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Movie Wednesday: The Invisible Man

the invisible man promo image
Reasonable. Perfectly reasonable for a handprint that’s not mine to show up on the shower door. It’s all good.

One of the first films I’ve seen this year that was actually released this year. I think. Well, put it this way. One of the newest films I’ve seen this year after the theaters closed due to the pandemic. God I miss the movies.

Anyway. Let’s chat, shall we?

The Setup

Unlike the H. G. Wells novel that inspired it, the antagonist here is a charismatic and insanely wealthy gentleman, whose fortune and status owed to his brilliance in the field of ‘Optics’, which is to say, vision and sight-related technology, like cameras and image processing and light manipulation. The protagonist is his battered, controlled, and (at first) entirely victimized girlfriend. Of course, she realizes how bad her situation is and makes a daring escape from their compound-like home (which apparently doubles as his optics lab, I guess.. when you have enough money, you just merge your work and living space into one bougie-hipster-fest of a mansion?).

old black and white invisible man character
Someone’s wasting precious toilet-paper…

She holes-up with a good friend of hers, sees her sister, and starts trying to live a normal-ish life. Douche-optic-sci-guy dies and leaves her a ton of money. His brother, a sniveling lawyer with a little too-convenient story of their own strange relationship, serves up the will. She celebrates with some well-placed generosity and seems to be doing well.

Great, I’m with it so far.

The Plot Thickens

But. Always a but. She starts sensing a presence. An unseen entity pulls off her bed-covers while she sleeps, and a pair of foot imprints, seemingly standing on the edge of the blanket as she pulls it back, jump-start the insanity.

So this is not what I’d call “pure horror”, but it’s more of a horror-thriller hybrid. And it’s very well-done. The characters are developed, the story moves at a good pace, and the building sense of fear and psychosis is demonstrated with the right amount of visuals, musical cues, and dialog. Some of the best bits are when Cecelia simply converses with the empty space in front of her, knowing it’s not truly empty, but unable to find even the slightest crack in the facade to prove otherwise.

We could draw some comparisons to Hollow Man here (first R-rated movie I ever watched, no joke!), with similar pacing and action. Although in terms of the targets of affection, I think Kevin Bacon got the better deal by far — Elizabeth Shue AND Rhona Mitra? Yes plz. (I might have mentioned her before.) That’s not fair of me, though — Elizabeth Moss is fine too, but her character here is supposed to look like she’s been through hell, because she has!

kevin bacon hollow man in hoodie
Agent Smith meets Gumby.

Look Ma, No Hands!

As we build toward the climax, a couple things go wrong. First, the injuries that C. inflicts on herself should have been much more life-threatening. Second, once we learn how the invisibility suit actually works, it stands to reason that it being shot with multiple bullets would cause some serious malfunctioning, not this half-baked “self-healing” technology that seems to keep our killer both lead-proof AND eye-proof without a flinch. But hey, maybe I’m behind the times.

Despite me “calling it” before the last “mini-twist” was revealed (I’m trying to emulate K. here, but her gift for foreseeing story elements, plot-twists, and endings was absolutely astounding), I still enjoyed the fact that they went there. It helped bump C. over that last little ledge of neurosis, while giving her the motivation she needed to start actually fighting back.

That Ending, Tho…

But really. For all we’ve learned about Adrian, can we really believe for a second that he wouldn’t suspect her of being wired while they converse awkwardly over a reunion dinner? Or that he’d just LET her wander off alone to “freshen up”? Come on.

I did administer a few self-fives for predicting dialog just before it was said, so that was entertaining.

barney stinson self-five
You know, it’s not easy being this awesome.
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25 Years, Still Going Strong

Descent.

When I say that word, what do you think of? Perhaps the 2005 horror movie based in a cave? Good film. Not quite there.

Descent 1 intro briefing
Descent 1 intro briefing

“Prepare for descent…”

How about now? If you just got goosebumps up your joystick arm and tickly tingles in you trigger fingers, you’re my kind ‘a people. That’s right, my fellow four-eighty-six pilots, I’m talking about THE game. The game of the year; nay, of the decade. The one that changed shooters forever. The ever impressive.. the one-contained.. the often imitated but never duplicated oh shi–.. Descent!

Yes, this game will forever live on in my memory as the pinnacle of 3D gaming from my childhood. The mid-1900s saw some killer game releases. Top shooters included Doom, Quake, Goldeneye, Wolfenstein, Half-Life, Unreal. But NONE of these could hold a candle to the mind-bending stomach-churning six-degrees-of-freedom true 3D shooter that was Descent. Bonus, since it didn’t involve killing humans (and thus, no gore) — evil robots were the enemy here — it was perfectly acceptable to my parents for a young 9-year-old Nate’s innocent eyeballs. The sheer rush of adrenaline as the ‘bots tried to ambush as you barely escaped with evasive maneuvers and turned around to blast them to bits… Pure nostalgic gold.

Descent D1x-Rebirth level 1 Lunar Outpost
Descent D1x-Rebirth level 1 Lunar Outpost

“But what the blazes are you going on about”, you may ask. Excellent question. Please see YouTube. It’s not the absolute greatest representation of the true 6DoF potential, but you’ll get the idea. And if you get a little queasy, a little motion-sick, that’s perfectly normal. Anybody who’s never played one of these before is likely to need some.. perspective.

Open-Source Developers are Awesome

Here’s why I love developers. Gather a few of ’em together around something they’re passionate about, and watch magic happen. Descent is 25 years old this year. It was made for DOS and Windows 95, as well as a few consoles. Heck, I even have the original CDs from the “Definitive Edition” pack (re-released a few years later). But there’s no way in heck they would run on modern computers with modern operating systems.

Enter open source. Thankfully, the Descent 1 & 2 source code was released to the public at some point. That’s like Christmas Day to developers — anybody with any programming skill could now peek and tweak at the code, even rewrite it from scratch. Two separate projects — called “source ports” — spawned from that seed: DXX-Rebirth, and D2X-XL. The former is simpler and more true-to-form, retaining as much of the original gameplay look & feel as possible, while still enabling it to run on modern systems and adding a few nice conveniences for the 21st century player. The latter is more of a “let’s see how far we can take this” philosophy, in that the author has consistently added many changes and enhancements to the core game mechanics and graphics that, while some players find appealing, I personally take it as “noisy”. But due to its popularity, there are even a number of levels (aka ‘missions’) that will only work with this version. And don’t get me wrong, the work is impressive, by any developer’s standards.

D2X-XL gameplay on D1 level 1 revamped
D2X-XL gameplay on D1 level 1 revamped

A Legacy Lives On

As with most legendary hit games, a dedicated “mapping & modding” community sprouted up around it. To this day, DescentBB forums are active, and a few members are even still making levels. I even tried my hand at it a couple times. I remember almost begging my parents to buy the re-packaged game box because it included the “Descent Mission Builder” software that let you make your own levels. Hours upon hours spent manipulating cubes and flying through tunnels to test. But nothing compared to the fun of playing through the true masterpieces of level-design produced by the most prolific builders of the day — they pushed the game so far beyond what the creators originally imagined, yet likely dared dream of.

a waterfall from a custom level in Descent 2
A waterfall in custom level “Alhambra” for Descent 2

OMG I Must Play!

Then have I got a page for you! Includes download links and step-by-step instructions for Windows users. Bonus, it’ll soon include my own hand-picked custom-levels pack (so you don’t have to sort through the piles of crap that accumulated from half-baked “level contests” and “archive servers” over the decades).

A Challenger Appears

Overload, a spiritual successor to the Descent series, and involving the very founders of Parallax, was released in 2018 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. I haven’t played it yet, but from the footage and reviews I’ve seen, it’s right at home in this game-hall-of-fame.

Overload gameplay screenshot
Overload gameplay screenshot

So what are you waiting for? Catch me on Twitch and watch me play, or go download all the goodies and check it out yourself!

See you in the mines!

Favorite tagline of many hot-shot pilots and level-designers.

Movie-time: Starship Troopers

Featuredcropped movie cover of starship troopers

I’m doing my part!

Federal Propaganda

I’m back baby! And I finally understand those memes. Yes indeed, I’m talking about the one, the only, 1997 socio-political commentary disguised as big-budget sci-fi xeno-war Starship Troopers! And it did not disappoint.

i'm doing my part!
Yes you are, you little super-vaguely-ethic and kinda-androgynous thing you!

Do you want to know more?

Let me just start by saying the interjected propaganda bits are pure gold. It’s part of what elevates the film from your standard, near-B-grade sci-fi, to a legitimate topical satire. It doesn’t hurt that Barney Stinson is one of the scientists bandying about bug brutalization and badassery.

Look closely at how frenzied the mother is as she watchers her kids stomping on cockroaches. Or how the mobile infantry recruitment tactics bear a striking resemblance to decades-past American armed forces ads. This isn’t a movie about noble humans fighting evil bugs. This is a movie about runaway big-militarized-government and ruthless imperialism, with a dash of blind nationalism for good measure.

And it’s surprisingly relevant, even today.

rico with orange bug guts on him
I killed it. ‘Merica.

Welcome to the Roughnecks!

If you start paying too much attention to the visual FX, you’ll probably say it looks a bit dated. Now, this was 1997, 1 year later than Independence Day, for example, so you may be onto something. But remember, too, that this was only the late 90s. So I would say, actually, go back and watch other sci-fi from around the same time, and you’ll find that it actually fits right in.

The war-time scenes, both in training camp and actual combat, are average at best. There is a decent amount of guts and gore, mixed with some tongue-in-cheek humor and interpersonal drama, and sprinkled with the standard lead-character heroics. However, you get frustrated with lack of tactical sense and storm-trooper-level firearm competency (that is to say, very little, for those of you who’ve never seen Star Wars). But again, this actually screams ‘parody’ to me, as though they did it this way on purpose to show how laughable most sci-fi action really is.

The characters are, generally, a bit one-dimensional. But some of the actors play it so well that you’ll forgive them for it. Like the drill sergeant and the stump-arm commander. Make no mistake, a lot of the acting IS quite bad. But is it bad.. on purpose? Think about it.

The enemy cannot push a button, if you disable his hand!

And can we just take a moment to acknowledge how incredibly forward-thinking this society was in one very small yet very significant way? Gender equality! The football team, the infantry, the co-ed showers. I mean, there was literally NO friction caused by the fact that men and women were completely equal in these environments. Hats off to that, my friends, hats off to that.

the cast agreed to do the shower scene only if the directory would film it naked too
[citation needed]

MEDIC!

Here’s the main problem I had with the character arcs and story. Right from the jump, Dizzy is framed as a strong, kickass woman who knows what she wants, and doesn’t put up with your crap. She proves it in bootcamp, and again in the field. And yet, spoiler-alert, her death scene is just so terribly weak. I mean sure, she also played up the silly schoolgirl crush on Rico, but she definitely wasn’t the lovelorn doe-eyed damsel. Maybe I’m reading the character wrong. But COME ON. “It’s OK, because I got to have you”?? PLEASE. And your competition is literally in the front seat, maybe even within ear-shot.

If I were to see this movie remade, and I had any input, this scene would be my rewrite. Oh don’t get me wrong, she’d still die horribly. But ol’ Carmen would be close enough to hear Diz’s very last words, which would be something to the effect of, “But hey, Rico, I rocked your goddamn world!”, sending that metaphoric knife-to-the-heart for Ibanez. And she would NOT beg that candy-ass of a man to “hold me” or anything as she drew her last breath.

diz gets spiked by a bug
I was also disappointed by the lack of Wilhelm Screams.

Come on you apes! You wanna live forever?

Two thumbs up, but beware the dated CGI and bad acting.

PS: OMG is that freakin Father Gabriel from The Walking Dead!?! IT IS!! Hah. Oh I can not see him as a soldier. But he tried, God bless him, he tried. =)

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Movie Monday: Men In Black 4

Sure, it’s called ‘International’, whatever. It’s still the 4th one.

frank the pug from men in black
No dogs were harmed in the making of this review. Except this one. But he did it to himself. He smoked too much, drank too much, stayed out too late, partied too hard.. you know how these Hollywood types are. I can’t be held responsible. No blood on my hands. Still, I’ll miss the little mutt.

Make no mistake, I’m a fan of the series. The original was, like many Will Smith blockbusters of the late 90s, a force to be reckoned with. The elegance was in the simplicity — Smith at his standard boyishly charming cocky rookie game, Jones as the weathered old wise master, taking on a big bad with the unexpected help of an innocent-victim-turned-almost-femme-fatale. Overseen by Rip Torn at his finest. And Vincent D’whateveryoucallit amped up the ick to 11.

Men in Black Mr Jones and Mr Smith
The original. Accept no substitute.

5 years later, we get a surprisingly decent sequel. Nearly a full cadre of the original actors, and some fresh blood like Rosario Dawson added a healthy ‘oomph’ to the second step in the series. Plus it’s always fun to see Puddy do something ridiculous. Now don’t get me wrong, it was far from perfect, but overall there’s more to like than dislike.

men in black 2 agent J and K in mailman uniform
Spoiler-alert: amnesia (duh)

Another decade, another sequel. The third installment was.. passable. Again, lots of positives. Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson; the touching story of how K first discovered J as a child [spoiler alert!]. A bit more negatives, though — the villain, for one thing. I just couldn’t get past his.. everything. I mean, ‘ick’ is one thing; ‘just plain gross for gross’ sake’ is another. But the “I can see all future possibilities at once and it’s made my brain a little frappuccino-y” dude was really cute, and as I said, the timeline intersection subplot was worthwhile. So would I watch it again? For sure. Would I watch it more than a couple times? Ehhh… maybe, but I wouldn’t be ecstatic about it.

men in black 3 young J with dad's pocket watch
Probably the best scene of the whole film.

Now, we come to 2019. First of all, good luck getting ANY of those people to come back for round 4. I mean, at least one of them is dead. RIP, Rip. (And yes, that was literally on Twitter.) Fair enough; I didn’t really expect to see them anyway. No, this is a departure from the trilogy. This is… well, it’s like a remodeled apartment. The same foundations, the same basic framework, but with a lot of upgrades and a fresh coat of shiny new paint.

For starters, our new headliners — Hemsworth and Thompson (Tessa, not Emma; no relation) — are pretty. But the great thing is, she (particularly) doesn’t need to flaunt it. As the thematic undercurrent alludes to, this is no longer a ‘boys club’. This is the “Men and Women in Black”. A bit unfortunately, she still goes a little schoolgirl ga-ga over him — at first. She doesn’t let it stop her from being a badass, so it all evens out. Props.

men in black 3 chris hemsworth tessa thompson
the beautiful people, the beautiful people…

Now, the villains are immensely superior to anything we’ve yet seen, which is both refreshing and expected. On one hand, we know it’s going to take a lot more to stop them from bringing about our doom; but we kinda had to know that going in, otherwise what’s the point of another sequel? The side-story and featured NPC aliens (that’s RPG-talk for “neutral party characters” i.e. ones that aren’t the main bad-guys but aren’t necessarily at the beckon-call of our heroes either), are pretty decent.

Finally, we have this whole ‘internal intrigue’ / ‘mole in our midst’ plot. To me, it almost seemed like they wanted to make H out to be the mole, but then they wanted us to think it was C, then finally ol’ crusty boss-man. Now, this may seem like responsible mystery storytelling, right? And yes, I get it; you DO want the audience misdirected before you get to the big reveal. Obviously. But that traitor-y vibe, for me, lingered a bit too long on H’s character. I’m not sure if that’s the filmmaker’s fault or mine. Regardless, the storyline definitely does its job in taking us on the journey to a happy ending. It just felt a little too forced.

The thing I’m missing, I think, is the heart — that spirit of wonder and mystery that propelled the first film forward in a way that only truly good sci-fi does. This was more flash than function; more spark than fire. BUT! Still enjoyable. Good times.

And damn if that scene where he picks up the hammer ain’t a perfectly executed self-trolling-cameo.. I mean COME ON! You can’t not love it for at least a few seconds.

Spoiler alert: it’s not quite over…

One thumb up. Have fun out there friends! ❤

Disclaimer: None of these images are mine and I never claimed any rights over/about/related to them whatsoever. 😉

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Movie Monday: The Hustle

Hey kids, it’s that time again!

What time is it?

Time for a movie review! Try to contain your excitement.

the hustle movie poster
Promises, promises…

High Expectations

Both of these actresses are fabulous. I mean, neither one is everybody’s cup o’ tea, but they have terrific screen presence and charisma. Just look at Ocean’s 8 or Pitch Perfect. There’s a lot of potential here, given the vast difference in their appearance and demeanor (as characters, specifically, but also in general). Although, let’s face it, Wilson is very much a character-actor and doesn’t have nearly the range that Hathaway does.

The trailers gave us some really good lines about women being underestimated and using that to their advantage, with some hilarious “Rebel blunders” to guffaw at. And while the premise of the master grifter teaching the amateur the art of the con is not new, it does generally make for compelling cinema, when done right. However, when you take that formula too far off the rails, you can end up in cheese-land.

Sub-par Results

The problem here is that we get too deep too fast.

That’s what SHE said!

Right, anyway. What I mean is, there doesn’t seem to be a truly compelling reason for Jo (Hathaway) to take Penny (Wilson) under her wing. We’re just kind of shoehorned into it, like “Yep, that’s the way it is now, keep that train a’rollin’!”. Similarly, the main motivator (turf war, really?) for their ultimate “gentleman’s wager” really doesn’t seem that crucial to the story. Nor does the target, the silicon valley whiz-kid. Again, taking a page from the Ocean’s trilogy, why not just compete for the sake of competition?

And then there’s the whole she-Gollum shtick, which just didn’t work for me. It’s nothing against the actors or the writing… They’re leaning too far into the whole “Rebel Wilson isn’t really attractive” angle. Right? But I get it, that’s the characterization — Jo is sophisticated high-class elegance and Penny is the opposite. I’m completely on-board with that; I merely wanted to see more variety in the cons, not the same few tropes replayed.

Happy Endings

Spoiler alert! No, just kidding. I won’t actually tell you what happened. I will say that it wasn’t that bad. It was a little unnecessary, a little forced, sure. But overall, fairly satisfactory.

The Verdict

Meh. The ~48% audience-score on Rotten Tomatoes feels about right. It’s not a terrible movie! It’s just not that fantastic either. Worth a theater visit or a $4.99 rental? No, definitely not. Worth a spot on your watch-list when it comes to streaming-ville? Sure.

What Marvel Movies Do I Need to Watch?

mickey-mouse-infinity-gauntlet-starwars-marvel-fox-pixar

Welcome to the first post of the new year. I’ll be keeping things a little on the lighter side for now. I’m still very into my work and learning lots of share-worthy things in the data world. But for now, movies!

I also want to take a moment to appreciate those who reached out to us after our devastating loss. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. Please continue to remember our family as we struggle to find a sense of normalcy.

So, some of my elder moviegoers asked me the question that many people have been asking over the last year or two: “What Marvel movies do I really need to watch before Infinity War?”, or more recently, “before End Game?”. More generally, which ones are worthwhile viewing to a casual non-geek, to someone who doesn’t need to obsess over every little minutiae, someone who is not by nature a “comic book movie lover”. It’s a completely fair question, and honestly it needs more.. less nerdy answers.

Hence, this post!

Iron Man (2008)

Really, how could you not? RDJ at his finest, and the start of what we now call the MCU. One could argue that it’s actually not entirely critical to “Avengers”, as a whole, especially if you have a general idea of who and what Iron Man is. But come on.

Thor (2011) OR Thor: Dark World (2013)

Opinions vary on which is a solid film and which is a dud. Either one is sufficient to introduce the Asgardians, the handsome dude with the big hammer, and our favorite flip-flopping hero-villain-depending-on-the-day-of-the-week.

Avengers (2012)

Obviously. While it precedes Thor 2, chronology isn’t the most important thing in the early storyline. It’s more about understanding the characters and the way they work together. If you just did Thor 2, you might not understand why Loki is the bad guy at this point; whereas if you just do Thor 1, you’ll miss the part where Loki “turns good” (ish?) as a lead-in to a future story. Not terribly important; just enjoy the big battle with giant alien snake-ships.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

While not critical to the Avengers storyline, per se, it’s an excellent movie, with some key character development that ultimately explains a pivotal point in Starlord’s (Pratt) behavior in the third Avengers film. And the music is fabulous!

Honorable Mention: Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)

This is also not technically required viewing, but is widely regarded as one of the best films to this point in the timeline. It also sets up some important elements in the larger story arc. However, if, like me, you’re not a giddy schoolgirl superfan of Chris Evans and/or the Cap in general, you can skip this one in favor of Civil War.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Not the greatest movie from a quality perspective, but quantity, you get. Plus major plot and character development. Paul Bettany is amazing as always, and newcomer Elizabeth Olsen does not disappoint.

Honorable Mention: Doctor Strange (2016)

Again, not critical to the overall arc, but it’s something different. Cumberbatch really made his mark as a cross between the sarcastic cynicism of Tony Stark and the higher moral calling of Steve Rogers.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Basically Avengers 2.5, this film gave us so much plot and character push that it’s a sin to ignore. And it’s a truly fantastic movie to boot. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is a breath of fresh air, and he will definitely make you want to see his first standalone feature, even if it’s not super essential to the Avengers storyline as a whole. As I said before, I’m not a drooling Captain fan, but this is truly a full-fledged ensemble worth watching.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

If Civil War was business as usual for the Avengers, Ragnarok is a welcome departure. It nearly flies in the face of the serious and dramatic tones of its predecessors, and I absolutely LOVED it for that. Hemsworth and Hiddleston are back to their charming selves, Ruffalo comes off a Hulk-high and bumbles back into our hearts, and Jeff Goldblum ramps up the ridiculousness. But the star of this show is Cate Blanchette’s villianess, Hela.

you're in my seat

I’m Hela.

Hella what?

Hella fab in this badass latex bodysuit!

The most important thing about Ragnarok is that it directly leads into the beginning of Infinity War. So watch past the credits and get ready for some epicness.

Honorable Mention, prior to Infinity War: Spider-Man Homecoming (2017) and Black Panther (2018)

As I mentioned, Tom Holland managed to breath fresh life into the Spider-Man character, after Sony churned out way too many movies bearing his namesake. Here he’s re-established as a pop-culture-savvy teenager who just wants to do the right thing and finds this HUGE world of good-vs-evil that he may hesitate about but ultimately knows he needs to become a part of. Black Panther really needs no introduction; it was one of the top performing movies of 2018, and for good reason. Not just because it’s one of the first black super hero movies of the decade, and indeed of the Marvel universe, but because it firmly and distinctly fired on all major cylinders of modern comic cinema – action, character, heart, culture, morality, and legacy. Yet, neither of these movies is, I argue, absolutely critical to understanding the larger Avengers plot-line. You get enough of an introduction to both characters in the other movies.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

The big daddy of them all. So far, of course. End Game will likely rightfully claim that title once it hits, but for now, this is the climax, the apex of the Avengers arc, and the MCU in general. It’s got everybody. It’s long, at 2.5 hours; it’s epic, full of action, and (semi-spoiler-alert, but honestly if you haven’t at least heard the gist of it by now, you have nobody to blame but yourself) heartbreak. If you’ve enjoyed any of the preceding movies, you will want to see this. And if you plan on seeing the final one, you definitely need to see this one first.

Upcoming: Captain Marvel (2019)

We know that, chronologically, this one takes place in the past. So it’s not absolutely crucial to the Avengers storyline, on its own; but we know that the heroine herself DOES play a crucial role in End Game, so it’s probably worth the time investment. Plus who doesn’t love a strong female superhero flick? We haven’t seen enough of those from the MCU, to date. To be fair, the source material is fairly patriarchal too, but this is 2019, so it stands to reason that a studio of Disney’s size could do anything they damn well please, including giving the leading ladies more of their own features. (Fingers crossed that the Jean Grey and Black Widow spinoffs do well!)

Where does it all end?

Avengers: End Game (2019) is hyped to be the absolute biggest superhero cinematic event of the decade. Some of the characters will continue to have their sequels or even origin stories, while others may meet their permanent end, be it death or just old-fashioned retirement. One thing is certain: if you haven’t at least watched the first three Avengers movies, you are by no means prepared for what’s coming.

Dude, that’s still like.. TEN movies. Ain’t nobody got time for all that!

Fair enough. Let me cut the list in half. If you had a gun to my head (RUDE!) and asked me which films were absolutely 100% guaranteed required viewing, I would tell you this: Avengers 1, Avengers 2, Civil War, Thor Ragnarok, and Infinity War. That’s roughly 10-ish hours of quality cinema, and includes just about every hero and villain that you need to care about going into this year.

So I excluded your favorites, big whoop, wanna fight about it?

Do you disagree? Did I leave out anything terribly important? Do you still think Steve Rogers is a dreamboat and should be idolized by all his fellow heroes for his unwavering moral righteousness? (Spoiler alert: WRONG.) Let me know in the comments!

Briefly, here’s my two-cents about why the rest are unnecessary. Starting with the Iron Man sequels: 2 is messy and doesn’t really move the hero forward, while 3 is a far better character study at the expense of being slightly too CGI-heavy. (Then again, they all are going that direction, so you might as well embrace it.) The Incredible Hulk was ret-conned into the MCU, and it’s not Ruffalo’s Hulk, so it really serves no great purpose other than to fill a slot on a timeline. With the first two Thor‘s, as I said, you could do away with either one and still understand that world in general. Then we have the one-off origin stories in Captain America and Ant Man, which, fine, they’re decent, but quite unnecessary to the bigger picture. And Guardians of the Galaxy 2, while a very good sequel, has nothing earth-shattering (see-what-I-did-there?) to add to the timeline. Finally, like I mentioned before, Panther and Homecoming are truly great movies; in fact the adorable surrogate-father-son relationship that Stark (Iron) and Parker (Spidey) establish in the latter makes one of the final moments in Infinity War exponentially more heartbreaking. But do you absolutely need to have seen them to get up-to-speed for Avengers? Not really.

A final note. About the TV shows. I don’t watch them. Never have. If that’s your game, great, go for it. But the movies know that they can’t rely on the shows to make any significant plot contributions, let alone to be seen by nearly as many, or the same, people. So in my book they’re still all fluff. Maybe that’ll change someday, but I doubt it.

Now, go do your homework and watch some movies! =)

Movie Wednesday #3 (on a Thursday)

It’s that time again kids! Today (which is now yesterday), I saw Peppermint at the local cheap-seats theater. Aside from being surprisingly uncomfortable compared to the plush recliners of the deluxe place, it was a nice bit of nostalgia. There was almost nobody there. Frankly, I’m not sure how they’re still in business; their operating costs must be absolutely minuscule. But hey, works for me, $4 movies! Let’s get to it, shall we?

Revenge is Fun to Watch

sweet sweet revenge raccoon
Revengecoon is on point.

Call me a sucker for a good revenge flick. Even more so when the protagonist is a badass woman. I don’t get into the really graphic “rape-revenge” stuff like I Spit On Your Grave and its ilk, but in general, if you’ve got a leading lady kickin’ ass and taking names to avenge some injustice done to her or her loved ones, I’m game.

And the user reviews agree with me, but the critics decidedly do not. That’s typical. Critics look at lots of deep facets of film-making, but the average audience just wants to be entertained. Are there a few moments when it’s difficult to believe the character, or the lines feel just a tad forced? Sure. Are there some bits where perhaps we stretch reality just a bit? Of course. But it’s a damn fun movie to watch, as Garner takes out one gangster or corrupt-cog-in-the-justice-machine after another.

Jennifer Garner’s Appeal

Speaking of our leading lady… I’ve never seen Alias, so you’ll forgive the lack of comparison. I did see Elektra, which, although a pretty bad movie overall, at least showed that she could convincingly play a tough action hero, even if that particular character was over-sexualized. Obviously that was 13 years ago, but her age plays well as the seasoned, slightly weather-worn mother, who can still whip herself into better shape than the cartel thugs half her age, dispense her vigilante justice, and look good while doing so.

It’s purposeful, and effective, that she does not show skin or become a sex-object at any point. That’s not what this is about, nor should it be. She’s all business, and that business is bloody, brutal, and filled with sharp objects and shotgun shells.

The Bad Guys (and their deaths)

peppermint movie still showing judge trapped
See this? This is explosive rope. It can cut through really big trees and sh*t.

One of the best parts of a revenge flick is seeing the imaginative or poetic-justice-esque ways in which the hero deals death to those that deserve it. (Yes, I’m using those terms “hero” and “deserve” loosely and in the context of the film itself, not engaging in a philosophical debate outside the world of the story.)

While some of these are lackluster, especially for an R rating, there are few that really shine. The judge, a sort of Kevin Spacey lookalike, gets it good with nails-in-the-hands and a courtroom-sized explosion. The three shooters are strung-up by their ankles on a ferris wheel, the process and lead-up to which, I feel, would have been even more interesting to watch than the end result. And there are at least a few fantastic head-shots that you’ll just want to see for yourself.

As I said, given the rating, I do think the film makers could have gone darker with some of the kills, but overall, we get what we came for. It feels very similar to Taken, for obvious reasons (same director), and that’s a good thing.

Trailers Lie

Sadly, and seemingly more often these days, the trailer showed some sequences and dialog that either didn’t make it into the movie, or misrepresented it slightly. The titular ‘Peppermint’ moment isn’t there, at least not with the same impact; and a couple of the more badass-sounding vengeance lines are diluted by too much context or a lack of ‘oomph’ in the background score.

But again, that’s Hollywood. The trailer’s job is to make you desperately want to see the movie, and they often succeed. So we can’t blame them too harshly. The film is gritty, well-made, and compares favorably with others in its genre.

Speaking of trailers, they played one for Glass, a really intriguing upcoming crossover-continuation of Unbreakable and Split, from everybody’s favorite writer-director name to purposefully mispronounce. If you haven’t seen either of those, do yourself a favor. (McAvoy is phenomenal in the latter.)

Conclusion: one solid thumb up

peppermint angel graffiti wall
I brightened this up a bit from the original. I tried to find a better one but no luck so far.

If you enjoy watching a tough female lead, seeing bad-guys get their comeuppance, and following a story through to the end, this movie is for you. Even if you’re not generally a J Garner fan; she really does well with this role, and there are no hints of her typical rom-com personality sneaking in. It’s a good solid ride with a satisfying conclusion — exactly what you want from a popcorn vengeance flick.

Til next time, readers!

Movie Wednesday #2 – The Meg

It won’t always be new movies, I promise.  I could go on for pages about such classics as The Gladiator, Independence Day, Jurassic Park, Scream, Pulp Fiction, Face/Off, Lord of the Rings, and more.  And I will, eventually.  I’m going to try out a hosted WP service with my own domain soon, and then I’ll have more freedom to draw lines in the sand between the tech stuff and the fun stuff.  But for now, you’ll have to settle for reviews of new or recent movies that we go enjoy semi-regularly at our local recliner-lined pizza-serving cineplex.

Without further ado…

Things Are What They Are

Let’s make something clear right off the bat.  This is a popcorn flick.  For those who aren’t up on the movie-goer lingo, that means it’s more or less mindless fun.  It’s CGI-infused, big-screen big-sound action, with a few recognizable faces, a few up-and-comers, and a whole gaggle of extras.  Throw in a Wilhelm Scream for good measure (fair warning: TVTropes link!).  And yes, a black guy dies first.

Statham is no stranger to this sort of film.  One might even say he’s built his entire career on them.  But most of those are more the dark, gritty, pure action flicks.  Yet he’s proven he can handle himself with the lighter, more humorous side as well.

The monster, the Megalodon, is sufficiently large and in-charge.  It menaces and mangles effectively, and even outsmarts a hapless human or two.  The premise around where and how they find this beast is mildly interesting, despite the occasional disregard for high pressure physics.

bro-do-you-even-science
Because Bill Nye will have your arse…

Who Dat?!

One of our favorite things to do with movies is to call out where we know the actors from.  Here we have Dwight from The Office, and Travis from Fear TWD — we’re supposed to believe he’s Statham’s brother, which is a pretty hard sell, unless one is adopted.  Oh, and that short-haired techie chick with the annoyingly hipster name? That’s the lead singer of ‘Evermoist’ from Pitch Perfect 3!

pitch-perfect-3-evermoist-wave
Pitch Perfect 3 – the ladies’ main rivals

Where It Hits and Misses

We get some cinematic moments of shock and awe, a few tearful goodbyes of self-sacrifice, and a handful of suspenseful close-calls.  And obviously, some big meaty carnage.

Unfortunately, the dialog falls a little flat sometimes, and the humor isn’t always snappy. Now, you’re not watching this for deep character development.  The only thing deep here is the water.  But there could have been a bit more emphasis on some key elements that would make the characters more memorable or relate-able.

Comparisons Are Fair Game

It’s quite natural to compare this to Jaws, and the many myriad of mimics that it spawned.  Obviously, this film has no such aspirations, nor does it feel the need to shove this fact down the audience’s throat. Unlike, say, Sharknado, which tries way too hard to be “so bad it’s good” that it ends up looping back around to terrible again.

Furthermore, the actors understand this, which means that, while they do take their roles somewhat seriously, they allow themselves to have fun with it.  Nobody’s trying to impress the Academy here.  And frankly, nobody’s expecting you to watch more than once. Your enjoy it for what it is, and then you walk away.

someone once said in a meeting let's make a film with a tornado full of sharks
No, let’s make SEVERAL!  Best idea EVARRR!!!1

The Verdict: one solid thumb up

Lets be honest.  You’re going to watch this because you enjoy big sharks, Jason Statham, and/or ocean-themed action-adventures / creature-features.  And you won’t be disappointed.  It’s just good-old-fashioned shark-movie fun.  Enjoy your popcorn, then go about your business.

Have fun!

Movie Review Wednesday

the spy who dumped me

Nerd Alert!

You, dear reader, may have guessed this already, but just in case you haven’t:  We watch a lot of movies.  Like, a lot.  That new red MoviePass card came out just around the same time that our local cineplex remodeled itself into a “luxury theater” with the reserved reclining seats, dining service, and all that jazz.  But besides that, when the day’s work is done and it’s time to chill, Netflix/Prime/Kodi are our M.O.’s.

Side-note, I’m running Kodi on LibreElec on a Dell micro-PC that I procured for $99 a few Black Friday’s ago.  It’s puny by PC standards, but beefy by media-stick/RPi standards, so it works pretty well.  We’re finding that our WiFi isn’t always quite up to the task of steadily streaming 1080p, but… meh.  It’s generally usable.  It serves up movies from my 3TB spinning-rusts on the circa-2014 gaming PC via Plex, which is a phenomenal app for the modern moviephile — if you haven’t checked it out, do it.

Let’s Get To It!

Back on topic.  Off topic, I mean.  We recently saw The Spy Who Dumped Me.  I was excited for this movie as soon as I saw the poster: Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon.  Need I say more?  Not really, but I will, because that’s presumably why you’re reading.  I mean, I could watch these two actresses do just about anything for 2 hours.  Let alone a buddy-action-comedy about international intelligence intrigue gone awry.

I first loved McKinnon in the Ghostbusters reboot, where she, no disrespect to the rest of the phenomenal cast, stole the show.  That was a super fun movie too.  (I’m not an SNL guy, though her Hillary impersonation was superb.)  And Kunis, I’ve loved since she took over the voice of Meg in Family Guy.  It didn’t hurt when the wife said she had a girl crush on her too.

This is somewhat of a directorial debut from Susanna Fogel (she has some credits, but nothing blockbuster-worthy, as far as I can tell), and it hits a lot of good notes.  The acting is solid — especially, obviously, the two leads — the action believable, the punchlines not overly cheesy, the character development realistic, and the twists compelling, if a bit predictable.

The one notable gripe I have is the completely random and unnecessary bit of male nudity.  And it’s not that I’m a prude; nudity can have its place in movies, if it serves a purpose.  Look at Forgetting Sarah Marshall — very similar to this instance, technically, but its purpose was clearly to emphasize the point of the character’s vulnerability and shamelessness.  Contrasted to here, where it’s just some dude that Kate’s character hooked up with who turns out to be the first of dozens of agents to try to kill the duo in pursuit of the elusive “flash drive of doom” (which, surprisingly, is not yet a TvTropes trope, but I feel like it should be).  There was literally no point.

Anyway.

On the whole, the movie was excellent — a fun ride through Europe on the tails of two hapless yet confident, inexperienced yet tough, and sometimes supremely lucky ladies who go toe-to-toe with agents of CIA, MI6, and the big scary Russian Mafia.  We see these amazingly close best friends overcome frightening odds and tense situations by sticking together and encouraging each other, which is pretty awesome if you think about it.  There’s a lot of negativity thrown around these days, whether it’s in the name of politics, social movements, or otherwise.  Even your standard male buddy-cop movie usually hinges on the guys’ “banter” of tearing each other down (even in jest), and rarely does it truly bring out the best elements of their character.

Speaking of characters, the chemistry of these two women is top-notch.  They’re different, to be sure, but it works in their favor.  McKinnon is obviously more extroverted; “a little much” as someone tells her derogatorily, but that’s why we love her.  Kunis is of course more subtle; coy, yet never a damsel in distress.  One of the best bits of dialog in the movie, I think, comes from McKinnon’s positively bursting joy at seeing the head of MI6 is in fact a woman, who “hasn’t sacrificed one ounce of femininity!” (Gillian Anderson, of course, being very familiar with the role of an intelligence officer).

Now, I will normally try to avoid spoilers.  Today I will simply tease that yes, while Kunis ends up falling for a guy, he’s proven worthy, and there’s no reason to fault her for it.  If anything, it keeps us grounded in reality.  Of course that reality quickly turns fantasy again in the “post ending”, but that’s for you to enjoy.

The Verdict

Highly recommended, two thumbs up.

Happy Hump Day!  Now go watch some movies.  Preferably this one.  But hey, I ain’t the boss of you.  Do your thing.  And stay tuned for more!

Memoirs: A Band Story

silver trumpet

The wifey has been obsessively binge-ing Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” recently.  It’s a fantastic show that addresses real teen issues in a respectful yet thought-provoking way.  It made me want to reminisce a bit about my own high school years, and really try to think about why and how it wasn’t all that bad.  And don’t get me wrong; I understand that my experience is probably not noteworthy, and I actually count myself fairly lucky to have had, essentially, an unremarkable four years.  It’s not that being unremarkable should be a goal, nor that I even encourage it; it’s just that, for me, it served a purpose of avoiding big drama and simply getting me where I wanted to go — even if I had no idea where that was going to be.

So I’ve put together a sample story – a “chapter”, if you will – from what I hope will eventually become a memoir of sorts, a “story of my life” to one day pass down to our kids.  If you remember high school, and especially if you were a band kid, I hope you’ll get a kick out of it.


Chapter 3 – Band

High school band, specifically marching band, was a great experience, and a suitable alternative to sports.  I was terrible at sports.  My younger brother had proven decent at baseball in little league, but none of that talent made its way to me.  (He didn’t take it any further, either, so I don’t feel bad about it.)  It worked out that, after freshman year, marching band counted as phys-ed. credit, so I never had to take another P.E. class after the first one. I did anyway, but that’s another story.

Trumpet was my instrument. Had been since 5th grade, after my father’s encouragement from having played the French horn back in his day. I’d tried French horn before, but I never quite got the hang of it. It’s a strange instrument, for a brass, in that you actually need to use your 2nd hand to hold and muffle the flared bell to produce subtle tone effects. Trumpet’s a little simpler — you just purse your lips and blow, and press a row of 3 buttons to control note progression.

I wasn’t that great at it — never made “first chair” (which means you’re the best at your particular instrument) or had any solos, but I toed the middle line satisfactorily. Having braces didn’t help; in fact, the position of the mouthpiece on the lips coincided exactly with the brace brackets. But with a combination of inner-lip calluses and sheer will, I made it work.

I always admired and envied the “rock stars” of the band, especially the trumpet players who could hit those super-high notes with such ease.  There were two guys in particular — Jared and Mark. Mark was a junior, a lanky rude-boy (fan of ska & jazz) with spiky hair and a contagiously good attitude.  Jared was a no-nonsense senior who’d seen and done it all, making a great section leader.

Editor’s note: said Wifey should skip the next paragraph.  =P

And then there was our junior leader, Nicole.  Ooh boy let me tell you.  Picture a hot summer morning out on the football field for marching practice; icy water bottles being used to cool off sun-soaked sweat-beaded skin; and a tall tan teenage Cali-girl in short shorts and a rolled up tank top, telling us young’uns what to do and where to go.  Can I get a 2-syllable ‘day-umn’?  Yes, that first year of marching band was quite the eye-popper.

In order to truly appreciate this story, you need a basic understanding of the way high school marching band works.  It’s in the fall, or first semester of school, to coincide with football.  While we support and play at some home-games, our biggest commitments were “tournaments”.  These are competitions hosted by various large high schools where they invite a number of other schools in to display their marching band’s “field show”, which is basically a series of songs played while marching into various formations that look like shapes and figures from above.  Each band is judged on both their musical and visual performance.

The color guard, a small team of girls (usually, at least in those days), performs along with the band, by waving colorful flags and banners and doing some choreographed dancing on & around the field.  Think of them like cheerleaders, but more elegant, and replace the pom-poms with twirlers and the mini-skirts with more flowy dress-like outfits (sometimes.. though here were definitely other schools who pushed the sex appeal angle much more with their own color guard).

You also have to understand that, unlike a sports team, the band didn’t have locker rooms.  So essentially, the buses were our locker rooms.  We did probably 5 to 10 events in a given season, only one of which was our own self-hosted tournament, so we were on the road a lot — at least, it seemed like a lot to me.  The bus was our changing room for putting on our uniforms, our break area for chatting and hanging out between the performances and the awards, and our celebration circle (or, in worse times, our den of commiseration).  Different types of people put up varying degrees of protest or privacy — some had to be in the very back with complete coverage and make-shift curtains made from spare shirts or towels, while others were happy to flaunt their undergarments to most of their peers, probably in an effort to tease and woo the opposite sex.  I was somewhere in the middle (as usual); I hid behind the seat-back and kept it quick & subtle, but I also tended to wear a regular tee-shirt underneath the uniform.  The aforementioned Katrina (of my previous chapter) was always around to cast a flirty glance or suggest a extra spray of her favorite cologne to make the stank more bearable.

A small side-note. Our school colors were brown and gold — the Golden Bears — but this made an absolutely horrible color scheme for uniforms. The regular ones were a brown base with gold and white trim, but they never quite got the hue far enough away from ‘shit brown’. The alternate uniforms were a little better, having a white base with gold and brown trim, but of course, they got dirty much faster, so we didn’t wear them as often as I would have liked. I do hope they’ve come to their senses and changed up the color scheme, or at least tweaked the uniforms so that they don’t remind spectators so much of human waste. Thankfully the color guard’s uniform colors were more friendly, being of a teal & fuchsia variety.

Finally, the third key concept here, is that each band is in a “class”, which is like a ranking system based somewhat on your high school’s historical performance, but mostly (read: almost entirely) on your size — the number of band members. Generally, the larger, and richer, high schools — in our area, Rancho Bernardo, Poway, Mount Carmel, and a couple others from the wealthy areas of greater San Diego — had the biggest bands and were thus in the highest class, AAA. We had historically been in AA (just below the top), and had, from what I heard in passing from the seniors, a decent ‘win’ history. Depending on the size and attendees of a given tournament, we could default down to the same class as the others involved; i.e. if nobody else was above ‘A’, we’d compete as ‘A’ too, which would be to our benefit.

Think of it like your weight classes in boxing or wrestling. Just because you’re a heavyweight doesn’t mean you’re more skilled than a featherweight, it just means you weigh more. Sure, the weight (or size) does make some difference in the competition, especially if we use the wrestling metaphor. It’s just not everything. And there can be a hidden motivation to try to “make weight”, i.e. to get into a smaller class so that you have an edge over your opponents.

This being the late 90s at a growing suburban school, our band was growing in number, but not necessarily in skill or in booster dollars. In the wrestling metaphor above, we were basically gaining flab. The class system also hadn’t been updated in a while — basically anything over 150 was AAA , but those big rich bands I mentioned before tended to be in the 300s. So unfortunately, we were basically “forced up” into the AAA class with our larger number, but we were still way outgunned and out-funded by those that had long held the candles in that high hall.

Now, having said all that, my first year in marching band was one of the most exhilarating, and it’s largely due to our first and only “sweeps” win in one of the first tournaments of the year.  A sweeps win is when your band wins the highest trophies in its class and in the tournament.  Looking back, there must have been a perfect storm of coincidences that led to it.  This was a relatively small tournament; none of those big rich bands attended, and we ended up being the largest one there.  I think it was hosted by Orange something-or-other high school.  The bus ride was a bit longer than most, maybe an hour or so.  Our uniforms were freshly pressed, having not been worn yet this season; and we’d barely finished mastering our show (the music and marching steps/positions, i.e. the choreography).

There was something in the air that night.

We arrived in the late afternoon, not too long before our turn was scheduled. We changed on the buses and lined up to take the field.  It was cool and temperate that evening, not too cold, but not warm enough to cause a sweat.  Perfect marching weather.  The emcee called out, “Tuh-MEC-you-la Valley High!”, and we took the grass.  It was well maintained for a small school; no big potholes or divots, clean and even yard-lines.  Our fearless leader, ‘H’ we called him — short for Mr. Hrbacek (her-ba-check) — took the conductor’s stand, counted it down, and the crisp snap of the snare drums meant it was on.

Our set was a big-band/swing theme, including “Moonlight Serenade” and “Sentimental Journey”.  We’d memorized pages upon pages of marching positions and music for this. Practiced dozens of hours — “sectionals” for an hour after school, those sweaty Saturday mornings, and every chance we could get at a field during class — it felt like hundreds.  Our feet were sure, our instruments were on-key and in-tempo, and we pulled it off, all the way to that final high note and conclusive closing drum beat.

The percussionists were always my favorite, even if I’d never admit it.  They were the driving beat that kept us all going, and the catching energy that fueled our desire to win.  Yeah, the brassy solos and deep booms of the tubas were great — hell, you’ve got to be a ridiculously strong dude (or dudette) to lug one of those bad boys around and march in tempo — but those drums made it all mesh together into something more than the sum of its parts.

So we left the field knowing that we’d gave it our all.  Yeah, we weren’t perfect, there were a few missteps and a few misplaced notes here and there, but we covered them up and soldiered on.  Thus, we took to the bus-changing-rooms once more, traded our uniforms for our street clothes, and gathered in the bleachers for the award announcements.

This was before the post-millennial days of “everybody’s a winner, everybody deserves a trophy”, but perhaps band culture was a bit ahead of its time, because almost everybody did get some kind of trophy.  Although that may have been due to the smaller size of this tournament, as I mentioned before.  Anyway, as with most competition awards, they worked their way up from the bottom to the top.  I wasn’t aware of this at the time, which made me quite confused as to why my elder band-mates were cheering progressively louder and louder as the announcers didn’t call our name. Obviously (now), it meant that we were toward the top.

The announcer has made his way to the final 3 awards – best musical performance, best visual performance, and the granddaddy of them all, “the tournament award”.  He calls the first.  “Best Musical Performance… Temecula Valley High!”  Loud but muffled cheers from our band as the director and seniors try to shush everybody.  “Best Visual Performance… Temecula Valley High!” Louder cheers from our mates as they struggle to contain themselves.  “And the Tournament Award goes to… Temecul–”

We erupt with elation before he can even finish the word.  Hoots and hollers, whoops and whistles.  Our director walks up to humbly accept the giant trophy, which I’m sure looked a lot bigger to us back then than it really was.  The stands empty of the competing bands as we make our way back to the buses.  The air is absolutely electric; high-fives and kudos abound, even between the flautists and the woodwinds, who are, for those of you unfamiliar with band sub-cliques, the quietest and most reserved of the bunch.  As we settle into our seats and prepare for the drive home, from a boom-box in the back of the bus come those timeless strains of Bryan May’s guitar and Freddie Mercury’s piercing vocals.  “Weeeee.. are the chaaaampions, my friennnd. Nooo time for looosers, cuz weee are the chaaampions… of the Woooooorld.”

The adults try to quiet us down, but this kind of celebration isn’t so easily subdued.  A few of the seniors try to explain that we got lucky, that we did ok but we mostly won because we outclassed the other bands.  And we knew, in the back of our minds, that it wasn’t always going to be this way; that jocks would still laugh at us and popularity queens would still snub us; that we’d be coming back on Monday to loads of schoolwork, and to the pressures and insecurities that go with high school life — particularly if you’re a band geek.

But damn if we weren’t gods in that moment.

And then, as the saying goes, it was all downhill from there.  That’s not quite fair, I suppose.  Heck, maybe I don’t give the old coot enough credit; perhaps he carefully planned this strategy of giving us an easy win to hit us with a taste of that sweet drug of victory, so that we’d stick around and keep trying harder, week after week, year after year, to replicate it.  Friggin’ brilliant, perhaps.  It never quite happened, as I said; we were hopelessly outclassed by those infamous high-society bands with their own logo-painted trailers and catered meals and mysteriously shiny pristine instruments that never seemed to fade.  Those top 3 award spots that I mentioned, well – let’s just say we got real tired of hearing the name “Rancho Bernardo”.  Over, and over, and over again.

The tournament that we hosted ourselves came towards the end of the season.  It was a nice break from the competition because, even though we had to perform – twice – we weren’t being judged.  So it gave those rock-star trumpet players time to show off their solo bits in a less subtle way.  In the first performance of the day, Jared actually popped out of line formation and did a half-kneel toward the crowd as he belted out those crisp 4 high notes – but in doing so, he flubbed just a bit, and he got crap for it later from H. and Mark.  Thus, at the night performance, he stayed in position, but absolutely nailed those notes, complete with a little trill-up and doo-wah.  There were a lot of bands here, more than almost any tournament we’d been to, it seemed.  I wondered why, but I’d come to realize later, after learning a bit of regional geography, that were we a convenient mid-way location between Orange and San Diego counties, so it made sense that those bigger schools wanted to come battle each other on the marching field without driving over 2 hours to either one’s hometown.

As the rest of the schoolyears dragged on, I would always look back fondly at that first exhilarating victory.  There was nothing quite like it.  Along with the occasional cleavage-peek on the bus, the weeks of pizza and coke on the road, and that Saturday morning navel-gazing at practice, it was enough to get me hooked for 4 solid seasons.  I even convinced my parents to buy me a Letterman’s jacket with the band letter in junior year. But the biggest adventures were yet to come.