March 27, 2014

The Last Half Hour Of OVER THE TOP Is My New Favorite Movie

"This is a double elimination competition!"
My love of all things Stallone is boundless and Over The Top was the last of his really goofy 80's movies that had somehow slipped through my fingers.  I dipped into this pool earlier in the year with the incredible Cobra, which is pretty much pure, uncut Stallone action badassery.  But Over The Top is a different beast entirely.  I was having dinner with my friends Lucy and Jason one night and when I mentioned that I still hadn't seem Stallone's arm wrestling opus, well, the debate as to what we should watch that night came to an abrupt halt.

I'll admit that at first, I was utterly confused as to why this particular movie would be fondly remembered by anyone.  Stallone plays a truck driver who reunites with the rich, spoiled son he's never met and takes him on a road trip in his big rig to see the boy's mother who's suffering from some ill-defined heart ailment, but just as father and son begin to bond over the sublime art of arm wrestling, the boy's mother dies suddenly dies and there's a custody argument between Stallone and the kid's wealthy grandfather played by Robert Loggia and SNOOOOOOOOORE.

Sure, there's great 80's music from Giorgio Moroder and plenty of unintentional comedy to found, like the fact that nobody, including the screenwriter, seems to know if Stallone's character is named Hawk or Hawks.  (He identifies himself as both throughout the film, and it's never clear that one is a nickname.)  And that kid...yikes.  This goes on for a full hour.  Then, just when I was starting to lament the serious lack of arm wrestling in this arm wrestling movie, Stallone finally drives into Vegas for the International Arm Wrestling Championship.

That's when things get AMAZING.

Holy shit you guys.  The last 30 minutes of this movie are so incredibly, well, OVER THE TOP, that I simply can't describe it to you.  There are no words to express this level of crazy.  The finalists are all introduced via reality TV-style interviews straight to camera.  Each one looks like a cartoon character and behaves accordingly.  Seriously, one guy is named Mad Dog and chugs a bottle of motor oil right before competing.  The tournament is staged with a level of pomp and fervor that makes Rocky look like a junior high wrestling match.  And in case you're ever unclear on the rules of the competition, the tournament announcer repeats them no less than a dozen times.  It's utterly astounding.  The only thing missing is the moment when Stallone literally snaps his final opponent's arm in two pieces and I honestly still can't believe they didn't go there.  The disparity between the first 60 minutes and the last 30 minutes is so intense that while I plan on buying this movie immediately, (it's also streaming on Amazon!) I have no plans to watch the first hour ever again.  I will, however, watch the last half hour on a loop for all eternity.

Also, Jason put forth the theory that Stallone's Lincoln Hawk(s) is secretly gay, and once he said it out loud I instantly knew that there could be no other proper reading of that character.  He left his wife and son under mysterious circumstances, his rich father-in-law does not approve of his lifestyle, and he has no love interest in the movie.

Besides, just look at that shirt!

Title: Over The Top
Director: Manahem Golan
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Robert Loggia, Susan Blakely, Rick Zumwalt, David Mendenhall
Year Of Release: 1987
Viewing Method: DVD

March 26, 2014

Podcast Episode 10: I'll Be Staying Indefinitely At THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

"There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity."
With his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, writer/director Wes Anderson has retreated almost entirely up his own asshole.  But it's a perfectly symmetrical asshole that's been hand painted the most delicate shade of pink, complete with embossed signs of intricate caligraphy leading you to a ludicrously charming realm of paper-puppetry and miniature delights.

So I guess that's cool.

I honestly can't blame you if you've written Anderson off entirely at this point.  He's a man whose films have become entirely consumed by his unique cinematic style and if that particular style no longer appeals to you (or, if you're a philistine, it never appealed to you) then that presents a pretty significant hurdle when trying to engage with Anderson's work.  It just so happens that I still adore the auteur's singular vision, so a new Wes Anderson movie is pretty much Christmas morning for me.  I'd certainly agree that his earlier films like Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums have a bit more in the way of substance, but Grand Budapest has so many incredible moving pieces churning and swirling around each other at any given moment that it's hard not to at least be entertained.  Still, Anderson's movies have always had a strong emotional core that fuels all the precocious absurdity floating upon the surface and that core feels notably absent here.  Anderson hasn't quite broached the barrier of "all sizzle, no steak," but with The Grand Budapest he gets dangerously close.

Episode 10 of the podcast features our first attempt at including a remote guest in the form of my good friend and Anderson superfan Jared Watterworth.  I'm still tweaking the technical methodology here, but I think Jared sounds remarkably good considering we captured his audio by Skyping him on my iPad and propping it up next to the microphone.  We chat about The Grand Budapest and its place within Anderson's full body of work before delving into the death of James Rebhorn, a possible X-Men/Fantastic Four crossover film, and whether or not Ghostbusters 3 is anything but a bad idea.  In the process we accidentally invent a couple of imaginary yet awesome sounding films.  My favorite is Conan The Barbarian directed by Milos Forman.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or on Soundcloud, depending upon your preferred method of podcast delivery.  I'm going out of town this weekend to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan on Broadway, so there may or may not be a podcast next week.  But we'll DEFINITELY be back to talk about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, so get excited about that.  I certainly am.

March 21, 2014

LUST FOR LOVE: Kickstartering Joss Whedon's B-Team

"You need attitude.  Edge.  And a hell of a lot more confidence."
I like Kickstarter.  In the past three years I've backed a total of 19 different projects including about a dozen films, two albums, a web series, a music video and two different movie theater fundraisers/restorations.  It's a great opportunity for independent filmmakers to not only raise the funds for a passion project, but also to directly build and engage a fanbase by fostering a sense of personal involvement.  People take pride in the projects they back, just ask any Veronica Mars fan.

Mars is the cautious success story; Rob Thomas was able to mobilize the show's fan base to shatter almost every fundraising record in the history of Kickstarter on his way to raising a staggering $5 million dollars to fund the big screen adaptation of his cult TV show, but since most of those backers received a digital copy of the film on opening day for their troubles, it remains to be seen exactly how all that fundraising success will translate into tangible box office dollars.  (The film has made a total of about $2.2 million which isn't bad considering it's only playing in 291 theaters.  The studio has not released any VOD or digital copy sales numbers.)

But Veronica Mars is also a pretty atypical model in terms of film Kickstarters, in that it was an adaptation of a TV series with a pre-established and rabid fanbase.  There are other popular creatives like Dan Harmon and Spike Lee who have found crowdfunding success because people want to support their favorite artists, even if the final product is kind of niche and doesn't make much in the way of profit.  Mars is also unique in that it's a relatively low-budget affair - it'd be much harder to use Kickstarter to bring back a beloved property on the scale of, say, Firefly because you'd never raise enough money for something that effects heavy.  You can make the argument that a popular crowdfunding campaign demonstrates viability and audience desire to a hesitant studio, but even Veronica Mars only had 91,585 backers and if a studio is gonna spend serious money, then ideally they want a bigger guaranteed audience.

Plenty of people are ready and willing to hate on Zach Braff for using Kickstarter over traditional funding simply because money from those financiers comes with strings and he wants to make the movie on his own terms.  As an artist, that's not a totally invalid wish or argument, but on the other hand just about every film ever made has been executed with those same strings attached and sometimes compromise can breed inspiration.  There's a larger argument to be had about profit sharing and whatnot, but Braff isn't making an independent dramedy just for the money and getting your funding in smaller increments from a few thousand people as opposed to a handful of guys with deep pockets doesn't feel any less valid just because it's a new idea.  Besides, if Braff is able to attract new users to the Kickstarter platform who then go on to help fund other projects, then obviously that's better for everyone in the long run.  I actually think the most interesting use of Kickstarter is with projects like Obvious Child or Kung Fury, where a film is already shot but needs additional support for post-production, basic marketing, and festival submissions in order to secure distribution.  That's the part of filmmaking that's largely overlooked by the public but is no less crucial then getting cameras and actors on set.  Either way, I like the idea of pitching in to help smaller scale projects and if I can support artists like Jenny Slate or Emily Hagins in the process, all the better.

The very first project I ever backed was Lust For Love, a romantic comedy mostly consisting of supporting cast members from Joss Whedon's short-lived series Dollhouse including Fran Kranz, Dichen Lachman, Enver Gjokaj and Miracle Laurie.  Kranz was one of my favorite parts of Dollhouse (I'm a total sucker for Topher-esque characters) and Dichen Lachman is someone I had a friendly professional relationship with in L.A. so I was pleased and excited to help give them a chance to showcase their talents with a passion project of their own.  The project went through a lengthy post-production process which delayed the arrival of the final product over a year from their estimated completion date, but I didn't mind waiting if it meant I'd get a better film in the end.  And while the production value is strong and the leads do an admirable job at engaging the audience, the script is a bit of a mess.  It starts out abruptly in the middle of the story, thus relying too much on a series of prolonged and oddly structured flashbacks that eventually start to undermine the action in the present.  The chemistry between Kranz and Lachman is strong, but the chemistry between Kranz and Beau Garrett as his ex-love is practically non-existent.  There are also a few narrative dead ends that feel like writer/director Anton King is just running in circles to pad out the running time.

But I don't really want to shit all over the film.  It's a slight but entertaining diversion filled with talent that I love, and King proves himself to be a more than capable director.  With a stronger script he could actually produce something pretty special, so even if this ends up becoming an uneven early step in a more successful career, it was certainly worth the $25 dollars I pledged to Kickstarter to help make it happen.

Who cares if the final film isn't Citizen Kane?  I still like feeling involved, and in the end I feel like that's what Kickstarter is all about.

Title: Lust For Love
Director: Anton King
Starring: Fran Kranz, Dichen Lachman, Beau Garrett, Enver Gjokaj, Karim Saleh, Miracle Laurie, Caitlin Stasey, Felicia Day
Year Of Release: 2014
Viewing Method: Digital Copy - TV

March 18, 2014

Podcast Episode 9: The Resurrection Of VERONICA MARS

"It actually does sit on a hellmouth."
I came to the Veronica Mars series fairly late in the game, speeding through the entire show on Jamie's DVDs a few years after it had gone off the air.  But like any good detective noir, once Veronica got her hooks into me, there was no going back.  When creator Rob Thomas launched his now infamous Kickstarter campaign to finally bring Neptune to the big screen, I was an early and vocal backer of the project, excited at the opportunity to catch up with all my favorite characters and see that enthralling world brought to life once more.

Exactly one year and one day after the start of that campaign , the film hit theaters and Jamie and I were there to see it.  I actually could have gone to the premiere at SXSW, but I promised the wife that I wouldn't see it without her.  Then we had tickets to a backers only screening the night before it opened, but Jamie's parent-teacher conferences forced us to give away our tickets and by the time we realized our scheduling mistake, the only tickets we could get for opening night required a lengthy (by Boston standards) drive to the only other theater in the area that was showing the film.  So after work on Friday we piled into the car and hauled ass to the north shore, where we pounded beers and Buffalo Wild Wings before running into the packed theater and grabbing seats in the bottom row.

We also brought Bart along for the ride and I was very curious to see how the film would play out for someone who knew absolutely NOTHING about Veronica Mars walking into the theater.  I knew that Thomas had essentially done a fan service movie, cramming in as many references and characters from the show as possible in order to please the folks who forked over their hard earned cash in order to get the movie made in the first place, but I hoped that perhaps the clever dialogue, crazy mystery, noir style and palpable chemistry would be enough to sustain a VM virgin's interest.

Apparently my hopes were a bit high.

Having now watched the film twice, Bart's totally right.  A lot of the really strong emotional beats, whether they be humorous or tragic, are predicated on the deeper love and understanding of the characters and their relationships that only comes with having been immersed in them for three television seasons.  Without all that, it's easy to feel like you're just constantly not in on the joke.  Not that the movie is hard to follow on its own merits, but it does probably fall a bit flat in some of the bigger moments.  The story functions fine, but Thomas tries to squeeze in so many peripheral characters that the integral ones don't make quite as big an impact if you're unfamiliar with them.  (The best example is pretty spoilery so I've relegated it to the footnote below.*)  It's a fair point and I hope we'll get a chance to see a sequel in which we can focus more on Veronica being a badass and less on making sure we catch up with Korny the pizza boy and his duct tape wallet business.

Bart, Jamie and I dig into all this and more in the ninth episode of our (now weekly!) podcast, along with some thoughts on the Man Of Steel/Captain America scheduling non-controversy as well as the latest casting rumors for Star Wars Episode VII.  Suffice it to say, we're all pretty nervous.

Don't forget to subscribe on iTunes or Soundcloud so you can get the latest episode delivered unto you automatically each week!  Next week we'll be talking about Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, so feel free to leave questions or comments below and we just might talk about them on the digital air.

*It's easy to see the tragedy in reformed biker bad boy Weevil getting shot while trying to help a stranded motorist, but it all plays very differently if you know who Celeste Kane is as well as Weevil's history with the Kane family, none of which is touched upon in the movie.

March 12, 2014

I Did Not Laugh At ANCHORMAN 2

"Why do we have to tell them what they need to hear?  Why can't we tell them what they want to hear?"
Halfway through my screening of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, a group of about five people stood up and wandered out of the theater.

I didn't blame them.

The writing was on the wall when we were almost ten full minutes into the movie and I had yet to actually laugh out loud.  That's pretty much the opposite of the first Anchorman, a film so overstuffed with jokes you have to literally stop and catch your breath.  Comedy sequels have a long legacy of sucking and I certainly didn't expect the latest chapter in the life of Ron Burgundy to surpass (or even really be on par with) the original, but I never thought that it would just be flat out unfunny.

Comedy sequels love to blatantly rehash gags from the first movie and there's plenty of that here, like Brian Fantana's epic condom collection standing in for his variety of exotic colognes, or Ferrell shouting out nonsensical exclamations approximately every 15 minutes because of that one time he shouted "Great Odin's raven!" and people laughed.  In fact, the funniest thing in the whole movie is unquestionably the redux of the original newscaster brawl, but that's comedy based solely on the random element of celebrity cameos, so I wouldn't exactly use that as a barometer of comedic quality.  No, the real problem lies in the film's new material, where something intangible and ephemeral just never quite coalesces.  Most surprisingly of all, Anchorman 2 is far more plot-driven than joke-driven.  The first film is pretty shaggy from a story perspective, but the comedy is so damn strong that you simply don't notice.  This time out there's a real focus on sending Burgundy on a long and detailed character journey and most of it is sadly uncompelling, to the point where the plot manages to drag down some of the jokes that actually sound really good on paper.  The guys smoking crack live on camera?   Brick getting romantically entangled with a deranged Kristen Wiig?  Blind Ron Burgundy nursing a baby shark back to health?  Sounds like comedy gold!  And yet, it all mysteriously falls flat.  The teaming of Carrell and Wiig in particular is actively terrible, so much so that I literally rolled my eyes whenever they came on screen together.  I love the concept that Burgundy and the News Team gave birth to all the very worst tendencies of today's horrid and useless 24 hour news cycle, but it never really pays off past demonstrating the industry's obvious stupidity.  It's all so frustrating that after a while it felt like I was watching some kind of second rate college comedy troupe who decided to write their own Anchorman sketch rather than develop some original characters.  Once that thought jumped into my head, the entire affair became infinitely more depressing.

I'll admit that some of my tepid reaction may have been driven by the audience or lack thereof.  I went to a 5 o'clock show on the Friday before Christmas in the heart of downtown Boston, and yet there were no more than 20 people in attendance.  Perhaps my timing was a bit off and I should have aimed for a later show; I imagine that in a packed house the movie might have played a bit better.  When the whole room is laughing, it's easy to get swept away in that energy and chuckle a little easier.  And yet any of my friends will attest that I'm in no way bashful about reacting in a theater.  I've certainly found myself screaming and howling with laughter in plenty of near-empty rooms, so it's not as if the crowd element is necessary in provoking the desired response.  I once went to an advanced screening of 40 Year Old Virgin the night before it hit theaters.  Strangely enough there were only about 9 people there, one of whom happened to be a coworker of mine.  I laughed so hard at that movie that when it was over, my coworker (who was sitting directly in front of me) immediately turned around and said, "I'm so glad you were here.  Hearing you laugh made that movie so much more fun to watch."  I therefore have to believe that my muted response to Anchorman 2 was driven by the film's genuine mediocrity, and not by a lack of other laughing voices in the dark.

When the first Anchorman hit DVD, the studio also put out a second movie comprised entirely of deleted scenes and storylines called Wake Up Ron Burgundy!  It was not very good.  The whole time I was watching it I kept thinking, "I can see why all this stuff was cut out."  Paramount has pulled a similar move this time, but in a different and much smarter way: they re-released a new cut of Anchorman 2 into theaters that keeps the story completely intact, but uses alternate versions of all the jokes.  It's also a few minutes longer and rated R instead of PG-13.  I'll admit that I'm mildly curious to see how that version plays out.  I have to assume that these are the B-jokes and I can't imagine that being edgier or raunchier will magically fix the whole movie, but maybe some of these 763 new jokes will actually make me laugh.  That'd be more than I can say for the theatrical cut.

Except for the brawl.  That shit was hilarious.

Title: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Meagan Good, Dylan Baker, James Marsden, Josh Lawson, Kristen Wiig, Greg Kinnear
Year Of Release: 2013
Viewing Method: Theatrical 4K - AMC Boston Common

March 11, 2014

Contemplating THE FUTURE Of Emotional Temporal Relativity

"We're in that moment.  The wrecking ball has already hit all of this, and this is just the moment before it all falls down."
Late in The Future, a film about two hipster-types who attempt to affect radical lifestyle changes in the 30 days before they adopt a cat, there's a moment where Jason (Hamish Linklater) freezes time. He and his girlfriend Sophie (Miranda July) are on the verge of a fight that will surely have disastrous consequences and, not wanting to face the music, Jason halts the temporal flow and engages in a prolonged philosophical argument with the moon while trying to face his looming future. 

This movie is precious.

But there is something about that scene and the relativity of time and how we experience it that I just haven't been able to shake. I still remember wandering around my high school the day I graduated and marveling at how fast four years had gone by. In a lot of ways, it still felt like I had been a new freshman only a moment ago, and yet here I was preparing to head off to college.  I remember thinking to myself, "This is what it feels like. The next four years are probably gonna pass even faster, so you better fucking enjoy them."  And I was right. College went by in the blink of an eye and ever since my life has been broken up into chunks that seem to end before they've even began.  Five years in LA went faster than I would have liked and now I've been back in Boston for just about four, which means it's about time for me to start exploring new residential opportunities. 

But a large part of that rapid passage of time seems to be dictated by my enjoyment of the situation. There's truth to the old adage that "time flies when you're having a good time."  My wedding day was an absolute blast and so of course the whole thing is a blur.  (Granted there was quite a bit of whiskey involved, but still.)  There are certain moments that you just want to live inside of forever, whether it be a fun party, a great first date, an exciting vacation or even just a really good meal. Of course these are the moments that quickly slip through our fingers while the moments we'd rather skip over entirely, like a bad breakup, a shitty job or the death of a loved one somehow manage to drag themselves out at an excruciating pace. 

Being the science nerd that I am, I can't help but consider Einstein.  The revelation that time is not a steady state and in fact passes faster or slower depending upon your position and relative movement in the universe is utterly fascinating to me. (Pretentious speculation incoming!)  Imagine if that somehow factored into our emotional perception of time?  What if increased dopamine and brain activity somehow managed to alter the rate at which we experience time passing, as if our bodies were vibrating at a slightly different speed than the others around us?  I understand that explanation is likely not physically possible, but then again scientists just discovered a new body part last year, so clearly our knowledge of human biology is far from complete.  Even if our temporal experience is not altered in a physical sense, surely it could be manipulated in a cognitive one?  If we could pin down some kind of discrete link between our physiological states and how we process the world around us, might we be able to specifically target those biological functions through a chemical means to, in effect, allow us to let time pass faster or slower in our minds?  It's a concept touched on in the most recent adaptation of Dredd, albeit in a surface way designed solely to create some admittedly stunning visuals. But what would be the psychological effects if we were able to linger within moments of pleasure or essentially bypass times of discomfort?  Pain and embarrassment sucks, but it's also an integral part of our mental development and personal growth.  I believe it was the great philosopher James T. Kirk who once said, "If we lose [pain and guilt] we lose ourselves.  I don't want my pain taken away.  I need my pain."  He also had the good sense to question why God would ever need a starship, so we should probably heed his wisdom on all things.


When Jason finally unfreezes time, he discovers that he wasn't quite as clever as he thought. Instead of picking up exactly where he left off in the temporal stream, Jason suddenly finds himself propelled days forward. Time has gone on without him and his attempt to thwart confrontation results in Jason missing out on a valuable part of his own life, including the chance to adopt that sweet little cat.  As much as we may wish differently, there are no shortcuts in this world and there are always consequences when you fuck with the fabric of the space-time continuum.   Sure, Sophie could have gone to pick up the cat from the shelter, but she was busy being chased by an oversized yellow t-shirt. 

Like I said, precious. 

Title: The Future
Director: Miranda July
Starring: Miranda July, Hamish Linklater,  David Warshofsky
Year Of Release: 2011
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant

March 06, 2014

Podcast Episode 8: The Shark Still Looks Totally Badass In JAWS

"It's only an island if you look at it from the water."
It's absurd, I know.

How is it possible that I could consider myself a film fan and yet somehow manage to go over 30 years without having seen Jaws?  In truth, I have no real good excuse.  Sure there was never a copy in my house growing up and it's not the kind of movie you really want to watch panned and scanned on TNT some Tuesday night.  And yeah, none of my roommates in college or L.A. ever owned it, so I've never really had it handy.  But as some point sheer sloth set in.  I certainly could have gotten it from Netflix at any time and, what's worse, it's one of Jamie's favorite movies.  That means it's literally been sitting on a shelf right within reach for the last four years.  That's simply inexcusable.  I dunno.  Maybe on some level I suspected that the film would end up disappointing me.

I needn't have worried.

Jaws is simply incredible, a sublime mix of popcorn entertainment and genuine human pathos.  Not only do I instantly want to watch it 50 more times, but I want to live with those characters.  In fact, I feel angry that I've deprived myself of all those missing years with Quint, Hooper and Brody.  I simply can't imagine how 15 year old Daley would have reacted to this movie.  And let's not forget about Bruce, that most formidable of shark adversaries.  I fully expect I'll spend the next ten viewings discovering all kinds of fun and fascinating new details.  I can't wait.

I watched the movie along with Bart, Jamie and my friend and self-professed Jaws fanatic Jeff Schwartz, who actually brought me a brand new Blu-ray of the film as an early birthday present.  We ordered delivery from the local Mexican joint, although my plans for culinary satisfaction was thwarted when my order of enchiladas was accidentally morphed into an order of ensaladas.  Otherwise it was a blast.  The four of us sat down immediately afterwards to record what I think is our best podcast episode yet.  I really loved the dynamic of having more voices in the conversation, so I hope we can continue to get some more guests for future recordings.

I'm off to South By Southwest tomorrow, but so I might not be able to turn out any more articles till next week, but I'll certainly be tweeting from @DaleyScreening and hopefully be able to report in on some fun new flicks.  In the meantime, don't forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and rate us.  Once I get home this is gonna become a weekly affair, so get ready.

Title: Jaws
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
Year Of Release: 1975
Viewing Method: Blu-ray

March 05, 2014

Final Screening Double Feature Extravaganza! Rocking The Brattle With ALIENS And The Incredible MIAMI CONNECTION

"My father!  I found my father!  Oh my god!"
It's a little after midnight and the Oscars have just ended.  I'm standing alone on my back deck, puffing on a year-old cigar and listening to the sounds of the last Blue Line train rumbling towards Logan airport.  After that, stillness.  I may have spent the night watching Hollywood stars celebrate the best their industry has to offer, (ironically enough, the majority of the presenters and entertainers either fumbled their lines or blew their cues) but for the first time in 366 days, I have not watched a movie today.  It feels weird.  I throw back the last of my Glenmorangie and look out at the night sky, trying to wrap my head around exactly what it is I've accomplished.  But mostly I can't stop thinking about the previous night's misadventures at the Brattle Theatre.

If you made it out for my Final Screening Double Feature, first let me say thank you.  I was completely blown away by the turnout not just in terms of sheer numbers, (and oh boy were there a lot of you!) but also in the quality of the crowd.  As often as I may bitch about terrible theater audiences spoiling a movies with their immature or inconsiderate behavior, there's really nothing quite like the thrill that you can only find by sitting in a dark room with a group of friends and strangers who are all on the same page and ready to properly engage with a film, whether that means screaming at a scary monster, clapping along with the music or laughing at every word that comes out of Bill Paxton's mouth.  There was a palpable energy in the room that elevated the night beyond the bounds of just watching movies.  You guys came ready to fucking party and I love you for it.

Let's rewind.  Like any good birthday celebration, I started out the day with a pile of pancakes.

Actually no, that's incorrect.  I woke up at 8:30 AM, took the dog for a walk, made Jamie a big pot of coffee and then put on Ridley Scott's Alien to kick things into gear.  It was only my second time watching the movie and Jamie had never seen it, so it seemed like the best way to prepare ourselves for the madness yet to come.  As soon as it ended, we hopped in the car for brunch with our friends Justin and Phaea and their adorable ginger son Harvey.  We feasted on eggs, ham and pancakes with homemade fruit compote before little Harvey woke from his nap and the two of us spent the next hour blowing bubbles and bouncing a large green Ninja Turtles ball around the kitchen.  The last time I saw Harvey was his first birthday and in the seven some-odd months since then the little guy has matured a lot.  He walks, he jumps, he even knows some sign language.  It's like he's a little person.  Crazy.

After brunch, Jamie and I grabbed my sister Cait and jumped on the train to Harvard Square.  It was still hours before I had to be at the Brattle, but I had a plan.  You see, my friend Heather had recently published her first novel and she commemorated her release day with a new tattoo.  I'd been itching for some new ink myself and had been tossing around ideas for a few weeks, mostly variations on film reels and old-timey projectors.  But then Harold Ramis died and I started revisiting the idea of getting the Ghostbusters logo.  After all, I had tried to show Ghostbusters on my big night instead of Aliens but was foiled when the studio wouldn't make the print available.  (It's the film's 30th anniversary and they recently issued a 4K-mastered Blu-ray, so I expect we'll see a new DCP in theaters later this year.)  Once Jamie informed me that, as a gift to celebrate finishing my project, she was getting me the upcoming Ecto-1 Lego set, my mind was made up.

Due to some train delays, we walked into Chameleon, a tattoo shop a few blocks from the Brattle in Harvard Square, with very little time to spare.  The kind folks there were able to squeeze me in without an appointment, but by the time we got started I was already supposed to be meeting friends at the bar downstairs for dinner and drinks before the show.  Fortunately it's not a very complicated tattoo so I knew it wouldn't take long to finish, but the timing was such that Jamie and Cait weren't able to hang with me and take pictures of the process.  But John the tattoo artist was totally awesome and we chatted about comic books and superhero movies while he adorned my right arm with the infamous "no-ghost" symbol.

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.  I've already got my next one all planned out.

I met up with everyone at the bar only to discover that the place was PACKED.  We quickly decided to change venues to somewhere a little more low-key, so we went around the corner to Tasty Burger.  I didn't even know they had a bar downstairs, but it was exactly what we needed.  I threw back a few porters, some onion rings and a BBQ cheeseburger before running down the street to the Brattle to make sure everything was in order.

I'm not gonna lie, I was legitimately afraid that the only people in attendance would by my limited handful of friends.  But when I walked into the theater a little after 6:30, there were already about 25 people in the audience and I only knew three of them.  By the time we kicked things off around 7:15, the theater was about 2/3 full.  I gave a brief introduction for myself and the project to those who didn't know who the hell I was, I thanked some of the people who helped make it all happen, then we dove into the night's entertainment.  I hand selected a few trailers to get us in the mood for each film, so before Aliens I warmed up the crowd with trailers for the original Robocop, the upcoming Jodorowsky's Dune and Joe Cornish's incredible Attack The Block.  Then it was time to head back to LV-426.  I don't need to sing the praises of Aliens (obviously it's outstanding), but I will say that I was truly impressed at just how well it played on the big screen to an energized crowd.  The reason I chose Aliens was simple; a little over a year ago I stumbled upon the Alien box set on Blu-ray for about $20.  I bought it instantly, despite the fact that I had only ever seen the fourth and most ridiculous of the series.  I had always thought of them more as horror movies than as sci-fi movies, despite the fact that the word "alien" was right there in the title.  I was happy to be proved wrong and by the time I'd finished watching James Cameron's sequel, I was pretty much flabbergasted.  It made me realize that there were a lot of classic films that I had deprived myself of out of sheer stubbornness and/or laziness.  It was time to change all that, and a few weeks later the idea for The Daley Screening was born.  I'd been looking forward to revisiting Aliens ever since and it absolutely did not disappoint.

Between films I changed out of my green Nostromo shirt and into my red sleeveless Dragon Sound shirt.  But before we could indulge in those sweet, synth-rock rhythms, it was time for the intermission entertainment.  I'd planned to have the current members of my college a cappella group Noteworthy perform a few tunes for the crowd, including their killer cover of the theme from Skyfall.  Unfortunately some scheduling issues meant that only a few of the singers could make it.  (That might sound frustrating, but it's a classic Noteworthy move that hearkens all the way back to the group's founding so on some level I was kind of expecting it.)  So instead of a cappella, we were treated to a lovely acoustic set of movie tunes, including "Man Of Constant Sorrow" from O Brother Where Art Thou?, 500 Miles from Inside Llewyn Davis and the aforementioned Skyfall.

After that came movie trivia hosted by yours truly, which I decided to truncate since we'd started late and I knew that some people had trains to catch at the end of the night.  Instead of bringing up five players I only brought up three and after five or six rounds we crowned contestant Jason the winner and gave him his choice of prizes.  He ultimately selected a plush Slimer doll, leaving second place winner Andrew to snag a Brattle Double Date pass and third place winner Dan to take home a Godfather Blu-ray box set, which is pretty fucking good for third place.

Then it was time for more trailers.  I knew it would be hard to match the pure bugfuck crazy of Miami Connection, so I went for a collection of clips designed to make the audience say, "Wait, did that really happen?"  First came one of my favorite things in all the internet, this Japanese fried chicken ad featuring an Asian Robocop and (inexplicably) the score from Back To The Future Park III.  Then the trailers for Cheap Thrills (now available on VOD!) and Tammy And The T-Rex, a 90's relic featuring young Denise Richards as a girl whose boyfriend (Paul Walker) is mauled by a lion and gets his brain transplanted into the body of a (possibly mechanical?) tyrannosaurus.  Last but not least was the trailer for The Visitor, a movie I watched twice this year and simply must be seen to be believed.  (It's now available on Blu-ray!  Get it direct from Drafthouse Films and it's about $5 cheaper than Amazon plus you'll get your digital download instantly.)

Finally, it was time for my very last screening and the one I'd been looking forward to ever since Day 1 of this project.  I'd heard such incredible ravings about Miami Connection that I'd purchased it sight unseen over a year ago and it had been sitting on my shelf taunting me ever since.  My original intention was to invite a few friends over to watch it along with copious amounts of alcohol, but I eventually realized that this was exactly the kind of movie that I wanted to watch for the first time with a the largest crowd possible.

Sometimes patience pays off.

If you're unfamiliar with Miami Connection, here's all you need to know.  The film is the brainchild of successful motivational speaker and taekwondo Grandmaster Y.K. Kim.  A Korean immigrant, Kim made it big in the eighties with a chain of taekwondo studios and then rolled his fortune into a series of seminars and home videos designed to teach poor schmucks how to get rich like Kim.  But he also had dreams of Hollywood stardom, so Kim invested millions of his own money financing a film which he wrote, co-directed and even starred in.  (Remember Mr Nishi and his vanity film "Taste The Golden Spray" from The Big Hit?  Yeah, it's kind of like that.)  The film premiered in 1987, when it played in a mere eight theaters in Florida, met with disastrous reviews and quickly faded into obscurity where it remained for the next 22 years.  But in 2009, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson found a 35mm print of the film on eBay.  He'd never seen or even heard of Miami Connection, but Carlson managed to grab it for a paltry $50 and, a few months later, started showing the film to midnight audiences at the Alamo.  Miami Connection quickly became a cult favorite of the local Austin crowds, so when the Alamo later formed the Drafthouse Films distribution label and decided to resuscitate old movies that hadn't seen the light of day in decades, Miami Connection was the first such film they resurrected.

It's hard to describe exactly what makes Miami Connection so special, although simply stating the premise does a lot of the heavy lifting: Mark and his friends are all orphans, roommates, taekwondo blackbelts, and at night they form the synth-rock supergroup Dragon Sound!  But not everyone can handle their impossibly catchy beats, and the guys are forced to contend with a rival band, their lead singer's possessive brother and his lackeys, plus a clan of drug-dealing motorcycle ninjas.  Actually, all three of those groups might be the same people, it's honestly hard to tell sometimes.  But it's more than just that a premise.  Maybe it's that Y.K. Kim seems barely able to speak English on camera.  (Seriously, this guy was a motivational speaker?)  Maybe it's that Dragon Sound is made up entirely of Kim's taekwondo students and none of them can act their way out of a paper bag.  Maybe it's the movie's tendency to suddenly stop and give us an extended yet highly unimpressive display of martial arts prowess or a long, repetitive musical performance edited with a startling lack of rhythm.  At one point they start doing taekwondo demonstrations WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY ROCKING OUT and I thought my head was going to explode from too much awesome.  Hell, maybe it's just the sleeveless t-shirts.

But I think the key to what makes Miami Connection so incredibly endearing lies in Maurice Smith.

Maurice plays Jim, Dragon Sound's keyboard player and only black member.  He's my favorite.  The guy is a beacon of positivity, and his smooth dance groove throughout all the musical numbers are nothing short of hypnotic.  He gets an odd sub-plot concerning his missing soldier father.  He's not actually out chasing down leads trying to find the man, he's just waiting to get a letter from the Defense Department with all the relevant information.  Don't worry if that sounds dull, because we still get to see Jim have a big, sobbing, emotional breakdown as he tells his friends about his tortured family history and the harrowing plight of waiting for the mail.  And then there's unbridled joy when the sacred letter finally arrives and Jim utters one of the best lines in the movie.  (I say "one of" because Miami Connection is preposterously quotable.)  Jim's discovery sets in motion the film's big finale, where Jim stumbles into mortal danger and, against all odds, you actually find yourself genuinely giving a shit.

Is Jim gonna make it?  IS HE??  WHY DO I SUDDENLY CARE?

Maurice Smith encapsulates the film's unflinching earnestness, and at the end of the day it's hard not to fall in love with that.  (Drafthouse even ran "For Your Consideration" ads to get Maurice a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  I would have voted for him.)  All of Dragon Sound's songs are about friendship, loyalty and honesty, and by that I mean they sing a song called "Friends" where they sing that list verbatim.  At one point the band even talks about going on a world tour to visit all the countries their families hail from and teaching people taekwondo while also spreading a new dimension in rock and roll.  It sounds like the kind of idea you come up with when you're 8 years old and have no concept of the world outside your own backyard.  There's a charming naivete to the whole thing that's downright adorable.

Also, a guy gets his head chopped off.  So there's something for everybody.

When the credits finally rolled on Miami Connection, I lept up onto the stage (after having already done so in the middle of the movie to dance along with "Against The Ninja") and thanked everyone for coming out.  I put out my leftover event posters and watched as they were all snatched up in under a minute.  A few people came up to chat with me about the movie and the site and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel like a bit of a rock star when it was all said and done.  My friends and I then retired to the Hong Kong for more drinks and some dancing.  It was a helluva night.

It seems fitting that, after a lazy day spent catching up on the contents of my DVR, the following night would wrap up the whole crazy adventure with the Academy Awards.  We made a pile of food and watched a show whose only real surprising aspect was how little anyone seemed to have rehearsed.  The more technical awards that Gravity won, the more I became convinced that 12 Years A Slave would take home Best Picture.  That feels right in a way; Gravity is a movie that rewrites the rules of filmmaking while 12 Years is not only incredibly well crafted, but also feels profoundly affecting on a human level.  The night's results may not seem mathematically fair, yet it still feels emotionally true.  I'm sad that Wolf Of Wall Street couldn't find a win anywhere and I'm happy that Spike Jonze was able to sneak in and grab an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, as I wanted Her to win all the awards.  But still, I have no real bone to pick with the Academy's choices this year.

And in the end I'm left alone on my porch, with my scotch and my cigar.

"Fuck," I whisper.

"What's next?"

Title: Miami Connection
Director: Richard Park, Y.K. Kim
Starring: Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch, Joseph Diamand, Maurice Smith, Angelo Janotti, Kathy Collier, William Ergle
Year Of Release: 1987
Viewing Method: Theatrical - Brattle Theatre

March 03, 2014


Holy shit, I made it.

Now that my one year deadline has come and gone, people have started asking me where I'll go from here.  It's something I've put a lot of thought into the past few months and I'd be lying if I said I didn't consider just keeping the train rolling indefinitely.  But then again, I'd also like to start watching Breaking Bad eventually.  Besides, I like the notion of bringing this project to a close and letting it stand as it's own independent entity.  Kind of like The Vatican.

First things first.  As any faithful reader of this site is aware, I may have watched a year's worth of movies, but I have not, in fact, written them all up yet.  As of this writing I've addressed about 215 of the 366 films I watched and I remain committed to the goal of giving each movie its due.  So there will continue to be a steady stream of reviews located right here over the course of the next several weeks.  Expect a brief gap in the short-term, as I'm heading to South By Southwest for the first time this Thursday.  If I'm lucky I'll be able to catch a few new films while I'm down there.

But what happens when I finally finish making up for lost time?  After a lot of careful consideration, I've decided to keep the site up and running while also expanding the scope of the content you'll find here.  There will still be reviews of new movies, along with thoughts on older flicks that I'm just getting around to watching and some revisits of films I haven't wached in years in an effort to determine if these movies are really as good or as terrible as I remember.  There'll also be a lot of short-form news stories regarding new movies in development, casting announcements, posters and trailers.  I may even recruit a few of my other writer friends to contribute some material.  (You know who you are.)

But the thing I'm most excited about is our podcast, which you can now subscribe to on iTunes right here.  Over the course of the year we've recorded eight episodes (the latest one is a doozy and will be up this week) and they are without question my favorite thing to come out of this whole bizarre endeavor.  In fact, Bart and I have enjoyed podcasting so much that our plan is to make it a weekly affair.  I really love the format we've developed, discussing a single film in detail and then branching out to discuss current news items or interesting movie related topics.  We'll likely start announcing each week's film in advance so listeners will have the chance to watch before listening and I definitely want to get some more guests involved.  If I get really ambitious, we may even start to experiment with recording in front of an audience.

But that's a little ways away and I've got plenty of work to keep me busy in the meantime.  I'm hoping that even though my year is up, you'll stick around and continue to discover informative and entertaining movie content as the site slowly evolves over the coming months.  I have no idea where we'll end up, but getting there is gonna be a helluva lot of fun.