones are “Livingston’s Gone to Texas”, “West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown”, and “The Ballad of Spider John”. After all that (each song is sadder than the next), help yourself to “God’s Own Drunk”. It’s a hoot and a half.

Related Posts:

The Soundtrack of My Life: Definitive Albums
The Soundtrack of My Life: Odds and Ends
The Soundtrack of My Life: One Shot of Greatness