Friday, November 27, 2015

Inside The NFL

I have been a fan of NFL Films for decades. The company, founded by the late Ed and Steve Sabol, was the first to have an all-access pass not only to the field, but also to the locker rooms, and the sidelines. It set the standard for sports highlights packages with its cinematography, music, and editing, which are all nothing short of brilliant, as is evident every week on Showtime's "Inside The NFL."

Greg Gumbel may no longer be the host, replaced by CBS SportsRadio personality Adam Schein, but Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason -- both talented broadcasters as well as veteran quarterbacks -- are still there to offer cogent analysis, and I'm glad they're spending so much time this season on concussion protocol and controversial calls by the officials.

But it is the addition to the "Inside The NFL" on-air crew of NY Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall that has made the difference this season. I can't remember seeing a televised sports show that included a current player among the regulars, and his presence adds an interesting perspective (and not just around game footage of the Jets).

For the last couple of weeks, Marshall has engaged with reporters from various news outlets in the studio in an effort to broker some peace between players and the press. He's also made some quite candid remarks about Johnny Manziel's addiction and discipline problems, as well as Greg Hardy's antics and role on the Cowboys' roster. Considering Marshall's own troubled past, his take on these issues has been very interesting.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

This Used To Be A Holiday

Re-posting a piece I wrote three years ago...

A minority grows larger today, though its members would prefer that it didn't. They are the Americans who are forced to work on Thanksgiving.

There was a time when this was our only national day off from work. The only businesses that remained open were those that were already operating around the clock every day (radio and TV stations, gas stations) or restaurants that served Thanksgiving meals to others or those providing essential services (police, fire, hospitals, airlines and airports, NFL teams). Retailers, with the exception of some convenience stores, kept their doors locked.

But not any more. In yet another case of creeping corporate greed, more and more department stores and other outlets will begin their Black Friday sales tonight, forcing their employees to go to work while the clock still says Holiday. The irony is that these companies wouldn't open their doors and make people work if the customers didn't come streaming in, which they will. They'll claim that they're just meeting the demands of the American consumer, but it's a demand that didn't exist until they created it.

The media, which benefits from all the extra advertising, will play its role as always, sending reporters to the stores for live shots to report on the crowd that showed up to try to get a flat screen television for a buck and a half. At some point, they'll mention that the new Black Friday That Starts Thursday is the busiest shopping day of the year -- a factoid that has never actually been true (that honor goes to the Saturday before Christmas, when male members of the human species simultaneously realize they still haven't bought something for their significant other).

I'm not advocating for a law that bans these stores from doing business whenever they want. I'm opposed to blue laws of any kind. I'm just sorry to have lost the only truly American day off, the one we all got to participate in. Plenty of people don't celebrate Christmas and far too many companies are open on federal holidays like Presidents Day or Martin Luther King Day. Even Labor Day doesn't count as a break from work for many American laborers.

Couldn't we have just one 24-hour period where the country got to stay home?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Movie Review: The Good Dinosaur

Since "Toy Story" debuted 20 years ago this month, Pixar has produced a remarkable string of quality movies that translated into box office gold. "The Good Dinosaur" will no doubt continue that money-making tradition, but the differences from its predecessors are glaring.

First and foremost is the story, which has always been at the heart of Pixar's best projects. This one seems like a re-tread. The basic plot is about Arlo, the smallest member of a dinosaur family, who has to prove himself worthy of leaving his mark on the world, literally.

I had a problem with "The Good Dinosaur" from its first scene, which imagines that the asteroid that crashed into Earth 65 million years ago and led to the extinction of life (including dinosaurs) actually missed our planet. Thus the dinosaurs lived, and as they evolved over several million more years, they learned to speak, use tools, and farm their own crops.

Okay, this isn't the first time Pixar has anthropomorphized its animal characters -- from "A Bug's Life" to "Ratatouille," we've seen it before -- but what bothers me is that, later in the story, a human character is introduced, first as the antagonist to Arlo and then as his best friend. I worry that kids who see "The Good Dinosaur" will walk out not understanding the alternate-reality of the movie's initial premise, but instead believing that dinosaurs and humans were, in fact, once on Earth at the same time. Call this The Flintstones Fallacy.

Come to think of it, why limit this concern to kids? I'll bet that, in a country where Donald Trump's brazen lies and internet rumors are accepted as fact by too many Americans, a large number of adults who see this movie will later cite it as proof that the two species roamed our land masses simultaneously. And that's not good.

At the screening I attended, a lot of people brought their young children, for whom this movie is the target demo. In its past successes, Pixar has always been able to balance the kid-appeal with the adult-appeal, so that both can enjoy the movies on their own levels. "The Good Dinosaur" doesn't have that magic -- and more than any of its animated ancestors, it's likely to inspire some nightmares for young viewers.

A big part of that comes from a classic animated movie device. As in "Bambi," "The Lion King," "Finding Nemo" and others, the plot is kicked into high gear by the turbulent death of a parent. Scary scenes aren't enough of a reason to condemn a movie -- hell, I hid under the bed when the flying monkeys appeared in "The Wizard Of Oz" until I was about 15 -- but if you don't know they're coming in this one, you're going to have to do a lot of cuddling to get your kid over some of the scenes in "The Good Dinosaur."

Also setting it apart from Pixar precedents was that when "The Good Dinosaur" ended and the credits rolled, there was not much applause from the kids (or adults) in attendance, and no one seemed especially thrilled on the way out. That could mean some mediocre word-of-mouth, which would affect not only the box office (as it did with "Monsters University"), but the later sales of DVDs and downloads, which are usually driven by children who want to see a movie again and again.

I give "The Good Dinosaur" a 10 for technical mastery, but only a 3 for story, so let's call it a 6.5 overall.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Another Movie You Might Not Know

The new title on my Movies You Might Not Know list is "Call Me Lucky," a documentary about Barry Crimmins, one of the seminal figures in the standup comedy world, and a fascinating guy beyond that.

Crimmins founded two of Boston's most influential clubs, the Ding Ho and Stitches, where he performed and featured up-and-coming comedians like Paula Poundstone, Lenny Clarke, Steven Wright, and Jimmy Tingle. Bobcat Goldthwait got his start there, too, which makes him the perfect guy to assemble this movie, which shows why Crimmins was one of the top political satirists of the 1980s and 1990s -- but reveals another side of him as well.

When Crimmins was a small child, he was repeatedly raped by a man in the basement of his home. The psychological damage caused by those horrific incidents never went away, but he kept them to himself for a long time, until the early days of the internet gave child pornographers a place to gather. Crimmins began collecting evidence about the sickos who were using internet forums -- especially on America Online, then the preeminent way for most people to get online -- to distribute and exchange sexually graphic photos of kids, thus enabling their abusers. Crimmins shared that information with police and prosecutors (most of whom didn't own computers or know anything about the internet), which eventually led to charges being filed against many of the culprits. He even testified at a congressional hearing, exposing AOL as a safe harbor for these crimes.

Through archival footage and interviews with his comedy contemporaries, his family, and Crimmins himself, Goldthwait does a very good job of showing the many sides of a man who may never have become a break-out national comedy star, but had a major impact nonetheless.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Sophia McClennen says Stephen Colbert gets lower ratings among Republicans because they just don't get his humor:

It is the socially conservative, less educated, Tea Party version of the GOP that is least likely to want to watch smart comedy like Colbert’s. This is the portion of the population that thinks climate science is a liberal plot, Obama is not a citizen, and the separation of church and state is a myth. As Chris Mooney explains, “liberals tend to be more open, flexible, curious and nuanced—and conservatives tend to be more closed, fixed and certain in their views.” It’s not surprising that those differences would also yield different tastes in comedy.

This means that it is not just a question of who Colbert targets in his joke; it is also a question of how he makes the joke itself. Nuance, irony, and layered thinking may be more of the problem than Trump jokes. He has virtually abandoned jokes about Fox News but clearly that isn’t enough to attract GOP viewers.
Read McClennen's full piece here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Showbiz Show 11/20/15

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, I talked about one of the best movies of the year, "Spotlight," with Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Bryan d'Arcy James as the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the pedophile priests scandal in that town in 2001. I asked Lynn Venhaus (movie reviewer for the Belleville News Democrat) to join me because she wrote stories about the molesters in the Belleville archdiocese when she worked for the Centralia Sentinel in 1993. She offered a unique perspective on how well the movie shows investigative reporters doing their job under tremendous pressure.

Then, Colin Jeffrey joined me to review the movie that will crush the box office this weekend, Jennifer Lawrence in "Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2." Finally, I talked about "Trumbo," with Bryan Cranston as a Hollywood screenwriting legend who was blacklisted for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947.

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

Harris Challenge 11/20/15

This week on my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include "Sports and Showbiz Week," "Motown Music," and "Which One Was That?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 11/20/15

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a man sleeping in court, a psychology test during birth, and a cop who ticketed himself. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.