Friday, December 21, 2018

christmas song or it ain't

There are two songs that fall right onto the "Is DieHard a Christmas movie?" argument line and can be argued from both sides...

First is Dan Fogelberg's "Same Old Lang Syne", a soft and sentimental (though I could just say "Dan Fogelberg" and you could automatically assume "soft" and "sentimental") tune about a dude who sees an old flame in a grocery store. They agree to meet at a bar to catch up, but can't find anything open because it's New Year's Eve.  So they buy a six pack, sit in her car, drink, laugh and drink a toast to innocence.  Finally, the beer was empty and they run out of things to say, and she gives him a kiss as he gets out and she drives away.
Image result for same old lang syne
There's really nothing in the this song that says New Years or Christmas or anything else, other than its the part of the season where it's easy to reflect upon your life.

They try to reach beyond their emptiness, but neither one knows how.  He even admits in the song "just for a moment I was back in school, and felt that old familiar pain, and as I went to make my way back home, the snow turned into rain..."  So other than a reason for reflection, is this really a Christmas song?


So why is this a Christmas song then?  Because it happened for reals.

The women in question is named Jill, and she and Dan were in the Woodruff High Class of '69 in Peoria, Indiana and dated for a while.  She went out for eggnog and he was trying to get whipping cream for his Irish coffee, and the only place open was a convenience store atop Abington Hill (in 2008, the street where you'll find the store, being the source for this song, was designated as "Fogelberg Parkway"). They bought a six pack of beer and sat in her car and talked for two hours.

Some years later, Jill heard the song on the radio as she drove for work and immediately knew it was about her. She kept quiet about it, as she didn't want to disrupt Dan's marriage, and for that reason or othewise, he refused to identify who the girl in the song was.

When Dan Fogelberg passed in 2007 of prostate cancer, she finally spoke up about her identity and the truth in the song. While she corrected the lines "Her eyes were still as blue..." (they are green) and "she said she married her an architect" (her husband was a teacher), she didn't comment on the line "She would have liked to say she loved the man but she didn't want to lie", but while married upon the chance encounter in question, she was divorced when the song was released in 1980.

I love this song and knowing this story makes me love it even more.

(FYI, it became Dan Fogelberg's biggest hit, and was an immediate hit -- he was still writing songs for the album "The Innocent Age" when "Same Old Lang Syne" came out. The wait for the release helped, as three more singles came out and the album sold 2 million copies)


And that brings us to "Last Christmas" by a little 80s band called Wham!, made up of megastar Andrew Ridgely and his often forgotten sidekick George Michael. Written and produced by Micheal, it was released in 1984 on the flip side of "Everything She Wants" record.  The song details a failed relationship from the perspective of a guy who just can't let go, and the only reference to Christmas in the song itself is the when the title is sung: "Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, and the very next day, you gave it away" (he confesses his resolve, however, because THIS year, to save himself some tears, he'll give it someone special)

Unlike "Same Old Lang Syne", George Michael didn't necessarily draw on his own experience, he simply had a revelation while he and Ridgely were visiting Michael's parents  Andrew says that they were chillin', watching some TV, when suddenly George ran upstairs. An hour later, he came back down all excited, asking Andrew to follow him back up.

Related image
They are even dressed in Christmas attire! 
He says, "We went to his old room, the room in which we had spent hours as kids, recording pastiches of radio shows and jingles, the room where he kept a keyboard and something on which to record.  He played me the introduction and the beguiling, wistful chorus melody to 'Last Christmas'. It was a moment of wonder."

So it's a song about heartbreak, it only references Christmas when singing the two word title, and in a whispered "Merry Christmas", which is followed by "I wrapped it up and sent it with a note saying 'I love you', I meant it".  The chick he's pining over has a soul of ice, and so much power over him that not only is he lamenting his year without her, that if she kissed him, "I know you'd fool me again."

However, the video gives it much, much more of a Christmas feel. George and Andrew are at a ski lodge with their bae (baes? bae's? what is the plural of bae? and why do I care?), and they are all about decorating the tree, having a big Christmas dinner, and looking longingly at each other with a glass of wine and a coiffed mullet.

And at the very end of the video, a title card that says "Merry Christmas and Thank You".


But... this is my post.

On appeal, ruling reversal


Problem Solved.

Friday, November 30, 2018

to campbell, on your 7th birthday

Dear Campbell,

You know, we do this every year. I always start out this letter by exclaiming first how old you are (SEVEN??) and then that we cannot believe you are that old (SEVEN??)... but it's so true. Your Mommy and I are in disbelief that out of nowhere, you are seven years old.

You know what this means, right?  This means that in 3 years, we're going to have to purchase you an adult ticket for Disney World.

But that's then. Let's look at now... and it just struck me last night, as I thought through what I'd write today, that this is the first birthday letter that you could actually probably read out loud.  I mean, you've only been reading maybe a year now, but your teachers tell us that you are on a somewhat advanced reading level -- you are learning words like crazy, you are reading things all the time, you are bending over toilets in public bathrooms, putting your hands on the rim, to read the manufacturers label on the back... so, let's not do that part okay? And even though we are in Whole Foods, that doesn't mean the toilet freshener hanging on the side is there to take off and hold.  Let's move on, kid.

The list of books you've read or enjoy reading is slowly growing, though I think "Me & My Dad" and "Me & My Mom" are your faves right now, as we read them to you every night... but "Jack B. Ninja" is closing in fast, as that's one you also want to hear daily.

As part of your learning and growing, it's been a big year for you!  You graduated from Mitchell's Place in July, reading out loud your favorite thing about MP ("Water play!"... or "wah pay!"), and looking dapper and awesome in your cap and gown. And then, we moved on to public school!

You started Greystone Elementary School in August, and out of myself, your Mommy and you, I think you were the only one who wasn't worried.  We should have known you'd have it taken care of, and you did. You adapted quickly, you made friends, friends who love playing with you, and you are doing amazing right now in school.

Your friend Jack making sure you don't run off during the class picture
I've been fortunate enough to see you around school, like going with you on the bus to the Pumpkin Patch, and to watch the boys -- Ahmed and Jack and Yoto -- all want you to sit with them, and to see the girls, like Lilly and Bella, talk to you and want to read to you before school starts. It's so great and an answer to our prayers!

And you love your teachers -- Ms Carns (because her name is Kim Carns, I still call her "Bette Davis Eyes", though that's a joke you won't get for like, 8 more years or so), and your helper Ms Allie and then Ms Lenoire, and then  the other teachers that I don't know because you say their names and we can't understand it.

As always, the year itself has been interesting.  I usually stay away from politics and will do so here -- by the time you get old enough to not just read, but comprehend these letters, we can discuss, but just know for now Trump is still President, and like any other before him, or that will come after him, he has his hits and misses, and his detractors.  Politics is an ugly game, and frankly, if you never get involved, I'm fine with it.

Like last year, I have paid little attention to the music scene... in fact, I just looked at the Billboard Top 100 charts for this week, right now in 2018, and I see the top songs are "Thank U, Next" by Ariana Grande, "Sicko Mode" by Travis Scott, "Happier" by Marshmello & Bastille, "Without Me" by Halsey, and "Lucid Dreams" by Juice WRLD... out of six artists mentioned, I have only heard of three of them, and am only familiar with one of those songs.  Music has passed me by, kid, as I'm still stuck jamming to "Exes & Ohs" by Elle King from a few years ago, which might be the last really good song that was released.

I am convinced that if you want a record deal and to make a lot of money as a musical artist, you can do so, because Cardi B is rich, and this guy named Mo Bamba has a hit called "Shack Wes", and its legit one of the most excruciating pieces of crap to listen to that I've ever heard. Then again, you may like it, who knows. When you are ready, we'll pop in some Hootie & the Blowfish.

For now, though, I think your own personal top five, as listed by songs that you sing over and over and over, are "Wheels on the Bus"... well, maybe top one. You have learned "Jesus Loves Me", and "Glory in the Highest", the latter for the kid's performance at the choir event coming up at church, but you do love you some "Wheels on the Bus".

And I do love that you are really recognizing church as the place to be, because you love being around Kingdom Kids, especially with Ms Lisa when she helps you. And for someone who struggles with saying the letter "L", you manage "Valleydale" okay -- "VAH AH DAYH".

Your favorite toys this year have undoubtedly been your school bus and your airplane, as you love Southwest Airlines so much that you watch airplane videos on YouTube... and you type in "SOUTHWEST" and "TERMINAL" in the search bar to find them.  It's crazy, and funny, and super smart.

And for whatever reason, you watch elevator videos. Like, you watch videos of people walking on and off elevators.  Your Mommy remarked to me, "Why do people film... elevators? That's so weird." Quite simply, people film everything. And yes, its weird.

My fave movies of the year included a documentary called "Won't You Be My Neighbor", about a man named Mr Rogers, who I can only hope you will be able to watch one day, and Tom Cruise still doing his thing in "Mission Impossible: Fallout", plus another superhero movie called "Avengers: Infinity War". I look forward to watching superhero movies with you, as well as Star Wars stuff (like "Solo" which came out in May of this year)... but your movie jam this year has definitely been "Inside Out".
Learning to float with Coach Mary

The old faves have resurfaced, like "Cars 2" and "Rio 2" and "Frozen", but "Inside Out" has been a daily mainstay in our home for months, which is cool because I think you are learning about Sadness and Joy and other emotions, maybe putting names to your feelings, which is important so you'll know how you are doing.

We had our season passes to Alabama Splash Adventure and went several times, and you loved it! Don't worry, we'll go back next year too. And good thing, because we need to keep working on your swimming. You had Ms Keri last summer, but this year, you got to work with Coach Mary... you didn't like it at first, but it was so cool that by the end of the week, you were getting rings off the bottom of the pool, and jumping into the water, and swimming around like a little fish. So proud of you!!

And the talking... my goodness, are you a chatter box. I can barely remember a time when we were worried you'd never talk, but here you are. Of course, admittedly, our worry now is that you won't be able to carry on a conversation with us, instead speaking in just a word here or there, but I have no doubt that will come in time too. Everything about your development has come in time, and that's been a blessing.

Oh, how much do you love your Mommy. SO MUCH.
You are still in piano, now with Mrs Alaina and Mr Mark, both of which you like very much, and are playing songs like "Old McDonald" and "Twinkle Twinkle", and even though you graduated, we still visit Mitchell's Place twice per week for ABA therapy.  And you get to work with Jordan and Audrey, and see your friend Piper!

Finally, some of the "firsts" for you... your very first trip to Vulcan... your first cave and waterfall (Rock City in Chattanooga)... your first Monster Truck (the Touch a Truck event)... your first bowling (you bowled like, an 88!)... your first traveling carnival (the power went out while we were atop the ferris wheel)... your first game of catch with a baseball and glove (thank you Ethan Bryan!)... 

Okay, I'll wrap this up now, as these letters might get longer and longer every year, and I'm sure I'm leaving stuff out... but know that we love you so, so much, Campbell.  Everyone does. Your Pops and GG, and your aunts and uncles, and your Granny Jan, and Aunt Becky and your friends and their parents too... you are more popular at 7 then I ever was at like, 10. You're doing a great job.

Last year's letter talked about "Respect".  This year, I want to teach you about "Truth".  Truth is very important because honesty is a huge part of your character, of who you are, and of who people think you are. Tell the Truth.

See, there are many people out there who don't. Maybe they are trying to hide something small, or something big, maybe they are trying to hurt someone else on purpose, or make someone else fail by not telling the truth, and that will happen... and maybe someday, someone will lie about you to hurt you.  You stick with the truth. You stick with what's right. You stick with the facts, whether you are talking to your mom and myself, or your friends, or your teachers, or even strangers, you stay on the side of right, and it will be okay.

Remember, the Bible is Truth. We haven't really dug into that yet, but we will soon. We want you to understand what Jesus says about love and compassion and that sometimes those things means saying things people don't want to hear -- but in the end, Truth will always win out. And be Respectful as you stay Truthful.

You'll always have challenges that other kids won't have. But keep your faith in Him and it will work out.

We love you, son. And no, you cannot have your iPad until 6pm, so stop asking.

With Love,

to campbell, on your 6th birthday
to campbell, on your 5th birthday
to campbell, on your 4th birthday
to campbell, on your 3rd birthday
to campbell, on your 2nd birthday
to campbell, on your 1st birthday

Heading to the doctor and getting the diagnosis


Sunday, November 18, 2018

missing writing

I miss writing!

I miss it so.much!

Anyone who is a writer will understand. You just miss it. In the busy life I lead, which seems to only get busier as time goes by, there are a few things that have gone by the wayside... sitting down and reading a book. Binge watching a TV show.  Playing tennis so long I can barely stand.  Running. Biking.  These are things I all used to do (granted, the tennis and biking was more of early in marriage, but with no one to serve to and no bike to ride, these are harder).

All things I loved doing and have had to just simply put aside to make way for things like planning Disney trips.  Taking the kid to piano. Running to Publix for the turkey that only they sell. Taking the kid to therapy. Planning more Disney trips. Watching a movie while I plan Disney trips. Taking the kid to school. Working on the website. More kid activities. Also trying to make sure I'm a good husband who makes The Lovely Steph Leann feel appreciated and worthy.

And amongst all of those things, is writing.  I literally have 66,110 words written in my movie book... that's not an exaggerated number, because I just looked.  Sixty six thousand, one hundred and ten books. And thanks to TimeHop, I know that I've been working on this book for over a year.

And I just miss writing on the website. Thoughts and stories and anecdotes. I know someone is reading, as I check the numbers every few days, and they continue to grow (unless someone who really likes me is just sitting there clicking refresh on my website a few hundred times per day... but in 13 years, since June 2005, this page has been loaded over 433K times, which is humbling.

So someone reads what I write.

I just need to write more.

And I will.  I promise.


Sunday, November 04, 2018

somebody to love

Queen is one of those bands who's music is so engrained in our society, so deep in our brainwaves -- from "Somebody to Love" to "We Are the Champions" -- it's easy to forget just how brilliant Queen, an in particular, Freddie Mercury actually was. Is? Are?

And that's the highlight of the just released "Bohemian Rhapsody", which I saw in a late show last night. 

Let me back up and say that earlier this year, on The Deucecast Movie Show podcast, I made two bold predictions:  

1) If "A Star is Born" is a good film, Lady Gaga will be up for an Oscar.  
2) If "Bohemian Rhapsody" is good, Rami Malek will be up for an Oscar. 

Results?  Lady Gaga has received widespread acclaim for "A Star Is Born", and will likely get an Oscar nod.  Rhapsody, however, has mixed reviews, and I'd heard a few movie pundits say that they didn't expect the movie to do well. In fact, the common criticism about it has been that it's a "fluff narrative", which only shows you the good stuff, barely touching on the bad.  And to a major extent, this is very true, so it depends on what you want to see out of this movie. 

My bar for the movie had been lowered since I'd been hearing the negative (though it's 7.4 on IMDb, so that's not nothing), but I had every intention on seeing it anyway.

The movie starts with Freddy Mercury preparing himself for Queen's 1985 LIVE AID concert..

Y'all may know Rami Malek from the acclaimed series "Mr Robot", but
he'll always be that goofy Steve kid from the Tom Hanks / Julia Roberts
movie "Larry Crown"
SIDEBAR:  For those of you not around in the 80s, or not paying attention, that's when concerts for plights of the world came to prominence.  From the "Do They Know It's Christmas?" music to "We are the World" to Willie Nelson's Farm Aid to help farmers, the 80s were a time where rock stars of the day would play music and you'd send in money to help that cause. Live Aid was a global concert to help the children in Ethiopia, suffering due to a destructive drought happening. The concert was taking place simultaneously in, among other places, Canada, The Soviet Union, Japan, Yugoslavia, Philadelphia PA and notably, Wembley Stadium in London.  An estimated 1.9 billion people watched at least some of it, which at the time was around 40% of the population of Earth.  Massive.

...and as he takes the stage, it cuts to 1970, showing him working as a baggage handler, then coming across the band Smile, which featured future bandmates Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy).  Freddie joins the band, then they bring on John Deacon (played by the kid from Jurassic Park, of which I was stunned when I saw him), and soon after, Queen is born.

The movie clocks in at 2 hours and 15 minutes, and though long (and it does drag in a few parts), it covers so much ground at a breakneck speed. One minute they are selling their van to buy studio time to record an album, and two minutes later, they are the biggest band in Europe, working on their 4th album, fighting for the right to release "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a single. 

While the movie is about Queen. it's the musical life of Mercury that drives it. His rise, his falling in love with Mary Austen, his peak, his sexuality, his bottoming out and his return to the stage, with the movie ending right where it started -- him going onstage, followed by the rest of Queen, for their Live Aid performance.  Incidentally, I didn't know until yesterday that many critics consider the 21 minute set to be the greatest live performance of all time, with his acapella back-and-forth with the audience containing what is called "The note heard round the world" (you'll know it when you hear it)

I actually watched the real 22 minute version of the concert set, and honestly, the movie is pretty close.  My movie was at 10 last night, and when it was over, I walked into the IMAX theater (theirs started at 1030p) just in time to see the concert scene again, which I enjoyed even more than when I had seen in 20 minutes prior. 

The critics weren't wrong, by the way, when they said it was a fluff piece. It is a bit uneven, as it gives you flashes of Mercury's demons but never digs too deep or spends too much time in the mud, and even his breakdown ends up turning into his shining moment at the end. His sexuality is treated with kid gloves, showing how he slowly realizes he's gay, then faces no consequences for being so (this is the late 70s, early 80s by the way).  In one scene you can see he's been doing cocaine, but that's the only time before or after that hard drugs are even mentioned -- much of it is implied, but never shown. The only bits of intimacy truly are him kissing Mary, the girl he loved early on, then later kissing a couple of guys.  Sex is also implied, but never shown and only alluded to once or twice.
L-R The Kid from GI Joe Retaliation, Ben Hardy, Rami Malick
and Gwilym Lee as Deacons, Taylor, Mercury & May

The supporting cast is outstanding, especially Gwilym Lee as Brian May, who, if Freddie is the heart of the band, is the moral compass that keeps it together.  The Kid from The Social Network and Ben Hardy (Deacons and Roger, respectively) both play their part well, and Lucy Boyton is wonderful as Mary, the lover turned best friend of Freddie. Of course, the star of the show is Rami Malek, who is balls to the wall the entire movie, embracing every nuance, every quirk, putting that little umph into every skip step  that Freddie takes -- with the flamboyance ever growing as the movie goes on, this was not an easy role to master.  Whether he mastered it or not is up to the viewer, but I'm not sure you could ask for much more. 

One of the real treats of the movie is watching the small scenes as the now familiar classics start to take shape for the first time... where Brian May, Freddie and Roger are all in an argument while The Kid from The Lost World: Jurassic Park begins to strum a riff on his guitar, one that is unmistakable and becomes "Another One Bites the Dust". Or where Brian May gets everyone in the studio on the stage and leads them in a series of stomps, saying he wants a song that the audience can participate in. "Okay, after you stomp twice, let's clap." STOMP STOMP CLAP... STOMP STOMP CLAP.

And as the trailer shows, a good 15 minutes is lent to the creation of "Bohemian Rhapsody", including the stares from the bandmates as Freddie wants to use opera themes, and the resistance from EMI Record exec Ray Foster (an unrecognizable Mike Myers)

All in all, it's a good movie. Not a great movie, but a good movie. One that a day later still has me humming the chords to "Somebody to Love" and "Fat Bottomed Girls" (though that one isn't really even referenced in the movie). I can see how diehard Queen fans will love this, or even hate it for not being as truthful as they may want.  In fact, the movie does take some wild swings with truthiness, showing the band breaking up due to a decision Freddie makes, and reconciling later, when in truth, the whole band was ready to walk, and they had reconciled long before the movie suggests, as well as Freddie telling the band he has AIDS before Live Aid performance, when in real life, wasn't diagnosed with AIDS until 1987, two years after the concert.

At one time, actor/comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was slated to play Freddie Mercury, but he dropped out because of differences between he and Queen band members May and Rogers... 

SIDEBAR:  John Deacon has very little to do with the band at this point -- his relationship with May & Rogers is reportedly good, he just decide to retire after Freddie's death, performing with the band less than five times since 1991, and not at all since 1997 -- he didn't even attend the band's induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, though May has said that Deacon approved of the film "Bohemian Rhapsody".

...because Cohen wanted the movie to be solely focused on the rise, fall, rise and death of Freddie Mercury while Queen wanted the band to be more central to the story (and likely taking out some of the edgier and more terrible parts).  Ultimately, the band won, Cohen walked and Rami Malek was given the part.  
Anyway, I liked the movie... I didn't love it, but I really enjoyed parts of it, enough to be satisfied with... still, I would have enjoyed more a deeper dive, perhaps an R rated film and not just PG-13, to give me more about Freddie Mercury than a few bad incidents.. 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

they call him the bandit

As I get older, the movie stars that consumed my childhood do the same. And as they were already miles ahead of me in years when I was a kid, it only stands to reason that we will lose them steadily as time goes by.

Another piece of my childhood passed on today. RIP, Burt.
I'm just awaiting the day when I'll see on Twitter that Clint Eastwood has passed on... he is 88, after all.  Or Harrison Ford, who is 76.  Or even Dick Van Dyke (92), Robert Duvall (87) or Julie Andrews (82).

Even my boyhood love Rene Russo, is sitting pretty gorgeous at 64.  And Michael Keaton just had a birthday, and turned 67, and I thought "Wow... that guy is almost 70..." and despite the number of years so many of my boyhood favorites have lived past 70, that 7 decade number seems to be my mental age of demarcation where I subconsciously think, "Okay, now they are on a 'we could lose them'" list.  I think it was Steven Spielberg turning 70 in 2016 that it suddenly clicked on the mortality of Hollywood.

And so today, while I was not shocked at all, I was still saddened by the news that Burt Reynolds had died. On one hand, how is that possible?  He's the freakin' Bandit, for gosh sake. Bandits don't die!

Well... yes, yes they do. Just like Snowmen died (Jerry Reed in 2008) and Sheriff Buford T Justices die (Jackie Gleason in 1987), Bandits do pass on.

Reynolds... oh, whatever, I'm calling him Bandit... so Bandit starred in a boatload of movies, many of which are likely forgotten, regulated to that side of our brain that is only accessed when trivia comes up, or you see the title flash on your DirecTV or Dish guide as you scroll past AMC or FXX on a Sunday afternoon.  Or the type of films you'd see on WGN as the movie of the week were this, say, 1998.  Movies like "Stick" and "Heat" and "Gator" and "City Heat" and "Sharkey's Machine" and "White Lightening" and "Physical Evidence"... these are movies most of you will not remember... well, I'd say in a year or two, but I can say later today. I barely remember them and I co-host a 340+ episode movie podcast.

Then there are the movies that he's really known for.  The aforementioned Bandit films (1 and 2 especially... 3 is an abomination, even for these movies), and as Jack Horner in "Boogie Nights", a film that he later expressed regret over because of the subject matter, despite the comeback it meant in his career and the Supporting Actor nomination the Academy gave him.  And who can forget "Deliverance", his breakout role as Lewis, the leader of a group of guys who are out fishing in the woods to horrible consequences.  Squeal like a pig, Ned Beatty.  Indeed.

He even did some TV work, spending years on CBS in "Evening Shade", a staple for my parents every week.

But it was this 10-15 year run in the 70s and 80s that made me a lifelong Bandit fan. The movies I watched over and over and over, the ones that sealed themselves in my memory as "great films" that I know upon a rewatch today, would be proven wrong... well, except for this fifth one.

Here are my five favorite Burt "Bandit" Reynolds roles:

5 - Paul Crewe in "The Longest Yard" (1974).  I actually saw this in the last five years or so, and while the Sandler remake isn't terrible (Bandit even shows up in that one too!), "Yard" is a funny and still somewhat dark comedy about a group of prisoners who play football. Eddie Albert is the Warden, as is a great villain.

4 - Hooper in "Hooper" (1978). Bandit is this stuntman trying to prove himself, even with upstart Jan Michael Vincent's Ski on set to try and be the better stuntman.  Admittedly, I hadn't seen this in a while, but I remember this cavalcade of 70s stars, including James Best (also Roscoe P Coletrane), Robert Klein, Adam West (the original Batman), Terry Bradshaw (he kept trying to act... see #1 below), and 70s That Guy Robert Tessier

Onc could argue that the true star of this movie is the car. And one
wouldn't necessarily be wrong. 

3 - Bandit in "Smokey & the Bandit" (1977) and "Part II" (1980). I'd venture to say this is Bandit's most iconic role, even above "Deliverance" and 'Boogie Nights", and if a movie about hillbilly rapists wasn't enough of a breakout, then this sent him over the moon, as he became the biggest star in the world.  And why not? This movie, with barely a script, a co-star (Sally Field) who feared this movie would ruin her career -- and who Burt fell in love with -- and an unproven director became the 2nd biggest film of 1977, behind some forgotten flick called "Star Wars".  Toss in Jerry Reed as his semi driving BFF, a basset named Fred, an obsessed, racist, rude sheriff on his tail and an iconic, black T-Top Trans Am, and you've got a hit. Make a part 2, have a bunch of county mounties and Mountie mounties take on a few dozen semi trucks, and you've got me hooked for life.

SIDEBAR:  In "Smokey & the Bandit Part II", Bandit and Snowman have to haul a baby elephant across the country. Towards the end of the film, Bandit takes on Buford T. Justice's brothers (also played flamboyantly and over the top by the impeccable Gleason) with a fleet of trooper and Canadian Mountie police cars. Snowman shows up with a squad of Semi Trucks, and for 8 year old me, this 20 minutes was the highlight of my year. It was so funny, and hilarious, and cool, and watch that car bend in half and oh look Bandit is driving over the tops of the semis and so awesome.  Problem is, I re-watched this not too long ago... its not 20 minutes.  Its 2 minutes.  And it's so bad. Everything I thought I loved as an 8 year old stayed with me being 8 years old.  Use caution when revisiting your youth. 

Their chemistry was great, and I even had the diecast car of the
ambulance they drove.
2 - Stroker Ace in "Stroker Ace" (1983). Bandit is a NASCAR driver caught in a contract under the jerkface Clyde Torkel (Ned Beatty, eating up the scenery in a very chewy movie), and is forced to race in a chicken suit. Toss in Loni Anderson as love interest/publicist Pembrook Feeney, Jim Nabors and crew chief Lugs, and a fantastic Parker Stevenson as rival driver Aubrey James, and it's a delight.  This movie is the definition of so bad but so stinkin' fun.

And finally, my favorite Burt Reynolds role:

JJ McClure in "Cannonball Run" (1981). I cannot tell you how much I love this movie. This is a prime example of a film that hits you at just the right age, a film that if anyone else watched it, they may or may not hate it. Because its a ridiculous movie, filled with stars from the day -- Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, country star Mel Tillis, Terry Bradshaw, Farrah Fawcett, Adrienne Barbeau, Roger Moore, a newbie Jackie Chan and many, many more. And they are all in a race across the country.  JJ McClure and his buddy Victor (the late and so, so great Dom DeLuise) decide to use an ambulance to race in, figuring the sirens would get them moving faster.

Fast cars, pretty girls, funny jokes, an awesome soundtrack by Ray Stevens (that opening music is so great) and fantastically whimsical theme by Chuck Mangione, then one of my favorite fight scenes in all of movies (the whole cast up against a biker gang) that DOES hold up, as I've seen it recently, all make for a movie that I would watch right now, and will be watching when I'm 50, 65 or even 82.

Yellow hat. Its funny. Because it's bigger than a normal hat.

PS... Avoid Cannonball Run II.  It tries to recapture the magic of part 1 and just can't do it. 

So thanks Burt. Thanks for all you did, thanks for helping my childhood movie fandom develop, thanks for driving that ambulance, that chicken car, that T-Top, and even that speedboat in "Gator".

East bound and down, loaded up and truckin', we gonna do what they say can't be done. We gotta long way to go and a short time to get there, I'm east bound and watch ol' Bandit run... 

Also... don't discount Norm McDonald as Turd Ferguson on Saturday Night Live's "Celebrity Jeopardy". Its one of the funniest things to ever be on that show in all it's 45 years

Monday, June 25, 2018

dino ex machina: a jurassic review

I was originally going to do this review as a part of a Dozen Movie Dash, which is a random post that I do giving quick reviews of a dozen recently seen films (which, until last night, I didn't realize how random, as I haven't done one since 2014)

As a part of the DMD, I figured I'd talk about "Tag" and "Action Point" and maybe Dolly Parton's "Nine to Five" that I just watched, and of course, talk about "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom", which I saw this weekend...

Then I realized my review was longer, so taking on 11 more films would make this an obnoxiously long post... not that that has stopped me -- I mean why say in 500 words what I can say in 1500, amma right?  Up top!

So I figured I would just give this it's own post...

The reviews for this have been all over the map -- it sits at 50% critics and 62% audiences scores on Rotten Tomatoes, and 6.7 on IMDb, and after watching it, I could see where someone would love this movie, and where someone would hate it.  If you wanted more of the same as "Jurassic World", then you get it -- if you wanted a different story, then you are out of luck.

Without giving too much away, the general story is the Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, who I really like, though I'm more a Jessica Chastain fan in the "Pick one of the two actresses that are nearly the same") is recruited by the extended family of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, from the first film, though he is only referenced -- Attenborough died in 2014) to go get the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar. The island is being destroyed by a volcano, and Claire, who has strong armed Owen (Chris Pratt) into coming along, is to assist in getting a least a few of each species onto a transport ship, where they will be taken to a new habitat to live in peace for the rest of their days. But, of course, not is all as it seems.  

Here's the thing... we love dinosaurs. And in "Jurassic Park", we got them... and they were amazing. They were incredible, unlike anything we'd ever seen.  With "Lost World Jurassic Park" and "Jurassic Park III", some of the luster was gone, as the story was sacrificed to show us more impressive dinosaurs.  So when "Jurassic World" came along, some 14 years later after JPIII, we were ready to be dazzled again, and we were. A new generation of teen fans were discovering the T-Rex and the raptor and other extinct creatures, with new characters and new story lines and more!

But something happened between "World" and "Fallen Kingdom".  They pulled the checklist out and made sure that what made the first one so good would also be in the second one... 
  • Jerk military guy. Check!  
  • Invented dinosaur creature. Check!  
  • Claire's plucky and wisecracking assistants. Check!
  • Kid involved. Check!

And, something I've dubbed Dino ex Machina.  Remember in the very first Jurassic Park, when Grant and Ellie and the kids are surround by raptors in the lobby of the main building of the park?  All hope was lost, they were about to get eaten... and suddenly, the T-Rex comes out of nowhere to save the day??  And then at the end of "Jurassic World", Claire and Owen and the kids are cornered by Indominous Rex, and are about to get eaten... and suddenly, a giant sea monster comes out and eats them??  

Dino ex Machina.

When the dinosaur pulls a deus ex machina and improbably saves the day. And there are several of these moments in "Fallen Kingdom", by the way. It's lazy writing and was a little irritating.

One of my favorite movie jokes ever
SIDEBAR:  The official term is "deus ex machina" and is from a Latin translation of a Greek term "god from the machine."  It's defined by Wikipedia as "a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived. 

My own personal favorite example of this is in the movie "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" where Peter, played by Vince Vaughn, has sold the gym to White Goodman - Ben Stiller - and despite winning the tournament, is still under threat of demolition by Globo Gym... until Peter wheels out a literal treasure chest, informing White that with the money he got from selling Average Joe's Gym, he gambled it into enough cash to purchase the majority stake in Globo Gym, thereby now owning both gyms.  And on the treasure chest?  "Deus Ex Machina".  It's a brilliant joke that I think a lot of people never notice.  Thus, when a T-Rex or other dinosaurs suddenly rescue our heroes... Dino Ex Machina.

Overall, despite the last several paragraphs, I enjoyed the movie. It was loud, it was a little tense (though the fate of the main characters were never in ANY question), and the CGI was good. The best part of the film is what takes place on the island, though we are done there by the first half hour, and its onto the rest of the movie.  It's nice to see Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) but he's completely under utilized in his bit parts. 

I guess you could say this movie is "Brain Candy", meaning, its loud and blowey uppy and roar filled and people in danger but the real people we love are never in real danger, and Brain Candy isn't a bad thing. Its a movie you don't have to think about, it's a movie you can just watch and not be encumbered by the thought process... but that pro is also a con, because the original "Jurassic Park" is a very smart film at it's core, even with it's absurd premise.

So go see it at the theater to get the full scope of the visual and audible... but keep your expectations lower than you want.

PS... I think you'll agree with me... the first one should have been called "Jurassic Island".  This one could have been called "Jurassic Kingdom".  The final one in this trilogy (and honestly, let's hope the final one for a long time) could have been called "Jurassic World"... and you'll see that in the 10 second blurb AFTER the credits. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

6th grade history class

So... hi.  It's been a while. I keep thinking I'll blog way more than I have, so I'll just admit, I have no idea when another blog is coming.  No clue. So enjoy this one.

Did you know that I just celebrated 25 years being a high school graduate?  (In March I also crossed the 20 year mark as a college grad -- GO TROY STATE -- but I kinda forgot about it until... well, like, just now.)

So last week, I took pictures of, then posted onto Instagram (@davedollar) and onto Facebook my 7th grade class.  I thought this summer might be a good time to spend uploading a few pictures, with my ultimate goal being to scan my yearbooks in their entirety and put them in Facebook albums... kind of a "Summer of The Class of 1993" of sorts, without the official title, and the official committment... because if I forget to upload (which is why I'm doing this now and not yesterday--Thursday), then no loss.

You may wonder why I didn't post the 6th grade class last week, but instead doing them out of order... some of you OCD folk may be all like "7th than 6th??  What kind of monster is he??"

I did this for two specific reasons, neither of which are that I forgot. No, I did it because of those black marks you see above Stephanie Phillips, Misty Kimble's, Jennifer Lambert's and Nicki Vann's heads. 

Not too long after we got the yearbook, whenever that was, myself and four of my buddies wrote our names above the girl we thought was the prettiest.  Not an ownership, mind you (Settle down, #MeToo), but more of a "This is who I want to go with".  A year later, I was petrified someone would find it, so I blacked them out with marker.

SIDEBAR: How many iterations of "dating" have there been?  "They are an item" and "Going steady" were before my time... in my day, it was "Go with".  Soon after, it apparently became "Going out with".  Unsure what it might be today.  Probably something to do with being on fleek or making rhymes like "hey hey my bae" or some such nonsense. 

Considering it's been 31 years at this point, I don't mind saying that I wrote my name over Misty Kimble's picture.  She was my first real crush, and I think I spent 4th through 7th grade moving between "kinda liked" and "loved". She actually knows this (but not in 1987 -- I would have been mortified), and thinks its funny.  As for Stephanie, Jennifer and Nicki... well, those names will remain with me.  Mostly because I've forgotten one, I'm not positive on one and sometimes mysteries are fun... because they probably don't remember either.

For the record, Greg Avant, who spent his later years pining for Jennifer Lambert, was none of guys who played this game in my yearbook.  Just to clear that up.

Moving beyond that, I did something in my 6th grade yearbook that for some reason, I didn't do in any others... I documented the 1986 to 1987 school year.

So here, in its unedited form, is what I wrote... the history of the class of 93, from September 1986 to May 1987... with a few notes in the brackets, italicized:

Shannon Williamson joined us in our 6th grade class this year. She's crazy, weird, but really likeable. She'll really clear you up when you're down.  I went to the junior high building for the first time as we entered the junior high years. Ms Whittle was my favorite teacher over Coach Champion, Coach Weeks, Mrs Rials, and Mr White. My favorite subject was Social Studies. Michael Knowles, Greg Avant, and me became ketchup brothers (we were chicken to use real blood).

Marianne Harvey, who me and Greg used to tease, moved [note--For what it's worth, Marianne, I'm really sorry I was a jerk].  I met Allen Wise. Aka needle-nose, who was teachers aid in PE.  The Tigers had their first winning season in a long, long time. This was the last year at good ol' SHS. I was conducted (note--what??) as the 4-H reporter beating out Stephanie Phillips.  This was also the last year for Terry Ferris.

There was a lot of going steady. Lee and Stephanie. Jason and Nicki. Daniel and Felicia. Auburn had a lot of controversy over Bama 21-17. Not many people liked it alot. Lee Futch and Michael Creech entered the crazy, wild, never calmed class of '93. I exempted from my semester exam 7th period on the last day of school, so I didn't have to go. Tonya [Windham] threatened to kill me, and Jason [Smith] said "I hate you"

I won 3 tigers (awards) for Social Studies. But Stan won the trophy, and he didn't win one tiger for Social Studies!

[let me clarify -- every six weeks, the highest average got a little poofy tiger award, and the fact that I won 3 out of the 6 that year, but Stan took home the year end trophy really bugged me.  Stan, I was robbed.]

Only 6 more years until "Seniors!" We had gone halfway and we think we can go the other half. I thin at sometime, everybody thinks about their senior year. Daniel [Stephenson] started listening to heavy metal, Clay and Monty will soon become a black belt, Greg, well he's my best friend so I could fill a whole page about him, Michael [Knowles] and Johnny [Knowles], well you know how they are! Come '93, I'm really gonna miss em.

But I can always look back in this book and find the wild times in 6th grade! This was also the year that people who didn't grow out of toys in 5th, they did in 6th. Thanks to Greg, Michael, Johnny, Daniel, Monty, Clay, Tonya, Stan, Jason, Allen Wise, Chris, Lee, Stephanie, Misty and Victor for making this one of the best year for a while to come. I wish I could write 100 more pages, but I don't have enough room. So I'll see you in the next yearbook to write about 7th!

Aaaand I'm back. So there ya go, 6th grade in a nutshell.  I guess next week we'll skip ahead to 8th grade.

Friday, February 16, 2018

gun control word vomit

I posted this on Facebook this morning, but I wanted to keep these thoughts handy so I can reflect later. And in a few weeks, any hope of finding this post again would be relegated to lots and lots of scrolling, unless I wait 365 days from today and let it show up on TimeHop.

Addressing the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The following is what I call "gun control word vomit", several paragraphs loosely held together with one very tragic common thread.

As a very right wing conservative, I have been trying for two days to understand why asking for universal background checks is a bad idea.

I am all for the 2nd amendment, and even though I personally do not like guns, I support your right to own as many as you want, if obtained and operated legally. I support your right to own as many unnecessarily big guns, bazookas, tanks and the like, as long as you fall under the laws as set for by your state and our federal government.

But I also believe that there needs to be a paper trail for every gun owned in our country. There should be an age minimum for purchasing a gun -- 18, maybe even 21 (though its hard to argue you can die for our country in a firefight overseas at 18 and not be allowed to purchase until 21 here). Is that hard to do? You betcha. But if someone does what happened the other day, I want to know where that gun came from and if it should have been on the streets. And maybe with 300 million firearms in the country, its a task that retroactively isn't even feasible to attempt.

Which brings us to background checks. I'm for them. All of them. Anyone who sells a gun to someone needs to know who they are selling them too. Those convicted of violent crimes should not have the right to possess a weapon. Those charged and/or convicted with stalking, abuse and the like should not, at least temporarily, have the right to possess a weapon. Those who are diagnosed with certain mental illnesses should not be able to own a gun.

Personally, I don't think you can just walk into a gun shop, plunk down $150 and immediately walk out with a firearm. And I'm not sure it's all that easy at a gun show.

I don't think there are mile-wide loopholes at gun shows as portrayed by the anti-gun lobby, but I do think there are enough to be addresses. And I'm willing to adjust my opinion on all of this if someone gives me something that makes me think "Oh yeah, that's why universal background checks are not a great idea..."

My conservative friends will tell me this goes too far. My liberal friends will tell me this doesn't go far enough.

All of that said... none of this would have prevented what happened in Parkland. None of it. Perhaps this kid being unable to legally purchase a gun would have made it harder, but I have no doubt that he would have procured a weapon in another manner... when you are hellbent on the revenge you think you are owed, few things can stop you.

Finally, this falls on one person. That 19 year old punk jackwagon who decided to shoot up a school. This isnt Trump's fault, unless you want to fault him for not doing enough to stem the unmonitored purchase of guns. If so, then you can also blame Obama, George W and Clinton, as all had legislation that addressed gun show loop holes come up in their admin, and all died before a vote -- and at various times, Congress was controlled by both sides of the aisle.

Also, this isn't an NRA problem. Ben Shapiro reported that the NRA donated 200 million to their causes from 1998 to 2017 -- and likely most of that was for Republican causes. Unions donated almost 2 billion in the 2016 election, and nearly all of that was for Democratic causes. None of these shooters were members of the NRA, and the NRA didn't put the guns in their hands.

So here's my position. Stop the yelling at people about how the GOP only cares about babies before they were born, and stop using the Democratic line "There have been 18 school shootings this year alone!". The former is an incredibly stupid position to take, and the latter is an incredibly stupid talking point that has no basis (The Washington Post of all places debunked it, though I gave 15 minutes of research to it and knew half the story before they printed).

But also understand that Dems (at least most of them) aren't seeking to take away the 2nd Amendment, and many of them understand that banning guns is a completely impossible task.

Stop with the "rest of the world doesn't have this problem because they banned guns!" rhetoric. Many other countries also throw gay people off of roofs and throw acid in women's faces for speaking up about being raped, so I think our country of 330 million is doing okay in that manner.

Finally, banning the AR-15 does nothing. Because another gun will take its place. Oh, by the way, I also discovered that AR doesn't stand for Assault Rifle. It stands for ArmaLite, which is a brand name. The AR-15 isn't much different from a standard rifle, even though it looks like a machine gun. Its the (likely illegal) modifications made on such guns that cause the rapid fire, otherwise the shooter would be pulling the trigger on each shot, and would probably wear out from fatigue much faster.

If a GOP or Dem talking point looks funny, or unbelievable, look it up. Read a little and learn, which is the best way to formulate any argument.

This is my gun control word vomit, and will be so until someone gives me facts that make me think otherwise.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

the top ten books of 2017

A few weeks ago... well, 10 days ago... which is shocking, because I feel like I'm at a pace where I'm putting a winter solstice between posts, but recently, I listed the books I read in 2017, giving a brief synopsis and recommending most of them... not all of them, thought (I'm looking at you, "The Circle") but most.

My favorite book of 2014, a book I think
everyone should read. Its life changing.
But there were ten books that I wanted to mention in this post, which are my Top Ten Books of 2017.  The ones I enjoyed the most, relished as I read, put them away mentally for a possible re-read later, or that actually made me aware of how dusty it is in this room.  Seriously, two books did that for me.

So, what book will join the list of Fave Books of the Year, a list that includes Stephen King's "Doctor Sleep" (my fave book of 2013)... Carlos Whittaker's "Moment Maker" (my fave book of 2014)... Andy Weir's "The Martian" (my fave book of 2015)... and Michael Lewis' "The Big Short" (my fave book of 2016)? 

First, folow @TheDaveofPop  on Instagram for nearly daily book and movie reviews, where all of these books were originally reviewed after being read.

Now let's see the list and find out the list, shall we?

My 10th Favorite Book of 2017
"The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute" by Zac Bissonnette. Yes, this book is about the origins and business of those little plush animals with the red, heart shaped tag, those same ones that were supposed to be insanely valuable now and would pay your way through college. This was one of those books I circled for a while, and finally landed on, and it was delightful in the weirdest way. It chronicles the rise, fall and sort of rise of Ty Warner, founder of the Ty Company, and... well, how he's a total jackwagon. To everyone. That tag line of "Mass Delusion..." fits this journey perfectly. (it's also got another subtitle in some places, that being "The Amazing Story of How America Lost It's Mind Over a Plush Toy--And the Eccentric Genius Behind it")

My 9th Favorite Book of 2017
"Reasons to Be Pretty" by Neil LaBute.  This is a stage play written by one of my two favorite playwrights (David Mamet being the other), and right at the top, we learn that Greg has said something fairly stupid to his girlfriend Steph.  But we also learn that Steph has a flair for the overdramatic, which means she fits perfectly with their best friends Kent and Carly, two people also deeply flawed for various reasons. The sequel is called "Reasons to Be Happy", which I enjoyed, but I loved how this book/play unfolded.

My 8th Favorite Book of 2017
"Yes Please" by Amy Poehler.  When I read Tina Fey's "Bossypants", I wasn't sure I'd enjoy this book as much. I mean, "Bossypants" is hilarious, and Tina is smoking hot (two things that can potentially draw me to a book) so how could Amy compete?  She did. And more. This book is absolutely hysterical, riffing on everything from celebrity, to SNL to motherhood and marriage and life on Parks & Rec and life in general, and with her reading the audiobook, her delivery is nearly perfect. So good.

Available in paperback or Kindle. Quick
read, too... less than 200 pages

My 7th Favorite Book of 2017
"Catch Somewhere" by Megan Hall. This is the sweet story of a young lady named Kinsley who faces what so many girls do -- heartache in high school. Kins, as she's nicknamed, takes her pain out in other ways, however, through an addiction that is all too common, but having never been a 15 year old girl (nor playing one on TV), its something I don't understand. Megan Hall writes in a "dramedy" sort of manner, with a few funny pop culture references, but the story shines through the characters Hall puts around Kinsley, including a best friend and a Bible study coed. I'm not in the audience demo, but I enjoyed this very much and even found myself a little misty eyed at the "reunion" towards the end.  Got me right in the feels. Full disclosure, Megan is a friend of mine, but I can truthfully say that I wouldn't have put her book on this list had I not felt it deserving.  Also... I really like where the title comes in. It's... it's... pure.

My 6th Favorite Book of 2017
"I'll Have What She's Having: How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Saved The Romantic Comedy" by Erin Carlson.  My favorite movie of all time is "You've Got Mail", so how could I resist a book that takes you behind the scenes of not just that, but "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle".  You get untold stories of casting, anecdotes from the set, and everyone from Meg Ryan to Rob Reiner to Tom Hanks to Billy Crystal and more giving their stories and insight.  Director Nora Ephron led a complicated life, and this book doesn't shy away from talking about that either, as she had plenty of personal crises during the making of each of these modern day classics. I loved the intimacy of  this book, and I recommend it for movie fans.

My 5th Favorite Book of 2017
You can read this without the others, but
I would highly recommend Start above any of
the four. 
"Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done" by Jon Acuff.  This is the final book in the Acuff Career Quadrology (which includes "Quitter", "Start" and "Do Over"), and this book is exactly what it sounds like -- getting stuff done. The whole idea is that it's easy to "Start" something, and it's even somewhat to just do-over... but finishing is the hardest part without just throwing your hands up, becoming a "Quitter".  (Hey Acuff -- see what I did there? Eh? You can email me to set up a time to be on your podcast).  Whether its a goal of losing weight or finishing a book or starting a book or getting your career in some facsimile of order, or maybe even getting your personal life figured out, this book will give you the guidance and encouragement needed.  And it's pretty funny, especially the audiobook.

My 4th Favorite Book of 2017
"Wonder" by R.J. Palacio.  Another book that I had picked up and set back on the shelf about 70 times before I decided to give it a whirl -- which I only did because my Dear Friend Janna has a cute kid who recommended it to me.  And honestly, I didn't want it to end. Little Auggie Pullman suffers from a severe facial deformity and is headed to public school for the first time. Of course, he faces the harsh reality of cruel kids around him, but also the warmth of a few random kids who decide to stand by him. We see the school year not just from his eyes, but also from his neglected sister Via, his best friend Jack Will (one of my favorite characters in this or any book in a long time), and Via's former BFF Miranda, who's perspective is very surprising. And when the "honor guard" is mentioned at the end... I mean... I wanted to openly weep. I'm a dad, so it hit me. I cannot recommend this book enough not just to kids and young adults, but anyone.  Also, see the movie.  It's not as in-depth as the book, but its wonderful too.

My 3rd Favorite Book of 2017
"The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made" by Greg Sestero. The title doesn't lie here... "The Room" is one of the greatest bad movies ever made... and when I say "bad", it's not like "Employee of the Month" Dane Cook bad... nay, its bad. I mean horrendously awful bad. And its written and directed by Tommy Wisseau, a man who believes he truly belongs in the Hollywood elite. Sestero was Tommy's closest friend for many years, and starred in the movie with Tommy, and this book is a great glimpse into the insanity of the film's production -- a film where the writing, the acting, the plots make no sense, weirdly named characters like "Chris-R" shows up for no reason to start a plot point that never pays off, or a mom's mentioning having cancer only to never be brought up again.  This book is maddening and nuts and hysterical, all at the same time. (Also, the movies is pretty great too... my 3rd fave film of 2017)

My 2nd Favorite Book of 2017
"David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" by Malcolm Gladwell.  This guy is a great writer, and he does something that many books likes this fail to do -- challenge me and my opinions without belittling those very opinions I hold.  This is the story of the underdog, and how decisions made by "the little guy" can affect how the stack up against "the big guy". There is a story of the student who makes the decision to go to an Ivy League school instead of a lesser, but still great, school -- and the consequences it causes. There's a great look at the "three strikes law" in California and why it might be a bad idea, and a great take on the Biblical story of David & Goliath -- and why David actually matched up to the giant better than most people thing. Loved it.

There's just so much about this book that
is awesome -- but its got some language
and a non-PC culture throughout. 
And finally, My Favorite Book of 2017  
"Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream" by Buzz Bissenger. This is the book that begat the movie that begat the TV show, all of which are classics now. Texas considers Friday night football not just a rite of passage, but darn near a religion, much like it is throughout the South.  Bissinger moved into Odessa, Texas, and spent a year there among the people, including the staff, coaches and football players of Permian High School, home of the Permian Panthers. The book chronicles the lives of a handful of players, from the tragic injury to Boobie Miles (until then, a near sure thing for college and NFL) to the good but not great QB Mike Winchell to the player who seeks to become a pastor, Ivory Christian to the embattled coach, Gary Gaines. It takes place in the 1988 season, which is just recent enough to make Odessa a modern town but still not recent enough to shed the racism and poverty which pervades the town. This is an amazing book, beautifully, if not toe-steppingly written, and it unfolds game by game, as the Panthers seek a return to the title game, living a "championship or bust" mentality the entire year.  Loved this book.

So there's my Top Ten of last year.  I've got a goal of 50 books this year, and I'm already way behind, as Stephen & Owen King's "Sleeping Beauties" was a 28 hour listen, and I'm in the midst of another 28 hour listen, "Live from New York", the oral history of Saturday Night Live by James A Miller and Tom Shales.

But I can recommend to you "One of Us is Lying" by Karen McManus -- a smart, funny, and clever whodunit with a Breakfast Club setting.

Now... back to the books.

Monday, February 05, 2018

the not top ten books of 2017

One of the things I started doing in 2013 was keeping a list of books read... or "read", I should say, as there is some question as to whether "audiobooks" is considered reading.  But you could also contest if graphic novels or plays would count as books (I count those too), so each person really has to come up with their own qualifications and rules. 

If you count the books I read (but didn't officially list) in 2012, in six years, I've managed to get through 204 books.  That's nothing compared to some of my friends, like Jessica Jobes, who reads 150 books a year or something.  But 204 is a big deal to me! 

Also, in six years, I've clocked 1773 hours and 42 minutes of read time, meaning I could reread everything I've read starting tonight, and it would take me until April 17th to finish.  I impress myself.  Again, there are those who see these numbers, shake their head and know they've already done 200 books since the beginning of the year, but for someone who didn't read much of anything from 1995 to 2012, I'll take it.  

So I will be posting my Top Ten Books of 2017, but I wanted to give a quick rundown of all the other books I read last year as well.

These are in no particular order:

"Free Prize Inside" by Seth GodinThe sorta sequel to "Purple Cow", its all about outside the box marketing. Its a great read for business. 

"29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life" by Cami Walker. The author was 33 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She then sought to give 29 gifts in 29 days, and you can follow along here.

"Without You" by Anthony Rapp I like Rapp's work in "Adventures in Babysitting", "Rent" and other projects, but I found this memoir to be... well, boring. I hate to say that about someone else's story, as mine would likely be boring too, but it just wasn't for me. 

"The Princess Diarist" by Carrie Fisher. Fisher's final book before her death dives into the 1977 production of "Star Wars", or the stories behind it, including her love of Harrison Ford. Won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word, and though I wasn't crazy about all of it, I enjoyed it. 

"The Best In the World (at what I have no idea)" by Chris Jericho. Tons of WWE backstage stories, including the accident that gave Undertaker 3rd degree burns on his chest before he went into a steel cage match. 

"My Seinfeld Year" by Fred Stoller. He was a writer on Seinfeld and he tells a few stories. Meh. 

"Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk (and other truths about being creative) by Danielle Krysa. This book isn't targeted to me, its targeted to crafty women. Like, literally knitting and creative women. 

"Scribe" by Bob Ryan. He's been around the Boston sports scene for decades, and sports in general, and this isn't so much a memoir as it is a collection of stories from his life in it. Tales of Red Sox, Bobby Knight, Patriots, Celtics, the 92 Dream Team, his love for John Havlicek and more. Honestly, I enjoyed Al Michael's memoir more, but "Scribe" is also great for sports fans. 

"Skeleton Crew" by Stephen King. A short story collection that was a slog to get through. Some stories were solid, many were tedious. 

"The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower" by Stephen King. I put this off for a long time, knowing that if I liked it, I would be sucked into the other 7 Dark Tower books -- books that are 25 and 30 hour commitments each. Thankfully, I didn't care for this book at all, so there goes any thought of me having to read the rest of them. 

"Gwendy's Button Box" by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar.  Another case of "does it count?", with this being a novella. And yes, I counted it because you can purchase it as a standalone book. Its a fun story that will end up leaving you with more questions than answers. 

"Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser. If you don't want to know where your food comes from, about the gross mistreatment of some farmers, the political side of fast food franchising or the history of food additives, stay away from this book. Otherwise, its a fascinating read. 

"Powerhouse CAA: The Untold History of Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency" by James Andrew Miller. I'm a sucker for a good oral history, and for 75% of this book, I was completely riveted. It tells the story of the formation and rise of CAA, a huge talent agency in Hollywood, and its key driver, Michael Ovitz.  Dozens of stars like Tom Hanks and Bill Murray share their opinions and experiences as well, and it was great... but when Ovitz left, the book just kind of tailspins into a revolving door of people coming and going at CAA and it loses something.  The first 20 hours would make my 2017 Top Ten. The last 5 keeps it from the list. 

"Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign" by Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes. This book was actually pretty funny, and I believe it a darn site more than I do Michael Wolff's Trump book.  Why?  Because even Wolff has disputed the accuracy of his own book, while very few have come out against "Shattered" on the DNC side. Hillary's campaign was a mess, and this book tells why.

"The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients Lives" by Theresa Brown, RN.  Chronicling one night in the shift of a nurse who has been in the profession a long time and has seen a lot. Tells the stories of four patients in various stages of emergencies (not everyone makes it out alive). Enjoyable. 

"When to Rob a Bank... and 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well Intended Rants" by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner.  The Freakonomics guys gathered their decades worth of newspaper articles and essays they wrote and compiled some of the best into this volume. Why does KFC run out of chicken? Why flight attendants don't get tipped? How do you curb gun deaths? Should there by a sex tax? This is a great read, but know that you are wading literally 132 essays. 

"Bill O'Reilly's Legends & Liars: The Patriots" by David Fisher. I've found the "Legends & Liars" series to be really great, and this collection of little known stories and anecdotes from the Revolutionary War was awesome. 

"Bill O'Reilly's Legends & Liars: The Civil War" by David Fisher. Everything I just said about "The Patriots", except about the Civil War. 

"The Shadow of the Matterhorn" by David W. Smith. If your uncle told you stories of his cool job he used to have, and kept referring to chicks he hooked up with at his job, that's this book.  A former cast member dishes on his time at Disneyland, and while some of it is kinda fun, much of it is awkward and random. 

"The Circle" by Dave Eggers. I hated this book. I hated everyone in the book. I didn't care what happened to anyone.  The movie was just as bad. 

"Camino Island" by John Grisham. A departure from his courtroom dramas, this is a book about stolen rare manuscripts, slick bookstore owners and a chick undercover trying to solve the case. A quick and fun read.

"Rooster Bar" by John Grisham. While I liked the story itself, the main problem I had with it was seeing the three protagonists -- the "heroes" of our story -- shirk all of their responsibilities, which include paying back their student loans because they went to a crappy college. Proceed with caution, you may not like anyone in this book. 

"Hollow World" by Nick Pobursky. Disney World fiction with lots of violence, death, hostages, language and a fat crime boss.  Count me in!! 

"A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning" by Lemony Snicket. Another series that I wanted to read, letting the first book determine if I was going to continue.  Though I enjoyed this more than the Dark Tower, it still wasn't enough to push me to read the other books. I looked up the plots on Wikipedia, and am happy with that. 

"Good Girl" by Mary Kubica. Mia Dennett is abducted early in this novel, and we are treated to various perspectives of the story, including lead investigator Detective Hoffman, Mia's mom, and the kidnapper himself. Though not as brutal as "Gone Girl", its in the same vein. I guessed the ending about 1/2 way through the book, but it was still a fun resolution. 

"I'm Your Biggest Fan" by Kate Coyne. A celebrity writer dishes on stories about George Michael, Wynonna Judd, Tom Cruise and stalking Mariska Hargitay.  I really liked the pop cultureyness of this. 

"As If! The Oral History of Clueless" by Jen Cheney. This is the book about the movie Clueless that you didn't know you needed. From screenwriting to pitching it to studios to casting to filming to the movie's release, this is the story of the movie as told by director Amy Heckerling, Jeremy Sisto,  Paul Rudd, Donald Faison, Stacey Dash, and of course, Alicia Silverstone, as well as many more. The best parts include detailed looked at the best, most iconic scenes of the movies, including the Rollin' with the Homies, the freeway scene, the kiss at the end, the Bosstones party, the origins of "cake boy" and much more. 

"Steel Magnolias" by Robert Harling. Love reading plays, and this one was super familiar because I love the movie. Of course, the play takes place entirely in Truvy's Beauty Shop, but overall is pretty close to the film. 

"Barefoot in the Park" by Neil Simon. The classic about Paul and Corie, newlyweds who immediately run into problems days after the wedding. It's warm and sweet and super fun. 

"Biloxi Blues" by Neil Simon. The story is narrated by Eugene (the play itself is the second in the "Eugene Trilogy", which includes "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Broadway Bound" - both read in early 2018) but really centers around the conflict between Pvt Epstein and the brash Sgt Toomey, in basic training amidst WWII.  Reminded me of the Matthew Broderick movie. 

 "Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama" from NPR.  Does this count as a book? Its the drama as played on National Public Radio. It was great. I count it. Sue me.

"Reasons to be Happy" by Neil LaBute. I'm a big LaBute fan, and this book picks up after the previous "Reasons to be Pretty", with the lives of Greg, Steph, Kent and Carly, all in different places, trying to carry on after the events of the first one. 

"The Money Shot" by Neil LaBute.  The story of 2 actors who's fame has dimmed, and are being forced to tell their significant others about a very intimate scene they have to film for a movie that will supposedly reignite their careers. Funny, if not darkly funny, but full of language, as many LaBute plays are.

And the re-reads:
"102 Minutes" by Jim Dwyer & Kevin Flynn. The best 9/11 book I've ever read.

"11/22/63" by Stephen King. I re-read this after seeing the meh mini-series on Hulu, and discovered I didn't like this book as much as I did the first time. Without spoiling the ending, you'll find the story comes to a very unsatisfactory ending.

"'Salem's Lot" by Stephen King. I love this book so much, mostly for how it slowly unfolds for lead character Ben Mears, who is returning to his childhood town to write a book. And the dark house  that overlooks the town, suddenly rented by two very mysterious figures. Great characters, and its 12 through the book before you understand what is truly happening to the town.  

So that's 35 books down. I'll list my Ten Favorites of the year in a day or two, when I write the post. 

If you want to follow along with books read, movies watched, TV seen and Amy Adams pictures inserted at random, check out @TheDaveofPop on instagram!