Archive for July 2009

On Aging

In the classic action movie Lethal Weapon, film legend Danny Glover famously declared  I’m too old for this shit!” On Monday evening,I couldn’t help but share this sentiment.
Penn and his silent sidekick Teller

Penn and his silent sidekick Teller

While attending a charity basketball event at Madison Square Garden with my buddy Zach, I was lucky enough to meet three of my favorite New York Knicks who were graciously donating their time to a worthy cause. I first encountered 43-year-old former Knick Anthony Mason, who appears to be strictly adhering to The Charles Barkley Post-Retirement Diet.   I then met 22-year-old rising star Wilson Chandler, a man of few words, who lets his game do the talking (Simply put, he makes the magician Teller seem chatty).

Fortunately, the third Knick I met was more engaging. Danilo Gallinari, the 20-year-old Italian chosen sixth in last year’s NBA Draft, was quite personable. Zach and I spoke to Danilo about the upcoming season and his summer rehabilitation program (the nearly 7- foot-tall “small forward” played in only 28 games of his rookie season due to severe back problems). Gallinari told us that he was feeling much better and that he was optimistic about the team’s chances next season (Hey, at least someone is).

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Zach, Myself, & Danilo Gallinari at Madison Square Garden.

When it was time to go, we decided to ask Danilo if we could take a photo with him (see above). We didn’t think it would be a big deal, and neither did the young Knick, who gladly stood up (making me look shorter than Danny DeVito) and smiled alongside us. It’s always nice to have your photo taken with a celebrity. But never before had we asked to have our pictures taken with one who was born in the same year as us!

As a kid you worship your heroes (many of whom are your elders). Your musical icons are gods, and you aspire to be your favorite action heroes and sports stars (The aforementioned Danny Glover has actually been both for me…in addition to his work in Lethal Weapon, who can forget his inspirational portrayal as baseball manager George Knox in Angels in the Outfield ?)

Me and my childhood hero Danny Glover back in 1996.

Me and my childhood hero Danny Glover back in 1996.

But what happens when one day the people occupying these roles are younger than you. Is there no more poignant symbol of the aging process?

As a soon-to-be college junior, I am moving closer to the true beginning of the rest of my life. Sure, growing older has its perks. Increased freedom and the chance to confront new challenges is exciting. Yet adulthood’s differences and uncertainties make it frightening. It seems like everything you gain with age is balanced out by some kind of loss. Yeah, I can’t wait to find out where my career pursuits take me… but I don’t want my professional advances met with my hairline’s regression!  I’m also eager to see the world, but I don’t want to have to do it through a pair of thick glasses!

I wish I could comprehensively share my feelings about aging through writing. Unfortunately, I just don’t have that much experience with this process. And perhaps that’s where my problem lies. Maybe I’m simply too young to be so pensive about this subject.

I guess all I can do now is heed the advice of beloved singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, and accept growing older… but never up.

The Essence of Suck

There’s an old saying in rock ‘n’ roll that whatever you lack in talent you can make up for with an abundance power chords and fireworks. The inexplicably iconic Canadien rockers Nickelback have followed this rule closer than most rednecks follow NASCAR.

In fact, they’ve become one of the world’s most successful hit-producing machines in a time when the capacity to produce listener-friendly singles often determines how far artists can go in the music industry.

It’s cliche to rant about how modern music lacks the originality, depth, and staying-power of tunes from previous decades. And it’s even more so to rip on Nickelback for all their songs sounding as if they came from the same generic template (check out this widely celebrated YouTube link and you’ll surely see what I mean - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qs4tNeGyTyI).

But still, it’s necessary to recognize the degree to which this band truly sucks.

Before you nod in agreement, open up your Itunes and click on one of the eight Nickelback songs that are a staple in your (and probably my entire generation’s) digital music collection. After all, there are few things more exhilarating than killing time on the Internet with some “Hero” or “Photograph” blasting in the background.

Ah. Now, we can continue.

Nickelback are laughable because they embrace the stereotypical image of “rock stars” so well. In concert, they can be spotted meeting the unspoken quota of eleven “how are you guys effin’ doing tonights,” ” four “this one’s for the ladies,” and three “if you know the words SCREAMs.” They even released the obligatory hit-single loathing the rocker life (for originality, the boys named this one “rockstar”).

Sure, plenty of other commercially successful bands are guilty of following similar career models. But at least these artists have had something distinctive setting them apart from their contemporaries. David Cook won American Idol, 3 Doors Down write the music for those corny National Guard commercials, and Creed (who might as well be referred to as Nickelback’s ugly cousin) have taken people “higher with shades of Christian rock.

So what is it that makes Nickelback so special? Honestly, I think it’s their self-awareness and indulgence of their own Essence of Suck. They know exactly what they are, and aren’t afraid to revel in it. And because of this, they have built a loyal fan base who is more than willing to embrace it as well. When you buy a Nickelback song or concert ticket, you know what you’re in for. There are no surprises with Nickelback, and in an ever-changing world we sure love our constants.

Movies That Need Sequels

It’s summertime and the sun is finally starting to shine. Naturally, this means us lazy Americans are flocking to movie theaters in record numbers during our leisure time. Sure, going to the beach can be fun, but how can I possibly pass up another classic Michael Bay blockbuster? Why bust out the bicycle when I can be watching a four-eyed wizard chase down the elusive Snitch for the sixth time on the silver screen?

While most movies provide fans with escapism from the difficulties of their everyday lives, summer films take this to an extreme. Everyone knows that movie studios typically release their best quality films later in the year to generate buzz for award nominations, but summer is a time when distributors try to commercially capitalize by appealing to a specific human desire. The summer blockbuster generally provides viewers with a needed fix of over-the-top action and/or comedy, without concern for less significant cinematic elements, like acting and plot.

Unlike Hollywood’s most critically renowned work, which is usually aimed at intelligent and cultured audiences, summer films are designed to appeal to the masses. If you want to capture a moth, all you have to do is switch on your lamp and watch it fly in awe towards the emitted light. This is essentially what all filmmakers do when producing that next big summer hit. Give audiences what they simply can’t shy away from, and you’ve got ‘em.

Need help financing that future Oscar winning drama? Why not produce a summer film full of epic explosions, corny one-liners, and recognizable faces. Paradoxically, most big-budget films are the easiest to create…as they tend to fit a familiar model. Hell, it seems like the majority of summer blockbusters are sequels inspired by previous summer hits that helped studios generate large profits.

Ah, sequels. If something ain’t broke, why fix it? After all, it’s hard not to green-light the follow-up to a timeless work of cinematic art like Transformers. Summer is prime sequel-season, and this year I’ve already seen one of the worst sequels ever made- Terminator Salvation. Seeing this train wreck made me recall some of the other awful summer sequels I’ve paid to see in past years, such as the last two “Pirates” films and Spiderman 3.

Truthfully, the frequency of sequel releases isn’t what bothers me. What infuriates me is how people (myself included) are routinely suckered into buying tickets for so many poor quality sequels. Audiences would gladly pay to see 11 more Star Wars films if George Lucas wanted to earn some more cash. Shit, I’d see Indiana Jones and the Palace of  the Lost Circus Clowns if Harrison Ford decided to reprise the role of the world’s most popular archaeologist.

Since the public’s (and the studios’) love of sequels will never fade away, I can only hope that Hollywood brings us better sequels to some movies that actually need them! If you’re going to continually milk established film “franchises,” please humor me and give me some refreshing sequels that would go against the typical mold.

If you need some inspiration, Mr. Hollywood Exec, here’s my short list of films I’d like to see get sequels and/or spinoffs.

1. SPACE JAM (1996).

Michael Jordan finds the inspiration for his (first) NBA comeback after teaming up with Bugs Bunny to recover the stolen talents of the NBA’s greatest players from a group of intergalactic, cartoon monsters.  Genius. Add Newman from Seinfeld and a little R. Kelly and you’ve got an instant classic! Space Jam proves what the power of celebrity can help to achieve on screen. Juxtaposing the larger-than-life M.J. with our most beloved cartoon figures gave audiences a unique film experience that is virtually impossible not to love.

For years, I’ve wondered why no sequel to this film has been in the works. Think about it. Bugs and his friends find themselves in a pickle and  call upon their old savior Michael Jordan for some help. Enjoying retirement, Michael recruits his heir-apparent Lebron James to take over his role as the Tune Squad leader. Lebron could never pass up the marketing opportunity this sequel would present him, and he has the charisma and star-power to pull it off. By incorporating other current NBA stars like Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard, this film could far surpass the original. Hey, R. Kelly could even launch a Jordan-esque comeback by writing the new title track.

2. Wedding Crashers (2005)

I’m sure there has been chatter of a follow-up with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn reprising their roles from the original comedy. Eh. I’d prefer a spinoff  with Will Ferrell revisiting his role as “funeral crasher” Chazz Reinhold. Cast Danny McBride as his sidekick, and have the pair crash a variety of private events like company picnics and high school reunions. Instead of making the recent flop Land of the Lost, Ferrell and McBride should have been working on this film…which would surely be hilarious and commercially successful.

3. Field of Dreams (1989)

James Earl Jones was right. People came, Ray, people most definitely came. At the end of the greatest baseball film in history, we see that hundreds of cars are lined up outside Kevin Costner’s magical, Iowa farm baseball diamond. We see Mr. Jones go off into a cornfield with the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson, but what happens next?! Can Ray Kinsella (Costner) and his wife Annie turn their unique business opportunity into a multi-million dollar operation? Will Jones ever return from his journey? Any chance “Moonlight Graham” gets another at bat? This sequel has endless potential, and how could Costner resist another chance to compensate for Waterworld!

(That one may be a bit of a stretch, but you never know.)

4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Twenty-five years later, Ferris and Sloane Peterson are happily married with a son of their own. Ferris Jr. is now attending his parents’ old high school, and he’s applying everything he has learned from his pops. Ed Rooney’s still the Dean of Students, and his new life mission is to stop the youngest Bueller from carrying on his father’s legacy of cutting class. With a few cameos from characters like Cameron and Grace the Secretary, this sequel could be both entertaining and nostalgic.

Any thoughts about these potential sequels? Have any ideas of your own? If so, please post them as comments.






Congressman King vs. The King of Pop

If you’re going to be a congressman, it helps to have a strong understanding of the law. Clearly, New York republican Peter King never read the memo.

Yes, Michael Jackson possibly committed acts of sexual molestation. And if so, the recently deceased pop icon is undoubtedly receiving too much favorable media coverage since his passing. But while Congressman King’s sentiment may be rational, he is in no position to be making these assertions. His recent anti-Jacko rant exploits the very media attention he’s criticizing by using the story of the year as fuel to draw attention to himself. More importantly, his words undermine the trust in the legal system we expect our elected legislators to fight for.

Sure, Michael Jackson was strange (sorry Reverend Al). He owned pet giraffes, named his kid Blanket, and once used the word “ignorant” 37 times in one sentence. And yeah, I’d rather be stuck on a ferris wheel with Kathy Griffin then share a bedroom with the guy. But he was NEVER convicted of a crime anywhere else but in The Court of Public Opinion.

Unfortunately, Congressman King also missed this memo.

To his credit, Peter King held nothing back. I admire politicians who aren’t afraid to speak their minds (unless, of course, they call Wasilla, Alaska home). But let’s take a look at a brief excerpt from his speech, shall we.

“This guy was a pervert, he was a child molester, he was a pedophile. And to be giving this much coverage to him day in and day out, what does it say about us as a country? I just think we’re too politically correct.”

I couldn’t agree more with Congressman King’s last sentence. We are, collectively, a nation suffering from too much political correctness. However, the media’s coverage of Michael Jackson’s death doesn’t help support this argument.

Bill Maher, one of my personal heroes (who ironically had his show Politically Incorrect canceled for being, well, too politically incorrect), once stated, “I always define political correctness as the elevation of sensitivity over truth.”

Heed these words, Congressman King, because M.J. was never truly guilty of anything. And watching your viral video, it’s hard to miss just how damn sensitive you appear.

Today We Celebrate… Our Bill Pullman Day!

When thinking about America, several goods, customs and people traditionally come to mind. There’s apple pie, baseball, white picket fences, and of course, our greatest modern patriot-John Mellencamp. The list goes on, but one proud American is often overlooked.

I’m referring to actor Bill Pullman, whose inspirational speech in the climax of the 1996 blockbuster film Independence Day easily ranks near the top of American history’s greatest public addresses. Pullman’s sermon is so powerful, that it certainly deserves similar recognition as Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” and Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speeches.

Sure Dr. King’s commentary and actions led to significant, necessary, and long-lasting social change. And yes, Gehrig’s courageous words inspired millions to appreciate the value and fragility of life (Saturday marks the 70th Anniversary of his legendary 1939 speech at Yankee Stadium). But neither iconic orator tangibly influenced the world like Mr. William Pullman did on one tumultuous 4th of July evening.

No, my friends…Pullman wasn’t sharing his dreams with his listeners. He wasn’t telling people how “lucky” he felt to be acting in a relevant film again. Portraying President Thomas J. Whitmore, Pullman was inspiring men and women throughout the world to fight for humanity’s right to exist! And he wasn’t doing it from a podium…he was speaking from the top of a military fighter jet.

With aliens threatening to destroy our planet, Pullman gave nearby troops a pep talk that makes Gene Hackman’s Hoosiers speech look like it was delivered by Ozzie Osbourne. With incredible use of syntax and powerful expressions such as “We will not go quietly into the night,” Pullman single-handedly catalyzed the resistance that saved our world from its demise (Jeff Goldblum may have helped a little bit too).

Even more impressive than Pullman’s speech, was how he followed it up. After receiving State of the Union-like applause, he climbed into the fighter jet and joined the fight to save the planet! Flying alongside skilled pilots, such as a drunken farmer played by none other than Randy Quaid (another American icon), Bill Pullman directly put his words into action.

When celebrating this year’s Fourth of July at your respective barbecues, don’t simply pay tribute to our nation’s Founding Fathers. Give a little love where it’s long overdue. Give thanks to the man who taught us that  ”we can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore.” Think about America, and the man who helped the country (and the rest of the world) survive its greatest historical challenge.

I know I will.

Thank you Bill Pullman.