a blogumn by Ryan Dixon

In which the Bengals are declawed, A Christmas Carol sings again and 2012 can’t come fast enough.


Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

A comic from 2008 when they weren't doing so hot. Credit: Bearman Cartoons

A comic from 2008 when the Bengals weren't doing so hot. Credit: Bearman Cartoons

It seems like once every other decade or so the Cincinnati Bengals manage to sew together a football season where they not only surface above .500, but threaten to give the denizens of that hitherto championship-less city Super Bowl wet dreams.

Get ready to wash those sheets then Bengals fans, for your team is a surprising 6-2 and headed to Pittsburgh this Sunday afternoon to face the likewise 6-2 Steelers in a match that will determine who owns first place in their division, the AFC North. While Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh earlier this season, in meetings going back to 1970, the Steelers own a 53-28 advantage and the Bengals haven’t swept them in a series since 1999.

In honor of this highly-anticipated game, I had originally planned on composing a long, discursive essay exploring various categories dealing with each middle-American metropolis to decide, before the teams do so on the field Sunday, which city is, well, better. I was going to compare, contrast and rank everything from the odd spellings of each city (the Pittsburgh “H” and the convulsion of consonants in Cincinnati), our iconic food versus their iconic food (Primanti Brothers vs. Skyline Chili) and achievements of its citizens such as Jonas Salk developing the Polio vaccine at the University of Pittsburgh or Cincinnati electing Jerry Springer their mayor.

But why spend countless hours writing thousands of words when showing two key scenes from movie musicals that took place in each city can easily prove Pittsburgh’s dominance? After all, if a picture worth a thousand words than a musical montage must be worth millions.

First up is Pittsburgh in 1983’s Flashdance. In this Jerry Bruckheimer production, a never-to-be-hotter Jennifer Beals plays 18 year-old welder-by-day /dancer-by-night Alex Owens whose only desire is to enroll in at the elite Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory

Here, in the penultimate scene, she puts everything on the line for a once in a lifetime audition. Nervous at first, she stumbles, just like how Pittsburgh itself has stumbled at many points in its history.

But then, upon getting the chance to “start again,” she not only proves the doubters wrong, but wins lavish praise in the same way that Pittsburgh has caught the attention of the world for topping a torrent of “best” and “most livable” city rankings, its bleeding-edge 21st Century revitalism, and for hosting the G-20 conference. (And please, don’t complain about the treatment of the protesters at the G-20.  I’m sorry, but if a little fascism and police brutality is needed to make Pittsburgh look good, so be it.)

As for Cincinnati we have the 1986 TV-movie remake of Babes in Toyland and the cleverly titled “Cincinnati Song,” whose most memorable lyrical line is:

At first they called it Cinci but since Cinci was so nati, they named it Cincinnati so they say hey!

While the utter awfulness of the lyrics would normally be reason enough to give Pittsburgh the win, that Cincinnati’s representative musical number is sung by a most likely coked up 11 year-old Drew Barrymore and pubescent (but still bad) Keanu Reeves is more than enough cause to question whether the Queen City is worthy of even being compared to Cleveland, let alone Pittsburgh.


A Christmas Carol in IMAX 3D

Christmascarol2I was the executive assistant to the President of IMAX in 2004 and we had just released an IMAX 3-D version of Robert Zemeckis’ The Polar Express. It was the Monday morning after the opening and the weekend box office results were in and they weren’t good — a meek $23.3 million for a film that starred Tom Hanks and was directed by the man who brought Forrest Gump and Back to the Future to the screen.

This bad news was blood in the water and the sharks that made up the prognosticators at newspapers, blogs and the trades were taking particularly glee from this so-called disaster, chalking up Zemeckis’ genuine desire to transform the medium of film with “performance capture” technology into some sort of case of overwhelming hubris.  The conversation that Monday morning between my boss and Alan Horn, the President and C.O.O. of Warner Brothers, sounded like two men mourning over the gruesome death of a murdered child.

Luckily, much to my relief and enjoyment, the film beat the odds, proved the snidely prognosticators wrong and became the big-budget movie that could. Week after week The Polar Express hung in the upper echelons of the box office chart and ended up being not only a hit, but also an annual holiday tradition on IMAX screens across the country.

Thus it was no surprise to see the same chorus of haters delightfully rubbing salt in the wounds after Zemeckis’ new version of A Christmas Carol, starring Jim Carrey, opened with an underwhelming $30 million. The good news for Zemeckis and company? I have the sneaky suspicion that the Ghost’s of Christmas Movies Past will make a return visit and sprinkle a little holiday cheer over the Walt Disney production.

And if this change of fortune does indeed come to pass, it will be an even more heartwarming tale than the success story behind The Polar Express because, while that movie still seems little more than a proof-of-concept for “performance capture,” A Christmas Carol is an astounding film experience.

While many have proclaimed next month’s Avatar as the “game-changer” in this still fledgling medium, I think Cameron and crew will be hard pressed to top the visual fireworks displayed in Zemeckis’ film.  Even more impressive, what makes this movie truly magical — and you would not know this from Disney’s slapstick-centric marketing campaign — is that the movie perfectly realizes the dark, gritty melancholy of Dickens’ original story.  This is largely due to Jim Carrey who, nine years after taking part in the Holiday-themed massacre also known as The Grinch, has given us a Scrooge for the ages.

To all the naysaysers, I can only say Bah, Humbug!



untitledI know what you’re saying. The trailer for 2012 looks awesome. I agree, but doesn’t every trailer for every Roland Emmerich movie look awesome? Even the trailer for 10,000 B.C. convinced me that I was in store for a fun pseudo-pre-historic ride when in fact that film’s abject ineptitude ended up making the oeuvre of Ed Wood look like Golden-age Godard.

I’ll grant you that the Emmerich (or whoever is actually coming up with them) is the Spielberg of movie trailers. But remember, a movie trailer is two minutes.  An actual movie is two hours. And while Michael Bay has proven that we as a civilization will sit through a movie made up of trailers, Emmerich loves to populate his films with lots of “characters” who he is then responsible for having to give dialog to and create inter-personal tension between. And while many filmmakers have succeeded at this challenge, let’s just say that actually sitting through these moments in a Roland Emmerich film can make one yearn for the actual end of the world.

P.S. Are you an angry fan of the Cincinnati Bengals or Roland Emmerich (0r both!) and wish to rage against my evisceration of your favorite city/movie director? Then follow me on Twitter and let me know. I may laugh at you, but at least you’ll be heard. Once again, it’s ryanbdixon.