More odds than ends

August 31, 2012 — Yesterday just happened to be one of those days.

I know that statement isn’t unique. We all have days like that.

Still, the events stole precious time away from me – time that made me forego things on my “to do” list, such as writing a fantastic blog post for this morning.

And I blame it all on the Clydesdales.

Yes, that’s right. Those pesky Budweiser Clydesdales, the very ones used to promote the all-American beer provided an odd ending to my already hectic day.

While driving home after cell phone shopping with my son – a unique experience on its own – I had to take a detour because the Clydesdales were parading down Fairmount Avenue, right smack in the middle of Philadelphia. I have to admit it was a pretty interesting sight, but one that I wasn’t prepared for.

I did my best to circle back to Fairmount Avenue from the detour, since it was the only route I knew home, but ended up so lost that plan didn’t work. I finally made it back to an area that looked sort of familiar, but a typical 25 minute drive took nearly an hour to complete.

Exhausted and frustrated upon arrival home, I went to bed, forgetting about the blog, and a bit annoyed that I had missed Clint Eastwood’s speech at the RNC.

So, it’s 8 a.m. EST on Friday morning and I’m writing this post because my routine is to post on Fridays, and I don’t want to skip the last day of August. Next, I’ll find a video of Eastwood’s speech on the Internet, and feel appreciative that we live in an age where that is possible so quickly.

I’m happy that today began much better than yesterday.

Summer sounds of the 1970s

August 31, 2012 – It’s hard to believe that this weekend, we will celebrate Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer.

For me, it means that Autumn, my favorite of the seasons, is almost here. The end of summer doesn’t make me feel melancholy as it may for many others.

Still, there are things I will miss once the warmest season is gone; less traffic in the morning for one, as the streets become crowded again now that vacations are over and the school year is in session.

Most of all, I miss the sounds of summer that bring back my fondest childhood memories.

From the echoes of the seagulls at the Jersey shore, to the ice cream vendor and newspaper man who walked the beach with their cries of “Fudgie Wudgies,” and “Philadelphia Daily News, Daily News here”, these sounds are ingrained in my memory, just like the scent of Coppertone.

On the boardwalk in Wildwood, N.J., I also became accustomed to the recorded, nondescript voice that warned me to, “Watch the tram-car please.” That was always followed by a little embarrassment since I rarely watched where I was going.

Even at home, the clatter of summer played a significant role in my life. I recall Jersey farmers and their trucks driving slowly down our street, while the hucksters cried, “Jersey Tomatoes for sale”. Nothing compares to a freshly grown Jersey tomato.

Likewise, the Mister Softee or Good Humor jingle sent many kids in my neighborhood into a frenzied delight. And hearing the roar of lawn mowers in the background meant the smell of freshly cut grass would soon bring another racket to light – plenty of sneezing!

An orchestra of crickets on a summer night takes me back to sitting on the front porch listening to baseball on the radio, the crack of the bat ringing in my ears, and also to catching fire flies (which is undoubtedly a poetic way of saying lightning bugs, as we called them in the city).

I miss those summer sounds of childhood.

Thankfully, fallen leaves crunching under my feet, the crackle of a fireplace and football game cheers were always close behind.

Finally, a political ad I can support

August 28, 2012 – I saw this clever ad in the Philadelphia Metro yesterday.

The Romney/Ryan ticket probably won’t get the presidential votes it needs to win the election in Philadelphia — Pennsylvania historically swings democrat, and a poll by the Philadelphia Inquirer on Saturday showed Obama currently has a nine-point lead over Romney — but the folks at the Philadelphia Sports Clubs know a winning ad campaign when they see it.

Let the games begin

August 27, 2012 – On the eve of the Republication National Convention in Tampa this week, and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. next week, here’s a look at the “most widely believed conspiracy theories in U.S. History” courtesy of Ranker.com.

Why the correlation? The people who believe these theories, and probably started them in the first place are likely fixtures at both conventions, whether they are cheering loudly on the convention floor, or picketing for their cause outside of the convention doors.

Am I alone in wishing this election was history?

Should the man who shot John Lennon go free?

August 24, 2012 – Yesterday, the man who gunned down John Lennon in New York City on December 8, 1980, was denied parole for the seventh time.

Mark David Chapman, originally sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for second-degree murder, served 31 years so far and is eligible for parole again in 2014.

At his last parole hearing two years ago, Chapman said, “I felt that by killing John Lennon I would become somebody and instead of that I became a murderer.”

Here part of the transcript handed down by the three-panel parole board that denied him once again:

“Despite your positive efforts while incarcerated, your release at this time would greatly undermine respect for the law and tend to trivialize the tragic loss of life which you caused as a result of this heinous, unprovoked, violent, cold and calculated crime,” board member Sally Thompson wrote. Board members Joseph Crangle and Marc Coppola agreed.

“The panel notes your good conduct, program achievements, educational accomplishments, positive presentation, remorse, risk and needs assessment, letters of support, significant opposition to your release and all other statutory factors were considered,” Thompson wrote. “However, parole shall not be granted for good conduct and program completions alone.”

I’m not advocating softer crime penalties or defending Chapman’s actions, but maybe, just maybe it is time to grant him parole.

The average sentence for second-degree murder in New York is 15 to 25 years, while a life sentence is typically thought to represent 25 years. For violent crimes, most states require criminals to serve at least 85% of their sentenced time. Additionally, in the United States, on average, a person convicted of second-degree murder serves 21.6 years in prison.

Chapman served ten years longer than the average already and six years longer than what is considered a life sentence.

Perhaps one could argue that Chapman did plan the murder, and therefore, could have been convicted of first-degree murder, which does not typically allow for parole. That is not the case, however; he was convicted of second-degree murder, which carries lighter penalties.

If Chapman isn’t ready for release, or is considered a threat to society, I would be the first to demand that he remain behind bars. But his record in prison and the fact that he did not have a history of crime prior to the shooting should be taken into consideration. And if he’s not ready now, will he ever be?

I remember reading an article right after George Harrison died, that reported he visited the attacker who stabbed and almost killed him several years before. Harrison wanted to meet with him and tell him he was forgiven.

Somehow, I think Lennon would feel the same. Perhaps he’d want to give peace a chance by letting this man live on the outside again.

Closing “The Office” for good

August 23, 2012 – Is it a sign of a tough economy, or simply the natural order of things?

Yesterday, NBC officially announced that the upcoming season of “The Office” will be its last, and our favorite paper company will be closing its doors forever.

It’s time to say goodbye to Jim, Pam, Dwight, Andy and the rest of the gang, and the news is bittersweet. Over the years, the show provided groundbreaking comedy that every office worker related to, even in the extremes. It gave us such gems as faxes from the future, office supplies in vending machines and in Jell-O, and my favorite line of all time from the hilarious Andy Bernard, “Michael, am I gay?”

The show was once NBC’s highest rated comedy, and it fell to all-time low ratings last year following the exit of the bumbling Michael Scott (Steve Carell). Although he wasn’t my favorite character, and he began to annoy me in the last few seasons, the show wasn’t the same without him.

So what can we expect from season nine’s swan song?

Writer, producer and director Greg Daniels, who helped create the show and controlled most of the production in seasons one through five is retaking control for its last hurrah.

‘We’re planning a very big exciting last season,” he announced to reporters on Tuesday. “We’re going to have a lot of faces coming back … There are a lot of things that I’ve personally been wanting to do since season two … All questions will be answered this year. We’re going to see who’s behind the documentary … Now that we know we have an end date we can blow things up and take some chances and it will be very freeing, creatively.”

As for old faces, surely Daniels is referring to some of the old Dunder Miflin gang; season eight ended with Andy, who is now running the office, talking previous CFO David Wallace into buying back the company from Sabre. Here’s to hoping there are also appearances from Michael and Holly, along with a youngster, since that’s what he always wanted.

This sounds like it could be a lot of fun.

Sparkle celebrates the legend and exploits her too

August 21, 2012 – The untimely death of Whitney Houston may be the best thing that happened to the movie “Sparkle”, which hit theaters in wide release last Friday.

I’m not trying to be cruel; Houston was obviously talented and left this world too soon. Whether or not fans cite that Houston’s death is one of the reasons they want to see “Sparkle” is not clear, but I have to believe it will play a role. At the very least, the studio marketing team is quick to remind the general public the role was her last. Ads are plastered in newspapers across the country inviting us to “celebrate the legend”. She may not be the star, but all of the ads feature Houston’s image prominently.

Even in the image above, Houston’s face is the one that stands out most. Poor Jordan Sparks is cut off at the torso.

Of course, Hollywood is no stranger to stars passing before a big release. They have learned to make the best of it because it can add up to big bucks. Heath Ledger died before “The Dark Knight” hit theaters, and that certainly added to the curiosity of movie goers, especially since his role was dark, and it was reported that he had difficulty removing himself from the character after filming was complete. Stars like Clark Gable, Spencer Tracey, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Tupac Shakur, Brandon Lee and many more, have also suffered the same fate.

Despite the film’s reviews – the major critics seemed indifferent, neither loving it or hating it, and the weekend box office earnings totaled a modest $12M – the film is already considered a financial success since it only cost $14M to make.

“Sparkle” is a remake from a 1970’s film of the same name, which starred “Fame’s” Irene Cara in the lead role. While it naturally will be compared to the popular movie “Dreamgirls” – they both focus on Motown’s early days and girl groups – “Dreamgirls” had a more interesting cast, and seems like a better movie because it earned Jennifer Hudson an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, which kick started her acting career. Only time will tell if the same holds true for Jordan Sparks, or if this is her one and only.

The movie tells the story of three sisters trying to make it in the music business during the early days of Motown. The role was an interesting choice for Houston, especially since she plays the mother, the deadliest role for the aging woman in Hollywood. Of course, we all age and there’s nothing wrong with that, or with taking on a role as a mother. Many of us are mothers in real life and are proud of it, including Houston. I didn’t see the movie, so I can’t say whether the role was a juicy one, but there is buzz circulating that it could earn Houston an Oscar nom. If that happens, and I’ll be surprised if it does, I may get the desire to see it.

Here’s the major reason “Sparkle” doesn’t appeal to me. It may not be fair, but every time I think of “Sparkle”, I also think of the Mariah Carey bomb “Glitter”. And that image makes me want to avoid it completely.

Bad cinema: A family quick poll and top ten list

August 19, 2012 – A family get together over the weekend provided a perfect opportunity to ask everyone to name the worst movie they ever saw. Here are our selections, in the form of a top ten list.

10. Night of the Living Dead. The cult classic from 1968, a small, independent horror film that cost only $114,000 to make, is my father’s selection. Since it’s gone on to make $18 million internationally, that original $114,000 seems like a rather good investment. Yet, the story is laughable; two teenagers drive to rural Pennsylvania to visit their father’s grave. They find something amiss at the cemetery; all of the corpses have come back to life with the sole purpose of killing every human in sight. I’m still puzzled by this, since the zombies moved slower than a snails’ pace. The humans could easily get away if they didn’t stop to scream hysterically and watch as the corpses got closer and closer. This is one of those movies that is truly bad, but in a fun way that makes you want to watch it for a few giggles every Halloween.

9. Love Me Tender. This Elvis vehicle is my mother’s pick for the worst movie she’s ever seen. It was his first movie role, which should explain volumes, and viewing it was a part of the first date for my mother and father. The 1956 black and white movie cast Elvis as a Civil War soldier, and a corny one at that. Although I’ve never seen it, Mom says that the death scene, where Elvis succumbs to whatever kills him, is quite ridiculous. But the title song was good, and Elvis went on to have a pretty lucrative movie career despite her poor review. And my parents went on to have four children and nine grandchildren, so things worked out pretty well for them, too.

The movie’s only saving grace may be the soundtrack.

8. Hot Tub Time Machine. I’ve never heard of this movie from 2010, but it’s my sister Linda’s pick for worst ever. I’m not surprised, just by the title alone. The premise doesn’t sound too bad: A malfunctioning hot tub (which also happens to be a time machine) at a ski resort takes a group of young men back to 1986 where they must relive a fateful night. It doesn’t sound too original, either, but the cast, which includes John Cusack (who I suppose was cast because he signifies the 1980s on film) and the current Mrs. Don Draper, Jessica Pare, doesn’t sound too bad. Alas, she tells me it is one really immature piece of film making, worse than “Freddie Got Fingered”.

7. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. I’m not too familiar with this film, selected as worst by Linda’s boyfriend, Roland, but at least I’ve heard of it. This British spy film from 1965 starred Richard Burton in the lead role and focused on espionage during – you guessed it – the cold war. Although it did get some good reviews, it’s definitely not a movie that you should expect a child to love. Roland admits he was young when he saw it, and it obviously left a terrible impression. Perhaps another viewing as an adult is in order to form a true opinion, but Roland decided to stick to his guns on this one.

6. Tree of Life. Despite its critical acclaim and award nominations, my brother David has named this movie the biggest piece of crap he’s ever seen in his life. While his opinion may seem harsh, I admit I didn’t like it either, mainly because I didn’t understand it. It also ended up on my 10 Films I Tried to Like But Failed Miserably” list. The film, nominated for the 2011 Best Picture, stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, so you’d think it would have great potential. However, it turns into a collection of scenes that never fit together and were not entertaining in the least. For me, this is a huge wasted effort on the part of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, and apparently for David, it is too.

Eeeekkk! It’s Jeffrey Jones…

5. Mom and Dad Save the World. My nephew, Rick’s pick as the worst movie he’s ever seen, is a stupid comedy from 1992 that defies all imaginable logic. I remember seeing this when it was out on video back in the day, and I agree with his assessment, especially since it stars Jeffrey Jones, the man who played the principal in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, and who just happens to totally freak me out in every role he plays. There are so many brilliant comedies out there, so why anyone would want to waste their time on this one is beyond me, and Rick too.

4. Titanic. Admittedly, my nephew Ryan isn’t a movie person. He considers it too much of an investment of his time to take two hours to watch anything, much less the three hours plus it would take to see this 1997 James Cameron classic. Therefore, he considers “Titanic” the worst movie ever made, and while I wasn’t a huge fan, I think it had some good moments, but I know plenty of people who would give him a high-five for his brave choice.

3. Constantine. My niece Leigh’s selection for the movie she ‘s loathed the most is the 2005 fantasy thriller “Constantine”. The film deals with your basic nightmare, and stars Keanu Reeves (hmm … stars and Keanu Reeves …  isn’t that an oxymoron) as the man who sees all and therefore must save the world from the evils of hell. I think Leigh and I both agree that the poor script and the casting is truly the devil’s work indeed.

2. The Green Lantern. Another recent film from 2011 that made our most despised list is this pick from my nephew, Macey. Strange, he’s the targeted age group for these super hero movies (he’s 19), yet he says it was the stupidest movie ever. This is another movie I haven’t seen, but I’m not really into the super hero thing, and I do agree it did look stupid. I think I could live the rest of my life comfortably if I skip this one altogether, and I can safely assume that Macey doesn’t ever want to see it again, either.

A still from Nothing But Trouble. I don’t even think I can explain.

1. Nothing But Trouble. This insane piece of celluloid is my selection for the Worst. Movie. Ever! You’d think a movie that starred Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy (all in their prime) and Demi Moore (fresh off her success in the mega hit “Ghost”) had a lot of potential. I certainly thought so when I went to see this so-called comedy in 1991. Turns out it was the scariest movie I ever saw, and not because it was supposed to be. It tells the story of a four people who get arrested for speeding in route from New York City to Atlantic City. They become prisoners of the kooky bunch of nut jobs who live in the small, quaint New Jersey town. Bad acting and a terrible script make this movie a real stinker if there ever was one.

My son, Charlie also selected “Nothing But Trouble” as his worst pick, too. It is my fault. I forced him to see this piece of monstrosity when he was a young, impressionable boy.

Now it’s your turn. I encourage you to add your selections to the comments below so we can save other readers from selecting terrible movies to entertain them.

Intolerance

August 17, 2012 – Flipping through television channels on Wednesday night, I came across a feature on Turner Classic Movies, a silent film from 1916 scheduled to run from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

How intriguing that a silent movie from nearly 100 years ago could run that long. The three and a half hours in length alone was enough to make me pay attention.

After I hit the information button, I learned the name of the movie, ”Intolerance”, which also piqued my interest and compelled me to watch a little longer, is considered one of the great masterpieces of the silent era. Not that I am an expert on silent films, but I had never heard of it before.

Directed by D.W. Griffith, the film tells the story of several events that highlight intolerance throughout history, from the Babylonian Empire to modern Day crime and redemption up to and including the Ku Klux Klan. At its release, it isn’t surprising that it was a colossal failure.

This isn’t a recommendation for something to watch this weekend; it held my attention for about 25 minutes, but that’s about all I could take. It’s more of a revelation that hit me while I watched. I’m amazed that with everything this world has been through since the beginning of time, and all of the intolerance we’ve faced, we’re still no better off than we were a few thousand years ago. It’s as if we’ve learned nothing. Things may have improved slightly, for now the United States and other countries around the world have better laws in place to fight against intolerance, but we’re still divided, with politics and other social issues drawing attention to our differences.

When I was younger I used to cringe every time one of my parents would say that the world is a pretty terrible place and it used to be so much better in the 1950s or in their day. This drove me crazy, and I didn’t want to believe it because the present time they spoke negatively about was all I knew.

In an odd way, my revelation made me happier, and proved my parents wrong. At least about the world not being any worse off than it was in the 1950s, or in ancient Babylon for that matter.

We still have a long way to go, and if history is doomed to repeat itself, I can’ help but wonder if we’ll ever get there.

P.S. I just realized that my last two blog entries have been very negative in nature. I guess I had to get it off my chest. Didn’t mean to bring you down on a Friday. Have a great weekend everyone!

10 things I don’t like

August 15, 2012 — 1. Political campaigns. Once upon a time, I found politics interesting and almost enjoyable. OK, sometimes I still do, and will always enjoy a good political debate now and then. But the negative campaigning that has become the norm these days, the constant bickering of both political parties, and the thought of a long presidential campaign with lots of mudslinging is something I don’t like at all.

2. Alarm clocks. How wonderful would it be if we all woke up naturally every morning, without the annoying sounds of an alarm to jump-start our day? After years of waking up for work, I’ve gotten to the point where I usually wake up a few minutes before my alarm goes off anyway, but the idea of alarm clocks still bother me.

3. Bad umpires. I’m talking about those nasty men at the major league level with enough ego and attitude to ruin a great ball game or even an entire season with a bad call. Those bad calls seem to come more frequently these days (does anyone know where the strike zone is anymore?) and yet they are never accountable for their botched calls. Note to all major league baseball umpires: People pay to see the players, not you. So, don’t try to steal the show with your crazy theatrics.

4. Bullying. My heart goes out to anyone who struggles with physical or mental abuse from the cowards who bully them. It’s nice to see bullying laws and policies changing for the better across the country, but it won’t be enough until we all wake up and realize we should support each other instead of knocking each other down.

5. Littering. Why would anyone think it is acceptable throw their trash out of a car window or anywhere outside? I realize we are a disposable society, and we have far too much trash, but the least we can do is get rid of it properly. Maybe TV executives should rerun those commercials from the 1970s that showed the Native American running through the woods with a tear rolling down his cheek when he comes across all of the trash on the ground. If that image isn’t enough to make you stop throwing your garbage in the great outdoors, you don’t have a soul.

6. Math. Math actually scares me more than annoys me, but I put it on this list because either way I look at it, I don’t like it. I’m not talking about basic math – I can add, subtract, multiply and divide with the best of them – but anything beyond that is not comprehensible to me. It’s difficult for me to believe that without math we wouldn’t have music. I like to think of math as logical and music as creative, and in my world they are opposites.

7. Arrogant people. I don’t want to spend time around people who are pretentious or overbearing, who show a complete disregard for others, or who have an exaggerated opinion of themselves. And there’s nothing else to say about the matter.

8. Heat waves. It’s been a long hot summer, and I’m ready for a change in temperature. I actually don’t care for the extremes of hot or cold, but I’d take the winter over the summer any day. Like politics, weather perfection is found in the middle. Give me spring and fall year round and I’m happy.

9. Waiting. We all know them. Those people who are never on time for anything; the type who show up at 10:30 when you were supposed to meet at 10 and think nothing of it. I’m a punctual person, and I believe it’s considerate of people’s time to show up when I say I will. Occasional trip ups are acceptable; we can’t control everything in life, such as traffic jams or anything else that can slow us down now and then. But the perpetually late people who keep me waiting is different. I may like you, but I don’t like it when you keep me waiting.

10. The day after. I’ve never cared for the day after a big event, especially one that you’ve planned and looked forward to for a long time, such as a wedding, a reunion, Christmas, or any big social event. The day after is always a letdown, and often leaves you feeling blah, and like you don’t have anything else to look forward to. Fortunately, that feeling leaves as quickly as it arrives when life moves on and you have no choice but to go along with it.