Friday, August 16, 2013


I watch a lot of films, more than the average person. Once in a while I catch a film that really stays with me. Four days later and I’m still thinking about BLACKFISH. Nothing really shocks me these days, but this film definitely overwhelmed me. As you would expect, it’s very disheartening, but educational at the same time.

I come from a long line of animal lovers. Naturally, we visited Seaworld and various zoos several times a year. As a kid, you don’t necessarily think about the conditions these animals live in. You’re just excited to see them up close. As I got older, I came to realize these places only intended to profit from the animals. That’s not to say the people who work at these establishments have no concern for the animals they care for. It just means the higher ups have only one agenda: money.

BLACKFISH exposes this selfish motivation of greed & profit. The documentary has several interviews with former whale trainers who even worked with some of the whales made subject of the film. To my dismay, I came to learn that no real skill or degree is required to be a whale trainer. All you need to know is how to swim well and smile big. I always presumed you must be extremely knowledgeable in marine biology and have gone through years of extensive training. The training to become a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader is far more rigorous than training to swim with a killer whale.

The other revelation I had was when they discussed a whale’s dorsal fin. Naively, I was under the impression that the whales had control over the fin and the way it flopped over was part of a trick. Nearly all whales in captivity have a dorsal fin that flops over as a result of stress, diet, and the poor condition of the water they swim in. These factors soften the cartilage in the fin causing it to droop to the side. No one has ever seen a whale in the wild with a droopy dorsal fin.

Nearly everyone in the film (and those watching) became emotional when discussing their personal interactions with the whales. It’s very evident that these people love animals as well and wanted this job to develop a relationship with these beautiful creatures. They all soon found out it was not what they expected.

What was most unsettling was the extent this park went to, to hide that fact that whales become aggressive and frustrated after years of abuse and confinement. They want to disguise the fact that they are negligent. Much of the doc revolves around Tilikum, the whale responsible for the most recent attack on a human. Tilikum has been involved in three deaths in his lifetime, all of which did not come to light until recently. Several former trainers who even worked with the whale had no prior knowledge of Tilly’s history. One distraught trainer confessed that he stayed on for so long because he felt so much pity for Tilikum. His abuse and trauma was obvious to everyone around him. Tilly still lives in Florida spending most of his days alone in a small pool only to be let out on few occasions to do tricks or breed. Tilly is a valuable asset to the park because of his breeding capabilities. Watching his story, you almost pray for his death just to put an end to this poor animal’s suffering. There has been no record of an attack on a human by any whale in the wild. It’s hard to tell if the animals living so long in captivity would be able to make it in the wild. For example, just look at Keiko, the whale used in FREE WILLY.

The bottom line is that these animals belong in the wild. They are not meant to do tricks and bounce around beach balls for our amusement. As humans, it’s in our nature to want to learn about other cultures and creatures. However, humans are singlehandedly destroying the very thing they are trying to understand. One interviewee mentioned that if you can afford tickets to Seaworld, you can afford to take your family on a boat to witness these beautiful whales in their natural habitat. It’s ok to study these animals, but we have no right to rip them out of their own environment. Another former trainer said he would never take his children to Seaworld. He does not want his kids to believe it is ok for animals to live in captivity like that. I think this doc is so important because it gives us a definitive answer to why these animals attack humans. The next time it happens (and it will happen again), Seaworld will not be able to conceal the truth. Before, I had an idea that Seaworld was corrupt, but I never knew to what extent.

BLACKFISH told a truly compelling story. The film is presented really well. Many will argue that BLACKFISH is completely biased, but you cannot argue with facts, archive video, and court documents. The film is unsettling, but not nearly as disturbing as THE COVE (which I refuse to watch). It succeeds at providing information instead of just presenting shocking images like a PETA video. This film can be uncomfortable to watch at times, but I think it’s important for everyone to see what is happening right under our noses. Instead of throwing our hands in the air and feeling helpless, we can actively avoid these parks. We can tell others to do the same and we can support humane animal research. Seaworld parks may not close tomorrow, but this is a start.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Top Ten Comedies

We all know how much I love the Horror genre. Not everyone knows my least favorite genre is comedy followed very closely by action. It's true, I don't like to laugh. Not really, I just find about 80% of comedies completely unfunny. I'm not saying I have this ultra sophisticated sense of humor. I think I'm missing something because I just don't comprehend most comedy. My biggest issue is that I do not appreciate forced humor. If something or someone is trying desperately to be funny, it usually ends up not being funny (at least to me). For example, films like THE 40 YR OLD VIRGIN, BRIDESMAIDS, THE HANGOVER, and MEET THE PARENTS feel so factitious. Don't even get me started on Saturday Night Live or stand-up Comedy! The other bane of my existence is British Comedy. I have never been a fan of MONTY PYTHON or Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright films. Before I launch into a whole tirade on why I detest most comedy, maybe I can share the ones I actually like. There are a few Comedy films out there that I really enjoy. This list is subject to change. Maybe you can make some suggestions if I left any important ones out.


I know there’s a lot of Wes Anderson haters out there, but I really enjoy his work. It took me a while to see THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (I’m not crazy about animated features), but even that was enjoyable for me. His films just exude a charming sense of endearment and sentimentality we rarely see anymore. TENENBAUMS is a prime example of the perfect ensemble cast. Every actor in this film brings their A game. The best part of this film is that is lacks dick/fat jokes that seem to make up the current comedy genre. It’s a very humorous film that happens to be smart. I still laugh hysterically when Gene Hackman calls Danny Glover “Coltrane”! This may actually be the only film on my list that also comes in Criterion which says something.

You wanna talk some jive? I'll talk some jive. I'll talk some jive like you never heard!


Mike Judge has a brilliant sense of humor that I feel a kindred spirit to since he’s also a native Texan. He often finds humor in bleak situations. He makes light of things we cannot control like traffic. I love this film so much because it is completely relatable. Many of us constantly feel like we are stuck in the rat race. We are all Peter Gibbons dreaming about ripping up TPS reports. I myself have fantasies of going all Bjork on a certain copy machine. OFFICE SPACE pokes fun of all these little thorns in our side. At the end of the film, we can all remember that it really isn’t that bad. Also, OFFICE SPACE was filmed in Austin at the time that Dell and the dot com world was bustling. It’s interesting to see how things have changed since then. RIP Old Alligator Grill.

Good evening Sir, my name is Steve. I come from a rough area. I used to be addicted to crack but now I am off it and trying to stay clean. That is why I am selling magazine subscriptions.


Christopher Guest perfected the mocumentary long before shows like The Office even thought of it. For a really long time, I had the “Bastard People” soliloquy as my answering machine (yes I said answering machine) message. This is also a really amazing ensemble cast. GUFFMAN is the result of really great writing and comedic timing.

Here's the Remains of the Day lunchbox. Kids don't like eating at school, but if they have a Remains of the Day lunchbox they're a lot happier.


My second favorite comedian is David Cross. I had the privilege to meet David Cross once in a bar and I actually made him laugh. Definitely one of my greatest accomplishments. Ronnie Dobbs was a character from Cross’ sketch comedy series, Mr. Show. Ronnie Dobbs is what Joe Dirt wanted to be. This movie is completely absurd, but unbelievable hilarious. I recall nearly crying from laughter when I first saw the Three Times One Minus One music video. I’ve heard that Cross actually hates this film because of the editing and other issues. I think it’s great and a wonderful testament of how truly funny David Cross can be. There are also some brilliant celebrity cameos like Jeff Goldblum.

Oh just the bitch I've been fucking. Jealous much?


Spinal Tap is such a classic film. It’s one of the greatest comedies of our time that is still parodied to this day. How often do you see/hear references that go to eleven? I’m a huge film nerd who regularly listens to a film’s audio commentary. This is the best audio commentary because they actually do it in character throughout the whole film. The one-liners in this film are absolutely genius. It's no wonder that Christopher Guest makes another appearance on this list. Side note: There's a miniature Stonehenge in front of a house in my neighborhood.

We've got Armadillos in our trousers. It's really quite frightening.


I wasn’t sure what to expect going in to STEPBROTHERS, but boy was I surprised. I am not the biggest fan of Will Ferrell but he was actually funny in this film. However, John C. Reilly really made the movie for me as the lovable manfit Dale Doback. I don’t know what it is about this film that makes me love it so much, but I do.

Dad, we're men. That means a few things - we like to shit with the door open, we talk about pussy, we go on riverboat gambling trips, and we make our own beef jerky. That's what we do, and now that is all wrecked.


This is one of those unique films that is enjoyable as a child and still hold up as an adult. GHOSTBUSTERS had some of the biggest comedians on the planet in one cast. It is one of the best performances by my favorite comedian and actor, Bill Murray. GHOSTBUSTERS is also a rare case where the sequel is equally funny. On the other hand, there is no possible way Hollywood can recapture this kind of magic again with GHOSTBUSTERS III. There just aren’t any current comedians that can match the heavyweights of the original cast. I hope Hollywood realizes what a huge mistake they’re making.

Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say "YES"!


Films like LEBOWSKI come along once in a lifetime. Jeff Bridges is incredible as The Dude, but Walter was the true highlight. It’s hard to find such quick-witted & thoroughly entertaining writing like the Coens. They have cornered the market on the bumbled plan storyline and each time it’s just as funny. The characters are over the top, but not so much that they are unrelatable. This film is engrossing and hilarious at the same time. I have never met a soul who does not love this LEBOWSKI.

You mark that frame an 8, and you're entering a world of pain.


Many of us came of age just at the time that The State was airing regularly on MTV. It was also around the dark days of SNL when it was the least funny which made for a great alternative. The State was a sketch comedy show that produced some of the most successful current comedians and writers. This show was for me what Kids In The Hall should have been. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder than the first time I watched WET HOT. The more times I viewed it, the more things I found that I loved about it. Who knows what will happen with this much rumored sequel.

You taste like a burger. I don't like you anymore.


Duh, it’s my favorite movie of all time! I watched CADDYSHACK when I was a kid and absolutely loved it. I loved the gopher and Rodney Dangerfield wisecracks. Now that I’m older, I still love it for those reasons, but now I can actually understand the more adult jokes.

I smell varmint poontang. And the only good varmint poontang is dead varmint poontang, I think.



For obvious reasons.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Top Ten Documentaries

I absolutely love documentaries. After horror, documentary is my next favorite genre. I truly believe everyone has a story to tell and documentary film is the best way to get it out there. The magic of editing and direction in documentary film can make nearly any subject engaging and interesting. I also feel like documentary film is the best way to learn about something new. Today, I have compiled a list of my favorite documentaries. Enjoy!


Chronicles the history, ideology and aesthetic of Norwegian black metal - a musical subculture infamous as much for a series of murders and church arsons as it is for its unique musical and visual aesthetics.

This film explores the little known genre of Norwegian black metal. There have been tons of docs on metal and some often touch on black metal, but with this film we go to the source. Members of several bands share their experiences & ideas. They give us insight into the infamous church burnings of the early 90s that were merely dismissed as acts of Satan worship. Black metal is not just a subgenre of music; it’s an art form and way of life for some. I recommend this for any music lover.


A filmmaker decides to memorialize a murdered friend when his friend's ex-girlfriend announces she is expecting his son.

I am not easily shocked. To be perfectly honest, this doc took my breath away. This film is a beautiful tribute to a lost friend and a baby at the center of a bitter custody battle. DEAR ZACHARY succeeds at drawing you in to the tragic life of Andrew Bagby so much that you can almost feel the pain and suffering experienced by his loved ones. Without giving too much away, DEAR ZACHARY is something you have to see to believe.


A documentary on punk rock.

You would never expect something so simple to make a lasting impression on anyone but it sure did. This was the holy bible for any punk rock kid (myself included) in the 90s. Until this film, our only real look into punk rock was interviews and videos of the Sex Pistols which was a far cry from traveling around the US in a broken down school bus in 1982. The Sex Pistols glamorized punk rock into something none of us could relate to. ANOTHER STATE OF MIND allowed us to share in the same alienation of its unwilling stars. Everyone was from a broken home, everyone felt different and left out, and everyone loved the music more than anything. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION touched on a lot of the same emotions, but showcased the music and despair more than anything. With ANOTHER STATE OF MIND, there was always hope and the comfort in knowing that there was an entire community around the country willing to help each other out. The ideology of punk rock has never been laid out so plainly for us before or since this film. We get to know these now legendary bands and artists long before their “success.” I use “success” moderately because even though bands like Minor Threat and Bad Religion are incredibly influential, in some circles they are still unknown in others. Every generation thinks they’ve had it worse than the one before. The generation of punk rock kids in ANOTHER STATE OF MIND is the epitome of dejection. Here is a time before Hot Topic, before Warped Tour, and before the Internet! This is another must see for any music fan. I still have the VHS tape of ANOTHER STATE OF MIND that I ordered from the Time Bomb Records mail order list in 1992. It still means that much to me.


An uplifting feature documentary highlighting the transformative power of art and the beauty of the human spirit. Top-selling contemporary artist Vik Muniz takes us on an emotional journey from Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, to the heights of international art stardom.

Several people have told me they do not like documetaries because they are often depressing and sad. I disagree, there is always something to take from a good doc especially one like WASTE LAND. On the surface, WASTE LAND may seem really bleak when examining the poverty of Rio de Janeiro. This doc does not sugarcoat that fact. However, we examine a group of truly inspiring people who not only have a love of art, but a passion for life. This film really uncovers the beautiful spirit and lives of Brazil’s catadores (trash collectors who recover recyclable items). This is by far one of the most motivating docs I have ever seen. It was also one of my favorite films of 2010.


A devastating and heartrending take on grizzly bear activists Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard, who were killed in October of 2003 while living among grizzlies in Alaska.

GRIZZLY MAN runs the gamut of emotions. You sympathize with Treadwell’s good intentions, but fail to understand his carelessness. It also makes you examine your own dedication. Have you ever felt so passionate about something you would go as far as Treadwell? I still cannot answer than question for myself. GRIZZLY MAN is tragic, exhilarating, frightening, but most of all it is eye-opening. It also shows how fragile the division between our world as humans and nature’s world exist. This is something humans often take for granted and do not realize it until it is too late.


Diehard video game fans compete to break World Records on classic arcade games.

KING OF KONG is the ultimate demonstration of good vs. evil. I mentioned the other day while perusing DVDs at Waterloo that every child should watch KING OF KONG. This is the biggest life lesson anyone can learn: Don’t Be a Dick! In one corner we have Billy Mitchell, an abrasive, cocky, selfish jerk who wears shitty ties. In the other corner we have Steve Wiebe, a hapless but hopeful science teacher who loves playing Donkey Kong. What happens when these two adversaries are pitted against each other in the ultimate video game challenge that resembles an 80s tween flick? The suspense is insurmountable.


A harrowing documentary of the Stones' 1969 tour, with much of the focus on the tragic concert at Altamont.

Lots of people believe that the Stones concert at Altamont was the end of an era. It was certainly a turning point in history and a black cloud that followed the Stones for several years. The tragic events at Altamont signified the close of the hippie, free love, flower power movement. It opened the door for the uncertainty and resentment that was prevalent in the 1970s. GIMME SHELTER also shows how a few guys from England who just wanted to play rock-n-roll became one of the most important bands of the 20th century. GIMME SHELTER teaches us that nothing is truly free; everything comes with a price.


The bizarre true story of Linda Riss and Burt Pugach.

Even after watching this compelling doc, I still do not have an understanding of the Pugach’s relationship. If anything, it’s more confusing than when I simply read articles about this couple’s unbelievable tale. Why Linda would choose to stay with someone who had caused her so much physical and emotional pain is beyond my reasoning. I suspect no one will truly grasp the dynamics of Burt & Linda’s story. This story seems all the more grim after knowing that Linda died just this year of heart failure.


A documentary of the successful career and assassination of San Francisco's first elected gay councilor.

I watched this doc long before the Sean Penn/Gus Van Sant Oscar winning film came out. This film broke my heart and left me in a mess of tears. The unbelievable prejudice that Harvey Milk endured could break any normal human being. Although, Harvey never let those abuses break him. If anything he held his head even higher and yelled even louder so that no one else would have to endure these atrocities. It’s no secret that this documentary is unnerving, but it’s more inspiring that anything. Harvey Milk paved the way for so many activists after him to take up the cause and never let anyone push you down. In this day and age when women, minorities, and homosexuals are under constant attack, it’s good to know that there are people like Harvey Milk out there continuing the fight. These are the people who will stand up for what is right. If Harvey was around today I know he would tell everyone not to give up. His message is more important now than ever.


A horrific triple child murder leads to an indictment and trial of three nonconformist boys based on questionable evidence.

Thirteen years ago someone gave me a West Memphis 3 benefit CD. After reading a little about the case, I rented PARADISE LOST and was completely blown away. As a student activist, I was no stranger to infractions in the justice system. However, the negligence that took place in the West Memphis 3 trials went beyond a miscarriage of justice. It was prejudice at its worst and it was happening right under our noses. The state of Arkansas should be ashamed of itself for allowing this travesty to happen. Three innocent men spent nearly two decades in prison for a crime they clearly did not commit. There is no way any rational person can watch this doc and not see these cold hard facts. Had it not been for PARADISE LOST, the case would have never received a fraction of the attention it found as a direct result of the doc. What is more frightening is that Damien Echols would probably be dead by now, and Jason Baldwin & Jesse Misskelley would still be in prison. This doc is a great example of how media attention can actually do something good for once. So many people all over the world came to support the West Memphis 3 after watching PARADISE LOST. I really think this doc played a major role in the long overdue release of the West Memphis 3.



When six teenage boys came together as a skateboarding team in the 1980s, they reinvented not only their chosen sport but themselves too - as they evolved from insecure outsiders to the most influential athletes in the field.

This is a really refreshing doc on professional skateboarders from the 1980s who many of us admired growing up. I’ve seen a lot of skateboarding docs and this is probably my favorite. It’s certainly nowhere near as depressing as the Christian Hasoi or Gator Rogowski docs. This film follows the renowned skate team from when they just started out to when they gained worldwide fame. We also revisit these now legendary men and find out how their lives have changed. It’s really moving to see a group of men who are genuinely passionate about what they do.


A look at the history of fame in the world through the eyes of pop star impresario, Rodney Bingenheimer.

To some, this film may be construed as incredibly saddening. It’s true that Rodney never quit achieved the success and recognition he rightfully deserved and he doesn’t live the glamorous life like many of his famous friends. Although, Rodney has lived a life some of us can only dream about and the people who matter will never forget him.

There you have it folks, my favorite documentaries. I currently have a couple on my horizon like BLACKFISH, THE ACT OF KILLING, and 20 FEET FROM STARDOM that I am really looking forward to. Special thanks to for the short synopsizes. I did not write them so don’t get all Lianne Spiderbaby on me! I implore you to share some of your favorite documentaries.