Joe Strauss: One of a Kind Journalist

The world lost a good journalist Sunday.

Joe Strauss/STL Today

Joe Strauss was late. Matt Holliday had just left the media room at the 2014 Winter Warmup and Strauss had wanted to ask him a question. It was a familiar question but the spin Strauss put on it was unique. Derrick Goold and Jenifer Langosch had asked him the same question but in a different way. It pertained to Holliday’s new teammate, Jhonny Peralta, and his past PED suspension. Strauss walked into the writers room, sat down and asked, “So did Holliday put up his usual moral police stance on PED?”

When I first heard it, I was mad. Enraged. I thought to myself, “What was Holliday supposed to do, tell General Manager John Mozeliak not to sign Peralta because Holliday was so Anti-PED?” I wanted to take a run at Strauss and challenge him. This is was what made Strauss so good at his job. He asked the uncomfortable questions other journalists only thought about afterwards.

Strauss challenged players, coaches, GM’s, his fellow writers and most importantly, fans, to see the other side of the spectrum. The dirty uneven side of an issue rarely talked about. He got me mad about his Holliday claim, but he also got me thinking real hard about my own stance on PED, Holliday’s comments and the future of the game in relation to this reputation. In that one moment, he did what he did best. He challenged me.

Strauss left us Sunday, at the young age of 54, from complications in his battle with leukemia. Like his late fellow colleague Bryan Burwell, Strauss didn’t make his fight with cancer a public one. He fought it behind closed doors, in an abandoned warehouse in his own space where he saw fit. He fought it since January and even survived long enough to write his best most hard hitting column last month about the Mizzou crisis. It was his final swing at a plate where he dominated for many years as a beat reporter and short period as a columnist.

I rarely agreed with Strauss but I respected him more than the people I often agreed with. Does that make sense? Often, Strauss kicked a leg out on the comfy bandwagon many fans rode on. He liked to spin the wheel like calling out young starter Carlos Martinez during a rough patch, discuss the possibility of a player using performance enhancing drugs or challenging popular thought. He did this so much that Albert Pujols nicknamed him “El Diablo”. You know what though…Pujols respected him. So did I.

Strauss didn’t dress flashy or bring an IPhone into media gatherings to take pics of players. It wasn’t required. Imagine Peter Falk’s Columbo dressing like a reporter, and that was Strauss. He had one goal and an initiative every time he entered the press box. He stood there and traded shots with Tony La Russa on many occasions. He made colleagues nervous. He got on Twitter and poked the Best Fans in Baseball with trivial observations. If narrative was water, Joe Strauss was oil. They didn’t mix and he liked it that way.

When I cover the Winter Warmup next month, I’ll miss Strauss. That’s the last thing I thought I would say this year but it’s true. I’ll miss his presence keeping every other scribe honest. I’ll miss his curveballs and verbal fastballs that made players do a double take before answering. I’ll miss seeing a Twitter notification from him rubbing people the wrong way and causing fellow journalism students to formulate a popular defense. I’ll miss the 140 character batches of tears he caused.

This has been a terribly drastic year of loss for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Burwell passed away from cancer last December. Film critic Joe Williams died in a tragic car accident this past summer. Now Strauss is gone. I had the opportunity to talk to all three, debated with them and respected them. I learned from each of them. The world lost three different kinds of fire.

Young journalists should read Strauss’ work. Study it. Take the articles apart. Read them over and over again. There’s a world of knowledge in there. I doubt a hardcore fan can read more than two Strauss takes without feeling a fiery pull inside their heart and throat. A need to debate his point of view. It’s hard to not get fired up about his various stances over the years. His work will live on, growing legs that hopefully touch many up and coming scribes.

Joe Strauss was a journalist who would run towards a player or manager when others decided to retreat. He was never afraid of finding dirt. Sometimes, a writer(even myself) can struggle with that particular initiative. Do you write something that makes you the bad yet honorable scribe? Do you ask that question that may divide a room? Joe was that guy. I feel honored to have known him. Rest in peace Joe.

Cardinals: Mike Leake isn’t flashy but effective

Signing Mike Leake shored up a hole in the Cardinals rotation and gave them five years of depth.

Sometimes when you are walking along the buffet line, you fill your plate with the less than savory option. Pork steak instead of brisket. You have to eat something and don’t want to wait on the next serving. That’s what the St. Louis Cardinals did in signing free agent starting pitcher Mike Leake. They quenched their hunger for innings in the rotation with a dependable starter. The deal is five years and 80 million dollars, which comes out to an average annual income of 16 million. Thank Jeff Samardzija for that one but also understand market value moves in tricky ways. Most recently, up.

Leake split time in 2015 between the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants, faring worse in the spacious ballpark of AT&T Park than he did in the home run friendly confines of Great American Ballpark. Leake’s FIP(fielding independent pitching) was a nasty 4.83 with the Giants is the one true warning sign with Leake. He puts a lot of balls in play, which will keep Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong busy. His hits allowed per nine innings, 8.3, isn’t bad but he will require great infield defense to be effective. As my colleague Caesar McCruddy of The Roo pointed out, Leake is a Jeff Suppan type. He won’t overpower you but get plenty of contact, throw strikes, hit his marks and get outs.

Leake pitched well against the Cards in Busch Stadium, especially in 2015, compiling an ERA of 2.23 at the home ballpark. Leake was also exceptional on the road last year, posting an ERA of 2.91 in 102 innings with a 0.9 WHIP.

Mike Leake offers the Cards a dependable 3rd starter type, which is what the rotation needs with the loss of Lance Lynn and John Lackey. They need a guy who can give them 190-200 innings and produce quality starts throughout the season. A rotation with leaks bound to spring open(Waino’s age, Martinez’s shoulder, Garcia’s entire body) needs an ordinary yet effective innings guy like Leake.

Over his six year career, Leake has averaged over 200 innings, posted an ERA below four and a strikeouts to walks ration of 2.65:1. That isn’t Cy Young worthy or ulcer inducing worry. It’s middle of the pack effective and that is the what the Cards need.

Leake wasn’t my top choice because I didn’t want to give five years to a #3 type with Lynn returning and the young talent on the rise in Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, Austin Gomber coming up. Tim Cooney could be ready for MLB service and may be as competent as Leake sooner rather than later. I wrote Monday night that I preferred a stop gap type in Mark Buehrle for a year over five years of Leake. However, while I didn’t prefer Leake’s services, that doesn’t mean he is bad for the team. Once again, he’s pork steak.

Steamer projections at Fangraphs have Leake posting a record of 11-12 with a 4.22 FIP and 3.88 ERA to go with 193 innings and a 2.0 WAR. At an annual salary of 16 million, that doesn’t sound too exciting but unfortunately, in this market, that is what you get. Leake won’t blow anyone away but he’s durable and effective. A move to a pitcher’s park in Busch will only boost his numbers.

Leake is only 28 years old, so the contract will expire when he is 33 years old, which is reasonable. Due to the in season 2015 trade, Leake didn’t cost the Cards a compensation pick. They still have all three at their disposal. Leake, via Tom Ackerman, has shut down new Cub centerfielder Jason Heyward in his career, holding him to a .071 batting average(1-14) with three strikeouts.

A winter spending session that started with John Mozeliak looking at David Price has ended with Leake. There’s no denying it’s a disappointment but consider this. What the Cardinals needed in a free agent starter was a replacement for Lance Lynn.  In Leake, they got a #4 starter who could possibly pitch like a #3. While he doesn’t strike out as many as Lynn(and gives up an average of 21 home runs), Leake is a basic replacement pitcher for Lynn that down the road could be an excellent #5 at the very least.

The Leake signing will look especially tasty if the Cards can land a bat for the lineup. It won’t matter if they get Price or Lynn production out of Leake if the lineup can’t produce more than 2.9 runs per game(the Cardinals average for last two years combined). If you find a Leake, you need a strong patch to seal it folks. Simple as that.

So let’s recap to this point. 

The Cards have subtracted Pete Kozma, Peter Bourjos, Jon Jay, Tony Cruz, Mark Reynolds and Steve Cishek.

They added Leake, Jedd Gyorko, Brayan Pena and retained Jonathan Broxton and Brandon Moss.

They failed to sign David Price and Jason Heyward.

Chris Davis, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon are still out there. Each offer pop, versatility and something unique. Each have hazard labels attached. The Colorado Rockies have Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon at their disposal for a trade.

What happens next, Cardinal Nation?  Sign Cespedes and it will be a Happy New Year if you ask me.

Christmas Vacation: The perfect holiday flick

26 years later, Christmas Vacation is still the must see holiday film for me to watch. Here’s a reason to check it out.

Every patriarch knows the pain of Clark Griswold around the holidays. Trust me. The collision of family, responsibility of family, and the undeniable tension that comes with Christmas. One of John Hughes’ best scripts was Christmas Vacation and over 25 years later, it still has bite left in it. Some heat on its fastball. The movie still plays extremely well, all the jokes zinging like they were written yesterday and the actors buying in with great comic relief.

Warner Brothers Pictures

Most of the actors aren’t working much anymore. Chevy Chase was a movie star back then, but he has the occasional cameo or TV show these days. Randy Quaid’s Cousin Eddie still draws the best moments of the film, but the actor has gone cucko the past decade. Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecko(Big Bang Theory) aren’t exactly sleeping on the job, but they aren’t household names. That’s the jewel of some films. The movie undoubtedly outlasts the cast when it comes to value.

While The Christmas Story and It’s A Wonderful Life carry a certain special place in many movie fans hearts(and for good reason), Christmas Vacation is my gem and go to holiday film. I remember watching it with my dad many times as a kid, reveling in the awkward yet hilarious scenes between Quaid and Chase that draw the true laughs. As I have grown older and started a family of my own, the film has gained reverence and stature. Some things you just don’t understand when you are a kid. Meeting your parents’ expectations. Being a hero to your kids. Having the best house on the block. I see parts of Clark in myself and a lot of him in my dad. At their best, movies are mirror images of real life, especially when you watch them a few times.

The best part about Christmas Vacation was the honesty it depicted in family gatherings. The people you don’t look forward to seeing and the ones that cause your blood pressure to rise. Hughes didn’t sidestep the messy aspects of holiday dinners. It didn’t overdo the sap in the end either, involving cutthroat corporate policies with the strains it puts on certain families and the employees who hang their year end happiness on a bonus and not a jelly of the month membership. Without intention, Hughes created a classic that my son will be able to enjoy.

While Cousin Eddie’s raucous behavior will garner the most laughs, it’s the quiet moments with Clark and his family looking for trees, his comments to his co-workers at the end of a work day and an old man lighting a match next to a large tree with a squirrel in it that resonate. Every time I watch it, I pick up something different and unique.

This weekend, gather the family around and watch Christmas Vacation. Sure, your grandmother will talk about Chase’s roles in other films. Your uncle will register with Eddie’s thought process while he pops open his 15th beer. Your mother won’t understand why a man has to wear a hockey mask to trim a tree trunk. Your son will tell Clark to watch his language. Your dad won’t be able to take his eyes off the supermodel lingerie clerk and guess what, Julie Louise-Dreyfus gets attacked by a squirrel and a dog.

In the end, people will laugh and be glad they took it in. That’s Christmas. Flawed happiness that’s wholesome. That’s this movie. It’s perfect. It has bite, an edge and just enough warmth to keep your eyes from rolling.

One more thing. Don’t watch it on ABC Family. Get the unedited version. Spend the ten bucks at Target. The jokes land hard and right without a blanket attached for landing.

 

The Hateful Eight: QT’s best?

Hateful Eight may not be Tarantino’s best film, but it sure is great.

Quentin Tarantino was born to make movies. His latest, The Hateful Eight, is another example of how great he truly is and how he was born to make flicks. Sometimes, it happens like that in the make believe business. A master storyteller’s own life is a great story. Tarantino worked at a video rental shop while watching tons of movies and talking up Kung Fu flicks with anybody who would listen. He was a freak of film. Someone who needed it and craved it. Unlike millions of other, Tarantino had a vision. He wanted to make these things. Write and direct. Or nothing else.

Weinstein Company

Later on, he made a couple of groundbreaking films. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Movies with stunning violence, iconic characters, lots of profanity and extended unbroken takes of dialogue. Lots of talking. Philosophical. Direct. Poignant at times. Tarantino hasn’t shown the ability to hit the bullseye every time(Jackie Brown) but he’s never made a bad movie.

QT’s movies take place in the present day, the 90’s, during World War II or in latest case, after the American Civil War in the late 1800’s. No matter where they happen, it’s a QT joint. His signature touch exists in all of his films. You ask me the goal should be for every director in Hollywood and it’s the recognition an audience has when they see your film. They sit down and immediately know this is a Tarantino film.

The Hateful Eight carries that stamp early on, with the Ennio Morricone score, the Panavision powered opening, and the heavy hitting cast.

Every QT joint has three things:

*Lots of F-Bombs.

*Samuel L. Jackson in a great role that people will quote afterwards.

*Unusual kill scenes.

What’s it about? A group of bounty hunters, prisoners, killers, former soldiers and some of the most overall untrustworthy folks in the world meet in a cabin during a terribly brutal blizzard. Kurt Russell’s bounty hunter is transporting a prisoner, Daisy(Jennifer Jason Leigh) to be hanged. He picks up a fellow bounty hunter/ex-soldier(Jackson) and appointed sheriff(Walter Goggins) along the way. When they get to the cabin, something seems off. Mysterious men(Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern) are stuck in this same cabin. There are eight people total. Some people know others. Some do not.

Russell, nicknamed Hangman because he doesn’t kill people that are wanted dead or alive but takes them to hang because “other people have to make money too”, thinks they are there to stop Daisy from hanging. Jackson’s drifter is the opposite. He kills(a lot) but is civilized about it. It’s a treat to see the actor have another good time in a QT film. Jackson works a lot, too much if you ask me, and three of every four films he makes end up sucking. However, in Tarantino’s hands speaking a hypnotic brand of dialogue, Jackson shines like a brand new penny. The Jackson-Tarantino film relationship may not be as potent as Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, but five films in there hasn’t been a less than stellar performance.

Russell had one of his best roles in the last decade with Tarantino, playing Stunt Man Mike in Death Proof. Here, his ruthlessly violent John Ruth is a fair measure of good, bad and ugly. He isn’t the most evil but when he slugs Leigh’s Daisy a few times too many, it’s hard to stay sided with him. Goggins, a celebrated TV performer, also makes himself at home in Tarantino’s world here. He always plays men who are hard to trust yet impossible to take your eyes off him as he works. These three easily fare the best of the celebrated cast, and viewers won’t soon forget another legendary Jackson speech right around the 90 minute mark that sets off the furious action.

That’s right, folks, H8 is talky. Very talky. All Tarantino films involve extended dialogue scenes, verbal foreplay before the subplots and main plot are submerged together and people die. Full of characters who are either despicable or extra deadly or capable of the wrong things, it doesn’t take long before bad things happen. Oh, and Channing Tatum shows up and makes a brilliant entrance.

For my money, Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained had great moments but were both uneven films. They weren’t complete pleasures. They weren’t the usual QT masterpiece(Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill 2 setting that table). Far from average but a half mile short of greatness, those two films didn’t come close to the high mark that Hateful Eight achieves in one setting, eight main characters and a simple story line. No World War II villains needed. No slavery aided push. Just a group of gunslingers.

If you are a QT fan, you will love this film. It has all the trimmings one would expect in a Tarantino turkey. No one writes dialogue like this man. It’s realistic while carrying a graphic novel flair for the dramatic. The actors, handpicked gems like Madsen, all eat up the material like pros. Madsen is a unique breed of actor. He’s made over 245 films in his career but every time he hooks up with Quentin, a great character is formed. His Joe Cage is no different. Don’t trust him!

If you are not a QT fan, then this will shock you and ultimately, seduce you. If you appreciate original stories with no superheroes involved and crave an unsettling feel to a movie, Hateful Eight is your best dish available. I had a lot of fun with it and would watch the two hour and 47 minute film again. Once again, it’s a different kind of film and not for everybody. If QT made films for everybody, they’d be called The Hunger Games(come to think of it, I’d love to see him direct the prequels).

Is The Hateful Eight Tarantino’s best? Right now, it is not. Pulp Fiction is still his most assured, shocking, most funny and hypnotic slice of pie. This latest wild affair does come pretty close. Make a pot of coffee and bring it to the movie theater.

“Concussion”reconfigured my view of football

Concussion will change the way you look at football forever. It will get your attention.

Concussion/Columbia Pictures

The tale of the new film Concussion is simple. Dr. Bennet Omalu(Will Smith) didn’t want to destroy America’s game, football. He simply wanted to protect the players who take the field and absorb the thousands of hits. He wanted players to know what they were getting into. Peter Landesman’s new film isn’t fancy or covered in Oscar worthy ways from head to toe but its message will live on beyond our lifetimes. Football isn’t just a dangerous sport. It’s a deadly one.

The worst thing people will do when seeing this movie is wave it off as nonsense. They will go to their Sunday games, cheer on the big hit, and make short vines of football players getting rocked so hard that they are carried off the field afterwards. People will watch these over and over again. On Youtube, Sportscenter and NFL Network. Violence on any level fascinates the human brain. People hate to admit it, but it does. They will say the graceful aspect of the game pulls them in. Same for boxing fans who say the sweet science is the main allure, when in actuality it’s the hard knockouts they love. That’s why Mike Tyson was a stud and he couldn’t even box. People love violence so they will overlook this important film.

Omalu was a forensic neuropathologist. He’d cut open dead bodies and root out the cause of death, even talking to them before hand, like a corpse whisperer. He came upon an ex-NFL football legend, Mike Webster and found brain bleeds and swelling that would suggest Alzheimer’s but that wasn’t it. It was what he would later call Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy(CTE). If it sounds like a handful, imagine being an former pro football player under 50 years old who pulled his teeth out and used super glue to put them back. As Omalu tells a room full of skeptics towards the end of the film, “A football player should know he may break a bone or two. He shouldn’t know he would lose his mind.”

The doctor pulled a rug out from under people’s normal thought process. Millions of people figured football players knew or were at least informed about the long term effects of concussions. They weren’t. Players had no idea their brain was being slammed, dislodged and slowly releasing protein on every big hit like a racquetball being juggled inside a small jar.

Smith is amazing as Omalu, adapting the accent, mannerisms and imbuing the part with strength. This may be his finest work yet, and he has been nominated for Oscars before. I had my doubts going into the film, but Smith did the role great justice. Without his conviction, the story wouldn’t resonate.

Omalu was threatened by the NFL. The government came down on his boss’ practice and tried to derail him. As a fellow doctor tells him, he gave the league’s biggest Boogeyman a name. America dedicated a day of the week to football and here was this doctor, who wasn’t even a citizen of the United States, trying to tell them football is bad for the brain like smoking is on the lungs. No one wanted to believe it until former players started dropping like flies to suicide and their brains had no other answers. How do you define madness if you don’t register or appreciate the science behind it?

You will be shocked at this film. It will reconfigure your thought process on football. I may not stop watching the game, but I will never look at it the same again. You can’t unsee what is shown to you in this film. If Landesman’s film doesn’t come off as Oscar worthy, it’s only because it plays for the most part like a documentary, albeit with great performances. Its effect won’t fully land for years. There are rumblings though.

Chris Borland, San Francisco 49ers running back, retired this year after one season in the NFL, giving up three million. Patrick Willis gave up 7.8 million dollars at the age of 30. Jake Locker retired as a free agent at 26 after making 12.6 million. Jason Worilds retired even though every team wanted him. He was 27 years old. They are getting out early, due to the effects of CTE. Maybe they all won’t admit that, but it’s true. You can read more about that here.

The NFL won’t do a thing. They will keep trying to read a book with the lights turned off. They want nothing to do with the 16 million being donated to CTE research. Recently, former player Eric Winston pledged to donate his brain to research. Everybody is taking action except for the NFL. High School coaches are teaching new methods of tackling, but the hits are still hard and the effects are excessive. At least now players know what can happen. That is all Dr. Omalu wanted to do. Raise awareness for football players about the dangers of entering into this game.

Sorry if this review started off as a “should you see this or not” practice and devolved into an expose, but sometimes the morals and meanings of particular films take a hold of you in unexpected ways. While it isn’t memorable in how it was made or feature brilliant direction, Concussion hits hard enough as it is delivered. It doesn’t need the extra cute trimmings. It’s got the truth and an Oscar worthy Will Smith.

Imagine walking up to a door. The person outside the door says, “Go in, participate, you may get hurt initially but there are no long term effects, oh and do this for 8-10 years.” So you walk in and absorb more punishment than ever thought. You are paid handsomely but were unaware of the cost of the game. Welcome to the NFL.

Do me a favor and the next time you watch a game and see a big hit, register how you first react. Don’t look around too much. Don’t think. Just react. You know how I will react now when I see a helmet to helmet hit between a helpless ball carrier and another man leaving his feet to take out that other guy…I will be nauseous. Unsettled. I’m not sure how passionately I will follow this game. It won’t be easy. Hypocritical behavior will follow because I am one of those people who claim to love the beautiful pass or methodical movement of an offense downfield. I will struggle at times with this game. There is beauty in it but ridiculous amounts of danger. What if players knew 30-40 years ago what we knew now?

Concussion begs you to consider that question. Is this a great overall movie? That is debatable. Should it get your attention? Absolutely. It will have mine for decades. When my son asks about football, Concussion will be on my mind.  One of those rare instances where movies aren’t just entertainment. They are transcendent.

Concussion/Columbia Pictures

Movie Reviews: 200 words or less

Five movies. Five reviews. 200 words or less each.

Let’s try something new. Movie reviews in less than 250 words. When people look for movie reviews, they don’t want to worn down with prose. It’s not a best selling novel on their agenda. Give the goods and do it quick. So let me run over some recent films I have watched in 200 words or less.

Digging For Fire(directed by Joe Swanberg)-On Demand/Redbox/ITunes

Lucky Coffee Productions

Drinking Buddies > Digging for Fire. Swanberg’s last(Olivia Wilde’s best performance) was so much better that this new indie barely registers.

This isn’t a bad movie but so little happens. A group of friends find buried bones and a gun, go digging and search for themselves amidst marriage and relationship issues.  A film where the characters in the movie are so realistic that it’s boring to watch them do ordinary things. How do you make 80 minutes seem so long?

Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt and the rest of the cast are good actors but they can’t save a script that is bland and ultimately a lackluster attempt at hipster cool. Orlando Bloom shows up and may be the best part of the movie. That’s not a good thing.

The Intern(directed by Nancy Meyers)-Hits DVD on January 19th

This is a sweet film, a Meyers special. She makes sweetly romantic comedies that go down like a fine lager on a fall evening. Anne Hathaway and Robert DeNiro have perfect chemistry as the CEO of a fashion website and a senior intern who changes her life.

You may see what’s coming or you may not, but this comedy is so easy moving and confident that it won’t matter. Great acting tromps original scripts in the right film. You’ll appreciate the change of pace turn from DeNiro and Hathaway’s maturation as an actress comes off like a 20 foot jump shoot here.

The Intern is a perfect film to watch with the relatives gathered into your home so find it in a theater somewhere or look for it in the coming weeks.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens(directed by J.J. Abrams) In Theaters

Whatever you hated about the prequels, you will love about J.J. Abrams kickback to the Return of the Jedi days here. By bringing back old legends like Han Solo(Harrison Ford having a lot of fun) and Leia(Carrie Fisher) and introducing new heroes like Rey and Finn(Daisy Ridley and John Boyega), Abrams is spreading the appeal of the franchise to all ages. Don’t be surprised when it shatters all box office records Monday. When you pick up a popular piece of fiction and do it right with some respect, greatness can happen. The Force Awakens is a nostalgic blast.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation(directed by Christopher McQuarrie) New release on Redbox/DVD/ITunes

The best spy film in 2015 wasn’t Spectre or Kingsman. It was Tom Cruise’s fifth stop as Ethan Hunt, the death defying super agent who won’t quit until everyone in the audience is satisfied.

Just like Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation did what MI flicks do best. Breathtaking action sequences, versatile casts with a few new faces, and Cruise dominating the entire operation by putting his neck and soul into the role. Ask me and this is his best character. A place where he is most at home in. Action and adventure. If Furious 7 had a brain, it would be called Mission Impossible.

The Ref(directed by Ted Demme) ITunes/Amazon for 2.99

Underrated Christmas movie. When the kids go to bed this holiday week, get the grownups together and watch the marvel Denis Leary work a script like a boxer does an overmatched opponent for 12 rounds. The comedy maestro plays a thief who kidnaps a couple and runs into the night of his life when they turn out to be bickering maniacs and their family is even worse.

The late director Ted Demme had a gift with actors and could create a tone that slowly boiled over into laugh out comedy. Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis are perfect foils for Leary’s maniac type hilarity and the film doesn’t need to stop when the credits roll. In the middle of the dark comedy clouds, you get a few well timed sentimental moments that Grandma will appreciate. This is a film to watch during the holidays.

Touchstone Pictures

That’s it. Short to the point movie reviews that can be read in the same amount of time it takes to check an email or have half a cup of coffee. Come back next week for five more movie reviews in 200 words or less.

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Nap

Sometimes, the perfect nap is all you need. Here’s how I do it.

The bed is right there, literally asking you to dance. It’s 65 degrees outside so the air conditioning isn’t needed but the heat won’t help you either if you get too chilly. You open the windows and let the sounds of the outside world carry you into a relaxed state. It’s nap time.

That time where everything stops. Slows down for a moment. The brain can recharge or brainstorm erratic futures via the dream stage. Some of the best parts of my life have been those exhausted moments right before you crawl into a warm bed and wrap yourself up in the covers. Or you collapse on the couch and roll into it. It takes a few adjustments but eventually the pilot in your cerebral cortex nods at you that comfortable has been found. This is the best. You realize you will actually get to sleep.

The cell phone is set down. The bills that you owe stay folded in the office, locked up because they don’t have legs. The kids are either at daycare, asleep themselves or losing themselves in a movie. The door is bolted and the kid is trusted. It’s better if they are being watched because this will deter from a good nap. Worry and tension aren’t welcome in a warm bed. They are assholes who hold your mind ransom for hours. Let’s say the kid is gone and in good care. It’s just you, the remote, and the cell phone with the bed calling your name.

I have often thought of humans as flawed manually operated computers or cell phones. We can run for a long time but sooner or later a charge will be needed. A rest. I am not talking black coffee or a red bull. I am talking sleep. Shut eye. A snooze. Take the shoes and socks off, get horizontal and drift for a bit. Our minds can only go for so long before they start to fry. Headaches, itchy eyes and blurred vision are all signs of stop fucking around and sleep.

I get 4-5 hours on average per night/day. Sometimes 7-8. It depends. The feeling of sleep deprivation is an apparent one with me. I am a writer, tireless in subjects that I can reach. I have a kid. A wife. I am a stay at home dad. Parents don’t get days off. At least good ones don’t. I cook, clean, care for, write, and clean some more. I drink a lot of coffee. I don’t like sugar but we sleep with each other on occasion via a box of Boston Baked Beans or Skittles. I work out and find fitness wherever I can, like a dog chasing its own reflection on a wall. I don’t stop so when I finally do, it’s epic.

The bed commands my attention. It doesn’t talk back. It just wants to stay warm and a body is needed for that. Like two things coming together for shelter in a storm. You lay down, and attempt to watch something, like 13 minutes of an hour long television show. It’s hopeless but like a child’s bedtime book being acted out by very good looking people. Or you just listen to the outside sounds. Car horns, birds, kids playing close by or the wind whipping around the building. Soundtracks aren’t hard to find once you open the windows. The best writers work with the windows open. The best sleep happens then too. You shouldn’t get too comfortable though. There needs to be an edge in your slumber. So when you do fall, you fall hard and sudden.

You wake up and it could be the year 2030 with World War III going on outside. Whatever it is, you’ll deal with it after your first cup of coffee is being downloaded into your system, like a computer taking time to reboot after an improper shutdown sequence.

No matter what happens, you will feel better. The body is charged. The mood is improving. You may want more sleep, but the more you do the more awake you will feel. There will be a push in your steps. Energy is stored so you can access it easily. Water is good. Exercise is fine. Freedom of speech is eternal. Sleep is required to fully function. It could be a small or large amount. When you get it, you know it. There’s good sleep and there’s tossing and turning.

IMG_6968

Do yourself and the others around you a favor and find some good sleep. Take the perfect nap.