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

The Soundtrack of My Life: Definitive Albums

There are some albums that for me not only define a point in my life but also define the artist or artists who made them. While there may be other albums I love by that artist, that specific album will always be the one I point to when I say “This is what they sound like.” Here are a few of those albums.

Queen – A Kind of Magic: It almost seems offensive to pick just one album to “define” Queen. Freddy Mercury was truly mercurial, reinventing himself (quite successfully) almost on a whim. And yet the powerful, soulful, and almost operatic performances that he and the rest of the band brought to rock and roll are undeniable, and the entire range and depth of their considerable ability is on display in this one compact album. Granted, I have a special love for it in that it encompasses not only the soundtrack for one of the greatest movies of all time (seriously, I once wrote a class paper on just one scene from this film), but also includes the themes song from one of the other greatest movies of all time. All that having been said though, this is still an amazing work of art on its own. To truly appreciate the range and scope of this album, check out “One Vision”, “A Kind of Magic”, “Who Wants to Live Forever” (one of the most beautiful and poignant songs I have ever heard), “Gimme the Prize (Kurgan’s Theme)”, and “Princes of the Universe”. You won’t be disappointed.

Genesis – Invisible Touch: The first Genesis album I remember being old enough to really appreciate, this one absolutely floored me. From the first time I heard “Land of Confusion” I was hooked. Granted the video was pretty cool, but that was just a bonus. When I listened to the entire album I became obsessed. I would literally spend hours listening to it (no, it wasn’t healthy, but this isn’t about me, this is about Phil Collins… and my obsession with him… shut up.) Three amazing musicians explored all kinds of new territory, including a practically unheard of (at the time) nearly 11 min. long song, as well as a nearly five minute long instrumental piece that is absolutely amazing. The best songs on the album for my money are “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”, “Land of Confusion”, “In Too Deep”, “Domino” (the aforementioned 11 min. song, so brace yourself), “Throwing It All Away”, and “The Brazilian” (the instrumental piece). Give it a try; it’s a lot more than just a pop rock fixture.

Jimmy Buffett – Last Mango in Paris: I first got exposed to Jimmy Buffett the same way lots of fans did: someone I knew (in my case my Dad) owned a copy of Songs You Know by Heart, and I listened to it incessantly. Eventually after several years I decided to take a risk and venture out into, you know, actual albums (instead of just the “greatest hits”) and this was one of the first I stumbled across. Johnny Loftus of allmusic nailed it for me when he wrote that “Last Mango in Paris’ host of high points make it essential for anyone enamored of Buffett’s live shows, or even the casual fan looking to expand beyond Songs You Know by Heart.” While the songs all had the same wry wit and fun I had come to expect from Jimmy Buffett, there was also something fresh and unexpected in some of them. In particular I recommend “Please Bypass This Heart” and “If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me” for the sound and texture of them, “Gypsies in the Palace” and “Jolly Mon Sing” for the storytelling, and “Desperation Samba (Halloween in Tijuana)” just because it’s a fun, different sound from this versatile artist.

Billy Joel – Piano Man: As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been a lifelong Billy Joel fan, and it started with Glass Houses. The defining album for me when I think of Mr. Joel’s work however (I’m sorry, I just can’t call him Billy, it just feels too informal; we’ve never even been introduced) is Piano Man. It’s more than the storytelling that is evident not only here but throughout his career, and it’s not just the title track that (admittedly) had such a strong influence on my perception of him for decades to come. There’s a passion and theatricality to the songs on this album, as well as a certain gritty realism, that defies simple classification as “pop music” or “soft rock”. The soaring vocals are matched by Mr. Joel’s earnest and full-bodied compositions. The stand-out tracks on this album are “Piano Man” (obviously), “You’re My Home”, “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” (which I always silently dedicate to my family in Long Island), “Somewhere Along the Line”, and “Captain Jack”.

Oh, and Mr. Joel, feel free to call me Bobby.

 Related Posts:

The Soundtrack of My Life: Odds and Ends

The Soundtrack of My Life: One Shot of Greatness

The Soundtrack of My Life: Y2K Bug

The Soundtrack of My Life: Odds and Ends

Sometimes it seems as if my life is less a continuous journey from one point to another and more a disjointed, constantly interrupted bashing about through random stops in time. This is particularly the case when I look back on my teens and early twenties, when I managed to find every way to creatively screw up that I could that didn’t involve drugs, violence, or jail (although I may have flirted with all three at some point, Your Honor). Among the few signposts I have as I journey back through those tumultuous memories are the songs I listened to, the soundtrack that accompanied my foolish decisions and what seemed to me at the time to be heroic deeds.

Dire Straits – Making Movies: I love this album for a lot of reasons, some of which are personal memories from my senior year of high school (and if My Not So Humble Wife is reading this, let me remind you honey that was about fifteen years before I met you, so you don’t get to hold it against me), and some of it is because the song “Romeo and Juliet” was indirectly referenced by Douglas Adams in So Long and Thanks For All The Fish (it would be the song with the really good guitar bit when Arthur goes flying), or so I was told when a friend first introduced me to the album. Having listened to the song many times, I have no reason to doubt his word on this. It really is an excellent guitar bit. The album covers a fair bit of terrain artistically, more I dare say than on most other albums from Dire Straits (except possibly Brothers in Arms), and while the expected jazz-rock fusion is there for the entirety of the album they manage to find a lot of room to experiment. In addition to the aforementioned “Romeo and Juliet”, I highly recommend “Tunnel of Love”, “Expresso Love”, and “Hand in Hand”.

Bruce Willis – The Return of Bruno: This album will always hold a special place in my heart for two reasons. First because it’s one of the first real records I ever owned that I bought just for me. Second because it’s one of the first records I played so much that just the mention of it is enough to make My Not So Humble Sister want to throw something heavy at my head. Ah, memories. So why do I enjoy this album so much? Is it because Bruce Willis is a great singer? No. But let’s not kid ourselves; neither is David Lee Roth, and everybody howled for his return to Van Halen. What Willis does do is attack the songs on this album with a passion and an honest love that you just don’t find in most singers today. What he may lack in technical performance is more than made up for in his virtue of an indescribable fun and joy. It’s clear that this is exactly what he wants to be doing, and he has the charisma to transmit some of that sense of fun to the listener as well. In addition to that, as I’ve previously mentioned I really do enjoy a good bit of harmonica playing. He may not be a virtuoso, but just because not every guitar player is Jimi Hendrix doesn’t mean we say they are somehow lacking, we just enjoy what they bring as long as they bring enough, and Bruce Willis brings more than enough. This album would be enjoyable enough on its own merits, and it’s doubly so considering it came out in an era of vanity albums being produced on behalf of other actors who didn’t understand they should have stayed actors. The best tracks off this album are “Young Blood”, “Under the Boardwalk”, “Secret Agent Man/James Bond Is Back”, and “Jackpot (Bruno’s Bop)”.

Sponge – Rotting Piñata: This is another album that I love as much for the memories (good and bad) that it invokes as much as for the music. It reminds me of a time in my life when I made some of the worst choices and best mistakes, and I ended up with some great stories if nothing else. I also learned some of the most important lessons, although I didn’t appreciate most of them until much later. Things like who truly cared about me and who didn’t; who I could trust, and how to figure it out fast enough not to get burned too badly; and exactly how much my family really means to me, and just how much they’ll forgive. Vinnie Dombrowski’s vocals, which sound like he regularly gargles with straight whiskey, blended with the gritty post-grunge sound of the instrumentals on the album immediately bring me right back to that place, and the shadowy (or at best semi-bitter) lyrics remind me again of all the damn fool things I’ve done, enjoyed, survived, regretted, and come out the other end of, hopefully better than I went in. Top tracks on this album are “Pennywheels”, “Miles”, “Plowed”, “Drownin’”, and “Molly (Sixteen Candles)”.

R.E.M. – Out of Time: This is another album that was pretty big my senior year of high school. Ironically this album starts off with “Radio Song”, a song about music on the radio controlling the tastes of the masses, which is kind of appropriate, since I feel like a lot of the best music on this album never got the airplay it deserved. I also seem to remember most of the R.E.M. fans I knew at the time being disappointed (if not outright horrified) by this album, which I find to be rather ironic as well, since this is the first album of theirs I loved from start to finish. Despite the two biggest songs on this album being “Losing My Religion” and “Shiny Happy People”, I personally feel like those are the least representative tracks for the album as a whole. For my money “Low”, “Near Wild Heaven”, “Belong”, “Half a World Away”, “Country Feedback”, and “Me In Honey” are a better sample of what the album is about.

Related Posts:

The Soundtrack of My Life: One Shot of Greatness

The Soundtrack of My Life: Y2K Bug 

The Soundtrack of My Life: I Discover the Nineties


The Soundtrack of My Life: One Shot of Greatness

There are some bands, some performers that utterly transcend the genre of music, who go on to become legends. Time after time, album after album, they continue to produce world-changing music that inspires generations of listeners to either become performers themselves or, if not, to at least seek to their own form of achievement in whatever field suits them.

Sadly, these are not among those few.

While they each have managed to go beyond the level of “one hit wonder” in my own personal estimation, in the pantheon of music greatness they will never rise above the level of once-was or might-have-been. That’s not to say they didn’t make more than one album, just that they never managed to make another album I could get behind. They never quite hit it, they veered off in the wrong direction, or they petered out almost before they started, but at least each one managed to leave behind one album I could love forever before vanishing into the night.

Spin Doctors – Pocket Full of Kryptonite: Despite having produced one of the most execrable earworms of the 90s (“Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” – it’s stuck in your head just reading the name, isn’t it?), this was actually a fantastic album. The sound was something fresh and jazzy, a welcome change from both the pop ballads and the grunge invasion that were vying for control of the airwaves. The lyrics on this album tend toward to be sharp and clever, although sometimes a bit too clever for their own good. My personal favorite song is (arguably) the title track “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues”, from which the line “I’ve got a pocket full of kryptonite” originates.  Other great tracks (that haven’t been overplayed on the radio) are “Forty or Fifty”, “Refrigerator Car”, “How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me?)”, and “Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist”.

Martika – Martika: O.K., true confession time. I was first drawn to this album because I had a huge crush on Martika back when she was on the kid’s show Kids Incorporated (I was a kid myself at the time). When I found out she was all grown up and had an album out, of course I went out and bought it immediately. I listened to it over and over, and fortunately for me I was at exactly the right age to enjoy it, considering the album was basically an average teen pop album and I was a teenager who liked pop music. Listening to it now, it’s pretty good for teen pop music; Martika has a strong voice, and the production values are pretty good. I think most of the enjoyment I get out of it is nostalgia, although actually hearing a good alto in pop music is so rare I’m almost ready to take it at any cost. If you decide to give it a try, I would suggest her big radio hit “Toy Soldiers”, her cover of Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move”, and “You Got Me Into This”. If you don’t like those, you won’t like the rest.

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – God Fodder: I don’t really remember when I first heard this album; it was sometime in high school and I just fell in love with it. Everything about it just says punk to me in a way few other bands do, especially bands that explicitly proclaim themselves punk. Maybe it’s the extra bass. What I love most about Ned’s is that they do what they do without being just like everyone else: the guitar lines are power-driven without being the standard “power rock” lines, the drums are hard hitting without feeling like the drummer is coked out, and the lyrics are rebellious and strong without needing to be screamed or merciless. There’s a beauty here that belies the notion punk has to be ugly in order to be raw. For a taste of what I mean, check out “Kill Your Television”, “Less Than Useful”, “Grey Cell Green”, “Capital Letters”, and “What Gives My Son?”

Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes: This is the one I expect to get the most pushback (read: blast of shit) from my friends about, but I’m not going to qualify it in any way. The simple fact is, this is a great album, and as far as I’m concerned the Femmes never lived up to it ever again. They had a few songs I liked after this, but it was never the same or even close. That having been said, when you set the bar so high on your freshman effort, it really is near-impossible to live up to it on any subsequent try, although their drift to different sounds (notably in  country and deep alternative direction) didn’t help any either. All that having been said, it takes nothing away from the stripped down, severe beauty of this album, and if you haven’t taken the time to enjoy it in its entirety I strongly recommend doing so. Most of the songs on this album that are most worth listening to have become radio standards, so I’ll pick out the ones that tend not to get airtime that I think are worth extra attention: “Please Do Not Go”, “Prove My Love”, “To the Kill”, “Ugly”, and “Gimme the Car”.

Other posts you might like:

The Soundtrack of My Life: Y2K Bug

The Soundtrack of My Life: I Discover the Nineties

The Soundtrack of My Life: LOL Albums

Son of My Favorite Movies (That You’ve Never Seen)

About a week ago I was going through my Dad’s old movie collection, packaging it up and selling what I could, disposing of the rest. It made me realize something: my Dad and I had very different tastes in movies. Not that he had bad taste, mind you, just very different. James Bond, for instance. I like Bond films well enough, and I’ve seen all of them since Octopussy, but Dad had seen and loved all of them, and he had them all on DVD (and more than a few on VHS). As for John Wayne, he had more than a few collections, and he had most every John Wayne film ever made on DVD… all 169 of them. I never really understood his appreciation for John Wayne, but then I’m not sure he ever understood my appreciation for Tim Curry, so fair’s fair.

I had planned to talk about all the obscure movies that I found in Dad’s collection that I loved, but the truth is most of the ones we had in common were either well known (like Rocky II)  or I’ve already mentioned (like Excalibur). So I’ll take this opportunity to cover a couple I did find as well as a couple I think Dad would have liked.

The Name of the Rose (1986) – Based on the book of the same name by Umberto Eco, this film stars two of my favorite actors, Sean Connery and a young Christian Slater (somehow I only seem to like a young Christian Slater). It’s the story of a Franciscan monk and his apprentice who investigate a series of strange deaths at a monastery.  Call it a period mystery, if you will. I can’t really go into much more description without giving away lots of the plot, but the best part of this movie for me is the depth of characterization and world building. Apparently a lot of that derives from the source novel (which My Not So Humble Wife loves, although I’ve never personally read it), but the acting is top notch as well. While Connery drives the majority of the action, I want to give special attention to Ron Perlman as Salvatore; it’s a difficult role to play with empathy and he does it exceptionally well.

The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) – This was probably the first (and for a long time the only) western I ever really liked, let alone loved. I think this film gets a lot of grief for both deserved and undeserved reasons. There’s a certain amount of unrealistic expectations, in the same way that any iconic pop culture figure will have that any departure from established traditions will only exacerbate. That having been said, there’s also a certain amount of heavy-handedness: in the attempts to make the bad guys truly evil, to make Tonto more than a stereotype (and in the process making every other Native American in the film a bigger stereotype), and in the attempts to make John Reid into a larger-than-life hero. With all that having been said, I still believe this movie largely succeeds at being greater than its flaws, and if approached with an open mind and in the spirit of a western dime novel or “gritty remake” of an old radio show, it can be very appealing.

The Searchers (1956) – I had to watch this movie for a film class I took a few years ago, and I’m glad I did. After I finished, I immediately called my Dad and said, “Hey Dad, I take back everything I ever said about John Wayne. You were right.” He asked me what movie I watched, and when I told him, he wasn’t in the least surprised. “You started with the best.” The conversation went on from there, and we must have talked for an hour just about this movie and how amazing it is, and why. I could lay it all out for you here, but you should really just watch it for yourself. Not only does John Wayne give one of the most fantastic, nuanced performances I have ever seen, but the entire film is full of great performances, amazing visuals, and a stirring and poignant plot. If you only watch one western in your life, this should be it.

Cat Ballou (1965) – Now, if you’re going to watch two westerns in your life, may I make another suggestion? I remember watching this movie as a kid with my Dad and My Not So Humble Sister and it made no sense to me whatsoever. Why were people singing? In a western? (Bear in mind this film preceded Paint Your Wagon by about five years.) Isn’t that Nat King Cole? And I’m pretty sure that’s Jane Fonda. Wait, why is that gunslinger drunk? What in the world is going on here? That was basically my reaction to this movie the first five times I watched it. It took me a long time to realize (a) this was a comedy and (b) there was a plot, I just wasn’t following it. Once I got it all straight, I learned to stop worrying and just go with it, and it actually turned out to be a pretty funny little film. Not the greatest comedy or western ever but enjoyable, and Lee Marvin puts in an Oscar-winning performance, so it has that going for it. And hey, Nat King Cole.