Category Archives: Movies

Christmas Caroling

carol brady

Two can play that game, Claus. I, too, have made a list (for a change). Oh, and I checked it twice. Why should you get to corner the market on list-making this time of year, anyway? You hear me, Mr. Saint Nick? (If that is even your real name). So you’re the world’s greatest mensch. Whoop-dee-doo. I’ve got my own list to unveil for you. So without further ado – I will quit rhyming.

Here are the top ten greatest Carols of all time…at least in my humble opinion (feel free to weigh in below, and add any I missed):

10) Carol Leifer – Seinfeld writer and inspiration for Elaine Marie Benes

9) Carol Alt – One of the first supermodels

8) Pete Carroll – Football coach vying to join the “elite” club comprised of Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only head coaches to ever win both a collegiate national championship and a Super Bowl

7) Carol Channing – Actress from another generation, known for classics like Hello Dolly. I know her from her guest appearances on The Love Boat where she played Julie McCoy’s Aunt Sylvia

6) Diahann Carroll – Stage and television actress and singer

5) Carol Kane – Latke’s wife on Taxi; LIAR! She’s not a witch, she’s Miracle Max’s wife

4) Carroll O’Connor – Good ol’ Awchie Bunker, America’s favorite racist curmudgeon sweetheart

3) Carole King (or should I say, Carol Klein) – Tapestry is a masterpiece

2) Carol Burnett – Queen of the variety show

1) Lewis Carroll (which is actually a pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) – Creator of Alice, Wonderland, the looking glass, the Mad Hatter and the Jabberwocky, his deranged and brilliant creativity has inspired Disney classics as well as LSD-fueled paranoia…and that type of range must be applauded.

And in keeping with the Christmas music theme I invoked but haven’t really delivered upon, do you remember this classic? Please watch it. You will not be sorry. I just can’t believe it’s been nearly 30 years…

So on that note, I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year.

Much love,

IDROS

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It’s Howdy Doody Time

I apologize for my recent hiatus. You all count on me for overly-long, trivial and generally self-serving posts on a regular basis, and for the past several months, I have let you, my faithful readers, friends and family down (most of you probably didn’t even notice…so there’s that).

But the good news is, I’m back. Back with what will certainly be my crappiest post yet.

You’ve all heard the term “back in a flash,” but after an absence that can only be categorized as literary constipation, I suppose you could say I am back in a “flush.”

The theme of this welcome back post, as you may have already guessed, is a topic I happen to know a thing or two about. And to celebrate the finale of one of my favorite television shows of all time (said show’s end-game inspired this disgusting entry, so thanks Vince Gilligan and Dean Norris and the great Walt Whitman), I am going to list some of the more memorable number twos in pop-culture history.

That’s right, you read correctly. In the immortal words of Taro Gomi in her children’s book read the world over, Everyone Poops. And for the purposes of this “made for the toilet” super-list, the more significant the poop, the higher (actually lower) on this list it will appear. As always, IDROS is not omniscient…there are bound to be omissions. Please, readers, add any that are glaring, or any that you feel are appropriately inappropriate.

20)   The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover – if this entry means nothing to you, ignore it. Trust me. There are a few people out there that know why this movie made the list, they know who they are, and all I can say is we should have gone to see I Love You to Death…or even Ernest Goes to Jail (both released the same weekend).

19) Summer School – Did the kid who went to the bathroom for the entire movie and still scored highest on the aptitude test play a significant role in Mr. Shoop’s classroom farce? No. Did he really spend an entire summer on the can? Probably not. In fact, he may not have gone to bathroom at all after absconding with the hall pass. But the sentiment was there.

18)   Me, Myself & Irene – In all fairness, Charlie repeatedly asked his neighbor not to let his dogs defecate on his lawn before resorting to this.

17)      Sixteen Candles – Did Grandpa Fred’s deuce have anything to do with the plot? No. Was the scene funny? Of course.

16)   Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery – Tom Arnold’s scene in the bathroom stall beside Austin (“Who does Number Two work for?”) was classic, but like the scene above, really had no effect on the plot;

15)   Jurassic Park – Not a bad idea to find a toilet in the middle of a prehistoric park when having the crap literally scared out of you, but when T-Rex comes a knockin’…well there are better ways to go.

14)   American Pie – Gotta’ love Finch and his issues with going in school bathrooms. We’ve all been there.

13)   South Park – Who doesn’t love Mr. Hankey?

12)   Along Came Polly – Two classically uncomfortable scenes, neither of which really had an impact on the plot. Stiller’s predicament in Aniston’s bathroom after spicy Ethiopian food was high comedy. Capote’s matter-of-fact statement that he just sharted and needed to leave was almost as good as his work in Lebowski.

11)   Speaking of uncomfortable, the unspeakable horrors of Trainspotting somehow got even worse in the scene to which you all know I am referring.

10)   Thank god for John Hughes. While Principal Vernon was duking it out in The Breakfast Club, Bender was telling a joke as he made his way back to the library through the air duct. We are getting closer here. This scene did allow the plot to advance toward its hokey RomCom ending from its teen angst roots.

9)   The Karate Kid – Daniel san’s costume inspired him to “shower” perennial 80’s cretin, William Zabka, aka “Sweep the Leg” Johnny Lawrence, whilst he took a crap at the Halloween dance. There were many scenes in this movie that required suspension of disbelief. A “cool” high school jock taking a crap at a dance in the school john may have taken the cake…but it definitely amped up the rivalry between John and Dan.

8)   The Help – I like to think Octavia Spencer’s secret pie recipe helped secure her Oscar.

7)   Bridesmaids – Nasty but effective scene by McCarthy and gals.

6)   Lethal Weapon 2 – The bad guys rigged a bomb to Murtaugh’s toilet, creating a scenario where Glover really was too old and too scared for this shit…hilarity ensued.

5)   Can’t Buy Me Love – Maybe the crap in the brown bag was dog poop. Maybe it wasn’t. Either way, metaphorically, McDreamy took a crap on one-time bestie Kenneth Wurman’s house. But the way Donald, or Ronald, apologized at the end certainly merited an 80’s slow crap…er clap.

4)   Dumb and Dumber – The Farrelly brothers clearly know their way around potty humor. Seeing Will McAvoy pay the price for betraying Lloyd Christmas was both funny and satisfying.

3)   Seinfeld – Costanza, drawers around his ankles, clutching a newspaper, emerges from Jerry’s can screaming “Vandelay Industries” as Kramer botches his whole unemployment scam. Maybe not the best Seinfeld scene, but this clip is definitely in the top five.

2)   (Mild spoiler alert…if you haven’t watched any of the final season of Breaking Bad, do not read this) Look. We all know Hank’s discovery in Walter’s master bath can is the most significant pop-culture crap of all time. (There are memes, gifs and even a website dedicated to this). But in keeping with the theme, the best dump belongs at NUMBER TWO…duh.

1)   Second prize is no set of steak knives here. Vincent Vega’s poorly timed twosie in Pulp Fiction made things a little easier for Butch. Little did he know what awaited him in Zed’s dungeon moments later…but that’s for another list.

Whatchoo got kids?

As always, thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy tonight’s grand finale. Hope Vince finishes this thing as well as he has executed this entire final season, and the four before it.

All the best,

IDROS

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Everyone’s A Critic: The Advantages of Being A Product of the 80s

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I’ve been meaning to work a Movie Review segment into this blog for some time now, but really haven’t found the right moment (or movie, for that matter) to kick it off.

Well move over bacon…it’s SizzleLean. Um, I mean, welcome to “Everyone’s a Critic,” a forum in which I take my zero years of film review experience, zero combined classroom hours of film study and zero authority on anything related to cinema, directing, acting, producing or editing, and aim them, concurrently, at some unsuspecting cinematic production just like Peter, Ray, Egon (and Winston) targeted all things phantasmagorical with their proton packs. So with apologies to the likes of Gene Siskel (RIP), Roger Ebert, Anthony Lane, David Edelstein and their ilk…

After graduating college, my roommate and I kept Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia on our coffee table as a reference while we watched movies and television. We would eagerly thumb through this cumbersome tome whenever we came across any actor or movie that triggered a “have to know and won’t be able to fall asleep tonight if I don’t” moment in either one of us, which occurred at least once a day. This burden was thrust upon us, by the way, because our cohabitation took place in a time just before Al Gore unveiled the Internet (actually, that’s not really accurate, but it was before IMDb, Wikipedia and other Internet sources for all sorts of cinematic arcana were available, if you can wrap your mind around that).

Said roommate was (and still is) a huge film buff.  He would likely list Scorsese, Spielberg and John Hughes among his heroes. He did attend film school, logged hours of classroom credits in all things cinema, and secretly wished (perhaps still wishes) something akin to the plot of The Freshman occurred to him while innocently going about his own NYU curriculum.

I hereby dedicate this first installment of “Everyone’s A Critic” to that roommate and lifelong friend, who is currently on his Honeymoon after a literal storybook wedding. Congratulations to him and his beautiful bride.

Friendships we make during our adolescence can be powerful. And now I can’t help but think of Mrs. Smith in Better Off Dead grabbing poor Monique’s face as she says: “Friend. You know, Friend?” (I really wanted to attach this clip here for reference, and was shocked to find that in the entirety of the Interweb, nobody has uploaded this treasure.  I mean, Laura Waterbury is priceless in this film playing Dennis Blunden’s, er, I mean Ricky Smith’s mother…but all I could find were her “Christmas” and “International Language” clips. If any of you can find the “Friend” clip, please let me know or post in the comments section). But, as usual, I digress.

We share our most awkward and fragile times in our lives with our middle and high school friends, and often rely on them as sounding boards, confidantes, comic relief, and vital companions as we fight tooth and nail to find our way in a world that can be cruel, confusing and overwhelming at times. I think Richard Dreyfuss’ adult version of Gordie LaChance said it best in Stand By Me: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

With that in mind, it brings me joy to announce The Perks of Being a Wallflower as the first movie I will review. After John Hughes passed on (actually, after he inexplicably stopped making movies about teen angst), my generation has been craving a good coming of age cinematic storyteller. Sure, there have been some valiant efforts over the years to fill Hughes shoes: Can’t Hardly Wait, American Pie, Donnie Darko, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, Juno, Superbad, etc. But despite some brilliant one-off efforts, there is a gold standard when mining the high school experience for cinematic exuberance, and in the mid 1980s, John Hughes set it…over and over again. (Sidebar: Cameron Crowe, with a distinguished oeuvre that includes Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Say Anything, as well as Almost Famous, which does focus on teen angst and insecurity as a primary theme, certainly has earned a reserved seat at this exclusive table).

Stephen Chbosky adapted his own highly acclaimed novel for the big screen. His tale is ambitious. Perhaps too ambitious in tackling a seemingly large number of issues that plague modern youth, and if I had any complaint at all regarding this film, it would be rooted in that over-zealous ambition.

That said, the story works and the acting is far beyond any expectations one could have for a film comprised of characters primarily in their mid to late teens.  In fact, some of the performances are brilliant. Even the cameos and bit parts played by familiar “adult” actors add welcome, innocuous accompaniment to the stellar cast.

Some will argue this film (and the book it is based upon) offers characters and plot resolutions that are too good or too neat for the powerful and ugly (at times) storylines that are explored. My answer to that is people are jaded. You can’t accept the hokey tabletop birthday cake scene with Jake Ryan and Sam Baker at the end of Sixteen Candles (or Farmer Ted waking up in a Rolls Royce with the prom queen for that matter) without a desire for a neat, Hollywood ending. That’s what audiences want. That is why Claire can kiss John Bender and wrap her giant diamond earring in his hand as the credits roll, and why Ferris successfully eludes Rooney and his parents. It is why we not only accept Lloyd Dobler getting on that plane with Diane Court, we expect it.

Sure, perhaps elements of Charlie’s relationship with his new friends, and with Sam in particular, seem forced and unlikely at times. But we want things to work out favorably for Charlie…and for Sam and Patrick. We enjoy seeing Paul Rudd as a friendly, inspirational role model for our protagonist despite every cliché and tired action his character is seemingly forced into by the script (his performance is strong nonetheless, and his character has perhaps the best non-comedic line of the entire film). Like with Noah Wyle and Drew Barrymore in Donnie Darko, we really don’t care how ridiculous or forced their dialogue may be – we just respect them for finding a worthy script and joining the cast of a special film, even if it is a small role outside their comfort zone.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower has its warts, just as all adolescent students have theirs. However, the script is witty, unique and at times, moving. The characters are likable and generally plausible. And the music, as with any teen angst movie worth watching, is terrific.

Because I was a senior in high school myself when this film takes place, the soundtrack certainly resonates with me (and likely my contemporaries) even more. Music plays a huge part in our formative years, often setting the mood for how we interpret, participate and adapt to the world around us. You can actually witness and feel the impact music has on the characters in this film, at times cringing in disbelief and at times smiling and nodding and tapping your feet as appropriate lyrics and emotionally relevant melodies envelop us along with our on-screen companions.

As previously conceded, my resume fails to empower me as an expert authority, or even an amateur wannabe, on anything film-related. So please bear with me as I briefly discuss the cinematography. I thought it was great. Scenes flowed together effortlessly, and crafty dialog and cut-aways allowed our imagination to create some of the film’s more graphic, unpleasant and violent scenes and images in our heads rather than on screen. The director even used some creative filming and editing techniques to seamlessly fade unrelated images into one another as scenes began and ended, as well as intelligently used music lyrics to help tell his story or to reinforce images and themes.

My favorite element of TPOBAW was its focus on friendship, and how important friends can be to our survival during our adolescence and while navigating the pitfalls of high school. And there are many such pitfalls: from parental pressure to hormonal changes, from our first job to dating woes, from sexual experimentation to maintaining our eligibility for athletics, from college prep to our first car, from fitting in to finding a date for the prom, from cigarettes, alcohol and drugs to problems at home, from peer pressure to acne, for most, high school is fraught with horrifying potential.

At the base of this film’s plot is a story of friendship, and how it profoundly affects the trajectory of the primary characters’ lives. Despite what the overwhelming majority of Hollywood’s teen movie genre may indicate, high school stories center on much more than the jocks and cheerleaders, than the popular kids. Every one of us lived through high school and have become who we are today from the unique experience we had during those crucial years. John Hughes knew this, and gave us a balanced account in most of his films. Judd Apatow and Paul Feig also knew this as they delivered their masterpiece, the television drama Freaks and Geeks, which unfortunately was axed after only one brilliant season, far too early.

Bottom line, Chbosky put forth a worthy effort in exploring teen angst; and considering he had to edit, and in some ways, compromise his own novel to do so makes it even more admirable. J.D. Salinger, the undisputed master of teen angst prose, never breathed cinematic life into his opus. I am in no way drawing a comparison to The Catcher In The Rye here for TPOBAW, though I would not be the first to do so (click this amazing piece and this book review for a sampling). I am saying that Chbosky tells a poignant and powerful tale of teen life in early 1990s Pittsburgh that resonates today with people of all ages, of all geographies, males, females, gay and straight, and that is an accomplishment worthy of praise.

Tying in with the theme of TPOBAW, I attended my aforementioned roommate’s (and lifelong friend’s) wedding this past weekend. Many of our high school friends were there. It was so incredible to celebrate with all of them, to relive our youth and also fill in the gaps of life since high school for those we don’t see or speak to as regularly anymore. Reuniting with my own companions and support system, my friends, who made my high school years manageable, memorable, and fortunately for me, four generally fun and carefree years in my life, was incredible, but also bittersweet.

Why, you might ask? Well I keep hearing Dreyfuss’ voice echoing in my head. No, we never do have friends like we do during our adolescence. A lot of this certainly has to do with nostalgia for our own youth and innocence. Maybe all of it does. Even if we are lucky enough to retain those friends from our youth, life changes. We don’t see these people every day like we used to. We don’t have the free time we used to. We may not even live in the same state or country as these people.

But those friends we make in high school are not diminished by our changing lives. Whether they remain our closest friends or have drifted away, their importance at the crossroads of our personal development dictates that they remain part of us forever, woven into the fabric of our very essence.

And those are the Perks of being part of whatever group of friends you happened to make and fall in with in high school. They are meaningful and profound, and if you are lucky, they are eternal.

I thank you all for reading and for your friendship. It was great to reminisce with those of you I saw in New York.

IDROS

Everyone’s A Critic Grade:   The Perks of Being a Wallflower –  A    94/100  “EAC It” (Yes, I decided I needed a hokey tagline)

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100 Guitar Riffs Tells a Bigger Story Than History of Rock Music

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Let me begin by stating that Alex Chadwick’s recent viral video is amazing.

In case you haven’t yet seen it (because you are incredibly busy and don’t have 12 minutes to spare; or, you have been living under a rock, or, in the words of the late great Nora Ephron, spoken by Billy Crystal, trapped under something heavy; or, perhaps you just don’t love music…or Rock & Roll in particular)…please do yourself a favor and click this link.

Hypothesis: Alex Chadwick’s 12-minute amalgamation of 100 of the greatest Rock & Roll guitar riffs throughout history and its viral aftermath seem a telling metaphor of everything that is wrong with American society today.

(A quick aside: The last time someone named Chadwick remotely caught my attention was when this guy coached pretty boy Dean Youngblood against violent goon Racki. You may be wondering what that piece of trivia has to do with this post, or with anything for that matter. The truth is, not much. But I can offer you this: The three most notable actors in Youngblood – Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze (RIP) and Keanu Reeves (yes, he was actually in that flick…seriously…watch it again if you don’t believe me) – all have at least one guitar related credit on their respective resumes.

Rob Lowe is known for his wielding of a different instrument…that sax he laughably pretends to play as Billy in St. Elmo’s Fire. But he also played a role in the movie version of Wayne’s World, which features two guitar playing teenagers…better still, Alex Chadwick and his NPR interviewer, David Greene, reference the classic SNL movie in this recent interview.

The late Swayze, who appeared with Lowe in The Outsiders as well as Youngblood, played a memorable cooler in Roadhouse to a live soundtrack provided by slide guitar phenom Jeff Healey. Many of the artists and songs featured in Alex Chadwick’s 100 licks were played by Healey in that film as well as in Healey’s set lists as a touring musician.

And finally we come to Neo Johnny Utah. We all remember him as Theodore Preston, trying to play the guitar in the cult classic Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure alongside the Lost Boy that Edgar Allen Corey Frog killed in the cave coffin in that great 1980s Vampire flick. (Sure, we know…according to the late George Carlin, Bill and Ted’s guitar music would become crucial to the survival of future generations.))

But I digress…as usual. Wow did I digress this time.

As I postulated, Alex Chadwick’s 12-minute amalgamation of 100 of the greatest Rock & Roll guitar riffs throughout history and its viral aftermath seem a telling metaphor of everything that is wrong with American society today.

We live in a hyper-critical world, and just as talented people across all walks of life now have countless platforms to reach an audience in the blink of an eye, so too do masses of talentless, ignorant, lazy and gutless drains on society have the ability to sit on their couches (or, likely, their parents’ couches), inhaling thousands of calories of high-fat snacks while they peruse endless media outlets such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, et al. Anonymous people, with a veritable smorgasbord of soapboxes at their fingertips, are free to comment on and critique anything they want, voicing opinions on subjects spanning politics, entertainment, finance, society, sports, medicine, etc.

I love that Chadwick’s video went viral. I love that I can turn on my computer and within seconds, have access to something as beautiful, creative, intelligent and thought provoking as this 12 minute stroll down memory lane via modern rock history. And the vast majority of the populace loved it too, which is echoed in the video’s massive reception throughout the interweb in recent days. Even the comments have ranged from emoticon rich smiles to glowing praise. “Love this,” is one of the more frequent comments associated with the link.

Unfortunately, for as much love and praise as Chadwick rightfully received, there were and continue to be far too many “buts” lingering just beneath the love and praise. People repost the link, or comment on the link because they truly believe it is noteworthy and deserving of additional views by their friends and loved ones, but so many of those re-posters and commenters take the opportunity to critique Chadwick’s journey through rock history.

Sure, my own video would have included riffs from artists such as Bob Marley, Jane’s Addiction, The Clash, Elvis Presley, Lou Reed, Steely Dan, Prince, Peter Frampton, The Kinks, Phish, Radiohead and the Talking Heads…and my version likely would have also omitted some of the artists included or repeated in Chadwick’s list.  I may have even chosen different licks from certain artists. But that’s the thing. For one, I can’t play the friggin’ guitar. But even if I could, criticizing Chadwick for his own taste and hard work is inexcusable and unacceptable.

Go out and create your own musical list. Or create something in your own wheelhouse that might be similarly beautiful and inspiring. And if you must criticize, if that itch just has to be scratched, then save it for those who deserve it…those who never even tried, or who completely failed when everyone…or anyone…was counting on them.

Petty criticism is far from a new phenomenon. People criticize what celebrities wear to movie openings and award shows, and how coaches and players execute down the stretch in games. People criticize how their politicians behave in and out of office and how stupid the endings of groundbreaking television shows are (Lost, The Sopranos).

You know why American Idol and Dancing With the Stars and shows like them are so popular today? It’s because most people alive possess little or no talent in what are deemed to be glamorous fields (music, acting, athletics, art…even cooking, inventing, writing and politics). So today, even the vast majority of us have access to those fields…as critics. These shows empower us all to participate, unqualified as most of us are, and we relish the opportunity. We fork over money to vote, we rant and rave in chat rooms and all over the blogosphere, and we feel it imperative to comment all over the social media world, wasting our own time, and likely the time in lost productivity of our employers, to feel like we are part of something glamorous for a brief moment in time.

This 12-minute viral video captures it all in a nutshell. Alex Chadwick invested thousands of hours learning and practicing the guitar, and then had an idea to compile a list of his own personal favorite 100 rock guitar riffs. Then he practiced his musical list, making sure everything flowed, until it felt right. And then he rehearsed. And when he felt ready to capture his list on video, I am sure he played quite a few takes before getting right, or at least error free enough to publicize.

What took Chadwick a lifetime of practice and countless hours to assemble, posted to the general public in seconds. And hours later, it was simultaneously praised and ripped to shreds. Sure, most people genuinely enjoyed, praised and recommended it to others. But a vast majority if not all of those who have watched and listened to the video all had at least one criticism. For some, this was their first thought upon watching it. For many others, it was perhaps the second thought, shortly after “cool,” or “wow.”

Criticisms primarily centered on what was omitted from the list, in terms of a general who (which artists and bands were not included but should have been), and even entire genres of music that were left out or at least were unfairly represented relative to others. Some criticisms I came across thought the list was too evenly distributed across decades and eras of rock music, others complained about which particular songs by certain artists were and weren’t included. Some found sexist and racist issues with the list and still others felt Chadwick played certain riffs longer than others, which discriminated against certain songs unfairly.

The point is, nearly everyone had a complaint or criticism of some sort. And the tragedy of it is, this is someone else’s list and hard work. There are 300 million people in the United States. All have different tastes in music. And when it comes to rock music, every one of us has a different take on what defines it, who should be included and what eras and artists were/are more significant.

There is a big election coming later this year. Let Chadwick’s incredible video be a lesson to us all. Don’t sit on the sidelines and critique. Listen to the music; appreciate the hard work and personal choice that went into its arrangement. Then take his video as inspiration to create something on your own…to affect change, to get involved, or even simply to get off the damn couch and vote in the upcoming election.

There are more problems than solutions in our world today. I promise these problems will not be solved by people (or even by government candidates and officers) who do no more than criticize others and their efforts. The era of passive criticism must end.

Thanks for reading,

IDROS

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This Israel: For those who bleed blue and white, and more so for those who don’t

As the London Olympics 2012 approach, and the 40th anniversary of yet another monumental and horrifying chapter in Jewish world history is more or less swept under the international community’s proverbial rug, I wanted to write a blog entry focused on Israel.

It is difficult to articulate what Israel means to me. I know I get just as emotional and animated when I read or watch news stories involving Israel as I do for similar coverage regarding my own home nation. Maybe even more so at times.  Leave it to celebrities to drive this point home.

In an era where everyone has a soapbox, I can sometimes appreciate when the Hollywood elite and other famous personalities rally around a pressing issue or criticize our US government (think The Dixie Chicks, Sean Penn, George Clooney, etc.); other times I downright loathe celebrities using their fame as a platform to demonstrate just how vapid and ignorant and truly awful they really are beyond their stage personae (think Hank Williams Jr., Ted Nugent, David Tyree and of course, Mel Gibson). Sure, my own personal politics determine, to some extent, which celebrity opinions are relevant and which are complete rubbish. But the point is, I care enough about my own country, its policies and its leadership (questionable as the latter two may be) to give a rat’s ass what people say about them…especially famous people. (Sadly, I actually do care what celebrities say because of the rise of the Kardashian empire, Jersey Shore and other similar blights on society that catapult brain-dead nobodies into our homes and lives each day and the terrifying fact that so many people watch and listen to every word some of these reality troglodytes have to say…and I fear that these naïve people, who have the same right to vote that I do, will actually heed or adapt some of the scarier political and societal “ideals” espoused by tabloid fodder that couldn’t name one Supreme Court justice, their own State Governor or the last president etched on Mount Rushmore if you spotted them the first three).

Oddly, I am even more sensitive to what celebrities say (and do) regarding Israel, its government and its policies than what they say about the United States. So in the spirit of the coming London Olympics, two recent examples come from celebrities living in none other than Jolly old England. First, the Material Girl opened her most recent MDNA tour in Israel and created quite a stir. (Yes, she is American…never accused her of being anything else. But Madge does live in England, and she has conducted most interviews and speaking engagements since she moved across the pond with an inexplicable British accent). Two noteworthy nuggets made headlines and dominated YouTube following her tour opener:

1)      Before playing her first song, she greeted the crowd with an eloquent, heartfelt, non-partisan speech that basically was a prayer for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I loved what she had to say (watch it here).

2)      During one of her new songs “Nobody Knows Me,” the video screen on stage showed French politician Marine Le Pen with a swastika emblazoned over her face for a millisecond..subliminal stuff. Known to be a vocal anti-Semite, Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen was convicted of condoning Nazi war crimes earlier this year. Seriously, Jean-Marie, the French equivalent of Mel Gibson’s father, came very close to winning the French Presidential election in 2002…that’s right, a friggin’ Nazi-sympathizer came unacceptably close to attaining the highest office of a nation with a SECURITY COUNCIL VOTE in the UN! WTF? No wonder France rolled out the red carpet for Adolf 70 years ago, and anti-Semitism continues to run rampant between the Alps and the Pyrenees. And now, 10 years after her fascist father won, Marine garnered nearly 20% of the popular vote in the wake of Sarkozy’s scandal-ridden term, setting the stage for the daughter of a Nazi to muster votes for her party’s parliament hopefuls.

*The best part of Madonna’s clever and opinionated “photoshopped” commentary was the reaction it received from France, whose right-wing party (Marine’s party) warned the pop icon that if she tried any of that bullsh$t in France they would sue the crap out of her highness. (Read this for more)

On the other end of the spectrum, Emma Thompson and her recent infantile attempt to grab headlines reeked of putrescence. I have no problem if a celebrity (or anyone, really) has a well-reasoned, educated argument against Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians (there are very few…and I mean both acceptable arguments and people who have voiced them over the years). I don’t agree with everything Israel’s government, army and citizens do when it comes to that difficult and tension-filled situation. However, I have a serious problem with snaggle-tooth Thompson’s take on the matter. You see, Israel’s premier theater company, Habima, was set to participate in a Shakespeare festival at London’s Globe Theater last month. But Ninny McPhee vocally joined and spearheaded a list of debatably impressive theatrical stars in boycotting Habima’s participation. And why? She and her lackeys claim it was because Habima failed to participate in a boycott of a “controversial” cultural center opened in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, in 2010. So, in other words, a boycott of a group that failed to boycott. In actuality, Kenneth Branagh’s cuckqueaned ex-wife and others simply do not like Israel or the Jews. There really can’t be any other explanation. Chinese theater groups were not boycotted, and China’s long tradition of stellar human rights policies was never questioned. And adding insult to injury, a Palestinian theater company, Ashtar, was invited to participate and met no similar resistance.  Ironically, Habima was slated to perform Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” a work notable for its anti-Semitic undertones, at the festival. (Another irate voice)

But I digress….

So what does Israel mean to me?

Here are seven words that immediately come to mind:

Pride: You know when you walk down a street full of run-down properties, where tall grass and weeds dominate the yards, the driveways are cracked, litter is strewn all over and the houses are all dilapidated…save for one. One home that stands proudly in spite of those that surround it; one home whose owners consider it a sacred, meaningful source of personal pride?

Appreciation:  You know when you see true heroes acknowledged, whether in person or in books, movies or the news? Like Captain Sully, or Oscar Schindler, or all of the fire and police men on 9-11. People whose bravery and courage are undeniable and inexplicable in the face of grave danger; people who you want to hug and tell them “thank you,” even if their acts do not directly affect your own life. And the kicker is, you don’t really understand these people, how they can be so incredibly selfless and unflappable in the face of evil and unimaginable events. And yet, you are eternally grateful that people like that exist, your faith in humanity is restored or confirmed, and you know the world is a better place because of them.

Admiration: Who doesn’t like a great underdog story? Ever since David slew Goliath (and likely even before that), the thrilling prospects of an upset have tantalized our sensibilities as humans; we sympathize with and even favor those with fewer assets and resources, facing monumental and improbable tasks, to somehow prevail against all odds. What if there was an outcast in your high school, someone who few people liked (or at least were willing to admit they liked publicly); someone with limited strength, intellect and charisma? And what if this person worked tirelessly, in the library, in the gym and with a life coach, and humbly rose to achieve impressive accolades in numerous areas of his or her high school’s (and community’s) academic, social and athletic arenas? This person probably wouldn’t realistically hijack an 80s movie and become captain of the football or cheerleading team, valedictorian of his or her class, king or queen of the prom and class president; but what if this person graduated in the top five percent of his or her class, earned varsity letters as a meaningful contributor to three athletic teams, won top honors at the science fair, was elected to class office, secured a leading role in the school musical, had a part time job helping his or her school district clean up its parks and playgrounds and also volunteered at the local hospital, improving the lives of cancer patients?  (“Student’s” full resume here)

Sanctuary: Have you ever played Musical Chairs? What if, for millennia, in a global version of the game, whenever the music stopped, it was always one specific group of people who were left without a seat? Then, one sad but hopeful day, what if a plush seat was proffered, a comfortable old easy chair that had historical and traditional significance? Providing the unconditional love of a family, the security and comfort of a home and the acceptance and understanding of an old friend, said seat opens its arms and footrest (read: heart) to an often persecuted and much maligned and misunderstood group of people, regardless of  geography, economic strata and dedication to and observance of religious scripture and tradition. Best of all, this “chair” remains eternally open, unlocked and unchained to a road-weary people who have wandered with nowhere to rest for too many years.

Hope: You know when you’re watching a sporting event…any sport…and the team or player you are rooting for has been getting crushed for the entire game, but suddenly there is a spark, or a noticeable change in momentum? You almost turned off the television, or left the stadium, but you didn’t. There is a lot of ground to make up, but the possibility for something remarkable, something special begins to seep into your consciousness.

Frustration: Does it bother you when you hear negative rumors about someone, something or somewhere you care about? What about when you know the rumors are vicious, nasty lies spread by stubborn, ignorant or just plain stupid people? What if seemingly everyone that hears or reads these rumors believes them? What if the victim of said rumors has been abused, bullied, libeled and slandered since the day he or she had been born? What if the vast majority of those around the victim simply ignore the constant injustices being promulgated? Furthermore, what if most people, and worse, the global media, even piled on with undue rhetoric and even tacit praise and assistance of the bullying and terrorizing? What if the verbal abuse and rumors lead to violence? And most mind-boggling of all, what if the most virulent and hate-filled rhetoric and abuse is hurled by parties with access to game-changing technology that could literally destroy the victim and anyone close to him or her?

Fear: Imagine sending a beloved child away to school, or camp or any other activity away from home. Now imagine you receive word that your child is being mistreated, bullied, tortured or abused. What if any attempts you make to talk sense into the school or camp directors, to negotiate a non-violent, peaceful experience for your son or daughter are met with resistance, general refusal to negotiate or worse still, the directors casting all blame upon your child? You would pull your child out of said camp or school, obviously…but what if you couldn’t? And what if the legal team or security detail you hire to help to protect your child is the only friend or ally your child will ever truly have? And what if even that “ally” becomes corrupted by new leadership that is more interested in appeasing the camp or school directors and the other campers and students than in the safety and well-being of your child?

Happy Flag Day,

IDROS

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Onions! And Other Musings on the Madness of March…

Most of us who work in an office love this time of year. Even if we didn’t attend a college with a competing interest in the NCAA tournament, we all have a favorite or two. And gambling makes sure this is true. Hard core fans (read: gamblers) suddenly come down with some rare strain of influenza or Montezuma’s revenge or laryngitis that renders them incapable of making it into the office for the first Thursday and Friday of the big dance, and they sit on their couches or head out to the local sports bar and medicate their “ailments” with beer and chips and wings as they devour twelve hours of hoops each day in absolute heaven.

OR, for those less fortunate (read: those who have too much responsibility to bail on work, those who frivolously used up their personal/vacation days in the first two months of the year, or those who fear getting fired in such a bad economy), millions of other fans of college hoops sit in their cubicles or offices, glued to their computer screens, toggling between their work and every sporting website their office firewall allows them to open, following the action as best they can, counting down the hours till five, when they too can join the throngs in front of the boob tube.

That time of year has arrived when productivity hits a wall, where focus is completely lost and a lack of effort likely erases whatever progress or momentum had been achieved in January and February. Even the most anti-sports and/or unknowledgeable or ambivalent about anything sports related has a fighting chance, or more accurately, is among the favorites to win their respective office pools. They pick based on uniform colors or school mascots, or let their six year old children fill out their brackets…and invariably, much to the testosterone-fueled sports nuts’ chagrin in every office across the USA, they win the pool. (Read this recent article about How to Intelligently Talk About March Madness – Even If You Sort of Don’t Care)

I remember during my time in a past life, working in a Wall Street office that loved to gamble on anything and everything. We had a pool for every sporting event, including golf. We had pools for office eating contests, including one horrific Friday where the brass bought like a thousand White Castle sliders and the winner of the bacchanalia (whoever ate the most) took half of the pot…the other half went to those who bet on the correct “victor.” We even had pools within pools, or allegorical pools as I fondly recall christening them.

One day, one of the elevators in our building got stuck during lunch time. Two of our staff were on board during the mishap. This was before cell phones, mind you. We got a call from the lobby that an elevator lost power between the 15th and 16th floors, and that they believed two of our employees were among the stranded (they got a call from the elevator phone relaying the info). Anyway, of course this bit of bad luck for the two on the elevator quickly morphed into opportunity for the rest of us. We started a pool for picking the precise time the elevator would be fixed and our colleagues would make it back into the office…Price Is Right rules, closest to the time either of our men stepped into the office without going over would win the pot. I did not win. They finally emerged, together, three hours and 23 minutes later, at 3:36pm. I had wagered on 2:50. Oh well.

(This article highlights some other humorous office pools some have participated in over the years)

But I digress. I love March Madness. It’s a great sporting event that truly mimics the entropy of real life. Anything can and does happen. Every year, millions root for one of many underdogs, and we all get rewarded. And every year we get amazing match ups with heart-stopping finishes. And we get to gamble…and lose…to a person we know in our office that has no business winning.

So, in honor of March Madness, please find my unofficial list of all things that evoke images of Madness from the annals (two “n”s for the sick-minded) of pop culture, sports, politics and general trivia. I wanted to make a bracket so you all could pick match ups and crown an eventual winner, but alas, I am a simple blogger with very little technical know-how. So I give you a list, ranked from least madness inspiring to most. Feel free to make your own brackets. Or print it out and use it as kindling. Or completely ignore it. As usual, the order of our entries is debatable, and I welcome friendly discourse:

26) Mad Cow Disease – A horrifying scourge worthy of the most pessimistic writers of Hollywood and fiction novels alike, it gave us quite a scare back in 2001 and still lurks in the darkest corners of civilization as some of the best fodder for the anti-carnivorous set and even companies like Chick-Fil-A.  So awful, in fact, that it couldn’t make the top 25 of this list;

25) Mad Dog – that awful vomit-inducing budget pseudo liquor some of us were unfortunately introduced to in our college days, and a staple of many a homeless drunk;

24) Reefer Madness – 1936 film which dramatized the evils of Mary Jane. But what about the evils of this film, or those hypocritical politicians who continue to hide behind the Constitution when it comes to guns, but fail to recognize that our forefathers, the same brilliant men who wrote and fought for that very document, also grew and smoked chronic themselves?

23) This blog article called Lent Madness from 2010 (you need to scroll down a little);

22) Or this one about My Little Pony Madness  – actually, some of the inventions captured here are pretty cool;

21) It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World – 1963 star-studded comedy not unlike the Cannonball Run/Gumball Rally movies about a race for a large sum of money – in this case, stolen money.  It features Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Buster Keaton, Peter Falk, Jimmy Durante, and many more;

20) Space Madness;

19) Mad Love – 1995 film starring Chris O’Donnell (fresh off his Scent of a Woman acclaim) and Drew Barrymore. Not a bad account of mental illness wrapped up in a love story if you are into that sort of thing.

18) Mad Dog and Glory – 1993 film starring Bill Murray, Robert DeNiro and Uma Thurman. Underrated, in my opinion, but still, not in the respective top five films of any of the principles.

17) Mad Money, now in its eighth season, is a finance television program featuring the frenetic histrionics of Jim Cramer. I am not a big fan, but realize some of you might be and thus this ranking is up for debate;

16) Madmortigan – Val Kilmer’s warrior in the notable George Lucas semi-flop Willow. Love hearing the eponymous dwarf’s genuine awestruck giddiness as he says, “Madmortigan, you are great!”

15) Mad About You – One of very few successful tunes a drugged out Belinda Carlisle was able to muster without her other Go-Go girls (from her first solo album, Belinda, released in 1986, and topping out at #3 on the Billboard charts).

Also, a moderately successful if over-hyped sit-com featuring Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt. I prefer Carlisle’s tune to this schlock, but judging from its 7-year run during NBC’s glory years, millions would probably disagree.

Finally, Mad About You is a lesser known track off of Sting’s album, The Soul Cages;

14) This blog entry on top movie descents into madness, even though it fails to mention Apocalypse Now, Barton Fink and Falling Down….so wrong. It’s a good list, but greatness eludes it for what it fails to recognize. Omitting those three films on a list of descents into madness is the very definition of madness;

13) Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters – Elton John song from 1972 Honky Chateau, in which Bernie Taupin lyrically recalls his first visit to New York City, during which he hears a gun go off near his hotel window, and responds to a Ben E. King song called “Spanish Harlem” with a negative bent;

12) The oddity that is the Mad Martian Museum of Modern Madness;

11) Madness, the 1980s British band that brought us “Our House” (and fittingly, also had an album named Mad Not Mad);

10) This collection of journal entries, “March Mad-NESS,” from Funny or Die;

9) The Madness of King George, another of 1994’s incredibly rich stable of films, starring Nigel Hawthorne and Helen Mirren, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The film also won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay;

8) M.A.D.D. – Big ups for mothers who care. Hard not to side with moms on this one. As a one-time member of S.A.D.D. myself, I debated putting this one higher on this list. So yes, this was a hard-eight;

7) Mad Max – Mel Gibson is a douche. But in 1979 we didn’t know that. So if you can take yourself back to that simpler time, pre-anti-Semitic meltdown, and marvel at the genius of the character, you have to admit Mad Max was a post-apocalyptic bad-ass;

6) Mad World – Perhaps my favorite Tears for Fears song, chillingly remade by Gary Jules for the movie Donny Darko, and also covered most recently by surprise phenomenon Susan Boyle;

5) Mad Dogs and Englishmen – Joe Cocker’s 1970 live album of mostly cover songs, including The Rolling Stones (Honky Tonk Women), Traffic (Feelin’ Alright), The Beatles (She Came in Through the Bathroom Window), Leonard Cohen, Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding;

4) Mad scientists: Portrayed in hundreds of books, movies and television shows, from Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Jekyll to Dr. Moreau to Jeff Goldblum’s Brundle in The Fly (check out this link…and this one);

3) Mad Men;

2) The Mad Hatter – One of Lewis Carroll’s most frighteningly awesome characters, Carroll never actually dubs The Hatter with the crazy modifier. Rather, both the Hatter and March Hare are referred to as “both mad” by the Cheshire Cat. Both characters first appear in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in the seventh chapter titled “A Mad Tea Party.” The phrase “mad as a hatter” pre-dates Carroll’s works; and,

1) MAD Magazine – Always a reminder of my care-free youth, this ad-free humor mag featuring Alfred E. Newman, Spy vs. Spy, celebrity lampooning at its infantile best AND…my first foray into centerfolds, takes me back to days at summer camp, when a care package filled with candy and a few issues of MAD proved just how lucky I was to have the best parents ever.

See you in April,

IDROS

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