Thursday, June 20, 2013

Celebrity Edition: Hangin' With Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss

An excellent first day at the Vocus PR conference at National Harbor in Washington D.C. culminated in a meet-and-greet with keynote speaker Elisabeth Moss. It was pretty fun for colleague Mike Smith and I to meet the famed "Peggy Olson" of Mad Men.

Moss, incidentally a Scientologist, has appeared in Girl, Interrupted with Winona Ryder and 25 episodes of The West Wing. But nothing prepared her for what may be the best drama in TV history (and, if not, Jon Hamm as Don Draper is at least the greatest dramatic character, with Moss's Peggy not too far behind in the mix).

Other highlights of the impressive conference were Arianna Huffington and Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute. Legendary journalism professor Jay Rosen also gave a solid presentation on the shifting nature of the expertise.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Dutch Wonderland Dominates Our Amish Country Weekend

Growing up with four Quaker grandparents, it's a little strange I've never been to Amish country.

That kind of changed this weekend with a family trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We stayed at the Comfort Suites with a dozen or so other families from Jackson's school.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to explore the countryside, didn't see many horses on the road, and missed out on the Amish bakeries, furniture stores, and other things that will require a second trip some time.

Instead ... it was Dutch Wonderland on Saturday night and all day Sunday. Not that I'm complaining. The rollercoasters, kiddie rides, and water park were all a blast. And it was fun getting to spend more time with our excellent and down-to-earth school friends.

Here's a sampling of photos.

Savages Falls in the Middle of the Best Oliver Stone Movies

Oliver Stone can't do much wrong in my book. Even in the director's lesser movies, it's really tough to look away.

His eye-candy carries on with 2012's Savages, which is not one of his better films but, even at two-and-a-half hours, captures the imagination and is serious Hollywood cinema.

The main trio of friends (led by tabloid star and Ryan Reynolds' wife Blake Lively) are worthless pothead rich kids who get too deep into the drug trade. It's possible to cheer them on in their escapades, but the real drama is added by bad guys Benicio del Toro and Salma Hayek, who are both deliciously unhinged and unpredictable. John Travolta is also great as the corrupt DEA agent in the middle of everything.

*** out of ***** stars

Of Stone's movies, here is where it ranks for me:
9. Savages (2012)
8. W. (2008)
7. Any Given Sunday (1999)
6. Natural Born Killers (1994)
5. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
4. JFK (1991)
3. Wall Street (1987)
2. The Doors (1991)
1. Platoon (1986)

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Pre-School Take on Why Bikes Are Good Things

Today I was honored to present a session at my son's pre-school on "Why Bikes are Good Things."

Jackson and I drew the above poster last night. We brainstormed all the benefits of riding bikes. They are really broken into the categories of healthy, fun, transportation, economic, and environmental.

So it was fun to see his classmates today say what things they thought in regards to why bikes are good.

I was surprised nobody mentioned "fun" and few mentioned things related to health. Many said they were fast for getting around town and most said something related to the environment. I guess "you don't run over animals" would fall under the "environmental" category, along with "not getting stuck in traffic jams," "no pollution" and "no noise."

I tried to tell them that mommies and daddies spend a huge chunk of their paychecks on housing and transportation. They seemed to get it that using a bike more could save money to buy more toys.

The kids enthusiastically said they would go home and tell their parents that they want to ride bikes this weekend, so it seems my job was completed.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I'm Gonna Start Writing Songs Again ... Here's a (Flaming Lips Cover) Warm Up

The Flaming Lips are a screwed up band. And I love 'em for it.

Case in point: this song. "Bad Days" features a really happy, almost Christmas-like melody, but it's about an awful day when the narrator is doing really bad things.

Despite recent surging popularity, the Lips haven't really produced a consistently great album since at least 2006's At War with the Mystics. And "Bad Days" itself hails from all the way back to 1995's Clouds Taste Metallic, which I previously listed as the band's 4th-best album.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Great Beach Read?: Go With James Patterson's D.C. Crime Fiction

I'd never thought anything about author James Patterson. It's amazing to have never even considered reading one of his books. He's sold more copies of his nearly 100 novels than Stephen King, Dan Brown, and John Grisham combined, and holds the Guinness Book of World Records for most New York Times Bestsellers (76!).

But then I was thinking about needing some light reading for my annual North Carolina beach trip (last year's was The Hunger Games) and my mom suggested Patterson and his Washington D.C.-based stories about forensic psychologist Alex Cross. I started reading a sample from Amazon of Along Came a Spider, the first in the Cross series, from 1993, and I was hooked.

The book was made into a movie with Morgan Freeman as Cross, which I'm now looking forward to seeing. The novel itself is a page-turner about Cross becoming obsessed with tracking down an elusive serial killer who kidnaps two kids with prominent parents from a prominent school in D.C.

The story swerves from D.C. to the Caribbean to Florida and the Carolinas. It has dozens and dozens of short chapters that contain a little masterpiece in each. If there is any complaint, it's that there could be a slight bit more character building of Cross, Jezzie Flannagan, and Gary Soneji-Murphy.

That said, they are memorable characters, and I'm no doubt going to dig into the second Cross story, 1995's Kiss the Girls.

****1/2 out of ***** stars

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Johnny Depp's Creepy Wonka Earns Chocolate Factory 2.5 Stars

There is really no point in remaking 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory because there will never be a better Wonka than Gene Wilder. He blended weird with a generally bright and very funny side.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from 2005 employs Johnny Depp in Wilder's role, and Depp takes it in a weird, creepy, and fairly dark direction. The more technologically advanced versions of the factory are interesting, and Freddie Highmore as Charlie (he later goes on to star as Norman Bates in one of my favorite current shows, Bates Motel) is cute.

But the Oompa-Loompas are no improvement upon the originals and the hiring of Depp and director Tim Burton is just all wrong. I bet casting Jack Black as Wonka would have been truly inspired. Before Burton was hired, some potential choices apparently included Nicolas Cage, Jim Carrey, Michael Keaton, Brad Pitt, Will Smith, and Adam Sandler.

Even Wilder agreed that something was off. He refused to see the film and said Depp is a great actor (I agree) but that he didn't like the direction Depp was taking Wonka in some early clips he saw of the film.

This is still a good film for kids, but please don't deny them a chance to see the original version as well.

**1/2 out of ***** stars

I Now Pronounce You Dumb and Dumber

I knew what I was getting myself into, but still, I did it anyway.

After struggling through The Hangover Part III last night, I also cobbled my way through 2007's I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

At one time, a new Adam Sandler movie was an event. Something I attended with Scoots, Dewey, ET, and other buddies to die laughing for a little while. Well, since it took me six years to get around to this one, it's pretty clear to you that I had low expectations.

And they were 100 percent met. I hoped there would at least be a tiny bit of profoundness in Sandler's take on what it means to be gay in the early 21st Century.

Sandler plays womanizer Chuck and knucklehead Kevin James plays tough-guy Larry. The firefighters have to marry to protect Larry's pension. Jessica Biel often gets in the way when Sandler turns to jelly in her presence.

Of course the film shot to #1 at the box office on the weekend it was released. And to give Sandler a small degree of credit, the movie makes a plea for equality in the star's own childishly crude way. I will say Chuck and Larry is kind of entertaining. The big problem is that it just isn't very funny.

*1/2 out of ***** stars

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Best ... Best? ... Parts of The Hangover Part III

I'm not actually willing to say that The Hangover series should be laid to rest. After I named the original Hangover the best comedy of all-time and The Hangover Part II a solid 4 out of 5 stars, there's still a possibility more Hangovers wouldn't be the worst thing.

However, The Hangover Part III is a true stinker. While the Wolfpack is still somehow pretty cool, they can no longer command the same amount of laughs.

Here are the film's funny moments, in chronological order ...

1. The highway pileup created by the beheading of a giraffe, owned by one Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis).
2. Alan's singing at his father's funeral.
(A long stretch of a ridiculous and painfully unfunny kidnapping of the Wolfpack by John Goodman.)
3. Chow (Ken Jeong) and Alan's Tijuana kiss.
(At the halfway point, there had still only been three laughs. And that's being generous.)
4. The Melissa McCarthy lollipop/pawnshop scene.
5. The recurring Billy Joel soundtrack to Alan's life.
6. The Alan-and-his-son scene.
(Another very long unfunny stretch.)
7. The farewell scene when Chow tells Alan he's "cold as ice."
8. Alan's closing scene, when he announces he's leaving the Wolfpack.

So, obviously, Galifianakis still has what it takes to be brilliantly funny. But Ed Helms (zero laughs) is shockingly wasted and Bradley Cooper (maybe a half a laugh) is empty.

Galifianakis gets *** out of ***** stars, but The Hangover Part III itself spirals downwards for *1/2 out of ***** stars.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wiener Sausage's Website Gets the Fat Trimmed

Thanks to my co-playwright, Dan Sullivan, the Wiener Sausage: The Musical! website has been revised. Although there was more there before, this nicely trims some of the excess fat.

We hope to add more original comedy bits through the introduction of a blog on the site, as well as more video, photos, and music, so check back often.

As the site says, The Wiener will, um, rise again!!!