Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis Mondays and Fridays, 3-6pm CT

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Seth Explains It

My brother Seth (former Deputy Secretary of Labor) made the media rounds yesterday to talk about congressional Republicans' plans to cut the maximum 401k contributions from $18,000 to $2,400 a year -- which will impact a lot of middle class Americans -- and his prediction for when the GOP might be able to pass tax reform. One of his stops was on the CBSN show "Red and Blue," where he once again explained the situation in a way that few political pundits do...

Brian Dunning, "Skeptoid"


Here's my conversation with Brian Dunning, who has been doing the award-winning weekly science podcast, Skeptoid, for over a decade. I started off by asking him to explain the difference between skepticism and cynicism, and then we were off and running on topics such as:
  • Why it's so hard to convince people that what they believe is wrong;
  • Whether critical thinking is taught in our schools;
  • How to get Walgreens to stop selling homeopathic products;
  • How celebrities and TV networks promote pseudoscience and erode public interest;
  • The upcoming release of the final bits of paperwork on the JFK assassination.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 10/23/17


This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a stripper in the spare bedroom, a choked coach, and boom goes the dynamite! Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Movie Review: "Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House"


"Mark Felt" is a drama about the man who, while second in command at the FBI in 1972 and 1973, simultaneously served as Deep Throat, an anonymous source to Bob Woodward of The Washington Post on the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon’s resignation. Felt kept that secret until 2005 and died in 2008.

Liam Neeson is very good as Felt, who was sickened by Nixon replacing the late J. Edgar Hoover as FBI director with L. Patrick Gray, an outsider who was not part of FBI culture and more like a mole feeding information back to the White House about the Watergate investigation. The supporting cast of Brian d’Arcy James, Josh Lucas, Tony Goldwyn, and Ike Barinholtz play Felt's underlings, but they all look so similar that it's hard to tell who each character is.

Ironically for a Liam Neeson movie, there's a missing child subplot. Felt's teenage daughter had left home for parts unknown, a mystery that is played out in scenes with Neeson at home with Diane Lane, who is very good as Felt's wife, Audrey, a tortured woman who drank too much. Unfortunately, we don't get enough of Lane, who is always a pleasure to see on screen, because many of her scenes were cut for time -- an edit that director, Peter Landesman, has apologized for.

Speaking of Landesman, who made the terrific 2015 Will Smith movie, "Concussion" (my review is here), this time he's stuck with a very talky story that makes for a less-than-compelling movie. We see Felt talking with his FBI colleagues as they stand around a desk or move between offices, and as he occasionally slips out to discreet locations to spill the story to Woodward, but that's not enough to get us invested in the story -- particularly when we know how it will end.

"Mark Felt" wants to be a companion piece to "All The President's Men." Unfortunately, that classic covered much more than just the Deep Throat angle in a way that this can't, relegating "Mark Felt" to not much more than a footnote, much like Felt himself.

I give "Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House" a 4 out of 10, mostly for the performances of Neeson and Lane.

Monday, October 23, 2017

On My Monday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today 3-6pm CT.

Among my guests will be Brian Dunning (host of the Skeptoid podcast, where he offers critical analysis of pop phenomena) and St. Louis Alderwoman Cara Spencer (on how even more tax dollars will be funneled to the Cardinals owners to expand Ballpark Village).

I'll also have another batch of Knuckleheads In The News® along the way. Listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Movie Review: "Only The Brave"


When I was a kid, I looked up to my cousin Mel, who was a volunteer firefighter. I was fascinated by the fact that, whenever the siren went off in his town, he would drop whatever he was doing and race to the firehouse to join his colleagues as they jumped on the truck and headed off to fight a fire. What a selfless act that was, one that took quite a measure of courage -- as everyone else was running away from the flames, he and the other firefighters ran towards them in an effort to save life and property.

I still have a lot of respect for firefighters, whether they're volunteers or professionals, and can't understand why there haven't been many good movie dramas about the men and women who do that job. In fact, I can only think of three that are worth naming, though none of them are great: "Backdraft," "Ladder 49," and "The Towering Inferno." Yes, Steve Martin played a fire chief in "Roxanne," but that's a romantic comedy where the firemen only appear occasionally as comic relief.

Wildfires have been in the news the last couple of weeks as Northern California has been devoured by blazes that have destroyed hundreds of acres of homes and forests. That makes this a perfect time for the release of "Only The Brave," a movie based on the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite group based in Prescott, Arizona, that specialized in fighting wildfires just like those you've seen on your TV screen every day.

It stars Josh Brolin as the supervisor of the Hotshots, Jeff Bridges (still mumbling) as his boss, and Miles Teller as a rookie on the squad. We see the firefighters bonding as they go through drills and work real fires. They do their jobs not with hoses, but with axes and shovels and chainsaws, clearing away trees and brush and anything else that could be fuel for a rapidly moving fire. Those scenes are somewhat exciting, but director Joseph Kosinski and screenwriters Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer weren't content to just focus on the men and their profession. We also get wrapped up in the side story of Brolin's wife, played by Jennifer Connelly, who wants more out of their marriage, and Teller's girlfriend and child. They are an unnecessary distraction, but one of the reasons they’re given more than their share of screen time may be that too much of the movie involves Brolin and his men banging away at the Earth rather than confronting the fires directly.

That's where "Only The Brave" lost me -- there wasn't enough firefighting to keep me riveted to the screen. Even its harrowing climactic scene, which I won't give away, didn't flip the ratio of courageous action vs. soap opera drama. That's a shame, because there's no doubt that the Granite Mountain Hotshots and other firefighters like them deserve tons of respect and gratitude. Unfortunately, instead of a raging wildfire of a movie, "Only The Brave" turns their real-life story into a boring slow burn.

I give "Only The Brave" a 5 out of 10.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Mulaney, Oswalt, and Letterman


I've become a big John Mulaney fan over the last couple of years. I didn't watch his Fox sitcom, (which only ran for a dozen or so episodes in 2014), but discovered him via his Netflix standup special, "The Comeback Kid." I was impressed by his writing, delivery, and attitude. Then I found "Oh, Hello" (also on Netflix) a filmed version of a Broadway show he did with Nick Kroll, in which they play two aged hipsters from the upper west side of Manhattan. They were hysterical together, as well as with Steve Martin, who filled the guest star role for a segment called Too Much Tuna, in which they brought a celebrity onstage from the audience each night, did a spontaneous conversation for several minutes, then urged them to eat a gigantic tuna fish sandwich.

Thursday night, I went to see Mulaney do his act in person at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis. I hadn't been able to get tickets to the 7pm show when it went on sale because it sold out immediately, but when he added a second show at 10pm, I snagged a seat and went. I may have been the oldest and least-tattooed person in the room, but I had a rollicking good time watching Mulaney prowl the stage doing 75 minutes of very clever, very funny all-new material. If you don't see him on this tour -- and you should -- I'm sure it will become a Netflix special next year. I plan to see Mulaney each time he comes through town.

Speaking of great stand-ups on Netflix, I've seen the new Patton Oswalt special, "Annihilation," in which he addresses the death of his wife last year. That wouldn't seem like a good topic for comedy, but Oswalt handles it remarkably. He acknowledges that the day she died was the second-worst of his life, exceeded only by the following day, when he had to tell his daughter that the woman who meant everything to her would no longer be around. Heartbreaking, yes, but Oswalt manages to balance his grief with his observances through a comedian's eye for the ridiculous -- none of which I will spoil for you. That chunk takes up about 20 minutes of "Annihilation," and the rest of it is nearly as good. I strongly recommend it.

Lastly, we come to David Letterman, who will receive the Mark Twain Prize For Humor tonight in Washington, DC (an edited TV version will air on PBS next month). Many of the usual suspects will be there to honor him, including Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Jimmy Kimmel, whose ABC late-night show Dave appeared on a few nights ago.

Letterman long ago began coasting on his status as Comedy Legend, and that appearance provided more evidence. While Kimmel merely fawned over his TV hero, Dave just did his grouchy old guy-with-too-much-beard routine without saying a single amusing thing. It was reminiscent of the last decade of his own "Late Show," where he often looked like he barely gave a damn about the show, the guests, the monologue, or the desk pieces.

I'd be willing to bet that all of the Letterman clips shown at the Mark Twain ceremony will be either from his years doing "Late Night" on NBC, or the first decade of his "Late Show" on CBS, when he was still trying to push the comedy envelope, but not much (if anything) from his later shows.

That's not to say Dave doesn't deserve the honor -- hell, they've given the prize to Carol Burnett, whose heyday was in the 1970s, and Neil Simon, whose last good play ("Lost In Yonkers") was on Broadway in 1991. Like Letterman, they both deserved the recognition, but more as a Lifetime Achievement Award than a citation for contributions to contemporary comedy.

For that, you have to look to the likes of John Mulaney and Patton Oswalt.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Showbiz Show 10/20/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed "Only The Brave," "Goodbye Christopher Robin," and "Mark Felt," as well as other movie/showbiz stuff.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 10/20/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes trivia categories about Snowy Showbiz, People Not As Rich As Bill Gates, and This Day In History.

Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 10/20/17


This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a cake for a cop, a fishy ATM, and a check mark on a bucket list. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, October 20, 2017

On My Friday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today 3-6pm CT.

In the first hour, I'll talk with Alan Jacobs, author of "How To Think: A Survival Guide For A World At Odds."

In the second hour, Max and I will review new movies "Only The Brave," "Mark Felt," and "Goodbye Christopher Robin," along with other showbiz stuff.

In the third hour, I'll test your topical trivia knowledge with my Harris Challenge, and then share a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News®.

Listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.