Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cool Shakespearean Insults - Chapter 2

I don't know about you but I'm ready for some more put downs from the Bard. I am continually amazed at his use of common words in uncommon ways to create fabulous burns. So gentle people let the games begin.

I do desire we may be better strangers.

Thou frothy flap-mouthed minnow.

You scullion! You rampallian! You Fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe.

Thou puking dismal-dreaming horn.

Villain, I have done thy mother.

Thou spleeny flap-mouthed harpy.

They lie deadly when they tell you, you have good faces.

Thou rank beef-witted measle.

Thou art the son and heir of a mongrel bitch.

Thou churlish fen-sucked strumpet.

Away, moldy rogue, away!

I think thou wast created for men to breathe themselves upon you.

More of your conversation would infect my brain.

 I wonder that you still be talking. Nobody marks you.

Well, that's all for now. I challenge you to use one of these pithy phrases on an acquaintance who doest thou find irksome.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Comic Book (Graphic Novels) Villains : The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The new 'Avengers' movie will feature the Hyper-Villain Ultron. I recently started up a conversation about this massively powerful super creep. In the entire group I was in, no one even knew who this bad guy was.

Also, with the upcoming crossover between 'Arrow' and 'The Flash' which features Captain Boomerang, I wondered who might appreciate a heads up about this guy - although with all the mega-humans coming out of the woodwork on 'Flash', I'm thinking it might not be the same guy. In any event, I'm going to give you the low down on several of the coolest, weirdest, baddest super (and not so super) villains in both the Marvel and DC universe.

Let's begin with Ultron - First of all, Ultron is a robot, albeit one with a mind of its own (no three laws for him). Henry Pym (The Ant Man, a superhero destined to have a movie of his own in the near future) created Ultron and implanted his own brain patterns into his creation. Ultron rebelled and decided that the human race needed to be exterminated. Go Figure. Like Wolverine, Ulton - or at least a subsequent upgrade of the robot - is made of indestructible Adamantium. He is also incredibly strong (we're talking Hulk strong), almost invulnerable, can fly, and can put large numbers of folks in a trace with just a glance. And one more thing, if he is defeated, like the robot in the 'The Incredibles', he recreates himself with new enhancements. At last count, there was an Ultron 15.

Captain Boomerang - Alias George 'Digger' Harkness, the good Captain is an enemy of The Flash. First of all, he uses boomerangs like Batman uses the weapons in his utility belt or Arrow uses his specialized arrows. On top of that, he had, in a limited sense, the ability to match Flash's bursts of speed. He has tangled with the Flash on more than one occasion and of course lost.

Dormammu - Rumor has it that Marvel is planning to release a Doctor Strange movie. As a fan of the super-mystic Strange, I am looking forward to this one. Anyway, one of the most powerful adversaries - and I believe the very enemy that Strange will face in the movie - Dormammu is a bad ass. Demonlike, he appears surrounded in a corona of fire. Like Strange he is a master of the Mystic Arts. He has conquered and subjugated a butt-load of alternate dimensions but the one he has set his sights on is ours. He can travel effortlessly between these dimensions, alter his size and strength, travel in time, and is a master of telepathy. Oh yeah, he can transform others into copies of himself and equip them with his powers.

Gorilla Grodd - Recently on the TV show 'The Flash' the mysterious wheel-chaired mastermind Harrison Wells (Just who the heck is this guy anyway?) went into his secret sanctum and addressed a creature in a cage marked Gorilla Grodd. I said--out loud at the time--wait a minute, one of Flash's big time adversaries is Gorilla Grodd. This bad simian is a member of a race of super-apes who have kept their existence a secret from humanity. Grodd can control the minds of others, transfer his consciousness into others, transform matter with his will, and if all of this wasn't bad enough, he is a genius on the order of Lex Luther. What the heck is he doing in a cage in a back wing of Harrison Well's abode?

The Absorbing Man - If you're a fan of Marvel's Agents of Shield you've seen this nightmare on two different episodes. Carl 'Crusher' Creel is featured on the show as a thrall of Hydra (Hail Hydra!!!) but the original Creel was a creation of Asgard (who are also featured from time to time on Marvel's Agents of Shield). Loki, Thor's evil half-brother endowed Creel with the power to absorb and become anything he touches. This includes energy or even sometimes the powers of his adversaries, one of which was Thor the Thunder God. He had fought the Hulk to a standstill by absorbing his strength. He carries a ball and chain which he uses the way Thor uses his hammer.

The Penguin - One of my favorite shows this season is 'Gotham' and my favorite character on this excellent show is Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot. On the TV show he is a manipulative genius, a ruthless adversary, and someone who seems destined to rise up through the ranks of Gotham's underworld. In graphic novels (and one so-so movie) he is a foe of Batman. Like Moriarity of Sherlock Holmes fame, The Penguin prefers to remain behind the scenes doing nefarious deeds in secret - pulling the strings as it were. Occasionally he confronts Batman and Robin directly, usually in some plot involving birds. He has also teamed up with a few other of Batman's enemies and has come close to putting the Caped Crusader on ice.

The Riddler - Another character on 'Gotham' is a criminologist named Edward Nigma. Currently, he is just an annoying fidget who seems obsessed with puzzles and riddles. This scenario is slightly different from the one presented in the comics of my youth but the outcome appears to heading the same way. E. Nigma (get it?!) will eventually decide to go to the dark side and will become the criminal The Riddler. In this persona, he will, like The Penguin, become a foe of Batman and Robin. A genius with puzzles, Nigma can't resist leaving riddling clues which eventually lead to his downfall.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Theory of Everything

I can't deny it. I love movies. For less than ten dollars (sometime a whole lot less) I get to enjoy a film that might cost a half billion dollars to make.

That said, it's a real treat when a movie not only touches my heart, but uplifts it as well. 

The Theory of Everything is a significant section of the life of Stephen Hawking - from 1963 when he was a Science student at Cambridge trying to decide on a direction for his thesis to close to the present. It is not science heavy but more revolves around the relationship between him and his wife Jane Wilde. And of course there is his neurological disorder. 

 The acting is superb. The writing is funny, poignant, sweet, and articulate. I do believe Eddie Redmayne (think Les Miserables) as Hawking never lets us forget there is a living breathing man inside the deteriorating shell of the scientist. There's a scene where he plays with his children, careening around his living room on his electric wheelchair--lovely. Felicity Jones as his courageous wife Jane is powerful at the same time as being breathtaking in her depth. The supporting cast is terrific as well, from David Thewlis as Dennis Sciama, Stephen's mentor who became his lifelong friend to Charlie Cox a music teacher who became so much more.

I could go on and on but I hope I've convinced you to give this one a try. You won't be disappointed.

Incredibly Cool Fictional Horses - Chapter 1

Once I got hooked on famous steeds and their equally famous riders, I found myself staring at an even more fascinating group of equines - Famous Fictional Horses. Here are a few. I hope you find them as entertaining as I did.

Shadowfax - Lord of the Rings fans will know this magical horse who aligned himself with Gandalf. This steed belonging to the city of Gondor, would be Gandalf's (both as Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White) companion through all of his battles to save Middle Earth.

Fatty Lumpkin - While were talking about LOTR we can't forget Tom Bombadil (although Peter Jackson did in his three movie series). Bombadil rode Fatty as he accompanied the Hobbits on a leg of their quest to keep the infamous Ring of Power out of the hands of the Black Riders.

Arion - Some horses in mythology are not altogether normal. Arion the steed of Hercules, had the feet of a human on his right side.

Sleipnir - Another horse that was different from your run of the mill equine, Sleipnir belonged to Father god Odin. And oh yeah, he had eight legs--which strikes me as bit arachnid.

Tornado - It didn't matter if he was being chased by one horse or an army, Tornado, the jet black steed of swordsman Zorro, could not be caught.

Widowmaker - Some horses won't put up with just anybody riding them. This lightning bolt of a pony belonging to the rootenest, tootenest cowboy in the whole west, Pecos Bill, did not take a shine to Bill's girlfriend Slufoot Sue. When she plopped herself down on his back he bucked her clear to the moon. That is why coyotes, to this day, bay at the moon every night.

And let's end with a biblical equine, although this one is a donkey.

Balaam's Ass - It came as quite a surprise to Balaam when what he thought was an ordinary donkey started talking. Balaam who was in the process of disobeying the God of the Old Testament, couldn't see that God intended to slay both rider and donkey but the ass could. After simply balking and refusing to ride into certain destruction, the donkey turned to Balaam and called him a fool. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Famous Historical Horses and Their Riders

Don't ask me why, but I recently became obsessed with famous people and the horses they rode in on. Hopefully, you'll also enjoy a bit of back story to go with your horsey facts. Soooooo, without further ado, Here are the equines:

Bucephalus - When Alexander was a mere stripling, this formidable steed was deemed unrideable. The beast would have been killed if little Alex hadn't interceded on it's behalf. The deal was that if Alexander could bend the animal to his will, the horse would his. Truth was, the horse from Hell almost killed Alexander on more than one occasion but in the end horse and rider became fast friends. Bucephalus would become the warhorse that Alexander the Great rode into battle.

Traveler - This horse, belonging to General Robert E Lee was considered the 'finest looking horse I ever laid eyes on'. The man doted on Traveler, being seen in the company of the animal in over a dozen photographs. Needless to say, Lee rode his favorite horse into more than one battle.

Comanche - Belonging to General George Custer, Comanche was one of the few horses to survive the battle of Little Big Horn. The victorious Sioux and Arapaho  recognized a good horse when they saw one and kept the animal to its dying day.

Nelson & Blueskin - At Valley Forge, Washington didn't just have one horse, he had two as he struggled through the bitter winter of 1775. Not much is known of these two noble steeds except that both horses, like Washington himself, survived the ordeal.

Incitatus - This horse, belonging to crazy-as-a-bedbug Roman Emperor Caligula lived a charmed life. While the mad emperor was setting fire to friends and members of the senate, he pampered Incitatus, making him a Roman Consul and feeding him powdered gold. 

Morengo - Napolean is shown riding Morengo in the famous painting by Jacques-Louis David. Many scholars question if this horse of legend actually existed while other claim this was the animal that Napolean rode into the Battle of Waterloo.

Brown Beauty - The truth is that Paul Revere did not own the horse he rode on his famous ride. In fact, many scholars say that name of the steed in unknown, but a select group of historians say the horse Paul borrowed that night from chair-maker Samuel Larkin was indeed named Brown Beauty.

 Red Fox - If you rob banks and trains for a living, you need a fast horse. Jesse James had what many people considered the fastest horse in the west. After Jesse quit his thieving ways, he made a bundle (before being shot from behind by Bob Ford) racing Red Fox.

Old Bob - Not much is know about this horse with a less than impressive name except that he was the favorite horse of Abraham Lincoln.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cool Shakespearean Insults

I have never met anyone who didn't know some of the Bard's put downs - 'Cankerblossom' comes to mind.

For this list I have chosen some that I think are richer, more textured, and might even be used today - Shakespeare is nothing if not timeless. I will first give the play, so you can go look up the insult in context if you so desire. So without further ado (about nothing, hee hee) let the insults fly.

As You Like It - Let's meet as little as we can.

Henry IV, part 1 - Why, thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch.

All's Well That Ends Well - Methinks thou art a general offense, and every man should beat thee.

Henry V - Thou damned and luxurious mountain goat.

King John - There is not yet so ugly a fiend of hell as thou shall be

King Lear - Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.

Measure for Measure - Come, you are a tedious fool.

Timon of Athens - Would thou were clean enough to spit upon.

Troilus and Cressida - Thou hast no more brain than I have in my elbows.

A Midsummer's Night's Dream - I am sick when I look upon thee.

And now one that gets right to the point.

The Winter's Tale - Go rot!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Secret and not so secret Identities of Superheroes - Chapter 1

Obviously, comic book superheroes are fictional characters, so this list is really character names Chapter 3.

A superhero, theoretically, needs a secret identity to protect the folks he or she cares about from bad guys seeking revenge. If you were say, the wife of Batman and the Joker, who everyone generally concedes is bat-shit crazy, knew it, your life wouldn't be worth much. Now that is not to say that every superhero had a secret identity. In the Marvel Universe, Iron Man and Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards) both have come out of the closet, so to speak.

For this post I have concentrated on mostly the well known characters. The next graphic novel post will visit lesser know entities. And for the sake of brevity, I have limited myself to ten from DC and ten from Marvel, but be sure to look at the end.

1. Batman - Millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne
2, Superman - Reporter for the Daily Planet, Clark Kent
3. Green Lantern (the original, silver age) - Hal Jorden, Test Pilot
4. Flash (again, the original, silver age) - Barry Allen, Forensic Police
5. Martian Manhunter - John Jones, Police
6. Wonder Woman - Diana Prince
7. Green Arrow - Oliver Queen
8. Plastic Man - Circus performer, Patrick O'Brian
9. Aquaman - King of Atlantis, Authur Curry
10. Captain Marvel (Shazam) - Child, Billy Batson


1. Spiderman - Student and Reporter, Peter Parker
2. Iron Man - Industrialist, Tony Stark
3. The Hulk - Scientist, Bruce Banner
4. The Thing - Pilot, Ben Grimm
5. Wolverine - Adventurer, James 'Logan' Howlette
6. Black Widow - Spy, Claire Voyant
7. Captain America - Soldier, Steve Rogers.
8. Hawkeye - Agent of Shield, Clint Barton
9. The Cyclops (X-man) - Student, Scott Summers
10. The Beast (X-man) - Hank McCoy

Next up - Names, powers, and identities of supervillians

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Twelve Labors of Hercules

A little background before we jump into the big man's trials and tribulations. Hercules (or Herakles if you're Greek), was the son of Zeus, conceived in one of Zeus's infidelities. This pissed off Zeus's wife Hera and she spent a lot of effort to make Herakles's life miserable. But her nastiest deed was to make Herakles mad for a day (some say she got him drunk) and cause him to kill his wife and children. When he came out of his madness, Herakles was heartbroken. He went to the oracle at Delphi and she told him to indenture himself to King Eurytheus for twelve years. The famous Labors are the result of this servitude.

Here they are in order:

Labor 1 - Kill the Nemean Lion; Easier said than done since this particular lion had a hide that was impervious to sword or spear. Hercules (let's go with this name since its more familiar) beat the lion to death with his club and skinned him - I know, how did he do this since the hide was invulnerable?  For the rest of his life Hercules wore the skin to make himself invulnerable.

Labor 2 - Kill the Lernean Hydra - This monster was a dragon who, if you cut off one head grew two. For this labor, Hercules brought along his nephew - I'm not kidding. As soon as Hercules cut off a head, nephew cauterized the wound, preventing new heads from growing.

Labor 3 - Capture the Ceryneian Hind - The beast had bronze hooves and golden horns. Hercules had to be careful not to hurt the creature since it was sacred to the god Artemis. I do believe by this time Hercules was somewhat pissed at King Eurytheus because when the creature did take some hurt, Hercules said it was the king's fault.

Labor 4 - Capture the Erymanthian Boar - This creature had been terrorizing King Eurytheus's kingdom and had slaughtered many of the king's greatest warriors. Hercules netted the beast and brought it straight away to the king, who was so frightened by the boar's appearance he hid in a large vase.

Labor 5 - Clean the Augean Stables - These stables belonged to Augeus another son of a god, this time Helios, the sun. These putrid stables housed hundreds if not thousands of horses and had not been cleaned for years. Hercules diverted a river into the stables and Viola, spic and span.

Labor 6 - Kill the Stymphalian Birds - Even though these bad, bad birds tended to kill everyone who had the misfortune to stray into their forest (they had beaks and claws made of iron and a taste for human flesh), they must have heard of the prowess of Hercules because they hid out in the upper branches of their trees and refused to come down to play. The Goddess Athene, who obviously favored Hercules over Hera, gave Hercules a set of golden castanets that drove the birds mad and forced them into the light of day. Hercules then shot them one by one with his bow and arrows.

Labor 7 - Capture the Bull of Minos - Yes indeed, the same Minos of Crete that harbored the dread Minotaur. But wait, it gets better. This particular legendary white bull was the sire of the Minotaur (with Queen Pasiphae who when she saw how beautiful the bull was had to have a little bovine love). Poseidon had ordered this bull sacrificed and the current king of Minos had refused. Thus Hercules's labor. After capturing the bull, the famed hero Theseus found it and fulfilled Poseidon's wish. The Bull was sacrificed on the fields of Marathon.

Labor 8 - Capture the Horses of Thrace - These particular horses, all mares by the way, were fond of human flesh. Their owner, King Diomedes, loved to feed unlucky wanderers to his string of ponies. Hercules killed the evil king, fed his body to the mares, and while the horses were sated captured them.

 Labor 9 - Steal the Girdle of Hippolyte, Queen of the Amazons - A renowned warrior, Hippolyte did battle with Hercules. The girdle which had magical powers, made her even more lethal but in the end Hercules killed her. I think this particular Labor was a nasty bit of business.

Labor 10 - Bring Back the Cattle of Geryon - Geryon was a monster (three bodies, if you can wrap your head around that) in the company of a giant named Eurytion and a massive two-headed Hell Hound (Orthus). These three nightmares together guarded an immense herd of wild red-furred cattle on the plains of Hesperides (pretty much Spain) Hercules did battle with all three and killed them all. He then had do a cattle drive from Spain back to Greece.

Labor 11 - Steal the Apples of Hesperides - Yes the same Hesperides of the 10th Labor. The golden apples were guarded by a a giant serpent named Ladon. To make matters worse Hera herself had owned the apples. They were a wedding present from the Goddess Gaia when she married Zeus. As if Hera didn't already have enough reasons to be pissed at Hercules. Since Hera had her eye on Hercules, he used subterfuge and convinced the Titan Atlas that he would take over his burden of holding up the Earth if Atlas would pick the apples. Rumor has it that not only did Atlas pick the apples but on his way back he freed his brother Titan from the eternal torture Zeus had laid on him. Oh and course, he returned and gave the apples to Hercules.

Labor 12- Descend into Hades and Capture the famed Three-Headed Dog Cerberus - For this one, Hercules need the help of two gods - Hermes and Athene. But they could only get him into the underworld; he would need the cooperation of Hades himself. The dark god agreed that Hercules could take the dog if he could best him without weapons. Hercules wrestled the beast and defeated it. Oh yeah, in his spare time, Hercules found and released Theseus who Hades had imprisoned. 

After all this you would think Hera would be super angry with the god-hero but in the end, hero and goddess reconciled. On his death, Hercules ascended onto Olympus as a god where he married Hera's daughter Hebe.

All's well that ends well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


First of all, let's get this out of the way. Interstellar is three hours long. If this is more sci-fi--with a touch of Quantum Physics and Philosophy thrown in--than you are in the market for, this one's not for you. The talk of space-time can be daunting at times but I am a nerd for such things. 

Characters - the leads, Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway are terrific, as are the secondary characters, Michael Caine and the two actresses that play Matthew's daughter. They are at once knowledgeable and human. Thus they are flawed. I liked that. 

Synopsis - The Earth is dying. A massive planet-wide Dust Bowl called the Blight is destroying all plants. People are starving. Technology is frowned upon. Cooper (McConaughey) is one of the last space pilots left on Earth and he and a few other astronauts are tasked with saving the Earth. Oh yeah, they are traveling to another Galaxy--through a wormhole--to investigate four planets that might be suitable homes for the human race. The planets are marvelous.

The effects are wonderful, but the humanity in the writing is what sells the story. I loved the relationship between Cooper and his daughter. I loved the vulnerability of all the characters especially Anne Hathaway's character. But then again, I think she's terrific in everything she does.

In the end there's a smidgen of space-time hocus pocus but as I said before I love that stuff.

So what can I say but give it a shot.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Complete Names of Fictional Characters - Chapter 2

I such a good time with the last list - who knew that Barbie's real name was Barbara Millicent Roberts - that I had to put together another one. So here's your list, see how many you know before you scroll below:

1. Mister Magoo's first name

2. The Yellow Hat Man from Curious George

3. The Policeman from the Game of Monopoly

4. From the old sitcom Nightcourt, the bailiff named Bull

5. The full name of the Lone Ranger.

6. The real name of Scaramouche.

7. Anne of Green Gables last name

8. The Killer from No Country for Old Men

9. MacGyver's first name

10. George's (Lenny's friend) last name from Of Mice and Men

If you can name even three of these you are worthy of much praise. But if you can get them all, you more than likely can also levitate and have x-ray vision. 

1. Quincy Magoo is the myopic wanderer

2. Curious George's human friend is Ted Shackleford

3. The man who will send you to jail (straight to jail) is Officer Edgar Mallory

4. The giant bald-headed bailiff Bull on Nightcourt is Nostradamus Shannon

5. The Lone Ranger is John Reid

6. Scaramouche, that daring rogue is Andre-Louis Moreau 

7. Anne of Green Gables's full name is Anne Shirley

8. The mesmerizing killer in No Country for Old Men is Anton Chigurl

9. Mister I-can-defuse-an-atomic-bomb-with-a-hershey-bar's full name is Angus MacGyver

10 Lenny's friend in Of Mice and Men is George Milton

As before I would love to hear from any of you who enjoyed this list. And if you did please follow my blog. If you know the first name of Cramer on Seinfeld let me know.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Cool List of Baseball Records

These aren't purely random. They interest the nerd and mathematician in me. What has always amazed me is how some people carry around in their heads so many Baseball trivia items (see The Trouble With The Curve with Amy Adams). Hopefully, at least one of these will not be on those folk's radar.

Biggest Bat ever used - The average bat in use today is 34-36 oz. Babe Ruth, however used a bat weighing 59oz. 

Biggest Paycheck - A-Rod, or Alex Rodriguez, 275 million. I have no doubt this record will be broken soon. Baseball palyers make a butt load of money.

Tallest Player - John Rauch of the Toronto Bluejays. The man was over 6' 11".

Heaviest Player - Walter Young of the Oriels. 322 pounds

Shortest Player - Eddie Gaedel was not only the shortest (3' 7") but also the lightest (65 pounds). St Louis Browns 1951.

Longest Home Run - 643 feet, Mickey Mantle, Yankees

Highest Price Paid for a Baseball - $3,054,000 Mark McQuire's 70th home run ball. 

Fastest Pitch - 105 MPH, Aroldis Chapman of Cinninnati Reds. By the way, the reds lost anyway.

Most Number of Teams - Octavio Dotel has been on 13 major franchises.

Most people in attendance at a single baseball game - 115,300; Saturday, March 12, 2008, LA Coliseum: Dodgers vs Red Sox

Longest Game Ever Played  in 20th or 21st Century- I know I'm being picky but some games before 1900 went on and on. The longest game in my time span was on May 1,1920. The Boston Braves and the Brooklyn Dodgers. It went 25 innings and ended in a 1-1 tie. They had to quit as the field had no lights and it had gone dark.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Big Hero 6

A few weeks ago I listed my all time favorite animated movies - 2000 to 2014. A few that made the cut were Toy Story 3, Up, Monster House, and Brave. If I were writing this list today, I would have to add Big Hero 6 to that list.

When I mentioned that I planned to go see this wonderful movie to a few friends of mine, they asked if I were taking my grandchildren. I wasn't. 

I had been anticipating seeing this movie for a few weeks and I was taking a friend of mine. He is in his seventies.

Before I go into my review, I'd like to mention that John Lassiter of Pixar fame is connected with the making Big Hero 6 so those of you who have been holding back from seeing this fine little flic can be assured that no corners were cut and the quality of the storyline is excellent. 

If you haven't seen any coming attractions, here is a synopsis. In San Fransokyo, a city of the future, Hero a young tech prodigy, a nurturing robot, and a band of geeks must confront and bring down an evil super-villian who has killed Hero's brother and threatens their world. While the story is funny and action packed, the robot is the star.

The storyline is both funny and touching with writing that seemed to appeal to the kids in the audience and yet was strong enough to keep my attention. The young group of friends are charming, heroic, witty, intelligent, and in their own way wise. The robot, who resembles a giant marshmallow, is hilarious. In the end they save the day while maintaining their integrity. I would recommend this movie without reservation for a child of any age.

Lastly, the animation is splendid. I loved the color palette, the textures, the sequencing, and look of the characters.

Catch this fine animated film.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Earth Extremes:The Highest, The Largest, The get the idea

For years I coached Knowledge Bowl at the High School and Junior High level (in fact I put this experience into one of my mysteries). One of the things all my academic athletes had to know was the extraordinary features of the Earth. Then said to myself, "I bet a lot of people would like all of the cool places on Earth gathered in one list. So here's that list.

Highest Mountains
Vinson Massif - Antarctica
Mount McKinley/ Dinali - North America
*Everest - Asia
Mount Ebrus - Europe
Mount Townsend - Australia
Kilimanjaro - Africa
*tallest in world

Largest Mountain Chain 
Atlas - Africa
Alps - Europe
Andes - South America
*Himalayas - Asia
Snowy - Australia
Transantarctic - Antarctica
*largest in the world

Longest River
*Nile - Africa
Amazon - South America
Mississippi - North America
Volgo - Europe
Yangtze - Asia
Onyx - Antarctica

Largest Desert
Before we list the largest deserts in each continent, let it be known that the largest desert in the world is the continent of Antarctica. This continent gets less rainfall than the Sahara.

Sahara - Africa
Gobi - Asia
Patagonia - South America
Great Victoria Desert - Australia
Chihuahuan - North America

Highest Waterfalls
*Angel Falls - South america
Victoria Falls - Africa
Yosemite Falls - North America
Dettifoss Falls - Europe (Iceland)

If you can think of any others you didn't see here feel free to send them to me. If fact, I would love it.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Best Westerns Movies of all time - In my Opinion

I am a sucker for a good western. Whether I've seen it on the big screen or the boob tube, I consider some of my best wasted hours were glued to a cowboy tale. What I've included here are some of my favorites in order from my all time favorite to my 18th. That said, even the 18th I would watch again in a heartbeat. So hang onto your ten-gallon hats, here we go:

1. Lonesome Dove - Oaters don't get any better than this mini-series. I have seen it at least eight times. The characters of Gus McCrae (Robert Duvall)  and Woodrow Call (Tommy Lee Jones) are some of the best drawn in the lore. From the moment we are introduced to the pair of legendary Texas Rangers, they mesmerize. Their monumental cattle drive to Montana and the adventures they experience along the way are enough to fill four stories. The secondary characters - Blue Duck, Pea Eye, Newt, Jake Spoon, July Johnson, Lorena, and Clara, Deets, Roscoe, Po Campo - are so well drawn that they could be heroes in their own right.

2. The Magnificent Seven - Taken from the classic Japanese tale The Seven Samurai, this story of a group of gunslingers who come to the aid of a small Mexican town is fun and eye-popping from beginning to end. Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, JamesColburn. Nice.

3.The Outlaw Josie Wales - There's going to be a number of Clint Eastwood flics on this list and this is my favorite. A very well drawn character just trying to live his life. Of course he's also a bad ass.

4. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - John Wayne is another name you're going to see a lot. This one also had Jimmy Stewart and is told as a flash back by a senator on the way to the funeral of a friend. Good Stuff.

5. The Wild Bunch - Sam Peckipaw in his hay day. Another collective group movie of some very violent men who don't take lightly being messed with. 

6. Tombstone - "I'll be your Huckleberry." When Val Kilmer (Doc Holiday) pronounces this statement, he's not offering to eat pie. Everything about this one forced me to go out and purchase it. Oh yeah, the Earps are good too.

7. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - Clint Eastwood again in what arguably may be his most famous role, "The Man with No Name.' Lee Van Cleef became famous with this one as well. The final gunfight between the three main characters is classic. 

8. High Noon - Academy award winner here with Gary Cooper as a peaceful man doing 'what a man's got to do' even if the town he's sworn to protect turns it's back on him.

9. Open Range - Another Robert Duvall winner. This time he is joined by Kevin Cosner as one very dangerous man. Ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances and becoming heroes.

10. True Grit - This is the only movie that is on the list twice. This is the one with Jeff Bridges. Academy award nominee. Tale of a man hired by a young girl to avenge the murder of her parents. Bridges is a delight to watch.

11. Fist Full of Dollars - The first of the 'Spaghetti' westerns. I went to see this one with my dad. Clint Eastwood was great as 'The Man With No Name'. This movie proves that if you mean to kill someone, you need to finish the job.

12. For a Few Dollars More - Sequel to Fistful, this one introduced Lee Van Cleef to the world. Fabulous shoot-em-up.

13. Blazing Saddles - How could I not include this terrific comedy in the list? The fart scene alone makes the movie worth seeing.

14. True Grit - This one has John Wayne as the Rooster Cogburn main. He is given wonderful lines to speak and is a larger than life character. I love this movie.

15. The Shootist - John Wayne's last movie. The main character is a dying gunfighter which mirrored Wayne's circumstance as well. Terrific finale.

16. Shane - Another gunfighter trying-to-outrun-his-past movie but this one was the first. Alan Ladd is outstanding as Shane a man who just wants peace but cannot turn his back on injustice. Nice.

17. Sons of Katy Elder - One of a dozen John Wayne vehicles that seem as if they crafted just for him. When their mother dies, the Elder boys (including Dean Martin) come home to find that bad men have done their parents wrong. A big mistake for the bad guys. Wayne is terrific.

18. Unforgiven - Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Academy award. Best pair of lines. "You shot an unarmed man!" "Well, he should have armed himself."

Honorable Mention:

Once Upon a Time in the West - love the opening three minutes
Cat Ballou - Lee Marvin in a double role
The Mini-series Centennial
El Dorado
The Searchers
3:10 From Yuma - Both versions

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sports Lists- Substances, Scandals, and Sucky Behavior.

This trio of lists is dedicated to sports, all sports and the nasty stuff that happens in them. Now, trust me, I wouldn't put just any trio of lists in front of you unless they were also fun. 

Performance Enhancing Substances - I think?

Strychnine - Yeah, the deadly poison. There was a time this stuff was thought the bees knees for success in running. In fact, there might be something to it.  In the 1904 Olympics, Thoman Hicks brewed up a brandy, egg whites and strychnine cocktail. He needed emergency treatment at the finish line and almost died. But he Won!!!

Donkey Hooves - Egyptian athletes (that's ancient Egyptian athletes) mixed ass hoof powder, oil, and rose hips to give them that little extra something. I'm thinking ass breath.

Sugar Cubes Soaked in Ether - In the 1870's pretty much every cyclist on the Marathon circuit (we're talking 144 hour races) was doing this trick and when that wasn't enough their coaches added cocaine and nitroglycerine. Oh yeah, peppermint thrown in for flavor.

Baking Soda - This one is still in use today. Called soda-doping it helps swimmers increase the Ph of their blood to counteract the acid buildup in the muscles. One side effect - soda-doping causes extreme diarrhea. 

Human Hearts - This one belongs to the Aztecs who had a thing for human hearts to begin with. Athletes would ingest heart flesh to boost prowess.

Guinea Pig Sperm - In the late 1800's Nutritionist and Physiologist Charles Brown-Sequard recommended an injection of this particular rodent sperm. He said the injection would not only make you stronger but would 'lengthen the arc of your urine'.

We all know of some of the big scandals: Boston Black Sox, Point shaving in basketball, Pete Rose. Here are a few scandals involving small time cheaters:


Rosy Ruiz and the 1980 Boston Marathon - A lot of people know about this one but if you're not one of them, here are the facts. Rosy set a new world marathon record 2:31:36. Unfortunately, she took the subway for part of the route. Soon, it was learned she cheated also in the New York Marathon the year before. To this day, although there is ample evidence, she denies any wrongdoing and refuses to return the medals. she also refuses to run the races ever again.

One Bad Bass Fisherman - In 2005, at the CITGO Bassmaster Central Open (first prize $10,000), Paul Tormanen won the coveted prize but not legally. His prize winning catch had been tied off the night before to a stump and just apprehended when the time was right. Unfortunately for Paul, a competitor had found his fish, and with the help of wildlife officials marked the bass. Paul was charged with fraud and barred from competitive fishing for life.

And now how about some just overall bad behavior. I think Ty Cobb's behavior in general was bad but then again here was a man who ran into the stands and beat up a man who had no arms. I mean c'mon.

Sucky Behavior - 

The Real McCoy - Boxing has had its examples of bad behavior: razors in the gloves, hitting below the belt, and of course fight fixing. But Charles 'Kid' McCoy took bad behavior to new heights. Once when fighting a deaf boxer, he simply dropped his gloves and pretended the bell had sounded. when his competitor turned round and headed for his corner, 'The Kid' snuck up behind him and knocked him out.

Red Auerbach - In the 1950's and 1960's Coach Auerbach of the Boston Celtics was perhaps the worst host in the history of basketball. He made sure that at least on of the toilets in the visiting team's locker was stopped up and overflowing with human excrement. He also made sure the heater in their facility was cranked up to ridiculous heights so the team would be dehydrated. 

Eddie 'The Brat' Stanky - With a name like Stanky, I suppose you are predisposed to bad behavior. Second baseman Stanky perfected the 'Stanky Maneuver' where he would jump up and down, wave his hands wildly to distract opposing batters. Eventually, Commissioner Ford Frick made a rule forbidding such dubious behavior.

Spain's Para-Olympic Basketball Team. This is really bad behavior. In 2000, the Spanish Paraolympic basketball team won the Gold medal. later it was learned that 10 out of the 12 players were not mentally challenged at all. They got to keep the medal.

There are obviously other severely behavior challenged individuals in sport, and I would love to hear about any that come to mind. Also, I'm in the market for the most unusual mascot. And finally, I would love to hear about sport extremes: Shortest man to ever play professional basketball, heaviest person to play baseball, tallest woman in any sport.

That's all for now. Once again, avoid the yellow snow.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Exceptional Writing - two experiences that moved me - The Storied life of AJ Fikry and St. Vincent.

As a writer I keep my confidence up by constantly telling myself that I am one heck of a wordsmith. Oh I know of Earnest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald but I can always get around them by saying 'they'd have a hard time getting published today' or other such bullcrap. Then along comes a phrase or sentence or paragraph or even a whole page written so true that I despair of my skills. I have been lately subjected to not one but two examples of true to the bone fine writing. One was a novel and the other a movie.

First, the novel The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.

This a love song to books and fine writing and how they move and change us, how they ground us in a truer reality that maybe we would have missed if we had never plumbed their depths. AJ owns a small bookstore (Island Books) on Alice Island, a small community in New England. He is a recent widower, with an acid tongue and a clever mind, who is slowly drinking himself to death. After a disastrous turn of events, he is left with a gift in the form of a baby abandoned in his store. This child will change not only his life, as all children will, but will also give him a new appreciation of practically every facet of his world - his customers, children's literature, his neighbors, his store.

It is a tale about ordinary people living ordinary lives and through extraordinary writing we are dropped down into these lives, warts and all. There is a mystery but by the time it is revealed we hope, for AJ's sake, it remains a secret. On every page of this exquisite gem, I found myself returning to reread a sentence here or a thought there. Zevin crafted this small book with no shortcuts, no conventions, just honest writing done in a masterful way. 

I'm going to stop here before I give too much away, but I will end with the greatest compliment I can give any bit of writing. I wish I hadn't read The Storied Life of AJ Fikry so I could be reading it now. I might anyway.

Second, the movie St Vincent has many similarities to Fikry. It's main character, played by Bill Murray, is impatient, mean sometimes, drinks too much, seems to be self-destructive, and wouldn't be someone you would seek out for companionship. He lives next door to a divorced mom with a pre-teen boy. Through a series of misfortunes, the boy and the man are thrown together and thus a relationship is formed. 

What I liked about the piece is once again the writing. In St. Vincent we are not given any shortcuts. Even clear to the end, the man makes terrible decisions that are indefensible. And yet, as I listen to the words the writer placed in the mouths of his characters I shake my head at the honesty and the beauty of the words. Through exceptional writing a character who otherwise would be a drag to watch is elevated to heroic status, in fact that of a saint.

There you have it. Obviously I am recommending both works of art and would love your take on either even if you disagree.

Good day to all.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Joy of Lists - Favorite Animated Movies - 2000 to 2014

Let's get this out of the way from the get go. This list will not include Fantasia, either the original or the Fantasia reboot about a decade ago. I did not care for either one. Sue me.

Criteria for inclusion. I actually had to have seen the cartoons in question, they must be in the time period 2000-2014, and obviously must be animated. And of course, I had to like the movie.

In this list I am going to go out on a limb and list the films in order of preference. If you disagree, tell me about it. You can even call me names.

1) Finding Nemo - Here's the truth. Nemo is not just my favorite animated film, it is my favorite film in any category. I have seen it perhaps six or seven times. Each of the characters - Bloat the blowfish, Nigel the pelican, Marlin, Dory, Mr. Ray, Bruce the shark, Crusher the sea turtle and squirt his son, are all masterfully painted and given wonderful lines to speak. But besides that, the story warms my heart and still to this day brings a smile to my face. favorite line: "Do you have your exit Buddy?"

2) Shreck - While I do admire the later iterations of the Shreck saga, nothing compares to the original. I love the music (this movie introduced me to Cohen's Hallelujah); I love the ingenious use of fairytale characters [Do you know the muffin man? You mean the one who lives on Drury Lane?]. The moral of the piece is sweet and of course there is Donkey. Favorite line: "Nobody doesn't like parfait."

3) Chicken Run - Made by the same brilliant folks who created Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run is basically a cartoon remake of the war masterpiece The Great Escape. The evil Mrs Tweedy has decided to no longer make chump change raising chickens for eggs (A commercial sets her malicious brain to thinking, "Are you tired of minuscule profits?") on the high profit world of making chicken pot pies. Naturally, the chickens don't think much of this plan - "I don't want to be a pie. I don't like gravy." The look of this clay-mation film is marvelous and the writing is superb. Favorite Line see above.

4) Toy Story 3 - I loved the first two installments of this Pixar series but for me the best of the lot was #3. Touching, funny, hair-raising, wise, this one has it all. Obviously, if you haven't seen the first two, do so, but for goodness sake, don't stop there. This one will make you happy sad. And that's a good thing.

5) Rango - A remake of Chinatown with a town drying up and an old turtle stealing the lifeblood of the town - its water. Rango is a lizard (Johnny Depp), who fancies himself an actor. After a bump sends his terrarium onto the desert highway, he fakes being a gunslinger. The residents of the town named 'Dirt' all look to him to save the day. He does. 

6) Despicable Me 2 - You'll notice I didn't put the first installment of this series into the list. I liked it but not like I liked this one. This one was all about the minions. They are captivating, ridiculous, easily distracted, ready for almost anything, and very weird looking. They speak a language all their own and yet it is understandable. And when they are changed into purple monster versions of themselves they are still amazing.

7) Monsters Inc. - Another Pixar film, this one features two of the best characters in all of cartoondom. Voiced by Billy Chrystal and John Goodman, Mike Wisowski and Sully are sublimely wise while being insanely goofy monsters. In their world (which is powered by the screams of frightened children) the merest touch of a child is fatal. Sully is a Scarer who becomes emotionally attached to a small child named Boo. What makes this film besides terrific writing is the myriad mosters, all shapes and sizes and how they are basically just like us. Good fun. Favorite line: "We'll dig a tunnel using only spoons."

8) How to Train Your Dragon - Set in a time a Vikings, this is a tale of prejudice and redemption. Super fun with the relationship between a young Viking and a theoretically dangerous dragon. I love the color palette of the show. It just filled my senses. Loved also the characters of townspeople, particularly the younger ones. the dragons are pretty cool too.

9) Up - Once again from Pixar (Let's be real, these guys know animation), This is a love story, a buddy film, and also an adventure. After losing his wife and faced with the prospect of losing his house, a retired balloon salesman ties a flotilla of balloons to his house, rigs a way to steer it, and flies off to Paradise Falls in South America. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately) he has a stowaway. Once the two adventurers reach their destination they face dangers from a forgotten daredevil and his pack of talking dogs. One of the best things about this film is one of these dogs, Doug.

10) Monster House - Spielberg had a hand in the making of this one. Considering he made one of my favorite cartoons of all time, Animaniacs (if you haven't seen any of these, why not?), he was well set up to make an epic animated film. This bugger is scary. Across the street from our pre-teen hero exists the scariest house in the neighborhood. And the truth of it is, the house is alive and is diabolical. Eventually, our hero, his older sister, and his best friend must confront the house and save the neighborhood...and maybe the world.

11) Coraline - We're talking Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman. We're talking wonderful horror, wise children (or at least eventually), and terrific writing. The gist - if you succumb to the lure of the world inside the closet, you become a zombie with buttons sewn over your eyes. 

12) The Incredibles - Superheroes are banned by law but one superhero (Mr Incredible) not only misses the good old days, is ill-suited to fit into this brave new non-super world, but also has a family of supers: Wife Elasti-Girl, Son Dash (superfast), Daughter Violet (force fields and invisibility) and baby Jack Jack (lots of weird stuff). When the opportunity presents itself to renew his adventures he jumps at the chance, not realizing his nemesis is behind the offer. Favorite line: "Honey, where is my super suit?"

13) Ratatouille - Pixar again, what can I say? Tale of a rat that can cook, maybe better than anyone else in Paris. Obviously, this weird juxtaposition of worlds creates problems. I love the evil chef, the food critic, and the love affair between the puppet human who must pretend he is creating Remy's (the rat) dishes and the only female chef in the kitchen. I also adore Remy's - I just want to be a rat - brother. A feast for the eyes.

14) Megamind - A cartoon where the bad guy wins and somehow becomes the good guy. Megamind, like Superman, came to Earth as a baby in a rocketship. Unfortunately, another super character also came at the same time (also a baby, hang with me here). While Metro Man had it easy and became a superhero, blue-skinned Megamind was teased and picked on and became a super smart ultra villain. When he defeats Metro Man, he suddenly is in charge of everything. He ends up having to defend the city against a villain even nastier than himself.

15) Tangled - A retelling of Repunzel with music, a super-smart horse, hilarious tough guys, a really evil witch, a thief with a heart of gold (who is Rapunzel's love interest), and a few twists along the way. Delightful. 

16) Rio - Story of a rare bird (blue parrot) who just so happens to be the last male member of his species. His female counterpart is sassy, independent and doesn't want to repopulate the species. Oh yeah, he can't fly. Add in the fact they are being hunted by an evil Macaw. Also add in Salsa music and the voice of Cheech Marin as a parrot who manages a singing group of parrots and you have a great film.

17) The Corpse Bride - Another Tim Burton film along the lines of Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride follows the fortunes of a young man who weds an undead young woman. She is pretty darn sweet considering she's a corpse and the young man in question doesn't love her as she loves him. In the end all things work out as they always do.

18) Brave - Even another Pixar film. Stunningly beautiful, this one follows the exploits of a young Celtic lass who flat out doesn't want to get married. She also has the complication that her mother has turned into a bear and her father has a tendency to kill bears. I absolutely love the sorceress who casts the spell in question.

19) Paranorman - Norman can see dead people. No one believes him and the Apocalypse is coming.   
20) Wreck it Ralph - In the world of video games a bad guy wants to become good. While he's really good at smashing things he's got some problems with saving the world. But of course he does.

Well, that's my list. If you're a fan of animation, give some of these a look see and as always please send me your ideas of good animation. Next up will be animation from before 2000.

Don't eat yellow snow.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Short List - Fictional Characters Real Names

This is a quick one (I was going to say a quickie but that would have gone in a whole different direction). So here's a bit of a challenge. What follows are 14 full names of characters from cartoons, the world of toys, television and the like. See how many you already know before you read the full post. Resist the temptation to plug them into the internet. If you can get five you are a genius. Here we go:

Barbie (the doll)
Cap'n Crunch (the cereal)
Peppermint Patty from the comic strip Peanuts
Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street
The Rich Uncle Moneybags from the board game Monoploy
The Michelin Man (Guy made out of tires)
The Skipper on Gilligan's Island
The Professor of Gilligan's Island
Shaggy of Scooby Doo
The Pillsbury Dough Boy, his wife and his two kids
The patient in the game 'Operation'.
Mr. Clean's first name.
Comic Book Guy in 'The Simpsons'.
The full name of the wizard in 'The Wizard of Oz'.

Okay here are the answers:

Barbie - Barbara Millicent Roberts

Cap'n Crunch - Captain Horatio Crunch

Peppermint Patty - Patricia Reichardt

Snuffleupagus's first name - Aloysius

Monopoly Rich Guy - Milburn Pennybags

Michelin Man - Bibendum

The Skipper - Jonus Grumby

The Professor - Roy Hinkley

Shaggy - Norville Rogers

Doughboy - Poppin Fresh, Wife - Poppie Fresh, Kids - Popper and Bun Bun

Operation Patient - Cavity Sam

Mr. Clean's first name - Veritably

Comic Book Guy - Jeff Albertson

Wizard - Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Emmanuel Ambroise Diggs

How many did you know?