May 31, 2020

THE POOP SCOOP: Classic Sci-Fi from Arrow

FLASH GORDON on 4K and Blu-ray 8/18
Super producer Dino De Laurentiis (Dune, Barbarella) brought Alex Raymond's beloved cartoon strip and the long running movie serial to the big screen with celebrated director Mike Hodges (Get Carter, Black Rainbow) at the helm, in a delirious space opera, where Flash is King of the Impossible! With endlessly repeatable dialogue, inimitable camp style, the sonic stylings of Queen and a delightful band of characters and actors playing them it's no wonder Flash Gordon has become one of the most beloved sci-fi spectacles of its era with directors such as Edgar Wright, Taika Waititi and Seth MacFarlane paying tribute to it in their work. Includes a fold-out poster, postacrds, supplementary booklet, new & vintage bonus features, as well as the 2017 documentary, Life After Flash.

The Original PITCH BLACK on 4K and Blu-ray 8/18
A sci-fi/horror sleeper hit that birthed a franchise and launched the career of a new action movie icon, Pitch Black holds its own today as a nerve-shredding creature-feature in which the monsters outside finally meet their match against a monster within. Boasting crackerjack direction and a whip-smart script by David Twohy, as well as a star-making performance by Diesel, Riddick's first outing is freshly unleashed in an illuminating, brand new 4K restoration, with hours of exclusive bonus content, including new & vintage material and the classic animated short, The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury.

The original hero in a half-shell returns! For the first time ever worldwide, all twelve tales of the adventures of everyone's favourite titanic terrapin are collected together in one deluxe Blu-ray boxset. This limited edition collectors' set traces the decades-long evolution of Gamera, from the "friend of all children" in his more light-hearted earlier films, to the Guardian of the Universe in the groundbreaking 1990s reboot series, often hailed as three of the best kaiju films ever made. In addition to hours of new and vintage bonus features, this includes a Hardback 120-page comic book including a full-color reprint of the four-issue Gamera comic series originally released by Dark Horse Comics in 1996, and the first-ever English-language printing of the prequel comic "The Last Hope" by Matt Frank and Joshua Bugosh

May 29, 2020

WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS: Patience is a Virtue
Starring Alexandria Daddario, Keean Johnson, Maddie Hasson, Logan Miller, Amy Forsyth, Austin Swift, Johnny Knoxville, Allison McAtee. Directed by Marc Meyers. (2020/91 min)

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😸

We Summon the Darkness is a good example why you don’t turn-off the game at halftime, even if your team is getting its ass kicked. Sometimes you just gotta be patient.

Alexis, Valerie and Beverly are hot metal chicks who meet three guys at a concert. Afterwards, they decide to continue the party at Alexis’ dad’s house, who’s apparently gone for the weekend. The film drops hints of what the plot might develop into – there’s been a series of murders that appear to be the work of devil worshipers – but for the most part, the entire first act consists of these guys drinking and name-dropping ‘80s metal bands.

The first thirty minutes are almost embarrassingly awful. The story takes place in 1988, presumably for the sole purpose of superficially establishing its metal cred (or Wikipedia skills). The dialogue is forced, banal and boring. More glaringly, none of these characters feel even remotely authentic. The girls, in particular, come across as caricatures from Headbanger’s Ball. Though I never quit any movie I’m tasked to review, I was certainly tempted a few times here.

Some of you might recall Super Bowl LI, when the Atlanta Falcons were annihilating the New England Patriots. By halftime, the game was all but over. I’m sure some frustrated fans in Boston probably shut-off the game to put themselves out of their misery. However, they missed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

"Dad...about your boat..."
Sometimes patience is a virtue because We Summon the Darkness takes a sudden, wonderfully clever narrative turnaround and never looks back. The plot does-indeed involve the serial murders mentioned earlier, but not how you’d expect. To explain in any real detail would spoil the party, but I didn’t see it coming. Yet at the same time, it isn’t quite out of the blue. With hindsight, the setting, superficial dialogue and manufactured metal chicks make total’s actually a triumph of subtle foreshadowing. And of course it has to take place in the ‘80s. That decade was the pinnacle of “Satanic Panic,’ when bible-thumping Chicken Littles were all over the media, warning the world not to engage in anything fun. And as it happens, those same Chicken Littles figure into the story, as well.

We Summon the Darkness is more of a brutal black comedy than pure horror. While there’s certainly enough tension and blood to keep the horror crowd happy, it’s just as often quite funny, albeit morbidly so. And although some of the cast look a little too old to pass for young metalheads, the performances are pretty good. Part-time scream queen Alexandria Daddario appears to be having an especially good time, not-only playing against type, but engaging in some prime scenery chewing.

So what was initially shaping up to be an interminable eye-roller ends up being one of the more amusing new films I’ve reviewed lately, similar in execution and tone to You’re Next. It takes some patience to endure the first half, but football has four quarters for a reason: It’s never too late for a comeback.


Rest In Peace, Anthony James

May 27, 2020

ROBERT THE BRUCE and the Redemption of the Wormy Guy
ROBERT THE BRUCE (Blu-ray Review)
Starring Angus Macfadyen, Anna Hutchinson, Zach McGowen, Talitha Bateman, Patrick Fugit, Gabriel Bateman, Brandon Lessard, Jared Harris. Directed by Richard Gray. (2019/124 min)

Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

Movie fans might recall this guy. He’s the wormy one who ended up betraying William Wallace because he stupidly trusted his conniving old man. At the end of Braveheart, he’s seen continuing Wallace’s fight against English rule, now as the king of Scotland. While Braveheart’s historical accuracy is often dubious, the real Robert the Bruce did indeed lead Scotland in the war for their independence.

But Robert the Bruce isn’t about that glorious career capper. It’s immediately obvious this sequel-cum-spin-off doesn’t have the budget for that. Instead, the story takes place an undetermined number of years after Braveheart. Robert (Angus Macfadyen) may be king, but he’s lost a half-dozen battles and England has put a price on his head. Weary and defeated, he essentially gives up, ordering what’s left of his army to go back home.

He wanders into the wilderness alone, then is later attacked by three of his own troops hoping to collect the bounty. Robert defeats them, but is seriously wounded and taken-in by Morag (Anna Hutchinson), a widow whose husband was killed fighting for Robert a few years earlier. Still loyal to the king, she and her kids nurse him back to health during the winter, though her young son, Scot, is initially resentful. Meanwhile, local sheriff & Morag’s brother-in-law Brandubh (Zach McGowan) is scouring the countryside, hoping to kill Robert and collect the bounty.

"Get off my lawn!"
Forgoing the epic grandeur of Braveheart, Robert the Bruce is a much more scaled back affair, largely focusing on Robert’s relationship with Anna and her family while he regains his fortitude. Macfadyen slips back into the role quite nicely, though he’s considerably more brooding and introspective, making him far more sympathetic this time around. But while Brandubh is a formidable foe and well-played by McGowen, the other supporting characters are static at-best and little Scot is actually pretty irritating.

As for the overall story, I’d have preferred one based on what’s revealed in the end-title cards, which explain that Robert the Bruce went on to liberate Scotland and become a national hero. But I get it...the wallet ain't big enough for epic battles. So what we have is more like a transitional chapter. As such, it’s sometimes interesting, though a little too long for its own good and nearly bereft of any real action until the bloody final act.

Still, for a budget-conscious spin-off most of us probably weren’t asking for, Robert the Bruce isn’t a cynical cash-in. It’s a sincere effort to bring additional complexity – and redemption – to one of Braveheart’s more pitiful characters. Despite being a little meandering, it’s worth checking out if you keep your expectations in check.

FEATURETTE - “The Making of Robert the Bruce” (where we learn much of it was actually filmed in Montana!
AUDIO COMMENTARY – By Angus Macfadyen & director Richard Gray


May 26, 2020

Starring Leslie Nielsen, Alan North, Peter Lupus, Ed Williams, William Duell, Ronald Taylor. Various Directors. (1982/150 min)

Review by My. Paws😻

By my late teens, Dad and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on most things. But for a brief time in 1982, we found common ground for thirty minutes each week when Police Squad! was on. Despite our growing differences, we’d laugh together at the show’s clever collection of satire, slapstick, wordplay and non-sequiturs. Sometimes me and Dad were so loud that Mom would come into the living room to see what the commotion was. I don’t think I ever told Dad this, but it’s one of my favorite childhood memories of him.

Police Squad! is unlike any comedy series ever made. And though younger viewers are likely unaware of the Quinn Martin crime dramas it affectionately parodies, such pop culture knowledge isn’t really a prerequisite. The show remains as funny today as it was four decades ago (something no one will be saying about what currently passes for parody).

Distracted driving.
Like they did with Airplane!, series creators David Zucker, Jim Abrahams & Jerry Zucker (collectively know as ZAZ) present Police Squad! with a completely straight face, right down to the production design, film score and a cast of typically-dramatic actors who don’t appear to be in on the joke (this was before Leslie Nielsen become synonymous with parody). If you were to turn the sound off, only periodic sight gags would suggest you’re watching a comedy. The dialogue ranges from eye-rolling puns to jokes so subtle that you won't catch them first time. Those deft touches are what’s been missing from most parodies ever since, including some of ZAZ’s own subsequent films.

Though it enjoys well-deserved cult classic status today, Police Squad! consisted of only six episodes before being unceremoniously canceled. With hindsight, that's probably a good thing because it never had the chance to grow stale, like most good ideas that are run into the ground. As it stands, these episodes remain some of the sharpest, funniest television ever produced.

And when this whole pandemic thing blows over, one of the first things I plan to do is visit my dad for a nostalgic binge.

CASTING TESTS – Alan North & Ed Williams
AUDIO COMMENTARIES – For 3 for the episodes, featuring David & Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Robert Wuhl, Robert K. Weiss
PRODUCTION MEMO HIGHLIGHTS – This is actually really interesting...a series of in-house memos of changes made in the scripts at the studio’s request, as well as the cancellation notice :(
LIST OF CELEBRITY DEATH SHOTS – We only saw six of ‘em. Take a look at some others they had in-mind.

May 24, 2020

We All Need More CREEPSHOW in Our Lives
CREEPSHOW SEASON 1 (Blu-ray Review)
Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Tobin Bell, Bruce Davison, Giancarlo Esposito, Jeffrey Combs, Tricia Helfer, D.J. Qualls, Cailey Fleming, Dana Gould, David Arquette. Various directors. (2019/265 min)

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😺

The original Creepshow was arguably the best horror anthology film ever made...scary, gory, funny and very stylish, with a colorful comic book aesthetic that made it unique for its time. More importantly, it was consistent. Whereas most other anthology films always seemed to have a clunker or two, all the stories in Creepshow displayed the same black-humored playfulness, as envisioned by one director (George A. Romero) and one screenwriter (Stephen King).

Though it seems like it should have happened years ago, Creepshow is now a TV series streaming on Shudder. I’m happy - and somewhat relieved - to say it retains the look and spirit of the original film, right down to the transitional comic book panels, as well as the return of “The Creep” (through both animation and puppetry). But even if you first tuned-in on Shudder or AMC, this 3-disc Blu-ray set is still worth picking up because it’s loaded with substantial bonus features...not-to-mention being binge-worthy and rewatchable.

What naughty kids get for Christmas.
Overseen by executive producer Greg Nicotero, these six episodes – consisting of two stories each – are the work of various writers and directors, a few of whom were involved in the original film. Hence, the individual stories vary in quality, but so far, the show’s overall batting average is pretty damn good. The series begins with a bang with “Gray Matter,” a dread-fueled piece based on one of my all-time favorite Stephen King tales, followed by “House of the Head.” The latter is directed by John Harrison (Creepshow 2) and is as much horrifying fun as anything from the original film.

In subsequent episodes, stand-out stories include “Bad Wolf Down,” an amusing spin on werewolf lore set during World War II; “Skincrawlers” is a hilarious and nasty satire of weight-loss programs; in “The Man in the Suitcase,” a few slackers get more than they bargained for with a titular character who spits out gold coins when in pain; “Lydia Layne’s Better Half” has a corporate executive trying to dispose of her dead girlfriend after accidentally killing her, but gets trapped in an elevator with the body.

"You said to pack light."
While none of the stories are terrible, a few of them never really take off. We don’t really need another retelling of “The Monkey’s Paw,” and while “Times is Tough in Musky Holler” has some social satire that’s pure Romero, the story itself is convoluted. Considering the final tale is based on a Joe Hill story and directed by Tom Savini, “By the Silver Waters of Lake Champlain” is a surprising disappointment.

From a technical standpoint, though, every episode is extremely well put together, utilizing good old fashioned practical effects, deliberately artificial production design and a playfully sinister music score. And of course, the whole thing retains the colorful comic book look of the film that inspired it. With great performances by a large cast of familiar faces, Creepshow Season 1 is fun old school horror. Fast-paced, gory and often really funny, they’ve done King and Romero proud.

FEATURETTES – For all 6 episodes
BEHIND-THE-SCENES FOOTAGE – For all 6 episodes
AUDIO COMMENTARIES – For all 6 episodes
SERIES 1 FEATURETTES -Creepshow Resurrected”; “Acting Scared”; “The Past is Present”; “The New Blood”; “Joe Hill: Full Circle”; “Ripped from the Pages”; “Creature Comforts”
EASTER EGG (Disc 3 – click the pair of orange eyes on the Series 1 Screen) Fittingly, this features a plethora of Easter Eggs throughout the series paying homage to the original Creepshow, Stephen King and a slew of other classic horror films.
SUPPLEMENTARY BOOKLET – Featuring comic art, cast & crew credits

May 22, 2020

THE CORE...with Cheese

THE CORE (2003)
Starring Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, Tcheky Karyo, Bruce Greenwood, DJ Qualls, Alfre Woodard, Richard Jenkins. Directed by Jon Amiel. (135 min)

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON💀

I love McDonald's. With the exception of our current president, it ain’t what anyone would mistake for fine dining, but at least it’s consistent. Whether visiting the Mall of America or passing through Biggs Junction, you always know what you're gonna get. And I don’t care what anyone says to the contrary...Quarter Pounders with cheese are fucking awesome.

I also love disaster movies. None of them have ever nabbed the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but at least they’re reliable. Whether you’re taking-in an Irwin Allen classic or SyFy Channel fart-fest, you always know what you’re gonna get. And I don’t care what anyone says to the contrary...The Core is fucking awesome.

Like McDonald’s, disaster movies are unpretentious cuisine to be consumed and enjoyed in the moment with a minimum of scrutiny or intellectual engagement. In that respect, The Core is as good as any other disaster movie ever made, with the exact same ingredients...lots of destruction, bombastic visuals, daffy dialogue, stock characters and science that ultimately falls apart with a quick Google search. It’s a film bereft of surprises, and that's what makes the movie a superlative example of the genre. Would a Quarter Pounder still be a Quarter Pounder if McDonald’s suddenly decided to add tomatoes?

A copy of The Core's original screenplay.
The plot of this one is more-or-less Armageddon in reverse (minus Affleck & Tyler’s animal cracker foreplay...yuk). Earth's inner core has stopped rotating, as explained by scientist Josh Keyes, who ominously demonstrates the coming apocalypse with a peach, lighter and can of deodorant. This means the end of all life on Earth within several months. The solution: An elite team must burrow to the molten core and detonate nuclear bombs in order to jump-start the planet. 
A phallic vessel is quickly constructed for such a task, loaded with all the usual suspects: no-nonsense pilot "Beck" Childs (Hillary Swank), geophysicists Keyes and Conrad Zimsky (Aaron Eckhart & Stanley Tucci) and the ship's eccentric designer "Braz" Brazelton (Delroy Lindo). Also on-board are a few folks whose sole purpose is to die...Dr. Serge Leveque (Tcheky Karyo), whose days are numbered the second he shows-off photos of his family, and Bob Iverson (Bruce Greenwood), commander of the mission. As any disasterphile will attest, any “commander” played by a sixth-billed actor is a dead man walking.

"Don't fuck with my disco, Beck!"
Monitoring events on the surface (i.e. those who are paid to ominously react to what's going on below) are General Purcell (Richard Jenkins), who represents the evil military, NASA Chief Talma Stickly (Alfre Woodard), the moral compass whose job is acting horrified by Purcell’s indifference to human life, and Rat (D.J. Qualls), the lovably flaky computer geek hired to prevent the story from leaking out on the internet.
Meanwhile, there's awful doings on the surface. Rome is decimated by an electromagnetic storm and San Francisco is cooked by solar rays that pierce the atmosphere, two sequences which feature the obligatory, post-Independence Day destruction of famous landmarks. Later, we learn that the current global crisis is the result of subterranean fuckery by the Army, foolishly oblivious of the global consequences.

Heading off to Vegas, the Raiders burn their bridges.
If you've seen Independence Day, Deep Impact, Armageddon or any other ‘90s disaster epic, you've already seen The Core....even if you actually never watched The Core. Ultimately, that’s arguably the greatest praise one can give any disaster film. Whenever I order a Quarter Pounder from McDonald’s, it’s because I enjoyed the last Quarter Pounder, which tasted like every other Quarter Pounder I’ve eaten since they first appeared on the menu. I watched The Core because enjoyed Deep Impact, which I watched because I enjoyed Dante’s Peak, which I watched because I enjoyed Volcano...and Twister...and Daylight...on and on, dating all the way back to The Towering Inferno, the first disaster movie to thrill me when I was just a wee one. Not once did I ever feel ripped-off or short-changed.

"Hey, look...Free Kittens Movie Guide."
The Core is epitome of by-the-numbers filmmaking, incorporating every element and all the cliches of the modern sci-fi disaster film without adding anything new. And that’s perfectly fine with me. The movie is technically well made and the cast earns their paychecks. Tucci and Lindo even manage to have fun with their roles, giving them some tongue-in-cheek zest lesser actors wouldn't have bothered with. The special effects are suitably flashy and spectacular, even if logic suggests any realistic movie taking place mostly underground would be as visually enthralling as sitting in a dark closet for two hours. Director Jon Ameil is no master chef, but at-least has the good sense not to fuck with a recipe that already works. Let creatively ambitious directors experiment on their own time.
If disaster movies are comfort food, The Core goes down like a piping hot Quarter Pounder with cheese (emphasis on the cheese, of course). It remains a lively and entertaining ride that's never dull, despite the feeling of deja vu that hangs over the proceedings...or perhaps because of it.

May 20, 2020

YOU DIE: Borrowed Time in More Ways Than One

YOU DIE (2020)
Starring Erica Landofi, Carola Cudemo, Simone Valentino, Micol Damilano, Ricco Marazzita. Directed by Alessandro Antonaci, Stefano Mandala & Daniel Lascar. (94 min)

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😼

In addition to being an absolutely bitchin' title for a horror movie, You Die is a cellphone app that lets the dead reach-out from beyond the grave and kill you if you fail to download it to someone else’s phone within 24 hours.

If the premise sparks a little deja vu, you ain’t alone. Granted, I haven't seen many Italian horror films since the '80s, but if this one is any indication, their penchant for thievery remains alive and well. You Die is highly derivative of Ringu, though its trio of directors have a few nifty tricks up their sleeves.

After letting a stranger borrow her cellphone, young Asia (Erica Landofi) discovers a mysterious app, called You Die, has been downloaded. Not only does she see random ghostly figures through the screen, a 24-hour timer begins counting down. At first, she and her friends think its just some kind of game – sort of an evil Pokemon Go – but soon Asia sees dead people stalking her wherever she goes. Not only that, she’s is unable to delete the app or discard her phone (attempting either just speeds up the clock).

In Ringu, whoever watched the mysterious videotape had exactly seven days to avoid dying by showing it to some other poor rube. You Die takes the same basic premise and ups the ante. Asia learns that downloading the app onto another phone doesn’t let you off the hook. It simply buys you another 24 hours, meaning you’re required to find a new victim every day in order to stay alive.

Pokemon No!
This raises an interesting quandary: Are you ready to take a life every single day just to save your own, or will you break the cycle by taking one for the team? The story features a few peripheral characters more-than-willing to do the former, but the second half of the film focuses on Asia’s own moral dilemma, and she’s not as quick make such an ominous decision.

Plotwise, You Die doesn’t hold up to a ton of scrutiny, especially during a key scene of exposition where a guy Asia meets on the dark web explains how the app works. According to him, you aren’t actually supposed to tell anyone else how it works. So how does he know that unless he was told? That means you actually have to break that rule in order for it to spread to more than one phone, otherwise it just dies with the person you shared it with. But since there doesn’t appear to be any consequences for breaking the rule, why is there a rule in the first place?

But despite that lapse in logic, a borrowed premise and some obligatory jump-scares, You Die is an atmospheric little chiller with decent performances and a likable protagonist. It’s seldom very scary, but does manage to maintain a consistently foreboding tone, culminating in an appropriately bleak resolution.


May 18, 2020

DAYS OF THUNDER (Paramount Presents #5): The Adventures of Top Car
Starring Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Nicole Kidman, Michael Rooker, Cary Elwes, Randy Quaid. Directed by Tony Scott. (107 min)

Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

I know a lot of you are terribly distraught that the release date for the long-gestating sequel to Top Gun has been pushed back due to the ongoing pandemic. But in the meantime, why not amuse yourself with its other sequel?

That “sequel,” of course, is “Top Car,” better known as Days of Thunder, which follows the Top Gun blueprint so closely that one could almost accuse Tom Cruise and director Tony Scott of self-plagiarism. But lets not hold that against them, since it remains a lot of flashy, frivolous fun and a vast improvement over Cruise’s previous sequel, “Top Bar” (aka Cocktail).

You know the formula. Cruise is another cocky hot-shot with a cool name, this time NASCAR driver Cole Trickle. Over the next 107 minutes, he drives fast, gets schooled, gets mentored, finds love, loses love, finds it again, makes enemies, makes frenemies, faces tragedy, becomes conflicted, soul-searches and finally waxes philosophical about what really matters in life (which is, of course, the need for speed). Throw in a soundtrack of booming power ballads and you’ve got Top Gun on a racetrack, minus the homoerotic volleyball scene.

Guess who just got a look at their paychecks.
Days of Thunder is #5 in the Paramount Presents series, consisting of some of the studio’s iconic films. Paramount currently appears to be focusing on the era when they pretty-much dominated the box office with high-concept commercial blockbusters (roughly 1977-1990). As such, you kinda have to include a Tom Cruise movie, don’t you? Might as well be this one, which not-only features Cruise at his Cruisiest, but typically flamboyant direction by the late Tony Scott, still honing the critic-confounding aesthetic sensibilities that made him the Michael Bay of his day.

Like other films in this series, Days of Thunder is nicely remastered with improved picture and sound, enhancing the kinetic racing scenes, not-to-mention David Coverdale’s already-sinus-clearing theme song. But for me, the niftiest aspect is the packaging, which folds-open to reveal the film’s original poster art. The series is obviously intended for those of us who still take pride in displaying how we've blown our discretionary income.

One might argue that Top Gun would have been the more logical choice for the Paramount Presents series, since it was one of the studio’s biggest ‘80s films and created the template for what Roger Ebert would cheekily dub “the Tom Cruise picture.” For all I know, they plan on including it later (perhaps closer the Top Gun: Maverick’s release date). In the meantime, it’s kind-of cool that they went with the less-obvious choice, reminding us that we actually got a Top Gun “sequel” 30 years ago, and a pretty fun one at that.

"FILMMAKER FOCUS” - Retrospective interview with producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

May 17, 2020

SELENA and a Cultural Awakening
SELENA (1997)
Starring Jennifer Lopez, Edward James Olmos, Constance Marie, Jon Seda, Lupe Ontiveros, Jacob Vargas. Directed by Gregory Nava. (128/134 min)

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😸

I remember when Selena died. It was all over the news for about a day, after which I went on with my life without giving her another thought. Of course it’s tragic when anyone so young is senselessly murdered, but it ain’t like she was a cultural icon like John Lennon...or even Kurt Cobain.

Then Hollywood made a movie about her. Pretty quickly, actually, considering Selena was written, cast, produced and released less than two years after her death. But even though I’ve always enjoyed a good music bio, no way was she already a legend (we waited 28 years for Richie Valens' life story). The movie sounded like a cynical cash-grab to me, so I took a pass.

But that was 30-year-old me talking. More specifically, the 30-year-old white me. To be even more exact, the 30-year-old white me whose definition of popular culture was shaped by his environment. It took a career change for me to stop sniffing my own farts.

In 1997, I was earning a degree in education and did my student teaching at Sunnyside High School in a rural community that was roughly 60% Hispanic. Not only was it the first time I’d been in a public classroom in 20 years, it was the first time I’d been around large groups of teenagers since the days I was one. And without a doubt, it was the only time I ever found myself being the whitest guy in the room.

Selena and the Dinos learn they lost the talent show to a kid who squirts milk out his nose.
Student teaching was pretty interesting. In addition to English – my actual major - I was also afforded the opportunity to create curriculum and teach a class called Media Studies, which focused on the impact of television, advertising, music and cinema on modern culture. For the music unit, I chose a few films about some of rock music’s biggest legends to show their lasting influence on popular music. but the class was largely unimpressed and even The Beatles were just four funny-looking British blokes from “The Hippy Days.”

Dumbass teenagers. To my dismay, they made it clear that everything which existed before they were born – including me – was from The Hippy Days. With hindsight, I should’ve taken a clue on my first day of class, when one kid asked if I fought in Vietnam. That’s right, and a troop of fellow toddlers took Hamburger Hill back in ‘69.

However, I think this also when it slowly dawned on me that my definition of popular culture may also be from The Hippy Days.

"Well, what music is important to you?” I finally asked the class. “Nirvana?” (a few nods and shrugs). “Tupac?” (which I pronounced, Tu-pack, triggering a tidal wave of laughter at my expense).

"Can we watch the Selena movie?” one girl asked, which got a chorus of approval from a majority of her classmates.

Selena? Showing that movie never occurred to me. Why would it? Even at the advanced age of 33, I knew Tejano music’s cultural impact was negligible. Still, since I had already scrapped plans to enlighten them on the importance of the punk rock movement, I relented and picked up a copy of the film at my local video store.

There’s an old saying that “good teachers never stop learning.” If that’s true, the first lesson of my new career came the day we watched Selena in class. The film opens with her performing before 67,000 people at the Houston Astrodome, bigger than any crowd who paid to see those funny-looking British blokes at the height of their popularity. Afterwards, the story focuses on Selena’s upbringing, blossoming career and meteoric rise to stardom. Played as an adult by Jennifer Lopez, she not-only packed arenas, won Grammys and sold a shit-ton of records, her image was so popular that she opened a chain of namesake boutiques which sold Selena-inspired clothing. Funny...I don’t recall ever seeing any Nirvana shops...not even in Seattle.

"Hey, 'Balls to the Wall!' That's my jam!"
Selena was never mistaken for a complex, dirt-filled tell-all. Anchored by a star-making performance from Lopez, the film plays more like an engaging, affectionate eulogy celebrating the singer’s life, talent and oh-so-brief moment in the sun, its sunny tone only changing during the inevitable conclusion. But even then, the circumstances surrounding her murder are only briefly touched upon and the incident itself is - mercifully - not shown. The result is a coda that’s arguably more poignant than tragically downbeat.

Of course, Selena is also filled with music - from traditional Tejano to modern pop – which a lot of the students in class knew by heart. A few sang along during the concert scenes and many more were sniffing-back tears by the time the movie was over. Ultimately, I learned something you don’t pick up in a college course: Cultural importance is relative. If nothing else, the film made me appreciate just how popular and influential Selena Quintanilla was to an entire culture and generation...right under my nose. So my initial assessment of her worth was woefully ignorant. She was indeed as iconic as Kurt Cobain, her murder as tragic as John Lennon’s.

And like other phenoms taken away too soon, Selena’s music and image remains relevant today. I’ve been teaching for over twenty years and still see many of my Hispanic kids – who weren’t even alive when she was killed - keeping the torch burning with Selena t-shirts they buy at Forever 21, or listening to her music on their phones when they think I’m not paying attention. It’s a tribute to her cultural legacy no different from the Steve McQueen t-shirt I sometimes throw-on for casual Friday (though none of my students know who the fuck he is).

In the end, Selena isn’t a revealing biography, but its subject is insanely likable and her story is mostly upbeat and entertaining. Additionally, it’s impossible to walk away without respecting the long-lasting impact she had on Tejano music and the legions of fans who loved her.

"SELENA: QUEEN OF TEJANO” - Selena’s surviving family members discuss her life, career and influence.
"MAKING OF SELENA” 10 YEARS LATER” - Retrospective documentary featuring Lopez, Edward James Olmos (who plays Selena’s father/manager), writer/director Gregory Nava.

May 16, 2020

THE POOP SCOOP: Denis Villeneuve's DUNE Production Photos

Oscar nominee Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Blade Runner 2049”) directs Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ “Dune,” the big-screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal bestseller of the same name. The film is slated for a December 18, 2020, worldwide release from Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary.

A mythic and emotionally charged hero’s journey, “Dune” tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence—a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential—only those who can conquer their fear will survive.

The film stars Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaa, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian. Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa and Oscar winner Javier Bardem. Villeneuve directed “Dune” from a screenplay he co-wrote with Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth based on the novel of the same name written by Frank Herbert. Villeneuve also produced the film with Mary Parent, Cale Boyter and Joe Caracciolo, Jr. Hans Zimmer is creating the score. “Dune” was filmed on location in Hungary and Jordan. 


Rest in Peace, Fred Willard