May 31, 2013

DUEL: The Lost Art of Ambiguity

Starring Dennis Weaver. Directed by Steven Spielberg. (1971, 90 min).

As the end of the school year draws near, the middle school where I work resembles a cineplex. Teachers are finishing up the curriculum they're required to cover, and even though we are technically supposed to provide content-related instruction all the way to the end, most of us wrap things up a day or two early. Few of us will ever admit it, but this is often intentional. Anyone who's ever spent time in a middle school classroom will confirm kids are absolutely worthless during those last few days. Sure, they physically show up, but their minds have already checked-out for the summer. Providing any substantial instruction is an exercise in futility.

And truth be told, most of us teachers have checked-out as well. Trust me, the only species on Earth looking more forward to three months off than students are their teachers. But we still need to kill those last few class periods of the year. A couple of the more delusional idealistic staff members will put together some "educational-but-fun" activity, while others will generously offer those final periods as "make-up days." Most of us, however, fire up the DVD player and pop in a movie.

Now normally, any movie we decide to show in class must meet the following criteria.

  1. It must be related to the content we are teaching.
  2. It cannot contain graphic violence, language or sexuality (duh!).
  3. It cannot offend any student's values or cultural background.
  4. PG-13 movies require written permission from parents.
Do we follow these criteria? I'd say the answer is mostly yes (the exception being when we need to throw-together last-second sub-plans...My old copy of The Sandlot has come to the rescue many times when I was unexpectedly called away). However, at the end of the year, that first criteria is often tossed out the window, since at this point movies are just babysitting time killers while we teachers try to get everything graded before that last day of school.

Hence, the typical student will watch at least three or four movies during that last week (kind-of like the theater-hopping I used to do as a kid, only state-sanctioned). But alas, I'm one of the school's killjoys; I still strongly adhere to criteria #1, justifying my end-of-year movie by making it part of a persuasive writing unit, where students watch the movie, then write a few paragraphs summarizing the story and their opinion. Yes, kids think the end of the year is supposed to be nothing but good times, but I'm also convinced my principal will walk into my classroom at any given minute, looking for reason to fire me (I can't help but feel she's not my biggest fan).

So I end each year teaching persuasive writing, a skill that's damn hard for seventh graders. Why is it so difficult? Because they're seventh graders, of course, and many stare at me with faces that say "How dare you make me think in June, you evil bastard."

In fact, just last year, one of my more vocal intellectual giants (we'll call him Cody) quipped, "Why do we have to write about it? Why can't we just watch it? I thought you were cool."

"Because this is a writing class," I replied, resisting the urge to add, and guess how many fucks I give about how cool you think I am.

"But it's the last week of school," he protested.

"Fine, don't do it," I replied as I passed out movie review worksheets to the class.

Cody wasn't apparently expecting that response, because he tilted his little head like a perplexed puppy. "Really?"

"Sure. I ain't your boss. I can't make you do it."

"But will that affect my grade?"

"Of course."

That's when Cody, staring daggers into me, bitterly threw open his binder and yanked out a pencil, resigned to his fate of yet-one-more work day. Strike one up for reverse psychology.

During this final week, most teachers bring movies these students have likely seen a hundred times. But because my end-of-year flick is an actual assignment, I try to find titles few of them have ever heard of. I want them to develop their opinions as they are watching it. Hence, I always choose movies made long before any of them were born, yet avoid classics virtually everyone has seen (like Star Wars or The Wizard of Oz).

I also choose titles I think will illicit the most varied responses, because there’s nothing more boring than reading a hundred papers all expressing the same exact opinion. I have to admit I've gotten some hilarious responses to various movies over the years. A few choice examples:

  • Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure: "This movie was no good because I don't like rock and roll."
  • Watership Down: "It's awesome because lots of rabbits die."
  • Watership Down: "It was confusing because the bunnies were from England, not America."
  • Driving Miss Daisy: "This movie is racist."
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind: "It was fake and not as realistic as Transformers."
  • The Hunt for Red October (which confused the shit out of most of them): "I didn't like it because it's racist against Russians."
  • The Birds: "It wasn't very good because it was made before people knew birds are nice animals."
  • Field of Dreams: "I did not like it because nobody gets hurt in the movie."
  • Field of Dreams: "It was great because it's a true story."
  • Field of Dreams: "The baseball players lived in the corn field so they would have something to eat."

But my favorite movie to show kids is Duel, made by Steven Spielberg back in 1971 before anyone knew who he was.

"Goddamn tailgaters."

Duel has one of the simplest plots of all time. Mild-mannered motorist David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is driving on a Southern California highway on his way to a business meeting when he is inexplicably terrorized by a demented trucker behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler. The trucker is never shown, and the crux of this cat-and-mouse story is how Mann manages to deal with this sudden life-and-death struggle he's been thrown into. Duel originally aired on ABC as part of its slap-dash Movie of the Week series, but was so well-constructed that it was released theatrically overseas. Today, it is widely considered one of the greatest made-for-TV movies of all time.

I remember watching the movie when Portland's local independent channel, KPTV, aired it a few years later as part of its The Movie series, where they'd show the same movie at 8:00 PM every day during the week. I was riveted, and even at the age of ten, intrigued by the fact the truck driver was never shown. That unknown factor made the movie just a little bit scarier. Since then, I've learned to appreciate films that don't need to show, explain and lay-out every little detail, especially if they aren't really essential to the story.

I was especially proud of my youngest daughter, Lucy, when we sat to watch the sci-fi horror film, Cube. That film presents seven people trying to find their way out of a lethally-trapped-laden labyrinth. None of them knows how they got there, nor is it ever explained. We never learn the purpose of the cube, why it exists or who constructed it. Storywise, it isn't important, and my eight-year-old daughter knew that. She simply accepted the situation presented and went with it, enjoying Cube for the same reason I first loved Duel.

Alas, there is a huge percentage of the population who have a big problem with films which don't explain everything, even if it's inessential to the plot. Here are some for my favorite examples of student responses to Duel (many whom hated it simply because it was old, and I'll omit those):

  • "This movie sucks because we don't know who is trying to kill the guy."
  • "It would have been better if the driver of the car wasn't such a pussy."
  • "Why is the truck driver trying to kill him? Normal people need a reason to kill people."
  • "The car driver's mustache is funny looking."
  • "If I was driving the car, I would speed up."
  • "This was stupid because I can't see the truck driver."
  • "It makes no sense because we never see who is trying to kill the Mann guy."
  • "Even though the movie is old, it's pretty good except we never see the driver."
  • "It ends bad because the trucker driver dies before we can see who he is."
  • "I don't know why the car driver is so scared because he doesn't know who the truck driver is."

I could list at least two dozen other responses from students who simply could not get past the fact the truck driver is never shown. That bugged them more than anything, even though who's driving the truck has no impact on the plot. One of those kids was Cody, who voiced his disapproval after the film was done...

"That was stupid," he quipped.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because I didn't understand it."

"What didn't you understand?" Again, I refrained from adding, if the movie was stupid, and you didn't understand it, what does that say about you?

"Well, this truck driver was trying to kill the guy, but we never see him and it never says why."

Briefly climbing on my cinematic high-horse, I shot back with, "That's what's scary about it, that the unseen truck driver randomly chose a guy to try an kill."

Cody rolled his eyes. "That doesn't make it scary. That makes it stupid."

I was obviously in the minority, since many of Cody's peers nodded in agreement. And while their responses are initially amusing, I'm a bit sad at the state of what appears-to-be the mindset of many moviegoers, the need for everything to be laid-out before them, and even the slightest bit of ambiguity throws them for a loop.

But here's my biggest impressionable eight-year-old daughter was able to watch a film and accept the story as-presented without getting hung-up on petty details. So why are so many of my older - supposedly more mature - students unable to do the same? Are they simply used to being spoon-fed everything presented to them? Are they told what to think by others? Are they so used to stuff like The Fast and the Furious that they are unable to watch a film and pull-out something which isn't blatantly laid-out?

Maybe it's because Lucy has grown up with a cinemaphile and approaches movies with the same open mind as her old man, because she recently watched Duel and didn't give a damn about who drove the truck. She liked it simply for what it was...pure cinema, even if originally made for TV.

An Interview with JAMES FRANCO for the Blu-Ray/DVD Release of OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

Disney’s fantastical adventure Oz The Great And Powerful uncovers the origins of the beloved wizard character first brought to life in L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz. As a cinematic prequel to the book, the eye-popping action follows the story of Oscar Diggs, a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics. When Diggs is hurled away to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot – until he meets three witches, who aren’t convinced he’s the great wizard everyone is expecting. Reluctantly drawn into epic problems facing Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it’s too late.

Sam Raimi is the acclaimed director behind the action-packed spectacle, which boasts a stellar cast including James Franco as Oscar Diggs, the predestined wizard; Mila Kunis as the tormented young witch Theodora; Rachel Weisz as Theodora’s older sister, Evanora, the witch who rules over the Emerald City; and Michelle Williams as Glinda, the good witch.

With the Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD of Oz The Great And Powerful about to be released, we chat to James Franco to discover more about the project…

Is it true that you trained with acclaimed Las Vegas magician Lance Burton in order to tackle the role of Oscar Diggs?
That’s very true. We shot the movie in Detroit and they hired Lance Burton to come out and train me there. [Oz The Great And Powerful director] Sam Raimi was very insistent that I have two weeks of magic training, so I went to Detroit two weeks early in order to do that.

What magic tricks did you learn?
Lance taught me a lot of tricks, so I got to the point where I could materialize doves out of nowhere. I start with a flame in my hand and then I turn it into a dove. Or I take off my gloves and I turn them into a dove. I also know a ‘rabbit out of the hat’ trick and other things like that. I did all that work and then the scenes that were going to feature the magic tricks turned out to be too long, so they were quickly cut from the finished movie. We never got to see them on the big screen.

Do you know enough tricks to entertain at a children’s birthday party?
Sure, I could do that! A lot of the tricks involve intricate preparations, so I would need an assistant like Lance Burton to help me set them up – but I could pull it off. If you have any kids parties and you want to pay me a lot, I’ll definitely come and do it. [Laughs]

What does magic mean to you?
I wouldn’t say I am the biggest magic enthusiast, but I do enjoy that world. What’s the name of the guy who works with David Mamet? Ricky Jay. I really enjoyed his show, Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants at the Geffen in Los Angeles. He’s a huge magic scholar. I would say that I definitely like the world of magic, but I am not a magic specialist.

What does the fantasy genre mean to you?
The first movie that I can remember seeing in theaters was Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. I guess I liked it so much that my parents kept taking us back to see it over and over again. I saw it many times in the theater, so that maybe started the ball rolling for me with fantasy. Soon after that, my father read The Hobbit to me, and that was one of the main books that started my love of reading. That’s what got me reading the Oz books of Frank L. Baum, on which this movie is based. If we are talking about fantasy books, those were the two things that really sparked my imagination: the Oz books and the Tolkien books. It all started from there.

What is it like to work with Sam Raimi on a project like this?
Sam is one of the most fun directors to work with. A director really sets the tone of how people go about things, so when you have someone like Sam involved, everybody is happy. He’s a very collaborative director, not just with the actors but with all departments and it really makes people want to do their best because they all feel like they are a big part of the movie. I love working with Sam. I’d do anything with him.

What did you enjoy the most about working with the various witches of Oz: Theodora, played by Mila Kunis; Evanora, played by Rachel Weisz, and Glinda, played by Michelle Williams?
It was great because they all played very different witches, so the scenes that I played with all of them were all very different. With Mila’s character, Theodora, I play more of a seducer and charmer. Rachel’s character is trying to dupe me, so I play a little bit more of a fool or a buffoon with her. And then with Michelle’s character, Glinda, it’s more of a straightforward romance. It was nice to have that variety.

How would you describe your female co-stars?
I got to work with three of the best actresses working today, which was very exciting. They are all very different actresses, and they all played very different parts. But one thing I can say about them all is the fact that they are very good at doing research and background on their characters. I think Michelle read most of the books and did a bunch of research that really manifested itself in her scenes. She was very focused on detail. And with Rachel, we only had one or two scenes together, but she was very good at improvising and looking for alternative takes once we’d got the scripted scene down.

What was it like to work with Mila Kunis?
Mila is amazing. She’s a very talented actress who is great to work with because she’s so collaborative. She’s very open and she’s very quick on her feet. When I first met with [Oz The Great And Powerful producer] Joe Roth and Sam Raimi, they were already talking to Mila – and that was a big plus for me.

The sets created for the movie are incredibly impressive, but there was also a lot of blue screen work. Do you prefer to work on movies where you have to use your imagination and blue screen? Or do you prefer the ultra-realistic work of movies like 127 Hours?
I don’t prefer one or the other. I don’t think like that. When I look at a new film project, I don’t say, “Oh, I love independent films. That’s the only time I get to do what I truly love.” And I don’t say, “I only want to do big budget films.” I just think about what one wants to achieve with the film. With this film, half of the movie is a fantastical world that needs to be created in a particular way that costs a lot of money, so this movie needed to be made by a big studio. I was really happy and excited to be involved with it. I think it’s great.

You’re an actor, a producer, a writer, a director and a teacher… Is there anything left for you to conquer in the entertainment industry?
There’s always more to learn. I guess it would be cool to write a play one day. I love the theater and I love going to plays, so that might be good for me. I’ve only acted in small theaters in Los Angeles, but I like acting on stage in front of live audiences, so that would also be great. Who knows what’s next? I’ll guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

May 26, 2013

New Disc Review: 12 ROUNDS 2: RELOADED (Blu-Ray/DVD)

Starring Randy Orton, Cindy Busby, Brian Markinson, Tom Stevens, Sean Rogerson. Directed by Roel Reine. (2013, 95 min).

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

The original 12 Rounds featured WWE star John Cena, who was attempting to successfully jump from the ring to the big screen (as far as I know, he's still trying). While Cena is no Dwayne Johnson and the film was essentially a low-wattage Die Hard clone, it was a mildly-diverting action-fest, and apparently successful enough to justify a follow-up (albeit one released straight to video).

While the awkward title establishes 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded as a sequel, it has an entirely different set of characters, cast and crew. Only the plot remains the same, making this more of a low-budget remake. It does however, feature another WWE star in the lead role, Randy Orton, who's no Dwayne Johnson either, but his performance is at-least on par with Cena's in the original.

Orton plays nick Malloy, a happily-married EMT on his way home from a date with his wife when he witnesses a violent car accident. He tries to help those involved in the crash, but one female passenger dies. Fast-forward one year, and Heller, the husband of that victim, wants revenge on all of those he feels let her die, while the drunk driver who caused the accident not only survived, but got off relatively scot-free. He eventually learn the driver, an obnoxious kid named Tommy, happens to be the son of a powerful politician. Heller forces Nick (with Tommy in-tow) into a deadly 12-round cat-and-mouse game similar to that in the first film. Nick must find clues leading him to the next round, in order to save his own wife.

"'Why Don't We Do It in the Road?', you said!
"No one will be watching us, you said!"
As direct-to-video sequels go, I've seen worse. The action is fairly budget-conscious, and there's one sexually-gratuitous scene so out of place that you can't help but laugh, but there's also a surprising amount of ambition here. Though he's seldom required to do more than kick ass and snap limbs, Orton does a decent enough job in the lead role, making us actually like the character. I was also impressed that, as the villain, Heller (Brian Markinson), is not entirely unsympathetic. We can sort-of understand his motives, even if we may not condone his actions.

There are plot holes you could drive a truck through, to be sure. We are forced to accept that one guy has enough technical prowess and computer equipment at his disposal to bring an entire city to its knees. Not only that, we are supposed to believe he has enough strategically-placed video cameras throughout the city to monitor everything that's going on. But for a quick & dirty action flick, that's just nitpicking. 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded, like it's predecessor, is mildly-diverting, undemanding entertainment, surely worth renting on a dull weekend.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Randy Orton Reloaded; The Action of 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded; Locations: From Heller’s Lair to the Sugar Factory; Audio Commentary

(out of 5)

May 25, 2013

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and the Heat of the Moment

Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Weller, Alice Eve. Directed by J.J. Abrams. (2013, 133 min).

I have a question for all of you frequent moviegoers, which I'll get to in a moment.

Trekkies all, the family and I went to see Star Trek Into Darkness, the second film in the rebooted franchise. I won't go into detail about the movie itself, other than it is all kinds of awesome, with enough Easter eggs and nods to the original series (as well as one of the early films) to please even the most casual fan. To mention too much about the film would mean giving away some of its greatest surprises. However, something began to trouble me during the third act, a gnawing feeling that had nothing to do with the movie itself.

Sitting in that packed theater, a daughter on each side of me, I began getting uncomfortably warm. At first I thought it was just me, a hot flash or something (I get more of those as I get older and my body rejects the shit I put into it). None of this diminished my enjoyment of the movie (I think this is the best Star Trek film of all, including the sacred Wrath of Khan), but as the end credits began to roll, I couldn't wait to get out of there. We usually stick around for any post-credit surprises (many geek-friendly flicks have 'em these days, thanks to Marvel), but my oldest daughter, Natalie ,heard there were none, so I led the charge out of the theater, sighing with relief once the cool lobby air hit my face.

My wife, Francie, stopped to hit the restroom on the way out. I knew she loved the movie without even asking. I always know what she thinks of a film based on how often she pees while it’s playing. Two or more times means it sucks, one trip means it's good, and zero bathroom breaks means it's great. The only time she left during Star Trek Into Darkness was because Lucy (our youngest) had to go potty, so judging by how long Francie was in the restroom after the movie, this was one of the great ones. If anyone reading this is still debating whether or not to see the film, my wife's willingness to hold it until the end is as good a recommendation as a thumbs-up from Roger Ebert.

"You know, it's customary to say 'excuse me' afterwards."

Anyway, on our way to the car I complained about the sudden heat in the theater. Francie argued maybe it was body heat from everyone else. That's horseshit, because I just sat in air-conditioned comfort for two hours among a few hundred people, only to get suddenly overheated at the end. It wasn't collective body heat or a bad diet that caused my discomfort, nor is it the first time this has happened. I've noticed this sudden environmental change during the last several movies we attended, always during the final act, regardless of the number of people in the theater. It was especially bad during Iron Man 3, because we had to stick around through the end-credits (if you saw that one, you know why).

So my question to you is this: Is it me, or are some theaters shutting off the air-conditioner during the final act so you'll get the hell out of there? Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I'm convinced they're trying to clear everyone out of the auditorium as fast as possible so they can get a head-start cleaning up before the next show. Next time you go to the movies, look that the number of theater employees standing off to the side, brooms and trash bags in-hand, before it's even over. It's nearly as distracting as someone texting a few rows in front of you. They can't wait for you to leave because the faster you're outta there, the faster they can clean up your mess and move on to the next auditorium. What better way to clear the house than making it too uncomfortable to stick around?

I read somewhere once that McDonald's intentionally makes their restaurants' seats too uncomfortable to sit in for long periods of time, so you'll wolf down your meal and leave immediately after, thus assuring a steady flow of customers in and out of the place. I can't verify whether or not that's true, but you gotta admit that it makes sense from a business standpoint. So isn't it reasonable that multiplex theaters would similarly-benefit from a faster turnaround time? I would think labor costs would be drastically-reduced if employees could commence cleaning before the credits are over, and the only way to do that is get all of us out of there.

I'll bet theater employees absolutely hate it when Marvel Comics movies are playing. Of late, Marvel Studios have turned post-credit scenes into an art form, offering humorous codas or tantalizing peeks of what's in-store for the future. A lot of moviegoers have caught on, willing to face the heat and stick around through the credits of these films, forcing employees to idly standby until the screen goes dark.

I'd like to think I'm not the only guy who thinks theaters are intentionally adjusting the climate for a faster customer turnover. Because if I am, that means it's all me...either it's in my head or I'm simply older, fatter and less-able to sit for that long without pitting-out.

May 24, 2013

New Disc Review: MOVIE 43 (Blu-Ray/DVD)

Starring Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Common, Seth MacFarlane, Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Anna Faris, Justin Long, Uma Thurman, Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, Sean William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Gerard Butler, Halle Berry, Terrence Howard, Elizabeth Banks. Directed by Peter Farrelly, Elizabeth Banks, James Gunn, Brett Ratner, et al. (2013, 94 min).

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Movie 43 is, so far, one of the most critically reviled movies of the year. Many of those critics have already declared it among the worst movies ever made. Richard Roeper even cheekily dubbed it "the Citizen Kane of awful."

Is it really that bad? No, but it is pretty terrible, the kind of thing immature ninth grade boys would make if they had all of Hollywood's resources at their disposal. Movie 43 is a staggering train wreck of a film with the biggest cast of A-list actors since The Ten Commandments, and numerous directors whose skills are wasted here (well, maybe not Brett Ratner's). It's one of those movies that you watch in slack-jawed amazement at the amount of talent involved to produce something so blatantly offensive, crude and stupid.

But it's that train-wreck quality that actually makes Movie 43 initially fascinating. Seeing such respected actors as Richard Gere, Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts and Uma Thurman (to name a few) appear in something like this is, at the very least, a one-of-a-kind experience. One can't help but wonder what possessed some of them to do this.

"Is that a banana in your pocket or are you just
glad to see me?"
The movie itself is a series of crude sketches, the kind you might see on Saturday Night Live if they didn't have to adhere to network TV standards, thinly tied together by an overarching segment in which involves a disturbed screenwriter making a sales pitch to a movie studio. Though this connecting arch is pretty awful, the first actual sketch is really funny, involving a blind date with Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman, the running gag being that Jackman has a set of testicles hanging from his chin. It actually raises one's expectations that the rest of the movie will be just as much uninhibited fun, a feeling reinforced by the next sketch, in which some loving parents, home-schooling their teenage son, go to extremes to recreate the high school experience at home. At this point, I found myself thinking maybe those critics who hated the movie needed to lighten up.

But alas, things go downhill from there. You know how SNL loads all their best material in the first half hour, leaving the crappy shit until the end? Except for what is arguably the greatest Tampax commercial of all time, the rest of Movie 43 consists of crappy shit, trading in cleverness for shock value, daring the viewer to be offended. That these god-awful sketches feature respected actors appears to be the entire point of the whole movie.

If that's the case, then perhaps all those condemning critics had it wrong all along. After seeing Movie 43, I have to say maybe its utter awfulness is intentional, especially since it's technically well made and the performances are actually pretty good (despite the idiocy of the material, most of the cast bring their A-game). From that standpoint, Movie 43 is morbidly compelling, like our tendency to slow down to check out a violent car wreck on the way to work.

But that doesn't mean we want to see vehicular carnage every day on our daily commute. After the novelty of seeing this cast appear in shockingly-crude sketches wears off, most folks aren't likely to sit through them again, making Movie 43 a film that’s best seen just once.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Alternate Cut; Deleted Short - "Find Our Daughter"; Theatrical Trailer

(Out of 5)

May 22, 2013

THE PARALLAX VIEW vs. Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Starring Warren Beatty, Hume Cronyn, William Daniels, Paula Prentiss, Earl Hindman. Directed by Alan J. Pakula. (1974, 102 min).

This opening message is for any teenagers thinking of throwing a big party at the house while your parents are out of town: Don't.

It won't turn out like you think. Lots of shit will get broken. Half of those who show up will be people you didn't even invite. A couple will end up having sex in your parents' bed, despite the fact you declared the room off-limits. Some asshole will try to get your dog stoned. There's also a good chance a neighbor will call the cops complaining about the noise.

The next day, your house will resemble a tornado-ravaged trailer park, and you'll have only a few hours to clean it all up (including the lingering stench of pot, beer & vomit) before your folks return. Everyone at the party (even those you did invite) will have deserted you hours ago, meaning you'll be on your own to restore the house to its pre-party condition (and you'll be massively hung-over, to boot).

Most teenagers reading this will likely not take my advice. To them, I offer this: If you still insist on throwing a party, do yourself one big favor...hide everything you personally consider valuable.

Back then, what mattered most to me was my music collection. Cassettes were the format-of-choice at the time, and I had a ton of them...Judas Priest, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Rush, Queen, The Cars, Pat Benatar, all mega-popular in the early 80s. After the party, most of them were gone, stolen by folks who took advantage of the fact I was really hammered. While this may not seem like a big deal in this day and age of downloading for free, please remember that my impressive collection was the result of several years' worth of allowance.

Because I was racing the clock trying to clean the house before Mom & Dad got home, it took awhile for me to notice that my music collection had been decimated. None of my LPs were touched (mostly old stuff like The Beatles and Kiss), but my cassette rack was almost empty, save for my entire collection of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP). Nobody wanted those. When I finally did notice my suddenly-sparse cassette rack, I was mostly thankful no one bothered to steal them because ELP was my favorite group.

I bought a lot of cassettes simply because they were popular and sounded cool when cranking them up in my car. But ELP was special to me. They were also the first band my parents expressed an utter hatred for (Dad called ‘em Emerson, Lake & Shit), making then even cooler to me. What my folks didn’t know was ELP were already dinosaurs by the time I expressed interest in them. Disco and punk rock had already taken over, and the kids who stole all my cassettes didn't give a shit about ELP because the were never popular with most teenagers to begin with. Hell, I was never able to effectively explain why I liked them.

I still enjoy them, even though I see why so many people don’t. ELP never made catchy, danceable singles. Many of their classic songs were long, self-congratulatory instrumental excursions, despite the occasional ballad which became an accidental hit. My folks hated them so much they actually forbade me to listen to them for a time. Today, ELP are not as revered as other 70's icons. Neither is a paranoid little film from my childhood called The Parallax View. There isn’t much modern love for this movie either.

To elaborate, soon after marrying way too young, moving out of the house and quickly experiencing financial dire straits, little-by-little, I began to sell my beloved record and tape collection for groceries and gas. However, the buy-&-sell record stores where I conducted business were never interested in my ELP albums (because none of their other customers were interested either).

Similarly, when I later started making my transition from VHS to DVD, I slowly started unloading the old tapes in my collection. I didn't get much for them (VHS became worthless pretty quickly in the late 90s), but often enough to trade five or six tapes for a brand-spanking new disc. Still, there were some titles dealers refused to pay anything for, obscure 70s relics like Grizzly, The Medusa Touch, The Big Bus and The Parallax View, movies loved by myself but few others. Once I had those titles on disc, I couldn't even give VHS versions away.

Obviously, what's considered great is highly subjective, but it was somewhat depressing to learn how low some people valued the movies I've always held in such high regard. On the other hand, if a drug-addled movie fan were to break into my house today and select only the films they could easily pawn, I'm sure many of my sentimental favorites would be left behind for me to enjoy another day.

"Hey, boy...I got twenty bucks that says you can't find my twenty bucks."

The Parallax View is definitely one of those, where Warren Beatty plays Joe Frady, a frankly-obnoxious reporter for a Seattle newspaper who uncovers a conspiracy behind the recent assassination of a congressman. One-by-one, many of the people who witnessed the event are dying in mysterious accidents. Several clues lead Frady to the Parallax Corporation, a huge American company with its hands in a several industries. One of its more lucrative business ventures is the recruiting and training of assassins. Frady then goes undercover as a would-be recruit in order to expose the conspiracy.

Released in 1974 (at the peak of ELP’s popularity, by the way), The Parallax View was yet-another film where Beatty was trying his damnedest to break free of his matinee idol image. At this point in history, he was a huge star, but ever since Bonnie and Clyde, always seemed to be going out of his way to downplay how good-looking he was (sort of like George Clooney today).

Like ELP's music, The Parallax View hasn't aged very well, a relic from the post-Watergate era, and nobody today ever mentions it among the classics of the 1970s. Like my parents' and classmates' disdain for ELP, it's easy to understand why. Considering it's directed by Alan J. Pakula (a man of considerable talent), the movie looks sloppily slapped together. It also seems like entire transitional scenes are missing which would have made it more cohesive. Not that it's hard to follow or anything, but sometimes we don't see how Frady makes the connection from A-to-B with the few leads he's found so far. It is also hard to identify with Frady himself, who's pretty pushy and self-centered from the get-go. Beatty is good, as is the rest of the cast, but we're given no reason to give a damn about any of them. Not only that, the action scenes are actually kinda lame...even the opening fight atop Seattle's Space Needle.

Still, it's one of my oddball childhood favorites, like my love of ELP. I first saw it when me and my friend Greg snuck into it at the Southgate Quad, where it was the bottom half of a double feature with 3 Days of the Condor (starring Robert Redford, another guy trying to shed his matinee idol image). Condor didn't leave much of an impression...too confusing for a 13 year old. So was The Parallax View, but the final scene knocked me for a loop, maybe because I'm pretty sure this was the first movie I ever saw with a totally bleak & nihilistic resolution. Sure, I'd already seen Planet of the Apes, but at least Charlton Heston survived. By the end of The Parallax View, everyone remotely considered a protagonist is dead. All the bad guys emerged unscathed, free to continue their nefarious ways.

That ending stuck with me - even haunted me a little bit - because I was accustomed to my movies offering at least a branch of hope to cling to. The Parallax View has no such branch, so even if I didn't understand everything going on back then, it gave me something different.

I found that cool, just like ELP was cool. Both were much different than my usual diet of action movies and Kiss records. Sure, The Parallax View is just another pitch-black conspiracy thriller from a decade rife with them, but it altered my perception of what movies could be. While the film isn't without its flaws (most of which I noticed when viewing as an adult), it presented a deep dish of despair...and this 13 year old liked the taste.

May 17, 2013

Play the A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD Game (Free!)

With the release of A Good Day to Die Hard on DigitalHD™ this week – three weeks in advance of the June 4th Blu-ray release – we are pleased to bring you a little fun in the form of a free 16-bit A Good Day to Die Hard game. Just click the image to start 'Going McClane' on everybody!

May 16, 2013

New Disc Review: DARK SKIES (Blu-Ray/DVD)

Starring Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Hoyo, Kadan Rocket, J.K. Simmons. Directed by Scott Stewart. (2013, 97 min).

There's something about weird-ass symbols that make everything just a bit creepier.

Case in point...last week I got a postcard in the mail. There was no return address...just a single message: "Have you been chosen?" Normally, I would have first assumed I won something, followed almost immediately by the realization that whatever I was 'chosen' for would likely require sitting through a time-share seminar. But this cryptic announcement was surrounded by bizarre shapes and symbols...almost like mini crop circles. For a brief second, the chronic paranoia in me took over. I've seen enough horror movies to know weird-ass symbols are never a good sign

The postcard wasn't directly addressed to me, but Free Kittens Movie Guide, meaning it was a promo. Sure enough, Dark Skies on Blu-Ray arrived a few days later, a film where these shapes play an important role in the story. I gotta admit it was an ingenious introduction to the movie.

This one is touted as being "from the producer of Paranormal Activity and Insidious," two films which were far better than I thought they'd be. Hence, I had slightly higher expectations for this one than a lot of recent horror movies.

What's worse than aliens in the house? A big-ass spider on the ceiling.
Dark Skies follows the Insidious formula pretty closely...a typical, young suburban family begins to experience inexplicable events at home (groceries tossed around the kitchen, family photos vanishing, suicidal birds, etc.). Most of the strange phenomena appear to be directed at Jesse & Sam, their two kids. The dark bruises appear all over Sam’s torso. Moody older brother, Jesse, has a violent seizure, and upon examination, their physician finds strange symbols tattooed all over his body (See? Not a good sign!). Mom believes supernatural forces are behind it all. Dad needs a lot more convincing, which he gets after installing video cameras all over the house and catching the terror on tape. But it isn’t until they meet an eccentric, cat-hoarding recluse (J.K. Simmons) that they learn what they’re up against: The Greys, a horde of kid-snatching extra-terrestrials.

So yeah, Dark Skies is basically Insidious with aliens. Writer/Director Scott Stewart (who also helmed the underrated Priest) provides some nice moments of tension throughout the first half. A solid cast helps make the whole thing seem at-least plausible. Although the concept is a little murky, it’s mostly intriguing enough to maintain interest. However, unlike Insidious (which had some truly terrifying moments), Dark Skies is never very scary, and the payoff isn’t nearly as satisfying. It also feels padded out with some unnecessary subplots. This family’s financial problems don’t figure into the story at all, nor does Jesse’s awkward sexual awakening (these scenes slow the movie down to a crawl).

Though a fairly predictable variation on the family-in-peril genre, Dark Skies is well-made for what it is. It doesn’t instill the same level of dread as Insidious, but it’s far from the worst of its ilk (and a hell of a lot better than any of the Paranormal Activity’s dreadful sequels). I don’t regret being chosen.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Scott Stewart, Producers Jason Blum & Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and Editor Peter Gvozdas. Alternate & Deleted Scenes.


(OUT OF 5)

May 13, 2013

PINK FLOYD: THE WALL and My Depressed Pooch

Starring Bob Geldof, Christine Hargreaves, Eleanor Davis, Alex McAvoy, Bob Hoskins. Directed by Alan Parker. (1982, 95 min).

I have a Wheaten Terrier named Murphy. He's sort-of a 'rebound' dog, meaning we bought him to replace another Wheaten Terrier, Moose, who was only ten months old when he was hit by a car.

I was devastated when Moose died, which is ironic because I didn't initially even want a dog. Until my wife brought him home without bothering to check with me (resulting in a few days of giving each other the Silent Treatment), I was content with cats. But Moose endeared himself to me and I quickly grew to love him. When he died, the house felt suddenly empty. A few days after his passing, I did what many guys do after being unceremoniously dumped by a girl they assumed was the love of their life: quickly find a dog who looks just like him.

I found a breeder in Arkansas who had Wheaten puppies at a cheap price, and after pleading to my wife with teary eyes, we bought Murphy. It was actually more expensive to pay the shipping price than for the dog himself. We later discovered why we got him so cheap...he came from a puppy mill.

Generally, Wheaten Terriers are friendly, energetic, playful, loyal and loving. So was Moose, but while Murphy did indeed resemble Moose, like that rebound girlfriend, the similarities ended there. Murphy turned out to be easily frightened, often spending a lot of time cowering under our bed, with a huge distrust of male humans. During those first few months, his overall anxiety messed with his digestion, and he ruined our carpet with puddles of vomit and diarrhea. Whenever we called him, even with a treat in-hand, he'd run away. It took a loooong time for him to warm up to any of us. Even though I was the one he first laid eyes on when I picked him up at the airport, it was with Francie (my wife) that he developed the strongest bond (which pissed me off to an extent, since I was the one who wanted him so badly).

Murphy eventually overcame most of his quirks, but he'll still go scampering into the bedroom if you stare at him too long, and with the exception of me, he barks like he's rabid whenever a male enters the house. He doesn't like to play with other dogs or visit my kids in their rooms. He shits on the driveway instead of the yard. And while he is sometimes very playful, there are often times when he just lays on the floor, looking like he hates being a dog. It's even worse when Francie leaves. When she's gone, he just mopes around, totally depressed. He doesn't want to play, eat his favorite treats or go on walkies. And he'll stay that way until he sees Francie again. Watching him like this sometimes ends up depressing me.

If there was a soundtrack to Murphy's life, it would consist of Pink Floyd music. In fact I'm convinced that, if he were human, his iPod playlist would contain of a ton of Floyd, which would enhance those times he chooses to wallow in his own misery.

Pink Floyd is, of course, one of the biggest bands of all time. They were especially huge in the 70s and early 80s, making records which practically begged you to drop a hit of acid before throwing on the headphones. Their album, Dark Side of the Moon was to head trips what John Williams' film score was to Jaws

Bob Geldof wants to change the channel, but like so many of us, can't find the remote.

I was in high school when Pink Floyd released their biggest album, The Wall. The band was already very popular, but this double-album turned them into a cultural phenomenon. Everyone was listening to it, mostly because of the hit single, "Another Brick in the Wall," a song that, when heard outside of the context of the album, sounds like a simple-minded rebellious anthem. But Pink Floyd was never a 'singles band'. Their 70s records were conceptual, all songs tied to an ambiguous central theme or idea. They were also dark, nihilistic and generally contemptuous of human nature. With hindsight, it is obvious the members of Pink Floyd (songwriter Roger Waters in particular) were not doing the same drugs as their longtime fans, and The Wall is easily their most bitter, angry & mean-spirited record, even giving a few 'fuck yous' to the legions who made Floyd so huge to begin with.

I briefly got into Pink Floyd back then, mainly because of a stoner buddy named Scott. And yeah, during those times we passed the bong around, they were the greatest band on Earth. But the inherent problem with Floyd's music is this: listening to it sober is an entirely different experience..

I can't speak for everyone, but for me, without mind-altering chemicals, Pink Floyd is somber, slow and very depressing. And not just the lyrics...the music itself is depressing. Even if the lyrics to "Dogs," (from the album, Animals) were actually about dogs, the music alone would make you wanna curl up in bed until the bad feelings go away.

The film, Pink Floyd: The Wall, came out in 1982 (my senior year). Of course, me and my cannabis cronies went to see it (at a midnight showing). Of course, we got good & baked beforehand. So of course, we thought it was great (especially the mind-blowing animated sequences). This wasn't the first musical based on a popular rock record. There was 1975's Tommy, an incoherent mess with terrible performances. Then we got Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, such an awesome train-wreck that watching it today can still cause altered minds to explode.

If nothing else, Pink Floyd: The Wall is one rock musical which stays true to its origins, telling its story exclusively through music and imagery (since there’s no actual dialogue, one could even consider it the longest music video ever made). Though star Bob Geldof croaks out a few tunes, the rest of the music is lifted directly from Floyd’s album. Band leader Roger Waters also wrote the screenplay, so it’s obvious what shows up on screen was his vision all along. Hence, the movie is as bleak and cynical as the original record, making it arguably the darkest musical of all time.

Its faithfulness to the source material and outstanding direction by Alan Parker are truly admirable. But admiration of a movie isn’t necessarily the same as actually enjoying it, especially once the drugs wear off. Pink Floyd: The Wall is just as depressing as any album the band ever made. The fact that it has aged better than similar cult films from the same era actually works against it. As badly-dated as movies like Heavy Metal or The Rocky Horror Picture Show are, their antiquity renders them cheekily amusing. But even today, watching Pink Floyd: The Wall is like watching my dog Murphy mope around the house in one of his states of depression.

I guess the main difference between the movie and my dog is I don't like the film's main character, Pink. We're given no reason to think he's anything but a spoiled rock star trying to convince us how terrible it is to be a rock star, just like we've never been given a reason why it sucks to be a member of Pink Floyd. They were the biggest band in the free-fucking-world at the time, yet still enjoyed belittling the masses who made them so huge to begin with.

But I do care whether or not my dog is happy. Despite his quirks, I know he loves us. He's simply maladjusted because of his abusive upbringing. Because Pink Floyd's music is the perfect soundtrack for wallowing in depression, the haunting melodies of their music drift into my head whenever I see Murphy staring longingly out the window when Francie's gone.

May 11, 2013

New Disc Review: BARRYMORE (Blu-Ray)

Starring Christopher Plummer, John Plumpis. Directed by Erik Canuel. (2011, 84 min).

Christopher Plummer has been around so long that his face and voice are instantly recognizable, yet we still take him for granted. In movies, he has seldom been the 'star' of the show, but often gives the most memorable performance. He's always been widely respected, but never mentioned among the great character actors; it was nice to see him finally nab an Oscar a few years ago at the age of 82 (making him the oldest actor ever to win the award).

So it's kinda cool to see Plummer unleashed in Barrymore, where he is literally the entire show. Based on the one-man stage play (in which he also starred), he plays John Barrymore, the once-highly respected stage and silent film actor whose alcoholism all-but destroyed his career. Here, he's on a nearly-empty stage, rehearsing in hopes of making a comeback with a revival of his most-revered role, Richard III. Years of hard living and self-abuse make this easier said than done; in between struggling to remember lines which once came naturally, Barrymore recalls the events, anecdotes and people which shaped his life and career, sometimes humorously, but often with unspoken remorse.

As an actor's showcase, Barrymore is excellent. Plummer is terrific in the role he first created for the stage. It's nice to see someone so respected-yet-marginalized can successfully carry the entire weight of a film on his shoulders. In fact, he's the sole reason the film is worth seeing, because Barrymore isn't so much a traditional movie as it is a filmed version of the play.

Plays and movies are two entirely different mediums. What works on a stage doesn't always effectively translate to film. Here, sometimes the camera is a little intrusive, making everything seem somewhat smaller. One-man shows like this do not necessarily benefit from the use of multiple cameras and choreographed shots.

Still, Barrymore is worth checking out for Plummer's performance alone. It is immediately obvious he's one of our greatest living actors, and given the chance, he can shine without any help from a supporting cast. His portrayal of John Barrymore is on par with Hal Holbrook's legendary Mark Twain shows. But I think I'd much prefer to see something like this live.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Backstage with Barrymore


(out of 5)

May 7, 2013

New Disc Review: SUPERMAN UNBOUND (Blu-Ray/DVD/Ultraviolet)

Starring the voices of Matt Bomer, Stana Katic, John Noble, Molly Dunn. Directed by James Tucker. (2013, 75 min).

I like Superman, though I wouldn't consider myself a die hard fan. I really liked the first two live-action films from the late 70s, and even thought Superman Returns was okay. But I never read the comics or watched the various TV cartoons that have popped up over the years. He was never as interesting as Batman.

I have a basic working knowledge of Superman lore: he's an alien, has a girlfriend named Lois, can be killed by Kryptonite and is able to disguise his true identity by throwing on a pair of glasses. As far as his various recurring nemeses goes...well, I know who Lex Luthor is. That's why I was thankful to have my wife, Francie, at my side to watch Superman Unbound in order to fill-in the blanks and explain when the movie stays-true-to, or deviates-from, established history. Francie's always been the superhero expert of the family, but even if she wasn't around, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie enough on its own terms.

In Superman Unbound, Clark and Lois have been dating for a long time, and she’s frustrated by how his double-life interferes with their relationship. Complicating his life is his recently-arrived cousin, Supergirl, who is a bit more reckless. As the story progresses, she’s often the one who’s there to save the day in Metropolis while he's out in space getting his ass kicked by Brainiac, a nefarious half-man, half-machine who seems to be even more powerful than the Man of Steel. Brainiac has been traveling the universe in his skull-shaped ship, shrinking giant cities from various worlds to put in his collection (including Supergirl’s hometown, lifted out of Krypton before the planet destroyed itself). Brainiac doesn’t make it completely clear how shrinking major cities to keep in jars is any kind of advantage, since it doesn’t seem to make him any more powerful...but never mind. It’s a cool enough story.

"Smell that? That's what you get for following me."

The movie is done in the same limited-animation, comic-noir style of the popular DC Comics shows on Cartoon Network, which I suppose will please fans. I never cared for this style (to me, traditional animation peaked with Looney Tunes), but was able to overlook it because the story is interesting, the characters are well-rounded and, best of all, the dialogue is smart and sometimes quite funny.

It’s the humor in Superman Unbound that I appreciated the most, especially in two great scenes. The first features Steve Lombard (a hunky co-worker at the Daily Planet and a total douchebag) who explains to Lois why he thinks Clark Kent might be gay. The other is Lois’ deadpan response (and double-fisted gesture) to one of Brainiac’s ominous, foreboding warnings. The scene is unexpected and laugh-out-loud hilarious.

While on the subject of adult humor, Superman Unbound earns its PG-13 rating. In addition to some amusing sexual innuendo, the movie is pretty violent at times. Since I’ve never watched any of the current DC Comic-based programs on Cartoon Network, I don’t know if this is typical of the franchise, but this particular film was obviously not made with little children in-mind.

That being said, I enjoyed the movie more than I expected to, and I think most die hard Superman fans will as well. It is funny, fast-paced and pretty well made for a direct-to-video production. I also have to say the overall picture quality of the Blu-Ray is great.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Brainiac: Technology and Terror, preview of Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, 4 DC Comics cartoons, digital excerpt from the graphic novel, Superman: Brainiac.

EXCLUSIVE BLU-RAY FEATURES: Kandor: The History of the Bottle City, audio commentary

(out of 5)

May 4, 2013

New Disc Review: A COMMON MAN (Blu-Ray and DVD)

Starring Ben Kingsley, Ben Cross, Numaya Siriwardena, Patrick Rutnam, Rederick-James Lobato. Directed by Chandran Rutnam. (2012, 86 min).

Anchor Bay Entertainment

Ben Kingsley's current career is a lot like Michael Caine's in the 70s & 80s. Caine was so well-respected that he could get away with appearing in some godawful stuff (The Swarm, Jaws: The Revenge, etc) and nobody thought any less of him. Similarly, Kingsley is so good that when he shows up in crap like The Love Guru or The Dictator, we may question some of his choices, but we respect the fact he probably just loves to act. Besides, neither of these guys are to blame for any of the smudges on their resumes.

Make no mistake, A Common Man is definitely one of Kingsley's smudges. Here, he plays an unnamed man who's planted five bombs somewhere in the city of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He informs the police (led by a surprisingly awful Ben Cross) that unless several high profile terrorists are released from prison, he will detonate the bombs. Sounds like an interesting set-up for a nice little cat & mouse thriller, even though its obvious low budget prevents it from being the action-driven Die Hard clone it probably should have been.

"Hey, baby...what are you wearing?"
And indeed, the film starts off great as we watch this man travel by bus and train to plant his bombs throughout the city. Considering we know almost nothing about him, Kingsley gives the character a nice balance of sympathy and ice-cold determination. Then again, Kingsley has always been a great villain. Too bad his smooth performance is wasted on a movie like this.

A Common Man completely falls apart the second any other characters show up and begin to speak. The dialogue is awful, which isn’t helped by some atrocious dubbing. Ben Cross has always been a reliable character actor, but here, it looks like he’s phoning it in (ironic when you consider most of Kingley’s role requires him to literally phone it in). The film is also clumsily-paced and frequently boring. For an “action movie,” A Common Man has precious little action.

Action films do not always need to be big-budget knock-outs, since truly creative filmmakers are often able to make the most of their assets. The only asset A Common Man has is Kingsley. He’s the only reason anyone would want to see this, and that may not be enough.

 (out of 5)

May 3, 2013

BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY and the Southgate Theater (RIP)

Starring Gil Gerard, Pamela Hensley, Erin Gray, Henry Silva, Tim O'Connor & the voice of Mel Blanc. Directed by Daniel Haller. (1979, 89 min).

God bless the Southgate Quad and its non-existent security policy. It allowed me to enjoy a plethora of movies long before I grew up to notice how shitty a lot of them were.

Once located in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie and only a few miles from where I lived, the Southgate was a big yellow box in the middle of an industrial area, with one giant auditorium for the blockbusters and three tiny cracker-boxes for everything else. The lobby itself was huge, loaded with pinball machines & the latest techno-triumph which had us kids hypnotized...Pong. And for some reason, there was a massive mural of the moon looming overhead. It was a pretty modern building for its time and the only multiplex in all of Southeast Portland.

I remember when my parents took us to the Southgate to see The Three Musketeers and hearing Dad bitch that it cost almost ten bucks (for the whole family) to get in. Mom added that when they were kids, tickets were only a quarter, and that single shiny coin got you two movies and a cartoon (often a Looney Tunes short). It must have been awesome to be a film fanatic back in the 40s and 50s.

Not that 70's ticket prices were terrible to me. We didn't get a cartoon, but still got a lot of double features, and if you were 11 or younger, tickets were only a buck and a half. Don't ask me why 12 was the magic age to pay adult prices (especially since it didn't permit us to see anything we couldn't watch at 11), but I was lucky enough to get away with paying kiddie prices until I was almost ready to drive. Because of that, I wasn't too picky whenever I went to the Southgate Quad to engage in the act of theater-hopping (which was about every week).

So actually, I had it better than my folks when they were kids because there weren't any multiplexes  in the 50s. A well-planned bit of sneakiness allowed me to catch all four movies playing at the Southgate on any given weekend. Four movies divided by a buck and a half? That's only 37 cents (assuming, of course, that all four movies were worth seeing to a teenager, which wasn't really that often). But even after I could no longer pass for 11 and had to pay the exorbitant price of three bucks, hanging out at the Southgate was a pretty great deal and I probably saw more movies there than any other theater in my life.

The downside to theater-hopping at the Southgate was there wasn't always a lot of turnover (Jaws played there for nine months), so sometimes me and my friends ended up seeing the same things over and over, even if they weren't that great to begin with, like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

While not necessarily a bad movie, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was a rip-off, for two reasons...

First, this was Universal Pictures doing the whole Roger Corman thing by cheaply capitalizing on a hot property, Star Wars (which was ironically inspired by old movie serials like Buck Rogers). In order to avoid spending much money, many of the battle scenes used footage from the expensive TV flop, Battlestar Galactica (which, in turn, was ironically inspired by Star Wars). Buck Rogers in the 25th Century followed the Star Wars formula pretty close and was a fairly entertaining way for undemanding kids to kill 90 minutes.

Second, it looks and plays like a 70's TV movie, which I later found out it actually was. Buck Rogers was intended as a television series all along, and the movie me & my friends shelled out our precious allowance to see was the pilot episode, but Universal released it in theaters first. It aired on NBC only a couple of months later as the first episode. Throwing the pilot episode of a TV show onto the big screen is kind-of an ingenious way to hype a series when you think about it: Buck Rogers later showed up on TV with theatrical cred and the entire original cast onboard (because they originally signed up to do a television show).

I didn't know any of this as I sat through the movie at least four times. But if I had known the movie was going to show-up on TV in a couple of months, would it have made a difference?

Tim O'Connor is thankful for the napkin in his lap.

Probably not, because even back then, three bucks wasn't a lot of money, so when a movie was just a cheesy rip-off, we seldom felt ripped-off. And to be honest, despite its TV production values, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was stupid-but-undemanding fun at the time (and Erin Gray looked like my friend's hot mom I'm ashamed to admit I fantasized about). Simply put, there wasn't a lot of risk.

That isn't true anymore. Whenever my wife and I go out and the movie ends up sucking, we're out forty bucks (this includes popcorn and two drinks). You might be tempted to come back with, "Well, that's just inflation."

No, it isn't. You know how much it cost to buy a movie on VHS 25 years ago? Twenty bucks, which is still what you'll spend on the average Blu-Ray disc today. Even though technology has improved by leaps and bounds, the price of home video has gone up 0% during the past two decades. It used to be that renting a movie was a cheap alternative to admission prices. Now it's even cheaper to buy the movie altogether.

I recently bought the 2011 prequel to The Thing on Blu-Ray, sight unseen. It was nothing special, but I enjoyed it enough to justify the $14.99 I shelled out at Best Buy. However, I would have felt ripped-off if we had spent forty bucks for my wife and I to watch it in a theater. My assessment of The Thing was directly influenced by how much I paid for it. If I had paid today's ticket prices for something like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, I'd be screaming for Gil Gerard's head unless I was able to sneak into another auditorium to catch something better. But I don't do much theater-hopping anymore. Part of it is guilt, but it's mostly because all of today's megaplexes make it a lot harder because they juggle the showtimes.

With hindsight, I doubt the management of the old Southgate really cared we were theater hopping back then as long as they kept selling popcorn & soda (theaters' biggest source of income...they get relatively a relatively little percentage of a movie's box office take). Hell, maybe they even encouraged it, since the longer we were there, the more concessions we'd buy.

I think the last movie I saw at my old stomping grounds was Star Trek: Insurrection. I chose the Southgate because of my fond memories, and it had been years since I'd visited the old place. But when I went into the lobby to complain about the terrible sound quality, it turned out there was nothing actually wrong with the audio...the owners of the old Southgate simply never upgraded the sound system of their auditoriums since I was a kid. It was depressing...the theater that first showed Jaws in the Portland area was now a relic. Archaic little quads like Southgate became dumping grounds for movies after they ended their runs at the modern megaplexes.

The Southgate closed its doors over a decade ago. It stood empty for awhile before being unceremoniously bulldozed. The land remained empty for a long time, and I really hoped maybe someone would replace that old, puke-colored box with a new Southgate. That never happened. Today, it's just a parking lot for those who work in the surrounding warehouses. Whenever I drive by that location, a part of me mourns just a little bit. The Southgate was never more than a big ugly box, but it was a major part of my childhood.