A Quote to Live By
Life is never about the destination. It is about the journey.
Life is never about the destination. It is about the journey.
I think we all knew the end was near for Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert when he announced to the world that his cancer had returned. In his blog entitled “A Leave of Presence,” which was published just a couple of days before his death on April 4, 2013, Ebert announced he would be cutting back his workload to conquer this dreaded disease which had wreaked havoc on his body for the last decade or so. He really did fight the good fight against this indiscriminate and infuriating disease, and you had to admire how he refused to hide from the world after it robbed him of his speaking voice and made him look a little less handsome. But after all the battles, his body could only take so much. His wife Chaz described his passing as a “dignified transition,” and I am just glad it was a peaceful passing and that he was not in much pain.
Like you, I have been a big fan of Ebert’s ever since he started sharing the balcony with Gene Siskel on “At the Movies” all those years ago. Before I made going to the movies a regular event in my life, I had to settle with watching this movie review show as it was my gateway to the world of movies back when going to the local theater happened as often an eclipse of the sun. Even if they did give thumbs down to movies I loved like “Better Off Dead,” nothing could stop me from watching their show.
Eventually, I became exposed to Ebert the writer through his various “Movie Home Companion” books which later became known as his “Video Companion” and then eventually his annual “Movie Yearbook,” and I quickly purchased them year after year once they became available at my local bookstore. Sometimes I was bummed when he gave a so-so review to favorite films of mine like “Caddyshack” (he gave it * * ½ out of * * * *), but in the end he had understandably strong reasons for why he felt the way he did, and it was hard to disagree with his reasons when you thought about them.
In many ways, you did not read an Ebert review as much as you experienced one. This was the case when I read his review of the infamous “I Spit on Your Grave” which he gave one of his rare zero-star ratings to. He described it as “a vile piece of garbage” and how attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of his life. It was a review filled with spoilers as Ebert described everything which happened, and while we hate it these days when people spoil a movie for us (we have Wikipedia for that), it felt like he was doing us all a huge favor when it came to this particular film which has since become a cult classic. He even went out of his way to describe the reactions of other patrons in the theater which were very disturbing as they seemed to shamelessly cheer on the rapists, and this made his experience of seeing this dreaded movie all the more unsettling. Now while his review may have drawn more attention to this movie than he would have liked, you cannot say you were not the least bit warned as to how difficult it would be to sit through it.
As for myself, I loved how Ebert always wrote in the first person, and I am quite confident I do not need to prove to you of the effect his writing had on my own. Many websites and print publications these days do not like it in the slightest when you write in the first person, and while I understand why, it still drives me nuts. Anyone can write a movie review, but no one could write one the way Ebert did. When I first started writing my own movie reviews on the internet, I found myself writing them in the same way he did. Truth be told, it is a lot more fun to write them in the first person as there is only one of you in this universe and, the way I see it, people tend to find more enjoyment in reading those kinds of reviews anyway.
Back when I was in high school, many of my friends came to hate Ebert because, the way they saw it, he just hated movies. Now granted this made me a closeted fan of his for a while because I did not want to appear too different from everyone around me, but I was still annoyed at the summary judgment they made against him. I wanted to yell at them, “DO YOU REALLY THINK HE WOULD SPEND ALL THIS REVIEWING AND TALKING ABOUT MOVIES IF HE REALLY HATED THEM?! WHAT WORLD ARE YOU FROM ANYWAY??!!” While Ebert at times seemed to dislike more movies than he liked, it became easy to see why; many of the movies we loved as kids were no different from the ones he saw as a kid himself, and what we saw as new seemed like the same old thing to him. As we continue to get older, we have come to feel the same away about movies in general because the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Furthermore, Ebert was never a snob to me. While you may be annoyed how he gave thumbs down to “Full Metal Jacket” and yet give a thumbs up to “Cop and a Half,” he was fully aware of how not every movie could be on the same level as “Citizen Kane” or “Vertigo.” Some film critics like Rex Reed are uber snobs who revel in the power they think they have to destroy a movie, but Ebert was able to judge a movie for what it was trying to be as opposed to what he wanted it to be. “Days of Thunder” clearly earned its unofficial nickname of “’Top Gun’ on wheels,” but Ebert gave it a thumbs up because, on that level, it was effective entertainment. Sure, you could compare it to “Lawrence of Arabia,” but why?
In retrospect, if it were not for Ebert, or even Siskel, would audiences have taken the time to discover movies such as “Roger & Me” or “Hoop Dreams?” The one gift Ebert gave us was his power to give a voice to and support films which Hollywood studios were not quick to shower their attention to as they did with summer blockbusters. He made us realize it is up to us to give smaller independent movies the attention they deserve. Otherwise, they just might fall through the cracks to where they become completely obscure.
I also admired Ebert for cutting through the hyperbole which could completely engulf a film. One great example was Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” which many mistakenly saw as a call to violence. Ebert, who would later declare the film to be one of the best of the 1980’s, instead saw it as a story of where race relations were at in America, and that it was a reality call we needed to wake up to. He made you see Lee was not endorsing one course of action over the other, but that he was instead showing us what happens when people do not do the right thing. A few years later, Los Angeles was besieged by riots which came about after the Rodney King verdicts, and this made “Do The Right Thing” seem like an eerily prophetic film as a result.
Now how come other film critics could not see Lee’s film in the same way Ebert did? Maybe it was because he was a much more opened minded person than others. What a critic can say about a movie often says more about them than anything else, and even if you do not agree with Ebert on a particular film, you cannot say he was a man consumed with hate or any deep-seated bias. He was never blinded by any particular ideology or thought process, and he forever remained gifted at explaining what Lee or other filmmakers were truly getting at with their work.
Ebert’s fight with cancer made me admire him even more. Once it robbed him of his voice and a good portion of his jaw, you would have expected him to hide in a cave somewhere. But he refused to do that, and his work as a film critic and a writer never suffered as a result. In fact, he wrote even more than ever before as he expanded beyond his usual movie reviews to cover current events everyone in the world were constantly caught up in discussing. You could argue with Ebert on certain points, but he was always ready to back up what he said with the facts. Your best bet, instead of trying to prove him wrong, was to outguess him at the Oscars.
Thank you, Roger, for being a hero of mine. Thanks for all your great reviews even if you badmouthed some of my favorites. Thanks for continuing to write and not hiding from the world after cancer robbed you of your voice, and thank you for sharing the balcony with Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper for all those years. But most importantly, thank you for showing me the power of the written word. Like many others, I will miss your presence in life and on the web, but you still left us with so many great articles I still have yet to read.
WRITER’S NOTE: Down below, I am including the exclusive interview I did with director Steve James and Roger’s wife, Chaz Ebert, while they were doing press for the documentary they made entitled “Life Itself.” Based on Roger’s memoir of the same name, it was an enthralling documentary I was ever so happy to sit through.
With each passing year, I find myself getting increasingly cynical and disenchanted with the Academy Awards/Oscars. As a kid, I watched them with wonder and excitement as the winners gave such great speeches in front of an audience that adored them. But as an adult, I see more and more how the wheels spin as movie studios continue to spend millions upon millions of dollars on their Oscar campaigns in hopes of obtaining one or more of those golden statues. Let’s face it if we have not already, an Oscar win means big box office money, and everyone wants to see their films turn a profit even if those Hollywood accountants will eventually tell them they did not, news which we greet with a loud, “Bitch, please!”
Still, as I watched the 95th Annual Academy Awards which saw the return of Jimmy Kimmel as host, I found myself swept in the innocence of everything cinematic as the speeches the winners gave moved me to no end. Granted, this ceremony is essentially Hollywood’s way of congratulating itself, but sometimes they get it right with the winners (case in point: “Parasite”). Plus, it is the only awards show I bother to watch as the Emmys and the Grammys never do anything for me. As for the Golden Globes, they are enjoyable for all the wrong reasons.
Allow me to take a look at this year’s Oscars before I slip into my cynical self and discover all the things which were wrong with it. Call me naïve or woefully ignorant, I would rather celebrate this evening right now rather than lay waste to it.
Well, there were virtually no surprises as “Everything Everywhere All at Once” won the most Oscars including Best Picture. “All Quiet on the Western Front,” however, looked at one point to be the evening’s upset victor as it scored more wins than many initially suspected. But with Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s film walking off with key prizes at the DGA and PGA award shows, we all walked in to this one knowing who would be victorious.
Ke Huy Quan proved to be an unforgettable presence in both “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies” before his acting career lost speed and he went to work in film production and as a fight choreographer. His win for Best Supporting Actor was an emotional one as he spoke of how he spent a year in a refugee camp long before arriving on the stage at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Here is what he also said:
“Dreams are something you have to believe in. I almost gave up on mine,” he said. “To all of you out there, please keep your dreams alive.”
Regardless of how cynical I may have become, I could not help but be moved by what Quan said as our dreams and passions are what we should be living for.
And how cool is it to finally be able to call Jamie Lee Curtis an Oscar winner? I have said this over and over, but you can put her in a god awful movie (“Virus” for example) and she will still deliver a terrific performance regardless of the material she has been saddled with. Her win for Best Supporting Actress comes on the heels of her laying waste to Michael Myers one last time in “Halloween Ends.” Granted, the Akkad family is bound to resurrect the “Halloween” franchise at some point in the future, but Curtis, as Laurie Strode, still got to have the last word.
As for Curtis’ speech, it was as moving as Quan’s as she slowly accepted the reality that she actually won an Academy Award. While many were not shocked at her taking home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, she clearly was. Her proclamation of “I just won an Oscar” may come to rival Sally Field’s infamous one of “You like me! You really like me!”
When it comes to Best Original Song, the performances of each nominee can either be a much needed bathroom break or something spectacular which upstages the rest of the show. This year was a mixed bag when it came to that, but the winner of this category, “Naatu Naatu” from the film “RRR” brought the house down with its energetic performance as the performers and singers displayed an infinite amount of passion and audacity as they danced and sang the night away. The standing ovation which accompanied this was well deserved.
Still, when it came to the other original song nominees, Lady Gaga was not far behind with her performance of “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick” which proved to be both emotional and rousing. Moreover, while she came into the Dolby Theatre looking as glamorous as anyone else, Lady Gaga performed this song sans makeup and in a dark t-shirt which made her rendition of this song infinitely remarkable and wonderfully defiant.
I got to interview Michelle Yeoh a few years ago when she was doing press for “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny,” and she look fabulous and was great to talk to. I was reminded of this during her speech when she won Best Actress for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” as she gave us some of the most memorable lines of the evening:
“Ladies, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are past your prime.”
“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibility.”
No one can ever forget the inevitable “In Memorium” segment which pays tribute those who have since passed away, and which also infuriate so many who get deeply angered over who got omitted (speaking of which, what about Richard Belzer?). Having John Travolta introduce this segment seemed both appropriate and highly emotional as two of his co-stars, Olivia Newton John and Kirstie Alley, died after their long fights with cancer, and the death of his beloved wife Kelly Preston still hangs heavy on him. Lenny Kravitz pulled off a memorable performance as the names of the deceased were unveiled before us. Was anyone left out? Probably, but I will let others get into that. I do not have the energy to do it here.
And when it comes to predestination, Brendan Fraser’s win for Best Actor in “The Whale” was an inescapable certainty. Everyone loves a comeback, and no one could seem to get enough of his performance as a morbidly obese man desperate to restore his relationship to his daughter. Some will say there are no absolutes in life, only in vodka, but there was little doubt Fraser was going to take home the prize. And even after all the accolades he has received thus far, he remained as emotional as he was on the WTF Podcast with Marc Maron as he thanked director Darren Aronofsky for “throwing me a creative lifeline and hauling me aboard.” That is quite the compliment.
It is moments like these which quickly remind me of why I love watching the Academy Awards/Oscars. Regardless of the ridiculously competitive races Hollywood studios participate in, and whether or not you believe these winners even deserve to be nominated, I cannot help but love how thrilled the winners are to have reached such a penultimate recognition. History is always being made, and careers are being rewarded to where I cannot and do not want to deny that dreams can come true. Even if they do not come true for everyone, it always provides a beacon of hope we all need and thrive upon in this crazy realm known as show business.
Even as I still wonder if the Oscar campaign tactics of the Weinsteins are still being utilized by others, there is still a special place in my heart for the Academy Awards. Even if they seem more political than anything else, watching them still makes my spirits rise even when they seem too low down. Now please excuse me as I have to end this article before the things which pissed me off about this year’s Oscars rise to the surface…
…Okay, there a couple of things. I mean seriously, did we really need Halle Bailey and Melissa McCarthy introducing the new trailer for Rob Marshall’s take on “The Little Mermaid?” This struck me as crass commercialism as the producers have better things to do than promote upcoming films during this ceremony. Besides, if they are going to show a trailer for that, what about other studio releases? What is so special about Disney that they get to promote yet another live action remake of one of their famous animated classics?
As for the tribute to Warner Brothers on its 100th anniversary, someone needs to do a little more research as some of the movies they showed originated under MGM, not Warner Brothers. Even Bugs Bunny was rolling his eyes at this, and yes, he did this while in drag.
Okay, that is all for now.
It wasn’t until 1994 when I finally went to my first rock concert. Most of my high school classmates went to them all the time, but I wasn’t so lucky, dammit. I guess you could say I was seriously deprived during my adolescent years. As a Freshman, I kept hearing about those Poison and Billy Idol shows my classmates went to, and I felt envious of them as going to such an event seemed far too difficult to pull off. The closest I had ever been to an event like this was seeing Bill Cosby at the Concord Pavillion with my mom back in 1988. Of course, this memory has been sullied as Cosby is not the man I thought he was.
But thanks to my brother and his then wife, I finally got to go to my first rock concert which featured my favorite rock group at the time, Aerosmith. They had just released “Get A Grip,” their follow-up album to “Pump.” “Pump” was the first album of theirs that I ever purchased, and it still remains my favorite of theirs to this very day. But despite having some wonderfully rocking songs like “Livin’ on The Edge” and “Shut Up and Dance” among others, “Get A Grip” was not as good as “Pump” in my humble opinion. It was not a boring album to say the least, but it was not as wonderfully unhinged as the one which contained such classic hits as “Love in an Elevator,” “Janie’s Got a Gun” or “The Other Side.”
Anyway, this concert took place at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Northern California on October 8, 1994. Before going to it, I had been warned by my parents to bring ear protection as concerts are loud, loud, LOUD! Their warnings even reminded me of when my friends talked about seeing Motley Crue or Nine Inch Nails live and of how ear bleedingly loud those concerts were. Some even said they were sitting next to the speakers, and they left those concerts with massive headaches, holding their heads and begging for the most immediate cure for such unexpected pain.
Collective Soul, the same band known for the song “The World I Know,” opened for them, but we missed them as we were running a little late to the venue. We ended up sitting in the grassy section which is in the way back of the amphitheater. These of course are the “cheap seats,” so we had to thank the venue for at least providing us with a big video screen for us to watch the proceedings more closely as we were so far away from the stage.
From where we were sitting or standing, I can tell you the concert was not ear-bleedingly loud, so those foam protectors which I brought with me turned out to be unnecessary. Aerosmith warmed the audience up with their song “Eat the Rich.” There was a curtain covering the stage and, once the music began, the whole audience stood up in anticipation of the band making their imminent appearance. Our first look at Steven Tyler was through his silhouette behind a curtain, boogying his way through the spoken word intro of the song. Then the curtain came down, and the concert commenced with a passionate fury.
For me, the whole experience of seeing all the members of Aerosmith in person was very surreal. However, watching them through that giant video screen took away from the experience for me. Being a member of the MTV generation, I was so used to seeing this band in one music video after another, so watching them on the big screen made the whole concert seem less real to me. From where we were, they only appeared as tiny little figures on the stage, and being closer to it would have been far more exciting.
For the most part, though, I really enjoyed the concert. Their live version of “Same Old Song and Dance” really made me change the way I listened to that song, and the groove on the last half was very infectious. Joey Kramer had some kick-ass drum solos which had me cheering until a couple of guys looked at me like I was stoned or something. Joe Perry had some great solos, and hearing him say Oakland, San Jose, and San Francisco Bay Area had us screaming in excitement.
Still, the concert only lasted about two hours, maybe even shorter than that. Looking back, this concert experience was not quite what I thought it would be, but it was certainly not forgettable. It paved the way for me to attend many other concerts which were far more exhilarating to experience than this one. These days I don’t go to concerts as much as ticket prices continue to be increasingly obscene, but I hope to head out to one again in the near future. Having Aerosmith be the first band I saw in concert proved to be a good start.
Well, the year 2022 has not gotten off to a great start. This morning on Facebook, I read the following post from Cyndi Boliver Texeira:
“Very sad news….
My mom, Pat Boliver, passed away on Sunday night. It was very sudden and my family is very heartbroken. We are coping the best that we can, and are all taking care of each other. She will be missed immensely. We have rough days, months, and years ahead of us. Much love to you all for allowing her to share her loving, giving nature with you. She was an amazing Mom, Grandma and Great Grandma. Love you forever, Mom. 😪😔♥️”
In many ways, Pat Boliver was the Betty White to Team to End AIDS in Los Angeles, California. Along with her husband Ray and her children and grandchildren, she remained a huge supporter of us marathon runners from one season to the next. During our runs which took us through Burbank and Glendale, she made sure we had all the nutrition we needed to get through the last few miles, some of which included hills. This included water, Gatorade, banana bread, gummy worms, salt packets, pretzels, potato chips, candy corn, Chex Mix and the occasional tablets of Tums. Seriously, Tums are a great defense cramps, something I absolutely hate getting during a run.
But the best treat she always had in store for us runners were the peanut butter and pickle covered Ritz crackers. If this concoction sounds rather gross to you, this is because you have never tried it. I could never get enough of these yummy delights as the peanut butter gave me the protein I needed, and the saltiness of the pickles help to absorb much of the water and other liquids I kept drinking. Maybe others around the world came up with this recipe, but I doubt there were ever as delectable as Pat’s.
When it comes to the many human beings I have come into contact on this crazy planet we call Earth, the best ones have a tremendous humanity which keeps their spirits high even as life throws an endless number of daggers in their general direction. Pat always struck me as one of those individuals as she always had a big smile on her face no matter what time of day it was. This is especially worth noting as she and Ray suffered a tragedy I would not wish on any parent; they outlived one of their children. Their son, Scott Boliver, was my marathon coach for a time and fought a brave battle against cancer. While he did succeed in “slaying the dragon,” which he described his cancer fight as, his body still gave out and he left us far too soon. Still, Pat and Ray held their heads high even as they mourned the passing of their son, and the smiles never faded from their faces. This was especially the case with Pat as she continued to help us runners out in every which way she could. No one knew better than her how powerful Scott’s spirit was and still is to this day, and she did her best to keep her son’s mission in life strong in our hearts.
Here are some of the things my fellow T2EA runners have said to Cyndi about Pat:
“I am so sorry! Your parents are just the best people and got me through some brutal training runs. I will never forget their selfless acts of kindness.”
“Such a wonderful person.”
”She was an amazing woman!!! So caring, nurturing and selfless. Thank you for sharing her with all of us for so many years.”
“Although it was only a few times that I had interactions with her, I knew that she was a very sweet and kind lady with an amazing personality.”
“Your mom was such an amazing woman. I was just thinking about her the other day and reminiscing about her amazing spirit and the beauty of your entire ‘ohana.”
“Your mom was so sweet and I loved seeing her on my runs with APLA. So many fond memories of her kindness. One that sticks out for me is when she and your dad came back around in their truck to check on me during a particularly long and challenging run where I wasn’t doing so well. They made sure I finished safely.”
“She was one of the most beautiful people I know.”
“I was just telling my husband how her banana bread saved my life on marathon day. I would not have made it without your family.”
“Your mom was a shining example of goodness and love.”
“Your parents made my marathon training such a great experience. Your mom was the best.”
Like I said, Pat was our Betty White. She lived a great life and kept her head held high no matter what. While heaven may now have another angel in its midst, it still would have been nice to have her around a lot longer.
Rest in peace, Pat.
WRITER’S NOTE: As the title indicates, this article was written back in 2008.
“WAKE UP UNCLE BEN! I GOT A GUITAR! COME SEE!”
Those words were spoken to me by my niece who had bounded into my room in the morning. Only on Christmas Day does anyone dare to wake me up so early. I just hope they got a good night’s sleep. I remember finding it impossible to fall asleep the night before Christmas. These days, this holiday is more for the kids who wait in anticipation (and impatiently so) to open all the presents they got. Houses don’t get livelier than on Christmas it seems with my young niece galloping along my mom and dad’s infinitely varnished hardwood floor as she goes from one end of the house to the other in seconds’ flat. Do you remember when you had this much energy?
One thing I do have to say is as you get older, the number of presents you get decreases. Of all my immediate family members, I am more than convinced I got the least number of gifts this season, and I can’t quite get the feeling of jealousy and greed out of my head. It makes me miss being four and a half. But I certainly don’t want to appear ungrateful because I did submit a Christmas wish list to my family to give them an idea of what I was begging for, just to make shopping easier for them. In the end, I am very happy I got some of the things I asked for. So let us take a look at the best of the bunch, or maybe we can just look at the whole bunch of presents I got because they all are pretty cool.
“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” on Blu-Ray Disc
Alright! One of the best comedies of this past year now joins my every growing DVD/Blu-ray library. This made me laugh harder than just about any other comedy I saw this past year with the exception of “Tropic Thunder.” Looking at all the bonus features on the disc makes me all the more excited as it is filled with them. It is also a reminder of how I really need to check out the BD LIVE Center where I can download even more bonus features. With the last couple of Blu-ray discs I received or purchased, I get so caught up in the sharpness of the image that I watch the movies endlessly until I get sick of them, and it takes me forever to get sick of them. A year later, I will watch the disc again, and I might actually bother to watch the bonus features since I neglected to view some of them previously.
Anyway, the Blu-ray for “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has got a visual commentary with the filmmakers and cast which should be fun to watch. This special feature seems to be an ever-growing function on many Blu-ray discs as it was featured on “Casino Royale” and also “Risky Business.” There is also picture in picture footage which plays throughout the movie with interviews, rehearsals and behind the scenes stuff. And, of course, there is a digital copy of the movie which you can download on to your iPod, iPad or whatever devices you use to watch motion pictures. Now I am just waiting for that 18-hour airline ride where all the inflight movies are crap and I will at least have this to watch, assuming I didn’t stupidly forget my damn iPod at home.
When it comes to making of documentaries about movies, the one for this film makes me especially interested because I don’t see many for comedies, and I would love to see how these filmmakers put up with the stress of making a comedy. Don’t ever let anyone convince you comedy is easy to do, because it is not!
The Criterion Collection edition of David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch” on DVD
I got to see this earlier this year at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles where it was playing on a David Cronenberg double bill with “eXistenZ.” This DVD set is one I am really looking forward to checking out because I am curious to see how much Cronenberg’s movie resembles the actual book written by William S. Burrough’s. I haven’t actually read the book “Naked Lunch,” but I have heard it is one which is considered unfilmable. Watching the movie version of it, I am convinced Cronenberg is probably the only one who could have brought to the big screen at all.
What I really love about the Criterion Collection is they really do their research, and they always give you more than enough reason as to why they selected this movie for their special treatment. It features a London Weekend Television documentary about the film’s making, an illustrated essay about the special effects, and there is even an audio recording of Burroughs reading from the book as well. Criterion certainly paved the way for all these DVD special editions with audio commentaries and special features, and they still do them better than anyone else.
“Naked Lunch” is a movie I wanted to know more about ever since I saw it at the New Beverly, so you can only imagine how excited I am to check this DVD set out. I jokingly invited my niece to watch it with me, and she said:
Very smart response for a young girl who is almost 5 years old (my how time flies).
A Calvin Klein black leather jacket
YES!! I have been meaning to get one of these for the longest time, but they always seem to be out of my spending range (and that’s even when I see them at Costco). Putting on the jacket, I suddenly felt a rather bizarre change of character as I walked around like I suddenly owned the world or something. When I first saw the big white box it was packaged in, I had a pretty strong feeling of what it was. This is probably the coolest of all the presents I got this Christmas. Hopefully the ladies will take notice.
Seriously, I always wanted a black leather jacket. My parents think I look like Brando in it. I’m pretty sure they are not talking about Brando in the later stages of his life. Maybe this jacket is giving me an over inflated ego, but let me dream for a while, okay?
$100 Macy’s gift card
Nothing says get some new clothes now more than a gift card from my parents to Macy’s. I just hope their prices are a bit lower than the last time I shopped there. Of course, in the sorry economic state this country is currently in, they will probably invite me to name my own price for whatever they are selling. I could use some new shirts for work since they won’t let me wear my “Evil Dead” or “Office Space” t-shirts there on a regular basis. Plus, it is getting scarier to witness how the colors on my shirts continue fading so quickly. Time to get some new shirts so I can witness how long it will take for the colors to fade on them.
Oh yeah, I could use some new socks as well. I once told my parents that socks are a pathetic gift to give anyone for Christmas, so you can imagine how they gleefully responded to this. But since they didn’t come through this year, it’s time for me to catch up in that department. Come to think of it, I could use a new belt too…
So, Christmas 2008 has come and gone, and the next one will be here before we know it. But the biggest gift I really should say I got was being with my family. I’m not sure how to say that without sounding annoyingly corny, but there you go. Seeing my parents react with excitement over the gifts I gave them was great. Watching my sister-in-law almost break into tears when she realized her dear husband gave her the iPhone she so wanted was quite the sight. Then there were my nieces, both excited about the dozens and dozens of presents they were getting, and both desperately trying to find one of the few gifts meant for me. Seeing my youngest niece jump up and down in sheer excitement over getting the things she ever so wanted brought a lot of contagious laughter to the household.
Of course, nothing could compare to the sweater my brother got my dad, and me silently pointing out to my brother how he forgot to take the price tag off of it. To his credit, my brother did snatch it away before dad noticed.
My niece also said she wanted to marry me. Without getting into a lot of detail, I politely informed her why this was not going to happen.
Merry Christmas everyone!
It was Christmas morning in 2013, and I was sleeping in the loft of my parents’ home in Northern California. While everyone else had a comfortable bed to sleep on, I was the odd man out as I was forced to sleep on an air mattress in the loft which is as spacious as it sounds (which is to say, not really). This shit happens when all the bedrooms are occupied.
Even after I woke up, and at a time which was far too early for my aging body and mind to tolerate, I kept my eyes shut in the hopes that maybe I could get just a few more minutes of sleep. But alas, I had no such luck because eventually felt a foot tapping on my air mattress, and looked up to see my niece who told me, with a very stern look in her eyes:
“Wake up Uncle Ben, we’ve got to open presents!”
It took me a few more minutes to haul my ass out of bed after her statement of purpose, but even though I was waking up far too early, I had to admit I knew exactly how she felt. Her impatience in waiting for Christmas Day to arrive brought back a lot of memories for me. I still vividly remember waiting for Santa Claus to arrive at whatever house me and my family was staying at to leave us presents, but I also remember getting little to no sleep on Christmas Eve which made the wait to open presents all the more agonizing.
The rule for me and my older brother was we couldn’t open up any presents until 7:00 a.m. but waiting for the clock to reach this early morning hour was simply pure torture. Back when you were a child, Christmas could never come soon enough. Time just dragged on and on as you waited to open the presents nestled comfortably under the tree. As we get older, time beings moving a lot faster, but back then those hands on the clock seemed to move at a snail’s pace.
When my niece finally did open the presents Santa left for her, her immense pleasure proved to be quite audible. Among the gifts she received was a trampoline which will be waiting for her back home. To this, she let out a very loud scream of joy which must have woken up the whole neighborhood. Then again, if my parents watching “Skyfall” on their HD television with the soundtrack blasting out of the speakers doesn’t wake the neighbors up, what will?
But then there were the rest of the presents under the tree for the whole family to unwrap, and my niece had to wait even longer to open those meant for her. Us adults had to get up, take a shower, get dressed and have breakfast. While children might be content to skip meals to get at those presents, we older people have long since developed a level of patience which never comes easily. Nevertheless, we all couldn’t help but tease my niece as she shifted anxiously in her chair. Just when she thought we were done with breakfast, we informed her we needed to go on a 5-mile walk to burn all these calories off. All the same, she didn’t quite get the joke, and her impatience in waiting to unwrap her presents became all the more palpable.
Seriously, she came up to each of us, prepared to take our plates, and said, “Are you done?” Her parents told her she needed to ask us nicely. As a result, she once again asked if we were done, but this time she asked us the same question with a big smile. Somehow the message didn’t get through as her actions and facial expressions shows a child shamelessly seeking to manipulate our emotions to her advantage.
Following this, my niece rushed up the stairs to the Christmas tree and awaited our appearance. When we didn’t show up, she began writhing on the floor like she was Linda Blair furiously bouncing up and down on her bed in “The Exorcist,” possessed by a demomic force which needed to be banished from her body forever. She really couldn’t wait for much longer and, in her mind, we couldn’t make it up the stairs fast enough
Just as when I was a child, my niece had the job of handing out presents to everybody. But, of course, the first one she picked out was for herself (I used to do the exact same thing). She also insisted we open our presents individually and not all at once. For a moment, I thought she was doing this to get back at us for making her wait to unwrap her gifts, but her mother pointed out how much fun it is to watch the expressions on everyone’s faces when they opened theirs.
It was worth it just to see my niece get super excited about her gifts. She didn’t even try to hide her glee, and it got to where she spoke so fast that we couldn’t understand what the hell she was saying.
Among her gifts was a doll which was tied up ever so securely in its box, and she asked for our help in getting the doll out as it seemed not just child proof, but adult proof as well. Seriously, I thought we were going to have to use the table saw in the garage to get this doll free.
I got her a Target gift card worth $15, and I have never seen a child get so exhilarated over receiving one before. I hope she wasn’t putting on some sort of act to hide any disappointment over the amount not being larger. Then again, if it were a $10 dollar gift card, she probably still would have gone apeshit over it.
Watching my niece opening her presents proved to be a reminder of how wonderful a holiday Christmas can be. I have been kind of blasé about it for the past few years because of all the commercialization surrounding it, and this has resulted in “Bad Santa” becoming my holiday movie of choice as it serves as a gleefully vicious rebuttal over this over-commercialized occasion. When it comes to my family however. there is no beating Christmas. It also reminds me of how precious time is because it keeps going by faster and faster as we get older and older. It almost makes me feel kind of envious of my niece because she has yet to discover how quickly time can fly by. Moreover, it reminds of how we need to treasure these precious moments as they will vanish before we know it.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good set of presents you put on your wish list. As for the stockings, any complaints need to be sent to Mrs. Claus.
We are now at the twentieth anniversary of September 11, 2001, the date of the worst terrorist attack in American history. As I ask of any anniversary, whether mournful or celebratory, where did all the time go? Looking back, it seemed like time just stopped even as the clock kept ticking. As with the current COVID-19 pandemic, our way of life has forever changed and will never be the same. While so much has happened between 2001 and now, it still feels like yesterday when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania.
I still remember this morning vividly. I was living in an apartment near the Sunset Strip and West Hollywood. At the time, I was working at Disneyland and enduring a ridiculous 35-mile commute to the park as I was determined not to let anything stand in my way, including common sense and high gas prices.
That morning, I got a call from a Disneyland scheduler. They usually call me to see if I want to start working earlier in the day or pick up an extra shift, and I usually jump at the chance to do so as I was never got enough hours when I started. Instead, the call went as follows:
“Hi, can I speak to Ben please?”
“This is Ben.”
“Hi Ben. Don’t come to the park today. The park is closed and your shift has been cancelled.”
“The park is closed today.”
This truly stunned me as anyone familiar with Disneyland knows the park never closes and is even open on holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. The only time it ever shuts down is if there is some catastrophic electrical failure or, as we have seen recently, due to a global pandemic. After a brief pause, the scheduler told me:
“You still get paid though.”
This made my ears prick up. Not having to go to work and still get paid has to be an American dream of sorts. It also put a smile on my face as there were things I had to take care of, and now I had the time to do so. Of course, I had to ask why Disneyland was closed today as I figured part of the park was flooded or something. To this, the scheduler simply said:
“Turn on the news.”
Well, after jumping up and down on my bed, reveling in the fact I was getting a day’s pay without working for it, I turned on my 27-inch JVC television. As I watched, I wondered why Michael Bay’s “Armageddon” was playing on NBC, and I was stunned to see all the thick fog in downtown Manhattan. Does it ever get this foggy in New York like it does in San Francisco?
Quickly, it dawned on me what was going on. The twin towers known as the World Trade Center in New York City had been attacked. Planes had flown into them, and by the time I had turned on the news, one of the towers had completely collapsed. No doubt about it, this was all really happening, and yet it felt so unreal. I could not fully register all of what was going on, and my neighbors, who also just got the news, looked like they couldn’t either.
The whole world shut down on this day, and I remained glued to my television set for most of it, slowly adjusting to the new reality we all had been thrust into. All of what had happened still left me completely numb, but I eventually turned off the television after I saw a man falling from one of the towers to the ground. This particular visual was just too much for me, and I needed a break from reality, however short.
I ended up taking my car, I had a red 1992 Acura Integra at the time, to a nearby 76 gas station on Sunset Boulevard to get a smog check as it was part of my registration renewal with the DMV. The attendant there greeted me, looked over my paperwork and then said, “Hell of a day, huh?” Yes, it was. Even as everyone went about their business, our hearts were heavy. Since the smog check was going to take a bit to complete, I decided to go for a walk up and down Sunset Boulevard.
I came across The Laugh Factory, and its marquee said, “No Laughing Tonight.” Got that right. The House of Blues, long before it was torn down, was closed, and The Comedy Store was understandably vacant. I picked up a copy of the Los Angeles Times which had just put out their latest issue that included everything about the attacks. It’s newspapers like these you want to hang onto as this is a moment which will forever be burned into our memories. Plus, this newspaper might be worth money someday.
The rest of the week had me overcoming my state of shock. On September 12th, I went back to Disneyland where I was an interactive host in the Tomorrowland attraction of Innoventions, and me and my fellow cast members were subjected to getting our ID cards checked over and over again before we even got off the bus. Seriously, it was a real nuisance. A couple of days later, I was standing outside the Hollywood Improv where I was taking classes at Second City, singing songs such as “America the Beautiful,” “My Country Tis of Thee,” and of course the national anthem along with my fellow classmates. These are songs I hadn’t sang in years, and some of them had me trying to remember the lyrics.
What I want people to remember most about September 11, 2001 is how it brought us all together. Divisions between political parties ceased to exist, and as Americans we were one with each other. We shared deeply in the sorrow, and we thanked all the first responders who spent day and night searching through the smoky rubble for survivors.
Perhaps this is why I am publishing this more towards September 12th more than September 11th. We have to remember how this tragic day brought everyone together and created a unity which, in retrospect, seems short-lived. In 2021, we live in a time where America has never been more divided, and I would like us all to remember how unified this terrorist attack made us. It would be nice if we were this unified today.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is one of the many films we had to wait an extra year for. But with the pandemic reaching its tail end (or so we have been told), we can look forward to “Halloween Kills,” the sequel to David Gordon Green’s highly successful “Halloween” reboot, arriving in theaters this October of 2021. John Carpenter, who returns as Executive, has told us the following about it:
“It’s brilliant. It’s the ultimate slasher. I mean, there’s nothing more than this one. Wow! Man.”
After watching the first trailer for “Halloween Kills” which was unleashed this past week, I believe Carpenter is a man of his word as what unfolds here is truly brutal. As I watched this preview, I wondered if this was a red band trailer or one which was approved for all audiences by the infamous MPAA.
When we last left this franchise, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) had left Michael Myers to burn to death in her house. But as she escaped alongside her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) in the back of a truck, they watched in horror as fire trucks rushed their way over to Laurie’s residence which had since turned into a burning inferno. But as one firefighter reaches out to another who has fallen through the floor, we know the hand he takes in his is indeed Michael’s.
Watching as Michael stepped out of the house while it was still engulfed in flames, and holding a rather sharp firefighter tool in his hands, I was quickly reminded of what Steve Rogers said to a bunch of mercenaries while stuck in an elevator with them in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier:”
“Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?”
Seeing Michael lay waste to these firefighters with their own tools, one of them a power saw, it is clear this will be an exceptionally bloody follow-up as we see the “essence of evil,” as Laurie describes him, lay waste to helpless victims with an assortment of tools, one of them a broken fluorescent light tube.
“Halloween Kills” looks to start mere seconds after the previous film ended, and it looks like the mob is out in full force as the town of Haddonfield is out for vengeance in the wake of so many murders. It feels like blood will be flowing endlessly this time around as we watch Anthony Michael Hall as Tommy Doyle, the young boy who took way too long to open the door for Laurie in the original “Halloween,” walking around town with a baseball bat. Not just any bat mind you, but one made out of metal. That’s right folks, Tommy is out to hit some balls!
There are several unforgettable images to be found here. Among them is the visual of three kids wearing those Silver Shamrock masks from “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” whose bodies lay lifeless and bloodied in a playground. Of course, part of me wonders if they got lucky. I mean, Michael got to them before they had any opportunity to “watch the magic pumpkin” on television. If they just missed Michael, their heads would have crumbled and turned to mush, releasing all sorts of pesky bugs and poisonous snakes. Haddonfield may have a solid police department, but how are they with animal control?
Also, Michael is once again unmasked in the franchise, this time by Karen who dares him to get his altered William Shatner “Star Trek” mask back. But we have been down this road before as Michael, as an adult, has had some opportunities to show us the face behind the mask, and it resulted in being nothing more than a tease (particularly in “Halloween 5”). Will the filmmakers here tease us yet again?
And yes, Jamie Lee Curtis is back in action, looking every bit as lethal as Michael does. Even after getting stabbed in the belly, you believe her fully when she tells her daughter that evil will die tonight. Regardless of how this film turns out, you can always count on Curtis giving a top-notch performance as she never disappoints.
“Halloween Kills” arrives at a theater near you on October 15, 2021. I look forward as I do to its soundtrack which will again be composed by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies. I am so excited to where I am reminding myself to keep my expectations in check. It is too easy to be disappointed in a film and for all the wrong reasons, and I want this one to live up to the hype.
Check out the trailer below:
WRITER’S NOTE: As the first paragraph will indicate, this event took place back in 2013.
I was one of the lucky attendees at the Fox Studios lot on January 31, 2013 where the unveiling of a brand-new mural done in honor of “Die Hard” took place at Stage 8. The action classic which stars Bruce Willis as New York Detective John McClane has now reached its 25th anniversary, and the fifth movie in the long running series, “A Good Day to Die Hard,” is about to be released. Joining Willis in this celebration were Fox Film Entertainment chair Jim Gianopulos and the cast and director of “A Good Day to Die Hard.”
I cannot begin to tell you what a thrill it was to be a part of this historic event. Like so many, I was raised on the original “Die Hard” and its sequels, and the fact this franchise has held up so well is really a testament to the character of McClane and Willis’ portrayal of him. Before McClane, all movie action heroes were indestructible superhuman armies of one who obliterated every single bad guy while barely getting hurt in the process. McClane, however, was a different kind of action hero because he was like the rest of us; vulnerable, easily wounded, scared, and far from ever being indestructible. Gianopulos made this clear when talking about the character and his enduring status.
“While John McClane describes himself as the ‘fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench, the pain in the ass,’ I’d like to think his appeal is just that he’s the everyman who just has this uncanny way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and who never, ever says die,” Gianopulos said. “So, however you try and categorize him, John McClane will live on for audiences in our hearts and the studio’s legacy and so will his ‘yippee-ki-yay…’ Well, it’s a family thing so I can’t really say it.”
Gianopulos also rightly pointed out how, unlike Batman or James Bond, John McClane has been played by the same actor in all five “Die Hard” movies. The crowd was thrilled to see Willis show up for this mural unveiling, and he looked genuinely happy to be there and to see us so excited.
“This is really very nice, really nice,” Willis said of this occasion. “I worked on this lot. I started on Stage 20 here and I moved on to bigger things here at Fox, and I just couldn’t be more pleased that you all came out here. It has been a big, great, fun time doing ‘Die Hard’ for the last twenty-five years and living to talk about it.”
Afterwards, Gianopulos gave Willis a device which looked like a detonator to a bomb and, after the 20th Century Fox Fanfare was played, he pushed the button on it. What followed were some loud pyrotechnics and the dropping of the curtain to reveal the 35- foot “Die Hard” mural which was designed by muralist Van Hecht-Nielsen and painter Fernando Cepeda. It depicts the scene where McClane makes his way through an air vent and pulls out his cigarette lighter to see what’s ahead. This of course led to one of Willis’ famous quotes from the movie:
“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”
I personally got a huge kick out of the whole presentation as did everyone else, and it was greeted with thunderous applause from the onlookers as well as many car alarms which were inadvertently set off by the pyrotechnics (I guess they had to have their say as well). Then again, “Die Hard” did get its name from a car battery, so the irony is hard to ignore.
Following the mural presentation, we were invited to a screening of “A Good Day to Die Hard” held at the Zanuck Theatre on the Fox Lot. Introducing the movie was its director, John Moore, who added he hopes his funeral looks like this and with so many excited people in attendance. He also pointed out while this was a special screening of the new “Die Hard” movie, he also called it a “nerd screening” because of a new sound system being utilized for it.
“This is an Atmos screening of ‘A Good Day to Die Hard,'” Moore said. “To explain what that is, Atmos is a new three-dimensional sound system that Dolby is rolling out over the next few years, and this is only the eighth film to be mixed in Atmos. If I could director direction to the ceiling for a moment, you can see there is an array of nearly 40 speakers, and this creates a three-dimensional sound that’s gonna role of you like nothing you’ve ever experienced… Or since the last time something’s rolled over you.”
But for many of us, the biggest treat of the evening was when we were invited to the 21st floor of the Nakatomi Plaza where the original “Die Hard” was filmed… Okay, it’s really called Fox Plaza, but to us “Die Hard” fans it will always be known as the Nakatomi. The lobby in the building has changed only so much since 1988, and while the lighting inside was different, it still looks the same as it did back then. You should have seen us when we got into the elevators though because they looked exactly the same as they did in the movie. My friend Phillip was practically hyperventilating from all the excitement of being there, and he later claimed how he almost died of “sheer awesomeness.” We all definitely shared in that feeling, and I had a great grin on my face for the rest of the night.
The 21st floor was decked out with a DJ and food that ran from cheese and apple blintzes to bigger dishes like beef stroganoff and egg noodles, perhaps to reflect how “A Good Day to Die Hard” takes place in Russia. I loved how the floor resembled the one McClane hid out on when he set off the fire alarm and was waiting for the fire trucks to show up. This had a lot of us going up to the windows and looking out while repeating our favorite lines from “Die Hard” such as “c’mon baby, come ta’ papa, I’ll kiss ya’ fucking dalmatian” or “you macho a-holes! No! No!” We didn’t bang our hands on the windows though as that likely would have gotten us into trouble.
Actually, some of us got a really nice security guard to take us up to the 30th floor where the Christmas party in “Die Hard” took place, but it looks nothing like it did in the movie. In fact, much of what we saw in “Die Hard” was done on a soundstage, and the real 30th floor was full of empty office spaces still waiting to be occupied. We were hoping to go up to the roof where the helipad is so we could imitate the scene where McClane shot his machine gun into the air to get the hostages to run downstairs, but unfortunately the guy couldn’t do that for us (he was very nice about it though).
Still, we got to see the front parking area where Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) drove around in circles before going inside, and we also got to see the place where a terrorist stole a Nestle Crunch candy bar while waiting for SWAT to break into the building. It’s all those little details which got us so excited.
Seriously, this was one of the best evenings I have had in a long time. To be a part of it was an honor, and it was an amazing thrill to go inside the Nakatomi/Fox Plaza and see where “Die Hard” was filmed. I came out to Los Angeles to be a part of the movies and to be close to those involved in their making, and this was an occasion which allowed me to do just that. I’ll never forget this evening, and I look forward to having many more of them.
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