A Celebration of Independence
LOS ANGELES — When did you first feel like you were a free and independent person? What was that feeling like? Was it when you turned 18 and went and bought cigarettes or lottery tickets or porn at the corner store? Was it when you went away to college and had a boy or girl sleep over in your dorm room? Was it when you turned 21 and bought booze for the first time? Or when you got your first car or learned how to cook or when you finally stopped sharing a room with your sibling? When you got your first job and had your own money? Do you still not feel independent? Does some form of tyranny still rule over your world? Don’t let it.
Thursday is the 4th of July. The biggest party and most important day in our country’s history, when we officially said to Great Britian, “no thanks, we got this from here” and started on this journey of becoming a unified nation; 237 years of work, and counting. We’re not perfect – no country is, but we’re trying (aren’t we?). I mean, look at all the cool stuff we can do and have that others don’t: meatlovers pizzas and 24-hour tattoos parlors, water parks and waffle ice cream cones, and that’s just what I can think of this second while I watch some instant movie on my buddy’s Netflix account. Hundreds of years ago, we needed maps and horses to get around, now there are cars that park themselves and pocket GPS devices that double as telephones and Angry Bird Tweet machines.
Does that make us more independent? Sure, why not. Freedom is a wonderful thing when it’s not abused. Thursday, millions of Americans will exercise their freedom to consume grilled and smoked meat by the poundful, suck down Budweiser and Coors by the gallonful, and argue with friends in the backyard over proper Corn Hole scoring. Apple pie and vanilla ice cream will wash it all down while everyone gathers in front of their flat screens to watch Will Smith and Bill Pullman save the world from aliens.
Today is our Independence Day, and while John Hancock and Thomas Jefferson aren’t walking through that door, if they did, the fathers of our nation might feel a bit lost. And that’s OK. Change is good and we’re becoming more free and independent by the day, which is what the signers of the Declaration would’ve wanted.
Wait, don’t answer that, the Hot Dog Eating Contest is on.
Happy 4th, everyone! Now go watch some fireworks!
Extra Butter — What I’ve Seen Lately
LOS ANGELES — In my former life, I wrote film reviews for the Journal Tribune. The column there was titled “Extra Butter” because, well, I liked a lot of butter on my popcorn (#FatKidProblems) , so it seemed like a logical fit. The idea spawned one day by merely asking the managing editor if we run any kind of reviews, and when he said “no,” asking if I could do them (sometimes all you have to do is ask, kids). The first film I reviewed was “Casino Royale and I later won a Maine Press Association Critic’s Award for my review of Nicolas Cage’s masterpiece “Ghost Rider.”
Since moving to L.A., my well has run dry. I haven’t written one of these columns in nearly three years; that’s my bad. Every so often I feel like I should get back to it; clearly “The Town” would’ve been a nice return and I did write something about “Social Network” when it came out, but not in this vain, and since I still see a lot of movies, I’m going to make the effort because I always had fun with this column. Of all the ones I’ve written since I started really writing in 2004 – Local Celebrity, Game Point, Extra Butter, BrockAngeles and now this site – the film reviews are the ones I wish I had kept up, but fret not.
We’re back! Enjoy, leave me your thoughts and keep truckin’.
From Something To Nothing: The Art of RapThe first time I heard “Regulators” was as I was driving along the main drag in Ocean City, Md. with my family in the summer of 1994. I couldn’t get the beat out of my head all day. Later that night, my uncle asked what I was humming – Doo, doo, doo, doo-do-do-dooo – and I didn’t know what it was, it was just catchy as hell but my interest never went further.
In high school, the East Coast-West Coast war was at its height and a lot of my friends were big Tupac fans. I could never get into it. Leading up to my freshman year at Syracuse I worked at the beach as a grill cook and we listened to nothing but classic rock, so it really wasn’t until I got to college, living with a diverse group of guys, that my musical tastes grew. I became a quick fan of the beats of the day and the old school jams. Sure, I’m as white as a loaf of Wonder Bread but I can appreciate the skill it takes these greats of putting together rhymes. Now, it’s rare a song comes on KDAY that I don’t know.
So, when Ice-T came into the NFL Network studios recently to appear on the Rich Eisen Podcast and started talking about his documentary, “The Art of Rap,” I was immediately interested. The documentary was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival, bought the first day, and hit theaters this past weekend. A meteoric path for a film of this nature. I went on its opening night and left not disappointed. Ice-T is not only the executive producer and director of the film but the interviewer of his subjects. He goes to New York (Melly Mel, Grandmaster Caz, Detroit (Eminem) and Los Angeles (Dr. Dre, Xzibit, Snoop Dogg) to talk to some of hip hop’s legends to find out their thought process and how they wrote their rhymes coming up. Ice-T wanted to get inside the minds of these artists, search for their inspiration, look beyond the cars, girls and jewels.
And he succeeded. It was remarkable to hear their tales, see them put pen to paper and create a story from either nothing or life experiences. Grandmaster Caz wrote a rhyme on the spot. Dr. Dre tried to take the audience inside the mind of a producer and offered some insight on working with Tupac. Eminem talked about being white MC in this game and his struggle. After a while the stories about the process got repetitive, though the highlite was each rapper performing a freestyle or reciting a few bars of another legend’s work.
The film did seem every bit of its 107 minutes and probably would’ve benefited from losing a few of the interviews, as well as some of the on-site, scenic transitions, which didn’t really add much. Though I was left wanting a tour or perhaps an entire “Cribs” episode dedicated to Dr. Dre’s ridiculous Hollywood Hills mansion. Jesus, the rap game has been good to him. KRS1’s story about his first battle is epic, too.
The biggest shock, besides the length of Melly Mel’s dreds, was that my girlfriend really liked it. I figured I was going to have to see it solo, but when I explained to her the premise, she was on board and even laughed a few times. An artist herself, she was really interested in the rappers comments on the process and mindset while preparing and performing. She was encapsulated with Mos Def’s segment.
Bottom line: This is a must-see.
Brockman Stamp of Approval: 4.25 out of 5 Mics.
That’s My Boy
Sixteen-year-old me would probably punch 31-year-old me in the face for saying this, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen an Adam Sandler movie in the theater; “Just Go With It” was getting some run on HBO a while back and I caught the last 3/4ths of it, but I think the last one I paid to see was his revamped version of “The Longest Yard.” It wasn’t great and neither is his latest college try, “That’s My Boy,” which co-stars Andy Samberg and Leighton Meester.
Sandler plays as Donny Berger, who was a child pseudo celebrity for having sex with his teacher and fathering a son (Sandberg) at a very young age. As an adult, he’s a drunken, broke mess, and after his lawyer (played by Jets coach Rex Ryan) tells him he needs to come up with $43,000 to avoid prison, Berger turns to his son, now a successful banker. Though he doesn’t come out and ask for the money, he has a plan involving a hornswaggler of a talk show host (Dan Patrick) and an awkward reunion with his mom (Susan Sarandon) to come up with the cash. Along the way, he realizes he misses and loves his son and tries to do right by him by exposing his two-timing fiance. Of course, everything turns out well in the end but not without some absurdities in the middle.
Bleh. Sandler plays Berger as an ’80s hot mess who constantly has a Budweiser in his hand, is best friends with Vanilla Ice and thinks all the flash-in-the-pan ’90s catch phrases are still hilarious (they’re not). The film is set in Massachusetts, so his over-the-top New England accent is amusing to start and annoying by the end. Unfortunately, you can’t get away from it. I was laughing a lot of the time, however, I think it was more of laughing at the whole thing, not with it. The bachelor party stuff was kinda funny, though. Who knows.
All Sandler film reviews are essentially the same at this point, which is means I’m getting older and he just keeps making the same movie; yet we all keep paying for them, so who’s the dummy? People wonder why he routinely makes “bad” movies these days. The answer is simple: we’ve given him the blank check to do so. It’s our fault. And it’s going to continue.
Brockman Stamp of Eh: 1.5/5 Brews.
Men In Black III
It’s possible I’m at the tail end of my 20-year mancrush on Will Smith. I’m not as geeked as I used to be about his newest ventures or are a fan of him force feeding his kids down our entertainment-enjoying throats, but neither stopped me from enjoying the hell out of the latest installment of the “Men In Black” franchise.
Nobody does $100M movies like Smith, who returns after a 4-year big screen hiatus, and I’d expect this one will join his list of big money makers. It follows the formula of the previous MIB films; Agents J and K (Tommy Lee Jones) get into trouble and have to save the world with their badass weaponry. Only this trip around, J has to go back in time to save a young K (Josh Brolin) from an intergalactic warlord whom he put in prison 30-some-odd years earlier and who wants to kill him.
It has a “Back To The Future II” feel to it, where the future is one way, then the villain goes back in time and changes it, and then they have to go back in time to change the changes made by the villain. Only here there’s aliens and suits and Agent K is likable and it’s set in New York.
I don’t know if there’s going to be another Men In Black movie – I’m sure it’ll depend on box office numbers this time around – but if there’s not, this film was a good way to wrap up the series. We get some insight to J’s past, why he is who he is, and same with K, who as a young agent is lively, jovial and fun-loving but couldn’t be more opposite as an adult. As always, the special effects are really neat and the aliens and weapons keep getting cooler. You’ll really have fun with this one.
Brockman Stamp of Approval: 3.5/5 Ray Bans.
I plan to write an entire column on Johnny Depp’s appeal to women in the nearer future – honestly, I don’t get it – but for the time being I’ll stick to his newest vampire flick. Also, what is with every movie these days being about a) vampires; b) bows and arrows or c) zombies? ANYway, “Dark Shadows” is not good, but I saw it recently because the girlfriend is among the millions obsessed with the aforementioned Mr. Depp and for some reason she wanted to see this. I’ll admit the first time I saw the trailer, it looked amusing, but every time after my interest in it lowered exponentially. Actually, this flick made the second JD project we’ve seen together; our first date was “The Rum Diary,” which I liked and just recently found out she did not. So we’re even.
If you’re expecting something like “True Blood” or “Twilight,” you’ll be disappointed. There are some murders but no nudity and I think it’s supposed to be funny, but it’s not. “Dark Shadows,” which also stars Michelle Pfeiffer, is about the Collins family, who owns the town and the fishing industry, only to lose it to another company who just happens to be run by the woman (Eva Green) who puts Johnny Depp’s character in the ground for 200 years. I think she’s a vampire, too, or she’s in love with Depp. Something like that.
The Collins family lives in a Wayne Manor-esque estate and each member has something strangely wrong with them. The girl from “Kick Ass” might be a werewolf, the doctor is a drunk, the dad is a deadbeat and on and on. The family is on the verge of bankruptcy and being run from the town, only Depp, the original Collins, can save them.
What’s worse, is that they’ll probably be a sequel because the family shrink (Helena Bonham-Carter) who’s thrown to the bottom of the ocean is still alive. Dum-dum-dum! Spare me.
Brockman Stamp of Eh: 1.5/5 Fangs.