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Eldredge Park Review

Finally, a road review! Took a while but I have finally gotten around to visiting a field other than Stony Brook and writing about it! I’ve been to everyone already, now I’m just writing about them. 

Out of all the parks in the Cape that aren’t Stony Brook, I’ve been to Eldridge the most. It makes sense, Orleans is close to my house and I’ve been to plenty of games here. Let’s put my positive history aside and analyze the park critically. Would you like this place? Let’s find out. This is Eldridge Park, home of the Orleans Firebirds. 

Location: 10/10

Eldridge is located at Nauset Regional Middle School, right on the corner of RT. 28 and Eldridge Parkway. Those are two busy streets in the town and the field is hard to miss. It’s easy to see from the street and frequently attracts attention. On top of being visible, the park also has plenty of parking. The school has a sizeable parking lot for the early crowd and a separate football field and track where they can direct overflow traffic to. It can be a bit hard to navigate lot traffic but that can be said if every large lot ever. Point is, there’s plenty of it for people who drive by, like what they see, and want to stop and watch for a bit. 

In addition, Eldredge is quite well located within the town. Orleans is a fairly small place. But it swells significantly in the summertime. It has a great business district for shopping, restaurants, and general merriment. There’s also a theatre, a few great beaches, and plenty of good entertainment for the whole family in town. A number of these things are a short drive from the field, but that’s not too much of a concern. It’s close enough to make everything doable in a weekend or so. The business district is also close enough that you could have a short walk to the field. It’s not the ideal setup, but you can do it. All things considered, I have absolutely no problems at all with the location of the field. It works as a part of the Orleans experience and can cap a great day exploring the town. Perfect marks here. 

Seating: 9/10

Eldredge can host some of the biggest crowds in the Cape League. I was at the highest attended Cape League game to this point, a playoff game between Orleans and YD in 2015. Why can it host so many? Well there’s a ton of space around the fences. Plenty of open grass and room to sprawl out on a blanket and make it a picnic. 

The most distinct feature of Eldredge is the hill overlooking the first baseline all the way from home plate to the foul pole. It’s common practice to bring chairs, blankets, and other stuff and mark off spots on the hill the morning or afternoon before a 7pm first pitch. It serves as excellent advertising before the game and a great place to watch from. You can see everything, you can sit in a comfy lawn chair or blanket, and enjoy one of the prettiest baseball sights you’ll ever experience. Similar points apply to the area behind the third baseline. It’s not as high a hill or as distinctive, but there’s just as good, if not better, a view there. It’s actually my favorite place to sit for a game here. There’s also room to sit in all parts of the outfield. So in terms of locations and spacing, there’s incredible variety and quality in every place. 

The only point I’m taking off is for a lack of variety in kinds of seating. There are four bleacher seat areas. One’s in close to deadaway center, one’s in right field and two are near home plate on the first base side. The issue with these is that most of these are kinda useless. The outfield ones are partly obstructed by the top of the outfield fences, so you can’t sit on the lower parts and see the game. And the ones near home plate are in front of each other, thus making the back one kind of an obstructed view. Yeah, an obstructed view behind home plate, that actually exists in a park without pillars. There are also some picnic tables in right field, and while these are pretty good, they feel like an afterthought. They’re just kinda there without more being available to do or see under the trees in right field. 

All this is to say that Brewster does a better job of seat variety. To get a great experience at Orleans, you have to bring a chair or blanket, or be ok with sitting on the grass. Here’s the thing though, if you’re cool with that, you’ll find better views, and a better air to enjoy the game, especially under the lights. 

Food: 7/10

Like Stony Brook, Eldredge’s food is managed by volunteers from the Nauset Public Schools. It is a ticket system for cooked goods and functions in a similarly efficient manner to Brewster. Things are pretty similar except in one major way, the location. Orleans’ food set up is behind the hill on first base, above the majority of the crowd. And it is very set back from the field. It feels remarkably separated from the action and takes you out if it while you wait and are distant from the game. It is the weakest part of the field and can be averted by not going there for food. Just go to some place in the business district. 

Aesthetics: 10/10

Without hesitation this is one of the prettiest baseball fields I’ve ever seen. The field was renovated in the offseason and it looks gorgeous, green, and luscious. There’s greenery and trees around the field without feeling like you’re in a forest. Games start at 7pm, so there’s normally a pretty sunset to welcome fans at the start of the game. Playing under the lights is a lovely touch. It feels like big time baseball, and makes the experience feel like a scene from Field of Dreams. It’s also the most distinct field in the league, hosting the most unique set pieces. Rt. 28 gives the chance for foul balls to hit cars, the hill is a lovely touch, and there’s a band stand in right field that serves as the view for the Orleans bullpen. It’s a unique look. The outfield decoration isn’t as good as Brewster, with few patterns in the grass, but everything else about this park is so perfect that any complaint would be a useless nitpick. This park is beautiful. 

General Atmosphere: 10/10

Again, this is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at a baseball field. Every point from the prior category applies here. The chance to sit at a unique looking ballpark under the lights watching teams of excellent college players is a marvelous experience. The kids can enjoy running on the flat grass between innings, playing on the playground in left center field, and siting with their parents and grandparents a the ballgame. The crowds are big, the chance to sit out on the grass and picnic is a lovely chance, and the air around the park is wonderful. Perfect marks again. 

Total Score: 46/50

This is one of the best baseball experiences you can have. I am not exaggerating. The field is perfectly located, wonderfully set up, and absolutely beautiful to look at. It does require a little more work to get a great experience out of this than at Brewster. You pretty much have to bring a blanket or a chair to sit on the hill and get the best experience. But the best times at this field are among the best in the sport. This is not just a required visit for the Cape League, this is a required trip for any baseball fan. 

Baby Driver Review: Spontaneous Thrills

I normally don’t go to movie theatres. Most movies I catch now a days are DVDs, Blue Rays, or XFinity at my house or at showings my friends host. Occasionally though, I will go on a whim and see a film in theatres. My parents are on Cape and we had a free night. So my dad pitched the idea to see a film on Friday night. We all agreed. We ate quickly and drove over to the theatre in Dennis. We forgot it was opening night of the new Spider Man movie, so we had to wait in line for a while. Fortunately, once we got our tickets, we walked into one of the best films I’ve ever seen in person. 

I’m not exaggerating, Baby Driver is one of the absolute best expereinces I’ve ever had at a movie theatre. Why’s that? Well I shall explain. 

Let’s start with the absolute best thing about the film in my eyes (or ears): the sound design. The main character has a hearing issue and wears earbuds so he can listen to music and drown out the tin. The choice of music is excellent and fits the situation well in every situation, whether it’s sweet and romantic, tense and perilous, or fast and thrilling. What’s ear catching is how the music works with the other sounds. When someone passes Baby(yes that’s the main character’s name; we’ll talk about him later) the sound of their voice fades in and back out when they leave. The same thing happens with car horns, jackhammers, and anything else Baby can interact with. It mirrors the way you hear things with earbuds on in real life and is remarkably effective in putting you in the scene. You feel Baby’s character and thoughts through his music choices and subtle actions more than anything else. It is remarkably effective and it is something not many films will have a chance to replicate. The sound designers should win the Academy Award for Sound Design and it should not be a conversation.

The rest of the technicals of the film are excellent too. The cinematography is outstanding, especially with all the motion. The film never stays still, whether the criminals are discussing a heist, in the middle of crime, if Baby is out and about, or if the lead couple is on a date. The film doesn’t stay still, even when it’s slowing down from the violence of the crime world. 

I guess I’ll talk about that part now, don’t see this movie if you’re squeamish. There is a ton of violence. Not as much as The Revenant, but it is still not for the faint of heart. There are high pressure scenarios, shockingly violent deaths, fierce gun battles, and plenty of blood and explosions to go around. However, it’s not grituitous. Everything feels earned and nothing feels out of place. 

Which brings me to the action and car chase scenes, they are outstanding. The chases are beautifully captured and flow seamlessly. The action is remarkable. It does feel a little much, but everything else is so grounded and feels so real that the action can be as thrilling as the director can make it. The car chases are beautiful to watch, and in my opinion, top the chases in any Fast and Furious movie. Baby Driver‘s chances aren’t as elaborate, but they are more real because you care more about the characters in the cars, at least about Baby, than any Furious film. 

Now on the writing and story, I’ve rarely been as compelled in a film. The premise of a talented get-away driver who’s musically inclined and has a painful past trying to live a regular existence but getting pulled back into the crime world of Atlanta, and thus endangering his loved ones is an interesting premise and it works beautifully well. The film constantly twists and turns and always gives you new things to think about and doesn’t let you rest. 

The actors are perfectly cast for their roles. Andes Elgort is perfect as Baby and carries the film. He’s charming, lovable, and a fun character to watch. Jon Hamm and Elsa Gonzalez are outstanding as a robbing duo and dirty couple. They bring some edge to the film. Jaime Foxx is magnificent. He has no regard for anyone but himself, is scarily trigger happy, and is the film’s psychotic wild card. Kevin Spacey is manipulative, controlling, and completely captivating. Basically, he’s Kevin Spacey and is his character from House of Cards. You’ll love watching him. Lily James is striking and charming, working beautifully well as the love interest and the lighter side of a crime movie. But the character who stole every scene for me was CJ Jones’s character, who never says a word yet completely steals the whole show. Watch the film and you’ll see what I mean. 

Lastly, Edgar Wright deserves incredible praise as the writer and director of the film. This has been a premise he’s wanted to work on since 1994. He turned the planned opening of the film into a music video for Mint Royale’s “Blue Song”. He kept it on the back burner until the time was right and finally got the chance to make it a reality. My only concern is that he’s been in discussion for a sequel and I think it’d work well as a stand alone. I hope there’s no unnecessary sequel. 

Baby Driver manages to work as a crime thriller with romantic elements. It juggles a few different genres and works so well. It is one of the absolute best films I’ve ever watched in a theatre. If you have a free night and can stomach some brutal violence, do whatever you can to go see this movie. It is worth every single penny paid to see it. 

Stony Brook Field Review Revisited

Well, this is fitting. The first time I tried to make this little project happen, I got as far as the first post and got derailed by other things. Now, let’s get the project started by revisiting the only field I touched on in 2015. This is my look at Stony Brook Field, the home of the Brewster Whitecaps. 

Now a few points before I get into the actual review. I love the Whitecaps organization. They gave me a chance to be a writer. That chance started me on the career I have today. They’ve allowed me to meet amazing athletes, fun fans, and among the best people I’ve ever encountered. I love the memories I have made at this field. They are among the best I ever have in sports. That being said, I will keep my blissful memories out of a critical analysis of the field’s merits and flaws. A little spoiler, most of the review will be praise, but I am not blind to possible improvements. Let’s get started! 

Location: 9/10

Brewster has a bigger year-round population than Orleans or Chatham, but it doesn’t have a real “downtown” or business area. So there isn’t a truly central place to put the field. They put it at Stony Brook Elementary School, which works well enough. The school is on Underpass Road, between the two major roads in Brewster, 6A and 137. It’s signed well on both roads, so the location works. It’s right on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, so bikers can come by and see the crowds and come on in. There’s also a few bike shops, a pizza place, a mini golf course, a fish place, and a popular taco place right next door, so there’s plenty of stuff right around the field. There’s also plenty of parking around the field, including overflow parking at Eddy Elementary, just a short walk through the woods away. The only location point I’m taking off is a general issue with Brewster: it’s way too spread out and doesn’t have a central business area the way other towns do. The only other issue is that it’s in a residential area and the locals don’t want lights on late, so there are no lights at Stony Brook. Those slight issues aside, the location works well and I quite like it. 

Seating: 9/10

Brewster has incredibly varied seating. There are traditional metal bleachers up the first and third baselines that get you up close to the field. You’re behind a fence, but you kinda have to be for safety. Foul balls can be hit hard. There are also a few hills you can bring chairs to sit on. The biggest one is over the first baseline and makes for a great chance at foul balls. There’s also a smaller hill on the third baseline, but you have to get there EARLY to grab a spot there. Lastly, there’s a hill in center field that overlooks the whole field. It’s a cool place, but there are two issues. First, it could be mowed down a bit. There are too many weeds and it’s quite messy. Don’t sit there without a blanket or a chair. Second, it is far from the action. That’s an issue with any baseball game, but it feels more away from the game in Brewster than at other fields I’ve been to. 

In addition to all that, there are picnic tables down the first baseline that provide a different feel completely. Unless you have food with you or have a young family, I wouldn’t recommend sitting there. It doesn’t give the best viewing angle if the game. 

Stony Brook has remarkable variety in style of seats and viewing perspectives. It can give you two completely different perspectives of the same game. The only point off is split between the listed issues for center field and the picnic tables. Otherwise, the seats are excellent. 

Food: 8/10

For many years, the Whitecaps had the assistance of the Brewster Skippers, a jump rope team that did fundraising by selling the food at Whitecaps games. They had a trailer along the third base line that they operated out of. It was unique, and the food was excellent. Last year was the last for the skippers, as they had a hard time getting a crew together for it, and the food set up is now different. 

Now the food is done by volunteers from the Nauset Regional Schools. They have a tent set up right next to the school, on the hill overlooking the 1st base side. It’s the same set up as Orleans and, spoiling that review a little, it works nicely over there. The new set up is quite good. It’s a ticket set up for grilled items. The selection is rather elementary but they do everything well and get it to you in a timely fashion while being courteous. Only points off are for the location being away from the souvenir trailer and the rather simple selection. Otherwise, it’s pretty good. 

Aesthetics: 10/10

This is a pretty field. The layout allows for some breathtaking sunsets over the third base side, the scoreboard is the best and most complete in the league, and the lack of lights takes nothing away from how pretty a field this is. Especially with Ryan Smith as the best creating patterns in the field pregame. No problems at all here. 

General Atmosphere: 9/10

This is an excellent baseball atmosphere. The public address announcer is the best in the league, The fans are excellent, and the playground behind the press box is outstanding for the kids. The only point off is for small things, like how the lineup posting is a piece of paper in a bulitin board on the back of the press box instead of a larger and more asthetically pleasing form like a whiteboard or chalkboard or how there’s no speed gun showing how hard the pitcher is dealing. Otherwise, it’s outstanding. 

Total Score: 45/50

This is an excellent ballpark. It does everything well and is a must see for anyone privy to the Cape League. Brewster is not a summertime destination in the same way Orleans or Chatham are, but people staying at Ocean Edge or in the area are doing themselves a gross disservice not going to a Whitecaps game. Go to Stony Brook and take the kids. They will love the playground and stay for the great baseball too. 

Cape League Reviews

Since buying our house in Brewster in 2000, the Cape Cod Baseball League has been a regular part of our summertime merriment. We’ve followed the Brewster Whitecaps through many summers, tough games, and two different home fields. I’ve been to every single field in the league and I’ve formed many memories. I’ve also gotten to work in and around the league. 

In 2012, I interned for the Whitecaps as a gameday ops intern, taking donations at the gate, selling 50/50 raffle tickets, setting up the stands and cleaning them up post game, hanging banners and advertisements in the outfield, and promoting the team and players wherever I could. Three years later, I rejoined the Caps as the team’s writer and social media intern. The year after, I had a hybrid internship that had me splitting time as a game day ops guy and a writer. This year, I’m working for Lower Cape TV as a cameraman and production guy broadcasting Whitecaps games. So I’m back on Cape and working around the league and the Whitecaps again. I also started writing reviews of Cape League ballparks. I’ve kept myself plenty busy in recent summers. 

About that last thing though, I never actually finished the review project. I did a review of my home park in Brewster and never did more. What happened? Simple: I got distracted by other stuff. I was writing for the Whitecaps and had enough on my plate at the time. This summer, I’m finally gonna get that done. I’m gonna review every ballpark in the Cape League. That includes redoing my look at Stony Brook Field in Brewster. I’ll be judging the field based on location, seating, food, aesthetics, and general atmosphere, each on a scale of 10 points. 

I’ll just lay out my favorite ballparks as they are now. And I am excluding Brewster from this initial ordering. I’m a little biased in their favor. 

  1. Chatham
  2. Orleans 
  3. Cotuit
  4. Hyannis
  5. Harwich
  6. Yarmouth-Dennis
  7. Bourne
  8. Wareham
  9. Falmouth

I’ll reevaluate all my opinions on these fields as the summer goes on. I’m quite curious to see how the fields matchup. Here’s to baseball! 

1776: A Poignant, Patriotic, and Comical Musical

The Fourth of July is a hotly anticipated day for us Americans. It means the peak of summer! Grills, baseball, vacation, beach time, fireworks, and time to celebrate with friends and family. It is a wonderful day. Though I have to remind myself that the holiday is called Independence Day and we’re celebrating more than just summer being awesome. It is also the birthday of the United States. 

It’s been 241 years to the day since the founders of the United States got together in Philadelphia and signed the Declaration of Independence, committing treason against the greatest empire in the world at the time, and boldly claiming freedom to make their own brand new nation. The American Revolution is a remarkable story and almost certainly the most astounding revolution in human history. It makes for excellent books, plays, movies, TV shows, and myths. Plenty of all have been made throughout the years. I recently watched one of the best: a musical film released in 1972 that focuses on the month long stretch from June to July of 1776 when the Continental Congress aggressively debated whether they would separate from the British Empire. The film is, appropriately, called 1776. It is an adaptation of a 1969 musical that won the Tony Award for Best Musical. If you are a fan of musicals, and appreciate the gravity and humor of the American Revolution, you owe it to yourself to watch this film. 

It centers on John Adams (played by William Daniels) trying to propose and pass American Independence through a useless, do nothing Congress that is spinning its wheels and voting on silly matters that aren’t worth the attention. He seeks and receives help from Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva) who quips and sleeps his way through the whole film while being a lovable womanizer, Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard), who mostly sits quietly but delivers powerful prose and wisdom when called upon, and Abigail Adams (Virginia Vestoff), who appears to John through letters as a calming prescence, a respit from the idiocy of Congress, and a chance to sort out thoughts on the given situation. Throughout the film,  those seeking independence have to wrestle with those seeking to maintain the status quo of British citizenship and slavery, like John Dickinson (Donald Madden) and Edward Rutledge (John Cullum). 

The film stays in Philadelphia and is only concerned with the proposal, discussion, debate, and signing of the Declaration of Independance. George Washington and Alexander Hamilton do not appear at all in person. Washington is only referred to through his depressing dispatches, and there are no battle scenes shown. The action is the political discussions surrounding the Congress. 

The most praised aspect of the film is the consistent mockery and humor at the expense of government, different states, and the characters themselves. Rightly so. This is a funny movie. Everyone is a charicature. John Adams is an Oompa Loompa from puritan Boston that yells and is obnoxious. Ben Franklin is an old womanizer who sleeps all film but is actually the wisest man there. The North Carolina delegation constantly yields to South Carolina and the South Carolinians are elegant jerks. 

On top of the characterization, the lyrics and lines are also filled with excellent humor. 

When saying why he should not write the Declaration, Roger Sherman explains “I don’t know a participle from a predicate. I am just a simple cobbler from Connecticut.” 

When Jefferson’s wife (yes there are historical innacuracies; we’ll talk about those later) shows up and relieves his stress, as it were, Adams comments on their choice of timing and asks Franklin: “Are they going to…? In the middle of the afternoon!?”

Franklin responds: “Not everyone’s from Boston, John.”

And when asked about the New York delegation’s lack of direction in voting, one representative responds: “Have you ever been to a meeting of the New York legislature? Everyone talks very loud and fast, no one listens to each other, and thus, nothing ever gets done.” 

The writing is top notch and it makes for an entertaining time. 

The music is only ok though. The lyrics are the best part of it. The choreography is rather simple and the notes themselves are not too complex. They weren’t trying to make a hard musical in those ways, but I can’t help but point out these issues. And as much as I like Daniels as Adams, I can’t help but find his singing voice disappointing. It’s not a deal breaker, but for the lead of the film, they could’ve gotten someone who’s a better singer. Other than that, the technicals of the film are exactly what can be expected from an early 70’s musical. The sets are on point, the costumes are excellent and the sound design works wonderfully. Everything technically is upto standards and works well. 

The biggest issue to be taken with it is the historical innacuracies. Jefferson’s wife did not actually go to Philadelphia during the time of the real thing, and the voting on the idea actually took place on July 2nd, before signing the declaration on the 4th. There are more, but I won’t harp on them. This isn’t trying to be a true to life adaptation of the real events, it is trying to show the atmosphere of the times and the gravity of declaring independence. And it does that well. 

While I praised the humorous tone of the film early, 1776 also has moments that are played stone cold seriously. This is honestly where the film is at its best for me. The debate scene between the proposal of Independence and the formation of the committee for writing a Declaration of Independence is played straight and the tension of the moment is perfect. “Molassas to Rum” is a scathing commentary on the nature of the slave trade and slavery in the south and is the best number in the movie. Cullum plays it up as Rutledge and shines. The thing he’s promoting are horrible, but it is supposed to grab your attention and it does. 

On the subject of slavery, this film shows excellent awareness of how murky an issue it was in those days. Adams and Jefferson wanted to remove slavery from the new nation, but the economy of the southern states depended upon it. If removed, the Deep South would’ve folded completely and the economic problems after the war would have likely been even worse. Adams acknowledged that “Future generations will never forgive us.” Franklin answered “That may be so, but without a country that won’t matter much.” It was an absolutely impossible moral dilemma and the way it is shown in this film is enlightening and sobering. 

The ending of the film is also sobering and jarring. The signing of the Declaration is played completely straight and with an air of “oh crap what are we doing” hanging over the scene. You’d think it’d end on a high note, but it doesn’t. It ends in a somber mood, as if to say “the fight has yet to be won”. That’s absolutely the correct way to end the film. The founders were committing treason against the greatest empire in the world and the greatest power since Rome. They knew they would likely fail. And by all rights, they should have failed. But they didn’t. 

When I think about why I celebrate Independence Day, I always think about how unlikely it is that the country should exist. The debate, the wars, the odds, the fight against human nature, nothing on paper says that America should exist today, let alone should have escaped the first months of its existence. This country has been through an unbelievable journey and it began in Philadelphia back 241 years ago. 

Hamilton is a more entertaining look at America’s founding and nature. But 1776 is a more accurate portrayal of the atmosphere of the country’s founding. It benefits from a tight focus on one location and particular month, excellent writing and a healthy dose of comedy balanced by sobering reality. If you have not seen this film, take some of your Independence Day to watch it. 

Best Movies I Watched in 2016

I’ve not done a countdown in a long while and it’s that time of year when countdowns make sense as a means for recollection, so here’s a new countdown. I watched a number of movies this year. They covered a huge range of genres, styles, ages, and tones. Most of them entertained me, and all of them engaged me. These are the ten best movies I watched for the first time this year. Please note that this is not a list of films released this year. I didn’t go to the movie theatre that often, so I didn’t see many of the best films of this year according to critics, like La La Land, Moonlight, or Manchester by the Sea. I saw a few, but most of the films are from earlier years, some from the black and white film era. Here we go. 

Honorable Mention: V For Vendetta (2005)

There’s a used book store in Cambridge called Rodney’s that is one of my favorite hangout spots. They sell DVDs for very cheap, and I’ve gotten a few films from there. I’ve wanted to watch V for Vendetta for a while, so when I saw it for so cheap, I bought it. I had a free afternoon after class, so I made lunch and watched the movie. That was a good choice. 

The political themes and messages of the film are compelling and thought provoking. The world feels controlled and chained. They nailed the feel of the movie, with Natalie Portman acting as a vessel for us to walk in futuristic, fascist London. Portman is excellent in the film, but the highlight is absolutely Hugo Weaving as V. He is spellbinding. His home feels like a haven, his actions and speeches are grandiose, at times infuriating, but as you learn his backstory through the course of the film, you appreciate how complete this character is. It takes some commitment to watch it and some of the messaging is a bit much, but the political intrigue, suspense, and charm make V for Vendetta well worth watching. I can’t put it into the top list, but it deserves a mention. 

10. Rogue One (2016)

The annual Star Wars release that we will get for the rest of all time just barely scrapes into my top 10. I did a full writeup of the film, so I won’t spend much time on it here. Short version, its good. Plenty of good action, amazing Darth Vader moments, and enough world building to expand the Star Wars universe and add some grit to the world make it a worthwhile addition to cinema’s most sacred franchise. It’s flaws are just big enough to keep it down to the 10th spot here.

9. The Revenant (2015)
For the first and only time on this list, I will say I didn’t like this movie much. This is a rare experience for me. I appreciate the technical mastery and how well made and directed the film is, but I still can’t bring myself to like it. 

Positives first. The scene composition, camerawork, lighting, and cinematography are nothing short of amazing. The film feels real and brutal. The score isn’t distracting or ear catching, but it compliments the film perfectly. The theme of survival is well explored and Tom Hardy is an excellent villain. There is plenty to enjoy and it deserved every technical Oscar it won. However, as stated previously, I didn’t like it. I saw this film at the very end of its theatrical run while on Spring break with family. We went to a lovely little theatre called the Chatham Orpheum, in Chatham, Cape Cod, which might be my favorite theatre I’ve ever been to. We sat there and suffered through it. 

It felt like a gore fest that took so much effort to stomach and watch Leonardo DiCaprio fight through. It is a brutal movie that pushes its lead to his physical limits, but doesn’t flush his character out anymore than that. In fact, none of the characters other than Hardy or the Native guide halfway through the film caught my attention or were that memorable for me. When the film is so focused on beating the lead to his limits, that’s tough to watch. The CGI by Industrial Light and Magic to bring the bear to life is the best CGI work I’ve ever seen, and I could barely watch it. You feel every cut, arrow, rock, and punch that hits Leo. It’s so hard to watch at times that I can’t say I like it. If you can’t stomach violence, stay far away from this movie. If you can handle it, then you’ve got a technical masterpiece to enjoy here. 

8. Airplane! (1980)

I’ve never laughed so hard watching a movie. This film is vulgar, insulting, full of swearing, death, and nudity. And it is a work of comedic genius. This came out at a time when disaster movies were popular. Think The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and Zero Hour!. It takes the seriousness of disaster movies and plays every bit of it for laughs. The characters and jokes are perfectly written and it is so quotable. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks about dragging Walton and Lanier up the floor every night for 48 minutes with a kid who just told him he doesn’t try , except during the playoffs, while he is trying to pass himself off as an airplane pilot and is wearing his Laker uniform underneath his pilot garb. That kind of absurdity is just par for the course when talking about this movie. This isn’t a film to watch for cinematography, character arcs, or any of that stuff. You watch this because it was funny in 1980, and it is just as funny today. 

7. Finding Dory (2016)

Pixar is the best animation studio going today. I have loved almost every film I’ve seen from them, and liked Cars and Cars 2. When the sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo was announced years ago, I was excited. When the movie came out, it was a must watch for me. I saw this with my mom on the Cape over the summer. And wow did Pixar do a phenomenal job. I actually like this a little more than the original. 

The animation is sensational. The sound design is perfect. The voice acting is just as good as the first movie. There are bits which are nonsensical, like the truck falling off the cliff as “What a Wonderful World” plays, but the film holds together well enough despite the silliness. The returning characters are as good as expected, but the new critters are awesome additions. Namely Hank, my favorite character in the film. His arc is heartwarming and his natural characteristics, as an octopus, allow Pixar to flex their creative muscle with him on screen. I think this is a worthy sequel to Finding Nemo and a worthy addition to Pixar’s lineup. 

6. City of God (2002)

After my final exam wrapped up at BU, I had a week to relax on campus. During Senior Week, I went to Red Sox games, explored the MFA, celebrated my graduation with my friends, and enjoyed the city I’ve come to love so much. One night, I got together with some guys from the BU Catholic Center and we wanted to watch a movie. My friend David, an avid film buff, suggested City of God. None of us knew anything about it, just that it was supposed to be good. Our blind faith was rewarded with a surprisingly gritty and touching film about growing up in and trying to survive in the slums of Rio de Janero. 

It is in Portuguese, and has accompanying subtitles to make it watchable for those who don’t speak Portuguese. It provides enough lighthearted moments to make living in the ironically titled City of God seem better than it actually is. Only two disappointments show up for me. There’s a romance between the lead and a girl he likes that is dropped part of the way through the film and is never resolved. There’s also one important character who goes from being likable to dispicable in a heartbeat. It just seems a bit extreme. All things considered though, this is a phenomenal movie. It does require some willingness to endure blood and guts, but nowhere near as much as The Revenant

5. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

I love sports movies. With all the sports posts I’ve got, it’d be a shock if I didn’t. Gran Torino is one of my favorite films, and I heard that Million Dollar Baby was similar in tone and even better. After an insane week of driving all around New England, I needed a night to breathe. I made myself dinner and put in Million Dollar Baby. This movie is emotional. Hillary Swank plays the southern hick perfectly. The chemistry between Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood is perfect. It is a little slow, but it’s a Clint Eastwood film. He takes his time. This is a sports movie that gets you thinking “that’s not fair!” just after showing you something heartwarming and exciting. It is a well balanced movie, and well worth your time and effort to try and watch it.


4. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

My family has a penchant for watching classic movies. We’ve watched such classics as Casablanca and Citizen Kane and plan on watching On The Waterfront, and other classics as time goes by. Over spring break, Dad suggested we watch Sunset Boulevard, a classic film noir about how age and fame can drive a person into insanity. And wow is this movie engrossing, unsettling, and fantastically creepy. Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond masterfully and delivers one of the most famous lines in cinema history: “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.” I thought this film was a lighthearted look at the entertainment business. I was wrong, and the finale of the film leaves you with a sense of “I can’t believe that really just happened…” It is from a completely different era of film making. The writing, pacing, and tone of the movie are relics of its time, and I wish we could go back to that age. If you like old school movies, go watch this. You’ll love it. 

3. Inside Out (2015)

In late October, I went with my dad to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to take in a Green Bay Packer game at Lambeau Field. It was a highlight of the year. The next day, we hopped on a plane to Chicago. We then went our separate ways, with me going back to Boston and Dad going to San Fransisco. When I sat down for my flight, I noticed the seatback monitor had a Disney tab. I poked around the movie selection and found Inside Out listed there. I remember many people raving about how good this movie was, and I had one friend tell me about how emotionally charged it is. I took their word for it and watched it on my flight home. Simply, wow. 

Again, Pixar is the best animation studio working now and Inside Out is the most imaginative film they’ve made. The idea of emotions being managed like a company with a board of emotions managing it all is brilliant. The tale of a young girl struggling to figure out her new situation is compelling and relatable to every human being on the planet. The animation and score are perfect. The writing for every character is phenomenal, and my friend who called it emotional was not exaggerating at all. I couldn’t watch some sections of the film because I had lived it and I didn’t want to look at it in movie form. That makes the final act and the ensuing catharsis more meaningful. This is a masterful movie and one of my favorite Pixar films. Go watch this if you haven’t yet. 

2. Rocky (1976)

Yes, I somehow never watched Rocky before this year. When I got my job writing for Inside Hockey and covered games up at the University of Vermont, I stayed overnight at my family’s place in Quechee, VT. After finishing my writeups I checked out the Xfinity OnDemand listings. I went to the Free Movies tab and saw Rocky. Instantly, I thought “Yes. This is happening.” I was missing out, this film is awesome. 

Sylvester Stallone as the title character is absolutely the best part of the film. He’s simultaneously so stupid and wise with an underlying good nature that you can’t possibly root against him. Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers, is a respectable adversary for Rocky, but never feels much like a villain. There’s a healthy respect between the two leads. The romance between Rocky and Adrian, played by Talia Shire, is sweet and touching. It looks and feels very real, with Rocky being such a gentleman in a way only a bumbling guy can be. It makes the final scene so memorable. The best sequence of the film is undoubtably the fight. The “Going the Distance” song is one of the finest pieces of film score ever written, and you pull so hard for Rocky. It is a masterclass of pulling for the underdog and creating a character that everyone wants to be, and at points through life, has been. This film is required viewing.

1. The Godfather (1972)

Of all the great movies I wanted to watch and hadn’t gotten to yet, this is the one that people were the most baffled by my not seeing. This is considered one of the greatest movies ever made. I had heard about the horse head, the baptism, the Sicilian wedding, and how perfect the casting was. So after the craziness of the Whitecaps baseball season and the musical wrapped up, I had a free night. I cooked a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and sausage, poured a glass of red wine, killed all the lights in my house, and watched The Godfather. Simply put, all the praise of the movie was justified. 

In a way, this is the weirdest film on the list because it doesn’t feel like a movie. It feels like a novel being told by actors. It was based on a novel, but it feels like a book and not a movie, which is normally a problem. Not here. Also the film starts with immediate exposition about a daughter being brutally attacked. No music, no credits, no build up or set up. Just a cold start. It’s so different, and it works so well. Marlon Brando is magnificent as Don Corleone. Al Pacino’s ascent as a member of the family is so compelling to watch. Every supporting character is cast absolutely perfectly. There are so many quotable lines. I feel more cultured after having seen this movie. This is up there as one of the greatest accomplishments in cinematic history. This, like Rocky, is required watching, but watch this first. The Godfather is a cinematic marvel that will never get old or be forgotten. 

Reynolds and Fisher: Tragic Ends for Icons

Man, 2016 has been tough. Gordie Howe, Muhammad Ali, Prince, George Michael, Alan Rickman, and Craig Sager are all celebrities that have passed on this year. In the last two days though, two more celebrities have passed on, and their deaths hit a bit closer to home for me. 

I grew up a massive Star Wars fan. I’ve watched Episodes IV, V, and VI so many times and have memorized every line of those films. I still grin when Han yells “Yahoo!” after shooting down the TIE fighters to save Luke, I still smile whenever Yoda says anything in Empire Strikes Back, and I still tear up when Vader is redeemed at the end of Return of the Jedi. So you can imagine my sadness when my Dad read a news report that Carrie Fisher passed away. 

I looked online to see for myself, and indeed, Carrie Fisher had passed away at 60 years old due to complications of a heart attack she suffered while returning to Los Angeles from London. Only one day later, Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, was rushed to the hospital and died of a suspected stroke. Just like that, two of film’s most famous stars, and the leading ladies of my favorite musical and film franchise, are gone and millions of fans are left to mourn their passing, appreciate their work, and marvel at how tragic portions of their lives were and how positive they remained through it all. 

Born in El Paso, Texas, in 1932, Mary Frances Reynolds was raised in a strict Nazarene household and was a leader in her Girl Scout troop. She would remain a face for them for years and there is still a scholarship bearing her name given to high school aged scouts. At five years old, her family relocated to Burbank, CA. At 16, she entered into and won the Miss Burbank Beauty Contest. That contest got her a contract with Metro Goldwyn Meyer. Jack Warner, the owner of the Warner Brothers studio gave her the name Debbie because it was a cuter name than Mary Frances. 

Her first notable role was in 1950’s Three Little Words, starring Fred Astaire and Red Skelton. Reynolds was nominated for a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer for that role. She didn’t win, but she found favor with the executives at the studio, and in 1952, was given the role that would define her career at only 19 years old. 

She was cast as the female lead of Singing in the Rain, starring and codirected by dance and film legend Gene Kelly. This ended up being brutal on Reynolds. She wasn’t a dancer before the film, she had been a gymnast. As a result, she was not prepared to get every step right. Kelly was harsh on her, insulting the 19 year old for her lack of dancing knowledge and ability. MGM star Fred Astaire, whom Reynolds had worked with on Three Little Words, found her in a studio crying under a piano after an especially harsh grilling by Kelly. Astaire agreed to help her get the steps right and teach her some important things to do the film. She got through it, but not without major stress. The number “Good Morning”, for example took from 8am until 11pm to shoot in one day, left Reynolds with sore and badly bleeding feet. She was sore and exhausted, but her place in Hollywood was sealed. Singing in the Rain was a modest success on its initial run, earning Donnie O’Conner a Golden Globe for best actor and a sizable profit for MGM. It has since been regarded as the greatest movie musical ever made, a sentiment I whole heartedly agree with. 

From there, Reynolds continued to land big roles for MGM. She met Eddie Fisher, a singer and TV show host around this time and married him in 1955. A year later, their first child was born. Reynolds had filmed three movies with intricate dance choreography while pregnant with her daughter, notably Bundle of Joy, but there was no harm. Carrie Frances Fisher was born on October 21, 1956, and all seemed to be going well for the family. And then life got complicated. 

In 1959, Eddie Fisher left Debbie, Carrie, and one year old son Todd to pursue a relationship with Reynold’s friend, Elizabeth Taylor. Fisher and Reynolds divorced and Reynolds became a working single mother in Hollywood. Teheran managed as well as she could, eventually getting both children into the entertainment business and getting married to a millionaire businessman named Harry Karl. This marriage also ended in controversy, with the two divorcing in 1973 and Reynolds suing Karl after Karl had gambled away almost all of Reynold’s savings. 

While her mother was struggling, Carrie was hiding away from the complications in books. She read classic literature and poetry to the point of being called “the bookworm” by her family. She attended Beverly Hills high school until the performing world and her mother got in the way. Debbie took on work as a stage actress with film chances coming in slower, and was cast as the lead in a broadway revival of Irene. Carrie was cast as a Debutante in the show and learned the tricks of the trade from mother dearest. 

Fisher decided that she wanted to make this a living and was accepted to the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She studied there for 18 months. Shortly after, she followed a path similar to her mother. Her debut film role was a small role in Shampoo, starring Warren Beatty. The film saw real financial success and Fisher was off to a good start in the film world. 

Shortly thereafter, Fisher was cast as the female lead of George Lucas’ new space opera: Star Wars. She thought the script was outstanding but didn’t think many others would, so she kept quiet. Much like Singing in the Rain, Star Wars was also a painstaking process. There wasn’t an obnoxious director insulting her talents, but the process was stalled many times because of technical failures and malfunctions, the rest of the cast didn’t take it as seriously as she and Alec Guinness did, and she was uncomfortable because she was taped up under her costume in place of wearing actual underwear, because according to George Lucas, “There is no underwear in space.” 

She and the crew waited with baited breath to see the reaction to the film and to everyone’s shock, it became the highest grossing film of all time. It has been surpassed, but the original Star Wars film is still regarded as one of cinema’s greatest achievements, again, something I agree with 100 percent. 

Fisher would reprise her role as Princess Leia in the next two Star Wars films and would become synonymous with that special galaxy, far, far away. She had other roles, like the Mystery Woman in Blues Brothers and Marie in When Harry Met Sally. But similarly to her mother, she was known for her best film and her personal troubles. 

Fisher married Paul Simon in 1983, divorced him in 1984, had a number of relationships with different entertainers, including an affair with Harrison Ford, being briefly engaged to Dan Aykroyd, and dating and having a child with Bryan Lourd. On top of that, she suffered from bipolar disorder and drug addiction that siphoned years off her life. Her mother didn’t have the drug problem, but Carrie had become a star and became just as famous for her relationships as her work on the screen. 

Through it all, they kept working, kept entertaining, and found ways to turn their pain into art. Carrie turned her drug problem into a semi-autobiographical novel and then into a movie: Postcards From the Edge, starring Meryl Streep. Debbie served as an inspiration to her daughter through all her issues, and they maintained a healthy relationship for years, after not speaking for close to a decade. Todd Fisher told news sources that Reynolds final words before her stroke were “I want to be with Carrie.” 

I love the work these two ladies put on the screen. Singing in the Rain is the greatest movie musical ever made and Star Wars is easily my favorite entertainment franchise. For fans of both franchises to lose their heroes in two days is tragic. For Todd Fisher and Billie Lourd to lose two pivotal family members is even worse. My prayers are with the family, and I will have a more difficult time watching their work, especially the now complicated Star Wars: Episode VIII