Monthly Archives: September 2020

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Book Review – Pet Sematary

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 1983

As I make my way through King’s bibliography, I come to one that’s definitely a blind spot; Pet Sematary (and of course there are movies) is among King’s most widely-known works, for some reason I just missed it.  Maybe it’s subconscious, because I didn’t want to read a book about a good pet that came back bad, since I love animals so much.  And that’s ignoring that the same thing is gonna happen to a kid; I like pets better than people, let’s just put that out there.  But I’m catching up on this King staple now, and I’m so elated that I did; not only is it one of his best early books, it’s one of his best overall novels, a stunning achievement of supernatural and introspective that will keep you up at night not in fear but in reflection.

Dr. Louis Creed and his family move from Chicago to rural Maine, after he gets a new job as the head of a nearby university’s student health department.  Louis loves his family (his wife Rachel, his little girl Ellie, his toddler boy Gage) and would do anything to keep them happy.  When Ellie’s beloved cat Church is hit by a car on the busy road in front of their house, the Creed’s neighbor, a wonderful old local named Jud, gives Louis a chance to put that theory to the test.  Beyond a quaint pet cemetery in the hills lies a darker burial ground, where what you put into the earth comes back, but at a cost.  When real tragedy strikes the family months later, Louis will turn to the graveyard again, this time risking his own damnation.

Stephen King calls this book the one that truly scares him the most, and I completely understand why.  It’s mildly frightening, in the horror genre way we’re used to from King, it has some supernatural elements, I could see how someone would be creeped out by it in many chapters.  But that’s not what he means, and that’s not exactly where you’ll feel the darkness.  Pet Sematary is one of King’s most shockingly depressing stories, a real look into death that will leave you pondering your own life and the lives of those around you.  He examines what dying means; the death of a pet, the death of the old, the death of the young.  It’s an exercise in self-torture, and that’s what’s really scary, what you’ll remember after to put the book down for the final time.  As a father of two kids myself, an elder girl and a younger boy, as a husband, as an animal-lover even, I felt this book very strongly in many different places of my heart, and it definitely affected me for days.  The way King describes Louis, with the best and worst ways a man can be exhibited throughout, with sex and career and family and friends and freedom and death on his mind, is so realistic and honest that it’s frightening; this is some of King’s absolute best writing.  Pet Sematary has been made into a movie two times, but they can’t capture what the novel can, the down-in-the-bones madness that can come from loss, and the difficulty in simply being alive, knowing that some day you won’t.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Monty Python’s The Holy Grail

Category : Movie Review

Director: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones

Starring: John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle

Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam

Year: 1975

For their second feature, the Monty Python crew chose so many new directions in which to pursue their ridiculous comedic goals, and basically they all worked.  First, two members of their team, The Terry’s, stepped up to be directors, and since they aren’t as involved in the acting as the other four, it was a decision that just made sense.  It was the directorial debut for both, and Gilliam would go on to become relatively famous for his bizarre movies, which often included Monty Python actors, so it all worked out.  Secondly, this was the group’s first real film, with a loose story instead of simply stringing along some skits, which worked brilliantly as well; the scenes make more sense as a series of jokes radiating from a central hub.  They did less drawings, more songs, and gave us what would become a cultural sensation, and eventually a cinematic icon; bravo, boys.

England shortly before 1000 AD was a dangerous place, full of violence, pestilence, ignorance, and random French soldiers who would insult you within an inch of your life.  Rising from the ashes of these terrible times was a lord chosen by God himself to be High King of all the Britons; Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon.  Arthur’s first task was to unite the greatest men of the realm to form the Round Table in Cameot, a cabinet of warrior-heroes who would be a shining beacon for the lowly people of the land.  But Camelot twas a silly place, so off they went on an adventure instead, to seek the Holy Grail and to use its divine power for the good of all mankind.  King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, Brave Sir Robin, and more, went their separate ways to find the Grail, finding danger and excitement instead, living or dying amid tales that would become the stuff of legends to this very day.

Taking on King Arthur & the Holy Grail and making that legend into a spoof seems a daunting task, but the Monty Python gang was up for the challenge.  Somehow they took real cultural myth, made fun of it, at the same time held it up, and came away with a hilarious take on something very important to English history; like I said, basically everything they changed from their first attempt at a real film worked wonderfully.  The characters are amazing, the sequences make sense, there are enough moments of complete frivolity, and somehow they were still able to capture the darkness of those uncertain times.  So many iconic moments come from this film: the swallows and the coconuts, bring out your dead, Boldly Brave Sir Robin, the insulting Frenchmen, the witch and the duck, Castle Anthrax, The Knights Who Say NI!, The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, the Gorge of Eternal Peril.  I could go on & on, it was awesome enough to create a stage version, which is awesome if you’re a fan of this film, and I could not possibly watch this movie enough; it’s fantastically funny every single time.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Python

Category : Movie Review

Director: Richard Clabaugh

Starring: Frayne Rosanoff, William Zabka, Dana Barron

Year: 2000

Have you ever thought to yourself, “What if they made Anaconda again, but worse”?  Well, you’re in luck; here’s Python.  There are a million and one dumb creature features that you could claim are the worst in their field, and any number of them involve snakes, bugs, bats, piranhas, spiders, roaches, you name it, but none are quite to specifically stupid as Python, a movie you really do have to see to believe.  At least it’s partly intentional, party a play of the style, a throwback even, and that’s all fine.  But there’s no denying that this film is also just plain insulting to the senses, regardless of intentions to be silly; silly is one thing, stupid is another.  Just listening to Johnny Rico try to do a Southern accent is enough to cause brain melt-age, and if that’s something I can help you avoid, I find it my duty to steer safely away from this movie.

The military just accidentally dropped a giant snake on an unsuspecting town; what loony mishaps will happen next, Uncle Sam?  Well, it’s even worst than it sounds, because this snake isn’t just big, it’s also smart and full of acid, and apparently wants to eat anything it can find, especially people who go off alone literally anywhere and women who are unlucky enough to be planning on having sex, who have just stopped having sex, or who just want a take a shower instead of having sex.  Maybe it’s the snake’s fault, maybe it’s not dealing well with its own coming-of-age, who knows, but the good people of this tiny hamlet better watch out, because a python is loose in their homes, and boy is it hungry.

Python is fun at first, but then it keeps going and you realize, “Oh wait, I actually have to watch an hour and a half more of this shit”.  It feels older than it is, it seems to take longer than it really does, and, other than a few funny moments that feel like throwbacks to the classic b-movie genre, the entire thing is complete garbage.  I mean, there’s blood&boobs, that’s something, it’s a creature feature, we know what to expect and they know what to deliver.  But my god is it delivered badly, spared, well, all expense.  The only real reason to watch, aside from its base entertainment value to anyone who happens to be high while viewing, is the cast, cause it’s a doozy, a who’s who of d-list celebrities from things you vaguely remember seeing before.  William Zabka from Karate Kid, Dana Barron from National Lampoon’s Vacation, Casper Van Dien from Starship Troopers, Keith Coogan from Adventures in Babysitting, Marc McClure from Superman, Robert Englund who was Freddy Kruger, Will Wheaton, Jenny McCarthy, Ed Lauter.  It’s insane, I’m telling you; stay away if you value your life.

My rating: ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Category : Movie Review

Director: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt

Starring: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant

Year: 2012

Welcome to another Aardman Animation adventure; you’re gonna love it.  Well, as long as you like your movies bonkers and British, because that’s what this company always highlights, wacky humor and wonderful English wit.  Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit, The Pirates, Shaun the Sheep, Early Man; it’s a stop motion extravaganza and we’re all invited.  It’s also a bit of a specific genre, something you’ll either sink into or you won’t, there’s not much room for lukewarm sentiment, so here’s hoping that this is your style.  It may not exactly be mine, though I do dig Laika, but I always enjoy sharing something that isn’t Disney with my kids, and, what’s more, they always appreciate it, so off we go across the pond.

The Pirate Captain (he is known by no other name), is not necessarily a very good pirate, but he is a good captain, so that’s worth something; his crew absolutely adores him.  But he wants to be seen as a dirty ol’ sea dog by the rest of the pirate community as well, especially at this year’s Pirate Awards, where he hope to win top prize.  You have to show that you’ve plundered a lot though, and he’s only plundered a little, but all is not lost.  Stumbling upon Charles Darwin (before he was famous), the Pirate Captain learns that his parrot, Polly, is actually perhaps the last remaining dodo bird on Earth.  It would mean Best Pirate if he were to sell her and gain the gold, but he would lose the respect of his men, who are really his family, and should mean so much more to him than fame.

Other than its terrible title, everything about The Pirates is delightful, from its characters to its creativity, with not many valleys in between its high peaks.  The stop motion is fantastic, so impressive with each passing scene; it’s hard to grasp just how much work must have gone into shooting this film.  As with Laika, the art is paramount, but while Laika goes dark Aardman goes ridiculous, and that proves to be fun too, if very different.  The Pirate Captain and his crew are great, their story is surprisingly heart-warming, and there is never a dull moment with this cast of kooky collaborators: Grant, Freeman, Tennant, Imelda Staunton, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Anton Yelchin, Brendan Gleeson, Al Roker.  It’s a silly, sea-salty good time, not to be taken seriously but to be enjoyed and to be pleased by, which is exactly what this film set out to do an easily accomplishes.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2020, Week 1

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 1 Picks

 

(169-86-1 in 2013, 170-85-1 in 2014, 163-93 in 2015,

156-98-2 in 2016, 167-87 in 2017, 163-91-2 in 2018, 153-102-1 in 2019)

 

Bye teams: none

 

Hou @ KC

Phi @ Was

Mia @ NE

GB @ Min

Ind @ Jax

Chi @ Det

LV @ Car

NYJ @ Buf

Cle @ Bal

Sea @ Atl

LAC @ Cin

Ari @ SF

TB @ NO

Dal @ LAR

Pit @ NYG

Ten @ Den

 


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Movie Review – The Assistant

Category : Movie Review

Director: Kitty Green

Starring: Julia Garner

Year: 2019

Kitty Green’s first feature film is fine, if you’re looking for nothing more than a point.  Beyond that, The Assistant has very little to offer, especially not acting, music, a narrative, a path toward an ultimate emotion; you know, those things that most movies seem to offer us because that’s what we want from them.  Instead, this film has a very specific message, and it’s up to audiences to decide whether that message feels important or produced.  I’ve seen some critics calling this the best feature of 2020, but that can only be because they agree with what it’s trying to say, it can’t be because the content itself is of high quality; it simply isn’t, I don’t think that’s arguable, and the lack thereof was enough to push me far away.

Jane is an assistant to a powerful player in the media industry, and supposedly this is her big chance to make it and someday be a high-caliber producer herself.  But for now, the job is coming in before everyone else, doing every single thing no one else wants to do, and leaving after everyone else goes home.  It’s a thankless job, a grueling job, a terrible experience, and somehow is supposed to be her lucky break, which she can’t quite reconcile.  It doesn’t help that her boss is probably a misogynist, probably an adulterer, probably doesn’t care about a single person other than himself, and is currently ruining Jane’s life, as she fights to advance in a world that really doesn’t want her to.

At some point while watching, I realized that I was supposed to feel sorry for this young woman.  And not just that, but I was supposed to be seeing every working woman within her character and feeling sorry for each of them as well, while reflecting back on the entire history of women trying to crack the door into the boy’s club, harnessing all the empathy I had available to do so.  Well, honestly, I don’t have much there period, and I definitely didn’t understand at first that I was supposed to be handing it out so generously.  I understand the point, I understand the glass ceiling, but I don’t think that idea was delivered very well in this film; I just wanted Jane to quit her job and go find something better, screw them, take care of yourself.  I didn’t feel sorry for her situation; she chose it for herself, and didn’t seem at all capable of standing up for anything, no matter how important.  I know that’s not how I was supposed to react to this story, I was supposed to see it as a grand feminist projection.  But, while I consider myself an extremely progressive modern man, Green’s shot was off and she missed me completely; she is an amateur, after all.  Garner isn’t much more than that herself, and decided to have a single expression on her face for the whole, short 80 minutes, which isn’t exactly the best.  Perhaps the moral would have been better received had the delivery been of better quality; perhaps we’ll never know.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Monty Python’s And Now for Something Completely Different

Category : Movie Review

Director: Ian McNaughton

Starring: John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle

Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam

Year: 1971

Monty Python’s first feature film is not really a feature film at all, but rather a re-do of their most hilarious Flying Circus sketches, brought to new audiences and given new life.  You could argue that it’s silly to simply copy yourselves, especially iconic scenes, since, now, which is the classic comedy, the first time you did the joke or the second?  But as someone who didn’t watch the show, but who has seen all the movies, And Now For Something Completely Different is a vehicle for the hilarity of Monty Python, and that can’t possibly be bad.

This ridiculous mash up of hits makes very little sense but is still very entertaining, which is an easy way to describe Monty Python to someone so doesn’t know their work.  This skit troupe is legendary in England, was huge in the 60s and 70s, and has made their mark on all comedians and all of comedy.  Here are some of their most famous bits and sketches, simply for our continued amusement: the dead parrot, the lumberjack song, the upper class twit, nudge nudge wink wink, how not to be seen, self defense from fruit, the lion tamer, the Hungarian phrasebook, the dirty fork, the funniest joke in the world, the Kilimanjaro expedition.  Classic scenes crammed into nonsense until it all explodes into frivolity, but that’s Monty Python.

I you don’t know much about the group, this is a good way to be introduced into their world.  It’s their most famous sketches mixed with insane animation, thrown together into no semblance of coherency, but that’s the way it goes, that’s their trademark style, and you’ll either die laughing or think it’s the worst 90 minutes you’ve ever spent.  I think it does make more of an impression on younger audiences or those who grew up during the Flying Circus era, because, watching it back now, it’s all a bit bizarre, even for me, someone who has been a Monty Python fan since I was first introduced to their movies about 20 years ago.  But it still holds up, it’s still so bizarre that it’s brilliant, at least for the most part, and, if I remember correctly, it only gets better as they become more familiar with how they want to appear on film; here’s looking ahead to more wacky weirdness.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Fox and the Hound

Category : Movie Review

Director: Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Art Stevens

Starring: Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Jack Albertson

Year: 1981

I think The Fox and the Hound might be the movie that has made me cry the most times total.  About Time did a number on me in a way I can’t explain, but that was just the one watching; Fox and the Hound will getcha where it counts over and over again and not even apologize, dammit.  As a kid it was the pups and the plays, the friendships and the betrayals, the ultimate bravery of standing up for your pal.  As an adult, it’s all that emotion combined with having lost my own friendships, having watched my children develop theirs, and every little crevice of my heart being exposed to what amounts to a platonic star-crossed love story.  Yeah, this film is pretty special when it comes to the Feels Department.

Orphaned when he was just a little guy, a fox named Tod is adopted by a kind farm lady who lives all on her own, and the pair become very close as Tod grows.  At the same time, her neighbor, a hunter with a mean ol’ dog, gets himself a new little long-eared puppy named Copper, who loves to track and romp and bay and play.  Although they are natural enemies of sorts, Tod & Copper develop a friendship, since they hardly know that they’re “supposed” to fear each other, and despite the insistence of other animals that no good will come from a fox playing with a hound.  As they grow, they do find that their are unique obstacles in their way, and a fair amount of danger, but love conquers all, as the say, and so does being a true friend.

What a lovely story, with a wonderful underlying meaning.  There’s a lot being said here under the guise of a cheesy kids movie, themes of race and differences and unity and understanding; it might be muted or glossed over, but it’s still there, and that’s saying something.  There are messages to hear if you’re listening, and I think that’s great, especially when it concerns younger audiences, because they are very perceptive, and they feel more than they can consciously understand.  Watching Fox and the Hound is fun, sure, but it also imparts some empathy, or at least allows us to empathize, and that’s pretty important.  Now, on to the film, which I think is underrated; a great voice cast (Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Jack Albertson, Sandy Duncan, Corey Feldman, Tigger, Piglet), some whimsical characters, stellar animation, heart-breaking music, and while you can ignore the musical numbers themselves, and while it’s definitely no Disney Princess Classic, there are classic elements here that make this film a very bright light.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Not Another Teen Movie

Category : Movie Review

Director: Joel Gallen

Starring: Chyler Leigh, Chris Evans, Mia Kirshner

Year: 2001

If you didn’t live through the American Pie era, you just won’t understand; Not Another Teen Movie might make fun of the 80s too, sure, and of 90s chick flicks too, yeah, but the main target is definitely teen romps where every joke is sexual, every character ridiculous, every problem imaginary, and every house party a chance to chug beer, jump in a pool, and see someone’s boobs.  I graduated high school the same year this movie was released, so I feel its point very deeply; I not only watched the films it mocks but I also lived the lives it generalizes so fluidly, until you can’t tell whether it’s exposing or spoofing; maybe a little bit of both.  If it seems like I’m gearing up to call Not Another Teen Movie a surprisingly cerebral representation of the times, pump the brakes, because it’s really mostly stupid.  But it does get a lot right about both teenage cinema of this time and what it meant to be a teenager of this time, so, hey, credit where credit is due.

At John Hughes High School, you stick with your clique and you don’t throw a fit.  Life is about being the stereotype that you were born to be, and that should be enough for any pubescent, stop your belly aching.  Janey is the artistic, liberated, intelligent loser, who is also really, really ugly; she not only has a pony tail, but she also wears glasses!  Jake is the popular quarterback with the letter jacket and the trophies who can get any girl he wants, especially now that the ultra-princess Priscilla has dumped him for the weird, edgy kid with the handheld camera and the floating bag.  Jake thinks he could get any new girl he chooses, making her instant Prom Queen material, but his friends think otherwise; they challenge him to turn Janey into a popular goddess and to get her to go out with him, a seemingly impossible task that just might lead to true love.

Not Another Teen Movie spoofs often and it spoofs hard; think Scary Movie, but for coming-of-age flicks, especially of the 80s & 90s.  I’m sure there are a thousand more, but the ones that stand out to me or are just plain obvious are She’s All That, American Pie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Breakfast Club, Varsity Blues, Pretty in Pink, Bring it On, Cruel Intentions, Never Been Kissed, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Lucas, Can’t Hardly Wait, Grease, and more beyond count.  It’s a goofy gaff of insults and insinuations, a comedy that’s mostly funny because of the films we’ve already seen, but with a few real humorous moments that do make the movie something of a stupid gem.  Priscilla is my favorite, so perfect, and I also love Ox because his impression is so spot on.  I could do without the character who wants to be Asian, the “token black guy”, the naked foreign exchange student, and other references like that which might not fly the same today as they did almost 20 years ago.  But the rumpus as a whole is at least memorable, and so is the cast: Chris Evans, Jaime Pressly, Lacey Chabet, Ed Lauter, Paul Gleason, Mr T, Randy Quaid, Molly Ringwald, Josh Radnor.  It’s silly, it’s sloppy, it’s dumb, but you don’t much mind; Not Another Teen Movie is fun for those who understand the inside jokes, and holds up fairly well, if a little more insensitive then I remember and perhaps with too many poop jokes.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – 2020 Fantasy Football: TEs, Ks, & DEFs

Category : Sports

With the season soon beginning and many fantasy drafts planned for the next few days, it’s time to prep for your 2020 Fantasy Football team. Here is my advice/predictions as it relates to tight ends, kickers, and defenses:

TEs

  • Obviously, the other skill positions are the sexier in fantasy football, but having an elite (or at least solid) tight end can be the difference between a championship and a consolation prize.  One year I won the league because Jason Witten threw a touchdown, no joke, it happens, so don’t forget about this position come draft day.  Travis Kelce is the undisputed #1 TE and the only one that should be drafted at all high.  The Chiefs will score, he’ll be the recipient often, and you should try to pair him with Mahomes if you can, that would be pleasant.  After Kelce, the Tier Two guys can sure help, but aren’t worth as much of a reach: Andrews, Kittle, Ertz, and Cook.  I really like Cook again with his new-ish team and I think Drew Brees will throw to him a lot; he won’t put up Jimmy Graham In New Orleans numbers, but he could still help your team immensely.  If you don’t get someone from those groups, try your luck at the next bunch of serviceable options: Waller, Gronkowski, Henry, Fant, and Engram.  Olsen, Eifert, Rudolph, and Fells have become a little old & unreliable, so avoid those guys unless you want to take a chance at having them as backup in case they still have some surprises left.

Ks

  • Again, pulling from personal experience, a kicker has saved my bacon more than once, and Justin Tucker has turned my mediocrity into a championship a few times.  I’ve had him five or six years in a row now, in my book he’s the absolute best, and I wouldn’t pick any kicker over him.  Still, there are some guys who might be projected to score more points: Prater, Butker, maybe Lutz.  You can’t go wrong with that first tier, and those guys could really make a huge difference, so don’t wait too long to get your franchise kicker.  The next tier you can wait a while for: McManus, Koo, McLaughlin, Gay, Elliott.  These are solid, week-in-week-out kickers, so don’t be afraid to pull the trigger.  After that, wait till your final pick to choose anyone else: Gould, Zuerlein, Myers, Fairbairn, Gonzalez, Crosby.  Just don’t undervalue the position; it’s more important that most amateurs would think.  Nab a great kicker before anyone else has even thought about it, and rest easy the rest of the season knowing that you have guaranteed points for every matchup.

DEFs

  • Defense seems to be a position that can be picked up in free agency later in the season, but the flip side philosophy is to be the first team to select one, that way you get the absolute best.  Buffalo is at the top of the list, then Baltimore, Denver, Pittsburgh, San Fran, and New England.  Get one of those teams before other people think about defenses and you’ll be set for the season.  Otherwise, you can wait a while or even simply pick one up in free agency after teams show their true colors.  Still, there is a solid group after the first tier, and they are worth consideration.  New Orleans, Minnesota, Los Angeles Chargers, Chicago; can’t go wrong with those solid teams, they will (probably) not let you down.  After that, the third group might be the last to really even consider: Indianapolis, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Philadelphia, Tennessee.  The other teams just pick who you like and hope for the best, replacing them as you need.  Defenses shift in power throughout the year, so keep an eye on the waiver wire.