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Sunday, February 28, 2016

My 10 Favorite Films of 2015!

It's Oscar time once again, Hollywood's whitest brightest night!  The night when Hollywood's biggest stars win Hollywood's biggest award and Hollywood's stand-up community tweets about it live.  What will I be doing this Oscar night, you ask?  Well, I'll be front and center for the festivities...until Chris Rock's opening monologue ends, then I'll probably just mute the TV and read this book about the Lindbergh kidnapping I checked out from my local library recently.  Do you know much about this Lindbergh thing?!?  It is totes messed up, dudes!

Anyway, I don't really care about the Oscars any more, but I do love movies more than anything, besides than my family and Taco Bell, so, it is now time for the traditional unveiling of my Top Ten Films of 2015 list, or, rather, the 10 films released last year, out of the 14 that I actually saw, that I enjoyed the most.  Per usual, I haven't had the time to see a handful of films that I know should be on this list, but that's how it goes every year, so there is no use getting upset about it.  I actually have 2 DVDs sitting right here next to me--American Ultra and No Escape, both released in 2015--that could've been contenders for this year's list, but I've run out of time to watch them, and it's time to post, so, you know, sorry, bro.

Anyway, here are my 10 favorite movies from last year.  

10. Jurassic World: Look, I'm in the bag for any movie that has something to do with Jurassic anything (I'm a guy who genuinely enjoyed Jurassic Park 3!), and then someone goes ahead and puts Star-Lord in it?!?  You're on the list, Jurassic World.  You had me at raptors, and you sealed the deal with Pratt.  Also, I saw Jurassic World with my mommy and daddy, so that was fun.

9. Tangerine: For awhile, I thought the only thing I would appreciate about this movie was the fact that it was shot on iPhones (Kinda like how the only interesting thing about Escape From Tomorrow was that it was filmed in secret at both the Disney World and Disneyland resorts.), but then Tangerine started to grow on me.  What started as a "people walking around and yelling" movie turned into a funny/sad slice-o-life story about a community not often depicted on the silver screen.  Tangerine features two amazing central performances and some great music.  I guarantee a bunch of garbage iPhone-filmed movies will follow in its wake, so just check out the original.

8. The Revenant: Look, I agree with everybody's complaints.  The Revenant is overlong, overrated and, as Tom Scharpling so aptly described it on his show, it sounds like the entire cast was engaged in a Bit-O-Honey eating contest during every scene.  Also, the scene with the bear: while I can recognize that the CGI is expertly done, I was never not aware that I was watching Leonardo DiCaprio be mauled by a video game cut scene.  And DiCaprio should have been nominated and won for Wolf of Wall Street, blah, blah, blah.  All of that is accurate.  But The Revenant is a beautifully shot film, I mean, it looks amazing.  Should a film win Best Picture because of this?  No, it should win Best Cinematography.  Whatever my problems with the (lack of) story and the garbled dialogue (I love Tom Hardy in this, but he sounded like Bane and his character from Lawless had a baby and then smashed all of said baby's teeth out with a wooden mallet) aside, The Revenant was a pleasurable experience for the eyes, and that's why it made the list.

7. Ant-Man: Ant-Man was just fun, guys.  I didn't hate Avengers: Age of Ultron, but you'll notice it didn't make the list.  Ant-Man did though, and that's because it's fun and funny and the final fight between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket is amazingly clever and, I dunno, fun.

6. Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens: It's a Star Wars.  It's great.

5. Mission Impossible-Rogue Nation: I'm on record as being America's #1 Mission Impossible franchise fan (not true--there's no record of it--that would be ridiculous).  I hope they keep making Mission Impossible movies until the Earth implodes or President Trump starts a nuclear war with North Korea or Xenu's Second Coming, because I'll see them all.  They are America's answer to James Bond, and like everything America does, they're way better.  USA! USA! USA!  You don't see Spectre on this list, do ya?!  Exactly.

4. Dope: I completely agree with everyone's complaints about this year's Academy Awards. It's shameful.  I've heard a lot of people mention Creed (a movie I'd really like to see) and Straight Outta Compton (which I want to see, but I can wait), but I haven't heard anybody mention Dope.  This movie is something special, and that's why it's in the #4 spot.  It reminded me of the movie Go, a film from 1999 that I absolutely loved.  Dope feels like a Go for this generation.  It's got a frenetic energy and a twisted sense of humor that cannot be denied.  Plus, it's got probably the best soundtrack of the year.  Fun Fact: Dope is one of two movies featuring Zoe Kravitz that made my list, which officially makes Zoe Kravitz my favorite actor of all time.  Thems the rules.

3. It Follows: If you know me, you know I am a horror fan, an aficionado if you will, so you can trust me when I tell you that It Follows is one of the best horror movies I've seen in the last ten years (I will also tell you that 2016's The Witch is also amazingly great, so, see it.).  It's got a great look and, once again, an amazing soundtrack.  And it's scary.  And great.  And I loved it.

2. Inside Out: Beautifully animated, beautifully written and beautifully voice acted, Inside Out is an instant masterpiece.  Quality entertainment for everyone, but--and please don't get mad at me, non-kid-having readers, because I respect your decision to preserve both your free time and your sanity--but so much more meaningful (and gut-wrenching) for parents.  I love it, it tore me to pieces--I don't think I've cried harder at any other movie ever--and my daughter loved the French fry trees, so, see, something for everyone.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road: Pure cinema.  My favorite movie of 2015, and maybe ever.  Should win every Oscar.  

So, what were your favorite movies from last year?  You better not say Black Mass, because you're wrong.  Let me know in the comments or shoot me an e-mail at the address or above or like our Facebook page or don't do anything, I don't care.

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

#DLMChallenge: Mid-February Update

I can't tell you how many people have seen me on the street and shouted, "Hey, Matt, how's the DLM Challenge going?"  Sometimes I'll stroll over to the shouter and say, "Buy me a cup of coffee, and I'll tell you all about it."  The shouter, who was sooooo interested five minutes ago, interested enough to interrupt the weekly stroll I take with my family in fact, suddenly gets all nervous and twitchy and says, "That's OK," and I'll say, "Damn right it's OK!  I'm with my family, jack ass!  Why can't you people understand I'm just like you...I need my privacy too."  Most of the time though, I just point to my shirt--I always wear a shirt with the web address for this very blog printed on both the front and back whenever I'm in public--and say, "Check out the site!"

So, here's your mid-February update.  Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day.  I hope you got lots of chocolate and sex!

13. People, Places, Things: Nouns (as us hardcore People, Places, Things-heads call it) fits into the whole "slight, but charming, indie rom-coms starring comedic heavyweights being funny and a little sad" my personal DLM Challenge list has going on so far (see also: Slow Learners, The Overnight, We Need to Talk About Kevin).  Nouns is about a comic book writer/artist, played by Jemaine Clement, with twin daughters and a complicated love life.  Nouns is very enjoyable, thanks to a strong central performance by the endlessly funny Clement.  And, you know, nouns are a pretty great part of speech!

14. Eagle vs Shark: After watching Nouns, I was inspired to have myself a little Jemaine Clement Movie Marathon.  Unfortunately, Netflix streaming currently offers a mere two Jemaine Clement-starring films, and I'm not sure that's enough for a marathon proper.  Maybe I'll check Hulu's Jemaine Clement selection.

I hesitate to describe the movie this way, because I feel it will turn off some readers while exciting other readers into an orgiastic frenzy, but Eagle vs Shark is like the New Zealand version of Napoleon Dynamite.  There are two major differences however.  First, Eagle vs Shark has a discernible plot (Two social misfits, Lilly and Jarrod, meet, have awkward sex at a party where people are encouraged to come dressed as their favorite animals and then engage in a Mortal Kombat-style video game competition, and fall into a kind of love.  The pair then travel to Jarrod's hometown where he is determined to fight the bully who repeatedly beat him up when they were children.).  Second, I hated Napoleon Dynamite, and Eagle vs Shark, while saturated in pure, undiluted quirk, is sincerely funny and charming, and I like it a whole lot.

15. Collateral Damage: In my advanced age, I've found that I'm drawn to generic Arnold Schwarzenegger action flicks with vague titles.  This one is about firefighter who watches his wife and son perish in a terrorist attack, and instead of sitting back and letting the American government deal with things, journeys to Colombia himself to murder the bastard responsible, a bloodthirsty terrorist known as The Wolf.  Only, The Wolf isn't who he seems to be.  Huh, wha!?!  Intrigue!  It's all very dumb, but I don't regret inviting Collateral Damage into my brain.  

I do have one question that lingers however: Why is The Wolf front-and-center at all of his various acts of terror?  That isn't typical when it comes to leaders of terrorist organizations, is it?  I mean, Osama Bin Laden wasn't in either of the planes that hit the World Trade Center on September 11th, right?  He didn't parachute out at the last minute, land in a secret location somewhere and then escape back to his cave, right?  This Wolf does everything himself.  He's there on the ground, doing the work.  He kind makes your average terrorist mastermind look lazy.  I'm just saying.

16. Snake Eyes: Nicolas Cage in bug-eyed crazy mode + Brian DePalma pulpiness + a handful of stunning one take shots = Dumb fun.

17. Flashdance: 18-year-old Alex, a welder in a Pittsburgh steel mill by day and an exotic dancer at a blue collar bar/performance art space (???) by night, aspires to be a ballerina with a prestigious dance company regardless of the fact she's never had any formal training.  Various montages ensue.

I remember watching Flashdance with my mom when I was a kid.  They showed it on Channel 20, the same crummy, local channel on which I saw The Shining and Chopping Mall (AKA Killbots) for the first time.  I believe she turned it off following the scene where Nick takes Alex out for a fancy lobster dinner, and Alex removes her coat exposing that she is wearing only a tuxedo bib and shirt cuffs underneath (and probably pants, as I assume most restaurants, even those located in Pittsburgh, require their patrons to wear pants).  I feel like I remember my mom thinking that Alex had finally gone too far, thus making Flashdance wholly unacceptable viewing for her impressionable young son.

Also, has there ever been a bar/strip club/art gallery/performance space like Mawby's anywhere in the world?  Probably, but in this sketchy section of 1980's Pittsburgh?  Really?  Maybe Pittsburgh has a higher class of pervert.  These Hardhat McGees and Johnny Lunchpails don't seem to mind the lack of nudity in this particular "strip club."  After a long day at the steel mill, these ham-and-eggers apparently want nothing more than a pitcher of PBR and a night of edgy modern dance.  Sure.  Uh-huh.

18. Witness: Harrison Ford lives--and loves--among the Amish, while protecting a boy from being murdered by Danny Glover.  Lest you think Witness is a stuffy, Oscar-winning drama filled with quiet moments of forbidden yearning, know that in its penultimate scene, a corrupt cop drowns in an avalanche of corn.

19. Equinox: Four teenagers discover an ancient book in a cave that unleashes all kinds of demonic baddies.  Equinox is allegedly the inspiration for Evil Dead.  The only thing it inspired in me was a desire to take a nap on the couch.

20. Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens: Treated my dad to a Saturday matinee.  He called it the best of the Star Wars movies because he "understood everything that happened."  I ate an entire tub of popcorn by myself.

21. The Amazing Spider-Man 2: In this sequel to the 2012 reboot, Spidey dukes it out with Electro, and the results are nothing short of 'electric' what I would've said if this movie hadn't been so tremendously mediocre.  Much like my viewing of the first Amazing Spider-Man, my expectations were super low.  Unlike my experience with the first Amazing Spider-Man, low expectations didn't help.  Look, this DVD had been hanging around my house since mid-December, I was out sick from work and I watched it.  Here's hoping the next five Spider-Man reboots are better.

22. I Love You Phillip Morris: Based on the true story of brazen con man Steven Jay Russell, I Love You Phillip Morris, is dark, funny and endlessly fascinating.  One of those stories that if you didn't know it was based on actual events, you wouldn't buy any of it for a second.  Speaking of fascinating true stories...

23. An Honest Liar: An Honest Liar is one of the best documentaries I've seen in a long time.  The subject, James Randi (AKA The Amazing Randi; Randall James Hamilton Zwinge; The Bane of Uri Geller's Existence), started out as a magician/escape artist and went on to become the foremost debunker of fraudulent faith healers, phony psychic surgeons and all manner of New Age bullshit artists.  I'd watch a four hour documentary about this guy.  Thanks to An Honest Liar, I now know who Ramtha is.  Want to take a fun stroll down Bullshit Lane, type "Ramtha" into YouTube next time you're bored.  Great film about a very important, and downright charming, man.

Love Me: I'll watch any documentary about the mail order bride industry.  This one is specifically about men traveling to the Ukraine to find life partners.  As in every documentary on this subject, some of the participants are creeps, some are pitiable, but lovable, losers and some seem perfectly normal.  Love Me features a particularly creepy creep from Australia who I did not care for, but most of the men and women featured come across as perfectly fine, well-adjusted even.  In fact, two of the stories are downright touching.

I shouldn't add that my interest in this topic has grown exponentially since a co-worker of mine began his own search for a wife via the online international dating/mail order bride route, keeping me (and everybody else in the office, it turned out) informed of his progress with weekly updates.  His nation of choice was China.  It ultimately didn't work out.  I was convinced he was confiding in me about his search because he thought my wife, who, readers who are new to the blog might not know, is Korean, was acquired by these means.  I was a little offended, but even more offended when I found out he was telling everybody about his extra curricular activities.

25. After Porn Ends: After porn ends, I usually just turn off my computer and go to bed.  Thanks, everybody!  Don't forget to tip your waitress.

It appears after they abandon their porn careers, porn actors go on to do a lot of different stuff.  They become members of MENSA, isolate themselves from society by moving to Utah, turn into raging alcoholics...and that's just Asia Carrera.

26. Frozen: I have a four-year-old daughter, so, statistically, I have seen Frozen, roughly, 15,000 times since it's release.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

In space, no one can hear you high five


One of my favorite moments in Star Wars: Episode VI: The Force Awakens is when BB-8, the adorable little beachball-shaped droid who holds the secret to Luke Skywalker's whereabouts, gives Finn a thumbs up.  It's cute, amusing and I've laughed both times I've seen it.  It's a nice little character moment, and one, in my opinion anyway, that works within the context of the Star Wars universe.  Unfortunately, there is a line of dialogue in this very same scene that is so not Star Wars appropriate, it's a bit jarring.  You remember the moment: Rey is trying to get Finn to reveal the location of the resistance base, as she is under the mistaken impression that he is a "big deal" in the organization, while Finn pleads with BB-8 for the information, using his past association with BB-8's master, Poe Dameron, as a bargaining chip.  For the moment, BB-8 "ain't feeling it," and in frustration, Finn grumbles the following:  "Droid, please."  Finn says this in the style us earthlings use when we use the common phrase "Bitch, please."  It's a weird choice as it seems very out-of-step with Star Wars in general.  It also falls flat.  It is a forgettable, and, ultimately forgivable, miscalculation in an otherwise stellar filmgoing experience.  In fact, one father of a pop-culture blog writing 37-year-old man who regularly goes out in public wearing a baseball cap with Bowser from Super Mario Brothers stitched on it called The Force Awakens, "the best Star Wars movie I've seen, because I understood everything."

Anyway, this "Droid, please" line got me thinking about other things that would be weird, jolting or simply off-putting to see happen in the Star Wars universe; turns of phrase, cultural references or physical gestures that seem a little to Earth-bound to exist a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

1. If at any point during their escape from the First Order, Poe and Finn paused to give each other a high five, I think that would be strange.  I don't know why a casual thumbs up seems fine to me and a high five feels like a mistake, but it does.  Maybe it's already happened, and I just don't remember.  Does Darth Vader offer his son a half-hearted high five attempt after tossing Emperor Palpatine into a chasm at the end of Jedi?

2. After the Starkiller base lays waste to the Republic, Supreme Leader Snoke holds up a pack of Mentos, pops one in his mouth and winks at the audience.

3. Two random resistance soldiers are standing together sharing a package of peanuts (already weird), observing Han and Leia's tense reunion.  One resistance soldier looks at the other, shrugs and says, "You know what they say: "Men are from Mars, and women are from Jakku."  (Does Mars even exist in this universe?  I doubt it!)

4. Finn says "cool beans" after Rey outruns the First Order in the Millennium Falcon.

5. Kylo Ren has a Hawthorne Heights poster in his bedroom.

6. Harrison Ford forgets to take out his old man earring before shooting; editors fail to remove it in post.

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Food Newz: Newz You Can Uze...For Suztenance!


Chain restaurants have a history of overstepping their bounds.  Remember when Subway tried to convince America it was a viable conduit for pastrami?  Or that time Wendy's--a fast food franchise I usually trust unconditionally--tried to sell pork barbecue to discerning North Carolinians who knew better?  Or when the International House of Pancakes offered a limited-time-only All-You-Can-Eat fried shrimp dinner?  I remember that one vividly, as I was one of the few to brave the challenge.  Was it an unpleasant experience followed by a sour stomach and voluminous vomiting?  No.  Was it a memorable meal featuring the most succulent and crispy fried shrimp money can buy?  Of course not.  IHOP is not a seafood restaurant, guys.  I'm sure it was crunchy, salty and brown, and I probably ate way too much.  But it was mediocre and forgettable and not a pancake.

Look, chain restaurants, you don't have to try so hard.  In fact, you don't really need to try at all.  Just do what you do.  I don't go to McDonald's because they do the best cheeseburger in town.  McDonald's cheeseburgers are, technically, garbage, but there is something threaded into my very DNA that, from time to time, makes me desire them, and exactly them.  When I want a Cheeseburger, I'll go to Tribeca or Leesville Tap Room, two local Raleigh eateries that do a really nice burger sandwich.  When I want a McDonald's cheeseburger, well, there's only one place to go, because McDonald's does it the singular shitty way I crave.  McDonald's doesn't have to do anything "off book" to impress me (*cough* mozzarella sticks *cough*).  Just keep pumping out crummy cheeseburgers and hot, salty fries, and I'm a happy fat man.

Bruegger's Bagels is now offering brisket on the menu.  This doesn't need to be a thing.  Nobody wants Bruegger's brisket.  I don't care how hard this press release tries to convince me Bruegger's brisket is "spice-rubbed" and "smoked over hardwood for up to 16 hours," I know if I order it, I'm going to watch a Bruegger's employee yank something resembling brisket out of a metal tub that's been sitting alongside an identical tub filled with sherbet-green guacamole or thin-to-the-point-of-translusence microwaved bacon or rubbery pepperjack triangles , slap it on my bagel-of-choice, and cram it into one those incessantly-beeping ovens that all quick serve chains seem to have now.  There's nobody in the back chopping wood or stoking a fire.  That guy making bagels, the one employees are contractually obligated to loudly thank every time he dumps a basket of warm bagels into another basket, is also manning a smoker now?  I doubt it.  I like you, Bruegger's.  My daughter and I enjoy breakfasting at various Bruegger's locations in our area on a regular basis.  You've hooked us with your salt (my fav) and cinnamon raisin (the kid's fav) bagels and your excessive use of butter.  You don't need to embarrass yourself by offering brisket.  Just stop.  


Hey, Hormel, you should be ashamed of yourself.

You pick up the phone and you apologize to "Weird Al" Yankovic right now, young man!


In my ongoing campaign to confuse the hell out of my taste bus, I present Batman cereal.  My guess is that there is a corresponding Superman cereal (UPDATE: My wife has confirmed that my guess is, in fact, correct.), and from now until the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the breakfast-eating public is supposed to sample both varieties of cereal and decide which hero reigns supreme...based on cereal flavor...or something...?

I've only tried Batman cereal so far.  As you can see, it is chocolate strawberry-flavored, which, in my opinion, is very strange.  I mean, I've heard of chocolate-covered strawberries being used to create a sexy mood, but chocolate-strawberry cereal to create a tasty food?!? 

Is it tasty? I don't know.  I find myself, once again, in the steak and horseradish popcorn boat on this one.  The first bite was revolting.  The second bite was OK.  Then, when it was all gone, there was nothing left to do but stare into the brown, milky abyss left behind in my bowl.  I felt the weight of world pressing upon my shoulders, and for a moment, I fantasized about plunging the spoon death-gripped in my right fist into my own eye socket, when my four-year-old asked, "Are you going to drink the milk, Daddy?"

I grimaced.  "Ew!  No!  Of course not!"  I hate it when cereal changes the color of the milk.  Batman cereal does that, turns the milk brown, presumably chocolatey.  But it also somehow turns the milk into a thick, oily sludge.  Staring into that sludge is worse than the eating experience, so after the second bowl I consumed--weeks later, I should add--I dashed to the sink and dumped the unholy broth down the drain the moment the last bat-shaped morsel was gone.

Batman cereal sports an odd flavor that is hard to come to terms with, but it's also a flavor I've never experienced in a breakfast cereal, so I'm kind of OK with it.  I don't like this cereal as much as I am intrigued by it.  I'm open to trying Superman's offerings.


"What if life tasted as good as Diet Coke?"  The commercials that ask this question seem to be indicating that life (i.e. the kinds of lives us "normies" from the "flyover states" experience on a daily, drudge-filled basis) is a snore-filled, grey-tinted, hellscape of boredom.  For instance, this woman's flight to, say, oh, who cares?  She's in coach.  What a piece of shit.

First of all, I have a real problem with the lyrics to the song that accompanies this character's Diet Coke-fueled hallucination.  "You're so cute, I want to wear you like a suit?"  That's Silence of the Lambs talk, man!  Anyway, one sip of Diet Coke show our hero what her life could be like if she lived in some fantasy world in which airlines provide live, in-air jazz concerts and men and dogs can finally legally marry and take cross country trips together (Thanks, Obama!).  But, no, the plane is hit with the slightest turbulence, and our hero is knocked out of her Coke dream and back into reality, where a suave potential suitor becomes nothing more than a hipster in a hoodie, which is all this garbage lady deserves.  

And there's also this one:

Here's the thing: why does traveling by airplane or getting your car washed have to be a fun-filled, life-changing experience?  Do I need to witness a Gatsby-style soiree in a car wash for my life to have meaning?  Do I need dancing waiters and sexy, pin-up girl airline attendants to keep a gun barrel out of my mouth?  Dial it back, Coke.  Life doesn't need to be Moulin Rouge on a loop.  Life has its boring moments and its glitter-on-your-shoulder moments.  Get your car washed.  Ride on a plane.  Enjoy a Diet Coke while you do it.  But calm down.

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