Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis every Friday, 3-6pm CT

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Where's The Soap?

One of my many pet peeves when traveling is encountering a hotel with liquid soap dispensers in the shower. Excuse me, I meant to say "bath gel."

I understand why more hotels have adopted this practice. It's cheaper to refill the dispensers every week or so than to start out each guest with a new bar of soap that may only be used for a day before it has to be thrown away.

I don't have a problem using soft soap at the sink -- a couple of pumps and I have enough to clean my hands -- but in the shower, with a body as large as mine, I've gotta hit that thing more than a dozen times to get enough volume of "bath gel." Plus, there's something more satisfying about rubbing a bar of soap against the body and lathering up.

Perhaps I'll have to start traveling with my own bar of soap, as my daughter does. She's a vegan and -- I didn't know this until she informed me -- most commercial soaps (and "bath gels") contain at least one ingredient made from animal products. So she carries her own cruelty-free bar and forgoes whatever the hotel/motel/hostel offers.

That will also keep me from smelling like whatever combination of ingredients the "bath gel" producer has chosen for their product. Apparently, to be in that business, you only have to choose two random scents and combine them. Among those I've encountered on recent trips: lemongrass sage, cucumber melon, black raspberry vanilla, and oatmeal peppercorn.

It could be worse. I could be showering with pumpkin spice bath gel.

Friday, September 22, 2017

No Show Today

I'm taking a personal day today, so I won't be on KTRS this afternoon. However, I'll make up for it with a bonus show Monday 3-6pm CT. Until then, you'll have to figure out how to start the weekend on your own.

Best Thing I've Read Today

USA Today's Nancy Armour says that the revelation that Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end who killed himself in prison after being convicted of murder, suffered from severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) will shake the NFL to its core -- and it should.

It was easy to absolve football when it is players in their 60s and 70s whose memories and personalities had disappeared, turning them into people their loved ones barely recognized when they died. There’s no definitive link, the NFL would say, alluding to a host of other environmental and lifestyle factors that might have played a role.

Even when it was Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, taking their lives in their 40s and 50s because their addled brains were already making their lives hell and they knew there was more to come, the NFL managed to tap dance around football’s responsibility. Tragic, but there are still so many unanswered questions, we’ve heard time and time and time again. More research is needed on genetics and mental illness and, well, anything else that might gum up the debate....

But a 27 year old? The NFL is going to own that whether it wants to or not.

The NFL spends considerable time and resources every year to reassure worried parents that it’s OK to let their kids play football at the youth level. But the news about Hernandez will only ratchet up the fear, making parents wonder if they’re consigning their kids to a jail cell or the morgue by allowing them to play.
As I predicted years ago when I started discussing the work of researchers like Dr. Bennet Amalu and Dr. Ann McKee, we've already seen a dramatic drop-off in the number of young kids playing organized football. That means fewer players interested in risking their brains to play the game professionally later on.

And there are quite a few fans -- myself included -- who just don't get as much joy from watching the NFL as we used to. That's a part of the reason the league's TV ratings started slipping several years ago. Stories like this, from respected sports columnists like Armour, are only going to continue to dent the NFL's image going forward.

Read Armour's full piece here.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Picture Of The Day

Thanks to Jacob Veitz for sending me the link to this funny piece by James Veitch about how he handled an unsolicited marketing email from a supermarket...

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Picture Of The Day

A very entertaining explanation of the magic behind sound design for movies and TV...

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Movie Review: "American Assassin"


Mitch Rapp has just proposed to his beautiful girlfriend on the beach in Ibiza, Spain. When he goes to the bar to get a couple of drinks to toast their engagement, all hell breaks loose. Gunmen appear out of nowhere, shooting everyone in sight. She's dead, but somehow he survives.

The next time we see him, Mitch is in training. It's clear he's working to get back at the Iranians who pulled off the terrorist attack that turned his life upside down. Meanwhile, he's attracted the attention of the CIA, which is monitoring his communications with the jihadists. Pretty soon, he's being recruited to join an elite fighting force called Orion, run by tough guy Stan Hurley, played by Michael Keaton.

As in so many other movies, everything is better when Keaton is on screen. He's still a magnetic personality, but I like him best when he's playing a rogue character. This time, however, he's the boss and Mitch is the guy who doesn't like following orders, so you know they're going to butt heads before they're forced to work together to save the world.

Did I give too much away? No, because we've seen this formula and characters like Mitch before: John McClane, Jack Reacher, Jason Bourne. The kind of guy who can withstand a brutal fistfight, shoot you dead with the last bullet in his gun, and somehow know exactly where the bad guy is at just the right time. It's also the kind of movie where the bad guy doesn't kill the good guy because he wants his nemesis to see the havoc he's about to wreak (never mind the collateral damage of the rest of the people on the good guy's side). So, you're unlikely to be surprised by anywhere "American Assassin" takes you, including a finale that may remind you of a 2002 movie based on a Tom Clancy book.

That said, Dylan O'Brien, who plays Mitch, is very good in the role, and I have a feeling we'll see him as this character again, considering "American Assassin" is based on just one of sixteen Mitch Rapp novels in print. Of course, a lot of people said the same thing about Taylor Kitsch five years ago when he graduated from TV star on "Friday Night Lights" to action movie star in "John Carter," but that didn't quite work out. So it's ironic that Kitsch shows up in "American Assassin" as a bad guy. The cast also includes Sanaa Lathan as the CIA authority figure trying to keep both Mitch and Stan under control while simultaneously supporting every rogue move they pull off.

Last week, in discussing Jeremy Renner, I mentioned "Kill The Messenger," an underrated 2014 title in which he starred as real-life journalist Gary Webb, who uncovered the CIA's role in importing cocaine into American ghettoes in the 1990s. That movie was well directed by Michael Cuesta, who also does a good job with "American Assassin." He gets the action sequences right, doesn't telegraph what's coming next, and lets Keaton be Keaton, which always helps.

I give "American Assassin" a 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Movie Review: "Mother!"


After seeing Darren Aronofsky's "Mother!" I walked out of the theater not sure what I had just seen, but confident that I hated it and will find a place for it on my Worst Movies Of 2017 list.

The plot starts with Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple living in a big Victorian house with not much around them except a meadow and some trees. He's a poet with writer's block. She's fixing up the house on her own. One day, there's a knock on the door and Ed Harris stumbles into their lives. It turns out he's a fan of Bardem's, who allows Harris to spend the night. The next day, Michelle Pfeiffer shows up as Ed's wife and moves in, too.

Lawrence doesn't understand why her husband allows these complete strangers into their personal space and walks around with a puzzled look on her face. That look changes to horror when the couple's two sons show up, a fight breaks out, and someone ends up dead. During all of this, Bardem does nothing to stop anyone while Lawrence screams. From there until the end of the movie, that's all you get from either of the leads -- apathy from him and terrified panic from her.

This is the kind of movie where, when Lawrence goes to the basement and sees blood dripping down the walls, she doesn't tell anyone about it. Is it a horror movie? Is it a metaphor for writer's block? What the hell is it?

I don't know, and I don't care. I did sympathize with Lawrence, however, because she's trapped in that house with something terrible taking place -- just like I was trapped in that movie theater for two full hours with a terrible movie unfolding in front of me.

"Mother!" is self-indulgent (note the exclamation point in its name), it's too long, and it's unsettling to see such good actors locked into a script that takes them nowhere.

The movie shares its title with a movie Albert Brooks made in 1996, in which he plays a grown man who moves back in with his mother, played by Debbie Reynolds. It was not one of Brooks' best (e.g. "Modern Romance," "Lost In America," "Defending Your Life"), but you'd be better off watching it five times than having to sit through this "Mother!" even once.

I give it a 2 on a scale of 10, with an exclamation point!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Andy Dehnart's Fall Reality Preview


Andy Dehnart, publisher of RealityBlurred.com, returned to my radio show to preview some TV reality shows you should watch this fall. We also discussed how local news in central Florida (where he lives) covered Hurricane Irma, why "Survivor" is better in other countries, and the upcoming "Celebrity Big Brother."

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

Showbiz Show 9/15/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed "Rebel In The Rye," "Mother," and "American Assassin." We also discussed new Marc Maron and Jerry Seinfeld standup specials on Netflix, why Hollywood shouldn't blame Rotten Tomatoes, and yet another new "Star Wars" director.

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

Harris Challenge 9/15/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories about U2, the Emmy Awards, and the ME Awards.  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 9/15/17


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a dangerous swim, utility pole thieves, and suspects fleeing to the wrong building. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

KTRS Friday


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

In the first hour, I'll talk with Andy Dehnart of Reality Blurred about the reality TV shows coming up this fall, as well as this weekend's Emmy awards.

In the second hour, Max and I will review "Rebel In The Rye," "Mother," "American Assassin," and other movie/showbiz news.

In the third hour, you'll have a chance to test your trivia knowledge on my Harris Challenge, and I'll have a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News®.

You can listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Concert Review: Stevie Nicks

I saw Stevie Nicks in concert last night, and was pleasantly surprised to find that, at age 69, she still has the full, strong voice that made her a star more than four decades ago.

With legendary LA session guitarist Waddy Wachtel leading her 8-piece band, Stevie sang several of her hits ("Gypsy," "Rhiannon," "Landslide"), the best version of "Gold Dust Woman" I've ever heard, and some more obscure work going all the way back to her first solo album "Belladonna" and even to her pre-Fleetwood Mac days. She also told a lot of stories about her life and music, including how she became friends with Prince when his "Little Red Corvette" inspired her to write "Stand Back," one of her most popular tunes.

More than three-quarters of the crowd were women, many of whom had obviously put a lot of thought, time, and money into their Stevie Nicks concert outfits in an effort to mirror her wardrobe although none of them quite matched the real thing. Stevie herself went through an assortment of scarves and capes, including one she claimed to have paid $2,000 for in 1978 to her mother's horror -- but considering how many times she's worn it onstage since, she certainly got value for that expense.

I didn't see any guys who appeared to have given their concert wardrobe much thought. Like, me, most of them had just thrown on a shirt and a pair of jeans and were ready to go. My only other preparation for the concert was to get a pretzel at the concession stand on the way in, a tribute to my only face-to-face encounter with Stevie a long time ago.

It was 1980, and Fleetwood Mac brought their "Tusk" tour to the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, where I was the music director of WRCN, a rock radio station. The record company, Warner Brothers, not only gave me tickets to the concert, but also to an after-party where invited guests would meet the band.

Having gone to a bunch of these events, I can tell you they sound a lot more impressive than they actually are. They consist of a few dozen people standing around with drinks, possibly munching on some cheese and crackers and other snacks that have been provided, waiting for the artists to go through their own post-show ritual (whatever that is), before stopping by to schmooze for 20 minutes or so. Some performers are good at these meet-and-greets (e.g. Lindsay Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood) while others look like they're rather be anywhere else (e.g. Christine and John McVie).

On this night, we waited about a half-hour before the members of Fleetwood Mac started coming in to say hello. Lindsay walked straight over to the bar, where I happened to be standing. After getting a drink, he turned to me and asked what I thought of the concert. I told him I'd really enjoyed it, especially his guitar solos, which surprised me because you'd never know how good he was if all you'd heard were Fleetwood Mac's big hits. He thanked me and explained that he didn't have much opportunity to stretch out in the studio, but onstage, he liked to tear it up, and he was glad his band-mates allowed him to do so.

I asked him about producing his title track from the "Tusk" album, which featured the USC marching band. While Lindsay was explaining the process, Stevie wandered over. She listened to him, nodding with an odd, somewhat spacey look on her face, holding a pretzel in her fingers. When Lindsay paused, we both looked at Stevie. With a wide-eyed smile, she said, "I have the last pretzel!" Then she skipped away. As we watched her move across the room, Lindsay commented sarcastically, almost under his breath, "Great, Stevie."

Right there was everything I needed to know about their on-again off-again romantic life, the fertile ground they had mined for so many Fleetwood Mac songs.

Stevie has obviously grown a lot since then and although she's no longer the hitmaker she once was, she still knows how to entertain a crowd. If only she'd titled the tour "The Edge Of Seventy."

Best Thing I've Read Today

Hollywood is trying to figure out why box office numbers are down so dramatically this summer. Their thinking: it can't possibly be because the movies haven't been very good -- there must be some external factor. Aha! Maybe we can pin the blame on the Rotten Tomatoes website, because all the negative reviews on that site are keeping people away from the theaters.

Yves Bergquist, who manages the Data and Analytics Project at USC’s Entertainment Technology Center, decided to run the numbers:

I collected box office return data through Box Office Mojo for all the 150 titles released in 2017 that grossed more than $1 million, plugged in Rotten Tomatoes Scores and Audience Scores for all titles, and looked at correlation between scores and financial performance....

The result? Nope. The math is pretty overwhelming in saying there was no (positive or negative) correlation in 2017 between Rotten Tomatoes Scores and box office returns.
See Berquist's full research summary here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Look, Up In The Sky, It's The Sky!

While watching Apple's announcement of new iPhones and other devices yesterday, one thing struck me as wrong. As the company keeps pushing the edges of the technology envelope, I'm amazed by what computer engineers and scientists can squeeze into our all-knowing pocket computers -- but bothered by the insistence that we see everything in the world through the lens of a smartphone.

This was never more true than when Phil Schiller, Apple's marketing VP, showed off some new augmented reality software. In particular, he highlighted one overlay app that, when you point the phone at the sky, will show all the constellations above you.

The explosion in smartphone use over the last decade has created a global population of humans who spend too much of their life looking down at a device in their hands. We already have enough trouble getting people to look up from their phones in the first place to view the real world around them. When they do put down the electronics for a moment to gaze at the stars at night or a blue sky (or a sweet swirl of clouds) during the day, I wish they'd simply be amazed at the universe we live in. Take in reality and reflect upon it on a grand scale, not through some four-inch wide screen.

Of course, it could be worse. The smartphone-addicted could be spending hours playing with Apple's other ridiculous new offering -- a customizable "animoji" that allows you to provide the facial features and voice for a talking pile of crap.

By the way, that's old technology. I worked for a boss who personified exactly that a couple of decades ago.

Give Them An E For Ffort

The letter E used to be the most-used vowel in the English language. I just used it a dozen times in the previous sentence. In fact, E didn't just beat the other vowels, but all the consonants, too, to become the most-used letter in our alphabet -- until the last decade, when some businesses decided to get along without it.

First there were websites called Tumblr and Flickr. Then apps named Grindr and Blendr. Then Trackd and Smashd. There's one for finding activities for your children called Kidzexplor.

It's not easy coming up with a name for a product, particularly one that hasn't been used before, but I detest the reduced use of the letter E in many of these cases. However, you might notice that these outfits haven't dropped E completely. It's still okay in some places, like the middle of Blendr or Kidzexplor. Then there's this low-tech example I found the other day which dropped its second E, becoming unique enough to register as a trademark...


At least the company didn't call it Singl Serv. Someone else registered that trademark many years ago, but it must have looked wrong to enough people that the owner let it lapse.

On the other hand, it makes the name a little easier to use in a Tweet -- whr vry charactr mattrs.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Movie Review: "Home Again"


"Home Again" feels just like a lot of Nancy Meyers movies ("The Intern," "It's Complicated," "Something's Gotta Give"). That's because she produced it, and her daughter Hallie Meyers-Shyer wrote and directed it, fully inspired by her mother's formula: cast a likable well-known actress, put her in upper-class surroundings, and then get her involved in a possibly-romantic situation while she juggles her non-love-life.

This time around, it's Reese Witherspoon, who is too good for the role -- but it could just have easily been Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz, or Katherine Heigl. Reese is the mother of two daughters -- the kind that only exist in Hollywood movies, with dialogue that's far too cute and smart for kids of their age. She lives in an absolutely beautiful house in Los Angeles that once belonged to her father, a John-Cassavettes-like movie director of some renown who married several women and bedded even more. Reese is the result of his marriage to Candice Bergen's character and, even though Dad died years ago, Mom is still around to look after the kids, as well as pop in at inappropriate times.

The other half of the story involves three young wannabe-filmmakers who are trying to get a script through the movie-making machinery of Hollywood. They meet her in a bar on the night she's celebrating her 40th birthday and, before long, we learn that the guys have no money and nowhere to stay, so naturally, Reese is cajoled into letting them live in her guest house.

This is the kind of Meyers world where allowing three twenty-something male strangers to move in while you have two girls under 11 years old in the house makes perfect sense. It's also a world where, when Reese makes breakfast for everyone, there are eggs and pancakes and muffins and bagels and a tray full of enough fruit to bankrupt a farmers market. You know, just like the meals that start your day.

There are also nauseating subplots involving:
  • Michael Sheen as Reese's ex who lives in New York, but you know is going to show up in LA to object to this unusual living arrangement;
  • Lake Bell as a stuffy client of Reese's struggling interior design business;
  • The playwriting debut of the older daughter, who just can't go on stage without one of the cute guys being there.
I admit that I'm not the target demo for movies like these (let's say it: "chick flick"), so I brought my wife to the screening for her reaction. Like me, she couldn't stand any of the characters, thought the three young actors playing the movie-making wannabes were terrible, and couldn't have cared less about anything that happened along the way. She even used the word "boring."

She also agreed with me that while Reese looks fantastic, she needs to do a better job picking her movie roles, leaving stuff like this to the second-tier female stars and finding something befitting her talents.

My wife and I both give "Home Again" a 4 out of 10 -- and we're being generous.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Movie Review: "Wind River"


I first noticed Jeremy Renner when he starred in "The Hurt Locker," which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2008. Two years later, he caught my eye again in "The Town." Then the Marvel people plucked him to play Hawkeye (one of The Avengers), but he continued to impress me in non-superhero roles in "The Bourne Legacy," "American Hustle," "Arrival," and the underrated "Kill The Messenger."

This summer, Renner stars in "Wind River," a murder mystery on an Indian Reservation in Wyoming. As a tracker for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Renner is the first to discover the body of a barefoot young woman frozen in the snow, far from anywhere. He reports his find to the reservation's police chief (Graham Greene), who calls in the FBI, hoping to get a few experienced agents to look into the crime. Instead, he gets one rookie agent (played by Elizabeth Olsen, also part of the Marvel acting stable), who is as unfamiliar with Wyoming as she is with proper winter gear. Since he's familiar with the reservation (his ex-wife and kids are Native Americans and live there), Olsen recruits Renner to help her figure out what happened.

As they unravel the mystery, Renner and Olsen have good professional chemistry and, fortunately, that's where the movie leaves it, without forcing them into a love story. Greene is solid and stolid as ever -- he's been Hollywood's go-to Indian for 4 decades in movies like "Dances With Wolves," "Maverick," and "The Green Mile."

"Wind River" was written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who did the screenplay for "Hell Or High Water" (which I liked despite Jeff Bridges' mumbling) and "Sicario" (which I didn't like despite his Oscar nomination). This time, he takes his time telling the story, showing us the vast frozen tundra of the reservation, developing the characters.

I won't give away any details of the murder plot except to say it eventually takes an ugly turn, with a burst of violence towards the end that stops just short of being Tarantino-esque. Still, it rolls on to a mostly satisfactory finale with a message about how many young Native American women go missing each year and are never found.

I give "Wind River" a 7.5 out of 10.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Joe Edwards on Blueberry Hill's 45th Anniversary



Here's my conversation with Joe Edwards, owner of the landmark St. Louis restaurant/bar/concert venue Blueberry Hill, which celebrates its 45th anniversary tonight. We discussed its history, his long friendship with Chuck Berry, his other business ventures on the Delmar Loop, and more.

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

Showbiz Show 9/8/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed "It" and "Home Again." We also discussed "Wind River," more fallout from Disney bailing on Netflix, a new Nurse Ratched TV series, and a Carol Burnett 50th anniversary show.

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

Harris Challenge 9/8/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories about Hurricane Rock, the St. Louis Walk Of Fame, and That Thing In Your Pocket.  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 9/8/17


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about nurses who peek, a geography problem, and an unflushed toilet. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Today On My Show


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

In the first hour, I'll talk with Joe Edwards about the 45th anniversary of his landmark St. Louis restaurant/bar/concert venue, Blueberry Hill.

In the second hour, Max and I will review "It," "Home Again," and other movie/showbiz news.

In the third hour, you'll have a chance to test your trivia knowledge on my Harris Challenge, and I'll have a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News®.

You can listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

About My Friday KTRS Show


Five years ago, longtime KTRS afternoon host Frank O. Pinion decided he no longer wanted to work a five day week, so he asked me if I would take over Friday afternoons. I had given up full-time radio and was enjoying my semi-retirement with other projects, but being on the air once a week with the freedom to do whatever I wanted appealed to me, so I agreed and have enjoyed holding down that slot since then.

Recently, Frank announced that he is leaving KTRS effective September 14th, and I have received a lot of phone calls, emails, texts, and social media messages asking what that will mean for me.

I'm happy to announce that, for the foreseeable future, I'm not going anywhere. I will continue to do my show -- complete with my guest interviews, the Harris Challenge, Knuckleheads In The News®, traffic from Tim Wilund, and talking showbiz with Max Foizey -- each Friday from 3pm to 6pm CT on KTRS.

Several people have asked if this is permanent, and I remind them that in the radio business, there is no such word. KTRS management doesn't have a new afternoon host lined up yet, but if they find someone they want to have on the air five days a week, that will mean the end of my show. I'm hoping that won't be the case, because I enjoy keeping my toe dipped in the radio water. I may also pop up here and there filling in for some of the other KTRS hosts, as I've done in the past.

About Frank: from the first time I met him in February, 1999, he has been very supportive of me. Having the radio station's star endorse me from the start gave me a big boost with the KTRS audience that continues to this day, and I have always appreciated it. I understand the reasons why he's moving and wish him all the best at his soon-to-be new radio home, KFNS.

Unfortunately for me, Dan Strauss will be moving with Frank, which means he'll no longer be part of my Friday show. Dan is a very easy guy to like and work with, and often makes the funniest comments of any of us. I will miss him -- in and out of the studio -- a lot. I'm also sorry that personal circumstances are preventing Ian Geisz from being part of the team, as he too was always a valued contributor.

Bottom line: while some things change, others stay the same.

I hope you'll continue to check out my show every Friday 3-6pm CT over the air on KTRS, or via the station's app or website. Of course, I'll keep posting portions of the show here as podcasts, too.

Most of all, thanks for your kind words -- and for listening.

Another Movie Theater Complaint

Yesterday, I wrote about the torture of paying for a movie and having to sit through 20 minutes of trailers and other on-screen nonsense before the feature started. But I left out one complaint that I was reminded of last night when I went to a screening of a romantic-comedy that I'll review in the next few days.

The rom-com had a couple of quiet moments with nothing but dialogue between two people -- yet that's not all we heard. We also got the audio of the movie playing in the theater on the other side of the wall, a big-budget action flick with lots of noise and a loud soundtrack that overwhelmed our auditorium. It was like living in an apartment next to a neighbor with a hearing problem who turns the TV volume up enough to be heard in another zip code.

I'm surprised the theater company doesn't sell that as a perk, a combo pack allowing you to watch one movie while listening to two!

TV at 90

The medium of television is 90 years old today. According to the AP, a live webcast this evening "will celebrate the transmission of the first electronic TV signal on Sept. 7, 1927, and the man behind it, Philo T. Farnsworth" on TheHistoryOfTV.com.

I love the irony that this milestone will be webcast, not broadcast.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Dan Gardner on the media's failure to hold pundits accountable, and rush to praise someone who got one prediction right, regardless of how often they were wrong:

Whenever a shocking event occurs, journalists rush to find the wise few who saw it coming, anoint them oracles, and beg them to reveal what will come next. It’s an understandable reaction to surprise and uncertainty. It’s also an embarrassing failure of the elementary skepticism that should be journalism’s foundation.

For big events like presidential elections, terrorist attacks, and stock market crashes, the number of observers making forecasts is always large, with varied forecasts. As a result, every possible outcome will usually have been predicted. In those circumstances, the mere fact that someone correctly predicted something means little. To take it as proof that the forecaster possesses deep insight and knows what’s coming next makes as much sense as asking today’s lottery winner to reveal next week’s winning numbers.

When it comes to the predictions and forecasting, the challenge is to separate the lucky from the skilled. As any baseball fan knows, that requires statistics. One home run or one strikeout says very little. To judge a batter, you need to know his batting average—a performance statistic based on the careful observation and scoring of a large number of at-bats.
Read Gardner's full piece here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Movie Theater Torture

I've become spoiled by years of seeing movies in press screenings.

The films are almost always shown on big, wide screens. I never have to worry about not having an available seat or standing in line. The other reviewers never talk during the movie or create distractions by taking out their phones midway through.

It also means that I get to see almost all of the movies I'm interested in (along with plenty of others that I attend just to have something to talk about on the air and on this site). The downside is that my Netflix queue is very small, because there aren't many titles I missed when they came around the first time.

However, every once in awhile, my schedule prohibits me from attending a screening and I have to catch the movie during a regular showing. Every time I do that, I'm reminded of how painful the experience can be.

The other night, I went to see "Wind River" (review to come) at the AMC theater a few miles from home. It was a matinee, so it cost less than six bucks. So far, so good. The scheduled start time for the movie was 5:40pm. I got there about five minutes early and sat through the commercials that are euphemistically called the "pre-show." Then, the torture began as we were forced to sit through trailers for upcoming movies.

I try to avoid these whenever possible, preferring to see the movie with virgin eyes, knowing as little as possible about it. Another nice thing about press screenings is not having to endure these spoiler-fests -- I never watch the trailers online beforehand because they kill the experience for me.

There was a time when movie trailers were a tease; they told you just enough about the movie to entice you to come back and pay to see the whole thing. Now, trailers are two-to-three-minute highlight reels that give away every major plot point. If it's an action flick, you see all the big stunts. If it's a comedy, you get all the punchlines. If it's a drama, you see the plot twists. In each case, the trailer tells you all the stuff the creative team would have preferred were kept secret until it's revealed in context. I'm often left thinking why I need to see the entire movie at all (e.g. the trailer for George Clooney's upcoming "Suburbicon" leaves nothing un-spoiled, rendering it unnecessary for me to view the full-length version).

As if that weren't bad enough, we were forced to sit through seven of these trailers, followed by the AMC reminders about where the exits are and how to guard our personal belongings -- things that used to fall under the heading of Stuff We Should Already Know -- followed by the time-waster that urges you to go get something at the concession stand. Counter-intuitively, that promo is run last in the package, right before the movie starts, when no customers are going to bolt out for a last-minute Coke or $12 box of Sno-Caps. Why not sell the snack bar before the trailers, giving the audience time to get their 128-ounce soda-and-popcorn combo without missing any plot points?

All of this took 20 minutes of screen time, so the movie that was advertised as starting at 5:40pm didn't actually begin until 6:00pm. Were I to wait until that movie came out on DVD, there would still be trailers popping up, but I could fast-forward through them and get right to the film. Yet with no such option available in a captured-audience setting, devoting that much time to coming attractions is nothing less than audience abuse.

Recent articles about Hollywood having its worst summer in a generation all mention that movie theater companies are in trouble because there weren't enough blockbusters to lure in audiences, plus they have to compete with on-demand content on our portable devices and on our home televisions. The part of the equation that isn't mentioned is that the experience of going to the theater, which can be wonderful with the right movie, can be too easily ruined by taking the customers for granted.

One last point. A couple of weeks ago, I witnessed an idiot in a movie theater repeatedly opening his iPad (not his phone, but a tablet-sized screen) during the movie, oblivious to the distraction he was creating for everyone around and behind him. He should have been thrown out of the auditorium immediately, but there were no theater employees anywhere in the room.

I flashed back to a column I wrote in 1998 entitled "The Beacon Of Shame":

There was a time when movie theaters actually employed people to keep order in their theaters. If you were talking too loudly during the movie, or making out with your intern in the balcony, or -- god forbid -- putting your feet up on the chair in front of you, the Usher would appear from nowhere and point a flashlight at you. Mind you, this wasn't just any flashlight. It had approximately the same candlepower as the Bat Signal. When the Usher lit you up, you were bathed in the Beacon Of Shame. Nothing more needed to be said. You were shamed into stopping whatever illicit activity you were involved in. You also missed the next 10 minutes of the movie because you were blinder than Mr. Magoo (which actually would have been helpful if you had found yourself in a theater showing the big screen version of Mr. Magoo, starring Leslie Nielsen...what were they thinking?).

Of course, wielding the Beacon Of Shame is a little more difficult these days. There's more than a small chance that after the Usher whips out the Beacon Of Shame, the offending 70mm-filmgoer is going to whip out a 9mm-usher-stopper. And soon thereafter, that sleeping infant in the reserved seat in front of you is awakened by the sound of gunplay, and then your whole moviegoing experience is ruined.
You can read that entire column here. But only during the pre-show countdown.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Jonna Ramey, a 67-year-old white woman, in a letter-to-the-editor of the Salt Lake Tribune:

White person to white supremacist person: What is wrong with you?

People of European heritage are doing just fine in the world. They run most of the world’s institutions, hold much of the world’s wealth, replicate as frequently as other humans. You’re not in any danger here. The world is changing, that’s true. Others want a piece of the pie. They work for it, strive for it and earn it. Technology (robotics) is having a greater effect on your job prospects than immigrants. Going forward, tackling corporate control and climate change will need all of our attention, ideas and energy. Put down your Tiki torches and trite flags and get involved in some real work.

By the way, the world won the war against Nazi fascism in the 1940s, just as America won the war against the Confederacy in the 1860s. Aligning with two lost causes just labels you as profound losers.
Read Ramey's full letter here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Greatest Bob Newhart Story Ever


Comedy legend Bob Newhart is 88 today. I've had him on my radio show a few times to share some stories, but one stands above all the rest. Here's a transcript from January 5, 1988:
Harris: Every show you've ever been on has been well written. Do you have a say in who writes the show?

Newhart: Well, you sit down with them and see if there is a chemistry and see what direction they see the show going and who they see me as. On the first show, The Bob Newhart Show, one of the conditions I made was that we don't have children and that I be a psychologist rather than a psychiatrist. The reason being that a I know a psychiatrist would deal more seriously with people. I didn't want to be making fun of really serious people.

Harris: Right.

Newhart: I didn't want to have children because I didn't want to be the dumb husband/father who keeps getting in trouble and then the precocious children bail him out at the last minute.

Harris: Which is the plot of every major sitcom on television today, by the way.

Newhart: Exactly! So, in the sixth year of The Bob Newhart Show, I got a script to come home with on Friday night. I was reading it Sunday afternoon and noticed that it said that Emily was pregnant. So I called the producer. I said, "I read the script." He said, "Oh, what did you think of it?" I said, "Oh, it's a very funny story. It is great." He said, "We were a little concerned, you know." I said, "It was very funny. [pause] Who are you going to get to play Bob??"
You can read the entire conversation here.

Also on Harris Online:

The Ripe Fruit Conundrum

Why is it that you can no longer get fruit at the supermarket that is ripe and ready to eat?

My local supermarket hasn't sold a yellow banana in five years. They're all green! It looks like they were plucked off the tree the day after they became, officially, bananas.

There's a gas station near me where I can go in any day and buy a ripe banana and eat it right now. But if I go into the supermarket, I have to wait a week and a half. Otherwise, I risk bodily damage.

Q: What happened to you today?
A: I chipped a tooth on a banana. Yes, I took the peel off.

Bananas should not be crunchy.

My wife and I used to make the mistake of buying too many bananas. There's no way two normal people can eat eight bananas during their ready-to-eat phase before they go bad. She has left me notes on the counter saying, "For chrissake, eat one of these last two bananas before they turn brown," because when they do, it's mush-mouth time. We learned to only buy them in bunches of four or six, and then get some more. But it's hard to work out that timing when the damned things are as green as a lime.

It's not just bananas. Same thing with watermelon and cantaloupe, the two greatest summer fruits. I used to look forward to eating them almost every day between Memorial Day and Labor Day. But you cannot get them ripe anymore. There was a time when you could pick one up out of the supermarket bin, feel it, and make an educated guess about whether you could eat that melon when you got home. Not anymore. If you try that, you'll be disappointed as soon as you cut it open.

What else in the supermarket is sold like that? Not milk, not eggs, not cereal, not salad dressing. If I buy some boneless chicken breasts this afternoon, I can have them for dinner tonight. Unlike the fruit, if I kept them around for another week, I'd be inviting a colony of salmonella to join me for the meal.

We live in the on-demand society. We have these things in our pockets that will answer any question about anything immediately. You want to watch a TV show you missed? It's waiting on your DVR or streaming service whenever you're ready.

But if you want a ripe banana right now? You can't have one -- unless you fill up your tank, too.

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

Picture Of The Day

If you enjoyed the Luke Harris short "The Heist" that I posted the other day, you might like this one, which he did a few years ago...

Monday, September 04, 2017

Random Thoughts

With the death of Walter Becker, that leaves only Donald Fagen to explain what the lyrics in all those brilliant Steely Dan songs mean. Don't get me wrong. I love most of them (including the non-hits like "Don't Take Me Alive") and appreciate the musical artistry involved, but I have no idea what they are singing about most of the time.

When I heard that Trump had pledged $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief, my first thought was that "pledged" is not the same as "gave." Believe me, if he actually gives the money, he'll make a huge deal about it. Speaking of which, on Thursday, his press secretary asked reporters (you know, the ones he hates and claims create nothing but fake news) to suggest some charities he could give the money to. Because it's not like he's the president, with an entire government full of people who could look into that sort of thing -- or at least click the link for good charitable organizations helping Harvey victims at Charity Navigator.

Kudos to Ed Cunningham, the ESPN college football analyst who, after 20 years of watching young men bash their brains out on the field, has walked away from his six-figure job with a public announcement about his concern for their future well-being. It's never too late to see the pain.

Consumers sued Kraft and other companies for saying their containers of parmesan cheese were full of "100% parmesan cheese," even though there were other ingredients in there, including wood pulp (in the form of cellulose, to keep the grated cheese from clumping up over time). I discovered this a few years ago and, since then, my wife and I have only bought real parmesan cheese wedges and grated them by hand over our pasta. But the judge threw the case out, saying the slogan on the box didn't necessarily mean there was only cheese inside, and besides, consumers should have read the label more closely. It reminded me of my first week of working at McDonald's as an 18-year-old. Bringing a box of frozen hamburger patties out of the storeroom, I noticed it said "100% beef." I asked the manager if that was true and he replied, "Yes, all of the meat in the burgers is beef." I thought it was a less-than-truthful non-answer then, and it still is.

I'm not surprised that Juicero has gone out of business, but you've gotta give its founders credit for major chutzpah. They convinced Silicon Valley that what America needed most was a $400 juicer, an internet-of-things device that squeezed the liquid out of its specially formulated juice packs. When customers noticed that they could do the same thing with their hands -- or that they didn't really want to compress fruit to get juice that's available in cartons in every supermarket -- the scam was revealed, and sales plummeted. Loss to investors: $120 million. Loss to anyone who bought and then bragged about owning a Juicero: human dignity.

It could have been worse. The machine could have added wood pulp to the juice.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Picture Of The Day

The most famous routine by comedian Shelley Berman, who died last week, is a masterful piece of timing and one-sided storytelling...

Previously on Harris Online...

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Liam Caffrey, "Best Year Ever"


Here's my conversation with Liam Caffrey about his book, "Best Year Ever: One Guy, One Year, Twelve Once In A Lifetime Adventures." Among his adventures we discussed:
  • Going to a party at the Playboy Mansion;
  • Running with the bulls at Pamplona, Spain;
  • Playing in a World Series Of Poker tournament;
  • Being part of the Flugtag in Chicago.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 9/1/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed the movie "Patti Cake$." We also discussed why Hollywood took such a hit at the box office this summer, the 40th anniversary re-release of "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind," and the new seasons of "Black Mirror" and "True Detective."

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

Harris Challenge 9/1/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories about Labor Day, Sports and Showbiz, and On This Day.  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 9/1/17


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a frog in a salad, a boy who called the cops on his mother, and the wrong car to steal license plates from. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Picture Of The Day

This clever and funny short film by Luke Harris starts off parodying the "Ocean's Eleven" movies (love the guy in the Elliott Gould role) and then rolls on to cliches from other genres...

Thursday, August 31, 2017

America's Worst Airport Has Gotten Worse

In the last month, I have been dealing with some family business that required me to fly to New York City a couple of times. That meant dealing with America's worst major airport, LaGuardia.

As if that overcrowded, poorly air-conditioned hellhole wasn't bad enough, it has been made worse by construction at every turn. The authorities may be creating a better LaGuardia experience for the future, but in the present, it is an absolute minefield of a mess.

The simple act of getting from the arrival terminal to a rental car now involves first taking a bus to a drop-off area where you get out and drag your luggage through another terminal before you get to your car company's shuttle. Both the bus and the shuttle have to squeeze through twists and turns, orange cones and concrete barriers, yellow cabs and Uber pickups, and enough other obstacles to make it seem you're in one of those airbag commercials with the crash dummies.

Total time from deplaning to arriving at the car rental agency's counter can exceed 45 minutes during the busiest times, which, of course, were whenever I was there. At least I got in and out of town before the US Open started right down the road from LaGuardia, making the trip to and from even worse.

I can't help but wonder how much quicker the reconstruction of the airport would have been if they had just shut it down, torn it down completely, allowed no flights in or out, and simply rebuilt it with crews working around the clock. Yes, it would have been inconvenient to force all of that air traffic to divert to JFK or Newark or Islip (the three nearest airports to LaGuardia), but it's not exactly convenient now.

I could never have imagined the LaGuardia experience getting worse, but it has, and will continue to diminish until....who knows when?

Best Thing I've Read Today

Steven Novella takes on Panera Bread for its recent ad, which says "Sodium Benzoate is an artificial preservative found in sauces, jellies, and pickled foods. It’s also an active ingredient in fireworks. So to celebrate the removal of all artificial preservatives from Panera food, we brought Independence Day fireworks to Johnston City, IL, for the first time in 10 years."

The accompanying video opens with people in hazard suits handling sodium benzoate, which they state can be found in many foods as a preservative. They then ask, “But what if instead of doing harm sodium benzoate could be used to do good?” What harm are they referring to? That’s a good question.

This is, unfortunately, a clear example of fearmongering as a marketing campaign. Imply that some feature or ingredient is dangerous, and then proudly state that your product doesn’t have it. This leads the consumer to believe that other products do have it, and just to be safe they better avoid all competitors. In this case the deception is that sodium benzoate and other artificial preservatives “do harm.”

The new wrinkle in this marketing approach is the Food Babe tactic of implying that an ingredient is harmful because it is found in non-food items. She famously attacked Subway for using azodicarbonamide as a bleaching agent in their breads. This is a perfectly safe substance as used, but it also has a variety of industrial uses as a blowing agent. It is included in some plastics and rubbers, leading the Food Babe to call it the “Yoga mat chemical.” She therefore likened eating food made with azodicarbonamide with eating yoga mats.
Novella continues:
The fact that sodium benzoate can also be used in explosives is completely irrelevant to its safety as a food additive, and Panera should frankly be ashamed that they have based a marketing campaign on such anti-scientific fearmongering.
Read Novella's full piece here. I second his shaming of Panera for its fearmongering. The company should be better than that.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Harvey's Havoc

Random thoughts on the storm that has devastated Texas.

First, the obvious. The average people chipping in to help save their neighbors. The first responders from other states who headed towards the disaster to save lives. The TV news outlets showing us remarkable pictures (some via camera-equipped drones) and heart-breaking stories of loss. The use of social media to send rescuers to people trapped on their rooftops and elsewhere.

One story that caught my eye was of the two women who had managed to get out of their house before the flood waters rose, but their mother had stayed behind. Fortunately, some good samaritans in a boat found her and transported her down a flooded highway to the sisters who were waiting on the side. When she exited the boat, the woman exclaimed, "Thank you, God, for saving me!"

Um, no, lady. You were saved by the two humans who rescued you. Your invisible sky friend is the one you should blame for all the water he dropped on you and your neighborhood. How come no one ever shouts, "Thank you, God, for ruining my life!"

I'm reminded of a cartoon that showed a surgeon in an operating room, standing over a patient while holding a mass of tissue he'd just removed. The caption: "I swear, if anyone thanks God, I'm going to put this tumor back where I found it!"

Amid all the meteorological fallout, I wish there were more discussion of the impact of climate change. We've witnessed more severe weather events like Harvey for years now, and there's a scientific explanation for it. Of course, I can't expect the residents of a Trump-loving red state to believe mere scientists and their forecasts -- have you noticed how many Texans refused to evacuate even when the most dire warnings were issued? -- but I'd expect more media outlets to try to explain the connection.

Finally, I can't decide who came off as the bigger scumbag this week -- Ted Cruz or Joel Osteen. Let's call it a tie.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Movie Review: "Good Time"


Don't let the title fool you. "Good Time" is anything but.

It starts with Benny Safdie as mentally-challenged Nick in a conversation with a therapist. Soon, Robert Pattinson bursts in as Nick's brother Connie, and takes him out of there. Next, we're watching the brothers try to pull off a bank robbery and get away with a bag full of cash. When the red-dye marker in the bag explodes, covering them in paint, they find themselves chased by the cops, and things go downhill from there.

The rest of the plot involves a case of mistaken identity, a bottle of LSD, a weird trip to a closed amusement park, and all sorts of odd encounters reminiscent of what Griffin Dunne went through in Martin Scorsese's "After Hours." Unfortunately, Josh and Benny Safdie, the real-life brothers who wrote and directed "Good Time," don't have the Scorcese touch, so what we're left with is a nightmare for both the characters and those of us watching them. The pumped-up EDM score by Daniel Lopatin is no help -- it's almost as annoying as the story it accompanies.

The only positive aspect of "Good Time" is Pattinson's performance. He captures Connie's ineptness and intensity beautifully, and his energy virtually leaps off the screen. Too bad he's stuck in a fun-house of a movie without much redemption. The same can be said of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Barkhad Abdi, who have small supporting roles. She should have been able to do better after Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight." He was nominated for an Oscar ("Captain Phillips") and this is the best role he can find?

I give "Good Time" a 4 out of 10.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Movie Review: "The Trip To Spain"


In the third movie of their "Trip" series, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back for another adventure in fine dining, comic impressions, and literary references. In their first movie, they traveled around England. In the second, they visited Italy. In the third, they're in Spain -- thus the Don Quixote/Sancho Panza photo, complete with windmills.

You could call it Moore Of The Same, because there are a couple of scenes with the two guys doing dueling (and perfect) Roger Moore impersonations. As they've proven in the past, they're both very talented at doing voices, and this time they also take on Mick Jagger, John Hurt, Marlon Brando, David Bowie, and Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition."

Most of those scenes made me laugh out loud. In fact, just spending time with Coogan and Brydon is amusing, although there are some serious subplots involving Coogan's son, his love life, his career obstacles and successes like "Philomena" (which earned him two Oscar nominations). Brydon, meanwhile, is the happily-married father of two whose success has been mostly limited to Britain. While Coogan fights with his agent over getting a new screenplay produced, Brydon is content to Facetime with his wife in bed.

Along the way, they stay in some amazing places, eat wonderfully prepared meals, and share the kind of bond only old friends can sustain during a week-long road trip. The scenery and cinematography are magnificent, thanks again to director Michael Winterbottom. As I understand it, he and the two stars don't write scripts -- they simply outline what will happen in each scene and then improvise -- but there must be multiple takes to get in all the camera angles. Whatever the method, it continues to work well.

My one complaint is with the last ten minutes, when Coogan and Brydon have parted ways and the former moves on to something else that goes nowhere and ends suddenly for no reason. When you've signed on for an adventure with two and end up with one, it's disappointing.

That aside, I hope they keep traveling together and sharing their experiences with us every couple of years, as I'm happy to join them on all of their trips.

I give "The Trip To Spain" an 8 out of 10.

Regression Exemplified

If you think Trump hasn't done much to damage America because he has failed to get any major legislation through Congress, take a look at this list of rules and policies he has undone by executive order or changes ordered by his various executive branch agencies (as compiled by Philip Bump of the Washington Post).

Saturday, August 26, 2017

How "Thelma and Louise" Drove Hollywood To The Edge


Here's my conversation with Becky Aikman about her book, "Off The Cliff: How the Making of Thelma and Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge." Among the topics we discussed:
  • Which actresses were considered before Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis got the lead roles?
  • How rare was it for a movie to star two female leads in the late 80s/early 90s?
  • Was Callie Khouri -- a rookie writer who won an Oscar for her screenplay -- happy with the movie?
  • Did studios try to talk her out of the drive-off-the-cliff ending?
  • Is it true the sex scene between Geena Davis and Brad Pitt was much steamier than we got to see?
  • Why was the movie so poorly marketed when it was released?
  • What was the reaction when it was released, from public and reviewers?
  • Did "Thelma and Louise" change anything in Hollywood?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 8/25/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories about The World's Highest-Paid Actresses, Fictional Fighters, and It Happened In August.  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Showbiz Show 8/25/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in "The Trip To Spain" and Robert Pattinson in "Good Time." We also discussed some older movie recommendations and more showbiz news.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/25/17


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a coffin on a hummer, a scooter in a sinkhole, and a bad eclipse-watching decision. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Another Movie You Might Not Know


The premise of "Safety Not Guaranteed" starts with a classified ad which reads:
Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed. 
Jeff (Jake Johnson), a magazine writer in Seattle, sees the ad and convinces his boss (Mary Lynn Rajskub) to let him do a story about whoever placed it. Jeff takes along two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), as they track down the wannabe-time-traveler, Kenneth (Mark Duplass). Jeff can't gain Kenneth's confidence, but Darius does, and convinces him she wants to go along for the next ride back in time. As their relationship grows, we learn everyone's motives revolve around lost love.

To tell you more would be to spoil a quirky little indie that works because it's played small. There are no grand special effects or stunt-filled car chases. "Safety Not Guaranteed" is a character study with a couple of twists and some wonderful chemistry, particularly between Plaza and Duplass.

That's why I have added it to my Movies You Might Not Know list.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Kreskin Question

John Burbage emails:

I have been a long time reader of your blog, and listener to your podcasts. Not too long ago you had a young man on who hosts the Carson Podcast (Mark Malkoff -- listen here). Being as how I am 66 years old now, and of the Johnny Carson Show generation, I found the interview very interesting. I have since gone back and started listening to Carson podcasts I missed. One really caught my attention, and since I seem to agree with you on a lot of your politics, science, and skepticism I have a question to ask.

The podcast was an interview with The Amazing Kreskin. Now, I grew up in the 60's and 70's watching Kreskin on various shows like Carson, Merv Griffin, and Mike Douglas. I thought of him as a "magician" and I appreciated him for that. However, over the years he seems to be kind of full of himself, and in the interview, when he's not telling the host how wonderful he is, he seems to be actually trying to convince us that he is real. I had always thought that this "I am a real mentalist" was just part of the act, but apparently it is not.

I am aware that you know some quite capable magicians/illusionists like The Amazing Randi, Banacek, and Penn Jillette to name a few. I was wondering if you ever discussed Kreskin with any of them over the years, and what their opinion of him was. Kreskin's attitude in the Carson podcast comes off like one of those people who claim to talk with the dead and will help you "cross over." The kind of people skeptics have been exposing now for many years.
John, your perception of Kreskin is exactly right -- he started out by presenting himself as “look at this mentalism trick I can do,” but started believing his own hype and the act became “this is not paranormal, I am really doing this.” It was at that point that, like you, I started disliking him. So have Randi, Penn, and other magicians/skeptics, so you’re in good company in feeling that Kreskin fits into the same con man category as John Edward.

You might want to watch "The Great Buck Howard," which I've just added to my Movies You Might Not Know list. It stars John Malkovich, wonderfully smarmy as a Kreskin-like performer who hires an assistant (Colin Hanks) to travel with him. Writer/director Sean McGinly captures the essence of has-been showbiz perfectly. The cast also includes Emily Blunt as Buck's reluctant publicist, master magician Ricky Jay as his manager, and Tom Hanks as Colin's father, who is not happy with his son's career choice.

"The Great Buck Howard" made virtually no money at the box office when it was released in 2008, but I caught it on cable and really enjoyed it -- much more than I enjoyed Kreskin the last few times he popped up on TV.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

What Time Is It On Mars?

Nagin Cox is a spacecraft engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she works on the rovers NASA has on Mars. Because that planet's day is 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, she had to adjust everything about her life to keep up...

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Movie Review: "The Hitman's Bodyguard"


Samuel L. Jackson is the hitman. Ryan Reynolds is the bodyguard. Gary Oldman is the bad guy, reprising his semi-Russian accent from “Air Force One” 20 years ago. It’s an action comedy, so there are chases and shooting and stunts galore. However...

"The Hitman's Bodyguard" would have worked a lot better if it had just followed Reynolds and Jackson a la DeNiro and Grodin in “Midnight Run” — they have to get to a certain place by a certain deadline, but run into all sorts of obstacles along the way. Instead, director Patrick Hughes and screenwriter Tom O’Connor keep cutting away to people waiting at the destination, looking at clocks and watches and saying, “They have to be here in four hours!” There are flashbacks, too, which get us away from the buddy-movie essence of the relationship between Jackson and Reynolds.

That said, there are some funny scenes with Salma Hayek as Jackson’s wife, a woman in prison who takes BS from no one. Unfortunately, we have to sit through a parallel story about Reynolds’ ex, played by Elodie Yung, but that’s just a time-killer until the next shootout (and there are plenty of those, including an extended sequence along the canals of Amsterdam).

Of course, this is a Hollywood movie, so no matter how many bullets the bad guys fire at Jackson and Reynolds, they can’t kill them, while our heroes can take down anyone at any time with a single shot. The audience I saw this with laughed a lot, and applauded when the two leads emerged victorious from yet another surrounded-by-bad-guys scenario. So it’s a crowd-pleaser, and that’s fine for this point of the summer.

I give "The Hitman's Bodyguard" a 6 out of 10.

Monday, August 21, 2017

That Eclipsed Everything

Well, that solar eclipse was absolutely beautiful, a sight unlike anything I've ever seen (nor will again, in all likelihood). Fortunately, the skies over St. Louis cleared enough to give us a perfect view of the sun behind the moon. It was breathtaking and fully lived up to its natural promise.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the Idiot In Chief was photographed on the White House portico looking up at the sun while wearing no protective eyewear, because he has the best eyes and knows more about the sky than scientists do. I half expected him to proclaim responsibility for the event (e.g. "There was no solar eclipse under Obama!").

As for those traffic signs I mentioned yesterday, they were completely wrong -- there was no traffic jam on MO-141 or on most of the roads in the area. That hype was overblown, but there were no words grand enough to describe the sky show we experienced today.

Science For The Win!

Movie Review: "Logan Lucky"


August used to be a throwaway month for movies. Like February, it was filled with projects the studios knew weren't going to do well at the box office ("The Dark Tower"), along with a few good indies here and there ("Landline").

Now, here comes Steven Soderbergh, working entirely outside the studio system, with another well-made movie that makes August look so much brighter. It's a heist, a genre he proved he can execute very well with "Ocean's Eleven" (and to a lesser extent in the two sequels). This one's called "Logan Lucky," but it might as well have been titled "Ocean's Fourteen."

It doesn't have George Clooney and the gang, but it has a whole new group of schemers, led by Channing Tatum. His character is fired from a construction job near the Charlotte Motor Speedway, but not before he's observed something that sparks an idea of how to rob the track of an enormous amount of cash during one of its busiest racing events. Adam Driver plays his co-conspirator brother, an Iraq war veteran and bartender who wears a prosthetic where part of his arm was blown off (it gets sucked into the plot, literally). Riley Keogh plays their sister, a hairdresser who plays a role in the scheme, too. In an inspired bit of casting, Daniel Craig -- in spiky blond hair, neck tattoos, and a questionable accent -- plays Joe Bang, an explosives expert they need. Unfortunately, he's in prison, but Tatum has a way around that.

I like intricately plotted heists (read my list of The Best Con Man Movies Ever), which Soderbergh and his writer, the heretofore unknown Rebecca Blunt, are very good at devising and portraying on screen. There's a little too much pressing of the redneck button with the Bang Brothers (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson), but the rest of the cast is very good, including Hilary Swank as an FBI agent, Seth McFarlane overdoing it as usual as the sponsor of one of the drivers in the big race, and Katie Holmes as Tatum’s ex-wife, who wants to move out of state with her new husband and their daughter. Speaking of the kid, the one plot point that disappointed me involves the girl in a beauty pageant that looks like it was ripped off directly from "Little Miss Sunshine."

The entire movie rests on the charisma and likability of Tatum's character, plus the scheming and complexities of the crime. They work very well and make "Logan Lucky" a lot of fun.

I give it an 8 out of 10.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Eclipse Hype

I was driving on Missouri Highway 141 yesterday and noticed that the Department of Transportation electronic signs on the roadside (the ones that usually announce an accident ahead or remind you to buckle your seatbelt) said, "Solar Eclipse Monday -- Expect Delays."

It seemed like overkill to me. That particular stretch of road is unlikely to be jammed with drivers desperate to see the sky go dark for a brief period.

There's so much hype about this celestial event that it reminds me of the Y2K panic. I know that, unlike that event, this one's going to happen in the sky regardless of what people do. But when every media outlet talks it up breathlessly and businesses take advantage of it en masse, it makes my skeptical bones creak.

Here's an example. Several airlines are promoting special "eclipse flights" that will follow the path of totality so passengers can have an extended look at the sky going dark. What they don't say is that only those in window seats will really get a glimpse. For everyone else -- including those like me who always sit in aisle seats to have a little extra room -- all they're going to see is the back of the window seat occupant's head as they look out the window.

Another example is the sale of "solar eclipse glasses." My plan for Monday was going to be merely glancing up in the direction of the sun, but shielding my face with one of my hands -- the way you would if you had to catch a baseball hit high in the air. My wife, however, nixed that idea and insisted we had to have eclipse sunglasses. I couldn't find them at any local merchant (they were all sold out) so I ordered some on Amazon, where they were only available in groups of five or more.

Of course, the skies over St. Louis are not expected to be clear tomorrow, so I've just spent $35 to protect our eyes from an overcast day. Maybe I'll wear the eclipse glasses to protect my eyes while watching TV coverage from someplace with a clear view.

Speaking of ocular damage, I've seen and heard several media outlets warning you to shield your pets' eyes from looking directly at the sun tomorrow. I'll bet that, somewhere, there's someone selling darkened glasses for your pet. Funny, this has never seemed to be a problem on any other day in history. Have dogs and cats ever suffered eye problems from looking up at the glowing orb in the sky on a sunny day? What about all those horses and cows and goats that live outdoors? When is the telethon to raise money to fight that scourge?

Finally, a note to radio personalities: no, you're not the only one who thought of playing Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse Of The Heart." In fact, she's going to do it in person on a cruise ship somewhere off the coast of Florida. But like the days of my youth, when five-minute songs had to be edited down to under three minutes to get play on Top 40 radio, Tyler is going to perform a shortened version of her only big hit that will last two minutes forty seconds during the period of totality.

Don't ask me what she'll do for the rest of the trip. Probably shield her pet iguana's eyes from the glare of her one-hit-wonder stardom.