movies

Remembering George Kennedy

George Kennedy in "Cool Hand Luke"

George Kennedy in "Cool Hand Luke"

By Sean Tuohy

Actor George Kennedy was rough and tumble with a hard stare that could crumble most men, but was also soft and gentle with a smile that could light up the darkest room. Hollywood sadly lost one of the few remaining greats yesterday. For more than 40 years Kennedy graced the big and small screens, and made sure to breath life into each and every character he played. 

We took a moment to remember some of Kennedy's best roles. 

“The Blue Knight” (1975-1976)

Only on air for one season, “Blue Knight,” a hard-hitting police drama, seems to be everlasting. Kennedy played LAPD Officer Bumper Morgan, a grizzled vet with a heart of gold who worked the streets and tried to keep them clean. Kennedy played the character grounded in the real world; a tired man who had seen too much too soon, yet came to work every day ready for something new. 

“The Dirty Dozen” (1967)

Even though Kennedy had a small role in the major action film, he made a big splash as the leveled headed Army officer who helps put together a squad of convicts to go behind enemy lines during World War II. Kennedy more than held his own with acting giant Lee Marvin.

“The Naked Gun” Trilogy (1988, 1991, 1994)

Willing to show his goofy side, Kennedy made us slap our knees until they were black and blue in this off-the-wall trilogy. He plays the straight-laced cop who always finds himself in the middle of a goofy mess. His reactions to Leslie Nielsen’s Frank Drebin in the following scene are comedy gold. 

“The Delta Force” (1986)

An otherwise standard pro-America, pro-explosion action film from the 1980s, “The Delta Force showcased Kennedy’s onscreen power as a priest being held hostage. Level headed and calm, but with a boiling rage resting just under the surface, Kennedy was a powerhouse in an otherwise dull film.

“The Eiger Sanction” (1975)

In this overlooked thriller from the 1970s, Kennedy plays the trainer and partner to a hit man (Clint Eastwood) who must catch and kill an assassin while rock climbing. 

“Cool Hand Luke” (1967)

We saved the best for last. Stepping out of his comfort zone, the Yankee-born Kennedy played a hard swinging southern convict in this classic Paul Newman picture. Kennedy nearly steals the show (and landed an Oscar).

Where I’ve Lived: Butterscotch Street Lamps & The Three-fer

By Gary Almeter
Part one of a five-part series

Prologue: Butterscotch Street Lamps

Photo courtesy of  Jonathan Lewis

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Lewis

My grandpa told me not to move to Boston because he hated the city. When asked why he told me how once, several decades prior, he was delivering a truckload of loaded maple syrup cans to somewhere near Boston Common and a driver cut him off and his cargo clanged onto the street. Nevertheless, I moved there on Oct. 10, 1993. I was a 22-year-old, single, jobless, college graduate who had never been to Boston, indeed, had never lived in any sort of major metropolitan area; never been to a city long enough to gauge its cadence, hear its unique cacophony, taste its cuisine, see its renditions of things, meet its personalities.  

Through tears, my fiancée and I left Brookline, Mass., for New York City on Aug. 22, 1998. I was older, more confident, had a Master’s Degree and was so profoundly grateful to the city for taking care of me. This column identifies and ruminates on the triumphs, the moments of grace, the episodes of idiocy, the myriad guardian angels, the flashes of brilliance, and the one instance of taxicab cunnilingus with which the intervening four years, ten months, and twelve days were peppered.

I still frequently reflect on those years. Still get surges of jealousy when I think of the twenty-somethings pull up to their apartments in Allston each Sept. 1. The years were transformative in every sense of that word. This column is a bildungsroman for those twenty-somethings. I can still see what The Lemonheads call the “butterscotch street lamps” of the Mass Pike—at first so jarringly orange and eventually so comforting.      

I get it; this narrative is rather ordinary. Lots of people have lived in Boston. Some still do. I’m not Hemingway writing about a group of expatriates traversing from post-war Paris to Pamplona. Nor am I Teddy Roosevelt leading a squadron of soldiers over San Juan Hill. My years in Boston were filled with ordinary people and ordinary moments, ordinary days, and ordinary tasks. And I haven’t been the only J. Crewed Caucasian man to buy the new R.E.M. CD at Tower Records on Newbury Street, to pass out on the Green Line, to be inspired by the Boston Marathon runners. Others have been braver, more ingenious, and more renegade-ish. I get too that there were other, more compelling things happening in places like Rwanda and Croatia during this period, rife with more compelling drama and worthy of greater attention.

But I also hope that the ordinary can be entertaining and galvanizing. And serve as a reminder that there is a story and a possibility behind every Ryder moving truck, every marathon bib, and every car wending its way under the butterscotch street lamps. 

Part One: The Three-fer

Photo courtesy of Daniel Ford

Photo courtesy of Daniel Ford

“Gary said he would buy the Reese’s Pieces himself.”

Point of fact, I never technically said aloud that I was going to by the Reese’s Pieces. I just did it. And it was less a cognitive decision and more a foregone conclusion when the B branch of Boston’s Green Line subway that I rode surfaced at Commonwealth Avenue and I saw the gleaming orange and blue sign of the Store 24, Boston’s ubiquitous rendition of the ubiquitous mini-mart. On my way to the adjacent Nickelodeon Theater, I stopped at that Store 24, and, simply because they were there, simply because I thought I deserved it, simply because I could, bought a big motherfuckin’ one-pound bag of Reese’s Pieces.*

* Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, another story chronicling a day in the life which evokes a qualified existential outlook and which endeavors to illuminate the human experience of free will, begins, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”  

Then I went next door and bought a ticket for a four-something showing of Martin Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence” starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, and Michelle Pfeiffer. When it was over I surreptitiously made my way into a seven-something showing of Jane Campion’s “The Piano” starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, and Anna Paquin. When “The Piano” was over, I nonchalantly made my way to James Ivory and Ismail Merchant’s “The Remains of the Day” starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.* It took all three movies for me to eat the one-pound bag of Reese’s Pieces. But I did it.      

* There were five screens and one usher at the Nickelodeon so such stealthy maneuverings were practically encouraged.

I started walking home when the third movie ended. I told myself that morning I was going to do whatever I wanted that day. And I had. And since I was, technically, still doing whatever I wanted, I was tempted to try and extract a little more mirth from the day. But I was tired. And my retinas were a little scorched. And there were no more movie showings slated for that evening anyway. The theater was (I use the past tense here because Boston University bought it and demolished it in 2003 to erect engineering facilities) just a few blocks away from my Allston neighborhood apartment. It had started to snow. While walking home I thought to myself, “I did it.”

I now think it ironic (though both my parents, a few college professors, a sizable number of equity partners at the law firm at which I now work, and every spouse, sibling and friend I’ve ever had would suggest, not surprising at all) that one of my proudest moments is also one of my most slothful.

This happened on Nov. 26, 1993, the day after the first Thanksgiving I had ever not spent with my family.* I woke up all alone in my still-new, still-cruddy apartment and said, “I can literally do whatever the fuck I want today.” So I decided to explore my city and then go to a movie. After weeks of frugality and what I deemed a personal triumph the day before, I was ready to splurge.

* I refer to this day, this phenomenon, as “the three-fer” as in “three-fer the price of one.” I had done a good number of two-fers in my day, and in the subsequent decades there would be plenty more. But the three-fer was a new and exhilarating phenomenon. So rare, in fact, that there has been just one more. It was Jan. 26, 1999. My fiancée and I were in New York City. I was teaching high school and had a weekday off while my students took standardized tests. My friend, who had failed the bar exam in July and whose firm was giving him some additional months to re-take the bar in February, took a day off from studying. We went to “Affliction,” “Life is Beautiful,” and “Shakespeare in Love” in one day at the Angelika.

I had been out of college for just over a year and, after living in my small hometown in upstate New York for that year, had been living in Boston just over a month. I had a new job where I had to work on Thanksgiving. I was a customer service rep for Ameritech Mobile Communications, a job a friend of mine had done for extra cash while he was at Boston College. I was tasked with alerting people making calls from their still-enormous car phones in Illinois, calls made from outside the scope of an Ameritech cell tower, that they were roaming. I was elated to have a job as my only fear about moving to Boston concerned my ability to pay the notoriously high rent in the three-bedroom apartment my friend had found for us—me, her, and the friend she made at a Phish concert. So while I had to work, I also got to breathe a little easier while I identified and eventually pursued the thing I really wanted to do. In that respect, it was a wonderful job. 

But it was also a horrendous job. This customer service outfit inexplicably had prime office space on the twenty-second floor of the building at 265 Franklin Street in the bowels of Boston’s financial district. I worked the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift—a shift that suffered the rare double-defect of fostering two different kinds of alienation.

Each afternoon, I walked through streets crowded with Ivy League-pedigreed financial people. Everyone marched with rigor in freshly polished cordovan shell leather shoes built to withstand such rigor. Everyone looked astute, refined, adept, and at their best. Everyone not only wore Brooks Brothers; everyone exuded Brooks Brothers. Everyone, it was clear, was ambition incarnate. Everyone, I was certain, was on their way to achievement. Everyone was in a place where I was not. Everyone reinforced the inveterate nature of the universe.

Then, at 11:00 p.m. when my shift was done, I scurried through the same, though by then barren and spookily empty, cavernous financial district streets back to the Government Center T-Stop to catch the last Green Line train home. It would take me home, under a desolate Boston Common, under a quiet Newbury Street, and under Kenmore Square. It surfaced near Fenway Park and then rambled up and along Commonwealth Avenue to my Harvard Avenue stop, which by then was filled with drunk Boston College reminding me that my college days were over.  

As hard as it was to be (or feel) poor while others are flourishing, to walk with my head up to my customer service job through the envy-inducing world of finance, to eat alone and commute home on a near-empty train, to digest the negative effects that came with the social comparisons for which I had a propensity, and to be away from my family at Thanksgiving, the resultant pride that came from existing in my new arena was incalculable.

I realize now that I should have been extremely lonely during these inaugural weeks in a big city by myself, however, apart from people who were going places—more refined people than the Buffalonians to which I was accustomed who effortlessly looked and talked like Kennedys—I really wasn’t. I never even thought I was, and would have never identified myself as such. I realize now that I was learning to distinguish loneliness from solitude. And that the rush of self-awareness, the deluge of self-confidence, and the newfound eagerness for self-actualization far outweighed and diluted any threat of loneliness.

It turns out, that self-reliance is far more buoyant, and far less elusive, than we think it is.

Thanksgiving Day. After working my usual shift, I scurried through the extra-empty and extra-quiet streets of downtown Boston to the T. On the way home that night, I realized that any anxiety I had felt about being alone on that day had dissipated.

At the corner of Commonwealth and Harvard Avenues, there was (and still is) another Store 24 (I told you they were ubiquitous). I marched in and bought a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. I took it home and ate it, proudly, joyfully; surely no less joyful than Miles Standish and Massasoit had been at the first Thanksgiving that was celebrated mere miles south of where I triumphantly sat.

The next morning I eschewed my usual personal hygiene regimen, left my Allston apartment, and walked my usual route to the Harvard Avenue Green Line “B” branch stop. I stopped at the Shawmut Bank’s ATM on Harvard Ave and took out $30. I took the train back downtown and spent the day meandering. I wandered through the North End and got a cannoli at Mike’s Pastry. I went to the Union Oyster House and ate a bowl of JFK’s favorite clam chowder. I got a mid-afternoon coffee at Dunkin Donuts, rambled up and over Beacon Hill, browsed the shops of Back Bay, and generally reveled in my individual existence and freedom.

There are a finite number of days within which a person can exercise absolute, untethered free will. In a lifetime, we probably have no more than a month’s worth of such days.* Days when a person’s free will remains positively unbound; the sort of days David Hume contemplated when he defined liberty as “a power of acting or of not acting, according to the determination of the will.”

It sounds simple; we are always free to do whatever we want provided there is no physical impediment to us so doing. But such an assertion is not always compatible with daily responsibilities, social mores, and the basic tenets of human interaction.

* The Social Security Administration’s life expectancy calculator suggests that if the status quo persists, I can expect to live until I am 86.8 years old

All three of the films I saw that day portrayed a society which was, or threatened to be, positively vicious to those who attempted to circumvent or defy its social norms; a society that deemphasized individual action and freedom and decision. Each showed the debilitating effects of such viciousness and perhaps more appropriately, how one’s character might erode when he or she succumbs to the threat of such viciousness. They all somehow evinced the importance of freedom.

Those movies have stuck with me, both substantively and procedurally. Substantively, the movies offered a nice lesson on how not to live and how corrosive suppressing your true self can be. Procedurally, I was just so proud of myself for doing whatever the fuck I wanted to do.

It’s hard for men to say, “I need to take care of myself.” It connotes vulnerability. It suggests that we are not actually, “fuckin’ killin’ it.” In an inveterate universe, paying attention to one’s essence feels like it’s discouraged. But it’s necessary for men and women to do so. You just have to figure out how to be at your best. Everyone once in a while it’s necessary to say, “fuck it,” and eat Ben & Jerry’s at Thanksgiving or a one-pound bag of Reese’s Pieces during a three-fer.

Days that hold a freedom in which one can do anything, when even a modicum of accountability becomes a metaphysical impossibility, are few.* There inevitably would be days I would be expected to wear Brooks Brothers; where I could be ambition incarnate. And days when eating a large amount of sweets would be considered reckless and sophomoric. Nov. 26, 1993 taught me that those days were still ahead of me.

* This summer, my wife took our three kids to the beach for a few days. I had some days to do whatever I wanted. But I still had to walk the dog, caulk the tub, mow the lawn, tweak a PowerPoint presentation I was working on to present to a small business consortium the following week. I still went to Chipotle and binge-watched “Orange is the New Black,” but my free will was tethered to what Thomas Aquinas referred to as the necessity that negates the will. And laundry. My free will was tethered to laundry.

ESSAYS ARCHIVE

'Star Wars Episode VII: The Nerds Awaken'

These aren't the nerds you're looking for. 

These aren't the nerds you're looking for. 

By Dave Pezza           

Brian Crandall, field reporter for Southern New England’s News Channel 10, saunters over toward my direction with his oversized wireless microphone. I cringe visibly, turning my back to check my iPhone for nothing at all, the universal sign for, “please leave me alone.” I briefly thought of chucking my middle finger, but it wouldn’t be keeping with the joyous atmosphere that surrounds the Toys R Us parking lot in Warwick, R.I. at 11:30 p.m. on a Thursday night. Crandall ditched his ‘80s-cut black suit jacket and gaudy necktie, donning instead a laid back open collar and rolled-up shirtsleeves for the midnight event. “Force Friday,” as Disney and Lucasfilm have marketed it, brought all manner of “Star Wars” fans from their parent’s basements, apartment buildings, and domiciles.

Crandell starts at the front of the line, grabbing the brags of those who have been in line since 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m., sitting in their collapsible aluminum chairs. While Crandall makes his way down the line, I notice a police officer at the front of the line near the toy store’s entrance.

“Really,” I say to my brother, pointing to the cop.

My brother is thirty-something, a chiropractor, and has a kid on the way. I can’t help but think he came so I wouldn’t be featured on the news by myself in a herd of "Star Wars" nerds. Then again, he’s probably using me as an excuse to catch a glimpse at the first wave of toys and games from the upcoming “Star Wars” movie, “The Force Awakens.”

“Of course, just in case any of these rowdy ‘Star Wars’ fans try to rush Geoffrey the Giraffe with a lightsaber,” he responds.

It’s growing closer to midnight, and Crandall continues to make his way down the line.

For those of you who have not been on planet earth for the last year or so, “Star Wars” is back. Big time. Disney purchased the rights from George Lucas for billions of dollars and hasn’t stopped throwing money at the franchise since. New television shows, at least six new movies (seriously, six), and endless games, toys, and merchandise. And it worked. In fact it has worked so well that the geniuses at Hasbro and Disney have set aside an entire day dedicated to releasing new Star Wars merchandise, and the movie hasn’t even been released yet. Really the whole thing is a perpetual hype machine. Force Friday, the November release of high profile video game “Star Wars: Battlefront,” all building to Dec. 18 when Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill, finally, impossibly reprise their iconic roles as Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker.

If you’re a normal person, this is all very typical Disney. Hell, two years ago you couldn’t go out in public without “Frozen” advertisements and merchandise kicking you in the balls. But if you are a “Star Wars” fan, specifically one born after 1983 when the last original Star Wars movie, “Return of the Jedi,” premiered, this is the second coming. You’ve waited for these movies, movies not directed by George Lucas and starring the original cast, since  the end credits of “Jedi.” I’ve been watching “Star Wars,” playing “Star Wars,” buying “Star Wars,” quoting “Star Wars,” and talking “Star Wars” for so long it’s hard wired into my first memories. My brother must have been the first person to introduce me to it with his action figures and worn out VHS copy of “The Empire Strikes Back.” And here I am now, staring at my phone, hoping midnight comes before our mugs appear on the morning local news show with an embarrassing tagline like, “Local adult nerds wait all night for toys intended for ten-year-olds.”

In case you haven’t read anything I’ve ever posted on Writer’s Bone, which is entirely possible, I’m not the most accepting of trends and fads. However, I’ve caught the “Star Wars” virus. More accurately, I never lost it, like chickenpox as a child and shingles as an adult. And beneath the haze and allure of marketing, consumerism, and deep-rooted issues of escaping reality lies something that I hadn’t realized until that night, standing in a Toys R Us parking lot. Every close friend I’ve ever had was a fellow “Star Wars” fan. And it’s not as if we all met at Comic Con or anything like that. We all just ended up really liking “Star Wars.” And we’re all really, really, shamefully excited for the new movie. Which means one of two things: either this franchise, with its great characters, intricate imagine universe, and timeless story, is so pervasive that the vast majority of men enjoy it, or “Star Wars” happens to be the cultural aspect that has defined and affected my particular life in such a significant way that it has helped me form every real male friendship I’ve ever had. Not to mention it helped an eight-year-old boy bond and share experiences with his fifteen-year-old brother, a common interest that, obviously, thrives to this day.

The doors to the Toys R Us finally open, and Crandall rushes himself and his cameraman into the store to get shots of the bleary eyed crowd of grown men bustling to purchase overpriced dolls (they're called action figures!). As we approach a “Star Wars”-themed archway set up in the store entrance, Crandall is just beyond, ready to seal our nerd fate. We move closer to the arch, and my brother says to no one and everyone,

“You don’t need to see our identification. We’re just a couple of normies over here. Move along. Move along.”

For more essays, check out our full archive

Remembering James Horner

James Horner

James Horner

By Sean Tuohy

Sadly, the filmmaking world lost one of its most talented composers the other day following James Horner’s plane crash. Horner’s music has been heard in movies for nearly 30 years in such films as “Aliens,” “Avatar,” “Braveheart,” and “Titanic.” He was a skilled composer who created moody tunes for the films he worked on, but he could strike fear deep within your soul with one pluck of a chord or brighten your day with a quick keystroke. Horner’s scores, like the movies they embellished, were emotional roller coasters that sometimes outlived the movies themselves.

Below are six of Horner’s best music numbers:

“Aliens”

The classic action-sc-fi film is amazing on all fronts, but what pulls viewers fully into the world is Horner’s spooky score, which relays on heavy strings during tense moments and moves to drums during the heavy action. Like the movie itself, the score is a great blend of many genres.

“The Rocketeer”

Though the film did not do well at the box office the score to this Disney comic book film was a true masterpiece. Horner’s score is light, hopeful, and, at times, very playful. The heavy use of strings fills the listeners with sense of adventure and good times ahead.

“Glory”

For the Civil War film detailing the first all-black fighting unit, Horner infused a military sound into his score. Despite the subject matter—war, loss, racism—Horner was able to keep the score filled with buoyancy, a sound of belief that beyond the horrors of war is a life filled with joy and happiness.

“Apollo 13”

Ron Howard’s classic thriller, based on true events, told the story of three astronauts trapped on a space ship on the way to moon. Horner played a balancing act with this score; keeping the music tense at moments, but at other times making sure the movie reflected the wonder of space travel.

“The Man Without A Face”

This Mel Gibson-directed coming of age film tells the tale of a young boy and his relationship with a disfigured former teacher. The score swings between soft and light, showing the world through the eyes of a child, and moves to harsh and heavy sounds, reflecting the world of adults.

“Titanic”

Daniel Ford: Sorry to intrude Sean, but no list of Horner’s work would be complete without the score from “Titanic.” As an impressionable teenager when the movie came out, I can’t remember any movie theme moving me in quite the same way. I still get chills when I hear it. It is majestic, harrowing, tragic, and hopeful—all the qualities Titanic and its survivors embody. If you weren’t crying before you got here, feel free to start sobbing in earnest.

Soon Is Now: How ‘The Wedding Singer’ Soundtrack Made Me Fall in Love With the 1980s

This post kicks off Soundtrack Day on Writer’s Bone. Tune in later this afternoon for our compilation of the best soundtracks of all time.

By Lindsey Wojcik

I was a tween obsessed with 1990s pop music, and some of the grunge-y alternative of the time, when the Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore romantic comedy set in 1985 was released in 1998. I could quote “Billy Madison” word-for-word, but “The Wedding Singer” didn't seem to have that sort of silliness; it seemed softer. I most likely saw it in the theater (I really can't recall), but I do know a VHS copy of “The Wedding Singer” was on my birthday gift wish list that year. I wore out that tape—so much so that my parents moaned when I put it in—and as such, I became familiar with the soundtrack. The film hooked me the moment I heard "You Spin Me Round – Like a Record" by Dead Or Alive in the opening sequence.

It was my first real exposure to a mix of 1980s music. Sure, I had heard Madonna and the B-52s before, but as an 11-year-old, I certainly didn't understand Robbie Hart's (Sandler) reference to The Cure. In one scene, a heartbroken Hart tells love interest Julia Guglia (Barrymore), "When I wrote this song, I was listening to The Cure a lot." The Cure didn't even make the soundtrack, though “Boys Don’t Cry” can be heard faintly in the background of another scene.

Once I really listened to the 26-song two-CD compilation, which was among the first few CDs I ever received, (that would be the year my family first owned a CD player—even in fictional 1985 a confused Julia Guglia had one before my family), my love for everything 1980s flourished. It was more than pop; it featured post-punk, new wave bands like The Psychedelic Furs and The Thompson Twins—a sound I had never heard before. Then, I heard the guitar riff on "How Soon is Now?" by The Smiths. From then on, it was exclusively on repeat.

It would be years later during my angsty teen years, after more 1990s and early Aughts pop music distracted me, that I'd rediscover “The Wedding Singer” soundtrack. “How Soon Is Now?” would inevitably lead me to The Smiths’ entire catalogue and elevate their status as one of my favorite bands ever. Sadly, I'd never get the chance to see them live. Though, seeing the group’s lead singer, Morrissey, perform some of the band's songs at Radio City Hall on my 25th birthday is the closest I'll get.

After relistening to the soundtrack in high school, and consequently around the time VH1’s “I Love the 80s” premiered, my 1980s fixation went beyond the music. Researching 1980s pop culture became a hobby. I wanted to learn about and consume the movies, television, fashion, news, and, of course, other music that defined the decade, and I wanted to have a better understanding of references in the movie like “Franky Say Relax” and “New Coke.” I also needed to know how each song on the soundtrack I loved made an impact on the culture.

I finally understood that George’s character embodied Boy George, and I realized why “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” by Culture Club was the only song he knew how to sing on his own. And while a granny performing “Rapper’s Delight” was hysterical on screen, I knew it really did not do the historic song justice.

“The ‘80s weren’t that great,” my parents would tell me as my obsession grew. However, “The Wedding Singer” soundtrack made me nostalgic for a time I never experienced but so desperately wish I could have enjoyed. If only I had been born 10 years earlier! The music wasn’t “new,” but it was new to me. I was exposed to a different music genre, and it made me a fan of many of the featured artists. That's what a powerful soundtrack does. It connects a viewer to what’s happening in a film, while creating and evoking emotion that will last long after the credits have rolled. “The Wedding Singer” spun me right round.

For more essays, check out our full archive

Apathetic Noir: Why I Love 1998’s ‘Zero Effect’

By Sean Tuohy

"A person can't escape their nature."—Daryl Zero

The pop culture landscape is teeming with overlooked movies. We all have that movie that we think is underrated or an actor or actress performance that no one took seriously. These are small, personal gems that you want share with the world at large, but that get you nothing but blank stares from unenlightened coworkers.

One of my favorites is a 1990s post-noir film that bleeds Generation X apathy: “Zero Efect.” The 1998 mystery thriller doesn’t play by modern mystery thriller rules. Writer/director Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence Kasden, penned a tight, well-thought-out caper that would have made Lew Archer and Phillip Marlow stand up and cheer.

The movie follows the world's most private detective Daryl Zero and his partner Steve Arlo as they help find a blackmail artist in Portland. Zero is brought to life by Bill Pullman, who designs a character you learn to love slowly over the course of the movie. He’s a man driven by his work; skilled, resourceful, one of a kind. But Zero possesses no social graces and can be nearly impossible to be around. Somehow Arlo is able to keep the oddball hero on track, despite the issues that it causes with his relationship with his girlfriend. Arlo is played by Ben Stiller, who brings all his trademarks to the role, but with a little something extra. Stiller plays Arlo like a real person. He gets annoyed and frustrated with Zero and his crazy ways, but at the same time respects Zero's skills. The two have a very brotherly relationship, allowing the love they hold for one another to stay under the surface. The pair has great dialogue that bounces off one another and flows with ease.

"I'll shoot you. Really, I will. I have a gun and everything."—Steve Arlo

Now, I will say that Monk had a similar plot line: a detective who can barely operate in the real world, but with the help of a grounded partner he always solves the case. Well, Zero Effect took it a step further and made Zero a very difficult person to like. He snaps and lashes out at others and in one scene talks about how he has stayed awake for three days because of methamphetamines. Zero "lives" in closed off apartment from the world in a mess of paperwork and trash. He believes people listen to phone calls and that "they" are out there. I have no idea who "they" are, nor does Zero, but he believes in them. This over-the-top character produces some great comic moments, and “Zero Effect” as a whole is filled with great one liners that make you chuckle.

Kasden must be a fan of noir mystery because it shows in the movie. Scenes scream noir with shadows and the fanatic lighting. The script was well planned out because every step falls on the right spot.

Why was this movie so unknown? I'm not too sure. It wasn't a blockbuster, nor was it a Shane Black-style bang bang noir thriller. It was a small indie movie that told a compact, but layered story. I want to see more Darryl Zero in a television show or a book series. I would follow him and Arlo for years to come.

For more essays, check out our full archive

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and Dealing With Superhero Burnout

Lowlife superheroes I can believe in

Lowlife superheroes I can believe in

By Daniel Ford

Marvel recently released its second trailer for the upcoming summer blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

It actually looks and feels like what a summer blockbuster should be.

Here’s the trailer:

Wonderful. I watch it twice a day.

I’ve complained recently to my nerdery that superhero movies are becoming brooding pieces of rubbish. Batman movies can get away with being über dark and brooding because it’s intrinsic to that character. Peter Parker, however, shouldn’t be so tormented. He loves being a superhero as much as Tony Stark loves being Iron Man (and an alcoholic womanizer). Why does he need to fight off 2,000 CGI under-developed villains while scowling under his Spidey mask?

Superhero movies are quickly becoming the content marketing of the film world. They look slick and pretend to have a story written by actual humans, but in the end they aren’t reflective of anything other than some douchebag advertiser’s overdeveloped sense of worth. The new Spiderman movies play like an extended Taco Bell commercial. Like content marketing, no amount of flash or promises of “real, honest, and meaty content” is going to distract people from believing that you’re trying to sell them total bullshit. Wait, that’s not true because these movies make gobs of money. Damn it.

Anyway, “The Avengers” was clever and fun because of its cast and quality directing by Joss Whedon, but do you remember anything about that movie? Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I don’t think that’s as rewatchable a movie as, say, “Superman II” or the first “Iron Man.” Every movie has to be a set up for the next movie, the next ad campaign, the next press conference. There’s only so much plot and character you can develop before you have to shoehorn your script into the next project.

I let “Man of Steel” off the hook, but that’s because I’m a huge Superman homer and the movie at least tried to touch on themes like alienation, “otherness,” and finding your way in the world. Superman may have brooded in the beginning, but the guy smiles often later on in the film because he’s fucking Superman! He’s got a pulse, which is more than I can say for a lot of superhero movies of late. The director can’t name a movie to save his life, but that’s a topic for another day.

This is turning into a rant and I don’t want it to be. Grantland’s Mark Harris—one of my favorite entertainment writers—published a piece today that asks, “Are We at Peak Superhero?” Harris points out that comic book readers are a small demographic that studios have mined expertly for years now (none moreso than Marvel, he says), but wonders whether we’re in the middle of a boom or at the end of a bubble? I’m inclined to believe the latter, but that’s not to say I want the genre to go away anytime soon. Because I like summer movies. I like superhero movies. I just want them to be done better.

Which is why I’m all in on “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

It didn’t take much to be honest.

Seedy underworld.? Check. Killer soundtrack (based on the two songs featured in the trailers)? Check. Wise-cracking anti-heroes? Check. Chris Pratt from “Parks and Recreation”? Check.

Brooding clearly shouldn’t be an issue in this movie. In fact, I’m hoping this turns out to be a slightly more serious version of Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs.” I can’t be the only one that thinks that this band of criminal heroes would be right at home on Lonestar’s Eagle 5, right?

I’ve never read any of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” books and don’t intend to before the movie comes out (I’ve already made that pop culture mistake with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series). I reached out to a friend of mine from high school who knows more about the comic than I do who said that the trailer gets it right. “These people aren't heroes,” Christopher Morse, an actor, writer, and director, as well as the host of the podcast “Supervillain Corner," told me.” “They're a bunch of assholes who are in the right place and time, and are just the tiniest bit more likely to do the 'right' thing than otherwise.”

I also reached out to the New England Comics store in Cambridge, Mass., to find out if the comic was generating any extra buzz because of the film’s release. I talked to a wonderfully spirited woman named Hanna who told me that the reason Marvel has been so good at adapting its comics to the big screen—besides the quality acting, directing, and special effects—is that it makes movies that are accessible to comic book and non-comic book fans.

“We had a lot of people come in after seeing ‘The Avengers' asking, ‘Hey, who is that purple guy at the end of the film?’” She said. “People started reading Infinity Gaunlet, which eventually led readers to Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Hanna also told me that she expects more people will come into the store after the movie because moviegoers will want all the backstory and anticipate how “Guardians” will tie in with the next “Avengers” movies.

So, I hope that this movie isn’t an hours-long melody of CGI crap with a dash of Chris Pratt wit and crotch-grabbing raccoon awesomeness mixed in. I hope I’m one of those people that heads directly to my local comic book store after the seeing the film to buy as many issues of Guardians of the Galaxy as possible. I hope it’s a lot like the latest “Godzilla” movie, which I found refreshing and something I might actually rewatch eventually. However, Marvel is all about their long-term plan, so I’m trying to temper my emotions.

I’ll just have this song on repeat until the movie comes out.

For more essays, check out our full archive

Sylvester Stallone: The Forgotten American Writer

Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone

By Sean Tuohy

Before his name was instantly recognizes all over the world, before he was a pop culture icon, before all the fame and glory, Sylvester Stallone was hunched over a pad of paper with a pen in hand trying to create a story.

Like many struggling artists, he had the talent and the drive and was just trying to make a buck. We all forget that Sylvester Stallone is a writer and an incredibly underrated one at that. He has 27 accredited scripts to his name and several of those are considered American classics. Screenwriters never get fame or glory. At best, they get a "good job" and then are left alone to create another story. If you look past the action movie star image you will find that Stallone is no different than any other writer. He’s stuck in a room trying to create something from nothing.

So let’s take a moment then to appreciate Stallone the writer.

“Rocky”

Rocky is considered by many to be one of the best made sports movies ever made. Stallone wrote this movie when he was nearly broke and struggling to make it as an actor. He knew that he had a great idea for a story within his own life. He wanted to write about a talented actor trying to make it, with one shot at the big time. The storyteller within Stallone told him no one would empathize with a movie about an actor trying to make it, so he switched it to the story of a boxer.

Bingo!

If you look at the script for Rocky, you find a well-crafted story that shows the rise of a troubled character trying to overcome the odds. Each character in the movie has flaws and internal conflicts, and overall are all well-developed characters. The monologue in “Rocky” where Rocky tells Adrian his fears and doubts before the big fight is a wonderfully honest portrait of a young artist on the brink of success (the above clip with his trainer Mickey ain’t bad neither). People tend to forget that Rocky does not win the match in the movie. After a close fight, he barely loses to Apollo Creed. Only a true writer would look at a story about boxer and say “He needs to lose the match for the sake of the character and the story.” Rocky's story is relatable, timeless, and always heartwarming.

The John Rambo Series

Stallone was not the creator of John Rambo—that was in fact the talented David Morrell—but he did bring him to life on the big screen. He co-wrote the first three movies (“First Blood,” “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” and “Rambo III”) and he was the sole writer of the fourth and final in the series, “Rambo.” Although I love the entire Rambo series, the fourth installment of the series has always stuck out to me the most. Although the plot seems very basic—Rambo saves hostages from a hostile country—it solely exists to move the action. When you look at the story developing within Rambo, there is so much more to find. Rambo is a man who hates who he is, and has never really came to peace with what he was made to do. By the end of the story, Rambo has been able to confront who he is enough to begin to recover and allow himself the peace to like himself again.

“Poe”

Sadly, I don't think this movie will ever be made. I have a feeling people would scoff at the idea of an “action star” making a bio pic. However, if it is ever made in to a movie I will be the first in line to see it. If I have to I will elbow an old man out of the way to get that ticket. I was lucky enough to find the script for Poe, which Stallone had penned years ago and had planned to make himself, but sadly, like so many movies, it fell apart and the story was shelved.

The movie was about famed American writer Edgar Allan Poe. Stallone was able to approach Poe as a tragic and tortured soul that had an amazing talent for writing but let his inner demons get in the way. Instead of your typical biopic, which tends to make their subjects two dimensional, Stallone actually was able to bring Poe to life in his screenplay.

It is hard to see Stallone as a “normal person” because he is, after all, Sylvester Stallone. However, at his core, he is a writer and actor who is just trying to share his stories. I like to believe that even someone like him, who has experienced such success, at one time or another felt the same self-doubt, fear, and frustration that all writers feel as they try to sort out the mess of ideas swimming around their head into a coherent story.

For more essays, check out our full archive

Remembering Voice-Over Guru Hal Douglas

Hal Douglas

Hal Douglas

By Sean Tuohy

The best part of going out to see a movie in a theater is watching the previews.

Forget the popcorn. Forget the theater. Forget the movie as well. The previews really make the experience. From the moment you sit down in the thinly cushioned seat and set your feet down on a floor that is waaaaaaay too sticky, you are waiting for the previews to begin. You know when the previews begin because the lights dim slightly, you hear music, and then a booming voice bellows:

“In a world…”

Yes! The movie preview voice! We have all tried to duplicate the voice ourselves at one point or another. But it was a voice like no other that you could only hear during a movie preview. The voice guided you through two and half minutes of flashing images and told you to get ready for an exciting time.

Sadly, that voice is no longer with us.

Hal Douglas, the famous voice-over actor, died at the age of 89.

Douglas’s dominant and impressive voice added chills and thrills to movie previews. His most famous line of all time was “In a world…” and Douglas’ voice made you believe you were really in the world he was describing. From “Lethal Weapon” to “Waterworld,” Douglas had the ability to transport you from your cheap movie house to a world filled with action, one liners, and dames with short skirts.

Movie theaters are places of magic and wonder; places for escape that make you feel safe because you leave the problems of the world at the door. Douglas’ voice was a welcoming and comforting sound to hear because it reminded you that you had a two-hour vacation from the real world. Even though he was never on screen, Hal Douglas had an incomparable influence on modern film.

In a world…without his voice just ain’t same.

For more essays, check out our full archive

Quentin Tarantino Likes His Orange Juice With Pulp

Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino

By Dave Pezza

After searching the hotel’s only two floors for a working vending machine, to no avail, I trudged to the front desk wearing unlaced boots, boxers, and an undershirt. I plopped my ice bucket, filled to the brim, on the counter. Looking at the concierge in the eyes, I said in desperation,

“Please tell me there is a working Coke machine somewhere?”

“Sorry. Both of them are broken.”

Despair ran down my face like wet paint.

“But we have cans of Coke down here…” she offered quickly in a tone of faux concern that all customer service workers use.

Hope.

“It’s warm though; is that okay?”

I looked at her blankly, then down to my bucket, then back to her.

“Yeah. That’ll work.”

Back in the room, I kicked off my boots, dropped the bucket of ice on the bathroom floor next to my flask and the ridiculously small plastic cup hotel’s provide with your ice bucket. Naked now, I test the bath water with my foot, balancing myself on the wet tile wall and the wet tile floor, hoping I don’t slip and go out naked in some hotel bathroom in Fairfield, Conn. The water was still hot! A minute later I am in the tub with a kiddie-sized plastic cup full of ice, Coke from a can, and Sailor Jerry rum watching Quentin Tarantino’s first major film, “Reservoir Dogs,” on my iPad.

For those of you unfamiliar with the screenwriter, director, and actor (or his movies), Tarantino exploded into Hollywood with his 1992 film “Reservoir Dogs.” His unconventional style of storytelling, compelling dialogue, and campy violence earned him an immediate cult following. Two years later, Tarantino would win an Academy Award for best original screenplay for his nod to 1970’s crime films "Pulp Fiction." He has made several movies since, drawing such actors as Bruce Willis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Uma Therman, Brad Pitt, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Nero, John Travolta, Christopher Walkin, and James Gandolfini to his projects. And it all started with a $1.5 million project that Tarantino wrote in three and a half weeks.

As I sit fully emerged in steaming water with only my head and right arm above the water to tilt cold cocktail into my gullet, “Reservoir Dogs” opens with Tarantino’s self-cast character, Mr. Brown, attempting to analyze Madonna’s radio hit “Like a Virgin.” The preliminary opening credits roll in gold lettering on a black screen to Mr. Brown’s voice saying,

“Let me tell you what like a virgin is about. It’s all about a girl who digs this guy with a big dick. The entire song is a metaphor for big dicks.”

Consider how ballsy a move this is. A no-name director who has spent every dime to his name on a movie that opens with a self-cast character trying to convince the audience that Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” is about big dick. And it worked. Audiences ate it up, and "Reservoir Dogs" is still a cult classic.

Mr. Brown continues, “Pain. It hurts. It hurts her…The pain is reminding a fuck machine what it was once like to be a virgin.”

Tarantino describes here the essence of his entire career in the first words of his first major work.

Tarantino has come under a lot of criticism from mainstream film critics and media for his unoriginality, gratuitous use of the N-word, and obsession with violence. Tarantino has made a career of emulating his favorite genres of films. “Reservoir Dogs” is his take on heist films; “Pulp Fiction:” crime films; “Kill Bill:” Kung Fu and samurai films; “Inglorious Bastards:” World War II movies; “Django Unchained:” spaghetti westerns. This tour de film has caused some to brand him a copycat. As far as originality is concerned, Tarantino has won two Oscars for his original screen plays “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained.”

What is more telling, and much more subtle, is how all of Tarantino’s movies loosely fit into an overarching universe. For a better connect the dots of this universe see the Cracked.com article about said topic.

Here is a quick and dirty version: Tarantino’s world is loosely held together by the principle that culture, namely films, has an intense effect of reality. In this universe, World War II was ended by a few violent American agents shooting and blowing up Hitler in a movie theater in France. As a result, American culture becomes hyper-sensitive to film culture. One of the American commandos, Donny Donowitz, in “Inglorious Bastards” is the grandfather of the Hollywood film producer in Tarantino’s “True Romance.”

Films like “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” are about people who live in this alternative America. Mr. Blonde in “Reservoir Dogs,” whose real name is Vic Vega, is the brother of hit man Vincent Vega in “Pulp Fiction.” Other Tarantino movies, like “Kill Bill” and “Grindhouse,” are films that people in this universe would go see—films within films, if you will. If reality in the Tarantino universe is as violent as “Pulp Fiction," how gory and desensitized would a movie in that universe be? The answer might be why "Kill Bill" is literally drenched in gore. So gory that Tarantino was forced to shoot part of the movie in black and white.

There are numerous other tells, like Red Apple cigarettes, a fictional brand of cigarettes seen in several of Tarantino’s movies. All of this, of course, is oh so trite.

Tarantino came under particular criticism for his characters’ use of the N-word in his film “Jackie Brown,” Tarantino’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch. This criticism came up again this past year with the release of his latest movie, “Django Unchained,” which is set in the antebellum south. Many called his exorbitant use of the N-word in the film offensive; the word is used more than a hundred times Tarantino’s response to these criticisms is more apt than anything I could come up with:

“As a writer, I demand the right to write any character in the world that I want to write. I demand the right to be them, I demand the right to think them and I demand the right to tell the truth as I see they are, all right? And to say that I can't do that because I'm white, but the Hughes brothers can do that because they're black, that is racist. That is the heart of racism, all right. And I do not accept that ... It would not be questioned if I was black, and I resent the question because I'm white. I have the right to tell the truth. I do not have the right to lie.”

Boom!

As far as his obsession with violence is concerned, yeah there is a lot of violence and gore in Tarantino films, agreed. But there is also a lot of violence in Michael Bay films, and James Cameron movies, and in most contemporary visual media. Those cries fall on deaf ears here.

As Tim Roth’s character bleeds out in the back of car on my iPad, I chew ice from the plastic cup. Refilled, I slide down in the tub and feel the warm water around me and the cold rum running down my throat. I realize something, something beyond Tarantino’s style or his racial language or his violence.

He’s just fucking cool.

The way he makes his characters speak their diction, each word chosen carefully and delivered with poise and deliberateness by his actors, has been lacking in film for quite some time. The way John Travolta rolls his cigarettes, the way Tim Roth delivers his commode story, or Uma dances around in her living room. It all makes you believe that people can still act and talk and move like this, with purpose, with attitude. In a culture filled with sweatpants in public, aluminum beer bottles, the infestation of the word “like,” and constant social media babbling, at least someone is still dedicated to cool. There is hope in Tarantino films, hope that we can still be cool and self-aware as a culture.

When I sit down to watch his movies, it reminds me of what it felt like when I smoked my first cigar or drank my first mouthful of bourbon. It reminds a white collar stooge what it was once like to have thoughts and actions as one, smooth and steady, and what it is like to be cool as fuck.

And as long as you force yourself never to forget this, perhaps while naked in a hotel tub loaded on Coke and Sailor Jerry, then maybe you’ll never lose it.

For more essays, check out our full archive