That Old Familiar Song

What is it about bad television that feels comforting?  I put up my Christmas tree this weekend and while doing so, I popped in a Dark Shadows DVD.  I’d never seen Dark Shadows (it was a bit before my time) and after talking about the recent film adaptation, a co-worker lent me her DVD which is a compilation of fan favorite episodes.  I found them campy and kind of ridiculous, but at the same time, oddly comforting as something in the background while decorating my tree.  I’ve noticed this before.  When occupied in a mindless sort of way (folding the laundry, aimlessly perusing the internet, putting up or taking down decorations, etc.), old, crappy, vaguely familiar television or movies are best suited for background noise.

It must be something to do with nostalgia.  Even though I’d never seen Dark Shadows before, the general look and feel of the show (made and aired during the late ’60s/early ’70s) must have been enough.  Usually, I prefer reruns of Roseanne or Scrubs.  Friends will suffice.  As for movies, there are a few I find myself drawn to but almost anything I’ve already seen and loved will do.  For example, just this past weekend, I encountered Finding Nemo on Starz (I had a free weekend) and it sucked me in almost instantly.

Yesterday, the BBC mini-series Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle was on BBC America and again, I could not help myself.  Any of the Bourne movies, The Shawshank Redemption, Dances With Wolves, When Harry Met Sally…, Goodfellas – these are movies I’ve seen dozens of times and yet, if on television on a wintry afternoon, I will sit in a vegetative state on my couch and watch again.  Why are they so impossible to resist?

We are creatures of habit after all and as a rule, we tend to veer toward the familiar.  I suppose that’s all it is.  Like eating your favorite meal after an impossibly long day, these old, familiar TV shows and movies are “comfort” entertainment, reminding you of what you used to love.


I couldn’t possibly have said it any better and so, I won’t even try. Thanks, NRR, for getting it so perfectly right.


Netflix Russian Roulette

The Twilight Saga Catherine “I’m Actually a Real Filmmaker” Hardwicke (Dir.), Chris “You Killed The Golden Compass” Weitz (Dir.), David “30 Days of Suck” Slade (Dir.), Bill “Awkward Last Name” Condon (Dir.), Kristen “Lip-bite Extraordinaire” Stewart, Robert “Herp Derp” Pattinson, Taylor “The Alpaca” Lautner, Peter “Sickle Cell Anemia Affects Millions of People” Facinelli, Billy “The Stache” Burke, Ashley “Nosejob” Greene, Michael “FUCK YES” Sheen, Dakota “SPOILERS – She Gets Decapitated” Fanning, Anna “She Was Nominated for an Oscar, Seriously” Kendrick, etc., etc.

This, my friends, is the end of an era. It is a happy day. As the world is about to come to an end on December 21st, as the flood waters rise over Manhattan, as Twinkies go the way of heavily preserved dodos, The Twilight Saga puts its final, indelible, grotesque mark on the greater collective consciousness of a generation. What would have happened if the world…

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I’m the Baddest Man Alive

I dated a man in college who happened to be an enormous fan of the kung fu genre.  You know the films – Supercop, Mr. Nice Guy, Who Am I? – the kind of marital arts movies that combined the graphic violence with humor and emotion, that tried to add plot amidst the fighting.  Before I’d met that guy, I hadn’t seen Jackie Chan in anything other than Rush Hour.  If it hadn’t been for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I’d have had no clue who Michelle Yeoh was.  But that relationship, while in itself not entirely worthwhile, gave me an appreciation for a genre of film I’d previously been ignorant of and in which I had little, if any, interest.  Even now, I have to admit I haven’t seen more than a few kung fu films made before the ’90s and I am by no means a connoisseur of the genre.  But I can recognize good from bad and for those of you who have interest, The Man With The Iron Fists is some wicked good fun.

It comes to us from Rza, the leader of the Wu Tang Clan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eli Roth, both directed and starred in it, and wrote the music for its soundtrack.  Yes, this film is a project near and dear to his heart and after watching the first few minutes alone, it is abundantly clear that Rza, unlike myself, harbors a deep and passionate love for this genre.  The attention to detail from the costumes to the set design, the weaponry and artfully choreographed fighting to all the bloody carnage, is testament to Rza’s lifelong love of a genre of film that has fallen out of style.  His flick, his dotingly cared-for baby, is nothing short of an homage.

Which isn’t to say that it’s perfect.  The plot revolves around a nameless blacksmith (Rza) who begrudgingly makes weapons for the Lion Clan, a band of violent offenders led by Gold Lion.  Gold Lion is murdered by his second-in-command, Silver Lion (Byron Mann), a remorseless, power-hungry brute after the cache of gold that has also drawn the attention of the local brothel’s Madame Blossom (Lucy Liu), the rivals Wolf Clan and Gemini Clan and a rogue British soldier, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe).  Rza’s blacksmith wants nothing more than to save enough money to flee the violent village with his love, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), one of Madame Blossom’s coveted girls.  Mann and Liu give fun, engaged performances but the real stand out here comes at the more than capable hands of Russell Crowe.  Crowe’s Jack Knife has an insatiable sexual appetite matched only by his appetite for destruction.  He is a joy to watch – seemingly having as much fun playing the role as you will watching him at it.  His witty dialogue is delivered with as much ease as his brutality towards his opponents, his confidence in the bedroom while delighting nearly all of Madame Blossom’s girls mirrors that which he displays while gutting his enemies.  I honestly can’t remember having seen Russell Crowe this mesmerizing to watch since 2000’s Gladiator.

At the complete opposite end of the acting spectrum, you’ll find Rza, who couldn’t muster one shred of emotion at any point during his performance.  His talents as a musician, writer and director far exceed any he may have as an actor.  His is the weakest performance in the film.  At times, it does take away from the story, giving moments that should be intensely emotional an empty, hollow feel impossible to ignore.  I couldn’t help but think that if a more capable actor had played Rza’s blacksmith, the film could have been much more than simply entertaining.

All in all, I recommend The Man With The Iron Fists.  It is a fast-paced, chaotic, delightfully violent film full of mayhem and whip-smart dialogue.  It may be a bit shallow, its attempts at the deeply emotional falling flat due mostly to Rza’s wooden performance, but otherwise enjoyable.  What it lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in the talent of the supporting cast, the killer soundtrack and the spectacular fighting.


If Daryl Dies… We Riot

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the kind of shit the mafia did (does)?  Read this article.  So, a few guys buy a bar (pizza place, diner, bowling alley, whatever) and decide to spend most of their time there working.  Except they don’t like working, they like drinking (or eating or bowling or whatever) and since it’s their bar, they drink for free.  Then they decide they should make more money so they give themselves raises.  What happens next?  They can’t afford to keep the bar going what with their inflated salaries and constant skimming off the top, so they go bankrupt.  But not before drinking every last bottle behind the bar and spending every last dime in the register.  Sound familiar?  Damn similar to a scene out of Goodfellas.  But also what apparently is now legal on Wall Street and has effectively ruined not just our economy but also contributed to the downfall of the economies of every major industrial player on earth.  When the f*ck did this kind of behavior become okay?  Maybe my Italian ancestors were just vastly ahead of their time.

Does anyone else find it offensive that they couldn’t get an actual American Indian to play Tonto, an American Indian, in the upcoming film The Lone Ranger?  Johnny Depp has been cast as Tonto and even though he claims to have American Indian blood in his veins (it is totally possible), he’s clearly predominantly Caucasian.  How is this any different than getting a white guy in black face to portray an African-American?

If you’re not watching season 3 of The Walking Dead, you are MISSING OUT.  I’m actually kind of glad Merle is back, even though he’s a maniacal tool, and I’m so happy Rick’s balls have finally dropped.  Even better, Lori has died, leaving us with the achingly adorable image of Daryl holding a swaddled infant.  I don’t think it’s possible for me to love Daryl any more.  And, apparently, I’m not the only one.

And, finally, tomorrow is the ultimate foodie’s holiday, so I’ll leave you with this link from our favorite Cleveland cook.



Yours Are The Sweetest Eyes I’ve Ever Seen

People magazine recently named Channing Tatum as the Sexiest Man Alive and, while he obviously takes very good care of himself, I must admit he just doesn’t do anything for me.  Appearance matters, of course, but just as much (if not more), substance is what makes a man sexy (to women).  By which I mean, his sense of humor, his I.Q., his ability to listen and communicate, his wit and integrity of character – these are the things that draw a woman’s attention.

Charming Potato is by no means unattractive but he seems little more than your average jock.  A beefcake, if ever I saw one.  Here are 8 actors every bit as good-looking and infinitely more interesting than Channing Tatum:

Ewan McGregor

Idris Elba

Joseph Gordon Levitt

James McAvoy

Michael Fassbender

Jesse Williams

Tom Hardy

Chris Hemsworth


Ah, Look At All The Lonely People

Imagine an asteroid were headed straight for Earth.  The folks at NASA say there’s nothing to be done, no defense to mount, no alternate path to take.  It will take roughly three weeks to get here but do not doubt: it will hit the earth and not one single organism will survive.  What images come to your mind?  What does your life and the lives of everyone around you look like then?

Being the cynic that I am, I don’t believe that the general public would be informed if an asteroid were aimed at the earth.  The powers that be would do everything to keep this knowledge from us in order to prevent mass chaos and anarchy.  Because if they did share such news, of course everyone would stop going to work and within weeks or maybe even days the well-oiled machine that keeps electricity burning, gas pumping and grocery stores stocked with unspoiled food would come to a screeching halt.  The police force and fire department would sit empty and crime of every sort would spike.  At least, that’s the hideous image that forms in my head.  Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World paints a different picture, a much less horrifying (though still grim) but also somehow believable picture.  With only three weeks left of life on earth, some people turn to violence and crime, rioting and looting, but mostly, people just want to spend their remaining time with those they love, whomever that may be.  Some seek out old flames, others fight to get home to their families, some just want to get laid or have a good time, which sounds more optimistic than the movie feels.  It’s sweet and often charming but not so much that it feels like a fairy tale.  It never loses the ring of doomed truth that keeps it believable.

The movie’s pace is quite slow, at times too slow, but lead actors Keira Knightley and Steve Carell give performances so sincere, so artfully authentic, you find yourself sticking through the slow times just to find out what happens to these people.  These two are the reason this flick works.  Less talented actors easily could have kept the audience from connecting with and investing in the characters, thereby ruining the whole thing.  Because if you don’t care what happens to Dodge (Carell) and Penny (Knightley), you won’t watch it through to the end.  These two characters are it – there are no subplots circling them, no cool CGI to dazzle you, no plot interesting or developed enough that you’ll stick around regardless of two crappy main characters.  Nope, if you begin Seeking A Friend… and feel at all compelled to see it through, it’s because Steve Carell and Keira Knightley are two damned fine actors.  Which isn’t to say that the plot is no good or that the dialogue is terrible (it isn’t), it’s just that the premise goes nowhere without the characters of Dodge and Penny.  They are the glue.  And without a couple of actors skilled enough to really sell it, the whole thing would fall apart.

Fortunately, it doesn’t fall apart.  It creeps along, brings together these two neighbors who’d never before paid each other any mind (Dodge and Penny) and very slowly, organically, dreamily, a relationship blossoms and blooms, all within the last couple of weeks on Earth.  There isn’t much else to say because that literally is the entire plot.  It sounds simple and bleak but, while there are heavy themes and some dark moments, it’s actually a surprisingly darling little film, one that leaves you pleasantly sad.  A slightly bitter, mostly sweet end to a story about finding love at the end of the world.


Zombie Fever

If I had to guess at the exact moment I warmed to the whole zombie apocalypse craze sweeping pop culture, I’d say it was immediately after (or maybe during) I’d watched the film 28 Days Later.  Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris brought depth and dimension to a genre that had previously stuck with one-note characters and Danny Boyle (as usual) unraveled a story that was – at once – about that which elevates humans from the animal kingdom as well as the more savage instincts of man.  Now, the genre has gone pretty much everywhere it has to go.  I’m not saying I’m sick of it, I’m merely observing that there isn’t much more room for growth for the zombie genre.

That is, I did feel that way until I saw the trailer for Warm Bodies.  Check this out:

A romantic comedy about humans turning into zombies then becoming human again (brought on by love, no less)?  Yeah, didn’t see that one coming.  But it looks good.

Allow me also to share with you a trailer for a more serious zombie flick starring Brad Pitt that’s based on a successful novel by Max Brooks.  Word on the street is, World War Z appears to veer quite a bit from the novel of the same name, which isn’t a singular narrative but more like a collection of short stories about separate individuals around the globe, all dealing with the zombie apocalypse.  A global approach has never before been attempted and maybe it isn’t here, either, if the film is simply a loose adaptation.  It does look interesting, though, and the imagery involving swarms of what I assume are zombies climbing walls like insects made a shiver run over my skin.

What’s your favorite zombie movie?