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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Movie Review: "Dunkirk"


"Dunkirk" is the new movie from writer/director Christopher Nolan, who doesn't always tell his stories in a linear fashion. In "Memento," a story about a guy who can't remember anything that happened before today, he told it backwards. In "Inception," he monkeyed with both time and space in a story that literally overlapped itself. In "Dunkirk," he's done it again, but more about that in a moment. First, you need the setup, which tells a story most Americans don't know, but is baked into the very being of the English because it is as important part of their history as Pearl Harbor is of ours.

In the spring of 1940, before the US got into World War II, Hitler's forces had surrounded more than 400,000 English, French, Belgian, and Canadian troops in the port city of Dunkirk, France. The soldiers were trapped on the beach. They could see Britain a couple of dozen miles across the English Channel, but the Royal Navy couldn't get its big ships close enough to pick them up. So, Winston Churchill, then the British Prime Minister for only a couple of weeks, called up the private owners of smaller boats to try to cross the channel and help with the rescue. Meanwhile, German planes were dropping bombs and strafing the soldiers with machine gun fire from the sky.

Nolan includes some basic of that basic information at the beginning, but not much, and as the story goes along, he doesn't bother with more exposition via the typical voiceover narration. He simply tells the story and expects you to keep up.

But there's one more thing you need to know before seeing "Dunkirk," and it goes back to Nolan's non-linear storytelling style. The movie is told from three points of view: 1) the trapped men on the beach waiting to be rescued, which takes place over a week; 2) the small boat owners going to Dunkirk, which takes place over a day; 3) a British spitfire pilot trying to shoot down the German dive bombers, which takes place over an hour. The three stories and timelines overlap.

The story is very compelling. The cinematography puts you in the middle of the action, which never stops, and includes the third-most intense war scenes I’ve seen on screen (after "Saving Private Ryan" and "Hacksaw Ridge"). Watching it, I thought of the men of my father's generation who served in World War II but never shared stories about it because the memories were too agonizing. Hans Zimmer's score keeps the mood tense throughout, and at an hour and forty-five minutes, it's just the right length.

The best-known cast members include Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance (who might win another Oscar for his role as a small boat owner), Tom Hardy, and former One Direction member Harry Styles. Although he's fine in his role, I wonder about the casting of Styles. Did Nolan and his team think it would bring teen girls into the theater? I don't think they're telling each other about this movie on Snapchat Stories.

If "Dunkirk" has any weak spots, it's that some of the actors playing the soldiers are hard to tell apart. Perhaps that's simply indicative of how the military works -- you're never an individual, always part of a larger group that lives and works in unison (thus the term "uniform"). It's also a little difficult to understand some of the British accents, but there's so little dialogue in "Dunkirk" that you shouldn't let that bother you.

Nolan shot "Dunkirk" in 70mm, a format that makes the picture beautiful on a big screen. I saw it in Imax, a format that allows the viewer to become enveloped in the dread those men must have felt on the beach, on the water, and in the air. This is a movie best scene in a big theater, not streaming a year from now on your phone.

Three months ago, an indie movie called “Their Finest” (which I gave a 7.5) had the Dunkirk rescue as one of its subplots. That was the first time I'd heard the story, and I'm glad Nolan has gone on to enlarge it so well, in every way.

I give "Dunkirk" an 8.5 out of 10.

Poker Problems

The World Series Of Poker Main Event awarded $8.15 million to 2017 champion Scott Blumstein early yesterday morning. While it had its third-largest field ever, fewer than 3% of Main Event players were women. Worse, according to Norman Chad, there was only one woman under the age of 26, and she wasn't from the USA. Sad to see that no effort is being made to attract more female players. By the way, in the 40+ year history of the Main Event, only one woman has ever made the final table -- Barbara Enright, in 1995.

It's bad for the future of poker if the current generation of silent, hoodie-wearing, twenty-something men make up nearly its entire player demographic. The only person to inject any personality into this year's final table was John Hesp, a 64-year-old Englishman who finished fourth, exuding fun along the way and encouraging the other players to talk to each other and enjoy themselves. That spirit is missing from too much of poker. When the game loses its social element, when the players won't exhibit even basic cordiality to each other, joke around, and express their happiness at being part of the experience, you have a recipe for boredom.

Speaking of poker, the folks at ESPN have put together a very good podcast about Phil Ivey's edge-sorting case, including first-person audio from Kelly Sun, the woman who engineered the entire baccarat advantage scheme to get back at the casinos she felt had done her wrong. It's called "A Queen Of Sorts."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Concert Review: Gregg Rolie Band


I had a case of deja vu seeing Gregg Rolie and his band last night at the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, IL.

What made it weird was that, 50 years ago, Rolie was co-founder, lead singer, and keyboard player for Santana -- who I had seen at the Fox Theater in St. Louis ten days earlier. At his show, Rolie performed many of the hits he'd originally done with Santana, starting with "Evil Ways," and then rolling through "Tingo," "Oye Como Va," "Black Magic Woman," and others. Rolie was also part of the original lineup of Journey (making him a two-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), but he only dug two of their songs out of the past, neither of which was among the band's big hits.

Throughout the evening, Rolie's voice sounded as good as ever, pretty remarkable considering he sang some of these songs all the way back at Woodstock in 1969. He's no slouch playing my favorite instrument in the rock canon, the Hammond B3 organ, either. His band was pretty tight, even though it contained three percussionists (on a drum kit, congas, and timbales), which inevitably meant having to sit through solos by each of them -- the bane of my rock concert existence.

When it was over, I was surprised 100 minutes had passed, because I thought it had only been about 70. That says something about the quality of the music Rolie and his group gave us.

Speaking of quality, there was a serious lack of it at the place we went to dinner before the show. A few years ago, when my friend Bob and I went to the Wildey to see Roger McGuinn, we stopped in for a quick meal at Laurie's Place, on Main Street in Edwardsville. That night, the service was terrible. No waitress took our order for almost 15 minutes after we sat down, and then it took well over a half-hour for our food to arrive. We chalked it up to "well, any place can have an off night." So we went back this evening and discovered it wasn't an anomaly, as we had the exact same experience.

When the food hadn't come after 30 minutes, Bob asked the waitress when we'd get to eat, and she replied, "I'm sorry, we're really slammed tonight and things are backed up in the kitchen." Um, no, that's not a valid excuse, especially on a Saturday night when you knew you'd be busy because there's a concert crowd in town and your restaurant is only about 25 yards away from the venue. While the place was packed, it shouldn't take that long to make easy bar food unless you only have one person in the kitchen, making one meal at a time. When our food finally did come, Bob's order was wrong, but he didn't send it back because we were starving by that point. As for mine, I'll just say that my hunger pangs were not sated as I suffered through the worst chicken sandwich I've ever had. Needless to say, we'll never go back to Laurie's Place again.

As for The Wildey, I'll be happy to return. Al Canal, the manager, runs a beautiful venue very well. It's a converted movie theater that only holds about 400 people, which means there's no such thing as a bad seat for concerts there -- and I say that having sat in the last row of the balcony tonight in row EE. Fortunately, the first row of the balcony is AA, so at the back, we were still in only the fifth row. With a great view and a really good sound system, we could thoroughly enjoy the proceedings, and next time Al books a band I want to see, I'll be back.

But I'll choose my a different place for the pre-show dinner.

Random Thoughts

When I lived in DC in the 1980s and 1990s, the most popular news broadcast on local television belonged to NBC's WRC-TV-4, with its anchor team of Jim Vance and Doreen Gentzler, sportscaster George Michael, meteorologist Bob Ryan, and entertainment reporter Arch Campbell. Their 11pm newscast often out-rated the primetime shows it had just followed, and dwarfed the numbers of all the cable news outlets combined. Jim Vance, who sat in the anchor chair for a remarkable 45 years, died this weekend at 75. To understand his legacy, read this column by Paul Farhi of the Washington Post and watch this video retrospective from his longtime colleague Gentzler.

Now that Trump has named Scaramucci as communications director, how long before some reporter asks him if he'll do the fandango?

When the actual outdoor temperature in St. Louis is over 100 day in and day out, do we need to know what the heat index is? We already know it's ridiculous to go outside for any reason.

One last thought: in less than ten weeks, OJ will finally be able to resume his search for the real killers.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Lacey Rose, "Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter"


I'm a fan of "Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter," a series in its third season on Sundance TV. In each episode, a Hollywood Reporter editor sits down with six actors or actresses or directors or showrunners to describe the creative process behind the TV shows or movies that have created lots of buzz in both the public and the awards season. The roundtables about television are hosted by Lacey Rose, the magazine's TV editor, who joined me to discuss the conversations she's moderated.

Among the topics we covered:
  • Why Minnie Driver hates acting in a ditch with shorter actors;
  • Why she calls Elizabeth Moss the "Queen of Peak TV";
  • Whether television offers better roles for actresses than movies;
  • How actresses still face sexism in casting (including a shocking story from Emmy Rossum);
  • Why Ewan McGregor prefers to play losers;
  • Whether TV showrunners, who have so many more outlets with streaming services, still get network notes;
  • Kumail Nanjiani's rule for whether a joke should stay in a script;
  • Why Kevin Bacon hates The Kevin Bacon Game;
  • What NBC, CBS, Fox, and ABC have to do to create more buzz-worthy shows;
  • The ginned-up controversy over an upcoming HBO series called "Confederate" (which I mistakenly called "Catastrophe")
The next two episodes of "Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter" (7/23/17 and 7/30/17) will include roundtables of Lacey talking with comedy and drama showrunners. You can find previous episodes at Sundance.tv

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

Showbiz Show 7/21/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed "Dunkirk," "Valerian: City Of A Thousand Planets," "The Journey," and "Risk." We also discussed Netflix's "Castlevania" and "Ozark."

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

Harris Challenge 7/21/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories "John McCain's Brain," "Watching OJ's Parole Hearing Reminded Me Of," and "Recognition for Martin Landau."  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/21/17


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a tiny stolen house, one man vs. two trucks, and a woman who got her bike back. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, July 21, 2017

KTRS Friday


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

In the first hour, I'll talk with Lacey Rose, television editor of The Hollywood Reporter and host of the Sundance TV series "Close Up with The Hollywood Reporter."

In the second hour, Max and I will review the new movies "Dunkirk" and "Valerian: City of a Thousand Planets," as well as other showbiz stuff.

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.

Picture Of The Day

The latest from Improv Everywhere...

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movie Review: "Risk"


"Risk" is the new documentary from Laura Poitras, who won an Oscar for her Edward Snowden documentary "Citizenfour" in 2014. It debuts Saturday night on Showtime.

In "Risk," Poitras gets extraordinary access to Julian Assange, the man behind Wikileaks. She keeps her camera trained on him and his inner circle as they plot to gather and release secret documents from around the world, as well as speaking out against online censorship and overzealous data-gathering. One of the more remarkable scenes shows a Wikileaks editor on a panel in Egypt during the Arab Spring, taking on the ISPs and telecoms that blocked the public from using Twitter in that country, yet claimed they were helping the revolution, not the Mubarek regime.

Throughout the movie you hear Poitras in voiceover with notes from her production journal. At one point, she says, "This is not the movie I thought I was going to make." That's because the focus turns to the accusations against Assange of sexual assault and rape by two women in Sweden. As he fights attempts to extradite him from England to Sweden -- where he's sure he'll be sent to the US to face a secret grand jury investigation into Wikileaks leaking government documents -- Poitras captures a meeting between Assange and his attorney, who tells him to be careful what he says in public about women. He then says a few ugly things about feminists that he admits he'd only say in private because they're too raw for public consumption, and yet he must know that Poitras’ camera was on him the whole time. So how are those remarks private?

Assange is seriously paranoid -- perhaps rightly so -- which we get to witness in a scene where he is talking with a Wikileaks lawyer in the woods, away from prying eyes and ears (other than Poitras). At one point, he hears a noise behind him and is sure it’s two guys spying on him. And yet, he's still comfortable having Poitras and her camera around.  Even after Assange is granted political asylum by Ecuador and allowed to move into its embassy in London, Poitras still gets inside to portray his life in a building he can not leave.

Later, the movie delves all too briefly into Wikileaks releasing tens of thousands of documents from the DNC and Clinton campaign staff — allegedly acquired by the Russians. Unfortunately, by then, Poitras is running out of movie and does not dig further into that story. Except for news footage of Hillary Clinton at the Democrat convention and Donald Trump becoming president of the United States, we're left with no real resolution to the Assange story because it's still playing out.

Since the movie screened at Cannes last year, Poitras and Assange have had a falling out. He has attacked her for spending so much time on the sexual assault claims against him, and considers the movie a threat to his safety. However, he's wrong to view Poitras as the enemy while he has to worry about the Trump administration ramping up its efforts to put Assange in jail and shut down Wikileaks.

"Risk" isn't nearly as good as "Citizenfour." In the latter, Snowden comes off as a hero for revealing privacy-busting concerns about the US government. Meanwhile, in "Risk," Assange comes off as an arrogant ass whose motives may have some good in them, but are mostly about his own ego.

"Citizenfour" was one of the best movies of 2014. "Risk" won't make the list for 2017. I give it a 6 out of 10.

My Tweets During OJ's Parole Hearing

  • This is so odd. I haven't watched a parole hearing since Ellis Redding was released from Shawshank Prison and ended up in Zihuatenejo.
  • OJ just said, "Nobody's ever accused me of pulling a weapon on them." Doesn't a knife count as a weapon? I guess dead people don't count.
  • All the people on this parole board seem like they'd previously spent 20 years at the DMV explaining why you can't renew your license today.

Picture Of The Day

Here's the newest Quirkology video from Richard Wiseman...