Monday, March 30, 2009

The Wrestler

I've always been a fan of professional wrestling. A mark for it, if you want to know the truth. Ask me to name the Top 5 most important memories from my childhood, and somewhere in that mix will be a professional wrestling moment.

One of the most enjoyable TV shows from my youth was WOAY TV's Saturday Night Wrestling. Hosted by Shirley Love (now a state legislator, but then a TV news anchor and personality), the show mixed local flavor with well-known wrestlers to produce a great weekly event. At half-time, Love talked live, one-on-one, with fans; it was always exciting to see if I knew anyone in the audience.

It wasn't the in-ring action I loved, but the kayfabe aspect of the biz. The mythology surrounding the wrestlers, and the story they told in their work. It was the interviews and the carny-like travel that interested me more than headlocks and armbars. One night I rushed to ring-side to retrieve the foreign object discarded by a heel. The wrestler used it to gouge the eyes of the babyface, then threw the weapon out of the ring so the referee couldn't see it. I ran to get it like it was the holy grail.

It was a piece of Styrofoam. I wanted to say: I know it's fake, but at least try to make me think it's real. After all, a carnival is only as good as the barker makes you think it is.

That's sort of how I felt about The Wrestler.

Mickey Rourke is very good as Randy "The Ram," a former big-time money maker who can't let go of his glory days, even if the cost to him is high. The movie gets the wrestling right, with its locker room camaraderie and the protection of kayfabe. There's a great soundtrack with kick-ass 80s hair bands, and a supporting cast of real life wrestlers with interesting gimmicks.

And have I mentioned the often naked Marisa Tomei?

I wanna cry for The Ram, but I can't. He's a selfish prick who cares more about evening out his spray-on tan than he does hanging out with his daughter. He's willing to bump hard and work stiff for the show, but he can't handle the pressure of a typical workday.

But something is missing from this flick. It's just a little something, and it's a something that's hard to articulate. There's just no getting to know the real Randy "The Ram," because he's become too much a stereotype. A character, and a caricature.

The Wrestler looks good, and it's exciting to watch. But when it's over, somehow, it feels a bit disappointing.

Like a shiv made out of Styrofoam.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Grape Nuts Says I'm A Sissy

Grape Nuts cereal, a favorite of mine since I was a teen, just called me out as a sissy.


In a new advertising campaign aimed at men, Grape Nuts tells viewers who visit the ad web site:

"When you tackle something tough at work or at home, that doesn't just take know-how -- that takes Grape Nuts."

Also on the web site is a "Guy's Manual," which gives tips on how to restore vintage cars. Even their new print ads are testosterone-charged: several will feature men fishing and golfing which, I presume, the makers of the cereal believe are general acts of manliness.

According to Grape Nuts, then, I'm a sissy.

After a bowl of the crunchy stuff--fully soaked in milk for proper chewing consistancy--I'm more likley to head to the comic shop than to the river to fish. What I know about vintage cars fits into a discussion about which Batmobile style was most useful to Batman. And the number of blogposts I've written about movies, comic books and Oprah far outweigh the number of golfballs I've sliced in my lifetime.

So, I'm reminded again--by my favorite cereal, no less--that I'm not very manly. That's just nuts.

Pass the milk.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Joke Must Be Lost On Me

I'm all about a good comedy, and love Will Ferrell flicks. But, was I the only kid who thought the best Saturday show of the 70s--Land Of The Lost--was supposed to be in the "scary adventure" genre?

Cheesy, sure. But not a comedy.

Like this:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Race To Witch Mountain

The title of this remake of the nearly-classic Escape To Witch Mountain gives it all away.


There is very little of the 1975 original in this modern version. Sure, there is a tip of the hat to Eddie Albert's character, Jason, and some funny gags for UFO nerds like me: there's a Dr. Friedman (named for a famous UFOogist), a thinly veiled mocking of conspiracy-king David Icke and Whitley Strieber has a cameo. Even the actors who played the young siblings in the original flick each have small roles in the new movie.

But trust me: none of the gimmicks make this movie watchable.

I feared I hated the movie because of my love for the original. The longer I think of it, it's just not true. Sure, there are things I enjoyed about the original that I missed in the new version: things like a plot, solid story-telling, reasonably good acting, dramatic moments, an unfolding explanation of the kids' powers and where they were from. Call me old fashioned, but those elements made for a fine movie-going experience.

Race To Witch Mountain starts and stays fast paced, uses tons of pyro and follows illogical plot-lines. (Sure, I can accept a couple of alien kids with powers, but a pre-built underworld below a Nevada mining shack?!?) But there's no substance to be found: nothing to make you connect with any of the characters, and nothing to help carry the suspense. Race invites an audience to the theater to watch it move fast and blow things up, and forgot about being entertaining.

This movie is a disaster from the beginning to end.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Flashback! Bad Movies That Haunt Me: Howard The Duck

The air was chilly and rain was frequent during that hunting season in 1979, especially near the top of Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Camping with my father and grandfather was fun, but I didn't mind staying in the camper.

Warm, and dry.

It helped that the local grocer down the mountain had a stash of Howard The Duck comic books to keep me entertained. I really liked the Howard title.

"Trapped in a world he never made."

(Just like me, and every other 14 year old in the world.)

It was those memories that made me excited to see the film adaptation of Howard a few years later, in the mid-80s.

The movie poster was prophetic: it really did lay an egg. And it really, still, haunts me!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married has a terrific pedigree: directed by Jonathan Demme and starring a really talented cast (including tour de force performances by Anne Hathaway as Kym, and Rosemary DeWitt as Rachel) the film is shot in the raw style of a documentary that lends itself to intense intimacy while still following a central narrative.

Released for the weekend from a substance rehabilitation facility to attend her sister Rachel's wedding, Kym finds reconnecting with her family more than a challenge. After suffering a traumatic event several years earlier, the family lives a dysfunctional existence while pretending otherwise. Scratch through that surface of normalcy, however, and the problems are more than evident. Kym, with her substance abuse and selfish perspective, does a whole lot of scratching.

Rachel Getting Married has all the elements of a great movie, the sort of movie I'd typically enjoy. The acting is surprisingly great, especially the work of Anne Hathaway. (Debra Winger, in a small role as Kym and Rachel's mother, is terrific, too). The story is intense, and the manner in which it is told is inventive.

But, I hated this movie.

It just felt too real. Watching the movie was difficult, because it felt as if I was peering in the windows of my next-door neighbor. While I like intimacy and realism in movies, Rachel Getting Married may be an example of too real, too much.

At least for me.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Let's Be Careful Out There

Friday the 13th!

Note(s) to self: Stay (1) off high buildings, (2) out of crosswalks on streets where Jackie is driving and (3) no gun cleaning today.

There's such a fear about this day, you'd think someone wouldda made a movie about it already.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sad Pumpkin

The last time I was at Jackie Lantern's house I drank all his beer, then beat him at a game of darts.

On his own board!

This picture was taken a few minutes after I left, and just before he kicked me off his blogroll.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Several years ago, sometime in the early 90s as I recall, the woman news anchor on one of my local TV stations had her first child. After a brief maternity leave the newscaster returned with a bright, new focus: stories on motherhood, and raising children. A whole lotta them during the next few years. Stories that focused on working mothers, the high cost of day care, pediatric medicine, creating playgroups, etc.

The news-person had an epiphany, and felt compelled to share with us her insight. Not only did she see the world in a new light, she seemed to feel obligated, as someone newly enlightened, to spread the knowledge.

Bill Maher reminds me of that news anchor. And Religulous,
his movie about the absurdity of religion, reminds me of the stories the newswoman did on motherhood. Ad nauseum.

I'm an atheist, Bill. I get it. The talking snake from the Garden of Eden story is a goofy fable that many people accept as fact. In religious texts, God comes across as petty and jealous; if God really does exist and there are no other gods, there is no need for these feelings to occur. Humankind has created religious systems to satisfy our own needs, and justify our actions. As long as religion plays a significant role in political decisions, real progress across the world will be thwarted.

It's like Maher produced his movie from the index of The Atheist Handbook. His take is obvious, and repetitive. He's had an insight on the subject, and can't figure out why most of the world still hasn't.

There have been, and still are, periods of time I dwell on faith and religion. I'm a long-time atheist who would rather not be. I value spirituality, and consider myself spiritual even without faith in a supernatural being. Somewhere along the way (and I think it was while eating a couple hot dogs and having a root beer), I came to some peace over what appears to be a contradiction. Being spiritual is an individual perspective, based mostly in one's thoughtful action in the world. It matters little to me if there is or is not a God; what matters to me is having a positive connection to my community, and being respectful of the beliefs held by others.

That's what Maher is missing in this documentary: while his usual shtick is toned down for the flick (he only taunts country folks a couple of times) he has no real respect or appreciation for the beliefs of others. Beliefs that are, sometimes, thousands of years old and ingrained in cultures. Although Maher insists one of the main reasons he made Religulous was to explore his own doubt, his actions speak otherwise. His real motivation seems to beat the dead horse that is religious fundamentalism in a way that mocks not only the belief, but the person holding the belief.

That's not the way to learn from the experience of others. Maher is practicing exactly what he is preaching against: intolerance.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

But for grace, that's me.
Segway, awkward stares, mace and

Saturday, March 07, 2009


Watchmen may be the film I've been most eager to see.


The comic limited series (I'm hesitant to call the later bound version a "graphic novel," as binding several issues together into a single book isn't really a graphic novel, it's a re-issue) was entertaining and thought provoking, unlike anything I'd ever read in the medium. I loved how writer Alan Moore based Watchmen characters on those found in old Charlton comics, then created an entirely new mythology around them. The multi-panel page layout used by artist Dave Gibbons was revolutionary, and provided a means through which the art could be used to provide subtle, yet vital, aspects of the story.

The Watchmen limited series helped transform comic books into respectable reading within non-geek crowds with its complex plot, inventive narrative and all-too-human characters.

So, yeah. I anticipated the movie like a real fanboy. With crossed fingers, and prepared arguments for the inevitable critic who hated the film.

"You just don't get it, you have to read the comic."

"The story is complex, and hard to transfer to film."

"Dude, they're human, they're not supposed to have super powers."

Thankfully, I didn't have to use any of the excuses. Watchmen, directed by Zack Snyder, delivers.

Set in an alternate America in the mid-80s, Watchmen tells the story of a group of former heroes who, while investigating the murder of a colleague, stumble upon a plot to kill millions of people worldwide in order to unite humanity behind a common cause. The plot is complicated and veers a bit off the path of the comic-based story, but is used effectively in the film.

The story integrates each character's origin well, and is visually stunning. Snyder's film stays mostly true to Moore's story, almost to the point of being an homage. The acting of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who played The Comedian, was especially good.

The plot is simply a means through which we get to know intimately (pun intended, for those who know Dr. Manhattan usually wears no pants) the main characters, most of whom are very much human. Humans who are sometimes selfish, petty and fearful, yet still have the capacity for putting themselves in danger in order to save others. Nite Owl, Rorschach and Laurie Jupiter represent every man and woman: people who struggle mightily with fear and hopelessness, but recognize that action must be taken in order to have some control in our lives.

Watchmen explores the existential themes we tend to ignore when life is going smoothly, and dwell on during times of hardship: fatalism, religion, sacrifice and love. That the characters faced with these dilemmas fight crime and have unbelievable abilities in the martial arts is irrelevant; those characters on that screen are you and me.

The difference is, you and I aren't wearing spandex and capes.

I watched the film with my good friend AllClick, who is also a Watchmen comic fan, which made the experience even more enjoyable. But I thought Watchmen was so good, I'm going to see it for a second time this weekend.

That's my highest compliment.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Comedian's look was inspired by Magnum P.I., Hill Street Blues' Phil Esterhaus, Burt Reynolds and G.Gordon Liddy.

The anti-hero, who's death set the tone for Watchmen, would've been proud to live in George Bush's America.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

What I'd Look Like In Super-Hero Tights

Hell, who am I kidding?

Pudgy Dan Dreiberg, the second generation Nite Owl, still looks better in spandex than I would. Like Dreiberg, though, I'm reluctant to participate until I find my purpose.

But once I do...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Big Blue Guy Goes Commando

When I first read Watchmen in my early 20s, I read Dr. Manhattan as simply the blue-skinned naked guy, and the only character in the series with true super-powers.

He was interesting, but only that.

Later, in my mid-thirties, I picked up the bound collection and read the series again. I was astounded when I realized that Dr. Manhattan was (or could be interpreted as) a metaphor for God. At least the way I viewed God at the time: all-powerful, yet challenged in his ability to relate to humans; able to solve problems with a gesture, but absent when needed most by others; all-knowing, but oddly restrained.

It took some life experience for me to see it.

I never cared for heroes--or gods-- who refuse to embrace the awesome responsibility brought about by incredible ability.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

My Favorite Watchman

One of the most interesting, genuine characters in comics. Rorschach's back-story and his dogged determination are major reasons Watchmen is listed as one of the top works of 20th century literature.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Prom Night

Mrs. Film Geek continues her search for a satisfying horror/slasher flick.


Body Count: 12

Time Of Suspense: 1.75 minutes

Actors With Talent: 0

Non-Sensical Subplots: 3

Predictability Factor: 100%

Enjoyment Factor: I liked 1 song in the soundtrack