movies

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.

 

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An Ode to Bowie

This morning when I woke up and checked Twitter I saw that legendary rock music icon, David Bowie, passed away at the age of 69 after an 18 month battle with cancer. I typically wouldn’t make a blog post about someone dying unless it was someone who I really loved or admired or who affected my life in such a significant way, but then something happened. The way I found out solved a 15 year mystery for me and it got me thinking. David Bowie has kind of been a subliminal figure in my life for a while, but especially the last several years. I would never label myself a David Bowie fan so to speak. I never listened to his music frequently, saw him as a personal cultural icon, or followed his life and career, but somehow David Bowie managed to silently sneak into my life at various times. So I figured, I would do a small ode to Bowie blog post as reminder of his subtle influence in my life.

David Robert Jones (Bowie) was born and raised in South London. He took the name Bowie during the start of his career so he wouldn’t be confused with the Monkees’ Davy Jones. He broke into the charts of the music world with Space Oddity in 1969 and released many more albums in the years following to much success. He even released a final album, Blackstar, as a parting gift to the world this past Friday. Bowie was known for his progressive, innovative, unique, and gender-bending persona. He was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Throughout his life he was involved with many aspects of music, but also acted in several films. He truly was an entertainment superstar.

As a music fan, I know and have heard David Bowie’s music before. I’ve heard “Rebel, Rebel” more times than I can count.  I, of course, know the song “Under Pressure”, which he recorded with Queen in 1981. I’m pretty sure most people in general know the song, can hum the baseline, and also confuse it with Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”, which caused some legal controversy in the early 90’s. “Heroes”, however, is my most favorite Bowie song of recent years, solely for the fact that it was featured on the soundtrack of a movie based off of my favorite book of all-time, which counts for one subtle Bowie appearance in my life.

Two more of those times involves two music themed movies. One of those movies has already been featured on The Film Playlist series (The Runaways). The other will be featured in the near future I’m sure. Both films have references to Bowie. Thus, two subtle David Bowie life appearances. Besides casually seeing David Bowie t-shirts, hearing celebrity references, and occasionally hearing his music throughout my life (more subtle appearances than I can count), Bowie’s limited acting career includes a few life appearances. One of his acting roles was in the movie Zoolander, a favorite movie of mine in middle school. He played himself and was the judge in the famed walk-off  challenge scene between Derek Zoolander and Hansel. Another movie he starred in back in the 80’s was Labyrinth, a movie I’ve never seen before.

You’re probably wondering how this movie and David Bowie fit in with my life then, right? Well in middle school a girl in my class used to randomly sing this song “Dance Magic Dance” , which at the time I thought she made up because it was so ridiculous. For those of you who have seen Labryrinth, you now understand the Ah-ha moment. For those who haven’t, let me explain. David Bowie played the role of Jareth the Goblin King and sings this song in the film. It wasn’t until the very moment that I found out about David Bowie’s death that I connected the dots on that song. I read a tweet by a celebrity I follow on Twitter that referenced Bowie’s death, the “Dance Magic Dance” song, and Labyrinth. Finally, I made the full connection. Right before I wrote this, I watched a clip of the song in the movie on Youtube. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and shook my head for the entirety of the clip. It was the first time I’d ever heard the real version of the song this girl used to sing in middle school, which was more than 15 years ago. Crazy. Subtle Bowie. So Subtle.

Lastly, I had a Halloween party a few years ago where one of my friends came dressed as David Bowie with the classic Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt painted across his face. Both him and another one of my friends had an appreciation for Bowie and his uniqueness that translated into him being Bowie for the party.

I’m sure there have been other times Bowie appeared in the background somewhere in my life. It’s like he’s photobombed all these life scenes for me. He may very well continue to do that even if he’s no longer with us. So thanks David Bowie. Thanks for being involved in cool things and random things, music things and movie things. Thanks for influencing so many in a variety of ways. And thanks for being subtle yet not-so subtle at the same time. *insert pic of Bowie creeping in the background*

 

 

The Film Playlist: The Runaways

I’m sure most of you know who Joan Jett is. Even if you don’t, I’m sure you’ve heard the song “I Love Rock & Roll”. What you may or may not know is that “I Love Rock & Roll” is actually a cover song. The song is originally by the British rock band, The Arrows. What you also may or may not know is that before Joan Jett started Joan Jett & The Blackhearts (the band famous for the song “I Love Rock & Roll”), she was the rhythm guitarist in an all-girl rock band called The Runaways, and in 2010, a drama film about the band was released.

The Runaways stars Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as lead singer, Cherie Currie. It was written and directed by Floria Sigismondi and based off a book by Currie, herself. In the film, Joan Jett, a rebellious teenager, wants to become a rock star. Fortunately, one night at a local club she meets record producer, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), and mentions forming an all-girl rock band. Fowley has an interest in the project and introduces Joan to drummer, Sandy West. The meeting ignites the formation of The Runaways. They find Cherie Currie in a club one night while on a search for hot blondes to be a part of the group and invite her to tryout. Like Joan, the movie introduces Cherie as a teenager who also dreams of rock stardom, having lip synced a performance to David Bowie’s “Lady Grinning Soul” in a high school talent show. At the tryout, when the band criticizes Cherie’s audition song choice, Fowley and Joan write a spur of the moment song for Cherie to sing, “Cherry Bomb”. It solidify’s her spot in the band, and leads to a future filled with touring, parties, drugs, alcohol and rock & roll.

Since the movie is based off of Currie’s memoir, it focuses primarily on Currie’s story as part of The Runaways from 1975-1977 (the band was active from 1975-1979), her problem with drugs, and relationship with Joan. The movie also features the band’s most famous songs, “Cherry Bomb”, “Hollywood”, “Queens of Noise”, “California Paradise”, and “You Drive Me Wild”. The film received positive feedback from critics and fans but still under performed at the box office, only grossing around 4.7 million dollars.

When I heard about The Runaways, it was during the same era of the Twilight series phenomenon. Of course, Kristen Stewart was pretty big on the Hollywood scene at the time because of her lead role of Bella Swan in Twilight series. Dakota Fanning also starred in most of the films as Jane, a member of the most powerful vampire coven, the Volutri, so knowing both of the two actresses well hyped me up for The Runaways. When I finally saw the film, I loved it. I loved hearing the story behind the band and watching a film that showed the 70’s rock & roll scene. It was also pretty bad ass to see a group of girls performing like they did. Seeing the movie lead me to an interest in The Runaways. I downloaded their music and frequently sang “Cherry Bomb” with my friends when we hung out. It was such a hard, edgy song that most times we’d scream the words “cherry bomb” during the chorus.

The Runaways were typically a hard rock, punk rock, heavy metal style band. They released three studio albums under Mercury Records and one with Cherry Red Records. They went through several lineups during their short existence, but Joan and Cherie, along with Lita Ford and Sandy West were mainstays. Cherie left the band in 1977 after a blow up with Ford (Joan took over lead vocals), while the others were with the group until the band split in 1979 after some disagreements over music style. The movie depicts the blow-up between Cherie and Lita near the conclusion of the film.

The Runaways fits The Film Playlist well. It’s a great music film and like all the films on the playlist, is a must-see for any music fan. It’s an edgy drama that shows the story of this historic rock group. Since it does feature a real-life band, I figured a few song recommendations by The Runaways were in order too.

  1. Cherry Bomb
  2. You Drive Me Wild
  3. Rock & Roll
  4. Thunder
  5. California Paradise
  6. I Love Playin’ With Fire
  7. Queens of Noise
  8. I Wanna Be Where The Boys Are
  9. Hollywood
  10. School Days

 

 

The Film Playlist: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Since it’s the week of Halloween, I figured an extra blog post was due. I had to feature a cult classic film that inspired a one-of- a-kind theater experience. Let’s get one thing straight though. I hate musicals. However, I love music. Strange right? Eh, a little. There’s just something I find odd about singing the story of your life instead of just saying it. I’m a bigger fan of having a soundtrack to life. You know, like songs you love just playing in the background? That said, there are a handful of musical films I can tolerate (and maybe enjoy a little bit??). Surprisingly, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS) is one of them.

Around Halloween, there always seems to be Rocky Horror events popping up more frequently. Maybe it’s the extremely odd nature of the film, the fact that people like to dress-up as characters from the movie for the events, or that RHPS performances began during the Halloween season, but it’s become a Halloween time tradition. Unfortunately, I never attended a RHPS showing (I have seen the movie though). It’s always been on my list of things to do, but for whatever reason, never worked out. So yes, if I do ever attended, that will make me a “virgin” (seeing the movie in a non-live performance setting doesn’t count). But before I get into these events, it’s best to tell you about the 1975 film starring, Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, and Barry Bostwick.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a satirical musical/comedy/horror film that is a tribute to old time science fiction/horror movies. It’s directed by Jim Sharman and based on the 1973 British stage production of the same name written by Richard O’Brien (O’Brien starred as Riff Raff in the film). Sharman and O’Brien actually teamed up to write the screenplay. In the film, a young, recently engaged couple’s (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) car breaks down during a rainstorm. Fortunately, they break down near a castle where they decide to ask for a phone to use to call for help. However, a mad scientist alien transvestite dressed in a corset, briefs, garter straps, fishnet stockings, and platform heels named Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) and his band of eerily costumed creatures/friends inhabit the castle, which leads the couple to become wrapped up in the ensuing musical mayhem. At the time of release in the fall of 1975, the film was a flop, drawing small audiences nationwide (except at the Westwood Theater in Los Angeles). It wasn’t until the film began its midnight showings in the spring of 1976 at the Waverly Theater in New York City that the cult following grew.

At the screenings, the theater manager would play the soundtrack to hype the audience before the movie began which created a fun, care-free, party-like atmosphere. Then, during the film, people began randomly shouting responses to things the characters would say on screen. Audience participation during the movie became the norm. Around Halloween in 1976, people came dressed as characters from the film. It spurred a whole revelation of Rocky Horror regulars lip-syncing the soundtrack before the movie and performing a mini-floor show, much to the delight of all who attended. It became the standard for RHPS screenings.

Now all over the country, and more-so around Halloween, midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show happen on a regular basis almost 40 years after they began. Casts of regular performers dress-up and act out the film as it plays. People shout at the screen, shoot water guns, and throw rice and toilet paper during appropriate parts. There’s also rituals that take place for Rocky Horror “virgins” a.k.a. those who have never seen the RHPS live. The rituals vary from theater to theater but may include dancing the “Time Warp” (it’s just a jump to the left and then a step to the right…) or receiving a lap-dance from one of the cast members. All the virgin initiations are in good fun though because that’s what Rocky Horror is about.

The music in the film is typical of musicals, but features somewhat of a glam rock style. Some of the most notable songs include the “Time Warp”, “Sweet Transvestite”, “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me”, and “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul”. After I first saw the RHPS, I felt like I went through a strange mind blowing experience. It disturbed me a bit at first, but then slowly I became more interested in the songs. I learned how to dance the “Time Warp” and the rest is history. Despite enjoying the songs and catching parts of the movie on occasion, I can honestly say I’ve never seen the movie in its entirety since that first time. It really is that strange and will take a lot for me to watch it again (a live showing would absolutely get me to do it). RHPS is a cult phenomenon though and loved by many. I guarantee there are showings this weekend if you want to check one out. Just search the web. You probably have one near you without even knowing it. Even if you miss out this weekend, there are several places that have monthly showings all over the country. It should be a one-of-a-kind thrilling, chilling, and fulfilling experience.

In case you want to know a few songs before you go, I recommend these (my faves):

  1. Time Warp
  2. Sweet Transvestite
  3. Dammit Janet
  4. Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me
  5. Science Fiction Double Feature

The Film Playlist: Almost Famous

Yesterday morning I caught part of the talk show Live! With Kelly & Michael. Kate Hudson was a guest on the show to promote her new movie Rock the Kasbah. Every time I see Kate Hudson anywhere, whether it be on TV, in a movie, in a magazine, etc., I always think to myself, “Kate Hudson will never be as good as she was in Almost Famous.” Today was no exception, but it did also give me a good idea for a new blog series. The series will combine two of the topics I cover on this thing. I wish I thought of it sooner. I’m calling it “The Film Playlist.” In the series, I’ll write about movies with music plots. But no musicals! Okay, maybe I’ll throw in a musical or two (cause there’s only two musical films I actually like), but don’t hold your breath. Anyway, to begin the series, I figured I should write about one of my favorite music movies and the inspiration for “The Film Playlist”, Almost Famous.

Almost Famous was released in 2000 starring Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Fugit. It was written and directed by Cameron Crowe. Crowe won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the film. It also featured a bunch of well known and up and coming actors like Frances McDormand, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Zooey Deschanel, Jimmy Fallon, Rainn Wilson, Jay Baruchel, and Eric Stonestreet. The film is set in the early 70’s. It tells the story of 15 year old William Miller (Patrick Fugit), who has a strong love for rock music and spends his time writing for underground newspapers. After William is given the chance to cover a Black Sabbath concert by rock journalist Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), he meets and befriends the mysterious groupie or should I say “Band Aid”, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). Her connections with the opening band at the Sabbath concert, Stillwater, and former relations with the lead singer of Stillwater, Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), open a door for William. His Black Sabbath article earns him an opportunity with Rolling Stone. After he begs to do the piece on Stillwater and has his wish granted, he is told to travel on tour with the band to get the full scoop on the rock group. The journey he embarks on is truly a coming of age tale filled with sex, drugs, rock & roll, and life lessons.

Four years ago, my friend Caylee, who was my go-to for good music recommendations, told me I should see this movie. At the time, I recently subscribed to Netflix so I put it on my DVD list. I watched and instantly appreciated it. It was a great movie and as I still say to this day, Kate Hudson’s best work. It’s filled with many legendary quotes and memorable scenes, especially the scene where the entire tour bus sings along to “Tiny Dancer”. It’s just a fantastic moment in the film.

Almost Famous is a quality film that surrounds music, the music industry, and the tour life of a 70’s rock band. The soundtrack even won a Grammy. Of course, most of the music is that early 70’s rock & roll era style. On the soundtrack you’ll hear Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Simon & Garfunkel, Rod Stewart, The Beach Boys, and David Bowie to name a few. Sure it’s not my current favorite kind of music but you have to appreciate classic rock, just as you have to appreciate this movie.

Like Caylee did to me four years earlier, I now recommend this movie to all of you. It’s the first in “The Film Playlist” series and a must see for any music lover. I also suggest you “listen to Tommy with a candle burning and you’ll see your entire future,” but only after you check out Almost Famous.

“I always tell the girls never take it seriously, if you never take it seriously you never get hurt, if you never get hurt you always have fun, and if you ever get lonely just go to the record store and visit your friends.” -Penny Lane

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

When The Walt Disney Company purchased Marvel in 2009, it began creating a bunch of projects incorporating the famed comic book company. Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and a sequel to Iron Man were some of the first movie releases post-Disney purchase. All the movies had one thing in common though. Each plot line included elements that foreshadowed a disaster that would take a union of earth’s mightiest heroes to fix. This also meant an epic blockbuster picture known as The Avengers. The Avengers, or the team made up of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow, are a group of superheroes put together to save the world by an organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), an FBI style agency that deals with super humans and any issues that may arise because of them. In the 2012 movie, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), united the Avengers to stop Thor’s adopted brother, Loki, from taking over earth, which they succeeded at. Of course in the meantime, there were some casualties. One in particular was S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who played an instrumental role in several of the Marvel films leading up to The Avengers. However, the “death” of Phil Coulson helped to set up Marvel’s prime time live action television series premiering on ABC a little over a year after the release of the epic super hero movie.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. first aired in September 2013. It followed up on what happened to Agent Coulson (Gregg) after he supposedly died in the feature film. If you haven’t already guessed, he was brought back to life and the mystery of how eventually gets answered along the way. The series follows Coulson and his team, May (Ming-Na Wen), Ward (Brett Dalton), Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), and Skye (Chloe Bennet) as they face issues with people who have powers and with the terrorist organization, Hydra. At the end of the first season last May, Hydra had come full force at S.H.I.E.L.D. after being in a dormant state for so long with members of the deceptive terrorist group pretending to be S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The second season which premiered this past September saw the addition of some new agents to Coulson’s team (Hunter (Nick Blood), Mack (Henry Simmons), and Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki)) as the story continued with S.H.I.E.L.D. trying to rebuild itself and put an end to Hydra. The final episode of the show’s second season just aired Tuesday night with a possible foreshadowing of the rebuilding of Hydra under a new leader and a new mystery involving the Kree Stone that was introduced in Season 2. A third season will begin in September with a continuation of the where the second season left off as well as new trials and tribulations for S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Coulson and the members of his team.

I first started watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on the date it initially aired in September 2013 (the night before I left for my first trip to California). I was a fan of The Avengers as well as Thor (Loki’s actually my favorite character…haters gonna hate), but I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy the Marvel TV series as much. There was no reason to be hesitant though because I was roped in from the start. After the first episode, I knew the series would be filled with action, excitement, and twists as the series progressed. I’ve followed the show ever since. It’s lived up to my expectations.

My favorite thing about the show is how it’s intertwined with the rest of the Marvel Universe. When a new Marvel film comes out (sequels to Thor and Captain America were released post-Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debut, as well as an Avengers sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, which came out 2 weeks ago), a small part of the show the week before the movie release and a small part the week after coincide with the film. It makes viewers want to go out to see the movie on opening weekend in case there’s anything important in the movie that relates to the show the following week or vice versa. Is it absolutely necessary to see all the movies? Probably not, but it helps. For instance, I’ve never seen any of the Captain America movies, nor do I plan on seeing them. When the latest one came out last April, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I should see it for the sake of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fortunately I have friends who are Marvel fans too who went to see it. I asked one of them if there was anything I needed to know and she provided me with the info. Then again, I’m sure there were some things that happened in the movie that were a precursor to the newest Avengers that I missed out on. The whole system is a great money-making tactic. It’s also the only time I’ve ever watched a TV show that does something of this nature.

Not only does the show relate to the Marvel films, but it also includes guest appearances by characters from some of those films. Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Sif (Asgardian warrior), and Peggy Carter (now the lead character in another Marvel spin-off TV series entitled “Agent Carter”) are just some of the characters that have appeared on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and in the films. I’m sure with a third season beginning in a few months there will be more characters to add to that list. Who knows, maybe there will be a point when an Avenger makes a guest appearance. With the Marvel overlap, I wouldn’t put it past the show’s creators to make it happen.

With the number of successful Marvel films released in recent years, it’s no surprise that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done well. The Marvel fan base has grown and with new films to be released in the not so distant future I’m sure the television show will keep thriving. If you’ve seen any of the Marvel films that I mentioned over the last 7 years, I’m sure you’d appreciate Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. if you don’t already. The story lines are constantly developing. There’s action. There’s a hint of mystery. There’s twists, turns, and curve balls thrown along the way. Not to mention, there’s the references and reminders that the show is part of the Marvel Universe. It really is flat-out, so cool. There’s no better way to understand it than to check it out and become a part of the world of Marvel. So what are you waiting for?

DCOM’s

Until I reached the age of 8 years old, I was without the Disney Channel. I had Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, but where I lived at the time did not have a TV provider with the Disney Channel on their cable package. It cost extra. Once in a while there would be a short period of time where they would offer a preview of the Disney Channel. In that little time I reveled in the world of Disney. Finally, when I was 8, my family moved, not only from a small apartment to a big house, but to a place where the TV provider’s cable package included Disney. I no longer had to depend on just Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network for my go-to television, which were fantastic in their own right. I could finally enjoy Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and the rest of what Disney had to offer. What I didn’t know was just how serendipitous my timing was.

You see in the late 90’s something epic happened to the Disney Channel. It became so much more than animation in a big way. They started creating original programming. Along with all new original television series like The Famous Jett Jackson, Bug Juice, The Jersey, and So Weird, the Disney Channel produced movies known as DCOM’s (Disney Channel Original Movies). One of the very first to be released, Under Wraps, premiered about a month before I moved into my new home (at least it was the first one I saw). From that point on (especially in the early 00’s) DCOM’s became a thing.

When a preview for a new DCOM played on the Disney Channel I would anticipate sitting at my house on a Saturday night watching the new movie (they usually premiered on Saturday nights). After they first aired, Disney would replay them several times over the next week, month, few months, etc. I would end up watching my favorite ones numerous times. Some of the greatest and most classic DCOM’s in the opinions of me and my friends who also watched these films religiously were Brink!, Johnny Tsunami, Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, and Halloweentown. In fact there’s always been a debate over whether Brink! or Johnny Tsunami was better (it’s a tough call but I’ll always go with Brink!). Also, out of those 4 movies, Johnny TsunamiZenon: Girl of the 21st Century, and Halloweentown had sequels (Zenon and Halloweentown actually had three movies each). That’s how you know they were good.

Brink! tells the story of a group of in-line skaters from Southern California named the “Soul Skaters” (because they skate for fun) and a rival group of sponsored in-line skaters, “Team X-Bladz”, who always compete against each other. When head Soul Skater Andy “Brink” Brinker discovers his families financial struggles, he decides to sell out and join Team X-Bladz leading to plenty of turmoil between him and his friends. Eventually though, he realizes that his friendships and love of skating are more important than the money.

In Johnny Tsunami, teenage surfer, Johnny Kapahala and his family move from Hawaii to Vermont due to his father’s job and he must learn to adapt to a whole new culture. In his new town there are two schools, the private one which he attends where everyone skis and the rival public one where everyone snowboards. When Johnny figures out snowboarding is more his style, trouble ensues with his school and classmates, eventually leading to a competition over the mountain both groups use for skiing and snowboarding.

Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century is about teenager, Zenon Kar, who lives in a space station in the year 2049. When she gets in trouble with the space station’s commander, her family punishes her to live with her aunt on earth. After moving, she soon discovers that the space station is in danger, and it’s her job to save her friends and family on board.

In the ghoulishly themed Halloweentown, Marnie Cromwell never understood why her mother wouldn’t let her or her brother and sister celebrate Halloween. With a visit from her grandmother though (played by famed actress Debbie Reynolds), the truth unfolds as she learns she is a witch with special powers and her grandmother lives in a place called “Halloweentown”, where it’s Halloween 24/7. She secretly follows her grandmother home in the hopes that her grandmother can train her as a witch as she intended on her visit (Marnie’s mom put her foot down). Once they arrive though, they begin to become aware of the trouble threatening Halloweentown and what Marnie and her family must do to stop it and save the town.

These four DCOM’s are legendary to those like me who saw them when they came out. I had other favorites too like, Smart House, Alley Cats Strike, Phantom of the Megaplex, The Luck of The Irish, Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off, Cadet Kelly, Double Teamed, and more. Those four set the stage though. Even now, Disney Channel continues to release original movies. Slated for release this year are sequels to the recently popular Teen Beach Movie and Disney film Life-Size (released in 2000 starring Tyra Banks and Lindsay Lohan) as well as newcomer Descendants.

DCOM’s were a big part of my life growing up and I’m sure many others can say the same. With relatively recent favorites like High School Musical, The Cheetah Girls, and Camp Rock (and their sequels), old favorites, like the ones I already mentioned (and so many others), and future favorites that we’ve never heard of yet, DCOM’s have spanned and will continue to span generations for years to come (hopefully at least…as long as Disney keeps making them). I only wish Disney made the old ones available to watch on Netflix or something rather than during the wee hours of the morning on their channel (and I don’t have DVR either). Until then, all I can do is appreciate the nostalgia that sets in every so often reminding me just how good it was to watch classic Disney Channel Original Movies.

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.

Sometimes I Doubt Your Commitment to Sparkle Motion

Warning: R-rated movie = R-rated blog post for some strong language.

Sometimes movies make us laugh. Sometimes they make us cry. Sometimes they make us feel like a total badass. And sometimes they give us an insane mind fuck and make us think about them for a while after. That’s exactly how I felt after I saw the movie Donnie Darko in the late summer right before my junior year of college.

I had this intense feeling of confusion after I watched it. I wasn’t even sure if I liked the movie or not. I sort of felt numb to the world too. It was so strange. After watching a movie that involves time travel though, maybe it wasn’t. A few hours and days later, I realized I did indeed like and then love the movie.

Donnie Darko was first released in 2001. It had limited box office success which may be attributed to the fact that it was released shortly after the 9/11 attacks. It gained popularity through a series of midnight showings that began in New York City and caused other theaters to follow suit. Once the DVD was released, you could say sales surpassed expectations.  A director’s cut of the film was also released 3 years later. If you look back on it from a 2014 perspective, the cast was pretty stellar as it included Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead character Donnie Darko, his sister Maggie Gyllenhaal who also played his sister in the film, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Jena Malone, Seth Rogen, and countless others who I’m sure you’d recognize from other film and television productions you’ve seen.

Believe me when I say this though, you will either love or hate this film. I really don’t think there’s an in between unless of course you’re a supernatural apocalyptic drama connoisseur. It’s an odd movie and if you do end up liking it, you’ll probably watch it a few more times trying to figure it out (I remember reading something after that compared Donnie to Jesus so see if you can make that connection). Hate it or love it, either way, if you haven’t seen it, I recommend watching it at some point in your life. Maybe you’ll end up like me, love it, decide to dress up as Donnie for Halloween (the skeleton suit, gray hoodie combo…I was awesome), and learn a few things from the movie along the way, such as:

1. Cellar Door is the most beautiful phrase in the English language.

2. Following and listening to a giant, scary talking bunny named Frank could lead to your demise.

3. The world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds.

4. It’s impossible to suck a fuck.

5. Smurfs are asexual.

6. You may not always get caught if you flood your school and commit an arson.

7. It’s worth telling people off who are full of shit because they are probably in the child porn business. (Jim Cunningham was “the fucking anti-Christ” and we all know it.)

8. The giant, scary talking bunny might just be a man in a costume with a bloody missing eye who is trying to help you save the world or face your fate, whichever perspective you want to take.

9. Gary Jules does a much better version of “Mad World” than Tears for Fears even if it was their song.

10. The more committed you are to Sparkle Motion the more likely you are to die in a plane crash. (Unless time travel somehow comes into play)

As you can tell, these are important life lessons. But on a serious note, if you’re looking for a movie to watch this Halloween season that isn’t necessarily scary and still relates to this time of year (the movie is set entirely in October up until Halloween), I recommend Donnie Darko. I mean you can probably combine it with The Rocky Horror Picture Show and truly have a science fiction double feature. It’s one of those movies that has different meaning for everyone and can spark a philosophical discussion. It’s worth it for the occasional comedic relief and even for being able to see some early work of these great actors. Most of all, it’s worth all the confusion and thoughts that you won’t be able to wrap your head around the first time you see it.  So I hope that when you do see Donnie Darko, you can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to.