Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis Mondays and Fridays, 3-6pm CT

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Movie Review: "The Post"


"The Post" is the story of the internal decision-making at The Washington Post over the publication of The Pentagon Papers in 1971. Those documents, leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, proved that the US government had been lying to us for years about our involvement in Vietnam.

The New York Times was actually the paper that printed those revelations first, but Richard Nixon's White House convinced a judge to bar the Times from publishing more. When the Post subsequently got its hands on the documents, its management team had to decide whether to risk the wrath of a federal court and the administration by printing what it had. That decision could only be made by the paper's publisher, Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep).

At the time, Graham had run the family-owned newspaper for just a few years following the suicide of her husband, and was not taken seriously by her male employees and colleagues. She was the only woman in such a position at a major newspaper, although the Post had yet to distinguish itself as more than a local DC paper at the time (that changed after the Pentagon Papers and, of course, its landmark coverage of Watergate). The company was, however, in the process of going public, and she was pressured by the businessmen surrounding her not to rock the boat or risk losing institutional support for the stock offering.

Meanwhile, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and his team of editors and reporters were gung-ho to get the devastating details of the ongoing federal cover-up into print. It is that battle of journalistic integrity vs. the continued existence of the newspaper that drives the drama of "The Post." Although we know the outcome from history, director Steven Spielberg keeps us riveted. The script by newcomer Liz Hannah (with some punch-up by "Spotlight" scribe Josh Singer) shows us how Graham's upper-class life -- which included friendships with the Kennedys, Johnsons, Reagans, and then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), whose role in the Vietnam cover-ups was exposed in the Pentagon Papers -- impacted her decision-making process.

As if that isn't aren't enough, the impressive supporting cast includes Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Tracy Letts, David Cross, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Zach Woods.

While not as good as "All The President's Men" or "Spotlight" or "The Paper", "The Post" is a riveting and heroic tale of journalists trying to uncover the truth and share it with the world. Moreover, as our modern history echoes the past, it's a still-necessary lesson in the power of the press to keep government in check, a cautionary tale of how lies told by the most powerful people in our nation can lead us down a dangerous (and deadly) path if not dragged out into public view.

I give "The Post" an 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Movie Review: "I, Tonya"


"I, Tonya" starts with a title card telling us it's "Based on irony-free, wildly contradictory and totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly." I wasn't sure what to make of that -- is this going to be a drama or a comedy or a mix of the two? Call it a dark comedy, if you like.

It seems to be leaning in the comedy direction, but there's no humor in the tale of a woman who was physically and emotionally abused from childhood by her mother and into adulthood by her husband. That's why the 1993 Tina Turner biopic, "What's Love Got To Do With It" didn't present itself as a comedy. As horrific as some of those scenes are in "I, Tonya," a few of them are presented in a not-so-serious way. That bothered me.

The movie is fashioned as if it's almost a mockumentary, with many of the characters telling their versions of Tonya's life story in interviews. Other times, as we see the scenes they're describing played out, the characters break the fourth wall and look straight into the camera as they continue their narration. That lightens the tone of the movie unnecessarily.

"I, Tonya" plays as though she's a victim of every circumstance in her sordid life, but -- like "The Florida Project" -- this is a movie about bad people making bad choices. Tonya may have been a helluva skater, but she was also the kind of genius who alternated drags of a cigarette with hits from her asthma inhaler. She takes no responsibility for the problems that befall her, placing blame instead on her poor upbringing, her horrible mother, her scumbag husband, and the figure skating judges.

As for the cast, Margot Robbie is nothing short of great as Tonya. She gets the look, the attitude, and the swagger just right. I don't know how much of the skating she really did, but it's hard to tell when it's a double doing those triple-axels instead of Robbie. Allison Janney also does a very convincing job as LaVona, Tonya's mother, who is in the running for Worst Parent Ever. She'll probably be nominated for an Oscar and give Laurie Metcalf (the mother in "Lady Bird") a run for her money. It's nice to see McKenna Grace (who I enjoyed so much last year in "Gifted") onscreen again as young Tonya. There are also solid performances by Sebastian Stan as the slimy Gillooly (is that redundant?) and Julianne Nicholson as Tonya's skating coach.

Director Craig Gillespie's previous movie, "Their Finest Hours," was on my Worst Movies Of 2016 list. This time around, he does a better job with the action sequences -- the skating scenes look very authentic -- but gets so much of the rest of it wrong. For example, he fills the soundtrack with tons of songs right out of the Martin Scorcese playbook, but some of them are poorly placed chronologically (e.g. why do we hear Chicago's 1971 tune "25 or 6 to 4" in  a scene that takes place in 1993?). It's as if he had put his Spotify classic rock playlist on shuffle and added the results randomly. He evens includes the umpteenth use of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky," which should be retired from films forever.

One thing Gillespie and his crew got 100% right was the look of those characters and the era. You can compare his fictionalized versions with the real Tonya (on ice) -- as well as the idiots who surrounded her -- in archival footage during the closing credits.

Of course, the only reason the movie exists, the only reason we even know Tonya Harding's name, is because of The Incident. That was the 1994 attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, at the US Figure Skating Championships in Detroit by Shane Standt, one of the lunkheads employed by Shawn Eckhardt, best friend of Tonya's husband Jeff Gillooly. These lowlifes are portrayed for comedic effect as pure dunces, another odd choice considering the violence against an innocent woman.

I remember much of the real story because, in those days, I talked about every detail of it on my radio show, and was even in the arena at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, when Tonya, Nancy, Kristi Yamaguchi, Midori Ito, Surya Bonaly and others competed (I was there for a weeklong remote broadcast of my WCXR/Washington morning show). On several occasions, I discussed the story with USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan, who covered the other top figure skaters of that era and wrote the definitive book about them. In a recent column about "I, Tonya," Christine was similarly disappointed with the movie:
For a quarter of a century now, popular culture has somehow fallen for the notion that Tonya got a raw deal from figure skating judges and the U.S. Figure Skating Association. This is the oxygen on which I, Tonya survives: Poor Tonya. The bad girl from the wrong side of the tracks got the shaft at every turn.

Nice try, but no. U.S. officials didn’t send Tonya to one Olympics. They sent her to two. She also won two U.S. national titles, one of which was later taken away due to her supporting role in the attack on Kerrigan. (She gave information about Nancy’s Cape Cod training rink to the “hit men," and later pled guilty to the felony of conspiracy to hinder the prosecution.)
Because of the attack on Nancy, Tonya's name stayed in the headlines for several months in 1994, until she was replaced by another athlete up to no good -- OJ Simpson, who sucked up every minute of our attention for months to follow. At least the recent movies about him didn't play the victim card, as "I, Tonya" unfortunately does.

I give "I, Tonya" a 5 out of 10.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Dan Pink, "When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing"


Dan Pink returned to my show to talk about his new book, "When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing."Our conversation ranged from the hidden patterns of the day to why you shouldn't have surgery in the afternoon to why high school should start later in the morning to the value of naps to why NBA players high-fiving and chest-bumping is a predictor of team performance.

I'll point out that whenever you opt to enjoy this podcast, that's the perfect time. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

Showbiz Show 1/12/18


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I review the new movies "The Post," "The Commuter," and "I, Tonya." We also discussed the paycheck controversy involving Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams, the accusations against James Franco, an upcoming Bob Odenkirk action movie, and whether Lindsay Lohan would make a good Batgirl.

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

Harris Challenge 1/12/18

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the categories include the Richest Women In America, Hey I Know That Guy, and Have You Been Paying Attention? Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/12/18


This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a spider on fire, a guy applying for the wrong job, and a woman returning a dead Christmas tree. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, January 12, 2018

As I Tweeted

  • If I owned a radio station, we would have changed our music format today to Shithole Country.

On My Friday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show (listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com).

In the first hour, I'll talk with Dan Pink about his book, "When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing."

In the second hour, Max and I will review three new movies -- "The Post," "I, Tonya," and "The Commuter" -- along with other showbiz stuff.

In the third hour, you can test your topical trivia knowledge with my Harris Challenge, and I'll have a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News®, too.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Legal Responses Of The Day

The tweet from President Donald Trump:

"We are going to take a strong look at our country's libel laws, so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts."
The response from ACLU attorney Brian Hauss:
President Trump's threat to revise current libel laws is, frankly, not credible. There is no federal libel law, and the president does not have the authority to change state libel laws. Furthermore, the First Amendment provides strong protections against libel liability, particularly with respect to statements about public figures or matters of public concern. Whatever President Trump might think, he has no power to to override these constitutional protections.
If you think that's good, then take a look at the letter sent by Elizabeth McNamara, attorney for publisher Henry Holt after Trump's lawyers sent a cease-and-desist demand over Michael Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury," claiming it libels the president:
Mr. Trump is the President of the United States, with the "bully pulpit" at his disposal. To the extent he disputes any statement in the book, he has the largest platform in the world to challenge it. Generalized and abstract threats of libel do not provide any basis for President Trump's demand that Henry Holt and Mr. Wolff withdraw the book from public discourse. Though your letter provides a basic summary of New York libel law, tellingly, it stops short of identifying a single statement in the book that is factually false or defamatory. Instead, the letter appears to be designed to silence legitimate criticism. This is the antithesis of an actionable libel claim....

To briefly address a few of the additional substantive claims identified in your letter, we note that you understandably cite to New York as the governing law, yet we were surprised to see that President Trump plans on asserting a claim for "false light invasion of privacy." As you are no doubt aware, New York does not recognize such a cause of action. Messenger ex rel. Messenger v. Gruner Jahr Printing and Pub., 94 436, 448 (2000); Hurwitz v. US, 884 F.2d 684, 685 (2d Cir. 1989). Not only is this claim meritless; it is non-existent. In any event, it is patently ridiculous to claim that the privacy of the President of the United States has been violated by a book reporting on his campaign and his actions in office.
It's at times like this when it's clear that to be Trump's attorney means being forced by your client to lash out at anyone who he perceives to be insulting or demeaning him, even though there's no legal basis for that claim. I've never seen someone threaten to sue so many people -- including virtually every major news outlet -- without following through, as if the threat alone will make them back down.

Fortunately, his targets refuse to be bullied. Besides, they know that if he were to file an actual lawsuit, they'd be able to use the discovery process to reveal all sorts of things he'd rather not become public. Thus, they call his bluff time and again, but that doesn't stop him from going full bluster, both on Twitter and the letterhead of his attorneys.

One last thought: considering all the false claims and personal attacks that are part of so many of Trump's public statements, loosening the libel laws probably wouldn't work to his benefit. He'd face an onslaught of lawsuits against him from multiple parties.

As I Tweeted

  • The power went out at the CES show in Vegas yesterday for a couple of hours. An Apple spokesman says, "We were just trying to protect the light bulbs so they'd work longer."

A Streaming Suggestion


I'm glad "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" won two Golden Globes on Sunday night, for its star, Rachel Brosnahan, and best comedy series. The Globes may not have any prestige, but if the publicity brings more eyeballs to a show I've been raving about for weeks to anyone who will listen, which means Amazon will order a second season, so much the better.

The series, which streams on Amazon Prime Video, is about an upper-middle-class housewife in 1958 New York who discovers she just might have a talent for stand-up comedy. At the time, there were very few women in that business -- and they did mostly self-deprecating humor about their looks or their husbands. Midge (that's her first name) talks about all sorts of stuff, in free form, and has a natural knack for the timing and material she creates.

This causes a rift with her husband, Joel, who thought he was the comedian in the house, but all he could do was ripoff Bob Newhart's standup act, verbatim. The fact that Joel is also sleeping with his secretary drives an even bigger wedge between then. Meanwhile, she gets help and career advice from Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein), the of-course-she's-grumpy manager of a Greenwich Village nightclub where Midge gets onstage every now and then.

I won't tell you any more, except that Midge and Joel's fathers are played by Tony Shalhoub and Kevin Pollak, respectively, and the rest of the supporting cast is just as solid. The writing and direction are sharp, thanks to showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino ("The Gilmore Girls"), who knows something about this world because her father, Danny Sherman, was a standup on the Borscht Belt circuit.

Add "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" to your Amazon watchlist, and let me know if you like it, too.

Best Thing I've Read Today

On my Monday radio show, I praised Oprah Winfrey for her #MeToo speech at the Golden Globes, but tried to scuttle any thoughts of her running for president. My major objection to her has always been her embrace of nonsense and her enabling of people who advocate alternative medicine and flat-out scams, like Mehmet Oz, Phil McGraw, and Jenny McCarthy. We already have an administration that doesn't embrace real science -- why would we want another one, particularly one that promotes such bad information?

Here's what Julia Belluz, senior health correspondent for Vox (and former guest on my show) says about those three swindlers of pseudoscience...

On Dr. Oz:

As a regular medical expert on Oprah, he used the platform to back a range of questionable health practices, including lending credibility to the Brazilian spirit medium and well-known huckster ”John of God.” The Oprah seal of approval helped Oz get his own show by 2009. Her instincts about his potential were good, in a sense: Oz is immensely popular, and his media empire now extends to books, magazines, radio, websites, and, of course, TV. But on The Dr. Oz Show, the cardiothoracic surgeon has regularly promoted bad science and bogus health advice.
On Dr. Phil:
Like Dr. Oz, McGraw has been censured for using his celebrity and his show for ethically dubious practices. In 2016, he was criticized for peddling diabetes pharmaceuticals through paid sponsorships that were masquerading as friendly advice about a disease from a trusted source. And last December, a Stat investigation uncovered some unethical behind-the-scenes practices on the show, including giving vodka to a guest who was battling alcoholism and asking other guests with severe drug addictions to buy drugs on the street — all for the purposes of entertainment.
On Jenny McCarthy:
Jenny McCarthy has been an ardent anti-vaccine advocate. She helped propel the discredited British doctor Andrew Wakefield, who has argued that vaccines cause autism based on his own fraudulent research, to fame. (McCarthy even co-authored an anti-vax book in 2011 with Wakefield, titled Callous Disregard.) In the media, she’s claimed that vaccines gave her son Evan autism, and that she was able to “cure” him through a special diet and supplements. Of course, the notion that vaccines cause autism has never been supported by science. But Oprah gave McCarthy a vast audience via her TV show in 2007. Days after that Oprah appearance, McCarthy was invited on Larry King Live and Good Morning America to spread her anti-vaccine message even further. Between the three shows, she reached between 15 million and 20 million viewers with her anti-vaccine message.
Read Julia's full piece here.

Previously on Harris Online...

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Emily Dufton, "Grass Roots"


Recreational use of marijuana is legal in 8 states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) and decriminalized in another 14 (plus the US Virgin Islands). It's still illegal in Missouri, while Illinois is one of 29 states that allow the use and sale of medical marijuana.

All of this was made possible by the 2013 Cole Memorandum, which provided some protections from the enforcement of federal law. But that memo was rescinded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week, which made this a perfect time to bring Emily Dufton onto my show to discuss her book, "Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America."

We talked about the impact of that memo being rescinded, whether weed was ever legal in the United States, and how the loosening of marijuana laws in the 1970s led to backlash in the 1980s that tightened them right back up -- and whether that can happen again. We also discussed whether, in states where it’s been legalized, there's been a commensurate increase in underage kids smoking weed. Other topics included banking problems for marijuana businesses, social justice issues about throwing users/sellers in jail, and what we know about the science of pot.

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

Brad Taylor, "Operator Down"


Brad Taylor spent more than two decades in the US Army, including 8 years in special forces as part of Delta Force. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, then went on to teach military science at The Citadel. He’s also the author of the popular Pike Logan series of books, including the newest entry, “Operator Down.” In it, special agent Pike Logan and his team stumble onto an attempted military coup in Africa when they search for a missing Mossad agent.

We talked about how he researches his books, whether he has to be careful about revealing confidential technology and spy craft, and whether his books will become TV series or movies. Then we broadened out to discuss North Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

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

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

As I Tweeted

  • Ignore those reports that Oprah is "actively thinking" about running for president. I’m "actively thinking" about working out, but that doesn't mean I'm going to the gym.

Phil Rosenthal, "Somebody Feed Phil"


Phil Rosenthal -- who created “Everybody Loves Raymond” and starred in the documentary “Exporting Raymond” (read my review here) -- did a PBS series a couple of years ago called “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having," in which he traveled the world meeting people and eating great food. My wife and I were quite disappointed when PBS didn't pick up the show for a second season, but we're happy now because he sold it to Netflix, where it will debut under a new name, “Somebody Feed Phil,” this Friday (1/12/18). I was happy to welcome Phil back to my radio show to discuss it.

Having seen three episodes -- in which he visits New Orleans, Saigon, and Tel Aviv -- I can report that the show still works because of Phil's likability and his very expressive face. When he bites into something delicious, it shows, and there's plenty of that in each episode. He also meets lots of locals in his travels (his classroom visit with Vietnamese kids is a joy) and shares their stories, as well as the sights and sounds of the cities he visits.

In our conversation, we touched on how high his tolerance is for spicy food, whether he ever eats any plain food, and whether he ever tries to duplicate some of those delicacies when he gets home from the road. We also talked about open-faced tacos, the food his mother made when he was young, and feedback he's received from viewers who've visited restaurants he's featured on his shows.

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

David Pogue's Tips For iPhone 8 and iPhone X


David Pogue is the tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, writes a monthly column for Scientific American, contributes to "CBS Sunday Morning" and "Nova" on PBS, and has written or co-written over 100 books. His latest is yet another updated edition (the eleventh) of "iPhone: The Missing Manual." If you got an iPhone 8 or iPhone X for the holidays -- or gave one as a gift -- get this, too, because it's full of all sorts of information you'll want to know.

Before we got into his iPhone tips, David and I discussed the Meltdown and Spectre security flaws that could be a problem in all sorts of devices from several manufacturers, and whether you can do anything about it. Then we talked about Apple's battery problems and the public relations nightmare it created for itself by not telling the public what was going on.

From there, we moved into new iPhone features like Emergency SOS, additional parental controls, and whether Face ID could cause you privacy problems. We also discussed Siri vs. Alexa, why no one's angry with Amazon, and whether we'll have truly wireless charging anytime soon.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

Best Thing I've Read Today

Nicholas Kristof explains why 2017 was the best year in human history:

We all know that the world is going to hell. Given the rising risk of nuclear war with North Korea, the paralysis in Congress, warfare in Yemen and Syria, atrocities in Myanmar and a president who may be going cuckoo, you might think 2017 was the worst year ever.

But you’d be wrong. In fact, 2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity.

A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell....

Every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000, according to calculations by Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs a website called Our World in Data. Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water....

As recently as the 1960s, a majority of humans had always been illiterate and lived in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 15 percent are illiterate, and fewer than 10 percent live in extreme poverty. In another 15 years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone. After thousands of generations, they are pretty much disappearing on our watch.

Just since 1990, the lives of more than 100 million children have been saved by vaccinations, diarrhea treatment, breast-feeding promotion and other simple steps....

What moment in history would you prefer to live in?
Read Kristof's full column here.

Monday, January 08, 2018

On My Monday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show. Among my guests will be:
I hope you'll listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Movie Review: "Molly's Game"


In 2014, I got my hands on a copy of Molly Bloom's memoir, "Molly's Game," about her experiences running high-stakes underground poker games in Los Angeles and New York, drawing celebrity players like Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio -- along with several very rich men you probably don't know, like a billionaire banker named Andy Beal.

I read the book in one day, enjoyed it a lot, and then lined up an interview with Molly (which you can listen to here). Towards the end of our conversation, I jokingly asked whether she'd sold the movie rights yet. She said she hadn't, but was working on it.

The movie version of "Molly's Game," written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, with Jessica Chastain as Molly, opened this weekend. I'm a fan of Sorkin's writing, as far back as "Sports Night," through "The West Wing" and "The Social Network" and "Moneyball" and on and on. His writing rhythms are as unique and intelligent as David Mamet's, even if his characters do tend to give speeches a little too often.

Sorkin's script for "Molly's Game" sizzles with that same kind of dialogue, particularly between Chastain and Idris Elba, who plays the attorney she needs once the FBI comes down on her for operating illegal gambling operations. After two big movie missteps with "The Dark Tower" and "The Mountain Between Us," Elba deserves a great role, and this one is perfect for him. He and Chastain are both great, as is the supporting cast, which includes Michael Cera, Chris O'Dowd, Bill Camp, Brian D'Arcy James, Graham Greene, and Justin Kirk.

Unlike Molly's book, the movie does not name names. Cera's character is merely named Player X, though he is clearly based on Tobey Maguire, who was the biggest winner in Molly's games as well as the star that drew other rich guys to the table -- everyone wanted to play with Spider-Man. Maguire was ruthless with opponents, and with Molly, making unbelievable demands that eventually...well, I'll let you see for yourself. Suffice it to say he comes off in the book, the movie, and my interview with her as an absolutely greedy jerk.

The biggest problem with "Molly's Game" is that, at two hours and twenty minutes, it's too long -- and it doesn't have to be. Sorkin includes a long prelude about how Molly's Olympic skiing hopes came crashing down (literally) and several scenes about her relationship with her father (Kevin Costner). Neither of those story lines has anything to do with her life as "The Poker Princess," as she was dubbed by the tabloids. Perhaps Sorkin didn't trust that as the core of the story, but he should have, because the rest is merely an extra half-hour of distraction.

He also messes with the timeline of the story. In the movie, Molly's book came out before her troubles with the FBI. In real life, it was the opposite (she was charged in 2013, the book came out in 2014). I also don't like that Sorkin has Chastain narrating several parts of the movie in voiceover -- that's often an admission that the rest of the script didn't do its job.

On the other hand, Sorkin gets most of the poker elements right, particularly in explaining to non-poker-playing viewers what's going on during some of the hands, how better players can terrorize worse players, and how horrific it is to be the victim of a really bad beat.

Unfortunately, there's one glitch in a poker scene that stood out to me because I've written about it before (in a column called How "The Sting" Got The Poker Wrong). It has to do with something called a short raise, and here's how it works. A player bets $300. His opponent then makes it $500. Nope, can't do that. You have to raise by at least the amount of the previous bet*, so in this case, it should have been $600. Sure, I'm being picky and it's not a big deal, but if I noticed it, whoever served as Sorkin's poker consultant should have caught it, too.

"Molly's Game" deserves a place on the list of very good poker movies -- behind "The Cincinnati Kid," "Rounders," "A Big Hand For The Little Lady," and "Mississippi Grind" (yes, I'm including the latter because I'm in it!) -- but it's not as good as it should have been. The credit and the blame both belong to Sorkin in his rookie directorial effort.

I give it an 8 out of 10.

*Technically, you have to raise by at least the amount the previous bettor increased the bet, so if I bet $200 and Player A raised it $300 to a total of $500, then Player B's raise must be to at least $800, and so on. Of course, in no-limit Texas hold'em, which is the game played in the movie, any player can bet all their chips at any time, but I'm talking about the minimum raise here.

Update 1/11/12: I just discovered that the poker consultant/technical adviser on "Molly's Game" was Josh Leichner, who talked about that error in the betting action in that scene -- as well as some other good insider stories -- in this interview.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

As I Tweeted

  • I am not an Oprah fan, but that was a helluva speech at the Golden Globes. Note to future award show director/producers: after something like that, you cut to a commercial, not the next presenters.

Random Thoughts

I know a few people who are rich and/or really smart. None of them ever brags about how rich and/or smart they are.

I was happy to see that the ratings for the premiere of the 30th season of "The Amazing Race" were so good last week. My wife and I have watched every episode of the series and still get a kick out of pretending we're taking on the Detours and Roadblocks, not to mention Phil Keoghan's eyebrow.

The same idiot who went bust with Juicero -- the $400 machine you didn't need to squeeze juice out of a bag when you could do it with your hands -- is a major investor in a raw water company. That's unprocessed water (supposedly) straight out of the Earth, which means it's full of all sorts of stuff that can make you sick because it's not filtered like the stuff coming out of your tap. I wouldn't send this stuff to residents of Flint, Michigan.

Perhaps after you drink it, you can clean out your system with one of Gwyneth Paltrow's $135 coffee enema devices, her latest completely unnecessary health scam. After all, your body already has something that cleanses everything you put in it -- it's called a kidney. I keep two of those with me at all times. Not only are they very good at deciding which things I put in my mouth are good for my system, they dump the bad stuff out of the same place Gwyneth puts her coffee in.

I'm a fan of "The Profit," the CNBC show where Marcus Lemonis buys into small family businesses and tries to steer them towards success, despite always encountering one member of the family who's keeping the company from moving forward. But I've really liked the special episodes he's done the last two weeks about the American crisis in Puerto Rico and his visit to Humboldt County, California, to investigate the marijuana business (both legal and not-so-much). Lemonis has such a likable personality that he gets people to open up to him as well as any reporter I've seen. His commentary about how Puerto Ricans are being ignored by the federal government in a way they never would be on the mainland was heartbreaking.

Until last week, Oregon and New Jersey were the only states where it was illegal to pump your own gas. Several Oregonians posted comments on social media saying they were outraged they had to do it themselves, including one who was afraid of possibly encountering "transients." My colleague Josh Gilbert wisely asked whether any of them had ever taken a road trip to another state (say, Washington or California) where they couldn't just sit in their cars and wait for a cheery attendant to come out to fill'er up. But the best quote on the subject came from Declan O'Scanlon Jr, a Republican assemblyman from New Jersey. When asked about his state's new status as the only one banning self-serve at gas stations, he remarked:

The only thing you could argue is that New Jerseyans are more flammable than people in the other 49 states. Because we eat so much oily pizza, funnel cake and fries, maybe you could make that argument. Otherwise, it’s simply ridiculous.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Molly Bloom, Underground Poker Organizer

With the movie "Molly's Game" (starring Jessica Chastain, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin) opening today (listen to my review here), here's my 2014 conversation with Molly Bloom, the former underground high-stakes poker game organizer, who wrote about her experiences in the book the movie is based on...


For several years, Molly Bloom ran the biggest high-stakes poker game in Hollywood, with players like Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Gold, Nelly, Guy Laliberte, Gabe Kaplan, and several rich guys whose names you might not know. She ran it in secret, not because it was illegal (it wasn't), but because if word got out about where and when it was played, it would have ended -- and so would her income stream, which was quite generous.

She joined me to talk about her experiences running that underground game in LA, and later in New York, which she details in her book, "Molly's Game." We talked about Tobey Maguire's obnoxious greed, the degenerate gamblers who played and lost millions, how she chose the players, and why she wouldn't let any poker pros in the game. She also explained how she eventually got in trouble with the law, in a case that was just resolved last month.

One side note about this interview. Molly was doing several of them back-to-back via satellite, for five to eight minutes each, and I was last on the schedule. I was able to listen in on the talk show host right before me (I don't know his name, but he's from Providence, RI), and though I couldn't hear his voice, I could tell by her answers that he knew nothing about poker or the game she ran, and wasn't treating her very nicely. It was obvious she wasn't enjoying it.

Knowing that, when she came on the line with me, before we started recording, I told her that I actually knew her story and had read the entire book the day before (and enjoyed it!), plus I would bring a very different perspective to the interview because not only do I play poker often, but have been at the tables with several of the celebrities she had in her games. Her mood changed as she laughed and agreed, and we were off and running for what became a fifteen-minute conversation.

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

Stephen Davis, "Gold Dust Woman"


Stephen Davis has written books about Jim Morrison, Bob Marley, Miles Davis, and other musicians. Now he has a best-selling biography of Stevie Nicks, “Gold Dust Woman.” In my conversation with him, we talked about:
  • How the version of "Rhiannon" we all know isn't the same one Fleetwood Mac recorded;
  • The huge fan base of women who dress like her;
  • How Fleetwood Mac wasn't doing well before she and Lindsay Buckingham joined;
  • Whether they took her just to get him;
  • Whether it's true that she wears fringe and scarves because of Jimi Hendrix;
  • How her song “Gold Dust Woman” is about a drug addict, and how much were drugs part of her life;
  • Stevie's personal and professional relationship with one of the most important producers and executives in rock history;
  • Whether it's true Stevie was asked to do a new Fleetwood Mac album, but refused because she thought no one would buy it.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

Showbiz Show 1/5/18


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max was out sick, so I reviewed "Molly's Game," written/directed by Aaron Sorkin, starring Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, the high-stakes underground poker organizer (listen to my interview with her here). I also talked about the Golden Globes, David Letterman's new Netflix series, the return of "Game Of Thrones," and Marcus Lemonis' "The Profit" specials on CNBC.

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

Harris Challenge 1/5/18

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the categories include Not Gonna Win A Golden Globe, You Know The Name, and Where 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® 1/5/18


This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include an attempted electrocution, a passport problem, and very small clams. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, January 05, 2018

As I Tweeted

  • The huge tobacco company Phillip Morris has announced it is giving up cigarettes. When asked for comment, the CEO said, "We’ve been trying to quit for a very long time, but it’s really hard because we made these things so addictive!"

On My Friday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show (listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com).

In the first hour, I'll talk with Stephen Davis about his Stevie Nicks biography, "Gold Dust Woman."

In the second hour, with the movie "Molly's Game" opening in theaters today, I'll rerun a conversation I had with Molly Bloom in 2014, when her book about running high-stakes underground poker games (with some big-name celebrities around the table) was published. Then I'll review the movie, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin and starring Jessica Chastain.

In the third hour, you can test your topical trivia knowledge with my Harris Challenge, and I'll have a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News®, too.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Best Documentaries Of 2017

These are the five best documentaries I saw in 2017. Links go to my original reviews.


1) "An Inconvenient Sequel." Ten years after his climate change slide show became the Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore is back with an update, "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power." It has both good news and bad news. The good news is the vastly increased number of homes and businesses and municipalities now getting electricity from solar and wind power instead of coal. The bad news is that climate change continues to be a problem, particularly in coastal cities like Miami. Gore also shows footage from the first movie, in which animation showed that the sea level rise was enough of a problem that during a major storm, much of the southern end of Manhattan -- including the 9/11 memorial site -- would be flooded. He explains that he was hounded and criticized by the right for that scene, but then follows it up with actual footage of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, in which the prediction came true.


2) "Clive Davis: The Soundtrack Of Our Lives." A biography of the man widely considered the greatest record company executive of all time. Known for his ability to not only spot talent but nurture it, Davis also discovered and gave his artists songs that would become mega-hits. In his years running the music labels Columbia, Arista, J Records, and the RCA Music Group, he signed dozens of acts that went on to become hugely popular, including Bruce Springsteen, Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, Earth Wind and Fire, and Aerosmith. He also resuscitated the careers of Aretha Franklin, Carlos Santana, and Rod Stewart. All of those musicians, and more, appear in the movie, which also includes an extended segment on Davis' relationship with Whitney Houston, who he signed at age 19 and mentored until her untimely death at 48.


3) "Robert Klein Still Can't Stop His Leg." A career retrospective of one of the most influential standups in history. Jerry Seinfeld says Klein raised the bar by doing intelligent comedy, material that assumed that his audience was as bright as he was. There's also a clip from Jay Leno's final "Tonight Show," when Billy Crystal remembered that when Leno was an aspiring comedian, the only decoration in Leno's apartment was a poster of the cover of Klein's "Child Of The 50s" album. Director Marshall Fine Fine also got some of the comedians who credit Klein for the impact he had on their work, including Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Richard Lewis, Ray Romano, and Larry Miller, who explain how Klein changed the comedy paradigm. And there's contemporary footage of Klein, too, still doing standup at 75.


4) "Score: A Film Music Documentary." A documentary about the composers who create the soundtracks of movies, including John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Trent Reznor, Randy Newman, and many others. "Score" shows you not only the process of developing musical themes (e.g. the duh-duh-duh-duh of the "Jaws" shark), but also the orchestras recording the full pieces in a giant recording studios, conducted by the composers. Two things struck me about those sessions: 1) the musicians are sight-reading -- that is, playing the music cold, because they had never seen or rehearsed it before; 2) this is modern-day classical music, in that these composers are the rare few who are creating new pieces for full orchestras.


5) "River To The Heart." I had the pleasure of talking with Eddy Harris, who paddled a canoe down the 2,500-mile length of Mississippi River -- twice. The first time, he wrote a book about it. The second time (30 years later), he made this movie about his adventure, "River To The Heart." There's beautiful footage of his voyage and the people he met along the way, along with some lessons on the river's history. Oh, and an amazing sequence of Asian carp jumping out of the river and into Eddy's canoe (and face!).

Previously on Harris Online...

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Best Of The Rest

I published my ten Best Movies Of 2017 yesterday. Here are the Best Of The Rest -- movies that weren't good enough for the Best Of list, but deserve Honorable Mention. As usual, the links go to my full reviews.


11) "Coco." Pixar seems to have found a whole new palette of colors to play with on the screen. “Coco” is the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a Mexican boy who loves music but is forbidden to play or sing any songs by his family, because a few generations back, his great-great-grandfather abandoned his wife and daughter to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter. But Miguel idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the legendary (and dead) crooner, and wants to be like him so much that he steals de la Cruz’s guitar out of his mausoleum, planning to perform with it at the talent show in the town square on Dia De Muertos, the Day Of The Dead. But when Miguel strums de la Cruz’s guitar, he’s transported to The Land Of The Dead, where the adventure takes off and the colors come alive. After suffering from sequel-itis with “Cars 3” and “Finding Dory,” it’s nice to see Pixar get back to telling an original story while pushing the technical side, too.


12) "The Founder." Ray Kroc -- who considered himself the founder of McDonald's -- is played by Michael Keaton, who is so good at playing a guy down on his luck (on the verge of bankruptcy) who recognizes an opportunity and then turns on the people he’s supposed to be helping. He’s on screen almost every second of “The Founder” and is riveting, giving Kroc a charming veneer even when he is very unlikable. Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are perfect as the McDonald brothers who readily welcome Kroc into their restaurant and show him their system -- a decision they will come to regret. Laura Dern plays Ethel, who was caught in a loveless marriage with Ray, and Linda Cardellini plays Joan, who he falls for and eventually marries (there’s no mention of Kroc’s second wife, Jane). "The Founder" shows that there’s more to his story than the shiny, polished image McDonald’s wants you to believe.


13) "Gifted." “Gifted” is the story of a 7-year-old math prodigy named Mary, who's being raised by her uncle, Frank. He wants her to have a normal life, so he resists efforts by her school's principal to enroll her in a private school geared to academically-advantaged children. Soon Mary's grandmother gets involved. She's well-off, brilliant at math, too, and wants Mary to follow the educational path that will allow her to concentrate on learning at the expense of all else. McKenna Grace is nothing less than great as Mary, and there isn't one false note in her performance. She has the kind of screen presence that reminds me of Tatum O’Neal in “Paper Moon”, Drew Barrymore in “ET”, and Quinn Cummings in “The Goodbye Girl.” Chris Evans, who gained fame as Captain America in the Marvel movies, plays the much more down-to-Earth Frank, the man who's been raising Mary since her mother committed suicide 6 years earlier. Lindsay Duncan is also quite good as the grandmother, the movie's villain.


14) "Landline." Three years ago, I praised Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child” (read my review here), which starred Jenny Slate as a woman who decides to have an abortion when she discovers she's pregnant after a one-night stand. Now the two are back with “Landline,” a comedy based in 1995. Slate (a two-timer on this list, as she's also in "Gifted") plays Dana, a 27-year-old woman who’s engaged to Ben (Jay Duplass). Her sister Ali, played by Abby Quinn, is 10 years younger and a little more wild. One day, Ali is going through the family’s Apple Macintosh computer -- the kind with the monochrome display and not-so-floppy disks -- and discovers a file full of erotic poetry their father, John Turturro, has written to a woman who is not their mother, Edie Falco. That discovery brings the sisters together, but that’s not all the movie’s about. It's about relationships starting, ending, and fighting to remain intact.


15) The Trip To Spain." In the third movie of their "Trip" series, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back for another adventure in fine dining, comic impressions, and literary references. In their first movie, they traveled around England. In the second, they visited Italy. In the third, they're in Spain -- thus the Don Quixote/Sancho Panza photo, complete with windmills. You could call it Moore Of The Same, because there are a couple of scenes with the two guys doing dueling (and perfect) Roger Moore impersonations. As they've proven in the past, they're both very talented at doing voices, and this time they also take on Mick Jagger, John Hurt, Marlon Brando, David Bowie, and Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition." I hope they keep traveling together and sharing their experiences with us every couple of years, as I'm happy to join them on all of their trips.


16) "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. Boseman imbues Marshall with cockiness, fearlessness, and intelligence to create a strong portrait of a man who spent his life fighting for the underdog.


17) "Logan Lucky." "Logan Lucky" might as well have been titled "Ocean's Fourteen." Co-written and directed by Steven Soderbergh, it doesn't have George Clooney and the gang, but it has a whole new group of schemers, led by Channing Tatum. His character is fired from a construction job near the Charlotte Motor Speedway, but not before he's observed something that sparks an idea of how to rob the track of an enormous amount of cash during one of its busiest racing events. Adam Driver plays his co-conspirator brother, an Iraq war veteran and bartender who wears a prosthetic where part of his arm was blown off (it gets sucked into the plot, literally). Riley Keogh plays their sister, a hairdresser who plays a role in the scheme, too. In an inspired bit of casting, Daniel Craig -- in spiky blond hair, neck tattoos, and a questionable accent -- plays Joe Bang, an explosives expert they need. Unfortunately, he's in prison, but Tatum has a way around that.


18) "Darkest Hour." "Darkest Hour" is the third movie this year whose plot centers on the British Army being trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk by the Nazis in 1940. The first was "Their Finest," a light drama starring Gemma Atherton and Bill Nighy (my review is here). The second was "Dunkirk," Christopher Nolan's epic told from three perspectives in three different timelines (my review is here). Now we get "Darkest Hour," with Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in his earliest days as British Prime Minister. We've seen Churchill portrayed on screen before (both John Lithgow and Brendan Gleeson have won Emmys playing him in the last decade), but this is the best of the lot. The makeup job on Oldman is astounding, and his performance (sure to be nominated for Best Actor) is even better.



19) "Wind River." Jeremy Renner stars in "Wind River," a murder mystery on an Indian Reservation in Wyoming. As a tracker for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Renner is the first to discover the body of a barefoot young woman frozen in the snow, far from anywhere. He reports his find to the reservation's police chief (Graham Greene), who calls in the FBI, hoping to get a few experienced agents to look into the crime. Instead, he gets one rookie agent (played by Elizabeth Olsen, also part of the Marvel acting stable), who is as unfamiliar with Wyoming as she is with proper winter gear. Since he's familiar with the reservation (his ex-wife and kids are Native Americans and live there), Olsen recruits Renner to help her figure out what happened.


20) "Atomic Blonde." After Gal Gadot as "Wonder Woman" earlier this year (read my review here), it's good to see another female action star who can kick ass -- and that's exactly what Charlize Theron does, repeatedly, in "Atomic Blonde." The movie takes place in East Berlin in the days before The Wall came down in November, 1989. She’s a British MI-6 agent who has to get an East German traitor to the west with secret information about Soviet spies. What drives "Atomic Blonde" is the ultra-cool style of Theron's character, from her outfits to the way she walks to the way she handles everybody. Oh, yeah, there are amazing fight scenes, the kind where the guys with guns can’t possibly win against the woman who can spin and kick and punch. She uses any prop she can get her hands on, from a garden hose to a pot on a stove, with martial arts moves that look like they’re out of a Jackie Chan movie. They are the best I’ve seen since "The Bourne Identity," and certainly better than anything in a recent James Bond movie.

Previously on Harris Online...

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Best Movies Of 2017

Here's my list of the Best Movies Of 2017, with a few caveats. I don't see every movie that comes to theaters, like most of the big comic book and science fiction titles. I also don't go for movies with anyone in Victorian-era costumes, or the myriad group party movies that mimic "The Hangover" ad nauseum. With those points noted, these were the best movies I saw this year. The links go to my full reviews.


1) "The Big Sick." When I reviewed this in July, I gave it a 10 out of 10 (my first perfect rating since "Inside Out" in 2015) and said it was unlikely any other movie would beat it for the top spot on this list. I was right. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon have created a comedy that's both funny and heartwarming, with crackling dialogue, great supporting performances, and a story that would be deemed too bizarre if it weren't true. The chemistry between Nanjiani (playing himself) and Zoe Kazan (as Emily) is a pleasure to watch, and the scenes of him doing standup are perfect, too. The Oscars usually give comedies short shrift, but this movie deserves lots of nominations, from Best Picture to Best Original Screenplay to Best Supporting Actress (Holly Hunter).


2) "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a mother grieving over the horrific death of her daughter nine months ago. The police haven't caught the culprit and have given up on the case. So Mildred decides to rent three billboards to send the sheriff a message in an attempt to get the investigation going again. The signs raise the ire of Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his deputies, including Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who try to get Mildred to take the billboards down, but she refuses and the battle is on. I am going to stop right there, because to reveal any other plot points would be to spoil your enjoyment of this terrific movie.


3) "Hidden Figures." This movie was on other critics' 2016 lists, but I didn't include it because it didn't open in St. Louis until January 6th, making it a 2017 title for my purposes. "Hidden Figures" surprised and embarrassed me because I did not know that any women worked for NASA in such a capacity in the 1960s, let alone the African-American women who were an integral part of our space program -- all the way back to its earliest Mercury days. It's a lesson that I, along with the overwhelming majority of Americans, never learned in our history of that era, and I'm thrilled they finally get their due in a very entertaining story, with Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae as the leads.


4) "Get Out." Daniel Kaluuya and Alison Williams go off to the country to meet her parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) for the first time. In the car, Kaluuya asks Williams if she's told them he's African-American, and she says no, but it won't be a problem, because her father's the kind of guy who'll say he would have voted for Barack Obama a third time, if that were possible. Kaluuya's a little bit anxious about this, and it turns out he'll have good reasons. For a rookie director, Peele has all the chops of more accomplished filmmakers. He gets good, tight performances out of his cast, keeps the pace moving as the story builds, and though nothing really scary happens, he doesn't hedge on the creepiness, right up to the very satisfactory finale.


5) "Brad's Status." I'm shocked to find a Ben Stiller movie on this list, since I'm not a fan. But he gives such a natural, non-Zoolander performance, that he makes "Brad's Status" very worthwhile. Brad is jealous of his friends, all of whom he sees as much more successful in life. As Brad takes his son to visit colleges in the Boston area, he wonders where he went wrong. Why doesn't he have a private jet, or even an airline club card that lets him board the plane first? Why did he go to Tufts when it looks like his son might get into Harvard? How did he get left behind in the social hierarchy? Yes, he's suffering from a severe case of white male privilege, but can't stop wondering how it's fair that his friends have so much more than he does. Director Mike White keeps the camera tight on Stiller in some scenes so we can see every nuance of anxiety on his face. In others, he pulls back just enough to show us the relationship Brad has with his son, his wife, and the other people in his world. All of it gives us some perspective on his life (and ours).


6) "Lady Bird." Saoirse Ronan is fantastic as Christine McPherson, a 17-year-old who, for reasons unexplained, wants everyone to call her Lady Bird. Chalk it up to teenage rebellion, and there's lots of that in this character as she navigates her way through a Catholic high school, dating, a school play, applying to college, and the everyday frustrations of pretty much every human who's ever been that age. It's a time in life for expressing your individuality, and Lady Bird doesn't miss an opportunity to do so. That means a lot of clashes with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), who loves her daughter but doesn't much like her. Their relationship is the core of the movie. The other characters in Lady Bird's life -- her best friend, her new best friend, the boys she's interested in, her brother and his girlfriend, the teachers -- seem familiar, but don't spew the usual cliched dialogue you expect in a movie like this, thanks to writer/director Greta Gerwig.


7) "All The Money In The World." The plot involves the real-life kidnapping of Getty's 16-year-old grandson Paul in Rome by men who intend to hold him until they get Getty to pay a huge ransom. But Getty -- at that point, the richest man in the history of the world -- refuses to part with even a small piece of his wealth, claiming that if he paid the ransom, his other grandchildren would be at risk of being kidnapped, too. Besides, the only thing Getty loved more than having a lot of money was getting more of it, and thus the idea of giving anyone anything was anathema to him. Stuck in the middle is Gail, Paul's mother and Getty's daughter-in-law. It's a meaty role, inhabited by Michelle Williams, who grabs the spotlight and runs with it in a stunning performance. Christopher Plummer, who took over the role of Getty on short notice after the Kevin Spacey scandal broke, is perfect for the part. Kudos to director Ridley Scott, who saved what was already a very good movie with that casting replacement.


8) "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. That's the heart of the movie, 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. The movie 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 Bill Pullman (as the head of the USTA) 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.


9) "Dunkirk." In the spring of 1940, before the US got into World War II, Hitler's forces had surrounded more than 400,000 English, French, Belgian, and Canadian troops in the port city of Dunkirk, France. The soldiers were trapped on the beach. They could see Britain a couple of dozen miles across the English Channel, but the Royal Navy couldn't get its big ships close enough to pick them up. So, Winston Churchill, then the British Prime Minister for only a couple of weeks, called up the private owners of smaller boats to try to cross the channel and help with the rescue. Meanwhile, German planes were dropping bombs and strafing the soldiers with machine gun fire from the sky. Director Christopher Nolan puts you in the middle of the action, which never stops, and includes the third-most intense war scenes I’ve seen on screen (after "Saving Private Ryan" and "Hacksaw Ridge"). Watching it, I thought of the men of my father's generation who served in World War II but never shared stories about it because the memories were too agonizing.


10) "A United Kingdom." "A United Kingdom" is based on the story of Prince Seretse Khama of Bechuanaland (then a protectorate of the UK, now independent Botswana), who caused a stir when he married a white woman from London in the late 1940s. In doing so, he had to take on the English government as well as the traditionalists in his own family and country. As Seretse, David Oyelowo is compelling and magnetic, as he was in "Selma" (and "Queen of Katwe," another small film I've recommended). Rosamund Pike ("Gone Girl") is very good as Ruth Williams, the white English woman he falls in love with. Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and Jack Davenport are positively slimy as two of the British bureaucrats who, with their upper-crust disdain for all things African, take joy in pushing Khama around.

Also on Harris Online:

Monday, January 01, 2018

The Wizard Of Oz In Concert


Here's something rare you can share with your family today. It's a staged concert version of "The Wizard Of Oz" that was done at Lincoln Center on May 5, 1995, as a benefit for the Children's Defense Fund. It aired exactly once on TNT and TBS, on November 22, 1995.

The star-studded lineup included Jewel as Dorothy, Jackson Browne as the Scarecrow, Roger Daltrey as the Tin Man, Nathan Lane as the Cowardly Lion, Joel Grey as the Wizard, Natalie Cole as Glinda, Debra Winger as the Wicked Witch Of The West, Lucie Arnaz as Aunt Em, the Boys Club of Harlem as the Munchkins, and James Waller as Toto. I don't know which orchestra played that night, but the guest musicians included Ry Cooder, Dr. John, and David Sanborn, with additional appearances by Phoebe Snow and Ronnie Spector.

While you've no doubt memorized every moment of the original 1939 movie, you may not know some of the music that was cut from it but restored for this concert version, including the song "The Jitterbug" and an extra verse of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (which Jewel sings so beautifully, I wonder why she never did any other musicals on stage or screen).

The TV special, directed masterfully by Louis J. Horvitz, was later released on VHS tape, which we bought and played over and over for our daughter when she was young. Unfortunately, it never made it to DVD, and both the VHS and the soundtrack CD are long out of print. Thankfully, someone preserved them on YouTube, so you can watch the whole thing here (it comes in 7 parts, which should play in order if I've embedded them correctly below)...