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 quadrangle with the classic guy won girl but lost her, gets involved in romantic triangle, breaks up wedding with 4th 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?

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: 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 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, 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 did I mention it has 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 & 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 is not 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 & 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.

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.

Tom

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.

THAT'S MY TOP ELEVEN. TEN IF YOU DON'T COUNT THE VOICE AND SOME PEOPLE DON'T. I DO! I'VE HEARD PDQ BACH.

ANYWAY, THE LIST IS NOT DEFINITIVE BY ANY MEANS, BUT THERE IT IS.

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King


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