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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Movie Review: "Last Flag Flying"


It's 2003 when we meet Bryan Cranston, who owns a rundown bar in Norfolk, Virginia. Steve Carell shows up as an old friend from the Vietnam War with a sad request. Having lost his wife to cancer earlier in the year, he was devastated when he learned his son had been killed in action in Iraq. Although they haven't seen each other in a long time, Carrell wants Cranston and another former Marine buddy, Laurence Fishburne, to provide moral support while he buries his son.

The three men couldn't be more different. Cranston is a loud anti-authoritarian, Fishburne gave up his wild past to become a minister, and Carrell -- in a beautifully subtle performance -- is a quiet man beaten down by life. We also discover that something happened during their stint in Vietnam that ended with Carrell doing some time in the brig, while the others didn't. Still, they have a bond across the decades, and Carrell needs that closeness to help him get through this low point.

Their adventure takes them to Dover Air Force base, where they retrieve the young soldier's casket, and then on a road trip to have him buried in his hometown in New England. Along the way, the three veterans are assigned a young marine (who served with Carrell's son) as an official escort, and to share stories from a different war.

The exploits of this group of veterans is reminiscent of "The Last Detail," a 1973 film starring Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid and Otis Young. That's because both movies were based on books by Darryl Ponicsan, who co-wrote the screenplay for "Last Flag Flying" with director Richard Linklater, who knows when to slow down the action to allow us to simply listen to his characters. That's particularly true in a scene where the three veterans go to visit Cicely Tyson as the mother of a man who may have died because of them in Vietnam. Thankfully, Linklater doesn't burden us with flashbacks to that war, purposely leaving their problems from the past somewhat vague.

Although Cranston is a little over-the-top in some scenes, the performances are all very good as the friends bond all over again and the story sways from tragedy to dark comedy. Fishburne plays his character with stoicism, although he lightens up as the escapade unrolls. But it is Carrell, playing a quiet, grieving man, who really got my attention and continues to impress me with his range.

I give "Last Flag Flying" a 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Oh, No!

I just realized that when we celebrate Thanksgiving later today with my brother, sister-in-law, and two nephews, the crazy uncle in the house will be ME!

Movie Review: “Coco”


Over the last two decades, Pixar has produced some eye-popping advancements in animation, from Sully’s fur in “Monsters, Inc.” to the water effects in “Finding Nemo” to the memory balls in “Inside Out.” Now, with “Coco,” the company seems to have found a whole new palette of colors to play with on the screen.

“Coco” is the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a Mexican boy who loves music but is forbidden to play or sing any songs by his family, because a few generations back, his great-great-grandfather abandoned his wife and daughter to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter. But Miguel idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the legendary (and dead) crooner, and wants to be like him so much that he steals de la Cruz’s guitar out of his mausoleum, planning to perform with it at the talent show in the town square on Dia De Muertos, the Day Of The Dead. But when Miguel strums de la Cruz’s guitar, he’s transported to The Land Of The Dead, where the adventure takes off and the colors come alive.

It is there that Miguel meets some of his deceased relatives and other characters as he tries to find de la Cruz so he can get his blessing to become a musician like his idol. However, things don’t go as Miguel planned, and he needs the assistance of Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who claims he knows de la Cruz very well. He’ll help, but only if Miguel will take Hector’s picture back to the Land Of The Living so his daughter will remember him. Those who are forgotten, Hector tells Miguel, turn into dust and drift away for ever.

That’s the nice message of “Coco,” which in addition to its vividly-created world, also includes several songs, including “Remember Me,” which is sung by several different characters as the story unfolds. It’s not as memorable as “Let It Go,” the song from “Frozen” that was written by the same duo, but it’s perfect for the movie’s sentimental side. Although “Coco” is wrapped up a little too easily for my taste, it still tugged at my heartstrings and will for you, too.

Not surprisingly, “Coco” opened to record-breaking numbers in Mexico last weekend. Now it’s America’s turn, and I’ll bet it will be number one here, too — ironic at a time when we have a president who has created antipathy for pretty much everyone from south of the border. Regardless, “Coco” will deservedly be a hit, even in the red states, as families look for a movie they can all watch and enjoy together.

After suffering from sequel-itis with “Cars 3” and “Finding Dory,” it’s nice to see Pixar get back to telling an original story while pushing the technical side, too. I give “Coco” an 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Movie Review: "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"


It's nice to see a movie where the characters don't all act as you expect them to, where you make assumptions about them early on based on their actions, but then have them turned upside down as the plot develops. That's one of the best things about "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," a dark comedy that will end up on my Best Of 2017 list.

Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a mother grieving over the horrific death of her daughter nine months ago. The police haven't caught the culprit and have given up on the case. So Mildred decides to rent those three billboards to send the sheriff a message in an attempt to get the investigation going again. The signs raise the ire of Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his deputies, including Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who try to get Mildred to take the billboards down, but she refuses and the battle is on.

I am going to stop right there, because to reveal any other plot points would be to spoil your enjoyment of this terrific movie, which has the same tone as the best work by the Coen brothers -- especially "Fargo," which also starred McDormand. She is fantastic as the deeply grieving mother, worn down by life and death. Harrelson and Rockwell match her step for step. It's some of the best work all three of them have ever done. There's also some wonderful support from Abby Cornish, Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones, John Hawkes (who was so good in the movie that made Jennifer Lawrence a star, "Winter's Bone") and Zeljko Ivanek (who I always enjoy even though I can't pronounce his name correctly).

What makes "Three Billboards" unique is the way the characters change. Just when you think you've learned who this one is and how he/she will act, they do the opposite. It's that unpredictability that drives the story and keeps us on our toes. Martin McDonagh -- who wrote, directed, and produced the movie -- has a terrific eye and ear for the way real people speak to each other. He captures these small-town Americans just right as he treads the thin line between tragedy and comedy. His script will almost certainly be nominated for an Oscar for Original Screenplay.

It's hard to find anything I didn't like about "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," so I'm giving it a 9.5 out of 10.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today

My friend Nolan Dalla on the absurdity of the lawsuit against Mandalay Bay over the 10/1 mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Jeff Smith On Helping Ex-Cons Rejoin Society


Jeff Smith returned to my show to discuss his role as Executive Vice President of Concordance Academy of Leadership, an organization that helps former inmates at Missouri State Prisons rejoin society. Jeff explained the services the academy offers, and the difficulties ex-cons face in getting back on their feet without money, a job, or a place to live.

Since he spent a year in federal prison, Jeff knows the difficulties these men have faced, both on the inside and once they've been released. His ability to speak their language while also serving as a role model is part of his appeal in this work.

We discussed Ban The Box, a campaign to remove the question "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" from applications for employment or education -- Jeff revealed some surprising research about the states where it has been implemented. We also talked about the Sentencing Reform And Corrections Act, a bill with bipartisan support that would finally do something about extreme sentencing.

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Best Thing I’ve Read Today

The Celebrity Perv Apology Generator. Keep clicking through!

As I Tweeted

  • John Lasseter of Pixar steps aside over you-know-what. No wonder the women who worked there wanted to make a movie called “The Credibles.”
  • Clinton-haters want to re-litigate accusations against the ex-president because “the women must be believed.” I’m sure they also want to re-open the Clarence Thomas hearings because they now believe Anita Hill, right?

Adam Savage, "Brain Candy Live"


For 10 years and 282 episodes, Adam Savage co-hosted “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel. He left that show in 2016, but you can still find him at Tested.com and on his new tour with Michael Stevens, doing a stage show called Brain Candy Live, which comes to the Peabody in St. Louis December 6th.

When Adam returned to my radio show, he explained the Brain Candy Live concept and what he's been up to in his maker studio lately. We also discussed the new MythBusters (Bryan Louden and Jon Lung, who debuted last week on the Science Channel) and Adam's memories (in his final season on "Mythbusters") of seeing the Earth from a unique vantage point, some 70,000 feet up in a U-2 plane.

I also told Adam about my idea for a new series, which I proposed on this site two years ago:
I'm a little surprised they haven't produced a "Mythbusters" spinoff yet. I envision something that's a cross between the 1973 NBC series "The Magician" (in which Bill Bixby played an illusionist who uses his talents to help people in trouble) and the 1986 movie "F/X" (with Bryan Brown as a special effects/makeup artist who helps fake a mob hit). In my suggested show, you'd have a couple of guys like Adam and Jamie, who are experts in building devices and effects, solve a client's problem each week, in a procedural format like "CSI" or "The Blacklist." There would be plenty of room for stunts and science to co-exist -- with the occasional explosion, of course.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Jessica Meir, NASA Astronaut

Since I grew up with the American space program, I have long been fascinated by the men and women who get to sit atop those huge rockets and be thrust beyond Earth's atmosphere. That's why I was happy to see "A Year In Space," the PBS documentary which is running this month. It's about Scott Kelly, the astronaut who spent 340 consecutive days on the International Space Station, and the effects on his body of such a prolonged period of weightlessness.

Its companion piece, "Beyond A Year In Space" (which you can watch aboves) features my guest, Dr. Jessica Meir, one of the new class of astronauts who may one day go on a mission to Mars. She graduated from training two years ago, and although she hasn't left Earth yet, she's been very involved behind the scenes while waiting for her first opportunity to launch.

In our conversation, I asked if she's prepping for a Mars mission, or if it's more likely NASA will return to the moon first. As a physiologist who has studied animals in extreme environments, I asked what life will be like for humans on Mars, and how much of a threat solar radiation is as it bombards everything outside Earth's atmosphere (even inside the ISS). We also talked about NASA's new Orion capsule and rocket (which will mean we no longer have to be dependent on the Russian space program to get us up and down), her experience as an Aquanaut, and what it was like to visit the Apollo mission control room with Jim Lovell, who orbited the moon in Apollo 8 and lived through the Apollo 13 mishap, too.

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

Rick Newman Explains Bitcoin


Rick Newman of Yahoo Finance has been writing about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies lately, so I asked him to return to my radio show to explain them in layman's terms. Considering how the value of these financial instruments has skyrocketed in their short lives, their story seems unreal, yet there are lots of people jumping on the bandwagon and buying their own fractional shares.

If you don't even know what Bitcoin is, my conversation with Rick might stimulate your interest. Full disclosure: Rick owns some Bitcoin, but I do not. Yet.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thanksgiving Media Memo

I wrote this in 2007...


To: All News Outlets
Fr: Media Control Central
Re: Stories That Must Be Done During Thanksgiving Week

Monday: Do's and Don'ts of Holiday Travel. Include important things that the public can't figure out on its own, like a reminder of how to pack clothes neatly in a suitcase.

Tuesday: Deep Fryer Turkey Scare Stories. Dig up video of that guy from last year who burned down his house and ruined the family get-together.

Wednesday: Live Shots From The Airport. Start this at 5am, and keep doing it until there actually is a crowd of anxious travelers lined up out the door. Do not mention that a great deal of their anxiety came from getting around the many live trucks blocking traffic outside the terminal.

Thursday: Parade. Include not just the local Thanksgiving parade, but also interviews with a few people who have to make a last minute run to the supermarket because they forgot cranberry sauce. Also report on how much more this year's average Thanksgiving meal costs, and interview the Butterball Hotline lady (who has likely been outsourced to Bangalore, India).

Friday: Busiest Shopping Day Of The Year. It doesn't matter that today is not the busiest shopping day of the year -- that's always the last Saturday before Christmas, because that's when men finally remember they have to buy something for their wife, who bought gifts for the rest of the family back around Halloween -- play up the hype, especially for your advertisers.

Saturday: Retailers Report. Based on exactly one day of shopping, but hundreds of analysts making predictions, report that retailers are having a tough holiday shopping season.

Sunday: Back To The Airport. Remind the public that if they haven't left for the airport already, they're screwed.

Monday: They're Dead. Report the number of people who died on the road during the holiday weekend, and how high gas prices didn't seem to keep Americans from traveling long distances to eat and argue with their families.

Future File (Upcoming Stories To Work On):

  • Fire hazards of Christmas trees.
  • Increased popularity of online shopping.
  • Find a Jewish family that can explain Hanukkah.

On My Monday Radio Show


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

Movie Review: "Wonder"


In "Wonder," Jacob Tremblay (so good with Brie Larson in “Room”) is Auggie, a boy born with facial deformities. He has been homeschooled by his mother, Julia Roberts, but now she and dad Owen Wilson have decided it's time for him to be mainstreamed into a real school, for fifth grade.

That may sound like "Wonder" is just a younger version of the 1994 movie "Mask," which starred Eric Stoltz, Cher, and Sam Elliott. The difference is that movie was about a blue-collar family in a small California town, and this one is about an upper-class family in New York City.

At school, Auggie encounters exactly the kind of bullying and ignorant avoid-the-guy-with-the-weird-face attitudes you would expect, but he manages to trudge through it, and eventually makes friends. One of the aspects of this movie that works so well is telling it from more than just Auggie’s vantage point. We learn about his sister, Via, as she struggles with some social issues in high school, while also recognizing that, at home, her parents have spent most of the last 10 years taking care of her brother at her expense. We see things from the perspective of Jack, a boy who may or may not turn out to be Auggie’s best friend at school, and Miranda, Via's longtime friend. Oh, and there is a cute dog, too.

Tremblay is very good as Auggie, and you are never aware of the make up that has turned him into this character. He's sweet and smart, so you are rooting for him from the first moment you see him on screen. It is good to see Roberts' big, wide smile again, and Wilson is, well, Wilson. The cast also includes Mandy Patinkin as the principal of Auggie's school, and a very short appearance by Sonia Braga.

Unfortunately, "Wonder" ends on a cheap, sentimental finale that felt tacked on. There are other storylines that seem designed expressly -- and try to hard -- to tug at your heartstrings. Still, the rest of it is very family friendly, and I think a lot of adults -- and especially kids -- will enjoy seeing this story.

I give "Wonder" a 7 out of 10.