Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Joe Hagan, "Sticky Fingers"

Next week will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine, with John Lennon on the cover. The occasion will be marked with a four-hour documentary by Alex Gibney, "Rolling Stone: Stories From The Edge," airing on HBO 11/6-7.

Also timed for the anniversary: Joe Hagan’s biography of the magazine's editor and publisher, “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine,” which was published last week, and brought him to my show for this conversation.

We covered the birth of Rolling Stone, its impact on music and culture, and Wenner's hiring of non-music writers like Hunter S. Thompson, Matt Taibbi, and Tom Wolfe. We also explored why Wenner -- who gave Hagan complete access to his life and files for four years -- has now disavowed the book. And we dropped a few big names, too, like John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Annie Liebovitz, and Mick Jagger.

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

Sam Pollard, "Sammy Davis Jr: I've Gotta Be Me"

One of the performers I wish I'd had the chance to see in person was Sammy Davis Jr. He was incredibly talented -- singer, dancer, tap dancer, actor, impressionist -- and the first African American to be invited by the President to spend a night in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House. I have watched footage of him on YouTube, and remember seeing him on "Laugh-In" and pretty much every variety show that aired in the 1970s, but never really knew much about the man apart from his public persona (and that infamous Nixon hug, of course). Now he's the subject of a documentary called “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” from director Sam Pollard.

Pollard has been a busy documentarian, with another new movie just released, "ACORN and the Firestorm." Both of them will be screened this weekend at the Tivoli Theatre as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival, where he will also receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Here's my conversation with Pollard about each of these projects. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Rebecca Cammisa, "Atomic Homefront"

In 1942, during World War II, St. Louis was chosen (as part of the Manhattan Project) as the first place to process uranium for atomic bombs. Seven-and-a-half decades later, the radioactive waste leftover from that process is still underground in the suburb of Bridgeton and communities on contaminated Coldwater Creek. As if that weren't bad enough, there's been a fire burning for years under the West Lake Landfill that is creeping toward the nuclear waste.

Rebecca Cammisa's documentary "Atomic Homefront" follows the story of residents of those neighborhoods who have tried to get the EPA and the Army Corps Of Engineers to fix the problem. While those agencies do little to nothing, lots of people have died of cancers related to their exposure to the radioactivity.

This is my conversation with Cammisa about her movie, which will screen November 11th at the Tivoli Theatre as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival.

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

Movie Review: "The Florida Project"

They don't have anywhere to go;
Wandering around from door to door.
-- Eric Clapton, "Motherless Children"

Those lyrics describe the kids at the heart of the "The Florida Project." Unlike in the song, the mothers in the movie aren't dead, but their children still wander from door to door, looking for something to do and someplace to play.

It's the summer in Orlando, and the scene is the Magic Kingdom motel, one of those places most tourists barely notice on the roads into Disneyworld ("The Florida Project" was the name Walt Disney used in the 1960s while buying up 27,000+ acres of land through dummy corporations and setting up the plans for what would become that theme park). Many of the motel's residents are lower-class people trying to scrape by day to day without much money. Because it's summer, the kids don't go to school, so they make their own fun.

One of the children is six-year-old Moonee, whose mother Halley is single and broke. Halley used to be a stripper, but now is unemployed, and the only way she can make a few bucks is to hustle perfume she buys wholesale and then sells at a markup to people in the parking lot of a nearby condo complex. Halley isn't much more than a kid herself, no older than 25, and it's clear her life has been full of bad choices -- getting pregnant as a teen, covering herself with tattoos, smoking non-stop, and letting her daughter do pretty much whatever she wants.

As for Moonee, we first see her with her best friend Scooty, son of another single mom who works at a local restaurant, as they run to another motel down the street, where they climb up onto the second floor to spit on the cars below. When the woman who owns that car comes out and finds them, she makes them clean up their mess as they make friends with her granddaughter, Jancey. Pretty soon, the three young kids are roving as a mischievous pack, looking for adventure and often causing trouble.

The only real adult in their world is the manager of the motel, played by Willem Dafoe in a very good performance. He's protective of the kids even as he understands their restlessness. He also recognizes that the people who live in the motel are barely hanging on, and yet he makes them pay the rent on time, kicks out hookers using the rooms for tricks, and does his best to maintain the place amid the squalor. Dafoe plays him with just the right mix of compassion and frustration.

He's the best thing in "The Florida Project," along with newcomer Brooklynn Prince, who plays Moonee. I always wonder what went through the mind of a young actor's parents when they allowed their child to play someone as foul-mouthed and rambunctious as Moonee is. Whatever that thought process was, it paid off, as Prince will get a lot of attention for her performance, which is perfect.

"The Florida Project" is being compared to last year's Oscar winner, "Moonlight," for showing us a portion of humanity whose stories rarely get told on screen. That's true, but the main characters in this are so unlikable that I left the theater with a very bad taste in my mouth. I imagine it would be hell to live in that motel as neighbors of these kids and adults, and I didn't enjoy spending time with them in a movie theater, either.

I give "The Florida Project" a 3 out of 10.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Our Weekend Double Bill

My wife and I spent the last two evenings at the Fox Theater having a great time.

Friday night, we were there for Jerry Seinfeld, who maintains his rank as the best standup comedian of our time. His writing is brilliant -- every word, phrase, sentence, pause, action -- and his execution on stage is unmatched by anyone of his generation (or most that follow). To even hint at some of the subjects he covered would be a disservice to the man and his material because they won't sound nearly as funny in print as they do coming out of his mouth. Suffice it to say that I have never heard my wife laugh out loud for such an extended period as the seventy minutes of hilarity that Jerry gave us at The Fox.

He was preceded by Mark Schiff, who opened the show with a tight twenty minutes focused mainly on marriage (a subject Seinfeld also touched on). The two comedians go way back to their earliest days starting out at the Comic Strip in New York City, and they're a good pairing on the same bill. Nice of Jerry to bring Mark out for another bow at the end of the show.

As for Saturday night: since I saw Stevie Nicks last month when she came through St. Louis, it only seemed right that we went to see Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie, allowing us to fulfill 60% of our Fleetwood Mac quota in just six weeks. The two are touring to support a new album (their first as a duo), from which they played 8 songs. They were fine, but nothing special.

Unlike Stevie, who has a rabid following (90% of the women at her concert were dressed like her), Lindsay and Christine don't have that kind of fan base, so I wonder whether their admirers are finding and downloading their new music online. It's certainly not getting any radio airplay. I think most were at the concert to hear old Fleetwood Mac songs, and maybe a Buckingham solo tune or two.

Both of their voices are still strong, but what stood out from the evening was Lindsay's playing. He's always been one of the most underrated guitarists in the business. That's probably because Fleetwood Mac has been considered a pop band, not a rock band. But anytime Lindsay takes center stage, it's really something to behold. Last night, he did a better-than-ever solo version of "Never Going Back Again" (from "Rumours") that made the entire evening worthwhile. I leapt out of my seat at the end.

Of course, they had to give the crowd a few Fleetwood Mac songs, so they did "Hold Me," "Little Lies," "Tusk," "You Make Loving Fun," and "Go Your Own Way." The encore was a little weird, as they performed a not-that-great old tune called "Everywhere" and then finished the concert with two more songs from the new album, the last of which was a boring ballad that sent everyone out with an anti-climactic feeling. I know they're trying to sell the new music, but they would have been better off ending with something bigger and better well known.

Still, we're glad we went, but we're not holding our breath for a Mick Fleetwood-John McVie tour.

Previously on Harris Online...

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Not Another Psychic

It's very rare that I criticize another radio host on the same station that employs me, but when I got in my car and turned on KTRS Wednesday afternoon at 4:50pm, I heard Kent Ehrhardt (who does the 3-6pm show Tuesday through Thursday, while I do Monday and Friday) taking calls from listeners for a woman in the studio who claimed to be a psychic.

I was pissed.

If you've heard my show or read my blog anytime in the last 20 years, you know that I have regularly called out these con artists for the frauds they are. I've had guests like James Randi, Brian Dunning, Adam Conover, and Jamy Ian Swiss debunk their claims of paranormal ability. I have railed against evil people like Sylvia Browne who preyed on the emotions of vulnerable people with their "psychic readings."*

So, when I heard one of them getting free airtime and promotion while deceiving the same audience that might listen to me, I was outraged. When Kent finished the hour saying, "Well, this was fun, we'll have to do it again sometime," I screamed at my car radio, "NO!"

I debated whether I wanted to take Kent to task for this on my own show Friday afternoon, and in the end, decided that I had to. This is the result.

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

Eddy Harris, "River To The Heart"

Here's my conversation with Eddy Harris, who paddled a canoe down the 2,500-mile length of Mississippi River, and made a movie about his adventure, "River To The Heart." It will be shown at The Tivoli on Saturday, November 4th, as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival.

Among the questions I asked him:
  • You did this 30 years ago -- why do it again?
  • How did you avoid barges and other water traffic, and deal with locks and dams?
  • How has the river changed since your first time, and did you see the impact of climate change?
  • Did other people join you in their canoes?
  • Did anyone offer you food and a place to sleep?
  • What were the small towns like along the way?
  • Does the river still serve as a racial divide as it did in the past?
Were those Asian Carp jumping out of the water and into your boat real or CGI?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 10/27/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, guest critic Kevin Brackett and I reviewed "Suburbicon," "The Florida Project," and "Thank You For Your Service, as well as other movie/showbiz stuff.

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

Harris Challenge 10/27/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes trivia categories about Seinfeld, Movies That Start With S, and Could Be Lindsey/Could Be Christine.

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

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 10/27/17

This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a big box of weed, a greasy driver, and an accidental tasering. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

As I Tweeted

The most shocking revelation in the just-released JFK files is that, during his entire tenure in the White House, he never tweeted. Not once.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Heard In The Poker Room

I don’t want to say he dates a lot of really young women, but his Facebook page looks like "To Catch A Predator."

About That Bill Murray Album

Once again, I have received several emails from listeners intrigued by the punishment music I used last Friday during my Harris Challenge. It came from a recent appearance by Bill Murray on Stephen Colbert's "Late Show," in which the actor performed a "West Side Story" medley from his new album, "Bill Murray, Jan Vogler, and Friends" (unlike Murray, I'll give credit to the "friends," violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez).

What made it qualify as punishment music is that Bill Murray still can't sing. It was funny when he did his Nick The Lounge Singer bit forty years ago, but that wasn't supposed to be good. Now, it's painful to listen to. Yet, everyone around him acts like he's got the pipes to pull it off.

What other actor would be given not just a pass on this ironic karaoke, but big time gigs to show it off? Sure, William Shatner went around doing his oddly-phrased semi-singing for a few years, but even he knew it wasn't serious. Bruce Willis, Eddie Murphy, Kevin Bacon, and Zooey Deschanel have all had music careers of varying success -- but at least they could carry a tune!

Other TV shows have given Murray a platform similar to Colbert's, and the hosts all acted as if they had a real singer in their midst. He even did a full concert at Carnegie Hall last week, and has performed with symphony orchestras in several cities.

Folks, let me be the little boy who tells you that the emperor has no vocal talent!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Phil Ivey Update

Remember that court case involving poker pro Phil Ivey, a London casino, $10 million, and something called edge-sorting? He lost.

As I Tweeted

  • I'm no expert on politics, but I think the new Hillary Clinton revelations could hurt her chances of becoming president last year.

Movie Review: "Goodbye Christopher Robin"

I was never a Winnie The Pooh fan. The books weren't part of my childhood, and when I read one to my daughter, neither of us was particularly enchanted by it. Rather than hearing about an English boy and his stuffed-animals-come-to-life, she preferred that we make up our own stories, which let her creativity flow. After all, that's what A.A. Milne did with his son, Christopher Robin. The difference is that he turned those stories into books that made Winnie The Pooh a global sensation for several generations.

"Goodbye Christopher Robin" is the origin story of Winnie The Pooh, starting with Milne returning from World War I with what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. A balloon pop, a light flashing, or any loud disturbance gives him flashbacks to being on the front lines of The War To End All Wars. He comes home determined to write an essay about the necessity of ending armed conflict, but never gets to it because he's too busy leading the life of a rich London socialite with his wife, Daphne.

Before long, they have a child who they name Christopher Robin but call Billy Moon, and they are not up to the tasking of raising him. Their upper crust snooty ways just can't include anything so intrusive as spending time with their child, so when they move out to the country so Milne can have some peace and quiet, they hire a nanny named Olive, who Billy spends almost all of his time with. It's not until Daphne leaves to return to her party life in London and Olive has to go off and spend time with her ailing mother that Milne is left alone with Billy and forced to bond with him.

It is their walks through the nearby woods with some of Billy's stuffed animals that lead to the plots of the Winnie The Pooh stories about a bear, a donkey, a tiger, a pig, a couple of kangaroos, and a boy named Christopher Robin. When Milne gets those stories published as a book, it becomes a worldwide sensation, but now Billy is being used as a marketing tool, forced to pose for pictures, attend other people's parties, and be the character instead of the little boy he really is. That's where the story turns inward on itself, and as Billy grows up, he resents the fame even more.

The best part of "Goodbye Christopher Robin" is Alex Lawther, the boy who plays the title role. He's cute, has amazing dimples, and delivers his lines with just the right tone every time. Domhnall Gleeson is fine playing A.A. Milne as a stiff upper lip Brit, while Margot Robbie chews the scenery every time she's on screen as his spoiled socialite wife, Daphne. Only Kelly Macdonald shows any real compassion and composure as Olive, the nanny.

I won't give away what happens in the last act of the movie, but I will say that it manipulates the viewer in a way that made me uncomfortable. That, plus the entitled nature of the British upper-class, turned me off. Though the movie is rated PG, the recurring war themes and indifference to the boy's issues do not make this the family outing the producers no doubt hoped it would be. If you want to show your kids a Winnie The Pooh movie, stick to the animated Disney stuff.

I give "Goodbye Christopher Robin" a 4 on a scale of 10.

Picture Of The Day

Kudos to Burger King for this anti-bullying spot...

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Seth Explains It

My brother Seth (former Deputy Secretary of Labor) made the media rounds yesterday to talk about congressional Republicans' plans to cut the maximum 401k contributions from $18,000 to $2,400 a year -- which will impact a lot of middle class Americans -- and his prediction for when the GOP might be able to pass tax reform. One of his stops was on the CBSN show "Red and Blue," where he once again explained the situation in a way that few political pundits do...

Brian Dunning, "Skeptoid"

Here's my conversation with Brian Dunning, who has been doing the award-winning weekly science podcast, Skeptoid, for over a decade. I started off by asking him to explain the difference between skepticism and cynicism, and then we were off and running on topics such as:
  • Why it's so hard to convince people that what they believe is wrong;
  • Whether critical thinking is taught in our schools;
  • How to get Walgreens to stop selling homeopathic products;
  • How celebrities and TV networks promote pseudoscience and erode public interest;
  • The upcoming release of the final bits of paperwork on the JFK assassination.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 10/23/17

This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a stripper in the spare bedroom, a choked coach, and boom goes the dynamite! Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Movie Review: "Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House"

"Mark Felt" is a drama about the man who, while second in command at the FBI in 1972 and 1973, simultaneously served as Deep Throat, an anonymous source to Bob Woodward of The Washington Post on the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon’s resignation. Felt kept that secret until 2005 and died in 2008.

Liam Neeson is very good as Felt, who was sickened by Nixon replacing the late J. Edgar Hoover as FBI director with L. Patrick Gray, an outsider who was not part of FBI culture and more like a mole feeding information back to the White House about the Watergate investigation. The supporting cast of Brian d’Arcy James, Josh Lucas, Tony Goldwyn, and Ike Barinholtz play Felt's underlings, but they all look so similar that it's hard to tell who each character is.

Ironically for a Liam Neeson movie, there's a missing child subplot. Felt's teenage daughter had left home for parts unknown, a mystery that is played out in scenes with Neeson at home with Diane Lane, who is very good as Felt's wife, Audrey, a tortured woman who drank too much. Unfortunately, we don't get enough of Lane, who is always a pleasure to see on screen, because many of her scenes were cut for time -- an edit that director, Peter Landesman, has apologized for.

Speaking of Landesman, who made the terrific 2015 Will Smith movie, "Concussion" (my review is here), this time he's stuck with a very talky story that makes for a less-than-compelling movie. We see Felt talking with his FBI colleagues as they stand around a desk or move between offices, and as he occasionally slips out to discreet locations to spill the story to Woodward, but that's not enough to get us invested in the story -- particularly when we know how it will end.

"Mark Felt" wants to be a companion piece to "All The President's Men." Unfortunately, that classic covered much more than just the Deep Throat angle in a way that this can't, relegating "Mark Felt" to not much more than a footnote, much like Felt himself.

I give "Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House" a 4 out of 10, mostly for the performances of Neeson and Lane.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Movie Review: "Only The Brave"

When I was a kid, I looked up to my cousin Mel, who was a volunteer firefighter. I was fascinated by the fact that, whenever the siren went off in his town, he would drop whatever he was doing and race to the firehouse to join his colleagues as they jumped on the truck and headed off to fight a fire. What a selfless act that was, one that took quite a measure of courage -- as everyone else was running away from the flames, he and the other firefighters ran towards them in an effort to save life and property.

I still have a lot of respect for firefighters, whether they're volunteers or professionals, and can't understand why there haven't been many good movie dramas about the men and women who do that job. In fact, I can only think of three that are worth naming, though none of them are great: "Backdraft," "Ladder 49," and "The Towering Inferno." Yes, Steve Martin played a fire chief in "Roxanne," but that's a romantic comedy where the firemen only appear occasionally as comic relief.

Wildfires have been in the news the last couple of weeks as Northern California has been devoured by blazes that have destroyed hundreds of acres of homes and forests. That makes this a perfect time for the release of "Only The Brave," a movie based on the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite group based in Prescott, Arizona, that specialized in fighting wildfires just like those you've seen on your TV screen every day.

It stars Josh Brolin as the supervisor of the Hotshots, Jeff Bridges (still mumbling) as his boss, and Miles Teller as a rookie on the squad. We see the firefighters bonding as they go through drills and work real fires. They do their jobs not with hoses, but with axes and shovels and chainsaws, clearing away trees and brush and anything else that could be fuel for a rapidly moving fire. Those scenes are somewhat exciting, but director Joseph Kosinski and screenwriters Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer weren't content to just focus on the men and their profession. We also get wrapped up in the side story of Brolin's wife, played by Jennifer Connelly, who wants more out of their marriage, and Teller's girlfriend and child. They are an unnecessary distraction, but one of the reasons they’re given more than their share of screen time may be that too much of the movie involves Brolin and his men banging away at the Earth rather than confronting the fires directly.

That's where "Only The Brave" lost me -- there wasn't enough firefighting to keep me riveted to the screen. Even its harrowing climactic scene, which I won't give away, didn't flip the ratio of courageous action vs. soap opera drama. That's a shame, because there's no doubt that the Granite Mountain Hotshots and other firefighters like them deserve tons of respect and gratitude. Unfortunately, instead of a raging wildfire of a movie, "Only The Brave" turns their real-life story into a boring slow burn.

I give "Only The Brave" a 5 out of 10.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Mulaney, Oswalt, and Letterman

I've become a big John Mulaney fan over the last couple of years. I didn't watch his Fox sitcom, (which only ran for a dozen or so episodes in 2014), but discovered him via his Netflix standup special, "The Comeback Kid." I was impressed by his writing, delivery, and attitude. Then I found "Oh, Hello" (also on Netflix) a filmed version of a Broadway show he did with Nick Kroll, in which they play two aged hipsters from the upper west side of Manhattan. They were hysterical together, as well as with Steve Martin, who filled the guest star role for a segment called Too Much Tuna, in which they brought a celebrity onstage from the audience each night, did a spontaneous conversation for several minutes, then urged them to eat a gigantic tuna fish sandwich.

Thursday night, I went to see Mulaney do his act in person at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis. I hadn't been able to get tickets to the 7pm show when it went on sale because it sold out immediately, but when he added a second show at 10pm, I snagged a seat and went. I may have been the oldest and least-tattooed person in the room, but I had a rollicking good time watching Mulaney prowl the stage doing 75 minutes of very clever, very funny all-new material. If you don't see him on this tour -- and you should -- I'm sure it will become a Netflix special next year. I plan to see Mulaney each time he comes through town.

Speaking of great stand-ups on Netflix, I've seen the new Patton Oswalt special, "Annihilation," in which he addresses the death of his wife last year. That wouldn't seem like a good topic for comedy, but Oswalt handles it remarkably. He acknowledges that the day she died was the second-worst of his life, exceeded only by the following day, when he had to tell his daughter that the woman who meant everything to her would no longer be around. Heartbreaking, yes, but Oswalt manages to balance his grief with his observances through a comedian's eye for the ridiculous -- none of which I will spoil for you. That chunk takes up about 20 minutes of "Annihilation," and the rest of it is nearly as good. I strongly recommend it.

Lastly, we come to David Letterman, who will receive the Mark Twain Prize For Humor tonight in Washington, DC (an edited TV version will air on PBS next month). Many of the usual suspects will be there to honor him, including Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Jimmy Kimmel, whose ABC late-night show Dave appeared on a few nights ago.

Letterman long ago began coasting on his status as Comedy Legend, and that appearance provided more evidence. While Kimmel merely fawned over his TV hero, Dave just did his grouchy old guy-with-too-much-beard routine without saying a single amusing thing. It was reminiscent of the last decade of his own "Late Show," where he often looked like he barely gave a damn about the show, the guests, the monologue, or the desk pieces.

I'd be willing to bet that all of the Letterman clips shown at the Mark Twain ceremony will be either from his years doing "Late Night" on NBC, or the first decade of his "Late Show" on CBS, when he was still trying to push the comedy envelope, but not much (if anything) from his later shows.

That's not to say Dave doesn't deserve the honor -- hell, they've given the prize to Carol Burnett, whose heyday was in the 1970s, and Neil Simon, whose last good play ("Lost In Yonkers") was on Broadway in 1991. Like Letterman, they both deserved the recognition, but more as a Lifetime Achievement Award than a citation for contributions to contemporary comedy.

For that, you have to look to the likes of John Mulaney and Patton Oswalt.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Showbiz Show 10/20/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed "Only The Brave," "Goodbye Christopher Robin," and "Mark Felt," as well as other movie/showbiz stuff.

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

Harris Challenge 10/20/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes trivia categories about Snowy Showbiz, People Not As Rich As Bill Gates, and This Day In History.

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

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 10/20/17

This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a cake for a cop, a fishy ATM, and a check mark on a bucket list. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Now You're Just Fucking With Us

No one has ever, or will ever, called me "fashionable," and that's fine with me. I know nothing about fashion, and don't want to. I couldn't care less what the latest trends are in clothing. But every year once in awhile I'll see a photo of some new outfit a designer has presented to the world and think, "who in their right mind would wear that?"

Here's the latest example, as displayed today at Tokyo Fashion Week by a Japanese brand named Thibaut...

[photo by Splash News]

It's one thing to convince customers to buy distressed jeans with holes already in them or (to pick an example from last year) to market jeans with transparent knees -- but it's a whole other thing to come out with a pair of jeans that is nothing more than seams and a waist. Technically, I suppose, the empress has something on, but it just barely qualifies as clothes.

It occurs to me that, rather than paying what I'm sure is a ridiculously inflated price for this nonsense, you could probably make your own pair of thong jeans with any good pair of scissors.

But the only time you can wear them is on Extremely Casual Friday.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Bob Schieffer, "Overload"

Here's my conversation with Bob Schieffer, longtime CBS news anchor/reporter/analyst, about his new book, "Overload: Finding The Truth In Today's Deluge Of News." Among the questions I asked him:
  • Is our current situation proof that more information doesn’t equal better information?
  • Do you consider this a national security issue?
  • Do you know any reporter who made up a story and kept their job?
  • How did you handle it on "Face The Nation" when politicians lied straight to your face?
  • How bad do you believe Russia's role is in the creation and distribution of bogus news stories?
  • What do you think of Trump's attacks on the press?
  • Why can’t the media ignore Trump's tweets as if they were just the kind of nonsense your drunk uncle says at Thanksgiving?
  • Does it bother you that cable news outlets spend all day with panels of pundits, rather than reporting?
  • Is it the responsibility of Facebook and Twitter to reduce the distribution of bogus stories?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 10/16/17

This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a fajita thief, a couple in a Porta-Potty, and a man in a ski mask. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Worth A Link

Can you guess what state a woman who claims she was abducted by aliens is running for Congress from?

Movie Review: "Marshall"

When it comes to playing real people on the big screen, Chadwick Boseman is three for three. He captured the stoic nature of Jackie Robinson in "42," unleashed the funk power of James Brown in "Get On Up," and now portrays Thurgood Marshall, a towering figure in American legal history, in "Marshall."

Unlike "Get On Up," "Marshall" doesn't try to tell the full story of the civil rights lawyer who became America's first black Supreme Court justice. Nor does it focus on the big cases he argued before that court, including the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board Of Education case that desegregated schools. Instead, the movie focuses on a case from early in his career, in 1941, when he was the only litigating attorney for the NAACP, which sent him to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to defend a black man charged with the rape and attempted murder of a wealthy white woman.

Because Marshall had not been admitted to the bar in Connecticut, he enlisted the help of a local attorney, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), who didn't practice criminal law but agreed to make the introduction of Marshall to the court. But when the judge (James Cromwell) insisted that he remain quiet in the courtroom while Friedman acted as the criminal defense lawyer, Marshall had to figure out a way to make the case as a silent partner. Well, partner isn't the right word, because it was clear that Marshall was the lead lawyer with much more experience and legal savvy. As for Friedman, he was rightly wary of the publicity the case would bring because, even though this was Connecticut, there were still enough racists and anti-Semites around to make trouble for both of them.

"Marshall" has echoes of "To Kill A Mockingbird" in its white-woman-black-man sexual assault charge, and in the way it doesn't shy away from the racial hatred just outside the courthouse doors while the drama plays out inside. Veteran director/producer Reginald Hudlin gets good chemistry out of Boseman and Gad as the unlikely legal team. Gad manages to sublimate his silliness as Friedman, and Cromwell is as solid as ever as the judge. Sterling K. Brown is very good as Joseph Spell, the chauffeur and butler charged with the horrible crimes, and Kate Hudson does some of her best work in years as the woman who accuses him.

But the movie belongs to Boseman, who imbues Marshall with cockiness, fearlessness, and intelligence to create a strong portrait of a man who spent his life fighting for the underdog. My only small complaint is that the script takes time away from the legal proceedings to show us some of Marshall's personal life, which does nothing to further the story.

Still, I liked "Marshall" enough to give it an 8 out of 10.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Movie Review: "The Foreigner"

I went to a movie theater the other night and saw two movies with the same title, "The Foreigner." One of them is a Jackie Chan revenge movie, as he tries to find the men who planted a bomb that killed his innocent teenage daughter while she was shopping for a prom dress. The other movie called "The Foreigner" stars Pierce Brosnan as a former IRA member who is now an Irish Deputy Minister, trying to unravel a mystery about a group of killers who call themselves "The Authentic IRA."

Each of these plots would probably have made a pretty good movie on their own. The problem is that they're mashed together into one confusing story that might have Chan listed first above the title -- because that will help "The Foreigner" do huge box office in China, where much of the movie's financing came from because he's still that nation's #1 movie star -- but doesn't give him much to do. He has a few exciting action sequences that prove he can still fight and move at age 63, but I'd bet that he's now using a double for a lot of the shots rather than doing all his own stunts, as he used to. Aside from those few scenes, Chan doesn't have much more to do than sit there and look morose, the way a lot of fathers would after losing their young daughter, or use his special skills to track down his prey. If you go expecting lots of action and amazing stunts with Chan taking on Brosnan, you may leave the theater underwhelmed.

As for the second-billed Brosnan, he projects power without lifting a single fist, commanding every scene he's in. With an Irish accent dripping from his lips, he plays the Deputy Minister as a true politician -- saying whatever it takes to get information and reaction from everyone he talks to. We're not quite sure what his motives are, but they're clearly not as innocent as he wants us to believe from the get-go. While Chan works his end of the plot mostly alone, Brosnan is constantly surrounded by stereotypical characters straddling the good guy/bad guy line.

Director Martin Campbell is an action-movie pro, having worked with Brosnan on the 1995 Bond movie, "Goldeneye," as well as his successor Daniel Craig a decade later on "Casino Royale." So is writer David Marconi, who worked on "Live Free Or Die Hard" and "Enemy Of The State."

I just wish that they'd split "The Foreigner" into two tales told separately by opening up the Brosnan story in one and letting Jackie Chan do more of his thing in the other. The mash-up we get instead is okay, but not as good as it could have been.

I give "The Foreigner" a 5 out of 10.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Alan Sepinwall, "Breaking Bad 101"

Last year, I talked with critics Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz about “TV: The Book,” in which they ranked the greatest TV shows of all time. Deservedly, “Breaking Bad” was near the top, and now Alan has published “Breaking Bad 101: The Complete Critical Companion.”

It’s full of the episode recaps he wrote during the five years the show aired on AMC, plus some insight from showrunner Vince Gilligan, stars Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Anna Gunn, and many others. If you’ve never seen "Breaking Bad," you can read each chapter after watching the corresponding episode (or after binge-watching a bunch of them). If you’ve already watched the whole series, Alan’s recaps will not only remind you of what you watched, but also fill in some holes of things you missed.

In our conversation we touched on:
  • What Vince Gilligan told him about the pace of the show and its attention to detail;
  • How the look of the show influenced those that followed;
  • The backlash against Skyler White and the actress who played her, Anna Gunn;
  • How Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman was going to be killed off in the first season;
  • How the show's writers had to improvise new plot lines and characters as they went;
  • Whether Walter White was a hero or a villain;
  • The brilliance of Giancarlo Esposito's Gus Fring.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Showbiz Show 10/13/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I discussed the impact of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault, harassment, and rape charges on the women who were his victims and the movies still in the pipeline from his company. Then we reviewed "Marshall," "Happy Death Day," "The Foreigner," and other movie/showbiz stuff.

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

Harris Challenge 10/13/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes trivia categories about The Supreme Court, the TV Academy Hall Of Fame, and Things That Happened On Friday The 13th.

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

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 10/13/17

This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a foamy fill-up, a time-traveling drunk, and a guy who Googled "how to rob a bank." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Best Thing I've Read Today

Paul Gertner is a wonderful magician who has appeared on Penn and Teller's "Fool Us" TV show twice. He fooled them the first time with a card trick, and when he went back for a second shot a few months ago, he worked up a new twist on the classic cups-and-balls routine, as you can see above.

After watching that, take a look at his blog post, in which he explains his battle with the network's legal department over using a beer can on the air, and how many hours of design and rehearsal went into the final performance of the trick, which he had proposed even though he didn't know how to do it yet!
The idea of pitching a magic trick and then having to figure out a method was something that is part of my creative process. I don’t do it all the time… but when working with companies on trade shows or sales meetings over the last 40+ years it was not uncommon to pitch an idea that did not yet exist. There have been many times that I’ve hung up the phone and turned to my wife Kathy and said: “Well they like the idea… it’s a GO!” And she would say: “So how are you going to do it?” And I would say: “I’m not exactly sure… I got to work that part out.” Most memorable was the time I told a client that sold fork lift trucks that I could cut a woman in half while she was lifted 25 feet in the air on two forklifts in the exhibit hall in McCormick Place in Chicago. Of course, the more difficult conversation was telling Kathy that I wanted her to be the woman who got cut in half while high in the air. Kathy agreed… we did it at quite a few shows… and it was a huge success.
Read Paul Gertner's full behind-the-scenes story here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Road Trip: #VegasStrong

Some friends were surprised to hear that I went to Las Vegas this weekend, only a week after the massacre at Mandalay Bay.

They asked if I was worried and had considered cancelling the trip, but I told them no, there was no reason to do so. That would be like refusing to fly anywhere after a recent plane crash. Yes, the shooter had killed almost five dozen people and wounded ten times that, but he was dead and there was no threat of a follow-up.

Before leaving St. Louis, a couple of family members told me to “be careful.” I pointed out that no amount of caution would protect me from a madman who was planning to kill at random. I’m sure that most of the people at the country music festival were being careful last Sunday night — I wanted to say “all of the people were being careful,” but you and I both know that there are irresponsible idiots everywhere, but even their actions had nothing to do with the bullets flying.

The bottom line is that no extra measure of preparation was necessary for my Vegas trip — just the usual, including: don’t count your money in public; don’t try to bluff a guy who always calls; and don’t play the new roulette wheel at the Venetian that has not just zero and double zero, but an extra space labeled “S” (because triple zero wouldn’t look good, I suppose), giving the house an additional 2.5% edge. That last one would never be a problem for me because I don’t play roulette anywhere, and I refuse to give Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson even a penny of my money.

If tourists have stayed away from Vegas for the last week or so, I couldn’t tell. The sidewalks were packed, the poker tables were as full as they usually are this time of year, and the lines to get into the nightclubs were ridiculously long. I am not patron of those clubs because I don’t drink, I hate loud pounding music, and the average customer is less than half my age, which would essentially make me invisible to the other attendees. But it’s hard not to notice when you’re walking through a casino and pass hundreds of twenty-somethings, all hoping to get into a club so they can overpay for drinks and not be able to hear a single word anyone says.

Over the weekend, I never went near Mandalay Bay nor the site of the concert/massacre, but there were signs up and down the strip with the hashtag #VegasStrong. One of my Lyft drivers told me that, in addition to the first responders and medical personnel going above and beyond last Sunday, a lot of local mental health professionals have been offering counseling since then — not just for the victims and their families, but anyone who had been at the show or was affected by it. That’s what I’d rather think about, keeping the humanity of the helpers in my thoughts, rather than allowing something horrible that happened in the past tense make me worried in the present and future tense.

Now that my trip is over, I’m happy to report that, as expected, nothing went wrong other than a few bad football bets (speaking of things I should be more careful about!).

Monday, October 09, 2017

Movie Review: "The Mountain Between Us"

Idris Elba and Kate Winslet just want to get home. She has to get to her wedding the next day in New York, while he has to operate on a patient in Baltimore. However, they're stuck at an airport in Idaho, where a snowstorm has grounded all commercial flights. Desperate to get out of there, he agrees to go along with her in chartering a private plane to Denver, where they might be able to catch another flight east.

Unfortunately, the charter pilot, Beau Bridges, has a stroke in mid-air and the plane crashes in the snow-covered Rockies. He's dead, leaving only Kate, Idris, and Beau's dog to survive and find a way to civilization. Fortunately, Idris is a surgeon, so he can take care of both Kate and the dog when they are wounded. She's a photojournalist, so she can, um, let's just say she's up for an adventure. As for the dog, well, you don't think the filmmakers are going to let a dog die on a mountain, do you?

The scenery is beautiful -- kudos to the location scouts who found the untouched wilderness where the movie was shot -- but Idris and Kate don't have much chemistry, an essential element in what is basically a two-hander story of love and survival. Worse, nothing happens in "The Mountain Between Us" that you won't see coming a mile away, even without one of Kate's telephoto lenses.

I give "The Mountain Between Us" a 4 out of 10.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

About Harvey Weinstein

As I started my KTRS show Friday, the NY Times exposé of Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long record of sexual harassment was uppermost on my mind. I was particularly galled by the statement he sent to the newspaper after it published the story. It seemed like he was offering less an apology than a justification, an excuse for his behavior.

So, I opened my mouth and began to speak about it, with a dose of NFL star Cam Newton’s misogyny thrown in, as well. Here’s how it sounded.

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

Showbiz Show 10/6/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed Kate Winslet and Idris Elba in "The Mountain Between Us," Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford in "Blade Runner 2049," and other movie/showbiz stuff.

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

Harris Challenge 10/6/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes trivia categories about Tom Petty, Sci-Fi Remakes, and This Week In History.

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

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 10/6/17

This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a weird smell in a school, a woman's unique necklace, and some serious robot abuse. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Kathryn Miles, “Quakeland”

Here’s my conversation with Kathryn Miles, author of “Quakeland: On The Road To America’s Next Devastating Earthquake.”

I asked her if we’ve gotten any better at predicting earthquakes, which American cities are most at risk, and whether our infrastructure can handle a big quake. We also discussed the skepticism of midwesterners who remember the panic created by Iben Browning’s failed warnings about the New Madrid fault a quarter-century ago.

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

Thursday, October 05, 2017

About That Punishment Music

I have received several emails from listeners asking for more details on the punishment music I used during the Harris Challenge on my Friday KTRS show.

It's from an NBC primetime special that aired on September 20, 1981, called "Get High On Yourself." It was produced by Hollywood studio executive Robert Evans (whose story was told so wonderfully in the documentary "The Kid Stays In The Picture") as part of his community service plea bargain after being busted buying $19,000 worth of cocaine.

Yeah, no jail time, just go produce a cheesy TV show and we'll be good. That's what's known as Rich Hollywood White Guy Justice.

Anyway, Evans put up $400,000 of his own money for the special, and culled big names from his Rolodex to do the show, including a "We Are The World" type musical number that was supposed to teach kids to stay away from drugs. The roster of then-famous folks who appeared included Paul Newman, Julius Erving, Muhammad Ali, Cathy Lee Crosby, Henry Winkler, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, Kate Jackson, Magic Johnson, Kristy McNichol, Robby Benson, Scott Baio, Herve Villechaize, Mark Hamill, and John Davidson. As you watch it, you'll notice that several of the stars (Paul Newman in particular) must have dubbed their voices later so they could be heard amidst the crowd of people in the studio -- not that it helps.

The song was written by Steve Karmen, who was otherwise best known for composing the "I Love New York" commercial jingle. I'm sure he'd much prefer to be remembered for that than this. Caveat: this may become an ear worm you can't get out of your head...you've been warned!

Of course, as you know, the special was so convincing that America never had a problem with drugs again after it aired. I doubt the same was true for some of the stars you're about to see...

Movie Review: "American Made"

Barry Seal was a TWA pilot when he was recruited by the CIA to fly reconnaissance missions over Central America to photograph suspected communist rebels. Then he got involved with Manuel Noriega in Panama and the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia. Pretty soon, he's not only on the radar of the CIA, but of the DEA, the ATF, the Louisiana State Police, and the sheriff of a small town in Arkansas.

All of this gets pretty hard to follow in "American Made," with Tom Cruise as Seal, but the plot points don't matter after awhile. Seal is just a pilot who will do whatever it takes to make money, from anyone, even when he starts running out of places to hide all the cash he's being handed by the various people he's working for.

Cruise is good in the role, probably the best one he's had in several years. But if you expect this to be an action movie like his "Mission Impossible" or "Jack Reacher" series, you're going to be disappointed -- there's not one extended fight sequence in the whole movie.

"American Made" was directed by Doug Liman, whose work I first noticed in 1996's Jon Favreau/Vince Vaughan classic, "Swingers." He also did "The Bourne Identity," "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," and "Edge of Tomorrow," which starred Cruise, too. There's an interesting connection between "American Made" and part of the story it tells. Liman's father, Arthur Liman, was chief counsel to the Senate committee that investigated the Iran-contra scandal in 1987, which involved one Barry Seal and introduced the world to a Marine Lieutenant Colonel named Oliver North. That scandal, and North, and then-president Ronald Reagan, are all part of the plot of the movie.

The best performance in "American Made" comes not from Cruise but from Domhnall Gleason, who played Monty Schafer, which may or may not have been the real name of the CIA officer who devised this whole scheme in the first place. Gleason plays him very straight but with a slight smirk on his face, as if even Schafer can't believe everything he's getting away with pushing Seal to do while denying everything.

I'm curious why this movie, which was shot in 2015, wasn't released until now. I suspect that the filmmakers didn't feel they explained the story well enough, so they went back and added some VHS-style video footage in which Seal narrates parts of his story. Unfortunately, that doesn't help much, so when you walk out of the theater, you'll have as much trouble keeping track of what happened as I did.

I give "American Made" a 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

I'm Just Asking

Suppose for a moment we are already at the point that self-driving cars are standard on our roads and the overwhelming majority of Americans use them to get around.

Now imagine that one day, some of those self-driving cars (not all, but some) went haywire and killed five dozen people while injuring ten times as many.

Do you think Congress would immediately have hearings on the use of autonomous vehicles and rush to pass legislation about how to make them safer and less likely to end human lives?

Movie Review: "Battle Of The Sexes"

In 1973, Bobby Riggs was a 55-year-old hustler has-been who had won Wimbledon in his youth but couldn't stand being out of the spotlight. So, he challenged Billie Jean King (then the #1 women's tennis player in the world) to play him for a $35,000 payday. King declined, but when she was then beaten and replaced at the #1 spot by Margaret Court, Riggs challenged the new champion instead, and Court accepted -- and lost, badly.

This allowed Riggs to go around making even more male chauvinist comments, like how women only belonged in the kitchen and the bedroom. Seeing an even bigger opportunity to make money and increase his fame, Riggs challenged King again, this time for $100,000 and -- even though she thought the Court debacle had hurt the women's movement -- she finally relented. The result was the most-watched tennis match in history. Ninety million people saw the spectacle, broadcast in primetime on ABC from the Houston Astrodome, with Howard Cosell doing the play-by-play and a circus-like atmosphere in the big build-up.

That's the heart of the movie "Battle Of The Sexes," which has really good performances by Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs, plus a supporting cast that includes Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Elisabeth Shue, and Alan Cumming. It also includes Cosell's original audio track from 1973, which was filled with all sorts of misogynistic lines like referring to King as "the little lady."

The movie, directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, who made "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Ruby Sparks," shows just how much discrimination women faced in that era and how important King was in advancing the fight for equality -- and encouraging other women to do the same. The sexism, which was then routine, practically drips off the screen every time Pullman's character opens his mouth. I'd like to say that times have changed, but we still live in an era when men can still get away with saying shockingly offensive things about women with very little consequence.

My only objection to "Battle Of The Sexes" is that it spends too much time on King's discovery that she's a lesbian as she gets involved with a hairdresser played by Andrea Riseborough. While that's a very important part of King's life, it's over-emphasized in "Battle Of The Sexes" to the detriment of the rest of the story. I worry it may end up being a turnoff to some potential viewers, particularly those who want to take their young daughters to see and learn about one of the most important female figures in professional sports. That's not to say that King's life choices were wrong, I'm just talking about the context of the movie, which could have been tightened up from its two hour running time by cutting or shortening many of those sequences.

This is not the first time that famous tennis match has been dramatized on screen. In a 2001 TV movie, Holly Hunter stole the show as King vs. the always-solid Ron Silver as Riggs -- but it's a story worth telling again for a new generation, especially when it's this well done.

I give "Battle Of The Sexes" an 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Tripp Whetsell On The History Of The Improv

Long before there was a Funny Bone or a Helium Comedy Club or the Comedy Store or the Comic Strip or Yuk Yuk’s, there was a place in Hell’s Kitchen in New York called The Improv.

It was started by Budd Friedman, who I met a couple of years ago when I was in LA and my friend Mark Evanier took me to a meeting of Yarmy’s Army, a group of veteran comedians that at one point included Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Shelley Berman, Don Knotts, Gary Owens, Ronnie Schell, Howard Morris, and many others. The night I was there, I met Jack Riley (Mr. Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show), Chuck McCann who does voice work for more cartoons that I can list, Thom Sharp who did those classic man-on-the-street commercials in St. Louis for Southwest Bank, and Pat Harrington who was Schneider on the original One Day At A Time (I wrote about that evening here).

Budd was there, too. I only talked with him for a few minutes, but told him I’d like to have him on my show some day. He said he’d be happy to when he finished the book he was working on about the history of the Improv. Well, now that book is out, but unfortunately Budd had a stroke earlier this year and can’t do my show, but his co-author Tripp Whetsell is here to talk about it.

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

Caitlin Doughty, "From Here To Eternity"

A couple of years ago, I read Caitlin Doughty's book, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” in which she’d graduated from college with a degree in medieval history and took a job at a crematory, which led to all sorts of odd encounters and bodies of every shape and size. That led her to become a licensed mortician, which led to her new book, "From Here To Eternity," in which she travels the world to see how other countries and cultures handle the end of life.

Here's my conversation with her about why she wanted to take this journey, why she feels funerals in the US have become impersonal, the arguments for cremation vs. burial, what she thinks of those Bodies exhibits, and what she wants done with her body when she dies.

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