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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge – One of the Best Anti-War War Films Ever

Based on the true story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), director Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge is something of an anomaly – a war movie featuring a protagonist who refuses to touch a gun. While the premise sounds so far-fetched that it should be fictional, Doss existed and this film brings his life to the screen in vivid detail.

Gibson has never shied away from violence as an actor (Lethal Weapon, Mad Max) or as a director (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ), and here he walks a fine line between the enduring message of the film – a pacifist can be a war hero – and the reality of the gruesome battle in which that pacifist saves 75 lives while putting himself at risk.

Many of us fondly remember the film and sitcom M*A*S*H  taking place in a war zone and being resoundingly anti-war. The doctors of the 4077th do not carry weapons, but their job is to save people who do. The premise is basically the same in Hacksaw Ridge, except medic Doss is right in the middle of the battle and not back at a field hospital.

The film opens with scenes of when Doss (Darcy Bross) was a boy and rough housing with his brother Hal (Roman Guerriero). Their father Tom (a terrific Hugo Weaving) is depicted as an alcoholic veteran of World War I, unable to cope with the loss of all his friends in battle. As Tom returns from the paying his respects to his buddies at the local cemetery, Desmond and Hal get into such a brutal fight that Desmond takes a rock and slams Hal in the head.

Having almost killed his brother, Desmond is distraught and inconsolable. Touching scenes between Desmond and his mother (Rachel Griffiths) show her love and tenderness for the boy, while the father prepares to beat him with a belt. After Desmond learns that Hal will live, a change comes over him and he decides to live a non-violent life.

As a young man we see Desmond working in a church – he is now a devout Seventh Day Adventist – and his being in the right place at the right time during a car accident allows him to save a man’s life by tying a tourniquet. He accompanies the man to the hospital where he sees many other people needing help, getting his inspiration to become a medic.
The hospital is also the place where he meets nurse Dorothy Schutte (Theresa Palmer) and falls in love with her. Their courtship is an opportunity to witness Desmond’s inner goodness and faith, and these qualities win Dorothy over. They enjoy dating and going to the movies, but newsreels about the war remind Desmond that many other men are not so fortunate because they are in harm’s way.

When his brother Hal (Nathaniel Buzolic) comes home dressed in a uniform and tells his parents that he has enlisted, Tom is enraged because he does not want to see his son experience the horrors he had witnessed. Later on Desmond is inspired by his brother and he too enlists, but is determined to do so as a conscientious objector, unwilling to carry a gun but wishing to do his duty and become a medic to help others.

Gibson weaves these story threads together into a fabric that runs through the movie, helping to make sense of everything to come. Having this background is crucial when we eventually see Doss in boot camp up against the men in his barracks, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn, in the best performance of his career), and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington). When they learn of Doss's refusal to touch a gun and need to carry his Bible everywhere he goes, the resistance to Doss is staggering and, despite everything done to undermine him, his resiliency is amazing.

Even after some of the soldiers led by Smitty (Luke Bracey) beat him up during the night, Doss refuses to yield or to give up his attackers. That foreshadowing of bravery and loyalty earns him some grudging respect, and after fighting the battle in military court to stay in uniform, we flash forward to Okinawa where the real battle begins – one to take the seemingly impregnable Hacksaw Ridge.

Even knowing that Doss saves 75 men is not a spoiler, because the way he does this and who lives and dies most definitely is. The horrific battle scenes are some of the most bloody and gruesome I have ever seen on film, but this should come as no surprise to fans of Gibson’s previous work. We witness the indiscriminate fortunes of war – how one man is torn to shreds while the one crouching next to him is not.

The graphic nature of the combat scenes is an overstatement to highlight the senseless bloodiness of battle, the wasteful loss of young lives to appease the blood-swollen god of war who only craves more. The decimation of bodies is graphic and may be difficult for some viewers to observe, but this authenticity enhances the stature of Doss, who does nothing to contribute to the carnage all around him and everything in his power to stop its effects.
Gibson’s guiding hand is subtle here, and yet he elicits powerful performances from his cast. Worthington, Vaughn, Bracey, Weaving, Griffiths, Palmer, and even minor characters are noteworthy, but this is Garfield’s moment to shine and indeed he does. When he is poised at the edge of a cliff trying to save men by lowering them over it, Garfield’s face is illuminated with the faith we know Doss believes and the conviction that he can overcome all the odds against him. As Doss prays, “Let me save one more” you almost feel compelled to join him.

Cinematographer Simon Duggan captures the rugged stark landscape of Okinawa as well as the lush beauty of the small West Virginia town where Doss and his family live. On the battlefield the play of vivid colors of explosions alternating with the almost black and white nature of residual smoke and fog create a memorable portrait of the ugly beauty of war, and Rupert Gregson-Williams’s vibrant musical score supports these scenes of horror as well as ones of personal triumph.

It is good to see Gibson behind the camera again. We have always known that he has a knack for getting the battlefield scenes right, but his gentle hand is also apparent during scenes of intimacy between Desmond and Dorothy and those of camaraderie with Doss and the men who come to admire him. Hacksaw Ridge is Gibson’s most honest and compelling work as a director, not because he is condoning violence but instead highlighting its repugnance.

Even though it may be tempting to get the Blu-ray now that it has been released, do try to see this film first in a theater the way it was meant to be seen. I finally got to go see it on the big screen and was happy that I did.

The film is contending for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. If I were a member of the academy I would have no problem checking those three boxes for Hacksaw Ridge. It is the best anti-war war film I have ever seen.

Based on the true story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), director Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge is something of an anomaly – a war movie featuring a protagonist who refuses to touch a gun. While the premise sounds so far-fetched that it should be fictional, Doss existed and this film brings his life to the screen in vivid detail.

Gibson has never shied away from violence as an actor (Lethal Weapon, Mad Max) or as a director (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ), and here he walks a fine line between the enduring message of the film – a pacifist can be a war hero – and the reality of the gruesome battle in which that pacifist saves 75 lives while putting himself at risk.

Many of us fondly remember the film and sitcom M*A*S*H taking place in a war zone and being resoundingly anti-war. The doctors of the 4077th do not carry weapons, but their job is to save people who do. The premise is basically the same in Hacksaw Ridge, except medic Doss is right in the middle of the battle and not back at a field hospital.

The film opens with scenes of when Doss (Darcy Bross) was a boy and rough housing with his brother Hal (Roman Guerriero). Their father Tom (a terrific Hugo Weaving) is depicted as an alcoholic veteran of World War I, unable to cope with the loss of all his friends in battle. As Tom returns from the paying his respects to his buddies at the local cemetery, Desmond and Hal get into such a brutal fight that Desmond takes a rock and slams Hal in the head.

Having almost killed his brother, Desmond is distraught and inconsolable. Touching scenes between Desmond and his mother (Rachel Griffiths) show her love and tenderness for the boy, while the father prepares to beat him with a belt. After Desmond learns that Hal will live, a change comes over him and he decides to live a non-violent life.

As a young man we see Desmond working in a church – he is now a devout Seventh Day Adventist – and his being in the right place at the right time during a car accident allows him to save a man’s life by tying a tourniquet. He accompanies the man to the hospital where he sees many other people needing help, getting his inspiration to become a medic.
The hospital is also the place where he meets nurse Dorothy Schutte (Theresa Palmer) and falls in love with her. Their courtship is an opportunity to witness Desmond’s inner goodness and faith, and this wins Dorothy over. They enjoy dating and going to the movies, but newsreels about the war remind Desmond that many other men are not so fortunate because they are in harm’s way.

When his brother Hal (Nathaniel Buzolic) comes home dressed in a uniform and tells his parents that he has enlisted, Tom is enraged because he does not want to see his son experience the horrors he had witnessed. Later on Desmond is inspired by his brother and he too enlists, but is determined to do so as a conscientious objector, unwilling to carry a gun but wishing to do his duty and become a medic to help others.

Gibson weaves these story threads together into a fabric that runs through the movie, helping to make sense of everything to come. Having this background is crucial when we eventually see Doss in boot camp up against the men in his barracks, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn in the best performance of his career), and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington). When they learn of Doss's refusal to touch a gun and carry his Bible everywhere he goes, the resistance to Doss is staggering and, despite everything done to undermine him, his resiliency is amazing.

Even after some of the soldiers led by Smitty (Luke Bracey) beat him up during the night, Doss refuses to yield or to give up his attackers. That foreshadowing of bravery and loyalty earns him some grudging respect, and after fighting the battle in military court to stay in uniform, we flash forward to Okinawa where the real battle begins – one to take the seemingly impregnable Hacksaw Ridge.

Even knowing that Doss saves 75 men is not a spoiler, because the way he does this and who lives and dies most definitely is. The horrific battle scenes are some of the most bloody and gruesome I have ever seen on film, but should come no surprise to fans of Gibson’s previous work. We witness the indiscriminate fortunes of war – how one man is torn to shreds while the one crouching next to him is not.

The graphic nature of the battle scenes is an overstatement to highlight the senseless bloodiness of battle, the wasteful loss of young lives to appease the blood-swollen god of war who only craves more. The decimation of bodies is graphic and may be difficult for some viewers to observe, but this authenticity enhances the stature of Doss, who does nothing to contribute to the carnage all around him and everything in his power to stop its effects.

Gibson’s guiding hand is subtle here, and yet he elicits powerful performances from his cast. Worthington, Vaughn, Bracey, Weaving, Griffiths, Palmer, and even minor characters are noteworthy, but this is Garfield’s moment to shine and indeed he does. When he is poised at the edge of a cliff trying to save men by lowering them over it, Garfield’s face is illuminated with the faith we know Doss believes and the conviction that he can overcome all the odds against him. As Doss prays, “Let me save one more” you almost feel compelled to join him.

Cinematographer Simon Duggan captures the rugged stark landscape of Okinawa as well as the lush beauty of the small West Virginia town where Doss and his family live. On the battlefield the play of vivid colors of explosions alternating with the almost black and white nature of residual smoke and fog create a memorable portrait of the ugly beauty of war, and Rupert Gregson-Williams’s vibrant musical score supports these scenes of horror as well as ones of personal triumph.

It is good to see Gibson behind the camera again. We have always known that he has a knack for getting the battlefield scenes right, but his gentle hand is also apparent during scenes of intimacy between Desmond and Dorothy and those of camaraderie with Doss and the men who come to admire him. Hacksaw Ridge is Gibson’s most honest and compelling work as a director, not because he is condoning violence but instead highlighting its repugnance.

Even though it may be tempting to get the Blu-ray now that it has been released, do try to see this film first in a theater the way it was meant to be seen. I finally got to go see it on the big screen and was happy that I did.

The film is contending for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. If I were a member of the academy I would have no problem checking those three boxes for Hacksaw Ridge. It is the best anti-war war film I have ever seen.

Friday, February 24, 2017

MLB’s Automatic Intentional Walk – Game Changer or Changing the Game?

In my lifetime, I have seen big changes in Major League Baseball, and most of them seem to have watered down the game that I love – I still loathe the designated hitter and find the Replay Review despicable (and talk about slowing down the game). The latest inanity from MLB’s Halls of a Special Kind of Stupid is an idea to speed up the game – they are instituting an automatic intentional walk. All the manager has to do is give signal from the dugout, and the batter trots down to first base.

Wow, MLB! You really have your fingers on the pulse of what bothers fans most. Damn, how we have always hated those intentional walks. They are so interminably frustrating to sit and watch. The automatic intentional walk is a brilliant idea – right up there with national holidays on Mondays and the Common Core Curriculum.

I have attended games where there have been errors on an intentional walk. I have seen the catcher miss the ball or the pitcher throw the ball away. While this technically could slow down the game, it also can be a game changer with runners on base – especially third base. As the video below clearly illustrates, the intentional walk can be a game changer.



Alas, Commissioner Rob Manfred just doesn’t get it because he is more interested in changing the game. Coupled with this intentional walk rule he also announced a higher strike zone. As it stands now the strike zone is so variable depending on the umpire behind the plate; this rule offers no clarity and could even upset players and fans more than the automatic intentional walk.

Manfred is like the Little Dutch boy and the speed of the game is like the leaking dyke. Now he is sitting there grinning with one finger in the hole thinking he’s got this thing, while new holes are popping out all over the place.

Baseball is the only major sport with no time clock. Basketball, football, soccer, and hockey all have quarters or periods with specific times. Baseball has innings and they end after three outs. That is the beauty of the game as well as its inherent flaw – an inning can last as long as 60 seconds or 60 minutes depending on what is happening between the lines. That makes the game interesting but at times frustrating, yet that is the game we love.

My greatest fear is that automatic intentional walks can lead to something else unnatural in the game. Automatic anything hints of automated, and this could range from something like an automatic or electronic strike zone to making all the umpires infallible robots who will make all calls reliably and without any room for second guessing. How does a manager come running out of the dugout to argue with a robot, much less kick dirt on shoes it doesn’t have?

A final thought on these automatic intentional walks – what about pitch counts? In these days of counting each pitch and limiting pitchers to roughly 100 pitches per game, doesn’t this seem like they are trying to save a few pitches here? I am not sure if this was a factor in the decision, but it still is something to consider.

All the sound and fury about this new policy will do nothing to get MLB to change it. It seems like an automatic intentional walk is now here to stay, but it is no game changer but more a case of changing the game yet again for the sake of saving a few seconds that signify nothing. Way to go, MLB.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

TV Review: Big Little Lies – Can They Handle the Truth?

HBO’s new original limited series Big Little Lies, based on the best seller by Liane Moriarty, feels at once familiar and fresh. Take a generous scoop of the iconic TV series Twin Peaks, add a large dose of the soapy Desperate Housewives, and top it off with a few pinches of HBO’s own True Detective, and you will have the recipe for where this series is going, which means many viewers will try a helping and decide that they like it.

The first episode opens with a murder mystery, and as the story progresses we get scenes with the major characters interspersed with ones of interviews with attendees of the party where the murder is committed. What becomes apparent is that the glorified lifestyle in this town is both a blessing and a curse, and these beautiful people get through each day by ignoring the underlying ugliness in order to convince themselves about how great their lives are. Perhaps this murder will be the way they will be forced to face the truth.

The premise is refreshing and offers different perspectives about the characters from those people being interviewed by the police; this allows the viewers to know information that the characters do not know yet, providing dramatic irony. Knowing the script is by David E. Kelley and the director is Jean-Marc Vallee (who previously directed the film Wild starring Reese Witherspoon), it is obvious that we are in more than capable hands.

Set in the beautiful city of Monterey, California, stunning views of the ocean are a given in each of the sprawling luxurious homes where we find these characters living. Witherspoon’s Madeline is the busiest busybody in town. She is sandwiched between Nicole Kidman’s Celeste and Shailene Woodley’s Jane (as a newcomer to town). As Madeline quickly befriends Jane after hurting her ankle, it is clear that Jane is cautious about something and it cannot be good.

All of them as well as Laura Dern’s Renata have children who are first graders in the local elementary school that is more like a private academy. On the first day of school there is an incident that has Renata’s daughter Annabella (Ivy George) accusing Jane’s son Ziggy (Ian Armitage) of trying to choke her, which the boy denies doing. Madeline’s readiness to defend Jane and her son sets in motion what promises to be an extended conflict with Renata that may or may not have something to do with the murder we know has occurred.

The fact that a murder happens and then we are viewing what are essentially flashbacks for most of the episode keeps viewers on their toes, as we look for clues as to who will be hated enough to be candidates for the victim. Besides the obvious Madeline and Renata, Celeste’s overly affectionate husband Peter (a slick and slimy Alexander Skarsgard) who also is abusive and controlling seems likely on the list. We can also add Madeline’s ex-husband Nathan (James Tupper) who is now married to the younger and beautiful Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), as well.

While there are some soap opera like moments, Kelley and Vallee keep it from becoming cliché and boring as the interactions between these characters are being performed by some fine actors. It doesn’t hurt matters that the setting is in one of the most idyllic cities in California – or anywhere else for that matter – and each home seems like your or my dream house with sweeping ocean views.

While there is an ensemble clearly in place here, Madeline is the obvious center to all events and conflicts. Much to Witherspoon’s credit, she manages to take the character from cool, calculating, and annoying to moments of vulnerability. Her scene with second husband Ed (Adam Scott) on the beach and one sitting at the piano with her daughters Chloe (Darby Camp) and Abigail (Kathryn Newton) tempers our first impressions and allows us to see Madeline as more maternal and less the monster we thought her to be.

To add another layer to the mystery, we get scenes of Jane having visions of herself running on the beach in a blue dress. Also, since we are dealing with a murder, we have to wonder about that gun Jane keeps under her pillow at night. In this first episode we do not learn enough about Jane, but what we do get seems to indicate (if we can bank on Anton Chekov’s gun theory) that she has either her sights set on someone or is worried about someone coming to get her, and that gun is going to be fired.

Big Little Lies has big names in the cast and implies that the rich lifestyle we are witnessing is kind of like Picasso’s lie that tells the truth. We will have to see in subsequent episodes if these beautiful people can keep up the false smiles as the lies start to unravel.

After seeing the first episode, I am hooked by the conflicts, the setting, the characters, and I want to see what gets one person to become a killer and another to be the victim. I recommend you get on board now as the show moves toward overcoming the lies (both big and little) and begins heading down the path to the truth, no matter how inconvenient that will be.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Movie Review: The LEGO Batman Movie – The Dark Knight Sees the Light

What do you do on a snowy Sunday when your kid wants to see the movie he has been bugging you about seeing since he saw the Super Bowl commercial? You go, of course, to see The Lego Batman Movie, especially since Batman has always been your favorite superhero (sorry Supe and Spidey) and your son has been playing with the movie associated LEGO toy sets for weeks – and like a good dad you have helped him assemble them and have played with them too and sort of can’t wait to see how they are used in the film.

Well, parent alert – The LEGO Batman Movie is not only a great follow-up to the original The LEGO Movie but a good standalone Batman flick in its own right. While giving its target audience of young fans all the thrills and laughs to be expected, director Chris McKay and his team of screenwriters have gone unexpectedly deep in exploring the darker side of the Dark Knight and his reasoning for wanting to go it alone.

From a slam-bang cold open featuring Batman (impeccably voiced by Will Arnett) taking on seemingly ever super villain under the bleak Gotham City sky led by the Joker (the hilarious Zach Galifianakas), the action throughout the rest of the 104 minutes is almost non-stop. While parents may initially be put off by that long run time, amazingly McKay uses almost every second of it to not only keep the kids happy but also to actually go into character development that many live action films sorely lack.

At the end of that extended opening sequence, Batman and Joker have the best interaction between the two characters since Tim Burton’s Batman when Michael Keaton’s Bat and Jack Nicholson’s Clown Prince trade the memorable “You made me” lines in a scene that is still haunting. As Joker is getting away using a bunch of balloons, Batman hooks him with a zip-line and they banter (it’s both funny and sad at the same time) until Batman lets Joker know “There is no us” much to Joker’s chagrin.

Without spoiling much more, the rest of the film is an attempt by the Joker to prove Batman wrong, but it also gives us a deeper look at Batman/Bruce Wayne’s darkness at its core. While it is easy to dismiss this film as an extended toy commercial – and a very successful one at that – there are moments where the nuances rival Christopher Nolan’s exploration of the Bat’s proclivities to be a loner, his relationship with his inadvertent stepson Dick Grayson/Robin (a terrific Michael Cera), and his feelings about butler/lifelong surrogate parent Alfred (an even more terrific Ralph Fiennes).

Also thrown into the mix is Barbara Gordon/Bat Girl (a game Rosario Dawson) who wants to prove to Batman that he no longer has to go it alone. Batman, initially drawn to Barbara’s beauty (it’s funny every time he calls her “Babs”), resists her attempt to pull him out of the dark side and draw him to the light, even if we get the feeling that he knows she is right.

If this all sounds dark and kind of heavy for what is ostensibly a children’s movie you would be right, except that the screen is filled with glorious computer animation that is vivid, vibrant, and delightful. While all of this character development, sly self-referential lines, and cameos are carrots on a stick for parents and older siblings, the kids will be too busy watching the battle sequences – there is lots of bang for the buck but not an ounce of blood – and laughing and giggling at the many things inserted for their pleasure (like butt jokes, Batman’s secret password, and Siri as the voice of Batman’s computer).

Surprisingly, beyond the action, the toys product tie-ins, and awesome visual aspects of the film, at its center there is a powerful beating heart with a solid message for the kids that will ensure that Batman is not the only one who will learn a lesson. Amazingly, this is not just a great animated film but one of the best incarnations of Batman to hit the screen in a what seems like a long time.

Without spoiling anything, the most hilarious cameo features Tom Cruise and it should get parents laughing even though it will leave kids bewildered (at least my kid was). This is an easy film for adults to accompany their kids to see, and all of you will come away smiling. Oh, and don’t forget to stay for the closing credits; you’ll be glad that you did.

Friday, February 10, 2017

TV Review: 24: Legacy – The Clock Starts Ticking Once Again

As a longtime fan of the TV series 24 and its stalwart and long-suffering hero Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), I was not totally into the idea of a reboot of the series without him. In essence 24 was more about Jack than it was about the terrorists, crooked politicians, and assorted bad guys whom he pursued. It became a tragic but intriguing narrative about Jack’s evolution from the guy we first saw playing chess with his daughter to the killing machine who became a man who gave up any kind of normal life in order to save the very country that abandoned him in the end.

Now we have a new hero in Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins) and that gave me hope that this reboot would work (I wish there had been more of him as Heath on The Walking Dead). Just like Jack he has special training and experience in the field, but he comes home to his wife Nicole (Anna Diop) and is hoping to start getting back to a normal life. In true Jack Bauer fashion, Carter has about three minutes of normalcy before the excrement starts to hit the fan.

24: Legacy stays true to its pedigree and has all the usual suspects (Howard Gordon, Manny Coto, Brian Grazer) as executive producers (and Sutherland as well). The formula that kept Jack Bauer on the run for eight seasons remains in place – a terrorist threat, inside political maneuvers, and an old friend who needs help – along with that iconic ticking clock that can get the heart start racing every time it appears.

Though the “real time” aspect of 24 is what put it on the map in the first place – along with being so timely in its depiction of events mirroring the reality of life in America post 9/11 – I was hoping that the new series would abandon that aspect of the old series. While it seemed really fresh in the first few seasons of 24, as time went on the ticking clock became a detriment and often the plot seemed contrived to fit into the time frame rather than take directions that would have made more sense over an extended period of weeks or even months.

Unfortunately, that clock is ticking and Carter barely has time to take a breath when he comes home from work when he gets a call from Ben Grimes (Charlie Hofheimer), an old war buddy who informs him that all the members of their team are being killed off one by one. A few minutes later the terrorists are bursting through Carter’s door and he is off to the start of a what promises to be a very bad day.
In what seems like a tipping of that hat to the first season of the series, we have a senator running for president. This time it is John Donovan (how great it is to see Jimmy Smits in the role) who happens to be the husband of Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto) the former head of the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) who is the first person Carter calls when he sets off on the run with his wife.

Of course, 24 would not be 24 without its resident tech geek/genius. Replacing Chloe (the amazing Mary Lynn Rajskub) is not an easy task, but Andy Shalowitz (Dan Bucantinsky) seems like he is at least as computer savvy and is trusted by Rebecca to get the job done.

And then there are the requisite and exceedingly large group of very motivated terrorists led by Bin-Khalid (Raphael Acloque) in search of a missing list in the possession of Carter’s friend Grimes. As is always the case in 24, there is more to the story – the list will provide information regarding large scale terrorist attacks across the country – so Carter puts himself on the line to get the list from Grimes and to CTU before it is too late.

In keeping with 24 tradition, the show continues to mirror the times in which we live. The fact that the hero is once again up against Middle Eastern terrorists seems somewhat uncomfortable but prescient considering what is happening with President Trump and his immigration ban, but viewers shouldn’t jump to conclusions because there is always more to the plot line. And we should expect, as always has been the case throughout the series, that the truly big bad villain will be revealed later on and may have nothing to do with the Middle East at all.

I like this reboot despite the fact that there are the usual speed bumps that are inherent in any 24 incarnation – too many characters without development, ancillary plots that seem to be going nowhere, and the never-ending possibility of a CTU mole – but we have to expect that to come with the territory.

The key to success in 24 has always been its hero and, judging from the first two episodes, Carter is quickly rising to the challenge thanks to Hawkins’s ability to handle the role deftly and exhibit emotions to indicate the toll this day is taking on him. Under all of Jack Bauer’s sometimes ruthless and many times vicious actions to get the job done, we always knew there beat the heart of a good man in a bad situation; that is what made 24 a success. It seems that we are finding the same true beating heart in Carter, a good man who will have to do many terrible things to get the job done as well.

For now, it seems that 24: Legacy is heading in the right direction, and I am glad to be along for the ride, but I am getting ready for it to get more than a little bumpy along the way.
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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Super Bowl LI (51) – Making the Case for Super Bowl Saturday

As the players take the field in NRG Stadium in Houston for Super Bowl LI, what happens in the millions of homes and bars across America is almost as big a deal as the action on the gridiron. Super Bowl Sunday has morphed into one of the biggest party days of the year despite the fact that most people have to go to work the next day, and that is becoming an increasing problem for the workers and their employers.

It is estimated that approximately 16 million people stayed home from work on the day after last year’s Super Bowl, and millions more went into work late or could not function at a normal level while doing their jobs. With projections for even higher absenteeism this year after the game, it may be time for the National Football League to make a necessary and compelling change – moving the game to Saturday.

There has been a call by Kraft Heinz to create a national holiday on the day after the Super Bowl called Smunday. To illustrate the seriousness about this idea, Heinz has not only circulated a petition to create this holiday but has given all of its workers the day off. While it is commendable that Heinz is actually putting its money where its mouth is by giving its employees off, it is ludicrous to suggest that a national holiday should be created because of a sporting event. Going by this logic, would we then have to give people off after every major sporting event?

Moving the game to Saturday is a simple and obvious solution that would be best course of action for the fans and does not affect the players or the NFL adversely. Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest and most lucrative sporting event of the year, and nothing much will change by moving the game to Saturday.

According to a report in Time Magazine, on Super Bowl Sunday Americans will spend $48 million on take-out (with pizza being the most ordered item), consume 1.3 million chicken wings, and wash it all down with 350 million gallons of beer. With this kind of intake of spicy food and alcohol, there is little wonder why the absentee rate is so high the next day.

Getting the next day off at the cost of creating a national holiday – which means employers will be expected to pay their workers because of the carousing and over indulging the day before – is an unreasonable financial burden. It also means closing schools across the country. Can we honestly say that children should be given a day off because adults do not know how to control themselves while watching a football game?

Reality and history indicate that people are not going to stop throwing these game parties and eating and drinking too much. Since human nature is what it is, the pattern will continue and people will call in sick the day after the game. Super Bowl Saturday is the easiest way to solve the problem – no national holiday, no kids missing school, and no rampant absenteeism at work.

The NFL will still have its big money day, employers won’t be affected adversely, and millions of fans will be infinitely happier knowing that they can sleep late the next day, take their antacids and aspirins, and recover from the biggest party of the year. Super Bowl Saturday is win-win for everybody. Okay, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, it’s your move.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore – She Turned Our World On With Her Smile



When I heard that TV legend Mary Tyler Moore had passed away at 80, I felt great sadness because I had so enjoyed her work, and as a kid I fell in love with her as many of her fans and TV viewers did as well. All of us certainly could answer the question posed in the song from the opening credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show – “Who can turn the world on with her smile?” – Mary!!!

mtm5I first encountered her on The Dick Van Dyke Show, playing the mother to a child a bit older than I was at the time. What I watched were called “reruns” because the sitcom had gone off the air as a first-run series years before, and my mother would have it on during the day as she worked around the house and I was playing with my toys.

What I liked about Mary’s depiction of Laura Petrie was that she wasn’t the typical mother from other show’s reruns like The Donna Reed Show (Donna Reed) or Leave It To Beaver (Barbara Billingsly) because gone were the strings of pearls and fancy dresses while doing housework. Like my mother she wore normal clothing like pants, would cry over things, and also could get angry. She seemed like a real mom to me, but also was incredibly funny and beautiful too.

When something would go wrong she would look at her husband (played by the incredible Dick Van Dyke) and moan, “Oh, Robbbbb!” and that was an indelible TV treasure as memorable as Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy saying, “Eeewww!” or Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden's “I’ve got a BIG mouth” on The Honeymooners.

When I watched Mary playing Laura years later as an adult, I realized other things about her portrayal. Laura was no pushover for Rob or anyone else for that matter. She had her own mind, wore those pants (which I now realized were sexy capris), and made mistakes that sometimes were not easily solved (like when she reveals the secret that Rob’s boss wears a toupee).

mtm2Mary made some films during the period between the end of The Dick Van Dyke Show and the start of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and later would display her acting skills in more films like Ordinary People, which showed her impressive range and that she was able to handle far more complex and difficult roles, even one like this cruel mother of a son whose greatest crime was surviving the death of his brother.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show premiered in 1970, and those of us who loved Mary as Laura fell in love all over again with Mary Richards. This character had some of Laura’s initiative and strength, but she was also a single woman and made no apologies – sort of the natural evolution of what would have happened to Laura if she had never met and married Rob Petrie.

mtm4In many ways her Mary played it straight while the looney characters all around her got many of the laughs, but her reactions and ability to break into tears (also a Laura Petrie staple) endeared her to the fans again. She was a single woman who had a career (surrounded by men in her office and did the same work they did), dated many men (with the hint that these relationships were much more than platonic), and had the integrity of living her life the way she chose to do. Mary Richards’s character was a turning point in TV history and set the tone for so many other female TV characters to follow.

Mary could get laughs too, and as I have seen on the Internet these last few days, almost everyone remembers the scene at the funeral of Chuckles the Clown as their favorite from the series. Here Mary displays her acting chops as she attempts to be the only one to be respectful, but then as the deadpan reverend goes on and on she cannot help but start laughing, and then later breaks into tears. The full range of emotions she explores in the scene are noteworthy, and it is almost impossible not to laugh while watching it.



To hear of Mary's loss is painful for so many of us because she played two indelible TV characters – how many actors or actresses can even claim to have played one – that have remained in our hearts all these years. While her work will live on, we all mourn her loss as we turn yet another page in our lives.

I like to think of Mary Tyler Moore now as the girl in the opening credit sequence of her show walking through the snowy park and turning it green, the one whose megawatt smile did indeed turn the world on. Somewhere she is throwing her hat up in the air and love is all around her. Rest in peace, Mary Tyler Moore.