50 Shades of Porn

PrincessMy wife says it best: I’m a “book whore.” I simply cannot read only one book at a time. Hell I’ve even serial-cheated on Stephen King. Could it be that my scrambled egg book brain works best in a blender? Whatever the case, at one point this year I was reading fiction: King’s brilliant 11/22/63; non-fiction (really?) Heaven is for Real; and a biography: Rob Lowe’s Stories I Only Tell My Friendsexcept the story about snorting coke with teen girls. All great reads, and best enjoyed in a blender. “Hit puree!” [watch Goonies].

My wife, on the other hand, is a book bore. She’s a prolific reader of the type of romantic westerns that Laura Ingalls would rate G. At least, that’s what I believed before I bought her a Kindle Fire last Christmas. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring…except Shane syncing his wife’s Kindle Fire to her Amazon account.

When what to my wandering eyes should appear…but half-naked cowboys on the covers of her countless “historical romantic westerns.” These weren’t Little House on the Prairie novels…they were Little Hoes on Fabio! I feared her Kindle might catch FIRE or go into heat from all the barebacked, bare-chested, naked cowboy romance.

Okay, so I’m exaggerating a little. But for every Sarah, Plain and Tall my wife reads…there’s at least one Tall, Dark, and Handsome on her Kindle Fire. Nothing, however, compares to the genre switch that has her giggling in bed until the wee hours of the morning. Yep, it appears that Fabio has hung up his saddle and hair extensions to allow my wife to enjoy the newest sensation that’s titillating women all over the nation…MOMMY PORN!

50 Shades of Grey? Bondage. Domination. Sadism. There’s no gray about it. It’s porn!


And since I’ll never be accused of judging a book by its cover…I’m now reading the book my wife reads under the covers. My initial review: It’s Crap-tacular! I mean, how can’t you love this crap:

“Does this mean you’re going to make love to me tonight, Christian?”
“No, Anastasia it doesn’t. Firstly, I don’t make love. I f**k… hard!”

To quote EL James’s fellow literary genius Wayne Campbell:

“Ex-squeeze me??? Baking powder???”

Yes, the writing is hack…but it’s HOT…and it’s flying off e-Book shelves faster than Christian’s and Anastasia’s clothing. Think of it as a permission slip for conservative wives/moms everywhere to feel a little naughty. I mean, don’t all wives/moms deserve a  little extra sugar, spice, and everything nice (eg, masks, handcuffs, whips, and ties)?

What I find most entertaining is trying to predict which mom, daughter, sister, or even grandmother is reading it. Since the Kindle has essentially become the modern-day brown-bag booze cover….I pay extra close attention to the moms who read their Kindles at my 6-year-old daughter’s baseball games. Note to Moms: Your 50 shades of blushing give you away.

The book has been dubbed “mommy porn”, but I think that’s an unfair tag. I call 50 Shades of Grey mommy escapism. An escape from “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Mama. Mama. Mama.” [watch Family Guy].

So to moms everywhere, I say: embrace your “inner Goddess”…and enjoy your 50 Shades of Porn.

Laters baby,


NOTE: Universal has already purchased the movie rights to 50 Shades of Grey. My wife is campaigning HARD for Matt “White Collar” Bomer (ryhmes with female boner). While I can’t agree with her casting prediction because I’m jealous of him, I will offer the following prediction.

The following exchange….

“Why don’t you like to be touched?”
“Because I’m fifty shades of fu**ed-up, Anastasia.”

…will replace “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” as the corniest fu**ing line in film history.

You Can’t Judge a Facebooker By Its Cover

CriminalIn one of the world’s most widely anticipated—and reported—IPOs in history, Facebook is poised to raise at least $5 billion and begin selling its stock this spring. Perhaps more impressive than the expected $5 billion windfall are the 800 million active users who are still wild about a “fad” that I once called “the pet rock of the digital age.”

Okay, I admit it. I was way off about Facebook…and I have been almost off Facebook more times than the seven stranded castaways on the Isle of Gilligan. Why? To quote the Gospel According to John Hughes, “in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions”…Facebook still feels like high school to me. In high school, we all fit neatly into one of five social categories, right? So I must steal a page from the Hughes script and apply this same “five social categories” principle to all 800 million of you Facebookers out there. I like to call it “The Five MEs of Facebook.” So which Facebook ME are YOU?

Are you a “Hey, remember ME”?
These aren’t actual Facebookers…they’re YearBookers. They’re the first to scan and post pics from old yearbooks and photo albums from the good ol’ days. If it were up to them, we’d celebrate reunions like birthdays and we wouldn’t need Netflix…because we’d just stream old home movies from each other during homeroom. And we’d buy the lie that we look as good in bathing suits today as we did in all those spring break pics we “just happened to find” while visiting mom’s attic. Shame on ME!

Are you a “Hey, look at ME”?
These are the FaceHookers. The ones voted most likely to turn their cell phone cameras around and pimp themselves out…daily. If they have children, they’ll occasionally exploit them too…but their children are more like trophies that help shine the spotlight onto “look at ME”. Or better yet, garnishes that attempt to enhance the presentation of cheap meat. And for many a FaceHooker, real tricks are being turned. Ever notice how it’s always summer in their world, their clothing stores ran out of sleeves, and their cell phone cameras are Velcroed to their bathroom mirrors?

Are you a “Hey, Facebook’s not really for ME”?
These are the FakeBookers and FaceLookers. They sign up for Facebook, go on a 24-hour friending spree, only to Faceplant themselves in the Facebook protection program behind the same years-old profile pic/smug shot. They know who they are, and we’re not fooled by their ambivalence toward social networking. They secretly monitor our every post, pic, and nip slip. They’re not quite voyeurs, stalkers, or gawkers…they’re more like the hall monitors of middle school, the narcs of high school, and the nosy old neighbor who peeks through her blinds every G-damn time my kids so much as breathe within 300 feet of her house. Sorry, where was I?    

Are you a “Hey, help ME”?
These are the FaceHaters and FaceBaiters who routinely bitch and cry for help from the BFFs they should text in private in the event of a real emergency. For every blunt “I’m not happy with my life” or whiny “I can’t fall asleep” there’s a vague, almost redemption-fueled cry like “You know who you are” or “I know what you did last summer!” And we’re all stupid enough to take the bait because “the boy who cried wolf” is the only parable that made any sense to us growing up. Note to the “Help MES” of Facebook: In the event of an actual emergency, you can just dial 1-800-GET-OFF-THE-F**KING-COMPUTER!

Are you a “Hey, nothing…just hey from ME”?
These are the FaceInvaders who abduct our news feeds with hackneyed links and mindless musings about the contents of their refrigerators, closets, and shitters. They’re narcissistic enough to believe their midnight jaunts to 7-Eleven for Big Gulps are as newsworthy as dancing the jig with the bulls in Pamplona. Every crap they take is 60 Minutes-worthy. Maybe they share the mundane so we can feel their pain? Or maybe they fancy themselves as the Dos Equis man of Facebook…when, in fact, they are the least interesting men and women in the world.

OR…and God bless you if you are…
Are you one of the rare, relevant, and refreshing Facebookers who we all aspire to be? Sure you may be guilty of the occasional nostalgic, vane, or mundane post…but you never lose sight of what’s witty and post-worthy. Simply put, you make the Facebook world go ‘round and this world would be flat, square, shameless, and (perhaps) IPO-less without you.

Now does being one of Facebook’s finest give you a golden ticket to the IPO?  Heck no! Like me, you may have to settle for a far less lucrative stock…or the next pet rock.

The Sandlot: Great Expectations in Little League Baseball



I was somewhat of a local legend back in the day. In the spirit of the great boys of summer who came before me, I once delighted Morristown fans to a brand of baseball that was seldom seen in these parts. A glove man of such grace, fans would pack-in the friendly confines of Burnham Park just to watch me take infield practice.  You could have charged admission and they’d still come to behold the wizard of Burnham Park turn a diamond in the rough into a field of dreams. My hands were so soft, they called me “Hoover” back then. If you already caught the vacuum analogy, please let me hose you with the rest of my hyperbole. My glove was the place where base hits went to die, and I could count the number of errors I made on my middle finger [it’s still sticking up if you’re knocking me for bragging]. And my curveball didn’t just break, it broke the hearts of opposing batters.


If all that shameless self-praise has you ready to eject me from the blogging game, please keep in mind that I was only 12-years-old at the time. I’m allowed to boast now because my baseball career didn’t have a Roy Hobbs-like ending. I never tore the cover off the ball or shattered the stadium lights with my Savoy Special. Heck, I could hardly splatter the inner edge of the outfield grass with the 30-inch Easton Big Barrel that outweighed me. I didn’t even win a varsity letter…unless you count the endless string of Es I committed during my freshman baseball season. Burdened by expectations, I started playing less like the vacuum Hoover and more like the President Hoover. Yep, my career as a slick-fielding, weak-hitting ballplayer peaked at the age of 12. So I guess you could say I didn’t live up to people’s great expectations of me. Or maybe I simply crumbled under the weight of those expectations.

So to this day, when I reminisce about playing baseball….I’m not wearing a uniform for my high school team. I’m playing on the Burnham Park little league field where my father/coach stood outside the dugout smoking his Winston reds right down to his nicotine-stained finger nails. I’m heading up to Newburgh, NY with my 1985 Morristown National Little League state championship teammates. Or I’m in the street with a tennis ball and a makeshift stickball bat with my brother and friends. I’m nailing cars, breaking the neighbor’s window, and helping my friend to his feet because a telephone pole caught his face before his glove caught the ball. In other words, I’m playing baseball with only one expectation in mind: having fun!


Today I coach baseball on the very same little league field where I played as a kid. And I follow my father’s Hippocratic-Oath-like first rule of baseball: “FIRST, have fun!” Believe me, this isn’t always easy. Coaching my son on the same field I played on, it’s almost impossible for me to not set high expectations for him and his teammates. I’m as competitive as the next coach, and I’m a firm believer that it’s a lot more fun to win than it is to lose. But every time I find myself getting caught up in the good plays and bad plays, the hits and the misses, or the wins and the losses…I remember my father’s golden rule of little league baseball. If that doesn’t work, I pop in The Sandlot.

“Man, this is baseball! You gotta stop thinking! Just have fun. If you were having fun, you would have caught that ball!”


The Sandlot is youth baseball in its purest form. It’s about kids passing time playing the great American past time. No benchwarmers or All-Stars, just boys growing up with baseball in the foreground and the expectations of parents and coaches far off in the background. The kids are the players, coaches, umpires, and spectators….and they’re all having fun. Too often, I fear, kids aren’t playing baseball for fun. They’re playing to meet or exceed the expectations set by everyone but themselves. Sometimes it’s the expectations of the coach, or a parent…or as is often the case: the parent/coach like myself.

As a parent/coach to my 11-year-old son (and 6-year-old daughter), I’ve learned to not set too many expectations for a couple of reasons:

1. Expectations are probably what took the fun out of baseball for me after little league. And it’s probably why, to this day, I feel my son’s strikeouts and errors as if they were my own.
2. Expectations backfired when I named my firstborn after Cal Ripken…and he named his first love SOCCER.

So if you ever find yourself frustrated by your child’s recent slump or string of errors, try to remind yourself of the golden rule set by the greatest coach I’ve ever known: “FIRST, have fun!”


If that doesn’t work, rent The Sandlot…or just read the tagline on the movie poster: “The Sandlot: A piece of paradise a half block wide and a whole summer long.”

Little league baseball lasts longer than a whole summer….and for most kids, it’s as close to baseball paradise as they’ll ever get. But only when expectation #1 is to first have fun.

The Best Western

553923_416617291729992_787666550_nFor those of you who think this is an article about my favorite family-friendly hotel chain, I’m very sorry. Since my blog readership skews more toward the Women Are from Venus end of the universe, consider yourself warned. This article will have about as much appeal to women as a tossed salad served in a dust bowl.

Today I’m writing about the best “movie” westerns of all-time. I was named after one of the best, and I was practically breast-fed on the rest. Before I could even mimic a “Come back Shane!” cry, I had a holster filled with a cap gun. Then I graduated swiftly from breast milk to Gerber and onto roast beef sandwiches from Roy Rogers. You remember the old-school, saloon-looking Roy Rogers, right? As a kid, the Roy Rogers on Rte. 10 in East Hanover felt like Wild West City to me. And in my childhood fantasy, my dad was Wyatt Earp…and I imagined he was the only reason why a gun fight never broke out around the Fixins’ bar.

Seriously, nobody ever looked cooler in a pair of “dungarees”, work boots, and a flannel than my dad. If he hadn’t smoked Winston reds, we’d have called him the Marlboro man. And if he weren’t such a cool dad, maybe I wouldn’t share in his passion for a true American original: the movie western.

Now you can argue about the real birthplace of baseball (some say it’s England, not Cooperstown). You can convince me that our current president was born in Hawaii (by way of Kenya). But you can’t tell me that there’s anything more American, more inextricably linked to the world’s vision of America, than the movie Western.

And here are my Magnificent Seven westerns [sorry, Magnificent Seven came in at #8]…

7. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Home for the funeral of an old friend, Senator Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) recounts the true story of the man who killed the titular villain (Lee Marvin). When the true story is finally told, the answer defines the western genre: “This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Was the true legend Jimmy Stewart’s lanky, leftist-leaning lawyer? Or was it the gritty John [right as] Wayne gunfighter? Not so much a whodunit as a character study of two polar-opposite heroes (and actors for that matter). The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance proves that in the old west, just as in today’s western world, America is at its best when people of different beliefs join forces…even if it means crossing party lines.

6. Unforgiven
It’s fitting that Clint Eastwood got to make “the last great western” some three decades after making a fistful of dollars redefining the genre. But this ain’t your father’s man-with-no-name Eastwood. Here Eastwood has a name (William Munny), he has an anti-hero past, and he just wants to settle down with his young wife and raise crops. But as another iconic Eastwood character famously warned, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

So when a couple of cowboys cut up a prostitute, the bounty on their heads is all the convincing Munny needs to saddle up with his partner Ned (Morgan Freeman) and seek the justice that Sherriff Little Bill (Gene Hackman) cares little to provide. Eastwood’s never been better. He wears regret on one sleeve while unleashing his gun from the other.

“I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I’m here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned.”

Unforgiven doesn’t just “blur the lines between man and myth, heroism and villainy”…it says unapologetically that sometimes the good can also be bad and ugly.

 5. The Searchers
Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns from the Civil War, but the war still rages inside him. When “Injuns” attack and kidnap his young niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood), Ethan and his nephew Martin (Jeffrey Hunter) set out on a years-long journey to find her.

After years of searching in vein, Ethan’s single-minded hatred toward the Comanche appears to change his primary motivation. Recognizing that she’s probably been tainted by the “savages”, thoughts of rescuing Debbie are replaced by thoughts of the unthinkable. This is John Wayne’s greatest performance because he’s not afraid to ride his angry anti-hero dangerously close to the edge of insanity. So close to the edge, in fact, that the climactic scene feels less like a rescue and more like an attempted kidnapping. That is, until our worst fears are relieved, and the anti-hero turns hero with four simple words: “Let’s go home Debbie.”

Don’t get me wrong, The Searchers is not an easy movie to watch. It’s also a movie experience you’ll never forget.

4. Rio Bravo
“A game-legged old man and a drunk. That’s all you got?”

Add Ricky Nelson’s Elvis wannabe/Love Me Tender-less gunfighter, and that’s exactly what John Wayne’s got in this classic, often hilarious western. Yes, the story and the archetypes are all too familiar. Here the under-matched good guys face insurmountable odds in order to keep the brother of a local villain in jail. But it’s not the story, it’s the cast of characters, that makes Rio Bravo so unforgettable.

As John T Chance, John Wayne essentially plays a fun-loving parody of himself. Dean Martin’s Dude is the most loveable drunk this side of Wilbur “Shooter” Flatch [rent Hoosiers]. But it’s Walter Brennan’s Stumpy who damn near steals the movie as the cantankerous old cripple assigned to guard the prisoner.

Rio Bravo is filled with so many memorable and quotable moments. My personal favorite is the “My Rifle, My Pony and Me” sing-along. Like the “Show me the way to go home” scene in Jaws, it’s that perfect movie moment where the characters forget their differences and come together for some buddy-bonding….just before the shit hits the proverbial fan.

3. High Noon
Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) has just hung up his badge. Now he’s looking forward to riding off into the sunset with his impossibly gorgeous bride (Grace Kelly). As western fate would have it, he picked the wrong day to honeymoon with Grace Kelly. Kane learns that Frank Miller, a man he sent to prison years before, will return on the noon train to exact his revenge.

Against his better judgment [he’s passing up a honeymoon with Grace fu**ing Kelly], Kane decides he must defend the town he no longer calls home. Unfortunately, his door-to-door calls for help are greeted with the kind of response I give a Jehovah Witness. Even his own deputy begs for a day off, to which Kane responds: “Go on home to your kids, Herb.”

My brother will never come right out and say it, but he’s not a Gary Cooper fan. So I think he downgrades High Noon on those grounds. Others, like John Wayne, came right out and called High Noon “Un-American” in its day. I argue that “the story of a man who was too proud to run” is the story of our everyday American heroes: The brave officers and  firefighters who run into burning towers when others are running out. Or how about our military heroes who risk their lives to defend our freedom every day…so I can “go on home to my kids” every night? To me, that’s the story of High Noon.

2. Once Upon A Time In The West
To fully appreciate the artistry (and some might say larceny) of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies, you must first feast on this greatest of all Spaghetti Westerns. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is still everyone’s trendy pick, but Once Upon A Time In The West is Sergio Leone’s time-tested masterpiece. Brilliant set designs, a score that soars, and camera views that practically stick the loaded barrel between your eyes.

Steely-blue eyes have never been meaner than Henry Fonda’s. Harmonica-playing heroes have never been cooler than Charles Bronson. And bombshells have never been, well, bombier than Claudia Cardinale.

The film also features the greatest climactic draw in film history. When Frank (Henry Fonda) and Harmonica (Charles Bronson) square off, their history is finally revealed to us. And when the harmonica is placed in the mouth of a mortally-wounded Frank…this same history becomes his final, horrifying recollection on Earth. I guess Frank was right: “People scare better when they’re dying.”

1. Shane
I’m ashamed to say I didn’t watch the movie I was named after until I was in high school. My defense: Shane is one of those movies that’s famous even among people who haven’t see it. In other words, I wish I had a fistful of dollars for every time some jack-wagon hit me with the much-parodied “Come back Shane!” line. For the record, it’s “Shane! Come back!”

When I finally overcame “Come back Shane” fatigue, I learned that my namesake was more than just a one-line-wonder. It’s a wonderful movie about a weary gunfighter (Alan Ladd) who attempts to hang up his guns and settle down. Shane quickly wins the admiration and employment of Joe Starrett (Van Heflin), a humble, hardworking homesteader whose embroiled in a fight for his land.

Shane also wins the hero-worship of young Joey (Brandon DeWilde) and the quietly obvious affections of Joe’s wife, Marion (Jean Arthur). The plot inevitably forces Shane into a fateful climax against Wilson (Jack Palance), a hired gun who looks like a Muggle-born version of Lord Voldemort. Wilson’s serpent-like features and menacing expressions make him the personification of pure evil. It’s up to Shane to confront Wilson and “clear out all the guns from the valley.”

As for the “Shane! Come back” finale…some contend that a wounded Shane rides off into those majestic mountains to die as he wanted to live…in peace. Others have suggested that Shane’s respect for Joe Starrett makes him retreat before the inevitable love triangle reared its ugly head. I think the answer is much simpler, and we can draw our conclusion from Shane’s own words: “There’s no living with a killing. There’s no goin’ back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand… a brand sticks. There’s no goin’ back.”

As for Joey’s final cry out to Shane, I believe it represents the idea that a boy’s childhood heroes are fleeting. Inevitably, at some point, most boys go back to respecting the values of their first hero. “It’s a brand…a brand sticks.” And for the lucky sons like me and Brett and Joey, our favorite brand of hero is our father.

[Note to Dad: I’m proud to be named after Shane…even though I’m less gunfighter and more gunpowder puff].

[Note to Brett: How can you have a DieHard-on for a certain “Yippee-Ki-Yay motherfu**er” cop…and not love Gary Cooper’s Will Kane?]

I’m a Muppet of a Fan

PrincessThere’s an old apocalyptic tale my father shared with me when I was a child. It goes something like this: If there were ever a global thermonuclear war, cockroaches would be the lone survivors. Along with Keith Richards, Twinkies, and presumably those yellow Easter-season chicks called Marshmallow Peeps.

I know I’m going out on a green, felt-covered limb here…but I’d like to add The Muppets to this post-apocalyptic survivor list. Keep in mind I say this with zero scientific knowledge to back me up. I’m only guided by a soft spot for nostalgia, my firm belief that Kermit is a wiser puppet philosopher than Yoda, and the fact that my daughter is obsessed with The Muppets some 20 years after their presumed extinction from relevancy.

Yes, I’m a “Muppet of a Man.” I’m also damn proud to say that my 6-year old daughter is a Muppet of a fan. She started counting the days ‘til March 20th soon after she stopped counting the days ‘til December 25th. March 20th you ask? The day The Muppets arrived in video stores [do they still have video stores?] and landed in my BluRay player. I’ve been smiling ever since, and I’m happy to say that the more things change, the more The Muppets stay the same.


When I first heard that Jason Segel had written a new Muppets script, I had my doubts. Let’s face it…The Muppets were about as relevant as a “Who Shot JR?” t-shirt. Fanatic or not, I feared Segel would play the ironic, out-of-their-era hook for easy laughs [think “The Brady Bunch Movie”]. The brilliance of Segel’s (and Nicholas Stoller’s) heartfelt and hilarious script is that they don’t shy away from the irrelevance. They embrace it. Case in plot point, when we learn that Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) wants to drill for oil under The Muppet Theater, nobody—least of all The Muppets—care to save the theater. That’s where our Muppet-loving heroes come in.

A Muppet named Walter, his human brother Gary (Segal), and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) are tasked with making the world care about The Muppets again. Part of the fun—and underlying sadness—is how far the filmmakers go to tell us what we already know: The Muppets have faded into the kind of obscurity reserved for the cast of Alf. Kermit’s a hermit living a depressed life in Beverly Hills. Fozzie’s bearly hanging onto his sense of humor with “The Moopets” tribute band. And poor Animal is a strung-out drum addict stuck with a sponsor named Jack Black [can we fade him into Alf-like obscurity? Better yet, suck him into a Jack Black Hole?].

So Walter, Gary, and Mary hit the road and try to convince Kermit and company to reunite, “light the lights”, and save The Muppet Theatre. The film is packed with the chirpy songs and smart, rapid-fire humor that first won me over in 1979 [and had me carrying a Muppets lunchbox to school long after lunchboxes were relevant]. Segel and Adams play their human characters with relentless, Muppet-like enthusiasm. Without a single knowing wink to the camera, their squares have a whole lot of flair to spare. They’re never too cheeky or ironic, and when they sing “Life’s a happy song”…it’s as if they’re paying tribute to Jim Henson himself. In other words, “Life’s a happy song…as long as we’ll always have The Muppets to sing along.”

Is it the “most sensational, inspirational, celebrational” movie of the year? Maybe not. But it’s “Muppetational” enough to make my daughter finally forget about the mindless mayhem of a square-pantsed sea sponge. She’s now a Muppet fan…and she’s proud to say her daddy will always be a “Muppet of a man.”


It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights.” It’s time to rent, download, stream, or purchase The Muppets movie tonight.

Seriously, I don’t think they have video stores anymore.

Still Wild About Wilder’s Willy Wonka


RIP Mr. Wilder!

Blog post from March 2, 2012

When my friend Molly posted this photo of my first movie hero last week, I felt like I had just chugged a Fizzy Lifting Drink. I was sky-high and belching my way to Cloud 9.

Then I read her caption: “My most serious crush, even more than David Cassidy or Bobby Sherman.” Huh? Willy Wonka as sex symbol? When I try to describe Wilder’s on-screen appearance as Wonka, I sound an awful lot like Grandpa Howard from Sixteen Candles. You know, when he’s inquiring about the whereabouts of Long Duck Dong.

“What was he wearing? Well, uh, let’s see, he was wearing a [brown top hat, purple jacket, tan bow tie, and pink shirt]. Hmmm? No, he’s not retarded.”


A couple of days after Molly’s post, my brother left me the following message: “Shane, I just watched Willy Wonka again. It’s still the greatest. You’ve gotta write a blog about it.” Hmmm? No, he’s not retarded either. Brett’s a fanboy who—like me—calls Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory the greatest children’s movie of all-time. [Sorry Dorothy, flying monkeys creep the crap out of me].

As a little boy curled up in my beanbag chair, I remember being so captivated by the colors of Wonka World…so intoxicated by the imagined smell of the chocolate river…and so scared shitless by that riverboat tunnel ride. “There’s no earthly way of knowing/Which direction we are going/There’s no knowing where we’re rowing/Or which way the river’s flowing.” This same verse can be used to describe the genius of Gene Wilder’s Wonka. It is, quite simply, my favorite cinematic invention of all-time.


In his biography, Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art, Gene Wilder writes that he was hesitant to play Willy Wonka at first. In fact, he would only accept the role on these terms:

“When I make my first entrance, I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself…but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.”

When asked why, Wilder replied:
“Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”

And from that time on, Gene Wilder gives a chocolate factory tour-de-force performance as Willy Wonka. He’s compulsively manic, eccentric, distrustful, and quite possibly diabolical. “And almost everything you’ll see is eatable, edible. I mean, you can eat almost everything.”

I firmly believe that Gene Wilder built his performance on a simple fact. Kids are smarter than we—and Disney—give them credit for. They don’t miss a trick. The brilliance of Wilder’s slight-of-hand performance is that he’s still tricking kids some 40 years later. The trick? Kids don’t even realize they’re being fed a three-course morality meal. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is chock-full of hard lessons in gluttony, vanity, greed, bad parenting, and “gum-chewing’s fine every once in a while.”

But Wonka’s lessons never taste preachy because Wilder never lets kids get comfortable. He dismisses “bad eggs” the same way he dispenses whimsy…with little effort or concern. “It happens every time. They all become blueberries.”


As a kid, I was scared to death! They’re “gonna squeeze her like a little pimple”? Won’t she explode? Will Charlie be next? Sorry kids, no Disney shortcuts here. Your happy ending is going to be earned.

“The suspense is terrible, I hope it’ll last.

The suspense lasts until the final scene. Just when you think there’s nothing left of the weary Wonka, his frustration over not finding a worthy heir boils over into a fit of rage: “You get nothing!!! You lose!!! Good day sir!!!” Then with the simple drop of an everlasting gobstopper, all that vein-popping, spit-spewing, hair-straggling rage settles into a genuine smile. That same smile, I presume, that Molly’s been crushing on all these years.

Yes, Charlie ultimately gains Wonka’s trust. And Wilder finally lets us trust Wonka….while planting a gobstopper-size lump in our throats. No more tricks. Just the treat of watching Wilder’s Wonka tell “an honest, loving child” that he’ll live happily ever after.

There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination.

Willy Wonka and the Chocoloate Factory is that rare family film that hits all the magical movie marks: Delightful and funny, exciting and scary, silly and smart. And Wonka’s all these things because of Gene Wilder’s genuine work of pure imagination.

As for Molly, I have but one question: Like the gobstopper, is your Wilder crush everlasting?


Oscar Mail Bag: Dear Oscar Winners, Whiners, Weiners & Wannabes

CriminalWhile it’s an honor just to be nominated, only a chosen few take home hardware on Oscar Sunday. Those poor A-listers who don’t win—or don’t even get nominated—have to settle for parting gifts. More specifically, gift bags worth tens-of-thousands-of dollars.

This year, stars checking into the Four Seasons Hotel found Traveler’s Choice luggage bags filled with gifts valued at $7,000. Nauseous yet? How about a KitchenAid mixer set with 22-karat-gold paint and Swarovski crystal? Yep, this is the ugly side of Oscar.

Uglier still, my own Oscar gift bag. Actually, it’s a mail bag…filled with letters I’ve written to former Oscar winners, whiners, weiners, and wannabes.

Dear Oscar Glutton,
You’re the greatest living actress. You’ve won two Best Actress awards and been nominated an astounding 17 times. Please don’t win tonight. I understand you haven’t won since Sophie’s Choice, but enough is enough! You’re enjoying a career re-birth, backed by a string of box-office hits, at an age where most actresses get scripts for Driving Miss Daisy sequels. But it’s not your time for number three. It’s time for you to do a Margaret Thatcher Streep-tease. Take off the silicone mask, ditch the wig, and lose the fake teeth [or give them to Johnny Depp…see letter 4 below]. Forget the fact that you’ve been winless since 1982′s Sophie’s Choice. Just watch The Help. And then tell me Viola Davis isn’t Meryl’s Choice for Best Actress.

Dear Recent Oscar Winner,
You won our hearts in The Man In the Moon. You made it impossible for us to vote against you in Election. You were criminally hilarious in Legally Blonde. And when you Walk[ed] the Line to Oscar gold seven years ago, I had greater expectations than Just Like [Hell], Four Christmases[Like] Water for [Chocolate] Elephants, How Do You Know,  and This Means [Bore]! Ms. Witherspoon, we’ve grown tired of your Reese’s Pieces of crap movies. Go find your inner Roseanne Cash. Toss Penelope into a burning ring of fire and get your shit together. Now somebody gag me Wither-spoon. Sorry, that was corny.

Dear Oscar Sore Loser,
You’re one of my all-time favorites and nobody wants your latest comeback to actually stay back more than I do. But your half-ass commitment to hosting the Oscars this year reaked of Tower Heist promotion. And storming out of the Kodak Theater after losing to Alan Arkin in 2007 didn’t win you many future Oscar voters. Especially when you had the lady-in-fat-suit Norbit opening the following week. Sure, you sort of returned to form in Tower Heist, but when I closed my eyes…you sounded an awful lot like a street thief imitating Donkey from Shrek. My Oscar tip for you: Rent Eddie Murphy Delirious, then hit the comedy clubs and reclaim your comedic genius. Rent Dreamgirls, then seek out an A-list director with a script that’s not written in crayon, Yes, that means pass on the next Dr. DooLittle for your career family script…and give us Eddie. If that doesn’t work, there’s always Buckwheat.

Dear 3-Time Oscar-Nominated Actor,
Want an Oscar? Prove that you can once again embody a character whose not hiding behind Keith Richards’ accent, Phyllis Diller’s make-up, or a Cher wig. The Pirate drag queen franchise is more played-out than Police Academy movies. Pirate Academy? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Johnny, take it down a notch. Trade in loud for quiet…3D for 2D. Remember your Oscar-worthy quiet performances? Did Gilbert Grape need grape lipstick? Did Donnie Brasco need eyeliner to go deep undercover? What chance do you have of Finding Oscar’s Neverland if you continue to mistake stretching for merely saying yes to Tim Burton. And for the love of Edward Scissorhands,  please stop raiding Helena Bonham-Carter’s wardrobe. [Note: For readers who don’t know she’s married to Tim Burton, that joke just bombed worse than Rum Diary].

Dear Leaving Las Vegas Oscar Winner,
When do you plan on Leaving Los Angeles? Just STOP making movies Mr. Cage.

Sincerely Yours,

Dear Mr Vernon

Oscar Sunday: A Family Affair

553923_416617291729992_787666550_nHappy Oscar Eve!

When I was growing up, my family treated the Academy Awards like a national holiday. Not quite Christmas, but a touchdown ahead of Super Bowl Sunday. Yep, that big! We’re talking Oscar-Eve excitement on the level of “can we open one present on Christmas Eve….pleeeeease???”

Back in those days, the whole Oscar season felt different too. Less business, more show. You still had all the pre-show pomp and circumstance, but there was far less public campaigning and Weinstein-ing. There were no Vegas odds or Entertainment Weekly prognostications. And you couldn’t care less about Oscar’s ugly little sister’s Golden Globes because they were on cable. The only hype I recall was self-induced. More like panic, it was the startling realization that you’d never see all the nominated movies in time for Oscar night. But I’d catch most of them, pick my favorites, and then tune in/doze off…and dad would wake me up for the big surprise!

Ordinary People over Raging [fu**ing] Bull???” That was my reaction to 1980’s surprise. I was 8-years old.

My love affair with Oscar and all-things movies was passed down by my father. The proof is typed on the birth certificates of his two sons. My brother’s the “Brett Maverick” cowboy and I’m the “come back Shane” gunslinger. HA! “Gunslinger? You look like Chandler Bing and your review of The Vow read like a coming-out party?” True, but here’s my defense…

If you’re ever in my father’s basement “theater”, check out the permanent ass-print in his reclining movie chair. He simply loves watching movies. He prefers classic westerns, but he’ll gladly take classless comedies, hokey horror, the Van-Damme worst action movies ever made, and any rom-com with an “I want the fairy tale” ending. He’ll acknowledge The Godfather is the greatest film of all-time…then he’ll recite Roadhouse verbatim. Yes, even the “I f**ked guys like you in prison” line.

But ass-prints and crap movies aside, dad still knows Oscar-worthy from Oscar-wannabe…and he lives for Oscar Sunday.

Today, my brother and I no longer watch the Oscars alongside dad and his movie chair. But our connection to dad and Oscar night remains stronger than ever. Brett’s an actor himself, and his SAG membership privileges (“For Your Consideration” DVDs) help to lessen my pre-Oscar panic. And we make sure dad gets out to see some of the Oscar front-runners on the big screen as well. Like in 2006, when we finally convinced him to go see Brokeback Mountain with us. Then we had to convince him to sit anywhere near us. “Are you nuts? People are gonna think I’m with a couple of……….”

WTF??? Crash over Brokeback Mountain???” That was my reaction to 2006′s surprise. And I’m straight.

So this year, we’ve seen all the movies we needed to see….except for the one movie we couldn’t hear. We have our personal favorites (mine is Moneyball). The only thing we don’t have is hope for a big Oscar surprise. Seriously, you don’t need a crystal ball to predict The Artist, Clooney, Davis, Plummer, Spencer, and the French director. But I’m not complaining. I already got my crystal surprise.

“Holy shit! Billy Crystal is back as Oscar host!!!” That was my reaction to 2012′s surprise. Because I remember the last 8 times he hosted….and I remember last year’s hosts.

Last year, the beautiful and talented Anne Hathaway proved she had the smarts and personality to host an awards show. That awards show airs on Nickelodeon. Unfair? Okay, I know she was game, but her “aww-shucks, I’m not worthy” giddiness made me grit my teeth right back at her Mr. Ed chompers. Mean?

No, I’ll save mean for her comatose co-host James Franco. He tried to channel Jack Nicholson’s “too-cool-for-the-room” vibe, but he came off like a wannabe Jeff Spicoli. Here’s a thought: Maybe Franco survived 127 Hours between two rocks and played the perfect stoner in Pineapple Express because he has the personality of a fu**ing stone.


What I’m trying to say is Oscar Sunday belongs to Billy Crystal. Word of his return had me reminiscing about Oscars of old. Like the one-armed push-ups that inspired the “Jack Palance just bungee-jumped off the Hollywood sign” quip. Or the Hannibal Lecter “I’m having some members of the Academy for dinner” opening. It’s not just Crystal’s surprise openings and quick-wit, though, it’s his class (not crass, Mr. Gervais). Crystal has a healthy respect for the show, the room, and “that big terrible number that usually opens the Oscars.” Those are his words from 1990, and he’s turned that “big terrible number” into the number-one thing that we’re all guessing about this Oscar Eve. Will he go for the potentially hilarious silent-movie montage in honor of The Artist? Or better yet, will he drag Meg Ryan out of retirement (and her latest collagen treatment) to re-enact her “I’ll have what she’s having” deli orgasm scene…silently? A man can only dream.

Whatever Billy does, I’m sure it’ll surprise us, entertain us, and make it Crystal-clear to all of us why there’s a permanent ass-print in my dad’s movie chair. We simply love the movies.

Note to Brett:

When you get your first Oscar nom…be sure to score some Oscar tix for your cowboy brother and your Roadhouse-lovin’ dad. And make sure you call ahead. I heard The Kodak Theater has a strict policy against dad’s bringing their own movie chairs.

A Mets Fan’s Guide to the Top 10 Baseball Movies of All Time

251415_420212768037111_1648127768_nMets pitchers and catchers report to camp next week. I’ve looked at their projected roster and all I can say is: “Who are these fu**in’ guys.”

If you know that movie line, you probably know where I’m heading with this. Even the eternal optimist in me can’t crystal-ball a scenario where “the worst team a Ponzi scheme can buy” will win 80 games this year. So with little hope for the 2012 Mets —and zero interest in the team playing in the House that Ruthless Built—I turn my attention to my favorite baseball movies of all-time. These are in order, and open to debate…especially from Yankee fans*:

10. The Rookie
The day after watching The Rookie with my young son, I suggested he buy one of those baseballs with the built-in radar. This way he could measure the speed of his fastball. My son was only 4 at the time. I clocked my fastball at 68 MPH. In school terms, that’s a D+. In The Rookie terms, that’s 30 MPH short of the 98 MPH fastball that a 39 year-old chemistry teacher throws. Today, like The Rookie, I’m 39-years old. I wonder how fast my fastball…err…my son’s fastball is now?

9. Moneyball
I hate math. I suck at math. I loved this movie about a general manager who uses advanced math to field a winning baseball team on a shoestring budget. Because beneath all the Bill James number-crunching, there’s an underdog story played to perfection by Brad Pitt as Billy Beane. Like “Jerry Fu**ing Maguire” before him, Billy Beane rolls the dice. He takes a chance on the fat kid from Superbad, sticks to his guns, and watches their little experiment change the game forever. To that, I say, “show me the Money[ball]!”

8. Eight Men Out
By now, everyone knows that the 1919 Black Sox threw the World Series. But most people don’t know how it was done or why it was done. Did Kennesaw Mountain Landis wrongly paint all eight with one broad brush. Was Shoeless Joe Jackson merely a victim of his own illiteracy? Did Buck Weaver commit a crime simply by NOT ratting out his teammates? This is a heartbreaking story from one of baseball’s darkest days. It’s a reminder that baseball is big business…and whenever there’s big money to be made, big-time corruption is sure to follow. Did you hear that WILPONS???

7. Soul of the Game
This little-known, made-for-HBO movie tells the story of the Negro League superstars who were not the first to cross baseball’s color line. Satchel Paige was arguably the greatest pitcher of his generation. Josh Gibson the greatest hitter. Yet it was a lesser-known Jackie Robinson who was anointed to cross the line first.

When “Linsanity” first hit a couple of weeks ago, I made the comment to my boys: “Wow, can you imagine what it must have felt like for Jeremy Lin to sit on the end of that Knicks bench every night? Knowing he was good enough to play…wondering if his Asian-born/Ivy league background was the reason he wasn’t.” Then I kicked my own ass for making the comment, rememebered Satchel’s persistence,  Gibson’s heartbreak, and Robinson’s courage. And I watched Soul of the Game with my boys.

6. The Bad News Bears
A couple of years ago, on the eve of our team’s first 9 year-old All Star game, we scheduled a team-bonding night. We built it around a classic kid’s baseball movie. Twenty minutes in, we realized our mistake. “All we got on this team are a buncha Je*s, spi**s, ni**ers, pansies, and a booger-eatin’ moron!” Bad News Bears is NOT a kid’s movie. It is, quite possibly, the most politically incorrect movie ever made. It also remains one of the most consistently, unapologetically funny movies I’ve ever seen. Oh, and there’s also “a cruddy alky for a manager!”

5. Major League
I had only been dating Helena for a few months. We were watching a Mets game. “El Sid” Fernandez was laboring on the mound [didn’t he always]…when, in a perfect Lou Brown rasp, Helena blurts out: “Get me Vaughn!” First comes “Vaughn”, then comes marriage. And after 17 years of marriage, she still watches baseball on her own Major League terms. After an anemic offensive output from the Mets: “That’s all we got, one goddamn hit?” After David Wright boots a ball at third: “Don’t give me this olé bullshit!” Major League is a major reason why my wife and I don’t only watch rom-coms together.

4. Bull Durham
“…I believe in the soul, the co*k, the pu**y, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch…I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there oughtta be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter…and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.” And I believe that if Crash Davis had heard voices in an Iowa cornfield, he’d have plowed over his corn, built a driving range, and waited for Tin Cup McAvoy to come. And I believe that’s why I like Bull Durham. It shows the funny, sexy, and sometimes “…utterly fu**ing hopeless” side of baseball.

3. The Sandlot
My baseball career peaked at the age of 12. And even though I played baseball until my senior year in high school, I don’t reminisce about wearing a uniform or hoisting a trophy. When I reminisce, I’m playing baseball in sweatpants cuffed at the knee. I’m in the back yard with my brother making permanent baseball diamond dirt-prints. I’m in the street with a tennis ball and a makeshift stickball bat with my friends. I’m nailing cars, breaking the neighbor’s window, or helping my friend to his feet because a telephone pole caught his face before his glove caught the ball. Today, backyards have perfectly manicured lawns. Dead-end streets like mine are dead quiet. Baseball fields are often empty or—GASP—have lacrosse nets where outfielders should be. That’s why I love The Sandlot.

2. The Natural
I was never a fan of comic book superheroes until my brother rented The Natural when I was 12-years old. More like The [Super] Natural, the story of Roy Hobbs still feels like a superhero origin to me. He’s the golden-haired Wonderboy with the corn-fed upbringing. He has a special power—a cannon for a left arm. His weapon of choice—a bat he carved out of a lightning-struck tree. Unfortunately, his father dies before he can warn him that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Need I go further? I will. Sixteen years after he “up and vanished like a fart in the wind”, our hero returns in nomadic Dr. David Bruce Banner fashion. He knocks the cover off baseballs, shatters stadium light bulbs, and could probably leap tall buildings in a single bound. The Natural is baseball and cinematic magic at its best…and Roy Hobbs is my favorite superhero.

1. Field of Dreams
Not only my favorite baseball movie of all-time, but my favorite movie—period. It takes a special kind of movie to send me out on a road trip to Iowa for my one-year wedding anniversary. [Relax ladies, we toured the Bridges of Madison County too. Okay, we drove through one of the bridges.] I needed to experience “the smell of the grass” and “a chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it.” I wasn’t disappointed. I only wish I could make a return trip with my father, brother, and two sons. There’s simply nothing more Apple-pie American than a boy having a catch with his father. And there’s no greater movie ending than the simple, childlike innocence of “Hey dad…you wanna have a catch?” Field of Dreams so authentically represents all that is right about the American dream and America’s game. “It’s the [movie] where dreams come true.”

Please don’t take the exclusion of Pride of the Yankees too personally. Yes, I hate the Yankees. But Gary Cooper is one of my all-time favorite actors. And yes, his “luckiest man” speech manipulates my tear-ducts just like yours. But sorry…until a Spielbergian director can digitally re-master Gary Cooper into anything that resembles a baseball player who’s actually held a bat before…I cannot rank Pride of the Yankees in my top 10.

Crazy, Stupid [In] Love with The Vow

PrincessI vowed to hate the second half of my Valentine’s date last night. Hell, I even skipped dessert, fearing I’d go into diabetic shock from all the sugary sweet confections on the big screen. Worse than dismissing the film on premise alone, I nearly spoiled dinner for my wife. I started brainstorming these opening insults for a review of a movie I hadn’t seen yet. For example,

I liked The Vow better the first time…when it was called Regarding Henry.

For the love of God, just curl up in bed with James Garner and Gena Rowlands already!

SPOILER ALERT: Rachel McAdams finally remembers…it’s P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.

Did I really loathe the idea of spending a romantic Valentine’s evening watching a romantic movie with my wife? No. Truth is, it’s no secret that I’ve got a soft spot for rom-coms. But after falling so Crazy, Stupid, [in] Love with the Ryan Gosling ab movie last summer, I really needed to disavow the genre altogether. To put it mildly, I needed to smoke an unfiltered cigarette, slug a pint of Guinness, shit all over The Vow, and watch me some Spaghetti Westerns when I got home.

Instead, I Googled the real-life couple* who inspired the film that I enjoyed way too much. Turns out I liked the cheesy amnesia premise. Enjoyed watching two genetically blessed actors fall in love for the first time…and hopefully for a second time. I especially liked how the producers raided Cousin Eddie’s wardrobe just to make it seem harder to fall in love with Tatum a second time. No joke, at one point he appears to be wearing a denim leisure suit that wouldn’t fit a Build-A-Bear.

Yes, the movie should come with a warning for diabetics. It’s that light and sweet, romantic and contrived. But it’s also just original enough and funny enough to rise above a predictable genre that banks on amnesia from its audience. Rachel McAdams is at her Notebook best as Paige. Channing Tatum summons his inner Christopher “cowbell” Walken as Leo. Like Walken, Tatum’s quirky delivery works to great dramatic and sometimes comedic effect. Just funny enough, in fact, that I’ve lifted my personal boycott on the 21 Jump Street trailer.

The supporting cast is lead by Sam Neill, who basically plays the “not with my daughter” role from Cocktail. Scott “Felicity” Speedman plays the “other guy” who douche-bags his way back into Paige’s life. And as Paige’s mother, poor Jessica Lange looks so old and wrinkly that Sam Neil offers her the occasional Jurassic Park double take.

So does Paige finally remember Leo? Does Leo make her fall back in love with him all over again? Do they steal a page from The Notebook and die happily ever after? Sorry, no spoilers here. I’ll only offer three tips: 1) Skip dessert; 2) See The Vow; 3) Don’t tell anyone I told you so.

*Google note: as for the real-life couple who inspired the film….they look less like Tatum and McAdams…more like Turner and Hooch.