It may seem odd to attempt to predict the outcome of a presidential election that is two years and eleven months away, but then I never claimed not to be a little odd. Politics is also something that is weighing on people's minds a lot these days, especially at the national level. The biggest focus is on the 2018 midterm elections, but I'm curious about 2020, as well.
A lot of folks -- though certainly not all -- are of the opinion that President Trump will be ousted (or will resign) during his first term, making a prediction of his 2020 re-election chances a moot point. I'm not so sure. If 2016 taught us anything, it's to never be too certain of anything. The pessimist in me thinks that Trump could possibly not only stay in office, but also be re-elected. Following is why -- at this particular juncture -- I think that is the case.
With a little help from the 270towin web site, let's look at how the Electoral College could shake-out in 2020. We're only focusin…
While many of us remember our first kiss, or falling in love for the first time, how many times have we been convinced of witnessing the depiction of those same emotions on the silver screen? Granted, it may not be something a lot of folks think about, but for me, romance in the movies can have the power to incredibly stir the soul, make me flinch awkwardly in my seat, or just flat-out laugh. After recently viewing the wonderful new movie Lady Bird, and being completely swept-up in the fledgling romance of the title character and her classmate Danny, it reminded me of how I'm a sucker for a well-done movie romance.
In order for me to be convinced of the adoration onscreen, pretty much everything has to be right -- the script, the acting, the score, the direction, editing, etc. It all has to set the right mood and believability. That isn't always an easy task. Most films run between 90 and 120 minutes. That isn't a terribly long time to introduce us to characters, advance…
Actor Lucas Hedges is our new Pic of the Week! Lucas is currently featured in two powerful films -- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Lady Bird -- and he is great in both movies. If you haven't seen them yet, I highly recommend finding time to see them.
Two recent conversations -- one public, one private -- both about seemingly disparate topics, have ushered forth to my mind their conflation in one general regard: We tend to value most, the time of our life when we were young. Sometimes, the sense of nostalgia can be warm and fuzzy. Other times, melancholy. On certain other occasions, it can be crippling. But it all seems to center around the time of our lives when we were young.
Consider a situation in my town where a few older houses might be torn down to make way for an expansion of one of the local high schools. The vote to approve this passed handily a year ago, however, a preservationist group has officially protested the demolition of the houses. It has created quite an interesting public conversation in the community about looking ahead, vs. what is worth saving from our past. The dialogue, thus far, has been both fascinating and frustrating. While we've learned more about our city's past, we've also seen the top…
With the recent release (and surprising popularity) of Kenneth Branagh's version of Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie -- the author of the novel upon which the movie is based -- is now back in the public eye.
Having long been a fan of Christie's works, I thought it a good time to finally choose my Top 10 favorite works by her. It wasn't easy, as I familiar with so much of her output, but the following list is a good representation of why I've liked Agatha Christie so much, for so long.
Here we go:
One of her later works (Christie died in 1976), this story nevertheless presents an old mystery with a new mystery, a garden bus tour, suspicious characters, and the deceptively sharp sleuth Miss Marple. Thoroughly enjoyable.
2. A Murder is Announced (1950)
Another Miss Marple story, this time set in the English village of Chipping Cleghorn. After reading a notice in the local paper, people show up to someone's house expecting to play a ficti…
Happy Black Friday. Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. Our latest Pic of the Week is actor Mahershala Ali, best known for his Oscar-winning role in the Moonlight, along with Hidden Figures, the Hunger Games movies, and True Detective (too name a few).
The first election I was able to vote in would have been the spring 1994 primary. The first election I actually voted in was autumn's general election of 2004. Ten years went by where my right to vote went unused. People had fought and died -- in wars and in the streets -- for my right to vote, and I'd case it aside with the usual excuses of, 'They're all crooked, anyway, so it doesn't matter,' or 'My right to vote is balanced with my right not to vote.' Meanwhile, elections came and went, policy was decided, and I'd had nary an input.
Things changed in 2004, and the world (for better or worse) has George W. Bush to thank for me getting me off my keister and becoming politically involved. With the Bush administration, the two main sticking points (though there were others) were our handling of the Iraq War, and lack of seeing the LGBTQ community as equal citizens. Karl Rove's orchestration of the culture wars was in full swing, and I felt under…
I stand by most of what I write on this blog. Sometimes I will re-read old posts and nod my head in agreement. Other times I may shake my head and wonder what I was thinking. Such is the case with the post from six years ago where I talked about my Top 10 favorite scary films. Movies such as Aliens and Se7en made the list and, while those are really good in their own right, they are not really "scary" or Halloween-type horror films.
The list needed revision, folks, and here it is (in alphabetical order):
Who we are changes over time. Some may deny this, but they would be wrong. I was reminded of this recently when I came across an article that, on the surface, takes umbrage with the ancient philosophical phrase of "know thyself," but also manages to go deeper and talks about how people change, yet may not fully understand that they've done so. It also questions why we do the things we do. Is it because we truly want to do them, or because it's about who we think we are, or what people like us are supposed to do? I think it could possibly be all of the above. The following passage from the article particularly stands out:
The problem is this: If we change while our self-image remains the same, then there will be a deep abyss between who we are and who we think we are. And this leads to conflict.
Leaning into these ideas a bit more, I am reminded of the evolution of understanding I've come to over the years in, first, knowing myself and, also, knowing others bette…
Assertiveness isn't always easy for yours truly. At times, people have mistakenly assumed I've agreed with them about something, mostly because I was too willing not to push back and rock the boat with them. A polite nodding of the head, slight wincing of the face, and averted gaze is, apparently, enough for some to conclude agreement. This tends to occur when I'm up against someone with an aggressive personality. Call it conflict avoidance, if you must.
Recently, I talked back to a guy who is always very pushy with his views, very dominant (even if he's not aware of it), and whom I almost always do my usual polite wince and nodding of the head routine. He'd previously pissed me off with something he'd written to me online, and I'd let it slide, but then he did it again, and so I asserted myself and let him know that it wasn't on. In fact, I copped an attitude and used words that actually made me feel uncomfortable, but got the point across. The guy bac…
"Step out from the mask you stand behindFearful lost and blindTime to take the timeThe pressure’s on youHide away, hide awayNo tomorrow, just today" - Brilliant, Ultravox
Today was National Coming Out Day, so of course it gives some pause for reflection on my own coming out story. It was in April 1993, my junior year of high school (go Chargers!). In the six years of writing this blog, I have alluded to how I came out, but never really delved into the intricacies of how it came about. What better day to do so than today?
My first (small) indications of homosexuality manifested in grade school. While in first grade, I thought a fifth grader looked cute. In fifth grade, I would stare, longingly, at a boy in class, until he caught me looking at him. There were some infatuations with boys in middle school, and a first sexual experience during freshman year of high school. Everything up to that point had been, for the most part, based in the physical realm. I liked the way certain…
Ok, we're now three-fourths of the way through this year's calendar, so I thought I'd rank the thirty-eight 2017 movies I've seen so far.
Here they are....
1. A Quiet Passion
2. Baby Driver
4. Get Out
6. A Ghost Story
7. Wonder Woman
9. Brad's Status
10. Marjorie Prime
13. Spider-Man: Homecoming
14. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
15. Brigsby Bear
16. Atomic Blonde
17. The Big Sick
19. Kong: Skull Island
21. Wind River
22. A Cure for Wellness
23. The Hitman's Bodyguard
25. Kingsman: The Golden Circle
26. Logan Lucky
27. Alien Covenant
28. Ghost In the Shell
29. War for the Planet of the Apes
30. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
32. Annabelle: Creation
33. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
34. My Cousin Rachel
36. The Bye Bye Man
38. It Comes at Night
It will be interesting to see what the last three months of the year brin…
This weekend, Ashley & I saw the British synth pop group Saint Etienne in concert at Park West in Chicago. Ashley got me into the band back when we first met. Having only been familiar up to that point with their club hit He's on the Phone, I soon became a fan listening to their back catalog. Their live performance was, to say the least, memorable and impressive.
Having such a great concert experience with Saint Etienne got me to thinking of all the other live performances I've seen over the years. By my count, it's been about nineteen concerts in a little over twenty years. It feels like a lot, though I know for some it barely scratches the surface of their concert-going experiences. As it stands, I've enjoyed most of the shows I've been to. Some more than others. Of course, you know I had to list and rank them.
Our latest Pic of the Week is the lovely and talented actor Ezra Miller, who turns 25 today! Ezra has starred in, among other things, the films Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and the upcoming Justice League.
Odd as it may sound, I remember where I was for every first episode of a new Star Trek TV series (well, most of them). It is unclear why they are so clearly emblazoned in my mind, like they were some sort of national event, but there you go. I was reminded of this minor bit of mental trivia while watching the premiere of the latest show in the franchise, Star Trek Discovery. More on that later.
Our latest Pic of the Week is actor John Cho, currently starring in the movie Columbus. I saw it last weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed the film. Great acting, directing and music score. You should definitely check it out.
Years ago, in my teens, I wrote a very short story that was just some characters talking. Some of the talk concerned events they were expecting to occur in the future. It could have served as the prologue or first chapter of a book, but I was content to let it stand on its own. When it was done, I let a few friends and family read it. Their reactions were all the same: Where's the rest of it? This isn't a complete story, Matt! Interestingly enough, I've had similar reactions to some recent movies and TV shows, though critical reaction for them has been (mostly) full of praise.
(What follows are spoilers for the works to be discussed)
The latest CU Pride Fest will occur this weekend, September 15th - 17th, in downtown Champaign. Undertaken by the UP Center of Champaign County, along with countless volunteers, Pride Fest is a celebration of the LGBTQ identity. As we approach this year's event, it hit home, more than ever this year for some reason, how important occasions such as this are.
First, one might wonder why there is pride in something like sexual orientation, or gender fluidity, especially when it has been argued that people are born this way? Why, indeed. For some, that question will never have an adequate answer. For those more open-minded and empathetic, they can understand that pride comes from the condition of having been a marginalized minority.
Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender has often come with a stigma attached. And that's putting it mildly. Bullying, harassment, mental and emotional damage, legal inequality, and even death have been part & parcel with one being open about…
National tragedies that occur during one's conscious lifetime always seem to gave greater impact than those that are often referred to as historical. This isn't some great revelation. Living through a tragedy, bearing witness to it, lends a deeper resonance to it in our hearts and minds. Such is the case for the September 11th terrorist attacks. Many of us, myself included, were alive and aware when they happened. It makes today's anniversary even more poignant.
December 7th, 1941 holds obvious significance as the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into World War II. And yet, while I take note of and respect the observance of its anniversary, there is a sense of disconnect. It is a date in history. I have no emotional reference point for it, other than the general feelings conjured up when thinking what it must have been like to live through it, and for all that followed. On a personal level, September 11th is different.
When the finale for Twin Peaks The Return (ostensibly the third season of the program) was over this past Sunday night, I immediately felt ripped-off, unsatisfied, and that the time spent watching the show over the summer had been a waste. Thankfully, during the intervening days, and after lots of conversations about it with the spouse and in online forums, I have come to better appreciate the way things ended. I'm still not on board with it 100%, though.
Without getting into the weeds as to everything that happened during the finale, the show managed to wrap-up several plot threads during the first-half (Part 17), then turned around and launched things in a different direction during the second-half (Part 18). While tangentially related to what had come before, Part 18 could almost stand alone as its own show, with a different look and feel than the previous 17 episodes, and about a third of the cast. It was, upon first viewing, quite jarring. It was also, most definitely, a Dav…
Confession: I've never watched Game of Thrones. Well, that's not technically true. I watched the first episode a few years ago, found it mildly entertaining but not terribly gripping, and never watched another one. Life has been fine without it. Several people I know, however, love the show, and that's great, but something I've noticed is that folks really, really don't want episodes of the show spoiled for them. Like, really. Game of Thrones isn't the only program to elicit cries of 'Don't spoil it for me!' from its fans. LOST comes to mind. I actually had someone unfriend me on Facebook because I posted something about a LOST episode a few minutes after it aired. They hadn't watched it yet, and we even got into a discussion about time zones and what not. It was way more intense than it needed to be. On another occasion, a friend chastised me for openly discussing events of The Walking Dead that were six months old. He explained how, given his …
My dad died twenty years ago today.
I didn't think the 20th anniversary of Lewis' death would be anything more than a notation on the calendar, perhaps looming slightly more significant in the mind, given our propensity to fixate on the multiples of five and ten-year milestones. Cue my surprise this morning, when, on the way to work, I was listening a song that -- for whatever reason -- reminds me of dad, and I broke down crying. Had to spend close to ten minutes drying-up in the car before heading to the office. Wore sunglasses, even though it wasn't that sunny outside, to cover the puffy eyes.
This morning, I thought about the concept of stolen time. The idea that someone dies at what we deem to be too young of an age, and how they really should have lived longer. In truth, we all die when our time comes, and it's different for everyone. When someone passes away aged seventy-five or eighty, we rarely think to ourselves how they should have had more years. Lewis was …
"Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting"
- Virginia Woolf, A Haunted House
Thursday, August 3rd, at 9:51pm, I was sleeping. It had been a long day that constituted a segment of an even longer week, thus, an hour or so earlier, I comfortably put head to pillow and entered a period of restfulness. Across town, a 53-year-old man named Gus Edwards was breathing his last breath, the victim of a gunshot wound inflicted earlier in the evening. The dichotomy of these two situations is something that occurs all too often in our world, and will, I fear, continue to do so for as long as humanity resides upon this earth.
There is always a twinge of guilt that occurs whenever I learn of someone's premature death, especially somebody local. Awakening contentedly in my bed that Friday morning and reading the news of Mr. Edwards' death on my phone induced a momentary pang of remorse, coupled with gratitude. Remorse because it felt almost like an affront to having been aliv…
To some, knowing their heritage is of paramount importance. The countries their ancestors came from is knowledge that simply must be known. For those like Alice Collins Plebuch, learning that their ancestry has a different narrative than they'd previously assumed is earth-shattering. Heck, they've written an article about it. Me? I'm a mutt, and that's fine.
I read the piece about Plebuch's world being turned upside down by her DNA results, so of course I have some interest in all this. I guess it just doesn't matter to me all that much where my genetic predecessors came from. Evolutionary science is of interest, but not recent ancestry, such as where my great-great-great-grandparents were from. And, if I did find out such information, I would like to think it wouldn't upset me like it did Plebuch:
IndieWire recently featured an article asking if movie tickets should cost less for independent films than they do for high-profile blockbusters. You know the type of movies we're taking about: a low-budget flick that may or may or not feature big name talent, often made outside one of the major studios, featuring careful pacing, lots of scenes where characters talk with one another, a discernible plot, and not very many (if any) things getting blowed-up real good. In other words, a movie that requires thought and careful viewing by the cinema-goer, which is probably why such films don't often rake-in the dough.
A lot of people seem to want a movie-going experience to be some sort of escapism. Indeed, much of cinema is exactly that. Documentaries aside, a majority of films take us to the fictional lives of others, allowing us a window into their goings-on, glimpsing -- if only for a couple of hours -- the situations they encounter and how they grapple with them. And that's…
Last night's episode of Twin Peaks, the ninth in the revival series, was without a doubt my least favorite since its return. There are many reasons for this, which I'll touch upon shortly. I want to be clear, however, that I didn't hate the episode, just that it frustrated me to no end. That's a mark of how good the show has been so far. Too bad last night's entry dropped the ball.
We're just a little over halfway through 2017, and I've seen 20 of the year's films (so far). I thought that now would be a good time to rank those movies! Of course, this is just my opinion, one of many. But if you haven't seen some of the films in, say, the top ten, they try and watch them if/when you can.
Ok, here we go....
Actor Ansel Elgort is our latest Pic of the Week. Currently starring in the most excellent film Baby Driver, Elgort also explores his musical side, as well. Earlier this year he released a single titled Thief. This picture is from a new photo shoot he did for Wonderland magazine. Enjoy.
Social media can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, it allows us nearly instant communication with friends and family as close as the same town and as far as countries that are thousands of miles away. Sadly, there is also the reality that not everyone we are connected with online are truly friends. Add to that the sensory overload that can occur with updates, notifications, etc. and social media can be both a blessing and a curse. It is the negative aspect of this dichotomy that has led me of late to unfollow certain people, though not without a wringing of the hands.
Failed relationships, be they romantic or platonic, are never something one feels good about. Whenever an unfriending occurs on Facebook (whether I am the one unfriending someone or vice-versa), it never feels good. Perhaps this is why I have taken lately to simply unfollowing people? This allows for the illusion of an online 'friendship' to continue, all the while I can no longer see the unwanted information ema…
Our latest of Pic of the Week is singer Aaron Carter. Aaron has been to Champaign-Urbana a few times to perform and, unfortunately, has been the subject of some body-shaming recently. Goodness knows why. Enjoy.
Dance clubs are a funny thing. They contain within their walls a life force and vibrancy sometimes unmatched anywhere else. When dusk settles and the lights come on, people will flood the dance floors to gyrate to music with hypnotic beats and songs about love, lust and fun at the disco. At gay bars, this sort of scenario usually increases ten-fold. It isn't for everyone, but for many it is a respite from the harsh realities of the real word. It is a place that isn't just a structure, but a sanctuary where folks -- minorities in their own communities -- can take shelter and unwind with abandon, at least for a few nighttime hours.
As someone who benefited greatly from such an aforementioned gay dance club, you can imagine my dismay at news of the closing of Chester Street Bar. In business for over three decades, gay-owned and operated, there was a time when C-Street (as it was known by most) was the only haven for those in the LGBT community, near and far, to enjoy themselves …
I've been enjoying Showtime's revival of Twin Peaks this past month. We are now seven episodes in to an eighteen-episode season, and I am actually looking forward to a Sunday evening for a change. The mood created within the world of David Lynch's creation can at times be mesmerizing, and the plot is progressing, albeit slowly. It's that slowness that is perhaps one of the key reasons I'm enjoying the show so much.
We live in a fast-moving age. Our Internet connections move in the blink of an eye. The service industry caters to an ever-increasing society that is on-the-go. Movies and TV shows have all but done away with opening credits, fearing that a viewership with short attention spans won't want to wait through such tedious trifle. Camera shots in film and television are so fast now, down to low-end single-digit seconds. And the hype machines are out in full force. I never remember producers being interviewed about the shows they were in charge of, explain…
I was somewhat taken aback recently when I learned that a single friend doesn't care very much for the company of couples. It is difficult not to take personal offense at this, being part of a couple, but then I took a step back and thought about the various types of people who I know and prefer to associate with socially. And the reasons why. It was an enlightening self-analysis.
Lists, rankings, etc. are, despite how much some may claim objectivity, very much a personal thing. We bring our own lives and bias to the list-making process, though there is nothing wrong with that, as long as we're honest about it. Such a curation should also attempt to provoke. Not in a violent manner, obviously -- but in thought. It should nudge us to think upon what our own lists would be for the same scenario.
To that end, Richard Brody's rather pretentious list of his Top 25 Best Films of the 21st Century (so far, of course) has done its job. I see a lot of movies, dear reader, but have not heard of most of the ones on the list. This isn't said with any pride, more of a quizzical cocking of the head, and a desire to make my own list of what I consider to be the best of the 21st century through 2017. It is, of course, the definitive list.
And so, the best of the century so far...
The dream recurs on at least a semi-monthly basis, always a mixture of familiarity with alarming disorientation.
From the very first time the dream occurred, I felt at home within the small New England church. And, for whatever reason, I immediately understood where I was. Starting in an abrupt stupor, I was immediately seated roughly two-thirds from the altar, in about the tenth pew toward the back. The rustic church was made mostly of wood, some of it stained, other parts (such as the beams and rafters) painted a gleaming white. There was stone, too. You could tell it was before a service was to begin. People were milling about, generally making their way into the structure.
Somehow, I knew the location, but not why I suddenly found myself there. This caused some considerable consternation, as you might imagine it would. The church looked to be like what I imagine those centuries-old old Protestant churches are like in New England, hence the sense of knowing where I was, or at least…
Hope everyone is enjoying their month of June so far! Here is our latest Pic of the Week, actor Ben Rosenfield. He has appeared in HBO's Boardwalk Empire, last year's film Indignation, and in the first two episodes of Showtime's Twin Peaks revival this year.
It isn't a giant leap of a statement to say that we're shaped very much by our childhood. Our parents and home life play a major role in development, along with friendships and, for most, pop culture. This includes TV viewing and, growing up during the 1980s, my television habits included a lot of comedies, some drama (it was the era of nighttime soaps, after all) and, most notably, science-fiction & fantasy shows. Of all of the programs I have enjoyed over the years, it is the latter that has been most prominent in shaping my entertainment outlook. To this day, I'll take a sci-fi/action thriller over a romantic comedy.
Given that my favorite television shows are often science fiction & fantasy, what, then are my favorite programs of said genre? Which ones stood-out as the best of the best over the years? I'm glad you asked, dear reader, because following is a break-down of my Top 10 favorite ones (in alphabetical order). Let's get to it.
Periodically my mom will give me some mementos, heirlooms, documents and photographs of our family history. I've enjoyed receiving them, though with more than a pinch of wistfulness included. The handing-down of treasured familial possessions is always a bit of rite of passage, a quiet signifier of aging and our own mortality. The keepsakes are wanted, yet there is almost the urge to reject what their receipt symbolizes.
It occurred to me that there is another, even more personal, reason that I grow rueful whenever the subject of fondly-held items arises. I have no children to leave anything to. Now, admittedly, that is perhaps the most selfish reason to have a child, but then it can be argued that people have children for a variety of reasons. Some wish to carry-on their lineage, others want another human to love and care for. A few didn't expect to have a child, and are making their best go of it. So on and so forth.
Episode five of the new season of Twin Peaks was overall another good entry for the revived program. We were treated to a progression (albeit a slow one) of the plot lines previously dangled before us in episodes one through four, as well as some new elements that were introduced to keep us guessing. I could have done without the sadistic violence and profanity, but am resigned to expecting such things with David Lynch, especially when he's unshackled from the constraints of network television.
It is pretty well-known that David Lynch's works don't always make a lot of sense. To this day, almost two decades after its release, people are still debating what the heck his movie Mulholland Drive is about. Lynch was also reticent to reveal the killer of Laura Palmer which, you know, is kinda the reason millions of people initially watched the original series of Twin Peaks. With that, I was a bit apprehensive going into this new season, as devoting several hours of one's ti…
With an opening in the very respectable range of $100 million in North America, the new Wonder Woman movie is certainly taking the world by storm (the overseas box office is in the $122 million range). Critics and audiences alike appear to love it And I? Well, what follows are my (spoiler-filled) thoughts on the film.
First, let's open by saying that I'd give the new Wonder Woman movie a 7 out of 10. If you want something even simpler than a numerical system, I give it a thumbs-up. Having said that, there are a lot of minor criticisms I have about the film, things that could have made it better.
As a kid, I wanted to be Wonder Woman.
This isn't a confession of some sort of sexuality (not more than what regular readers and friends already know). I simply liked the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman TV series (1975-1979) and, like most fantasy characters that kids enjoy (Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, etc.) I wanted to dress-up and role play as them. In the case of Wonder Woman, it would have meant wearing a more feminine-defined garb.
Such childhood thoughts came back to me recently, no doubt spurred by the Wonder Womanmovie released in theaters this week. That movie may be good, but it will never be the show that first introduced me to the character, in all its '70s glory. When I watch it now its corniness bleeds through, but as a kid, it was pure gold. Lots of fun and adventure.
The suave, debonair, tough-as-nails British spy James Bond has been gracing the silver screen for over half a century. In total, six actors have officially portrayed the character (EON productions hold the rights to character, so anything made outside of their realm isn't consider canon). Of those six incarnations, Roger Moore was by far my favorite Bond.
Everyone has their favorite actor who played the super spy. For many, it's Sean Connery. Some are perfunctory about acknowledging it. Many are smug and defensive. The folks who prefer Moore often do so effusively and with a spring in their step. Perhaps that's a difference between the two characterizations? Perhaps, ultimately, it doesn't matter.