Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top Ten Twilight Zone Episodes

If you were to ask me what my favorite television show is, without hesitation, my answer would be Rod Serling's masterpiece, "The Twilight Zone."

Though many might classify this as an old science fiction show from the 1950s and 60s, beyond that veil lies a wisdom that remains to this day and is just as relevant as it was back then. Each episode of this anthology series shows supernatural stories reflecting human trails offered in a perfect blend of reality and fiction. Two subjects as different as day and night, Rod Serling is able to find that middle ground between science and superstition, and give us one of the greatest shows ever made.

We're here today to look at my top ten favorite "Twilight Zone" episodes. This one was difficult, as there was not a single episode out of the original 156 that I did not enjoy. Some were clearly better than others, but there was always that level of atmosphere and uncertainty about what new wonder the Twilight Zone would pull off next.

Also, for those of you who haven't seen these episodes or wish to see them again, I will not spoil the endings, as that is half the fun of watching a "Twilight Zone" episode.


Ten: "Nick Of Time" (Season Two, Episode Seven)

A newlywed couple's car breaks down on their honeymoon, causing them to take a stop at a diner in the middle of no where while their car is fixed. The couple finds a little machine at a booth in the diner that, when you ask it any yes-or-no question, will always have the right answer, even if that answer involves events that haven't happened yet.

When people talk about William Shatner and his time on "The Twilight Zone" they immediately jump to the now-famous "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet." While that is certainly a good atmospheric episode where you're never too sure if the monster is really on the wing of the plane or if it's all in his head, "Nick Of Time" is a much more subdued outing that gives Shatner more range and emotion to work with.

Watching Shatner descend into madness as he keeps asking this toy question after question is both respectable and pitiful. He's wasting is life asking this thing questions about his future, but wouldn't you do the same thing?


Nine: "On Thursday We Leave For Home" (Season Four, Episode Sixteen)

For thirty years, a small group of space explorers have been stranded on a desert planet. They've barely been able to survive on their remaining supplies, always living on the hope that rescue is just a day away. One day though, rescue does arrive, and the survivors are promised to return to lives that they have craved for decades. If only their captain did not want to see the last bit of his power and work fade away when they leave this planet.

Season four was hit-or-miss. It is half the length of any other season, but each episode is an hour-long, twice the length of a regular episode. This meant there are some scenes that are added on just to give it more run time, and that there are several episodes with pacing problems.

"On Thursday We Leave For Home" though does not have any of these problems and benefits from the hour-long length. This one is more of a character study, as we watch the captain lose everything that he had gained, as well as his sanity. He is willing to keep his entire crew on this dead hunk of a planet, just so that he can keep up his totalitarian will and power.

This one is a space tragedy, with some great acting from James Whitmore and Tim O'Connor.


Eight: "The Brain Center At Whipple's" (Season Five, Episode Thirty-Three)

At a manufacturing company that has stood for integrity and excellence for decades, the new owner has decided to make some changes. Namely, replacing all expendable employees with computers to save on cost and maximize efficiency. It's too bad that the list of "expendable employees" just keeps growing.

"The Twilight Zone" had many episodes like this - the dangers of relying too much on technology and losing sight of our humanity. "The Brain Center At Whipple's" succeeds over all others because it makes a good case for why we need technology, while still showing just how ugly it is. The new owner points out that machines don't need to be paid, can't get sick, don't need food or sleep and won't take maternity leave.

Then every other character points out how this is still a terrible idea. I especially love the man who has worked at that company for over twenty years, in a drunken rage after being fired and replaced by a computer, yelling at the owner, "When you're dead and buried, who do you get to mourn for you?"
This man was only thinking, like a computer. Never feeling or understanding that there is more to business than making the product.


Seven: "Walking Distance" (Season One, Episode Five)

A young business man has his car repaired on the way back from a trip, only to realize that he is close to his boyhood town. He decides to take a walk in to town, only to realize that he has stepped back in time to when he was a kid. Eager to make his own life better, he sets out to find his younger self to tell him an important message.

This one makes the list for having a simple moral - No matter how hard we try, we cannot change the past. It is behind us, and there is no use looking back on it. Try looking ahead.

It is something we all do at some point. We all wish we could go back and tell our younger selves what our lives will be like and what changes they need to make to better our lives. "Walking Distance" asks, what is the point of dwelling on that anyway?


Six: "A Game Of Pool" (Season Three, Episode Five)

Jesse Cardiff is the best poolshark around. He could live with this if had ever played the greatest poolshark ever, James "Fats" Brown, if he were still alive. Well, one day Jesse gets his wish and Fats gives him a chance to prove who the best is. But, if Jesse wins, he might be in for a bit more than he expected.

This one is all about the dialogue between Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters, two contrasting actors and performances. One is loud, boisterous and full of himself. The other is subdued, quiet and well-mannered.

There isn't much too this episode, as it is just two guys playing pool. Yet the dialogue is heavy, always weighing down on Jesse about the legacy of being "the best" and what it takes to get there. It not only makes you appreciate the best athletes, but also what they leave behind them.


Five: "One More Pallbearer" (Season Three, Episode Seventeen)

This one is a strange, and I often find it to be the more underrated "Twilight Zone" episode.

Paul Radin is a man who can afford anything he wants and is a success in life in every meaning of the word. And he wants everyone to know that, especially the people who ruined his life. So, Paul constructs a massive atomic bomb shelter in the heart of New York City and invites three people from his past to join him there. Paul then intends to make it seem like an atomic bomb is about to drop on the city and the only way to save themselves is to admit they ruined Paul's life and that they're lucky to know him.

This one makes the list for being both tragic and uplifting at the same time. Paul believes these people ruined everything and made him miserable and deserve to be punished. But in reality, these three people did Paul a favor and he is just being an asshole of the highest order.

Like I said in the beginning, I won't spoil what happens, but let's just say that these three innocent people do the right thing and Paul is left more tragic than ever before.


Four: "The Obsolete Man" (Season Two, Episode Twenty-Nine)

I feel it is better to let Rod Serling describe this one.

"You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future, not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace. This is Mr. Romney Wordsworth, in his last forty-eight hours on Earth. He's a citizen of the State but will soon have to be eliminated, because he's built out of flesh and because he has a mind. Mr. Romney Wordsworth, who will draw his last breaths in The Twilight Zone."

This episode is, more or less, Rod Serlings' stance against dictators and totalitarianism. Where the single man becomes unnecessary, religion is nothing more than a farce and the public shares a collective brain.

Like the narration describes, this is a future that might have existed, and that is what makes this piece so strong. It doesn't point out one dictatorship in particular, instead talking about all of them. It is all capped off by a wonderfully uplifting performance by Burgess Meredith, a librarian who is no longer needed and must be killed, to show the need for the human soul.


Three: "Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?" (Season Two, Episode Twenty-Eight)

An alien spacecraft has just crashed in a massive snowstorm. The police find the wreckage, but no body. In a nearby café, they find a bus stopped and its passengers enjoying their meals. But when the police ask the bus driver how many passengers he had, they find that there is one more person in the café that was not on the bus. The question is, who isn't the human?

This one is a perfect mystery with an ingenious Twilight Zone set up. If the alien can copy a human appearance, how can you tell the difference? What questions do you ask an alien to tell that it is not from Earth? What if that alien has mental powers too and is influencing you whether you like it or not?

This one is just fun from start to finish. The diverse cast of characters, the mystery about who is the real alien, the comedy that comes from some of the crazier people in the café, the second guessing and the ultimate reveal and twist ending. Even after I've watched this one multiple times, I still get a kick out of it.


Two: "Eye Of The Beholder" (Season Two, Episode Six)

In a dark hospital room, a young woman lies with bandages covering her face, eager to take the bandages off and see the world again. It seems that she has had an operation to make herself look more normal, but this is the third time she's had this operation and if this fails the doctors can't do anything else.

Most people remember this one for the twist ending, which I do adore. But I will always remember "Eye Of The Beholder" for its amazing cinematography, lighting and camera work. Everything is shrouded in darkness, mystery and secrecy. We don't see the faces of any character until the episode is more than halfway done. Yet, we do not need to see any one's faces, because the emotions are still on full display through body and camera movement.

This is easily the most suspenseful and atmospheric episode of "The Twilight Zone" as we know there is something sinister going on with this woman, but we're never quite sure what.


One: "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" (Season One, Episode Twenty-Two)

Maple Street, USA. Families are going about their daily routines, children are playing the streets, fun is being had. That is until all electronics stop working for some unexplained reason. The neighbors get together to try to figure out what's going on, and one of the children suggest that aliens might be the culprit. While initially laughed off, everyone else cannot come up with a better solution. This gets everyone riled up and thinking that the aliens might have sent out advanced parties to scout out the region, leading the once friendly neighbors to start pointing fingers at each other for suspicious behavior.

This one gets the number one spot because of how simple yet effective it is. The term "monster" is thrown around throughout the episode, but we're never entirely sure if it means the aliens, or our own fear and paranoia. We bring this upon ourselves by suspecting our friends and loved ones. This episode could take place at any time, and it would work just as well.

"The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" is perfectly paced, relevant, and atmospheric. It encapsulates everything that I love about "The Twilight Zone," being both fantasy and reality while offering up a poignant statement on humanity. It never feels forced and is always exciting to watch.


Here are a few honorable mentions:

"Time Enough At Last" (Season One, Episode Eight)
"Third From The Sun" (Season One, Episode Fourteen)
"People Are Alike All Over" (Season One, Episode Twenty-Five)
"A Nice Place To Visit" (Season One, Episode Twenty-Eight)
"The Night Of The Meek" (Season Two, Episode Eleven)
"The Little People" (Season Three, Episode Twenty-Eight)
"The Last Night Of A Jockey" (Season Five, Episode Five)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ten Movies That Children Need To See


When I think back on my film experience and the impact it has had on me, I wonder just how different my journey would be if I had watched a larger variety of movies as a child. After all, children are quite impressionable and what you see at a young age can have a big impact on your tastes as an adult, whether you know it or not.

Aside from the copious amounts of Godzilla films I saw as a kid, there was also plenty of Star Trek films, in particular "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan," and the classic Disney animated and live action movies, ranging from "Pinoochio" and "Sword In The Stone," to "The Rocketter" and "The Beauty And The Beast."

Despite where I am now with cinema, I watched nearly the same movies as a child that most others would have watched too, including the "Star Wars" films and classic Steven Speilberg flicks.

But what classic films would I show to kids today? Well, that's what we're here to look at today. These are the ten movies that children need to see.

These are movies that kids would not only enjoy, but want to come back to over again, that they would find more reasons to enjoy as they grow older. These films are also a good starting point for those who want to get their children into classic cinema. No restrictions on the age of these movies, though I'll be doing my best to stay away from more recent films like "Frozen" since your children have probably seen those movies by now. Also, no Rated-R movies, because that only makes sense.
I will also be avoiding some easy picks, like the "Star Wars" films and the "Toy Story" movies, just to add some variety to this list.

And as a side note - I do not have any kids of my own, but do wish to have some one day.


"Raiders Of The Lost Ark" (1981)

Let's start with something simple - One of the most fun and energized movies I have ever seen.

When you think about it, there is not much to the story of "Raiders Of The Lost Ark." It's an adventure around the globe, as one eccentric man tries to stop the Nazis from getting their hands on an ancient artifact.

But then you think about that plot and how hilariously awesome it sounds.

"Raiders Of The Lost Ark" was made as a tribute to the classic pulp adventures of the 1930s and 1940s, but what George Lucas and Steven Spielberg created ended up being something stronger than any of those old adventures achieved.

This was due entirely to the character of Indiana Jones. On the surface, he seems simple enough - well-mannered, selfless and courageous. But then you learn more about the adventures he has been on and the things he has had to do and you see the side of him that makes you want to get up and join him in journeys. Indiana is the man who every young boy wishes he could be.

Throw in some timeless and exciting action sequences you have an awesome and unforgettable action film that people of all ages can enjoy.


"Mary Poppins" (1964)

This makes the list because good musicals that children can enjoy are often hard to come by, but are sometimes the most satisfying films to watch as a kid.

As a child, and still as an adult, the concept of music is lost on me. Possibly because I'm more of a visual person than I am audio, or that music is so loud and fast-paced that I often can't hear anything. But when you combine the two into a movie musical, the result is enticing and one of a kind.

On the opposite end of the spectrum as "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," we have "Mary Poppins" a Disney musical made at a time when musicals were on their way out. But where "Raiders" is exciting, "Mary Poppins" is cheerful and uplifting.

It also shares a point that you'll be seeing a lot in this list: Teaching the audience moral lessons that you can use throughout the rest of your lives. But "Mary Poppins" is so simple in its message that it sometimes gets missed. The audience gets so lost in the catchy musical numbers and spectacular dance choreography that a lesson doesn't seem that important.

Then, near the end of the film, there's this one musical number - "Feed The Birds." If you listen to the lyrics and hear the story behind it, along with the faded images of an old woman feeding a hoard of birds at this giant cathedral, you'll understand "Mary Poppins" can be both tragic and heart-warming at the same time. There's a reason "Feed The Birds" is Walt Disney's favorite song.


"Spirited Away" (2001)

Creativity and imagination are at their highest when a child witnesses a new level of imaginative ideas. For that, look no further than the work of Hayao Miyazaki and "Spirited Away."

This film feels as though you've been transported to an entirely new world. A world that you can't fully comprehend, but you don't really want to. That would take away the charm of Miyazaki's work. His films are at their best when his animated world is the main character and our protagonist is just a passenger with us for the ride.

There are so many breath-taking scene that I don't think I could name them all. The train sequence with the shadow man with very little dialogue but a tense of dread always looming over, the bathhouse segment where all sorts of strange and imaginative creatures, any scene where there is flying over the vast oceans and landscapes.

This is one of the most beautiful animated movies, if not the most. It's amazing to think it was almost all hand-drawn animation by Miyazkai and his crew. Very little of it is done by computers, an oddity by today's standards. But because it is an oddity, we got an animated film that sets the standards to which all other Fantasies are compared to.


"Duck Soup" (1933) & "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948)

It is never too early to introduce your child to classic comedies.

Comedy is one of those subjects that even a child can grasp, especially when it's not mean-spirited or hateful comedy, like in many movies and television today. Rather, the comedy comes from the situation and the characters involved in that situation. Reactions and timing become the jokes and the payoff ends up being hilarious.

For this category, I could not choose between the best Marx Brothers film, "Duck Soup" or the quintessential Abbott & Costello where they meet the Universal monsters. So, why not do both?


"Duck Soup" is a great example of perfecting a range of comedy, from slapstick to wise guys to reactions. If one Marx Brothers' style is not your liking, there are two more where that came from (though there is a fourth Marx Brother, but we don't talk about him). The mirror sequence is considered one of the best uses of comedic timing for good reason.

"Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" works on a different level. It relies more on the relationship between the title characters, as their personalities clash. Watching these two outrun monsters, only for their bumbling nature to get in the way, always provides a good laugh. This film is also a good introduction to the Universal horror monsters, without needing to watch films like "Dracula" and "The Wolf Man."

Both films are great examples of why good comedy is timeless.


"North By Northwest" (1959)

I'm going with an odd choice here.

Though I did not watch any Alfred Hitchcock films as a child, I could see his films being enjoyed by kids, especially "North By Northwest."

I would describe "North By Northwest" as a James Bond movie, if James Bond didn't know who he was. It has more similarities to "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" than one would think - suspenseful action sequences, witty banter, a charismatic (somewhat) reluctant hero and a consistent sense of dread and danger.

The difference between the two though is that "North By Northwest" takes everything in stride. The main characters will take the time to shoot the breeze with other characters and exchange one liners. That's because our "hero" is having fun with this entire situation, whether he knows it or not. This makes Cary Grant's performance all the more enjoyable to watch.

Another one that is great fun, with a bit more adult humor than "Raiders." Just leave that to your child's imagination.


"WALL-E" (2008)

If I put it one of Myazaki's films in this list, it is only fair that I put in a Pixar movie too.

In the last few decades, film studios have tried to force the "save the environment" message down children's throats. "Frengully - The Last Rainforest," "Avatar," "Pocahontas," "The Lorax" and so many more, each one sucking more than the last. The problem is that each of these attempts have said things children already knew or did not care about to begin with.

"WALL-E" however, offers up an environment message without ever forcing it upon the audience and providing a unique experience with an Earth that has been devoid of humans for 700 years.
In fact, the film isn't so much about saving the environment as it is about our dependence on technology and what that does to ourselves and our surroundings.

Yet the film never loses sight of what it is really about - A love story between two robots. Regardless of what the film wants to say about our current state, the story of WALL-E and EVE remains the focal point. Everything these two do is for each other, not for the good of all people.

This makes "WALL-E"'s message so much more powerful and effective, when we see what technology can do to us, while still being subtle about it.

Combine this with gorgeous animation of space and an empty Earth, the first third of the film having no dialogue at all and a love story that is timeless, and you have an animated film that gives even "Spirited Away" a run for its money.


"King Kong" (1933)

Much like classic comedies, classic monster movies can be enjoyed at any age.

I remember watching this film with my dad when I was five years old and having a blast. Each action sequence felt fresh and exciting, King Kong was always ready to throw down and take on any challenge. I never thought about how old the film looked, because the effects looked just as impressive today as they did back in 1933.

All leading up to one of the greatest climaxes in film history, with Kong on top of the Empire State Building, clutching the love of his life in one hand and fighting off fighter planes with the other.
This one is amazing to watch, no matter how old you are.


"It's A Wonderful Life" (1946)

Speaking of great climaxes, let's talk about the best ending to any film, "It's A Wonderful Life."

The films that I find myself coming back to over time are the ones with a simple approach to their message and character struggle. Ones where our heroes go through dilemmas and challenges that we face every day and do not try to glorify any of it.

"It's A Wonderful Life" shows not only the struggle of one man, but the life and impact of one man and the town he lives in. George Bailey is one of the most relatable, sympathetic and honest characters in cinema and it is all topped off by a performance by James Stewart that can make just about any one cry.

I'm not ashamed to admit that the last ten minutes of "It's A Wonderful Life" make me cry every single time. Because it is the best kind of crying - tears of joy. Joy that everything has worked out so perfectly and that not only is their world a better place, but your heart feels like it belongs in that world as well.

Whether you are watching this at Christmas or in the middle of July, "It's A Wonderful Life" is a perfect film for everyone.


"Fantasia" (1940)

Not only a good introduction to classic cinema, but also into classical music.

"Fantasia" is a one of a kind film, taking famous pieces of music and setting them to animation. Some are somber and quiet, while others are loud and boisterous. Each piece moves like a river, each with its ebbs and flows, but then also rocky terrain and even massive waterfalls.

People like to discuss the Sorcerer's Apprentice sequence because of Mickey Mouse, but my favorite has always been the sequence on The Night On Bald Mountain, as the devil summons his legion of minions, brings forth hell fire, turns beauty into disgust and conducts it all like an orchestra set to the most hellish song.

So many wonderful and memorable sequences that it is hard to put into words just how awe-inspiring "Fantasia" really is. It is best to just let you and your children see first hand at what the miracle of animation can carry out.


"Edward Scissorhands" (1990)

Let's end with the most adult kids movie on this list.

Tim Burton has a strange appeal that makes adults relate to his work, but kids are fascinated by it. I remember watching films like "Batman," "Beetlejuice" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" as a kid and being mesmerized by how dark yet alluring his worlds were. Maybe it was because, amidst all the creepy and disturbing imagery, there was this one guy who chose to be a loner and live the life that he wanted, regardless of what others thought.

Of those types of Burton films, "Edward Scissorhands" is the definitive one. Not only is Edward the typical loner found in a broken-down Frankenstein-like castle in a neighborhood of houses that all look the same, but he lives up to the title and becomes a crime against nature.

I almost wanted to include this in my list of ten must-see monster movies, but then I remembered that Edward Scissorhands is far from a monster. He might be an outcast, but he did not choose to be like that. He was born into the world with giant scissors for hands and he has no control over how people react to him.

In that regard, I think more kids can relate to "Edward Scissorhands" than you would think. Combine this with a kind and caring performance by Johnny Depp, Tim Burton's usual eccentric art style and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack by Danny Elfman, and this is a creepy yet heart-warming film.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Movie Review: "The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies" (2014) - The Battle To Stay Awake


One of the worst crimes that a film can commit is failing to draw you in to its story and characters, thus the audience is uninterested and does not care about anything that happens.

This very rarely happens in cinema, as there is always something to catches the eye that you want to see more of. The last time I truly did not care about any of the events in a film was "Star Trek: Insurrection" due to the incredibly small scope about villagers on a planet who just want to be left alone.

Which is why it is sad to admit that "The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies" is one of these films that does not try to pull the audience in with captivating stories or complex and timeless characters, but rather with eye candy and the allure of Middle Earth.

I understand this film is the finale to Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy and acts as the climax to a story that is told over the course of three movies. However, when looking at each film in its own right, "The Battle Of The Five Armies" holds up terribly due to its lack of drive and focus.

"The Unexpected Journey" showed the audience a new side to Middle Earth that we had not seen in "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy, such as trolls, Radagast, rock giants and especially Smaug. "The Desolation Of Smaug," while having pacing problems and lack of character development, still had some gripping and impressive scenes, in particular anything involving the charismatic yet terrifying Smaug.

"The Battle Of The Five Armies" has none of those aspects, as the conflict with Smaug is solved within the first ten minutes and then spends the rest of the time pandering around until we get to what the film is named after. Everything the last two films have built up comes to a head, with armies of Dwarves, Elves and Orcs converging on the kingdom of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to reclaim the gold and treasures of the mountain.


The problem could lie in that only one of the thirteen dwarves got any sort of character development, Thorin, and the rest are just comic relief or serve no purpose altogether. Another could be that all the development was in the last two films, leaving "The Battle Of The Five Armies" with little to say about these characters we have followed for the last few years.

The great thing about "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy was that each film worked on its own, without needing to see the other two to enjoy it. This was because each character was likable, relevant, complex and could kick ass when it was needed. But with this film, they only seem to be interested in the ass kicking part.

For example, there is a scene early on where Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is overrun by the forces of evil, but is saved by two characters who play bigger roles in later trilogy, yet are only in one scene in this trilogy. While these two are pulling off some impressive moves, it does not add anything to the plot or advance their characters. This scene could have been cut from the film and it would not have changed anything.


However, there are some scenes worth mentioning. The fore mentioned scene is one example, but another is during Thorin's mad dash to block anyone from getting inside the mountain. Through all of this chaos, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) pulls Thorin aside to show him what he will take back with him to the Shire - an acorn.

It is a quiet scene between two characters who have mutual respect for each other. It does not need a bunch of flashy special effects or fight sequences to get your attention. Sometimes, and by that I mean most of the time, all you need is well-written and likable character interaction.


Overall though, "The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies" nearly put me to sleep. Even though there is plenty of well-executed action sequences, none of that means anything if we do not care about the characters in those fights. Everyone is either poorly developed or not developed at all. Major moments that are supposed to be met with gasps and shock, are met with indifference and a shrug of the shoulders.

Let this film be a lesson on how not to make captivating and worthwhile characters, and by extension, fight scenes.

Final Grade: D

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"The Interview" Incident - Terrorism or Business?


Over the last few days, Sony has had made several controversial decisions regarding the release of Seth Rogan and James Franco's new action/comedy "The Interview."

Since this issue is related to cinema, I feel somewhat obligated to weigh in on this topic and give my two cents. A forewarning though, if you're looking for anything political, I am not that source as I despise politics. In this world, nobody wins in a discussion of three topics - Politics, Religion and My Little Pony. Regardless of your beliefs on each topic, it's best to just keep them to yourself.

In any case, some people have mentioned this is a major violation of our freedom of speech. That we should not be afraid of some dictator and say whatever we want about him. That North Korea has taken that right away from us and we are giving into the terrorists and letting them win.

To those people, I say that we would be if, one, we were dealing with terrorists, and two, the government was responsible for pulling "The Interview."

Neither is the case.


Terrorism is normally performed by a small group of rebels or faction, working independently of their own nations and taking matters into their own hands. For example, the Afghanistan government was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks, but a small group of people who wanted to stick it to America.

This is a dictator, who is full of himself, and will whine and cry until he gets his way. In this case, he does not want a movie mocking him to be released to the public. His people are merely carrying out his wishes and making sure that "The Interview" is never seen by anyone.

Which is why they have threatened to attack any theater that shows the movie. It would be the Aurora shooting all over again, except on a much more massive scale.

Say what you will about whether North Korea is serious about these possible attacks. Can we afford to take the risk if they're not joking? If they are just making idle threats, then no harm is done. But what if they do go into every movie theater playing "The Interview" and kill everyone watching the movie?

North Korea and their leader are crazy enough to where this threat could either be fake or deadly serious.

You do not provoke the dictator with the possibility of nuclear weapons.


But on to the second point, the U.S. government is not responsible for pulling "The Interview," big movie chains like AMC and Regal are. See, they are taking those threats seriously. They don't want another Aurora incident to happen.

As a result, Sony, who is distributing the movie to theaters, realizes that no one is willing to show their movie. No ticket sales, no merchandise, nothing. If Christmas Day comes and that movie is playing in theaters, but is not showing in any major movie theaters, Sony would lose insane amounts of money.

Granted, they've already lost money on this movie through marketing and private screenings, but that total would increase when the release date came and nobody went to see "The Interview."

From a business perspective, it was a smart move on Sony's part to pull the movie before release date.

It is a weird chain of events - North Korea makes threat against anyone who sees "The Interview," AMC and Regal take threats seriously and refuse to show the movie, Sony pulls the movie to save what they can.

This is not politics or giving into terrorists. It is just business and protecting your image and customers.

Am I upset by all of this? No. The only reason I would be angry about this would be if "The Interview" was actually a good movie. But, based on trailers, premise and gags, this one looked pretty bad.

I've only enjoyed Seth Rogan when he is under the direction of Judd Apatow, like "The Forty-Year Old Virgin" and "Superbad." And I don't know what to think about James Franco anymore. The guy was nominated for an Academy Award in "127 Hours," and now he's doing stupid frat-boy movies, pretending to be a moron when he has proven to everything.

I had no intention of going to see "The Interview" once it came to theaters.


The funny thing though is if this movie had gone the route of Charlie Chaplins' "The Great Dictator," and take real-life personalities and threats but change the names and place, then "The Interview" would have been perfectly fine. Make up a fake name for Kim Jong-Un, create a fictional country and you're set. You can still have it be about killing a dictator, but now you're not hurting anyone.

For crying out loud, you guys are filmmakers. The scope of film knows no bound. You can create entirely new worlds, people and physics, yet you choose to talk about assassinating actual dictators who have been known to do crazy things. Be more imaginative, and we would not get these kinds of threats from North Korea.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Message To All My Readers...


You are important. Do not let anyone else tell you otherwise or stop thinking that your existence does not matter. Every life is significant and you are a powerful and strong human being.

Life can be difficult at times. It varies for some people though, some have it easier than others while the unfortunate ones have to deal with it every day. Whoever you may be and what problems you may be facing, know that I am there for you.

The human will to not only survive but to overcome and accomplish is stronger than anything I can imagine. We as both people and as a group can do so much for the world. Just look at any movements or petitions around the globe and you'll find people standing up for what they believe in to the end, making a difference in the world.

People are amazing. You are amazing.

I bring this up because I wanted to tell you a bit more about myself. I have talked about why I pursued movies as much as I have and why I started this blog, but we all face a struggle in life, including myself.

I have Asperger's Syndrome. For those of you who don't know what that is, Asperger's is a form of Autism that effects my brain in many ways. For example, when I get excited I will sometimes lose control of my arms and flail wildly without even realizing it. I lack the basics of understanding body language, have a hard time carrying a conversation without talking about some of my passions and can often come off as rash, unsympathetic and lacking in empathy when I just do not know any better.


It is easy for me to get into a routine and it is very hard to get me out of that routine, just ask anyone that I work with. But once I've found something that I enjoy, I study and learn everything that I can about that topic. Any opportunity I get, I will talk about those passions and not let go.

I've heard someone with Asperger's is similar to how a robot acts. Cold, uncaring, won't actually look you in the eye, lacks social skills and is only focused on set amount of goals.

As you can probably imagine, this made my childhood rather difficult, especially when I did not understand what I was doing wrong. I was picked on for my constant flailing. I would normally spend my recess' wandering around the playground, flailing as I imagined Godzilla getting in a fight with the Megazord from Power Rangers. I never once considered what it looked like from the other kids' perspective, and only ever broke away from my imaginative time when other kids stopped to ask what I was doing.


I would describe having Asperger's as having half of your brain in your own world and the other half in the real world. You have your own ideas and thoughts about what you want and how the world works and love that side because it is pleasant and worry-free. But it is in constant conflict with the real world. You understand what is happening and know the people around you, but it is sometimes just too much and you can't handle it.

These sides of your brain are always fighting. You want to be in the world, for those you love and care about, but you just don't know how.

It's not that people with Asperger's are uncaring, it is that they care so much that they don't know how to handle all of it and are therefore paralyzed by so many overwhelming thoughts. It is at this point that we retreat into our own world where we don't have to be overloaded.


As I'm writing this blog post, my brain is fighting over completing it and just ending it so that these reflections can go away and I can watch some videos by the Game Grumps.

It is difficult to cope with reality. If I want to fit into this world, I must have a certain mindset that I do not understand. I must know body language, be social, talk about issues that have no effect on me or do not care about. Because people are kind that way and must make people feel welcome.

Please understand me, I completely get that part. But understanding that and knowing how to do that are two totally different things. How do you teach someone to be social when they neither social nor anti-social?

It's not that we don't want to socialize, it's that we're content with the amount of friends we have now and do not want to mess with that. Again, falling into a routine and it being difficult to get out of that.


But I think the worst part of having Asperger's Syndrome is that when something bad happens in my life where I feel down or defeated, I find myself blaming it on the Asperger's. It is something beyond my control and no matter how hard I try, it will always be apart of me.

I hate this because suddenly, I'm not myself anymore. I am this vessel being piloted by a mental illness and have no saying over how things will turn out. That I am someone with Asperger's Syndrome before I am Paul Sell.

And I do not want that.

I want to be myself. I want to be treated and seen just like everyone else. I want to be able to talk about movies, Godzilla, Star Trek, Power Rangers and Mystery Science Theater 3000 without having to worry about being known as "THAT guy." I want to go to my job, work has hard as I can and not be looked down on just because I don't know how to socialize with everyone. I want to lead a happy, pleasant life and do the things that I want to do.

But most importantly, I do not want to use my Asperger's as a crutch.


Perhaps that is why I've taken so long to talk about this. Because I was afraid that, if I explained myself, anytime I did something strange from now on, people would be like "Oh, that's just his Asperger's acting up again. Don't pay him any mind."

Of course, I cannot stop you from thinking that. All I can do is beg you to listen me for a little while.

I work at a department store, what I do on this blog is just a hobby that I love more than most other things. Over the past few months, I have witnessed several incidents where children with mental issues, supposedly Autism, were treated badly.

One instance was an older woman taking care of her grandson. The woman appeared worn out and tired but I treated this the same as any other instance. The grandson started out near the shopping cart and would occasionally hop on the bars of the cart while looking around the store. The woman constantly kept telling her grandson to get off the cart, and he would, only to hop back on a few seconds later.


This seemed like typical child behavior to me, until I overheard her mention the word "Autism" and point at him.

Shortly after that, the child ran up to the lottery machine, which required money to use properly, and started pressing the same button over and over. I assumed the bright colors of the machine caught is eye and he want to know how it worked.

This made the grandmother furious. She yelled at the top of her lungs, "Stop messing with that machine now and get back here this instant! I haven't let you leave the house for three years and it's going to be another three years after what you just did."

Let me remind you that her grandson pressed a button on a lottery machine, which he could not work without money.

To follow that up, once everything I needed to do was finished I told this woman about what she could do online. She interrupts me mid-sentence to tell me that she does not own a computer, because she does not want to expose her children to the internet, due to the predators lurking on the websites.

So not only are you unwilling to allowing your grandson leave the house long enough to go to the store for the past three years, supposedly because he has Autism, but you are limiting your children from the ever-expanding world around them? News, encyclopedic knowledge, interaction with other people and purchasing items that are impossible to get anywhere else are all possible through the internet. Even a career is possible, just look at any YouTube channel that makes more than two videos a week.


This woman was not only hurting her own children by blocking them from the internet for no good reason (predators only lurk on certain websites which can be blacklisted), but she is punishing her grandson for something that is beyond his control. He did not choose to be born the way he is, so why should he be treated differently than any other kid?

When I was a child and my Asperger's was running rampant, I knew that my parents were extremely concerned about what to do with me. Move me to a different school? Put me on medication? Go to therapy and group discussion about Autism? Limit my movement? Take away my toys until I get better?

Do you know what they ended up doing? None of that. They loved me and supported my passions. They pointed out when I was flailing around and introduced me to some new friends whom I shared common interests, and all of it was to help me. I was allowed to play outside when I wanted, use the computer, watch all the same shows my friends were watching.

I was treated like any other child.


This is because my parents are amazing, kind, generous and wonderful people. They never once looked at me like I was a mistake or a burden on them, but as any other person that they loved. I'm not exaggerating when I say I would not be the person that I am today without the love and support of my parents.

I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I was born without Asperger's Syndrome. But what I do know about are the virtues that shine through because of Asperger's - kindness, patience, generosity, thoughtfulness, logical and passionate. These virtues come through me due to my parents because they didn't want me to treated differently.

Why? Because to my loving parents, I was important. Just like you are important.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Son Of The Hopper

fury poster

"Fury" (2014)

When your film covers a subject like war, it tends to be a double-edge sword. On the one hand, you get to tell some of the most emotionally gripping and captivating stories about human struggle and how that struggle can change a man. On the other hand, it can become easily cliché and overdone when it is a subject that has been covered multiple times.

Or you could try to do so many things that your film ends up having no identity at all.

This the problem with "Fury," as it depicts the end of World War II from the perspective of one small tank and its men marching through Germany and killing as many Nazis along the way. Over that time, they acquire Norman, a new assistant driver and gunner who is fresh to the war and can't bring himself to kill anyone. As the film progesses, we see this kid develop into a machine of sorts and get to know his fellow soldiers.

fury pic

Where "Fury" falls apart is the pacing and where the film chooses to focus the majority of its time on. Rather than developing the personalities of the soldiers in this tiny and worn-out tank, we get them interacting with German civilians to show they're not all bad. At one point, the film spends more than twenty minutes just to watch Brad Pitt and his crew have a nice meal and belittle a German teenage girl.

I couldn't even tell you the names of the main characters, because they are either never used or mumbled thus making it impossible to understand without subtitles.

War movies tend to take a specific angle on war, like "The Best Years Of Our Lives" focusing on how these soldiers come back to society, or "The Hurt Locker" driving the point that war is much more subtle and manipulative game than it once was. Rarely a film like "Apocalypse Now" can pull off the basic angle of "War is hell" but that is normally to broad of a subject to discuss in one film.

"Fury" attempts to pull this off, and does not succeed.

It shows our heroes being merciless killers, but then soft-hearted gentlemen. Norman does not want to kill Nazis because it isn't right, but a scene later he says he loves killing them. The movie tries to humanize Nazis, only for them to be little more than trophies and bodies to Americans.

"Fury" cannot make its mind on what it wants to say about war. As a result, it ends up saying everything that has already been said about war, so what we got is nothing new.

Overall, "Fury" has problems with its pacing, characterization and message, but it serves as a nice distraction for two and a half hours. It does not do anything offensive but offers little to no substance. Rent this one on DVD if you're interested in World War II films, but watch it with subtitles.

Final Grade: C

horrible bosses 2

"Horrible Bosses 2" (2014)

I've been a huge fan of Christoph Waltz since he was hunting down Jews in "Inglorious Basterds." The role solidified him as an intense actor who does not have to above a whisper to be intimidating. "Django Unchained" proved that he could be a multifaceted actor by being both nuturing and still threatening.

Waltz is essentially the male equivalent of Jennifer Lawrence, except that Waltz can be the bad guy as much as the good guy.

My problem with Waltz though is that he has only proven himself when being directed by the same man - Quentin Tarantino. Sometimes the bond between actor and director can be so strong that it can lead a decent actor to give a stunning performance. Perhaps those two were due more to Tarantino's directing and not Waltz's acting.

"Horrible Bosses 2" proves that it is not on Tarantino. Christoph Waltz is just that captivating as an actor.

The original "Horrible Bosses" was a surprise for me. I did not expect much out of it, only a few laughs here and there. I came out of it being entertained more by how the main characters learned everything about murder and crime from movies and being blown away when it does not work in life. Solid performances by the main cast of Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis, as well as Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston, helped propel the movie forward and make it stick out in my memory.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere of the first film is lacking from "Horrible Bosses 2" and the film does not offer the laughs that the first film did (surprising, I know), but it more than makes up for it with the new characters that are introduced and their actors.

Nick, Kurt and Dale (Bateman, Sudeikis and Day) have all decided to quit their jobs and create their own company, allowing them to invent a new tool called "The Shower Buddy." This leads them to a partnership with a company that will market their product to the public, led by a father-son business (Waltz and Chris Pine). After the trio invests $500,000 into the project, the company turns on them and intends to buy them out, leaving them with nothing. With nowhere else to turn, they decide the next best option is to kidnap the son and hold him for ransom.

waltz and pine

Both Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine steal the show. Waltz is only in a few scenes and is not given much to work with other than being the big business man, but there is a certain charisma that makes him fun to watch. It is easy to see how he got to his place when after Kurt threatens him, Waltz gets in his face and calmly tells him about the world of business.

Pine, however, soaks up every scene he is in. Always a grin on his face, always scheming new ways to get what he wants, never too sure where his alliances stand. He even sides with the trio for the kidnap plan just to mess with his father.

This makes the relationship between Waltz and Pine one of the best parts, as Pine feels that his father neglects him and cares more about money than his son. But at an early point in the film, Waltz says that he makes new enemies every day and that is merely how business operates. It just seems that Waltz never guessed one of those enemies would be his own son.

I guess that's just business for you.

However, outside of Waltz and Pine, there is not much to "Horrible Bosses 2." While the plot is not a rehash of the first film, it does rely much more on the relationship between the three leads and the same types of jokes, in particular Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis talking over each other. It becomes grating and annoying as this becomes Day's character, never contributing anything other than yapping while others talk.

This only happened a few times in "Horrible Bosses" and it was forgivable in that film due to the scarcity. But in this film, following a single conversation becomes impossible when everyone is trying to talk at once. At that point, it's just noise.

Overall though, there were parts that I enjoyed in "Horrible Bosses 2" but it certainly was not the comedy. Many of the same jokes are used in both films and the characters become annoying after a while. But Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine more than make up for it with their charisma and excitement. If anything else, watch this movie for their performances.

Final Grade: C+