100 Essential Films – June

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I’ve set a goal for 2018 to make my way through the movies represented on the Pop Chart Lab 100 Essential Films Scratch-Off Chart.  Learn what 100 movies they consider “essential,” follow my progress here in detail and listen to my reactions on Ka-Pow the Pop Cultured Podcast!

 

JUNE

As we hit the halfway point of the year, I managed to squeeze in seven more classics to bring my total to a still-slightly-off-the-pace 45 films.  Like always, I tried to mix things up with a variety of genres and decades, but June may be my most randomly assorted selections yet, ranging from Munchkin Land to a post-apocalyptic wasteland, from the horrors of World War II to the San Fernando Valley of the 1970s and from method actors to weathermen and dudes in dresses.  But all seven have something important in common… each one is essential!

 

004

The Wizard of Oz

Year: 1939

Director: Victor Fleming

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: <5

The Library of Congress declares this musical adaptation of the beloved L. Frank Baum fantasy novel the most seen film in movie history.  Judy Garland’s trip over the rainbow, from the barren, sepia-toned fields of Kansas to the fanciful Technicolor Land of Oz has been a rite of passage for American children for generations now, and I was no different.  The Wicked Witch terrified me as a kid.  The Cowardly Lion made me laugh.  And Dorothy’s long (yellow brick) road to the realization that “there’s no place like home” is paved with the kind of gentle metaphors and universal life lessons about growing up that have remained utterly timeless.  Although I have to ask why everyone remembers and references the Lollipop Guild with regularity, but their equally-peculiar female counterparts in the Lullaby League were lost to pop culture obscurity?

005

 

006

Mad Max: Fury Road

Year: 2015

Director: George Miller

Method: SyFy

Times Viewed: 1

I enjoy the original Mad Max trilogy for the ridiculous fun that it is, but hadn’t gotten around to this high octane reboot about a doomsday prison break and the epic car chase that ensues across the wasteland.  Tom Hardy’s new Max Rockatansky fades into the background, since it is Charlize Theron’s show as the ultra-capable warrior Furiosa.  The film got a ton of praise (and ten Academy Award nominations!) for its feminist viewpoint and one of the few glimpses of a matriarchal society in post-apocalyptic fiction, but I remain at a loss as to why THIS one clicked with critics when terrific action and genre movies are released every year that are completely ignored.  The stunt driving and practical effects were bonkers, but at its core, it’s still just a loud two hour thrill ride about a truck driver escorting supermodels past an army of paint-huffing Billy Corgans.

007

 

008

Schindler’s List

Year: 1993

Director: Steven Spielberg

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: ~3

While necessary, Steven Spielberg’s World War II drama about a German businessman and the thousand Jewish refugees he saved from the Holocaust is always emotionally difficult viewing.  This time around, I happened to watch it the week the United States instituted the policy of separating immigrant families at the Mexican border.  With images of those crying children still fresh in my mind, the scenes of families brutally ripped apart during the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto took on an immediacy, a scope and a sense of real human horror I hadn’t quite so viscerally connected to in the past.  The death toll is so staggering, to conceive of the victims as more than just an abstract statistic it is vital for art like this to attach a human face to the suffering.  Though an epilogue featuring 128 surviving Schindlerjuden manages to conclude the tale with a spark of hopeful positivity.

009

 

010

Groundhog Day

Year: 1993

Director: Harold Ramis

Method: AMC

Times Viewed: >10

Bill Murray’s crowd-pleasing comedy about a self-centered weatherman trapped living the same day over and over again in wintry small town Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania seemingly took a long time to earn “essential” status.  It never broke box-office records or filled anyone’s shelves with trophies.  What it did do, was funnel feel-good optimism through a smart script and winning performances from Murray and co-star Andie MacDowell into a cult favorite that became a timeless cultural touchstone (and the de facto shorthand for any pop culture involving a time loop).  The way the film never explains how he got stuck in the first place, what the rules are for escaping or how long he ultimately spends there brilliantly allows us to project our own beliefs and draw our own conclusions.  And hey, I just noticed a teenage Michael Shannon shows up for two lines of dialogue!

011

 

012

Raging Bull

Year: 1980

Director: Martin Scorsese

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: ~3

This black and white dramatization of self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta’s life story is hailed as Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece, but it actually rates pretty far down on my list of his films.  I’ve never found it as compelling (or as rewatchable) as many of his others.  Robert De Niro’s method performance is the selling point here, along with his physical transformation of gaining 60 pounds to go from a well-muscled middleweight contender to a doughy, washed-up nightclub owner.  De Niro gives LaMotta a terrifying hair-trigger temper and relationship-ruining jealous streak, but also a pathetic sort of inferiority and impotence.  You never really root for him, but you can’t take your eyes off him.  I forgot the film concludes with LaMotta delivering Brando’s famous monologue from “On the Waterfront” into a mirror.  It works thematically, but relying on a different (better?) boxing movie to provide your final punch is a bit perplexing.

013

 

014

Some Like It Hot

Year: 1959

Director: Billy Wilder

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: 1

Watching this cross-dressing comedy classic about two down-on-their-luck male musicians who have to hide out with an all-female band to escape the mob made me realize I have never seen any of Marilyn Monroe’s movies.  It also made me realize she may not be the best actress ever born, but man is she a movie star.  She lights up the screen in every scene she’s in.  Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon provide plenty of quick-witted brotherly banter, and seem game to go all out for what I’m guessing was a risky career move, even if they did have to be shot in black and white to even remotely pass as girls.  Of course, no one learns any lessons even after seeing firsthand the shoddy way men treat women and numerous deceits are shrugged off in favor of a happy ending.  But as the man says, nobody’s perfect.

015

 

016

Boogie Nights

Year: 1997

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: >20

My appreciation for Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful story about finding family and fame in the 1970s porn industry only seems to grow and grow and grow with each viewing.  The ensemble cast is one of the best ever assembled with Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Heather Graham and Thomas Jane each giving the finest performances of their entire careers, and a bevy of brilliant co-stars like Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman, Ricky Jay, Philip Baker Hall and Alfred Molina.  First and foremost, it’s a drama about broken people on the search for belonging and dignity, but it also happens to be at times hilarious, harrowing and heartwarming.  The era-appropriate soundtrack is a joy, and what Anderson does with the camera – including long unbroken takes moving through dancefloors, parties or even a swimming pool – is endlessly inventive.

017

 

Progress:  45 / 100

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100 Essential Films – May

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I’ve set a goal for 2018 to make my way through the movies represented on the Pop Chart Lab 100 Essential Films Scratch-Off Chart.  Learn what 100 movies they consider “essential,” follow my progress here in detail and listen to my reactions on Ka-Pow the Pop Cultured Podcast!

 

MAY

I began the month with hours and hours of movies saved on the DVR and big plans to get through them.  Then pneumonia knocked me on my back out of nowhere.  The silver lining, I assumed, would be plenty of time on the couch recovering.  But feeling miserable and having a head full of cotton didn’t end up being a great combination spurring me to revisit classic films.  The fact that I managed four can be considered a small victory, but there will be some ground to make up this summer.  What follows are the essential movies of May!

 

003

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Year: 1957

Director: David Lean

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: 1

I tackled this epic about British POWs at a Japanese prison camp in the jungles of Burma during World War II in about a dozen smaller bites, rather than a single 3-hour marathon.  Alec Guinness was flawless as the Lieutenant Colonel, personifying that “stiff upper lip” attitude we attribute to the Brits, while William Holden contrasted him nicely with telltale American traits like swagger and cynicism.  And while I’m not sure how authentic it was portraying the Japanese as too inept to build their own bridge without the help of the “superior” Western soldiers, the Colonel in charge of the camp was much more fully formed than I’d expect for the era, rather than just a cruel torturer.  Sessue Hayakawa imbued the character with steely dignity and inner uncertainty, and was rewarded with a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his efforts.

004

 

005

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Year: 1980

Director: Irvin Kershner

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: >25

I actually prefer “Return of the Jedi,” for reasons going back to childhood that can’t be argued logically, but the near-unanimous critical consensus is that “Empire” is the high point of George Lucas’s sci-fi trilogy.  It is better scripted, better acted, has better effects and just feels more confident than the original.  But for a sampling of Essential Films, I would think “Star Wars” should be the one on the poster, not its middle chapter.  In any case, it’s always hard to separate the three movies in my head.  Some details I noticed on this, my umpteenth viewing include how buff Mark Hamill was doing his swamp CrossFit, the range of emotion Frank Oz could exhibit with the Yoda puppet that the digital versions still don’t seem capable of (including a wicked side-eye when Luke gets pouty) and the unshakable chemistry between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.

006

 

007

City of God

Year: 2002

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Method: Netflix

Times Viewed: 2

Taking place in the Brazilian slums surrounding Rio de Janeiro, this coming-of-age crime story was inspired by real events.  The author of the novel on which it’s based, Paulo Lins, grew up in the Cidade de Deus from the late 60s to the early 80s and watched as organized crime and the drug trade turned his home into a war zone and warped children into vicious lawbreakers, where the cops were corrupt and innocents had no means of escape from the constant crossfire.  The film has a slick, Tarantino-esque aesthetic, jumping around in time and portraying even the vilest criminals with style and personality.  This is a story that begs to be told from a part of the world we don’t often get to hear from in pop culture, made all the more authentic by casting most of its amateur actors from the city itself.

008

 

009

West Side Story

Year: 1961

Director: Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins

Method: HBO Go

Times Viewed: 2

I have very little experience with (or tolerance for) musicals.  It’s just not my genre.  But something about this peppy update of “Romeo and Juliet” about star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria just works for me.  From the moment they start snapping their fingers, I’m just completely on board.  The soundtrack is full of legendary songs, the dancing is lively and the sets are iconic.  It also doesn’t sugarcoat the kind of immigrant experience so many are still facing today.  Lyrics like “life is all right in America, if you’re all white in America” couldn’t put it any more bluntly.  Though the amount of “brownface” on display is unfortunate.  (Literally, in the case of Rita Moreno, who is actually Puerto Rican but had to be “darkened up” with makeup for her role.)  And while it might be whitewashing by today’s standards, the star power of Natalie Wood remains undeniable.

010

 

Progress:  38 / 100

100 Essential Films – April

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I’ve set a goal for 2018 to make my way through the movies represented on the Pop Chart Lab 100 Essential Films Scratch-Off Chart.  Learn what 100 movies they consider “essential,” follow my progress here in detail and listen to my reactions on Ka-Pow the Pop Cultured Podcast!

 

APRIL

Looking over my poster, it feels like I’ve made a sizable dent in the films I’ve already managed to watch this year.  But there are so many more to go, the enormity of this task is beginning to worry me for the first time.  Math is still on my side, though, and 2018 is only a third over, meaning this batch keeps me precisely on pace, bumping my total up to 34 by adding seven new movies to the list.  Find out what they were and some of my opinions on these classics right here!

 

029

Forrest Gump

Year: 1994

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Method: Freeform channel

Times Viewed: ~5

Criticizing this uplifting film about a slow-witted kid navigating the twentieth century feels like insulting a puppy who managed to charm its way to six Oscars.  But it plays everything so safe, so sanitized and so conservative.  I thought perhaps there would be more obscure historical moments I would recognize, watching it as a better educated adult than I did in the 90s, but every reference point is glaringly obvious, just like every song on the soundtrack is the most recognizable choice to represent a time period.  The movie isn’t bad by any stretch, and definitely tugs at the heart.  The performances from Robin Wright, Gary Sinise and Sally Field are all wonderful, even if something about Tom Hanks’ stilted drawl feels a tad cringe-y to me now.  Or maybe I just still have a chip on my shoulder over “Pulp Fiction” being robbed of Best Picture that year.

030

 

031

Sunset Boulevard

Year: 1950

Director: Billy Wilder

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: 1

Delivering two of the most recognizable lines in the history of cinema, “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small” and “all right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up,” Gloria Swanson’s portrayal of forgotten silent-film star Norma Desmond is as iconic as it gets in this Hollywood noir.  The performance has zero subtlety in it, with Swanson arching her eyebrows, baring her teeth and flailing her arms like a tyrannosaurus to punctuate every overdramatic word she says.  Grounding the story a bit is William Holden’s character, a failed screenwriter who feeds Norma’s delusions and reaps the material rewards.  He is pessimistic and bitter, and it was pretty stunning to see a movie this old so effectively destroying the illusions of the film industry and stardom.  It pulls no punches about show business, and how ruthlessly people are discarded, especially young women with stars in their eyes.

032

 

033

Braveheart

Year: 1995

Director: Mel Gibson

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: >25

For a segment of my teen years I would have listed “Braveheart,” the tall tale of William Wallace and his fight for Scottish independence against England in the 13th century, as my favorite movie of all time.  I’d get home from school, hit play on the VCR and watch a section, picking up wherever I left off.  Then a lot of years passed, during which Mel Gibson did some gross things, so I was worried what my feelings would be this time around.  And I still can’t help but love this film.  The characters are easy to root for, the action is unrelenting, there’s humor and romance, betrayal and sacrifice.  It’s everything you want in an epic war story, plus kilts.  I also counted a dozen lines of dialogue I continue to pepper into everyday conversation, so there’s no doubt this one is helplessly lodged in my subconscious forever.

034

 

035

Back to the Future

Year: 1985

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Method: HBO free weekend

Times Viewed: >25

There probably isn’t any such thing as a perfect movie.  I can find flaws in even the most beloved classics.  (Look back over these lists for proof.)  But Robert Zemeckis’ tale of a time traveling teen is one of the closest.  The script is a clinic on screenwriting.  Every piece matters and folds back around to be important later.  And the cast, led by Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, sell the far-out situation with hidden vulnerabilities and amazing chemistry.  It doesn’t paint 1955 with too nostalgic of a brush, presenting teenagers as flawed and confused no matter the era.  Watching it this time around I was struck by how innocent it all is, debuting during an era when movies starring high schoolers were mostly raunchy R-rated affairs.  That goodness at its heart is surely a big part of its timelessness.

036

 

037

Bonnie and Clyde

Year: 1967

Director: Arthur Penn

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: 2

It’s a bit odd that one of the defining films that helped usher in the auteur filmmaking of “New Hollywood” is a Depression-era period piece.  But the story of real life outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker is full of the kind of things a young generation creating the counterculture in the late sixties could rally behind.  Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are like the poster children for disaffected youth, gorgeous and glamorous, with an anti-authoritarian streak, open about sex and sharing a sense of restlessness and moral ambiguity.  As their relationship escalates, so too do their crimes, from small-time bank robbery to murder.  But the tone remains light throughout, and the pair retain a sense of naiveté about them until the bitter end and one of the bloodiest climaxes to a movie ever seen up to that point, breaking yet another taboo about realistic screen violence.

038

 

039

The Silence of the Lambs

Year: 1991

Director: Jonathan Demme

Method: HBO free weekend

Times Viewed: 2

I didn’t like this movie at all when I first saw it, thinking it was a by-the-numbers serial killer flick where too much rides on improbable coincidences instead of police work, elevated only by the two mesmerizing, top-of-their-game performances from Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, as the caged Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, the FBI trainee seeking his advice on a case.  And my opinion didn’t really change this time around.  I realize it’s probably me, since everyone else on the planet adores the film and it swept the top five Oscar categories as the first and only Best Picture winner you could rightfully categorize as a horror movie.  But surely it’s okay to admit this is way more of a crowd-pleasing pulpy crime thriller than an award-caliber prestige drama?  (Remember, it stars a character named Hannibal who is a cannibal.)

040

 

041

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Year: 1939

Director: Frank Capra

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: 2

James Stewart plays a newly appointed Senator who uncovers corruption in this black and white Frank Capra classic.  All I remembered about this movie was the iconic filibuster scene that ends it, but there is much more here to enjoy.  Stewart, in a star-making role, is perfectly cast as the wide-eyed innocent Scoutmaster who still believes in America’s ideals.  And Jean Arthur, as his sarcastic, cynical secretary, Saunders, provides a counterpoint to his optimism and romantic sparks as the girl you know he should end up with.  It’s hard to believe the film was controversial in its day, worrying censors, critics and especially politicians it was unpatriotic for daring to suggest elected officials could be crooked.  Though it wraps up a little too neatly, Saunders teaching Smith the ropes is exhilarating to watch and the media’s role in framing a debate remains a contentious aspect of politics.

042

 

Progress:  34 / 100

 

100 Essential Films – March

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I’ve set a goal for 2018 to make my way through the movies represented on the Pop Chart Lab 100 Essential Films Scratch-Off Chart.  Learn what 100 movies they consider “essential,” follow my progress here in detail and listen to my reactions on Ka-Pow the Pop Cultured Podcast!

 

MARCH

Spring has just begun and I’ve already managed to fritter away the strong numbers I’d put up at the beginning of this year by only managing six films for the month of March.  I remain on pace, but just barely, especially since I’m a baseball fan and now there are games to watch nearly every night of the week.  However, I did upgrade my cable this month and now possess a DVR for the first time in my life, giving me access to those movies that play at odd times throughout the day.  In fact, recording things off of Turner Classic Movies and watching them later is how I caught most of the following films.  Ain’t technology great?  (Well… not according to two of the classic flicks I just completed!)

 

015

The Philadelphia Story

Year: 1940

Director: George Cukor

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: 1

Based on the Broadway play in which she also starred, this witty romantic comedy established Katharine Hepburn as a bona fide leading lady.  Even flanked by the dashing duo of Cary Grant and James Stewart, Hepburn’s whip-smart, fiercely independent socialite could verbally spar with any of the guys.  The commentary on our cultural obsession with the rich and beautiful remains relevant, but much of the humor is based on customs and manners that have gone by the wayside.  It’s even a genre I didn’t realize existed, the “comedy of remarriage,” depicting a couple who divorce, briefly flirt with others and then remarry in order to get around the Motion Picture Production Code banning extramarital affairs in the films of the 1930s and 40s.  Ignorant of this convention, I genuinely didn’t know who she would end up with by the end, which was refreshing for a romance of any era.

016

 

017

Easy Rider

Year: 1969

Director: Dennis Hopper

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: ~3

This counterculture classic biker movie is a time capsule that both eulogizes the untenable innocence of the 1960s hippie ethos and kicks off the gritty, no-compromises auteur filmmaking of the 1970s.  It’s simple and sparse, using improvised dialog, hand-held camerawork and frenetic editing techniques to juxtapose the scruffy, doped-up Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper with All-American iconography of rural Southern highways.  The film really picks up when they are joined by Jack Nicholson, someone from “square” society (with a more acceptable vice like alcoholism) and introduce him to life on the fringes.  We are left to wonder, as we still do today, what is so terrifying about people who choose to live differently from us?  The soundtrack is an excellent mix of classic rock tunes, as well as the first, best and only time Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” should have been used in a movie.

018

 

019

The Searchers

Year: 1956

Director: John Ford

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: ~5

What makes this one of my favorites is how atypical a Western it is.  It still has action and humor, cowboys and Indians and John Ford’s gorgeous widescreen Monument Valley landscapes.  But there’s also a melancholy to it.  A mythology-piercing cynicism about the West and its so-called heroes.  It stars John Wayne at his least likable, a bitter, racist old soldier who didn’t beat his sword down into ploughshares.  He can’t fit into civilized society, always needing an enemy to hate and a battle to fight.  When his niece is kidnapped by Comanches, her rescue is an excuse to pursue a years-long quest of punishing hardship and vengeance, Captain Ahab in dusty spurs.  There’s also a storytelling subtlety usually lacking in the genre, never explicitly stating what past misdeeds made his character this way and why he keeps his distance, an iconic silhouette forever outside the farmhouse door.

020

 

021

The Matrix

Year: 1999

Director: The Wachowskis

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: ~10

Even with the enormous impact it had on pop culture, the overly-complicated sequels that muddied the plotline waters and the franchise of merchandise it spawned, I still remember how completely blown away I was sitting in the theater the first time I saw this movie.  Combining notes and beats from dystopian sci-fi, kung-fu, cyberpunk, anime and world religions, it melded those familiar influences into something entirely new.  The sight of Carrie-Anne Moss leaping through the air on wires, Laurence Fishburne snapping on a pair of rimless sunglasses or Keanu Reeves acrobatically dodging all those bullets signaled a seismic shift in style and special effects at the dawn of a new millennium of filmmaking.  And with the ubiquity of digital devices arriving in the two decades since, the themes it presents of human connection in an increasingly virtual world only get more relevant.

022

 

023

On the Waterfront

Year: 1954

Director: Elia Kazan

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: ~3

This story about corrupt Union bosses and the lower class longshoreman they exploit is a perfect vehicle to showcase Marlon Brando’s revolutionary level of big screen charisma.  As a former promising prizefighter reduced to working the docks, a bum misguided through life by his crooked older brother, Brando exudes down-on-his-luck charm and blue collar honor.  Eva Marie Saint is the perfect girl next door in her film debut, her fragile beauty and uncompromising virtue playing splendidly against the corrupted brute she’s growing to love.  Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger get some good villainous moments as their empire is threatened from within, but everyman MVP of the era Karl Malden really shines as the crusading priest attempting to get the mob’s boot off of his parishioner’s necks.  He gets all the best speeches, even if Brando’s “I coulda been a contender” is (rightfully) the most iconic.

024

 

025

2001: A Space Odyssey

Year: 1968

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: 2

I get it.  I understand Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking sci-fi film about the evolution of mankind from grunting apes warring over a watering hole to stoic scientists exploring the vastness of the cosmos is a visual masterpiece.  It’s just not a movie I really enjoy.  It’s thought provoking, endlessly inventive and never not interesting to look at.  The workaday banality of the interplanetary travel depicted lends an air of realism few others in the genre could match.  But the Jupiter mission and the introduction of supercomputer antagonist HAL 9000 doesn’t begin until an hour in and wraps up at the two hour mark, leaving more than an hour and a half of cosmic claptrap to bookend what I consider the essential conflict of the piece with quote-unquote “deeper meaning.”  But much like the monolith itself, we are free to project whatever we want upon this fifty-year-old film’s inscrutable face.

026

 

Progress:  27 / 100

Gem City Comic Con Wrap-Up

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Our booth setup was So Pro!

The 2018 Gem City Comic Con was one of the best weekends I’ve spent at a show.  The Illustrious Michael K. Easton and I have been making comics together for more years than I want to count, but this con was the official debut of So Pro Comics, the publisher we co-founded with the intent of making the best all-ages content possible.  I’ve traveled to several cryptozoology conferences with my bigfoot book “Bluff Creek” – drawn by the astonishing Ansley McDaniel – and been very well received.  But we’ve never put these particular books in front of a comic con audience before.

The first four So Pro titles

Along with issues #1 and #2 of “Bluff Creek,” we premiered the next two titles in the line scripted by me, the body-swapping superhero adventure “Heroic 9.0,” with art by Mr. Easton and “Bert & Woodrow’s Last Adventure,” an end of the world comedy drawn by Zach Brooker, both colored by Kristy Easton.  These are the first books we printed in-house using our own equipment, and they turned out looking incredible.  Now it was time to get them out in front of the fans!

The only thing Eleven likes more than Eggos

The Gem City attendees in Dayton, Ohio have always been indie friendly, and this year was no different.  This is not one of those shows where the crowds avoid Artist Alley.  There were shoppers from all walks of life and every age range, all smiling, interested and asking questions.  But our favorite thing to see is the families, all sharing in whatever nerdy interest it is that brings them closer together with their kids.

You lick it, you bought it, Super Gekko!

We talked to hundreds of people, sold lots of books, made a few new comic creator friends and had a terrific time.  We learned what sales pitch works best and what we need to improve before the next show.  Michael and I spent all weekend throwing ideas back and forth, getting excited about what’s to come.  So stay tuned, and see more new books from So Pro Comics next at 3 Rivers Comicon this May in Pittsburgh!

Logan thinks we look sharp!

“Try and tell me about your podcast and taste Nth Metal, chump”

Straight out tha Swamp!

100 Essential Films – February

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I’ve set a goal for 2018 to make my way through the movies represented on the Pop Chart Lab 100 Essential Films Scratch-Off Chart.  Learn what 100 movies they consider “essential,” follow my progress here in detail and listen to my reactions on Ka-Pow the Pop Cultured Podcast!

 

FEBRUARY

I was a little disappointed to only fit nine films into January.  Sure, that sets a pace to finish all 100 in a year, but I wanted to get out of the gate strong and build up a decent buffer during the winter months when there is less on my to-do list.  Thanks to a cold, dreary February, networks highlighting classic award winners in the lead up to this year’s Oscars and having free previews of several different premium movie channels nearly every weekend, I was able to knock off 12 more essential movies from my list.  Here is my output for the month!

 

033

The Sixth Sense

Year: 1999

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: ~3

I’d been spoiled on the famous twist ending before I ever got to see this unconventional ghost story originally, so denied that intended “ah-ha!” moment that astounded audiences around the turn of the century, I’ve never held this one up as one of the greats.  Bruce Willis and his understated performance is what everyone remembers, so it’s probably not surprising that I forgot how truly terrific Toni Collette is as a single mother barely holding things together.  Shyamalan has a masterful eye for visuals, and can capture mood and tone with the best of them.  But on repeated viewing, I was just left appreciating how clever it’s all constructed rather than being engrossed in the story.  Sure, it had a huge impact on pop culture, so I don’t argue its place on this list, but personally I’d rather just watch “Unbreakable” again.

034

 

035

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Year: 1937

Director: David Hand

Method: Freeform channel

Times Viewed: ~2

This one was running on a back-to-back-to-back marathon on Super Bowl Sunday and I may have been the only guy in America watching the clock so I could turn over from the game and catch the last showing of this Disney classic.  The first animated full-length feature film, this adaptation of a Grimm fairy tale about a vain, bloodthirsty Queen and her lonely stepdaughter remains gorgeous to look at, if a bit slight on story, focusing much more on the physical comedy of the dwarves than on the title character, even if she was creating the template for every Disney princess to follow.  This was also the first American movie to release its own soundtrack album, and the songs like “Heigh-Ho,” “Whistle While You Work” and “Some Day My Prince Will Come” can zip you right back to your childhood.

036

 

037

Intolerance

Year: 1916

Director: D.W. Griffith

Method: Youtube

Times Viewed: 1

The earliest film on this list, from over 100 years ago now, is a silent black and white epic that clocks in at over three hours in length.  I didn’t know the first thing about it and, frankly, was dreading it.  The follow-up to the better known “The Birth of a Nation,” this held the record for the most expensive movie ever made for many years and its scope is still mind-blowing.  Telling four unconnected tales around the central theme of man’s inhumanity to man, it jumps around from the current era to 16th century France to the time of Christ to ancient Babylon, using very sophisticated editing and a cast of thousands.  I can’t even imagine how they pulled off some of the stunts without putting a lot of people in real danger, especially in the Babylonian scenes, with massive sets, swords clashing and chariots racing by.

038

 

039

Tootsie

Year: 1982

Director: Sydney Pollack

Method: Starz free weekend

Times Viewed: ~2

This cross-dressing comedy should have a renewed relevance in light of the current #timesup movement, and I was pleasantly surprised with how maturely it approached the subject matter.  There were no easy “gay panic” jokes about almost kissing a dude, and Dustin Hoffman’s Michael Dorsey approaches his alter ego Dorothy Michaels matter-of-factly, like any performance the self-serious actor would tackle, not at all worried about his fragile masculinity.  And while he sympathizes with what women put up with and learns a lesson or two, we don’t really see him regret his past actions or evolve in any substantial fashion.  Nor do we get much from the female point of view, despite lots of potential from Jessica Lange’s soap star, Teri Garr’s hot mess of a struggling actress and the wise-beyond-her-years Geena Davis.  (Naturally, Bill Murray provides all the best laughs in an uncredited supporting role.)

040

 

041

Rocky

Year: 1976

Director: John G. Avildsen

Method: Showtime free weekend

Times Viewed: 1

I would’ve sworn under oath that I’d seen this movie before, but the more that ticked by, the more sure I became that I had never actually sat down and watched it from beginning to end.  So familiar is it as a piece of modern American mythmaking (and so ubiquitous were the sequels growing up) that I guess I just assumed I couldn’t have lived this long and avoided it.  Even though its DNA is in every underdog sports movie since, the boxing is really secondary here.  This is a character study of a bum with a hopeful streak, a sad, past-his-prime everyman with a little talent but no real opportunities ahead of him who is too stubborn to know when to give up.  Sylvester Stallone gives the kind of vulnerable performance I’ve never seen from him, full of brutish swagger on the outside hiding a sorrowful inner frailty.

042

 

043

The Grapes of Wrath

Year: 1940

Director: John Ford

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: 1

Another film with an unexpected relevance to today’s politics, this Dust Bowl-era family drama was released almost immediately after its source material, the John Steinbeck novel, won the Pulitzer in 1939.  The country was still feeling the effects of the Great Depression, and the solutions presented here seem awfully left leaning for such a conservative director like John Ford.  Henry Fonda’s iconic Tom Joad asks what good is “one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starving,” and dedicates himself to the fight for social justice after witnessing the miserable treatment of migrant workers.  John Carradine’s ex-preacher character still feels subversive here, as a man who has lost his faith when everything he believed in ultimately fails him.  Beyond inspiring a killer Springsteen song, it also holds up really well as a story of family bonds and connectedness to community overcoming the forces of greed.

044

 

003

Do the Right Thing

Year: 1989

Director: Spike Lee

Method: HBO free weekend

Times Viewed: <5

“Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant **** to me.”  I may have heard Public Enemy’s anthemic “Fight the Power” in passing before seeing this film, but I’m pretty positive this was where I first heard it in all its unedited glory.  Those lyrics hit this sheltered rural white kid hard, leaving me stunned that there could be that level of animosity toward Elvis. (Or John Wayne.)  And Spike Lee’s breakout day-in-the-life movie about a single block in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn still feels like a culture shock, an authentic look into a world I had no experience with.  Sure, it’s blunt and as subtle as a trashcan through a window.  But it’s also a raw and powerful snapshot of a time, a place and a people with their own story to tell and portraits of their own heroes needing hung on America’s wall.

004

 

005

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Year: 1982

Director: Steven Spielberg

Method: HBO free weekend

Times Viewed: >20

A sci-fi staple of rainy childhood afternoons, I can still remember every detail of our two-toned VHS tape as if I were holding it in my hands, but I haven’t rewatched it in more than a decade.  What strikes me most now is how young Elliott is.  Barely 10 when he filmed it, with that round baby-face, Henry Thomas does an awful lot of the emotional heavy lifting very capably.  It was a bit of genius to make Peter Coyote’s government agent a genuine good fellow.  Despite the menace he represents throughout, learning he isn’t out to hurt the creature elevates the importance of the bond between it and the boy.  I can admit I teared up at the end, just as I must admit that a drunk alien in a bathrobe stumbling into things is as hilarious to me now as it was back then.

006

 

007

Brokeback Mountain

Year: 2005

Director: Ang Lee

Method: HDNet Movies channel

Times Viewed: 2

The gay rights movement has made incredible strides in barely more than a decade since this barrier-breaking film’s release.  (Although celebrating straight actors for being “brave” enough to take on a gay role hasn’t changed much.)  More than a doomed romance, this is the story of a doomed life, an unhappy man haunted by a fear of how society would punish his love, knowing that surrendering to it would mean always looking over his shoulder and living in hiding, instead stubbornly choosing to make everyone else miserable right along with him.  I credit co-writer Larry McMurtry (author of the other great cowboy romantics, Gus and Woodrow from “Lonesome Dove”) with making the ranch-hand dialog so authentic and the hardscrabble world feel lived in.  Ang Lee’s vistas are gorgeous and Heath Ledger’s potential is on full display, a reminder of what Hollywood lost with his young passing.

008

 

009

Annie Hall

Year: 1977

Director: Woody Allen

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: 2

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dubious about revisiting this unconventional relationship comedy in the recent wake of even more allegations of abuse against writer, director and star Woody Allen.  Even if he’s playing a character, it’s his voice and his point of view shining through here in his most recognizable film, where we’re supposed to either sympathize with his navel-gazing insecurities or find his overbearing intellectualism charming.  Fair or not, I had a hard time doing either.  Diane Keaton is still captivating in the title role, even if she’s constructed as an ideal woman for Allen’s character to chip away her idiosyncrasies and mold into his image of an even more ideal woman.  Many of the jokes have become cultural touchstones, but the only audible laugh I got this time around was a perfectly delivered line from a young blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Jeff Goldblum.

010

 

011

Rear Window

Year: 1954

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Method: Encore free weekend

Times Viewed: ~3

This Hitchcock thriller has been referenced, parodied and riffed on countless times, so it’s vital for pop culture aficionados to check out the original.  Set in a single room, with James Stewart confined to a wheelchair for the entirety, the film still manages to have an impressive scope, looking out from his window at a busy apartment complex and into a dozen human dramas playing out via brief glimpses through the shutters.  Only one (probably) involves a murder.  Grace Kelly is a knockout, but underused until she finally dives in with gusto and gets in on the investigative act for an ultra-tense climax.  (Thelma Ritter as the sassy nurse still gets all the best lines, though.)  The humor wrung from such voyeurism and candid talk of imagined bloodshed and dismemberment was probably way more boundary-pushing in the mid-fifties.  Today, this is basically a G-rated caper.

012

 

013

The Hurt Locker

Year: 2009

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Method: HDNet Movies channel

Times Viewed: 1

For whatever reason, I had never gotten around to seeing this Academy Award winner about the Iraq War soldiers tasked with defusing explosives in the most extreme conditions imaginable.  Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to ever win an Oscar for Best Director, and the only female whose work is represented on this poster.  The handheld cameras do a great job of putting you right in the action, and the movie captures the stresses and strains placed on our modern military without being preachy or political.  I was always under the impression that the protagonist was a “Top Gun”-style hotshot.  Luckily, we got a character whose psyche is subtler and much more interesting than that.  This role put Jeremy Renner on the map, but he doesn’t do much more here than he normally does, with a quiet, low-key and un-flashy performance.

014

 

Progress:  21 / 100

100 Essential Films – January

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I’ve set a goal for 2018 to make my way through the movies represented on the Pop Chart Lab 100 Essential Films Scratch-Off Chart.  Learn what 100 movies they consider “essential,” follow my progress here in detail and listen to my reactions on Ka-Pow the Pop Cultured Podcast!

 

JANUARY

Before a single mark is made, this poster is already beautiful to look at.  It contains ten rows of clever minimalist movie posters featuring some iconic detail from each entry you must scratch off to reveal, along with release dates, directors and actors.  By my count, I believe I’ve already seen 75 out of the 100, but just scratching off three-quarters of the poster doesn’t sound sporting and many of those were probably only viewed once or so long ago that I have little memory of them.  So the challenge is to revisit the all-time classics, catch up with anything I’ve neglected, apply as much of a modern context as possible and document the experience as I go.  Here are all the ones I got to in January!

 

016

Get Out

Year: 2017

Director: Jordan Peele

Method: HBO free weekend

Times Viewed: 1

The newest film on this list is absolutely deserving of a spot.  It’s rare to witness an instant classic, when something captures the cultural zeitgeist so fully and so uniquely as to become immediately iconic.  But that’s exactly what this does, using the all-too-familiar beats of a horror movie to portray real fears felt on a daily basis by a minority population too often left out of the pop culture conversation.  Manipulating its audience with the surface trappings of the genre, it’s able to present those struggles in a kind of visceral way that yet another movie about slavery or a biopic about freedom marchers just can’t accomplish.  Being tense, unpredictable, scary and hilarious helps, too.

017

 

014

No Country for Old Men

Year: 2007

Director: Coen Brothers

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: >5

The Coens are my favorite directors, so even though this Cormac McCarthy adaptation is unquestionably terrific it’s probably still about halfway down my list of their best films.  Slow, quiet and thoughtful, this crime story doesn’t rely on flashy action scenes to show how destructive violence can be to the world at large, but on mournful looks, bad decisions and plaintive conversations to show how destructive it is to the soul.  It maps the human toll of living long years in an increasingly cold world.  Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem give career-best performances as the three leads, but even the bit players here are phenomenal.  The ending doesn’t sit right with everyone and may feel unsatisfying the first time you see it, but the journey there is unforgettable.

015

 

018

The Graduate

Year: 1967

Director: Mike Nichols

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: ~2

I’d only seen this coming-of-age comedy once before, when I was close to protagonist Ben Braddock’s age.  I connected to his character, cast adrift into the world with no plan for the future, and can still empathize now that I’m nearly his parents’ age.  It feels ahead of its time, especially with today’s millennials and all their “adulting is hard” ennui that might not be as specific to their generation as they believe.  The directing is nimble and it contains multiple shots that have become absolutely iconic.  Dustin Hoffman gives an amazingly subdued performance, wringing humor from every mumbly, befuddled reaction.  Though some of the gender politics are odd for a modern audience.  Mrs. Robinson is a three-dimensional character, but her daughter has zero agency throughout and is little more than a prize to be won.  (Not to mention all the stalking.)

019

 

020

Toy Story

Year: 1995

Director: John Lasseter

Method: Disney Junior channel

Times Viewed: ~3

From the sequels, TV specials and merchandising it eventually spawned, it’s surprising how simple and straightforward this original movie really is.  This is the film that began the Pixar revolution of truly all-ages animation, appealing to children with their humor and colorful characters, but entertaining adults as well with copious brains and heart.  Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are perfectly cast, imbuing these toys with real emotion.  I had forgotten how petty Woody behaves toward his high-tech replacement, how for much of the movie he’s not a very good guy and also how the others rightfully call him on it.  I’d also forgotten how much it spotlights Don Rickles (and even gives him a well-placed “hockey puck!”).  The animation has gotten ever better since those stone-age 90s, but at the time it was a quantum leap forward.

021

 

022

The Maltese Falcon

Year: 1941

Director: John Huston

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: ~2

Humphrey Bogart seems born for the hardboiled role of Dashiell Hammett’s private detective Sam Spade.  With a suit cut perfectly for him, a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and a hat tilted at the precise angle, his tough-guy swagger and rapid-fire dialogue helped to define crime noir.  Sure, there’s some questionable subtext about masculinity, but I tend to forgive that of the genre.  It’s still thrilling to watch Bogey walk into a room outnumbered and outgunned and be able to macho his way out of it with a wisecrack and a wink.  Plus, the downer ending paints the whole thing with a sorrowful can’t-win-for-losing sheen that makes the famous Shakespeare riff “the stuff that dreams are made of” still so incredibly poignant.

023

 

024

Platoon

Year: 1986

Director: Oliver Stone

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: ~3

I was let down by this Vietnam drama the first time I saw it.  It didn’t feel that exceptional to me, especially for an acclaimed Oscar winner.  I still can’t tell you if it’s truly the best picture of 1986, but I’m glad I re-watched it and definitely appreciated it more this time around.  It stars a who’s who of fresh faced young actors and the battle scenes are brutal and unrelenting.  There are no unsullied heroes to root for and Americans aren’t painted as the perfect altruistic good guys, which ends up being a much more grounded, modern take, especially coming at the tail end of the Reagan-era 80s.  Though the metaphor between the compassionate Elias and the merciless Barnes struggling for control was a little too on the nose, especially when Charlie Sheen specifically points it out through dramatic voiceover.

025

 

027

King Kong

Year: 1933

Director: Merian C. Cooper

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: <5

I’m not sure what genre I’d classify this classic monster movie as, but it’s definitely the granddaddy of a lot of horror, sci-fi, action and fantasy films that followed.  I was impressed with it as a kid and remain impressed to this day.  The scale is still remarkable, and stop-motion animation didn’t get much better for decades after Kong first thumped that T-rex.  Fay Wray is stunning, even when she’s not doing much.  I either forgot about – or only saw edited versions that omitted – the unnerving scene of the ape peeling off layers of her clothes like a banana.  There are some icky racial bits, like their complete condescension toward the primitive tribe and the cowardly Chinese cook used for comic relief.  But it seems novel to frame the story around an entertainer, commenting on the nature of show biz and trying to top what came before.

028

 

029

Dr. Strangelove

Year: 1964

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: <5

Granted, Stanley Kubrick’s pitch black Cold War comedy about tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union boiling over into absurdity is still funny.  But for some reason, ignorant zealots prone to believing conspiracy theories starting a nuclear war to prove their manhood just isn’t as hilarious a concept as it used to be.  Peter Sellers is extraordinary in multiple roles, and I could watch hours of just his fretful one-sided telephone conversations.  But for my money, he’s outshined by George C. Scott who appears to be having a ball with his blowhard scenery chewing.  And it surely says something about the specific brand of national pride instilled in me as I always get a stirring feeling when old-fashioned American grit and ingenuity overcomes our better angels and Slim Pickens rides that bomb down to oblivion.

030

 

031

It Happened One Night

Year: 1934

Director: Frank Capra

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: 1

I knew very little about this one going in, but what a charmer it turned out to be.  Recognized as the first “screwball comedy” and the prototype for a century of on-screen romances to follow, the beats might seem familiar from the meet-cute beginning to the can’t-stand-each-other start to the will-they-or-won’t-they middle to the complications-arise culmination to the happily-ever-after ending.  Even though the hitchhiking skirt-lift is the most famous scene, it’s pretty G-ratedly steamy throughout and Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert have terrific, natural chemistry and a playful energy that sells even the corniest jokes.  The persistent misogyny that could have soured the picture with age, as three men vie to control a willful girl, is lessened by the fact that Colbert always seems unflappably in control, even when she’s being hoisted over somebody’s shoulder and carried off.

032

 

Progress:  9 / 100