S&R Movie Night – Movies we watch so often that we’ve worn out not just the movie, but the player too

Most people have favorite movies. You may remember one fondly because it was your first date with your partner, or because made you laugh so hard that you spewed beer out your nose, or even a movie that was so painful to watch that you loved it even as you swore you’d never watch it again. But some of us – I’d hazard to guess most of us, in fact – have a few movies that we’ve watched over and over and over again, obsessively even, watching for every nuance and searching for every easter egg and hunting down every reference to other films and works of art in the film.

Below I’ve collected a list of some of S&R’s favorites, starting with my own. Please share your own favorites in the comments as well.

Brian Angliss
There are dozens of movies that I’ve seen between five and 10 times, but there are only a few that I’ve watched so many times that I consider them staples of my viewing pleasure. I’d guess that every one of the movies below is something I’ve watched at least 10 times, and the top of the list is something I’ve watched between 50 and 100 times since I first watched it as a kid. And that doesn’t include all the times I’ve replayed nearly the whole thing in my head.

My top 5, roughly in order:

  • Johnny Dangerously – this movie isn’t the best thing out there by a long shot, but damn it’s funny. I watched it the first time when I was a young teen, and for a while there I watched it about once a week for two or three years in a row. I now know it so well that I can watch for all the anachronisms that are strictly visual. And at this point I laugh before all the jokes.
  • The Princess Bride – “I admit it, you are better than I am…” “‘Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line'” “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Need I say more?
  • The Incredibles – The only reason I haven’t seen this movie more often than The Princess Bride is because it came out in 2004, rather than 1987. I still get chills watching the scene when Helen/Elastigirl is telling Dash and Violet that…, well, here’s the exact lines:

    Remember the bad guys on the shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings? Well, these guys aren’t like those guys. They won’t exercise restraint because you are children. They will kill you if they get the chance. Do not give them that chance.

    That’s when this movie went from being reasonably standard Disney/Pixar fare into greatness.

  • The Matrix – This movie was mindblowing when it came it out, both intellectually and visually. It’s too bad that the Wachowski brothers just about ruined the franchise with Reloaded and Revolutions, which couldn’t live up to the standard set by the original. I suppose that some could view the difference between the original and the sequels in much the same was as Alien vs. Aliens – so different as to be almost incomparable. But it can be pulled off – witness Kill Bill 1 and 2, for example. The Wachowskis just couldn’t do it. These days I just pretend that the sequels never happened.
  • Silverado or Ghostbusters – I’ve seen both of these movies about the same number of times, so I’ll put them in as a tie for 5th place. Silverado is just about the archetypal western movie, but with enough humor that it simply refuses to take itself too seriously. As for Ghostbusters, it’s a classic that features a bunch of scientists saving the world because they know more than anyone else about what’s going to happen (more or less). Engineers, scientists, unlicensed particle accelerators, and don’t cross the streams – what’s not to love about this movie?

I’ve watched all of the following movies at least ten times, and in some cases many more than 10 – just not enough to get into my top 5. And I’ve left out all the movies that my kids have made me watch WAY more times than I would have voluntarily.

The Andromeda Strain, Back to the Future, Ben Hur, El Dorado, Empire Strikes Back, Fantasia, Ice Pirates, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Kung Fu Panda, Men in Black, Mulan, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Quiet Man, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi, Spaceballs, Star Trek The Motion Picture, Star Trek 2 – The Wrath of Kahn, Star Trek 4 – The Voyage Home, Star Wars, The Sting

Denny Wilkins
I have watched Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension more than 100 times because it is so deliciously camp. It has a stellar cast – Peter Weller, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, Rosalind Cash, Robert Ito, and so many more.

But the movie is filled with extraordinary sight gags. Even now, after a few decades of watching it, I see more. If you want an evening of fun, get some beer and close friends, and watch it at least twice.

Cat White
Movie I’ll admit to watching over and over (even though I shouldn’t): Pretty Woman. Yes, it’s completely unrealistic. But it was my first Richard Gere movie. Of course now I look at his character and think “Bain Capital.” The scenes that really caught me were the ones in the snooty dress shop. First when she was told there was nothing for her and to “please leave.” And then when she returns, “Remember me? I was in here yesterday and you wouldn’t sell me anything. I bet you work on commission. Big mistake. Huge. I have to go shopping.” The fashion montage and the pink Jackie O suit are wonderful.

Movies I haven’t counted, but will watch at the drop of a hat: Casablanca; Now, Voyager; All About Eve; Star Wars (any); Indiana Jones (mostly Raiders); Lord of the Rings; The Third Man; African Queen; Independence Day; Twister; The Big Sleep; Some Like It Hot; Double Indemnity.

I love great old movies–I’ll watch almost any BW film on TCM. When I was working on the list, I noticed a Humphrey Bogart theme–I could also have added The Maltese Falcon and Sabrina. By the same token, I could have Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn themes.

For that matter, some movies (like Pretty Woman), I love for the costumes. Audrey Hepburn’s black and white Givenchy ballgown in Sabrina. Bette Davis’ “coming out” ensemble in Now, Voyager. Marilyn Monroe’s “jello on springs” high-collared coat and cloche hat in Some Like It Hot. Anything worn by the Rohirin in Lord of the Rings (Shield Maiden of Rohan, anyone?). Vivien Leigh’s red velvet scandalous woman gown that she wore to Ashley’s birthday party (and you only get to see it in glimpses–pity).

Speaking of Gone With the Wind–I used to obsess over that movie. I’ll still watch it. But its influence on me when I was younger was huge. Scarlett was the first character I could relate to in her dislike of society’s expectations for female behavior and her later “bad behavior” where the rules were concerned. The book (and movie) woke me up to the fact that there are rules.

Alex Polombo
No particular count, but I know that the original Star Wars trilogy and the Rocky Horror Picture Show (I know, I know) are up there.

Otherwise
Star Wars seven times just at the theater. The Blues Brothers. Bananas.

Sam Smith
I don’t watch movies over and over for the most part, although there are a few exceptions.

Blade Runner: I don’t honestly know how many times I have watched the various incarnations of this one, but dozens at least. The Final Cut (and yes, I do have the collector’s edition with all the versions) may be the best film I’ve ever seen. Yes, BR is in some respects a hot mess – that’s how Scott seems to like doing things at times – but this version fixes all the technical issues and remasters it into an absolute tour de force.

Animal House: It’s even funnier if you’ve been in a fraternity. How many times have I watched it? I have no idea. I’m not through with it, either.

Caddyshack: Maybe the funniest movie I have ever seen. I’ve seen it in its entirety, or at least watched pieces of it, dozens of times. And it just never stops being funny. Also, the most quotable flick (at least among golfers) in history.

Jim Booth
Films I’ve seen over 250 times:
It’s a Wonderful Life; Frankenstein; Dracula (James Whale, Tod Browning versions from 30’s, of course);

Films I’ve seen over 100 times:
Le Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows); Shane; A Christmas Story; Young Frankenstein;

Films I’ve seen over 50 times:
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Animal House; Caddy Shack; A River Runs Through It; Citizen Kane; Battleship Potemkin….

Remember, I taught film for many years, so….

Frank Balsinger
My love of horror stated in my early childhood. For one thing, Dad collected what (to me) were gigantic plastic, hand-painted movie monster figures. As I think back on it, I’d guess they were maybe 8” high. To me, that was gigantic. I didn’t always the know story behind the figure, at least not in any really informed kind of way, so playing with them (on those very rare and precious occasions) was an exercise in pure imagination barely informed by any standard sense of the monsters. Vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein (not his monster…I learned that wrong), Creature from the Black Lagoon (the what?…I had no idea), Phantom of the Opera (I had less than no idea), these all behaved however I thought they should. Usually they were the good guys.

Dad also had a thing for going to the drive in theatre, especially when there were scary movies. As a result, I did learn about the monsters over time, and with many different variations. Of course, we weren’t limited to just those five. I saw The Exorcist for the first time when I was five. From slightly before that time until I was nine I must have seen just about every monster movie that came out.

Then there were Sunday mornings. While other stations were playing talk shows (blah, blah, blah) and preachers (blah, blah, blah), and nobody had cartoons, there was one station that started a scary movie/creature feature double feature at 8 AM.

I think, thanks to that early experience, horror is like a comfort zone for me. The horror movies I listed make me feel at home. The other movies, and I will seriously need to go through everyone else’s list to cannibalize them for ones that didn’t come to mind, tickle my fancy in different ways that are either fun to go back to again and again or set my mind in motion in a way that’s worth going back to again and again.

No particular count, but there are quite a few I’ve watched a good many times. The Exorcist, The Omen, Nightmare on Elm Street, the Evil Dead trilogy, Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Star Wars, Wizards, Light Years, Forbidden Zone, A Clockwork Orange, Fight Club, Snatch, Love & a .45, Pulp Fiction, Killing Zoe, Kill Bill I/II, and that’s just the ones off the top if my head. Can’t say as I’ve seen anything 50 or a hundred times, but there’s plenty of life left.

HobbyWeek: ShadowRun, Rifts, and Dungeons & Dragons – oh my!

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (TSR)

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (TSR)

I started playing role-playing games (RPGs) when I was in 4th or 5th grade. It was the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set pictured here, actually, complete with crappy plastic dice that turned to powder in the sun. I don’t remember where I got it, whether it was a gift from my high school-aged sister (who was playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons [AD&D] at the time) in order to get me to stop watching her game all the time or if I saved up my allowance or what. At this point it hardly matters, because that basic set that I only barely played was a gateway to worlds ranging from classic Tolkien-based fantasy to cyberpunk to space opera.

There was never a large enough group of people in junior high and high school to actually get a game established, and I knew that adding RPGs to the mix would have made me even more of an outcast than I already was. So I didn’t play much from the time I got that basic set until I got to college. Penn State main campus is so large that there is a critical mass of people for just about any hobby you can imagine, including tabletop gaming. And so it came to pass that I started playing RPGs in my freshman year of college. I’ve been playing more or less constantly ever since, through grad school, dating, marriage, a career, and two kids (who are starting to show some interest in tabletop gaming themselves). And at this point most of my closest friends are guys whom I met when I advertised in a Boulder, Colorado game store in 1996 that I was starting a ShadowRun campaign.

Over the course of the last 21 years of gaming I’ve done it all – player, game master, built my own fantasy and cyberpunk worlds, and even homebrewed up a semi-custom system based on the 2nd Edition ShadowRun rules for one of my worlds. I initially created those homebrew rules as way to define some rules for an alternate cyberpunk Earth in which I was (and still am) planning to write SF short stories and novels.

If you asked me whether I liked playing or running the game (game mastering, or GMing for short) more, I’d have to say GMing. There’s something addictive about matching my wits against five to eight very smart people, and it’s an amazing feeling when I can craft some adventure that they enjoy and yet still find challenging. It’s fun to watch a player’s jaw drop when something totally unexpected happens (for my gaming friends who I know are reading this, “He got up”). But I’ve come to really appreciate those moments when my gamers outthink me and throw me such a curveball that I have to toss all my planning out the window as a result. In my group we call that “filing a flight plan” for reasons that will become apparent in a moment.

I GMed a multi-year long campaign in the magic-meets-cyberpunk game ShadowRun. The game was largely set in Seattle after the United States had broken up and Seattle had essentially become a city-state. The party (group of player characters, or PCs) had been hired as bodyguards for a woman who needed to make it to Denver safely several days later. The party got attacked several times by my bad guys and had successfully kept the woman safe, but I had planned a major ambush at the Seattle-Tacoma airport for when the party delivered the woman to her scheduled flight to Denver.

One of the PCs owned a small jet that he kept at a small area airport and I had previously established that he could fly the plane around Seattle without filing a flight plan so long as he wasn’t planning on flying outside the borders of city. I had guessed that they might try to fly the woman from the area airport to Sea-Tac airport and had prepared for that, but after privately discussing how best to get the woman to Denver, they called me back into the room and informed me that they needed to file a flight plan. I reminded them that they didn’t need to file one to fly inside the city of Seattle, and they said “We know – we need to file a flight plan.” And that’s when it hit me that they were going to fly her directly to Denver, bypassing entirely my carefully planned ambush.

I remember looking down at my pile of maps and NPCs and saying something along the lines of “Well, I guess I don’t need these anymore.”

Moments like that are why I love GMing so much. Sure, GMing can be frustrating sometimes. The way I run my games is a major time commitment for me. And given I run multi-year campaigns, decisions I make during character creation have been known to come back and bite me in the ass months or even years later. But those inevitable frustrations are worth it every time the party files a flight plan or they tell me “you suck” because of the green slime I hid in the mine tunnels (underwater where they can’t see it or burn it off, of course).

While GMing games is the most fun for me, even I get burned out and need a break from time to time. When that happens one of the players steps up and offers to run a game and I get to play. At this point I’ve mostly played D&D, but I’ve also played some ShadowRun in college, In Nominae, Champions, Rifts, and a little GURPS cyberpunk. I’ve been a Star Wars cyborg (pre-Episode 1, thankyouverymuch), an angel, a hacker, a Macross Valkyrie pilot, and more wizards, clerics, and monks of different D&D races than I can even count. I’ve also had my character’s gender changed via reincarnation or other magic so many times that it’s become a running gag.

Playing is a lot less time consuming than GMing and it’s easier to do while raising kids. But it also gives me an opportunity to create characters in one world that I can then re-purpose for my own world. For example, I took a female monk I played in one of my friends’ games and imported her into my own D&D world. And sometimes I’ve taken major NPCs I created for a game I was GMing and played a version of them in another. It’s fun to be able to pretend to be something I’m not, or to take some part of my own personality and build a character around it to see just what happens.

Over the years I’ve had lots of hobbies. But only a few have been important enough for me to stick with them through hell and high water. Science fiction is one, collecting and building LEGO (especially Star Wars LEGO) is another. Blogging is a third. But the one that I’ve stuck with the longest, and quite possibly enjoyed the most, is role-playing games.

You’re not geeky enough for our con

On Friday I was reading SF fansite IO9 when I came across a post by Emily Finke about her experience cosplaying at this year’s Balticon. Very briefly, she kept being told that her Star Trek original series-accurate science officer’s uniform was “too short” and grilled by self-appointed “true geek” gatekeepers, among other infuriating abuses. As a man and someone who is generally not interested in cosplay, I can’t relate to a great deal of what she talks about. I can empathize, but I can’t truly grok it. All I can really say is “Emily – awesome costume, and you shouldn’t have had to put up with all that bullshit.” And to everyone else, go read what she has to say – it’s worth your time.

But there were a few things she wrote that got me thinking about my own limited con experience. Finke wrote about “Mr. Fake Geek Girl Screener.” She wrote about in-group policing being performed by geeks on other geeks. She wrote about men “hitting every hot button of geek gatekeeping they can.” And she wrote that other women, feeling as she did, might “lose all desire to attend *any* cons.”

And that’s when Finke’s words hit me in a way I do grok.

I’ve attended exactly two cons, the first and second Nan Desu Kan in Denver, Colorado. And after the second, I decided that I wasn’t going to attend a third.

See, while I enjoy watching anime and reading manga, I don’t devote a large portion of my life to either. I can talk intelligently about any of the titles I’ve watched and/or read (as well as differences between the anime and manga versions, which I prefer, and why), but I’m not a hard-core fan, at least not compared to someone who truly loves a particular title. I don’t watch so much anime that it consumes all my movie and television time, nor do I read manga so prolifically that I know all the latest titles.

And that’s why I didn’t have good experiences at the first two NDKs. I apparently didn’t meet the True OtakuTM threshold that the other con attendees unconsciously defined, and so I felt that I was being dismissed as a mere hobbyist. And it felt at the time that being a hobbyist was worse than being a “mundane” who wandered into see what all the fuss was about.

I haven’t gone to any cons, gaming or SF or anime, since. I had enough of being condescended to by my peers for being too geeky in high school, thankyouverymuch. And these days I don’t need the hassle of being condescended to for not being geeky enough for the hardcore “True Geek” con gatekeepers.

David Tennant as the 10th Doctor, with the TARDIS

And that bugs me because cons are just the sort of thing I should enjoy. I positively love to geek out over Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Bab 5, the Stargate SG-1 universe (except for SG-Universe, which was very nearly as bad as Star Trek 5), Firefly, and so on. I love to debate the relative merit of space opera novels. It’s a blast to commiserate about the parts of Lord of the Rings that were cut out of the movies that I loved and missed, and the differences between the theatrical releases and the extended versions (which were WAY better). And so on.

But I don’t want to be sneered at because I don’t care to learn Klingon or Elvish, or because I’m only wearing a TARDIS polo when I could have dressed up as the Doctor, or because I’ve made a conscious choice not to get into X-Men because I don’t care to read the decades of back issues (my obsessiveness would demand it).

Perhaps I’m not being fair. Maybe the problems I had during the first two NDKs aren’t integral to anime cons, or to cons in general. Maybe the gatekeeping I experienced was related more to birthing pains than it was to geeks being cliquish and petty. And maybe what I experienced at an anime con isn’t what I would encounter at a gaming or an SF con. To date I haven’t been willing to find out. But given what Finke described (and the far worse harassment described by other women at cons over the last few years), I suspect that the gatekeeping and pettiness I experienced at NDK are relatively universal.

And that really, really sucks.

These aren’t the drones you’re looking for: The U.S. shift to droid warfare and surveillance

by Kevin Rogers

In George Lucas’s Star Wars universe, droids are robots with tasks including translation, computing and repair work. The series’ most famous droids, C-3PO and R2-D2, take on these benign jobs.

But not all droids are created equal. The malevolent Galactic Empire uses droids designed for torture and surveillance in the original trilogy. In the prequel series, the Trade Federation deploys entire armies of droid warriors and aircraft tasked with destruction and conquest.

Imperial Probe Droid: CC-DevanJedi

Droids go by a different name in this galaxy. Pilotless drones gather enemy intelligence and blow up suspected terrorists abroad. It sounds great; American enemies are destroyed without risking military lives.

But America’s shift to drone-based warfare and surveillance should arouse concern. The Justice Department released a justification to take out American citizens without charges or trial. Federal agencies look to expand permits for drones in U.S. airspace.

Smuggler Han Solo put it best in the original Star Wars: “I got a bad feeling about this.

Vulture droids in foreign skies

Drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia have transformed America’s battle against al-Qaida. While Yemen and Somalia rack up some impressive drone strikes statistics, Pakistan draws the most attention from these glorified droid star fighters.

While the drones rained death upon terrorists, hundreds of civilians, including children, went with them. The total number of civilian deaths may be even higher given the administration’s policy of counting military-age males killed in a strike zone as enemy combatants.

Drones put distance between the pilot and the target. A human pilot can likely show some discretion when pulling the trigger. If a drone is flying autonomously toward a target, those judgments can’t be made.

The strikes have been effective in taking down top members of al-Qaida, but the cost has been a federal justification to kill American citizens abroad without charges, judges or juries. The drone-targeted killing of U.S.-born al-Qaida chief Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen occurred under this rationale. Drones nabbed his 16-year-old son a few weeks later.

The existence of justifiably legally killing American citizens without due process should prompt outrage. The American government isn’t the Empire.

Probe droids overhead

These winged droids won’t be limited to foreign skies. The Federal Aviation Administration, working to expand unmanned aircraft in domestic airspace, grants limited permits to the armed forces, law enforcement and some universities.

In other words, the probe droids deployed to Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back exist and fly over American skies.

Though these domestic drones lack the destructive capabilities of their overseas counterparts, these droids present a new challenge. These droids, in their capacity to assist law enforcement and the armed forces, pose a clear threat to privacy.

Though some states and cities have moved to restrict the capacity of law enforcement to use drones, others won’t. Regulated or not, any camera with wings ought to concern those who care about privacy. This technology grants unprecedented surveillance capacity to authorities.

A shift to droids and a loss of humanity

There’s a reason why Star Wars fans cheer on the rebels and the Jedi against droid armies and Imperial forces. It represents the battle of humanity against machines.

Using drones for police work and military operations robs that humanity. There’s no discretion, judgment or morality coming from a robot. The normal processes in surveillance and military strikes get tossed aside in the name of efficiency. The right of due process and expectations of privacy get erased.

But Americans don’t need a rebellion to challenge these policies. Voice opposition. Protest. Press lawmakers to protect legal rights and privacy.

Tell them to keep abuse of this technology in a galaxy far, far away.

Drone strike protest, Washington, D.C.

Kevin Rogers is a junior journalism major at St. Bonaventure University. He writes the blog The Nerds of Congress.

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #112: GOOOLLLLLLLL

“Freedom of any kind is the worst for creativity.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #109: You Can't Tuna Fish

“It’s absolutely stunning to me, the contempt in which the network holds the audience. The idea that these people have standards is laughable.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #101: Your Pal, Mike S.

“The guys who are shooting films now are technically brilliant, but there’s no content in their films. I marvel at what I see and wish I could have done a shot like that. But shots are secondary for my films, and with some of these films, it’s all about the shots. What’s the point? I’m not sure people know what points to make.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #100: Il Planetario di Figaro

Wow, 100 issues of Nota Bene! Props to Russ for helping me for a while with this nifty little S&R feature. Never mind all that now, let’s get on with this issue. “What splendid buildings our architects would be able to execute if only they could finally be less obedient to gravity!” Who said it? Continue reading

Following bliss: Joseph Campbell, myth and living the authentic life

nullToday we’re putting Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) on the masthead. Chances are that you already know all about his thought and work without realizing it. When George Lucas wrote the first few drafts of Star Wars, it was shaping up to be standard, 70’s sci-fi action schlock. Then he put the screenplay aside to settle and re-read Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. That changed everything. Sculpting his imaginary galaxy around the skeleton of Campbell’s monomyth thesis produced a set of films that took a generation by storm and still reverberates through popular culture. Continue reading

The summer of the Son of Sam: a fantastic critique at Secondat

This week’s TunesDay featured a couple of new videos from Jeffrey Dean Foster, including one for “The Summer of the Son of Sam,” which is maybe the best song on Million Star Hotel, which is in turn one of the best CDs that way too few people have ever heard in the history of popular music.

Anyhow, it’s always nice when a listener/reader/viewer sits down and truly invests themselves in a work of art, and that’s exactly what happened over at Secondat a couple of days ago. Not only do they examine the music, they also reflect back, in great detail, on the summer of 1977 – the Summer of the Son of Sam itself. That was an eventful three months, to be sure. As the writer points out, a lot happened during

the long summer of 1977: New York City’s historic blackout, the deaths of Elvis Presley and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and a radio telescope reception from deep space. Continue reading

Sundays with Uncle-God Momma: Sita sings the blues

Myth serves as an individual path into the collective unconscious.  It is a means to attain at-one-ment with the greater forces that affect the individual life.  That is, it informs life by putting it into context.  We often disdain myth because it generally portrays less than perfect gods (and goddesses), whereas what we call religion rests on an assumption of divine perfection.  How quaint it is to see the Springeresque antics of Zeus chasing women and Hera chasing Zeus, no wonder the Olympians fell out of favor to be replaced by a single, all-seeing, all-knowing God of perfection.  But which set of beliefs would do an individual more psychological good when faced with infidelity?

Continue reading