Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Top 20 Movies (10-6)

Okay I'm striving to get this list completed so I can move on to other things.  Here comes numbers 10 through 6. 

#10 - Schindler's List

What can be said about this one that hasn't already been said. More than just about any other movie dealing with the subject, this movie personalizes the horrors of the Nazi work and death camps. This movie is beautiful and hard to watch all at the same time, but it is completely worth it in the end when all of that suffering is redeemed through the generosity of Oskar Schindler.  Liam Neeson brought great depth to the title role and Ralph Fiennes was nearly demonic as the ruthless commander of the work camp.

This one was a passion project for Steven Spielberg and you can sense it in every frame. 

#9 - Billy Madison

I know it's a shock, but Billy Madison did not win any major awards.  It might have picked up a Razzie or two, but I don't care. This movie and Happy Gilmore are about the only two Adam Sandler comedies I find watchable. This one made the list simply because it was the first comedy that my kids and I bonded over.  We can quote nearly every line in it and still chuckle at its stupidity and absurdity. 

#8 - The Usual Suspects

I love this movie.  I recorded it months ago off one of the pay movie services and it is the only recording on my DVR that never gets deleted. 

Kevin Spacey won his first Oscar for his portrayal of Roger 'Verbal' Kint, so nicknamed because he never shuts up.  The movie is propelled by his interrogation over a massive heist gone wrong at the docks where he was the only one lucky enough to make it out alive.  We are treated to the story through flashbacks as Verbal provides more and more details to Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri).  Along the way Verbal tells the story of legendary criminal Keyser Soze who blackmailed he and his fellow criminals into participating in the doomed heist. 

This one might have one of the best closing lines of all the movies on my list. "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was making the world believe he didn't exist. And then *poof* he was gone."

#7 - Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge is one of those love it or hate it kind of movies.  I obviously fall on the love it side.  This one scratches two of my favorite entertainment itches: musicals and love stories. 

The music in this one is presented in Baz Luhrmann's own inimitably psychedelic way.  That's the main thing that turns off most people who dislike the movie.  You kind of have to survive the neck snapping exposition of the first half an hour or so before it turns into one of the most beautifully told love stories.  I get choked up every time I watch it, but I straight up sobbed at the end of the movie when Ewan McGregor's Christian cradles the lifeless body of his beloved Satine then looks to the sky and cries out in complete and utter misery.  (FYI...I didn't really spoil anything there since the opening scene is Christian writing the story and the narration begins, "The woman I love is........dead.")

Side note: Who knew Ewan McGregor could sing so well?  Who knew Nicole Kidman could not? 

#6 - The Silence of the Lambs

Of course this one is most famous for Sir Anthony Hopkins' iconic portrayal of Hannibal Lecter.  He takes creepy and sinister to a whole new level.  I mean, he murdered somebody by basically talking them into suicide and then cut off another dude's face to use as a mask! His intelligence and intuition make him and even more frightening villain.

This one is most impressive to me, though, for the climactic suspenseful ending.  Clarice desperately feeling around in the pitch black while Buffalo Bill watches her through night vision goggles and even reaches out to stroke her face is enough to make anybody afraid of the dark.

Side note: If your local watering hole has one of those jukeboxes that connects to the internet, see if you can find and play "Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazarus and then watch everyone squirm and ask each other, "Where do I know this song from?"  And then watch the horror as they realize it is the song that Buffalo Bill played while tucking back his junk and imagining how good he is going to look as a woman in his new Catherine Martin costume. 

Hopefully I can get 5-1 out by the end of this week, but I have a very busy next few days coming up.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Top 20 Movies (15-11)

#15 – The Shawshank Redemption

I was very late to the Shawshank party.  All of my friends had told me how awesome this movie was, but I never made it past the first few minutes of the movie.  But boy am I glad I finally came to my senses and watched the whole thing.  I should have trusted that a movie with Morgan Freeman in a lead role would be good, but it turns out he isn’t even the best part.  It’s all the supporting characters like Captain Hadley, Brooks, and Bogs that make the movie interesting.  Even though the ending is a little predictable and a lot implausible, it's still an inspiring movie about hope and redemption.

#14 – Rocky

Rocky was one of the movies that made the list not solely on its merits as a movie, but because of the impact it had on me at the time in my life when it was released.  Let me start by saying that I love Rocky, but hate every last one of the ridiculous sequels.  They cheapen the original.

Rocky came out when I was just nine years old so my favorite part of the movie were the fight scenes and the training sequences, but even at nine I was still impacted by the sweetly innocent love story and the amazing soundtrack provided by Bill Conti.  This was one of the rare movies that I saw multiple times in the theater.  I can't remember exactly how many times it was, but it was at least five times. 

Note:  I'm going to sound like an old man here.  I love my man cave with it's home theater, but I also really miss the days before VCRs and DVD players were common.  There is just something about the experience of seeing a movie with a huge crowd of people in a darkened theater that can't compare.  Rocky was one of those movies where the entire theater clapped and cheered at the end and that's another reason it makes my list...the collective experience it conjured.  It made me feel something: joy, excitement, melancholy.

#13 – I Am Sam

I Am Sam makes my list just because I'm a sappy son of a bitch.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I cry, not sniffle or wipe my eye, but CRY every time I watch this movie.  I don't think this is one of those movies that everyone has seen, so a very brief recap.

Sam is played by Sean Penn.  Sam is mentally retarded, but is the sweetest guy you'd ever meet.  He took in a homeless girl and wound up getting her pregnant. As soon as the baby was born she bailed and he was left to raise a baby that he was ill equipped to deal with.  He gets help from his agorophobic neighbor played by Diane Weist who taught him to feed her on a regular schedule by using the TV schedule of Sam's beloved TV-Land.  Fast-forward to Sean Penn with his now grade school aged daughter played by Dakota Fanning in the height of her adorable precociousness.  His daughter is named Lucy (so named after the Beatles song).  Sam is a Beatles trivia savant only bested by our friend the Crafty Southpaw.  The soundtrack of the movie is 100% Beatles covers done by various well known and not so well known musical artists and there are a few real gems on there.

We first meet her as she and Sam are sitting at IHop eating breakfast and she asks, "Daddy?  Why aren't you like the other daddys?"  Sam, fully aware of his shortcomings becomes instantly flustered and begins to apologize profusely when Lucy stops him and says, "That's okay.  Other daddies don't go to the park like you do."  This pleases Sam and it's our first glimpse of the reversed roles these two play in each others' lives.  She is like a mother to him. 

The real meat of the movie is a legal battle over whether or not Sam is competent to raise his daughter. A ruthless divorce lawyer played by Michelle Pfeifer is shamed into taking the case pro bono and learns a lot about her own relationship with her son through Sam's example of unconditional love.  (And now I'm choking up again just thinking about it.  I'm such a pussy.)

#12 – The Matrix

I'll keep this brief.  This movie kicked ass in multiple ways.  The technology used to create the movie was groundbreaking and the melding of sci-fi and kung fu movies made it irresistible to geeks of all shapes, sizes, and colors. (Proud white, round, large geek here.)  Surprisingly Keanu Reeves made a very convincing digital messiah.

Legend has it that the Wachowski brothers went to Warner Brothers to ask for more time and money to complete their project and received an emphatic no.  That is until the Wachowski brothers previewed the raw cut of the opening sequence with Trinity fighting and then escaping from the police and agents.  The footage didn't include the cleaned up special effects or the soundtrack, but it was enough for Warner Brothers to recognize that they had something special and they changed their tune to "Take as long as you like. How much more do you think you'll need?"

And remember....there is no spoon.

 #11 – Gladiator

"My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next." That quote pretty much sums up Gladiator in one moment.

Okay...Gladiator is no masterpiece.  It's a gory guy film with lots of catch phrases.  But boy do I love me some Russell Crowe kicking the crap out of a creepy, murderous, incestuous Joaquin Phoenix.  It's a typical Ridley Scott action film featuring stylized fast cut sequences and lots of blood, but I'm powerless to resist its charms.  If it comes on Starz, Encore, Showtime, or HBO and I stumble across it, I'm watching the whole thing. 

Hopefully less time will pass before I slap 10-6 out here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

I grew up Southern Baptist and in our church Ash Wednesday wasn't a big deal.  Southern Baptists don't do the whole ash on the forehead thing.  I became aware of it as I got older and had friends in school that were Catholic, Episcopalian, and Lutheran, but I didn't understand or know the rules behind the ritual.

Then I grew up and attended a Lutheran college.  I was a member of the choir at Wartburg College and we were required to sing at the Ash Wednesday morning services held at the school.  When it was time to go up and have ashes smudged on our heads, the whole choir went so I just followed along.  I didn't really want to walk around campus with black stuff smeared on my face for the rest of the day, so on the walk back to my seat I licked my thumb and wiped it off. 

My Lutheran classmates were horrified!  They looked at me like I had just murdered a puppy in front of them.  I was so confused, but I never forgot my first "real" Ash Wednesday. 

Is it wrong that to this day I amuse myself on Ash Wednesday by telling perfect strangers I encounter at the grocery store or wherever, "Ummm, hey, you've got a something on your face.  Just thought you'd want to know."

(I'm probably going to hell.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Great River Revelry

My oldest son and I made the trek over to Davenport, Iowa for the show choir competition hosted by Davenport Central and West high schools which is apparently now known simply as Great River.  In the old days it was always called the Great River Revelry (say that ten times fast) and people always sounded like they were drunk when they tried to say it.

I honestly usually never travel to other show choir events on the weekends when my group isn't competing, but oddly I've done it twice this year.  This trip I had to drive from Des Moines down to Pella to pick up Jake from Central College before heading over to Davenport which turned what should have been a 2.5 hour drive into about a 3.5 hour drive. 

It was a pretty simple trip and we made it to the Adler Theater by about 11:00.  We were trying to make it there in time to see a couple of the better prep groups we hadn't gotten to see yet this year, Linn-Mar's "In Step" and Cedar Rapids Kennedy's "Protege."  We were just a couple of minutes too late to make it into the theater for "In Step," but no worries, "Protege" was who we really wanted to see.  We made our way into the theater at the end of the current group's performance and found some seats on the floor.  The next group was busy setting up for their performance when the emcee announced that the next group up was "City Lights" from Iowa City High School.

Confused I checked the schedule in our program and discovered that Iowa City was supposed to perform 45 minutes earlier.  I quickly tweeted at a friend of mine I knew had been there all morning and asked if the schedule was messed up or were they really 45 minutes behind.  He replied that Iowa City and Kennedy had swapped spots, so "Protege" had already gone.  Bummer!  The next group we really wanted to see didn't perform until around 1:00, so we headed off to find some lunch.

When we returned we decided the view would be better from the balcony so we found some prime seats up there that we planned to occupy for the remainder of the afternoon.  We were smack in the middle of a section inhabited by parents from Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Linn-Mar.  "Good," I thought, "I like the parents from both of those schools so this should be just fine."  I was wrong.

The Cedar Rapids Kennedy mom behind me had no clue what good concert etiquette was...or she just didn't care.  She talked through every single performance.  Not whispered...talked...full volume.  It didn't matter how many times me or the Linn-Mar mom next to me turned around and shot her dirty looks.  She was either oblivious or just didn't care.  I suspect a combination of both. of the main reasons we made the trip was to see Wheaton-Warrenville South "The Classics" from the Chicago area.  They are considered one of the best groups around and in fact were crowned the national champion by the Fame show choir competition network last year.  Their show this year is Wizard of Oz themed, but doesn't cop out to any songs actually from The Wizard or Oz or Wicked.  The only one that is from something else related to the movie is "Ease on Down the Road" from The Wiz.  Other than that it is all songs like "Free Ride" by the Edgar Winters Group.

Now...there is a great debate raging in parts of the show choir world over traditional style shows common in the midwest versus the new story based shows more common on the west coast.  For me, Wheaton's show is the perfect blend of the two styles.  It is true to the traditional while still telling a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end.  Also, those kids dance and sing incredibly well.  After a performance for a group like theirs you often hear comments like, "I don't think that is show choir" or "I don't like that kind of show" or "I'm confused, what was that...".

Saturday was no exception.  In fact an older couple in front of me turned around after their performance and said, "Our friends tell us you're a director from another Iowa show choir.  What did you think of that show?  To us it seems like it doesn't fit the parameters of the competition. It's kind of not fair."  I told them that I liked anything that moved the medium forward and repeated what I said above.  They seemed pleased with that explanation.

Wheaton wound up winning the grand championship this weekend with a Best Choreography award, but Best Vocals went to Waukee "Millennium" from the Des Moines area.  I completely agree with all of those selections.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Top 20 Movies (20-16)

Okay...time to defend my choices I guess.  I didn't spend a lot of time in the last post explaining what criteria there were because honestly I hadn't given it much thought why I chose what I did.  I went from my gut.  I easily rattled off my top 5 movies and then just went from there.  I mostly chose movies that have some sort of cultural or personal significance to me or that trigger a strong emotional response in me.  More than anything I want my movies to make me feel something.

#20 - Mr. Holland's Opus

Even though I think Richard Dreyfus overacts his way through most of this movie like he is wont to do, it doesn't lessen its emotional impact.  Teaching kids is not my career, but it is a huge part of who I am and what I do.  When I work with the show choirs from Urbandale High School I want to put a quality ensemble on the stage, but more than that I want to connect with the kids in the group on a personal level.  I want them to consider me a leader of their group, but also a friend that they can confide in or call up when they need advice or have good news to tell me.

***Spoiler alert***

If you haven't seen Mr. Holland's Opus you should skip to #19 now.   At the end of the movie when Mr. Holland is leaving the school for the final time I already have a lump in my throat at the thought that he'll never get to teach kids again.  Then he walks into that jam-packed auditorium and sees all of the lives he has touched gathered in one place and it just overwhelms me every time.  The first time I saw it I wept like a baby.  That's a good movie...

#19 - Wall-E

I love all of the Pixar movies, but I think Wall-E is a masterpiece.  The storytellers and animators were able to make me actually care about a love story between two robots in a post-apocalyptic future that condemns consumerism and disregard for the environment.  The incorporation of scenes from Hello Dolly were brilliant and I love that Wall-E is an homage to silent film stars like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.  If you haven't seen it, remedy that today.

#18 - The Sixth Sense

I think history has probably proved that M. Night Shyamalan is a mediocre director at best who owes any success he has had to Hitchcock, but his first big screen effort was just the right mixture of horror and suspense.  Friends who are much smarter than I figured out the twist.  I did not, but honestly Bruce Willis is not the character I care about in that movie.  I still love the moment in the car with Haley Joel Osment and one of my favorite actresses, Toni Collette, when he makes a believer out of her by relaying a message from his long dead grandmother. Chills...the spooky kind yes, but more importantly the kind you get when you witness real human emotion portrayed honestly (even if it is in regard to paranormal phenomenon).

#17 - Little Miss Sunshine

It's merely a coincidence that the next movie on my list also stars Toni Collette, but she is just one of the outstanding members of this ensemble cast that includes Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, and Steve Carrell.  This was also the movie that introduced Abigail Breslin to the majority of Americans.  My favorite character in this movie, however, isn't even human.  The VW van they drive to the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant in California is an integral and hilarious part of the storyline.  This movie is funny, touching, raunchy, offensive, and heartbreaking all in one.

#16 - O Brother, Where Art Thou? 

This is my favorite of the Coen brothers movies.  I love all of them I've seen except maybe The Hudsucker Proxy, but using depression era Mississippi as a backdrop to a modern day version of Homer's The Odyssey is ingenious.  George Clooney is note perfect as the loquacious protagonist, Everett T. McGill. His bravado and obsession with keeping his hair in pomade is just one of the little idiosyncrasies that make this movie so fun to watch over and over.  I catch some little nuance every time I watch it.  An example of the kind of humor that lands this movie on my list is when Everett is told by a shop owner that both his favorite pomade and the part they need to repair their car will take two weeks to arrive.  Everett's reply? "Well ain't this place a geographical oddity...two weeks from everywhere."

And then there is the soundtrack of classic old timey songs.  This CD was in the disc changer in my car for years and I'm not ashamed to admit that I spent my share of time belting out the Soggy Bottom Boys' hit "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrows" at the top of my lungs while stuck in traffic.

15-11 coming up in the next few days if I can find time to write it up.  What are your thoughts? Do you love or hate any of these movies?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This Year's Show

We try to keep our show a somewhat guarded secret until it's been performed publicly a couple of times.  Since we've now performed at three different competitions I guess it's safe for me to share it here for anybody that is interested (apologies for the annoying screaming mommies on the recording):