“The Raid: Redemption” Epic Movie Rewatch w/ Jeff

“The Raid: Redemption” Epic Movie Rewatch w/ Jeff

“Okay, listen up. Our target is Tama Riyadi. I’m sure most of you know who I’m talking about. This man has become something of a legend in the underworld… I don’t care how big he is or who is behind him, he must be stopped. That enterprising f**k’s been renting out rooms like it’s an apartment, to any low-life piece of sh*t looking to keep his head down. Our mission is simple: we go in, and we take him out!”

– Joe Taslim (Jaka) in The Raid: Redemption (2011)

Today I am posting about a recent movie rewind with my brother Jeff. A rewatch of one of, if not the best, action films I have ever watched; The Raid: Redemption. It’s funny; in 2014, my brother called me and told me he had a movie for me to watch. It was a foreign language film from Indonesia, and he explained the premise of the film thoroughly and succinctly. It sounded good, but I decided to hold off on watching it. In the summer of 2017, I finally sat down and watched it. Oh my, I was both amazed, transfixed, and shocked by the viewing experience. The movie was fantastic. I quickly called my brother, provided my deepest apologies for not watching it sooner, and owned the fact that my older brother was, in the end, correct about suggesting this film.

A few years after my first viewing, and leaning into the weekly movie chats my brother and I have engaged in since the pandemic’s start, I asked Jeff to do The Raid rewatch. He, of course, said yes. As I am sure you are well aware, I do not do standard film reviews. I do, however, like to reflect on specific films or genres of film or some aspects of the cinematic experience. I often discuss those films with a story, an event that initiates a need or wish, to explore those films again. I welcome any opportunity to relive or recall a specific film’s viewing experience. I did that with Trollhunter in October and Anna and the Apocalypse in December. Today, I do that with The Raid: Redemption. As film critic Chase Whale said, “My only complaint about The Raid is that it ended.”

Read more
It’s a Soundtrack Way of Life with Nostalgic Movie Songs on My Mind

It’s a Soundtrack Way of Life with Nostalgic Movie Songs on My Mind

“To me, movies and music go hand in hand. When I’m writing a script, one of the first things I do is find the music I’m going to play for the opening sequence.”

– Quentin Tarantino

A couple of months ago, I wrote about my affinity for original music scores. How the music shapes and molds the images you see is unbelievable. Still, the film score is solely one component of what makes up my favorite parts of the cinematic experience. Therefore, I thought why not venture back to the world of movie music, but this time focus on my most nostalgic movie songs. Many of my posts play around in the sandbox of nostalgia. I am a historian; after all, it’s where I feel most comfortable. But, what do I mean by movie music? Well, I am referring to those songs that immediately produce an incredible nostalgic feeling when I hear them on the radio, television, or film. When I hear the song, I grow still, the world around me becomes silent, and all I picture is where I remember it.

As a professor, one of my favorite traditions is to play “Back to School” at the start of the semester. Like those athletes you see getting off the team bus, headphones on, and walking into the stadium, I play this as I drive to class on day one. It’s smooth vocals and slow beat, quickly picking up tempo and ferocity in a fabulous 80s fashion. The song always has the power to pump me up, like a wrestler making their way to the ring with entrance music playing. Written by Richard Wolf and Mark Leonard and Jude Cole’s vocals, this anthem of the 1986 comedy film Back to School is heart-pumping fantastic. Sure, the movie, starring Rodney Dangerfield, is over the top, aged poorly at multiple points, but is in line with other 80s era films. The song always makes me laugh as I think back to watching it with my brother Jeff. I reflect on the film’s fun absurdity, and all the times I reenacted Sam Kinison’s cinematic moment when he yells “say it” and goes ballistic in the classroom. That is the power of a nostalgic film song.

As you can imagine the task of selecting nostalgic movie songs may sound like an impossible task. I have watched thousands of films, and most movies have several connected songs. No matter, it seemed a fun, worthwhile, and musically inclined venture. To find my most nostalgic songs, I focused on my most nostalgic movies, which I discussed in an earlier blog post, Cinematic Nostalgia: Traveling 88 mph to the 1980s. By focusing on those movies first, I could find those songs that inherently illustrate my love of cinema on a cellular level. But starting with those films does not mean it is where I will remain as I discover songs that strike the most nostalgic key. With that said, let’s dive back into cinematic music, but rather than listening to the original score, let’s put the cassette in the stereo, press play, skip over the instrumental and find the melody that brings all the memories flooding back.

Read more
“Oceans Rise, Empires Fall”: Cinematic Historical Drama & “The Good Lord Bird”

“Oceans Rise, Empires Fall”: Cinematic Historical Drama & “The Good Lord Bird”

“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known/ When I was young and dreamed of glory/ You have no control/ Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?”

– Chris Jackson (George Washington) in Hamilton

When I started this blog, I wrote that I would not attempt to make these posts a history lesson. I love history, being a historian, and talking about history. While teaching American history is my profession and passion, I want this blog to mix that with all the other topics I appreciate. Still, there are times, like today, when I use my knowledge of history, not to teach a lesson but to shine attention on my addiction to movies and television. Allow me, as I put on my historian hat, which I like to imagine resembles the one worn by Denzel Washington in Glory or Daveed Diggs in The Good Lord Bird, and discuss my emotional reaction to cinematic historical drama.

During times like these, when history seems distant, distorted, and dismissed, I often look to cinema to help remind me of what inspires me. History has always been something that interested me. The other day, I watched Hamilton for the first time and felt emotions that I had not felt since the pandemic began. Teaching using ZOOM has left me disappointed, even while recognizing this format’s necessity and how lucky I am to do what I love. But, while I understand those facts, I have felt empty. Watching the filmed performance of the epic Broadway play on Disney + helped remind me, even if slightly, of my love of history. I believe that cinema can offer a powerful emotional trigger that can bring history into the present. So, join me as I reconsider this viewing experience alongside some of the best cinematic moments, for me, that repeatedly stirs up my passion for history.

Read more
What a Difference a Year Makes: New Year’s Eve 2019 & a “Musical Reckoning” about Moby Dick

What a Difference a Year Makes: New Year’s Eve 2019 & a “Musical Reckoning” about Moby Dick

“There’s only now, there’s only here
Give in to love or live in fear
No other path, No other way
No day but today”

– “No Day But Today” – Vocals by Idina Menzel and Lyrics by Jonathan D. Larson

One year ago, for New Year’s Eve, my wife and I drove into Cambridge, MA, for a live performance of Moby-Dick, A Musical Reckoning at the American Repertory Theater. We had bought these tickets a couple of months before, mainly because on the one hand we wanted to see more live performances in the new year and, on the other hand, I love everything related to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. It was a fantastic night, and the play was brilliant, unique, and the songs were memorable. What we didn’t expect was that this performance would be our last live event of the year. With the pandemic shuttering the doors of Broadway theaters and theaters around the country, we had that previous event as a powerful reminder of the things we lost out on in 2020.

Today’s post is my 30th since mid-July, which was when I started this blog. Next week, my post will explore a travel adventure in Central America, so this week, and since tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, I decided to reflect on that Moby-Dick musical and think back to those times I took in a play either on Broadway or closer to home. Each live theater experience provided a wonderful experience that I deeply miss. I know these theaters will open their doors again. Still, in the meantime, l am going to get my memory ticket punched and head back in time to reflect on those amazing musical performances.

Read more
My No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Travel Adventure & “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”

My No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Travel Adventure & “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”

“Neal: What’s the flight situation? / Del: Simple. There’s no way on earth we’re going to get out of here tonight. We’d have more luck playing pickup sticks with our butt-cheeks than we will getting a flight out of here before daybreak. / Neal: I guess we’ll find out soon enough. / Del: Yeah, but by the time the airline cancels this flight, which they will sooner or later, you’d have more of a chance to find a three-legged ballerina than you would a hotel room. / Neal: Are you saying I could be stuck in Wichita? Del: I’m saying you are stuck in Wichita.”

– John Candy (Del) & Steve Martin (Neal) in Planes, Trains and Automobiles

In previous posts, I have discussed how my brother Jeff and I do a movie rewatch and chat each week. It started on ZOOM when things locked down at the start of the pandemic, and we have since continued doing it socially distanced in either his or my backyard. One week, what started as a discussion of our favorite John Hughes’ film, morphed into a conversation about bad travel experiences. As brothers do, we each told our own bad travel stories, competing to see who had the worst experience. In the end, we both agreed our worst travel experience was one we shared.

Many years ago, 16-years to be exact, my brother Jeff and I lived our version of the film Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but I remember it being terrible. In our attempt to go to Florida to celebrate Christmas and the dawning of a New Year at Walt Disney World with my sister Becky and mother, we experienced what can only be described as an awful travel adventure. To circumvent lousy weather, limited plane space, and a semi-strike by our airline, we did whatever we could to make it Florida, from Providence, RI. We went through insanity, yet it is one of the funniest stories to tell because, well, sometimes bad experiences make for great stories.

The end of the story will be as strange as the beginning. But, to better understand it, I want to add in a comparison take on John Candy and Steve Martin’s incredible buddy-comedy adventure, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. A film with sharp comedic timing, uncomfortable travel commentary, and touching dramatic elements, the movie always makes me think of what my brother Jeff and I went through and the paths we took to get to Florida that Christmas in 2004. Join me as I explore that travel adventure, study an incredibly nostalgic film, and partially spoil the story’s ending. It ends pretty well.

Read more
“Make it So!”: The Timelessness of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

“Make it So!”: The Timelessness of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

“Every choice we make allows us to manipulate the future… A person’s life, their future, hinges on each of a thousand choices. Living is making choices.”

– Patrick Stewart (Picard) from “A Matter of Time”

Whether it was Zoobilee Zoo as a child, Saved by the Bell as an adolescent, or the X-Files as a teenager, and shows like Dead Like Me and Being Human as an adult, I have fallen in love with multiple television shows during my four decades on this planet. While essential viewing, those shows are just a small batch of television shows that have brought me incredible joy for various reasons. Still, one show has impacted me and stayed with me probably the longest or positions itself as a close second to Dead Like MeStar Trek: The Next Generation, which I refer to as Star Trek: TNG or simply TNG in this post, is that showLet’s boldly explore, with a personal story, “strange new worlds…new civilizations.” On this journey to the “final frontier,” I will discuss Star Trek: TNG and its impact on me as a kid and how, as an adult, I always think back to those episodes and Star Trek conventions that taught me valuable human lessons. 

Read more
“Nobody Does It All Alone”: The Beauty of Film & Television Original Scores

“Nobody Does It All Alone”: The Beauty of Film & Television Original Scores

“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”

– Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The other day, while my wife was at work, the one day of the week she is not remote, I felt terrible. I didn’t feel sick, but rather anxious, and found myself falling deeper into a somber place. I immediately grabbed my phone, put on my music streaming app, and turned on my preprepared playlist, “My Film Scores.” I selected “Constant,” which is from the fourth season of Lost by Michael Giacchino, walked into the sunroom, and moved a chair so I could look out the window. I sat down, eyes closed, and did some deep breathing as the song played. With its slow but beautiful orchestral progression of intersecting piano and violin play, I felt my heart grow warm, regular, and my anxiety slowly dissipated as the instrumental music comforted me.

I am not sure when I began gravitating towards film scores at moments of sadness and heightened anxiety. It’s not new, but it’s not old either. They seem to reset me when I feel low and bring me to a place that only they can guide me. It’s like being transported to an island of one with music broadcast over the speakers, similar to that powerful scene in The Shawshank Redemption, from the quote I use above. Even for a minute, it seems all the craziness, the current reality of life, and my fears and worries are proven imaginary. The villainous face these feelings appear as are finally unmasked, as the music reminds me of who I am and everything is alright. But why film scores? Let’s explore that for a moment.

Read more
Movie Rewind: “Trollhunter” w/ my Father-in-Law Pat

Movie Rewind: “Trollhunter” w/ my Father-in-Law Pat

“Thomas: In a sense, you’re a true Norwegian hero. / Hans: No, you’re wrong about that. There’s nothing heroic about what I do. It’s dirty work.”

– Otto Jespersen & Glenn Erland Tosterud in Trollhunter

The story goes like this…

Several years ago, I was at my in-laws in NY and was speaking to my sister-in-law Kaitlyn about a horror movie I had watched. Kaitlyn, like myself, enjoys watching horror movies. It’s a fun genre, which I detailed in my blog post from last week, that allows you to tune out the outside world. You watch, get entertained by the film’s stupidity, and enjoy yourself in the cinematic fiction. Still, not all horror movies are created equal, and I do not enjoy slasher and horridly violent films. As you all learned last week, I like monsters, zombies, and horror mixed with comedic elements. The movie I was telling Kaitlyn fits into the latter category and is called Trollhunter.

While telling Kaitlyn about the film, my father-in-law walked into the room and picked up our conversation. While pouring some iced-tea, he chimed in, “Are you talking about Trollhunter?” The moment I heard Pat ask that, my mouth dropped to the ground in shock and disbelief. Had my father-in-law, Mr. ESPN, had he seen Trollhunter? I knew of no one else who had seen this movie but are you telling me Pat had? So, I asked him. “Pat, are you thinking about the Norwegian found-footage horror film?” He responds, “ya with a guy hunting trolls!!” All I could muster at this point was, “holy shit, Pat’s seen Trollhunter!”

Thinking back to that moment, I can’t help but laugh. How did my cool and calm father-in-law see such a random movie? I mean, I hang out with Pat often when I am in NY. We watch sports together and sometimes a random show on Netflix. Still, I had never known his taste in specific movie genres, so I was shocked and amazed when he said he had seen it. Therefore, with this blog, I feel like now is an excellent time to consider the movie one more time. To do so, I need Pat’s reaction. No better way to spend time chatting with my father-in-law than discussing the film and exploring it together. Welcome to Trollhunter rewind with Pat!

Read more
Top 6 Movie “Heat Checks”

Top 6 Movie “Heat Checks”

Batman/Bruce Wayne: You’re vigilantes. / Henri Ducard: No, no, no. A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification. He can be destroyed, or locked up. But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely. / Batman/Bruce Wayne: Which is?/ Henri Ducard: A legend, Mr. Wayne, a legend.

– Liam Neeson & Christian Bale in Batman Begins

Those of you who have frequented my blog know about my need for POP! Culture comfort. Whether it is gaming with my brother-in-law Kyle, movie chats with my brother Jeff, or, as you will learn in future blog posts, my LEGO builds, golf outings, and addiction to the television show, American Dad. Today’s blog post, I will jump back to my weekly movie chats with my brother. There I will continue to explore the podcast that inspired our conversations, Bill Simmons’ The Rewatchables. More importantly, this blog will examine the best and most time-consuming category, “Best Heat Check.”

Read more
Cinematic Nostalgia: Traveling 88 mph to the 1980s

Cinematic Nostalgia: Traveling 88 mph to the 1980s

“Goonies never say die!”

– Mikey in The Goonies

When you grow up, there are those movies you watch once and forgot about, leaving very little of a mark on your pop culture makeup. Other times there are those films that stand the test of time, maybe not in graphics, or dialogue, but in substance. These films, still to this day, are a nostalgic reminder of one of your great cinematic experiences and a sentimental part of your past.

We all have our internal or external list of “favorite movies.” Often the list is personal, ranging from a film you can’t stop thinking about, or one that proved a cinematic masterpiece, or others purely for their stupidity. The list is yours, no one else, so the films you loved are allowed to stand in place as “your” greats. My list is similar to that idea. I have my masterpiece like Shawshank Redemption, my favorites Memento, Back to the Future, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, Platoon, movies by Christopher Nolan, Stephan Spielberg, Quintin Tarantino, and so on. My list is my list, films that had an effect on me, one way or another.

Read more