Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Are we reaching the age life stops giving us things and starts taking them away?

Class of 1988 (left to right): Me, Chris Todora, Ed Schwille and Nick Rhea.
Looking at the list of students who have died in the fifty plus years Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas has been open, I have always seen our Class of 1988 as the healthiest, or perhaps the luckiest. Only one student from our class passed away and that was in 1995. If I was to count the two others from our class who didn’t graduate with us who also passed away, then that number makes it three.

On March 17, that number jumped to four when fellow alumni and friends learned on social media that fellow classmate, Ed Schwille, passed away at the all-too-young age of 47. No one I asked knows what happened except the news of his death shocked everyone.

My only response when Ed’s obit was posted on social media was, “NO!”

The only thing I could think of at the time was how I had nothing to wear at the funeral. Nothing in my closet fit anymore. Everything I owned was for someone close to the 300-pound range. The clothes I owned no longer fit for someone whose weight now ranges between 175 and 190. I had to buy a size 40 black slacks at Target the day before the service and even then, I probably should have gone with a size 38.

When I met friend and former classmate, Anne Marie Ross at the service, she remarked that the black jacket I wore was “too big” on me.

I loved the comment just as much as I enjoyed hearing her sing the memorial songs. If Ed was looking down from the heavens to see who was at his funeral, he would have had no trouble finding Anne Marie. His spirit would just follow her booming operatic voice. It finally dawned on me as to why she got the lead role in the play, Guys and Dolls, senior year.

It would be easy for me to offer speculation as to what happened to Ed but I am not going there. It’s no one’s business. I am going to respect him in death the way he was respected in life. Instead I’m going to recall the memories. No one will argue that Ed always liked to make everyone laugh in high school. Such is the reason our senior class voted Ed as the “Most Humorous” according to my 87-88 high school yearbook.

He always had some funny quick-witted comment and no one cared if it was on the slightly raunchy side. The point was Ed wanted to make everyone laugh. I found it ironic that the week of his funeral I saw an advance movie poster on the web for the upcoming Baywatch movie starring Dwayne Johnson. The poster showed two beach balls and a surfboard in the center with the tagline, “Lifesaving takes a pair”, which was an obvious reference to the male anatomy. I have a feeling he would have liked that.

In high school Ed called me “Stumpo Joe – Action Adventurer” modeling my name after the fictional movie archeologist Indiana Jones Harrison Ford played. That name was later expanded by another friend, Kelly Reed, who turned the name into a sequel, “Stumpo Joe and the 7 Temples of Doom” with the movie tagline, “He didn’t like the first one so they gave him seven more.”

Among the stories many classmates recalled on social media in the wake of Ed’s passing was the big party he held at his house in Richardson one weekend during junior year in which over 200 people showed up.

I didn’t go. I had better things to do like work instead of getting drunk that “lost weekend.” My alcoholic partying days didn’t start until after high school. Ed’s mother at the visitation service entertained former classmates with tales of partygoers playing spin the bottle and how she caught one classmate dancing around in a bedroom in just his underwear while everyone else threw trash at him.

“Mrs. Schwille let us have it at the visitation,” said fellow alum Craig Vinci. “It was so funny…she remembered the whole thing!!! It was good to see her laugh!”

I only saw Ed a couple more times after we graduated in the 1990s which was at the Bookstop in Mesquite where he worked and at the Blockbuster Video on Northwest Highway in Garland where he and his parents were customers. After graduating from the University of Texas at Dallas, Ed worked as a programmer for a number of companies in Information Technology.

I didn’t catch up with Ed until March 2013 when he sent me a friend request on Facebook. I took note of him proudly displaying pictures of his children, Dorian and Rylan, and his cat and talking about how he attended bible classes at his church. At one point he was even considering joining the peace corps. The tagline he always used on social media when he wanted to get women’s attention was “Hey ladies.” I use that comment now on my Facebook page when I get my monthly Lex Luthor/Captain Picard haircut.

It was hard for me not to get emotional at the service when the song, “Ave Maria”, was played as that is one of my favorites to hear at funerals, and then it was sad to hear Ed’s mother at the reception tell everyone not to worry about Ed because she knows he is in a “better place”, but adding that she is not. Ed was her only son and there is nothing more tragic than having a parent outlive their child.

I’ve lost quite a few friends and co-workers over the past fifteen years. I’ve attended a couple funerals, others I regrettably didn’t because I had too many of my own personal problems and was not ready to say goodbye to them.

Maybe it is true to quote what one character said in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) that “We seem to have reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away.”


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My life does not evolve around the flat screen

When actress Mary Tyler Moore died Jan. 25 one of the topics the entertainment media brought up was the popular episode from her 1970-1977 sitcom, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” called “Chuckles Bites the Dust” that aired in October 1975.

The episode involved a fictional character named Chuckles the Clown who, dressed up as Peter Peanut, died during a parade when an elephant tried to “shell him” or I assume eat him. As a result the staff are hysterical over the clown’s death except Mary, who during the wake herself eventually starts laughing.

I say “assume” because to this day 42 years later, I still haven’t seen the episode. Yes, I can already see you TV fanatic’s jaws dropping equating my not seeing that particular show with that of my never having been to the Vatican or climbed Mount Everest.

It’s not just that Chuckles the Clown episode I have not seen. I still don’t know who shot oil tycoon J.R. Ewing on “Dallas” (1978-1991). I don’t know how “The A-Team” (1983-1987) finally got caught. When the final two-hour episode of “M*A*S*H” titled “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” aired on Feb. 28, 1983, I was not among the 125 million viewers who tuned in which, according to, was the most watched television broadcast in American history.

I wasn’t always this out of touch with what aired on “The Boob Tube.” I was there when I learned that six years of the medical drama “St. Elsewhere” (1982-1988) was all a dream inside the mind of an autistic son.

I was there when Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer were sentenced to a year in prison away from society for being the obnoxious, selfish jerks they were to everyone since season one began on “Seinfeld” (1989-1998).

I shed a tear or two when Det. Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) succumbed to congestive heart failure following a heart transplant in his 2004 farewell episode of “NYPD Blue” (1993-2005) and when the King of Late Night – Johnny Carson bid America farewell on May 22, 1992 handing “The Tonight Show” over to host, Jay Leno, after almost thirty years.

Such has not been the case in almost the past two decades, perhaps more. These days, a TV series has to work to get my attention and it has to be something I’ve not seen done before. HBO’s “Westworld” (2016), the sixth season of “American Horror Story” and “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” failed to do that. I tuned out before the first episodes were over.

The shows I do watch are not what I will hear TV fanatics talk about the next day. I watch “Air Disasters” (2011-Present) on the Smithsonian Channel which recreate various aviation crashes, and “A Haunting” (2005-Present) on Destination America where I die laughing at how the actors and actresses cast as the real people who encountered demonic entities and ghosts are so much more attractive then the real ones telling their stories on camera.

So pardon me if I don’t share your enthusiasm during your little Monday afternoon fireside chats on social media talking about the grisly ways the zombies on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” got killed again and again by some character who wields a baseball bat, discuss what were the best and worst Superbowl ads, or which “Hollyweird” starlet wore the best or worst outfit at the Oscars.

You people may think among many things that working a full-time job, taking classes, trying to figure out which bill collector is going to get their money when payday arrives and struggling to stay on top of my diabetes is not much of a life, but it is a life and, I for one am damn glad it doesn’t exist in front of my new crystal clear, 40-inch 4k flat screen!


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Appreciation: Richard Hatch (1945-2017)

Another beloved sci-fi icon I, and so many others grew up watching, perhaps even met in person at the many comic-con conventions he attended the past couple decades is gone.

Actor Richard Hatch, best known as Colonial Warrior Captain Apollo from Battlestar Galactica (1978-79) in what ABC considered to be Sunday night’s answer to Star Wars (1977) died Feb. 7 at the age of 71 surrounded by family and friends following a battle with cancer.

As a kid, I made sure every Sunday night from the show's debut in September 1978 to its untimely cancellation in April 1979 was reserved to watching Battlestar Galactica.

Everything about the show seemed to have aspects of director/writer George Lucas' vision of "a galaxy far, far away" written all over it. The villains called the Cylons, an army of slow moving mechanical robots could well be compared to the Empire's stormtroopers in the Star Wars trilogy (1977-1983).

Shades of Harrison Ford's Han Solo could be seen in Dirk Benedict's Starbuck; the cynical colonial warrior for the Galactica who's good with a blaster, always has his mind more on gambling, enjoying a good cigar, wooing the ladies, and figuring out a way out of the Colonial military service.

Add Lorne Greene to the cast as the ship's commander who along with his son, Captain Apollo (Hatch) is in charge of protecting and leading the last remnants of the human race (220 ships in all) to safety after having all their home planets destroyed by the Cylon Empire and one might think this is an outer space rendition of Bonanza (1959-1973). All this didn't matter to a third grader like me who the year before Galactica debuted was still flying on that "Star Wars" high from the summer of 1977.

Plot and character development meant nothing to me at the time. What I wanted to see was the weekly outer space dogfights between the Colonial Vipers and the Cylon Raiders and the countless explosions that went with them courtesy of special effects coordinator John Dykstra who also worked on Lucas' Star Wars team.

“In my case, Battlestar Galactica was a milestone,” Hatch once said according to the Hollywood Reporter. “It afforded me the opportunity to live out my childhood dreams and fantasies. Hurtling through space with reckless abandon, playing the dashing hero, battling Cylons, monsters and super-villains – what more could a man want?”

To Hatch, however, who scored a Golden Globe nomination for his role in 1979, and guest starred in numerous episodes playing radical political figure, Tom Zarek, in the 2004-2009 Syfy channel’s reboot of the series that starred Edward James Olmos, playing Captain Apollo it seemed meant something more.

“I happen to be one of those rare actors that actually loves very intelligent and well-acted science fiction,” Hatch once said according to “I am looking for a character that connects to me on some level. It has to have depth to it and it has to be about something. The story of the character and their relationship with the people and places around them appeal to me and are what I look for.”

The news of Hatch’s death on social media was no different as fans expressed the same shock and sadness they’ve done so many times before after hearing of the losses of other music icons, actors and actresses. The most touching came from friend, Commodore McLeod Chandler, who spent a few hours with the actor at a convention one year and was left with a lasting impression.

“While so many of the other "special persons" had rules and stipulations about even shaking their hand (which usually costs money), Richard (Hatch) was different: he was a person,” Chandler wrote on Facebook. “As people came to see him, he stood to meet them, engaged them directly, always asked for and used their names, was always polite, and never demanded money. But then he did what no one else ever did.”

“He sat down on the floor in front of the table so he could meet the kids. A couple around my age who were fans as kids were bringing their own kids to meet the man that brought so much into their lives. The dad even had a prop warrior flight helmet he wanted signed. Richard did so while sitting on the floor, his legs folded Indian-style, with a six year-old boy wearing the helmet as he signed it and a 3 year-old hanging on his left shoulder.”

Yes, this man who told me that he did the cons for the energy, for the fans, and for the fun of it, sat down on the floor on level with the kids who he felt were going to be the next generation of sci-fi writers, thinkers, actors, and dreamers. He was kind. He was caring. He was inspiring. And he was still human.“

And now he is gone.

I am reminded of the words Greene’s Commander Adama spoke during a memorial service for a fallen warrior in one episode that seems appropriate now for Hatch especially given the original series only lasted one season except changing a few words.

“And for only a short while we gathered to honor Captain Apollo (Richard Hatch) in duty, so we must honor him in death. Let us remember him not only as a warrior but as a man who lived in pursuit of excellence. Now we return this warrior to the cradle of space.”


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2016 sucked but it had nothing to do with all the talent lost

I admit the day after actress Carrie Fisher died on December 27 last month I posted that meme of the Kardashian clan (i.e. Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, Kris – too many to list here) that featured the words below that the year 2016 still has four days left for the Grim Reaper to take one if not all of the reality TV show family.

True, the posting was nothing more than wishful thinking but it did prove just how I, and so many others, felt witnessing the losses of so much talent last year. How cruel of a world it is we live in that the Hollywood actors, actresses and music icons we grew up on are all dying and nothing bad has happened to the Kardashians and Miley Cyrus.

For me, the year 2016 was bad but not because of the talent lost. There was a host of reasons why the year sucked so much that when 2017 started at midnight on Jan. 1, the first rule of 2017 in a Facebook meme I saw was “We don’t talk about 2016.”

Last year sucked for me in the form of four stages; the same number of stages one is given when they are handed a life-threatening cancer diagnosis.

Stage one for me came with all the negative commentary I had to put up with from Negative Nancys on Facebook who’d use social media to bitch about every major subject (i.e. the presidential election, the Oscars being “too white”, the Black Lives Matter Movement among them) that I and a majority of others didn’t care to read. Those of us who wanted no part of their bitching had already heard enough of it on a daily basis on the news and talk radio.

By the time a loser upset by how the “Boys In Blue” in his pathetic sick mind target African-Americans went on a killing spree in downtown Dallas in early July cold-bloodedly murdering four Dallas police and a DART officer during a Black Lives Matter demonstration, I could not help but wonder how much more tragedy could 2016 offer given there was still barely six months left!

Stages two and three happened on a personal level as I found myself engaging in a continuing battle with diabetes, battling bill collectors, unable to balance a 40 hour work week and college classes, and bed bugs (yes – just like those talking M&Ms on those commercials, the night time pests do exist and it don’t matter how immaculate you keep your house clean!)

A few close friends I knew either battled life-threatening diagnosis or lost the battles all together. A friend I knew in high school lost her only son at age 14 and she and her husband have been coping with the loss ever since as expressed by her grief memes she posts on Facebook. Again, I can’t imagine the pain a parent goes through when it comes to burying and outliving their child.

Another one I knew in high school was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had surgery and chemo done. The problem is while he is done with chemo and surgery and has been doing well since; the surgeons were not able to get the whole tumor. Another friend from grade school lost his wife to lymphoma. And another childhood friend of mine whose parents I had known since the early 1970s lost his father in November to a stroke.

So you will understand why 2016 sucked so much! It felt like I was being pummeled.

While it is said when one is diagnosed with stage four cancer means that you are about to meet your maker soon, for me stage four actually meant hope. In November the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for 108 years. I can’t tell you how much I, and so many die-hard Cub fans needed this win given how bad the year had been going!

For a year that started out with a whimper the good news was 2016 went out with a bang. I lost over 40 pounds, though not considered “healthy” weight loss I still saw it as weight loss regardless. I loved getting comments from family members and social media during Thanksgiving who said because they hadn’t seen me in a while I was almost unrecognizable having lost so much weight. I love the fact all the extra large clothes I have now are too baggy and as soon as I got some money to burn I will have to get a whole new wardrobe.

However, if none of the other negative things occurred, I would not have been bothered too much by all the notable figures, Hollywood and music icons who died during the year.

Truth of the matter is death is a part of life. I predict the number of notables who pass away in 2017 could be more than the ones we lost in 2016.

Like it or not, every day gone is one more day closer to a date with the Grim Reaper for all of us.

If there is a lesson to be learned from losing so many icons in 2016 it is that we should all cherish the time we have with the ones who are still here and appreciate the notable figures who are still around as none of us knows how long we have.

Trouble is I believe NO one will follow such advice. They’ll instead post comments on social media how the minute they hear another idol has died they’ll post how 2017 sucks as much as 2016 did. They’ll post youtube videos recalling the songs, TV shows or movies that person did.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I again see social media users in 2017 post another meme to God asking the Almighty if they offer up the Kardashians and Miley Cyrus to the Heavens, if they can have so-so movie star or music legend back.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A popular North Texas attorney and a screen legend die within days/hours after losing their daughters, but were their untimely ends the result of "broken heart syndrome", or a possible past medical history of stroke/heart disease?

When North Texas personal injury attorney Brian Loncar, who promoted himself as the “Strong Arm” with his series of TV commercials, was found dead Nov. 28, 2016 inside his Rolls-Royce Wraith, which was parked outside his downtown law firm, Loncar & Associates, the reported cause of death was a heart attack. The Dallas Morning News, however, at the time, say official results were still pending and would take up to two months.

Loncar, 56, died two days after burying his daughter, Grace, 16, a junior at Booker T. Washington High School who killed herself Nov. 25 and had battled depression since she was 11-years-old.

When Loncar died, not once did I hear the local media say his heart attack was due to the stress of dealing with the sudden loss of his daughter in what I now know as “broken heart syndrome.”

Such was not the case Dec. 28 when screen legend, actress Debbie Reynolds, 84, died a day after her daughter, actress Carrie Fisher, 60, died following a massive heart attack she suffered on a flight from London to Los Angeles Dec. 23.

"She (Debbie Reynolds) missed her daughter (Carrie) and wanted to very much be with her," son, Todd Fisher and brother of Carrie, told Entertainment Tonight. "She had been very strong the last several days. [There was] enormous stress on her, obviously. And this morning she said those words to me and 15 minutes later she had a stroke and virtually left."

The morning after the world learned of Reynolds’ death the media brought up the subject of how she died from broken-heart syndrome.

The Mayo Clinic website describes broken heart syndrome as a temporary heart condition that’s often brought on by stressful situations such as the death of a loved one. Other situations that can often trigger broken heart syndrome include a threatening medical condition, domestic abuse, losing or winning a lot of money, strong arguments, a surprise party, performing publicly, job loss, divorce, asthma attacks, car accidents and major surgeries.

I won’t deny the stories I have heard of elderly couples dying in their 80s or 90s within hours apart, but were they truly a case where when the wife died, the husband couldn’t take the loss and as a result died of a “broken heart?” Is that what gets put on the person’s certificate as the cause of death following an autopsy if the family wishes one?

The problem I have with what reportedly killed Reynolds is I had never heard of this medical condition before, regardless of the fact it exists in the medical books and on medical websites.

What Loncar and Reynolds went through in the days/hours before they died were the same. Both suffered the loss of losing a child but under different circumstances. They are, however, not the only ones who’ve gone through the same tragedy. Many have lived through their losses.

Consider the thousands, perhaps millions of parents who have gone through the pain of burying their sons and daughters who went to fight in the Iraq/Afghanistan wars since 9/11 and never came home alive. Did any of those mothers and fathers die from broken heart syndrome days later? I bet more police officers and military soldiers die by suicide on a weekly basis because of what they’ve gone through on the job and in battles overseas than hearing of a mother or father dying from a “broken heart” as a result of a losing their kid.

I am also not denying how terrible it is for a parent to outlive their child. I can’t imagine the pain of going through that.

Reynolds suffered two strokes in 2015 and recovered according to an ABC News article.

Dr. Holly Andersen director of education for the heart institute at New York Presbyterian Hospital and scientific adviser for the Women's Heart Alliance, said Reynolds succumbed to “a cardiovascular event” given the actress’ history of stroke and heart disease among women. I will not be surprised if Loncar’s official cause of death when released is also “a cardiovascular event.”

"It wouldn't be surprising that an 84-year-old woman like Debbie Reynolds had some (arterial) plaque, and with this kind of stress, became more vulnerable and had more of a garden-variety heart attack and sudden death," Andersen said.

I don’t know what Loncar’s medical history was. I do, however, believe Reynolds’ death was likely the result of her previous medical history involving the strokes she suffered than I am accepting that her death was the result of “broken heart syndrome” due to the immense stress of losing her daughter.

I believe when it came to heart disease, both were likely walking time bombs and it was only a matter of time before they suffered a fatal heart attack or stroke even if Loncar’s daughter had not died by suicide or if Carrie Fisher had survived her massive heart attack.

Thousands, if not millions, of people go through the loss of losing a child. The one and only reason we now know of “broken heart syndrome” was because Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher were “Hollywood Royalty” and famed Texas lawyer Brian Loncar was only known to Dallas residents as the “Strong Arm.”


Thursday, December 29, 2016

She’s one with “the Force” now – Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)

Like Ross Geller, the fictional character David Schwimmer played on Friends (1994-2004), whose childhood fantasy was seeing Princess Leia in that skimpy gold bikini outfit collared to slug crimelord, Jabba the Hutt, in Return of the Jedi (1983), I too, like so many other young boys in eighth grade who were one year away from starting high school in 1983 and began to realize our male hormones were starting to kick into overtime when it came to our interest in girls looked to actress Carrie Fisher’s feisty rebellious heroine from that “galaxy far, far away” as an 80s sci-fi sex symbol.

Whereas we guys saw Princess Leia, as a result of that infamous costume became a pop-culture icon whose picture, some of us, ok, just me, would have posted up on the inside of my locker door in grade school, young girls looked to her as empowering, especially when she wrapped that steel chain around Jabba’s neck, in a shot according to, was inspired by the garroting scene of henchman, Luca Brasi, in The Godfather (1972).

Ironically despite the costume’s immense popularity with fanboys and “fangirls” who’ve walked the floors of yearly sci-fi conventions sporting the same slavegirl outfit, Fisher was not crazy about the idea during Jedi’s filming in 1982.

When The Force Awakens premiered last December she told co-star Daisy Ridley she should fight for her outfit. “Don’t be a slave like I was. You keep fighting for that slave outfit.”

For me and countless fans who grew up watching the Star Wars trilogy (1977-1983) and seeing Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) last year, December 27, 2016 was as comedienne Chelsea Handler tweeted a “Xanax day.” Fisher, who was seen as “Hollywood Royalty” born to parents - singer Eddie Fisher and screen legend Debbie Reynolds, and who was not just an actress but an author and screenwriter in her own right, died almost four days after suffering a massive heart attack during a flight from London to Los Angeles at age 60.

Actor Anthony Daniels who’s starred in all seven Star Wars films as golden droid C3P0 tweeted the same sentiment I, and millions of others who prayed for the actress’ immediate recovery.

“I thought I had got what I wanted under the tree. I didn’t. In spite of so many thoughts and prayers from so many.”

The most heartbreaking tweet from The Hollywood Reporter came from Fisher’s French therapy bulldog, Gary, which showed him looking out the window waiting for “mommy” to come home. “I’ll still be waiting for you…” the dog tweeted.

Seeing that dog with it’s pink tongue just sticking out as it sat alongside Fisher during a interview last December with Good Morning America’s Amy Robach, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “who would want a dog with its tongue sticking out all the time?”

Fisher, who always liked to invoke humor in her conversations off screen especially when poking fun at herself, told Robach, she brought the dog along with her to the interview because his tongue matched the color of her sweater. Up until the dog saw The Force Awakens he never had his tongue sticking out which Fisher explained was her pet’s way of expressing how good the seventh installment was.

Like so many Hollywood actors and actresses who have a long list of movies they’ve done over their lifetime, it would always be that one role he/she does that fans would identify them most with. And in Fisher’s case it was Princess Leia and whereas some might hate being known for only just one role, she welcomed it.

“Look, I’ve been Princess Leia for 40 years,” Fisher told GMA’s Robach. “So what, I’m gonna stop now that it’s really ridiculous to be someone named Princess Leia or General Leia? It’s ridiculous. I mean ridiculous in a good way.”

It wasn’t just her role in the Star Wars franchise she was most known for. Since her 20s the actress had battled drug addiction and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her book Postcards from the Edge, which she turned into a screenplay, was later made into a film in 1990 starring Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Shirley Maclaine dramatized her personal battles with family life, stardom and addiction. Yet through it all Fisher accepted her illness. Others who suffered from depression looked to Fisher as their spokesperson in a time where today, so-called “normal” people still put a stigma on those who suffer from mental illness.

“I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that. I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”

Writer Greame McMillan wrote in The Hollywood Reporter saying Fisher was “someone we’ve known and loved for most of our lives.”

That’s what makes her passing so devastating and unexpected. I never met Fisher and yet I feel like there was some closeness, a feeling so many fans have felt since 1977 when she graced the big screen at 19. It’s hard to believe she’s gone now. The only comfort are the words Yoda spoke in Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) when it comes to mourning our loss and the losses of so much talent in 2016.

“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not.”

Carrie Fisher is now one with “the Force” somewhere in that other “galaxy far, far away,” alongside her mother, Debbie Reynolds, who passed away from complications of a stroke Dec. 28 the next day at 84. The screen legend was making funeral arrangements for her daughter at the time.

"She (Debbie Reynolds) missed her daughter (Carrie) and wanted to very much be with her," son Todd Fisher told Entertainment Tonight. "She had been very strong the last several days. [There was] enormous stress on her, obviously. And this morning she said those words to me and 15 minutes later she had a stroke and virtually left."


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.”


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.


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, 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.


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, 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?”


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How we mourned the day "Doves" cried

“I have fond memories of having my very first slow dance at my very first sock hop with a very cute boy to that awesome song. Purple Rain lasts like 7 minutes, so I got to be in his arms for a really long time. I didn't know him at all at the time, as I don't think our Freshman year had barely started, but I was giddy that he picked me for the very last song of the dance. I remember him telling me I was a good dancer and I was smiling on the inside but kept my cool, of course! I'm sure he remembers NOTHING of this, but it's always stuck with me, ever since then, which was August 1984.”

That was a memory friend, Anne Marie Ross Alegre, shared with me when social media learned of pop-star Prince’s death at the untimely age of 57 April 21.

I remember that night clearly as I was there (No, I am not the “cute boy” Miss Alegre danced with) over thirty years ago. It was an orientation dance for our entering Freshman class at Bishop Lynch High School and the cafeteria doubled as the dance floor, which was dimly lit when Purple Rain played on the speakers. If we had been allowed to have candles in the cafeteria, I wouldn’t have been surprised if classmates chose to light them up as the song played.

Her memory is one among a few examples that friends and former co-workers of mine shared on social media upon learning of the singer’s passing, whose death at this time is still being investigated. Some temporarily changed their profiles to the color purple while others got tattoos to honor the late artist.

Friend Angela Bardis took glee that she can still shock her young boys when she had Prince’s Darling Nikki, from the Purple Rain soundtrack playing in the car. It was that song in which the sexual lyrics spoke of masturbation that led to the creation of the Parental Advisory label seen today on compact discs and the formation of the Parents Music Resource Center organized by Tipper Gore, wife of then Senator Al Gore according to an article in USA Today.

For me, I still remember seeing all the entertainment coverage of Prince’s first music film, Purple Rain, on MTV during the summer of 1984. No I was not a fan but I did like the album, which I bought on compact disc for the first time the week he passed away and had it playing in my car over the past week.

Prince’s death was not the first time social media went into a grieving frenzy this year. The same happened with the deaths of British rock star/actor David Bowie and Eagles founder, Glenn Frey, in January as fans posted quotes from the singers’ lyrics and youtube videos on their pages to express their grief.

When Prince died, fans it seemed had already been delivered so much of a crushing loss since January that memes were posted on social media with the words asking God, “If you give us back Prince and David Bowie, we promise to give you Kanye West, Lil Wayne and all the Kardashians.”

In the days before social media, fans expressed their grief gathering at a songwriter’s residence the way hundreds flocked to Graceland on Aug. 16, 1977 after learning of the death of Elvis Presley and at the Dakota in New York City where ex-Beatle John Lennon was killed outside the gates of his apartment on Dec. 8, 1980. Fans lit candles, brought flowers and gathered around to sing Give Peace A Chance.

Today, fans don’t just flock to a musician’s residence, grave site or their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to pay tribute as they have been doing since Prince’s death on April 21 outside his compound at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn. Social media is now another form for fans to express their grief.

Prince’s death is sadly another nail in that 1980’s coffin; a reminder that the things my generation grew up on are slowly disappearing.

Our loss is Heaven’s gain.

Somewhere in the afterlife, Prince is probably jamming alongside so many other singers who’ve gone before him. It reminds me of another song the Commodores did back in 1985 called Nightshift, which was a tribute to R&B singers, Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye who died in 1984. The end lyrics to that song seem rather appropriate now with Prince.

"Gonna be some sweet sounds Coming down on the nightshift. I bet you're singing proud. Oh I bet you'll pull a crowd. Gonna be a long night. It's gonna be all right On the nightshift. Oh you found another home. I know you're not alone On the nightshift."


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.


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 “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.


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.”


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 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.”