Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis every Friday, 3-6pm CT

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

What Time Is It On Mars?

Nagin Cox is a spacecraft engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she works on the rovers NASA has on Mars. Because that planet's day is 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, she had to adjust everything about her life to keep up...

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Movie Review: "The Hitman's Bodyguard"


Samuel L. Jackson is the hitman. Ryan Reynolds is the bodyguard. Gary Oldman is the bad guy, reprising his semi-Russian accent from “Air Force One” 20 years ago. It’s an action comedy, so there are chases and shooting and stunts galore. However...

"The Hitman's Bodyguard" would have worked a lot better if it had just followed Reynolds and Jackson a la DeNiro and Grodin in “Midnight Run” — they have to get to a certain place by a certain deadline, but run into all sorts of obstacles along the way. Instead, director Patrick Hughes and screenwriter Tom O’Connor keep cutting away to people waiting at the destination, looking at clocks and watches and saying, “They have to be here in four hours!” There are flashbacks, too, which get us away from the buddy-movie essence of the relationship between Jackson and Reynolds.

That said, there are some funny scenes with Salma Hayek as Jackson’s wife, a woman in prison who takes BS from no one. Unfortunately, we have to sit through a parallel story about Reynolds’ ex, played by Elodie Yung, but that’s just a time-killer until the next shootout (and there are plenty of those, including an extended sequence along the canals of Amsterdam).

Of course, this is a Hollywood movie, so no matter how many bullets the bad guys fire at Jackson and Reynolds, they can’t kill them, while our heroes can take down anyone at any time with a single shot. The audience I saw this with laughed a lot, and applauded when the two leads emerged victorious from yet another surrounded-by-bad-guys scenario. So it’s a crowd-pleaser, and that’s fine for this point of the summer.

I give "The Hitman's Bodyguard" a 6 out of 10.

Monday, August 21, 2017

That Eclipsed Everything

Well, that solar eclipse was absolutely beautiful, a sight unlike anything I've ever seen (nor will again, in all likelihood). Fortunately, the skies over St. Louis cleared enough to give us a perfect view of the sun behind the moon. It was breathtaking and fully lived up to its natural promise.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the Idiot In Chief was photographed on the White House portico looking up at the sun while wearing no protective eyewear, because he has the best eyes and knows more about the sky than scientists do. I half expected him to proclaim responsibility for the event (e.g. "There was no solar eclipse under Obama!").

As for those traffic signs I mentioned yesterday, they were completely wrong -- there was no traffic jam on MO-141 or on most of the roads in the area. That hype was overblown, but there were no words grand enough to describe the sky show we experienced today.

Science For The Win!

Movie Review: "Logan Lucky"


August used to be a throwaway month for movies. Like February, it was filled with projects the studios knew weren't going to do well at the box office ("The Dark Tower"), along with a few good indies here and there ("Landline").

Now, here comes Steven Soderbergh, working entirely outside the studio system, with another well-made movie that makes August look so much brighter. It's a heist, a genre he proved he can execute very well with "Ocean's Eleven" (and to a lesser extent in the two sequels). This one's called "Logan Lucky," but it might as well have been titled "Ocean's Fourteen."

It doesn't have George Clooney and the gang, but it has a whole new group of schemers, led by Channing Tatum. His character is fired from a construction job near the Charlotte Motor Speedway, but not before he's observed something that sparks an idea of how to rob the track of an enormous amount of cash during one of its busiest racing events. Adam Driver plays his co-conspirator brother, an Iraq war veteran and bartender who wears a prosthetic where part of his arm was blown off (it gets sucked into the plot, literally). Riley Keogh plays their sister, a hairdresser who plays a role in the scheme, too. In an inspired bit of casting, Daniel Craig -- in spiky blond hair, neck tattoos, and a questionable accent -- plays Joe Bang, an explosives expert they need. Unfortunately, he's in prison, but Tatum has a way around that.

I like intricately plotted heists (read my list of The Best Con Man Movies Ever), which Soderbergh and his writer, the heretofore unknown Rebecca Blunt, are very good at devising and portraying on screen. There's a little too much pressing of the redneck button with the Bang Brothers (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson), but the rest of the cast is very good, including Hilary Swank as an FBI agent, Seth McFarlane overdoing it as usual as the sponsor of one of the drivers in the big race, and Katie Holmes as Tatum’s ex-wife, who wants to move out of state with her new husband and their daughter. Speaking of the kid, the one plot point that disappointed me involves the girl in a beauty pageant that looks like it was ripped off directly from "Little Miss Sunshine."

The entire movie rests on the charisma and likability of Tatum's character, plus the scheming and complexities of the crime. They work very well and make "Logan Lucky" a lot of fun.

I give it an 8 out of 10.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Eclipse Hype

I was driving on Missouri Highway 141 yesterday and noticed that the Department of Transportation electronic signs on the roadside (the ones that usually announce an accident ahead or remind you to buckle your seatbelt) said, "Solar Eclipse Monday -- Expect Delays."

It seemed like overkill to me. That particular stretch of road is unlikely to be jammed with drivers desperate to see the sky go dark for a brief period.

There's so much hype about this celestial event that it reminds me of the Y2K panic. I know that, unlike that event, this one's going to happen in the sky regardless of what people do. But when every media outlet talks it up breathlessly and businesses take advantage of it en masse, it makes my skeptical bones creak.

Here's an example. Several airlines are promoting special "eclipse flights" that will follow the path of totality so passengers can have an extended look at the sky going dark. What they don't say is that only those in window seats will really get a glimpse. For everyone else -- including those like me who always sit in aisle seats to have a little extra room -- all they're going to see is the back of the window seat occupant's head as they look out the window.

Another example is the sale of "solar eclipse glasses." My plan for Monday was going to be merely glancing up in the direction of the sun, but shielding my face with one of my hands -- the way you would if you had to catch a baseball hit high in the air. My wife, however, nixed that idea and insisted we had to have eclipse sunglasses. I couldn't find them at any local merchant (they were all sold out) so I ordered some on Amazon, where they were only available in groups of five or more.

Of course, the skies over St. Louis are not expected to be clear tomorrow, so I've just spent $35 to protect our eyes from an overcast day. Maybe I'll wear the eclipse glasses to protect my eyes while watching TV coverage from someplace with a clear view.

Speaking of ocular damage, I've seen and heard several media outlets warning you to shield your pets' eyes from looking directly at the sun tomorrow. I'll bet that, somewhere, there's someone selling darkened glasses for your pet. Funny, this has never seemed to be a problem on any other day in history. Have dogs and cats ever suffered eye problems from looking up at the glowing orb in the sky on a sunny day? What about all those horses and cows and goats that live outdoors? When is the telethon to raise money to fight that scourge?

Finally, a note to radio personalities: no, you're not the only one who thought of playing Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse Of The Heart." In fact, she's going to do it in person on a cruise ship somewhere off the coast of Florida. But like the days of my youth, when five-minute songs had to be edited down to under three minutes to get play on Top 40 radio, Tyler is going to perform a shortened version of her only big hit that will last two minutes forty seconds during the period of totality.

Don't ask me what she'll do for the rest of the trip. Probably shield her pet iguana's eyes from the glare of her one-hit-wonder stardom.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Ken Burns, "The Vietnam War"


Here's my conversation with Ken Burns, whose new PBS documentary series, "The Vietnam War," will debut on September 17th. Among my questions:
  • Vietnam veterans don’t like talking about the war — how did you get them to open up?
  • Was that because of how they were treated when they came home?
  • Do they look back on it as a waste? What about families of the 58,000+ soldiers who died?
  • We’ve been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than we were in Vietnam, yet there’s virtually no anti-war effort -- is that because we don’t have the draft?
  • How do the Vietnamese view the war, both those who were in it and later generations?
  • You interviewed former Viet Cong — was it hard to find them? Are they heroes in Vietnam?
  • How important was media coverage, putting the war in Americans' living rooms every evening?
  • Are we more polarized politically now than we were then?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 8/18/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed Channing Tatum and Adam Driver in "Logan Lucky" and Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds in "The Hitman's Bodyguard." We also discussed a live-action "Jetsons," the return of "The Munsters," and Shonda Rimes' Netflix deal.

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

Harris Challenge 8/18/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes questions related to the upcoming solar eclipse, plus my most topical trivia category, "Have You Been Paying Attention?"  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/18/17


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a man in the bushes, a propane tank in the backseat, and a husband-and-wife surprise. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Remembering Groucho 40 Years Later


One of my comedy heroes, Groucho Marx died 40 years ago today. Over the years, I've discussed him with several guests, and you might want to listen to some of them: