Predict this weekend's box office: Cry Macho vs. Shang-Chi - GoldDerby

Cry Macho, flopped at the box office, making only $4 million with a $33 million budget. Pretty lame film.

Clint Eastwood as a grazing geezer goes to Mexico to bring back Dwight Yoakam’s son from his ex-wife’s clutches. Expecting a big fight? Forget it. The ex wife, after failing to seduce the busted bronco buster, tells him to go ahead and take the kid, he’s a pain in the ass anyway. So much for any conflict in the story line.

The babbling buckaroo has a romantic interest in the form of a middle aged woman who runs a diner. She’s still young enough to be his daughter, isn’t she? Wow, boring movie.

Only way Clint can redeem himself is to make a movie about a 90 -year old ex-sheriff who goes after bank robbers in an electric wheel chair equipped with machine guns and a rocket launcher, accompanied by a seeing eye dog trained to kill. I’d pay to see that.

A Christmas Story' of Jean Shepherd, the man behind a holiday classic - The  Verge
Jean Shepherd at work.

How about some controversy? ABC TV is bringing back “The Wonder Years” with an all black cast. Fine so far. On the surface this looks at least like just another example of TV and moviedoms lack of originality. Rather than create anything new, Hollywood keeps rebooting ideas from the past.

But the problem is The Wonder Years, which ran on ABC TV between 1988 and 1993 was not exactly an original idea in the first place. In fact it was a blatant ripoff of “A Christmas Story,” which was written and narrated by cult figure/humorist Jean Shepherd, based on his novel “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.” Shepherd not only wrote the individual tales that he stitched together in book form, he actually told these stories live on late night radio on WOR in New York in the 1960s.

The Wonder Years “creators” hired actor Daniel Stern to narrate the TV series, and Stern delivered a complete carbon copy of Shepherd’s storytelling style. This is something that hardly ever got mentioned by TV critics, but it’s a fact. I guess being a cult figure, Shepherd did not have enough public recognition for anybody to notice or care about this wholesale hijacking of Shepherd’s life work.

This time around they hired Don Cheadle to do the narration, which is good, I guess. I like Cheadle. At least he won’t try to imitate the Shepherd style. I don’t expect ABC or those running the reboot to give Shepherd any sort of posthumous credit for being the inspiration for The Wonder Years at this late date. That’s life, ain’ t it? Kind of like one of old Shep’s own shaggy dog stories.

Excelsior, you Fathead!

Pentagon 9/11: Alfred Goldberg, Sarandis Papadopoulos, Diane Putney, Nancy  Berlage, Rebecca Welch: 9780160783289: Books

In remembrance of this tragic anniversary, I’m republishing this account of my own personal experience that day. 

It’s funny how a day can start out so ordinary and in an instant turn out to be a day where everything changes forever. On Sept. 11, 2001 I was an editor/reporter for a news organization in Washington, D.C.  That particular morning I was driving up I-395 in northern Virginia to my office in the District, listening to WGMS-FM, Washington’s former classical music station (no longer in existence) when a news flash came on about a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center buildings. It was shocking news, especially when 20 minutes later there was a report of a second crash into the other WTC Tower.

I knew Howard Stern broadcast live from New York so I punched the radio button for his station and heard Howard and Robin and Bababooey talking about it. As they jabbered on, I eased off I-395 onto the off ramp for Washington Blvd., the way I always did every morning. Washington Blvd. runs right alongside the Pentagon. Halfway down the ramp, traffic came to a standstill. Suddenly there was a loud noise over to my left– like a tornado loaded with TNT. I turned and saw a big airliner that was no more than 20 feet off the ground, flying at the speed of a guided missile right toward the Pentagon building. I mean it was unbelievably fast. It was a moment of complete shock. Something like that, you don’t believe you’re really seeing it.

The off ramp I was siting on cuts under an overpass where I-395 continues on to D.C. There was an embankment in front of me, so  I couldn’t see the Pentagon building directly, but a second later there was an explosion on the other side and a huge ball of orange fire billowed up in the sky.

After listening to the New York attacks, I realized we must be under some kind of siege and the first thing I thought was how many more planes are coming? How big is this? For a moment everyone in their cars sat there stunned, but then some of us got out of our vehicles and climbed up the embankment toward the pillar of smoke that was rising on the other side of the hill. At the top we looked down and saw the Pentagon surrounded in a dense fog of black smoke, orange flames licking the sky. Almost immediately the wind blew the sickening smell of a burning airliner toward us. It was an unbelievable sight and there’s just no way to describe how I felt at that moment.

It took several minutes before I heard any sirens or saw any flashing red lights, but by the time the emergency vehicles arrived we all started back down the embankment to our cars. I got in my car and Howard Stern and gang were still chattering away. I clicked the radio off and sat in silence, my hands shaking, heart pounding in my chest and there was only one thought in my head. “I’ve got to get out of here!” How in the world first responders can charge into situations like that escapes me. The instinct for survival is strong, and when there’s danger your first reaction is to run.

But we couldn’t run, we were stuck on the off ramp, and it was an uncomfortable half hour until police arrived and made everyone turn around and drive back up the wrong way and follow detours that took us away from D.C.  I drove home wondering what in the world is happening? What was it all about? I had just seen something that I never thought I’d see outside of a bad science fiction movie.

It was a day that changed America forever. There’s no denying it. Some things will never be the same. But other things will. The triumph of courage over fear shown by rescue workers, many who lost their lives trying to help others; the readiness of men in uniform to defend and protect the nation and its people; and the hope that someday things will be better, that love can overcome hate, and reason will vanquish ignorance, those things still remain. There’s always hope.

P.S. It’s 20 years later, and I’m not so optimistic now. We fought a war for 20 years to punish those responsible for the evil that was done that day, and found out we couldn’t win it. Love doesn’t always conquer hate.

Chicago PD Season 8 Episode 12 Review: Due Process - TV Fanatic

I don’t really watch any of the TV series that run on the major networks. For one thing, too many commercials. The number of ads squeezed into an hour-long TV show is ridiculous. By the time the commercial interruption is over, I can’t remember what happened before the break. And for the most part what happens is usually not worth remembering anyway. You’ve got your cop, and medical shows, where there’s a different serial killer stalking young women, or a sudden outbreak of a new disease every week, and the cops and docs track them down with the usual amount of violence and/or mayhem, all of which is wrapped up in a soap opera format, wherein we peek into the characters private lives. Pretty predictable. The sitcoms are geared for the 30-something audience who can identify with the socially relevant characters that populate these shows. God help them.

Looked at from a certain perspective, more than ever before, you can see that TV has become a tool of one side or the other of the current political divide in the U.S. There are the shows that espouse liberal idealism, and those that beat the drum of conservatism. It’s pretty easy to see leftist ideas portrayed in shows featuring gays (not that there’s anything wrong with that), lesbians, trans, etc. Likewise shows that revolve around characters trying to uphold traditional values, law and order are easy to identify as propaganda for conservatism. It’s usually pretty easy to tell, which is which. But sometimes it’s not so easy. And it’s not certain, exactly who is deciding which way to go.

I just finished watching all 15 episodes of the last season (Season 8) of Chicago PD, starring Jason Beghe as Sgt. Hank Voight. I watched it on Peacock streaming with only a few short commercials in each episode. I have to say it is an impressive series. Good acting and directing, good stories. The season’s story arc was how Voight and his Intelligence Unit reacted to new procedures enacted since the George Floyd killing and the whole defund the police movement. They have to get warrants for everything and make sure they don’t violate any suspect’s rights. The exact opposite of Voight’s normal M.O. A new female Deputy Supervisor is brought in as Hank’s boss. She lays down the law to him. Being a good cop he complies. But the next 14 episodes make it clear how hard it’s going to be for him. He manages to keep his cool, and when he does start to go over the line, the younger members of his Intelligence Unit hold him down, reminding him of the new way they have to do things.

The writers actually turned Voight into something of a counsellor to the young squad members, helping them with their problems, etc. He’s almost turning into a nanny for the Intelligence Unit. But it didn’t work. If you go to the IMDb page for Chicago PD, you can look at the user reviews for those particular shows. Fans were outraged. “We want the old Hank back,” one of them said. There were many threats from disgruntled fans warning if the show didn’t get back on track they’d stop watching.

I guess Dick Wolf, the show’s creator listened to the fans. In the last two episodes, he gave them their wish. The writers came up with a two-part season finale that was a real corker. The new Deputy Surpervisor’s son makes his first appearance on the show. He’s a reckless kid in trouble with drug dealers. Hank (still the new Hank) wants to be lenient with him, but the deputy says no, he’s got to learn a lesson. She talks Hank into using him as an informant, against Hank’s better judgment. Sure enough not only does the drug dealer’s boss kill the deputy’s son, but also 3 girls that they were trafficking. The deputy super is shattered with the knowledge that is responsible for what happened to her son. As if that’s not enough part one end with Burgess, one of Voight’s female officers, dragged out of her car, beat up, and kidnapped by the dealer.

Part two starts with the drug dealer’s boss, a real psycho, showing up in the vacant garage where the dealer is holding Burgess and he shoots them both. I have to say it was a shocking scene, and really pulls you into the story. This guy has got to be stopped. Burgess is left alone in the garage, still alive but bleeding to death. Hank and the team frantically search for her. But Voight has something up his sleeve. He’s had it with the new way of doing things. They got some leads as to where Burgess might be. He gives the team some of those leads but he keeps the best lead for himself. He goes to another vacant garage and finds the killer.

It’s a well-done scene: you see the barrel of a shotgun come around a dark corner, while CCR’s “Tombstone Shadow” plays on a boom box. Voight comes into view. And it’s the OLD VOIGHT. He gets his man, cuffs him and asks him where he left Burgess. The guy won’t tell so The old Voight, puts leather gloves on and goes to work on him. Another female officer, Upton, walks in and he almost shoots her. She begs him not to kill the perp. He tells her to go home. She refuses and begs him not drag her across the line that he’s about to cross. After a tense minute he agrees, but when he starts to take the cuffs off, the perp grabs his gun out of his holster and Upton is forced to shoot him.

Just about everybody on the side of the new law and order comes to a disastrous end. The deputy supervisor’s son is killed, the supervisor herself is destroyed, she tells Voight, “I killed my son.” Also because she wouldn’t give the okay for a search without a warrant, the three trafficked girls were murdered. Burgess, who is found alive, may not live, and now Upton, who is a lot like Voight, except not willing to go that far, has now crossed the line with him.

He tells her to go home. “I’ll take care of it.” The last scene show Voight in the middle of nowhere digging a grave in the dark. He drops a body into it and sets it on fire.

As you watch it, you can’t help thinking, “Yeah, Hank, you did good.”

But that’s a kind of visceral, emotional reaction. If you stop to think about it, what is the story saying. That police reform is a joke, a myth, something that can never work in the real world? Was that the show’s creator’s intention when they started Season 8? Did they purposely set things up so that the reformers would fail? Or was it pressure from the fans who forced their hand? Were the producers afraid of falling ratings and possible cancelation, and changed the story line at the end of the season?

I don’t know. But I guess the moral of the story is, fans want blood, and if you don’t want your ratings to drop you better give it to them. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens in season 9.

Broken Sword Hero | Well Go USA Entertainment

There’s definitely a change going on in the world. A change that’s hard to identify. But that’s the way it always is. Big social movements take time and are so all-pervasive you really can’t see it happening until it’s over and gets put into history books.

All the traditional ideas are changing. All of them. Like, for example, athletes are now questioning the point of competition. What’s the point if you have to kill yourself to win? Who ultimately wins and who loses? Should you try for the gold, or is it all a big scam run by greedy corporations who just want to sell more sneakers and hamburgers, and who don’t care what happens to the participants, grinding them up like so much ground beef (or turkey, if that’s your preference)?

There’s a recognition among some (thanks to COVID-19) of just how fragile human beings are. Has that insight translated into something on a bigger scale? We are ending our involvement in a war in Afghanistan that went on 20 years and ended in failure, just the way it did in Vietnam. Are we deciding that war is no longer an option? Biden is basically a product of the flower power generation of the sixties and seventies, whose motto was “make love not war.” Are we witnessing the final ultimate expression of flower power philosophy, where everybody just finally quits?

Guys like Cuomo must realize they’re dinosaurs. He won’t go down without a fight, but eventually he’s done. It appears that in place of the traditional ideas of heroism and macho men, we’re going to have a matriarchal society governed and policed by angry women. Men are on the verge of becoming an extinct species. Maybe its necessary. I don’t know. But for sure it’s inevitable.

Op-Ed: The Trump insurrection was America's Beer Hall Putsch - Los Angeles  Times

Yes, indeed, gang. It’s the Fourth of July and time for my annual tribute to a guy who, through a nightly radio show, several books, and two films, was what he himself would admit was “a terrible influence.” His nonconformist view of life, his humor, his view that existence is a series of both personal catastrophes and small victories strung together over a laugh track, his unsentimental attitude that accepted life and people as they are– creatures just barely emerged from prehistoric caves, capable of occasional acts of good will toward their fellow man, but just as easily capable of savagery and violence, permeated my brain as a kid growing up in Philly and New Jersey. I listened to his WOR Radio show every night, forever warping my neo-cortex into the mess it is today. I’m talking about humorist, writer, filmmaker Jean Shepherd.

Every Fourth of July I reprise a blog I wrote about Shepherd and his famous story about a drunk with a deadly firework known as a “Dago Bomb.” I think this year, remembering Shepherd is especially important in the aftermath of the year we just went through. Thousands lost their lives as we battled COVID-19. Thanks to a vaccine we seem to have defeated the pandemic in the U.S. We even outlived the Cicadas. But there is an even more serious danger looming in America. An attack on the nation’s capitol in January by supporters of a narcissist who will not admit he lost an election caused loss of life, injury, and damage to the capitol building. There is unrest in the country, as reports of armed groups, and militias who support the poor loser, are forming in secret around the country. These aren’t just drunks playing with fireworks.

One of Shepherd’s main theses was that it’s easy to point the finger and blame corporations, institutions, political parties for the evil that happens in this world. It’s always their fault. But with a little soul searching it can be easily discovered that the ultimate cause of the things that happen lie within ourselves. There is a Beast lurking inside of us, just waiting for an excuse to break out. This summer, especially, we need to be wary of The Beast.

And now, let’s get on to the serious part of this blog. Some of you may know who Jean Shepherd is, others may not. Most people familiar with the name know him from the classic holiday film, A Christmas Story, which is based on Shepherd’s book. This is the movie about Ralphie (who is really Shepherd as a kid), growing up in Indiana, and wanting more than anything in the world a Red Ryder BB gun. The movie is shown in a 24-hour marathon every Christmas on one of the Turner Cable Channels. It’s Shepherd’s voice you hear narrating the story.

The real insiders know Shepherd from the nightly radio show he had from the late fifties to the mid-seventies on WOR radio in New York. Every night he would come on the air, alone and unscripted and talk. It wasn’t like talk radio today, though. He didn’t take phone calls. And he didn’t have a political ax to grind. He just sat alone and told stories. When he wasn’t telling stories, he did social commentary, or read haiku to “cheap guitar music.” Some of the stories he told ended up later as short stories in Playboy magazine and became the basis for the novel and two films: A Christmas Story, and My Summer Story. 

Among the many tales Shepherd told of growing up in the Midwest, one about an historic incident that took place in his neighborhood on the Fourth of July is one of my favorites. Ludlow Kissel and the Dago Bomb That Struck Back, describes one hot Independence Day when the town drunk (the term alcoholic wasn’t widely used back in the 1930s) showed up in the middle of his street carrying a lethal looking firecracker that in those days was known as the Dago Bomb. This was not an anti-Italian appellation, Shepherd explains, but was actually pro-Italian, the ne plus ultra of fireworks. In more effete circles is was known as an aerial bomb. It was big and looked like one of those non-existent firecrackers that show up in cartoons. It had a warnings on it, that indicated it should only be used by professionals.

So this one Fourth of July Ludlow Kissel appeared on the heat-shimmering horizon, “weaving spectacularly, and carrying a large paper bag as carefully as a totally committed drunk can. He was about to celebrate the founding of our nation, the nation which had provided such a bounteous life for him and his.” No one paid much attention as he inched his way from lamppost to lamppost and fire plug to fire plug and went into his house. He came out minutes later with the largest Dago Bomb anyone had ever seen. It was the first all-black Dago Heister anyone had ever laid eyes on and was suspected of actually being made in China!  Later some witnesses would argue that it wasn’t a firecracker at all, but was some sort of mortar shell.

Kissel staggered out to the middle of the street, set the firecracker on the ground and tried to light it. Neighbors peered nervously through windows, others came out on their front lawns. Several attempt to light the fuse with a match failed and a kid came up to Kissel with a lit punk and handed it to him. A crowd gathered. He lit the fuse, the crowd drew back. The fuse sputtered out and Ludlow lit it again but being too soused to know what he’s doing, he just stood there. “Hey Kissel, for god’s sake! It’s lit,” somebody yelled. “What’s lit?” Kissel said. He staggered around and knocked the Dago Bomb over and it went off.

Do I have to tell you what happened next? The expelled cartridge shot through the crowd, which ran for cover, and landed under Kissel’s front porch. It blew the porch off, then skittered next door, took down a neighbor’s rose trellis and ended up finally exploding under another neighbor’s car. Total devastation!

When it was over Kissel was still there in the middle of the street, on his knees and made his statement, which is even today part of the great legend. “My God! What a doozy!”

That was Jean Shepherd’s America. A different America in many ways from ours to be sure, but in some ways maybe not that different. We still watch fireworks, have barbecues, eat too much, and drink too much on the Fourth. We still have that urge to light that fuse and see the ultimate firework display of all time. Shepherd died in 1999 and I often wonder what he would say about our world today if he was still sitting behind the mic in a radio studio. He always knew that life was insane and that civilizations come and go, and most of us will be unremembered after we pass on. Probably he’d advise us to keep our sense of humor about it, and remind us,  as he always did to: “Keep your knees loose, and your duff close to the ground!”

I hope your Fourth is a doozy.

Periodical Cicadas | Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The cicadas are losing ground. They’re not as loud in the daytime as they were. I would guess millions have died but a few million remain.

Around eleven tonight I brought in an umbrella that had been left outside the house. As I started to wrap the binding strap tight, I squeezed the umbrella together and heard a sound almost like a high-pitched radio frequency. I opened the umbrella and a lone cicada fell on the floor. He just stood there and didn’t move.

I picked him up with a paper towel and I not only heard the voice of the cicada singing again, I could feel the vibration in the palm of my hand. When I had squeezed the umbrella shut he must have known he was about to die, and he let out his death song. And now he was singing it again as I carried him out the door, and let him go on the lawn.

To even such a creature, life is precious. I wonder if he will return 17 years from now and remember me?

Double Down by [Max Allan Collins]

I thought I was the only one who thought of basing a fictional character on actor Lee Van Cleef, who played the man in black in those spaghetti westerns, like “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” I used Van Cleef as the model for Mordecai Slate, the bounty hunter protag of “Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto” and “Hunting Monsters is My Business.”

Turns out Max Alan Collins had the same idea years ago for a character he called “Nolan,” a professional thief modeled on Donald Westlake/Richard Stark’s character Parker.

As Collins says in the intro to “Double Down,” “We’re all thieves.”

Brood X Periodical Cicadas Emerge In 15 States : NPR

There’s an old haiku that goes:

There is nothing

In the voice of the cicada

That implies its imminent death.


Is that why it’s necessary for ten thousand of them to sing at once?

Yeah, buddy. I know. Existence is rough. It doesn’t last very long and nobody gets out alive.

Go ahead. Sound off about it. We understand.

Traffic Intersection Simulation using Pygame, Part 1 | by Mihir Gandhi |  Towards Data Science

Almost got hit by a car today while walking Jax, the dog.

Crossed an intersection in broad daylight only one car coming up hill to the intersection. Figured since I was the only one out there he saw me. But by the time I was half way across he was all the way up the hill and coming through the crosswalk, full speed ahead, aiming right at me. The thought flashed: Is he going to run me down deliberately? Some kind of nut? A dog hater?

No time to think about it. The dog was out of harm’s way so I swear as the car was about to hit me I suddenly grew a pair of wings and jumped up out and away, the car barely missing me. I stood there not sure I’d escaped injury and the car stopped. A guy in his thirties looked back at me through the open window. I screamed: “You son of a bitch! What the hell is wrong with you?” He said. “I’m truly sorry. Honestly I just didn’t see you.” I yelled. “Get off your f—in’ cell phone, sonny.” He blinked and said. “Have a good day,” and drove off. Didn’t ask if I was alright, or was maybe having a heart attack. Just took off. Probably scared, because I was so pumped up I must have looked like I would kill him if I got my hands on him.

It was an experience. Shows you how quick disaster can strike. When it happens you think, oh no, this isn’t logical. No normal human being would deliberately run somebody down on the road. And then you realize no, they probably wouldn’t. It would have been some freak accident that wipes you out for no good reason at all.

The most disappointing part of the incident is that Jax, the dog, didn’t even bark or snarl at the guy while he sat there in the road. I think a growl at least would have been appropriate.