The good with the bad

June 8, 2018

Yesterday was my 6 month medical checkup (a definite sign of age … doctors visits are a bigger part of your life).  Even though I had stopped exercising during the school year, my weight loss continued a bit, and I am now down from 280 to 241.  I still have a long way to go, but now that I am back exercising, I am hoping I can continue on this path.  My blood pressure which was down to a not so healthy 145/90 during the last week of school, was a cool 116/70 after a week away.

While that was all good news, the really bad news came last night when I learned that my great uncle, Bob, had passed away.  It is a sad story.

He was the youngest of three boys, one of whom was my grandfather.  His oldest brother was estranged from the family when he announced he was marrying a non-Catholic,and he was thus exiled to Kansas.  He was 17 and at his father’s side when he died during a baseball game at Comiskey Park … his introduction to the family curse of men dying before their 65th birthday of sudden and massive heart attacks.  This allowed him to defer his draft order when he was drafted into the Army three years later to fight in Korea, since he was now his mother’s sole means of support.  When he did eventually join, he was in basic training when the armistice was signed, and was never deployed.

He met his true love, Peg, shortly after he got out of the army. As has been told to me his mother, my great-grandmother, never liked any of the women her three sons married, and between Peg and my grandmother, they sometimes had to very gently put their mother-in-law in her place.

My Uncle Bob and Aunt Peg really did love each other.  They never had kids, but they were really a model of closeness and respect that was rare in my family from that time period.  Unlike his father, his grandfather, and his brother (my grandfather), and my dad (his nephew), and my one aunt (his niece), he was able to avoid the specter of alcoholism that has haunted my family for generations.

The one thing that he knew was that he would never have to worry about being alone or having to go through the sadness of burying his beloved wife … our men always died young.  No male in our family had celebrated their 66th birthday.  That is why he was pretty shocked when his wife was diagnosed with cancer and died the year he turned 65 … just a year after he had bypass surgery to correct the flaw that might have guaranteed that he didn’t live to go through that.  She had made him want to live, and then she was gone.

He was a bigger die hard White Sox fan than me (as an aside my uncle was so South Side that he was a Packers fan, because as a young man he had been a Chicago Cardinals fan when they were the South Side NFL team, and when they left for St. Louis, he was damned he would back a team that played at Wrigley Field .. so he became a Packers fan, making it perhaps the only logical excuse to be a Packers fan).  We went to many games together over the years, and I enjoyed every one of them.

He worked up until 10 years ago, well past retirement age.  He worked for a local grocery chain, and visited their stores regarding produce and fruits … some of those stores were in the Englewood neighborhood which based on statistics alone is not one of the nicer parts of Chicago.  He knew how to handle himself, and never once had a problem walking around.  Sometimes I would pick him up to go to a White Sox game, and he would take me on tours of the different neighborhoods.  He was a great teacher of history.

 

He has lived with depression and loneliness for 23 years, and it took his tole on him.  Parkinson’s was just more burden on him.  He refused to leave his house on the South Side … the neighborhood changed a bit, but it remained safe, and he had no problems with that, and I was always proud that he also seemed to not catch the virus of racism that ran through some of the older (and younger) members of our family.  Once he took a work colleague who was African-American to one of his favorite bars to get a drink, and the bartender gently told him that his friend could get served this one time only. They finished their beers, and he never went back again.

Back in 2006, in the wake of the greatest moment in the 21st century (and Barrack Obama would agree with this), the White Sox created a plaza in front of the stadium where fans could  buy bricks with a donation to charity.  I got one that listed some of our family’s Sox fans, including my uncle and his wife (he wouldn’t have married less).  I showed it to him when we went to a game, and he was shocked to see it, even asking me if this would be there forever. As part of the deal, a duplicate of the brick was sent to him, and he displayed it very prominently at his home.

One of my favorite memories from a Sox game was when we were sitting far out in the bleachers, and a couple of the local drunks started getting into it.  Security showed up to escort one of them away, and while that guy was raining down some curses, the other guy kept shouting “Love you like a brother!”.  My uncle thought this was hilarious, and from then on, phone conversations and face-to-face meetings ended with “God Bless, and Love you like a brother”.

One time I saved up and got him seats behind home plate, because over the decades, he had never sat there.  During the game, he noticed that the waiters were wearing shirts with the red-white-and-blue White Sox logo that they adopted in 1917.  He really liked that, and got us a couple of pins of that logo, and we always wore our matching pins to games after that.

It was at one of the last games we went to that he got very serious and introspective.  He asked me if I had plans to get married, and I told him that this was very unlikely.  He shocked me by telling me that this was likely for the better, because you never want to bury someone you love that much.  He never talked much about his feelings, and it was a rare moment to volunteer something so deep.  I did not wish to challenge him, but I know that deep down he would not have chosen never to never marry, but I think it showed the depth of pain for the loss even 12-15 years later of someone you deeply loved.

In addition to seeing his father die when he was 17, and burying his mother less than a decade after his wife, he lived long enough to see two nephews and a niece (out of five total) die before him.  It was something I know he was never prepared for, because he had known he would die young, and then had to live with something of a curse in out lasting most of them.  My one aunt is crushed now, tearfully saying that she was the last one left … no parents, no aunts or uncles or cousins, and no more of her three brothers and sisters left.

I will miss him greatly, but I am grateful he is finally at peace and will no longer have to deal with the pain and loneliness.

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Film Review: A Quiet Place

April 8, 2018

After working for a few hours on Saturday, I decided to check out A Quiet Place which opened this weekend.  I have been steering away from opening weekend films, but I know that horror films don’t generally do as well, so I figured I wouldn’t be too disturbed by the crowd.  Yes there are spoilers.

Before I continue, I will say this:  are you a woman contemplating that you will get pregnant one day?  Are you the parents of children?  If you answered “yes” to either of those questions, I would recommend that you never see this film.  You have been warned.

The film opens in the year 2020, and on what is called “Day 87”.  It is a violently abandoned ghost town with signs posted for missing persons, toppled stop lights and such.  A family (mom, dad, and three kids … a boy about 3, a boy about 5, and a girl around 10) are barefoot and quietly searching the pharmacy.  The girl is deaf, and has a hearing aid, which necessitates (among other reasons) that the family largely communicate in sign language. As mom searches for pharmaceuticals, the 5 year old climbs a shelf to get a toy space shuttle.  As they are about to leave, the father spies the toy, panics, and gently takes the toy form his son, removes the batteries, and leaves it behind, cautioning his son that the toy is too loud.  As the family leaves, the girl gives to the toy back to the son, and the son gently takes the batteries.

After walking for what appears to be several miles into the woods on the way home, they near a bridge, and as the family crosses, the son who is trailing behind, turns on the toy which emits some loud whistles and beeps.  The family panics as sounds can be heard in the trees.  The father drops everything and runs for his son, but is too late as a large creature streaks from the woods, snatches the boy, and disappears into the woods before the father can do anything.

Fast forward about a year.

We see that the family lives on a small farm with a farmhouse, a barn, and a silo.  Paths of sand mark paths where it is safe to walk, and certain parts of the floorboards are painted to show where to step to avoid creaks.  At night, the father climbs on top of the silo to light a gas signal fire, and sees similar fires appear on the horizon showing that they are not quite alone.

In the basement of the home, dad has an amateur radio hook up, and has been trying to raise anyone around the world without success.  We learn that these creatures are attuned to sound, but lack the sense of vision, and have wiped out much of the Earth’s population.  Their skin has numerous bulletproof exoskeletal plates.  The father has remote cameras hooked up around the vast property, and has determined that there are three such creatures in their area.  Dad has learned some engineering skill, and keeps trying to have working hearing aids for his daughter, but he is not wholly successful.  He has not been able to express his love for his daughter, and she is convinced that she is at fault for her brother’s death.  Mom is also pregnant, and is monitoring her health as her due date approaches.

The surviving son is frightened of their situation, but nonetheless is pressed into service to help his father gather fish from some river traps.  The daughter sees this as a slight against her, and ends up sneaking away to visit the memorial to her brother, leaving mom alone, against her parents’ wishes.

While father and son bond, and son tells dad that he must tell his daughter that he bears her no blame, mom goes into labor, and while running down the stairs steps on a nail, screaming in pain.  One of the creatures instantly shows up at the house, and mom must play a horrible cat and mouse game with the monster while trying to find some place to give birth.  She finally gets upstairs to the bathtub.

As dad and son return, they see mom has switched on the emergency lights, indicating trouble.  Son is dispatched to light off some fireworks from a long burning wick to draw the monsters away, while dad runs to the house.  Just as mom is giving birth and screams with the monster feet away, the fireworks display goes off, and the creatures are drawn away.  Dad gets to his wife and newborn, and rushes them to a hidden underground basement in the barn where they hope they can hide with a newborn.  Even though the creatures pursue them, there is enough sound insulation to protect them.

While daughter is racing home, she, unknowingly, encounters a creature (she can’t hear it, and it is behind her and can’t hear her.  Her hearing aid begins emitting a high frequency sound which even at low volume scares off the monster.

Daughter and son are able to meet up, and decide to wait for their father on top of the silo.   When she falls into the silo, and her brother jumps in to save her, another monster is attracted, but again, her hearing aid’s feedback causes the creature such distress, that it tears through the side of the silo, escaping.

Dad finds the kids, but they are found by another creature.  While the kids are able to hide in a truck, the father draws the monster away, and sacrifices himself for the kids, but not before signing that he loves his daughter.

The kids make it home, and meet up with mom and baby, but it isn’t long before baby makes some noise, attracting a creature.  The family hides in the basement, with mom toting a shotgun, and as the creature enters the basement, daughter is able to trigger her hearing aid.  With the monster in distress, she brings the hearing aid near her father’s microphone, and with the volume turned up, the creature is knocked unconscious, allowing mom to fire a shotgun blast at its head to kill it.

The mother sees on the remote camera monitors two creatures racing toward the house.  She nods to daughter, and cocks the shotgun, waiting to finish the job.

 

Roll credits.

 

This is an intense horror film, and there are particular scenes that I could never describe the tension in enough detail.  Sitting in the theater, you could hear the patrons (women in particular at some points) expressing the tension on the screen.  Here is the shock:  The mom is played by Emily Blunt and the dad (and the film’s director, directing only his second feature film) is played by John Krasinski.  Emily Blunt will be playing Mary Poppins in the long awaited Disney sequel coming soon, and might be best known for her roles in The Devil Wears Prada and Into the Woods.  John Krasinski is known for playing Jim Halpert on the US version of The Office.  Married in real life, this was their first chance to work together.  This is the exact opposite of the comedy/musical films they have been part of in the past, and this film does not really scream “family bonding moment” kind of entertainment.  For all of these reasons, I am pleasantly shocked at how good a film like this film turned out.

From a more technical standpoint, one would guess that the sound technicians would have had a simple time in working on a film that is largely silent.  However, sound is a big part of this film.  The sounds of nature are important backdrops in this film, and as we learn, most of the sounds of  nature don’t attract the creatures, so that humans use this to their advantage.  Music tends to be very understated in this film, allowing the focus to be on the visual of what is happening.

Speaking of visuals, one might guess that the monsters are at the focus of the film, but they aren’t. In many ways, they are generic monsters, suitably threatening when you see them, but not the focus of what is going on.  Much of the visual here is with the expressions on the actors faces.  It is an appreciated challenge to express oneself with physical action and little more than one’s face without over acting or creating confusion with the audience. Visual effects are truly at a minimum, and for a horror film, the gore is also at a minimum. In fact, we are never told where these creatures come from (space aliens?  From the center of the Earth?  A genetics lab? … it is wholly irrelevant, and it is completely ignored).

If the plot is somewhat thin, and the acting is great (albeit restrained) and there are no big visual effects shots, then what makes the film so great (and this is a great film)?  This film is 100% about setting a mood and building and selectively releasing tension.  A segue for a moment:

Quite a few people might be willing to compare this film to Ridley Scott’s Alien or John Carpenter’s The Thing.  Those films, in addition to being gothic horror masterpieces, are also something of a mystery.  Where is the alien?  Who is the alien?  This film dispenses with that.  We know these creatures are around, and sound will bring them coming.  This keeps the focus on the family.  In this sense while all horror films depend on building a degree of tension and dread, this is where A Quiet Place diverges from its classical gothic horror ancestors.

Back to my main point … as you may have guessed from my plot description, even the plot is rather thin … it is a snapshot of a couple of days in the life of a family under dire circumstances about a year apart.  There is no time spent searching for a way to kill the creatures … no desperate search for a safe place or a call to the military to save them.  The family is one of the most ordinary families you can find on film.  This is not a family of explorers or heroes or technicians and scientists.  This helps make the family very relatable, which I think is important since there is not a lot of character development.  This isn’t even a compelling “survival” story.  The whole point here is a measured raising and lowering of tension and mood to control what the audience is feeling.  In this, Krasinski hits a home run.

I think some of the best horror films prey on those things in our psyche that we can’t help … almost like a psychological bondage experience.  In John Carpenter’s The Thing, human familiarity and recognition are preyed on … what happens when everything you assume about the people around you (as in, they are actually human) is suddenly suspect … the feeling is horribly uncomfortable, and the audience begins to live that with the characters.  In Alien‘s best scene, the wonders of the miracle of birth are transferred with suddenness and shock to a male.  It is not something that is supposed to happen, and the violence of birth that women are designed to take takes on a new meaning when it is a male giving birth. What is natural and even joyful for one person is not so for another.

The “birth scene” will easily rank among the great scenes in horror film history.  Not having gone through child birth as a participant or witness, I can’t imagine what fears and anxieties a mother-to-be must be go through but rumor has it that child birth is loud and to some degree physically traumatic … now imagine having to go through this natural process that you have carefully planned for, alone, in complete silence, and having to somehow silence your child upon birth under threat of imminent evisceration.  It forces the audience to feel an emotion that is none to pleasant, and for that it is a remarkable scene.

Is there a weakness to the film?  Yeah … it isn’t perfect.  One wonders that for creatures that use sound so acutely that some scientist would have figured out their weakness before society was doomed (from newspaper articles, and missing persons posters, we learn that this cataclysm did not happen overnight).

This film relies on no mere jump scares, and there is no twist ending or post-credits epilogue.  A Quiet Place is what it is, and that is a first-rate psychological horror film that also happens to be a top notch gothic horror film … a rare combination!  You will leave having experienced something, even if that “something” is eerie dread.


“2001: A Space Odyssey” reaches 50

April 2, 2018

I have been busy, but it came across my desk today that 50 years ago, today, 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered to less than enthusiastic crowds.  To me, it represents the best science fiction film I’ve ever seen, with Blade Runner coming in second.

In 2001, we see proto-humans, with some alien intervention, take the critical step away from extinction and toward humanity.  In the distant future, a lunar expedition uncovers an alien device which beams a radio signal to Jupiter when it is uncovered.  A team of astronauts is then sent to Jupiter to discover what that alien device was trying to contact.  En route, the artificial intelligence running the space ship malfunctions, killing all but one crew member.  That crew member, upon reaching Jupiter, passes through a portal, and upon reaching the other side, evolves into a higher form of life.

2001’s themes deal with the evolution of humanity in relation not so much to its environment, but in relation to its technology, and that in taking the next evolutionary step, mankind is very much childlike in not understanding the full repercussions of that technology.

One of the things I appreciate about 2001 is that it is not an easy film to watch.  It is not a film one watches over and over again.  It is a deeply philosophical work, but manages to raise philosophical questions without many words.  While Stanley Kubrick is very much a film maker who revels in creating perfect shots on screen, he had never before worked so visually and so independently of the written word in his career.

2001 is an amazingly beautiful film.  Some of the primitive visual effects have held up remarkably well over the decades.  Coming out the same year as Planet of the Apes, John Chambers (later of Canadian Caper fame) won an honorary Oscar for his remarkable work on the ape makeup. When 2001 was not afforded a similar honor, allegedly they were told that they weren’t eligible since they used real apes in the film (the ape-men in the opening scene were remarkably made-up mimes who do a remarkable job of bringing our ancestors to life).  Kubrick rejected Alex North’s score, and used classical music, most famously the “Sunrise” fanfare for the opening of Richard Strauss’ tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra, and Johann Strauss II’s On the Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz.  The music helped give the proper emotional tone … sometimes grandiose, sometimes somber, and sometimes romantic … to the film that otherwise was accused of being without emotion … except perhaps for awe in the face of something larger than humanity itself.

While sadly Stanley Kubrick was not much of one to give interviews, Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote the screenplay, kept an entire diary of his work and dealings with Kubrick, and published them in a book called The Lost Worlds of 2001. While 2001 raises many questions without answering them, Clarke’s recollections give some fascinating insights into the process of film-making.

We learn that Kubrick did not set off with much more than wanting to create the “proverbial great science fiction film”, and approached Clarke to give him some ideas.  Clarke started with a short story entitled “The Sentinel” which he had published years earlier.  The story is very recognizable as the middle part of 2001, with astronauts finding an alien device buried on the moon.  From there, Clarke and Kubrick developed the first and third acts with the deeper themes.  All the while, Clarke educated Kubrick about science and technology while Kubrick educated Clarke about film-making.

Technology is a big part of the story.  Humanity learns to survive by creating weapons, and learning to defend themselves.  Millennia later, those now far more advanced weapons threaten to destroy humanity unless humanity fundamentally changes.  Clarke and Kubrick brilliantly didn’t make the story so overtly about weapons.  Instead, the piece of technology that threatens humanity is artificial intelligence, represented in the film by the HAL-9000 computer.  Like any computer, HAL can only follow his programming, but when that programming gives him conflicting orders at a deep level, his uncertainty and paranoia drive him to madness.  In HAL we see a tremendous, almost magical creation, but one that is far too powerful to be controlled by humanity because humanity has not thought through all of the potential problems in wielding such technology.  In choosing to show an otherwise helpful piece of technology as the “villain”, it negated arguments over weapons and disarmament that might have otherwise bogged down human uncertainty over the use of our own technology.

I will need to get 2001 into my viewing rotation, soon, and if you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to try it at least once.


Review – Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

January 7, 2018

If you haven’t seen it, don’t read it.  This one comes by a bit of special request, so as I finally get over my illness that has taken up most of the last week of my Break, here we go …

The <s>Rebels</s> Resistance are on the run from their base where we left them at the end of Episode VII.   They are small in number, trying to get the word out for help in the wake of the destruction of the Republic’s government.  The <s>Empire</s> First Order has a new ship .. a Dreadnought (from the French for “bad ass ship that vaporizes everything with basically one shot”).  Poe Dameron and BB-8 in their X-wing managed to comically hold off the Dreadnaught to buy critical time for the evacuation.  General Leia Organa (Carrie Fischer, for the last time) orders Dameron back, as he takes out the anti-fighter cannons on the dreadnaught, and Resistance bombers go in for the attack.  The attack succeeds in taking out the Dreadnaught, but it costs the Resistance every one of their bombers.  Dameron gets busted down in rank by Leia for reckless behavior.  The Resistance <s>warps</s> jumps away into hyperspace.

Meanwhile … on the distant planet Ahch-To …

… Luke accepts the light saber from Rey, and throws it over the edge of the cliff for Rey to get later.  Rey informs Luke that she is there on behalf of his sister to bring him back to the Resistance to spark support needed support.  Luke wants nothing to do with her, and won’t even communicate with her until Chewbacca, literally, smashes down his door, and warms up Luke … prompting the sad question “Where’s Han?”.

Luke and Rey get off to a rocky start, but Luke finally volunteers a few lessons.  It turns out the tiny island he is on is an early Jedi temple, and contains some of the first Jedi texts.  Luke tells Rey that Kylo Ren had been one of his students, and that he saw a dark corruption growing in him.  One night, he confronted Kylo, and Kylo turned on him, killing some of the students, and taking others with him.  He also explains that he has learned that the Jedi order was horribly misguided … that while they were good, they were also blind and arrogant, and not really about finding balance.

… Meanwhile the Resistance fleet has hit a problem.  Despite making jumps into hyperspace, the First Order fleet is somehow tracking them and following them, and have picked up a new dreadnaught.  Oh … and they are running low on fuel.  They decided to keep going without jumping to hyperspace, keeping just out of firing range as much as possible.  During the attempt to get away, Leia is seriously hurt and Admiral Ackbar is killed (moment of silence), and is replaced by Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern).  Poe doesn’t trust her, and he, Finn, and another worker named Rose hatch a plan to escape to find a master code breaker who will help get them onto the Dreadnaught, and de-activate the tracking device tracking the Resistance fleet … but they need to get there and back before the fleet runs out of fuel.

… Rey has begun to mentally connect with Kylo, and Kylo gives her a different story.  Luke confirms to Rey that he had lied to her.  He had not gone to Kylo that night to confront him about the growing darkness he had sensed …. instead, sensing that Kylo had been corrupted with Snoke’s darkness, Luke went to kill him. While Luke changed his mind, Kylo awoke and was only defending himself when he attacked Luke.  Rey cannot believe this, and decides to leave.  She and Chewbacca leave Luke alone,and Luke is convinced that it is time for the Jedi order to finally end.  The force ghost of Master Yoda appears, and agrees with Luke, lecturing him that he too has been arrogant by not growing from his failure.  On the way back to the fleet, Rey decides that she can redeem Kylo Ren, and takes an escape pod from the Millennium Falcon to Kylo’s dreadnaught, just at about the time that Poe, Finn, Rose, and their code breaker are arriving to shut down the tracker.

Kylo takes Rey before Snoke, where Snoke reveals that he has manipulated Kylo to make it easier to entice Rey to come so that she can work for them now.  She won’t have this, and Snoke begins to torture her.  In return, Kylo kills Snoke, and Rey and Snoke kill his guards.  Kylo asks Rey to join him to rule the galaxy.  She asks him to join her.  They both refuse, but not before we learn about Rey’s parents from Kylo … that Rey knew all along her parents were alcoholic nobodys who sold her into slavery to get drinking money … a memory she had suppressed but that Kylo had recovered during their mental contact.  They fight over Rey’s light saber (actually Annakin’s and Luke’s light saber), and it is destroyed, but Kylo is knocked out as Rey escapes.

The Resistance Fleet is being thinned out, and Admiral Holdo decides to abandon the last ship by loading everyone onto escape ships that can’t be detected by the First Order, to land on a nearby planet that has an abandoned Rebel Base.  Holdo elects to stay behind and keep the attention of the First Order fleet.

Finn, Poe, Rose, and their code breaker sneak aboard the Dreadnaught, and get to the tracking system before they are caught, and the code breaker turns on them, negotiating his release by offering the First Order a way to track the Resistance escape craft.

As the First Order begins attacking the escape craft, Admiral Holdo uses the last of her fuel to jump right through the Dreadnaught, breaking the ship and destroying most of the rest of the First Order fleet.  In the chaos, Rey, Finn, Rose, and Poe escape to the planet.

Kylo Ren is now the Supreme Leader of the First Order, and he orders a ground assault on the Resistance base to kill them all as the Resistance attempts to send a signal rallying others to their cause.  As the First Order forces land and begin attacking, Luke appears at the base, and walks out alone calling out Kylo Ren.  Ren comes forward and the two battle as Luke buys time for the Resistance to escape one more time.  Eventually, Ren runs his light saber through Luke … and nothing happens.  Kylo is shocked!  Kylo stabs him again, but finds he is only a force projection.

Back on Ahch-To, Luke is expending tremendous power to project himself across the galaxy.  As his image disappears in front of Kylo Ren, the real Luke is clearly stressed, and looks to the horizon at a pair of setting suns … much like on his native Tattoine.  We then see Luke vanish as his cloak drops to the ground.  Luke Skywalker is dead.

The Resistance escapes, but all seems dark.  Leia says that they have all they need to continue … as Rey discovers that Luke had placed the Jedi texts in the Millennium Falcon before they left.

Roll credits.

 

My first impression is that Last Jedi is at the very least a different kind of film with a different kind of feel from other Star Wars films.  As more than a few people pointed out, Force Awakens had a main plot that was largely borrowed from New Hope and Return of the Jedi.  While certain elements were clearly borrowed from Empire Strikes Back, this was something new.

That all said, I felt that this was a bit of a messy film.  Maybe some of this gets cleaned up in the last chapter, and I’m willing to, for the moment, allow that to go. but after watching the film was I was kind of left with asking myself “What was the point here?”

The central plot, the idea of the Resistance fleet slow running from the First Order fleet, just bordered on the silly!  I’ll accept that the smaller Resistance ships could go a little faster (even though they couldn’t get much further away after hours of running), but it seems that the First Order could jump some ships ahead of them and wiped them out.  This just didn’t seem to make sense, and no real explanations were given.

I had read an interview that Mark Hamill had strongly disagreed with how his character had been written, and I couldn’t agree with him more!   Luke came across as an old coot.  I totally get that he had lost his confidence, but his reaction to Rey was just foolish!  He saw what happened when people like him weren’t careful when a highly force sensitive individual … so what is he thinking about taking such an individual and turning her loose on the galaxy without any guidance whatsoever … especially one who is kind of in the same position he was (known to the bad guys as being a force sensitive individual, and is going against them) … they either end up dead or turned!  Not once did Luke say “hey, sorry, but at this point you either need to permanently lay low, and here’s why”.  He was really taking a senile coward’s approach.  I am hoping that we will see Luke as a force ghost in the last film, but if this was the final appearance of Luke Skywalker … he kind of went out in a really poor way!

While you can’t have it all, Finn got underused, and Poe Dameron got swatted around a bit by his superiors … we’ll call that “maturing” to try and think positive thoughts!

Maz Kanata (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o), who I thought was one of the great characters from the last film, makes a brief appearance in this film, but we need to see more of her, AND we need an answer to how she got Luke/Annakin’s light saber in the first place!!  This is a character with a whole lot of backstory that needs to come out!

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was in how Rey was handled.  Daisy Ridley continues to do a great job portraying the character, but it seems like the writing left a lot out.  Empire Strikes Back spent a great deal of time on Luke’s training.  Rey’s limited training is GREATLY glossed over in this film.  We really don’t see the character mature much, and by film’s end, she is a bit stronger, but we still have a largely untrained jedi who seems perhaps even more broken than before.  Maybe this was done to prevent too much or a parallel between her character and Luke in the original trilogy.  Still, I, like so many other fans, was really looking forward to seeing Luke become the teacher and Rey as his student, and that did not really happen.

The character of Rose was a nice addition, and has a nice story.  I really liked her addition, though I am worried after seeing Finn not get developed further in this film that Rose might get left behind after a great start here.  The role of Admiral Holder was another great addition, and Laura Dern did a great job with the limited material giving the character a certain mystery and concrete strength that made her performance as a graceful military leader very believable.

Yes … it was comforting to see  and hear Yoda again (Frank Oz … who else?).  In fact, Yoda may have had the best lines of the whole film.  That’s good on one hand, but it also highlights a great weakness of the film.

The cinematography was really good.  It lacks quite a bit of the great epic action scenes of the previous films, but it makes up for it in other ways.  The brief final battle on a salt plain was beautifully shot with bold colors.  I also give props for a new setting – Finn, Poe, and Rose find their code breaker in a city that is the galactic equivalent of Monaco … a remarkably high class looking city dominated by a higher class casino.  This was another really well photographed setting that was something different in terms of an exotic and otherworldly setting that all of the Star Wars films have been great at doing.

On top of that … Episode VIII managed to do something well that the entire prequel trilogy couldn’t do well.  I think one of the positive attempts Lucas made in that prequel trilogy was bringing attention to the root of evil (not money, but greed) .. that is bankers and business interests who lack heart … it is those groups who were manipulated to causing all of the problems in the prequel trilogy, but it really got lost in the mucketty-muck of the films … people moaned and complained that the start of Star Wars mythology was in fucking TRADE DISPUTES??  COMMERCIAL TREATIES!!???  The truth is, things like dishonest businesses (like the Dutch East India Company) and resource access (Iran-Iraq War, Mexican War, Japan’s invasion of China) ARE the start of problems.  In this film, their visit to the casino city, brings up the point that many of these people are the financiers and weapons manufacturers who are selling weapons to the First Order (and as we learn, also to the Resistance).  In this case, the point was more subtle and more poignant:  cut off the financing and weapons, and it is hard to fight a war (is now a good time to mention that the United States exports more weapons than any other country … and that heavy weapons exports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, are at the highest rate since 1991? … sound like nations are gearing up for a fight??? Sadly, yes!)

Before wrapping up, I’ll end on this note.  Many months ago, BBC had a huge secret announcement when Jodie Whittaker was announced as the new Doctor … the first woman to play the title character in the 50+ year history of Doctor Who.  I loved the call! Most people do.  Yet, the sexist trolls have absolutely come over the walls screaming about political correctness and social justice warriors ruining EVERYTHING!  No one has said “boo” about Star Wars despite this being the current lineup:

Rey (white woman), Finn (Afro-British), Maz Kanata (Afro-Mexican woman), Leia (made her last appearance, but white woman), Admiral Holder (white woman), Rose (Vietnamese-American woman).  In fact, the only white men are the bad guys (Kylo Ren and Snoke, now dead), and Luke (now dead) and Chewbacca and C-3PO (and you don’t see none of theme under their costumes).  In a very quiet way, Star Wars became the poster child for “You can have a cast that is mostly not white males, and still hit the jackpot”).  I mean, if the galaxy is going to be diverse from an alien standpoint, it never made much sense that the human-like people were incredibly un-diverse).

 

In short, Episode VIII continues the trend of outstanding technical and artistic achievement (and like the original trilogy, a great job of casting).  The look is not a problem here, and neither is the acting.  The problem with this film seems to have been in its conceptualization.  I’m still a bit perplexed with what the point was here?  It wasn’t Rey’s training.  It wasn’t in defeating the First Order.  After Episode V, we knew Episode VI would set up a final climactic battle with Vader and Luke.  After Episode II, we knew Episode III was going to end with Annakin becoming Vader (OK, some of us knew that back in 1978).  I suppose that Kylo will have to be stopped, but there still seems to be a long way to go before we can get there, and it seems like things will need to be rushed in the last film.

 

 

 


Trivia: Those we lost in 2017

December 30, 2017

Maybe not as bad as 2016 … but 2017 had its share of people who move on … here are some you may have missed, or some unknown trivia about those whom you knew:

  • The first notable death of 2017 was a father of 21, the subject of a documentary, and was solely responsible for or complicit in three deaths … this is noted non-fish, Tilikum, the Sea World orca.  Even though Tilikum is a Chinook name, Tilikum was captured near Iceland.  When first brought to Vancouver, Tilikum was “bullied” by other ocras in captivity.  Tilikum’s first death, a college marine biology student, was actually a group effort, as several of the orcas kept dragging him to the bottom, and then preventing him from grabbing a life line thrown to him.  It was the death of trainer Dawn Bracncheau that led to the documentary Blackfish, which likely led to a sharp decline in attendance and sponsorship for orca shows, in addition to legislation that pressured ending the shows in California in 2016.  As of now, only four recorded deaths have ever been attributed to orcas … and Tilikum had a hand in three of them.
  • Clare Holingworth was a pioneering British reporter who had been there and done that … flying into Vietnam with US forces and covering revolution in Algeria and Romania.  Most importantly, Hollingworth was in Western Poland, and reported seeing Nazi forces massing near the border, and then was a witness when Nazi panzers rolled over the frontier.  She is generally credited as being the first correspondent to alert the world that World War II in Europe had begun.  She called the British embassy in Warsaw, and when they refused to believe it, she shoved the phone out the window, picking up the sound of explosions before running to Romania to get away.  Holingworth was 105.
  • William Peter Blatty was finally able to pursue his dream as a writer after he won $10,000 from Groucho Marx on the game show You Bet Your Life in 1961. After writing some comic novels, he started collaborating with Blake Edwards, including writing the script for the second Pink Panther film, A Shot in the Dark.  Of course, he isn’t remembered for any of that because he later turned to a story he had heard from one of his professors, a priest at Georgetown University, to write what would be his magnum opus, The Exorcist (and then won an Oscar for adapting the novel into the screenplay of the first horror film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar).  Blatty also spent time working for the Air Force in the Psychological Operations Division and U.S. Information Agency in Beirut where he met British archaeologist Gerald Lankester Harding, who became one of the inspirations for Father Merrin, the archaeologist-priest who performs the exorcism in the novel.
  • Eugene Cernan was one of Chicago’s very own, and sadly for some time will have the honor of being the last man to have walked on the moon – as commander of Apollo 17, he was the last to leave the lunar surface, doing so behind his partner, geologist Harrison Schmitt.  Not as well known as Neil Armstrong’s first words, it was Cernan who spoke the final words from the moon: We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.  Unlike aerospace engineer Neil Armstrong, Cernan was an electrical engineer … though the first and last man on the moon were both graduates of Purdue University.  Shortly before leaving, Cernan bent down and using his finger traced the letters TDC into the dust of the lunar surface … the initials of his only daughter, Teresa Dawn Cernan.  Cernan had earlier piloted the Apollo 10 lunar module to within 10 miles of the lunar surface, and only he, Jim Lovell (of Apollo 13 fame) and John Young visited the moon twice, and only he and Young ever got to land and go for a walk.
  • George Clooney lost a cousin since the son of his aunt Rosemary Clooney and uncle, José Ferrer, Miguel Ferrer died in January 2017.  Of Puerto Rican heritage from his father’s side, Ferrer was in on a lot of Hollywood’s action – one of his early roles was the helmsman of the USS Excelsior in Star Trek III, before moving on to being the inventor of the title automaton in Robocop, an intelligence agent in Hot Shots! Part Deux, and even dipped a toe into the Marvel Cinematic Universe pool by playing the duplicitous vice president in Iron Man 3.  On television he was known for playing in NCIS: Los Angeles, and for his recurring role on the short-lived cult series Twin Peaks, a role he had started filming again for the 2017 revival.  Before acting, he was a drummer, and was good enough to play drums on the album Two Sides of the Moon;  the only solo album ever released by fellow drummer, Keith Moon, and a gig which Ferrer shared with Ringo Starr.
  • Once upon a time, women on TV could only do a few different jobs (housewife, teacher, waitress, maid among them) … and choices of marital status were either married or widowed.  Mary Tyler Moore changed that with her spunky single woman who helped produce the news in Minneapolis. Despite 40 years passing, her eponymous show remains the only comedy in history to win 5 Emmys for Outstanding Comedy series.  In real life, despite playing one of the great fictional symbols for women’s liberation, Mary Tyler Moore was a Republican … something her co-star and passionate Democrat Ed Asner was only able to tolerate until Moore supported Sara Palin.
  • My favorite film of all-time is Alien (the 1979 horror film, not the almost-as-good 1986 action sequel), and one of the most intense, shocking scenes in film history is the famed “Chestburster” scene, a scene based on the idea of what it would be like if a male had been raped and had to go through childbirth minus absolutely anything positive, and with the horrible negatives magnified.  The actor who gave birth to the title creature was John Hurt.  From a genre standpoint, Hurt was not cheated in his career – in addition to featuring in one of film’s all-time great scenes, he earned an Oscar nomination for the film Midnight Express (Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?) … he voiced Aragorn in the 1978 animated version of The Lord of the Rings … he played Jesus in History of the World, Part I … Winston Smith in the 1984 version of Ninteen Eighty-Four (he got to play the evil dictator in V for Vendetta, so he got to see dystopia from both sides) … and joined three franchises late in live … creating the role of Mr. Ollivander in the Harry Potter series … Professor Broom in Hellboy, and Professor Harold Oxley in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.   Hurt also got the opportunity to play the Doctor as his one hidden incarnation, the War Doctor, in Doctor Who, but his greatest role might be one he is all but forgotten for because of the layers of makeup he wore … Hurt earned an Oscar nomination for playing John Merrick, the title character in the Oscar nominated film, The Elephant Man.  Oh yes … he did reprise that role from Alien one more time
  • In 1955, Masaya Nakamura founded an entertainment company with two small mechanical horse rides for kids at a Tokyo department store, but grew it into NAMCO.  By 1980, Nakamura’s company had entered the coin-op game craze, and it was one of Nakamura’s engineers, Toru Iwatani, who approached him with a very simple game.  In Japan, it was Puck Man, but in the US, it became Pac-Man because of the fear that people would vandalize the game by changing the “P” to an “F”.  Nakamura’s company marketed and sold what Guinness has certified as the most successful video arcade game in the history of gaming.
  • In the wake of the success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, that film’s Oscar winning producer and TV heartthrob, Michael Douglas, stepped down from his starring role on the TV series The Streets of San Francisco.  His replacement was a young actor named Richard Hatch, who would best be known for creating the role of beloved son and classic hero, Apollo, in the Mormon inspired original TV series Battlestar Galactica.  Hatch wrote several novels based on the TV series, and produced his own short film which he hoped would generate interest in recreating the series … something that left him upset when his ideas were rejected, and Ronald D. Moore arrived to recreate the series in epic fashion in 2002.  Hatch and Moore met, and Moore had Hatch cast in the amazing role of political terrorist Tom Zarek which was a stand out role in the series.  Hatch’s last role was as a Klingon commander in the awesome Prelude to Axanar, a fan-made Star Trek film that was recently the subject of a lawsuit.
  • In 1930 when the John G. Shedd Aquarium opened in Chicago as part of its preparations to host the Century of Progress World’s Fair in 1933, the director wanted some exotic and rare species to inhabit this first inland aquarium with a permanent salt water collection.  In 1933, Grandad, the first Australian lungfish to go on display in the U.S. arrived from the Land Down Under, and from the era of Al Capone and FDR to the end of the Obama administration, Grandad quietly occupied his tank at the Shedd where over 10 million visitors have seen him over the decades.  When Grandad died in January, he was recognized as the oldest fish held in captivity at any aquarium in the world.
  • Major League Baseball owners aren’t always known for social progressiveness, but occasionally one will show acts of kindness.  Mike Ilitch had been the owner of the Detroit Tigers since 1992 and the Detroit Red Wings since 1982 (oh … and he founded Little Caesar’s Pizza … but we won’t hold that against him).  In 1994, Rosa Parks (yes, that Rosa Parks), was assaulted at her home in Detroit.  Ilitch paid for her to relocate to a safer neighborhood, and then picked up her rent thereafter.
  • Back in the hey-day of the World Wrestling Federation, George “the Animal” Steele was one of the organization’s more peculiar stars … so-named for his hair covered body, green tongue, and his tendency to randomly eat the stuffing from the turnbuckles.  That said, William James Myers (his actual name) earned a degree from Michigan State and a grad degree from Central Michigan and for a time was a high school teacher and real wrestling coach, but I will remember him for his one noted film role … Steele played the Swedish actor Tor Johnson in the criminally under-appreciated film Ed Wood, which saw Steele play one of the larger members of Wood’s stable of regular actors … the cast included Johnny Depp in one of his better performances, Bill Murray, Lisa Marie, and (in his Oscar-winning role as Bela Lugosi) Martin Landau.
  • Norma McCorvey’s life may have started very ordinary, but when she became pregnant for the third time after being forced to sign away custody to her first child and giving up the second to adoption, her choice to seek an abortion created for her and the country a maelstrom that makes Jupiter’s Great Red Spot pale in comparison.  When denied the chance to abort, McCorvey was counseled to file suit in the District Court of Northern Texas, specifically targeting the Dallas County District Attorney, Henry Wade, and doing so under the pseudonym, Jane Roe.  The federal court unanimously found that the Texas ban on abortion was unconstitutional, and the case of Roe v. Wade was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court.  As a side note, one of the judges on the District Court of North Texas who was party to that unanimous decision was Judge Sarah T. Hughes who seven years earlier had been rushed to Air Force One at Love Field to swear in Lyndon B. Johnson as president after the assassination of John Kennedy;  still the only woman to ever swear in a president.  In the 1990s, after spending most of the 1970s and 80s supporting abortion rights, McCorvey converted to evangelical Christianity before later converting to Catholicism because of her distaste for their confrontational style of dealing with abortion, though still supporting the right to life cause.  She was one of a few protesters arrested after protesting at the confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor.
  • The Russian Ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, led an interesting life. As a young man, he appeared in a handful of films as a child actor (all Soviet films), before going on to the university.  He was a junior member of the Soviet embassy staff in Washington in the 1980s, and became the first representative of the Soviet government to appear before a Congressional committee, when the Congress asked the Soviets to send someone to testify on the Chernobyl disaster … an “honor” he earned because his command of English was the best among the staff.  He was fluent in Russian, English, French, and Mongolian.
  • It was very sadly, “Game over, man” for Bill Paxton who starred in just about all of James Cameron’s films, and was as adept at adding just the right amount of humor or drama to a role. He was the only really positive part of Titanic, was beyond hilarious in True Lies, a tour-de-force in Aliens, and brought astronaut Fred Haise to life in Apollo 13 (and inspired a few future meteorologists with his lead role in Twister).  Paxton was born and raised in Ft. Worth, Texas, and it was there when he was eight years old that he was taken to the Hotel Texas on the morning of November 22, 1963 to see President Kennedy leave a meeting before boarding Air Force One for Dallas.  There’s a picture of him being held on someone’s shoulders at the Sixth Floor Museum.  Also, before he got too much into acting, he starred in and directed short films, including one of the most bizarre music videos in human history.  A few weeks after his death, hundreds of storm chasers who remember him for his film, Twister, paid tribute by going out on the road and turning their GPS devices on to light up the weather radar across Tornado Alley.
  • On the same day we lost Bill Paxton, we also lost Joseph Wapner, who after serving as a judge for 20 years on the Los Angeles Municipal and Superior Courts, became the star of a new show in 1981, The People’s Court.  While a bit hokey, the formula he started worked, and the show has been on in one form or another for over 30 years .. with numerous similar “real life” court shows that followed in its footsteps.  Apparently, there is some truth to Wapner having dated Lana Turner when he was in high school … that was before he went off to war and earned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star while fighting in the Philippines.
  • One could say that the Rolling Stones all started when a very young Mick Jagger and Keith Richards first got together to listen and discuss the new sound from across the pond … the music of Chuck Berry.  It wasn’t only the Stones who Berry influenced, with none other than the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame recognizing him as the first person to put together the essentials of country/western and essentials of rhythm and blues to give birth to the essentials of the new musical genre that would so influence the next few decades of world music, and in one interview, John Lennon suggested that it might be more appropriate to just call rock-and-roll “Chuck Berry”.  With songs like “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music”, his place as a pioneer in Rock and American music is firmly cemented for all time, not only as a great writer and performer, but as an influence on the rock stars of the 60s, 70s, and beyond … and I literally mean beyond.  In 1977, the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft were launched to visit the outer solar system, and today continue into the void of interstellar space … bound to be one of the ultimate monuments that our species ever existed long after we are gone.  Aboard each probe was a golden record which contained a recording of language and sounds of Earth, in addition to a cross section of music from around the world.  The only rock-and-roll piece included on the record was Chuck Berry singing his signature song, “Johnny B. Goode”.  Perhaps long after the Earth is gone, some alien intelligence will be able to still enjoy Chuck and a song that only a white suburban teenager could have come up with.
  • When David Rockefeller died at age 101, he was the last living grandchild of famed Standard Oil founder, John D. Rockefeller, and thus the caretaker of the immense fortune and holdings of one of America’s pre-eminent rich and powerful families.  While his brother briefly served as vice-president under Gerald Ford and another brother became the first GOP governor of Arkansas since the end of Reconstruction, David kept his feet planted in business, becoming the caretaker of the vast Rockefeller fortune.  Holding a PhD in economics from Chicago, his best known legacy is sadly no longer with us … it was David Rockefeller who approached the Port Authority of New York in the early 1960s to push for the construction of the World Trade Center (the plan had been voted for some ten years earlier, but the plan had stalled until Rockefeller got behind it).  Worth just north of $3 billion at his death, Rockefeller donated over $900 million in his life time … roughly $24,000-a-day for every day he lived.
  • When Jerry Krause was transferred from “White Sox scout” to “General Manager of the Chicago Bulls” in 1985, His Airness was already on the team, but it was Krause who gave the greatest basketball player in history most of his supporting cast to win six championships.  Krause drafted Horace Grant, and then stole Scottie Pippen from Seattle after the Supersonics drafted him (might that deal have doomed the Supersonics to Oklahoma City?) to give the team two of its major playing pieces for the early 1990s.  In case you are thinking Krause was a Jordan puppet as some have alleged, keep in mind that Krause overruled Jordan on keeping Charles Oakley, and traded him to New York for Big Bill Cartwright.  During the 1992 Dream Team run at the Olympics, Jordan’s hatred of Krause was expressed in his attempt to humiliate a particular Croatian in the gold medal game whom Krause had been openly courting … good thing Jordan’s plan didn’t work that time, because Toni Kukoč later became a starter for the Bulls during their second string of three championships.  The trivia for Krause:  Back in 1967, Krause was a scout for the Baltimore Bullets, and he pushed hard to draft a particular player whom the Bullets ultimately passed on.  The Bullets drafted Jimmy Jones in the second round that year, and the Knicks nabbed Krause’s pick – North Dakota’s very own Phil Jackson, whom Krause would later bring in as an assistant before handing him the keys to one of North American sports’ greatest dynasties.  Of course, Jerry Krause’s greatest contribution to sport had nothing to do with the Bulls: Krause was the scout who pushed for the White Sox to trade off Cy Young Award winning pitcher LaMaar Hoyt to get a particular shortstop he had been watching in the Padres organization … he was the member of the Sox crew who first noticed young Venezuelan shortstop Ozzie Guillen, who would later manage the White Sox to their 2005 World Series championship.  It seems Krause can claim a hand in a World Series championship, too!
  • The world would be a bland place without some strange and interesting people to come along every so often and keep the rest of us on our toes, which may partially explain the existence of Chuck Barris.  Barris will always be known for his creation of and hosting The Gong Show, but he also developed and produced other quirky competition shows such as The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game (he had 21 produced shows to his credit;  21 more than I ever did).  In addition to some light work as a songwriter, Barris became a prose writer, and no book quite got everyone’s attention as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, in which Barris claimed to have worked as a CIA operative throughout most of his TV career, with over 30 confirmed kills to his résumé.  Like much of Barris’ work, it was so batshit unbelievable that it wrapped completely around to be barely believable.  George Clooney turned it into a really entertaining film in 2002 with Sam Rockwell playing Barris.  The CIA denied that Barris ever worked for them … but then, wouldn’t you expect them to deny that????
  • Hardly sitting still at age 90, the Merchant of Venom, Mr. Warmth, Don Rickles had shows  scheduled for November 2017 and February 2018 when he passed away in April, less than a month after celebrating his 52nd wedding anniversary.  Embraced by generations for his insult humor, Rickles was known to older generations for his appearances on TV and occasionally in film, but younger generations will remember him for voicing Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story franchise.  Rickles had already recorded his voice for Toy Story 4, which will be his final performance when the film is released in 2019.  This is in contrast to Rickle’s film debut in 1958, the World War II drama Run Silent, Run Deep in which he appeared with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.
  • Dan Rooney may have gotten where he was because of his dad, but he did create his own path in life.  Dan’s dad, Art Rooney, was the founder of the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers, and that allowed Dan to move up the ladder in management.  The Steelers, the perpetual doormat of the NFL, saw a huge change when Dan hired coach Chuck Noll in 1969, a leadership change that would bring the Steelers to the elite of professional sports ever since.  In addition to being a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Rooney served as Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland for three years during the Obama administration, and created the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature which gives 10,000 euro to an outstanding Irish writer (rumor has it, there have been a few good Irish writers).  Perhaps Rooney’s most famous accomplishment was drafting a rule in the NFL which required teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and executive openings, a rule that is today called the “Rooney Rule“, and which has accelerated the hiring of quality candidates for those jobs.
  • When Emma Morano passed in April, she was quite literally the last person of her kind.  One of the oldest people on record, Morano died at the age of 117 years and 137 days old, dating from her birth on 29 November 1899, the last known person in the world to have been born in the 1800s.  She worked in an Italian boarding school kitchen until the age of 75, and credited her longevity to her diet of eggs and staying single.
  • Prior to 1991, Jonathan Demme was mostly remembered for two off-beat dramadies: Melvin and Howard and Swing Shift.  In 1991, that all changed with a string of historic films starting with The Silence of the Lambs, which became only the third film in history to win Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, and Screenplay, Philadelphia (Tom Hanks’ first Oscar winner), and the 1998 adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Beloved.  Demme’s last major film was the criminally underrated Rachel Getting Married, which earned Anne Hathaway her first Oscar nomination.  It was on the set of Swing Shift where Kurt Russell met Goldie Hawn, and while the pair never married, they have blissfully lived together ever since.  Most of Demme’s actual film work is short films and music videos, but he invested heavily in talent in front of the camera:  despite not having a large output of feature films, he directed 8 different actors to Oscar nominations, four of whom won the prize for work in his films.
  • Erin Moran, despite initial claims by former co-star and Trump mouthpiece Scott Baio, did not die due to any illicit drugs, but rather she died of untimely cancer.  Moran, most famous for playing the unbelievably cute and preppy Joannie Cunnigham on Happy Days, was not known for her film work, but she did star in one notable cult classic, the 1981 Roger Corman film Galaxy of Terror.  A scifi-horror-exploitation film from 1981, Galaxy of Terror is notable because Roger Corman, the master of low budget scifi-horror (and occasional exploitation) took special notice of one of his workers on this film, who solved a lot of engineering problems for low cost.  Corman promoted him, and while Erin Moran did not graduate to a great film career, James Cameron did!  On a side note, while Cameron was a unit director on this film, he also got to meet one of the peon set dressers … the one and only Bill Paxton whom Cameron would cast in Aliens five years later.
  • Great umpires are supposed to be barely noticed at all, but Steve Palermo was a little different.  His career as an American League umpire stretched from the “Bronx Zoo” year of 1977, to 1991, the same year The Sporting News ranked him the number one umpire in baseball.  In July of that year, he was out for a late dinner with another umpire after a Texas Rangers game, when someone ran into the restaurant saying that two waitresses were being mugged.  Palermo and his partner ran out and chased the thieves, but he took a bullet to his his spinal cord, paralyzing him below the waist, and ending his umpiring career.  Despite being told he would likely never walk again, Palermo did get the use of his legs back in time to throw out the first pitch at Game 1 of the 1991 World Series, a rare honor for a former umpire.  ESPN honored him with the second Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 1994 (following Jim Valvano), and he later served as a supervisor of umpires as well as a motivational speaker.
  • Only six men have played the iconic James Bond character in official films, and despite the franchise being over 50 years old, the first of that fraternity only passed away this year, the longest running actor in the franchise, Roger Moore.  The 1970s and 80s were a time when some films were turning toward lighter action and a little more comedy, to balance the grit and darkness of the rest of cinema, and Moore, who couldn’t see the seriousness of the role, was perfect for the part.  Of his seven films, The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only are generally considered his best, even though the critically panned and Star Wars inspired Moonraker was the biggest money making film in the franchise for 20 years.  What a lot of people don’t know is that dating back to his time as Bond, and until his death, Moore was a worldwide ambassador for UNICEF, donating countless hours toward the charity to help the most impoverished children in the world … something he was inspired to do by his long time friend, Audrey Hepburn.  Moore also was active with PETA’s campaign to end the sale of foie gras in the UK.
  • Trivia question “Who is the only man to pitch a perfect game and be a member of the Washington senators?”  It isn’t Walter Johnson as some might suspect, but Jim Bunning.  Bunning was a Major League pitcher with a career that stretched from 1955 to 1971, and while he spent 1955-63 with the Tigers, he is likely better remembered for his two stints with the lowly Philadelphia Phillies who retired his uniform #14 in 2001.  A nine-time All-Star, on 21 June 1964, Bunning became the first National League pitcher in 84 years (and hence the first in the 20th century) to pitch a perfect game.  Pairing that with his 1958 no-hitter with the Tigers, he became the first player in Major League history to have no-hitters in both the NL and AL, and only the third player to hurl two no-hitters, with one being a perfect game.  His 2855 strikeouts and 224-184 record got him elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996 by the veterans committee.  This was wonderful for the now veteran Congressman from Kentucky’s 4th district who some suspect may have greased the wheels at the Hall, who in 1999 ended his 12 year tenure in the House to start a 12 year tenure in the Senate (yeah … he never actually played for the Washington Seantors baseball team … he was an actual US senator).  Unfortunately, Bunning the politician was considered a bit of a bigot and stood against measures to help the poor, including objections to extending unemployment insurance and COBRA, and conveniently was absent for the 2009 vote on the health care reform.  In 2006, Time named him one of the five worst senators in the senate, citing his ignorance of important issues, and an unwillingness to become educated on important matters before the Senate.  With his approval rating dropping, despite the support of his good friend Rick Santorum (which should tell you a lot!), he stopped his 2010 campaign and endorsed Rand Paul (which should also tell you a lot!), which made the world all that much better (no, it didn’t).  Despite publicly claiming that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be dead of pancreatic cancer inside of nine months in 2009, it appears the diminutive judge has had the last laugh.  On top of all that, his charitable foundation somehow only paid out about a quarter of its proceeds to actual charities, while paying him a six figure salary the whole time.  A far above average pitcher, but a less than average human being.
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski is one of those names hardly anyone knows, but who had a massive impact on the last quarter of the 20th century.  Born in Warsaw, Brzezinski became a foreign policy adviser to Lyndon Johnson where he supported Vietnam, but actually left the administration when Johnson escalated military involvement there.  During the 1970s, he helped co-found the murky and conspiracy laden Trilateral Commission, and in 1974 brought in a wildcard, Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, which helped give him some international experience prior to the 1976 election, after which Brzezinski became Carter’s National Security Adviser, where he changed the tenor of US policy toward the Soviets from mutual detente to one that emphasized human rights, something that led the US to publicly support the Solidarity labor uprisings in Poland that started during the Carter years.  He violated State Department protocol by meeting with Roman Catholic leaders in Poland, emphasizing that the Church in Poland would be the key to opposing communism (perhaps lending some credential a few years later to Karol Wojtyla being elected as John Paul II, ending centuries of Italians dominating the papacy), and he was present as a critical player during the Camp David Accord negotiations.  Brzezinski did support continuing engagement with China, which led to the formal recognition of the People’s Republic, and the controversial formal severing of diplomatic ties with Taiwan.  Brzezinski’s biggest effect on the world came after the Iranian hostage crisis started when Carter wanted to strengthen ties with Pakistan.  Brzezinski became aware that Pakistan wanted more support to the Islamist fighters in Afghanistan fighting the pro-Soviet government there … and Brzezinski was eager to help, setting up Operation Cyclone, which opened the doors to aiding the mujaheddin, and while it did eventually help bring the USSR down, it also created the Islamist armed resistance that has long since spread out from Afghanistan, and which the world deals with to this day.  Brzezinski also was the mastermind behind Operation Eagle Claw, the disastrous military operation that was an attempt to rescue the US hostages in Iran.  When the operation was given a go ahead over Secretary of State Cyrus Vance’s objections, Vance resigned in protest.
  • Just because America is your ally does not mean they won’t turn on you if you step out of line.  Saddam Hussein learned that lesson the hard way, and he might have taken a lesson from Manuel Noriega.  Noriega came to power as ruler of Panama after Omar Torrijos, the man who signed the Torrijos-Carter treaty giving Panama control of the famed Panama Canal died in a mysterious plane crash.  Noriega had been a long time CIA contact, and was acquainted with then CIA chief George H.W. Bush who supported Noriega until it became clear that Noriega had turned Panama into a way station for Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Drug Cartel, and was likely using CIA training to kill opponents and keep the drugs flowing.  After Michael Dukakis used Bush’s relationship with Noriega as a point in the 1988 campaign, Bush had little choice but to turn on Noriega.  On 20 December 1989, Panama was invaded with orders to capture Noriega, who took refuge in the Vatican embassy, prompting the US military to bombard the compound with hard rock music day and night.  It took five days for Noriega to surrender, and he was then arrested by the DEA and taken to the US.  Noriega served 17 years of a 30 year sentence before being sent to France to stand trial on money laundering, and in 2011 he was extradited from France back to Panama where he spent most of the rest of his life in prison, under house arrest, or in hospitals.  Noriega is one of the few world leaders who can claim that he was a direct model for a James Bond villain, that of Franz Sanchez (played by Robert Davi) in the James Bond film License to Kill (Isthmus City was the fictional Panama City).
  • Two-time Gold Glove winner and two-time All-Star outfielder Jimmy Piersall spent a great deal of his career sharing the outfield in Boston with Ted Williams, and while he was good enough to get elected to the Red Sox Hall-of-Fame in 2010, and accompanied them to the White House after winning the 2004 World Series, Piersall will likely be remembered for being one of the first public figures of the modern age to deal with bipolar disorder in a very public realm.  Piersall was known as a fiery odd type, ejected from games far more than the average player, including once for running around the outfield to distract former teammate Ted Williams while he was batting, and yes, when he hit his 100th career home run, he ran the bases in the right order, but ran them backwards.  He spent a lot of his later years in Chicago, and was Harry Caray’s color commentator for White Sox games during the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Piersall was always a tell-it-like-it-is guy, and after criticizing players and management for years, was on a short leash.  In 1981, when he described the wives of the ball players as “horny broads” on Mike Royko’s local TV show, White Sox manager Tony LaRussa demanded on behalf of himself and his players that Piersall go, and White Sox ownership obliged.  Supposedly, the firing of Jimmy Piersall was the final straw for Harry Caray, and he happily moved over to the Cub.  Piersall was still an active player when rookie director Robert Mulligan, better known later for directing To Kill a Mockingbird, directed Fear Strikes Out, based on the book Piersall had written with Al Hirshberg, with Anthony Perkins as Piersall and Karl Malden as Piersall’s domineering father.  Not only was this a rare film that dealt with an active player, but the baseball scenes took a backseat to the story of his mental illness, demonstrating that this can happen to anyone … a bold film well ahead of its time for 1950s cinema!
  • Adam West will always be remembered for playing the campy version of Batman in the influential late 1960s TV series, though he was never not busy, most recently finding a whole new generation of fans by voicing himself as mayor of Quahog on the animated series Family Guy.  The fact is, Adam West’s career had a thread running through it related to his role as the World’s Greatest Detective (one of Batman’s lesser known nicknames).  Aside from Batman and Family Guy, West’s longest run on any TV series was 30 episodes on an early 1960s series called The Detectives, and his TV debut came on a 1954 episode of the Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse called (I kid you not), “The Joker”.  The only other series that West headlined was a very short-lived police comedy on NBC called The Last Precinct, which may sound a little familiar to some of you who grew up in Chicago in the 1980s … that was because there were countless commercials for the series playing during Super Bowl XX (Bears over Patriots), and the series premiere came right after that game’s conclusion (which most Chicagoans didn’t see as they were likely celebrating).  I’ll also throw in that while Adam West didn’t have much of a film career (he was in the critically well accepted box office bomb Robinson Crusoe on Mars), one of his highest billed roles was in the western The Outlaws Is Coming … that was the last film featuring The Three Stooges.
  • Helmut Kohl spent the first 8 years of his Chancellorship as leader of West Germany, and then spent the last 8 years of his 16 year tenure as the first leader of a united Germany since the end of World War II.  Kohl was sitting next to Ronald Reagan when he gave his famous “Tear Down this Wall” speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.  Kohl was given a lot of the credit for allowing for the relatively smooth unification of the two Germanys, which in turn became a model for the European Union which followed.  In 1998, the heads of government of the European Union members voted to award him Honorary European citizenship, only the second person (of three currently) to have ever been given the honor.
  • Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, and while Stephen Furst had to deal with weight and diabetes issues most of his adult life (never the drunk or stupid parts), he still had a long successful career.  Known best for playing Kent Dorffman (aka Flounder) in Animal House, Furst got the job because he was a pizza delivery man in the LA area, and when he knew he would be delivering pizzas to directors, writers and producers, he would slip his headshot in the pizza box, which is how he got the job as Flounder.  In addition to Animal House, Furst was a part of the ensemble cast in the highly respected Saint Elsewhere, and had a supporting role as a med student opposite John Lithgow and Jason Robards in the controversial nuclear war drama The Day After.  Later, he had a starring role in the popular scifi series Babylon 5.  It was while he was on Babylon 5 that he lost nearly half of his weight to hold off amputation of his leg.  While his health improved, he eventually needed a kidney transplant, which he got thanks to an anonymous donor.  In addition to some acting and a lot more directing and producing, Furst co-hosted the Renal Support Network weekly podcast, and wrote on his battles with weight and diabetes to help others.
  • Bill Dana occupies an unique and sometimes grey area in the history of American comedy. Back in the 1950s, he became a star for his appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, especially for playing his José Jiménez character – a slow speaking Bolivian who many came to see as a racist jab at Latinos in general.  To Dana’s credit, as he began to realize the negative stereotype, he retired the character.  Dana’s brother wrote the theme music to the TV series Get Smart, and Dana himself wrote The Nude Bomb, which was the feature film based on that TV series.  Dana’s high point in writing may have been when he wrote one of the most famous episodes of 1970s television comedy, “Sammy’s Visit“, the episode of All in the Family where Sammy Davis, Jr. arrives and has some funny interactions with TV’s most famous bigot.  Further behind the scenes, Dana also returned to his alma mater, Emerson College, to help found the American Comedy Archives, which is one of the nation’s larger collections of interviews, recordings, and other ephemera related to American comedy.
  • The “Godfather of the Dead”, George A. Romero, likely had at least a few morbid souls watching his body in the hours after his death to see if he would rise to stalk the Earth.  The man who single-handedly invented zombie horror earned a degree from Carnegie Melon, which was significant since one of his first jobs in media was working for a local Pittsburgh-area children’s show.  It was Romero who supervised filming the tonsillectomy of Fred Rogers for a segment of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Romero was quoted in an interview that he was scared filming his first big commission, but that the kindly Mr. Rogers gave him a lot of confidence to move forward.  And yes, if Romero had gotten his way, Betty Aberlin (Lady Aberlin to citizens of the Kingdom of Makebelieve) would have been one of the stars of his magnum opus, Night of the Living Dead.
  • Martin Landau wasn’t cheated in his career, starting with his second ever feature film role in Alfred Hitchcock’s immortal North By Northwest, he moved on to 1963’s epic Cleopatra, played Caiaphas in The Greatest Story Ever Told, and was Oscar nominated for his roles in Crimes & Misdemeanors and Tucker: A Man and his Dream.  Landau had an interesting run in science fiction, playing in TV series Mission:Impossible (for which he won a Golden Globe) and Space: 1999 (which federal judge Frank Easterbrook once compared to agony on par with water torture and electric shocks … which was then quoted directly by Clarence Thomas in an infamous Supreme Court decision) … however I will always admire Landau for his Oscar-winning role as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood.  Landau plays the (now) forgotten screen legend in his dying days as he anguishes over substance abuse, but strikes up an unlikely friendship with a childlike force of nature in the incompetent, but wholly genuine director, Edward D. Wood, Jr.  If you love a cheesy film completely devoid of cheese, and love some laughs, please go see Ed Wood!  Perhaps one acting role that Landau lost out on turned out to be a big one … several sources note that he was the last finalist eliminated prior to hiring Leonard Nimoy to play Spock in Star Trek.  My last bit on Landau is that he was a student of Lee Strausberg, and later went back to help guide the Actor’s Studio in New York, in addition to coaching young actors.  Was he a good acting coach?  One of his students was Jack Nicholson.
  • When it came time for Natasha and Boris to capture “moose and squeeril”, it was June Foray who voiced Rocky the flying squirrel, loyal and far more intelligent sidekick to the bumbling moose, Bullwinkle.  Foray first voiced Rocky  in 1959, and voiced him for the final time in 2014 … though Rocky was the tip of a very tall iceberg for a woman whose professional career spanned NINE decades!  Some of  her better known non-Rocky roles were Lucifer the cat in Disney’s Cinderella, Grandmother Fa in Mulan, Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Talky Tina in one of the creepiest and best episodes of The Twilight Zone (“Living Doll“), Granny in the many Tweety and Sylvester cartoons (starting in 1955 through 2013!), and Jokey Smurf on The Smurfs.  In fact, some of her highest profile work went uncredited when her amazing vocal talents were called on for dubbing purposes, (she dubbed some of the scenes with Chief Brody’s kids in the classic, Jaws).  Foray was also one of the big forces to recognize work in animation helping to found the Annie Awards, and spending two decades working on and with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors to recognize feature length animation, something she finally got with the addition of a new Oscar in 2001.
  • Haruo Nakajima is not a household name, even though he played one of the single biggest characters in the history of world cinema.  In the 1953 film Eagle of the Pacific, Nakajima had a bit part jumping out of a plane on fire.  This impressed visiting director Ishirō Honda, who called him in to talk about an upcoming project initially titled Project G.  After spending time at a zoo doing research on large animals, and the construction of a nearly 200 pound suit, Nakajima became the King of the Monsters, Gojira (or, as we say here in ‘Murica, Godzilla).  Nakajima was a legend in the field of Japanese kaiju (big monster) films, playing Godzilla 12 times in addition to working on a number of non-Godzilla films and television series.  Tōhō Studios produced the Godzilla films, but was also the home studio for the great Akira Kurosawa, and when Nakajima wasn’t too busy fighting other monsters, he was acting in some of the most acclaimed art films of world cinema, including Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, and Yojimbo.  In 1970, after Nakajima retired from acting, he was transferred by Tōhō to their studio bowling alley.  For many years after, the man who quietly handed over your scoresheet and your bowling shoes, was the same man who 12 times over stomped Tokyo into rubble in one of the most famous costumes in film history.
  • The career of Jerry Lewis, once one of the most famous men in the country if not the world, is a complicated one.  He has been quoted on more than one occasion as stating that women belong in the home making babies, not on stage or in business, and even once suggested that those who were “crippled” should avoid pity by staying home … this from the man who from 1966 to 2009 would host the annual Labor Day telethon to support muscular dystrophy research, raising just shy of US$2.5 billion in that time.  While that shouldn’t be forgotten, Lewis did create some very funny work in his time, with The Nutty Professor considered his critical and popular masterpiece.  Most people know that the French government gave him the Chevalier, Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur in 1984, much to the chagrin of many Americans who didn’t think he was THAT funny …. and in 2009, Lewis, long overdue, received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences … but very few people know that for his humanitarian work, Lewis got an honor very few entertainers ever receive … he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize (according to at least one source, he was actually nominated twice!)
  • The same year we lost George A. Romero, we lost another giant in the field of film horror, that being Tobe Hooper.  Hooper’s magnum opus will forever be The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which was another one of those films which opened a new, and in this case bloody sub-genre in horror films … a film that was banned in a number of countries (which of course made the forbidden fruit even more irresistible to some).  Hooper used some aspects of real-life Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein as a basis for the film, which was the same source that author Robert Bloch used for writing his novel, Psycho.  While generally associated with low budget slasher horror, Hooper did direct a pretty good made-for-TV adaptation of (in my opinion) Stephen King’s best early work, Salem’s Lot, and later was given the reigns of a British-American sci-fi horror classic, Lifeforce, probably best known for Mathilda May’s lack of costuming and relatively unknown actor Patrick Stewart getting his first on-screen kiss (with Steve Railsback).  The credits do list Hooper as the director of the classic horror film, Poltergeist, but there remains a great deal of controversy as to whether or not Hooper actually directed that film, or to what extent he was making directorial decisions, with more than a few members of the cast and crew swearing that Steven Spielberg directed most or all of the film.  Poltergiest was in production at the same time as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Spielberg had a contract which forbade him from directing another film at the same time … so this may have been Spielberg’s attempt to eat his cake and have it too.  One other note on Hooper and his masterpiece about chainsaws … to secure distribution of the film, he went to a new company in Hollywood called Bryanston Films, which was actually a front company for the Peraino family, which was a subsidiary of the Colombo crime Family.  The Perainos set up Bryanston films in the hopes of getting some movies distributed that would allow them to launder some money from their far more controversial and borderline legal film, Deep Throat, which they managed to do until the law caught up to them.  So to sum it all up:  Deep Throat helped make Tobe Hooper a nationally known star director, which got him the job of allegedly fronting for Steven Spielberg, which got him the job directing Captain Picard’s first on-screen kiss.  Ah, Hollywood!
  • When boxing was still a respected and much anticipated sport in the United States, Jake LaMotta was one of its stars, reigning as middleweight champion of the world for two years from 1949 to 1951.  To later generations, it was Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the boxer’s memoirs into the 1980 classic Raging Bull, considered by more than a few critics to be the greatest American film of the 1980s, that will ensure that his complicated, sometimes violent legacy lives on.  LaMotta, like so many boxers, grew up in poor, uncertain circumstances, and was married six times, with spousal abuse being a part of his relationships.  As a boxer, LaMotta was considered one of the toughest to ever climb into the ring, being the first boxer to ever defeat the immortal Sugar Ray Robinson, but perhaps more telling than that was that, in 106 professional fights (including one that he admitted to fixing), LaMotta was never knocked out, and only once was knocked down off his feet.  LaMotta lost the middleweight title to Robinson on February 14, 1951, a fight known historically as the Second St. Valentine’s Day Massacre as the referee was forced to stop the fight when a bloodied and nearly incoherent LaMotta simply refused to go down to the mat from the relentless punches of Robinson … one of the few times a boxing referee had to save a boxer from himself.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons that saw animated character Jay Sherman of the series The Critic visiting, Sherman interviews terrible actor Rainier Wolfcastle, and asks how he sleeps at night.  Wolfcastle responds “on top of  a pile of money with many beautiful ladies”, which is more or less how Hugh Hefner led his life, founding the sexual revolution along the way.  The Chicago native and University of Illinois grad founded the Playboy empire which has considerably shrunk in the past 20 years.  The magazine aside, Hefner actually was politically progressive and took stands in his magazine in favor of civil rights and gay rights long before it was popular.  Back in the 1970s, Hefner donated heavily to restoring and preserving the giant Hollywood sign overlooking Los Angeles, though not to be let off the hook, he also donated money to notable employee (and most famous Mother McAuley alumna) Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaxer campaign.  All told, Hefner was married three times, and had five partners who enjoyed his bed at the famous Playboy Mansion.
  • For one season, he was a radio analyst for New York Rangers hockey, but after that he got into television, and it was in 1963 that Monty Hall premiered his co-creation, Let’s Make a Deal.  Hall was the first Canadian game show host to get stars on the Hollywood and Canadian Walk of Fame, with Alex Trebek and Howie Mandell later joining him.  His TV career aside, his name is likely going to survive for future generations of math students for lending his name to mathematician Steve Slevin’s … “Monty Hall Problem” which looks at the chances of picking a prize behind three curtains, even after one curtain’s bad prize is revealed (like on his show, do you stick with your original choice, or do you change your choice … which is what you should do under most normal conditions).
  • Robert Guillaume was already at Tony nominated actor when he made it big on television playing the butler Benson DuBois in the groundbreaking comedy Soap before reprising the role as the title character in Benson, where his character moves up the hierarchy of the California governor’s staff.  Born Robert Peter Williams in St. Louis, Guillaume was connected to two major productions later in his career.  Even a lot of fans of The Lion King don’t know that it was Guillaume’s unique voice that gave life to the king’s mandrill adviser, Rafiki.  However his biggest role might be the one most people are not the most familiar with.  In 1991, after over 1300 performances in London, on Broadway, and in Los Angeles, Michael Crawford gave up the title role in The Phantom of the Opera, and it was Robert Guillaume who took over the lead in one of the biggest musical stage productions in history.
  • Roy Halladay was an extraordinary pitcher who was only 40 years old when the small aircraft he was piloting crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.  Halladay had been an 8-time All-Star while pitching for the Blue Jays and Phillies, but it was his 2010 season that will go down as one for the record books: he pitched a rare perfect game in May, and became the first Phillies pitcher to reach 20 wins in a season since the immortal Steve Carlton 28 years earlier … he then pitched a no-hitter against the Reds in the National League Division Series becoming only the second pitcher in history to pitch a no-hitter in the post season (second to Don Larson’s perfect World Series game in the 1950s).  Among pitchers who pitched entirely in the 20th century or later with at least 200 decisions, Roy Halladay’s 0.659 win-loss percentage is the sixth best, just behind the legendary Christy Mathewson and just ahead of the not-so-legendary Roger Clemens.  The objective measures for Hall of Fame status list Halladay as a probable Hall of Fame candidate when he becomes eligible in 2019.
  • If Shirley Jones were to ever be asked which of the actors who played her kids on The Partridge Family was her favorite, she by default would have had to answer with her real-life step son, David Cassidy.  Cassidy was not aware for two years that his biological parents had been divorced because they were both performers who traveled a lot, and his father eventually married Jones.  Well over a decades before the rise of David Hassellhoff, David Cassidy went from TV teen idol to pop music teen idol, and while he had some early success in the US, like the ‘Hoff, he was far, far bigger in Europe and Australia where he routinely played to sold-out concert venues, that triggered a lot of teens into rioting, even resulting in several hundred injuries and one death before a 1974 concert in the UK.  Almost the whole Cassidy family was in the performing arts, with his father, Jack, being a major start on Broadway that included a Tony Award.  David’s half-brother, Shawn, was a TV star who later tried music, and in later years became a TV producer of some success.  His half-brother, Patrick has been a stage actor for many years, and his daughter, Katie, has spent most of the last six years playing Black Canary on the critically-acclaimed and popular TV series, Arrow.
  • Three times while in the US Congress, John Anderson, representing Illinois’ 16th District (around Rockford), proposed a constitutional amendment recognizing that Christ has authority over the United States.  What started the 1960s as one of the most conservative Republican members of Congress saw one of the greatest transformations in modern politics.  By the end of the 1960s, Anderson became one of the most respected and pragmatic politicians in Congress, changing his mind on Vietnam, civil rights, and women’s rights.  He was the first member of the Republican Party to approach Richard Nixon asking him to resign in the wake of the growing Watergate scandal.  After a local pastor tried to unseat him, Anderson was among the first to see the growing influence of far right wing cultural “Christianity” in Republican politics, and with his close ally, Gerald Ford out of the picture, Anderson ran for the GOP nomination for president in 1980, and after he faded to Ronald Reagan, , he launched an independent campaign that pulled in 7% of the national vote.  His undergraduate degree (and law degree) is from the University of Illinois, and his masters of law is from Harvard (nice combination!)
  • Oh My!  No one is in the Baseball, Basketball, and Football Hall of Fames, but Dick Enberg is about as close as one can get!  He holds all three awards (Ford Frick for Baseball, Pete Rozelle for football, and Curt Gowdy for basketball) given by those respective Halls of Fame for career excellence in broadcasting.  His career started back in the 1950s as he was on the mic for Indiana Hoosiers football and basketball, and ended in the summer of 2016 with the San Diego Padres.  In between, he called everything including Wimbledon, boxing, horse racing, the Olympics, and golf.  Among his more memorable calls at the microphone were the NCAA basketball Game of the Centruy at the Astrodome where Elvin Hayes led the Houston Cougars to an upset of UCLA, led by the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar … it was the first regular season NCAA basketball game broadcast nationwide … something that happen several times a week in the winter these days.  Enberg called perhaps the biggest game in NCAA basketball history … the finals of the 1979 Finals between Ervin “Magic” Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans and Larry Bird’s miracle team from Indiana State … it was the start of a rivalry that would define the sport until the rise of His Airness at the end of the 1980s.  He called the 1987 AFC Championship game between the Browns and the Broncos (the Fumble Game) which ended any threat of a Browns championship in the 20th century.  I will always remember Enberg for being at the mic for Super Bowl XX as the juggernaut of Da’ Bears steamrolled its last victim, the New England Patriots, into the turf of the Superdome.
  • If you were fan of detective Kinsey Milhone, and read the Alphabet Mysteries, you will have to suffice with 2017’s Y is for Yesterday as being the final entry as author Sue Grafton passed away before she could start writing Z is for Zero.  Grafton started the series with A is for Alibi in 1982, and never went more than three years without publishing.  Just before she started the series, Grafton had worked in television where she developed and created the short lived series Nurse in 1981 starring Michael Learned as a widowed nurse returning to work and Robert Reed (Mr. Michael Brady in The Brady Bunch) in his last regular TV series role.

Props for representing!

December 8, 2017

Back when I was coaching quizbowl, I had a few great players, and one really great team.  Greg Peterson was one of those great players.  A few months ago, Greg got the opportunity to tape an appearance on the syndicated version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.  My response on learning this, as with many of you, was likely “This show is still on”?  Yes, it is.  It is taped in Las Vegas.

Greg’s appearance finally made it to air, and he appeared on two consecutive shows.  Here’s Wednesday’s show:

And here’s Thursday’s finale!

 

I could lie and tell you that I taught him everything he knows … but I doubt he picked up much from me.  I thought he played very well, and the results speak for themselves.


Too Good to Fail

October 16, 2017

Gather round children …. Once Upon a Time …

… there was a baseball franchise.  It was a glorious team … it started as a minor league concern in Sioux City, Iowa before moving to St. Paul, Minnesota … then it was on to a small stadium on the ethnically diverse hard working South Side of the City of Chicago.

The team won.

They won a lot.  In the first 17 years as a major league team, they won 1397 games out of 2545 games played, a winning percentage of 0.549.  By modern standards, that’s the equivalent of winning 89 games a season, every season, for 17 years on a 162 game schedule.  In that time, the team won three league pennants, and two World Series, including the 1906 Series against the team from the other side of town.  It was the most wins and the highest winning percentage of any team in the league over the first 17 years of the 20th century.

Cub_mascot

His twitter feed on Sunday said he was sending flaming vibes from Chicago.  How this team avoids getting collectively jailed for perversity remains a mystery.

By 1917, this wonderful franchise had Eddie Collins, who would become the second man to collect 3,000 hits in the 20th century, they had a borderline future Hall of Fame starter by the name of Eddie Cicotte, a promising third baseman named Happy Felsch, and a left-fielder named Joe Jackson who would end his career with the third highest batting average in the game’s storied history.

Then, like so many great empires before them, greed got the best of them.  The owner was so greedy and tightfisted, that when he started charging the players to launder their uniforms, the team refused to wash them.  The owner relented, then took the money owed out of their World Series bonus.  The mix of college educated yankees and illiterate hillbillies could not get along … at least until one of them got together with some gamblers to fix the World Series.  The next year, the gig was up, and most of the starters were banned from the game for life. The franchise would take the next 3 full decades to reach a point of recovery, and another decade after that to again reach the World Series, and four-and-a-half decades after that.

You’re never too good or too big to fail, no matter what you think.

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This was the sad fate of the Chicago White Sox.  The best team in the American League for the first 20 years of its existence, blown up and reduced to near nothing.

I bring this up because yesterday, 15 October 2017, was the 100th anniversary of the White Sox defeating the New York (Baseball) Giants in the World Series.  The ending of that game started an 88 plus year countdown to the next time it would happen.

I raised a glass of water yesterday in commemoration, wishing that there would be something celebratory to mark the occasion.

 

Something …

 

Something …

 

Couldn’t the ghosts of a century of White Sox players and fans have come together and given some kind of a sign for this day??  Couldn’t the choir of angels have sung a little something …?

 

Anythi ..

 

Ah … I think they did!  Maybe not a choir of angels … just a big ol’ grizzly bear from the City of Angels!

 

 

Thank you Mr. Turner!  Happy 100th anniversary White Sox Township.