Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Why I still have high hopes for a DC Comics big screen superhero franchise

There’s a battle going on right now and it’s not the one coming this November when angry voters across the country cast their ballots to choose the next president of the United States.

This war is currently taking place in “Hollyweirdland” where in one corner, already considered a winner in terms box office revenue the past several years is Disney’s Marvel superhero franchises.

The same cannot be said for the Warner Brothers/DC Comics brand in the other corner, which has taken a beating this year. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice fell short of the studio’s high expectations. Despite grossing $166 million opening weekend March 25, box office revenue quickly dwindled in the following weeks. The final U.S. gross came out to $330 million on a $250 million budget. Was it the supposed know-it-all movie critics, a majority of who reacted negatively to the film that kept audiences away?

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of justice was not perfect but it had everything I wanted in a good movie. The film had characters I cared about, humor, and made me shed a few tears at the end. When the end credits rolled, the audience, which was a full house, cheered.

I went into Suicide Squad hoping for the same reactions I got watching Batman V. Superman. The results were far from positive. There was some humor, most of it coming from the Joker’s psychotic love interest, Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robie. Brandishing a baseball bat as her weapon of choice and dressed in black fishnet stockings, skin tight panties which allow her buttocks to stick out, white-lace-up heels and a shirt with the words, “Daddy’s little monster”, she had all the best lines (“I’m quite vexing”).

Alongside Harley Quinn was Jared Leto’s Joker who stole the show in what little scenes he was in, seven minutes worth if you believe the entertainment tabloids, though I didn’t check my cell phone to time the scenes.

Leto’s pale white nightmarish machine gun toting creation may be everything mass murderer James Holmes thought he was when he opened fire on moviegoers at The Dark Knight Rises screening opening night in July 2012 in Aurora, Colorado.

Much like previous Joker incarnations created by Jack Nicholson in Batman (1989) and the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008), Leto made his clown faced villain his own sporting metallic teeth like as though he still has braces from when he was in high school, and a smile tattoo on his hand he uses to cover his mouth when he speaks.

Whereas Nicholson’s Joker was a homicidal artist and Ledger’s version promoted anarchy, Leto’s Joker had no real method to his madness, which is what made him so unpredictable. I couldn’t speak for anyone else but when Harley Quinn received the Joker’s text messages that he was coming for her, I couldn’t wait for his oh-so-brief appearance.

The film’s best moments occurred during the first hour as each member of the “Suicide Squad’s” personal lives were cleverly introduced through rock music hits of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, all of which fit each character’s personality. To put it simply though as I wrote in my review of the film last week, Suicide Squad had a great first act, but barely a second.

When the film arrives on disc early next year, it will be the first “bad” movie I have seen in over thirty years to add to my other list of bad movies I love to hate and don’t tire of watching or listening to while I am doing something else.

Therein lies the reason why despite the many misfires Warner Brothers has had when it comes to the Batman and Superman franchises I have always stood behind their many installments no matter how disappointing some of them were. To this day, I still watch all the good and bad sequels.

I don’t care if George Clooney’s performance as the Caped Crusader in Batman & Robin (1997) came equipped with leather nipples and codpieces. True, watching director Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006) made me feel like I was watching a remake of Superman: The Movie (1978). I felt like I was pounded over the head in the way director Christopher Nolan incorporated post 9/11 storylines with Ledger’s Joker as an American version of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in white make-up in The Dark Knight (2008) and shades of the Occupy Wall Street movement in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). I was still entertained nonetheless.

The one thing all of those sequels had, whether good and bad, is they all drew me in emotionally. As I wrote in my review, Suicide Squad is so bad it’s almost entertainingly bad. That’s more than what I can say about the Marvel/Disney superhero franchises.

The Marvel/Disney movies I have seen these past few years have not given me that. I won’t be shedding any tears if Captain America dies in some future Avengers installment. Truth is I am bored with the Marvel/Disney product. Call it “Marvel Fatigue.” Something I fear could happen with Disney’s other goldmine, the Star Wars franchise, given Mickey Mouse’s plans for sequels and standalone movies from that "galaxy far, far away" every year until 2020. It begs the question, “How much is too much?”

Every time I sit through a Marvel adaptation and a previous event is mentioned that happened in another superhero film, I almost expect the filmmakers to post a little title card at the bottom of the scene that says, “See Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)” for reference. Something of which I have seen the publishers do with the monthly comics given most every title is tied to another as a means to get readers/fans to spend more money.

Ironically, the Marvel superhero adaptations I have embraced are those that have not fallen under the Disney logo…yet, that is, which included director Sam Raimi’s Spider-man trilogy (2002-2007) and The Amazing Spider-man 1 and 2 (2012-2014) from Sony, Universal’s The Incredible Hulk (2008) with Edward Norton, a few of the X-Men installments from Fox.

The idea of saying the upcoming DC comics superhero big screen productions are in development hell is the equivalent of the liberal drive by media calling the November presidential election in favor of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over Republican candidate Donald Trump. The debates haven’t even occurred yet!

By comparison, much like that wise old Jedi Master, Yoda, from the Star Wars films, who said the future is always in motion and difficult to see, we will not know whether the Wonder Woman film starring Gal Gadot in the title role due out next June, and director Zack Snyder’s Justice League in November 2017 live up to the hype as seen by the trailers. Then there’s Ben Affleck’s standalone Batman film, which is also in the works.

With all this mass negativity I have been seeing on social media the past few months concerning Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, it makes me want to forget doing my daily doses of insulin that I’m required to do before every meal and start a mass production of “granny’s iced tea” in the bathroom every hour at night. I already got a growing list of who to send the jars to.

Seeing that I have my health to worry about, however, I’ll just subscribe to the “law of contrary public opinion” that Al Pacino’s Ricky Roma said in the foul-mouthed real estate robbery film, Glengarry Glen Ross (1992).

“If everyone thinks one thing, then I say, bet the other way.”

©8/24/16

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A bad movie I love to hate

Suicide Squad «½
PG-13, 123m. 2016

Cast & Credits: Will Smith (Floyd Lawton/Deadshot), Jared Leto (The Joker), Margot Robie (Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn), Joel Kinnaman (Colonel Rick Flag), Viola Davis (Amanda Waller), Jai Courtney (George “Digger” Harkness/Captain Boomerang), Jay Hernandez (Chato Santana/El Diablo), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Waylon Jones/Killer Croc), Cara Delevingne (June Moone/Enchantress), Karen Fukuhara (Tatsu Yamashiro/Katana), Adam Beach (Christopher Weiss/Slipknot), Ike Barinholtz (Griggs), Scott Eastwood (GQ Edwards), Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Ezra Miller (Barry Allen/Flash). Written and directed by David Ayer.



“I feel like I should watch it again. The movie didn't make much sense to me. More like the script was written by someone with ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). I did think it was funny when Harley was telling Batman that he was ruining date night and I thought the Enchantress character was really well done, visually. But the story, overall, left me with more questions. Also, if they are the baddest of the bad, why would they so seemingly easily team up and protect each other?”

While I don't necessarily call that a glowing review from friend, Wendy Potraza Frazer, who I asked on Facebook what she thought of Suicide Squad after seeing it, her comments are slightly more positive than my opinion of the film.

Suicide Squad is this late summer’s Fantastic Four (2015) in terms of box office catastrophe. Anyone who claims the critically lambasted film is a hit is like saying Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton broke no laws deleting the 30,000 plus emails from her private server. The one and only reason, (ok, maybe two) the film has stayed in the number one or two spots since its August 5th opening grossing over $200 million to date is because no other new release has been able to compete with it, except maybe the R-rated animated Sausage Party.

The film’s only selling point and perhaps the second reason why it continues to do well every weekend so far has to do with the casting of 2014 Oscar winning actor, Jared Leto, as the Joker. Leto’s appearance, if you believe the entertainment tabloids, total up to seven minutes of screen time and not one scene is wasted. Leto’s pale white nightmarish machine gun toting creation may be everything mass murderer James Holmes thought he was when he opened fire on moviegoers at The Dark Knight Rises screening opening night in July 2012 in Aurora, Colorado.

Much like previous Joker incarnations created by Jack Nicholson in Batman (1989) and the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008), Leto makes his clown faced villain his own sporting metallic teeth like as though he still has braces from when he was in high school, and a smile tattoo on his hand he uses to cover his mouth when he speaks. Whereas Nicholson’s Joker was a homicidal dancing artist and Ledger’s version promoted anarchy, Leto’s Joker has no real method to his madness, which is what makes him so frighteningly unpredictable. I can’t speak for anyone else but when ex-psychiatrist/girlfriend Harley Quinn (Margot Robie) receives the Joker’s text messages that he is coming for her, I couldn’t wait for his oh-so-brief appearance.

Suicide Squad’s best moments occur in the film’s first hour as intelligence agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) unveils plans to the nation's top military commanders to recruit the country’s “worst of the worst” criminals, currently imprisoned to ward off what she perceives an even worse threat following the tragic events in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). If only that threat were a true menace, if not a formidable villain worthy enough for the “Suicide Squad” to engage in. More on that in a moment.

As Waller introduces her band of “anti-heroes”, the film literally comes to life as each criminal’s back story is cleverly told through some of the greatest songs from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. I say “clever” because each tune fits the personality of each convict. Rick James’ “Super Freak”, for example, plays as sexually suggestive Harley Quinn’s life is shown how she was once a high-heeled, over-the-knee skirted psychiatrist who fell in love with the Joker. “Talk about a workplace romance gone wrong,” Waller says.

When the film opens panning in on the convict's prison, The Animals “House of the Rising Sun” is heard and, when the group is sent back to continue serving time, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is heard.

The most developed characters whose dialogue almost seem to jump off the screenplay pages are the Joker (“I can’t wait to show you my toys”), and Harley Quinn (“I’m quite vexing") along with Deadshot (Will Smith), an expert marksman trying to do right by his daughter who won’t carry out a hit until he sees the payment wired to his bank account from his employers as he checks his cell phone.

If only the rest of the characters were as interesting. It’s as if screenwriter/director David Ayer put so much effort into creating the Davis, Leto, Robie and Smith roles that he lost the desire to do the same for the other antiheroes (Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Katana, El Diablo). The rest of whom would not even be worth the $300 plus price tags Hot Toys Limited charges movie collectors when the company produces the latest 12-inch-action figures based on the film, other than maybe the Enchantress (Cara Delevingue) who was once known as Dr. June Moone, a female Indiana Jones type archeologist who’s possessed by a witch goddess.

Therein lies the problem with the film’s second act. Like Fantastic Four whose climax reminded me of a couple Star Trek movies from the ‘80s (which were better), Suicide Squad brought to mind a similar battle played out in Ghostbusters (1984) where when a female entity gets into the minds of the supernatural fighters, Dan Aykroyd’s character recalls his childhood hero, the Stay Puffed Marshallow Man, and as a result is the toy to bring about the “Ghostbusters” doom.

By comparison, (warning: spoilers), when the “Suicide Squad” arrive at the Enchantress’ lair, located at a downtown railway station, she gets into the minds of the criminals offering them images of how great their lives would be if they join her army. “He married me,” Harley Quinn says upon seeing how good her life would be with the Joker as her husband and raising two kids.

If the Enchantress had created a “Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man” for the “heroes” to shoot at, I’d ponder who the devoted fans would be upset with more. Would their anger be directed towards filmmaker David Ayer for putting in something so lacking in creative license, or still with the critics, the majority of who didn’t give Suicide Squad a favorable review?

Then there’s Delevingue’s Enchantress who, as the main foe, isn’t given much to do. The minute Moone becomes the Enchantress, she stands in front atop the steps outside the railway station in a skimpy black looking bikini outfit, her body covered in ancient markings, doing a dance in one place while some blue light from the sky shines down on her as she turns men into her personal alien type warriors. I was not even sure what the Enchantress wanted to accomplish, let alone wonder where all the citizens went the minute chaos erupted. Was the entire city evacuated and if they were, where were the armed forces who helped carry out the evacuation?

Unlike last year’s Fantastic Four where I wrote in my 9/9/15 review calling it “the equivalent of a rough first draft where a group of screenwriters got together and brainstormed some good ideas as to what they wanted to see done on film but it’s never fully developed into a final product,” Suicide Squad actually has a great first act, but barely a second. The stories I’ve read on the Internet that reveal a slew of deleted scenes, many of which feature the Joker, along with supposed behind the scenes interference from worried executives at Warner Brothers who wanted a more PG-13 oriented version to bring in more crowds and higher box office earnings from screenwriter/director Ayer brought to mind the rule Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel (1946-1999) used when he reviewed movies.

“I always ask myself, ‘Is the movie that I am watching as interesting as a documentary of the same actors having lunch together,’” Siskel reportedly said.

I asked myself that same question watching Suicide Squad. The conclusion I came to is I’ll be interested seeing the deleted scenes when the film arrives on disc early next year. I have no doubt the footage will reveal how much great potential the film had. This might well be the first fun bad movie I love to hate to add to my other current list of fun bad movies (Deal of the Century (1983), Dune (1984), Firestarter (1984), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), The Hindenburg (1975), The Osterman Weekend (1983) among them) I never get tired of watching, or have them playing just to listen to while I am doing something else. Suicide Squad is so bad it’s almost entertainingly bad, just not in a good way.

©8/17/16

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Rejoice liberals!!! Rush Limbaugh is retiring from talk radio…in four years that is

August 1, 2020. Assuming that is the right date, it will be a sad day for “Rush Babies” and a day of rejoicing for Democratic liberals across America.

The reason why this will be a day of celebration is, after 32 years on the air with a reported 13 million listeners, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh (aka "The Mayor of Realville", "El Rushbo") will end his weekly radio show.

“I have, in the past six months, really been going back and forth on whether or not I wanted to keep doing this or move on to something else,” the 65-year-old Limbaugh told his listeners on August 2, the day after celebrating the show’s 28th year in broadcasting on the EIB network. “I don’t feel old. I don’t feel worn out. None of that. So I decided to keep doing it because there’s nothing I love more, and there’s nothing that could replace it—even being on TV occasionally, which would not be a replacement or anything of the sort. So four more years is what it is.”

Before his radio show premiered in August 1988, I don’t recall there being such words as “drive-by” media and “info babe” as Limbaugh has called the press and any female news anchor wearing six or seven -inch-heels and over-the-knee skirts on CNN and Fox News. The word “liberal” didn’t sound like a cuss word as it does today, and there didn’t seem to be the “US versus Them” war that we see out of control in the halls of congress.

I laughed and despised the way, Tom Kelley, a friend of mine from high school, idolized “The Doctor of Democracy” back in 1993 as he bought two copies of Limbaugh’s book, The Way Things Ought To Be. I enjoyed mocking him as he browsed the tie section at a department store one time because he was shopping for a “Rush Limbaugh” tie. Sitting next to those ties, however, were some clip-on ties so I told Tom he’d be much better off buying a couple clip-ons as Cheers’ (1982-1993) mailman Cliff Clavin swears by them.

When Limbaugh aired his TV show that ran from 1993-1994, another friend of mine and former newspaper editor, Glenn Fawcett, and I would die laughing at how everyone in the audience of his show were all impeccably dressed in suits and ties and women were dressed in their Sunday church best during the 93' spring semester in college. Today, if I were to pull up any of those shows on youtube.com, to see the camera pan in on the audience I just might see no minorities present, much the way liberals griped about that recent picture House Speaker Paul Ryan posed with a group of white interns thus continuing the notion that conservative Republicans really are a bunch of rich white racists who don’t hire minority interns in Congress.

As the years went by, however, my political affiliations changed. Perhaps it was the fact being raised by my grandparents on my dad's side who were staunch Republicans that maybe their conservatism got the better of me.

Maybe it was the fact, like George Clooney’s Democratic manager Ryan Gosling played in The Ides of March (2011) who realized there was no such thing as honesty, integrity and morality in presidential politicians, I stopped believing in everything the Democratic Party claimed to represent when it came to them fighting for minorities and low income wage earners. In short, they are just as bad as the Republican Party and judging by who we got to vote for in this November's presidential election, far worse.

As I tuned into Limbaugh’s show over the years it was dawning on me that some of the things he's said actually makes sense. Just don’t take that to mean I am a die-hard fan who thinks everything he says is the word of God. Sure, I admit I have defended him over the past two decades with what he has said but it was with good reason.

When Limbaugh, for example in 2003, said that the only reason for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb’s success on the Sunday NFL Countdown in September 2003, was because he was African American, I saw nothing racist in that comment. Maybe I am just color blind. As someone, however, who hates football and most all sports, I would have watched Sunday NFL Countdown every week that year just to hear what Limbaugh had to say about the sport had he not been let go by ESPN executives within days of making that McNabb comment. I would have done the same had he been chosen to co-anchor Monday Night Football. Not to watch the games, mind you. But so I can hear what he had to say about the plays being called.

Therein lies the difference between my listening to Rush and how others listen to him today. I listen to him because he is entertaining from those promotional radio phrases (“The man, a mission, a way of life”, “He didn’t start it but he’ll be happy to finish it”) to those often times humorous song parodies from conservative political satirist Paul Shanklin that bash President Obama and liberalism that are often aired on the show.

When the "Limbaugh School for Advanced Conservative Studies" closes its doors four years from now, I won’t be mourning the end of hearing "America’s truth detector" four or five days a week. All good things come to an end.

What I will be mourning is how the end of Limbaugh’s radio show signifies yet another nail in that coffin called "Free Speech" as political correctness continues to reign across the country because liberals hate it when others “tell it like it is”, or maybe they don’t mind when conservatives are bashed so long as no one bashes them.

©8/10/16

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Like Christmas in July

Every year around mid-July I get giddy. No, it’s not the same kind of giddiness I get on my last day of work every week before my two days off kicks in.

The reason for my excitement is because every July at this time is when the Comic-Con convention, now in its 48th year according to comic-con.org, in San Diego happens.

There, thousands of fans, young and old, from across California and the country, maybe even the world, arrive dressed in their Halloween’s best as their favorite characters from comic book, television and movie franchises. It doesn’t have to be the year’s current trend, which is Pokemon. Thankfully, the four-day event is not filled with fans dressed up as each year’s most popular character. I mean, what fun is there to see men and women dressed as either some sort of yellow retarded looking dog or whatever it is, while the other half are dressed as iPhones exhibiting a screenshot chasing down Pokemon?

That does not mean there won’t be a Pokemon or several Pokemons walking down the halls of the convention center. The list of costumed characters is endless. Over the course of the four-day weekend it won’t be that unusual to see a swarm of comic book superheroes and villains, Jedi Knights along with several characters from that Star Wars "galaxy far, far away" as well as an assortment of Starfleet crew members, Klingons and aliens from the Star Trek universe. Perhaps there will not be one but many women scantily dressed up in that famous Princess Leia slave girl outfit from Return of the Jedi (1983).

“SDCC”, as it is called in short, is a chance for those like myself who don't want to grow up to see the latest offerings several toy companies will have on store shelves in the coming months and early next year. For years, as I browsed various websites that covered the conventions, I saw it as an opportunity to gaze at pictures of only the latest Star Wars toys. That has since changed to where my interests not only cover “The Force” but a little of anything I grew up on and am still interested in, or I just think the stuff looks cool.

This year's convention featured upcoming images of Hasbro’s continuing six-inch line of Star Wars figures. With the Star Trek franchise celebrating its 50th anniversary, two toy companies, Mezco Toyz and Quantum Mechanix, offered 12-inch figures of the original crew which included Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock where in the future I could take my pick as to which company to buy from. Unfortunately the determining factor would be the price tags. Do I want to pay $180 bucks from Quantum Mechanix or $80 from Mezco Toys? Perhaps it will be a question of quality versus quantity.

While I am not a fan of the Hellraiser horror movie franchise, I got to say Sideshow Collectibles naughty black latex preview of their 22-inch female Hell Priestess pinhead suddenly made me forget about longing for the distributor’s 22-inch version of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman from Batman Returns (1992). I was now at a loss as to which statue I wanted to have sitting on my desk at work as a means to see how long it’d take the powers that be to privately invite me for a personal chat in Human Resources to not only tell me that such things are not politically correct for the workplace, but falsely accuse me of promoting the sadomasochistic Fifty Shades of Grey lifestyle with $500 plus movie statues.

My only disappointment at this year’s convention is that The Lego Group did not unveil the next ultimate collector set in the Star Wars line, the Death Star, due out this fall. The set is obviously meant to tie in with this December’s release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story given that the “ultimate power in the universe” will play a large role in that "galaxy far, far away.”

I sure hope the $500 plus set is not a dud like the company’s May release of the UCS Assault on Hoth playset which was just a compilation of previous Lego sets. Then again, as an unofficial AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego) member, the whole point behind Lego building is when they release a new set, albeit an exclusively expensive one, it’s their way of saying, “Here’s what we did. Now let’s see you top ours?" It’s all about imagination.

I don’t know if my interests in collecting toy related movie/TV merchandise will end as I get older, when I turn 50, or if I will still be interested in such things when I am in my 80s. I suspect Lego will be the last hobby of mine still standing when I reach my twilight years.

One thing I do know is how great it is for just one mid-July weekend every year to feel like a kid on Christmas morning seeing all the new products before reality kicks in the day after the Comic-Con convention is over and I start asking myself, “How the Hell am I going to pay for all this stuff?”

©8/3/16

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Welcome to Benghazi"

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi ««½
R, 144m. 2016

Cast & Credits: John Krasinski (Jack Silva), James Badge Dale (Tyrone ‘Rone’ Woods), Pablo Schreiber (Kris ‘Tanto’ Paranto), David Denman (Dave ‘Boon’ Benton), Dominic Fumasa (John ‘Tig’ Tiegen), Max Martini (Mark ‘Oz’ Geist), Alexia Barlier (Sona Jilliani), David Costabile (Bob), Matt Letscher (Ambassador Chris Stevens). Screenplay by Chuck Hogan based on the book 13 Hours by Mitchell Zuckoff. Directed by Michael Bay.


13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a noble but half-hearted attempt by director Michael Bay who’s known more for the dreadful critic-proof Transformers franchise and explosive box office blockbusters (Armageddon – 1998 and Pearl Harbor – 2001).

Up until now, I did not know the full story of what happened on Sept. 11, 2012 when Islamic militants attacked the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and U.S Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith were killed along with two CIA contractors during a separate firefight. When I heard the attack was attributed to a anti-Muslim video no one heard of I knew this was nothing more than a load of crap the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sold to the American public in hopes we’d believe them.

What I didn’t know and what the film covers in great detail is the chaos that ensued following the attack where six CIA contractors led by Jack Silva (John Krasinski) and Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale) protected their CIA base just a mile away from the attack from the same militants into the early morning hours on Sept. 12 before they and their staff were whisked away by American/Libyan forces.

When I see films based on real life accounts where I already know how the story ends, what I look for most is not just the false sense of hope, regardless of the tragic outcome but to be emotionally drawn to the characters and their predicament. I can name off countless films that kept me on edge or gave me the funny feeling in my stomach that made me think something bad was going to happen.

I felt that way watching United 93 (2006), for example. The minute the passengers broke into the cockpit I kept hoping they’d be able to wrestle the plane out of its death spiral from the hijackers on 9/11. I was pissed to see our American forces get their asses kicked by Somali militants in Black Hawk Down (2001).

I wanted to yell at the IMAX screen telling military serviceman Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) to stay home and play a computer game with his son instead of going off to a gun range the morning of Feb. 2, 2013, to help 25-year-old U.S. Marine veteran Eddie Ray Routh, who reportedly suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as dramatized in American Sniper (2014).

I experienced a lot of emotions watching 13 Hours but they were all the wrong ones. When Silva tells one of the contractors to go left when driving out of the compound with wounded and instead goes right, I wanted to yell at the screen the minute they are stopped by militants and tell them to either drive around or run them all over and ask questions later. I wished someone could have punched out the cowardly CIA chief (David Costabile) who refused to let the contractors help Stevens and the others in the attack.

“We have no jurisdiction in this country,” the Chief says. “We’re not even supposed to be here.”

The most I got though were the words from contractor Woods who tells the Chief, “You’re not giving orders anymore. You’re in my world now.” That got cheers from the audience. I did shed a tear or two seeing pictures of Ambassador Stevens and the three servicemen who died that night when they were shown during the end credits.

I just didn’t get that false sense of hope watching the film that maybe at the last minute the contractors would be able to rescue Ambassador Stevens and the others. Instead what I got was a chaotic, often times, confusing play by play account of what occurred with little character development in what could be referred to as the Alamo of the 21st century where it’s six contractors against an army of militants, and like those Texans from back in 1836 who were left to fight off General Santa Anna’s Mexican army to the bloody end with no reinforcements, the contractors, along with the 30 plus other individuals they protected received no air support or military assistance. Ironically, one of the contractors midway through the film during the battle compares their predicament to the Alamo.

The trouble is while Chuck Hogan’s screenplay, based on Mitchell Zuckoff’s book of the same name, pays close attention to the events, the film didn’t give me a chance to personally get to know, much less care about these six heroes. The most I learned about them was through the little conversations they have with each other in between the firefights. The character with the most depth is Krasinski’s Jack Silva who I learned has a family back home.

“I haven’t thought about my family once tonight,” Silva says. “Thinking about ‘em now, up here in the middle of all this. Thinking about my girls, man. Every time I go home to Becky and those girls I think this is it, I’m going to stay. And then something happens and I end up back here.”

That line echoes what Martin Sheen’s CIA assassin Col. Willard said at the beginning of the Vietnam epic, Apocalypse Now (1979).

“I hardly said a word to my wife, until I said yes to a divorce,” Willard said. “When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle.”

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi belongs alongside Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) and 2016: Obama’s America (2012) where the only reason audiences are interested in them is because they are shown during an election year and hope what the films have to say will help sway in this case the outcome of either who the Democratic presidential nominee will be or a presidential election. The “Bush bashing” filmmaker Michael Moore provided in Fahrenheit 9/11 and the “Obama bashing” seen in 2016: Obama’s America did not prevent Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama from winning a second term in office.

The same can be said for 13 Hours, which will not stop Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton from getting the nomination nor will it expedite her possible indictment in the email server scandal, if that even happens. The film is just another by-product used to promote the right wing views of the conservative pundits of Fox News’ The Five, and TV/radio talk show host Sean Hannity, along with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who earlier this month rented out a movie theater in Iowa offering free tickets to see the film.

©1/22/16

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

"The stars look very different today"

“I heard the news today, oh boy.”

That was the line from the 1975 ballad, Young Americans, by British rock star, David Bowie.

On the morning of Jan. 11, any fan familiar with the rock legend decades long music career since the 1970s whose flamboyant theatrics expanded into fashion and movies was probably recalling that same line when social media learned the “Starman” had passed away the night before, surrounded by family, following an 18 month long battle with cancer.

Young Americans wasn’t the only song I had playing in my head that day and on youtube. Under Pressure, the 1981 collaboration between Bowie and lead Queen singer Freddie Mercury was another I couldn’t shake from memory.

If Bowie hadn’t passed away, the only reason I was singing that song to myself was because those two words, “Under pressure” had to do with what I was dealing with at work that day.

“Every one of his distinct eras has memorable songs,” said fan Grant Stewart on social media. “Right now, I have Starman, Queen Bitch, and Blue Jean running through my head.”

“As a total 80's child, David Bowie's Modern Love is my favorite song of his,” wrote Laura Silva Davis on social media. “A few years ago, we were in the Sony/Columbia building in New York and he walked down the hall. I only saw the back of his head but I couldn't tell enough people that day that I saw David Bowie!”

Bowie’s most memorable movie roles were anything but the norm that included playing an alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1975) a vampire in director Tony Scott’s horror film, The Hunger (1983) and a singing Goblin King in Jim Henson’s fantasy, Labyrinth (1986).

“I get offered so many bad movies,” the actor said in 1983 according to IMDB.com. “And they’re all raging queens or transvestites or Martians.”

His role as Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), along with director Martin Scorsese’s odd choices in choosing Willem Dafoe to play Jesus and Harvey Keitel as Judas, made the casting far more interesting than the unnecessary controversy the movie spawned.

Like Ms. Davis, I, too, was an “80s child” who grew up listening to the singer’s music. Unless you have a way to sneak a webcam into my house, however, you’ll never be able to prove you saw me dancing like Bowie did with the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger in their 1985 duet rendition of Dancing in the Street or with Tina Turner in that 1980’s commercial for Pepsi. You’ll never know if I own a pair of red dancing shoes to “dance the blues.” Just because I get to the “Church on time” does not keep me from leaving Sunday mass early during communion let alone “put my trust in God and man” as Bowie sang in the hits, Let’s Dance and Modern Love. At least I still believe “we can be heroes, for just one day.”

“I once asked John Lennon what he thought of what I do,” Bowie once said decades ago. “He said, “It’s great, but it’s just rock and roll with lipstick on.”

Bowie, who was born David Jones, celebrated his 69th birthday Jan. 8 with the release of his final album, Blackstar. For years the singer, like so many other celebrities, was the subject of Internet hoaxes claiming he had died. Sadly, on Jan. 10, to the shock of millions of fans, it became true. He leaves behind a second wife, supermodel Iman, daughter, Alexandria, from his second marriage, and son, Duncan, from his first.

We have no idea where “Major Tom” is today but I think it’s fair to assume he is amongst the stars tonight.

The one meme I saw on social media in the days since his death was a picture of him saying, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”

Perhaps the “Starman” is checking out the red planet to find out if there really is “Life On Mars.” I know NASA is standing by waiting for the answer that will never come.

©1/13/16

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

12/26/15: Recalling Mother Nature's wrath

Within hours of the devastating tornadoes that ripped through the Garland/Rowlett areas before 7 p.m. December 26 killing 11 the day after Christmas, everyone it seemed came out of the woodwork, so to speak, to help the hundreds in need.

Social media was on fire the day after with fascinating yet frightening images and youtube videos of the wedged mile long monster whose image in the darkness could only be seen by the lightning and blue electrical explosions along interstate 30 as it made its way from the I-90/George Bush turnpike where eight people lost their lives.

That news alone brought to mind what former Fox 4 News meteorologist Ron Jackson, whose weather class I took at Eastfield College years ago, said about how it was going to be a matter of time before a twister hits the interstate during rush hour traffic.

Normally I lose my patience searching for the remote to hit the exit button the minute I see an emergency broadcast that AT&T’s service provides on television that comes with that annoyingly loud siren that causes my dog to go crazy and interferes with the program I’m watching. Then the sirens in Mesquite started blaring and I switched to WFAA channel 8 to hear the latest weather reports.

My sister and her family were in Mesquite at El Fenix when her cellphone erupted with text messages and phone calls about the twister in Rowlett. If they had left the restaurant ten minutes earlier they would have run right into the storm as it formed on I-90.

“We kept getting texts saying it was touching down in Rowlett so we stayed in Mesquite until it passed,” said Marisa Stumpo Perry. “When we drove back to Rowlett, the overpass from 30 to George bush had whole tree trunks. We had to drive around and there was a large dead animal on the overpass. Chad's cousin Ryan lives just across Dalrock about a mile from us, and his house is gone. And the neighborhood where Jake’s school is got leveled. But his school is okay. Our power finally came back on around midnight. But this whole area at Dalrock and 66 is a mess.”

Along with the images of the storm came the many heartbreaking posts and stories. Among them were pictures of missing pets within the tornado-ravaged areas that were posted on social media.

“This is Bear Gus. He is a male Rhodesian ridgeback, about 6-7 months old. They live in Rowlett just over the 66 bridge from Rockwall. They lost him during the tornado. If anyone finds him please let me know,” said one post.

Another post said, “Please help me find her! Her name is Lilah. She is an all brown lab/pit, she's wearing a blue bandana that has snow flakes and snowman. She does not have a collar but is chipped. She was last seen on Woodside Road in Rowlett.”

The pictures showing partial homes still standing or are completely gone off their foundations lying in piles of wood and rubble, amongst smashed vehicles and trees that once sprouted leaves leave the viewer with just a glimpse of how devastating the storm was. You have to see the destruction in person.

Rowlett resident Francicso Reyna who posted pictures of wrecked houses on his block on Facebook said though his home only suffered minor damage to his roof, others on his street will have to completely start over.

“My poor neighborhood is just devastated,” Reyna wrote.

Worrying about one’s own personal possessions no longer mattered as citizens, just like they did helping victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, donated whatever they had lying around the house from old clothes, buying toys, food and water to making monetary donations to the Red Cross. Local restaurants offered free meals to residents affected by the storm. People volunteered their time at various churches to help with donations.

DCCCD Chancellor Joe May, in an email to the Dallas County Community College District on Dec. 28 asking if anyone knows of a fellow employee or student affected by the tornadoes to report it to their college’s leadership with the subject line, “Need help”, wrote “it has been said that the worst of times brings out the best in people.”

How north Texans responded in the hours after the disaster shows that. WFAA news anchor John McCaa wrote on December 29 how the city of Garland showed resilience in the tornado aftermath, but his final comment applies to how the entire Lone Star State responded.

“It says something about the city and its people. Something that, at this year's end, should make us proud to know they're part of the human fabric that makes up North Texas.”

©12/30/15

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Remembering the fallen in law enforcement

I’ve got a lump in my throat right now.

I find it hard as I write this column not to shed tears for the police officers across the country who died in the line of duty this year, which as of this writing, that number stands at 116 according to the Officer Down Memorial Page at odmp.org. Of the 116, 36 of those died by gunfire. The worst month this year for law enforcement was in May with 17 lost.

In every online article I read about these officers and countless others, I went away learning a little about their personal lives.

Officer Brian Moore

New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton called Officer Brian Moore, 25, who was shot and killed on May 2 while questioning an individual, “a hero of the city, a guardian at the gate of the city and now a guardian angel in Heaven.”

“He (Moore) dreamed of getting the bad guys off the street. He wanted to make a difference,” Bratton said.

Moore, who was a devoted Baltimore Orioles baseball fan and came from a family of police officers, loved acting out songs on the radio videotaping himself for his friends.

NYPD chaplain Robert Romano was quoted by CNN saying "We might ask ourselves: 'Where was God last Saturday?' I could tell you he was in a young man named Brian who accepted a call, a vocation. Just like we priests have a vocation, Brian had a vocation. A vocation to be a peacemaker and to be a hero. Brian, like so many of his sisters and brothers, ran always into the trouble, not away from it."

Off. Benjamin Deen
Officer Benjamin Joseph Deen, 34, who leaves behind wife, Robin, and two children, Melah, 12 and Walker, 9, was named Hattiesburg Police Department Officer of the Year in 2012 for rescuing a man from a burning building, according to a spokesperson for the Deen family according to the Los Angeles Times.

“The two things that really summed him up as far as a person, he (Deen) didn’t go anywhere without his family, ever,” said the spokesperson who asked not to be identified. “The day before he went on shift and passed away, he had just been out with his son – they were out target shooting with each other – he was boasting, he was proud of his son. ... He was honestly a friend to everyone he met, he loved serving his community, he loved being a cop.”

Off. Liquori Tate
Officer Liqouri Tate, 25, also of the Hattiesburg Police Department, couldn’t contain his excitement last June on Facebook upon graduating from the police academy.

"I am now a Police Officer. I would like to thank God, the Police Academy, the Police Department, my family, friends, and love ones," Tate wrote on social media, who worked at auto parts stores for years before becoming an officer according to his father, Ronald.

“He had this enthusiasm, this fire in his soul,” Tate’s father told CNN who said that didn’t mean he didn’t realize he was putting his life danger being a police officer. "He really knew the risk. But I think my son just thought people are generally good, and that's just the way he was. He thought people are generally good people, so let's treat them all with dignity."

Officers Deen and Tate were shot and killed May 9 during a traffic stop on a vehicle occupied by three suspects.

Detective Kerrie Orozco
During her time off, Detective Kerrie Orozco, 29, a seven-year veteran of the Omaha Police Department, coached baseball at the North Omaha Boys and Girls Club, volunteered with Special Olympics and was a Girl Scout Leader according to a Facebook page set up by the Omaha Police Department.

She was one day away from taking maternity leave to care for her newborn daughter, Olivia Ruth, born on Feb. 27 this year, when she was shot and killed May 20 when she and fellow officers of the Metro Area Fugitive Task Force attempted to serve a warrant on a suspect wanted in a September 2014 shooting. In addition to her daughter, Orozco is survived by her husband, Hector, and two step children, Natalie and Santiago.

“She (Kerrie) got people to look past the fact that she was a police officer,” said Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer. “I see her legacy as that of breaking down barriers.”

Dep. Sheriff Darren Goforth
Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth, 47, of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Texas recently bought Captain America T-shirts for himself and his 5-year-old son, Ryan, in August. Both shirts were still unworn at the time Goforth was ambushed while pumping gas in his patrol car in Cypress on Aug. 28.

In a story by CNN, Ryan wore his shirt underneath his suit jacket at his father’s funeral. Goforth was also buried in his T-shirt as well underneath his uniform. The story, which got national attention started a Facebook campaign encouraging people to wear Captain America T-shirts to honor Goforth and his son. Sept. 11 was the date set for Goforth’s Captain America Day.

“Today, we remember both the attack on America & our fallen brother,” was among the tweets posted by #UnitedWeGoforth.

In an open letter, Goforth’s wife, Kathleen, wrote describing her husband as “an incredibly intricate blend of toughness and gentility. He was loyal…fiercely so. And he was ethical; the right thing to do is what guided his internal compass. I admired this quality, perhaps, the most. For that is what made Darren good. And he was good. So, if people want to know what kind of man he was… This is it. He was who you wanted for a friend, a colleague, and a neighbor.”

Officer Garrett Swasey
The latest casualty to die in the line of duty was Officer Garrett Swasey, 44, of Colorado Springs, on Nov. 27. Swasey was among three killed when a gunman opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic ten miles from the University of Colorado Springs where he worked.

“He (Swasey) might not be in alignment with the abortion industry, but he’d be willing to go in and lay down his life for those people, and that’s just the testimony to me of the kind of man that he is. Not just courageous, but Christlike,” said Swasey’s church co-pastor Scott Dontanville where Swasey was an elder at Hope Chapel in Colorado Springs. “He would want us to forgive this man (the gunman) and to go on with our lives.”

Before becoming a police officer, Swasey, who leaves behind wife, Rachel, daughter Faith, 6, and Elijah, 11, trained for six years at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in the 1990s and was the 1992 junior ice dance champion who teamed with Christine Fowler-Binder in their second year together according to U.S. Figure Skating.

"Garrett was selfless, always there to help me, always my wingman," Fowler-Binder said. "He was my brother and my partner. I could always count on him.”

Two-time Olympic medalist Nancy Kerrigan spoke of her childhood years with Swasey.

"We were together a lot as children," Kerrigan told the Boston Herald. "I would ride my bike to his house and we'd hang out at the pool. We were together all the time, whether skating or not. I called him 'Ugh'; he called me 'Yuck.' We were always teasing each other like a brother and sister."

These are the individuals and countless others in law enforcement whose tales of heroism and good deeds should be reported about on a daily basis instead of the stories of officers indicted in wrongful death cases against the African-American community that spawned riots, and who are often times acquitted or rightfully charged and sentenced.

I meant what I said when I wrote in a column a few weeks ago about how there are three times more good officers than bad. If you don’t want to take my word for it, then heed the words, for example, of what Republican Congressman Peter King said at Moore’s funeral last May of how unfortunate it is that it takes such tragedies to reminds us all what outstanding jobs law enforcement do.

“How they put their lives on the line day in and day out for us, and too often they’re slandered by the media and politicians,” King said.

Or what Commissioner Bratton said at Moore’s funeral last May.

“For police officers across the country, we’re increasingly bearing the brunt of loud criticism. We cannot be defined by that criticism,” Bratton said. “Because what is lost in the shouting and the rhetoric is the context of what we do. A handful of recent incidents, fewer than a dozen, have wrongfully come to define the hundreds of millions of interactions cops have every year.”

People should do what Omaha Police Chief Schmaderer said at Detective Orozco’s funeral.

“If you have a hard time resonating with the police, think of Kerrie because she resonates with everyone. For her legacy the next time you see an Omaha police officer, maybe they’re eating dinner, maybe they’re in your rearview mirror, so after you check your speedometer, I want you to look back. I want you to look back past the cruiser. Look past this uniform. Look past the badge and see Kerrie, see a little bit of Kerrie in that officer because there is a little bit of Kerrie in all of us. There are a lot of police officers that do a lot of good that give back to the community in so many ways.”

©12/2/15

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Things I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving

This week’s blog may well be the shortest one I have written. Since Thanksgiving is this week, I figure I’d take the time to write what I’m thankful for, which in reality, could apply to any year.

1) Family: I’m thankful for my parents and sister who’ve helped me out financially when I really didn’t want their help as my money problems was my nest and my responsibility to dig myself out of, not theirs. Most of all though, I’m thankful they are still alive.

2) Friends: I’m thankful for all my friends from the ones on social media to the ones I continue to see in person. I’m also thankful for those who’ve helped me out during moments of crisis when the time arose.

3) Employment: I am thankful I have a job and have never been unemployed for any certain length of time.

4) Health: I’m thankful I still have my health to a certain extent, and was only bedridden for three days in the hospital this year which was all my fault. At least it served as a wake-up call to take better care of myself in monitoring this “pain-in-the-ass” disease I got called diabetes, which brings me to number five.

5) I’m thankful I woke up alive today!

 Happy Thanksgiving!

©11/25/15

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Could social media replace high school reunions?

When I got the phone call during the summer of 2008 from a former classmate at Bishop Lynch high school letting me know the class of 1988 would be holding their 20th reunion in late August, I wasn’t that excited about attending.

Given I was one week away from being laid off at the IT job I held back then and I still hadn’t heard from another job I had interviewed with the month before as to whether I was hired or not, the last thing I wanted to do was listen to former classmate’s success stories. I didn’t want to see pictures of their kids and listen to them boast about the six figure salaries their significant others make let alone take a one night stroll down memory lane.

To quote mobster Tony Soprano, “Remember when is the lowest form of conversation.”

My attitude about reminiscing on old times is equivalent of the attitudes a few of characters in The Big Chill (1983) spoke about, including Alex, the one whose suicide off screen brought the college graduates together and who audiences learned about, if not identified with, through various recollections.

I equate my not wanting to reminisce with what Harold, played by Kevin Kline, said about his friends over dinner.

“Getting away from you people was the best thing that ever happened to me. I mean how much sex, fun, friendship can one man take,” he said.

Ok. There was no sex but there were moments of fun and friendship.

Truth of the matter is I haven’t seen two of three of my closest friends I hung out with in high school since 2006. One I haven’t seen since his wedding reception in the 1990s. I have three of them on my Facebook page but despite my suggesting we need to get together one of these days for lunch that has yet to happen. The fact is when your friends are married and have kids and in my case, I am single and have yet to find a significant other (then again, I’m not really looking right now) and don’t want any children, your interests change and you drift apart.

Personally, I’m much more interested in finding out what happened to the ones I knew in grade school from 1976 to 1984 than I did in high school, which is where social media comes in.

Though I have only connected with seven former classmates from grade school on Facebook, thanks to seeing the occasional listing on the top right corner of the page when logging in that shows pictures under the heading of “People You May Know” I have been able to locate almost everyone from grade school. Even though I had no desire to friend a majority of those people, I have been able to learn everything I wanted to know about them just by looking at their personal portraits or pictures of their kids and seeing where they live or what company they work for, provided they made that information public.

The same applies to the ones I’ve either connected with or have found on social media that I knew in high school. All the information I’ve found out about various people is what I would learn attending an alumni party where you are served the best food (even if it’s not any good at least it’s free) from some of the top restaurants in the city, free alcohol and a band that actually knows how to play dance music.

To quote Jeff Goldblum’s character in The Big Chill, “They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can’t come.” Or in my case, don’t want to.

I’m not denying it was good to see a couple of fellow classmates in person when I attended the alumni party last month at a homecoming game. I have since gotten a few friend requests from some other fellow classmates I had not seen in two decades as a result. The question remains, will I see them again when the 30th reunion comes up in 2018? Will I just for the hell of it, attend another homecoming game every year until then to see who I run into to play catch up? Will I even go to the 30th reunion or just wait until the big 50 comes around to find out how many of us are left? I’m not thinking that far ahead.

Now that we got social media, I don’t think a day goes by for anyone that they don’t see a post from so-so letting everyone know what their relationship status is, wish friends happy birthday, where they are working at, posting pictures of their kids, family holiday get-togethers, and places they are going to on vacation. People can now click on the “like” option if they “like” the comment, meme or opinion so-so posted, or they can engage in pissing contests arguing about politics, gun control, free health care or terrorism. Or at the very worst delete them because they don’t agree with their left-wing/right-wing politics.

With the technology we got now, what do we need high school reunions when we can find out all we ever wanted to about someone through social media other than maybe get the free food and never ending supply of alcoholic beverages?

©11/18/15

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Am I the only one who read Playboy for the articles?

I am not going to lie to you. At least I am man enough to admit it!

For almost 20 years from the late 80s to the early part of this century I read Playboy magazine on a monthly basis and kept the current and back issues in mint plastic bags with each decade labeled in cardboard boxes. Notice, however, I said “read” as contrary to what Hustler founder and publisher Larry Flynt and likely every woman in the world thinks, I actually did read the magazine for the articles.

The first thing I looked for in every monthly issue were not the “pretty pictures” but critic Bruce Williamson’s movie reviews. Williamson, who died in 1998 was the magazine’s longtime movie critic since 1968 and was among the few reviewers whose writing I drew inspiration from when writing my own film reviews that also included Chicago film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, Pauline Kael and Richard Corliss.

Although Playboy showcased a number of fictional short stories from such notable writers as Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming and Norman Mailer it was the interviews I paid most attention to. The most colorful was Lawrence Grobel’s March 2001 interview with former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight.

“He (Grobel) wants to know how I feel about God, marijuana, Gore and Bush,” Knight told his friend and former Dayton coach Don Donoher during the interview. “This has been like an investigation being conducted by the CIA to see whether or not I'm capable of running the Buenos Aires branch of covert operations. This is a question-and-answer session the likes of which Rockefeller did not put his potential son-in-law through."

Playboy magazine’s business decision last month to no longer publish women fully nude beginning with its March 2016 issue next year didn’t come as a surprise to me. The adult publication’s circulation, which peaked at 5.6 million in 1975, dwindled down to 800,000 over the years thanks to the Internet.

Like Dallas based Blockbuster Video, which closed its doors in 2014 (several franchise stores reportedly still exist) and became victim to viewers downloading movies off the Internet and video-on-demand, the porn industry has also taken a hit.

"After 62 years, Playboy is putting its clothes back on," Playboy Enterprises CEO Scott Flanders told CNN Money. "It served its purpose. When (Hugh) Hefner launched the magazine in 1953 nudity was provocative, and today it's passe."

Unlike Today hosts Willie Geist and Al Roker who spoke of the first time they opened up an issue and the image of a naked woman changed their lives forever at the ages of nine and ten, my first exposure to the magazine did not happen until junior year in high school when a friend smuggled the May 1987 issue featuring Wheel of Fortune host Vanna White on the cover.

Stupid me, I was too scared to attempt to buy the magazine at the bookstore or at 7-11 without being asked for identification. Yet, I had no trouble writing fake doctor’s notes with my parent’s forged signatures as a means to get out of class towards the end of the day during junior and senior year in high school.

What set Playboy apart from all the other adult publications is how it crossed over into the Hollywood mainstream. Ross and Chandler argued over whose joke it was the magazine chose in that Friends episode. Bud Bundy was heartbroken and found no reason to journey down to the basement anymore when Peggy sold Al’s Playboy magazines in Married With Children. Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) visited the Playboy Mansion and met founder Hugh Hefner in Beverly Hills Cop II (1987). When a couple nerds needed to create the perfect woman in Weird Science (1985), they opened up a locked chest full of Playboy magazines from the 1980s for research.

“I don’t think that any other magazine in the 20th century had more influence on America and the world and that’s a pretty wild position to be in,” Hefner said on Today.

I stopped getting Playboy over ten years ago, one because I had no more room, two, the older you get your interests change and three, I felt the magazine had lost its way in terms of offering worthwhile content let alone noticing how increasingly thinner each month’s issue was getting. Yes, even those “pretty pictures” were less than stellar.

It seems fitting now for the magazine to return back to the days when it began where it was known for the articles as much as it was for the pictures. The 1953 premiere issue featuring Marilyn Monroe on the cover, which was undated, was only 44 pages. Back then, Hefner didn’t know if there would be a second issue.

The question now is come March next year, can the once mighty Playboy bunny with its new look (women will still be featured in provocative poses but the centerfold’s days are numbered) compete in an age where there is already a glut of PG-13 adult magazines such as GQ, Maxim, FHM and Esquire who already offer plenty of pictures of scantily clad women in the same provocative poses on the covers and inside their monthly issues.

At 89, Hugh Hefner doesn’t sound worried.

“It’s been a wonderful ride and it’s not over yet,” he said.

©11/11/15

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Despite the urgent need to go "Back to the Future", former alumni wouldn’t change personal high school experiences

Anyone who says high school was the best four years of their life didn’t ask me what I thought of my four years from 1984 to 1988 at Bishop Lynch as that is a chapter I’d much rather forget. Like conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh who said the best thing he looked forward to in high school was that it was over, I, too, felt the same way.

I was not an athlete, or an athletic supporter, though I did like the brigade uniforms whose attire was over the knee skirts and high-heeled boots. To quote Al Bundy from Married With Children on The Avengers British TV show character, Emma Peel, the brigade team “kicked really high.”

When the time came junior year to buy a class ring, I didn’t need a ring to prove I was going to be a senior like this was some sort of right of passage. To quote postal carrier Newman (Wayne Knight) from Seinfeld when asked why he doesn’t deliver mail in the rain, “I was never big on creeds.”

That’s not to say those four years were a complete waste. I experienced quite a few ups but the downs outweighed the ups. Those ups I had would make former late night host David Letterman’s top ten list. For example, I enjoyed my 8 a.m. typing class freshman year because the woman teacher who taught it always wore heels and skirts in between the occasional pants suits.

I still don’t know how I passed my biology final sophomore year with a B since I failed all the tests that required me to name the organs of giant grasshoppers and starfish and ate most of the jellybeans I was required to use in a lab assignment to create molecules and used the leftovers to build my own super structures using toothpicks. Nor do I know how I passed all those quizzes and tests in my English classes because I did not read The Odyssey, A Separate Peace or To Kill a Mockingbird. I must have either paid close attention taking notes during the class discussions, used Cliffs Notes (do those still exist today?), or got the questions and answers from classmates who had already taken the tests earlier.

The big highlight for me junior year was watching a fellow classmate get pulled over by a cop for speeding. My stomach hurt that day after school from laughing so hard. I don’t care if “instant karma” came back after me senior year when I got pulled over by the same cop for going 60 in a 30. At least it proved that "Christine", the yellow rusted ‘76 Ford Pinto (which made its debut in the 2010 movie, The Losers) with no protective gas covering I drove could go over 60 just as much as it hit 140 when I floored the “American classic” because I was stuck in icy weather.

I was involved with the newspaper senior year but when I compare the award winning brutal film reviews and sometimes no-holds-barred columns I write today to the fluff I churned out in high school, I can’t help but look at all those articles with embarrassment. At least I managed to get the administration worried with my final news story about all the teachers who were leaving when I graduated in 1988. When I asked the ethics instructor, Mr. Poundstone, why he was leaving he told me to use his quote, “It’s hard to teach ethics in a catholic school.” The powers that be cut the line from the story before the issue was published. I was stirring up trouble before I even decided my degree was going to be in journalism and I wasn’t even looking for it.

Despite those moments, if I had that steel silver grey DeLorean my eighth grade teacher Mrs. Allen owned I’d turn the vehicle’s digital clock back to August 1984 and make three changes. One, I’d actually take my classes seriously instead of settling for being a B/C student knowing now just how much my parents paid to send me to private high school. Two, I would have asked a woman who was on the newspaper and was a junior when I was a senior during the 1987-88 school year to prom instead of settling for working that weekend (I didn't have any money anyway), and three, I would have warned my younger self about the importance of diet, exercise, and saving money to keep that younger version from becoming what my older self is today.

For years browsing the school’s website I had been envious of the stuff the students got now that I wished were offered when I was there (two theater auditoriums, two gyms, bowling team, film club, healthier lunch menu). Sure the Class of 2019 today probably have it better than what I had, but what can’t be replaced are the personal experiences I went through. Now that I think about it, I don’t need Mrs. Allen’s DeLorean to go back in time to make changes. I am happy with the way things turned out now.

Besides, her car didn’t come with plutonium and a digital clock where I could set the time back. That stuff only happened in the Back to the Future movies.

©11/4/15

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cop out: My experience with the police

The recent confrontations (a number of them deadly) between African-Americans and police officers that have spawned protests and rioting across the country got me thinking about what I did when I got stopped by the Collin County Sherriff’s Department. It was back in April 2000 for what should have been a ticket for coasting past a four-way stop sign in McKinney.

I have never questioned the traffic tickets police officers issued to me after being pulled over for speeding or not wearing a seatbelt.

My attitude has always been, I did it. I am guilty. Give me the ticket and I’ll decide how to take care of it. It only takes police officers maybe 10 or 15 minutes at most to write you up after they are finished checking your license on the computer in their car.

That’s how long it should have taken the sheriff’s officer to give me a ticket that Sunday afternoon 15 years ago. My attitude towards this particular area in McKinney is, if I don’t see any cars at any of the other three stop signs, then I am just going to slow down and then continue going. That’s a bad attitude. But if there are no cars at the intersection, why should I stop? What should have been a standard citation for missing a stop sign in McKinney became a full-length search of my car.

The officer who asked me if it was OK he search my car said it looked like I was trying to get away from them when they saw me coast past the stop sign. I felt like asking, "If that was the case, why did I stop the minute you turned on the lights?"

I didn’t bring up the question though. I just kept my mouth shut.

The sheriff said it was my right to say no to the search and I would have said no except two scenarios suddenly popped in my head. One was, I could say no and then they’d assume something was up which means they’d just get another car to come by with a search warrant while I wait.

The other assumption was, although I knew damn well there was nothing illegal in my car, would the officer plant anything to make an arrest stick in his opinion?

I pondered these two scenarios for a second and then told the officer to go ahead with the search. He found nothing, but I could tell he was looking for something since I saw him eying the inspection and registration stickers on the windshield making sure they were current.

Instead, I stood there outside my car and waited for his partner to get verification on my license, which obviously came back saying I had no warrants (which for the record, I currently have none and have never had any). Yet, his partner still asked if I had any outstanding warrants as he gave my license back.

I told him no. He responded saying for me not to go through stop signs in front of the police because it’s not very smart. I agree.

That’s not the point here. The point is the Collin County Sheriff’s Department asking if they can search my vehicle was their way of saying I was hiding something, which wasn’t the case.

When this happened, I sat there wondering if my rights were violated in some way, but things could have gotten worse if I had smarted off to them and not cooperated.

Therein lies the difference between what I did and what so many African-Americans who died at the hands of police officers didn’t do, whether the search was legal or not.

I am not denying there are bad police officers out there, but I am also convinced there are three times more good officers than bad. The officers who purposefully wrongfully shot innocent civilians during a stop (I am not just talking about African-Americans here) and committing murder do get prosecuted and do get prison time. Every police department in this country be it a small town or a metropolitan city like Dallas has its internal problems.

Police officers don’t out of their way targeting individuals based on the color of their skin in hopes of them getting to use deadly excessive force and maybe starting a war between society and cops. There’s always a reason why you are pulled over by law enforcement.

The lesson that ought to be learned is if you want to go home alive or prevent your arrest following a traffic stop, you might want to avoid any confrontation with the local police.

©10/28/15

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The continuing battle for political correctness

When South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed a measure into law on July 9, to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol (which was then removed the next day after flying for 54 years), I couldn’t help but ask this one question: If South Carolina (and so many other southern states that flew the Confederate flag) knew there was a race problem, why wasn’t the flag removed before 21-year-old Dylann Roof opened fire, killing nine African-Americans June 17 at a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Church?

A sick individual cold-bloodedly murders minorities in hopes of starting a race war and now South Carolina and the rest of the country have a change of heart? If such supposed offensive historical symbols of the Civil War had been taken down years earlier, would that have kept Roof’s shooting rampage from happening? I doubt that about as much as I doubt more stringent gun control laws would stop mass shootings from happening.

Truth is this wasn’t the first shooting inside a house of worship. There have been countless shootings inside churches before the Charleston incident. Many innocent lives have been lost. Where was all the shock and outrage then over gun violence and mental illness?

When I watched “All in the Family (1971-1979) and “The Jeffersons” (1975-1985) as a kid I did not count how many racial epithets (and there were many) Archie Bunker said about most every race. I didn’t know what the words “honky” and “zebras” meant at the time when George Jefferson uttered those words to describe interracial couple Tom and Helen Willis. Apparently neither did the live audiences otherwise why were they all laughing? Or why did the networks incorporate laugh tracks when those comments were said?

“The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985) was and is no more a show seated in racism than Breaking Bad was a show seated in reality,” said Hazzard’s star John Schneider upon hearing the series was pulled by TV Land in response to the Charleston shootings and the suddenly racist Confederate flag painted on the famous car Bo and Luke drove, the General Lee.

“I am saddened that one angry and misguided individual can cause one of the most beloved television shows in the history of the medium to suddenly be seen in this light,” Schneider told The Hollywood Reporter. “Are people who grew up watching the show now suddenly racists? Will they have to go through a detox and a 12-step program to kick their Dukes habit?”

We can’t say Merry Christmas to anyone out of fear of offending someone who doesn’t celebrate it. Comedienne Nicole Arbour can’t do what she thinks was a humorous commentary about her opinion of fat people without YouTube, in a brief moment of madness, pull the video before restoring it due to so many hits the segment was getting. We can’t dress up as “Caitlyn Jenner” for Halloween because the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) community finds it insulting.

When people aren’t busy wasting their breath on the dumbest of debates, like changing the name of the Washington Redskins football team to something else that won’t be offensive to Native Americans, they’re busy setting double standards.

They say nothing when liberal hate commentator Ed Schultz shouts how former Vice President Dick Cheney’s heart should be ripped out, kicked around and stuffed back into him. The minute Rush Limbaugh, however, calls Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a slut, without bothering to read the transcript of where Limbaugh was coming from when he said it, the double standard liberals want “The Doctor of Democracy” gone from the airwaves.

The minute I criticize President Obama I get called racist when my criticism of him has nothing to do with his race. It’s his lousy policies destroying America that I have no stomach for.

With the Confederate flag now in a museum I can’t help but wonder (as I drive throughout my neighborhood seeing the American flag proudly displayed outside numerous homes), how long will it be before someone finds the symbol offensive and demands that it be removed from a neighbor’s home?

In case you were born yesterday, I got news for you. It’s already happening.

©10/21/15

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Enough is already way too much

This is the eighth column I have written about a mass shooting since the Columbine school massacre in 1999. I am just as fed up with these tragic incidents as President Barack Obama was when he spoke hours after the latest shooting Oct. 1 at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. The tragedy left nine students dead, in addition to the gunman, who took his own life.

I am so disgusted I am not even going to criticize the president when he said, “We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths.”

I’ll let the right-wing political pundits such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity at Fox News bring up Chicago when it comes to how the state of Illinois has the strictest gun laws and just about every weekend the body count in the Windy City continues to reign with double digits.

I am tired of hearing the names of the dead and their young ages being read off by law enforcement officers at crime scenes. I’m also tired of the “drive-by” media, acting like vampires in need of fresh blood who hope the more people killed, the more they can keep the tragedy alive, reporting it for days.

I am tired of hearing from survivors recounting their horror with stories about how the killer in this latest shooting asked students about the religion and, depending on their answer, would either shoot them in the head or the leg. I am tired of hearing survivors talk about how this is not how they envisioned their fifth day in college to be.

I am tired of hearing from friends and family members of these shooters about how they had no idea the person was planning to commit mass murder.

“That’s not the son I raised” would be among the many responses from the parents.

I get so tired of hearing about how these shooters attempted to seek, refused to seek or were undergoing psychological counseling before they went off the deep end. The red flags consistently were missed every time these tragedies occurred.

Most of all, I am sick and tired of politicians using such tragedies as a means to get on their political soapboxes about how more stringent gun control laws need to be put on the books to stop these tragedies from happening. It’s nothing but talk.

Three days after the shooting at Umpqua Community College, it was reported four students were arrested in northern California for plotting to carry out a similar Columbine-style attack at Summerville High School in Tuolumne. I don’t believe for one minute that if California had the same stringent gun laws that Illinois has such a mass shooting would have been prevented. If someone is intent on killing, it doesn’t matter how he got the gun. Nor does it matter how many rounds the weapon can fire so long as the person can take out a few people before his cowardly act of turning the gun on himself.

Let’s face it: Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.

Politicians in Washington have been debating the gun control issue since the deaths of the Kennedys in the ‘60s, Beatle John Lennon in 1980 and President Ronald Reagan’s attempted assassination in 1981. Both of the last two assailants were mentally ill.

We have gotten nowhere. Every incident since Columbine has been, as Obama called it in his speech, “routine.”

In the coming weeks or months, though I hope it doesn’t happen (and that’s wishful thinking on my part), another mass shooting will occur on another campus. Obama and the rest of the country will express the same shock and go through that same routine all over again. Campus newspapers will do more predictable news stories interviewing campus police and administrators asking what are they doing to keep students safe and there will likely be more regurgitated editorials and columns.

Treating the mentally ill is the only way these mass shootings will stop. I have always believed that, based on the treatment (or lack thereof) these mass murderers were receiving.

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said on CNN’s “New Day” this “…isn’t a gun problem. This is a mental problem. It’s not a question of the laws. It’s really the people.”

Commenting about the problem and actually doing something about it are two different things. I don’t think a presidential candidate, Republican or Democrat, has ever said during their campaigns what they intend to do about treating the mentally ill in this country.

Maybe it’s time for them to start.

©10/14/15

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Recalling the year the music died


It happened on a Monday night. The date was Dec. 8, 1980. Some say it was the day the music died. This December will mark the 35th anniversary when former Beatle/songwriter John Lennon was shot to death by a deranged fan outside the gates of the Dakota Apartments in New York City as he and his wife, Yoko Ono, were returning home from a recording studio session. Lennon would have turned 75 this year on October 9.

Rock star Sheryl Crow and actor/comedian Mike Myers, according to a retrospective article on Lennon in the Nov. 9, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone, heard about the singer’s assassination watching Monday Night Football when sportscaster Howard Cosell made the shocking announcement to TV viewers.

I found out the next morning from my dad as I was getting ready for school.

I remembered hearing Beatles’ songs like Yesterday on the radio the morning after the singer’s death and seeing hour-long newscasts and specials covering the life of the late Beatle on TV that night.

I also recall reading various newspaper articles about fans who were so distraught by the tragic news that they committed suicide. Some fans of Nirvana repeated that same senseless act 14 years later when they found out the group’s lead singer, Kurt Cobain, killed himself in 1994.

The founding member of The Beatles, however, wasn’t like Cobain who freely chose the self-destructive lifestyle through drugs or a bloated Elvis Presley, who near the end of his life forgot the lines to most of his songs during live performances.

Lennon came out of hiding in 1980 with what was to be his comeback album, Double Fantasy, after devoting the last half of the decade to raising his son, Sean. Some of the music he wrote after The Beatles broke up in 1970 were as much about him as they were about others. Jealous Guy made obvious references to Lennon’s relationship with his second wife, Yoko Ono, while Cold Turkey spoke of the singer’s battles with drugs. Then there was Beautiful Boy, which Lennon wrote as a tribute to his son.

A couple Beatles’ songs, however, like Julia were about his mother whom Lennon lost when she died in an auto accident in 1958, while The Ballad of John and Yoko talked about the two as a couple.

Listening to some of Lennon’s best hits on disc, I have often felt as though some of his lyrics described me, like in the song, Watching the Wheels. The lyrics go "People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing. Well they give me all kinds of advice to save me from ruin...I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round, I really love to watch them roll, no longer hide behind the merry-go-round, I just have to let it go."

I am sure someone else will interpret those lyrics differently but for me, they seem to say, "Look, you’re getting older now so stop wasting time." Then there’s Borrowed Time, which came out in 1984 whose lyrics talk about how one’s young carefree days never last forever.

"My role in society, or any artist or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel," the singer was quoted saying in the 1988 book, Imagine: John Lennon.

I was in fifth grade when Lennon was killed in 1980. I wasn’t old enough to realize what his death would mean.

For older fans who remember when The Beatles first came to America in 1964 and grew up listening to their songs, the death of John Lennon dashed any hopes, if there were any, of a possible reunion.

That notion finally hit me in 1995 when the three surviving members of the "Fab Four", Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr came together to record their first Beatles song in 15 years called Free As A Bird. The song was part of an unfinished lyric Lennon recorded on cassette tape back in the late 70s.

When it comes to the subject of John Lennon and The Beatles, there is always that lingering question. If Lennon has lived, would the Beatles have gotten together again?

The question is like pondering whether or not President Kennedy would have pulled American troops out of Vietnam in 1964 had he lived to see a second term.

What I do know is if Lennon were around today, it’s a good bet he’d have a lot to say about many current events the past three decades, in particular about 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of which he probably would have written songs about.

Lennon was our generation’s JFK. His passing brings to mind the opening line from the Beatles’ lyric, A Day In The Life and was the last song on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

The line was "I read the news today oh boy..."

©10/7/15