Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How Do You Spell Map?

Google mapped out the most popular “how do you spell ___?” searches in each state. Here are the results. But, wait, people don’t know how to spell Nanny? Sense? Banana? Angel? And what the hell is Nintey?

[click to enlarge]

I'm Dying Up Here

Showtime has a new series starting Sunday called "I'm Dying Up Here." It's based on William Knoedelseder's 2006 non-fiction book about the Los Angeles comedy scene in the late 1970s, particularly at the Comedy Store, where young comics like Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Walker, Robin Williams, Tom Dreeson, and dozens of other standups were trying to get noticed.

The TV show is based at Goldie's, a club run by a woman very much like Mitzi Shore, who ran The Comedy Store. She's played by Melissa Leo -- in an Emmy-worthy performance -- as not just a businesswoman but also the gatekeeper and mentor for the young comedians working on her stages and hanging around her bar. Ari Graynor really stands out as Cassie, the sole woman among the core group of comics, who's trying to emulate Elayne Boosler, the breakout female comedian of the era.

The show not only references Boosler and her contemporaries, but has actors playing Richard Pryor, Sonny Bono, Wolfman Jack (then the host of NBC's "Midnight Special"), and other real people from that time. Thanks to executive producer Jim Carrey, it gets the tone right, from the comics who spend hours at the club every night just to get a few minutes of stage time to work on their material, to the need for day jobs to create income since Mitzi/Goldie didn't pay them, to the desperate hope to be discovered on Johnny Carson's show (he's played by Dylan Baker) and given a sitcom a la Freddie Prinze.

The show does have a slight problem with actors-playing-standups syndrome, but it's not as pronounced as it was in other projects like "The Comedian" and "Punchline." Part of the explanation may be the presence of Carrey and a few other comics who were part of that scene in the late seventies and eighties (including Dom Irrera, Cathy Ladman, and Rick Overton), as well as "Daily Show" regular Al Madrigal.

But it's Leo that steals every scene she's in and makes "I'm Dying Up Here" well worth your time.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Frank Deford

Sorry to hear of the death this weekend of Frank Deford. He was the most literate sportswriter I ever read -- or heard. I first discovered Deford's work in the pages of Sports Illustrated, then in The National (the first national daily sports newspaper), then for years in his weekly commentaries on NPR's Morning Edition, a job he gave up just a few weeks ago. He was unique, erudite, often caustically funny, and one helluva storyteller.

I'm happy to say I had two opportunities to interview Deford, first in 2007 when he published "The Entitled," a tale of modern baseball, and again in 2012, when he wrote his memoir, "Over Time." Listen to those conversations and you'll get a sense of how special Frank Deford was.

Picture Of The Day

[Thanks to Barbara Davies for sending the link]

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Gregg Allman

Upon hearing of the death of Gregg Allman yesterday, my mind flashed back to when I first heard his music.

I was in high school, and The Allman Brothers Band's "Ramblin' Man" was suddenly everywhere on the radio. I went out and bought the album, "Brothers and Sisters," and listened to it over and over, discovering that the single had been written and sung by Dickey Betts, but other tracks featured the growly, bluesy voice that belonged to Gregg. I saved up some money so I could buy two other Allman Brothers albums, "Eat A Peach" and "Live at the Fillmore East." The latter blew me away with its extended jams -- I had never heard a non-classical piece as long as their live version of "Whipping Post" -- and through it all, there was the sound of Gregg's Hammond organ and raspy vocals.

By the time I started my commercial radio career a few years later, other Southern Rock bands had started achieving success, too, from Charlie Daniels to Marshall Tucker to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Like the Allman Brothers, they all got tons of play on album-oriented-rock stations, but to my ear, Gregg's band always seemed head and shoulders above the rest.

In April, 1979, I finally got a chance to see the Allman Brothers live. It was at the Palladium in New York City, on a night when Delbert McClinton opened the show, and John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd showed up in full Blues Brothers attire and sang "Hey, Bartender" with the band. The concert remains one of the best I've ever seen, so I asked Gregg about it when he guested on my radio show in 1997 (click here to read the full transcript of that conversation, complete with the revelation that he'd wanted to be a dental surgeon when he was young).

I had a few other opportunities to talk with Gregg over the years and discuss his early days (when his band was called The Allman Joys), the death of his brother Duane, his alcoholism, and his 4-year marriage to Cher. I was always baffled by that connection. It seemed as odd as Audra McDonald marrying Snoop Dogg, or Gene Simmons marrying Anne Murray, or Joan Jett marrying Michael Bolton. Of course, his personal life was none of my business, but I was disappointed by his professional output during those years, including the couple's album "Two The Hard Way," still considered the dregs of both of their careers.

Today, I'm pushing the lowlights of his life out of the way to remember Gregg Allman's highlights and the great music he leaves behind. Time to go listen to "Live At The Fillmore East" again.

Previously on Harris Online...

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Sgt. Pepper At 50

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (it came out in the US a week later), so I invited Slate pop critic Jack Hamilton to join me in discussing that landmark album. I asked him:
  • Why do you say it "was a musical masterpiece that doubled as a masterpiece of timing"?
  • Why didn't "Sgt. Pepper" include two songs that were recorded during the same sessions?
  • How did "Sgt. Pepper" influence other artists like Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding?
  • Does the re-release, including a re-mix by George Martin's song Giles, really sound that different?
  • If it's a concept album, why doesn't it maintain Paul McCartney's original concept throughout?
  • Could The Beatles have made "Sgt. Pepper" without drugs?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 5/26/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed the new movies "Baywatch" and "Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales," plus a couple of streaming TV recommendations and news about sequels you probably won't watch.

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

Harris Challenge 5/26/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories about Roger Moore, the "Sgt. Pepper's" album cover, and more topical 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® 5/26/17

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a student terrorist award, a monkey in a purse, and a man's pants on fire. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, May 26, 2017

I'm Just Asking

A question for all the conservative politicians and media loudmouths criticizing Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for going to the hospital and telling cops about his assault by Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte (who won the election yesterday, by the way): Would you just take it if a random person body-slammed you to the ground at work? Do you expect me to believe you would react the same way if a Fox News reporter (say, Jesse Watters) was treated the same way by a Democrat politician?

I call bullshit.

I know we've entered the age of macho preening and inconsiderate behavior towards everyone now that Agent Orange is in the White House (e.g. the video of him shoving his way to the front of the NATO pack for a photo opportunity yesterday), but once you start endorsing physical attacks on reporters who are just doing their jobs, how soon do you announce it's okay to punch someone in the nose because they said something you disagreed with?

Are we on the verge of sanctioning physical attacks a la "The Purge"? Can you now tackle and pummel a waiter because he didn't bring ranch dressing with your chicken wings? Cold-cock the woman in front of you at the supermarket checkout line because she has a full cart? Ice-pick anyone who dares ask you a question about public policy at a constituent town hall?

It comes down to this: must the entire course of our civil society be reduced to yet another WWE match, or will we have loftier standards for public behavior by our public officials?

I think we should reach higher -- somewhere around the level of civility we teach our kindergarten-age kids.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Picture Of The Day

Will Durst explains what it's like to be a political comedian in the age of Trump...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Same Old Grief Response

Why must we hear from American politicians whenever there's a terrorist attack somewhere else? After the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert this week, it was one thing to hear from the mayor of Manchester or the British Prime Minister, but who cares what Paul Ryan or Nancy Pelosi has to say about it? For that matter, why even quote President Trump when he calls the attackers "evil losers." Wow, those are the words of a statesman. Or a talk radio caller.

How does that help?

I know the reason we get those quotes is that media outlets have correspondents with connections to politicians, so they are the first people they think of asking for comments about pretty much anything that happens. It could be a bombing at a concert in England or an earthquake in Venezuela. In any circumstance, the politicians don't have much more to offer on the subject than your average Facebook user who posts "my thoughts are with the people of...."

We can knock that off, too. It's nothing more than an attempt to show your followers that you're a compassionate person, but it's literally the least you can do after events like this. It would be different if you knew someone involved, or had some clues as to who the culprits were, or the horror happened in your own town.

Worse are the people who feel compelled to report they took their own daughter to see Ariana Grande when she was in their city, so they have a connection to the victims' families. No, you don't. Your child is alive and well, while theirs is maimed or dead. Despite what you may believe from your social media addiction, not everything is about you.

I also get annoyed at the authorities who ramp up the alert status after one of these mass killings. If it was a suicide bomber then, by definition, the suspect is dead and thus unlikely to commit another grievous act. If there are others like him, they will simply wait until you lower your alert status as they plan their next attack. These things don't usually coincide with anything in particular -- that's why they're called random attacks.

Finally, I'm still confused as to what attackers like this hope to accomplish. Are they trying to achieve some sort of policy change? If so, when has that ever worked? Can you name a single random mass murder in recent years that made the situation better for those who sided with the killer? What gains were realized after this year's insidious incidents in Paris, London, and Stockholm? How about from the shootings in Orlando, San Bernadino, or Charleston?

Is the only goal to kill as many people as possible? That's just psychopathic behavior, and you'll never be able to stop someone motivated by that, regardless of your alert status or the number of faux grieving Facebook posts.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Movie Review: The Lovers

In "The Lovers," Debra Winger and Tracy Letts star as a long-married couple, both of whom are having affairs on the side with lovers who want the married couple to get a divorce and start a new life with them. Once Winger and Letts agree that their marriage is coming to an end, they rediscover each other sexually and pretty soon they’re lying to their lovers to make excuses to skip dates with them so they can hop in the sack at home. But that doesn’t last because once out of bed, they still have nothing to say to each other.

I'll admit that I still resent Tracy Letts for writing “August: Osage County,” another boring family-fighting story, and this did nothing to change my mind about him. I was excited to see Winger on screen again, because I’ve always liked her, but she’s stuck in a story about four people I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with -- make that six unlikeable people, if you count their son and his girlfriend, who show up two-thirds of the way through the story. None of them has anything interesting to offer, and much of the movie is buried under a way-too-intense violin score that often obliterates everything we’re supposed to be watching.

I give “The Lovers” a 4 out of 10.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Stop Talking Impeachment

Trump haters who are convinced he'll be impeached any day now are fooling themselves. They might even believe that if it happened, the presidency would revert to Clinton as the runner-up. Nope. You lose Trump, you gain Mike Pence, and you're not going to like his policies one bit. Yes, he's more mentally stable than Orange Man, but Pence remains an ultra-conservative who would turn back the clock on pretty much every progressive policy advancement of the last eight years.

But back to the impeachment question.

What makes you think that Republicans in the House -- who have not only gone along with Trump on most of his nonsense thus far, but are trying to push him further along their right-ward path -- would vote in favor of articles of impeachment? Remember that, as of today, there's been no proof that Trump surpassed the constitutional standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors," which isn't the same as "not having your act together, obnoxious tweeting, and continuously embarrassing the country." Even if that unlikely scenario was to play out on the House, you'd still have a GOP-dominated Senate that would have to vote to convict him, an event so rare it has never happened in American history.

In other words, you can stop holding your breath.

On the other hand, I am amused that it's now right-wingers in government who are being accused of, and condemned for, having ties to Russia. It wasn't that long ago in the American timeline that left-wingers were being accused of being communists and socialists and having connections to the leadership in Moscow. That begat an ugly period that included thousands of lives destroyed, many by mere implication, with blacklists, HUAC hearings, McCarthyism, etc.

Let us never allow that type of virus to infect our nation again, from either side.

Movie Review: Chuck

"Chuck" is the based-on-truth story of Chuck Wepner, who was plucked from obscurity in 1975 to have his 15 minutes of fame. At the time, Wepner was a liquor salesman and the best heavyweight boxer in New Jersey, where he was known as The Bayonne Bleeder for his face's tendency to gush buckets of blood whenever he got hit in the ring.

After Muhammad Ali beat George Foreman in the Rumble In The Jungle, promoter Don King decided Ali's next fight should be against a white guy, and Wepner was the only Caucasian in the top ten (he was ranked 8th in the world at the time). Wepner went fifteen rounds in the ring with Ali, losing in the end, but gaining a measure of fame he'd only dreamed of. He became the real life inspiration for "Rocky" (remember, Balboa lost to Apollo Creed in the first one) and rode his fame as hard as he could. Unfortunately, cocaine got in the way, as did Wepner's undisciplined lifestyle.

"Chuck" does a very good job of telling this story. Liev Schreiber is excellent as Wepner, as is Elizabeth Moss as his long-suffering wife Phyllis, who is supportive until he starts cheating on her. Naomi Watts is almost unrecognizable as a bartender who defines “sassy” that Chuck falls for. There's also good supporting work by Ron Perlman as Wepner’s manager, Jim Gaffigan (with a lot of padding) as Chuck’s best friend John who joins him in various escapades, and Michael Rapaport as Chuck’s brother. Pooch Hall doesn't have much to do as Ali, but he's fine.

The boxing scenes are well shot, everyone gets the Jersey accent right, and the special effects guy makes sure lots of blood flows every time The Bleeder gets hit. There are even scenes with Stallone (Morgan Spector) happy to see Chuck and allowing him to audition to be in "Rocky 2."

My only complaint is "Chuck" relies on voiceover to fill in the exposition a little bit too often, but it's not a fatal flaw. As a boxing biopic, this is not as good as "The Fighter," but better than last year's failures of the genre, "Bleed For This" and "Hands Of Stone."

I give "Chuck" a solid 7 out of 10.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Andy Dehnart's Reality Show Update

Andy Dehnart, who writes about reality TV shows on his site, Reality Blurred, was back on my show to talk the renewal of "The Amazing Race," the upcoming finale of "Survivor: Game Changers," changes coming to "Shark Tank," a spinoff of "The Bachelor," and some suggestions for reality shows to watch this summer.

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

Showbiz Show 5/19/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, guest critic Jim Batts and I reviewed "Alien: Covenant," "Chuck," "Everything Everything," and "The Lovers" -- plus some other movie/showbiz news.

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

Harris Challenge 5/19/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories Where Was That?, Showbiz Week, and 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® 5/19/17

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about an asphalt workaround, a rattlesnake kiss, and coffee with rats. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Good Pizza, Bad Parenting

My wife and I went out for pizza at our favorite place a couple of nights ago. Halfway through the meal, I heard what sounded like audio from a cell phone, as if when we got out of the car, the music had kept playing despite being disconnected from the Bluetooth.

I checked mine: nope. She checked hers: nope. So I looked around and, at the table behind me, saw a mother and her two young sons, each of them enjoying a slice of pizza -- but the younger one was watching some video on his phone without headphones, forcing the rest of us to listen along to whatever he was enjoying whether we liked it or not. He wasn't hiding it from his mother, who was obviously aware of what was going on, but didn't care about whether it might bother other customers.

Perhaps she would justify her inaction because it kept her son quiet and in his seat, but if we're going to share a somewhat civilized world, it's incumbent upon parents to teach their kids how to behave in public. That includes forcing them to withdraw their attention from an electronic device and become aware of the world around them, their impact upon it, and its effect on them.

I could have spoken up, berated the woman, and risked looking like an insensitive jerk, or I could have tried to ignore it for a few more minutes while we finished our pizza and got out of there. There was a time I would have chosen the former, but I was not in the mood to lecture yet another human being about how she and her family should act in proximity to other humans, so I chose the latter.

Unfortunately, I'm sure I'll have another opportunity when her kid won't stop texting during a movie, or blocking my view while shooting video of a concert on a phone directly in my field of vision, or checking out a full shopping cart in the 20-items-or-less line, or talking too loudly during an entire flight while in the row behind me, or smoking a cigarette directly in front of a busy doorway, or a myriad of other annoying acts.

In retrospect, I should have pulled out my phone and recorded the scene for a minute or so and then played it back with my volume turned all the way up and the screen pointed towards her. But I have a feeling Mommy Don't-Care wouldn't have understood my subtle message.

Deborah Lipstadt vs. Holocaust Deniers

Last year, I named "Denial" one of the ten best movies of 2016. It starred Rachel Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt, a college professor who wrote a book about Holocaust deniers, only to find herself sued for libel by one of them. If you missed the movie -- as too many people did, unfortunately -- take a look as Lipstadt telling her own story, with some important insight into "fake news," too...

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Movie Review: The Wall

Other than "American Sniper" and perhaps "The Hurt Locker," movies about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan haven't resonated with the American movie-going public. Unfortunately, "The Wall" isn't going to change that. It's not because it's a bad movie, but because it's about American soldiers as victims, the targets of an unseen enemy sniper.

It takes place in 2007, as the war in Iraq was supposed to be coming to an end. It starts with John Cena and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a US Army sniper and his spotter laying in the bushes while trying to find whoever it is who killed contractors building a pipeline in the Iraqi desert and their security guards. Having watched for more than 19 hours, and believing the scene to be safe, Cena decides to go down the hill and check things out for himself, but when he gets down there, he's shot by the Iraqi sniper who's also been laying low.

With Cena down, Taylor-Johnson rushes to rescue him, but the sniper gets him in the leg. Taylor-Johnson hides behind a short unsteady rock wall, pinned down and thinking Cena is dead. Then the movie becomes a psychological battle, as the Iraqi has gotten his hands on one of his victims' radios, and starts communicating with Taylor-Johnson, extracting information he can use to ambush more American soldiers as he remains out of sight somewhere in the hillside.

The reason I don't think it will draw much of an audience is because Americans don't want to see our service members in trouble, with very little chance of survival -- but that doesn't mean "The Wall" is a bad movie. It is a tense thriller that keeps us wondering how our hero will get out of this untenable situation.

Director Doug Liman -- who made the action classics "The Bourne Identity" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," as well as "Swingers" -- keeps us engaged throughout, even though the only person we see onscreen for most of the movie is Taylor-Johnson, who does a very good job of showing us his character's desperation, dehydration, and decreasing hopes.

I give "The Wall" a 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Harris Challenge 5/12/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes a bunch of Mother's Day trivia, plus the topical 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.

Movie Review: King Arthur, Legend Of The Sword

I don't know what the hell is going on. That's what I kept saying while watching "King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword."

From the very first scene, where CGI monsters attack a castle and hundreds of stunt people fall dead all over the place, I had no idea what was happening. Having not read any of the King Arthur folklore, I don't know about the mystical powers of his sword, or who those monsters were, or why there are eel-women swimming in the water under the castle -- and the movie doesn't bother explaining anything. It just goes ahead with an impossible-to-follow plot involving Charlie Hunnam growing up to take on his evil uncle Jude Law.

Along the way, there are flashbacks that reveal very little, and even a few flashbacks that take place at the same time as the current action. It's all incredibly confusing and also quite dark -- I don't mean comedically, I mean in terms of lighting. Director Guy Ritchie (who has never made a movie I liked, including the abominable "Man From Uncle" a couple of years ago) makes things worse by editing the hell out of the proceedings, so even in the fight scenes, you never really see what's going on. I swear I counted 100 cuts in one minute, which made the result unintelligible.

I didn't care for any of the characters, wasn't quite sure who some of them were and what their motivation was, and don't even get me started on the giant snake that appears out of nowhere. Halfway through, I considered leaving the theater to go home and watch a great movie about King Arthur, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." But I stayed to the end, and I'm sorry I did.

I give "King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword" a 1 on a scale of 10.

The only person who might be happy with this dreck is Robert DeNiro, because it might beat out his horrible movie, "The Comedian," for my worst movie of 2017.

Monday, May 15, 2017

No More November Nine

It's been nine years since the World Series Of Poker introduced a new concept called The November Nine, in which the Main Event stopped play in July when it got down to the final table, then resumed four months later. But as of today, the November Nine is no more.

The WSOP has announced that, this summer, the Main Event will return to starting and ending in July, with a two-day break before the final table plays out over three nights. That means players won't have as much of a chance to line up sponsors and coaches, or to review the earlier hands that their opponents played, pick up tells, and develop strategies to use against them.

My friend Dennis Phillips was one of the original November Niners, and I still remember the excitement of sitting six feet away from the table while he played his way to third place and a $4.5 million prize. By the way, because Peter Eastgate and Igor Demidov, who won first and second place respectively, were European and have largely disappeared from the poker scene, many Americans still greet Dennis as if he'd actually won the Main Event.

Dennis was the first to recognize the marketing opportunity of filling the stands with over a hundred St. Louisans (wearing shirts that matched his) as they cheered him on. Since he was a truck salesman, someone thought to bring along a diesel truck horn attached to a big battery, which was blown whenever Dennis won a hand.

The producers at ESPN were thrilled because poker is not really interesting to watch for several hours if you're not playing, so having great visuals like that was a bonus they hadn't expected. Since then, most players have followed Dennis' lead and brought along friends in similar garb, holding signs, and chanting their support.

That may happen again this summer, but the players' friends won't have nearly as much time to get it organized. They'll have just two days to book last-minute flights and hotel rooms and then organize whatever they can cobble together for their own displays.

Why is the WSOP scrapping the November Nine? I think the answer lies in the immediacy of the internet. During that four month delay, anyone who cared already knew who the final nine players would be, which took an edge off of the weekly two-hour highlight shows ESPN edited together from the earlier days of the Main Event. While the network tried to present profiles of some of the more interesting and colorful poker players, the ratings had dropped while airing in the sports-intensive fall season when football, baseball, hockey, and basketball all needed more attention. But in July, the Main Event, which will now get same-day coverage, will only be up against baseball, and may draw more viewers.

Movie Review: Snatched

In "Snatched," Amy Schumer plays an irresponsible, self-absorbed woman (the kind who takes a hundred selfies a day) whose boyfriend breaks up with her just before they are going to take a nonrefundable trip to Honduras together. Since none of her friends will go with her, she recruits her mother, played by Goldie Hawn (yes, this is Mother’s Day weekend).

Hawn, who hasn’t made a movie in a decade and a half, is a homebody who’s afraid of the rest of the world and happy to stay in her house with her cats and her grown son. But Schumer convinces her to go along, and pretty soon they’re on a beach in Honduras, where Schumer lounges in the sun in her bikini with a drink while Goldie stays covered up and worries about skin cancer. Soon Schumer meets a good-looking guy at the bar, they go off for the evening and have a good time, and make plans for a trip through the jungle the next day. Schumer drags Hawn along, and before they know it, they’ve been kidnapped, and “Snatched” turns into a buddies-on-the-run comedy.

To tell you much more would be to give it away, but you know they’re not gonna end up dead — although there are a few corpses along the way, along with supporting roles for Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack, who steal every scene they're in as fellow Americans on vacation, and Christopher Meloni acting like he’s Michael Douglas in “Romancing The Stone.”

"Snatched" was written by Katie Dippold, who also worked on “The Heat” and the “Ghostbusters” reboot, and this one follows along in the same comic rhythms. Director Jonathan Levine keeps the action moving without letting it get in the way of the ridiculous situations Schumer and Hawn find themselves in, and there are several set scenes that are quite funny, including one with a tapeworm. As for Hawn, she still has the timing and the comedy chops at age 71 -- and looks like she’s having a blast working with Schumer.

In 2015, I said Schumer’s “Trainwreck” was the funniest movie of the year. This isn’t that good, but it’s worth your time, especially considering that there aren’t many decent comedies in movie theaters these days. If you like her, you’ll like "Snatched."

I give it a 7 out of 10.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Fluffernutter Lesson

For Mother's Day, here's a re-post of a story I wrote in 2006...

When I saw a story about a Fluffernutter lawsuit today, I was rocketed back to my boyhood when I learned a valuable lesson from my mother.

I must have been 7 or 8 years old and, like all kids that age, wanted my parents to buy me at least 50% of the things that were advertised on Saturday morning TV. Unfortunately, my parents were very good with the one word that can ruin a child's wish list: "No." It had even gotten to the point where I would start asking, "Mom, I saw this great commercial for...." but before I even mentioned the product, she would reject my request.

Of course, I was undeterred, absolutely sure that I could wear her down for something I wanted. One Saturday morning, I thought I noticed a crack in the armor, and I went for it. After seeing the Fluffernutter commercial for the umpteenth time, I begged Mom to please buy me some Marshmallow Fluff when she went to the supermarket later that morning. To my amazement, she said, "Okay."

I was so used to getting the other answer that I kept pleading my case, which consisted entirely of, "Aw, c'mon, Mom, pleeeeeeeze???" When she re-confirmed that she would add Fluff to her shopping list, I was as happy as a boy could be: There would be a Fluffernutter for lunch today!!!

If you're unfamiliar with the product, Marshmallow Fluff has been around for about 75 years. It's a marshmallow cream that comes in a nice big jar. I'd never known anyone who had actually tasted Fluff or had a Fluffernutter, but hearing that jingle over and over again had convinced me that it had to be the greatest taste anyone could ever imagine.

Several hours later, just about the time the cartoons were over, I heard Mom return to our apartment from the supermarket. I raced into the kitchen, tearing the paper bags apart, desperate to find that jar of white magic.

Somehow, Mom calmed me down and told me to sit at the table. Then she brought out the essential ingredients for a Fluffernutter: two pieces of white bread, a jar of peanut butter, and there it was, a wonderful jar of Marshmallow Fluff! You see, a Fluffernutter was just like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but with Fluff in place of the jelly.

Mom carefully spread the peanut butter on one slice of bread -- she knew just how to do it so she didn't tear the bread -- and then smeared some Fluff onto the other piece of bread. She put the two together, cut the sandwich in half and presented it to me.

Every muscle in my face formed a huge smile as I savored the moment. As far as I knew, I was about to become the first kid in our apartment building -- maybe even in the entire apartment complex -- to eat a Fluffernutter. This was a historic moment.

I reached out and brought the sandwich to my lips, took a big bite, and.....Yecch! Blech! Feh! Ack! It was terrible! I spit the mouthful of gooey dreck onto the plate as Mom asked, "What, you don't like it?"

That was an understatement. Like most kids, I couldn't stomach a lot of food my parents forced upon me, like brussel sprouts, lima beans, and (ugh!) liver -- but this was worse! This was a horrible taste plus major disappointment, because it was Fluff! All the kids in the TV commercials loved Fluffernutters! All of my friends knew the Fluffernutter jingle!

That's when I noticed a sly smile on Mom's face. She'd suspected all along that I wouldn't like a Fluffernutter, but she'd decided to teach me a lesson, a lesson about raised expectations for all those products I wanted from all those Saturday morning commercials. I started to cry.

Mom understood my disappointment as she took the rest of the Fluffernutter sandwich and threw it away, replacing it with a delicious, classic PBJ and a cold glass of milk. Ah, comfort food.

I learned my lesson that day. And it stuck with me, too. Nearly an entire week, until the next Saturday morning, when I saw these really cool new sneakers called PF Flyers. They were amazing! The kids in the commercials said they helped them run faster and jump higher! I ran into the kitchen to tell Mom how cool they were and beg her to buy me a pair.

She answered calmly, "Sure, honey, as soon as you finish the jar of Fluff. It's on the top shelf of the refrigerator."

Saturday, May 13, 2017

An Admission

Contrary to what my spokesman says, I begrudgingly admit that, yes, there are listening devices in my radio studio. We call them microphones, and if they weren't in there, I'd just be talking to myself.

Jim Al-Khalili on Alien Life

Here's my conversation with quantum physicist Jim Al-Khalili about his book, "Aliens: The World's Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life." Among the questions I asked him:
  • Can we say definitively that there’s no other life in our solar system other than on Earth?
  • What are the odds that life elsewhere has evolved faster or further than humans?
  • Would that life have to be carbon-based, like us, and need water?
  • Would we would recognize it as intelligent?
  • What will space travel look like in the future, and will humans or robots make the trip?
  • What are the misconceptions about alien life that have been perpetuated by movies, TV, and books?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 5/12/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max Foizey and I reviewed "King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword," "Snatched," and "The Wall" -- plus some other movie/showbiz news.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 5/12/17

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a unique prom arrival, a spray paint suspect, and a stop sign thief. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Radio's Slow Death

Three years ago, Cumulus Media stock was at $60/share. This week, it was at 33 cents per share. You could own a piece of one of this country's biggest radio companies -- 570 stations in 150 markets -- with the change under the cushions of your couch. Despite that, CEO Mary Berner was given a bonus by the company of over a million dollars, probably at the same time employees were laid off left and right so she could increase the bottom line.

Meanwhile, its biggest competitor IHeartMedia is not a public company. It is owned by two private equity firms, and it is drowning in red ink. Owner of 850 radio stations (down from 1,100 when it was known as Clear Channel), IHeartMedia is on the verge of bankruptcy because it took on too much debt -- more than $20 billion -- it can't pay off. According to Variety:

The company is fighting its debtholders on several fronts in court. In December, it skipped a payment to one of its subsidiaries, and ratings agencies warned that its balance sheet had become unsustainable. In 2019, $8.3 billion in debt comes due, and the company appears to have no realistic way to pay it off.
You can thank the 1996 deregulation of the industry, which removed caps on the number of stations a company can own. After that, smaller companies got swallowed up by bigger companies, and pretty soon, things were out of control. Those conglomerates took on tons of debt to buy up the stations, then consolidated them and killed competition. Where you might have had two rock stations that went head to head before, now you had a company that switched the format of one of them so the other could dominate the market. But listeners lost options, and employees lost jobs and career paths were killed.

New studios were built to bring the stations -- which used to be in different parts of town -- under one roof. Since they were all in the same place, why bother having distinct management teams when you can over-work one general manager and one engineer for all your outlets in the market?

When I did the syndicated America Weekend show, while I did my end from my home studio, we rented control room space at the Clear Channel complex in Milwaukee, where there were six stations. The GM there wasn't just tasked with overseeing those -- he also was in charge of five more Clear Channel stations in Madison, an hour and a half drive away. How much attention do you think he could pay to each of those eleven stations? What about the program directors in each market who have responsibility for two, three, four stations, often in completely different formats?

The industry keeps fooling itself that everything is fine, citing an old statistic that says 93% of Americans still listen to radio. What they don't admit is that an increasing number of those people aren't listening to broadcast outlets -- they refer to Pandora and Spotify as radio, too. Same goes for podcasts. To them, any audio source equals radio.

When you have music stations that offer no real personality, but rather a cookie-cutter format that could be anywhere because it has no local relatability, radio loses. When the weekday deejays are also heard on Saturdays and Sundays doing generic liners because they record their voices during the week and a computer inserts them between the songs on the weekend, radio loses. When conglomerates are on the verge of bankruptcy but insist on paying management big bonuses instead of retaining talented staff members -- thus leaving remaining staffers to do more work for less money, radio loses.

There will come a time very soon when those losses from the bases the business is built on -- listeners, ratings, and advertising revenue -- grow large enough to cause the big radio conglomerates to come tumbling down. Unfortunately, by then, there won't be anyone left to rebuild the dying industry.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Poker Stories: Dumb Things Said At The Card Table

Another in a continuing, occasional series of poker stories I've witnessed or heard through the years. You'll find more here.

Many times, when a poker player loses a hand, he'll say to his opponent, "Good hand." He doesn't mean it as a compliment, of course. It just sounds better than a string of curses related to the amount of money he's just lost.

I've also heard "good hand" said by players who weren't in the hand, particularly to weaker players. They recognize that the winner doesn't play very well, and want to encourage him as much as possible to stay at the table and keep playing that way.

All sorts of odd things come out of people's mouths at the poker table. One of my favorites is when someone calls another player's rather large bet on the river and the opponent shows the winning hand. The loser will say, "I knew you had that." No, if you knew she had that, you wouldn't have given her your money.

The inverse of that is when, in the same situation, the player folds and says, "I know I'm throwing away the best hand." No, if you knew you had the best hand, you wouldn't have folded.

These fall under the heading of Justifying Your Play. It also happens when someone wins the pot with an unlikely hand and then feels it's necessary to explain why he was still in despite being desperately behind most of the way. It usually goes something like this: "Well, I had a pair and a backdoor flush draw...." However, the honest explanation would be: "I played the hand badly but got very lucky."

There's no reason to berate someone who wins a hand and offers such an explanation because, as my friend Andros says, it's their money and they can do whatever they want with it. If you're a good player, you want other players to make mistakes a lot, because more often than not they won't "get lucky" and you'll "get their chips."

On the topic of doing whatever you want with your money, I'm reminded of a story from my friend Tim. He's not a poker player. In fact, he very rarely goes to a casino. But he and his wife were on vacation in the Caribbean a few years ago, and after dinner, they wandered over to the little casino at the resort. Tim took the last seat at a blackjack table and bought some chips. He's not a particularly good blackjack player -- meaning he doesn't count cards or even play strict basic strategy. He just wanted to have a beer and some fun for a little while while his wife played a slot machine.

Tim was shocked when the other players at the table got mad at him for the way he was playing. While he was winning, they were losing, and they blamed him, because he was hitting when he shouldn't or standing pat when he should have taken another card and, they felt, he was affecting the order of the cards coming out of the shoe -- to their detriment. After this had happened several times over the course of 15 minutes, Tim got tired of being berated, picked up his winnings, and cashed out.

When he told me the story, he asked, "Am I not allowed to play my hand however I want to?" I answered that, of course, he could do whatever he wanted, because it was his money. The other people at his table weren't the opponent -- they were all playing against the house -- and if his random actions had caused the dealer to bust more often and thus make them winners, no one would have said a thing. If they didn't like being at a table with him, they could have gotten up and gone somewhere else.

Or, they could have acted like poker players and, each time he won and they lost, said "Good hand!"

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Movie Review: The Dinner

In "The Dinner," Richard Gere is a Congressman running for Governor, Steve Coogan is his brother, a failed teacher with mental issues, and Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall are their wives. They go to dinner at one of those restaurants where the food is way fancier than it needs to be -- where the maitre d' comes over with each course to explain every little detail of the dishes that have just been placed on the table.

Meanwhile, the two couples are meeting to discuss what to do about their sons, who together have committed a horrible murder of a homeless person in an ATM vestibule. Will they cover it up or tell the authorities? There are flashbacks where we see what the boys did and how these rich people lived their lives before all of this.

The problem is there's no one to root for in "The Dinner" (except for the homeless victim). Neither the adults nor their sons are anyone I'd want to spend time with, and the whole thing seems staged more like a play than a movie, with a few conversations pushed outside the restaurant for no reason. The whole thing is way too slow, and the score is overwrought and distracting.

"The Dinner" is an American remake of an Italian movie based on a book by a Dutch author, written and directed by an Israeli (Oren Moverman, who wrote “Love and Mercy” a few years ago and also produced the other Richard Gere movie that opened this week, “Norman”). Perhaps what went wrong was some sort of cinematic version of the game of telephone where, by the time the message is translated through enough people, it makes no sense and has no value.

Even though I’m a fan of all four of the principal actors in “The Dinner,” I can’t recommend it. I give it a 2 out of 10.

Note: I'm not the only one who didn't enjoy this movie. According to IMDb:
The author of the book 'The Dinner', Herman Koch, walked away from the European premiere in Berlin on February 10, 2017. He did not wish to stay for the after-party, nor talk to the director, cast members or audience. The reason was that he did not like the movie at all, mostly for the script which he thought had transferred his cynical story into a moral tale. Of the three movies made from his book, "this one is easily the worst", Koch said to Dutch newspaper NRC (Feb 11, 2017). "That after-party would have been rather awkward. What would I have done? Shake hands with everybody and tell them I hated their movie?" Koch disliked the movie's reference to themes like American violence and the stigma of mental illness. "That 'didactical' tone, isn't it killing?", Koch said.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Movie Review: Norman

Richard Gere has made a career playing classy, good-looking guys. In “Norman,” he’s cast against type as Norman Oppenheimer, a schlubby Jewish guy in his 60s with a Woody Allen accent whose entire life revolves around making business connections.

In fact, Norman is a lot like Broadway Danny Rose (I kept waiting for him to say, "May I interject one statement at this juncture?"). He introduces this person to that person, and gets a little commission. He knows all sorts of people, but has to hustle every day to find more. He doesn’t have an office, so he does all of his business on his cell phone as he walks around the city, ducks into stores and restaurants, constantly on the move and trying to make things happen. He can be both grating and ingratiating at the same time, and he squeezes his way into other people’s business.

As the movie begins, he’s trying to get a meeting with a big energy executive, but can’t reach him. Then he goes to an energy symposium and sees Eshel, a representative of the Israeli government. Impressed by him, and hoping to use him as a way to get to the energy exec, Norman follows Eshel down the street until he stops in front of a fancy clothing store. Norman strikes up a conversation, buys him a very expensive pair of shoes, and convinces him to go to a dinner party that night at the energy exec’s home. But Eshel’s advisors tell him to stay away from Norman, and he does, causing Norman to be thrown out by the energy executive (Josh Charles).

Three years later, Eshel has worked his way through Israeli politics to become the Prime Minister, and on a visit to New York, he spots Norman and, to his advisors' horror, hugs him, tells everyone about his close friend, and says Norman will be his connection to the US. This makes Norman a big shot, and everyone who shunned him before now wants something from him — including his nephew (Michael Sheen), his rabbi (Steve Buscemi), and other supporting characters played by Hank Azaria and Harris Yulin (playing the same guy he plays in every movie). Norman also draws the attention of an Israeli secret agent, who uncovers some things about his connection to Eshel that create problems for both of the men.

Some of this sounds intriguing, but it isn’t. Director Joseph Cedar loses the pace halfway through, and for some reason uses a score that sounds like it was lifted from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which made me wonder if he was trying to make a satire or a straight-on drama. “Norman” fails on both counts, although I give Gere credit for doing smaller movies like these and parts he wouldn’t seem right for.

Earlier this year, I complained about the casting of Robert Deniro and Danny Devito as an old Jewish comic and his brother in the dreadful “The Comedian.” Well, now we have again have Jewish characters played by blatantly gentile actors -- Richard Gere, Englishman Michael Sheen, and Steve Buscemi. The difference is that, in "Norman," they manage to pull it off.

And for that, I’m giving “Norman” a 3 out of 10.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Worth A Link

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's favorite science educator. He is an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium, hosted the Fox series "Cosmos," and does the podcast/radio/TV show "StarTalk." I was delighted a few years ago when he came to town and 3,000 people packed the Peabody Opera House to see Tyson talk about science for almost three hours -- and I'm looking forward to seeing him do it again at the same venue on May 18th.

In our conversation, we talked about his new book, "Astrophysics For People In A Hurry," as well as:
  • How much the giant projector in a planetarium has changed in his lifetime because of discoveries in the sky;
  • How we know dark matter exists in the universe;
  • Why he disagrees with Stephen Hawking about humanity becoming a multi-planet species;
  • Why he thinks Dan should change the name of his band, The Seventh Planet;
  • How we can get more young women interested in STEM careers;
  • The time Neil tried to improve his singing with autotune.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 5/5/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max Foizey and I reviewed "Guardians Of The Galaxy, Volume 2," and two Richard Gere movies -- "Norman" and "The Dinner."

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

Harris Challenge 5/5/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories Cinco De Mexico, Things About Kentucky Besides The Derby, and Could Be Hall/Could Be Oates. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 5/5/17

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about an iceberg in the Arabian Sea, a fight near a wood chipper, and two students in the duct work. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Most Ironic Thing I've Read Today

The Kentucky Coal Museum has solar panels on its roof.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Ken Levine explains Why Radio (as an industry) Sucks:

Here’s the problem: when I was a kid radio was exciting. Every station had live DJ’s. They had freedom to be personalities. They had distinctive styles (well, some did and then fifty other jocks in smaller markets copied them). They howled like wolves. They had an impact. They drew big audiences. They mattered. And it was not unusual for a creative young person (like myself) to want to go into radio.

Today, I don’t know any Millennial who wants to make a career in radio. Why the hell would he? That's like wanting to be a butter churner. With so many more options available in video and music and numerous internet outlets where you can get your project – whatever it is – directly out to the public, why would anyone with artistic abilities or a need to express themselves bother with a medium that is dying, eliminating talent, exploiting the talent it has, and none of his peers listen to anyway? What’s to aspire to – being on a morning zoo making bad vagina jokes? Doing voice tracks for seven stations all for the price of being on one? Finding clever ways to say generic things so listeners will think you’re actually in Yakima? What idiot has stars in his eyes for THAT?
I would add that most millennials have no interest in a radio career because they don't even own a radio. They're used to listening to streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, or discovering new music via friends on social media, or looking for playlists from celebrities they follow on YouTube.

They have no generational memory of waking up to a morning zoo or discovering a new station that promises featured-artist-double-shot-superset-mini-concert-back-to-back-instant-replay-twin-spins. They're not drawn to a broadcast outlet promising a commercial-free hour once a day -- and overloads the rest of the time with too many spots -- when they can get commercial-free music all day and night online.

It's entirely possible that millennials' exposure to music doesn't even include disc jockeys -- ever! So the chances any of them would say "I want to do that" is about the same as the odds they'd log on to to find a job delivering milk.

Read Ken's full piece here.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

More Late Night Non-Spontaneity

I have spoken often about the lack of spontaneity on late night TV talk shows. The hosts and guests don't even seem interested in pretending that they're unaware of what's about to happen. Much of this is driven by the fear of saying the wrong thing or not being able to ad-lib in the moment, plus managers and publicists who insist the show not spring anything unexpected on their clients.

While this is true of all the hosts (Colbert, Kimmel, Meyers, and Corden), Jimmy Fallon continues to be the worst offender. Here's yet another example from last night, when "Big Bang Theory" star Kaley Cuoco was in the guest chair. Fallon acted as if, on a whim, he decided to "open it up for the audience to ask something," which led to a couple of lame questions and answers. Then, for the third one...

Cuoco must have known the question was coming, because she's obviously reading those lyrics off cue cards while looking at the camera, rather than at Fallon or the audience member who requested the song. Plus, The Roots jumped in as musical accompaniment immediately -- because they knew it was coming, too, and had enough lead time to rehearse it.
Is anyone fooled by this non-spontaneity?

Best Thing I've Read Today

Sybil Adelman Sage remembers working as Carl Reiner's secretary five decades ago:

On my first day he came in late because he was taping “The Carol Burnett Show.” When he saw what I’d placed on his desk, he called out, “Don’t you think typing up my phone messages is a waste of time?”

Rushing in, I explained I’d done it out of habit because my last boss demanded it: “That’s what Jerry Lewis wanted.” Carl was peeling off his toupee. I wondered if I should be watching, not yet aware that he treated it like an accessory and didn’t pretend it was his hair. I told him that people hearing I was going to work for him all called him a genius.

“That’s only because I’ve been associated with some great shows,” he said. Among the many things he was known for at the time were, “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The 2000 Year Old Man” album with Mel Brooks and his work as Sid Caesar’s sidekick. I pointed out that other men of his status at the studio all had two secretaries. “One is for typing, the other is for shtupping,” he joked. “When you decide which you want to be, we’ll hire the other.”
Read the full piece by Sage -- who went on to a career as a sitcom writer -- here. Thanks to Bill Sobel for the link.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

State Of The Union

In Hollywood, the Writers Guild has signed a new contract with the movie and TV producers, averting a strike and keeping us from having to watch Jimmy Fallon try to ad-lib his way through a monologue. The Guild was able to keep pressure on the producers because it's a strong union with a membership that held together when it came to residuals, streaming video, etc. I'm happy for friends I have who will benefit from the new three-year deal.

I'm not in the Guild, but I am a member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which until its merger with the Screen Actors Guild a few years ago had a reputation as the weakest union in the field. Here's how a typical AFTRA bargaining session used to work at a local radio station or group...

AFTRA: There is no room for negotiation or bargaining. We absolutely must have these items in the new contract. 

Station Owner: No.

AFTRA: Okay. Where do we sign?

The Too-Friendly Skies

This item from is good news only for people who like to fly while their kneecaps are touching the pancreas of the person in front of them:

American Airlines (AAL) is planning to decrease the front-to-back space between some of its economy class seats by another two inches. The airline says it plans to add more seats on its coming Boeing (BA) 737 Max jetliners. To do that, it will shrink the distance between seats, also known as pitch, from 31 inches to 29 inches on three rows of the airplane, and down to 30-inches in the rest of its main economy cabin.

American isn't the only big airline heading in this direction. United Airlines (UAL) is considering a similar move, according to a person briefed on its evaluations. United declined to comment. The move signals a new step in the shrinking of U.S. airline cabins, and comes even as carriers are promising to improve overall customer service.

With the change, American will become the first large U.S. carrier to offer legroom with a pitch that's nearly on par with ultra-low cost carriers Spirit Airlines (SAVE) and Frontier Airlines. Those seats are an industry minimum 28-inches apart.

By comparison, economy class pitch on Delta Air Lines (DAL) and United ranges between 30 and 31 inches, while JetBlue Airways (JBLU), Southwest Airlines (LUV) and Alaska Airlines (ALK) have between 31 and 33 inches.
This completes today's report on Why I Won't Fly On American Or United Airlines.

I'm Just Saying

I love the irony of guns being banned at the NRA convention last week on the day Trump spoke. I guess the Secret Service doesn't go for that whole "more guns means more safety" nonsense.

Working Overtime

The House voted today to allow employers to give employees an option on how they're paid for working overtime -- money or comp time. Three problems arise from the notion that they're the same.

First is that you can't pay your rent with time. Your landlord won't accept 16 hours away from work in exchange for another month in your apartment.

Second is that the question of when you can use your comp time will still be at the discretion of your boss, so it's not like you can just take off a few hours or a day whenever you want to.

Third is that employers might begin giving preferential treatment to those who accept comp time in lieu of financial compensation, and thus assign overtime to employees who will cost less. That creates a coercive environment, so what was presented as an option originally becomes no option at all, but rather a disincentive for you to take the money and run.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Movie Review: The Circle

The Circle is a social media company -- think Facebook + Google + Twitter -- where Emma Watson is hired as a "customer experience" assistant. It is run by CEO Tom Hanks and COO Patton Oswalt with the intent of not only connecting everyone, but learning everything about them. Hanks plays the kind of Silicon Valley titan who makes you think he cares only about what's good for you (and society), but actually wants all that information so he can monetize it and acquire more power.

As a "guppy" at The Circle, it takes Watson a little while to become acclimated to the share-everything culture, but once she buys in, she's in all the way. She agrees to wear one of Hanks' tiny new cameras that will show the world -- or whoever chooses to follow her -- everywhere she goes and everything she does, becoming the ultimate connected millennial.

We already live in a world where hundreds of millions of humans have no reluctance to share too much of their lives online -- no, I don't care about the best ten concerts you've ever seen or what you had for dinner last night -- and in "The Circle," they become a global cult of participants willing to forsake even more of their privacy. The movie seems like it's going to bring all of that to a head, but it kind of peters out after a confrontation too minor to qualify as a resolution.

Up until that point, however, "The Circle" is akin to the Netflix series "Black Mirror" (if you haven't watched that series yet, add it to your queue!) in its savvy use of technology and social media.

"The Circle" really belongs to Watson, who is very good as the young woman who buys into the hype of this new openness. Hanks does more with this role than he did in his last movie, "A Hologram For The King," which was also based on a Dave Eggers book, and I always enjoy seeing Patton Oswalt as an efficient sleazeball who never lets you know what's really going on (if you haven't seen him in "Young Adult" and "Big Fan," which I reviewed here when I added them to my Movies You Might Not Know list, add those to your queue, too).

The supporting cast includes Glenne Headly and Bill Paxton (in one of his final roles) as Watson's parents, who get dragged into her new life. John Boyega ("The Force Awakens") plays another one of the founders of The Circle, but his part must have been cut way down in the editing room, because he doesn't have much to do in the final version. Nate Corddry appears to conduct a job interview with Watson with questions that will make you cringe, and Ellar Coltrane (who played the kid who grew up over a dozen years in "Boyhood") is Watson's old friend who wants nothing to do with her plugged-in world.

While I liked some of the clever things "The Circle" has to say about the dangers of the modern sharing culture, I wish it had ramped up the stakes and found a more satisfying conclusion. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Random Thoughts

As I take a break from using the wet-vac to get some of the last three days of torrential rain out of our basement carpet...

I thought Hasan Minhaj did a fine job as the headliner at the White House Correspondents Dinner (an event I attended in 1998 and wrote about here). I watched his segment the day after thanks to an archived clip from C-SPAN, which is to comedy what Wolf Blitzer is to a calm recitation of the day's headlines.

Being the comedian at that dinner is an impossible gig under the best of circumstances, a situation that's not helped by C-SPAN cutting away from the headliner for reaction shots of the crowd. The room is too big for that -- the jokes have jet lag before they reach some parts of the audience -- so the timing is off. The network should just lock down a camera and let us watch the performance, not what the staff of Politico thinks of it. Still, Minhaj had some pretty solid material, and the good fortune of not being preceded by President No Sense Of Humor.

Meanwhile, Samantha Bee killed it with her "Not The White House Correspondents Dinner" on TBS. She and her staff not only wrote very sharp stuff, but they also executed it perfectly (especially the clips of Bee roasting previous presidents in flashbacks). The one bit that didn't work was surprise guest Will Ferrell as George W. Bush, which suffered from the misguided thinking that makeup and a vocal impression equal hilarity. No, you need good writing, too, which Ferrell didn't have.

Both Minhaj and Bee made some pointed remarks about the cable news networks, particularly Jeff Zucker's penchant for multi-pundit panels that seem to take up the entirety of CNN's programming -- because it's not news unless a half-dozen commentators argue about it simultaneously. When Ted Koppel was in St. Louis for the Maryville Speaker Series a few weeks ago, he explained that the reason we're seeing more punditry and less field reporting is because the latter is expensive. It takes a lot of money and effort to maintain bureaus around the world, full of journalists who have to actually go outside to tell us what's going on. On the other hand, hiring a bunch of loudmouths and sitting them around a desk in a studio while they hurl verbal nonsense at us and each other is both cheap and easy. Unfortunately, it's not news.

I wish that Minhaj and Bee had taken more time to salute the real journalists in the room (and elsewhere). Those are the ones who work for newspapers, spending hours/days/weeks digging up stories that later become the fodder for those pundit panels to debate. It's the work of print journalists that needs a boost now more than ever.

As for Trump, he told a Reuters interviewer the other day that he thought being president would be easier than his previous life. That's a ludicrous concept. There is no more difficult job on Earth, with the possible exception of being a realtor on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. To not expect running the country to be an intense, all-day, everyday, stressful occupation is to not have noticed the physical impact it had on the men who held the job previously.

In that same interview, Trump also said that he misses driving, but who believes that? Even before his transportation needs were taken over by the Secret Service, Trump lived in the world of limousines with drivers who took him wherever he needed to go. He never had to call upstairs from the garage at Trump Tower and ask, "Melania, where did I park the Grand Cherokee?"

Lastly, the state of Arkansas put down four death row prisoners last week because of an unusual deadline, if you'll excuse my use of that word. The state had to carry out the executions by Sunday, because that was the expiration date on the lethal drug they used on the doomed men. In other words, the expiration drug had an expiration date, and no one wants to use a product beyond that. To my wife's chagrin, I won't even touch milk on the expiration date. She assures me that it's still fine, and I don't deny that if she poured me a glass and I hadn't seen the bottle, my taste buds wouldn't even notice. But the knowledge of that date spoils it for me. Once I've seen it, it can only be sour in my mind.

I'm sure the condemned inmates felt the same way -- because you wouldn't want something to go wrong and make you sick on the day the state is going to kill you.