Saturday, April 29, 2017

Samuel West, Museum Of Failure

In St. Louis, your museum choices include The Art Museum, The History Museum, and The City Museum. In Paris, you can go to The Louvre. In New York, you can visit The Museum Of Modern Art. But you'll have to travel to Helsingborg, Sweden to visit the new Museum Of Failure.

Dr. Samuel West is the man behind that museum, and he joined me to discuss some of the failed products he will exhibit. Surprisingly, The Rams are not included, but these are:

  • Harley-Davidson cologne;
  • A face mask that will beautify you through electric shocks;
  • Bic pens made especially for women;
  • The Segway;
  • Google Glass;
  • Apple Newton;
  • A surgical instrument you won't believe.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 4/28/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max Foizey and I reviewed Emma Watson and Tom Hanks in "The Circle." We also discussed the ridiculous number of trailers that show before movies, an upcoming St. Louis appearance by Val Kilmer, and the work of the late director Jonathan Demme.

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

Harris Challenge 4/28/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories Peabody Award Winners, Sports and Showbiz Week, and It Happened In April. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 4/28/17

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a spray-painted marriage proposal, a blood bank robbery, and a man living above a toilet. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Another Movie You Might Not Know

Since I mentioned Bill Nighy in yesterday's review of "Their Finest," I'm adding one of his lesser-known titles to my Movies You Might Not Know list: "Wild Target."

Nighy stars as Victor Maynard, a highly-efficient hitman-for-hire. It's a business he learned from his father, and his father before him -- the kind of family where Victor's mother keeps a leather-bound book with newspaper clippings of all his kills. One day, a new client (Rupert Everett) engages Victor to kill Rose, (Emily Blunt) a woman who conned him with a fake Rembrandt. Victor takes the job, tracks Rose down, but misses several opportunities to kill her. By the time he finds her again, she's in a parking garage, where Victor notices another hitman taking aim at Rose. Victor takes out the competition, then helps Rose get away, but not before another guy (Rupert Grint) gets involved and joins the duo as Victor's protege.

Not knowing that Victor has a contract to kill her, Rose hires him to to protect her. He takes her to his country home, smitten, but the outside world intrudes, with various people -- including Victor's mother and another hit man played by Martin Freeman -- still trying to get to Rose.

If "Wild Target" sounds like a serious hardcore shoot-em-up drama, it isn't. It's a raucous black comedy directed by Jonathan Lynn, who made "My Cousin Vinny," and gets terrific performances out of his stars. I think it's Nighy's best work, and Blunt stays with him step-for-step.

Best Thing I've Read Today

I was hooked by the first few paragraphs of this Jacey Fortin article in the NY Times:

If you happen to be in Canada on a clear night, look to the stars and maybe you’ll see it: a strip of light stretching from east to west, all the way from the banks of Hudson Bay to the fjords of British Columbia.

Is it a wayward piece of the aurora borealis? Or maybe a plane’s contrail? A rarely seen strip of a proton aurora? Or is it a comet’s tail?

Actually, it’s none of the above. Scientists are still working to figure out exactly what they’re dealing with.

And until that day, they’re going to call it Steve.
Read Fortin's full piece here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


That's not a photoshopped image. It was taken last week off the coast of Honduras by my niece, and that's my brother-in-law in the foreground, just a few feet away from the shark. They knew there would be sharks in the water, and had some apprehension about making the dive, but were reassured by the divemasters who go down there every day and have never had a problem with those Caribbean Reef Sharks. Still, my brother-in-law admits that his heart was beating much faster on that dive than on the one they took the day before to an old shipwreck.

It reminded me of an experience I had a long time ago. I haven't scuba-dived since my daughter was born, but in the decade before that, I was fortunate to be able to travel to some great scuba diving spots in the Caribbean. My all-time favorite dive was to the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia -- which, due to climate change, has suffered serious bio-damage and is nowhere near as beautiful as it was when I was there in 1990.

On that dive, I was swimming around, amazed at the colors and lifeforms below me, when I looked up to see the divemaster pointing behind me. I turned around and found myself no more than 6 feet away from a very large fish. It wasn't a shark, but it had the same coloring, and I was startled, my eyes so wide open they probably filled the entirety of my scuba mask. Fortunately, the fish paid me no attention and simply continued on its way. When I turned back to the divemaster, he signaled for me and the rest of the group to follow him to another spot, which we did.

When we re-surfaced about ten minutes later, he asked me with a laugh, "What did you think of that barracuda?" I said something like, "Is that what was behind me?" He replied, "Yeah, we see them all the time on these dives, but we don't tell people ahead of time or they'd be too scared to go in the water. We've never had a problem with them, though, probably because we take down some other things for them to eat."

My brother-in-law confirmed that the dive crew he'd been with does the same thing, carrying a closed bucket of fish heads, which they put down on the bottom and then opened, creating a literal feeding frenzy. Apparently the sharks in that area (and the barracudas near the GBR) are satisfied enough with the seafood smorgasbord they get several times a day, so they leave the landlubbers alone.

Still, it's quite a surprise when you realize that, without that chum in the bucket, your diving experience could have turned into an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring you as the main entree.

Movie Review: "Their Finest"

Based in London in 1940, “Their Finest," is the story of Catrin (Gemma Arterton), a woman hired by the Ministry of Information’s film division to work on a story that can be uplifting and morale-boosting, particularly for female audiences. She thinks she’s up for a secretarial spot, but ends up on the writing team of an adventure movie based on a story of two women who tried to help soldiers during the Battle of Dunkirk.

She works with two male screenwriters, one of whom she develops a close friendship with, despite pretending she’s married to an artist that she lives with. The latter part of the story is completely unnecessary and gets in the way of the goofiness of making the film. The movie-within-a-movie includes Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), an ex-matinee idol now in his 60s who not only gets Catrin to write better material for his character, but also is forced to help coach an American war hero who’s been enlisted to be in the movie but has no acting talent whatsoever.

"Their Finest" mixes drama and comedy in the correct proportions, with the bombings and air raids that were part of London life during WW2 providing some of the former and Nighy providing much of the latter. You may have to look to find this one in a theater near you, but it's worth it.

I give "Their Finest" a 7.5 out of 10.

Note: do not confuse this with "The Finest Hours," which made my Worst Movies Of 2016 list.

Worth A Link

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Movie Review: "Unforgettable"

"Unforgettable" is a psychological thriller starring Katherine Heigl as an ex-wife, Rosario Dawson as the ex-husband's new girlfriend, and Geoff Stults as the man in the middle.

After all those so-so romcoms that left her career in a ditch, Heigl finally gets to play the villain -- an ice queen with mental issues -- and she does it very well. Dawson's character takes a little too long to catch on to the devious ways Heigl is trying to undermine her relationship, but she plays it as straight as she can. There are also a little girl thrown in as a pawn to be tossed around by the adults and an ex-boyfriend who Dawson had a restraining order against, but it’s now expired, so you know he's gonna be part of the plot, too. The supporting cast includes Cheryl Ladd -- almost unrecognizable due to too much Botox -- as Heigl’s controlling mother, and Whitney Cummings, who created "2 Broke Girls," as Dawson's gal pal.

You don't go to popcorn movies like "Unforgettable" expecting greatness. Though it seems like something you’d see on Lifetime, there are some tense scenes that will grab you, and the rest does exactly what it’s supposed to do (which may include resuscitating Heigl's career). Think of it as a Nancy Meyers movie by way of "Fatal Attraction."

I give "Unforgettable" a 6.5 out of 10.

But The Characters Live On

What do you do when you produce cartoons with iconic characters and the voice actors who created their sound die? You find some of the very talented people on this panel that took place last month at the Television Academy. It was moderated by my friend Mark Evanier, who knowns something about that business because he worked at Hanna-Barbera in the 1980s and has been the writer/supervising-producer/voice-director for "The Garfield Show" for many years.

The panelists are: Bob Bergen, the modern-day voice of Porky Pig; Dee Baker (Daffy Duck and others); Jeff Bergman (Fred Flintsone, Bugs Bunny, and more); and Grey Griffin (Daphne in the "Scooby Doo" cartoon, and more). They're joined by Andrea Romano, casting/voice director for Warner Brothers television; Matt Craig and Gary Hartle, producers of the Cartoon Network series "Wabbit"; and Mallory Lewis, who carries on the work of her mother Shari and her famous puppet, Lambchop (unlike the other voice actors, who do their work unseen by the public, Mallory is actually a ventriloquist, and it's fun to see her interacting with her right hand like this).

You'll not only see them talking about their profession, but doing many of their voices, as well, as Mark works them through a couple of scripts...

Monday, April 24, 2017

Movie Review: "The Promise"

I've never seen a major motion picture that tackles the Armenian Genocide of a hundred years ago. After watching "The Promise," I can now say that I've seen half a movie on that subject. Unfortunately, like other historical epics (e.g. "Pearl Harbor" and "Titanic"), the drama of that horrible reign of death (1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire in its last days, an outrage never acknowledged by the government of Turkey) is undercut by a Hollywood-created love triangle.

Set in 1915, “The Promise” introduces us to Michael (Oscar Isaac), who goes through with an arranged marriage in his small town so that he can use the woman's dowry to move to Constantinople and attend medical school. While there, he meets Ana (Charlotte LeBon), a beautiful French/Armenian woman, and Chris (Christian Bale), an American journalist for the Associated Press she's dating.

I'm not a fan of Isaac, having despised several of his earlier movies ("Inside Llewyn Davis," "A Most Violent Year," and "Ex Machina"), but I've been very impressed with Christian Bale's work over the last decade ("The Big Short," "American Hustle," "The Fighter," and his three Batman movies). As for LeBon, I liked her work in "The Walk" and "The 100-Foot Journey," but those were small supporting roles, and here she's thrust into the middle of the romance and the action.

"The Promise" was written and directed by Terry George, who made a much better movie about genocide in 2004 called "Hotel Rwanda," starring Don Cheadle in a career performance as a hotel manager trying to save lives while the Hutu militia killed thousands of Tutsi refugees in Rwanda. There's no romantic angle to that, and there shouldn't have been one in this. Because of George's attention to the love triangle, he takes too long to get to the far-more-compelling story of Armenians being forcibly removed from their homes and marched into the country to be killed. It’s the kind of movie where one of the top ten characters dies, and it’s made out to be sadder than an entire village being wiped out.

A side note: Last October, before the official release of "The Promise," when it had only been shown at three film festivals, IMDb had already received 86,000 ratings for the movie, most of them from outside the US. It turns out that there was an internet campaign to destroy the movie by Armenian Genocide deniers, who gave it a mere one star. That led to a counter-campaign by Armenians, who voted by the tens of thousands to give it ten stars. As of this week, the movie's rating on IMDb is around a 5, but it's not representative of people who have actually seen the movie -- the system was hijacked by activists who hadn't viewed it.

As for me, I give "The Promise" a 7 out of 10, despite its terrible title. "The Promise" referred to has to do with Michael's vow to his betrothed in his hometown, but that has very little to do with where the script takes us. Still, it's a story that hasn’t been told before in a film of this scale (with a budget of a hundred million dollars). I just wish it had concentrated more on the genocide, yet another piece of world history that we were never taught in school.

DVR Alert: "The Last Laugh"

Tonight, the "Independent Lens" series on PBS is showing "The Last Laugh," which is described in a press release thusly:
"The Last Laugh" is a documentary based on the premise that the Holocaust would seem to be an absolutely off-limits topic for comedy. But is it? History shows that even victims of Nazi concentration camps used humor as a means of survival and resistance. Still, any use of comedy in connection with this horror risks diminishing the suffering of millions. So where is the line? If the Holocaust is taboo, what are the implications for other controversial subjects -- 9/11, AIDS, racism -- in a society that prizes freedom of speech?
Among the funny people director Ferne Pearlstein spoke to are Sarah Silverman, Rob Reiner, Gilbert Gottfried, Jeffrey Ross, Alan Zweibel, Larry Charles and, of course, Mel Brooks. Brooks says that the Holocaust is a subject he wouldn't touch, which seems odd coming from the man who made "The Producers" and wrote the song "Springtime For Hitler." But, as he explains, he wasn't joking about the Holocaust, he was making fun of the Nazis, which is "revenge through ridicule."

The doc also includes clips from two movies that should never have been made, and prove what a dicey proposition it is to do comedy about the Holocaust -- Roberto Benigni's "Life Is Beautiful" and Jerry Lewis' never-released "The Day The Clown Cried."

Pearlstein's other interviewees include Holocaust survivors, one of whom is Robert Clary, who went on to play Corporal LeBeau on the "Hogan's Heroes." When asked how he could possibly agree to do a sitcom about a concentration camp, Clary immediately corrects his questioner, explaining that the show was not about life in a concentration camp with Jews being taken off to the gas chambers, but rather about prisoners of war continuing to fight the Nazis from within a prison camp. Like Brooks, he believes "Hogan's Heroes" qualified as "revenge through ridicule," but I can't imagine any 21st-century television executive green-lighting such a project (e.g. you're unlikely to see a sitcom about Guantanamo Bay).

I've seen "The Last Laugh" and recommend you check it out tonight (or whenever it runs on your PBS station).

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Rick Ankiel, "The Phenomenon"

In 2000, Rick Ankiel was a 21-year-old pitching phenom for the St. Louis Cardinals who had been compared to Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax. But that changed on October 3, when he was pitching in the first game of the National League division series. He threw a wild pitch that hit the backstop. Then he did it again. And again. And again. And again. In five pitches, his world came crumbling down as he was affected by a condition that athletes call The Yips.

Over the course of the next few years, Ankiel went back down to the minors, then returned to the majors for a couple of years, then retired -- until the Cards offered him a chance to come back yet again, this time as an outfielder. Remarkably, he was able to work his way back up from the minors for a third time and spent several more years with the Cardinals, Royals, Mets, Astros, and Nationals, before retiring for good in 2013.

Ankiel writes about all of this in "The Phenomenon: Pressure, The Yips, And The Pitch That Changed My Life." When he joined me in the studio, I asked him:
  • Could you throw a pitch today? Can you have a catch with your kids?
  • When you got The Yips, did your teammates stay away from you, worried it was contagious?
  • Would things have been different if Mike Metheny had been your catcher that night?
  • How important is a catcher to a major league pitcher?
  • What were some of the more bizarre suggestions you got from people who wanted to help?
  • Why can’t most major league pitchers hit?
  • Have you heard from other players with The Yips who wanted advice?
  • When you started again in the minors, did the other players want to know about The Show?
  • Is it true that Tony La Russa once imitated the manager from the movie "Major League" in comments to you?"
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 4/21/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max Foizey and I reviewed "The Promise," "Unforgettable," and "Their Finest." We also discussed the upcoming "Captain Marvel" movie, the PBS documentary "The Last Laugh," and the return of Bill Nye The Science Guy and "Silicon Valley."

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

Harris Challenge 4/21/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories about the March On Science, Earth Day, and Time's Most Influential People. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 4/21/17

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a love score in tennis, a woman stuck in a toilet, and another criminal on Facebook Live. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Picture Of The Day

With the March On Science taking place tomorrow in Washington and other cities around the US, Neil deGrasse Tyson offers what he says are the most important words he's ever spoken...

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Random Thoughts

I love the fact that misogynist Bill O'Reilly was brought down by women, including Emily Steel, the NY Times reporter who broke the story of the secret Fox News settlements with several former employees he sexually harassed. She's the one he threatened in 2015 when she reported on lies he told about reporting during the Falklands war, telling her, "I am coming after you with everything I have. You can take it as a threat." Gee, all she had to use was real reporting and actual evidence.

With so much news about North Korea recently, it's a good time to go back and listen to my interview with Wendy Simmons about her book, "My Holiday In North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place On Earth." Remarkable stories.

Not being a comic book guy, I have no idea who most the characters in the Marvel universe are, but I'm happy to see that Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck -- who wrote and directed my major motion picture debut in "Mississippi Grind" -- have been chosen to direct "Captain Marvel," starring Brie Larson. They'd better hurry. It already has a scheduled release date of March 8, 2019.

No, Trekkies, members of the Enterprise crew who wear red shirts are not the most likely to die. James Grime did the math.

If you're not watching "Brockmire" on IFC, you're missing terrific chemistry between Hank Azaria and Amanda Peet. It's also Azaria's best non-"Simpsons" work since "The Birdcage."

The Alex Jones child custody trial in Austin sounds absolutely wild, particularly the part where he claimed that his memory loss -- such as not being able to remember the names of his own children -- was caused by eating chili.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The O'Reilly Bullshit

In their statement today announcing that Bill O'Reilly will not return to Fox News Channel, Rupert Murdoch and his sons said, "We want to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect."

I call bullshit.

This is a company that quietly and secretly paid $13 million to several women to settle charges that O'Reilly had sexually harassed them in the workplace. Fox had no qualms about keeping him on the air after those payouts. It was only when those settlements became public, and other women came forward with similar claims, and -- most importantly -- advertisers started withdrawing their spots from "The O'Reilly Factor," that the network panicked.

So, this had nothing to do with morality and everything to do with money. What a surprise.

Don't expect anything about the tone of Fox News Channel to change without O'Reilly. Just as Rush Limbaugh has been imitated by dozens of other conservative blowhards on radio. O'Reilly was the blueprint for every loudmouth hypocrite on television. He felt it was his place to publicly tell the world the right way to act while privately acting the wrong way. He's a bully, a misogynist, and the kind of person who isn't liked by anyone who works with him. O'Reilly set the standard for what Fox viewers expected from the network: pomposity, hatred of the Clintons and Obama, vitriol about liberals, fear-mongering, and lies offered as facts regardless of a lack of evidence. No wonder Trump think he's a great guy who could do no wrong.

There's already speculation about where the toxic O'Reilly will land next. You can rule out CNN and MSNBC. There may be some smaller right-wing cable outlet you've never heard of that wants him, but they could never pony up enough money to make it worth his while -- and who would they get to advertise on his show? O'Reilly could go it alone with a live-streamed internet show he sells via subscription, but that seems pretty low rent for a guy who flew as high as he did for so long with the number one show on cable news.

My guess is that he won't reappear with anything resembling "The O'Reilly Factor." He's almost 68 years old and amassed enormous wealth during his Fox run and with his books (his publisher can't be thrilled with losing the free promotional platform his primetime show offered).

Bottom line: now that the big, bad bully has had the magic carpet pulled out from under him, he'll return to Earth and skulk away, muttering something about how all those women he wanted to screw did exactly that to him.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pick-Up Lines

Here's a piece I wrote in 2000, which explains the no-longer-topical references, but the rest of it still holds up...

In my single days -- a lot of years ago -- I was never one of those guys who could pick up women in a bar. I never had a good opening line and was amazed at some of the men who could do it so smoothly while it always felt so awkward to me.

Whenever I tried anything approaching one of these lines, I got the same chilly reaction that Slobodan Milosevic gave his pollsters this week when the Yugoslavian election results came in.

On my show today, I was talking about this and wondering what kind of pickup lines my listeners could remember. I was also curious about whether any particular lines had been effective for the guys, and how women in the audience had responded to them.

Note that I didn’t ask what pickup lines the women used. That’s because, for most single guys, anything a woman says can be considered a pickup line. She may say nothing more than a simple hello, but the man’s ears somehow process it as a come-on.

That’s a scientific fact -- verify it with any man you know – that has something to do with the structure of the male inner ear. She says: “Would you like fries with that?” He hears: “Won’t you please help me cure my terrible loneliness and longing for close physical contact?”

In reading these pickup lines, you may be as amazed as I was at how brash some of the guys have been. I can’t imagine saying most of these. Even more, I can’t believe that they have actually worked. Yet many men claim success with even the lamest lines below. On the other hand, most of the women I spoke to said that they would have to be pretty drunk to respond to these lines in any kind of positive way. Of course, that may just be the point.

Anyway, here’s the list, broken out into categories of ascending boldness...

Insulin Alert!
“We must have met sometime before, because I have seen those eyes before.”
“Where did you put them? Your wings. Because you look like an angel.”
“Where did you park your cloud?”
“Your father must be a thief, because he stole the stars and put them in your eyes.”
“You’re so sweet you’re giving me a toothache.”
“If I had eleven roses and you, I’d have a dozen.”
“Are we near the airport or is that just my heart taking off?”

Third-Party Toss-Off
“My friend wants to know if you think I’m cute.”

Attempts At Wit
“You must wash your clothes in Windex, because I can see myself in your pants.”
“Are your legs tired? Because you’ve been running through my thoughts all night.”
“Is that a run in your hose, or is it my stairway to heaven?”
“Are you from Tennessee? Because you’re the only ten I see!”
“Do you know CPR? Because you take my breath away.”
“If I could rearrange the alphabet, I would put U and I together.”

For Use Only By Men Under 30
“Your daddy must be a drug dealer, because you’re dope.”
“Is your dad a terrorist? Because you’re the bomb!”
“Are you a parking ticket? Because you have fine written all over you.”
“Is that a keg in your pants? Cause I’d just love to tap that booty.”

First Used By A Caveman
“If I told you that you had a nice body, would you hold it against me?”
“Is it hot in here or is it just you?”
“Hi, I’m new in town. Can I have directions to your house?”
“When does your centerfold come out?”
“I seem to have lost my number. Can I have yours?”

What If She’s Lactose Intolerant?
“I’m like milk. I’ll do your body good.”
“You’re so fine, I want to pour milk all over you and make you part of my complete breakfast.”

Guaranteed Face-Slappers
“I may not be Fred Flintstone, but I sure can make your bed rock.”
“Hey, that dress looks nice. Can I talk you out of it?”
“That dress looks good on you, but I’d look better.”
“Are those pants from outer space? Cause that butt is out of this world.”
“I like your hair that way. But I’d really like to see what it looks like on my pillow.”
“I’d like to buy you breakfast tomorrow. Should I call you, or just nudge you?”
“My mother always said that I had hands that belonged on a girl. Can I put them on you?”

Too Crude To Use Except At Last Call
“Can I tickle your belly button -- from the inside?”
“You have 206 bones in your body. Would you like one more?”
“You look like you have a little Mexican in you, and if you don’t, would you like to?”
“That outfit would look great in a crumpled heap on my bedroom floor tomorrow morning.”

Again, don’t blame me for any of these. I have never used them, and never would. I’d be scared to death of the response. Or that she might think I’m Craig Kilborn.

I’m not alone in my rejection anxiety. One guy told me he tried quoting an early Woody Allen movie to a woman in a bar, asking “Would you like to take me home and hurt me?” She didn’t waste any time. She kicked him in the shins right then and there.

A woman told me that a guy sat down next to her and introduced himself as “Bond. James Bond.” Without missing a beat, she replied, “Lost. Get Lost.”

Several ladies also asked me to pass along a tip to the guys. If you recognize that her name is the same as some famous song lyric, you should not start reciting that song to her. No matter how clever you think you are, you are not the first guy to try to impress her by singing “Oh Susanna,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Michelle My Belle,” or, fer chrissakes, “The I Love Lucy Theme.”

What kind of approach would women truly welcome? Picture the scene in “Top Gun,” where Kelly McGillis is at the bar and Tom Cruise (with help from Anthony Edwards) strolls up with a microphone and serenades her with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”

Caveat to guys: this overt tactic is considered a winner by women entirely due to the fact that Tom Cruise was doing it. It would not have the same appeal if you look more like George Wendt.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Movie Review: Gifted

“Gifted” is the story of a 7-year-old math prodigy named Mary, who's being raised by her uncle, Frank. He wants her to have a normal life, so he resists efforts by her school's principal to enroll her in a private school geared to academically-advantaged children. Soon Mary's grandmother gets involved. She's well-off, brilliant at math, too, and wants Mary to follow the educational path that will allow her to concentrate on learning at the expense of all else.

Let's start with the high points of the movie. McKenna Grace is nothing less than great as Mary, and there isn't one false note in her performance. She has the kind of screen presence that reminds me of Tatum O’Neal in “Paper Moon”, Drew Barrymore in “ET”, and Quinn Cummings in “The Goodbye Girl.” Chris Evans, who gained fame as Captain America in the Marvel movies, plays the much more down-to-Earth Frank, the man who's been raising Mary since her mother committed suicide 6 years earlier. Lindsay Duncan is also quite good as the grandmother, the movie's villain.

On the night of the screening of "Gifted," I was talking with fellow movie reviewer Cate Marquis, who raised an important question. Why is it that athletically-gifted kids should be immersed in intensive physical training from a young age (think gymnastics, soccer, baseball or any other youth sport) to the detriment of their "normal life," but academically-gifted kids shouldn't? What's so wrong with putting a very smart girl into an environment where she's surrounded by other bright children, in a rigorous curriculum that encourages the expansion of their knowledge and is designed to meet their academic needs?

"Gifted" doesn't dive into that question much, although it does have flashes of "Little Man Tate," the 1991 Jodie Foster movie about a single mom raising a boy genius who faces the same kind of issues about how to raise a gifted child. Instead, it's interested in the family dynamic, which leads to a custody battle in court that has echoes of "Kramer vs. Kramer," with a couple of classroom scenes that reminded me of "Good Will Hunting," and a genius-by-genetics question from "Proof."

As for the supporting cast, Jenny Slate is fine as Mary's teacher -- who becomes a love interest for Frank -- but I wonder whether there was more to that character that ended up on the cutting room floor. Then there's Frank and Mary's landlord/neighbor/pal, played by Octavia Spencer, who unfortunately doesn't have much to do. It's a little disappointing that, after winning an Oscar in 2012 for "The Help" and being nominated for another for "Hidden Figures" earlier this year, Spencer isn't getting meatier roles than this.

All in all, "Gifted" is a heartwarming movie, which we need right now, and a reminder that child prodigies can be cute, too. It also is a wonderful showcase for McKenna Grace, whose breakout performance hits all the right notes as Mary. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Jason Zinoman, "Letterman: The Last Giant Of Late Night"

Here's my conversation with Jason Zinoman about his book, "Letterman: The Last Giant Of Late Night." Among the topics we discussed:
  • Whether it was harder to convince David Letterman to sit down for interviews or his former showrunner/girlfriend Merrill Markoe to share her diary;
  • Letterman's three distinct creative eras at NBC, and why the CBS years were so different;
  • Letterman's withdrawal from his staff over the years, and then from the show;
  • How Letterman began the era of no surprises on late night talk shows;
  • The one word that described David Letterman's mindset through most of his TV run;
  • The contributions of director Hal Gurnee.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 4/14/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max Foizey and I reviewed "Gifted," starring Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, and McKenna Grace. We also discussed "The Fate Of The Furious," the trailer for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," and the controversial outing of a transgender contestant on "Survivor" this week.

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

Harris Challenge 4/14/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories about Good Friday, Easter, and Sports And Showbiz 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® 4/14/17

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about an Uber driver and her boyfriend, a boy's McDonald's craving, and some weed paranoia. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Best Thing I've Read Today

As millions of Americans scramble to finish their tax paperwork this weekend, including gathering all the forms and receipts and statements, TR Reid explains that most of the world doesn't handle tax returns this way. In most places, since the government already knows how much you've made and how much you've paid and what your capital gains were and what you paid in mortgage interest, you simply get an annual notice that reflects that information and can appeal it if necessary.

So, why do you and I have to gather so much of the same data and compile it into a lengthy return?

Questions like that have prompted some members of Congress — including Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon; Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts; and Dan Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana — to champion pre-filled forms. But their bills never went anywhere because the tax-preparation industry lobbies strenuously against them. The “Tax Complexity Lobby,” as it has been called, includes big national preparers like H and R Block and tax-prep software companies.

Intuit, the maker of the top-selling program TurboTax, has reportedly spent millions over the years to persuade members of Congress to “oppose IRS government tax preparation.” In an annual report, the company warned investors that “government encroachment” — the IRS filling out the forms for you — would be a significant competitive threat, which is why it has to fight the idea. So you do more work, they make more money.

This year, though, the president and Congress have pledged a thorough reform of America’s absurdly complex tax system. They’ve promised to make life easier for the beleaguered taxpayer. A useful step — one that other advanced democracies have already taken — would be pre-filled forms. And then April 15 would be just another sunny spring day.
Read Reid's full piece here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

No Quality For Old Men (And Women)

One point I left out of my review of "Going In Style" yesterday was the damage it does to the reputation of the older actors who star in it. Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine have collectively starred in dozens of classic movies, and yet they're forced to settle for garbage like this, because there's a dearth of good material being written for them in Hollywood.

It hasn't always been so. Helen Mirren doesn't seem to have any shortage of roles. Ruth Gordon did several wonderful movies after she turned 70. Meryl Streep is 68 and still very much in demand, with a high percentage of worthwhile projects.

There have been a few very good movies starring actors over 60:

  • Bruce Dern and June Squibb in "Nebraska";
  • Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel";
  • Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann-Margret, Burgess Meredith and Ossie Davis in "Grumpy Old Men."
Of course, Ron Howard's "Cocoon" remains the best movie to star an ensemble of older actors, with Wilford Brimley, Maureen Stapleton, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Jack Gilford, Gwen Verdon, and Don Ameche (who won an Oscar for it!).

Unfortunately, the quality list isn't nearly as long as the Not So Good list. Take, for instance, James Garner and Jack Lemmon playing two ex-presidents who team up to take down the corrupt incumbent, Dan Aykroyd, in "My Fellow Americans." Or the ridiculousness of Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner on the space shuttle in "Space Cowboys."

Then there's the bottom of the barrel of this genre, led in recent years by "Last Vegas" (in which Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline romp around Las Vegas making Viagra jokes and chewing every bit of scenery in sight) and "Stand Up Guys" (with Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and yes, Alan Arkin enjoying an evening of inappropriate activities and Viagra jokes).

Actresses get short shrift in these movies, too. Talented people like Mary Steenburgen, Marcia Gay Harden and -- on more than one occasion -- Ann-Margret, serve no other purpose than to be the romantic interest of the usually-much-older men.

You'll notice that several of the actors I've named (Garner, Lemmon, Arkin, Freeman) have done several stinkers, particularly in their later years, and they're not alone. What was the last time any of these actors appeared in a movie anyone would describe as great: Robert Redford, Robert DeNiro, James Caan, Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, and James Earl Jones?

Are they only being offered bad scripts? Are their agents making bad choices? Is it all about the money?

Michael Caine was once asked if he'd ever seen "Jaws 4," a movie so weak it barely reached the screen from the projection booth. He replied, "Never. I hear it’s terrible. However, I have seen the house it built and that’s terrific." He's probably been able to buy several houses with the income from the multitude of other bad movies he's made, including "Swarm," "The Hand," and "Blame It On Rio." Caine hasn't lowered himself to the point where he's costarring with Adam Sandler or Rob Schneider, but he did do one with Steven Seagal ("On Deadly Ground"), so his participation in the disaster that is "Going In Style" shouldn't come as a total surprise.

Still, Caine and the others -- both male and female -- remain giants of cinema history, with plenty of iconic performances in their past. To see their careers devolve to the point where the only thing they get to do is predictable, poorly-written nonsense is an absolute shame.

If you're looking for better movies the stars of "Going In Style" made earlier in their careers, I suggest...
  • Michael Caine: "Educating Rita," "Deathtrap," "Alfie," "Sleuth," "The Man Who Would Be King," "California Suite," "Hannah and Her Sisters," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "Noises Off," "Little Voice," "The Cider House Rules," "The Dark Knight," "Harry Brown," and "Inception."
  • Alan Arkin: "The In-Laws," "Argo," "Sunshine Cleaning," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Slums of Beverly Hills," "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Simon," "Freebie and the Bean," and "The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!"
  • Morgan Freeman: "The Shawshank Redemption," "Invictus," "The Dark Knight," "Gone Baby Gone," "Along Came A Spider," "Seven," "Unforgiven," "Glory," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Lean On Me," "Clean and Sober," and "Street Smart."

He's Not The Host

Hasan Minhaj, a "Daily Show" contributor who has barely made an impression upon the viewing public, has been chosen to perform at the White House Correspondents Dinner at the end of this month. Unfortunately, as they do every year, media outlets are proclaiming that he will host the event.

That couldn't be further from the truth. Like his predecessors, Minhaj won't say a word until it's his turn to get up in front of the microphone and try to squeeze laughs out of the world's worst audience. He's the guest performer, the headliner, the comic relief -- not the host.

In the last couple of decades, that has been an unenviable position to be in, because it meant following fairly clever spots by Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and, yes, even George W. Bush, each of whom had comedy professionals work up their routines. This year, it will be a little easier because President No-Sense-Of-Humor isn't attending (seriously, have you ever heard Trump say anything that was intentionally funny?).

How much material Minhaj will do about the absent president remains to be seen, though I'd bet he'll have an interesting perspective as a Muslim and the son of immigrants. But at least he won't have his spotlight stolen before he even steps into it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Movie Review: Going In Style

In 1979, director Martin Brest (who would go on to make "Beverly Hills Cop," "Midnight Run," and "Scent Of A Woman") made a little movie called "Going In Style." It starred three veteran actors: George Burns, who had resurrected his career a few years earlier with "The Sunshine Boys" and "Oh, God"; Art Carney, the "Honeymooners" sidekick who had returned to stardom with "Harry and Tonto" and "The Late Show"; and Lee Strasberg, one of the most famous acting teachers ever, who played an important role in "The Godfather 2."

The story was simple. Three old retired men live together, go to the park together, and basically just hang around together, collecting their social security and pension checks. Bored of sitting on a bench with not much else to do, on a whim, they decide to rob a bank. After one of them dies from the excitement, the other two go to Vegas for a short adventure. That's too much for another one of them, who dies in his sleep. Then the third one is caught by the cops. It was a wonderful, quiet character study with three actors who never over-played their parts.

But Hollywood can't leave well enough alone, so they had to remake it. The new version stars three actors who also have resumes full of great performances: Morgan Freeman ("Driving Miss Daisy," "The Shawshank Redemption"), Michael Caine ("Educating Rita," "Alfie"), and Alan Arkin ("Wait Until Dark," "The Russians Are Coming").

Unfortunately, they were given a script that's not a small character study (a disappointment because it was written by Theodore Melfi, who made "Hidden Figures," my favorite movie so far this year), but a revenge fantasy. This time, the guys decide to rob the bank because it's foreclosing on Caine's house and managing the pension fund that's no longer sending them checks. Instead of playing characters with nuance, they were given roles that could be played by any actor over 70, because there’s nothing special about them.

Zach Braff directs all of this with no style at all, substituting a broad, wacky sitcom pace and some dumb subplots. There's Christopher Lloyd doing yet another version of Reverend Jim and Doc Brown as a flaky old guy. Ann-Margret is back as a romantic interest, just as she was in Grumpy Old Men. The three guys smoke a joint and laugh hysterically.

Worst of all, there's an extended sequence in which, supposedly as a rehearsal for the bank robbery, they shoplift at the supermarket where Ann-Marget works. But they don't go in and rob the cashiers, which would make a little bit of sense. Instead, they go around the store and stuff items into their pants and jackets -- because there's nothing funnier than the sight of old men without money having to steal food so they can eat -- then make a slapstick getaway that's completely unnecessary.

It's all formulaic, predictable, and has a copout happy ending that's contrary to everything the original did right. In fact, if this were the first version, it would never be remade.

I'm giving the new "Going In Style" a 3 out of 10, and only because I like the stars, not the movie. Instead of wasting your money on the remake, rent the original on Amazon Prime Video for a few bucks and see how good it was.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Chris Rock

My wife and I went to see Chris Rock last night at the Peabody. We had never seen him in concert (only on TV), but he was in top form as he talked about Trump, guns, and religion. He also was very candid about his divorce -- which he claims was his own fault for not being a good husband -- and his return to the dating scene. Most of what we saw will probably show up in the first standup show in his new Netflix deal, thus you'll get a chance to see it, too, so I won't give any of it away.

The evening included two other comedians: opener Ardie Fuqua was mildly amusing and is best known as one of the survivors of the incident known as The Tracy Morgan Crash. The featured act was Anthony Jeselnik, with his dry delivery and cleverly-phrased jokes, who doesn't mind testing the limits of taste (his final bit was a funny extended riff about taking a friend to an abortion clinic).

They set the stage for Rock very well, but then there was an intermission, which was odd, because if their role is to warm up the crowd, then why cool us down again with a break of at least 20 minutes? It's not like the stage crew had to move the opening act's equipment out of the way. Perhaps Rock gets a cut of the alcohol concessions, which were plentiful.

Last year, I wrote about a new trend at live performances -- phone-free events, where attendees have to leave their phone in the car or put them in pouches from a company called Yondr. That was the case last night, too. Here's how if works. On the way in, a staff member give you a pouch that you slide your phone into. Then they lock it and give it to you to hold onto, thus removing the company from the liability of possibly losing your phone. On the way out, you return to the Yondr desk and have your pouch unlocked very quickly, retrieve your phone, and go on your way. It's a lot less hassle than it sounds, and a major positive for the concert environment because it means you can can't annoy other attendees by checking your screen multiple times during the show or blocking someone else's view by holding up your 4" screen.

But that's not why Rock -- whose tour is titled "Total Blackout," after all -- and other comedians and music acts insist on the policy at their shows. As Dave Chappelle explained in one of his new Netflix specials, it's so their material doesn't get online without their permission, thus making them take fewer risks when trying out new material, or spoiling the surprise element necessary in standup comedy for others who will eventually come to see them, or ruining the context for those who will watch the entire performance when it's released on Netflix, HBO, or wherever. I heartily endorse it.

One last note about the Peabody. Our seats last night were in the Left Center section, Row W, Seats 1 and 2. We entered through a door under a sign reading "Left / Left-Center," so I assumed we were in the right place when we got to Row W and sat down in Seats 1 and 2. My wife asked if I was sure, and I said, "Look, seat one, seat two." Then an usher came by and asked to look at our tickets, and it turned out I was wrong. This was Row W, Seats 1 and 2 -- in the LEFT section. My wife suppressed the urge to say, "I told you so!" as we walked around, went through another door, and sat in our correct seats.

In my defense, I blame the venue. There shouldn't be two different seats with the same number in the same row. Either start with Seat 1 on one side and move up numerically until you reach the other side, or split the place down the middle with the odd-numbered seats on one side and the even-numbered on the other. On an airplane, you won't find a Row 19 Seat C on each side of the aisle. So why do it in an auditorium? The Peabody doesn't have two Row W's. Even when you get past the 26th alphabetical row, they don't start with Row A again, it's Row AA.

That aside, we had a great time seeing Chris Rock, who provided plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and a few elbow-each-other lines, too. It's good to have him back.

Best Thing I've Read Today

My brother Seth explains the metrics that should be used to evaluate Trump's performance:

We should begin by putting aside our obsession with optics and outrages. We should focus, instead, on whether the Trump Administration is making our lives better --- that is, producing (or contributing to) outcomes that matter to Americans. Not tweets. Not executive orders. Not photo-ops. Outcomes.
Read Seth's full piece here.

Passover Comedy

We're doing something different for the seder tonight -- my new gefilte fish tacos recipe. However, we are not inviting our neighbor Bitter Herb.

Dave Aronson adds: Bitter Herb couldn't make it anyway, he has charoses of the liver, from drinking WAY more than four cups!

Picture Of The Day

Just a reminder that "Better Call Saul" is back on AMC tonight for its third season -- which, at some point, will include the return of Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring, the man you know from those training videos at Los Pollos Hermanos...

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Ric Edelman, "The Truth About Your Future"

Financial advisor Ric Edelman returned to my radio show to talk about his new bestseller, "The Truth About Your Future: The Money Guide You Need Now, Later, and Much Later." Among the topics we discussed:
  • How retirement will be different in the future;
  • How college education will be free, but you'll need a lifetime of learning;
  • What exponential technologies are, and how they'll affect your life;
  • Why you won't need to move into a nursing home when you get older;
  • Why you should never pay off the mortgage on your house;
  • Why newscasters should stop telling you how The Dow is doing every day;
  • What you need to do to protect your digital assets (and those of your kids).
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Showbiz Show 4/7/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max Foizey and I reviewed Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine in the "Going In Style" remake. We also discussed the late Don Rickles, the new IFC show "Brockmire," the upcoming season 3 of "Better Call Saul," and Louis CK's Netflix special "2017."
    Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

    Harris Challenge 4/7/17

    This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories about Don Rickles, Chris Rock, and the Rock Hall Of Fame Class of 2017.

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

    Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

    Knuckleheads In The News® 4/7/17

    On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a cello on a plane, a donkey punch, and water balloons in a bra. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

    Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

    Thursday, April 06, 2017

    Things Trump Has Never Said

    • "I'm going to hold off expressing my opinion on that until all the facts are in."
    • "Melania, look what I got with my 20% off Bed Bath and Beyond coupon!"
    • "Eric, do your homework, just like I always do."
    • "The laborers did such a good job, I'm going to give them a bonus."
    • "I apologize, I was wrong."

    Must've Been Nine Of Them

    I thought I saw a new version of "The Hollywood Squares" on TV last night, but it turned out to be yet another of those CNN panels with too many opinionated "experts." I'll take Gloria Borger for the block!

    Picture Of The Day

    When Louis CK hosts "SNL" (as he will this weekend), you don't have to get fancy with the promos...

    In A Reality Show World

    We have a former reality show star as President of the United States.

    We have a former "Dancing With The Stars" contestant on the National Security Council.

    So don't laugh when you find out one of the stars of "Shark Tank" might be the next Prime Minister of Canada.

    Personally, I'd be much happier with any former "Mythbuster" as Secretary Of Education.

    Wednesday, April 05, 2017

    Backlash For Bad Ideas

    Pepsi got a lot of backlash this week for a tone-deaf commercial starring Kendall Jenner (of the Kardashian Klan) in an attempt to use images of protestors -- their cause is unnamed, but it could be either Black Lives Matter or #Resistance -- to sell soda. Similarly, Nivea has had to pull an ad featuring the phrase "White Is Purity" after it was accused of racial insensitivity.

    In both cases, I'm sure the agencies that created them thought they were following orders to create some viral buzz on social media, but the reaction wasn't what they hoped it would be, to their great surprise.

    Both cases beg the question of why executives at the agency or the corporate level okayed the ads. Is there no one in-house who raised their hand and said, "Um, this is a very bad idea"?

    Rear Window Scapegoating

    Donald Trump put some of the blame for Syria killing dozens of its own people this week with chemical weapons on President Obama's policies. But, as usual, Trump offered no solutions of his own. That's his trademark, always looking in the rear window for a scapegoat rather than at the road ahead for a path to peace.

    Just once, I'd like to hear him give a direct answer to a question that starts with "How?" At a press conference today, PBS' John Yang asked Trump how his policy towards Syria differs from Obama's. His non-response:

    I'm not saying I'm doing anything one way or the other. But I'm certainly not telling you, as much as I respect you, John.
    Trump loves that "I'm not telling you" line. He used it during the campaign and the transition, when he promised that he had a plan for fixing all the problems in the Middle East, but wouldn't share it with us because he didn't want to tip off the enemy. He's given similar responses to questions about other important matters, always deflecting them with, "Trust me, you'll see."

    Last September, I wrote the question journalists should follow up with whenever Trump goes down this evasive route: Would you hire an architect who said, "I have a plan for your building, but won't reveal it till you hire me"?

    By the way, Trump promised to give us a plan to "soundly and quickly defeat ISIS" in the first 30 days of his administration. We're up to day 76 and he hasn't said a word about it.

    I guess Jared Kushner hasn't written that one up yet.

    Our Outsourced Government

    The Internal Revenue Service is going to outsource its debt collection on unpaid federal taxes to private companies. Let me predict two things right now: 1) this will cause an avalanche of scams by con artists ripping people off by pretending to be contractors; and 2) the outsourcing will cost more than it did to have IRS employees do the same job.

    Best Thing I've Read Today

    Jason Gay says that basketball games should not be played in football stadiums, as the Gonzaga-North Carolina NCAA national championship was Monday night. The places are just too big for a sport that's better watched in a gymnasium. To prove it, Gay got a ticket in the next-to-last row for the March Madness finale and wrote about the experience:

    It was high up. Incredibly high up. One row from the tippety-top of the University of Phoenix tuna can.... 
    My seat for the title game was not the worst seat in the house, but I’m comfortable saying it was probably the second-worst. A certifiable nosebleed, a Bob Uecker special.....

    To get there, I had to take escalators, and stairs upon stairs. I had to spend a week at basecamp on the 100 level in order to acclimate to the altitude, and then another week acclimating on the 300 level. OK, that’s not really true. But I believe the vendors were selling both popcorn and oxygen....

    I want to stress something here. I don’t want to come across as an whiny elitist sportswriter snob, complaining about sitting in the cheap seats with real fans, who love the game, and spend their own money to be there. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a whiny elitist sportswriter snob, but for totally different reasons....

    I just think this is really far away to watch a basketball game.
    Read Gay's full piece here.

    Worth A Link

    • "If students could uncover all of this, I want to know why the adults couldn’t find this."
    • You know you're having a bad day of poker when the feds show up and shut down the casino.
    • 24 tweets that sum up life with toddlers (fave: the one from Simon Holland).

    Tuesday, April 04, 2017

    Stopping Video From Auto-Playing

    I'm always annoyed when I get to a website and it starts auto-playing some embedded video. Most of the time, I don't want to see the video, but rather the text of the story that got me to that site in the first place. It's even more annoying when, upon scrolling, the video reduces to a smaller window in the corner of the screen as it continues to play. In each of those case, I then have to mute, or pause, that video I don't want to watch.

    I've recently come upon a solution that works, so I'm recommending it to you. It's an extension for the Chrome browser called "Disable HTML5 Autoplay." Unfortunately, there isn't a version for Safari or Internet Explorer, but it works great on Chrome. Note that it doesn't keep you from playing those videos -- you just have to hit play to get them rolling, even on YouTube.

    Why do sites embed those auto-play videos in the first place? Because it helps them pump up the numbers they sell to advertisers. Even if you pause the video one second after it starts, that still counts as a view on the site's internal metrics. So, if a thousand people did that, none of them would have seen the content, but the site owner could convince advertisers that they did simply by showing them the stats. That would be like selling huge ratings for whatever show follows "The Big Bang Theory" because people left their TV or DVR going for five extra seconds after "TBBT" ended -- which would not be an accurate report on how many viewers that other show actually attracted.

    I know of many radio stations that fool advertisers this way. They sell some business the sponsorship of all the video clips on the station's website, usually with a pre-roll commercial or embedded logo. The advertiser think it's getting tons of exposure, but most people don't watch the video and thus don't see the message. A friend at one station tells me that, as an experiment, they turned off auto-play on the whole site for a week, but when the number of views plunged, the sales manager made them turn it back on, even though she knew it was bogus information.

    Even Facebook has been caught with incorrect data about video viewing metrics. The site now gives you an option to turn off auto-play, but I've seen a few get through in my timeline. Other sites do it much more blatantly, but I'm happy to say the "Disable HTML5 Autoplay" extension has stopped them all on my computer.

    Let me know if it works for you -- and if you discover a similar extension for other browsers, send me a link so I can post that, too.

    Best Thing I've Read Today

    Vanity Fair has an excerpt from Alec Baldwin's memoir "Nevertheless," in which he says something so true, but rarely said, about the difference between doing comedy and creating comedy:

    Whenever anyone told me I was funny, I was reminded of when people in high school tell someone that he can hit a fastball or shoot a basketball well. Then he gets to college and everyone is big and fast and strong. After that, if he turns professional, everyone around him seems inhuman. They’re the biggest, fastest, and strongest. That’s what Saturday Night Live was like for me. The worst idea the writers there came up with was funnier than the best thing I could think up. My definition of funny changed while working with them. If people think I can say a line in a way that gets a laugh, I’ll take it. But I’m not funny. The SNL writers are funny. Tina Fey is funny. Conan O’Brien is funny. You’re only funny if you can write the material. What I do is acting.
    That's a wonderful thing to remember any time you watch anyone performing material they didn't write. It's why no actor playing a standup comedian can be as good as a great comic doing their own material. There have been plenty of amazing singers in history, but the ones who can write and perform the songs are my favorites. Even Meryl Streep, as superlative as she is at portraying any number of remarkable characters, couldn't do much unless someone else put those words in her mouth.

    Read the rest of the Baldwin excerpt here.

    Monday, April 03, 2017

    Movie Review: Robert Klein Can't Stop His Leg

    In 2005, I had the pleasure of talking with comedy legend Robert Klein, who I have been a big fan of since my high school days. At the time, Klein had emerged -- along with George Carlin and Richard Pryor -- as the first of a new breed of standups who would influence generations of performers who followed by doing observational humor and telling stories from their own lives, rather than the joke-joke-joke formula that had been the previous state of the art.

    Last year, Marshall Fine did a documentary about Klein's life entitled "Robert Klein Still Can't Stop His Leg." Unfortunately, after debuting at the SXSW Festival, it didn't get a wide release, so I couldn't see it -- until it debuted Friday night on Starz (where it will run throughout the month and on demand, too).

    Watching the movie, the memory of all of Klein's old bits came flooding right back, along with some of his new material. Yes, at 75, Klein is still doing standup. Fine's camera followed him to a few gigs, as well as to the supermarket, his poker game, his backyard, and to Fred Willard's house, where the two reminisce about the year they spent together at Second City (with David Steinberg) in the mid 1960s.

    Fine also got some of the comedians who credit Klein for the impact he had on their work, including Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Richard Lewis, Ray Romano, and Larry Miller, who explain how Klein changed the comedy paradigm. Jerry Seinfeld says Klein raised the bar by doing intelligent comedy, material that assumed that his audience was as bright as he was. There's also a clip from Jay Leno's final "Tonight Show," when Billy Crystal remembered that when Leno was an aspiring comedian, the only decoration in Leno's apartment was a poster of the cover of Klein's "Child Of The 50s" album.

    Klein's career wasn't limited to standup. He also did Broadway shows (he was nominated for a Tony for the Neil Simon/Marvin Hamlisch/Carole Bayer Sager musical "They're Playing Out Song"). He's appeared in dozens of movies, some of them good ("Hooper," "Primary Colors"), some not so much ("Mixed Nuts," "Sharknado 2").  His TV resume includes sitcoms and dramas and his own talk show, as well as hosting "Saturday Night Live" twice (beginning with the third episode of its first season in 1975).

    I devoured Klein's vinyl albums "Child Of The 50s," "Mind Over Matter," and "New Teeth," and watched every one of the specials he did for HBO. He was the first standup to get an hour-long show on that network which, at the time, wasn't available in many homes but, fortunately, my parents were early subscribers. They loved Klein, too -- so much so that when he performed at a nightclub in my hometown when I was 16, my father took me and convinced the bouncer I was 18 so we could both get in.

    To be honest, there's certainly a link from Klein's observational style to many of the things I've done on the air and in print. I learned from him how to keep my eyes open for things to make fun of, how to take even the most mundane parts of my daily life and use them as entertainment. It's a vital component of the skill set that any topical performer must have, and can be traced directly back to Klein.

    Re-reading the above, I realize this sounds like an obituary, but I intend it to be a recommendation for the documentary, "Robert Klein Can't Stop His Leg," which you should watch and enjoy. It's a warm tribute to a comedian who deserves the recognition. I have added it to my Movies You Might Not Know list.

    Previously on Harris Online...


    Some clever stuff on Twitter under that hashtag:

    Saturday, April 01, 2017

    Carl Reiner, "Now You're 94"

    Comedy legend Carl Reiner returned to my show to talk about his new graphic diary, "Now You're 94," as well as some other highlights of his career and life:
    • His memories of the late Mary Tyler Moore;
    • Working with Alan Arkin on "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming";
    • Working with director Norman Jewison on that movie and "The Thrill Of It All";
    • Why he cast George Burns and John Denver in "Oh, God!";
    • How he managed to work on movies at the same time he was running "The Dick Van Dyke Show";
    • That time he and his wife stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House.
    Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

    Previously on Harris Online...