I don’t really like voicemail. If you leave me voicemails, I’m sorry. Chances are I rarely listen to the messages you record. I just call back to see what you want, usually deleting the voicemail without a second thought.
I’ve done that with all but one message that’s been sitting in my voicemail box since December 2012. It’s from my Grandma Doris. It’s not a super important message or anything. She’s just checking in to see how my packing was progressing — I was preparing to move back to California from Wisconsin — and she wanted to know if I’d see her the weekend after Christmas. And, because she’s my grandma, she told me she loved me.
I don’t know why I never deleted it. For some reason, it was always a comfort to see “Grandma Doris” in there whenever I went to toss voicemails. Now I’m really glad I did.
I got a call from my mom yesterday who heard through the family phone chain that my grandma was sick and the outlook wasn’t good. It wasn’t a call I was expecting and hit me hard in the moment. It pales in comparison to the call I got from my cousin Sara this morning at around 4:30, though.
My Grandma Doris is gone now and it’s not something I was even remotely prepared for. But, as a writer, I’m doing what we do to cope: I’m writing my thoughts down to get them out of my head for a little while.
Grandma Doris was truly one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. My earliest memories come from a family trip we took to visit her and my dad’s side of the family in Wisconsin when I was two. That trip was so good that it imprinted itself on my brain forever. We made other trips in the years that followed, but living in California meant there was always a bit of a disconnect with that side of the family.
Then I found myself moving to Wisconsin in 2009. It was a new adventure for a few different reasons. I was attempting to build a life somewhere new and looking for a job. The secret mission for me though, was to get to know the side of the family I’d met before on a number of occasions, but never had the opportunity to really know.
It started with a drive up to the top of Wisconsin not long after I arrived. I went straight to my Grandma’s house and as I arrived to her apartment complex, the first thing she did was give me a hug.
Wait, that’s not true. The first thing she did was walk to a different door than I was at. Confused, we talked on the phone for five minutes before I realized I was across the street at some other building that was definitely not her apartment complex.
Together, we went to my aunt and uncle’s house the next day and I got the full-on family introduction. Everyone was older than they were when I was barely a teenager, of course, but I immediately felt welcomed.
That visit also happened to coincide with a party celebrating my cousin Emily’s senior year of high school. That’s where the picture above was taken. I’m the guy in the old Aerosmith hoodie, Grandma Doris is the lady all the way to the right. You know, the happiest looking person in the room.
This was the first of many really great times I got to have with my Wisconsin family throughout the three years I lived in Madison. I went up there for long weekends, holidays and even ice fishing — just once for that, though. I couldn’t afford to flip any other cars, no matter how much fun the trip was.
After the first year I spent Thanksgiving with my Wisconsin family — and there’s a lot of them — I related it to friends back home as spending a holiday inside an episode of “The Waltons.”
Everybody was happy and smiling and just excited being around each other. After dinner, everyone gathered around to watch football and plan their shopping out for Black Friday. It was awesome and something I was happy being a small part of.
Still, every single time I was there the highlight was getting to spend some time talking to Grandma Doris. She’d ask me if I’d found a nice girl to settle down with yet, I’d laugh and say no. She’d ask how my dad was doing or about things she’d been told I was writing about on Facebook. She was, for lack of a better term, a grandma.
And I am very glad to have had her. I’m happy I got to go to her 90th birthday party and have a greasy breakfast with her at a diner near her house. Happy she liked my dream idea of buying the out-of-business movie theater in Amery and reopening it.
I was so excited to be planning a return visit to Wisconsin — my first since moving back to California in January 2013. I was stoked to go to the family reunion and spend some time seeing everyone, catching up on lives and just being around the family.
Instead, I’m flying out for a short visit Thursday afternoon to attend her funeral. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy I get to see my family and reconnect with people I don’t talk to nearly enough — even if Facebook does help. I just wish it were under better circumstances. And I wish she were there to talk to. She will be, though. I just might not be able to hear her voice.
But that’s fine, I have my voicemail and it’s not going anywhere.
So my job has afforded me many cool opportunities. Like, too many. It’s weird. I’ve gotten to talk to TV and movie stars I’ve loved all my life (Danny DeVito), I’ve gotten to go watch movies at the Walt Disney Studio lot (Iron Man 3 and Monsters University). I just get to do things that it makes no sense I’m allowed to do.
All of those things are nothing compared to one specific event, though. On June 10, I was able to achieve a dream I’ve had for over a decade. I got to move into the Big Brother House. Big Brother is a reality TV show that started while I was still in high school. It’s the only one of those shows I watch and I’ve been with it since the beginning.
Every year, before that season’s house guests move in, CBS and the production team invite several members of the media to ‘move in’ for the day and compete in a week’s worth of the game compacted into that 12-hour period. I got to go and represent Zap2it.
Just walking onto the CBS lot in Studio City was a little weird. So many TV shows have been and are made there, including Parks and Rec. It was fun seeing Lil’ Sebastian signs just leaning up against the wall. The real fun happened when I got to the Big Brother green room, though. They mic’d us up (Everyone in the Big Brother house wears a microphone) and we got to chit chat and evaluate the competition we would be facing.
I only barely knew one person there, but there were a couple I immediately dug. One was because she sounded Canadian. Anyone who knows me, knows of my love for the Great White North.
When we were put into random groups, I was among the first three people to enter the house, which was kind of amazing. Walking through the door and seeing what I’ve been staring at on TV since 2000 was very surreal. Immediately you jump into action and pick a bed as your “place.” Then the house search begins. While other people come in to find their beds, I just explored. I touched everything, I counted stuff, I just took it all in.
Eventually we all sat down in the living room for introductions and I was pleased to learn that the girl who sounded Canadian was in fact from Canada. What’s more, she’s from the part of Canada I dig most, Nova Scotia. I’ve been twice and plan to go back within the next year and a half.
Not only that, she was a cast member on Big Brother Canada. Actually, she was the winner of Big Brother Canada, Jillian MacLaughlin. She was the first person called into the diary room (DR) to talk to the camera and instantly another of the media folks (Matt, who had been in the house three times prior for media day) started plotting to get her out. He cited the way she won her season as reason enough. I knew a bit about how the Canadian version went and wasn’t quite as convinced. I also didn’t want to not trust the Canadian, because they’re all so nice.
Not long after we were surprised to find Dan Gheesling (Winner of BB 10, runner up on BB 14, such an awesome guy) walking through out front door. He said he was there to take someone out of the house with him and that we needed to start talking about who should leave. Immediately, Matt said Jillian has to go. He was also a little pissed that no one backed him up on that idea. That’s when Dan dropped the bomb: He wasn’t taking anyone out of the house, but was there to host a Head of Household competition.
Now Matt had created a huge target on himself and the last person he would need to win the HOH is Jillian. The HOH was simple, Dan gave us two options of fake reality shows, and whichever one the majority picked as a better idea was the right answer. Anyone who picked the other one was eliminated. I got knocked out when people didn’t pick Paranormal Paratroopers, which is bananas. Ghosts are amazing.
In the end, of course, Jillian won and Matt was left on the hot seat. The one person he didn’t need to be king or queen of the house was in charge. Jillian’s first duty was to choose Have Nots for the day. The Have Nots can only eat the “slop” provided by Big Brother for the day. Slop is notorious in the house because, well, it’s gross. As something of a superfan, I’ve always wanted to try slop. I also wanted to get on the house’s good side, because at the end of the day one of us would be evicted and branded the day’s loser.
So I volunteered to be a Have Not. Why wouldn’t I? It was just for a day, and it might make people like me because I’m saving them from it. It also gets me on Jillian’s good side as it’s one less person she has to choose. Let’s be honest, I wanted to team with the Canadian. Matt had the same idea and volunteered, because he needed to save face after targeting Jillian.
From there, the game was on. People started breaking off into smaller groups to plot, and everyone wanted Jillian’s ear to see where she stood for evictions. The first person to pull her away was a guy named Jarrett. Some thought it was pretty aggressive of him to jump into the game like that, but it made sense. We’re only there a day, it’s an accelerated version of the game.
Matt was most upset by Jarrett pulling Jillian away, or so he wanted us to believe. When it came time for me to have a moment with Jillian, it was clear Matt was going up. When she floated the idea of Kerry (another guy in the house), I wasn’t opposed. He had been mostly quiet so far and was the one we had all talked to the least.
Once nominations finally rolled around, I was never more relieved than to see my key come out of the box. As you can see by the photo, in the moments leading up to my key being pulled, I was very nervous. We all were. It’s strange, but even being in there for just a day, you get wrapped up in the game of it all.
When all the keys were pulled, it wasn’t entirely surprising to see that Matt and Kerry had been nominated for eviction. The only way one of them could guarantee their safety was to win the Power of Veto competition. Matt expected to be nominated, but I think Kerry was definitely caught off-guard. He seemed a little stunned that he was chosen. Naturally, Jillian let him know that the true target was Matt and she would do what she needed to make sure he went home.
Not long after, Jillian emerged from DR with a bunch of colored bandannas. She said it was time to pick partners for the POV competition. I saw orange and, it being my favorite color, I immediately called dibs. When Jillian threw the bandannas down she and I both grabbed orange. I’m not sure if she wanted to team with me or not, but hey, I called dibs so I knew what color I was going for. From there we all suited up in overalls and goggles, for what was sure to be something very messy.
And messy it was! We we stepped into the backyard, it was themes to a chili cookout, but this was unlike any chili I’d ever seen before. Each team has 12 giant bowls of “chili” lined up, each of which contained a puzzle piece. At the end of the line was a puzzle board. Seems simple enough, grab the puzzle pieces, assemble them, win. Of course, the twist is you can only get the puzzle pieces with your head and face, meaning you had to go fishing for them with your mouth, hence the goggles.
I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to the physical competition, because I know my limits and I know how insane some of the physical competitions on the show can be. This one wasn’t too bad, luckily. There was some hustling involved and a lot of near-vomiting because of the “chili,” but nothing I couldn’t handle. The chili itself was a weird mixture of gelatin, sugar water, tomatoes, cheese and sour cream that had been sitting in the sun. Really disgusting.
This was a must-win competition for Matt, because he was the obvious target and needed to pull himself off the block. It wasn’t meant to be, though. Matt didn’t win POV, and neither did Kerry. In fact, Jillian and I won the contest. I totally carried my fair share and, luckily, was able to piece together the puzzle to score us the win. Not before I got utterly confused and told Jillian that there was still a piece in the chili though, which led her to dunk her head in all 12 bowls. There was no missing piece, I was jut flustered. Still, we pulled out the win and decided that I would take the POV duties on my shoulders, as she already had HOH. Matt’s hopes now rested on me pulling him from the block.
This is where the strategy came into play. Prior to the POV competition, Matt pulled Jarrett aside into a private room to “have it out” with him due to Jarrett getting Jillian’s ear early on. Matt thought Jarrett was selling him out. At a certain point though, Jillian pulled me aside convinced that Jarrett and Matt were working together. After thinking it over, it made some sense. There was a contingent of people who had been in the house together at least once before. They had played the game together before. Those people were Matt, Jarrett, Patrick, Dru and Brian. If the previous media day house guests were in fact working together, Matt would have the vote to stay, sending Kerry packing at the end of media day. There were nine players that day, the two nominees could not vote and the HOH only votes to break a tie. If Matt had four friends voting to keep him, he isn’t going anywhere.
That’s when the idea sparked between Jillian and I. What if I take Kerry down and she replaces him with one of the folks who had been in the house with Matt before? Kerry would be thankful for coming off the nomination block and hopefully vote the way we wanted. Jarrett couldn’t go up. He was chosen to host the POV competition, which made him safe from nomination. That left Patrick, Dru and Brian. We were both unsure about Patrick, but felt confident that Dru and Brian were definitely loyal to Matt.
I leaned toward Brian because of the others in the house, Dru was the one I’d met before and we set up a sort of alliance before going into the house. We were going to keep each other safe, because we drive the same car and are awesome. So Brian it was. I felt bad, because he’s a good guy, but to get Matt out of the house it needed to be done.
Before the ceremony, Matt told me to not just fall in line with Jillian, but to shake things up. What I don’t think he expected was the way I planned to shake things up, by saving Kerry and sealing his fate. After he delivered one of the very best POV speeches I’ve ever heart, calling Jillian a puppet master and saying I shouldn’t use the veto because she wouldn’t want it, he seemed truly surprised that I saved Kerry. Brian was equally surprised to find himself nominated, but again, it needed to be done.
When the vote came in, Matt got one person who wanted to keep him, Dru. The other five, myself included voted for him to walk out the door. Casting a vote to evict was another in a long line of surreal moments throughout the day. Taking a seat in the DR and choosing who you want to leave it a very strange moment. Luckily, unlike a couple of the votes it seems, I wasn’t conflicted. Matt’s a cool guy, but he had to go.
When all was said and done, Matt was out the door and it was time for production to reveal the day’s winner. See, when voting for who should be evicted, we were also asked who played the game best that day. Imagine my surprise when I found out I’d won that vote. I didn’t understand why at first, but I feel a large part of that was my head was still swimming being in the house. Truthfully, I was still coming down a couple days later.
Looking back on it now, I don’t know that I was the best player of the day, but I know I achieved my goal. One of the first questions I was asked in DR at the beginning of the day was how I’d play the game, what my strategy was. It was simple, I was going to be as nice as I could to everyone. I tend to be a friendly guy when I’m trying, an I wanted to use that to my advantage to not alienate anyone.
It’s not the game of a floater, it’s that of someone who isn’t looking to make enemies. I was able to pull out a competition win when I needed and worked with someone to put together a strategy to make sure the ‘villain’ of the day went home.
That ended my one and only day in the Big Brother house, for now anyway. I’m not going to lie and say it didn’t make me want to apply for the show proper. It was one of those moments where I thought “I think I could handle this.” Maybe I will. If not, perhaps I’ll at least be able to go back next media day to defend my crown.
It seems my last time posting here was in August. At the time was toiling away in a Starbucks on the weekends, writing my first book. I still haven’t finished it. In truth, I haven’t touched it in months. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it pretty regularly, though. I do. In fact, it’s been on my mind pretty regularly the past few weeks and when I finally have the time for it, there’s going to be some major restructuring. I see now several mistakes I made along the way.
But that’s not why I wanted to post tonight. This post is more to explain a fairly huge difference between now and then. For one, I’m no longer in Wisconsin. It’s old news to most, but I never really put pen to paper (or fingers to keys in this instance) to actually talk about it. I now write to you from sunny (Not sunny, it’s midnight) Southern California.
I made the move over the New Year, packing what I could fit in the car and driving from Wisconsin. I left my job at Sinclair to write about movies and celebrities. That means exactly what it says. Check this out…
It’s pretty wild.
I also get to do cool things like go to movie junkets, interview people (Rebecca Hall, Ty Simpkins) and in general seem to get to do a bunch of cool stuff. I’m sure there’s a downside, there’s always one. I’ve yet to find it though and I hoe it stays that way for a good long time.
The other bright side is I feel like my writing improved by the day, which is really the ultimate goal.
That all said, I do miss Wisconsin quite a bit. Mostly the people. Sure, there are places I miss. Bars mostly. I’m not sure what that says. Nothing good, I assume. But in the end it’s friends and family I miss. It’s a little crazy. I look forward to getting back for a visit as soon as I can.
The following has been written in chunks over the past few weeks, apologies if it doesn’t flow well.
I was getting better at keeping the writing ideas more alive here and then I suddenly stopped, so I thought maybe I’d check in as to why that happened.
About a month ago I thought of an interesting story I’d like to read about, so I set out to find a book that fit the bill. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite find anything like the idea I had rattling around in my brain. That’s when the idea hit me like a ton of bricks. Why don’t I explore the idea?
I’ve never really fancied myself a writer. I try to better myself as one and I like to write about things here on this site, but I’ve never set out to write a story. Especially nothing fiction-based. I don’t even read a ton of fiction, something I’ve been trying to change the past couple years.
So with all that in mind I set out to write something, not really sure what it would become. It quickly ballooned far beyond what I thought about doing initially. I kept explaining it as I was “writing something” or “writing a story” but what’s become clear to me recently, as I’m closing in on 100 pages, is I’m writing a book.
It might be an awful idea, it might be a terrible read, but it’s allowing me to be creative in a way I haven’t been in years and I’m really loving it. I’m also becoming insanely protective of it. As I write I’m also going back and revising. I am seeing what (little) skills I do have evolve as I go through this. It’s also helping me with a sense of decent story development.
If I’d simply rolled with the idea as I originally intended it I don’t think it’d be all that good. But as I write, read, then rewrite I’m starting to realize what would help the story as well as what would hurt it. Mix in my chatting with people about it and running ideas by friends…I like where it’s going.
It’s becoming very bleak. The world this story exists in isn’t a world with much hope. That wasn’t my intention at first, however as I go forward I realize that to do the story justice I need to be as true to reality as I can be. And in reality things wouldn’t be going so well.
If you’re interested in following the progress I’m making with it I’m regularly updating my Tumblr site with info. It turns out Tumblr is an interesting community filled with all kinds of people, including a lot of writers. It’s been very useful. So please follow along!
*Fair warning. I’ve never been friends with any WWE Champion.*
When I first got out of college, I was hard up for work and needed to get my foot in the door of the radio industry. I wasn’t really qualified to do much of anything else at that point, but I needed an “in.” Luckily I had a friend and former classmate who had been in my same situation a year earlier and had landed at a conservative political talk radio station in Los Angeles. Soon enough, thanks to a little help from her, I was the early morning and weekend master control engineer (fancy radio speak for sounds board guy) on a talk radio station.
The weekdays were a little boring, but the weekends are where I had the real fun. On the weekends the station broke from its usual ultra-conservative political talk format and covered a wide spectrum of topics. I worked on a fishing show, a legal advice show, even a show hosted by the owner of an all-natural supplements and vitamins store that would give out suggestions to cure what’s ailing you. The most oddly specific show was one aimed at women suffering from Alopecia, hosted by a former soap opera star. She was a very nice woman who was also completely bald. She took such pride in it, though. She also baked me treats. How could I possibly dislike her?
Something else that happened on these morning shifts, more during the week than the weekend, is celebrities would come in to do interviews via satellite. They’d come in, we’d set them up in an empty studio, and go about our day. It was always a bit strange watching my coworkers flutter around the building preparing for someone’s arrival. Being starstruck was never really something that occurred to me. At the end of the day, they were just people after all. However, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t happen once.
Full disclosure: I’ve been a professional wrestling fan since I was a kid. As those things go, it has waned over time, but it’s still something I enjoy from time to time.
The champion during that time was a man named John Layfield. Layfield had a good career as a tag team wrestler in one of my personal favorite duos, The Acolytes. One day that all changed, though. His character dramatically shifted and instead of being a beer-swilling bully for hire, he evolved into professional wrestling’s version of J.R. Ewing from the television show “Dallas”. And he was good. Good isn’t strong enough. He was amazing. It was so easy for the big, rich Texan to get us lower lifeforms to boo him for flaunting his riches and physical prowess in front of us. He craved that negative reaction and we craved giving it to him. That’s the thing about professional wrestling that not a lot of people realize, the good guys don’t matter nearly as much as the bad guys. The good is only as good as the evil it opposes in that world. Whereas the bad guy can easily feed off of the audience. Truthfully, the character of JBL wasn’t as much of a stretch for Layfield as one might expect. In reality, Layfield was a financial whiz. He would regularly appear on news programs to give stock advice and when he did it was always a little surprising. He was a well-spoken, educated man. Not exactly what you expect from a professional wrestler.
Eventually he went a step beyond appearing on shows and was given his own syndicated talk radio program heard around the country on Saturday mornings. As he was constantly on the road with the WWE wrestling in different cities nearly every day, he would wind up broadcasting his show from local affiliates in whatever town the company was running in that day. It just so happened that when the WWE made their trips through the Los Angeles region several times a year, he would broadcast out of our studios.
When someone told me “a wrestler” was coming in to host a show and I had to prep the studio, I was floored. I wasn’t sure who but I had an inkling it’d be him. Then I thought to myself, “Please don’t let him be a dick. Please.” That’s the thing. You can’t set yourself up expecting someone to be awesome because the truth is some people just aren’t cool. Additionally, everyone has an off day or may simply not be in a good mood. The morning he came in, however, he couldn’t have been a cooler guy. He was super laid back, seemed appreciative that there was a fan in the building and whereas some hosts that did shows out of the building once in a while were less than pleasant to deal with, he was gracious and humble.
After his broadcast he mentioned that the next time the WWE came through town he would make sure to save a couple tickets for us. I thanked him, but didn’t expect anything to come of it. You hear things like that from time to time, but they often don’t come to pass.
Once I took a look at the calendar I was positive it’d never come to pass. WWE’s next trip through town would be for their annual Wrestlemania weekend. Wrestlemania is akin to the Super Bowl in the professional wrestling world. It’s their biggest show every year for nearly the last thirty years. I’ve watched every single one on Pay Per View for the last 12 years. Even when I’ve fallen away from the product, I always made sure to come back for that one show. It’s tradition. There’s no way he’d give up tickets to some radio guy he didn’t know. Sure the talent got an allotment of tickets for family and friends, but I was neither and that was that.
I’ve been to a handful of WWE shows in my lifetime. I attended a couple of events as a child, a few more as an adult. The best likely being the time I got to sit with a good friend and watch Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho, widely considered two of the very best in the business, wrestle for 45 minutes on live TV. As someone who enjoys the art of a great wrestling match far more than any storyline, it was quite a sight to behold. Wrestlemania had never been in the cards for me, though. Even when it was coming to LA, I knew I couldn’t afford the tickets, so I didn’t let myself entertain the idea.
Then word came down that Layfield would be doing his show out of our studio again. I thought that was cool, but still didn’t expect tickets out of the deal. When he arrived, I was stunned.
“Hey, I’ve got Wrestlemania tickets for you guys.”
Not only did he remember, but the tickets he had for us weren’t for some random event – they were for Wrestlemania. The thing about Wrestlemania is that it has blossomed from an event to a week of events. There’s the Hall of Fame, several public gatherings, a fan expo, all kinds of crazy stuff.
Layfield was golden to us, though. He told us where to get the tickets, whose name they were under, and what time to stop by to get them. We made our way to a ritzy Beverly Hills hotel, gave the name to someone in the lobby, and were handed an envelope marked “Layfield.” It felt very top secret and cool. Then we were off to the Staples Center.
I was going to Wrestlemania.
Wrestlemania 21 will most likely be remembered as the birthplace of John Cena as the face of the modern day wrestling industry. He’s this generation’s Hulk Hogan. He’s the squeaky clean role models kids can look up to and at the time that’s the image the WWE wanted to project. He was facing Layfield for the WWE Championship that night and ultimately won the match and the title belt. It began the first of his more than ten reigns as champion.
It was a great match, the highlight of which, in my mind, was when Layfield made it literally rain money throughout the Staples Center as he was escorted to the ring by the LAPD. It was the perfect picture of excess that fit his character to a tee.
There were many great things that happened on that show, and one sadly tragic thing: It was the last Wrestlemania that the legendary Eddie Guerrero ever got to wrestle on as he died later in the year. He opened the show having a fantastic match with one of his best friends, Rey Mysterio.
The match of the night for me, though, was getting to see the ‘Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels one more time as he faced off against Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle. Throughout his career Shawn Michaels has earned the moniker among wrestling fans of Mr. Wrestlemania. No matter who he was facing, his matches always highlighted the show. Whatever match he is in is the unofficial main event. That year was no different as it was his first match with Angle, who was also held in high regard for his abundance of talent. It was the match everyone at the show paid their money to see. After a half hour of hard work from both men, Kurt came out on top. However, they’d both won over the audience.
I had the pleasure of watching all of this, not from the cheap seats, but from the wrestler’s family section. Not at all what I expected, and better than I ever could have hoped for.
I regret that I didn’t have my camera that day to take a picture of my vantage point, but it turns out guests of the wrestlers get treated pretty damn well. It pays to know the champ. As the show was happening in the entertainment capitol of the world, the place was crawling with famous people taking in the show. It also happened to be crowded with some who were not-so famous. People like, say, Brooke Hogan.
Brooke Hogan was in my section because the night before her dad, Hulk Hogan, had been inducted into the Hall of Fame. I had assumed he’d be part of the show, but the five year old in me came to life halfway through the show when the Hulkster stormed to the ring, theme song and all, to save the day when two bully types were picking on a smaller guy. He beat them up, tore his shirt off, flexed his biceps, and the crowed at it up like candy. It was Hulkamania for crying out loud.
As cool as that was, as a kid I was far less a Hulk Hogan fan than I was a Rowdy Roddy Piper fan. He was who I wanted to be in the 80s because he was allowed to say whatever he wanted and got away with it every time. For a kid who probably talked back a little too much, the man was a hero. That’s why, even though Michaels/Angle was the match of the night, it’s not the memory I hold onto the most. That night I got to be there when the loudmouth of the 80s, Roddy Piper, went toe-to-toe with the loudmouth of the 90s, a man named Stone Cold Steve Austin. I won’t forget that moment when Roddy stepped up to Austin, welcomed him to Piper’s Pit, and promptly slapped him across the face. That’s one of those moments they replay the video of whenever Wrestlemania comes around because it’s a moment that will live on forever in that world. And I was there for it.
This was a really long way of saying that though that wasn’t my favorite job I’ve ever had, there’s always a silver lining if you look hard enough. I got to do stuff like that, I got to meet a few people I admired, and it ultimately led me to the job I have now. And I dig the people I work with now, so that’s kind of a cool thing.
Not as cool as going to Wrestlemania on the Champion’s dime, but whatever.
Over the last couple months I’ve become a regular reader of the website Rotten Tomatoes. Not for the reviews, really, but more for the featured articles they present on practically a daily basis. They started simply as a review aggregator but have become a full-fledged movie news and features website. It’s kind of cool. One feature I find myself constantly looking at is the “Fave Five” in which they ask actors who currently have movies in theaters what THEIR five favorite movies are.
It’s an idea I dig because they don’t really seem like the PR fluff you normally get. It’s not “What was your favorite scene to film?” or “Really, what’s *insert well known and notoriously dickheaded actor’s name here* like to work with?” It takes a bit more work to actually pick out the five movies that mean the most to you. So I did just that.
Jaws – 1975 – Directed by Steven Spielberg; Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss I love Jaws. I cannot even begin to explain my love for this movie. When I first saw it, staying up way later than I should one night as a child, on my 9 inch black and white television I was beyond terrified. I had the volume so low for fear that my parents would hear me in the middle of the night, but I was glued to it. The thing about Jaws that I remembered most is how terrified I was without actually seeing the shark. Jaws does perfectly what so many movies have tried to do since then. Build the tension, the horror, without showing you the thing you should be afraid of. When you do finally see the shark? It’s a nightmare come true.
The casting of this movie cannot be any better. The main trio that takes to the sea to do battle with Bruce, the crew’s nickname for the shark after Spielberg’s lawyer, work together so well. Their three very different personalities make for a great journey. Robert Shaw as Quint is especially awesome. And Roy Scheider delivers the line of the film, “Smile you son of a bitch!” as he destroys (or DOES HE?!?!?!) Jaws once and for all.
From all I’ve seen and read, Jaws was something of a tough shoot for everybody involved. The budget ballooned up to 9 million dollars (Imagine a director getting in trouble for a huge 9 million dollar budget on a movie that grossed nearly $500 million dollars in the end). And the troublesome mechanical sharks caused Spielberg to shoot many scenes without them, which is one of the things I loved most. If every there was a ‘happy accident’ that was it. This is the movie that launched the career of one of the most celebrated directors ever. Say what you will about Steven Spielberg in 2012 (War Horse?), but he has made films that will last forever. And it all started with three guys and a mechanical shark named Bruce.
Good Morning, Vietnam – 1987 – Directed by Barry Levinson; Starring Robin Williams
Good Morning, Vietnam is a movie I found sometime late in high school. I didn’t know a ton about the Vietnam War. I knew my dad had been in it and I knew we didn’t talk about it much in school. That part always surprised me. It’s a major event in US history, World history even. It even launched a huge cultural change here in the 1960s. It was never much of a class topic, though. Something else this movie introduced me to was the ‘behind the scenes’ of the radio industry. I always loved listening to the radio but always assumed that the life of a DJ, any DJ, was a glamorous one. Like a television star.
This movie brought a far more realistic vibe to the front, though. And sure it’s about military radio and military radio can’t be the same as fancy commercial radio…But the conditions they were in were anything but glamorous and it was the first time I ever thought to myself “I wonder how I’d do as a radio DJ?” If you know much about my time in college that spiraled out of control and into a degree and a job as an engineer in talk radio. You know what I learned? Actual radio is very similar to the movie radio portrayed in that movie. It’s very minimalist and mundane…Unless you are good at your job. Then you can take next to nothing and spin it into gold. That’s what Adrian Cronauer (The character played by Williams) did, and what I eventually learned is that Adrian Cronauer isn’t just a character Williams plays, he’s an actual former military DJ. One of my radio classes even utilized a book be him called How To Read Copy. It’s a fantastic read that I think really helped me develop in my on-air speaking, as short lived as those times were.
This movie isn’t just a love letter to radio, though. It is, after all, a war story. Lives are lost, friendships are forged, and battle are waged. And it’s all set to a fantastic soundtrack, and surrounded by amazing actors (Williams is supported by Forrest Whitaker and Joe Pesci, among others).
The Shining – 1980 – Directed by Stanley Kubrick; Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers The Shining is a truly horrifying and masterful piece of art. It’s terror comes from equal parts cabin fever-induced hysteria and supernatural happenings. I always kind of thought of that as the reason I love this movie as much as I do. I don’t really know WHAT is happening. Surely something else is in control of what’s happening…But what is it?
It kills me that Stephen King doesn’t love this movie. I understand it goes off course from his original story, but the twists and turns is make service the story in such awesome ways. When I hear about his preference of the version of The Shining he himself produced, I want to cry. It’s awful. It’s very long, badly acted, and just flat out poor. There is no upstaging the insanity created by Jack Nicholson in his role as Jack. It was the performance of a lifetime and something not even Nicholson himself has ever been able to top.
Furthermore, it’s my favorite film from Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick isn’t the kind of filmmaker you see once in a lifetime. He’s the kind of filmmaker you see once. Period. Once ever. And while I’m not a fan of all of his work (I do NOT like Eyes Wide Shut), I see the merit behind all of them. The dude was a true genius, so far ahead of his time. It’s a shame we don’t get his movies anymore. Instead we get Michael Bay pictures. It’s a cruel world. The Shining is exactly what the poster proclaims it is: A Masterpiece of Modern Horror. It wins hands down any day against just about any other scary movie that has been or will ever be made. I don’t want to say too much because I really don’t want to spoil this for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, though surely EVERYONE has seen it. If you haven’t, shame on you. Go get it today. You won’t be sorry.
Dick Tracy – 1990 – Directed by Warren Beatty; Starring Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, and Glenne Headly
I love comic book movies. They have a special place in my heart, even today. They take me back to a time when I loved to read comic books. I still do, though it’s way rarer now. I make it to the comic book store once or twice a year. Dick Tracy, to me, is the greatest comic book/comic strip movie of all time. It captures, perfectly, everything a Dick Tracy movie should be. This movie was Warren Beatty’s baby. He produced, directed, and starred in the title role. He tried to get it made for 15 years before it finally happened. And when it happened, it was perfect. He took great care to stay true to its origins, going so far as to limit the color palette of the movie to only seven colors. It made the movie so vibrant and fun to look at!
The backgrounds, the city skyline, all of it was hand-painted to evoke that comic strip feel. It doesn’t stop there, though. One of the cool things about the old strip is the villains, they all look so strange and they all made a proper transition to film. Flat Top has a flat head, Mumbles (Dustin fucking Hoffman) speaks incoherently, Little Face has a gigantic head and tiny face, Lips Manliss…Well you can guess…And Big Boy Caprice (One of the absolute BEST Al Pacino roles) looks like a rat. Throw in Madonna as Breathless Mahoney in, well, her ONLY good role, and what a movie. Well she’s good in A League Of Their Own.
Ever since Beatty has been working to get a sequel made and I really hope one day it will happen. I’ll watch old Warren Beatty in that trademark yellow trench coat and fedora any day. Ever.
Beauty and The Beast – 1991 – Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise; Starring Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, and Angela Lansbury
I grew up in the 80s and as such was a Disney kid for a lot of my childhood. Disney was on a roll for a while there, churning out numerous instant classics. They do the same thing now through Pixar, but these movies were all hand-animated. I’m sure I saw earlier ones in the theater but the memory of Beauty and The Beast sticks out. It’s one of my more memorable theater experiences as a kid. Three of us went, myself, my cousin Amber, and my Grandma Donna. She picked us up one day after school was out and took us to see the movie at a theater that is now a Chuck E. Cheese’s. I’m pretty sure this might be the only time I’ve ever gone to see a movie with my Grandma, but it was awesome.
The music from that movie is so lively and so catchy that you can’t help getting swept up in it, even today. I think that’s one of the things missing from modern Disney animated movies. The old ones really introduced kids to a lot of music that will stand the test of time (Who doesn’t remember Be Our Guest, Under The Sea, or Hakuna Matata?). I know the newer movies aren’t really musicals, but it’d be nice to see once in a while (They tried with Tangled, I guess).
After we were done watching the movie we were trying to sing the songs on the way to the car and instead of taking us home, Grandma drove across the street to K-Mart. This was a time when you could actually FIND a K-Mart. I think they’re all gone now. We went inside and she bought us both the soundtrack on cassette tape. I still have that tape in my closet. I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of it. It’s got a good memory attached to it.
Everything about that movie was so well done. The characters are memorable, the actors are ridiculous, and the animation it perfect. I wouldn’t change a single thing. I love just about all of those Disney flicks, especially Lion King. Lion King almost took this slot on the list. But Beauty and The Beast wins out because of that theater experience.
I came across The Hunger Games after a suggestion from a friend and sat down on a Sunday afternoon reading the entire thing in a sitting. I had heard that it was considered ‘Young Adult’ fiction, but I was surprised as how cruel and violent the world these characters lived in really was. This isn’t the kind of fiction I would have been guided towards as a young adult. I’m not entirely sure how I would have handled it. However as a fully-grown adult who often wonders what a dystopian future would be like, I was hooked. I think in many ways I appreciate these kinds of stories because they seem outlandish and entirely unrealistic at first glance, but after some thought I realize maybe it’s not all that crazy. Is it really so hard to think of a future where the government keeps control of the people by making random citizens fight to the death? It’s happened before, who is to say it couldn’t happen again? Not now, mind you, but the future is a very unsure thing and seems to be changing drastically by the day. So the idea of the book, as insane as it may seem at first, isn’t entirely impossible.
When I found out the series was to be translated to movies, I was mostly confused. How does one portray such a cruel and unforgiving world in a PG-13 movie aimed at a younger audience? It surprisingly portrays it pretty accurately. This is one of the most violent PG-13 rated movies I’ve seen. The bloodshed and death is there. It’s dealt with in very creative ways. During one particularly cruel scene involving lots of casualties the sound was dropped out, replaced instead of a dull droning sound. Without the sound to guide you the visuals really become far more powerful. It helps to convey the frenetic and stressful feeling surrounding these kids in their fight to simply survive. The movie doesn’t shy away from strategic amounts of blood; however it wisely doesn’t go into full blown gore. It’s a fine line to travel. Going too little would be a disservice to the story while going too far would desensitize the audience to what was happening. Doing so would fly in the face of the purpose of the book and film.
The story told is one of a government oppressing those they govern over. It’s a story of rebellion in attempt to have a better life. The people in this world are ruled over by an evil president, played by Donald Sutherland, who forces the nation to sacrifice children to remind them what would happen if they ever fought back. Eventually something has to give, though.
Sutherland in particular has been rather outspoken on the story and what he hopes it will achieve. When asked why he thought these books and this movie could “change” things he replied: “It could maybe motivate or activate young people who by and large have been dormant. It could make them stand up and realize the political environment they’re in and compel them to change it. Whether they change to the right or the left – I don’t know. But at least do something because something must be done.”
In the 1960s the anti-war movement swept across the nation. People unhappy with the way the government was handling conflict in Vietnam stood up for what they believed in. Yet here we are 50 years later and we find ourselves involved in several wars and in the middle of a debt crisis. People are fed up and starting to lash out. In 2011 the Occupy Wall Street movement gained a surprising amount of traction in both side and media awareness. Copycat groups sprung up all over the country with a simple message: We need change. In the end their efforts were fruitless because while demanding change, they offered no real alternatives. It was a spark, however. While what’s happening in our world, and indeed around the world, isn’t as extreme as what is described in the book the results could grow to become the same. A spark could grow to become an inferno. People need to be more aware of what is happening in the world around them and take a more active stance in fighting for what they truly believe is right.
If we, as a people, don’t then there’s no telling where we will be ten years down the road. Fifty years on and this could be an entirely different world. If we allow ourselves to be controlled by a political process, then what’s to stop that process from taking advantage of us?
So I guess I hope Donald Sutherland is right. Hollywood releases smaller ‘message’ films all the time. They don’t end up on a lot of screens and don’t get seen by many people. This is not one of those. This is a blockbuster with a message. It’s a nice change of pace to see a giant movie that’s less about robots fighting in the streets and more about people standing up for what’s right. And maybe, just maybe, this can be something that mobilizes people. Or at the very least makes them take a second look at their surroundings.
One of my favorite movies of the past twenty years is a fairly surprising pick. I don’t know that it’s even considered ‘one of the greats’ but I love the style, I love the message, and I love the story. Pleasantville was an interesting idea that blossomed into a fantastic movie. How would “Leave It To Beaver” sensibilities appeal to a modern generation? To find out, two late-90s teenagers (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) are sucked into their television via a mysterious remote control presented to them by a television repairmen played by Don Knotts. Once in their television they find themselves citizens of Pleasantville, an old 1950s television show. They even find themselves in black and white, rather than the rich Technicolor of their lives and it terrifies them.
The genius of the story is the turns it takes, though. I’d think in many movies you’d find these two modern kids with their fast-paced, technology-obsessed lifestyles in some sort of farcical comedy where the black and white world they are stuck in starts to rub off on them and they realize how important things like family are as opposed to all the distractions they let rule their life back home. That’s definitely in there, but I would almost call it the B plot. The real story, in my mind, is how they start to rub off on the town.
I don’t think I’m spoiling anything on a 14 year old movie, but if you do not want to know where this movie is going, I’d avoid the rest of this. The interesting twist of this movie is it’s not about what these two can learn from their new Pleasantville world, but what the world and the teens can learn from each other.
Slowly the two worlds start meeting in the middle, neither compromising their core beliefs, and as they do that it finally happens: The hum drum black and white world slowly begins to come to life in rich color.
What starts off as a simple pink rose blossom spotted by Paul Walker’s sheltered high school jock character soon becomes entire meadows, buildings, and even people becoming colorized versions of their former selves. The town is evolving, becoming part of a newer, more modernized age where there is an entire world beyond their city limits. At a certain point in the movie one of the citizens of Pleasantville asks of Maguire’s character “What’s outside of Pleasantville?” The answer is everything. The world, a place that didn’t exist until they opened their minds to it, awaits them beyond the borders of their town, their home.
In a lot of ways it’s what happens as you grow older – you open your mind to what’s outside of the boundaries you’re accustomed to and you begin to see the world. And like Witherspoon and Maguire’s characters the more you see, the more you realize what’s really important.
I decided to start a sort of series of blogs to talk about various things from my childhood. Lately I’ve found a ton of awesome things on YouTube from my childhood, commercials and such, that really take me back and I enjoy living in that world. One that took be back recently was a commercial for a cure to a serious snack attack. A snack attack, Jack.
You see, as a kid I was fairly obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I still am, to be fair. They’re my favorite comic book and childhood show, I still maintain that the first movie is one of the better comic book movie adaptations of all time (So is Dick Tracy, but we’ll get to that later), and I even had prime tickets to see the Turtles when they went on their rock concert tour. You heard me right, ROCK. CONCERT. TOUR. See, once upon a time in a marketing deal with Pizza Hut the Turtles released their first (and only) rock album to the public. Coming Out of Their Shells featured such illustrious hits as PIZZA POWER and WALK STRAIGHT (Which may or may NOT be an anthem for homophobia…My best friend and I have had many long conversations about this very thing). The surprising part if some of the songs on the album, at least musically, hold up fairly well 20 years later. No Treaties is a pretty solid rock song with some very cool guitar throughout. Weird rap song Cowabunga, on the other hand, is as strange now as it was then.
So when I saw I was (and still am) a little obsessed with the Ninja Turtles, you probably know I mean business. Who else would make a point of going to a comic book shop specifically to bow to the throne of co-creator Kevin Eastman when they happen to be visiting Los Angeles? That’s right, it’s this guy. And as a child, this guy (When I say this guy imagine me pointing at myself) would constantly try to convince his mother to buy him anything even remotely related to the Ninja Turtles. I had so many toys, I had a sleeping bag and sheets, the movies on VHS tapes, the album on cassette, hats, everything. You name it and the chances are I had it. I even remember the day I got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: THE GAME for the Nintendo. Hands down one of the very hardest games I have ever played. TO this day I’ve never beaten it. My love and my need also extended to licensed food products sometimes. X-Entertainment (An awesome blog that covers things I love had an awesomely comprehensive article covering the various Ninja Turtles food that I suggest you give a read. They even cover the cereal that came with super cool Turtle shaped cereal bowls.
But I’m not here to talk about all of those. You see, today I’m here to focus on only one food product. The most delicious of licensed food products. It’s a pizza-flavored corn snack named simple “Pizza Crunchabungas.” What the hell am I talking about? Watch this.
Pizza Crunchabungas were kind of like Bugles. You remember Bugles right? You put them on your fingertips to make them look like witch fingers. I’m relatively sure they still make them but even if they do they aren’t the same. Crunchabungas are instead pizza shaped. Well, let’s be honest…They aren’t even remotely pizza shaped, but as a kid I let myself be fooled into thinking they were. And that was good enough for me! Because they taste like pizza. Well, they don’t really TASTE like pizza. They taste sort of like what pizza would taste like it it were turned into a paste. And then applied to Corn Pops cereal. As a child in the early 90s there was no better taste than to crunch into these bad boys. The bag being emblazoned with the image of the Ninja Turtles didn’t hurt. And the idea of them shooting out of the Pizza Thrower toy (A toy I always hoped to have but never ended up getting) blew my mind. It’s as if they were begging me to partake. And partake I did.
This was a time in the world where we didn’t have quite the aversion to corn that we’re developing now. Corn snacks were just something awesome and delicious then. We’ve since become aware of how much corn is shoved down our throats and it’s a LOT. Back then ignorance was delicious pizza-flavored bliss. And honestly if they still made them now I’d still find a way to eat them. Their crunch was second to none and the pizza flavored (Which could be likened to the pizza flavor in Pizza Combos) was an oddly unique flavor that, along with the corn, was a perfect snack. For a period of time it was a go to afternoon snack for myself, along with many kids all over the country. Surely it contributed in some way to our awful health as a whole these days.
In that moment it didn’t matter, though. I could sit down with a bad of Crunchabungas, flip the TV over to CBS, and watch Ninja Turtles. Those really were good days. Now all I can really do is just think back on it. Ninja Turtles isn’t on CBS anymore (But it IS coming to Nickelodeon this fall!), Crunchabungas are no longer being produced, and I’m just not that kid anymore.
That didn’t stop me from jumping on eBay and looking for bags of Crunchabungas that somehow survived the 90s to be sold to idiots like me two decades after production ceased. The search was fruitless, like my endless quest for Ecto Cooler, but it won’t end. Why would it? Don’t we all want to go back and just be a kid sometimes?
Want to do a good deed? Why not help out some homeless teens in LA. A friend of a friend of mine is collecting goods that she’s giving to homeless teens in LA. Those of you that know me also know I’m a Californian and LA holds a special place in my heart. Let’s help where we can, yeah?