Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Review: Colossal

When it comes to getting me interested in a movie, almost all you have to do is have a giant monster show up. Then you add the amazingly talented Anne Hathaway (who I've been a fan of for years) to the mix? Why, you most assuredly have my money.

Well, you would have if Colossal actually played anywhere near me. Grumble, grumble.

So I had to wait for the movie to release on DVD to see all of this goodness and inject it right into my veins. Was it worth it?

Hell yes it was.

Without getting too spoilery and running some of the great reviews, here it is in a nutshell. Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a party girl who is out of work and, thanks to coming home mid-morning one too many times, gets kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) and is forced to move back to the small town she grew up in. There she meets an old friend (Jason Sudeikis) and discovers something strange and wonderful on a drunken walk home through a park.

At 8:05 every day, if Gloria stands in a certain part of the park, she can make a monster appear across the world in South Korea and control it. Now Gloria has to figure out what she can do with this power without hurting anyone and sort out her own life in the process.

Colossal is simply amazing. I wasn't quite sure what to expect going in, knowing only a bit from the trailer that Gloria can control the monster. Indeed, the whole things starts off much like a standard romantic comedy and then spirals into something completely different that will keep you guessing the entire way. The movie is admittedly light on kaiju action, but what there is of it works like gangbusters, especially the gravity that comes with it in particular scenes. The monster designs are unique and well-realized and I wouldn't mind getting an action figure of it. Hathaway and Sudeikis are at the top of their game here, and the tension mounts and sparks fly when these two get to play off of each other and it is an absolute treat to watch.

It may not be on the level of a Kong: Skull Island in terms of kaiju action, but Colossal stands above a lot of those films with wonderful performances and a strong message that resonates with you long after the movie has ended.

Check it out.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

RIP: Haruo Nakajima

There are few things in my life that have influenced me more than Godzilla. Over the years, they've been there for me. On rainy days, on sunny days, on Thanksgivings and Turkey Days and on days when I just needed a pick me up. Even more recently, the movies have been there for me and my daughter to watch and to bond over.

Of course, besides the titular character, there was another link--Haruo Nakajima, the man inside the suit and the original Godzilla actor. Here was a man who did more than just act, t hough. He brought monsters to life, wearing suits that weighed a ton and were damn uncomfortable and hot to boot. But he wore them proudly and as such, was considered the best Godzilla suit actor by many, including myself, but most importantly, by the other people he worked with making the films like special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya. Thus, it is no surprise that the latter tapped Nakajima to work playing monsters in Tsuburaya Productions own series, Ultraman and Ultraseven. In total, he played Godzilla 12 times and numerous other monsters throughout his career.

Several years ago, I got the rare chance to meet this legend. It was at the Chiller Theatre convention in Parsippany where he was appearing with two other suit actors, Kenpachiro Satsuma and Tsutomu Kitagawa. The line was long and the wait equally so, but it was worth it to talk to Mr. Nakajima for a few minutes and tell him how much joy his pictures had brought to people. He thanked me and we posed for a picture and then I moved on while he continued to greet fans with an energy and enthusiasm for the rest of the day that I can only hope to have when I am in my later years.

It is a legacy of fantastic monster films that Haruo Nakajima leaves us and the memory of a kind and wonderful man. Watch these movies and celebrate the life of the King of the Monsters himself.

Rest in peace.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Summer of Ska: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Let's Face It, the Bosstones rock.
 The summer of ska continues (and probably ends, really, unless I go to another show), this time with Fast Choker and Mixmaster coming along to go and see the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (MMBT) at the Starland Ballroom.

The Bosstones are one of those bands that has been around seemingly forever, and for good reason--they are pretty damn awesome. I remember hearing "Where Did You Go?" back in high school and liking it a lot, but it wasn't until the release of Let's Face It in 1997 that they really caught my interest. I'd say that album was one of the most played of the year on our floor in the dorm. Indeed, 3rd wave ska was very much alive and adored in the Dungeon of East Ambler Johnston.
It was a devil's night out.

Get those hands in the air!
I think it was that same summer that we saw them on the Warped Tour, along with just about every band we liked. That year was ridiculously stacked and we spent our time running from stage to stage to see all of the bands. Seeing MMBT live was one of those things that cemented in my mind how good they were. Their sound comes together in such a full and refreshing way that reminds me of the big band sound of the jazz musicians I studied in school. That energy was passed on to the fans, who danced and skanked their way through song after song. It was great.

That was the only time I had seen them until the opportunity arose to go this weekend with a couple of friends and reclaim that magic of our own youth. I'm happy to say that the best dressed band around (seriously, their suit game is on point) hasn't lost a step at all and in fact are even more put together and impressive than when I saw them 20 years ago. In fact, they were even playing Let's Face It in its entirety as part of an anniversary tour. All of those songs came rushing back to my mind and I found myself singing along as I danced my face off. No more pits for me, though. I leave that to the professionals like Choker and Mix.

After finishing up that album (which includes one of my faves, "The Impression That I Get"), they went on to play some of their other hits and fan favorites from over the years, including "They Will Need Music," which is almost transcendentally inspirational when you hear it live. It's just that good. Did we reclaim a little bit of our youth that night? I think so, though you definitely feel a night out like this in your bones the next day when the morning hits you. It was a grand time and I'm glad I got to listen to some great music with my best friends.

For the full set list, click here.

PS: We also got to see Mephiskaphiles, who I haven't seen in 20 years either. Still awesome. Also, the other opening act, Backyard Superheroes were pretty damn good too. Love seeing a local band kick ass like that, especially when they rock two saxophones.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Get Out (2017)

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I finally got around on Saturday to seeing a movie I had been anticipating and hearing so many good things about, particularly in the BirthMovieDeath site. That movie is Get Out. Usually, when you see a movie that has been as hyped up as this one, you can't help but end up a little disappointed in the end. Not this time. The movie was amazing.

It's a simple enough premise that has been the basis of countless stories. A man goes to a strange house. Weird things go down. But writer and director Jordan Peele deftly weaves racial politics into it, like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner but with horror trappings instead of a comedy, as Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) goes to visit his white girlfriend's (Allison Williams) family out in the country. He asks if she has told them that he is a black man and she assures him that it doesn't matter to her or her parents. But when he gets there, Chris can't help but feel that something is amiss even though her parents, the Armitages (played by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford), are incredibly accepting of him and even offer to hypnotize him to help him quit smoking.

Then things get weirder from there.

To go any deeper into it would spoil some of the great surprises that the movie has. Truly, it keeps you on your toes and often disarms you with humor right before throwing you right back into the breach. The film's tone brings to mind some of the films of the 70s, in particular Let's Scare Jessica to Death, with its own lead character questioning whether the things she sees are real or a figment of her own imagination. Indeed, Chris has his hands full trying to figure out the same as he tries to get through a weekend at the Armitage house. Martin, by George A. Romero, is also brought to mind. That's no surprise as both films wear their social commentary on their sleeves and use it to weave a tale that engrosses and shocks and is utterly enjoyable.

Get Out is an exciting new entry into the horror genre from a director I can't wait to see more from. Jordan Peele has switched from comedy to horror on a dime and his work sets a new bar for those making their own debuts.

If you haven't seen the movie yet, definitely check it out. You will be glad you did.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Aquabats: Super Show!

The Aquabats!
Last night something amazing happened. I got to fulfill a dream I had for a long time. I mean it wasn't a crazy and ambitious dream, but it was a fun one. What was it? Why, seeing the Aquabats perform live on stage at the Stone Pony (of Lightning).

Who are the Aquabats? Why, only one of the raddest of the 3rd wave ska bands to hit the scene. They dress like superheroes, sing songs about science fiction and TV and pizza and put on a hell of a show. You might be familiar with them from their short-lived show on the Hub network--The Aquabats! Super Show! Their music is awesome and the show was just as cool as they are.

They tour a decent amount, but it is mostly on the West Coast, so my chances to see them are limited. The times that they've been in the area, I've been unable to go due to commitments or being out of town. This time, however, I was able to make it work.

Ricky Fitness singing "Your Love." Awesome cover.
So how was it? In a word? Awesome. From start to end, the entire concert was great. CJ Ramone (yes, of those Ramones) blasted through a wild set to start, playing quite a few of his namesakes songs and also some of his own that melted many a face. After him, Reggie and the Full Effect took the stage. I have to say I was unfamiliar with them, but they put on a hell of a show. When the lead singer comes out dressed like the Karate Kid and the band is in Cobra Kai outfits, you know that something special is afoot. The music was a great alt rock/punk sound that had me nodding my head and dancing. Plus he had a giant eagle come up on stage to hug him, so that was damn cool too.

Crash McLarson.
After another intermission and a quick PBR later, the band of my dreams finally took the stage. And boy did they do it in style. They even played The Aquabats! Super Show! theme to start. From that point on it was a set of hits old and new, from "The Cat with Two Heads" to "Super Rad" to "Shark Fighter" and more. Quite a bit of it was off Charge!!!, which is good, because it is one of my favorite albums of theirs after the first two albums.

There were inflatables galore too. The band fought a giant inflatable Frankenstein's Monster who was also the new roadie. Beach balls were flying around in the air during "Pool Party," "Burger Rain" brought us burgers and "Pizza Day" brought us giant pizzas that two lucky kids got to crowd surf on after the Bat Commander hurled them onto them off of the stage.

Yeah, it was that kind of show.

Since they have an all ages appeal, there were quite a few families with their children there seeing the Aquabats for the first time as well. It was loud, but it looked like the kids had a blast, getting high fives from the band and getting to go up on stage and dance. It was a pretty bitching time if you were a child. Outside of being crushed in a sweaty mob, that is. Fortunately, they didn't allow moshing or crowdsurfing so there wasn't any chance of them getting too roughed up.

The first encore was "Fashion Zombies" too, which had me super jazzed as I absolutely love that song. Then it was "Pool Party" and the show was done. So was it a good time? Hell yeah, it was a fantastic time. Even though it was a long day with work and then the show and rolling out of Asbury Park at almost 11pm and getting to bed even later and then waking up to go to work again, it was definitely worth it. I even scored some sweet shirts for my family and a poster to remember it all by. Can't wait to hang that up in the bar.

If you have a chance to check out The Aquabats live, do it. You won't be disappointed.

Aquacadet Worsel of the Stone Pony of Lightning Chapter, signing off.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

In Memoriam: George A. Romero

In my youth, I didn't really take notice of who directed a film I rented from Easy Video or Blockbuster. I just cared if it was scary or gory as hell and fun. There was one movie that made me stop and take notice of who directed it. It was a film I had heard of when watching the Horror Hall of Fame on channel 9 one night. Night of the Living Dead.  The director? George A. Romero. This was about the same time that I started collecting Fangoria and Gorezone to get the backstory on the movies I loved. As you might imagine, his name popped up a lot, particularly in reference to a Dead trilogy. So yeah, I had to rent them.

As you might have imagined, my preteen mind was blown by what I saw. Zombies were everywhere and the gore was absolutely divine as they munched their way through the heroes and villains of the films. All from the same director! This man was clearly a genius and I needed to see the other films that he made.

I wasn't disappointed.

In fact, one was a staple on the cable networks already and I didn't even know it, as it was overshadowed by the other name involved, Stephen King. Yes, the movie I'm talking about was the awesome anthology film Creepshow. Oddly enough, my favorite segment actually didn't features zombies, but the werewolf-like creature from "The Crate" segment. That didn't matter though as I loved the whole thing to pieces.

Once I knew that, of course I had to view it again with the knowledge that the director who so impressed me was the one who brought these wonderful visions to life. Then I found others. Two Evil Eyes. Knightriders. The Crazies. I even tracked down Season of the Witch when it played on Sci-Fi one afternoon. All of it was great. But really, for me, what it all came down to was zombies. I absolutely loved zombies and he was the reason.

This started a whole new obsession where I began tracking down other zombie films I read about in the pages of magazines and later, on the internet., that continues to this day. But I never forgot the greatness of that trilogy that inspired it all. And it did more than just inform what I watched, but what I wrote. Without NOTLD, I wouldn't have discovered Richard Matheson and his writings. More than that, I learned how to try to instill my own horror with a message of sorts, shallow as it may be, and to, no matter the budget, make the best damn work that I could.

No matter the subject matter, Romero left his stamp on the film that made it indelibly his. Dawn of the Dead is my favorite, but one of the films that I keep coming back to when I need inspiration is Martin. This almost dreamlike tale of a young man who believes himself to be vampire is a haunting tale and despite the atrocities that he commits, we feel for Martin and his affliction, be it supernatural or mental. It takes a master's hand to evoke that kind of emotion and Romero had that in spades.

I didn't get to see many of him films in theaters. In fact, I've only seen one. Land of the Dead. Some panned it but I thought it was one of the greatest things I had ever seen in theaters. This was a continuation of the series I had grown up watching again and again. And there it was, on the big screen, with me, my brother and my friends experiencing it. It was amazing. Plus it had Asia Carrera, but that's a story for another day. I even watched the follow up films that essentially rebooted the series and enjoyed them as well.

It's sad that I won't get to see another new Romero movie in a career that is full of fantastic films, but I'm glad he made them and gave so much enjoyment and inspiration to me and other horror fans out there.

Rest in Piece, George. Thank you for all of the great movies and my condolences to your family.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

It's been awhile since the last Spider-Man movie, and even longer since the last good one. Sure we got a great appearance in Captain America: Civil War, but that isn't quite the same as one where the wall-crawler features all by his lonesome. No, there's just something about a solo film that really lets Spidey shine.

Understandably, some were cautious about the film, especially after the fairly abysmal pair we just got. We already had a taste of what Tom Holland could do, however, so there was some hope that the resulting film would be good. I'm glad to say that it is better than good.

It is amazing. (I'm sorry for that joke. Honest.)

After years of origin stories to kick off every new superhero film, we are instead brought right into Peter Parker's life post Civil War. He's had a taste of the big leagues and is understandably anxious to get back in on a new mission. He's given up on most of his school activities and instead spends his afternoons and evenings on patrol, trying to keep NYC safe from crime but really just biding time until the day Tony Stark/Iron Man calls him for help once again. Unfortunately for him, that day is a long time coming. Even worse, when it comes time to shine, Peter isn't quite sticking the landing, putting him in hot water with Tony Stark and also his Aunt May (the ever-awesome Marisa Tomei.) However, when Peter stumbles onto an illegal weapons ring lead by the villainous Vulture (an amazing performance from Michael Keaton), it is up to Spider-Man to save the day any way he can.

This movie is a treat from start to finish. Tom Holland bubbles with youthful enthusiasm, the kind we would all have if we were bitten by a radioactive spider and got sweet powers one day. It's understandable that he's dejected that the other heroes don't see him as Avengers material. That doesn't stop him from trying and learning to be a better hero in the process. Helping him is his best friend Ned, another geek who is even more excited when he discovers his best friend is Spider-Man. Together they try to navigate saving the day from a man with mechanical wings and the possibly even worse minefield that is high school.

There's also some amazing action scenes. Spider-Man looks better than ever and the Vulture, whose concept art I wasn't really crazy about, comes together nicely and looks absolutely fantastic on screen and it makes sense for the redesign considering his endgame. The brawls between the two are fast and furious and even the battles with petty crooks have a polish and fun about them the other films have lacked.

I was a huge fan of the Raimi films  (yes, even Spider-Man 3) and didn't think anyone would be able to top them. I am happy to say that I have been proven wrong and I look forward to seeing what director Jon Watts and the rest of the crew have in store for the future.

It's a good time to be a Spider-Man fan. Check it out.