Monday, October 27, 2003

Demons, Pumpkins, and Ghosts... Oh My!

Originally published in The Vanguard, the student newspaper of The University of South Alabama

Happy Halloween, from The Casual Critic! One of my favorite Halloween activities is watching scary movies. After surveying the staff members of The Vanguard and JAG TV, I found I am not the only fan of scary movies. I asked staff members to list their top five scary/horror movies. Here are the three most popular, and as an added bonus, the Halloween movie I watch every year, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

The Ring
The most popular among student media staffers, "The Ring" is a terrifying journey. More mystery than horror, this movie is very well thought out and the clues are subtle enough, so even the most shrewd moviegoers cannot guess the end. I know this for a fact, because my best friend always figures movies out before the end, and she was completely surprised by the ending of "The Ring." The movie is about a videotape that looks like someone's nightmare. If you watch it, you will die in seven days. The reporter investigating the story watches the tape, and the movie counts down the days she has left until the seventh. It is very intense.
Watching this movie a second time makes it less scary, but it is easier to appreciate the clues given throughout the story. The DVD extras are great. One segment in particular shows an unlabeled tape in a Blockbuster Video store, waiting for some unsuspecting consumer to pick it up and watch it. "Before you die, you see The Ring"
Final Grade: B+

The Exorcist
Having never seen this movie before, I was excited about renting and watching it. I've heard it is a scary movie and it ranked second place in my staff poll. I can see how it would have been a scary movie in 1973, when it was released, but I have obviously been desensitized by the "violence" of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and all the scary movies I've seen. "The Exorcist" is about a little girl who has been possessed. The spirit within her calls itself the devil, and it causes all sorts of interesting (and appalling) things to come from her mouth! If horrifying sexual suggestions and projectile vomiting coming from a little girl is your idea of scary or fun, you will love this movie. While I did say "The Exorcist" was not scary to me, it was horrifying, which makes it a great movie for Halloween.
Final Grade B

The Others
Nicole Kidman is ethereal and eerie in this suspenseful thriller. "The Others" is a story about a mother, her two children, and the servants who live in their house. Be prepared to have no idea what is going on while watching this movie, but at the end, you will find yourself surprised and satisfied with the way things turn out. It is creepy in a very psychological way, but there are plenty of what I like to call "cheap scares," where things are not what they seem, but before you realize it, they have made you jump out of your skin. "The Others" is a great Halloween movie and should be watched with... others!
Final Grade: A

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
My all-time favorite Halloween movie by my all-time favorite cast! I am a huge Peanuts fan, so obviously I would include this special in my Halloween movie picks. The special opens with Linus and Lucy choosing a pumpkin. Linus drags it to their house and places it on the floor, while Lucy wields a very sharp knife. The first line is "Ohhhh. You didn't tell me you were gonna kill it!" The dialogue only gets better from there, with such gems as Linus saying to Sally, "I thought little girls were innocent and trusting" and Sally retorting, "Welcome to the 20th century." "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" is a seasonal special both children and adults can enjoy. I plan to watch it with my 7-year-old nephew this weekend. Final Grade: A

Monday, October 13, 2003

Bend It Like Beckham a kick in the grass

Originally published in The Vanguard, the student newspaper of The University of South Alabama

With its DVD release last week, "Bend it Like Beckham" continues to pull in profits.

Now, I don't normally like sports films, but this is more about cultural differences and relationships than about the sport. The film is set in England and follows the lives of two 18-year-old girls who love to play soccer.

One of the girls is Indian, and her family believes girls do not run around in shorts playing sports. Girls are supposed to learn to cook and get married. Jesminder Bhamra is played by Parminder K. Nagra (who recently started a stint on the popular television show E.R. as a medical student).
Jesminder (Jess) is playing soccer with her friends in the park one day when another girl sees her. She stops and watches for a few minutes. She later introduces herself to Jess as Juliette Paxton (played by Keira Knightley, the female lead in the summer's biggest hit, "Pirates of the Caribbean") and tells Jess she plays for a girl's team. She asks her to come for a tryout.

At the tryout, her talent shines through and wins the approval of attractive coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and she is offered a spot on the team.

What follows is a clash between family duties and commitment to the team, and Jess's dream to play professional soccer in America.

Of course, Juliette has her own family problems. Her mother is a busybody who wants her to be more of a girl. She urges her to give up soccer and get a boyfriend. Her efforts are punctuated with comments like, "There's a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a man."

During the course of the season, Jess has to sneak out of her house to go to practice, her sister finds out she is not really working part time and she falls for Joe. The problem is, (you guessed it) Juliette is already in love with him.

The feelings come out after a match in Germany, leaving one girl heartbroken and seemingly ending their friendship. It would not be right to reveal more!

Suffice it to say, "Bend it Like Beckham" is an interesting look at a culture totally unfamiliar to most of us.

The relationships are accurately portrayed between parents and daughters and between friends.

The soccer matches are fast and furious, and the players are skilled at the game. It is almost as exciting to watch as an actual match.

"Bend it Like Beckham" is an excellent escape movie, to be watched with friends. The Casual Critic thoroughly enjoyed this movie and even bought the DVD!

Final Grade: B+

Monday, October 06, 2003

Better Than Ezra better than Hootie

Well, Bayfest has come and gone. I have to admit, it was a great time.

I signed up to cover the Hootie and the Blowfish concert because I thought, like many others, it would be nostalgic, as they were at the height of popularity at a particularly fun time of my life.

I met up with two of my friends and we headed for downtown Mobile. After about 10 minutes of driving around to find a parking space, we were finally able to get to the stages.

Bayfest is always full of people, color, sound and the wonderful smells of all kinds of food, and this year was no exception. My diet prevented me from purchasing a funnel cake, but I still enjoyed the smell!

We arrived at the WABB stage in time to catch Better Than Ezra. All I can say about them is, they rocked. The lights were spectacular and the music was loud.

Even more impressive, they were having a great time. It's always better to see musicians who are having fun up on the stage because it is obvious they love what they are doing. The guys in Better Than Ezra love making music. Anyone in the audience this weekend could tell that right away.
Lead singer Kevin Griffin jumped around the stage, joked with the crowd and did impressions of Mariah Carey. Tom Drummond was the typical cool bassist one minute, plucking calmly at his guitar, then he broke out with a bass solo that rocked the house, stealing the crowd (and my heart)!
Hailing from New Orleans, these guys know how to party. For one night only, they brought the party to Mobile.

After the awesome Better Than Ezra show, I was even more excited to see Hootie and the Blowfish. The crowd grew, anticipation mounted and Hootie disappointed. They hardly addressed the audience at all, and when they did, it wasn't convincing. They looked like they were just up there performing, not having all that much fun. The crowd did erupt with applause whenever they played something from "Cracked Rear View," their most popular album.

I personally enjoyed their performances of "Hold My Hand," "Time" and "Let Her Cry" much more than their newer music. The reason I wanted to see Hootie was because of that 1996 album, not for the newer songs. Fun was had by all, but not nearly as much fun as Better Than Ezra.

I'd have to say the best moment of the concert was when Darius Rucker, lead singer, dedicated "Let the Circle be Unbroken" to all those who have died and will die for our country. It was a very touching, very American moment.

Now Bayfest is over and after a little rest and recovery time, I know I'll be excited for next year. To the organizers of this event, I have to say, bring Better Than Ezra back! I'd love to see the cool bassist, Tom Drummond again!

The rest of the guys can come too, of course!