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

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.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Ken Burns, "The Vietnam War"


Here's my conversation with Ken Burns, whose new PBS documentary series, "The Vietnam War," will debut on September 17th. Among my questions:
  • Vietnam veterans don’t like talking about the war — how did you get them to open up?
  • Was that because of how they were treated when they came home?
  • Do they look back on it as a waste? What about families of the 58,000+ soldiers who died?
  • We’ve been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than we were in Vietnam, yet there’s virtually no anti-war effort -- is that because we don’t have the draft?
  • How do the Vietnamese view the war, both those who were in it and later generations?
  • You interviewed former Viet Cong — was it hard to find them? Are they heroes in Vietnam?
  • How important was media coverage, putting the war in Americans' living rooms every evening?
  • Are we more polarized politically now than we were then?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 8/18/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed Channing Tatum and Adam Driver in "Logan Lucky" and Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds in "The Hitman's Bodyguard." We also discussed a live-action "Jetsons," the return of "The Munsters," and Shonda Rimes' Netflix deal.

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

Harris Challenge 8/18/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes questions related to the upcoming solar eclipse, plus my most topical trivia category, "Have You Been Paying Attention?"  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/18/17


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a man in the bushes, a propane tank in the backseat, and a husband-and-wife surprise. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Remembering Groucho 40 Years Later


One of my comedy heroes, Groucho Marx died 40 years ago today. Over the years, I've discussed him with several guests, and you might want to listen to some of them:

Friday, August 18, 2017

KTRS Friday


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

In the first hour, I'll talk with Ken Burns about his upcoming PBS documentary about the Vietnam War.

In the second hour, Max and I will review "Logan Lucky" and "The Hitman's Bodyguard," plus 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, August 17, 2017

I'm Just Saying

Considering how much Trump likes to put down people he considers "losers," I'd think he'd be happy to see Confederate statues being torn down. After all, the Confederacy lost the Civil War over 150 years ago -- and I guarantee that if they'd won, there wouldn't be any statues of Union generals anywhere in the south.

After all, you don't see any cities throwing victory parades for the teams that lose the Super Bowl or World Series, do you?

Speaking of Trump, there's a Democratic politician in California calling for him to be removed from the presidency via the 25th Amendment. That's not going to happen and Dems shouldn't want it. He’s made so many enemies on Capitol Hill and has such low approval ratings now that he can’t get any legislation passed. That would change quickly if he left and Mike Pence was in charge.

Yes, you'd have the crazy guy out of the office, but the right would move so quickly to pass its agenda it would make the left's head spin -- and then they couldn't use The Insane President in campaign commercials for congressional races next year.

Duck And Cover, Guam!

I don't know anyone who is Guamanian. In fact, I just learned that's what people from Guam are called (as opposed to Guamite, which sounds like their version of a salty yeast spread). But I'm surprised that their summer weather is just like ours in St. Louis -- hot and very humid. I thought it would be warmer and drier.

On the other hand, unlike Guamanians, no St. Louisan has been waking up every day for the last couple of weeks to see the nut-ball leader of a nation threatening to rain down nuclear hell on us. What must that be like for the average Guamanian? "Honey, please turn off CNN. You're scaring the crap out of the kids." Then again, a lot of Americans say the same thing because of what our nut-ball leader says on a daily basis.

Somewhere in Guam, a low-level government worker is digging in the storeroom to find those old "Duck and Cover" videos, in which we were taught that picnic blankets and school desks -- presumably made of lead -- would protect us from atomic fallout...

Two Streaming Suggestions


There are two series streaming on Netflix that my wife and I enjoyed enough to recommend to you:

One is "Ozark," starring Jason Bateman as a man who cleans money for a Mexican drug cartel. When things go bad in his hometown of Chicago in the first episode, he's forced to move his son, daughter, and wife (Laura Linney, terrific as always), to the Lake Of The Ozarks, which is in the middle of Missouri about 3 hours away from St. Louis. There, he still has work to do for the cartel as he gets involved with various local characters -- both savory and not so much -- while keeping both the law and his bosses off his back.

The series (a Netflix original with ten episodes in this first season) is very well made. I'd liken it to "Breaking Bad," but that's too high a bar of excellence. Suffice to say if you liked that, you'll probably like "Ozark." And major kudos to Bateman, who also directed many of the episodes, for keeping the tone consistent and the casting just right. Although the show portrays several seedy people from the area, I wouldn't be surprised if it also makes some viewers plan vacations at The Lake, because it sure looks beautiful on screen.

The other recommendation is "Death In Paradise," a combined project of the BBC and France 2 that has aired for six seasons in both countries, and will return for a seventh in 2018. It takes place on the fictional Caribbean island of St. Marie, where a British detective named Richard Poole is sent to investigate the murder of another British cop. He's the kind of Englishman who's uncomfortable in the sun and sand, creating a fish-out-of-water aspect for a guy who wears a dark suit and tie every day on an island where everyone else dresses much more casually and comfortably.

After his initial case, Poole stays on St. Marie, where he is assisted by two male officers (Dwayne and Fidel) and one female detective (Camille) from the local police force. Camille is played by Sara Martins, who even my wife describes as one of the most beautiful people she's ever seen.

Each episode is self-contained like all police procedurals, with the brilliant Poole gathering all the suspects together, Poirot-like, to announce who the murderer is as the hour closes. Incidentally, my wife, who reads mystery novels by the dozens each year, has yet to figure out the identity of the murderer in any episode we've watched (about 15) thus far. That both frustrates and fascinates her, so we'll keep watching.

"Death In Paradise" is a lot of fun, but considering how many people have died over the show's run, St. Marie seems like a place you might not want to visit, if it were real.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Name Names Or Shut Up

In my speech last month about fake news (read the whole thing here), one of the things I said was:

Instead of hearing what Van Jones or Jeffrey Lord think about the “Breaking News” story of the day -- and when I’m in charge, I’m banning the use of that banner headline on television, since most of the “Breaking News” actually broke hours ago or doesn’t deserve that moniker in the first place -- I’d rather hear a reporter going more in-depth with his or her questions, pressing for specifics. What ever happened to who, what, when, where, why, and how? For instance, when Trump says, “I’m hearing…” or “People are saying…” stop him and ask, “Who are you hearing that from? Give me some names.” If he won’t, then dismiss his claims as fake,
I wish some reporter had invoked that yesterday during Trump's outrageous press conference, in which he claimed some "very fine people" were among the tiki-torch-bearing protestors in Charlottesville. It's a simple question:
"Mr. President, can you name any of the very fine people you claim were in the midst of the Nazis, klansmen, racists, anti-Semites, and other white supremacists? Since you claim you never make any statements without knowing all the facts, can you give us those details? And while we're at it, how does your know-the-facts-first claim jibe with your insistence for several years that Barack Obama was not born in America?"
Sometimes, you just have to call someone out on their bullshit to their face.

Stop With The Gerund-ing

My wife and I have little grammar buzzers in our heads. They go off when:

  • Someone finishes a question with the word "at" (e.g. "Where's my car at?");
  • Someone uses "seen" instead of "saw" (e.g. "I seen that movie");
  • Someone starts to answer a question with the word "so," which is the new "like" (e.g. "So, you'll find jars of cinnamon in aisle seven");
  • Someone who over-qualifies their remarks (e.g. "Personally, in my opinion, I think...");
  • Interviewers who preface a question with, "Let me ask you a question...";
  • Over-use of the prefix "pre-" (e.g. you don't have to call it a "pre-moistened" towelette, just like you don't serve me "pre-cooked" chicken or a "pre-poured" Pepsi).
The one we currently hate the most is the use of words that end in "-ing" (gerunds) improperly. For instance, at dinner last night, our waiter stopped by to ask, "How are your salads? Are they tasting good?" There was no need for the last four words; the first four did the job.

We've also been asked, "How's your guys food tasting?" -- which is a double violation. There was no need to add "guys," when we already assume it's the plural "your," since you're addressing both of us at the table (the same goes for "how are you all doing tonight?" -- although "how are y'all doing tonight" is mildly acceptable in regional use). As far as how my food is tasting, it's not. I am tasting the food, it is not tasting me. Just ask, "How does the salad taste?" and be done with it.

Come to think of it, wait staff shouldn't even ask the question in the first place. Their job is to take our order, bring our drinks and meals, and then leave us alone until it's time to clear things away and bring us the next course or the check. There's no need for constant status updates or faux conversation. That doesn't mean you shouldn't walk by every once in a while to make sure everything's okay, but you should be able to ascertain that without any questions, just a glance. Believe me, if there's something wrong, we'll flag you down, but if not, don't interrupt. Even if I'm dining by myself, I don't need a quiz about whatever I'm consuming -- especially since they seem to always ask just as I've put a forkful of food in my mouth so I can't answer with anything other than a thumbs-up.

While I'm on this restaurant tangent, I always enjoy it when a server brings my food and warns me that the plate is hot. This happens especially in restaurants that make a big show of bringing the food from the kitchen but before it reaches our table, it has to make a pit-stop at a hot plate, where it's placed atop a burner which warms things up quite a bit from the bottom. Naturally, that plate is going to be hot, and I don't actually mind the warning. It's just that I have a dumb man's brain inside my head that hears that caveat but still -- every time -- feels it necessary to touch the plate.

I don't know why I always do that, but at least no one asks, "How's that finger burning?"

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I'm Just Asking

Before taking office, Donald Trump promised he would hire "the best people" for his administration. Yet, in less than seven months, he has brought in and then let go:

  • Anthony Scaramucci, communications director
  • Reince Priebus, chief of staff
  • Sean Spicer, press secretary
  • Michael Dubke, communications director
  • Michael Flynn, national security advisor
Now the rumor mill says Steve Bannon is about to be ousted. That would make a half-dozen top-level appointees who have been shown the door of the White House in a short period of time.

In what other business would the manager who made these bad personnel decisions be allowed to continue? Besides radio, I mean.

Movie Review: "The Glass Castle"


"The Glass Castle" is based on Jeanette Walls’ best-selling memoir of growing up with a drunken, eccentric, abusive father who cared more about his own dreams than providing food and shelter for his children.

Dad is played by Woody Harrelson, sounding as if he has a chaw of tobacco stuck in his mouth the whole time. It’s a powerful performance, but I hate the way the movie at times makes him seem likable — he was a monster. Brie Larson plays Jeanette as an adult, writing a gossip column for New York magazine while remembering scenes from her childhood as she’s preparing to marry her boyfriend. Naomi Watts plays her mother, who would rather sit and paint than get up and cook something for her kids, which leads to a horrible opening scene in which 4-year-old Jeanette is forced to make her own hot dogs and catches on fire. These two are models of irresponsible parenting — they don’t send the kids to school, they don’t feed them for days on end, and they don’t get them real housing, opting instead to squat in abandoned homes as they move around the country with their belongings tied to the top of the car. You won't make up for that with scenes of Dad laying out in the desert and talking to Jeanette about the stars.

The performances are all fine, especially Ella Anderson, who plays Jeanette as a child who is torn between her love for her father and the tortuous life she’s forced to lead. But I absolutely hated the ending — and the credits, which show pictures of the Walls as a loving family who just had a few wacky adventures together. No, this is a depressing tale of children done wrong by their parents.

If you want to see a much better movie about an eccentric father raising his children without abusing both them and alcohol, go rent "Captain Fantastic," which I named one of the Best Movies Of 2016 (read my review here). "The Glass Castle" won't be on this year's list. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Movie Review: "Landline"


Three years ago, I praised Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child” (read my review here), which starred Jenny Slate as a woman who decides to have an abortion when she discovers she's pregnant after a one-night stand.

Now the two are back with “Landline,” a comedy based in 1995. Slate plays Dana, a 27-year-old woman who’s engaged to Ben (Jay Duplass). Her sister Ali, played by Abby Quinn, is 10 years younger and a little more wild. One day, Ali is going through the family’s Apple Macintosh computer -- the kind with the monochrome display and not-so-floppy disks -- and discovers a file full of erotic poetry their father, John Turturro, has written to a woman who is not their mother, Edie Falco.

That discovery brings the sisters together, but that’s not all the movie’s about. It's about relationships starting, ending, and fighting to remain intact. There are also scenes about the annoyance of having sex outdoors, the silliness of getting an eyebrow piercing, what happens when you call in sick to work and they don’t know who you are, and what happens when you try to buy heroin while dressed up as a California raisin on Halloween night.

Slate is just right for her role and has very nice chemistry with Abby Quinn, a real find, who brings lots of nuance to her role as the younger sister. Plus, you get Edie Falco and John Turturro, who are never bad — in fact, they're terrific in every scene.

Like “Obvious Child,” “Landline” is about people making decisions and then dealing with the consequences. It also has lots of 90s references, like Lorena Bobbitt, “Mad About You,” and Hillary Clinton in a pink suit. To tell you more would be to spoil the fun.

I give "Landline" an 8 out of 10.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Robert Bader on The Marx Brothers


I was in high school in the early 1970s when there was a renewed interest in the Marx Brothers. Their movies were showing in revival houses, their long-lost classic “Animal Crackers” was in theaters for the first time in decades, Groucho did a couple of concert appearances, and there were a bunch of books about them, all published within a few years of each other. I read many of them and became the best kind of Marxist, which is why I’m happy to welcome today’s guest.

Robert S. Bader has compiled DVD releases of The Marx Brothers on TV, Groucho’s “You Bet Your Life” series, and others, as well as writing the book “Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales.” His new one is “Four Of The Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers On Stage,” and here's our conversation about it.

Among the topics we touched on:
  • In their pre-movies years, how they survived vaudeville;
  • How things changed when Zeppo left the act to Groucho, Chico, and Harpo;
  • Who came up with Harpo's bits, and when did he go silent on stage?
  • When did Chico introduce his famous finger-shooting piano style?
  • How Groucho gets credit for ad-libbing a lot of dialogue that was actually written by others;
  • How they switched roles on stage -- and off;
  • Why parents would try to keep their daughters away from the Marx Brothers on the road;
  • The story behind 1972's "An Evening With Groucho" at Carnegie Hall.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes! You can also access more info that's not in the book on Robert's website, MarxBrothers.net.

Showbiz Show 8/11/14


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed "The Glass Castle" (with Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, and Naomi Watts) and "Landline" (with Jenny Slate, Edie Falco, and John Turturro). We also discussed David Letterman's new Netflix show, a documentary about the late Glen Campbell, and more movie/showbiz news.

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

Harris Challenge 8/11/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories "Movies About Meteors," "Glen Campbell," and "Tower Trivia."  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/11/17


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a bra size discount, a million-dollar bill, and two kids in a red wagon. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, August 11, 2017

KTRS Friday


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

In the first hour, I'll talk with Robert S. Bader about his book about the Marx Brothers, "Four of the Three Musketeers."

In the second hour, Max and I will review "The Glass Castle" and "Landline," plus 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.

Picture Of The Day

Yesterday, I mentioned Neil Innes, onetime leader of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. I should have added that, in addition to that project, he went on to write sketches and songs for Monty Python's TV show and the movie "Holy Grail." He is best known around my house for playing Ron Nasty, the John Lennon-like character in Eric Idle's 1978 Beatles satire, "The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash."

"The Rutles" preceded "This Is Spinal Tap" by several years and is, for my money, the best mockumentary ever made. Though Idle and Innes had done some Rutles bits on their British series, "Rutland Weekend Television," the group wasn't seen on American television until "All You Need Is Cash" popped up one weekend on NBC when "Saturday Night Live" was on hiatus. I saw it then, loved it, and have long been a proud owner of both the DVD and the soundtrack album, which I'm proud to say my Beatles fan daughter also loves (and can sing all the songs from!).

"All You Need Is Cash" got the network TV exposure because Lorne Michaels was among its producers, and the cast included John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Ron Wood, Michael Palin, Al Franken, Tom Davis, and George Harrison. Gary Weis, who did several short films for SNL, co-directed The Pre-Fab Four's movie with Eric Idle.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Song Of The Day

This song popped up in my head this morning -- one of those odd ear-worms from long ago. I first discovered it when I heard a fellow disc jockey play it on my college radio station, WUSB/Long Island, in the mid-70s.

Entitled "The Intro and the Outro," recorded in 1967 by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, it consists entirely of leader Neil Innes introducing a slew of band members -- real, fictional, and historical -- many of them obscure to anyone not from England in that era. See how many you recognize. My favorite is the Count Basie Orchestra on triangle.

Worth A Link

  • The man who wrote the rules on passwords now says, "Never mind."
  • Fed up with his commute by land, this guy now swims down the river to work every day

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

I Can't Come In

I've seen several movies recently with scenes in which a character is in a hotel room, someone knocks on the door, and the person inside says, "Come in."

Apparently no one in the movie industry ever stays in actual hotels, because if they did, they'd know that the door couldn't be opened from the outside without a key or keycard. Anyone who's ever run down the hall to fill the ice bucket, only to return and find themselves unable to re-enter the room would know this.

I understand literary license, but that sort of inattention to detail bugs me.

Glen Campbell: "I'll Be Me"

With news of the death of Glen Campbell at age 81, here's a rerun of a piece I wrote in 2015...


I missed the documentary "I'll Be Me" when it hit theaters last fall, but saw it on CNN last night and can't get it out of my mind. It's the story of music legend Glen Campbell, who was told in 2011 that he had Alzheimer's, and follows him over the next year as he goes on his final tour across America.

We see his inability to remember the simplest things, but when he got on stage, the musical part of Campbell's brain took over and he had no trouble playing scorching guitar solos and -- with the help of a teleprompter -- singing his greatest hits with a band that included three of his children. The film also shows Campbell's struggles offstage, and the effect they had on his wife Kim, the musicians, and the support team that made his concerts flow as smoothly as possible. It also doesn't shy away from showing the times he got confused onstage, but still had the support of a loving audience that knew they were seeing him for the last time.

Campbell may be best remembered for "Rhinestone Cowboy," "Southern Nights," "Wichita Lineman," and "Gentle On My Mind," but his musical history goes back to his days as a member of The Wrecking Crew, that remarkable group of studio musicians who played on thousands of hit songs for crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as well as rockers like The Byrds and The Beach Boys.

Campbell was also a TV star, given a shot at stardom when Tommy Smothers hired him to do a summer replacement show for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" on CBS in 1969. "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour," with a writing staff that included Steve Martin and Rob Reiner, led to Campbell being cast opposite John Wayne in the original "True Grit." Though he never had major TV or movie success after that, he continued touring and recording for the next four decades.

After the documentary was finished, Campbell's condition worsened, and he was moved into an Alzheimer's treatment facility, where reports say he's now lost the power of speech. So this film contains the last footage we'll ever have of Glen Campbell performing.

I have added "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me" to my Movies You Might Not Know list.

Movie Review: "City Of Ghosts"


"City Of Ghosts" is a documentary about men from Raqqa, Syria -- Mohamad, Hamoud, and Aziz -- who were so appalled by what was happening to their hometown that they began to document it online, becoming citizen journalists.

Using the name, "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently" they cover the Isis takeover of their hometown and the attacks on Syrians by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. They work to get video of various atrocities online for the world to see, from a place so dangerous there are no outside news organizations covering the plight of its people.

The movie's director, Matthew Heineman, mixes uploaded RBSS video with his own footage, shot from the Arab Spring in 2011 through 2015. He follows the men as they are forced to leave Syria and set up their operation elsewhere, using satellite dishes and cell phones to transmit their video to the world. There are some gruesome scenes, including men being shot in the head at point blank range, and others with heads that have been chopped off of bodies stuck on fenceposts.

"City Of Ghosts" is well-made, and I give Heineman credit for telling the story of these men, who deserve attention and admiration. The problem with the film is it has no resolution, just like the situation in Raqqa, which remains fluid and horrible. As much as you might sympathize with and root for Mohamad, Hamoud, and Aziz as they do their work as citizen journalists, you’re left with nothing but remorse at the end.

 I give it a 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Irrationalizing

I was at the casino playing poker the other night when there was a big giveaway of a 2017 Corvette.

After the drawing didn't yield his name as the winner, one of the guys at the table rationalized it by saying, "Ah, I wouldn't wanna have to pay the taxes on it anyway." Yeah, it's not like you could immediately sell the Vette, pay the taxes, and pocket tens of thousands in profit.

Then he added, "Besides, it would put me in a higher tax bracket and I'd have to pay more on everything." Nope, that's not how marginal tax brackets work. You only pay more taxes on the amount above the certain level that put you in that bracket, while everything below is taxed at its own rate.

I was going to explain this to the guy a la Adam Conover, but then he added one more thing that made me realize it was pointless: "That's why I don't play Powerball." Right, it's not the ridiculous odds of winning, it's the problem of paying the taxes afterwards.

Movie Review: "The Dark Tower"


I'm not sure what to say about "The Dark Tower." I haven't read any of the Stephen King books it's based on. I knew nothing about the Dark Tower stories going in, and I knew exactly the same amount when it was over.

Here's what I can tell you. Idris Elba is the good guy. Matthew McConaughey is the bad guy. Tom Taylor is a boy caught between them. There's a tower that controls the universe, with portals between places on Earth and other worlds. There are children screaming, special effects galore, dark mysterious people and locations, and a plot that is totally incomprehensible.

Don't waste your time with "The Dark Tower." I give it a 2 out of 10.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Criminalizing Speech, Ignoring The Problem

Michelle Carter was sentenced to 15 months in prison last week for involuntary manslaughter for her role in the death of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, because she told him via text to get back in the truck in which he was committing suicide via carbon monoxide.

Yes, it's a tragic tale, but I don't like the idea of criminalizing speech -- words aren't weapons -- and don't see what's accomplished by sending her to prison.

Moreover, in the reporting of the story, there hasn't been nearly enough discussion about the mental health problems both teens suffered from. If those kids had walked into school bleeding from their skulls, someone would have gotten them medical attention from the nurse or a hospital. But because something was wrong with their brain chemistry inside their skulls, and thus unseen, not enough was done to try to make them better.

Now they're both just two of the far-too-many who suffer from depression and similar disorders yet merely get swept under the rug because those in power won't make mental health a national priority.

Ironically, if and when Carter does go to prison, she'll find herself locked up with lots of other people who society threw away instead of working to repair -- from the mentally impaired to the physically addicted. The Venn Diagram circles of people suffering from both overlaps considerably with millions not getting the help they need.

Movie Review: An Inconvenient Sequel


Ten years after his climate change slide show became the Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore is back with an update, "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power." It has both good news and bad news.

The good news is the vastly increased number of homes and businesses and municipalities now getting electricity from solar and wind power instead of coal. For instance, Gore goes to Georgetown, Texas -- the reddest city in the reddest county in that state — which has moved off of the old electric grid and is now powered completely by renewable energy sources, thanks to Mayor Dale Ross. He's a very conservative Republican, but he's also a CPA. Ross ran the numbers and figured out that if Georgetown ran on solar/wind, it would save lots of money, and it has.

The bad news is that climate change continues to be a problem, particularly in coastal cities like Miami. Gore visits there to find that, at high tide, the water level of the Atlantic Ocean has risen and now encroaches on the city so much that fish can swim along some of its main roads. Gore also shows footage from the first movie, in which animation showed that the sea level rise was enough of a problem that during a major storm, much of the southern end of Manhattan -- including the 9/11 memorial site -- would be flooded. He explains that he was hounded and criticized by the right for that scene, but then follows it up with actual footage of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, in which the prediction came true.

Though "An Inconvenient Sequel" contains lots of talk of the dangers of climate change -- more severe storms, longer heat waves and droughts, massive impact on poorer populations around the world -- it could have used more scenes like those, and more footage of meteorological events like Rain Bombs, which reminded me of some of the extreme thunderstorms we've been experiencing in recent years in the midwest.


The documentary spends a little too much time with Gore at the 2015 Paris climate accords as he tries to negotiate a way for India to join the rest of the world in a pledge to reduce carbon emissions. We know from our recent history that India did sign on to the agreement along with nearly every other country on Earth, including the United States under President Obama, but that Trump has since pulled us out, leaving us on the outside with only two other nations (Syria and Nicaragua -- the latter wouldn't sign on because if felt the accords didn't go far enough).

Sadly, "An Inconvenient Sequel" won't change the minds of climate change deniers, as they're unlikely to go see it in the first place, leaving Gore preaching to the choir -- those who believe what the overwhelming number of climate scientists tell us, rather than the loudmouths of the right on TV and radio. However, if the documentary urges a few more people to become environmental activists, it will have done some good.

I give "An Inconvenient Sequel" a 7.5 out of 10.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Phil Hellmuth, "Poker Brat"


Phil Hellmuth is probably the most famous poker player in the world. He holds the record for the most championship bracelets at the World Series Of Poker (14, including the Main Event in 1989 and the Main Event of the WSOP Europe in 2012) as well as the most final tables and the most cashes. He’s won over $21 million in poker tournaments and was inducted into the Poker Hall Of Fame in 2007. He’s a regular on Poker Night In America and ESPN’s coverage of the WSOP Main Event. Now he’s written his autobiography, “Poker Brat.”

Among the questions I asked during our conversation:
  • Who gave you that nickname?
  • What's the answer to the question in Chapter 14: why do you act like a jerk sometimes?
  • Why verbally abuse players who play badly — don’t you want them to do that?
  • Do you root for players like John Hesp, the middle-aged Englishman who finished 4th in this year's WSOP Main Event?
  • Which celebrities are fun to play with?
  • What can be done to get more women to play poker?
  • What is the biggest mistake most poker players make?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

Showbiz Show 8/4/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey in "The Dark Tower" and the documentaries "An Inconvenient Sequel" and "City of Ghosts." We also talk about a new "Karate Kid" series, the return of "SNL Weekend Update Summer Edition," and the Netflix series "Ozark."

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

Harris Challenge 8/4/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories "The New NFL Hall of Famers," "Vice Presidents Not Named Gore," and "Dans More Famous Than Dan Strauss."  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/4/17


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a beach attendant hero, a pistol-packing bride, and an election with no voters. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Worth A Link

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Movie Review: "Get Out"

I missed "Get Out" when it first hit theaters in February, but just caught up with it on DVD. I'm glad I did, because it's one of my favorites of the year.

It was directed by Jordan Peele, whose work with partner Keegan-Michael Key on their Comedy Central series, and in the movie "Keanu" (my review is here) usually made me laugh out loud. While there's some dark comedy in "Get Out," Peele's first solo venture as screenwriter and director, it's really a thriller -- and it delivers.

The plot involves Daniel Kaluuya and Alison Williams going off to the country to meet her parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) for the first time. In the car, Kaluuya asks Williams if she's told them he's African-American, and she says no, but it won't be a problem, because her father's the kind of guy who'll say he would have voted for Barack Obama a third time, if that were possible.

Kaluuya's a little bit anxious about this, and it turns out he'll have good reasons. Once at their big estate, he notices that there's something odd about the family's two African-American employees, a housekeeper and a groundskeeper. They seem somewhat robotic, perhaps Stepford-Wife-like, but he can't put his finger on it. He also meets some of the family's friends, including Stephen Root and a bunch of other white people, all of whom are a little too happy to meet him. Then Kaluuya discovers that Keener can hypnotize people and, well, I'm going to stop right there, because to tell you more of the plot would be to spoil the fun.

For a rookie director, Peele has all the chops of more accomplished filmmakers. He gets good, tight performances out of his cast, keeps the pace moving as the story builds, and though nothing really scary happens, he doesn't hedge on the creepiness, right up to the very satisfactory finale. Some of the early marketing of "Get Out" indicated it was a horror movie, but it's not. It's a tense thriller with enough slow reveals to keep the viewer riveted, very much in the tradition of "The Twilight Zone" and "Black Mirror."

I hope Peele gets some recognition come Oscars time for both his script and his direction. One thing is for sure -- with a budget of only $5 million and a box office take (so far) of $175 million, "Get Out" should launch Peele into whatever project he wants to do next with lots of green lights ahead in Hollywood.

I give "Get Out" a 9 out of 10. It will be on my Best Of 2017 list.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Movie Review: "Atomic Blonde"


After Gal Gadot as "Wonder Woman" earlier this year (read my review here), it's good to see another female action star who can kick ass -- and that's exactly what Charlize Theron does, repeatedly, in "Atomic Blonde."

The movie takes place in East Berlin in the days before The Wall came down in November, 1989. She’s a British MI-6 agent who has to get an East German traitor to the west with secret information about Soviet spies. It’s all told in flashback, after the mission is over, as Charlize is debriefed by MI-6 official Toby Jones and CIA man John Goodman. As she stays cool and calm, their interrogation reminded me of the similar scene in “Basic Instinct” with Sharon Stone -- except Charlize doesn't expose herself. Those debriefing scenes, which add little to the plot, are totally unnecessary as a framing device for the rest of the story, which is exciting enough to have been told in linear fashion from start to finish.

Frankly, none of that matters. What drives "Atomic Blonde" is the ultra-cool style of Theron's character, from her outfits to the way she walks to the way she handles everybody. Oh, yeah, there are amazing fight scenes, the kind where the guys with guns can’t possibly win against the woman who can spin and kick and punch. She uses any prop she can get her hands on, from a garden hose to a pot on a stove, with martial arts moves that look like they’re out of a Jackie Chan movie. They are the best I’ve seen since "The Bourne Identity," and certainly better than anything in a recent James Bond movie.

The brilliance of the fight scenes should be no surprise, as "Atomic Blonde" was directed by David Leitch, who did some of the work on the first “John Wick” (another movie where the plot is completely secondary to the action sequences) after a career as a stuntman, doubling for Brad Pitt and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Theron reportedly did a lot of her own fight/stunt work, and it's impossible to tell when a stuntwoman took over. I'd bet that a lot of the bruises we see when she soothes her naked body in a bathtub full of ice weren't just the work of the makeup crew.

James McAvoy plays the station chief in Berlin she works with on her mission. And that's what this is, not a detective story but a spy saga -- not a whodunit, but a how's-she-going-to-do-it. The action is supplemented by a soundtrack full of 1980s tunes like Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry,” Nena’s “99 Luftballons,” Bowie’s “Cat People,” Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom,” Falco’s “Der Komissar” (also by After The Fire). Along with "Baby Driver," it's one of the best soundtracks of the year and will probably get a lot of downloads on Spotify, iTunes, etc.

Despite a few flaws, I was impressed enough to give "Atomic Blonde" a 7.5 out of 10.

If it does well enough at the box office, it will likely give Theron a franchise she can return to again and again. I certainly wouldn't want to be the executive who tells her no.

Fifth Avenue Requiem

From Will Durst (reprinted with permission)...

Anybody remember when Donald Trump boasted, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone and wouldn't lose voters”? Now that we’ve seen him operate for six months, we have a pretty good idea how that would go down.

  • First he’d shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue.
  • Then he’d maintain that no one in the middle of 5th Avenue was shot.
  • Witnesses that identified him as the person who shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue would be disregarded because they voted Democratic in 1984.
  • Then he’d claim he had teams of investigators working on who shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue.
  • Then he’d deny that 5th Avenue exists.
  • Then he’d insist that the person who shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue was hired by Hillary Clinton herself, and he would have won the popular vote if millions of illegal votes hadn’t been cast.
  • Then Sarah Huckabee Sanders would say that when Donald Trump said he would shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue he was only kidding.
  • Then he’d say he’d publicly announce whether he had shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue in a very short period of time.
  • Then he would point out a squirrel with a fluffy tail running across the middle of 5th Avenue.
  • Then the videotape of him shooting someone in the middle of 5th Avenue would be discredited as fake news.
  • Then Sean Hannity would say that people get shot in the middle of 5th Avenue all the time.
  • Then he’d reveal that many people told him he was tremendously innocent and this was all an obvious plot by the media to keep him from Making America Great Again.
  • Then Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III would say that even if Donald Trump did shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but he still had to recuse himself.
  • Then he’d say there was something very suspicious about the person who was shot in the middle of 5th Avenue and ask why no one was investigating that.
  • Then Kellyanne Conway would say that that the person shot in the middle of 5th Avenue deserved to be shot.
  • Then Mike Pence would say he had no knowledge of anything.
  • Then he’d say it doesn’t matter if he shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue because that person was already dead.
  • Then Fox News would run a piece detailing the great number of Democrats that had shot people in the middle of 5th Avenue.
  • Then he would say he had shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue but only figuratively.
  • Then he’d say that many people had told him they had shot a lot of people in the middle of 5th Avenue.
  • Then he would say that Hillary Clinton was responsible for many more murders than he was.
  • Then he’d say he was just counter-shooting.
  • Then he’d pardon the person who shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue, no matter who it was.
  • Then shooting people in the middle of 5th Avenue would become a very popular excursion option for guests staying at Trump Tower, receiving 4 1/2 stars on Trip Advisor.
Copyright © 2017, Will Durst. Will Durst is an award- winning, nationally acclaimed columnist, comic and former prop master for Dick Shawn. For a calendar of personal appearances, please visit willdurst.com.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Showbiz Show 7/28/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed the new Charlize Theron movie, "Atomic Blonde," plus DVD/streaming suggestions "Gifted," "Get Out," "Ghost In The Shell," and "The Boss Baby." We also dissed Charlie Sheen's upcoming 9/11 movie.

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

Harris Challenge 7/28/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories "Blondes Who Can Sing But Aren’t Atomic," "Charlize Theron Movies," and "Multiple Choice Week." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/28/17


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a Viagra overdose, a car that's just barely a car, and a man in a trash chute. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Fired For Being Accused Followup

Thanks to reader Robert Brauer, a lifelong resident of Dallas-Fort Worth, for this followup to my post yesterday about Lucky Whitehead:

Lucky Whitehead was not released because of this shoplifting issue; he was released because his play was not up to snuff, and the Cowboys drafted a player, Ryan Switzer, this past spring who has been tagged by most sports reporters as being Whitehead's replacement. The Cowboys were going to cut Lucky no matter what.

The only thing that changed was the timing of the release. As you may be aware, the Cowboys have had a rash of off-field legal incidents involving various players this offseason (most notably Zeke Elliott). Furthermore, the team has been criticized in recent years for its supposedly lax attitude towards the moral failings of its players (the signing of Greg Hardy two years ago being a paramount example). Jerry Jones is, like most other NFL owners, desperate to make it look like he is taking the concerns regarding domestic violence and other bad behavior by players seriously. To that end, when a marginal player like Lucky Whitehead appeared to have gotten into some hot water, Jerry saw a perfect opportunity to serve him his walking papers, and preach stentorian from the mount on how he doesn't tolerate this sort of tomfoolery.

So what we have here was an attempt to make a decision that had already been made for one reason look like it was made for an entirely different reason... and like so many other things Jerry Jones has done in his tenure, it blew up in his face. The true issue here is the continued lip service that NFL team owners pay towards the issues at hand, cutting a player like Whitehead (who barely contributes to the team) when he apparently gets in trouble, and leaving other, more important players (like Elliott) on the roster, even when they may find themselves legitimately in trouble.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

This Is Not Fake News (audio)

The St. Louis Ethical Society has released the audio of the Fake News speech I gave on July 16th, and has given me permission to post it on this site and as a podcast. Listen, then click here to subscribe to my podcasts via iTunes!

If you prefer to read the speech, there's a written transcript here.

Fired For Being Accused

This report from NFL.com a couple of days ago caught my eye. It's about a man who was fired from his job for being accused of a crime he didn't commit...

Lucky Whitehead didn't do it. One day after the wide receiver was informed he had been cut by the Cowboys for facing misdemeanor petty larceny charges in Virginia, Whitehead's agent, Dave Rich, announced that police had the wrong guy all along. Rich told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport that all charges against Whitehead have been dropped and his arrest warrant rescinded.
The story reminded me of many years ago when I was negotiating a deal with a radio station that wanted to hire me. They sent me the basic boilerplate contract, which included a clause giving them the right to terminate the contract if I was ever charged with a crime.

I told them I wouldn't sign it unless that clause was changed. They asked why, and I explained that anyone can accuse someone of a crime at any time, but that shouldn't be a valid reason for the accused to lose their job. I demanded that, if this was going to be part of the contract at all, it would have to say "convicted" instead of "charged." Furthermore, I said, "criminal offense" would have to be replaced by "felony offense." I wasn't going to have my livelihood yanked out from under me for some petty misdemeanor.

The radio station's lawyers acquiesced to my demands, and we had a multi-year run with great success for all concerned before we parted ways when I left for another opportunity.

I'm surprised the NFL Players Association doesn't make team owners change their boilerplate contract in the same way.

Of course, this is the same league that lied to its players for decades about the effects of concussions and the rest of the head-banging that is endemic to the game of football. So the NFL can't be happy with the results of a new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showing even more connections between the violent hits endured by players and the onset of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The researchers checked the brains of 111 deceased NFL players, and found that 110 of them had the degenerative brain disorder. And it's not just the pros who suffer -- 87% of all football players at the high school, college, and pro level ended up with some form of CTE.

From Time magazine:
Among players with severe CTE, 85% had signs of dementia, and 89% had behavioral or mood symptoms, or both. They were also likely to have issues in brain regions associated with depressive symptoms, impulsivity and anxiety. 95% had cognitive symptoms, like issues with memory, executive function and attention.
As more research shows these dangers of playing football, don't be surprised to see the numbers of parents who allow their kids to strap on a helmet and smash their heads together over the line of scrimmage continue to decrease over the coming decades.

Maybe being fired by the Cowboys for being charged with a crime he didn't commit will turn out to be a good thing for Lucky Whitehead. Or at least for his brain matter.

Previously on Harris Online...

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Adam Ruins Hospitals

Perhaps the pinheads on Capitol Hill (and at the White House) who think they have a better plan for American health care (and health insurance) should watch the latest episode of "Adam Ruins Everything" to learn about the biggest problems we face -- being over-charged, over-tested, and over-diagnosed (not to mention dispensed too many antibiotics). Here's an excerpt...


Of course, entering facts into this discussion is useless compared to the huge amount of money funneled into politicians' pockets by lobbyists for the health care/insurance industry, but at least this will help you be a little better informed. You can watch the entire episode here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Magic Men

Lance Burton and Mac King are two of the best magicians I've ever seen.

I was first introduced to Lance's work by Penn Jillette, who told me that Lance did the finest close-up routine (Max Maven tells me the preferred term is "stage manipulation") in the world -- high praise from the man who works with Teller. On his advice, I went to see Lance's Las Vegas show, which by then had moved from the Hacienda to the Monte Carlo. Penn was right. Lance's opening routine, which he'd been doing since he was a teen, was remarkable. The illusions that followed, both big and small, were also very clever and perfectly executed. I enjoyed it so much that I went back several times over the next few years to share the experience with friends and family. Lance retired in 2010, and hasn't done a new show or TV special since.

I met Mac King when he was working the comedy circuit tour and came through St. Louis to play The Funny Bone. The club was (and still is) in the same building as KTRS, and I used to have its headliners drop by my midday show to talk and promote their gigs. When Mac came in, he was really funny and quick, and when I went to see his show that night, I was equally impressed with his sleight-of-hand. A couple of years later, Mac signed a contract to do his comedy/magic show at Harrah's (on the strip), and he's still there, ten times a week! When I did my show on remote from The Orleans in Vegas, Mac came over to talk some more and impress the small audience that had gathered around my table with a few tricks. I've taken and sent lots of people to see Mac, and they have all reported back that they had a great time.

Lance and Mac have known each other since they started out in Kentucky more than four decades ago. At one point, they worked together and helped each other develop their acts and fine-tune their tricks. They have the easy camaraderie of longtime friends, and it's evident in this video from a couple of weeks ago. The event was the annual gathering of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in Louisville, where Lance took the stage ostensibly to interview Mac, but quickly decided to let the audience ask questions, which led to some wonderful stories -- and a famous rope trick -- from Mac.

Make sure you watch through to the final story, about the time a woman from the audience joined Mac onstage for a trick and it didn't go as he planned. Note: while Mac is wearing a microphone, it appears that Lance isn't, so it's a little difficult to hear him at times, but you'll still know what's going on...

Previously on Harris Online...

Movie Review: "The Journey"


"The Journey" is yet another movie based on a real event that most Americans know nothing about, including me. It takes place in 2006, when the conflict in Northern Ireland had been going on for decades between Catholics and Protestants. That year, top representatives of both sides sat down to try to negotiate the peace, led by two men who couldn't have been more different.

Ian Paisley was the ultra-religious and conservative leader of the British side. The other was Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army leader who wanted the two Irelands to reunify. During the negotiations in neutral Scotland, much progress was made, but they still hadn't gotten to the finish line. Then Paisley announced that he had to leave the gathering to go home and celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife. McGuinness agreed, under one condition -- he had to travel with Paisley, because neither side could be seen to have given in to any accommodation that wasn't available to the other side. Begrudgingly, Paisley agreed, and the two of them sat in the back of a car, at first simply glaring at each other but, along the way, out of the sight of their colleagues and the world, they started talking.

Paisley and McGuinness are played by Timothy Spall ("Denial," "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") and Colm Meaney ("The Van," "Under Seige," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"), respectively. They're both perfect for their roles, but unfortunately the filmmakers weren't content to just put them in a moving vehicle and let them talk things out.

Instead, writer Colin Bateman and director Nick Hamm use the cinematic device of over-explanation via John Hurt's character, Harry Patterson. He's the one who has outfitted the vehicle with audio and video that is fed back to a room at the negotiation site where he and others can watch and hear what's going on. He also can talk to the guy behind the wheel, who is not only charged with driving the two important men, but also trying to stimulate conversation between them. Hurt's character repeatedly provides unnecessary exposition in his instructions to the driver, and all the scenes of Patterson, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, and others are a distraction from what's going on with the two main characters of "The Journey."

That's a shame because Spall and Meaney are eminently watchable and compelling. This could have been the dramatic equivalent of the Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon "The Trip" series (btw, the third of those movies, in which they travel through Spain, comes out next month), albeit without Michael Caine impressions. Instead, it's a ride with too many detours.

I give "The Journey" a 5 out of 10.

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 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 the girls are 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 seen 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.