Eric’s Top Five Theatrical Experiences

For the last two weeks, my favorite local movie theater, the Music Box, has provided Chicago with what they have dubbed the 70mm Film Festival. As the last remaining theater in town that can play movies at 70mm (compared to the usual 35mm or digital), they brought in a wide variety of films to screen in this gorgeous format. One of these films was the biggest item on my so-called “movie bucket list” — 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was there for its very first screening (which was absolutely incredible), and it gave me the idea to compose this list of my top five theatrical experiences.

Now, one thing you will notice right away is that most of these have taken place in just the last few years. That’s because I never really went to the theater much when I was younger — it wasn’t until I moved to Chicago in 2008 that I truly fell in love with film. With so many theaters in town, all of which are easily accessible, I found myself going more and more. The fact that these are all recent does not make them any less memorable for me.

movie-theater-seats

First, a few honorable mentions:
Antichrist [November 2009]
My first visit to the Music Box. I instantly fell in love with this theater. My girlfriend and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into with Antichrist — let’s just say it was an experience I will never forget, for multiple reasons.

RoboCop [July 2012]
This was noteworthy for two reasons. 1) I met up with several movie bloggers for drinks and a movie, all of whom were good people. 2) It was freakin’ RoboCop on the big screen!

Miami Connection [October 2012]
The hype machine surrounding this revived 80s action flick was out of control, so I had to see it for myself. It turns out that the movie was an absolute riot, and I can’t wait to see it again. What made the screening even better was that I got to share it with my niece and her husband — we still reference the brilliance that is Dragon Sound to this day.

And now, the top five:

Drive [2011]
5) Drive [September 2011]
There was a lot of buzz surrounding Drive, and I couldn’t wait to see it. My girlfriend and I rode our bikes to a theater in Lincoln Park on a gorgeous summer night. I had a feeling I was going to like the film, but I was surprised at how much it blew me away. I ended up ranking it as my favorite film of 2011. I left the theater feeling like a total badass — how could you not? — and the first thing I told my girlfriend was that I needed a pair of biking gloves. I felt invincible on that bike ride home.

Beasts of the Southern Wild [2011]
4) Beasts of the Southern Wild [June 2012]advanced screening with a Q&A with Benh Zeitlin, Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis afterward
I had to wait an hour in line before this screening, and to make matters worse, a huge chunk of the theater was blocked off for contest winners. The only available seating was in the first few rows, and I was tempted to just say “fuck it” and walk out before the show. But I stuck with it, and I’m so glad I did. I got sucked into the world of the Bathtub, and I quickly forgot about how close I was sitting. I loved the film, and the Q&A with the cast and director afterward made me appreciate it even more. I was especially impressed with Dwight Henry, who came across as such a genuinely humble man.

THE ROOM
3) The Room [2010-present]multiple screenings, some with Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero in attendance
I can thank my good friends Steve and Ali for turning me onto the madness that is The Room, and now I frequently return the favor to anyone who comes to visit. There’s nothing like showing someone The Room for the first time, especially in a jam-packed theater. I have been to two different screenings in which director/writer/”star” Tommy Wiseau and co-star Greg Sestero did a Q&A — once even getting dragged on stage to shake their hands — and they are endlessly entertaining. If you haven’t experienced The Room yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. Words cannot do it justice. Just make sure to bring a bunch of plastic spoons.

2001: A Space Odyssey [1968]
2) 2001: A Space Odyssey [February 2013]part of the 70mm Film Festival
This was the absolute #1 choice on my “movie bucket list”, and I am eternally grateful that I was able to experience 2001 the way it was meant to be seen (in 70mm, no less!). As much as I loved the film on DVD, seeing it on the big screen just blows it away. I got goosebumps as soon as the first notes to “Also sprach Zarathustra” began playing, and I remained glued to the screen from that point on. I get asked a lot what my favorite film is, and well, it could very well be 2001: A Space Odyssey. A flawless film.

The Master [2012]
1) The Master [August 2012]advanced surprise 70mm screening with Paul Thomas Anderson and nearly every major Chicago film critic in attendance
I stumbled upon this screening by pure chance — I just happened to sign onto Facebook at just the right time. Tickets sold out in a matter of minutes, but not before I was able to snag one. The Master had only been screened twice before this showing — both in Los Angeles — so this was a pretty big deal. I arrived later than anticipated only to find a line of people wrapped all the way down the street and around a corner. Somehow I was lucky enough to still get a good seat, but I was worried for a while.

The film was fantastic, my favorite of 2012, but the experience of being one of the first few hundred people in the entire world to see it made it feel unreal. There was so much excitement and nervousness in the room, and none of us could have predicted what was in store for us. And, to top it all off, Paul Thomas Anderson hung out in the lobby afterward to converse with anyone who wanted to talk. Events like this remind me just how much I love Chicago.

So there you have it — my top five theatrical experiences! What are your favorite theatrical experiences? Got a good story to tell?

Top Five XBLA Summer of Arcade Games

XBLA Summer of Arcade

With this year’s Xbox Live “Summer of Arcade” now complete, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the best games the series has brought us over its five year span. This year’s batch was admittedly pretty weak, but the series has provided plenty of classics. Here are my top five:

Braid [2008]
5) Braid [2008]
Jonathan Blow’s indie hit had nearly unanimous positive reviews upon its release, and it still holds up well four years later. A puzzle/platforming hybrid with gorgeous art design, Braid is frequently mentioned in the endless “video games can be art” debate.

Trials HD [2009]
4) Trials HD [2009]
While now overshadowed by the superior Trials Evolution, Trials HD burst onto the scene with insanely addictive racing/puzzle action. I can’t even tell you how much time I put into this game — I didn’t even finish an “Extreme” level until just this year! Even though its sequel is better, this is still a blast to play (albeit often frustrating).

Limbo [2010]
3) Limbo [2010]
With stunning black & white visuals and an incredibly simplistic but engaging premise, Limbo is an unforgettable experience. The side-scrolling gameplay is basic and the campaign is rather brief, but I can’t think of another game like this. Creepy yet utterly beautiful.

Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]
2) Bastion [2011]
One of my favorite games from last year, Bastion is an action RPG with eye-popping visuals, and it just oozes all sorts of charm. Who can forget the omnipresent narrator and incredibly fine-tuned hack ‘n’ slash gameplay?

Shadow Complex [2009]
1) Shadow Complex [2009]
Not only is this the best Summer of Arcade title, this is the best XBLA game, period. This “2.5D” side-scrolling shooter has elements from the Metroidvania style of gameplay and encourages exploration. The single player campaign is comparable to full-fledged $60 games, and there is even a bonus “Proving Grounds” mode. Replay value is high as there are all sorts of secrets and areas that cannot be accessed until certain power-ups are acquired. One of my favorite games from this generation, arcade and otherwise.

For reference, here’s the full lineup by year:

2008: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, Braid, Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Galaga Legions, Castle Crashers
2009: Marvel vs Capcom 2, Trials HD, Splosion Man, Shadow Complex, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled
2010: Castlevania: Harmony of Light, Hydro Thunder Hurricane, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Limbo, Monday Night Combat
2011: Bastion, From Dust, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Fruit Ninja Kinect, Toy Soldiers Cold War
2012: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, Wreckateer, Deadlight, Hybrid, Dust: An Elysian Tail

How about you guys? Do you agree with my list? What’s your favorite XBLA Summer of Arcade title?

Top Five Music Streaming Services

It is an amazing time to be a music lover. We live in an era where we have access to any and all music we could ever dream of, most of which can be found for free legally. It seems like every month a new music streaming service is created, and with so many options it can feel overwhelming to just pick one to listen to. I listen to a variety of services, and I wanted to share my personal top five choices.

Honorable Mentions:
Grooveshark – I am not a huge fan of its interface, but it has a huge music library and cool playlists.
Last.fm – I love the hell out of this site, but I use it more for statistical purposes than online streaming.
Rdio – Slick design with a massive library.
Slacker Radio – Good variety of radio stations created by actual DJs.
Soma.fm – Commercial free internet radio. Love their Groove Salad station.


5) 8tracks

8tracks labels itself as “handcrafted internet radio” which is a nice way of saying it has user-curated playlists. This is one for the inner DJ in you, as you can jump right in and create new mixes any way you want. If you would rather listen, there are countless playlists available, many of which contain inspired selections. The only downside is that you aren’t able to see what songs are on each mix beforehand due to copyright issues (and you can only skip a certain amount of songs). Still, these playlists are an excellent way to discover new music, and not knowing what’s coming next can be a lot of fun.

4) Pandora

Arguably the most popular service on the list, Pandora is an oldie but a goodie. Thanks to its “Music Genome Project“, Pandora is intelligently able to play similar music for any artist or genre. While there are occasional hiccups with its guesses, for the most part the service does a bang-up job. The website also gets bonus points for being incredibly well-designed and easy to use, plus it has apps on pretty much every modern electronic device you can think of.

3) Songza

A recent discovery for me, Songza is a web radio service with unique user-created playlists. What differentiates this service from others is that it will help you find a radio station based on the time of day and your current mood. For example, a weekday evening can present you with options for cooking, working out or winding down after a long day. From there, it will ask for a genre and then present you with a handful of suggestions. More often than not, these recommendations are dead-on and I end up falling in love with the stations. Of course, if you just want to find a certain genre or mood, you can easily do this manually as well. It’s like 8tracks but in radio form rather than a strict playlist. Also available for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire.

2) Turntable.fm

Turntable.fm is easily the most fun of all of these services. It is also the most social of the bunch, as it is basically a hybrid of a chat room and DJ party. The premise is simple: select an avatar, find a room then hop on the decks and start DJing. Users can “awesome” or “lame” the songs being played, and points are accrued based on how positive of a reaction your track gets. Points, in turn, are used to get new avatars, some of which are really cool. I have found certain rooms are excellent ways to discover new music, plus you get to meet some cool people along the way. Also available on iOS and Android.

1) Spotify

This is the future of music, folks. Spotify is a stand-alone program with an iTunes-like structure, and it seamlessly integrates both your personal MP3 library with its massive streaming collection. Their playlist system is incredibly easy to use, and there are now dozen of apps that are quite useful for discovering new music. My personal favorite is Share My Playlists, which compiles countless user-curated lists of all genres and themes. The service is also integrated with Facebook, meaning you can quickly share/discover music with your friends. For its diversity and sheer amount of options available, Spotify can’t be beat. I gladly pay $5/month to remove the advertisements.

What do you guys think? What is your favorite music streaming service? Anything I missed?