Sunday, February 24, 2019


[¡Mirad! La pelĂ­cula perfecta!]

Monday, February 18, 2019


Meanwhile, back at the Batcave . . .

The Upside

More than thirty years ago I applied for a job supporting people diagnosed with autism.

Hell, I didn't know what "autism" was; this was the mid-80s, after all, a few years before "Rain Man." I was in the first years of college, and still pretty green. I heard the word "autism" once in a Child Development class, then remembered it when a woman from a local agency came on campus to recruit students to work for her upstart agency.

There were several reasons I applied for the job. My summer-time gig at Dairy Queen wasn't very satisfying, and the three majors I'd declared during my first two years of college (Speech Pathology, then English, and then Education -- yes, I was THAT student) weren't calling my name. I needed the cash, and I wanted to do something that helped people.

(That sounds like the CV of every human service professional I know.)

So, autism it was.

I met the person I was to support one Friday afternoon, just to become acquainted and help prepare him (and me) for my first shift on Monday. I went expecting to meet a disabled stereotype. Instead, I met a person who was genuinely kind, innocent, and interesting.

I was immediately hooked, and I've worked in the field every day since.

One of the reasons I was immediately hooked was the sudden jolt out of the paradigm with which I went to that meeting. I was told to expect one thing, and I discovered another. Curious, I wanted to hang around and learn more. One of the things I learned first was that the man I was hired to help instead helped me.

He helped me learn about who I am as a human being. He helped me learn to see the world from a new perspective. He helped me understand the joy that can come from selfless service. And most importantly, he taught me to view humanity from a humanistic perspective.

The friendship that is forged during The Upside is wonderful to watch, and the two leads use nuanced, subtle techniques to portray two people who are evolving into better human beings. It's the growth of Dell Scott, played masterfully by Kevin Hart, that's most enjoyable to watch. Scott entered into his caregiver job a selfish person, interested only in helping himself. At the end of the flick we see him understand that it's what we do for others that improves life quality.

The Upside is not just a feel-good movie. Cranston and Hart are worth the price of admission. And if you leave the cinema a better person, that's just gravy.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Whatever Happened To . . . Tommy Okon. (40th Anniversary Re-Post)

It's hard to believe this commercial is 40 years old this year . . .

In the classic Coke ad  (click link to see the ad) from 1979, 9-year old Tommy Okon gives his hero, football legend Mean Joe Green, a bottle of Coca-Cola to help sooth Green's aches and pains. After chugging the soda, Green repays Okon by tossing the kid a game-worn jersey.

Anyone who ever drank a Coke from a glass bottle knows Green got the better of that deal! A tall, glass-bottled Coke in the 70s was --not "similar to," but "was"-- nectar from the gods.

According to sources on the internets, Okon quit acting shortly after auditioning for and losing the lead in the 1981 TV movie based on the ad, The Steeler And The Pittsburgh Kid. The sources report Okon now owns and operates a stone installation business in Queens, N.Y.

Oh, yeah: Rams in an upset, 27-14

Saturday, February 02, 2019

The One Where I Say Bill Maher Is Wrong About Comic Book Culture

In response to the outpouring of appreciation for Stan Lee from comic book fans soon after Lee's death in 2018, comedian Bill Maher wrote on his website an essay titled "Adulting," in which he suggested comic book culture is childish and stupid.

Later, on Larry King Now, Maher added: "A culture that thinks that comic books or comic book movies are profound meditation on the human condition is a dumb fucking culture."

I don't care much for Maher. Never did, really, even though he and I probably share similar world views on many topics. He works the clever-guy gimmick a little too hard for my taste, and that's off-putting. He mocks people who have different beliefs and lifestyles than does he, and his mockery is mean-spirited. He questions the intelligence of people based on their regional accent. He pokes fun at the discipline of people who are overweight. He mocks people for having religious faith.

I may understand and even agree with some of his viewpoints -- I'm an ardent atheist, after all -- but I wouldn't presume to think the answers I found work for me in my life can or even should apply to others.

He's an arrogant prick. So my initial response to Maher over his comic book hating was: "Fuck you." But, that didn't feel satisfying. Something continued to nag me about his comment for days after. 

That's because Maher's comments are specifically about me, and people like me. People who found the culture of comics to be an inviting, interesting, and educational space. Comics played a key role in shaping who I am. Here are some examples:

1. I grew up in West Virginia, which has a predominantly white population. Further, I lived my first 18 years in Nicholas County, WV, which had more than a 98% white demographic, and an even higher percentage of that identify as Christian. While there I rarely met or interacted with people different from me in culture or race.

I learned about racial diversity from comic books. Reading about Black Panther, Black Lightening, Tyroc (from the Legion of Super-Heroes), Falcon, Power Man, and more helped me understand aspects of black culture I could learn nowhere in real life. Many of those stories were about the challenges racial minority heroes faced fitting into a white majority society. My 10 year old self was paying attention.

I learned that from comic books.

2. I learned about social justice from comic books. Captain America fought Nazis and Jewish persecution. Early Superman comics -- and the hero was underpowered then compared to his modern day version -- was focused almost solely on fighting for the common man against greed. Green Arrow and Batman taught me that it's not the billions you have that makes you powerful, it's how you use your resources to improve your community.

I learned that from reading comic books.

3. Outside of public school teachers I knew no women who worked outside the home. Women in my family and their female friends worked hard to raise children and manage the home, but they didn't consider professional careers. And most saw themselves as being subservient to their husbands. It was the way things were then and there. It was obvious to me, even as a child.

Wonder Woman taught me that women can be equal to men in intelligence and determination, and that a woman can be a leader of both men and women. Female comic superheroes like Black Orchid, Vixen, Mary Marvel, Black Canary, Invisible Woman, and the Wasp taught me more about feminism than I would ever have learned about it from observing my surroundings. Women are strong.

I learned that from reading comic books.

4. I'll never forget the DC Comic storyline "Snowbirds Don't Fly," in which Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy fights a heroin addiction. I felt sorry for Speedy, but I felt more empathy for Green Arrow as he tried to help is friend recover. The storyline helped me see the effects of drug use on those who love the addict. I learned about inclusion from the pages of early X-Men. Their plight fit perfectly with the challenges of all minority types trying to fit into a majority society. I learned about teamwork from Justice League and Justice Society tales. And far-out realities in comics -- parallel universes and multiple worlds -- made me interested in, and caused me to read more about, science.

I learned those things from reading comic books.

5. Perhaps the thing I learned most from comics is that "with great power comes great responsibility." Spider-Man stories taught me that people with power, whatever that power or authority may be, should wield it judiciously and with thoughtful humility. Otherwise, you're just a bully picking on people who have less power than do you.

Bill Maher, who has great power based on an HBO show and millions of fans, should learn that from reading a comic book. 

Bohemian Rhapsody

Despite being a fan of Queen -- I mean, who isn't, right? -- I avoided the flick Bohemian Rhapsody for as long as I could before catching it earlier this week on Amazon Prime. I avoided it for the same reason I sometimes fast-forward to the rock portion of the hit song; that part where Brian May's guitar and the lyric "so you think you can love me and spit in my eye" give the song a full injection of sass and attitude.

Com'on, you've done that too, right? Skip to that part? I mean, the tragic opera set-up tells an awesome story. But after a while all the scaramouchies and fandangos, all the thunderbolts and lightning can be very very frightening to me.

Plus, the flick received so-so reviews outside Rami Malek's channeling of Freddie Mercury.

Oh man, was waiting a mistake. Bohemian Rhapsody is a wonderful film. What it lacks in presenting a true bio-pic (come on, naysayers, you can't expect a 134 minute movie to depict accurately a band's rise to legendary status) it more than makes up in exploring the tragic loneliness of Freddie Mercury.

And that's the real story, isn't it? The story we really want to watch and hear about?

I think most Queen fans will agree with me that no matter how much we loved Queen as a band -- the great songs, brilliant instrumentals, perfect harmonies -- it was Mercury's strut and attitude that pulled us into the fan club. And, as Bohemian Rhapsody points out well, there was something missing from Mercury's personal life that he found on stage. Finding it there allowed him to feel alive, and it transformed him into a Rock and Roll God.

I always find it ironic that the tragic lifestyle of an artist can inspire work so great that it makes millions of people happy. But that tragedy is the secret sauce of Queen.

And, it's what makes this movie really special.

The Wife

The phrase, "Behind every great man there's a great women," most likely came from the early 20th century feminist movement, designed to shift focus to the idea that while women have been traditionally considered a help-mate to their bread-wining husbands, they have quiet but significant influence on his success.

I never liked that phrase. Sure, I get that it draws attention to the woman in the relationship who, otherwise, may go unnoticed in the periphery. But there's something that feels patronizing about the slogan, and that irks me. 

Growing up, I never knew women -- outside of public school teachers -- who worked outside the home. The women-folk in the young Film Geek's family worked hard, every day, to care for kids and manage the complexities of a home and family. But the culture of that place and time prevented many women from considering the pursuit of a career. And, I think, until very recently that paradigm has been the standard. 

(I wonder how many potentially great female artists, scientists, business leaders, and politicians have missed fulfilling that potential simply because of how society views a woman's role.)

The Wife explores the life of a couple who've lived a lifetime inside this paradigm. We see the results of sexism on a professional career, and how it affects the psychological and emotional stability of a couple.  

Glenn Close received a well-deserved Academy Award nomination in the title role. Her performance as Joan Archer is complex and nuanced, and it's a joy to watch as she finds confidence to step out of the shadow of her husband. Jonathan Pryce is brilliant as Joseph Castleman. He plays him as self-involved but likeable, which allows the audience to feel compassion for him even as we recognize his propensity to be a selfish asshole. And Annie Stark -- the real-life daughter of Glenn Close -- is remarkable as a young Joan Archer. 

Stark's a real find, and I predict this film will catapult her into more leading and starring roles.  

Sometime after watching the movie, the lyrics from the Eurythmics "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves" kept singing in my head. I think those lyrics form a better slogan than does the aforementioned feminism-era phrase about equality between the sexes:

Now there was a time when they used to say
That behind every - great man.
There had to be a - great woman.
But in these times of change you know
That it's no longer true.
So we're comin' out of the kitchen
'Cause there's somethin' we forgot to say to you (we say)
Sisters are doin' it for themselves.
Standin' on their own two feet.
And ringin' on their own bells.
Sisters are doin' it for themselves.