Monday, December 21, 2009

Five Strange Little Movies I Like, but You Probably Never Heard Of

There are a bunch of funny little movies out there that are little jewels. When you see them, they make you smile every time and you're glad you watched them and wonder why no one else seems to know this movie exists. 

1. The Captain Is a Lady - Charles Coburn and Beulah Bondi star in this sweet film about a retired sea captain who is swindled by the local mayor and evicted from his home. His wife moves into a home for single elderly ladies, but sadly, no men allowed.  The residents including Marjorie Main (Ma Kettle) smuggle Captain Abe into the old ladies home where he is listed as Old Lady 31 to his utter embarrassment.  The Captain performs an act of heroism and with the help of a bunch of very determined widow women, wins back his nest egg and his wife's little home.  The thing is an absolute delight from start to finish and the scene where the old ladies confront the swindling mayor is priceless.

2.  Dark Star - John Carpenter's quirky sci-fi picture screws with your head. A bunch of grungy space travelers fly about the universe searching for unstable planets to destroy with a frozen captain, a batch of talking bombs and the odd inflatable alien lurking about the hold waiting to pounce. Just to give you an idea, there is an ongoing philosophical argument between the acting captain and a defective bomb that insists it is time to blow itself and the ship to bits. The theme song is a country ballad about the theory of relativity as it relates to a girl in Benson, Arizona. 

3. Hobson's Choice - Charles Laughton is a widowed boozy London shoemaker with three troublesome daughters. His eldest daughter, Maggie (Brenda DeBanzie), decides to get all the sisters a husband including herself.  She picks the best shoemaker in her father's shop, marries him and sets up in competition with the old Man.  John Mills as Willie Mossop is wonderful as the shy cobbler she takes in hand and makes into a man every bit as formidable as her father. Hobson never has a chance...........or a choice. I love this movie.

4. Haunted Honeymoon - This little gem stars Gene Wilder, Gilda Radner and Dom DeLuise and takes place in the golden age of radio. Wilder is the neurotic nephew of Dom DeLuise as his Aunt, the matriarch of an odd collection of screwy relations who come to a spooky old mansion on a stormy weekend, apparently to scare Larry Abbott, Wilder's character, to death.  At one point DeLuise as the portly Aunt Kate does a hysterical dance version of "Ballin' the Jack" with Radner's Vickie Pearl character.  Complete with a surprise ending, this lovely film is perfect for some delightful Halloween fun!

5. Serenity - Arguably the best science fiction TV series ever, Firefly was canceled in its first season.  For some reason people don't "get" this show.  The premise is that the Earth collapses and two civilizations escape - Americans and Chinese.  Most people speak English and curse in Chinese. Everyone has settled in a large star system that has a whole flock of habitable planets and moons that have been terraformed for human habitation.  Some planets are less terraformed than others and became a sort of frontier with the characteristics of the American West complete with cowboys, outlaws and smugglers.  Set after a failed war for independence, a bunch of ex-rebels under the command of a laconic former sergeant cum smuggler ramble from planet to planet in an old Firefly class space freighter looking for work of dubious legality. Serenity, the movie, closes the series and solves the mysteries introduced in the series. Nathan Fillian is terrific as Captain Malcolm Reynolds, coping with vengeful corporate operatives who are in pursuit of one of his crew and the secrets locked in her head.  This movie is just plain good if you give it a chance to get under your skin.  Watch the series first for a complete "Firefly" experience.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Top Ten All Time Favorite Politicians

by Tom King (c) 2009 - All Rights Reserved

The words favorite and politician are not words I often use in the same sentence, but I do have some. To get a full ten, I have to go back a ways in history. Some are obscure. All are personal choices. They all have one thing in common.  They all are courageous and have taken risks that could have cost them their careers. Their actions often earned them the wrath of their contemporaries. In every case, reading their stories made me smile. Having the position of standing up to "the man" in defense of the little guy, I appreciate the type of sand it takes to plant your feet in the breech and stand for something you believe in. What follows is my personal roster of politicians in the breech!

1. George Washington:  Okay, George is a no-brainer, but these days most people don't realize what a gutsy guy the general was. First there was the whole crossing-the-Deleware/Battle of Trenton deal which nobody thought would work and if it had failed, that might have been the end of the revolution. Certainly Washington, himself, would have been killed or captured and hung. Then he refused a kingship.  He refused to let them call him "your excellency" or give him the trappings of royalty as first president. He refused to serve more than two terms and set a precedent so powerful that when FDR broke it, the Congress waited till he died and then passed an amendment to prevent it from every happening again. These are only a fraction of the stories I could tell of Washington's courage and faithfulness to his principles.

2. Abraham Lincoln:  Lincoln is another no-brainer. The man had the courage to do what he had to in order to hold the country together in the face of the greatest crisis in the nation's history. His second inaugural address sounded the call for the liberation of those in slavery and defense of the union. The Emancipation Proclamation was opposed even by members of his own cabinet. He risked his life by what he did as president and he knew it. He did not shrink from doing the right thing even though he understood what price him might have to pay and he did pay that price at the end. He was a wise, compassionate and gentle soul whom I think was chosen by God to be where he was at that moment in time and to stand in the breach. The more I learn about Lincoln, the better I like him.

3. Arlene Wohlgemuth: Arlene is someone you likely do not know. She served as Texas state representative from District 58 back in the 90's. During her first term, Texas Monthly called her one of the top ten new Texas legislators. The notoriously liberal leaning magazine changed its tune next go round and demoted her to the ten worst legislator's list. What happened.  It's called the Memorial Day Massacre by Texas political junkies. The back story is this. Ms. Wohlgemuth proposed a bill that if a teenage girl wanted an abortion, her parents had to be notified. The Democrats killed her bill by delaying it with a procedural motion that prevented the bill from being voted on. Furious, Arlene didn't get mad. She got even.  She invoked the exact same procedural motion and killed 52 Democrat proposed bills that the Dems were bringing in under the wire in the last days of the session (a common way to sneak stuff by the public without a lot of uproar).  The wailing in Austin was a thing to behold. Arlene got death threats. Texas managed to remain standing for another 2 years without an expansion of government till the Democrats lost their majority hold on the Texas legislature. Gotta love the woman!  I hope she runs for congress again. We could use someone like her.

4. Sam Houston:  Sam Houston was an alcoholic and by all reports a venal, self-serving vindictive bastard. His men had to drag him to the Battle of San Jacinto to confront Santa Anna. Then, he bungled negotiations with Santa Anna and let him go to harass Texas again just a few years later. He persecuted the members of the Texas Navy at a time when the Navy was single-handedly keeping the Mexican Army off the coasts of Texas. Despite Houston's efforts to torpedo them, the Texas Navy probably preserved the state's independence. Sam didn't like sailors for some reason and tried to prosecute the secretary of the Navy for treason.  Old Sam had a lot of faults. But when the state of Texas decided to blindly follow the southeastern states into rebellion, Houston, in a rare display of honorable behavior, opposed secession despite its popularity.  He resigned his office in protest. His example inspired an underground resistance movement in Texas that interfered with military supply and support operations throughout the war. For that alone he deserves the big ugly statue on the road between Houston and Dallas.

5. Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson gets my vote for two big things - writing the Declaration of Independence and forcing the issue with the Bill of Rights. T.J. also had problems with the navy and his stingy support of the fledgling U.S. Navy emboldened the British and may have played a part in encouraging the War of 1812. Despite his failings, old Tom was capable of taking risks.  The Louisiana Purchase was a risk well worth taking. He also slipped language into the Constitution and Declaration that mollified southern slave-holders, but managed to implant principles into the founding documents that flowered in the fires of the Civil War and led to the end of slavery.

6. Ronald Reagan: Reagan makes the list because I absolutely love this guy.  Reagan was a genuinely decent man. If this list were in order of importance, Ronnie would be tied with General George for #1. Reagan articulated a positive vision for America that actually worked. He genuinely believed all the stuff he said about American excellence. If we are indeed a city on the hill, then it was Reagan who turned the lights back on so people could see us again. His first defining moment was at Reykjavik when he walked away from the negotiating table against the advice of his advisors, his cabinet and every political pundit that could be dragged in front of a microphone. His guts and stubbornness vastly reduced the number of nuclear weapons pointed at us when the Russians caved a year later and signed a ground-breaking nuclear disarmament treaty. His second defining moment was in front of the Berlin Wall when he had the cheek to challenge Premier Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!". Again, everybody screamed "Take that line out of the speech!".  Reagan's response?  "We better leave it in.  It's the right thing to do!" God bless him for that.

7. George W. Bush: For all GW's shortcomings, his overspending, his economic compromises with liberal Democrats, I am glad he was the occupant of the Oval Office when the terrorists hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11. He declared war on terrorism, calling it a war and not a police investigation. Because he stood straight, stuck by his guns and prosecuted a war against terrorist strongholds, during the balance of his time in office the United States was not attacked by terrorists - period!  Within a year of his leaving the presidency, a terrorist attacked a U.S. military base. Whatever you may say otherwise about President Bush, he did keep us safe here at home. I suspect we'll never know what it cost him to do that.

8. Sarah Palin: You've got to admire the courage of this woman. She starts out as mayor of a tiny town in Alaska. She cleans up things there and runs for governor. As soon as she hits office, she turns on her own party and cleans house. She negotiates a pipeline deal that increases the flow of oil to the lower 48. She disrupts Alaska politics as usual by shining the light on a host of nasty little political deals. She accepts a spot on the presidential ticket and endures brutal attacks by folks on the left. They go after her, her family and file a flood of lawsuits designed to cripple her ability to govern. She resigns the governor's office for the sake of the state, despite the universal opinion of political pundits that this will be the end of her political career.

Anybody wanna bet?

9.  Louis Gohmert:  Louis is the U.S. Congressman from the 1st District - my district here in East Texas. I wasn't sure about Judge Gohmert when he first hit the Congress.  My opinion of him soon changed. He stood up on the House floor and pointed out that after just two months of the new Democrat majority talking about raising taxes and expanding government, the stock market took a dive. Then he proposed a tax holiday instead of a cash stimulus. The idea was genius. It placed money in the hands of people who could use it to stimulate economic activity and at the same time reduce the ability of the government to meddle. Instead of passing the money through the government where it could be misdirected, misappropriated and wasted before going to the people, the people would simply keep what they already had and it would happen fast. Then when Obama did a speech on health care to a joint session of Congress, Louis sat there big as life with a sign on his lap that said, "What bill?"  and "What plan?".  Ya gotta love this guy!

10. Theodore Roosevelt:  Teddy was a progressive. He was caught up in the whole progressive movement and as we have learned since there are some really bad things about progressivism. But there was more to Teddy than that. He did a lot of things that were downright un-progressive as president.  The "Big Stick" policy alone wins my admiration. He went after the big trusts that had long enjoyed government protection of their monopolies. He reduced the power and influence of the robber barons and restored opportunities for smaller companies to get back into the game. Teddy was wrong on a lot of things, but then progressivism had yet to reveal itself as the pernicious doctrine that led directly to the rise of socialism, facism and nazisim in Europe. I suspect that as that became clear to Teddy, he'd have slapped that idea down as enthusiastically as he went after the corporate crooks that had been squashing competition and exploiting their employees with the willing complicity of government for decades.  While giving a speech once, someone tried to assassinate him. With a bullet in him, President Roosevelt gave the speech in full before going to a doctor for treatment. That's my kind of guts.

Admire who you like, but these guys are some of my favorites. They all have one thing in common. Each of them have taken stands that earned them the disdain of the elitist snobs of their eras. Having received hate mail from bureaucrats myself, I tend to like that quality in my politicians. We need more of these people if our country is to survive. How many of our elected officials would stand up in the legislature and say as another of my favorite obnoxious politicians once said, "Give me liberty or give me death." Patrick Henry had his flaws, but like King Arthur in the legend, he had his one brief shining moment!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Dozen Movies that I Like to Watch Over and Over

I like movies.  There are a few that have stuck in my head and I find that I come back to them regularly to watch them over and over. Here are my favorites - the ones I see often enough to quote from and buy a copy of on DVD.

1. Camelot - "Not 'Might' IS right," says Richard Harris as King Arthur, "But 'Might' FOR right!" This musical version of T.H. White's profound "The Once and Future King" uses all the best lines from White's masterpiece to tremendous effect.  King Arthur was a father figure/role model for me.  My own Dad cut and ran when I was 5 and I found my heroes in books and movies. Camelot got me into a lot of trouble in my life when I've stood and fought till the castle came down around my ears. But at least, for one brief, shining moment......

2.  It's a Wonderful Life - George Bailey was another one of those movie heroes who did the right thing even though it wasn't always exactly what he wanted to do. This is one I have to watch at Christmas, just to recharge my "do-gooder" batteries to get through another year.George's speech to Mr. Potter captures the frustration of every man who ever tried to do the right thing only to be thwarted by some selfish evil old spider.

3.  Scrooge - The musical version with Albert Finney is brilliant. Finney is Scrooge at his nasty best and convincingly delivers the moment of giddy release that comes from letting go of your sins and accepting the forgiveness and good will of your fellow man.  Again, another movie where the good guys do the right thing no matter the consequences. Bob Crachett is as brave a man as any muscled up knight in armor. "Thank you very much....that's the nicest thing that anyone's ever done for me!"

4.  Haunted Honeymoon / Hold That Ghost / Ghostbreakers - These three movies are our Halloween trilogy every year.  We don't do horror movies at my house. These are great fun. Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner are wonderful and the "Ballin' the Jack" duet between Gilda and Dom Deluise is priceless. The bit with the candle that Lou Costello does in Hold That Ghost is fall on the floor funny no matter how many times you see it. Bob Hope has possibly the greatest line in movie history when a local guy describes zombies as "...walking around with dead eyes and no will of their own."  Bob shoots back.  "Like Democrats?"

5. Star Wars - When I sat in the theater during the opening of that movie and that enormous star destroyer passed overhead, lasers blazing, I knew I was in for something I'd never seen before. I love every episode. "“It’s not impossible. I used to bulls eye wamp rats in my T-16 back home, they’re not much bigger than 2 meters."

6. The Quiet Man - John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara at their best. The scene where he drags her 5 miles back to her brother, across the fields and through the sheep poop is hysterical. One of the bystanders offers Wayne a stick saying, "Sir! Sir! Here’s a good stick to beat the lovely lady!"  The look on his face is priceless.

7. The Princess Bride - "This is true love.  You think that happens every day." This rolicking swashbuckle has one of the best sword duels ever filmed AND nobody dies.  There are a few movies that are perfect and this is one of them.  MIRACLE MAX:  He probably owes you money huh? I'll ask him. INIGO MONTOYA: He's dead. He can't talk. MIRACLE MAX: Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do. INIGO MONTOYA:  What's that? MAX: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.   I never tire of watching this. If you haven't seen it in a while, toss it on the old DVD player and "Have fun storming the castle!"

8.  The Lord of the Rings - This stunningly beautiful and surprisingly faithful version of Tolkien's classic is even better in the extended version. I was very happy that it took a half dozen endings to close the story. I love Samwise,  "Mr. Gandalf, sir, don't hurt me. Don't turn me into anything... unnatural."

9. The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis' classic was well and truly brought to film and was all I could have hoped. I always tear up at the stone table scene. Edmund Pevensie: [horse rears up] Whoa, Horsey.
Philip the Horse: My name is Philip. 

10. Serenity - Captain Malcolm Reynolds thinks he's a scoundrel, but like Han Solo, this space cowboy can't help but be a do-gooder.  This movies caps the canceled TV series "Firefly" nicely and I watch that over and over too. Not everyone gets this movie.  I'm one that does.

11. My Favorite Year - Peter O'Toole plays a fading swashbuckling actor forced to appear on a TV show to pay his taxes.  He and a Jewish comedy writer make it a night on the town in which everyone learns something. The climactic scene in which O'Toole and the TV show's star fight it out onstage with mob thugs is nothing but fun. Benji Stone: "Catherine, Jews know two things: suffering, and where to find great Chinese food."

12. Captain Hornblower -I love the Hornblower books, so I like to watch the movie and the TV mini-series. Hornblower is another man trying to do the right thing in hard circumstances.  I think there's a theme here. HORNBLOWER "Flogging only makes a bad man worse, Mr. Gerard... but it can break a good man's spirit. Is Hummill a bad man?  GERARD: Aside from his temper, sir, he's a good sailor.
 HORNBLOWER: A good sailor, ill-fed and thirsty. Watch the cat as it cuts his back to pieces, Mr. Gerard... and in the future, perhaps you'll think twice when you threaten a man with flogging.

Also, my son, Micah used to fall asleep watching the same movies over and over.  Micah's movies seemed to have a theme as well. Here are the ten I most remember seeing on his TV when I went to check on him at night.

Micah's Top Ten

1. The Hunt for Red October
2. Braveheart
3. Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves
4. The Patriot
5. Lean on Me
6. Young Guns
7. Star Wars
8. Lord of the Rings
9. Shrek
10.Dances with Wolves

Micah could quote from all of them. I think some of them seeped into his brain like sleep learning. He could almost speak Lakota Sioux from watching Dances with Wolves so much..

Friday, October 23, 2009

Top Ten First Ladies

When challenged to name the all time top ten First Ladies of the United States, I turned to my wife, the amateur presidential historian and the only person I know who can not only recite the presidents in order, but also the presidents' wives.  In chronological order, here are her choices for the All-Time Top Ten President's Wives.

1. Martha Washington - "Lady Washington" as she was named by the grateful troops whose welfare she tended during the infamous winter at Valley Forge, set the tone for those women who would come after her.  A dutiful wife, she supported him in war and peace and followed him in death just 2 years later.

2. Dolly Madison - The wife of James Madison, Dolly was the first celebrity First Lady, earning the admiration of Washington society and rescuing art and treasures from the White House, narrowly escaping in 1812 as the British burned the city and the White House during their brief capture of the capital.  For sheer guts, Dolly makes this list - that and I just love her cupcakes!

3.  Caroline Harrison - Wife of Benjamin Harrison, Caroline, herself a talented artist, was one of the first First Ladies to take on the renovation of the, by then, fading White House.  She fought rodents and insects, laid new floors, installed new plumbing, painted and wallpapered, and added more bathrooms. In 1891 she and the president installed electricity in the White House, even thought they were so frightened of it that they refused to touch the electrical switches.  Caroline put up the first Christmas tree ever seen in the White House in 1882.  She also worked tirelessly for a wide range of charities despite her struggles with ill health. She finally succumbed to tuberculosis shortly before the end of Harrison's term. 

4. Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, the wife of Woodrow Wilson, has called America's first female president.  When Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke in October 1919, Edith basically ran the government secretly while protecting her husband from publicity through his long, disabling illness. She studied all the paperwork that came to the president and decide what was important enough for him to handle. She opposed allowing the vice-president to take over and successfully defended Wilson's job during his illness. 

5. Lou Henry Hoover, wife of Herbert Hoover was active in philanthropy and served as president of the Girl Scouts of America and was influential in establishing one of the first such organizations for girls.

6. Eleanor Roosevelt was literally FDR's legs. Unable to travel freely, FDR depended on Eleanor to do much of his visiting for him. She became a familiar figure at rallies, military bases, diplomatic affairs and public celebrations. Even after her husband's death, Roosevelt carried on an active career as speaker, author, politician, New Deal activist and proponent of the United Nations.

7.  Jackie Kennedy should get a medal just for putting up with Jack's shenanigans with grace. She ably supported her husband's diplomatic efforts with grace and style and became a celebrity in her own right. She conducted badly needed renovations in the crumbling White House and was the pivotal figure in bringing the nation through the trauma of John Kennedy's murder.

8.  Betty Ford was active in social policy and the most politically active first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt. Some think she had more impact on the history and culture of America than her husband did.  She raised awareness of breast cancer after undergoing a mastectomy herself.  She was more liberal than her husband supporting the Equal Right's Amendment and the women's movement.  She went public with her life long alcoholism and established the Betty Ford Clinic for addiction research and treatment. 

9.  Nancy Reagan acted as her husband's political partner and despite criticism from the press, played a role in vetting the people who surrounded the president. She led a determined "Just Say No" anti-drug program and raised the money to perform extensive renovations to the White House that restored the "people's house" as she called it to it's former glory.  No public funds were used in the construction. Her heroic care for her husband during his decline due to Alzheimer's captured the public imagination.

10.  Barbara Bush's husband once said, that if Barbara had run for his second term, she'd have won. An immensely popular figure, America's grandmother campaigned tirelessly for literacy and reading and raised a 25 million dollar endowment fund to preserve the White House for the future.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Top Ten Memos from David Letterman to Staff Members

# 10.  To:  All Female Staff
          FR:  D. Letterman
               Pay no attention to
               the camera-like
               fixtures in the ladies

#9.  To:  All Female Staff
       FR:  D. Letterman
              The Jacuzzi is now
              clothing optional for
              senior female staffers,
              particularly very
              senior female staffers.
              In fact, clothing is
              mandatory for two
              female staffers in particular (you know who you are).

#8. To:  All Female Staff
      FR:  D. Letterman
              Clothing is still not an option for junior
              female staffers in the Jacuzzi.

#7. To:  All Female Staff
      FR:  D. Letterman
              Pay no attention to the camera-like fixtures in the Jacuzzi.

#6.  To:  All Female Staff
       FR:  D. Letterman
              All female staff must sign up for at least 60 minutes of daily
             'bounce' aerobics classes in the company gym.  New
             'bouncier' mini-trampolines have been installed in the
             'bounce' aerobics class area. I'm sure we'll all enjoy

#5.  To:  All Female Staff
       FR:  D. Letterman
             Pay no attention to the camera-like fixtures in
             the company gym, especially those mounted at floor
             level pointing up into the 'bounce' aerobics area.

#4. TO:  Maintenance
      FR:  D. Letterman
            The Green Room sofa does NOT fold out as
            specified in my contract (page 332, paragraph 4b).
            Can somebody get that taken care of before
           Tuesday's show with Britney Spears' sister?

#3. TO:  Maintenance
       FR:  D. Letterman
            Please remove the mirror from the ceiling of the
            Green room as requested by Miss Spears prior
            to her appearance on Tuesday.  Don't forget to
            install the camera-like fixtures as shown in the
            attached wiring diagram.

#2   TO:  Maintenance
       FR:  D. Letterman
           Please remove camera-like fixtures as requested
           in Miss Spears' amended appearance contract
           and install privacy curtains in Miss Spears' dressing
           room as further specified in her contract.
           And please do not give any more walk-around tours
           to Miss Lohan's attorney or mother.

#1. TO:  All Staff
      FR:  D. Letterman
           Pay no attention to that 
        man behind the curtains!

*The above photo file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
** (c) 2009 by Tom King.  All rights reserved.  Contact for permission to reprint this article. Feel free to link to it as you wish.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Top Ten Chick Flicks

By Sheila, Tom and Uncle Louis

Okay, I’ve done my favorite sci-fi flicks. It’s time to give my sweetie equal time with a top ten list she can appreciate. To wit – Sheila’s top ten chick flicks list in order of when they came to mind (hey this isn’t rocket science).

Sheila’s List

1. An Affair to Remember – Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr: This is like the ultimate tear jerker. It’s got everything, rich playboy, repressed cool beauty, true love, romance, a cruise ship, separation, a rendezvous atop the Empire State building, disability! Bring your hankies. Women really dig this one! It’s probably the number one of all time.

2. Little Women – Susan Sarandon, Christian Bale, Winona Ryder: Sisters, an idealized father who isn’t around because he’s off to war, self-sufficient women, a dying sister provides the hankie time, a handsome neighbor, spoiled sister, Jo’s search for true love.

3. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – Rex Harrison, Gene Tierney: The ideal chick flick romance. Here’s a love interest who’s really unattainable. He’s dead! Separated by time and ectoplasm, the heroine achieves her romantic goals by dying in the end. What is it with women and romantic deaths?

4. How to Lose a Guy in 10 days: Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson: Another doomed in advance romance where true love wins out in the end. Something that never works out in real life.

5. Sleepless in Seattle - Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan: Long distance romance this time, lonely girl, tragic man with small cute son brought together by a radio program. Recycles the meeting on the Empire State Building deal only this time it’s successful! Even I like this one, especially when the guy’s make fun of film #1 by crying over “The Dirty Dozen”.

6. Annie Hall – Diane Keaton, Woody Allen: Won an academy award. Watched it twice and still can’t remember what it was about.

7. Casablanca – Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman: Boy finds girl, boy loses girl because of Nazis, boy tortures himself, boy finds girl again, but gets involved in a love triangle, boy gives up girl for the good of mankind.

8. Gone With the Wind – Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh: Fancy dress, girl resists handsome rogue, girl wins handsome rogue, girl in love triangle, girl loses handsome rogue, Atlanta burns. Frankly my dear…..

9. Philadelphia Story – Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart: Offbeat love triangle with the classic guy won girl but lost her, gets involved in romantic triangle, breaks up wedding with 3rd guy and wins girl back. This chick flick is yar!

10. Jerry Maquire – Tom Cruise, Rene Zellwiger: Handsome guy doesn’t notice great girl right in front of him, notices, then wins girl, loses girl, but in the process he finds himself and becomes a better man. Girl completes him……


I go to chick flicks too. For every two man flicks I go see, I have to take Sheila to at least one chick flick. It helps that she likes the same kinds of SF and guy films I do. Here are my favorite “chick flicks” in no particular order – I have a headache and ranking anything right now is painful.

Okay, that's the list Sheila gave me. Here's:

Tom’s List

1. Sleepless in Seattle – The scene where the guys weep over Jim Brown’s death scene in “Dirty Dozen” is priceless.

2. Failure to Launch – I love slackers who fall in love in spite of themselves and Matthew McConaughey is from Texas!

3. You’ve got Mail – Love by e-mail. I love Meg Ryan if you can’t tell. I’m 3 into the list and she’s in two of them so far. Love saved by technology. “I hoped it would be you!” I even had to have a hankie.

4. Jerry Maquire – Love interspersed with football. I am complete!

5. The African Queen – Katherine Hepburn is a feisty little thing and you gotta love the way she alternately bullies and then gets all submissive with Humphrey Bogart. He’s so confused by the end of the movie he marries her which is, I suspect, how that happens to most of us guys.

6. Rooster Cogburn and the Lady
– John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn ‘duke’ it out in the wild west with outlaws, explosives and a Gatling gun. How cool is that? Kate is some kinda woman.

7. The Quiet Man
– John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara as a feisty Irish gal in this guy wins girl, guy loses girl, guy wins girl, guy loses girl again, guy drags girl 5 miles across the Irish countryside to give her back to her brother, guy beats up brother, guy wins girl. They all go out drinking.

8. Ever After – Drew Barrymore as a tough, self-sufficient Cinderella who brings the prince to his senses with the help of Leonardo da Vinci and saves herself from the bad guy with a sword.

9. 50 First Dates – Drew Barrymore again as the perfect woman. Every night when she goes to sleep, she forgets what happened the day before. How cool is that? No matter how many times you screw up, she can’t use it against you in a future argument. You can take a day off and be a jerk once in a while and she won’t remember it in the morning. Adam Sandler is a genius.

10. The Princess Bride – Cary Elwes, Robyn Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant: Fencing, kidnapping, pirates, sword fights. This one has everything.


Finally, my Uncle Louis (name changed to protect "Uncle Louis" whose wife doesn't find him all that funny) wanted to contribute his own top ten chick flick list which he says is far superior to either of ours. With trepidation, here goes.

Uncle Louis’s List

1. Alien – Sigourney Weaver’s complex relationship with a 20 foot tall acid dripping alien bent on killing everyone on her spaceship. I cried buckets when it burst out of John Hurt’s stomach.

2. Aliens- Sigourney’s back in that tight sweaty t-shirt and this time there are hundreds of aliens. Makes for really complex relationships.

3. McClintock – John Wayne spanks Maureen O’Hara AND Stephanie Powers

4. Donovan’s Reef – John Wayne spanks Elizabeth Allen and throws Dorothy Lamour out of a second floor window into a pond.

5. The Quiet Man – John Wayne spanks Maureen O’Hara

6. Star Wars VI - Return of the Jedi: Harrison Ford finally says “I love you” to Princess Leia when she pulls a big gun out of her coveralls and, of course, there's the gold metal bikini……

7. Rio Grande – John Wayne may have spanked Maureen O’Hara in this one too. If he didn’t, he should have!

8. True Lies – Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis are married, she’s a mousy housewife who doesn’t know her hubbie is a superspy. Before it’s over she’s hanging from a helicopter in a very short tight red dress. Did I mention it has Arnold Schwarzenegger?

9. The Terminator – Linda Hamilton meets the guy of her dream, gets pregnant, he dies and she kills a robot killing machine. Did I mention it has Arnold in it?

10. Some Like it Hot – Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe? Funny with gangsters, cross dressing and did I mention Marilyn?

Uncle Louis

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Top Ten Favorite Cartoon Characters

This list is the product of a conservative Baby Boomer upbringing.  I have not had much experience with the post modernist “adult” cartoons and anime’ genre’.  Just not interested.  I pay homage to one modern animated series that seems to me articulate and funny (especially if you grew up in East Texas), but I draw the line on, potty mouthed delinquents, floating french fries and shape-shifting wads of meat.

#10  Elmer Fudd has to be included because he was part of the greatest cartoon trilogy of all time – The Rabbit Season Trilogy by Chuck Jones.  “I’m hunting wabbits!  Hu, hu, hu, hu…..”

#9  Boris Badenof and Natasha Fatale.  I just loved these two evil nitwits.  Rocky and Bullwinkle were better than they were thanks to the quality of their adversaries.  Natasha’s “Borees, dahlink,” in that husky Lauren Bacall voice was classic.

#8  Hank Hill.  Hank, the slow talking patriarch of the Hill Clan in “King of the Hill” never quite understands the world around him.  Hank wants to live quietly and nobody will let him do it. I tend to be more like one of the characters that disturb his calm, but I can certainly sympathize with the poor schmuck that has to put up with people like us.  That’s Hank. The stream of life isn't really passing him by. He just doesn’t like having to take off his shirt to go swimming in it.

#7  Donald Duck.  I have known Donald Ducks in my life.  Donald taught me how to ignore those “Donalds” when they went all berserk and unintelligible. Donald teaches us that uncontrolled anger makes you stupid and doesn’t really solve anything.

#6  Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown may be the “Charlie Browniest”, but I run a close second.  I’ve earned that nickname several times in my life and so my sympathies definitely lie with Charlie – the true believe and last original innocent.

#5  Snoopy.  I like Snoopy.  He doesn’t say a word but he has such a rich fantasy life, you have to admire him  Charles Schulz has to have known a beagle personally.  He wonderfully captured their strange “secret life” away from their human companions.  My beagle Suzy used to sit on the upstairs deck and do the “vulture” thing and I never have figured out what she did all day sniffing around in the woods.  I can imagine her as the WWI flying ace sneaking back to the pub for a root beer after being shot down by the Red Baron.  Schulz nailed it!

#4  Bugs Bunny.  Bugs irritates me with his cocky attitude, but as a rabbit just trying to get to the end of the picture without getting shot, you have to root for him.  Besides, he’s had some of the best lines in the history of cartoons.
       “Of course you realize this means war!” - Bugs Bunny

#3  Daffy Duck. I know this is heretical, but I actually like Daffy better than Bugs. Daffy, like Wiley Coyote is a victim of his own hubris.  Constantly snared in traps set by his own ego, whether destroying himself all on his own as Duck Dodgers or as Bugs Bunny’s perfect foil in the perfect cartoon, Rabbit Seasonings, Daffy is fall on the floor funny.

“Poor old Bugs. But, anyway you look at it, it's better HE should suffer. After all, it was me or him, and obviously it couldn't be me. It's a simple matter of logic. I'm not like other people, I can't stand pain, it hurts me.”  - Daffy Duck

#2  Mickey Mouse, uncle Walt’s wistful alter ego, revolutionized the animation industry and set cartoons on the path to greatness.  Besides, Mickey’s outings were genuinely funny for all that he was a pioneer.

#1  Wiley Coyote – Genius.  Poor Wiley is the most inept evil genius ever to grace a movie or television screen.  Chuck Jones’ poignant masterpiece reached the apex of comedic timing in his epic battles with the simple, yet speedy Road Runner.

*Author's note:  I realize I've left out the modern giants like Homer and Bart Simpson, Eric Cartman and Stewie Griffin, but I can't watch those guys. When the language and themes of an animated series get to be too ugly for me to watch, it kind of puts them out of the running for all their postmodern witticism.

© 2009 by Tom King

Monday, September 7, 2009

My Top Ten Media Personalities, Journalists and Commentators

Over the years I've watched a lot of news and editorial programs on radio and TV and read a lot of stuff in the newspapers.  I'm going to list here, my personal top ten figures in the news media who influenced me along the way.  Remember, I was born in 1954, so I missed folks like Edward R. Murrow and those guys.  This is an eclectic list and is in order of when I first became aware of them, NOT in order of greatest impact.

# 1. Walter Cronkite:  It was in the wake of the assasination of John F. Kennedy that I first sat beside the TV and listened to Uncle Walter tell America about our fallen president. Through the coming decades, the moon landing, Vietnam and the Cold War, it was his was the voice we turned to when we wanted to know what was going on.  He may have been an old leftie, but he was ever inch an American.

# 2. Dick West:  Dick West was a columnist and editor at the Dallas Morning News.  His column was syndicated in the Cleburne Times-Review newspaper that I delivered on my bicycle 6 days a week for 3 years in 6th, 7th and 8th grade. I read his column every day.  It was funny and serious. He was conservative, even by the standards of the 60's and warned against the excesses of the radicals of the time.  He was articulate and made me want to write a newspaper column. He got me hooked on writing opinion pieces of my own. His columns were part of the reason I took English-Communications in College.

#3. Charles Schultz:  I used to be an avid reader of the comics section of the newspaper, but I never was a fan of any strip until "Peanuts" came along. Charlie Schultz' round-headed kid and I have a lot in common. People still call me "Charlie Brown" and I take it as a compliment.  I learned a lot about how to survive in the world if you're a shy person from Charlie.  From Snoopy, I learned how not to care what the rest of the world thinks and to create your own vivid world with yourself as the hero.  Heady stuff for the funny pages!  

# 4. Ronald Reagan:  In the 70's I was too busy starting a family and paying the bills to pay much attention to the news.  But there was one weekly radio commentator, I tried to catch whenever I could.  After losing the 1976 Republican nomination to Gerald Ford, Reagan started doing a weekly radio editorial. After I heard the first one, I was hooked!  He was clear, positive and had the greatest voice since Walter Cronkite. Reagan's addresses completed my transformation to conservatism.

# 5. Paul Harvey:  Paul Harvey had always been there, I just somehow missed him.  Then, sometime in the 80's I found his lunch time news show on 820 AM WBAP in Dallas. I caught it every day I could get near a radio at noon from then till he died last year. The man was priceless!

# 6. Rush Limbaugh:  I stumbled on Rush in the 90's. As I prepared to launch my children into adulthood and the wider world, I suddenly completed my political transformation from what my high school buddy Mark called a liberal conservative, to a solid conservative. I began to grow impatient with the Republican party and to separate myself from the party. Regretfully, I became an Independent.  I almost always voted Republican, except in the case of Blue Dog Democrat Ralph Hall, who was congressman for the 1st district in East Texas.  Limbaugh sometimes got a little out there on environmental issues, but he made us laugh and humor was something conservatives badly needed to master.

# 7. Bill Watterston:  Watterston wrote brilliant commentary on the human condition through his comic strip, "Calvin and Hobbs".  Calvin, an ADD elementary school terror and his dry witted stuffed tiger Hobbs threw a light on my own life story, revealing some thing I recognized about myself.  The strip was a revelation and then one day, Bill was done.  He disappeared into the woods and hasn't been seen since. Bill is my kind of writer. My problem is that I disappeared into the woods BEFORE I wrote my masterwork!  Ah, well.

# 8. Charlie Gibson:  Okay, before anyone stones me, I know which direction Charlie leans, but he anchored Good Morning America with Joan London, then Diane Sawyer and they were the best thing going in the morning. I got used to Charlie in the morning and I liked him. He kept his politics low-key for the most part and didn't seem nearly as disingenuous as Peter Jennings who had a kind of self-righteousness to his editorializing that I never warmed to.  Charlie moved my news watching to mornings. He and I watched the second plane hit the twin towers that horrible day and he said what I was thinking.

# 9. Glenn Beck:  Glenn Beck was a revelation.  I'd never experienced a news commentator quite like him. He had Limbaugh's wit, Sean Hannity's intensity and O'Reilly's ability to pick apart a bogus argument without most of their flaws. He has an ability to let his guest finish a sentence.  He's modest and honest about who he is.  He calls himself a rodeo clown.  And he cries on the air!  That is so cool.  I thought I was the only conservative that got all blubbery over this stuff. Beck is on a "mission from God" to quote John Belushi's memorable Blues Brother, Jake. I wish him Godspeed!

# 10.  Matt Drudge:  I kept hearing Rush Limbaugh and others talk about the "Drudge Report" and quote all these wild stories that you never hear in the mainstream media.  I finally looked him up.  Wow!  What a treasure trove of information Drudge has created here.  Drudge is one of the original bloggers and a pioneer of today's Internet blogosphere.  Matt brought respect to conservative bloggers and was a big part of getting them a desk at the political conventions.  He remains an anonymous figure - I don't know his face.  Wouldn't recognize him on the street, but the Drudge Report is the bane of the existence of every crooked politician in America.  Good on ya', Matt.  That's all I've got to say.

Tom King
Flint, TX

P.S.  I have to add one more.  I know I said "10", but it's my column and I've got one new inspiration that's happened within the past year. To wit.......

# 11. Michelle Malkin:  Malkin is a new discovery for me.  Her meteoric rise as a self-employed journalist is simply amazing.  Michelle turned news media on its ear by creating  a one woman news bureau. She was the first blogger whose face I came to recognize and I've started reading her stuff.  I have to admire her independence. She can be sharp tongued which I, as a shy person, find uncomfortable, but then she's in there with some of the sharpest tongues every whittled.  You've got to give her credit for hanging in there against some savage old media roosters that do not like the idea of a tiny Asian woman trespassing on their turf.  I get a kick out of that.  "She's got sand," as Rooster Cogburn used to say!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Top Ten Sci-Fi Movies or TV Series

People will be very unhappy with me over this list, but I don't care.  I like my Sci-Fi of the hard variety. I'm not much on magic, fantasy and heaving bosoms, although that cannot always be avoided, nor should it be if heaving is somehow within the context of the plot and not just gratuitous.......

Never mind!

To wit, the list........

#10.  Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - I love this one because of its devestating satire of bureaucracies and governments in general.  A Sci-Fi film a Republican can really love.  Best line. "Stand back, I'm British. If there's one thing we know, it's how to queue."

#9  Independence Day - Will Smith dragging that smelly alien through the desert and cussing him out the whole way!.  Best scene in the move.  Wonderful cast.  Upbeat ending, even though the Earth was pretty beat up by the time the war was over.

#8  Men in Black - The series is funny and intelligent at the same time.  Tommy Lee Jones is priceless and a perfect foil for Will Smith.

#7  Galaxy Quest - Fall on the floor funny spoof of the Star Trek genre. It gets funnier every time I see it. Tim Allen is a better Kirk than Kirk.

#6  Contact - I love Jody Foster in this and I loved that Carl Sagan wimped out a little on his anti-God argument in this one. Terrific scratch for an old mental itch.

#5  Star Trek - My favorite part of the series was II, III and IV with the loss and recovery of Spock and Kirk at his libidinous best.  The latest one in the series was stunning, however, and promises a rewrite of the entire Star Trek universe.  How cool is that?  I can't wait to see what happens next. You've got to admire the sand it took to make every Star Trek compendium in print obsolete in two hours.

#4  Outland - Sean Connery really carried this film.  It's one of my favorite hard sci-fi films.  High Noon on Io.

#3  Stargate SG-1 - The original movie with Kurt Russel and James Spader was pretty good, but it took Richard Dean Anderson and crew to make this a decade of sci-fi television unequaled in the history of television sci-fi.

#2  Star Wars - The first one will always have a special place in my heart, but I liked the whole movie series.  I even liked Jar Jar Binks, so there!

#1  Serenity - I have a real soft spot for Malcolm Reynolds and his crew.  The TV series was the best series science fiction ever on television with Stargate SG-1 running a close second.

I left out a lot of good ones.  Blade Runner (too dark), Matrix (too much like a video game), 2001 (would be my #11, but it kind of puts me to sleep and is a bit obtuse; I liked 2010 better).  Then there was Superman which was essentially Sci-Fi in the first episode, but went steadily more cartoony thereafter.  I liked Cocoon and Explorers and the Back to the Future Series.  BTTF would probably be my #12, if not further up the list for sheer fun.  The Alien series missed the list because it was too much of a horror movie and I don't like horror movies.

Honorable mention goes to a weird little John Carpenter film called "Dark Star" from back in the late 60's or early 70's.  This little gem has to be seen to be believed. It's just fun.  The conversation between the acting captain and the bomb over whether it should blow itself and the ship to bits was a classic.  And I completely missed the BBC's priceless offering - Red Dwarf.  You just have to see that one to appreciate it.  Dwarf probably lands at #13.  I may have to expand this to a top 20.

Lot's of you will disagree with my choices, but I don't care.  Make your own list.

This one's mine.


Top Ten Hardest Musical Instruments to Play

Instrument: Didgeridoo
Difficulty factors: Hard to build, impossible breathing technique, sound varies from instrument to instrument, Noise to music gap is wide, practice tolerance by others - low
- Aboriginal craftsmen spend considerable time searching for a suitable tree to make into a didgeridoo. The difficult part is in finding a tree that has been suitably hollowed out by termites. If the hollow is too big or too small, it will make a poor quality instrument. Then, you have to learn circular breathing where you have to breath in through the nose while breathing out through the mouth. You can make a noise, but is it music?

Instrument: Bagpipes & Uillean pipes
Difficulty factors - Noise to music gap very wide, practice tolerance by others extremely low
- Bagpipes can be painful to listen to when well played. Poorly played they can be excruciating. That's why pipers march when they play - Makes it harder for snipers to hit them. Uillean pipers have to sit, so they don't last long. I don't think there's a soft setting for practice. At least with my banjo I can stuff a towel in the back and take the edge off it a little. With pipes you can't plug them into headphones or anything, so in order to learn to play the pipes you have to be able to afford an isolated practice site where the neighbors or your wife won't kill you.

Instrument: The violin and its cousins
Difficulty factors: Fretlessness, bow technique difficult to master, awkward position, noise to music gap wide
- Bowed instruments like the violin have a long learning curve, practice time can be painful for loved ones and neighbors. Not as loud as the bagpipes, but the slightly off-key scales and practice tunes can grate on the nerves of everyone, including the player. You have to have a good ear for pitch to master it. If you don't, you'll never be any good.

Instrument: Pedal Steel Guitar
Difficulty factor - too many things to do at once
- This one is simply physically challenging, practice isn't too painful for the listener, but the distance between making the notes pretty well and good music can take a while.

Instrument: Banjo
Difficulty factor - Doing 3 things at once, getting up to speed
- Banjo is easy to make sound on, chording isn't too tough, but getting your fingers up to speed and coordinated takes a lot of hours. Doing repetitive runs and rolls, practicing hammer ons, pull offs and slides and bumbling around high up on the neck and can make you distinctly unpopular round the house. If you're naturally uncoordinated, you may never be able to master it. Fretless banjo adds the difficulty of finding the pitch if you don't have naturally good pitch. You don't get any help from the frets.

Instrument: Oboe and anything with a reed in it
Difficulty factor: Getting rid of the squeal
- My wife was good at the oboe. Nobody else in her band would even get near the thing. She has perfect pitch and is a genius on the musical aptitude scale - it makes me crazy. She can just listen to something and know if it sounds right. Me, I can only judge whether I'm in tune by the rate of incoming wilted vegetables and spoiled fruit.

Instrument: French Horn
Difficulty factor: Getting sound from the thing
- All the difficulty of getting the lip thing going plus you have to hold it funny and it's hard to get sound from.

Instrument: The Human Voice
Difficulty factor: You need perfect pitch to be any good, you either inherit a good voice or you don't
- Though Bob Dylan seems to be the exception to the rule, the rule is pretty tough to overcome. You can whisper sing like Richard Harris and get away with it, but he did some training you can bet. If you're Earl, you let Lester do the singin'.

Instrument: Accordion
Difficulty factor: The constant ridicule and lack of respect
- You've got to admire Flaco Jimenez and the guy from Lawrence Welk and all the Irish squeezebox guys and the polka guys and the guys from Brave Combo. The accordion player gets so much abuse, never gets girls and has to deal with the back strain of carrying around what is essentially a small pump organ. It's a wonder anyone ever learns to play Twinkle, Twinkle little star, much less masters the thing.

Instrument: Electric sewer pipes
Difficulty factor: Telling your Dad he's paying for you to go to Julliard so you can study the electric sewer pipes
- I don't know of anyone but Blue Man group that plays the sewer pipes. I had hoped that, upon hearing them play the sewer pipes that PVC pipes would become the next musical fad, but was disappointed. I guess the instrument is so original that everyone else would have been derivative who tried to pick it up (kind of like Riverdance without Michael Flately or like the fat sweaty step dancers in that commercial).

Instrument: Tabla
Difficulty factor: No one will tell you how to play unless you marry one of their women
- The playing technique for these drums from India involves extensive use of the fingers and palms in various configurations to create a wide variety of different types of sounds; these are reflected in the mnemonic syllables. The heel of the hand is also used to apply pressure, or in a sliding motion, so that the pitch is changed during the sound's decay. This "modulating" effect on the bass drum and the wide range of sounds possible on the instrument as a whole are the main characteristics that make tabla unique among percussion instruments. The preservation of these techniques is important amd for centuries the secrets of playing were closely guarded and only passed along family lines. Being born into or marrying into a lineage holding family was often the only way to gain access to this knowledge. Now that makes an instrument really tough to play. Kind of like if you had to marry Earl's daughter (assuming he had one to spare) in order to learn Foggy Mountain Breakdown. I'd hope she was really cute, you know.



Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

(reprinted from "Just One Man's Opinion" (c) Tom King: 8/17/2007)