Monthly Archives: November 2013

Eight Nights of Hanukkah, Eight Entertaining Jews: Night #4

This is one of my favorite pictures ever taken.

The old insult goes, “Jews run show business.” To that I say “thanks.” 

Jews make up about 0.2% of the world’s population yet they have always been a loud (emphasis on the loud) and prominent voice in film, television, music, and comedy. 

The next eight days are Hanukkah, which is not the most important Jewish holiday, but we do get presents. For each night of Hanukkah, I will share one Jewish entertainer who has had a big impact on me. For the fourth night of Hanukkah, let’s talk about Larry David:

The next face on Jewish Mount Rushmore would be the ever-present scowl of Larry David. He is the spirit animal of just about every Jew you could ever meet, old man or not, from Brooklyn or not.

I could have chosen Jerry Seinfeld for this slot, but Larry David resonates much further. Maybe its because his sense of humor goes beyond merely observational, or maybe because he at first did not get all of the public spotlight during the “Seinfeld” years. That is not even a problem now, as David is now the star of his own show. Every year seems like it is going to be the last year of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” But then, it always comes back for another season. 

Good. Let’s keep it that way. I feel like everyone needs “Curb” in their lives. Larry David is like a social cop, always making everyone aware of what social standards are complete B.S. Essentially, society as we know it would crumble without Larry David. 

It still amazes me how popular Larry David is, because on television he portrays a cynical curmudgeon (who, let’s face it, is essentially what he is in reality). Larry doesn’t try and get anybody to like him, which is also why he is ultimately so likable. There is something dangerous in David’s sense of humor. He doesn’t try to play it safe. He revels in the art of calling people out. And it would be meaner if all of his observations weren’t so true. All of us would love to elevate small talk to medium talk and tell that woman in line in front of us at Ben & Jerry’s that she’s a sample abuser. Larry David simply says the kind of things that we are all thinking, but never blurt out because, you know, social standards and politeness. Larry David is a free and uninhibited man. 

There is something about Larry’s sense of humor that is ultimately very Jewish. The Jewish state of mind can best be summed up by non-Jew John Mulaney, who once said that “Jews don’t daydream because folks are after them.” Larry David is overly present, enough so that he can spot everything going on around him, process it, and then call out whoever he wants. Whether he likes it or not, this is how Larry David became a modern Jewish icon.

Yet, Larry David is not just an idol to the Jews. “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” are both touchstones of American comedy. I guess that close-talkers and chat-and-cutters are a universal problem after all.

Favorite “Seinfeld” Word: Shrinkage

Favorite “Curb” Moment: Larry leaves a Bar Mitzvah early because he wants to go home to take a shit. “This project demands I return to base!”

Eight Nights of Hanukkah, Eight Entertaining Jews: Night #3


The old insult goes, “Jews run show business.” To that I say “thanks.” 

Jews make up about 0.2% of the world’s population yet they have always been a loud (emphasis on the loud) and prominent voice in film, television, music, and comedy. 

The next eight days are Hanukkah, which is not the most important Jewish holiday, but we do get presents. For each night of Hanukkah, I will share one Jewish entertainer who has had a big impact on me. For the third night of Hanukkah, let’s talk about Steven Spielberg:

Spielberg is my first non-comedy Jew of the list so far. Although “1941,” “Catch Me If You Can,” and Jeff Goldblum’s poses in “Jurassic Park” are equally hilarious.

Spielberg’s inclusion just seems like a given. Few directors have achieved the kind of financial, cultural, and critical success that Spielberg has had over his long career, which shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Think about it. Just think about it. This is the guy who brought Indiana Jones, E.T., and “Jaws” to life. He could retire now and maintain an amazing legacy. Yet, Spielberg never stops. Besides directing movies, Spielberg also runs Dreamworks as well as a television production company.

Like any director with a huge creative output, Spielberg has his off days (wait? You’re saying there was a fourth “Indiana Jones” movie?). However, his ambition is always there. “A.I.” was a bit of a mess, but directing a film that Stanley Kubrick was supposed to direct is basically a thankless job. And while I wasn’t a fan of “Lincoln” (even though I might one of the few), it was an admirable film, and sooner or later Daniel Day-Lewis (also a Jew, by the way) was bound to play Honest Abe.

Along with creating some of the most iconic pieces of entertainment of all time, Spielberg’s forays into more dramatic cinema have often been astounding. “Saving Private Ryan” is a stark, realistic portrayal of war. The D-Day sequence is one of the best battle sequences ever portrayed on film. How “Shakespeare in Love” beat it for Best Picture that year is still beyond me. Then, of course, there was “Schindler’s List” Spielberg’s piece of Holocaust remembrance and his ultimate gift to the Jewish community. Besides making such a vivid portrayal of cruelty that is ultimately about life, Spielberg donated every cent he could to Jewish charities. Tzedakah as many would call it. Portraying real life tragedy on film is always tough and controversial. Spielberg did it right by turning it into a purely selfless act.

Even in the ones where you least expect it, I have always have Spielberg’s films to be very Jewish because they about the value of family, something which I happen to tie very closely to Judaism. I don’t know if this is how everyone feels about it, or it is just the way that I was raised. But Spielberg’s works, from “E.T.” to “The Last Crusade” to “War of the Worlds” are all about families being drawn apart and then coming back together. Some might call it cheesy or overly sentimental, but there is something beautiful in finding family in the most unexpected places. In the end, that is what movies are all about: creating a communal experience and an unexpected family out of that.

My Favorite Spielberg Film: This is such a tough call, because most of Spielberg’s earliest films could qualify as his best. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is close, but I would say that “Jaws” is Spielberg’s most masterful film on so many levels.

His Most Underrated: “Munich.” “Inglourious Basterds” isn’t the only film about Jews kicking ass. “Munich” is a great thriller that has sadly gone under the radar.

Yes, this is a terrible clip to exemplify Spielberg’s career. But it’s hilarious and Jeff Goldblum is Jewish so back off!

Eight Nights of Hanukkah, Eight Entertaining Jews: Night #2

The old insult goes, “Jews run show business.” To that I say “thanks.” 

Jews make up about 0.2% of the world’s population yet they have always been a loud (emphasis on the loud) and prominent voice in film, television, music, and comedy. The next eight days are Hanukkah, which is not the most important Jewish holiday, but we do get presents. For each night of Hanukkah, I will share one Jewish entertainer who has had a big impact on me. For the second night of Hanukkah, let’s talk about Woody Allen:

And the second face on the Mount Rushmore of Jewish comedians: Woody Allen.

At first glance, Woody Allen looks like the stereotype of the typical Jewish man: nebbish, scrawny, neurotic, and intellectual. On his own account, Allen is far from this in real life. He is an actor playing a part that he happens to be really good at playing.

Allen has a different kind of Jewish humor than Mel Brooks, who I profiled yesterday. Instead of telling funny stories from the Lower East Side, Allen is more the kind of Jew who tells jokes that began with the setup, “so three Rabbis walk into a bar…”

Like many other Jewish entertainers before him, Allen anglicized his name (he was born Allen Konigsberg). However, that did not stop Jewish ideas from influencing his writing. Just look at “Annie Hall,” where the funniest scene is about the differences between a Jewish and a non-Jewish family. “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is about a man dealing with faith-induced guilt after committing a crime. You can change your last name all you want, but that won’t stop you from being influenced by your upbringing.

Whether or not his presence fulfills stereotypes is moot, because Allen is one of the hardest working people in all of show business. Without a laptop or a cell phone, he has been putting out one movie a year for most of his career. Sure, some of those turn out to be flops (as might happen when your creative output is that high), but its always worth it to get classics like “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” and “Midnight in Paris.”

Just like Mel Brooks, Allen has not rendered himself irrelevant, despite duds like “To Rome with Love”. Two years ago, he won an Oscar. This year, he wrote and directed “Blue Jasmine,” which is by far one of his finest features. Allen has gone from standup to TV to film and dominated each medium. He has recently talked about a possible return to standup comedy. I don’t know if this was just talk, but if Mr. Allen decides to return to standup it would make the Jewish community, and the entire world, very happy.

Fun Fact: My first exposure to Woody Allen was through the movie “Antz” where he voiced the lead ant. Seriously, it’s an animation classic.

Come back to The Reel Deal tomorrow night for Jew #3.

Eight Nights of Hanukkah, Eight Entertaining Jews: Night #1

The old insult goes, “Jews run show business.” To that I say “thanks.” 

Jews make up about 0.2% of the world’s population yet they have always been a loud (emphasis on the loud) and prominent voice in film, television, music, and comedy. The next eight days are Hanukkah, which is not the most important Jewish holiday, but we do get presents. For each night of Hanukkah, I will share one Jewish entertainer who has had a big impact on me. Let’s start off the festivities with Mel Brooks:

If a Mount Rushmore of Jewish comedians were ever to be constructed, Mel Brooks would most definitely be the biggest, most prominent face on there. To this day, Mel Brooks’ presence remains indistinguishable from Jewish comedy.

At the ripe old age of 87, Brooks remains as hilarious and relevant as ever. That is partly because he is as funny as ever, but also because he simply refuses to fade from the spotlight. Unfortunately, Comedy is often susceptible to aging (Cracked did a great podcast on the subject). Even classics like “Dr. Strangelove” and “Bringing Up Baby” have shown their age. Not Mel Brooks, though.

Just listen to “The 2000 Year Old Man.” Or watch “Blazing Saddles.” Both have barely aged. In the case of “Blazing Saddles,” it is still a shock that something like that could have been made when it was.  In fact, it probably would have had a lot of trouble with the PC crowd of the present as well. Brooks seems to find that mixing the past into the present, as well as speaking in a ridiculous Yiddish accent, is universally hilarious.

Which Mel Brooks movie is the best depends on who you are speaking to. Brooks is one of Hollywood’s best genre satirists, and everyone from Edgar Wright to Quentin Tarantino to Dan Harmon probably owe a great thanks to him. Brooks said that he was never a big science fiction fan, yet the merchandising scene from “Spaceballs” is one of the sharpest bits of commentary on the movie business that there is.

While Brooks might not be religious, he is openly Jewy, letting every bit of the culture inform his works. That odd and exaggerated accent is a staple of nearly all of his characters. Comedians exploiting the languages and cultures that they grew up with was common when Brooks was coming of age in the comedy world (see: Sid Caesar). Brooks is just one step closer to the Old Country traditions than most people, and clearly he has never lost sight of them.

There is a reason that most Jews can recite quotes from Mel Brooks. He embodies the idea of Jewish humor: every dark place can be conquered with a good joke. The Jewish experience has always been an uncertain one, and I believe this is where all of the great Jewish comedy truly stems from. In “Blazing Saddles,” Brooks laughs in the faces of racists. In “The Producers,” he makes the Nazis look like absolute fools. In “History of the World: Part I,” he turned the Inquisition into a giant musical number. Making fun of evil is a great way to make evil less frightening.

Mel Brooks is what I think of whenever I think of the idea of an old Jewish man. He seems like the kind of person who you would see at a deli and then he would pull you over to the side and chew your ear off for hours with hilarious stories from the past. Now, if I ever were to run into Mel Brooks at Katz’s or Canter’s and he were to be so generous, I would immediately cancel all of my plans for the day, and then shut up and listen.

Fun Fact: Mel Brooks has also produced many serious films in his career. Among them are David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” and David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man.”

Come back to The Reel Deal tomorrow night for Jew #2. 

Six Movies You Won’t Want to Miss in December 2013

Image via Business Insider

Well, it’s almost Thanksgiving again. And you know what that means: time to start thinking about Christmas!

December is always an exciting movie month. Its when the less explosion-y blockbusters come out, and the small movies that normally wouldn’t get much publicity finally get the spotlight. This looks like a particularly good December that will hopefully make up for some of the more lackluster months of 2013. Come on Hollywood, this is when you get to show everyone that movies are still relevant!

In order to ensure a great holiday season, here are the December releases that I am most excited to see. Join me in the excitement, people. It’s the least you can do since, you know, I can’t celebrate Christmas:

6. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

As a director, Ben Stiller has become more and more ambitious. “Walter Mitty” looks more serious than funny, and I know that Stiller is up to the task, both in front of and behind the camera. Mostly, this looks like an exciting adventure story that could appeal to just about anybody. There is something about Sean Penn’s weird finger summoning that makes me crack up every time I watch the trailer. However, I will forget I ever saw this, because “Walter Mitty” also stars Adam Scott, who plays a huge d-bag in it. Adam Scott seems like such a nice guy, but he also plays d-bags better than just about anybody else.

5. Her

I am willing to forgive Spike Jonze for “Where the Wild Things Are,” partly because this is the same guy who also directed “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation.” Also, “Her” looks so strange yet so fascinating. Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with a computer voiced by Scarlett Johansson? Relevant social commentary? No further questions.

4. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Sure, America didn’t need a sequel to “Anchorman.” But Americans also don’t need most of the things that we have. I would be lying though if I said that I didn’t shriek with excitement the moment I saw the first trailer for “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” To put it simply, “Anchorman” might just be the comedy of my generation; ask just about anybody my age about it and they will immediately start to quote it by heart. “Anchorman” is to the ’00s what “The Jerk” was to the ’70s and “Airplane” was to the ’80s.* Comedy sequels do have a bad habit of getting it wrong. For now, I am confident that “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” won’t be anything less than hilarious.

3. The Wolf of Wall Street

Finally, it is safe to say that “The Wolf of Wall Street” will be released in 2013, and will also be eligible for the 2013 Oscars**. More importantly though, I will finally get to see “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which I have been anticipating for months. Here’s a story of Wall Street corruption that will probably be a lot more entertaining (or certainly funnier) than “Wall Street.” I mean, there’s flying midgets and a chimpanzee in roller skates. Reportedly, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is three hours long, which would make it the longest film Martin Scorsese has ever directed. 46 years into his career, and Scorsese still finds ways to top himself.

2. American Hustle

David O. Russell has been on fire lately. His last two films (“The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook”) were wonderful, and it seems like he’s found a batch of performers that just know how to work with him (sorry, Lily Tomlin). The trailer itself, from fat Bradley Cooper to “Good Times Bad Times,” gets me excited enough (even if it’s hidden all evidence that Louis C.K. is also in it). David O. Russell has become one of those directors who is consistently exciting to watch, and his name alone is enough to get me to race over to the nearest theater. Speaking of directors who meet that criteria…

1. Inside Llewyn Davis

Joel and Ethan Coen. That’s about all it takes for me to get excited for a movie. To make it even better, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is about the Greenwich Village folk scene in the 1960s. Then, to make it even even better, this marks yet another collaboration between The Coen Brothers and John Goodman, who haven’t done a movie together in years. If there’s one thing that the Coen Brothers are definitely good at, it’s directing John Goodman in a period piece.

Did everyone in the ’60s have facial hair?
*Maybe those aren’t the right movies for those times. I am just assuming they are. Maybe its actually “Animal House” for the ’70s, and “Ghostbusters” for the ’80s? Somebody please confirm. 
**Good! Getting a gold statue of a bald man handed out by an old bald man is the most important thing in life! But really, I want an Oscar. Where can I buy one?

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Here’s the thing about sequels: they are usually at their best when they are planned and more importantly, when they come at the center of a trilogy.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the second installment in “The Hunger Games” series, and the umpteenth edition of Hollywood’s colon obsession, shines as an outstanding blockbuster long after the end of the regular blockbuster season.

A few months have passed since they won the first Hunger Games and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) find that their lives have completely changed. In addition to celebrity status, they have more money than they can spend. Katniss and Peeta can barely spend anytime in their home of District 12, which looks something like coal mining country in Western Pennsylvania, as they have to go on their victory tour. During this time, the two of them are basically trained to be celebrities and participate in what is essentially an extended press junket campaign. One way that “Catching Fire,” and “The Hunger Games” series in general, justifies its translation into film is that it sometimes seems like a commentary on entertainment and being a celebrity in general.

This is where the “Hunger Games” series separates itself from most of its Young Adult counterparts: it doesn’t pander to its young generation as much as it is inspired by it. Apparently, we are a bunch of brats who love reality TV so much that it can distract us from any of our problems. The Real Housewives are the new opiate of the masses.

“Catching Fire” is about what happens when the opiate starts to fade. Escapism isn’t working in this world anymore, as the divide between the rich and poor is now so big that it is hard to avoid. Rebellion is now impossible to avoid. Katniss has become the face of the uprising. The president (Donald Sutherland) hoped that Katniss would inspire hope in the people of her district; just not in this way.

Now that most of the exposition of the first film is out of the way, “Catching Fire” can move on to more detailed world-building, which it does quite exceptionally. By focusing on class issues, and more importantly the people of each district, “Catching Fire” elevates this futuristic America from bland dystopia to complex society. While the poor suffer, the rich eat until they are full, make themselves throw up, and then do it all over again. The rich people of “Catching Fire” act like a bulimic version of the French nobility.

While “Catching Fire” adds a few new characters to the mix, such as the predictably great Philip Seymour Hoffman (who will hopefully get more screen time in “Mockingjay”), it most notably strengthens its existing characters. Lawrence continues to prove that she can turn anything into an Oscar winning performance. Katniss had to deal with a lot in this installment, including, PTSD, heartbreak, and a love triangle which finally stopped being all “Twilight.” Most things in life are better when they don’t try to be like “Twilight.” Luckily, Lawrence and Hutcherson display much better chemistry in this film than in the last one.

There is also some new blood added to “Catching Fire” behind the camera. Director Francis Lawrence adds a grittier look to the film and smartly does away with most of the shaky cam. Writers Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and Michael Arndt (you might have heard of him as the man who got kicked off of writing the new “Star Wars”) structure the story in such a way that plays off the first film while also being something completely different. Without spoiling too much, the main characters end up in the Hunger Games once again. In movie terms, the way in which they end up in the competition again is surprisingly plausible, so long as you remember that mutant baboons don’t actually exist.

Jennifer Lawrence=Real life Khaleesi. Mother of Mockingjays!

I’d like to focus on the writers once again because usually in a film of this scope, the writers supposedly don’t matter. However, they mean quite a lot when you are adapting a book to the big screen. I have not read any of the original novels, so I cannot speak as to whether or not they got the voice of the original down. However, what I can say is that besides capturing the dark side of this story, “Catching Fire” is funnier than you could ever imagine. It really digs down and finds the humor in most of its characters, and that writing is supported by some great work from the likes of Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson.

“Catching Fire” is a strange crossroads in the series, as it is the penultimate story, despite the fact that there are two more films on the way (of course “Mockingjay” is being split into two parts because money). While it is an incredibly solid film on its own, “Catching Fire” ends on a note that suggests that it never wanted to tell a self-contained story, as if it just needed to serve as filler between the original Hunger Games, and what I predict will be an all out war. However, “Catching Fire” deserves to be known as much more than just that. Here’s a movie where you will gasp at a dress that turns on fire, weep over soldiers that abuse people, and then laugh at Woody Harrelson as he attempts to drink rubbing alcohol. There is no new James Bond film this year, so in terms of big Hollywood entertainment, “Catching Fire” will have to do.

Brain Farts From The Edge:

  • With “Catching Fire,” the “Hunger Games” series came of age.
  • I wish I brought a notepad to keep track of how many times Donald Sutherland says “I want them dead.” It’s a lot. If you really wanted to make Donald Sutherland look evil, you should have just had him headbutt a cat
  • Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman embodies the satirical side of “Catching Fire.” Even his name is ridiculous. In real life, Flickerman would probably be a perfect TMZ host.
  • The competition of the Hunger Games itself is like a movie. All of the contestants are putting on a performance. However, that performance is real and has consequences. It’s actually pretty meta. “The Hunger Games” series is much smarter than anyone gives it credit for.
  • Speaking of which, it is always impossible to tell whether or not Katniss’ affection for Peeta is genuine or not.
  • Amongst other things, “Catching Fire” includes a public flogging. How it got away with a PG-13 rating is beyond me…
  • …but I will try and explain (at least how I see it). There is a lot of violence in “Catching Fire.” However, most of it is not shown in graphic detail. If you avoid blood and realism in your portrayal of violence, then you can avoid an R-rating. Also, the MPAA is a little too close with all of the studios. If you want to make more sense with the horrible absurdity of the ratings system, you must watch “This Film Is Not Yet Rated.”
  • How did this trend of not showing the title until the ending start? We know what your title is, that is why we went to see the movie! You don’t have to treat it like a twist!
  • The elevator scene is by far the film’s funniest. 
  • Speaking of the elevator scene, I may or may not have been distracted for a moment as well. Johanna (Jena Malone) said “something something in our district we have TREES.” 
  • All of Effie’s (Elizabeth Banks) outfits look like costumes that the Dean would wear in “Community.”
Good luck telling Jim Rash and Elizabeth Banks apart now.

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave

Image via Salon

WARNING: Spoilers for real life. According to the Internet, this is now something I have to say. 

Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” is about as intense and emotionally devastating as you might expect. Then again, a drama about slavery probably couldn’t go any other way.

“12 Years a Slave” is a great film that I don’t think I can ever watch again. And that’s a compliment. It plays like a series of terrible atrocities that you wish you had never witnessed, but you feel like a different person for having viewed history from a new perspective.

It seems that Hollywood has finally gotten comfortable telling stories about America’s past with slavery. “12 Years a Slave” is based on a book that is based on a true story of an odd occurrence that was unfortunately not uncommon during one of America’s darkest times. Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man from Saratoga. He is a husband, father, and talented violinist. One day, two white men who probably shouldn’t be trusted (re: they have facial hair) trick Solomon and sell him into slavery. If it takes a movie to make you realize how cruel slavery was, then you’re probably an idiot. If it took a movie to make you realize that something this cruel could actually happen to another human, then you’re probably me.

Image via Daily Princetonian. 

When I think of Solomon Northrup, I’m reminded of something Red said about Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption”: “Some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright.” During these next 12 years, Solomon deals with a series of cruel masters who beat him, manipulate him, and try to extinguish whatever hope might be left inside of him. But as they say in movies, you can’t lose your hope as long as you’re good at playing a musical instrument.

Under the direction of Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave” is one of the darkest period dramas I’ve ever seen. At times, it is less about hope and optimism and more about the pure will to survive. There is little talk of morality, just desperate people who will do literally anything they can to be free. The nicest man to take Solomon in (Benedict Cumberbatch) must let him go, as he feels he cannot keep him safe from those who want to hurt him. While “12 Years a Slave” is an emotional film, it does distance itself as much as possible, so as not to alter history. “12 Years a Slave is about witnessing, not changing, history.

Image via Collider

Despite this, McQueen is neither tasteless nor sadistic: he truly knows how to capture tragedy in unimaginably horrifying ways. One scene which involves an attempted punishment for disobedience (you’ll know which one it is when you see it) seems to go on forever. I wish I brought a stopwatch in to time the length of the shot, which gets more and more unbearable and threatening the longer it goes on. McQueen takes the elements of film (image, sound, time, etc.) and uses them masterfully.

“12 Years a Slave” brings up a lot of obvious points (slavery was bad; slaveowners were assholes), while also shedding new light on a part of history that was thought to be so well documented. “12 Years a Slave” is accurate until whoever the history equivalent of Neil deGrasse Tyson says otherwise. Either way, movies should be primarily about capturing the emotions associated with living during a certain period in history. All it takes is a scene where a mother is separated from her two children for another person’s financial benefit in order to get a sense of the cruelties of slavery.

“12 Years a Slave” also focuses on the slaveowners as well. Michael Fassbender is riveting as Edwin Epps, the man who would own Solomon for most of his time as a slave. He’s unpredictable, and lets his power go to his head just a little too much. Paul Dano, meanwhile, lets his Eli Sunday side come back in full form. The most powerful performance, however, comes from Ejiofor, who does so much acting simply with his eyes, which hide so much pain and longing. It’s truly beautiful and moving, and it works perfectly with McQueen’s directing. I sense many future collaborations between McQueen and a majority of the actors from this film.

It might seem difficult to drag yourself to a theater to watch a movie that is this uncompromisingly brutal. Just know that you will be part of an experience that will be talked about for years to come. McQueen defies the norms to make a movie that shouldn’t be defined as “feel-bad,” but also doesn’t resort to a happy ending that ties everything together too perfectly. In the end, one slave is safe, but that was sadly just one man who was able to walk free at that time. In the end, the hope in “12 Years a Slave” lies in the hindsight.

Brain Farts From The Edge

  • Great to see that Brad Pitt walked right off the set of “Inglourious Basterds” for this role, but replaced the mustache with one of those weird chin beards.
  • Speaking of Pitt, it’s funny that the producer would cast himself as the guy who saves the main character. Just saying.
  • Speaking of funny accents, I don’t know what Benedict Cumberbatch was going for. Sure, he wanted to be Southern, but there was still a little bit of British left in there. My theory is that it was a compromise, as Hollywood believes that anyone born before the year 1950 had a British accent (I’m looking at you, “Hugo”). 
  • I should probably write a second post about this film. Soon.
  • I don’t want to Armond White this here, but there were tiny flaws here and there, but definitely not enough to ruin the experience. Mainly, the villains often bordered on cartoonish, but luckily nobody pushed it too far over the line. However, this is a true story, so maybe their actions speak more to the evils of slavery than to the possible flaws in the script. Just an interesting thought to ponder.
  • I don’t know if I am alone here, but there were several occasions throughout the film where I just wish Django would show up.
  • The South was an unjust place. However, McQueen finds time to focus on the beauty of the region. From fields of cotton to jungles of cane to swamps, “12 Years a Slave” had some of the best cinematography of the year.
  • Taran Killam is in this for some reason. You’re awesome Taran, but this casting decision will forever confuse me. 
  • Paul Giamatti. Man, calm down and drink some wine. 
  • Favorite note I took during the movie: “Slaveowners were weird.”
  • I finally figured out where Salvatore Romano has been hiding all of these years. For those of you who don’t watch “Mad Men,” Salvatore Romano is not Ray Romano’s cousin. 
  • The most important note I have ever taken: When he puts on a bandana, Michael Fassbender looks like Chris Meloni in “Wet Hot American Summer.”

Top 10: Movies That I Shamefully Haven’t Seen Yet

There’s only so many hours in a day, and my potion that can help you survive without sleep has yet to be approved by the FDA.

Having said that, I can’t see every movie ever made. This is a fact that has driven me crazy for my entire life. That might also be because I don’t have many actual problems to deal with. Who knows.

Anyway, I try to watch every movie that I think is important to see, but I also just want to see ones that interest me personally. That means that a lot of classics get missed. The point here is this: I am not perfect. I still have a lot of movie watching to go.

I decided to compile a list of ten movies that I also can’t believe I haven’t seen yet. Many of them are Oscar winners and AFI list toppers. Mainly though, they are movies that people walking down the street yell at me for not seeing.

City Lights (1931)

Silent film is one of the greatest gaps in my cinematic knowledge. I have seen bits and pieces of Chaplin in the past, but never the full thing. Film buffs, feel free to discredit me until I at least watch “City Lights.”

This looks like a poster that a rich family would have framed and put in their basement.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Does it count that I can whistle the entire famous tune? I guess anyone can. It’s catchy, and definitely much less creepy to whistle than the “Deliverance” banjo song.


West Side Story (1961)

I might be even less knowledgable about musicals than I am about horror movies. I’ve been under the terrible assumption my whole life that every musical is “High School Musical,” in which everyone’s problems are suddenly solved through spontaneous song and dance. But then I saw “The Book of Mormon” this past summer, and I decided to lift the embargo. So I will have to venture over to “West Side Story” soon. For the record, I know that “I Feel Pretty” isn’t originally from “Anger Management.”

I wonder if this is like the basketball scene from “Catwoman.”

Sixteen Candles (1984)

I’ve seen up to the scene involving Molly Ringwald’s underwear, if that counts for anything. For some reason, I just never finished “Sixteen Candles.” However, I will always worship at the feet of John Hughes, as should anybody else who has ever been in high school. Also, if I was alive in the 80s, I totally would have married Molly Ringwald.

Top Gun (1986)

There’s a lot of jokes out there about gay volleyball scenes in “Top Gun.” I think. I wouldn’t know, because I still haven’t seen this modern classic. I wish I already had at this point. For some reason, the idea of Tom Cruise playing volleyball just seems so implausible.

I just found out Val Kilmer is in Top Gun.

The Princess Bride (1987)

Recently, I found out that the fact that I haven’t seen “The Princess Bride” is a crime against every twentysomething’s childhood. It is not out of lack of interest, but rather because my years as a kid was spent with too many repeat viewings of “Heavyweights,” “Kindergarten Cop,” and “3 Ninjas.” I look forward to watching “The Princess Bride” to see what I have been missing out on. Mainly though, I just want to see what Jewish Santa looked like when he was younger.

Swords would make “Homeland” much better.
Batman (1989)

I grew up on Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and for a long time I thought that was all I needed. False. I’ve got to see Jack Nicholson as the joker. Not to mention, “Batman” was Tim Burton in his prime, before Tim Burton became a parody of Tim Burton. 
Eight more years until Clooney’s nipple suit set Batman back about ten years.
Dances with Wolves (1990)

I sincerely have very little desire to see what I perceive to be a four hour epic about white guilt. I just think that I should watch it because I am honestly curious to see what the Academy possibly saw in it when they awarded “Dances with Wolves” Best Picture over “Goodfellas.” “Dances with Wolves” might be a good movie, but it will never be “Goodfellas.” For now, I will just continue to blame its snub on the whore living in 2R.
I’m already bored.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

“Judgment Day” is supposedly one of the best sequels ever made. I guess I wouldn’t know. I liked the first “Terminator” movie as much as anyone is supposed to (even though it does look a little dated today), and it’s probably the best performance that Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever given. I probably should have seen “Judgment Day” a long time ago. Once again, I blame “Kindergarten Cop” always playing on cable.
Okay, this looks awesome.

The Bourne Series (2002/2004/2007)

This is probably completely inexcusable. Quick cuts in action movies bother me, but Paul Greengrass won me over with “Captain Phillips.” Also, any action movie starring Matt Damon has to be better than “Elysium.”
“Look how much they’re gonna pay me for The Adjustment Bureau 2!”

Wes Anderson Releases a New Film (Sort Of)

I’m a day late here, but I figured I’d post it anyway. Yesterday, Wes Anderson released a new short film called “Castello Cavalcanti.” Now, I usually form an emotional response to anything Wes Anderson makes pretty quickly, but I am still trying to figure this one out. As usual, it’s beautiful to look at. But, what is it about?

It looks pretty, but “Castello Cavalcanti” made me realize how Anderson’s characters are even more important than the visuals. I like the pretty visuals and the fact that everything looks like a giant toy, but it could use more dialogue like “that’s the last time you put a knife in me!” and “get your ass the hell off of my boat!” All I’m saying is that I’m still not sure why this ends with Jason Schwartzman ordering a bowl of spaghetti. Because Italy, I guess?

It definitely can’t beat “The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders,” but its solid enough to make the wait for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” more bearable. Watch the video below:

My Most Anticipated Releases of November 2013


Alexander Payne has been on a hot streak basically since the beginning of his career. After “Sideways” and “The Descendants,” “Nebraska” brings the director back to his home city of Omaha for what seems like his turn even further into dramatic territory. Plus, Will Forte has a shot to show his dramatic chops (I know that they are there) and generally awesome person Bob Odenkirk gets a big role [Note: Saul Goodman was supposedly relocated to Omaha at the end of “Breaking Bad.” Hmmm…]. For great, little character-driven stories and perfect dark humor, Alexander Payne never disappoints.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I have yet to read any of the novels in the “Hunger Games” series, but I was a big fan of the first movie, which was a thoroughly entertaining dystopian blockbuster. Since I have no background knowledge of the story, I am excited to see where “Catching Fire” brings the story next. Also, this will likely only increase my love for Jennifer Lawrence. Let’s just hope that the baboons that I saw in one of the commercials are less ridiculous than the giant mutated dogs from the first installment.


Ever since the moment I heard that Spike Lee was directing a remake of “Oldboy,” I had no clue what to make of it. Why mess with Korean perfection? Could anybody ever recreate the pure shock of the octopus or hammer scenes? Still, I can’t help but be more curious than angry about this remake. It has a stellar cast (Josh Brolin, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson), and its easy to forget that outside of his often annoying media presence, Spike Lee is an incredibly talented director. Let’s just hope this is more “Inside Man” than “Miracle at St. Anna.”

No Country For Oldboy: Josh Brolin, who looks like he’s auditioning to play Bruce Wayne stuck in the pit in “The Dark Knight Rises.”