My Most Anticipated Event Movies of 2017

Woah – sure is dusty in here.

I’m back, baby.

For you lapsed Constant Readers, I owe you a little apology. I used to tend these pages on a much more frequent basis than I have of late. There’s a whole myriad of boring reasons for my long departure but if I were to pick one, it would be that I simply got lazy. I tried writing here and there from time to time but felt myself forcing it – and when you do that, nothing good comes of it. Best to let things lie for a bit and then come back to it when the itch requires scratching. Over the last decade, I’ve written over 600 posts and three full plays (all of which have been produced). During that decade, there have been some long stretches where I didn’t want to write a damn thing. It frustrates me in the moment BUT a little bit of time and separation always works wonders and as I look back at the times where I stepped away, I see that I’ve always come back re-energized.

That’s where I find myself now. I’ve got a new play percolating (“Worst. Date. Ever.“) – so that is obviously bouncing around my brain pan more often than not.

In addition, I’ve decided this Blog needs more frequent watering. In the old days I used to use this as sort of a digital diary left open for all the world to read. Now – I’m thinking of honing it more towards my own self-interests; let it be a spot for musing on the things that have caught my fancy. Most likely that means I’ll be covering my thoughts on the latest and greatest in entertainment but if an anecdote happens to unspool, far be it for me to squash it. Somewhere in some far-flung future, I aim to gather these thoughts and pull some sort of informal memoir from all of this. I know the Internet is forever and everything I’ve jotted down has already been gifted immortality BUT it might be cool to string the various posts I’ve written into some sort of loose narrative of this boy’s life. Hmmm… do I tease “a book”? Stay tuned.

That’s a task for another day. Today I’m looking ahead to the big event movies I just have to see on the Big Screen in 2017.

Full disclaimer: there’s no way I’ll see all of these in the theater – not with a 55″ Ultra HD set hanging on the wall at home. It’s much more economical to catch these flicks when I can in the comfort of my own home. That said, I am hardwired to the cinema experience. I love the communal act of watching a movie surrounded by a rapt crowd of attentive filmgoers. There’s something about seeing a movie with a packed house – there’s an energy that courses through the crowd that just sparks my own imagination. I fall deeper into the film. It remains one of my life’s great joys.

So, somewhere in my near future I’ll see some of these at the cinema while the others will await home viewing. Either way, I intend to hit these pages and tell ya’ all about ’em. I figure little short “discussion pieces” (not reviews) will provide the impetus I need to keep on writing; amongst other topics.

For today, I’m going to issue myself a little challenge. I am well aware that my writing can go on and on. Once the fingers start flying, you better wish carpal tunnel upon me to slow things down. So – for this post – I’m going to write one sentence per flick telling you why I want to see it. One other thing – for this post I’m spotlighting only those event films made to be seen on the Big Screen. My tastes run a wide gamut and I am just as content sinking in to a nuanced indie character drama as I am watching Hulk smash. For this post, I’m looking purely at spectacle as we really won’t know what’s coming later this year from the indie world until the various film festivals have had their say leading into Fall.

OK – let’s do this thing.

Logan (March 3rd)


I thought The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman’s last pairing with director James Mangold, was a nicely nuanced take on the X-Men’s MVP and this new flick looks to mine deeper emotional ground.

Kong: Skull Island (March 10th)


It’s Kong battling giant lizards in Vietnam – what do you want from me, I’m a boy!!!

Beauty and the Beast (March 17th)


My favorite Disney animated film gets a live-action retelling; this tale may be old as time but this rendition looks sublime – yeah, I went with the easy rhyme. #PoetAndIKnowIt

Life (March 24th)


It’s nice to see a new sci-fi flick that is based on an original script and not an adaptation of some comic or video game.

The Circle (April 28th)


Emma Watson and Tom Hanks in a cautionary conspiracy thriller that posits what might happen if a Google-like company were to begin taking over the world; so it’s a documentary then – heh heh.

Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2 (May 5th)


I just really want to discover what killer tracks are on the film’s new Awesome Mix so I can set up the track list for my Summer.

Alien Covenant (May 19th)


Ridley Scott returned to Alien in Prometheus and got a little ponderous BUT this bridge between that flick and the original Alien has a killer trailer.

Wonder Woman (June 2nd)


She stole the show in the laborious Batman vs. Superman and her flick looks cut from Marvel’s Captain America cloth; which is not a bad blueprint to crib from.

The Mummy (June 9th)


Tom Cruise may be insane BUT he always gives it his all so this action-oriented take on the classic horror tale should at least provide some killer stunt work.

Spiderman Homecoming (July 7th)


They finally got Spiderman (and Peter Parker) right when the character appeared in last year’s Captain America: Civil War which bodes well for yet another reboot – just please, no origin scenes – we get it already, he got bit by some kind of a… wait, what was it again!!!

War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14th)


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a stirring, soulful epic in director Matt Reeves’ hands – and he has spent the last three years making this follow-up; the series has become one of the more thoughtful tentpole properties.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21st)


It’s Luc Besson working in his Fifth Element mode again – which means this could be a complete train wreck but at least it will be kinetic and a joy to look at.

Dunkirk (July 21st)


Christopher Nolan working in large format to deliver an epic war film gets me in the theater with no questions asked – this looks like one of the more powerful flicks this Summer.

The Dark Tower (July 28th)

Stephen King’s epic series FINALLY finds its way to the big screen with Idris Elba as the gunslinger Roland and Matthew McConaughey as The Man in Black – this could be the beginning of something grand.

Baby Driver (August 11th)


Edgar Wright left Ant Man to work on this comedic crime thriller – a better vehicle for his unique eye towards genre mash-ups (see Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End for example).

It (September 8th)


So what if it will likely launch another round of ridiculous clown hysteria – it will be good to see the classic King tale get the adaptation it deserves outside of that 90’s TV miniseries which is only notable for a creepy-as-hell Pennywise the Clown.

Blade Runner 2049 (October 6th)


I never asked for this but when Denis Villanueva (Arrival) attached himself to the project, it quickly jumped to Must See status.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (October 6th)


The first film was a cheeky twist on classic James Bond spy craft shenanigans making this sequel one of my more anticipated films of the year.

God Particle (October 17th)


If this third film in JJ Abrams ‘Cloverfield‘ universe is as tense and surprising as last year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, we’ve got the perfect Halloween chiller.

Thor: Ragnarok (November 3rd)


The little teaser in the Doctor Strange hints a more comedic direction for Thor’s third solo journey – aiming for the same blend of comedy and galactic chaos that buoyed Guardians of the Galaxy.

Justice League (November 17th)


I thought Batman vs. Superman was a dreary slog BUT I’m one of the few Zak Snyder apologists who would love to see him connect with script worthy of his killer visuals – plus; it has Batman and I’m always there for Batman.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (December 11th)


Directed by Riann Johnson – who helmed some of the greatest hours of Breaking Bad along with underrated Looper – this is being hailed as the next Empire Strikes Back; a lofty goal that if he gets close to will result in a great Star Wars adventure.

That’s takes care of the event pics. I’ll be back at some point with my thoughts on headier fare.

My 12 Favorite Films by 12 Favorite Directors

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A friend of mine recently challenged me to list “12 movies” that have stayed with me ever since I’ve seen them. In “outing” my list, I realize that some of these flicks may not make most critics Year-End best lists but that’s not their fault – it’s mine. That’s why I always issue the disclaimer when choosing my personal bests. These may not be the “Best Movies” but they are my favorites. As long as that distinction is put in place, nobody can argue a film’s inclusion on the list.

In choosing my 12 films, I went with flicks that either hit me at the right time and place – or – never fail to stop my thumb dead in its tracks when channel surfing. These are the movies I hold near and dear ’til my dying day.

Here are mine (in no particular order):

12. The Thing (1982) – dir. John Carpenter
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By setting this flick in the frigid, featureless snowscape of Antarctica and dressing the actors in giant parkas and bigger beards, Carpenter’s take on the classic sci-fi short-story Who Goes There remains timeless. This one is all mood and atmosphere. I saw it when I was in my early-teens, when my friends and I used to peddle our bikes 10 or more miles to this amazing video store that resided in the town next door. The 10-mile ride back home (and a return round trip the next day) did nothing to stop us from renting some favorites over-and-over. The Thing saw heavy replay in our rotation.

11. Say Anything (1989) – dir. Cameron Crowe
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In 1989, I was slightly awkward, shy guy who one day did something so foolish by asking one of the prettiest and most popular  girls in our grade to the Junior Prom. To my slight horror, she said “Yes”. This meant we had to get to know each other a little better so we chose a screening of Cameron Crowe’s ‘Say Anything’ as our icebreaker. Crowe’s tale of a slightly awkward, shy guy asking out one of the prettiest and most popular girls in his grade did not go unnoticed by me.

10. Aliens (1986) – dir. James Cameron
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This was the first R-rated movie I saw in a theater. I saw this before screening Ridley Scott’s original Alien flick so I walked into this film with a bit of hesitation. All I knew was the aliens had a penchant for chest bursting and I wasn’t so sure I could stomach that. Two hours later – I emerged a survivor of James Cameron’s blitzkrieg of a flick and could not stop talking about it. I went back time and again that Summer and delighted in watching the film though my friends’ eyes. The Terminator may have put Cameron on the map BUT this was his calling card announcing just what the guy could do.

9. Miller’s Crossing (1990) – dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
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I am a huge Coen Brothers fan – and am happy to say I’ve seen most of their films in the theater. When Miller’s Crossing opened, I was a freshman at UMASS Amherst. It was only shortly before this time that I really began paying attention to some of the indie auteurs that were lighting up both Hollywood and Cannes. I credit that to my summer job at a local newsstand where I would while away the hours reading every entertainment periodical we stocked. For some reason, the distributor always saw fit to send two copies of Variety (the Hollywood trade paper) to my sleepy little South Shore town. Nobody ever bought it and the distributor always received a dog-eared copy in our return package each week BUT that didn’t stop them from sending us the latest issue – meaning I was the recipient of this pipeline of Hollywood news direct from the source. In the pre-Internet era, this was a big deal. Just before hustling off to college, I read a piece on the Coens and their ode to film noir-gangster pics that was due for release that Fall. Miller’s Crossing became my must-see movie and to this day, it is my favorite of the Coen Brothers films. The script is twisted but tight. Gabriel Byrne gives good smoldering tough guy while John Turturro is his rat bastard best. Albert Finney commands the screen. Carter Burwell’s haunting, lyrical score layers the melancholia. This might be the reason I’ve never seen The Godfather. This is my mob movie.

8. About Time (2013) – dir. Richard Curtis
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Talk about a movie that sneaks up and sucker punches you. Richard Curtis is the undisputed king of the British rom-com; from Four Weddings and a Funeral to Notting Hill on down to the perennial Christmas classic, Love Actually. Each of his films is a play on the same theme – a charming guy woos an adorable girl. The guy could draft thus stuff in his sleep – and admittedly, About Time has a whole bunch of that on display but then Curtis digs a little deeper – using his time travel novelty to say something simple but profound about the way all kinds of relationships enrich us. There are such lovely passages in this film – notably between Domnhall Gleeson’s Tim and his doting Dad played by the great Bill Nighy. This has been my “go to” movie whenever someone comes seeking a recommendation and, to date, they’ve all come back raving. It’s some kind of wonderful.

7. Pulp Fiction (1994) – dir. Quentin Tarantino
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As I mentioned above, the weekly review of Variety was my Internet before there was Internet – so when Quentin Tarentino made a big splash at Sundance with his debut film, Reservoir Dogs, I knew I had to see it. My buddy Sean and I tracked it down the summer it hit video and just lost ourselves in it. That film is tightly contained – just two major scenes and locations filled with a rogue’s gallery of tough guys spitting out lyrical prose at each other. Quentin’s dialogue was so good, it underscored just how pedantic so many scripts are – with characters usually spewing useless exposition just to move the story to the next explosion. In comparison, Tarantino felt dangerous. When Pulp Fiction released during the Fall after my college graduation, Sean and I made a road trip back to Amherst so we could see that flick with some of our friends who remained in the area. They weren’t the movie buffs that we were so I recall a little hesitation over the title BUT we finally won them over. When that screening was over, we hit The Pub (yes – our favorite pub was actually named The Pub) and excitedly chewed over every delightful morsel we scarfed from that film.

6. The Breakfast Club (1984) – dir. John Hughes
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I never saw this in the theater. In fact, I didn’t watch it straight through until AFTER I wrote a play that played sly homage to Hughes’ masterpiece. I’m a kid who grew up on his films. I was the exact right age for what Hughes was doing with his Chicago youth repertory group so Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful and the rest of his mid-80’s teen flicks just hit me right where I lived. The Breakfast Club was different. It felt a little like forbidden fruit. For starters, it was rated R, which meant it was secreted away to late-night cable (or very early morning if you possessed the sheer will of a 12-year old boy determined to wake early and sneak a peek at taboo TV in hopes of getting a gander of an exposed boob. The Breakfast Club doesn’t have any of that but that didn’t stop me from looking and each time I snuck a peek at the film, as it was running out its final moments before HBO would revert to early morning Fraggle Rock, I found exactly the words my shy, awkward pre-teen self needed to hear. Years later I wrote a play that played as much tribute to that film as it did my own formative years. We find inspiration in the strangest places. Mine was in the search for R-Rated cable – leading me to write the most mature thing I’ve ever crafted.

5. Boyhood (2014) – dir. Richard Linklater
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I’m a son. And a father. And I’ve been a boy – from then ’til now. This 12-year experiment where a little boy ages to the moment where his whole wide world reveals itself to him completely sucker-punched me. It brought me back to my own childhood, as I played outside from dawn ’til dusk (and beyond) and only came home when my Mom’s voice would crest the night air. “Eddie – Time to come home.” I was always last to get called and was always in the same perch; hanging out with my friends Kyle and Steven at their house which just so happened to be situated at the exact apex of our elbow shaped street. This film also made me look at my son, Colin – who I have seen grow from a baby so new to this Earth, to an inquisitive toddler, to a courageous little boy surmounting tasks not many boys his age need to tackle, to a sharp young man who eye-line is a mere inch or two away from meeting mine. Needless to say, this movie was hardwired to do a number on me.

4. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – dir. Frank Darabont

Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman sitting outside on the benches playing checkers and talking in a scene from the film 'The Shawshank Redemption', 1994. (Photo by Castle Rock Entertainment/Getty Images)

I remember I had to badger my movie buddy Sean incessantly to get him to go see this movie. The Boston Herald had damned it with faint praise; describing it as a “feel good prison tale”. Sean wasn’t in the market for that type f flick; preferring his prison films of the Caged Heat variety. So, I offered to pay his way. Suddenly this was a date!!! Imagine my surprise when we exited the theaters and he slapped ten bucks back into my hands. “That’s the best movie I’ve ever seen”, he said. So – thanks to my recommendation, I was no longer on the hook for his ticket. I read somewhere that Stephen King only charged Frank Darabont $5,000 for the rights to adapt the book into a film – and then after he read the completed screenplay – he never cashed the check. What goes around comes around.

3. Seven (1995) – dir. David Fincher
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I’m not a huge serial killer or procedural fan so it takes something special to land a serial killer procedural on my all time favorites list. I chalk this up to that fantastic chemistry between Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, a creepy-crawly script from Andrew Kevin Walker that dares poke into some pitch black holes and nicely nuanced and restrained filmmaking from David Fincher (who followed up his Alien 3 debacle by coming out swinging in a huge way). This is a movie that is wholly engrossing and now matter how bleak things get, Freeman’s authoritative role comforts us. But as his character warns midway through – “This isn’t going to have a happy ending.”

2. Inception (2010) – dir. Christopher Nolan

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I’m a huge fan of Christopher Nolan and I’ll take on all critics who dismiss his style as too cold and antiseptic. Yes, he’s a master of his technical craft. I applaud him for that. I also appreciate that as films get more artificial, he seems to go out of his way to film as much as practical in the camera – and uses the computer just when a shot proves impossible to replicate any other way. Inception is hard to like at first. You need to work at it as it opens en media res – in the midst of a dream. Then as we slowly get our bearings straight, it lays out the heady concept in a way that makes all the sense in the world. I’m a sucker for a good heist movie. Well, here we have the opposite – with something being planted where it shouldn’t be. The forty-five minute gravity defying climax is one for the ages. And despite what some may say, this film proves he has an emotional bone in his body as the remains of a shattered relationship are laid bare.

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – dir. Steven Spielberg
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While all the kids in my neighborhood grooved to Star Wars – Indiana Jones was my jam. In the Summer of 1981, when the Internet was barely a blip in Al Gore’s neural processors, my next door neighbor – an older kid named Jay – wandered over and asked my Mom if I could go to the movies with him. There was this awesome new adventure flick that he was dying to see. He had sweet-talked his Mom into dropping him off at the theater and could bring one friend. She would shop at the neighboring Sears while we took in the movie. So, my Mom asked me if I wanted to go – and although I had no idea what the movie was about, I signed on.

Talk about a different time. A 12-year-old and an 9-year-old were parked at the movie theater for 2 hours with no parental guidance, and nobody blinked an eye. My kingdom for Department of Social Services.

Fortunately for me, the Feds never swooped in and I walked into Raiders of the Lost Ark stone cold on the cold, hard facts. I knew nothing. Hadn’t seen a trailer. Never read a description. Knew Harrison as Han Solo. That’s it!!!

In this day and age where you can practically stream the reboot of a new movie before the original is even released, it seems unheard of to walk into a major summer blockbuster with not one single story thread to hang onto. But that’s how I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. A total virgin.

I was never the same again. The moment that Ark was secreted away, my first true love was found. It’s why to this day – no matter how old I get – I’m just as much a sucker for well-done mainstream adventure as I am year-ending Oscar bait. That seems to be the sweet spot for a boy; whatever he falls head over heels for between the ages of 8 and 12, he carries with him the rest of his life. That’s why to this day, I love, love, LOVE me some movies!!!

“Fortune and glory, kid.”

The Dark Tower Rises

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“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Those are the first words of Stephen King’s epic, thirty-years-in-the-making ‘Dark Tower’ series – a sprawling adventure story that found King borrowing from iconic myths (including the King Arthur legend, The Lord of the Rings and spaghetti westerns) to build an epic of his own. The seven-part series provided a thrilling and emotional journey that wasn’t afraid to get aggressively weird at times – exactly the type of tale the fourteen-year-old me grooved to in my formative years.

News broke earlier this week that after years of fits-and-starts of trying to get this enterprise adapted to the screen – a deal was finally in place. King, himself, announced the update via Twitter – revealing that Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey had been cast as Roland and The Man in Black, respectively. The two actors immediately confirmed it in a cheeky series of follow-up posts. Finally, the studio Sony Pictures wrapped it all up in a tidy bow with news that production would begin in April and the film would be released on February 17, 2017. That production timeline gives slight pause for concern as it seems a little abbreviated for such a potential tent pole picture BUT I think they are going modest with this first installment in a smart bid to gauge audience engagement. As I mentioned, this series runs down some strange alleys so ponying up for a seven-picture deal would be a huge gamble for any studio. For every Harry Potter success story, there’s a dozen Spiderwick Chronicles and Golden Compass leading to bad directions.

As a huge fan of the source novels but one who didn’t quite groove to where King closed his tale – I’m going to say that I actually look forward to an unconventional adaptation. As written, the entire series is unfilmable. No question!!! It just grows too large and unwieldy at times and would require a massive commitment of resources and audience attention to bring this thing to the screen unaltered. That seems a road paved with misery, headed for disaster – and likely one that would never be finished.

I’ve never been one of those readers who demands complete fidelity in the film adaptation anyway. As long as you get the spirit of the book on-screen, I’m happy with it. I mean – I already read the book – I don’t need it dictated to me.

See – I’m the type of person who enjoys spending time in that universe, so if a filmmaker wants to take a property and create something genuinely inspired by it – then I’m interested to see where it goes. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (with its many tangents and flashbacks and sideways story-telling approaches) lends itself to crafting something on the order of a Star Wars. At the heart is the age-old myth of good vs. evil. Been there, done that which is why you can go to town creating all manner of crazy incident around the heroes. This series seems primed for telling a whole bunch of different stories. Hell, King did that himself – using his imagined world to deliver children’s fables, horror stories, rollicking adventures, heady sci-fi trips and heart-yearning tales of romance as his whims dictated through crafting this tale.

Stephen King opens ‘The Gunslinger’ – the first volume in his seven part Dark Tower series – with that initial sentence which is so compelling in its simplicity. That’s the whole story right there – or at the very least – the through-line. It’s after that where things get decidedly more complicated; running tangents that dove from the fanciful Mid-World to our “real world” at various stops in time (including the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s, the grungy New York City of the late-70s and early 80’s, and a date with destiny in Maine 1999 – the exact time and place where Stephen King would facedown his own real-life terror in a catastrophic hit & run by van that almost saw our beloved author ushered from this mortal coil before he could finish his epic tale).

King initially wrote that first sentence sometime around 1970 – even before his first novel Carrie was published. He published the first book in 1981 and then began releasing successive installments in a frequency one can only describe as middling. That was – until the van approached. Take a look at the publication schedule:

The Gunslinger (1981)
The Drawing of the Three (1987)
The Waste Lands (1991)
Wizard and Glass (1997)
Wolves of the Calla (2003)
Song of Susannah (2004)
The Dark Tower (2004)

Something went wrong between Wizard and Glass in 1997 and Wolves of the Calla in 2003. The beam slipped. I blame Harry Potter.

Late in Wolves of the Calla, Roland and his band make plans to defend an outpost farming town against the mysterious marauders who return ever few years to steal their children. This group discovers a hidden cache of unusual weapons – the same armaments wielded by their assailants. Roland pours through various crates and finds laser sword devices which resemble Star Wars light sabers as well as strange buzzing balls which hover on their own power and can accelerate and turn on a dime as they seek their quarry. Roland discovers that these curious instruments are called ‘Golden Snitches’. Into this bizarre melting pot of Star Wars and Harry Potter comes the ‘Wolves’ disguises, which makes the robotic assailants resemble Doctor Doom from the Fantastic Four comics. It’s a twist right out of left-field and a harbinger of more bizarre things to come. Up until that point, I was ready to follow wherever King led us but this crossover felt bizarre and lazy.

The Harry Potter reference is telling. Like King, Potter scribe J.K. Rowling announced in advance that her series would run seven novels. As the series continued to pick up steam, Rowling kept the quality and continuity of each successive release in lock step. I have no doubt that if writing a short story can seem daunting, recording a seven part series and creating a brave, new world from scratch must be an undiscovered circle of Hell. Somehow, Rowling was able to keep it all together and although each subsequent novel grew more inventive, she was able to keep one constant thread unifying the entire series. Harry Potter grows with the series, aging one year per book. He is the center and Rowling understood well that to maintain order, the center must hold.

I think King looked at Rowling’s universe, saw a reflection of his own ambitious gambit and realized that when that van hit him in 1999, he’d lost his way. I don’t begrudge the guy. I get a paper cut and I’m out of commission. King was shattered by that accident – his legs a mosaic of splintered bone. He was inches from Death. Getting to live another day is one thing. Living to write another day is something else.

While the latter novels were competent in their execution (his trademark style “where character is king” was still there), his fanciful tale was suddenly haunted by real life horror. Where his Mid-World had often intersected with the ‘real world’, it was always the ‘real world’ of his fictional universe – meaning it was never out-of-place for Roland to come across ‘The Stand’s’ Randall Flagg in some twisted Superflu scarred version of Kansas. In the latter books, starting with Song of Susannah, King made the uncomfortable decision of writing our ‘real world’ into his fictional world. Beginning with the discovery of a tattered copy of Salem’s Lot, Roland and his group crossed into 1999 Maine seeking an audience with their creator, Stephen King. The moment he wrote himself into the story, he lost me.

Where did it go wrong? Between the publication of Hearts in Atlantis and Dreamcatcher, King suffered his own real world horror when he found himself on the receiving end of a runaway van, steered by a man with a long, sad history of driving difficulty. Initial media reports pegged King close to death – a fact the author backed up in numerous interviews since (most notably in the liner notes for Dreamcatcher).

Along with the network of fractures and fissures that spider-webbed his legs, there was great fear in the early days that he had suffered a neural catastrophe as well. So it was a few months later, as I rounded the halfway point of Dreamcatcher, that I realized with mounting horror that the work was a pale pastiche of King’s greatest hits. Like an AC-DC cover band, this author knew the lyrics, but lacked the rhythm. Had King suffered an injury more grievous than his rehabilitation hinted at?

The questions that Dreamcatcher planted in my mind were answered by the last three Dark Tower books. Stephen King started the series. A ghost writer finished it. Surely those last three books were the product of some trickster, some devilish phantasm looking to close out the tale with a decidedly unhappy ending.

That’s how I felt when I closed out the series – a little bitter and angry at a rushed conclusion. I savored that story when it was doled out in little morsels over a few decades. When we were suddenly invited to feast on the final three installments practically in one sitting, I choked a little.

Time has been better. I see what King was trying to do in tying it all together in the end. I also know he was saying something about time and mortality – about lives lived to their best, including his own. He made some crazy literary leaps and never really stuck the landing, but he certainly swung for the fences and held true to the story HE wanted to tell – at least, at the time.

That said – while this series is ripe for the picking and could bear fruit in any number of film adaptations – there’s no way on Earth it can be filmed exactly as written. So, this is one series where I applaud the filmmakers’ decision to start in media res – beginning in the middle and finding their way from there. They’ve already cast the primary roles perfectly. No – Idris Elba is not the Clint Eastwood type we all imagined when King first published The Gunslinger – but he is an excellent actor with a huge, commanding and thoughtful presence. And McConaughey brings the right level of eerie intensity to give the gunslinger, Roland, a spectacular creep worth chasing.

I look forward to seeing this once leaning Tower stand tall again.

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Random Thoughts

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Forgot to write a Blog Post last week so let’s not let that happen again. Today’s post doesn’t have a particular theme aside from these are all things that can be seen on TV (or you know streamed on your mobile device or toaster).

1.   Chris Carter is the Scariest Thing That Has Ever Happened to The X-Files

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I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago where I waxed rhapsodic over my beloved shows return from the dead. In that post I mentioned how the initial hour (penned and shot by series creator Chris Carter) was almost a parody of itself; an overheated mishmash of too many undercooked ideas (if that’s even possible in a creative OR culinary sense). The series picked itself up once we got a few hours written by anyone other than Carter.

That post was written and published before the final two hours aired – ‘Babylon‘ on Monday Feb 15th and “My Struggle Part II” on the 22nd. Both episodes were written and directed by Carter. Like his first effort, they were jam-packed with a seasons worth of ideas and exhibited his absolute worst tendencies as a writer; chock-full of breathless exposition, self-important grandstanding and an absolute tin-ear for dialogue and blind eye to pacing.

In the final episode, Carter kept Mulder and Scully largely separated for the entirety of the episode save for one final exchange before he unleashed his final sucker punch – a cliffhanger whipped up out of nowhere for a limited series that at the time he wrote it – had no guarantee of a second season.

Look there are ways to do what he wanted to do. You could tell a cohesive self-contained conspiracy story and then if you want to see another installment, spare us the world-ending cliffhanger and simply add a little stinger after the final scene wraps to set the scene for the next installment. This is how the Marvel movies have been seeding their connected universe for the last decade and it works like gangbusters – compelling entire audiences to ride out a sea of technical credits to get to that final secret scene. Carter could have done the same – giving us a complete and satisfying story and then leaving the door open for the continuing adventures of Mulder & Scully (or his little side project with Miller & Einstein, the two new characters he unwisely introduced as knock off doppelgängers).

If The X-Files continues (which good ratings indicate it will), I hope Carter returns in an Executive Producer capacity only. Like George Lucas before him, it’s time this kid let other people play with his toys. Pour out the box of Legos and let’s see what someone else can do with this compelling universe. Mulder & Scully are iconic because of their chemistry. It’s time somebody else took control of their destiny.

2.   I kinda’ like Love

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Love is the latest Netflix original that is worth diving into. It makes for a good companion to Aziz Ansari’s  ‘Master of None‘ – with both series dealing with early thirtysomethings navigating today’s romantic landscape. In today’s parlance, I’d advise you to “swipe right” on both of these shows – even though they both take a little time to grow into their own.

Love is created by Judd Apatow; who cut his chops on The Larry Sanders Show before helping bring one of my favorite shows of all time to life (Freaks & Geeks). From that show, he “fathered” Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, James Franco and so many other great talents. Of course, he’s had his string of movie successes like The Forty Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People, This is Forty and this past Summer’s Trainwreck.

I like Apatow’s shaggy real-world feeling romantic comedies even though he seems to fall into the same trap of setting them with very specific people who never truly feel like real people. They are like amalgams of our best and worst instincts. Not every train wreck has a heart of gold BUT I get Apatow’s design – he presents his characters with warts and all.

With Love, he and co-creator Paul Rust (who stars in the show) are giving us a romantic comedy writ large – with the initial awkward courtship unfolding over 10 episodes. It’s messy and sloppy and runs in a million different tangents. It takes its time and sometimes stops for a nap BUT it’s almost always interesting. I wouldn’t call it laugh out loud funny (not in the same way that Parks & Recreation and Arrested Development coax a stream of laughs) but there is a genuine goodwill earned in watching some slightly damaged characters sometimes say the wrong thing and sometimes strive to be a little better.

Gillian Jacobs also stars n the show. She was great in Community – a pretty girl whose character was infinitely more interesting the more pathetic and weird she became. This role in Love seems to have been groomed specifically for her. The highest compliment I can give an actor is when I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. Like Charlize Theron in Young Adult, Gillian’s Mickie is a character who does some pretty self-destructive things, can be quite unlovable at times, doesn’t seem to want to help herself and yet you can’t take your eyes off of her and hope that maybe, just maybe, she’ll figure herself out.

If there is one constant in Apatow’s works it’s the old USA maxim – “Character First”. He and his fellow writers build character first and then let the comedy and pathos grow around that. That’s what I love about Love.

3.   Let the Midnight Special, Shine the Light on Me

This looks, sounds and feels like Seventies-era Spielberg and John Carpenter flicks had a child. The director Jeff Nichols impressed me with ‘Take Shelter‘ and ‘Mud‘ so needless to say, this is one of my most anticipated movies this Spring.

X Marks the Spot

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There is something like 4,815,162,342 episodes of television produced across CSI, NCIS, Law & Order and all of their iterations. Guess how many I’ve seen?

Zero. Zilch. Goose egg. Kardashian.

Same goes for most of what constitutes “reality” television. Never seen ‘Survivor‘. I’ve barely watched an hour let alone binged ‘The Bachelor‘. I have no use for just watching stuff. That said, I wouldn’t call myself a TV snob. Far from it. There have been numerous shows in this television renaissance that have found their way to my appointment viewing. I just feel like my time is better spent on something I really enjoy versus mindlessly watching anything that floats across my peepers. I also don’t begrudge anyone who does dig those aforementioned shows or genres. Different strokes for different folks. (Speaking of which – I HATED ‘Different Strokes‘. Whatchutalkinbout, Edward?!?!?)

Ever since I graduated college, I can probably count on two hands the number of shows that I’ve gone all in on. Breaking Bad. Lost. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Freaks & Geeks. Friday Night Lights. Parks and Recreation. The Office. Fringe. The Americans. Arrested Development.

Oh – and The X-Files – meaning I probably ought to open my own case file and mutate an eleventh finger to make room for the show that was my obsession for a good portion of the Nineties (a time where post-college and pre-responsibility, I hardy ever watched ANYTHING short of movies, sports and the occasional Sham-Wow commercial).

The X-Files largely paved the way for the overarching serialized mythologies almost every show is built upon these days. Back then, it was a bit progressive and that was a show that clearly separated the conspiracy eps from the Monster-of-the-Week installments, with very little bleed through on either side. Years later – J.J. Abrams’ spiritual successor ‘Fringe’ would rip a page from The X-Files playbook and go one better, deftly incorporating its main story through every single Freak-of-the-Week episode, lending that show a more cohesive feel.

Even though I would like to have checked in on the shadowy doings of the Smoking Man on a more frequent basis, The X-Files kept my interest on even the most mundane case (admittedly each season had 2 or 3 clunkers) through the great chemistry and working relationship developed between Mulder & Scully. Without good characters to lead us through the darkness, a mystery loses its human allure. That core connection between leads David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (one that rose above whatever backstage scuffles they suffered in the mid-Nineties) became the heart of this series. Good cast chemistry is what made LOST such a success while other knock-offs such as The Event and FlashForward barely merited interest.

So here we are – 15 years after the series petered out in fairly insignificant fashion. It’s true – I stopped watching near the end. It lost my interest when Duchovny left the series for a long stretch (returning only for little cameo appearances and a poorly-constructed finale). The glory days were gone and the main cast moved to different roles. Gillian Anderson went on to essay some amazing work in BBC dramas and the occasional stateside co-starring role (she was haunting and ethereal in NBC’s Hannibal). If we never saw The X-Files again, that would be fine by me as the show laid the foundation for some truly great works. Hell, one of their best writers – Vince Gilligan – went on to create and handhold the entire breathtaking run of Breaking Bad.

But we are living in the midst of nostalgia culture. What’s old is new again or if not exactly new, definitely dragged back into the light. Star Wars is back and its first installment in over a decade is deliberately built on the skeleton of A New Hope – in a bid to push forward from the middling Phantom Menace while rebooting the series for a new generation. Netflix is currently building a Fuller House. Showtime will soon bring us back to Twin Peaks. Something like 65 film remakes are in production including The Birds, Ben-Hur and – blasphemy – Big Trouble in Little China.

The writer in me bemoans the absence of new ideas. The dreamer in me wishes Hollywood would show me something new. The realist in me understands that this is the way business is now done. As a consumer, I can choose to partake or ignore the lion’s share of this stuff (although when they finally get around to rebooting The Kardashians, maybe I’ll finally give it a peak. After all – I’m so far behind, I’d be totally lost if I started now. You know, the nuance of it all.)

But there is something to nostalgia. Whatever you crushed on years before never really leaves you. The scary thing is when you gaze upon it with mature eyes, sometimes you see it in a different light. What was once shiny and new can reveal blemishes and flaws you may have overlooked.

When The X-Files was announced as a returning six-part event series – I was excited. Then I was scared. Then I thought about sitting this out entirely.

And then I read that Darin Morgan was coming back to write one episode. That guy is responsible for some of the most inventive hours of The X-Files. His scripts Jose Chung’s From Outer Space and Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose cleverly deconstructed and rebuilt what makes this show tick while also sharing insights into what makes us so human as they explored the fantastic. The guy doesn’t write nearly enough but when he does he has an incredible batting average. So when he comes back so do I.

His episode aired last week. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster was the third episode of this mini-reunion. It was clever, witty, silly and so very human in its twisted take on a were-lizard; a beautiful hour of television. If it means that the remaining three episodes can’t reach its heights, that does nothing to me because in one hour of television, Darin Morgan reminded me of something. In fact, his script gave voice to that very thing.

“I forgot how much fun these cases could be.” ~ Dana Scully

Back from the Dead

The Ed Zone

The Ed Zone is officially 10 years old. Normally such a huge milestone would be cause for a celebration – doubly so since I’ve been gone since May of 2015, so my return to writing is sort of like finding out Amelia Earhart is alive and well and living in the South Pacific. Before you bust out the “He’s Back” banner or return that tombstone with my name on it that you had on layaway, I think I owe you a reason to pop by these parts on a more frequent basis.

There’s going to be a few changes around here. For starters, in the age of Twitter – I realize I’m never going to grow my readership if I can’t Keep It Simple Stupid (the old KISS method) – or at the very least – a little more brief than has been my style. In the past I’ve written full-length magazine article posts. That’s just the way I am hard-wired. I aim to change that a bit.

A recent lunch with a friend delivered more than good eats around the table. It also provided food for thought. See, he posts for a series of Blogs – some centered on the doings in his local digs; others designed to provide music, writing and foodie fodder. He told me that when he writes, he prefers to keep each post about the size of one screen (laptop length is preferred – there isn’t an iPhone around that can contain me and my ramblings). Still – it made sense. I’m not convinced I can keep each post to one screen but I should be able to maintain a “one page scroll per article” policy.

I’ve also decided to pick a specialty and stick with it. Simply put – write what you know.

So, if you want to know what I’m thinking about with what’s happening in the world of movies, TV, books and music – this is your spot. I’m open to suggestions, too. If you want me to check something out and write all about it, fire away.

I’m thinking of starting some recurring features too – resurrecting my old ‘Netflix Notes‘ column to write about some of the cool original content they are churning out. I’ll also offer a series called ‘One Thing I Love Today‘ – a concept borrowed from one of my favorite online writers (Drew McWeeny at Hitfix) where I tell you all about something I’ve found on the web that either hit me in the feels, cracked me up or has me drooling in anticipation for its release. Finally, I was thinking of starting an interactive series where a reader suggests a movie that I have to watch (and then post my reactions to) and then they in turn have to do the same for one of my recommendations. We’ll write it up and then post both in the same article. I call it ‘Watch This’. Hopefully I’ll get some interested parties – and I think it’s something that would lead to some great “conversation” on the site – including commentary from you, the readers.

I’m excited and rejuvenated. I think this is going to be a ton of fun. I promise you more frequent content than ever before – written in my voice – only this time, you probably won’t need a full lunch to get through each article. Your boss thanks me.

Stay tuned!!!

Lost and Found

Lost and Found Audition Poster
On November 6th, 2015 – the 3rd play I’ve written will have its World Premiere. In 4 years, I’ve witnessed three World Premiere Opening Nights (and four if you count my double-dip for The Lost World in 2013 and 2014.) Not bad for a guy who once upon a time woke to his 36th birthday and wistfully observed –

“…I will, from time-to-time, get into a reflective mood where I look longingly at those roads not traveled. As you know, I am a HUGE movie fan and somewhere back in that rearview mirror, along this winding road I’ve traveled, rests the off ramp to film director or screenwriter or some profession employing the creative bent that really gets my juices flowing.”

I chased that thought a few sentences later with a little bit of a much-needed dope slap –

“Sure, there are choices I wish I made when I was younger but I wouldn’t change any of the choices I did make for it brought me right here.”

That’s some good advice. As a wise sage once said – “You get busy living… and get busy writing.” I may be paraphrasing a bit. It’s not like I’ve seen Shawshank 5 billion times and don’t have the exact quote tattooed to memory or anything. 😉

The point is – somewhere between 36 and now – a whole bunch of stuff happened.

I dropped 30 pounds. I finished a half-triathlon and then later a whole host of 5Ks and a 10K. I sadly said goodbye to two precious pups. I waltzed into a hair salon and demanded they give me “the Pitbull”. I co-starred in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (my first play since Senior Year of High School) and parlayed that into several additional roles – reigniting a love for live theater. I coaxed the number of full-length posts on this Blog perilously close to 700 in 7 years. I co-coached my son’s basketball team. I danced in 3 of my daughter’s recitals (with a fourth on deck this June). I celebrated many wedding anniversaries. Then I got divorced. Shortly after, I started writing my own true life’s next chapter – a work that remains steadily in progress but so full of hope.

And despite my earlier misgivings that I had somehow left my life’s calling in that rearview – I found the necessary moments in my spare time to feed, water and grow the three fertile seeds I had planted in my imagination at various stops during that admittedly short stretch of time.

The three works make up a very loose trilogy – tethered in theme but not story. They are all wholly fictional and stand on their own although they do take place in the common fictional New England town of Turner Cove. It’s not a traditional trilogy with one large story unfolding over three works. Each of these plays is its own thing. You could see just one and not miss a beat. That said, for folks who do see all three – you begin to notice the ties that bind and the little things that make me tick. Unseen relatives of characters in one play take the center spotlight in the next. A longtime movie fan, I also tend to write these theatricals using the language of cinema; in particular employing a soundtrack to set the mood. In that regard, Mumford & Sons has been my muse. Please don’t tell their lawyers.

I also tend to write to two big emotions – looking to hit the cheap seats with some buoyant laughs early before taking their hand and diving into deeper emotional waters. These tales are not the true story of my life BUT they couldn’t exist in this manner if it wasn’t for the way in which my life unfolded.

“Write what you know.”

The Monkeybar Mafia – my first – sprung from my one-year bout of unemployment and the nagging realization that I hadn’t done what I thought I would do in life and that as I neared 40, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.

The Lost World was found when I went to my 20-Year High School Reunion and had the time of my life but also remembered just how awkward and shy I felt during so many years alongside people who were really not much different than me. It took growing up and getting comfortable in my own skin to recognize that. John Hughes helped point the way, too. That play paid tribute to both.

My new play, Lost and Found was what I discovered when I realized I had so much to say about my divorce – about supposedly finding love and then losing it and then wondering if I ever deserved it again. This tale isn’t my tale AT ALL (nor does it feature a divorce) but after two plays which ended on notes of unrequited love, I decided I wanted to work in reverse – beginning from a low place and aiming quite a bit higher towards true love. This one gives me hope.

I put together a little trailer today to advertise that we are holding open auditions for the play at The Eighty-Ates Banquet Facility at Indian Ranch in Webster, MA on Monday May 18, 2015 – 6:30 pm ET. That is the same location where we will reconvene after the summer for rehearsals ahead of our World Premiere Dinner & A Show event on Friday November 6th and Saturday November 7th.

But that is a long ways away. For now – it’s all about my hopes and dreams of getting the cast just right and then putting on another successful show.

I thought I would take the year off and then somewhere over that long, hard winter – I felt that creative itch that demands scratching.

What once was lost… has now been found.

Pride (In the Name of Love)

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I met my first openly gay person somewhere early in my Middle School career.

The thing is I’m pretty sure neither he nor I knew it at the time – or at least; it was that prehistoric day and age where such matters were not really discussed. Not out in public, anyway.

I feel it’s a great shame that that time is not so very long ago. Fortunately we live in an era where what’s past is prologue to change. Sweeping, vital, life-affirming change. When things don’t change to meet the times, they often wither and die. The era I grew up in feels paleolithic compared to the here and now which may not be 100% perfect but gets closer to a more sweeping acceptance of people for who they are with every passing day. We’ll likely never fully get there BUT majority rule seems like a pretty good compromise.

So – back to Middle School. While this individual may not have self-identified at that point, I just had this nagging notion that there was something unique there. And you know what, I couldn’t care less. He being gay didn’t define our casual friendship any more than me being straight or me rocking that weird spiked mullet that I thought looked hella’ fierce (I brazenly declare in the lingo that nobody said then or now).

That said – this little reminiscence is coming to us from a place that wasn’t exactly the birth place of liberal thought. I grew up in a small, largely Caucasian town on the South Shore of Massachusetts. It’s not anyone’s fault that the town was settled the way it was. We weren’t chasing people out by torch and pitchfork. Still, it wouldn’t be until a few years later when I entered the hallowed halls of UMASS Amherst as a wide-eyed frosh that I realized just how rich and diverse this wonderful world really is. I spied such eye-opening color and hue there. Life-altering stuff, really.

Before all that though, the seeds were planted by that casual acquaintance who I had the great pleasure of co-starring with in the first play I ever went out for. That would be Annie – during my Senior Year in High School, when I followed a girl who I was crushing on hard to the big audition. I got the role. I never got the girl; at least not in the way I desired. Still, she got a plum role as a sassy orphan so I saw this as a great way to stay connected for a few months.

That was my first experience in school theater. Yeah, somehow I made it through Grade School without ever playing so much as a rock. I fell in love with the stage instantly and cursed the fact that it took my horndog hormones to make me finally slap on the spirit gum and grease paint. Over the next few months, I learned something pretty cool. When someone yells “Hey kids – lets put on a show!!!” – whoever heeds that call bonds fast and furious. It’s there that I found myself re-acquainted with that Middle School friend. Now that we were running lines together and working out lyrics, I found a greater kinship in him than I ever had before. That’s what’s cool about any sort of team dynamic. You all get thrown in together, sink or swim. The best teams rise to the top swiftly and stay there. That was us – going for the gold.

So, working alongside this guy just sort of crystalized the earlier hunch I held. He was gay. No question. But still – he never talked about it so I didn’t ask. There was no reason to, really. It wasn’t the ONLY thing that defined him. This guy had so many interests and talents so the topic never came up.

But if I felt a whisper of a suspicion in my day-to-day interactions with this guy – one of our best and brightest and all around nicest classmates – those echoes also found their way into the superstitions of some of our lesser formed school asshats (no better term) who grew fond of punctuating their hallway chatter with “fucking faggot” as effortlessly as one might flash a smile to someone they locked eyes with while passing by on the sidewalk. This wasn’t the majority rule. I went to school with a ton of great kids. But sometimes those ugly whispers from a few could crescendo into ugly, braying hollers. I can’t say that he ever heard any of that but I can cop to the fact that blind prejudice found its voice a little too frequently for my taste. I mean – just one muttered “fag” is one too many.

Fast forward to the here and now and I’m pleased to say that this guy I knew totally grew up and followed a trajectory into the stratosphere. He was always the uber-talented ‘Sky’s the Limit’ type but where he’s gone since then is boundless. In the handful of times I’ve run into him – whether on Facebook or our scattershot reunions – I always walk away with a smile at seeing him leap miles beyond that potent promise I spied way back when we were young and standing before nothing but unlimited blank canvas upon which to make our mark. This dude has completely eclipsed that quaint faraway hope and dream. He’s truly gone to town gifting the world another solid citizen and it’s been my great pleasure to continue to know him – even if it is quite a bit removed. Life gets in the way – ya’ know.

Still, I had him in mind when I woke the morning after my 20-Year High School Reunion with a creative itch that demanded scratching. Children of The Breakfast Club, I was struck by how the passage of time had shredded the walls that used to keep some segments of our class at arm’s length. Years and maturity AND shared life’s experiences bonded us. The chance to turn back the clock for one night only and reconnect with our younger selves provided a shiny lure. The fully stocked bar just sweetened the deal.

I remember at one point later in the night – I was standing at the bar looking out over a sea of happy faces; people that were pleased as punch to be hanging out for one night where we could collectively keep the cruel march of time at bay. There were old friends mingling amongst former compadres but also criss-crossed class clique connections (don’t say that five times fast) forged that night too. At the 10 year, we saw a fraction of our alumni group show up. What we had for the 20th was a healthy, buoyant mass of good people in great spirits. I felt real proud to know these people. To have grown up with these people. To see that some of them had matured greatly.

A thought popped into my head momentarily. What if only 6 out of 156 had shown? What if it wasn’t just any 6 but six people who claimed to have hated High School the most? 6 kids from different cliques – toss ’em in a room and get ’em talking. It worked wonders when John Hughes did it almost 30 years ago. I thought the magic he tapped into might just be universal. So, I decided to pay homage to one of the greats and use that as a vehicle to graft my own life’s experience onto. See, I had these stories kicking around my brainpan for way too long.

Where I had once tapped my year-long bout of joblessness and a nagging hopelessness that I never did what I set out to do in life way back when – and turned that into my first play, The Monkeybar Mafia – for The Lost World, I decided to bare that part of me that is always looking ahead to live the life I’ve always imagined while keeping myself grounded by where I’ve come from. I’m a glass half-full wishful dreamer that harbors that slight sting of nostalgia. I figured it was time I shared that.

I knew right away that one character in The Lost World would be dedicated to that friend. It would be my tribute to his brave face. If there is one thing I took with me when I left that school, it was my awe at his courage – at the way he just effortlessly stayed true to himself. I was a shy guy back then and I marveled at his strength knowing there was no way it could have been easy to do what he did. To exist in that primitive time. To walk up right through those sometimes hostile hallways, comfortable in his own skin. He may not have been openly out but he dressed the way he wanted to dress, rocked his stylin’ haircut and held his head up high. His voice was loud and buoyant and always full of good cheer. He was no shrinking violet. You could hear his laugh a mile away. It drowned out every errant whisper of “faggot” that dared pollute our air. In doing so – in just being his self – his grand, glorious, unique self – he became that guy you were full of pride to call your friend. And not because that made him your “token gay friend“. That has no place in this conversation. Ever! There was nothing token about this guy.

There is nothing token about the best of us.

I used to force myself to write and it always came out badly. Then somewhere along the line I cottoned to a very simple directive.

Write what you know.

And maybe, Keep It Simple Stupid. I could stand to write that on a blackboard 500 times.

So The Lost World, while fictional – is how I made my own American quilt – stitched together from some real life memory and anecdote. Knowing I was going into this paying tribute to the pretty sweet life I’ve lived – I decided that I was going to pay homage to that guy; hence Jamie Connor was born. Jamie Connor – the theater owner who just so happens to be gay – is inspired by one of the bravest guys I’ve ever known. When the actor we cast to play him dropped out of the play just as rehearsals began, it became one of my life’s great moments where I got to step in and take over the role.

Look, I love all of my characters – even that deadbeat bully Parker Knowles (who eventually reveals some deeper shades later in the show). But Jamie was the one I knew I had to get right. After all, I was adamant that although he was written as a little flamboyant but totally secure in himself, that would NOT define him.

So when I played the part, I was real careful about staying true to my memories of that guy. Not of the amazing guy he is now – but the fearless kid he was in a time when it wasn’t so easy.

So why I am writing this now? Why not when I first completed the play – or after we finished our first run in 2013? Or heck, this past Fall at the encore run.

I write about it now because when I look to the past and get a glimpse of that courage – and when I think upon my character Jamie – and when I run through the mental catalogue of all the friends and family I have who are openly gay, I am marked by one simple, binding truth. Gay or straight – we are defined only by our character. I’m happy to be living in a time where strength of character seems to be making it a little more accepting for people to come out and openly be who they truly are.

I write this because as the loving Uncle to a young man who recently told the world exactly who he is – I couldn’t be more proud of him. I’m glad he’s surrounded by friends and family who truly celebrate who he is as a person. That fills my heart with such hope and glory.

I have a friend – who happens to be gay – who told me once “Who I am attracted to amounts to about 1% of my waking thoughts. I’ve got lots of thoughts, dreams and desires going on in this silly head of mine beyond “Who’s Hot or Not!!!”

Exactly! The merit of us as individuals is defined by our hopes and dreams and character. Our sexuality is part of us but it’s just a part. This panic over that sliver is such a tiring waste of energy. Look, I’m not changing the world here. I am who I am. I’ve got lots of friends – some I know are straight. Some I know are gay. Some – the jury is still out. One thing ties them all together. They’re in my life because I can’t imagine my life without them.

They’re in my life because each in their own way fills me with such pride.

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My 5 Favorite Movies in 2014

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I have one hard-and-fast rule when cobbling together my year-ending lists. I don’t try to get all critical and tell you what I think were the BEST movies of the year – just my favorite. And we all know opinions. Everyone’s got one. The only right one is your own – at least where you’re concerned. So, whatever you may think of this list all you need to know is that you are completely wrong. 😉

One other little footnote – I don’t get out to the theater nearly as much as I did in the days pre-kids… although nowadays, as I am all by my lonesome half-the-week, I do get out a little more than I did in those first few years after Colin & Aria made my acquaintance. So, I’ll list out all of the movies that I saw first-run in 2014 (even though some are technically 2013 releases) and then tell you which five hit me hardest AND WHY.

Without further adieu, here’s the list of everything I saw for the first time in 2014.

Anchorman 2 (2013)
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
About Time (2013)
Prisoners (2013)
Rush (2013)
Elysium (2013)
The Spectacular Now (2013)
Nebraska (2013)
Monsters University (2013)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
American Hustle (2013)
Captain Phillips (2013)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
The Lego Movie
Robocop
3 Days to Kill
Muppets Most Wanted
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Godzilla
300: Rise of an Empire
Divergent
Snowpiercer
Gravity
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Maleficent
Edge of Tomorrow
21 Jump Street 2
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Transformers: Age of Extinction
X-Men Days of Future Past
Interstellar
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

And now my 5 Favorite Movies Seen in 2014 (in no particular order – I love ’em all equally).

5.   Guardians of the Galaxy

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Growing up on that awesome L-Shaped street I always like to wax nostalgic about – I found my street was divided. There were those kids who LOVE, LOVE, LOVED Star Wars. Then there were those who thought Indiana Jones flicks were the end-all/be-all. That would be me. Alone. Fortunately, Star Trek didn’t exist in our dojo – too nerdy for the likes of my Whiffle-ball playing, A-Team watching, Big League Chew chomping hive of scum and villainy. Those who loved Star Wars and those who fell on the Indy side of the divide (i.e. me) could find common ground in that lovable rogue, Harrison Ford. Remember this was way back before the actor made the grumpy old man in Up look down-right sprightly.

The thing is – there was a razor-thin line dividing Indy from Han Solo – and I think it is Harrison Ford’s characters  in both flicks that acted as the entry point for all of us. The guy was cool, cocky and charismatic as all Hell but not the golden boy goodie-goodie we got in Skywalker. We all wanted to be Han or Indy. They made adventure look good.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the PERFECT summer movie; a rollicking action-adventure littered with rogue’s gallery of new age Han Solos – and maybe one Chewie (when you count Groot). The early buzz pegged this as Marvel’s Star Wars and that’s pretty close – but there’s a whole bunch of  playfulness that George Lucas would never indulge in – yet it’s what sets Guardians apart becoming its own freaky-deaky beast. I credit the director James Gunn, a truly inspired choice – who grew up playing with Star Wars figures and then when given the chance to play in the sandbox again as an adult, completely went to town indulging his imagination. The end result is one of the most purely entertaining films I saw this year – a movie lovingly crafted to do one thing; entertain the Hell out of you.

4.   Nebraska

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Filmed in black & white – this is not the bleak character study I thought I was getting myself into. Instead, this is a loving, burnished portrait of the disconnect between an old weary man who never really did much of anything and his son who has lived a life trying to forge ties. Bruce Dern and Will Forte are so well paired on this road trip flick; and its through their journey that we’re reminded how a little peek into a person’s origins can suddenly bridge generations of gap.

Nebraska snuck up on me. It’s emotional but never cloying. It’s also deeply hilarious at time; especially once June Squibb arrives on-screen for an extended stay. Her visit to the cemetery to pay respects her respects to the dearly departed is a comic tour de force.

Nebraska was released in 2013 but I didn’t see it until early 2014 so I’m placing this on the list as one of my favorite films seen this year. It hardly matters when it was released. That choice to go black & white was genius; rendering this film timeless.

3.   The Lego Movie

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I’ve had it pretty good when it comes to family movies with the kids. Around the time they matured to become theater-goers, I explained to them that I used to write film reviews – using their Grade School report card as a metaphor for what I did back in college. Since they had already grasped the concept of Exceeds versus Needs Improvement and knew to avoid anything marked Fail – we used that scale (and its equivalent in Thumbs Up or Down) when choosing what to see; which neatly explains how I deftly avoided seeing things like Hop or The Smurfs.

So when The Lego Movie released to unanimous acclaim, we made it appointment viewing for one cold, snowy Saturday afternoon in February. Knowing Chris Miller and Phil Lord directed the flick, I had a hunch we were in for something special. These two have taken properties that have no business being any good and somehow made gold from it. They took the slight Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and turned it into something special. Same goes for 21 Jump Street and its sequel. Both of those films have no business being as subversive and funny as they are.

The Lego Movie is far from a corporate cash-in. It is a lovely mash note to the power of creativity. It also boasts a third act twist that lands like a hefty ton of bricks for that segment of my peer group who has grown old, had kids and refused to share their toys. It’s in that third act that The Lego Movie goes from a very good film to a great one.

2.   Edge of Tomorrow

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I can separate fact from fiction. Tom Cruise may be a nut in real life BUT there is no question that the dude delivers nothing less than 100% in his movies so while I may not want to sit down for dinner with him, I’ll happily line up to see whatever manner of chaos he has managed to throw himself into.

Edge of Tomorrow was let down by the marketing. For starters, it’s got a terrible title (a last-minute change from the equally awful All You Need is Kill). The ad campaign made the flick look like a generic action flick; totally missing the boat on what Cruise and director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) were actually up to.

Yes, it’s a Groundhog Day rift BUT a surprisingly clever AND funny one – with Cruise cast in the role of a coward sent into battle against an enemy that can always see three steps ahead. There’s a great deal of fun mined in watching Cruise’s character live, die, and repeat the same day – dying day-after-day as he learns more and more about his predicament. Hollywood has had a devil of a time trying to adapt video games into movies with middling results. Edge of Tomorrow, while not based on any real video game, is the first movie to get the concept of playing a game correct – with Cruise respawning over-and-over again steadily becoming more skillful the longer he “plays”.

Audiences really missed out last Summer. While flocking to the the repetitive, excessive bloat of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, their money would have been better spent here. The film is full of wildly inventive action scenes. It’s fierce and funny as Hell. Emily Blunt proves she can rock a mech suit just as much as the devil wears Prada. And for you Cruise haters, you get to watch Liman torture and kill him over-and-over again for an entire film; so really it’s win-win.

1.   The Spectacular Now

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In 2013, I watched Perks of Being a Wallflower – a film that just hit me where it counts with its bracing teenage honesty. That was a film my teenage self would have crushed hard on.

I mention The Spectacular Now in the same reverent breath. This is the Say Anything for a new generation; although The Spectacular Now is even more unflinching in its tale of two teens from different social strata coming together inexplicably and finding a true and honest young love.

The film hurts and touches in the same way those sticky emotions pack a punch when you’re just on that verge of really breaking free from your teens to adulthood. The two leads, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are perfectly paired. These aren’t the usual generic hotties ripped from Twilight. They feel genuine and real. Yes, both are now poised for greater stardom (with Teller appearing in next Summer’s Fantastic Four reboot and Woodley helming the Divergent series) but the gravity they carry should only help inform their future roles.

No film hit me harder on a primal, emotional level than The Spectacular Now – especially when Teller’s character takes a road trip to visit his  estranged father played by Kyle Chandler. As a huge Friday Night Lights fan, Chandler never fails to make me sit up and take notice anytime he appears on-screen. This is the first time I’ve wanted to punch him in the face.

Raw, visceral, natural emotions. That’s your teen years all rolled up in 4 short words.

That’s The Spectacular Now.

Honorable Mention Award

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I really enjoyed 22 Jump Street BUT I loved the End Credits Sequence. I won’t spoil it (aside from that still above) BUT Miller and Lord worked overtime to give us every possible sequel variant over the course of those fast and furious 2 & 1/2 minutes. How can they ever make another one of these flicks? That was a perfect ending to a pretty great sequel.

My 2015 Resolutions

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You all know the story by now. In 2014, I set out to do 8 things I’ve never done before. A week after Thanksgiving, I put the cap on it by putting a tat on me. You can read all about it here.

But that’s yesterday’s news.

We’re currently three short days away from yet another new year. 2015 is right around the bend.

If ever a year sounded so far-flung and futuristic when I was a kid, it’s 2015. And yet, here we are with nary a flying car or hoverboard in sight. Although everyone IS walking around staring into strange devices that do everything from pay your bills to book travel to occasionally take phone calls so that’s certainly something we never saw coming back when Ma Bell was calling us for dinner. All we had back then was a huge desktop rotary phone that granted Sudden Onset Carpal Tunnel Syndrome to anyone who dared dial someone with a “zero” in their number.

So, the future is now – or in three short days. Unlike last year, when I didn’t actually have a resolution chosen until 3 minutes before midnight, this year I come fully prepared. In fact, I have four ready to go. One is just practical common sense and proves I really should know better (and now I will). The second is completely silly, probably smacks of me being a dick and yet one that might actually teach me a little lesson about myself once I finish it. The third one will scratch my creative itch – always a good thing for those around me. The fourth one probably sounds more foolish than the second one to all of you but to me it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever set out to do.

And now without further adieu, I present my New Years Resolutions for 2015.

4.   Text Ed

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In 2015, I pledge to stop sexting… ummm errrrrr ahem… TEXTING! Stupid autocorrect. (Heh heh heh). All right – I need to clarify this. I’m not swearing off TEXTING – OR – SEXTING!!! I mean you have to start that to stop that and I have no intention of doing that. Either end of the equation.

And I’m not ceasing the text business. That would be ridiculous. That’s like trying to get me to stop talking. Not that I text like crazy… it’s just that we live in a world where texting has become a vital component to communication. Now – here’s the thing with me. I crave human-to-human conversation. It is to my general well being as important as food and water… and probably air. I’ve always claimed to be the greatest fan good conversation ever had and once I took to live on my own (half a week), I grew to crave that personal face-to-face connection on a molecular level. It IS Me.

So, if given the chance – I’m choosing me & you in the same room sharing a heart-to-heart or doubled over in laughter or simply punctuating a silence with little asides (witty, pithy or otherwise) OVER a tweet or text EVERY FREAKIN’ DAY OF THE WEEK.

But I’m not down on Texting either. Like I said at the top, I feel it has finagled its way into the way we communicate. It’s important. It connects us. It bridges huge gaps and distances. I have no problem with it. I like it just fine. I may not love it so much that I wanna’ marry it BUT I’m not awkwardly hemming & hawing and scanning for a quick exit, either.

All that rambling preamble has a point. I’m a Dad. I’m supposed to hold myself to a higher standard (easier said than done. Good intentions gotta’ stand for something.) So, I’m not perfect but when I look at my kids, I remember my personal affirmation. They make me want to be a better person every single day. I don’t always get there but I always have that mission in mind.

So in 2015, I am not texting while driving ever again. Whatever it is can wait. Or I can pull over.

Yup, that’s my dirty little secret. If I hear that little ping (actually the “You Just Found a Treasure” chime from the Zelda games), my eyes will take a sneak peek. They’re not buried in the thing and I am always aware of what I’m doing (I’m a master multi-tasker) but all it takes is one errant twist of fate and suddenly this sweet life darkens considerably. I don’t want to live in that world.

So, in 2015 – I resolve to make one easy change that should hopefully make me a little bit better at being a role model. And  lot better at being a Dad. Just staying alive is half the battle.

3.   The Godfather – Parts 1 through 52

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I’m a fan of the “running joke”. Those things meander all over the map and end up hitting some surprising destinations. It’s tricky business though. If you go to the well too often, you end up beating a dead horse.*

*Never met a cliché I didn’t like, either.

I’ve got two “running jokes” in play right now. One is widely known – the other a little less.

So, anyone who has been Facebook Friends with me over the last few years is no doubt aware of my complete disdain for Anne Hathaway. Simply put, I love to hate her. The curious thing is, I don’t think I actually hate her. I’ve liked her in pretty much every movie I’ve ever seen her in. She’s easy on the eyes too – that’s for sure. She’s mega-talented and I completely applaud that. The more I talk like this, the more tongue-tied I get. If I don’t stop now, I’ll be completely smitten by the next paragraph.

Let’s face facts. I’m just that boy running around the playground pulling all the girls’ pigtails.

With Anne, it all began with the hype around Les Misérables. So many women on my Facebook Friends list were gushing over her performance as Fantine in that flick. It started to become a little overhyped so on a lark, I wrote some pithy little quip about her. I was out with friends and I bet them I would get hate mail (or hate comments) within the hour. I had five in 4 minutes!!! Evil, vicious stuff!!! From there, it just took off and I kept baiting the hook.

The other “running joke” I’ve got involves the film The Godfather. A few years ago I wrote a post on these pages where I confessed that although I was a huge, lifelong movie fan and had been the co-film critic at the UMASS Daily Collegian for 3 years – I had NEVER seen The Godfather. Whenever I tell anyone that, more often-than-not they are outraged. The world stops. Faces are slapped with white gloves. Records scratch at the most awkward moment.

Times just stands still.

So, I have been using this as my little “badge of honor” and I flash it among the most passionate Godfather devotees – just a little funny thing to get their goat and cement myself as the world’s most ill-informed film critic. Yes, this is the same world that Ben Lyons lives in. Last year, when I announced my ‘8 New for 2014 Resolution’, I polled my Facebook friends looking for suggestions of something new I could do in 2014.

Watch the Godfather” was tied neck-and-neck with “Watch the Godfather – you dick!!!” for most votes.

Well I didn’t do it but I aim to remedy that in 2015.

Yes, my second resolution for 2015 is that I am going to watch The Godfather – only broken up in 52 miniature installments.

That’s right. I am not going to just watch the entire 175 minute film in one sitting. Who has that kind of time? Nope – I am going to devote the entire year to it; watching it in 52 three-and-a-half minute segments; starting at the beginning in week one and working my way through the final credits by the time we reconvene here this time next year. Each week, I’ll watch the next segment and then Blog my little mini-review. If I’m in mid-scene, I stop. Once that stop watch chimes, the movie goes off – even if it’s in mid-sentence.

I made him an offer he couldn…” (CLICK – SEE YOU NEXT WEEK)

I feel only by watching the film this way will I have a greater appreciation for its place in our cultural identity.

And I’ll know this thing on a more intimate level than any of its more passionate fans. In essence, over one long year – I will become The Godfather’s Godfather.

Oh – in 2016, I’m making Anne Hathaway an offer she couldn’t refuse. I’m marrying her.

2.   Finding the Lost & Found

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I wrote Lost & Found in the throes of my post-Lost World hangover a year ago this past Fall. A day or two after the first run of that show ended, I found myself just feeling so down. In these strange days post-divorce, I’ve found that throwing myself into something creative has been amazing therapy. It keeps my mind occupied. It’s my happy place.

I finished the script within a couple of weeks in the Fall of 2013 (just before Thanksgiving) then shot it out to a few people for feedback. Most of what came back was very positive and all of it constructive, allowing me to tweak some elements.

Then I did nothing. I just let it sit there and collect dust.

Last Spring, I was approached about staging another play locally – this time in partnership with the local restaurant Eighty-Ates. It would have been the perfect place to premier Lost & Found. A third world premiere in three short years is certainly something to write home about.

The only problem is – I found myself frozen. Reading and re-reading Lost & Found, I find that it’s story I wanted to tell BUT there was something missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. All of the big moments are there. The big laughs. The big cries. The structure is sound. Same goes for the characters.

That said, I figure this is probably it. This is the last thing I’ll write and try to produce (as far as stage plays go). Of course, I say that now knowing I have carte blanche to reverse course later. But all three plays (while completely fictional) spring from very real piece of me at different stages of my life and I don’t know that there’s much more to tell. I’m just not THAT interesting. Haven’t brokered any peace accords.

For this new one, I decided to finally grapple with the slippery notion of second chances. This is the “post-divorce” piece – even though nobody in the play is divorced or going through a divorce. But it’s not the actual act of divorce that I’m fixated on. Mine or anyone elses. It’s the notion of what comes next when a world is upended. It’s raging against that nagging thought that maybe I had my chance and blew it. That maybe all that remains afterwards is a long stretch of penance. You don’t even have to do anything wrong to achieve that. You just have to get far enough down the line and find yourself alone while all of your peers are fully established, to feel like life is leaving you behind.

That’s the glass half-empty view. That’s the loser-talk speech.

I try not to slide onto that path. It’s hard. Some days it takes a ton of energy but I think nothing good is gained without some trial and error.

That’s why I aim most days to be glass half-full. I’ve lived the majority of my life that way. But in the past 2 years – AFTER MY DIVORCE – I’ve found it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be to pick myself back up again. Not for lack of trying or personality. I’m just further down the path and so at this stage and this age so many amazing women are already taken. Seriously, I am so reminded often of the fragility of right time & place. You meet amazing “What If” women from time-to-time in your travels and it can be tempting to harmlessly role-play and wonder what if the die had been cast differently or the road turned one way or the other and you came across each other at just the right time and place.

But that’s the stuff you dash from your head. Therein lies the road to madness. It ain’t never gonna’ happen so stop wishing on it.

So that brings me to the new play. It’s not about what’s impossible but what is actually out there within reach. It’s about waking up and realizing that the impossible dream remains just that BUT there are some pretty cool new realities worth opening your eyes to. It’s about feeling hopeless and then realizing that the good things aren’t just gonna’ happen for you – you actually have to stand up and achieve them yourself. You want more hope – you can’t just hope for it. You have to grab it for yourself.

I wrote two plays that end with two perfect people being kept completely at arm’s length by the time the curtain falls. Never meant to be, as much as I or the audience may want them together. Both plays end with a little bit of hope tempered by wistful sadness.

When I wrote Lost & Found, I realized I was sick of telling that story so I set about starting at the saddest moment and then bringing these two to a moment of better happiness. That’s why I say this is my post-divorce piece. The play is about finding the lovely in that brave new world of life. Of mining the beauty from tragedy. And yes, there are dick jokes in there – too. Shakespeare knew – ya’ gotta’ play to the cheap seats too!!!

So, I resolve in 2015 to freshen this thing up (early) and then cobble together a team of actors and get this show on the road. My catch is that I don’t have to have the play produced in 2015 (as that puts me at the mercy of theater owners who may be booked) but I do have to find it a home. That’s the goal.

1.   Trailer Parked

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The last pure movie-going experience of my life was in 1981, when as a 9 year-old boy – I journeyed with my 12-year old next door neighbor to the local Hanover Mall Cinema 4 to see Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. First off, talk about a different age. We were dropped off there by our parents and picked up several hours later. Two kids left completely alone. I think they slapped a “$10.00 or Best Offer” sign on us before departing but my memory is hazy on that and anyway – the statute of limitations has long since expire.

I walked into that movie completely cold. I hadn’t seen a trailer nor a still photo of the film. I had not read one single snippet from a review. Heck, I barely knew what the words “Raiders“, “Lost“, “Ark” or “The” meant. Strung together, it might as well have been written in ancient Aramaic.

So I sat down and proceeded to have my ass kicked by the single-best movie I had ever seen in my entire life. It seriously rewired me. Right then and there, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Those guys freakin’ ruled. They fight Nazis and get the girl – and look so completely cool doing it. It wouldn’t be until years later when I realized that most of them are just grumpy old men chasing crystal skulls that I finally let the dream die.

Since that fateful day, movies have been my daily bread. I see ’em. Read all about ’em (previews, reviews, you name it). The second a trailer is released for something I’m jonesing to see – I’ve screened it on YouTube and then shared the wealth on Facebook. It’s been this way since I was a kid and every technological leap has only given me more of a back-stage peek into the making of my favorite escape.

And in that time – in the decades since I first met Indiana – I’ve never had an experience where I’ve walked into a movie and not had one single second spoiled for me. Raiders was the last great movie going experience.

So, in 2015 – I resolve to not watch Movie Trailers nor read previews or reviews of any movies until I actually see the damned thing. I can avoid it on TV. I DVR anything I watch and fly through commercials. With televised sports, I’ll just use the commercial interruptions for what they were intended for – i.e. pee breaks. When I go to a movie, I’ll just excuse myself until the previews are done. When the trailers are released to the web, well I’ll just skip on down to the methadone clinic and up my daily dosage.

This is seriously the hardest thing I’ve ever done BUT if it results in me walking into one movie completely unspoiled – it will be totally worth it. There are some Big Movies coming in 2015 that I’ve already seen a few snippets of. I can’t erase my memory – so I have 30 seconds or so of Tomorrowland, The Avengers and Star Wars already in memory. That’s not nearly enough to break the bank though.

As for my most anticipated film of the year – the next Bond flick, Spectre – well, they just started filming it so I’m going into that one a complete virgin.

The best part about this resolution is it gets me excited about going to the movies again – and in turn – excited about writing about movies. That’s something I haven’t cared for in a long time. So, I plan to cover my first-blush reactions on this site. Stay tuned.

So, enough about me – what are you all resolving to do?