comedy

It Was 1980 Something

Since 2013 my Wednesday nights during the fall, winter, and spring usually consist of watching TV comedy. I grew up watching half hour family comedy TV shows like Home Improvement, Boy Meets World, and Full House, but in high school I fell out of the whole comedy phase and opted for shows like drama, The OC and reality drama, Laguna Beach. In 2013, there was a new show to premiere on ABC that caught my attention and finally returned me to my TV watching roots. It was called The Goldbergs and it’s currently in its 4th season on prime time TV.

The cool thing about The Goldbergs is that the sitcom is based on the life of series creator, Adam F. Goldberg. It stars comedians Wendi McLendon-Covey and Jeff Garlin, young actors Hayley Orrantia, Troy Gentile, and Sean Giambrone, and acting legend George Segal. Comedian Patton Oswalt even narrates the episodes.

The show is narrated through the voice of an older Adam Goldberg (Oswalt) who recaps stories of his life as a junior high/high school student growing up in Jenkintown, PA, a small suburb of Philadelphia, in the 1980’s with his mom, Beverly (McLendon-Covey), dad, Murray (Garlin), older sister, Erica (Orrantia), and older brother, Barry (Gentile). Adam’s grandpa, “Pops” (Segal), also frequents the Goldberg house. The Goldberg family is far from average and Adam (Giambrone) captures their antics through the lens of his video camera. His mother is nicknamed the “Smother” because she overwhelms her children with love and affection to the point where she constantly invades their lives. His father who works as a furniture salesman is more of a realist when it comes to his kids and sees them for the “morons” they really are as he often criticizes them while sitting on his favorite chair in his underwear in front of the TV. Erica is the cool older high school sister who has a knack for rebellion as long as she’s with her best friend Lainey (Alyson Michalka) (In real life Adam actually has an older brother named Eric, but for the sake of good TV Eric was turned into a girl to add another dimension to the story line.). Barry is the overconfident jock and goofball of the family who believes he’s also a rapper named Big Tasty. He also tends to pick on Adam the most, as big brothers usually do, but also because Adam is a nerd who is fascinated by TV and movie pop culture of the 1980’s.

Each episode usually features a new story that ends with some sort of lesson or nice family moment, recreating that typical family TV sitcom feel. Then right before the end of the episode there’s a dedication to something from the episode that was actually a part of creator Adam F. Goldberg’s life along with a real home movie video clip showcasing that thing. Although there has been plenty of good ones, last week’s episode had the coolest dedication I remember seeing so far. It was my favorite for sure. Part of the episode was about the relationship between Adam and his best friend/neighbor from across the street, Chad Kremp. The dedication at the end was to the real Chad Kremp and featured a home movie clip of Chad along with a side by side clip of the TV show Chad (Jacob Hopkins) acting out the same piece from the real clip. Then it flashed to a frame from the show of the actor who played Chad’s dad in the episode and added an arrow to the actor with the words “Chad Kremp – my real life best friend” (or something like that). It was the coolest dedication ever. At least I thought it was super cool to honor your childhood/real-life best friend that way, but there’s probably other cool dedications I’m forgetting too.

After four seasons, the long-term story line has progressed. New characters have appeared. A few others have left, but in my opinion the show has become way funnier than it was when it first started. At this point, it seems like I’m laughing about something on the show every week. The actors have really fallen into their roles and have brought out the best in their characters. It’s been so good that after last week’s dedication to Chad Kremp, I really thought it was time to write a blog about this show.

If you have yet to see an episode, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you watched the first season or two and have stopped watching, you really need to check it out again. In case you want to, it’s now on Wednesday nights on ABC at 8:30 p.m. It’s honestly gotten better. I swear. The Goldbergs really is the perfect family comedy and it brings back that 80’s nostalgia for those who grew up in the 80’s like the Goldberg kids. That’s probably why the show is already into it’s 4th season. It hasn’t been picked up for a 5th season yet but I’d say the odds are pretty good that it will stay on the air. After all, how will we get to reminisce about 1980 something?

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The Soft Glow of Electric Sex Gleaming in the Window

Christmas is deeply rooted in tradition. From the tree, to Santa, to gift exchanges, each holiday tradition spans years and cultures. Year after year families engage in the same practices surrounding the holiday and holiday season. They might eat certain foods or partake in certain activities. One of those activities might be a tradition that started in 1997 thanks to the Turner Broadcasting Company. Every year since 1997 at least one of the company’s television networks have aired A Christmas Story for 24 hours straight, starting on Christmas Eve and ending on Christmas Day.

The film, which was released in 1983, has become a Christmas classic and a favorite among many. It was based on Jean Shepherd’s book¬†In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and written by Shepherd along with director Bob Clark and Leigh Brown (Jean Shepherd is also the movie’s narrator). It stars a young Peter Billingsley as Ralphie Parker, a nine year old boy who dreams of getting a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. The story takes the audience through the Christmas season with Ralphie’s family and friends set in 1940’s Indiana and focuses on Ralphie’s quest for the greatest Christmas present ever despite warning from multiple sources that he’ll undoubtedly “shoot his eye out”.

The movie is family fun comedy all the way. I’m sure if you ask fans of the film, everyone will respond with a different answer for what their favorite part is because there are so many great scenes to choose from. Mine involves the infamous Leg Lamp, the “Major Award” that Ralphie’s father receives for winning a contest (the title of this post is a phrase from the film used to described the lamp). In the scene where it is speculated that Ralphie’s mom breaks the lamp out of her displeasure for it, the father and mother have a an argument that ends with Ralphie’s father deciding to glue it back together. On his way out the door to get glue he yells the phrase, “Not a finger!” and I laugh every single time. It’s the way actor Darren McGavin (Ralphie’s father) delivers the line that gets me, but it’s also because the statement seems indirect and unfinished. He clearly means not to touch the lamp, but instead of saying “Don’t lay a finger on it!”, he says the phrase “Not a finger!”. I love it.

When the film was released a week before Thanksgiving in 1983, it didn’t receive much success. Its popularity grew through television specials and home video release. The success of the film even allowed for a museum to be created in its honor. The house where the exterior scenes were shot for the film was purchased by an entrepreneur/fan of the film and converted into a museum comprised of re-created sets and props from the movie. It’s located in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, the city where portions of the movie were filmed. It opened in 2006. Also, as of 2012, A Christmas Story is a part of the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, which preserves U.S. film heritage making its classic status pretty legit.

If you’ve never seen A Christmas Story, it’s about time you do. It airs for 24 hours beginning on Christmas Eve and ending on Christmas day. The start of the marathon begins at 8:00 p.m. ET on TBS. If it’s part of your Christmas traditions, then I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. If it’s not feel free to add it in there along with baking Christmas cookies and decorating your tree. Or don’t make it a tradition at all and just watch it once or watch it randomly next June (To be honest, I’m sick of traditions and created a tradition where I try to do something new each Christmas). It’s funny and enjoyable regardless of its classic appeal so go check it out. I triple dog dare you.

 

The Film Playlist: Bandslam

So far, every movie that has been a part of The Film Playlist has been an adult movie. By adult movie, I mean a movie that has a PG-13 or an R rating. The latest addition to the playlist is a drug, sex, curse word free coming of age film though. It’s rated PG. The first time I saw this movie was in the summer of 2010. I think I rented it from Blockbuster before all the Blockbusters closed. I decided on the flick because I occasionally enjoy the simple family style movie and this one looked pretty cool. It did have to do with music after all. To my surprise, after seeing it, I can say it’s the most underrated movie I’ve seen in the past 10 years. So if there are any surprises on the playlist, it’s this one,¬†Bandslam.

Bandslam was released in 2009 and stars Aly Michalka, Gaelan Connell, Vanessa Hudgens, and Lisa Kudrow. It was written by Josh A. Cagan and Todd Graff and directed by Todd Graff. The movie also contains one of the final film appearances by the late great David Bowie. Yes, if you read my blog about David Bowie a few weeks ago, this is the film I was talking about. Bowie has a cameo appearance but plays a small role in the story line since the main character frequently writes e-mails to the legendary music artist and claims himself to be Bowie’s biggest fan. The first line of the film is actually “Dear David Bowie,” and then proceeds with a reading of one of the main character’s e-mails with “Rebel, Rebel” playing in the background.

In the film, the main character, Will Burton (Connell) is a new student at his high school after he and his mother (Kudrow) move because of his mother’s new job. Will welcomes the fresh start since he was teased and bullied at his old school. On his first day, he meets a girl named, Sa5m (the 5 is silent) (Hudgens) and discovers the importance of a local Battle of the Bands competition called Bandslam. He also meets a senior named Charlotte (Michalka) who takes him under her wing once she find out about Will’s love and knowledge of music. As a former member of the most popular band at school and Bandslam competitor, Ben Wheatley and the Glory Dogs, Charlotte convinces Will to be the manager of her new band. Charlotte plans on competing with her new band against Ben Wheatley and the Glory Dogs at Bandslam, since she wants to stick it to her ex-boyfriend and Glory Dog’s frontman, Ben Wheatley.

Despite the simple plot line, both Will and Charlotte have more history and depth to them than you initially realize. When I first saw the film, I was impressed at the turns the story takes throughout the film. It goes even deeper than School of Rock‘s plot, which is similar in the fact that it also involves a Battle of the Bands competition. To be honest, I feel like Bandslam is sex, drugs, and language short of what could be a PG-13 film. The movie even received positive critical reception, despite under-performing at the box office. Supposedly, Summit Entertainment, the production company who released the film was criticized for the poor marketing efforts compared to that of the Twilight Saga, which was also released by Summit around the same time as Bandslam.

The music selection featured in the film is also impressive. After I saw the movie, I looked up songs from it and downloaded several of them. The soundtrack/movie features David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Nick Drake, Wilco, Peter, Bjorn, & John, and several other great indie bands, along with covers of “I Want You To Want Me” and “Everything I Own” by Aly Michalka and Vanessa Hudgens that were featured in the film, respectively.

Much like a hidden gem of a song you find in the middle of a playlist, mixtape, or an album, Bandslam is the hidden gem of The Film Playlist. It’s that movie you may not have heard of but is so essential for any music fan to see. I mean, there’s even a scene where Will and Sa5m visit the closed down version of CBGB’s before the legendary punk rock music club was transformed to a clothing store. Bandslam is more than meets the eye whether you’re looking for a good movie to check out or underrated music movie masterpiece. I would recommend it to huge music fans and casual music listeners alike.

 

The Film Playlist: School of Rock

When I was a freshman in high school, I had a solid 7th period Algebra class. My teacher was in his 20’s and an alumni of my high school, so he made at least one class in our transition to a new school pretty relaxed. I learned a few things in his class, all unrelated to math. I found out what it was like to live in NYC and work on Wall Street (his former profession before he became our Algebra teacher), that Pat’s makes the best cheesesteak in Philly (this was a lie because they don’t), and that School of Rock was a great movie (based on his and a fellow classmate’s recommendation). Out of those few things the most useful to me was that School of Rock was indeed a great movie and a must-see for any music lover.

Directed by Richard Linklater (Boyhood and Dazed and Confused), School of Rock was released October 3, 2003. It was the highest grossing musical comedy of all time until recently when Pitch Perfect 2 surpassed it this year. The movie stars Jack Black as rock singer/guitarist Dewey Finn, who gets kicked out of his band, No Vacancy. With no job and no way to afford rent for the apartment he shares with his friend and former band mate, Ned Schneebly (Mike White, also writer of the film), and Ned’s girlfriend, Patty (Sarah Silverman), Dewey poses as a 4th grade substitute teacher at a prep school to make some money. The school’s principal, Rosaline Mullins, who Dewey befriends to earn the job, is played by Joan Cusack. After Dewey hears his class during their music lesson, he concocts a plan to transform the class into a band to compete at Battle of the Bands and win against No Vacancy, who is also competing. He assigns the class (starring a young Miranda Cosgrove as one of the students) various roles either in the band or as stylists, roadies, groupies, production team members, security, or managers, and preparation for the event takes over normal class time. Obviously his plan is destined for struggles along the way, but through everything, he teaches the students some important life lessons.

The film features a stellar classic rock soundtrack with an original song and AC/DC cover (“It’s A Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock N’ Roll)”) played by the cast. Linklater actually searched for and cast young, talented musicians to play the roles of the kids in the band. The soundtrack also features songs by Led Zeppelin (who rarely distribute the rights to their songs for use in film or television), Stevie Nicks, The Who, The Doors, Cream, The Black Keys, and The Ramones. Many other classic rock songs by bands like AC/DC, Deep Purple, and The Clash are featured in the film as well.

After seeing School of Rock, I purchased the movie to add to my collection, since I enjoyed it so much. It became a movie night film I would turn to time after time (whether that be by myself or with friends). I even downloaded the original song “School of Rock” or “Zach’s Song” as they say in the movie. It’s still on my iTunes to this day. The film was a great ode to music, specifically rock n’ roll, and taught us all how to “stick it to the man”. The Film Playlist series wouldn’t be complete without it, despite it being just an average, funny, music oriented film. For any music fan, it’s worth checking out though, even if you only want to learn Dewey’s rock n’ roll handshake. Let’s rock, let’s rock. Today.

(** If you have seen the film, check out this amazing 10 year reunion performance of “School of Rock” from the cast.**)

Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Innocence

In the upcoming weeks the movie world will go full throttle into what is known as “awards season”. Awards season begins in the fall and culminates with Academy Awards in February. With that being the case and knowing I had seen some pretty worthy movies in the last few months, I did a quick internet search for projected Academy Award nominations. It was no surprise to find Boyhood and Whiplash, two movies I previously wrote about on here, as part of the projections (links to those blog posts on each of their respective names). Another that was near the top of the list for nominations was the film Birdman, starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts.

I saw the preview for Birdman a few months ago (I actually think it was in the coming attractions when I saw Boyhood) and it looked like a film that I’d be somewhat interested in. Because of that and the high praise it seems destined to receive, I decided to go check it out yesterday. After seeing this movie, it makes complete sense as to why it’ll be on the top of the list for awards season.

The plot centers around a washed up actor, Riggan Thomson, and his quest to get back into the limelight by writing, directing, producing, and starring in his own Broadway play. Earlier in his career Riggan starred as the superhero, Birdman, which gave him his claim to fame. The story really examines Riggan’s desire to be relevant and important to the world and in turn looks at the other characters’ need for relevance as well.

What stood out to me in this film was by far the cinematography. It seemed like it could have been filmed with one camera over an entire day(s) as the movie never really cut to different shots. Instead the camera would circle a character’s body to get a view of another character they were talking to or both characters would get so close together that they were both shown talking in the shot. When a scene ended, the camera would follow one character from the scene until another appeared. Then it would either stay with the first character or switch to following that other character depending on what the next scene required. It was like every scene in the film seemed to be merged together so that the movie looked like one long shot. It’s not something you’d commonly see.

The second thing that stood out was the acting. I haven’t seen that many Edward Norton films. I have seen Fight Club though, which was probably his most notable. Birdman was Fight Club good Edward Norton, but his acting in this even surpassed Fight Club. Actually in the first quarter of the movie it felt like Edward Norton stole the show for me. As it went on though, both Michael Keaton and Emma Stone shined in their respective roles.

So do I recommend you see this movie? I would say only if you’re really interested in seeing a film that’s sure to win a bunch of awards or you’re really interested in the plot line or one or more of the actors. I did enjoy Birdman, but it wasn’t as high up on my list of must-see projected award nominated films such as Boyhood or Whiplash. I would also say to see it if you’re interested in film as an art form because like I said the cinematography is one to be reckoned with. I’ll actually be disappointed if it doesn’t win the Oscar for it. Win or lose though no matter what the award or category, it will probably go down as being one of the best films of the year.