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

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Theater Review: "Faceless"


This is why we go to the theater. My wife and I saw a remarkable production last night.

"Faceless" is about Susie Glenn (Lindsay Stock), an 18-year-old white woman from the suburbs of Chicago, who has been arrested for conspiring to commit acts of terrorism. After being recruited online by ISIS, she was on her way to Turkey, and then Syria, to meet the man who had seduced her from afar to join the terrorist group. But before she boarded the plane, federal authorities grabbed her and threw her in a cell.

"Faceless" is also about Claire Fathi (Susaan Jamshidi), a Harvard-educated attorney in her thirties who works for the federal prosecutor who's been assigned Susie's case. Claire, the daughter of a French mother and an Iranian father, is Islamic and knows her faith well enough to recognize that Susie, a recent convert, has been sold a bill of goods by her jihadist recruiter, Reza. Susie's been wearing a hijab for four months; Claire has worn it all her life. Claire originally resists being forced into this prosecution by her boss, Scott Bader (Michael James Reed), the by-the-book US attorney who is obviously using her as a counter-point to the accused. But once she agrees, she's ferocious.

The internal battles of both Claire and Susie, a teenager so desperate to be understood and accepted, are at the heart of the drama as it moves from the courtroom to the media circus surrounding the case, from Susie at a computer meeting her recruiter via Twitter and Facebook to the strategy sessions in the prosecutor's office. We also meet Susie's father, Alan (Joe Dempsey) -- a blue-collar man desperate to save his daughter despite her attempts to push away from him -- and the attorney he's hired to represent her, Mark Arenberg (Ross Lehman).

Four of the five actors in this production of "Faceless" originated their roles at the Northlight Theatre in Chicago, where it debuted last year  (only Reed was not in the original cast). They don't just play these vivid characters, they inhabit them. The dialogue is crisp and smart, the direction and set design perfect (director BJ Jones and the Northlight design team recreated the set, lighting, and sound here).

"Faceless" was written by 22-year-old Selina Fillinger, a recent graduate of Northwestern University. Not that much older than Susie, she knows her attitude well, but also nails Claire's voice -- and those of the men, too. Her terrific script reminded me of "The Invisible Hand" by Ayah Akhtar, which we saw produced here a few years ago. I look forward to seeing what Fillinger comes up with next.

"Faceless" will be in the Studio Theatre at the Rep in St. Louis through February 4th. I heartily recommend you go see it.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Jeff Kreisler, "Dollars and Sense"


Here's my conversation with Jeff Kreisler, co-author with Dan Ariely of "Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter." Jeff explained such terms as opportunity cost, the pain of paying, and anchoring. We also discussed why we don't talk to each other about money, and why our kids don't get a good financial education in school. We also delved into why it's a bad idea to be your own real estate agent, how credit cards make us pay more for things, and what we did before there was money.

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

Jeff's next project is PeopleScience.com.

Showbiz Show 1/19/18


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I review the new movies "12 Strong" and "Den Of Thieves."

In other showbiz news, we discussed more #MeToo fallout, including a contract dispute on "Black-ish," whether James Franco and Aziz Ansari will attend the SAG Awards on Sunday, and a followup on the Michelle Williams/Mark Wahlberg pay gap on "All The Money In The World."

Next we turned out attention to television, including another nineties sitcom that NBC might bring back, Conan O'Brien's upcoming special in Haiti, and the two mother-and-daughter actresses concurrently playing the same character on two different CBS shows.

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

Harris Challenge 1/19/18

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the categories include the He Only Hired The Best People, Around The World In Seven Days, and You Know Her Name. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/19/18


This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include three bizarre airport incidents and one flying car. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, January 19, 2018

On My Friday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show (listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com).

In the first hour, I'll talk with Jeff Kreisler about "Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter."

In the second hour, Max and I will review the new movies "12 Strong" and "Den Of Thieves," along with other showbiz news.

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

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Poker Maturity

When I'm at the poker table, I don't show my cards unless I have to. For instance, if I bet and my opponent calls, the rules say I'm obliged to turn them over first. Or if the reverse happens and she shows a hand I can beat, I expose my hand. But if I win because my opponent folds, I wait for the pot to be pushed towards me, then muck my cards face down. If the other player has to go first and shows a better hand than mine, I do the same thing.

This is not unusual -- most players don't expose their hands because it gives away information about how they play, and the better your opponents are, the less you want them to know about your strategy.

The other night, I was in a hand against a player in his early twenties who was fairly aggressive but not that difficult to read. I mostly stayed out of his way, but got tangled up with him in one hand. I called his bets on the flop and turn, but folded when he bet again on the river because I knew I didn't have the best hand.

As he pulled in the chips, he asked me if I'd had a pair of tens. I told him I didn't remember, a not-so-subtle way of saying I wasn't going to divulge any details of my play. But he didn't take the hint and kept asking, even telling me what his cards had been and why he'd bet so much on the river.

I nodded my head, then told him I have a don't ask/don't tell policy -- I'll never ask what you had, and I'll never reveal what I had. He replied, "So, you didn't have a pair of tens?" That's when the guy sitting between us, a pro in his mid-thirties who'd been silent the entire evening, turned to my opponent and said, "He's not going to tell you, and it's very rude to keep asking. Let it go."

The twenty-something player was taken aback. He'd never considered that he'd crossed an etiquette line. After letting it sink in for a few seconds, he looked over at me and said, "Sorry." I replied, "No problem," and we moved on. Lesson learned.

The whole thing reminded me of an encounter I had a decade or so ago while playing in a cash game in Las Vegas.

As I sat down in Seat 2, I looked around the table to size up my competition. Several of them looked like local grinders (bad), a couple of them looked like tourists (good), there was a drunk Englishman in Seat 8 who was clearly there to have a good time (excellent), and a guy who looked to have just turned twenty-one on my right in Seat 1.

I try to be sociable at the poker table, so I talked a little bit to this young guy who was very nice. It turned out he had moved to Vegas a month earlier to play poker for a living. As I watched him play, it was clear he knew what he was doing, so I made a mental note not to get involved in too many hands with him. There were weaker players to target instead, especially Drunk Englishman.

After an hour or so, Drunk Englishman, who was playing almost every hand, caught a miracle card on the river to beat Seat 1. Not only did Seat 1 lose the big pot, he also lost his temper, and started berating the Englishman for his poor play. Drunk Englishman responded with lines like, "Hey, I'm just trying to have some fun!" but Seat 1 would have none of it, and kept loudly explaining to Drunk Englishman how badly he'd played.

Under the table, I tapped Seat 1 on the leg a few times until he turned to me and barked, "What?!?" That's when I advised him: "You have to learn not to do this." Still pissed off, he asked what I meant.

I explained, "You're right that Drunk Englishman played the hand very badly. Unfortunately for you, he got lucky. But you want him to go on having a good time and making bad decisions. Even when he beats you, you should encourage him and be as nice as possible. Otherwise, if you yell and call him names, he might get up and leave this table, taking that big stack of chips and cash with him. If that happens, you'll never get a shot at winning it back. If this is your job, act professional at all times, especially towards tourists who are enjoying their free alcohol a little bit too much. In the long run, the more mistakes they make, the more money you make."

I could see the light bulb going on over his head as I spoke. He calmed down, apologized to Drunk Englishman, who was happily ordering another drink, and we all went back to having a friendly game of poker.

By the way, I wasn't just telling Seat 1 this so that he'd have another chance at Drunk Englishman's stack. I may be just a recreational poker player, but I wanted those chips, too. Fortunately, I got my opportunity about a half-hour later when Drunk Englishman made another horrible play. This time he didn't get lucky, and I won a massive pot.

Seat 1 turned to me and said, with a tinge of jealousy, "Nice hand."

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Best Thing I've Read Today

I'm far from the only one who has written recently about why Oprah Winfrey should not be considered a candidate for president because of the nonsense she endorses and enables. The latest is Kurt Anderson, author of "Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History"...

Perhaps more than any other single American, she is responsible for giving national platforms and legitimacy to all sorts of magical thinking, from pseudoscientific to purely mystical, fantasies about extraterrestrials, paranormal experience, satanic cults, and more. The various fantasies she has promoted on all her media platforms—her daily TV show with its 12 million devoted viewers, her magazine, her website, her cable channel—aren’t as dangerous as Donald Trump’s mainstreaming of false conspiracy theories, but for three decades she has had a major role in encouraging Americans to abandon reason and science in favor of the wishful and imaginary.
Read Anderson's full piece here.

Movie Review: "The Commuter"


When I walked out of a packed screening of Liam Neeson's latest action movie, "The Commuter," there were two groups of people in the lobby: regular people buzzing with excitement and a group of critics grousing about having to sit through it. That's because the latter group went in with their expectations bar set too high, perhaps because they've been exposed to so many award contenders in the last few weeks. Meanwhile, the non-critics went in hoping for a fun popcorn movie, nothing more, and that's exactly what they got.

At 65, Liam Neeson has probably reached the age where he should stop making movies like this (who does he think he is, Harrison Ford?), but he's still believable as the everyman who gets caught up in a situation beyond his control. This time, Neeson plays Michael Macauley, an ex-cop who, for the last decade, has been commuting by train to his job in midtown Manhattan as an insurance salesman.

It's the same routine every day, until he's called into the boss' office and unceremoniously fired. Deciding not to tell his wife over the phone, he goes to a local bar to have a couple of beers and commiserate with his former police partner (Patrick Wilson), then gets on the train home. That's where he's approached by a woman he's never met before (Vera Farmiga, who should be getting better roles by now) who engages him in small talk and then asks him a hypothetical question: would you carry out a single act that has no effect on you, and only has ramifications for a stranger, for $100,000?

Since Michael's just lost his job and has to pay not only his mortgage and bills but his son's upcoming college tuition, he's intrigued -- until he finds out the question wasn't so hypothetical. He's caught up in something very dangerous, and lives are on the line unless he can identify someone on the train and tag them with a GPS device. The premise may be thin, but it's enough to draw us in as Neeson pulls out his usual combination of bravery and brains to figure out what's really going on while eyeing everyone else on the commuter train to see who might be the target.

Director Jaume Collet-Saura, who made the similar Neeson adventure-on-an-airplane movie "Non-Stop" -- as well as the 2016 Blake Lively vs. shark thriller "The Shallows" (here's my review) -- keeps the suspense taut, although there are several sequences that are tough to accept. For instance, in one fight, a woman sprays mace in Neeson's face, but two seconds later, he's fine, no after-effects. Then there are the usual hand-to-hand brawls with enough punches and kicks to disable a normal human being, but not our hero. In that regard, "The Commuter" felt to me sorta like "Die Hard 3." Still, I was willing to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride, just as I do for any other movie from this genre (I'm talking about you, James Bond).

Unfortunately, Jonathan Banks isn't given much to do as a fellow commuter Neeson befriended on their daily trips over many years. Neither are Elizabeth McGovern, given the thankless role of Neeson's barely-seen wife, and Sam Neill, as his former boss on the police force (a role that looks like it may have been larger originally, but ended up on the cutting room floor).

If you keep your expectations low -- and don't question how Farmiga's character knows everything that happens on the train after she gets off it -- "The Commuter" meets them. It's not horrible, it's not great, it's probably not going to do a lot at the box office, but I bet it runs on cable and streaming services for years.

I give it a 6.5 out of 10.