Weekend Countdown: Top 5 History Lessons from Schoolhouse Rock!


It’s almost time for every American history teacher’s favorite celebration – Comfest! Filthy hippies! No, wait, I mean Independence Day! Not everybody had Ellen Madden Edeburn to teach them history, so thankfully, there was Schoolhouse Rock. Starting on Saturday morning ABC tv in 1973, these toe-tapping lessons were sandwiched between Scooby’s mystery solving and the athletic antics of the Laff-A-Lympics, teaching us everything we needed to know about adverbs, our hero zero, and the preamble to the constitution.

As we get set to celebrate another 4th, let’s count down the top 5 history lessons from the days of Schoolhouse Rock. Sing along with us!


5) Elbow Room

No, not the legendary Spring Break bar in Ft. Lauderdale..SHR covers manifest destiny at it’s most melodious!



4) Shot Heard ’round the World

This revolution was televised…and set to music…USA! USA!



3) Sufferin’ Till Suffrage

“Til the 19th amendment stuck down that restrictive rule…sisters unite!” Preach on, ladies!



2) I’m Just a Bill

True, there’s nothing here about lobbyist bribes, pork barrel riders or signing statements, but Bill makes his three minutes count!


1) Preamble to the Constitution

If you can’t clearly remember your entire class singing this to themselves during history tests, you were cheated out of a bedrock in education.


Now, whose function was “hookin’ up words and phrases and clauses?”



Have I Seen You Somewhere Before?

The Heat

by Hope Madden

It’s interesting how a film can be so familiar and so unusual at the same time. Take The Heat. Pairing an A-list movie star with a proven comic talent for a buddy cop comedy is hardly a fresh idea. 48 Hours, Rush Hour, The Other Guys – it’s been done, and it doesn’t always work. Still, it is a well-worn concept that often delivers enough laughs to merit a couple of hours.

Now, thanks mostly to the deserved popularity of Bridesmaids, it has finally occurred to someone in Hollywood that women can shoulder an R-rated comedy. So, bro-mance is not a requirement for this odd couple caper, in which both cops are women – specifically,  Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.

Bullock is the uptight Ashburn to McCarthy’s loose cannon Mullins, the Felix to her Oscar, the Danny Glover to her Mel Gibson. They’ve been paired against their wills to ferret out a Boston drug lord. Maybe they’ll exploit each other’s foibles in the process, maybe even find an unexpected friend. (I’ll give them this – at no time does either detective say she is getting too old for this shit.)

The two leads fill the requisite roles quite well, Bullock’s angular, anal-retentive is the perfect foil for McCarthy’s unkempt profanity volcano. Bullock keeps pace admirably, but McCarthy is such an inexhaustible comedy explosion that the rest of the cast doesn’t have to work too hard. Her every line feels improvised, giving Katie Dippold’s otherwise predictable script much needed vitality.

McCarthy’s riotous performance honestly outshines everything about a film that’s content to coast on the novelty of female casting. Nothing else about The Heat bears remark – clichéd comedy trappings familiarly staged and directed, with Sandra Bullock relying on her Miss Congeniality stylings. It’s not terrible, but certainly nothing to write home about.

But there is nothing stale about McCarthy. Her talent for physical gags, her impeccable timing, and her bottomless well of one-liners gives every scene, however tired, the opportunity for a laugh.



Cleanup in the East Wing!


by George Wolf


Well, I believe I owe Olympus Has Fallen an apology.

Just a few months back, I labeled that film a pandering, if strangely entertaining, Die Hard in the White House.

Little did I know that White House Down was lurking like a crazy uncle waiting to show how much louder his bitchin’ Camaro is than your puny ride. This new presidential ass-kicking fest proudly lives by a bigger, louder, faster mentality, uncorking more of everything – the pandering, the wisecracks, the unapologetic Die Hardiness.

Channing Tatum dons the dirty wife-beater as John Cale, a D.C. cop on a White House tour with his young daughter when a paramilitary group invades. Naturally, John has been denied a spot on the Secret Service detail of President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) that very afternoon, which adds a redemptive angle to John’s heroics that the film wears like a manipulative badge of honor.

John and the Prez fight the baddies through every room, hallway and secret Marilyn Monroe love tunnel (patent pending) in the White House, recreating as many Die Hard moments as they can. Shoes off? Elevator shaft? Loved one held hostage? Cops mistakenly shooting at our hero on the roof?  Oh, yes, all that and so much more, as clever one liners give way to all-out comedy routines while bullets fly and rockets launch.

Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) displays his usual amount of subtlety:  none.  He keeps music swelling and flags waving, utilizing James Vanderbilt‘s script to deliver plenty of well choreographed, large scale action mixed with overblown speeches full of generic moralities.

And yet somehow, the unabashed ridiculousness and likable performances wear you down, and the over two hour assault on your objections calls to mind Russell Crowe in Gladiator.

“Are You Not Entertained?”  

Yes, a little.

Pass the popcorn.





Elijah Wood in Leg Warmers?


by Hope Madden

Just a steel town girl on a Saturday night lookin’ for the fight of her life. Back in 1983, that song backed the legwarmers, sweat, quick feet, and water buckets of Flashdance, but originally, Michael Sembello wrote it about a different hot mess.

Sembello first penned the tune in tribute to 1980’s cult slasher Maniac. Mouth-breathing schlub Joe Spinell made waves with the low budget flick featuring a sympathetic(ish) protagonist whose mommy issues drive him to extreme behavior. Despite its obvious plot, poor acting and over-the-top misogynistic butchering (or perhaps because of these), the film maintains a lingering popularity.

French horror maestro Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension) – who produces and co-writes – leads the reboot that ups the budget, talent, and blood.

Elijah Wood fills in for Spinell as Frank, mannequin aficionado. Frank’s mom showed her maternal devotion in unseemly ways, and those mixed messages took their toll on the boy. As a result, migraines, anxiety attacks, lacking social skills and a tendency toward dismemberment mark Frank’s adulthood. (What is Frodo Baggins doing to that lady?!)

The basic plot remains intact, but Aja and his crew of writers update Frank’s tale in a number of ways, most of them for the better – and yet, there was a seedy charm to Spinell’s setting, the workaday world of New York, the retread doesn’t capture.

The acting is certainly superior, though.

Wood, in particular, crafts a genuinely sympathetic character. This feat is more impressive than it sounds, and Frank’s way with a hunting knife is not the only obstacle facing the actor. Director Franck Khalfoun chooses to adopt the killer’s-point-of-view, shooting the entire film as though through Frank’s eyes. We see only what he sees, meaning that we rarely even glimpse Wood except by way of reflective surfaces.

The decision works here and there. You are aligned with the killer, seeing events as he sees them. Given what it is that he sees (largely his own actions), Khalfoun simultaneously indulges and punishes our voyeuristic behavior.

The act of seeing through Frank’s eyes should make the character feel more real for us, as it ostensibly establishes a connection between viewer and character. It doesn’t, though. It articulates Frank’s disconnect from humanity by disconnecting us from Frank.

This could be a blessing, though. He is, after all, a maniac.

And he’s dancin’ like he’s never danced before! (Go ahead – try and get that song out of your head.)



For Your Queue: Compelling takes on Hunger and Poverty

This week’s DVD releases includes A Place at the Table, a thoughtful, and thought-provoking look at hunger in America. Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush break through the intricacies involved in an issue that should not be as complicated as it is. Sure the approach is idealistic, but the underlying anger serves the film well. Hunger is a problem we don’t have to have in America, and A Place at the Table does a damn good job of showing us why.

For a fictional but no less honest look at American poverty, do yourself a favor and find Frozen River (2008). Nominated for two Oscars – including a nod for Melissa Leo as Best Actress – the film is not just a compelling thriller, but a bracing and unerringly authentic image of American resilience.


Counting Down with Pride (and Jon Theiss!)


It’s time to celebrate Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival in Columbus, and the town is absolutely giddy. Gay, even. But how can anyone properly celebrate without our former The Other Paper colleague, the genius behind the column That’s So Gay (pause here to picture the unicorn/rainbow logo), Jon Billy Theiss? Well, that’s a conundrum, and one we weren’t willing to face. So we brought him back to help us celebrate by counting down Hollywood’s five gayest “straight” films.

 5. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Vampires have been fabulous since Nosferatu, but when Tom Cruise bit Brad Pitt’s neck, heterosexual women the world over finally understood the straight man’s girl-on-girl fixation.

Jon says:

Vampires have always represented weird penetration allegories and the bourgeoisie’s penchant for wearing knee-highs and gaudy cocktail rings, so it makes sense that pint-size primadonna Tom Cruise would spend the majority of the movie wearing iridescent vests and a sun-kissed fingerwave.


4. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Spock, do you know why Kirk nearly died and nearly killed his entire crew to save you? Because he loves you. Love him back, you cold bastard!

Jon says:

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto could co-star in a Judd Apatow movie called These Heterosexual Men Love Touching Boobies and it would still be gayer than My Own Private Idaho.


3. The Lost Boys (1987)

Sure, David (Keiffer Sutherland) spends the whole film trying to seduce Michael (Jason Patric), but you had us at the Rob Lowe poster on Corey Haim’s bedroom wall.

Jon says:

Corey Haim and Corey Feldman: The closest thing Hollywood ever got to twincest.


2. 300 (2006)

Do you like gladiator movies? How about men with ridiculous abs wearing little more than capes and jewelry?  You’ll love 300.

Jon says:

This sword-crossing fantasy finally answers the question: Was antiquity really that gay? Yes. Yes it was.


1.Top Gun (1986)

The locker rooms? Iceman’s playful bite? Kelly McGillis as the love interest? The title? The only way this could have been gayer is if Harvey Fierstein played the volleyball coach. And even then, only a little.

Jon says:

Top Gun’s slow-motion baby-oil-fueled beach scenes, coupled with a cinematographer who’s glued to Val Kilmer’s body like your weird uncle who doesn’t blink during Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders performances, got me through puberty. These brilliant celluloid moments notwithstanding, Cruise’s other epic metaphor for gay sex, Days of Thunder, inspired my favorite post-coital victory cheer: “Rubbin’s racin’!”


Thanks, buddy! We miss you! Happy Pride everyone!

Putting You There Where Things are Hollow


By George Wolf




My son has lived in L. A. for almost a year. It took him all of two weeks as a Southern California resident to report, “Everyone here is so phony.”

Imagine growing up in that environment, and you might start to understand the treatment that The Bling Ring gives to some clueless teenage criminals.

In the late 2000s, a group of five Cali teenagers began burglarizing the homes of celebrities they admired, including their favorite “fashion icons” such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. All told, the gang swiped about three million in cash and property before the popo caught up with them.

Writer/director Sofia Coppola, who of course did grow up in this environment, establishes the setting with the ease you would expect. It is a Petri dish of vapidity, so lacking in substance that one teen seems genuinely proud of the depth of thought displayed in his stated ambition to “have my own lifestyle.”

The line that Coppola walks so effectively is one that allows her to keep both sympathy and judgement at arm’s length. The mistake would be to equate the frivolity of the story with a lack of substance in the film itself. Yes its light, but there’s ironic fun to be had, and a pair of fine performances to appreciate.

As Rebecca, the group’s ringleader, Katie Chang perfectly embodies the blinding self-absorption of a young lady who simply cannot imagine anything wrong with always getting what she wants at any given moment.

And Emma Watson, taking a major step toward shedding her image as Hermione from Harry Potter, is fantastic as Nikki, who personifies her fame-obsessed culture by viewing a very public arrest as a springboard to running a major charity organization…”or perhaps a country.”

Though it marks a stylistic shift for Coppola, you can see how this crime story spoke to her. In films such as Lost in Translation and Somewhere, she examined fame introspectively. The kids in The Bling Ring got no time for that, but Coppola makes them oddly fascinating.







Escaping the Summertime Blues

The Kings of Summer

by Hope Madden

School’s out! With their freshman year behind them, Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) have just the long, suburban Cleveland summer at home with their folks to look forward to. So they split.

The Kings of Summer sidles up alongside Joe and Patrick as they abandon the parents who make them crazy, and strike it out on their own in the woods between the golf course and the Boston Market. There, in the house they build from refuse and port-a-potty doors, they will decide what it means to be men. It’s just the two best friends and nature – and the unsettling, under explained and under developed third wheel, Biaggio (Moisas Arias).

Sundance loved The Kings of Summer, and there is a lot to find appealing. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts captures a leisurely magic in the forest, filling the screen with lovely images that visually underscore the boys’ emotional tumult in a way the script fails to.

Like all good coming of age dramedies, Summer serves up well meaning parents who just don’t understand. Nick Offerman (TV’s Parks and Recreation) excels as Joe’s deeply bitter single dad, and the two actors perform beautifully together. They mine scenes for the kind of tensions that develop only after a lifetime of familial strife.

Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson are a riot as Patrick’s gleefully overprotective sires, but the script begins to show real cracks as the broad (and often very funny) parental comedy bumps up against the lush and delicate indie drama the boys are generating. The parents would fit in Better Off Dead, while the kids lean more Stand By Me – a stylistic mishmash the film never really overcomes.

The film boasts a good number of laugh out  loud moments amid the tenderly wrought angst, but the humor masks deeper problems. Comic flashes serve to distract from weaknesses in the script, a fact most evident in the boys’ unusual cabinmate, Biaggio. Not a character at all, he’s a one-dimensional joke opportunity.

Vogt-Roberts keeps proceedings wholesome – a refreshing change for a coming of age indie – and every performance delivers. Kings of Summer offers a sweet, charming summer distraction. It just doesn’t do much more.



What’s In a Name?

World War Z

by Hope Madden

Fans of Max Brooks’s novel World War Z are less likely to be disappointed than baffled by Brad Pitt’s big screen adaptation. The film has about as much in common with Shakespeare as it has with Brooks’s wonderful, fictitious oral history of the zombie pandemic. Still, it’s not a bad flick. Not at all.

Pitt plays Gerry Lane, ex-UN investigator pulled back into active duty to determine the cause of – and ideally find a cure for – the zombie outbreak that is decimating the world population and will otherwise spell our ultimate doom.

Pitt, who produced as well, teams with director Marc Forster, a filmmaker better known for moody drama (Monster’s Ball, The Kite Runner) than zombie adventure, but he handles the task with aplomb.

The film opens briskly, establishes empathetic, realistic characters (assuming you can forgive one wholly unrealistic and insultingly idiotic decision Forster’s team of writers drummed up for Gerry’s wife), then throws episode after episode of chaos at you until you’re breathless. Not a bad way to piece together a zombie movie.

Of course, this is not exactly a zombie flick. It’s not a horror film at all. WWZ is an intelligently crafted international thriller and action movie that happens to include zombies. Between Pitt’s caring investigator and Forster’s ability to maintain heart pounding urgency for two full hours, they pull it off pretty well.

Surprises abound (especially if you’ve read the book), and though there are images here and there that recall one Z-flick or another (28 Days Later, in particular), on the whole, the film creates its own niche.

Though seeing the 3D version is not ultimately necessary, the added depth gives visceral impact to the many helicopter shots of chaos below, while providing quiet scenes a sense of “what’s around that corner?” dread.

Indeed, tension and dread counterbalance thrill effectively in a flick that keeps you guessing, jumping, and rooting for an intelligent and caring hero.

It’s certainly a more kind-hearted imagining of the apocalypse than the one Brooks offered, where nations turned on each other, the greedy and superficial partied on as though they were immune, and governments enacted gut-wrenching action to try to stem the outbreak. Pitt and Forster – and their team of writers – pull a lot of punches Brooks was happy to land. Their intent was clearly quite different, and the result worthwhile. I guess it’s just the title they liked.



Revenge of the Monster Nerds

Monsters University

by Hope Madden

Any mediocre Pixar release feels like a stunning disappointment, which may not be fair. No one bats 1000, and for every Cars 2 the animated giants release three Toy Storys. It’s an excellent swap, and to be fair, Monsters University is not quite Cars 2. Though similarities exist.

First of all, it’s a sequel to one of the studio’s lesser films. While 2001’s Monsters Inc. was imaginative, clever fun, it just doesn’t measure up to, say, Up. It wasn’t a work of groundbreaking, mind blowing, heart wrenching, hilarious genius. It was better than whatever other animators were doing that year, though.

But the competition’s only gotten stiffer in the last dozen years, and Pixar will need another unique and wondrous tale to really stand out. Or, they could just rehash the old Eighties staple Revenge of the Nerds for the 10-and-under set.

You may remember Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman), two BFFs working the scare floor at Monster’s Inc., where children’s screams are harnessed for the energy to fuel Monstropolis. (Now, see, that’s clever.) Well, as it turns out, back in college the two buddies were actually rivals.

Both were scare majors, but while Sully lazily relied on his natural talents, Mike had to work hard. They didn’t get along, and wound up expelled with only one chance to get back into college: take a rag-tag group of losers and beat the other frats and sororities at a scaring competition. (Less clever.)

Wildly predictable plotting leads to a handful of moderately funny gags, but the film does boast a few genuine strengths.

For instance, Helen Mirren plays the terrifying dean. Helen Mirren is never a bad decision. Other solid voice talent abounds, including Charlie Day, who steals scenes as Mike and Sully’s wrong-headed frat brother.

In true Pixar fashion, the film is also a visual achievement to behold, the monsters offering endless tactile and color opportunities for animators, who appreciated the challenge.

Directed by Columbus College of Art & Design grad Dan Scanlon, making his debut as an animated feature helmsman (he’s previously directed a documentary and a short), the film charms and entertains in a forgettable way. It’s the best solution so far this summer for wee ones, but this isn’t that Pixar gem that will stay with them until they have kids of their own.

Hell, they’ll probably forget it by the time Despicable Me 2 opens.