Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

Ted: "Bill?"
Bill: "What?"
Ted: "Strange things are afoot at the Circle K."

I watched this movie religiously as a kid. It became the first movie of my young life that I could quote from beginning to end without missing a beat. In fact, I even learned how to play most of the soundtrack on the guitar. That's how much I loved this movie.

In 1988, Bill S. Preston "Esquire" and Ted Theodore Logan are dim-witted students at San Dimas High School whose only dream is to have a most triumphant rock band ("Wild Stallions"). But the band is going nowhere because, while they practice a lot, neither of them actually know how to play an instrument. And as for their high school career, they are destined to "flunk most heinously" unless they get an A+ on their oral History report. If they flunk out of school, Ted's father will send him to Alaska for military school, which would be the end of the band- and, as it turns out, the end of world civilization as we know it today in 2688.

While Bill and Ted are still contemplating the most "non-triumphant" possibility of flunking out of school and losing their band, Rufus (2688/present day) is getting into a time-traveling phone booth to begin his journey back to 1988. There he will help Bill and Ted get an A+ on their report and thus save the world as he knows it. If the band falls apart, the basis of their whole culture in 2688 will be lost (perhaps similar to America without the historical influence of Greece).

Only hours before their report, Bill and Ted travel back in time to capture "personages of historical significance," including Abraham Lincoln, Beethoven, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Joan of Arc, Sigmund Freud, Billy the Kid, and Socrates (pronounced "Soh-craytes"). Each of these figures from history speak in Bill and Ted's oral report, earning them an A+ and a second chance to make their own history through the music of Wild Stallions.

It's a ridiculous movie even in its day, but it's good fun nonetheless.

Next up: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Party on, dudes...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Money Pit

I had never seen this movie before but it was recommended as an 80's movie I should add to my list.

It's about a guy and his girlfriend trying to settle down into a new house, but the house they buy has problem after problem (thus the house is called a "money pit"). I thought the plot was promising, especially being a relatively new home owner myself and understanding the woes of home maintenance. And it was mildly entertaining and somewhat funny in parts... But in the end, it's just a dumb movie.

It's really not worth much more discussion...

Next up: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wargames

Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy star in this 1983 classic about a computer wiz and his girlfriend who accidentally nearly start World War III.

David (Broderick) is an underachiever in school but brilliant with computers. He hacks his high school database to change his F's to A's; he hot wires phone booths to bypass the need for quarters; David does not wait until next spring to play the newest games, he hacks into the game programmer's computers and plays them before they're publicly released.

The trouble begins when David is scanning (hacking) random computers in search of new games and stumbles upon one system with a whole list of password-protected tactical war games. After some research, he finally cracks into the system and chooses to play one of the games on the list: "Global Thermonuclear War." David and his girlfriend Jennifer (Sheedy) laugh innocently as they play, launching missiles from the Soviet Union to the U.S. and moving submarines and jet fighters into attack formation around Los Angeles and Seattle.

But as it turns out, the game they hacked was not a game; it is a sophisticated war simulation program of NORAD's supercomputer/defense system. Meanwhile (in real life), believing the nation to be under heavy nuclear attack, the U.S. Department of Defense prepares its nuclear arsenal to respond in kind.

Soon realizing the Pandora's box he's opened, David attempts to shut the game down but to no avail. The "game" simulation he started is designed to play out war strategies, learn from its tactical mistakes, and play until it wins. In this case, winning means the annihilation of the U.S.

And so a battle of wits and a race against the clock begins: David must escape FBI custody long enough to stop the computer and convince the General not to return missile fire on Russia and begin WWIII.

My synopsis has massive holes, but it really is a clever movie- sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. Well worth the price of admission when it comes back to theaters in August for a 25-year anniversary showing.

Next up: "The Money Pit"

Monday, July 21, 2008

Big

Awkward adolescent Josh Baskin wants to impress the popular girl, Cynthia, at a carnival and so bravely attempts to join her on a thrill ride there. Unfortunately, his short stature forbids him entry, according to the “must be this tall to ride” sign. Defeated, and on a whim, Josh places a quarter in the nearby wish-granting "Zoltar" machine and wishes to be big. Amazingly, his wish is granted...

Suddenly, 13-year old Josh (David Moscow) is transplanted into a 30-year old body (Tom Hanks). Now living life as an adult, Josh must get a job, pay for an apartment, and make new friends- most of all in the arms of corporate-ladder-climbing Susan, an unhappy middle-aged woman who finds her own “inner child,” so to speak, in a relationship with him. Josh finds success as a toy designer (naturally) and finds equal success as a lover. But ultimately, with the help of childhood best friend Billy, Josh remembers that the adult life and the ladder he's climbed is just a convenient lie and that his real place is home, playing stick ball, riding bikes and singing “shimmy shimmy coco puff” with his buddies. Once again at the Zoltar machine, his wish is granted: “I want to be a kid again.” The transformation takes place as he walks down the street toward home- all to the swelling accompaniment of strings. A touching ending to this fantastic story.

Tom Hanks is brilliant, the writing is fantastic, the music will make you want to cry, the message is profound... Remembering my disclaimer, I must say this is one of the GREAT movies of our generation. If it's been a while, you really should watch it again.

Next up: Wargames.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Karate Kid

This being the first of several entries about my Summer of 80’s Movies, let me first disclaim whatever I may say with the admission that I have little to no authority when it comes to what classifies a good or a bad 80’s movie. Besides, that’s not the goal. I mean, I was only 2 when The Karate Kid first hit the big screen and 12 when I first became a fan of the trilogy; what could I possibly say except I remember watching these movies religiously when I was a kid and I loved them.

Part 1 is the coming-of-age story of Daniel Larusso, a Jersey teen who moves to the suburbs of California and meets the elderly Mr. Miyagi, his apartment’s maintenance man and, as it turns out, karate master. The story is about how Daniel overcomes the hateful rage of his bullying classmates with a defense of honor (which requires a swift kick to his opponent’s face called the “crane” technique). Elizabeth Shue plays Daniel’s “flame” as it were, but “Johnny,” Cobra Kai Dojo’s top student and Shue’s x-boyfriend, stands between them. The drama climaxes at a karate tournament where honor overcomes revenge (Daniel son lands a peaceful front kick to Johnny’s nose and is thus crowned champion).

In Part 2, Mr. Miyagi receives a letter informing him that his father is gravely ill. Daniel, being Miyagi’s closest friend, goes with him to Okinawa to lend support in his time of mourning. While in Okinawa, Miyagi faces his past: a woman whom he had loved and those who had stood between them decades ago. Meanwhile, Daniel falls in love with a girl and spends the better part of the movie defending her honor. In the final fight-to-the-death scene, Daniel defends her, defeating the vengeful foe with a honk of the nose (as Miyagi modeled at the beginning of the film). In my opinion, Karate Kid’s Part 2 is typical of most part 2’s: a waste of time except as a bridge between outstanding parts 1 and 3.

Part 3 was always my favorite as a kid. Daniel and Miyagi return from Okinawa only to find their apartment complex has been sold, leaving Miyagi without a job and both without a place to live. As the two are getting started on a new life selling bonsai trees, John Creasy (the bad guy from part 1) wants revenge and calls in a favor from friend and fellow karate superstar, Mr. Silver of the Cobra Kai Dojo, to destroy Miyagi and his naive student. Mr. Silver comes as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, deceiving the appetative Daniel into leaving the more passive method of Mr. Miyagi (who refused to train him for a tournament) for his own more aggressive fighting method. Of course a new girl is introduced, one who knows better of Daniel, even when he loses his way. Together, she and Miyagi try to remind Daniel of who he is, but he's caught hook line and sinker by what his new pal has empowered him to be. At a turning point, Daniel realizes his mistake and tries to leave Silver’s dojo but finds himself in the middle of a fight against three Cobra Kai masters. But don’t worry: the 180-year old Miyagi comes and beats them all into submission and then agrees to train Daniel son for the tournament. In the end, Daniel wins by a take-down/punch combo and the crowd goes wild (after having his rear handed to him for 12 rounds).

The perfect start to the Summer of 80’s Movies, I must say.

I leave you with a quote from Mr. Miyagi: “For person with no forgiveness in heart, living even worse punishment than death.” Think on that, friends... Think on that...

Next up: Tom Hanks in "Big."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Summer of 80's Movies

If you were tuned into this blog last summer, you may remember our exploration of the world of classic rock in "Summer School of Rock." This summer, I'd like to do something a little different.

That's why I'm declaring this the "Summer of 80's Movies." The goal is simple: pop some popcorn, watch as many 80's movies as possible in the next month, blog about them, and hear your comments. And of course movies are more fun with friends, so you are more than welcome to pull up a chair and watch them with me if you're so inclined.

I was born in 1982, so I only vaguely remember a handful of 80's movies from my childhood. That means that I need your help in choosing a movie list. I will do my best to get through them all this summer, but I'm sure there will always be more movies than time. They don't all have to be "classics" either, just reminiscent of that era.

Here's the list so far:
1. Back to the Future (trilogy)
2. Goonies
3. Summer School
4. Stand by Me
5. The Karate Kid (trilogy)
6. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
7. Ghostbusters, Part I
8. Big
9. The Money Pit
10. Wargames (which I saw is making a 25-year anniversary appearance in theaters soon, parenthetically)

Just post your suggestions and I'll get started this weekend.
First up: Karate Kid, parts 1, 2, & 3.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"Running to Stand Still" : "I Am Still Running"



















There have been times as a songwriter when I have inadvertently "written" a song that's already been written. It may be a song I heard months ago, one time, forgot about, and then watched it subconsciously re-surface through my own pen. I innocently call the song my own, but really it's someone else's idea regurgitated.

But there have been other occasions when I've purposefully modeled my writing after a song I admire, or even written a creative "response" to that song. This is common practice among contemporary poets- reflecting and reacting to each others work in writing, and to a lesser extent this is true of music as well, but the majority of mainstream musicians are too self-centered to notice other artists' words, much less learn from them or pose an intelligent response.

In both cases above, I take a great song, chew on it, and spit it back out with my own pen. In one case accidentally; in the other, on purpose.

I have a theory that I need your help testing. In order to do so, you'll need to download "I Am Still Running" by Jon Foreman (it's well worth it, I give you my personal money-back guarantee). You'll also need "Running to Stand Still" from U2's Joshua Tree, but I assume you already have at least one copy of that on your shelf.

Whether accidentally or purposefully, subconsciously or artistically, Jon Foreman has re-written U2's classic "Running to Stand Still." The idea first struck me on the way to lunch this afternoon, listening to Jon Foreman's song from his new "Winter" EP. Testing my hypothesis, I repeatedly swapped CD's from Jon Foreman to Joshua Tree; Joshua Tree to Jon Foreman, back and forth and back and forth. What caught my ear? Well, below are the reasons why I believe Jon Foreman has purposefully (not accidentally) written a contrapuntal response to U2's "Running to Stand Still."

Beginning with the surface issues, then digging deeper as we go:
1. The title. "Running to Stand Still" and "I Am Still Running." A play on words? Still (motion)/still (time)? There's a striking similarity in the title, and even more striking counterpoint; to me, the titles suggest the same truth in harmonic perspectives: sinful addiction raging for escape on a "steam train" of deliverance (running from sin, but standing still), and addiction still hoping in a deliverer (still running from sin, or perhaps, standing still in "open arms"). Remember that musical term "counterpoint" (two or more melodies harmonically intended to be played at the same time)- it will be important again later...

2. Jon Foreman, as you know, is the lead singer and principle songwriter for Switchfoot. Bono has already been popularly referenced in their song "Gone" ("Hey Bono, I'm glad you asked- life is still worth living...") and Jon names U2 as one of his top two influences (second only to Elliot Smith). We know that Jon Foreman has been influenced by the Joshua Tree album, so it's not hard to believe that he may have admired and modeled his song after "Running to Stand Still."

(Digging deeper into musical analysis):

3. Both are in the key of D major.

4. Both employ a slow, driving train feel.

5. Not only are both in the key of D, both follow an almost identical chord pattern: I - IV in the verse and chorus; I - IV - bVII in the bridge (which is not common in pop music). U2 adds a V chord, which is mysteriously missing from "I Am Still Running" until the end of the bridge. Also, Jon Foreman adds a ii chord, which is not found anywhere in "Running to Stand Still." Nonetheless, the principle chords are identical.

6. Both are track 5 on their respective albums. Coincidence? I remember reading an article a long time ago about artists who purposefully place important (or favorite) songs on a certain track number with every CD they release. I'm not suggesting importance in this case as much as the intentionality and care artists and producers take in selecting a track order. While I'm willing to consider that the Jon Foreman/U2/track 5 case is a coincidence, it's not possible that these songs just landed in this order accidentally. It's a carefully considered process. Oh, and by the way, Jon Foreman was also the producer of his album (which means he got the final say on track order).

7. Both use a Dobro (a kind of steel guitar played with a slide). Not significant proof at first consideration, but when you listen you'll understand how they're played in a similar way. Melancholy, longing, cold, rain... these are images evoked by the Dobro. Lots of songs out there have slide guitars in the mix, but in this case the technique was so similar to Joshua Tree that it was the first trigger of this whole theory (the first thing that made me pause the CD and say, "hey, I've heard that before...").

(Digging deeper: this is where it gets a little scary, honestly):

8. Conducting both songs in a slow 4/4 pattern, you'll notice something fascinating in measures 7 and 8:
"Maybe run from the darkness in the night" (U2)
"I am still running" (Jon Foreman)
What this means: if you were able to play these songs at the same tempo simultaneously, they would match textually (remembering, of course, that they would also match in key and chord structure). In other words, if I were to run these two songs through ProTools, equalize their tempos and play them together, they would (in theory, and as their titles further suggest) be contrapuntal (two songs in perfect "counterpoint" designed to be played together).

There are other less reliable observations related to the EP as a whole that make me believe it has a strong Joshua Tree influence, but I'll let you decide based on the evidence above. Am I hyper-analyzing this? Or is it possible that Jon Foreman wanted to make a subtle but profound statement: In 1987, Bono said we are running to stand still; I remember how I was running then, at "17 years young," and "I am still running" today.

Amazingly, I have an opportunity to meet (and possibly sit down and chat with) Jon Foreman in a few weeks at my annual songwriter's conference in Colorado. If I can work up the gall, I want to ask him for the truth on this. To me, the design is just too intelligent to have been an accident.

"I Am Still Running"

You remember me before I learned to run
At the kissing tree before I learned my guns
We were 17, 17 years young
I am still running, I am still running

I had no idea the pain would be this strong
I had no idea the fight would last this long
In my darkest fears the rights become the wrongs
I am still running, I am still running
I am still running I am still running

Build me a home inside your scars
Build me a home inside your song
Build me a home inside your open arms
The only place I ever will belong

I am still running, I am still running
I am still running, I am still running


"Running to Stand Still"

And so she woke up, woke up from where she was lying still
Said I got to do something about where we're goin'
Step on a steam train, step out of the driving rain
Maybe run from the darkness in the night

Singing ha la la la de day
Singing ha la la la de day

Sweet the sin, But the bitter taste in my mouth
I see seven towers but I only see one way out
You got to cry without weeping, talk without speaking
Scream without raising your voice,

You know I took the poison, from the poison stream
Then I floated out of here

Singing ha la la la de day
Singing ha la la la de day

She runs through the streets with eyes painted red
Under a black belly of cloud in the rain
In through a doorway she brings me
White gold and pearls stolen from the sea
She is raging
She is raging and a storm blows up in her eyes
She will suffer the needle chill
She's running to stand still

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Disney Vacation 2008

Julie and I just got back from six days in Disney- a quick but refreshing vacation. Every summer we make it a point to get away to "the happiest place on earth," and this year may have topped them all.

We spent the whole day Wednesday at Epcot and never once felt tired. In fact, after the fireworks we were disappointed to leave. Normally standing in 100 degrees with 4 million other people is enough to knock us out cold after only 5 hours; in the past, we've always left after lunch and come back later for the fireworks. So it's sort of amazing that this is the first year when we were there from 9:00am to 9:30pm, riding all the rides, seeing all the countries, shopping in all the stores, eating like pigs (I speak for myself)... and still wanted more when the day was over.

Epcot wasn't all we did in Orlando; one of our favorite hang-outs is Downtown Disney. It's a way we can get more Disney "magic" (as Julie would put it) without the price tag of park admission. If you've never been, you should check it out next time you're in Orlando. There's a huge Virgin Records store I look forward to visiting every summer. Most years I'm lucky to escape with less than $80 in new music, but this time I only bought Jon Foreman's Fall and WinterEP's and a gift for my brother's birthday (P.S. You must get Jon Foreman's EP's... more on that another time). There's also an AMC movie theater, which we visited three times during our short trip: Wall-E (Excellent), Hancock (Very Fun), and Wanted (not suitable for you kids, but adults who liked the twists of Fight Club and the special effects of The Matrix will probably enjoy this one too).

Another of our favorite haunts is Jellyrolls on the Boardwalk at Disney's Beach & Yacht Club Resort. Jellyrolls is a dueling pianos hall that has become a hot spot of annual tradition. Mellencamp's "Jack & Diane" is always our one and only request. (See video clip here)

video
(We weren't allowed to use video cameras, so I was only able to sneak a few seconds, but you kinda' get the idea)

I could go on and on (there was also pool-side tanning, movies in bed, lots of sleeping in,
shopping, eating out, fireworks every night, the hotel arcade, and other sites and attractions like City Walk and Celebration).

I had to at least give a brief report of the trip and upload a couple pictures before I felt like I could sleep tonight. If you happen to be interested in more photos from our trip, I've added a new album on facebook titled "Disney Vacation 2008."

See you real soon,
Ryan

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Observations of a Convertible Life, Pt. 2

I smelled something funny driving home yesterday.
The smell of something burning under the hood...











































Follow this logic with me:

Ryan drives his in-law's convertible for one week

+

Convertible overheats and smokes like Vesuvius

+

Ryan has a nightmare that the car burst into flames Clark Griswald-style

=

Ryan returns convertible to in-laws driveway, pouring water into the radiator every 2 miles



And now... we wait...