High School Hoops

My friend Micah gave me a couple of DVDs recently with two of our high school basketball games on them. It was our two most memorable wins of my senior year, which was the 1995-96 season. We beat Corbett in their gym, which was the first time that had ever happened. They were also the 2-time defending state champs, although they had lost a lot of players from those teams.

The second game was against North Clackamas Christian, which would go on to win the 1A state championship that year. Their school was actually bigger than ours; we should have also been a 1A school, so it was kind of bittersweet that they won the title, and we just missed the 2A playoffs. We felt like that could have been us. Anyway, nostalgia, huh?

It’s funny to see myself from back then. Some things have changed, like my weight, but a lot of things remain the same, like my waddle of a run. I look like a baby duck chasing its mama.

Anyway, feel free to enjoy the games. They’re broken into 2 parts each.

Portland Lutheran vs. Corbett – Part 1

Portland Lutheran vs. Corbett – Part 2

Portland Lutheran vs. North Clackamas Christian – Part 1

Portland Lutheran vs. North Clackamas Christian – Part 2

Birthday Basketball Tournament

2nd Annual Nick Voll Memorial Gym Jam

The 2nd Annual Nick Voll Memorial Gym Jam
A Charity Basketball Tournament and Birthday Celebration
Saturday, April 28th at 12 Noon – Trinity Lutheran School, Portland

Why are we doing this?
Nick is turning 34, and what better way to celebrate the deterioration of the human body over time than a demonstration of physical incompetence? Nick, who likes to write in the 3rd person and ask rhetorical questions, thought last year’s tournament was awesome, so why not go even bigger this year? So this one’s for charity.

Charity? Wha…?
That’s right, buddy, charity. Nick’s charity of choice is Fort Sports, the sports broadcasting program at Fort Vancouver High School. The program is run by a teacher at Fort, and is staffed by volunteers and students. It broadcasts live football, volleyball, and basketball games to Comcast viewers in Clark County. They’re good people doing good work that benefits the community and gives kids real-life work opportunities. Here are some links to learn more:
Fort Sports News Story by Vancouver Public Schools
Fort Sports Documentary (15 minutes running time)
Fort Sports News Story by KATU

Okay, fine. How much?
To play in the tournament, our asking price is $10 per player. You can choose to donate more if you so desire. The donation is tax-deductible, so it’s up to you. The 3-Point Shootout is $3 to enter. The money will be routed through the Foundation for Vancouver Public Schools, so if you plan to write a check, write it to them.

What do I get for my money?
For your generous donation, you get a spot on one of four teams, to be assigned by the organizer. Each team will have 5-6 players, and Nick will try to make the teams as even as possible. The tournament will have a round-robin schedule, guaranteeing each team at least 3 games. Each game will be 12 minutes long. A win is worth 2 points, a tie is worth 1. The teams with the most points at the end of the round-robin schedule will play in a championship game. If a tie-breaker is needed, the first will be total points scored. If a second is needed, we will use point differential.

After the round-robin, and before the championship game, we will have a 3-point shootout. Anyone can enter, but ONLY ONE CAN WIN!

In addition, we will be recording the tournament in stunning HD. Nick will bring in a mobile production unit with 3 cameras and a live switcher, so we’ll capture all the action in its full glory. We will have a play-by-play announcer providing commentary for each game. We’ll also leave a microphone open for players to provide color commentary on other teams’ games. Each player will receive a DVD of the tournament for their personal collections. For a sizable donation to Fort Sports, Nick is also willing to destroy the DVDs so no one can ever see them.

The winning team members will receive terrible trophies. The 3-Point Shootout winner will get a trophy he can drink out of. Don’t ask.

Who can play?
This is a competitive, invitation-only event. Nick is inviting guys with whom he plays basketball regularly, as well as some friends he’d like to have at the event. If you’ve been invited, and want to bring a friend, please contact Nick about it. Since he’s compiling the teams based on talent, height, etc., he’ll need to let you know whether there’s room for another person.

Where? When?

Trinity Lutheran School
5520 NE Killingsworth
Portland, Oregon, 97218

Saturday, April 28th
12 Noon

Mel Brooks-uary – Part One: The Producers and The Twelve Chairs

For Christmas, my wife Marisa gave me The Mel Brooks Collection on BluRay, which contains nine of his films. Mel Brooks has always been one of my favorite comedic filmmakers, so to take advantage of the gift, we are engaging in Mel Brooks-uary: an attempt to watch every Mel Brooks film during the month of February. This is our chronicle.

The Producers
The producers
I’m sure it has something to do with which studio has the rights to the film, but The Mel Brooks Collection does not include The Producers, which is obviously a Mel Brooks must-see. Fortunately, it’s available to stream through Netflix, so we went for it. If you haven’t seen it (and how could that be possible?), the movie is about a Broadway producer and his accountant, who attempt to put on the worst show possible, in a scam to steal investors’ money.
Nick
I’ve seen The Producers probably about ten times, so it was surprising to me that I still laugh throughout. It’s a testament to Mel Brooks that the film is still provocative, even though it’s 40 years old. There are so many dark elements in play for a relatively light movie. I mean, the whole Nazi thing, obviously, is pretty tough to turn into comedy (unless you’re Mel Brooks). Plus, the idea that Zero Mostel’s character raises money by banging old ladies who are about to die could be really nasty in the wrong hands, but Brooks pulls it off in a way that makes it almost kind of sweet.

I also think it’s amazing that Brooks did most of the music for his earlier movies. “Springtime for Hitler” makes me laugh every time I hear it.

The old-fashioned film techniques still stand out to me when I see it. With its odd zooms and pans, its stage-iness, and its sort of hammy “look into the camera and mug” shots, it’s definitely of its time. I also noticed how grating the film can be at times, especially when Gene Wilder starts screaming. But those are minor distractions from an enjoyable movie.

Marisa
For Christmas I decided to get Nick a Mel Brooks BluRay collection, nine movies in all. I generally don’t like Mel Brooks and in giving Nick this gift I knew I would be watching all of these movies again so you know it’s true love. I’m looking forward to watching The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein. I’m least looking forward to Space Balls (insert collective boos) and History of the World Part 1.

I was looking forward to watching The Producers most because it seems the most approachable to me. I know that I have watched it before but I’m more familiar with the Nathan Lane/Matthew Broderick version and I was surprised how faithfully the newer version followed the original and how well both movies stand up. I liked much of this movie. I really enjoyed all the little old ladies. They reminded me of a conversation I recently had with my 87 year-old-grandmother. She made a joke about the last time she was in Las Vegas looking for a hot young guy to spend the weekend with; the old ladies remind me of her. Also, how great is Springtime for Hitler? I’ve been singing it since I watched it.

A few things I didn’t care for it the movie was 1) the mugging for the camera – those shots where one of the characters turns and makes an aside to the camera that the other characters don’t hear – not into that, and 2) Gene Wilder’s hysteria got a bit old. However, watching him really made me want to re-watch Willy Wonka.

The Twelve Chairs
the twelve chairs movie posterMel Brooks’s second film, The Twelve Chairs, takes place after the Russian Revolution. On her deathbed, a former noble confesses to her son-in-law and a priest that she hid her jewels in one of twelve dining chairs before the revolution. The priest breaks his vows to track them down, and the son also leaves home to find the chairs. Along the way, he’s blackmailed by a grifter, who forces him to team up as they cross the Russian countryside in search of the jewels.

Nick
This was the one Mel Brooks film I had never seen, so I was pretty anxious to give it a try. I can see now why it’s considered minor Brooks. Like The Producers, the movie suffers from its stage-iness. I read that the star, Frank Langella, had come directly from theater, and you can tell. He has that “thespian” voice, never speaking like a normal person. It’s also distracting that some of the characters speak in Russian accents, but our main character does not.

The main problem with the film is tone. The Twelve Chairs the closest that Brooks has ever come to making a drama, which, to me, makes its lack of subtlety less forgivable. I think that there were a number of themes running through the film that would make for an interesting story: the transition from Russia to the USSR, and the desperation of former nobles and peasants to gain security in the new country. But I think that the movie is too broad to really hit the emotional notes needed to tell those stories.

Marisa
I’m not totally sure what to think of this movie. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a comedy or a drama – a dramedy? The movie never really struck the right tone for me; I felt like something was missing. Also, there were some plot points I didn’t like. Like, why didn’t the main character just go home at the end? He had some sort of government job. Couldn’t he pull some strings and head back to his home or, I don’t know, call his wife? And I got a little sick of following the Father around and all the chases scenes being in that Benny Hill fast-forward style.

As a final note, did anyone notice that the dude from The Producers that played the Director’s Assistant made an appearance in this movie too? I thought that he was just wearing make-up in The Producers but clearly this guy just looks like a human cat.

Up next: Blazing Saddles

Top Ten for 2011

It’s been a while since I posted anything, and I think part of that is because I’ve had such a good and busy fall. I thought I’d take some time to share some of my favorite things of the year. These are the things I experienced this year that made my year a good one.

10. Pizza Stone

pizza stoneMy in-laws got me a pizza stone for my grill last Christmas, and holy cow was it a great present. We made all kinds of fantastic pizza: pear and blue cheese, barbeque chicken, bacon and cheese, sausage and pepper, and more. Just put the stone on the grill when you fire it up, and when it’s hot, cover the stone with corn meal, roll out your dough, and top your pizza. The crust is crunchy, the cheese is gooey and smokey, and you can’t beat the flavor.

9. Captain America

Now, first off, I don’t think that Captain America is a perfect movie, but I sure enjoyed it. Part of it is sentimental. Captain America was my favorite comic book as a kid, so to see it on the bigscreen was awesome. I have some quibbles with it, most notably its lack of Nazis. The best part of the comic book as a kid was seeing Cap routinely defeat evil Nazi plans. In the movie, the Red Skull (the film’s villain) almost immediately breaks off from Germany to form his own evil organization. I think that was a big mistake, and a befuddling decision.

But that’s my only real complaint. I thought that there were so many awesome little touches, such as having Cap going around selling war bonds in that wool uniform. It just made me happy to see something I liked so much as a kid so brilliantly executed on the big screen.

8. Sushi Chiyo

I love the sushi train in all of its forms. However, Vancouver’s Sushi Chiyo takes the cake (of rice, topped with salmon) right now. Most sushi train places put only 2-3 pieces on each plate, with only simple items like California Rolls available. But Sushi Chiyo offers full plates, with 4-5 pieces, and it offers a wide variety of choices. I’ve had rainbow rolls, spider rolls, and the biggest pieces of salmon sashimi possible. Go during happy hour (2:30-4:30pm), and every plate is only $1.50, which is a steal.

Find it at: 13007 NE Highway 99 Vancouver, WA 98686

7. Four on the Floor Hamburger Challenge

I already blogged about this here, but the Four on the Floor Hamburger Challenge was awesome. It was my baby; I wanted to see if we could eat four hamburgers at four places in four hours. Turns out, almost all nine of us could. Read the blog for the details in all their gastronomic glory.

6. Los Gorditos Mexican Food

Los Gorditos is a taco cart on the corner of 50th and Division, and I think that their burritos are the greatest in all of Portland. The best part of Los Gorditos’s menu is free: their sauces. They have a great salsa bar. My favorites are their green sauce, their smoky chipotle, best of all, their peppery red sauce. The Stacy Burrito rolls up your choice of meat, rice, beans, cheese, sour cream, grilled onions, cilantro, and that red sauce in an enormous tortilla. I always end up dumping at least 4 containers of sauce on it, too, resulting in a delicious, sweaty experience. The red sauce has one of those flavors that makes the corners of my tongue, where the muscle meets my jaw, start to cringe and salivate. Mmmm….

5. The Stormy Weather Arts Festival at Cannon Beach

Marisa and I have been going to the beach every fall since we first started dating 13 years ago, so for this trip Marisa had the great idea to go during the Stormy Weather Arts Festival, a weekend of art and wine at the town’s galleries. She got a great deal on a hotel, so we were able to stay 3 nights.

We went out on Friday and Saturday night, drinking wine and enjoying some interesting (and not-so-interesting) art. It was fascinating to see the different approaches the galleries had to their inventory. Generally speaking, I don’t think highly of the kind of art available at the coast, but I was genuinely surprised to see some paintings and sculptures I found interesting. It was good to see young artists with edgier style, instead of just the dowdy middle-brow fare usually for sale. I’ve had enough of sad Native Americans and paintings of Haystack Rock, and this year’s festival delivered new choices (not that we could afford any of them).

4. Hoops Tournament

For my birthday this year, I decided to throw myself the birthday party I’ve always wanted: a basketball tournament. I invited 18-20 guys to a gym I rented out, split them up into 4 teams, and played a big tournament. We had a clock and a scoreboard, and we played a round-robin schedule.
hoops tournament
I picked the teams, and tried to keep them even. I won’t lie: I stacked my own team. But honestly, I only picked guys with whom I enjoy playing, not just good players. My squad managed to win the whole thing. Happy birthday to me!

3. Brandon Roy Leads Miracle Comeback

When Brandon Roy led the Blazers back against the Mavericks in Game 4 of the first round of the NBA playoffs, it was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen in sports. At the lowest point, the Blazers were down 23 points, and Roy single-handedly brought the team back and eventually ahead.

I was watching the game at home, and Marisa can tell you, I went from down in the dumps to screaming and standing by the end. Just thinking about the comeback gives me chills.

2. Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Last year, it was Of Montreal. This year, it’s Neutral Milk Hotel.

I know, this album came out in 1998. But I only discovered it this year, so it counts, dammit! There are so many reasons that I shouldn’t like this album. The lyrics are reportedly based on the life story of Anne Frank, which sounds painfully pretentious. It’s sort of folky, and I generally don’t go for folk music. The singer, Jeff Mangum, has sort of a whiny, nasally voice.

And yet, I can’t stop listening to this album. The lyrics (about Anne Frank) are strange and beautiful. The melodies are gorgeous and catchy, and the raw-feeling production values are perfect. I think that the album makes you relate to something and someone in a situation seemingly impossible to really understand.

1. Paris and London

My wife would likely kill me if this wasn’t the number one thing on my list, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the best thing I did all year. Marisa and I took about two weeks during April to see Paris. The airfare was so much cheaper to go to London, so we decided to fly there and take the chunnel over to Paris.

I had never been to Paris, but Marisa had, and she was excited to show me the city. We rented an apartment for a week just half a mile from the Eiffel Tower, which was a great experience. We were able to take the Metro train wherever we needed, we ate cheese and drank wine everyday, and we saw a phenomenal amount of art and history.

I never thought I’d see Paris, and to actually get there was simply amazing.

There, that’s my list. What would be on yours?

Four on the Floor Hamburger Challenge

four on the floor hamburger challenge logo

UPDATE: PHOTO GALLERY ADDED AT BOTTOM OF POST!

Once every couple hundred years or so, the best and the brightest come together to collaborate, compete, and revel in the spirit of excellence. Saturday, June 25th, was one of those times. Or so I assume. I’m guessing somebody was doing something profound somewhere. My friends and I got together on that date to eat a lot of beef.

The premise is simple. Four hamburgers, four restaurants, four hours. We started with 18 people. Of those, nine were competing. Competing for what, you say? Mostly pride and satisfaction, but also for mastery over our bovine cousins. It’s like playing golf. Sure, you’d like to beat your buddies, what with their stupid shorts and condescending talk about “the plane of your swing,” but you’re mostly trying to improve yourself and master your own game.

The Legend

One evening, while talking about eating challenges, I wondered if I could invent my own. I thought that 4 burgers sounded achievable. My wife, Marisa, disagreed.

The Rules

It’s pretty straight-forward. Competitors had to eat the aforementioned hamburgers in the time alotted. They were allowed to remove one condiment of their choice, and were not required to eat fries or salad; this was all about the burgers. The rest of the gang was along to eat side dishes, drink beer, and laugh at our meat sweats.

The Restaurants

These were our stops, listed in the order in which we dominated their burgers. I selected these places because they all serve burgers, and they’re all walkable from my place.

1. Sckavone’s
4100 SE Division
Portland, OR
Website
2. Nick’s Coney Island
3746 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, OR
Website
3. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s
3702 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, OR
Website
4. Dick’s Kitchen
3312 Southeast Belmont Street
Portland, OR
Website

The Competitors

Meet the Gang

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Our Journey

I asked all of the competitors to write brief summaries of their burger experiences, and after a few weeks passed, most of them did. A special thanks goes out to Brad, who served as our videographer and photographer.

1. Sckavone’s

Sckavone's

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This dependable and delicious neighborhood restaurant has awesome burgers, and that’s why I chose it to lead off; I figured that I’d enjoy the first burger the most, so it might as well be a really good one. Normally, I’d get the BBQ burger, which has loads of BBQ sauce and onions on it, or the California Chevre burger, with avocado and chevre. Today, however, it was the house cheeseburger, with blue cheese. The burger was delicious, with a sturdy bun and a healthy slathering of cheese. I also consumed my one and only beer. I didn’t want to fill up with liquid. Golden, delicious liquid.

Dan
A juicy delicious burger. Nothing complicated, but it went down quick and easy. The veggies were crisp and the patty was perfectly medium-rare.

Micah
The waitress was hot, the beginning of the burger challenge tension was palpable, I added cucumber to my burger and it was good. I remember it being a clean classic burger and at my hungriest state, I was very satisfied.

Colin
Tasted substantial, well-seasoned, a good size and was cooked well.

Kelly
I actually thought this burger was the best of the day. It don’t think it was just because I was hungry and it was the first. The meat was of high quality and the bun melded together nicely with the meat. A pleasure to eat and the staff did a great job in bringing out the team’s burgers in a fast orderly pace. I will go back to this place, maybe even for another burger.

Mike
This was a great burger. Granted I was hungriest here, but the salad was good, and thanks to Colin for donating half his potato chips for an extra topping. It was a good thick burger that washed down well with 2 Mirror Ponds.
(editorial note – Mike ate all his sides at each stop, which most of us did not. He was an eating machine.)

Kendra
This was one of the most amazingly delicious hamburgers i have ever had – and I don’t think it was just because I hadn’t eaten anything else for 2 days then exercised excessively to the point of delirium in preparation for this most monumental of events. and of not getting fat because of it.

Jon-Michael
Sckavone’s was awesome! Maybe it was because I was starving since I hadn’t eaten anything since 8:30 am, and it was about 5 pm when we got our burgers. I put fries on my cheese burger, which made it quite tasty. I finally figured out who our waitress was, after thinking she was some lady I saw in a band playing bass. She was a lady in the huge poster on Burnside advertising for the Timbers Soccer Campaign. I didn’t recognize her without her chainsaw. The burger was really tasty, regardless. Well sized and delicious.


2. Nick’s Coney Island

Nick's Coney Island

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As the name implies, Nick’s Coney Island is best known for its Coney Dogs, not its burgers. That said, Marisa and I have had their burgers and sliders a number of times, always with pleasant results. The burger itself reminds me of the kind you’d make on your backyard grill, only a bit greasier. You could definitely tell it was fried on a stovetop, not flame-grilled. That takes it down a notch in my book. That said, I did enjoy the burger. It was unpretentious and delicious.

Dan
Slightly greasy and perhaps not perfectly cooked, but still tasty. I ended up with some kind of tangy sauce on mine that brought it from mediocre to decent.

Micah
I like the classic diner atmosphere and the pinball, but the service was slow and unorganized. For this burger, I added coleslaw, and despite the refreshingly crisp taste of my addition, I was not impressed with the rest. The burger seemed thrown together with little love.

Colin
Smaller than I was expecting. It wasn’t bad, but it was kind of overwhelmed by the toppings for me. Given its name, the place probably does a lot better with hot dogs.

Kelly
I thought this burger was a bit unremarkable, but when I smothered it in hot sauce it felt nice going down. Next time I go back to Nick’s I will stick with the coney cheese fries. I think I may have ate this one in four large bites. At this point I still felt fine, just another day eating more than my fair share of beef, of which I have had plenty.

Mike
The most surprising burger for me. Thought it might suck, but it was just greasy enough. I had to add the chips myself on this one, and for my only strategy, switched over to 2 Bombay Sapphire and Tonics. Had to save some space.

Kendra
A perfectly average hamburger – like the kind you’d get at a state fair, or a bar-b-q in the suburbs, or a slightly better than average state campus cafeteria line. If an alien landed and said “show me the epitome of the average American hamburger”, that’s probably where I’d take him. Plus it was the cheapest.

Jon-Michael
Nick’s Coney Island was good as well. I ordered their regular burger, to which I added their very creamy cole slaw on top of the meat patty. Pretty tasty. I was pretty par for the course as far as stomach stretching went at this point of the competition. I was worried this burger would be the worst of the four places we would go to, but it was far from it. Surprisingly very tasty. I also became aware of the awesome power that both Micah and Sasha have on the ol’ pinball machine. They were masters of the flippers and royalty of the “four-legged ball flicker contest”! Unreal!


3. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s

Back Stage

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This is one of my favorite hidden bars in Portland. Located right behind the Bagdad Theater (as the name implies), I can’t believe this place isn’t packed all the time. The ambiance is incredible, with its 4-story ceilings, beautiful bar, pool tables, and projection screen for sports. Plus, awesome McMenamin’s beer and the chain’s reliable food.

McMenamin’s burgers are generally best when you get one of their specialties, like the Communications Breakdown (covered in onions and peppers) or Dungeon Burger (mushrooms and swiss). Their regular burger is okay, if unspectacular. I do think they’ve improved it since last we met. The bun is now whole-wheat, which added a nice, hearty chew. It was after this burger that I felt like I might be getting into trouble. My stomach felt a bit bloated, but I was confident I could finish the challenge at our final stop.

Dan
Already fading at this point and struggling to enjoy the flavor of food. I think I ended up with blue cheese on this somehow, which I love, but I struggled to finish. The patty, as is often the case with McMenamin’s was a little dry, but still adequate for consumption.
(editorial note – Dan decided to quit here, but was talked back into the competition by Micah. Who says peer pressure is a bad thing?)

Micah
The group came in with low expectations but I enjoyed mine. This time, despite warning from my fellow competitors, I added on their famous tots and bit down on the sandwich with determination. The tots created the perfect texture change from the rest and I ignored my stomachs aches and pains.

Colin
The 1/3 pound size was appreciated and the pickles cut through well on this one. Overly greasy though, and that knocked it down a bit.

Kelly
I have never been a huge fan of McMenamin’s burgers, or their food in general. You know it is never going to be horrible but also never really that good. They tend to never ask how you want your burger cooked, and it always seems to come out overdone and a bit dry. This burger was no exception. I felt that I hit a bit of a wall half-way through this one. The last few bites were particularly unpleasant. My eating partner Kendra claimed that her burger had been infiltrated by horseradish, and that somebody must have played a trick on her because they knew she can’t stand horseradish. I chalked Kendra’s complaints up to paranoid over-eating-caused delusions, but Captain Nick confirmed the taste of horseradish as well. To be honest, I think there may have been a hint of horsey in the mustard.

Mike
No surprise this burger ranked last. As always with McMenamin’s, overpriced and flavorless. It probably didn’t help it that it was third in line, but no pity can be granted. Also with McMenamin’s, go for the beer, tolerate the food. The Ruby was the best part.

Kendra
There is only ONE food on earth that I cannot stand and that food is horseradish. Not only did this place surreptitiously sneak horseradish onto my burger, but they did it by mixing it into a “secret sauce” of grease and watery mustard which they injected into the bun. I have my suspicions that the waitress then wrung her dishrag onto it. . . But that might have just been mine cause I asked for happy hour prices 2 minutes after happy hour ended and I think that made her mad.

Jon-Michael
Bagdad Theatre… oooh boy. Worst. Burger. Ever. Soooo greasy I thought they used old tater tot oil as a condiment. There was a literal pool of grease under the burger and tots. Luke Warm as well. Disgusting. The patty was obviously previously frozen and machine shaped. I could taste the formaldehyde. It was that repulsive. I wolfed it down, just to get to the next round. I did add said Tater Tots inside my burger, just to keep the extra “Pat on the Back” points going. Man, that was a tough burger to get down, after having two already. I was still feeling pretty good though. I remember I had to do something similar when I was about 22. I went to a friends girlfriends house for Easter lunch/dinner. They were really excited about their Easter hams they had prepared. Apparently the person in charge of cooking the hams forgot to actually COOK the hams, as they came out nearly raw. We were all sitting around a table, where I had to eat the oinking ham, as to not insult them. I didn’t want to insult the purity of this burger challenge, so I did the same by eating this burger at the Bagdad Theatre. Let’s skip this place for next year, how about that?


4. Dick’s Kitchen

Dick's Kitchen

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I have to say, I picked Dick’s Kitchen because it looked good, and it was right where I wanted to end the night. I am really glad that this was our final stop of the night, however, because the food was amazing. The restaurant staff was nice enough to dedicate some tables to our enormous group at 7pm on a Saturday night, which is prime dinner time. I ordered the French Onion “Zizou” Burger, which was the only non-standard burger I got all night. It was fried with onions mashed into the patty, with a delicious gob of cheese melting on top. The burger was sensational; rich and flavorful, it was juicy without being overly greasy.

The owner, Dick, stopped by each of our tables to say “hello” and to explain his approach to cooking, which was really interesting. He has an agreement with a ranch that supplies all of his beef, and all of the cows we ate were grass-fed. Dick seemed like a nice guy, and he was clearly passionate about his burgers, which showed on the plate.

Dan
The only burger that felt gourmet, although I lacked the capacity to enjoy it in any way. The patty was clearly fresh ground and the flavor of the meat was perfect. I’ll go back sometime when I can properly appreciate it.
(editorial note – Despite urging from Micah to finish, Dan did quit in the middle of this burger, just a few bites short of burger immortality. As for actual immortality, he’ll likely die like the rest of us: with arteries clogged with beef.)

Micah
Despite my dangerously full belly, each bite gave me pleasure. The beef was just too pure and cooked to perfection. I added nothing to this one, party due to my fear of not finishing, but mostly because I didn’t need to do anything to distinguish it from the others.

Colin
I could really taste the beef quality. Good pairing of meat and bun. While it seemed a little odd to have a burger that wasn’t salted and/or peppered a bit before cooking, adding the pickles and pickled onions that came on the side made up for the lack of salt.

Kelly
The owner of this place is a Dick in name only. He was very friendly and went out of his way to talk about the high quality local beef that is used at his establishment. The burger looked good, but that’s were I have to stop with my praise. To be fair, I can’t say that my burger didn’t taste good objectively, but at that point my own subjective biophysical difficulties could not be ignored. Tasting, chewing, and swallowing another burger was just not what the doctor (or my insides) ordered. I SLOWLY got this one down and completed the challenge, but it wasn’t easy. I think Kendra and I were the final competitors to finish. Kendra put down a whole strawberry milkshake as well!

Mike
Although I’d like to denounce a burger that flaunts such froo-froo grass-fed nonsense, it was quite excellent. Especially being the last of the 4. It went down well with the Dry Hop Orange IPA. I was stuffed at this point, and couldn’t even attempt the cole slaw, though it looked excellent as well.

Kendra
This one’s kind of a guess. I have a feeling it was really good. Unfortunately, I was a little full by this point and everything was kind of a blur. Sitting by the kitchen and eating in 95% temperatures didn’t help, nor did the sight of the cooks with their abundance of body hair and shortages of hair nets. The strawberry milkshake was fantastic though!

Jon-Michael
Dick’s Kitchen was interesting. I got the lamb burger, but looking back I wish I had gotten the French Onion Soup burger, since it looked a little better than the one I got. I just can’t resist lamb when it’s available. It’s the curse I have to live with. Still pretty good burger. I added the “No-Fries” to it, thus completing my “Pat on the Back” extra credit points. I need to go back there and get the French Onion Soup burger to see what I missed. I do remember the owner of the place coming out and talking to us about how he runs the place. Seemed nice, but I got the feeling that I was being sold something. Perhaps more burgers for another time… He was wearing a shirt with Michael Jackson and E.T. on it, that read “Alien Vs. Predator”. That was pretty funny.

Summary

I had each person rank his/her favorites, and as you’ll see, Dick’s Kitchen was the winner. It gets moderately more interesting after that, though.*

Me
1. Dick’s Kitchen
2. Sckavone’s
3. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s
4. Nick’s Coney Island

Dan

1. Dick’s Kitchen
2. Sckavone’s
3. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s
4. Nick’s Coney Island

Micah
I highly enjoyed the event even-though I was extremely sluggish the next day. The group walking felt like a traveling circus and most establishments warmly welcomed us. I look forward to other food challenges in the future and would like thank the organizer, Nick Voll.
1. Dick’s Kitchen
2. Sckavone’s
3. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s
4. Nick’s Coney Island

Colin
1. Dick’s Kitchen
2. Sckavone’s
3. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s
4. Nick’s Coney Island

Kelly
1. Sckavone’s
2. Dick’s Kitchen
3. Nick’s Coney Island
4. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s

Mike
What a contest. Almost 24 hours later, I’m still not ready for another burger.
1. Dick’s Kitchen
2. Sckavone’s
3. Nick’s Coney Island
4. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s

Kendra
1. Dick’s Kitchen
2. Sckavone’s
3. Nick’s Coney Island
4. The Back Stage Bar

Jon-Michael
Afterwards, we went down to Swirl on Hawthorne to get some pallet-cleansing Frozen Yogurt, which hit the spot. After 4 burgers, I needed the variety. Delicious challenge! Looking forward to the sequel. Street Tacos? Waffles? Pitas? Kabobs? Pizza Slices?

*That was a lie. It was almost unanimous.
Nine competitors, eight winners. I’m glad Dan couldn’t finish, so that way we had at least one loser. It would have made me feel like less of a winner to not have beaten anybody. I know that’s not what I said at the beginning of this blog, but whatever.

Some competitors want extra credit for eating more, but I refuse to grant it. I will, however, give those who ate extra food a little bit of a shout-out. Mike, Jon-Michael, Kendra, Micah, and a couple of other people ate some of their side-dish options throughout the night. Most notably, Kendra drank a milkshake at Dick’s Kitchen, which looked so tasty we went back on the 4th of July to get one for ourselves (it was awesome). I will also give an approving head-nod to Mike and Jon-Michael for eating frozen yogurt at Swirl immediately after the competition.

I would definitely do this again, but at four new restaurants. I was really, really full, but I had fun, and I love hamburgers. There was talk of a taco or wing-eating competition later this summer, but we’ll have to see. I’m not sure if my arteries will be clear by then.

Summer Playlist

Summer has finally arrived in Oregon, and to celebrate, I’ve put together a couple of summer playlists. This first one is an uptempo mix, with some fun mash-ups (courtesy of my sister Katie) and a few other classics mixed in.

Flash required

tracklist

  • 1. The Bravery – Swollen Summer
  • 2. Divide & Kreate – Crazy in the Deep (Gnarls Barkley vs. Adele)
  • 3. DJ Morgoth – Ace of Spades Feels Good (Motorhead vs. Gorillaz)
  • 4. Young the Giant – My Body
  • 5. Electric Light Orchestra – Mr. Blue Sky
  • 6. New Radicals – You Get What You Give
  • 7. Portugal the Man – People Say
  • 8. Los Campesinos – You, Me , Dancing
  • 9. Plastic Bertrand – Ca Plane Pour Moi
  • 10. Sly & the Family Stone – I Wanna Take You Higher
  • 11. Rare Earth – I Just Wanna Celebrate (Motown Remix)
  • 12. De La Soul – A Roller Skating Jam Called Saturdays
  • 13. Go Home Productions – Mick ‘n’ Carly (Rolling Stones vs. Carly Simon)
  • 14. Weezer – Island in the Sun
  • 15. Chad & Jeremy – A Summer Song

Top 10 Engaging Movies of All-Time

This isn’t as cut and dry as my previous list, The Top 10 Comedies of All-Time, but it makes sense, if you bear with me. The idea behind this list is that certain movies grab you, right from the start, and don’t let go until the end. When I’m in a movie like this, I’ve often had the realization that I’ve been completely lost in the movie for an hour. Afterwards, I feel like I’ve woken up from a dream of sorts.

Another signal that a movie belongs in this category is when it lingers in my mind long after I’ve seen it; I want to discuss it with my friends and wife, or it keeps me up while I’m trying to sleep.

These movies aren’t always my favorites; in fact, some of them I’m not sure I even like that much. The thing that they all have in common is their ability to spark an emotional response of some sort in me. The emotion isn’t always consistent. That is to say, they’re not all sad movies or something. But they all change my mood in some way when I see them.

10 – Black Swan

Director: Darren Aronofsky

I had a really tough time deciding which Darren Aronofsky film I’d pick for this list. All of his movies, from Pi to The Wrestler and everyone in-between, are engrossing. But none of them made me ponder their meaning and importance more than Black Swan. Frankly, I don’t think I even like it. But I can’t stop thinking about it. Natalie Portman is incredible, and Aronofsky’s tone is so confrontational that I felt like I could never really settle in. I couldn’t wait for the movie to end, just so the tension would be relieved, and poor Natalie could be put out of her misery.

9 – Lost in Translation

Director: Sofia Coppola

Bill Murray has mastered the art of the mopey, regretful, ironically funny older gentleman. Nowhere is it on better display than here. Sure, he was great in Rushmore and The Life Aquatic (which I’ll get to down the list), but this is his crowning melancholy moment. Sofia Coppola and Murray were born to work together, between her “mood as plot” directing style and his latter-day tendency to choose these kinds of roles. I realize that the above sentences don’t sound like a glowing review, but I don’t mean them negatively. I think that Coppola largely succeeds with her films because of her commitment to her subtle aesthetic. Even Somewhere, which was by no means a great movie, skated by on its style.

But here, in this movie, Coppola combines her ever-present theme of personal drift with an intriguing idea: that two people could find each other without knowing they were looking. The blossoming friendship between Murray and Scarlett Johanssen’s characters felt organic and compellling, and the kiss they shared at the end seem like exactly enough. They met, they connected, they parted, and it meant something to them.

8 – Boys Don’t Cry

Director: Kimberly Peirce

I have seen Boys Don’t Cry twice, which is exactly one time more than I should have seen it. This is one of the most brutal movies I’ve ever seen, on par with American History X. It’s bizarre, with this movie, because I knew going into it exactly how it would end. Most of us did, as it was based on a notorious true story. Yet, as the movie went along, a sense of dread and “what is going to happen” built up, thanks to great storytelling. It’s like a balloon slowly inflating. You know it’s going to pop at some point, but you don’t know when, and the tension is unbearable.

7 – Quiz Show

Director: Robert Redford

This movie does what Boys Don’t Cry did, but in a more sympathetic way. Robert Redford does a masterful job in Quiz Show of bringing us three compelling characters destined to collide at the end of the movie. Charles Van Doren did a really shady thing, and is by no means an admirable person, but as portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, he’s way more sympathetic than he has any right to be. You can kind of see why: he’s living in the shadow of his father and needs validation as his own man. It’s a credit to Fiennes and Redford that you don’t necessarily want this to end badly for Van Doren, even though you know it must.

The other two characters I mentioned are Dick Goodwin (played by Rob Morrow) and Herbert Stempel (played by John Turturro), who for their faults, were still likeable in their own way. Well, maybe not Stempel, but you understood why he was so angry. It’s tough to watch almost at the end, when the three men collide at the Congressional hearing. You don’t really want anyone to lose, even though everyone kind of does.

6 – The Life Aquatic

Director: Wes Anderson

Yeah, I know, I’m a sucker for Wes Anderson. Sue me.

This was, I believe, his first movie without Owen Wilson as a co-writer, and the loss of his comic voice was notable. Although I still think this movie is quite funny in parts, Anderson’s diminished desire to make us laugh allows him to explore his characters’ existential dilemmas in a more meaningful way than in his previous films.

When -spoiler alert (I felt like I had to put that in for your film nerd types) – Ned dies near the end, Anderson has earned our sorrow. The development of both Ned and Steve as complex people who need each other to fill a void feels real; you can feel the moment Steve deflates and accepts Ned as his son, not just in name, but as a part of him. Likewise, Ned’s eagerness to have a real father, even a terrible one like Steve, feels real. Owen Wilson’s performance in this movie alone makes me hopeful he’ll find his way out of the comedy gutter he’s in and attempt something more meaningful again.

5 – Saving Private Ryan

Director: Steven Speilberg

Saving Private Ryan was a revelation to me for two reasons. First, as most people realized, it was an incredible movie, and its famous opening fight sequence was a heart-stopper. Secondly, it made me realize that war films could have real value, if they made the soldiers real people instead of one-dimensional plot elements. This movie illustrated to me that the soldiers who served in WWII were not always old men, but were once young people who had a lot in common with me. I am writing this from my own experience, not as an objective statement, and when this movie came out, I had yet to see an emotionally engaging war movie. I know that there are exceptions from before this movie, but I had not seen them. So it was genuinely surprising and emotionally engaging for me to see these characters as real people and not archetypical “brave” soldiers. They were brave, certainly, but that wasn’t their only characteristic.

This movie spawned the Band of Brother miniseries, which, to me, is even better. However, since this is a movie list, Saving Private Ryan gets the nod.

4 – The Dark Knight

Director: Christopher Nolan

We saw The Dark Knight in the theater, along with another couple, Tyson and Corinne. After sitting in a completely silent, enraptured movie theater (and how often does that happen? No idiots on cell phones? No crying babies?), we retreated to Stanford’s for late-night happy hour and a chance to talk. Instead of catching up on our lives and other boring stuff, we annoyed the living crap out of our server by discussing every moment of the film in great detail.

Obviously, Heath Ledger is the star, and captures every eye when he’s onscreen, but it’s fantastic for so many other reasons. I’ve been a huge Nolan fan since Memento, and nowhere is he in greater control of mood and pace than here. I have often railed against Meet the Parents as a shrill, one-note comedy, one that makes the viewer tense without ever releasing the tension. If it were funny, it might have done that, but it wasn’t. What I’m getting at here is that The Dark Knight does the exact thing. However, instead of waiting for a punchline that never comes, I draw further and further into the movie until the end, only then exhaling and trying to piece together what I have just seen.

3 – City of God

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Partially due to its all-unknown cast, but mostly because of incredible filmmaking, this movie made me forget, almost instantly, that it was in fact a work of fiction; I had to remind myself at the end of the film that these crazy Brazilian kids were actors. The film was shot in a shaky, documentary-style fashion, necessitated I’m sure by budgetary concerns, but also a desire by director Fernando Meirelles to make as gritty a film as possible. We would see a similar, gripping cinematic flair in Meirelles’s next film, The Constant Gardener, which almost made me cry, and almost made this list.

2 – V for Vendetta

Director: The Wachowski Brothers

Is this a perfect movie? No. Does it completely envelope you? Yes. For me anyway.

The first time I watched this movie was at my friend Stanley’s house, on DVD, a long time ago. He was my only friend at the time with a bigscreen HDTV (ah, the olden days…) and surround sound. As I often do when watching a movie, I was drinking a beer. At some point, I had drank all the beer, and was physically unable to get up and get another. If that’s not powerful anecdotal evidence, I don’t know what is.

As for the movie itself, it hits all the right notes. It’s dark and intense, mysterious and suspenseful. The sequence where Natalie Portman’s character is imprisoned is just wrenching, and beautifully done. The cinematography is just gorgeous, and it nicely grounds the fantastic elements of the story with (relatively) realistic moments and sets.

I think anyone can relate to the theme of governmental control and fear of fascism, and I think it plays it just right. Obviously, there are a lot of parallels between this movie and our current Patriot Act era, but I’ll leave that to you to discuss among yourselves. I find it amazing that the filmmakers force us in the end to root for a man who in any, ANY, circumstance would rightly be considered a terrorist. A quick aside – the people who wrote the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot realize that Mel’s character was not, in fact, a patriot, right? I mean, he’s leading a rebellion, and the U.S. hadn’t even formed yet. To whom exactly is he patriotic? I mean, really, he’s a lawbreaker and terrorist against the government. Sure, he ended up on the right side, but still.

1 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Director: Michel Gondry

I think that anyone who has had their heart broken can relate to this movie, as I did. Sure, it was a long time ago, since Marisa and I have been together for a long time, but I still remember what it feels like. I think it’s amazing that while the movie centers around this crazy technology that lets people into your head, the movie is still just about how these characters feel about one another.

I also like the idea of memory as partial, or incomplete. We remember the most important parts of our lives, and the details wash away. Christopher Nolan got at this idea in Inception. He was talking about dreams, and how our minds forgive the nonsensical or unrealistic elements of our dreams and accept them as reality. I think we do the same with memories. We forgive and forget the parts that we don’t like to create an ideal moment that we can reflect on lovingly later on.

I think that Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman also do a good job at showing the small cracks that break up couples. I’d say most failed relationships stem from a series of small slights, not a momentous betrayal, like a cheating spouse. When you’ve broken up with someone, it’s often tough to point to one moment as THE moment it happened; rather, the breakup started a long time ago when the couple started taking each other for granted, as Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet do in Eternal Sushine of the Spotless Mind.

Honorable Mention

The Constant Gardener
Requiem For a Dream
Fight Club
Sin City
Being John Malkovich
American History X
Rosemary’s Baby

Top 10 Comedies of All-Time

My friends and I had a long conversation on New Year’s Eve about our favorite comedies of all time. It was interesting to see what each of us consider essential comedies; one man’s clever is another man’s corny.  So, as you can see, I made a list of my top ten.  I’m not trying to define the greatest comedies ever, I am simply  trying to explain which mean the most to me personally.

Criteria

  • Memorability: Does the movie have quotable lines? Do you bring the movie up in conversations, because it reminds you of real-life situations?
  • Watchability: Can the movie we watched over and over again? This isn’t necessarily a make-or-break criterion, but it certainly plays a role. Some movies get better on repeat viewing, as the layers of the jokes reveal themselves to you. Some movies get worse.
  • How hard did it make me laugh the first time I saw it?: Some movies make me howl out loud when I see them, while others are more of a slow build. Ultimately, a truly great comedy makes you laugh out loud, not just smile to yourself.
  • What is the story/funny ratio?: Ultimately the best comedies have a strong story with well-drawn characters and plot lines, while also being hilarious. However, the ratio can swing away from character and plot and still succeed, if the movie is incredibly funny. Likewise, it’s easier to excuse a movie with fewer jokes if its plot is engaging.
  • What does the movie mean to you?: The list I’ve prepared includes some movies my wife insists aren’t that funny, and I’ve realized that she might be right. But to me, on a personal level, they will always be great, because I first saw them when I as a kid. As an adult, I still appreciate them, but my judgment on their quality is clouded by sentimentality.

I mulled over all these elements, and have settled on my top ten comedies of all time. Here they are:

T-10. Borat and Spaceballs

Is it a cop-out to have a tie for number 10, thereby allowing me to choose 11 movies for my top 10 list? Yes. But it’s my list, so back off.
Borat falls into the category of “laughed hysterically the first time I saw it, but lost a lot of luster on repeat viewing.” That said, I have never laughed harder in a movie theater, or been in one that was more raucous. The shock value of that movie is obviously through the roof. Sacha Baron-Cohen was brilliant in this movie, and his follow-up, Bruno, showed how difficult a movie like this is to pull off. Where Borat gave me a pleasant “what will happen next” feeling, punctuated by laughter, Bruno left me feeling tense and unsatisfied.

Best Quote: “Her vazhïn hang like sleeve of wizard’s robe.”

IMDB Page

Mel Brooks, to me, has made about 4 classic American comedies: The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and Spaceballs. Although I know many of you might argue that the last one doesn’t belong, I realized today that it’s my favorite among them.

First, it’s one of those movies that I adored as a kid. But watching it again as an adult, I still laugh. Bill Pullman is great in it, and it’s one of Rick Moranis’s best performances. I’m a Star Wars fan, and I like that Spaceballs pokes fun at the ridiculousness of those movies.

What really sold it for me is that Spaceballs has one of the greatest commitments to a joke in movie history. It named the second-in-command bad guy “Colonel Sanders,” which is smile-worthy in and of itself. That’s not the joke, however. Halfway through the movie, Dark Helmet commands the Colonel to put the ship into Ludicrous Speed, which is faster than light speed. Colonel Sanders is clearly afraid, so Dark Helmet taunts him, “What’s the matter Colonel Sanders? Chicken?” This line gets me to laugh every time.

Best Quote: See above

IMDB Page

9. Office Space

Office Space is an interesting case, because I actually didn’t really like it the first time I saw it. I think the reason was that I was 18 and had never really had a job.

It really clicked for me the second time I saw it. The satire of the workplace is spot-on, and the jabs at restaurant chains and mega-apartment complexes ring true. Although there’s lots of great acting, the performances by Ron Livingston and David Hermann in particular really stand out. That movie, on top of its great jokes, also does a fabulous job of building momentum. At heart, it’s a heist movie. A really, really funny heist movie.

Best Quote: “I’m thinking I might take that new chick from Logistics. If things go well I might be showing her my O-face. ‘Oh… Oh… Oh!’ You know what I’m talkin’ about. ‘Oh!'”

IMDB Page

8. Wet Hot American Summer

This little-seen gem is one of those movies that grows infinitely more funny on repeated viewings. It’s a satire of those 80’s summer camp movies, written and directed by Stella, the hilarious comedy troupe comprised of Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, and David Wain. It also stars Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks (before they blew up), Janeane Garafalo, Molly Shannon, and David Hyde Pierce. The rest of the cast is awesome, too. You’ve seen most of them in other, more well-known movies. They’re the “oh, it’s that guy! I love him!” kind of actors.

The comedy is wry and gentle, generally coming from clever interactions between the various characters. The plot is more or less irrelevant, which works out just fine. Watch it once and chuckle. Watch it again and laugh out loud.

Best Quote: “If you wanna smear mud on your ass, smear mud on your ass – just be honest about it. Look, Gene, I’ve never told anyone this before, but I can suck my own dick, and I do it a lot.”

IMDB Page

7. Caddyshack

What can you say about Caddyshack that hasn’t been said a thousand times? It’s essentially a terrible, formulaic teen sex comedy… until you factor in three comedic actors at the height of their power. Chevy Chase, Ted Knight, and Bill Murray take what should have been instantly forgettable and make it memorable. Don’t forget Rodney Dangerfield, either.

It’s another one of those movies where the plot is more of a hindrance than help. I don’t give a damn about Danny and his inexplicably Scottish girlfriend (I think her dad is the groundskeeper, who is Scottish, but that’s never really explained).

There are so many reasons this movie shouldn’t work, but it does. I think that the perfectly hammy performances by Knight and Dangerfield are balanced out by Murray and Chase’s underplayed brilliance, giving the movie a blend of slapstick and wordplay that’s tough to resist. Caddyshack is a lot like Murray or Chase: it gets by on confidence and charm.

Best Quote: “Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac… It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole! “

IMDB Page

6. That Thing You Do!

Laugh at me if you will, but I find this movie delightful. It’s funny, engaging, romantic, and a little exciting. Tom Hanks is a great comedic actor, even though he’s never starred in a really great comedy. To make amends, he wrote and directed That Thing You Do!, which is consistently funny. Sure, he has a supporting part in the movie, but the focus is on the cleverly-titled Oneders (Wonders), who live up to their name as one-hit wonders.

This is truly an ensemble piece, and the cast members all do a good job at playing their parts. The humor in this movie generally comes from within realistic situations, which makes the jokes feel natural. I love how the movie avoids the whole set-up/punchline dynamic when it can. Steve Zahn really shines as the wiseguy drummer. This was the first time I ever saw Zahn, and I think he always brightens up whatever he’s in with his witty delivery.

Best Quote: “Oh, I’m not here with these fellas. I’ve got a pig in competition over at the livestock pavilion, and I am going to win that blue ribbon!”

IMDB Page

5. Hot Fuzz!

Simon Pegg is one of my favorite comedic actors, and I think this is his best movie. Don’t get me wrong, Shaun of the Dead is great, but I think that Hot Fuzz! has more laughs. I love the action-comedy spoof at play, and while that is a source for really funny stuff, the best jokes in Hot Fuzz! come in-between the action, as the colorful characters interact.

Best Quote: “If we don’t come down hard on these clowns, we are going to be up to our *balls* in jugglers! “

IMDB Page

I think that the film works amazingly well as both an action-comedy, and as a spoof of them.

4. This is Spinal Tap

As I pondered this list, I thought a lot about the Christopher Guest mockumentaries, and where I would rank them among my favorites. I nearly included Waiting for Guffman on the list, but I just couldn’t do it. I love that movie, and most of his others, but none of them are quite as good as This is Spinal Tap. Of course, Spinal Tap is a Rob Reiner film, not a Guest film, but they share sensibilities and it’s pretty obvious that Guest had a big hand in making Spinal Tap.

Spinal Tap is a shining example of how strong performances can outweigh light plots, especially in comedy. As a viewer, I feel like the actors are having fun, and it’s contagious. They are sharp, yet silly. The plot elements introduced throughout the movie, such as the black album cover or the arrival of Jeanine, feel less like major shifts in the movie than new opportunities for the band members to joke around. It’s a risky move, as weak performances could have stopped the movie in its tracks. It’s a credit to Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer that the film continues to move along at such a hilarious clip.

Best Quote: “But this one goes to 11!”

IMDB Page

3. Rushmore

It was hard to decide which Wes Anderson film to put in this list. Although The Royal Tenenbaums is his most accessible comedy, Rushmore is always the winner to me. One could make an argument that his films don’t belong on this list at all, as they all share a bittersweet quality that could place them in a different category altogether. I disagree.

Yes, Wes Anderson’s movies all contain sadness, but I think that emotional resonance enhances the comedy. Would Max’s outburst at the nurse at the restaurant be nearly as funny if he wasn’t lovesick?

Another reason I rate Rushmore so high is purely sentimental: this was one of the first movies Marisa and I saw together when we first started dating, all the way back in 1998.

Best Quote: “These are O.R. scrubs.” “Oh, are they?”

IMDB Page

2. Anchorman

I will admit, part of the appeal of Anchorman to me is its setting. I worked in TV news for several years, and it’s fun to see my industry made fun of in such an ingratiating way. But really, this movie is all about the undeniably charm and smarm of Will Ferrell. Arguably his funniest film, Anchorman is a fine example of how a movie can sort of amble along plotlessly for long stretches of time, and still keep viewers engaged.

The movie has less of a plot than a series of sketches strung together, but it all works based on the performances by the cast. Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Christina Applegate, and David Koechner are quote machines.

I saw Anchorman with a group of news coworkers in the theater after we got done doing the morning show, at the first matinee time of the day. We laughed so hard, some of us were crying. The movie maintains its enjoyability after the first watch, as the layers of silliness reveal themselves on repeat viewing.

Best Quote: “Look, the most beautiful rainbow ever!” “Do me on it!”

IMDB Page

1. Ghost Busters

This movie really has it working on all cylinders for me. It has a funny and compelling script, great actors at the height of their comedic powers, quotable lines galore, and it also happened to come out when I was a kid, which means it has that extra something to put it over the hump to the number one spot.

Ghost Busters is the best of the dozens of action-comedy movies that began coming out in the 80’s. You can make an argument for Beverly Hills Cop, Bad Boys or other similar movies, but none of them are as truly funny as Ghost Busters. Jokes in other action-comedies have a tendency to be punctuation marks to action sequences, something the writer threw in there to lighten up the fact someone was killed. The humor in Ghost Busters comes from both situation and personality, which makes it more engaging; you feel like the characters are funny, yet real people.

Unlike those other action-comedies, the jokes don’t stop in the middle of the big action set pieces. When the Staypuft Marshmallow Man is bearing down on our heroes, the movie remains funny.

Ultimately however, the thing that gets me about Ghost Busters is the way the characters all feel fully developed. None of them feel solely like a plot device. For example, Dana and Louis, who live in the haunted apartment building, could just be chess pieces to move the movie forward. But the movie gives you flashes of their lives and forces you to invest in them just a little. And if you care about the minor characters as well as the main ones, the movie is a success.

Oh, and it’s really funny, start to finish.

Best Quote: “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!”

IMDB Page

The Also-Rans

  • Blazing Saddles
  • Major League
  • Naked Gun
  • Liar Liar
  • Dumb and Dumber
  • Animal House
  • Happy Gilmore
  • Swingers
  • Ruthless People
  • Three Amigos
  • High Fidelity
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • 40-Year-Old Virgin
  • Waiting for Guffman
  • Groundhog Day
  • The Princess Bride
  • Semi-Pro
  • Old School
  • South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
  • Team America: World Police

Notes

I can hear you nerds now. “No Monty Python? The Holy Grail is so great!” Sorry. I like that movie, and I like Monty Python, but I don’t think that it has aged particularly well. That was a problem with lots of movies I considered. Comedy is such an ethereal thing. What’s funny now may not be funny in 10 years. That’s why most of the movies I chose were made in the last 20 years. Every time I see a list like this, they always include Some Like it Hot or The Apartment or other old movies. I have seen them, but I don’t think they translate to our age. I loved Duck Soup and other Marx Brothers movies when I was a kid, but they just don’t do it for me anymore.

I would love to get some feedback on this blog. What do you think about my list? What are your top ten comedies?

2010: Greatest Year Ever?

I will be the first to admit that 2010 had a lot of ups and downs. For a lot of people out there, there were more downs than ups. For me, however, a year that started in a low place ended on a high, and some awesome things happened this year. Together, this might mean that 2010 was the greatest year of my life.

I started the year six-months into what would end up being a year-long unemployment streak. I wasn’t sure what kind of work to seek, or whether I would ever have a job again. None of the PR jobs I applied for called me back, not one. I didn’t think I wanted to work in TV ever again, and I didn’t have enough experience in web design to get a full-time job.

With that in mind, I went back to school at PCC, to get a certificate in Web Design and Development. I already had it 1/3 of the way done, so I figured I would finish it while I job-searched.

Right as I finished the certificate, I got an email from my friend Carl, with whom I used to work at KATU. He told me about a job producing TV for Vancouver Public Schools. He has some friends in the district, so I used his name in the cover letter. I was flabbergasted when they actually called me, just a few days after I sent in my materials. After a year’s worth of applications, dozens of them, this was the first time anybody actually called me back. The best I had done before was an email or letter.

I interviewed later that week, then interviewed twice more in the next 7 days. I was offered the job immediately after my final interview. I went from deeply unemployed to a dream job in the span of 8 days.

I call it a dream job because I genuinely feel that way. Unless the Trail Blazers come looking for a backup shooting guard, I can’t imagine a job I would enjoy more than this one. I get to do all of the fun stuff in video production, with almost none of the headaches that made me hate my last job.

I write stories, shoot video, serve as a reporter, interview people, edit video, and plan our programming. I got to shoot and direct a short documentary this year, which was a great experience. I am in the middle now of editing my first reality-style show, which is a lot of fun. I produced a half-hour red carpet-style special from a big event. I also feel like I’m making a difference for once; the work I do supports education, which is meaningful to me.

Another perk of my new job is that I get to play full-court basketball twice a week at lunch. There’s a gym about 100 feet from my office door, and I joined a group that plays on Wednesdays and Fridays. Marisa teases me that I love basketball more than anything, and she’s almost right.

I also began my side business, web design, in earnest this year. I built three sites for clients this year, although only one of them is fully online at the moment. The others are done, but are waiting for the clients to pull the trigger. It has been a fun outlet for me creatively to build these sites, and the extra money has been nice, too.

The most important thing that happened to me this year wasn’t a sudden event, like getting a job or earning an educational degree. Simply put, I feel like I’ve somehow managed to grow even closer to my wife, Marisa. We’ve been together for 12 years now, but it seems like we grow closer with every passing day. I hear comedians complain about how married people get sick of each other after a couple of years, but that isn’t happening with us. I feel excited to come home to see her every day.

Alright, now that the mushy part is over, here are a few other highlights from 2010: