Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Good in Parts

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood from renowned writer/director Quentin Tarantino is an interesting film.

Is it a masterpiece? No.

Does it measure up to his two modern classics Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction? No.

Is it at least good? In parts.

Set in 1969, the initial story is interesting enough as it explores the relationship between Hollywood leading man Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth.

Dalton, played effectively by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a former television star of the 1950’s Western series Bounty Law. Since the cancellation of his series, Dalton has struggled for work – most recently playing the villain in a series of television guest spots. Fearing that his career is over, he is considering playing the lead in Spaghetti Westerns (in the vein of A Fistful of Dollars).

Booth, played wonderfully by Brad Pitt, is a stuntman who specializes in doubling for Dalton, who has also become his best friend. As Dalton’s career has begun to slide, the opportunities for Booth have also begun to dwindle. He makes ends meet by serving as Dalton’s driver and errand boy.

This part of the movie works. I’ve always thought DiCaprio and Pitt should play brothers in a film due to their similar appearances. While they aren’t brothers in this picture, the film does capitalize on their physical similarities.

The world of has-been actors done in the right hands is always fascinating. The world of stuntmen is also an interesting sub-genre.

The best scene in the film is an impromptu face off between Pitt’s Booth and Bruce Lee. Lee is played spot on by Mike Moh, who not only looks identical to Lee, but also has his speech and physicality down pat.

The film loses its way with the incorporation of the Manson Family – a real life group of cult members turned murderers who follow the teachings of Charles Manson. In addition to adding no value to the picture, the use of the Manson Family also segues into a stark deviation from the actualities of history – something Tarantino also did in his film Inglorious Bastards.

While I’m not opposed to pictures that deviate from history, it has to be done effectively. In this case, it isn’t.

Of course, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood wouldn’t be a Tarantino film if it didn’t include at least one scene of glorified violence. I must say, the designated scene of graphic violence in this film is by far the best of any Tarantino film so far. It is deliciously violent and creatively done.

The film is stock full of cameos including Margot Robbie, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, and Rumer Willis. While the story goes awry, the acting throughout is still exceptional. Lewis’ take on Steve McQueen is particularly impressive.

As with all Tarantino films, there are fun fictional brand names. In this case the standout is “Wolf’s Tooth” dog food that comes in rat and racoon flavors.

Tarantino remains one of my favorite film directors, but this one just doesn’t measure up to the hype.

Would I see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood again? Maybe on Netflix. But I wouldn’t pay money to see it again.

Peace. Love. Trust.

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All I Ever Needed to Know About Coffee

I am learning about the wonderful world of home brewed coffee.

I have never been much of a coffee drinker – maybe a Frappuccino foo-foo drink every once in a blue moon. All that changed a few months ago when I decided I needed to cut down on my soda intake.

The immediate effect was that I found myself drowsy all the time. Using powers of deduction only Sherlock Holmes could match, I realized the lethargy was because I was no longer getting loaded up with caffeine from soda pop.

There was a simple solution to this. I bought a coffee maker and set out to infuse my bloodstream with copious amounts of liquid energy.

I soon fell in love with coffee. But it is a conditional love. It has to be highly disguised – lots of Stevia sweetener and milk.

I know this coffee camouflage must come as a shock to true aficionados who drink the mud straight or infuse it with the more conventional cream and sugar. But that’s just what works for me. Black coffee doesn’t match up well with my palate, and there are too many calories and fat in cream and sugar. Don’t get me wrong, I love both cream and sugar, but my goal with cutting down pop was to cut out calories.

My diluted coffee creations delighted me. In short order I was drinking a pot of coffee in the morning and another one in the afternoon. Sometimes one more at some point in the day. Yes, I had traded one vice (soda pop) for another (black gold).

I became a coffee warrior, investing in my special Chicago Bulls travel cup and hauling my home brew with me everywhere. And when the Bulls cup is out of commission, I have my backup Superman travel cup. I’m prepared for any coffee emergency.

It went smooth for a while. Then, disaster struck!

Being new to coffee making, I was dismayed when after only a month my new coffee machine was spitting out coffee all over the kitchen counter.

I tried to implement a ghetto solution: stuffing paper towels around the base to soak up the mess as fast as it was being created. But that coffee, as good as it tastes, it’s a caustic substance that doesn’t hesitate to stain all that it touches. The ghetto solution just wasn’t working, and it was becoming apparent that I was going to have to pull out the credit card and buy a replacement.

I mentioned this dilemma to a friend, voicing my frustration that after only a month I was going to have to buy a new coffee machine. That friend asked me if I had cleaned my existing coffee maker with vinegar.

I had not. I had never heard of doing such a thing. But, willing to try anything I decided to give it a go.

So, I got to work doing some mad scientist detailing of my laboring coffee maker. I ran vinegar through the system twice. I removed all the parts of the machine and cleaned them of the black sludge that apparently the brewing process creates (can we say “eww”?).

Once everything was sparkling and clean (well as sparkling as black matte plastic can be), I put it all back together. I stocked it full of fresh grounds, added just the right amount of water, and hit “start”.

Low and behold, my coffee maker works fine and dandy again! No more leaks. No more stains on the counter. No more mess to clean up. Just fresh brewed Nectar of the Gods.

It took some work and some learning on my part, but I accomplished my goal. I have achieve coffee splendor.

Hooray for my ability to continue my Cup o’ Joe addiction! Now I am both happy and awake.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Make Racism Wrong Again

When someone does something reprehensible, it is our duty to stand up for what is right. That is one of the principles that the United States of America was built on.

Racism is wrong. There is nothing anyone can say to justify it or make it right.

Recently Donald Trump has launched into a campaign of overt racism against elected members of the United States Congress.

Using every medium available, he has called upon the American people to send four U.S. elected officials who happen to be women of color, “back where they came from.” He insinuates because they have colored skin, they are not worthy of living in this country, much less representing the people who voted them into office.

Interestingly, that three of the four women he wants to “send back” to their home countries were born in the United States. The fourth came to the U.S. as a child as a legal immigrant and became a U.S. citizen as a teen. This is unlike Trump’s current (3rd) wife who came to the U.S. illegally. The difference, of course, is that Trump’s wife is white.

The four members of the House of Representatives upon whom Trump has waged his racist war are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Unlike Melania Trump, all have college degrees. Unlike Melania, they are all women of color.

It’s also interesting to note that the four Congresswomen that Donald Trump continues to attack on the basis of their skin color, all won their positions. Unlike Donald, they won their elected positions via popular vote. Ocasio-Cortez won her seat with 78.2% of the vote; Omar won with 78% of the vote, Pressley won with 98.3% of the vote; and Tlaib won with 84.2% of the vote. Even with the aid of Russian interference, Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 3 million votes. It is only on a technicality that he was given the office of President.

I don’t care if you agree with the politics of the four U.S. Congresswomen or not. That’s a matter of intellectual debate. Attacking them strictly because of the color of their skin is not acceptable.

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery in 1865. The 15th Amendment , passed in 1870, gave African-Americans the right to vote. Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 ruled that racial segregation in public schools is illegal. In 1964 Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality.

There should be no place for racism in modern America. Sadly, there is a very vocal minority of Trump supporters who campaign for him because of the fact that he is a racist. That’s what they like about him – that he gives voice to their hatred of people with colored skin.

The sad thing is, these racists think they are “normal.” They don’t recognize themselves as racists. They think discrimination is a normal thing. And, they assume that others have the same point of view.

In fact, the gullible Trump supporters who feed on his hate speech, seem honestly dismayed when someone doesn’t believe the same way they do. That’s why they believed it when Trump claimed he had a crowd of 80,000 attendees at a North Carolina rally to vilify Congresswomen Omar, when in actuality the venue only seats 8,000 and many of those seats were empty.

I personally know Trump supporters who claim they aren’t racists because they don’t use the N-word in front of black people, only when they’re not around. This is not right. This kind of thinking is a disease that needs to be eradicated.

Trump wants to Make America White Again. I disagree. The color of a person’s skin does not define them. It is wrong to say that it does. Racism should have no home in modern America. Instead, we should all strive to Make Racism Wrong Again.

Peace. Love. Trust.

 

 

 

‘Designated Survivor’ Gets Renewed Life on Netflix

I am a fan of the television series Designated Survivor. The premise is an interesting one: On the night of the State of the Union Address, a terrorist explosion destroys the Capitol Building, claiming the lives of the President and everyone in the line of succession except the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Thomas Kirkman, who is subsequently sworn in as President.

The series stars Kiefer Sutherland as the de facto President. It’s a good dramatic role for Sutherland – a stark contrast to the secret agent character he played on the Fox drama series 24.

I have been a fan of Sutherland ever since my first exposure to his acting in the coming-of-age film Stand By Me and the vampire drama The Lost Boys. I also thoroughly enjoyed him in Young Guns and its sequel, Young Guns II (which I actually found more entertaining than the original). Other notable Sutherland films include Flatliners, A Few Good Men, The Vanishing, and Phone Booth.

I watched the first two seasons of Designated Survivor on ABC and was disappointed to learn of its cancellation. Imagine my surprise and happiness to discover the series has been given new life by Netflix who picked the show up for a third season. Hopefully it won’t be the last.

Now airing on the Internet station, Designated Survivor is enjoying newfound freedom of expression not previously available to the writers while airing on ABC. There are far more bedroom scenes and the characters often resort to foul language. I don’t mind the more risqué story elements, although I don’t think they necessarily add much to the show.

What I especially like about the new season is the evolution of former President Cornelius Moss into a second time around Presidential candidate who engages in Trump-like deceit and dirty tricks. The role is perfectly played by veteran actor Geoff Pierson. The Trump-like behavior probably wouldn’t have been feasible on ABC, but is refreshing on the show’s new network.

My one complaint about season three is focused on a single episode. In that mid-season episode one of Kirkman’s White House support staff engages in a one-night affair with another White House staffer, destroying his relationship with his live-in girlfriend. I found the episode to be cheap and soap operaish; not fitting of the drama’s normal quality storytelling. But not every episode is going to be everyone’s favorite.

Television is not reality (let’s face it, even “reality television” is scripted). The stories on Designated Survivor may sometimes mirror real life events or people, but it should never be confused with reality. It is entertainment, not news or documentary. And as entertainment, Designated Survivor is very appealing.

If you haven’t experienced Designated Survivor yet, I encourage you to give it a try. If possible, start with season one. The show is best enjoyed from the beginning.

The supporting cast is excellent. Standouts include Adan Canto, Kal Penn, Julie White, Maggie Q, Elena Tovar, and Anthony Edwards.

Edwards deserves singling out because he is often found in bedroom scenes despite not having a “Hollywood body.” He’s bony and bald – far from the hunks that normal shed their clothes on television and in the movies. It’s refreshing to see him demonstrate the self-confidence to portray a leading man with realistic imperfections. That’s not something you see often anymore.

That’s part of the charm about Designated Survivor. It doesn’t always play along stereotypical plot lines. It provides a truly unique look at the American political process, with an eye on the human element.

 

Peace. Love. Trust.

Metropolis Forum is Pure Musical Comedy Brilliance

Featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum now playing at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre through June 29, is a hilarious musical comedy romp sure to delight audiences.

The story combines the work of Roman playwright Plautus with catchy, toe tapping songs and the spirit of vaudeville.

Set in ancient Rome, Forum tells the story of an awkward young man by the name of Hero and his infatuation with the beautiful maiden Philia. One small problem, Philia is a courtesan from the house of Marcus Lycus – a man who deals in the sale of beautiful women. In fact, Hero’s love Philia has been sold to military hero Miles Gloriosus.

Enter Hero’s slave Pseudolus – a crafty gent who longs for his freedom. Pseudolus, played brilliantly by Tommy Bullington, strikes a deal that if he can somehow turn the tables to allow Hero and Philia to marry, he will be set free. The comedy builds to a fervor as Pseudolus’s plot of deceit encounters every headache imaginable…mostly at the expense of Hysterium, head slave of Hero’s family.

William Marquez is a comedic delight in the role of Hysterium. His comic timing is impeccable. As young lover Hero, Adam Ross Brody displays a fine voice and stellar acting wrapped up in an appropriately gangly and awkward package. His virgin love interest Philia is well played by Maddy Kelly, who aptly captures the deer in the headlights innocence of the proverbial dimwitted blond.

Erik Dohner provides an imposing characterization of braggart warrior Miles Gloriosus. His deep bass voice and larger-than-life approach to the physicality of the role are impressive. As sniveling skin salesman Marcus Lycus, Teddy Gales holds his own in the well balanced cast.

As Hero’s parents Senex and Domina, Austin Nelson Jr. and Melissa Crabtree are well matched. Nelson Jr. is the spineless husband longing for some extramarital attention while Crabtree is the frightening bride who runs the household. Bob Sanders inspires many belly laughs as their elderly neighbor Erronius.

A Greek chorus of Nick Arceo, Renee Savoy, and Eric Deutz entertain in multiple roles. Marcus Lycus’ other courtesans are all beautiful, alluring, and talented in their own ways They include Madelyne Forrester, Parker Guidry, Joe Farrell, Alaina Wis, Sophie Vitello, and Sarah Beth Lipsman.

Direction by Lauren Rawitz, music direction by Kailey Rockwell, and choreography by Bryan J. Wlas are all excellent. The audience was in stitches throughout opening night.

For a delightful evening of sidesplitting laughter and great entertainment, look no further than A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. Executive Artistic Director Joe Keefe and his staff have quietly built Metropolis into a true theatrical destination to rival any theatre in Chicago.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum plays Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in downtown Arlington Heights (111 West Campbell Street). Street parking is available. Free parking is available in the public garage behind the theatre. For a complete performance schedule visit www.MetropolisArts.com or contact the box office at (847) 577-2121.

The Lone Ranger Rides Again

As a child growing up on a farm, I spent my Sunday mornings watching reruns of the classic The Lone Ranger television series that originally aired from 1949 to 1957 on ABC.

The Lone Ranger quickly became my idol. I would act out my fantasies of being the Lone Ranger around the farm.

At one point, despite being only 5 years old, I took to jumping out of the hayloft to land on the farm animals below and ride away, the way The Lone Ranger actor Clayton Moore would jump off house roofs onto trusty steed Silver.

Halloween costume? You guessed it – The Lone Ranger. School lunch box? Also, The Lone Ranger. Birthday cake? Yup. The Lone Ranger.

I eventually became a child actor along the West Coast. My first professional role came at the age of 9 when I played Tiny Tim in a televised adaptation of A Christmas Carol that aired on CBS affiliate KOIN.

I worked steadily as an actor, first as a child, then as an adult. But my dream was always to grow up to play the Lone Ranger.

We all have heroes. Some kids want to grow up to be police officers or professional basketball players. I wanted to be the Lone Ranger.

Fast forward to 2019. Producer and director Jeff Cook learned of my fascination with The Lone Ranger and cast me to play the iconic character in the radio play The Lone Ranger and the Canyon of Danger.

Cook’s Radio Parody Playhouse airs on Huntley’s 101.5 FM and is available as a podcast at http://huntleyradio.com/hcr/radio-parody-playhouse/.

Produced by Film Stripped Productions, Cook’s Radio Parody Playhouse specializes in taking public domain stories from the Golden Age of Radio and lovingly re-scripting them as comedies. Cook also created the web series Upstaged and regularly directs at area theaters.

Jeff Cook is tremendously talented. He has a unique brand of humor that really resonates with the public.

Other titles Radio Parody Playhouse has made available as podcasts include Superman, The Shadow, War of the Worlds, and The Maltese Falcon, among others. Cook uses the best local talents to record each episode.

Radio is a special medium – very different than film, television, or the stage, because you have to convey everything with your voice. There is no body language to help convey the story.

As to if Cook and I will reunite to bring The Lone Ranger back for additional episodes of Radio Parody Playhouse, I can say that I would love to revisit the character.

If the public wants me back, it’d be my honor to make sure The Lone Ranger rides again.

In the meantime, I encourage you all to listen to The Lone Ranger and the Canyon of Danger at: http://huntleyradio.com/hcr/radio-parody-playhouse/.

Peace. Love. Trust.

 

Treason Trump – If the Shoe Fits, Wear It

Like a school yard bully, Donald Trump attacks his opposition with insulting nicknames. Democratic frontrunner Bernie Sanders, Trump calls “Crazy Bernie”. Vice President Joe Biden he calls “Sleepy Joe.” Republican senator Ted Cruz, Trump calls “Lying Ted.” Extending his bullying to racist statements, Trump calls Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” due to her Native American lineage.

As if there was any question by this point, Donald Trump is far from presidential. He talks with a second-grade vocabulary. The Washington Post has well documented that he lies at least 15 times a day on average. He insights violence, telling followers he will pay their legal fees or pardon them if they attack the targets he suggests. He takes credit for the accomplishments of proceeding leader, President Barack Obama. He colluded with a foreign hostile government to undermine the United States election process. And, he committed repeated acts of obstruction covering up his many crimes.

So, I guess it comes as no surprise that a man who behaves like a small child, throwing tantrums when he doesn’t get his way, would resort to name calling. I’m a big believer in treating others the way one wants to be treated. Maybe it’s time we start using the same tactics Trump uses on others to describe the vile, racist man bringing shame to the White House.

I suggest from hence forth we call the President “Treason Trump” in recognition of for his betrayal of the Unites States.

Of course, there are many nicknames we could choose from for Treason Trump. “Nazi Trump” or “Racist Trump” are applicable names given that Treason Trump calls white supremacists “fine people,”has been heard in recordings using the N-word to describe African Americans, and has religiously called Hispanics rapists and murders. It’s apparently a family tradition given that Treason Trump’s father was a member of the Klu Klux Klan.

“Bone Spurs Trump” is a well-recognized nickname for the man who used a fake bone spurs diagnosis by a family friend to dodge the draft five times despite being able to compete in football, tennis, and squash.

“Tiny Mushroom Trump” is a equally well recognized nickname for Treason Trump, given to him by the porn star he paid $130,000 to for sex while his wife was recovering from child birth.

There are many names one could justifiably call Trump. But, Treason Trump is the one I prefer – because of all the crimes Trump is guilty of committing, Treason against the United States of America is the most vile.

It’s time to take the gloves off and hit Trump where it hurts. If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander. It’s time that we call Treason Trump by the name he deserves.

Treason Trump – the scourge of the free world.

Peace. Love. Trust.